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Entrepreneurship, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, mompreneurs, mompreneurship

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is mad, really mad, at Canadian lenders these days. We’ve all seen the author and television host force people to pull up their britches and get their debts squared away on her popular TV shows, ‘Til Debt Do U$ Part and Princess. And while no one is a bigger believer in personal responsibility when it comes to taking on debt, this time Vaz-Oxlade is setting her sights on banks and their ‘irresponsible lending practices.’ She sees a disconnect between the amount of credit lenders are willing to extend and the ability of people to assume that debt. Gail Vaz-Oxlade wants to ‘school’ lenders and is taking advantage of Credit Education Week (Nov. 13 to 19th) to ask Canadians to avoid credit card transactions, using only cash, in order to send a message to lenders.

We caught up with Ms. Vaz-Oxlade to talk about debt specifically as it pertains to entrepreneurs.

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Gail Vaz-Oxlade is mad, really mad, at Canadian lenders these days. We’ve all seen the author and television host force people to pull up their britches and get their debts squared away on her popular TV shows, ‘Til Debt Do U$ Part and Princess. And while no one is a bigger believer in personal responsibility when it comes to taking on debt, this time Vaz-Oxlade is setting her sights on banks and their ‘irresponsible lending practices.’ She sees a disconnect between the amount of credit lenders are willing to extend and the ability of people to assume that debt. Gail Vaz-Oxlade wants to ‘school’ lenders and is taking advantage of Credit Education Week (Nov. 13 to 19th) to ask Canadians to avoid credit card transactions, using only cash, in order to send a message to lenders.

We caught up with Ms. Vaz-Oxlade to talk about debt specifically as it pertains to entrepreneurs. She believes that one of the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is starting their businesses without a plan. According to Vaz-Oxlade, more than 80% of businesses fail for this reason. She cautions, “You need to know how many months you can go without income and for how many months you have money to float the business.”

Gail Vaz-Oxlade put her money where her mouth is. A while back, she had the idea of starting a financial magazine targeted at women. She mapped out the costs and revenues and how much debt she was prepared to assume before she pulled the plug. At the end of the day Vaz-Oxlade lost the money. She recalls, “I remember the day I sat on the stairs and said, ‘I have to stop now. If I keep feeding this monster it’s for emotional reasons and not for business reasons.’ You have to be willing to pull the plug.”

Ms. Vaz-Oxlade is philosophical about one-size-fits-all rules for finance. When asked what is a reasonable amount of debt for entrepreneurs to take on, she says, “Everyone wants an answer to that. There is no answer, there’s your answer”. This was music to our ears: as we mention often in our, book about mompreneurship, Mom Inc., your entrepreneurial venture needs to work for you, and only for you.

That being said, Gail Vaz-Oxlade has some great general tips for entrepreneurs:

  • Using a credit card to finance your business is a really bad idea. You are far better off getting a line of credit. (BUT, you must keep your transactions only for the business. Your interest on the line of credit is tax deductable, but once you start buying shoes on it the tax man is going to come for you.)
  • Don’t live on overdraft protection - it is supposed to be temporary.
  • Hold your credit card in a different bank than your bank accounts. If you don’t, your bank can access assets from other accounts to pay your credit card bills.
  • Protect your family – don’t put your home at risk to finance a business start-up.
  • Make sure you communicate with your spouse regularly about the business. If you have secrets, take that as a bad sign!

Want to learn more? Visit Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s blog and follow Gail on Twitter.

 

Admiral Road Personalized Blankets, barriers to entry, CBC Dragons' Den, Entrepreneurship, mompreneurship

My favourite Dragons’ Den lesson this week came courtesy of Carolyne Braid, founder of Pole Fit.  Although pole dancing may sound titillating, essentially this was a pitch that tapped into the latest trend for getting in shape.  Pole Fit offers fitness classes in Winnipeg and brought in $89k in revenue last year.  Braid’s ask of $35k for 20% of her company was to finance studio space, as well selling Pole Fit franchises across Canada.

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 My favourite Dragons’ Den lesson this week came courtesy of Carolyne Braid, founder of Pole Fit.  Although pole dancing may sound titillating, essentially this was a pitch that tapped into the latest trend for getting in shape.  Pole Fit offers fitness classes in Winnipeg and brought in $89k in revenue last year.  Braid’s ask of $35k for 20% of her company was to finance studio space, as well selling Pole Fit franchises across Canada.

Braid did not land a deal.  The Dragons’ took no issue with her business or how it’s growing.  They noted that it’s still a pretty small company with a niche appeal, but their real grievance  was her franchise strategy.  In order to franchise, you first need to build a national brand – and Pole Fit isn’t there yet.  But it was Robert Herjavec who pointed out the real issue when he said, “there is no barrier to entry.”  He identified the fact that there is nothing to stop someone else from opening up a Pole Fit-style business in any other Canadian city.  Basically, why would someone pay Braid a franchise fee when anyone with a pole could do the same thing?

