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.
by Rudy Fischer
I hold a second degree black belt in Judo, so over the past 30 plus years, I have been fortunate enough to have been coached by some great Judoka’s. I have also coached many students, so I have been on both sides of the coaching fence. As a very young student (I think I was in grade 6 at the time) I once asked my Sensei; (teacher / coach) “What I would have to do to become a Black Belt?” His answer; 10,000 breakfalls. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but I do now. I think he under estimated that number.
In a typical 60 minute practice, you may throw and be thrown at least 25 to 30 times. Do this twice per week and over a year period and you will have thrown people about 2,500 times with an equivalent number of breakfalls. Over a 4 to 5 year period, you would do approximately 10,000 to 12,500 throws and breakfalls each. After all those years and all those practices, the techniques become well ingrained, second nature, and become just a normal reaction. Just like riding a bike, you never forget. And that can be both good and bad.
Getting the black belt is a goal and a significant achievement in Judo. It does not come easy and the bar is raised for each successive Dan, Degree or Belt. You need to qualify for black belt testing. Qualification is achieved by collecting points that you gather through tournament wins and other activities. The quickest way to the black belt is through competition. Judo is a soft art that is practiced hard. In practice we throw, hold, choke and arm bar just as you would in a tournament; other than kata, ‘striking’ is not part of the core curriculum, it is done at 110% effort. You would not want to be striking your ‘partner’ at 110% each time you practiced; you would not have any partners left to practice with.
In tournaments and in Randori (free style practice – often looks like competition without the referee), the goal is “Ippon” which is an automatic win and gains you the most points towards your black belt. An Ippon is awarded based on how your opponent lands, length of the hold down and everyone’s favorite, “tapping out”. There are no points for losing.
A decision to throw your opponent happens within fractions of a second; the millisecond you see an opening, you go for it 110%, if not you will be counter thrown and lose the match in a blink of an eye. You need lots of practice to get to be able to react in that short of time; it has to come as quick and natural as breathing. Practice, practice, and more practice; oh, and lots of breakfalls.
One of the key observations I have made over time is that the old saying of “practice makes perfect” is not correct. The reality is that “practice makes permanent”. If you practice the wrong thing over and over, you get really good at doing the wrong thing very well. Having executed throws in a particular way thousands of times over the years makes throwing become second nature. Second nature even when it is wrong. I have learned that it is hard to ‘unlearn’ a bad habit. How do you get over that? Practice the right things right, with repetition. This is where coaching come in.
In my case, I had a favorite throw. The challenge? I was not as successful in tournaments with it as I was in Randori (free practice). The throw looked good going through the motions in class and in free practice, but was less than stellar on the mat in a highly competitive situation. I had a coach watch me over time. He observed while I fought in tournaments, and he practiced with me in the club. Then he finally found the problem. It was my entry in to the throw. I had 99% of the throw correct, but the 1% that was weak, killed the execution of the technique in a tournament. I had just learned that ‘practice made permanent – not perfect’. Sometime perfection is just getting that last 1%, better.
The coach identified exactly what I was doing wrong, then showed me what I should try. When I tried, it didn’t always work out at first. We needed to fit the correction into how I approached my Judo. We tried different variations of the same theme until it connected. Once it connected I started to practice the newly improved technique. This is where I found it is hard to unlearn a bad habit. Correcting years of a bad habit, that practice made permanent, takes effort to unlearn and effort to relearn. It did not happen overnight.
I took that new learning and practiced nothing else for the next two to three months. I practiced that new methodology at least 25 times in each practice 4 times per week including twice on Saturdays. 100 times per week times 13 weeks, means I practiced the correct technique over 1,300 times. I then went into a tournament with my new found knowledge and the result was an Ippon. It felt great! I loved it when I heard my opponent’s breath escape from his lungs when he met the mat at high speed. It was over in the blink of an eye. I could not have achieved these results without a coach. When I am on the mat (not nearly enough these days) I make sure to catch myself not practicing old habits.
