Is it just the weather we should be forecasting?

ForecastingIf you mention forecasting in mixed company you can see a small shudder run around the room.

Many business owners don’t know how much money is in their bank account on a day to day basis and look at their accounts only once a year, so the idea of forecasting for the future leaves them cold.

However, in not doing cash flow forecasting (at the very least) these business owners are putting their businesses at real risk. Banks are reluctant to lend money unless businesses can show they have a solid financial base and businesses that don’t control their cash flow can find themselves really struggling – even if they are profitable.

Forecasting forward can help ensure you don’t suddenly run out of money. If things are going badly you at least have forewarning of when you MUST get some money in and have time to do something about it. You can then use your forecast to help the bank – or any other parties you are hoping to secure funding from – understand your business and who investing in your business is a good bet for them.

I have written a free guide to help you with forecasting for your business which you can download from my website http://www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/guides.php

Fiona:)

Price effectively


Pricing is a big problem for most businesses.

In simple terms if you charge too much you may struggle to get customers. Charge too little and you won’t make enough money.

But pricing can reveal more about your company than you may think.

If you regularly price at a lower level than people would expect to pay for your product/service, prospective clients may assume that your work is of a low quality. So bizarrely you may find you don’t get approached by your ‘perfect’ client because they think you are not up to the job.

On the other hand you can be ‘reassuringly expensive’ and draw people to you.

For help with getting your pricing right you may like to download the free pricing guide on my website http://www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/guides.php

Fiona 🙂

Are you an April fool?

getting paid

Over the years I have met business owners who offer a great product or service but are really struggling with their cash control.

One of the reasons is exemplified by a conversation I had the other day with just such a business owner. They have no problems finding the right customer and do a fantastic job for these customers.

However, the business owner has a real stumbling block when it comes to invoicing and debt collection. Firstly, they hate the process of invoicing itself – it is a chore they put off as long as possible. Secondly, once the invoices have gone out they are very reluctant to chase for the money owing to them.

In my opinion they are being an April (and every other month of the year) fool.

They are working hard but because they are not following through, and collecting the money owing to them in a timely fashion, they are struggling to pay their bills.

What makes the situation worse is that they have employees they MUST pay every month irrespective of whether the business is paid or not.

There is a clear lesson to learn here – if you are unable, or unwilling, to deal with the discipline of invoicing and debt collection you must find another way of getting these jobs done. If you don’t, you may lose your business.

So what are the alternative approaches you can take?

Firstly, many bookkeepers are more than willing, and able, to take on the invoicing and debt collection roles for you. The benefits of delegation will way out-weigh the costs.

Secondly, you may already have a member of staff on your team who can take on these jobs.

Thirdly, if you really have to do these jobs yourself, you must change the way in which you approach them. Have a very clear procedure detailing exactly how often invoicing should be done (at least once a week would be my recommendation), block out time in your diary every week devoted to invoicing and debt collection, and understand that any work you do for clients is worthless unless you are paid for it!

For extra help with invoicing and debt collection please download the ‘Getting Paid’ guide on my website http://www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/guides.php

Good luck

Fiona 🙂

Know your finances inside out!

Jenny teaching

As business owners we need our businesses to make money.

In my opinion an established business which does not pay its owner(s) a decent wage is really a hobby. So given that we need our businesses to make money it follows that we need to be sufficiently au fe with business finances to understand if our business is running our finances, or whether we our running our business finances.

Unfortunately, a large numbers of business owners are not financially savvy enough.

If you would like to see if you are one of these, try answering the questions below:

Do you have a clear financial plan?
Do you know if your business is currently profitable?
At this point do you know how much money is in your bank and what money you can expect in and out of your bank account over the next month?
Do you know what customers/products/services are profitable?
Do you have a robust invoicing and debt collection system so clients pay you in a reasonable time (do you know what reasonable is?)?
Are you always able to pay your suppliers on time?
Can you always pay your salary/dividend/drawings?
Do you know how much you have to sell, and at what price, to provide the lifestyle you want?
If the answer to two or more of these questions is “no” you are probably not as financially savvy as you need to be to run your business effectively.

However, help is at hand and there are ways you can help yourself.

If you have an accountant/bookkeeper ask them questions about your financial position and what you could do to improve it
Talk to your business friends who seem to be financially sorted and ask them what they do
There are volumes of business books out there that can help you understand the basics
Take time to properly plan
You may want to go on a finance for non-financial managers course to learn the basics in a workshop setting.
Finally, I have written a series of FREE financial and business guides which you can download from my website http://www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/guides.php

You can download as many or as few of the guides as you like without registering so please do take advantage of them.

Fiona 🙂

What should I charge?


Pricing is an area many businesses struggle with. It is part science, part art and part psychology. Confident pricing is as much about how we feel about our business and our product/service, as it is about rules and processes.

Many businesses will stick to a cost plus method of pricing. They will add up all the components of a job and add a percentage for profit – job done (?). However, this approach takes no account of the market in which they are trading or the value of their product/service to the customer.

If you don’t know enough about your market you run the risk of overpricing by using the cost plus pricing method. If other suppliers are providing the same product/service as you and charging less than you, you need to know! If you constantly lose work it may be that you are pitching to the wrong type of customer for you.

Alternatively if you don’t understand the value of your product/service to your customer, you could be regularly underpricing. Take, for example, an instance which happened to me a couple of months ago. We had just had new carpeting through out the upstairs of our house. You know how it is, for a micro second everything looks great until… the cat gets trapped in one of the bedrooms and rips up the carpet in front of the door!

