Category Archives for "Small Business"

Blow Your Competition Right Out of the Water

By Randall Orser | Small Business

No matter what sort of business you start, you're likely to face competition from other businesses like yours. You need to figure out ways to stay ahead of the competition as well as blow them out of the water.  Here are 12 ways to gain the competitive advantage that you seek.

  1. Run your business for longer hours or during times when your competitors are closed. If you run a  daycare, for example, you might extend your hours to include evenings and weekends to accommodate parents who are taking night classes or who are shift workers.
  2. Go the extra mile. It's amazing how little things make such a big difference. Send thank-you notes,   birthday or Christmas cards to your customers or clients.
  3. Offer your loyal customers special discounts or start a loyalty program.
  4. Always be honest and upfront with your customers. If you messed up, admit it and take immediate steps to rectify your mistakes.
  5. Treat all of your customers with courtesy and respect. That doesn't mean that you have to like every customer or client that you deal with, but you do have to treat each one with professionalism and common courtesy. 
  6. If you cannot perform a certain service or do not stock a particular product that your client or customer has requested, be upfront about it. Better yet, refer them to someone else who has the product or service that they need.
  7. Strive to provide excellent customer service. Customer service can make or break your business.
  8. Study your competitor's advertisements to see which products or services they are promoting.       Get your hands on all of their promotional materials and look for a way you can improve on what they have already done.
  9. Better yet, buy your competitors product. How does it compare to yours? Are there any areas that you can improve on?
  10. Do informal surveys of your target market, both online and offline. This will help you to uncover exactly what the needs of your target market are so that you can more effectively meet them.
  11. Test a product or service similar to that offered by your competition by offering your customers or clients a free consultation or product in exchange for honest feedback.
  12. Send business to your competition. This isn't as crazy as it sounds, and the payoff can be huge. If there is a service that you don't provide and you know of a competitor who does then refer the customer or client to them. Ask your competitor to so the same for you.

Pick the idea that you like the best from the ones listed above and spend some time implementing it in your business and set yourself apart from your competitors.

It’s Summer, Time to Delegate

By Randall Orser | Small Business

When setting up a business, people often try to do everything themselves and find it hard to delegate work to others. But spreading yourself too thin can be detrimental to both your customers and employees. Here are some of the reasons outsourcing your bookkeeping can be the best decision you will ever make for your company. 

Time constraints 

Many business owners find it difficult to find time to keep their accounting up to date. A backlog develops, which makes it difficult to extract important financial information. Employing a bookkeeper means you can concentrate on generating sales and improving the general state of your business, while keeping abreast of regular financial reporting. 

Lack of financial acumen 

Being a good manager doesn't necessarily mean you are a good accountant. Many business people are intimidated and stressed by the prospect of handling complex accounts which involve sifting through innumerable pieces of paper. Procrastination typically ensues and, as your daily financial tasks remain incomplete, important payments or deadlines are missed. To avoid this situation, hire a bookkeeper to keep paperwork organized and up to date.

Accuracy  

Bookkeepers with professional qualifications are accurate and organized. This reduces the margin of error in financial reporting, especially compared to a busy manager who is trying to run a business. However, for business owners who prefer to do their own bookkeeping, computerized accounting packages offer a middle ground -- a user-friendly and cost-effective option with reduced margins of error. 

Efficiency and Confidentiality  

Bookkeepers can offer advice on how to maximize profits by cutting costs. They also provide timely financial reports upon which vital business decisions can be made. Moreover, all business information and data are handled with an element of professionalism, giving you confidence that your business affairs are handled efficiently and with confidentiality. 

Employing a trained bookkeeper who can perform routine accounting tasks in half the time of an untrained member of staff is a positive step for any business. Paying a self-employed accountant often saves the company more in taxes and National Insurance contributions than the accountant's fees. Your company is also assured that all work will be completed on time, without incurring charges and fines from missing important deadlines.

 

 


Reduce Liability Risks for Your Small Business

By Randall Orser | Small Business

Operating your own small business can be freeing and exciting. It can feel very good when you go your own way and make your own way, and if you do it right, your future could be unlimited.

Sadly, for the small business owner, there are those that want a piece of the action, so businesses are frequently the target of frivolous lawsuits. 

