Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Small business giving back to the community

small businessRecently I posed a question in a small business online forum, "How is your small business giving back to the community.?"

Quite frankly, I was staggered and inspired by the passionate responses to this question and the examples of how so many small businesses are providing both financial support as well as physical assistance to charities.

  • It's not just about the bottom line

It was uplifting to realise that many small business owners have actually based part of their business model on a commitment to giving back and it shows that it's not just the bottom-line that motivates people in small business (or for that matter, some of the corporate world either).

Some of these charities that small business owners support are reasonably well known - World Vision, Salvation Army, the Smith Family, Red Cross, UNICEF and others. But there were many examples of other charities supported by small business that are doing outstanding and courageous work, that perhaps fly "under the radar" in terms of their public profile.

I'd like to share with you just a few of the examples of small businesses that are contributing to some lesser known but worthy causes ....

1. Matchboard
Sharon Melamed is the founder and owner of Matchboard, a Sydney based on-line business that brings together companies who are wanting to outsource their business processes or back-office functions, and matches them with appropriate suppliers. This is what Sharon had to say ....
"We have thrown our support behind Good Return, a unique charity not many people of heard of, but which helps women in impoverished countries set up small businesses through loans (usually just a few hundred dollars). 99% of loans get returned - an incredible success rate for small businesses! ... Through Matchboard's massive network of buyers and suppliers, we have promoted Good Return to the extent that they have received more than $100,000 through our connections.
One of the reasons that my business has elected to support Good Return is because I can see exactly where my money is going, which makes it a very personal form of giving: you can literally pick the profile of a woman and her small business plan on the Good Return website, and know by name precisely who you helped and how. To think that a couple of hundred $ loan can make such a difference to the lives of a single family in Nepal or the Philippines is very moving. 
Good Return place a big emphasis on training. Aspiring small business women in these poor countries learn skills, such as how to write a business plan and manage cash-flow, thanks to Good Return. So they not only facilitate micro-finance but also deliver education, which is perhaps the reason they get almost all loans repaid"
2. Baby Jewels
Jennifer Gregory is the owner and founder of Baby Jewels, based in Queensland. "At Baby Jewels, we give $1 for every sale over $20 to Mahboba's Promise which is an Australian charity helping women and children in Afghanistan with accommodation, food and education. Take care of one woman and she will take care of 11 others in Afghanistan!"  ......                                         
I asked Jennifer to explain a little more about why she decided that giving back needed to be such a core part of her business and also why she selected her particular charity......
"The Internet is a wonderful, amazing resource. Every day as I work in my comfortable third bedroom which is now the office of Baby Jewels, I am made aware of the struggles going on in many parts of the world, merely to survive. It's patently obvious that those of us able to run small businesses in first world countries, are the lucky few. 
My daughter is a computer programmer with various specialties and she built my website. The subject of "giving back" came up in one of our business planning discussions. Yes, I definitely want to do that, I decided.
But where to start, to find a worthy charity? Because there are so many and all are worthwhile.  One little business can only help one little charity so we looked for a charity working in one of the saddest parts of the world, one which helped its most marginalised members of that population. 
That's when a friend told me about Mahboba's Promise, a charity for which she'd set up monthly deductions from her bank account. It didn't take long before we discovered Mahboba's Promise fulfilled our desired criteria.
Mahboba's Promise is an Australian charity run by Mahboba Rawi, who grew up in Afghanistan. Mahboba knows what it is to flee her home, to walk 10 days over the Kyber Pass to escape imprisonment for leading a student demonstration. After 2 years in a Pakistani Refugee Camp, she married and came to Australia, with a desire to help the most marginalised people in her home country: The women and children, particularly widows whose life in Afghanistan is particularly difficult.
When Mahboba's Promise first started working in Afghanistan, the needs of the widows and orphans were so basic that their work was mainly welfare orientated. Offering food, clothing and shelter to keep people alive was our primary goal. But as time went on, various projects were developed. Currently Mahboba's Promise is raising funds for community centres, a school for girls, a medical centre, a leadership training project, a permaculture project and an embroidery project.
The practical help aspect for women and children in Afghanistan appealed to me and Mahboba's Promise became Baby Jewels "Giving Back" project.
3. Kapow's Cleaning Services
Kelly Powell is the owner and co-founder (with her husband James) of Kapow's Cleaning Service, based on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. Her commitment to giving back is reflected in the hiring practices of her small business. She is simply an amazing woman....
"At Kapow's, we give back to the community a little differently. I actively hire people with challenges and work closely with agencies like Epic and Steps to ensure we have the right support available to set up the staff we hire for their success. To date, I have been only impressed with the work ethics and effort that my guys bring to work every day.
I am incredibly proud to say that we will build off this platform and I know it will be successful and fulfilling for all involved. In fact, my 3 year goal is to have at least 40% of my workforce sourced from these agencies. I think it is absolutely critical to involve as many people with challenges as I can, as not only does their self worth and confidence soar...but I get genuine ambassadors representing my business proudly and effectively.
I hire people without challenges as well and I set the expectation that if they can't be flexible and support people in general...they can't work for us. I can proudly say that we have an incredibly close team who focus on each others strengths...not weaknesses.

