Archive for the ‘management’ category

A Successful Business is a Well-Oiled Machine

January 21st, 2013

 

Since you want more clients or customers, more income, and more time off, you’ll need to make your business run like a well-oiled machine. If you are like most entrepreneurs you’re handling almost everything yourself, and so your business is probably running YOU, instead of you running your business. That means a lot of things are being left undone, opportunities are being lost, and consequently fewer clients and are coming in.

Consistency is crucial and chaos is costly, both financially and time-wise. When things run like a well-oiled machine, when everything’s organized, chaos is reduced. Ideally, you want things run on their own, or by the efforts of someone else, so you can focus on growing your business, while having more time off to enjoy yourself. For this to happen, you’ll need to systemize the processes involved in operating your business.

If you haven’t identified the one best way to perform each repeatable task or process (such as answering the phone in a consistent manner, managing your sales process, etc.) then you’re in big trouble. You need to create some systems and procedures.

Even if you don’t have help from staff, you can still make your business run smoothly.

Begin by documenting everything you do:
Start by tracking your time. Take a note pad and document the time it takes you to do the tasks you do every day. In a week you will have a good picture of where you are spending your time. It also allows you to see what can be removed from your day, and what can be delegated to your team. By keeping an awareness of your time and where you spend it, you will be much more productive. You’ll see a pattern of where you are spending too much or too little time, and which things you are doing that aren’t essential to your business. By keeping track of this, it will help you realize how you can use your time better.

Next, you want to document the process associated with each task:
Write clear instructions on how to complete each task. This will eliminate, or at least improve, chaotic situations. Increased levels of organization will enable a better work ethic and will help keep you on task generating better production throughout the day. It can be eye opening to see what you need to put into place. Once you realize what needs to be done, and fix it, your business will run more smoothly. You may also detect areas of your business that are under, or over staffed. By recognizing this you are attacking an issue before it becomes a bigger problem. You are now also able to better delegate what you need to, so that you can focus on what is the most important use of your own time. Make certain that all task instructions include the locations of all support material so that if you are unavailable your staff can easily find what they need to keep things going smoothly.

The end result should be an instruction manual for your business:
An instruction manual, or operations manual, for your business is a huge asset. It will help you and your staff to keep on track and know where to go to find the information need. It will clearly define the rules and regulations, work ethics and processes clearly. This will help you keep your employees in line, and help employees know their proper role, and what they need to do to fulfill that role. Everyone’s job is easier when the processes and procedures are clearly stated. There won’t be any gray areas when everything is right there in black and white. As you add to your team over time, having your systems documented will allow new people to integrate better, faster and more efficiently with your current team.

Ideally you will want to define your systems and document your processes and procedures before your company grows to full capacity. Then, as you approach full capacity status, you will avoid the breakdowns that cause so many businesses to fail. At the same time, you’ll make more time for marketing and for the ability to service the resulting larger client list.

A prime reason that franchises are so successful is that the operations manual eliminates all the guesswork on how to do things. It tells you “one best way”, and documents everything in a step-by-step manner.

But remember, just because the process is documented, it does not necessarily mean it’s always going to be the “one best way” to perform that task. You should challenge your employees to improve on how things are done to increase productivity and the quality of the results. That said, your operations manual should be a living document.

There are many things in any business that can be systematized. For example, each of your different marketing methods that you use to attract new clients should be well defined and documented, as should your client management, your schedule, your calendar, your email, etc. While you’re at it, your personal life could also benefit from establishing specific procedures. You can systematize your food shopping, your doctor appointments, your personal email, your dry-cleaning, your errands, your banking. You name it, and it can probably be systematized to your benefit.

You’ll be amazed to see how much of a problem-free zone your business becomes. You will have a lot more time to focus on building the business, a lot more room for new clients, and more time to simply enjoy yourself. You’ll have more time for vacations, for self-care, and for spending quality time with friends and family. And that’s what being self-employed is really about.

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.

4 Reasons Why Small Businesses Fail

July 16th, 2012

It is no longer news that 99% of all new business ventures fail in the first ten years. Since the dream of every entrepreneur is to build a successful business, here are, tactfully highlighted, 4 major reasons why small businesses fail and how you can bulletproof your business against them. Join me as I expose these business killers:

1. Poor Attention to Generating Sales:
If a business cannot attract customers, then it will fail. Closing sales is the core mission of all for-profit businesses, and yet it is the most common reason for business failures. A company’s business plan must specify the sales process. Will customers be attracted by advertising and promotion alone, or will it require salespeople to obtain business? Is the nature of the business that it will need inside or outside salespeople, or both? Will the owner or partners be the salespeople? Will salespeople need to be hired, or will the sales function be contracted out to a marketing representative company? If this basic need is not addresses and implemented successfully, the business will not be successful and will most likely fail

2. Lack Of Managerial Skill:
When a small business owner lacks the managerial skills required to drive the business to greater heights, the business is bound to fail. An entrepreneur that wants to succeed must be able to effectively handle the employees, cash flow, production line and so on, or the business owner must be able to hire a good manager to run the business.

3. Wrong Business Decisions:
This is common to everyone irrespective of your field. There are many instances where, after carrying out critical analysis on a particular situation, the entrepreneur comes up with a decision considered favorable. But on implementing that decision it backfires, and at the end of the day it results in anything from unwanted tax audits, regulatory agency compliance issues, employee resistance, unexpected customer reactions or even lawsuits.

So whenever you decide on an action to be implemented on your business, consider asking friends, business partners and professionals for advice. It is going to save you the stress of cleaning up the mess resulting from wrong business decision taken.

4. Harsh Government Economic, Fiscal And Monetary Policy:
This is a problem for both large and small businesses. As an entrepreneur, you must be on guard to bulletproof your business against the ever-changing government fiscal and monetary policies.

Since you cannot influence or alter the government’s decisions, you must be prepared to swiftly adjust your small business to align with the government rules. This will help prevent it from being hit by the adverse effect of unfavorable government policies. Instances of such government policies and effects you must keep an eye on are tax reporting and compliance matters, double taxation, duties and levies, exchange rates, policies that effect inflation, and so on.

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.