Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lessons From the FIFA World Cup

Business owners around the world are breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the grand spectacle that is the FIFA World Cup has come to a close, signaling, at long last, that it is back to business as usual. Although soccer doesn’t have the deep roots in North America as it does in other parts of the world, the FIFA World Cup is widely regarded as the planet’s most important and widely viewed sporting event, and one reaches a truly global audience. The World Cup only takes place every four years and this year’s host nation, Brazil, is the country whose economy is most directly affected by the tournament. But the month-long tournament also has enormous economic impacts on other countries as well. Some of the numbers related to the tournament (mostly concerning the US economy), provided by InsideView are staggering. For example, 80% of the world’s population will watch some part of the World Cup; the US, it is estimated, lost $390 million in productivity during their group match game against Germany alone; and the World Cup will cost the British economy 250 million working hours. During the World Cup, quite literally, the world stops.

Where is all this productivity lost?

The biggest area affecting productivity is from workers who actually take sick days in order to watch their nation compete in games. But it gets worse. An estimated 10% of workers will come in late for work having stayed up late to watch the games. And who knows how much time and productivity is lost from workers sneaking a peak during working hours or just conversing about the tournament. All in all, as far as productivity is concerned, the World Cup amounts to a colossal distraction.

Steer Into the Skid

Some business owners’ strategies, in light of these statistics, can be to implement draconian-like policies for the duration of the tournament. But, some business owners are finding that the best solution is not just to not fight it, but to embrace the tournament, and see it as an opportunity to enhance other aspects of the business. According to Mercer research in four Latin American countries, it showed that on average over 87% of businesses are willing “to be flexible during the World Cup in offering employees short-term benefits that may have a positive impact on long-term productivity and morale”.

Specific Strategies

Many businesses are coming up with ways to make the World Cup accessible to their employees while keeping a steady workflow. They include things like allowing employees to leave work early or be flexible with their working hours, watching their nation play while working from home, and even equipping their break rooms with TVs that show the games.

The Lasting Impact

A recent Forbes article even found that the World Cup can actually have a positive impact on the bottom line of a company by boosting morale. Neal Taparia, Co-CEO of Imagine Easy Solutions, described the buzz of excitement around the office by their policy of embracing the tournament and playing all of the games in one of their conference rooms, suggesting that it connected employees to each other and to the products they design.

There’s much to learn from the World Cup, as it will surely test employee commitment. At the end of the day, the World Cup is never the difference between success and failure, but reveals much about the connection between the management and the employees.

Links to studies and works referenced in this article:




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Strategies For Juggling Multiple Projects

If you run your own business, chances are you have a seemingly endless to-do list that can overwhelm the senses and would lead a more fragile mind into despair. Sometimes the first thing on everyone’s to-do list is to figure out which item on the to-do list to actually do first. Like a car with standard transmission often the hardest thing is just getting the car rolling. Here are a few handy tips and tricks on how to manage all the items on that list so you can get out of first gear and get into the fast lane.

Organize Your Projects

No two projects are created equal and it’s up to you to figure out which ones are high priority versus which ones can wait. You also need to figure out which projects are long-term projects and which ones have imminent deadlines, or ongoing deadlines. Some individual tasks within a particular project are themselves more complicated than others and those need to be sorted out as well. In my case, I have a set of regular tasks that need to be taken care of weekly and then a variety of projects that are, on average, a month’s worth of work and all with deadlines falling at various points throughout the year.

When all the chips are down I have a way to break down all my tasks for the year by month and by week, which then allows me to plan out each day.

Organize Your Week

As a rule, I make sure that any projects with ongoing deadlines I devote a portion of any given day to complete. I also make sure to devote at least 25% of time during any given week to any of my monthly projects (this percentage may increase as any deadline looms). The reason why I make sure to devote this substantial amount of time even early in the process is because I never want to get to a point where I need to devote 100% of my time to a particular project at the expense of the work that is ongoing. Normally it is advisable to put the ongoing work at the front part of the week.