The cliché, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, couldn’t be more suitable for lawsuit prevention. Your best bet for dealing with a potential lawsuit is to take the liability risks head on. You have the opportunity to use some things every day to prevent such an occurrence and getting rid of those dangers can go a long way. What can you do to reduce your risk of legal liability? Here are some things you can do.

Research Applicable Laws and Regulations

Before you get your business going research applicable laws and regulations, so you don’t end up regretting it later. Getting caught off guard by the law is never a good thing, and it could put you on the losing side of a lawsuit. As small business owner you need to become aware of applicable laws and industry regulations and ensure you meet them to the letter, if not the spirit.

Stick to What You Know Best

As business owner, you end up doing it all, especially at the beginning, however approaching unfamiliar tasks or working on something you’re not qualified to do increases the risk of an accident and the potential for a lawsuit. Find people with the necessary skills, and delegate those tasks to them, which costs more upfront, however, in the end will probably save you much more.

Get It in Writing

The days of the handshake over a deal are long gone. In whatever endeavour you’re doing, you need to get it in writing with a contract, however don’t get sloppy and pay attention to the paperwork ensuring you get legal representation for any contract you write, or sign. Yes there is an initial cost for using a lawyer to draw up contracts, but this could end up stop potential lawsuits later.

Hiring and Firing Staff

Your small business can be at risk when hiring the wrong people, or even firing unsuitable employees. Staffing decisions are a regular target for lawsuits, which you may not have the wherewithal to defend. You need to be extra careful when hiring new people for your small business, and even more vigilant when letting them go. You need to document everything when it comes to employees: tardiness, insubordination, errors, etc., in every step of the warning and termination process.

Not Engaging with Customers

As a small business owner, you need to engage with your customers otherwise you’re heading for trouble. Customer complaints are something you definitely need to address as it’s not only bad for business but could fend off future lawsuits. You should be engaging with your customers on a regular basis via social media, your website, email, or in person, in order to preserve good relationships with your customers.

Lack of Insurance

Too many business owners are running their business with too little or no insurance and that’s highly risky. You need to understand your insurance needs and the risks that you are taking, analyze your situations all the time. For those about to start a new business venture, talk to an insurance agent familiar with your industry or a lawyer to determine possible risks and how to address them.

While running your own business can be very satisfying and profitable, you need to recognize your risks, and be ready for them. Small business are usually targets for legal action, just being a small business could put you at risk. Nonetheless, you can do things to reduce your liability risks inherent in your industry, and the above tips can help you.

Can Your Business Handle an IT Disaster?

By Randall Orser | Small Business

High-profile hacks are in the news a lot lately and you’re understandably on edge about your internal data being compromised. You need to protect yourself from both external and internal attacks, however, you could still lose your data in a non-virtual way as well. Your disaster plan needs to account for both physical and virtual threats.

Virtual Threats to Data

Ransomware

This is the newest online threat to businesses and it’s taking over from most other threats. Since 2013 when CryptoLocker exploded on the scene in 2013, ransomware has become epidemic, ultimately costing an estimated $75 billion loss to small business due to downtime and the ransom payment total in the hundreds of millions of dollars in 2016.

Ransomware is where someone forces a business to pay up or lose their data forever. This is accomplished by getting you to click on an email attachment or a link that leads to a site that pushes ransomware code through your browser. Your key files (documents, audio and video) are quickly encrypted with a password that is basically unbreakable, and the criminals demand payment, sometimes more than one, to unlock it. Of course, you’re assuming that the criminals keep their word after receiving payment, most don’t.

Even Apple users are not protected from ransomware like other viruses and malware. KeRanger was the first such attack on Macs, which popped up in 2016. While these kinds of attacks are rare on Apple computers, there’s still a chance that one can get through by using a scripting language like JavaScript.

Loss of Access to Cloud-Based Data

Cloud storage (basically someone else’s servers) are an amazingly beneficial way to share data between users and devices, however, you are relying on another organization to keep your data secure and available. The attack on Dyn that happened in 2016 caused Reddit to be down for a good portion of the day, so there’s no guarantee that cloud- based data will always be available 100% of the time. These attacks could also lead to data compromise or loss, too.

