Accounting & Finance

Business Owner's Guide to Profit Planning

Owner's Guide to Profit Planning

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Steven Strauss: Innovation Continued ...

In last week’s column we looked at how innovation can be nurtured in companies. Specifically, I shared the story of 3M and how the company used an innovation culture to foster the creation of Post-It Notes. It’s a fun and interesting story and I like sharing it because it shows that empowering one’s employees to be more innovative can really help a business grow.  

But it also begs the question: Why should a small business invest in innovation in the first place? After all, if you are in business, you already have plenty on your plate. Running and growing an enterprise is tough enough without having to worry about coming up with the Next Big Thing, right?

Right, and wrong. It is a correct assumption in that innovation is indeed too much work for some small businesses. That’s fine, understandable even. Innovation takes time and money, and those things are sometimes in short supply. So yes, if you don’t want to innovate, we can relate.

But it is equally true that being innovative in your business and with your products can be the secret sauce that allows you to stand out in the vast sea that is capitalism. There is no shortage of competitors who want to steal your clients, and if they innovate and you don’t, they just may. Moreover, innovation fires up the team, invigorates the entrepreneur, wows customers, impresses potential clients, and, when done right, grows your business.

Let me give you an example: A few weeks ago I was invited by Symantec (a company I previously did some work with) to a product launch at the world headquarters of Tesla Motors in Palo Alto. Let’s just start there. That’s an innovative way to launch a product, is it not? Rather than sending out a boring press release, showcasing their products against the backdrop of some incredibly cool $100,000 sports cars captured one’s attention.

And it is also a good lesson for the small business: Your innovation, your creativity, can look many different ways and still have an impact. Even something as different as showing your products in a different space can be memorable.

But beyond that, what I found most interesting was the commitment to innovation Symantec showed when it re-engineered its small business product Backup Exec. While creating a better system to help businesses protect and backup their data may not sound sexy, what is sexy is that the company put more than 1 million man hours over two years into rethinking its product and making it better, faster, less expensive, more usable, less complex, and more flexible.

Innovating in your business in this way offers many benefits, not the least of which is that it keeps you ahead of the curve and delights your customers when they see that you are trying to offer them the best that you have.

Now, maybe you are thinking that innovating is a lot easier for a big corporation with their bigger budgets and all. That is somewhat true. But small businesses innovate all of the time, just on a smaller scale. Whether it is a catering truck that lets customers know where it will be each day by being followed on Twitter or the furniture store that rents out furniture for real estate open houses, the idea is not that you have to invent the next iPad. Rather, the point is that innovation and all of the benefits described herein happens  when a company focuses on the end user, thinks about what their customers really need, and comes up with a better way to help those customers solve their problems.

Innovation in its many forms – big and small alike – is what can set you apart and make your business special.

Today’s Tip: “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways, or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.” – Steve Jobs

What are the options for repairing Michigan's crumbling roads and bridges? And why should small business owners care? Today on the Business Next free audio seminar

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, talks about the importance of an excellent transportation infrastructure to small business success. Listen today at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. today on the Michigan Business Network. Listen to archived programs anytime at your convenience on your PC or mobile device by going to the Business Next show page

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How do you think we should pay to repair our roads and bridges? Leave a comment below.

Payroll Tax Deal Likely

From SBAM's national affiliate, NSBA:

Following months of back-and-forth debate over employee payroll tax cuts, the gridlocked Congress appears poised to extend the current two percent cut through the end of the year. Congressional leaders announced a tentative deal last night which also would extend unemployment benefits for another 10 months and once again push back the Medicare “doc fix” that would result in cuts to their payments.
The total cost of the package would be around $150 billion with the $100 billion cost of the payroll tax reduction being added to the deficit and the $50 billion cost of the unemployment benefits and Medicare doc fix being offset by budget cuts elsewhere. Among those pay-fors: requiring federal workers pay more into their pensions ($15 billion); and cutting funds from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) for promoting wellness and reducing chronic diseases ($5 billion).

Negotiators also are working to reducing the limit for unemployment benefits from its current 99 weeks. The language in the current deal would allow the term to be dependent on a state’s unemployment rate, but the range is likely to be somewhere between 73 and 79 weeks. The controversial language allowing for drug tests of recipients of unemployment benefits was scrapped along with a requirement that the recipient must enroll in a GED program if they have not finished high school.

The deal has come under fire from many Republicans criticizing the payroll tax cut extension for not being offset. The key negotiators, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Dave Camp (R-Mich.)—the two chairs of the tax-writing committees, along with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) outlined this deal and have underscored the need for the conference committee to craft a formal proposal, thereby fast tracking it and limiting the amendment process.

Unfortunately, the employer-side of the payroll tax was, and has been, all but ignored during discussions over measures to help consumers and the economy.

Get training to help your small business comply with environmental requirements

Registration is now open for the 2012 Michigan Environmental Compliance Conferences, conducted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The conferences will be held April 26 at the Treetops Resort, Gaylord; May 1 at the Amway Grand Plaza, Grand Rapids; and May 10 at the Laurel Manor, Livonia. The cost is $115 per person.

Three concurrent tracks with over 15 sessions will cover waste management, water quality requirements, air quality requirements, pollution prevention, energy efficiency, and more. All conference attendees will receive the brand new 7th Edition of the Michigan Guide to Environmental, Health, and Safety Regulations.

Click here to get more information on the agenda, continuing education credits, and registration.

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Startup aims to help small businesses save money on organic waste disposal -- on today's Business Next free audio seminar

Michael Rogers interviews Justin Swan of Organicycle, a west Michigan company doing innovative work in organic waste disposal for small businesses. Listen at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. today on the Michigan Business Network. Listen to archived programs anytime at your convenience on your PC or mobile device by going to the Business Next show pagePhoto by