Category Archives for "Small Business"

A Formula for Disaster

By Randall Orser | Small Business

A majority of family-owned businesses have no succession plan to deal with retirement, disability or death. The cost of such negligence is often steep.

Except for the most bitter divorces or hotly contested lawsuits, nothing else comes close to the intense emotions and complex challenges of engineering a succession plan for a family business. That’s precisely why so few owners actually engage in the process. Only 30 per cent have a succession plan in place, according to a 2007 study by wealth management firm Laird Norton Tyee.

Even for those who do, tiptoeing through the minefield of succession planning leads to disaster more often than triumph. Just 30 per cent of family enterprises survive a second generation of stewardship, according to the Family Firm Institute (FFI). A scant 12 per cent make it through a third generation.

 “The biggest issue with succession planning is recognition of the need and a sense of urgency around doing it,” says Beth Wood, assistant vice president at Springfield, MA-based MassMutual Financial Group and supervisor of another 2007 study, co-sponsored by FFI. “Our data, based on responses from 1,035 family businesses with at least $1 million a year in revenues, suggest that almost 75 per cent of business owners are within 10 years of retirement, but have not selected a successor or put a succession plan in place,” says Wood, who runs the succession planning practice at MassMutual. “In addition, 30 per cent of the owners have no estate plan in place beyond a will. That is a concern because in our last survey, in 2002, only 19 per cent had no estate plan beyond a will. So the problem is getting worse.”

For any successful privately owned enterprise, estate taxes represent the single biggest threat to long-term well-being if not handled properly, says M. Katharine Davidson, a partner at law firm Dreier Stein Kahan Woods George, LLC in Santa Monica, CA. In Canada, probate taxes can be quite high depending on the value of the estate. As a result, one of the most important goals of a succession plan is to dramatically reduce estate tax exposure.

Expensive misconceptions

Many business owners mistakenly believe they have effectively addressed succession because they do, in fact, have an estate plan. “There is a huge misconception about what a succession plan is, which is why so many people do not have one,” says Ricci Victorio, vice president and a partner-director at 35-year-old succession planning firm The Rawls Group in Fairfield, CA.

“Most business owners do not really understand what a succession plan entails. Many owners think, ‘I have a buy/sell agreement, I’ve got a will, I’ve got a trust.’ Those are standard estate-planning tools. However, what they have overlooked is whether they have trained a successor and whether they have one in place. And they have not asked themselves whether they have managers and the bench strength to carry that successor into the next generation, or whether they’ve provided a way for their successor to inherit, buy or earn the stock so they have a smooth transition of ownership.”

There are also emotional and psychological reasons why so many business owners fail to tackle the issue. “People don’t like to deal with their own mortality, so they don’t like to do succession planning,” Davidson says. “They often also don’t want to deal with some of the hard questions about how to treat family members. There are always relationship issues at hand and they don’t want to disrupt family harmony. And people are so busy running their business, because that is what has made them successful, that they don’t take the time to look to the next step.”

The consequences of such neglect can be very expensive, says David Mahmood, founder and chairman of Dallas-based investment banking firm Allegiance Capital Corporation. “Lack of a succession plan can literally destroy your business,” he says. “So, no matter your age or how good your health is, you need to have a plan in place. Nobody gets out of bed in the morning and expects not to make it through the day because they will get killed in a highway accident or drop dead of a heart attack.”

David Auchterlonie, chairman and CEO of corporate turnaround management firm The Scotland Group in Newport Beach, CA, has witnessed the carnage poor succession planning can inflict. Of 200 cases he has handled over the past 22 years, about one-third have involved family-owned businesses. Of those, succession issues have invariably been at the core of the problems the businesses faced.

“The most common issue is the inexperience or the lack of capability of the designated – or designated by default – successor,” says Auchterlonie. For example, he cites a $100 million distributorship whose owner died suddenly. His eldest son, who held an MBA degree of dubious practical value, took over the company and proceeded to offer deep discounts to its best customers. That, in turn, eroded the company’s financial performance and led to a desperation sale at a fire-sale price.

Victorio agrees with Auchterlonie that a less-than-competent successor, often enabled by a sense of entitlement and the failure of rank-and-file management to expose to the owner his or her lack of qualification for the heir apparent role, is a common problem. Facing it is also among the most emotionally wrenching aspects of succession, she adds.

Yet another emotional issue, one that is often ignored, the experts say, is that the son or daughter or other family member designated as successor actually does not want the job, but a lack of communication or pressure from a parent facilitates an unfortunate circumstance that quickly becomes a catalyst for failure.

As a result, Victorio says, a growing trend is a “succession bridge,” meaning that the plan skips a generation but keeps the business in the family. Typically, an outside CEO is recruited to run the business while a grandchild completes business school and then works in a training or mentoring program under the tutelage of the interim executive until he or she is ready to assume command.

