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Small Business Payroll: 8 Considerations For Business Owners

by Lisa O'Neill on Aug 5, 2021 4:34:43 AM

Payroll can be complicated, frustrating and time consuming. In fact, small business owners spend about 5 hours each pay period processing payroll. If you’re a new business or hiring employees for the first time, investing this much time into payroll can take focus away from strategic activities that can grow your business. So you may be wondering how to optimize your processes to free up your time.

At Complete Payroll Solutions, we’ve been processing payroll for startups and small companies for over 18 years. We know what’s required to run payroll whether you do it on your own or outsource payroll to a third-party provider. To help you understand what’s involved in processing payroll, here we’ll discuss key factors to consider when setting up your payroll, including:

  • In-house vs outsourced payroll
  • What’s needed to get started
  • How to pick a payroll frequency
  • Correctly classifying employees
  • Available pay methods
  • Running payroll
  • Paying yourself as a business owner
  • Recordkeeping requirements

After reading this article, you’ll know how to make your small business payroll run as smoothly as possible so you can focus on your business.

8 Considerations for Small Business Payroll

Running payroll is one of the most important tasks you have as a small business owner. But there’s a lot to think about as you set up payroll for your company. Here are 8 factors to consider as you develop your processes.

1. In-house v Outsourced Small Business Payroll

Even if you just have a few employees, there are a lot of steps required when it comes to payroll. Before you decide whether to tackle these tasks yourself, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of processing payroll internally versus using an outsourced payroll provider. While you may have a greater sense of security and control over your data when doing payroll yourself, keep in mind there are stiff consequences for payroll errors and delays. That’s where a  payroll provider can help. When you outsource, your payroll service provider will handle as much or as little of the administrative and compliance tasks associated with payroll as you’d like. The benefit is that you’ll reduce your exposure and the time you spend on payroll. However, you’ll have to budget for the cost, which can run about $200-$250 per employee per year.

2. What’s Needed to Get Started

Before you can start processing payroll for your small business, you’ll first need to make sure your business is properly established as an entity with the federal and state regulatory bodies. To do this, you’ll need to complete three actions:

  • Get an EIN: Also sometimes called an Employer Tax ID, you can apply for this number online.
  • Get a State or Local ID: Depending on where you operate, you may need an additional tax ID number so check the requirements of your local or state government.
  • Register with Your State: Find out if you need to register for tax withholding and other state programs. For example, in Massachusetts, you’ll need to create an account for withholding Paid Family Medical Leave and unemployment insurance.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll need to make sure you have all the information required to process payroll. You’ll need several pieces of data about each employee in order to set them up. These include their name, address, date of birth, compensation, and Form W-4. If you plan to give your employees the option to receive their pay via direct deposit, you’ll also need to have them complete the necessary forms to process their requests.

3. How to Pick a Payroll Frequency For Your Small Business

Before you run payroll, you have to decide how often you want to pay your employees. You have several pay frequency options, including weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly, and monthly. While the pay frequency you select won’t impact your payroll taxes, you may save on the cost of processing if you choose biweekly instead of weekly. That’s because whether you run payroll yourself or outsource it, there’s time, labor, and costs involved. As you decide on a pay frequency, it’s also important to make sure you check your state’s requirements. For Example, in Maine, you must pay employees at regular intervals that don’t exceed 16 days so you wouldn’t be able to select a monthly pay frequency.

4. Correctly Classifying Employees

As you add workers, you’ll need to make sure you properly identify them as either employees or 1099 independent contractors in order to avoid liabilities for unpaid payroll taxes, fines, and penalties. The key distinction is the amount of control you have over a worker so check the IRS’ fact sheet for help. You also need to understand if your employees are exempt or non-exempt since hourly workers are subject to minimum wage and overtime rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act while salaried workers aren’t. The Department of Labor has tests to use for different positions to help you determine if employees qualify for exempt status.

5. Available Pay Methods

Another decision you’ll have to make when you prepare to run your small business payroll for the first time is whether to pay employees by paper check or another method. Several different options exist today, including direct deposit, reloadable paycards, mobile pay through digital accounts, or instant or same-day pay. To boost satisfaction among workers, it’s a good idea to make sure the method you select meets their needs, so if they want quicker and more convenient access, you may want tto look beyond the paper check. Just remember that no matter what option you choose, you’ll want to make sure you follow your state laws regarding paystubs, since the majority require either a printed or electronic pay statement.

6. Running Your Small Business Payroll

While you may think processing payroll only requires you to calculate an employee’s wages, there’s actually a lot more to it. When you run payroll, you’ll need to first figure out the worker’s gross pay. From that amount, you have to account for deductions and exemptions from their income for things like federal, state, and local taxes, Social Security, and benefit contributions. That will give you their take home pay, which you can pay by any of the methods we just discussed. But your responsibilities for running payroll don’t end there. Every quarter, you have to report to the IRS how much money you withheld from each employee’s pay on Form 941.

7. Paying Yourself as a Business Owner

As a small business owner, you have a couple options when it comes to paying yourself. You can either take an owner’s draw from the business’ profits or you can pay yourself a salary. When deciding the on a method, there are several factors to consider, including your:

  • Company’s Legal Structure: Depending on how your business is set up, your options may be limited, for example, owners of S-corps generally can’t take a draw.
  • Equity in the Business: If you are thinking about an owner’s draw, be aware of how much equity you have in the business since your total draw for the year can’t be more than that amount.
  • Pay: While you can’t draw more than the equity in your business, you also have to be mindful of your pay if you take a salary. For instance, if you own an S-corp, your salary must be considered reasonable compensation.
  • Tax Implications: You’ll also want to consider whether you want to worry about calculating and paying taxes at tax time, which you’ll have to do with a draw, or prefer to have taxes automatically taken out of your paycheck through payroll.

8. Recordkeeping Requirements For Small Business Payroll

When you process payroll, you’ll need to keep certain records. For example, the IRS requires that you keep all records of employment taxes for at least 4 years, including copies of employees’ Form W-4 and dates and amounts of tax deposits you made. In addition, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires you to keep payroll information for 3 years to show you’re complying with provisions on minimum wage and overtime. This information includes time cards, schedules, and additions to or reductions from wages for each pay period.

Getting Started with Small Business Payroll

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to running your small business payroll. Hopefully, this article provided you with an overview of the key factors you need to think about when you get started with payroll for the first time. For more information on the steps involved, read our beginner’s guide to payroll.

If managing payroll yourself seems overwhelming and you decide to outsource it, Complete Payroll Solutions can be a good fit for you if you are looking for:

  • Paperless payroll options that make pay more instantaneous
  • Data security with 24/7 monitoring
  • A team of local payroll specialists
  • Solutions beyond payroll such as outsourced HR and employee benefits

You can learn more about whether we may be the right partner for your business by reading our next article on our payroll packages.


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