Small Business Startup: Two Rivers Wood Works

Eric Purcell, owner of Two Rivers Wood Works.

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Planning Ahead For Your Business

Jennifer McCluskey

I am proud of all the work that you and all of our North Country business owners have done to make it through this difficult time. We may have a long road ahead, but you have worked hard to get here and have held on through many challenges. One way to be stronger for the path ahead is to take a good hard look at how your business did during this crisis and find out if there are things that you could do better to prepare for the future. This is a great time to figure out a solid contingency plan for your business, since this disaster may have exposed areas in which your business is weaker. You have a chance now to learn and to figure out policies that will allow you to be better prepared in the future. 

    One big area where businesses struggle significantly is cash flow and being able to set aside a “cushion” of savings. Sometimes businesses expand too fast or buy that bright shiny piece of new equipment maybe before they were ready. This pandemic may have shown you that your cushion might have been too small to deal with a possible emergency. Have you ever played the board game Risk? In the game of Risk, if you expand too fast then on the next turn the other players will wipe out all your armies because you’ll be too weak to defend. You have to expand slowly from a solid base that can be maintained. It’s the same in business: you need to shore up your current business and have enough savings to support yourself before you start trying to expand. 

    I know this is hard for businesses that are constantly living on the edge of solvency. But maybe now is a good time to make a financial plan to figure out how you can get to the point where you do have enough of a cushion to get through a couple of months with little to no income. And if you don’t think it’s possible for your business to ever get to that point, maybe you need to make some radical changes, or possibly maybe it’s time to move on and try something new. Talk to your SBDC counselor. We can help you develop strategies, look through your budget and see where changes can be made, and provide support in whatever way you need. 

    Other areas you might want to consider looking at include:  

  • Develop work from home or contingency location plans. You may have found that having some of your employees work from home went OK for your business. If you likely now have the technology capabilities you need to implement this strategy again in the future if needed.  
  • Assess communication between you and your employees. Now that they are back in the office, find out if there could be ways that you all could communicate better in the future. What systems are you going to put in place so people can get access to critical information and can make critical decisions? Does everyone know his or her role in a crisis?
  • Put key business instructions in writing in an employee manual, or consider training employees to be able to do each other’s jobs. What if a key employee or owner gets sick? Would the business be able to function without that person? Are other people than the business owner authorized to speak to the bank, accountants, and attorneys if needed?

If you need assistance with your business during this difficult time, you can reach out to your local Small Business Development Center office. If we can’t meet with you in person, we can talk on the phone, teleconference, or email, whichever works for you. We are free, confidential, and always available to help. You can reach 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. 

Small Business Startup: Creative Styles Pet Grooming

Sydney Schaefer/NNY Business
Kasie Naklick, owner of Creative Styles Pet Grooming.

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Small Business Startup: The Sandwich Bar

Friends and entrepreneurs Jamie Hubbard, left, and Jessica Williams opened The Sandwich Bar in Sackets Harbor together. The shop is located on West Main Street in the village. Sydney Schaefer/NNY Business

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Five Tips For Starting Fresh With Your Business

Jennifer McCluskey

As we start with 2020 it’s a great time to think about how you can freshen up your business to grow and have a greater impact this year. There are a few simple things that you can do to start your business off right:

Tip 1: Take Care of Yourself
Small business owners are some of the hardest working people I know. Long hours, no sick leave, and being the one in charge of all the moving parts can wear on you after a while. Frequently your needs get pushed to the side so that your business can succeed. While this can be necessary, it also means that occasionally you do need to take care of yourself. Take time out for you, whether it’s an actual “unplugged” short vacation (scary, right?), or a weekly yoga class, or even a Saturday hiking in the mountains with your family, do what you need to refresh yourself. You’ll return to your business rested and more able to see the big picture.

Tip 2: Get Organized
Getting organized will help you cut down on wasted time. Have you found yourself looking for a file for over an hour since you didn’t put it in the right folder? (Speaking from experience on that one). Or do you frequently forget tasks? During one of the slower times in your business, it can be a good idea to declutter, get your systems back in place, or try a new time management technique. I’ve found the yearly file cabinet purge and restructuring is really helpful for when business gets too busy later. There are also a lot of apps that can help you get organized. A couple of my favorites are Quickbooks Self-Employed for keeping track of business income, costs, and mileage; Cozi, a free calendar system; and Colornote which allows you to set Post-it note reminders on your phone. Also see what tasks are “time wasters” and see if there are any that you can outsource. Getting a bookkeeper to keep track of the giant box of receipts, or a Virtual Assistant to help with scheduling and returning emails may be more cost-effective than you think if they allow you to spend more time on tasks that create sales.

