Time Management

What Keeps Business Owners Up at Night?

Aside from worrying about everything, there are really just a few timeless concerns of most business owners. If you don’t have at least one of these concerns then that is probably a concern. Here they are with a few solutions:

Employees: No matter how well you run your business, it will always be a challenge to manage employees. Common problems are: finding good employees, keeping good employees, and making sure that they are productive. There are several ways to address these concerns that are simple, but no way full-proof. The first step is to take your time hiring and to hire the right people from the beginning. Next, treat your employees well and fair. Lastly, spend the time to train your employees properly so they are productive. It sounds so simple, but maybe that is why it is so difficult.

Taxes: Who wants to overpay their taxes? Not only paying taxes, but staying compliant with all of the numerous tax filings can be a huge burden. Having a good accountant can help to alleviate this concern.

Growing: If you are not growing then your expenses will soon eat up a good portion of your profits. Growing sales is a major concern, however, the focus should be to grow your sales profitably. Aside from smart marketing, each new dollar of sales should be profitable to you, otherwise something is wrong.

Cash flow: Either not knowing where your cash is going or not having enough are both problems. Your accountant should help to explain where your cash is going and why there is a shortage. Common solutions are to improve your accounting systems and procedures, increase sales, implement better collection processes, increase your profit margins, and obtain a line of credit.

Too many hours: I don’t think that you are allowed to stop thinking about your business so technically you work 24 hours a day. How can you work less hours? There are dozens of ways, but a few easy to implement solutions are: better scheduling, delegation, and a commitment to work smarter, not harder.

There are a few other closely-related concerns, such as health insurance for employees, feeling burnt out, and the economy. Unfortunately, we cannot control the economy.

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What is a Growing Business Doing Differently than a Struggling One?

There are major differences between the actions of a business owner with a growing business versus that of a struggling business. There seems to be a recurring theme for growing and struggling that closely mimics those who are fit and healthy versus those who struggle with their weight.  The accumulation of certain actions will greatly impact the outcome as follows:

Successful Businesses:

Hire smart and delegate: Business owners who are willing to take on additional employees will find that they are better able to increase sales due to additional capacity. They also do not over do it by hiring too many employees at once compared to needs, which ends up causing cash flow issues.

Invest in infrastructure: This not only includes the physical infrastructure, such as buildings, but also technology and equipment. Have you noticed that franchised restaurants update their locations quite often and do not hesitate to invest in technology and equipment?

Are reluctant to use debt: Debt can easily overwhelm your business even if you are growing rapidly. Although debt can be useful if used for the right reasons, it must be used sparingly and wisely to avoid pitfalls. As a business matures, then the goal should be to rely less on debt to support business operations. Why do you think the interest rates and payment terms are much different with traditional financing versus non-traditional loans, such as merchant loans or hard-money loans?

Seek advice: There are different ways of learning and some are more efficient and effective than others. One way to shortcut your success is to seek the advice of those who know more than you and then implement their suggestions. It sounds easy, but our pride tends to get in the way.

Struggling Businesses:

Are obsessed with cutting expenses: This may come as a surprise, but many struggling business owners are obsessed with cutting expenses. My only guess is that they do not see the link between smart spending to support profitable business operations. They are also penny wise and pound foolish and spend enormous amounts of time trying to save a few bucks, which ends up costing more.

Think that debt is THE answer: Debt may be a part of the solution, but it is not the answer to all of your business problems. Examples of problems that debt will not solve are: a lack of sales, overly burdensome expense structure, too many employees for the size of the business, and bad customer service.

Have an excuse and don’t listen to reason or reality: The economy is by far the most common excuse, along with “nobody buys this anymore” or “no one has time to do that anymore.” They may be right to an extent, but what about when the economy has turned around? If your customers have changed their buying trends, then why don’t you adjust your strategy as well? If you don’t change then you will prove yourself to be correct, but at a major cost to your business.

The probability of becoming a growing business will increase if you take the actions of growing business, while the odds of struggling will increase if you take the actions of a struggling business.

