Scammers R Us!

scammers
More and more scammers are out there trying to get something for nothing, and the sad fact is that it is often the elderly who fall for their tricks.

This has come to home to me in the last couple of years as my mother has fallen foul of one dodgy scam after another. First it was buying stuff she did not need at inflated prices so she would be put into a draw and win money.

Then she was bombarded by letters saying she had won prizes of thousands of pounds and all she needed to do was send £50 administration fees.

Now neither of these sound like they would be that serious but when you are talking about multiple instances it soon adds up. We discovered that she had sent more than £1500 to these criminals.

But the worst individual instance was recently when she was apparently called by the Canadian lottery who needed £4900 in tax before they could release her third prize of £265k!

It seems that however much we tell her about scammers, and how all of these schemes are bogus, she just does not seem to take it in. I think the trouble is that these scammers are so persuasive that they suspend their victims’ disbelief.

But it is not just the elderly who fall foul of con artists. It is anyone who is a little bit vulnerable, or is going through a hard time, or is just unwary – and that can apply to business people as well.

Phishing scams can be as much a problem for small businesses as for individuals and can lead to your banking information falling into criminal hands.

However, the most dangerous scam is where a fraudster contacts a business pretending to be a supplier. They inform the company that there payment details have changed and the unsuspecting business owner/employee amends the supplier payment details on their system so that any payments go to the scammer and not the supplier.

The moral of all this is that we must be extra vigilant, and unfortunately, become ultra suspicious. We also need to help our more vulnerable family members and friends to understand that you don’t get something for nothing these days (if you ever did) and not to send money to anyone just because they ask you to!

How will you spend your bonus day?

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 16.13.48

Once every four years we are given a ‘present’. An extra day in the year. If you can get all you need to do in the usual 365 days, surely the extra day is a bonus!

So, have you thought about how you are gong to spend your present? If you are a business owner you should be flexible enough to use it well. Afterall it would be a shame to just let the opportunity go by to spend this day doing something special or different.

February 29th is a Monday so you could treat it as an extra bank holiday and take a long weekend trip somewhere you have been meaning to go to, but not yet managed to visit.

Alternatively you could ‘save’ the day until the summer and use the day to recharge your batteries with a trip to the coast.

If you want 2016 to be the year you make really great strides with your business, you need to plan how you are going to do it. If you never seem to find time to do the planning perhaps this would be a good use of your bonus day.

I think the key is to do something you would not usually have time to do, or something you long to do more of.

For me, the bonus day will be a great opportunity to do more of what I love. I cannot think of anything better than getting out into the Britishcountryside with my family and/or friends and going for a good old stomp.

But to make the day special – afterall it is a present – I plan to walk somewhere I have never been to before.

Where exactly that will be I have not yet decided It will be somewhere lovely and with only the best company. Obviously if it could be rounded off with a stonkingly good cream tea so much the better!

Wouldn’t it be great if we all came away from 2016 feeling we had used our bonus day well?

Now as my husband Jeff has pointed out if you are employed you don’t get an extra day of holiday. But I think he is missing the point.

The concept of a bonus day is more about your state of mind and about making the best out of opportunities – you just have to be a little creative!

What’s your plan for 2016?

Welcome to 2016
Well, the new year is just around the corner, but do you have a robust plan for the year ahead?

Unfortunately for many small business owners the answer is a resounding “No” – or, “yes, it’s in my head”, which is actually the same as no!

If you don’t have a proper plan for your business the chances of it moving in the direction you want are drastically reduced. Your business is more likely to grow by luck, rather than design, and luck is often in short supply in times of economic difficulty.

For many the very thought of putting a plan down on paper leaves them in a cold sweat – but it doesn’t have to be this way!

Firstly, remember that the person for whom you are preparing the plan – and the most important person in your business – is YOU. So, think about planning in terms that you can relate to rather than trying to plan with someone else in mind.

If you like mind maps plan using them. If you are a picture person try to build lots of pictures into the plan so you can engage with it.

Secondly, if you really don’t know how to plan – ask for help. You may have a friend or family member who can help you. Alternatively, there are lots of professionals who can help you with specific areas of your plan.

If you struggle to put together a marketing or sales plan engage a marketing or sales expert to help with that particular section. If you struggle with the figures your accountant should be able to help.

The key thing is that once the plan is finished it properly represents your business and your ideas for the coming year.

Your plan then becomes the foundations against you can measure the performance of your business going forward. You will be able to see whether or not your business will help you to meet your personal goals, or not, and you can use it to get finance if you need to.

Fiona 🙂

Book Billy

Billy No Mates 2011

Are you a business owner who works on their own or with just one other person?