We as people have a pretty difficult time at looking at ourselves from a different perspective so we cannot see what a coach could see. I knew what I was doing was not working. The value of the coach describing what he saw from the outside looking in was invaluable. The coach objectively saw what I was doing and recommended different approaches with a very specific focus on the ‘lacking quality’ of the technique. Technically I was performing the throw properly; however I needed some “fine tuning” for the specific situation I was finding myself in. I needed to unlearn what I had been doing for years and relearn a new approach. The coach corrected me when I started to veer back into my old methods and acknowledged me when I did the right things right. It was not enough to catch the problem the first time, we needed to make sure the change was permanent and executed flawlessly.
What I learned was that I was less than ½ of a second off in my timing upon entry into the throw. I was signalling my intentions to my opponent. By changing the “lead in” to the technique in such a way, that by the time my opponent was finally signalled, it was too late, I was already in. The difference in timing was less than the blink of an eye, but it was all that I needed for that throw. The coaching needed to be fit to my style for it to work. This particular change would not work for everyone. The solution I adopted was not the only solution available, but it worked for me.
When I think back on the coaching I did for my students, I realize that the approach I took for each student was unique. Some students are taller, wider, longer-legged, shorter-legged, stronger, thinner, quicker, slower, and just about any other adjective you can think of. Because of these individual unique characteristics, a “one approach fits all” just does not work. Coaching needs to be tailored to each student. One approach that seems to resonate with all my students was to:
1) identify the imperfection,
2) get the move corrected,
3) practice the new move slowly so the body gets used to the motion, and then when the new move is learned well,
4) add speed to the move in order to create effortless motion and momentum.
Coaching Applied To Business
Coaching in business is not really that different. I find most clients and employees that I have coached over time are quite technically competent in the knowledge they possess. They are subject matter experts in their field. Often the ‘areas’ that require unlearning and relearning are more related to the application and approach to specific situations in which they face on a daily and weekly basis. It could be the application of a financial principle, the linkage between two business activities, additional elements to consider for a decision, how to test for relevance, or an approach to market segmentation and analysis. All of these relate to how a person perceives, thinks, imagines, reasons, and approaches their daily business lives. Over time these cognitive processes become ingrained and second nature. Unlearning these can be difficult; it often takes a significant emotional event to create an ‘oh-crap’ moment (like the bank saying “no” to a loan, or losing that big sale) to finally realize ‘the way we are working, isn’t working!’.
Sometimes the slight correction of a thought process, the additional question asked, or the incremental 1% of knowledge required, allows people to become 100% effective. A 1% change can make someone go from 0% to 100% effective in the blink of an eye – that is called leverage. It is the “aha” moment when something clicks in our heads, and then all of a sudden all those things from the past begin to make sense and become infinitely clear and well-focused.
Just like I learned in Judo, a simple ‘aha’ moment does not necessarily solve the problem. It is just the beginning to problem definition. The next step is to get to the root of the situation, gathering data and forming your hypothesis on what and why things are not working. Being caught in the middle of all this, it is impossible to be objective. A trusted advisor or outside help can provide the required perspective and guidance. Once you have identified the problem and found a way that works for you, you then can create the approach that works for the client in their particular situation. Like above, the approach is to:
1) identify the imperfection,
2) get the approach/ thinking corrected,
3) apply the new approach in a controlled way to test the thinking and to ensure the mind gets used to the thinking process, and then
4) apply to all situations to create effortless motion and momentum to that newly learned skill.
Some examples (but not limited to this list) of applied coaching are;
1) learning to periodically and regularly review and understand key elements of your financial statements to determine performance and profitability versus running your business by monitoring your daily bank account balance,
2) creating, monitoring and trusting new measures of success for your business,
3) new ways of thinking about how the activities you are working on and how they are contributing to positive cash flow, or
4) methods of spending more time reviewing your business priorities versus handling interrupts as they occur hourly.
These are just a few examples where people get caught in the turmoil of daily business and are not being successful; where through repeated business practice, we are able to make permanent not perfect. Just like I did in Judo when I realized my way was not working; I sought out a coach to objectively assess and guide me to identify potential exposures and to unlearn the past practices and adopt new practices. Doing this can help bring success to your endeavours.