But if in doubt about the existence of a competent successor who has the requisite ambition and drive to shoulder the long-term burden of a business, the best course is usually to sell the company at the peak of its value, the experts say.

Meeting the challenge

More than anything else, perception and attitude determine the success of a succession plan. “The important thing to understand is that succession planning is a process,” says Victorio. “It is not a project. It does not have an end date.”

Key components of a solid plan include a realistic understanding of where the business is today – its strengths and weaknesses – and where the owner wants it to go, as well as a careful assessment of who is the best successor. Often, that means looking outside the family or current management team.

But the grand tradition is for a capable successor to carry on for the family and build the value of the company. Sumita Batra, CEO of Ziba Beauty, a chain of specialty salons in southern California, has endured a succession process for the past four years. Since she took over four years ago, a partnership that includes her mother – the founder of the business – husband, sister and brother has successfully doubled the size of the company, from six stores to 12.

The most important lesson Batra has learned, in going through a transition she acknowledges has been difficult at times, is that a family bond and shared trust are more important than anything else. “Blind trust must exist between the family members to come out of a process like this without damaging your family relationships,” she says. “And you have to put the emotion aside. What I learned is that you can go through a very, very tough experience and instead of getting distant, you can actually become even closer. And the business can grow and become even more successful.”

Unusual Tips for Entrepreneurs

By Randall Orser | Small Business

If there's anything a successful entrepreneur should learn, it's that there's always something they don't know. Even experienced entrepreneurs may find that there are a few tricks that they haven't heard of, things that may improve the way the run things. Smart entrepreneurs look for ways to improve their efficiency daily. If you want to be successful, you'll want to cultivate that same habit.

1. Organize Your Data

As an entrepreneur, you'll need to keep an eye on a lot of details, from the amount of materials and stock you have to how the audience is reacting to your marketing campaign. Being detail-oriented will make sure that you don't miss any opportunities and that you react to any missteps before they get out of hand. That means that any data or information that you have should be organized and readily available.

This will also help you when the time inevitably comes to make sales pitches, either to potential customers or possibly investors. If they need any data, you'll have it ready for presentation. This could easily turn a maybe into a definite yes.

2. Research Answers

The wonderful thing about the Internet is that you have, at your fingertips, a massive amount of information. Due to the ease at which this information is available it is almost criminally neglectful to not use it. If you have any questions, chances are that someone has already asked that question. Even if it does not fit your specific context, you may find the answer still relevant. Look at forums or see if Reddit has a subreddit for your question.

3. Write Things Down 

Entrepreneurs need to be detail oriented. The problem is that there's a lot to remember. Clients, employees, investors and more will ask and tell you about a great deal of things. You're probably going to remember most of it, but most will not cut it. You'll need to write things down, either in a notebook or on your phone, to make sure you forget nothing.

The things with you can do with the information you write down and organize are endless. You can use that information to spot trends, nip trouble in the bud before it sprouts, and even make suggestions to other entrepreneurs in terms of hiring or strategy. Knowledge is power, but only if you remember it.

4. Make Sure That Lines of Communication are Open

A big part of efficiency is communication. Everyone has to be one the same page. They need to know when other tasks are completed and they need full understanding of what needs to be done. As an entrepreneur, you can make sure the lines of communication are open simply by talking to people. Ask them what they think and check up on their tasks every once in a while. Keep everyone else updated, possibly through a mailing list or by simply making announcements. You shouldn't be the only one updating people, however. Make sure everyone knows that it's their responsibility to both stay informed and make sure that those around them are informed.

It's important to note that communication doesn't just involve making sure everyone knows how everyone else is going. It also means that employees, partners, and even clients should be aware that their opinions can and will be heard.

5. Be Nice

Politeness is free, so you should be as polite as you can to everyone you meet. Being a successful entrepreneur is all about treating people right. Treat customers right and they'll come back for more. Give your partners and investors the respect they deserve and they'll be more inclined to work harder on the start-up.

While the strength of your product is what is primarily going to determine the success of your start-up, it would be foolish to say that your attitude and relationships with other people has no effect on your future. It's probably possible to make it as a rude entrepreneur, but you'll probably find the journey a lot more difficult than if you took the time to be polite and kind.

While these tips will help, it's important to remember that there's a lot more to being a successful entrepreneur than unusual tips. There's having a good product, having a strong marketing campaign, and grit. The road might get bumpy, but if you apply these tips and stay in the fight, you'll likely find success.

Understanding Perceived Value for Retail Small Business Success

By Randall Orser | Small Business

Consider two scenarios. In the first a customer strolls into your shop. After having looked around she walks up to the most appealing product in the store, has a quick look over it and then picks up the price tag. She drops it like it was on fire and moves along. In the second scenario things are different. Instead of dropping the tag she holds on to it for a moment continuing to look over the product. A few minutes later you or your sales staff are working with a new customer discussing the products features and benefits and are on your way to a possible sale.

