With all the uncertainties businesses are facing, how can we make our businesses more resilient?With all the uncertainties businesses are facing, how can we make our businesses more resilient?
I think the few years are going to be the least predictable, and most uncertain, since I started my business.
None of us know how Brexit will impact the environment in which we are running our businesses. Even if we do not trade directly with the other 27 EU countries we will be impacted by how the split with the EU effects the UK economy.
Also there is the increasingly urgent issue of climate change. I think we will have to (and should) increasingly consider the environmental impact of the business decisions we make on a day to day basis.
This may mean that we change: the way we travel; the resources we use and how we use them; and the scope of work and the spread of clients we serve.
And then there is the ever increasing speed of technological advances to keep up with.
I can see that each of these issues will cause the costs of running our businesses to rise and the speed of change in the business environment to increase.
So what can we do to make our businesses as resilient as possible given the challenges ahead?
I have often talked about business planning and I am a firm believer that businesses which have a plan are more resilient than businesses run on a more laissez faire basis.
There are several reasons for this. A business run by someone who is very clear on their personal goals will be more focused than one where the business owner is less clear about what they want to achieve. The process of business planning encourages a review of personal goals, which are then reflected in the goals of the business.
Once you have a distinct goal it is easier to decide on the best direction for your business and you are better able to make decisions quickly in response to the changing environment because you are confident about the path you want to take.
This means that you can properly assess the resources you will need to employ get you to where you need to go – whether that’s people, money or training.
In short business planning helps you to build a business that is fit for purpose.
This is a truth that we, as members in practice know and so we advise our clients to plan robustly, but we often reserve the right not to follow our own advice.
But the reasons our clients should plan are exactly the reasons we should plan ourselves. This does not mean doing a spreadsheet budget for the coming year but doing a proper review of where we are, what our goals are, what changes we need to make to achieve the success we need and the resources we need to employ to get there.
So let’s make 2020 the year we take our own advise and plan properly for our businesses.
It’s that time of year when we come up with fantastic ideas and resolutions for the year ahead. Unfortunately, these ideas and resolutions, which seemed so fantastic in 2019, will have been forgotten very early on in 2020 The reason for this is that we tend to come up with woolly, general thoughts rather than a real plan for change.
How about making this year different? If you really want to change your business, your work/life balance, your effectiveness or any other aspect of your life, you have to think through what you want to achieve. What are your timescales? What are your specific goals? How will you measure change? What resources will you need? Who do you need to help you?
Once you have thought through all the aspects of your idea write them down so you have a point of reference – and then DO IT!
By taking the time to plan you will find it much more likely that you will keep your resolutions and move forward.
Don’t wish upon a star – reach for it!
As a CIMA MiP you are a professional who is required to do a certain amount of continuing personal development (CPD) and so you will be used to going along to regular training sessions.
Sometimes they can be a bit of a drudge because they are generally all about updating our knowledge rather than gaining new skills.
As time goes on we can get increasingly stuck in the rut of doing the same things for the same people day in and day out. But the work pays the bills and we don’t believe we have a lot of work time to do much else in any case.
However, this type of thinking is a mistake in my opinion. After all, our working lives take up the majority of our actual lives so why settle for drudge?
One way to mix things up is to take bits of time out to do training to learn brand new things – maybe directly related to the work you are doing now, or completely different but complimentary to it.
Over the last year I have done 5 day workshops aimed at helping CIMA accountants understand the world of charities and not for profit enterprises. It was not a world I had particular experience of before but the workshops were fascinating.
My main reason for going was to help with my role as director of Wessex Community Assets but I would have gone along anyway because of my growing interest in community benefit models.
I will be following up this training with 4 Community Shares Practitioner Training workshops run by COOPS UK with the eventual aim of becoming a registered practitioner.
I am exited by the prospect of helping local community benefit societies raise money through community share issues to enable them to finance the setting up of shops, pubs and other community focused enterprises.
Slight re-training is enabling me to confidently move more into a world of opportunities I would not have envisaged a couple of years ago.
So my advice if you are stuck in a rut is to look around you and see what training is going on that tweaks your interest and take a punt.
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 long time 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!!).
Time management is something many people struggle with and we MiPs are no different.
Part of the problem I think is with this concept of ‘time management’. We actually cannot manage time at all – it carries on regardless of anything we mere mortals do. We cannot ‘create’ time or make it stand still whilst we catch our breath. All we can do is allocate the tasks we have to the time available.
There are as many different techniques for doing this as there are exponents of ‘time management’ and some will work for some people and some will work for others. Some people just can’t get themselves organised no matter how many techniques they try.
Much of effectively allocating tasks to time is about your frame of mind. If, in fact, subconsciously you quite like being disorganised and see it as part of your personality, no time management technique in the world is going to be effective. For ‘time management’ to be effective you have to really want to be organised.
If you do want to be effective in your working environment the key is to try different methods and see which one works for you.
For a guide to different ‘time management’ you can download a free guide from my website http://www.fionabevanfinancialmanagement.co.uk/guides.php
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 stretch our 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, featured is a piccie from the Moat Race at Wells last Monday – some teams ended up taking an unexpected plunge!
When we start out as MiPs we are full of confidence and excited about the challenges ahead.
