Archive for the ‘strategic planning’ category

Growing Your Small Business: Consider This…

January 16th, 2015

Coffee Shop OwnerAs a small business owner, you may have plans to grow your company. Before you put your foot on the accelerator, take the time to decide whether (and how much) you should grow your company.

What do you really want?

You believe you have the entrepreneurial drive to build your business into a larger one? Do you want to scale a business? Have more employees to help carry the weight? Have the potential to make more money? Create something that is worth a great deal of money, or that changes the world?

Do you need to grow to appear competitive in your market? To have the budget to get the word out, make more sales, and become an industry leader?

Can you be successful as a “boutique” operation? Sometimes less is more.

Do you want a business that comfortably supports you and also leaves time for you to be with family, pursue other interests or take vacations? You may want to grow but to control the growth so that you can enjoy what some people call a lifestyle business. While this term has been used condescendingly in entrepreneurial circles, there is also an increasing recognition that a solid lifestyle business can indeed be a great business to run.

Potential

What potential does your business have to grow? Some businesses are like finely tuned sports cars. They aren’t working at full capability unless they are on the track, racing forward. They are built to move fast and make things happen. Other businesses are engineered for steady travel instead. How about your company? And are you happy with that Chevy or Lamborghini your company is today? Or do you want to reengineer your business for a different driving experience?

Responsibilities

In a very small business, you do nearly everything yourself. As your business grows, you will delegate some tasks. As you grow even more, or scale the business, your responsibilities are likely to change from doing or a blend of doing-and-managing to higher level managing.

Before putting your dreams of growth into practical steps, consider whether you like doing or managing or some blend of the two, and also whether the satisfaction you get from business is from the rush of entrepreneurial growth or from the day-to-day running of the company you have today.

Money

Depending on how you grow and what type of business you have, you have the potential to make more money as the company gets bigger. Generally, this is one major motivation for growing a company.

It should be recognized that there are times when the larger business is not more lucrative for its owner. As you take on more employees, more infrastructure and more risk, you also have more potential areas for poor performance and resulting reduced financial returns. Which brings us to risk.

Risk

Big leases, big loans, shared equity, a larger staff, and other potential demands of a growing business carry with them higher risk alongside higher prospective reward.

A fast-growing business typically brings some loss of control as well as challenges maintaining quality, assuring profitability, and managing your (potentially also large) competition.

Be aware not only of your best-case scenario but also your worst. Are you ready to deal with risk?

Saleability of company

What will you do with your company when you are ready to retire or move on? Will your children run it? Will key employees buy it or take it over? Will you sell it? Will it end when you stop working?

Size is one consideration in this matter. Many small business advisors recommend that you fund your retirement while you are working, in the event that “you are the company” and that the business “dies with you.”

A business that is not overly dependent on you, and that can continue to make money after you move on, is typically a more saleable enterprise.

Unless you have a novel technology in hand, cash is king when it comes to selling a business, so if making a lot of money from the eventual sale of your company is a key consideration in your planning, you may indeed want to grow the business aggressively.

Small businesses that can run without you can be salable, too, since people frequently prefer to buy an existing business rather than starting their own. However, the proceeds are likely to be lower.

As a business owner, you have a unique opportunity to make conscious decisions about growth, based on the market for your services or products, and on balancing pros and cons of large versus small, considering your own management style, and reviewing how you want to blend business and life goals.

Whatever you decide, you have the privilege and the pride that comes with running a business. So many people would like to do what you are doing every day.

 

 

 

Leadership Skills for Entrepreneurs

September 25th, 2014

Leadership SkillsAs a small business entrepreneur in a dynamic business world, it is vital to stay informed on the things that impact your company. There is always more to learn about business, and consistent development is a component of success. Savvy business owners recognize that internal improvements are not limited to how the business runs but also to who is running the business. That’s why it is important to create opportunities to develop your skills so that you can improve business performance.

Here are three skills that are common to successful business owners:

Diligence

A large number of entrepreneurs start companies every day. They have great ideas in mind for companies that will make an impact in the market. Many of them take it a step further by getting the concepts out of their head and onto paper, but fall short when it comes to taking the next steps. Running your own business requires extraordinary commitment to get the results desired.

