Adjusting Business Plan for Seasonal Changes

Jennifer McCluskey

Many businesses, especially here in Canton and Potsdam which have large college student populations, struggle with slower summer months.  Others in more touristy areas, such as near Higley or out in Clayton or Alex Bay, have the opposite seasonal changes.  A survey from Wells Fargo reported that 45 percent of business owners say they reliably have several times of the year that are faster and slower than others.  But no matter when your business’s slow season is there are many strategies for dealing with slower seasonal sales. 

    One strategy is to close up shop during the slow months. You’ll keep having to pay rent, but utilities, employees, and other costs will be gone or minimal.  This is the strategy that is often employed in some predominantly tourist areas.  However, if your product can serve locals as well, possibly staying open when everyone else is closed might lead to some small profits, or possibly large ones if there is an ice fishing derby or some other event. The Wells Fargo survey mentioned previously also reported that 62 percent of small business owners said they reduce their capital expenditures during slow seasons, and 43 percent said they reduce hours for their employees.

    Another strategy is to set money aside during the high sales months.  This is hard for many business owners.  Forty-one percent of business owners surveyed said seasonal differences make it more difficult to manage cash flow.  Planning can be difficult when you don’t know what’s right around the bend, or if you’re just barely making it during the better parts of the year.  If this is the case for your business, you may want to use your slow season to take a hard look at your financials and see if there are ways you can trim costs during the rest of the year so that you can be better prepared for next year’s downturns, or create a financial budget if you’re just winging it.  Make sure you are realistic with your cash flow projections for the future by having a good idea of past trends and sales in both slow and peak times. Update your forecasts regularly to make sure you are on top of any changes in trends.  Your SBDC advisor can help create and analyze projected budgets. 

    You may be able to delay some expenses until different times of year.  Talk to some of your vendors, for example your insurance company, to see if you could pay at a different time of year.  Even if they say no, I’m sure they won’t mind if you pay your bill ahead of time in the spring so that you’re all set when it’s due in the summer.  Another idea to improve cash flow during slow months is to collect a deposit from customers, for example half down and half on delivery.  This works especially well when there is a substantial gap between booking your service and service delivery. 

    Also, develop a positive relationship with your bank.  There are possibilities of obtaining a seasonal line of credit to get equipment and other items you need to get ready for your high season and then pay it off when the sales start coming in.  This could work well for something like a lawn care business which will need new equipment in the spring but won’t have money to pay for it until the summer. During slower times of the year, one in five business owners (21 percent) reported increasing their use of business lines of credit or business credit cards to bridge cash flow gaps. During busier times, two-thirds (64 percent) said they pay down debt or reduce their use of credit.   

    If you would like assistance planning for seasonal changes in your business cash flow, you can get in touch with your local Small Business Development Center office.  You can contact the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262 for free business counseling.  The Wells Fargo survey referenced can be viewed at https://wellsfargoworks.com/small-business-optimism-reaches-highest-point-in-a-decade.

               

Is Your Business Planning (ahead) For A Successful Transition?

Michael Besaw

Across the north country region, family business owners are debating their future, and determining how the business they’ve worked diligently to create, will transition after they retire – is it letting a younger family member take the reins, or having a business valuation to prepare for an open market sell, or maybe moving to an employee-owned model; these are the complicated decisions that business owners in the north country are trying to navigate.

The ‘Need for a Transition Strategy’ estimates that more than 10,000 businesses in the Adirondack north country are owned and operated by Baby Boomers, who are planning to retire in the next few years in what has been referred to as the “silver tsunami”. Closure of these businesses means loss of services and tremendous loss of employment. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of businesses nationally have an exit strategy planned. This is where the inspiration came from for the Adirondack North Country Association’s “Center For Businesses In Transition” (CBIT) — a collection of public, private and nonprofit partners working together to provide the training, resources, and connection to existing services to support a business in creating their transition strategy, as well as matchmaking services, in an effort to match the newer generation of aspiring entrepreneurs with a business already established in the north country.

