Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Contemporary Fail-safe Solutions – An Ode to the Cloud

It’s late and you’ve just pulled a marathon 18-hour session putting together the finishing touches of a major project. It’s the eleventh hour and the deadline is looming, so it’s time to get those deliverables sent. You’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into making this project the best that it can be, because you know that you operate in a results-based profession where the skills you possess on paper don’t amount to anything unless you can deliver the goods. Deep down you know that if this goes well you may look back and see this one project as the breakthrough that broke the doors on your career wide open. You’ve dotted every “i” and crossed every “t”. You’ve double-checked and you’ve triple-checked. It’s perfect. You stroll over to the kitchen and pour yourself a celebratory glass of wine. As you stride back to the computer for one last glance of satisfaction, a poorly positioned electrical cord brushes up against your ankle diverting your attention. Suddenly there’s a chain reaction stemming from a momentary loss of equilibrium – an unfortunate byproduct of your mismanagement of time and resulting in a lack of sleep. You go hurtling toward your workstation smashing into your desk and pouring wine all over your computer. The screen is frozen. Nothing moves. All is lost.

There is almost no more important task in modern business than protecting the integrity of your work, and in this day and age there are a myriad of solutions at your fingertips to ensure that all is never lost.

Storage Solutions

Short term: Backing up relevant work to multiple locations should be standard practice for everyone as digital mass storage devices have become plentiful and cheap. Saving to a flash, or USB connectable external disc drive, is always recommended. Any piece of hardware, however, can become lost or damaged, so the degree of importance you place on a project determines the number of devices you use.

Long term: Ah, the cloud! Mystical bands of binary information that float unblemished amidst the digital ether seems the stuff of science fiction, but it’s quickly becoming an essential business reality. The cloud is literally information stored on huge servers that remains at all times part of the expanding universe that is the internet. For pennies a day you can upload and download information like it was your own hard drive. The difference is if you’re computer breaks down, all you need is another computer and it’ll be right where you left it. 

Although there are many cloud storage options out on the market, Amazon Glacier is a cost-effective cloud storage solution worth investigating.

Sharing

Keeping important files and work documents in multiple locations is essential to being able to fail-safe, so file sharing is a great way to spread the safety around and there are several ways to do it. When files are contained on a hard drive they are rooted to that location, but with file sharing it’s easy to pass along important documents that others can get to if they need to.

Free File Transfer Sites: Depending on the size of the files you are dealing with, there are number of great file transfer options through the cloud. With free file transfer sites, unlike cloud storage where you essentially pay for space, there are limitations like a cap on file sizes, or how long files that are uploaded are available to download. There are number of options available to users for easy transfer of files including: WeTransfer, HighTail, and TransferBigFiles.

Dropbox: Unlike with file transfer sites, Dropbox is actually a program on your computer that sets up a folder designed to be shared by your computer and any other computer that you invite to share with it. It’s just like any other folder on your computer and files stay exactly where they are, but as soon as anything is placed in your Dropbox, it’s essentially saved on any of the computers that also share that folder, so you can be sure that even if you lose it, someone else will still have it.

Modern technology has provided so many tools to make sure we can stay on top of our projects and mitigate potential disasters. Hundreds of people have learned the hard way that can go wrong and they have designed so many solutions that there quite literally is an app for that. It’s not enough to just save your work anymore. Nothing should be left to chance, so make sure you’re using all the resources you have available, including the cloud, to your advantage and rest easy knowing that your work will be preserved the way it should be and will be ready for delivery.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint – But You Gotta Go Really Fast!

When deciding to start a business it is always important to keep the long play in mind. It’s okay to make sacrifices in the early going with the expectation that it will pay off in the long run. It’s fine to keep business at a slow, steady, and manageable pace in order to achieve a level of comfort and sustainability. And, there’s nothing wrong with finding your stride and establishing a work flow that’s right for you. However, it’s never time to allow complacency to settle in because allowing yourself to fall behind means you will inevitably get left behind. Below are few key ideas to keep in mind order for your business to keep pace and make the right strides from start to finish.

Innovate.

No matter how cutting edge you think you are, the next big thing is right around the corner – it’s just a simple fact with the current state of technology. The moment a new technology is released, companies are on the move making refinements and developing their own patents in order to stay in the race and get a piece of the pie. It’s not always necessary to be at the vanguard of innovation, but it’s essential that you keep a pulse on whatever the latest upgrades are and keep your own systems up to date. Always make a point to reevaluate the state of your company’s level of innovation every quarter – yes, things change just that quickly.

Ask for feedback, and respond to criticism.

No matter what service, or product, your company provides, the needs of your clients will change from one day to the next and it’s essential that you stay on top of what those needs are. At the end of the day it is your job to provide them with what they are looking for, not what you think they should want. Being sensitive to customer needs is the cornerstone to profitability because it is customer needs that, in fact, drive innovation. Also, it’s essential that you never become bitter towards negative criticisms to your product or service. As great as it feels to receive a pat on the back once in a while, that’s not necessarily how we grow. Every negative criticism represents an insight into the potential flaws with your service or product and what may need tweaking or overhauling. Criticism isn’t so much an indictment of your abilities as it is an opportunity to step up and prove what you’re capable of.

Embrace change.

