September 01, 2022

The State of Small Businesses in the Southeast

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2022 issue of PEO Insider.

As post-pandemic transitions continue in the workplace, client loyalty is imperative to build a meaningful long-term relationship with a PEO partner. In the past, the standard platforms of services were driven by a bundled features approach. In many instances, the leverage of cost containment on labor burdens was enough to retain most clients. However, today’s economic realities have elevated the expectations of many small business owners as they consider investing in professional services. As a result, the demand for a highly strategic, overall business approach and partnership is sought after by most small businesses.

Small businesses in the Southeast today are most concerned about a magnitude of compliance questions, fears of a talent retention crisis, rising inflation, and so much more. Clients need to be able to lean on their PEO to provide solutions to HR problems that keep them up at night, and to keep their business ahead of the curve. 

The rise of the hybrid worker and hybrid workplace creates a fresh cultural hurdle that companies are unsure how to resolve. Change management, typically a deliberate process, now requires companies to be more agile and expeditious in making vital internal changes. The tightening labor market has also increased the focus on recruiting and retention. 

Small business owners are looking at maximizing their existing assets by trying to stretch them; the old "do more with less" adage. To achieve this, however, companies need to retain their experienced employees with more creative methods since they don't have the resources to just raise salaries.

PEOs can help their small business clients navigate the challenges with these proven solutions.


Multi-State Compliance Assistance

Clients are now managing more remote employees spread out across more states. Further, the various state, city, and township laws create more compliance headaches. Each state's political climate also drives business decisions and consequently affects compliance. These factors have added complexity to compliance. Developing a compliance strategy that is not state-specific is nearly impossible. Many pandemic-related laws have a residual impact as they become permanent changes at the state and/or federal level. This has likewise forced businesses to adjust beyond what may have once been presumed to be temporary modifications.

It is important for PEOs to educate their clients that just because we have moved past the height of the pandemic doesn’t mean the laws and compliance requirements disappeared. Our role is also to help ease the burden of these multi-state concerns for clients through our resources and expertise on these matters. 

Enhancing Workplace Culture to Retain Employees

In a remote environment, companies are challenged to find and recruit suitable candidates.

Enhancing company culture is key to retaining top talent. Tactics to do so include increased employee incentives, internal company communications such as all employee meetings, formalized one-on-one employee engagement, executive and leader interaction, career pathing and continuing education.

Empathy and focus on mental health wellness support a healthy work/life balance. Employee assistance programs (EAP) are a must, and employees should be encouraged to take advantage of the benefit. Encouraging and facilitating community outreach is imperative to enhance a company’s culture; offer employees time to serve their community whether they are local or remote.

Leverage Technology

The tightening labor market has increased the focus on recruiting and retention. With innovative technology, industry partners can garner insights into the impacts of remote work decisions, including benefits and pay, on the efficiency of the business.

Rising costs, supply chain disruptions, and the Great Resignation have increased the need for total compensation review and turnover reports. Businesses can better manage employees across multiple states by leveraging technology.

Hybrid Work and Flexibility

Many clients need their team back in the office. This is a significant concern to business owners since many of their employees are comfortable working remotely. The key here is to be flexible and provide a home and work balance. Businesses should consider committing to remote work if physical office space is not needed or if teams are spread out across different states. Offering employees the choice to work from home to improve satisfaction and minimize risk is a good idea. Creating alternate and backup plans for significant time commitments and allowing time in calendars for disruption is also wise.


A positive development from the pandemic is the elevated empathy and increased focus on both the physical and mental health of employees. Our clients are focused on how we can help them support their employees. The impact of employees losing family, friends and coworkers has reached everyone. 

That's why partnering with someone who knows their business, unique properties, and challenges is critically important. Clients want to know their PEO is a subject matter expert, and they can trust that you are providing solutions swiftly and proactively.

Being proactive and intentional about checking in on clients is what being customer-centric is all about. In addition, it's essential to understand their goals with a compassionate heart. With a holistic understanding, we can continue providing targeted solutions to help them, and forecast any potential concerns along the way.

The key to helping our small business clients succeed is staying in front of potential concerns and providing quick solutions to combat them. 

Continuing to look forward, PEOs should help their partners to think outside the box and take a critical look at their resources, revenue streams, and their products and services. Conversely, PEOs should think about creative ways to build lasting relationships with their clients by showing not only industry insight, but authenticity and empathy.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that agility and resilience are critical. The lessons learned from the past two years have us all better prepared to face whatever challenges lie ahead.

This article is designed to give general and timely information about the subjects covered. It is not intended as legal advice or assistance with individual problems. Readers should consult competent counsel of their own choosing about how the matters relate to their own affairs.

Director of Relationship Management and Corporate HR
Pensacola, FL