Do you miss the traditional office Christmas party, where everyone let’s their hair down and has a fantastic laugh?

If so the Billy No Mates Christmas bash is for you –  so if you haven’t already booked now is the time to do so!

The ‘Bash’ is on 18th December (so the Friday before Christmas) from 12pm onwards at Beah, Union Street, Wells, Somerset.

For just £22.50 for a three course meal with wine the ‘Bash’ is great value – and great fun.

But don’t just take my word for it:

Kim Robinson who is a Billy No Mates stallwart said: “The only thing missing is the photocopier!”

To book your place or simply to find out more go to:

http://billynomates.info/events/wells-christmas-bash-2/

Fiona 🙂

 

The price is right


The new year is looming and now is the perfect time to review your pricing.

Many business owners struggle with putting their prices up, particularly during times of economic downturns, even though their costs are increasing. They leave their prices the same for several years and then have to put their prices up significantly in one go to stay profitable.

However, reviewing prices on a regular basis (say, once a year) is a much better way. Customers are much happier to accept rising prices if increases are regular but small, than they are with irregular, large price increases.

So, make sure you review your prices regularly.

The key to doing this successfully is to make sure that your customers know that you have a particular time when you review prices – the new year is perfect for this. Preparing your customers properly for price increases means that the change does not come out of the blue, and they are more likely to accept it.

Remember, pricing is all about asking for a fair value for the product or service you provide. So, it is important that you are clear on what the fair value is.

Make sure you know what your competitors charge, but more importantly, talk to your customers regularly so you know what they particularly value about what you provide.This will make it easier for you to assess what price is appropriate.

If you are in the service sector the new year is also an ideal time to review the service you are giving your clients, to check if there is any additional work they need.

So, if it has been a while since you reviewed your prices bite the bullet and start planning for one now.

Fiona 🙂

What inspires you?

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 09.39.39It’s interesting how large sporting occasions can inspire us. How many of us runners find ourselves with more of a spring in our step having watched the World Athletics Championships or the London Marathon? Just seeing world class athletes such as Mo Farah achieve fantastic results can leave an imprint on us.

And I think we can all do with inspiration. When times are tough it is very easy to start focussing on the negative and to get bogged down with what things are not going to plan.

A far more positive approach is to move past those obstacles and focus on what you can do to move forward. Concentrate on those things you can change rather than on those things you can’t.

At the end of the day we live in a pretty prosperous country and have terrific opportunities residents of the developing world could only dream of.

Coming back to a story which inspires me – my father (an author/historian) in the process of researching for a book met a very wealthy German entrepreneur. He had been a fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe and my father had brought him together with the American pilot he had been in a dog fight with – they both tried their best to kill the other. Now they are the best of friends.

Whilst a great story that is not the inspiring bit for me. This ex-fighter pilot had found himself on the wrong side of the Berlin wall when the East Germans started building it. He left his home and fled to the West with his family and only what they could carry.

By the 70s when we went to stay with them near Frankfurt he was a very successful businessman. He lived in a large house with an indoor swimming pool (complete with wave machine!) and had 5 colour televisions. We stayed in their adjacent three bedroomed guest house. You can imagine the impression this made on a 10 year old whose family had only a couple of years earlier aspired to 1 colour television!

The thought that in just over a decade someone could achieve so much whilst starting with so little is very inspiring.

People do extraordinary things. These people are usually extraordinary individuals but if we can take inspiration from their example we can become, if not extraordinary ourselves, certainly more positive and motivated.

Fiona 🙂

It’s a small world!

Fiona with money!

Small 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 🙂

How to get paid – part 1!

getting paid

I often come across service providers who are finding it difficult to get paid. This got me thinking about the psychology of payment.

There are clearly two sides to this particular coin – us and the client. We can be as much, or more, to blame as our customers for not getting paid, because of the way we think and act.

Firstly, as Brits we are sometimes embarrassed to talk to clients about fees and payment. Some business owners hide behind hourly rates, which means there is no upfront agreement about exactly what the client will be expected to pay. This means it is highly likely there will be disagreement and therefore delay in payment. Not only that, but disagreement about fees can leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Secondly, many service providers are slow to invoice, which means clients receive bills quite a long time after they have had the service. This sends a message to the client that the supplier is probably pretty well off and so doesn’t need the cash quickly (or the invoice would have been sent more promptly). Consequently it is more likely that payment will need to be chased.

Other suppliers do not make it clear what their payment terms are. Now, it is in clients interests to delay payment as long as they can (especially at the moment when many businesses are finding cash flow difficult) so if you are not clear on payment terms you cannot be surprised when payments don’t come through. Make sure your letter of engagement clearly states what your payment terms are and re-iterate these terms on your invoice.

