We have written a couple of articles in the past about the expectations of lenders, investors, or even the government when it comes to financing or grants, but this is an area that seems to be the most misunderstood and where we receive many calls. This question comes up the most in respect to those starting businesses which in many cases just have an idea and have not started a business and are pre-revenue.
Having a Sound and Defined Business Strategy
There tends to be a misunderstanding of those who are looking to start a business of what is required by a lender, investor, or grant provider to gain an understanding of your business. In all cases, a full business plan is required that documents the detail of your business in every area to a level that shows you have thought through your business and can demonstrate them in the plan how you got to the numbers and how you intend to execute on the plan and generate the revenue that is projected.
Having a business strategy is the responsibility of the owner(s) in the business. If you have not defined your business strategy and understood all areas of your business, you will not be able to get a business plan developed. The exception being unless are willing to pay for the consulting required to help you develop your business strategy. Developing your business strategy is not part of a business plan development engagement, it is expected that as the business owner that you have this already developed.
For not having a developed business, a start-up will pay 25-50% more than a mature business for having a business plan developed. In 7 years, we have had only two start-ups who could answer the questions we provided about their business to develop a business plan. If you cannot tell us the information and convince us how are going to generate revenue, how are you going to convince a bank, Investor, or the government to give you funding?
Having Skin in the Game
There is a misconception by many who are thinking about starting a business that there is a large pot of gold out there waiting for them to access for them to start a business primarily from banks and the government. Starting a business is a risk, but it is your risk, and your choice and no one made you choose this path. A true entrepreneur takes risks because without taking risks there is no true gain. There is never a time that starting a business is safe.
You have to invest in your own business. Whether that is taking out a loan against your personal assets, using your RRSPs, or using an inheritance from Uncle Bob, no one will give you any funding if you have not invested yourself. You need to ask yourself why would they invest in your business if they do not see that you even believe in your business enough to invest and take the risk with them.
A true entrepreneur works for “free” until the business is making money and all other expenses are paid. You will not have anyone give you financing or investment or a grant to cover your salary. If you need to get paid, then you need to go to work for someone else who can provide you with a salary. We have clients who have not taken wages for years to reinvest in their business. They have used that “skin in the game” such as their RRSP’s, severance, or other sources of money to cover their personal expenses until such time their business can pay them.
Why Banks, Investors, and the Government Lend or Provide Grants
Banks and Investors (whether public or private) are businesses themselves and indirectly so is the Government as they all are looking for a return on their investment. They are not providing money to businesses in “hope” of seeing a return. They are going to provide the money to those where they see the lowest risk and the greatest return.
Banks make money from the interest you pay on the loan they give you. If your business fails, they lose their money and the interest. The risk level may differ by the bank and what industries they shy away from, but if you are a start-up without any history of revenue, the same metrics are being evaluated. Your personal assets will also be assessed. Next, they will look at why you need the money. They are only really going to look at assets or anything that is tangible that they see will aid in generating revenue such as marketing. They will cover a percentage of the assets and the marketing if they feel you can make your payments based on your personal assets and business plan. Banks will follow up to make sure you are executing on the plan as outlined, especially if you are late with any payments.
Investors invest in companies that they believe they will make 2-3 times return on their investment. They want to be out of your business with that return typically within a maximum of a five-year period. They are taking a risk on you and your business, and in many cases, their expertise and contacts will be the reason that they get their money back as well as make you money. For that privilege, you must give up a portion of your business. If you default on your payments, you could have your business taken from you. If you are not earning any money, there is nothing really to give up – they are the ones taking a leap of faith in your products, services & you. If you have not generated revenue from your business, your business is worth close to $0.00 They will look at your investment in the business as well as the potential, but if you can find an investor pre-revenue, do not be surprised if you are not the majority shareholder. The days of high-tech ideas worth millions pre-revenue are few and far between.
The Government provides grants to improve economic development and employment. The grants they provide have a purpose whether provincial or federal. There are grants for manufacturing, as there is a goal of getting manufacturing back in Canada. They are grants for employees and training to help people get hired and trained, so they do not end up on unemployment. They provide grants in the North due to high unemployment rate and closure of businesses to stimulate the economy. The money is not available to give away. They are providing grants for a purpose, so they are looking at the same risks banks, and lenders look at as well. If you are lucky enough to receive a grant, your business will be monitored to ensure that you followed through with the plan as outlined.
What Are They All Looking For?
There are many criteria that all three look for when they are determining whether your business will be approved:
If you are starting a business and are going to need some level of financing, it is important to understand what is required before approaching someone to write a business plan, which you believe will be the key to getting the money you need. You have to have developed your business and be able to articulate every area of your business. It is not the consultant’s job to develop your business.
You also have to be committed and show that you are investing in your business along with understanding what someone will cover with financing. Those providing funding will not cover salaries or items that they cannot attach in some way to reduce the risk.
Having a business plan written does not ensure you will receive funding and no one can promise you this as there are too many factors, including your credit. We always qualify a client fully before proceeding with a business plan, as it does neither the client or us any favour, if we do not believe they will be approved for financing. Our company and individual names are on every plan which adds credibility and assures the one providing funding there has been a level of due diligence. If we do not feel your business is bankable, we will tell you right up front and tell you what you need to do before approaching anyone to have a business plan developed. We have had potential business owners argue with us about not agreeing to do their plan, but it would hurt our reputation and would not help them if we had taken their money knowing that there was not a chance of receiving financing due to the fact the idea has not been developed enough to be a viable business.
Have you ever sat in a meeting discussing what to do next and the realize that you keep having the same conversation each year, yet nothing seems to get done?
There is a methodology that can ensure things get done. The methodology employs many tools such as Visioning, Grounding, Gap Analysis, Strategy Maps, Balanced Scorecard, Budget Programming, Organizational Alignment, and Performance Management.
The process always starts with Visioning. This is a highly futuristic discussion; it is all about what you want to be when you grow up. Assemble dreamers and technologists for this exercise, as it is important to create a vision that is unconstrained by the issues of today. Companies that create and work towards a strong and succinct vision, continuously enhance the value of the organization for its shareholders.
The next step, “grounding,” deals with getting back to earth, back to reality. This process step scans your organizations by undertaking a situational analysis of your current state. At a high level, it asks what is working well and what is not, and ends with analyzing your current financial state and position, and customer base.
Now that you have a vision and are well grounded in your current state of the nation, it is time to determine where the gaps are and itemize them. There will be a list of differences between where you are now, and where you want to be. You also need to assess what forces are working for you, and what forces are working against you. All of them put together; this becomes the change agenda, a high-level plan for achieving their desired state.
A strategy map describes how an organization intends to create value for its shareholders. It maps how the company’s intangible assets are used to create sustained shareholder value. Processes such as innovation, customer service, and support, can become highly differentiating as companies seek competitive advantages. The strategy map visually represents how the intangible assets of a company (Learning and Growth), through its internal goals and objectives, provide value to customers, creating a sustained financial performance which enhances shareholder value. The strategy map, in this case, emphasizes “what” is important to the organization, and what must be accomplished.
“What gets measured, gets done.” Measurements are at the root of motivation and control. The Balanced Scorecard provides a mechanism that uses the Financial, Customer, Internal, and Learning and Growth perspectives that map how strategy is translated into action using lead and lag indicators. Lead indicators are often concerned with ‘inputs,' while lag indicators are measurable (observable) ‘outcomes.' The logic is, if I get lots of ‘leads,' I will achieve my ‘lags.' When developing the balanced scorecard, a check to ensure current operations, as well as strategic objectives are achieved.
Wondering why things didn’t get done; yes, you had the vision; yes, you are well grounded; yes, you had the strategy; yes, you had the metrics; but, no, you did not allocate sufficient resources to execute. It is important to segment and identifies strategic expenses. In the book The Execution Premium (Kaplan, Norton), the concept of “StratEx” is introduced; “Strategic Expense.” There is CoS (Cost of Sales), Opex, CapEx, and now there should be StratEx.
Budget Programming maps the one-year financial goals and objectives of the company to important initiatives (strategic and operational) which are actioned by your intangible assets known as employees. By identifying key initiatives, the Capital Expenditure, Operating Expenditure, and Employee Expenditure (Intangible assets), and then labeling these Strategic Expenditures, you set the priorities of the company for the long term. Budget programming ensures cross functional, organizational alignment of spending, resources, and priorities. Budgets need to identify “’who’ needs to do ‘what,' to ‘whom’ by ‘when,' and for ‘how much.'
When determining the ‘who needs to do what, to whom, by when, and for how much,' it is important to ensure organizational alignment. The expected outcome is the right organizational structure with effective and efficient processes operated by knowledgeable and skilled employees (intangible assets).
Once the Budget Programming and the assessment and assignment of all the resources in the organization have been completed, the question is can the budget be rolled up and approved?
Business Performance Management
The most important step in the process is the business performance management aspect of running the company. The tasks, objectives, metrics identified in the budget, balanced scorecard, and strategy map all come together to create a system of performance management. In this system, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings complete with agenda and measures are delegated (not abdicated) to management teams and their staff. Reporting processes are put in place that advice management at all levels of the company on how well the strategy is being executed.
