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 🙂

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 🙂

Be cash savvy

Cash is king! and managing it properly is one of the best ways of ensuring your business flourishes. However, many small business owners find it a real challenge to chase customers who are late paying – even though not doing so leaves them in a really tight situation with the bank.

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 I 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.

Even big businesses struggle if they don’t manage their cash effectively – just look at the recent example of Carillion!

Make sure you business succeeds by being cash collection savvy.

Fiona 🙂

You don’t have to be a superhero to do the best for your business

super girl

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 🙂