Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Stronger Financial System

Ever wonder what happens behind the scenes of banks? For example, how does the bank manage its money?

Part of the system involves banks lending money to one another for short terms. The system is known as repurchase agreements, or repos for short. In order to raise money, a bank sells bonds or other collateral to another bank but agrees to buy back the collateral at a later date. Repos are part of a market that involves traders at the various banks trading with each other and shuffling the collateral back and forth.

All was well and good until the recent recession. The banks began to be leery of the solidity of other banks. The time proven system of trading began to fail, leaving even the healthiest of banks with a potential cash shortage.

Anticipating a possible major blow to the Canadian banking system, the Bank of Canada, together with the country's securities industries, began creating a plan to revamp the system and ensure crucial funding for the country's banks.

The plan involves establishing a central clearinghouse. Banks would no longer trade with each other but, rather, with the clearinghouse. This would eliminate questions of stability of other banks. Also, a central clearinghouse would be able to give a bank a clearer picture of their repos transactions, thus affording the bank a better way to manage its capital.

The Bank of Canada hopes that this new system will begin to be implemented by mid-2010 and will increase the overall safety and solidity of the Canadian banking system.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Canadian Consumers May Rock Economic Recovery

Recent statements by Bank of Canada governor, Mark Carney, reflect a spirit of optimism but also carry an undertone of warning.

Despite the recession, Canadians have amassed greater debt, due, in part, to the low interest rates currently dominating the market. These rates, currently at an historic low of 0.25%, were set by the Bank of Canada as emergency interest rates in order to resuscitate an ailing economy. The rates will rise eventually and Mr. Carney, as well as other leading economists, fear that many Canadians may be caught short. Mortgage rates have been extremely low for months while housing prices have rebounded. This has created a perfect setting for many Canadians to take on large debts. However, as the economy improves, interest rates may rise, at a quicker rate than they dropped. Mr. Carney is cautioning Canadians that purchasing a more affordable home today may be a wise choice.

One of the early warning signs of Canadians over-extending is the rise in personal bankruptcies. The third quarter of this year showed a 41 per cent jump compared to the same period in 2008. Similarly, the delinquency rate of mortgage payments has risen by 50 per cent in the last year.

The governor emphasized the vulnerability of the country's economy due to household defaults. As consumers are the key drivers to the nation's economic recovery, Mr. Carney, therefore, hazards Canadians about avoiding credit risks. Of course, a similar warning has been issued to lending institutions to properly monitor household credit.

Mr. Carney strongly believes the Canadian economy is definitely on the rebound and he expects Canada to outperform the other G7 countries. However, Canadian households will play a vital role in that economic recovery and the governor hopes that Canadians will act with economic responsibility for the collective good of the nation.
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Corporate Social Responsibility: Better to Give Than to Receive

In a business world infatuated with inflating the bottom line, it is a comfort to know that many business leaders have not forgotten their own humble beginnings or the needs of those less fortunate than they.

Corporate social responsibility has been gaining momentum across Canada the last few years. Witness the fact that the annual summit conference of the Canadian Business for Social Responsibility attracts an overflow crowd of luminaries from the business world. This year's conference was even graced by the attendance of Prince Charles.

Business leaders have begun to realize that giving back to the communities that helped them grow is an essential part of the business cycle. Whether management supports charitable work by their employees on company time, makes available products at huge discounts for those in need, or provides services free of charge, all contribute to helping the people that helped the businesses.

This is not to say that corporate social actions are totally altruistic. Being socially responsible is a wise investment that is sure to pay high dividends. A public that perceives the human side of a business is far more likely to identify with it rather than with the cold corporate entity that is far removed from society.

Of course, it's not just about management rolling up its sleeves. Many companies encourage their employees to join their social action programs. Quite often, small company programs have a way of mushrooming into larger, community-wide programs. If the spirit is right, most people want to take part.

Businesses do have to take care, though, not to overextend their kindness. There is an inherent danger that could arise from wanting to "overdo it". Remember that you are operating a business for profit. Make sure that your needs are met and then begin disbursing from that point on.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Web 2.0: The Evolution of Advertising

Everyone is aware of the power of communication. And, perhaps one of the most influential modes of communication is none other than advertising. Similar to many other trends of the modern world, advertising has undergone considerable change in order to maintain its position of influence vis-à-vis modern society.

Advertising, by definition, is a sub-section of public relations (PR). PR has its origins in the early 20th century. Edward Bernays is generally credited with coining the term and concept of PR. He viewed it as an applied social science to manage and manipulate the thinking and behaviour of the public.

Early television advertising concentrated on promoting products by bombarding the consumer. Fill the screen and fill the mind. However, the evolution of modern communication has given way to new methods of influencing the public. It would seem that mega-budgets of advertising creating "in your face" ads may not always be the most effective.

The Internet dominates our lives like no other media before it. Instant communications are a way of life. In fact, much of our communication today takes place via the Internet. Therefore, logic would dictate (applying the wisdom of Mr. Bernays) that dominating the Internet is the best way to manipulate public thinking.

Advertisers today have learned that their products and services must appear prominently on Internet sites. In this way, we will come to accept, almost naturally, that a certain product or service is part of our daily lives. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter serve as powerful advertising venues. In order to achieve a position of influence, advertisers have to bring their merchandise to the people and make it part of their everyday psyche. Rather than just glamour and glitter, advertising must speak to us on our modern terms so that we, in turn, can continue the chain of communication. As Bernays wrote in his book Propaganda (1928), manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is "the true ruling power of our country."

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Beam Me Up, Captain Quirk

Advertising is a world of its own. Without a doubt, it has tremendous influence on our daily lives. Certainly, the more effective ads remain in our minds for seemingly an eternity. How many of us can remember jingles or advertisement characters from decades ago? Today, though, there appears to be a metamorphosis in advertising and a change in direction entirely.

Do an Internet search for the term "quirky advertising" and discover an entirely new realm. Gone are memorable characters selling products or scenes that evoke a warm, fuzzy feeling. Advertising, today, is moving in the direction of strange and weird. The norm in advertising today is quirky. Rather than extol the virtues of a product, advertisers are attempting to create strange beings, scenes, and concepts that have virtually nothing to do with the product. Rather, they hope that the consumer will easily remember the quirky advertising and associate that with the product. Of course, many a television program today is equally quirky and weird. Shouldn't the advertising complement that?

