Embrace The Internet Of Things

Is your business ready for the Internet of Things (IoT)?

In your everyday life you may already be a part of the IoT, e.g. thermostats, home alarms and entertainment centers joined together digitally and managed from a computer or mobile device. Businesses also can, and increasingly are, bringing together sensors and cloud-computing with office equipment, factory machinery and order fulfillment/inventory systems, streamlining sales and production processes wirelessly. This improves customer relations, productivity and on-time delivery.

There’s no time like the present to get involved. Knowledge@Wharton is an online business analysis journal of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In March its experts in collaboration with Dell posted an article to guide businesses through the ever-expanding digital landscape. Leveraging the Internet of Things for Competitive Advantage describes IoT as an “ecosystem” that “consists of data sensors, networks, cloud storage, applications and devices all working together to help companies and consumers manage their digital lives…”

How hot is the topic? What are the trends? International Data Corporation (IDC) is a premier global provider of market intelligence for IT professionals and business executives. Its infographic Connecting the IoT describes what is and forecasts what lies ahead through connectivity. A few insights from IDC:

  • There are currently 13 billion connected things worldwide, expected to grow to 30 billion by 2020.
  • By 2018 60% of IT solutions will become open-sourced allowing vertically-driven IoT markets to form.
  • Millennials, representing 16% of population, will accelerate IoT adoption.

Now is the time to embrace IoT. Consider what devices you frequently use and what data you would like to leverage. Is there client information you want to capture and share with your sales team? What operational systems could be integrated and managed remotely?

Of course there is cost. eMarketer.com cites an Accenture study showing that Internet users worldwide (62%) have concerns that purchasing IoT devices and services would be too expensive. Many (47%) are concerned about privacy and security issues. Businesses might require a cloud-based platform to serve as a data center or eCommerce solution. They might need technical support to set up the network and train employees. Plus, what devices should each employee have: a tablet, a smartphone, a laptop?

When you’re ready to look at IoT capabilities for your business, seek the guidance of an IT expert. Though the upfront investment may seem steep, the savings gained from a connected workforce and improved customer relations quickly prove the value of IoT.

mentorship

Mentorship Grows Business

mentorship

What if someone told you that doing one thing – at no cost – would increase your company’s revenue by 83%? It might sound too good to be true but that’s what micromentor.org found in its 2014 Business Outcomes Survey. Whether you’re a mentee in need of a mentor or a company grooming mentees to build your business, there is great value in mentorship.

Luis Velasquez is a leadership coach, employee engagement expert, and management trainer. He says in his mentorcloud.com blog post “7 Trends In Employee Engagement and What Role Mentoring Plays” that employers must mentor their workforce to be competitive in today’s marketplace. The benefits include higher job satisfaction, increased retention and improved productivity. He writes: “Acquiring knowledge through mentoring and applying that knowledge to their current job will not only increase employee output, but will also increase their level of discretionary effort.”

Creating maximum efficiency among your workers means that you’ll need fewer employees to get the job done as your company grows. You’ll avoid the reoccurring expense of searching for and replacing employees. Experts at ZaneBenefits estimate losing a salaried employee can cost as much as two times their annual salary, especially to replace a higher level executive.

Not only will mentoring increase productivity, it will allow you to expand your business without adding more employees. This, of course, leaves you more money for growing your business via strategic planning, marketing analytics, technology, acquisition, or structural/office space, etc.

As an owner of an expanding business you too can tap into the value of mentors. Perhaps you want to grow sales in a new market. A mentor with experience in that arena can shed light on what strategies would be effective and who the “players” are in the industry.

There are many useful resources ready to pair mentors with mentees and visa versa. One helpful organization that matches those in need of mentorship with mentors is SCORE. Its volunteer mentors bring real-world business experience. They are working and retired business owners, executives and managers who have been through the same challenges and decisions that many entrepreneurs face. In addition, SCORE business mentors offer valuable expertise in specific industries.

Engaging pays off. SCORE reports more than 100,000 businesses increased their revenue in 2014 thanks to its mentoring efforts. Those businesspeople with three-plus hours of mentoring not only achieved higher revenue; they experienced an increase in business growth.

Image by The Blue Diamond Gallery

ABL financing tools

Put This Powerful But Overlooked Financing Tool To Work For Your Company

Asset-based lending can be cost-effective, versatile and discreet

ABL financing tools

For some medium-sized companies in a growth phase, cash flow can become an issue when payables get ahead of receivables. For others, there may be opportunities to buy new equipment, to expand business or to acquire new businesses, but there just isn’t enough cash on hand to make a move. Whatever, the reason, there is a flexible, cost-effective and discreet way to finance these occasions. It’s called asset-based lending, or ABL.

