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. This problem is just as prevalent in MiP businesses as it is in other SMEs.
As we know 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 service being cheap put off customers? Well, if you are advertising a high quality offering to customers (which as accountants I hope that you are), but pricing too low, they will not trust that it actually is high quality.
Confidence plays a huge role in pricing. MiPs will often price too cheaply because they are not confident enough to ask for what they are worth. If you fall into this category it is important that you spend time thinking about how you can get over your confidence issues.
Pricing is such a fundemental skill for all business owners, that I have decided it will be the topic for my first business owner masterclass on-line course – which is now available on the Qintil learning platform. (https://courses.qintil.com/Courses/MiPsmeanbusiness/business-owner-masterclass-pricing)
Incidentally, 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.
Networking is a part of modern business life. As an employee we often hadto network within, and outside, the businesses we work in to build relationships that facilitate our jobs.
For business owners, such as ourselves, networking is even more important, because it is the main way we meet other business people. These may become suppliers, customers or strategic introducers who will (hopefully) refer customers to us.
Whatever the circumstances networking is the start of building, and then maintaining, important relationships.
Most networking is done over refreshments of some description and involves a roomful of people, many of them trying to sell to people they have only just met.
Good networkers know that networking is not about selling – it is about starting a conversation that might, at sometime in the future, lead to business. But there will always be people at a networking event who have not got the memo!
Recently there has been a move away from networking indoors to more outdoors based meetings. For me these are much more fun and are more likely to attact people I will have something in common with.
I love walking and cycling, so networking I can do whilst walking or cycling, with people who like walking and cycling is always going to be a great way to start building profitable business relationships.
Conversationscome much more easily when you are not sitting face to face or standing in small groups. It is also easy to move around the group to talk to different people without any awkwardness.
Of course,if there is a coffee and cake stop along the way so much the better!
The best networking event I ever went to was organised by NRG and Raising the Baa. It involved groups of us herding sheep and trying to get them into pens. Some of us were designated as ‘sheep dogs’ and some as ‘farmers’ directing the dogs. It was the BEST fun!
So, if you have the opportunity to try an outdoors networking event – and you love the outdoors – I would really recommend giving it a go. It’s networking, whilst getting fresh air and exercise, with a change of scene from our usual business day.
The new year is often the time for resolutions which by this time in the year have often fallen by the way side. Even the resolution to start planning for the next year can be a goal that is never fulfilled. But planning for the future is a key part of making sure that you are in control of your business and your life and not the other way around.
Do you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve personally over the next 20 years? In 2039 when you look back, what goals would you like to have ticked off and what resources do you need to put into place to achieve these goals?
These are questions a good goal based financial planner helps you to get clearly defined.
But why is it important to know the answers to these questions?
Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know that I am passionate about planning and believe that it is much more likely that we will achieve the results we want, if we have a plan in place. This applies equally to personal goals and to business goals. And they are interlinked. It is unlikely that success meeting a business goal will be meaningful unless personal goals are also met. In fact, I believe our personal hopes and desires should provide the backdrop to our business goals – especially where we are business owners. After all, how is a business successful if it does not reflect the owner’s personal values and fit with their life plan?
I have discovered, by working with my goal based financial planner Andrew Stinchcomb, that there are key things I want to achieve in my life. Some of these things have always been clear to me – others have come to light through discussions with Andrew and my husband, Jeff. The key outcome has been that we now have a clear idea of what we need resource-wise (and this inevitably means money) to make our dreams a reality.
It’s funny what comes out in the wash in our discussions. A while back Jeff and I had a light bulb moment. We had always talked about taking a year out when our boys leave home to travel around Europe in a camper van. It was originally a pretty lose idea and more of a dream than something we thought we might really do. However, this idea crystallised into a key goal during our discussions – such that, should it not happen, I would feel really bereft. Andrew gave us a clear idea of how much per month we needed to save and invest wisely to make it happen.
As my business is my only source of income, I therefore had, and still have, a very clear picture of what I need to accomplish business-wise, in terms of number of clients and levels of income. This has made it much easier for me to identify good opportunities as they are presented to me and to motivate myself. I know what I will be sacrificing if I don’t push myself.
So take a look at your life goals and ask yourself “Is my business providing to route to these goals?”.
As we all get back into the swing of work after the Christmas break it is a good time to look forward to what the new year may have in store for us.