Once upon a time people graduated from college, got a job, and stayed right there until they retired. It’s well understood that nowadays college graduates should prepare to have several careers before they decide to call in their pensions. In the previous paradigm a layoff would have been calamitous, but today it’s almost so common that the phrase “I’m between jobs right now” has almost become cliché. Keeping everything in a constant state of flux should be the only permanent aspect of your life and business. It prepares you for every eventuality because if you’ve been keeping up you likely saw the changes coming a long time ago.

Have no fear.

 Anyone unfamiliar with the term “self-sabotage” needs to go look it up, because all too often we are the biggest obstacle we need to overcome. Whether it’s fear or apathy, very often we become limited by what we feel we deserve and no one is going to just pay us because we think we’re cool. It’s fine to speak soft, but paramount to be assertive enough to do what needs to be done. It’s not enough to just put one foot in front of the other. In order to make real strides you have to pound the pavement and you need to have a talk with yourself and not let yourself get in the way of you achieving your dreams. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How to Conduct a Meeting

Meetings, when properly directed, are a great way to get everyone on the same page, strategize, and brainstorm with the aim of moving the company in the right direction. If a meeting lacks the necessary focus, however, it can represent a colossal time-suck and a waste of everybody’s resources. It’s essential to have a clear picture of why a meeting is necessary and what needs to be accomplished. Below are a few “don’ts” and “dos” when it comes to taking the lead and conducting a great meeting.

DON’T conduct meetings every week for the sake of conducting a meeting – it can lead to so many annoying little problems like the anticipation of the dreaded weekly meeting, the didn’t-we-just-discuss-this-last-week feeling, or the incessant mulling over minutia. Not every decision in a company should be left to a democracy and it’s really only beneficial to call a meeting when one is deemed truly necessary.

DO include everyone - if you’ve decided that now is the time to have a meeting it should be because some kind of shift in direction is necessary. Sea changes can implicate the whole company and you might be surprised by who has big ideas. If wholesale changes are necessary, and you limit your company’s rebranding to the marketing team because you see it exclusively as a marketing issue, you’re effectively limiting your options moving forward.

DON’T make your meetings about one-on-ones – a meeting where everyone is gathered waiting for their turn to speak and explain what they do is likely to cause attendees to zone out. The key to a great meeting, and getting great ideas out, is to keep everyone engaged. Set aside time to have one-on-ones so that everyone can communicate what’s relevant about their particular position and then connect them with whoever they might need in other departments. Remember, meetings are about the big picture, not the details.

DO have a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished – a meeting’s focus can be lost so easily by getting bogged down in details. It’s imperative that, when leading a team meeting, you know exactly where your team is at and where they should be by the end. It’s possible to know the answers without having the means to articulate it, so clueing in to what’s being shared in a meeting should be what allows you to formulate an expression of what you know is already there.

DON’T get sidetracked by things that are irrelevant – although it’s important to keep things lighthearted and fun, maintaining control over the direction of the meeting is essential to make progress. Meetings can suffer from too many questions or too much fine-tuning. Ideas discussed at meetings should be global, not particular. It’s important not to just gloss over the details, but keep in mind that the grandeur of an issue should reflect the size and duration of a meeting.

DO allow everyone a chance to shine  - although you’re in control and you make the decisions, a meeting can never be about you. You can communicate company values in an email, but you get feedback in a meeting. Having an open mind, ceding the floor and jumping in only to direct traffic, should be the leader’s role in any meeting.

Summary

Meetings aren’t the kind of thing you want built into the framework of your company but it’s important to have systems in place that keep you in contact with the various branches of your business. A constant stream of meetings can devalue their importance and, as a team leader, it’s important to distinguish between when everyone needs to be brought together and when it’s time to meet one-on-one. Meetings represent an opportunity to shake things up, keep everyone on their toes, and pull them out of the doldrums of the regular routine. Suddenly throwing everyone into a collaborative environment of equals often has an effect of stimulating out-of-the-box thinking and it can be surprising where the next great idea can come from.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Most Underrated Marketing Tool in Your Arsenal

If the barometer of success for any marketing strategy boils down to ROI, it’s time to consider the PDF file as one of the most overlooked ways to get the word out about your product or your service. If you consider the myriad of ways to draw potential clients to your business, few are as easy to put together, as cheap, or as effective.

Simple Tools That Are All in the Box

Imagine you’re unveiling a new product line at your store. One of the most conventional ways to draw attention, and promote your new product, has been the leaflet. In the digital age the leaflet has to now be regarded as one of the more ineffective ways of driving business. Consider all the steps involved and who needs to be employed:

  • A graphic designer needs to be employed to handle the layout.
  • A completely separate company needs to be hired just to handle the printing.
  • Finished leaflets then need to be distributed.


Now consider how those steps can be refined and made more cost effective with a PDF file.

  • Virtually any word processor or design tool can be converted into a PDF file.
  • No printing necessary.
  • A final PDF can be distributed with a single click of a button in an email blast, or via per click advertising on almost any social networking site.


With a PDF no materials are wasted and no leaflets get unceremoniously tossed in the garbage. Save a tree.

So Many Options

PDFs can assume a variety of forms that may be useful in driving people to your business. Here are a few ideas:

Catalogues – PDFs are specifically designed to integrate images with text. They are quite literally the digital gold standard for delivering professional looking, unalterable, designs modeled after traditional print publications for the digital age.

