Remember the days 2

This time last year I was inspired by the youngsters who were just getting their GCSE and A’ level results. This year I am taking you back to when you got your first job.

The reason for this direction of reflection is that my eldest son has finally become a fully, tax-paying, contributing part of society after 5 years of university life. He is all set to start as a maths teacher in Cambridge.

This got me remembering when I started my first job at Siemens 30 years ago. I was so naive about the world of work – even though I had had the usual part-time jobs and had done a year’s placement.

When we start out, over-confident in our abilities and sure that the world of work will deliver job satisfaction and plenty of money, we have very little incling of how our careers will develop.

Even 30 years ago there was the expectation that we would stay in the same job, and certainly the same career, our whole working lives. There was a comfort in this, but also a certain lack of imagination.

I certainly never expected that I would start my own accountancy business and have to spend so much time on the edges of my comfort zone – in fact as a youngster my comfort zone was so much wider than it is now as a more cautious adult.

We gradually lose the ability to stretcour comfort zone as we get older and more secure. We are more likely to take the easier path rather than the type of brave new steps we were often taking in our youth.

As business owners we are probably better than most at accepting change and happier to work at the edges of our comfort zone, but I think, even for us, this zone is contracting over time.

But to be successful we do need to push against this trend and ensure that we are as open to new opportunities as possible – even if it means stepping out of the familiar and exposing ourselves to being challenged. 

So take the plunge on a regular basis by finding new things to challenge yourself with so that you exercise the elasticity of your comfort zone!

Talking of taking the plunge, below is a piccie from the Moat Race at Wells last Monday – some teams ended up taking an unexpected plunge!

Metwalking comes to Somerset

I have written on a number of occasions about a new type of networking that imbraces the great outdoors whilst building relationships with a great group of people – Metwalking.

So far the walks have generally concentrated around the Bristol area – such as the one below around Porteshead harbour – and Metwalking has confined itself to just the walks.

However, world domination is afoot! There is now a Metwalking website membership scheme, which means members can take part in sounding boards, to promote their businesses and take advantage of special offers.

Members can also run walks themselves under the Metwalking banner so they are publicised by the Metwalking team. Louise Mcmilan and I are exited to announce a new Somerset based group. The first walk is on 25th September at Cheddar.

So if you want to see what it is all about why not join us?

https://www.metwalking.co.uk/upcoming-events/cheddar-reservoir

Professional goal setting

I have written about goal setting on a number of occasions because it definitely makes my life easier, when I am doing business planning with a client, if they are very clear what their personal goals are.

As a business owner any funds needed to achieve personal goals will often need to be generated from the business. So understanding how much is needed, and when, can make it much easier to set the business goals that will deliver against these personal goals.

Someone who has certainly helped me to dig deep and properly think through my personal goals is Andrew Stinchcomb – my partner of the month.

Andrew has a great tool – the financial road map – for helping clients to understand what is important to them in life. This leads to a greater understanding of their goals and subsequently to what funds are needed to meet those goals.

For my husband and I, once we have helped finance our two sons through university, a key goal is to be able to take a year out and go camper vanning around Europe for a year.

The roadmap process highlighted quite quickly that Jeff’s idea of the camper van we were talking about, and my idea were quite different, which was quite amusing. But naturally we settled on what we needed to budget for as somewhere between the two.

Once we had a clear idea of what money we needed to have to make all our plans a reality, it was much easier for me to focus my business so I contributed my part.

We meet up with Andrew on an annual basis to check that everything is on track and he has some wonderful graphs that show how we are progressing.

I must say it is very reasurring to see that our retirement is sorted and we will have enough for our camper van, and other, goals.

The more I work with businesses of all sizes the more convinced I am that good planning is the key to success – and goals are a key driver of good planning.

And the more I work with owner managed businesses the more convinced I am that having clear personal goals is vital to drawing up meaningful business goals.

So, if you are not sure what your personal goals are I recommend that you spend some time with a goal based financial planner.

Here comes the summer

On holiday in Rhodes earlier this month

As I am writing this the sun is shining and a heat wave is anticipated for the weekend – even though it is Glastonbury festival time!

Whilst we all love the summer it can bring with it extra managerial problems for business owners who are trying to balance employees motivation, with getting the job done.

It can be difficult to concentrate on doing your job when the sun is shining outside – particularly if it’s very hot. This means business owners need to spend more time than usual focusing their team to their usual level of effectiveness.

Then there is the issue of holidays. If you have staff who have school age children there can be the battle to book time off during the school holidays – and you have to make sure you still have cover for all the roles in your business!

I think that, if you are able to, it can be very helpful to offer a degree of flexibility in working hours to staff who either suffer with the heat or generally want to make the best of the good weather.

Could employees start earlier in the day and finish earlier, for example? Could they work part of the day from home where it might well be more comfortable than in a hot, stuffy office?

In my experience a little bit of flexibility can go a long way to motivating employees to work harder when they are at work.

