New Year Resolutions for Better Business

The upcoming festive break is a great time to reflect on what’s working in your business and what’s not.

Was 2010 a good business year for you or, as in the case of many others, tough going?

And will you be merely hoping that 2011 will be better – or are you setting and committing to the kind of goals that will make a real difference by using the holiday period to work out exactly how you are going to achieve them?

With the right motivation, your New Year Business Resolutions will provide a formidable platform on which to build success over the coming 12 months.

Based on some of the most popular personal self-improvement commitments, here’s a guide to the kind of pledges which will give your business a powerful 2011 makeover.

1. Find a Better Job

If your business isn’t performing as you’d wish and you are beginning to question whether its worth plodding on, take time out to consider your business model. Could you reinvent your business online or re-energise your company through alliances with affiliate businesses with different market access channels? Could technology make your business more agile? Most of all, think about what could you add or take away from your business offer to make it more relevant, easier for customers to do business with you and more exciting for your market. Ponder if you are the person to lead this change – or is there someone else in your team with the skills and knowledge to rise to the challenge while you concentrate on the areas you enjoy the most?

2. Find Your Soul Mate

It can be lonely at the top – particularly if you are a sole trader. Having a mentor, or simply someone you can trust to bounce ideas off or share your problems with, gives you a sense of perspective. Your soul mate may work in a completely different sector or be your business partner. Wherever you find them, look out for people whose mindset complements your own. If you are an ideas person, look out for someone who loves delving into detail. If you are a people person, look out for someone who loves facts and figures.

3. Learn Something New

Owning and running a business is an education – and no amount of business school lessons or business books can teach it how it is for you. True entrepreneurs are always the curious type. Investigate new tools, get to grips with what’s happening online and make sure you are up to date with customer and marketing trends even if you don’t always adopt them. If you are facing new business problems, maybe it’s time to try something new. If you are facing the same old business problems, it is definitely the time to try something new

4. Quit Smoking

Do you have some bad business habits? Perhaps you waste energy on vanity clients with a track record of infrequent small orders or customers who may place a large order but soak up your time and that of your staff in un-costed product support or additional service requests. Make sure all your products and services are properly paid for. Consider tailoring prices upward for customers you know will incur additional cost to service or revisit your standard contract and ensure your clients or customers always know upfront that additional requests equal additional costs.

5. Shape Up and Lose Weight

Take a long hard look at everyone in your team. Is every team member making the kind of contribution you need in today’s marketplace? Are they showing the right kind of attitude and do they have the right kind of skills and knowledge? Real dead weights need to be jettisoned – but before you do this, check that you’re not simply misusing their skills. Could they make a better contribution in a different role? Do they have knowledge and skills you’re failing to tap into? Perhaps some additional training is in order or greater input from you in ensuring they are motivated to succeed and working to the right priorities.

6. Stick to your Budget

Are your sales targets realistic? In an uncertain economic climate It’s just as easy to be too pessimistic about sales as it is to be too optimistic. Whatever your sales income targets, keep a close and regular eye on performance. Whenever sales stray from forecast, ensure you identify and understand the reasons why. If there’s a major dip, take quick action to address your cost base. What opportunity is there to switch fixed costs to a rental or pay-as-you-use basis. How flexible are your staffing and office costs?

7. Reduce Debts

Cashflow problems are the single biggest cause of small and early-growth business failure. It’s vital that you are always paid in full, on time – and up-front if you have any doubts on customer credit worthiness. One of the best ways to ensure financial health is to credit check all new customers and have a complete handle on who owes you what and when the payment will be made. Only then can you properly manage outgoings and trading terms. When was the last time you reviewed your payment terms? What percentage of your customers are paying on time? Has there been any payment slippage over the past few months? In tough times it’s easy to be tempted to cut major customers some slack when it comes to payment periods but ensure you understand the ramifications in terms of paying your own suppliers. Consider prompt payment discounts or late payment surcharges. Watch for warning signs of problems ahead – if a significant bill to a late-paying customer goes bad, can your business survive?

8. Enjoy More Quality Time with Family & Friends

Unless you are a sole trader, a business is by definition a company of people in regular contact with people at customer businesses. It’s a truism that in business-to-business transactions, people buy from people. Professional relationships are important and while not every contact will result in a sale, staying top-of-mind by being in regular contact and taking an interest in the working life of key individuals both within your business and at customer companies will pay off.

9. Volunteer and Help Others

It’s been a hard year for many businesses – customers as well as suppliers. Giving support and service doesn’t always involve a financial commitment and often, it’s the givers who later get. What knowledge could you share with your customers that might make their lives easier and what extra value could you add to your products or service that involves no cost? Perhaps a simple ‘thank you’ email with every order or an advice newsletter or blog spot that helps customers get the most from what they buy from you. Providing customers with a consistent positive experience of your company by giving them a little more than just your product or service is the foundation of long term customer loyalty and valuable word-of-mouth marketing.