To determine whether you have or you are going to create a lifestyle business or a growth business you will want to ask yourself the questions below. Before you start that process, I first want to stipulate that we are not recommending one type of business over the other, as this decision is one that you have to make on your own. This decision should be made before you start a business, as there is a belief at times by those starting a business that they will spend less time in their “Corporate” job and can still make the same money or more. The truth is that business is more unforgiving about time management than if you are working for someone else. Sometimes the business is going to demand more of you than you feel you bargained for when you started, so it is important to understand the type of business you are building as well as your business goals for the future.
Questions To Ask of Yourself
1. Is the most important thing about being an entrepreneur is that you are your own boss and you make your own hours?
2. Is your business plan in your head?
3. Do you on a regular basis ensure you have time on a weekly basis to attend to family or personal matters during business hours?
4. Do you have multiple family members or friends on your payroll?
5. Do you have assets on your books that are used for personal consumption: cars, boats, cottages?
6. Does your business pay for your golf or other recreational memberships?
7. Does the business pay for parts of your family vacation?
8. Do you borrow money from the business on a periodic basis?
9. Have you made decisions in your business based on your personal situation
10. Do you maximize your dividends at the end of every year?
11. Do you avoid trying to work overtime in your business? (More than 40 hours)
12. Do you shut down the business while on vacation?
13. Do you feel having a budget for your business is too constraining?
If you answered Yes to a majority of these questions, chances are you are in a lifestyle business.
There is nothing wrong with developing a lifestyle business, but you do need to recognize that fact and not set unrealistic expectations for yourself. It usually starts with the goals you want for the business and why you created the business in the first place. If you are creating the business just for income for you and your family and it is something you can do and decide what time you spend in the business, then you are developing a lifestyle business for yourself.
Often in a lifestyle business, the business strategy is in the business owner’s head and at times they feel they are the only one that can execute it. In most cases they have not communicated this to their team, which can be a problem, as employees cannot buy in to something they are not aware. Because of this, employees usually do not perform to the expectations of the owner, as they are not aware of what their true role is in the business. In many cases do not have a job description and perform their job based on a task list. You have to understand that in some cases this could be an up and down struggle for you as in order to grow and generate more income, it will require you to focus more on the business and invest more time. Any business can flounder and affect the lifestyle you have, and since most lifestyle businesses are very reliant on the owner, you could wait too late to turn things around because there is not a commonly understood strategy in place.
Lifestyle businesses are harder to sell and if they do sell the business owner never receives the valuation that they expect. Through dividends, personal loans, and other aspects as high salaries for owners and family members, the business has been deprived of the cash it needs to keep the business current. This all takes away from the value of your business when you plan to sell it. If the business strategy and a majority of functions are performed by the business owner, then the true value of the business is the owner. If the employees do not have defined roles where they work independently and provide value, the employees will not be transferrable and will reduce your value as well.
The positive side of a lifestyle business is (often found, but not always) the increased loyalty factor to the employees and a culture where people will work and stay for years. Unlike a growth business, a lifestyle business can come out of a downturn because due to the family-like environment, they have not laid people off and do not have to rebuild. In many cases the business owner will forgo or take a reduced salary to keep the employees. Customers are loyal to the owner and tend to stick. And finally a lifestyle business provides a less risky and more stable environment for the owner and their family.
In most cases, those building a growth business are passionate about what they are doing and are all in, and often putting their own assets at risk, when it comes to the business. They are usually risk takers and are willing to do whatever it takes to make their business a success. They tend to start with a business strategy and invest themselves as well as look for outside funding through lenders or investors to fund the business properly to get it off on the right foot.
Those that start growth businesses look to build a winning team for their business and surround themselves with those that have strengths that they do not. Usually they are type “A” personalities and put everything into building the right foundation to help the business grow. The goal for them is for the business to be able to run without them so if they are not around, they have others to rely on and the business continues to prosper.
They understand that the business and they as the owner personally are two different entities and they do not make business decisions based on the personal situations, goals or on emotions, they are purely business decisions. In many cases there are multiple shareholders or investors, so the business owner answers to a Board of Directors and sometimes has to make hard decisions. The downside is these decisions are focused on short term gains as those shareholders or Board members are looking for quarterly ROI’s. When they are in a financial downturn, the first thing to go are employee’s salaries and unnecessary expenses. For this reason there is usually not as much loyalty from employees and turnover is higher than in a lifestyle business.
