Is your business working for you or are you working for your business?

When I started up each of my businesses I had a dream. Not a huge, Martin Luther King type of dream that would change the world, but a smaller dream of helping business owners while having a decent work-life balance for myself.

I wrote down my vision in one sentence. Nothing complex but just to remind me.

And each time I had to make a big decision I came back to my dream to see whether this particular decision would move me closer to my dream.

But often we make a lot of smaller decisions that mean that our business drifts away from that dream and we just end up with a job that we have to do in order to pay the bills. When I work with clients on our individual or group coaching programmes I encourage then to recapture that dream but also to take actions.

Here are some of the actions that you can take:

  • Review your pricing to ensure that you are being paid what you are worth
  • Review your clients to ensure that you are selling to the right people profitably and enjoyably
  • Review the type of work that you are doing to ensure that you are doing profitable AND enjoyable work
  • Review your marketing to ensure that it is all aimed at getting more of the right people and the right work
  • Review how you are spending your time to see if there are things that would be better off delegated or outsourced. How many small business owners are trying to do their accounts at the end of a long week? And how many accountants are doing their own graphic design?

You may prefer to do this on your own but, if you want some accountability, then come along to our monthly Flyby sessions (see below). If you would like more proactive input or specific advice from me then try our coaching programmes.

What to say when somebody asks for a discount

You spend ages working out the right prices for your business and then somebody asks for a discount!

Before saying yes you need to work out what you get in return. If it’s a discount simply for signing the contract or buying your goods then there is no additional benefit to you.

If they’re buying in bulk then you need to decide whether this will benefit you in the long term. Will they buy more overall or is it just a cashflow benefit? Perhaps they’ll ask for a discount in return for earlier payment which could be useful if you’re short of cash but interest rates are generally fairly low at the moment.

The trouble with discounts is that they become the norm. The individual customer expects them every time and it is hard to increase your prices. You also get into a habit of agreeing to discounts and gradually erode all your careful pricing.

There are very few exceptions when it is appropriate to discount and so you need to be clear what’s in it for you and what you will get in return. Work out your prices and stick to them.

(We discuss pricing more on each of our courses as it is key to a profitable and sustainable business)

Chairing effective meetings

We’ve all been stuck in ineffective meetings. They overrun on time, one person dominate the conversation and the wander off topic.

Whilst we can’t always control other people’s meetings (other than by being a considerate attendee) we can control our own.

Here are a few tips for chairing effective meetings:

  • Circulate a clear agenda including timings
  • Circulate any papers and other information beforehand. A couple of days before is best as, if you send things out too early, people set them to one side to read later and then forget
  • Only invite the necessary people, you can send minutes to others
  • Take contemporaneous minutes so that they can be circulated straight away rather than trying to find time to write them up afterwards.
  • All actions should be assigned a clear name and due date
  • Start the meeting on time. Respect the time of those who have made the effort to turn up on time rather than waiting for somebody who can’t be bothered. If you have a reputation for starting promptly most people will make more of an effort
  • If you need more time to discuss and item then schedule a separate meeting
  • Control the personalities; silence the overtalkers and encourage and listen to the introverts.

Hurdling through Covid

I’m an athletics coach as well as a business coach. This means that I often get called in to make up the numbers for track and field events. I’m not very good at them but it’s easy to collect a lot of points by coming third of three in the less popular events. One of the events that I discovered in middle age was the 400m hurdles.

And, you guessed it, I have an analogy with business life.

400m hurdles may be a longer distance than 100m hurdles but there are the same number of barriers to cross. At the 100m start I can just see a row of obstacles and it is quite intimidating to stare at them while waiting for the gun. The 400m hurdles are spaced out so that I can only see one at a time and there is time between them to recover my stride before focussing on the next challenge.

For me, and for most of the accountants and business owners that I coach, the last 15 months have felt like a very long 100m hurdle event. Obstacles coming straight after each other with no opportunity to recover in between.

Now we’re heading back to a new normal which is more like the 400m event with time for recovery between each hurdle. It is up to us to make the most of the flat bits to recover and prepare as well as to move forwards, ever forwards.

Have you booked yourself a holiday yet?

Have you got your self a post-Covid plan? Can we help?

Are you a procrastinator?

I don’t know about you but I’m terrible at this. It’s not the same as being lazy as I’m usually doing something; just not the thing that I’m supposed to be focusing on.

