6 Big Mistakes that Small Business Owners Make that Can Lead to Struggle and Failure

In business, ignorance is not bliss. In the last three years of running my own business consulting practice and 20 years of advising small business owners, I’ve seen a trend of “mistakes” or challenges that small business owners face that cause them to struggle, and can lead to financial failure…these are mistakes I’ve made in my business as well. Most business owners are really good at their passion (their reason for starting their business), but very few have business management and finance training – they’ve never learned to run a business…I know I didn’t have that knowledge at first when I started my business, even with my seven years of business finance and accounting education and professional designation. But you don’t have to struggle like I and so many other business owners have…here are some tips to overcome the biggest small business mistakes that contribute to those struggles.

Mistake #1 – Failing to Plan

We all know the saying, if you fail to plan, plan to fail. Yet, strategic planning continues to be one of the greatest struggles for business owners. It certainly was for me when I started out. I knew I had to have a plan (I had the offer, target client and financial forecasts, but had no sales and marketing plan), but trying to work with business plan templates used to make me nauseous…that is, until I found a more intuitive approach to business planning. It starts with having a very clear vision of you business, what you offer, to whom, and WHY (WHY you’re doing your business – your mission, and WHY customers would buy from you)…I use visualization and meditation techniques to get this clarity. This is an iterative process, and while your WHY may not change much, your offers and target clients could change dramatically over the years. My only caution here is to not get caught in the planning paralysis trap…make sure you are taking action while you’re creating and refining your plans (results come from taking action and going through iterations, failing fast and getting back in the game).

Mistake #2 – No Clear Value Proposition and Ideal Client Experience / Process

The more targeted and clear you can be with who you serve and the results you create for them, the easier it will be to communicate that value and attract new high-quality clients. It’s easy to want to serve everyone, and not leave anyone out. While this “jack-of-all-trades” mindset can work for a little while, and while you determine what you’d really like to be doing, it can lead to a huge dilution in energy, focus and profits. It’s difficult to communicate your message to the masses in a way that anyone will actually hear it. It’s better to have a focused approach, targeted to a specific group…try it for 90 days…if it doesn’t produce the results you’re looking for, target a different group with a message designed to reach them. Again, this is an iterative process.

Mistake #3 – Not Tracking and Reviewing Financials on a Regular Basis

Most business owners are not trained and educated on organizing, tracking and understanding their financial numbers. In fact, less than 30% of business owners have a good understanding of what their numbers are telling them (couple this with the fact that 85% of business failures are a result of poor financial organization and know-how, it’s no surprise that so many businesses fail). Yet, the numbers tell the story of how the business is doing and can highlight problem areas that need to be addressed. As a micro or small business owner, at a minimum you’ll want to review sales, gross margins, major expenses that you can control the most, and profit margins. You’ll also want to look at balance sheet items such as accounts receivable (how much, from who and how long have they been outstanding), accounts payable (how much, when are they due), and balances in your bank accounts. Review your numbers on a regular basis (monthly is best), and get help to truly understand what your numbers are telling you.

Mistake #4 – Not Paying Yourself Enough

This is one of my favorite things to work on with clients. The traditional business model has been to pay the owner last, with whatever is left in profits after operating expenses. When you follow this model, you’re likely to get paid a lot less than you’d like (or not at all). While working with one client, he figured he was only paying himself $2 an hour for his efforts…you wouldn’t work for anyone else for less than minimum wage, so why work for yourself for such low pay. I like to take a bottom-up approach to paying yourself first and determining what sales you need to support what you want that pay to be.  Here’s how: determine what you’d like to pay yourself (based on your personal needs and lifestyle), layer in taxes, desired business profits and estimated operating costs, to determine what your revenues and prices should be. This approach works really well for service-based entrepreneurs, and I’ve developed a whole empowered pricing course to teach this method [email me for more info].