Then there is the issue of your own holidays. I have seen several LinkedIn posts where business owners seem to be proud that they are still answering emails and responding to business issues whilst on holiday.

To me this is not taking a holiday. 

If you have staff you should ensure that they are empowered (through training and instruction) to act appropriately to problems whilst you are away. 

If you don’t have staff you still need to find a way to balance business needs against your needs for a proper break by: informing clients in good time that you will be out of contact for the duration of your holiday; completing client work before you go; ensuring sales leads are not lost by using a call answering service…

Everyone needs proper holidays to enable them to recharge their batteries and be at their best – and you are no different. I certainly find I return from holiday more effective, focussed and full of ideas just because my brain has had a rest!

Plan for the worst…

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Flooding has become an real risk in many areas across the country, as has coastal erosion, and other natural disaster events, which seem to be more prevalent than in previous decades. As the consequences of global warning are starting to increasingly impact on people’s lives it is important to consider how your business might be affected by future events.

It is a sad fact that at least half of of businesses devastated by flooding (or other natural disasters) will never recover, and those that do, may take a long time to get back on track.

Before they can repair and rebuild there is often the initial wrangling with the insurance company about how much they should pay out, but there are far wider implications to a business than just putting right the premises.

The problem is not just the event itself but the downtime the business experiences whilst the damage is repaired, and the consequences of that downtime.

Do you continue to pay your staff even when they are not able to work and if you do so, how do you afford a wages bill when you have no income coming in? Once even loyal customers have gone elsewhere, how do you persuade them back when you are up and running again?

These are the type of issues many businesses do not consider until forced to do so.

Natural disaster events are just one type of business catastrophe but there are many others all businesses should consider and plan for. The scale of the catastrophe will be linked to the importance of the occurrence to the business.

For example, if your business server fails how big an impact would that have on your business? If all your staff need to access information on that server 24/7 it could cost you dearly and clearly in that situation it is vital that you have a backup plan to cover just that type of emergency.

Alternatively, if you are heavily reliant on one employee what would you do if that employee goes off sick for an extended period of time?

Every business has its own ‘flood’ scenario and it is hugely important that you have a disaster recovery plan to mitigate against the worst effects of a catastrophic event. You need to build your ‘flood’ defenses – first identify the scenarios which could do the worst damage, plan for how you would deal with those scenarios in the most effective way, and ensure you have the ‘backups’ in place.

Of course we hope never to use our backup plans, but at least if we have one in place, we are as prepared as we can be if the worst happens.

Fiona 🙂

Why you should be forecasting

Following on from my previous post I thought I would concentrate on cash flow as a particular area you need to focus attention on.

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.

Many businesses of all sizes fail because they do not have the foresight to ensure that they avoid making poor decisions, or react too late to changing circumstances. In particular, in not doing cash flow forecasting (at the very least) these business owners are putting their businesses at real risk.

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 🙂

Look after your pennies…

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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 🙂

Why delegation is great!

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 🙂

Help with pricing

One of the most common problems I come across amongst SME business owners (and, in fact, businesses of any size) is deciding how much to charge customers for their products or services.

It’s an important problem to solve as it can make a huge difference to how profitable a business will be. Price too high and you won’t find customers. Price too low and you won’t make money – and perhaps put off potential customers because you are too cheap.

You may well ask how can a product or service being cheap put off customers? Well, if you are advertising a high quality offering to customers, but pricing too low, they will not trust that it actually is high quality.

The place to start when reviewing your pricing strategy is with your costs. If you don’t know with enough detail where the costs in your business occur – as a direct result of producing your sales or as overhead expenditure – you will not be able to price effectively.

As we know, to be profitable a business must at least cover its costs. So knowing all the business’s costs will help to ensure that products and services are priced in a way that covers these costs.

Pricing is such a fundamental skill for all business owners, that I have decided it will be the topic for my first business owner masterclass on-line course – which is now available on the Qintil learning platform. (https://courses.qintil.com/Courses/MiPsmeanbusiness/business-owner-masterclass-pricing).

I have come to think that online learning is a great way of sharing expertise to a wide audience. The tools available to help create an engaging and effective learning experience are getting better and better. 

If, like me, you have been in business for a long time and now feel you have want to share your knowledge with an audience wider than your immediate client base, how about having a go at creating your own online course?

Personally, I use a tool called Easygenerator. It is very easy to use and you can upload videos and audio files as well as the usual written content. You can try it out for free and see if you like the quiz templates provided and the format of the courses.

I have certainly enjoyed playing around with what I can produce for business owners who need inexpensive help in key areas of their business finances.

Become more savvy with your finances

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:

  1. Do you have a clear financial plan?
  2. Do you know if your business is currently profitable?
  3. 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?
  4. Do you know what customers/products/services are profitable?
  5. Do you have a robust invoicing and debt collection system so clients pay you in a reasonable time (do you know what reasonable is?)?
  6. Are  you always able to pay your suppliers on time?
  7. Can you always pay your salary/dividend/drawings?
  8. 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 🙂