Though the business owner of a growth business may still have a hard time stepping away from the business when it is time, it is important to them that the business is sustainable without them and they can hand it over to someone else in their family, take it public, or sell the business and get the value of what they expected.
There is no right or wrong answer for this decision and there are plenty of lifestyle businesses that make enough money that it satisfies the owner and allows them to live the life they want. On the other hand if you want to build a growth business for yourself, you need to be willing to sacrifice and give up your time and efforts and take risks to make it a success. It is short term pain for long term gain. If you are not that type of person who can do that, you need to know that before you start your business.
Though we work and help small businesses, we ourselves are a small business and have to find ways to cut down on the time spent on marketing as well look for tools to help our clients. This is not our typical article, but I find that I like to find articles on products and services, as it cuts down the search time for us looking for similar tools to use in our business or with our clients. As we find new tools to use, we will write additional articles and report on our findings.
Tawk.To - Chat For Your Website
If you have a website and have products and services where having the ability to chat to a service or sales rep would add value to your customer and your business, Tawk.to might be the perfect solution for you. It is entirely open source at this time and all that is required is that you add a snippet ofcode to your website. If you have a content management system where you can add code to each page in the footer or header, you will most likely be able to do this yourself, otherwise your web development company can add this for you.
Tawk.To allows you to customize the chat window for your website as well as how you interact with the visitors. If you are logged on, you are able to see when the visitor lands on your website and what pages they are visiting while they are there. You can choose to interact with them directly or remain passive and allow them to contact you if they are interested in finding out more about your products and services. They also provide a dashboard with a few analytics of the traffic as well as the chat conversations that you have with prospects and clients.
WebEngage - Web Engagement Tool
I trialed Qualaroo last year and really liked the tool, but found their pricing ridiculous for what they provide for their intro package. For $63.00 a month you receive limited features. I liked the idea of having the surveys on the website, so I started searching for competitive tools and recently found WebEngage which is a company out of India. The tool is comprehensive and for $49.00 a month you not only have the ability to develop surveys, but it allows you to create notifications in different places on your website, which you can use for marketing promotions and as well provides the Feedback Tab on the side. I have been trialing the free version for a little over a month as had a couple hiccups to start, but things are moving smoothly now.
You are able to add a survey to your site each month. You can offer full anonymity or you are able to ask for the visitor to enter their email. Our first survey askedabout the type of services that visitors were looking for when they visited our site, and the survey this month focuses on the pain points of visitors in their business. We gave them the option to enter their email, if they wanted and actually have gotten 2 clients from those that did. We were fine if they didn't as we were looking for the survey information.
The tool is configurable and allows you to determine who and when the survey is shown For example, our clients are only in Canada, so we only showed the survey to those with Canadian IP addresses and only after they were on our site for 30 seconds. There are analytics with the tool that not only provides aggregate data, but individual responses and tracks where (city) the response came from if provided anonymously.
Just as with Tawk.to, there is a little snippet of code that you need to add to your website. Once the code is there, you never have to change it. All of the changes or additions to the configuration are done within the WebEngage environment.
Canva - Graphic Tool
We actually own Photoshop, which is a great product by Adobe, but is expensive and not easy to use for those who are just looking to create occasional graphics for blog articles, social media, or even print. I came across Canva a few months back and decided to try it. It is an online product that allows you to create graphics by dragging and dropping text, pictures, and objects in place. Their current model is free unless you are using their pictures and text which are very reasonable at $1.00 each. This is a very cost effective tool for those who only need to create that graphic occasionally for their business without having to pay for a graphic designer.
Here are a few graphics I created with Canva or our business and it only took a few minutes. I tend to use photos from Fotolia or Canstockphoto that I purchase in blocks, but the photos on Canva are nice as well if you do not buy photos on a regular basis.
GoAnimate - Animated Videos
I was looking for a video tool to create marketing and sales videos a couple years back. I originally found PowToon which I used last year and would again for creating a few marketing videos. I came across an article on GoAnimate and how it compared to other online video tools and thought I would give it a try.
I was hooked almost immediately. Though PowToon was easy to create scenes, I found the graphics very limited unless you purchased an Agency subscription which I ended up doing with another business owner. It was fairly easy to use but had heard from others integrating voice clips into the individual scenes was difficult.