You can see how employing a compliment of many tools such as Visioning, Grounding, Gap Analysis, Strategy Maps, Balanced Scorecard, Budget Programming, Organizational Alignment, and Performance Management can guide a company’s management team to ensure “things get done.” Bypassing any of these steps can quickly become a cause for concern, since critical information may be missing, and weakened by holes in the foundation upon which the plan rests upon.
You are in business in order to make money, and sales feeds the business engine. The goal is to generate enough sales to cover your expenses and make a profit. If you do not have an understanding of how many leads you need to generate and turn into sales, this can become a cash flow issue very quickly.
As a business owner, it is important that you understand where your leads are coming from and what the potential is for them closing. In addition, those that do not close you will want to have an understanding of why they didn’t close? Hopefully, this article will provide you some insight into how to create and track your sales pipeline for your business so that you are able to keep an eye on your profitability.
Develop Your Sales Process
Whether you document this or not, every business has a sales process. Typically there will be similarities within industries, but in many cases, a sales process can be different for every business. So you ask what is a sales process exactly? A sales process consists of the steps that you follow in order to take a cold lead either to close whether that sale is won or lost. There is no right or wrong process; it is about what steps you find work the best for you and your sales people in being able to “win the sale.”. It is also important to understand that not every sale will go through every step of your sales process, and others will require that you follow each step. You may also have several sales processes within your business depending on the type of product/service you are selling or based on the target customer.
Example: Company A has a product that can be sold to the following.
Developing Your Sales Funnel
Once your process steps are defined, you will want to assign percentages of probablity to close to each process step. This will provide you with with a view of the progression of the sales and their potential for closing. This step may take you some time especially if you are just starting out or are not currently tracking the progression of your sales today. The idea is about understanding how many leads you need to make the sales you have forecasted for your business and the progression through the funnel to become a closed sale. The further the lead progresses in the sales cycle the better the chance you have of it closing.
Over time you will be able get a clear picture of your sales probabilities and closure ratio. If you have 100 leads and 30 turn into sales then you have a 30% sales closure ratio.
The calculation to determine the amount of revenue potential in your sales funnel will be:
Depending on the business, some will build their sales process, probability percentages, and funnel based on what they feel are qualified leads, and others start at the lead phase because there is some qualification done prior such as web form which collects qualification information.
Tracking & Reporting
If you are performing the sales function or you only have 1 person responsible for sales within your business, this could be as easy as creating Excel spreadsheets to keep track of the information needed:
If you have several people responsible for sales within your organization, it is highly suggested that you invest in a CRM (Customer Relationship Management System). There are many systems out there to choose from depending on the level of functionality you require. There are a few that have a free version for 2 licenses and others that offer limited functionality. Here is a list of three which I would recommend for small businesses that only have one or two people looking after sales.
As your business grows, it is important that you have a handle on sales within your business to understand how your business is performing and if you are generating the expected sales that you need for your business. If you are not tracking your sales, then you do not really have a good handle on your business, and this is when many businesses end up in financial trouble.
There are other side benefits of tracking your sales processes, probability percentages, and pipelines that will help you run your business as well. Here are just a few.
This article focuses on sales but is just one area where it is important to understand the workflow, processes, and measurements that need to be in place to know the pulse of your business. Generating revenue is the most important task within any business because, without revenue, there is not a business. Start setting up your sales processes, probability percentages, and tracking before you begin hiring salespeople into your organization. What you will find is that you will modify all of this over time as you uncover ways to increase your probability of closure and need to add more steps in your sales process to in order to do this.
Many times as a business owner there are problems that come up within our business, and we think we know the answer to the problem We then implement a solution in order to find that problem is not resolved and is reoccurring. Sometimes this is an issue because we are too close to business, or because we were not given the right information.
Has a similar situation in your business occurred to the one below that ended up occurring over multiple departments within your organization?
What is a Problem?
Problem: A measurable gap or deviation between an observed state and the expected state, norm, standard, or status quo.
In this business example, we can use a business owner who is reviewing his financial statements. The business owner sees that his gross margin (Sales – Cost of Sales) is 50%. Is this a problem?
The answer: It depends. There are some questions that need to be answered first.
There is a fair amount of difference in each scenario. First of all, it depends what industry you are in; each industry tends to have its own structure.
In the other scenarios, where there will most likely be multiple products, issues of pricing, costs of sales, product mix, sales expenses, and even transaction posting errors can be suspect. A common source of frustration with owners is that expected programs or products were not released on time, ran into quality issues with products, late to market, unexpected competition to name a few.
Perhaps the most difficult answer to get is “What should have been?”. This often implies gathering the facts without bias or personal influence from anyone involved. You need to gather objective evidence that support observations, not evidence that support a theory we might believe, or a conclusion (hypothesis) that we might jump to early in the process.
In order to set in motion a problem-solving exercise, the problem needs to be clearly articulated. Problems are about the relationship between variables; the fact that the margins are 50% is not a problem in of itself; the fact that the margins ‘should have been,' or were ‘expected to be’ 60% is problematic. The problem statement needs to be focused on a particular issue, address the relationship between variables, and should contain the foundations of its own solution; namely what should have been.
In scenario 2 above; the fact that i) margins were 50%, ii) margins were expected to be 55%, and iii) margins should have been 40% represents multiple problems. These problems deal with the variables of 1) what is versus what was expected, 2) what is versus what should be, and 3) what was expected versus what should be. Each of these will derive its own unique solution, and there may be no one solution to address the 50% observation without relating it to owner expectations (realistic?), execution dynamics, or product performance influenced by market dynamics.
Whenever you are surprised by an observed result, sit down and ask yourself these four basic questions:
If you find that you find yourself in situations where problems are occurring but you are not always able to determine the root cause; this is where we find we are able to truly help business owners. Contact us to help you,
What is your business worth? How do you, value your business? If someone came into your office with a cheque to buy your business, what would be the number on it?
Q: What is the value of your business?
A: Only what someone is willing to pay for it. So how do you figure out what someone is willing to pay?
Sell all your assets, pay off all your debts, see what is left over, and that is the lowest value for your company. On the other hand, we all dream of the Unicorn purchaser who is willing to pay obscene multiples to come walking through that door. Rare as a Unicorn purchasers are; they still do exist. The value of your company lies between these two points; where they lie, depends on your company’s risk profile. Risk profile? Yes – ultimately, it is about how you run your company. A poorly positioned company is high risk, a well-positioned company is a low risk; and yes, there are things you can do to change that.
There are four things that impact the value you can get for your company. Things that happen in the economy, things that happen in the stock market, things that happen in your specific industry, and things that happen in your company. You may not be able to do much about the first two, maybe something you can do to influence the third, but lots of opportunity to influence the fourth element in your favour. It is that fourth element than can drive those obscene multiples you sometimes hear and often dream about. So, what can you do to improve value? First, by understanding how someone buys value.
When someone buys your company, they are not buying your past. You have already invested your past earnings into your sailboat, so this is of no value to an acquirer. Buyers are interested in the future. The acquirer probably has a bigger sailboat and a vacation property they want to keep well maintained, so to them it is all about the future, and since the future has not happened yet, this means, “buying into ‘risk’.” Your job is to reduce the risk of your business, not in your eyes, but in the eyes of an acquirer.
Some key strategies that have born some statistical relevance to reducing risk and improving value include:
Well, after analyzing more than 20,000 businesses, it has been determined that companies with a Value Builder Score of 80 or more receive offers that are 71% higher than the average business. Want to know how you fare?
If you ask most business owners what drives the value of the business, most will tell your first and foremost is financial performance. Financial performance is important but is only one of several variables that affect the value of your business. When it comes time to look at selling your business your business down the road, there is much more to it than just having steady revenue and a good profit margin.
Most businesses worry about the value of their business when they are ready to sell their business. Unfortunately at that point, it is way too late to make any changes. Instead, if you focus on the areas that drive your business value early on in your business, you have a better chance of receiving the value and earnings multiples you want for your business down the road.
There are other drivers that will affect your business value and the multiplier that you will eventually receive for your business that many business owners do not consider. To change many of these, it will take time, so it is important that you look at them early on within your business, so you are running your business in a way that if you had to sell it tomorrow that you would receive the value you deserve.
Dependence on the Business Owner
There are times we will ask a business owner how involved they are in the every day business including sales with clients. In some cases, the business owner will smile and tell you how they know every one of their clients by name and how the clients will come to them anytime they have a problem. In other cases, the business owner will tell you how they really can't afford to take a vacation as the business would stop if they were not there. Unfortunately, this is a problem as if the business revolves around the business owner, then this greatly reduces the value of your business, as the business is not worth anything without you in it. This increases the risk of someone down the road buying the business, because, in most cases where the business owner is ingrained in the business, there are not any documented processes and procedures. They usually reside in the business owner's head, so is not a business that could be easily transitioned. This will affect the value. This is why most service driven businesses do not obtain the same value and a lower earnings multiplier as a product-driven business.
Dependence on One or Two Key Customers or Employees
It is great to have large customers, but it is a problem when your business relies on one or two key customers where they make up the majority of your revenue. There is nothing that is a sure thing, and if something happens, one of those client's leaving could put you our of business. It is important to make sure that if you find yourself in this situation that you look at how to reduce your dependence on them through selling to additional customers, looking at other geographies, or even other products and services that you can sell as add-ons to other customers or new customers. This also takes time and may involve hiring sales reps or even to look for other products & services to develop or resell. This is not something you can change overnight, so it is important not to wait until your want to sell your business, as this will greatly impact the value you receive as this is a very high risk to the buyer.
