Business tips

#48 - Moving your business beyond the startup stage

In the first couple of years, business owners often struggle with understanding how much work running a business is and how long it can take to have a profitable business.

Angela Sutcliffe is a business consultant (and Smart Old Broad) who draws on 30 years of knowledge  and experience to move her clients beyond the start up phase. Angela works with business owners to  design and implement strategies that are relevant to their business and their industry to make them consistently profitable. Over the years, she has won many awards for her business acumen, as have her clients, but the one thing she is most proud of is being selected by Kevin O'Leary's production company to work with the winner and runner up of his reality TV show, Redemption Inc. as they rolled out their new businesses.

Angela Sutcliffe

I spoke with Angela about what she believes every business owner needs to know before taking his or her business to the next level.

Know your numbers

According to Angela, 90% of businesses are gone within two years. Business owners don’t understand what profitable means because they don’t pay attention to their numbers—instead they work to build a business that makes their clients happy, but does not make money. If you’re not bringing home a pay cheque then your business is not going to work.

If a business owner does not know how much money they are making or if they don’t know if they are making enough to support the lifestyle surrounding it (their bottom line) then they are working to please their customers while simultaneously going broke. If you start your business with a number in mind then you can work from there.

You can’t make up numbers based on what you think people will pay instead of what you need to earn. Money is the one thing people avoid, but once you understand that a number is just a number you can work towards earning that number.

How much it costs to run her businesses and how big her pay cheque needs to be – those are the two numbers that, added together, make up her sales target.

Freedom and comfort comes from knowing your numbers. If you know your numbers and see that you're not hitting them, then you can look and see if you are trying to sell high price items to a market that cannot afford it, etc. so you can determine what exactly is not working.

Know your sales cycles

Have you heard about the hundred percent solution? It goes like this: in your first two years of business you sell to your friends and family and their friends, and then at the end of those two years, your sales stop.  That’s because you made the easiest sales possible—you sold to the 20% of the market that will buy from you now.

In order to succeed, within 1.5 years of selling you have to learn about how the sales cycle and process works, and how to sell to the other 80% of the marketplace. If you don’t, you will fail.

So, what is a sales cycle? Well, think about how many business owners believe a customer when they say they have to 'think it over'? Most think that means they'll never buy, but believe it or not, most customers really do need to think about it. Did you know that 24-36 months after an initial interaction is when 80% of your sales will happen? When you think about the number of people who come back to you a year or so after they are first introduced to your business or product, that's a good demonstration of you sales cycle.

There are generally three steps to a sales process – meet a potential client and follow up with card, go out for coffee, and have a closing conversation. However, people may surprise you and want to meet for coffee and say they are following you online, or met you at a networking event a year or so ago and now they're ready to work with you even though you've never met them—it’s happened to Angela! But to get there you need to do the work because the sales cycle was happening behind the scenes.

It can be discouraging and you may not think anyone is listening to you, but remember the 20% and 80%! Think long term and in two years you will be closing the 80%. Sales isn’t anyone’s job, activity is the job—sales is the result. If you have good marketing activity and get yourself out there then you will make the sale. Just keep in mind that you won’t be a millionaire by midnight.

Keep in touch with past clients

Your next best sale can come from your past clients – they know you and love you and have had a great experience with you, so you should always keep in touch with them—and not in a salesy way. There are all kinds of ways to keep in touch with people, including inviting them to attend events, or just catching up on social media. Make them feel important.

While they may not work with you now, past clients may know someone who would be perfect for you, so keeping those relationships healthy is in your best interest.

Stop doing, start planning

One of the hardest things for business owners, at any level, is the drive to keep doing things. Before you exhaust yourself by doing things that may be futile, remember that the best thing anyone can do is to stop and plan.

Plan your finances – for marketing and your business.

Stop and get advice, so that you’re optimizing your products and business. Business can get expensive, so it’s important to stop running your business and plan what comes next.

 The keys to the kingdom are in planning.

All business owners stumble. Even Angela had to get help with her business; she had almost bankrupted her cleaning business and it took two hard years to turn it around. You have to swallow your pride and ask for help, plan and work. Seek help from the right people – it’s the behind the scenes that can make or break your business.

Leave a comment and tell us what your sales cycle is, or let us know if you have any questions!

#42 - What you need to do to legally run a business in Ontario

Megan Cornell, a business lawyer here in Ottawa with Momentum Business Law joins me on the podcast this week to talk about what you need to do to legally run a business. The topic of business and law is a robust one, so Megan answered three of the most common questions she hears from business owners. While Megan operates her firm in Ontario, what she shares is generally applicable across Canada.

Do I need to incorporate my business?

If you are operating a business or are just starting a business and are thinking of incorporating, the first step is to talk to your accountant. Incorporating means your taxes will be separate from your own, personal taxes. If your personal tax situation is one in which it makes more sense for you to be a sole proprietor then it makes more sense for you to not incorporate rather than have an entirely separate sets of tax returns and financial statements, which would mean more fees.

