Last week in our local Co-op I dropped my walking stick when paying at the check-out. The cheerful young lady rushed round to pick it up for me. I was a little embarrassed but thanked her. She was very considerate of someone she perceived as an older pensioner, though I do not think of myself as such.
Yesterday at the same check-out a sullen young man served me probably of the same age as the young lady. He did not look at me, did not speak to me and just grabbed my payment card to shove in the card reader when it appeared it did not want to work contactless. He probably thought I was a stupid old pensioner.
I am sure the young lady was of a naturally sunny disposition, but I did wonder whether the Co-op train their staff to deal with customers because yesterday’s lad could certainly do with some lessons. A bad attitude puts customers off and certainly will not help any business.
Recently we have needed a plumber to do a job for us. The first plumber we got appears to have let us down badly as he walked off the job, promising to come back and did not. It turned out he had gone abroad on holiday.
We got a second plumber in to finish the work. The guy operated through a limited company, but when it came to pay, he offered a “discount” for paying in cash with no VAT. As you will probably know I spent my career in tax and I was rather upset to say the least. If he was taking cash in hand to allow me to avoid paying his VAT, he was certainly dodging tax on any cash he took, and of course deceiving his accountant as well as defrauding HMRC. That amounts to defrauding all of us as taxpayers.
I paid to his company including the VAT.
Now I have a problem. He did a good job, but should I dob him in to HMRC for his dishonesty? I shudder to think how many tradespeople still fiddle their taxes. Fortunately, I was not aware any of my former clients did, but of course I could not know. Maybe some did.
It is over four years since I posted on On Our Bikes. Why the hiatus, or maybe that word is not enough to convey the long interval?
Never mind. After the last post in July 2017 things just happened. My Dad passed away, and only a few weeks later we lost my Mum as well. We were tied up dealing with what had to be done, the funeral services, the notifications to those who needed to know, and then all the admin in dealing with their estates. The estate stuff took a couple of years eventually, but there was just so much to think about.
At much the same time I started to think that I should retire. Of course, the deaths of parents concentrate the mind somewhat, but also, I realised that I did not enjoy my work as much as I always had before. To that end, I started the process of handing my tax and business practices to someone else, and I did finish work at the end of April 2018.
After finishing work, I enjoyed my leisure, and it was great to spend more time with my wife. I had my walks around the local countryside and woods and generally felt relaxed. I took a lot of photographs both with digital and with film. I came back to amateur radio, which was a hobby from my younger days.
What I did not foresee was becoming so ill in November 2020 when also everyone was so stressed with the misery and worse thrust upon us by COVID. My illness was not related to that but was very serious indeed and I have not fully recovered as I write this.
However, I am apparently still quite capable of blogging and have resolved to do more, and will try to share my thoughts on business, work, and life in general, and I hope you will stay with me.
My wife Gloria and I met an apparently very pleasant fellow at a weekend barbecue recently. We had a long chat covering a wide range of non-contentious subjects, and it emerged we had a hobby in common – amateur radio, or ham radio if you like. He is also good at repairing gadgets such as vacuum cleaners. One might think a useful person to know.
Afterwards we thought it would be good to stay in touch, so I went to “friend” our new acquaintance on Facebook. It was then I saw that not only was his personal page full of extreme politics (and I do not do politics in social media) but that he had used profanities of the worst kind to describe those whom he saw as political opponents. That might include me although as I say, I keep my politics to myself.
Needless to say, I have not “friended” this guy. I do not want anyone to think I approve of such strong language by association with this individual, especially when so many of my Facebook friends I know in a business context.
Suppose the guy is looking for work in the future, applies for a job and the prospective client or employer sees all this stuff on Facebook. Will he get the work? I think not.
Being of “a certain age”, which means no longer young, a lot of people I meet socially and even some who have known me a while think I must be retired. Well, I suppose I could have retired, but since I am in business on my own account rather than being an employee, the question of retirement has not come up.
Even if I were employed by someone else, there is no longer an effective retirement age which is more or less compulsory.
I believe that I will know when to retire, and that will be when my work is no longer interesting, or it gets in the way of leisure activities to which I want to give higher priority.
Those who think I should be retired and who are a similar sort of age perhaps did not enjoy their work so much when they had it. I choose my work carefully now. I do not take on clients unless I like them and am happy to take them on. It means that my business feels like a hobby even though it makes money as it always has.
We had a very interesting speaker at a meeting I went to the other week. He was very knowledgeable in his subject and sounded as though he could really help his clients through tough times and to achieve their best.
After the talk, there was a general discussion during which it emerged that he had a doctorate in his subject. He was asked why he did not mention this in his talk or in his promotional material. He said he did not think it mattered. I suggested that potential clients and customers were not interested in qualifications, but only in what the person or business could do for them. That is my experience.
One way of showing what our business can do to help is to present case studies. I have several on my website. One client who came to me a couple of weeks ago first read my case studies last year. He was obviously a slow burner, but seeing what I had achieved for other clients ultimately persuaded him to come to me, and of course I can and am helping him to solve his problem.
People think of me mainly as a tax practitioner. What I really do is take away the worry and stress people go through when they have tax problems. That sort of pain relief allows my clients to get on with their lives rather than live a life of anxiety. Do you do that too?
Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.
We all pick up work we do not like. Usually we do not know we don’t like it until after we are committed to doing it, otherwise we might have declined it politely in the first place.
The other day, I accompanied someone to see a professional person. I was there to provide moral support in an unpaid capacity. My companion was obviously uncomfortable during the meeting. She said afterwards “He doesn’t like me”. I told her that I thought he did not like her case because it had become messy and was rather a lot of trouble.
Of course, it was very unprofessional for this guy to let his attitude show. Also, he annoyed me rather by asking unnecessary questions about my qualifications (as I said, I was only the unpaid moral support) and as we were visiting his office he might at least have offered us a coffee. Anyway, he had an attitude problem and succeeded in antagonising me as well as the lady I was with.
Working rules for us should include:
If possible, don’t take work we don’t fancy.
If we are stuck with a messy job, grin and bear it, and do not unsettle the client by showing our discomfort. After all, poor professional relationships lead to less work and word-of-mouth comment can damage our reputations.
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.
We 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.
Human beings are social animals. We like to hear from people. We like to know that we are in the thoughts of others. We like to belong.
Our clients and customers are human beings. They like to hear from us not just at the time we do work for them. They like to know we are thinking about them.
It is important to stay in touch, not just with the occasional generic email or newsletter. Check how your customers are. Make it personal. Ask them if there is anything they need. Make them feel wanted. You like to feel wanted, don’t you?