There is also a misconception by employers I think, that people with challenges are hard work. I have not found this to be the case. There is full support from the agencies I go through and the people I have hired are driven and enthusiastic. It also makes good financial sense as there are financial incentives offered by most of these agencies which for a small business is gold.  ..... What more could you want!

Obviously I could bang on about this topic for ever, because quite frankly it is my number one passion...and it all simply stems from my belief that life where possible should be fair......And given that I control the decision making in my business I think employing people with challenges that other employers might not look at, is about as fair as you can get.

I'd like to leave you with one last thought.  About three weeks into his new job, I asked an employee how he was going and what he thought of his job. He had been unemployed for a considerable amount of time (in fact I doubt this 40 yr old gentle giant has ever had a long term paying job)

Anyway he stood very tall and said that he was proud of himself. He has changed his diet and is going for walks so he can be fitter so he can do his job better. I said that was great! I knew he lived with his elderly father so I asked him what his dad thought. He stood tall and proud again and replied "my dad has called all of his friends and told them that his son had a real job where he gets paid".

That for me was close to the best moment ever...I still get teary thinking about it...and that was the moment when I really realised what it's all about."
4. JustMums
Rachel Perkins is the owner and founder of JustMums Recruitment based in Melbourne and this is what she had to share .....
"In our business, very early on we placed a priority on "giving back" and we took care to identify two charity partners that we wanted to work with. We donate a percentage of our profits, provide them with volunteers and happily promote their organisations through our wide network to raise awareness (and hopefully some additional funds to support their work) - We respect, admire and appreciate the work that so many of these wonderful charities and NFPs do within the community. I would encourage every small business to consider partnering with a charity of choice"                                 

My sincere thanks to Kelly, Jennifer, Rachel and Sharon for sharing their stories ...... Your contribution inspires me to be more committed to the principle of giving back through my own small business

So, what are some ways that your small business might give back?

1. Agree to provide work experience or work placement to students
2. Volunteer your business expertise and offer to go on the board of your local not-for-profit
3. Sponsor or support your local community association, such as Lions Club or Rotary
4. Donate goods or services for school and community fundraisers
5. Become a mentor to other new business owners or young people in the community
6. Support local small businesses by using local suppliers
7. Offer a scholarship for disadvantaged youth, and subsidise their school books and fees
8.  Give your staff some time-off to volunteer at a charity of their choice

9. Keep a collection tin for donations to your favourite local charity on your front counter
10. Have a look at our Charities page and see if something appeals to your heart

In closing, for those of you who have perhaps been hesitating about what you might do, then the words of Malcolm Bane might be worth considering ....
“If you wait until you can do everything for everybody, instead of doing something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody.”

I would invite you to share your story with us .......
Copyright 2013. Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development - a corporate training and coaching company based in Melbourne, Australia that delivers management training and leadership development services

Friday, June 14, 2013

What help and support is available for small business?

small business support Over the years, I’ve found that many people thinking of going into small business and even those already running a small business are quite often unaware of the government help and support that is available to them.   
I recently spoke with some of the folks at Business Victoria and asked them some questions about how they can help, in terms of making available either resources, small business grants or education. Here’s what they had to say …..
How can Business Victoria support people who are looking at starting up a small business in Victoria?
Business Victoria is the Victorian Government website that helps business grow by making compliance easier, solving problems and improving business management skills. We offer a range of services to help people who want to set up a successful business

Tools and templates -  planning is important to run a profitable small business. We have a business plan template  and a range of other supporting templates to go with it including a Financial statements template, Marketing plan template and many others
Workshops -  we provide workshops specifically for people starting a business. People can also brush up on some of the core skills needed for running a business - such as marketing, finances or getting online
Mentors - when people are first starting out in their own small business, getting expert advice can save them from making expensive mistakes.  The Small Business Mentoring Service is a low-cost way to get advice from a mentor who has the skills and knowledge you need.