Who turns to ABL? Glen Dalzell, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Liquid Capital, says that companies who take advantage of ABL are those who may not qualify for traditional bank lending, which is covenant- and ratio-driven. Others may simply not be getting enough funding through conventional bank lending and they need to augment available funds by getting additional availability from their assets.

“ABL is typically a revolving facility,” Dalzell says, “much like a line of credit from a bank.” The difference, he says, is that it’s more flexible and will generate “greater cash availability.” And like a line of credit, you only use as much money as you need, paying back the principal and  interest as you go along.

Long used by very large firms, ABL may have a place in a medium-sized company’s financial toolbox.  “If you took all your cash from receivables and bought equipment with it, you’d have a cash-flow problem,” Dalzell says. ABL can be used to space out that cash-flow shortfall. Firms who have less-than-perfect credit ratings—and there are many understandable reasons why this happens among the very best firms—may also want to turn to ABL.

Corporate assets, including inventory, equipment and real estate, can be considered and margined to raise cash through an ABL facility or you can sell your invoices to a lender. Subject to appraisal, a lender will lend against raw materials, finished goods and even work in progress. Equipment can be margined up to 75% of its liquidation value while real estate can be collateralized up to 75% of its market value. With invoices, a lender “buys” your receivables and when you collect on them you reimburse the lender.

One of the advantages of ABL over other forms of non-traditional lending such as factoring is confidentiality of the relationship between you and the lender. Some clients may question a firm that uses alternative methods such as factoring. With ABL, your receivables are deposited in a sweep account at your bank in your firm’s own name, from which an ABL lender collects its interest and principal payments. The process is invisible to your customers. In addition, with a better credit rating and demonstrable operations processes that the lender can understand and interrogate, your costs for ABL can be lower than with factoring.

Still, asset-based lending is not for everyone. Dalzell says that ABL is generally for medium-sized firms or larger.  “Typically, ABL comprises a minimum of $1 million to $5 million.” Larger firms, he says, have more complex cash needs and the amount of collateral required has to be large enough to warrant the costs of ABL.

successful small business office

How To Set Up Your Office For Success

successful small business office

Whether your business is growing in a commercial space or expanding its production facility, office set up affects your success.

One of the easiest, most economical ways to transform an office is paint. Select the color carefully. The color you choose will impact behavior. Kim Lachance Shandrow, a senior editor for Entrepreneur, writes about the power of color in her article How The Color of Your Office Impacts Productivity. Whites, taupes and grays can appear as blandor too institutional. Shandrow suggests blues and greens to improve efficiency and focus. Go with yellow to boost innovation and creativity.

Ergonomics make a significant difference in productivity as well. British manufacturer CMD creates furniture and lighting/technology solutions for commercial environments. Its blog post Five Facts You Need To Know About Ergonomics explains how correct ergonomics increase worker productivity by 11 percent. A poor set up can cause musculoskeletal injuries, which account for one-third of workday injuries and illnesses.

Choosing office furniture that is adjustable to the individual is a good start. Ideally when sitting at a desk, employees should be eye-level in front of a computer monitor with feet comfortably flat on the floor and arms at a right angle with wrists straight. Another choice: a standing desk, which experts say reduces the risk of diseases such as diabetes and cancer. The simple act of standing can burn an extra 750 calories over five three-hour workdays.

Lighting is another consideration. Andrew Jensen, a business growth and efficiency consultant, writes in his blog post How Office Lighting Affects Productivity that artificial lighting can cause eye strain and headaches. In fact, it is one of the most likely office features to negatively affect motivation.

Jensen explains: “With light being a key component of vision, and vision being responsible for 80 to 85 percent of our perception of the world around us, it’s not difficult to see why ignoring proper lighting strategies in your office could have a significant negative impact on productivity. Harsh lighting and dim lighting are equally detrimental to the productivity of your workers, and, by opting instead for more natural lighting or other lighting systems that have been proven effective, you stand to not only save energy but also increase productivity among your business’s employees.”

Ready to deck out your office? Begin by benchmarking and peek at other companies’ interiors. Inc.com highlighted the World’s Coolest Offices 2015 last fall, picking winners for offices from large to small. The common denominator: open concept, functionality, communal spaces and touches that inspire creativity.

financial growth

The Secret To Financing Growth

financial growth

Turn your business into a growth powerhouse with one simple insight.

You’ve just received a terrific opportunity: The sale that will take your business to the next level. Nothing in small business is as exhilarating as a sudden growth spurt that comes from a big order. But after the thrill of the deal, how do you deliver the goods without overstretching yourself at the bank? When you make a big sale you’re going to need supplies to complete the order. But you could well run into suppliers who don’t want to risk sending you supplies without getting paid up front. Consider their position—they may be wondering if you can really deliver that big sale, and whether your ultimate customer will pay in a timely manner. They might not be willing to risk selling to you without payment up front.

