Remember the days 2

This time last year I was inspired by the youngsters who were just getting their GCSE and A’ level results. This year I am taking you back to when you got your first job.

The reason for this direction of reflection is that my eldest son has finally become a fully, tax-paying, contributing part of society after 5 years of university life. He is all set to start as a maths teacher in Cambridge.

This got me remembering when I started my first job at Siemens 30 years ago. I was so naive about the world of work – even though I had had the usual part-time jobs and had done a year’s placement.

When we start out, over-confident in our abilities and sure that the world of work will deliver job satisfaction and plenty of money, we have very little incling of how our careers will develop.

Even 30 years ago there was the expectation that we would stay in the same job, and certainly the same career, our whole working lives. There was a comfort in this, but also a certain lack of imagination.

I certainly never expected that I would start my own accountancy business and have to spend so much time on the edges of my comfort zone – in fact as a youngster my comfort zone was so much wider than it is now as a more cautious adult.

We gradually lose the ability to stretcour comfort zone as we get older and more secure. We are more likely to take the easier path rather than the type of brave new steps we were often taking in our youth.

As business owners we are probably better than most at accepting change and happier to work at the edges of our comfort zone, but I think, even for us, this zone is contracting over time.

But to be successful we do need to push against this trend and ensure that we are as open to new opportunities as possible – even if it means stepping out of the familiar and exposing ourselves to being challenged. 

So take the plunge on a regular basis by finding new things to challenge yourself with so that you exercise the elasticity of your comfort zone!

Talking of taking the plunge, below is a piccie from the Moat Race at Wells last Monday – some teams ended up taking an unexpected plunge!

Help with pricing

One of the most common problems I come across amongst SME business owners (and, in fact, businesses of any size) is deciding how much to charge customers for their products or services.

It’s an important problem to solve as it can make a huge difference to how profitable a business will be. Price too high and you won’t find customers. Price too low and you won’t make money – and perhaps put off potential customers because you are too cheap.

You may well ask how can a product or service being cheap put off customers? Well, if you are advertising a high quality offering to customers, but pricing too low, they will not trust that it actually is high quality.

The place to start when reviewing your pricing strategy is with your costs. If you don’t know with enough detail where the costs in your business occur – as a direct result of producing your sales or as overhead expenditure – you will not be able to price effectively.

As we know, to be profitable a business must at least cover its costs. So knowing all the business’s costs will help to ensure that products and services are priced in a way that covers these costs.

Pricing is such a fundamental skill for all business owners, that I have decided it will be the topic for my first business owner masterclass on-line course – which is now available on the Qintil learning platform. (https://courses.qintil.com/Courses/MiPsmeanbusiness/business-owner-masterclass-pricing).

I have come to think that online learning is a great way of sharing expertise to a wide audience. The tools available to help create an engaging and effective learning experience are getting better and better. 

If, like me, you have been in business for a long time and now feel you have want to share your knowledge with an audience wider than your immediate client base, how about having a go at creating your own online course?

Personally, I use a tool called Easygenerator. It is very easy to use and you can upload videos and audio files as well as the usual written content. You can try it out for free and see if you like the quiz templates provided and the format of the courses.

I have certainly enjoyed playing around with what I can produce for business owners who need inexpensive help in key areas of their business finances.

Of Course

Last month I had a fantastic breakthrough!

I have loved running the series of workshops up and down the country for accountants in practice but have got to the stage that I have to take a break – because it is very difficult to market courses around the country in the post GDPR environment.

I was getting quite discouraged until I had a chat with my good friend Alison. She is a business coach and has delivered quite a lot of training over the years. She suggested developing an on-line group of courses.

So I decided that’s what I am going to do. I will use the course material I have already developed, along with new quizzes and other fun learning aids. Furthermore, I will also develop a series of courses for business owners to help them master their finances.

Well, much of October was spent investigating on-line platforms and training tools – along with putting together the first 3 courses (hopefully the first of many).

It’s been hard work but a lot of fun!

What I have found exciting is that I have been able to make use of quite a lot of material that was in my back catelogue. Not only have I been able to make use of material I gathered for my books but, in the past, I have had some great opportunities to gather  material in other mediums that I can use now.

For example, I have been interviewed by Alan Philpott of Glastonbury FM for their Packed Lunch programme. Alan sent me all the interviews and I have been able to use extracts to liven up my courses.

Similarly, when I ran my first day workshop last September on How to Build a Management Accounting Business for CIMA members in practice, my great friend Angie Cussell videoed it for me. This turns out to have been a great decision. I have been able to use snippets of video in the courses to bring them alive.

As I mentioned, last month Alison got me started on the whole journey but other people have also helped me to develop the course concept.

David Ringsell put me in touch with Qintil which is the platform the courses will be hosted and Sam Easen got me started using the Easygenerator tool to create the courses.

Several people have been Beta testers and given me feedback on any changes I should make to ensure the courses are as good as I can make them – including hubby Jeff.