As store owners we all wish for the second scenario, but can we really do anything to control this response? After all we have costs for our goods and our supplier won’t negotiate. Add this to operating costs and apply a fair margin and there you have it. But in fact, you almost certainly have some control over how the customer feels about the price of your product.

The answer lies in understanding the relationship between Anticipated Value and Actual Value. Anticipated Value is the value expected by the customer whether consciously or unconsciously. As it implies the Actual Value is just that. The price they see when they look at the tag. Taking steps to keep Anticipated Value lower than Actual Value is the goal of the manager or store owner.

A great deal of it has to do with the context within which you place your product. Let’s say the product is a beautiful, large, cut crystal bowl. You place it in an enclosed showcase built into the wall with a small, brushed steel spotlight shining on it. A tag of superior design stands beside it in a small, steel frame, which matches the finish of the lighting. It explains the origin of the bowl, how it was made and the name of the person who did the cutting. As the customer approaches it they begin to anticipate what price it will be. Given the setting, the security which it is afforded and the effect the lighting has in bringing out its best features the customers Anticipated Value is likely to be greater than the Actual Value.

In the second scenario the bowl has been placed on top of the counter near some other items of lower value, without accent lighting and is, perhaps gathering a little dust. In this scenario the Anticipated Value is almost guaranteed to be less than the Actual Value. Yet it is exactly the same bowl.

You want customers have a perception of your store having “great” prices. What can be done? How are you able to have an effect on your customers’ perception of price?

One way to do this is to set a standard for the quality of your goods. Don’t surround a product with other items of inferior quality or appeal nor, in fact products of a superior quality. This doesn’t mean you have to be Tiffany’s but, rather that you must have a consistency within your product standards. Don’t mix goods of a wide variety of qualities or some of it is bound to come out looking bad. Let each product complement its neighbors.

As you’ve seen in the two scenarios merchandising the product effectively is one of the keys to higher anticipated price. Give the product some room. Keep it clean and present it as an item of value. If necessary, hire a merchandiser to come into your shop on a regular basis. Good merchandisers pay for themselves.

Naturally it’s not just the products relationship to other products but the store environment itself. Are the fixtures professionally built or something homemade or well used? Are they consistent with the level of value you want to convey, neither overdone nor underdone? How about signage? Is it professionally designed, manufactured and installed or is designed by an amateur, part-time graphic artist painted on plywood?

Next don’t forget the most important element. The people. Are you and your staff well groomed, polite and articulate? Above all are they highly knowledgeable about the product you carry?

Another critical factor is location. Too often when shopping for lease space the focus revolves too much around what a new business owner perceives they can afford. Instead they should consider a premium location, which will bring in a quality and quantity of customers that will lead to high sales and business success. Choose a location with an attractive frontage in an area that will lend credibility to your business. The interior should be well finished and the fixtures fresh and clean rather than well used.

An old sales adage says, “Price first. Product second.” This means you don’t offer up the price before you have fully informed the customer of what they will receive for their money. You would never call up a car dealer and say, “I need a car. How much are they?” First you need adequate information to make a value decision. This concept should also be applied to your price signs and tags. When designing price tags make the price secondary. The price should be in a smaller font than the text. The text should be very concise, easy to read and contain the key benefits of the product. If it is difficult to read, they will simple jump ahead to find the price. Each listed benefit will help to push up the anticipated price.

Look at each of these factors when developing a business plan. Examine each detail keeping in mind how it will reflect on your product and how it will affect your customers Anticipated Value. Keep in mind that moment when the guest in your store turns over that tag. How can you push up the Anticipated Value? Adequate time and effort on this key aspect of business will take you a long way towards strong sales and a healthy, profitable enterprise.

Merry Christmas!

By Randall Orser | Small Business

We’d like to take this time and wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope 2017 has been good to you and here’s to a prosperous 2018.

Here’s some interest facts about Christmas.

It wasn't always on December 25

Though Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, there is no mention of December 25 in the Bible. (Most historians believe he was actually born in the spring.) It wasn't chosen as the official holiday until the 3rd Century. Some argue that the date was picked because it coincided with the pagan festival of Saturnalia, celebrating agricultural god Saturn with partying and gift-giving.

Thank Prince Albert for your tree

Another Christmas tradition stemming from Saturnalia was the Christmas tree: During the winter solstice, branches served as a reminder of spring — and became the root of our Christmas tree. The Germans are credited with first bringing evergreens into their homes and decorating them, a tradition which made its way to the United States in the 1830s. But it wasn't until Germany's Prince Albert introduced the tree to his new wife, England's Queen Victoria, that the tradition took off. The couple were sketched in front of a Christmas tree in 1848 — and royal fever did its work.

Coca-Cola came up with the red suit

Well, Santa wore a variety of colorful suits through the years — including red, blue, white, and green — but legend has it that the popular image of his red coat came from a 1930s ad by Coca Cola.

