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.

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 🙂

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 🙂

It’s great to share

Over the years we build up layers of experience and learning in our chosen fields and this experience and learning helps us to be good at what we do.

Many of the skills we acquire we are barely conscious that we have, because they are so ingrained in who we have become. However, they are often the skills that our clients most value.

Over the last month I have had the priviledge of spending some quality time with some great CIMA members in practice. I have been running a couple of one day skills workshops for them and it was a great experience.

It got me thinking about what made this group so great. The particularly important talents they have (which I hope I share with them) are not ones learned through doing the CIMA qualification, but are as a result of the journey that took them down the CIMA route in the first place and have continued since.

So what are these magic talents:

1. Curiosity. They want to know what makes their clients tick. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it certainly makes for a much more effective professional!

2. They (we) care. Curiosity leads us to get closer to our clients and their businesses, which means that we care deeply what happens to them. This means clients know they are in hands that will only do the best for them – even if tough love is sometimes required.

3. They (we) want to enlighten and share. We know that we are of best value to clients if they have a clarity and understanding of their business’s financial situation. Unlike some other accountants who think they weaken their own position with clients if they explain what the numbers mean.

Unsurprisingly most of the people in the workshop had not really noticed that they had these skills, nor recognised their value. Instead they concentrated on just their acccountancy skills when talking to prospects.

Hopefully the workshop helped them to see the full range of skills they have to offer.

Perhaps it’s worth taking time to think more about your own ‘hidden’ skills!

Fiona 🙂

A little help from my friends!

guidesSince starting my business 10 years ago I have been very lucky to have been surrounded by a network of great people who have given me help and advice, helping me develop my company in the best way for me.

Much of this advice has been freely given, without any thought of direct benefit to the adviser – most of the advisers believing in the mantra ‘what goes around, comes around’.

I believe this too.

If you treat people as you would wish to be treated you can’t go wrong. Further, it is those people who give most freely of their time and energy who have the most successful businesses – not just in terms of money but also in terms of the enjoyment and satisfaction they find in their business life.

Of course, you have to make a living and it does not do to give away the crown jewels for free if they are your source of income. However, there may be people who will never become clients, who can be assisted along their journey.

So I have similarly tried to help small business owners by mentoring and helping where I can. Five years ago I wrote some guides covering key topics relating to business finance and planning. They are designed to help owners of small (and also larger) businesses to get on top of issues which give them sleepless nights, or which are holding their businesses back.

Excitingly I had the opportunity to do some radio interviews based on the guides a couple of years ago and these can also be downloaded and listened to at your leisure.

These guides are my way of giving back so if you are interested in downloading them go to: http://www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/guides.php

You do not need to register with me to down load the guides and they really are free.

Enjoy!

Fiona 🙂

Two’s company – or even three!

As a small business owner marketing can be hard work and expensive. Whether you are going down the networking route, doing presentations, or marketing yourself through more traditional methods, such as adverts, it takes time and money to do it right.

However, there are ways to reduce the costs, and the time you have to spend.

By teaming up with other business owners you can share the marketing time and expense.

An obvious collusion is to put together a presentation with a couple of likeminded businesses in complementary fields. For example, an employment lawyer could run a seminar with an HR expert and a payroll company.

The costs of the venue, refreshments, seminar marketing, handouts etc. could then be shared three ways. As an individual you also only have to prepare enough material for a third of the presentation time – thus saving you time and effort.

There are also hidden benefits of doing joint presentations. Each professional will get a better understanding of the others’ fields. This will make it easier for them to refer their clients in areas they are not, themselves, familiar.

Another way of colluding is having a common website, blog, or other social media presence. I am currently involved in helping put together a fantastic website to introduce business owners to management accountants in their area.

The benefit of such a scheme is that we can create a really great website, which is inexpensive for each accountant, because of the numbers of people who will be advertised on it.

So, why not have a think about which of your business contacts you can do a joint piece of marketing with and see where it takes you.

Fiona 🙂

It’s all about relationships!

image001One of the key ways small business owners in the service sector get business is through referrals – either from customers or from strategic introducers they know well.

But many of us are not very good at requesting referrals or managing the referral process. We often don’t even know the value of a good referral to our business.

In fact, how many of the referrals you get are of the type you want? Or do you end up meeting with prospects, which have been referred to you by a ‘good’ referral partner (by good I mean someone we feel knows our business needs), only to find that they are not the type of prospect you need at all?

Unless we take some level of control over the referral process it is unlikely we will get exactly the type of introductions we need.

One way of taking control is to build really solid relationships with a few referral partners who are regularly updated on they type of business you need – and similarly keep you updated on the business they need. That way you are more likely to get the leads you need.

You can even take it further and include these guys as part of your team. I have this type of relationship with a marketing expert. If one of our clients needs what the other offers we introduce them in a joint meeting (which is free to the client). We discuss their needs, and offer a way forward for the client, after identifying the key areas they need to address.

