Finding Solutions: Strategy and Operations Edition

By Bev Latter, Business Advisor

You have established your business and now you’re wondering where to go next. Do you export into new markets or expand your reach? Maybe you’re considering introducing a new product line. For many business owners, starting and sustaining a business does not come naturally. There are skills individuals need to run a successful business. These skill sets range from financial literacy and financial management to employment standard requirements. Regardless of what you’re struggling with, we’d like to help answer some of your questions. This blog is an addition to our Learning Day Finding Solutions series where we summarize some of the solutions that were brainstormed by other business owners regarding issues they are facing. In this edition, we are focusing on the strategy and operations side of business.

Challenge: How do I plan and maintain ideal inventory levels that provide healthy cash flow for overhead, payroll, accounts payable, loans and capital growth? Externally viewed by the customers, inventory must be trendy, fresh and seasonal.

It can be difficult to plan your inventory months in advance, particularly when trends are changing so rapidly. However, there are ways to make sure that you can achieve a healthy balance between inventory and demand. One initiative you can take on throughout your fiscal year is always doing research. Get feedback from your customers to see what their thoughts are on your product/service and think of ways that you can improve it to increase demand. Measure your marketing and sales activities so that you have an idea of when you are in a busy or off-season phase. By gathering this data, you can plan ahead and ensure you have more on-hand inventory when you experience high sales activity.

In some cases, it can actually be good for your business to keep a limited supply as this can increase the demand for your product and encourage pre-orders. If you sell out, you can order more and provide discounts or other incentives to your customers for their patience. This is also beneficial to your cash flow because keeping an excess of inventory can tie up valuable cash that could be spent elsewhere. While this is different for all businesses, it is important to find a balance that works for your company.

Challenge: How do I scale a service to export into new markets?

For fast-growing businesses, exporting into new markets is often the next step. This can be intimidating and difficult, but there are ways to help ease the stress associated with scaling. A great way to make connections both in your home country and abroad is to attend a trade mission. Many trade missions will also give you the opportunity to attend special sessions and receive personalized support for your businesses. An upcoming trade mission that you can take part in is “Go for the Greens Business Development Conference for Women Entrepreneurs” which is happening in September 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

There are also a variety of resources available to small business owners that help with scaling, such as the Trade Accelerator Program offered by Enterprise Edmonton. Financing can be difficult, but there are institutions that can lend you enough to meet your needs. AWE offers repayable loans up to $150,000, and in the case that you need more, we can work with our partners to try to get you what you need.

Internally, a few steps you can take to prepare your business for expansion are increasing your operational capacity, learning about the culture in your new market, and networking. Expanding your business requires more staff and resources; make sure that you are able to grow your business to accommodate for this change. Furthermore, different markets will have their own cultural values and you may need to shift your marketing strategy to address these. Finally, build your network. The more connections you have the easier your transition will be.

In general, seeking our entrepreneurial training workshops is always a good idea. Studies have shown that those women who have participated in workshops or support meetings reported greater improvement and access to financing (October 2016 Report for WeSK by PwC).  The learnings/workshops, via technology, can be easily accessed by webinars which help to accommodate travel, time and busy schedules.

Aside from those, there are also a number of free or affordable resources provided for women in rural and urban settings. For example, I’d recommend reaching out to the following organizations that offer programs or networking opportunities at no cost or a small fee to help women entrepreneurs with skills training:

Regardless of what stage of business you’re in, you are not alone in the challenges you face! Owning and operating a business is no easy feat and if you find that you’re struggling with a certain aspect of it, don’t worry because there are a variety of support systems out there to help you reach your goals. With a little bit of a boost and guidance, you’ll be on the right track!