Organize Your Day

Luckily the day comes conveniently broken up into two parts: before lunch and after lunch. Lunch isn’t just a time to gas up and take a much needed break, it’s a great way to set goals. Often, I give myself a set of tasks that I can reasonably complete before lunch. I find that my productivity is highest before lunch so this is when I take care of higher priority projects. I repeat: DO YOUR HIGH PRIORITY WORK BEFORE LUNCH - save the cat videos for after lunch. The afternoon is also a good time to tackle lower priority projects, assess your progress, and plan the next day’s work schedule.

Always Spend At Least a Minute With All Your Projects

Even if it’s as simple as delegating a few minutes of thought, or simply asking a colleague “how far along are we with that?” it’s worth touching base with all your projects at least once a week. Never let a week go by without checking in. The weekend is a time of forgetting and if you don’t make it a habit to check in, that kind of procrastination can lead to a massive crunch or worse - a missed deadline.

Never Devote an Entire Day to One Single Thing

There’s nothing more demoralizing than the prospect of devoting your entire day to one single task performed over and over again. Although sometimes it may be necessary, it’s advisable to restrict assembly line tasks to a portion of the day in order to give the mind a break from that inherent monotony as staying vocationally fresh is a great way to optimize productivity. Conversely, miring oneself in drudgery is tantamount to flicking the “off switch”.

Develop Your Time Management Skills

Time management is a skill just like needlework, cooking, or playing the guitar, and all the same rules apply. Just like any skill it has to be developed to serve you any real purpose and you have to practice to get better at it. There are numerous tools at your disposal to help with all of the advice mentioned above like spreadsheets and calendars where you can jot down, make notes, color code, and organize everything that’s on your plate. Along with helping cut through all the clutter, giving myself a visual sense of what’s ahead really gives me a sense of where to start and how my time can be best used. Naturally, it takes a portion of time to carry out this strategy of organization, but the benefits over the long term are well worth it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The High Cost of Free Labor

When I was in college there was a word that floated around the halls in whispers. It drew people in, it had a story attached to it, and it caught the attention of anyone who heard it – it was the word “internship”.

What Belongs to History

Once upon a time, internships were seen as being set aside for, and granted only to, the most exemplary individuals. The way to get an internship took time, effort, and the ability to connect with the people who could get you to where you wanted to go. It carried an uncommon caché that lauded the intern as the bright eyed next generation. It was a springboard for worthy candidates to help them gain real world experience and prepare to enter the workforce while building on the knowledge they were gaining by investing in their education. In sum, not too long ago, internships were both a rare and effective way to kick-start one’s career.

In principle, an internship is a great idea: A company hires an enthusiastic individual looking to build a career in that field and nurtures them, at little or no cost, into eventually becoming a fully functioning member of their workforce. Internships were once a sort of farm team where a company might have been looking to create a position and would tell the candidate, “Tough it out over the summer and when you graduate you’ll be on the team – we have high hopes for you”.

Times Change

It didn’t take too long for people to learn that the path to a better job and a better life went through the area designated for the intern and the volunteer. So when the cat got out of the bag, everybody was out looking for a chance to get some experience that would often serve as nothing more than a way to fill out one’s resume. In no short amount of time, people who had worked as interns were becoming less and less likely to be taken on by the company they worked for, or would parlay their internship experience to go and work for another, sometimes rival, company. Suddenly companies started experimenting with what kind of tasks they could get away with delegating to their interns, and just as suddenly some companies began to realize that branding a job as an internship could be a quick and easy way to get cheap, even free, labor.

The Rise and Fall of the Volunteer

Not all that long ago, seemingly well-intentioned projects would hire volunteers who would trade their labor in exchange for a meaningful experience, usually overseas, that could change lives. It was a direct exchange of labor for experience, straight up. Because of the rising number of volunteers looking for experience to once again, fill out one’s resume, the opportunities became more numerous and the exchange is no longer so direct. Nowadays, aside from the smallest community volunteer group, all volunteers are pay volunteers as in they pay to volunteer. The volunteer experience of working for free has become an actual commodity that people pay for, and is now a business in its own right.

