Why Payroll Is One Function You Should Outsource

outsourcing payroll

Business consultants have long advocated outsourcing non-core functions.

A non-core function is one that is not a profit center (meaning, you don’t charge customers for it). A non-core function may be essential, but doesn’t differentiate your business strategically from competitors.

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In most businesses, administrative and back-office activities such as payroll are non-core functions.

As such, they are potential candidates for outsourcing.

But the question business owners and managers want answered is:  what do you actually gain from outsourcing payroll? Is it worth all the time and effort just to investigate and identify appropriate outsourced service providers?  Then there’s the work involved to transition the function outside to the third party service.  Do the benefits of outsourcing outweigh that effort?

CPA firm Clayton & McKervey noted several long-term advantages to be gained from outsourcing payroll:

“… a company had one person performing all of the payroll processing functions. The company is now outsourcing the functions as a result of thinking ahead. They chose to outsource the functions to reduce the risk of the payroll not being processed, to manage growth by anticipating the increased payroll responsibilities that will be required as the firm grows and hires more employees, and to keep up with technology, such as pay cards and direct deposit.”

Ideally, outsourcing achieves three main goals:

  • It frees up time and resources to focus more on your core business.
  • It gives you access to more technology and expertise to perform payroll well.
  • It reduces costs and risks.

Let’s examine each of these benefits in more detail, and what they mean.

1. Focus Better on Your Core Business

Payroll is one of those critical functions that may not directly increase sales.  But carried out poorly, it can put your business in a world of hurt.

And most of all, it can sap internal time and attention away from core activities.

Businesses have to comply with a wide range of laws when it comes to employees — from federal, to state and local. It takes considerable time and attention to detail to deal with them.

There are the obvious legal requirements, such as tax reporting and remittance.  There are requirements around withholding taxes from the employee’s pay, and also calculating the employer’s portion of taxes.  In some cases there are electronic filing requirements. You need to also know when to file — at the federal, state and local levels.

Taxes, though, are just the start.

“As an employer, you also need to understand wage and hour laws. For example, you need to know when you are required to pay overtime,” said Andy Childs, a vice president of Paychex, in a recent interview with Small Business Trends.  Paychex is one of the nation’s largest payroll services, serving nearly 600,000 small and midsize businesses.  The wage and hour rules, said Childs, can be highly technical.

Then there may be new-hire reporting requirements, and state requirements around unemployment compensation and workers compensation insurance.

Childs emphasized that an even bigger issue is the unexpected time obligations.

“You may have set aside a certain amount of time each week to run payroll. Then you get an unexpected surprise in the form of a notice from the IRS. But it’s not just that the IRS is notifying you that you owe a fine. Now you have to go through your records and investigate to determine if you actually committed the infraction.  All of a sudden you are involved in a dispute resolution,” Childs said.

And it never happens at a convenient time for a small business owner, he added.

2. Get Access to Expertise and Technology

Another reason to outsource is to get access to expertise and technology.

Employers have to deal with almost 10,000 federal, state and local taxing jurisdictions across the United States.  While most small businesses won’t have to comply with each of those jurisdictions, still it points to the complexity of the laws.  And every year hundreds of new laws and regulations are enacted.

For small businesses on the larger side (50 full-time employees and up), the Affordable Care Act alone imposes considerable reporting and compliance requirements.  When asked for an example, Childs pointed to IRS Forms 1094-C and 1095-C. These forms will require employers to certify whether they offered full-time employees the opportunity to enroll in insurance that provides minimum essential coverage.

“These will not be simple forms to complete,” Childs added.  (Paychex has set up an online resource center for healthcare reform obligations due to the complexity of the law.)

Just as important as expertise is new technology. Employers today rely on technology to operate more efficiently.  As a business grows, employers have more employee records to keep and also need more reporting.  Lack of technology becomes a hindrance to scaling for growth of the business.

Employees also expect technology.  Employees today want options like direct deposit and self-service access to their payroll information online.  Employers that aren’t able to provide such options may be at a competitive disadvantage.

On top of that, the explosion of mobile device usage is ushering in a new level of technology expectation.  Mobile use is still nascent when it comes to payroll, but it’s “growing at a rapid rate at Paychex,” said Childs.

Employers are using mobile devices to look at certain reports and look up information, such as how much money they need to have in the bank on payroll dates, he noted.  Employees also are beginning to use mobile apps to check their own records.

Childs expects payroll mobile usage to continue to grow, because it frees up business owners and managers to leave the office.

