Staying Healthy-Smart In An At Home Working Environment

by admin on May 21st, 2014

filed under Working At Home

shsifeREMEMBER THAT COMMERCIAL WITH THE TELE-worker shuffling around in her pajamas and bunny slippers?” asks Lee Smith, a public-relations account executive who works from Portland, Ore., for a firm based in Chicago. “Well, contrary to popular belief, I don’t sit around like that.”

Like most work-at-home employees, Smith struggles against the perception that she has–in the words of a coworker–”a cake position.” When she first began teleworking four years ago after being in-house for six, many of her fellow workers assumed she was slacking off. “One guy said, `Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if we all had the luxury of working at home?’ His words echoed the thoughts of several others outside of my department,” Smith says.

To combat resentment and misconceptions, Smith overdelivered. She worked marathon hours and delivered seven-page status reports. She responded to e-mails within 10 minutes, sent unnecessary e-mails to everybody, and felt guilty about missing a single call.

As Smith learned, dealing with the social aspects of telecommuting can be daunting. Coworkers resent what they imagine is a slice of heaven and try to undermine you. Even managers add to the misconception by forgetting to ask for your input or neglecting to invite you to meetings.

But all is not lost. The teleworkers and experts we interviewed agree that much of the initial resentment between office and home workers dissipates within the first six months. Meanwhile, read on to see how best to handle it.

Help Others Understand when your coworkers know why telecommuting is the best way for you to get the job done, they’ll be less resentful. “At first, they said things to me like, `How’s the lady of leisure today?’” says San Jose, Calif.-based Colleen Pizarev, who worked at PR Newswire for three years before becoming a teleworker two years ago.

“They thought I was sleeping late, [lying] around, and watching TV. I explained that to do my job, I had to telecommute.” Pizarev works with bureaus in Europe and Asia, and starts her day at 6 a.m., clocking a few hours and then taking some time off before starting up again at 6 p.m. “Since I had that lull in the afternoon, telecommuting made the most sense. Once people heard that, they accepted it.”

Pizarev further diffused resentment by opening communication with the most vocal dissenters. She was honest about the pros and cons of working at home and admitted to missing everyone. “I continually stressed that it simply made more sense for me to work from home. Once people understood that and learned they could reach me whenever they needed to, there were no more hard feelings.”

Don’t Forget Me

Possibly nothing is more difficult for teleworkers than staying connected, but unless you’re constantly in your coworkers’ thoughts, it’s easy for them to assume you’re slacking off. And once you start getting left out, it can be next to impossible to get back in.

“The most difficult thing when I started teleworking was that people forgot about me,” says Pizarev. “Decisions were made, meetings were held, and I didn’t know what was going on. I had to learn to stay in contact professionally and politically, and it was a huge challenge.” Pizarev believes that the main reasons telework arrangements fail is that such issues aren’t recognized or addressed early on. But how do you remain in the loop on a constant basis?

Jeff Hill, who lives in Orem, Utah, and works for a New York City-based firm, suggests calling people for social chats. “I call it `virtual wandering,’” he says. “Because you’re remote, you have to reach out. In the office, when you’re at a lull, you go to the water cooler. Pick up the phone and ask a coworker about the kids, the latest movies she’s seen, or what’s new in her life.”

Jack Burke, author of the book Creating Customer Connections, suggests establishing daily conversations with your supervisor, especially if you can’t get to the office regularly. He also advises teleworkers to make every effort to attend company functions such as picnics and awards banquets.

Since teleworkers are usually “the last to know” what’s going on in the office, Jennifer Johnson started the Virtual High Five, or VHF. Johnson, president of Johnson & Company, a virtual public relations and marketing agency, institutionalized the importance of complimenting best practices and accomplishments.

“VHF is part of our vernacular,” she says. “The entire company had a virtual baby shower for three pregnant staffers, where we were all on a conference call and listened as the moms-to-be opened gifts.” For Christmas 1998, Johnson bought everyone silk pajamas with the firm’s logo on the pocket. She asked them not to open their gifts until the team conference call. “It sounds simple, but it creates a sense of community.”

Know Yourself/Know Your Coworkers “You must know your personality and style of communicating,” says Orlando, Fla., resident Deb Haggerty, a former telecommuter for AT&T who now counsels others. Her firm, Positive Connections, helps companies and people communicate better and institute human resources departments.

