Hey there, small business champs! As the leaves fall and the holiday buzz starts to build, it's the perfect time to reflect on the year gone by and set the stage for success in the coming year. November is your strategic pit stop, the month where you fine-tune your business engine for a smoother ride in the year ahead. So, grab a cozy cup of coffee and dive into the November checklist that will prepare your business to hit the ground running in the New Year.
Reflect on the Year That Was
Before diving into the future, take a moment to look back. What worked well? What could have been better? Reflect on your wins and losses, and use these insights to shape your strategies for the coming year. Don't forget to celebrate your victories – they're the fuel that keeps you going.
Get your financial ducks in a row. Review your cash flow, outstanding invoices, and expenses. Make sure your books are up to date. This helps you plan for tax season and gives you a clear picture of your business's financial health. If you need professional advice, now's the time to consult with your accountant.
Set Clear Goals for 2024
What do you want to achieve in the next year? Whether it's expanding your customer base, launching a new product, or boosting revenue, set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. Having a roadmap will guide your actions and keep your team aligned.
Is your tech game up to par? Assess your current tools and systems. Are they helping or hindering your operations? Consider upgrading or adopting new technologies that can streamline processes and improve efficiency. From project management apps to customer relationship management (CRM) systems, ensure your tech supports your business goals.
Employee Engagement and Planning
Your team is your most valuable asset. Check-in with your employees – get feedback on what's working well and what could be better. Also, start planning for the year-end reviews and consider any training or development opportunities for your team. A motivated and skilled workforce is vital to achieving your business goals.
Marketing and Promotions
Please go ahead and step back into planning mode and create a promotional calendar that aligns with your business objectives. Now is the time for you to look over any surprises from the past year and make sure you are mapping out time for campaign management and content creation for 2024.
Engage with your local community. Whether sponsoring a community event or partnering with other small businesses, building solid local connections can have long-term benefits for your brand. 'Tis the season for goodwill, and your active participation will not go unnoticed.
Legal Compliance Check
Ensure that your business is compliant with all relevant regulations. This includes local, provincial, and federal requirements. Stay updated on any changes in laws that may affect your industry and make any necessary adjustments to your operations.
Wrapping It Up
November is the launchpad for a successful year ahead. By taking the time to reflect, plan, and optimize, you're setting your small business up for success. Because you KNOW December will get away from you as the holiday events and activities pile up. Take your business to the next level in 2024!
I know, I know! We have yet to even hit Halloween. And I am one that still wants to see the Spook-tacular decor in store and not entirely ready to see Candy Canes....However, preparing for the end of fall and being willing to usher in the holiday season is crucial for small business owners to ensure they can capitalize on the opportunities and challenges that this time of year presents. And with proper planning, it doesn't have to be scary! To help you get ready (while also celebrating where we ARRRG - please excuse my festive Halloween and autumn references while also providing some handy holiday information.
1. Pumpkin-Spiced Planning:
- Create a Holiday Calendar: Start by outlining important dates like Halloween, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and New Year's. Then, work backward from these dates to plan marketing campaigns, promotions, and events.
- Decorate Your Store: Add some seasonal charm to your physical or online store. A "spooktacular" window display can attract attention and create a festive atmosphere. It doesn't have to be complicated, but regularly changing your window displays to coincide with the seasons is a great way to continually catch the eyes of passersby and entice folks to periodically shop because they can see it is likely something new to discover! A well-decorated storefront can be the "potion" to lure customers inside.
- Inventory Check: Make sure you have enough stock for the upcoming holiday rush. You wouldn't want to "ghost" your customers with empty shelves. Remember the Target Canada debacle?
2. Boo-tiful Marketing:
- Promoting your business shouldn't be scary: Consider running on-themed promotions to draw customers in. Use humour where appropriate that is tailored to your audience, as it tends to help information stick
- Social Media Content: Share creative seasonal content on your social media platforms. There is still time to capitalize on some Halloween traffic, too! Post pictures of your team in costume or ask your audience to share their best costume ideas.
