Category Archives: Biz Tips

What Inspires Me: Professional Excellence & Grace


By: Zack Pace, SVP, Benefits Consulting

After drafting the below narrative, I wondered how the heroine would feel about me sharing her story with you. So, I emailed her the draft and promised to scrap it if she didn’t like it. Much to my delight, she quickly wrote back, told me how much this story meant to her, and how my inspiration caused her to be further inspired. A few days later, LinkedIn Pulse featured her story on their Entertainment channel: New York City, Electric Guitars, & Professional Excellence. This story has continued to resonate with readers, so I’d like to share it with you, here:

ZdanLast weekend, my wife and I took a northbound train to New York City for a quick get-away. We saw four inspiring musical acts, ate at the restaurants of two of our favorite chefs, and enjoyed a morning jog in Central Park. The restaurants were packed, and three of the musical venues were standing room only.

As a business professional, aren’t you energized and motivated to provide your best work when you know your speech will be to a packed crowd or when a company’s Board of Trustees is eagerly awaiting your report? But, what about when you fly across the country to give a speech and no one shows? Or when you’re writing a report that only a few will ever read? Do you still give it all you’ve got?

On Friday night, I found new inspiration. The singer / songwriter was from one of our favorite bands – she had a solo gig at a concert hall at 11:30 PM. We arrived in town that evening, had dinner at Lisa Fain’s new place – El Original1 – and made our way over to the venue. We knew something seemed odd when the hostess asked for our ticket reservation by first name and quickly found it in the utter darkness. Have you ever noticed how dark everywhere is in New York City at night?

As the bar began to fill, suspense for the musician’s show built, and we eagerly waited for the concert hall’s gates to open. But, when we descended into the hall, the folks in the bar stayed. Once our eyes adjusted to the increasing darkness, we could count the number of folks that had bought a ticket on two hands. Half of those were members of her band.

As a business professional, has this situation ever happened to you? What did you do next? Go through the motions? Cut your speech short? It’s tempting, isn’t it?

When the musician realized the situation, the look of mild disappointment dashed across her eyes. But, it was gone quicker than the flash of a shooting star in the early autumn sky. With confidence and grace she smiled and announced, “Tonight is about quality, not quantity – thank you so much for coming to my show!”

She then turned on her amp and, as Paul Simon might describe, “blew that room away”2. I mean, she just slayed it. Just her, her electric guitar, and her songs. It was flat out inspiring. She gave us the same show that she would have given to a crowd of 500. It was professional excellence at a level I might never see again.

On the train ride home my wife asked me what my favorite memory was from our weekend. Despite catching an incredible show the next afternoon from my favorite band, enjoying the culinary delights of two of my favorite chefs, and sampling Central Park on an autumn day right out of a Sara Bareilles song, it was an easy choice.

What I saw that Friday night was true professional excellence and grace. And, the next time I find myself in the same situation, I’ll be inspired to go and do the same.

(By the way, if you like rock and roll music, you might want to check out Brandy Zdan)


  1. Coincidentally, a few days later, Lisa announced that she was ending her relationship with this restaurant, so our timing was excellent!
  2. Paul Simon, “Late in the Evening.” One-Trick Pony. (Warner Brothers, 1980).
  3. Photo Credit: Dave Hensley. (Flickr, February 2, 2013).


You can reach me on or via Twitter. My collection of LinkedIn essays is located here. My Employee Benefit News articles are available here.