Physical Threats to Data

Theft and Loss

The actual theft of physical equipment is pretty tough to pull off, but it’s not impossible. Generally, as devices get smaller, they’re more vulnerable to theft as well as someone just losing them. Surprisingly, the theft of laptops and small items like USB sticks is common.

Fire

Fire is an obvious hazard, however, it’s usually how that fire is put out that is the secondary hazard, and usually the worst. Server rooms today come with special fire suppression systems that seal the room and deprive it of oxygen, but the rest of the building it just the same fire sprinklers as anywhere else. These old-fashioned fire sprinklers are going to ruin any devices that might be under them when they go off.

Natural Disasters

The location of your server facility could be a big threat to your equipment due to a natural disaster, and that needs to be taken into account. For example, California there is that possibility of the “big one” happening and that must be in the back of your mind. As well the Gulf Coast, where the warmer months mean watching for hurricanes and coastal flooding. Remember Katrina?

The Solution

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution but there is one approach that you should definitely work into your disaster plan, and that’s having backups of your local data as well as what’s in the cloud. You want a ‘snapshot’ system that backs up most, if not all, of your IT infrastructure, which makes automatic backups at frequent intervals, every few minutes is best. With this system, you can quickly restore your business back to functioning if you’re ever hit with a data loss.

Do You Look at Your KPIs?

By Randall Orser | Small Business

What is the purpose of your business?  What do you need to do absolutely correctly in order for you business to succeed?  What are the activities that you absolutely cannot screw up without losing significant amounts of business?

These questions are answered by examining your Critical Success Factors or CSF’s.  Critical Success Factors are defined as those activities that a business undertakes that allow it to succeed.

It’s more than just the numbers on your financial statements.  Some CSF’s relate to measures of quality, customer satisfaction, and how efficiently you are using your resources.

However, before you can do any analysis on your company’s Critical Success Factors, you need to examine your business strategy.

Ask yourself the following questions: Why is my business better than my competitors’? What do my customers tell me that they like about my business? What don’t they like? What action could I take that would make my customers go elsewhere?

Note that two of the four questions relate to your customers’ perception of your company, not your impressions on what they think.  It’s an important distinction as your customers may have a very different view on you and your business than you think.  How do you know what your customers think?  Ask them!  Set up a procedure where they are asked to fill out a feedback form when they purchase your product or service.  Ask them what they like and don’t like.  Ask why they might choose to shop elsewhere.  Ask what you are doing well and what you could be doing better. You may be surprised by the results.

The answers to the four questions above give you a list of those activities that you need to make sure your business is doing regularly and consistently.  Review your list.  You will most likely find that the items on it relate more to your customers’ perceived value in your product or service, not just its cost.  Companies that compete only on cost will always suffer in the long run as there will always be someone else that can do it cheaper. 

Now that you have defined your Critical Success Factors, you need to be able to make sure you are on track.  But how to measure them, especially when some are non-financial?

The measurements of Critical Success Factors are called Key Performance Indicators or KPI’s.  To recap the jargon, Critical Success Factors are things your company must do to thrive, and Key Performance Indicators are the measures of those things. 

Here is a typical list of Critical Success Factors:

Personal service-making sure the customer gets to speak with a staff member when the purchase is made.

Product quality-making sure the product does what you say it will do and is durable.

Quick problem resolution-making sure all customer complaints are handled quickly and in a manner that impresses the customer.

Same-day shipping-making sure that your product gets shipped out to your customer the day the order is received.

All four of these CSF’s can be measured, even though some of them are non-financial.  

Those are some of the ways that non-financial indicators can be measured and tracked.  Once the measures have been determined, it’s important to set your expectations to measure against.  For example, if your target is to ship 100% of your products same-day, then you would gauge the actual against the standard (100%).

What would happen if your Key Performance Indicators start to slide?

Let’s say you’ve been tracking your key performance indicators for months and this month, several of the indicators seem to show problems. What do you do?

When this happens (as it inevitably will), you need to discover the source of the problem.  A business could face many problems that would impact its key performance indicators including employee illness, cash flow crunch, breakdown in processes, and inattentiveness to customer needs.  If the problem is short term, such as employee illness, there is no need to take drastic action.  However, you will want to see if there is a way to make your operations less vulnerable to the illness of a single employee.

