Your destiny is in your hands

As we all get back into the swing of work after the Christmas break it is a good time to look forward to what the new year may have in store for us.

Many businesses will find this year a real challenge. There is a lot of uncertainty around what will happen with regards to Brexit and this uncertainty has already lead to reducing sales and profits for many.

It is interesting that often the unknown has a more detrimental impact on the economy than actual problems. You only have to look at how the pound has plummeted, along with the stock markets, over the last year to see that this is the case – even though we have not left the EU yet.

The economyis driven by confidence and that confidence is fragile. The press frosters negative feelings about the future – because bad news sells papers – and suddenly everyone is in a spin,  confidence collapses and, guess what, the economy suffers. It’s bad news, just as the papers warned!

As business owners we have to be careful that we don’t get caught up in a spiral of negativity. Negativity prevents business growth because good decisions are postponed. Investment in the future is delayed as outcomes become, apparently, more uncertain.

The fact isthat good, focussed, businesses should not be afraid of the future because economic downturns tend to favour them, as less well managed businesses fall out of the market place.

The key to success over the coming months will be to focus on making your business as efficient and effective as possible. This is always the case but less so when the economy is bouyant.

If you need to invest for the future growth of your business don’t put off doing so; but before committing make sure that you have a robust business case for the investment. Be in charge of your own fate.

Many companiescut back on marketing and training, but these are the very things that will help your business to thrive when your competitors are floundering.

Above all makesure that you have updated your business plan and built in some ‘what/if’ scenarios. That way you will be clear on the goals you have for the coming year and what you need to do to achieve them. There is no reason why you shouldn’t reach your pot of gold!

So here it is – Merry Christmas

I was looking through my December posts from previous years for inspiration and thought it was worth revisiting some of the themes. Once again the immortal words of Slade burst out of the speakers of shops once again as they have since 1973. 

Whether they make you smile or shiver will often depend on your frame of mind at the time you hear them – or how often you have already heard them in any one day. I have often wondered how shop workers stop themselves running and screaming from their shops when the constant blaring of Christmas pap gets to much for them!

It is unfortunately a sign of the times that Christmas permeates much of everyday life for so long before the big day itself. I think it detracts from the spirit and excitement of yuletide. Whether you are a Grinch or an elf Christmas will affect your business and, in some cases, drive you up the wall.

Some people go absolutely barmy over decorating their space, love secret santas and are generally pretty unbearable from the beginning of November until New Year. As a business owner it can be difficult to strike a balance between allowing staff to have fun and ensuring that business is not too disrupted.  Even when you strike a balance with your staff doing business at this time of year can be a challenge.

It is very difficult to get any type of decision from potential customers in the run down to Christmas. On the other hand Christmas is often set as the arbitary date for the completion of projects – leading to huge pressures on teams.

Customers will often use the Christmas period as an excuse for not paying invoices, citing Christmas close down and staff holidays as the reason. Normal payment systems often do not kick back in until the 2nd or 3rd week of January. The result can be cash flow problems unless you plan to avoid them.

So, unsurprisingly, it is all about planning for a positive Christmas and making sure that you take control of any challenging situations before they cause you a real problem.

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 🙂

To Party or Not to Party? – that is the question?

This is a question many business owners have been asking themselves this Christmas. With the country in recession and business difficult, is it appropriate to have a staff Christmas party?

In my opinion the answer is a resounding YES!

In fact, the traditional Christmas party is more important than ever as a morale booster and a general ‘thank you’ to staff. When times are hard businesses find they have to cut back on increases in staff salaries and perks. This can leave staff feeling demoralised. A party – and I don’t mean an expensive, swanky one – can help staff look favourably on the company they work for. More than that, not having a party when you have always had one in the past, can leave staff feeling negative.

If money is tight don’t forgo the usual celebration – just look for a way of doing it cheaper. Staff are not generally interested in how much money you spend; they are more interested in the gesture. If you usually pay for everyone to have a meal and drinks in a restaurant, how about this year sharing the cost so staff pay for their food and you pay for the wine – or vice versa? Or you could cut out the middle man altogether and have a party at your house or business premises. Or how about getting them involved in how the budget is spent? Whatever you decide, explain the need for doing something less extravagant than usual and you will have your staff on your side.

