Remember the days 2

This time last year I was inspired by the youngsters who were just getting their GCSE and A’ level results. This year I am taking you back to when you got your first job.

The reason for this direction of reflection is that my eldest son has finally become a fully, tax-paying, contributing part of society after 5 years of university life. He is all set to start as a maths teacher in Cambridge.

This got me remembering when I started my first job at Siemens 30 years ago. I was so naive about the world of work – even though I had had the usual part-time jobs and had done a year’s placement.

When we start out, over-confident in our abilities and sure that the world of work will deliver job satisfaction and plenty of money, we have very little incling of how our careers will develop.

Even 30 years ago there was the expectation that we would stay in the same job, and certainly the same career, our whole working lives. There was a comfort in this, but also a certain lack of imagination.

I certainly never expected that I would start my own accountancy business and have to spend so much time on the edges of my comfort zone – in fact as a youngster my comfort zone was so much wider than it is now as a more cautious adult.

We gradually lose the ability to stretcour comfort zone as we get older and more secure. We are more likely to take the easier path rather than the type of brave new steps we were often taking in our youth.

As business owners we are probably better than most at accepting change and happier to work at the edges of our comfort zone, but I think, even for us, this zone is contracting over time.

But to be successful we do need to push against this trend and ensure that we are as open to new opportunities as possible – even if it means stepping out of the familiar and exposing ourselves to being challenged. 

So take the plunge on a regular basis by finding new things to challenge yourself with so that you exercise the elasticity of your comfort zone!

Talking of taking the plunge, below is a piccie from the Moat Race at Wells last Monday – some teams ended up taking an unexpected plunge!

Metwalking comes to Somerset

I have written on a number of occasions about a new type of networking that imbraces the great outdoors whilst building relationships with a great group of people – Metwalking.

So far the walks have generally concentrated around the Bristol area – such as the one below around Porteshead harbour – and Metwalking has confined itself to just the walks.

However, world domination is afoot! There is now a Metwalking website membership scheme, which means members can take part in sounding boards, to promote their businesses and take advantage of special offers.

Members can also run walks themselves under the Metwalking banner so they are publicised by the Metwalking team. Louise Mcmilan and I are exited to announce a new Somerset based group. The first walk is on 25th September at Cheddar.

So if you want to see what it is all about why not join us?

https://www.metwalking.co.uk/upcoming-events/cheddar-reservoir

Professional goal setting

I have written about goal setting on a number of occasions because it definitely makes my life easier, when I am doing business planning with a client, if they are very clear what their personal goals are.

As a business owner any funds needed to achieve personal goals will often need to be generated from the business. So understanding how much is needed, and when, can make it much easier to set the business goals that will deliver against these personal goals.

Someone who has certainly helped me to dig deep and properly think through my personal goals is Andrew Stinchcomb – my partner of the month.

Andrew has a great tool – the financial road map – for helping clients to understand what is important to them in life. This leads to a greater understanding of their goals and subsequently to what funds are needed to meet those goals.

For my husband and I, once we have helped finance our two sons through university, a key goal is to be able to take a year out and go camper vanning around Europe for a year.

The roadmap process highlighted quite quickly that Jeff’s idea of the camper van we were talking about, and my idea were quite different, which was quite amusing. But naturally we settled on what we needed to budget for as somewhere between the two.

Once we had a clear idea of what money we needed to have to make all our plans a reality, it was much easier for me to focus my business so I contributed my part.

We meet up with Andrew on an annual basis to check that everything is on track and he has some wonderful graphs that show how we are progressing.

I must say it is very reasurring to see that our retirement is sorted and we will have enough for our camper van, and other, goals.

The more I work with businesses of all sizes the more convinced I am that good planning is the key to success – and goals are a key driver of good planning.

And the more I work with owner managed businesses the more convinced I am that having clear personal goals is vital to drawing up meaningful business goals.

So, if you are not sure what your personal goals are I recommend that you spend some time with a goal based financial planner.

Make your business resilient to change

For many businesses the last few years have been really tough – and the next couple may be just as challenging with continuing uncertainty around the Brexit decision.

If you own a service business there are things you can do to make yourself as resilient as possible and I include my take on the most important ones below:

Credit control

In a service company the level of customer spend can be quite high. For this reason it is vital that you review the level of credit you are prepared to give clients and stick to it. My payment terms require that clients pay either by monthly standing order or on date of invoice. Even if they don’t pay immediately at least I can chase from the earliest possible point.

Ensure you invoice promptly after work is completed, and, if the job spans several months, agree stage payments with your client so they don’t owe you more than 1 months worth of work.

Bear in mind that none of us really knows what is going on in another company. A seemingly sound company can be on the verge of collapse due to cash flow problems. Credit checking services can help you assess the credit worthiness of a business, but remember their information is out of date to some degree and they don’t pick up the full picture. The only way to ensure you don’t get caught out is to collect the money owed to you as quickly as possible.

Remember, even the banks are reluctant to be banks at the moment – so don’t fall into the trap of acting like one!