This is a very powerful model because everyone benefits. The referrer benefits because they are seen as a problem solver who can find solutions beyond their area of expertise by their client; the referree benefits because they have a solid introduction to a potential new client; and the client obviously benefits because their problems are solved with the minimum of effort.

So, if you are looking to grow you business in a controlled manner, review how you get your referrals and work on how you can get a higher quality of introductions.

Fiona 🙂

Your world in your website!

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Why do we have a website?

When I first started my business I felt I had to have a website. I never thought I would get business through the internet but understood that businesses that do not have a website often don’t ‘exist’. Now obviously they do in the real world but the business environment today is so internet orientated that businesses have to be virtual or prospective clients don’t believe they are ‘real’.

This is, of course, bonkers because anyone can pretend to be anything on the web. But there you are – it’s just the way it is.

Think about it – if you are going to have a meeting with someone, or are looking to buy a product/service, where is the first place you go? Even if you are not looking to the internet to make the initial connection with a business you will want to find out more about them by looking them up on line.

So I knew I should have a website but really just thought it would be a ‘brochure’ giving people and idea of what I do.

However, over the years I have come to think differently. I now look at my website as a way of promoting not just me and my business, but also those business people I have come to know and admire.

My website is now not just about what I do but also about the strategic partners I work with, links to my clients websites to raise their profile, space to provide free information, a place to promote events, a home for my blog …  In short it is a reflection of my whole business.

I now believe my website gives a true picture of what anyone will get when working with me – good or bad. This means that people who are not ‘my type of people’ will be deterred by what they see, whilst people who like what I have done will probably like the way I work.

I am very fortunate in that I have a husband who is very talented at translating what I want and how I want it. But I think we can all create something special with our websites these days as content management systems become more flexible and easy to use.

My latest tweak to the website is to have a link page to my book so hopefully anyone who is interested can get hold of a copy really easily.

But we are planning some bigger changes as following an excellent session by Graham Jones at this year’s MiP conference I have been inspired make it easier for potential customers to very quickly find the help they need. Whilst there is lots of information on my website it is perhaps now too big to be navigated efficiently. So this is the challenge for the summer!

I hope this inspires you to look at your own website. Try to see it from someone else’s point of view and ask yourself if it really shows your business in the best light.

Fiona 🙂

Are you as financially savvy as you need to be?

Jenny teaching

As business owners we need our businesses to make money.

In my opinion an established business which does not pay its owner(s) a decent wage is really a hobby. So given that we need our businesses to make money it follows that we need to be sufficiently au fe with business finances to understand if our business is running our finances, or whether we our running our business finances.

Unfortunately, a large numbers of business owners are not financially savvy enough.

If you would like to see if you are one of these, try answering the questions below:

Do you have a clear financial plan?
Do you know if your business is currently profitable?
At this point do you know how much money is in your bank and what money you can expect in and out of your bank account over the next month?
Do you know what customers/products/services are profitable?
Do you have a robust invoicing and debt collection system so clients pay you in a reasonable time (do you know what reasonable is?)?
Are you always able to pay your suppliers on time?
Can you always pay your salary/dividend/drawings?
Do you know how much you have to sell, and at what price, to provide the lifestyle you want?
If the answer to two or more of these questions is “no” you are probably not as financially savvy as you need to be to run your business effectively.

However, help is at hand and there are ways you can help yourself.

If you have an accountant/bookkeeper ask them questions about your financial position and what you could do to improve it
Talk to your business friends who seem to be financially sorted and ask them what they do
There are volumes of business books out there that can help you understand the basics
Take time to properly plan
You may want to go on a finance for non-financial managers course to learn the basics in a workshop setting.
Finally, I have written a series of FREE financial and business guides which you can download from my website http://www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/guides.php

You can download as many or as few of the guides as you like without registering so please do take advantage of them.

Fiona 🙂

Radio Gaga!

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Last week I was given the opportunity to be part of the Packed Lunch radio programme on Glastonbury FM.

I had not previously thought about talking on the radio. But when Alan Philpott proposed the idea it appealed to me, because it gave me the chance to talk about how business owners in the local area could tackle some of their issues.

Fortunately, the programme was prerecorded so it was not too scary. I knew if I made a complete hash of it we could just start again – just as well!!

We recorded 3 15 minute slots to go out in future programmes and these first slots covered how confidence effects business performance, the benefits of business planning, and how to price effectively. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to cover further subjects later in the year.

I have no idea whether anyone will listen but I gained from having taken part.

Doing this type of exercise reminds us that we really do know a substantial amount about our subject – which in turn makes it easier for us to be confident when talking to prospective clients. For me, it also enabled me to give some practical tips to business owners I would not otherwise reach.

So if you have the opportunity to take part in a radio programme I would definitely recommend it.

Fiona 🙂