There is a similar situation when your business is reliant on one or two key employees. If today you only have one sales rep, and they make all of the sales for your business and others in the business are not involved with the customer, this can be a potential issue as well. What would happen if something happened to this individual or they left tomorrow - ask yourself - would your business still survive? Do you have your customer list and contact information, or did that walk out the door? Reliance on any one person can have an impact on the value of your business as well. A question you need to ask yourself for each of your employees is if they quit tomorrow would your business be impacted.
Dependence on the owner, customers, and employees is just one other driver that will impact the value of your business, but as you can see by the examples, none of these items are things that you can change in your business overnight. It doesn't even really matter if you never plan to sell your business, as your business is exposed to risk in any of the instances and is something that should be part of your strategic plan to address.
If you would like to understand what the other drivers are or how your business would score today, take the time to take the Value Builder Survey and Get Your Value Builder Score.
If you are interested in increasing the Value of your business and would like to be added to our Value Builder subscription list where you will have access to presentations and newsletters with a focus on increasing your business value, send us an email.
What Is Business Performance?
Business performance is management and analytic processes that allow you as the business order to achieve your defined goals. So with that said, to improve your business performance you, you have to an overall business strategy with defined goals developed for your business.
What Affects Business Performance?
How a business performs is usually reflected in their overall financials. There are some businesses that make money despite themselves, but this is not usually over a long period, as a poorly operated business will eventually have an effect on their financial performance in the end. A well-performing business will operate well across all areas of their business, will have an overall business strategy and direction defined, will have documented processes and procedures, and will follow best practices in each area of their business. They also will measure and track their performance, whether that is their financials, sales forecasts, return on their marketing efforts, or their customer retention.
Importance of Strategy
There are times when we talk to a potential client; they are turned off when we tell them our focus is on the strategic side of their business. They usually say - I am not interested in that I just want to get help hiring employees, creating marketing materials, or getting sales channels. The problem is without a strategy and an understanding of where you are going and the costs associated to get there; you are not sure if the task you are looking to do will help accomplish your business goals. You may find out you would be spending money and time in the wrong place. You have to have an overall strategy for your business. If you don't, you most likely will not succeed long term, be able to secure financing from a bank or investor, or be able to sell the business down the road, even if you can muddle through. Strategies are not there to bind you, as strategies in businesses change on a regular business. They are there to guide you to help your reach your goals.
Defined & Documented Processes & Procedures
If there are not processes and procedures within a business, that is when chaos starts to take over. It is fine when you are a Soho business as you are doing everything, but the minute you have one employee or have someone besides yourself performing work, it is at that time you need to have defined and documented processes and procedures. Whether that is a credit and payment process within finance, an employee handbook in human resources, or a sales process to follow, all will help you manage your business.
There are best practices in every area of a business. For example in HR, one best practice is to have defined job descriptions for your employees so they understand the job they are performing. Another is to make sure the employee knows who they report to and to ensure that they receive regular feedback and performance evaluations. For operations, one best practice would be to have the right systems in place to track what you need to within the business whether that be financial information, sales, or employees. An overall business best practice is to have contracts in place such as employment contracts, vendor/supply agreements, or reseller contracts. Contracts written or reviewed by lawyers protect you and your business.
Measuring & Monitoring
It is important to be able to measure and monitor your business performance. When within your business you have a strategy in place with goals defined and how you plan to get there, defined and documented procedures, and utilize best practices, it becomes easy to be able to measure and monitor your performance. For example, if you have a goal of achieving 10% growth, it is important you can measure and monitor your success. If you have a marketing plan, sales personnel with quotas & contracts to support generating that level of revenue, a credit strategy where you collect down payments and collections for those that do not pay on time, and a proper financial system to track your revenues and expenses, you are able to monitor your performance. Even if you didn't reach your goal, you can tell exactly where there were issues in not meeting the goal. You may not have gotten a return on your marketing; your sales personnel may not have met their forecast or your accounts receivable department was not able to collect on all sales.
No matter where you are in the business life cycle of your business, business performance is important in making sure you are business is running as effectively and efficiently as possible where you can reach your goals. If you are wondering how your business is performing, get your business performance score above. If your business scores 220 out of 285, you are doing well
About a year ago we started using a survey on our website and every month we ask a different question. We get about a 10% response rate, but it gives us enough information to make better decisions about our business. It also helps us uncover information about the types of visitors to your website along with understanding the behavior of visitors and why they visited our website.
Too many times websites are about selling to visitors and are not about providing the information that they need to make informed decisions. Most visitors come many times to a website before they fill in a form or pick up the phone and make a buying decision. Having a survey that is not obtrusive on your website to gain information can be very helpful to your marketing and overall business efforts.
The tool we use allows our visitors to be anonymous in answering questions, as that way you are more assured to receive honest answers. On each survey, we give them the option to provide their email and be contacted. This way for those that are interested, it is their choice alone to provide the email to be contacted.
The question(s) you ask need to be non-threatening in nature. We are not asking our visitors to provide private information; it is usually about their opinion as a business owner. It is generally one or two multiple choice questions with the second one being optional and a clarifying question of the first. We have found that visitors are more apt to answer questions that are easy to answer and already have choices for them to choose versus filling in forms.
You want to make sure that you provide positive as well as negative responses and are not only providing those that you want to hear, as you want to make sure that you get a complete picture. Make sure you are prepared for the answers to be brutally honest. We have made changes in services and business processes based on the information we received and find this is a very beneficial tool to our business. An example of this is the question we have now. We recently launched 2 new services where there are assessments and scores. We offer the overview assessment free of charge and then if the individual wants to get help, then this is a charged service. We asked the question regarding receiving a free assessment and what would hold them back to fill in the assessment. Our options are as follows:
We felt the answer would be regarding them providing information about their business, even though the questions are not specific, they are ranges and most multiple choice, or choosing from a list of items. So far it has been split between “No Issue, send me the link”, and “Fear of someone stalking me afterward to sell me something”, which it not what we expected. On the other hand it provides us with information on how to make changes in our offering to get our desired result.
We change our questiona at the beginning of every month so that those coming back do not see the same question over and over again and once you have 30 to 50 responses that will give you a good indication.
There are a few features that you want to look for in a web survey product.
Surveys do not always have to be about selling, as visitors come to your website for several reasons and most are not there ready to buy for the first time. Some visitors come to educate themselves on the industry and the different products and services; others come to see what options are available, so they are most likely visiting your competitors at the same time.
Web surveys provide you with an opportunity to find out critical information that can help you in your business which sometimes is as important as sales.
There are so many things we need to schedule in our life as a business owner, and this differs depending on the type of business you have. For us, it is scheduling appointments. For many of the clients, I talk to especially that are in the service industry, scheduling of appointments is a time-consuming task. For this reason, I thought I would share some thoughts about tools we have used and how they have helped us.
Why I Looked For a Scheduling Tool
For our business, I am the one that does the majority of upfront consultations with the client, and I found that booking appointments whether an initial conversation, our free consultation, or an actual meeting became an onerous and time-consuming task. Since it is tough to talk to someone live with their calendar open, I would send the first email and suggest three dates and times. I would then get back an email saying Tues was great but 10:00 versus 9:00 would be better. I then would let them know I was not available at 9:00 but was at 9:30. This exercise could end up taking almost an hour of the day with one or two people just trying to schedule an appointment.
I am a technology user as well as my partner, but I have not been able to get him to relinquish control of his calendar to a piece of software yet. I decided I wasn't going to wait to convince him. I would at least look for something for myself and talked to other peers who were using software for scheduling to get their take and - so off I went on my search.
Scheduling Tool Requirements
I am that person when looking for a tool, I sign up for 3-4 trials and try each one before I make a decision on a product. For me, this decision was fairly easy as the criteria I looked for was the following:
After a few week process of trying different products, I ended up using vCita. Many of its competitors had similar functionality, but when I gave each a score based on my rating chart, this product won hands down. Here are the reasons why and how it has helped our business.
Return on Investment
There are a lot of tools on the market that fall into the scheduling category. Before choosing a product, you want to define the requirements you are looking for along with what issue in your business you are looking for the product to solve. Primarily for us, I was looking to just improve my productivity but found other benefits which made purchasing the subscription service for our business a no-brainer. The features far exceeded just reducing scheduling time and has made me more efficient in this area as well.
If you are looking for a scheduling tool, my advice based on this recent experience is to make a list of the most important features and benefits that you are looking for this tool to provide and though it takes a little time - try at least 2 and find out what works best for you and your business. I am an advocate for any product that has a subscription license / monthly option for businesses as this is always a benefit for your cash flow and you always get the most up to date solution.
Unless you have a business where payment for a service or product is on the spot, you are most likely plagued with the onerous task of collecting from clients who ignore your invoice. You start to wonder if they see your net terms date as a suggestion and use the money they owe you to fund other things personally or in their business.
Most customers, whether businesses or consumers have the best intentions and will pay you on time or a few days late, but these are not the customers that you develop collection processes and procedures to manage. It is only those 5-10% who will buy products and services that they really cannot afford or have every intention of not paying your invoice based on your net terms. It is these individuals or businesses that require you to have processes and procedures in place to help protect your business and your cash flow.
