Is free really free?

When we say that something is free we usually mean that no money changes hands. But hopefully there is an exchange of value. For instance, I hope that these tips help you and/or your business is some way.

Salesmen often use the phrase “what have you got to lose?” when they try to book some of our time for a chat or a software demo. Well, actually, I will be losing time and for any business owner time is a precious commodity. (Thanks for taking the time to ready this, by the way).

Or perhaps we exchange our contact information for a free webinar. Yes, we too see interest in our free webinars as a legitimate business reason to think you might be interested in the paid advice that we provide as well as further webinars. It’s why we always include an Unsubscribe button in our newsletters in case you really aren’t interested.

There’s also the opportunity cost of watching a webinar when you could be spending time earning money elsewhere, so I need to be pretty certain that those webinars will prove to be a good investment of your time once you’ve signed up. It’s also why we make a donation of 1 day’s education to a Kenyan girl as a thank you to those of you who turn up.

So, next time you offer something “free” as part of your marketing, make sure that there is some value being exchanged.

What is decision fatigue? (part 2)

Decision fatigue is the exhaustion that comes with making constant decisions. My tip this week is to remove some more of the smaller decisions in your life, so here are some ideas for deciding what to eat AND trying to keep it healthy(ish).

I really admire those people who spend a day each weekend bulk cooking for the whole week. Although I love cooking I’m not that organised.

  1. Plan your meals a week ahead so that you don’t end up ordering a takeaway or snacking on junk just because you’re hungry and can’t decide what to eat.
  2. Cook double quantities and freeze half for a busy day.
  3. Order a veg box. You just have to cook what turns up, whether you like it or not. If anybody has any recipes for courgettes where you can’t taste the courgettes then please send them to me. It’s not just the veg box but the only things I have growing in my garden are tomatoes and … courgettes.
  4. Order a fruit box. Healthy snacks! Also pots of dried fruit and bowls of homemade popcorn instead of crisps for those who prefer something savoury.
  5. ‘Hello Fresh’ and similar meal boxes. Choose them in a matter of minutes ready for the following week. It’s great for trying new things and they come with brilliant instructions so the teens are able to cook a meal without input from me.

Give it a try and let me know how you get on.

What to do when staff outgrow you

In a small business it isn’t always possible to provide a full career path for all your team. Even if you are growing your growth rate may not be the same as that of each individual employee.

So what can you do when a member of staff asks for more responsibility, a promotion and/or a pay rise?

  • Decide whether they are ready to take the step up with your support
  • Check your business plan to see if it is possible to accelerate any recruitment or restructuring that you had planned
  • Decide whether you want to keep the individual in your organisation by adapting your plan to include them
  • If you can’t accommodate their needs then switch your role to one of career mentor and help them to move on to the most suitable role outside your organisation.

It’s always sad to lose a good member of the team but sometimes their needs are no longer compatible with those of the business and you need to go your separate ways rather than force them to stay and become frustrated.

What can I claim for using my home for business?

Yes, we claimed a small amount for you working from home for Upstarter for November 2019 and I have a note to do a proper calculation.

How many rooms do you have in your home excluding kitchen/bathrooms? Do you have a whole room dedicated to the businesses or is it only a half? Eg if you have 6 rooms in your home and a dedicated home office then 1/6 of the costs of running your home relate to your office.

BUT your office is probably used for your home admin at weekends too so maybe 5/7 is business related. As the office is not used for business 100% of the time it is not subject to capital gains tax when you sell your home. This means that 1/6 x 5/7 of your costs relate to the business.

Included in your costs are:

  • Mortgage interest (not repayment) or rent
  • Council tax
  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Water
  • Cleaner
  • Some other costs are also acceptable so talk to us about anything else.

Sole traders and partnerships can just include these costs as capital introduced to the business. Limited companies will need a licence from the director to the company.

Quick software hacks

Software is changing all the time but here are a few useful bits that you may not have spotted in your existing software:


  • I still come across people who haven’t set up bank rules for repeating payments such as rates and salaries.
  • If you’re an accountant or bookkeeper using Xero then it is worth doing their online certification course to learn all the main tips and tricks.
  • There is a new short term cashflow report which can be particularly useful at this time. It forecasts your cashflow for the next 7-30 days based on invoice due dates although it doesn’t include payments for such things as salaries and taxes.
  • Use the invoice reminders to gently chase overdue invoices where customers may have forgotten them.

Thrivecart are offering a lifetime subscription for you to handle all your online sales through one platform. You will still need to use a payment provider. We use Stripe for card sales but you can use GoCardless or Paypal.

  • ​Many apps that don’t have a direct interface can be connected by using Zapier. An action in one app can trigger an action in another app using Zapier rather than coding. It’s so simple that even I can do it (and I haven’t even done the training yet).

Let me know your other hacks and shortcuts as efficiency is so important in business.