- Email Campaigns: If you don't already have an email list started, make 2024 the year you prioritize this. Just don't treat your email list like a social media account and send something every day. You know how you hate being drowned with emails from Old Navy... Pick a schedule that works for your workload and the volume of information that needs to go out. Maybe you only send one quarterly, or like us - monthly with an occasional additional timely message. In no time, you'll be sending out "fang-tastic" email newsletters with holiday offers and gift suggestions.
3. Treats, Not Tricks:
- Customer Appreciation: Show gratitude to your loyal customers with special discounts or early access to holiday products.
- Customer Service: Train your staff to provide excellent customer service during this busy season. A great customer experience is better than any sweet you could offer- less cavities, too. This staff training should also include some appreciation for your staff - being in customer service can be emotionally draining, and appreciation goes a long way. Also, a quick reminder for yourself that no one cares about your business as much as you do, and you can't expect that your employees will - if they do, you've got something extraordinary and have found the perfect people to help support you and your vision - treat them well!
- Gift Cards: Offer gift cards for those who are unsure about their holiday shopping. It's a "boo-nanza" for last-minute shoppers.
4. Plan for the New Year:
- Set Goals: Outline your business goals for the new fiscal year. What do you want to achieve? Use this time to reflect on your past performance and strategize for the future.
- Budgeting: You don't want any frights in this area! Review your financials and allocate budgets for marketing, expansion, and any necessary improvements.
- Team Alignment: Ensure your team understands and is aligned with your goals for the coming year. A strong team is your "holiday miracle."
6. Be Ahead of the Sleigh:
- Fulfillment and Shipping: Make sure you have a robust fulfillment and shipping process in place to handle the holiday rush. Consider offering free or expedited shipping options if you offer products online. It's also a great time to consider transitioning to discrete shipping to help keep gifts surprising!
- Returns Policy: Review your returns policy to accommodate gifts and purchases made during this season.
7. Network Like a Vampire:
- Holiday Networking: Attend local holiday events and business mixers to build relationships and foster partnerships for the new year. Might we suggest the After Dark Party at Horton Market on November 25 ;)
- Collaborations: Explore collaborations with other local businesses for cross-promotions and events.
8. Year-End Clean-Up:
- Inventory Clearance: Consider offering end-of-year clearance sales to reduce excess inventory.
- Financial Review: Meet with your accountant to review your year-end financials and get your taxes in order.
9. Celebrate and Rest:
- Holiday Party: Organize a holiday party for your team to celebrate your accomplishments and unwind. You could treat them to a night out for the After Dark Party *wink*
- Relax: Take a break to recharge for the new year. You've earned it! Get this break on the calendar now, and if adjustments to store hours or availability need to be made to accommodate a break, post the changes early to give your customers a good heads-up.
With these "spooktacular" tips, you'll be well-prepared to navigate the end of fall and the holiday season while aligning your small business with your goals for the new fiscal year. Happy Haunting and Happy Holidays! 🎃👻🎅🎉
But, I also have a question...Is the Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or a Christmas movie?
The rich culture and history of St Thomas can sometimes be overlooked, with new and modern businesses spotting the old architecture of historic Talbot St. However, one staple of the city that has withstood, continuing a legacy through the years, has been Jennings Furniture & Design, the second-oldest furniture store in Canada.
Jennings in 1975. (Elgin County Archives.)
In 2009, the owners, Scott and Bruce Hammond, descendants of W.B. Jennings, approached one of their interior designers, Renee Carpenter, to purchase the store. During this time, despite the recession and job losses that had hit St. Thomas, Carpenter took a leap of faith. After taking over, her focus shifted the merchandise towards modern high-end, luxury and custom pieces, compared to mass-produced big brand names. Carpenter noted that the downsizing of housing through the years, specifically with clientele opting for condominiums and smaller living spaces, would require different furniture needs. This change in tune shifted the interest and specific taste of the customer into the spotlight, bringing back an era bygone of when the store had first opened.
