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Advertising on Google(or even Bing) is a great way to reach customers at the exact moment they’re looking for a business like yours. Here’s a jump-start overview on exactly what paid search is.

Paid search (also known as search engine marketing) can be such a valuable addition to your small business marketing toolbox. It allows you to place an online ad for your business at the top of search engine results pages when a customer is looking for the product and service you offer. Learning the ins and outs of paid search can be overwhelming, though, which is why our digital team is creating a series on paid search marketing for small businesses.

For the first post, let’s just get started with a super basic overview of what paid search is and what it can do for you.

What Is Paid Search?
Paid search refers to the ads placed at the top of a search engine results page. Search engines including Google and Bing allow companies to bid for paid placement for certain search terms related to their business. For example, if you’re the owner of a barber shop, you can pay to have your ad shown when customers in your area type “barber shop” into the search bar of their smartphone or computer search engine.

What Are the Benefits of Paid Search?
Paid search can be a valuable form of advertising because it meets customers where they already are—online! Paid search responds, in real time, to a customer’s immediate needs: You can show them an ad for a barber at the exact moment they are looking for someone to cut their hair or trim their beard. Other types of advertising like hanging signs, or passing out flyers, a commercial on the radio, a newspaper advertisement – this is just putting information in front of people and hoping it will distract them away from their current task (watching TV or reading the newspaper).
Paid search is different because the ads are only shown when someone types in the relevant keywords, indicating an interest in your business’ product or services.

If you’re a small business owner, you should look into paid search as a way to reach new customers! It might be magic for your business. In our next blog about online advertising for small businesses, we will discuss what online ads look like, the different types, and the best ways to get started!

The post Google AdWords for Small Business – Can online advertising grow your business? appeared first on Merchant Advance.

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It is hard to define what an effective business leader is. What traits does an effective business leader possess? Are there certain things that effective business leaders do? Managers or founders of small businesses may look to a certain business leader as a sort of benchmark to follow, when really they should be focusing on developing their own leadership traits.

We have compiled a list of some of the best traits to develop to become an effective leader within your business.

Inspiration

Great leaders find the opportunity to teach and inspire their employees. Whether it be providing technical training for the marketing team, or holding a company lunch to inspire employees to strive for one future vision of the company, inspiring your team can have significant results.

In order to inspire, you need to come up with a vision that serves as the content of the inspiration. As soon as you have figured that out, share that vision with your employees to ensure they are headed on the right track.

Focus

To become an effective leader within your business, you must have focus. This means minimizing distractions and spending time on necessities. Leaders can’t get caught up in trivial things and devote time to tasks that are mundane.

Part of finding focus, is optimizing your day to rid yourself of redundancies. This can mean scheduling your day so you only allow a certain period of time per task. As some tasks may become further away from being finished, the longer you spend on them.

Integrity 

Integrity goes a long way in business. If you carry yourself with integrity, there’s a good chance your employees will begin to carry the same trait. Not only will it serve you internally, but it will build trust externally. By conducting yourself with integrity and authenticity, you maximize your chances of creating meaningful partnerships that could potentially fuel the growth of your business.

Transparency

Tied into integrity, is transparency. How transparent you are with your employees directly correlates to how much you respect your employees. If there is a flaw within your business, it is better to be transparent about it and work to fix it, rather than kidding yourself about it and letting your team fail. Being transparent ensures everyone is on the same page, and has the same expectations about the business. There are no surprises.

Innovation

Fostering a place for innovation within your business, is one of several great ways to become an effective business leader. In a business with finite resources and infinite growth possibilities, as a leader you must think outside of the box to create growth. This could mean acquisition of a supplier rather than dealing with third-parties all of the time. Innovation doesn’t have to mean new technology or completely revamping your business model. It can simply be looking at a problem and coming up with an unconventional solution. Rather than using a third-party, maybe you need to employ someone full-time to work on search engine optimization.

Integrate these traits into your daily life and there’s a good chance you will inspire your workforce, grow your business and essentially become an effective business leader.

The post 5 Tips to Become an Effective Business Leader appeared first on Merchant Advance.

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The end of the year is a great time to reflect on the past twelve months and identify your business priorities for the year ahead.

Here in Canada, a trend we’re seeing is businesses increasingly looking to do more than simply make a profit. Business owners want to make a difference, whether to their local community, the environment or society overall.

The growth of the B Corp community—which is made up of  for-profit companies committed to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance—to over 2,300 companies is testament to this shift.

If you’re a business owner looking to make a difference, here are some tips that will make 2018 your best, and most impactful, year yet.

