According to the U.S. Census Bureau report, “Statistics of U.S. Businesses Employment and Payroll Summary: 2012,” (released February 2015), small businesses employ more than 39 million people. Based on MetLife estimates, about half of today’s 4 million small business employers in the U.S. offer employee benefits.

Like their larger counterparts, businesses with 100 employees or less struggle to attract and keep employees. The challenge of balancing cost concerns with employee needs falls on companies of all sizes, but is much more daunting to small business owners.

Small business owners also have limited resources, making it challenging to identify and manage affordable benefits options and packages. Plus, they tend to be more focused on their business and have neither the time nor the inclination to become experts in benefits options and regulations. Still, small business owners should be providing the most attractive, useful benefits possible to their employees. These employer clients need help understanding which products are best for their employees — and where to find them.

“Small business owners don’t have a staff of people whose job it is to shop for benefits — they’re doing it themselves,” says Jessica Moser VP, Regional & Small Business Strategy at MetLife. “They need simplicity and choices.”

Here’s what brokers need to succeed

The needs of today’s employers are elevating the broker’s role. More than just finding the best price, brokers are being called upon for their knowledge and expert guidance. Yet it’s not always easy for brokers to maintain long-lasting connections with their small business clients. The small business market tends to be transactional, with brokers needing to accumulate a larger quantity of accounts than if they were dealing with larger companies, Moser says.

“In order to succeed, brokers need a way to conduct a high volume of business and still create a personalized, consultative experience for their small business clients,” she says.

If brokers can get in front of the small business owner, that is.

Time is a commodity that small business owners protect, Moser warns. Employers may be reluctant to share business information without first establishing a relationship. In order to honestly divulge their business struggles and needs, they must trust their broker, she adds.

In the end, brokers need to set themselves apart. Brokers who want to differentiate themselves within the small business space should connect with small businesses by demonstrating an understanding of their challenges and the ways that benefits can help the company’s bottom line, says Moser.

“Small businesses want cost-effective benefits packages and solutions that make administration simple, yet many business owners don’t believe that’s possible,” she says.

See also:

5 things that keep small business owners up at night, and how benefits brokers can help

Many brokers are just as doubtful. While technology can certainly help manage accounts, brokers still have to do the legwork of sourcing right-sized benefits options tailored to each employer’s needs.

That’s where working with the right carrier can make a difference, Moser says.

“A carrier that’s dedicated to the small business space can create value for brokers in a number of ways,” she says. “Along with a range of product options, brokers can access tools and technology that can help them more easily serve the small business market.”

Plus, Moser says, a carrier with expertise in the small business market can provide competitive, right-sized plan design options based on company size, industry and geography, along with small business-focused sales support and customer service.

Brokers can be a small business owner’s best asset by providing that kind of support — and by staying at the forefront of a complex and confusing benefits market. Brokers can help their clients understand their responsibilities, while at the same time delivering expertise, recommendations and consultation to small business clients.

Brokers to the rescue

The best way brokers can create value for small business clients is by offering something simple. Preset, presourced bundles that pair coverages like vision and dental benefits can help improve workplace satisfaction: MetLife’s most recent Employee Benefit Trends Study revealed that 68 percent of employees want dental benefits and 49 percent want vision benefits. By offering these products, brokers can show their small business clients how to improve employee loyalty — affordably.

“Bundles that are smart and simple and that a broker doesn’t have to spend hours researching is key. That’s how brokers can manage the balancing act for their small-business clients,” Moser says.

Adding benefits doesn’t have to break the budget, especially with the range of employee-paid options available. Small business owners are sometimes surprised to learn how receptive their employees are to voluntary benefits. In fact, over half of all employees are willing to bear more of their benefits cost if it means they’d have wider access to benefits that meet their needs, according to MetLife research.

The reward for brokers is twofold, says Moser. “First, they’ve gained the employer’s trust by bringing them affordable benefits and administration, which frees up time that would otherwise have been spent exploring benefits. And brokers who are working with the right carrier can easily source benefits packages and provide outstanding service to accounts. The added bonus is that brokers are well-positioned to become the trusted advisor small business owners need.”

It isn’t always easy to create connections with small business clients — but when brokers are successful, they can reap the rewards of long-term relationships and business growth.

“There’s a path toward easing the benefits search,” Moser says. “Simplifying the process allows brokers to deliver an array of options that address each small business owner’s needs and help them attract and retain employees.”

For more information, please visit www.MetLife.com/smallbusiness.

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