Archive for category Starting out in business

How to Grow and Sustainable Online Business in 2018 and Beyond

Start up in business

Setting up an online business is a relatively simple process – but every week there’s news of more start-ups going bust, and unfortunately the vast majority fail within the first few years.

To make sure your new venture doesn’t become a statistic, it’s important to focus on building a strong, sustainable online business with the capacity to respond to ever-changing consumer preferences. Here’s how.

Talk to your customers
As an online business, you have access to powerful tools to help you gauge how well you are meeting your customers’ needs – and what they want from you next. Use them!

That doesn’t mean setting up camp on every single social media platform – you have a business to run, after all – but it’s vital that you establish a clear channel of communication with the people you serve, and keep a dialogue flowing.

Find out which platform your target customers use – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter – and invite people to interact with you. The key is responsiveness – answer their questions or complaints, ask for their opinions, explore their pain points and provide them with useful content that proves how much you can help them.

Our social and commercial environment is changing so rapidly, and these days it’s incredibly easy for customers to find alternatives and switch their loyalties – so it’s vital you keep pace with important developments and stay relevant to your client base.
Hard as it may be, you need to be prepared to pivot and take your business strategy in a new direction if that’s where developing technology and your customers’ needs takes you. To be sustainable, you’ll also need to be agile.

Monitor your financial performance
While it’s vital to know where you’re going, it’s equally important to know where you are. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of growing your business – but you simply can’t make sensible strategic decisions unless you have a thorough, up-to- date picture of how your business is performing.

The only way to achieve that is to conduct a detailed monthly review of your financial performance, including full financial statements, analysis of key ratios like your Return on Capital Employed, and projections of profits and cash flow.

Be sure to drill down to see which areas of your business (customers, products, sales channels, marketing initiatives) are performing well, and whether any are merely draining your profits. Together with the information you gather from your customers, this will enable you to make important decisions about where to focus your precious resources and whether you have the resources to invest further in your business.

Keep your cash flowing
There’s one main reason businesses go bust: cash. No matter how great your sales growth is, or how profitable you are on paper, if you don’t have the cash on hand to pay your bills, you’ll end up out of business.

Most businesses go through quiet periods, when sales are slow and income fluctuates. Unfortunately, the overheads keep mounting up, and there’s always the risk of unexpected expenses. It’s absolutely crucial that you have enough working capital to meet all your regular obligations, and a healthy reserve
to see you through the tough times.

Maintaining a realistic rolling cash forecast will enable you to foresee potential issues and take action before you hit a crisis. If your cash pool is lower than you’d like, you could consider a small business finance option available for you, such as an overdraft or business credit card, to draw on should you
need it.

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Shut up and start that business!

Sometimes there is too much yabbering on about “Yeah I’m going to start that business” well get on with it! I don’t mean BLINDLY jump in and start but there are things you can do to assist your start up to well… get started. Plan, you have probably thought about your business a LOT! Now put those thoughts on paper.

Get the right people behind you, a mentor, an accountant and listen to their advice and information. Then explore ways to make your business successful, That might start with effective accounting software, so you can have time to practice getting up to speed with how it will work for your business.

Now take a look at these ideas and explore your planning from there.

Start up tips.
  • Get smart – Set solid achievable goals, Aim to work less physically and earn more, therefore get others to do the hard stuff that is too taxing on you and you get to supervise them
  • Do your research – Who are your competitors, what is the need for what you have to offer, how much will your costs of business be…
  • Get a mentor – Find someone ‘successful’ in the line of business you want to go into and chat to them, make them your best buddy, learn from them fast.
  • Do the sums – How much money do you need to earn PER DAY to make a decent wage for yourself, work it out over a 220 day period, as that’s about all you get in a working year. Know that profit is different from wages and overheads… Use any profit wisely
  • Develop easy systems, policies and procedures as you go – Make it so that if you had to sell the business tomorrow, you could set someone up in that business really easily
  • It’s an asset – That means it earns money and if you sell it later on you can realise a profit. If it’s a good business it will sell easily and that will be due to good $$ figures as well as having great systems a kid could follow to make it run
  • Be the leader people LOVE –  Your staff, your customers, your suppliers. They should all love you for all the right reasons, you are honest, trustworthy, respectful
  • Learn more – You don’t know it all, you either learn fast or get someone to do do it for you. Actually do both so you can keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening
  • Squeak – Be squeaky clean in all your dealings in business, naughty deals go bad, not every time, but when they do you may well have good reason to fear for your life
  • Professionalism – Be the best you can at communication, presentation, living positive values, making/creating fantastic goods and or services