Informational Material – For service companies, educating your client base on what you provide can help establish trust and offer them a reminder that they may be in need of your service. A well-targeted PDF tutorial, offering something as simple as a quick tip, can often spark in the minds of your clients a number of ways that they can use your service.

Promotional Video – With easy-to-use screencasting software such as Camtasia and Screenflow, it’s simple to turn a PDF file into a promotional video that can be quickly embedded onto your website or on various social networking sites.

The total cost for all of these methods are a fraction of the costs associated with conventional print materials, billboards, radio, and television advertising, and by using social media, the reach is even greater.

Other Benefits of PDFs

By now it should be clear that the PDF is able to profit from the fact that it can travel digitally and has a demonstrable versatility. But there are still a few more points that make PDFs so handy.

They’re Unalterable – No matter what design tool you’re using whether it’s Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, it doesn’t matter, converting to PDF places the final stamp on a design and makes it final. When it goes to the world it can not be imported and have it’s design components altered, leaving copyright and design control in the hands of you and your company.

They’re Universal – Unless you’re dusting off your old Amiga, chances are your PDF will be read by any device from a PC to an iPad. It will always look just the way it was intended and never suffer from corruption by crossing platforms.

They’re Light Weight and Cheap – No heavy boxes to move around and, in fact, PDFs require minimal amounts of space on your hard drive. Just about every software tool under the sun has a “save as PDF” option. Total cost: $0.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Etiquette in the Virtual Office Environment

The office is a constantly evolving environment. In fact, the tech boom has given rise to a brand new work environment unlike the world has ever seen. Globalization and the internet have transformed the way we do business, altering the landscape and changing the way workers, united under the banner of a common vocational purpose, interact and see a project to completion.

Online office environments, like oDesk and Elance, have become an increasingly common way to infuse expertise into small businesses by outsourcing skills and aspects of a project that may not fall within the core competencies of its key constituents. In fact, it is now possible to see a project from acorn to oak by building a workforce of contractors from around the world operating in a virtual office environment which tracks their time and progress.

Operating through the soft barrier and anonymity that is the internet, it’s easier than ever to be detached from some of the more mundane aspects of the job. In their infancy, virtual office environments were a breeding ground for employers looking to get something for nothing by offering the promise of work to desperate contractors. Thankfully, the market has found a way to regulate itself and, though the problem does still persist, it is no longer the norm. Employers will be keen to protect themselves from contractors looking to make a quick buck and leaving them in the lurch with poorly executed, or incomplete, work. On the other hand, most contractors will be inclined to protect themselves, and usually only want to be compensated fairly for their time and their expertise. It’s important to remember that there is an element of give and take that is essential to making the relationship function optimally.  

As tempting as it might be for an employer to contract the data entry services of someone working for $1 per hour in a distant country, there’s no guarantee that what is needed will be communicated effectively or that the work will be done correctly. One might even be persuaded to convince several prospective contractors to complete samples in order to prove that they are capable of completing the work and then running off with the aggregate without compensating a single contractor for their work.

When dealing with any contractor in an online environment the key is to first give them the benefit of the doubt. Knowing that they are capable of what they say they are is important and most will be able to provide a track record of successfully completed work. Inherent in the system of most E-offices is a feedback system and, although abuses are not unheard of, there is also some legitimacy to them and should be another factor to consider before making a hire. Lastly, reach out – a virtual office relationship is still a relationship and a quick Skype call can go a long way to establishing trust between contractor and employer. Employers demonstrate that they are the real deal, with honest money to pay for an honest service, and this informal interview process is usually enough to unveil the wizard behind the curtain.

No matter who you hire for what service, keeping the lines of communication open is essential and a “set it and forget it” mentality is never a recommended approach. As your business grows, so will your relationships and it’s important to nurture them and keep in mind that sacrificing some early returns can, with the right amount of patience, generate greater stability over the long haul. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Hire Employees

Being exhausted from working around the clock driving your business forward can actually be a good thing. Despite the bags under your eyes, the gravelly voice, and potential spontaneous hair loss, all that stress can serve as a signal that your business has advanced to the point where it’s time to hire some help. As tempting as it can be to continue to assume all the responsibility for your company and reap all the financial benefits as well, it may actually be more profitable in the long term to surrender some of the immediate dividends and take back some of your days.

There are two basic paths to take when hiring someone:

The first, and most obvious is to hire an assistant. Any business has mundane components, or a series of tedious small jobs, that are seemingly unrelated to the main focus of the company. They include everything from answering telephones, sending out emails, filing, billing, laundry, getting coffee, etc. When hiring someone to handle all the jobs you don’t want to do, the goal is often to find someone who’s driven, pays attention to detail, doesn’t sleep, and is willing to work for less than they’re worth.

This method of hiring, especially at such an early stage in the growth of your company, is akin to exploitation and will further limit the growth of your company. The types of people who will end up working for you are those that simply need a job. The kind of employee you should be looking for is one who wants to work for you, not one who is putting themselves in a position of indentured servitude. The reason for the drawbacks with this method of hiring is due to the fact that it means that all the jobs in the company are accounted for. It might be effective to get by on a day-to-day basis, but a ceiling is reached the minute your employee becomes truly effective at their job. The net result will be a former employee who uses their experience at your company as a means to get a job that’s more meaningful to them.