St. Nick was more generous than jolly

Sure, you probably knew that Santa Claus came from St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop living in the fourth century AD. St. Nicholas gave away his abundant inheritance to help the needy. He also was known for good deeds like rescuing sisters from prostitution. As his legend spread, he was eventually known by names like as Sinter Klaas in Dutch — which morphed into Santa Claus. He's not just the protector of children, either: St. Nicholas is also the patron saint of unmarried women, prisoners, thieves and pawnbrokers. How's that for a naughty list?

Stockings have a funny root

Gift-giving also came from Holland. There, St. Nicholas' feast day is celebrated December 6 by children leaving out shoes overnight and finding little gifts from St. Nicolas in the morning. According to legend, hanging stockings came from the take of a poor man who couldn't afford his three daughters dowries: St. Nick dropped a bag of gold down their chimney one night so that the eldest could wed — but it fell into a stocking that was drying by the fire!

Rudolph was almost named Reginald

A copywriter named Robert L. May first invented the oddball reindeer in 1939 as a marketing gimmick for Montgomery Ward's holiday coloring books. (May considered naming the beloved misfit Reginald and Rollo.) And his nose wasn't originally going to be red: A red nose was viewed as a sign of sign of chronic alcoholism, and Montgomery Ward didn't want him to seem like a drunkard. Good thing they changed it. "Reginald, the blue-nosed reindeer" doesn't have quite the same ring … or charm.

Jingle Bells was originally a Thanksgiving song

James Lord Pierpont, an organist from Savannah, Georgia, first performed a song he wrote, "The One Horse Open Sleigh," at his church's Thanksgiving concert. The song was re-published in 1857 and given the title of today. Bonus fact: It's also the first song broadcast from space. On December 16, 1965, the Gemini 6 crew serenaded Mission Control after they reported seeing a "red-suited" astronaut.

Christmas sends at least 15,000 people to the ER

From hanging lights on ladders to taking roast out of the oven, making merry can prove hazardous. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that an average of 15,000 Americans visit hospital emergency rooms each November and December from holiday-related decorating accidents. To top it off, dried Christmas trees spark hundreds of fires, an average of 17 deaths, and $13 million in property damage annually.

Merrymaking used to be illegal

Though the first American batch of eggnog was created by the Jamestown settlers, by the time the Puritans settled Boston, Christmas was illegal. (The word nog comes from the word grog; that is, any drink made with rum.) From 1659 to 1681, celebrating the once-pagan day could cost you a fine of as much as five shillings. And after the Revolutionary War, the new Congress found the day so unimportant that they held the first session on Christmas Day, 1789. It wasn't proclaimed a federal holiday for nearly another century.

Washington Irving created Santa's sweet ride

He's best known for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow's headless horseman, but the author also came up with the idea of Santa's flying sleigh. In The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, an 1819 series of short stories, Irving recounted a dream where St. Nicholas flew across the sky in a wagon. According to legend, his stories were so popular that they sparked a Christmas fervor in the United States and even England, so much so that Charles Dickens reportedly was inspired by Irving when making his own holiday classic, A Christmas Carol.

The Grinch stole the box office

It's hard to decide which holiday classic to watch first — or which one will be most popular with the whole family. But when it comes to the box office, the highest-grossing Christmas movie of all time is How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Jim Carrey.

Santa has his own zip code

Every year, letters to Santa Claus flood post offices across the world. Some Canadian Post Office workers even started answering them — but as more letters arrived, they set up a special zip code for Santa as part of a "Santa Letter-Writing Program" literacy initiative. The postal code? H0H 0H0.

Favorite carols have complicated histories

The original lyrics to "Hark! The Herald Angel Sings" were "Hark! How the Welkin rings!" Pretty catchy, right? (Welkin was an old English term for heaven.) And though "Silent Night" was rumored to be a Christmas miracle by Father Joseph Mohr of Oberndorf, Austria, whose organ was broken, the truth was less dramatic: A Catholic priest wrote the poem "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" in Mariapfarr, Austria. Two years later, he transferred to Mohr's St. Nicholas Church and asked Franz Gruber to put it to music, which they performed on Christmas Eve 1818.

And the holiday classic "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" has a less jovial history. Songwriter James "Haven" Gillespie was asked to write a Christmas song. At the time, he was broke, jobless, and mourning his brother's recent death. Despite being overcome with grief, he found inspiration in the holiday memories he and his brother had shared.

Xmas doesn't remove Christ from Christmas

It's quite the opposite, in fact. According to From Adam's Apple to Xmas: An Essential Vocabulary Guide for the Politically Correct, the word "Christianity" was spelled "Xianity" as far back as 1100. X, or Chi, in Greek is the first letter of "Christ" and served as a symbolic stand-in. In 1551, the holiday was "Xtemmas" but eventually shortened to "Xmas."