Trevor Lever and Andrew Stinchcomb have also helped me to crystalise how the whole venture might be promoted.

So it’s been a team effort, for which I am very grateful. In fact most of the best things that have happened in my business have been as a result of the great peeps I have around me – thank you all!!

 

Fiona 🙂

Good, Bad and Ugly

I am not a football follower and this does not change when the World Cup is in town – just thought I would get that confession out in the open from the start.
But I would be very unobservant if I didn’t know that such an event is happening and that a good proportion of the population are fully absorbed by what happens to the national team over the next few weeks.

The mood last Sunday afternoon was euphoric, even in sleepy Wells, when the team resoundingly beat Panama. The whole country takes part in the celebrations when there is success – and falls into depresion when there is failure.

This phenomenon does not just happen when football is in town. Nearly every other major sporting event captures the nation’s imagination in a way that we don’t see in other walks of life.

The collective expectation can lead to unexpectedly good results – such as with the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics – or can put so much pressure on sportspeople that they cannot perform to their best abilities – such as iwth most World Cups since 1966.

As we all know business, and the economy in general, is driven by confidence. The economy grows if consumers are confident their jobs are safe and so can spend rather than save. If everyone is negative and pessamistic the spending reduces and the economy suffers.

The press has a big role to play in the national confidence but unfortunately it loves to concentrate on bad news rather than good.

Our business attitudes effect our chances of being successful in a similar way to the way consumer confidence effects the economy. If we believe that our business will succeed it has a much better chance of doing so than if we don’t. According to the news the economy is going to jump off a cliff with Brexit – not a great confidence booster for business.

Recently I have tried to avoid watching too much news – it’s just soooo negative. I find that I am much more positive as a result – and this helps me to have a more bullish attitude to business decisions.

So let’s resolve to follow the national highs and lows of following sport (and the economy) but reserve the right to be stoically optimistic – even in the face of apparent obsticles!

Fiona 🙂

Are you your own worst enemy?

I talk to many self-employed Chartered Management Accountants up and down the country who are not quite achieving the success they deserve.

As with many business owners one of their key problems is a lack of confidence, not in their abilities as accountants. This means they have difficulty in determining the value they bring to their clients. As a consequence they take on work which is below their qualifications and experience, because it is easier to ‘sell’ lower level work if you don’t understand the value to clients of more challenging projects.

It is then very easy to get onto the tread mill of having to take on lots of low value clients/projects just to pay the bills. Because all their time is taken up servicing clients, rather than developing their business, they don’t have time to go after higher value work. This then means they find it very difficult to break out of the rut they have dug for themselves.

Another problem is that, even if they are trying to go after higher level projects, they are not clear enough on what their ‘perfect’ client looks like. To the ‘perfect’ client the work professionals can do for them is of real value. They want the service and are prepared to pay an appropriate fee for it.

Other clients may have been told they need the service but it has less value to them because they do not get why it is important to them. These clients will view a professional’s fees as a cost and are much more likely to want the service at a cut down fee. In this situation the management accountant (in this scenario) may still be in the position of doing a large number of hours for a relatively low rate and have the same problem as detailed above.

They have become their own worst enemy!

The key to understanding the value you can bring to customers is to talk to them! I know this sounds obvious but we are often put off from talking to our clients because we are afraid they will tell us something we don’t want to hear. However, it is more likely they will tell us something we DO want to hear!

If you don’t have any ‘perfect’ clients you will still have introducers and other business professionals with whom you can talk to chrystalise your value proposition.

Although this blog has focused largely on accountants the same problems can be found with other professional service providers and the solutions are the same:

– Have confidence in yourself and your abilities

– Understand the value your clients realise from what you do and charge accordingly

– Concentrate on projects in which you have particular expertise

– Identify your perfect clients and market to them

Become your best friend and give yourself the best chance of running the business you deserve

Fiona 🙂

Oo La La!


You may have picked up from the local press or from my LinkedIn updates that I was part of a group who cycled to Paris at the end of May.

Well I am here to report that the ride was a great success both in terms of the fun we had doing the challenge, and in terms of the money raised for some great causes.

Under the Rotary banner (although only a couple of the riders were Rotary members) our aim is to get as many defibrillators in Wells as we can and we also want to support Reaching the Unreached (an orphan education project).

We think that when all the donations are totted up that we will have raised over £8,000 for our two key causes.

Starting at Wells Cathedral our first day took us through Longleat and via Warminster to Salisbury. Day 2 from Salisbury to Portsmouth was lovely but navigating through Southampton was a bit of a challenge.

Following an overnight on the ferry to Le Havre our longest day on the bike took us to Evreux – 72 miles. Fortunately day four was a half day ride to Vernon giving us the opportunity to visit Monet’s Water Gardens at Giverny. The final day saw us ride into Paris and reach Notre Dame just as the heavens opened!

If you would like to support us go to:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/wellsrotaryclub?

Fiona 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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.