Keeping with tradition, Carpenter mentions that Jennings continues to provide manufacturers of traditional-styled furnishings for clients amidst the contemporary, modern and transitional pieces. This variety allows each client’s needs and desires to easily be satisfied. Jennings also strives to carry on its legacy through its values, specifically customer service. It is committed to upholding the same quality and service provided to St. Thomas and the surrounding area since 1885.
While quality was never questioned, Jennings rebranded services, adding designers to the team to provide new upscale interior design services to members of the Jennings Club. This change would allow locals to purchase locally rather than opting for designers and services from distant larger areas such as Toronto.
Even throughout Covid, Carpenter remained dedicated to the store, offering virtual showcasing of products to clients, preparing curb-side deliveries and fashioning the store’s website for online shopping. Her motivation lies in the generations that have run the store before her through wars, pandemics, economic failure and more. Her perseverance drives the store forward through tough times, and her resilience is inspiring.
Years of dedication and determination have proven fruitful to the store, which has proudly served St. Thomas for 138 years. This store is one of the beautiful jewels of our downtown, giving a glimpse into our past with bright hope for the future.
As a business owner you know you are required to track all the financial transactions that flow through
your business. So why then do so many owners scramble in March and April getting their books together
for tax season? The answer is simple. You are passionate and great at the product or service you offer
but for many that is not an accounting business. Here are some tips and tricks to help you avoid the tax
1. Why record your transactions
If the only reason you are tracking is to be able to file your tax return, you may find that you don’t have
the motivation to track regularly. A more motivating reason why you want to keep good records is so
you can make business decisions. Do you need to increase the price you charge? Do you have
unnecessary expenses that are making you unprofitable? It is difficult to answer these without good
2. What transactions to record
When it comes to recording your business dealings, ALL transactions need to be recorded. This includes
cash transactions, e-transfer transactions and business expenses you personally purchase for your
3. Where to record your transaction
For many businesses starting out, a simple excel sheet tracking all of your sales and expenses is enough
to get started. If you do choose to invest in an accounting system, make sure you understand how to use
it. There is nothing worse than paying for a system, using it wrong and ending up in a bigger mess.
4. When to record your transaction
It is recommended to record your transactions as close to the time of the transaction as possible. For
some it may not be practical to record each time you make a sale or a purchase. However, getting
yourself into a weekly habit of recording all the transactions for the week can be a huge benefit. You can
likely remember your transactions for the past week (or quickly figure out what that charge was for).
Also recording on a weekly basis for many business owners can take less than an hour of time.
5. Talk to an Expert
Are you aware of all the things you can claim as an expense in your business? This is a common problem
area. Often times business owners get advice from friends and family about what expenses they are able
to claim. When it comes to tax time, Canada Revenue Agency might not agree that the advice is correct.
Please remember that every business is different and as a result there may not be a one size fits all
approach when it comes to your expenses
Tracking your business expenses may not be the thing that brings you joy. However, ensuring you are
properly tracking, with the right tools and on a consistent basis might just be the reason why you can
continue the business that is bringing you joy!
Jennifer Hare, CPA
Jennifer is a Financial Coach who has a big passion for helping people feel more safe and secure in their financial situation. Contact her at email@example.com or on Facebook or Instagram
Market and Festival Season is in full swing! As you plan and prepare to participate in a show with your small business, are you putting your best foot forward to create an inviting shopping experience for your potential customers?
Whether this is your first or seventh market season, there are always ways to improve the customer experience to create greater success for yourself. Check out these simple ways to maximize your market experience.
Select events that fit your demographic.
In the world of cooking, spices are the key to transforming a dish from ordinary to extraordinary. When it comes to finding the best quality organic, gluten-free, and vegan spices in Southwestern Ontario, there's one name that stands out: Pepper Tree Spice Co. This local spice company has been revolutionizing the culinary experience since its inception in 2010, and its founder, Deb Kussmann, has made it her mission to make good food accessible for everyone to enjoy.
