Minding your Ps and Qs


Running your own business can be the biggest thrill you will achieve in your working life, or the most stressful and demoralising experience you can imagine. On some days it is both!

However, I have come to realise from my own experience, from talking to business owners, and from gurus such as Ron Baker, Peter Thompson and Steven Covey, that running a successful business is all about minding your Ps and Qs.

Given the stresses involved in running your own business it is vital you are passionate about your product or service. Let’s face it, it is much easier to engage with potential customers if you can show passion for what you do.

Once you know what you want to do, you need to have a robust plan. We business owners are often knowledgeable about our product or service but avoid those business areas we struggle with – often marketing, sales or finance. The process of creating a business plan forces us to review ALL the areas of our business which are crucial to our future success.

We need to present ourselves to the market. If, like me you run a service lead business, one of the best ways to do this is to network. People buy from people they trust so you need to be out there meeting, and getting to know, local business owners.

Consulting professionals to help in areas you are not expert in is wise. Very few of us are instinctive business people and there will be one or two areas we struggle with. Interesting it is often more cost effective to get an expert in to do an efficient job than to try and do it ourselves.

To me a key element of a quality service is communication – this means listening and responding to clients’ concerns. Even if you sell a product there is a service element to what you do and this will be your contact with your customer.

Effective communication will allow you to qualify a potential client’s needs and what they particularly value. Having established value it should be fairly easy to give them a price.

To close, your business will not be measured by the outside world on what it is but on what people perceive it to be. So keep your ear to the ground and ensure peoples’ perception matches your reality.

Fiona 🙂

The bells, the bells!

You know starting a new hobby can give you a much needed boost after the winter months. For quite a long time I have been loosely thinking about taking up church bell ringing – or campanology if you want the proper term.

Wells is a wonderful place for hearing the bells pealing out and, of course, bells ringing out is often a sign that a special event, such as a wedding or Christmas, is happening. So I have always loved hearing them ring.

As often happens it took someone else to prod me into actually doing something about it, and in this case it was my son Simon.

I have only been to 5 sessions so far but I am loving it. The others in the band are lovely people and we always end up in the pub after practise! I have to say it is much harder than I had ever thought. There is so much to think about from sorting out the right strength to pull the ropes, to managing the ropes themselves, to trying to keep up with everyone else.But it is great to be learning something new that is complex and needs all my concentration to do even vaguely competently. Bell ringing is also a great mix of exercise (even before we start it is 72 steps up to the ringing chamber) and music.

It occurs to me that, as with many things, there is a great similarity between bell ringing and running a business. Both require a lot of skill to do successfully. Even the basics can be tricky to master and it takes quite a while before things are proceding like clockwork. Even if you have a good degree of skill things can still go off track occasionally.

Also both rely on teamwork. Although each bell ringer is in charge of just one bell, they must be very aware of what everyone else is doing to ensure that the peal is rung correctly. Of course it is the same in business. Even if you work on your own you will still have a team of others around you who are key to your business success.

So if you are feellng that you are stuck in a bit of a rut how about starting something new – maybe even bell ringing like me?

Incidentally the picture above is actually 2. On the left are the proper bell ringers and on the right is the complete beginner hoping that it doesn’t all go Pete Tong!

Fiona 🙂

Be cash savvy

Cash is king! and managing it properly is one of the best ways of ensuring your business flourishes. However, many small business owners find it a real challenge to chase customers who are late paying – even though not doing so leaves them in a really tight situation with the bank.

A phrase we hear often is, “They’re a really good customer, so I don’t want to annoy them by chasing for payment”. Let’s just analyse that sentence for a minute. Why are these customers good for your business? Because they allow you to do lots of work for free? Surely, a good customer is one who appreciates your efforts and is happy to pay because they value you. If you have done the work you agreed with your customer, to the level they expected, why should they not pay the agreed price in the agreed time period?

So don’t be shy about collecting YOUR money.

Other problems I see regularly are:

Not setting payment terms up front

If you have not agreed when the customer should pay BEFORE the work is done, you will struggle to collect the money in a reasonable time frame. Make sure your terms of engagement/purchase confirmation clearly state when you expect to be paid.

Setting unnecessarily long payment terms

Don’t assume that you have to offer customers 30 or 60 day payment terms. Start from a position of offering zero payment terms and only offer extended terms if there is a commercial advantage in doing so. Bear in mind that even if you offer 30 day terms you will most probably be paid later than that. As you don’t know the financial position of all your customers the only safe money is the money in your bank account.