What can you do to satisfy your suppliers while getting the materials you need to complete your sale to the big customer? One solution that many smart small business operators rely on is purchase-order (PO) financing, and it can be a genuine lifeline at times like this. PO financing can cover up to 100% of the costs of producing goods by paying your suppliers either with a letter of credit against production or payment against bona fide shipping documents. You and your financial institution arrange for inspection of completed goods before payment goes out, protecting you and the financier.

Robert Thompson-So, Vice-President and Chief Strategy Officer at Liquid Capital, says PO financing typically covers two types of deals. One is pre-sold finished goods shipped directly to an end buyer, to a third-party warehouse or shipped and monitored to a client’s warehouse. A second type of deal is to fund works in progress.

You need to understand that PO financing is not a loan, Thompson-So says. “It is essentially an advance on funds to cover suppliers’ bills. A financier agrees to pay your supplier for goods pre-sold to your customer. They then collect the invoice from the end customer and retrieve the moneys advanced you, minus a fee.”

Another benefit is that PO financing doesn’t require a perfect credit history on your part. The financial institution will, however, be vigilant about your ultimate customer’s creditworthiness because that is how it will get repaid. So if you have average credit, you can feel confident about using PO financing.

Even if you’re using PO financing, always be sure to watch your cash cushion. PO financing is no substitute for vigilance over payables and receivables. Run a simulation on what would happen if your customers got behind in their payments—would if affect your ability to attract the kind of big orders PO financing would help you with? Would it hamper your credit rating? Consider electronic invoicing so you can track your payments at all times. This will be important as your business grows with those big orders coming in.

hiring strategies

Hiring Strategies For Growing Companies

hiring strategies

You’ve experienced it either on your own or through clients, colleagues, family or friends: starting a company takes courage and hard work. Growing a company is far more difficult. Whether the business is right out of the gate or in a more advanced stage with a few key employees, the time will come when hiring additional staff is necessary for growth.

Entrepreneurs are known for wearing the proverbial “many hats” as they launch and develop their businesses. The same is true of their first-aboard employees. At a certain point, however, they need to delegate those hats to other skilled workers.

How do you know it’s time? Simple – the company is unable to meet demand. Some signs include late orders, poor service and administrative mistakes. Another clue: you must turn down new business to keep up with the client base you already have. Before hiring, though, consider the following:

  • Whether you really want to grow into a bigger company.
  • Will new customers/orders continue on a regular basis? Could a temp or freelancer cover your short-term needs?
  • Can you afford to hire additional employees?

You also must decide what positions you need to fill most. If administrative duties are burdening you or an office manager, expanding your customer service and/or administrative team might be a good choice. If you’re not good with numbers, someone with accounting skills can help. Want to drive more sales? Adding a national sales manager, salesperson or independent sales rep can expand the company’s reach. When it comes to marketing, you can outsource to an agency or social media expert or a combination of creatives to build your brand. The main thing a small business needs, however, is versatility. Finding multitalented, adaptable people who understand and reflect the business owner’s vision is paramount.

What’s the best approach? Entrepreneur recently shared tips for hirers in its article 4 Strategies for Hiring the Right People at Your Startup, written by contributor Brian de Haaff, who has successfully started and sold companies and is currently CEO of Aha!. He stresses the importance of attracting like-minded employees. To do so you’ll need to define your core values as a company and then seek those who have your same work ethic. Look in the right places, such as posting an opening on your own website, LinkedIn and niche career sites. How you interview potential candidates matters too. “Ask behavioral questions,” de Haaff counsels. “Seek to discover how the candidate’s past actions relate to your values.”

Human Resources Expert Susan M. Heathfield’s About.com post Use a Behavioral Interview to Select the Best Employees stresses the importance of writing the job description based on the behavioral characteristics it requires. If the position is for a salesperson who must be an effective networker then request networking skills. During the interview confirm the characteristic with a behavioral prompt. Heathfield suggests, “Tell me about a time when you obtained a new customer through networking activities.”

Prepare to invest in this endeavor. It takes time and money to search for, interview, hire and train a new employee. If outsourcing services is the solution, selecting the best service partner could take weeks, and possibly months for the individual to get fully up to speed. You’ll know when you’ve chosen the right one: you, your employees and your company will flourish.

financial breakup

What To Do When A Financial Institution Breaks Up With You

financial breakup

Few events are more unsettling for a small business owner than losing the financial support of their bank or lending institution. In 2013, a major North American bank ended its relationship with hundreds of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) because of a change in commercial banking focus. It was not an isolated incident. “There can be changes in the overall economic or credit environment,” says Sol Roter, president of Liquid Capital Corp. Financial institutions, he says, “that may dictate whether to enter or leave whole industries, depending on circumstances.” This can be a function of the economy or a change in their lending portfolio profile.