The Pepper Tree Spice Co. journey began when Deb finished her business degree and noticed a significant gap in the market for high-quality organic, gluten-free, and vegan spices. With her passion for cooking and a strong belief in the power of good food, she set out to fill this void. Deb started small, selling her handcrafted spice blends at the Western Fair Farmers Market, where she quickly gained a loyal following of food enthusiasts.
Word of mouth spread, and Pepper Tree Spice Co.'s growth was swift. With a dedicated customer base, Deb knew it was time to establish a permanent presence. She built a beautiful storefront in the charming village of Port Stanley, Ontario, where locals and visitors could immerse themselves in the world of spices.
Pepper Tree Spice Co. continues beyond offering an extensive range of spices. They understand that cooking is not just about the ingredients but the experience. To further enhance their customers' culinary journey, Pepper Tree Spice Co. has introduced an array of new BBQ accessories and sets designed to elevate outdoor cooking to new heights, just in time for Father's Day!
Pepper Tree Spice Co. recently hired Olivia Healey as the Resident Chef and Culinary Coordinator to ensure that their customers get the most out of their spices and cooking endeavours. Olivia's expertise and creativity perfectly complement Deb's vision of accessible cooking. Together, they are organizing Supper Club Cooking Classes hosted in Pepper Tree Spice's Co.'s kitchen, which exudes the warmth and charm of a beautiful home kitchen. This intimate and inclusive environment welcomes food enthusiasts of all skill levels to learn, share, and connect with others who share their passion for food.
Pepper Tree Spice is committed to supporting people with diverse cooking needs, making their culinary experiences genuinely memorable. In addition to the Supper Club Cooking Classes, they also host Supper Club Kids cooking events for kids, nurturing a love for cooking from an early age. This summer, they are set to launch their cooking day camps, where children can explore different culinary themes like "Lil' Italy," "Ahoy Matey," "Mexican Fiesta," and more. For more information or to register, click here.
Pepper Tree Spice Co. recently started hosting a Cook Book Exchange for those who love food beyond the kitchen. This unique gathering allows participants to bring their favourite recipe books, exchange recipes and books, savour delicious appetizers prepared by resident chef Olivia, and engage in meaningful conversations with fellow food lovers. It's a perfect opportunity to forge new friendships and expand your culinary horizons.
Pepper Tree Spice Co.'s commitment to inclusivity, passion for good food, and dedication to enhancing culinary experiences sets them apart in the Southwestern Ontario culinary scene. With their ever-growing range of spices, innovative events, and warm, welcoming environment, they have created a space where everyone can find something to support their cooking needs, create lasting memories, and form connections far beyond the kitchen. Pepper Tree Spice is not just a spice company; it's a culinary community that brings people together through the love of food.
This week we welcome Katherine Englander of HRP4B to facilitate "No Fear Hiring" for entrepreneurs and small business owners considering adding to their teams. This session is for those looking to hire within the next year or so.
Because bringing another person into the small business bubble can be intimidating - the paperwork and shift from being a solopreneur or using contracted help to being an employer is a significant change with best practices for success, both from a regulatory point of view and for simply finding the best fit for what you are looking for.
In this week's session, participants will learn more about the following concepts and steps to success and approaching the hiring process without feeling intimidated!
In next week's No Fear Hiring session, our guest Katherine Englander of HRP4B will speak about the technical elements of being ready to hire - the necessary paperwork, forms, payroll, and various government departments you must navigate. You must learn #allthethings when you find yourself prepared for your first employee. It can be overwhelming, and we want you to feel prepared well before you need to post that figurative "Help Wanted" sign.
Let's touch on a few best practices to consider when hiring.
While downtown construction holds the promise of great things ahead, Mugford’s has taken the opportunity to revisit its past with a temporary pop-up location at Elgin Centre.
Mugford’s Shoes has called Talbot street home since opening in 1965. The store first gained popularity in the 1960s for their high-quality products, professionalism regarding their merchandise, as well as a clean, friendly and comfortable atmosphere, with high standards of customer service to each client and their needs. In 1975, just in time for the Holiday Season, the original owners Don and Merle Mugford expanded their horizons, unveiling two new locations in London, with a fourth added to the Elgin Mall (now Elgin Centre) in 1975.
