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As we move towards the end of a tumultuous year, many businesses are looking towards how to recover. Record losses of income have been registered across countless sectors, so as we approach a COVID-normal environment, the importance of marketing as a tool to recover and grow has skyrocketed.

SmartCompany pulled together some of Australia’s marketing masterminds for our webinar ‘What’s in your Marketing Toolkit?’, offering small business owners foundational tips and insights for a stellar marketing strategy.

Hosted by our startups and tech editor Stephanie Palmer-Derrien, the three-person panel represented a wide range of marketing expertise and experience.

Fiona Killackey, who runs My Daily Business Coach, brought over 20 years of marketing experience to the webinar. Koda Capital’s Andrew Rutherford spoke of his experiences working with some of Australia’s wealthiest individuals, and Michelle Aknidenor’s work producing brand podcasts as the founder of The Peers Project provided a great sense of how new media and marketing can be used.

How to reverse engineer your marketing strategy 

Looking at how to start your marketing journey as a small business, and knowing your goals and identifying your potential customer base was advice echoed by each of the panelists.

Killackey says taking that first step to identify what you want to achieve as a business is crucial before diving into the nitty-gritty of marketing.

“What I like to do is ask people to try and think of the first three things you want to achieve in the first 12 months, and reverse engineer their marketing from them,” she says.

Once those first steps have been made, Rutherford stresses the importance of knowing who your business is for, and how you want to reach that market.

“Businesses need to be very clear about what customers want to hear,” he added. “You don’t want to be talking to a bunch of vegetarians about the newest beef burger you have for sale.”

Akhidenor says that once a foundation of what the business is looking to achieve has been set, a podcast can be great to take engagement to the next level.

“Realistically, you need that foundation, you need social media and an outreach method for sales,” she says.

“However, it can be the next step after the foundation has been laid… when you are ready to take that engagement to the next level.”

Cutting through the noise on social media

Once your marketing strategy is off the ground, getting the message out there to prospective and existing customers through marketing channels continues to be crucial, especially through social media.

Because there is so much free advertising online through social media, Rutherford identifies the importance of knowing how to cut through the merrass of other campaigns to stand out.

“Marketing is now free and ubiquitous through social media,” he says. “How do you cut through so much? You have to have a starting point where you’re clear of what your product is. That will help define who your target customers are.”

This was reiterated by Akhidenor, who points towards being authentic as a major factor in retaining and enticing customers.

“It really comes down to authenticity and coming across as real and representing your brand values,” she continues.

“There’s so much out there that consumers can feel like things are not real, and that just doesn’t fly anymore. It’s about how you can connect with your audience.” 

Moving further into using social media, Killackey speaks on using influencers to help reach a target market. While not a perfect method, she believes it can be a useful tool if used in conjunction with the correct data.

“Brand ambassadors can work really well to reach your target market,” she says. “If you are going to work with influencers, look at micro influencers with 5000 or less followers… There’s definitely a space for it but it’s about being smarter with it.”

The combination of accessible but vital business information and expert insights from across industries made this session a must-watch.

Many organizations that offer 401(k) plans are required to have them audited to ensure they are being run correctly and are compliant with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Labor (DOL) rules. While the word “audit” may invoke images of steely-eyed accountants poring over documents to uncover wrongdoing, a good retirement plan audit actually is a value-add that helps safeguard plan participants’ retirement income and protect a company from the financial penalties that come with non-compliance issues.

Some companies, though, aren’t getting the most out of this yearly process. Choosing an inexperienced firm to perform the audit because the fees are low is a commonplace way companies drop the ball on uncovering plan deficiencies that could increase the odds of government scrutiny.

According to the American Institute of CPAs, independent audits of employee benefit plan financial statements are an important accountability mechanism. A financial statement audit provides an independent, third-party report to participants, plan management, the DOL and other interested parties that indicates whether the plan’s financial statements provide reliable information to assess the plan’s present and future ability to pay benefits.

The audit also may help management improve and streamline plan operations by evaluating the strength of the plan’s internal control over financial reporting and identifying control weaknesses or operational errors. In addition, the audit helps the plan administrator carry out its legal responsibility to file a complete and accurate Form 5500 for the plan with the DOL.

All 401(k) plans can be audited by the DOL

No matter how large or small, all 401(k) plans can be audited by the DOL. Findings of wrongdoing can lead to stiff penalties for fiduciary breaches, excise taxes for late deposits and even disqualification from the plan.

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With regulations regularly changing, it is a good time to have an experienced accounting and advisory firm check your 401(k) audit process to make sure you can answer these key questions to avoid the most common plan administration mistakes and keep government auditors at bay.

Are you aware that the DOL requires timely contributions?

The government agency requires that an employer remit employee contributions to the plan “on the earliest date on which such amounts can reasonably be segregated from the employer’s general assets, but in no event later than the 15th business day of the month following the month in which the amounts were paid or withheld by the employer.” However, the DOL may enforce an earlier date depending on how soon you demonstrate you actually can remit the employee contributions. Developing a consistent policy for remitting employee contributions is of utmost importance.

