We previously covered creating purchase orders and attaching the associated packing slip to the purchase order ready for when the invoice comes in. Today we are going to cover paying the invoices you receive from your suppliers.
By paying your invoices on time you:
- Build a reputation as a good business to deal with.
- When a new supplier does a credit check you will get glowing reports back.
- Earn the opportunity to ask for a better price from the suppliers you have an established repuation with.
A good invoice payment system can only benefit your business’ success.
When the Invoice Arrives
When you receive an invoice match it up with the purchase order you issued for the order. Before attaching the purchase order and packing slip to the invoice, double check you were invoiced correctly by checking the pricing you noted on the purchase order and that your packing slip items match what you have been invoiced for. If everything is ok, attach the purchase order and packing slip to the invoice. This creates a nice little bundle for the auditor to look at should you ever get audited.
When there is something wrong with the invoice, contact the supplier right away. Even if there is a dispute with the invoice the due date remains the same. Their accounts receivable department might not even realize you have a dispute you are working with their sales department and assume that when the payment is late is deserves an interest charge. Another headache to sort out to get it removed once the issue has been resolved.
Note the Due Date
Each invoice (like your bills at home) will have a date your payment is due. Take note of it.
Paying your invoices on time builds your repuation with the supplier. If you do this regularly this becomes a tool for negotiating a better discount from the supplier’s list prices.
When the supplier offers a discount for early payment (usually around 2% discount on the invoiced amount if paid within 10 days) take advantage of it. All those discounts add up to an overall savings for your company’s bottom line. As your business grows these discounts can add up to a substantial savings over the year.
Develop an Invoice Payment Schedule
Once you get really big paying invoices on a daily basis will be required to keep your accounts in good standing.
Until then, develop a invoice payment schedule that includes enough time for the cheques to be issued, signed and mailed in time to arrive before the due date.
Even if you are using online banking to pay invoices, it takes a few days to get the payment from your bank to the supplier’s bank (stock answer is 5 business days here). Remember, the person in their accounts receivable department is going to mark the invoice paid the day they received the money, not the day you sent it.
Perhaps a schedule of the last day of the month for invoices due by the 15th and another day of the 15th for those due by the end of the month would work for your business. There is nothing written in stone, it all depends on how you pay your invoices and how much time it takes for your payment to reach the supplier. Cash flow also affects your ability to pay invoices on time. This is why staying on top of your own invoicing and accounts receivable (people who owe you money) is very important.
Mark Invoices Paid
As each invoice is paid write down the date it was paid, how it was paid and the amount paid.
When paying by cheque write down the cheque number on the invoice. This way if your cheque gets lost in the mail you know the cheque number to cancel the cheque and issue a new one.
For online banking, write down the transaction number.
Why bother with all this? Because a) when you get audited all the information is right there for the auditor without them bothering you (hopefully) and b) if you get busy or interupted paying invoices you know which ones are finished being paid and which are left to pay.
After Paying Invoices File Them
By having a filing system for your paid invoices you save time (remember time is money).
- Easier to find the invoice if your payment goes missing.
- Easier to look up what you previously ordered from that supplier and what you paid for the item(s).
- As a business your are required to keep records for a certain amount of time. You would have to check the applicable laws in your area to find out how long records need to be kept.
- You can direct the auditor to your filing cabinet and let them have at it, leaving your time free to do more productive business related activities than looking for information for them.
Establish an Efficient Method of Paying Invoices
Having an efficient system for approving and paying invoices will in the long run save you money and time.
Establish a system that works for your business that keeps you in good standing with your suppliers. It will give you buying power down the road.
Packing slips, you have seen them even if you have never been in business before. When you order something a piece of paper is included in the package stating what you ordered and what is included in the package. Whether you placed an online order from Amazon or a more local establishment you deal with you have seen packing slips before, you just might not of known what it was called or the significance of the document but you have seen them.
What is a Packing Slip?
A packing slip is a document included with an order when it is shipped to the customer which shows what items are included in the package/shipment.
The packing slip can be included inside the package/box or enclosed in an envelope attached to the outside of the package.
This could turn into a legal document if a dispute arises therefore, do not be lazy, fill it out completely to cover your end of the transaction if you are the supplier and also keep the packing slip if you are the receiver.
Make 2 copies of the packing slip when you are the supplier/sender. One to go with the order and one for your own records of what has been shipped and when the order what shipped. Attach your copy of the packing slip to the customer’s order which in turn is attached to the invoice. One nice neat bundled record of the transaction.
What is Included on a Packing Slip?
Your shopping cart or accounting software may be able to automatically create a packing ship from your invoice or order entry. Check the documentation.
When creating your own packing slip template or editing the one produced by the shopping cart/accounting software here is a list of what the packing slip is to include:
The company the shipment is from.
- Company logo.
- Company contact information include the company’s address, phone number, fax number and email.
The company portion at the top of the packing slip looks very much like the company’s invoice header. If you are creating or editing the packing slip template, make it look similar to the invoice. This is part of branding your business. Everything matches to create your brand and also to look professional.
Purchaser information (who the order was billed to)
- Purchaser’s name.
This can be a company if selling to a business or a person’s name when selling to an individual.
When selling to a business, I like to include the indiviual at the business who placed the order so if I or the shipper need to contact them about the order it takes less time to get a hold of the right person.
- Purchaser’s complete address.
The purchaser’s legal address complete with street address, province/state, country and postal code.
- Purchaser’s purchase order number.
This is a cross reference point for both you and the purchaser. If anything is wrong with the shipment it is easier to compare documents. It is also used for accounting purposes, which we will explain later in the article.
If no proper purchase order was issued (you might want to have a policy that one is required when receiving orders from a business for legal reasons) put the person’s name who placed the order in this box.
- Purchaser’s name.
Shipping information (where the order was shipped to)
If the order was shipped directly to the purchaser, putting Same in the shipping information box will work instead of reentering their billing information again.
- Who the order was shipped to.
The name of the company or individual the order was shipped to.
- Who’s attention the shipment is shipped to (if applicable)
Some ask that a shipment be sent to a specific person’s attention so the receiver knows to notify the person the shipment has arrived.
- Address the shipment was shipped to.
Complete address including street address, province/state and country.
- Contact phone number at receiving end.
The contact phone number at the receiving end is for the shipper in case there is a problem with the delivery.
- Who the order was shipped to.
Miscellaneous information on packing slip.
- Date order was placed.
The date the purchaser placed the order.
- Date order shipped.
Date the order was shipped. This information can be helpful if you need to track down a lost or late shipment.
- How the order was shipped.
What service was used to ship the order. Again, saves time tracking down a lost or late shipment.
You can attach your copy of the 3rd party pick up receipt to your copy of the packing slip for faster problem solving.
- Date order was placed.
What was ordered and shipped
- Itemized list of what the customer ordered.
Include the quantity ordered and the item description.
- Itemized list of what was shipped.
Indicate which items ordered have been shipped.
- What is backordered (didn’t make this shipment).
Items not included with this shipment but will be shipped at a future date. Include the date if possible. The more information a customer has, the happier they will be.
This information can be organized using columns similar to the columns in an invoice. Quantity ordered and shipped. Item description. Quantity backordered (if applicable).
- Itemized list of what the customer ordered.
A box near the bottom of the packing slip where any special notes can be made.
When delivering the order with your own staff make a copy of the packing slip for your staff member delivering the order and have them get the person who received the order to sign it. They bring this copy back to the office and it is attached to your copy of the customer’s order as proof the order was delivered and if it is not a prepaid order, the accounting department knows to bill the customer.