“Be aware of people’s different styles,” she says, “so you’re more precise in your communication. The folks at the office who appear jealous may have different ways of communicating. For example, if you’re at home and use lots of gestures and facial expressions, that won’t come through over the phone. You’ll need to make people understand with only your words. If you’re talking with a detail-oriented person, be concise and precise. Have the data nearby to talk in a way that suits that person’s style.”

For Smith, understanding her coworkers means remembering what it’s like to be in an office. “It’s easy to forget about people just walking in and wanting to talk about the weekend or asking for your opinion. I expect people to call me back immediately, and that doesn’t happen. I remind myself [there are] a lot of interruptions and I need to be patient. There needs to be give and take.”

Get Management Buy-In

Pizarev learned how vital a supportive manager can be. “In meetings, my boss would make sure to bring up my name and keep everyone aware of what I was doing and that I was part of the team. The then-president was also supportive and included me on speakerphone for major meetings.” Pizarev says her company championed her cause, and that went a long way toward reducing resentment.

Sweetening the Pot

In today’s competitive job market, savvy managers know providing better benefits and more options is key to attracting and retaining the best talent. Keeping employees happy isn’t just about a good health and dental plan–what they want is flexibility.

In a poll conducted by RHI Consulting, a company that provides IT professionals on a project basis, 88 percent of managers surveyed said offering a wide range of benefits–flexible hours, personal days, telecommuting, and sabbaticals–was crucial. In addition, those surveyed noted that job sharing has surged in popularity. So what are companies offering? (Survey participants were allowed more than one answer.)

You’re Always on My Mind

The following suggestions are from Siemens Information and Communication Networks Inc., where approximately 25 percent of the 7,000 employees telecommute.

* Use items with the company logo–such as mugs, pencils, and mousepads–to help you feel connected.

* Talk to your peers as often as possible.

* Make sure your colleagues and manager know about important happenings in your life.

* Find ways to be in contact with your colleagues via e-mail.

* Stay in touch with your manager on a regular basis.

When Settling Isn’t Bad…

by admin on May 6th, 2014

filed under Management, Working At Home

tewrdJUDGING BY THE NUMBER OF TELEwork-related disputes making their way into the legal system, even companies with large-scale, successful work-at-home programs aren’t immune to serious problems.

Classic “he said/she said” exchanges are typically at the root of such full-blown legal conflicts between workers and managers; these usually result from improperly trained managers and poor communication on both sides.

What can you do to avoid trouble before it starts? If your company is new to telework arrangements, develop a specific legal telework policy you can turn to if things get out of hand. And if you’ve already drafted a legal policy, be sure to review it periodically and make tweaks and updates based on feedback from employees and your human resources and legal departments.

Take the case of former Aetna Life & Casualty employee Virginia-Daley, who sued the company claiming she was fired because she asked her supervisor to let her telework one day a week soon after the birth of her son.

Although Daley had returned to work full-time, she soon yearned to spend more time at home, as well as well as cut down on her daily two-hour commute. When she broached the subject of telework with her supervisor, he denied her request, arguing, according to Daley, that one’s private and professional lives should be kept separate, and that Daley should “get a nanny” to care for her child.

Soon after, and during the course of a routine session with a human resources representative, Daley expressed her strong desire to work one day a week from home. When the HR officer discussed the remark with Daley’s supervisor, she said her supervisor challenged her for “going over [his] head.”

According to Daley, from that point on, she continued to perform her job well but was unable to please her supervisor. In frustration, she wrote a letter to Aetna’s CEO suggesting that there was room for improvement in Aetna’s policies, which, in turn, further enraged her boss. A year from the time she first requested a flexible work arrangement, Daley was fired.

Aetna, recognized as a bellwether for flexible work arrangements, claimed the firing had nothing to do with Daley’s request to telework nor her writing the letter to the CEO, but was the result of poor performance. However, during the time of the conflict, Aetna was in the process of downsizing its operation, and had elected to keep Daley in her position.

Although a jury ruled in favor of Aetna in 1994, subsequent motions and appeals kept the case in court until a Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the jury’s ruling in August 1999. All in all, the case of Aetna v Daley dragged on for eight years.

Make a Plan
According to C. Andrew Head, an employment attorney and author of the report “Telecommuting: Panacea or Pandora’s Box?”, telework arrangements can create a host of problems for employers as well as for the courts, which must reconcile the evolving telework paradigm with employment laws dating back to the 19th century.

