Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Should Go in My Business Plan?

A good business plan is more than merely a document. It is a carefully designed outline of your business, a veritable blueprint that accurately describes your business and all its components. Business plans differ in length and detail, depending on the nature of the business. However, there are certain basic elements that a good business plan should contain.

Begin with the Executive Summary. Many consider this to be the most important section of the plan. It provides an overview of the key points of the business. It should contain highlights from all sections of the plan and should be written in an interesting, concise manner, not to exceed two pages. Often, the reader will only read this section. If it doesn't grab the reader's attention, they may not go further.

Follow this with a detailed description of the business opportunity. In simple language, describe what this business will do and why it should succeed. Why are you the right person for this business? What is your vision?

You have done your market research. Put the results into a detailed marketing plan. This section of the plan should demonstrate how you plan to enter the market. How do you plan to promote your business? What are your pricing and sales strategies? How large is your potential customer base and how do you identify them?

Build an organizational chart. Describe the key members of your team and what will be their roles. Include the qualifications of the leading managers, including you. This section should clearly convince the reader that this business will have the team to make it happen.

Follow the organizational chart with a description of the operational requirements. How will the business operate? What are the physical requirements? What types of technology will be employed in the daily operations?

Now comes the number crunching. The financial section should contain a detailed outline of your financial forecast for the first three to five years. The first year should be far more detailed. An investor should see that you truly understand the business. This section should contain cash flow statements, profit and loss forecasts, and sales projections.

Remember that the language of a business plan should be directed to an outsider. Make the plan realistic and believable. Invest your time in preparation as this document may be the key to launching your business.

More help on setting up a business plan

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Do I Need a Business Plan?

A business plan sounds like a complex study. In some cases, it may be. But, the question is asked if every business truly requires a business plan?

The answer to that question is "yes", more often than not. A viable business, rather small or large, should make use of a well-designed business plan at some point in time.

Starting at the time when the business is still but an idea, a business plan is an excellent way to organize ideas. It allows you to create a filing system in which the various cogs and wheels begin to come together into a working machine. Long before you begin actually getting the idea off the ground, your business plan allows you to draw a picture of your idea – so to speak – and stand back to take a look if there are any mistakes or problems. Also, none of us are perfect. Especially if we are dealing with a complex idea such as a new business, it is best to have others review our concepts. Your business plan is an excellent way to allow others to help you develop your thoughts and use their feedback to improve what you have begun.

As your business begins taking shape, you will need the business plan to help interest possible investors. Your bank may wish to see the plan when you begin discussing credit with them. Perhaps you have decided to take in a partner. The business plan will be dissected at your meeting. The business plan is the blueprint of your business. It should accurately describe the concept. It will discuss the goals, milestones, financing, cash flow, staffing, and virtually every aspect of your business. It is the theoretical side of the entity. Also, a good business plan should be updated as the business begins operating, especially in relation to financial projections.

Invest the time to write a proper business plan. It is an investment that will have a guaranteed positive return.

Here is some business plan software to get you started.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where Passion Can Lead

In today's fast paced, high tech world, young people at the beginning of their careers face a tremendous amount of questions and, sometimes, stressful issues. Perhaps one of the most perplexing questions facing students today pertains to career direction and the road to success.

Many would like to believe that pursuing certain courses of study or entering specific fields is the guarantee to a stable, lucrative career. Would that were true; universities would be an entirely different entity. But, the truth is that there are no guarantees for success. Hard work is still a required pre-requisite for advancement. Yet, if one were to ask business executives for their advice, many would say that passion is an important trait to have.

Of course, it is advisable to do some research when planning a course of study. Look ahead and see where the markets are heading. Which fields are emerging and will present the best employment options several years from now? Which fields have room for advancement? Follow current events and see where money is being invested these days. But, there is still more to take into account.