Management

Having your own business means cultivating the skills to be a self-starter. You need to be able to direct yourself to handle multiple tasks in order to manage your business well. You must have the ability to look at your responsibilities and motivate yourself to get going. Improving in this area equips you to work independently without requiring someone else to micro-manage your efforts. As a result, you can see the vision and run with it, looking for ways to put plans in action with the desire to produce good results.

Learn to prioritize by recognizing that you cannot do everything at once. Then arrange your tasks in the order of importance that will have the greatest impact on making progress on your business.

Finally, and probably one of the most important tips for managerial success, is to do what you do best and be willing to delegate or outsource the rest.

Good Judgment

As a business owner you will need to make many decisions concerning your company. So having the ability to make the best decisions from multiple options is very important. You may have had success by referring to your instincts, but when possible, use quantifiable data to back-up your business assumptions, and be sure to consult with industry specific experts when you come to challenges that you are unsure about.

Are diligence, managerial acumen, and sound judgment skills that can be learned, developed, and continually improved upon? If there is strong desire for success, and an understanding and acceptance that it is possible to achieve that success when you have a regimen for starting, running and growing your business one step at a time, then yes, they are.

One method commonly used by successful entrepreneurs, is to keep a reminder of your mission in front of you at all times. This can be in the form of a vision board, a handwritten note on a sheet of paper, or some other tangible item that reminds you to stay focused, and inspires you to take action. Write down your goals and the strategies that you will use to reach them. Convert big goals into bite sized steps so that you can continue to persevere when the task seems overwhelming. Continually develop yourself into a better and more capable business person every day.

10 Accounts Receivable Best Practices

April 22nd, 2014

accounts receivable cartoonProper cash flow management is always important for any organization. One of the most common causes of cash flow problems is poorly managed accounts receivable. Don’t assume that just because a customer purchased your product or services that they will pay you in a timely manner, or at all.

Slow paying customers may require you to draw down your cash reserves, or increase the amount of financing you need to cover your operations. As delinquent accounts get older, the probability of collecting those accounts diminishes. And of course, the more cash you have tied up in receivables, the less cash is available for running your business.

For charities and not-for-profits, slow collection of donation pledges and annual membership dues can put a strain on cash flow. While donations and membership dues are not technically accounts receivable, many of the same best practices can be applied to accelerate collections from your funding sources. Awareness of accounts receivable best practices becomes even more imperative not-for-profit organizations engaging in the sale of products and services to increase funding.

Follow these 10 best practices to improve the receivables process, which should improve cash flow and strengthen the bottom line:

1. Email Invoices
This will ensure your customers receive your invoices immediately, avoiding mail delays. Confirm with your customers which email address they wish you to send invoices to.

2. Shorten Payment Terms
In the days of paper invoices and checks, it was fairly common for businesses to extend credit to customers to allow for mail and payment delays, by granting credit terms, for example “Net 30”. However with the widespread adoption of email communication and electronic payment methods, businesses are now more commonly specifying “Payment due upon receipt”.

3. Have EFT and Other Payment Options
An increasing number of businesses are now paying their suppliers using Electronic Funds Transfer. By specifying on your invoice that payment may be made by EFT, you will enable your customer to deposit payment directly to your bank account. Simply include on your invoice your EFT banking information; bank, branch and account number. Also consider using PayPal and/or credit cards.

4. Establish Credit Policies
If you were going to extend a customer credit, it would be a good idea to assess their ability to pay. The expense of performing credit checks may be more than worthwhile for many businesses.

5. Review Accounts Receivables Regularly
Track the aging of your receivables, and systematically follow-up on any accounts that are past due more than a predetermined number of days. A good practice is to run an aged receivables report from your accounting system on a weekly basis, paying special attention to any receivables that are over, for example, 20 or 30 days old.

6. Use the Telephone
Follow-up unpaid invoices with a phone call if payment has not been received within a reasonable period. Written collection letters and even emails are usually less effective as they do not engage the customer in conversation. The fastest way to find out if there is a problem with a payment is to speak with your customer. Solving the problem in a manner that maintains a good customer relationship is also more likely if there is such a conversation.

