It’s an uncertain world out there

With all the uncertainties businesses are facing, how can we make our businesses more resilient?With all the uncertainties businesses are facing, how can we make our businesses more resilient?

I think the few years are going to be the least predictable, and most uncertain, since I started my business.

None of us know how Brexit will impact the environment in which we are running our businesses. Even if we do not trade directly with the other 27 EU countries we will be impacted by how the split with the EU effects the UK economy.

Also there is the increasingly urgent issue of climate change. I think we will have to (and should) increasingly consider the environmental impact of the business decisions we make on a day to day basis.

This may mean that we change: the way we travel; the resources we use and how we use them; and the scope of work and the spread of clients we serve.

And then there is the ever increasing speed of technological advances to keep up with.

I can see that each of these issues will cause the costs of running our businesses to rise and the speed of change in the business environment to increase.

So what can we do to make our businesses as resilient as possible given the challenges ahead?

I have often talked about business planning and I am a firm believer that businesses which have a plan are more resilient than businesses run on a more laissez faire basis.

There are several reasons for this. A business run by someone who is very clear on their personal goals will be more focused than one where the business owner is less clear about what they want to achieve. The process of business planning encourages a review of personal goals, which are then reflected in the goals of the business.

Once you have a distinct goal it is easier to decide on the best direction for your business and you are better able to make decisions quickly in response to the changing environment because you are confident about the path you want to take.

This means that you can properly assess the resources you will need to employ get you to where you need to go – whether that’s people, money or training.

In short business planning helps you to build a business that is fit for purpose.

Fiona

Will 2020 be YOUR year?

It’s that time of year when we come up with fantastic ideas and resolutions for the year ahead. Unfortunately, these ideas and resolutions, which seemed so fantastic in 2019, will have been forgotten very early on in 2020 The reason for this is that we tend to come up with woolly, general thoughts rather than a real plan for change.

How about making this year different? If you really want to change your business, your work/life balance, your effectiveness or any other aspect of your life, you have to think through what you want to achieve.

What are your timescales? What are your specific goals? How will you measure change? What resources will you need? Who do you need to help you?

Once you have thought through all the aspects of your idea write them down so you have a point of reference – and then DO IT!

By taking the time to plan you will find it much more likely that you will keep your resolutions and move forward.

Don’t wish upon a star – reach for it!

Fiona

Education, Education, Education

I had the privilege of spending the day with business and engineering students at Strode College in Street as part of their Employer Ready Event.

The idea of the day was to, firstly, introduce students to the world of employment in a very practical way by spending time with business people and, secondly, to get feedback on what business people thought was important to cover in the new T level qualifications.

In case you are not aware of the T level qualifications, they are designed to run parallel to A levels but offer a more ‘technical’ and practical form of qualification – generally with some form of placement built in.

Companies have often complained that youngsters do not have the skills they need to be productive employees from the outset. So the T levels are a proposed answer to this complaint.

Strode is also very involved in offering apprentiships – which as we all know are a great way of offering on the job training.

The first part of the day was working with 16-17 year old business and engineering students on a project exploring how they might go about making Strode a carbon neutral college. What were the things that needed to be concidered and where would they start?

Although there were some students who were more engaged than others – by the end of the session everyone was taking part in presenting the solutions they had come up with.

The afternoon was spent talking to the degree level students (I had no idea that Strode was linked with Plymouth university and offering degrees) and these more mature students were very focussed and clear on what they wanted from their future careers.

We then had a discussion on the T level business qualifications and what we felt were the modules that would be most important to businesses.

All in all I found the day to be a very positive experience and I was glad to be able to offer some insight into the business perspective.

If you have the opportunity to be involved in something similar I would urge you to take it!

Fiona 🙂


May your Christmas be merry and bright!

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 🙂

It pays to be brave!

You may have picked up, if we are connected on LinkedIn, that I ran a successful Webinar for CIMA in October.

I have never done a webinar before and so I was quite nervous about the whole thing. Not only because the participants could see me but I could not see them, but also because I was not sure I would get the timings right.

An hour is a long time to be talking for but time can soon run away with you if you don’t time things right – so preparation is key.