Besides drawing up a written legal agreement before dispatching any workers home, Head lists the following important considerations that can help you and your employees avoid future conflicts while embarking on telework situations:

* Identify the jobs in your organization that are suitable for remote working, and produce job descriptions detailing the essential functions for those positions.

* Create legitimate, nondiscriminatory selection guidelines for granting telecommuting privileges to employees.

* Document equipment expenses, technical support, training, and courier or express mail services, as well as space, facilities, furniture, or equipment provided for the telework position.

* Determine whether the employer or the employee is responsible for insuring equipment and the home work area.

Avoiding Traps
Besides these guidelines, Head says there are three common telework pitfalls managers and workers should make every effort to avoid.

Never use telework as a solution for a problem worker. Performance problems exhibited in the office are not likely to improve at home. Specifically, Head cites the case of an employee with chronic attendance problems who viewed working from home as a remedy.

When the employer refused to grant a telework arrangement, the worker sued the company, but lost the case. The judge ruled that the company’s flex-time policy needn’t apply in a situation in which the employee was expected to do his job during normal business hours.

Second, severe conflicts may stem from a lack of control, either real or imagined, on the part of the manager. Often the work-at-home employee is thought not to be working at all.

Another root of potential conflict comes from the manager who takes an “out of sight, out of mind” stance. Consider the case of Ellen, a software developer who had teleworked for a construction company for years. When a new supervisor joined the company, Ellen’s attempts to communicate via e-mail and phone were ignored, and before long, the boss attempted to eliminate her position. Although the supervisor offered to let Ellen continue her position from company headquarters, that would have entailed moving out of state, so she opted to leave the company instead.

Although Ellen never considered taking legal action against her former employer, she regrets the loss of her telework position.

Greasing The Wheel

A no-nonsense legal policy goes a long way toward helping you sidestep worker-manager conflicts, but so does a detailed communications policy. If possible, require new teleworkers to spend time in the office initially, both to establish contact with colleagues and to help them feel part of the team. Moreover, make sure teleworkers come in for meetings, face-to-face sessions with managers, and even social occasions.

Telework: More Than Just a Perk

According to a recent survey conducted by the International Telework Association & Council (ITAC), employers sent more than 19.6 million workers home last year, bringing the total number of teleworkers to 10 percent of the U.S. population.

The report cites three factors in the increase: the Internet, technology, and “work/life choices.” With fast and inexpensive access to the Internet and a wide range of technology options, such as cell phones and notebook computers, the report says telework is increasingly being recognized not as a perk, but as a necessary component of the modern office.

Keep Yourself Protected When Telecommuting

by admin on April 29th, 2014

filed under Working At Home

kypwtYOU’VE SAT AT THE SAME DESK FOR five years. You’ve worked at the same PC day in and day out for the last three. Even the filing cabinet and phone are familiar fixtures in your home office. The trouble is, they’re not yours–the company paid for them when you started teleworking.

“When I left my last job, I was very concerned about making sure I wasn’t blamed for not bringing everything back,” says Salt Lake City-based consultant Amy Neuberger. “I made a detailed list with the secretary and had her mark off everything that I returned. I didn’t want there to be any misunderstanding. I even returned leftover paper clips!”

While few companies insist on getting back unused boxes of staples, desks and computers are another matter. And considering the sizable investment that such equipment represents, you’d expect employers to carefully manage their telework inventory. But that’s not always the case.

“Many companies have pretty informal teleworking programs,” says Martha Buxton, director of marketing at TeleCommute Solutions, an Atlanta-based company specializing in remote workforce management. “They often don’t have telecommuting agreements or track equipment.”

That’s exactly the experience of Robin Hohman, a reporter who recently left her Framingham, Mass-based employer. The company initially provided a computer, desk, chair, telephone, and supplies. But at the end of her tenure, problems surfaced. “We had no telework agreement at all,” she says. “No one kept records of what equipment belonged to whom, or what the disposition would be when I left.”

Hohman found herself poring over equipment records, and tried bargaining with the company for possession. What can you do to ensure that your equipment and furniture goes where you’d like it to? Consider these tips:

Keep Good Records
There’s nothing more important than making sure you and your company agree on who owns what. “Because we [worked] off of old expense sheets,” says Hohman, “I wound up returning things that the company didn’t even really want.” It can be a real nightmare trying to determine who owns what when you’re in the throes of changing jobs and possibly even moving. “They might hold up your last paycheck if they think you haven’t returned everything,” she adds.

