Posts Tagged ‘small business’

Tips for Starting a Service Business

November 17th, 2014

Service Business 2Many entrepreneurs are people with specific marketable skills and know-how. Taking the step to self-employment by starting your own services business can take the value of those skills to an entirely new level. But starting and building a business requires an all together different set of skills and know-how. So, if you are thinking about being your own boss, here’s some advice to get off on the right foot.

Write down your business plan

Writing a business plan may seem like a pointless and onerous exercise, but don’t skip it. Putting your plan in writing will force you to think clearly about your new business, your opportunities and your challenges. It will help you set realistic goals and keep yourself accountable. A well-written business plan is also critical for securing financing for your service vehicles or other major expenses. One great resource to help you develop your business plan is the U.S. Small Business Administration. Your local chamber of commerce is another excellent place to ask for help.

Seek advice

Starting any business involves risk. You can minimize yours by taking advantage of the experiences of others. A good mentor, or two, can help you avoid the pitfalls, as well as show you best practices that will get your new service business on the right foot. Mentors can also introduce you to other influential people and help you establish your own business network.

Your business mentor can be a coach or consultant you hire, or a more seasoned businessperson who takes you under their wing. One excellent place to look for no-cost or low-cost expert business mentoring is SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small businesses.

If you are looking for advice specific to your type of service business, it pays to go online. Many professionals in your field will happily help you out on industry chat boards or LinkedIn groups. All you need to do is ask.

Track everything

Business is a numbers game, in more ways than one. Most new entrepreneurs know enough to track income and expenses at the very least. But the most successful ones don’t stop there. Tracking and analyzing everything in your business will allow you to make better decisions, avoid wasteful practices and realize greater profits.

One example of tracking used to advantage is your vehicle fleet. Instead of simply tracking expenses, take it a step further and track fuel economy per vehicle or per driver, time on the road and location of every vehicle. Knowing these parameters will allow you to manage your fleet for maximum efficiency and productivity.

Develop systems for your business

Imagine if your entire business ran at 100 percent efficiency. It would be so much easier to make a profit, wouldn’t it? No business is 100 percent efficient, but developing systems will get you as close as possible. Once you’ve figured out what works, write it down, and make sure every employee knows it’s standard procedure. If the procedure you’ve developed involves multiple steps, create a checklist for employees to follow. Even little things like making a habit of placing tools back in their proper spot when a task is finished can save countless hours of wasted time in your business.

Your business will probably have unique aspects that require you to develop some of your own systems. But look out for ready-made tools and systems that can help systematize your business. Accounting software is a good example. So is a GPS tracking system that can help you track and analyze your business fleet.

Don’t undervalue existing customers

As you acquire customers, take good care of them and keep in touch. Develop relationships and earn loyalty. It’s much easier to sell to existing customers than to someone who has never done business with you. Anything you can do in your service business to encourage customer loyalty will keep your repeat business flowing, and it will also bring in the best free advertising possible — word of mouth.

Expect to make mistakes

If you can’t acknowledge, learn from and apologize for your mistakes, then you’re doomed. Part of becoming successful is learning to handle and recover from mistakes. You will make them. If you think you won’t, you’d best keep your day job.

Starting your service business will require a lot of dedication and hard work. But by following business best practices you can avoid many of the pitfalls experienced by new entrepreneurs. Take these tips to heart, and you will improve your chances of developing a rewarding and profitable new enterprise.

 

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.

Set Your Prices by Knowing Your Costs

January 20th, 2014

It seems like a simple fact of business; to turn a profit your prices have to be higher than your costs. Is it really as simple as just adding some percentage to your costs to make your company profitable? Actually, it is. The hard part is determining your true costs.

With product-based businesses, setting prices starts with a markup on the product costs. Service businesses can start with a markup of an hourly rate, for the employees and/or owners providing the services to the clients. Those costs should be starting points, but many new business owners use these alone as a basis to set prices. For many new small-business owners, figuring out the complete costs of what they’re selling can be difficult. However, not knowing the true costs can result in underpricing products and services.

The price floor is the absolute minimum at which you can set your prices without sustaining losses on each sale. The price ceiling is the absolute maximum price the market will bear. The price you charge for your products or services will fall somewhere in between.

Here’s what your price needs to cover:

  • The immediate cost of what you’re selling
  • A portion of your selling and general expenses
  • A reasonable profit left over for you

Include every component of your cost-of-goods-sold as you work the numbers for a product-based business. For a service business, use a reasonable hourly rate as your starting point; for yourself (if you’re not counted as an employee) and remember to add on the costs of benefits and employment taxes. Pull the selling and general expenses right off your profit and loss statement; if you have figures from two or three periods to work with, take an average. As for your desired net profits, add on a reasonable percentage for your industry. For example, someone selling original artwork could expect to see a higher profit percentage on each individual sale than could someone selling one-size-fits-all rubber noses.

8 Reasons Small Businesses Can’t Make a Profit

November 11th, 2013

8 Reasons Small Businesses Can’t Make a ProfitI know from running an accounting and bookkeeping practice that many small business owners are making the same mistakes, and those mistakes prevent them from accomplishing the goal of being profitable. After all, a business isn’t there just to make money, it should be profitable.

This list of eight common mistakes that reduce or eliminate profitability is one all small business owners should check themselves against:

1.  Underestimating all the costs involved in producing, packaging and shipping a product
2.  Overestimating the size of the market for a product or service
3.  Undercharging for their services
4.  Not classifying expenses properly to take advantage of tax codes
5.  Purchasing too much, not enough or the wrong kind of insurance
6.  Overpaying on bank fees and credit card fees
7.  No collection process in place for customers that have not paid
8.  Not having accurate, up-to-date reports to provide the above information so corrections can be made

Many business owners try to keep their own records, (or have a spouse or friend help) and because they lack the knowledge and/or time to do it properly, they don’t have the information needed to evaluate and correct potential problems.

Sometimes there is enough money coming into the business to continue despite making many of these errors but correcting them could mean a much better payback for the owner. More often what happens is that the owner gets frustrated and overwhelmed. In such an environment of confusion time is not leveraged properly, decisions can be made in desperation, and more and greater mistakes are made, further distancing the company from its profit objective.

Once a proper bookkeeping system is set up and brought current, the owner can see the whole picture and assess where changes need to be made. Sometimes minor changes like switching to a different bank or credit card company, increasing prices, or outsourcing a specific task can have a big impact on profitability. Other times something more involved is necessary such as implementing a system of pricing levels, changing advertising tactics, or even changing the direction of the company to be able to offer a more competitive and profitable product line.

Having accurate bookkeeping, and its associated reports, provides the business owner with the necessary information to get a clear picture of the economics of the company. Evaluating business operations and making the day-to-day decisions becomes a process based on the facts of the business not the “feel”. Even if your company makes pants, you shouldn’t be running it by the “seat of your pants”.