Every business has competitors of some kind, and in most industries, it’s crucial to know what your competition is up to in order to ensure your own products sell. A great deal of information can be gleaned from researching your competition’s online presence, but there’s another tool you might consider adding to your marketing toolbox: a mystery shopper. 

A mystery shopper is a trained observer with significant customer service experience who is hired to shop your competitors. Their sole purpose is to share information with you about their shopping experience. While most of this article will focus on the example of mystery shopping at brick-and-mortar retailers, the tactic can be useful beyond this specific industry from professional services to health care, real estate, restaurants, and beyond. You can also adapt the idea to industries such as construction and manufacturing.

Mystery shoppers provide value by helping you collect intel you can’t determine from an internet query, like the shopping experience, quality of products offered, or accessibility. This data will help you perform a Competitive Analysis – a report on who your competitors are and what they are doing, informing your business of where it can (or already does) stand out. A competitive analysis report should be part of your marketing plan, as it can help you optimally spend your marketing dollars.

Let’s say you own a fabric store and want to know what other stores in your area are doing. You can make a list of a few fabric retailers in the three zip codes around you, providing that list to your mystery shopper, who would visit each of the stores. You could also provide your mystery shopper with a list of questions or a checklist of what to observe and/or purchase. The mystery shopper will take detailed notes about their experiences at each retailer and report their findings back to you.

From your mystery shopper’s notes, you can determine a variety of things, like:

  • how their storefront looks and what their curb appeal is.
  • if it was easy or not to find parking. 
  • what their opening hours are and do they open on time? Is there a queue of shoppers waiting to get into the store? Are you required to schedule an appointment to use their services? 
  • Did employees provide a greeting when entering the business? How friendly or approachable are the employees?
  • How does the store look? Is it crammed full of items or sparse?
  • What kind of displays do they have and how attractive are they?
  • Is their inventory broad, deep, or both? What type of items and brands do they carry compared to your store? Are there brands, items, or product lines your company should be carrying?
  • Were there a lot of customers in the store? How long were the checkout lines?
  • How clean is the store? Do you feel comfortable with the level of cleanliness?
  • Taking a sample of items and comparing pricing, how does your company’s selection stack up?
  • What was the purchase experience like? Were you offered an upsell or a coupon? What does the checkout area look like? Were customers offered a bag for their items?
  • What was it like to return an item? How strict is the return policy, and was the service friendly or hesitant?
  • For service providers, does their waiting area look inviting and professional? What do their service areas look like?
  • Was there any follow-up, such as an email promotion or thank-you note?

Once you have compiled the information on your competitors, you can look for ideas to improve your business that align with your brand and culture. These improvements are often in the area of customer service, but can also include adding inventory, updating hours and availability, adding store features or sales events, and more. You may even be able to find ideas to implement at a lower cost than your competitors, giving you an edge on profits.

Now, where can you find a mystery shopper? You can hire individuals or a company that specializes in providing this service. While many business owners might consider asking a friend to mystery shop in an effort to save money, a friend might not be able to articulate their experience with the detail you need, or they could fail to observe important aspects of the shopping experience.

So, consider recruiting a professional for the job. You’ll need a budget to pay the shopper(s) for their time, plus funds to make any purchases on your behalf. But hiring a mystery shopper can be well worth the investment, as it provides valuable access to your competition.

 

Whether we’re headed for a recession or not, it’s always a good time to squeak out more profits from your business books. We’re not talking about drastically slashing expenses or spending a lot to raise revenue; the tips in this article are long-term ideas to lift up your profits gently.

 

Timing on Capital Purchases

The timing of asset purchases, such as equipment, a truck, or even a PC, can be tricky. Understanding the best timing for asset purchases and replacements can make a difference in your profits.

When purchasing a new asset, gain a good understanding of the return on investment so that you’re prepared from a cash flow standpoint. With more complex businesses, it’s a good idea to hire an accountant who knows your industry and has capital expenditure experience.

When replacing an asset, it should be timed so that the asset is replaced before you have to begin spending a lot on repairs, but not so soon that you maximize your use of the current asset. 

Rent and Utility Contracts

When rent and utility contracts come up for renewal, it’s time to negotiate. If your landlord hasn’t fixed something, you can at least use this as an opportunity to have the discussion and hopefully accelerate the repairs.

For certain utility contracts, like internet and phone, the price will often increase when your contract runs out. However, it can also be the best time to ask for a better deal, or even a new customer deal. The adage “it’s always easier to keep a customer than find a new one,” can apply to new carriers, too. Communications companies are constantly creating new deals and packages, so try to jump into one of those to keep your costs from going up.

