Most small businesses fail because they run out of cash. It caught out a lot of people who couldn’t cope while they waited for covid funding came through. Hopefully we’ll never have to manage a global crisis of that magnitude again but there are many things that might go wrong for individuals. I’ll talk about business continuity planning separately as I just want to consider your bank balance today.
I recommend reading the first half of Profit First by Mike Michalowicz and I think I’ve written about it before. There are some good principles and the remaining chapters just go into more detail
I have a Starling account which comes with savings spaces and I do monthly management accounts on Xero so I try to ensure that I have the following saved:
- VAT per Xero
- Corporation Tax per Xero management accounts (or you can save 19% of your profit)
- 3 months of overheads in case of illness or crisis which can also be used to buffer any large or unexpected bills
- Dividends to pay myself later in the year
- Spare cash to pay into my pension later in the year to minimise my tax
I usually pay my suppliers immediately because, as a small business, it reduces my admin to only deal with each transaction once. You should ensure that you have enough funds to pay your suppliers on or before the due date. A business is insolvent if it can not pay its debts on time.
I also use a Starling account for my personal finances and I use my savings spaces for:
- 3 months of household costs in case of illness or crisis which buys me enough time to sort out alternatives
- Savings to replace my car every three years
- Savings for holidays each year and fun experiences such as watching musicals with my kids
- Income tax due on my dividends and other income not on PAYE.
It’s taken a long time to build up this financial security so don’t worry if you’re not there yet but, if you’d like a hand with making your business run more profitably, please give me a shout.
It’s a common fear but your existing clients will be less price sensitive if you are doing a good job.
Have a look at this example (numbers rounded for simplicity) of how many clients you can afford to lose without impacting your profit:
• You have 100 clients paying £1,000 each so turnover of £100,000
• You make 50% margin so profit of £50,000
• Della comes along and tells you to increase your prices (see the last two weeks for how and why you should do this) by 10%
• You now have 100 clients paying £1,100 each so turnover of £110,000
• Your margin is now 54.5% so profit of £60,000 ie a gain of £10,000 because all your pricing increase is profit
• Some of your clients aren’t happy and 10% decide to leave
• You now have 90 clients paying £1,100 each so turnover has fallen slightly to £99,000
• But your 54.5% margin means that you are still making profit of around £54,000 so you are earning £4,000 more for only 90% of the work. Possible even less work because the price sensitive clients are usually those who are most demanding and often a pain to deal with.
• In this example you can afford to lose up to 16% of your clients and still make slightly more profit
• 84 clients paying £1,100 gives turnover of £92,400 and profit of £50,400 ie £400 more than at the start but for 84% of the work
Last week I talked about WHY you need to increase your prices but, less talked about is HOW you go about doing it.
It’s a lot easier to talk about in theory than it is to do in practice.
- Work out what your prices should be. If you need to provide quotes then work out what your method of calculations will be.
- Recalculate up to date prices for all your clients.
- Consider using pricing software which provides confidence to both buyer and seller that this is the right price.
- Start by increasing prices for new clients
- Email/write to all clients with the new price. If you have not done regular price increases before then you may need to explain that this is due to catching up an several years and reassure them that you will not leave it so long in future. Keep your explanations brief.
- Telephone any clients who need extra TLC or if a change in scope means that the increase needs further explanation
- Resist discounting. You worked out your prices in (1) above.
- Practice telling client your new prices. If you’re an introvert who hates role play then just rehearse in front of a mirror:
“Our new prices are …”
“We do not offer discounts”
Also prepare responses to any other potential objections so that you don’t need to think on your feet quite so much.
A lot of business owners avoid increasing their prices, either because they’re worried about losing clients or because they don’t know how to go about it. Even when they know that they need to increase their prices it is too easy to procrastinate (I’m the queen of procrastination, I have all the excuses)
I’ll cover the ‘how’ in separate tips but today I want to talk about why.
We all started our business for a reason which broadly come into one of three areas:
• Build something valuable to sell at retirement
• Better work – life balance
All of these will benefit from having better prices allowing you to earn more money, increase the value of your business, or to earn more in limited time.
But the real benefit to our clients is that we will have time to provide a quality service. To do things properly and not cut corners. And to run a business that will still be around to help them in future years.
When we provide a quality service our clients benefit, they stay with us, and they refer other people to us. It’s a virtuous circle because everybody wins.
To create the business you want you need to charge the right prices.
I’m the first person to remind you that you need to work ON your business as well as IN it and I will only take on coaching clients who agree to commit half a day per week to working on their business, but I’m a business owner too and I know how hard that can be to make the time.
We’re always torn between things that earn money now and things that will earn money later such as marketing and business improvements. Not to mention that we’d like to spend some time on the things we enjoy.
I’ve written before about my default diary which includes time for marketing and my own business and personal development. I then allocate particular tasks to those slots. But if you truly want to improve your business then you need to learn to delegate and think systematically.
I love lazy marketing when I use one piece of content in different ways. I also know that my strength is in writing/recording the content and then my wonderful VA tidies it up and distributes it across multiple channels. Whether you’re reading this in our Top Tips e-news or a blog or on social media then she is the one who has put it there (with the help of some software).
My job is to prioritise getting the content out each and every week. When I tried to do the whole job myself it took four times as long so I only got around to it about once a month, maybe less.
Look at everything you do, maybe keep a rough timesheet for a week or month, then go through the list with a highlighter to see what could be delegated to the right person. Then find that right person.
