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!

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8 Things You Need to Know as CFO of Your Small Business

Let’s face it, as a small business owner, you wear many hats – one being that of Chief Financial Officer (CFO).  And as the CFO of your business, you are focused on strategy, planning and operating your business in a way that optimizes your profits and cash flow, and ultimately your financial value.  As CEO (Chief Executive/Operating Officer), you have the big picture vision, the dream.  But as CFO, you are the gate-keeper, the one that ensures the investment in the big picture vision is sound.

This is why I am sharing with you 8 key things that top CFO’s are concerned with to help you make better business decisions and avoid the top small business money mistakes.

  1. Revenue / Sales

The key to any business success is SALES!  No sales, no cash, no business.  So as CFO, you need to understand your sales numbers, as well as your products and target customers, so that you can recommend and take courses of action to ensure that you are going to hit/exceed your sales targets…things like return on marketing, cost of client acquisition and retention, pricing strategies and policies.  The key here is knowing your market and having a good sales and marketing system, as well as having good customer service…after all, it’s easier to get repeat business and referrals than it is new business from strangers.

  1. Vision for the Future

So many entrepreneurs operate by the seat of their pants, looking at short term gains with no real vision for the future.  While this might work in the short run, it is not a sustainable model for the long term.  The cornerstone of what I coach my clients is always to start with the end in mind, and have that end in mind when making your business decisions.  This includes having a written business plan (operational, financial and marketing/sales)…it doesn’t have to be elaborate (unless it’s required by investors/lenders), but it does need to be written down somewhere, vetted and shared with your team, and re-visited regularly.

  1. Talent Acquisition and Management

At one conference I attended, the common message I heard from all the women entrepreneurs who shared their success stories is that the key to their success was building good relationships and having a good team.  This is consistent with my research and with what big business CFO’s have shared with me personally.  You need to have the right people doing the right things with the right tools…and you need to have a system for evaluating their performance, rewarding them and retaining them.  You want a team that will challenge your ideas and strategies, to ensure that you are making the best choices for your business and your clients (and you’ll want to encourage them to do so).

  1. Risk Management

Risk management has been one of my main focus areas for over 10 years.  It is an area that is top of mind for big business CFO’s, but it is one of the most neglected areas in small and micro business.  Yet, risk is an area that can sink a small business in a heartbeat if not managed properly.  Do you know what your risks are?  They could be legal, operational, reputational, financial and credit, compliance, technology, privacy, economic or market risk.  What if something went wrong in providing a service to your client and they sued you?  What if you made a big order with a supplier and they didn’t deliver?  What if an employee was committing fraud?  Or someone was stealing your intellectual property? Or if you didn’t pay your taxes? Or if your technology failed, or someone hacked in and stole your data?  Some effective ways to manage these risks include first identifying your risks, then ensuring you have adequate and appropriate insurance, legal contracts, effective policies and procedures, and internal controls.  How does your business measure up to its risks?

  1. Governance

Along with risk management, comes governance.  Corporate governance is the system by which companies are directed and controlled. It provides the structure through which businesses set and pursue their objectives, while reflecting the context of the social, regulatory and market environments they play in.  For many small business owners, corporate governance and reporting is an afterthought…the reason being may be that many small business are not held accountable by any particular governing body, so governance and reporting takes a back seat to everything else in the business.  Why does this matter?  For one, good corporate governance strengthens a company’s reputation and risk management practices.

Not having good governance structure and practices could lead to things such as the following practices that could cause harm to others and ultimately cripple a business:

  • taking risks which have serious consequences, neglect of duty of care
  • dishonesty, withholding information, distortion of facts
  • misleading communications or advertising
  • avoiding blame or penalty or payment of compensation for wrong-doing
  • secrecy and lack of transparency and resistance to reasonable investigation
  • harming the environment or planet, people or animals
  • unnecessary waste or consumption
  • invasion of privacy or anything causing privacy to be compromised
  • conflict of interest, betrayal of trust or breaking confidentiality

As CFO of your business, the gate-keeper, you need to ensure you have good governance and reporting practices to reduce your risks.

  1. Operating Productivity

Often, cost control is a function of operational productivity.  This includes measuring how well you, your team and your assets are working for you.  What is your return on time and investments? You can look at revenues and costs as a function of time, or people (by function of sales, marketing, operations, technology, admin), or assets (particularly if you’re a capital intensive business).