Overwhelming? Welcome to business, and this is just the tip of the iceberg…

  • Have business insurance – Peace of mind can cost money, but it’s worth it if you need to payout hard earned $$ for whatever reason
  • Real estate – You want to rent an office, a workshop, a shopfront… Good find out the details of how long the lease needs to be, what things you can and can’t do there. If you want to rely on passing trade, for a shop front for instance, then sit out the front and count, if 50 people go past in a day, how many of those will buy from  you?
  • Marketing – It was never easy, and now although there is social media, it’s even harder to get peoples attention, time to create a plan, a detailed one. Oh and you have budgeted for the costs yeah?
  • Budget – In the first phase of business you will spend a heap of money, make sure you know where it’s going. Careful planning is vital here, too many people have thrown away countless thousands on a fabulous idea, only to go nowhere. These people can end up sour and bitter about business. Track your income, profits etc, learn  how to do that effortlessly
  • Learn more – Read articles, jot down ideas, do a small business course, jot down more ideas, check out your competition and other businesses like yours, chat to them, find out their pain and figure out what you can do to avoid that pain. Go to business seminars, industry events and the like. Get into groups on social media for your industry type. Read books on key business things you need to know about, marketing, operations, management, communications skills, leadership and negotiation, just to name a few

So you figure you will be busy with all this and have no time to do your real business… Yep, that’s right. If you think your business is just going to be 9 – 5 with days off, then you have another thing coming. You will plan to get in early, leave late and LOVE IT! If you don’t hang in for the long haul deeply passionate love fest, then you can kiss the whole thing goodbye…

  • Get passionate – Then stay that way
  • Get support from your family and friends – They might not see much of you for a while! Also make sure you support them…
  • Develop  your skills – don’t just think you are good at what you do, become brilliant!
  • Be humble – No one likes a smart Alec, nuf said!
  • Surround yourself – With people who care and want you to succeed
  • Repeat – All the previous points and get on with being fantastic at what you do and how you run your business

I guess you need to then figure out early how you will replace yourself in your business with others who can do the work and free you up to get on with enjoying the business. Don’t like some aspect of your business? Put someone in there that can do the task and love it.


Steve Gray

Enterprise Provocatuer


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Buy that business!

You have seen a business you want to buy… all good, you like what they do, you have the skills to do it, you want to know more, you get the financials and have a chat to the current owner. “Profits are up 5%on last year… The staff are not interested in taking long service leave… No bad debts… With a new person in charge, who knows what’s possible!”

Reason for selling? “Time to retire…” it all sounds so good, until you dig deeper, here are some tips on things to look for when evaluating a business to purchase.