Understand your customers’ values

Before deciding what impact your business should make, it’s worth understanding your customers’ values and aspirations. This is an important first step: by aligning your business’ impact with your customers’ values, you’ll not only be giving back, but increasing their loyalty too. Impact and growth can coexist in a business, if executed correctly.

For example: outdoor clothing company Patagonia describes itself as being in the business of wilderness activism and environmental stewardship. This resonates well with its nature-loving customers.

The best way to get to the root of what your customers value is simple: ask them. If you have your customers’ email addresses, send a questionnaire; if not, ask them in person when they next visit you.

Get a plan underway

If you’re looking to make an impact, it is important to set ‘impact goals’ alongside financial goals.

When writing your business plan, ask yourself: at the end of 2018, what would you be proud to say you’d achieved? Is making a difference to your local community, society at large or the environment?

Once you’ve deemed what’s important to you – and your customers – set yourself goals that are SMART (meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). These goals can be your benchmark for success at the end of the year.

Turning ideas into actions

Once you’ve defined your impact goals, you’re ready to act on them. Keep new initiatives simple and measurable.

For example, if you own a coffee shop, considering introducing ‘suspended’ coffees, where customers can buy one for themselves, and another for someone in need. This type of initiative would likely be welcomed by close-knit communities, is simple to execute and impactful.

Also consider how to share your story with your most important audience – your customers. To build on the coffee shop example, count the number of coffees donated by customers from January 1st onwards, and communicate this at the till, on receipts, on the front door or via your social media channels.

As a small business owner, what impact are you looking to achieve in 2018? Share your ideas with us in the comment box below.

If you need help making an impact, our Good Cents Loan program specifically funds improvements to businesses that will positively impact the community or environment around them: https://www.merchantadvance.com/the-good-cents-loan/

The post Resolutions for small businesses to make a greater impact in 2018 appeared first on Merchant Advance.

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The end of the year is a great time to reflect on the past twelve months and identify your business priorities for the year ahead.

Here in Canada, a trend we’re seeing is businesses increasingly looking to do more than simply make a profit. Business owners want to make a difference, whether to their local community, the environment or society overall.

The growth of the B Corp community—which is made up of  for-profit companies committed to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance—to over 2,300 companies is testament to this shift.

If you’re a business owner looking to make a difference, here are some tips that will make 2018 your best, and most impactful, year yet.

Understand your customers’ values

Before deciding what impact your business should make, it’s worth understanding your customers’ values and aspirations. This is an important first step: by aligning your business’ impact with your customers’ values, you’ll not only be giving back, but increasing their loyalty too. Impact and growth can coexist in a business, if executed correctly.

For example: outdoor clothing company Patagonia describes itself as being in the business of wilderness activism and environmental stewardship. This resonates well with its nature-loving customers.

The best way to get to the root of what your customers value is simple: ask them. If you have your customers’ email addresses, send a questionnaire; if not, ask them in person when they next visit you.

Get a plan underway

If you’re looking to make an impact, it is important to set ‘impact goals’ alongside financial goals.

When writing your business plan, ask yourself: at the end of 2018, what would you be proud to say you’d achieved? Is making a difference to your local community, society at large or the environment?

Once you’ve deemed what’s important to you – and your customers – set yourself goals that are SMART (meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). These goals can be your benchmark for success at the end of the year.

Turning ideas into actions

Once you’ve defined your impact goals, you’re ready to act on them. Keep new initiatives simple and measurable.

For example, if you own a coffee shop, considering introducing ‘suspended’ coffees, where customers can buy one for themselves, and another for someone in need. This type of initiative would likely be welcomed by close-knit communities, is simple to execute and impactful.

Also consider how to share your story with your most important audience – your customers. To build on the coffee shop example, count the number of coffees donated by customers from January 1st onwards, and communicate this at the till, on receipts, on the front door or via your social media channels.

As a small business owner, what impact are you looking to achieve in 2018? Share your ideas with us in the comment box below.

If you need help making an impact, our Good Cents Loan program specifically funds improvements to businesses that will positively impact the community or environment around them: https://www.merchantadvance.com/the-good-cents-loan/

The post Resolutions for small businesses to make a greater impact in 2018 appeared first on Merchant Advance.

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It’s January. The busy holiday season is over but your costs are much the same and you have a business to grow. The good news is that you don’t have to dig deep into your pockets to give your business an uplift. Find out how with our five business-boosting tips:

Listen

It’s never been easier to gather, assess and act on customer feedback. TrustPilot, TripAdvisor and Google Reviews are some tools businesses use to aggregate customer opinions.