Untimely remittance of employee contributions is considered an interest-free loan from the plan participants to the employer and can carry penalties that amount to 15% of the earnings that the late contributions would have generated each year, compounded annually. This penalty, according to Benefits Law Advisor, jumps to 100% of the foregone earnings if the IRS finds the untimely remittance before the employer remits the employee contributions and required earnings to the plan.

Do you understand the fidelity bond requirements?

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 requires those who handle 401(k) plans to carry a fidelity bond to protect the plan against losses related to fraud or dishonesty by plan fiduciaries.

 

Failing to report a sufficient bond on Form 5500 is unlawful, can trigger a plan audit and can cause 401(k) fiduciaries to be held personally liable for losses that the bond would have covered.

Are you in compliance?

Independent audits often reveal that fiduciaries may be out of compliance with a variety of regulations like fidelity bond coverage. Other common findings in audits include:

  • Omission of required documentation for participant hardship distributions.
  • An overall lack of awareness and/or performance of plan administrator fiduciary responsibilities relative to plan participants.

These problems typically result from the plan fiduciary’s challenges in both understanding and applying complicated regulatory guidelines.

Are you documenting your fiduciary responsibilities?

The DOL lists the following as the responsibilities of a 401(k) fiduciary:

  • Acting solely in the interest of plan participants and their beneficiaries with the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to them.
  • Carrying out their duties prudently.
  • Following plan documents.
  • Diversifying plan investments.
  • Paying only reasonable plan expenses.
 

It’s important for a company to formally document the processes it undertakes to meet these responsibilities.

Is the plan operating as intended?

Some companies have been administering the same 401(k) plan for 30 years or more, which means the original adoption agreement that outlined the plan’s specific features might be outdated. According to the IRS, a yearly review by an experienced accounting firm will allow the plan to run smoothly and remain qualified for tax benefits.

Plans can be amended to change the definition of compensation, hardship withdrawal provisions, loan provisions and contribution or allocation formulas, for example.

All audits are not created equally

The DOL is clearly on the side of employees when it comes to overseeing how companies administer their 401(k) plans. That’s why it’s important that business leaders understand that not all audits are created equally.

According to the American Institute of CPAs, reviewing the auditor’s qualifications is a critical step in selecting a plan auditor. It requires the consideration of licensing and independence rules as well as the auditor’s experience and professional development, including specific employee benefit plan audit experience and continuing professional education.

A quality audit performed by a firm that understands the uniqueness of employee benefit plan reviews can help protect participants and keep the company in compliance, which, in turn, protects its bottom line.

NEW DELHI — India’s health ministry announced Tuesday that some COVID-19 vaccines are likely to receive licenses in the next few weeks and outlined an initial plan to immunize 300 million people.

Health officials said three vaccine companies have applied for early approval for emergency use in India: Serum Institute of India, which has been licensed to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine, Pfizer Inc., and Indian manufacturer Bharat Biotech.

 

“Some of them may get licensed in the next few weeks,” federal health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said.

India says its initial immunization plan revolves around three priority groups: 10 million healthcare workers, 20 million front-line workers such as the police and military, and 270 million other people either above age 50 or who have diseases that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19’s effects.

The health ministry has previously set a target of August 2021 for immunizing these people.

India’s population is nearly 1.4 billion.

Bhushan said India would rely on its existing immunization programs, which are among the largest in the world. Every year, India immunizes 26 million infants and 30 million pregnant women with 300 million vaccine doses.

But there are challenges. Even before the pandemic, vaccine coverage for children in India was patchy. It is lowest among India’s indigenous communities, where only 56% of newborns are vaccinated.

Health officials also need to ensure that the emphasis on coronavirus vaccines doesn’t disrupt existing immunization programs. That means more people must be trained to administer vaccines. The immunization of adults will also require different medical personnel instead of pediatricians, and may face more resistance to the shots.

“My worry is that we’ve not seen adult immunization before,” said Dr. Gagandeep Kang, infectious diseases expert at Christian Medical College at Vellore in southern India.

Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, applied for an emergency use license for the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine based on phase-three trials in India and other countries, health officials said at a news conference.

The Indian company Bharat Biotech applied for a license for its experimental inactivated virus vaccine without completing phase-three trials, they said. According to Indian rules for accelerated approval of vaccines, a company can be granted a license if regulators are “satisfied with the risk-benefit ratio,” said Balram Bharagava, head of the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Pfizer applied for permission to import its experimental mRNA vaccine for sale and distribution without clinical trials in India, the officials said. The company said in a statement that it would supply the vaccine “only through government contracts based on agreements with respective government authorities” after approval. Its vaccine needs to be stored at very cold temperatures, which India’s existing infrastructure is unlikely to be able to provide. ___

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