Where We Are

The net effect of intern-volunteer inflation has been to render their titles virtually meaningless. Tales of internship woe among the young are ubiquitous as they are being charged with doing real work, involving long hours for no pay, and coming away from their experience disillusioned and with little to show for it. Within many companies the intern has become a position like any other usually connoting that they are responsible for all tasks deemed beneath that of the full-time staff. Once reserved for individuals who were otherwise green in the workforce, it is now not uncommon to find college graduates, and individuals with several years of relevant work experience, settling for the role of intern by virtue of the fact that internship positions continually replace what were once legitimate full-time jobs.

What Can We Do?

I wish there were clear answers. The truth is, the following are just suggestions: 
  • Always try to create full-time employment.
  • Make it a policy to pay every employee better than the minimum wage.
  • Let your full-time staff share the load of the less desirable, no less important, duties of the company – don’t create a position specifically for them.
  • Recognize that interns are there to learn, so you are the teacher and your company is the classroom – so offer them an educational experience.
  • If you are someone looking for experience, instead of dropping the big bucks to essentially just travel, find the most local grassroots organization that you can and just say, “I want to help”. The rewards from that kind of community involvement are far more gratifying in the long run.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Work-Life Balance: Remember, it’s Saturday!

It was a glorious Saturday afternoon in early summer and I was hunched over a picnic table garnishing a hamburger when my cell phone rang. I had been in the middle of a good laugh after someone had told a delightful little anecdote but noticed it was one of my employees and, since they were calling me on the weekend, thought it must be something important.

I politely excused myself and gave my employee my undivided attention. I had handed him a rather large project from an important client and several weeks earlier had asked him how long it would take to complete the project. They were apologetic that this was the day that they had said they would be able to finish it, were almost at the finish line, but that friends had come in from out of town.

Before he could even finish his story I asked why he was working on the project when it was so beautiful outside. I told him quite succinctly to stop his work and go out and enjoy the rest of the day and not bother me until Monday.

When I returned to finish garnishing my burger, the group of acquaintances I was sharing this beautiful barbecue with looked at me with their mouths agape saying, “I wish you were my boss”.

“Telling an employee to enjoy life is a boss’ job,” I replied. And I truly mean that, for the following reasons:

1) I handpicked my employees and I trust each and every one of them. I also know that none of them slack off when it’s not time. I let him set the parameters of when the job would be completed, I understand the nature of his job and what it would take to actually complete the project, and I knew full well that his finishing it in a couple of days meant I wouldn’t have to break any promises to our client. So we’d stay in good standing regardless. My experience has shown that giving my employees a great deal of freedom has yielded better results.

2) There is no evidence that working longer hours makes a person more productive. In fact, there have been several studies that outline the benefit to a company’s bottom line by giving employees greater flexibility in their working hours and that overworking employees can have very negative effects. Some studies even go so far as to suggest that overworking an employee can lead to them suffering from a variety of health issues leading to them having to miss work. If that weren’t enough, at least one study, Impacts of Late Working Hours on Employee’s Performance: A Case Study on Engineers in Telecom Company of Pakistan, by Quereshi et al., even suggests that overworking an employee could lead to unethical behavior including, “sexual harassment and breaching the code of conduct of the organization”.

3) I know that if I behave erratically, or make irrational demands from my employees, that it makes them question if we are a good fit. Pushed too far and I could be down one employee and that can be worse than the work not being done on time. Although telling him, “Sorry bud, the work has got to get done” might not have been an irrational demand on my part in this particular instance, I’m still stating quite clearly to him that work is more important than his relationship with his friends.

What is more important?

