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Venture Catalyst Consulting seeks to improve the financial stability and happiness of all deserving entrepreneurs by helping business owners build successful, sustainable companies and by helping organizations that support those business owners to build thriving entrepreneurial ecosystems and effective entrepreneurship support programs. Keep reading…

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Due to my current role as the Deputy Director for the Business Enterprise Program with the State of Illinois and…

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The latest from the blog

Guest Post: How to Harness the Power of Automation to Optimize Your Time

This week’s guest post is from the team at Integrated Technologies Australia:

As an entrepreneur, you often have to wear many hats to succeed in business. One day you’re updating the company blog and managing your social media pages, the next day you’re responding to customer enquiries and calling back clients. Unfortunately, this busy work can eat away time that could be better spent on growing your business.

That’s where automation comes in. By letting software automation tools take care of the medial tasks, you can gain more time to focus on the core business activities that matter to you.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can harness the power of automation to optimise your time:

Social Media

If you have multiple social media profiles, you need to keep each page active by regularly posting new content, responding to customer enquiries, and letting your followers know about upcoming events, sales and competitions. While these tasks are important, they are also time-consuming.

Social media automation tools let you manage all of your profiles from a single platform. They’re also equipped with a range of powerful tools to save you time and increase the output of your social media campaign. You can automatically schedule hundreds of posts in advance, review in-depth analytics to find out what is and isn’t working for your campaign, and filter through conversations by keyword, hashtag, and location to find out what people are saying about your business.

Furthermore, you can cross-post all of your content across multiple platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn. Some software tools even recommend the most ideal time to post your content.

Invoicing

Automating your invoices can save you a lot of time on manual paperwork. And ensure you get paid sooner too. Some of the most popular billing and invoicing software are Invoicely, Zoho Invoice, Xero and Replicon. Regardless of which software you choose, each one is highly customisable and jam-packed with features to make your life easier.

With automated invoicing software you can create professional, custom invoices from scratch. You can also automatically schedule repeat invoices, track your time, monitor pending invoices and be instantly notified when an invoice is paid. If you want to invoice on the go, most software tools offer cross-compatibility between desktop and mobile devices.

No matter how big or small your business is, you can fine-tune every aspect of your invoicing to suit your specific needs.

Wireless Presentations

How many times have you had a business presentation held up by technical problems? Your laptop won’t connect to the projector, you brought the wrong cables, or you have no cables at all. These issues are not only inconvenient they can cost your business in lost sales and reputation.

The good news? These days you can use a wireless presentation system to broadcast your presentation. These products typically come as a single black box and let you use Wi-Fi to wirelessly transmit data from your smartphone, laptop, tablet, or desktop straight to your room’s screen.

Better still, you don’t need any special software to do this, just the device itself and a solid Wi-Fi connection. All you have to do is connect and present – it’s that simple. By saving time on costly setup, you can present seamless and engaging presentations without any disruptions.

If you want to discover the benefits of a wireless presentation system for yourself, get in touch with an automation expert who can assess your existing room and propose a custom presentation solution for you.

Email Marketing

Thought email was dead? Think again. According to WordStream email is the third most influence source of information for B2B audiences, while 73 percent of millennials identify email as their preferred means of communication.[i] So if you want to reach your audience faster and on a more frequent basis, automated emails are the way to go.

There are two ways you can automate your emails. One way is to setup autoresponders that send an email when a customer performs a certain action. For example, the system could send a welcome email when a customer signs-up to your newsletter, or a customer instantly receives an email after they buy a product from your website. The other type of automated emails are those as part of a larger drip campaign. These may be emails sent to new subscribers over a longer period of time in order to introduce new products, promote sales and events, offer a free trial, or share monthly newsletters and video content.

Better still, most email automation tools have a simple drag-and-drop interface to let you customise the look and feel of your emails. Platforms like BombBomb and Covideo also let you record and upload high-quality video into your emails to help boost CTRs.


Integrated Technologies Australia (ITA) are a Melbourne based Automation company. They take the latest technologies, untangle the complexity, and embed them straight into your home or business. Whether for entertainment, automation, energy management, or security, they do more than provide technological solutions, they enhance lifestyles.

