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Low Staffing Creates A Balancing Act For Small Biz

"This keeps employment numbers down because of more staff versatility," says Mike Liautaud, the company's president.

But Milio's didn't stop there. Two administrative workers were laid off. Salaried staffers work three to five hours more each week.

Liautaud says he's concerned about employees getting overburdened. Two weeks ago, he held a brainstorming session at the company's Madison, Wis., headquarters to determine which tasks could be shifted away from workers in the accounting and operations departments.

"I'm seeing they're now started to get taxed," he says of those workers, some of whom were losing their tempers during meetings. So the company is planning to make changes.

Liautaud also looks for ways to get help from his vendors. He's arranged with food suppliers to have their workers, rather than his own, unload delivery trucks.

LETTING TECHNOLOGY DO THE WORK

In 2003, Steve Synnott had a staff of just over 50, the most people his company, PRO Group, ever employed at one time. Today, the business, which runs the marketing campaign for 600 hardware stores, has 19 full-time employees and three part-timers.

Synnott is finding high-tech ways to hold off on hiring. In the last year, PRO Group invested in what's known as voice over Internet protocol, or VOIP, the technology that lets people talk over the Internet rather than regular phone lines. Synnott says VOIP has lowered the company's teleconferencing costs, which used to total about $800 a month. That has allowed PRO Group to have more frequent teleconferences. And that in turn has cut the amount of time that PRO Group employees spend on the road, allowing them to stay at the company's Greenwood Village, Colo., home office and get more work done.

PRO Group is also revamping the database that hardware store owners can access to see their marketing plans. The changes mean PRO Group needs fewer staffers to give owners product and price information.

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