From the December 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Have you shaken the bushes looking for more employees to hire in your growing company but come up empty--or at least with less-than-stellar candidates? Some businesses are looking to the global market for employees, particularly employees with high-tech skills. The process may be worthwhile, but it can get complex and expensive.

First, says Philip A. Barquer, president of HR Alternatives Inc. in Irvine, California, you need to understand some immigration basics. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) requires you to demonstrate that you can't find American workers for jobs before you hire from overseas. You can do that, Barquer says, by running ads and keeping track of applications.

You should also be aware that the INS has set quotas for immigration from individual countries. If the quota from a particular country has been met, you won't be able to hire someone from there, even if your company and the candidate meet all the other qualifications. And don't expect to save money on salaries by hiring workers from overseas; the INS requires that you pay salaries equivalent to your current employees' wages or to the general labor market for the skills involved.

Barquer says U.S. companies are finding foreign employees by advertising in various industry publications as well as on the Internet, and by hiring international firms that specialize in finding employees. He recommends that smaller companies use search firms rather than try to do it alone.

Before you begin to actually look for prospective employees, be sure to think the rest of the process through. You'll need an immigration attorney to help with the legal aspects, such as work permits and residency status, of bringing the new employee to the United States. This can cost up to $10,000, and you also need to decide who will pay those fees. "It's not automatic that the employer pays all those costs," says Barquer. You may pay the attorney, but you may require the candidate to pay, or you may split the costs. You'll need to make the same decision regarding who will pay for relocation expenses. And you should have a plan to help the employee acclimate to the new culture and work environment.

Because the hiring process can take anywhere from six months to a year, don't look to the global marketplace for workers you need in a hurry. And although many of these workers will eventually apply for and obtain U.S. citizenship, don't count on them for a period beyond their initial work permit. If an employee has a 10-year work permit, and you hire that person after they've already been in the country for eight years, there are only two years left. Even with those drawbacks, however, the international marketplace can be a tremendous source for top talent that will bring diversity to your organization.

Check Your Sources

Your workload will be lighter, but is outsourcing going to get the job done?

In small and large businesses alike, outsourcing is booming as a popular management tool. It provides flexibility, allows companies to shift directions quickly, gives you access to expertise you might not otherwise be able to afford and more. But outsourcing also has its share of drawbacks you may not have considered.

Most important, says Rick Maurer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance (Bard Press) and president of Maurer & Associates, a change-management consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia, is that outsourcing can reduce the quality of decision-making and the final results of your production or service process.

"It's fairly easy to outsource a task like printing," says Maurer. "It's harder to outsource things where the person is going to have to make judgment calls. Small businesses are so personal, and it's difficult for a vendor to really understand you and your business." Without intimate knowledge of your business, an outsourcing supplier may not make the best decisions.

To deal with this issue, Maurer recommends building the same sort of relationships with your suppliers that you do with your employees. Don't view outsourcing as a series of transactions; view it as an alliance you can both count on.

One additional drawback is that if you use a small supplier, it may not always be available or always have the resources to do what you want when you want it. It's good to have backup sources, but you also need a solid connection with your primary supplier. Says Maurer, "The stronger the relationship, the more likely they'll bump other people to do your work."

Finally, Maurer advises, don't outsource your core business activities. "The vendor is being hired to do a task or set of tasks," he says. "It's hard for a vendor to push new ideas on you, and sometimes that's what you need. Though some vendors may be proactive, it's not reasonable to expect that from someone outside your company."

Getting Personal

If you want to keep employees around, give them back the lives they don't have time for--at least, help them run their errands.

It's a universal complaint: not enough hours in the day to get everything done. When your employees are struggling to balance the demands of their jobs with their personal responsibilities, the result can be lost productivity. One solution: Help employees deal with their individual time-crunch issues by offering a selection of personal services as part of your benefits package.

"Anything you do to reduce stress will help employees focus on the task at hand," says Wayne Page, benefits practice leader for the Southeast with The Hay Group, a management consulting firm in Atlanta. He adds that it's easier for smaller companies to offer benefits such as personal services. "[They're] not saddled with a lot of bureaucracy," he says. "They can do a lot of things because they're small and they have flexibility."

Page suggests creating a survey or focus group to find out where your workers need help, and then develop a program to provide the specific assistance people want. Another option is to contract with a concierge service that can help your employees with everything from running errands and catering parties to finding electricians--even resolving disputes.

"People say this is the most cost-effective and highest-impact benefit they have," says Kathy Sherbrooke, president and co-founder of Circles, a Boston-based concierge company that offers nationwide service. "They probably spend less money on concierge services than anything else, and they get the biggest bang for the buck out of it. This is a great way to let your employees know you care about them."

A good concierge service will educate your employees about what they offer and promote awareness to increase usage, taking the burden off you. However, they're not easy to find, so if you're not in a commercial center, it may take some searching on your part. Check with office parks and property managers for possible referrals. You can also find concierge services on the Web.

The investment could be well worth it. Offering workers a helping hand with simple tasks such as getting their cars serviced or finding tickets to local events will likely not only improve their productivity, but also make them think twice before leaving your company for one that doesn't offer such benefits.

Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 12 years ago and has been writing business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.

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Contact Sources

Circles, kathy@circles.com, http://www.circles.com

The Hay Group, (770) 901-5600, wayne_page@haygroup.com

HR Alternatives Inc., 4 Venture, #250, Irvine, CA 92618, (949) 453-6250

Maurer & Associates, (703) 525-7074, rickmaur@aol.com