Archive for the ‘business goals’ category

5 Tips for Cash Flow Management

December 18th, 2012

Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business, and in any business there are cash flow dangers. There is a capacity for a business to accumulate costs. They gradually grow month-by-month and your cash flow gradually diminishes to a trickle and finally dries up. Your only defense is to watch, record, compare and trend your costs.

Understanding what the numbers mean is crucial to your cash flow. Are sales trending up or down? Are expenses rising faster than sales? Is one product more profitable or better selling than another? How much do I need to sell to meet expenses each month? The answers all lie in the numbers.

The best way to measure cost trends is by analyzing the expense categories in your software, and ideally graphing them to get a better visualization of their impact. If the chart of accounts in your program is properly designed, you can produce the graphs for each cost item and quickly be able to see that your power bill, for example, is gradually rising. This new perspective can now lead to an informed change in behavior that will reduce those costs or at least reduce the increase in those costs.

Once you have established your costs, you should compare them against the industry average, or at least use your own common sense and business experience. If you keep your books accurate and up to date, you will be able to calculate the relationship between your gross sales and the expenditure in any category. For example, with the help of your historical data, you may decide that your postage should be 2% or 3% of gross sales. When you look over your month-end reports, you may discover that it has risen to 5%. Catching it early, you can now take corrective action.

If you are able to control your expenses, you can develop a healthy constant cash flow. Normally, it’s the cost of your expenses that sucks up your cash and put you in an uncomfortable position.

When your bills are greater than your sales/receivables, your first reaction is most likely that you need to increase sales and collections. Although that is always a good idea, even when there isn’t a cash flow problem, there is still very good reason to pay particularly close attention to your expenses. If when looking at your figures, you see that it takes five dollars to put one dollar on your bottom line, it then takes $5,000 of sales to yield $1,000. This means that saving $1,000 in costs is exactly the same as generating $5,000 worth of sales.

You need to look at your cash flow from an informed perspective. Here are five areas to focus on:

1. Mismanaging Credit
There are two common ways to mismanage credit in small business; granting credit without specific credit policies, and using credit with no plan for how to pay for it.

Both have a huge impact on your cash flow and are often closely related. For example, you have an opportunity to work on a big project, for which you will need to order materials. Your supplier expects payment in 30 days, but you won’t receive cash for the project for 60 days. Right away you’ve put yourself into a cash flow crunch that could take months to recover from financially. In the meantime, you’ve passed on smaller jobs that would have provided quicker cash at less cost. And, if you’re unable to pay your supplier on time, you’ve endangered that relationship as well.

2. The relationship between Receivables and Payables
In a perfect world, what customers owe you would be paid just in time for you to pay what you owe your vendors. But, as any small business owner knows “stuff happens”. The customer you thought would pay this week, doesn’t. So the bills you thought you’d pay this week, don’t get paid. Are your payables in balance with you receivables? If what you owe to others is far more than what is owed to you, then you have a cash flow problem. And if your receivables are particularly old, chances are good you’ll never see that cash at all.

3. Focusing on profit instead of cash flow
Is profit the ultimate goal of every business? Did you know that many businesses that fail are operating at a profit? How can that be? For the small business, cash flow is the ultimate goal. No cash flow. No business.

The difference is mostly in the decision making process. If you take on this big job, it will earn you a huge profit, but if you take on five smaller jobs, you’ll have cash to pay your bills. Yes, you want to be profitable, but every decision has to be measured against the effect it will have on cash flow.

4. Don’t forget your debt to the Tax Man
Some bills are easy to forget. Bills like sales tax, payroll taxes, estimated taxes. They just sit out there, almost off the radar. They don’t have to be paid right away. It’s easy to forget about them. But when they’re due, they’re due right now. And you better have the money to pay them or you’re in hot water with the Tax Man. That is not a place anyone wants to be. Pay them late or not at all and you end up with penalties and interest on top of what’s already due. Using the money that needs to go toward taxes to solve cash flow problems results in even more, and probably worse, cash flow problems when those taxes come due. It can take months or even years to recover.

5. Spending your company’s future on a sailboat
Haven’t you always wanted a boat, a fancy car, or a trip to Tahiti? It might be tempting to try to pass your personal purchases off as tax-deductible business expenses. But, it’s a bad idea for two reasons.

The people at the IRS are over-worked, but they weren’t born yesterday. The last thing you need is an audit that could reveal your transgressions and result in an unexpected tax bill plus penalties and interest. No company’s cash flow should have to suffer that indignity.

The other reason it’s a bad idea is that you are spending your company’s future on unnecessary expenses. Small businesses operate close to the edge. Unless you have a reserve to see you through the tough times, you’re always in danger of being on the wrong side of that edge. You must take care of the cash flow first. Then, you can pay yourself a properly taxed bonus and buy all the toys you want.