The BEST

A key way to thrive is to provide the BEST service you can and be as close to your customers as possible. I see many service providers who think they can get away with average service and who assume clients will stick with them regardless. This is an arrogant assumption which will lead them, quite rightly, to lose good clients to much more customer orientated businesses.

For any business, but particularly for service companies, the relationship you have with your clients is king. A client who knows you well, and believes you are giving him the best, most focussed service available, is unlikely to shop elsewhere, even if he has the possibility of getting the service ‘cheaper’.

Build your referral network

We all know that people buy from people. You are much more likely to engage a supplier who has been recommended to you by a trusted advisor/contact than one you have met fleetingly at a networking event.

For this reason I think it is important to build up a network of people around you who:

– although they are not competitors to you, have the same types of customers as you do.

– understand exactly who an ideal client is for you so they can spot one when they meet them

– understand exactly what you do and the problems you solve for your clients

– are people you would be happy to refer to your contacts so the relationship is mutually rewarding

If you have a strong network you can be much more focused in your marketing and will be much more likely to get the type of new clients you need.

Clearly groups such as Met Walking are a great way to build a strong network of like minded people!

🙂

Fiona 

What? No conference?

June is conference month for CIMA Members in Practice and for the last 14 years I have been there – whether at Heythrop Park, Heathrow or, more recently, Nottingham.

But this year I had to miss this staple of my working calendar. My eldest son was graduating as a fully fledged teacher (to be set loose real children!) so of course I had to go to his graduation.

So I have been thinking about what I missed most from not going.

I missed the opportunity of seeing some great speakers from Will Kintish (what he does not know about networking isn’t worth knowing) to Levi Roots of Dragon’s Den fame. In the past we have had some excellent main stage speakers including Mark Ormrod, who got a standing ovation for his down to earth talk on his experiences following extensive injuries in the Gulf war, and Debra Searle who rowed across the Atlantic single handedly.

I always enjoy the main stage speakers but it is some of the break out sessions where the real value is gleaned. Practical, relevant sessions on how to run our businesses better have really helped me to develop my business.

I missed the fab gala dinner with entertainment and disco to follow – as anyone will tell you the disco is my favourite part of Conference downtime!

But what I missed most of all was catching up with the great friends I have made over the years who have helped support me and given me the confidence I now have. There are many people on that list but I want to particularly mention Mark Allen, Stephen Milne, Ian Ross, Kim Swarbrick and Antony Holdsworth (although if you look at the photo you will see that Stephen and Ian quickly found a substitute for me in my annual ‘guys in kilts piccie’.

So come what may I will be at next year’s Conference!!

Here comes the summer

On holiday in Rhodes earlier this month

As I am writing this the sun is shining and a heat wave is anticipated for the weekend – even though it is Glastonbury festival time!

Whilst we all love the summer it can bring with it extra managerial problems for business owners who are trying to balance employees motivation, with getting the job done.

It can be difficult to concentrate on doing your job when the sun is shining outside – particularly if it’s very hot. This means business owners need to spend more time than usual focusing their team to their usual level of effectiveness.

Then there is the issue of holidays. If you have staff who have school age children there can be the battle to book time off during the school holidays – and you have to make sure you still have cover for all the roles in your business!

I think that, if you are able to, it can be very helpful to offer a degree of flexibility in working hours to staff who either suffer with the heat or generally want to make the best of the good weather.

Could employees start earlier in the day and finish earlier, for example? Could they work part of the day from home where it might well be more comfortable than in a hot, stuffy office?

In my experience a little bit of flexibility can go a long way to motivating employees to work harder when they are at work.

Then there is the issue of your own holidays. I have seen several LinkedIn posts where business owners seem to be proud that they are still answering emails and responding to business issues whilst on holiday.

To me this is not taking a holiday. 

If you have staff you should ensure that they are empowered (through training and instruction) to act appropriately to problems whilst you are away. 

If you don’t have staff you still need to find a way to balance business needs against your needs for a proper break by: informing clients in good time that you will be out of contact for the duration of your holiday; completing client work before you go; ensuring sales leads are not lost by using a call answering service…

Everyone needs proper holidays to enable them to recharge their batteries and be at their best – and you are no different. I certainly find I return from holiday more effective, focussed and full of ideas just because my brain has had a rest!

Plan for the worst…

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Flooding has become an real risk in many areas across the country, as has coastal erosion, and other natural disaster events, which seem to be more prevalent than in previous decades. As the consequences of global warning are starting to increasingly impact on people’s lives it is important to consider how your business might be affected by future events.

It is a sad fact that at least half of of businesses devastated by flooding (or other natural disasters) will never recover, and those that do, may take a long time to get back on track.

Before they can repair and rebuild there is often the initial wrangling with the insurance company about how much they should pay out, but there are far wider implications to a business than just putting right the premises.

The problem is not just the event itself but the downtime the business experiences whilst the damage is repaired, and the consequences of that downtime.

Do you continue to pay your staff even when they are not able to work and if you do so, how do you afford a wages bill when you have no income coming in? Once even loyal customers have gone elsewhere, how do you persuade them back when you are up and running again?

These are the type of issues many businesses do not consider until forced to do so.