How Community Liaisons for the CBIT are helping
Transition planning isn’t often mentioned when passing a business down to the next generation, whether it’s family members or exploring less traditional transition options such as employee ownership models. In the north country region, there are community liaisons in Ticonderoga County, Franklin County, Hamilton County, Lewis County, and St. Lawrence County who are making the effort to connect with transitioning businesses to help them understand the process and how to plan for it. These individuals have been chosen for their understanding of area business and involvement in their communities are part of their county Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Agency, or the Small Business Development Center (SBDC); ensuring the sharing of resources, information and objectives.

Workshops Planned for Transitioning Businesses and Entrepreneurs
A top priority of the CBIT is helping businesses connect the dots to the resources available for transitioning. To accomplish this goal, the CBIT is holding monthly workshops across the north country from April to August. Each workshop covers an element of transitioning planning or the process of purchasing a business, including “Business Transitions Overview: Where do you start?”, “Preparing to Sell Your Business”, “Transitioning to Worker Ownership”, “Intergenerational Family Transitions, Creative Solutions & Alternative Structures”, and “Entrepreneurs: Taking over an existing business”. Registration and the date/time for the workshops are available online at www.adirondack.org/CBITWorkshop Series, or on the St. Lawrence County Chamber’s website www.SLCchamber.org.

Using the latest technology, the workshops will also be live streamed at “Viewing Parties” to offer a level of convenience to both businesses and entrepreneurs who are unable to travel to workshops out of their county. Workshops will also be recorded so that interested business owners can view them at their convenience and as needed in the future.

The Real Deal
Transition planning can take up to five years, and it’s never too early to get started. North Country business owners looking to transition their operations to new owners or a new ownership model, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs looking to take over an existing business, can contact the Center at transitions@adirondack.org or 518-891-6200 for more information or to be connected with a community liaison in your county.

Let’s work together to keep businesses in the north country and continue to grow the beautiful region that we all love to live, work and play in!

Michael Besaw is a native of Massena, and the Assistant Director/CBIT Liaison of the St. Lawrence County Chamber.

From Pasture to Pint

SYDNEY SCHAEFER / NNY BUSINESS
Andrew, middle left, and Blake place, middle right, pose for a portrait with their children Collin, 4, left, Aurora, 2, right, and Isobella, less than a month old, at their goat farm, Hidden Pastures Dairy, in Glenfield.

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Turnovers Are For Breakfast, Not the Workplace

KRISTEN AUCTER

One of the biggest issues facing employers is the rate of turnover. Employers are coming to realize that more often than not a quality work environment is high on the list of priorities to the average employee. Turnover is fairly common for all businesses but can have a massive impact on an organization. Turnover is disruptive, costs money, and impacts employee morale. While the financial cost is difficult to measure, effects can include things like increased workloads, overtime expenses, and reduced productivity that is often found with low employee morale. That isn’t even including things like recruitment costs or the time and money that are put into training the new people. Turnover will never be 100 percent preventable but we can at least try to manage it better.

    Every business should attempt to have some sort of strategy in place to keep employees. The following are a few ideas to start that strategy:

Saving Money

  • Do you have businesses in your neighborhood that are willing to trade with you? Is there a restaurant that would agree to employee discounts for your employees that frequent there? Network and make connections that could benefit your employees or employees on both sides.
  • Celebrate employee’s work anniversary with a check or savings bond.
  • Add pet illnesses to the list of approved uses of sick time.
  • Buy movie tickets in bulk and make them available at a discount to employees.

Valuable Time

    If there’s one thing organizations can often offer with the most gain with the least pain, it’s time off and flexible work schedules.

  • Give employees the option of working an adjusted schedule that helps them with family, school, or personal preferences.
  • Provide a once-a-month pass for a longer lunch hour with the understanding that the time doesn’t have to be made up later.
  • Give employees a free floating vacation day on their birthday.
  • Depending on seasonal workloads, add seasonal hours to your official benefits.
  • Open the office late or leave the office early on special days that show employees you care about their dedication to their families and personal lives too (First or last day of school, Halloween, Christmas Eve etc.)
  • If no face-to-face meetings are necessary and work can be done via laptop, establish a work-from-home policy one day a month.