Americans ship an unbelievable amount of gifts

Last year, on December 22, the U.S. Postal Service delivered a staggering 28.2 million packages — breaking its own record for most parcels ever delivered in a single day in its 237-year history. That's just ONE day of the entire holiday season, too!

Mistletoe was believed to be an aphrodisiac

Stealing kisses used to be just the beginning. The holiday flora is an ancient symbol of fertility and virility — and the Druids believed it was an actual aphrodisiac. (So thank them at the next awkward holiday function.) And the name even has a funny meaning: The mistle thrush bird eats the berries, digests seeds, and the droppings eventually grow into new plants. So, the Germanic word for mistletoe literally means "dung on a twig."

Ham, not turkey, is the festive favorite

The dinner debate rages on. Searches for "ham" and "turkey" both spike during the month of December, according to Google Trends data. (Though it's nowhere near how frequently "turkey" is hunted for online in November!) But despite the popularity of both festive entrees, spiral-cut ham remains the more popular choice for a Christmas table. In 2013, Americans bought 318 million pounds of ham during November and December, or 50% of their annual total consumption.

And the most popular Christmas song is...

The Irish Rovers "Grandma got run over by a reindeer,” naturally. (Fun trivia, is the biggest selling novelty Christmas single of all time in the U.S.) But the best-selling tune of all time is Irving Berlin's standard, "White Christmas."

Employers – Don’t Make These Five Hiring Mistakes

By Randall Orser | Small Business

Hiring staff is probably one of the most talked about things a business person does. It’s not easy and it can be somewhat forgiving. When you’re hiring someone, you have to consider their skill level as well as their personality, and how are you going to incorporate them into your business (on-boarding). We’re looking at the five common hiring mistakes many new employers make.

Narrowing Your Search Too Much

You probably have the image of the ‘perfect’ candidate, however, you’re doing yourself a big disservice as most applicants won’t be that ‘perfect’ fit. Don’t fall into the trap of hiring the same individual every time you need to hire someone. Businesses that are diverse are much more successful. As they say, ‘hire for attitude, not aptitude.’

Going with First Impressions

While first impressions are crucial, they should not be the only basis on which you hire. Too many employers base their hiring decision on whether or not they are impressed at the first meeting, rather than the skills and mindset of the candidate. The most challenging aspects of the hiring process is not knowing if the candidate will perform to your company’s standards once they are hired.

Not Knowing What You Need

You should know what your business needs when it comes to hiring; more than just filling the positions for which you’re hiring. You must be clear on what the job entails in regard to the duties and responsibilities. The worst thing you can do is misled the candidate as you risk a bad hire. You should have a detailed job description, so the candidate knows exactly what they will be doing when hired.

Unclear Hiring Policies

Things change a lot in the world of business, and we’re okay with that. However, for hiring you need to be clear on your hiring policies no matter how many times it’s changed. With unclear hiring policies come mishaps, including confused hiring managers, and perhaps legal trouble. As an employer you need to have a handbook that covers your rules and regulations of your business.

Not Showcasing Your Company Culture

Your potential hires want to know what your business has to offer them. As they’re away from their family for half the day, they want to know what your work environment is like. They want to know about benefits, salary, flexibility, and perks. The last thing a potential hire wants to do is take a financial gamble with your company. By being clear with your hiring intentions, you avoid this mistake.

The perfect employee doesn’t really exist; however, you can get close. The above tips will aid in your hiring process and increase your chances of a good hire.

Are You an Apprentice?

By Randall Orser | Small Business

Have you recently become an apprentice for one of the trades or other? If so, you may be able to get some tax incentives. You can get a credit for the tools you have to buy, as well as the tuition and books you need to do the schooling for your trade.

Tradesperson’s Tools deduction

If you have purchased eligible tools to earn employment income as a tradesperson or apprentice, you may be able to deduct their cost, including any goods and services tax (GST), provincial sales tax (PST) or harmonized sales tax (HST) you paid.

An eligible tool is a tool (including associated equipment such as a toolbox) that:

  • you bought to use in your job as a tradesperson and was not used for any purpose before you bought it;
  • your employer certified as being necessary for you to provide as a condition of, and for use in, your job as a tradesperson; and
  • is not an electronic communication device (like a cell phone) or electronic data processing equipment (unless the device or equipment can be used only for the purpose of measuring, locating, or calculating).

Maximum deduction for eligible tools is the lesser of:

a) $500; and

b) the amount, if any, determined by the formula

A − $1,161 where

A = the lesser of:

1. the total cost of eligible tools that you bought in 2016; and

2. your income from employment as a tradesperson for the year

  • plus, the amount you received in 2016 under the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant and the Apprenticeship Completion Grant programs;
  • minus the amount of any Apprenticeship Incentive Grant and Apprenticeship Completion Grant overpayments that you had to repay in 2016.