Without obsessing over star ratings, reviews can help you understand how your business is perceived. Making changes to your business based on customer recommendations can boost the likelihood of a customer recommending you to a friend, also known as your Net Promoter Score – and this can lead to a business uplift.

Set the benchmark

Tracking which efforts improve your business’ bottom line is important for growth. Set your business ‘Key Performance Indicators’ (known as KPIs) to track your progress. KPIs could include customer retention rates, average transaction value, or cost per customer acquisition. Monitor which tactics are most effective and ditch those that aren’t.

Ask yourself which channels or tactics are bringing in new customers, or increasing repeat visits. Is it your Google Adwords campaign or an employee that’s bringing customers through the door? Use these insights to prioritize tactics for business growth.

Get social

Effective use of social media is an easy and cost-efficient way to reach your target audience – and it’s free. There’s a reason why 94 per cent of small businesses use social media as a marketing tool.

If you aren’t already on social media, learn which platforms your customers are most likely to use; ask them in person, or research online (this article provides an overview of which audiences are most prevalent on each social channel).

Then set up your social channels and invite your customers to follow you (put up a sign in store, and/or add your social profile links to your email signature). Post content regularly, taking note of which content generates the greatest response from followers.

Investing just a few dollars a week to promote specific content through Facebook can significantly increase your brand’s visibility. Check out Hootsuite’s social media tips for small businesses for guidance on what’s right for you.

Streamline operations

Streamlining operations can lead to financial gains. How can you increase your output in a more efficient way?

Improving equipment can be a great means of enhancing efficiency. For example, a pizza oven that cooks a pizza in 60 seconds, instead of five minutes will increase your output. This will be hugely valuable during busy periods.

Explore our leasing options to get equipment that will maximize your output without breaking the bank.

Collaborate

Small businesses can partner with other small businesses (if they are geographically close or have a complimentary business offering), creating new and distinct ecosystems. Why not take advantage of that? Collaboration isn’t just for musicians!

Cross-pollinate your customer bases through word of mouth, or loyalty and referral schemes. For example, a manufacturing business with a large parking lot could partner with a local restaurant and lease parking spaces in the evenings for favorable rates to the restaurant’s customers.

Collaboration can build a local business community, and boost customers and sales for businesses involved tool (and it won’t cost you a cent).

The post 5 Business-Boosting Tips That Won’t Break The Bank appeared first on Merchant Advance.

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Increased productivity is key to operating a successful small business. Advances in technology and changing customer expectations has created a need for higher productivity for businesses. Canadian entrepreneurs not only have to compete with their North American counterparts but also with companies in countries such as China and Indian where labour costs are a fraction of what they are here.

“Productivity” is traditionally measured by comparing how well your business converts input, such as labour, materials, machines and capital, into goods and services or output. Nowadays, this is no longer limited to measuring ratios of input and output. Increasing productivity is all about working smarter.

Here are some key strategies that can help you increase your small business’ productivity:

Use technology to improve your operations. Invest in ICT.

Web-based information and communications technologies (ICT) can help you dramatically improve how you run your small business. Production management tools vary from spreadsheets to generic software solutions or business-specific, custom-developed apps.

A great example for this is getting a smart inventory control system. This can enable you to not only regulate inventory but also improve profitability and speed up customer response time. Online order management systems combine your company’s inventory information with your purchasing, accounting and e-business systems. This lets you easily track order status and movement of inventory within the company. You can easily identify peak and low periods in your business and adjust supply purchases accordingly, managing your working capital better.

Often, small businesses tend to overlook the importance of a web presence. Good web presence this can really improve visibility in the market. Everyone is on the internet today. For most businesses, the target consumer is easiest to connect with via the web. Even if you invest in other channels like tv and radio for exposure, don’t ignore the value of a well-maintained website. There are many design companies offering web solutions customizable to your needs. Shop around to find the right fit. It’s a small investment that can go a long way for your business.

It’s important to stay updated on new technology relevant to your business operations. Make sure your business is taking advantage of the latest innovations to improve productivity. The easiest way to stay updated is to do a bit of research. Attending trade shows is also a good way to stay on top of new tech since software vendors often advertise at these events. Another good idea is to network with other companies in your industry who may have tried and tested new tech you are interested in. Knowing what technology competitors are implementing can narrow down your search for industry-specific solutions that might work for you.

Cut waste. Review your existing setup.

One of the main reasons for inefficiency in an organization is the waste of resource. Left unchecked, especially for small businesses, wasted resourced will almost always end in the death of your venture.