No, it shouldn't! Advertising, primarily on television, has become merely additional entertainment, rather than a medium for promoting sales. Entertainment for the sake of itself is perfectly legitimate but the jury is still out on whether or not these quirky ads have managed to attract consumers. Will a weird ad encourage you to purchase a product or simply tune in for the next installment of the advertisement?

With all the competition to produce odd and different types of advertising, it seems that connecting with the consumer – the primary goal – has been ignored. Perhaps, after the dust has settled and some of the strange creatures that inhabit the advertisements have been retired, consumerism will again be the driving force behind advertising.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Canadian PM: Stimulus Package Temporary

On a recent official visit to China, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took the opportunity to use a press conference as a venue for giving a Canadian economic update and to send messages home about the Canadian government's stimulus package.

The timing of the report may have seemed slightly peculiar but a portion of the diplomatic visit was dedicated to promoting Canadian business, investments and trade with China. Harper hopes that this trip will improve and expand business opportunities with China. Canada's relationship with China is the country's second largest, aside from the U.S. Bilateral merchandise trade with China tops $53 billion a year, although China exports four times as much as it imports from Canada. China has lifted a ban on pork import from Canada, a $50 million potential market, but this is still far from an equal balance.

Mr. Harper sent a message home that the government's stimulus program has given a jump-start to the economy but Canadians should be aware that it is a temporary program. The government has warned that stimulus funds must be spent by March 2011 or will be lost. Government officials are quick to point out that termination of the stimulus funds will allow the current projected deficit of $57 billion to be cut in half. Opponents of the government, though, point out that trimming the deficit is not the only issue at hand.

The stimulus package was designed to help a recession struck nation by providing employment for Canadians. Critics note that the Harper government has not released figures on how many jobs were created through the stimulus programs. Furthermore, Statistics Canada announced that the economy had grown by only 0.4 per cent in the third quarter, a rate slower than most of the Group of Seven countries.

Mr. Harper paints a picture of cautious optimism yet it remains unclear whether Ottawa has indeed managed to invigorate an ailing economy.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Province Divided

It would appear that all is not well in Canada's westernmost province. The implementation of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) looms on the horizon for July 2010 and the ground underfoot is shaky with protests and counter-protests.

Critics of the new tax claim that the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell organized strong support from within the business community to endorse the HST. The business community refutes any such instigation by the government. Business leaders in B.C. claim that, following Ontario's lead in adopting this new tax, they realized that the inherent benefits far outweigh the disadvantages and, thus, have supported the government's tax proposals. They see the new tax as a way to stimulate the province's productivity which, according to experts, has been "dismal" for the last two decades. While big business agrees that there will be short term problems with the HST, they feel that the tax will lead to long term economic improvement in investments, competitiveness, and consumer prices.

Consumers are slow to give their endorsement. That which is good for business means taking more from the consumer's pocket. The bottom line is that consumers will now pay more for many goods and services that will carry the HST tag but are currently exempt from PST or GST. This disgruntlement has given way to public protest about other government policies that have not found favour with the public.

As a result of the recession, the B.C. government has been forced to curtail some budgets and trim expenses on existing programs. Indeed, with the new budget looming, the public is awaiting the latest round of budget cuts. A prevailing opinion is that the HST was adopted in order to funnel more money into an ailing provincial budget at the public's expense. During the election campaign, Premier Campbell pledged a deficit ceiling of $495 million. As this summer approached, that pledge grew to a whopping $1 billion and the end of summer saw a projection of that estimate being tripled. With numbers like these being bantered about, neither side is quite sure about the true economic state of the province.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Harmony in B.C.? The implementation of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)

July 1, 2010 is rapidly approaching in British Columbia. While it will be a national holiday as it is every year, it is also the date that the province will implement the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). The jury is still out on whether it will be good for the province or not.

The answer, at this point, depends solely on who is asked. There are clearly going to be winners and losers in this new tax. The decision to implement the new tax is final. The actual impact is still theoretical.

It seems that the majority of the B.C. business community is clearly in favour of the HST. With 130 jurisdictions around the world using an HST style tax, B.C. simply cannot ignore joining the fray, if it wishes to compete for business investment. The province must offer the same tax advantages to the business community, lest businesses move elsewhere to obtain the benefits. Similarly, with e-commerce on the rise, retailers and manufacturers are competing with provinces like Ontario, which voted to adopt the HST.

A major challenge lies with the hospitality industry and other business sectors that currently don't have to charge PST, or services that don't have to charge GST. Under the new HST, these businesses and services will have no way getting back the HST. In essence, here will be the new tax burden with no relief in sight. Also, the average consumer will pay more taxes. Consumers cannot claim any portion of the HST but will pay more for products and services that are currently tax exempt but will not be so under the new HST.

Economists claim that implementing the HST is the right move for B.C. Come July 2010, B.C. will see if the economists are correct.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Truths About Bankruptcy

For some individuals, there is no alternative. Financial debt can eventually lead to personal bankruptcy. Although the prospect of absolving one's self of debt by this method is a frightening thought, the truth is that there are many misconceptions surrounding the bankruptcy process that serve to make a difficult situation even worse.

Many people believe the misconception that filing for bankruptcy requires hiring an expensive lawyer. Truth be told, Canadian law states that lawyers cannot serve as bankruptcy trustees. In fact, small bankruptcies are filed by a trustee and do not appear before a judge. Moreover, if you're worried about protecting your privacy during this difficult time, fear not. Since 1997, personal bankruptcies are no longer advertised in the newspaper so your privacy in this delicate matter is assured.

Some have an image of the bankrupt individual sitting penniless in the street, hat in hand. That's a fine cartoon image but not reality. Declaring bankruptcy requires committing to a modest lifestyle for at least nine months. Different provinces have different rules regarding the amount of money you may retain as well as which possessions are protected.

A common untruth is that all debts are erased upon declaring bankruptcy. In fact, some debts are not. Child support and alimony are not changed. In many cases, student loans are also not erased.