I started using GoAnimate and found not only did they have more sophisticated tools for video and animation built in, they also supported text to speech. As many people do, I do not like the sound of my own voice, but I wanted to create a video without going through the hassle of finding a voice online to record the voice. There are times that I know I will want to use professionals, but I also want the option of text to speech. You have a choice of 20+ voices and if you know enough about text to speech you can manipulate the speed and inflection so that it sounds more natural. At $299.00 a year, you have access to full functionality of the product for your own business. If you want commercial rights, or do not want their logo on the bottom, you can upgrade to the next package for $599.00 a year which is still reasonable for a small business.
Here is our first attempt using GoAnimate and their text to speech option.
We hope you find this post helpful in helping you determine if you could use these marketing and sales tools in your business. As we continue to find tools that cost effective and easy to use for small businesses, we will provide our feedback using the tools either in our business or implementing in a client.
by Rudy Fischer
There is a saying: “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you have walked a mile in their shoes”. Knowledge is the information and data acquired by an individual through their experiences and education. Understanding is the mental process which requires thinking and the use of concepts to deal with something at hand. When you know, you are able to identify, label, list, name, and recall data. When you understand, you are able to distinguish, explain, interpret, and summarize data.
I often hear that “my accountant” does not understand my business. They then continue by saying their accountant ‘knows’ what the company does, but does not ‘know’ what’s going on inside the business. Essentially accountants are viewed as a necessary evil, masters of debits and credits that can pull off reports like there is no tomorrow. They usually finish with a statement such as “… and I have no idea on how to read those reports they provided or what they are trying to tell me.”
Understanding What the Numbers Mean in a Business
The executives or business owners then ask – what do all these numbers mean? The answers usually come back
A barrage of terms and ratios are then floated around with a follow up question of “so what does all that mean?” … “How does all this really apply to my business, I mean my core business, and do I need to do anything different?” to which their accountant will probably say the same thing as before but with a different twist or words; but the message is still the same. This may not be the norm, but trust me, I have seen this happen. Quick lesson: you can’t use the term to define the same term.
Let’s face it, as far as the value of financial reporting is concerned, at the end of the day it all comes down to cash in the bank (increasing or decreasing) and how much tax you are going to need to pay. Financial accountants are experts at compiling your yearend statements and calculating how much tax you owe. Licenced Public Accountants (LPA) can provide assurance that the statements fairly reflect the operations. If you owe a bank money or have investors, preparing and presenting “audited” or “reviewed” financial statements is in all likelihood a requirement, something only an LPA can offer. Stakeholders are ultimately concerned with how much cash is being generated by the business and if the company can meet its obligations (legal, regulatory etc.) as they come due. Financial statements allow different parties to communicate key messages about the company using a common language. Investors and bankers use this information to gain more insight into the operations of a company and to make decisions. Make sure you have a professional accountant to help you out (CPA) with these statements as professional oversight during the compilations has value to the owners of the company and to its stakeholders.
One challenge for business owners lies in getting relevant business information to make good business decisions. Relevant business information goes beyond the numbers, and this is where the difference between knowing the business and understanding the business becomes important. To “know the business”, you know how the sales are generated and how revenue is earned, and how orders are processed, stored and shipped out. You are aware that there is a function that deals with post-acquisition or post-delivery support requirements. You identify who your customers and suppliers are and you might understand what they demand of you, and if any special provisions exist. What you may not know are the problems that each of these areas of the business deal with, the errors dealt with, the complaints of customers and suppliers, the inefficiencies created by policies in one area the impact another. To “understand the business” you are able to recognize the relationships between these functions, how they intermingle, and how the impact of change in one area of the business affects another. With an understanding you are then able to formulate and predict future outcomes with a higher probability of success. None of these items are reflected in the books you keep or the statements you read.
If you review the IFAC (International Federation of Accountants) definition of what management accounting is, you begin to realize that the practice covers a lot more than just debits and credits. A strong focus is on performance analysis, planning and decision support.
In terms of value to the organization and the impact that ‘predictive’ activities can have on the organization, I would say that the reliance on management accounting for timely, relevant, accurate, reliable, repeatable and predictable information is a critical success factor to any company. Companies are in the business to make money – period – full stop. Having good people who can supply them with this type of information and insight is mandatory. It is necessary for someone to know what they are talking about, but it is even better to have someone who understands what they are talking about and can link all of this information strategically.