This all may seem like a lot of work and paper work but preparation for the worst case senerio (ship lost, incorrect, shipped to wrong address or damaged) will save you time when problem solving for your customer.
What to Do with Packing Slips on Your End
When you receive something from you suppliers, don’t loose or throw the packing slip away. It is a useful document for your accounting process.
Think big and learn how to handle paperwork now so when you grow and have staff taking care of things for you they can manage (hopefully) without your intervention.
Packing Slips from Your Suppliers
When receiving a delivery from a supplier who ever is receiving the delivery should double check that what is written on the packing slip as delivered was actually received. They can simply check off the items as they find them in the shipment. Things get lost sometimes between the supplier and you. Taking the few minutes to double check at time of receipt could save you some grief later when you notice something is missing from the order.
Note on the packing slip which items are missing if applicable. Also note on the delivery person’s copy they want the receiver to sign what was missing so the supplier knows when they get the delivery receipt back that there is a problem.
If the order is complete forward the packing slip to your accounting department (yes that might be you if you are a one person operation). The packing slip should be attached to the purchase order you issued for the order. The bundle is then forwarded to your accounts payable (again that could be you if you are a one person operation) to be matched with the invoice.
When things are missing from the order due to being lost or backordered keep a copy handy of the transaction handy so you don’t forget to follow up on getting the order completed.
Packing Slips for Items Shipped
Remember above we said to have your own copy of the packing slip? Once the shipment is complete this copy of the packing slip should be attached to your customer’s order then that bundle passed on to the accounts receivable/billing department. You are really going to appreciate this if you are a one person operation and really, really busy. Failing to invoice promptly can affect your cash flow.
Having your copy of the packing slip attached to the customer’s order and in turn to the invoice keeps all records of what happened together. As your business grows and you hire help, no one has to bother you when there are questions. Everyone knows where to go look for information when required.
Packing Slips – An Important Document
As you can see the packing slip is an important document both when you are the shipper/supplier and the receiver. Get in the habit of processing packing slips properly now even if it seems like a lot of work. Think big! One day your business is going to grow to a point that you can not do everything yourself or keep every detail filed away in that computer like brain of yours.
Looking for information on building a business in Canada? The Canada Business Network is one place you need to visit.
Canada Business Network is a Canadian government website setup to provide resources and guides for Canadian businesses. The site includes information on governement regulations for setting up a Canadian business plus information on government programs and services available. Their goals are to provide:
- Provide information to reduce the complexity when having to deal with multiple levels of governament while running and setting up your Canadian business.
- Provide a convenient location for you to locate the business information you need.
- Provide business planning, market research information and statistics to help you grow your business.
The Canada Business Network site is broken into 5 main business topic sections:
As you consider starting your own business you need to collect information to start off your venture on the right foot. The Starting Your Business section is further broken down into the following sections covering:
- Before starting your business
The homework you need to do before proceeding with the development of your business idea.
- Checklists and guides for starting a business
Guides and checklists for different types of business startups.
- Business planning
Sample business plans, business plan templates and how to write a business plan.
- Financing your new business.
Find sources and ideas for financing your new business startup.
- Naming your business.
Tips on naming your business.
- Registering your business.
How to register your business with different levels of government.
- Employees, payroll, and taxes.
How to hire employees, your obligations when preparing payroll plus how to handle employee deductions then submit them.
- Choosing and setting up a location.
What to consider when deciding on a location for your business, how to set up your office and guidance on brick and mortar vs online business.
Once you have started your business you are going to need some information on managing and growing your new business.
- Before starting your business
Managing your business properly will enable your business to grow. New and old business owners can always do with some help and ideas on how to grow their business.
- Managing your business
How to structure your business and manage risks.
- Managing your employees
Managing and training your employees.
- Taxes, GST/HST
Understand and manage the taxes that affect your business.
- Exporting and importing
Information on selling, buying and investing abroad.
- R&D and innovation
Research, develop and implement innovation to improve your business.
- Marketing and sales
Marketing your business and customer service.
- Doing business online
Information on running an online or ecommerce business.
- Planning for business growth
Resources for when you are ready to expand your business.
- Business support organizations
Start-up and business development, networking and chambers of commerce, coaching, mentoring and training resources plus industry sector resources.
You can also find business planning resources on the Canada Business Network site.
- Managing your business
Every business venture needs a plan.
- Why you need a business plan.
Whether you are a startup, an existing business or wanting to expand you need to create a business to determine the viability and pitfalls of your business.
- Writing your business plan
There are some essential elements needed in your business plan. Learn what those are in the writing your business plan section.
- Sample business plans and templates
Don’t have any idea how to layout a business plan? Have a look at the sample business plans and available templates before starting.
- Business planning FAQs
Questions and answers you may have when building your business plan.
- Succession planning
As part of your business plan you need to plan for selling or handing over your business to someone else to run.
- Market research and statistics
How to conduct market research and where to find free statistics to support your marketing plan.
- Why you need a business plan.
Every business could use a helping hand financially whether starting out or expanding for growth. Find information on sourcing different types of grants and/or financing your business.
- Government grants and financing
- Private sector financing
- Personal assets
- Financing from non-government organizations
- Accessing equity financing
Whether you like it or not you have to deal with the government. Learn what regulattions apply to you and your business regarding:
- Permits and licences
- Copyright and intellectual property
- Selling to governments
Canada Business Network has a wealth of free information available for Canadian business owners. Check it out.
To keep up on new information Canada Business Network has they have 2 RSS feeds available you can follow in your favourite RSS feed reader: Global RSS Feed for all site updates and their Blog RSS Feed.
If you have used the information they provide give our readers some feedback in the comments section below how the Canada Business Network helped you with your business.
We all hate spam emails but sometimes preventive measures cost your business lost sales or potential sales. This is applicable whether you use your ISP (Internet Service Provider), a free email address (like Gmail), webmail available from your web hosting or domain registrar or the mail server provided with your web hosting package.
Email Server Spam Filters
You may know (or not) that your email account has anti-spam filters available or implemented at the mail server level. This is great to catch all the spammers that have gotten your email address from somewhere on the web but it also has a downside.
Email web server base their rejection of emails based on a few things:
- There are trigger words in emails that will get the emails marked as spam.
List(s) of words common in spam emails.
- DNS (Domain Name Server) blacklist(s)
List(s) of the IP addresses of known spammers plus proxy servers (annoymous surfing servers).
- Administrator of the email server has set the email server to reject certain free email providers.
- A legitimate sender sends too emails in a row.
If one of your customers sends you a bunch of information in separate emails (for organization of information reasons, replies to your emails or because their email has a limit on the size of email/attachment they can send per email) they could get marked as a spammer for sending too many emails within a short period of time.
Any emails, legitimate or not, are subject to these tests and sometimes result in falsely being marked as spam. Depending on how the anti-spam system is set up, you may never see the emails accused of being spam which is a big problem for a business owner when it came from a person interested in doing business with you.
Why Don’t Legitimate Emails Get Through?
These emails are subjects of what is called false positives. Something within the testing process triggered a false accuation that the email is spam or from a spammer.
How Do I Stop Legitimate Emails Being Marked as Spam?
There are a few things you can try to avoid legitimate emails from being marked as spam:
- Disable spam filtering at the server level.
If you are paying for web hosting then you should have total control over what is done with your email. Go into your web hosting account and disable spam filtering. You should decide what is spam and what isn’t, not someone else.
- Whitelist senders
If the hosting company will not let you disable spam filtering and is still letting the emails collect in your email account with a note in the subject line that it is spam ask them to whitelist legitimate senders. A whitelist is a list of authorized senders.