If the problem seems to be in the underlying processes, it’s time to put new procedures in place to make sure the critical success factor is being met.  Have there been changes in the external business environment?  New competitors in the industry?  Quality control problems with the inventory?  These are all situations that need a rethinking and reformulation of your business plan.  If you can see the icebergs, you will have a much better chance of being able to steer around them.

How do You Measure up on Making the Hard Decisions?

By Randall Orser | Small Business

Running your small business can be one demanding enterprise. Your dilemma is that you have control, but that is both a blessing and a curse. You have the joy of deciding how your company grows and develops, but you are also answerable for everything that happens, good or bad. If you let it, this kind of pressure can douse the flames of passion. You can make things mentally and emotionally easier for you to deal with by using the following in your approach to decision-making.

Limit Your Options

The old adage analysis paralysis can easily set in. That’s why you should look at having your offers have as few options as possible. The more choices the customer has to decide on then the less likely they are to make any choice at all.

The more options you have available to you, the harder it will be to take a path. Your best bet is to limit options is to raise or refine your standards. The more specific your needs or desired outcomes, the less options you’ll have to pick from.

Use Your Numbers

Not sure which way to go, then your best to approach the issue objectivity. Rather than just go with your gut, check your numbers. Focus on the measurable metrics and forget what isn’t quantifiable. 

While this can take more time and slow down your decision-making process, it also makes your decision more tenable as well as improving the quality. As an example, you have two manufacturers to choose from and it’s a hard choice, however, go to the numbers and which one gives you a better deal when it comes down to brass tacks.

Think Long Game

Fear is one of the biggest barriers to quick decision making. The idea that your business can be hamstrung by a single mistake is a common one, fortunately it’s not an accurate one. Although a single mistake can hurt, it’s not the death knell you may make it out to be.

Some decisions won’t always expose their true nature early on. What’s working now for your small business won’t necessarily work in the future. On the other hand, that bad decision you make today that negatively affects your business may not necessarily do so in the future. Don’t focus too much on your mistakes or their immediate effects. They’re not necessarily representative of how things will turn out.

Manage Decision Fatigue

Nothing withstands constant pressure. Exercise one muscle frequently in a short period of time, and it’ll fatigue, no matter how strong it is. The same effect happens on your brain when making a lot of decisions, fatigue. Deciding what to have for lunch, which is a simple choice, can add to the barrage of stress bearing down on your brain.

By delegating those small-impact decisions to other people can keep that stress at bay. You need to focus on the big decisions. If you can reduce something to a habit or pattern, do so. Save your energy for important choices.

Not Your Problem

You can easily miss the forest for the trees when you’re deep in the woods, and that’s where you’re at when trying to solve your own problems. Especially challenging decisions can leave you lacking perspective. Taking a step back and removing yourself from the situation can be the best thing to do. Pretend it’s not your problem.

If you had a friend facing this decision point, think about what advice you’d give them. That seems silly but pretending that it’s someone else’s problem to resolve can jar your mind enough to recover your perspective.

You must nurture decisiveness as it’s a key trait to decision making. You won’t be able to run your business if you can’t make decisions quickly. It will take a lot time, practice, and effort, but it’ll be worth it if it makes you a leader who can make choices without freezing.

Seven Things You Need to Look at for Financial Success

By Randall Orser | Small Business

You’re a small business operator, managing your business by the bootstraps -- literally! Money is tight, your expenses are on the rise and your competition is nipping at your boots.

Maintaining a thriving business is challenging enough but advancing it may seem downright impossible. One important way you can conserve your resources is by employing multiple money-saving strategies. We’re serving up seven, each designed to help you come to grips with your bottom line.

Just ask

That 13.4 percent rate you’re paying on your business credit card has you losing sleep. Get some sleep after you contact your credit card issuer and ask for a lower rate. You just might get it. You can do the same with your telecommunications company and with any other business that offers rate flexibility.

Share your office

Perhaps you have more space for your business than needed. You may not be able to get out from underneath a lease, but your landlord might allow you to sublease part of your office to someone who can share some of your expenses. An empty cubicle or back office might be desirable to a freelancer who works at home.

