Corpcentre's Blog

January 19, 2010

Positive Cashflow Critical to Small Business

If you’re in business for yourself, you know that maintaining the status quo is not nearly enough. You must continually think of ways to spur growth in your business. While there is no specific recipe for success, there are several helpful tips that can be considered.

Positive cash flow is critical to any business. As such, it is vital to know your financial standing at any given point in time. Looking at the books at the end of month is simply inadequate. Keep your records as current as possible, updating them daily if you can. After all, shouldn’t you be in constant control?

Often, business owners ponder how to improve sales. One suggestion is to truly focus on your clients. Research their needs and problems and provide the solutions. A proven path to success is to give the client exactly what they need, rather than convince them to settle for less. Build a bond based on mutual need.

As important as sales may be, they are worthless if the customers don’t pay. Collections are often a major stumbling block for businesses. Some experts suggest that working with the clients is better than dictating terms. Try to mutually agree on terms of payment. Sometimes, it may advantageous for the top executive to personally collect serious debts. After all, the same money pays all salaries.

Stability in business is also vital. Retaining good employees is often no less important than holding on to key customers. Of course, what’s to stop the competition from luring your top employees? Building a strong bond with your staff can help with retention. Employees keenly involved with the company, who appreciate how they contribute to the company’s success, are far less likely to be recruited elsewhere.

Finally, look for the best people to work for you. Don’t just rely on resumes. Almost anybody can write a creative one. Use interviews to seek out true potential and look for potential personal chemistry.
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January 17, 2010

$170 Billion Charged to Visa and MasterCard

Once upon a time, there was the Chargex card. Some received it from their bank but most Canadians lived without it. Today, more than 40 years after Canada’s first charge card, there are more than 74 million credit cards in circulation, roughly 3.1 cards for every Canadian over age 18. The last available statistics indicate that Canadians charge more than $170 billion to Visa and MasterCard.

Studies show that the average person spends 112 percent more on a credit card as opposed to cash payments. In real terms, this means that Canadians are living well beyond their means. Many are juggling several credit cards and paying minimum monthly payments as low as 2 per cent of the balance, rather than paying the entire balance. In fact, more than 50 per cent of credit card holders opt for not paying the balance. Putting this into perspective, if your balance was $5,000 at 18 per cent interest, and you opt to pay only the minimum monthly, it would take almost 30 years to pay the balance, assuming you did not add to it.

Part of the problem is that credit cards are a basic necessity of today’s society. Some cards also provide benefits that can be quite worthwhile. The trick is to be in control.

There is no reason to carry a different credit card for each store and each bank. One all-purpose card should suffice for virtually every need. (It is wise, though, to have separate cards for personal and business expenses). Check the interest rates as they vary greatly from card to card. Avoid temptation! Use the card for what you need, not what you want! Using a credit card as opposed to not carrying cash makes sense. Using it instead of cash that you don’t have can lead to problems.

If credit card debt starts taking over your existence, don’t be afraid to seek help from a credit counselor before it’s too late.


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January 14, 2010

The End of Low Interest Rates

The period of low interest rates is coming to an end. According to current forecasts, the rates will start rising midway through 2010. For many Canadians who went on holiday shopping sprees, stretching their credit limits to the max, the rise could spell sudden difficulty or disaster.

The Bank of Canada has warned that the biggest risk to the country’s financial system is record household debt. Canadian households spent an average $71,360 last year, two per cent more than 2007. Approximately 20 per cent represented housing expenses.

As many Canadians wish to unload their mortgages as soon as possible, they are struggling to meet payments due to accelerated pay-downs on principal. Combining these high payments with other debts has put a stranglehold on many consumers.

It is crucial to take control of your debts before they control you. Experts suggest developing a plan of action to tackle your debts before problems arise.

It may be wise to suspend accelerated pay-downs on your mortgage. Use the extra cash from the lower mortgage payments to tackle the credit cards and other debts. Refrain from adding debts to your cards while you reduce the balances. Remember that higher unpaid balances carry higher rates of interest. It may also be advisable to take a consolidation loan at a lower rate of interest and pay off the cards. Also, try not to use more than one or two credit cards.

Sometimes, debts can get the best of us. Don’t be afraid to seek help from credit counselors, if you feel that you are beginning to drown in debt. These professionals can help you before you panic and assist you in gaining control of your financial situation.
 
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December 1, 2009

Credit Card Code of Conduct

If you own a retail business, you will understand exactly what the issue at hand is all about. How much of your hard-earned money goes to the credit card companies through fees and charges that seem to keep rising?
 
Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently announced the implementation of a voluntary code of conduct for the credit card industry. The new Code of Conduct has come in response to increasing complaints by small businesses about the excessive fees that they are being forced to pay.
 