  • Renting – Is the current price per month about to go up but no one is saying anything. That 5% profit on the previous year might dwindle fast
  • Profit – It’s up from last year… but how much was it to begin with? If it was only 2% before hand then it’s not much of a rise, unless the profit amount in dollar terms is quite high, that might be different. BUT what if the profit expressed in dollars is low? Let’s say it’s $10,000 per anum on average over the last 5 years, that’s probably not much, unless the owner is paying themselves a huge amount for some reason and then the profit could be low.
  • Cash at hand – Oh look, there’s cash in the bank, well the current owner may take that with them… perhaps ignore it as some form of bonus, but deduct it off the price you intend to pay
  • Valuation of the business – Get an accountant to have a look at the figures and have them point out any glaring anomalies. A good profit on paper, might just equate to covering the amount the owners should pay themselves, but have not been paying themselves wages. Therefore what looks good now might be a big disappointment
  • Assets – Are they really worth what is stated in the figures? Will you want to update some of the assets… It starts to get trick folks. Stock at hand, what if most of the stock is out of date or they are items people don’t want to buy any more. You might end up throwing this stock out, then there would be replacement cost for useful items.
  • Systems – All the simple processes and procedures that get used to make things easier, how do they run their database? Are there quality processes and or assessment methods in place to measure the quality of what you get, sell etc.
  • Staff – Grumpy, underpaid, wanting to get a new owner who is cashed up so they can take long service leave, cashed up so they can sue for breaches of Workplace Health and Safety issues, cashed up so they can trip up and claim compensation, the list could go on. Then you find out they have been on the wrong pay scale and are wanting pay rises. So you know all that but you figure you can turn them around and create a new culture of happy committed staff, chances are hell will freeze over first! Changing a dud cultire is like trying to turn a cruiseliner around it takes a lot of effort to do it, then by time you do it the territory you ended up at now looks totally different…. That’s right you are now facing the worng way. 🙁
  • Customers – You find them leaving the business in their droves, it turns out they loved the way the previous owner did things, now they are off to find a new supplier. The truth be known, they probably just didn’t like the new pricing you introduced, after all you wanted to up the profit margin

As you can see it can be a minefield, make sure you do your due diligence, be thorough and ask LOTS of questions. Once the deal is done, the last thing you want is BIG surprises.

Doing the hard yards to make a great start in business

Plenty of people have started in business and failed, some failed quickly, others took longer, a LOT longer…

Years of observation and working with business people has taught me a range of things, the main things are how they failed in business, in often not so spectacular ways and what to do about it.

The reasons are often simple.

Business success

It’s all in the planning

  • No plan – No structural or marketing strategy
  • Technical skills to do something but no business ‘personality’ or charisma to really sell, promote or build interest
  • Low knowledge of the purpose and function of business – Profit is one thing, providing a reason to do so is another…
  • Inability to look at the challenges and find ways to overcome them
  • Being busy and working long hours does not always mean you are being productive
  • Not enough start up capital, CASH to really give your project a go
  • Lack of operational systems for when things really get going so you can develop a valuable asset not just a business
  • Research – making and selling a gadget that is about to go off trend and fade is one thing, knowing it is fading is another…
  • Not knowing how much money you NEED to make each week to break even and then how much profit to make, then what to do with it

A seasoned business operator will look at this list and say, hey that’s just the start… and they are right. There is so much to business that this list is just a starting point.

But that’s it, it’s all about starting points. Even people in business after many years find there are new starting points, like when computers started showing up in businesses, a new starting point. A new piece of technology for a manufacturing process… same. And so it goes on.

If you want to start in business, make sure you do something about addressing the basics listed above, sure they can be daunting, sure you will be tested, but you wanted to take the risk, you wanted to make your mark so do it, but do it right.


Steve Gray

The Numbers Folks, Remember The Numbers…

I attended a business seminar yesterday, more good information, the room was filled with people already in business and a few wanting to get started.

Image courtesy of Jannon028

Image courtesy of Janoon028

In the heap of material presented one thing really stood out. In the generally passive group, one thing got them to sit back and say ooh… and not in a good way.

The presenter posed some figures, “If you want to earn this much money you have to charge this much per hour…” then the slide revealed how much per hour for various amounts per year. “Ouch” came the response from a person near me…

The Presenter went on to say “Oh by the way this is just your wage we are talking about here, not thinking about the amount you need to cover your business operating costs…” OUCH! the Participants squirmed in their seats on that one.

Do the sums yourself sometime and make sure you leave out the days when you have sick days, weekends, holidays and so forth. You will soon come up with the right amount of  days you need to divide the  hours by.

