Workshops And Resources

Wildfire in partnership with StartMeUpRyerson make these workshops and resources freely available to participants.

StartMeUpRyerson (SMU) is a comprehensive venture creation program that leverages Ryerson University's resources as the largest business school and largest entrepreneurship program in Canada.


Biz 101

12 tips for getting your business started on a solid foundation.

Companies need to have specific, identifiable and defendable missions and beliefs

Mention the word "branding" and most people think of multi-national companies putting a high sheen on a new product or a political candidate adding a varnish to his latest image. But branding is not mere window-dressing, nor is it a marketing trick--and even the smallest businesses need to do it, according to Debbie Millman, who is the president of the design division of Sterling Brands. "Everything in our world is branded," says Millman, who has worked on the redesign of global brands for Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Colgate, Nestle and Hasbro. "We create constructs to understand ourselves, the way we look, how we feel, what we believe--and we telegraph that 'branding' to the world." Even marriage is a brand, she explains. "You have the ring which is the symbol and the ceremony which is the ritual and you have certain things associated with the institution. And there are specific associations if you are not married." Millman says that companies--whether big or small, new or old--need to constantly telegraph what they stand for and how they want to be perceived, both by their customers and their competitors alike. "A brand," she says, "is simply a set of beliefs. And if you don't create a set of beliefs around your products or services, well, you stand for nothing--you have no values and no vision." She says that every company has to ask if they have a very specific, own-able and defendable mission. "If it doesn't,"Millman says, "then you are not creating something that is distinct enough to survive. And, frankly, you have to ask yourself is it worth surviving anyway." She says that if a company fails to position itself, it's customers will do it for them--and that clearly is not a good way to run a business over the long term, or even the short term. Millman advises that, along with the business plan and the hiring, entrepreneurs think long and hard about their brand and either figure a way of building it themselves or hiring a professional to do it for them. "If not, they're lost," she says. --John Montorio

In Praise of the "Gazelle"
The fastest-growing companies--"gazelles"-- generate about 10 percent of all new jobs

What's the best way to create new jobs? Encourage startups. At least that's the straightforward solution, according to a recent study by the Kauffman Foundation. Dane Stangler, a senior analyst with the Kansas City, Mo., research and education center, noted on the center's website that in any given year the fastest-growing startups--or so-called "gazelle" companies--comprise less than 1 percent of all businesses, yet generate roughly 10 percent of all new jobs. The study recommends several strategies to promote entrepreneurship, including: Removing as many barriers as possible that stall startups--rules that block access to capital, as well as taxation and regulatory burdens; targeting immigrants, which have been known to produce high-growth firms but often suffer from bottlenecks by establishing, for example, a new visa program for those who can raise $250,000 for their startups; and eliminating restraints at the university level that impede researchers from commercializing their innovations. "Without startups, our research shows that net job creation in most years would be negative, so policies that expand firm formation could increase both job creation and the number of high-growth firms," Stangler said. --J.M. 

Use Your Head

You can go with your gut, but there's nothing wrong with good old common sense

We've all heard the stories of the entrepreneurs who succeeded by going with their gut, or because they were brave enough to break what everybody else assumed were the rules. But good, old common sense helped, too, says Nelie Shah, president of Nothing Falls Short, a New York-based marketing firm. Shah, whose client roster includes American Airlines, AT&T, Ogilvy & Mather and Kinkos, offers this straight talk:

  • Package yourself. When pitching your company, lose the Crocs; put on a suit. You and your startup are one in the same. Nobody hires a schlub.
  • Every interaction is an opportunity. Give your business card to anyone you meet. Yeah, that guy behind the deli counter may be a budding venture capitalist.
  • Details. Details. Details. No matter how successful you get, nothing is too insignificant to get your attention. Think Starbucks: Last year it created a new sip-hole stopper to help prevent spills.
  • Never tell a client what they want to hear. You sound cloying. Tell them what you really think. They'll respect you in the morning. Really. -- J.M.