In a company there are many individuals spending money and generating revenue. But how does one determine what is an appropriate spend or not? We entrust experts to assure us the expenditures (capital or otherwise) is required. Often these experts, who are often put into management positions, have their goals and objectives to meet and as a result, have their own agenda when it comes to spending. As executives we trust their judgement; as financial executives we need to trust with validation. There are many competing programs vying for limited resources and ultimately cash. This is where understanding the business excels over knowing the business.
Why Understanding Is More Important Than Knowing
Having a person who has worked as an executive in operations, manufacturing, development, marketing and sales, an understanding is created that not all spending is equal and intelligent trade-offs can be made. Executives may know that a dollar spent wisely in design can save twenty dollars later on; executives with deep cross functional experience understand the “why’s” and “how’s” of that spending, thereby offering greater stewardship of company funds. Having this understanding allows for better questioning and not normally taking things at face value.
When it comes time to assess corporate performance, an understanding of the operations can allow for gaining better insights as to why things exceed or fell short of expectations. Understanding versus knowing also allows us to differentiate between Reasons and Excuses. A reason is based in fact that clearly explains why something happened; it has cause and effect; whereas an excuse is the reason given to explain why something was not done that should have been done. Understanding how the company works provides additional insights to be able to ask harder questions to identify what statements are ‘excuses’ or ‘reasonable explanations’ when performance does not meet expectations.
So how does this fit with what a finance executive should know? A basic principle is that activities consume resources. Resources cost companies money. I always say that the quickest way to improve the bottom line is to stop doing stupid things. This is so controllable. Stupid activities waste money, productive activities generate positive cash flow for the business. Stupid activities are justified based upon excuses, productive activities are justified by reasonable explanations. Understanding and insight help executives sort through excuses and reasons quickly.
As financial stewards of the company we are responsible for the financial wellness or well-being of the company. In order to address wellness issues, we need to understand how activities, investments and spending in general impact wellness and be able to recommend corrective action that improves the situation. Looking at financial statements and determining that the company is not healthy is ‘diagnosis’, offering up a course of action that leads to increase health is ‘prescriptive’. Prescriptions given without the proper understanding of the organization and insight into the functions of the organization could become fatal.
If you need help understanding what your financials are telling you in your business, we can provide the assistance you need through a coaching or consulting engagement depending on your requirements. One of our Partners, Rudy Fischer, is a CPA, CMA (Certified Management Accountant), so he can assist you in gaining an understanding of what your financials are currently telling you about your business.
To start, this article is not really just about Facebook, but it does seem to be Facebook and Twitter that makes people go nuts trying to increase the number of fans/followers they have. As someone that is a proponent of using Social Media in a business , fans and followers are important but only relevant ones that can either lead to business or help build awareness. It never ceases to amaze me seeing the companies out there that promise 20,000 Facebook Fans or Twitter Followers in a week. I am mystified why people spend money on this as in most cases they are not being liked or followed by relevant or "real" people. Many times you will find the fans and likes you get from these companies are not even people and the rest are people located in the Far East getting paid to hit Like or Follow buttons. I put people on LinkedIn that seem to want to connect to everyone no matter whether there is synergy in the same bucket. You wonder how many of those 5000 people they connected with they could truly reach out to if they wanted to help them - not many if any.
What Is Social Media About When It Comes To Business
Social Media, especially in business is about connecting, having a conversation, and sharing information with a network of people who could refer, buy , partner , or be some kind of influencer when it comes to your business. At the end of the day it is about engagement and hopefully increasing your business. In a lot of cases, I have been contacted by a visitor who may or may not have become a fan or follower which means they are still reading the content being shared.
We had a client that started a B2C business focused on children. When they started, it was obvious Facebook and Twitter were the right platforms for their business. They are a local business, so we told that that they really needed to build momentum prior to opening their business. This is a client that made Social Media pay off for his business. They had over 1000 fans and pent up demand for their business before the doors opened. They continue to communicate with their fans, clients, and prospects and they now have over 6000 "relevant" fans. If they had fans in Calgary, Alberta or Paris, France- who really cares, as the chances of that individual visiting their facility is slim to none. Most of their fans are in our local area which is where you want them to be. They also have done a great job with content, frequency, and engagement. They know how to make Social Media work for their business.
