Here comes the summer

But it is a summer like no other – holidays are looking doubtful and there are additional COVID 19 issues

Generally at this time of year we are looking forward to summer holidays both here and abroad andbusinesses with staff are planning how to cover for their holiday absences.

But for many businesses where staff have been furloughed the issues are not around what to do when staff are away but what to do as they return after 3 months away.

It is important, if your business is in this situation, to plan carefully how you will manage staff members return to work.

Firstly, there is the question of when you need them to return – or even if there is a job for them to return to. Remember some of your team may be worried that a return to work may not be safe for them. Others will use this as an excuse to have some extra paid time off (although I would hope this does not apply to your team you must be prepared for this reaction).

Secondly, there are the changes you will need to make to the workplace to ensure that you are properly safeguarding the employees as they return – and, of course, any employees who were not furloughed. It may be that some expensive PPE is necessary.

Remember staff will have accrued holiday whilst they were furloughed so have a clear policy on how staff are to take holiday – you don’t want to find that just as staff are returning they are off again!

For those of us who have been working hard during the Coronavirus lockdown a holiday cannot come soon enough.

With lockdown easing it is likely that many of our holiday areas will plan to be back to some semblance of business as usual. But it is difficult to predict what amenities/attractions/hospitality businesses will be open. No one wants to spend hours in the car only to find virtually nothing open.

If you are a business in the hospitality sector there are real issues that need to be addressed. In particular, at what point is it worth your while to open your doors at all? We cannot assume that even without the two meter distancing rule, people will flock back into pubs or cafes. Many people will be very conscious that COVID 19 is still out there.

Featured is a picture I thought I would share – with friends from pre-lockdown days! Remember those? This was during our cycle ride from Wells to Paris in 2018.

Joys of lockdown

Is it too early to find things to feel positive about in these unprecedented times?

It is certainly the case that for many business owners the current situation is one of great stress and uncertainty. Many businesses will not be able to survive the period of inactivity – and that is a tragedy.

However, I think there are opportunities too that have come out of our enforced changed circumstances, which I would like to explore.

For many of us the slow down in the pace of life has meant we have had time to reflect on our lives – both professional and personal. We have had some space to put things into perspective and to plan for how we would like our post COVID-19 lives to be.

The future is uncertain for all of us, that is for sure, but then the future is always uncertain. If we wait to plan and review until a time when decision making is risk free, we will be waiting for ever.

Maybe you have found that your business is more robust than you thought. You are weathering the storm and life looks ok. In which case you are in the lucky position – perhaps –  that you don’t have to get as stressed as you used to about your business.

On the other hand, if business was a constant challenge before lock down, and is even more stressful now, perhaps now is the time to reconsider the path you have been taking. Is there something else you would rather be doing to earn your daily bread?

Sometimes we can find ourselves trapped in a set of circumstances that are not positive for either ourselves or our families. This can often be a result of letting your business rule your world rather than you ruling it.

If you are in this situation, don’t you owe it to yourself to question how you might make serious changes so your future is much more positive than your past? 

One thing lockdown has given many of us is a better work/life balance. I am certainly spending much more time doing proper exercise – long walks and bike rides, static rowing… I feel healthier for it and have even lost weight!

This is possible because I am not spending any time travelling to meetings or events. All my work is done from home – I have more productive hours in the day!

I can’t wait for lock down to end but I will need to find a way to hang on to the balance I have found.

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!

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 🙂

It’s an uncertain world out there

With all the uncertainties businesses are facing, how can we make our businesses more resilient?With all the uncertainties businesses are facing, how can we make our businesses more resilient?

I think the few years are going to be the least predictable, and most uncertain, since I started my business.

None of us know how Brexit will impact the environment in which we are running our businesses. Even if we do not trade directly with the other 27 EU countries we will be impacted by how the split with the EU effects the UK economy.

Also there is the increasingly urgent issue of climate change. I think we will have to (and should) increasingly consider the environmental impact of the business decisions we make on a day to day basis.

This may mean that we change: the way we travel; the resources we use and how we use them; and the scope of work and the spread of clients we serve.

And then there is the ever increasing speed of technological advances to keep up with.

I can see that each of these issues will cause the costs of running our businesses to rise and the speed of change in the business environment to increase.

So what can we do to make our businesses as resilient as possible given the challenges ahead?

I have often talked about business planning and I am a firm believer that businesses which have a plan are more resilient than businesses run on a more laissez faire basis.

There are several reasons for this. A business run by someone who is very clear on their personal goals will be more focused than one where the business owner is less clear about what they want to achieve. The process of business planning encourages a review of personal goals, which are then reflected in the goals of the business.

Once you have a distinct goal it is easier to decide on the best direction for your business and you are better able to make decisions quickly in response to the changing environment because you are confident about the path you want to take.

This means that you can properly assess the resources you will need to employ get you to where you need to go – whether that’s people, money or training.

In short business planning helps you to build a business that is fit for purpose.

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 🙂


What have you learnt lately?

If, like me, you are a professional who is required to do a certain amount of continuing personal development (CPD) you will be used to going along to regular training sessions.

Sometimes they can be a bit of a drudge because they are generally all about updating our knowledge rather than gaining new skills.

As time goes on we can get increasingly stuck in the rut of doing the same things for the same people day in and day out. But the work pays the bills and we don’t believe we have a lot of work time to do much else in any case.

However, this type of thinking is a mistake in my opinion. After all, our working lives take up the majority of our actual lives so why settle for drudge?

