Small Business Month


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By Joel Schlesinger For Postmedia News T erry Mullin has been a small-business owner long enough to know how to roll with Calgary's boom and bust economy. As co-owner of James & Dickson Clothiers in one of Calgary's more upscale neighbourhoods, he's seen the marketplace for men's clothing change significantly over the last two decades. It hasn't always been easy for the store since it started in 1992. "You rarely hear of new menswear stores opening," he said. "More have closed in the last 20 years than have opened." But James & Dickson has survived and thrived, offering high- quality suits and casual wear for discerning clientele. Many veteran entrepreneurs have their share of battle scars. They've experienced near misses that could have closed the doors for good and they've savoured hard-won successes. Learning to avoid or recover from your mistakes is one of the secrets of maintaining a successful small business. Here's little helpful advice from the experts to get you through the rough times - a short small-business survival guide for entrepreneurs to navigate the rough waters. Plan, plan and plan some more: Most small businesses know the importance of a business plan, but many fail to keep planning as they grow, says Brent Bushell, executive director of the Business Link, a government-funded non- profit business consulting organization in Alberta. "Don't just do the initial stage planning and then roll the dice hoping everything works out from there." Owners often get caught up in the daily workings of their business when the revenue is rolling in, and they forget that with the highs come the lows. Having a regularly updated plan helps strengthen a business so it can endure the tough times and come away stronger to be even more profitable when the good times return. Evolve or die: Business is often referred to as 'survival of the fittest' for a reason. "It's really an evolution," said Mullin, with James & Dickson Clothiers. The menswear store has survived in a market dominated by chains because it's changed along with its clientele. "Now we sell sport shirts and slacks of various styles and types - everything from denim right up to $300 pants of expensive, quality wools." Most businesses operate in markets that do not remain static over time, Bushell says, so owners must be vigilant, offering products and services that adapt with the changing times. The right staff: Too often business owners overlook the importance of hiring good employees, and providing them with good compensation and training. "Few businesses actually view their employees as an asset rather than a necessary expense," Bushell said. Hiring employees with a passion for the business is essential, but employers also need to keep their staff happy, ensuring they know their hard work and skills are appreciated. And money does talk when it comes to keeping good staff around, Mullin said. "They need to earn a proper living." Experts are your friends: Successful business owners realize their limitations. While owners need to be a jack-of-all-trades when running a business, they still need the help of experts - masters of accounting, finance and legal affairs, says Jack Courtney, a small-business consulting expert with Investors Group. "When small businesses start out, the owners are often looking for the advice that can help them get going with the least amount of cost," Courtney said. But as the business grows, getting the right advice is essential. Lawyers, accountants and other business professionals can be costly up front, but they can often save businesses money in the long run by helping them avoid costly pitfalls. Know your enemy: Successful businesses offer great products that customers want at a good price. But this simple formula is only effective for so long. Success attracts competition, Bushell says. To keep thriving, businesses have to differentiate themselves from their competitors. In large part, that's why it's so important to regularly update the business, he says. "You have to almost reinvent yourself. It's an ongoing thing." Keep 'em smiling: More than any other ingredient for success, a business needs loyal customers. They are a business's lifeblood, and all of the aforementioned tips won't amount to much without keeping them satisfied. "After all it's far easier to build a business with repeat business than it is to go out and find new customers all the time," Bushell said. Small buSineSS Survival TipS: Calgary Herald Terry Mullin photographed at James & Dickson in Calgary. Photo by Adrian Shellard/For Calgary Herald/Special Projects Passion for the work isn't enough to be a successful entrepreneur S M A L L B U S I N E S S M O N T H - S U p p L E M E N T T O T H E W I N N I p E g F r E E p r E S S - W E d N E S d A y , O c T O B E r 2 3 , 2 0 1 3

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