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!
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!
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.