I phoned our lovely carpet guy who came along and patched in some of the offcut left over from the original fitting. He did such a good job that we cannot actually see where the join is. Obviously for me this job had a good deal of value because our carpet is pristine again. But he priced on a cost plus basis and so only charged me £15! He probably left over £80 on the table because the job was worth at least £100 to me.

Now cost plus as a starting point is not bad, because at least you ensure you get the minimum price you need to cover your costs – as long as you have a very good idea what those costs are. But relying on it alone will mean that you undercharge clients for whom the value you provide is more than the costs of providing it (plus profit).

For effective pricing you need to do your homework. You need to understand the market you are in; who your ideal customers are and what they value; and you need to have a very clear idea of what you need to achieve to make a profit.

Fiona 🙂

How do you know if you are doing well or not?

Many business owners, especially if they are a sole trader, struggle to know whether they are doing well or not.

The reasons for this are as follows:

Firstly, many business owners do not have a plan for their business. This means that, even if they have up to date profitability figures in front of them, they don’t know if the figures are good or bad. It is only by having a robust plan, covering several years and based on your own goals, that you can judge whether your business will meet your goals, or not. A business which does not meet the owners’ goals is not doing well – however much profit it might be making.

Secondly, many business owners do not have up-to-date financial information. This means that even if they know their goals, they have no idea if they are meeting them. Some business owners keep a pretty close eye on sales/turnover but leave the rest to sort itself out. However, sales are just part of the picture. If you don’t control your costs or your cashflow, your business will struggle.

Thirdly, it is vital to know who’s definition of ‘doing well’ is important. For me, the only measure which is meaningful is YOURS. I see business owners struggling to match someone else’s ideal, rather than their own.

Finally, if you don’t know whether or not you are doing well, the chances are you will via to one extreme or the other. You will either believe you are doing far better than you are, or you will believe you are doing far worse. The first delusion will probably mean you come across quite unexpected problems with cash flow. The second will leave you feeling disillusioned and demotivated.

So, do yourself a favour and make sure you have a robust business plan, which you are updating with current financial figures. That way you will know for sure if you are doing well.

Fiona 🙂

To delegate or not to delegate – that is the question!

Jenny with bunch of papers

I was talking to a businesswoman recently – she is successful in her field but is starting to get bogged down in the day to day running of her business. In particular, administration and bookkeeping are starting to grind and take the shine out of her enjoyment of her businesses.

This is theme I come back to time and again because it 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! There will come a point (or you may already be there) where there is simply not enough time to do all that is needed in your business.

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-£30 per hour you might need to pay a good 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 🙂

Scammers R Us!

scammers
More and more scammers are out there trying to get something for nothing, and the sad fact is that it is often the elderly who fall for their tricks.

This has come to home to me in the last couple of years as my mother has fallen foul of one dodgy scam after another. First it was buying stuff she did not need at inflated prices so she would be put into a draw and win money.

Then she was bombarded by letters saying she had won prizes of thousands of pounds and all she needed to do was send £50 administration fees.

Now neither of these sound like they would be that serious but when you are talking about multiple instances it soon adds up. We discovered that she had sent more than £1500 to these criminals.

But the worst individual instance was recently when she was apparently called by the Canadian lottery who needed £4900 in tax before they could release her third prize of £265k!

It seems that however much we tell her about scammers, and how all of these schemes are bogus, she just does not seem to take it in. I think the trouble is that these scammers are so persuasive that they suspend their victims’ disbelief.

But it is not just the elderly who fall foul of con artists. It is anyone who is a little bit vulnerable, or is going through a hard time, or is just unwary – and that can apply to business people as well.

Phishing scams can be as much a problem for small businesses as for individuals and can lead to your banking information falling into criminal hands.

However, the most dangerous scam is where a fraudster contacts a business pretending to be a supplier. They inform the company that there payment details have changed and the unsuspecting business owner/employee amends the supplier payment details on their system so that any payments go to the scammer and not the supplier.

The moral of all this is that we must be extra vigilant, and unfortunately, become ultra suspicious. We also need to help our more vulnerable family members and friends to understand that you don’t get something for nothing these days (if you ever did) and not to send money to anyone just because they ask you to!

Is big beautiful?

Contracts

It may seem strange advice to beware of winning big contracts. After all most small businesses dream of catching that biggee which will set them up for the future. However, many a great small business has failed because they won a big contract with a large corporation.

The biggest problem is cash flow.

Large companies will often demand slow payment terms, which means it can be several months between paying employees and suppliers your end and receiving payment for your services. It is important to remember that even if you have agreed 30 day payment terms the cash will usually come in quite a but later than that. This is particularly problematic in the current economic climate where banks are reluctant to lend money to tide you over the interim period.

If a large proportion of your business is geared to fulfilling one large contract you leave yourself exposed should the large company you are dealing with has financial problems themselves.

Also, if you have to neglect your traditional client base whilst you complete the large contract you may find you have no business left one the contract is finished.

Now, I am not suggesting you never bid for large contracts. What I am saying is go into the process with your eyes open. Put away your rose tinted spectacles and examine fully what winning the contract will truly mean for your business. Are you prepared to accept the risks as well as the rewards?

Finally, there are professionals out there – such as your accountant – who can help you, so use them.

Fiona:)