So this does raise the question: what actually is more important, work or friends? Many people spend more of their time, in a given week, at work than anywhere else, so we are forced to make several considerations based on this fact. The first is that, if they are going to be asked to spend so much time there, is it too small a thing to ask that they enjoy themselves? Second, should work and life really be kept so separate and need to be kept in balance, or is work very much a part of life that should fit harmoniously with all the other aspects of existence that we engage in? And finally, in business, it’s important to remember that relationships are everything, and that the social capital you build in fostering them, whether with clients or with staff, will last with you for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Power of Affiliate Marketing

A savvy entrepreneur is always looking for alternative sources of revenue and affiliate marketing can be a powerful way of generating income while cutting through a lot of the time consuming legwork of manufacturing, branding, and developing marketing strategies. At its core, affiliate marketing involves bringing a particular product to the attention of your consumers and sharing the revenue generated from the sale of that product through you, with whoever supplied the product.

Affiliate Marketing in Real Time

As an example, in order to provide context, imagine that Happy X is a supplier of natural supplements. GrowNatural is a health food store that deals with naturally sourced products. Happy X is trying to promote its launch of a brand new supplement designed to help people get more essential vitamins and nutrients. All sales are done online and delivered by Happy X’s supply system through their warehouse in order to keep shipments centralized and all revenue streams traveling through Happy X. Happy X has a strong history of delivering a great product but are looking to expand their reach, so they approach GrowNatural in hopes that they will help sell their product as an affiliate. GrowNatural also has a strong base of loyal customers, some of who may not be familiar with Happy X. Should GrowNatural make any sales through their clientele of Happy X’s product, they then share the profit.

Responsibilities of, and Benefits to, the Supplier

As the manufacturer of the product, Happy X’s responsibilities to GrowNatural is to provide them with all the materials required to sell the product. Happy X provides GrowNatural with all the necessary copy and links that they can post on their website with all the revenue sharing streams and stat tracking in place. In the short term, although Happy X loses money to GrowNatural in direct sales, Happy X regards any sales through GrowNatural as sales that would not have otherwise been made. In the long term, although the return on investment may be less than through a direct sale, Happy X now has the attention of the customer and has widened the base of its clientele.

Responsibilities of, and Benefits to, the Affiliate

Affiliate marketing is really the lazy man’s approach to making sales. Ultimately, the more effort an affiliate makes to push a particular product the more sales they can expect to make. It is the affiliate’s responsibility to make their customer base aware of a particular product and then back that product with their seal of approval. Any new product opens up a new revenue stream for the affiliate. In this case, Happy X has done all the work in developing the product and making it available to the consumer. GrowNatural, as the affiliate, is tasked with merely making their following aware that this product is available. How they go about this is completely up to them, but can involve any marketing strategy under the sun. It can be as simple as a banner on their website or as an involved as an email blast to everyone on their list. Affiliates that communicate regularly and are in tune with their audience tend to be the most successful.

Some Do’s and Don’ts

There are some very salesy people out in the world who generate their entire income through affiliate marketing. There are even websites and hubs where you can sign on as an affiliate to sell just about anything. However, it’s usually preferable to find a niche and stick with it. If you have a particular talent for something, or consider yourself an expert in any subject, it is advisable to market products that are closely related to that subject so that you can justify being an authority on things related to the product.

Don’t ever market a product you don’t actually believe in. Although it can be tempting to strike out and begin to market anything that can make you money, remember that anyone who purchases through is considered part of your following. They go through you because they trust you and suddenly providing them with an inferior product can result in losing their trust and the income that they generate.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Co-working Spaces for the Self-employed

With a rising popularity in self-employment and freelancing, co-working spaces have become a popular phenomenon that has been embraced by those who work independently, but crave a sense of community in response to working in relative isolation.

Co-working spaces are essentially communal open-space offices and are an affordable solution to having a working environment outside of your home that is not a private office. They are popular among freelancers, entrepreneurs, start-ups and independent contractors.  A simple Google search will show that there are a wide range of co-working opportunities in most major cities in North America.

Besides being an affordable alternative to a private office, a co-working environment can provide many other advantages.