If your accountant thinks incorporating is a good idea then you will want to talk to a business lawyer about what needs to be done to incorporate.

If you are in a business where you think there needs to be some distance between you and your client base in terms of liability, then you may want to look into incorporating. For example, a restaurant owner should probably incorporate because there is a lot of liability risk associated with owning a restaurant. The same would go for a white water rafting business, where you have an elevated risk of being sued.

The warning Megan always gives regarding incorporating, is this: as a small business you are usually responsible for any debts of the incorporation, so if you are entering into a lease for a store front, for example, the landlord or bank will probably ask you to personally guarantee the lease. You will not be able to protect yourself financially from these risks through incorporating (many people think incorporating will do this).

There is a lot of homework to be done before you decide to incorporate, and before deciding you should know what you will be able to protect yourself against from that  incorporation and what you will not be able to protect yourself from.

Do I need to register my business within a certain jurisdiction (i.e., Ontario) to carry on business there?

If you have a store front or sales people within a certain jurisdiction or if carry on a great deal of your business within a certain province then you probably need to register your business in that specific province. In some provinces this is easy to do whereas in others it is not. In Ontario it is easy and it is free (yay!). The province wants (and needs) to know about your business because they want to collect provincial taxes from you.

If you are an online business you do not need to register in every province. If you are thinking that because you have one person in Nova Scotia who you do business with that you have to register there, you are probably wrong. If you aren’t sure, ask your business lawyer. They will look at many factors, including physical presence within that province, the amount of business being done there, etc.

You can register your business at a provincial and a federal level.

Do I need to register my business name?

The Business Names Act is an act within Ontario, and likewise in other provinces, that was created so the public knows who they are interacting with. If a business, incorporated or not, has a name for their business that is held out to the public, then you are required to register that name. To not do so is an offense.

It costs $60 to register your business name and it is good for five years. You can have ten business names registered to any one person. There is almost no vetting of these business names. People can object to them i.e., if there is a business name similar to your own, but for the most part you can have many similar business names registered within a province.

Keep in mind that registering your name is not registering your business. One is about telling the public who they are dealing with and the other is about collecting taxes.

There are a lot of different pieces to lawfully run a business. If you have more questions, book a consultation appointment with Momentum today.

Resources & Links

Momentum Business Law

Book a consultation with Megan's law firm

Ontario business name registrations

NUANS Search (can be an easy way to check if your name, or a similar name, is registered)

Trademark Search (even if you don’t plan to trademark your name in the near future, it is a GOOD idea to check if someone else has already!)

Some helpful blog posts from Megan:

If you are thinking about incorporation – making the decision between a Provincial and a Federal incorporation:

How to protect your business name:

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#40 - An update on my business

There have been a lot of changes in my business over the last while and as a marketing expert I have been woefully unclear about what I do and who I do it for, so I took some time to record a short podcast that talks about where I came from in my business, how I came to make some changes, as well as my current business focus. So many exciting changes!

These show notes are a bit different than most because I'm not going to simply recap what I said in the show but share the same news in a different way - you may want to read and listen both! :D

In the beginning

When I started my business I wasn't sure what I was doing. I was experimenting and I was doing things simply because I felt there was a need. I'm sure many of you can relate. 

The first thing I did was run some Twitter workshops - they were for 3-5 people, usually in a local coffee shop and cost about $20. They were a lot of fun and from there I started expanding. I started writing strategies for small businesses and running more workshops to help people learn how to use marketing tools. 

In the middle

Then I formed a partnership with Karen Wilson. We were Wellman Wilson Consulting for three years and it was fabulous. We worked with bigger organizations, we spoke at conferences, we put together all kinds of online learning. But as many things do, business started to shift and change again, and we decided to part ways, leaving me open for a new direction once again.

Time for a change

I started The Biz Studio Facebook group and started reaching out beyond marketing. I ran a 2016 planning day, I started my first paid Mastermind program, and more and more I realized I was coaching far beyond the scope of just marketing. I decided I wanted to formalize those skills and this summer I was certified with the Professional Business Coach Alliance of Canada.

The certification process was amazing and reinforced that I was on exactly the right path!

What I do now

So what comes next? I'm rebranding my business, and probably this podcast, over the next few months. I will officially be The Biz Studio because my passion is creating community and opportunities for small business owners to find the support they need, and that's more than just me a lot of the time!

I'm running Masterminds regularly (I have a few spots left in my 3 month program that launches at the end of October!) and I'm focusing on in person workshops and a lot of one-on-one coaching. Marketing is always going to be part of what I do because it's what I have focused my career on for the last 15 years, but now I also have a great toolbox at my disposal to help with sales, mission and vision, key performance indicators, exit strategies and really - so much more!

Keep your eyes open for more changes as they trickle in. And if you're ready to start getting support with your business, whether through a Mastermind group or one-on-one coaching, book a consultation with me - I'd love to talk and see if The Biz Studio is the right fit for you!