Blog

Posts Tagged Small Business

Back to Basics: Small Business Accounting Simplified

If your small business were audited tomorrow, would you be ready?

If not, you’re probably not alone. It seems many small business owners struggle to keep their finances in order.

We sat down recently with one of our business mentors, known for their excellent bookkeeping throughout 28 years in business, and asked for some tips on becoming more organized. Although some prefer an online method, or to use accounting software in attempts to ‘go green’, our mentor suggests that some small retail businesses might benefit from going back to basics and the good ol’-fashioned print-and-store method.

Overall, good bookkeeping isn’t an intimidating process exclusive to those who are good with numbers, rather it’s a system you can create and follow as long as you’re dedicated. In fact, as our mentor points out, you really only need a box and a binder to make this system work.

How the System Works

What you’ll need: a banker’s box, a binder, envelopes, and commitment.

Step 1: The Banker’s Box

In a large banker’s box dated with your fiscal year, label large envelopes for each month and file accordingly. Print all of your bills for the month and separate them into the envelopes based on ‘bills to be paid’ versus ‘bills paid’. Mark each of the bills with the cheque number or the confirmation number; this labeling allows the bills to be reconciled at the end of the month with your bank statement.

Step 2: The Binder

With a business checking account, your bank will send a monthly statement summarizing your transactions. In a binder with separated sections from January to December, keep a copy of each month’s bank statement.

Step 3: Reconcile

At the end of each month compare the contents of the envelopes in your box with the charges listed on the monthly bank statement in the binder to make sure they are the same.

Some useful tips for using this system:

      • Even if you’ve paid for something with your debit card, print the confirmation or write down the confirmation number and how you’ve paid the bill to include in the box. This information is featured on the monthly bank statement and keeping track of small transactions is important with respect to accounting for everyday purchases.
      • Keep track of your sales and label them as income as it accumulates. This tracking ensures that there are no sales that go unaccounted for.
      • For expenses under $10, pay cash and keep the receipt. When you have accumulated a couple hundred dollars worth of these receipts, write a cheque and label it according to the category it belongs to (e.x. “supplies”). It’s important not to lose track of small daily expenses as they can add up quickly; you should know where your miscellaneous cash is going.
      • Confirm what your bank charges for debits and deposits so that you can ensure you’re not spending unnecessarily on the convenience of using debit. Sometimes cash for small expenses can actually save you money as long as you keep your receipt.

While the box & binder is a basic system and may not work for everyone, our mentor who owns a retail business found it very handy because she was able to simply hand over the box and binder to an auditor which eases the stress of an audit overall. Even after implementing a system like this however, it’s also a good idea to keep track of your finances with other resources as well.

Other things you’ll need to stay financially responsible…

Accounting Software

Many small business owners can benefit from organizing their finances with accounting software. Our mentor recommended Quickbooks, but there are other options to look into as well. Accounting software can generate financial reports so that you can literally visualize your sales and compare from year to year. Furthermore, it can help with sales forecasting to determine future sales based on current figures. If you’re looking for free online software to get started, Wave Accounting is also an option to explore.

An Accountant you can Trust

Our mentor advises asking other small business owners to recommend strong accountants in the area. When you aren’t sure of accounting practices yourself, it’s best you have an accountant who will look after your best interests while adhering to proper standards and avoiding the pitfalls of creative accounting.

Book a Consultation with us

Ultimately your financial health needs to be observed regularly so that you make sound decisions in all aspects of your business. Better bookkeeping can seem daunting, but once you have a system in place, it’s easier to manage your finances and you won’t have anything to fear if an auditor comes to call. Additionally, you can contact our business development officer Tina Heathers to book a meeting to review your financial situation and bookkeeping practices via tina@wwcfdc.com.

 

Posted in: Small Business Solutions

Leave a Comment (0) →

5 Things You Should Know Before Starting a Business

With Guest Blogger Jenn Hall of OSIM Interactive

When starting a business it’s always better to know as much as you can beforehand. Over the 10 years I have worked with businesses I have seen some costly mistakes, affecting both the bottom line and the owner’s personal success, which could have been avoided.

Here is a list of 5 things that you should know before you start your business:

The government will find you

You can’t hide from the government. They will find out you are in business and expect you to follow applicable regulations. The rules for HST, source deductions, taxes, labour, and other laws are all published online and all levels of government are more then willing to help you in the process of setting up your business properly. Federal, Provincial, and most municipalities have a website that has vast amounts of information for reference. Each level of government also has a telephone number to contact and ask questions. Overall, do the work to know the rules. Claiming ignorance when the government comes looking for payments will not save you the penalties, interest, and fines imposed if you’re breaking a law.

