Have a merry Christmas!

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This post is a follow on from my previous one at the end of November.

As a business owner the festive period can be a challenge.

Our families have a set of agendas for Christmas we are expected to fall in with, and at the same time we are trying to ensure that our business does not struggle because of the reduced working days at the end of December.

However, with a little planning it can be possible to keep everyone happy.

Firstly, it is important to manage your business issues.

A key part of this is managing customer expectations of what can be accomplished before Christmas. If you are a service provider you may often be set Christmas deadlines for projects you are working on. This deadline is generally arbitary and there is no business reason why a deadline of 24th December, or 31st December, is necessary. So make sure you have the conversation with your client from the outset to find out what their ‘real’ deadline is. This will take the pressure off you without inconveniencing your client.

One aspect of the Christmas shut down is that companies, particularly large ones, use it as an excuse for not paying their suppliers. If you have invoices which are due for payment just before the holiday period make sure you contact your customers to ensure you are on the last payment run before they shut down. If payment is due over the holiday period see if you can persuade them to pay you a little earlier, so it will hit your bank over the three working days after Christmas.

If you plan to shut down your business over the festive period make sure all your customers are well aware of the fact in advance, so they can contact you if there is anything they need before you close.

For many business owners it is possible to take a break from their business completely. If you fall into this category I would definitely advise you to do – you will return to work refreshed and raring to go in the new year. In any case, most businesses find their customers are on holiday anyway and so taking the break has very little negative impact on the business.

If you do have to work try to compress the work you have to do into as small a time as possible to maximise the time you can have off.

Secondly, it is important to manage your family’s expectations.

If you have to work, make sure your family are aware of your committments so that they plan key events at times you are available to participate. Do not overcommit yourself or you will find the Christmas period very stressful indeed.

If you have staff it is also important that you balance their needs for a break with their families with your own. Many business owners will allow their staff to have a break over the whole Christmas period and then fill any gaps themselves. This means their staff are happy but their own family is not so happy. Your need for a break is as important as your staff’s – as long as you adopt a fair approach to who can take holiday, on which days, you should prevent any big problems.

Fiona 🙂

Happy Christmas?


Christmas can be a very hectic time of year and can be particularly challenging for business women with families.

Now, I am sure there are families where the menfolk take on their fair share of the Christmas chores, but I would venture to say that they are the exception rather the rule. Most of the writing of cards, buying and wrapping of presents, the catering and family organising tends to fall on the shoulders of the girls – it’s our traditional role which doesn’t seem to have changed with our entry into the workplace.

This means that Christmas often becomes a juggling act between business and family obligations – often meaning stress rather than fun is the result.

Until a couple of years ago I found it difficult to get the balance right, and two years in a row was actually ill over the Christmas period as a result. It is one of those inexplicable phenomina that as soon as you relax after a period of hectic activity that your body sees it as an opportunity to be ill!

So I decided I had to pace myself to survive and enjoy Christmas again.

Firstly, I try to buy Christmas presents throughout the year – this not only helps with the pacing thing but also helps to spread the cost.

Secondly, I cut myself a little slack and don’t put pressure on myself to provide a ‘perfect’ Christmas. Just because Nigella and Delia have the time and skills to produce endless quantities of delicious Christmas fare, does not mean that we mere mortals have to emulate them. I don’t see the point in spending hours in the kitchen preparing food which my family will demolish in 5 minutes!

Finally, I close the office on the same day the boys are home from university. This means I can spend some quality time with the family. I give my clients plenty of notice so we can cover any issues in good time and, in any case, most of them are winding down too.

So, in parting, I would just like to say this, give yourself a break and enjoy the festive season.

MERRY CHRISTMAS – and a happy 2019 too.

Fiona 🙂

Of Course

Last month I had a fantastic breakthrough!

I have loved running the series of workshops up and down the country for accountants in practice but have got to the stage that I have to take a break – because it is very difficult to market courses around the country in the post GDPR environment.

I was getting quite discouraged until I had a chat with my good friend Alison. She is a business coach and has delivered quite a lot of training over the years. She suggested developing an on-line group of courses.

So I decided that’s what I am going to do. I will use the course material I have already developed, along with new quizzes and other fun learning aids. Furthermore, I will also develop a series of courses for business owners to help them master their finances.

Well, much of October was spent investigating on-line platforms and training tools – along with putting together the first 3 courses (hopefully the first of many).

It’s been hard work but a lot of fun!

What I have found exciting is that I have been able to make use of quite a lot of material that was in my back catelogue. Not only have I been able to make use of material I gathered for my books but, in the past, I have had some great opportunities to gather  material in other mediums that I can use now.

For example, I have been interviewed by Alan Philpott of Glastonbury FM for their Packed Lunch programme. Alan sent me all the interviews and I have been able to use extracts to liven up my courses.

Similarly, when I ran my first day workshop last September on How to Build a Management Accounting Business for CIMA members in practice, my great friend Angie Cussell videoed it for me. This turns out to have been a great decision. I have been able to use snippets of video in the courses to bring them alive.

As I mentioned, last month Alison got me started on the whole journey but other people have also helped me to develop the course concept.

David Ringsell put me in touch with Qintil which is the platform the courses will be hosted and Sam Easen got me started using the Easygenerator tool to create the courses.

Several people have been Beta testers and given me feedback on any changes I should make to ensure the courses are as good as I can make them – including hubby Jeff.

Trevor Lever and Andrew Stinchcomb have also helped me to crystalise how the whole venture might be promoted.

So it’s been a team effort, for which I am very grateful. In fact most of the best things that have happened in my business have been as a result of the great peeps I have around me – thank you all!!

 

Fiona 🙂

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 ÂŁ8,000 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:)