Your destiny is in your hands

As we all get back into the swing of work after the Christmas break it is a good time to look forward to what the new year may have in store for us.

Many businesses will find this year a real challenge. There is a lot of uncertainty around what will happen with regards to Brexit and this uncertainty has already lead to reducing sales and profits for many.

It is interesting that often the unknown has a more detrimental impact on the economy than actual problems. You only have to look at how the pound has plummeted, along with the stock markets, over the last year to see that this is the case – even though we have not left the EU yet.

The economyis driven by confidence and that confidence is fragile. The press frosters negative feelings about the future – because bad news sells papers – and suddenly everyone is in a spin,  confidence collapses and, guess what, the economy suffers. It’s bad news, just as the papers warned!

As business owners we have to be careful that we don’t get caught up in a spiral of negativity. Negativity prevents business growth because good decisions are postponed. Investment in the future is delayed as outcomes become, apparently, more uncertain.

The fact isthat good, focussed, businesses should not be afraid of the future because economic downturns tend to favour them, as less well managed businesses fall out of the market place.

The key to success over the coming months will be to focus on making your business as efficient and effective as possible. This is always the case but less so when the economy is bouyant.

If you need to invest for the future growth of your business don’t put off doing so; but before committing make sure that you have a robust business case for the investment. Be in charge of your own fate.

Many companiescut back on marketing and training, but these are the very things that will help your business to thrive when your competitors are floundering.

Above all makesure that you have updated your business plan and built in some ‘what/if’ scenarios. That way you will be clear on the goals you have for the coming year and what you need to do to achieve them. There is no reason why you shouldn’t reach your pot of gold!

So here it is – Merry Christmas

I was looking through my December posts from previous years for inspiration and thought it was worth revisiting some of the themes. Once again the immortal words of Slade burst out of the speakers of shops once again as they have since 1973. 

Whether they make you smile or shiver will often depend on your frame of mind at the time you hear them – or how often you have already heard them in any one day. I have often wondered how shop workers stop themselves running and screaming from their shops when the constant blaring of Christmas pap gets to much for them!

It is unfortunately a sign of the times that Christmas permeates much of everyday life for so long before the big day itself. I think it detracts from the spirit and excitement of yuletide. Whether you are a Grinch or an elf Christmas will affect your business and, in some cases, drive you up the wall.

Some people go absolutely barmy over decorating their space, love secret santas and are generally pretty unbearable from the beginning of November until New Year. As a business owner it can be difficult to strike a balance between allowing staff to have fun and ensuring that business is not too disrupted.  Even when you strike a balance with your staff doing business at this time of year can be a challenge.

It is very difficult to get any type of decision from potential customers in the run down to Christmas. On the other hand Christmas is often set as the arbitary date for the completion of projects – leading to huge pressures on teams.

Customers will often use the Christmas period as an excuse for not paying invoices, citing Christmas close down and staff holidays as the reason. Normal payment systems often do not kick back in until the 2nd or 3rd week of January. The result can be cash flow problems unless you plan to avoid them.

So, unsurprisingly, it is all about planning for a positive Christmas and making sure that you take control of any challenging situations before they cause you a real problem.

Fiona 🙂

Have a merry Christmas!

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This post is a follow on from my previous one at the end of November.

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 🙂

Happy Christmas?


Christmas can be a very hectic time of year and can be particularly challenging for business women with families.

Now, I am sure there are families where the menfolk take on their fair share of the Christmas chores, but I would venture to say that they are the exception rather the rule. Most of the writing of cards, buying and wrapping of presents, the catering and family organising tends to fall on the shoulders of the girls – it’s our traditional role which doesn’t seem to have changed with our entry into the workplace.

This means that Christmas often becomes a juggling act between business and family obligations – often meaning stress rather than fun is the result.

Until a couple of years ago I found it difficult to get the balance right, and two years in a row was actually ill over the Christmas period as a result. It is one of those inexplicable phenomina that as soon as you relax after a period of hectic activity that your body sees it as an opportunity to be ill!

So I decided I had to pace myself to survive and enjoy Christmas again.

Firstly, I try to buy Christmas presents throughout the year – this not only helps with the pacing thing but also helps to spread the cost.

Secondly, I cut myself a little slack and don’t put pressure on myself to provide a ‘perfect’ Christmas. Just because Nigella and Delia have the time and skills to produce endless quantities of delicious Christmas fare, does not mean that we mere mortals have to emulate them. I don’t see the point in spending hours in the kitchen preparing food which my family will demolish in 5 minutes!

