Our world towards the end of 2021 remains as uncertain as it did at the end of 2020 – even though the powers that be are pretending business as (the old) usual has returned.
COVID-19 continues to dominate out lives and in many ways has made us more introspective. We are worried about our own financial security, and since the 9/11 anniversary and Taliban taking back control of Afganistan, perhaps our physical security too.
However, if we are to have a successful future we need to face tomorrow in a more positive way than perhaps we have done in the last couple of years. There are many people in the world living with far bigger problems than we can ever imagine encountering. The pictures of Afgans throwing themselves at planes in a desparate attempt to leave the country is proof of that.
Yes, plan for the worst but let’s really HOPE for the best. After all, a positive attitude is rewarded with positive results.
There is no end in sight to the current pandemic and it is likely that our lives will be affected by it until a vaccine is found. This means that planning is particularly difficult. Our world of certainties has been destroyed.
In truth,the certainty we think we can rely on in life is often just an illusion. Whilst we can control how we react to the issues we have to face in our personal and business lives, and the decisions we make along our journey, we have very little control over the world around us.
The pandemic has reminded us that the big things that affect our lives are out of our control. We can do our part in ensuring we do not get, and then pass on, COVID-19. We can try to reduce our impact on the planet by reducing the rubbish we produce and the emissions we are responsible for. But at the end of the day our impact will always be minute.
It is because of the enormous impact our environment has on our lives that we are in a very lucky situation.
We are incredibly lucky to live in a wealthy country that is relatively unaffected by blights and famines. Our economy, despite the hammering it has taken in the last few months, is still pretty strong when compared to many other countries’.
Even the weather, that we love to complain about, is pretty tame – no hurricanes and tornados for us. Although global warming has meant that some coastal residents have lost houses, the vast majority of us can be confident that the homes we live in will survive us.
Like our European neighbours we live in a politically stable country where the impacts of any election on our day to day lives is pretty minimal. We are highly unlikely to have to live under a military dictatorship where we could lose our lives, or loved ones, at any moment.
And yet the news is full of how badly off we are as a nation. Politicians play on peoples fears that we are being swamped by immigrants who will take our jobs and diminish our lives.
The fact is that the reason refugees want to come here is that they have sussed something that we often forget – this is a pretty great country to live in.
We are all incredibly lucky and have much to be grateful for – we just need to remember that fact!
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.
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.
It’s that time of year when we come up with fantastic ideas and resolutions for the year ahead. Unfortunately, these ideas and resolutions, which seemed so fantastic in 2019, will have been forgotten very early on in 2020 The reason for this is that we tend to come up with woolly, general thoughts rather than a real plan for change.
How about making this year different? If you really want to change your business, your work/life balance, your effectiveness or any other aspect of your life, you have to think through what you want to achieve.
What are your timescales? What are your specific goals? How will you measure change? What resources will you need? Who do you need to help you?
Once you have thought through all the aspects of your idea write them down so you have a point of reference – and then DO IT!
By taking the time to plan you will find it much more likely that you will keep your resolutions and move forward.
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:
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!
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!
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!”
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!
Last month I wrote about the conference I had recently spoken at and how great that was.
Well, since then I have had a variety of ‘wins’ I would like to share with you because they came about because I was able to just take ideas and run with them – surely one of the biggest advantages of running my own business.
Firstly, my second book that had been launched at conference started to sell. I had written it primarily to accompany my conference talk so I had 10 copies printed to sell there – without much expectation that any one would want one! I sold those copies quickly so I decided to promote the book’s availability on Amazon.
Since then I have steadily sold further copies and now there are 60 out there in the big wide world and apparently being read – a real success from my point of view given the very specialist nature of the subject matter.
So it got me thinking was there a lack of training out there – a gap I could fill?
Several of my contacts agreed with me and so I set about creating and then publicising a pilot workshop to be held in Bristol at the end of September.
I have had such a great response that I am not only running one workshop but two and I have a list of people who want to be kept informed of workshops I might be running in other parts of the UK.
Then, out of the blue I was contacted by company I had never heard of before that wanted to be involved in sponsoring the workshops. It turns out they work closely with a good contact of mine, which is how they came to hear about what I was doing.
It’s all been very exciting.
Finally, I have been so motivated by these successes that I became inspired into writing my third book. I woke up at 5.30 one morning with lots of ideas buzzing in my head. So I got up and just started writing!
I have not accomplished so many things, which would normally be right outside my comfort zone, so quickly, at any time in my career so far! I feel completely energised.
It just goes to show what can be accomplished if you just crack on!