Whatever the reason, the results can be devastating for SMEs that are caught unaware. Suddenly, lines of credit dry up. If too many receivables accumulate, it could push you into a cash-flow crisis. “It could even put you out of business,” Roter says. So what can you do to survive the sudden loss of your financial institution? Fortunately, the answer is plenty—if you’re prepared.

“You need to figure out what financing you need, and then update your forecasts and your business plan as quickly as possible,” Roter says. “Do a credit check on your firm and yourself to see if anything sticks out that you can correct before approaching a new financial institution.” Also, conduct a registration search to see if any registrations need to be dealt with in advance.

Once you’re sure that you’re in a position to put your best foot forward to a new institution, start working your network of contacts. Ask them if they have entrees with banks and other lenders that may want to do business with you. Ask your accountant, lawyer, insurance broker or anyone else you think can refer you. But sometimes conventional banks won’t touch less-than-stellar businesses. Says Roter: “If your business is hurting and out of financial covenant, you’re going to have to reach beyond conventional banks and approach non-traditional funders such as receivables financiers and asset-based lenders.”

Whomever you approach, there are other steps you can take to prepare for visiting a new financial institution. “It’s really important to prepare yourself properly,” Roter says. “On the credit side, if you don’t have an up-to-date financial statement, or you’re just not willing to discuss and deal with difficult matters, it doesn’t look good.”

Professional lenders will check into your background and it’s wishful thinking to believe that they won’t find shortcomings or, worse, skeletons. “Disclose it up front,” Roter says.  And in this era of pervasive social media, examine your online presence, including your personal one, for anything that may cast you in an unflattering light. Any  content that shows you behaving irresponsibly could affect your credit rating and, ultimately, your next banking or lending relationship.”

If your business is shipshape, keep an eye out for changes in the economic climate that may sideswipe you, as the banks tend not to view individual businesses in isolation. “Banks will signal into the marketplace,” Roter says, “but it’s nuanced. They’ll express in the media that, say, they’re concerned about certain sectors. These days it’s oil and gas. It shouldn’t be any surprise to oil and gas companies to find that the bank says it’s reducing exposure in that sector. It may be nothing personal.” The lesson here? Be prepared and always keep your eye out for new financial relationships.

collaboration

Collaborate And Create For Business Growth

collaboration

Entrepreneurship is alive and well with 27 million Americans either starting or running a new business. Research from the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, sponsored by Babson and Baruch Colleges, offers a positive outlook noting that “24% of U.S. entrepreneurs expect to employ 20 or more people within the next five years, up from 16% in 2012.” The same study also places Canadian entrepreneurship rising, second only to the United States.

Collaboration and creativity can significantly contribute to a company’s success

A 2014 Kapost blog by creativity consultant Katrina Pfannkuch lists 10 Stats on Creativity That Will Change the Way You Do Business.

Three highlights:

  • Six in 10 CEOs cite creativity as the most important leadership quality.
  • 75% of people feel they are not living up to their creative potential. (Imagine what businesses can achieve if leaders unleash their team’s talent.)
  • Creative industries boast faster job growth than other sectors of the economy.

Choose your team carefully and keep it to a manageable size

Approach as if you’re creating a recipe. A team leader must be confident and able to delegate. An outgoing creative person can excite team members and open the door to group brainstorming. Someone with detail skills can keep track of what the group decides and what steps must be taken. Each “ingredient” will come together so that the best ideas are fully “baked.”

One way to expand the team’s ability to collaborate is to draw upon professionals who work from home. The infographic “The Evolution of Creative Collaboration” by cloud-software provider WebDAM estimates 20 to 30 million people work remotely at least once a week, accessing files and teams from the Cloud, increasing productivity and fostering innovation. When individuals change their routine, such as from an office to home environment, creativity can flourish.

Trust is vital to collaboration

It takes time to develop; it isn’t automatic. Yoram Soloman, who wrote “The Dynamics of a Creative Team” for Innovation Excellence, an online resource for optimizing creativity, explains that there are ways to speed the process. He notes three important factors:

  1. Partner team members with a personal relationship.
  2. Use bonding and team-building activities to create shared life experiences.
  3. Encourage face-to-face meetings whenever possible.

Above all, fuel your team with confidence. Give them a clear goal and the time and materials required to make it happen. Model how the team should operate. Listen, discuss and welcome all ideas from every team member. Once goals are achieved, recognize the individual efforts of each person.

Collaboration and creativity have been integral to Liquid Capital’s model for helping businesses succeed. Ask about our growth and back-office support that impacts businesses throughout North America day after day.