A career should be more than a job. A job produces income but life is more than just money. And, over time, a job that is just a job starts to pale. Looking ahead, one must imagine where they would like to be and what they would like to achieve. Achievement requires personal drive and that requires a degree of passion. It is passion that gives the personal drive to forge ahead and get the most from your career. An MBA is an important academic credential. Yet, there are many people who have succeeded in business without an MBA. Their passion for success has given them the drive to excel and rise above challenges. Passion is the adrenalin that makes each day a new and exciting experience. And, it is passion for your career that gives you the winning edge over everyone else.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Learn to Manage

Congratulations! You've been promoted to, or hired for, a management position. The job is waiting for you but what about the people? No workplace is complete with out its nuances and office-politics. If you think that technical knowledge is enough to succeed at your new position, time to wake up. There's a lot more to know.

Understand that management is "them" of the company. If you have moved up the ranks, your relationships are about to change. You simply cannot allow yourself to be friends with the same people you have to manage. Friendly yes; friends no. Anyone who has made the mistake of retaining those close friendships and then had to fire one of those friends will understand. In order to manage people well, you have to remain objective.

From the onset, let the staff know what your expectations are. How are they to be evaluated? Learn what their goals are. Also, learn to consult with your staff. Their experience is most valuable. At the same time, be sure to clarify what upper management expects of you. A common mistake is to hire managers but not supply them with all the tools they need. Don't be afraid to admit that you don't know everything.

If you see problems with certain staff, especially those who may be rejecting your new position, address the problem immediately. Your popularity is not the concern. That has to be built over a period of time. Your goal is to manage an effective team and that starts day one. Don't remain aloof. Your office is your workplace, not a private sanctum. A sign of a healthy situation is well tread carpet from that office leading in both directions.

It is often effective to listen to office gossip, not get caught up in it (or necessarily believe anything). The informal workings of a workplace are part of its lifeblood. You have to know the who's who but don't take sides, just listen. It would be a mistake to assign two employees at loggerheads with each other to a mutual task. Perhaps you can help them solve their differences but work comes first.

Step by step, establish your authority, build your contacts and learn to listen. Effective communication in all directions is your best ally.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dealing With Your Boss

There are many different names in the workplace vernacular for dealing with your boss. But, when your goal is to get the job done well and contribute to your own career advancement, there is only one thing that really matters – know how to be as effective as possible.

As business had become ever so complex over the few decades, so have the management systems and strategies behind them. In the ever-relenting battle of the business world, the need to thrive and survive has created new management sciences virtually uncharted a business generation ago. The traditional flow chart and pyramid have been redesigned, allowing for much greater flexibility but also margin for error.

In days gone by, the boss sat in the corner office nearby or, perhaps, one floor up. It was usually possible to drop in for a chat and get to know the person, as well as the position. In this age of instant global communication, it is quite possible for one's superiors to be located anywhere on the planet. Many times, the ability to interact personally is just unrealistic. How can one be sure that they are on the right track? Perhaps all the hard work is just preparing for a surprise bombshell of dismissal?

If you want to succeed, the responsibility is yours, not the boss. You need to create the conditions. Keep the lines of communication open and learn what the boss wants to hear. Don't be afraid to ask. Many times employees are afraid that the boss is only out to get them when that is far from true. Try to keep abreast of what's happening in your company. Your boss also has a boss. Find out what your boss needs and make the information available. Help develop a solid relationship based on mutual need and trust, not fear. Try to appreciate that the boss is probably busier than you so use time accordingly. When the relationship between the two of you is solid, no matter where you are, each of you can help the other achieve goals.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Challenges of Female MBA's

With few exceptions, the business world has never been a bed of roses for women. In a society that still views business primarily as a "man's world," women, despite their capabilities and qualifications, continue to fight an uphill battle for equality that is due them.

A recent study conducted by Catalyst, a non-profit organization for women in the workplace, compared 9,000 male and female MBAs entering the workforce over a ten year period. 46 percent of the males received entry-level positions while 60 percent of the women were hired at an entry level, despite the same level of professional experience for both gender groups. Likewise, the men earned $4,600 more at their first jobs.

One of the reasons given for the parities is not prejudice but practicality. Most companies hire employees with a long term plan in mind. It is anticipated that young women entering the workforce after college will have children within a certain period of time, thus disturbing the succession planning of the company. Thus, businesses prefer to invest more in men, anticipating longevity with the company. Women, themselves, admit that family commitments may disrupt their careers and, therefore, they tend not to lobby and pursue the top positions.