You are an eligible apprentice mechanic if you:

  • are registered in a program established under the laws of Canada or of a province or territory that leads to a designation under those laws as a mechanic licensed to repair self-propelled motorized vehicles (such as automobiles, aircraft, boats, or snowmobiles); and
  • are employed as an apprentice mechanic.

Eligible Apprentice Mechanic

As an eligible apprentice mechanic, you must first calculate the tradesperson's tools deduction (above), if any, that you qualify for.

You are an eligible apprentice mechanic if you:

  • are registered in a program established under the laws of Canada or of a province or territory that leads to a designation under those laws as a mechanic licensed to repair self-propelled motorized vehicles (such as automobiles, aircraft, boats, or snowmobiles); and
  • are employed as an apprentice mechanic.

An eligible tool is a tool (including associated equipment such as a toolbox) that:

  • you bought to use in your job as an eligible apprentice mechanic and was not used for any purpose before you bought it;
  • your employer certified as being necessary for you to provide as a condition of, and for use in, your job as an eligible apprentice mechanic; and
  • is not an electronic communication device (like a cell phone) or electronic data processing equipment (unless the device or equipment can be used only for the purpose of measuring, locating, or calculating).

Tuition Tax Credit and licensing examination fees

If you have eligible tuition fees, as well as certain licencing examination fees, you may be able to claim them on your income tax and benefits return.

Examination fees paid to an educational institution, professional association, provincial ministry or other similar institution, to take an occupational, tradeor professional examination that is required to obtain a professional status recognized by federal or provincial statute, or to be licensed or certified as a tradesperson, to allow you to practice the profession or trade in Canada, may be eligible for the tuition tax credit. You should be provided with a receipt to substantiate your eligible exam fees. To view the information that should be contained in the receipt go to example of a receipt for licensing examination fee.

If you have more than one tax certificate, you can claim all amounts that are more than $100.

You cannot claim the tuition amount on your tax certificate if any of the following applies to you:

  • the fees were paid or reimbursed by your employer, or an employer of one of your parents, where the amount is not included in your or your parent's income;
  • the fees were paid by a federal, provincial, or territorial job training program, where the amount is not included in your income;
  • the fees were paid (or eligible to be paid) under a federal program to help athletes, where the payment or reimbursement has not been included in your income.

Education amount

You will have received a tax certificate from your educational institution indicating the number of months you were enrolled full-time (Box C) or part-time (Box B).

Full-time – Box C

For tax years prior to 2017, multiply $400 by the number of months indicated in Box C.

You can also claim the full-time amount if one of the following applies to you:

  • you were enrolled as a full‑time student;
  • you were enrolled part-time and you can claim the disability amount; or
  • you were enrolled part-time and you had a mental or physical impairment certified in a letter by a medical doctor, optometrist, audiologist, occupational therapist, psychologist, physiotherapist, or speech-language pathologist but you do not qualify for the disability amount.

Part-time – Box B

For tax years prior to 2017, multiply $120 times the number of months indicated in Box B.

You cannot claim the education amount if you:

  • received a grant, reimbursement, benefit, allowance or were reimbursed for the cost of your courses by your employer or another person with who you deal at arm's length;or
  • received a benefit as part of a program (such as free meals and lodging from a nursing school).

Textbook amount

You can claim only one textbook amount for each month that you qualify for the full-time or the part-time education amounts.

You can claim the textbook amount only if you can claim the education amount.

The amount is:

  • $65 times the amount in Box C of the certificate you received from your school; or
  • $20 times the amount in Box B of the certificate you received from your school.

This credit may disappear after 2017 tax year.

As an apprentice you have some great deductions you can claim against your income, and you should definitely take advantage of them come tax time. Just remember to keep receipts, and you have to have your employer sign a T2200 Declaration of Conditions of Employment.

Make Outsourcing Work for your Business

By Randall Orser | Small Business

How are you going to handle expansion? You need to make some decisions in your business on this front. You could hire staff and the associated risk with that plus the issue of turnover, but this is can be costly and a presumption that the growth will continue to cover your costs. Of course, you could curtail your marketing and keep your business at a constant level you can handle.

However, there is another choice that you can make that not only allows for your expansive without too much of that financial risk as the above alternatives have. Outsourcing is a way to use outside agencies to help you spread the workload. Outsourcing can be a very economical way of propelling your business forward. You do need to do outsourcing the right way if you want to reap the benefits.

Outsource the Right Functions

What is a good fit for outsourcing? Not everything is for sure. The favourable activities are those that focus on everyday administration or other routine work, rather than your core business. A good example, and one I highly recommend, is your bookkeeping and accounting, that’s a perfect choice. By outsourcing this you can draw on their experience without sacrificing control over what makes your business unique.

However, outsourcing any customer-facing activities carries appreciable risks. Your reputation is vital to your continuing success, notably in this age of social media, and you need to retain tight control on your dealings with the public. You’re much better to keep these activities in-house and assign it to a trusted staff member. Or, if you do outsource, maintain control over what is posted.