Whatever you decide to do, DO SOMETHING and show your staff you are not using the recession as an excuse to play Scrooge.

For any Somerset business owner in the Wells area who works on their own don’t forget the Billy No Mates Christmas Bash. It’s great fun and gives you the opportunity to have a Christmas party even if you work on your own. To find out more or to book just click on the Eventbrite link below.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/billy-no-mates-christmas-bash-2017-tickets-38799276681?aff=eac2

Do you show business confidence?

A business’s confidence is key to its success.

A confident business does not have to apologise for its existence – it can just get on with providing a great product or service.

In an owner/managed business the level of business confidence conveyed is directly related to the confidence you as the owner have in yourself and your business proposition. Even a business which offers great service and is well respected by its customers can be undermined, if you continually doubt yourself.

So how do you keep your confidence levels boosted?

Firstly, make sure you have a great product/service, which you can easily describe to third parties. If you sell a service, productising elements of your service can make it easier for potential customers to understand what you do.

Talk to your customers so you are clear why they buy from you. Although this might be hard at first, it will enable you to talk confidently to prospective clients about the effectiveness of what you do.

Whilst you are talking to your customers, ask them for testimonials. Not only can you use them in your marketing, they will also boost your confidence.

If you know where you want your business to go, you can confidently decide what you need to do to get you there. So, have a robust, regularly updated business plan. Alongside this, try to build a great business skills base. There are many facets to even small businesses, so the more you know about each of them the more effective, and confident, you will be.

Be part of a strong business network. Business networks are a fundamental part of raising the profile of your business and finding support locally. Regular contact with other business owners, many of whom face similar problems to yours, will help make running your business less lonely too.

Finally, think about how you are presenting yourself. If you are well prepared, wear the right clothes for the right occasion, and think about your body language, you will be best able to express yourself confidently.

If you want a little more help with your business confidence download my free guide to confidence on my website
fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/tools

Start as you mean to go on!

screen-shot-2017-04-25-at-13-39-04Small businesses are the mainstay of the UK economy. Forget the large companies – small businesses are where it is at!

The UK is a nation of entrepreneurs and we brits are great at taking the plunge into business ownership – whether it is a self employed professionals or as small business owners employing staff.

However, for many entrepreneurs taking the plunge is not the hardest part – it is running a successful company in the longer term that provides the stress.

The problem here is that the prospective entrepreneur has often not done their homework.

In particular:

  1. They have an idea they are sure is going to work, but have not done a full business plan to explore whether it can be converted into a successful business.
  2. They have not consulted appropriate professionals to ensure their company is set up in the best way.
  3. They don’t align their personal and business goals. They soon find their business running their lives rather than them running their businesses.
  4. They don’t finance their business sufficiently from the outset, which means they can never afford to do jobs properly. Marketing in particular often suffers in this scenario.
  5. Because they haven’t planned properly they don’t fully appreciate the risks involved in setting up their business until it is too late.

Starting your own business is a BIG step. If it fails you may not just lose your livelihood but also your house (and your family if you have had to work very long hours).

It makes sense to give your business the best possible chance of succeeding.

To help I have written a guide on starting your own business which can be downloaded for free from my website www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk

I have tried to cover all the issues you will need to think about before taking the plunge as well as some of the things which might trip you up.

Enjoy!

Fiona 🙂

And the spectacle continues!

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-15-10-40I know I have gone on a bit (or a lot) about the events in Rio but I have just been blown away by the team GB success.

I promise this article is the last time I will mention the Olympics – well at least for another four years – but I have been just so inspired by them.

I loved watching the different sports and was stunned when we came 2nd and beat China in the medals table.

The Paralympics has been even better!

Who could fail to be moved by the armless Egyptian table tennis player who held the paddle between his teeth and threw the ball up with his feet?

The tenacity of such athletes who are taking part in sports on a global stage is incredible. In the case of the table tennis player he had no expectation that he would medal – it was enough for him to take part.

Whether they were born with their disability or became disabled later in life due to illness or accident, every athlete’s story was truly inspirational.

So is there anything the Paralympics can teach business people which might help us to thrive?

Firstly, I think we can learn to be more positive. We all have bad days and times when it seems the world is against us. But let’s face it we don’t have to face the problems and prejudice a lot of disabled people have to put up with on a daily basis. If they can flourish with all that is stacked against them – I am sure we can!