In dealing with many business owners, this is one of the areas which contributes to their overall cash flow issues within the business. When customers are not paying, businesses start to look at other alternatives in order make payroll and pay your creditors. In many cases, business owners look to their HST or Payroll deductions to make ends meet. This is a decision that can land a business in a whole different level of hurt with the CRA.
It is important that you have the processes, procedures and mechanisms in place to ensure collection of your accounts receivable promptly. The longer they are outstanding, the less chance there is for collection.
Listed below are some simple steps to follow:
Step 1: Credit Application and Credit Process
If you are selling products and services that are in the 1000’s of dollars where you do not require payment upon delivery, you need to develop a credit application and process. You need to collect information about the business, their bank accounts, and references. The application needs to inform them that a credit check may be performed and their bank will be contacted. This is another document that you might want to have a corporate lawyer or your accountant review. The application must be signed by the customer. Though you will ask for three credit references, most businesses will supply people that they pay on time, which is why you need to check with their bank. Depending on the information you can get from their bank, you want to perform a credit check through either Trans Union or Equifax.
To perform a check on their bank account, you will need to have your own financial institution perform this check on your behalf. A bank or credit union will not provide an individual or business with this information directly. Contact your bank account manager to understand what information is required before you include this on the credit application.
A credit check through a Credit Bureau will cost you between $50-$100 depending on the service you use. You need to ask yourself how will not collecting what this particular client owes you affect your cash flow. If you are not able to perform a bank check or the report comes back questionable, it is well worth the money spent on the credit check to give you piece of mind before shipping 1000’s of dollars of products to their location.
If an individual or business has questionable credit, if you are still planning to sell to them, consider making them make installments until they prove they are creditworthy. Another alternative is to set a credit limit in which you will not let them exceed unless they pay the difference up front.
Step 2: Contract or Order Agreement
Whether you have a contract or an order agreement will very dependent on the type of business and what you sell. Most service based businesses will utilize a contract, where a product based business can get by with using an order agreement. Both documents need to outline all of your terms and conditions and need to be signed by the customer before providing products and services. If the customer signs the contract, this is a legally binding agreement as long as it meets the laws of the province.
It is the responsibility of the business to develop the business terms and conditions, so make sure you include your credit & payment terms, shipping terms, warranty and additional terms that relate to your business. Use the services of a corporate lawyer to include required legal terms and to check the rest of the contract or agreement to make sure it is in line with legal jurisdiction where you are selling.
Do not pull a contract for services or order agreement off the Internet and hope it will work. The terms included may not even apply to your business or jurisdiction and may not cover you at all in the case of litigation.
Step 3: Collection and Payment Process
Develop a collection and payment process for your business. If you are a services business, you might require a down payment or retainer. The same could be true if you are a manufacturer who is selling products to a distributor or retailer. If you find out later, this is a good paying client, you can choose to waive this in the future, but in the beginning, you want to err on the side of caution.
Your order agreement or contract which they signed will outline any additional fees for late payment. You want to make sure your process and procedures take into account when client’s pay late. If for example, your terms are net 30, within five days you will want to send a friendly reminder that the payment is past due and to ignore if payment has been made. If the payment has not been made within an additional period of time, you want to send another letter outlining that they signed and agreed to the terms of the agreement/contract, and they are now in breach of their agreement. You might even suggest if there are issues paying, that they get in touch, and you can work out extended payment terms. If they choose to ignore this letter and do not contact you, you are most likely in a default situation. At this point, you want to inform them that if payment is not received by a set date, that you will be pursuing a further action which could include reporting to the Credit Bureau or turn them over to collection. Individuals nor businesses want to have a strike on their credit record, so in most cases you will receive payment. If you make the threat, you need to be prepared to follow through; otherwise, you will continue to have this as an issue.
Turning their name into the Credit Bureau will affect them obtaining financing or making purchases with other vendors. If you have receivables over 90 days, in most cases these will end up being bad debt and not collectible if you are not willing to follow through.
Having a credit process that you have documented and followed will help you in the isolated case that you need to go to court to collect the bad debt. If you show, they signed a contract/agreement, received letters and made no attempt to work with you, your chances in court are much better if it has to go that far.
Step 4: Hiring a Collection Agency – The Last Resort
We all tend to cringe the minute we hear the words “collection agency,” as we imagine these horrible people harassing and threatening people who owe money. The fact of the matter there are many organizations that do not follow the rules, but collections is a regulated industry, and there are some very reputable firms. Here is an excellent article on Rabideau Debt Law that outlines the laws that Collection Agencies must follow.
If purchases from your business are in the 10’s of thousands of dollars, you need to utilize a collection agency. It is true they will take 20-30% of whatever they collect, but if you are owed a large sum of money, it is well worth it at some point turning accounts over to collection. Otherwise, you are spending your staff’s time chasing clients who are not paying and who are going to avoid you like the plague. Within your process, you want to state at what point the account is turned over for collection. If a customer is not paying you, they are most likely not paying other vendors as well. As a business owner, you cannot afford to continue selling to customers who are not paying. If they do not have the money, they should not be purchasing your products and services. If you want to offer credit terms, that is perfectly acceptable, especially when you are providing services to individuals or businesses who need help, but you are in business to make money and at some point if they are not willing to work with you, you need to make the right decision for your business.
Before hiring a collection firm, check out their rating with the Better Business Bureau as well as seeing if they are a member of the Society of Collection Agencies in your province.
Making sales and generating revenue are important, but if you are not able to collect from customers on what is owed, the time spent on the frontend making the income is futile. Outstanding accounts receivable can hurt your business cash flow. You need to make sure that you have a process, procedures, and contracts in place in the beginning, versus waiting until you start having an issue in this area. If you are having difficulty in this area, reach out and get help before it affects your business and your cash flow.
We realized very quickly when we started our business consulting and coaching practice that our profession is lumped by many business owners into the same category as lawyers, financial accountants, and other professionals, whom the business owner / operator only engages with as a last resort. You are not alone if you as a business owner feel that way, but unfortunately, if you are only engaging professionals when the business is in trouble, in the long term, you may be spending significantly more than you need to pay. Engaging experts in a field before there is a problem to help you or advise you will cost you less in the long run.
When to Engage a Corporate Lawyer
When working with clients, we find most do not have a corporate lawyer and are running their business without having ever engaged one. In many cases, that usually means that they have signed contracts with suppliers, landlords, vendors, mortgage companies, banks without ever having the contract reviewed by a lawyer to make sure that it is fair and equitable from their business’ perspective. In most circumstances, it usually means that they are running their business without the proper legal documents, (or perhaps they downloaded copies from the Internet) such as, a shareholder’s agreement, employee contracts, order or credit agreements, distribution agreements, or a variety of others that depend on the business.
Review of Contracts
If you are going to sign a contract with someone else, you need to have a corporate lawyer review the contract to make sure that it is legal and binding and that your business is protected. We hear on a regular basis,” I trust this company or this person.” This is only until the point that something goes wrong. Once you sign the agreement, it is legal and binding and in most cases has been developed by their lawyer, (or, in the event of Internet-sourced documents, maybe by a lawyer in another industry or company) so is most likely one-sided, or worse, not relevant to your business. By not paying to have it reviewed, you are opening your business up to the chance of a disagreement where you will now have to engage a lawyer. Since you signed the contract, your chances of winning are slim to none. In addition to the original costs of the problem, you now will most likely be paying for mediation and court costs along with your legal fees versus paying to have the contract reviewed when it was received.
Development of Contracts
We have had a few clients that are in business with another party and do not have a Shareholder's Agreement or those that have employees, yet do not have Employment Contracts. We often hear, can we download a template off the Internet? The other one we hear is, “ we do not need one at this point; we are not having any problems with our business partner or employees.” Downloading a template off the Internet can sometimes be more dangerous than not having a contract at all. A lawyer may not have written the contract, and it may not be relevant to the laws of your jurisdiction. The laws are not the same from country to country and in many cases even province to province. We usually hear from a client in an employment situation asking what they can do after their employee has now gone to work for their competitor and has taken their customer list. If you want someone to abide by rules, then you need to have a contract that is legal and binding and signed by the other party when they come on board with your business, or you do not have a leg to stand on with the courts.
You can reduce the amount for the development of contracts by doing your homework upfront. Lawyers are not there to tell you what your business practices should be or outline your business processes. They are there to make sure your rights are protected. For this reason, we work with many of our clients in helping them develop all of the business rules that they need in the contract before they visit a lawyer. This reduces the amount you will pay them and will not waste their time on areas that they do not want to be involved.
There are times when situations are occurring within your business that you should obtain legal advice before proceeding. An example of this could be before you fire an employee. If you are not knowledgeable of the Employment Standards or Human Rights Legislation, not contacting a lawyer before you dismiss an employment could end up costing you 10’s of thousands of dollars in additional to wage settlements, court costs, legal fees, and even fines.
When To Engage Accounting Professionals
A financial accountant is one of the first professionals that we will tell a start-up to engage. Most business owners do not understand what a financial accountant versus a management accountant is and what services each can provide their business. Both should be Chartered Professional Accountants, but in many cases provide very different services. There are some accountants that perform both financial and management accounting, but in most cases they tend to focus in separate areas. Make sure when you engage either a financial or a management accountant that they have a CPA designation. Accountants with a designation are governed by the Chartered Professional Accounting Association within your Province. If you are using an accountant without a designation, you do not have the same protection.