Mistake #5 – Trying to do it ALL Yourself

Some business coaches may say that you should turn your greatest weaknesses into your greatest strengths. However, this is not what 7+ figure business owners do…they capitalize on their strengths, recognize their weaknesses, and build a ROCKSTAR team to get done what needs to be done in the most efficient way possible.  Often we feel as entrepreneurs, we need to do it all ourselves/be jack of all trades…this can work if your goal/intent is to be a practitioner for life (i.e., steady contract work), BUT, if you want to grow and scale your business successfully, you need a good team to support you.

Getting help and building a team doesn’t have to mean hiring full-time employees, but it does mean you have to think about all the different functions in your business, what is within your zone of genius, and what makes sense to outsource. Create hiring criteria (whether hiring consultants or employees) and make it a priority to outsource and delegate what is not your genius so you can focus more on what you do best, knowing that the rest will be properly taken care of.

Mistake #6 – Not having a Governance and Risk Management Plan

Most small businesses have no governance/risk management plan, yet it is one of the most important aspects of business success. Governance and risk management may not be sexy, but ignoring this aspect of business could lead to business failure. Just think about what would happen to your business if you had a significant negative tax audit, or legal action from a customer or employee, or experience a major illness or disability. It’s necessary to identify all your risk areas (legal, tax, employee, operations, economic, health, political, social, technology, business interruption, etc.) along with potential costs should the risk materialize, then implement protocols for managing and mitigating those risks within your risk appetite.

The bottom line is, when you have a clear vision for your business, supported with systems, structure, protocols and people to help you achieve your true potential, all the pieces start to fall into place…and you’ll have more ease, confidence, peace and harmony in your business and its possibilities.

These are all areas that I work with my clients to overcome and create a strategic business roadmap for success, while working on shifting their mindsets and relationship with money and the financial side of their business. I invite you to book a discovery call with me to discuss your challenges in business and what actions you could take right away to overcome them. I also welcome you to join the CFO Mentoring community on Facebook to support you in being the CFO of your business and your life!

Take Nothing for Granted

Last weekend I was visiting with my family in Quebec on the family farm.  As is tradition, we always have dessert after supper, and my son had asked for ice cream.  When he went to get it out of the freezer, it was a soupy separated mess…the very large, very old (over 50 years old) chest freezer, had finally died at some point that day.  Now normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal since my parents have 2 other somewhat large (but old) chest freezers and 3 fridges each with their own freezer compartments, and they would find room in those for the soon to be spoiled food.  But harvest season just ended, and the freezers were quite full.   It was interesting to watch as a number of family members scrambled to make room in other freezers, even next door in my brother’s freezer, and I started to think about how we just take it for granted that equipment is going to keep working (even when it’s old).

It was the same when my furnace died last winter.  Even though it was 25 years old (well past the lifespan of a furnace these days), and needed repair, I took it for granted that I’d get at least one more winter out of it.  Not so – I was forced to deal with the expense of a new furnace a year earlier than I had planned.  And my dishwasher that died this summer – 15 years old – I hadn’t planned for that, and we’ve resorted to doing dishes by hand.

We do it with our cars, our phones, our 

computers, and even our bodies.  We take it for granted that things are just going to keep working…we never think that something is going to give out, even when it’s old, and therefore don’t think about or plan for repairing or replacing it.  And when that time comes, we typically experience great stress over the hassle and cost of repairs/replacement.  One solution is to build a capital replacement reserve in your cash flow plans.

Larger businesses have policies, systems, and processes to track their capital equipment, its expected life, replacement costs and annual operating costs.  They also build up reserve funds (capital replacement funds) so that when something breaks or dies, they are prepared – they have a process and the funds to deal with those “unexpected” break-downs.  And they have similar processes for when key employees “break-down”, by ensuring that at least one other staff member is properly trained to do the job and can step in if and when needed, at least in the short term.

So what are you taking for granted in your home or business?  And what policies, systems, and processes (including financial) can you put in place to give you peace of mind and to deal with “break-downs” with greater ease and grace when they happen?

If you need assistance with your cash flow plans, send me an email…let’s see how I can help 🙂


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://54.82.103.175/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Linda-Spencer-Visionspire-cropped.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Linda Spencer is a CPA, CA, Canadian Tax Specialist and Money Mindfulness Coach. Her mission is to eliminate the stress and anxiety you experience around money and taxes, by empowering you with the know-how and mindsets to improve your business success and financial wellness, so you can have more harmony, joy and abundance in your life.[/author_info] [/author]

 

How Farming Prepared Me for Entrepreneurship

I spent the first 19 years of my life on a beef farm with my loving parents and 3 younger siblings in the Eastern Townships (QC).  It was a lot of hard work (and hardship) and simply our way of life.  Never once did I think of it as a business, with plans and strategies, and committed action to get desired results…until after I myself became an entrepreneur.  Even though I had years of education and training in accounting and finance, I realize now that growing up on a farm was likely some of the best training I could have for running my own business.  Here’s why:

1 – Farming takes dedication, resiliency and hard work, and a love for that way of life…it’s not for the faint of heart.  I feel the same for entrepreneurship.

2 – Farming requires a lot of planning and strategic action to achieve desired results in the timelines afforded by the changing seasons.  Running a successful business requires knowing your markets, having clear plans and taking strategic action to get the results you know are possible.

3 – You can’t run a farm successfully on your own – as in business, you need a good team.

4 – As a farmer, you need to build great relationships with your suppliers, your customers and your team members that fully support you in achieving your success.  This same is true in business.

5 – My family really loves what they do and puts so much love into caring for the land and each of the animals on their farm.  This love and compassion was instilled in me, and as an entrepreneur, I really care for my clients.  I love serving them and seeing the joy on their faces as a result of their transformations and the results they’ve realized from working with me. 

6 – Farming is a 24/7 job (at least the kind of farming we did)…you could be up before the sun and not get to bed until the wee hours of the morning (especially if it’s birthing season or maple season).  As an entrepreneur, I eat, breathe and sleep my business.  It’s an integral part of me, and often has me up into the wee hours of the night (especially when I’m in creative mode).

7 –  As a farmer, you need to be prepared for life’s curve balls (uncooperative weather, sick animals, illness, injury, economic set-backs, influences beyond your control) – having back up plans, risk management systems, and a good support system are essential to handling those curve balls with ease and grace.  These are also essential for success in business.

8 – Growing up, we had to make do with what we had.  That meant being really resourceful, thinking outside the box and finding solutions that required little to no money.  If it meant rolling up our sleeves, getting our hands dirty (and worn), and creating something out of nothing, we did it.  I’m finding this has become a great skill in the beginning stages of my business.

9 – My dad never seemed to stress if things didn’t go so well on the farm.  Sometimes SH*t happens – it is what it is…no point stressing over it…just assess the situation, learn from it, find a better solution and move on.  I’ve had many challenges in starting and growing my business.  Thankfully, I adopted my dad’s outlook on dealing with those challenges…otherwise I likely would have given up and gone back to a full-time job long ago.

10 – In farming, you really need good tracking systems and processes – whether it’s for your cash flow or your animal inventory (I saw my dad, and now my brother, tracking the cows and money almost daily – perhaps this is where I adopted my love and propensity for numbers, and why I became an accountant).  As an entrepreneur, you really have to know your numbers (sales, marketing analytics, financials, etc.) and what they’re telling you so you can make the right decisions for you and your business.

So there you have it – 10 ways that farming prepared me for running my own business…and I never really acknowledged or appreciated them until just recently.

So what about you?  What skills did you acquire from your childhood that maybe you haven’t acknowledged or appreciated until now? I would love to hear about them…leave your comments below.

If you would like to chat about how I can help you with growing your business, CLICK HERE to book a complimentary clarity call.

Getting Comfortable with Money

The more comfortable you get with Money, the more you empower yourself.

I hear many people say they don’t pay attention to their finances because it stresses them out (likely a huge factor behind today’s low financial literacy rates).  One of the reasons for this stress is that they don’t know what to look at or what to do.

Let me tell you a story to shift this perspective.

I have a client who, 9 months ago, had this same perception of money – it was stressful.  She never looked at her numbers, and as long as her debit card worked, she felt everything was ok.  Her husband took care of all the finances (and the stress of dealing with it).  He balanced her books for her and took care of their personal money matters for which she had no awareness or interest.

Then she heard me speak about having a relationship with Money (instead of treating it like just a thing, or a “necessary evil”), which completely shifted her perception and way of being with Money.  She started paying attention to it, understanding it, and looking for ways to bring more money in.

This client recently told me that she now looks at her numbers daily, has gone to her bank about reducing fees and asking about investments (something she had zero knowledge of 9 months ago), and is becoming her own money “guru”.

This new “relationship” with money has empowered her beyond her imagination (and beyond her husband’s imagination) – giving her more confidence in her business and in her relationships, and resulting in greater ease for her business and her family.

Money is the #1 factor causing stress in North America, but it doesn’t have to be.  When you shift your perceptions, and pay attention to your finances, ask questions and learn more about them, you WILL become empowered to take INSPIRED action to build your net worth.

What actions will you take today to empower yourself with money and finance?

 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://54.82.103.175/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Linda-Spencer-Visionspire-cropped.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Linda Spencer brings 20 years of professional accounting and tax knowledge to her more recent accreditation as a Certified Money, Marketing & Soul Coach. Through her money mindset and profitability workshops, group training programs, guest speaking and 1-1 coaching, she helps heart centered business owners transform their relationship with money & finance (reducing their money stress), so they can do more of what they love with greater ease and joy. If you would like to be more empowered to create the business (and life) you imagine, with Money as your PARTNER, Linda can help. Contact her for a no-obligation 30 minute complimentary Clarity Call to learn what your next steps should be. [/author_info] [/author]

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Know Your Numbers

In my 20 year career as a professional accountant and now business coach, I have worked and talked with hundreds of entrepreneurs.  I’ve seen many grow their business exponentially, and I’ve seen some fail.  Many entrepreneurs have told me they’re struggling to make ends meet.  When I ask them if they know how much money they’ve made and spent in the last 6 months, or if they have a plan, almost all of them say no…they don’t track their numbers (many handing over all their receipts for the year to their accountant at tax time), or if they do have their bookkeeping done, they don’t look at the numbers.  Many tell me that they don’t look at their numbers because they don’t know anything about finance, dealing with finance/money stresses them out, and/or they don’t have time.  This certainly backs up the statistic that over 85% of business failures can be attributed to a lack of financial planning and organization.

If you want to have financial wellness and abundance, one of the essential keys is to know your numbers and what to do with them so you can take the appropriate action in line with your business (and life) objectives.

If you don’t track and review your numbers, how would you know how you’re doing?  How would you know if the products you’re trying to sell are making you money?  How would you know if your marketing and sales efforts are paying off in profitable returns?

What numbers could you be tracking?  Literally, hundreds.  But here are some key financial numbers that every business owner should know and understand:

  • Cash in, cash out, net cash flow – What do you bring in, spend, and how much is left each month?
  • Collection rates – How long does it take you to get paid? Do you have policies and processes in place to ensure you’re getting paid on time (or faster)?  Statistics show that any money owed to you that is more than 90 days old likely won’t be collected.
  • Cash burn rate – How fast do you burn through your cash on hand? Typically, you want this to be 3 to 6 months.  It’s a fast track to failure if you don’t have cash to meet your next payroll.
  • Revenues – Are your sales increasing? Decreasing? Are you hitting your targets?
  • Product and Client profitability – How much money is each of your products/services and clients making you…you want to focus on the profitable ones, and let go of the ones that don’t make you money.
  • Gross margin and profit margin – Compare your margins to plan and industry averages – how are you doing? Do you know how much sales you have to make for every dollar you spend in order to have the profits you’d like to have?
  • Capital spending and Return on Assets (ROA) – What are you investing in your business (and do you have a plan for this)? Are the assets you’re buying making you money?
  • Cost of client acquisition – What is it costing you to bring on a new client [=total marketing costs/# new clients]?
  • Return on investment (ROI) – Are your investments making you money, and how much? You can look at this not only from actual investments in stocks/funds/etc., but from every expense line and every effort you make. For example, you may want to know the ROI on your investment in your learning, investment in marketing and advertising efforts, or investment in people.

Whether your focus is on marketing, sales, productivity or profits, you need to track the appropriate numbers and review them on a regular basis to make sure you’re on track with your plans.  By looking at your numbers, and understanding their story, you can then identify the money/productivity leaks and opportunities on which you can take action to grow your business and your profits.

Every person has the opportunity to have financial wellness and abundance.  The difference between the 30% of the population who thrives financially, and the 30% of the population that struggles to survive, is that those who thrive have a plan, track and review their numbers, and take inspired action to grow their net worth.

Your numbers tell a story.  They tell you where you’re making money, where you’re losing money, and whether your efforts are paying off.  Do you know what story your numbers are telling you?

If you would like to empower your financial wellness and abundance, and get to know you numbers better, I can help.  Drop me a line and let’s talk.

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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Linda Spencer, CPA, CA Certified Money, Marketing & Soul Coach [/author_info] [/author]

12 Ways to Optimize Your Cash Flows and Taxes Before the Year is Through

Most entrepreneurs aren’t thinking about their 2016 taxes this month, but they should be…there are some things you need to do before December 31 to take advantage of certain deductions and tax credits for your 2016 tax return.  And, it’s also a good time to have a boost in your cash flows.  Here are 12 tips:

Increase Your Cash Flows

  1. Want a boost in your cash flows this last month of the year?Look at where you are leaving money on the table – it could be outstanding receivables, over-delivering on your services, not following up on leads (how awesome would it be to book another client or two just before Christmas?!).
  • While you’re at it, why not review your payment policies…maybe a change is required such that you’re getting paid in advance or at the very least on the day of service (that way you don’t have to worry about chasing those receivables after the fact).
  • Now is also a good time to review your pricing strategies to make sure your charging for value.  Now would be a good time to notify your clients of price increases that will take effect in January.

 

2.  Consider accelerating purchases for your business.

As a business owner, you probably have a good idea of the things you need for your business.  If you want to get the deduction from your income this year, purchase items you need in your business on credit in December and pay for them in January when your credit card is due.  This way you’ll get the tax deduction this year but defer the cash outlay until next year.

  1. Pre-sell packages/services/goods to be delivered in the new year.

‘Tis the season for giving, so why not offer an incentive for people to pre-order goods and services and pay for them now, that they’ll receive in the new year.  Examples could be taking custom orders for your goods for future delivery, offering gift certificates for clients to give to their loved ones that they can use in the new year, offer savings/bonuses to pre-sell a program/course/workshop that will take place in the new year.

4.  If you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to look at your 2017 plan.  When you have clarity in where you’re going, and align your actions to achieve that, you’re telling the Universe that you’re open and ready to receive.  That receiving may even happen sooner than you think.  Going back to my previous point – when you have clarity of your 2017 goals/targets/plan, you can decide which offers to promote and pre-sell now.

When you’re planning for the new year, plan with the end in mind and ask these key strategy questions:

    • What is your overall vision, purpose and goal?
    • Where will you play (play where your target clients are)?  How will you become more visible and build your audience?
    • How will you hit/exceed your targets?  What will  you offer, at what price? How/when will you get paid? What are you marketing/sales strategies? How will you know you’re on track?  What are your back up plans?
    • What capabilities/resources need to be in place to support that?
    • What management systems need to be adopted and implement to support that?

 

Optimize your 2016 taxes

So now you’ve injected some extra cash into your bank before year-end, the year would not be complete without thinking about how to optimize your taxes.  Here are some tax-saving tips that you’d need to consider doing before year-end.

  1.  Maximize your CCA (tax depreciation) claims.

Purchase business equipment before year-end to accelerate the capital cost allowance (CCA) deduction by one year.  For most equipment purchases, you get 1/2 the CCA deduction in the year of purchase.  So if you purchase in Dec 2016, you get 1/2 the year’s CCA in 2016, then a full year’s worth in 2017.  If you wait until early 2017 to make the purchase, you only get 1/2 the year’s CCA in 2017, even though you’ve been using it for almost a full year.   Again, buy them on credit and pay later, allowing your to get the deduction in 2016, but defer the cash outlay to 2017.

2.  Keep cash in the family and reduce your taxes.

Pay a reasonable salary to your kids/partner for actual work they do for you (this is a form of acceptable income splitting).  You get the deduction, and the income should be picked up in their income tax return for the year, presumably at a lower tax rate than yours.  But, also beware of additional tax compliance and amounts you have to remit (such as CPP contributions and completing T4’s).

3.  Maximize your car expenses.

If you use your car for business, and you know you’re car is in need of service and repairs (perhaps new winter tires?), make those necessary car repairs before year-end to get the deduction in your 2016 income (in proportion to your business use of your car).  While you’re at it, update your mileage log to track all your business km’s.

4.  Maximize the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG) for the year by making your RESP contributions prior to December 31.

If you have kids under the age of 18, the Canadian government give you a grant on the RESP contributions made for your kids’ post-secondary education.  The grant is 20% of the RESP contributions, to a maximum of $500 on $2500 of contributions made in the calendar year.  Now is the time to top up your RESP contributions to take advantage of the maximum available CESG for the year.  There are additional grants available for low income families and kids with disabilities.

5.  Maximize your RRSP contributions.

Assuming no carry-over room or pension adjustments, you can contribute 18% of your earned income for the previous year to your RRSP in 2016 (to a maximum of $25,370 for 2016 contributions).  Many people wait to top up their RRSP contributions until February.  However, there are a few instances where it would make more sense to do so before the end of the year.

    • If you’re nearing retirement, and make spousal RRSP contributions, consider that if you wait until Jan/Feb 2017 to make those contribution, your spouse will not be eligible to withdraw them until 2020.  Making the contribution in 2016 accelerates the eligible spousal withdrawal to 2019.
    • As a tax free savings vehicle, if you’re 18 or older, you can make after-tax contributions to a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA).  The maximum contribution for 2016 is $5500 (like RRSP’s, the unused contribution room gets carried forward and available to you in future years).  If you’re planning to make a withdrawal from your TFSA, do it now instead of waiting until January – that way your withdrawal is added back to your contribution limit for 2017 (otherwise you have to wait until 2018 to be eligible to add it back into your TFSA).

6.  Maximize your medical tax credits.

Medical and dental expenses incurred in the year can only be claim if paid in 12 month period (claim period) that ends on or before December 31.  So, you’ll want to pay those outstanding medical expenses/prescription refills/dental bills before year-end to maximize your claim for 2016.

7.  Optimize your charitable donations tax credits.

Total charitable donations in excess of $200 made in the year can give a higher tax credit (approximately 40% in Ontario) than your marginal income tax rate, giving  you a net benefit on your tax return.  But, the donations have to be made in on or before December 31 in order to be claimed on your 2016 tax return. So if you’re planning on giving, December is a great month to give.

8.  If you have unregistered investments which are giving you taxable gains in the year, consider selling stocks with accrued losses to offset realized gains for the year to reduce your taxable income.  Also, consider paying investment related expenses before year-end in order to get the deduction for this year against your investment income.

 

So there you have it – 12 ways to increase your cash flow and optimize your taxes for 2016.  Of course, these are general statements – each person’s situation is different and must be considered carefully before making decisions that will affect your taxes and cash flow, taking in to account the specifics of your situation.  I would suggest you speak to your accountant/tax advisor/investment advisor to be sure you’re making the best choices for your unique situation.  I’m happy to assist as well – contact me and request your complimentary clarity session to see how I may help.

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