The point was driven home in another study conducted jointly by the Columbia Business School and the Women's Executive Circle of New York. The study went beyond entry levels and found that the disparities plague women throughout their careers. In examining women's roles at the 100 largest public corporations based in New York, less than 11 percent of the C-level positions were held by women.

Women are making strides in the business world but the progress is slow. Companies do want equality but this will only occur when the business world attunes itself to the needs of the cultural world, allowing the business world to benefit from the many qualified and experienced women available, while modifying to meet the needs of the women's lifestyles.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Monday, March 15, 2010

Border Frustration

And there we have it – another dream dashed. The Canadian business community looked across the Atlantic and envied the open borders of the European Union. Imagine shipping materials and products between countries in a virtually hassle-free method. Every day, more than $1.5 billion in goods crosses the border between the U.S. and Canada. Thanks to the near state of panic of the American government, entering the United States has never been more difficult.

To be fair, the U.S. has cause to be concerned. The American nation is probably the number one target of terrorists worldwide. However, many have asked if the overly stringent security measures are not being employed in the wrong places. Are U.S. security measures doing more harm than good?

Take a look, for example, at the Great Lakes shared by Canada and the U.S. At the same time that kindly old grandmothers are having their belongings thoroughly searched, prior to being exposed to full body scans, a low level terrorist, with limited resources and minimal effort, can cross an open body of water between the countries in a canoe.

The auto industry, already in a troubled state, is suffering terribly from U.S. border restrictions. A foreign auto company can import 4,000 vehicles to the U.S. with a single customs clearance. On the other hand, the same number of vehicles manufactured in joint U.S./Canada ventures – where the complete assembly process may involve up to seven border crossings due to the integration of the supply chain – require almost 28,000 customs and security clearances!

For many of us who remember entering the U.S. many years ago using a library card for identification, those days are long gone. Passports are now required and lengthy, sometimes infuriating lines are now commonplace. As Europe moves to a common currency and mutual trust, the U.S. is building a deep moat around its castle.

The economic and commercial links between Canada and the U.S. are far too intertwined to ignore. As such, perhaps the nations' leaders should be searching for ways to punish the terrorists without punishing the innocent bystanders.
Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Capital for Women Entrepreneurs in Canada!

Let us not be fooled! In this era of civil rights and equality for all, women entrepreneurs are still fighting an uphill battle with the business community. For the last 18 years, a federally incorporated, non-profit organization known as "Women Entrepreneurs of Canada" has been dedicated to serving the interests of established women in business.

In Canada, 40% of all new start-up businesses are owned by women. Across the nation, Canada's top 100 companies account for 1.5 million jobs. In comparison, companies owned or led by women account for more than 1.7 million jobs. Furthermore, the number of women-owned start-ups is growing at twice the rate of those by men. The list of comparative statistics goes on but the point is crystal clear. Women entrepreneurs are major players in the Canadian business market. Yet, despite their numbers and influence, women in business still play second fiddle to their male counterparts.

This point is driven home quite clearly when women seek capital for development and growth of their businesses. One reason for the restrictions on capital available to women is the tendency of women to own and operate smaller businesses that are slower to grow and are considered higher risks such as retail and service.

Be that as it may, Women Entrepreneurs of Canada have called upon the Prime Minister to realize the plight of women in business and to address the needs of this substantial segment of the population accordingly. They recommend that the federal government develop an economic assistance program aimed at women owned small and medium sized businesses. Furthermore, they propose that the government develop support programs for women to provide access to technology and management training. This support should also finance and promote international women's trade missions.

Aside from government action, women entrepreneurs should form business alliances to share information and resources as well as establishing joint ventures to bid on large contracts. Women in the business world should share information as much as possible and use their contacts and knowledge to help others advance the cause of women entrepreneurs across Canada.

Incorporate in Canadawith
Click. You're incorporated ®

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lessons in Crisis Management

It's easy to learn from hindsight. Many an individual has attained tremendous mental wealth from looking back. The big question is whether we learn from our past mistakes, not just gather stories of deeds unaccomplished.