When most business owners hire an accountant, they are hiring a financial accountant. A financial accountant can help you choose the right accounting package for your business, define your chart of accounts based on how you want to run your business, advise you how to structure your business for the most favorable tax advantage based on your personal and business goals, compile your annual statements and prepare your taxes. Also, there are Licensed Public Accountants that perform Reviews and Audits.
In most cases, business owners visit their accountant only once a year to have their statements compiled and have their taxes prepared. We would recommend meeting with your financial accountant more often so that they understand your business better to provide more accurate financial advice when it comes to your particular business versus other businesses in the same industry.
Management accountants are more focused on understanding how your business operates and helping you make informed day to day operational decisions. They look at both your current performance and forward-looking trends versus your past performance. Financial accountants tend to look at what has already occurred through issuing Notice to Reader compiled financial statements. Management accountants focus on internal business planning activities such as, but not limited to, strategic planning, budgeting, working capital and cash flow management, performance reviews, capital investment analysis, operational efficiency and effectiveness improvements, and finance (where does the company get it sources of cash to operate the company).
Management accountants can help set-up your business properly out of the gate and can help you get back in control of your business when issues have taken your business off the rails. A management accountant will work in concert with your financial accountant.
It is best to engage both a financial accountant and a management accountant at the beginning of the life cycle of your business. Having your business structured correctly and your financials and tax structure set up for how you run the business is more cost effective than waiting until you are in trouble. Once your business is in trouble the time is spent trying to figure what has gone on in the business and to fix necessary issues before any work can be done to restructure your business and financials properly.
We have had clients where their accounting system was out of date and not set-up correctly for how their business should be structured, are having cash flow issues, and then find out there are outstanding payments to CRA for HST and/or payroll taxes. At this point, the business is strapped financially but requires significant help by usually both types of accountants and usually a bookkeeper. If the business owner had not waited until they were in trouble to get help, they most likely would not be in the situation they currently find themselves.
Many times business owners believe that a bookkeeping function is nothing more than a glorified data entry clerk, and this is a very costly mistake. Understanding bookkeeping, financial transactions and the different accounting systems, and keeping someone’s books up to date on a monthly basis is a function that should only be given to a trained bookkeeper. It is sometimes hard to find a reputable bookkeeper, as the good ones are in high demand.
A bookkeeper will make sure all your sales, expenses, and other transactions are entered promptly, will reconcile your bank accountants and credit cards, and make sure your payroll taxes and HST are filed and paid on time. Having a bookkeeper that is knowledgeable can end up saving you money at the end of the year on financial accounting fees. You can either pay a bookkeeper $30-$45 dollars an hour to make sure your books are correct or pay a CPA firm $120-$250 an hour at the end of the year to clean up the transactions in your accounting system before they can compile your financial statements and prepare your taxes.
When to Engage a Business Consultant or Business Coach
Though consultants and coaches can help you when your business is in trouble, this is not the best time or the most cost effective way to engage our services. Waiting until the 11th hour to get help, greatly reduces your chances of getting your business back on track. If you are waiting until you are in financial trouble to get help with financing, it does not matter how well the business plan is written, if you do not have working capital and cannot support repayment of a loan. In this situation, the probability of a bank or an investor who will give you money is quite small. In most cases if you can get money at this point, it will be through financing such as factoring, where you will be paying 20-30% interest.
You need to invest in making sure your business is structured correctly, have an understanding of what is going on in your business in all areas, and made an investment in the business to make sure it gets off to a good start. When businesses do this and engage us and other types of consultants early, this is when consulting and coaching has the greatest effect in helping the business and in making owner successful.
If you have a significant number of issues, and you wait to get consulting or coaching help, you will find “fixing” a problem takes a lot longer than business owners getting help early on in areas they are not as familiar. Some examples are:
It takes a significant amount of time to get the business back on track that has been running with issues for a period. The longer the issues persist, the harder and longer it takes to make changes in an organization. If it took years for the business to get in that condition, it is not a quick fix to turn the business around.
It is best to engage a consultant or coach before you make major decisions you are not sure about instead of after they are implemented.
We have all heard the saying, “You can pay me now or you can pay me a lot later.” When deciding to engage professionals for your business, this saying could not be truer. No one likes to pay money, but it is important that when you are making decisions that affect your business and you are not certain if they are the right ones, you are affecting not only yourself, your business, and your own family. If you have taken on the responsibility of hiring employees, the decisions you make affect them as well as their families.
What you need to consider if you plan to take a short cut is what will it cost me if it goes south versus doing it right the first time. It is important to treat professional services as an investment in your business rather than an expense to be managed and minimized.
More and more business owners are looking to business coaching instead of business consulting to help them in their business. This is a very positive move for owners. In some cases, consulting is required by business owners to uncover what is going on within the business in one or several areas. The problem with many consulting engagements is that in the final report is taken and filed away and the recommendations are never implemented. For the most part this is because there are not the skills within the company to do so. In this situation, finding out what the issue is within your business is only half of the problem, the other half is how you are going to go about resolving the issues or pain points. If you are not sure how to proceed, adding coaching onto your business consulting engagement can help. In other cases, consulting is chosen by owners, who are looking to have someone come in and perform the work and not involved in the process as they just want the work performed. The problem with this situation is that if you do not have an understanding of the work that was performed, how do you plan to keep things going after the consultant is gone.
In most cases business coaching or facilitation can be used to perform most of the same exercises as business consulting. When a business owner chooses this route, we find the individual(s) are fully engaged and are learning how to not only uncover the issue but also how to resolve it. We find those owners that are engaged and have an understanding of what is going on tend to be the most successful.
As a business owner, you are not expected to know everything about running a business and there should not be any shame in admitting that. As the owner and usually founder of the company you are an expert in the products and services that your firm provides and are not expected to be an expert in all areas of your business. Even for business owners who have a degree or background in business sometimes find they need help in an area that was not their focus in school. They have been a finance major and struggle with marketing or need help in their human resources area.
What is Business Coaching?
The goal of business coaching is to help you and your business move from where you are today to where you want to be in the future. This is based on the goals and objectives of the firm. A business coach will help push you in areas that you are not as comfortable or knowledgeable and aid you in acquiring the skills to move your company forward. We utilize our own methodology to deliver business coaching to help our clients meet their goals. Each business coach will have their own approach to delivery, so it is important to understand the process for the business coach you are hiring.
Business coaching is to provide guidance, advice, and learnings with the goal of teaching the business owner “how to fish”. A business coach is there to bounce ideas off of and help you brainstorm what could work for your company. The business coach you use should have some level of experience in all areas of business, and should have a high-level of expertise in the areas you are struggling.
What Business Coaching Is Not?
We have business owners contact us who say they want to purchase business coaching until they find out the level of commitment and time required. Business coaching is not an advice hotline to ask questions on a weekly or biweekly basis. It follows a standard methodology and requires the business owner to dedicate time over several months at minimum to establish a path to meet one or two of your issues. The issues within your business did not happen overnight, so waving a magic wand will not resolve them after working with a coach for one session.
Business Coaching is also not about having someone tell you what to do. There is a misconception that a business coach will come in and tell you all of the things you need to do to solve your business issues and meet your goals. If that is the expectation, business coaching is probably not for you. A business coach is there to provide guidance and help challenge you but is not there to tell you what to do. This will not benefit you, as you need to learn why it is important and be able to perform what you learn after the coaching is over.
Our business coaching engagements are a minimum of 12 weeks (3 months). There is no way to solve major business issues and meet any goal within a shorter period. If a client is not willing to dedicate that much time to working on their problems, business coaching is not the service they should choose. We require all face-to-face consulting to be 2 hours in length. We suggest all coaching to be the same length of time, but will allow 1-hour sessions for remote coaching. There should be no more than 2 weeks between meetings, otherwise, momentum is lost.
The first thing we do is provide the business owner and any stakeholders involved in the coaching a detailed questionnaire to understand strengths and weaknesses as well as gain valuable information about your business today and your goals for the future.
Once we understand where you need help, we will determine which one of our business partners should be the primary business coach assigned. If the expertise of the other partner is needed during the engagement, a meeting will be arranged to address that issue with the appropriate partner.
We meet the first time with the client to review the questionnaire and develop a plan to address the issues outlined and prioritize the issues based on the importance to the business. For a 3-month engagement only 1 to 2 issues can be addressed, so the meetings will be developed around those issues that are hindering goals being met. There are then 12 hours of coaching plus an introductory and follow-up meeting.
Additional months or individual sessions can be purchased as required at any point, but it is important first to address the initial issue(s) and take them through to fruition before moving on to the next issue. If a business owner takes on too much at a time, there is a chance that they will become overwhelmed and not be able to meet their business goals. Keep in mind that there is a business still to run while you are involved in business coaching.
Each meeting will have an agenda where we will work on the issues outlined. At the end of each meeting, the business owner will be assigned homework to help move the issue forward and to test for their understanding.
The business owner will work on their homework, and the business coach will then prepare the information and materials for the next meeting. The business owner is free to email or call their business coach to ask questions at any time during the engagement. The homework itself can be provided through email or can be reviewed at the start of the next session
After the initial 12 hours of coaching, there will be a final meeting set-up with the client to review where they are and determine next steps. If it is felt , additional work is required on the current issues; additional hours or months can be purchased. If it is found there are new issues to address, another engagement can be acquired at that time.