Fearful that you will remain bankrupt for life? Fear not. Once your obligations have been fulfilled, you can be discharged from your bankruptcy. In a majority of cases, this occurs after nine months (but it can be extended if there is reasonable opposition from interested parties). Also, believe it or not, many people can re-establish their credit within one to two years after declaring bankruptcy.

No two cases are the same. But, before making a decision about declaring bankruptcy, do not merely visit the local rumour mill. Do the appropriate research carefully.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Canada Goes Self-Employed

The truth is out. The latest trend in the business world is self-employment.

The recent recession has manifested itself in many ways across the nation. For many Canadians who found themselves unemployed as a result of cutbacks, downsizing, etc., the choice was despair or repair. The former meant waiting until something new comes along. The latter meant channeling one's talent and energy into a new venture as one's own boss. Statistics Canada revealed some fascinating employment figures. In April of this year,some 36,000 new full time jobs were created across the country. Nearly all these jobs were from self-employed Canadians. Overall, this translates into one in six Canadians being self employed.

Of course, becoming self employed is easier said than done. The process requires a large measure of self determination to make your idea work. In addition, self discipline is required in no small measure.

It may seem like a great convenience to get up in the morning and already be at work, if you're working from home. The danger is as great as the convenience. Experts have offered various tips to help you along.

It is imperative to make a distinct separation between work and home lives. Temptation to get distracted with household issues is very easy. Making your business succeed requires utmost full time concentration. If you wouldn't run out for milk and the cleaning at your old job, don't do it now.

Remember that you used to go to work at an office? Set up a distinct office at home and go there in the morning. Keep regular hours at your office. Get dressed for work in the morning.

These are but a few steps in maintaining a work ethic that will enable you to focus on the task at hand; launching a successful new job with an extremely determined boss – you!

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Is There An Employment Boom?

Recently released statistics by Statistics Canada indicated positive employment figures for November 2009. But, is the picture truly as rosy as it appears?

According to the figures, Canada's unemployment rate dropped by one-tenth of a percent from October, reducing the rate to 8.5 per cent. Full time jobs increased by 39,000, while part time employment increased by 40,000. While these 79,000 new jobs indicate a strong pick-up in the labour force and, subsequently reflect on a steady recovery of the nation's economy, there are a few factors to consider that may curb the euphoria.

First, it should be pointed out that economists agree that this pace of job growth is entirely inconsistent with the current pace of economic recovery.

Next, economists are concerned that the total hours worked declined by 0.3 per cent. In other words, more Canadians are working but less work hours are being paid. Simply put, Canadians are bringing home less money.

Another point noted is that almost all the new jobs – 73,000 positions – were in the service sector, primarily in educational services. It is quite possible that this gain may be an abnormal seasonal adjustment. December, therefore, may be far less positive in terms of actual job gains.

Economists are also concerned about weak job productivity as a result of various factors compounded to negatively impact workers' motivation.

Finally, self-employment fell by 32,000 jobs in November. In theory, this drop can be viewed positively. In a weak economy, self-employment gains are generally discounted. They are viewed as a fallback for unemployed Canadians who have no choice but to start their own businesses in lieu of regular work.

Is the Canadian job market truly on the mend? Only time will tell.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

How to Avoid Being Defrauded

As if the recession hasn't presented us with enough business and financial worries, a new item has been added to the worry menu.

According to the 2009 PricewaterhouseCoopers' Economic Crime Survey, some 56 percent of companies surveyed have reported falling victim to white collar crime in the last year's survey period. This number reflects a 4 point increase over the last two years. Indeed, the figures are the highest in the last six years. There has been a 10 point increase since 2003.

It would appear that difficult economic times increase the incentive to commit fraud as a source of income. The end result is due, in part, to a greater vulnerability of many companies whose control systems have been weakened or even eliminated due to downsizing and cost-cutting. Fewer funds are being allocated for fraud detection, prevention systems and investigation. As a result, financial fraud is increasing both from within and outside organizations.

Certain sectors have suffered from fraud the worst in the last year including communication, financial services, insurance, hospitality and leisure. Asset misappropriation and accounting fraud were the most common types of fraud encountered by the companies surveyed.
As an end to the recession is not yet in sight according to many experts, it is felt that fraud may continue to increase. Certainly, as many companies are yet to take preventive measures, there are adequate opportunities for the talented white collar criminal.

Canadian judges have responded to this increase in fraud crime by handing down severe and harsh punishments for those found guilty. But, the number of crimes reported far exceeds those caught. Businesses would be well advised to keep their eyes open and their systems well protected.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Focus On One Thing

It sounds like instructions that you might give to a photography student or a line that you might hear during an optometrist's visit. But, it is also the credo of many business entrepreneurs. The secret of success of great companies is to do one thing very well. It is far too easy to go off on several tangents and try to "be number one" in a few ways. But, the business leaders who have made their way to the top will tell the same story. Concentrate your energies on one area and focus your attention in that one direction.

For example, sales are crucial to business. But, are great salespeople born or made? Some do have an inherent talent to sell. However, some companies have put their energies into strong sales training. This is a proven investment as salespeople no longer shoot from the hip. Rather, they become part of the sales force that drives the company forward. You focus on building the sales team, complete with team spirit.

Apropos team spirit, that may be the area requiring your attention. Employee retention is crucial in the business world. A constant turnover of staff will definitely have a negative impact. A key strategy employed by many experienced employers is to find ways to create an environment that makes employees desire to come to work. The answer is not always money. Making employees an active part of the company is valued highly. Employees' opinions do count. Chances are very good that your staff has terrific ideas about improving the company and its sales. Provide incentives but allow employees to be part of that incentive process. The sense of belonging creates the driving spirit so that everyone is part of the big picture.

Think of business success like an arrow. It propels forward only when the point is out front.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Credit Card Code of Conduct

If you own a retail business, you will understand exactly what the issue at hand is all about. How much of your hard-earned money goes to the credit card companies through fees and charges that seem to keep rising?

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently announced the implementation of a voluntary code of conduct for the credit card industry. The new Code of Conduct has come in response to increasing complaints by small businesses about the excessive fees that they are being forced to pay.