Further to payment terms ask yourself the question ‘Am I a bank?’ If the answer is no (as I expect it is for anyone reading this blog) only give credit if it is absolutely necessary – and then ensure there is some allowance for interest in the price you are quoting! Otherwise, make your payment terms ‘payment on receipt of invoice’. You probably won’t get paid immediately but at least you can chase earlier.

I know business owners who don’t like chasing for payment, even if they have agreed a fixed price, invoiced promptly and have clear payment terms, because they think their good clients will think badly of them. This, in my opinion, is the worst ‘sin’ of all. Firstly, GOOD clients pay as agreed in the contract – a good client is not one who bitches about the agreed price and then fails to pay promptly. Secondly, we are business people who should expect to be paid for a good job done, so there is nothing to be coy about when it comes to asking for what you are legally and morally entitled to!

So, to recap:

1.  Agree clearly with your client the exact terms of the engagement both in terms of job to be done and fee to be paid.

2.  Bill as soon as the job is complete.

3.  Be clear on your payment terms and give as little credit as possible.

4.  Be professional! If money is owed to you do not be coy about chasing for it.

Fiona 🙂

What’s the value?

Getting paid

Although the recession is officially over, it is still difficult to get financing and customers in most sectors continue with their belt tightening exercise. With further government cuts on their way, anyone who deals with the public sector in particular, have found life increasingly hard.

So what can you do to ensure your business survives, and even flourishes, in this environment.

I think that for anyone who sells their expertise – business coaches, accountants, lawyers, web companies etc. – the key is VALUE. What value do you give your clients? How do they perceive the service you offer?

If you can identify what your clients really value, and ensure you really deliver in these areas, they will love you and tell all their friends. The problem for many of us is to determine what that is. It may often not be what we think is the most important part of our service.

Take an accountant, for example. If you talk to some accountants they believe that their USP is that they do a cracking good job of preparing a set of accounts. If you talk to accountants’ customers they take it as read that they will get a cracking good set of accounts. What adds value to them is having their accountant available to discuss their business issues with (without getting over charged!) and for this key advisor to be interested in them and their business.

It you just offer the service your competitors do why would your customers stay with you? They would be better off going for a cheaper option if the service they will get is the same!

If you really connect with your customers so  they see you as an integral part of their team,  and recognise the value you bring to their business, why would they go elsewhere? And how do you find out what is really important to your customers? TALK TO THEM!!

I am probably preaching to the converted, but I know that many business owners are not asking their clients exactly what they value. The reasons are complex. We Brits are not very good at talking money, let alone putting ourselves on the line by asking our customers what they think of us. However, the act of doing so shows our customers that we care what they think. That we want to provide the right service for them.

Getting to grips with the value proposition can ensure you don’t have to drop your prices to win work, or retain customers.

One last thing, we all know it is much cheaper to retain a good customer than to win a new one. So I see spending time with my customers to cement the relationship as part of my marketing activity.  It’s a win win situation! They get an advisor who is interested in their business, available to discuss their concerns when they need to, and some one they are confident knows them and their business well. I get to better understand my customers businesses so I can give them the best service I can.

Fiona 🙂

How do you know if you are doing well or not?

Many business owners, especially if they are a sole trader, struggle to know whether they are doing well or not.

The reasons for this are as follows:

Firstly, many business owners do not have a plan for their business. This means that, even if they have up to date profitability figures in front of them, they don’t know if the figures are good or bad. It is only by having a robust plan, covering several years and based on your own goals, that you can judge whether your business will meet your goals, or not. A business which does not meet the owners’ goals is not doing well – however much profit it might be making.

Secondly, many business owners do not have up-to-date financial information. This means that even if they know their goals, they have no idea if they are meeting them. Some business owners keep a pretty close eye on sales/turnover but leave the rest to sort itself out. However, sales are just part of the picture. If you don’t control your costs or your cashflow, your business will struggle.

Thirdly, it is vital to know who’s definition of ‘doing well’ is important. For me, the only measure which is meaningful is YOURS. I see business owners struggling to match someone else’s ideal, rather than their own.

Finally, if you don’t know whether or not you are doing well, the chances are you will via to one extreme or the other. You will either believe you are doing far better than you are, or you will believe you are doing far worse. The first delusion will probably mean you come across quite unexpected problems with cash flow. The second will leave you feeling disillusioned and demotivated.

So, do yourself a favour and make sure you have a robust business plan, which you are updating with current financial figures. That way you will know for sure if you are doing well.

Fiona 🙂