Do you set boundaries?

I work with a lot of people who are overwhelmed in their business as they have bitten off more than they can chew. When we start working together it soon becomes clear that they need to improve how they set boundaries.

Here are a few ideas I often use:


• Practise saying “no” in front of a mirror. It makes it easier to say to a real person.
• Practise saying “no” without feeling the need to offer an explanation.
• Practise saying “no” with a polite smile
• Be clear on what you are willing to do for your clients. Your engagement letter should act as a reminder to you as well as to them of what you are contracted to do.
• When a client asks for something extra tell them “yes we’d love to help you with that and it will cost £X” (fixed fee or per hour)
• Do not discount your fees. You are not a charity. If people are struggling then reduce the scope so they do more for themselves eg we provide basic bookkeeping training videos if the owner is capable of doing this themselves
• Do not provide extended credit. You are not a bank.
• Set appointments in your diary to make time to do something for yourself
• Ring up an old friend and arrange to meet for lunch or an enjoyable activity. It will get you out of the office. If you’d prefer to be alone then book a facial or a massage or plan a bike ride with a nice cake stop.
• Set an alarm for when you intend to finish your working day and then leave your laptop on your desk when you close your office door
• Stop reading this and practise saying “no”

Are timesheets useful?

Anyone who had to do timesheets in an accountancy firm probably remembers how much time they spent/wasted recording their time to the nearest 6 minutes. Then trying to make sure that the hours balanced. What did you do with the extra hour you worked but didn’t get paid for? And what about the 7 hours on the job that was already over budget? And then being beaten with a big stick (not literally) for dumping everything to admin.

Most businesses, with the notable exception of lawyers, now charge fixed fees rather than hourly rates so timesheets are rarely used for billing. So, what purpose do they serve?

They are a mine of management information.

That over budget client was undercharged for years because nobody was honest about how long the job actually took. One staff member took twice as long to do jobs as another because they hadn’t been trained properly. And the amount of time genuinely spent on admin justified investment in some automated systems to speed things up.

So, what is the compromise?

We keep timesheets to the nearest 15 mins with the exceptions of phones calls and ‘quick’ emails which are recorded as a minimum of 10 minutes because of the disruption to other work. If I do some work on the train to a meeting, then I may double record the time as part of the meeting time AND the job I worked on on the journey as otherwise it would have had to be done in the office.

This means that I know roughly how much time (our most expensive resource) is spent on each job so I can ensure that our fixed fees cover this as well as a share of the automation and overheads. What I really need is reporting by exception. What jobs are taking significantly longer than expected so that I can see what the holdup is and how to improve. This doesn’t need 6-minute reporting. And it doesn’t need a timesheet balanced to the official working day.

Before implementing timesheets think about WHY you want them and make sure that they will give you the information that you need. You may find that the recording process doesn’t need to be too onerous. I use the Xero project app on my phone, but Toggl is another free resource.

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.

Do you invest in yourself?

As I write this I’m halfway through a two day coaching course which is really making me focus. I did my first coaching qualification about 10 years ago but never really used it until I set up Hudson Business Advice four years ago to coach accountants, bookkeepers and other business owners. In that ten year period I’ve forgotten a lot of what I already learned as well as picking up some sloppy habits.

I’m always very diligent about keeping my accountancy and tax knowledge up to date as that is a requirement of remaining a member of ICAEW. I also spend a lot of time perfecting my speaking as that is a newer skill for me and there’s plenty of room for improvement. I also go on business courses and read a lot around the subject so that I can improve my own business and also add expertise to my experience when helping other business owners.

I believe in continuous improvement of myself, my business, and the services that I offer. How much time and money do you invest in yourself?

How do you work smarter?

There are all sorts of ways to work smarter rather than harder. I usually speak and write about systemising, automating and delegating work but you can achieve a whole lot more just by organising your workload better.

I run two businesses, Hudson Business Advice is my coaching/training as well as speaking and writing but I also run Minerva Accountants which is much easier to systemise with predefined processes for preparing accounts etc. I therefore use two different systems to track my workflow and deadlines as my brain can’t hold everything that I need to know.

