Tax tip

Cash is king and most small businesses fail due to lack of cashflow. Even if you have a relatively small business you can use accounting software like Xero to:

  • Add a link to your invoices for clients to pay by card using Stripe, Paypal, or similar
  • Plug a small (usually free) card reader (Zettle, Square, or similar) into your phone for clients to pay by card before you leave site

90 day planning

A lot of businesses don’t bother with a business plan because things change and they’re out of date almost as soon as they are written. 

I sympathise.  

Although I do like to have a 12 month budget to check that I have enough money to pay the team and to reinvest in the business we rely mainly on a 90 day planning cycle. Things are usually fairly predictable for the next 90 days so we get together as a team. It’s the only thing we try to do in person as we all work remotely the rest of the time. 

We loosely follow this agenda: 

  1. Review KPIs for last period
  2. Check actions from the previous meeting
  3. Discuss any issues and solutions
  4. I share my plans to move the business forward for the next 90 days and we all agree what needs to be done step by step, and by whom. 

After the meeting 

  1. My PA, Kate, emails me with a summary and the detailed action lists for each of us
  2. I add my actions to my to do list.
  3. If necessary I allocate slots in my diary.
  4. Kate works through all her actions (much more efficiently than me!) and gently reminds/nags me to get on with mine 

The result is that, over the next 90 days, we make a lot of progress. Even if we don’t quite get around to everything the business has moved forward a lot from last quarter.  

It’s like my running – CONSTANT FORWARD MOTION, no matter how slow. 

If you’d like a copy of our budget workbook you can purchase a copy here [please insert best link] or drop me a line if you’re interested in group or individual coaching to improve your own business.  

HMRC do not make the law

HMRC do not make the law, they interpret it in the same way that accountants and tax advisers do. If we can’t agree on the interpretation then the courts will decide. HMRC is not the final arbiter. 

HMRC have all sorts of helpful information on their website for the public to read. This means that it is often dumbed down and vital points can be missed in the interest of simplicity. This means that Google and ChatGPT can lead to ‘interesting’ ideas from clients on how they can save tax which ends up with me correcting them by quoting chapter and verse of whichever act is applicable.  

Our clients work hard so we don’t want them to pay any unnecessary taxes but we also want them to sleep at night knowing that they have complied with all laws and regulations. 

Too many accountants just rely on the HMRC website and forget to check the correct sources. Proper CPD is really important to maintain professional standards and to give the best advice. We should be better than Google!  

Software efficiencies

When you started up your business you probably ran it using a spreadsheet or a Word document. But now you’ve filled your time and you’re trying to grow you need better to software to ensure that everything runs as efficiently as possible. Here are some things that I use in my businesses:

Marketing – I use Active Campaign as both my CRM (customer relationship management system) and to email things like this top tip to our clients and prospects. Active Campaign links to forms on our website and to our scorecards.

Process management – Minerva Accountants has lots of beautifully repeatable processes so we use Bright Manager (formerly Accountancy Manager) to manage those processes, client documents, file client emails (so anybody on the team can see all the communication), and automated reminders. My coaching and consultancy business has fewer repeatable processes but it is much smaller so I manage my to do list on Trello

Cash collections – as far as possible we use recurring monthly invoices on Xero and collect payments through direct debit using Gocardless. Any invoice on Xero is automatically fed to Gocardless and, when payment is made, the receipts are matched to the invoices on Xero. Clients can also pay by card using Stripe which also matches the invoices. These save hours of debt collection time and bookkeeping in a small business.

Collaboration for the win

I’ve been working away in the frozen North aka Manchester. On one of the days I had a break between speaking engagements so I borrowed a desk from another forward thinking accountant, the lovely Stuart Hurst. We exchanged a few ideas on how we could each improve our accountancy businesses and look after our clients better.

Collaboration beats competition every time.

Who do you collaborate with?

The beauty of integrated apps

As you know I’ve just been on holiday. We stayed in 3 different towns/cities on the edge of the map! I had to download three different German maps to my satnav in order to drive a total of about 5 hours.

This made me think about how wonderful it is to use integrated applications for business (because I often think about my business when I’m not busy working in it!)

We are a Xero based firm so there are over 1,000 integrated apps available in the official app store and other unofficial ones too. The ones we use most are:

Gocardless – raise an invoice in Xero and it automatically collects the direct debits and matches the payment to the invoice so it saves bookkeeping time too.

Dext/Hubdoc – clients can scan/photograph/email invoices to upload them into Xero (also QBO or Freeagent) where they, or we, can do their bookkeeping. Dext is the most expensive but saves much more time with their OCR (optical character recognition) and machine learning changing the roll of the bookkeeper to checking rather than typing.

Clarity – this is a big hit with clients as we can help them to see their numbers in a simple format and decide how they want to grow their business. The software uploads the latest info from Xero (also Sage or spreadsheet) so that we can discuss the current situation and improvements. It then helps to prepare an action list for the client.