There is not a true standards board to regulate business coaches in Canada; as there is with Accounting, and Legal professions. For this reason, it is important that due diligence is performed to make sure you find out what level of experience your business coach has before hiring them to help you with your business.
Our 2 Partners have 25 years each of experience in management and executive level positions within large, medium, and small business. One Partner is a CMA, CPA so our practice is governed by the Chartered Professional Accounting Association of Ontario. He is on the Board of Directors of Education Credit Union while our other Partner is on the Board of the Business Advisory Centre Durham. RK Fischer & Associates has been in business since 2010 providing business coaching and consulting to Canadian businesses, and we provide referenceable customers on our website.
It is important before you choose business consulting or business coaching for your business that you are able understand the differences and determine if you are someone that is more suited for business coaching or business consulting. If you are not someone that wants to learn how to do the work yourself or do not have the time to dedicate, business coaching may not be for you. If you are just looking for advice or for someone to tell you what to do, business coaching is probably not a fit. We have created a service (Business Helpline) for business owners who are just looking for advice or adhoc help.
If you are interested in business coaching, be sure to set-up a free 30-minute consultation which you can book directly from our website and find out whether business coaching or consulting is best for your business.
In 2014, which is only 2 years ago, it was stated in an article in Canadian Business Magazine, that only 41.1% of small businesses in Canada had a website. What is worse than this, are the businesses that have invested in a website that are not sure what business results in the way of leads and sales they are receiving from their website.
Importance of a Website for Businesses
With 87% of Canadians having access to the Internet, it is amazing how so many businesses have not gotten on the digital bandwagon when it comes to investing in a website and digital marketing for their business. This is one investment that even a struggling business cannot afford not to have. The Internet is here to stay, and customers are getting younger, so it is no longer an option to have a website. For those businesses that do not have a website, they are going to be left behind and will start to see their business suffer over time.
Making a Decision To Have a Website
Choosing to make an investment in a website is only the first step in this journey. Next is having the right website for your business developed. Before you think, I know a cousin that knows HTML, STOP. This is your business and a website is not a placeholder on the Internet. A website is your storefront on the Internet whether you sell online or not. The impression that visitors have when they visit your website will be the one they have about your business. If the impression was poor, your business might be discounted without any consideration to the strength of your business and products.
What Is Important To Have In a Website Today?
Now I Have a Website, Now What?
A website is a constantly changing and as a business owner, someone in your company needs to take ownership of this task to keep the website up to date. This should be part of your ongoing marketing efforts and should be budgeted as part of marketing. It is also up to you as the business owner when purchasing a website to make sure your staff has access to the metrics, especially if you are paying your web company for maintenance and SEO. Do not just believe someone telling you that you are moving up on Google, you need to verify this. No one can promise you Page one. This times time and must be done correctly otherwise your website could be banned by Google. Those making these promises are using black hat tactics and no longer know what they are doing. It is about waiting and developing the right content today. You cannot beat the system once you optimize your site and develop content.
Google Analytics is FREE and your website will have been set-up on Google Analytics as part of your website project. If this is not included, then this is not a reputable web company to use. You or your staff should also be given access to Google Analytics along with having some basic training.
In addition, someone needs to track the leads you receive from your website. This is as simple as keeping track of all the leads that come through forms or asking clients when they call how they found your business. Online leads must be followed up on within 24 hours of being entered into your site. If you wait to answer, you have probably lost that potential lead.
Basic Metrics To Watch and Track
The metrics below are included in Google Analytics. This is not an inclusive list of everything that is tracked, but is meant only as an overview of the base metrics that are available.
Audience – Who are your visitors?
If you are serious about growing your business, having a professional website for your business is a must. Whether your target prospects are B2C or B2B, all are searching for information online before calling or visiting your business in most cases. This is an important investment in your business and is one that needs to be as much of a priority as hiring a sales person. If you have an inadequate website or cannot be found by your prospects, it a guarantee you are losing out on potential business.
Once you have a site, it is then important to keep it up to date and measure performance to make sure you are getting expected results. We work with many reputable web companies, and refer our clients only to firms that create professional business websites that conform to the standards outlined in this article. Choosing the wrong company without due diligence can cost your business greatly down the road.
We had the distinct pleasure of participating in a Business Consulting Case Competition at the University of Toronto Mississauga on the weekend where we observed some of the best and brightest. Most students were from U of T but there were students from other universities as well within southern Ontario. The students were given an Ivey case study and had to deliver a pitch on the business problem. The business problem was was whether that particular business should move into the Chinese market. The students only had 2 hours to read the case, research online and put together a professional presentation and be prepared to deliver it. Impressed does not begin to state what we thought in seeing how well the students performed under pressure.
Internships to Graduate
We had time in between providing coaching and judging to meet many of the students and talk with them about their plans when they graduate. Many have a year or two left in school and a lot of their programs require internships in businesses which are not paid positions. The students are left to find their own internships which is difficult of them knowing where to look. Many want internships with smaller businesses as they have heard they would have the ability to gain more “hands on” experience in several areas of the business, whereas large businesses usually have defined postings for interns. Though this is their desire, the students said they find many small businesses are not interested in hiring students, as they feel that students do not understand their business, and there is a cost. In many cases, the student cannot accept payment where the internship is required to graduate, so this is misunderstood by business owners in many cases.
Summer Internships for Experience
For students who are looking to gain experience while in school part-time or full-time in the summer in a business for pay, it is still worthwhile for small business owners to investigate hiring a student in their business. There are government programs in many of the provinces where if you employ people under 29, you could receive money for up to 50% of the salary you would pay them. There are programs at both a municipality and provincial level.
Misconception of Millennials by Business Owners
There is a misconception by many small business owners today that “young people” cannot really help them in their business. Though the students may not have “hands on” experience in a business, in many cases their education, has prepared them with the knowledge to provide value. This is especially true of many business majors where they have the knowledge of best practices in accounting, finance, economics, marketing, human resources, and operations, which could greatly benefit a small business owner.
The generation who are graduating from universities and colleges today are the same group who are having the toughest time finding jobs today behind those over fifty years old. This is why you see a lot of graduates starting their own businesses and why incubators are being started in the post-secondary schools today. Businesses all want to be able to hire the best employees. Unpaid interns’ marks are determined by their performance in your business, so there is even a greater incentive on their part to perform. Utilized correctly, if the intern is a fit for your business, you would have a good chance you will be able to hire someone that has previous training in your business that could hit the ground running.
If you are a small business owner that needs some temporary help in your business, consider hiring an intern or a student who is looking for experience for your business. I have worked in businesses who have hired summer interns and was amazed at the enthusiasm of the students along with the quality of the work. Even an unpaid Intern should be treated as you would any employee, so It is very important that before you hire any student, you have an understanding of the work you have and the background and education of the student. They are there to learn as well as contribute, so make sure that utilizing them in your business and is is a win/win and not be used to perform tasks you could hire someone with an 8th-grade education to perform. The idea is for both parties to benefit.
Interest in Hiring Interns
If you are interested in hiring an intern, unfortunately, we have not found many universities and colleges very helpful in helping the students or interested employers connect. One way to find interns would be to include a posting on your website or post the position on a free job board like Kijiji or Indeed. We are contacted from time to time by students usually business majors, looking for positions possibly in our client’s businesses. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you are looking for an intern. If we are not aware of potential interns, we have some contacts in a few of the schools.
Again, if you are going to hire an intern, make sure that you have defined work that needs to be accomplished for your business for the length of the internship. An example: You might need help in developing processes in your business whether they be from an operational or a human resource perspective. A business student would be perfect to perform this type of work. Once you define the work and look at the skills required, the type and major of the student needed will become clear. Make sure you understand that they are the same as any new employee, they will need to have some level of training, supervision, and guidance.
One of the main reasons many of our clients contact us initially is to gain a better understanding of their financials and what they are telling them. One of the best ways to do that is to start with the budgeting process as it provides you with an understanding of your revenue, your cost of goods, (it also helps you understand what drives costs in your organization) and your operating expenses. If you are a start-up business, the process is a little tougher as you do not have existing financials and an existing run rate to rely on.
Benefits of Budgeting for your Business
Budgeting allows you to:
Before you start the budgeting process for your business, it is a good idea that you have your Chart of Accounts set up properly that reflects your operations. If you are working off a default chart of accounts for your business that you were not involved in with your bookkeeper or accountant, now is a good time to sit down with someone and modify this before you get started. To set up a chart of accounts properly for a business, you need to understand the business.
Every business will differ on how your revenue is broken out. If you have multiple products or service types or other forms of revenue that you want to have an understanding of how each is performing, you will want to break those out separately. It could be as easy as Products, Services, Subcontracting, and Interest Income. If you want to have sub-categories, that is perfectly fine as well.
Cost of Sales
Depending on your business your cost of sales (COS) will differ, so you may want to break out your cost of sales so that you can track it as it directly relates to the revenue that it is associated.