Though I like Social Media, it can be time consuming to do correctly, but at the end of the day I am looking to connect and create more clients, partnerships, and build awareness for our business. Though I would love to have Bryan Adams follow me on Twitter and would personally would make my day - it really wouldn't help my business as I doubt he would be endorsing our services. Having 20,000 irrelevant followers or fans in countries or regions outside your business area and outside your target market is not really going to help your business. You want to build your network organically and eventually it starts to take shape. I myself use all of the platforms for our business, as it is important if you are going to tell others they need to use Social Media in their business that you eat your own dog food. Though I use them all, LinkedIn and Twitter are the two that have helped provide me with true value for my business, though I have received one client through my Facebook page. Facebook is not really the platform for those looking for business consulting for their business. Understanding where your target market hangs out is the key to choosing the right platforms.
Since engaging in Social Media has a lot to do with helping increase traffic back to your website as well though developed content, the same is true. If you are doing business only in Canada, do you really care how many people in Australia or Poland visited your website. The goal is to bring in potential clients.
How to Get Relevant Followers and Fans for Your Business
There is no single magic pill that will reward you with followers and fans. You need to make sure you have a social media strategy that focuses on providing good content and interaction with your target market. Within your target market, you may even have different types of people or personas. For example, our target market is owner-operated businesses, but the platform and content that the home business owner, the high-tech or manufacturing business owner, and the retail store owner uses and wants can be very different. All are potential clients, but if provide the same content on all sites and do not provide the content that are interested in, interact, or provide some level of engagement , you will not attract the fans and followers you want.
It can sound discouraging to hear it takes time when they need more clients today, but this is not something that has a quick return on time as that is what your cost is - your time. Focus on sharing and developing relevant content on a regular basis and measuring your results. You have to engage and provide content that is of value to your target audiences/personas. If it is of value, they will reward you with following or liking you.
This is definitely a quality versus quantity situation. It is better to have a few loyal relevant followers who over time either become clients, influencers, or potential partners versus getting the 20,000 fake followers just to have this show on your page. There is no quick way to increase real engagement, it takes time.
If you are wanting to set up Social Media for your business but are not sure where to start, we have created an Introduction to Social Media for Business. If you need one on one help, we can provide that through coaching, or can develop a social media strategy for you.
Most articles I see focus on providing information and guidance to those who want to sell their business, but not as much on those who are first time buyers of a business. If you were looking to buy a larger business, you should engage a Mergers & Acquisitions professional who will work on your behalf for a fee and help you in assessing whether a business you want to buy is worth what the owner’s asking price. Unfortunately for smaller businesses, there is not that much help available, as in most cases the focus of most business brokers is working on behalf of the seller. Business brokers are governed by the real estate board and typically help smaller businesses find buyers for their business. There are some that will work for the buyer, but in many cases buyers are not prepared to pay someone for this function, so the main focus is on selling.
If you are dealing with a business broker as a buyer and have been contacted by a business broker on behalf of the seller, as with a real estate transaction, they are not working for you, they are working for the seller, so it is up to you to make sure that you do your due diligence. Just because a business is listed at a price, it does not mean that the business is worth that price, so it is up to you as the buyer to understand what you are getting into. As with a real estate transaction, the business broker wants to sell his/her client’s business as high as possible as in most cases, their fee is a percentage of what they get for the seller, depending on what other services they provided the owner.
What Is The Value of The Business I Am Buying?
There are professionals that are Business Valuators (Chartered Business Valuator, CBV))who can be hired to come in and assess what a business is worth, and if you are buying a business that is over a a few hundred thousand dollars, it would be highly recommended that you engage their services. You are going to pay a few thousand dollars in most cases, but if you are going to make that large of a purchase, it is well worth the money and peace of mind. If you choose not to go that route, here are just a few things that you need to look at and find out about the business before you sign on the dotted line:
Though you can get a valuation of a business, at the end of the day, a business is worth whatever the buyer is willing to pay. Current owners almost always overvalue their business. Most buying decisions are emotional and do not always focus on the true valuation at the time, but you want to make sure that you know what you are getting into and do not sign an agreement to purchase before you have done some level of due diligence.