“With Paychex’s mobile payroll apps, you could do almost anything from the beach — if you wanted to,” added Childs.

3. Reduce Costs and Risks

Outsourcing payroll can also assist with cutting costs and limiting risks. On average, said Childs, businesses are overpaying employees by about 4 percent because of differences between the employee’s time and an accurate time record.

“Just having a more accurate time and attendance recordkeeping solution can save money,” he added.  (Paychex has a cost savings calculator here.)

Then you have the potential penalties for violating reporting and other requirements. According to IRS figures, 40 percent of small businesses pay an average penalty of $845 per year for late or incorrect filings, Childs noted.

Today there are outsourced solutions for businesses as small as one employee, points out Childs. Solutions are affordable, starting at less than $50 a month for small businesses, depending on needs.

A good payroll provider offers capabilities that go beyond what you can do on your own.  If you haven’t considered an outsourced solution before, make this year the year you switch.  It will deliver peace of mind for you as the owner, and free up time in your company.

Tips for Choosing an Outsourced Payroll Provider

If you’re considering outsourcing payroll, it’s a given that you should look at the typical three points you’d look at when choosing any kind of provider: 

  • price
  • service
  • reputation

But when it comes to payroll, there are other points to consider, too:

Security and Reliability of the Provider

You’re giving your payroll provider the names, addresses, social security numbers, and bank account numbers of your employees. You’re giving a power of attorney to make filings on your behalf.

Go with a provider that is financially strong with good controls in place.

Otherwise, you could find your company in a bind, like some South Carolina firms after a small family-run payroll provider was charged with stealing $11 million from clients.

In 2014, clients of Employee Services Net were shocked to discover that the payroll provider had used their money to fund lavish personal lifestyles, instead of remitting it to taxing authorities. Those clients — all small businesses — found themselves facing IRS action. Why?  Because ultimately the employer is responsible even if the payroll provider steals from them. (The IRS has tips to protect your company if you outsource payroll.)

Track Record Serving Businesses Like Yours

Does the payroll provider have a strong track record of serving businesses your size? Is the provider experienced in your industry?

Complementary Service Offerings

Consider the broader services you may need as your business grows, such as benefits and HR services.  Will the payroll company be able to provide those?

Regulatory Compliance Capabilities

Does the payroll provider have the resources to keep up with the burgeoning laws and regulations around employment, healthcare and taxes?


Evaluate the payroll company’s technology, including its mobile readiness. Is the payroll company investing in new technology? Can they keep up with technology as demand for it on the employer and employee side grows?

Accountant Interfaces

Can your accountant get easy access to your payroll and related records for purposes of reconciliations and tax filings?


Payroll image via Shutterstock 30 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

30 Reactions
  1. Couldn’t agree more with this. The penalty for doing your payroll wrong is too great and it just detracts from core business tasks.

    • Hi Robert,

      Penalties are a real deterrent to trying to do it yourself! Too much can go wrong.

      – Anita

  2. It is far too tedious to be done by an employee except if you only have a few people on your team of course. But then, it is something that is better outsourced because you also have to deal with tax and other stuff.

    • Hi Aira,

      I echo what you say about complexity. And keep in mind, your payroll can be complex even with just a couple of people on the team.

      We actually are a paying customer of Paychex, and I really value the service. I practice what I preach – LOL. We started with their SurePayroll unit. It has saved us from many many complexities just due to dealing with different taxing locations.

      – Anita

  3. I couldn’t agree more! I own a small restaurant in a small town in Michigan and I did my own payroll for a few years. Overtime trying to keep up with the ever changing tax laws and due dates was too time consuming and I ended up getting some penalties from the IRS. I always thought only major operations used a payroll service, but then my CPA got me in touch with Paychex. I was a little worried about the “extra” cost at first, but after learning about the services they offer, I’m actually saving money year over year by using Paychex.
    The best part is, there’s no contract with them, so if you’re unsure, I would at least try it and see how you like it! I will never do my own payroll again.

    • Hi Joe,

      Doing your own payroll is a variation of the old “build it or buy it” dilemma, isn’t it?

      Do you build your own internal payroll function, or do you “buy” it from outside?

      It’s usually cheaper, faster, better to “buy” it by outsourcing. Versus doing it yourself.

      We operate in a world of specialization today. Some functions are just too specialized to do it yourself.

