Why it may be best to stay small

Small is beautiful. It’s also less hassle and much more agile.

As the sole director of my business I can hold my board meetings in the shower and, if I come up with a bright idea, I can often have it implemented by evening.

The downside of a small business is reduced cover for holidays and sickness. Especially if your business is just you. On the other hand even the best team will take up your time in managing their time and workload.

Before growing your business beyond you it is worth considering whether this will best suit your personal goals. Instead of taking on more clients and higher overheads you could look at taking on better clients and providing them with more profitable services. Before recruiting staff you could investigate software and other automation.

Bigger isn’t always best.

More than one tool in your toolbox

When it comes to improving your business you need to have more than one tool in your toolbox.

Although we often start with getting the pricing right we also like to look at other things. My books give you some examples of these but they are broadly:

Efficiencies – implement systems, checklists, automation and delegation

People – get the right people in the right place, suitably trained and equipped, and all pulling in the right direction

Marketing – a baseline level of marketing going on at all times so that you have clients/work already lined up for quieter periods

What else do you do to improve your business?

Why to enter awards

I love judging awards as I get a sneak preview of what the best accountancy businesses are doing. It’s really exciting to see people pushing the profession forwards. This year I’m fortunate to have been asked to judge both the Accounting Excellence Awards and the Xero Awards. (My atrocious memory means that I immediately forget who has been shortlisted and who has won so you can try bribing me with chocolates as much as you like but I just can’t remember)

I also enter my books into the Business Book Awards. The Numbers Business won first place in its category in 2019 which was a really pleasant surprise for a first time author. Growing by Numbers sank without trace in 2021. And just yesterday Changing the Numbers was shortlisted in its category. We’ll find out if it wins at the big awards dinner on 16 May.  

Entering awards can feel like a lot of hassle or you may be afraid of ‘failure’ so why would you put yourself through that?

  1. Writing out your awards application helps you to realise how much good stuff your business has done.
  2. An award or shortlist helps you to stand out from your competitors
  3. Being shortlisted is as good as a win as far as your work is concerned. Making the shortlist is based on how good YOU are. The winner can depend on who else happens to have entered the same year. You might win or lose depending on your competition more than your own work.
  4. An award or shortlist is great for handling imposter syndrome
  5. An award is great for publicity as it gives you something to shout about in your local community and amongst your clients. Local papers like to hear good news although you may need a bit of an angle such as your reasons for starting the business or how you have overcome adversity.

Not all awards are created equal. Some seem to be more about making money for the organisers, either in large entry fees or selling tables at awards dinners. If the winner is dependent on paying to attend the dinner then it is not worth it.

But there are plenty of reputable awards out there.

Both the awards I judge and enter are open to anyone whether you can be there in person or not. And, if you can afford it, you can treat your team to a great night out to celebrate all their hard work. Or take along some clients to remind them that they have chosen to work with a (potential) award winner.

So go ahead and enter those awards. And let me know if you need a hand to prepare your entries.

The baby bear amount

Not too much, not too little, but just right.

If you’re reading this then you’re probably like me and read/watch a lot of other business advice books and other resources. Some appear to repeat the same ideas and other appear to offer exactly the opposite suggestions and sometimes it can be hard to figure out what is right for your business.

Should I invest in this course/software which will all but guarantee success or should I save my money and bootstrap? Although I’m generally in favour of wise spending I often have bootstrap moments.

Should I work longer hours just to ‘get ahead’ or would I be better off spending quality time resting like an athlete recovering from a sprint. After all, you can’t sprint a marathon.

You are not the same person as me and your business is not like mine. Mentoring can only get you so far by sharing my expertise. That’s why I’m so pleased that my qualification is coaching AND mentoring. People come to me for my expertise as a mentor who has been there, got the t-shirt and even written the book but the coaching techniques help me to focus on YOUR business for maximum impact. Together we can stop any prevarication, financial waste, and work out the best strategy and actions for your business.

When you’re running your own business it’s too easy to get bogged down in the day to day which is why I also use a business coach to help me view my business more objectively. So far, so good.

What else do you do to devise your business strategy and to keep on track between too much and too little, too sweet and too salty?

