There is more to life than work

Doesn’t our work routine get in the way of real life sometimes? We need to have interests which take our minds off the daily routine. Even if we enjoy our work very much, which I hope we do, we need to think about our surroundings, our family, our health and how we spend our time.

I like to walk most days. That is how I relax and often when I have my better ideas. I always have a camera in case I see anything that needs capturing. It is better than my phone, although that takes a decent photo.

I also read a lot, including fiction. Some think it is a waste of time. I believe the brain needs recreational exercise to stay fit.

Most of all, we need to spend quality time with our loved ones. This may all seem obvious, but I know people who never stop to think, are always in a rush, and forget to give time to their nearest and dearest. Because the more we rush, the less of life we see.

The pain of business envy

iStock_000020557146LargeWe can always look over the fence and see how our colleagues and contemporaries are doing. Sometimes business acquaintances or former work colleagues are making shed-loads of money; much more than we are. I know people who get very jealous and ask why those other people should have more than they do.

The answer is always because those very successful people have worked very hard. They may have had a bit of luck, but luck does not help without hard work.

More to the point, can we learn from the success of others? What have they got right and should we try the same tactics?

Also, if we are happy with our lives and financially comfortable, why envy others who have more money. Are they happy too?

We can always learn from our peers and we should, but envy is one of the seven deadly sins and it can gnaw away at our confidence.

Work hard, be happy, and feel better without comparing our lives to those of others.

Schedules? Boring but important

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)“I don’t want to be hemmed in by my diary”

I am not a business coach, and have no ambition to be one. I do know a lot of business people and one who is in complementary therapy claims she has not enough work. Now I know she is good, because she has laid hands on a lot of people including me. Why does she not have enough work?

In her case, it is because she is not available consistently. She has been unlucky with premises issues, but she could get around these if she had fixed days for her therapy.

The trouble is she is too easily distracted. Therapy clients like to come once a week or once a fortnight, perhaps. They think of, say, Tuesday morning as their chill-out hour or so with their therapist. They don’t like to be messed around.  They do not like to come on different days of the week at different times. They have schedules too. They have people and events in their own diaries.

All of us who provide a service need to be there for our clients when needed. If it is a hands-on service, we need to be there at appointed hours, not Wednesday afternoon one week, and Thursday morning the next week, and Monday evening the week after. Our lives should have a pattern our clients can fit around.

Being there is what matters, and that means being there when needed.

Competition or attrition?

Blog pix 21 March 11 001I am in a service business. I have all the modern advantages. I can help people all around the world because we have email and the internet. I do not have to meet my clients, although it is great if I can. However, if they are in South Korea or Chile, they are a long way from the UK. If I can check exactly who they are and give them what they need, I am happy and I certainly hope they are happy.

There are people who have businesses on the High Street or in town, and their businesses look something like mine. I do not see them as competitors. I have working relationships with some of them. We can provide each other with skills the other does not have; rather symbiotic.

However, imagine having a business very near another the same where you are competing for the walk-in customer and where the footfall is limited. In the local village, there is a long-established men’s hairdresser, or barber if you prefer. There is the owner, who is the brother of a business acquaintance. He has two very competent assistants, one female and one male. I do not have so much hair these days, but I am quite happy to have such hair as I have cut by any one of the three. It was a good business, quite busy, and open Tuesday to Saturday.

And then…. A year ago another similar business opened directly opposite. That business takes quite a lot of the walk-in trade. Our village is not that big. I doubt there is enough work to go around. Both shops are now open seven days a week, desperately trying to out-do the other. It is a war of attrition as far as I can tell. One is bound to crack. I know the owner of the longer-established business feels under serious pressure, not just because of the new lengthy opening times, but because I see him looking across the road to see how many people are in the other premises.

If I formed a business relying on walk-in trade, I would not set up next to another. I would find a parade or street lacking my sort of business. We have only one greetings card shop. Why would anyone risk setting up another next door? We did have a florist come to our village to compete with a well-established one. They failed and have gone. Why would a men’s hairdresser risk a similar fight? Even if they “won” by putting my preferred place out of business, the fight must make life and cash flow very tough in the short term.

I do not have the answers, but it all seems crazy business planning.

Don’t think too hard

Sometimes when we are really busy, it is hard to plan our next move, because there is always something there to distract us. Even if we try to plan, racking our brains under constant work pressure is rarely productive.

That is why the most important matter to plan is to schedule our time off and take it. That includes time during our day not in front of our screen or on the phone or hammering away at something.

I get my best ideas when I am not trying to think about business. I enjoy walking in the countryside, and while looking at butterflies, some bright idea can pop into my head quite spontaneously. Of course I always note it down straight away. Actually I carry a small dictaphone, but a mobile or cell phone or a notebook will do just fine.

Always be ready for an idea or a solution when not at work. I made an important decision only this morning while shaving. Ten seconds earlier I was thinking more about the foam than the email I decided to send, but that is how it works for me.

So do not think too hard, and thinking will be easier. Don’t pressurise yourself. Relax and let the ideas in.

 

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Bully clients

Most of us hate bullies. One day I might write about my school days if I can bear to think about it. At school we were largely trapped and felt there was little we could do about bullying.

In business we come across bullies too but we really do not have to put up with bad behaviour. I remember when I was an employee telephoning a client, someone quite famous, to tell him one of his companies owed a lot of tax because he had done something without asking us, his advisers, first. He shouted and raged and swore. I told him I would speak to him later when he felt better, and put the telephone down. Fortunately when I told my boss, he agreed I had done the right thing, so I had his full support. That guy had a poor track record for abusing our staff. My boss should have dumped him but probably the fees were too important to him and his fellow partners.

In my own business I do not put up with such people as clients. Usually on first meeting someone I get a feeling whether we can work together, but if later I do have any unanticipated “aggravation” I do not put up with it. I ask the client to go elsewhere.

No one should have to put up with bad language and bad behaviour from a client. You don’t, do you?

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Never assume

When I started my first job, every bit of work I did was checked by a more experienced guy. I remember being asked why I had calculated a client’s dividends for his tax return without having evidence they had been paid. I said that I had assumed the shares relating to these dividends had not been sold, so the client must have had them. “Never assume” my colleague said. Although I was stung by his criticism, of course he was right and I was wrong. I should have checked with the client.

Assuming can get you into trouble. There is an accountancy joke “Why did the auditors cross the road?” “Because that’s what they did last year.” That is how mistakes are made, books are not checked properly, and those who are cooking them are not held to account.

In business generally, there are dangers in being comfortable and assuming all is right with our business practices. We need to check and check again we are being efficient. Perhaps above all, we should not assume that our customers are happy. Have we asked them? Everything may look fine from our side, but perhaps their expectations are different. It is too late to find out when they leave us. We should ask for feedback and talk to our clients regularly.

I try not to assume, but am only human after all. I have learned from my mistakes. What about you?

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

The simple things

Four of us went out for Sunday lunch. We chose an Inn which had changed ownership recently. We wanted to try it again as our last experience there had not been satisfactory.

The menu was a short one this time. There was not a great deal of choice, although enough for anyone seeking a Sunday lunch.

We all had three courses. They came in generous proportions and my “starter” was perhaps more than generous. Each dish was beautifully prepared and cooked, the service was prompt and courteous but not intrusive, and we all enjoyed our lunches very much. Definitely a ten-out-of-ten experience.

The short menu was a big advantage. From our point of view there was no confusion about what was on offer, and with such a menu, the service was likely to be good because the chef would be on top of all the different dishes. With a long menu, often the chef is over-stretched, which can result in diners having a long wait for food which may not have been cooked as well as it might.

This is a message we can take to all our businesses. We are not Amazon. We do not sell everything. I work with a few core offerings where I can deliver quality promptly and provide a really good service. I try to make sure my clients are not confused about what I offer and that they know exactly what they are getting.

Well done to the restaurant for their service and congratulations to their very friendly staff who made us very happy. They provided an example for us all.

Don’t be afraid to ask

When I started out on my own in business, I thought I knew a lot and in fact I knew very little.

Why did I think I knew a lot? Well, for a good few years I had worked with small businesses as clients, and my employers had called themselves “accountants and business advisers”. So, yes, I understood the mechanics of being in business. I had advised clients about their tax issues, how much they owed in tax and how much they could save.

So what was the problem? Well, I had never tried to visualise myself in their shoes. I did not understand the day-to-day challenges of sales and cash flow. I did not appreciate the responsibilities to employees and workers engaged. I did not realise that everything a business owner does has an impact on family, both financially and time-wise, far more than for an employee.

It is difficult at the beginning of our business. We need a new mind-set. We need to understand about being found by customers, making sales, managing our finances without a guaranteed monthly or weekly income, and in organising our time.

We need to ask our friends in business when we don’t know something. We need to call in help from the outset.

Running a business is hard at the outset. It will be worth it and it will be very rewarding to succeed through our own efforts, knowledge and dedication. But don’t be afraid to ask.

Great sausages, but plan your business in advance

A long time ago when I was in my early twenties, my Mum thought she would like to run a pub, a free house which is one not tied to a brewery. This was following lunch at a very good one when I was driving her to the West Country. I remember the sausages were great and I liked her idea.

The more we thought about it, the more we realised that the commitment and the long hours, the organisation and the large amount of money made the dream unattainable. At least it was for us, with no previous experience in catering.

On the main road through our village someone opened a restaurant. This would be around three or four years ago. I think that since then, the business has changed hands twice, or the tenants have changed.

I have not tried the restaurant although I have not heard bad things about the food. However, it has never seemed very busy. They do not seem to get enough customers.

Why would this be? Well, there is no parking outside except for a lay-by for four cars to serve four businesses. It is on a very busy road and the noise must be a deterrent. Sitting at the two tables outside would not be a pleasant experience, and I have never seen anyone trying it.

This is no place to have a restaurant . Surely there is no hope of having a viable catering business on this site other than for fast food, and even that would be restricted by the parking issue?

Any business needs to sell the right product in the right place. It does not take a genius to know where is the wrong place, and we should all ask our business friends before committing a lot of money to start a new venture.

I feel sorry for business owners who fail, but do look before you leap.