Be a Hero
Many telecommuting programs fail because the terms of the agreement were never spelled out, says TeleCommute Solutions’ Buxton. If you can persuade your boss to put the details in writing, you’re not only protecting yourself but helping the company’s telework program to succeed. You’ll have a clearly defined exit strategy, and be a hero, to boot.

Don’t Settle for an Allowance
Some teleworkers push for an equipment allowance to outfit their home office. On the surface, it’s a good deal for everyone–you get some cash and the company may be able to bargain a lower starting salary in return. But this path is fraught with pitfalls: The allowance is taxable income, reducing your actual buying power, throwing your entire office into a gray zone–what percentage of the desk was paid for with the allowance? Who really owns it? It’s better to order the equipment with a company credit card, or even expense it.

Don’t Assume Anything
Establish from the outset exactly what equipment the company will provide and what you’ll need to supply on your own. This should be detailed in your telecommuting agreement. Also include any options for upgrading to new equipment, and what happens to the equipment if you leave the firm. “Few companies think that far out,” Buxton says.

Hohman agrees: “Don’t assume that just because your old boss paid for the desk, your new company will do the same. I found out the hard way, and it cost me a lot of money to establish a new home office.” Also, firm up details with your boss regarding who pays for the cost of delivering and assembling equipment.

Discuss Buyback Options
Quite often, the equipment that your company gave you three years ago is more trouble than it’s worth to return. “Since the company has already depreciated your equipment and it’ll cost a small fortune to ship, don’t be afraid to make [your company] an attractive offer to just keep the stuff,” says Stan Fitzgerald, a telework project manager for Boca Raton, Fla.-based Siemens Information and Communication Networks Inc. who regularly manages hundreds of teleworkers. “Often a company would rather get some cash for an old desk than lose money getting it back,” he says.

Don’t Pack it Yourself
When it’s time to say goodbye, let the employer come pick up the equipment. If the firm sends a moving company to retrieve it, this frees you from liability for any damage, and will save you some back-breaking labor in the bargain.

Trade Shows Are Still Red Hot

by admin on April 21st, 2014

filed under Business Ideas

tsasrBIG COMPANIES HAVE RELIED ON INDUSTRY trade shows to be hotbeds for business-to-business deal making, lead gathering, and overall business marketing and promotion. In the past, many trade shows had a broad appeal and focus or catered only to Fortune 1000 companies. But recent growth in this booming $10 billion industry has spurred organizers to launch increasing numbers of smaller, more specialized business-to-business events that cater to much narrower, more vertical audiences. Today, you have a good chance of discovering events dedicated to your trade and targeting the very customers, competitors, and potential partners you’re trying to reach.

Although odds are good you’ve walked the aisles as an attendant at such industry events, it’s time to consider the benefits of setting up your own exhibit booth. Trade shows can help you target your audience. If you pick the proper show, you’ll meet people you wouldn’t usually see on a one-on-one basis. And because you’re not a large company with an extensive sales force, the benefits are great: You’ll encounter hundreds of potential business opportunities in two or three days.

You may think your home-based business is too small to participate, too constrained by lack of personnel to staff a booth, or too tightly budgeted to invest in booth space and peripherals. But that’s no longer the case. We’ll show you how to get started.

Home In on a Show

There are shows of all sizes in nearly every industry, from various technologies to gift fairs to manufacturing to `landscaping. And it’s easy to find out what they are and how impressive their attendance figures have been. Learn what they charge per square foot of exhibit space (generally the smallest increment you can purchase is 10 by 10 feet).

The simplest way to research shows is online. TS-Central (www.tscentral.com) and the Trade Show News Network (www.tsnn.com) are two top sources for identifying most of the 4,000-plus annual North American trade shows. The sites provide information on events (dates, locations, and so on), and let you find contacts at shows and study exhibits by industry, date, and geographical region to get a better idea of where you fit in.

Make Contact After you’ve done your research and created a list of possibilities, get in touch with the company or association responsible for producing the show. Most show organizers have Web sites and often let you register online to get a feel for the event. You can also request a prospectus, a brochure that gives you detailed information about the show. It lists exhibitors and supporting associations and groups, and provides attendee profiles with job titles and levels of buying authority.

There is one caveat, though: Check with show management regarding drayage (movement of freight) charges and labor regulations within the hall. If you have your product shipped in, you’ll be charged a fee for every 100 pounds. You may not have much to haul, but these fees can be hefty surprises for new exhibitors.

