Corpcentre's Blog

April 28, 2010

Business Plan: Change As Needed

A business plan is a vital management tool. It allows you to create a road map of your business and look ahead while, at the same time, plot the necessary steps to achieve your goals. However, paraphrasing the poet Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice and men often go askew. How true in business.

The world has learned much from the recent recession. One of the more important business lessons that the recession has taught us is that nothing is guaranteed. How many of us watched as financial giants, titans of the business world, tumbled like a house of cards? Who would have envisioned the swift changes that changed the way we live, not over a generation but over the course of a year or two?

Change is the key. The businesses that best survived the recession were those that understood the necessity of change. A business plan is not set in stone. Rather, as a useful management tool, it should not be allowed to gather dust. Just the opposite. It should be, and can be, changed. Business, like life itself, is a rollercoaster. Even if some of the ride is scary, you can’t get off in the middle. You need to be flexible and allow yourself to adapt to new situations.

If you see a new business opportunity, change your business plan to incorporate it. Allow yourself the flexibility to explore new options. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas. Sometimes, even bad situations can create new opportunities. If your plan went awry when the markets went in a different direction, turn everything around to incorporate the new reality. You may wake up one day and realize that your goals are no longer attainable. Don’t try to change the world to meet your goals. Change your goals to accommodate the world. The most successful entrepreneurs have learned that opportunities present themselves and the winners are those who seize those opportunities. Always use the situation at hand to your best advantage.

Try business plan software to help you get organized!

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April 27, 2010

If You Fail, Try, Try Again!

Filed under: American business,business culture,Canadian,failure,recession,success,U.S. — corpcentre @ 12:59 am

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” While the coach may have been an inspiration to his players, was he also stating a mantra for everyday life?

As children, we often were told by parents and teachers to learn from our mistakes. Would that life were so easy to enable us to succeed after every failed attempt. Anyone who has ever established a business will attest to the fact that the goal of success is not always realistic. Business is a mélange of so many details; many of which are beyond our control yet have a direct influence on our business. The fact is that winning all the time simply is not possible (with all due respect to Coach Lombardi). The question is what you do with the failure. Perhaps it is better to quote from the Coach who also said, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”

Canadians often compare themselves to their neighbours to the south. Yet, despite the many similarities, Canadians and Americans differ greatly in their respective business cultures. In both Canada and the U.S., for each business success story, there are dozens of failures. In either culture, entrepreneurs prepare and plan, hoping that they will be the next Fortune 500 leader or, at the minimum, establish a profitable business. Some succeed, some don’t. The different reactions, though, are startling. Canadians tend to view a business failure as the end of the road. Americans, on the other hand, accept failure as part of the learning cycle and build upon the knowledge gained. The Canadian accepts his fate and the American drives forward.

Canada may be recovering well from the recession. Yet, it seems there is still much that can be learned from the American business community.

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April 25, 2010

Canadian Tax Deductions to Keep in Mind

Get ready, Canada – April 30th is rapidly approaching. As most Canadians are aware, this auspicious date heralds the end of the tax season for the previous year. It is your last opportunity to make any adjustments to your taxable income and, hopefully, reduce the tax due.

Tax deductions exist within the legal system to allow a degree of parity amongst taxpayers and create a balance between earned income and the relevant taxes. However, as most accountants will point out, although the government will allow you legal deductions on your tax return, they will not contact you to point out possible deductions that you missed claiming. Therefore, research and consulting may be worth money in your pocket.

Here are a few sample deductions you may have missed:

Certain adult family members living at home can reduce your taxable income. If you have a relative over 18 with a physical or mental disability, and they live with you, you can deduct more than $4,000 of your taxable income for the expenses incurred for them.

Do you work from home in your rented apartment? If you have dedicated workspace at home, and work there at least 50% of your time, a portion of your rent and maintenance expenses may qualify as a tax deduction

If you are required to use your own car for business purposes, and do not receive a nontaxable allowance from your employer, you can deduct a portion of your auto expenses including lease payment, loan interest, maintenance, licence and repairs.

Who ever thought that your hobby may be tax deductible? If you earn some side income from your hobby and travel in order to do so, a portion of the travel expenses can be claimed against your taxable income.

A person who drives for a living can claim a portion of their food expenses while traveling. Similarly, when you travel for work, it is expected that you need lodging and showers. These, too, are deductible expenses.

If you are filing a simple return, it may not be necessary for you to incur the expense of a professional tax preparer. The Canada Revenue Agency maintains a highly informative website. On the other hand, if you feel you may be missing something, consult with a professional. After all, as honest hardworking Canadians, we all pay our taxes. But, we wouldn’t mind paying just a little less.