Sometimes it’s because we’re postponing so work that we don’t enjoy, sometimes we’re worried that we might not be able to do a good enough job so we create the excuse that “I had to do it in a hurry”, some people are just paralysed by perfectionism and postpone writing that first word of their book or whatever the important project is.

This creates all sorts of problems so I’m running a webinar on this for business owners on 21 July. You can find more information here and sign up.

I’ll pass on some of the things that have and haven’t worked for me because, who knows, they may work for you.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Will you return to the office?

There’s still a big debate over returning to the office. Personally I was remote before Covid and I intend to remain so as I coach accountants and business owners around the world.

In favour of the office:

  • Casual conversations and useful remarks
  • Easier to focus
  • Social
  • Dedicated space and resources to work better
  • Easier to supervise and train staff

In favour of home working:

  • Easier to focus
  • No commute
  • Saves some childcare
  • No micromanaging
  • Better Covid risk management

In practice most organisations will probably opt for a hybrid approach but do watch out for

  • Creating an ‘us and them’ division of those mainly in the office vs those mainly at home
  • Mixing online and offline meetings. Will somebody go into the office just to sit on a Zoom call with clients and colleagues working from home?

Whatever you decide to do needs a thorough risk assessment and discussion with your team about their own concerns and preferences.

Workaholism is an addiction

Too many people seem to be adopting a long hours culture. It’s partly because of the lack of options during lockdown but now it is time to STOP.

Your productivity decreases throughout the day. My average work week is just 25 hours with perhaps 90% of the output of a 40 hour week. A lot of my work requires my brain to be firing on all cylinders and that’s not the case as I start to tire.

So why do people work 60-80 hours per week instead of employing a second person for the job? It’s usually because they’re not making enough money to employ somebody else. On a quick Twitter poll the other day 25% of respondents were making LESS than minimum hourly wage. And a further 8% (33% altogether) were earning a lower hourly rate than in their previous employment.

So increase your prices (we run regular webinars on this) so that you can afford to employ/outsource. When your own hours reduce you will probably find that your productivity increases so that you can provide a better service to your customers.

Staying calm

My team always think that I’m very calm. Even when one of them has made a big mistake (which was rare).

I used to be much more excitable and respond to things without thinking but having kids has taught me that I am the grown up and the one who sets the tone for dealing with any problems.

And just being around for long enough to gather some experience helps. I’ve often seen this problem or something similar before. I may not have lived through a pandemic but I have traded through a recession and run a business with remote working.

Here’s how I handle crises these days:
1. Gather information and check facts
2. Reassure but don’t bluff. If you don’t know the answer admit that you don’t know but that you will find out
3. Limit any further damage before looking at the full solution
4. Do what needs to be done
5. Afterwards analyse and put systems in place to prevent it happening again. This is not about assigning blame!
6. Understand that we all make mistakes but if anybody is still making the same mistakes after adequate (re)training or deliberately ignoring the system then disciplinary action may be needed.

“I don’t need a microphone”

With the return of face to face events this is one thing that I haven’t missed.

During Q&As the event organiser will offer a microphone to the audience member asking the question and a fair number will reject it announcing “I don’t need a microphone”

Well, I’m going to burst your bubble and tell you that you do. And here’s why:

  • I’m a professional speaker and quite capable of projecting my voice to a significantly sized theatre and I still use one to save the quality of my voice.
  • People fade as they speak. Especially if it’s one of those long questions that involves sharing your life history (don’t do this either; nobody is really interested)
  • Your voice mainly travels forwards to it will be fainter for those behind you
  • The event organiser will often be recording the event. If you don’t share your question via the microphone that is hooked up to the AV deck the speaker will have to remember to repeat the question “for the tape”
  • Those wearing hearing aids will set them to a particular position for the best sound reception from the microphone. Use it in order to be accessible.

Also remember that the slot for Q&As is often limited so:

  • Keep it brief
  • Ask a question; don’t make a statement
  • Ask yourself if it will really help the rest of the audience.

Are you getting enough rest?

It’s been hard through lockdown when there aren’t many fun things to do when you do manage to take time off but it’s a good discipline to build rest time into your week and essential to help you produce better quality work. While you might feel “heroic” right now, in a short time you’ll be burnt out from working 80 hour weeks.

Look for displacement activities so that your brain switches away from work. It’s why I take Spanish lessons.

Look for restful activities. I love to read in a bubbly bath. Either mind improving business books or mind numbing chick lit.

What sort of activities do you usually do to relax and how has that changed during lockdown?