The cost of goods sold (COGS) are part of the cost of sales and are those direct costs that are tied to the production of goods sold by the company such as the cost of materials and any direct labor costs to produce the goods. The cost of goods are included in the overall cost of sales. If you are a manufacturing business or a retail business that buys products and inventories them, you have cost of goods sold (COGS). If you are a services business, you will not have the cost of goods sold, but you may have a cost of sales (COS). The cost of sales items could include commissions, shipping and delivery, and any other expenses that are related to selling.
Be sure to discuss this with your accountant, so you understand what is relevant for your business.
There are many operating expenses that are the same for every business, but there will be some expenses that relate to your business. You also have to understand if they are paid every month or are paid once a year and know when they are paid. The level of detail for your operating expenses depends on how you best want to track various expenses and delve into them. For example, You might have Wages, but you probably want to break out salaried employees from hourly employees along with the relevant taxes and even commissions. It is all very dependent on the level of detail you want to understand about your business.
Once you have the Chart of Accounts set up for how you want to run your business, you are ready to start.
The Budgeting Process
Step 1 – Historical Data
As mentioned earlier, if you are an existing business you can run a profit and loss statement from your accounting system to provide you with some historical data, especially for operating costs that remain approximately the same, such as utilities or telephone. You will also have an understanding of last year’s revenues and cost of goods as well. If you are in a seasonal business, you will be able to see how the seasonality affects your net income. If you are a start-up, then you are starting at ground zero and is important to understand your business enough to forecast revenues, understand your cost of goods, and know approximately what your operating costs will be for the first year by month.
Step 2 – Set Realistic Revenue Targets
If you are looking to increase your revenue, be sure to set realistic targets. As you are setting those targets, you need to understand what costs will increase to make that revenue, whether they are the cost of goods, outbound shipping, or even marketing. If the increasing volume decreases your cost of goods, then you need to understand the correlation when you set up your budget.
Step 3 – Make Sure Right People Are Involved
If you have departments or individuals in your business who have the authority to spend money, you will want to make sure they are involved in the budgeting process. If you have a sales manager in your business who is responsible for sales, they need also to be part of the helping you budget your revenue. Larger businesses who have departments with managers should have each manager develop a budget that they provide to develop the company’s budget. The owner has the final say, but getting input from others can help with accuracy.
Step 4 – Establish the Budget
There are two ways to create a budget; 1) use last years numbers and increase expenses for inflation and sales growth, or 2) Bottom-up budget, (also known as zero-based-budgeting) where every dollar spent is scrutinized and justified based on the sales volumes that are anticipated (forecasted). Bottom-up will provide an owner with the most useful and relevant information and plan, however; it does take more time and effort. If your profits vary unpredictably, bottom-up budgeting is a good process to follow to gain betting insight.
Step 5– Enter Your Actuals at the End of the Month
If you are not using an Accounting System with a Budgeting Module, you want to make sure to enter your actuals for each month next to your budgeted amounts
Step 6 – Measure Your Performance
You want to make sure to calculate the variance (the difference) between your budget and your actuals for each month, quarter, and year. How are you performing to your budget? Are your expenses more than you expected and if they are, do you know why?
Step 7 – Review Your Budget and Revise It As Required
You may need to revise your budget if you suddenly find there are large variances between your actuals and your budget. You may have overestimated your revenues and need to go back and edit the budgeted revenues to be more representative. Some businesses keep a budget (because it was board approved) and they create an ‘outlook’ which provides the same information. This way you can see how actual, outlook and budget compare with each other.
If you budget and measure the variance to the actuals for your business, you will begin to get a better handle on how your business is performing and what is affecting your cash flow on a monthly basis. There are only two ways to improve your cash flow position in your business. One is increasing revenues, and the other is reducing expenses. Having a budget to guide you will help you to make more informed financial decisions for your business. Budgeting is not meant to be confining, and budgets can be modified. If you need to increase your online advertising to increase revenue but you had not budgeted for this, you also need to increase the revenue in the budget as well. Once your actuals come in, you will be able to see if that spend actually helped you in meeting your revenue goal.
As we look ahead to 2016, we have asked visitors to our website where their areas of focus will be in 2016. Though there have been varied responses, at the end of the day, every business is looking to improve their bottom line. With this in mind, we have chosen to provide an article to help that focuses on five different ways to accomplish this task.This article is longer than most, so we have provided this one article to provide support to business owners looking ahead to 2016.
Increase Working Capital and Improve Cash Flow
To increase your working capital in your business and improve your cash flow, you need to have a good handle on your financials. Cash is "King", so it is important to be able to manage correctly the financials outlined below with relationship to your business.
What is in your bank account is not what is available to spend and if this is something you do, it can have serious repercussions if you do not know what receivables are outstanding and what payables are due. If you have to pick and choose who to pay each month, this means you are not generating enough cash to cover your expenses. In this case, your only option is to reduce expenses and / or increase revenue. Here are some tips in order to improve your cash flow that will in time increase your working capital.
Productivity is defined as the good output measures with respect to inputs supplied. In the case of employees Productivity rate = hours billable/hours paid. If you find you are paying your employees for more hours than you can charge out for in labour - this is a problem. A business that is functioning at over 75% is good, if you are under 50%, this is a problem area. This is especially true in services and labour intensive industries such as manufacturing. Here are some areas to look at in your business.
Code Your Transactions Properly
Most business owners do not consider how their transactions are coded in their financial system, such as QuickBooks. This is where paying for an experienced bookkeeper and involving your accountant in your business can save you money in the long run. Here are some tips to keep in mind to keep more money in your pocket instead of CRA.
Pay Your Taxes When They Are Due
There are three levels of taxation for a business which include Income Tax or Corporate Tax depending on the business type, HST for Provinces that have harmonized Tax, and Payroll Taxes. In some Provinces, there will be PST and GST instead of Harmonized Tax. Most businesses and business owners that in trouble with CRA, for the most part, is usually due to non-payment of HST (or PST/GST equivalent) or Payroll Taxes, as these taxes are paid on a monthly basis. For these taxes, you are acting as an agent of the government, and the cash you collect belongs to CRA. Here are some points to keep in mind moving forward.
Many times we here from business owners that they believe a budget is constraining and will not allow them to spend. We are of the opinion, instead, that it will set you free. If you do not have a budget, how can you figure out what is going on in your business if you have nothing to compare it to, as we do not find many business owners that look at their profit and loss in detail on a monthly basis. If you have a budget, and things are going well in your business, it will help you maximize your opportunities. If you do not earn the profit expected, it will allow you to zero in on the specific line item that is out of line rather than reviewing transactions in detail. A budget will help you manage your business appropriately instead of worrying about whether you have the money to spend on items such as marketing to generate more sales.
We hope this article helps provide you some guidance in looking forward to 2016 of points you can use in your business to help you improve the bottom line in your business.
As a business owner, do you usually cringe and shy away from anyone who says the word “strategy” because you think that is for big companies and is not important to you? The term ‘business strategy’ does seem to conjure up a picture of a large overwhelming task that many business owners think is not needed for their business. Many think the that any kind of a strategy is something that consultants do for large business that generates a lot of paper and sits in the drawer. This thought is not the case with many of the businesses we work with that have found themselves stagnate and in need of help with moving their business forward.
It is true there are many companies that make a lot of money generating a lot of paper that can be confusing to a business owner, but that is not what a business strategy has to be, that just is how some choose to implement it. A business strategy is a plan of how you are going to achieve your business and personal goals related to your business. In two words, it is your ‘game plan’. It is the map a coach draws on the board to let his team know the ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘when’ and by ‘who’ needs to be done in order to win the game. When we hear a business owner tell us “we are just all over the map”, it usually tells us that they do not have a business strategy in place. This is not a 50-page document that sits in a binder on a shelf can be captured in a few pages. To build your business strategy, you need to understand at a minimum these points about your business:
A business strategy should not remain stagnate, as it is forever changing as your business does. When you make changes to your business, you have to adjust your strategy. A business strategy is usually focused on a 3-5 year outlook and is a guide to help you achieve your business goals. Even with a 3-5 year one, there will be things that will need to be tweaked here and there.
Businesses that have a business strategy from the beginning tend to have a better chance of staying out of trouble down the road. If there has never been a business strategy, developing one is more difficult once the business is running for a period of time. Change will have to take place if the majority of the items above have not been defined and addressed. Change is easier to implement in a business before you have employees on board and are generating significant revenue.
If you do have a business strategy in place and are looking to grow your business, you will want to take the strategy you have now and look at the areas that need to change to meet your business goals. For example, in order to grow you might be adding additional channels to market or new products. You just need to modify or add those items that will help you achieve your growth.
Business strategy does not have to be 4 letter word or be an onerous task. Having a business strategy makes it easy when you need to put together a business plan when you require financing as well, as you have most of the information needed already outlined. If you are looking for financing and need a business plan without a strategy in place, a business plan will end up costing you a lot more money as while the plan is being done your strategy is having to be developed as well.
We offer facilitation sessions that are usually only one day in length where you are able to walk away with your business strategy defined. We also provide a balanced scorecard with the strategy as it provides the action plan for what is needed in the business in order to implement the strategy. This is especially important for those businesses that have been operating without one, as implementing strategy into a business that is in full operation requires more effort.
We started running monthly surveys on our website to find out about business owners visiting our site and also to understand more about what issues businesses were facing today. Oddly enough, I am not one that usually fills in surveys on websites and usually hit that X to close, but I am very thankful to those that take of their time to provide us quite a bit of insight.
