Archive for October, 2012

5 Things You Should Know Before Starting a Business

With Guest Blogger Jenn Hall of OSIM Interactive

When starting a business it’s always better to know as much as you can beforehand. Over the 10 years I have worked with businesses I have seen some costly mistakes, affecting both the bottom line and the owner’s personal success, which could have been avoided.

Here is a list of 5 things that you should know before you start your business:

The government will find you

You can’t hide from the government. They will find out you are in business and expect you to follow applicable regulations. The rules for HST, source deductions, taxes, labour, and other laws are all published online and all levels of government are more then willing to help you in the process of setting up your business properly. Federal, Provincial, and most municipalities have a website that has vast amounts of information for reference. Each level of government also has a telephone number to contact and ask questions. Overall, do the work to know the rules. Claiming ignorance when the government comes looking for payments will not save you the penalties, interest, and fines imposed if you’re breaking a law.

Find an advisor who knows what they’re taking about

Anyone can claim to be a business advisor, they just need a business card and sales pitch. When starting a business you should not need to pay for a first meeting with an advisor. A real business advisor can be found by contacting your local CFDC or Business Centre, asking business professionals (your lawyer, accountant, or banker) for a referral, or contacting a local college or university for referrals. If someone is claiming to be able to make you millions of dollars with the contribution of some of your hard earned cash…run, fast! As to the role of an advisor, they’re available to guide and help you; they will not do the work for you. Advisors help you get connected to the people, mentors or other businesses that can help you in the process of building your business.

Pick one thing and do it well

You cannot be everything to everyone. It is physically impossible, so stop trying!  When starting a business most people know what they want to do. They have decided that whatever skill, product, or service they offer is something that they can do well enough to generate an income. Most people go wrong when they stray too far from the original item or idea. It’s always better to say no to a project that you’re truly unsure of rather than to take on a project and fail horribly. The possible negative response from a unsatisfied customer will have a long-term affect on your business and isn’t worth the risk. Be honest with people, they will appreciate it more than a costly mistake.

Know who you’re in business with

Not every personal relationship can handle the stress of a business relationship. The best marriages can end over a business and friendships can be ruined. It’s always important to test the waters before you go into business with someone you wish to have a future with. Care must also be taken with the contacts that you make in business. You need to identify staff and suppliers that work well with you. Trust your gut, it is usually right. Never hire or work with another business out of desperation, it’s guaranteed to come back to haunt you.

Plan, Plan, Plan

The best thing you can do for your business? Write a business plan. A business plan will allow you to organize all of your ideas and gives you time to think the process though. A plan will encompass the rules are you need to follow, who you will work with, what you need in a potential staff or supplier, and what you are going to sell/make/do. The most vital piece of the plan is the financial planning. It is much easier to find out on paper that the numbers don’t work in advance than to be up to your ears in debt too far into the growth of your company. Your business advisor will be able to help you work though the process of building a plan.

 

Posted in: Guest Blogger, Small Business Advice

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Accessibility Standards: Is Your Business Prepared?

Come to the WWCFDC office to check out a copy of the Compliance Manual for Small Businesses from our resource library.

You may already know that as of January 1st, 2012 every private, public, and not-for-profit sector organization must comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), but figuring out what this legislation means for your small business can be a bit confusing.

Basically, if you have at least one employee or provide goods and services to the public, you must meet the requirements or risk fines ranging from $200 to $15,000. However, removing barriers to accessibility in your business has less to do with possible fines and more to do with doing the right thing; it’s your role as part of a responsible business community to ensure respect for equal opportunity.

So how can you become compliant with the AODA?

Establish policies, practices, and procedures – This standard involves listing specific policies allowing customers with disabilities to maintain their independence (i.e. letting your customers do things in their own way and ensuring that all customers receive the same level of service). Identify any gaps between your policies and what people with disabilities might need in order to access your services.

Example: a clothing store might include an exception on a “no refunds, credit only” policy if fitting rooms are not wheelchair accessible.

Provide training  Training must include an overview of the purposes of the AODA and must be provided to employees, volunteers, agents, contractors, and others who may interact with the public on your behalf. You can determine the content of your training and find some helpful resources at ontario.ca/AccessON.

Establish a feedback process – Your business will need a process for collecting feedback as well as a process for responding to questions or concerns.