Set Up Shop Before you arrive at the show, you need to make several decisions. As a new, small player, you may want to rent a portable or pop-up booth. The large exhibit houses build megabooths for big companies and the like. But what you need is an easy-to-assemble, lightweight structure.

“This eliminates a cadre of decisions the new exhibitor must make,” says exhibition consultant Janet Schafer, president of the Highland Park, Ill.-based Schafer Group. A new niche or pavilion area within a show often offers special pricing. And always ask about a first-timer program, she says.

Preshow Marketing

To get the most out of the show, preplanning is essential. This involves setting goals and supporting them through marketing via direct mail, reminder cards, contests, and participation in show-sponsored programs.

Although it’s the event organizer’s responsibility to bring attendees to the hall, it’s your job to attract them to your booth. The organizer will help you determine the identity of pre-registered attendees and answer your questions.

Trade show organizers publicize their events to qualified attendees. But they also invite exhibitors to go in on co-op ads at little or no cost, sending your customers four-page flyers with registration forms and information inside, and your ad or logo on the front page.

Other perks include VIP tickets or free, personalized invitations that are mailed to your customers. You receive a listing in the directory, which is distributed on-site, and you’ll be offered opportunities in other show-driven marketing programs. The show’s Web site might also offer a link from its exhibitor listing to your Web site.

Meet the Press Show organizers will frequently ask you to prepare a press kit for the show. This is your opportunity to reach out to the media and get publicity for your business. The kit is a compilation of information about your company, and should include a one-page company backgrounder, a two-page news piece on each new product or service your company provides, a photo (slide or color print), a contact name, and your booth number.

Editors and reporters need to know what’s new, and if they find something interesting, there’s a chance you’ll be mentioned in a news or product story.

Work the Booth

Staffing an exhibit alone takes stamina; standing around all day, making contacts, and showing off your product or service can leave you exhausted by the end of the show’s run. If you have a colleague in a similar business, you might want to exhibit jointly. Or you can go in as an adjunct to a company with which you do business.

If you can’t get another person (even a family member) to take over the booth for a while, leave a message for visitors indicating when you’ll return. Don’t take long lunches; leave more frequently for shorter periods.

When you’re among hundreds of event participants in a confined space, it can often be difficult to attract visitors to your booth. Be proactive. You have just a few moments to get your message across, so work on making it interesting and brief.

You also should have your company literature handy. If you can afford to do so, rent space in literature kiosks in the lobbies or registration areas. You may also want to swipe attendants’ plastic ID cards (provided with their badges) to capture the lead on an imprinter or handheld computer system rented from show management. If so, it’s imperative to mail catalogs, brochures, and other materials to them quickly, with a personalized cover letter attached.

Once the show’s over, you’ll need to do some follow-up. File leads for future reference, visit the organizer’s Web site for updates on future shows, and stay in touch with exhibitors you’ve met. And let your clients know which trade shows you participate in. Exhibiting keeps you up-to-date in your industry.

Virtual Show

Although the virtual exhibition has not yet arrived, the industry is moving toward incorporating an online aspect into shows. Currently, though, the virtual trade show simply exists as an adjunct to successful offline events, offering links to the exhibitor’s home page, a description and history of the show, and useful information on conferences and networking events, as well as contact information.

Booth Building Made Easy

If the “pipe-and-drape” system of exhibition (assembling metal tubing for hanging curtains) isn’t to your taste, more sophisticated booths are available for rental or purchase. You may want to use a portable backlit booth that stows away in a case on casters, and can be transported by car to the convention hall. Or, you can purchase an exhibit made up of flexible panels that configures for a variety of situations. The initial investment in either can be recouped after three to five shows, depending on how well you fare at the show.

According to Bruce Newbury, director of business development for Nimlok, a Niles, III.-based booth vendor, renting a simple 10-foot exhibit with a backlit header and materials costs about $650. A graphic adds another $175, carpet rental may be $325, and an electrical outlet is about $200 (prices vary from show to show), he says.

Some exhibitors can expect to pay about $45 per 100 pounds in drayage fees, Newbury says. For example, 130 pounds divided by 100, or 1.3 times $45, equals $60. “Setup takes one person about 20 minutes,” he adds.