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April 22, 2010

Customer Red Flags to Watch Out for

If you are in business, you know that you have to constantly be on alert on all fronts. You try as hard as you can to plan and operate your business with clear guidelines. Sometimes, though, all the planning cannot prevent the unexpected. Many business leaders will tell you that the problems from outside are the biggest challenge.

In order for you to operate, you count on suppliers for goods and services. Your cash flow is dependant on timely payment by your customers. Any disruption from your suppliers or customers can be harmful to your operations. Continued disruption can become fatal. However, by being vigilant and spotting the early warning signs of potential problems, you can avoid trouble before it happens.

Keep abreast of a customer’s payments. If the payments start becoming delinquent on a regular basis, they may be in trouble. Don’t wait, though, until they stop paying. Open up a dialogue early to help you collect payments while their doors are still open.

Another warning sign is commonly known as nit-picking. You owe a customer a small credit and they refuse to pay their large bill until the credit is received. This stalling tactic should indicate to you that all is not well, as they could obviously just deduct the credit and send the balance. Perhaps, the customer suddenly begins sending you the balance in several payments, without consulting with you. Your early warning signal should be blaring loudly.

Have you noticed that there has been a large turnover of employees at your customer or supplier? Is this a sign that the passengers are jumping ship before it sinks? When you called to speak to someone over there, the usual perky, friendly reception was replaced by a rather laconic, curt reply or a disinterested, half-hearted response. Be on the alert and assess the situation carefully. You need to protect your interests.

Keeping one step ahead of the storm can be your best insurance plan.

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April 21, 2010

Keeping a Handle on Your Business

Operating a business successfully has often been compared to a high-speed train. When it runs at peak performance, it arrives at its destination on time. However, if it sits unused in the station, or is not maintained properly, it will cease running well and ultimately break down and fail completely.

Studies have shown that more than half of large business failures result from poorly designed business strategies. Many business leaders have the drive and desire but fail to properly assess the market or their abilities. It is not uncommon for a thriving business to adopt a new idea on the assumption that their notoriety alone will make it happen. “Biting off more than one can chew” has led to the downfall of many business giants.

Another common, and sometimes fatal, error is operating without any accountability. Even the boss has to answer to the board. When decisions are accountable, it makes them open to review by others and allows other sets of eyes to detect possible flaws. The smallest of companies – even one-person operations – should consult with someone else on major decisions. After all, none of us is perfect.

Sometimes change is necessary. Companies that have dominated certain markets have to change with the times or market conditions if they want to maintain their position. Failure to adapt can be suicidal, as there is always someone waiting in the wings to pick up the slack.

Leadership is a 24/7 position. Your employees look up to you and receive their inspiration from the top. A strong leader motivates by example. Failure to convey positive attitudes and emotions can lead to the downfall of your business. Even if your business takes a downturn, you need to continue inspiring your employees to work together with you to overcome. If you appear downtrodden, you can’t expect your team to pick you up. The ship will go down with its captain.

Keep a handle on your business by charting your goals and progress. By maintaining control of a situation, rather than it’s controlling you, your train will speed forward to its next destination.

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April 18, 2010

How to Use Failure to Your Advantage

The word “failure” has negative connotations. It is hard to think of anything positive when discussing failures. Yet, many business leaders will tell you that failure is not the end of the world, nor is it only negative. While a business failure certainly implies setback, it also leaves the door open for improvement, change and opportunity.

American business leaders have embraced the opportunities presented by failures while Canadians lag behind in this respect. The inability or unwillingness to compete is a common denominator of many Canadian business disasters. One of the first lessons to be learned from a business failure is not to cut back but, rather, to dive into the marketplace and compete with all your might. Learn from failure and allow it to be the catalyst that is your driving force. In California’s Silicon Valley, business has embraced the concept of “failing well.” You made good decisions but circumstances were beyond your control. If you are good at what you do, you’ll eventually succeed. In Canada, the opposite is more common. If your business attempt failed, you’ll have a very tough time securing capital for another venture.

Failure in business can be one of your greatest teachers. Successful corporate leaders have learned from their mistakes and impart that wisdom to their employees as well. By sharing this wisdom with one’s staff, it carries the message that even the boss is not perfect. Moreover, it encourages staff to also learn from their mistakes. Every successful mega-company started small and did not achieve greatness overnight. When your staff appreciates the growing pains of a company, they can become part of the driving force to continue propelling the business forward.

This doesn’t mean that one should create a culture that focuses on failure. Just the opposite is true. A business environment should strive for success. Ultimately, that is the goal that we wish to achieve. However, every successful path has setbacks and failures. Learn to appreciate that none of us is perfect and we can learn something new everyday. The only way to avoid failure is to stop trying to achieve. Use every setback to your advantage and ultimately you will win.