The second method to hiring is to find a partner. Anyone who has seen Derek Sivers’ riveting TED talk from 2010 about how to start a movement knows that as the leader you’ll get all the credit, but the true catalyst to starting a movement is the involvement and commitment of your first followers. As Sivers points out, it’s important to embrace your first few followers, or employees in this case, as equals. When things began, you may have been the very embodiment of the company, but by embracing your first employees as equals, the focus now becomes the company and not the individual roles that are being filled within it. Suddenly, instead of all the jobs in the company being accounted for by you and your various assistants, new jobs are being born through the cooperation and vision of your close circle of followers.

So what is the key to finding a great partner?

The real trick to finding a great partner is to position oneself within reach of people that are like you, but with complimentary skills. For example, an audio professional might want to align themselves with an expert in film and video where suddenly you have a production company capable of offering an array of services instead of focusing on just one. It’s also important that they be at the same relative stage in their career so that you can both grow together without one feeling like they are dragging the other. And finally, your partners should hold the same core values when it comes to what they feel is important for the company to thrive – citing artistic differences as the cause of the destruction of a promising union has almost become cliché.

The very last thing to consider is how you attract the right people to your business. It’s important, regardless of the channels you use to draw attention to your company, that in the job description it clearly indicates that candidates will be immediately positioned at the same level, and be performing the same duties, as the founder of the company. Be forthright about your own abilities, your goals, and your expectations and make it clear to the people you decide to interview that their involvement in the company represents an opportunity to be a part of something that has the potential for real growth.

The net effect of this second strategy is not only having a willing partner who will help lighten the load in the short term, but also a friend who will take ownership of their role and nurture the company with the same care as you in the long term. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Finding Your True North

It’s no easy task explaining to someone what it means to be a business. To anyone who’s grown up with the mentality that they have to work hard in order to find a job at a company, meeting someone who is a company can be a perplexing idea that they just have trouble wrapping their head around. For example, there are a number of concepts inherent in the established paradigm that just don’t apply to the self-employed:

·         Setting one’s own work schedule and hours.

·         Determining one’s own rate of pay.

·         Working wherever they please instead of a set space, or office.

For anyone who has been successful at being their own business it often leaves others wondering whether they do any work at all. Answers to the questions, “What do you do?” and “How much do you make?” are purposely vague unlike those of their counterparts who might prefer the lofty title next to the reputable company name that commands a predetermined pay scale with benefits. But anyone who has ever set out to become self-employed knows that there is something that working for a company can not offer – the freedom to determine one’s own sense of vocational happiness.

It’s understood that working for a company brings with it certain sacrifices. In exchange for financial security we are often bound to working on someone else’s terms (hours, corporate structure, defined tasks, vacation and sick days). As much as being self-employed might represent a departure from this framework, it is not without sacrifice. In fact, leaving the corporate world behind to strike off on one’s own is often one of the greatest sacrifices anyone can make because it is automatically associated with uncertainty.

Self-employment is not for the faint of heart. The early days of starting a new business are often so filled with ups and downs (mostly downs) that it can often leave people despondent, regretting their decision, and scouring the want ads to get them back in the rat race. And, while taking temporary employment to stay afloat isn’t out of the question, throwing in the towel should be only be considered as an absolute last resort.

We have a long established history of measuring success in dollars and cents, but there is a sea change occurring right now. People are beginning to realize that happiness is becoming a more accurate barometer of success and that living every aspect of life on one’s own terms is a critical factor in one’s perception of their own happiness. To this day there exists a misconception that people that are self-employed don’t work as hard as people who work a set number of hours per week, but the greater truth is that there now exists a culture of people who don’t define success by the established set of terms.

If happiness and success, therefore, are so nebulous, what does it actually take to drive a new, passion driven, business forward and allow it to achieve remuneration along with fulfillment? Only you can decide that. But, locking on to the values that you aim to hold as a business, understanding why you are doing what you’re doing, and demonstrating your resolve will reflect upon others that your business offers value. Passion is infectious, and if you love what you are doing, then the people you serve will love how you do it. It takes time and the determination to suffer through hard times, but if you know where you are headed then you will get there.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Five Tips for Managing Client Expectations

Nothing is more essential to a successful enterprise than repeat business. Every satisfied customer allows your brand to be passed around by word of mouth potentially creating a snowball effect that could be the difference between the long-term sustainability of your enterprise, or it ending up being a fleeting experiment. Referrals are your best friends and a one dissatisfied could spell the end of your business and is to be avoided at all costs.


Whether you’re a web developer, digital media consultant, graphic designer, or content creator, the clients that come looking for your services will bring with them some level of expectation, and it’s your job to manage those expectations. Below are 5 handy tips and tricks designed to help you navigate the mind of your client, understand their demands, and keep them and their friends knocking on your door.


1) Get to know what they know – No matter what a client might come to you for, if you know what they know about what you do, it changes the level of expectation. Some clients might have an in depth understanding about what it takes for you to do your job and some might be completely clueless and the key to maintaining customer satisfaction in either case is the level of sensitivity with which you handle each. It should be clear by the terminology they use when they speak to you, or how they respond to any questions you ask, so just be mindful.