Barriers to entry is an important concept to consider when analyzing a business idea and SWOT is a great tool to use.  SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  When you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your business idea, you look at what’s going on inside your company, while identifying opportunities and threats provides a framework to look at what’s going on outside your company.  Thinking about all four aspects of your business together will help you to create a strategy that matches your abilities with the realities of the outside business world.

Braid has a great little business that’s riding a current market trend.  But if she wants to take her concept national, she’s going to have to do some SWOT analysis to demonstrate how her idea is unique and what she brings to the table.

So spend some time thinking about other companies you know and what their strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities might be.  Now have a look at how this framework might apply to you in your business, or even for a new project you’re working on.  It’s just four steps, so give it a try.  A little SWOT goes a long way.

Smart gals get what they need for their businesses and their lives as inexpensively as possible. While we've always been on the frugal side (cheap, cheap, cheap), lately we've been delighted with the results we've achieved using free web-based software.

Read more at our Yummy Mummy Club blog:

http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/free-software-business

 Smart gals get what they need for their businesses and their lives as inexpensively as possible. While we’ve always been on the frugal side (cheap, cheap, cheap), lately we’ve been delighted with the results we’ve achieved using free web-based software.

Another mompreneur told us about Elance.com – it’s a great way for small businesses to get the help they need. Elance is like eBay, but only for freelance business services. We’ve used Elance to bolster our SEO efforts, but we know other mompreneurs who have used Elance to find freelancers to do administrative work as well as graphic and web design. Basically, you post a job and then you can invite specific firms to bid on the work or else you can leave it for open bid. It’s easy to vet prospective freelancers because, like eBay, people are encouraged to leave feedback after the completion of the work. We loved Elance and are waiting for another chance to use it.

We recently found a slew of fabulous prospective employees using craigslist.ca. The response to our ad was so overwhelming that we had to deactivate it after just a few days. It was a fast, efficient and free way to find new staff.

We also use craigslist and kijiji.ca to offload fleece scraps and other things we can’t use anymore.

We love SurveyMonkey for free questionnaires and surveys, and lots of mompreneurs tell us they can’t live without MailChimp for e-mail marketing.

What free software/web sites do you use to help you keep your business and life running smoothly?

 

 Smart gals get what they need for their businesses and their lives as inexpensively as possible. While we’ve always been on the frugal side (cheap, cheap, cheap), lately we’ve been delighted with the results we’ve achieved using free web-based software.

Another mompreneur told us about Elance.com – it’s a great way for small businesses to get the help they need. Elance is like eBay, but only for freelance business services. We’ve used Elance to bolster our SEO efforts, but we know other mompreneurs who have used Elance to find freelancers to do administrative work as well as graphic and web design. Basically, you post a job and then you can invite specific firms to bid on the work or else you can leave it for open bid. It’s easy to vet prospective freelancers because, like eBay, people are encouraged to leave feedback after the completion of the work. We loved Elance and are waiting for another chance to use it.

We recently found a slew of fabulous prospective employees using craigslist.ca. The response to our ad was so overwhelming that we had to deactivate it after just a few days. It was a fast, efficient and free way to find new staff.

We also use craigslist and kijiji.ca to offload fleece scraps and other things we can’t use anymore.

We love SurveyMonkey for free questionnaires and surveys, and lots of mompreneurs tell us they can’t live without MailChimp for e-mail marketing.

What free software/web sites do you use to help you keep your business and life running smoothly?

 

 

Mystery of the world #879 – the line up for gas at Costco.

At my local Costco, the line up for the gas station is so long that it would take about 30 minutes to wait for gas. It’s cheaper, no doubt about it. It was $0.07 a litre cheaper than the norm the last time I looked. As I made my way across the massive parking lot with my newly procured oversized cartons, I had time to ponder this. I drive a minivan. (Before you judge me for driving a gas guzzler – I got the van to deal with work – it’s the official Admiral Road moving van!) So if I wanted to take advantage of the Costco deal, I could save about $4.90 (70 litres at $0.07). But I honestly can’t imagine waiting in my car for 30 minutes to save less than $5. Can you? You should know that I also refuse to go shopping on Boxing Day, I don’t line up for sales, and I rarely have the patience for clipping coupons. It’s not that I’ve got piles of money to throw away, or that I don’t love a deal. I just can’t bring myself to go to extraordinary lengths to get one.

Anyone who is self-employed knows that you don’t exactly get an amazing hourly rate – there are a LOT of hours we work that don’t directly generate revenue – and the hourly rate can be a bit – um – paltry. That aside, I’m pretty sure my time is worth more than $9.80 per hour - that's less than minimum wage! For goodness sake, I pay the young teenager down the street to babysit just a little less than that. So what’s the deal with the endless line ups for the cheaper gas?