7. Maintain a Collections Record
For each over-due account, keep a log of when follow-up calls or emails were sent, along with a record of customer’s responses to follow-up calls. Knowing that, for example, your customer promised to make a payment by a certain date will be invaluable if additional follow-up calls are required.

8. Offer Discounts for Early Payment
Payments are often made first to companies that offer discounts. The popular 2%/10, net 30 Days Terms means that if a customers pays within 10 days they receive a 2% discount, with the total due in 30 days. Try 2%/10, Net 20 Days. A customer may be less inclined to forgo a discount when the payment is due in only 10 more days anyway.

9. Use a Factoring Service
Using a factor is like selling your receivables to a third party at a discount. The costs involved with this method may be justified by greatly improving your cash flow, especially if you have a long collection cycle.

10. Use a Collection Agency
If you are unable to collect, you should submit the account to a collection agency. No one can guarantee to collect your outstanding receivables, but these companies tend to be very aggressive, and since they tend to charge based on the amounts they collect, this is a viable final option. Don’t expect to see any new business from these customers, but then they aren’t the kind of customers you want anyway.

Managing your accounts receivable is normally pretty straight forward as most customers pay on time. However, collection problems can be avoided, or at least minimized, with a strategy that considers the above best practices.

Is Your Budget Incomplete?

October 8th, 2013

Is your budget incomplete?Estimating and matching expenses to revenue (real or anticipated) is important because it helps business owners to determine whether they have enough money to fund operations, expand the business and generate income for themselves. Without a budget or a plan, a business runs the risk of spending more money than it is taking in or, conversely, not spending enough money to grow the business and compete.

So you assemble a budget spreadsheet that starts with your projected profit, then accounts for the operating expenses required to generate that profit, and calculates the gross profit margin, and then estimates the required sales revenues. You look over the results and decide that the profit goal is doable because the sales revenues are realistic and the required expenses are complete. But are they? Have you considered all of the following?

Purchase Price vs Landed Price
Does your budget account for the difference between the purchase price for a product and the landed price? The landed price is what really matters, because it includes the costs of freight, duties, taxes, storage, etc. Knowing the true cost of getting the product into your hands is crucial when setting the price and insuring profitability. Clearly it is advantageous to reduce the cost of each or any component of landed cost. Each one will allow the seller to lower the final selling price or increase the profit margin associated with that sale.

Slow Growth
Many entrepreneurs don’t account for how much money they will spend if their idea does not take off as fast as they hope. When budgeting, make sure to create at least one “very worst case” scenario that does not have much or any growth, just so you know what will happen if it all goes wrong.

The Effects of Scale
Scaling may affect more areas of your business than you can anticipate. Ongoing processes such as training new employees and maintaining quality control are just some areas that might get exponentially more difficult, without even factoring in the effect of any new operations. Be sure to budget in the money and time to make systems and procedures more efficient, as new problems related to scale will inevitably arise.

Insurance, Equipment and Software Applications
Three of the biggest expenses that may surprise you as an entrepreneur are:

Insurance: You need to budget in much more than you pay as an employee for health, disability and business insurance.

Equipment: Will you need additional equipment and office furniture to provide the production capacity that your profit projection required? Even simple items like tools, racks, chairs and file cabinets can add up to substantial costs.

Software: You’ll need to purchase licenses for each user.

The Cost of Networking
Entrepreneurs sometimes forget how expensive it can be to do networking in the right places. Conferences, for example are great for networking. However, ticket costs, hotels and transportation to conferences add up. Even if most of your networking is at free or low cost events, consider how much money is spent taking people out to lunch and coffee to network with them one-on-one afterwards.

The Costs at Home
When you’re caught up in the fast pace of running and growing your business, it’s easy to forget that there needs to be at least enough money to put food on the table at home. Even if you cut your personal expenses down to bare bones, they do still exist. Make sure they make it into your budget, rather than stressing about them down the line.