The best way to spot mismanaged resources and avoid waste is to look at your processes from the point of view of a potential investor. Keep in mind the overall objective and vision behind your business, and ask yourself if the processes in place meet those goals and add value.

It’s important to accurately map each process in relation to the general operation of your business. This helps you get a thorough understanding of the links between the different elements of your production chain. Once you go through this, you can better identify and eliminate wasteful practices and processes within your company.

Implement formal continuous processes to measure and improve productivity.

Improving productivity of your operation is an ongoing effort, so it’s important to set up an ongoing improvement plan.

Start by analyzing your competition and the best practices in your industry. Instead of copying plans from other businesses, use the information to develop a plan that works for your company.

If possible, get an objective assessment of your business’s weaknesses and strengths using a third party. An objective viewpoint makes it easier to avoid overlooking details when building a plan to improve productivity and redesign processes.

Take a step-by-step approach to improving productivity, rather than trying to tackle all the issues at once. Focusing on a few priorities at a time lets you see results faster, motivating you and your team to keep going. Similarly, delegate and assign problems or processes for a redesign to teams with expertise in the area.

It might seem like a small thing, but a formal suggestion system for employees to contribute ideas is a great way to get feedback on how your business can function better. Keep an eye out for breakthrough accomplishments. Even small improvements can majorly contribute to increasing productivity.

Finally, make sure to measure your productivity over time. Diligently measuring your productivity will help you track what changes are actually working for your business. You need to know exactly which core functions are helping you increase revenue and productivity.

Before you invest in efforts to optimize, familiarize yourself with the current and future needs of your business.

Measuring and improving productivity will generate tangible benefits for your business. For an SME to grow it’s crucial to measure your business’s productivity against formal metrics. Most entrepreneurs expecting at least 10 per cent plus annual growth over three years comprehensively measure their productivity.

The post Small business strategies to increase productivity appeared first on Merchant Advance.

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How do you know if your small business is successful? You can focus on delivering a great product, generating sales, or building customer relationships, but it all really comes down to revenue and managing your resources.

The definitions of business success vary, but your business’ financial metrics and what those numbers mean for you is crucial to running a successful business. It helps you get a better idea of your business’s financial success and how you measure up to competitors. Moreover, having a thorough understanding of your financial reports also instill confidence in those working for you, those offering you credit, or anyone who otherwise helps you with making your business a success.

Here are 5 key business metrics you need to understand as a business owner:

Business Income or Revenue

Business income or revenue is the most basic measure of success. Without revenue no one gets paid, products don’t get delivered and supplies cannot be purchased. In short – without revenue, you cannot sustain business operations.

This makes income the first and most important metric you need to be intimate with. Track your revenue numbers regularly. Do this on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis so you can compare how your business is doing today versus how it fared last year, month, or week, etc.

These numbers are also important to a lender you may want to approach. When reviewing your small business loan application, the main thing they are looking for is whether or not you have the income to make your payments. Without sufficient revenue, your business’ ability to make good on the potential will be considered questionable.

Business Expenses

The next thing you need to know is what it costs to do business, and whether or not your business income is sufficient to meet those business expenses. The difference between your income and expenses is what that determines if your business is profitable or not.

Categorizing your expenses is something your accountant can help you with.

Ultimately, profit is the primary goals of going into business for yourself. There are some businesses today (particularly in tech) that forego profits in the beginning and focus more on growth. They can afford this by relying on investor income rather than profits to kickstart growth before they become profitable. In these cases, the investors forecasted that their returns would be considerably greater by investing today for a potential payout down the road.

If you believe your small business has the potential to grow and scale profits with the infusion of growth capital you should consider this option. But, for most small business owners the focus is on selling their goods or services for more than the cost of production, so they can generate profits.

Cash Flow

Insufficient cash flow is often the primary reason for small businesses to have to close their doors. This is why it’s crucial to have an understanding of the cash flow metric.

The term “cash flow is king” refers to exactly this situation. It’s not just enough to simply have money in your business’ checking account at the end of each month, you need to understand how and where your cash flow is generated from so you can keep the money from drying up.

To calculate the cash flow metric you start by simply dividing your assets and your liabilities.

This is an important enough metric that if you’re not sure about how to define assets and liabilities, it’s time to speak with your accountant to make sure you’re clear on the definitions before you go further.

The ideal goal for this metric is a 2:1 ratio – that is, twice as many assets as liabilities. Understandably, for a small business this 2:1 goal is challenging to maintain. Anything below 1:1, however, is a big red flag that your business doesn’t have adequate cash flow to maintain operations.

