Dollars & Digits: R2-D2 is your new financial advisor

As a small business owner, you keep an eye on every penny that comes and goes through your business.  You probably keep an especially close eye on the money you put into retirement.  So how do you feel about machines managing that hard earned cash?

According to Bloomberg, robo-advisers managed $50 billion in assets at the end of 2015.  That is a significant increase from the $16 billion managed in 2014.  It is estimated over $2.2 trillion will be under robo-management by 2020.  Robo-advisers, in case you weren’t aware, are automated financial adviser computer platforms that do the same thing your in-the-flesh advisor does only R2-D2 doesn’t use your commissions to pay for a Mercedes!

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Posted in Dollars & Digits, Small Business Finance

How to Manage Small Business Finances

Cash is king, cash-flow kills and accounting is a daunting task.  All of these statements are true and all of them are popular among many small business owners. So it is a good idea to focus on what is truly important when it comes to managing small business finances.

  • You can’t manage what you don’t track – budgeting is a crucial step in small business finance.

Small Business Development Centers are teaming with counselors who focus on cash-flow worksheets that project monthly budgets for small business owners. No matter what challenge businesses face, it is a good idea to start with the numbers. A budget can help identify shortcomings in cash, resource management and planning. Budgeting and planning cash-flow can help you sleep at night and allow you insight into future plans and major challenges. Not many (if any) businesses can survive by winging-it when it comes to finances. Profit margins just aren’t there to allow this to happen in today’s marketplace.

  • Be conservative with your projections. Guess your expenses high and your revenues low and bank the results.

Most start-up businesses have no idea where revenues will go, nor do they have a firm idea of their expenses. By forecasting the “worst-case-scenario,” a business owner may be able to reap the benefits of a sales windfall or lower expenses.  When this happens, dump the “excess” cash into an escrow or savings account. This will position the company for growth and protect against the times when the projections are wrong in a bad way.

  • Keep an eye on costs or they will sneak up on you.

Small business owners too often get blindsided by increased costs. The lease goes up or the raw materials become harder to find or fuel costs rise and the list goes on. Normally, when an owner complains of a surprise increase in the cost of doing business, it’s because they have become too focused on their product alone and not focused enough on the events and news within their industry. This is not to say focusing on your product is bad, it’s not but, if you don’t come up for air every now and then, you are going to miss a development in the world or your industry that could dramatically impact your bottom line.

  • Costs are not the only targets to watch. Sales forecasting is also a good practice.

None of us have a crystal ball. However, if we are successful in our business for any period of time, we should be able to forecast monthly sales for a reasonable period. Seasonal buying patterns and industry trends are good indicators of possible future sales performance. A wise small business owner will know how many potential clients are in the sales pipeline at any given time and what the likelihood of closing each of these sales will be.  Knowing the numbers behind your sales funnel can dramatically improve your ability to manage cash-flow. (No idea what a sales pipeline or funnel is? Call Small Business Right.)

  • The best time to ask for money is when you don’t need it.

You’ve probably heard that saying before but it is true.  If you are budgeting properly and putting back funds for a rainy day, you should be on a solid foundation to ask for a line of credit. Your business may not have an immediate need for such a luxury but you may be surprised how quickly your solid foundation may erode and you are left scrambling to make ends meet.  Or, even better, an opportunity may arise requiring additional investment and that little-used line of credit will come in handy.

As a small business owner, it isn’t always about the money but, if you don’t manage your finances properly, you will most likely end up a statistic and be unable to pay your bills or improve your community. As always, if you need assistance with financial management or any other facet of owning a small business, seek out your nearest Small Business Development Center. A qualified fellow entrepreneur is waiting to give you a hand.

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Posted in Business Planning & Strategy, Finding Money, Small Business Finance

By the Numbers: 60% – Retail Security Breaches

It is happening every day. Somebody is getting hacked. Some company is falling victim to high-tech attacks on their beefed up security surrounding their credit card and customer data.

That may be what you hear or maybe this is what you are lead to believe but the fact is, over 60% of retail security breaches occur at the point of sale according to a recent study by Verizon. There isn’t anything high-tech or Star-Wars about that.

Protect your small business. Make sure your point-of-sale equipment is being used properly and secured with software updates and physical inspections regularly. Remember, thieves will go the path of least resistance. Small business is a big target!

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Posted in Dollars & Digits, Technology News

Time, we sell it, manage it, take it and waste it… How to do more with your time as an entrepreneur

According to Nav.com, the small business lender, OnDeck, published a study (Main Street Pulse Report) analyzing the input from 348 small business owners regarding time management and running a business. OnDeck found that 49% of the respondents give up their personal time to work on improving their business. Additionally, a whopping 86% of business owners list time management as a key to being successful in small business.  (See The Main Street Pulse infographic here.)

Here are a few things you might consider to get more from your time:

Understand the value of time – As entrepreneurs we undervalue our time. We work 60+ hours a week and only charge for 20 of them. Then we stress over trying to sell our time for a higher hourly rate because that’s what we need to meet our goals. If you don’t know and understand what an hour of your time is actually worth, stop what you are doing and figure it out. (Need help? Contact Small Business Right.) Chances are, you will come to the realization that you need to charge more for your time or charge FOR MORE of your time.  Once you understand the value of an hour, you won’t be so quick to squander that valuable resource.  After-all, time truly is priceless.