2) Know what you’re capable of – Nothing upsets the balance of someone’s expectations more than being given false information. If you design websites and a client has come to you saying they need their site to go live in 24 hours, sometimes it’s better to risk losing the client rather than promise them that it can be done and risk not completing the work. No matter how much extra effort you might put into getting it done, the chances are your client won’t be sympathetic to your plight. They are under pressure too and all they’re likely to remember was that the work wasn’t completed when you said it would be.


3) Don’t be afraid to involve your clients – Some clients might not have the faintest idea of what’s involved behind the scenes of a good marketing video, but everyone who’s in charge of a project appreciates having their ego stroked. The more decisions they make, or the more they see of themselves, there is an increased likelihood they’ll take ownership of the project and value the work you did alongside them. However, remember that there’s a fine line here – some clients are just too busy to be bothered, and some can become so involved that it compromises the quality of the project.


4) Be available – The work has to get done but it’s not advisable to turn the ringer off on your phone – ever! The service you provide is meant to be a direct response to what a client has in their mind and the work has to get done in the spaces between them communicating to you exactly what that is. Every fragment might prove useful in you being able to deliver on their wildest imagination and should not be ignored. A client will remember every time that they tried to reach you and were unable to because it was time that they set aside, time they thought was important, and time they eventually wasted. Time is money, and they can give theirs to someone who will offer them the time they need.



5) Let someone else disappoint them – It’s time for a reality check – you’re not the only one who does what you do. Out there in the world is someone who others can go to for the exact service that you provide, and it’s likely you’re not the only one they’ve called. It’s also not uncommon to find a prospective client that simply has completely unrealistic expectations, and there comes a point where it’s imperative to stand your ground on an issue (work load, deadlines, rate of pay, etc.) because the integrity of your business will be at stake. A prospective client might simply hire the cheapest option around and don’t be afraid to let them. The chances are likely that they won’t be happy with the work that got done and will go somewhere else the next time. Be sure that if they do finally come around to you, and not simply the cheapest option available, that you do deliver the value you promise.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Deducting Accounting and Tax Preparation Fees

Let's be perfectly clear - no matter what your political affiliations might be we can all agree that we hate paying taxes.

Whether it is your personal income or your businesses income, writing out that tax check can be extremely painful. That's why we look for ways to reduce them, especially deductions. Anything to lessen the tax burden is a good thing but what about getting those tax returns ready in the first place?

With tax codes being what they are, it's not easy to make sense of all the rules and regulations.

That's why we need a little accounting help every now and then. Can you deduct those tax preparation fees? The short answer is "Yes." But as with anything to do with the government, there is always a "catch."

Tax Preparation Deduction for the Business Owner

As the owner of a business you are eligible to deduct your accounting fees and tax preparation fees as a typical cost of doing business. Look for T2125 Statement of Business Activities and Line 8860.

This would be the fascinating "Legal, Accounting and other Professional Fees" category on your tax return. From the CRA tax code itself comes this official eligibility requirement:

"1. Except where there is a specific provision in the Act dealing with legal or accounting fees…, legal and accounting fees are deductible only to the extent that they:

(a) are incurred for the purpose of gaining or producing income from a business or property, and

(b) are not outlays of a capital nature."


Make sense?

Here's the translation: If you paid those fees in order to make more money for your business then they are deductable. How can there be any other reason for accounting but to make money? That would be with personal income situations. As far as the government is concerned, the T2125 form is just one piece of the total tax return puzzle. The rest of your personal income tax return has nothing to do with making money for your business therefore any money spent preparing those returns aren't deductable.

The Work Around

Yes, you would have to separate the accounting fees even if you're using the same accountant but your accountant should know this. One way around this deduction is for your accountant to assess 100% of their fees for your business returns. Then they would do your personal returns for "free." Who can blame them for spending all the time and effort on the business returns?

DIY Tax Returns

If you prepare your own taxes then you might be able to deduct the cost of software as part of the office expenses on the T2125 form. Again, this is only for business owners. As a regular employee who does their own taxes, you won't be able to make the deduction.


Another great reason for starting a business: More tax breaks!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ways to Save On Startup Legal Fees

If you're starting up a business there will come a time when a good lawyer will be your best friend. However, that doesn't mean you need to utilize their bill-by-the-minute services for every legal decision you make. There are ways to avoid legal fees. Consider these options:

Go Boilerplate

If you've ever signed a renter's agreement for an apartment you were probably using a boilerplate contract. This is a template agreement already drawn up by a lawyer and is readily accepted by both sides. You might find that many of business contracts can use boilerplates that are available for free on many online legal resources sites. These contracts can include:
  • Commercial building lease agreements
  • Employee contracts
  • Vendor agreements
  • Non-disclosure agreements
Just because you're using a boilerplate contract doesn't mean you can't put in your own terms, dates and names. That's what these contracts were created for. Here's a dirty little secret: You know that expensive lawyer you hire to write up your contracts? They use the same boilerplates. You didn't think they wrote every word of a new contract did you?

Ask For a Fixed Fee

Much like the boilerplate contracts, there are also boilerplate services. Filing for a trademark or setting up a corporation are pretty much routine. The only changes that are made are the names in each of the contracts.
Does this mean you should be paying a lawyer by the hour to get those papers in order?

Not at all.