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5 Traps to Avoid When Growing Your Business Rapidly

Growing your business, especially growing rapidly, can be a really great accomplishment, but there are dangers when growing too quickly. Here are several traps to avoid to ensure successful growth:

Cash flow: Quite often, a small business will have cash flow issues when growing too rapidly. This is due to a delay of getting paid, while expenses need to be paid for upfront or before getting paid. There are 3 solutions that can help depending upon your situation. The first is to see if you can obtain terms with your suppliers to delay expenditures, second is to obtain a line of credit to support your receivables, and third, which tends to be the hardest, is to build up a cash cushion first.

Finances: As you grow your business, the financial aspect becomes even more crucial to your success. This entails a focus on investing in more robust accounting software, accounting staff and/or accounting services, streamlined processes and procedures, and internal controls, to name a few.

Employees and management structure: Unless you enjoy working 24/7, you need capable managers to manage your employees (you have been hiring more employees, right?). It is easier to have a few people reporting directly to you then several dozen. Also, make sure to acknowledge and reward the loyal employees that helped you to obtain your success.

Personal time and wellness: It is very easy to put in excessive hours to handle the massive growth of your business. There will be times when you need to work extra, but if this becomes the norm then it is easy for your personal relationships to suffer, along with a decline of healthy habits.

Infrastructure and organization: This applies not only to the physical nature of your business, but especially your operations. Have you outgrown the physical space that you occupy? Are you using equipment, technology, or IT that is not keeping up? Are your vendors and advisors able to handle the growth of your business? What about marketing and marketing staff? These are all areas to consider; otherwise, they will act as barriers to your growth.

Growth needs to be profitable, stable, and smart; otherwise, your results can easily go in the opposite direction that you intended. Think long-term, strategically, and surround yourself with the appropriate advisors to help you along your journey.

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The Lifeblood of Your Business

There is one critical aspect of your business that you cannot underestimate or take for granted. It’s not marketing or accounting, although these are important and critical also. It’s . . .

Your employees!

Customer service: Depending upon your role in your business, they probably have much more interaction with your customers than you do. Your employees should understand the importance of your customers and enjoy servicing them. Customer-focused employees will ensure a pleasant and successful experience for your customers.

Operations: Properly trained employees will be more productive and have better outcomes than poorly trained employees. Training can be on-site, off-site, or a combination of both, but is extremely important to the overall results of your business. Your customers will also have a much better experience when dealing with capable employees.

Team: Your employees are your team and to some extent like an extended family, especially if you factor in all of the time that you spend together. The business owner is the leader of the team and how well your team is lead will ultimately determine how well they perform. Leadership skills can be learned by experience, training, advisors/mentors, and education resources.

Treat ‘em well: Your employees are people too and need to be treated with respect and compassion. This does not mean that you should not correct them or be firm when necessary. Everyone needs this from time to time, even you. Make sure to compensate them as well as you are able to and provide room for career growth. Remember that people have ups and downs in life and sometimes it will be your employees who will pull you through those rough patches; other times you will be their rock.

Good employees will help your business to grow and prosper and they will grow along with it. Bad employees will provide a stumbling block and decrease your chance of success. Don’t neglect your team!

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Is Cash Flow Going in the Wrong Direction?

Cash flow. It’s what keeps every business alive just like the blood flowing through your veins. The irony is that although it is extremely important, it is not managed properly by many businesses, even the successful ones. Here are reasons for common cash flow issues and how to fix them:

Problem: delays with receiving payments: Common reasons for not get paid timely include: slow invoicing/billing procedures, customers on long payment terms, not accepting electronic payments, and customers with cash flow issues.

Solutions: Do not delay with invoicing or processing payments from customers, especially as soon as a service has been rendered. When possible, shorten payment terms to get paid quicker and/or ask for payment up front. In some cases it is not possible for customers to pay quicker, and if so, then it may make sense to obtain a line of credit.