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April 16, 2010

How the Self-Employed Can Save on Taxes

If you are like more than two million Canadians, you own your own business, either fulltime or part-time. Despite the sometimes heartaches of being self-employed, there are many advantages. Many entrepreneurs, though, are unaware of the various tax benefits available to them. In fact, running your own business can increase your after-tax income and contribute to family wealth.

Entrepreneurship and self employment promote a spirit of innovation, ultimately contributing to economic growth and vibrancy. As such, the government encourages entrepreneurship by taxing it at lower rates than regular income.

It is not uncommon for a new business to incur losses as it gets off the ground. These losses can be used to offset revenue from other sources, assuming you have a reasonable profit expectation as the business progresses. As your business begins to turn a profit, you can incorporate and the profits can remain in the corporation as a reinvestment in your operations. It is also possible to leave the profits in the business if you do not need a salary immediately. Thus, you can defer paying personal income tax. A salaried individual cannot schedule when to pay taxes. However, when you are self-employed, you can time payments to yourself when the tax payments are to your benefit.

Profits held in the corporation are taxable in the year they are earned. But, the corporate tax rate is low on the first $500,000 of active business income. While rates vary between provinces, all are below 20%. Personal tax rates on comparable amounts can be as high as 45%. It is also possible to pay salaries to family members in the business and have it taxed at their lower rates. Another possibility is to pay dividends to family members who own shares of the company and, thus, benefit from capital gains exemptions.

There are numerous possibilities for self-employed Canadians to benefit from management of taxes and income. All possibilities and options should be discussed at length with your tax advisor.

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April 13, 2010

Ontario’s Salary Freeze

The 2010 Ontario budget has been presented and, in an era of provinces pulling themselves into recovery after battling the effects of the recent, economy-crushing recession, Ontario has delayed efforts to balance the budget. In fact, Ontario’s budget is not projected to be back in the black until 2017-18. Instead, the provincial government has presented a budget that contains a whopping $110 billion in deficit spending over the next eight years. To offset this spending, the province has imposed a salary funding freeze for more than one million public sector employees.

And, thus, the battle lines have been drawn. In Ontario, more than half the government’s spending is public sector compensation. The government is attempting to rally public opinion to support its decision, claiming that the public employees will certainly agree that a salary freeze will help pave the way for a brighter future. However, the unions see the decision as the opening volley in negotiation battles that will not be easy.

Ontario is not the only province juggling deficits. It does seem, though, to be the only province that is not tackling the issue head-on by slashing spending. One reason given is the fact that elections are on the horizon in 2011. Reducing spending would entail cutting the public labour force, which would be the responsible move, but would ultimately cost the Liberals votes at the polls.

Critics point out that an alternative savings would be a repeal of a corporate tax cut. But, it is easier to take the money from low-paid workers, many of whom are women.

There has been a good deal of criticism regarding irresponsible government spending. This past summer, the Liberal government came under fire for wasting more than $1 billion on the eHealth system. Designed to develop electronic health records, the only major winners of eHealth were the contracted consultants.

The steady increase of six-digit government salaries has also come under attack. The opposition parties point out that the Liberals really have done very little to keep government spending under control.

It would appear that the province’s ailing economy is truly in need of a vital recovery program before the illness gets worse.

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April 11, 2010

Ontario’s Hidden Green Tax

If you reside in Ontario, you already know that Canada Day 2010 will also hail the inception of Ontario’s new 13% Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). What you may not know is that you are most likely to begin paying another new tax as early as May.

While yet not formally announced, the Liberal government will be imposing a new levy on hydro bills throughout the province to help cover $53 million of the government’s conservation and green energy program. Opponents of this measure call the levy a hidden tax that is unnecessary. While the Liberals claim that the average hydro bill will only increase by $4 annually, this claim fails to acknowledge that the HST will already increase hydro bills by an additional 8%.

Defending their decision, Liberals maintain that the only alternative is to continue operating the province’s energy system by burning coal, thus contributing to an unhealthy environment. The money from the levy would pay for home audits and institute a program to help industrial and commercial firms convert to solar power. The focus of the program will be conservation, rather than merely converting to new infrastructures, which could prove to be extremely costly to taxpayers.

Critics of the government’s green plan question whether all the affordable conservation options have been investigated, rather than turning immediately to the consumers’ pockets. The most effective program would be one that will help the maximum number of hydro users conserve. Furthermore, producers of “green power” appear to be the prime beneficiaries of this new program, as opposed to actually transforming Ontario into a “green” province.

Whether the environment will win or lose in the long term is still most uncertain. What is certain, though, is that Ontario residents will begin paying more for hydro in the near future. Hopefully, they will be investing in their environment, not just in their government.

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April 9, 2010

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