Short is Sweet for Today’s Business Plans

October 22nd, 2012

It’s not just entrepreneurs who have come to the realization that exhaustive business plans may be overrated. Venture capitalists, angel investors and bankers are also in favor of stripping down such documents. Many say they simply have no time to read a 100-page plan, even if they were so inclined, and that there is little value after the first few pages.

The modern business plan is a dramatically distilled version of those from five or ten years ago. The best ones today address market opportunities and how the venture will pursue them, in a few well-written paragraphs. That’s it.

It’s not that people shouldn’t incorporate planning into the process of starting or growing a business, it’s that the process and final output has changed. No entrepreneur should spend 6-8 months writing 100+ page business plans. Instead, they should write down some notes to define the following:

1. The problem they are solving

2. Their solution to the problem

3. Who the target customer is and the size of the addressable market

4. Current competition or alternative solutions to the problem

5. Estimated costs and revenue

6. Key partners & resources needed to run the business

7. Sales channels and planned marketing activities

This first pass at a plan should be no more than 1-2 pages. Entrepreneurs should then set out to validate their assumptions: Do potential customers really have the problem the entrepreneur thinks they have? Do potential customers think the solution is a good idea? Are they willing to pay? Etc.

Based on this early customer feedback, the plan can be revised and expanded. It’s much more of a “plan as you go” approach where the entrepreneur keeps the plan alive and is constantly refining it as they learn more about their customers and their business.

Those longer plans, that used to be the standard, may signal hesitancy or doubt about a concept’s viability. A shorter plan, on the other hand, signals a bias toward action and away from planning. This is not to say that planning is unimportant, but a lot of people get stuck in the paralysis of planning and never actually do anything.

Hiring Your First Employee

October 7th, 2012

Is your business ready to make its first hire? Finding and hiring the right employee is a critical step in the process. However, there are a few other steps you’ll need to take to ensure you meet the legal, regulatory and tax obligations of being a new employer.

In California many employment related tasks, including some of those listed below can be done from the Employment Development Department’s e-Services for Business page.

For California businesses about to become employers, here’s a checklist of the things you’ll need to do either before, or soon after you make that first hire:

1. Apply for an Employee Identification Number
Many businesses operate without an Employer Identification Number (or EIN), but if you hire employees, you’re going to need one. Think of it as the social security number equivalent for employers. An EIN is used to report the taxes you withhold on behalf of employees. You can apply for an EIN online from the IRS during their hours of operation Monday through Saturday. Apply for an EIN online.

2. Set-Up Withholding Taxes
Either on or before the date of employment, you’ll need to give your employee a copy of IRS Form W-4, to fill out and hand back to you so that you can withhold the correct federal income tax from their pay. To help you figure out what you should be withholding, refer to the IRS’ Employer’s Tax Guide(for use in 2012). Most California employees use the same number of Federal withholding allowances for their state income tax withholding. But under certain circumstances, especially if a person has income from multiple sources, they will want to use Employment Development Department Form DE-4 to determine if they should use a different number for their state withholding.

3. Verify That Your Employee is Eligible to Work in the U.S.
Employers are required to ensure their workforce is legal, and must verify each employee’s legal right to work in the United States within three days of the hire date. Go the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website if you need to learn more about this process. Mainly, you will need to examine acceptable forms of ID presented by the employee and complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9), and then verify the data on the form with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-Verify online tool. You don’t need to file the form; just keep it on file for three years after the hire date, and one year after a termination date.

4. Register with the New Hire Reporting Program
Within 20 days of the hire date, you must report all new hires to the Employment Development Department’s New Employee Registry. The easiest way to satisfy this requirement is to fill out and submit a Report of New Employee(s) Form DE-34. Actually you can submit the necessary information in any format you like, as long as it’s all there. Some employers just add the employee’s start date and their California employer account number and the Federal employer ID number to the W-4 and send that.

5. Obtain Workers’ Compensation Insurance
In California, once you have employees you are required to carry worker’s compensation insurance. The insurance is available through commercial insurance carriers, on a self-insured basis, or through your state’s program and is considered a cost of doing business. If you need a referral to a commercial insurance agent who will help you minimize this cost, email me at doug@solidgrowth.com.

6. Unemployment Insurance Tax (UI), Employment Training Tax (ETT), and State Disability Insurance (SDI) for 2012
The UI program is part of a national program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor under the Social Security Act. The UI program provides temporary payments to individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own.

