Are you planning to do better?

So, are you planning to do better in 2020 than in 2019? Most of us are – and January is the time when we resolve that it will happen. But do you know what better is? And what does ‘better’ mean anyway?

Many business owners, especially if they are a sole trader, struggle to even know whether they are doing well or not.

The reasons for this are as follows:

Firstly, many business owners do not have a plan for their business. This means that, even if they have up to date profitability figures in front of them, they don’t know if the figures are good or bad. It is only by having a robust plan, covering several years and based on your own goals, that you can judge whether your business will meet your goals, or not. A business which does not meet the owners’ goals is not doing well – however much profit it might be making.

Secondly, many business owners do not have up-to-date financial information. This means that even if they know their goals, they have no idea if they are meeting them. Some business owners keep a pretty close eye on sales/turnover but leave the rest to sort itself out. However, sales are just part of the picture. If you don’t control your costs or your cashflow, your business will struggle.

Thirdly, it is vital to know who’s definition of ‘doing well’ is important. For me, the only measure which is meaningful is YOURS. I see business owners struggling to match someone else’s ideal, rather than their own.

Finally, if you don’t know whether or not you are doing well, the chances are you will via to one extreme or the other. You will either believe you are doing far better than you are, or you will believe you are doing far worse. The first delusion will probably mean you come across quite unexpected problems with cash flow. The second will leave you feeling disillusioned and demotivated.

So, do yourself a favour and make sure you have a robust business plan, which you are updating with current financial figures. That way you will know for sure if you are doing well – and you will know if this year is ‘better’, following your definition of the word, than last year.

Fiona 🙂

It’s an uncertain world out there

With all the uncertainties businesses are facing, how can we make our businesses more resilient?With all the uncertainties businesses are facing, how can we make our businesses more resilient?

I think the few years are going to be the least predictable, and most uncertain, since I started my business.

None of us know how Brexit will impact the environment in which we are running our businesses. Even if we do not trade directly with the other 27 EU countries we will be impacted by how the split with the EU effects the UK economy.

Also there is the increasingly urgent issue of climate change. I think we will have to (and should) increasingly consider the environmental impact of the business decisions we make on a day to day basis.

This may mean that we change: the way we travel; the resources we use and how we use them; and the scope of work and the spread of clients we serve.

And then there is the ever increasing speed of technological advances to keep up with.

I can see that each of these issues will cause the costs of running our businesses to rise and the speed of change in the business environment to increase.

So what can we do to make our businesses as resilient as possible given the challenges ahead?

I have often talked about business planning and I am a firm believer that businesses which have a plan are more resilient than businesses run on a more laissez faire basis.

There are several reasons for this. A business run by someone who is very clear on their personal goals will be more focused than one where the business owner is less clear about what they want to achieve. The process of business planning encourages a review of personal goals, which are then reflected in the goals of the business.

Once you have a distinct goal it is easier to decide on the best direction for your business and you are better able to make decisions quickly in response to the changing environment because you are confident about the path you want to take.

This means that you can properly assess the resources you will need to employ get you to where you need to go – whether that’s people, money or training.

In short business planning helps you to build a business that is fit for purpose.

Fiona

Will 2020 be YOUR year?

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 2019, will have been forgotten very early on in 2020 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!

Fiona

May your Christmas be merry and bright!

As a business owner the festive period can be a challenge.

Our families have a set of agendas for Christmas we are expected to fall in with, and at the same time we are trying to ensure that our business does not struggle because of the reduced working days at the end of December.

However, with a little planning it can be possible to keep everyone happy.

Firstly, it is important to manage your business issues.

A key part of this is managing customer expectations of what can be accomplished before Christmas. If you are a service provider you may often be set Christmas deadlines for projects you are working on. This deadline is generally arbitary and there is no business reason why a deadline of 24th December, or 31st December, is necessary. So make sure you have the conversation with your client from the outset to find out what their ‘real’ deadline is. This will take the pressure off you without inconveniencing your client.

One aspect of the Christmas shut down is that companies, particularly large ones, use it as an excuse for not paying their suppliers. If you have invoices which are due for payment just before the holiday period make sure you contact your customers to ensure you are on the last payment run before they shut down. If payment is due over the holiday period see if you can persuade them to pay you a little earlier, so it will hit your bank over the three working days after Christmas.

If you plan to shut down your business over the festive period make sure all your customers are well aware of the fact in advance, so they can contact you if there is anything they need before you close.

For many business owners it is possible to take a break from their business completely. If you fall into this category I would definitely advise you to do – you will return to work refreshed and raring to go in the new year. In any case, most businesses find their customers are on holiday anyway and so taking the break has very little negative impact on the business.

If you do have to work try to compress the work you have to do into as small a time as possible to maximise the time you can have off.

Secondly, it is important to manage your family’s expectations.

If you have to work, make sure your family are aware of your committments so that they plan key events at times you are available to participate. Do not overcommit yourself or you will find the Christmas period very stressful indeed.

If you have staff it is also important that you balance their needs for a break with their families with your own. Many business owners will allow their staff to have a break over the whole Christmas period and then fill any gaps themselves. This means their staff are happy but their own family is not so happy. Your need for a break is as important as your staff’s – as long as you adopt a fair approach to who can take holiday, on which days, you should prevent any big problems.

Fiona 🙂

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 🙂