Profit in Leftovers

What assets do you have that aren’t working for you?  Put them to work!

Here are some examples:

  1. Cash – make sure your excess cash is safely invested or at least in an interest-bearing checking or savings account.
  2. Extra space – rent out space that you are not using or only using some days. This solution can have many different looks to it beyond the monthly renter. As an example, virtual workers looking for a conference room for a day could be a money-maker for you.
  3. Manufacturing firms can sell the scrap from their assembly lines as well as their obsolete inventory.
  4. Excess construction materials can be sold, donated, stored for the next job, used on a new small project, or used as firewood.
  5. If the inventory on your shelf needs to be dusted, you’ve had it too long. Find a way to move it now, and replace it with something that sells faster.

Training

If employees are wasting time, they are wasting money–yours, to be exact. There are three good solutions:

  1. Offer training – perhaps they haven’t been shown what to do correctly or how to do it efficiently. Or maybe they need to break bad habits.
  2. Re-energize employees with incentives, new benefits, or motivational training and events.
  3. Redesign your processes and automation, then retrain – it could be your workflow needs revamping to make it more efficient. For accounting processes, New Business Directions can help with this!

If these options don’t work, it may be time to face the reality that your employee could be a bad fit. You know what you have to do in that case.

Stop the Subscriptions

Those recurring monthly charges just keep adding up. The average small business uses dozens of apps, meaning they also likely have dozens of $20 to $50 automatic monthly charges going on a credit card somewhere in your business. This includes magazines, memberships, dues, conferences, newsletters, gadgets, and software.

If you’re making a lot of money, you may have trouble finding the time to research what subscriptions you really need versus what you don’t. But in the long run, you will retain more revenue sooner if you sit down and examine this area of spending. Stop the $20 to $50 madness by reassessing what subscriptions you really need and then either opting for the annual subscription discount or canceling the apps that aren’t essential.

 

ClickUp™ is a versatile new web application that functions primarily as a project management tool, and serves multiple other functions for small businesses and is adaptable across several industries.

ClickUp’s goal for its users is to save time and reduce redundancy by tying everything together in one app. Its integrations, which are called ClickApps, are truly its strength. The 1,000+ integrations set ClickUp apart from other offerings, and for this reason, ClickUp excels at automating processes that use multiple apps, including hard-to-automate processes like customer onboarding.

Some of the functions people use ClickUp for include reminders, goals, whiteboards, templates, calendars, document flow, task management, dashboards, marketing processes, and team collaboration and communication.

One feature frequently mentioned is the ability to create custom views exactly the way you want them. Views provide a summary of your work and come in many flavors. You can create task views, list views, boards, calendars, Gantt views, workload views, and box views.

If ClickUp has any weakness, it could be the fact that it’s a blank slate. Because the platform is so versatile, it can be used across many different industries. However, users should really spend some time considering their hierarchy of workspaces, folders, and list. You may need to be somewhat tech-savvy to get everything set up. The learning curve can be intimidating, but once you get through it, there is so much power in having everything customized and on one platform.

ClickUp does have a following of power users, and a certification of sorts is offered. Becoming ClickUp Verified means that you’ve earned expertise in the product. If the learning curve is too much for you or your team members, you can hire one of these ClickUp consultants to do the setup for you, or head to YouTube for comprehensive tutorials. 

As of this writing, ClickUp hosts 4,000,000 users, including those using the free version available for personal use. Monthly pricing for business users ranges from $5 to $19 per user, depending on the features you need. Enterprise options are also available.

ClickUp was founded in 2017, is headquartered in San Diego, CA, and has raised three rounds of funding as of this writing. New Business Directions recently implemented ClickUp within our own company, so if you’d like to learn more about why we chose this software, send us an email or learn more at clickup.com.

Entrepreneurs often excel at running their day-to-day businesses and swiftly meeting their customers’ needs. But often, those same business owners who are great at meeting their clients’ needs have a hard time meeting internal deadlines and achieving long-term goals, despite their best intentions. Enter: self-accountability, or the act of maintaining commitments you make to yourself and accepting responsibility for the outcomes of your actions. It’s the difference between getting something done and a wistful, “I’ll get to that next week” mindset.

 This article will outline a few ways you can stretch your self-accountability muscle.

Setting Goals and Deadlines

We all have projects we’d like to work on but haven’t gotten around to for various reasons. The issue could be that your goal isn’t SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) enough, causing uncertainty about how to start. Eliminating ambiguity around your goals can often unveil the path to achieving them.

Once your goal is SMART, start by making a timeline of tasks and milestones that you would like to be held accountable for, marking your calendar for each milestone and the project’s end date. By displaying your list of milestone dates prominently, you might find that carving out time to work toward them becomes a more practical and intentional process. 

