Our world towards the end of 2021 remains as uncertain as it did at the end of 2020 – even though the powers that be are pretending business as (the old) usual has returned.
COVID-19 continues to dominate out lives and in many ways has made us more introspective. We are worried about our own financial security, and since the 9/11 anniversary and Taliban taking back control of Afganistan, perhaps our physical security too.
However, if we are to have a successful future we need to face tomorrow in a more positive way than perhaps we have done in the last couple of years. There are many people in the world living with far bigger problems than we can ever imagine encountering. The pictures of Afgans throwing themselves at planes in a desparate attempt to leave the country is proof of that.
Yes, plan for the worst but let’s really HOPE for the best. After all, a positive attitude is rewarded with positive results.
Do you remember Challenge Anneka? It was a staple of Saturday evenings in the Bevan houshold. The premise, if you don’t know, was that Anneka Rice had to complete a challenging task – often to aid a charitable cause such as building a play area – over a limited time period.
Whilst this is not something we are likely to do personally, setting ourselves challenges is a great way of feeling a sense of achievement. They motivate us to higher things and test what we are capable of.
In May we walked the West Mendip Way in a day (well – 12 hours). It is 30 miles, 4000ft of climb and the last 5 miles were just a hard slog! But we did it.
Although this was not a business test, I think that any challenges we set ourselves make us stronger in all aspects of our lives.
In a challenging year for the wrong reasons how about setting yourself some challenges for the right ones?
One of the things I am really looking forward to over the coming months is a return to meeting clients, and connections, I haven’t seen in person for months. Zoom, and other online tools, have enabled us to keep in contact, and virtual meetings have become an integral part of our business lives. I doubt that, once life returns to ‘normal’, we will revert back to business exactly as it was before COVID, because it is undeniable that virtual meetings save us time and money.
However, I, for one, have missed the ‘water cooler’ conversations we have when we have face to face meetings – but rarely happen when using an online tool. Being able to chat over a coffee and cake, allows trusting relationships to build gradually in a natural and authentic way. So I will definitely go back to ‘offline’ meetings when I can.
I am also really looking forward to getting back to my Metwalking networking – great conversations in the great outdoors!
If, like me, you are getting a bit of Zoom fatigue after so many months of restrictions to face-to-face events and meetings, the thought of a virtual conference is probably not appealing.
However, in the world we currently live in it is a case of a virtual conference or no conference at all. So in that spirita large number of CIMA Members in Practice attended last week’s virtual conference.
For me, it was particularly interesting from two view points. Firstly, I was a speaker so I was interested in how it would feel to present in the virtual conference environment and secondly, as an attendee I was interested in how the networking side (which so important with these conferences) would go.
On the first point I have done various webinars and workshops on Zoom so I wasn’t too phased by presenting into my computer. However, I am usually using a tool I know well and know exactly what to expect. Fortunately in this case we were able to have a dry run and were well supported by the conference team on the day.
Networking was certainly a very different prospect to usual. Much of the networking at conferences happens in the bar or over lunch. Or you see an old friend over in the lobby and can easily catch up over a coffee. Of course these types of face-to-face networking are unavailable at a virtual conference.
Instead you have to do a bit more work to find the people you want to connect with. There was a virtual lobby with all the names of the people at conference so you could message them. There were also virtual tables in a virtual lounge so you could have Zoom style chats with people around the table.
I was very impressed with the conference platform and the support given by Fresh Start Events who hosted the event. Although there were some technical hitches due to presenters’ varying access to broadband, this didn’t detract from the content delivered.
In all the conference was a great success. It delivered great CPD for the delegates in a way that is becoming all too familiar. Whilst I do not think that this format in anyway replaces face to face conferences, I do think it has enabled great training to happen in challenging circumstances.
We do need to keep our skills up to date and to connect with our peers – perhaps this is more important than ever – so we have to be open to alternative ways of doing so.
Last year I wrote about learning and keeping our skills up to date. At the time I had just taken part in a Charities and Not-for-profit series of workshops run by my professional institute CIMA. Before the course I had not had much to do with the charities sector but was interested in the possibility of working more in the third sector.
However, it is very interesting how the world works.
The last couple of management accounting clients that have come to work with me have, indeed, been charities and I am loving the opportunity of working in an environment where the focus of the organisation is altruistic rather than profit driven.
So, would I have taken on these clients if I had not done the earlier training? Probably. But I am much more aware of the issues around accounting for charities than I would otherwise have been. This meant that I was more able to get on the same page as them from the outset, than I would otherwise have been.
You never know where opportunities will come. So my message is the same as it was last year – up-skilling will increase your confidence and you ability to maximise the value you offer to clients.
I thought I would take this opportunity to remind you about the sales and marketing book I wrote with the fabulous Trevor Lever.
Although my name is on the cover and I did the actual writing, all the great ideas included in the book are Trevor’s. So if you are looking for some inspiration on getting your business kick started following Lockdown this may be the book for you.
It is available on Amazon – just type Catfood Trevor Lever in the Amazon search box and you will find it. It is even eligible for free delivery if you are a Prime member!
I have been thinking quite a bit about authenticity recently.
I have been to a couple of tribute band gigs over the last couple of months – Bjorn Again, T Rextasy and Fleetwood Bac.
They were all excellent and certainly knew the material of the iconic bands they were imitating.
But, at the end of the day, their acts were just imitations of the real thing. As good as their musicianship was they just did not have that spark that sets truly great bands apart from the rest.
