A virtual conference?

If, like me, you are getting a bit of Zoom fatigue after so many months of restrictions to face-to-face events and meetings, the thought of a virtual conference is probably not appealing.

However, in the world we currently live in it is a case of a virtual conference or no conference at all. So in that spirita large number of CIMA Members in Practice attended last week’s virtual conference. 

For me, it was particularly interesting from two view points. Firstly, I was a speaker so I was interested in how it would feel to present in the virtual conference environment and secondly, as an attendee I was interested in how the networking side (which so important with these conferences) would go.

On the first point I have done various webinars and workshops on Zoom so I wasn’t too phased by presenting into my computer. However, I am usually using a tool I know well and know exactly what to expect. Fortunately in this case we were able to have a dry run and were well supported by the conference team on the day.

Networking was certainly a very different prospect to usual. Much of the networking at conferences happens in the bar or over lunch. Or you see an old friend over in the lobby and can easily catch up over a coffee. Of course these types of face-to-face networking are unavailable at a virtual conference.

Instead you have to do a bit more work to find the people you want to connect with. There was a virtual lobby with all the names of the people at conference so you could message them. There were also virtual tables in a virtual lounge so you could have Zoom style chats with people around the table.

I was very impressed with the conference platform and the support given by Fresh Start Events who hosted the event. Although there were some technical hitches due to presenters’ varying access to broadband, this didn’t detract from the content delivered.

In all the conference was a great success. It delivered great CPD for the delegates in a way that is becoming all too familiar. Whilst I do not think that this format in anyway replaces face to face conferences, I do think it has enabled great training to happen in challenging circumstances.

We do need to keep our skills up to date and to connect with our peers – perhaps this is more important than ever – so we have to be open to alternative ways of doing so.

What have you learnt lately – part 2

Last year I wrote about learning and keeping our skills up to date. At the time I had just taken part in a Charities and Not-for-profit series of workshops run by my professional institute CIMA. Before the course I had not had much to do with the charities sector but was interested in the possibility of working more in the third sector.

However, it is very interesting how the world works.

The last couple of management accounting clients that have come to work with me have, indeed, been charities and I am loving the opportunity of working in an environment where the focus of the organisation is altruistic rather than profit driven.

So, would I have taken on these clients if I had not done the earlier training? Probably. But I am much more aware of the issues around accounting for charities than I would otherwise have been. This meant that I was more able to get on the same page as them from the outset, than I would otherwise have been.

You never know where opportunities will come. So my message is the same as it was last year – up-skilling will increase your confidence and you ability to maximise the value you offer to clients.

Fiona

Sharing is caring?

I am a great advocate of LinkedIn as an easy to use and quick way of keeping in touch with my network. It is particularly useful at this time when doing face to face networking is a challenge.

For many it is the only way, with the country moving inexorably into more lock down scenarios, to keep in contact with our strategic introducers who are vital to finding new business.

LinkedIn, and other social media platforms, can also be a way of getting much needed information.

But…

There is a lot of unsolicited advice out there packaged in a way that says “read me, read me!!” Some of it is useful but much of it is “fake news”. It is distracting and designed to worry the reader into taking action that may not be appropriate to their business.

Just because someone has written an article and posted it on social media does not mean they are an expert or that their opinions are particularly valid. 

So how do we decide what to read and what to ignore? After all, if we read everything that came up in our feed, or was written as articles and posts in the groups we follow, we would never get any work done!

I think the first thing we need to do is to consider who we want to be hearing from.

This means tweaking our timelines and taking out posts  or unfollowing people we feel are either not on the same page as we are, or who just put too much out there  for us to follow.

There may be people we love to follow, not because we are looking to learn from them, but because they are fun or great contacts for our businesses. These are the people we want to spend our time with. Following these good eggs quite often brings a positive glow to our day.

Of course there will be people that appear on our feeds who we know know their stuff. Again following what they have to say can be a productive use of our time. 

Working from home – as most of us are doing now – can be a difficult juggling act and it is very easy to get distracted by all the noise out there.

Don’t let yourself be way laid by social media – make it work for you. 

A time to be thankful?

There is no end in sight to the current pandemic and it is likely that our lives will be affected by it until a vaccine is found. This means that planning is particularly difficult. Our world of certainties has been destroyed.