The Most Important ACA Number

By: Zack Pace, SVP, Benefits Consulting

When it comes to benefits management, the most important number for any small to mid-sized business to know is how many full-time employees + full-time equivalent employees it averaged in calendar year 2014.1 This solitary, unassuming number is the primary determining factor regarding:

  1. If the employer is subject to Affordable Care Act (ACA) employer shared responsibility for tax year 2015
  2. If the employer must file IRS Form 1095-C and 1094-C for tax year 2015 (AKA Affordable Care Act reporting)2
  3. For employers in most markets sponsoring fully insured medical plans, if their 2015 renewal is subject to the ACA fair health insurance premium rules (AKA age-banded rates)

Given the dramatic impact of this single number, it’s recommended that employers task their accountant with this calculation, review the resulting impact with their ERISA attorney and benefits advisor, and make proper adjustments

However, given all of the regulatory and market pressures on small to mid-sized businesses, what I’m discovering is that this calculation is often not making it to an accountant’s desk. Employers are often calculating this figure internally or simply estimating it.

In my latest Employee Benefits News article, I describe the importance of this number and provide two quick case studies: The ACA: Know your number. Now is the perfect time to double-check that this number was calculated correctly.

The full article is available here: The ACA: Know your number.

What other ACA and benefit topics are on your mind? Please let me know, and I’ll write about them in future Employee Benefit News essays.

You can reach me on or via Twitter. My collection of LinkedIn essays is located here. My Employee Benefit News articles are available here.


  1. See Treasury’s Questions and Answers on Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions Under the Affordable Care Act for an overview of this calculation and the Final Regulations for the specifics. Or simply contact your accountant.
  2. See Treasury’s Questions and Answers on Reporting of Offers of Health Insurance Coverage by Employers (Section 6056) for the details.


How small businesses can use ‘big data’ (Part 2)

In How small businesses can use ‘big data’ (Part 1), Jim Brummitt, of CBIZ MHM, discussed how “big data” has led to advancements in collection, analytics, prediction and visualization.

In Part 2 of this series, Jim presents a number of case studies which explore the benefit of business analytics.

Case 1: Customer profitability and target analysis
Case 2: Customer scoring model
Case 3: Operational efficiency analysis and process redesign
Case 4: Acquisition and sell-side due diligence service and support

The complete article, How small businesses can use ‘big data’ (Part 2), can be found on the CBIZ channel at We encourage you to check out our channel for this and other useful business insights.

Jim Brummitt can be reached at 301.951.3636 or, and on LinkedIn.

What’s the Best Business Advice You’ve Ever Received?

By: Zack Pace, SVP, Benefits Consulting


In response to LinkedIn’s call for essays describing the best business advice we’ve ever received, I submitted The Duck Test & 5 Other Favorite Pieces of Advice. I was honored that LinkedIn subsequently featured my essay on their Best Advice Channel! When I arrived home last night, my daughter asked about my day. I told her that an international company determined that my Advice was the Best. She laughed, and said, “Stop joking around, Dad. What did you really do today?”

Here are my six favorite pieces of advice and their source:

  1. A Dollar is a Dollar – My first mentor
  2. Ignore the Training Manual – The SVP at my first job
  3. Only One Person Can Be the Best – My Dad’s boss
  4. “You Already Know What to Do, You’re Just Not Doing It” – Jeffrey Gitomer (1)
  5. Business Decisions & Emotion Don’t Mix – Barry Ritholtz & Maria Izurieta
  6. Use the Duck Test – My Dad

The full essay is available here: The Duck Test & 5 Other Favorite Pieces of Advice. I hope you enjoy it.

You can reach me on or via Twitter. My collection of LinkedIn essays is located here.


  1. Jeffrey Gitomer,“Time is on your side, as long as you understand it,” (Buy Gitomer, Inc: 2015)



Learning How to Learn

By Zack Pace, SVP, Benefits ConsultingZack Pace

During my youth, I was taught:

  1. The purpose of an education is to learn how to learn.
  2. Grades earned in college have no correlation to business success.
  3. A quality liberal arts education improves the enjoyment of one’s free time.

While I didn’t understand these lessons at the time, throughout my career path they have proven true. I recently shared a few educational and business stories related to these lessons in Learning How to Learn: A Memoir on LinkedIn. I hope you enjoy my stories.

Tracking My Business Habits

By Zack Pace, SVP, Benefits Consulting

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. This book’s lessons are transformational and hidden in plain sight.