When Small is Big
Four ways the estimated 29.6 million SMBs in the U.S. generate a big impact on the economy

  1. Employ just over half of the country's private sector workforce
  2. Hire 40 percent of high- tech workers, such as scientists, engineers and computer workers
  3. Represent 97.3 percent of all the exporters of goods
  4. Generate a majority of innovations that come from U.S. companies

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, September 2009)


History on Hold
If you call the Census Bureau, you're in for an educational treat

Being put on hold usually means bad elevator music or a boring infomercial. But if it happens to you when you call the Census Bureau, at 301-763-INFO (301-763-4636), you're in for an educational treat. To fill the time until a rep gets on the line, you'll hear quirky and fascinating historical tidbits thanks to the Bureau's "Profile America" daily feature. Some on hold recently learned, for instance, that way back in April 1858 a patent was granted to an enterprising entrepreneur named Hymen Lipman for a new-and-improved product: the pencil - but this one had an eraser on one end. Others callers found out that the first public, self-operated laundry business in the U.S. opened its doors in Fort Worth, Texas, in March 1934. Today, there are close to 14,000 Laundromats across the country doing nearly $3 billion in business. This is good stuff when you're stumped for small talk at your next convention. --J.M.

Be a Penny Pincher
Spend time each week tracking your investments

Invest at least two hours a week--that's right each week--tracking your expenses. Not only do heavies like Intuit and Freshbooks make excellent online accounting tools, but credit card companies like American Express and Bank of America offer solid online budgeting system tools as well. Work with your accountant each week--you have an accountant don't you?--to know before you start a job or a business what is deductible and what is not. Then, track that spending to the penny and keep a running tab of your tax obligation. Also, be sure that money is sitting in a liquid, interest-bearing account. Trust us, the single worst way to go down is to go broke paying last year's taxes. -- Jonathan Blum

No, it Can't Make Sales Calls
Get set up on web-based process management tools to problem solve for your business

Yes, Twitter and Facebook and MySpace are cool and all, but the real Web 2.0 upside for the small business is getting your shop hooked up on a web-based process management tool. Software like Basecamp, Liquid Planner, @task and literally dozens of others will force you, often painfully to organize your tasks, plan ahead and be smart. Plan on going insane installing these suckers to start--what the heck are "my tasks" anyway? But if you stick with it, you will build a robust problem-solving system that works for you and your business. A system that get you out alive when it all invariably goes south. -- J. B.

Keep What's Yours
Protect your identity

It's likely that you will be doing business in the beginning using your own name, address and social security number or working for other small firms with limited security and experience in managing identities. Protect yourself by establishing yourself as a corporation, limited liability company or similar business entity. Most states offer excellent online resources. Follow the steps, spend no more than a few hundred bucks and keep your personal identity personal. It's the single smartest thing you can do. --J.B.

Pain and Gain
Personal income goes up and down throughout the U.S.

On the positive front, personal income last year rose 0.7 percent in Maryland, 0.7 percent in West Virginia, and 0.3 percent in Virginia, due mostly to commuters working in Washington, D.C. But elsewhere the pain still lingers: Nevada experienced a 4.8 percent decline in personal income, as casino construction waned; Wyoming lost 3.9 percent mostly from a slide in mining; and New York, with the implosion of Wall Street, saw its personal income fall 3.4 percent. --M.J.

Business Plan Blunders
Four ways to help make your business plan work by avoiding these common mistakes

  1. Poor data. Do your homework, tapping industry resources, demographic data, and general business benchmarking tools likeHoover's and other data marketing companies to support any industry and market share claims you make.
  2. Skewed financials. Work with a knowledgeable advisor and/or your accountant to ensure that you've accurately anticipated your sales, profit margins, and expenses. Many a business has gone under because of overblown sales projections and unrealistically low expense projects.
  3. Lack of scale. If your business meets its projections, you need to show how your operations will grow to support that growth. It's terrific that you have a few cheap suppliers or an outsourced delivery system, but how will those advantages work when your company is two or three times the size it is now. Map out how your supply chain will grow with the company.
  4. Shelf life. Once you've drafted your business plan, if you shove it on a shelf, it's a useless document. Review and update your plan at least two to four times each year, preferably with your accountant. That way, you can make adjustments to your projections, correcting slow growth or responding to fast growth, before you run into issues around cash flow, profitability, and scale. --Gwen Moran

Gwen Moran is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans, Second Edition.

Where Persistence Pays Off
Government contracting can be useful for SMBs

Even small businesses can be successful in government contracting if they're willing to start small and keep knocking on doors. So says a recent survey of small businesses by the American Express OPEN Victory in Procurement (VIP). Polling more than 1,500 business owners, the survey found that small businesses which succeed in government contracting spend approximately $86,000 a year in resources pursuing federal contracts. But the rewards can be great: 80 percent of active SMB contractors on the General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule, the list of approved vendors for the products and services the government procures, have annual revenues of at least $1 million and derive 47 percent of their annual revenues from federal contracts. Worth noting, particularly since commercial bankruptcies increased by nearly 52 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to Equifax, Inc. --Michelle Juergen

Aspiring Entrepreneurs Take Note!
The number of venture-backed deals may be going up

As the economy shakily gets back on its feet, VCs may be more willing to give you a helping hand. In the last quarter of 2009, the number of deals made in venture investment increased to nearly 800, according to the Small Business Association Office of Advocacy. Though VCs invested $17.7 billion in 2009--a far cry from the $30.5 billion in 2007--the growth from Q3 to Q4 in 2009 was hopeful; 100 more deals were made. --M.J.