Ask around and see if you can find a lawyer to handle those kind of for a fixed fee. That means whether it takes them two or 20 hours it will only cost you one price
.
You could also offer stock options in exchange for legal services. The caution with that is giving away too much for the kind of "simple work" mentioned above. Your new investors might not be happy about that.

And, if you want to avoid hiring a lawyer for basic corporate services, consider using a document filing service (like CorporationCentre.ca!) to submit your paperwork at a much smaller fee than a lawyer may charge.

Part-Time Lawyer

You might find that after your initial start-up filings you don't need a lawyer all that much. However, you're now stuck paying a hefty monthly retainer to a law firm. Not a wise move.

Instead, look for a firm that can provide you with a part-time attorney. This is someone you can talk to once a week for a reduced fee. Save up your questions and make that weekly meeting count. You can also look into legal insurance. You pay a small premium in exchange for getting a lawyer only when you need them. That's a lot less than the big retainer fee.

If you should ever come across a complicated issue with taxes or find yourself being sued then you don't want to turn that into a DIY legal matter. Get a good lawyer on your side. For everything else, look for flexible options from your legal firm.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Overnight Success Doesn't Happen Overnight

The business marketplace is littered with so-called "overnight success" stories. Because we live in a microwave society, we want everything fast.

We want to lose weight in a weekend by taking a pill. We want to download everything in a blink of an eye. And we certainly don't want to wait for success.

Here are some truths about the overnight success phenomenon that you should think about the next time you hear one of these stories.

It is the exception, not the rule.

Do you seethe with envy every time you read about an overnight success story? One of the most popular is how Roxio, the makers of the app sensation Angry Birds went from zero to hero overnight.

Yes, it was a great success story and they probably never have to develop another game (but they will). However, the truth is Angry Birds was the 53rd game that this company created. That would be 52 other games that went through development, testing, marketing, implementation and lackluster sales.

Overnight success? Hardly.

Sure, a company can get fast results and see their profits soar in a short amount of time, but for the majority of businesses success can't be rushed.

You're hearing the hype.

It looks good for a company to promote themselves as an overnight sensation because we all like a winning story. It also makes for good press to have the Cinderella syndrome play out of someone being plucked from obscurity and plopped down in their dream life.

However, a little digging will reveal the truth behind the hype. Even the simple act of filing corporation papers takes time.

The reality is that a company's success is often built on a lot of past failures. Those failures might not all be related to that company but you can bet the board of director, the developers and the sales staff have had years of experience in the business world that lead them to this point in their careers.

In fact, if someone has worked for just five years prior to starting that company, they are bringing close to 10,000 hours of experience. So, any time you hear a story about an overnight success just ask yourself, "What are they leaving out?"

Being number one could blow up your company.

Under the heading "be careful what you wish for" comes the notion that a true overnight success might actually blow up your company. Imagine the potential success of a Super Bowl commercial.

Not only will literally a hundred million people see that spot play out but it could also go viral, bringing in millions of more viewers. If that business isn't ready for the onslaught of potential customers then their website could crash, their staff will revolt and they'll lose a lot of business.

Planning for success is just that: "planning."

That should mean being ready when it finally arrives.

$1 Incorporation Day!

CorporationCentre.ca Small Business Week Celebration 2013

It’s Small Business Week in Canada and we want to celebrate small business with $1 Incorporation Day for one day only on October 23, 2013!

To receive your incorporation for only $1 (reg. $99)*, use the Promotional Code CCINCSBW2013 in your shopping cart before submitting your order. Please begin placing your order here.

CorporationCentre.ca is proud to support small business and entrepreneurship by providing services to help get your business off the ground quickly and efficiently. We give you the support you need to be able to take your business to the next level.

For more information on incorporating your business please visit our website.

*Plus government fees and additional products & services. Canadian incorporation only.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tips for Small Business Owners and Startup Founders

Having a terrific idea for a business is only the beginning. Getting that idea from the "drawing board" to production is going to be a long and challenging journey.

The good news is that there are many resources and experienced folks standing by to help in your endeavor. The moment you embrace the simple fact that you’re not on your own, the better off you'll be. Here are some other helpful tips for small business owners and startup founders:

Bank Working Capital

You're going to need money for your startup. There's no way around that. Beyond lining up investors to back your business plan, you also should have some capital in the bank. This might not necessarily be for your business, but for your personal expenses. There will come a time in the initial phase of your start up when you're transitioning from a salaried position to entrepreneur. In other words, you're not going to have a steady paycheck, but you still need to pay the bills. A good starting point would be to have savings for at least four to six months of personal expenses. A decent size savings account will also let you float loans to your company to cover a wide range of expenses.

Start Small but Aim Big

Every great business owner has a story about humble beginnings. This is when a handful of employees worked together in "low rent" conditions to get things going. Although you know how big you'd like your business to become, it is not going to start out that way. Start small, working out of a space that won't cost you a lot of money. Your current home, apartment or parent's garage is as good a place as any. You also don't want to hire staff unless you've got a lot of work for them to do and all of that work should be generating income. The goal is to ramp up towards success.

Keep Records of Everything

No matter what, where or how you spend money for your business, there should be a receipt for that. You want to make sure you're keeping clean records of all of your expenditures and income. At the same time you also want to protect you personal assets. This is why it is important to incorporate your business and begin to run all your expenses through that entity. It's not a lot of money to set up a corporation and it will certainly pay for itself many times over.

