A time to be thankful?

There is no end in sight to the current pandemic and it is likely that our lives will be affected by it until a vaccine is found. This means that planning is particularly difficult. Our world of certainties has been destroyed.

In truth, the certainty we think we can rely on in life is often just an illusion. Whilst we can control how we react to the issues we have to face in our personal and business lives, and the decisions we make along our journey, we have very little control over the world around us.

The pandemic has reminded us that the big things that affect our lives are out of our control. We can do our part in ensuring we do not get, and then pass on, COVID-19. We can try to reduce our impact on the planet by reducing the rubbish we produce and the emissions we are responsible for. But at the end of the day our impact will always be minute.

It is because of the enormous impact our environment has on our lives that we are in a very lucky situation.

We are incredibly lucky to live in a wealthy country that is relatively unaffected by blights and famines. Our economy, despite the hammering it has taken in the last few months, is still pretty strong when compared to many other countries’.

Even the weather, that we love to complain about, is pretty tame – no hurricanes and tornados for us. Although global warming has meant that some coastal residents have lost houses, the vast majority of us can be confident that the homes we live in will survive us.

Like our European neighbours we live in a politically stable country where the impacts of any election on our day to day lives is pretty minimal. We are highly unlikely to have to live under a military dictatorship where we could lose our lives, or loved ones, at any moment.

And yet the news is full of how badly off we are as a nation. Politicians play on peoples fears that we are being swamped by immigrants who will take our jobs and diminish our lives.

The fact is that the reason refugees want to come here is that they have sussed something that we often forget – this is a pretty great country to live in.

We are all incredibly lucky and have much to be grateful for – we just need to remember that fact!

Understanding your finances

In these uncertain times it is more important than ever for business owners to have a clear grasp of their financial situation. With the end of government aid in the form of the furlough scheme it might be that further cash flow support is needed to ensure employees can be kept on or it might be that ramping up after lockdown has meant a big investment in stock.

Whatever your circumstances you need to be aware of your finances so that you can make the right decisions for your business.

However, 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 struggling 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. Indeed in challenging times just surviving can take over as the overriding short term goal.

To help you 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:)

Here comes the summer

But it is a summer like no other – holidays are looking doubtful and there are additional COVID 19 issues

Generally at this time of year we are looking forward to summer holidays both here and abroad andbusinesses with staff are planning how to cover for their holiday absences.

But for many businesses where staff have been furloughed the issues are not around what to do when staff are away but what to do as they return after 3 months away.

It is important, if your business is in this situation, to plan carefully how you will manage staff members return to work.

Firstly, there is the question of when you need them to return – or even if there is a job for them to return to. Remember some of your team may be worried that a return to work may not be safe for them. Others will use this as an excuse to have some extra paid time off (although I would hope this does not apply to your team you must be prepared for this reaction).

Secondly, there are the changes you will need to make to the workplace to ensure that you are properly safeguarding the employees as they return – and, of course, any employees who were not furloughed. It may be that some expensive PPE is necessary.

Remember staff will have accrued holiday whilst they were furloughed so have a clear policy on how staff are to take holiday – you don’t want to find that just as staff are returning they are off again!

For those of us who have been working hard during the Coronavirus lockdown a holiday cannot come soon enough.

With lockdown easing it is likely that many of our holiday areas will plan to be back to some semblance of business as usual. But it is difficult to predict what amenities/attractions/hospitality businesses will be open. No one wants to spend hours in the car only to find virtually nothing open.

If you are a business in the hospitality sector there are real issues that need to be addressed. In particular, at what point is it worth your while to open your doors at all? We cannot assume that even without the two meter distancing rule, people will flock back into pubs or cafes. Many people will be very conscious that COVID 19 is still out there.

Featured is a picture I thought I would share – with friends from pre-lockdown days! Remember those? This was during our cycle ride from Wells to Paris in 2018.

A few tips for these challenging times

I thought it would be useful to give some tips to help your business weather these strange times. We have been in lockdown for several weeks now so you may well be looking at how your business may begin to move back to business as usual – or as close to usual business as the easing of lockdown measures will allow.

It is more important than ever to keep on top of your cash flow. Try to do a cash flow forecast (you can download a free guide on forecasting from my website) and predict when critical dips in your bank balance might happen.

It is worth remembering that a ramp up in business out of lockdown will often mean a further dip in your finances. For example, you may need to buy stock or fully fund staff before sales increase.

Claim as many of the government aid measures as you can. 

If you are in retail, hospitality or leisure you should already have applied for the £10k or £25k grant and rates relief. If you have not already done so make sure you apply for this aid.

If you are a VAT payer you can defer all VAT payments due between 20 March and 30 June for VAT returns ending February, March and April. You must submit a VAT return as usual but cancel any automatic payments so the money due isn’t taken. If you are a net VAT reclaimer just carry on as usual.

If you have had to cease, or reduce, trading for the duration you will probably know about the job retention scheme. The portal is now fully functioning so get your claim in as soon as you can. Remember furloughed staff are not allowed to do ANY work for you whilst they are furloughed. However, the government are talking about an adjustment to the scheme to allow for a phased return to work of furloughed staff.

There are three government backed loan schemes available so check them out to see if they are appropriate to your circumstances: the business interruption scheme; the coronavirus future fund; and the Coronovirus bounce back loan (you cannot apply for this loan if you have already taken advantage of the business interruption scheme loan).

It’s the little things

With our world turned upside down, little things can make a big difference to those around us.

It is easy to become so absorbed in our own lives that the we forget to spare a thought for others.

However, a positive to come out of the Coronavirus lockdown has been an increased sense of community. As we are constantly being told, “we are all in it together”.

Some things we have found ourselves doing are not really the way we Brits do things. The clap for key workers is an example. Who would have thought even two months ago that every Thursday we would all be outside our houses clapping?

But the funny thing is that every one in my street seems to enjoy the opportunity to come together and give thanks to people most of us don’t even know. We are just grateful that they are there.

Acts of kindness are springing up all across the country. The number of voluteers putting their names down to help the NHS alone has been overwhelming.

We all want to do our bit to help everyone get through this crisis as best as we can.

Like many of you, my family have been shopping for an elderly neighbour who, until recently we did not really know, but hopefully will get to know better over the coming weeks – all be it from a distance!

As business owners we need to do our bit to help our staff, suppliers and customers weather the storm.

Many businesses are struggling to cope with having to furlough staff, shift their working pattens or even shut down completely until lockdown is lifted. No business will remain unaffected by these unprecedented circumstances.

Some businesses will not survive without help – whether it is financial or practical. If we can look to help wherever we can, we might make the difference between a business failing or surviving.

I am trying to support local businesses wherever possible. It might be as simple as picking up the phone to shoot the breeze with a supplier or customer, or offer support – even the printing of this newsletter is helping a local business. 

If we can help with the little things, and the big things if we can, there is a chance that we may all come through this threat to our local (and national) economy relatively in tact. 

It will take all of us doing our bit to weather this storm. Good Luck everyone!

Are you run ragged trying to do everything?

Is this story familiar to you?

A business person who is successful in their field but starting to get bogged down in the day to day running of their business. In particular, administration and bookkeeping are starting to grind and take the shine out of their enjoyment of their businesses?

This 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! We cannot, like Superman, create extra time just by wishing for it.

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-£25 per hour you might need to pay an 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 🙂

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