Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Practical Plan to Help Your Business Survive H1N1

Will you be ready if the H1N1 virus hits your business? According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an estimated 25% of businesses do not reopen after a major disaster such as a flu pandemic. The most important thing that you can do is to develop a written plan and do it now!

Under the heading of prevention, encourage your employees to get the flu shot. Consider placing posters in your break-room to remind people to wash their hands and practice good workplace hygiene. Place hand sanitizers at strategic locations such as next to all keyboards and phones. Now might be the time to encourage social distancing, limiting handshakes, etc. Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick so that they do not spread their illness to their co-workers.

Review your Sick Leave Policy to be sure that it is flexible, non-punitive, and well-communicated. Consider allowing employees to work from home if possible or to come in on off-hours to allow them to care for sick family members during the day.

Review your job descriptions to identify which tasks are critical and which can be postponed if necessary. If you begin to lose employees to illness, can the remaining staff combine the critical tasks and keep the business functioning? Update your procedure manuals so that anyone can step in and perform the essential tasks if necessary, even if there is no one available to train them. Take the time now to do some cross-training for your essential tasks.

Worst case scenario, who can you bring in to staff your business if you have a major outbreak? Contact family members, neighbors who are not working full time, etc., who might be willing to help you out in an emergency. Bring them in for some high-level training if possible. Talk to your area temp agencies now to develop a plan to cover for your skilled positions.

Look at some of your other essential functions, such as suppliers and subcontractors, to evaluate whether your business can keep going if their business has to shut down for a period of time. If not, identify alternatives. Who will take care of business if YOU are sick or home caring for a family member?

Develop a list of contacts based on your above plan. Communicate, communicate, communicate so that all of your employees know what to do and where to find the information.

If you are looking for more information, the Department of Homeland Security, the CDC, and the SBA has issued a guide to help you develop a plan. You can access this along with other flu related information at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Social media for the small business owner

We just attended the New North’s Best Practices Panel Discussion about Social Media. The speakers were Heidi Strand, co-owner of Blue Door Consulting; Dana VanDen Heuvel, the Marketing Savant; and Margie Harvey, VP of Human Resources at Miles Kimball Company. Here are a few practical pointers taken from these experts to help the small business owner or entrepreneur get started on your social media journey.

First you need to develop a social media strategy. How will social media fit into your overall marketing strategy? What do you want to achieve from your social media interactions? Are you hoping to improve brand awareness or do you want to increase your sales? Once you have determined your goal, you need to consider who your customers are and where they are in the world of social media. You do not want to be concentrating on developing a Facebook Fan page if your customers are not on Facebook. How do you know what social media outlets your customers are using? Ask them. It can be as simple as that. While you are considering who your customers are currently, also think about whom you want them to be in the future. Good social media work can help pull in an entirely new customer stream.

Make sure that your foray into social media starts small. Chose one tool to begin with and focus on mastering it. Spend the time making sure that your content is relevant, useful and well executed, but don’t spend so much time trying to refine your efforts that you don’t get the job done. As Heidi Strand quoted, “Perfection is the enemy of done”. In the quick fire world of social media, some imperfection is expected and tolerated.

The final thing to remember is that you must commit some time and resources to your social media interactions to make them work. Schedule regular time into your week to blog, tweet, LinkIn or write your online newsletter.

If you are in the New North region, considering attending these quarterly presentations because they are always relevant and worthwhile.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Time Management Tool

Every once in awhile I run across a new website or a new tool that really hits a chord with me and I need to sing its praises. Two weeks ago I discovered and I recommend this to everyone who is an entrepreneur, a person with numerous insatiable interests, and a business that is not moving forward at the pace you would like. For those who fit into that category, time management is more than just a business technique that should be focused on; it is one which must be mastered if you ever hope to be successful! You start your day with great intentions to work on your business and then, thanks to the internet, get distracted by your many interests. The day goes something like this:

Today, like every day, you begin your day by vowing to make those sales calls that you know are critical to keeping every business moving forward. You sit down at your desk to work and you always begin your day by quickly checking your e-mail. You fire up your computer and the internet opens to your home page which is your favorite news service. Oh, that’s an interesting headline…you will just take a peek at it. What’s that? There is a reference made in the article which you know nothing about! So you look it up on Google…half an hour later you emerge from your little side-trip. No sales calls yet, but you are a little more knowledgeable about the world. So now it is time to get back to your e-mail. You read your e-mail and respond efficiently to the pressing items. Then your eye begins to flow to all of the updates and on-line newsletters to which you have subscribed. You begin to read. Again, all interesting information, however you continue to read and research miscellaneous items for the next two hours. By this time you need to meet with clients, fill your orders, prepare quotes, or do whatever is your core business function. This takes you to the end of your day. Once again, no sales calls were made. is a free download that allows you to track where you spend your time on-line. It is like holding a mirror to your face. You can set rules, such as no more than 30 minutes on the news per day, and the program will alert you when you have hit your limit. You can set goals, such as 2 hours of concentrated sales calls, and the program will block any distracting websites during that time if that is what you desire. The program graphs where and how you spend your time and you can use this information to chart a plan of action for your future. This is a program which helps you to reclaim time that is lost to your varying interests and helps you to focus on the business tasks at hand. If I have described you, and you are looking to move your business forward to the next level, I recommend that you give it a try. To your success!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My goal in life is to get everyone to love accounting. I don’t think I’m going to succeed but I’ll keep trying. What do I love most about accounting? It’s all about balance. Balanced equations, balanced transactions, balanced books. In these turbulent times, couldn’t we all use a little balance in our lives? Accounting can help give you some. See-something to love already and a reason to love accountants. Yes, I’ve heard all the jokes; my husband loves to accumulate them. So how can accounting bring some balance to your business life? Try focusing on managerial accounting. Large businesses have cost accountants, Fortune 500 corporations have whole departments devoted to the discipline. Successful small business owners need to assume this role as well. It is not as scary as it sounds. We are fortunate in this time period to be able to make use of a variety of accounting software programs. Beth and I are QuickBooks Pro-Advisors, but there are many other good programs out there that make accounting and bookkeeping easier for the small business owner. Managerial accounting is using the output from your accounting program to manage your business. We have noticed that too many small businesses have only a tax accounting focus to their accounting. We suspect that is because most small businesses use a tax preparer to finalize their books and a tax preparer is naturally focused on what the business needs to file their taxes. It is very important to keep the tax authorities happy! It is also important to recognize that tax accounting is only a small component of the accounting picture.

Managerial accounting is using the information your accounting program or accountant is providing to help you guide your business. This means you must have financial statements prepared and available to you on a monthly basis. This is where the focus shifts from tax accounting which relies only on a year-end statement to managerial accounting which requires monthly statements. Ideally, as the small business owner, you have prepared a budget for your business and you are comparing your actual results to your budget regularly. You should also be comparing this year’s results to prior year’s financial information. Red flags should pop up if financial problems are arising and this task will bring these problems to your attention before they reach a crisis point. If your gross profit is less than you expected you need to understand why. Is your main supplier charging more than you anticipated? Are your shipping costs running higher? Do you have an employee theft problem? If your supplier is charging more, do you need to raise your own prices or can you get your sales staff to increase volume and earn you a volume discount. If shipping costs are rising, do you need to add a surcharge to your customers? If you suspect theft, do you need to install security cameras in your warehouse?

In today’s tough economy, no business can afford to be blindly operating at a loss. If you are losing money and you don’t know why, putting on your managerial accountant hat can help you answer the questions and formulate a plan to solve the problems. So do you love accounting a little more? Maybe not, but hopefully you can see how it can help bring some balance to your business life.