The voluntary Code of Conduct, which may be revised over the next couple of months according to Mr. Flaherty, lists measures to give merchants freedom of choice in regards to which payment vehicle to use. The Code requires posting of online information regarding the interchange fees charged to retailers. It will also require the credit card companies to give retailers 90 days notice of any fee changes.

Responding to the announcement of this new Code, retailers view this as a positive development but would also like Ottawa to create an oversight body to ensure adherence. Creation of a parliamentary committee was one possible suggestion.

Mr. Flaherty pointed out that this Code of Conduct is voluntary and he hopes that the credit card companies will respond positively by voluntarily adopting the measures set out for the industry. The alternative, according to the Finance Minister, is to regulate the industry through legislation. But, as the credit card industry has objected vehemently to regulatory legislation, it is hoped that they will adopt the voluntary measures.

As other voluntary codes of conduct have been adopted by other industries, retailers hope that the credit card giants will similarly adopt these new guidelines.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

How Can I Convince My Clients to Stay?

Many an entrepreneur has started off in business hoping to make that first million with this new venture. Some have done well; others have not. Those who have succeeded have learned a very basic secret. Building a large customer base is not as important as building a strong customer base. These are the customers that will stay with you in good times and bad.

How does one go about finding these types off customers? The answer is that you can't find them; you have to create them. In other words, you must develop a strong bond and relationship with your customers. It is the human relationship, not the business one, which is the glue that will keep you together.

It certainly is not easy. You have to invest a great deal of time and energy to build that relationship. You need learn all that you can about a client. What are his individual needs? Does he have quirks that you will have to adapt to? How can you help his business beyond the product or service that you provide?

Listening is crucial. Take time to communicate personally with your clients. Nothing will ever replace the human touch. Spend time researching your client and prepare yourself for meetings with him. Elevate yourself to a point where you know more about him than anybody does.

Don't only meet with a client in order to sell. Meet in order to talk. Offer advice and assistance. A client who knows, not perceives, that you are truly interested in him and his business will work together with you to seal that bond.

Invest your energies in finding ways to develop a partnership of sorts with your clients. Once a customer perceives that his leaving the relationship is not worth the price, you will have discovered the secrets of client retention.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stimulus Funds in Canada to Become Permanent?

Much has been written these last few months about the effects if the recession, or whatever term one may wish to call the global economic situation since last year. Some countries have weathered the storm better than others. Certainly, Canada, while by no means having fully recovered, is on much stronger financial footing as compared to our neighbours to the south. Experts have attributed many factors to Canada's relative strength. But, putting aside the past, the questions that still remain unanswered pertain to the future.

One factor that is contributing to Canadian recovery is the strength of public confidence. As the belief in the stability of the economy grows stronger, the recession and its effects recede that much more. However, what will be if the global economy takes a nosedive once again. Are we prepared for that?

The Canadian government has been a major player in managing the recession and orchestrating the country's recovery. A large factor has been the availability of federal funds available through a variety of programs tailored to the various needs of the business community. While these programs were designed as a temporary stopgap to help weather the storm and keep the business sector liquid, government officials are now asking themselves whether it might be wise to make a basis of liquidity permanently available.

On one hand, officials see the inherent benefit of providing funds to facilitate the continuous functioning of core markets. On the other hand, researchers for the Bank of Canada are concerned that these "permanently available" funds might induce investors to take on excess risk, secure in the knowledge that there will always be a bail out plan ready.

While the debate continues, the government and the central bank have learned that they must maintain sufficient flexibility and readiness to respond to any future liquidity problems.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Keeping Your Client Base: How Important is One Customer?

  If it came to a debate, the truth is that both opinions would be on the same side. Those who have succeeded in their business ventures will tell you what newcomers to the business world don't always know – it is far more important to hold on to strong customers rather than just finding new ones.

Of course, logic might deem otherwise. Shouldn't I always be on the lookout for new customers? Shouldn't I try to inflate my customer base, making it as large as possible? Let there be no misunderstanding. Customers are very important to a business. After all, no business, no income. But, let's be honest. Is there any guarantee that the new customer that you found yesterday will still be there tomorrow? On the other hand, even in times that are less than the best, the chances are quite good that a long-standing, loyal customer will still be there.
Client retention is vital to the longevity of a business. It is not enough to lure customers through pricing that beats the competition. After all, tomorrow the competition may lower his prices and your customer will follow the price trends.

Studies have shown that retaining customers will positively impact the bottom line of a business up to 15 times more than landing new customers. That's money in your pocket at a much lower risk.

Providing great service is not enough to guarantee customer loyalty. It is imperative to develop an actual relationship. Make the relationship deep enough so that the client will not be tempted to take his business elsewhere. When you develop a level of trust with your client that, ultimately, helps him as well as you, you will manage to build a relationship that will remain strong, even when times are tough.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Show Me the Startup Money

You have the idea and the knowledge. The desire, drive and ability are there. You're ready to dive into that new business but, alas, you lack the money to start. Where does an entrepreneur secure the necessary start-up capital for a new venture?

By far, the easiest source of funds is from family and friends. Roughly 13% of all Canadian entrepreneurs use this route. Keep in mind, though, that family and funds don't always mesh well. It may be a better idea to have a relative or friend co-sign or guarantee a loan, rather than lend their own money.

Certainly, the lender with the most available cash is the bank. Unfortunately, though, banks often pose the most obstacles to borrowers. One solution to satisfying the bank's criteria is to apply for Small Business Financing via your bank. This federal program is backed by Industry Canada and guarantees 85% of the value of bank loans.

Angel capital may work for you. "Angels" are investors, generally former business executives or entrepreneurs. In addition to their money, they also can offer expertise and contacts. While they are not seeking control of your company, they do expect a healthy return and may wish to take an active role until their investment is returned.

It is well worth investing some time and energy to see if any government programs are applicable to your needs. Generally, these programs offer favourable terms and have flexible payment options.

Some 22% of Canadians have used credit cards to fund their start-ups. By checking interest rates, some have found these loans to be to their advantage.  Also, as new credit lines with lower rates become available, older loans can be repaid and interest saved.