10. Get Organised

Being able to find the information or documentation your need is a pre-requisite of being organised but having it instantly to hand is preferable to having to rifle through filing cabinets or travel back to the office to pick it up. With the aid of a secure online connection, these days you can ensure every aspect of your business is never more than a click away no matter where you are or what time of day. Being organised means you will be more productive, more focused and less stressed – as that’s exactly what you need to be more profitable.

Important Steps To Starting A Business

There are many steps to starting a business. Some of the steps are simple and others can be time-consuming and costly. Of course, this depends on the type of business you are starting.

There are many things one must do before starting a business. A well executed business startup takes months…not days.

Some Important Steps To Starting A Business

Name Your Business You need to give careful consideration to your business name. Make sure your business name reflect the image you want your business to portray. Your business name is a part of your branding.

Choosing a Domain Name Now that you’ve developed a business name, you must obtain a domain name. Your domain name should also include your business name. It is also a part of your branding.

Try using dashes (-) between the words if your business name is unavailable or for readability. For example, if your business name is Cory’s Outdoor Signage. You may consider: corys-outdoor-signage.com for readability purposes.

Business Structure You also must decide how you wish to structure your business: sole proprietorship, incorporation, partnership, limited liability corporation, etc.

Below are some of the most common legal requirements; however, please don’t see my list as all-inclusive. Check with your state, city and county regarding any additional requirements.

Business License So before you hang your sign, you must first make your enterprise legal. Many states, cities, counties require that business owners obtain a business license. The cost of obtaining a business license varies from City to City and County to County. The cost of a business license is significantly less than the stiff penalties assessed to businesses operating without a proper license or without other documents.

Depending on the requirements in your area you may obtain a business license from your local city or county. Generally you must complete an application for a business license. A business license is issued for a stated length of time (1 year or multiple years) authorizing you to pursue your business.

Fictitious Name Statement

Some jurisdictions also require that you obtain a fictitious name statement if your business name is called anything other than your own name. In addition, as in Sacramento County, you are also required to publish your DBA (Doing Business As) in a locally approved publication for a predetermined number of weeks.

Reseller’s License

If you plan to purchase goods at wholesale for the purpose of reselling them at retail, you will need a reseller’s license. Wholesalers and manufacturers will not do business with you without having a reseller’s license. Otherwise you will have to purchase at retail like the rest of us.

Merchant Accounts Now is a good time to consider obtaining a small business merchant account. This will allow you to accept credit card payments, which would be deposited directly into your business bank account. For more information, go to link:

Department of Health

If you are selling unpackaged consumable goods, please contact your local Department of Health for further guidance.

Every State in the United States requires businesses that serve unpackaged consumables to obtain the ServSafe Manager or ServSafe Food Handler certificate. This is a federal requirement; however, some states and/or local counties may have stricter guidelines. You may visit http://www.ServSafe.com for more guidance regarding requirements for your state and/or county.

For example, the State of CA requires that one manager and one non-manager, at a location that serves unpackaged consumables, to obtain the ServSafe Manager Certificate. Starting July 2011, in the State of CA, all employees at locations serving unpackaged consumables must obtain the ServSafe Food Handler certificate.

You know how you are offered something to drink when you go to the spa for a massage or facial? Well if they open the beverage and pour it into a glass for you, then that drink becomes an unpackaged consumable and they must have the ServSafe certification.

Contractor’s License

If you are considering starting a business as a handyman, I highly recommend that you check your State’s contractor’s license requirements. Some of the handyman work you are proposing to perform may fall under the heading of contractor.

Meaning you would need to obtain a contractor’s license or not perform the duties of a contractor.

Bookkeeping You should seriously consider your bookkeeping methods before your grand opening, because you make many purchases and pay many expenses before your grand opening or first day of business! You need to keep track of these expenditures before the first day of business. They are tax write-offs!

Employee Identification Number Will you have employees? Will you be opening a merchant account? Will you purchase from vendors?

If you answered yes to any of these, then you need to seriously consider obtaining an Employee Identification Number (EIN). It is much safer than using your social security number. You may obtain an EIN at http://www.irs.gov.

Partnership Agreement Will you conduct business as a partnership? Or will you partner with other companies on individual contracts? If so, you will need a partnership agreement. You should seek legal assistance regarding developing a partnership agreement that works for all parties.

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I was a Director of a federal program, for over 5 years, which provided one-on-one small business counseling and business trainings to potential and current small business owners. I was laid-off and the Center was closed during the peak of the recession when distressed businesses needed us most… …so my website was my way of offering my continued support to my fellow small business owners.

Tips and Traps for Writing an Effective Business Plan

Having an effective business plan is critical to the success of any business. That is why I want us to examine this text entitled “Tips & Traps for Writing an Effective Business Plan.” It is written by Greg Balanko-Dickson, a third-generation entrepreneur, Licensed Professional Business Coach and founding member of the Professional Business Coaches Alliance.