Time off and having a say in determining their own work schedule can be a huge benefit for staff morale and employee retention.

Recognition

    Employees who are recognized for their contributions to the cause generally have higher levels of job satisfaction, are more likely to be motivated and exhibit better retention rates.

  • Just saying the words “thank you” goes a long way. Not a verbal appreciation type of person? Send an email. Copy the manager or supervisor to celebrate achievements up the chain of command.
  • Send monthly “Kudos Kards” to your team or department pointing out successes in the department.

Let your employees feel appreciated. The loyalty earned will take your business far beyond your wildest expectations.

Drive

    Studies show there is a huge connection between staff morale and retention.

  • Free coffee is pretty regular but how about adding water or tea in the mix? Offer healthy snacks in the break room.
  • A local chiropractor or masseuse might be willing to come in and do 10-minute chair massages for free in order to advertise their business.
  • A Free-the-Feet Friday can make employees feel right at home if work conditions allow for slippers or sandals; add a dollar amount that gets dedicated to a local non-profit.
  • Create a canine-friendly workplace – More and more companies are allowing dogs in the workplace. Companies that allow pets have reported a lower rate of absenteeism and a more productive environment.
  • Put your employee’s time first. Are there regularly scheduled meetings that confuse attendees and take up valuable time that could be used more efficiently elsewhere? Are you micro-managing when an employee has proven time and time again they are up to the task? It’s time to stop and consider that this might be sending a message to your staff that you don’t trust their skills and that their time doesn’t really matter.
  • Encourage employees to walk away from technology. Schedule a few 20-minute breaks a week to just spend time together and catch up. Form a group that would like to do a daily afternoon walk to get air and exercise.
  • Keep them happy with little things:
  • A note on their desk in the morning when they come in acknowledging a small scale success.
  • An incentive program that allows them to save up for time off or bonus pay.
  • Got Snow? Create a phone tree among your departments and allow for surprise no-snow snow days when the winter days really start to get everyone down.

Employees that feel appreciated and valued are less likely to leave their jobs.

Communication

    People like to know what is going on. Keeping employees involved and “in the loop” can help keep them satisfied. Organizations and business with open communication tend to have more loyal employees. When employee viewpoints are taken into consideration while making changes and adjustments they will continue to pay more attention to productivity and efficiency. A statement heard more often than not is … “I loved my job… just not my manager.”

  • When adding tasks to an employee’s workload be sure to ask them what is already on their plate and assist them on prioritizing what is there. Don’t expect them to read your mind.
  • How effective are your evaluation process? Most employees desire feedback on jobs done and again, including them in conversations when setting future goals will create ownership of those goals.
  • Try to keep employees informed of decisions early and explain your thought process so they understand where you’re coming from. While they might not necessarily agree with decisions made they will know that you put ample time into coming to the decision.

Highly effective organizations rely heavily on communication to meet deadlines, produce products and encourage customers and clients to return.

    Create an environment where your employees feel valued and like they are a part of the success of the business. Allow them to take on new roles and responsibilities and grow their skill set to understand the business from a more holistic point of view. Obviously, not all of these ideas fit every work environment. There are deadlines and quotas to meet and customers to keep happy. But if you can find a few that might fit with what you have going on the results will more than likely surprise you.

 

Access to Quality Child Care Can Strengthen Our Region

Max DelSignore

There are many factors to consider when determining the quality of life in a prospering community. One of the key pillars to a thriving community is access to education.

    The education provided by north country school districts and higher education institutions remains robust as the needs of our region evolve. However, research shows the greatest and most critical development in young children takes place from ages of 18 months to age 4. More than 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before age 5. The availability of quality child care and early childhood development programs becomes a focal point for not only the healthy growth of local children, but the community as a whole.

