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.

Missing you already!

At this point in June I would be looking forward to two events.

Firstly, I would be travelling up to the CIMA MiP conference for an evening the bar with old friends and new. Then I would be spending two days acquiring some great CPD and mixing with other MiPs, getting their take on business life. I even got to speak on the main stage a couple of years ago (hence the piccie).

The conference is a key event in my business life and is a great opportunity in the year to review where I am at. I always come away with some great plans – some of which I implement and some of which lose their lustre by the time I have made the journey home. But either way it is an event I would not miss for the world.

The second event is Glastonbury Festival – and this year we actually got tickets. It was to be the 50th anniversary and, as a local, it was due to be a big deal.

Of course, this year has not turned out to be at all normal and so I shall be attending neither of these events!

And my year will be all the poorer for it!

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.

A few tips for these challenging times

I thought it would be useful to give some tips to help your business weather these strange times. We have been in lockdown for several weeks now so you may well be looking at how your business may begin to move back to business as usual – or as close to usual business as the easing of lockdown measures will allow.

It is more important than ever to keep on top of your cash flow. Try to do a cash flow forecast (you can download a free guide on forecasting from my website) and predict when critical dips in your bank balance might happen.

It is worth remembering that a ramp up in business out of lockdown will often mean a further dip in your finances. For example, you may need to buy stock or fully fund staff before sales increase.

Claim as many of the government aid measures as you can. 

If you are in retail, hospitality or leisure you should already have applied for the £10k or £25k grant and rates relief. If you have not already done so make sure you apply for this aid.

If you are a VAT payer you can defer all VAT payments due between 20 March and 30 June for VAT returns ending February, March and April. You must submit a VAT return as usual but cancel any automatic payments so the money due isn’t taken. If you are a net VAT reclaimer just carry on as usual.

If you have had to cease, or reduce, trading for the duration you will probably know about the job retention scheme. The portal is now fully functioning so get your claim in as soon as you can. Remember furloughed staff are not allowed to do ANY work for you whilst they are furloughed. However, the government are talking about an adjustment to the scheme to allow for a phased return to work of furloughed staff.

There are three government backed loan schemes available so check them out to see if they are appropriate to your circumstances: the business interruption scheme; the coronavirus future fund; and the Coronovirus bounce back loan (you cannot apply for this loan if you have already taken advantage of the business interruption scheme loan).

It’s the little things

With our world turned upside down, little things can make a big difference to those around us.

It is easy to become so absorbed in our own lives that the we forget to spare a thought for others.

However, a positive to come out of the Coronavirus lockdown has been an increased sense of community. As we are constantly being told, “we are all in it together”.

Some things we have found ourselves doing are not really the way we Brits do things. The clap for key workers is an example. Who would have thought even two months ago that every Thursday we would all be outside our houses clapping?

But the funny thing is that every one in my street seems to enjoy the opportunity to come together and give thanks to people most of us don’t even know. We are just grateful that they are there.

Acts of kindness are springing up all across the country. The number of voluteers putting their names down to help the NHS alone has been overwhelming.

We all want to do our bit to help everyone get through this crisis as best as we can.

Like many of you, my family have been shopping for an elderly neighbour who, until recently we did not really know, but hopefully will get to know better over the coming weeks – all be it from a distance!

As business owners we need to do our bit to help our staff, suppliers and customers weather the storm.

Many businesses are struggling to cope with having to furlough staff, shift their working pattens or even shut down completely until lockdown is lifted. No business will remain unaffected by these unprecedented circumstances.

Some businesses will not survive without help – whether it is financial or practical. If we can look to help wherever we can, we might make the difference between a business failing or surviving.

I am trying to support local businesses wherever possible. It might be as simple as picking up the phone to shoot the breeze with a supplier or customer, or offer support – even the printing of this newsletter is helping a local business. 

If we can help with the little things, and the big things if we can, there is a chance that we may all come through this threat to our local (and national) economy relatively in tact. 

It will take all of us doing our bit to weather this storm. Good Luck everyone!

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 authentic?

I have been thinking quite a bit about authenticity recently.

I have been to a couple of tribute band gigs over the last couple of months – Bjorn Again, T Rextasy and Fleetwood Bac.

They were all excellent and certainly knew the material of the iconic bands they were imitating.

But, at the end of the day, their acts were just imitations of the real thing. As good as their musicianship was they just did not have that spark that sets truly great bands apart from the rest.

My friends and I had a great time at the gigs and I am not saying that I wouldn’t be happy to see any of them again (indeed it was the second time that we had been to see Bjorn Again). But I know that if I ever had the chance to see the real thing the experience would be more amazing and more authentic.

The real thing will always trump an imitation.

Dave Harries and Angela Jones produce an excellent podcast called the Communication Paradox and much of their focus is on discussing the benefits to business people of being authentic.

In January their podcast was recorded as we did a Metwalk around Portishead harbour. They interviewed the people at the event asking if this type of networking helped people to be more authentic than traditional forms of networking. The resounding view was that yes it was.

So, if being authentic is the best way for us to behave in a business setting – which I definitiely agree it is (and, in fact, in our lives generally) – how do we make sure we are our authentic selves?

For me it is about not trying to copy what someone else is doing, or how someone else is being.

It may seem easier to look to copy what other businesses in our fields are doing to promote themselves, or to try to imitate their businesses, but at the end of the day people buy from, and interact with, people.

Our biggest assets are found in our own personality, and the interests we have, that make us genuinely unique. 

They are our superpowers!


A little help

We often need a little help to set our businesses on the right track – especially when we are going through a tough period or a period of change.

This applies to accountants just as much as to other business owners and that is why I am running a series of webinars aimed specifically at the issues accountants have told me they struggle with.

The pricing with confidence webinar has already been successfully run (and I will re run it later in the year) but the other three are happening in each of the next three months:

Questioning and listening – 4th March 20

Creating a business plan with clients – 1st April 20

Establishing the right management information – 6th May 20

If you are interested in finding out more you can go to www.mipsmeanbusiness.co.uk

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 🙂

Are you planning to do better?

So, are you planning to do better in 2020 than in 2019? Most of us are – and January is the time when we resolve that it will happen. But do you know what better is? And what does ‘better’ mean anyway?

Many business owners, especially if they are a sole trader, struggle to even 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 – and you will know if this year is ‘better’, following your definition of the word, than last year.

Fiona 🙂