Note: You might have to request someone be whitelisted every once in a while even though you already whitelisted them. As web hosting companies update their blacklists and anti-spam filtering programs they seem to manage to wipeout your whitelist requests. (This happens to me for one of the very first newsletters from a reputable site I signed up for way back in 2002)
- See if you can adjust the tolerance (level) of spam triggers.
Look in your email accounts area of your web hosting to see if you can adjust the level (low, medium, high) of triggers for an emails marked spam.
- Quit using your ISP or free email account for business.
Besides not looking very professional, there is not too much you can do about your ISP or free email account filtering unless they have settings within your account. Use your own email server included with your web hosting package and setup a professional email address.
Business Domain Name Email Address
With a business domain name email address:
- Your business looks more professional.
- Your business correspondence will project a professional business image.
- If you change web hosting providers you take the email address with you.
- You can create different email addresses for difference purposes. e.g. Comments and Questions, Accounting, Sales, etc.
Free email accounts are ok as a backup plan for times when for some reason your mail email server is not working but they do not look very professional as a business email address.
Did you also know that if you are using your ISP email address that when you change services there is no way to forward incoming mail to your new email address? What happens to all those contacts you have made that decide to get back in touch with you? They end up in email lalaland or get a bounce message that the email address is not valid.
Stop Letting Spam Filters Interfere with Your Business
I’ll admit this post was written out of frustration of trying to conduct business with suppliers and potential clients.
For the last year I have been trying to source suppliers for an ecommerce project. Some have not replied even though I sent a follow up – in case you missed my original email resends. How do I know if they:
- Are not interested?
- Did not get any of my emails at all?
I don’t and that is the frustrating part of this whole experience. If their email server is filtering my emails as spam how difficult is it going to be to actually do business with these people. When I order something, how am I going to know if they got the order?
A potential business owner customer submitted a request for quotation via an ISP email address. I replied with some questions so the quotation would be accurate. They never replied. Did they even get my questions?
“Time is money” as the saying goes. If someone has to pick up the phone (possibly calling long distance) to ask why you have not replied, they just might decide their time is too valuable to be playing email tag with you which will result in you loosing the sale. (wink)
It is tough out there (slow economy aside). You need to do everything possible to have at least a chance to make a sale.
What Have You Done to Make Sure You Get All Your Business Correspondence?
Have you had customers call you because you did not reply (or even get) their email? What have you implemented to make sure that your email server is not costing your business money?
Have you created an operations manual for your business yet? You should. There are all kinds of reasons every business needs a business operations manual no matter how big or small your operation is. If you are just starting your business or it is a small business think big! One day you are going to need some help (that’s the goal isn’t it?), maybe decide to franchise your business or need to take some time away from the business.
In this article we are going to cover:
- What is a Business Operations Manual?
- Why You Need a Business Operations Manual
- What Do You Put in a Business Operations Manual?
- Updating Your Business Operations Manual
A business operations manual is a document which includes:
- Company standards
- Company information
- Company procedures
- A way to provide consistent customer service and procedures as you grow
- Step by step instructions and checklists for each step/part of your business
Now you are thinking I’m just starting out or I’m just a small operation but consider:
- When you do something that isn’t something you do day in and day out you forget how you did it the first successful time. It will be easier next time you have to do it if you have instructions written down instead of spending hours on the net trying to find the instructions again.
- Your accountant told you to do something a certain way but accounting or bookkeeping isn’t your thing. Instead of asking again (and possibly costing you money) write down how/what they said they want done for future reference.
- You have worked out differnt deals with your suppliers and need to keep the details straight when dealing with them.
- One day you are going to have to hire some help. Save yourself some time training by having every procedure written down so you can hand off a task or tasks to your new hire (even if you decide to sub contract it out to someone like a Virtual Assistant).
- You are not invincible. Some day you are going to get sick or injured beyond a day or so not being 100%. Your business needs to carry on without you. Someone (a family member, your spouse, a friend, your staff) has to pick up the ball and keep the business going as best they can while you are laid up. Think about when you worked for someone else before being an entrepreneur. When someone called in sick or was on holidays did the operation come to a grinding hault? If it did, it shouldn’t have. Someone should have been able to step in and cover for the person.
- One day you are going to meet your maker. Someone is going to have to shut down your business, sell it or keep it going. They need the details of how the business is run to do this.
- Even for yourself, it helps you provide consistent customer service.
- You need a procedure to deal with complaints. Write it down for yourself plus publish on your website. This way everyone is treated the same when they have a problem.
Keeping “think big” in mind, you might want to set up your business operations manual in 2 separate parts, keeping the confidential information in a separate secure location.
- The private business part.
Stuff only someone you trust with the most private information about your business like account logins, account information, bank account information, etc.
- The general operations part.
Stuff any of your staff would need access to to be able to keep the business running in your absence or without supervision.
Private Business Information
The following information would be considered private business information. In the hands of the wrong person it can be damaging to your business:
- The login information for your domain registration account.
You will need this yourself to renew your domain name when it comes due or if you wish to change domain registars.
- The login information for your web hosting account.
Again, you will need this information to pay your account, submit questions about the service (or lack of) you are receiving, make changes to your web hosting account and to cancel your account if you choose to change web hosting companies.
- The login information for all your social media and social networking accounts.
During a proper computer maintenance clean up the login cookies for your social networking and social media sites will be wiped out. You will need this information to login again.
- Webmaster tools and services account login information.
To update and view the information collected by any of the webmaster tools and services you use you will need the login information.
- Contact information for staff.
How to contact them at home and their tax information for payroll.
- Contact information and account details for vendors.
List of venders, account numbers, payment terms, pricing deals arranged and who your contact is at that particular firm. Some of this information the accounting department obviously will need to know to perform their work.
- Company legal information.
Anything a lawyer would need to know like lawsuits, trademark registrations, copyright registrations, property ownership, mortgages, lengthy loans, etc..
- Company registration information.
Business registration certificate, business number and legal address of the firm.
- Governament account information.
Payroll account information for employee and business tax submissions, WCB (Workers Compensation Board) account information and records of claims. There maybe a separate account required for your sales tax submissions also. The accounting department will need some of this information.
- Banking information
Bank account numbers, branch information, terms worked out with the bank, etc.. The accounting department is going to need some of this information.
General Business Operation Information
This information would be what is required to maintain the general operation of your business. Some of this information may not be required when a one person operation but leave space for it so when you grow it can be filled in.
- Introduction to the company.
General information about the company a new employee would need to know or be intersted in knowing.
- How the company is organized.
Heirarchy of staff is generally shown here.
- Procedures for dealing with customer problems.
How customer problems and complaints are to be handled.
- Business phones
- How phone call records are kept.
Even if you are a sole employee of the business having a notebook or some other kind of message record book is a good idea. You can tick them off as you deal with them.
When more than one person is answering the phone at your business a message book or notebook is definately a good idea.
What about those cell phone calls that need dealing with?
- How the phone is to be answered.
How do you want the phone answered in a business like manner. Are they to say who it is they are talking to right off the bat?
- How phone call records are kept.
- Employee dress standards.
Whether you want to allow casual dress in your business is up to you. You might want to define how casual casual is though to maintain some professionalism within the business.
- Job descriptions.
Have these prepared ready for when you need to hire someone. Give them a copy when discussing the position during their interview and again with any negotiated points when they are actually hired. This is a reference point when doing performance and salary reviews in the future.
- Online access policies.