You want to engage the right professionals to help you make the right decisions and make sure that you have individuals working for you and are not taking the word of the owner or business broker who is working on behalf of the seller.
Are you a business owner that is wearing many hats in your business, one of which may even be sales? If this is the case, you are not alone, as there are many business owners around $2M-$3M in sales where the owner/operator is the still acting in a sales capacity in addition to running other areas of the business, and still dealing with day to day issues.
Keeping Your Eye on the Right Ball
Focusing on revenue to grow your business has to be your core goal. In order to do this it will require you to be more focused, have developed processes in place, track your sales leads, forecast properly, continue to fill your pipeline, and to measure your own or your team's success. As your business grows there will need to be enough structure in place to hire the right people in order to free you up to work on your business.
Developing Sales for the Long Term
When we talk to many business owners that want to grow their business, they are tell us they can barely handle the sales that they have, but they still need to grow. It is true, that depending on your products and services you sell, there may be something that brings in customers without much time being spent on marketing or developing new sales. In the majority of cases this is not a sustaining model. At some point your sales growth will slow down if you do not have the right marketing in place or know how to develop new sales. If this is not in place when you need to grow, this is not the time to start, as you are now behind the eight ball. In many situations we have identified some of the barriers to their sales growth:
Strategy, Time , and Focus
When you are one person in a business and are doing everything, you do not have the time to develop a strategy, processes, buy systems, and figure out how to hire the right people. You are just keeping your head above water. The problem is that time goes by and more people join the company, you are having to manage more than yourself. It will be fine for a little while, and then all of the sudden like a boom - things are falling through the cracks. You find employees are not doing what you think they should be doing and don’t understand why the employees are not taking the initiative to do things in the business.
This is your business and as the owner, you have taken the risk, but you also have the most to gain if the business does well. Employees want and require structure. They want to understand what they are supposed to be doing and who they report to and take direction, and what is the potential to grow in the business. They are there for the most part for a pay cheque to feed their family, as this is not their business, it is yours. The better employees are treated and are recognized for their role in the business, the more they will help contribute to the success of the business.
Once you do hire employees, you need to let go and delegate the responsibility to others. You must spend your time focused on the success of your business and working on growth, not bogged down in the day to day. We find many business owners put off hiring sales people as there is a lack of trust in letting go of that part of the reigns. The key is to the right sales people for your business and manage them properly whether they are employees or sales agents/resellers. We have seen many owners hire the wrong people or have hired them and then not manage them properly. They have given up on trusting this function to anyone else and continue to try to run the business and sell as well. Your focus needs to be working on the business and setting aside the time to do so. There is nothing wrong with you still being part of sales from time to time as many times you are the face of the business to customers, but if you are going to grow, your primary focus needs to change and find others that are suited for this on a day to day basis. A side issue down the road when you want to sell your business is that if you “are” the business, your valuation will be a lot lower than you expect.
Concentration of Effort - Day to Day
If you really want to grow the business, the new focus as the business owner needs to be on:
Concentration of Effort - Ongoing
In order to grow your business, in addition to the items that you as a business owner need to be on top of, your role needs to be the one to:
As the business owner, there will come a time that need to be able to focus your efforts and time on the right things to keep your business running smoothly and be poised for future growth. If you are running around doing 100 different things a day and are out selling like you did when you started the business, you are not focused on the areas of the business to ensure you meet your goals, both from a business and personal perspective. As the business owner your time needs to be spent working on your business and determining how to grow it and take it to the next level. It is hard to let go of the reins but when you do, you will be taking the step needed to grow your business.
RK Fischer & Associates
Our offices are located just outside Toronto within the GTA and are able to provide services across Canada . Our local service area for providing onsite services is Peterborough, Orillia, Clarington, Bowmanville, Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Scarborough, Toronto, Markham, Aurora, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, King City, Brampton, Mississauga, Etobicoke, Oakville, Burlington, Milton and Hamilton. For services outside our local service area within Canada who require onsite services, please contact us to determine how we may best service your requirements.
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