A few tips for these challenging times

I thought it would be useful to give some tips to help your business weather these strange times. We have been in lockdown for several weeks now so you may well be looking at how your business may begin to move back to business as usual – or as close to usual business as the easing of lockdown measures will allow.

It is more important than ever to keep on top of your cash flow. Try to do a cash flow forecast (you can download a free guide on forecasting from my website) and predict when critical dips in your bank balance might happen.

It is worth remembering that a ramp up in business out of lockdown will often mean a further dip in your finances. For example, you may need to buy stock or fully fund staff before sales increase.

Claim as many of the government aid measures as you can. 

If you are in retail, hospitality or leisure you should already have applied for the £10k or £25k grant and rates relief. If you have not already done so make sure you apply for this aid.

If you are a VAT payer you can defer all VAT payments due between 20 March and 30 June for VAT returns ending February, March and April. You must submit a VAT return as usual but cancel any automatic payments so the money due isn’t taken. If you are a net VAT reclaimer just carry on as usual.

If you have had to cease, or reduce, trading for the duration you will probably know about the job retention scheme. The portal is now fully functioning so get your claim in as soon as you can. Remember furloughed staff are not allowed to do ANY work for you whilst they are furloughed. However, the government are talking about an adjustment to the scheme to allow for a phased return to work of furloughed staff.

There are three government backed loan schemes available so check them out to see if they are appropriate to your circumstances: the business interruption scheme; the coronavirus future fund; and the Coronovirus bounce back loan (you cannot apply for this loan if you have already taken advantage of the business interruption scheme loan).

It’s the little things

With our world turned upside down, little things can make a big difference to those around us.

It is easy to become so absorbed in our own lives that the we forget to spare a thought for others.

However, a positive to come out of the Coronavirus lockdown has been an increased sense of community. As we are constantly being told, “we are all in it together”.

Some things we have found ourselves doing are not really the way we Brits do things. The clap for key workers is an example. Who would have thought even two months ago that every Thursday we would all be outside our houses clapping?

But the funny thing is that every one in my street seems to enjoy the opportunity to come together and give thanks to people most of us don’t even know. We are just grateful that they are there.

Acts of kindness are springing up all across the country. The number of voluteers putting their names down to help the NHS alone has been overwhelming.

We all want to do our bit to help everyone get through this crisis as best as we can.

Like many of you, my family have been shopping for an elderly neighbour who, until recently we did not really know, but hopefully will get to know better over the coming weeks – all be it from a distance!

As business owners we need to do our bit to help our staff, suppliers and customers weather the storm.

Many businesses are struggling to cope with having to furlough staff, shift their working pattens or even shut down completely until lockdown is lifted. No business will remain unaffected by these unprecedented circumstances.

Some businesses will not survive without help – whether it is financial or practical. If we can look to help wherever we can, we might make the difference between a business failing or surviving.

I am trying to support local businesses wherever possible. It might be as simple as picking up the phone to shoot the breeze with a supplier or customer, or offer support – even the printing of this newsletter is helping a local business. 

If we can help with the little things, and the big things if we can, there is a chance that we may all come through this threat to our local (and national) economy relatively in tact. 

It will take all of us doing our bit to weather this storm. Good Luck everyone!

We are in unchartered waters

Gosh what a time we are having at the moment. The whole world seems to be on a course that none of us could have predicted even a couple of months ago.

For some of us who work from home work has not markedly changed. But for anyone who is running a business that attracts groups of people (retail, restaurants, cafes, travel, and events and entertainment in particular) it is an extremely worrying time.

Although the Government has announced measures to help small businesses to access sick pay for staff and more funding to help businesses weather the storm, it is difficult to see how some businesses will come out of this crisis in tact.

Wherever possible business owners need to try to think creatively. If you own a business where customers generally come to you – is there a way you can deliver to them? Are there ways you can use the internet more to reach your customers? Can you collaborate with other businesses to your mutual benefit?

You should be thinking of making the necessary changes to your business practices as soon as possible. I think the more nimble businesses will be able to seize the new opportunities that invariably arise from times of upheaval.

Whilst any business that fails to adapt to the new world we find ourselves in will struggle.

But cool heads are needed – panicking will not help the situation.

For business owners who work from home but rely on networking events to get out and meet people – and so remain sane – there are opportunites for online meetings and gatherings. Take the opportunities to connect whenever you can.

In our home lives I think that we should try to support our suppliers and local small businesses (if they are open) as much as possible so that they can survive the coming months. 

We also need to look out for each other and offer support where we can. This is particularly true of elderly and vulnerable people around us. Although we are told to avoid mixing – we can offer to shop or do other jobs they are unable to do themselves.

Yes, it is a challenging environment for us all but we can and will survive if we pull together and support each other!

Help yourself navigate these turbulent times

Being aware of our roles in our communities has never been more important.

We are all part of several communities. There is the wider local community linked to where we live; there is the wider business community in which we work; and then there are the smaller communities based around our interests – and of course the close work community that we see on a regular basis.

At a time when people in our all our communities are being forced to stay at home as much as possible it is up to us to seek out those that might need some extra help from us. Whether it is elderly neighbours who need a bit of shopping done or maybe have a dog to be walked, or local suppliers who would really benefit from our custom, we should do our best to help.

From a business perspective we need to make sure that we are fully aware of the government help and guidelines.

There are a raft of measures designed to help us as employers – no one wants to be in a situation where they are laying people off because of Covid-19 so make sure you understand what furloughing is and how the system works. Make sure you know if you are eligible for the rates holiday – and if necessary check out the new business loan scheme.