  1. Profits and Cash Flow

No entrepreneur gets into business with a view of incurring losses…and it sucks when that happens.  Profits are often the driving force for creating financial value and obtaining financing.  But it’s not just revenue minus expenses…you have to also take into account depreciation and other costs indirect costs that you might not be thinking of on a regular basis, such as interest, taxes, and what you pay yourself (and YES – you should be paying yourself, just as you would for any other employee).

Even more important than profits, I think, is cash flow…you need to know what cash is coming in (receivables and collections) and going out (payables, payroll and taxes), and when, so that you can manage it effectively and ensure that you are still paying yourself, your employees  AND all the other bills.  That’s why it’s important to track, reconcile your accounts and review your cash flow at least on a monthly basis (or weekly is better) so you can make quick decisions to bring in more cash, especially if you’re facing a shortfall.  Doing so can also help identify problem areas in your business that need further investigation.

  1. Tax Planning and Optimization

As a small business owner, you have options as to how you structure your business, and what makes the most sense for you from a tax perspective…you don’t want to be paying too much tax, but also need to ensure you’re not under-reporting your income or over-deducting expenses.  Unexpected tax audit adjustments can be costly, and come with significant interest and penalties.  I’ve seen businesses go out of business because of unforeseen tax assessments.  This not only goes for income taxes, but for sales taxes and payroll taxes as well.

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How do you track and report all this?  Where do you start?  Start by working with your professional advisors… Ask your accountant questions so they can help you understand what your numbers are telling you.  Hire a business consultant – they’re trained to see and understand the big picture, analyze the situation and identify areas for improvement, as well as the solutions to implement for greater success.  If your concern is sales, hire a sales consultant or coach. Talk to your lawyer about hedging your legal risks, and to your business insurance agent to ensure you’re adequately covered.

Still not sure?  Send me an email…I’d be happy to discuss your situation to see how I can help directly or refer you to someone in my vast network of business experts (accountants, lawyers, marketing strategists, sales coaches, social media experts, web and graphic designers, content writers, technology solutions, insurance specialists, financial analysts and advisors, HR specialists, recruiters, and more!).  And check out upcoming workshops and programs than may assist you www.visionspire.ca/events

Contact Linda@visionspire.ca .

 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Linda Spencer is a CPA, CA, Canadian Tax Specialist and Money, Marketing & Soul business coach. Her mission is to eliminate stress and anxiety around money and taxes, by empowering heart-centered small business owners with the tools, knowledge, strategies and mindsets to put them in the driver seat of their financial success and wellness.[/author_info] [/author]

How to Harness the Power of Gratitude and Appreciation to Create Success

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As our friends in the US celebrate their Thanksgiving today, I’ve been reflecting this week on the power of gratitude and appreciation to create success.  I believe, and have experienced greatly, that every facet of our lives is intertwined – there is no separation – and have adopted an attitude of gratitude for every single facet (even the aspects that are “bad”).  Let me share with you how you can improve your business success by showing gratitude and appreciation in the 6 pillars of your business:

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  1. Clients– Without clients and customers, you have no revenues. When you look at most business models, they put their clients at the top – excellence in client service is their #1 goal.  As a service provider, I constantly strive to improve what and how I deliver to my clients…I want them to not only feel but KNOW they are appreciated.  It can be as simple as a thoughtful thank-you, or a client appreciation gift or special VIP treatment.  It’s not just the what you do to show appreciation, but the how often as well.  Having regular points of contact will increase the client’s experience with you.  No doubt, as a client, I like to feel appreciated and that I’m getting the best product or service for my investment.  As a client, when I feel appreciated, I’m more likely to do more business with you and contribute to your cash flow.  It’s easier to produce revenues from a few appreciated clients than it is to make cold sales.
  2. Employees (and contractors)– If you want to grow your business, you will have a team to support you, either a team of employees or a team of contracted support workers. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to do your business effectively, and your client’s experience would then suffer.  It’s a fact that happy employees are more productive and loyal employees.  It’s easy to give feedback when things aren’t going right, but what’s necessary is to give gratitude and appreciation to your team when thing ARE going right.  When employees feel appreciated, they will be even more committed to producing better results for you.
  3. Suppliers– We know that client and employee appreciation are key to driving your revenues, but what about your suppliers? I find that when I’m engaged with my suppliers, and show my gratitude for them with thank you’s and referrals, I’m more likely to get even better service from them.  It instils more trust in the relationship with them, and reduces my stress levels because I can trust that I’m going to get great results, and not “waste” my time having to do it over again myself (or have to pay to get someone to do it right).  Showing supplier appreciation can help get things done right the first time, and they may give you even more than what you paid for.
  4. Referral Network– I have to say that most of my clients have come from referrals. Without my referral network to support me when I started my business, I would have struggled and worked a lot harder to have those clients enter my world.  It goes without saying that I feel a world of gratitude to my referral network, but I could do a lot more to show that appreciation.  Other than one-on-one time, I’m now working on implementing a formal referral appreciation program.  It doesn’t have to be big, but I think showing your gratitude to referrals goes a long way in getting even more business and improving your business success.
  5. Family and Friends– Where would you be without the support of family and friends? When you’re so busy in your business, it’s easy to take family and friends for granted.  However, this group is likely your biggest fan base, and wants to see you succeed and celebrate in your success.  It’s important to stay connected and spend quality time building and maintaining your personal relationships and showing your appreciation.  Speaking first hand, I know this is an area I struggle with – sometimes it’s easier to appreciate strangers than it is to show your family and friends how much you love and appreciate them.  But, without support at home, the stress in your home relationships will spill over to create more stress in your business, and both will suffer.
  6. You– YOU are your business…As a small business owner or solopreneur, chances are, without you, your business would not operate. Therefore, it’s important for the success of your business that you appreciate you – take care of your body, mind and soul.  Take time-outs every day, and take those vacations where you un-plug for at lease one day a week.  Appreciating you also comes in the form of valuing your time.  So many people struggle with this, especially women – we tend to undercharge and over-deliver for our services, mostly because we are nurturers and want to make sure everyone is taken care of (usually at the expense of not taking care of ourselves).  When you value and appreciate yourself, you are more likely to attract the types of clients, team, and suppliers who will also value and appreciate you, and you will be more likely to value and appreciate your support network (family, friends, referrals, etc).  And THAT is great for business success!

To sum it all up, when you truly appreciate all of these pillars, and give no one more importance over the other, true success happens.  The trick is finding and giving balance to create harmony amongst them.  As we near the end of 2015 celebrating the  holidays, now’s the time to reflect on each of your 6 pillars and decide where you will take inspired action to improve those relationships heading into 2016.  In my experience, when you value and appreciate each of the 6 pillars, business success WILL follow, and so will greater freedom to give and receive even more appreciation.

Having an attitude of gratitude is a key to success…and I am eternally grateful to you – my readers.  Without you, I have no reason to share 🙂

If you would like to learn more about how to create value in your business, sign up for a complimentary Business Clarity Session

In celebration of this weekend of gratitude and thanksgiving, I’d also invite you to take advantage of a special APPRECIATION discount on my upcoming workshop on December 11th Build Your 3P’s of Success: Profits, Packages & Pricing (happening at the Club at North Halton in Georgetown, ON).  Use promotional code PROMO40 to receive 40% off registration (you pay $197+HST instead of $297+HST).  This Appreciation discount expires on November 30th.

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8 Simple Steps to Create Your Business Success Road Map

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You know how it goes – you talk to financial advisors, they work with you to create a plan for financial savings and investment.  You talk to your fitness coach, they work with you to create a plan to reach your fitness goals.  You plan your wedding, your home renovations, your family vacations.  You spend time and money investing in planning in other areas of your life, why would you not do the same for your business?
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Investing in strategic business planning is essential for your business success.  A strategic business plan is your road map, your compass to guide you to where you want to go with your business.  It gives you clear direction of how to get from point A to point B without getting lost.  A good strategic business plan helps you to execute efficiently and not waste time with trial and error, or with what I like to call, the spaghetti method (throwing something at the wall and hoping it sticks).  A good strategic plan keeps you focused.
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It’s never too late (or too early) to create your business plan for success, whether you’re new to business and in the pre-launch phase, or have been in business for years.
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I get it, creating a business plan can be daunting (I know – I’ve seen the templates, tried to use them myself, and abandoned them as they gave me headaches).  You don’t need a 50 page business plan document, but you do need to invest some time and energy into the planning exercise if you want to have focus and direction.  My own business plan isn’t a 50 page document…it’s an organized, tabbed binder with different sections of business planning consideration (such as goals, target market, products & services, pricing strategies, sales & marketing strategies, financial plans, etc).