Many businesses will find this year a real challenge. There is a lot of uncertainty around what will happen with regards to Brexit and this uncertainty has already lead to reducing sales and profits for many.
It is interesting that often the unknown has a more detrimental impact on the economy than actual problems. You only have to look at how the pound has plummeted, along with the stock markets, over the last year to see that this is the case – even though we have not left the EU yet.
The economy is driven by confidence and that confidence is fragile. The press fosters negative feelings about the future – because bad news sells papers – and suddenly everyone is in a spin, confidence collapses and, guess what, the economy suffers. It’s bad news, just as the papers warned!
As business owners we have to be careful that we don’t get caught up in a spiral of negativity. Negativity prevents business growth because good decisions are postponed. Investment in the future is delayed as outcomes become, apparently, more uncertain.
The fact is that good, focused, businesses should not be afraid of the future because economic downturns tend to favour them, as less well managed businesses fall out of the market place.
The key to success over the coming months will be to focus on making your business as efficient and effective as possible. This is always the case but less so when the economy is bouyant.
If you need to invest for the future growth of your business don’t put off doing so; but before committing make sure that you have a robust business case for the investment. Be in charge of your own fate.
Many companies cut back on marketing and training, but these are the very things that will help your business to thrive when your competitors are floundering.
Above all make sure that you have updated your business plan and built in some ‘what/if’ scenarios. That way you will be clear on the goals you have for the coming year and what you need to do to achieve them. There is no reason why you shouldn’t reach your pot of gold!
I was looking through my December posts from previous years for inspiration and thought it was worth revisiting some of the themes. Once again the immortal words of Slade burst out of the speakers of shops once again as they have since 1973.
Whether they make you smile or shiver will often depend on your frame of mind at the time you hear them – or how often you have already heard them in any one day. I have often wondered how shop workers stop themselves running and screaming from their shops when the constant blaring of Christmas pap gets to much for them!
It is unfortunately a sign of the times that Christmas permeates much of everyday life for so long before the big day itself. I think it detracts from the spirit and excitement of yuletide. Whether you are a Grinch or an elf Christmas will affect your business and, in some cases, drive you up the wall.
Some people go absolutely barmy over decorating their space, love secret santas and are generally pretty unbearable from the beginning of November until New Year. As a business owner it can be difficult to strike a balance between allowing staff to have fun and ensuring that business is not too disrupted. Even when you strike a balance with your staff doing business at this time of year can be a challenge.
It is very difficult to get any type of decision from potential customers in the run down to Christmas. On the other hand Christmas is often set as the arbitary date for the completion of projects – leading to huge pressures on teams.
Customers will often use the Christmas period as an excuse for not paying invoices, citing Christmas close down and staff holidays as the reason. Normal payment systems often do not kick back in until the 2nd or 3rd week of January. The result can be cash flow problems unless you plan to avoid them.
So, unsurprisingly, it is all about planning for a positive Christmas and making sure that you take control of any challenging situations before they cause you a real problem.
I have loved running the series of workshops up and down the country for members in practice but have got to the stage that I have to take a break – because it is very difficult to market courses around the country in the post GDPR environment.
I was getting quite discouraged until I had a chat with my good friend Alison. She is a business coach and has delivered quite a lot of training over the years. She suggested developing an on-line group of courses.
So I decided that’s what I am going to do. I will use the course material I have already developed, along with new quizzes and other fun learning aids.
Well, much of October was spent investigating on-line platforms and training tools – along with putting together the first 3 courses (hopefully the first of many).
It’s been hard work but a lot of fun!
What I have found exciting is that I have been able to make use of quite a lot of material that was in my back catelogue. Not only have I been able to make use of material I gathered for my books but, in the past, I have had some great opportunities to gathermaterial in other mediums that I can use now.
For example, I have been interviewed by Alan Philpott of Glastonbury FM for their Packed Lunch programme. Alan sent me all the interviews and I have been able to use extracts to liven up my courses.
Similarly, when I ran my first day workshop last September on How to Build a Management Accounting Business for CIMA members in practice, my great friend Angie Cussell videoed it for me. This turns out to have been a great decision. I have been able to use snippets of video in the courses to bring them alive.
As I mentioned, last month Alison got me started on the whole journey but other people have also helped me to develop the course concept.