Your priority should be the things that only YOU can do.
If you’re an accountant, you can find somebody else to do the accounts themselves and some of the marketing (I write a monthly content pack for accountants who don’t want to do it themselves) so that you can focus on being the face of your business. If you’d rather be the one doing the accounts, then find somebody else to manage your business. Don’t think that you have to be the MD just because you’re the majority shareholder.
To create the business you want you need to be clear on your priorities.
I don’t know about you but I use social media for networking rather than selling. Like face to face networking I like to take my time to get to know somebody and find out what interests we have in common, exchange a little bit of information about our respective businesses, and to see whether we actually like each other. I’ll then arrange to meet for a coffee if they’re nearby or if we’re going to be at the same business event.
The other form of networking I’ve been doing recently is internet dating and, rightly or wrongly, I follow the same sort of format. I get to know somebody online before meeting up to see whether we get along in real life.
But both forms of networking have pushy people.
Linked In has the annoying people who connect with you only to try and sell you something, or to persuade you to give up your valuable time for a “free” software demo (hint: my time is a limited resource so it has a value). The online dating arena is full of people wanting to promote their “assets” by sending photos or wanting sex before you’ve even met for that first coffee.
Whether in business or dating, timing is everything. Please take your time to get to know people and don’t assume that people want to see the whole package before they have got to know you. A good relationship is worth investing a bit of time up front.
I’m on holiday and the town I’m staying in has all sorts of churches in the centre. But the thing that strikes me is how uninviting some of them are. I’m sure these churches would probably say that they want to welcome and encourage outsiders to come inside but that’s not the message they’re putting across.
One has a sign ‘Consecrated ground – no dogs’ which is short and to the point. Could this have been worded in a gentler way? And how many people know what consecrated means anyway?
One has a sign ‘John 3:16’ which is just a mystery to everybody apart from the initiated. Could this have been written in plain English without code or jargon?
As an accountant we’re often guilty of making people feel excluded through our use of jargon and poor communication skills. Have a look at your own business with the eyes of an outsider and see how you could be more inclusive and welcome in people who want to know more.
And don’t forget to book your holiday if you haven’t yet done so.
Several years ago I started speaking to promote my old accountancy business, Hudson Accountants. Like most people I hate public speaking but I went to a school that taught this useful business skill and, by about the third event, I felt reasonably comfortable.
Until I joined the Professional Speaking Association!
Being an occasional speaker is very different from being a professional speaker and so I felt that I needed to relearn my craft. Fortunately the PSA is really good for helping speakers to speak more and speak better and I am now a full member, a former Regional President, and I’ve been invited to speak at one of their national conferences for the second time.
Usually I speak to accountants and business owners who are more interested in my content than the way I deliver it. At the PSA my peers will (kindly) analyse the way I deliver my expertise too. It can be quite scary but I know that, if I’m brave enough to ask for feedback, they will be very helpful.
How do you make sure that you’re always getting better at what you do?
PS. If you’re new to speaking then I recommend joining your local Toastmasters or ask me about individual speaker coaches.
Both Hudson Business Advice and Minerva Accountants are paperless businesses. It feels great but, if you have a lot of paper in your business you may wish to start by becoming a less-paper business.
Look at all the ways that you handle paper in your business:
Paper in – can you get your clients to deal with you electronically through email, online portals and electronic forms etc. (Don’t forget to offer a telephone option). Ask suppliers to send their invoices electronically and use bank feeds instead of paper statements. We scan all incoming mail and file electronically.
Paper processing – try to replace paper with electronic systems as much as possible. Use workflow management software or even something simple like Trello to manage the processes in your business. Keep all your working papers electronically and look at the, on a second (or third) screen rather than printing them out. If your work involves going to site then use a laptop or other handheld devices to access your business software rather than carrying around piles of paper. Use client portals for sharing confidential documents. You can also use client portals for getting signatures or we use Signable software for ad hoc signatures.
Paper out – Use email and client portals to send information out. The only things that we send through the post are gifts.
Paper storage – You may use a DMS (document management system) or a series of folders on OneDrive or similar. If you have archives of paper information then it is rarely worth scanning these unless you are desperately short of space. You will rarely refer back to documents over a year old and few papers need to be kept more than six years. Start your paperless systems from today and dispose of your old papers as they pass their relevant date.
But it doesn’t end there. Now that we’ve reduced our paper, we’re working on reducing our digital footprint.
I am so annoyed with myself!
Last night I woke up with a brilliant idea for this article but I failed to make a note. Not surprisingly I had forgotten it by the time I woke up properly this morning.
I have the memory of a flip flop (or a thong as my Aussie friends call them which can lead to some misunderstanding). Usually when I have an idea I make a note on my phone so that I can then make sense of it when I’m properly awake. Or I make a voice note if I’m driving.
I don’t just keep ideas for articles, I also keep ideas of projects that I think will drive my businesses forward so I also keep a folder of ideas amongst my other documents. Far too many of these are on Excel as that’s my app of choice as an accountant but it doesn’t really matter as long as they’re out of my brain and stored somewhere reliable. I also used to keep a box file of paper ideas and a folder full of photos or screen shots that I want to think about properly.
Once a year I spend a couple of days pulling around 12 business improvement projects together by wading through my random notes. I then implement these throughout the year. This means that I have separate times for ideas, deep thinking, and implementing my plans.
How do you capture your ideas until you’re ready do turn them into projects?