Consider all your options and best of luck in your new business.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Tis the Season to be Eco-Green

Some say it's fashionable. Others say that it's political fodder. However, most Canadians have begun to see that our climate is truly changing. As such, the way we live must change as well. And, certainly, the business community must become far more environmentally sustainable.

Business analysts have discovered that "going green" is not just a socially acceptable act. It actually makes good business sense and, ultimately, has a positive impact on the bottom line.

For example, eco-friendly companies are those that have managed to reduce resource usage and waste volumes. In turn, this reduces expenses, both in personnel and equipment. A recent research study concluded that integration of sustainability practices can increase profits for small and medium sized companies by up to 66% over five years.

Customer relations are the backbone of business. The public is far more likely to support industry that is doing "the right thing" in regards to the environment. Recent studies have shown that two-thirds of consumers are likely to shift their loyalty to environmentally friendly companies.

Companies can also realize savings from reduced personnel costs. Hiring and attrition cost money. A recent survey of students revealed that 68% felt that social and environmental reputation of an employer were more important than salary. Most would prefer to sign on for the long term with an eco-friendly employer.

Recycling is good for the environment as well as for the ledgers. Companies can save tremendous amounts of money by recycling equipment and materials. Moreover, by encouraging employees to take part in the effort, companies build loyalty and increase productivity.

Don't view going green as a threat. View it positively and reap the benefits of a healthier environment and a rewarding business.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Managing Your Corporate Knowledge

Thanks to your hard work and dedication, your business has grown. Once a small workforce that met for coffee and donuts every morning, the company has now grown into a major concern with scores of employees in several locations. As the boss, you knew each employee and probably taught them what to do. In a pinch, you could fill in for them as well. Today, though, the employees are names on an HR roster. The bigger issue, though, is that you have lost touch with what each employee knows. As the person at the top, it is vital for you to know how much human knowledge and skills are at your disposal.

A proper Knowledge Management (KM) system is a vital tool. It helps uncover the knowledge in your organization and reduce or eliminate gaps caused by employee turnover. Furthermore, it helps businesses avoid duplication of work.

A recent study of companies with a KM program revealed some startling figures. 63% of the companies had realized an acceleration of innovation. Two thirds of the companies had reduced operating costs. A similar percentage experienced a dramatic increase in teamwork and cooperation as well as an increase in responsiveness and performance speed. The study also calculated that failure to exploit knowledge in an organization effectively results in 6% of a company's annual revenue remaining unrealized.

Experts in KM recommend implementing an intranet-based information system in order to make information readily available and accessible within your company. Similarly, exit interviews for departing employees should be carefully conducted so that specific knowledge does not go out the door with the employee.

Finally, even though your business has grown, make the time to socialize informally with employees. In order to work as a team, you must know the team members.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting the Most Out of Your Employee Team

No, this is not a sports pep rally. However, just as in sports, success is heavily dependant upon teamwork. The higher the performance of the team, the better the chances for productive outcome.

     Every employer knows that one of the hardest operating challenges in business is assembling the right people for your team. Hiring unknown individuals is always a partial gamble. Therefore, a combination of instinct and skill is required to hopefully pick correctly.

     You've worked hard and sacrificed to realize a dream in building your business. You would like your employees to share that dream. Therefore, an employee for whom this is "just a paycheque" may not be the wisest choice for your management team. You want people who can see beyond the job.

     A good team player is willing and able to listen to others, as well as share ideas. There must be common agreement that the team works together under the leadership of one individual whose own goals for the business become the collective goals. Ambition in an employee is positive, provided that the ambition does carry its own agenda.

     Look for problem solvers on your team. There is no reason for you to carry all the weight yourself. Also, your team should feel as passioniate as you do. Share the lows and the highs become far more important to achieve.

     Individual roles should be clearly defined and each member of your team should know how they relate to the team as a whole. Build a well oiled-machine that functions perfectly when each part is operating in sync.

     Don't rely too heavily on references. Quite often, you will hear only what you want or you will be told only what someone wants you to hear. Look for the right qualities, ask the right questions, get the right feeling, and you should be on your way to assembling a top-notch team for your business.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who Wants to be a Techie?

Remember the days when the computer technician worked almost around the clock to keep the system up and running, or develop that new program that would save the company? It would appear that the classic techie image is not what one might imagine. Several studies have been conducted recently and the world of IT employees has changed dramatically over the last decade.

     Recent industry figures indicate that 420,000 Canadians are employed in technology, nearly half of them in Ontario. The tech personnel divide into two basic categories – development and support. The development professionals, who comprise a small percentage of the field, do work incredibly long hours in order to perfect their products and get them out in the market as soon as possible. Product competition is fierce and time is of the essence. Most techies, though, work in support positions and the vast majority is employed at non-tech companies. Studies show that most of these techies work, at most, a 40 hour work week and barely 10% of them work overtime hours. No more is required. A company's IT department is no longer the mysterious room hidden in the sub-basement of the building. It is a regular functioning department of most companies, solving problems and providing services, as do other departments.

     As companies continually seek the youngest and brightest stars of the IT world, the question arises as to aging employees. A young employee may be computer savvy but lacks the management skills to run a department or complex system. Most IT managers come from within the ranks of the tech staff. In fact, most overtime hours are logged by older IT management staff. Generally, they help out on the technical side by day and complete their administrative tasks after hours. The higher you go, the harder you work. A far cry from days gone by when everyone went home after dark.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Employee Etiquette: Being Held Accountable

 If your business has more than one employee, you inevitably have to deal with the question of accountability. Something is left incomplete or a task is not performed and someone must be held accountable. As an organization increases in size, so does the chain of accountability.

     The truth is that the individual may be at fault but, quite often, they are responding to a larger environment. The work atmosphere dictates how an individual performs. In the big picture, employees will generally respond in a similar fashion to their superiors.

     A good manager knows the right way to foster a spirit of accountability. For example, adherence to guidelines is crucial. If you set deadlines, stick to them. If you don't, why should your employee? Do you adhere to schedules of meetings by starting and finishing on time? What about follow up? There is nothing worse than assigning a task and ignoring the follow up. The old fashioned "red flag" system still works wonders. Mark assignment dates in your date book (remember those?) and attach a little coloured sticker to show you when you have to check it. Finish your meetings with a summary so that everyone knows what was discussed and what lies ahead.