Find an advisor who knows what they’re taking about

Anyone can claim to be a business advisor, they just need a business card and sales pitch. When starting a business you should not need to pay for a first meeting with an advisor. A real business advisor can be found by contacting your local CFDC or Business Centre, asking business professionals (your lawyer, accountant, or banker) for a referral, or contacting a local college or university for referrals. If someone is claiming to be able to make you millions of dollars with the contribution of some of your hard earned cash…run, fast! As to the role of an advisor, they’re available to guide and help you; they will not do the work for you. Advisors help you get connected to the people, mentors or other businesses that can help you in the process of building your business.

Pick one thing and do it well

You cannot be everything to everyone. It is physically impossible, so stop trying!  When starting a business most people know what they want to do. They have decided that whatever skill, product, or service they offer is something that they can do well enough to generate an income. Most people go wrong when they stray too far from the original item or idea. It’s always better to say no to a project that you’re truly unsure of rather than to take on a project and fail horribly. The possible negative response from a unsatisfied customer will have a long-term affect on your business and isn’t worth the risk. Be honest with people, they will appreciate it more than a costly mistake.

Know who you’re in business with

Not every personal relationship can handle the stress of a business relationship. The best marriages can end over a business and friendships can be ruined. It’s always important to test the waters before you go into business with someone you wish to have a future with. Care must also be taken with the contacts that you make in business. You need to identify staff and suppliers that work well with you. Trust your gut, it is usually right. Never hire or work with another business out of desperation, it’s guaranteed to come back to haunt you.

Plan, Plan, Plan

The best thing you can do for your business? Write a business plan. A business plan will allow you to organize all of your ideas and gives you time to think the process though. A plan will encompass the rules are you need to follow, who you will work with, what you need in a potential staff or supplier, and what you are going to sell/make/do. The most vital piece of the plan is the financial planning. It is much easier to find out on paper that the numbers don’t work in advance than to be up to your ears in debt too far into the growth of your company. Your business advisor will be able to help you work though the process of building a plan.

 

Posted in: Guest Blogger, Small Business Advice

Leave a Comment (0) →

Accessibility Standards: Is Your Business Prepared?

Come to the WWCFDC office to check out a copy of the Compliance Manual for Small Businesses from our resource library.

You may already know that as of January 1st, 2012 every private, public, and not-for-profit sector organization must comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), but figuring out what this legislation means for your small business can be a bit confusing.

Basically, if you have at least one employee or provide goods and services to the public, you must meet the requirements or risk fines ranging from $200 to $15,000. However, removing barriers to accessibility in your business has less to do with possible fines and more to do with doing the right thing; it’s your role as part of a responsible business community to ensure respect for equal opportunity.

So how can you become compliant with the AODA?

Establish policies, practices, and procedures – This standard involves listing specific policies allowing customers with disabilities to maintain their independence (i.e. letting your customers do things in their own way and ensuring that all customers receive the same level of service). Identify any gaps between your policies and what people with disabilities might need in order to access your services.

Example: a clothing store might include an exception on a “no refunds, credit only” policy if fitting rooms are not wheelchair accessible.

Provide training  Training must include an overview of the purposes of the AODA and must be provided to employees, volunteers, agents, contractors, and others who may interact with the public on your behalf. You can determine the content of your training and find some helpful resources at ontario.ca/AccessON.

Establish a feedback process – Your business will need a process for collecting feedback as well as a process for responding to questions or concerns.

Example: a bed-and-breakfast might include a notice on receipts that informs guests they may submit any feedback at the front desk or through their website. Furthermore, detailed information about the feedback process is posted on their website.

Communication – This aspect of the AODA concerns how you take into account a person’s disability when interacting. Think about how people with various disabilities communicate and how you may have to alter your communication to suit the situation and the person’s needs. The best thing to do is ask your customer how best to communicate with them and how you can help.

Example: if you offer a schedule in paper format, perhaps your website can include an accessible format that can be read with a a screen reader so that a customer with low vision may access the schedule at home on their computer despite it not being available in braille.

Service animals & support persons– Service animals must be permitted onto any part of the premises that is open to the public, except where the animal is otherwise excluded by law. Furthermore, those with disabilities must be able to bring a support person with them when accessing goods or services.

Example: A theatre informs patrons that support persons are permitted and not charged admission to the show.

Notice of temporary service disruptions – Prepare a template of a notice for any interruption in service that may affect access to your goods and services. Your notice should include a reason for the disruption, how long the service will remain unavailable, and the alternative facilities when possible.

