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 🙂

Collecting 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

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

It’s the little things!


Last month my hubby and I went to the US on holiday. This entailed a 10 hour flight to Las Vegas by the end of which our bottoms thought our legs had been chopped of – you know the feeling! Anyway the flight was made so much better because of the little things that happened during the flight – even though we were just bog standard economy passengers.

Firstly, and most importantly, the Virgin staff were good humoured and did everything they could to deal with our little requests – such as getting a green tea bag for me from 1st class! They were cheerful with big smiles, polite and courteous even though they had a full Boeing 747 to cater to. I even had a chat with a couple of lovely stewards as we were waiting to go through immigration – they were so friendly despite being at the end of a long shift of dealing with us passengers and probably desparate to get to their hotels!

Secondly, the in-flight food was really nice and honestly the best I have had. Not only was it tasty but the hot food was piping hot! The peice de resistance was the Gu chocolate dessert which was always going to have me at “hello”!!
It’s great when you get something more than you bargain for and I think we should all try to find the small things we can do to make our clients happy. Of course we need to do the job we are paid to do in the best way we know how.

But, if we want to be recommended and for our clients to be really happy, we need to find those extras that may be unexpected but appreciated.
After all, Virgin’s job was to get us from A to B and there are some airlines who congratulate themselves on doing JUST that – and even give themselves a round of applause for being on time (what we are paying them to do)! But they forget that they are in the service sector – and that customers like to be treated well!

I was once surprised by a client who wrote this: “Fiona…has an incredible ability to collate, simplify and explain financial data that can then be understood and used by any non-finance manager, all delivered with patience, courtesy and, most importantly round here, a sense of humour!”
Who knew a sense of humour was an important attribute of an accountant!”

Fiona:)

Collaboration is fun!


You may well have picked up – because I mentioned it more than once! – that I have a pet project I have been collaborating with Trevor Lever on.

What started out as a one book project soon became two books as we realised that we had enough material to split into two bite-sized, practical handbooks. These will be How to Have Fun Selling and How to Have Fun Marketing.

These first two books will be specifically aimed at accountants in practice but will later be combined into one book for any professional who struggles with sales and marketing.

The collaboration has been a perfect way of focussing on a specific group of people who need help. I know the target audience very well, whilst Trevor knows all about the material we are conveying.

As part of the information gathering stage we had two days of working together to make sure that I captured all his great stuff. Everything was recorded so that I could go back to the converstations when I came to write the two handbooks.

I was able to give Trevor insights into how accountants thought – which he sometimes found astonishing – so he was able to give specific guidance into processes and procedures to help unstick specific problems.

I have learned a terrific amount and, as Trevor has passed on his great teaching materials too, I have been able to confidently transfer some of what I learned into a half day workshop.

My husband Jeff has had ‘fun’ adapting Trevor’s cat images into some great pictures to add some colour to the books. After all you cannot create books called How to Have Fun … if they are not fun to read!

What I have learned (on top of Trevor’s sales and marketing insights) is that if we are able to find fellow professionals to collaborate with, we can enhance our own businesses and provide something different to our customers.

This has no downside and will often lead us into some really interesting areas of learning we had not considered before.

So be open to opportunities and see where they will lead!

Fiona 🙂