This is a touchy point these days. Be clear when employees can use the internet for personal use (if at all) during business hours.
- Telephone usage policies (company phones and their own personal cell phones during working hours).
Another touchy point these days so make it clear what your policies are about making and receiving personal phone calls during business hours.
- Human resources policies and procedures.
What to do when there are conflicts and how to handle them.
Perfomance and salary review criteria and procedures.
- Employee dress standards.
- Owner’s manuals for all equipment.
Collect all the owner manuals for your equipment and put them in one spot so that you or your staff can try and solve simple problems with calling a service technician. These are also helpful if you do have to resort to calling a service technician, you can explain what you already tried according to the manual.
- Products and services provided by the company.
Reference of all the products and services provided by the company complete with specifications.
Some of this information should be on your website to help the order process go smoother. More information on your site, the less emails and phone calls you have to field.
A side note about product information, write your own descriptions of the products and services. This will help make you stand out from the crowd if you supply something that is offered by others.
- Procedures to be completed daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.
What is to be done (and how) daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.
- Promotion and advertising standards.
Where you want to promote and advertise your business and how. Creating a standard for your promotional material and ads will help with your company’s branding.
- Maintenance and repair routines for equipment and vehicles.
Regular maintenance saves money in the long run. Properly maintained equipement and vehicles can last a long time.
- How to do everything the business does.
Include detailed instructions, checklists and screenshots with each of these. Pretend you are a new employee or someone helping you out in an hour of need that does not know a thing about your business.
- Accounting procedures.
- Order processing procedures.
- Invoicing procedures.
- Appointment booking procedures.
- Procedures when ordering materials and supplies.
- The franchise manual you received (if applicable).
- Company policies.
Policies regarding payments, setting up an account with your firm, return policy, etc. should be written down for yourself and staff so everyone is treated the same. Providing this information on your website will also provide up front information to your buyers.
- Company style guide.
A style guide is a document that specifies how your logo is to be used, company colours, company fonts used, letterhead layout, labelling standards and anything else associated with your brand. Having this information written down makes it easier to order branded items and it also lays out how your brand is to be presented.
If you follow our suggestion of creating your business operations manual from day one over time you may find better ways to handle different things. e.g. streamline accounting procedures, ordering procedures, manufacturing procedures, etc. As you gain experience running your specific business you may also find that you scrimed on work required initially which lead to more work later. e.g. doing related paperwork properly when task initially performed.
Add improvements and changes to the operations manual regularly to keep it up to date. You can not keep everything in your head and if you are not there, your replacement can not read your mind. (smiles)
Sometimes business operation manuals are created and then forgotten about. You train your new hire from memory instead of getting out the manual you created and working through it with them. Do not know about you, but when learning something new it may seem easy when someone is explaining how to do something to you but later when you have to do it on your own without any notes, both of you waste time reviewing how to do the task again.
Every Business Needs an Operations Manual
Every business needs an operations manual no matter how big or small it is. You never know what life has in store for you. The business could expand, you could get forgetful in your old age or you could need to step away from your business for a bit and need someone to take over for you. Keep things running smoothly with an operations manual. It might seem fussy and time consuming now at the beginning of your business but in the long run it will save you time and money.
In our sales invoice basics post we talked about keeping on top of your invoicing to improve cash flow. Today we are going to give you a very simplified demonstration of how when you invoice affects your cash flow and how much capital you need to keep a float until you get paid. This demonstation would not affect those of you who get paid 100 percent up front. This does affect those who get a deposit up front and those who do not get paid until the end of the job (not a great situation for various reasons but that’s another post).
Note: These samples assume the customer has the traditional 30 days to pay your invoice. Everything gets extended if you let them be slow payers. Obviously, if you offer a discount for early payment and they take advantage of this everything gets shortened.
The days nothing happens in the demos have been hidden to create the image. If you build your own cash flow chart there would be days in between invoicing and payment dates where you have to pay something yourself.
For projects where you had to buy products or services this will add into the equation. For simplicity sake we made the date you purchased the materials/services a few days before you complete and assumed you yourself have 30 days to pay your account. Adjust the timeline as needed if you have to purchase things further in advance of completion or had to pay cash instead of on account, which of course adds to the time you have to carry the costs of the project.
Bill as Soon as You Complete the Job
Our first sample shows what happens if you bill your job the day it is complete.
In our simple example of billing on the day of completion you end up waiting 5 days between paying your suppliers and you receiving your money from the customer (if they pay on time).
In this scenario you would need 4 days of additional cash to keep going if you have bills to pay within those 5 days.
Bill on the 15th of the Month
If you stock pile your invoicing and do it all on the 15th of the month then you have to finance your supplier costs 11 days until you receive your payment (again assuming the customer pays on time).
Bill on the 30th of the Month
You procrastinator you! You stock pile all your invoicing until the last couple of days of the month. This creates a very stressful situation for yourself plus adds time to how long you have to finance your business.
In the wait ’til the end of the month scenario you end up having to finance your business 14 days until you get paid.
Multiply This by the Number of Projects You Have
When you are the procrastinator type (waiting until the 15th or end of the month) your financing woes get greater and greater. The number of things you have to pay for prior to collecting your money just pile up.
In the bill as you complete scenario, eventually, you could have money coming in every day! Quite possible if your business takes on smaller projects where you could complete within a day or two. The key to this is having a backlog of work (a line up of work) waiting.
Don’t Wait to Bill
If you want less worries about financing your business bill as you complete. Get in the habit of setting aside time each day to do your invoicing. Remember, some will pay in advance of the 30 day deadline to get their discount which in turn shortens your financing problems.
Some Businesses You are Stuck with Other’s Schedule
In some businesses even if you adopt the bill as you complete habit they have set dates they process bills for their jobs hence there needs to be an adjustment in your own financing plans so you do not get in trouble with your own suppliers.
An example of having to live with someone else’s schedule would be construction contracting on larger projects. Here where I am, on larger jobs all invoicing has to be submitted by the 25th of the month. The architect on the job looks over the subcontractor bills, approves (or adjusts them), submits to the project owner, project owner submits payment to the general contractor who then has to payout to the contractors (less 10% holdback). The owner usually is to pay the contractor on the 10th of the month following but you still have to wait for the contractor’s accounting department issue your cheque. Vary the timetable as applicable to your situation.
You Get Paid When I Get Paid
“You get paid when I get paid” attitude is a very good way to loose your good suppliers and contractors. It is just not good business to snowball your poor financial planning back onto your suppliers and contractors. This practice would be an unacceptable payment plan if you were on the receiving end of this attitude now wouldn’t it. If a customer did this to you you would reconsider doing business with them or raising your pricing to cover the lateness would you not? Well, you should, just as your suppliers and contractors will do to you.
Earn Better Credit Rating with Prompt Payment
When you have a good cash flow you can pay your bills on time (just like your home life) which in turn boosts your credit rating. As a business starting out you pretty well have no credit rating for the business, you have to go on your own personal credit rating when asking for credit accounts or credit cards. As your business evolves your suppliers will be willing to extend your credit account if you are good at paying on time or even early, just like your home life.
Parallels Between Business Cash Flow and Home Life Cash Flow
There are many parallels between cash flow for a business and your own home financing. Look at the examples again. Your home finances depend on when you get your pay check and thus you can pay your bills on time. Same with a business. Cash in the bank equates to paying your bills on time, being able to take advantage of early payment discounts and building your business’ credibility.
Stop procrastinating. Get in the habit of invoicing as soon as you can to improve your business cash flow.
Anyone got some suggestions on how they keep things organized so they can keep the cash flowing into their business continually?
