Archive for the ‘cost’ category

10 Ways to Grow Your Business

February 12th, 2013

Is your business already as big and profitable as you want? Then read no further. For those who realize that growing your business is a never-ending necessity for its survival, as well as for your own economic well-being, this list is intended to help you focus on that task. What can you do to get your business beyond the sustenance level? All of the ways of growing a business outlined below have been successfully used by others and, with some planning and investment, they’ll work for you too.

1. Sell more to your existing market The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of growing your business is getting new customers. But the customers you already have are your best bet for increasing your sales; it’s easier and more cost-effective to get people who are already buying from you to buy more than it is to find new customers and persuade them to buy from you.

2. Know how to ask for referrals Getting new customers is the obvious approach to growing your business. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask your current customers for referrals. But notice the verb. Doing a great job and just assuming that your customers are passing the word about your business isn’t going to do much to increase your customer base; you have to actively seek referrals. During, or after, every job or sale, ask your satisfied customer who they know who has a use for your products or services. Notice I didn’t say, “who they know who would be interesting in buying your products or services”. Don’t make your customer have to decide who wants to do business with you, just who could use what you’re selling.

3. Reduce your costs Keep in mind that the point to growing your business, is to grow your bottom line. And the difference between pre-tax and post-tax money can make this a very effective growth strategy. There are two main approaches to cost cutting; liquidating your “loser” products, and improving your inventory turnover.

4. Innovate your product or service Discovering and promoting new uses for your products or services is a great way to both get existing customers to buy more and attract new customers. Think duct tape, and how little would actually be sold if people thought it was only for ducts.

5. Extend your market reach There are several ways of growing your business by making your product or service available to a new pool of customers. The most obvious is to open stores in new locations, such as opening a store or kiosk in a new town. A new location can also be a website with an online store. Another approach is to extend your reach through advertising. Once you’ve identified a new market, you might advertise in select media that targets that market.

6. Capture a niche market Remember the analogy of the big fish in the small pond? That’s essentially how this strategy for growing your business works. The niche market is the pond; a narrowly defined group of customers. Think of them as a subset whose needs are not being met and concentrate on meeting those unmet needs. A nursery, for instance, might specialize in roses.

7. Diversify your products or services The key to successfully growing your business through diversification is similarity. You want to focus on the related needs of your already established market or on market segments with similar needs and characteristics. An artist might also sell frames and framing services, for instance. Or a mountain bike rental business might switch to renting skidoos in the winter season.

8. Participate in trade shows Trade shows can be a great way of growing your business. Because trade shows draw people who are already interested in the type of product or service you offer, they can powerfully improve your bottom line. The trick is to select the trade shows you participate in carefully, seeking the right match for your product or service.

9. Franchising The stories of entrepreneurs who have become both well-known and well-heeled due to franchising their small businesses are countless. If you have a successful business and can develop a system that ensures that others can duplicate your success, franchising may be the fast track for growing your business.

10. Exporting Expanding into international markets can also be a powerful boost to your business’s bottom line. Like franchising, this is a way of growing your business that requires quite a commitment of time and resources, but can be extremely rewarding.

Don’t let this list overwhelm you; pick one or two of these ideas that are suitable to your business and your circumstances and get your plan for growing your business underway. While you probably won’t experience growth right away, whichever way of growing your business you choose, you will see progress if you keep at it, and will successfully transform your business into all you want it to be.

Simplifying the Profit & Loss Statement

March 29th, 2012

You might not need to be an accountant to be successful in business, but understanding financial reports will help you understand the basics of financial management and feel comfortable using standard financial tools and metrics to monitor and appraise the performance of your business.

How a Profit & Loss Statement helps you manage your business

Financial reports distill the vast amount of daily business data your company produces and arranges it into a usable format, useful in making the best possible business decisions.

Producing regular profit and loss statements, at least quarterly or monthly, will enable you to:

1. Answer the question, “How much money am I making, if any?”

2. Compare your projected performance with actual performance

3. Compare your performance against industry benchmarks

4. Use past performance trends to form reasonable forecasts for the future

5. Show your business growth and financial health over time

6. Detect any problems regarding sales, margins and expenses within a reasonable time so adjustments may be made to recoup losses or decrease expenses

7. Provide proof of income if you need a loan or mortgage

8. Calculate your income and expenses when completing and submitting your tax return.

What is a Profit & Loss Statement?