The LEAD Council of the Northern New York Community Foundation is examining this community need more closely. The advisory committee of more than 20 young professionals recently launched its “LEAD Impact Grant Program,” which is designed to address strategic needs affecting residents of all ages in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. The Council representing the tri-county area researched the issue and convened with local experts to identify meaningful support in child care and early childhood development as a community priority.

    Many nonprofit organizations, school districts and local agencies offer support in child care and early childhood development. While some programs receive federal funding to operate, other agencies scramble to secure appropriate resources and staff to optimize their programming. A compromise in the quality of programs is likely to hinder the preparedness of children entering kindergarten and grade school. Children are not only challenged with fundamentals in education, but with development of cognitive and social skills as well.

    “It is a simple and an incredibly complex fact that a person’s earliest years set the stage for the rest of their life,” said Joanna Loomis, a LEAD Council member and director of provider strategy and transformation at the North Country Initiative. “The quality of child care services for any child, along with other factors that influence their early development such as housing, family relationships and nutrition, all intersect to inform not only that child’s well-being, but by extension, that of their community.”

    LEAD is an acronym that means Leadership, Engagement, Access, and Direction. The LEAD Council and the Community Foundation announced in February up to $25,000 in grant funding is available to tri-county nonprofit organizations with a mission to provide services and support in child care and early childhood development. The focus areas for this grant opportunity are programs, advocacy, accessibility, and opportunities to support staff through training and professional development. Nonprofits, as well as other publicly supported organizations, such as school districts and municipalities, are eligible to apply for funding. The application deadline is April 19, and grant awards will be announced in September.

    “Although our grant is not a fix-all, we felt strongly that we could make a significant impact in this field with the potential that our grant is a step toward overall betterment,” said Andrew Boulter, LEAD member and a lifelong Watertown resident.

    Across the country, advocacy for quality child care and early childhood development is building momentum. Some municipalities have built partnerships and initiatives into their strategic plans to focus on providing growth and sustainability to support early childhood development. Bruce Stewart, the executive director of the St. Lawrence Child Care Council, noted that raising awareness of the gaps in support is one of the north country’s greatest challenges. Recent results from the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College reflects good or fair outcomes related to availability of child care in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. But local municipalities continue to evaluate feasible models to make improvements.

    “Child care and early childhood development should be thought of as infrastructure when it comes to community planning,” said Jennifer Voss, LEAD member and senior planner with the City of Watertown. “It’s an integral part of economic development. Parents who cannot find secure, affordable day care are not able to work outside of their homes. Child care is more than taking care of children, it’s a vital component to a community’s quality of life.”

    Investment in a child’s education and development begins well before the first steps into a kindergarten classroom. The LEAD Council and its “LEAD Impact Grant Program” will help continue the conversation and serve as a catalyst to augment support for optimal child care and early childhood development efforts in our region. As our communities evolve and grow it is important that we are mindful of properly nurturing our young children to give them the best chance to succeed in Northern New York.

 

20 Questions: A Vision for Success

SYDNEY SCHAEFER / NNY BUSINESS
Sarah Compo poses for a portrait at the Flower Memorial Library in Watertown.

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Improve your Content (and Grow) in Three Easy Steps

Jessica Piatt

If you’re new to the rapidly expanding world of social media, welcome! It’s a fun place where individuals can create, organizations can expand their brand, and businesses can profit.  It can also be an intimidating world for any user, let alone someone doing it in a professional capacity with little to no experience using social media as a tool to market a service or product.  I’m going to give you the three pillars of creating a cohesive strategy to improve your content on social media. Thus, improving your brand awareness.  If you’re ready to commit to investing in your brand’s success on social media, then these steps can help you accomplish that goal. 