Cash Flow Related Articles
In our last article about sales invoice basics we mentioned purchase orders. Today we are going to explain purchase orders and how they can help keep things under control from both a supplier’s point of view and a buyer’s point of view. This probably falls into the “Yuk, more paperwork” department for some of you but bear with me and learn the advantages of using purchase orders. Think big, even if you are a one person operation right now.
What is a Purchase Order?
A purchase order is a legal agreement between a buyer and a seller. You as the buyer order materials or services and agree to pay for what is included in the purchase order once the seller provides said materials or services. As a seller, once you start processing the order you have accepted the buyer’s offer to buy.
Because this is a legal document every thing needs to be clear as to what is being purchased, where it is to be delivered and what the price is. As a seller, if any of the information contained in the purchase order is incorrect you need to get it straightened out before processing the order.
Any changes to the order need to be documented and should be confirmed by both parties.
A purchase order is also known as a P.O. or P.O. number so when you see this box on an online ordering system they are referring to a purchase order.
Purchase Order Template
A purchase order template looks much the same as an invoice.
The top of your purchase order should contain:
Buyer Contact Information
Buyer contact information would include the following and is usually at the top of the purchase order laid out similar to a letterhead:
- Buyer’s name
- Buyer’s mailing address
- Buyer’s phone, fax and email addresses
- Buyer’s website address. Doesn’t hurt to include this. It has the potential of you getting a referral if the supplier gets a request of “Do you know someone who ….” (fill in what you do).
Purchase Order Number (PO Number)
The purchase order number is a reference point for both the buyer and seller. PO numbers are issued sequentially. Be sure to change the number if you are creating purchase orders in a word processor or spreadsheet template.
Have the purchase order number in a prominent spot and large typeface so it stands out.
Date ordered would be the date the purchase order was issued. This information is important for tracking and determining the delivery date.
In the next row on your purchase order should be the seller’s information and shipping information:
Ship To Information
Shipping information includes:
- Where the materials or services are to be shipped to.
You can write Same in this box if your billing information and ship to information is the same.
- How the items are to be shipped.
An example of stating how the items are to be shipped would be if you have an account at UPS you want the supplier to ship the items via UPS on account.
Including Your Truck means you want the supplier to use their own truck or shipping service. If shipping is free, make a note of it
- You can also include a tag in the shipping information box. This comes in handy when the shipment comes in for a specific job. The person receiving the shipment knows what it is for. A tag is also handy for cost accounting purposed (explained later).
The supplier information details are laid out like the buyer’s:
- Sellers’s name
- Seller’s mailing address
- Seller’s phone, fax and email addresses.
Including this also makes it quick work following up on an order should you want to make a change or check the shipment will be on time.
- Seller’s website address would also be handy especially if you don’t purchase from them often and want to have a look at their website to make a new order.
Next we will discuss the purchase order description section.
Purchase Order Description
In the bottom section of a purchase order is where the description of what is being ordered.
How many of each item
- Item or service description or name
The supplier may use part numbers as part of the item description.
The price would be the price listed on their website, your confidential price list or the price you were quoted. If you were quoted a special price for this order, include who gave you the quotation, the date of the quotation and the quote number.
- Total Before Taxes and Shipping Charges
A sub total of the purchase cost before taxes and shipping charges are added.
- Shipping Charges
The caluculated shipping charges for the order. Make a note if shipping is free. Some areas charge tax on shipping charges differently than on the rest of the order.
From an accounting point of view, when looking at costs of doing business and where to some money can be saved this information would be helpful.
The calculation of the applicable taxes. If state/provincial taxes and federal taxes are applicable, show them separately. Makes things easier later when calculating your remittance to the applicable tax department offices.
The purchase order needs to be signed.
Purchase Order Signature
Include a spot for the person who placed the order to sign the purchase order.
Because this is a legal document a signature is required. Also when you get bigger and multiple people are making purchases there is a record of who placed the order when there are questions.
Now you know what the parts of a purchase order are you need to produce a purchase order.
How to Create a Purchase Order
Like sales invoices there are different ways you can create a purchase order.
- A purchase order book purchased at your stationary store.
This is probably the easiest method of creating a purchase order if you are not paperwork or computer savvy. It is also convenient for crews on the road. If you give your road crew a P.O. book, a) Record the beginning and ending numbers in the P.O. book in case they are naughty and don’t had in a copy of the P.O. for the office to use and b) Make it a policy to purchase P.O. books with at least 2 copies in them. One for the person who has the P.O. book and one copy for the office. A 3 copy book might be appropriate, depending on your industry, as the supplier might want a physical copy of the purchase order for their records.
- A template made in your word processor or spreadsheet application.
Don’t forget to change the number next time you use it!
- The third way to issue a purchase order is through your accounting software. This might be more time consuming as you have to fire up the computer or wait for someone in the office to issue the purchase order for you through the accounting software.
Which ever way you decide to issue a purchase order, make sure it is filled out completely and you keep at least one copy for yourself.
A thought on further organization, if there multiple people involved in your business (think ahead as your read this) it would make everyone’s life easier if multiple copies of the purchase orders issued are distributed to the people who need to know about the purchase:
- The shippping and receiving department.
Your shipping and receiving department would need to know things are coming in and make room for them if applicable.
The person receiving the shipment would need to know who/what it is for so he/she can get it to the right person or place.
- The person handling the project.
The person handling the project or job knows what has been ordered and when to expect the material or service.
If it’s you running the project, if you put a copy of the purchase order in the project file or attached to the workorder you know it has been ordered and that piece of paper is a trigger to follow up to make sure the delivery is on time.
- The accounting department
Ideally, the purchase order is matched up with the shipping documents your shipping and receiving received to confirm the order is complete and the purchase order, shipping documents and invoice are all matched up to confirm the invoice received is correct. Staple them all together and file away. Your record for the tax auditor when they come so they don’t have to bother you.
Why bother doing all this? There are advantages to getting into the habit of issuing purchase orders right from the start.
Advantages of Issuing Purchase Orders
The above might seem like a lot of work, especially when you are a one person operation (for now) but there are advantages to using purchase orders.
- Keeps you organized as to what you are purchasing for the business.
- Should you become ill someone can step in and see where you were at with an order or project then step in to continue the business while your recover.
- Your accountant is going to want to do a profit loss report at the end of the year. A profit losss report compares how much money you brought in (your sales invoices) and how much your spent (your purchase orders plus salaries, utilities, etc.).
- You save time when the tax auditor comes by. Just point them to the filing cabinet instead of you finding the appropriate papers scattered around the office or somewhere on your lonesome computer.
- Great preparation task for when your business grows enough that you have to hire staff. Everyone can pick up the ball when someone in the office is out or off sick.
- Can do cost accounting
If you keep track of your sale price for a job (or item) and the costs to sell that item before including your overhead you can determine if this type of job or product should be sold at a higher price or if you can save some money somewhere and pass on the savings to customers which would increase the volume of sales.
By doing cost accounting as you go, you know right way whether you are making money or loosing money instead of at the end of the year when your year end is done.
- Inventory control
If your business relies on inventory being on the premisses issuing purchase orders will let those concerned know that another X of that item is expected on Y when you are running short. Commitments on delivery can be adjusted at the time the order is placed thus keeping customers happy that you let them know their order is going to be a little late ahead of time instead of waiting for the “Where is my order” call.
No one likes doing paperwork but it is a necessary evil when running a business. You either have to do it yourself or spend money (and time explaining what you did) to have someone else do it for you. The easier you make it for your accountant to put together your taxes, the better for you financially and time wise.