The Odds of Survival

Seven out of 10 new companies survive two years or more and about 50% survive five years.
--According to SCORE Counselors to America's Small Business

Prof. Sean Wise discusses what the Talent Triangle is, why it is so important, the most common mistake of entrepreneurs and how to view failure. Visit for more resources to help you turn your ideas into reality.

Prof. Sean Wise discusses what the Talent Triangle is, why it is so important, the most common mistake of entrepreneurs and how to view failure. Visit for more resources to help you turn your ideas into reality.

Co-Founder of LavaLife, James Norrie discusses the importance of establishing and maintaining a good business network (Relationship Capital) to assist in your decision marking process. Visit for more resources to help you turn your ideas into reality.



Business Partnerships Need Pre-Nuptial Agreements

By Dr Paul E Adams


As we shake hands celebrating our new partnership, we know it will succeed. Yet, as half of all marriages fail, are the odds of a business partnership success any different? Just as we enter in to a marriage contract to share our lives; do we not have the same expectations of our business partnership?

In our society, with a fifty- percent divorce rate, it is wise to think of pre-nuptial agreements. Yet, before the ceremony, many of us hesitate to ask for a contract as such a request suggests the lack of trust. Nevertheless, we do it. And, half of us are glad we did.

I believe all business partnerships need a pre-nuptial agreement. Such relationships can be complex with such thorny issues as: How do you share the workload? How do you split the profits? Do you have similar goals? What happens if the business fails? And if it does go sour- it can be as painful as divorce with similar feelings of anger, disappoint injustice, and deception.

In the business world, some think a handshake is a macho and romantic way of doing business. While such arrangements are great theater, in real life they are stupid and risky. Just as in marriage, misunderstandings are common. Are you aware that success may create more problems than failure? Money affects our behavior. Do you know how you will react to making or losing it?

Thus, if you are going into business with a partner-before you open the doors, get a written agreement. And, if you are in business, perhaps it is not too late to sit down with your partner and draft an agreement. Here are four major points that I advise you to include:


  1. Write a Job Description. Define the role and responsibilities of each partner. Who is responsible for sales, for filing the tax returns, inventory, advertising, housekeeping, or any of the many tasks in a business? It is vital that each partner know his or her agreed upon responsibilities . If you can t work it out in the beginning when everyone is cheery and optimistic, how are you going to agree when you are facing problems or tough times?


  2. Define Authority. Just as important as defining responsibility, is the need to define the limit of each partner's authority. What is the individual limit? What requires joint authority? Who has the final say? Who can sign checks, hire employees, fire employees, purchase inventory, sign contracts? Who can make commitments to customers or suppliers? As problems can arise from misunderstandings over turf and the right to make decisions, it is important to agree on the limits of individual authority.


  3. Establish Income Guidelines. How do you divide the pie? When your business starts to make money, I hope you have an agreement on splitting the profits. If one partner thinks he or she is the catalyst to the success of the company, there may be a problem without an agreement. Try to avoid it, by reaching an understanding-in writing- before the money starts flowing in.


  4. Get A Buy-out Agreement. A buy-out contract can protect everyone. If you desire to sell your share, you must be treated honestly and fairly, while at the same time protecting your partner and the financial well being of your company. If your venture has been successful, profit may be a strong inducement to cash out. Unless you determine in advance the method to be used to calculate the buy-out price, inflated perceptions of the value of the business can lead to difficult times between partners.

It is my experience, that once an agreement is in place, everyone feels better. You will have removed much of the possibility of unpleasant surprises from a relationship of loose ends to one of definition with a specific understanding of your relationship to each other.

Although, contracts and agreements may work to protect our interests, we can learn from Aristotle, who saw harmonious relationships as critical to well being. He concluded that successful partnerships are a basis of living well. Let me leave you with: Who you select to be in business with is as important as selecting the business to be in.

Co-Founder of BizLaunch, Andrew Patricio discusses using financial statements to create pro forma forecasts for the business plan as well as the importance of managerial financials. Visit for more resources to help you turn your ideas into reality.

