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Small Business > Resource Center > Business Tips > Tips 13-15

Tips 13-15

Tip #13: Want to succeed? Do your homework

Start early, if not sooner

The sooner you do your market research, the sooner you'll know whether your business idea has real potential. Understanding your market let's you make informed decisions in capital investment, entry into niche markets and upcoming trends, competitive bench marketing and customer expectations. You can also use your market research information later on when you're planning the build-up of your business.

Six low-cost ways to research your market

Here are six cost-effective ways to learn as much as you can about your industry, your customers, and your competition.

1

Research your market – whether it's local retail trade, families with children, businesses in a certain economic sector or Internet shopping statistics.

Check:

  • Statistics Canada
  • trade associations
  • local chambers of commerce
  • sources on the Internet
  • trade magazines
  • newspaper archives and other sources in your local library

2

Survey potential customers, even if it means just having a conversation with them. Ask what they like and dislike about current suppliers, how they make buying decisions, and how they rank considerations such as product quality, price, customer service and response time.

3

Consultants, professors, journalists, chambers of commerce and other experts are constantly studying various industries. Look for their reports online and in newspapers, magazines and research publications.

4

Seek intelligence from non-competing markets. Use the Internet to locate companies with similar products or services in other cities, and call those other business owners for more information.

5

Study your competitors. Look at their ads, examine their websites and press releases, check out their products and in-store displays. Know what they're doing, what new products they're planning, and how they sell.

6

Talk to competitors. Some competitors may be willing to meet with you. While you may not learn any trade secrets, your conversation could provide valuable market intelligence and contacts.

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Tip #14: Tax deductions - what can you deduct?

According to the Canada Revenue Agency, you can deduct "any reasonable current expense you paid or will have to pay to earn business income". Reasonable expenses can include (among other things):

  • Business banking costs, including account fees, credit card fees, insurance premiums, interest, and more.
  • Business start-up costs
  • Business taxes, fees, licenses, dues, memberships, and subscriptions
  • Business-use-of-home expenses
  • Computer and other equipment leasing costs
  • Travel expenses
  • Delivery, freight, and express
  • Fuel costs
  • Leasing costs
  • Legal, accounting, and other fees
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Management and administration fees
  • Meals and entertainment
  • Motor vehicle expenses (automobile)
  • Salaries, wages, and benefits
  • Office expenses, including supplies, telephone and utilities
  • Other expenses, including property taxes and rent, and more

As well, you can deduct any GST/HST you incur on these expenses less the amount of any input tax credit claimed. Please note however, you cannot deduct personal expenses, so it is important to keep your business expenses separate from your personal expenses.

You will need receipts

Always remember that any time you plan to use a business expense as a tax deduction, you have to document the purchase by retaining a receipt. Train yourself to always ask for a receipt, no matter how small the purchase, and file it away. It can be a credit card receipt, a cash register slip, or any other proof of purchase.

Also make a point of recording the date and purpose of each transaction right on the receipt – you don't want to be guessing at what it was for months after the fact

By taking advantage of the tax deductions available, you'll have more funds to put back into the business – and make doing what you're doing even more enjoyable.

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Tip #15: Green is good for business

These days, the financial landscape isn't the only environment your business needs to be aware of. Strong environmental policies are helping companies reduce costs and attract new customers. (They also help you feel good about yourself!)

A healthy trend

A survey of almost 11,000 business owners conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) in late 2007 found that:

  • 83 percent have taken steps to conserve energy by cutting electricity usage and renovating
  • more than 70 percent have introduced or expanded recycling at work
  • about a third use environmentally friendly products

In fact, not having an environmental conscience can be a liability in this day and age. You could find that current and potential clients are applying environmental criteria in their assessment of your services. On the other hand, if you are seen to be proactive on the environment, it may just give you an advantage over your competitors.

Where to start

Where to focus your green sights will depend on the nature of your business. For instance, if you are involved in manufacturing of any sort, reducing emissions and waste products should be at the top of your list.

Of course, you'll make sure you are adhering to all government regulations - municipal, provincial and federal. But don't stop there - listen to community concerns. It's not always enough to do the right thing; you must be seen to be doing the right thing. Get involved in local environmental causes - even if they don't relate directly to your business. The resulting halo effect could stand you in good stead should you ever accidentally slip a little yourself.

Handle with care

Even if you don't manufacture the products you distribute, you still have environmental responsibilities. Take the case of a business that imports and distributes pharmaceuticals. There is still going to be testing and validation required in Canada. How you dispose of the resultant waste will reflect on your commitment to the environment.

For all of us

Then there are the steps that every company can take, regardless of its business focus.

  • Blue boxes. As a cost-conscious business owner, you won't use any more paper than you have to. But when you do have to dispose of scrap paper, remember to recycle.
  • Technology. From used printer cartridges to obsolete computers, there's a right way and a wrong way to dispose of it - be sure to get it right.
  • Energy. Reducing energy consumption is good for the environment and for your budget. Turn off lights, computers, copiers, etc. when they're not in use, especially overnight. Even turning off your computer monitor when you're going to be away from it for ten minutes or more can make a difference. And don't forget about the "hidden loads" - power bars and standby settings - that can drain up to 10% of your energy budget.
  • Travel. Do you really have to meet clients in person every time? Phone and video conferencing are more feasible than ever - and they save a lot of gasoline. (Besides, your time is too valuable to spend stuck in traffic.)

Look for the EcoLogoM

One way to ensure that you're suitably green is to look for the EcoLogo when you're buying new office equipment and supplies. Launched by the Canadian federal government in 1988, EcoLogo is North America's most widely recognized and respected certification of environmental leadership, serving buyers and sellers of green products in Canada, the United States, and around the world.

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