Get a Plan of Action

You need a business plan. This can be a multi-page document or a graphic laden power point presentation. Either way it will become your road map towards success. That doesn't mean you have to strictly adhere to that business plan. You're going to make adjustments all along the way. However, with a well thought out business plan you'll be able to appreciate the trajectory of your business. That is also something your investors are going to embrace.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How to Pay Yourself as a Business Owner

You've worked hard to start your business and are certainly entitled to a paycheck. The question then becomes how best to pay yourself as a business owner. You essentially have two options: salary or dividends.

There are pros and cons with each method.

The best course of action will depend on your personal and business finances. Here are the factors to consider:

Paying Yourself a Salary

When your business pays you a salary it is considered personal income which means you'll have the opportunity to contribute to the Register Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). How much you put into the RRSP is up to you.

However, there are maximum contribution limits. The CPP is an automatic deduction which can set up for a nice retirement fund.

In other words, the longer your work and pay into the CPP the more of a "nest egg" you'll have upon retirement.

With regard to taxes, when you pay yourself a salary, the corporation can deduct it as a business expense. On the other hand, as personal income, it is subject to taxes.

How big do you want your tax burden to be? That could determine whether or not you pay yourself a salary. 

Taking payment as a salary means you have to set up a payroll account through the Canada Revenue Agency. This means filling out T4 slips and the rest of the required paperwork. Another tax issue with a salary is that you won't be able to mitigate a business loss if your profits go up and down over the course of several years.

Paying Yourself Dividends

You'll have more cash on hand with dividend payments because they are taxed at a lower rate and don't have any automatic deductions taken out for the CPP. It's also very easy to pay yourself in dividends. Just write a check and square it up with the accounting.

By taking dividend payments you are essentially saying you'll be handling your own retirement. Not only would your CPP be less but you are prohibited from making contributions into an RRSP. If you take dividend payments you could also be precluded from taking additional tax deductions such as childcare expenses.

Overall you need to consider your company's cash flow needs, not only for current business, but also down the road. A qualified financial planner should be able to look at your business and help you make a decision that will provide you and your business with a decent level of financial security.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Starting Your Business with a Clean Slate

Breaking up is hard to do. That's true for relationships and also for ending your contract with an employer.

Whether you're moving on to start your own business or have been hired at a company that could be considered a competitor, you'll want to make sure you can start your new job with a clean slate.

A lot of the following issues might be covered in your employee contract. It's worth discussing with an experienced lawyer to make sure you can get up and running without a potential lawsuit slowing you down. 

Here's what to look out for:

Intellectual Property

It is obvious that anything you created or invented during work hours for your company is owned by that company. This would be considered intellectual property. Where it gets fuzzy is any work you did on the side during off hours. Things could be further complicated if you used any type of company equipment like a computer or software for your own inventions. There could be a strong claim for that property you created.

Non-Competition

It stands to reason that if you're good at your current job, then your start-up would be related to your skill set. That might be cause for concern if you are going to be in direct competition with your current employer. Most contracts have a non-compete clause that can last up to a year. It might take that long to line up your investors and launch your business but you'll you might be restricted from doing any kind of work that is deemed "the competition." Worst-case scenario, you sit out the year and spend it planning.

Non-Solicitation

This is often referred to as the "poaching clause." Just because you've created solid working relationships with a lot of clients doesn't mean you can "steal" them all for your new business. It's a tricky area. A client can go to any business they want as long as they don't violate a contract. The mere fact that you're starting up on your own might be enough incentive for the client to jump ship. From a legal standpoint you'll be covered if you don't actively solicit that client.

If you have doubts about any of these areas then you'll be better off checking with a lawyer. Additionally, you should consider your future plans when accepting any job. If your goal is to become your own boss then a restrictive employee contract which prevents that from happening might not be worth signing.

There is nothing wrong with negotiating. Just make sure you're not getting trapped into a contract which will stop you from pursuing your dreams.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Top Items That May Trigger an Audit of Your Business

If there is one thing that is worse than paying taxes it is getting audited for not paying taxes. A notice from the CRA can send a chill down your spine and have your stomach doing flip-flops. Hopefully, you'll never have to be exposed to that anxiety inducing type of situation. While there is no hundred percent guarantee that your business will forever be spared an audit, there are some proactive steps you can take to avoid that process.

Here are the top triggers for a possible CRA tax audit:

Trigger #1: Mixing Business and Personal Expenses

When it comes to your business accounts and personal expenses, it is best to keep them separate. You should already be filing individual tax returns along with your business returns. Therefore it's not a stretch to keep those items separate. In the real world, the lines between what you spend for your business and your personal life can get blurred. Try to keep them in focus for the purpose of your tax returns.

Trigger #2: Paying Your Living Expenses Out of Business Profits

This is related to "trigger #1." As far as the CRA is concerned you're an employee of your company on par with all the other employees. As a result of that employment you should be getting a salary. Out of that salary you pay for your living expenses. You can't pay your mortgage out of your business profits.

Trigger #3: Failing to Make Payroll Deductions

Sometimes we employ our family members and friends to help with our start up business. There is nothing wrong with that but that doesn't mean those employees can skate on the payroll deductions. You need to treat every employee the same and that means keeping accurate records of payments and deductions.