Accountancy Manager is great for a highly systemised business with known inputs, outputs, and a clear process. It’s good for tracking deadlines and uses  templated emails at each stage of the process. There are other good systems available but this one suits Minerva best.

For my main business I have fewer standard processes but more individual interactions so I use Active Campaign to add notes and actions relating to each interaction. This business revolves more around people than processes, although I do have standard procedures for as much as possible.

I also use a third system, Trello, to track ideas and project work as well as my household and family tasks. (I will get around to resealing the bath one day!) I can have either a whole Trello board or a list on my main board to ensure that no idea is lost.

So, three systems to manage the three different parts of my life and also a vague attempt to separate them. I prefer these to paper because I can access them from any of my devices which are all backed up to the cloud.

What systems do you use to manage your to do list and ensure that you don’t forget anything?

How much should I save?

How much cash should you leave in your business and how much should you take out?

The generally accepted wisdom is three month’s worth of costs. I don’t know the source of this figure, but this seems about right. If all your income stopped overnight, you would have three months to make plans.

In reality, unless there is a global pandemic, it’s unlikely that your income would all stop at the same time, so you’d probably have longer to find funding, start a new income source, or to ride out a temporary blip. Most income protection insurances take 3-6 months to kick in.

We should also have a similar amount easily accessible to cover our household bills.

The last eighteen months have been tough, but we need to rebuild our reserves ready for the future.

How long would your reserves last you?

What’s the worst that can happen?

I did it! I completed my first triathlon in over four years!

Not only did I complete it but I managed to do it in similar times to fours years ago when I was much fitter.

It wasn’t fast and it certainly wasn’t pretty (everybody’s bum looks big in a wetsuit!) but a large proportion of the entrants were DNF (did not finish) and others were DNS (did not start).

And it’s the same in business. Too many people miss opportunities because they never get started.

I’m a great supporter of Bryony Thomas’ principle of overcoming perfectionism by releasing things which are “functional but not too embarrassing” then coming back and improving them at a later date. I write my books quickly to capture my thoughts, and then edit slowly to make sure that my readers will be able to follow those thoughts.

I also use a business coach (as well as being a coach myself) because, although we often know what to do, we never get around to it without somebody to hold us accountable.

So this week why don’t you JFDI (Just F Do It) and perhaps even join one of our September cohorts to help you to do it faster?

Myth busting: build it and they will come?

I’ve seen lots of startups think that, just by buying stock or building a website, they will automatically generate business but, as you experienced people know, it’s a lot harder than that.

How many things do we think will happen automatically?

I buy more books than I have time to read so I’ve had to replace my bedside table with a book shelf, not to mention my Kindle.

I buy new sports kit in the hope that it will get me one step closer to the gym. And don’t get me started on all those people who crowd into the gym in January but are nowhere to be seen by February/March.

I read business books or listen to talks and don’t implement the actions. These days I do make sure that they at least get written onto a to do list on Trello. I get some lovely comments about my books but I wonder if my readers are as bad about implementing as I am?

In an attempt to provide better value for money I set up online coaching programmes to work through the books and more. Each webinar is accompanied by an action list and we have three cohorts a year to work through these together. It may cost more than £14.99 for the book but, if you’re anything like me, it provides much better value because things actually get done.

What do you have to do to improve your business and make it work for you?

Are you making progress?

I was talking to a client today who felt that she hadn’t made progress because she hadn’t actually achieved any of the goals that she had set herself.

Sometimes business feels like this. It’s a bit like running on the flat ground between hurdles. There is still forward motion even though you haven’t increased your hurdle count.

We might set arbitrary deadlines of month end cash collection targets. If a large cash sum arrives the day after month end then, in harsh terms, you’ve missed the target but, in reality, it’s only a day behind and may still be a new record.

I like to break projects into lots of smaller hurdles but please don’t forget that you are making progress when running between them on the flat too.

Please do set yourself nice stretch goals but applaud yourself for the bits in between too.

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.