David Ringsell put me in touch with Qintil which is the platform the courses will be hosted and Sam Easen got me started using the Easygenerator tool to create the courses.
Several people have been Beta testers and given me feedback on any changes I should make to ensure the courses are as good as I can make them – including hubby Jeff.
Trevor Lever and Andrew Stinchcomb have also helped me to crystalise how the whole venture might be promoted.
So it’s been a team effort, for which I am very grateful. In fact most of the best things that have happened in my business have been as a result of the great peeps I have around me – thank you all!!
“Piglet is so small that he slips into a pocket, where it is very comfortable to feel him when you are not quite sure whether twice seven is twelve or twenty-two.” This Pooh quote is all about having someone you can call on to help when you need it – and don’t we all need people like that!
Successful business owners surround themselves with people who can do the jobs in their company that they cannot do, so they can concentrate on their own strengths. Obviously having employees is one way of filling the skills gap – another is to use consultants and other professionals.
So how do you find skilled professionals who will add great value to your business?
For me referrals and recommendations are the only way to go. If someone I know well has introduced me to someone they have worked with before, I can shortcut the due dilligence process. In my experience good people hang out with other good people.
I make sure that I network in groups that help me to find great people I can use myself and recommend to clients and other contacts. I love meeting new people and networking groups are a great way to keep in contact with my strategic partners regularly. Clearly networking can require quite a lot of time but these days I can enhance my networking by using online tools.
In this respect I like LinkedIn because it allows people to recommend me, and I can read recommendations given to people I might be thinking of using, in a quick and easy to use format. I can also catch up with what’s important to them through blogs and posts.
If I have had a great service from someone I make sure I recommend them so that their profile on LinkedIn is enhanced – I also ask people I have worked with the recommend me. When I get a good recommendation it is a great morale booster and helps others to get a feel of what working with me would feel like.
It’s easy to put networking on the back burner when we get busy but we must continue to do the things that got us busy – or we will experience periods of slack time when one job comes to an end and before restarting our networking re-fills our time again.
I talk to many MiPs 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
I have long believed that effective networking is key to business success. This is particularly so for business to business services. However, it is always difficult to decide which of the numerous networking groups are best for your particular business. It is very easy to waste time and money doing lots of ineffective networking – by ineffective I mean networking which does not result in building ‘real’ business relationships.
I believe that successful networking is less about the format and the networking organisation and more about the individuals in the group. Are they the type of people who are moving in the same markets as you? Are they talking to the people you want to talk to? Can you see yourself building great referral relationships with them? If the answer is yes to any or all of these questions the chances are you have found a netwoking group which may well work for you.
So how do you get the best out of networking meetings?
Having a plan is an excellent start. Some groups provide a list of people who have booked for the meeting so look at who is going and decide who you want to talk to. Groups with a sit down meal often give you the opportunity for you to request to sit next to a particular person – or at least on the same table as that person. So use this facility.
If you have been invited to a group by a member discuss with them in advance who in the group would be good contacts for you. If they can introduce you to each other through LinkedIn or by email in advance you will be happier approaching them at the meeting.
After the meeting FOLLOW UP! However, well you got along with the people you meet they will soon forget you if you don’t follow up with further ‘get to know you properly meetings’ (or 121s). Remember everyone in the room will be meeting lots of people all the time – you need to find a way to make sure they keep you in mind if you want them to work with you.
So, I would like to sign off by saying that it does not matter how many people you meet during your networking – what matters is how many of them you follow up and build a mutually productive relationship with.
I thought as the CIMA MiP conference has just finished it would be a good time to revisit the theme of professional conferences.
I have been to the Members in Practise conference for years and have always got key benefits from going:
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.
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.
Finally on the CPD front, sales and marketing is always a challenge for MiPs and we have great workshops on how to get our messages across.
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.
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 learned from this year’s conference.
As MiPs though it is worth remembering that the majority of the conference organising is done by the MiP volunteers on the Panel. They have their own businesses to run and take a substantial time out of them to ensure each year’s conference is a great event.
Getting sponsors on board
Ensuring we all know about it through marketing
Liaising with the venue to make sure everything goes well on the day.
So. if you have any complaints, be constructive. If there is something that is just a little irritant don’t make a big deal out of it, but if there is something you could help to make better next time round why not offer your help?
If you are cogitating about whether to go to your next year’s 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!