What about people already running a small business, how can Business Victoria help?

It doesn’t matter how long someone’s been running a business, there are always problems that will crop up and even sometimes growth opportunities that you’re not sure how to deal with. Here are some of the resources that Business Victoria has available to help small business owner’s deal with the most common challenges of running a business …
Growing your business: the Grants and assistance finder has support for developing your business. It includes the Grow your business program which provides businesses with the opportunity to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for future growth. The marketing and online sections also have some great templates to help, including marketing and content plan template
Cash flow problems: most small businesses in Australia say chasing payments from customers is their biggest cash flow problem. We’ve put together a Debt recovery process and templates which includes Financial policies and procedures for your staff, email scripts and phone scripts
Dealing with employees:  your staff can make or break your business.  From finding the right staff to making sure they’re as productive as possible, we have tools and tips to help in our Staff management section.
What do you think is the biggest mistake to avoid in the start-up phase?
In the early stages, the cause of many small business failures can be traced back to a failure to adequately research what their customers want.
However, one example of where early market research was done well is that of Melbourne online start-up Tweaky, who won Best Start-up Idea at this year’s Start-up-Smart Business Victoria awards. They reached profitability just nine months after they went liv  e.  
'It sounds obvious, but find out what your market really wants. Engage your customers early and often, and ask for feedback,’ says Tweaky co-founder Ned Dwyer.  Business Victoria offers a simple guide for Do-It-Yourself market research.
For more tips from Ned and to learn more about the experience of other small business owners, visit Tips and case studies section.  
What about people from overseas who may be looking to start-up a small business here in Australia?
Victorian businesses are the most confident in Australian for the year ahead, according to a recent Sensis survey. (Naturally the people at Business Victoria want to encourage investment in their state) With the help of Invest Victoria, they say you can set up a business in as little as two days! Their services include finding sites and assisting and supporting with approvals, linking with local suppliers and providing you with a client manager in one of 16 international business offices.
Thanks to the staff at Business Victoria for their time in contributing to this post. Hope the links and resources prove useful to you.
Copyright 2013. Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development - a corporate training and coaching company based in Melbourne, Australia that delivers management training and leadership development services

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Small Business - Everything you wanted to know (well, at least some of it)

Here's some of the questions people often ask about small business ....
small business
1. Is small business for me?

Depends. You need to have passion for what you're going to be doing - this makes some of the long hours easier to bear. The first couple of years can be quite a rocky road. Something like half of new small businesses don't get past this period. You need stamina.

It's not enough to have a great idea. You've got to do your market research ..... What's the existing competition like? What would be your point of difference - can you do things cheaper, better or faster in some way, compared to the competition?

And, you've got to have the right mix of skills. As Michael Gerber says in his classic book, The E-Myth, there's no point going into business on the basis of just having strong technical skills (for example, you're a highly capable mechanic, or plumber, or gardener). You've got to be able to sell and market your services or product. And you've got to be able to plan and organise efficient completion of the work. Plus you've got to be able to control your expenses and manage a budget. Needless-to-say, being self-motivated is essential.

2. What are some of the mistakes new small business owners make?

A common one is neglecting to have adequate cash reserves in place. In many small businesses, cash flow can be somewhat erratic. It can take quite a while to learn the cycles of your business, so that you can anticipate the ebb and flow of your revenue. If you're not making sales, then you need to draw upon your cash reserves to meet your running costs (power bills, rental, equipment and possibly labour wages).

Another common mistake is not clearly defining your target market - and then not listening to your market. In other words, too many people have gone into business thinking they've got a great product or service, but not seeking feedback from people they are targeting as customers. What ultimately determines whether your business generates sales has less to do with what you think about your product and more about what your potential customers think. Too many entrepreneurs fail to seek proper market feedback to guide them in the design and development of their product or service.

