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A lot of businesses don’t bother with a business plan because things change and they’re out of date almost as soon as they are written.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

Still reinventing the wheel?

Today I’m borrowing a quote from Mark Twain

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

I love being an accountant and working with lots of different businesses within lots of different industries. This, along with running my own businesses (an Minerva Accountants and a speaking/coaching business) gives me a wealth of practical ideas for business improvements as well as all the books I read.

Where do you get your ideas from?

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.

Confidentiality comes as standard

When I joined ICAEW as a trainee accountant sometime back in the dim and distant past I signed up to a code of ethics. Like most accountants I take that code of ethics very seriously as I believe it is part of being a professional. Amongst other requirements was confidentiality. Everything is confidential so the extent that ICAEW suggest that I shouldn’t even share the names of my clients without their permission, let alone information about their business.

So it was quite a surprise when a prospective client asked me whether our conversations would be confidential. It felt a little like somebody asking whether I like tea (I’m a self-confessed tea addict). It is something so ingrained that I hadn’t even realised that lay people may not know this.

Which got me wondering what else we don’t share as we take it for granted.

We’re so busy focusing on what differentiates us from our competitors that we forget some of these other positives that are shared by many of our competitors.

Anyone can call themselves an accountant, but ‘chartered accountant’ is a protected title in law. I’m proud that I’m not just a chartered accountant but a Fellow and also an elected member of ICAEW Council helping to shape the future of the profession. But we need to make more of this.

Most professional accountancy bodies have similar codes of ethics whereas unqualified accountants or those not belonging to any professional body are not bound by any such code but dependent on the individual’s personal integrity. We’re supervised by our professional bodies so clients have recourse if they believe that we have failed to live up to those standards. We are required to undergo checks to ensure that we are ‘fit and proper’ persons. And we are also required to have professional indemnity insurance in order to protect our clients in the event that we make a mistake.

I have also signed up to a code of ethics as a member of the PSA (Professional Speaking Association) which means that I pay for copyright to use pictures on any slides so that the event organiser won’t be sued. Similarly for any music and videos I use in my talks. It’s not something that most speakers think about and they may not even realise the importance of paying royalties to the creators of those media.

What mundane things do you do instinctively to protect your clients? Can it become part of your marketing?

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.

Trust the process

You’ve probably been there. Business is quieter than usual and you don’t know why.

When you’ve been running your business for a few years you get used to this and know that doing the right things will produce the right results but sometimes you doubt yourself or your process.

Even after this long in business I still have these wobbles.

October has been quiet for me with fewer enquiries than usual and even fewer suitable enquiries. I’ve given away a lot of free advice or referred them to another coach or accountant who was more suited to their needs.

In the background I (and my wonderful PA) continued to do the usual marketing and to prepare the new 30 day start up course for accountants and bookkeepers.

But it was still too quiet for my liking.

And then the flood gates opened, and I’ve been busy this week with enquiries for coaching, courses, and accountancy services. And a big consultancy lead that had gone quiet suddenly turned into a signed contract overnight. And now I’m wondering how I’m going to fit in all the extra work.

Such is the roller coaster of running your own business. Sometimes you just have to trust the process. Doing the right things will produce the right results.

Are you working too hard?

With Summer holidays over and Winter drawing in I’m seeing more exhausted business owners. Although there may be particular pressures on accountants facing tax return season everybody is affected to some extent by the cost of living crisis.

Here are a few things that you can do to make your business run more smoothly so that you can take more time for yourself.

  • Software – invest in software that will free up time for you and your team. If you set it up properly it will also be less prone to mistakes than tired human beings.
  • Recruit – invest in people to share the workload
  • Training – if it’s hard to recruit at the right level then invest in training and ‘grow your own’ team who will do things your way right from the beginning. Invest in training for you and your team to help you to work more efficiently.
  • Business coach – invest in a business coach so that you have an external view on how to improve your business whether that is profitability or work-life balance. As well as accountability to help you to put all that reading and course into effect.
  • Increase your prices – we run regular (free) webinars on how and why to do this so I won’t explain this here but please contact me if you’d like more information on our next event.
  • Sack poor clients – whether you define that as unprofitable or vampire clients that suck your time your life will be much happier and profitable without them. You’ll either have more time for yourself or to take on more profitable and enjoyable work.

The most important training session

The most important training session isn’t the toughest one, and it isn’t the last one before your A race. It’s the one that you really don’t want to do but you do anyway. It might be a cold, wet, or icy morning. Or it may be during a heat wave. But having the discipline to do that tough session instead of skipping it is what will make all the difference on the big day.

That’s why we include actions and accountability in all our courses*, group coaching sessions, and of course our individual sessions. Yes, I like to think that you’ll feel motivated by my eloquent words and inspirational ideas 😉 but on Monday morning it’s up to you to get things done.

Discipline is worth much more than motivation.

*next cohorts start 15th Sept so do get in touch if you keep meaning to book but haven’t got around to it yet. You can find out more about our courses here.

Managing your interruptions

Interruptions can be a real problem as, in addition to the time they take, they also disturb your train of thought. Here are a few tips for managing some of your interruptions.

Consider whether you need to answer your phone straight away. It may be possible to use your voicemail or even better, an answering service, for a few hours per day. This will allow you to focus on work for a while and then to block all your calls together to get back to people later in the day. As long as you return the calls and don’t forget about them!

If you work alone then you may not wish everybody to have your mobile number. Consider getting a virtual landline that is answered by an answering service. I have used Answer It for this purpose but also for answering calls when all our business lines were in use.

Emails can all be batched together and answered once or twice a day. Batching similar tasks is much more efficient. Many accountants have a shared inbox linked to a practice management system which allows them to delegate emails/tasks. Technology can be your friend.

Remember that people usually send emails when it is convenient for them, they may be working flexibly or they may be in a different timezone. Big corporations often use an autoresponder to say that your query will be answered in say, 5 or even 15 days.