How can tech help a small business?

With MTD on its way for sole traders and then limited companies it is essential to get everybody keeping digital records sooner rather than later. But, while MTD are wielding the big MTD stick, what are the benefits to small business owners of using modern cloud software for their bookkeeping?

  1. Multiple users can log in at the same time so accountants can help clients more proactively with queries or business issues
  2. Gone are the days of manually typing everything. Software can link to data entry apps to do your bookkeeping from a photograph or PDF thanks to OCR (Optical Character Recognition) or can link directly to electronic tills or online shops as well as automatically uploading your bank statements.
  3. Invoices can be raised from the app on a phone and card payments taken before leaving site. Saving Friday nights for relaxing rather than paperwork
  4. All this automation means that business owners can do some of the work themselves to reduce their bookkeeping bills.
  5. With remote access to the business numbers accountants can finally be more proactive
  6. Management information is available at the touch of a button. Of course, more complex businesses may need proper management accounts but even that is quicker with up to date bookkeeping.
  7. We run monthly bookkeeping health checks* for all our clients so that, even when they do it themselves, we can ensure that their record are up to date and in a good state each month.
  8. With up to date bookkeeping year end accounts can be produced much faster.
  9. Accounting software can be attached to hundreds of apps to help project management, staff scheduling, stock control, and all sorts of other parts of the business.
  10. It is easier to have regular contact between business owner, bookkeeper and accountant and to provide the best service possible.

*At Minerva Accountants we use Dext Precision, formerly Xavier, for most of our health check reports.

What is business advisory?

As you know I’ve spent the last year writing ‘Changing the Numbers: how to deliver advisory services for success’ to help accountants to provide real help for their business clients. And I’m the first to agree that, whilst all businesses need this service, not everybody can afford to pay for it. (This is why we have free products such as our Better Business webinars for accountants and our Money Matter ones for general business.)

But for those clients that can afford to invest in growing their business then we can do much better than a bit of tax advice at the year end or help completing a loan application. As accountants we have financial training but we also have exposure to hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses as well as running our own.

Accountants who, like me, have worked as Finance Directors or similar will know that their role at the board room table includes much more than ‘just’ accountancy. The topics that I’ve identified include:

1. Vision and values
2. Cash flow
3. Pricing
4. Staffing
5. Efficiency of operation
6. Funding
7. Tax
8. Mergers and acquisitions
9. Marketing
10. Sales
11. Customer services and quality
12. Cost control

Different accountants may offer advice on some or all of these areas depending on knowledge and experience so we need to be clear on those areas.

When should I recruit?

It’s a question I’m often asked.

You need to recruit BEFORE you get busy so that you have time to train your latest employee. Particularly if this is your first employee as all the training will be down to you. With my first employee, a trainee accountant, I was doing my own work in the evenings for the first two months.

You need to recruit early to allow your new person to get up to speed with the work, your clients, and your systems. Even with fully qualified accountants this took about three months.

You can accelerate both of these with a good induction programme. (I share ours on our courses)

You need to recruit early in case you find that you have chosen the wrong person. It’s something we all fear when recruiting but better to move them on quickly (and kindly) if they’re not a good fit so that you, and they, can find something better.

So, my rule of thumb is to recruit 5 months ahead of when I need the team member to be at full capacity. 3 weeks to advertise, 1 week to interview and decide, 1 month for them to give notice, and 3 months for them to get up to speed.

It’s much easier getting new business than new team members so, if you have the right person, you can soon find the extra work for them to do that will cover their costs.

What’s your experience of recruiting and onboarding new people?

We don’t need another hero

I’m currently reading Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller which is about getting the right marketing message for our business. It’s very good and I recommend it.

Miller suggests that we make our customer/prospect the hero and that we are not a hero but their guide. As you can imagine it set off a train of thought as I reimagined my own business in this light.

How do you and your product/service guide your clients to solve their problems and reach their goal? Now, how can you build this into your marketing?

New year, new plan

Welcome to the new year. What have you got planned? Incremental business growth, a better work life balance (how long have you been promising yourself that?) or world domination?

Now is a good time to think about what you want and what that means for your business.

Here are some questions to get you underway with your plan:

1. What do you want your life to look like in 5 years time?
2. How much do you want to earn from your business?
3. How much do you need to earn from your business?
4. How many hours per week/month/year do you want to work in your business?

This will give you some idea of how much you need to earn per hour in your business. Don’t forget that you will need to cover your business costs and taxes too.

A good SWOT analysis will help you to decide how to earn the necessary profit. Look at your strengths, your weaknesses, and any opportunities and threats around you. Covid and potential lockdowns can provide both opportunities and threats to your business to make a plan to eliminate or buffer the formers and to be able to take advantage of the latter.

Take a close look at what you are actually doing. What will you sell and to whom? What problems do you solve?

Now you can start on the details of the plan:

1. Sales plan
2. Marketing plan
3. Staffing – who, when and at what level
4. Technology and other resources
5. Premises
6. Other costs
7. Taxes

If you need a hand with any of this then we’re running a Strategic Planning Day on 19 January. We’ll work through templates together to help you come up with your own plan for your best year yet. Email us to sign up.

Charlie’s MOT reminders

Are they helpful or salesy?

Charlie runs my local garage. As it’s just 15 minutes walk away it’s a convenient place to get my MOT done each year. And every year Charlie, or one of his team, sends me a reminder a month before my MOT is due.

I know that it’s now possible to get an email reminder via the .gov.uk website but Charlie has been doing this for years.

That reminder is true customer service because it helps me to ensure that my car is safe and compliant.

That reminder is good marketing because Charlie knows that I will pick up the phone and book my MOT with him. And, whilst doing the MOT, he may pick up additional work. And, as I see him as my regular garage he’s the first person I think about when the Service light goes on in my car.

What can you do to genuinely help your clients that will also lead to a sale?

Is work-life balance really achievable?

Yes.

I started, grew and finally sold my first business all while working just an average of 25 hours a week. Some weeks were more but others were less. Here’s what I focused on to do it:

1.   Make it a priority otherwise you’ll drift into overwork habits.
2.   Focus on the non-work option. Mine was 2 small kids – see my Balanced 10 Talk.
3.   Focus while in work – see my articles on Pomodoro Technique etc.
4.   Say no to the wrong type of work – learn about marketing avatars in my books and courses.
5.   Set your prices to ensure that you cover your business and living costs – see my pricing articles and webinars.
6.   Systemise for maximum efficiency – see Scale Up Blueprint talk and course.
7.   Automate where possible.
8.   Delegate to free up your time.

Underselling or underserving

Many of us are nervous of appearing too “salesy” but do we end up underserving our clients/customers as a result?

Thinking back to a long lunch with a friend a while ago now. We ordered our food and drinks and enjoyed a good chat. But the food took a long time to come, a minor irritation as we hadn’t been prewarned but we weren’t in a rush. We had, however, finished our drinks and wanted to order more.

There was no server in sight so we became very conscious of the food delay as well as our lack of drinks.

If only somebody had stopped by to ask if we needed anything else we would have continued our conversation over fresh drinks and stopped looking at our watches.

In failing to sell to us they actually ended up underserving us. They could have sold 22% extra (I’m an accountant, of course I worked it out!) AND had very satisfied customers.

So don’t be embarrassed about upselling or cross selling if you think your client/customer needs it (and, if they don’t need it you shouldn’t be trying to sell it to them anyway!).