A profit and loss statement, also know as a P&L or an Income Statement, records sales income, costs and expenses and shows business performance over a specific period of time.  Profit and loss statements:

1. Show business performance over a specific period of time

2. Show income (revenue from sales)

3. Show the costs of the goods you sell (Cost of Goods Sold) such as purchases made from suppliers for goods or raw materials

4. Shows your gross profit (income minus cost of goods sold)

5. Show operational expenses (overhead and other expenses of running your company)

6. Show net income or loss (whether a profit or loss has been made )

Creating a Profit & Loss Statement

The figures in a profit and loss account will come from a number of different sources in your business, so it’s best to organizes and categorize your day to day receipts and expenses into a Chart of Accounts which represents the income and expense categories you want to track and evaluate. This Chart of Accounts forms the core structure of your bookkeeping system, and will be the basis for your Profit and Loss Statement.

A Profit and Loss Statement will usually look something like this:

$250,000       Income
  $10,000        Less Discounts
$240,000        Equals Net Income

   $50,000       Less Cost of Sales/Cost of Goods Sold
 $190,000       Equals Gross Profit

$100,000       Less Operating Expenses
  $90,000       Equals Operating Profit

$5,000        Plus Other Income
    $3,000        Less Other Expenses
  $92,000        Equals Net Ordinary Income (Profit Before Taxes)

  $33,000        Taxes
  $59,000        Net Profit (or Net Loss)

 Accounting Software and Financial Reporting

Accounting software makes it easy for you to create different views of your data. For example, you can compare this month with last month, this year-to-date with last-year-to-date, several months in sequence, or you can convert the figures into percentages and compare them that way. All this makes it easier for you to identify trends over time.

Your goal in business is for your sales and profits to increase, and your expenses, as a percent of sales, to decrease. Look at your profit and loss statements and compare them from one period to another. Are there any sudden changes or anomalies that raise a red flag? For example, if your office expense spending suddenly rose from $100 a month to $500 for one month, you would want to look into this. Or if your staff costs on average 30% of your income and this figure suddenly goes up to 40%, again you would want to investigate.

You can also draw some deeper conclusions than just seeing that more money is coming in than before. Is the increase equivalent to, or better than, the rate of inflation? Is it the result of more sales, or is it hiding the fact that although you have charged more per sale, you actually made fewer sales? And looking ahead, is the rate of increase in line with your goals, or do you need to set a new target? These are just some of the many questions accurate reports can help you address.

9 Strategies for Thriving in a Tough Economy

March 13th, 2012

Whether or not you believe we’re in a recession, or slowly moving out of one, or even if you have come to believe that what we have now is pretty much as good as it’s going to get, there’s no getting around the fact that we’re experiencing poor economic times. An enduring lack of consumer confidence and decreased sales threaten all businesses, but small businesses are particularly vulnerable as they often don’t have the reserves to help them survive difficult times.

Entrepreneurs who are survivors will look at this as an opportunity to improve their business practices so they can not only weather the tough times, but thrive during them. How, then, can you recession-proof your business? Thinking through the following practices and how you can make them your strategies will help ensure your small business’s success in a tough economy.

1. Protect your cash flow

To keep your small business healthy, cash needs to continue flowing through it. As long as your business exists, you will have expenses. But the harder times get, the harder it can be to keep the cash flowing into your business. Be more diligent in how you are spending money. It’s important to be frugal and aware of your income and expenses. By doing a line item cost for each expense, you will be able to identify areas that need greater attention. Efficient cash flow management is crucial. The sections below are all, for the most part, areas that will have impact on your cash flow, but take special note of the ones regarding evaluating your vendors, reviewing your inventory management, and keeping your personal credit in good shape.

2. Streamline your business practices

This is an opportune time to review your business procedures for effectiveness. Consider areas that can be combined into one. Consider areas that can be structured differently to reduce costs. Think about sharing resources, like administrative or payroll work, with other entrepreneurs to reduce overhead. The goal is to streamline operations so you can still provide a quality product or service, yet realize a greater profit by reducing the expenses to produce it.

3. Evaluate your vendors

If you use vendors for packaging, labeling, distribution, or in other areas of your business, this is a good time to do some price comparisons. There is a lot of competition among vendors to attract new business, so you could realize some serious savings in this area. Since no one wants to lose business during a bad economy, chances are good that your current vendors will meet the competitor’s price. If not, it’s time to move your business to the lowest bidder, just as long as you’re not sacrificing quality.

4. Review your inventory management practices

See what can be done to reduce inventory costs without sacrificing the quality of goods or inconveniencing customers. Are you ordering too many of particular items? Can an item be sourced somewhere else at a better price? Is there a drop-shipping alternative that will work for you, eliminating shipping and warehousing costs?