Get organized now! Start using purchase orders. All it really takes is a trip to the stationary store to purchase a purchase order book to get started.
Some people are just not made to create paperwork but if you are going to run a business learning how to make an invoice is important. Learning how to invoice correctly will save you time and money. Invoicing is the lifeline of your business. You don’t pay for services or utilies at home without an invoice do you?
What is a Sales Invoice?
A sales invoice is a record of a sale you made. The customer pays for the goods or services received based on your invoice.
An invoice or bill is a commercial document issued by a seller to the buyer, indicating the products, quantities, and agreed prices for products or services the seller has provided the buyer. An invoice indicates the buyer must pay the seller, according to the payment terms. The buyer has a maximum amount of days to pay for these goods and is sometimes offered a discount if paid before the due date.
Invoice – Wikipedia
How to Make an Invoice?
First let’s talk about making your invoice look professional. How your invoice is created also reflects on the professional image of your business. It is also an opportunity to do some marketing.
Include Your Logo
Part of your branding strategy should be to include your logo on each and every piece of stationary you distribute, that includes your invoices. Include your logo in the top of your invoice. Usually it is in the top left of the invoice.
Include the Word Invoice
Include the word invoice in good sized letters to make it clear that the document is an invoice (opposed to an estimate, proposal, credit, etc.). Off on the top right, free of other clutter would be a good spot.
Include Your Contact Information
Include all the contact information a customer might need including:
- Your business name.
The official name of your business. If you are incorporated, a limited company or any other registered business, include the official business name on your certificate of incorporation/registration.
- Your business address.
If you are working from home and do not accept client visits include your mailing address and note it as such.
- Phone, fax and email address.
Including your business phone number, a fax number (yes some people still use fax numbers) and an email address provides a number of ways for the customer to contact you should they have a question. If you have set up your website on your own domain as suggested in our Strategies to Present a Professional Business Image article you can set up an email address just for accounting/billing questions (makes you look bigger than you are if you are a one person show too (wink)).
- Your website address.
Having your website address on your invoice provides another contact/marketing touch point. The customer has your web address right there to place another order or double check pricing if they are confused by the invoice.
- Your business name.
Show Your Registration Numbers
Depending on how your business is setup and the laws in your area you may be required to include your business license number as well as your tax collection numbers. Certainly tax number(s) if you want to collect taxes from the purchaser.
An Invoice Number
All invoices need a number. The traditional way to number invoices is sequentially and this is how they are numbered if you use accounting software, an online billing service like PayPal or an invoice book.
For a job were you are progress billing a larger contract you might be able to add the progress invoice number (e.g. Prog. #1). If not, include this information somewhere in the description of what the invoice is for.
Payment Options and Information
Provide all the forms of payment you accept for invoices. You will notice that the bills you receive in the mail from the your credit cards, utilities and other accounts you have do this.
The due date may not be applicable if you require prepayment for your orders.
If you are allowing people to be billed then state the date they are to pay the invoice by. Credit cards usually state a specific date but in business the traditional due date is 30 days from the date of invoice.
You could improve your cash flow by offering a discount for early payment. e.g. 2% discount if received within 10 days of invoice date. One small business I worked for saved enough doing this to cover their utilities bills.
Terms of Service/Conditions
Your Terms of Service (TOS), return policy and Conditions of Sale might be too long to fully explain on the front of the invoice. You will notice that when you receive a bill in the mail, these are usually on the back of the bill. For electronic invoicing this is a bit more difficult. If your invoicing system can not accommodate this at least provide the important points with a link to a full copy on your website. These should be on your website anyways and easily accessible before their online purchase for good customer relations.
Most ecommerce software you can make any of these required information. The software can be programmed to verify that the information like phone number, email address and zip/postal code are entered correctly before processing the order any further. If you accept orders from individuals you might not want to make fax number, tax numbers and website address required.
All of this information should be collected manually when you are not using a website to accept and process orders.
- Customer name or their official business name.
Businesses wanting to use the tax benefits of their tax numbers should provide their official business name as registered with the tax number account.
- Customer contact information.
Their billing address, phone number, fax number and email address are all contact points for you to contact them should you have a question about their order and for future contact (if they opt in to being contacted in the future but that is another post).
- Their P.O. number. (purchase order number).
Larger businesses (small businesses should do this too in preparation for expansion) use a document called a purchase order when ordering things. You might have seen this question when ordering from a stationary store like Staples. The purchase order lists what they are buying from you. Some will include the pricing for their purchase. This is what they are expecting to pay for the order. If it is wrong you should contact them on receipt of the purchase order and correct them instead of shipping the merchandise, billing them correctly and then getting into a discussion about the price later.
- Their tax number(s).
In some areas you calculate what tax you have paid and what taxes you have collected then remit the difference. There are some items that are non taxable if a tax number is provided, another reason to get this number from the customer. To find out how to deal with this contact your local tax authority.
- Customer name or their official business name.
Customer Shipping Information
This is the information you need if you are phyically shipping the order.
- Name of business or person the order is to be shipped to.
- Address where to ship the purchase to if different from their billing address.
- Contact information at destination. Person to contact and their phone number.
- Zip code/postal code for the shipping company or post offfice to direct the shipment to the right area.
Including how the merchandise was shipped including the receipt number or waybill number makes it easy to track who and how the shipment was shipped should there be a problem. Noting who signed for it would also save time later if you needed the information.
The more information you provide in the invoice details section the better for both of you. Everyone is clear what the invoice is for and saves time having to look for backup information should there be a question.
- Date product or services were provided.
- Details of what was sold or service provided. An itemized list is the standard when multiple items are being billed for in the invoice.
- Total before taxes.
This is the total of the order before taxes are added.
- Shippig charges
On a separate line show the shipping charges for the order if shipping is not free.
- Duty and custom charges
If you charge duty and custom charges as an extra charge when invoicing the order instead of the shipping company or post office collecting them for out of country shipments include this on the invoice.
- Taxes charged.
For areas where collection of multiple taxes is required, show each tax calculation on a separate line. This makes it clear to the customer what taxes were charged on the order and it makes it easier to calculate the taxes you have collected and have to remit.
So there is your long list of what is to be on the invoice. Now you want to know what to use to actually produce the invoice.
Most these days have an accounting software either on their computer or use an online service to produce their invoices. Once you have the template of the typical information on your invoices set up it is just a matter of filling in the customer details, shipping details and order details, recording the invoice then either printing it for mailing or email it off to the customer.
For those who do not have accounting software or the not so computer savvy there are a couple of options:
- Use a word processor or spreadsheet on your computer to produce your invoices. Remember to change the invoice number next time you use your template!
- Use a preprinted invoice book from the stationary store.
Everyone wants to go paperless but sometimes paperless is not practical.
You need to have your own copy of the invoices issued for your records. The accountant is going to need these to calculate your yearly sales at tax time. When you get audited by the tax department it is a lot easier to point them to the filing cabinet instead of them tieing up your computer reviewing your books. And latestly, should there be an inquiry regarding the invoice it is sometimes easier to look for a hard copy instead of firing up the computer and searching for it.
Depending on your business, the following might be suitable (this is what I do):
- A stack of invoices in numberical order for the purpose of calculating sales. For a larger firm where you have someone doing the bookkeeping for you it is easier for them to find things by the invoice number.
- A copy in the customer’s file. When you have a repeat customer it is easier to find their invoices if filed in their own customer file. All the details applicable to the invoice (emails, purchase order, shipping documents, etc.) are right there in one spot, attached to the invoice.