Connect with Your Purpose

Take some time to analyze why completing a project is important to you. How would completing it connect with your business purpose, mission, vision, and values? Document your “why” and display it prominently next to your milestone list to help you stay focused.

State Your Goals Publicly

Communicate your goals publicly with peers, friends, or co-workers. For many entrepreneurs, this is when their commitment to achieving their goals feels real. “There’s no turning back now,” you might find yourself thinking.

It’s a big step to put yourself out there, and as we’ve mentioned, many entrepreneurs find it easier to be accountable to others than to themselves. If this is something you experience, announcing your commitment can be a great way to establish self-accountability. By making your intentions public, you’re taking responsibility for the results of your actions (or inactions). It may feel scary to do so, but it works!

Consider an Accountability Partner

Some people do very well by partnering with a peer or trusted business person. This could be a mentor, a paid coach, an advisory board, a mastermind group of people, a nonprofit group, a co-working group, a peer, a vendor, an incubator, or an investor. While a friend might seem like the best place to start, consider going further outside your comfort zone.

Tell your accountability partner to push you and to be candid. They may need your explicit permission if it’s an informal arrangement. Set regular meetings to help you maintain your progress and report on your milestones. Allow your partner to point out mistakes or opportunities for improvement, and acknowledge them yourself. Make course corrections as soon as they’re necessary and use your partner as a sounding board.

Remember, this process won’t work if you aren’t honest with both yourself and your partner. Notice when you’re procrastinating and dig deep to discover why. Often, it can be a lack of resources or time, but this cause is usually coupled with a mindset issue, like uncertainty about where to start or a fear of failure that needs to be illuminated.

Celebrate

Celebrate every milestone you achieve, big and small. Reward yourself appropriately! Even if a project seems small, if it’s one you’ve put off for months or even years, completing it is worth celebrating, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed of the time it took you to reach completion. A celebratory mindset reinforces positive behavior and creates enthusiasm and momentum.

 

Self-accountability makes the functions of your business run better, plain simple. You can apply these ideas to projects, entire departments, and even your personal life goals.

Accountability can make a tremendous difference in achieving the success you want, so try out one of the approaches we outlined above, and know that we’re cheering you on every step of the way.

 

 

Securing a business loan can be an exciting step in the growth of your business. But did you know that loans typically require a specific process to be properly recorded in your accounting system? Not to worry; your loan statement will provide the information needed by your accountant to get the loan booked properly.

To start, you’ll need to locate the following pieces of information about your loan:

  • Total amount borrowed
  • Date of loan
  • Date of the first payment
  • Payment amount
  • Term of loan
  • Number of payments
  • Interest rate

The full amount of your loan should be recorded as a liability on your business’s balance sheet. The offset is either an increase to cash or the recording of new assets like a car, truck, or building.

Each payment you make contains two components: interest and principal. Interest is an expense and is recorded in the Other Expenses section of your profit and loss statement. It will reduce your profit. Principal is the amount you pay toward paying off the loan. It reduces the liability account where the loan is recorded. While Principal does not affect your profit, it does improve your liquidity with each payment you make.

The interest and principal amounts won’t be the same for each payment. Earlier loan payments consist of higher interest and lower principal amounts. As you reach the end of paying off your loan, the interest portion becomes smaller and the principal larger. An amortization schedule shows you the exact amount of interest and principal for each payment. You or your accountant can create a loan amortization schedule in Excel.

Each time you make a payment, cash is reduced for the entire payment amount. The offset is split between interest expense and your loan liability, using the amounts in the amortization schedule. When you code your loan payment, you can use the amortization schedule to get the correct amounts for both of those accounts.

In a simple service business with no assets except cash, your cash balance can mimic your profit level. However, when you introduce loans and new, non-cash assets with depreciation expenses, that won’t be the case. You might wonder why you have no cash and more profits, or vice versa. This is why it’s a good idea to understand how these transactions affect your Balance Sheet and Income Statement as well as your business’s overall financial health.

At year-end, your accountant can make correcting entries if needed between the loan balance and interest expense. 

If you failed to make payments or made them late, your accountant can make those allocations as well using manual journal entries.

Often, when you get a loan, you’re also acquiring some type of asset, such as a car or land and building. This asset should be recorded on your books correctly as well. You should have some type of closing statement or purchase contract that has the details for your accountant. Your Accountant will also compute and record the correct amount of depreciation for the asset type.

Your accountant can speak with you in more detail about your specific situation and better explain the interplay between cash and profits. We use the Statement of Cash Flows to reconcile profits to cash. Want to learn more about that financial report? Reach out to New Business Directions.