Prioritize Value Over Cost

Outsourcing can save you money, but don’t forget it’s also about growing your business in an economical way. Find the right service provider who’ll bring the right results, and don’t be afraid to pay a little more, rather than just concentrating on price.

Constantly Monitor Value

Your outsourced value may not stay the same over periods of time. You actually may grow so much that you end up bringing it back in-house as this makes the most sense at the time. Market conditions may also change to the point where your current outsourcing provider is no longer the best in terms of price or quality. Outsourcing’s main point is the freedom it does give you. If making changes will help your business grow, don’t be afraid to do so.

Patience

You need to give it time to develop the right outsourcing relationship. You need to both learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and effortless communications can take time to create. You need to be monitoring the results continuously and carefully, and change providers when necessary, however, cutting and changing too often means your outsourcing relationship doesn’t get the chance to settle and show its value.

Delegation and Accountability

Remember, the outsource company is not an employee, and there’s no loyalty to you or the company and they won’t work beyond their assignment. You need to determine the terms and scope of services they will provide, as well as set out the results you wish to receive. You also need to setup an effective means of communication. Who is the responsible contact on each side of the relationship? You need to make this clear from the start, as miscommunication is almost inevitable if no one is clear on who is answerable to whom.

Don’t Overlook Legalities

As the importance of the function you’re outsourcing grows, the more you need to have a contract, and you should have one for any relationship. If the results end up being not what you expected, you need a clear way out without excessive cost or difficulty. Further, you need to protect yourself from an outsource partner who just up and leaves you high and dry. You can definitely lessen these risks by having a little legal backup with a well-written contract, even the best relationships have their issues.

Outsourcing can be an attractive way to accelerate growth without committing long-term resources or risking financial stability. Even so outsourcing needs to be approached carefully to get the most out of it. Solid groundwork and awareness of the potential concerns will ensure your decision to outsource is profitable.

Spark the Fire of Your Curiosity

By Randall Orser | Small Business

At a small businesses core is its owners’ curiosity. Finding new solutions to an existing problem, or simply find how something works, or why is something the way it is, and this ambition is what takes your business to greater heights. Do you have to be born with curiosity? Probably doesn’t hurt, however, you can spark your curiosity with the following four ideas.

Ask Questions

The heart of any curious person burns with questions. Look at a toddler, constantly asking ‘why?’. They want to know all the who, what, where, why, and how of things. You don’t want to be as annoying as the toddler in your questioning, however, if you want to spark curiosity you need to ask questions. Don’t stop once you get an answer. Now’s the time to figure out why it’s the way it is, and if there are other, maybe better, options. Analyze all that relates to that question.

Best of all, it’s free. While you’re trying to ascertain why certain best practices are the way they are, you get a better understanding, however, you may just bring about some insights. That insight could direct you towards other avenues that other business people didn’t see.

Expand Your Horizons

Many people often limit themselves because of their background. This influences what they think about as well as what paths they see as favourable. Some businesses will hire people from assorted backgrounds in order to get the greatest value off brainstorming sessions. You can get massive value when you have people of differing lines of thinking.

You can do this for yourself by broadening your mental horizons. One great way to do this is to travel, as experience different cultures pushes your mind to think differently. Do something different every day. Break the patterns your brain falls into.

Always be Learning

It’s great that your curious about stuff. It’s even fine that you want to know about things you don’t know but other people are doing, is good, although it’s not very efficient. Your curiosity should lead to many new things as possible, and the best way to do that is always be learning.

Whatever industry you’re in, read as much as you can about it. Go after those things that interest you to their logical conclusion. That thing doesn’t even have to be related to your work. Browsing the shelves of your local library can light your way to interesting topics. Always be learning gives you more chances for your curiosity and genius to spark.

Reassess Your Plans and Strategies

Many small business owners lose their curiosity because they adhere to their plans too strictly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your plans keep you grounded and focused, however, like many things you can take it much too far.

Why are your plans the way they are? Those plans were created using knowledge you had at the time. More than likely that knowledge has grown and changed since then. Reassessing your plans can spark something in your mind because you know more. Not only are you keeping your curiosity alive, but you get stronger plans overall.

To always be learning may not always be fun. However, knowing things is both fun and productive. This can lead business owners to concentrate only on things they know as it’s usually a positive experience. You must embrace the unknown in order for your curiosity spark to remain alive.

Your Marketing Budget Needs to Include Content Marketing

By Randall Orser | Small Business

Managing a budget is probably the biggest issue that any business faces. Spend too little, and get nowhere. Spend too much and you may go bankrupt before building up a steady income. As a small business, you need to accommodate content marketing into this delicate balance act you call a budget.

Content Promotes Engagement

It’s pretty hard to talk back to a sale, however, interacting with a great article is much easier. Today’s internet is all about creating a community, and if your site is all about prices and sales, that doesn’t really encourage engagement or return business.

