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 ÂŁ22.50 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 🙂

Conferences rock!

I thought as a conference I am organising is just around the corner it would be a good time to revisit the theme of professional conferences.

I have been to the CIMA Members in Practise conference for years and have always got key benefits from going:

  1. The conference is excellent for CPD, which as a professional management accountant, is vital. Although I don’t do tax or compliance myself I do need enough knowledge to help point clients in the right direction and conference is a good place to top up my knowledge.
  2. As well as specific CPD on accountancy issues we also have great key note speakers who motivate me to have the best business I can.
  3. Finally on the CPD front, sales and marketing is always a challenge for me and we have great workshops on how to get our messages across.
  4. For me, though, conference is about much more than just getting CPD. Because conference is full of like-minded individuals it is a great place to build relationships, which can carry me through the year. Working on our own can be a lonely place and these relationships help me to keep a balanced view of my world.
  5. And let’s not forget the gala dinner, disco, and the ‘craic’ at the bar! We have such a good time and, as I don’t get out very often, it is one of the few evenings in the year when I feel like a grown up!

I am really excited about what I will learn from this year’s conference but there is a sting in the tail.

Again I am chair of the conference (no pressure!!).

Last year the conference nightmares included not bringing the speaker slides and having to wing a presentation because one of the speakers didn’t turn up (could happen for real!). My nightmare of choice this year has been that a random eastern European pipe band crashes the event and plunges us all into chaos.

Nightmares aside I know it will all be OK because we have put many hours of preparation into it and we know we have a great programme.

So, if you are cogitating about whether to go to your professional conference (especially if you have not gone before) my advice is ‘give it a go’. You will probably get much more out of it than you ever imagined!

Fiona 🙂

It’s a good day when the sun shines!

juilet

How many of us are thrilled that the sun is finally starting to put in an appearance. I certainly am!

Don’t we feel better about our businesses when the sun shines?

But what tangible effect does the weather really have on most of our companies?

Unless you are involved in tourism, swimming pool construction, or possibly seasonal clothing, there is really no reason for sudden optimism when the weather is good –  the economy is unlikely to change overnight just because it isn’t raining. Nor are customers, which weren’t there yesterday, suddenly going to materialise today because they won’t get wet coming to your office – although being in Somerset they might have more luck getting to you once the floods a gone!

And yet we do feel more positive and can often see a change in our business fortunes. Whether this is because, in feeling better about the world, we are more open to opportunities or because good weather encourages us to take a more proactive view, is difficult to say.

Actually it does not matter. In my view anything which encourages us to get out of bed with a spring in our step, ready to face the challenges we will inevitably face in our working week, is a good thing.

So maximise the benefits of this positivity: walk to meetings where possible; take a stroll at lunchtime so you can re-energise; and generally get out! We Brits know the sunshine won’t last for ever so make the most of it whilst it’s here.

Fiona 🙂