Toyota's safety crisis has been the content of many a recent news item, ranging from tragedies to sensationalism to Congressional hearings. For those not directly affected by the issues at hand, there is still much to learn, especially in the realm of crisis management.

The business world will never be crisis free. However, in order to continue to thrive, managers must know how to best cope in a crisis situation. Failing to respond to the crisis at hand may prove to exacerbate an already difficult situation. There are several key steps that a company, and its management, should follow in a crisis.

The CEO must take immediate command of the situation. Even if the CEO is not a polished public speaker, the public must see that the top person is in charge and leading the company in its difficult time. Otherwise, it's a sinking ship with no captain at the helm.

As soon as possible, start the flow of information. Let the public know that the company has the situation under control and is doing its best. It's imperative to maintain credibility with the public. As difficult as it may be, a unified, hard-working front is crucial. Not having all the answers is legitimate. However, avoiding the situation is not.

Try to think several steps ahead. Experienced management should be able to anticipate what lies ahead in a situation. Be prepared, rather than be caught off-guard.

Don't make light of a serious situation. In a time of crisis, a company's place is to identify with the public. After a crisis has been resolved, the company will need to maintain its customer base. The public will remember if a company identified with them or only worried about itself. Loyalty is a two way street.

Thinking carefully about how and when to act is the key to successful crisis management.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Monday, March 8, 2010

Should Politicians be Deciding our Fiscal Policies?

It seems that the hurricane called the global recession is starting to lose steam and peter out. But, if you follow global weather patterns, you see that there are always after effects, residual shocks, smaller storms, etc. In short, no disaster seems to operate independently. There is always cause and effect.

So what caused this recession? After all, if you can isolate the cause of a disease, you can help prevent its recurrence. The near collapse of the US economy was frightening. The devastation caused by it harmed countless individuals and businesses alike. Many have not yet recovered. Who is to blame?

It's easy to say that the mega-bonuses within the nation's financial industry were the problem. However inappropriate these bonuses may have been (and continue to be), they were not, and are not, the root of evil. No, when all is said and done, the root of economic evil is lousy government policy. Government leaders, and their script writers, are excellent at describing the ill-gotten gains of the private sector. It is quite easy to divert public attention from the real problems at hand by placing blame at the markets whose goal is to earn money. How many millions of American homes are now in foreclosure due to a mortgage system that was manipulated by US government policy, rather than operated by the modes of free economy?

Imagine, for a moment, that the US government operated along the lines of a major for-profit corporation. The Senate and Congress would be the Boards of Directors and/or shareholders. The CEO and his staff would have to justify their fiscal policies and operate the business in such a way to please the directors and shareholders. After all, the bottom line is what truly matters. Sounds absurd, of course. On the other hand, can one imagine a mega-corporation continuing to function while juggling an operating debt of more than $1 trillion? Of course not. At the minimum, some change in fiscal policy may be deemed necessary.

But, governments continue to operate based on political need. Business will adjust to the times and weather storms as necessary. With a little luck and hard work from non-government entities, society will persevere economically and overcome the mistakes of its political leaders. If we want to avoid another recession, it's truly time that politicians stick to their business but leave the money matters to the professionals.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Friday, March 5, 2010

Normalizing Interest Rates?

With the end of the global recession now becoming more than merely a prediction, the time has come to begin the clean-up from the temporary measures that were a necessary part of the economy during the difficult financial times. In short, besides stimulus funds becoming part of the scenery, record low interest rates were also an everyday occurrence.

Interest rates, at near zero levels, were the Shangri-la of investors. Investors who could tap this virtually free money, profited well and the markets responded in kind. In a chain of events, this unprecedented boost of the markets helped restore confidence in the average household and greatly strengthened the ailing economy by fortifying its foundations. However, even the best of vacations must come to an end. Any student of economics will tell you that interest rates reflect and influence an economic situation. Artificially set rates will cause undue influence and possible damage. The current rates were set for an emergency situation. With the economic emergency now having been downgraded, the time has come to allow the markets to respond appropriately. The question now is the timing and magnitude of the normalization of rates. Having faced a near collapse of the financial sector in the Western world, it is crucial that the central banks of both the US and Canada time their adjustments accordingly. For example, towards the end of the Great Depression in the 30's, the US government pulled out its stimulus funds in a final push in 1937-38. This sudden move, due to improper timing, had a negative effect, pushing the US economy into a tailspin and sent the markets reeling.