Late payment? It’s just not good enough!

Most of my clients pay me by direct debit on a monthly contract but I recently took on a speaking engagement at short notice to help somebody out. It was a substantial fee but there wasn’t time to take a deposit so I squeezed in 4 days of preparation, rehearsal, travel, and delivery before I finally invoiced the full amount.

When the due date passed I sent a polite automated reminder from Xero and then rang the organiser in case there was a problem with the invoice. Just as well because it turned out the bookkeeper had paid the wrong person!

Mistakes happen and the other supplier who received my payment had immediately notified my customer. But the company hadn’t bothered to contact me to explain or to offer any apology.

This made me ‘a bit grumpy’ but I got even grumpier when I had to keep chasing each week. This was definitely not a business that I wanted to work with again. I always pay my own suppliers promptly as they are usually small businesses like mine.

So, as the law allows, I raised an invoice for interest on late payment of 8% over base rate plus £70 debt collection charge. Eventually the original invoice was paid and, after further chasing, the penalty invoices were paid too.

Even if people know that they are entitled to claim this interest and debt collection charge not many people actually bother. And many cancel the interest once the main invoice is paid. Why?

It is important to ensure that small businesses are paid promptly and part of that is making it more painful for the defaulters than for the unpaid victims. Let’s all make sure that we charge interest and collection fees so that we gradually get larger businesses to comply with their agreed payment terms.

Details of your payment rights are here.

Pricing for the hassle factor

I’ve just received an email from my web hosting company to say that they will be charging me more.

The reason is that two of my websites use software that is about to become obsolete so the hosting company will charge me an extra support fee from 5 February unless I upgrade.

This software has a two year life so I’ve already upgraded it once with the help of the hosting company (Fasthosts provide much better support for the tiny monthly fee that I pay them and they’re lovely to deal with). It’s not too difficult but I imagine that many people just ignore a simple message that their site will be unsupported. This way I have a financial incentive to make sure that I do the upgrade promptly. And, if I don’t, the hosting company get some extra income as they’d probably end up sorting out the mess anyway.

Which reminded me that, although Minerva Accountants is supposed to be a Xero only business, we do have one client using an older cloud bookkeeping software with less functionality. This means that we’re unable to offer as good a service. Of course I justified it to myself at the time but now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that I was wrong and should have followed my own advice! So I’m going to offer to help my client to migrate to Xero for a better service or to increase the fee to support an ageing app.

Where have you broken your own rules and regretted the lack of efficiency? Should you correct this even if it means losing the client?

How about joining one of our strategic planning days to streamline your business for 2023?

This year we’re running two (although you can join either one). Fri 27 January will be for any business and Wed 22 February will focus on accountants/bookkeepers. Find out more here.

How do you make big decisions?

Some people make quick decisions and some people prefer to take their time. Some people make good decisions and others not so good. In my experience the amount of time taken to reach a decision doesn’t show much correlation with the quality of the decision.

When faced with big decisions what do you do?

I usually make a list of pros and cons to be sure that I’ve considered everything and then discover that the length of each list reflects my subconscious preference. So, for me, this is a mixture of a head and also a heart decision.

I can work out any numbers but, like most accountants, I can usually make those numbers support my decision by tweaking the assumptions. This is why I don’t believe it’s worth spending too much time on projections because I can control the inputs to get the results I want. On paper at least. (It is still worth doing rough projections to ensure that you’re not way off target)

When it comes to business decisions I compare the possible outcomes with my initial business objectives to see which will get me closer to my goal. This has proved to be quite reliable in the past.

Another way is to spend 24 hours imagining that you’ve taken option A. This helps you to clarify the implications of that choice as well as to understand how you are likely to feel. Then spend 24 hours imagining that you’ve taken the alternative. This gives insight into which choice will make you happier.

How do you make decisions? Logically or following your gut instinct?

I am strong but I am tired

It happens to most of us at some point. November seems to be a busy month for me these days and I’m getting used to it. In the same way that December was busy when I ran a bigger accountancy practice alongside having to do all the family and school Christmas stuff. Many accountants extend this busy period into January too.