Fortunately I did not have to worry about the material as I have written, talked and run courses about how accountants in practice can move their businesses more towards the work they love – and clients really value.

I also did not have to worry about the techie side as Emma Bailey from CIMA was my partner in crime and dealt with that side of things.

On the day itself, however, I was surprised to learn from Emma that 350 people had registered to take part! I knew not everyone would be listening live, but had registered to get the recording of the webinar to watch later – but I still found it a little intimidating to have so many listening (either live or later)!

In the end I could see the counter of participants gradually increase until it stopped at 180 people This was far more than I had bargained for.

Once the webinar had started I did find I got into the swing of it pretty quickly and the hour sped by – and I did not run out of time or material!

The feedback has been great and I came away from the experience with a spring in my step and a desire to do more webinars – and to restart my workshop programme for accountants.

What this whole experience re-enforced for me is that it pays to be brave and try new things. Our comfort zone is stretched when we do (something I wrote about last month), and we are more likely to continue trying even more new things.

Incidentally, I was also asked in October whether I wanted to do a wing walk – but I am not feeling quite that brave yet (or ever!!).

How to collect the cash!

Piggy Bank

In these turbulent times it is more important than ever to be on top of cash collection. However, many small business owners find it a real challenge to chase customers who are late paying.

A phrase we hear often is, “They’re a really good customer, so I don’t want to annoy them by chasing for payment”. Let’s just analyse that sentence for a minute. Why are these customers good for your business? Because they allow you to do lots of work for free? Surely, a good customer is one who appreciates your efforts and is happy to pay because they value you. If you have done the work you agreed with your customer, to the level they expected, why should they not pay the agreed price in the agreed time period?

So don’t be shy about collecting YOUR money.

Other problems we see regularly are:

Not setting payment terms up front

If you have not agreed when the customer should pay BEFORE the work is done, you will struggle to collect the money in a reasonable time frame. Make sure your terms of engagement/purchase confirmation clearly state when you expect to be paid.

Setting unnecessarily long payment terms

Don’t assume that you have to offer customers 30 or 60 day payment terms. Start from a position of offering zero payment terms and only offer extended terms if there is a commercial advantage in doing so. Bear in mind that even if you offer 30 day terms you will most probably be paid later than that. As you don’t know the financial position of all your customers the only safe money is the money in your bank account.

Not sending invoices out promptly

If you do not send out your invoices as soon as the work is complete, you automatically build a lag before you receive payment. Invoicing is a chore, but regular invoicing is vital to achieving financial stability.

The most common reason small businesses fail is because they run out of cash.

The most common reason they run out of cash is because they do not collect the money they are owed quickly enough, or allow debts to go bad.

Make sure you business succeeds by being cash collection savvy.

🙂 Fiona

What have you learnt lately?

If, like me, you are a professional who is required to do a certain amount of continuing personal development (CPD) you will be used to going along to regular training sessions.

Sometimes they can be a bit of a drudge because they are generally all about updating our knowledge rather than gaining new skills.

As time goes on we can get increasingly stuck in the rut of doing the same things for the same people day in and day out. But the work pays the bills and we don’t believe we have a lot of work time to do much else in any case.

However, this type of thinking is a mistake in my opinion. After all, our working lives take up the majority of our actual lives so why settle for drudge?

One way to mix things up is to take bits of time out to do training to learn brand new things – maybe directly related to the work you are doing now, or completely different but complimentary to it.

Over the last year I have done 5 day workshops aimed at helping CIMA accountants understand the world of charities and not for profit enterprises. It was not a world I had particular experience of before but the workshops were fascinating.

My main reason for going was to help with my role as director of Wessex Community Assets but I would have gone along anyway because of my growing interest in community benefit models. 

I will be following up this training with 4 Community Shares Practitioner Training workshops run by COOPS UK with the eventual aim of becoming a registered practitioner. 

I am exited by the prospect of helping local community benefit societies raise money through community share issues to enable them to finance the setting up of shops, pubs and other community focused enterprises.

Slight re-training is enabling me to confidently move more into a world of opportunities I would not have envisaged a couple of years ago.

So my advice if you are stuck in a rut is to look around you and see what training is going on that tweaks your interest and take a punt.

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.