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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Small business owners: It's your move

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun


Taking care of business has taken on a whole new meaning for the thousands of Canadian entrepreneurs credited with driving the country's economy.

They soon discover that being successful is about much more than just an unbeatable idea. Their success hinges on their ability to serve as business managers with a key understanding of all aspects of their operations.


Financing

A good business plan is key to securing financing for both new businesses and established businesses wanting to expand or launch a new product, reports Eugene Sandhu, contact centre manager at the Canada-Ontario Business Service Centre (www.cbsc.org/ontario).

Your business plan should outline how much money you need, how it will be used and how you're planning on paying it back.

The CBSC can help you wade your way through a huge range of options that includes banks, credit unions, angel investors, venture capital, provincial and federal government assistance programs, credit cards and personal lines of credit.

"All work differently, so it's important to find out what works best for you," says Sandhu.

Marketing

A solid marketing plan is comprised of four key strategies: product, pricing, placement and promotion. "The heart of marketing is discovering what your customers truly need," says Michael Donahue, incubation programs manager at the Toronto Business Development Centre (www.tbdc.com).

"The strength of small business is to understand that market niche, to be superb or excellent at what you do," he says. "Ask yourself what you want to be famous for and deliver on that opportunity."

A pricing strategy must attract customers while reflecting the value and cost of your product or service. Your placement strategy is your plan to get your product or service to the end user and includes your channel of distribution.

Your promotion strategy is your communications package: it tells your target market how your product or service will help them, explains Pat Brooks of Brooks Creative Marketing Strategies (www.patbrooks.com) in Ajax.

"Create an image that reflects where you want to be five years down the road," Brooks says. "It's easier and more affordable to establish that image at the beginning than to change the perception that you're a 'mom and pop operation' once you've started to grow."

Sales

A good marketing strategy should open the door to sales.

"Your marketing plan identifies and creates an opportunity for a win-win situation between the entrepreneur and customers. A sale closes that transaction," Donahue says.

"Your goal is to work toward establishing customer loyalty, and that loyalty needs to be earned," he says.

Allowing potential customers to sample your product or service can be a first step to establishing that loyalty. "It's a chance for people to reduce their risk," Donahue says.

 Small Business Week 2003, which was held Oct. 19 to 25, is organized by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and endorsed by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
 The annual event pays tribute to the important contribution small businesses make to the national economy.
 This year's theme was 'You're the Power behind the Canadian economy, let's share the energy!'

Visit the BDC at
www.bdc.ca
to find out more


Good customer service will distinguish you from the competition. "Customer service really rules," says Heidi Brown, manager of the Mississauga Business Enterprise Centre (www.mississauga.ca/edo). "Many people are willing to pay a little more to know they are dealing with someone reliable."

Staffing

As your company grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for the small business owner to wear all hats. In the early stages, outsourcing can be a cost-effective solution to finding the expert advice you need.

"It's good to take baby steps ... until you can sustain the amount of revenue you need to justify their salaries," Brown says.

Surround yourself with good people and treat them well. Though it may be difficult to match the salaries and benefits offered by larger companies, you can offer employees such perks as opportunities to work independently and make a difference, flexible work hours, time off and even a share of future growth.

"Reward them for their achievements and appreciate their efforts," Brown says.

Networking

Networking isn't just about handing out your business card in hopes of nailing a new client. It's also about cultivating relationships with like-minded individuals who can offer advice and share their experiences, explains David Bigelow, director of membership with the Toronto Board of Trade (www.bot.com).

Networking allows you to build the foundation for future business relationships and to find the products and services you need. Organizations like the Board of Trade lobby various levels of government on your behalf, offer informative seminars and host social activities.

To get the most out of networking, be prepared to give a short description on what your business does. "It takes work to do it, but networking is one of the most important parts of business," Bigelow says.

(Linda White (linda.white@rogers.com) is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)



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