There is one more record you need to keep, a sales ledger (accounts receivable list). When you are smaller a list on your desk to keep track of who owes you money, when you expect money coming in and who has paid their bill all helps you keep on track for your cash flow. No invoices get left unpaid. You are on top of it.
For those who use accounting software there is a section to enter money received from customers and get a report of who still owes you money. It is just a matter of entering payments as received and running the report.
Invoicing promptly is an issue for businesses that do not require prepayment that causes poor cash flow. They do their invoicing in batches (usually at the end of the month) instead of dealing with it daily or as the job is completed. The sooner you send out your invoices the sooner you will get paid. This improves your cash flow. Instead of money coming in next month than you could have had this month it is arriving sooner. You can pay your bills sooner to take advantage of discounts if possible, don’t have to worry about meeting payroll (if applicable) and keep your inventory well stocked.
Here is another reason to invoice promptly. This quote is from an article written as a content provider who didn’t get paid. It is applicable to any type of work you do.
Some writers actually incur their own problems by not staying up to speed on their invoicing matters. Make sure that you have been turning them in on the requested date so that payments are not delayed. In the event you turned one in for June 30 with the agreement you were to be paid by end of July, follow up on Aug. 1 if you have not received payment.
In this instance, the company they wrote for closed shop. If you haven’t kept up your invoicing and follow up you don’t have a leg to stand on when trying to collect your money.
Learn the Basics of Sales Invoices
Some people are just not paperwork people, I understand that. But consider how much time (and money) you are going to loose if you do not learn even the basics of producing an invoice in a timely fashion and following up on payments due. Yes, you can leave this all to the accountant to do, for a price (including your non productive time explaining what you did to him or her), but as a small business you need to pinch every penny you can. Get your cash flow working for you instead of against you. Get that invoice out, collect your money sooner, pay your financial obligations sooner and reinvest into your business.
Sales Invoice Articles
It doesn’t matter how large or small your business is, presenting a professional business image is important to the success of your venture. You don’t have to spend tonnes of money to create a professional image for your business, just spend your money wisely.
Present a Consistant Business Image
While planning your business or undergoing a makeover think about the whole picture instead of just the little bits you need now to start with. Even though you might not be ordering or needing stationary at the moment, for example, how your overall business image components will fit together is important. Something like your logo should be laid out and drawn is such a way that it can be resize for different applications. e.g. website logo, stationary, brochures, your social networking avatars, your Twitter background, your Facebook business fan page, your forum avatars, etc.
The larger businesses develope a style guide. This is a document where the logo, company colours, fonts used and other things are documented to make sure the overall professional business image of the company is kept in tact. Just because you are starting out or a small business doesn’t mean you can’t develop a company style guide. It will come in handy when hiring out different parts of presentation material as your business grows.
Next we will cover different ways to present a professional business image.
Professional Web Address
We are all penny pinchers when starting a business but your web address is not the place to penny pinch. Your web address (domain name) is your identity on the web. Owning a domain name (e.g. yourbusinessname.com) for your business is much more professional than yourbusinessname.freewebhosting.com.
Think big! What will happen when you out grow your freebie web space? What if it closes? GeoCities (free web hosting run by Yahoo! for years) was closed by Yahoo! Many people built their business on this free web hosting service and had to start over as there was no way to redirect (send) the search engines, existing links and people who had bookmarked their site to the new location. You can’t get a hold over everyone to let them know you have moved, there is just no way you can.
With your own domain name you can move web hosting any time you like. Your “address” stays the same, just the server hosting (storage location) your website is changed.
Professional Email Address
Who do you have more confidence dealing with? Someone that uses an email address at their own domain or someone that uses a free email account like Gmail or Yahoo!?
I understand that using web mail at these type of free email accounts seems simplier for the not so computer savvy but you need to move out of your comfort zone to look professional during your day to day business. There is nothing wrong with using these free email addresses as a backup plan should for some reason your website mail server is broken.
Did you know you can set up your email program on your computer to pick up and send emails via your web server email account? Yes you can! It is not that hard to do, really! Another thing to consider is, what if you have no internet connection? On holidays, on a plane or your internet connection is just plain broken. You can’t get to your web mail. With your computer (or whatever you use) set up to use your website mail server you can pickup mail when you have access, have a copy of the emails on your computer (in case the web server fails), can send and receive using your domain email address and can create your replies ready to go once you are connected to the net again.
If you don’t have an artist bone in your body, don’t try and create your own logo. Your logo is one of the most important branding tools you have.
You could use a logo creating website or software program but then there are lots of others with the same basic logo as you. You want to stand out.
If you can, spring for a professional to create your logo. If not, there are lots of economical places you can get a logo done but make sure it is unique! Paying someone that uses a logo creation software or recycles their stock logo setups in not any better than you doing it yourself using an online logo creator or software.
Professional Colour Scheme
There is a reason that you see a lot of sites and businesses using the same colours. That is because they a) look professional and b) the psychological impact of the colours work to get results. You don’t see too many businesses using wild colours, do you? Uniqueness is good! But taking it to the extreme could do more harm than good in extablishing yourself as a serious business.
Also consider colour contrast. Colour contrast is where when one colour is put on top of another and making sure the top colour stands out enough to be readable to all that need to read it. This isn’t just an accessibility issue, those with perfect vision have problems reading things that have poor colour contrast also.
Give your business a professional image with a professional looking website. It doesn’t need a ton of bells and whistles but it does need to meet the needs of your intended target audience.
A good combination of a professional logo and good colour scheme used in the right layout can give you miles of room for expansion later. It’s all about the planning stage of your website. Give the designer enough information about your future expansion ideas so room for these can be incorporated into your initial website if your current budget doesn’t allow for all that is on your wishlist at the moment.
Professional Email Correspondance
Each email you send on the behalf of your business leaves an impression with the recipient. Make that impression a professional one. Include a professional looking email signature complete with your contact information (Your name, company name, phone and fax numbers, email address, website address and 1 or 2 social networking urls where they can find you on the net).
Email backgrounds and image signtures might be ok for your personal emails but they don’t look very business like. Also, some who receive your emails may have images turned off or have chosen to receive emails in plain text (which stripes the background, coloured text and images) for security reasons.
Address incoming emails in a timely fashion. Nothing more annoying sending off correspondance to a firm and having to wait ages for a reply. With everyone getting so use to instant results on the net their patience isn’t as it once was. They want answers now.
Everything you do on the net in public ventues like social networking sites (and forums) is a reflection on you and your business. What you want to do is come across as a knowledgeable and helpful person and/or firm. It is just like offline networking. Your name gets forwarded when another person hears of something you could help with.
For your Twitter account you can personalize your Twitter page with a custom background and matching colours for the sidebar. Twitter uses a fixed width for the center part of your Twitter page these days with a flexible margin down the sides. There is also the top bar with Twitter’s search to consider also. Keep this in mind when designing your Twitter page background and your logo (if you intend to include it) as some of your important information could be cutoff or hidden when the visitor is using a smaller screen, browser window or lower resolution.
On Facebook you can have a business page. Like Twitter, you need to make this interesting. You can add your logo, a strip of images across the top and even some additional pages for marketing purposes.
There are tonnes of social networking sites you can join. The key is to keep your presence on these sites consistant so people recognize you when they see you around the net.
Clear Consise Policies
To present a professional image, clearly state your policies regarding shipping, returns, how the information the visitor gives you is handled and payment terms. All of these instills more confidence when dealing with your business.