Problem: spending cash before a sale: This greatly applies to retailers that have to pay for inventory and then wait until it is sold to receive cash. It can also apply to paying for equipment, wages for employees, and various other expenses.

Solutions: For inventory-driven businesses, monitor your inventory to make sure it coincides with your sales cycle and that inventory is actually selling. Some retailers, specifically online retailers, may be able to have items shipped directly from the manufacturer or distributor once a sale is made, which lowers the amount of cash needed for inventory. Also, stretching out payment terms to vendors is helpful.

For service-based businesses, wages can be one of the largest expenses. Make sure that employees are working on a project that is planned as opposed to wasting valuable time on longer-term projects that cannot be taken to completion, thus not being able to be paid.

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Instead of Taking out More Debt, Do This Instead

One of the first ways most people try to cover a financial shortfall is to incur more debt. Whether this is to support a struggling business or even on a personal level. This may be a solution in some cases or may be used in conjunction with other financial methods. However, there is another solution that may work to solve your shortfall.

Reason for shortfall: Simply put, there will be a shortfall when your income is less than your expenses. Sometimes this is temporary or seasonal and you may be able to predict a shortfall based on business patterns.

The debt solution: Usually, most businesses turn to debt to smooth out the shortfalls. While this may be a viable solution, it should be well though-out and other options should be explored.

Alternative solutions: Aside from needing funds to support a large purchase, if your income is not enough to cover your expenses then instead of first choosing debt, here are a few other options:

Sales: Focus on increasing your sales. An increase in sales will help to increase your bottom line results. Will your expenses increase as a result? Most likely yes, but so should your profit. Aside from industries that have a poor cash conversion cycle, which is a topic all by itself, the additional business activity should help to offset your financial shortfalls.

Expenses: Small businesses should always be conscious of what they are spending their money on. Based on observation, small businesses do not usually spend their money excessively, but they may spend allocate it to areas of their business that do not generate a benefit, such as poorly spent advertising dollars.

Profitability by service/product/client: It may come as a surprise, but most likely there are several aspects of your business that are really not that profitable or may not be profitable at all. If that is the case, then by eliminating these activities your profits will increase as you can focus on increasing sales of higher profit services.

Don’t always go for the “easy” solution, but perhaps a simple, more sweat-producing, long-term solution to help the finances of your business.

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5 Ways Your Calendar Will Help You to Work Less Hours

Are you using your calendar as a tool to be as productive as possible? Most people do not use their calendar in a way to maximize its effectiveness, but if used properly, it can help you to reduce the amount of hours you work. Here are 5 ways your calendar can help you to work less:

Scheduled tasks get done: When a task is scheduled there is a high probability that it will get worked on. Have you ever had the feeling that you did not get anything accomplished on a particular day? The main cause is most likely due to not having tasks scheduled.

Allocation of time: How much time should you allocate for a specific task or meeting? By allocating specific time slots and durations, this will help to alleviate the open-endedness of meetings and tasks. Parkinson’s Law states “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Batching of activities: Similar activities may benefit by scheduling them close together or within the same day(s). For example, new clients or patients may need a much longer time slot for an appointment, which can all be scheduled on a specific day.

Schedule key tasks early on: Important, but usually not urgent tasks, should be scheduled first thing in the morning or early in the week. There is a constant pull for your time and if you do not focus on important items first, then you may never get to them.

Long-term planning: A calendar can include tasks that are several weeks or months in the future. This can include both tasks and meetings. If you can plan your vacation months in advance, which is very important, then you can and should plan business tasks well in advance also.

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Business Lessons from a Paperboy

I was a paperboy when I was a kid and I also mowed some of my neighbors’ lawns. These are two activities that have become extinct in modern times. I was fortunate to learn some good business lessons from these entrepreneurial endeavors.

The value of money : If I worked not only hard, but did a good job then I made more money. I learned the value of money, how to save up for larger purchases, spending money wisely, and also saving for the future. Unfortunately, kids and adults nowadays tend to ignore these basic financial principals and choose impulsive, debt-incurring decisions.