Economists are mixed in their predictions as to the end of the rock-bottom interest rates. Most feel confident that neither the Governor of the Bank of Canada nor the U.S. Federal Chairman will allow a repeat of the Great Depression mistakes. However, even the latest of predictions for rate hikes is no later than early 2011. Some predict that rates will begin rising by this summer. In either case, investors should prepare themselves for a return to normalcy. The worst, we hope, is over.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Female Entrepreneurs - Unite!

No longer can it be said that business is a man's world. Female entrepreneurs are an integral part of the business world. According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Canadian women comprise 30% of business across the nation. This percentage is larger than any other country. In the United States, during a ten year period beginning in 1997, businesses owned by women grew at double the national rate of all U.S. private businesses.

So, the good news is that women are making their mark on business in substantial numbers. The bad news is that they are not using these numbers for any collective purpose or advantage.

There is power in numbers. However, most female entrepreneurs seem to prefer worrying only about themselves. An umbrella organization, Women Entrepreneurs of Canada, whose mandate is to create a more collaborative climate for women business owners, is fighting an uphill battle, as reported to a small core group of members at a recent meeting of the organization.

Rather than share ideas and efforts, the group reported that female business owners prefer to do for themselves and not share. Sharing resources and ideas is simply not the norm in female businesses, leading to duplication of efforts and a loss of a potentially powerful female lobby.

Men invest more time and energy developing their businesses. Thus, women cooperating with each other could greatly strengthen their businesses by uniting their efforts. Also, women are less confident than men in certain key business tasks and could certainly benefit by supporting each other to get over hurdles.

On the other hand, in a male dominated world, women still encounter certain prejudices in business. A strong female lobby could help push for changes in the business world that would lead to parity in general, while addressing the distinct needs of female entrepreneurship when applicable.

This organization, while small at present, is picking up speed and hopes to build a strong, influential coalition of female entrepreneurs to help the nearly one third of Canada's business community leadership.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®

Monday, March 1, 2010

Canadian Debt - The Foreign Investment Choice

Canadians, as opposed to many nationals around the world, were long accustomed to hearing reports of budget surpluses. What was once a source of national pride will now seemingly become but memories in the nation's historical archives. The recent recession has left both the national and provincial coffers in ruinous debt, and both are seeking ways to grapple with the need for cash to finance stimulus spending, the primary catalyst of the monumental deficits.

Ironically, while lawmakers must deal with the aftermath of the financial crisis and re-formulate fiscal policies in order to keep the deficits under control, investment bankers see this new situation as a unique opportunity to sell government bonds.

Based on recent figures, the combined national/provincial debt is estimated to reach $100 billion by the end of the current fiscal year. However, selling public debt in these staggering amounts is not as difficult as it may seem, even in a struggling global economy. Canadian debt is being gobbled up by foreign investors at a lightning pace.

It appears that international markets see investment in Canada as a wise choice. Among the Group of Seven countries, Canada has the best fundamentals; a strong, vibrant currency; and is rich in valuable natural resources. Once the dust settles from the recession, these factors will leave Canada well positioned. Wise investors see this as an ideal time to align their investment dollars with strong future potential.

Investment bankers admit that 2009 presented a highly volatile market, with each month differing sharply from its predecessor. But, when all is said and done, the nation's top investment banks, working hand-in-hand with both the federal and provincial governments, have managed to sell the vast majority of government bonds issued, primarily in foreign markets.

The need for cash, combined with the demand for strong investments, led to some unique investment situations for both the federal and provincial governments. However, just as the aftermath of the recession demanded new ideas to deal with new situations, so did the investment world rise to the occasion and help the governments get the best deals possible.

Incorporate in Canada with
Click. You're incorporated ®