Start with Looking Ahead

    Planning is key when it comes to content creation.  When you look ahead, you’re taking the time to consider your brand’s consistency, your target audience, and what you can offer.  This is to say that you are planning with a purpose.  This is an important habit to initiate because it is crucial to transforming your social media presence.  In my last contribution, I went into this concept in further detail in a piece titled Invest in Your Businesses Online Presence.  In this column, I intend to build on the notion by recognizing it as a paramount pillar in your endeavor to improve your content and increase your growth. Planning with a purpose plays a critical role in your cohesive strategy to improve your content by establishing the ground work for your approach.

Quality Visuals Count

    Now that you’re in the habit of planning with a purpose (or on your way there soon) it’s time to talk visuals. Visuals are a key component to any marketing strategy.  They are an effective method of making memorable impressions that can be converted to meet a call to action.  And people like them!  With visual content continuing to yield higher engagement rates than text alone, employing this tactic to your overall strategy, as laid out in step one, will produce real results.  However, keep in mind that quality over quantity holds power when it comes to the visuals you associate with your brand.  The photos and videos you post should fit well into your organization’s visual brand, keeping the audience in mind.  It’s true that a picture’s worth a thousand words, but who are you talking to? The visuals you use should resonate with your audience.  Take photos that both represent your brand and hit your target audience (it’s 2019, this can be easily done by using your smart phone) then post them to the appropriate platforms.  When you maintain your brand, act with purpose, and produce quality visuals, it will show in your content. Now, you can take this practice a step further.  Consider which posts are generating higher engagement rates and respond by giving your followers more of what they demand.  Quality visuals, produced within the parameters of your visual brand, made for your audience will enhance your efforts to improve your content and grow your brand.

Words Absolutely Matter

    Having a brand voice is an essential part of success when it comes to social media.  Using a brand voice gives your audience a consistent feel that maintains your brand’s identity and helps build relationships.  Think about the words you type and how they can help you connect. At the Greater Watertown – North Country Chamber of Commerce we believe that when people make meaningful connections, it leads to growth.  It is for this reason why we provide opportunities for businesses, networking experiences for professionals, and encourage organizations across northern New York to use social media intentionally.  The next time you write copy for purposes of social media, do so with your brand’s voice.  Write for your target audience and be consistent with your messaging.  This practice will help your content feel familiar and better resonate with your audience.  Consequently, writing in your brand’s voice will make your content more impactful, therefore improving your connections and growing your brand.

    Well executed content is vital to growing your presence on social media.  In taking the necessary steps to improve your content, you’re committing to the development of your brand.  Utilize the three pillars of creating a cohesive strategy to improve your content on social media.  Implement planning to establish a foundation, use quality visuals made for your audience, and consistently write in your brand’s voice.  These simple, yet effective, steps will result in improved content and yield growth.

A New Year To Organize Projects

Brooke Rouse

Chamber professionals have a number of projects throughout the year, with many partners and many moving pieces. Project management and organization, as well as communication with staff and/or partners is something that a number of professionals deal with, whether you work for a nonprofit, small business or large company. There are endless tools and apps out there, some have fees, some do not and some may be better or worse for your industry. If you are part of a professional network, specific to your industry, ask for their advice on what they use for project management.  For the start of the New Year, let us look at some tools to help 2019 be as organized as possible. Take the time to research these and other tools online to find the best fit!

    Evernote (and Evernote Business) is an application that can be used on your Smartphone, computer or tablet. One account will allow all of your information to sync between devices, allowing you to add and share information from your desk, at a meeting or on the go.  The app allows you to create notebooks for different project, committees, etc. The ability to attach files, photos, and audio to notes that you type or write with a stylo means that everything is paper free and in one place. The other perk of this tool is the to-do feature. Tasks, goals, and projects can be managed with timelines, checkboxes and reminders, as well as the ability to tag teammates or coworkers to complete the tasks.

    If workflow of multiple projects is a priority, consider Asana. Asana allows you to manage the many roles you play in your job (or leadership role). A visual dashboard allows you to see all of your tasks in one window.  If you use Google Drive, Asana integrates with it, allowing you to attach a document to a task for easy access.  Asana has a great communication tool for team projects, with the ability to set deadlines and assign tasks, as well as check on progress and comment on any tasks. There is a mobile app for Asana, so that you can receive reminders or notices when your teammates complete a task.