This month I asked a question concerning what was most important when business owners look to purchase business services. Since it was anonymous, we do not know the size or type of business that answers the questions, which would provide more insight. We did add one answer to see how many would select it and that was “I look only to purchase the lowest price services”. Most that answered the survey selected several answers that focused around “looking for client references” and “looking for credentials, experience and backgrounds of those performing the services”, which we would have been expected. There were a few that selected the “lowest cost option”, but what was interesting is that they only chose that option in most cases, without any regard to the others.
Unfortunately we have worked with business owners who opted for the lowest price option from a service provider, but they did not end up paying less in the long run. There were many that paid more, due to substandard work or work that was not performed properly for type of service provider. They ended up paying more because after choosing the low cost route because they had to hire others to come in and fix issues caused due to lack of experience or background. In many cases they had to start from scratch and pay again. Anyone in a service industry will tell you that to fix the “mess” of another costs more than starting from scratch. Those that chose professionals with credentials, experience, and proper references may have paid more initially (for good reason) , but they received what they paid for the first time.
You only have one business and you have invested your time, sweat and money. Though as small business owners we all have to be cognizant of spending our money wisely on those items with the highest return; choosing the lowest price option for services may not be the least cost option for you in the long run. We have clients who have hired accountants without professional designations; bookkeepers who have little to no experience; lawyers who are not experienced in the type of law they required. Some of the worst travesties are those that purchased marketing services, SEO, and websites from someone who sent them an email or called them on the phone with a promise of a low cost option. In all the cases listed, instead of hiring professionals who charge based on their experience, they opted for the lowest price route. In the long run, this turned out to be the most expensive route.
In all cases above, the client went with what they felt was the lowest price alternative for their business and in all cases it ended up costing them more money in the long run. They had to hire professionals who were experienced to come in and fix the issues that “the low cost solution” caused which cost them more than having had them do it originally.
If you are looking for someone to help you with your business, no matter what the services and are only making the decision based on price, you may end up spending more in the long run. I would hope if you were going to a doctor about your health that you were choosing the professional with the right credentials, experience, and background versus price. The same should be true of your business. Most of the business owners that answered our survey opted for selecting professionals with experience, client references, and credentials, but there were some that only selected “lowest price option”.
There is usually a reason that someone is the “lowest cost option”. Most professionals in the service industry will charge similar prices based on expertise, experience and specialization. If you wouldn’t want a low cost surgeon operating on your heart or a low cost auto mechanic working on your $200K sports car, you most likely would not want a low cost professional making a mess of your business.
In most cases, we all normally purchase services from others because there is a lack of expertise by those within our business to perform the function. You should be able to find out what the average rate is for the profession you are looking to engage based on the level of experience you require. For example, if you require a tax expert, you are going to pay more for that expertise versus a regular accountant, as this is a specialized skill. You really should perform due diligence to determine if the person you are hiring has the proper schooling or accreditation, experience, or expertise required to perform the service you are hiring them to perform. Once you are ready to choose someone you should look for what their clients say about them if that information is available. If client testimonials are not available, ask for client references. Going this route, you will get the services you require performed in a professional manner which will end up being of greater benefit than saving a couple dollars in the short term.
Business owners often struggle with what professional services that they should purchase or hire for internally for their business. The problem with bookkeepers is like any profession, all bookkeepers are not created equal. Though there are college programs for bookkeepers and there is the Canadian Bookkeepers Association that offers Registered Professional Bookkeeping Certification; there is nothing that permits anyone to call themselves a bookkeeper and provide bookkeeping services to the public.
Many business owners assume that bookkeeping is nothing more than someone that performs data entry into their accounting system and possibly takes care of paying HST and administering payroll. In some cases this may be true, but if this is the case, they are most likely not a professional bookkeeper and can end up costing you a lot more in back-end fees with your Accountant at the end of the year to straighten out your books before they compile your statements or do your taxes.
A good bookkeeper will spend the time to understand your business before performing your bookkeeping. How the books are setup for a manufacturing business is quite different than a services business that probably has little to no cost of sales. A bookkeeper is not an Accountant but should understand enough about accounting in order to create transactions and allocate them to the right account. A good bookkeeper will work with your Accountant versus independently of your Accountant.
The compilations your Accountant will prepare will be based upon what you have handed them. Stated within the Notice to Reader is: “based on the information provided by management”. If you assume that everything is correct and you hand your Accountant information filled with mistakes, they are going to prepare your statements and your taxes based on what you have in your accounting system.
If something stands out as offside to GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) your Accountant will make adjustments, but if there is something specific to your business that needs to be accounted for in a specific way. Accountants are not going to look further unless you pay for their services to do so.
Over the last few years, we have found where mistakes performed by a bookkeeper has ended up with the financial statements being incorrect because transactions were put in the wrong accounts which could also affect paying too much tax or not enough. This is an important enough function whether you outsource or hire within your business, that you need to investigate their background and credentials thoroughly.
We find that businesses that have good bookkeepers tend to have a better handle on their financials and a better understanding of where they stand. We find that they usually have a good relationship and work directly with the Accountant for the business. When this happens you will find the business financials are very clean and easy to follow if help is needed and problems within the business need to be investigated. Not only does this save you on accounting fees (because it should take less time) at the end of the year with your financial Accountant that generates your statements and your taxes, but will also save you in consulting fees from a management Accountant or consultant that comes in to help you uncover and resolve a particular situation in your business.
Before you hire a bookkeeper, ask your Accountant if they can recommend one that they have worked in the past with other clients. If they cannot provide a name, make sure that you check client references from businesses that they have worked in the past and find out what credentials they have. You could also look to organizations such as the Canadian Bookkeepers Association, the Canadian Institute of Bookkeepers or the Institute of Professional Bookkeepers of Canada for guidance.
Now that there is Spam Legislation to guard against spam in your email, the spammers have now taken to LinkedIn. They assume that because you are in a Group with them, they can now send out thousands of emails through LinkedIn instead. I joined Groups to share and learn valuable information, not to hear from every "CON"sultant and sales person about products and services that have nothing to do with the Group. One may think that this is an odd comment coming from someone that is a consultant, but I get infuriated at what a bad name this gives the rest of us by those that continue to do this. You would think by now, that they would have figured out that this does not provide a sustainable way to gain clients. What I find worse, is that none of the emails are even targeted, they are just sent out in hopes that it might land on a relevant prospect.
In the last month I have received 5 emails from HR consultants from "pick a country" telling me they have a special offer or software platform that can help me get a job and improve my resume/CV. They have not even looked to see that I am self-employed and have been for almost 6 years, so my need for a resume or job is not likely. The best one yet was from a radio personality in Chicago who was providing an online scam. He would tell you that you were perfect for his show and would book an appointment with you. When I told him that I was in Canada and did not sell to the U.S. - he still proceeded to book the appointment so I played along as I smelt something funny. Come to find out what he fails to tell you that he is picking you for his show as long as you pay him money. At no time is this mentioned until you talk to his producer do you find out this is a scam.
All of this that used to come to my email and for the most part still does is now on LinkedIn as well.
This Starts at the Connection Level
I am not sure what has changed in the last couple of years, but there seems to be an influx of people who like to click the CONNECT button on every profile to add anyone as a connection. They do so whether there is a real reason to connect in the first place. Since I value my connections and their privacy, I will only connect with someone where there is some intrinsic value to both parties, otherwise - why would you connect?
Would you provide total strangers with your information and your contact list if it was not on a Social Media Platform? The answer is probably not. If someone just clicks the Connect button and cannot take 30 seconds to add a note of why they want to connect, they will get ignored or receive an email back asking why they would like to connect. The majority of those that just hit Connect- you will never hear from again, which tells you they are just looking to connect with anyone.
Most likely the real reason they connected with you is to have access to send you unsolicited mail, or go through your contact list and contact your personal contacts and eventually add them to their list. There are those that for some reason believe they should just connect to any live body. There needs to be a reason to connect with you and it needs to be of benefit to both parties. Relationships are two way.
I used to love Group, where you could go and have a conversation with like- minded professionals and gain and share a bit of wisdom. Instead this has become an advertising platform for consultants and sales people pushing their products and services. Even worse because they are in a Group with you, they can send you unsolicited emails as well without having any type of connection to you. This is how both the HR consultants and radio personality were able to fill my inbox on LinkedIn with SPAM.
Spam Does Not Make You Sales
For those that waste their time now sending SPAM through Social Media, ask yourself how many quality sales have you made this way? Have you thought about how many consumers and businesses that you have actually ticked off and sales you may have lost for you and your business by sending untargeted emails?
LinkedIn is about building relationships and provides you with tools to interact with potential partners and clients, but when used the wrong way can be more of a detriment to your sales efforts. Why not spend the time building relationships with others on LinkedIn or using the tools they have built like InMail to send targeted personal messages, instead of sending unsolicited SPAM. For the most part untargeted and unsolicited mail will get deleted or reported as SPAM.
There has been enough written lately on this topic that at some point continuing to do this will hurt you and your business reputation as this is not the right way to obtain clients. Instead you are ruining the use LinkedIn for those that join to build relationships and share and gain valuable information.
Spend the time instead to learn how to use LinkedIn and other Social Media platforms and make them work for your business instead of against it.
RK Fischer & Associates