Guest Post: How to Reduce Your eCommerce Supply Costs

This week’s guest post is from Nathan Sharpe:

E-commerce is the business of buying or manufacturing products and then reselling them for a profit. Business owners painstakingly search for the best suppliers or manufacturers to do business with. Without realising it, most e-commerce businesses maintain an inflated budget to cover operational costs.

Look at different areas of the business and work to get them all streamlined. Optimise business processes to save money which will allow the company to run on a lean budget. Cutting costs would radically boost company profits, this fact is in all the best business books. There are several methods to save an e-commerce business money.

You just need to analyse existing processes and adjust them accordingly. Decrease supply costs to make sourcing products even more efficient. It is one of the most effective ways to increase annual profits. Along with supply management, proper inventory management processes also need to be streamlined as well.

Quality Control

Customers will sometimes receive defective products. They will contact the seller to complain about the low-quality product and return it for a full refund. The worse case scenario is after the refund the customer writes a bad review about how they received a defective item. Not only will there be a loss of revenue but the negative review may also damage future sales conversions.

The best solution to prevent customers from receiving defective products is to establish quality assurance guidelines. Start at the manufacturing stage of the product. Talk to the manufacturer and make an in-depth quality checklist that each unit must pass. Order samples to ensure that the set quality standards are met before making a bulk order.

It would be ideal for the business owner to visit the factory where the products are made. In case that is not an option, hire a certified product inspector to perform a thorough quality inspection for you. It is vital that all products, every unit is checked to ensure that quality is up to standard. This process would help prevent loss of revenue from returned products.

Lower Total Inventory Cost

Some sellers make the mistake of ordering too much quantity. They get overly excited about the vision they have for their product and order way too many units. Being too headstrong about selling and not doing the proper market research is a bad idea.

You run the risk of getting stuck with too much product that doesn’t sell. The funds used to acquire the excess products would have been better used for more productive endeavours. Instead of overstocking product, set aside a sufficient budget for PPC campaigns in Amazon or Google. That marketing method would increase sales conversions and help move products faster.

The TIC(Total Inventory Cost) also consists of the other charges. It can be broken down into three separate segments. Ordering costs, shortage costs and carrying costs. These three segments represent different processes in the supply chain.

Ordering costs include the price of the product, insurance, transport, currency exchange differences, taxes and other fees as well. Ordering costs otherwise known as landed costs also include any extra services such as paying for a certified product inspector.

Carrying costs are all the charges incurred when storing products. Warehouse or storage fees, insurance and any fee related to holding or storing products. Ideally, carrying costs should only make up about 20-30% of your total inventory costs.

Maximise space by arranging products systematically at every storage location. In case it is costing the business more than the recommended 30% of the TIC then it may be time to re-evaluate how to store the products more efficiently. Take a look at other storage options, and it may be time to tweak existing fulfilment processes as well.

Inventory health

Shortage costs are a result of not keeping good inventory health. Sellers that run out of stock would be forced to put in a rush order of products. A rush bulk order would cost extra. Shipping that rush order will also cost more if you use airmail instead of a freighter.

If you are selling on Amazon, good inventory health achieved by using the Amazon inventory management tools. These tools, such as the Amazon sales coach or inventory management tab, provide sales related data.

There, you can set inventory minimums which can then be used as an alert to order the next batch of products. Other e-commerce platforms do also provide inventory management tools. Master these tools and read all the sales reports and sales projections for each listed product. These reports provide an accurate estimate of how many units should be ordered for each product to fulfil customer demand for a specific time period.

Data from previous seasonal events can be used to forecast customer demand for the current year. In case that data is not available, check the sales of competitors to gauge the demand and purchase enough stock to cover possible orders.  

Expand sales Channels

This method will not only reduce supply costs but also increase business revenue. Instead of making a lateral change and adding another online retail store think about selling products wholesale. The profit margin per unit will not be as good as selling each unit individually in an online marketplace.

Believe it or not but the profit margin will be more significant due to the fact sales will be in bulk instead of per piece. The shift from retail to wholesale will take some getting used to.

A business that has mastered the art of selling online will just need to tweak operations to process, accommodate and sell bulk products. Growing a business to a much larger scale will need direct supervision until it is streamlined.