What is budgeting and How to budget Find free budgeting templates at our website Co-Founder of BizLaunch, Andrew Patricio discusses the importance of budgeting, sources of budgeting templates, budget accuracy and the benefits of budgeting. Visit for more resources to help you turn your ideas into reality.

Interview with Andrew Patricio, founder of Bizlaunch Short video giving tips on how to start a small business in Canada and managing your cash flow. How to start a business with little or no money

Dennis Ensing, CA of WiseMentorCapital, discusses the process of budgeting, both in short and long term; as a tool to challenge your team to achieve goals as part of an action plan, and as a tool to assess future input feasiblity. Visit for more resources to help turn your ideas into reality.




Accounting 101: Balance Sheet Basics

By Julie King

Two financial statements are used by financial institutions to evaluate a company's loan application, the Income Statement and the Balance Sheet.

The Income Statement shows the sales (incoming revenues) and expenses over a set period of time. This statement is a good indicator of the profitability of a business during a particular period, as it shows the net result when the sales of the business are put against its expenses. The Balance Sheet, on the other hand, shows the business assets, liabilities and shareholder capital on a specific date, and as a result gives a good picture of a company's financial position.

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Assets are anything with commercial value that your business owns. They are divided into three categories: current assets, fixed assets, and other assets.


Current assets are cash, accounts receivable, inventory, and other assets that will likely be turned into cash, bartered, exchanged, or converted into an expense within a year during the normal course of business. Included in the “other current assets” category are loans to shareholders, also known as due to shareholders.

Some business owners will not pay themselves a salary, preferring to take drawings, which they must deal with at year-end. In the current assets section, due to shareholder amounts may artificially inflate current assets if you plan to convert them to bonuses, dividends or management fees at year-end, at which time they become expenses of the business.

Fixed assets have commercial value but are not expected to be consumed or converted into cash in the normal course of business. They are long-term, more permanent or "fixed" items, such as land, building, equipment, fixtures, furniture, and leasehold improvements.

Fixed assets often decrease in value (depreciate) over time due to wear and tear from use. The federal government allows businesses to depreciate items for tax purposes, and it has defined specific depreciation rates for different categories of fixed assets. On your balance sheet, therefore, you will see the initial value of the asset, the amount of accumulated depreciation, and finally the net depreciated value of the asset.

Example of a fixed asset on the balance sheet:

Vehicle     $ 28,000
Accum Deprec - Vehicle     $ -8,500
Total Vehicle     $ 19,500*

* Net depreciated value of the vehicle.


Other assets are things that don't fit into either of the above two categories, yet still belong on the balance sheet. They include things like prepaid expenses, which have value but are not fixed or necessarily to be converted into cash value during the current business year.
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Liabilities are company debts or obligations to outside parties as a result of goods or services that were transferred to your company on a specific date that has already passed. Current liabilities are the portion of those obligations that are to be paid out during the course of the year, while long-term liabilities are the portion of your company's obligations that extend beyond that timeframe.


Current liabilities include accounts payable, accumulated taxes and payroll liabilities, and the current amount owing on business loans and/or leases.

Long-term liabilities, meanwhile, include the balance of your loans, leases, and other liabilities beyond the current calendar year. 
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The Intangibles

While Intangible Assets do not appear directly on your balance sheet, they can be a significant factor when one looks to buy or sell a business or part of the business. Intangible assets include things like good will; intellectual property such as copyrights, trademarks, patents; leases; franchises; permits and so on.


While you do not list these assets on your balance sheet, they are reflected in the sense that they enable you to maintain profit margins and market share, so in turn they show up on the current assets section of your balance sheet through the revenue and profits they create.
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Something that is often difficult for new entrepreneurs to grasp is the way equity is calculated on the balance sheet, where the total assets always equal the total liabilities plus equity.


In other words, your company's equity is equal to the value of its total assets minus its total liabilities. If the business assets are greater than the liabilities, which is hopefully the case, then the equity of the business is the positive difference between the two numbers.

Sample equity calculation:
On Company ABC's Balance Sheet, the Total Assets are $100,000, while the Total Liabilities are $40,000. In this case, the difference between the assets and liabilities is $60,000. Since equity is equal to this difference, the equity of Company ABC at that time is $60,000.

If Company ABC had Total Liabilities of $50,000, with its Total Assets staying at $100,000, then the equity of Company ABC at that time would be $50,000. The increase in the total liabilities of the company in comparison to its total assets causes the equity of the business to drop.
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