Freeze or cut your salary

When things are tough, cut back on what you pay yourself. Then tell your team what you did. Don’t expect your team to offer to do likewise, but they might step up their game in appreciation for you taking a hit on behalf of the team.

Get rid of your merchant account

You’re paying high fees and had to buy or lease equipment for your merchant account. Get rid of that account and use online PayPal instead. Avoid statements and monthly fees, paying a flat rate for each transaction instead.

Buy online

Shopping online can yield big savings, but you need to carefully find the right suppliers to serve your needs. Online shopping typically offers two other advantages: no payment of sales tax and free shipping.

Use independent contractors

Before you consider hiring an employee, use independent contractors to do the work for you. Keep you overhead costs low by outsourcing your accounting, advertising, website and marketing needs to people who charge a flat rate or by the hour.

If possible, barter

Exchange goods and services with a company without exchanging cash. Find a business that needs your service and likewise, developing an even plan to exchange services. Read CRA Interpretation Bulletin 490(even though it’s archived it still has good information in it) to stay within the good graces of the tax man.

There are other ways for you to cut expenses including joining a business association where members offer each other discounts, reducing your insurance costs, making use of open source software and sharing your advertising costs with another business; though stay away from ‘free’ accounting software as it’s just not worth it. With a mind to save, you’ll find savings in virtually every area of your business, money that will benefit your financial statements.

Find the Best Talent

By Randall Orser | Small Business

The 21stcentury economy is constantly evolving at unheard-of rates, and it’s getting harder and harder to find employees with the necessary skills for your business. As an employer are you finding it a struggle to find the right employees to stay competitive? The tried and true solution of old for finding new employees through traditional educational programs isn’t working as well either, because modern business is progressing so fast that many things learned in the classroom are either irrelevant or outdated by the time a student gets a degree. Businesses must get more innovative in their search for new employees in order to overcome those challenges. If you’re looking for new talent in this modern job market, here are some tips that may help.

Formal Education

For a long time, prevailing thought was that a relevant degree was the mark of a potentially able and valuable employee. There is still some truth to this, but a degree shouldn’t be the final word on whether that potential employee is a suitable fit. Many workers today are bypassing the traditional educational system by teaching themselves skills via online learning. Just because they don’t have the traditional degree doesn’t mean they aren’t as good or better than other prospects who do have degrees in their field. You should be placing your emphasis more on skills over degrees to avoid overlooking good talent.

Freelancers

Freelancer workers have been increasing their presence over the past few years, and economically are a great development. Freelancers aren’t someone who’s going to come work for you directly, but they can become a valuable resource because of the real-world experience in their fields. The workers of the future will be freelancers, so you don’t want to pass over them simply because of an outdated mindset of having traditional employees.

Build a Virtual Team

Thanks to technology many businesses carry on their operations without the need for all employees to be in one location. As an employer, you have a big opportunity to hire people from anywhere in the world, not just where your business is situated. The virtual space does take some getting used to, especially if you’re used to a more traditional way of doing business, but the benefits are vast. If you find someone whose talent fits your business well and is prepared to work remotely, don’t squander the chance to bring on this person just due to geographic separation.

Training Resources

Once a new employee has been brought on, the problems that were there that made it difficult to find that new employee with pertinent skills are still there afterwards. It’s more important than ever to play an active role in keeping the skills of your employees up-to-date. You need to develop practical training resources for employees that protect you from that skills gap re-emerging later on in your business. You may be thinking I’m a small business and don’t have the funds or time to develop such resources, however, there are online learning courses, and many are probably provided by your suppliers, that can keep your employees advancing.

The disparity between the skills you need or want, and those of future employees, just seems to grow bigger as the years go by. However, with the above strategies, you, as a modern business, can mostly sidestep the skills gap by adapting to how the modern job market works. And remember to offer your top performers generous incentives so they’ll stay, before you realize that their talent is also wanted by your competitors.

Cleanup Your Invoicing Practices

By Randall Orser | Small Business

Surprisingly, many small business, and maybe yours, are making it hard for your clients to pay, improper invoicing can slow payment, which could bring your whole operation to a halt. You may even get much less than you expected, simply because the client found a hole in the deal. The following ways can help you improve your invoicing and keep your company healthy.