There is now a scheme to help the self employed. If you are in that category make sure you know what you are entitle to and claim it!

There is help out there so do make sure you keep on top of it. Whilst some of the cash may not be forth coming for a few weeks at least knowing you are entitled to it should help you to plan for your business survival!

Fiona 🙂

Are you authentic?

I have been thinking quite a bit about authenticity recently.

I have been to a couple of tribute band gigs over the last couple of months – Bjorn Again, T Rextasy and Fleetwood Bac.

They were all excellent and certainly knew the material of the iconic bands they were imitating.

But, at the end of the day, their acts were just imitations of the real thing. As good as their musicianship was they just did not have that spark that sets truly great bands apart from the rest.

My friends and I had a great time at the gigs and I am not saying that I wouldn’t be happy to see any of them again (indeed it was the second time that we had been to see Bjorn Again). But I know that if I ever had the chance to see the real thing the experience would be more amazing and more authentic.

The real thing will always trump an imitation.

Dave Harries and Angela Jones produce an excellent podcast called the Communication Paradox and much of their focus is on discussing the benefits to business people of being authentic.

In January their podcast was recorded as we did a Metwalk around Portishead harbour. They interviewed the people at the event asking if this type of networking helped people to be more authentic than traditional forms of networking. The resounding view was that yes it was.

So, if being authentic is the best way for us to behave in a business setting – which I definitiely agree it is (and, in fact, in our lives generally) – how do we make sure we are our authentic selves?

For me it is about not trying to copy what someone else is doing, or how someone else is being.

It may seem easier to look to copy what other businesses in our fields are doing to promote themselves, or to try to imitate their businesses, but at the end of the day people buy from, and interact with, people.

Our biggest assets are found in our own personality, and the interests we have, that make us genuinely unique. 

They are our superpowers!


A little help

We often need a little help to set our businesses on the right track – especially when we are going through a tough period or a period of change.

This applies to accountants just as much as to other business owners and that is why I am running a series of webinars aimed specifically at the issues accountants have told me they struggle with.

The pricing with confidence webinar has already been successfully run (and I will re run it later in the year) but the other three are happening in each of the next three months:

Questioning and listening – 4th March 20

Creating a business plan with clients – 1st April 20

Establishing the right management information – 6th May 20

If you are interested in finding out more you can go to www.mipsmeanbusiness.co.uk

Are you run ragged trying to do everything?

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 🙂

Education, Education, Education

I had the privilege of spending the day with business and engineering students at Strode College in Street as part of their Employer Ready Event.

The idea of the day was to, firstly, introduce students to the world of employment in a very practical way by spending time with business people and, secondly, to get feedback on what business people thought was important to cover in the new T level qualifications.

In case you are not aware of the T level qualifications, they are designed to run parallel to A levels but offer a more ‘technical’ and practical form of qualification – generally with some form of placement built in.

Companies have often complained that youngsters do not have the skills they need to be productive employees from the outset. So the T levels are a proposed answer to this complaint.

Strode is also very involved in offering apprentiships – which as we all know are a great way of offering on the job training.

The first part of the day was working with 16-17 year old business and engineering students on a project exploring how they might go about making Strode a carbon neutral college. What were the things that needed to be concidered and where would they start?

Although there were some students who were more engaged than others – by the end of the session everyone was taking part in presenting the solutions they had come up with.

The afternoon was spent talking to the degree level students (I had no idea that Strode was linked with Plymouth university and offering degrees) and these more mature students were very focussed and clear on what they wanted from their future careers.

We then had a discussion on the T level business qualifications and what we felt were the modules that would be most important to businesses.

All in all I found the day to be a very positive experience and I was glad to be able to offer some insight into the business perspective.

If you have the opportunity to be involved in something similar I would urge you to take it!

Fiona 🙂


It pays to be brave!

You may have picked up, if we are connected on LinkedIn, that I ran a successful Webinar for CIMA in October.

I have never done a webinar before and so I was quite nervous about the whole thing. Not only because the participants could see me but I could not see them, but also because I was not sure I would get the timings right.

An hour is a long time to be talking for but time can soon run away with you if you don’t time things right – so preparation is key.

Fortunately I did not have to worry about the material as I have written, talked and run courses about how accountants in practice can move their businesses more towards the work they love – and clients really value.

I also did not have to worry about the techie side as Emma Bailey from CIMA was my partner in crime and dealt with that side of things.

On the day itself, however, I was surprised to learn from Emma that 350 people had registered to take part! I knew not everyone would be listening live, but had registered to get the recording of the webinar to watch later – but I still found it a little intimidating to have so many listening (either live or later)!

In the end I could see the counter of participants gradually increase until it stopped at 180 people This was far more than I had bargained for.

Once the webinar had started I did find I got into the swing of it pretty quickly and the hour sped by – and I did not run out of time or material!

The feedback has been great and I came away from the experience with a spring in my step and a desire to do more webinars – and to restart my workshop programme for accountants.

What this whole experience re-enforced for me is that it pays to be brave and try new things. Our comfort zone is stretched when we do (something I wrote about last month), and we are more likely to continue trying even more new things.

Incidentally, I was also asked in October whether I wanted to do a wing walk – but I am not feeling quite that brave yet (or ever!!).

How to collect the cash!

Piggy Bank

In these turbulent times it is more important than ever to be on top of cash collection. However, many small business owners find it a real challenge to chase customers who are late paying.

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 we 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.

Make sure you business succeeds by being cash collection savvy.

🙂 Fiona