Just because you’ve always ordered something from a particular supplier or done things in a particular way doesn’t mean you have to keep doing them that way, especially when those other ways may save you money.

5. Focus on your core competencies

A diversification strategy is often recommended for small business success. But too often small business owners simplify the concept of “diversification” to “different”. Just adding other products or services to your offerings is not diversification. It’s potentially just a waste of time and money. Worse, it can damage your core business by taking your time and money away from what you do best. It may even damage your brand and reputation. If you have diversified out into different areas over the years to improve market reach, it might be time to regroup and focus on the core of your business and outsource the rest. Evaluate what is and isn’t working and put more effort into what started you out as a successful entrepreneur in the first place. It’s important to get in touch with your core business and make sure it continues to meet the changing needs of customers. So consider dropping the extras and focus on what you do best and which is most profitable to recession-proof your business.

6. Develop and implement strategies to get your competition’s customers

If your small business is going to prosper in tough times, you need to continue to expand your customer/client base. If you have competitors, then they have customers. So, there are already people out there buying what you sell, just not from you. What will it take to attract those customers? You’ll need to offer something more or something different. Research your competition and see what you can offer to entice their customers into becoming your customers. It’s not only lower prices or a better price/quality trade-off that gets the business. Providing better customer service is often identified as one of the easiest ways to outdistance the competition. But you need to do the research in your own market to find out what it takes to be the customer’s first choice.

7. Make the most of the customers/clients you have

They say that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The bird in the hand is the customer or client you already have. These customers are an opportunity to make more sales without incurring the costs of finding a new customer.

Even better, he or she might be a loyal customer, giving you many more sales opportunities. If you want to recession-proof your business, you can’t afford to ignore the potential profits to be had from established customers. But remember that your customers are going through tough times too. In order to retain their business, implement measures to express your appreciation. This could be a one-time price reduction, a customer loyalty card, or a referral incentive. Whatever the strategy may be, it should be something of value to the customer and within your marketing budget.

8. Continue to market your business

In lean times, many small businesses make the mistake of cutting their marketing budget to the bone or even eliminating it entirely. But lean times are exactly the times your small business most needs marketing. Consumers are restless and looking to make changes in their buying decisions. You need to help them find your products and services and choose them rather than others by getting your name out there. So don’t stop marketing. In fact, if possible, step up your marketing efforts.

9. Keep your personal credit in good shape

Hard times make it harder to borrow and small business loans are often among the first to disappear. With good personal credit, you’ll stand a much better chance of being able to borrow the money needed to keep your business afloat if you need to. To recession-proof your business, keep tabs on your personal credit rating as well as your business one and do what’s necessary to keep your credit ratings in good shape.

There’s absolutely nothing that will make your small business one hundred percent recession-proof. But implementing the practices above will help ensure your small business survives tough times and might even be able to profit from them.

Business Start-up Costs

September 12th, 2011

Understanding what it will cost to start up a new business is a major factor toward the success of every business.  Each business start-up will have unique needs. A retailer might need a storefront and staff to operate it, plus inventory, while a manufacturer might need machine shop equipment and trained staff to operate it, plus raw materials and a warehouse. If you’re starting an online business, you might be doing it at home, may not need an outside facility and will have minimal operating expenses and possibly no staff at all.

It’s best to determine the financing and borrowing needs of a new business by estimating its start-up costs when writing the business plan. Business plan writing software, the US Small Business Administration and other organizations offer start-up cost worksheets to help identify these business expenses. Or with a basic knowledge of spreadsheet software such as Excel and the following set of example cost categories, you can put a custom worksheet together yourself. 

Costs for a start-up business can be divided into these sometimes overlapping categories:

Permits and Licenses
A start-up cost estimate must include funding to cover not only the business license and Fictitious Business Name registration and publication, but also the cost of permits, zoning and possibly a zoning variance. You may also have expenses related to refitting your place of business to satisfy licensing and regulatory requirements. For example, your business may have to conform to fire safety regulations and may incur the cost of fire extinguishers, sprinklers and exit signs.

Professional Fees
Setting up a legal structure for your business (e.g. LLC, corporation, etc.), trademarks, copyrights, patents, drafting partnership and non-disclosure agreements, etc., will require attorney fees. You may also need to engage the services of an architect or engineer, and retain an accountant and/or a tax advisor. Consider that some of these professional service expenses may be ongoing.

Administrative Costs
Administrative costs include anything else you need to have on a daily basis to operate a business including express shipping and postage, and a wide range of office supplies, and other consumables.