Not sending invoices out promptly

If you do not send out your invoices as soon as the work is complete, you automatically build a lag before you receive payment. Invoicing is a chore, but regular invoicing is vital to achieving financial stability.

The most common reason small businesses fail is because they run out of cash.

The most common reason they run out of cash is because they do not collect the money they are owed quickly enough, or allow debts to go bad.

Even big businesses struggle if they don’t manage their cash effectively – just look at the recent example of Carillion!

Make sure you business succeeds by being cash collection savvy.

Fiona 🙂

You don’t have to be a superhero to do the best for your business

super girl

Is this story familiar to you? A business person who is successful in their field but starting to get bogged down in the day to day running of their business. In particular, administration and bookkeeping are starting to grind and take the shine out of their enjoyment of their businesses?

This 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! We cannot, like Superman, create extra time just by wishing for it.

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-£25 per hour you might need to pay an 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 🙂

Wonderful Websites

It’s amazing how developing new marketing aids, such as websites, can clarify your view of your business.The process of instructing someone else to produce something which encapsulates your business means that you have to have a very clear view of your business values and goals.

I am very lucky because the person who has the job of representing my business to the wider world is one of the people who knows me best – my hubby Jeff. He has been responsible for the look and feel of my business pretty much since I started out over 10 years ago and its been a gradual development over the years.

When I look at my website and other marketing bits from 10 years ago they seem very dated now, so I am glad that I have made the effort to keep things fresh.

I come across many businesses that have never changed their image since they started out – sometimes many years ago – and their current marketing collateral seems tired because of it.

I don’t think it’s necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water though. There may be a particular theme or image which your are particularly attached to and you don’t need to throw that away. But I do think that the way our businesses are portrayed on our website, and our other marketing, should be regularly revamped (at least every few years) so it keeps pace with the changes in our businesses.

I don’t know about your business but mine has changed quite considerably over the years and is continuing to change as my own goals and ambitions are molded by circumstance and family need.I am much more confident about what I want to achieve and know so much more about the environment my business operates in than I did when I started out.

I think having websites (I have a couple for the different sides of the business) which clearly demonstrate this confidence are a great asset.

So if it has been a while since you looked at your marketing aids perhaps it’s time to give them a refresh – the process can also refresh your view of your business!

Fiona 🙂

Fact or Fiction


If you saw any of the Christmas films over the festive period almost certainly there would have been snow. It’s a strange thing that our perception of the perfect Christmas still includes something which very rarely – if ever – happens. And all because it was very cold over Christmas’s in the Victorian era when many of our traditions became fixed in the public psyche.

Funnily enough this year we did have snow on the Mendips the day after Boxing Day which we enjoyed hugely – but not on Christmas Day itself.

In business there are similar assumptions which lead us to see the world, not as it is, but how it might have been only a few years ago.

We still believe that we are in control of the image our business has in the market place. If our website is great, and we have marketing colleral which is well thought through, we can make sure the world sees us as we would like. But of course this is a complete fallacy. In a world dominated by social media where anyone can write anything they like about us it is very easy for us to lose track of our public image. All we can do is try to give the best service we can, in a way which engages our customers in as positive way possible. Hopefully this will encourage them to give us great referrals that they make public.

This year with the advent of GDPR we will have to make changes to how we hold information about third parties and how we use that information to market our services. We will have to make sure we get people’s explicit consent to send them items such as the newsletter you are now reading. It will no longer be acceptable to assume consent because a tick box has NOT been ticked.

The changes come into effect on 25th May so make sure you are up to date on how they might effect your organisation.

Fiona:)

New Year’s Resolution time


It’s that time of year when we come up with fantastic ideas and resolutions for the year ahead. Unfortunately, these ideas and resolutions, which seemed so fantastic in 2017, will have been forgotten very early on in 20108 The reason for this is that we tend to come up with woolly, general thoughts rather than a real plan for change.

How about making this year different? If you really want to change your business, your work/life balance, your effectiveness or any other aspect of your life, you have to think through what you want to achieve. What are your timescales? What are your specific goals? How will you measure change? What resources will you need? Who do you need to help you?

Once you have thought through all the aspects of your idea write them down so you have a point of reference – and then DO IT!

By taking the time to plan you will find it much more likely that you will keep your resolutions and move forward.

Don’t wish upon a star – reach for it!

A time to review


As 2017 draws to a close its a good time to reflect on the year and what we have learned.

