Barriers and concerns facing Canadian small and medium sized businesses

The December 2010 Business Barometer® produced by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) indicates that business confidence in the economy almost matched the post-recession high of March 2010.

However, it is clear that questions about the economy still linger in the minds of business owners across the country.

Throughout the year, we reach out to small and medium sized business owners from across the country to gauge their top concerns regarding their business and their business’s place in the economy.

Our focus in a recent survey was to identify the top issues that business owners are facing, and what, if anything, keeps them up at night.

The survey produced several interesting findings:

Our survey found that cash flow (23%) was the number one concern, followed closely by attracting business (22%), both in getting new customers and getting existing ones to buy again.

Cash flow is a concern that comes up again and again when we talk to business owners – yet many business owners have a tendency to focus on the wrong things when evaluating their cash position.  In an article published in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Why Cash Matters: The Importance of Understanding a Cash Flow Statement”, the authors state that:  “Entrepreneurs who understand cash flow tend to make better decisions than those who focus purely on the income statement.”

According to Entrepreneur magazine there are four key areas that businesses should focus on when it comes to cash flow:

  • Accurately measure cash flow

-   Utilize data from past years including accounting for seasonality when measuring and projecting future cash flows.  This is a task where professional help or a software tool can come in particularly handy.

  • Improving receivables

-   Focus on “improving the speed with which you turn materials and supplies into products, inventory into receivables, and receivables into cash.”

  • Managing payables

-   Keep an eye on expenses – be sure that they are not growing faster than sales.

  • Surviving shortfalls

-   Don’t wait for there to be a problem – be proactive and make sure you have contingencies in place such as a line of credit, a tight rein on payables and a strong relationship with suppliers (to arrange for more favourable terms when needed).

In our survey, business owners also worried about being able to complete work on time and managing their workload (12%), while “Finding the right balance between work and family”.

After identifying their concerns, we then asked about the areas in which they needed the most help. This question gave us very interesting feedback, as most businesses reported that they needed help with online marketing (36%) in creating more exposure for their business and driving in sales.

Being able to manage time appropriately was another important area in which business owners required help, as 27 percent of respondents indicating that this was essential since they felt that their time was “mostly spent having to do everything from filing to accounting and billing to providing professional services”.

“Staying up to date on the latest technology” was also an issue that you felt was important, and in looking for avenues for inspiration and generating new business initiatives, 47 percent of respondents said that attending industry conferences motivated business owners, while another 41 percent of respondents gained inspiration through reading the news.

After hearing from those in the panel, do you agree with the results we found? What do you think are your top business concerns, and is there anything that keeps you up at night? Share your comments and stories with us below!   How have you or do you plan to address those concerns?  We want to hear about them!

Also, by sharing your experiences below, you can win one of three copies of QuickBooks Pro 2011 provided by our friends at QuickBooks Canada.¹

Spend less time on paper work and more on real work.QuickBooks can save you time by keeping your books, crunching your numbers and telling you exactly where your business stands. That’s why it’s the number-one small business accounting software in North America. QuickBooks does the legwork so you can do what you love.

(On July 16, 2010, Staples Canada surveyed both consumers and business professionals, with 239 panelists responding to a series of questions that support the above data.)

Mallet, Ted, “Business Barometer®: National small business confidence ends the year on a strong note.” CFIB. January 2011.

Berman, Karen et al., “Why Cash Matters: The Importance of Understanding a Cash Flow Statement.” HBS Press Chapter, 07 October 2008.

How to Better Manage Your Cash Flow.” Entrepreneur Magazine.

¹ To enter and to be eligible to win, the person submitting the entry must be a legal resident of Canada,(excluding Quebec) and is the age of majority in his or her province during the contest’s grand prize draw. Employees and their parents, siblings and children, and persons domiciled with an employee of the Contest Sponsor (Staples Canada), its agents, parent, affiliated or related companies, subsidiaries, divisions, prize sponsors, and promotional and advertising agencies and administrators, are ineligible to submit an entry..  Only one contest entry per person.  Contest closes 8PM EST February 4, 2011.

By Adam

January 19, 2011