Natural disaster events are just one type of business catastrophe but there are many others all businesses should consider and plan for. The scale of the catastrophe will be linked to the importance of the occurrence to the business.

For example, if your business server fails how big an impact would that have on your business? If all your staff need to access information on that server 24/7 it could cost you dearly and clearly in that situation it is vital that you have a backup plan to cover just that type of emergency.

Alternatively, if you are heavily reliant on one employee what would you do if that employee goes off sick for an extended period of time?

Every business has its own ‘flood’ scenario and it is hugely important that you have a disaster recovery plan to mitigate against the worst effects of a catastrophic event. You need to build your ‘flood’ defenses – first identify the scenarios which could do the worst damage, plan for how you would deal with those scenarios in the most effective way, and ensure you have the ‘backups’ in place.

Of course we hope never to use our backup plans, but at least if we have one in place, we are as prepared as we can be if the worst happens.

Fiona 🙂

Why you should be forecasting

Following on from my previous post I thought I would concentrate on cash flow as a particular area you need to focus attention on.

Many business owners don’t know how much money is in their bank account on a day to day basis and look at their accounts only once a year, so the idea of forecasting for the future leaves them cold.

Many businesses of all sizes fail because they do not have the foresight to ensure that they avoid making poor decisions, or react too late to changing circumstances. In particular, in not doing cash flow forecasting (at the very least) these business owners are putting their businesses at real risk.

Forecasting forward can help ensure you don’t suddenly run out of money. If things are going badly you at least have forewarning of when you MUST get some money in and have time to do something about it. You can then use your forecast to help the bank – or any other parties you are hoping to secure funding from – understand your business and who investing in your business is a good bet for them.

I have written a free guide to help you with forecasting for your business which you can download from my website http://www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/guides.php

Fiona 🙂

Look after your pennies…

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Many owners/managers of small businesses (and larger ones for that matter) struggle to understand their business finances. This lack of understanding can make it very difficult for them to make the right decisions for their business.

Now, I am sure my accounting colleagues would not mind me saying that, most accountants make lousy entrepreneurs. We just lack the creativity and drive which makes entrepreneurs so effective at getting new business ideas off the ground.

So why should entrepreneurs/business owners be great accountants?

Each role requires an entirely different skill set and way of working and, indeed, a different personality type (if you are familiar with DISC profiling). So don’t be shy about admitting that you are stuggeling with the money side of your business.

Many business owners do not seek the proper help and guidance, or have the right level of financial information, to help them make decision.  To me this is a huge mistake which can lead directly to business failure. As a responsible business owner/entrepreneur you do not need to be a trained accountant but you do need to have enough knowledge of financial issues to run your business effectively.

So what do you need to do to get this knowledge? Well, for starters:

  1. Ask lots of questions of your accountant about why the figures are as they are.
  2. If you only receive figures from your accountant once a year, several months after the year has finished, this is not enough! You need to have regularly updated financial information to make decisions on a timely manner.
  3. Have a properly thought through profit and loss and cash flow forecast so you can manage your cash – and make sure it is regularly updated for what has actually happened.
  4. Don’t just be happy with knowing how much you have sold in total and the margin on this total figure. Ask how you can get information on individual customers, products and projects so you are clear which activities are profitable – and which not.

It is not good enough these days to just shrug and say “Well, I am just not good with figures”. You started your business to make a living for yourself, and any staff you have, and you owe it to yourself, and them, to have a good handle on the money in your business.

To help I have written “your guide to understanding business finances” which can be downloaded for free from my website www.fionabevanfinancialmanagment.co.uk

Good Luck

Fiona 🙂

Why delegation is great!

I was talking to a businesswoman recently – she is successful in her field but is starting to get bogged down in the day to day running of her business. In particular, administration and bookkeeping are starting to grind and take the shine out of her enjoyment of her businesses.

This is theme I come back to time and again because it is a common story but one that has a simple solution – DELEGATION.

We may have many ‘good’ reasons why delegation is hard and why we should do all the ‘easy’ jobs in our businesses:

– it can be expensive to pay someone else

– perhaps they will do the job wrongly or prove unreliable

– it will take time for them to settle in and the process will be distracting

However, you cannot escape the truth that however much you try to ‘create’ time by managing it better, there will only ever be 24 hours in a day! There will come a point (or you may already be there) where there is simply not enough time to do all that is needed in your business.

So I would answer each of the objections above like this:

– You are much more valuable to your business than you may credit. Your time is likely to be worth much more to your business per hour than the £20-£30 per hour you might need to pay a good administrator/bookkeeper.

Also there are jobs which only you can do in your business. These undelegatable jobs include creating business strategy, and leading and managing your business (even if you work alone your business needs to be managed!). If administration and bookkeeping are keeping you so occupied you do not have time for strategy, or management, then your business will suffer considerably.

– Are you really sure you are the best bookkeeper/administrator anyway! Surely you did not start your own business to play around with the books or to file!

– If you engage a trained bookkeeper they will settle in very quickly. Also, because they already know what to do as a bookkeeper you won’t have to spend time showing them what to do.

So do yourself a favour. If you have too little time to do the important things in your business – DELEGATE!

Fiona 🙂