What about you? Do you think about how much your time is worth or are you all about the deal? What motivates you to go for the deal?

 

 I love Dragons’ Den because of the stories you hear from some amazing Canadian entrepreneurs. But I also love the show because it’s great tv: dramatic, funny, occasionally over-the-top, sometimes sensationalistic. The stories on the show also happen to be true. Like the best reality tv, you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.

It would be easy to make the focus of this recap about Cris Rowan because it was the most dramatic story of the night. But it’s also reflective of what many entrepreneurs face. An occupational therapist from BC, Rowan started her company, Zone In Programs, to help kids unplug from their electronic devices – a noble idea on the surface. But when the Dragons’ dug a little deeper, they learned that Rowan has invested almost $500k to get her business off the ground. To date, she has had some sales, but currently stands about $400k in debt. To bring her business this far, she has refinanced her house four times. She is at risk of losing her home.

Sound like a stretch?

I’m afraid not. Danielle and I have met real women facing situations just like this.

While we would never judge another woman’s motivations for going into business for herself, we do put our feet down here: Do not put your major financial assets at risk for your business. As we discuss in Mom Inc., starting a business as a mom is not the same as starting a business when you’re not one. The demands inherent in motherhood mean you need to look at your business in a different way. Whether or not the business works out you still need to have a roof over your children’s heads, and food on the table. When kids are in the picture the stakes are just greater.

On the show, dragon Jim Treliving said he learned a lesson from his father a long time ago. To paraphrase, he said, “Never take the biggest asset you have – your household – and put it in jeopardy. There isn’t a product or a service in the world that should potentially destroy your family.”

Dragons’ Den is great tv, but it’s also reality. We’re with Jim on this one. Every business has an element of risk, but keep the family home out of it.

Admiral Road Personalized Blankets, Entrepreneurship, Mom Inc, mompreneurship

A few years ago we found ourselves invited to admire our most senior employee’s brand new bedroom set. It was lovely. Believe us, we were delighted for her. But at the time, it made us wonder if her grass wasn’t just a little greener than ours. For example, at that point in time, we both happened to be sleeping on box springs - sans fancy bedroom sets. How was it that our employee was having sweet dreams based on her paycheque while we were still juggling the need to grow our business with the cash we were taking out personally?

Read more at our Yummy Mummy Club blog

http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/reinvesting-for-growth

Admiral Road Personalized Blankets, personalized baby blankets, personalized blankets

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 A few years ago we found ourselves invited to admire our most senior employee’s brand new bedroom set. It was lovely. Believe us, we were delighted for her. But at the time, it made us wonder if her grass wasn’t just a little greener than ours. For example, at that point in time, we both happened to be sleeping on box springs - sans fancy bedroom sets. How was it that our employee was having sweet dreams based on her paycheque while we were still juggling the need to grow our business with the cash we were taking out personally?

When we founded our personalized blanket company, Admiral Road Designs, almost 10 years ago, one of the first things we did was build a financial model. Like we learned in business school, we took our best guess as to what our sales would be as well as what we imagined our growth would look like. In this way we determined that if could sell “X” number of blankets per week, we would be able to meet our financial goals.

The good news is that we surpassed that sales target early on and are thrilled by the way our company continues to grow. Here’s the bad news: When we hit our sales goal, we weren’t drawing the salaries we had hoped. How did this happen? Really, it was a variety of reasons, none of which we considered on day one of the business.

When we made our initial projections, we didn’t factor in that making more blankets would cost more money. Back when we sold 500 blankets a year, we could manage most of the process on our own. We cut all the appliqué ourselves, packed up every single blanket and brought each box to the post office. Fast forward a few years and we have to pay a lot more people along the way because we simply can’t manage every aspect of the process by ourselves.

We also did not map out how much money we would re-invest in the business. Yes, we’ve been profitable since our first year in business, but some of what we have earned we’ve thrown back into the business to facilitate growth. You can build it, but it’s going to cost you to make them come.

We don’t regret any of our business decisions or how we’ve gotten to where we are now. It just would have been helpful to consider at the outset that it costs money – often more than you think – to start making money.

Have you been surprised by how much money you’ve had to re-invest for growth?

 

 The take-away from this week’s episode of Dragons’ Den reinforces one of our long-held beliefs: There is nothing wrong with starting small. In business, starting small can mean flexibility, control and even freedom. One woman we interviewed for Mom Inc. told us, “I never wanted to be so tied to my business that I couldn’t walk away from it if I needed to.” For better or for worse, the benefits are starting small were evident in tonight’s show.