Documentation – Pertaining to businesses with 20 or more employees, you must prepare documentation that includes specific information on each of the aforementioned aspects of AODA compliance.

Which requirements apply to your business? 

To determine what you’ll need to implement for your business in particular, check out the AODA E-Wizard. It’s free and sums up a personalized list of things you need to do.

More summarized information on the regulations can be found by clicking here.

Posted in: Small Business Solutions

Leave a Comment (0) →

What can Social Media Really do for Your Business?

Guest Post by Matthew Piggott from Community CarShare

We live in an online world where Facebook is your town square, Twitter is a local group of opinion leaders, and LinkedIn is your virtual Rolodex. Many platforms exist and your business is trying to find out what works best. At Community CarShare the majority of our growth still comes from word of mouth and traditional forms of promotion, but an increasing amount of sales are coming from online marketing driven by social media. Every business should be monitoring whether, and to what extent, to be part of social media.

A common question asked is, “what is the return on investment of social media?” Any responsible business should be asking that question, but ultimately the question is best answered with your gut rather than your head at this point.  Sites like Klout.com, Google Analytics, and the ad section of Facebook will give you lots of data, but it doesn’t paint a complete picture of the true worth of social media. When your BIA sends you an invite to this month’s networking meeting, do your rush to quantify the value of attending? I’m guessing not, so base your decision to get involved on Twitter, or other platforms, based on questions such as: Will this help improve my brand? Can I get better customer engagement? Etc…

I can best illustrate the benefits of social media involvement with an example. For years we have been working with our insurance company to lower our minimum driving age and this summer succeeded in having it lowered to 21! This was great news for us but, in the rush of our summer, business expansion only had a chance to compose one tweet about it in the first few days of receiving the news. A few days later a prospective member approached me at an event; turns out the message had spread so fast that it went beyond our immediate network and was being repeated back to us in a very short time frame.

In the end, that one tweet was re-tweeted over two dozen times and has been our most broadcast message of any we’ve composed. If you compare what we invested (the time to compose a 140 character phrase) with what we received then you can understand why we’re enthusiastic about the ROI that social media can bring to your business.

That being said, Facebook likes and Twitter followers don’t necessarily translate into sales.  So while you’re working to build your platform, don’t be afraid to branch out and tap into other established networks. We’ve used online deal sites like Groupon and WagJag, and have considered others like Living Social. Those deals have offered great returns because they give access to an already established network of several hundred-thousand people depending on which site you choose.

As always make sure you know your target audience and do some research on the particular demographic of each site and its potential successes/failures to avoid disappointment. Is your business based on a membership service? Then these deals are a no-brainer because you’ll have an easy chance at a repeat customer. Pick a site that works best for you and go for it.

Our experience at Community CarShare is that social media has helped drive word of mouth advertising, allowed us to engage with a community of interested people, and brought in new business opportunities that would not have been possible before. Studies show that social media adoption is currently in the “early majority” so it’s not too late to jump in. Define your goals, pick a few platforms, and follow us @GrRiverCarShare  or on Facebook if you’d like!

Matthew Piggott is the Member Services Coordinator at Community CarShare. He enjoys using social media to find new CarShare members, and also to ensure they have good service once they join.

Posted in: Guest Blogger, Small Business Solutions, Social Media Tips

Leave a Comment (0) →

Steps Toward Better Selling

Selling today might be more casual than ever before, but it’s still the most essential part of your business. As Michael Lewis aptly stated during his selling skills workshop here at the WWCFDC office, “without revenue, you just have an expensive hobby”. At the end of the day, it’s not enough to have your doors open daily or be engaged using social media, it’s about generating sales.

That said, the following are some of the steps Michael shared to help small business owners become better salespeople:

Be better prepared – Before you encounter a potential customer, you’ll want to be well acquainted with the features and benefits of your products and services. Online shopping makes it easy for a customer to shop around and you don’t want to underestimate what your customer already knows. Some won’t necessarily want or need specifics, depending on your industry, but the more info you’re prepared to provide, the better.

Establish trust – Initial contact with the customer is your chance to smile, use an approachable tone of voice, and create a powerful first impression. Some customers won’t feel comfortable buying anything until they feel like they know you. Whether it’s offering a friendly greeting upon entering your retail space or being genuinely enthusiastic, make the effort to generate positive customer perceptions.

Engage the customer – Start asking open-ended questions to determine what the customer needs. If you notice a customer is spending an extended time in your retail space, or seems to want a never-ending chat about the construction going on outside, gear your way towards business-oriented dialogue asking something like: “so what brings you to my business today?”