Getting into wholesaling will allow multi-channel sellers more flexibility. Establish new business relationships that can support ventures into wholesaling. Network with businesses that need your products, it would be best to have the products directly shipped to your B2B customers.

Coordinate with manufacturers about setting new terms for bulk orders. That will also provide the business with a better profit margin as well.

Fulfilment Logistics

The crucial final phase in the supply chain process. Hiring someone to just process orders can become expensive depending on the number of people employed to do just that. Some sellers choose to do process each order themselves.

That can work if sales are sporadic, but once sales start to pick up, processing orders will eat up valuable time. Consider using 3PL(Third Party Logistics), provider. The 3PL option can prove to be more cost-effective since they will be the ones to store the product and process each order.

Once an order comes in their staff will pick the product, package and ship it to the customer usually on the date of the order. For sellers familiar with Amazon FBA, 3PL are the external version of that service. It is vital to set up the most cost-effective fulfilment option to process orders quickly, efficiently and get them to the customer.  

Conclusion:

Enhance business processes to become more efficient. Decrease supply chain costs by accomplishing the methods listed above and increase company profits. Have the vision to start selling wholesale, carefully select B2B customers and process their bulk orders while effectively selling across multiple channels as well.


Nathan Sharpe is the entrepreneur behind the business blog Biznas. He knows that you must wear many different hats for your business to be a success. He helps others achieve this success by sharing everything he knows on his blog, as well as any new lessons he learns along the way!

Guest Post: Accounting Advice for New Entrepreneurs

This week’s guest post comes from David Hughes:

Forming a business is the easy part. Sustaining it, however, is another matter, considering the fact that 50% of newly formed companies fail in their first year. Out of those businesses that survive, only one in 20 will still operate after five years.

The chances of failure are alarmingly high. Entrepreneurs, however, don’t mind these odds as they continue to form new companies every year. True, you’re never sure if your business will survive and prosper especially during an economic slowdown.  You can, however, increase your chances of success.

While running a business requires your full attention, you need to keep an eye on your finances. After all, it doesn’t make sense running a business for the sake of yielding poor profits. Unfortunately, this is a fact that many business owners fail to grasp.

So how do you keep your finances in order?

Here are several accounting tips you need to keep in mind when forming and running a new business.    

Understanding Start-up Costs

When forming a new business, you often incur start-up costs. These are one-off payments that are grouped into two types:

  • Investigatory – These are the costs incurred during the market and product research phase. These include transportation, labour or hiring, consultancy fees, and cost of making deals with potential suppliers or distributors. At this stage, you haven’t formed the company yet. You’re still exploring the feasibility and potential income of the business.   
  • Pre-launch Costs  –These are expenses usually incurred for the launching of the company. By this time, you’re now ready to sell the products or services. The costs include advertising, rent deposits, staff training and salary.

Fixed vs Variable Costs

Once the business starts to operate, you’ll incur two kinds of costs – fixed and variable.

Fixed costs are expenses you have to pay regardless if your company made money or not. Here are some examples:

  • Rent
  • Salaries and fees
  • Equipment and supplies
  • Insurance

Meanwhile, variable costs are expenses that can increase or decrease depending on the number of sales generated or production rate. These include:

  • Actual cost for each product produced
  • Deliveries
  • Sales commissions

Benefits of Hiring an Accountant

Hiring an accountant will be advantageous to your start-up company. This particular professional can provide your business with:

  • Financial knowledge and insight
  • Eyes to detect potential financial troubles
  • Advice on how to deal with tax legislation, PAYE, NI benefits and other payables
  • Updates regarding changes in government legislation that can affect your business
  • Ways to maximise the growth potential of your business   

London-based Accountants 4 Small Business offer a range of services such as these..

Acquiring Basic Accountancy Skills 

Having an accountant will improve your company’s financial management. Still, you need to learn even the most basic accountancy skills. You don’t have to do the bookkeeping yourself. Instead, you should learn basic financial management skills as well as accountancy ideas and terminology. By taking the time to learn these skills, you can:

  • Determine the net worth of your business
  • Understand basic accountancy terms like cash flow and profit
  • Communicate effectively with accountants, employees, investors and investors
  • Make well-informed decisions and apply strategies suited to your business
  • Gain insight from your competitors by reading and understanding their annual financial reports

Learning these basic accountancy skills require little or no money at all. There are plenty of resources that are free and available to read online. You will, however, need to devote your time to this subject.