Tip 3: Improve Your Customer Service
Take a moment to see if there are any things you can do for your customers to improve their experience. For example, do all of your employees greet your customers with a smile? Now might be a good time to check in about that. Ask your customers if there’s anything you can do to improve, either off-line with conversations or comment cards, or online by getting Google or Yelp reviews. If there’s something that you can improve on, they’ll tell you. More reviews also help bring more people to your website. Do you have really great customers who refer a lot of business to you? Maybe get them something special as a thank you.

Tip 4: Get To Know Your Finances
If you feel like you don’t have a good handle on your expenses or know the streams of income that are most important to your business, it might be a good time to get your bookkeeping in order. Whether you keep books by hand, Excel, or use a software program like Quickbooks, it is very important to know your profit margins and overhead expenses. Making sure you do your data entry in a timely manner can save a lot of headaches at tax time and can help you keep a better eye on changes you might need to make in your business. For example, your prices may have to change to match with different costs. Take a look at your numbers and see how you feel about where you are.

Tip 5: Meet With the SBDC!
Would you like to do some of these, but just don’t know where to get started? That’s what we’re here for! The Small Business Development Center offers FREE confidential business counseling, and we can help you with any of the above tasks, and more. Just contact the office closest to you. You can reach 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. We’d love to help.

Revolutionize Your Resolution

Jessica Piatt

With the arrival of the New Year you might be inspired by the occasion to set personal resolutions to better yourself. In fact, you might resolve to travel more, learn a new skill, dedicate more time to reading or even working out. But what about your business? 

    If you want to grow your business in 2020, then you should be making New Year’s resolutions for your business, not just yourself. 

    I’m not talking about lofty goals with desired results set haphazardly. I’m talking about real resolutions. While resolutions are often derived from goals, the two are not the same. A goal is the object of one’s ambition, an aim, or desired result, whereas a resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. This year ditch the dusty goals you know you’ll abandon by mid-March and instead revolutionize your resolution by committing your company to a decision and taking immediate action. By making resolutions for your organization (and following through with them) you are deciding to better your business. 

    Decisions are made with intent and often with a strategy to deploy them. You should set your resolutions in the same way. They should be both intentional and SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. 

    When you set your business resolutions for 2020, there are two important statements to keep in mind: your mission and vision statements. Your business’s mission statement defines your organization. It is the reason for its existence; thus, it should be the driving force behind everything your company does. Your business’s vision statement describes where your business aspires to be. It serves as the guide for choosing courses of action. Both your mission and vision statements are vital to the development of your organization and should be considered when making New Year’s resolutions for your business. 

    Maintaining that your resolutions should be SMART and should consider your mission and vision statements, here are a few ideas to get you started on revolutionizing your resolutions in 2020.  

Invest in Your Employees 

    This year resolve to invest in your company’s most valuable asset, your staff. By investing in your employees, you make your staff part of the long-term growth for your organization. Business resolutions with a focus on employees through areas such as communication, training, development and recognition, can have a significant impact on productivity and office culture.   

Inspire Loyalty 

    Now, depending on your business or industry, this category can vary but whether it’s your customers, members, or clients, maintaining healthy relationships with your consumer basis is vital for growth. In 2020, set a resolution with your customers, members, or clients at the center of your decision. Consider improving customer service or enhancing retention rates. Your resolution in this area should focus on inspiring loyalty.  

It Starts with You 

    If you want to incite change in your work world, recognize that it first starts with you. Become an example of the change you want to see in your workspace. Your action will inspire others to do the same. 

Change is kindled by a decision. No matter what you resolve to do in 2020, setting SMART goals will prevent you from giving up on your New Year’s resolution in the first quarter and considering your mission and vision statements will propel your business forward. SMART goals with a foundation of your mission and vision statements will help you to achieve your resolutions for a more prosperous year. 

Small Business Startup: Triple Acres Home Scents

SYDNEY SCHAEFER/NNY BUSINESS
Danielle Hicks sits with her many different varieties of wax melts that she sells online.

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Leadership Honored at 9th Annual 20 Under 40 Awards

The 2019 20 Under 40 Award Recipients pose for a portrait at the luncheon on Friday in Watertown. Julia Hopkins/NNYBusiness

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Which Business Form Is Right For Your Business?

Jennifer McCluskey

People looking to start a business ask me all the time what form of business is right for them, but it can also be useful for owners of an existing business to re-evaluate their business structure and talk to their professional support team of accountants, attorneys and others. It may be advantageous to switch business forms, especially considering new tax laws that have been put in place over the last couple of years. In the next couple of paragraphs, I’m going to go over a quick review of the different business structures; sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S-Corporation, and C-Corporation so that you will know what questions to ask your team. 