Why accounting software is like tea making

If you don’t already know that I’m a tea addict then you’re clearly immune to all my communications (please tell me that you know that I’m a business coach?).
Accounting software is a small but important part of my life and it frustrates me when people don’t use it correctly. It’s the equivalent of slinging a teabag in a cup and claim that’s a cup of tea or confusing instant coffee instead of a proper brew. 
If a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing well. And, if bookkeeping or anything else is not your cup of tea (pun intended), then outsource it and spend your time doing what you love and where you can earning more.

4 hour work week

Have you read the book ‘The 4-hour work week’ by Timothy Ferris?

I read it a few years ago thinking that it would help me to run my business more efficiently in just 4 hours a week. Whilst it does have lots of efficiency tips for any business, it was built around the idea of building a business purely to earn money to finance a lifestyle. While this may be your objective too I was disappointed that there was no thought of creating enjoyable work or focus on serving a client’s needs. 

If you haven’t read the book then I can recommend it as it certainly gave me a few ideas that helped me to run a business I loved in a 25-hour work week, and I believe we helped our clients and their businesses too.

Being consistent on social media

Anyone who’s already read my latest book ‘Growing by numbers: How to scale up your business with confidence‘ will know I talk up the importance of steady marketing throughout the year.

A large part of your marketing plan should include having a strategy to ensure a consistent and active presence on social media. Here are a few tips based on what I have found works well for me:

  • Find the right platforms for your business – think about your target market, your professional network and factor in where you feel comfortable hanging out too. For me, Twitter continues to be my number 1 social media space , but I also have a presence on LinkedIn and Facebook.
  • Find a scheduling tool that works for you. My system of choice is Smarterqueue.
  • Set up a bank of key messages and reminders that can go out regularly on a repeat loop, e.g. we have a course that starts with a new cohort each month – we send regular reminders about that out and schedule repeat posts. Don’t forget that not everyone sees everything all of the time, so while you might worry about being repetitive, chances are that other people won’t get that impression.
  • Set time aside on a weekly or fortnightly basis to update your plan and schedule new posts.
  • Outsource where it makes sense to –  I work with a Virtual PA who updates the website and posts my blogs on a weekly basis – she then schedules posts to go out several times to share new information.
  • Build up a bank of visuals to go out with posts, incorporating brand colours and fonts and a mix of free stock images and brand photographs where you have some – we use Canva regularly for this  (again, my Virtual PA works on this on a regular basis).
  • While lots can be scheduled it’s important to show up in person consistently too – after all, it’s called ‘social’ media for a reason. If you don’t naturally find yourself engaging with others on each platform you’ve a presence on throughout the week, set aside some time each week to do just that.

The power of a diverse team

I once worked with a young lad who had exactly complimentary skills to mine. Together we made the perfect team as we shared the same values and would happily shunt the workload between us to whoever was best suited to handling the task or customer. This compatibility meant that, although only two people, we were probably as effective as three.

I’m afraid that I spoilt the dynamic when I went off to have babies and then moved to France.

Roll forward several years and my own kids operate as a power team as one thinks linearly and precisely, while the other is a problem solver who thinks so far outside the box that they don’t even realise that there is a box. For years now their combined efforts have been enough to outwit most adults. (It’s also why I have so many grey hairs just from trying to stay ahead of them).

Even if you never discover such a perfect pairing it is worth having a diverse team who bring different skills and ideas so that the combined efforts are much more than the sum of the individuals.

Managing your interruptions

I recently received a complaint from somebody for posting in a WhatsApp group in the middle of the night. Had I realised that they had audible notifications switched on I would have been more considerate, of course.

But it made me wonder how many of us allow our phones etc. to dictate our lives.

Whether in meetings, writing, recording videos or checking a set of accounts, most of my work requires concentration so I try to minimise interruptions. I also like a good work/life balance. And woe betide anything that disturbs my beauty sleep.

Here are some of the things that I do which may be useful to you.

  • Define your ‘office’ hours. I prefer 9-5 when working with UK clients but it’s not always possible when coaching business owners overseas.
  • Use Calendly or similar to schedule telephone and zoom calls when it suits you.
  • Turn off audible and pop up notifications on all devices.
  • Keep your phone on silent or vibrate unless expecting a call.
  • Use the Do Not Disturb function on your phone for a good night’s sleep or when in meetings. I-phone allows certain important numbers to overcome this as I still want to be contactable if anything happens to my kids.
  • Use an answering service to get rid of cold callers and forward messages. I’m happy to recommend the one we use.
  • Have a voicemail message which encourages users to leave their own message rather than keep trying to ring you.
  • Be selective about which apps you want to use ‘badges’ for or other passive notifications. I use these for my business emails on all devices and for Twitter and LinkedIn on the iPad that I use for social media.

Decide how accessible you want/need to be and set everything up accordingly. And remember that you control your communication devices, not vice versa.