Choose a Suitable Business Entity 

Now it’s time to decide what kind of business entity you’re going to set up and register with HMRC. Here are the kinds of trade options you can create:

a.      Sole Trader or Partnerships

Setting up a business as a sole trader or partnership is the simplest way. Here are some of their advantages:

  • You only need to register with HMRC
  • You don’t have to publish your accounts in public
  • You only pay the tax based on the profits you make

There is, however, a disadvantage. You have little protection against creditors and unlimited liability. If your business has acquired debts, creditors can go after your personal assets. 

b.      Limited Company

Registering your company under this setup will mean:

  • More regulations to comply with
  • You have to register with Companies House
  • Informing HMRC how many people you employ

Just like sole trading and partnerships, you’ll still pay income tax and national insurance. In addition, your company needs to publish an annual basic financial report. You should also take note that this data is accessible to the public. In return, your company enjoys:

  • Limited liability
  • Protection of personal assets
  • Better access to credit, compared to sole traders and partnerships 

Adopting an Accounting System

You need to choose and use an accounting system that will provide accurate financial details. Be aware  that fines and penalties are imposed for:

  • Erroneous and incorrect record keeping
  • Late submissions of returns and accounts

You also need to consider a suitable system that can handle all your accounting data. Do you prefer:

  • Handwritten ledgers or accountancy software?
  • Cloud computing or simple spread sheet?

Many companies today favour using cloud computing. It’s a convenient way for sharing data with your accountant who can check and verify it regularly. Online accounting also allows you to file and pay your VAT returns electronically. In addition, companies that pay VAT online are rewarded with longer payment deadlines.

Entrepreneurs also need to invest in reliable accountancy software run by knowledgeable accounting or bookkeeping staff. Remember:

  • The software can only give out results that are based on the data input.
  • Some software can be pricey and may also require regular paid updates.
  • You’ll need qualified staff to run complex software operations.
  • If you or your people don’t have much experience in bookkeeping, better adopt a manual spread sheet system. While this process is time-consuming, the records are easier to update and understand.

Conclusion

Making profits is not enough for a business to succeed. You also need to exercise proper financial management as well as an accurate accounting of transactions. By adding a reliable accountant to your team, you can keep an eye on the sustainability and profitability of your business.  

David Hughes is the Managing Owner/Director of Rodliffe Accounting. He has over 15 years of experience working with small business owners. He offers specialist accountancy services, including business planning and bespoke tax strategies.

What People Have to Say About Working with Cate

  • “Cate Costa is one of the most insightful people I have ever known for her incredible insight in understanding entrepreneurship and what it takes to start and sustain businesses. My interaction with her as a consultant for a national fellowship gave me a deeper appreciation of her as a pragmatist and someone who is constantly thinking outside the box of traditional economic development. She is thoughtful, visionary, and pragmatic at the same time…Cate’s perspectives has helped me adapt my work as a Policy Analyst in scoping out and implementing special projects and strategic initiatives to help diversify and expand  the economic landscape of Boston.”

    John Smith, Policy Analyst, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, City of Boston
  • “Cate’s knowledge and expertise in business strategy, helped me personally transform how I thought about my business. I now look at my business from a strategic perspective versus tactical…In third quarter 2016, five months after taking Cate’s class, my company achieved more revenue in one quarter than all of 2015 and this trajectory has continued into 2017. Rarely do you find a person who has the skillset to help others see the opportunities in their business and provide them with the tools and coaching to execute those opportunities… Cate is that person! I highly recommend, Cate’s consulting services as she is truly transformational. She has the ability to be  a catalyst in moving your business forward.”

    Karen Fleshman, Co-Founder and COO, Haskins Advisory Group
  • “Cate has become a great resource that has allowed me to look past the stumbling blocks that bogged me down as a business owner. A two minute conversation with her gave me a simple strategy towards assessing the risks necessary to grow any business. After our time together my business saw a 25% increase in revenue. I’ve taken the necessary steps to expand my company which will allow for exponential financial growth! She’s helped me understand the key numbers that all financial institutions look at when deciding to approve funding!”

    Maurice Sanders, Owner, Cornerstone Logistics