Schedules are made to be kept – including scheduled down-time – We all keep schedules and have busy schedules but take a look at yours right now.  Go ahead, look at it.  How many personal, fun, relaxing, family oriented events do you see?  Chances are the work far outweighs the personal. We all need to work on changing that. Not just say we are going to do it but actually schedule it and do it. (See Enforcer below!)

Put it back where you got it. Everything has a place. – My dad must have told me this a thousand times. Lean Six Sigma and Kaizen had nothing on him.  If you breathed on a screwdriver in his toolbox, he knew it.  I’m not sure if his extreme organizational tendencies came from his Marine Corps training or years of being a business manager but it’s a known fact that an organized person is more efficient and therefore uses his/her time more effectively. Dad was a great example of organization in action.

Decisive prioritization – The more you are on the fence about when or how something will get done, the more likely it will take more time to schedule around it than to just do it.  Keep a to-do list and set priorities for the things you can realistically get done in the time you have to work with.  Allow some flexibility for the small fires that inevitably crop up and you should have a workable schedule. Without a prioritized plan for the day, you will waste time.

Hire an Enforcer – Even if it is just an annoying alarm that reminds you it’s time to walk the dog or leave for your daughter’s dance class, do something or empower someone to keep you on task. Nothing should get you away from the desk more effectively than your child’s big brown eyes staring up at you asking you to come out and play.

Have a time saving idea? Add them to the comments and we may have you guest blog for us in the future.

 

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Posted in Business Planning & Strategy, Small Biz Resources

Own a Business? Be Prepared – Monitor Your Credit

Your personal credit score can be very important when seeking employment, obtaining some types of insurance and getting a business loan. Whether you are starting a new business or looking to expand a business, chances are you will need to obtain a loan to fund your plans.  Personal credit scores are a major factor in being approved for business loans. It is recommended you check your credit report quarterly.  Look for errors in reporting and possible fraud or identity theft. Correcting items on your report can be time consuming so it is important you keep up with the changes on your reports.

You can request a free credit report and also an estimated credit score online but, this score will not be as accurate as your actual FICO score that a lender will use. You can use the credit report and estimated score to give you an idea of your credit position and help avoid being blindsided during a loan application process.

Below is a list of resources you can use to obtain your credit information:

  • Free Annual Credit Report
    1-877-322-8228
    annualcreditreport.com
  • Annual Credit Report Request Form (FTC.GOV)
    Mail to:
    Annual Credit Report Request Service
    PO Box 105281
    Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
  • Estimated Credit Score (NOT the actual FICO Score)
    – Quizzle.com
    – CreditKarma.com

REMEMBER – If a website advertising free credit information asks for a credit card for identity verification, you are most likely going to be charged for something. Maybe not the credit report or score info but most likely something you agree to in the fine print.  If a site asks for credit card info, walk away.

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Posted in Finding Money, Small Business Finance

DRAFT Small business loan frustrations? Have you been to SBDC?

financial-calculatorThe Federal Reserve Bank of New York, estimates it takes up to 26 hours for a small business owner to research, prepare and apply for a small business loan.  It is estimated that 72 percent of these small business owners will get rejected. In fact the process of obtaining a loan has become so discouraging that one in four business owners have stopped trying all together.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Your Small Business Development Center has counselors with many years of experience and unique insights on the local lending atmosphere that can help a small business owner increase their odds of successfully applying for a business loan. Visiting an SBDC is not a guarantee of loan success but, working with a counselor who knows specifically what the banks are looking for and how to craft a loan application package to meet the needs of the owner, the bank and the business goals certainly helps. Don’t give up on funding your dream, make an appointment with your SBDC office today.

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Posted in Finding Money

Are you sure you want to patent that idea?

As a business coach, we get asked pretty regularly about protecting ideas and what processes and costs are associated with doing so. While patenting can be a complex process, there are a few issues one should consider before moving in that direction:

Is there a market? – Inventors get so wrapped up in their invention sometimes they fail to consider that there may not be anyone out there willing to buy it. You need to determine if there are enough people in the market that have similar passions about your product.  Also, once you have done the simple math on what the invention might cost to produce, ask yourself if the target market can afford your product. If there isn’t a sizeable market or enough profit to justify the product, then patenting should probably not be one of the top things on your list.

Is patenting the right way to protect your idea? – So, if there is passion and profit in your target market you may want to continue your quest to protect your idea before hitting the market. There are ways other than patenting to protect an idea. Copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets are also popular IP protection methods. Determine which one makes the most sense and find a professional to lead you through the process.

How much time and money do you have? – Patents are time consuming and sometimes, very expensive. It is not unusual to file a patent and not hear anything back from the US Patent and Trade Office (US PTO) for 18-24 months. That initial contact is normally just the beginning of the process.  You may have to navigate a series of dialogues between you, your lawyer and a US PTO examiner.  Each of the steps of the patent process has an associated cost.  Using a patent attorney to get through these steps is preferable but they do come at a price.

Can you enforce the patent? – A patent can be a powerful tool that brings great reward and value to your business.  However, there are no “patent police” so it is up to you to defend you product in the marketplace.  Once you release your patented product, all the information you filed regarding the make-up and functionality of the item is readily available on the US PTO database. If someone chooses to knock-off your product, you have to find out about it first, then you need to have the resources to protect your patent in a court of law. Many small business owners find this challenging.

These are just a few issues you need to consider when protecting an idea.  For other strategies or to speak with a Small Business Right Coach regarding this topic or any other business challenges, just give us a call.

 

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Posted in Technology News