The voluntary Code of Conduct, which may be revised over the next couple of months according to Mr. Flaherty, lists measures to give merchants freedom of choice in regards to which payment vehicle to use. The Code requires posting of online information regarding the interchange fees charged to retailers. It will also require the credit card companies to give retailers 90 days notice of any fee changes.
 
Responding to the announcement of this new Code, retailers view this as a positive development but would also like Ottawa to create an oversight body to ensure adherence. Creation of a parliamentary committee was one possible suggestion.
 
Mr. Flaherty pointed out that this Code of Conduct is voluntary and he hopes that the credit card companies will respond positively by voluntarily adopting the measures set out for the industry. The alternative, according to the Finance Minister, is to regulate the industry through legislation. But, as the credit card industry has objected vehemently to regulatory legislation, it is hoped that they will adopt the voluntary measures.
 
As other voluntary codes of conduct have been adopted by other industries, retailers hope that the credit card giants will similarly adopt these new guidelines.

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October 16, 2009

How Important are Credit Checks for your Small Business?

Imagine conducting business in an ideal world – a world where everyone is honest and truthful and the thought of cheating someone never enters the conscious mind. Nice fantasy but hardly reflective of our modern society.

Not to cast disparaging remarks on the average consumer. Most of us are honest and hardworking. We pay our taxes and our bills on time. However, many a small business owner has fallen victim to the customer who has been extended credit and fails to pay the bill, leaving the business owner absorbing the debt.

Credit, both extending and receiving, has become a way of life in our world. Truthfully, it is not a modern concept. Credit has existed probably for as long as commerce and trading. Similarly, the unpaid debt has probably existed equally as long. Today, though, there are modern tools to help afford the business owner a certain degree of protection.

The credit check is a tool that can save the business owner much grief and heartache. Before extending credit to an unknown customer, it is wise to invest in a credit report, especially if a large amount of credit is being considered.

A credit report, obtainable for a fee through several agencies, gives complete information about the customer. The report will include the customer’s historical payment data, records of any bankruptcies, lawsuits, liens, or any other court judgments. Based on the data, the report will also offer a risk rating that predicts the likelihood of bill payment by the individual.

Credit in business is partially risk. Risk management, via a credit report, is an advisable investment for your business.
 
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October 2, 2009

Credit Now Available From The Federal Government

A person needs oxygen to survive. A business needs credit. Even in the most difficult of times, the flow of oxygen remains uninterrupted. Not so, however, with credit.

Many a business has seen its line of credit be reduced or cancelled over the course of the last year. Financial institutions, seeking to reduce risks on unsecured or unstable credit lines, have made obtaining funds ever more difficult. This move has dealt a crippling or death blow to many small businesses in Canada.
Under Canada’s recent Economic Action Plan, designed to stimulate and strengthen the Canadian economy, the Federal government is sponsoring a program that will work with financial institutions in the private sector. The Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) will provide loans and other forms of credit support to creditworthy businesses. At least $5 billion has been allocated in loans and other forms of credit support for business enterprises with viable business models but, for various reasons, have limited or no accessibility to financing.

The BCAP is a joint venture between two financial Crown corporations and private Canadian financial institutions. The steering committee is comprised of senior representatives of all sponsoring parties whose experience and commitment have establishes a program with initial promising results. Similar to credit issues, discussions are also being conducted to examine ways of providing accounts receivable insurance.

Business owners and entrepreneurs seeking assistance through this program to support their established operations and preserve jobs should contact their financial institutions to discuss their needs and eligibility. Your financial representative can advise you which program is best suited for your particular situation.
 
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October 1, 2009

Is Canadian Employment on the Rise?

Statistics are like a cat. Rub its fur one way and it purrs; rub the other way and the results are somewhat less positive.

So it is with employment figures released by Statistics Canada for the month of August 2009. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is giving a positive spin to the 27,100 net jobs gain for the month. The announcement triggered an eight-tenth of a cent rise in the Canadian dollar, although higher crude oil prices may also have influenced the dollar’s rise. Some leading economists have announced that this is an indication of the end of the recession. All this sounds rather encouraging.

Critics, though, are quick to note that many Canadians are not feeling quite as positive. Most of the new jobs were part-time only. The number of unemployed rose in August by 21,900, bringing the total number of unemployed Canadians to 486,000 since the global financial crunch of October 2008. The decline in the manufacturing sector has continued, although construction has begun to stabilize. Most of the new part-time jobs were in the lower paying service sector. Higher paying, high productivity work fell by 17,300 positions. Full-time work continues to be in a decline.

Certainly, there is cause to be optimistic. As one economist stated, half a job is better than no job. Economic indicators seem to point in a positive direction. But, one month of net growth may be far too early to establish a positive trend. Canada may well be on its way to economic recovery. Nearly half a million unemployed Canadians certainly hope so.