One way to mix things up is to take bits of time out to do training to learn brand new things – maybe directly related to the work you are doing now, or completely different but complimentary to it.

Over the last year I have done 5 day workshops aimed at helping CIMA accountants understand the world of charities and not for profit enterprises. It was not a world I had particular experience of before but the workshops were fascinating.

My main reason for going was to help with my role as director of Wessex Community Assets but I would have gone along anyway because of my growing interest in community benefit models. 

I will be following up this training with 4 Community Shares Practitioner Training workshops run by COOPS UK with the eventual aim of becoming a registered practitioner. 

I am exited by the prospect of helping local community benefit societies raise money through community share issues to enable them to finance the setting up of shops, pubs and other community focused enterprises.

Slight re-training is enabling me to confidently move more into a world of opportunities I would not have envisaged a couple of years ago.

So my advice if you are stuck in a rut is to look around you and see what training is going on that tweaks your interest and take a punt.

Is time your problem?

Time management is something many people struggle with.

Part of the problem I think is with this concept of ‘time management’. We actually cannot manage time at all – it carries on regardless of anything we mere mortals do. We cannot ‘create’ time or make it stand still whilst we catch our breath. All we can do is allocate the tasks we have to the time available.

There are as many different techniques for doing this as there are exponents of ‘time management’ and some will work for some people and some will work for others. Some people just can’t get themselves organised no matter how many techniques they try.

Much of effectively allocating tasks to time is about your frame of mind. If, in fact, subconsciously you quite like being disorganised and see it as part of your personality, no time management technique in the world is going to be effective. For ‘time management’ to be effective you have to really want to be organised.

If you do want to be effective in your working environment the key is to try different methods and see which one works for you.

For a guide to different ‘time management’ you can download a free guide from my website http://www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/guides.php

Good luck

Professional goal setting

I have written about goal setting on a number of occasions because it definitely makes my life easier, when I am doing business planning with a client, if they are very clear what their personal goals are.

As a business owner any funds needed to achieve personal goals will often need to be generated from the business. So understanding how much is needed, and when, can make it much easier to set the business goals that will deliver against these personal goals.

Someone who has certainly helped me to dig deep and properly think through my personal goals is Andrew Stinchcomb – my partner of the month.

Andrew has a great tool – the financial road map – for helping clients to understand what is important to them in life. This leads to a greater understanding of their goals and subsequently to what funds are needed to meet those goals.

For my husband and I, once we have helped finance our two sons through university, a key goal is to be able to take a year out and go camper vanning around Europe for a year.

The roadmap process highlighted quite quickly that Jeff’s idea of the camper van we were talking about, and my idea were quite different, which was quite amusing. But naturally we settled on what we needed to budget for as somewhere between the two.

Once we had a clear idea of what money we needed to have to make all our plans a reality, it was much easier for me to focus my business so I contributed my part.

We meet up with Andrew on an annual basis to check that everything is on track and he has some wonderful graphs that show how we are progressing.

I must say it is very reasurring to see that our retirement is sorted and we will have enough for our camper van, and other, goals.

The more I work with businesses of all sizes the more convinced I am that good planning is the key to success – and goals are a key driver of good planning.

And the more I work with owner managed businesses the more convinced I am that having clear personal goals is vital to drawing up meaningful business goals.

So, if you are not sure what your personal goals are I recommend that you spend some time with a goal based financial planner.

Make your business resilient to change

For many businesses the last few years have been really tough – and the next couple may be just as challenging with continuing uncertainty around the Brexit decision.

If you own a service business there are things you can do to make yourself as resilient as possible and I include my take on the most important ones below:

Credit control

In a service company the level of customer spend can be quite high. For this reason it is vital that you review the level of credit you are prepared to give clients and stick to it. My payment terms require that clients pay either by monthly standing order or on date of invoice. Even if they don’t pay immediately at least I can chase from the earliest possible point.

Ensure you invoice promptly after work is completed, and, if the job spans several months, agree stage payments with your client so they don’t owe you more than 1 months worth of work.

Bear in mind that none of us really knows what is going on in another company. A seemingly sound company can be on the verge of collapse due to cash flow problems. Credit checking services can help you assess the credit worthiness of a business, but remember their information is out of date to some degree and they don’t pick up the full picture. The only way to ensure you don’t get caught out is to collect the money owed to you as quickly as possible.

Remember, even the banks are reluctant to be banks at the moment – so don’t fall into the trap of acting like one!

The BEST

A key way to thrive is to provide the BEST service you can and be as close to your customers as possible. I see many service providers who think they can get away with average service and who assume clients will stick with them regardless. This is an arrogant assumption which will lead them, quite rightly, to lose good clients to much more customer orientated businesses.

For any business, but particularly for service companies, the relationship you have with your clients is king. A client who knows you well, and believes you are giving him the best, most focussed service available, is unlikely to shop elsewhere, even if he has the possibility of getting the service ‘cheaper’.

Build your referral network

We all know that people buy from people. You are much more likely to engage a supplier who has been recommended to you by a trusted advisor/contact than one you have met fleetingly at a networking event.

For this reason I think it is important to build up a network of people around you who:

– although they are not competitors to you, have the same types of customers as you do.

– understand exactly who an ideal client is for you so they can spot one when they meet them

– understand exactly what you do and the problems you solve for your clients

– are people you would be happy to refer to your contacts so the relationship is mutually rewarding

If you have a strong network you can be much more focused in your marketing and will be much more likely to get the type of new clients you need.

Clearly groups such as Met Walking are a great way to build a strong network of like minded people!

🙂

Fiona