In truth, the certainty we think we can rely on in life is often just an illusion. Whilst we can control how we react to the issues we have to face in our personal and business lives, and the decisions we make along our journey, we have very little control over the world around us.

The pandemic has reminded us that the big things that affect our lives are out of our control. We can do our part in ensuring we do not get, and then pass on, COVID-19. We can try to reduce our impact on the planet by reducing the rubbish we produce and the emissions we are responsible for. But at the end of the day our impact will always be minute.

It is because of the enormous impact our environment has on our lives that we are in a very lucky situation.

We are incredibly lucky to live in a wealthy country that is relatively unaffected by blights and famines. Our economy, despite the hammering it has taken in the last few months, is still pretty strong when compared to many other countries’.

Even the weather, that we love to complain about, is pretty tame – no hurricanes and tornados for us. Although global warming has meant that some coastal residents have lost houses, the vast majority of us can be confident that the homes we live in will survive us.

Like our European neighbours we live in a politically stable country where the impacts of any election on our day to day lives is pretty minimal. We are highly unlikely to have to live under a military dictatorship where we could lose our lives, or loved ones, at any moment.

And yet the news is full of how badly off we are as a nation. Politicians play on peoples fears that we are being swamped by immigrants who will take our jobs and diminish our lives.

The fact is that the reason refugees want to come here is that they have sussed something that we often forget – this is a pretty great country to live in.

We are all incredibly lucky and have much to be grateful for – we just need to remember that fact!

Understanding your finances

In these uncertain times it is more important than ever for business owners to have a clear grasp of their financial situation. With the end of government aid in the form of the furlough scheme it might be that further cash flow support is needed to ensure employees can be kept on or it might be that ramping up after lockdown has meant a big investment in stock.

Whatever your circumstances you need to be aware of your finances so that you can make the right decisions for your business.

However, 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 struggling 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. Indeed in challenging times just surviving can take over as the overriding short term goal.

To help you 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:)

All hands on deck – again!

This month I am definitely been lacking in inspiration. It may be because work has been busy, but also because the holiday I have recently taken was to do DIY jobs around the house.

So, I hope you won’t mind that I am revisiting the theme of an article I wrote in 2017, because it is pertinent to the holiday jobs I we have just undertaken. The biggest of which was replacing half of the roof of the cabin that houses the HQ of Bevan Financial Management!

Planning is important so we started off by  asking ourselves some key questions:

  1. What is our budget?
  2. How will we get the materials to do the job as availability of wood etc., has been effected by COVID 19?
  3. What time will we need for the project as we needed to ensure we would not be caught out by rain when the roof was off!
  4. Will we do the job ourselves or get someone in to do it for us?

As you will know from previous articles I am a great believer in getting a professional to do a professional job. However,my husband Jeff is pretty handy at woodwork – and we had built the cabin ourselves originally – so we decided we would do the work ourselves. This decision handily reduced the budget needed – but would hopefully not come back to bite us! 

Our son Alex and I would be Jeff’s labourers! Happily we are both very good at taking instruction from other people – NOT! 

Last week was D day!

We had to make sure we had all the tools and materials we needed before the we started as the time we had available to complete the job was limited. Google came in very handy for finding the supplier of felting and shingles. Luckily, we were able to use a local supplier for the wood who delivered everything in good time and for free! 

The day we chose for the job was sunny and hot with no sign of rain. This helped immensely but it was THE LONGEST DAY OF OUR LIVES!! But it was relatively stress free because we knew exactly what we were doing and were focused on the time we had to do it.

The job came out well and I am tucked up tight for another 8 years (hopefully).

The lesson from all of this? If you have a project, whether business or personal, plan for success and you are much more likely to get the results you need.

A reminder to feed your cats!

I thought I would take this opportunity to remind you about the sales and marketing book I wrote with the fabulous Trevor Lever.

Although my name is on the cover and I did the actual writing, all the great ideas included in the book are Trevor’s. So if you are looking for some inspiration on getting your business kick started following Lockdown this may be the book for you.

It is available on Amazon – just type Catfood Trevor Lever in the Amazon search box and you will find it. It is even eligible for free delivery if you are a Prime member!