Trigger #4: Cross Border Taxes

If you do business in the U.S. then their IRS agency will be looking over your shoulder along with the CRA to make sure everyone is getting their fair share of taxes.

Trigger #5: Invoicing Amounts Greater Than $30,000 Annually

$30,000 is the threshold that will trigger the need to register and file HST/GST/PST. If you overlook those filings you can anticipate an audit.

Trigger #6: Multiple Businesses

Your goal should be to expand your business into different regions but that can be complicated with the variant tax codes. The way around that is to set up separate companies that are region specific. That makes smart business sense but it can also draw attention from the CRA who want to make sure all those regions are being paid.

Trigger #7: Being a Success

It might seem odd that success would trigger an audit but the more personal income you accumulate the more it is thought that you'll be trying to shelter that income from taxes. The CRA is always watching!

The most important thing you can do is keep accurate records and follow the rules. That way if you are called in for a routine audit you'll have your defenses ready.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Losing a Valuable Employee

What happens when a valuable employee resigns? First, don't panic.

After all, how many times have you moved from job to job? This is not an uncommon occurrence. Now that you're the boss you can't just throw a going away party and wish that person well.

There are certain steps you need to go through to make sure this is a smooth transition and everyone is on the same page.

Step 1: The Exit Interview

There should be no hard feelings when an employee resigns, especially if they are moving on to a different opportunity or opting to spend more time with their family. Just as you would with a client or vendor, you don't want to burn a bridge with a good employee. Who knows where they will land or if you might need them to consult for your company. If it is a situation where you know a competitor has made them an offer they can't refuse (and you can't match) let them know you appreciate their work.

Step 2: Recall the Non-disclosure Agreement

Hopefully, every employee working for your company signed a non-disclosure agreement before starting work. As they are leaving, it is a good time to remind them of their obligations under this contract. Technically, if they signed the agreement you don't have to remind them because it is legally binding. Just make sure they have a copy before they head out.

Step 3: Let the Company Know

When a valuable member of your team has decided to move on it won't be a secret for long. You still want to get out in front of the news by making some sort of official statement to the rest of the company either in an email, memo or announcement. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity for your former employee to train the new hire. You can also have that going away party to allow everyone a moment of closure. Then it's back to business.

Step 4: Ask For a Written Duty Log

The employee who is leaving might have taken on tasks you're not even aware of. It will be a big help if they were to write down all of their tasks and responsibilities. This is a document they can hand off to the person taking their place. This log should include all the usernames, passwords, email accounts and other company online access issues. This is another reason why you don't want to make this resignation awkward: You still need that employee's help!

Step 5: Call Up a Recruiter

You should know exactly how much time you have to fill the position. This doesn't mean you need to rush to find that new person. Put a recruiter to work to find the best candidate. Perhaps your old employee might even have a recommendation. If they aren't moving to another job, you can also leave the door open for future freelance work.

No matter how important this person was to your business, it's not the end of the world when they leave. You'll press on and might just find that a new member of the team is just the shot in the arm your company needs to take it to the next level. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What is Ad Retargeting?

Big Brother is watching you. At least that is what you might be thinking when you're suddenly presented with online popup ads related to a recent web search. Is it safe to say that you were being tracked from one website to another?

Actually yes, but there is nothing sinister about this.

It is a very common practice known as ad retargeting and it's helping many online businesses pull in new customers. Are you currently running an ad retargeting campaign? If not, you should be, because the conversion rates on retargeted banner ads are much higher, in many cases up to 20%. Retargeted ad campaigns target the 98% of the audience that don’t buy after leaving a website.

Regaining the lost lead.

Traditional display advertising has mostly been used as an awareness and branding tool. Whereas, retargeted ad campaigns have been great for driving conversions on your site, be they sales, sign ups, leads or subscribers.

If the goal of your advertising campaign is direct sales or signups and you have a decent amount of traffic then retargeting is ‘right’ for you.

It’s all in the cookie.

Every time you log onto the Internet and start surfing you leave a trail of breadcrumbs wherever you go. Those "breadcrumbs" grow into cookies. This is the tracking technology that allows visitors to any e-commerce site to pick up a cookie with every visit. Now they are tagged for potential retargeting.

You'll be paying a company to set up a retargeting platform that will collate all those cookies and present a bid to run your ads across many other web portals. These ads are banner ads which can bring that customer right back to your website – especially if they are dynamic.

Understand the threshold.

There is a minimum recommended traffic size that you should have coming to your website before starting a retargeting campaign. You should be aware that retargeting only targets your site visitors.

If your site only receives a small amount of traffic per month, then you will only have a small pool of users to target resulting a low sales volume
.
It has been found that if your site must receive at least 5,000 unique visitors per month. Even if you have less than 5,000 uniques, you can still add a retargeting tracking pixel to your site but your goals should be towards branding instead of sales.  Run a contest, or a lead generation campaign. 

Does ad retargeting work?

According to a comScore study, companies who use ad retargeting can see a 726% increase in return visits to their websites within four-week period. As for online shoppers, 72% don't finish shopping when they put items in their cart. Of that group, 8% return to make the purchase. Factor in ad retargeting and those returns bounce up to 26%.


These numbers definitely provide a convincing argument that ad retargeting should be a strong force for the smart marketer.