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September 25, 2009

When Business Needs Cash

Strangely enough, the best and easiest time to raise cash for your business is when you don’t need it. Cash and credit are the lifeblood of any business. However, when your business is in serious need of a cash injection, that is the hardest time to secure a loan. Raise cash for a rainy day when you’re flush.

Lending institutions are in the business of making a profit on money that they lend. Therefore, a strong business is a far better prospect than a troubled one. The stronger a business’ position, the better the terms it can secure on financing. Thus, when your business least needs a cash influx, go shopping for money. Proudly walking in the door of a financial institution with one’s head held puts you in the driver’s seat. Even in today’s markets when banks are being far more selective, they prefer lending money and providing credit to strong, secure businesses. A smart bank seeks to limit its risks.

Experts suggest taking several advance steps while you’re on strong financial footing. For example, draw down your credit line if you fear that rocky times are ahead. You may pay interest on unused funds but that’s preferable to having the bank cancel an unused credit line.

While your company is still in its infancy, raise as much capital as you can from a variety of sources. It may be easier to sell your idea on paper rather than after reality sets in. Your initial excitement may be contagious to potential investors so use that to its maximum. New businesses often take time to show positive results. That early cash may help you get over the humps.

Be sure that you have a strong grip on your business. Learn to read the signs of impending problems and secure your financial grip before the situation becomes precarious.

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September 15, 2009

Evaluating Canada’s Inflation: More Buying Power for Small Business

Volumes have been written in the last few months about Canada’s inflation rate, currently sitting at 0.25% annually, and the interest rates set by the Bank of Canada. As the 2009 recession is seemingly coming to an end, according to many government and private analysts, speculation exists as to how the interest and inflation rates will be affected.

According to the chief economist for the CIBC, Avery Shenfeld, there should not be any expected growth above non-inflationary potential until sometime in 2011. The economic slack created by the recession is quite large and is expected to persist for a couple of years. Although the Bank of Canada is rather optimistic in its projections, Shenfeld feels that inflation will still feel the downward pressure of a sizable output gap well into next year.

Shenfeld explained that the core inflation rate did not decelerate this year as much as the Bank of Canada predicted. The reason for this deceleration slowdown is due, in part, to a process that economists call the income effect. Essentially, the Bank of Canada has excluded most of the volatile items that have been deflating from the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Putting aside economic evaluation, the real question is what this means for the average consumer. In real terms, a negative year-on-year inflation rate means an increase in buying power of the average wage. With lower gas prices at the pump, and new, lower mortgage bills, average Canadians will have more money in their pockets when they go shopping. Also important is the strength of the Canadian dollar. The strong dollar is having a dampening impact on retail prices of imported goods.

Mr. Shenfeld’s report does not see the projected US recovery as having much benefit for Canada. The US stimulus programs, while spurring economic growth in that nation, contain trade barriers with Canadian manufacturers that historically have benefited from trade with the US. Thus, US recovery may actually dampen some of Canada’s economic advancement.

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September 13, 2009

Leaving Your Purchases at the Checkout

Let’s be honest; most of us have done it. Embarrassing as it might be, most people have removed an item from their shopping cart while waiting in line at the checkout. It used to be merely changing your mind, or realizing you took the wrong item off the shelf. Today, it is a totally different phenomenon. In today’s rocky recession climate, people are tightening their belts. Some are doing it out of necessity while others are adopting a more cautious attitude. Whatever the reason, more people these days are careful of what they purchase. They come to the store with a list of needs, not wants, accompanied by a specific budget. If the tally should move above their available funds, something comes out of the cart.

As yet, there are no hard statistics for this latest trend. However, more and more stores are reporting a growing number of un-purchased items at the cash register, either removed by shoppers as they wait in line or removed by the cashier at the shopper’s request upon seeing their balance.

Shoppers have also begun arranging their purchases. Health care and other basic necessities are the first to go through. If there is enough money in the wallet, the frivolous items go through last.

It’s not just a question of cash. Credit card purchases have also been affected. Credit card companies used to allow customers to exceed their credit limits by up to 10 percent. No longer! Purchases that exceed the credit limit even slightly are being denied. Consumers wishing to avoid that embarrassment simply remove some items to keep their balance lower.

Internet shopping has become victim to the same trend. Research estimates indicate that as much as 59 percent of online purchases are being dumped before checkout. Much of this is attributed to the costs that are tacked on as one proceeds through various steps, including taxes, handling fees, and shipping charges. Some internet companies are reducing the number of steps in a purchase, as well as posting the costs up front, in order to retain customers.

Hopefully, the days of changing one’s mind will soon return.

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