     We have all learned to give positive encouragement. However, a manager who is afraid of giving negative feedback is far less effective. Certainly, there are constructive ways to deliver criticism. There is also a realistic limit how many times an employee can make the same mistake before having to re-evaluate their position. Management is a skill that must be used correctly to derive maximum achievement. Like any aspect of business, it has an accounting system that must be properly balanced. Learning how to create that fine balance is one of the secrets of a successful business organization.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Defying the Economic Downturn

Throughout the last year or so, volumes have been written about the global recession. Every economist has an opinion and every analyst has a theory. Of course, one cannot ignore the politicians who have opinions, theories, and rhetoric as well.

     The fact is that most of us have been affected by the recession in one way or another. For some, it may mean that their favourite neighbourhood store closed its doors. For others, the effect may have been more severe, either through unemployment or a reduction of savings.

     Whatever one's situation may be, the question is what the best reaction is. That is not to say that there are immediate solutions to all problems. For many, it may take quite a while to bounce back from the recession. But, is it enough to be passive and wait for the economic climate to improve or can one use this period of time to one's advantage?

     Some leaders in the business community, despite having suffered financial losses, feel that this period of economic slowdown is an ideal time to promote leadership growth, to gain a tighter focus on business, and to implement new business-model improvements. Use this time to tighten the reins and strengthen one's business in order to emerge stronger and more cohesive when the slump ends.

     One way to tighten the reins is to focus on your business and set several clear and simple goals. Do those small things consistently and do them well. By re-establishing your methods through redefined goals, you will foster improvement. And, believe it or not, improvement is contagious. Create a positive future outlook and your employees will get the spirit. The re-energized team will be in place when the economy turns around.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Is the Competitor Your Enemy?

Running your own business comes complete with its own set of headaches and worries. Virtually every business owner has had a few sleepless nights. However, the question must be asked if perhaps we sometimes imagine problems that aren't really there. Perhaps our minds and imaginations create threats that do not materialize.

     A popular misconception in the world of business is that the competition is our chief enemy. While it is true that both of us are targeting the same market, it may also be true that there is enough business for both if us. Moreover, it may also be true that, perhaps, neither of us can effectively service the entire market. Furthermore, each of us may have a slightly different approach for promoting our business and both approaches are effective.

     The bottom line is that sometimes we expend a tremendous amount of energy in attempting to thwart the competition. But, if we were to view the competition as an ally in the business world, we could invest that energy in promoting our business.

     The truth is that some business leaders have learned that developing a relationship with their chief competitors can be most beneficial. After all, if the competitor wants information about your business, he will obtain it. Why not sit together and share ideas? We all can learn from others. Who is better to learn from than someone who has the same problems that you do? The old saying that "two heads are better than one" does not necessarily only mean you and your assistant. By working together with the competition – sharing ideas, establishing territories, setting standards – you can help each other conquer the world.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Happiness is the Key to a Successful Business

More than 40 years ago, a classic episode of The Flintstones featured a segment that was ahead of its time. Fred's wife, Wilma, stars on a television program and sings the Rockenspiel jingle. Those who remember this episode will recall that the song instructs wives to make their hubby happy.

     Even the creators of those stone-age characters realized that happiness is crucial to business growth. Entrepreneurs across the business spectrum share common goals in their desire to secure their profitable share of the market. That which divides business leaders in their quest is the method of how to constantly reach those goals. Believe it or not, some of the greatest business success stories have discovered that happiness is the key factor to continued growth.

     Of course, one might argue that happiness is an intangible factor that cannot be measured.  The truth, though, is that happiness can be measured. More than 30 years ago, a consultant named Fred Reichheld created a measuring system called the Net Promoter Score (NPS). The method is quite simple. After completing a sale or service, the customer is asked to rate the likelihood of their recommending the company to a friend or colleague. Low scores (detractors) are subtracted from the high scores (promoters) and passives (mid-range scores) are left out of the equation. The result is the Net Promoter Score.

     According to Mr. Reichheld's studies, world class companies scored an NPS of 20 – 50. Some score much higher. The more aggressive companies measure their NPS daily and analyze results to look for patterns of what makes their customers happy. By repeating those patterns, they can keep customer happiness high and continue their success. Conversely, they can also track the issues that bother customers and try to eliminate those unhappiness factors.

     Remember, a happy customer is a loyal customer, and a loyal customer is repeat business and recommendations.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How a Virtual Phone System can give your company a competitive edge – without having to spend big bucks

As the Internet brings the world closer and closer together, it’s impossible for a small business to see its competition purely at a local level.  Instead, competition has now grown to be national or international in scope, and your small business needs to have infrastructure in place to maintain a competitive edge over the competition.

One great tool in retaining that edge is by using a Virtual Phone System.  The basic concept of a Virtual Phone System is simple: instead of having your customers contact you and your employees at different phone numbers (sometimes in different area codes, depending on the nature of your business), a Virtual Phone System brings your whole network together, under one phone number.

Your client’s calls are answered by a virtual receptionist, who then routes the customer to the correct extension.  Besides the obvious streamlining for your customer, this method provides a number of additional benefits to make your company competitive on a national level:
  • Always in contact, no matter where you are: With a Virtual Phone System, you can change the phone number your extension routes to instantly.  That means you can always be in contact with your customers, no matter if you’re in the office, or on your mobile. 
  • Give a big company feel: Having all of your employees under one joint number gives your customers a “big company” feel – no matter if your employees are in the same office as you, or half way around the world.
Q&A extensions to free you up from unnecessary phone calls: If you have common questions you receive 
  • a number of calls about, a Virtual Phone System can help eliminate the human time required to answer them, with automated Q&A extensions. Your customer can get the answers they need, without ever having to contact you directly.
Ready to gain the competitive edge you need to take your company to the next level?  Then sign up with Virtual Call System today.