Secondly, I think we can learn to be more focussed on our goals. We often don’t achieve what we want because we simply aren’t focussed enough. We allow ourselves to be sidetracked by less important things.

Finally, following the lead of Chumbawumba, I think we can learn to get back up again when we get knocked down. Many paralympians have been knocked down pretty hard (sometimes literally) but have had the mental strength to not only get back up again but to thrive.

Business is challenging and we will all suffer setbacks. The key to getting over these setbacks is to be positive, focussed and to pick ourselves up each time we are knocked down.

Let’s make ourselves resilient to change!

Small Jenny Flashdance

For many businesses the last few years have been really tough – and the next couple may be just as challenging with uncertainty around the Brexit decision.

If you own a service business there are things you can do to make yourself as resilient as possible and I include my take on the most important ones below:

Credit control

In a service company the level of customer spend can be quite high. For this reason it is vital that you review the level of credit you are prepared to give clients and stick to it. My payment terms require that clients pay either by monthly standing order or on date of invoice. Even if they don’t pay immediately at least I can chase from the earliest possible point.

Ensure you invoice promptly after work is completed, and, if the job spans several months, agree stage payments with your client so they don’t owe you more than 1 months worth of work.

Bare in mind that none of us really knows what is going on in another company. A seemingly sound company can be on the verge of collapse due to cash flow problems. Credit checking services can help you assess the credit worthiness of a business, but remember their information is out of date to some degree and they don’t pick up the full picture. The only way to ensure you don’t get caught out is to collect the money owed to you as quickly as possible.

Remember, even the banks are reluctant to be banks at the moment – so don’t fall into the trap of acting like one!

The BEST

A key way to thrive is to provide the BEST service you can and be as close to your customers as possible. I see many service providers who think they can get away with average service and who assume clients will stick with them regardless. This is an arrogant assumption which will lead them, quite rightly, to lose good clients to much more customer orientated businesses.

For any business, but particularly for service companies, the relationship you have with your clients is king. A client who knows you well, and believes you are giving him the best, most focussed service available, is unlikely to shop elsewhere, even if he has the possibility of getting the service ‘cheaper’.

Build your referral network

We all know that people buy from people. You are much more likely to engage a supplier who has been recommended to you by a trusted advisor/contact than one you have met fleetingly at a networking event.

For this reason I think it is important to build up a network of people around you who:

– although they are not competitors to you, have the same types of customers as you do.

– understand exactly who an ideal client is for you so they can spot one when they meet them

– understand exactly what you do and the problems you solve for your clients

– are people you would be happy to refer to your contacts so the relationship is mutually rewarding

If you have a strong network you can be much more focussed in your marketing and will be much more likely to get the type of new clients you need.

Fiona 🙂

Change is coming – like it or not!

Forecasting

Whether you voted to remain or leave the EU, the fact is that we are all now OUT!

I don’t know about you but I don’t really know what a Britain outside of the EU will look like.

Certainly in the first few months and even the next couple of years, probably much the same as it did before the Referendum.

The pound and stock market plumited on the news but more because the city expected a remain vote. Chances are they will move back upwards – although whether they will reach the pre-Referedum levels remains to be seen.

All I can say is that in the short term our Portugal holiday is suddenly more expensive this summer!

I think it is the unforseen consequenses of Brexit, which will catch people out.

For example, in the meduim term the UK itself may well shrink as a result of the out vote. The SNP has a very good case for saying that, because Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, another Independence Referendum should be held.

After all a main argument for staying in the UK was that Scotland may struggle to become a member of the EU in its own right, but is a member of the EU if it stays in the UK – obviously no longer true.

I suspect there are a large number of multinational companies which chose to base themselves in the UK because we were part of the largest economic body in the world. It will be interesting to see how these companies react to the no vote.

Of local interest – how will the vote affect the French company EDFs plans to invest in Hinkley Point? We will see.

However, as smaller companies these issues are less of a concern than the immediate question of how will our businesses be affected.

And the answer is – none of us knows!

All we can do is to look at our own business and strategic planning and aim to make our companies as robust as we can.

So make sure you spend time reviewing your plan and thinking about how you may need to change it to flourish in the coming period of uncertainty.

Fiona:)