2017 has very much been a mixed year for me and I have been taking the opportunity, with the end of the year looming, to reflect on my 50th year. Unlike 2016, which was a bonkers year on the national and international front, 2017 was more challenging personally.

The beginning of the year started with the death of my father and all the stresses and strains the loss of a parent brings. I had already reduced my workload when he was in hospital, so I could support both him and my mother, so at least I had some time to mourn.

This time was also useful in giving me space to review my business and seize the opportunity to move into a new direction, which I would probably have missed otherwise.

In previous newsletters I have written about the new series of books and workshops I have developed for CIMA accountants who want to be successful in self employment.

Having written 2 books and run 6 workshops, and taken on several mentoring clients, I am now at the point where I am considering how this side of my business might develop in 2018.

I have really enjoyed taking the workshops ‘on the road’ and so far have been to Stirling, Scotland and London, as well as running the first two pilot days in Bristol.

I am thrilled with the lovely feedback I have had from the guys who have taken part in the day workshops so I am happy that the material ‘hits the spot’.

However, I have been well outside my comfort zone publicising the events and getting people I have never met signed up. I haven’t had to do this type of marketing and sales activity before so it has all been new to me.

That said, I think we all need a shake up periodically. Not only does it give us the opportunity to test ourselves, but also gives us more energy to do those tasks which have become run of the mill.

It is easy to continue doing the same type of things we always have done in business. If people like what we do we often don’t see any point in changing. However, a shake up brings challenges and challenges usually lead to a more exciting and fulfilling business life.

To Party or Not to Party? – that is the question?

This is a question many business owners have been asking themselves this Christmas. With the country in recession and business difficult, is it appropriate to have a staff Christmas party?

In my opinion the answer is a resounding YES!

In fact, the traditional Christmas party is more important than ever as a morale booster and a general ‘thank you’ to staff. When times are hard businesses find they have to cut back on increases in staff salaries and perks. This can leave staff feeling demoralised. A party – and I don’t mean an expensive, swanky one – can help staff look favourably on the company they work for. More than that, not having a party when you have always had one in the past, can leave staff feeling negative.

If money is tight don’t forgo the usual celebration – just look for a way of doing it cheaper. Staff are not generally interested in how much money you spend; they are more interested in the gesture. If you usually pay for everyone to have a meal and drinks in a restaurant, how about this year sharing the cost so staff pay for their food and you pay for the wine – or vice versa? Or you could cut out the middle man altogether and have a party at your house or business premises. Or how about getting them involved in how the budget is spent? Whatever you decide, explain the need for doing something less extravagant than usual and you will have your staff on your side.

Whatever you decide to do, DO SOMETHING and show your staff you are not using the recession as an excuse to play Scrooge.

For any Somerset business owner in the Wells area who works on their own don’t forget the Billy No Mates Christmas Bash. It’s great fun and gives you the opportunity to have a Christmas party even if you work on your own. To find out more or to book just click on the Eventbrite link below.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/billy-no-mates-christmas-bash-2017-tickets-38799276681?aff=eac2

Do you show business confidence?

A business’s confidence is key to its success.

A confident business does not have to apologise for its existence – it can just get on with providing a great product or service.

In an owner/managed business the level of business confidence conveyed is directly related to the confidence you as the owner have in yourself and your business proposition. Even a business which offers great service and is well respected by its customers can be undermined, if you continually doubt yourself.

So how do you keep your confidence levels boosted?

Firstly, make sure you have a great product/service, which you can easily describe to third parties. If you sell a service, productising elements of your service can make it easier for potential customers to understand what you do.

Talk to your customers so you are clear why they buy from you. Although this might be hard at first, it will enable you to talk confidently to prospective clients about the effectiveness of what you do.

Whilst you are talking to your customers, ask them for testimonials. Not only can you use them in your marketing, they will also boost your confidence.

If you know where you want your business to go, you can confidently decide what you need to do to get you there. So, have a robust, regularly updated business plan. Alongside this, try to build a great business skills base. There are many facets to even small businesses, so the more you know about each of them the more effective, and confident, you will be.

Be part of a strong business network. Business networks are a fundamental part of raising the profile of your business and finding support locally. Regular contact with other business owners, many of whom face similar problems to yours, will help make running your business less lonely too.

Finally, think about how you are presenting yourself. If you are well prepared, wear the right clothes for the right occasion, and think about your body language, you will be best able to express yourself confidently.

If you want a little more help with your business confidence download my free guide to confidence on my website
fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/tools