Diagnose needs & offer solutions – After discussing the needs of your customer, reiterate what you think the customer is looking for, and start recommending your business’ solutions by stating the benefits. Always consider that the customer operates on the “what’s in it for me” principle; essentially, you have to pitch considering incentives from their perspective.

Address objections – There will almost always be sales resistance, so pre-consider your response to typical concerns.

If the customer is concerned with:

Price: emphasize value or offer credit if possible.
Quality: support your value proposition by providing testimonials, product reviews, demonstrations, warrantees, and possible guarantees. Time: If the customer needs “more time to think about it”, assure them you understand, but ask if there is anything you can clarify further or what exactly it is they’re concerned about so you can refine your pitch.

Close the deal – If you’ve addressed the customer’s needs, you may never need to chase the sale because the customer will state their purchasing intentions; however, even after stating the benefits, you’ll likely have to ask if they’re interested in a purchase. Remember that silence is golden at this stage. You’ve pitched and now it’s the customer’s chance to take advantage (you don’t want to talk yourself out of a sale).

Overall, selling is the transference of enthusiasm; excitement about value makes you want in on the deal. Becoming skilled with the above steps, along with incorporating both follow-up and thanking your customers, will help you to increase sales in no time.

 

 

 

Posted in: Sales, Small Business Solutions, Workshop Summaries

Leave a Comment (0) →

Workshop Summary: Time Management with Tina

Couldn’t make it to Tuesday’s workshop? Here’s what you missed…

As a business owner you’ve likely discovered that there’s just not enough time in the day to get around to everything you need to do.

According to feedback from Tuesday’s workshop participants, every entrepreneur has unique time management challenges and most business owners struggle with the following issues:

-Determining priorities
-Eliminating distractions when working from home
-The guilt associated when you don’t finish your entire daily task list
-Taking on too many projects or being unable to say no
-Adapting to unexpected tasks and the art of delegation
-The trouble with not being a ‘morning person’

Based on our discussion, here are some tips for organizing your time effectively:

Communicate your scheduleLet folks know the time periods when you’re actually available versus when you’re at your desk with paperwork to do. That is to say, you might physically be around from 9-5, but your first couple of hours might be dedicated to specific daily tasks, so consider stating availability accordingly. This frees you up to manage your day as required.

Break a daunting project into smaller tasks – You probably haven’t even looked at a seemingly massive project because it is the most intimidating item on your list, but it might be more manageable if broken down into smaller tasks. When focusing on more defined to-do items such as “write page one of proposal” or “create appendix A”, you’ll tackle the project piece-by-piece and reduce overall anxiety.

Prioritize and “eat the frog” – When compiling a task list, prioritize according to importance or even difficulty. You can choose to “eat the frog” on the list and accomplish the task you least enjoy first (as famously recommended by Brian Tracy) or you can complete the tasks you enjoy the most first to gain the momentum you need to motivate you early in the day. Overall, which strategy works for you will depend on the type of person you are.

Learn to say no – You can’t be everything to everybody, and while you may feel guilty about turning down your clients, friends or family for other priorities, you need to stand by what’s best for you and your goals. Depending on where work stands on your priority list, you’ll have to say no to those making demands on your free time and, if your family or social life is important, you’ll have to consider how many clients you take on.

Delegate tasks It’s important you’ve hired those you can delegate to. As Tina advises, don’t fall victim to the “warm body syndrome” where you hire a person who merely exists as a space-filler without being able to take on any of your responsibilities when you’re strapped for time. If you staff correctly, hiring those with diverse skills and initiative, it’ll really pay off when you need others to step up.

Other quick tips:
First things first– if you’re most focused between 8:30-noon, get to important projects in this chunk of time. This may mean scheduling a different time to skim your inbox and answering urgent emails only.
Don’t Sweat it – Remember it’s a revolving task list. Sure there’s things you need to do today, they’re #1, but don’t stress out if you can’t get everything crossed off the page.
Be Realistic – if the same three tasks are always on the bottom of your to-do list, determine their significance and whether you can delegate them to someone else.

Thanks to all of our workshop participants; if you have some time-saving tips of your own, let us know in the comments below!

Posted in: Small Business Solutions, Time Management Tips, Workshop Summaries

Leave a Comment (0) →

Building Your Online Presence with WordPress

Your online presence, or lack thereof, can make a huge difference in whether your business is top of mind for potential customers. You’ve heard it before, but if clients can’t find your website, or if it’s noticeably outdated, you might have already lost the game.