UI is paid by the employer. Tax-rated employers pay a percentage on the first $7,000 in wages paid to each employee in a calendar year. The UI rate schedule and amount of taxable wages are determined annually. New employers pay 3.4 percent (.034) for a period of two to three years. EDD notifies employers of their new rate each December. The maximum tax is $434 per employee per year. (Calculated at the highest UI tax rate of 6.2 percent x $7,000.)

New employers are assigned a 3.4 percent UI tax rate for a period of two to three years. This will depend on when you meet the criteria under Section 982(b) of the California Unemployment Insurance Code (CUIC). If you purchased an established business, you have the option of acquiring the previous owner’s UI tax rate (see purchasing a Business with Employees).

The Employment Training Tax (ETT) rate for 2012 is 0.1 percent. The UI and ETT taxable wage limit remains at $7,000 per employee per calendar year.

The State Disability Insurance (SDI) withholding rate for 2012 is 1.0 percent. The taxable wage limit is $95,585 for each employee per calendar year. The maximum to withhold for each employee is $955.85.

The UI, ETT, and SDI tax rates are combined on a single rate notice, Notice of Contribution Rates and Statement of UI Reserve Account (DE 2088). The DE 2088 will be mailed to you in December, with a mailing date of December 30. Employers will have 60 days from the December 30 mailing date to protest any item on the DE 2088 except SDI and ETT, which are specifically set by law.

7. Display Workplace Posters
Check with the Department of Labor’s “Poster Advisor” online tool to see which posters you need to display that explain employee rights, etc. To determine what posters are requited of you in California check the Department of Industrial Relations Workplace Postings site.

8. Filing Taxes as an Employer
It’s a good idea to talk to your accountant or tax advisor about your new tax obligations. Typically, you’ll need to report income tax withholding, social security, and Medicare taxes each quarter on the IRS Form 941. If you paid wages of $1,500 or more in any quarter or had an employee on the payroll for any 20 weeks of the year, you’ll also need to file an Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) return.

To see what applies to you, read the IRS Employer’s Tax Guide.

9. Keep Good Records and Stay Informed on Employment Laws
Once your employee is on board, make sure you maintain good employee records, pay close attention to workplace health and safety laws, and understand what benefits you must establish by law. Each of the following links will provide useful guides and tools that can help you stay compliant.

Labor Recordkeeping Requirements

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Employee Handbook information

If you will be providing benefits to your employees, you should become familiar with the uniform minimum standards required by federal law to ensure that employee benefit plans are established and maintained in a fair and financially sound manner. See the chapter on Employee Benefit Plans in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Law Guide for more information.

6 Mistakes to Avoid as You Build a Profitable Business

September 18th, 2012

Where do small business owners go wrong when trying to build a profitable business? Many mistakes can be traced back to such things as not being consistent in preforming some of the most crucial tasks required for a business to function. But there are also mistakes made by not taking a task to completion, trying to take too many tasks to completion, spending time on the wrong tasks, not having procedures in place for the most crucial tasks, and hiring the wrong people for the tasks you expect them to accomplish.

Avoiding these 6 mistakes can save you time, money and a lot of frustration. So as you move your business toward your goals of profit and growth, here are some mistakes you may want to avoid or fix.

1. An Inconsistent Marketing Effort
Marketing may well be the most important task a business must perform. For many, marketing efforts are like a roller coaster ride, up and down based on how busy you are or how sales are doing. If your marketing is sporadic, it’s likely your results will be the same. The key to attracting and retaining customers is consistency. It is better to do 3 or 4 lead generation strategies well and consistently than doing a dozen of them periodically.

2. No Follow Up
Investing resources to generate leads for your company without a proven method to convert them to paying customers is costly. No matter how potential customers come to you, a system for consistent and timely follow up is a key to sales growth. Take the time to develop a procedure for turning prospects into customers. Take advantage of technology, templates and scripts for efficiency and effectiveness. If you are not consistently following up on your marketing, you are not completing the marketing task. Be consistent and watch your sales soar.

3. Doing it all Yourself
Most small business owners became entrepreneurs because they are experts or skilled at something and believed they could do it better than others. But building a successful business requires more than technical know-how. No one is an expert at every task, so supplement yourself with other experts to fill in the gaps. Whether you hire employees, sub-contract work, create joint ventures, work with coaches, consultants or develop strategic alliances, the support you need is available. Don’t try to do it all yourself.

4. Not Identifying Your Customer Profile
The best products or services will go unsold if you are talking to the wrong people, those who will likely never buy. If you invest your time and money promoting your products or services to people who don’t have the resources, authority or need, today or in the near future, you will have spent your time on costly frustration. Who are the ideal customers for YOUR products and services? Do your research, find out who and where they are, how to reach them, and then apply your resources to pull them in.