Present a Professional Business Image
Above are a few things that will give your business a professional business image. Ask yourself what you have seen when dealing with other businesses that made you feel comfortable doing business with them. What about the firm gave you the impression of a professional business?
Add some more ideas in comment area below. I’m sure there are lots of other ideas that can be added to your strategy to present a professional business image.
One of the ways to build the reputation of your business or yourself is to join a forum and start participating. Forum marketing is quite an easy way to market, if you do it the right way.
What is a Forum?
Some of you may not participate on forums or have not even heard of them if you are new to online marketing so here is an overview of what forums are:
An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are at least temporarily archived. Also, depending on the access level of a user or the forum set-up, a posted message might need to be approved by a moderator before it becomes visible.
Forums have a specific set of jargon associated with them; e.g. a single conversation is called a “thread.”
A forum is hierarchical or tree-like in structure: a forum can contain a number of subforums, each of which may have several topics. Within a forum’s topic, each new discussion started is called a thread, and can be replied to by as many people as wish to.
Depending on the forum’s settings, users can be anonymous or have to register with the forum and then subsequently log in in order to post messages. On most forums, users do not have to log in to read existing messages.
Internet forum – Wikipedia
To add to the above definition, each reply in the thread (conversation) is called a post.
Some forums are better organized (multiple sub forums to keep like topics together) than others.
There is also a hierarchy of membership. Members will have some sort of title usually designating their role in the forum:
The forum Administrator is either the forum owner or a person(s) designated to run the forum. They are at the top of the forum membership hierarchy.
Super moderators are 2nd in command under the Administrator. They monitor the general activity of the forum and have administration powers to remove members, threads and posts.
Moderators are like Super Moderators but with less administrative powers. They are generally assigned specific subforms to moderate (watch over). In some forums, they just have Moderators, skipping the Super Moderator designation but have Super Moderator powers.
Mentors and VIPs
Mentors and VIPs are respected members within the forum. The Administration, Super Moderators and Moderators noticed their valuable contribution to the community and upgraded the member status to reflect this. Mentors and VIPs don’t have administrative powers but they do pull some weight keeping conversations on track.
All the rest of the members of a forum are regular members. They might have a title under their user name which could change as their number of posts increases. When you start out in a forum you will have some sort of title under your name designating you are the new kid on the block.
When you join be sure to check out how the forum membership hierarchy works and is shown within the forum. You certainly should listen to anyone above the general membership level, especially when they are correcting you. That does not mean you ignore information posted by your fellow general membership members because some have valuable information to share and just don’t care to have their title upgraded for whatever reason.
Every forum has it’s own rules. You probably had to agree to abide by them when you registered. If you just clicked the “I agree to follow the rules and guidelines” part of your signup process, go back and actually read them. The first way to get in trouble on a forum is to not read the rules and violate them.
As a Super Moderator on a few forums I offer the following tips to stay out of trouble:
Your About Me Page
Some refer to your About Me page as a forum profile page.
Following the rules outlined, fill in your About Me page (forum profile) with information about you/your business. Anyone curious about the person behind your user name will click your name to find out more. Don’t try and hide links and stuff that breaks the rules in your About Me page. The Moderators and Super Moderators will find it. That includes links to sites that are not allowed in the general area of the forums.
Once you have posted (replied to conversations or started a thread to ask a question) enough on a forum (number of posts required varies) you will be allowed to have a forum signature. A signature is added to the end of each of your posts you make in the forum.
What you are allowed to have in your forum signature will be outlined in the rules and guidelines of the forum somewhere. Reread that section before creating your signature.
A forum signature can be used to promote your business or yourself. Sort of a sales pitch. If you are being really helpful in the forum other members will click the link in your signature to get more information about you and your business, just like your About Me page.
Links are generally allowed in your signature (read the rules to double check the number allowed). One thing on most of the forums I moderate on that is not allowed are affiliate, referral and shortened links.
On some forums there are ads offering to sell their signature on different forums. Don’t go there. Super Moderators and Moderators don’t just hang out on the forum you are participating on, they participate on other forums also. If the forum you are registered on does not allow the sale of your signature that’s a real quick way to get banned (or the person who you bought the signature from thus wasting your money).
You will also see questions about whether signatures are nofollow or not. What this is about is some of the bigger search engines are using the nofollow attribute within your signature link to not go to your website or blog. If getting links back to your website or blog is the only reason you are joining forums, you are approaching forum marketing all wrong. You should be making contributions to the community and not worrying about the search engines picking up the link in your signature (or About Me page for that matter). If the nofollow attribute is not used on the forum you joined that is just an added bonus of forum participation.
Some forums are more strict than others as to the quality of the posts they want to see. Short “I agree” replies are generally considered a low quality post and will be removed.
You are there to participate and get help. Join the conversations with well thought out questions and replies. Hint: This is a way to get the Mentor or VIP title under your name eventually. (smiles)
General Forum Marketing Tips
Forum marketing can be a great way to build your business or general credibility. Use your forum posts and questions wisely.
Self Promotion within Replies
Self promotion within your replies or when you start a thread is generally a way to get yourself in trouble on a forum. Review the rules on self promotion.
But this article is about forum marketing, how am I supposed to market if I can’t self promote? By being helpful! Share your knowledge with the less experienced. If someone has a question about a marketing technique you have tried, reply with information about what worked and what didn’t.
Weed Out the Misinformation
Forums are great places to get information about all kinds of things. Online marketing, offline marketing, general business help are all discussed in forums. Along with the great information there is a lot of misinformation spread around through hear say. Pay attention to those who back up their replies with links to and references to reliable sources to confirm what they say. e.g. SEO (search engine optimization) is one of the topics with a ton of misinformation floating around forums. The best answers will reference the webmaster guidelines (rules), usually Google’s because they have the best information available for website owners to read if they take the time to read it.
Have a Thick Skin
Some people on forums just like to be what are called trolls. They just love stirring up trouble or just like to be mean. Generally, the Super Moderators, Moderators or Mentors will step in and tell them to back off but in the meantime, don’t get upset someone bit your head off with (what they thought) was a silly question or statement. Someone will come along and be a whole lot nicer about your question or statement.
There is sometimes a review section in the forum where you can post a request for review of your site. This is the section you need a really thick skin. You worked so hard on your site and are all proud of what you have done then someone comes along and tears it apart in a not so nice way. Sometimes they are right (but didn’t present their ideas very nicely) and some input you can take with a grain of salt. Put aside your hurt feelings and look at the comments as constructive criticism. Some people genuinely are trying to help.
When a discussion gets heated, don’t reply with nasty pointed comments directed at the person you disagree with. a) They probably wil come back with a nasty comment about you which turns into a bunch of replies of you two fighting. b) It derails the follow of discussion. Not everyone has to agree on something. Heated discussions can be a good place to learn 2 sides of an issue.
If a discussion gets really heated it is better to walk away than continue arguing with someone that is head strong and just doesn’t want to see your point. Just excuse yourself from the conversation (without pointing fingers) and participate in another conversation.
Be Prepared to Back Up What You Say
If you want to make a statement as a fact, be prepared to be challenged by another member. A better approach would be to provide links and references from trusted, reliable sources to backup your statement in the initial reply. You still might get someone that challenges you but that’s what forums are about, discussion.
Using Forums for Marketing the Right Way
Forums are a great way to demonstrate your knowledge on a given subject. By sharing your knowledge, helping those new to the field and supplying creditable resources (not necessarily your own site) this is the way to do forum marketing.
Please share any other forum marketing tips you have with the readers.
More on Forum Marketing The Right Way
Below are some more articles around the net on forum marketing the right way: