Ignoring the signs

Some signs people ignore

Some signs people ignore

It is great when our businesses are running smoothly. It is easy to take our eye off the ball, and not think about the future.

It might be that there is plenty of income coming in, but are we relying too much on too few customers? We do not know how fickle those customers might be, no matter how hard we work on their accounts.

Are our suppliers creeping their prices up faster than they deserve, and can we sustain those higher costs? Should we be shopping around?

Is our admin work becoming too much of a burden? Should we get assistance before it gets in the way of our production and our marketing time?

Some signs we ignore at our peril

Some signs we ignore at our peril

Is our marketing working, or are there signs we should make a change? Should we make a change anyway before it gets too stale?

When our business is failing we may not notice the signs, or we may ignore them. If we look around us we may realise when we are in trouble and take action, and ask for help.

There is no shame in asking for help.

Seth Godin and the Time Machine

British author H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Tim...

British author H. G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine is an early example of time travel in modern fiction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seth Godin said recently that we need the drive to want more and to be better. Our businesses and indeed our lives would be no fun if we knew we had achieved all we could, and that there was nothing more.

The will to win, the excitement of the game, and the reward of getting things done are what give me satisfaction, and I guess you feel the same.

What if we thought that we had achieved all we could? It would be so depressing having to have to sit on our hands, having no new ideas. That would be the decline and fall of our businesses, and if everyone caught the mood, the end of the world as we know it.

Have you read The Time Machine, published by H G Wells way back in 1895? In his story, in the far distant future everyone felt that they and technology had got as far as was possible, and there was no more incentive to be creative. Civilisation was apparently in terminal decline.

The moral is that fulfilment is in our work, or if you prefer, the game. It is not about achieving some ultimate goal, but in our journey getting there.

 

Cheapskate prospects

Photoxpress_10909891 calculatorWell, a cheapskate is not really a prospect, as why would you take on a client who was not prepared to pay you a proper fee or have any respect for what you can do for them?

The other day I had a call from a guy who asked if my business was something I ran “on the side”. He meant, “Do you have a “real” job working for someone else, and are you just making extra pennies on your evenings and weekends?” In other words, was I going to be cheap?

I told him my business provided my living and my fees reflected the benefit he would get from my services. I did not bother with the list of costs we have such as insurance, software and training, and the value my expertise would bring him, because clearly that would have been a waste of time.

I wished him luck finding someone who would do the job at a very low cost, and bid him good day.

What would you have done?

Where we are now

Canary Wharf from Excel Centre

Canary Wharf from Excel Centre (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

We can all look back and regret decisions we have made. I could if I felt like it.

Should I have been more serious about that girl? Should I have had ambitions to be a Lloyd’s broker when I was a lad? Should I have accepted a posting in the Far East? Should I have taken that job? Should I have left that job?

We did not know then what we know now. We started our businesses based on what we knew then. We have learned along the way, and with hindsight we can see our mistakes. That is called experience. As long as we learn from it, we will be stronger.

We should be happy with what we have achieved, but never complacent. There is so much more we can do and look forward to.

Don’t look over your shoulder with regret, but only to check the lessons you have learned. Me? Non, je ne regrette rien.

Rushing around achieving nothing

Make some family time

Make some family time

We all want to make money and have a better life. What we really need is one good business.

Now I know the old adage about not putting all our eggs in one basket, but it is very difficult to run two or three businesses efficiently on our own, or with just one or two other people. We would end up time-poor. That means that not only would we not have time for family life, we would not have time to plan how to run our businesses efficiently. We would probably make less money out of the two or three businesses than the one, unless we recognise our inadequacies in time and invest in good managers.

Life can be very chaotic if we have to be in several places working on separate businesses on the same day. We would need to keep one central diary (easy these days with on-line technology) so as not to miss appointments, as I know some of these over-busy people do. In any business that is one of the worst crimes. Of course we can organise our time, but there are only so many hours in a day.

Then again, if we make ourselves time-poor we will neglect our family and our relationships. We will be unhappy as well as permanently exhausted.

Do not over-stretch yourself. Don’t run too fast.

Telling your clients they are wasting their money

Aug 16 2011 028A lot of my work with clients is helping them get out of a mess. Usually that is because they have made mistakes in dealing with their taxes or have “forgotten” to declare certain income or gains.

Sometimes there is a question of the law and whether we can debate with HMRC, with a prospect of getting a good result for the client; in other words, proving that they have a lower liability to tax, or perhaps none.

At other times it is a question of negotiating lower penalties for the client, and making the case that a client’s guilt is less than HMRC contends. Perhaps the client has been involved in a tax “scheme”, and it is my job to decide whether it is worth resisting HMRC’s attack. Frankly it is often not worth resisting, especially if HMRC is not pressing for serious penalties or claiming negligence or carelessness on behalf of my client.

Sometimes clients feel very strongly that they are being targeted unfairly. They will want me to resist at all costs whatever attack is launched by the tax man or woman.

“At all costs” is all very well, but sometimes it is my duty to advise my clients that they really have nowhere to go, and that they have no chance of success, or very little, however much they spend on my fees or those of someone else. Quite apart from raising false hopes, I think it is quite wrong to take people’s money while believing that they are wasting it. That would be quite dishonest.

We all have our particular areas of expertise. We should all know when our customers or clients are wasting their time. If we “sell” our services knowing that they will be of little use, it is no different from the DIY store selling you a lawnmower they know will not do the job for you. It would be mis-selling.

Don’t you agree that to preserve our integrity, sometimes we have to advise our clients to save their money because they are “on a loser”?

 

Verbal understandings are not contracts

 

coppersIn my business I think it is important to have agreements in writing with my clients so that they know exactly what I will be doing for them in conducting their affairs (and what I will not be doing). I have always said that verbal agreements are no use especially when the parties fall out or one side has a perceived issue.

Many of us look after family members or agree financial arrangements with them, and somehow it seems less comfortable to ask them to enter into a written agreement. Yet why should they be any different? They are people who may have ideas you have not fathomed.

So I confess. My wife and I entered into a financial and verbal understanding with a family member ten years ago, and when it came to the crunch last year, he reneged on the agreement. That has cost us a lot of money. That is the point: where money is involved, people may have an eye for the main chance when greed, and other motives unknown us, kick in.

If you are relying on a family member to repay you or at some stage meet certain financial obligations, have it all in writing no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. That is an insurance we all need.

As for us, we have again learned from experience. Trust no one where money is concerned, and get it in writing when you need to. Onwards and upwards!

 

Stress and the small business owner

origin_544510865 (2) head scratchStress is a major threat to the health of a small business, quite apart from being a threat to the owner suffering the stress. It affects productivity, it affects creativity, and it can affect the way we interact with our customers and our staff. It is generally bad news.

We have all had those times. I have had a very difficult few months myself, being involved in some litigation unrelated to my business. That is all over now, and although we have (very unjustly) lost our claim against the other parties, we can try to put it behind us.

How did I get through? I worked as hard as I could with my clients, but due partly to the stress itself but also the work involved in putting our case together, my creativity and the amount of my writing and blogging took a bit of a knock.

I coped by talking to sympathetic ears and both my wife and I are grateful for our friends and the support we have had. I have also used my walks and time off to relax a little, although being under pressure my normal “bright ideas” that I have when out in the fresh air have been somewhat eclipsed by the darkness of the court case.

It is all over now, and although we have lost and there are costs, at least we can move forward, and I can again enjoy the business game as I always have.

How do you cope with stress when it strikes your business and you?

Getting the sack

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

Getting the sack is what launched my “career” as an independent person. Yet as an employee, if you are “terminated” it is a terrible shock, the stuff of nightmares. I had a bad dream about it last night; being called in to the boss and taking only a few seconds to realise what was going on.

I must confess that when it did happen to me, I told my then boss exactly what I thought about him and the firm that was getting rid of me. I quite surprised myself, and even looking back, what I said was uncharacteristic even bearing in mind the provocation.

Immediately after being told I had to clear my desk and go that very evening I knew something very serious had happened in my life. I did not know quite how serious because I supposed that being at the top of my game I would find another post quite quickly.

How wrong I was! I was “over-qualified”, I did not have the right sort of education decades earlier, my skills did not quite fit. What no one said was that I was too old to get a new job, which was what most employers thought when they gave a reason not to employ me or to not even to grant me an interview.

Never mind. As you know I had to get myself a new income, and I started out to earn some money. Helped by my wife, we ended up with four businesses entities between us, and four distinct “flavours” or types of business. Of course not all of them are a roaring success. One business earns much of the money, but the others in different niches help potential customers decide what they want, and even the biggest earner comes in two “flavours” through separate websites and marketing.

Getting the sack, getting fired, being terminated or whatever you want to call it is not the end of the world. You have your brain and you have your experience, and if you cannot get another job or do not want to work for someone else, you can really succeed as an independent. “Living on your wits” is perhaps over-dramatic, but if you have become unemployed it really is a starting-point for the rest of your commercial life and not “game over”.

Be positive, think what you can do best and what you want to do, and get started on your whole new life as an independent business person.

The Success Shop?

Hairdresser and restaurantOpening a new shop is a daunting experience, and if you are going to do so then you must plan very carefully. I have already mentioned that the level of overheads is an important consideration. Property taxes and especially rents are a very large cost beyond which you must raise your turnover by a very substantial amount in order to have enough profit to live on.

If you are not sure what sort of business you want, have a look at a franchise. You have to make sure that there will be enough profit for you after paying the franchisor, but the advantage is that you will have a tried and tested business model. Talk to current franchisees in the sort of business that interests you.

Decide whether there is a need for your shop in the local community.

For a new shop you need footfall. Unless you are very specialist then you should try to be on a busy street on or near the main drag. Of course that will put up the rent.

You need a marketing strategy both before you open and ongoing. Get someone experienced to send a press release about your Grand Opening. A feature in the local paper will help you hit e ground running. Have some special offers in your first week and mention these in the press release.

Have flyers with special discounts sent round to households with the local newspapers, but make sure you are still making money and leave yourself a decent profit margin.

Many shop owners say they have not time to go networking and they need to be in the shop behind the counter early in the morning. I would suggest breakfast networking. We can all get up extra-early one day a week, can’t we? Friends in the business community will refer business to you, and of course you must reciprocate or get your referrals in first to build your relationships and your income stream.

Remember to consider:

  • Tried-and-tested – a franchise?
  • Footfall and passing pedestrians.
  • Local parking.
  • Publicity
  • Pre-start-up and ongoing marketing.
  • Networking with the local business community.

We can achieve most things with a great plan. You must do your homework before rushing in, but how exciting to be making a difference in an independent business!