Example: a bed-and-breakfast might include a notice on receipts that informs guests they may submit any feedback at the front desk or through their website. Furthermore, detailed information about the feedback process is posted on their website.

Communication – This aspect of the AODA concerns how you take into account a person’s disability when interacting. Think about how people with various disabilities communicate and how you may have to alter your communication to suit the situation and the person’s needs. The best thing to do is ask your customer how best to communicate with them and how you can help.

Example: if you offer a schedule in paper format, perhaps your website can include an accessible format that can be read with a a screen reader so that a customer with low vision may access the schedule at home on their computer despite it not being available in braille.

Service animals & support persons– Service animals must be permitted onto any part of the premises that is open to the public, except where the animal is otherwise excluded by law. Furthermore, those with disabilities must be able to bring a support person with them when accessing goods or services.

Example: A theatre informs patrons that support persons are permitted and not charged admission to the show.

Notice of temporary service disruptions – Prepare a template of a notice for any interruption in service that may affect access to your goods and services. Your notice should include a reason for the disruption, how long the service will remain unavailable, and the alternative facilities when possible.

Documentation – Pertaining to businesses with 20 or more employees, you must prepare documentation that includes specific information on each of the aforementioned aspects of AODA compliance.

Which requirements apply to your business? 

To determine what you’ll need to implement for your business in particular, check out the AODA E-Wizard. It’s free and sums up a personalized list of things you need to do.

More summarized information on the regulations can be found by clicking here.

Posted in: Small Business Solutions

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What can Social Media Really do for Your Business?

Guest Post by Matthew Piggott from Community CarShare

We live in an online world where Facebook is your town square, Twitter is a local group of opinion leaders, and LinkedIn is your virtual Rolodex. Many platforms exist and your business is trying to find out what works best. At Community CarShare the majority of our growth still comes from word of mouth and traditional forms of promotion, but an increasing amount of sales are coming from online marketing driven by social media. Every business should be monitoring whether, and to what extent, to be part of social media.

A common question asked is, “what is the return on investment of social media?” Any responsible business should be asking that question, but ultimately the question is best answered with your gut rather than your head at this point.  Sites like Klout.com, Google Analytics, and the ad section of Facebook will give you lots of data, but it doesn’t paint a complete picture of the true worth of social media. When your BIA sends you an invite to this month’s networking meeting, do your rush to quantify the value of attending? I’m guessing not, so base your decision to get involved on Twitter, or other platforms, based on questions such as: Will this help improve my brand? Can I get better customer engagement? Etc…

I can best illustrate the benefits of social media involvement with an example. For years we have been working with our insurance company to lower our minimum driving age and this summer succeeded in having it lowered to 21! This was great news for us but, in the rush of our summer, business expansion only had a chance to compose one tweet about it in the first few days of receiving the news. A few days later a prospective member approached me at an event; turns out the message had spread so fast that it went beyond our immediate network and was being repeated back to us in a very short time frame.

In the end, that one tweet was re-tweeted over two dozen times and has been our most broadcast message of any we’ve composed. If you compare what we invested (the time to compose a 140 character phrase) with what we received then you can understand why we’re enthusiastic about the ROI that social media can bring to your business.

That being said, Facebook likes and Twitter followers don’t necessarily translate into sales.  So while you’re working to build your platform, don’t be afraid to branch out and tap into other established networks. We’ve used online deal sites like Groupon and WagJag, and have considered others like Living Social. Those deals have offered great returns because they give access to an already established network of several hundred-thousand people depending on which site you choose.

As always make sure you know your target audience and do some research on the particular demographic of each site and its potential successes/failures to avoid disappointment. Is your business based on a membership service? Then these deals are a no-brainer because you’ll have an easy chance at a repeat customer. Pick a site that works best for you and go for it.

Our experience at Community CarShare is that social media has helped drive word of mouth advertising, allowed us to engage with a community of interested people, and brought in new business opportunities that would not have been possible before. Studies show that social media adoption is currently in the “early majority” so it’s not too late to jump in. Define your goals, pick a few platforms, and follow us @GrRiverCarShare  or on Facebook if you’d like!

Matthew Piggott is the Member Services Coordinator at Community CarShare. He enjoys using social media to find new CarShare members, and also to ensure they have good service once they join.

Posted in: Guest Blogger, Small Business Solutions, Social Media Tips

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