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  3. HR Suppliers – 5 questions small businesses should ask when choosing or renewing

It might be that you have a pressing HR issue – a dispute, performance issues, or it’s just getting all too much to handle. You may just feel like getting advice to stay on the right side of employment law. Whichever it is, you want to know that you’re getting the best HR supplier for your small business.

This is by no means easy, there are plenty of HR suppliers out there that will do a great job of helping you to manage your people. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right choice for you. Even our service, citrusHR, might not fulfil what your business requires – although we like to think we’d do a darn good job!

So what should you be looking out for when choosing a new HR supplier? We’ve put together a few questions that many small business owners ask us.

Do I get access to consultants?

Now, this might seem like an obvious question, but you might not get a straight answer from some HR suppliers.

Obviously, if you were to choose a local HR consultant, this would be standard. You get access to your own named contact who will handle all your HR questions, and will likely help you with support at your offices in some instances.

However, many larger HR firms will work through a call centre — that’s right, not real HR experts, just a system run by people who may or may not be qualified with the CIPD (that’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for those that don’t know). And remember, there’s different levels of qualification with the CIPD too, all the way from foundation through to advanced. So just because they’re qualified, doesn’t mean they’re fully qualified.

Whether you get access to consultants or not is an important question to ask yourself, as you’d like to know that should you have a pressing issue, you can pick up the phone and get expert advice immediately.

How long do I have to sign up for?

Do you know that in the HR services industry, long-term contracts are the norm? These can tie you and your business in for as much as 12 months, and even up to seven years.

Now, this is fairly standard, and if you feel you need ongoing support it may work fine for you. However, if you think about it, should you really have to sign up for such a long-term commitment for what might only be a short-term issue? Or that might not suit your business needs by the end of the year? We don’t think so.

Luckily, there’s been a change in the HR services industry. So be on the lookout for suppliers — like us — who offer you everything you need with a monthly, instead of annual, contract.

Beware auto-renewal

Also, beware the dreaded auto-renewal clause. Many suppliers will request that you give them proper notice that you are going to leave, or they will rollover your contract automatically for another year. Many businesses don’t realise this until it is too late, so be careful to read the small print.

How will my HR supplier help me understand employment law?

Help with HR issues when they crop up is all well and good, but wouldn’t you prefer a supplier that helps you to avoid any problems in the first place?

Therefore, when you sign up to your new HR supplier ensure that you know how they provide you with the help you need to understand changes to employment law. Do they handle all changes for you? Do they notify you of the changes? If they do, how do they do it?

These are all important questions, as when you’re a small business owner, you’re expected to be completely up to date with employment law — no matter how busy you are. And, more important than just knowing something has happened, is understanding what has happened. Try to ensure that your HR supplier doesn’t just forward government legalese to you, and actually takes the time to explain how it might affect your small business.

How will my HR supplier help with my HR admin?

HR software for small business is a fairly recent development in the field of HR services. No longer are they clunky databases built with large corporations in mind, but easy to use and helpful tools to ensure that you actually save time on HR admin.

However, some suppliers still don’t offer HR software, and as a result their costs can be much higher as they are less time efficient. And others may simply offer software as an optional add-on, rather than a core part of their service to help their customers.

Therefore, taking the time to ensure that you know how your processes will be handled pays dividends. HR technology has been, and still is, really changing the marketplace to give small businesses more control over their admin. But stepping into it without checking what is on offer can cause more headaches.

Can I just stick with HR software on its own? It certainly seems cheaper…

If you already have an in-house HR department with qualified HR professionals, something that is quite rare for a small business, then this could be a good option for you. Similarly, if you really understand employment law, and want to personally handle all HR issues and admin this could work.

However, if you’re in the “I’m not sure” camp, we’d suggest that HR software on its own is possibly not going to save you all that much money in the long run. After all, it can’t mediate an employment dispute, or pre-empt them either.

Automated processes are one thing, and keeping track of specific employment information is really useful, but do you know what you should do with it all? That’s where HR experts come in, helping you to understand what to do when you feel completely confused.

Do you have all the right documents for your staff? If the answer is again “I’m not sure”, then software alone is not going to answer that for you, and you’ll need to seek expert help to make certain your business has the proper paperwork to comply with employment law.

And finally, software is not going to help you with a disgruntled or un-motivated employee. Some things just can’t be done with a computer, and speaking to your people when they aren’t happy is one of these situations. Having qualified HR consultants available to help you through those tricky people issues is what makes HR support really valuable in the long run.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for an HR supplier, these are some of the key questions you should ask both yourself and the prospective supplier, before committing to anything.

One of our team will be more than happy to answer these questions for you about citrusHR. Our phone number is 0333 014 3888.

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