Finally, I close the office on the same day the boys are home from university. This means I can spend some quality time with the family. I give my clients plenty of notice so we can cover any issues in good time and, in any case, most of them are winding down too.

So, in parting, I would just like to say this, give yourself a break and enjoy the festive season.

MERRY CHRISTMAS – and a happy 2019 too.

Fiona 🙂

Getting to know you!

“Piglet is so small that he slips into a pocket, where it is very comfortable to feel him when you are not quite sure whether twice seven is twelve or twenty-two.” This Pooh quote is all about having someone you can call on to help when you need it – and don’t we all need people like that!

Successful business owners surround themselves with people who can do the jobs in their company that they cannot do, so they can concentrate on their own strengths. Obviously having employees is one way of filling the skills gap – another is to use consultants and other professionals.

So how do you find skilled professionals who will add great value to your business?

For me referrals and recommendations are the only way to go. If someone I know well has introduced me to someone they have worked with before, I can shortcut the due dilligence process. In my experience good people hang out with other good people.

I make sure that I network in groups that help me to find great people I can use myself and recommend to clients and other contacts. I love meeting new people and networking groups are a great way to keep in contact with my strategic partners regularly. Clearly networking can require quite a lot of time but these days I can enhance my networking by using online tools.

In this respect I like LinkedIn because it allows people to recommend me, and I can read recommendations given to people I might be thinking of using, in a quick and easy to use format. I can also catch up with what’s important to them through blogs and posts.

If I have had a great service from someone I make sure I recommend them so that their profile on LinkedIn is enhanced – I also ask people I have worked with the recommend me. When I get a good recommendation it is a great morale booster and helps others to get a feel of what working with me would feel like.

It’s easy to put networking on the back burner when we get busy but we must continue to do the things that got us busy – or we will experience periods of slack time when one job comes to an end and before restarting our networking re-fills our time again.

How to get paid revisited

getting paid

Getting paid is a blog theme that I come back to on a fairly regular basis because I often come across service providers who are finding it difficult to get paid. There are clearly two sides to this particular coin – us and the client. We can be as much, or more, to blame as our customers for not getting paid, because of the way we think and act.

Firstly, as Brits we are sometimes embarrassed to talk to clients about fees and payment. Some business owners hide behind hourly rates, which means there is no upfront agreement about exactly what the client will be expected to pay. This means it is highly likely there will be disagreement and therefore delay in payment. Not only that, but disagreement about fees can leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Secondly, many service providers are slow to invoice, which means clients receive bills quite a long time after they have had the service. This sends a message to the client that the supplier is probably pretty well off and so doesn’t need the cash quickly (or the invoice would have been sent more promptly). Consequently it is more likely that payment will need to be chased.

Other suppliers do not make it clear what their payment terms are. Now, it is in clients interests to delay payment as long as they can (especially at the moment when many businesses are finding cash flow difficult) so if you are not clear on payment terms you cannot be surprised when payments don’t come through. Make sure your letter of engagement clearly states what your payment terms are and re-iterate these terms on your invoice.

Further to payment terms ask yourself the question ‘Am I a bank?’ If the answer is no (as I expect it is for anyone reading this blog) only give credit if it is absolutely necessary – and then ensure there is some allowance for interest in the price you are quoting! Otherwise, make your payment terms ‘payment on receipt of invoice’. You probably won’t get paid immediately but at least you can chase earlier.

I know business owners who don’t like chasing for payment, even if they have agreed a fixed price, invoiced promptly and have clear payment terms, because they think their good clients will think badly of them. This, in my opinion, is the worst ‘sin’ of all. Firstly, GOOD clients pay as agreed in the contract – a good client is not one who bitches about the agreed price and then fails to pay promptly. Secondly, we are business people who should expect to be paid for a good job done, so there is nothing to be coy about when it comes to asking for what you are legally and morally entitled to!

So, to recap:

1.  Agree clearly with your client the exact terms of the engagement both in terms of job to be done and fee to be paid.

2.  Bill as soon as the job is complete.

3.  Be clear on your payment terms and give as little credit as possible.

4.  Be professional! If money is owed to you do not be coy about chasing for it.

Fiona 🙂

Remember the days

If, like me, your school and college days are a dim and distant memory, it is easy to forget the stress that accompanies the waiting for exam results.

For many A’ level students good results can open the door to their university of choice; whilst bad results can appear to firmly thwart hopes of a good career.

