Remember the days

If, like me, your school and college days are a dim and distant memory, it is easy to forget the stress that accompanies the waiting for exam results.

For many A’ level students good results can open the door to their university of choice; whilst bad results can appear to firmly thwart hopes of a good career.

Fortunately, we know that exam results are not the be all and end all – even if it feels like it at the time. Often opportunities come to light that mean success can be acheived even if you haven’t 3 A * and a place at a Russell Group University.

I certainly found that my disappointing A levels led me down a road that I would not have previously considered, but was, in fact perfect for me. Instead of studying law at Nottingham I did European Business Studies with a year in Germany – and had the BEST fun!

At the tender age of 18 a world of possibilitles is open to us. We don’t have any responsibilities and so can be very flexible in deciding the route we want to take.
Even at 21 or 22, if we have been to university, we have no path set in stone and can consider many different possibilities for our future employment.

As life goes on it seems our paths become more and more set in concrete. Financial and family commitments seem to stifle our urges to try something new or change course. Even if we are dissatisfied with our working lives we persist with the career we chose years ago because we cannot see a way out.

Even as business owners who have broken away from lives as wage slaves, we often stick to the original business model we drew up when we started out because it is the easiest path – not because we are particularly fulfilled by our work.

I think it is important that we take time to stock on a regular basis. We should ask ourselves if we are making the best use of our skills and limited time – or if there is something more fulfilling we could be doing.

It is great to give ourselves the space to see the world as our 18 year old selves would – as brimming with opportunities and possibiities.

Fiona 🙂

Have you mastered your business finances?

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Many owners/managers of small businesses (and larger ones for that matter) struggle to understand their business finances. This lack of understanding can make it very difficult for them to make the right decisions for their business.

Now, I am sure my accounting colleagues would not mind me saying that, most accountants make lousy entrepreneurs. We just lack the creativity and drive which makes entrepreneurs so effective at getting new business ideas off the ground.

So why should entrepreneurs/business owners be great accountants?

Each role requires an entirely different skill set and way of working and, indeed, a different personality type (if you are familiar with DISC profiling). So don’t be shy about admitting that you are stuggeling with the money side of your business.

Many business owners do not seek the proper help and guidance, or have the right level of financial information, to help them make decision.  To me this is a huge mistake which can lead directly to business failure. As a responsible business owner/entrepreneur you do not need to be a trained accountant but you do need to have enough knowledge of financial issues to run your business effectively.

So what do you need to do to get this knowledge? Well, for starters:

  1. Ask lots of questions of your accountant about why the figures are as they are.
  2. If you only receive figures from your accountant once a year, several months after the year has finished, this is not enough! You need to have regularly updated financial information to make decisions on a timely manner.
  3. Have a properly thought through profit and loss and cash flow forecast so you can manage your cash – and make sure it is regularly updated for what has actually happened.
  4. Don’t just be happy with knowing how much you have sold in total and the margin on this total figure. Ask how you can get information on individual customers, products and projects so you are clear which activities are profitable – and which not.

It is not good enough these days to just shrug and say “Well, I am just not good with figures”. You started your business to make a living for yourself, and any staff you have, and you owe it to yourself, and them, to have a good handle on the money in your business.

To help I have written “your guide to understanding business finances” which can be downloaded for free from my website www.fionabevanfinancialmanagment.co.uk

Good Luck

Fiona 🙂

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

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 🙂

The price is right!

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 loose 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.

For more information about effective pricing please download my guide Pricing

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 🙂

The bells, the bells!

You know starting a new hobby can give you a much needed boost after the winter months. For quite a long time I have been loosely thinking about taking up church bell ringing – or campanology if you want the proper term.

Wells is a wonderful place for hearing the bells pealing out and, of course, bells ringing out is often a sign that a special event, such as a wedding or Christmas, is happening. So I have always loved hearing them ring.

As often happens it took someone else to prod me into actually doing something about it, and in this case it was my son Simon.

I have only been to 5 sessions so far but I am loving it. The others in the band are lovely people and we always end up in the pub after practise! I have to say it is much harder than I had ever thought. There is so much to think about from sorting out the right strength to pull the ropes, to managing the ropes themselves, to trying to keep up with everyone else.But it is great to be learning something new that is complex and needs all my concentration to do even vaguely competently. Bell ringing is also a great mix of exercise (even before we start it is 72 steps up to the ringing chamber) and music.

It occurs to me that, as with many things, there is a great similarity between bell ringing and running a business. Both require a lot of skill to do successfully. Even the basics can be tricky to master and it takes quite a while before things are proceding like clockwork. Even if you have a good degree of skill things can still go off track occasionally.

Also both rely on teamwork. Although each bell ringer is in charge of just one bell, they must be very aware of what everyone else is doing to ensure that the peal is rung correctly. Of course it is the same in business. Even if you work on your own you will still have a team of others around you who are key to your business success.

So if you are feellng that you are stuck in a bit of a rut how about starting something new – maybe even bell ringing like me?

Incidentally the picture above is actually 2. On the left are the proper bell ringers and on the right is the complete beginner hoping that it doesn’t all go Pete Tong!

Fiona 🙂

Wonderful Websites

It’s amazing how developing new marketing aids, such as websites, can clarify your view of your business.The process of instructing someone else to produce something which encapsulates your business means that you have to have a very clear view of your business values and goals.

I am very lucky because the person who has the job of representing my business to the wider world is one of the people who knows me best – my hubby Jeff. He has been responsible for the look and feel of my business pretty much since I started out over 10 years ago and its been a gradual development over the years.

When I look at my website and other marketing bits from 10 years ago they seem very dated now, so I am glad that I have made the effort to keep things fresh.

I come across many businesses that have never changed their image since they started out – sometimes many years ago – and their current marketing collateral seems tired because of it.

I don’t think it’s necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water though. There may be a particular theme or image which your are particularly attached to and you don’t need to throw that away. But I do think that the way our businesses are portrayed on our website, and our other marketing, should be regularly revamped (at least every few years) so it keeps pace with the changes in our businesses.

I don’t know about your business but mine has changed quite considerably over the years and is continuing to change as my own goals and ambitions are molded by circumstance and family need.I am much more confident about what I want to achieve and know so much more about the environment my business operates in than I did when I started out.

I think having websites (I have a couple for the different sides of the business) which clearly demonstrate this confidence are a great asset.

So if it has been a while since you looked at your marketing aids perhaps it’s time to give them a refresh – the process can also refresh your view of your business!

Fiona 🙂