                Google. Everyone knows what Google is, but not everyone knows how it can be used for business. There are endless opportunities for search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing, however, we are focused on some of the organizing tools in GSuite. A business or organization can use Gmail as the official company email. To increase your branding and professionalism, company emails should be sent with a URL associated with your website (ex: Brooke @SLCChamber.org). GSuite allows you to set up, access and manage email accounts easily. Google Drive allows you to create, save and share documents. Multiple people can edit the same document and you can share with teammates outside of the company. Google Calendars will keep your team schedules in one place, allowing for ease of planning. The Google tools have apps for ease of access on the go, with automatic syncing and saving to the cloud.

Brooke Rouse is the executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and tourism promotion agent. Contact her a brouse@stlawrececountychamber.org or 315-386-4000.

North Country Cheerleader

DAYTONA NILES / NNY BUSINESS
Assemblyman Elect Mark Walczyk.

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Invest In Your Businesses Online Presence

Jessica Piatt

Here in Northern New York, the idea of not having enough time or resources to invest in your business’ online presence is widely accepted as a fixed fact by many businesses and organizations.  It can be difficult to see the value in planning ahead in a digital environment where content is comprised of click bate, feedback is instantaneous, and comment trolls come by the dozen.  When you challenge the idea that you do not have the time, the resources, or the savvy to plan, you will find that this strategy is an investment in your brand, it will make your life easier, and it will prove to be effective.

It’s an Investment

                When you take the time to plan your social media content, you’re making an investment in your brand’s online awareness and therefore you’re making an investment in the growth of your business.  Planning your content ahead of time can be as basic as setting aside time in the beginning of the week, evaluating your business’ needs, offers, or values, and selecting content to reflect those priorities.  Craft a message with your followers, costumers, or clients, in mind, then schedule a time to post.

It Will Lighten Your Load

                Once you’ve taken the plunge and commit to investing in your brand’s digital presence, aim for consistency.  In being consistent, you will make this investment routine.  Once it’s become common practice, this routine will help transform your tendency to be reactive in the digital arena, reclaim control of your brand’s narrative, and be proactive with your online presence. This mega metamorphosis, you will likely free up valuable time at the office and reduce the paralyzing stress surrounding the use of social media as a tool.

It Will Yield Results

                When you commit the time, and maintain consistency, your efforts will yield results.  I’m talking real, quantifiable results here.  When you plan your content keeping your brand and consumers in mind, schedule your posts using measurable data to maximize your impact, and maintain consistency in your diligent efforts, your business will reap the benefits.  Not only will this strategy reduce the time you squander thinking of clever captions at the last minute or reduce the stress you associate with pressures of social media, it will benefit your brand’s overall awareness.  Being present, intentional, and consistent, on social media, makeup the cornerstone of building trust with your audience. 

Resources are your Friends

                Choose platforms which augment your brand.  Once you get started, use the platform analytics available to enhance your objectives.  LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, all offer free engagement analytics for business accounts.  This information is essential to the enrichment of your content production and scheduling.  There are also external resources that can be used to supplement your efforts and strengthen your overall effectiveness.  Give resources like Canva, ColorStory, Hootsuite, Planoly, and/or VSCO a try.  See which apps/websites work best for your brand and implement them into your routine.  If you’re still hesitant, or simply have questions, additional resources such as the Greater Watertown – North Country Chamber of Commerce, or other organizations dedicated to promoting and supporting business are a great start!

A Bright Future

                It’s time to invest in your brand’s online presence and take advantage of what the digital world has to offer.  Social media platforms help businesses grow.  When used intentionally, social media can lead to increased brand awareness and build trust with your audience. When you challenge the idea that you do not have the time, the resources, or the savvy to plan, and you recognize that these platforms can enhance your brand and better your business, you will discover the plethora of possibilities that planning content can bring to your business in the North Country.