After all we have a great qualification; most of us have extensive experience of business after a fair few years working in industry; and we know that all businesses need robust financial information to be successful – so what could possibly go wrong?
Well, as it turns out most of us are very poor at selling and marketing ourselves, which makes finding customers a particular challenge. It is not enough to be the best accountant we can be – we have to find customers who have problems they acknowledge need solving in their businesses and accept that we are the right person to do it.
Not easy when most SME business owners have no clue what a management accountant is or does, or how what they do would benefit them and their company.
For me one of the most important pieces of training I did as a new MiP was to go on Trevor Lever’s sales effectiveness course. It helped me to understand how to acquire customers in a way that made sense to me. Trevor has so much experience and knowledge that I was very happy to follow the sales processes he advocated. Without his help I am sure I would have struggled to find customers in the early months and years.
I found Trevor’s course so useful that, when I found out he was planning to retire without having shared all his great ideas in a book, I proposed that we write a sales and a marketing book together to share his great stuff – initially specifically aimed at MiPs but more recently combined into a single book for anybody who sells consultancy types of services (accountants, lawyers, HR consultants…). My contribution was to ask the ‘silly’ questions we all have about selling and marketing – Trevor’s was to provide the answers!
So if you are a new MiP, or an existing MiP who still struggles with the sales and marketing side of your business, it might be worth taking a look – it might just save your business!
June is conference month for CIMA Members in Practice and for the last 14 years I have been there – whether at Heythrop Park, Heathrow or, more recently, Nottingham.
But this year I had to miss this staple of my working calendar. My eldest son was graduating as a fully fledged teacher (to be set loose real children!) so of course I had to go to his graduation.
So I have been thinking about what I missed most from not going.
I missed the opportunity of seeing some great speakers from Will Kintish (what he does not know about networking isn’t worth knowing) to Levi Roots of Dragon’s Den fame. In the past we have had some excellent main stage speakers including Mark Ormrod, who got a standing ovation for his down to earth talk on his experiences following extensive injuries in the Gulf war, and Debra Searle who rowed across the Atlantic single handedly.
I always enjoy the main stage speakers but it is some of the break out sessions where the real value is gleaned. Practical, relevant sessions on how to run our businesses better have really helped me to develop my business.
I missed the fab gala dinner with entertainment and disco to follow – as anyone will tell you the disco is my favourite part of Conference downtime!
But what I missed most of all was catching up with the great friends I have made over the years who have helped support me and given me the confidence I now have. There are many people on that list but I want to particularly mention Mark Allen, Stephen Milne, Ian Ross, Kim Swarbrick and Antony Holdsworth (although if you look at the photo you will see that Stephen and Ian quickly found a substitute for me in my annual ‘guys in kilts piccie’.
So come what may I will be at next year’s Conference!!
As I am writing this the sun is shining and a heat wave is anticipated for the weekend – even though it is Glastonbury festival time!
Whilst we all love the summer it can bring with it extra managerial problems for business owners who are trying to balance employees motivation, with getting the job done.
It can be difficult to concentrate on doing your job when the sun is shining outside – particularly if it’s very hot. This means business owners need to spend more time than usual focusing their team to their usual level of effectiveness.
Then there is the issue of holidays. If you have staff who have school age children there can be the battle to book time off during the school holidays – and you have to make sure you still have cover for all the roles in your business!
I think that, if you are able to, it can be very helpful to offer a degree of flexibility in working hours to staff who either suffer with the heat or generally want to make the best of the good weather.
Could employees start earlier in the day and finish earlier, for example? Could they work part of the day from home where it might well be more comfortable than in a hot, stuffy office?
In my experience a little bit of flexibility can go a long way to motivating employees to work harder when they are at work.
Then there is the issue of your own holidays. I have seen several LinkedIn posts where business owners seem to be proud that they are still answering emails and responding to business issues whilst on holiday.
To me this is not taking a holiday.
If you have staff you should ensure that they are empowered (through training and instruction) to act appropriately to problems whilst you are away.
If you don’t have staff you still need to find a way to balance business needs against your needs for a proper break by: informing clients in good time that you will be out of contact for the duration of your holiday; completing client work before you go; ensuring sales leads are not lost by using a call answering service…
Everyone needs proper holidays to enable them to recharge their batteries and be at their best – and you are no different. I certainly find I return from holiday more effective, focussed and full of ideas just because my brain has had a rest!
I was talking to a businesswoman recently – she is successful in her field but is starting to get bogged down in the day to day running of her business. In particular, administration and bookkeeping are starting to grind and take the shine out of her enjoyment of her businesses.
This is theme I come back to time and again because it 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! There will come a point (or you may already be there) where there is simply not enough time to do all that is needed in your business.
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-£30 per hour you might need to pay a good administrator/bookkeeper. Even though we are accountants, doesn’t mean to say that we should do our own bookkeeping.
- 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.
- A good bookkeeper is likely to do the job more quickly and efficiently than we would because we can often get distracted by the detail. We often do bookkeeping and admin tasks as a way of keeping busy so we can convince ourselves we do not have time for the difficult jobs – like sales and marketing!
- The benefit of using a bookkeeper yourself is that you can also vet them before recommending them to clients! If they are good they will settle down very quickly to the job at hand and that is what you want for your clients.
So do yourself a favour. If you have too little time to do the important things in your business – DELEGATE!