Customers are interesting: Each customer is unique and interesting. Some more than others, but if you take the time to learn about your customers then you will find out about their lives, families, interests, personalities, and unique characteristics. Positive interactions create a wonderful experience and help to make your job or business responsibilities easier to handle, especially on a rainy day.

Responsibility: Take responsibility for your actions. There are many things that are out of your control, but many things that are. Be accountable to yourself and others even when it is the hard thing to do.

Sometimes bad stuff just happens: The owners of the newspaper I delivered newspaper for decided to replace us all with adults. I believe we had some notice of the transition, but we had no control. It was just like a corporate layoff or having your largest customer go bankrupt.

I could probably list another dozen or two lessons from my experience as a paperboy, which have stayed with me through all these years.

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What is all the Hype About Generating Passive Income? Here are Four Examples

I’m sure that you have seen YouTube commercials about generating passive income while lounging in a pool with your collection of high-end sports cars collecting dust in your oversized garage. Is this really practical and can you really generate massive amounts of passive income? The answer is yes and no . . .

Passive income defined: Passive income is any income that is derived from sources that you do not actively participate in to generate that income. Examples can include rental real estate, businesses that you do not materially participate, and royalties.

Can you really do it?: Yes, you can do it, which is the simple answer. However, it is much more difficult than the commercials let in on. Here are several ways to generate passive income starting from the least amount of capital needed to the most:

Side business: Start a business on the side while you are either working as an employee or if you already have a business. In order to make your endeavor take as little time as possible, then your need to focus on a either a product or information based business, while skipping a service-based business. The reason for not choosing a service business is because it will most likely require much more of your time.

Existing business: No matter which business you are in, you can make your business less and less dependent upon you so that you are not required to materially participate in the day to day activities. However, this can take at least several years or more to make this happen, and you have to make sure that your sales can support the additional expenses. The approach must be methodical whereas each aspect of your responsibilities is either transferred to employees or outsourced. It is easier to do this if you have a business that is not very complex.

Real estate: Depending upon where you purchase real estate, this can take a lot of capital. However, if you choose a rental property wisely and continue to build your portfolio, then eventually your rental income can substitute your regular income over many years. A good place to start is to either purchase a building for your existing business or to rent your home if you plan on moving.

Investor/lender: Once you have a sizable amount of cash, then you can and should look for privately held businesses to provide capital for. This can be in the form of equity or debt. If you are very selective then you can build a great portfolio over time with returns that are much higher than traditional investments, although the risk will usually be much higher.

There you have it now go for it!

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When Should Your Parents Stop Being Involved in Your Financial Affairs?

Our parents raised us and shaped who we are today, and there is probably nothing that we can do in comparison to what our parents did for us, except for perhaps raise our own children well. But, when should our parents stop taking charge of our finances, career and/or business?

It is a good for us to always seek counsel from our parents, especially on matters that they may have more experience with or needed expertise. Even when we are in our fifties it is wise to communicate financial issues with a knowledgeable parent. However, make sure to separate having trust in someone versus their ability to competently advise you.

Once you are in the workforce and are an adult, then you need to deal with your employer directly. Several examples have been shared with me regarding parents contacting their adult child’s previous employer over payroll issues. Even worse is that in those situations the adult child was a professional that advises others! Again, feel free to seek the advice of your parents, but do not have them act as your “proxy.” I can just picture this now, “This is Mr. Smith, and I am calling to let you know that Timmy will not be at work today because he is under the weather. Please cancel his meetings with the executive vice-presidents of Fortune 500 Co.”

Sometimes you may own and operate a business and employ one of your parents, which does happen occasionally. Your parent may be able to give you insight that you are not seeing regarding employees, customers, or finances. However, unless you hired your parent as a strategic advisor because they have developed successful companies in the past, or the CEO, which small business owners actually are, then your parent should not be actively deciding the direction of the company or connections with key people.

Anecdotally, it seems that adults who enforce boundaries with their parents make better financial decisions, are more successful, and have more confidence.  I’ll let the psychologists further elaborate on this topic.

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