Balanko-Dickson has clients throughout Canada, the United States, South Africa and the United Kingdom. According to the author, whether you want to start a business or grow one, buy or sell one, attract investors or obtain a loan, fine-tune your operation or restructure it, attempting to do it without a well-crafted plan is like going to the sea without a compass. He says this text arms you with the know-how and tools you need to write your own surefire business plan in a record time.

Balanko-Dickson educates that to be successful in business, you need to research and write your plan; tailor a plan for virtually any type or size of business; master the 10 key components of a successful plan; understand all your financing options; and streamline the process using worksheets, sample forms and ready-to-use templates.

This text is divided into five parts of 27 chapters. Part one is generically christened “Introduction” and contains two chapters. Chapter one borders on what a business plan is and why you need it. According to Balanko-Dickson, it is an instrument used to document the intent and plans of the owner regarding every aspect of the business. He adds that the document itself can be used to communicate plans, strategies and tactics to your managers, partners and investors.

It is also used when you are applying for credit, educates the author, explaining that the plan contains both strategic and tactical objectives, and it can be either informal or formal.

He adds that a plan has an equation structure of Goals + Research+ Strategy. Balanko-Dickson says a goal only reveals your intent or where you expect to end up, but a formal plan details the exact formula you feel you need to put together to attain your primary goals.

He explains that his definition of a business plan is “a formal document written to capture and communicate the planned direction and manoeuvres required for the business to accomplish its most important goal – profitability”. Balanko-Dickson adds that profit is no accident, and by writing and following your plan, you increase the chances of achieving profitability.

Balanko-Dickson educates that developing a detailed plan will provide you with an opportunity to shape a powerful business development strategy, whether your goal is to: get financing to start; get financing to expand; be more organised and increase your odds of success; identify the value of your business and prepare a plan for selling; create a plan to buy a business; create a management succession plan to facilitate your retirement, etc.

The author identifies ten sections of a business plan as industry analysis; market analysis; products and services; business description; marketing strategy; operations and management; financial plan; implementation plan; contingency plan; and executive summary.

Chapter two is based on the subject matter of understanding the process and getting prepared. Here, Balanko-Dickson discloses that the benefits of writing a plan are often misunderstood. A plan will help you get the money you need when you are starting a business and will also help you make an existing one more effective, educates this author.

In part two having a general thematic focus of the ten sections of a plan and containing ten chapters, that is, chapters three to 12, Balanko-Dickson discusses concepts such as industry analysis; market analysis; products and services; business development; marketing and sales strategy; operations and management; pro forma financial plan; implementation plan; contingency and emergency plan; and executive summary.

Part three is based on writing a plan in 30 days and covers three chapters, that is, chapters 13 to 15. Chapter 13, like the whole part, focuses on writing a plan in 30 days. According to this expert here, make no mistake, writing a plan can be a time-consuming task as you are planning your business for the next three years, and you want to give it the attention it deserves. He says his personal experience in writing plans is that it can take him between 50 and 300 hours to finish.

Balanko-Dickson expatiates that the more familiar he is with the industry and market, the faster he can get the plan finished. He adds that if you are writing a plan for the first time, have never been in business before, or are new to the industry, plan to spend more time writing your plan.

He says you can easily minimise distractions in writing your plan by devoting time to writing your plan. The author stresses that if you are unable to get away from the business, choose a quiet period of the day to work on your plan. In chapters 14 and 15, this author discusses common mistakes in writing a plan and working with professional advisers.

Part four is based on the broad subject matter of special considerations for specific businesses and covers ten chapters, that is, chapters 16 to 25. Here, Balanko-Dickson beams his intellectual searchlight on concepts such as business planning for investors; planning for a retail business; planning for a manufacturing business; planning for wholesale distributors; planning for a service business; planning for consultants and professionals; planning for large and public companies, etc.

Part five, the last part, is generically labelled “Getting the money you need” and contains two chapters, that is, chapters 26 and 27. Chapter 26 is based on applying for a loan. According to Balanko-Dickson here, small business loans can be used for a variety of purposes. He says for example, a loan can help you buy a business, start a new one and expand an existing one. The author educates that you will deal directly with the bank’s loan officers.

“Make no mistake however, major small business loans are reviewed by loan committees. Typically, loan officers are not part of a loan committee….Understanding your role and the role of the loan officer and the loan committee will help guide you through the approval process. It is a team game, and, as they say, there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’,” asserts Balanko-Dickson.
In chapter 27, this expert discusses the concept of getting funding from investors, family and friends.

Stylistically, the language of this text is simple, yet standard. The presentation is unique. The text is embroidered with graphics to reinforce readers’ understanding and achieve visual amplification. Balanko-Dickson includes a “Tip and Trap” section typified by graphical thumb/hand manipulation in every chapter, where he injects additional information and guides readers.