    The simplest and easiest business set-up is a sole proprietorship (single person or married couple) or general partnership (more than one person). A business becomes a sole proprietorship or partnership by filing a DBA (Doing Business As) form at the county clerk’s office. This registers the business’s name at the county level, but does not provide any protections beyond that. Specifically, it does not provide any legal protections. If a business is a sole proprietor and gets sued, the business is fully connected to the owner so all of the owner’s assets are at risk. A time to consider switching would be if a business grows and creates jobs, or opens a storefront, both of which may make it more likely for a lawsuit to happen. Business liability insurance can protect businesses as well, but it may be important to have an additional layer of protection that a different legal structure can provide. 

    The next step up beyond a sole proprietorship is an LLC, S-Corporation, or C-Corporation. These business structures help protect a business should a lawsuit happen by creating a separate legal entity for the business. They’re not foolproof; someone can still sue the business owner personally, but they often can help. Creating one of these business entities will register a business’s name at the state level. Most of the businesses that I work with are set up as sole proprietorships or LLC’s. 

    Filing a business as an LLC or Corporation at the state level gives the business owner some more choices in how he or she pays taxes as well. All sole proprietorships and general partnerships fill out their business taxes as part of the personal tax return of their owner or owners. If a business owner sets up an LLC, she can choose to continue filing taxes as a “disregarded entity,” meaning she would continue filing taxes on her personal return. However, LLC’s do have the option to file taxes as a corporation, which may allow the owner to take advantage of better tax rates if the business has a high profit. Owners of high profit businesses also may want to consider setting up as an S-Corp. To do this the business owner would file as a Corporation at the state level and then fill out paperwork for the IRS to get the S-Corp designation. This will let the business owner do their taxes a little more simply than a C-Corp, but will let the owner take corporate tax rates for any business income beyond the owner’s salary. An owner of an S-Corp has to be able to pay themselves a “market rate” salary, so this setup would not be as useful for businesses that are lower profit. Finally, a business owner could choose to set her business up as a full C-Corp. This will allow her to distribute dividends to investors and owners and will require tax filing as a corporation. 

    At the SBDC we can only give overviews; we are not accountants or attorneys to offer tax or legal advice. We recommend speaking to your accountant and attorney before making any business structure decisions. We can help connect you with a local support network if you do need one of these professionals to help advise you along your business journey. 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 and confidential business counseling. 

Keep your Business Healthy With The Right Funding

Jennifer McCluskey

Having access to the correct type of funding stream at the right time can be very important for keeping your business healthy. Even if you don’t need funding right now, a great regular health habit for your business is developing and maintaining a solid relationship with your bank. When you find that your business is ready for additional capital to be able to grow, you have several options: 

Loans vs. Lines of Credit 

    There are several differences between loans and lines of credit. A loan is usually a large chunk of money that is given to you by the bank to buy something specific, for which you repay principal and interest for a set time period. Loans are usually best for larger purchases like land, buildings, larger equipment, etc. When starting a business, working capital (A.K.A money to start and keep your business going for the first few months) can be built into a business loan, too. 

    A line of credit can be more useful when a shorter repayment term is anticipated. For instance, if a lawn care business needs equipment in the spring and knows they will make enough money in the summer to pay the equipment off, a line of credit might be a good idea. Or another example is if a business is doing a project for a government entity, often the business will not be paid for the project until 30 or 60 days after completion. In that case, the business could use a line of credit to cover materials, supplies, and salaries until the bill from the government entity is paid. Usually, a loan is for something specific, while a line of credit can be for pretty much anything the business owner needs, once it is set up. Another useful thing about a line of credit is that it is a revolving account that lets the borrowers draw, repay and redraw from available funds throughout the life of the line of credit. Payment and interest will only be due on the amount spent. Lines of credit will likely have a higher interest rate, however, and may be harder to get if the business owner does not have good credit or less solid performance. There often needs to be some collateral available to secure the line of credit. 

Other Types of Business Funding 

    You can seek a loan from your bank or from other banks in the area that do business lending, or there are alternative lending sources available. Sometimes your county or your town will have a loan or grant program, so it’s always worthwhile to stop by your local economic development office or SBDC to find out what funding options are available to you in your county. Contrary to popular belief there are not many grants available, and those that are often have stringent requirements like job creation. Most grants available for business owners in our area are obtained by municipalities from the state and are administered on the local level. There are a few others, such as ACCES-VR’s small grant program for people with disabilities to start a business, and larger government SBIR and STTR programs for tech companies. In St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties, there are also some small grants for artists through the SLC Arts Council. 

    Some kinds of businesses, specifically those that are scalable and may involve a patentable product or service, may be of interest to an investor. Local investment groups will usually need a business plan as well as a pitch presentation. Obtaining this kind of funding can be a challenge, but rewarding. Similar kinds of businesses, like those that have a fun product or are in the tech arena, may be able to get some funding through crowd funding, but that requires a very strong marketing strategy and the right kind of product. Loans and lines of credit have a broader application and are (relatively) easier to get. 

    If you are looking for funding for your business and would like to learn more, 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.