This metric should be an important part of the consideration when looking at a potential small business loan. The loan payment can fast become a liability if those payments pull down your metric below 1:1. If you’re in this situation, you are borrowing your way into trouble. Having a handle on your cash flow metric is critical to small business success.

Accounts Receivable Aging

How long does it take your customers, to whom you offer credit terms, to pay their invoices? Do they consistently pay within the term or do they sometimes go over by say half or almost twice the term limit? This is an important metric to track, which you can’t afford to ignore.

Figure out after what time period do you start to lose whatever profit was in an invoice, and after how many days delay do your profits disappear entirely because of the impact it has on your business’s cash flow. Also, track after how many days it becomes increasingly difficult to collect. It’s worth investigating your situation to determine these numbers for your business.

Once you have investigated and figured out the time frames for credit terms in regard to your business, focus on efforts to ensure that customers stayed current. Encourage them to pay early by offering them say a discount on their invoice if they pay within a certain amount of time. The discount offer can actually help your business by giving you extra days to use that income to increase profits, making the discount offer completely worth it for your business.

Accounts Payable Aging

The final metric you should be familiar with is the average number of days it takes you to meet all your business’ financial obligations. Ideally, if you’re able to effectively manage your Accounts Receivable, your cash flow, and your income, you should be able to stay on top of your accounts payable.

You can even save money by paying suppliers early, which often results in an offered discount. If you’re looking at your income and expenses, the ability to take advantage of that discount can actually add to your profitability.

If you’re a small business looking for borrowed capital, the single most important thing you can do to positively impact your business’s credit rating and increase your borrowing options is to stay current with your business’s credit obligations. This includes everything from your utility bills to business lease, your credit relationships with vendors, and any other business credit obligation you may have.

Having a handle on these five metrics is this key to running a successful business. If you have the time and feel it will benefit your business, dive a little deeper into one them to see how you can optimize your business. Consult your accountant or CPA, who can help you identify the metrics that will give you the most insight into your business.

If there are terms or formulae you are unfamiliar with, don’t hesitate to ask your accountant. One of the big mistakes you can make is treating your relationship with your business’s accountant as transactional, rather than a consultative relationship that has the potential of helping you really understand how to easily grow your business.

The post Financial Metrics You Needs to Know for Your Small Business appeared first on Merchant Advance.

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If you’re a small business owner, you can probably relate to the struggles of needing to innovate to stay afloat. There comes a point for every small business when it hits a slump. You feel like maybe your offered services or goods have become stagnant.

The best way to pull your business out of the rut is to diversify. And the best way to start that process is to ask yourself a few key questions to figure out the right new idea.

What’s is my small business lacking?


The first step to solving any problem is to examine what the issue is. Figure out why you feel your business is falling behind its competitors.

Some of the most common indicators are low or reduces flow of new clients, existing clients leaving your company, not being able to keep up with innovations in your industry, etc.

The next step is to imagine your business if you overcame whatever it is that’s dragging your business down. Has your revenue improved? Is there an expanded product offering? Have you reinvented how you serve your customers? Is it helping your stress levels? Getting you a good night’s sleep?

It’s important to spend some time visualizing the issues fixed, your business thriving again.

Keep that picture of your business operating at its best as you work through the next questions.

What are the areas of weakness for your competitors?


It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on competition to get an idea of how your industry is operating. If you pay close attention to competitors, it’s easy to figure out gaps and serve the market in ways the competition aren’t able to.

Your primary strategy is to identify gaps in offerings and operational weaknesses in your competitors to figure out the gaps in the market, and aim to fill those gaps. This will give you an edge over everyone else.

Knowing the areas ripe for the picking can help decide which how best to innovate your business. Not to mention, it will also help you decide which aspect of your business you should focus on next.

How can you best deliver value?


As a small business, you may not have the budget to invent the next revolutionary product in your market. You probably dont have the resources to be able to offer the lowest price solution. But, thats okay. There’s other more low-key ways to deliver value to your customers.

Offer a free gift with a purchase, may be some complimentary consultation with services packages. The options will depend on what works for your business.

The point is to make sure that you a little something extra to make the customer’s experience unique and unforgettable.

What does the customers want?


Listen to what the customer has to say. Feedback from the customer is the best way to find out what parts of your business needs to improve and innovate.

Getting feedback is easy these days. Use social media, ask feedback in person, via email, surveys, etc. Once you have gathered the feedback, make sure to figure out what exactly the customer needs. Listen and then act on that feedback to innovate your business.

Hitting a slump in your business is not unusual. Being stuck in a rut can easily just be a temporary situation if you’re willing to work to get back on track.

The post Innovating your small business: are you asking the right questions? appeared first on Merchant Advance.

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