As we discovered recently, a WordPress site outfitted with a theme can be a cost-effective, long-term solution for a small business and you don’t necessarily have to know how to code to make it happen. With the following steps, you can highlight your products and services online with a professional looking WordPress site of your own:

1. Determine if a new site is the right move

If you already have a site, take a look to see which parts of the layout are working and what needs improvement. Some questions to consider include:

        • When customers interact with my site, do they intuitively know where to find specific information?
        • Does my site make proper use of menu items to clearly present categories of content?
        • Are the pages of my site organized under the correct menu categories?

If you answered yes to the questions above, you might not need a new site. However, if your website is visibly outdated, you might consider the swap to a WordPress theme to enhance your credibility.

2. Draft content & menus

If moving forward with a WordPress theme, determine the pages and content your website needs to feature. You’ll need to draft a site menu that includes broad menu categories (e.g. ‘Services’), and the pages that will be featured as drop down menu items under these categories (e.g. ‘Installations’, ‘Staging’, etc.).

3. Choose a WordPress theme

There are plenty of professional themes available from sites such as Themeforest.net to choose from. Themes range in price; however, depending on your needs, you can get a basic template for free. When searching for a theme consider overall look and feel, but also choose a template that suits the menu specifications you established when drafting your content.

Other considerations when selecting a theme include: your industry, competitor’s websites, colour schemes, template restrictions (i.e. if you need drop down menus, choose a theme supports this feature), forums for template support, and theme ratings.

4. Populate the template 

After installing WordPress and setting up a theme, you can use the WordPress Dashboard to add content to the template. You can find WordPress documentation outlining how to create your site’s pages here: http://wordpress.org/support/.

If your business uses social media, make sure your feeds are prominently featured on your site. Additionally, if you want to demonstrate expertise in your industry, consider using a blog to post original content. This material can be shared by those you connect with and help establish you as a knowledgeable business owner.

5. Launch your site

Once your template is complete and error-free, contact a website hosting service such as Planet CPU to have your site launched. These friendly folks specialize in website design and can help you throughout the process. After launching your site, collect feedback in terms of how your customers find the layout and navigation and adjust accordingly.

Overall, your website should make it crystal clear who you are, what you offer, and how to contact you. A good site, combined with a social media strategy, can make a significant difference and direct new business your way.

Posted in: Small Business Solutions

Leave a Comment (0) →

Brewing Better Signage Perks up Local Café

Robin Hansford & Marty Curry pose with the finished product outside the Robin’s Nest in Elmira.

With its warm colours, deep wood accents, and the smell of fresh, organic coffee wafting through the air, the Robin’s Nest Café is perfect for those looking to unwind or work away with a latte. But until recently those driving by might not have known to drop in and discover the inviting space. Although the Nest has dedicated patrons who rave about the lemon cilantro chickpea salad and open mic nights on Facebook, Robin Hansford faced an obstacle common to many business owners; the café’s outdoor signage needed a boost.

When allocating funds for advertising, small businesses naturally want the most value for their money. What’s more is that outdoor signage needs to be eye-catching, fairly large, and accentuate the business’ offerings to be effective.

When looking into options available, it seemed a horizontal banner or A-frame boards were going to be the best choice to attract attention; however, these mediums can be pricey and may not deliver on impact. Fortunately, as an innovative entrepreneur, Robin took advantage of her space in a resourceful way and serves as an example to other business owners. When looking to spruce up your signage, evaluate what you’ve already got. Facing a major intersection in Elmira, the café’s building wall was a huge empty space, or rather, as Robin realized, a huge empty canvas.

With a few calls to organizations such as the Kitchener-Waterloo Society for Artists, as well as the Elora Centre for the Arts, Robin was able to connect with Marty Curry, a skilled local painter with plenty of experience creating defined designs on a large scale.

The two created a mock up of the design and Marty got to work at the end of August to create impactful signage that combined business savvy with the underlying creativity that is fundamental to the atmosphere at the Robin’s Nest.

Overall, this case of café connection between artist and business owner really paid off and Robin recommends the strategy to others: “I was tired of trying to figure out what would work best, the associated costs, and possible by-laws involved, but the mural was a simple solution with a reasonable cost and BIG impact. Best of all it utilizes what we already had. My advice: don’t be scared to be bold and choose bright contrasting colours to get the attention of your customer, and be careful about putting up any content subject to frequent change. We’re already planning mural number two! It is kind of like getting a tattoo… addictive”.

If you’d like to get in touch with Marty to discuss collaboration, let us know and we’ll send you his contact information.

Posted in: Small Business Solutions, Success Stories & Connections

Leave a Comment (1) →