A mistake made by many small business owners when they are in the growth phase of their business  occurs when they start to hire staff for the first time. Too often not enough probing is done during the interview - and the inexperienced business owner can be "seduced" by the applicant who is simply a good talker, but not necessarily possessing the required capabilities to do the job. Enormous damage can be done to the brand of your business when you recruit the wrong person. Get some expert advice before you start hiring staff - there's a nice concise article you might find useful Hiring Tips for Small Business But even if you happen to recruit the right staff member, then you've also got to know how to train, manage and motivate staff

3. But what if I fail and it all goes pear-shaped?

Yes, there is a risk that the business may not work.  But there are strategies you can adopt to help manage the risk.......
i) Get advice from experienced business people before you make any significant financial investment
ii) Trial the business on a part-time basis before you quit your job
iii) Regularly put aside some of the profit, instead of pouring it all back into the business. Use some of your profit to build up your reserves

And when you are considering the risk, remember to also think about what you stand to gain if you can find a way to make it all work. By all means take care, do your research and do not be reckless. But try not to let a fear of failure cause you to just stand still and never move forward. As Thomas Edison wisely said "The person who never failed, never learned anything". For more excellent tips on dealing with this, have a look at Overcoming a Fear of Failure

There will inevitably be many times when you are running a business that you recognise you've made a mistake - perhaps for example an error of judgement when you have responded too slowly to changing market trends. Or maybe you realise you recruited the wrong person. Or you paid too much for some plant or equipment. Hopefully, you don't make the same mistake twice. It is a measure of your mental toughness that you bounce back, seeking firstly to fix the mistake and repair any damage. Then secondly, it's about putting in place whatever is necessary to prevent recurrence - sometimes this may mean correcting procedures or processes in the business.

4. What should I name my business?

Some small business owners elect to combine their family name with the nature of the business, such as Taylor's Gardening Service, or Murray's Garage, or Mitchell's Plumbing Solutions. Other owners elect to go for something that is a bit quirky, such as Google or Twitter ..... believing it will be more memorable.

Whatever you choose, you can register it online with the Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC) - just check with their data base that the name you desire has not already been registered.

 5. What's the best way to promote my small business?

For a start, get the basics right ...... deliver a great product or service, at a good price, consistently. If you can do this, then your satisfied customers themselves will naturally work on your behalf to promote your business

Then, think about digital marketing. Make sure you have a compelling website - and that does not need to be an expensive one. Learn about how to get found by Google. And support your website with some social media - try to develop a blog and a Facebook page that allows you to engage with potential customers.

Think about sponsorship of some of your local sporting clubs or school events, if you need to raise a local profile. For some further ideas on growing your business, look at Marketing for Small Business

6. How do I value my small business if I want to sell it?

There are many different methods and formulas that can be used. Obviously an accountant can give you a more detailed answer, however as a simple guide to get you started, you might consider the following components in calculating the value of your small business

Firstly, consider the nett asset value. This is determined by adding up your total assets (cash, stock, plant and equipment) and subtracting your liabilities (bank debts and outstanding payments you owe). This would be the money you walk away with if your business closed today.

However, this figure alone does not take into account the ability of a business to generate future profit. This is where the concept of adding the value of goodwill comes into the equation. The value of the brand and reputation of the business, plus the value of the location of the business. Location can be in terms of either the physical store or the digital location - and the online authority of the business to generate traffic and therefore sales.

Different accountants can attempt to use different methods for different industries to estimate the value of goodwill ..... sometimes a multiple, say 3 or 4, times annual profit has been used for example. But ultimately, the goodwill value of your business will be determined by the marketplace.

7. Should I sell my small business?

If you're contemplating selling your business, step back and ask yourself why. Selling the business will mean a major change in your lifestyle and is as big a decision as when you first decided to start the business.

Is it maybe that you simply need a break, perhaps some of the stress and frustration has been getting you down and some time-off will help you rejuvenate?

Or maybe there are specific parts of running your business that are getting to you - and perhaps you could consider outsourcing these eleemnts? ..... But at the end of the day, if you feel that you've lost your passion for the business and you no longer experience the drive and enthusiasm that you used to possess, then it's likely time to sit down and discuss preparing for an exit with a trusted financial advisor.

Carefully consider the timing of any sales decision. When your industry is peaking and your own business is generating healthy sales, then there will likely be greater interest from prospective buyers. Maybe even some of your competitors might be interested in the business.  The WA Small Business Development Corporation offer some good advice on when and whether to sell a business.

For more small business tips on running and growing your business, have a look at some of the articles in the Sydney Morning Herald's My Small Business

Copyright 2013. Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development - a corporate training and coaching company based in Melbourne, Australia that delivers management training and leadership development services.