Insurance
There is no better protection from the unforeseen than to have the full and proper insurance coverage in place. You will need liability and property insurance to protect yourself and any business assets. Some businesses also require workers’ compensation, health, life, fire, product liability and professional malpractice insurance. Check what you need for the kind of your business.

Depending on your type of business this could be a considerable expense, or maybe not.  If you are starting a typical home-based service business your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance may cover your business equipment, supplies and inventory. But it’s best to be cautious and check your policy coverage with your insurance agent before you open for business. Often a small additional fee, perhaps $50 or so, will purchase a rider for your policy that will cover such equipment as your computer, telephone and printer/copier.

Premises & Business Location
Some costs for a business location are considered one-time business plan start-up costs such as building renovations, down payments on a mortgage, construction costs and landscaping.

Other costs of having premises are monthly expenditures such as the payment of a mortgage or rent, utilities, parking, building and landscape maintenance, and office security. Also consider that you will need to buy office furniture including desks, chairs, filing cabinets, etc.

Technology Expenses
A cost effective and efficient company will leverage technology and must estimate expenses related to computer hardware and software, printers, copiers, telephones (both land lines and cell phones), PDAs, website development, optimization and maintenance, internet access, security measures, and IT consulting and training.

One-time expenditures often include the purchase and installation of computers and telecommunication equipment including networks, phones, and mobile communications gear. Monthly expenses can include equipment leasing or payments and technical support services.

Marketing, Advertising and Sales Expenses
Marketing and promotion are vital to the success of any business. All businesses should have advertising budgets based upon their business models. A marketing plan will help determine the exact costs required for a specific business model.

Advertising should be considered a monthly expense that can include the cost of Internet and print media advertising, postage for mailings, design and printing costs for promotional brochures and stationary, public relations services, event or trade show attendance or sponsorship, trade association or chamber of commerce membership fees, plus related travel and entertainment.

Employee Expenses
Many business start-ups fail to include an estimate of the owner’s salary in their business plan start-up cost estimate. Omitting this important salary can cause undue stress during the first year, when the business may not be making a profit. Business owners should include a twelve month estimate of all employee costs, including salaries, payroll withholding taxes, worker’s compensation insurance, and benefits. Including your own.

Business Product
Businesses that sell a product must consider start-up costs for such items as initial inventory, vendor deposits, raw materials, manufacturing equipment, warehousing costs, product packaging, shipping, shipping insurance, and sales tax.

Businesses that provide a service must consider costs such as travel to client sites, mobile services and printing costs. Business product costs differ based upon the business product and business sales model. Writing a business plan will help to identify the start-up costs.

Operational Expenses
Operational costs should be budgeted out monthly. Estimate costs such as telephone, mobile services, Internet access, electricity and other vital services for a year, since the loss of any of them will directly affect the success of the business. Other operational costs include on-going , attorney and other professional fees, banking fees, credit card usage fees, and possibly transportation expenses.

Factor in the Time to Get Off the Ground
One critical component of getting an accurate start-up cost estimate is to determine the length of time it’s going to take you to open your new business. It will be very different if you’re opening a restaurant versus an eBay business. No matter what your business type, take into account everything you will spend, from the moment you begin the start-up process, through the moment you make your first sale. If you need three months from the time you sign a lease to the time you can put the open-for-business sign on your retail storefront, then calculate how much money you will need for salaries, electricity, rent and so forth, during those three months.

Learn the Specific Costs for Your Type of Business
There’s a wealth of resources available to you on the Internet that you can access to understand the specific costs associated with your particular business. For starters, engage multiple social media platforms, connect with other people in your industry, and post on message boards asking for help from fellow entrepreneurs.

Check out your industry’s trade association(s). There should be active members who are going through or have successfully navigated the start-up process, and they may be happy to share tips with you. You might even get access to sample business plans and checklists for your market niche, but most importantly, you’ll find out which hidden costs to be wary of in your industry.

Take every opportunity you can to network with business owners in your industry, both online and in person. They will have the best understanding of how the costs of a typical business in your industry balance out across the above categories. With that knowledge, you’ll be able to create a reasonable cost estimate for starting a business of your own.

Above all, be realistic when calculating your start-up costs. The first attempt to list out and calculate your costs may not be complete. Continue to research, consider your options, and refine your analysis until you’re satisfied with the final number, and then take the additional step of adding a miscellaneous line item for 10% of your total budget. The fact is, you’ll spend more than you expect to get your start-up business going, and the miscellaneous category will be there to cover the inevitable unexpected costs.