Short Payment Terms

Stay away from 30-day payment terms as they aren’t good for your business. Those kinds of terms mean you wait an entire month for your revenue and this increases the amount of capital your company needs to function, because you don’t immediately recoup your expenses. With today’s technology, you don’t need to wait that long. You can email the invoice and many accounting programs allow the receiver to just click a button and pay. There’s also e-Interac®Transfers, online banking, and credit cards. In this day and age there’s no real need for payment terms anymore. Always, encourage your customers to pay right away, or better yet, prepay.

Bill Clients Regularly

Your business is probably like most that you can get away with requiring payment right away. If you’re in a situation where that’s not possible due to the nature of your business or clients, you will have to determine when you should bill your clients. There’s no one set of rules that apply to all companies, but there are some best practices, so check with others in your industry and see what they’re doing, and those practices may depend on the region you’re in.

No matter how often you send invoices, shoot to send them when their inboxes are less full, like a weekend. Barring that then Tuesday is usually the best bet.

Automation

Invoicing can be a time-consuming, though albeit very important, task. Rather than slaving away at your invoicing, you should automate it as much as you can. The time savings allows you to work on other aspects of your business, especially if you have recurring invoices. As we work on a value-based pricing model, we bill out the first of the month, and apply to a credit card, and thanks to QuickBooks Online this makes it very simple.

Set Your Payment Terms in Stone

Before you even sell your product or service you need to set your payment terms in stone, too many small businesses make this mistake when starting out. Without clear rules, either party could start trying to get more out of the deal, possibly hindering the process or turning it into a worthless endeavour. Every contract should answer things such as payment options, invoicing, as well as any other incentives.

Never Hold Credit

Once you spend your money, you’re not getting it back until you get paid for your product or service. By holding credit, accounts receivable, for your clients, you’re putting your business in pickle. Holding credit can impede you from meeting orders, and if you don’t get paid on time, it could affect your relationships. Your suppliers may not look favourably on your business if you can’t pay them. Ensure your customers know this from the beginning.

If you can’t get paid quickly, and on-time, your small business will never survive. Overhaul your invoicing and ensure you get what you deserve.

Enhance Your Chances of Small Business Success

By Randall Orser | Small Business

As a small business owner, don’t you want to be more successful? Are you content with your success up to now, but realize your business could be better if you worked hard at strengthening your business skills? You need to put in the work regularly in order to improve your chances of business success. The following tips will supercharge your long-term growth of your business.

Challenge Yourself

Outperform your previous day’s efforts. You can make it a game to do more each day and watch what you can achieve in a week amaze you. Track your task completion rate and try to beat your work output each day. Supercharge your productivity by adding just one more task to your to-do list.

Learn to Say No

A coach I work with says it’s either a “Hell, Yes!” or it’s a “NO”.  What opportunities are being thrown at you that you need to say no to. Don’t cave into customer demands for fear of losing a sale or take on a customer if they don’t fit your ideal client. You need to focus your energy on opportunities and tasks that help the bottom line to build a booming business. Learning to say no is the hardest challenge of being a small business owner. However, it’s on that’ll pay dividends well into the future.

Spot Opportunities Where Others Don’t

Learn to spot opportunities others miss if you want to be a successful business owner. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in community politics, competitive challenges, or market negativity. Your best bet to outperform others in your industry is to stay positive about the future of your business and be observant spotting opportunities. Skip the negativity and squabbling and grin all the way to the bank and leave them wondering about the secret to your success.

Change is Good

Your business plan should include change. If you’re not willing to change your business plan, you may miss out on extraordinary growth opportunities. Business planning is smart, tweaking and updating your business plan is smarter.

Make Quick Decisions

If you truly want to succeed as a small business owner, you need to learn to make quick, informed decisions. Take too long making that decision and poof the opportunity has passed you by. Understand crucial factors that are relevant to your decision, weigh the pros and cons, and then make a firm decision. Never look back or second guess yourself.

By incorporating the above tips into your daily routine your odds of growing a booming business increase. Putting in the effort to improve your business skills makes it likelier that you’ll achieve great success. What about it? Are there business development skills you have found especially helpful in growing your business?

 

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