The big challenge, although it was not mentioned at the event, is the threshold people are used to and how simple concepts like this can throw a persons perception out of the ball park. If you are used to charging $25 per hour, but find you need to be charging more like $250 per hour, then things need to change (yes a mind shift needs to take place).

I guess some people will say “Who would pay that much for anyones service, let alone for my services?” welcome to reality people, being in business is loaded with these sorts of challenges.


Regards Steve Gray

The “easy in” business

Downward graph

Image courtesy of David Castillo from

When you start looking at business options trying to decide which sort you want to start, you may just come across what I call the “easy in” business. Sometimes you hear about these through friends and family, or via a web search or one of those ads that says “work from home and make BIG $$”.

In being ‘sold’ one of these busineses you get told that it would cost a lot to start a ‘normal’ business so how about one that is easy to get into becuase it’s VERY cost effective, and what if it provided all the tools to make it work. Too good to be true right, yep it probably is.

The funny thing is if you want to start a business (depending on what it is) you probably have little idea of what it will cost, so to make one start what would you have to spend to make it happen? First step is research and ask lots of questions. Once that’s done and all the logic is in place you might think little of spending $40,000 to get started. So when someone comes along and says “For a little over $3,000 you can get stared online and start earning NOW!” So why would you spend a fortune when you can spend a fraction and be started now…

Answer: The ‘normal’ business required lots of research, you have an emotional ‘tie in’, you are probably chasing your life long dream, your passion… and finding out ways to make it a reality. The “easy in” type just needs some cash and away you go, but the ‘tie in’ is different.

Note that on setting up a business and failing, you would feel a little ‘miffed’ at losing the cash you put in. If  you lose $40,000 you probably learn to ‘sweep that under the carpet’ and right it off to learning the hard way (It can be too embarassing to make too much noise about it). Yet often the people who have lost ‘just over $3,000’ will bellyache about it to all and sundry, why? Because they have somone to blame other than themselves. Someone to be the scapegoat, someone to whom they can say “I trusted that person and look what hapened, I knew there was something fishy going on, yep it’s a pyramid scheme alright…” The difference is all in the emotional connection.

The term ‘Pyramid Scheme’ gets thrown about a lot and in actual fact all businesses are pyramid schemes, the person at the top of the pyramid earns the most, but has the furtherest to fall if it collapses. The challenge is having a pyramid supported by products rather than just promises of the chance to make it rich fast.

Where to from here? Note that all business comes with emotional baggage and it’s up to you to figure out which way to go, logically doing your due diligence on it is vital to ensure you go in with both eye’s open and not just a blinkered approach to what looks good at the time.

The easy list for the easy crowd

I like lists, seven steps to do this, ten steps to do that… I have created a bunch of them for folks to peruse over the years.

The challenge is though they are only starting points and the ‘well heeled’ reader will be able to read between the lines and know that to get results you need to do more than read the bullet point info.

Image courtesy of Noomah

Image courtesy of Noomhh

If the list says “Get good at marketing” that means some information gathering, on methods, process, strategies. The fact that someone put it into a simple list with a bunch of nice sub heading means little until action is taken.

In our fast moving world of You Tube video grabs and quick answers in other media, we need to make sure we are paying attention and making sure we are in a position to take action. You notice the article, you think the headline is a solid clue to solving a challenge you have (ten ways to boost profits) so you want to jump in. If you are like me you mentally go through the list and ‘tick off’ the things you do or have done already, then glance at the other five points and go ‘yeah but’…

Armed with ‘excusitis’ you move on and come up with a bunch of reasons to not be able to do those five hard things “Any way they will take money and I don’t have any at the moment…”

You then flip through the media to find more lists and options to see if you get an answer which ways what you want it to say.

Which brings me back to the ‘well heeled reader’ the one that ‘reads between the lines’, knows there will be more to the tasks than some key points and then takes action to fill in the gaps created by the list. Knowledge in action is called wisdom, so wise up, and use the list as a starting point to taking action, not just a quick panacea you can discount anytime soon.

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