That’s not all though. Your content can help with interaction with industry leaders as it gives you something to talk about with them. By doing this, you increase your network and boost your reputation, following which makes your content marketing more powerful.

Affordability Compared to Other Forms of Marketing

Content marketing is much less expensive than say print or television marketing, and that’s good news for the small business. Even if you’re not making the content in-house, you’ll still save a lot as most of your expenses will be social media marketing costs. If you have an established page or website, you may not even have to spend that much.

Branding Through Great Content

Astute marketers believe that content marketing is like releasing business cards into the wild. Each video, article, or post that you put out there with your brand has a direct impression on how you and your business are recognized. Your content has to be of a consistent quality, and distributed consistently, for you to improve your brand.

As a small business, you can benefit from this. Getting noticed and respected in your industry is one of the most difficult tasks. Having well-researched and readable content can definitely help you get your foot in the door.

Lead Generation and Sales

The issue with advertising is that today’s modern customer is that they’re extremely aware when you try to just sell to them. Most consumers today just tune out your advertisement, except if they’re ready for your offering. Content marketing approaches the problem on two levels. First, a strong video or article can bring about the likelihood of your advertisement working. Second, it can replace your need for an advertisement by developing leads and sales on its own.

Content Marketing is Huge for Site Traffic

Creating your website is fairly easy. You can pay someone to do it for you (probably the better choice), with you focusing on setting guidelines. The hard part is getting people to your site. Even with great Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you may find it hard to get traffic.

This is where content marketing can help by giving viewers another opportunity to find your site. It’s not just search engine traffic, content allows your users a chance to discover you on YouTube or whatever social media site you share on. Actually, using Facebook Ads to share your content through targeted ads can gain you clicks by virtue of making users feel the content was created for them.

Are you ready to embrace content marketing? Are you wondering how it can improve your standing? There’s only one way to find out and that’s by setting aside some money in your budget for content marketing. You’ll want to get into it soon, before everyone else finds out just how valuable it can be.

The Holidays are Coming, Prepare Your Marketing

By Randall Orser | Small Business

As the holidays are quickly approaching, you shouldn’t be doing business as usual. Want to finish the year with stronger-than-expect earnings? Then the following tips will help.

Holiday Makeover for Your Website

Your website is important, so don’t be a Scrooge about it. Are your customers families? You can rewrite your headlines to draw attention to products that are great presents for teachers, bus drivers, and coaches. Are your customers into eco-friendly products/services? Think about a ‘green gift ideas’ link on your home page. Better yet, do you have pictures of your clients enjoying using your products/services? Maybe during prior holidays? Use those along with a testimonial; a video is even better. These could be a way to generate more sales.

Use a Limited Time Offer

Is there something in your business that you could offer during the holidays? A nursery, could sell specialty greens or decorative wreaths. If you sell food and beverage items, you could sell holiday-themed kitchenware. Are you in a service business, you could host a holiday-themed even with food and music – you could tie it to a local charity and donate a portion of the proceeds. Your goal is to increase sales in a celebratory way.

Put a Bow on it

Your holiday shoppers are busy, so why not help relief their stress by offering gift-wrap services. You could include a variety of paper choices, gift bag, gift receipt, and gift card. The bonus is you may be able to make some profit on this service.

Avert Shipping Snafus

The busiest time of the year is traditionally mid-December, so it’s best to avert any shipping catastrophes. With this time comes much more mail and that means sorting and transit times take longer, or worse more lost packages. You could encourage your customers to order soon, and hopefully more, by using early bird promotions such as discounts, buy-one-get-one deals, or free shipping. By doing this, you can decrease shipments you send out during the holiday rush.

Clearly State an “Order By” Deadline

You should setup an order deadline date for those last-minute shoppers in order for them to get their orders in time. Make sure this shows up on a prominent place on your website. What shipping options are you offering? If only ground, then you may want to add an express shipping option to pick up more last-minute orders.

Get into the Spirit of the Season

Surprise your customers with a gift in their order, think of something thoughtful and useful. A tote bag, bottle openers, letter openers, are low-cost promotional items that can be used regularly. Appreciative customers may become repeat customers as well as recommend your business to family and friends. Think about branding that item as well, it’s a good economical advertising tool, too!

Reward Social Media Shares

People today want to share their life with others and social media allows them to do that. Of course, when we get a gift we want everyone to know about it. When a customer shares your product on social media and tags your business, enter them into a sweepstakes. Your lucky customer wins a prize, and you get an increase in brand impressions.

During the holidays, there are many ways to energize your online business. You can do that with a festive website makeover, have a limited time offering, giving your distressed customers gift-wrap options, use early bird options to get your customers to order sooner and more, clearly state your “order by” deadline, use branded gifts to surprise your customers, and reward social media shares. Have a merrier bottom line by using holiday marketing.

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