      – Anita

  4. Hello Anita,

    I do agree with your views and I share the same thoughts regarding the complexity and pressure of compliance. However, I started using a payroll software from last two years and since then, I did not face any problems. In fact the easy to use interface and the flexibility to integrate the software with my existing inventory and accounting software have provided me an advanced edge over my competitors. Please understand, these are personal views and you have all the authority to defer. As per as my understanding goes, payroll service providers might also be using some kind of payroll software to process the salaries.

  5. I am a owner of a small payroll processing company, we service small to medium companies. I have seen how clients attempt to process their own payroll, while not realizing the mistakes that are being made. If you don’t know payroll rules and regulations you can get yourself into some hot water. I have seen it happen and have cleaned up a lot of messes. Its not as easy as just getting software, the software is as good as the person operating it. The software is just a tool, you need to be knowledgeable in payroll rules and regulations. The health care reform has had a large impact on payroll and human resources, this in itself is a complex area. So not because I am a payroll company owner, but because I have seen first hand the costly mistakes it can cost you as a business owner. Don’t try to do it yourself.

  6. How much u charge for payroll outsourcing and what are the roll u will take care eg. Tax, Pf, Esi, etc

  7. Good article. But why we need to outsource payroll management chore if we had better tools?. We are using clockit.io tool for payroll management and it helps us to reduce payroll costs and time theft.

  8. I am a part owner of a local climbing and outdoors store. The payroll takes a lot of time and is very intricate. I like how you mentioned reasons to outsource payroll because it will save time and are able to focus on our business. I think this is important because the accountant can handle the payroll and all that that brings and we can solely focus our attention to what out business needs to be better. Thanks all your helpful information!

  9. I think that payroll can be quite bothersome especially if you need to attend to it on a monthly basis. Having someone take care of it really lifts a burden off of your shoulders.

  10. I agree, My IT provider Staff India which is and IT outsourcing company handles all my IT related accounting activity. I tried several Software which does make life easier however knowledge play a very important role where I failed. Deciding on whether to Outsourcing the important task took me a lot of research and efforts. In the beginning, I tried and tested them and when I was confident of their service and knew I found a suitable company, I decided to go for it. I am impressed with their service and thinking whether to outsource HR activity for which the deal offered is irresistible and to be honest, I am profiting a lot through outsourcing. PS Thank you for the article and all the comments everyone 🙂

  11. Well, it is the human tendency that employees of a company are always thinking about their pay. In order to keep the employees happy, employers are well advised to make sure they pay employees timely and accurately. Another thing is that it is such a process where a small mistake can cause a lot of disruptions. So, it is better to outsource payroll service in order to do the same task more efficiently and accurately. Here I want to deliver some of the reasons to outsource payroll.
    1)Cost effective: It is more cost effective to outsource payroll and tax fillings.
    2)Time savings: Actually cost of time is greater if someone is the owner of the company. So, outsourcing payroll ill help to free up precise time.
    3)Security: Payroll processing is one of the most complex and risky business functions. Outsourcing payroll will give best security for storing and protecting data. Etc..

  12. Payroll is very important part of any business. It helps you to make sure that you and your employees get paid on time. Outsourcing payroll to a managed service provider can help your business stay focused on what matters: generating more business.

  13. By outsourcing payroll services, business owners can do real justice with their resources by utilizing their time and money in a better way. A business doesn’t want its owner to be a good payroll manager, instead he should focus all his energies in thinking about growth and evolution of business. Rest there are experts to take care of things such as the payroll services.

  14. Accounting, payroll & human resources are some of the most commonly outsourced company functions. If you want to grow your business faster? Start outsourcing your most tedious back-office tasks.

  15. Payroll is very important part of any business. It helps you to make sure that you and your employees get paid on time. Outsourcing payroll to a managed service provider can help your business stay focused on what matters: generating more business.

  16. What an insightful report! Human resource is a better part of every business and should be handled with utmost professionalism. HR business process outsourcing helps reduce the workload and allow people in the company to focus on other important work assignments. Looking forward forward to reading more from you.

  17. I like your suggestion to make sure the payroll service we choose has a track record of successfully serving businesses in our industry and of a similar size. The company I work for has grown a lot and is considering outsourcing our payroll service. I’ll pass along the info you shared here and suggest we ask about potential services relevant experience!

  18. Thanks for pointing out that hiring a payroll service can help your business save money. I want to start a business this year, so I’m thinking about hiring a professional payroll service. I’m going to search for a good business that offers payroll services that I can hire.

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