Click HERE to sign up now

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Small Business Leadership Skills: Keep Focused

There is a condition that is common to many entrepreneurs. Many suffer from it in varying degrees. The condition is commonly known as Multiple Idea Syndrome (MIS).

     MIS manifests itself by creating a temporary inability to effectively focus on one's business ventures due to an abundance of new business ideas that crop up daily in the mind of the entrepreneur. The result may be impaired management techniques, lack of leadership, and reduced attention to business development.

     Such is the mind of the entrepreneur. One good idea leads to another and opportunity is always just around the corner, waiting to be found. However, danger also lurks around the corner. New ideas are wonderful.  But, a business has to be continually nurtured and properly cared for. If you are the spearhead behind a business, it’s up to you to provide the leadership and spirit to keep it moving.  There is a time and a place for everything. Pitching continual new ideas may not be the best management technique for your business.

     You have a vision of where you would like your business to go. Keep to it! Don't allow yourself to veer from the path you planned by constantly trying new ventures at the expense of the ongoing one. You are the backbone of your business and must provide the leadership for others. Inspire through hands-on management. If you are perceived as being "all over the place'" your business will suffer. Set a course of action and lead your team to follow that course.

     And what of new ideas? Abandon them? Of course not. Just be sure that you don't lose focus of plan one before you set plan two into motion.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Some Interesting Facts About Canadian Small Business

They may be called "small" but small business is a major player in the Canadian economy.

Take, for example, job creation. Over a ten year period, beginning in 1997, over 37 percent of all new private sector jobs were created by small businesses. In fact, almost half the Canadian private sector workforce – 48 percent - is employed by small businesses. If we dig a little further, over two thirds of the employment of five major industries are in small business: non-institutional health care, construction, accommodation and food, forestry, and general services.

Although economic figures vary from source to source, it is estimated that small business in Canada generates from one third to half the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. From a human standpoint, small business accounts for more than 5.5 million jobs from coast to coast. Taking a closer look at the human aspect of the figures, 95 percent of all Canadian service-producing enterprises are considered to be small businesses.

It seems that many Canadians prefer to keep their businesses small. Statistics Canada reports that 75 percent of all businesses employ fewer than 5 employees. Furthermore, the Canadian desire to keep their businesses relatively small far exceeds their American counterparts. Canadian business owners continue to work at more advanced ages in order to maintain operating the business that they built. More than a quarter of self-employed Canadians are over the age of 55. According to studies, older Canadians enjoy the freedom of lifestyle that comes with being self-employed and prefer to work longer in years in order to maintain that freedom.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Half the Canadian Labour Force Employed by Small Business

Thinking of opening your own small business? Many Canadians do. Nearly half the Canadian labour force is employed by small business. The question, though, is what the best business choice is. With a veritable plethora of options, choosing the right business is difficult. Also, the shaky economy gives cause for caution. Consumer spending has been reduced to must-haves. This, though, still leaves many business opportunities. Recent studies have listed some of the best business options for 2009.

Repair businesses still have a place in the economy as people prefer to fix something rather than buy new. Clothing, appliances, and automobiles are but a few of the repair businesses that continue to thrive.

Fast food is a major part of the national diet and is most likely to remain a lucrative business for years to come. Believe it or not, chocolate is also big business, despite the difficult times. Chocolate calls to people like no other confection. Find the right niche in the gourmet or specialized chocolate industry and you're on your way.

The ever-growing demand for senior care provides tremendous opportunities. Businesses range from opening a care facility to providing home services. A related industry that is growing is medical supplies, both for personal and commercial use.

Times are tough but dirt is dirt. Businesses still need to be cleaned and the demand for quality commercial cleaning services is high.

Sports are still important, despite the recession. Sales figures show that sales of sports equipment remain strong and Canadians are willing to shell out good money for sports equipment, even if they have to work a little harder to earn it.

Dollars are scarce. Therefore, discount stores provide a strong retail option for consumers. On the other side of the coin, there are those who have defaulted on payments. Collection agencies are opening across the country to help collect debts.

Finally, perhaps motivational speaking is for you. These speakers appear daily, and are quite popular. More than anything, they offer hope to audiences and hope, these days, is in great demand.
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Statistics Canada: 56% of Canadian Small Businesses are in Quebec & Ontario

In July 2008, Statistics Canada released facts and figures about the Canadian business community. The figures released indicated that, as of the end of 2007, Canada had more than 2.3 million businesses. (This figure reflects a decline of 100,000 businesses over the course of the year). This number included small businesses that met at least one of three minimum criteria. To qualify as an official small business, the establishment must have at least one paid employee (with regular payroll deductions). The business must have annual revenues of at least $30,000. Finally, the business must be incorporated and have filed a federal tax return at least once in the previous three years.

In regards to self employed Canadians, the number rose at an annualized rate of 1.5 percent between 2000 and 2007.

More than half of all Canadian businesses, some 56 percent, are located in Quebec and Ontario. Roughly a third of the businesses – 36 percent - are located in the western provinces and a mere 7 percent are located on the Atlantic side of the country. Less than 1 percent of Canada's businesses are situated in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Nunavut.

However, when examining the business to population ratio, the numbers swing dramatically. The national average is 70.7 businesses per 1000 population. Ontario and Quebec fall below the national average while the Yukon has the highest ratio at 91.4 establishments per 1000.

Statistics revealed that entrepreneurs were more likely to reside in rural areas, rather than urban centres. The ratio of small businesses relative to population was 50% higher in rural regions of the country.

Finally, the survey concluded that 60 percent of small businesses are situated in areas that have large local populations, affording a strong employee base and good market opportunities.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Starting a Small Business Survey: 12% to Establish Internet Enterprises

Starting and owning a small business appears to be the aspiration of many Canadians, according to the findings of a poll conducted for the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

Over the next several years, some 3.3 million Canadians intend to start their own business. Moreover, the survey found that there appears to be a change in preferred industry focus of would-be entrepreneurs. The desire to open a retail business dropped by 2 per cent from previous surveys; personal services and arts also dropped by 2 percent; and business services/consultancies dropped by 3 percent. The top industries of choice appear to be Internet related businesses. Nearly 12 percent of those interviewed plan to establish an online enterprise.