5. No Procedures
Documented procedures for all your company’s critical tasks and operations is a key to efficiency, consistency, continuous improvement and profitability. Defining the important tasks crucial to a business is often ignored. This mistake becomes obvious when you hire and train new people, only to start losing customers due to poor service or missed deadlines. Don’t expect your employees to have your clarity of vision. They will need to know exactly how to do their work if they are to do that work successfully. Take it one at a time, but make written procedures a priority in your business. The results will surprise you

6. Hiring on the Fly
Are you quick to hire and slow to fire? That phrase describes many small businesses. A strong team of people to support your operations is certainly important, but only if they are the right people. There are proven hiring systems and tools, including a job description and clear goals, to help small businesses attract and retain quality people. Always hire with a purpose, invest in training, commit to developing your team and be willing to let go of those who don’t fit.

Which of these mistakes are impacting your profit and growth? Make it a priority to fix them, one at a time if necessary. The sooner you do, the sooner your sales and profit will grow.

Networking for More New Business

May 11th, 2012

Definition: Business networking = The process of meeting other people and exchanging resources for mutual gain.

I’m not talking about social media networking; I’m talking about face-to-face networking for business contacts that will help you grow your business. The kind of networking that builds concrete relationships, trust, and inevitably, results.

In the past several years networking as a marketing strategy and business development tool has really come into its own. Many good networking events are available to attend throughout the month. And great Internet sites like Meetup.com can help you easily locate the ones in your area that will best serve your needs.

Small businesses can leverage effective networking practices to win important customers, vendors, investors and partners. Networking forms the basis of many business relationships, and the ability to network well is one factor that may not only differentiate a business, but also ensure its survival.

It is easier than ever to network, especially if you keep the following best practices in mind:

1. Present yourself well. Business networking is often about first impressions, and first impressions are often about presentation. At face-to-face events, dress well, polish how you speak, make eye contact and generally present yourself to impress others with your professionalism and charisma.

2. Don’t overwhelm, but rather, interact. If you approach business networking solely as an opportunity to talk about yourself and your business, you’ll bore people. Make networking more enjoyable by limiting how much (and how repetitively) you talk and by seeking out chances to listen to and interact with the business networking group. Networking is not prospecting, so don’t treat people as prospects. Your goal is to develop at least some degree of relationship with each person you meet.

3. Network with Networkers. Business networking enables you to meet people whom you don’t already know. Many of the people you’ll meet won’t have the inclination to share their networks with you. Don’t try to overcome this attitude. Simply move on because you’re looking for networkers.

4. Any group might just be a business networking group. People define themselves as members of groups such as one’s profession, religion, gender, language, favorite sports team, and others. List the affiliations that matter to you, and then consider them as networking possibilities. Subsequently, you can network through such events as church picnics, support groups, tailgate parties, environmental causes and gender-specific professional organizations.

5. Be selective and diligent. Thousands of official networking events take place every day, and the Internet offers access to millions more; unfortunately, the availability of all of these opportunities leads some business people to take a shotgun approach to networking, which results in the failure to pay sufficient attention to any one opportunity. Identify and act on the highest-value opportunities rather than chasing every possible audience. Narrowing down opportunities will allow you to focus more.

6. Always network. Without turning yourself into someone who is prepared to collar all passersby with your spiel, treat social events; a party, a ball game, a play or any event, as an opportunity to meet new acquaintances who can later become part of a more formal network. Don’t waste time with overly skeptical people. Preach only to the choir. If someone doesn’t get it, don’t try to make them get it. Just talk to somebody else.

7. Help others. While your ultimate goal may be to find clients, customers, investors or to otherwise improve your own business chances and conditions, you are also in a position to help others. Offer whatever resources you can; advice, contacts, support, partnership or investment, in order to increase your value to your business network. This kind of enlightened altruism will eventually rebound to your advantage.

9. Be yourself / Be cool. The best way to network is to be unconscious of the fact that you are networking. Don’t let your mind dwell on the purpose or mechanics of networking. When you spend time with your friends, do you constantly have the purpose of maintaining your friendship in mind? No, you lose yourself in the moment. That’s the kind of approach you should bring to business networking.

Good networking requires you to balance a methodical approach with the ability not to take yourself too seriously. One way to achieve this balance is to keep your methodical self behind the scenes. Plan the events you’ll attend, define your purpose and immerse yourself in your own mini-infomercial. But once you start interacting, maintain a casual and friendly demeanor. You’ll be pleasant to be around and pleasant to listen to, which will differentiate you from the crowd and increase your chances of success. And in business networking, success is defined by becoming known by more and more people. The increase in business you desire will be a natural result. Remember that a key point to networking is that it’s not who you know that counts, it’s who knows you. So get out and network and become known by more and more people.