Escaping Isolation

Working in a home or private office can leave one craving face-to-face interaction from others during the day – especially those who aren’t clients! Self-employment can be isolating when your day to day activities are individual ventures. Co-working spaces provide the opportunity to work independently while being surrounded by others. Taking regular coffee breaks or having engaging in some water cooler gossip can help break up the day, create new friendships, and give you a chance to clear your mind from the daily grind of self-employment.

Creating a Community

Those who work in co-working spaces generally have the same values and influences, as they are usually made up of entrepreneurs and freelancers who are working hard to develop and build their business.  As the co-working environment is usually an open concept, it aids in developing relationships and finding inspiration from those around you. As friendships form, the community will naturally rally around each other and help each other out, building a mutual bonding through independent work that one can’t experience when working alone.

Networking

With a sense of community in the co-working space, networking opportunities will naturally follow. It’s great to find contacts that may be able to help you out in the future and for you to offer your services as well. Looking for a copywriter? Chances are someone in your co-working space has a recommendation. It’s much easier to go with a trusted referral rather than searching online and hoping for the best. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can help your business grow and can build some strong and lasting relationships.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Averting Disaster – Do Your Research (Part 2)

When close to 1000 hours of work have gone into designing and marketing a product and suddenly, because of legal complications, the product has to be completely rebranded – where does one begin?

The following story is true. Certain names and details have been altered to protect the privacy and integrity of those involved.  Read Part 1 of the article.

Step 1 – Scramble

Upon receiving the news that The Tea Council had to be retooled, three things happened almost immediately. The first was our project manager had a brief meeting with each individual involved in the project and asked us what was necessary and what was possible based on what needed to be rebranded. He asked specifically if it could be done in a week. The second thing that happened almost instantly was a decision was made on what to now call the conference. It was changed to “The Tea Lovers Summit”. Finally, an email blast (about 40,000 emails) was sent to everyone who had already signed up for, or purchased, the summit explaining that it was being pushed back by one week.

Step 2 – Rethink Possible

My initial reaction was that it couldn’t be done. For my part, I would have been responsible for removing any mention of the term “the tea council” from both audio and video of all content materials. When I considered that I had already put in 100 hours of work and had to contemplate the host of the conference potentially redoing or scrapping several interviews, I thought there was no way it could be done along the desired timeline. Upon deeper reflection, I thought about removing most of the work from my own time and allowing most of the work to fall on my computer’s shoulders.

It takes far longer to grow a hedge than it does to trim it. Removing any specific mention of “the Tea Council” didn’t mean listening through and completely reediting the interviews or completely building a new video – the processes that are the most time consuming – it meant just chopping off a few bits and making a new file. Luckily the lawyers did a lot of the work for me. Transcripts of every presentation, which had already been done by our team, were handed over to the summit presenter’s lawyers and were then transferred over the Council on Teas legal team for review so as to determine what kind of verbiage would need to be omitted from the presentations. We discovered that the Tea Council was only ever specifically mentioned during the introduction and outro of every presentation. I had the presenter record a standard introduction that used the new moniker for the conference, which I then replaced with all the previous introductions, and simply cut any mention of the conference should it have happened an the end of the presentation. This meant that almost 99% of the presentation stayed in tact. From there it was a simple replacement of the audio from the videos with the new presentation audio, instead of building a brand new video from scratch.

Step 3 – Prepare For a Few Sleepless Nights

Besides all the work on my end, there was the website which thankfully didn’t have to be rebuilt, only migrated. All the copy had to be changed, and with all the banners and logos the style was fine and only the wording had to be tinkered with slightly. Getting all the content back out took a mere 3 days, and most of that work was my computer rendering new files - I simply had to be around to set it up and execute it.