The RBC survey also rated advice by veteran entrepreneurs for newcomers to the business world. The top piece of advice was to do thorough research before setting up shop. Know exactly what you're getting into. Learn about your competition and be realistic about what share of the market you can capture.

Other pieces of popular advice of what to do before opening a new business included preparing a detailed business plan, networking with others in the field, allocating time and resources for marketing, surveying potential customers, and selecting the best site for the new enterprise.

The survey revealed that 61 percent of Canadian business owners are satisfied with the way they opened their business and would not change a thing, if they had to start over. More than 60 percent felt that, looking back, they probably should have started at a younger age. 58 percent of those surveyed felt that it would have been beneficial to get more financial advice at the onset.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Organizing Your Small Business Home Office

More and more people are operating businesses from home, or keep an office at home. One of the most commonly overlooked tasks is keeping the home office organized.

For those of us who spend many hours deep within the confines of our home office, the surrounding environment all too often takes on the look of a natural disaster. Why not take a few minutes and put some order in your home office? After all, there is nothing worse than talking to an important client on the phone, reaching for the client's file, and coming up with a stack of takeout food menus.

Start throwing things away! Be brutal with your castoffs. Do you really need a collection of telephone directories for the last several years? Chances are slim that there is a growing demand for chewed pencil stubs. Contrary to popular folklore, empty chewing gum boxes prefer not to live on desktops. Choose a few items to throw away each day. You'll feel good about it!

Let's admit it. Almost every bulletin board contains layers of long forgotten items. Try digging down several layers and leave only the current important items. You may even free up space for new memos and current pictures.

How about the junk drawer? That's the drawer with the broken tape dispensers, dried-up pens, broken scissors, etc. It never fails that the special marker that you need is buried under mounds of old junk (and a semi open jar of glue). Take some time to organize that drawer so that you can find what you need, when you need it.

It is not true that every document ever read must stay in the filing cabinet. Old ones can be shredded. Others can be stored in cardboard cartons and put away in a storage area.

Finally, take a good look at your desktop. Take pity on your current work material and allow it to sit in a clean, orderly environment. It will respond in kind by being readily available and easily located when you need it.

Business is all about organization. This should extend to your personal work environment as well.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

E-commerce Provincial Sales Taxes

E-commerce has greatly increased many retail sales. Businesses, large and small, can now reach customers from coast to coast with relative ease, if they have a presence on the internet. However, a very interesting – and tricky - question arises from all these sales. Does a website vendor in one province selling taxable goods and/or services to customers in other provinces have to charge and remit other provinces' sales taxes?

Would that the answer were simple and straightforward. Just as taxes differ from province to province, so do the requirements for inter-provincial commerce.

Keep in mind that when dealing with tax related issues, it is better to err on the side of caution. Therefore, you should consult with your accountant and/or tax advisor to verify your own personal situation. Similarly, you can obtain detailed information from the finance/revenue ministries of the specific provinces in which you are conducting online business.

There are a number of factors that will determine your tax collection situation. As many small business owners are aware, you are exempt from charging and remitting the GST if you are a small supplier. However, even a business with small supplier status may have to register for GST if they conduct business in provinces that currently have HST (Harmonized Sales Taxes). The GST is part of the HST. Therefore, de facto, you will have to charge and remit provincial taxes in those provinces.

Some provinces have passed legislation requiring out-of-province vendors to register for their provincial taxes. Other provinces "suggest" registering.

Were you aware of the fact that if you, as a vendor, do not collect RST (retail sales tax) in a specific province, the responsibility falls onto the purchaser?

The tax issues are complicated and the requirements, and loopholes, are plenty. Before pursuing your sales in other provinces, check the tax requirements carefully with a qualified tax professional.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Need a Small Business Loan?

Eventually, most small businesses need additional capital, whether for start-up purposes or to expand an existing business. The technical process is usually straightforward; you have to ask for the money, whether from a financial institution or a private individual. Either way, the lenders will have some hard questions that you have to answer to their satisfaction. Being properly prepared is definitely to your advantage.

The lender will want to know what the money will be used for and how you will be able to repay the loan. Therefore, you should have a detailed business plan ready at hand as well as cash flow projections for your business. Additionally, a bank or commercial lending institution may wish to review your tax returns.

Prior to your approaching the lender, you may wish to check your credit rating via a credit report. Chances are very good that the lender will order such a report. Check your rating before the lender does. If you do not have a satisfactory credit rating, try and repair it before seeking a loan.

Be well-versed in all the details of your business and its finances, present and projected. Remember that applying for a loan is partly dependant on presentation, not just documents. You have to make an impressionable pitch to the lender and be able to answer all questions satisfactorily.

One area that shouldn't be overlooked is how you plan to share the risk with the lender. How much are you investing personally? This is equally important to the lender as is your knowledge of your business.

Consider preparing to apply for a loan as if you were making the most important sale of your career. If you can adequately impress and convince the person sitting opposite you, you may close the deal.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Telephone Etiquette for Small Business 101

It may sound like a trivial subject, but that is far from the truth. Even in this computer age, the telephone is your front line. More often than not, a business is judged by how one is received over the telephone. Give the wrong impression and the transaction is over.

Try and be prompt. Don't let the telephone ring off the hook. No more than a few rings if necessary.

It is important to convey enthusiasm and professionalism. A warm, clear response, coupled with moderate tones and proper language convey a highly, professional image. Accents are most acceptable but improper language is not. Try and avoid using slang and leave professional jargon out of conversations with laymen.

Avoid leaving people on hold for an extended period of time. Even though the music on hold may be quite pleasant, remember to check back every half minute or so. If the desired person is not available, or will not be free to take the call for several minutes, offer to take a message before the caller asks.

We all have bad days. However, the rule of thumb is to leave it at the door. Don't convey your negative feelings to the caller.

Speakerphones should be avoided. The caller can hear when they are speaking to someone on a speaker. It gives the impression that you are simply too busy to lift the receiver.

If your telephone system is automated, be sure that the recorded voice sounds professional and that the information in the system is current.

Finally, be prompt about returning calls. If someone left a message, they do wish to speak to you. Good business sense dictates that a timely reply is the best course of action.
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