New Year’s Resolution time

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 2017, will have been forgotten very early on in 20108 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!

All hands on deck

Having had an extension built to our house last year the next task on our list this year is to sort out the garden – and a key part of that task is to build some decking.

So we started off by drawing up a plan asking ourselves some key questions:
1. What is our budget?
2. What should the deck look like?
3. Who should build the deck?
4. Where should we get the decking and other materials from?
5. When do we want the deck built?

As you will know from previous articles I am a great believer in getting a professional to do a professional job. However, my husband Jeff is pretty handy at woodwork so we decided we would do the work ourselves – thus handily reducing the budget needed – and I would be his labourer!

A couple of Saturdays ago was D day!

We had to make sure we had all the tools and materials we needed before the weekend as the time we had available to complete the job was limited.

Google was a great help in providing tips and hints on how best to build a deck and what quantities of wood etc. we would need to build the size of deck we aspired to.

We did our homework and investigated several suppliers of decking to find the best quality materials for the lowest possible price.
Luckily, we were able to use a local supplier of decking, posts and screws who delivered everything in good time and for free!

The only new tool we needed – a fence post borer – along with the brackets and post crete, we also sourced ahead of time.

This gave us a clear two days to get the job done. Day one was taken up with sinking the 15 posts needed to build the frame on, and building the frame. Day two was attaching the decking.

The result? A great looking addition to our garden, which came in on budget, and was completed in the timescale we had given ourselves. This would not have been the case had we not done the legwork at the outset and planned everything effectively.

The lesson from all of this? If you have a project, whether business or personal, plan for success and you are much more likely to get the results you need.

Fiona 🙂

Business Planning is Great!

The other day I had a great session with Rachael Wheatley from Bluegreen Learning looking at my marketing strategy.

In truth I have been pretty good at creating marketing collateral but not so good at using it effectively and strategically. Most of the items I have published have been – like this post – written.

However, I did some radio interviews with Glastonbury FM a couple of years ago, which have been broken down into bite sized chunks. I am pretty pleased with them so am going to republish them on LinkedIn.

Below is the first bite sized piece on Business Planning and can be downloaded from Soundcloud – enjoy.

How is your contingency planning?

You will remember that many homes and businesses in Somerset were flooded in the winter of 2013-4, and even with the dredging which took place in the summer, others may be flooded in future winters. Subsequent winters have seen flooding in the Lake District and in other areas close to rivers.

It is a sad fact that at least half of those businesses devastated by flooding 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 flooding 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.

Flooding is 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 🙂

Welcome to 2017!

dancerAfter a fairly turmultuous 2016, a year which was surprising and sometimes shocking, what will the new year bring? If 2016 has taught us anything it is that it pays to expect the unexpected!

In the next couple of years we will see some big changes – perhaps – in the environment in which we do business – or not! We just don’t know.

But whatever happens it is likely that any changes will be difficult to predict and to plan for robustly. This is because many of the decisions our suppliers, customers and staff will be making are likely to be based on their gut feelings rather than facts. Surely the EU Referendum has shown us that!

So what can we do to make sure we ride any storm?

Well, of course, this time of year is the time when many of us make New Year’s Resolutions and promises about what we are going to change in the coming year. Some of us want to be fitter and/or more flexible so our bodies are better able to meet our needs as we get older (I myself have a big birthday this year – 21 is a great age!!). Some of us want to lose the excess weight that seems to have crept onto our bodies over the years without us particularly noticing.

And some of us want to take control of our finances and to strip out unnecessary spend so we are better able to afford the things that are most important to us.

All of these goals are ones we can apply to making our businesses better able to cope with the change which is coming.

Make your business fitter and more flexible by reviewing how you and your team work. Ensure everyone is motivated to work effectively as part of a well oiled machine.

Strip out any surplus fat. Businesses which has been around for any length of time are likely to have areas which need to be slimmed down or stripped out altogether.

Take control of your finances. Look at what you spend your money on and make sure in the future you don’t waste your hard earned cash. A great place to start is to look at your bills to see where easy money can be saved – in particular utilities, rates, insurances, and IT costs.

And, of course, have a clear contingency plan detailing how you will reduce the risks in your business model. Although you may not know how the business environment will change in 2017 you can fortify your business against failure.

Fiona 🙂

Have yourself a merry little Christmas!

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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 🙂

Planning to retire

Dark jenny thinkingHow many of us know what our business needs to achieve to deliver against our personal goals in the long term?

We all know that the state pension will be unlikely to meet our retirement needs in full. Most of us will be looking for our businesses to provide a safety net of income/capital value to make sure our retirements are secure.

However, as Steven Covey says you have to start with the end in mind. This means that you have to plan NOW to ensure you get out of your business what you need for the future.

If, like me, your business is largely centred on you as an individual your business is unlikely to be worth very much to someone else when you decide to stop. This means that your business needs to earn enough for you to make decent pension contributions now to fund your retirement.

If your business employs other people to deliver the product/service then you may be able to sell your business to realise value when you retire. However, you can only maximise this value if you start to plan several years ahead. It is vital that you can distance yourself from the business and that it can run without you, for example.

Whatever your goals it is never too early to start positioning your business so it is in the best position to meet them. If you don’t, you may find your retirement dreams end in cash strapped nightmares.

Fiona 🙂