Before reading this book, I considered the molding or breaking of habits to be a matter of will-power. Duhigg explains that while will-power is needed:

  1. “A habit cannot be eradicated – it must be replaced.”
  2. “If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.”
  3. “For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.”1

For example, in the Appendix2, the author describes his habit of walking down to the cafeteria every afternoon, buying a cookie, and eating it while visiting with friends. He then explains the process he used to determine the cue, routine, and reward of his habit, and how he replaced the routine with a healthier alternative.

While reading this book, I considered my habits and what routines I should change. Pondering my business habits, I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure what those were. But, after 12 years as a Business Consultant, they are clearly established, whatever they are.

Then, one night this week, my wife mentioned that on the days I spend in the office, I was acquiring the habit of arriving home at 8:00 PM. She was right. Before the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, I commonly arrived home by 6:30 PM. Since then, my arrival time has crept forward later and later.

Thinking about this time creep and habits, I began to wonder if I had developed any poor time management habits over the last 12 years. No immediate answers came to mind. Thus, with The Power of Habit and creating additional free-time as motivation, I decided to begin tracking my business hours by blocks of time. I built a simple spreadsheet for this tracking. For example, here’s my Saturday morning so far:

Date Activity Start End Duration
23-Aug Blog: First draft 7:45 AM 8:40 AM 0:55
Blog: Editing 8:40 AM 9:30 AM 0:50
Troubleshooting Spark (IM tool) 9:55 AM 10:10 AM 0:20
Blog 2: First draft 10:10 AM 10:55 AM 0:45


Analyzing my time over the first 3 days, some early observations:

  • Just as tracking household spending causes me to spend more prudently, I can sense the same causation happening with my time.
  • This morning, I wasted 15 minutes when an application locked up and caused me to reboot. Do I have a habit of trying to fix IT issues that I should delegate to my IT pro?
  • I spend a lot of time driving to and from my clients. Before e-mail became the predominant form of communication, this driving time was productive because I was conversing telephonically with clients and colleagues. Now, the time is unproductive. What habits can I replace to make this time productive once again?

Will I have the will-power to maintain this tracking for a few weeks?

Will I find habits that I can replace with more efficient routines?

Will changing those habits enable me to arrive home earlier?

I hope so.

Have I lost my mind?


I’ll let you know what I discover. If you’d like to join me in this process, we can compare notes.


  1. All three quotations are from: Charles Duhigg,The Power of Habit(New York: Random House, 2012), 92.
  2. Duhigg, The Power of Habit, 287.

 You can reach me on Please follow me on LinkedIn & Twitter.

A 22-Year-Old & The Great Ocean Road

Great Ocean Road, Australia

Zack Pace looks out over the Southern Ocean as a 22 year old.

Last week, LinkedIn asked me to write an advice column for the new class of college graduates.  In response, I wrote this lecture to myself, twenty years later:  A 22 Year Old & The Great Ocean Road. It’s currently featured on LinkedIn’s “If I were 22” channel.

Here are the Top Five lessons I wish I understood twenty years ago:

  1. Social Media is the Great Equalizer

  2. Business Isn’t Like a Football Game

  3. Emotion Impacts Our Business Decisions

  4. Business Teams Need Diverse Personalities

  5. Never Stop Studying

  6. Think About Work / Life Balance in Annual or Decade Terms

The full essay is available on LinkedIn.  I hope you enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Why I Was Wrong About HRAs & HSAs

By Zack Pace, SVP, Benefits Consulting

HRA-HSA-InfographicMy favorite Washington Post columnist closed a recent article by asking, “What mistakes did you make last year?” What came to mind was the mistake I made a decade ago regarding Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). This essay, published on LinkedIn, provides a brief HRA/HSA history lesson, explains why I was wrong, and considers what employers should do in 2014. My collection of LinkedIn essays is located here.

You can reach me on Please follow me on LinkedIn & Twitter.