For nearly 55 years, the family business has thrived, with a second location in London’s Westmount Mall continuing to operate today. St Thomas remains the headquarters of the company, offering a wide selection of men’s and women’s apparel and accessories, carrying household brands from Saxx to Tommy Bahama.
To make access for their clientele easier during Talbot Street’s reconstruction the boutique has opted to temporarily move their main location to the Elgin Centre, inviting their valuable customers to continue their support during the move. They continue to attract attention with giveaways, promotional events and new merchandise. Those interested in updating their wardrobe for the coming summer months are recommended to check out their great seasonal selections. All the reasons folks shopped Mugford’s in the ‘60’s are reasons to revisit the boutique today.
While we look forward to welcoming the store back to Talbot St. soon, this temporary change is indeed a fun look back over the store’s history as well. While trends and fashion fads have changed through the years, the store continues to remain within the original founder’s family.
If you’re looking to upgrade your summer wardrobe with the latest styles, trends and brands, Mugford’s is a hot spot for some new threads! Enjoy a large selection of merchandise from sandals to scarves, purses to pullovers, all with great customer service.
Stop by this new ray of sunshine for the summer season located in the Elgin Centre for essentials, accessories and more. For window-shopping during after-hours, check out their Facebook page showcasing their newest arrivals and events. Mugford’s has it all to stay cool and chic in the Railway City!
I am sure you, like most people, have had an idea, interest, or passion that you thought would be a good business but have been baffled about what to do next.
First, know that the team at the Elgin/St. Thomas Small Business Enterprise Centre is here to help you in your early exploration of entrepreneurship or at any point along the journey. Don’t hesitate to reach out.
While no two businesses are the same, here are a few general steps to help you get started.
Be willing to put in the work to get there.
Many local businesses, including Purely Wicked and Abby Mae's Gluten Free Bakery, have launched their business first as a vendor at the Horton Farmers' Market before hiring staff and opening storefront locations.
Ask yourself the following questions; how can you start this business with $5? What is the minimum viable business you can create? Can you start selling to family and friends from your home? Can you try selling through Instagram or Facebook?
Reducing the risk, and investment, by starting from where you (and with what you already have) is vital. It will allow you to test out the market, see if you enjoy doing it, and learn about your customers and the local market in which you operate.
There are better long-term strategies than being the cheapest. Set a price based on one or more of the following factors: (1) what it is worth, (2) what it costs to make, or (3) what your competition charges.
Ask someone to buy it. Make a sale. Repeat.
So many people are passionate about what they do, and they get all choked up about charging money for it. Money is not bad, and money is what makes the thing you create sustainable. Plus, making money feels good!
Guess what? You are not special. Everyone has these thoughts.
To be an entrepreneur means taking a (social) risk and putting yourself out there before you have everything figured out. Talking to people about what you do is the only way to learn more, build a group of people invested in supporting your business, and connect to the resources you don't currently have.
Saying out loud what you want to create is the first step to bringing it to life. You must talk to people about it and get their ideas, knowledge, connections, and excitement.
And it's something you can do today.
Post it on Facebook. Send your Superfans an email update of what you have in the works. Reach out to someone with whom you'd like to collaborate. Build a prototype.
Telling people about what you are doing in any way is marketing because people can only buy from you if they know your business exists.
Be wary of time wasters such as perfecting a logo or a website or feeling like you need more tools to start. You will only learn what you need by working with engaged or potential customers.
There are many right ways to run a business, don't cling to what you or others think you should do. Build the company that works for you and is possible from where you are.
This journey is not for the faint of heart. You must be willing to put in the work and be consistent. Money doesn't grow on trees; it takes time to build a business.
Professional Business advisors are available for free through the Elgin/ St. Thomas Small Business Centre. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a call about your business.
This article was originally published in Hometown St. Thomas, March 2023 - Click here for the full issue