Avoid Health Emergencies Today, Before They Arrive

by admin on March 11th, 2014

filed under Working At Home

Annemarie Marek needed health insurance. But the cost of coverage was enough to make her sick.

aheAs a nonsmoker in good health–and with no history of claims–Marek pays about $230 per month for medical coverage, on top of an annual $2,500 deductible. The package includes a 5 percent discount on prescriptions, but Marek has seen the deductible cost jump 20 percent annually since she first purchased the plan in 1992. Although her Dallas-based marketing communications firm, Marek & Co., foots the cost of her health coverage, Marek quips, “Remember, I’m a sole proprietor.”

So costly is health insurance for independent professionals and home-based business owners, like Marek, that many have opted to go without coverage. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses (www. nfibonline.com), approximately 56 percent of its 600,000 members are uninsured. And 11 percent work from home, notes the NFIB’s national director of health care, Jamie Amaral.

“It’s a huge issue,” says Amaral, explaining that available policies often don’t match the business owner’s needs or ability to pay. “There’s either too much coverage, so they’re too expensive, or they’re so bare-bones there:s little benefit,” she says.

According to a recent survey of uninsured Americans by WellPoint Health Networks Inc., in Thousand Oaks, Calif., 25 percent of respondents said they would purchase health insurance–if it was priced affordably. What’s more, respondents perceived the cost of insurance coverage to be twice as much as it actually was.

Affordable health insurance policies do exist, if you know where to look. Follow our guidelines to find a plan that suits your needs without breaking the bank.

Assess Your Needs

Before you start shopping around, take the time to determine your minimum health care requirements. Make a list of care or treatments you need, as well as the amount for copayments (what you’ll pay to the care provider at the time of service) and out-of-pocket expenses (usually your maximum deductible) your business can afford. A rule of thumb: The more you pay per visit, the lower your premium. Also keep in mind that preexisting conditions such as asthma and diabetes typically boost premium costs.

Next, consider which of the three general types of health plans best suits your needs. A health maintenance organization policy is the most affordable, but it limits you to a select group of doctors on the HMO’s list. More expensive is a preferred provider organization (PPO) policy, which is less restrictive, but also requires you to choose from a prescribed roster of doctors and facilities. And more costly still is an open policy, which provides near-unlimited access to doctors, hospitals, and surgical or clinical facilities.

Shop for a Plan Once you’ve settled on a health care strategy, you need to find a policy to match it. David Ludwig, senior vice president of agency management with WellPoint, recommends you get quotes from at least three agents before settling on a plan. Consider these six starting points to find what you need.

* Inquire whether your local chamber of commerce and your industry trade association offer member policies.

* Ask your peers for referrals to trusted health insurance agents.

* Contact the National Association of Health Underwriters (www.nahu.org), an association of independent health insurance sales agents.

* Call your state’s insurance commissioner’s office and inquire whether your state participates in a small-business coverage pool, suggests Amaral. Also referred to as “catastrophic insurance,” coverage pools accept employed workers who have been denied coverage by a commercial carrier or employer due to a pre-existing or chronic condition. However, the cost can be high–from $400 to $600 per month per person, according to the NFIB.

* If you’ve recently left a company to work for yourself, you might want to consider signing up for a COBRA plan. Although this lets you extend your existing coverage from your former employer, Amaral warns that the cost can be up to three times higher than traditional coverage.

* For general information and policies, checklists, charts, and questionnaires, head to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (www.ahcpr.gov).

Doctor in the House

Once you’ve collected quotes from several providers, next you’ll want to scan the provider directories for primary care physicians or general practitioners whose names you know–or who have been recommended to you. If you’ve moved to a new area, look for board certifications and other credentials; you can often find this information at the insurance carrier’s Web site.

For comprehensive information and online application processing and policy ordering, check out Web sites such as ehealthinsurance.com, InsWeb.com, HealthAxis.com, and Insuremarket.com. Each site simplifies the process of finding affordable health insurance, says Vip Patel, CEO of ehalthinsurance.com, Sunnyvale, Calif.

“The hassle factor results in a barrier,” says Patel, whose company represents Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Prudential PacifiCare, United Healthcare, Cigna, and Aetna in a number of states.

If price is your primary concern, consider creating a checklist of your required services–and how much each may cost, advises Ludwig. Weigh the desired monthly premium against the deductible, the out-of-pocket maximum per occurrence, as well as other medical charges.

To further cut costs, Ludwig advises that you raise your deductible (the amount you’ll pay on each occurrence before the insurance kicks in) or lower your lifetime benefit (the amount for which the insurance ultimately is liable in the event of a long or catastrophic illness). Then invest that amount.

That’s what Marek did; she then earmarked the savings for health emergencies.