Ingrid Johansson and Raf Khoury came into the Den looking for $150k for 20% of their company, MatchMaker Pet, an online ‘dating’ site for dogs. Despite the fact that other Dragons couldn’t see the value in this business, the duo landed a deal with Arlene Dickinson. How? Well, Arlene didn’t offer up a single dollar in cash. Rather, she offered up marketing services – which is exactly what the company needs. They’re small – so they don’t actually need a lot of cash right now – they need to get the word out.

The team from Hart Bros Wrestling did not land a deal. They valued their wrestling entertainment company at over $1 million, despite having little revenue today. And even though they have an excellent reputation in the industry, the Dragons recognized that this small management team simply wasn’t up for the job of putting on large-scale UFC and WWE-style fights. These entrepreneurs were big dreamers, but in reality, a very small company. Big dreams are okay – but these guys just didn’t have the structure in place to support the kind of ask they were making.

Finally, in came Mitch Miller asking for $350k for 10% of his company, North American Card Solutions. With a new software concept, Miller believed he had found the answer to providing gift cards for small businesses – typically a very expensive endeavour. With a valuation of $3.5 million for the company and no sales, the Dragons were insulted. It doesn’t matter how big your business can become, if your business is small today, that is how you should portray it. There is nothing wrong with starting small.

And speaking of starting small, I’m excited for an upcoming episode of Dragons’ Den featuring young Canadian entrepreneurs. They’re teenagers! It’s interesting because when we were conducting research for Mom Inc., one point that often came up was that self-employed moms were proud to be role models for their kids. So who knows? Maybe we’re fostering the next generation of Canadian entrepreneurs right under our own roofs.

Until next week,

Amy

This weekend I’ll be eating turkey three times. Yep, that’s right – three times. This brings me a certain mixture of pleasurable anticipation (yummy food) and fear (gaining 8 lbs worth of pumpkin pie!). With all of this thanksgiving going on, I can’t help but think about the things for which I should actually give thanks. I’ve got it pretty good. In fact, my gratitude cup runneth over. So here’s what I’m grateful for, in no particular order, after the first two.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for:

My husband and children. I’ve been married 9 years and I still marvel at how lucky I am to find myself in this family.

The good health of my husband and children, especially given my husband’s chosen hobby of careening around on a bicycle at high speeds (and his propensity to crash hard biannually).

Vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt

Great TV

Bad TV

Not having excessive facial hair

Books

The lovely moms in the playground at school

Terrific in-laws all around

My trainer, who kicks my butt every week and keeps me coming back for more

Irish breakfast tea (and the people who bring it back from London when they visit)

The cup of said tea that my husband brings me in bed before leaving for work (I said I was lucky!)

My wonderful friends, especially my BFF Amy

Being my own boss, bringing joy to our customers, meeting great female colleagues, charting my own course and choosing my own destiny, and laughing every day at work

It’s true, I’m a very lucky duck. And you know, I think I will have a slice of that pie – in celebration of all of my blessings, and because my step mom’s pumpkin pie is to die for!

Happy thanksgiving from the Admiral Roadies/Mom Ink gals!

 Are you loving Season 6 of Dragons’ Den as much as I am? Another week brings us more important biz lessons, starting with…

Be Authentic

Self-described ‘mompreneur’ Elaine Comeau kicked things off with an ask for $70,000 for 35% of Easy Daysies, her magnetic organizer system for kids. Comeau had ALL five Dragons’ vying for a piece of her company. Why? It’s not the biggest company out there. It’s not even the most innovative idea. But Comeau is the real deal. A school teacher by training and a mom to two young kids, Comeau practices what she preaches – and it was clear for all to see. The Dragons’ could see that she was “a great spokesperson” for the product – and that authenticity went a long way.

Be prepared
Things did not go as well for brother and sister team Alinka Angelova and Ryan Chambers in their pitch for $600,000 to fund their community-theatre project, Mute: A Musical. (I guess it’s going to be a very quiet show?) They didn’t really know how much money it was going to take to get the show to Broadway, they didn’t have plan for how they were going to use the money – but their worst sin was that they hadn’t done their homework. They walked into the Den without ever having talked to a producer or production company about the viability of their idea. When looking at new business opportunity, always speak to as many people as you possibly can. More conversations and meetings = more information, and that’s a good thing.

A little fame goes a long way…
Celeb chef Jamie Kennedy made a surprise appearance in the Den hawking Ontario’s Own, a line of healthy local prepared food. The company is owned by two women, but Jamie Kennedy has designed some of the recipes. The Dragons’ interest was piqued. Now, I think that if there had been no ‘celebrity’ endorsement, this company would have quickly been kicked to the curb. It’s not profitable, and won’t be for some time. But Star Power won out. Can this work in your company? Can you get your product spotted with a celeb? Can you get a celeb to endorse your company? This pitch proves that famous associations can give your company a boost.

Until next week,

Amy

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