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DREAM. PLAN. EXECUTE, with ease, by going the most direct, efficient way possible.
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Having a good strategic business plan is absolutely essential to your success and the lack thereof is why so many businesses fail.  In fact, 85% of business failures are due to lack of improper planning and organization.
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But you don’t need a 50 page plan to succeed.  What you do need is a simple, executable plan that will help you succeed!  And you need to do your homework!  A written plan is just evidence that you’ve done your homework to ensure the viability of your big idea and to set a clear direction and path to success.
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Here are 8 simple steps to creating your business plan for success:


  1.  Start with the end in mind – where do you want your business to go? Write down your goals for the next year, 3 years, 10 years.  Really challenge yourself – Dream BIG!  If you think small, you’ll play small – so think BIG!

  2. Know where you are now, financially, systematically, operationally. This means you’re going to have to get organized with your financials and conduct a little internal assessment of where your are now.

  3. Analyze the gaps to see where you need to invest more time/effort/resources. What skills to you need to develop?  Where do you need to shift your time and resources?  What money and success mindsets and habits do you need to adopt to help close those gaps?

  4. Clarify your target market , understand your market and competitors, and build your marketing plan. Do your homework and get really crystal clear here – it will drive almost everything else in your business plan, including how you’re going to fill some of those gaps you identified.

  5. Build your service offerings in such a way that addresses your clients biggest pain points with ease, and create a financial plan based delivering those service offerings (focus on a few key priorities instead of trying to offer everything under the sun to everyone). You can now tweak and finalize your marketing plan.

  6. Identify systems and your team that will support you and your business. You can’t do it all yourself, as least not efficiently and without burnout.  You need a team, whether it’s hiring employees or hiring out certain functions of your business (such as bookkeeping, sales and administration).  Decide on the systems that are going to support you the most and create the most ease for you in your business.  Systems can be as simple as checklists and calendars, to full operations manuals and fully automated end-to-end solutions.   Automate as much as possible.

  7. Have back up plans for when things don’t quite go as initially planned. Every business hits roadblocks at some point – power failures, illness, market crashes, changes in direction.  And you need to be prepared to make detours so that the roadblocks don’t derail your journey to success.

  8. Start driving your way to success, and celebrate the milestones as you reach them. Check in with how you’re doing against your plans, and build in what I call reflection days – days that you take to reflect how your week/month/year went, what you’re doing well, and where you’ve fallen short, so you can adjust your course as needed.

Remember, business success does not happen over night.  And business planning is not a one-time thing.   Your plan is a living, breathing document (or binder with tabs in my case), that should be revisited at least annually (quarterly is better). Take time to stop and reflect regularly to see where you are in achieving your goals, and to adjust your course as necessary to get back on track if you’ve been derailed.
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Where you focus your attention is where you will get results.  So get planning and take inspired action to realize those business results that you want to achieve!  I love success stories and would love to hear how you’re doing so I can share in celebrating your success!   Email me at Linda@visionspire.ca.
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PS – If you are ready for assistance with building or even reviewing your plans, book your complimentary clarity call to clarify what your next steps should be.  I’d be happy to help you build your strategy and action plan for success!

Complete the following form to request a private Clarity Session with Linda

How can I help? What are your top 3 business priorities/pressing issues that you would like solved right away?

Feel free to ask a question or simply leave a comment.

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Weathering the Storms – Team Support

I think one of the most difficult things as a business owner (especially women) is reaching out for help.   We tend to believe that we can do it all ourselves, to run our business, our homes, our lives and weather the storms alone.  Truth is, we don’t need to, and why would we want to?  The worst thing we could do is keep all the burden to ourselves for ourselves – it will only lead to stress, illness, burnout and ultimate business failure.  The biggest step to take is to change our mindset, from lone warrior to co-creator, and to acknowledge we do need help to create our dream with more ease.  Then, we need to ask for that help.  There is a whole team of people just waiting for us to ask for their help in creating our business success.
Read more on setting business goals and reflection to hold your confidence during the storms of your business in my contribution to Halton Hills Chamber of Commerce blog posted November 5, 2015…
(This post is also published on my former site LindaSpencerTaxConsulting.com)