Here comes the summer

But it is a summer like no other – holidays are looking doubtful and there are additional COVID 19 issues

Generally at this time of year we are looking forward to summer holidays both here and abroad andbusinesses with staff are planning how to cover for their holiday absences.

But for many businesses where staff have been furloughed the issues are not around what to do when staff are away but what to do as they return after 3 months away.

It is important, if your business is in this situation, to plan carefully how you will manage staff members return to work.

Firstly, there is the question of when you need them to return – or even if there is a job for them to return to. Remember some of your team may be worried that a return to work may not be safe for them. Others will use this as an excuse to have some extra paid time off (although I would hope this does not apply to your team you must be prepared for this reaction).

Secondly, there are the changes you will need to make to the workplace to ensure that you are properly safeguarding the employees as they return – and, of course, any employees who were not furloughed. It may be that some expensive PPE is necessary.

Remember staff will have accrued holiday whilst they were furloughed so have a clear policy on how staff are to take holiday – you don’t want to find that just as staff are returning they are off again!

For those of us who have been working hard during the Coronavirus lockdown a holiday cannot come soon enough.

With lockdown easing it is likely that many of our holiday areas will plan to be back to some semblance of business as usual. But it is difficult to predict what amenities/attractions/hospitality businesses will be open. No one wants to spend hours in the car only to find virtually nothing open.

If you are a business in the hospitality sector there are real issues that need to be addressed. In particular, at what point is it worth your while to open your doors at all? We cannot assume that even without the two meter distancing rule, people will flock back into pubs or cafes. Many people will be very conscious that COVID 19 is still out there.

Featured is a picture I thought I would share – with friends from pre-lockdown days! Remember those? This was during our cycle ride from Wells to Paris in 2018.

Missing you already!

At this point in June I would be looking forward to two events.

Firstly, I would be travelling up to the CIMA MiP conference for an evening the bar with old friends and new. Then I would be spending two days acquiring some great CPD and mixing with other MiPs, getting their take on business life. I even got to speak on the main stage a couple of years ago (hence the piccie).

The conference is a key event in my business life and is a great opportunity in the year to review where I am at. I always come away with some great plans – some of which I implement and some of which lose their lustre by the time I have made the journey home. But either way it is an event I would not miss for the world.

The second event is Glastonbury Festival – and this year we actually got tickets. It was to be the 50th anniversary and, as a local, it was due to be a big deal.

Of course, this year has not turned out to be at all normal and so I shall be attending neither of these events!

And my year will be all the poorer for it!

Joys of lockdown

Is it too early to find things to feel positive about in these unprecedented times?

It is certainly the case that for many business owners the current situation is one of great stress and uncertainty. Many businesses will not be able to survive the period of inactivity – and that is a tragedy.

However, I think there are opportunities too that have come out of our enforced changed circumstances, which I would like to explore.

For many of us the slow down in the pace of life has meant we have had time to reflect on our lives – both professional and personal. We have had some space to put things into perspective and to plan for how we would like our post COVID-19 lives to be.

The future is uncertain for all of us, that is for sure, but then the future is always uncertain. If we wait to plan and review until a time when decision making is risk free, we will be waiting for ever.

Maybe you have found that your business is more robust than you thought. You are weathering the storm and life looks ok. In which case you are in the lucky position – perhaps –  that you don’t have to get as stressed as you used to about your business.

On the other hand, if business was a constant challenge before lock down, and is even more stressful now, perhaps now is the time to reconsider the path you have been taking. Is there something else you would rather be doing to earn your daily bread?

Sometimes we can find ourselves trapped in a set of circumstances that are not positive for either ourselves or our families. This can often be a result of letting your business rule your world rather than you ruling it.

If you are in this situation, don’t you owe it to yourself to question how you might make serious changes so your future is much more positive than your past? 

One thing lockdown has given many of us is a better work/life balance. I am certainly spending much more time doing proper exercise – long walks and bike rides, static rowing… I feel healthier for it and have even lost weight!

This is possible because I am not spending any time travelling to meetings or events. All my work is done from home – I have more productive hours in the day!

I can’t wait for lock down to end but I will need to find a way to hang on to the balance I have found.