My friends and I had a great time at the gigs and I am not saying that I wouldn’t be happy to see any of them again (indeed it was the second time that we had been to see Bjorn Again). But I know that if I ever had the chance to see the real thing the experience would be more amazing and more authentic.
The real thing will always trump an imitation.
Dave Harries and Angela Jones produce an excellent podcast called the Communication Paradox and much of their focus is on discussing the benefits to business people of being authentic.
In January their podcast was recorded as we did a Metwalk around Portishead harbour. They interviewed the people at the event asking if this type of networking helped people to be more authentic than traditional forms of networking. The resounding view was that yes it was.
So, if being authentic is the best way for us to behave in a business setting – which I definitiely agree it is (and, in fact, in our lives generally) – how do we make sure we are our authentic selves?
For me it is about not trying to copy what someone else is doing, or how someone else is being.
It may seem easier to look to copy what other businesses in our fields are doing to promote themselves, or to try to imitate their businesses, but at the end of the day people buy from, and interact with, people.
Our biggest assets are found in our own personality, and the interests we have, that make us genuinely unique.
You may have picked up, if we are connected on LinkedIn, that I ran a successful Webinar for CIMA in October.
I have never done a webinar before and so I was quite nervous about the whole thing. Not only because the participants could see me but I could not see them, but also because I was not sure I would get the timings right.
An hour is a longtime to be talking for but time can soon run away with you if you don’t time things right – so preparation is key.
Fortunately I did not have to worry about the material as I have written, talked and run courses about how accountants in practice can move their businesses more towards the work they love – and clients really value.
I also did not have to worry about the techie side as Emma Bailey from CIMA was my partner in crime and dealt with that side of things.
On the day itself, however, I was surprised to learn from Emma that 350 people had registered to take part! I knew not everyone would be listening live, but had registered to get the recording of the webinar to watch later – but I still found it a little intimidating to have so many listening (either live or later)!
In the end I could see the counter of participants gradually increase until it stopped at 180 people This was far more than I had bargained for.
Once the webinar had started I did find I got into the swing of it pretty quickly and the hour sped by – and I did not run out of time or material!
The feedback has been great and I came away from the experience with a spring in my step and a desire to do more webinars – and to restart my workshop programme for accountants.
What this whole experience re-enforced for me is that it pays to be brave and try new things. Our comfort zone is stretched when we do (something I wrote about last month), and we are more likely to continue trying even more new things.
Incidentally, I was also asked in October whether I wanted to do a wing walk – but I am not feeling quite that brave yet (or ever!!).
This time last year I was inspired by the youngsters who were just getting their GCSE and A’ level results. This year I am taking you back to when you got your first job.
The reason for this direction of reflection is that my eldest son has finally become a fully, tax-paying, contributing part of society after 5 years of university life. He is all set to start as a maths teacher in Cambridge.
This got me remembering when I started my first job at Siemens 30 years ago. I was so naive about the world of work – even though I had had the usual part-time jobs and had done a year’s placement.
When we start out, over-confident in our abilities and sure that the world of work will deliver job satisfaction and plenty of money, we have very little incling of how our careers will develop.
Even 30 years ago there was the expectation that we would stay in the same job, and certainly the same career, our whole working lives. There was a comfort in this, but also a certain lack of imagination.
I certainly never expected that I would start my own accountancy business and have to spend so much time on the edges of my comfort zone – in fact as a youngster my comfort zone was so much wider than it is now as a more cautious adult.
We gradually lose the ability to stretcour comfort zone as we get older and more secure. We are more likely to take the easier path rather than the type of brave new steps we were often taking in our youth.
As business owners we are probably better than most at accepting change and happier to work at the edges of our comfort zone, but I think, even for us, this zone is contracting over time.
But to be successful we do need to push against this trend and ensure that we are as open to new opportunities as possible – even if it means stepping out of the familiar and exposing ourselves to being challenged.
So take the plunge on a regular basis by finding new things to challenge yourself with so that you exercise the elasticity of your comfort zone!
Talking of taking the plunge, below is a piccie from the Moat Race at Wells last Monday – some teams ended up taking an unexpected plunge!
One of the most common problems I come across amongst SME business owners (and, in fact, businesses of any size) is deciding how much to charge customers for their products or services.
It’s an important problem to solve as it can make a huge difference to how profitable a business will be. Price too high and you won’t find customers. Price too low and you won’t make money – and perhaps put off potential customers because you are too cheap.
You may well ask how can a product or service being cheap put off customers? Well, if you are advertising a high quality offering to customers, but pricing too low, they will not trust that it actually is high quality.
The place to start when reviewing your pricing strategy is with your costs. If you don’t know with enough detail where the costs in your business occur – as a direct result of producing your sales or as overhead expenditure – you will not be able to price effectively.
As we know, to be profitable a business must at least cover its costs. So knowing all the business’s costs will help to ensure that products and services are priced in a way that covers these costs.
I have come to think that online learning is a great way of sharing expertise to a wide audience. The tools available to help create an engaging and effective learning experience are getting better and better.
If, like me, you have been in business for a long time and now feel you have want to share your knowledge with an audience wider than your immediate client base, how about having a go at creating your own online course?
Personally, I use a tool called Easygenerator. It is very easy to use and you can upload videos and audio files as well as the usual written content. You can try it out for free and see if you like the quiz templates provided and the format of the courses.
I have certainly enjoyed playing around with what I can produce for business owners who need inexpensive help in key areas of their business finances.