Paying Taxes
It’s easy if you’re self-employed, especially if it’s in a start-up, to forget to put enough money aside for taxes. Budget 15-20% of gross revenue or 35% of net revenue (until you know your business better) for paying the taxman. It would be advisable to put the money aside in a separate bank account every month so you’ll always be able to make your tax payments in full and on time.

Unpredictable Costs
There will always be costs you couldn’t have predicted, and because of this it’s important to have a buffer-fund of as much money as you can spare to handle those server crashes, extra hires or other incidental costs you couldn’t have known to figure into the official budget. Consider that an extra 10% of your budget should be included in a Miscellaneous Expenses line item on your budget spreadsheet.

Review the Business Periodically
While many companies draft a budget yearly, small business owners should do so more often. In fact, many small business owners find themselves planning just a month or two ahead because business can be quite volatile and unexpected expenses can throw off revenue assumptions.

Bottom Line
Budgeting is an easy but essential process that business owners use to forecast (and then match) current and future revenue to expenses. The goal is to make sure that enough money is available to keep the business up and running, to grow the business, to compete, and to ensure a solid emergency fund.

5 Ways to Become Profitable

August 23rd, 2013

5 Ways to Become Profitable

All businesses want to make money. And of course if they don’t, then even those with great products or services will fail. Making more money and becoming a profitable business is what it’s all about. Here are five strategies that can help.

1. Change the Way you Operate
Analyze your existing business models and try to establish ongoing revenue streams. If your customers are buying infrequently then you might, for example, sell an ongoing re-supply program or a maintenance plan instead of just a one-time or stand-alone sale. Establish a relationship with new customers and change the relationships with established customers to tie the profitability of their business to your products or services.

Look around, analyze and learn from what your competitors are doing. Think about what you can innovatively apply from those lessons to your business.

2. Become Visible and Connected
If you have a long established company with a great reputation, loyal customers and respected industry experience, then you are probably running a successful business. But along comes the new guy who puts his business on the Internet and posts his credentials all over the place. Everyone, including your customers, can find him. You can’t sit there and assume that just because people know who you are you will remain dominant.

You have to have a marketing plan that addresses the current methods used by potential customers to find the products or services that you offer. When they search the Internet, and you’re not there, or they can’t find you, then in 100% of those cases you will not get their business. A lot of older small businesses don’t have a web-presence. If that’s you, or you don’t have a strategic marketing plan in effect, then you need to take your reputation online through social media, a website and a blog to connect with customers, including the ones you already have, or you won’t have them much longer.

3. Raise the Bar on Marketing
A lot of small businesses think about sales but not marketing. You can’t just go out and try to make sales; you have to have a plan with a strategy coherent to your industry, your company and the prospects you want to target.

In order to track the leads your marketing program generates, you will need customer relationship management (CRM) software, although a well-designed Excel application may be OK as you get started.

Consider using search engine ads, email marketing and other such online advertising.

Give your business an immediate web presence through social media networks including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Offer tutorials, demos, or new certification sessions as webcasts or podcasts for immediate download.

All these types of promotional vehicles need to be on the table because that’s what your competitors are doing.

4. Make Every Person a Salesperson
Some employees don’t think they’re there to promote sales or the business and are just there to collect a paycheck. But those days are gone and those people are the first to be laid off. Everyone should be an income-producing part of the business no matter what their main function might be. Everyone needs to pitch in to help cut costs, sell, and network on the web. Motivate employees to spread the message and reward those who make the extra effort or are producing new business.

5. Streamline Your Costs
If a business is having profit problems, the options are pretty straight forward. You can increase sales, decrease expenses, or do both. Due to the sluggishness of the current economic recovery, sales may not be where you would like them to be, and increasing sales may be a slow road. Decreasing expenses may be a faster way to turn things around. Try fitting expenses into three categories: fixed costs, such as rent and other overhead, sales-related costs that are tied to producing revenue, and discretionary expenses, such as new equipment and bonuses. Examine every single line item looking for ways to save, even with the fixed costs. Telephone and insurance costs may be fixed, but they are also competitive, and therefore negotiable.