Fortunately, we know that exam results are not the be all and end all – even if it feels like it at the time. Often opportunities come to light that mean success can be acheived even if you haven’t 3 A * and a place at a Russell Group University.

I certainly found that my disappointing A levels led me down a road that I would not have previously considered, but was, in fact perfect for me. Instead of studying law at Nottingham I did European Business Studies with a year in Germany – and had the BEST fun!

At the tender age of 18 a world of possibilitles is open to us. We don’t have any responsibilities and so can be very flexible in deciding the route we want to take.
Even at 21 or 22, if we have been to university, we have no path set in stone and can consider many different possibilities for our future employment.

As life goes on it seems our paths become more and more set in concrete. Financial and family commitments seem to stifle our urges to try something new or change course. Even if we are dissatisfied with our working lives we persist with the career we chose years ago because we cannot see a way out.

Even as business owners who have broken away from lives as wage slaves, we often stick to the original business model we drew up when we started out because it is the easiest path – not because we are particularly fulfilled by our work.

I think it is important that we take time to stock on a regular basis. We should ask ourselves if we are making the best use of our skills and limited time – or if there is something more fulfilling we could be doing.

It is great to give ourselves the space to see the world as our 18 year old selves would – as brimming with opportunities and possibiities.

Fiona 🙂

Have you mastered your business finances?

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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 🙂

How does your garden grow?


It’s that time of year when a plethora of gardening and flower shows spring up encouraging us into our gardens – whether we are competent or not.

I have found that there are three types of gardener. There are those whose gardens are a jungle left to their own devices; those who primp and prune their plants to within an inch of their lives; and those who strive for a balance between the two.

As with all things I think the best approach is the third one – although we have until recently gone for the jungle option (only hacking back when it was absolutely necessary!).

Each of these three gardening routes can be metaphors for business management techniques.

Some business owners prefer a hands off management style. They let their staff get on with it with little guidance or direction. This means less short term hassle for the owner, but is unlikely to give them the results they require.

Others are over-bearing, stifling creativity and self-confidence in their team so much that no-one can work effectively. Certainly no decisions, or positive actions, are made without the business owners express involvement. This again hampers the ability of the business to successfully meet the owners goals.

I think the best way to run teams, is encapsulated in this four step approach:

  1. Recruit with care – as the saying goes it is better to have a hole than an asshole in your business!
  2. Make sure that all your team has the skills and training they need to do their job to the best of their ability.
  3. Be clear on what the business goals are and each team member’s role in meeting those goals.
  4. Let your team do the jobs for which you have recruited them without stifling interference from you. Yes, be there for them when they need you but trust that you have the right people in the right roles. If you doubt that this is so you need to review your team.

Tend your team with care and you may be amazed at the results. Incidentally the same four steps can apply to employing suppliers and other key partners to your business.

Fiona

Great connectors are kings!

I recently went to the Growth Gloucestershire conference and was thrilled to see the great Will Kintish was a key note speaker. He is the master of networking and re-enforced what I have come to believe (probably because I saw Will talk years ago at the CIMA MiP conference) about successful networking.

I am a great believer that effective networking is key to business success. This is particularly so for business to business services. However, it is often difficult to decide which of the numerous networking groups are best for your particular business. It is very easy to waste time and money doing lots of ineffective networking – by ineffective I mean networking which does not result in building ‘real’ business relationships.

I believe that successful networking is less about the format and the networking organisation and more about the individuals in the group. Are they the type of people who are moving in the same markets as you? Are they talking to the people you want to talk to? Can you see yourself building great referral relationships with them? If the answer is yes to any or all of these questions the chances are you have found a netwoking group which may well work for you.

So how do you get the best out of networking meetings?

Having a plan is an excellent start. Some groups provide a list of people who have booked for the meeting so look at who is going and decide who you want to talk to. Groups with a sit down meal often give you the opportunity for you to request to sit next to a particular person – or at least on the same table as that person. So use this facility.

If you have been invited to a group by a member discuss with them in advance who in the group would be good contacts for you. If they can introduce you to each other through LinkedIn or by email in advance you will be happier approaching them at the meeting.

After the meeting FOLLOW UP! However, well you got along with the people you meet they will soon forget you if you don’t follow up with further ‘get to know you properly meetings’ (or 121s). Remember everyone in the room will be meeting lots of people all the time – you need to find a way to make sure they keep you in mind if you want them to work with you.

So, I would like to sign off by saying that it does not matter how many people you meet during your networking – what matters is how many of them you follow up and build a mutually productive relationship with.

Fiona 🙂