There may be other busy periods in your life due to business or home peaks. If you know they will only last for a short period then it is okay to power on through. (It is NOT okay if busyness is the norm!)

It is okay to feel tired. It is not a weakness. So here are a few tips to get through busy periods. Not all of them will be possible but hopefully one or two will help you.

1. Plan ahead and clear the decks as much as possible beforehand
2. Update your systems and processes in the quiet periods to make your busy period as easy as possible. This is why we run two strategic planning days in the new year. January for business owners and February for accountants (Check out our website or reply to this email for more info)
3. Learn to say “no”. If it doesn’t have to be done in your busy period then say “no” or “later”.
4. Balance your whole load. If you are having a busy period at work then be gentle with yourself at home. Your family can survive on oven meals for a short period and they may even see it as a bit of a treat. Your housework will also wait for you or get your kids to help out (it’s probably better than nothing and will train them for later life)
5. Ask for help. This may be from family, friends or employing extra help.
6. Buy extra time. I have two wonderful cleaners who work wonders on my home once a week so that I am free to get on with my work or to do something for me.
7. Try to take some rest and time for yourself. Even in your busy periods try to take at least one day off for you each week. And remember that working late will leave you too tired to work productively the next day so better to finish a bit earlier and get a good night’s sleep.
8. Remember to eat, sleep, hydrate and exercise to keep yourself as strong as possible.
9. Find a way to relax quickly. What are the quick, simple pleasures in your life? I like a bubble bath or a walk by the sea or a massage (anyone else get tense shoulders hunching over their desk?). None of these need to take much longer than 30-60 mins but they make a world of difference.

Please feel free to send me any other tips for this list.

How to train your clients

I see lots of people complaining or rolling their eyes at the behaviour of certain ‘vampire’ clients that suck far more time and resources than the average client. But what can you do?

  1. Don’t take them on in the first place. Learn to recognise them and say no right from the outset. Unless you’re a lawyer or a licensed taxi driver then you are not obliged to take on every single client who comes to you (and even these have ways of turning down work)
  2. Onboard well with a clear scope of work. Make sure that your onboarding process includes managing your clients’ expectations. Ensure that everything is set up well from the start and that clients know your working hours and who deals with what. For instance, we have a ‘reasonable use’ clause on our telephone support. If we can’t answer something straight away on the phone because it is complex or requires detailed calculations then this is an additional charge.
  3. Service level agreements. Be clear on your turnaround times for answering questions or delivering your finished project/product/services. We aim to respond to queries by next working day and ask clients to reply within 1 week. We prepare year end accounts within 8 weeks and ask clients to send information within 8 weeks of the year end.
  4. Automate reminders in your systems so that you don’t hold up starting work through lack of information.
  5. Charging more is an option but sometimes this just encourages clients to feel entitled to more of your time or to send things closer to deadlines.
  6. If all else fails ditch the client. There are plenty of good clients out there waiting to work with us.

Remember that it is your business and you get to choose who you work with.

Can I ‘just’ pick your brain?

How often do you get asked this? People you barely know, if at all, wanting to take some of your valuable time and expertise in exchange for a coffee or less.

There are some people whom I’m happy to say “yes” to due to close relationships or help that they’ve given to me or others in the past. There are some people who only ever take and, for these, it’s a straight “no”. But, for most people, I’d love to help but I don’t have the time in between earning a living and my own community commitments.

So how can you help people without giving up too much of your precious earning time or offering discounts on your core products and services?

I do this through writing books, running courses and group coaching sessions which are all cheaper than my individual coaching. But even this is too expensive for some so I write these Tips and provide free webinars. We run 6 Better Business webinars per year for accountants and bookkeepers and 12 Minerva Money Matter webinars per year for other business owners.

As a member of ICAEW or a local accountant or business woman I’m often asked to speak in schools and for other local groups. Lots of people helped me when I started out so I’m happy to do this. For those in even greater need we give a percentage of our turnover to charity each year.

How can you give back to others? How can you have the greatest impact on most people through one to many support? Or would you prefer to sponsor an individual? Perhaps you already do something like this? Let me know how you prefer to support your local community or preferred charity.