These are the most valuable integrations that we use. What do you have on your list?

Tax tip

Payments on account can add a large chunk onto the amount of tax that you have to pay. If your income is likely to be lower next year than this year then it may be worth reducing your payments on account and we sometimes do this for clients who are winding up their sole trader business or who are going through a hard time. But BEWARE! If you reduce your payments too low and the final tax bill comes out higher then you will have to pay interest on the shortfall. This is to discourage people from reducing their payments too far. 

Success is not a solo sport 

I like to think that I work hard but nothing that I have achieved has ever been done alone. 

Both Hudson Accountants and now Minerva Accountants owe a lot to my fabulous teams. When starting out I learned so much from other accountants and coaches who generously shared their ideas and experience.  

I have used a fabulous business coach to help me clarify those ideas and apply them to my own business. And to hold me accountable for getting things done! 

I’m pretty sure that my books wouldn’t have won the awards they did without the skill of my publisher gently helping me to share my expertise in my own words but also in a form that is easy for you to read. 

As a parent I was fortunate that my children had a wonderful father and, although I chose the traditional female role of primary carer, he did a lot to support me. 

I’m currently doing Couch to 5k for the umpteenth time to recover my running fitness after my operation earlier this year. It’s the first time that I’ve done it with a group of people and it has been great for keeping me motivated on rainy evenings. 

To everybody who has helped me along the way, a big thank you.  

But what can I do for you? I provide individual and group coaching sessions which have helped clients to develop award winning businesses themselves. And, for those just starting out we have free webinars each month.  

Xero in your hand

As accountants we’re usually sat in front of a computer and use Xero that way.

But as a business owner I’m out and about working from all sorts of places and I love the Xero apps.

The main Xero app is great for uploading receipts for expenses. Just snap and code as you go. If I receive any invoices by email I can forward them to my Xero files email address and then finish off coding when I get a moment or when I get back to the office.

I can raise invoices on the go. If I’ve written an article for you on the train I will usually raise the invoice from my phone at the same time.

I can reconcile my bank each morning I’m away so that my clients don’t get automated chasing emails when they’ve just paid me by bank transfer, card, or direct debit.

But, most importantly of all, I can see my profit in my hand.

The other Xero app I use on my phone is Hubdoc. This is like Dext but free to Xero users and perfectly adequate for us or any client with lower volumes of invoices. It’s another snap and go app. If you can take a photo of your kids on your phone then you can use Hubdoc. We capture the receipt instantly before it gets lost and then do the coding later from a proper screen/keyboard.

Xero Go is a new app for small businesses. This has the same invoice upload functionality and bank rec but there is an additional charge for raising sales invoices. It suits small landlords or those with a separate invoicing system. As an accountant we can still help our small clients but they don’t need to pay for the full Xero package.

What other useful apps do you have on your phone?

Is remote working right for you?

Gone are the days of everybody in the office. Since covid most businesses operate some sort of hybrid system but I’ve been working remotely since 2017 and, although my old business had physical premises, we all had the ability to work remotely since 2012. We also all work different hours to suit our lifestyles.

So how do we make this work?

• We run a paperless office. All clients have access to a secure portal or they can email things if they prefer. Most clients are on cloud based software and they can upload invoices etc using Dext or Hubdoc.
• All our software is cloud based and we can all access documents remotely on our shared Onedrive.
• We have a virtual office where we can receive mail from HMRC which is scanned for us to log into our system.
• All engagement letters, accounts, and tax returns are signed electronically using XeroTax or our secure portal.
• We all have VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phones which can be answered via an app on our laptops or on our mobiles.
• We all have laptops rather than PCs so we can work when travelling. (Although I find it much easier to have two screens when I’m in my home office)
• Our calls all come into a central answering service who act as our receptionist and distribute calls to named individuals or according to who is working that day.
• We have a shared email address where everybody can see what is going on. These are flagged by colour to indicate who needs to deal with them.
• All incoming emails are automatically copied to the client account on our practice management software, Accountancy Manager. When a client calls up, or when we are working on their accounts, we can see what emails and notes have been made throughout the year.
• All deadlines and tasks are held on Accountancy Manager so that we can see who is working on what.
• We have an online meeting at 9am each morning for whoever is working that day. We discuss what we will each be working on and if anybody needs information or help
• We have a face to face (where possible) planning meeting and brunch once a quarter to plan the next 90 days.
• We don’t have a printer. On the very rare occasions when we need to print something (usually a letter to HMRC) I have to take it to the local post office on a USB stick. This is the only thing that isn’t easier!
• We contact clients by email, telephone or Zoom depending on their preference.

Remote working gives us all the benefit of better work-life balance and saves us commuting time. For me it means that I can work around the country when busy with speaking engagements or ICAEW meetings. The money saved on offices is invested in modern software to improve communication and efficiency within the business.

Do you prefer to work remotely or from a shared office?