The Fallout

At the end of the day we had all our materials approved and ready for the new launch a solid 48 hours before the conference was finally released to the public. Dealing exclusively digitally meant that no manufactured products had to go to waste. Ultimately, what it amounted to was nothing more than 24 hours of unwarranted panic because of course it was possible to rebrand the entire conference. All it takes to do anything is a competent team, assured in their own strengths, with the commitment to get the job done. Admittedly, the conference did not achieve the lofty expectations we had initially set out with, but we learned what our team was capable of when put under duress – and the response was nothing short of splendid. Furthermore, we learned a very valuable lesson – before you do anything, do your research.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

GST Registration for Canadian Businesses

Most Canadian businesses are required to register for GST.  The exception being some small suppliers – sole proprietorships, partnerships or corporations that have total taxable revenues that are less than $30,000 annually after expenses or if your business only provides GST exempt goods or services (i.e. child care or music lessons).  To determine if you are exempt from GST registration, click here  for the CRA requirements.

Even if you qualify as a small supplier, you may want to consider registering for the GST anyway.  Because you’ll be paying GST on purchased goods for the business, your GST registration will allow you to recoup some of the GST paid out on business purchases through Input Tax Credits. 

Registering for GST is actually quite easy.  The main thing to remember is that it needs to be done within 29 days from the day in which your business exceeds the small supplier amount in revenues ($30,000).   GST registration can be done either online or over the phone with the CRA.  You’ll be given a GST/HST number (also called a Business Number) to be used on invoices, for accounting and on all tax-related paperwork. 

Once you’ve registered for GST, you’ll be assigned a reporting period based on your total annual sales, which can be either monthly, quarterly or annually.   For your reports you’ll need to prepare a GST return showing the amount of GST/HST you’ve charged customers as well as the amount of GST/HST paid to suppliers.  This can get complicated when factoring in your Input Tax Credits as well as the various classes of GST/HST goods and services.  For more information on this, please visit follow the link

It’s important not only to keep your records and bookkeeping up to date and accurate, but also to understand the GST registration and reporting process from the outset so that you’re not scrambling to prepare your reports for each period and you’re maximizing your Input Tax Credits as much as possible.  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

For One Day Only We Pay Your Professional Fee!

After weeks of preparation, the tax season has finally come to a close and we want to celebrate by paying the professional fee on your next business incorporation.

On May 1st we will cover the cost of the professional fee ($99 value) when you incorporate your business with CorporationCentre.ca.*

Incorporating your business protects you and your shareholders from debt and liabilities associated with your company and can help you save on taxes!

For more information on the advantages of incorporating, click here.

To take advantage of this offer, simply use the Promotional Code CC99INC2014 before submitting your incorporation order. The promotional code is valid on May 1st 2014 only.

Click here to start the order process.

*Plus government fees and optional products and services. Does not include non-profit incorporation. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Named vs. Numbered Corporations

Choosing a name for your business can be a tough task. Not only do you need to come up with something distinctive and original that describes your company, you also have to make sure that the name isn’t similar to any other named corporation out there. Each jurisdiction has its own set of requirements for names and this can lead to a frustrating process.  Sometimes your first choice just doesn’t cut it and you have to go back to the drawing board.

 Numbered corporations allow you avoid delays and expense involved in searching for and reserving a corporate name. So if you need to incorporate quickly, this is a good option. You would be required to use your incorporated number for any legal matters or relations (i.e. contracts, government filings), but you are able to register a trade name and be known to your customers as operating under such trade name. Or, you can always file Articles of Amendment at a later time to change from a numbered to a named corporation.

If you’re set on having a named corporation, make sure you have at least 3 possible options for your name.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket or the outcome may be very disappointing! Having variations of your name submitted allows for a better chance that at least one will be approved and you’ll avoid the back and forth paperwork, time and expense of re-submitting names. Stay tuned for our blog post on how to choose a corporate name, for tips on best practices when coming up with a name that suits your business AND the legal requirements.

There are positives and negatives to choosing between a named and numbered corporation and it is dependent upon the objectives of the business and its shareholders. For the best outcome, weigh your options carefully and create a plan of attack before you begin.

For more information, visit our website at www.CorporationCentre.ca !