Asking for help

I was having a chat the other day with the chairman of our local Chamber of Trade. He said that many businesses are struggling around our way. I guess he would be in a good position to know, albeit his business is a notable success.

It struck me that when we meet other local business owners socially or at networking meetings, few people admit to their difficulties. It is polite to ask “How’s business?” but apparently so many are actually ashamed to admit that maybe business is not so good.

There are cynics who believe that many networkers do not care about their fellow business owners. It is true that there are certain types who just wish to sell to you and if you do not want to buy they lose interest in you. We have a local guy just like that, but no names, no pack drill. Just the same, there are many who can help and it is there for the asking.

Often someone in your network may not know they can help you, but the help they could give might be of mutual benefit. You might have bought a load of widgets and do not know how to sell them now. They might have a market or a contact, and there could be profit in it for both of you.  You might be bogged down with a contract that will cost you too much time and money to do now. They might be able to take the work off you with a much lower base cost to do. Again passing on or subcontracting could leave profit for both of you. You do not know if you don’t talk. I subcontract some work permanently to others I met through networking. We all make money out of it; decent money too.

Sometimes we need help we should pay for, such as marketing of anything which involves the other party doing all the work. Just the same, our businesses can be improved considerably through mutual cooperation. Ask for help, and if the first people you ask cannot assist you, they may know someone who can.

Don’t be shy. Ask.

How do I compete?

“How do I compete?”

That was a question recently put by an accountant who has another 125 accountants within a five mile radius. The easy answer might be “don’t”. Give in and do something else.

Then again, there is a lot of demand for accountancy services, but clearly plenty of supply.

The answer might be here:

  • The other accountants are not competitors but colleagues.
  • Do you have specialist areas in which you are strong and others might not be?
  • Can you sell your services to the others and outsource some of the work you are not good at or don’t like to them?
  • Can you concentrate on marketing your strong specialist areas to the public, making it clear you are different from the rest?

I am a tax guy, but I do not work in all areas of taxation. I specialise in landlord tax, capital gains on property, non-residents and a couple of other niches. Anything I do not like and am not good at, I simply do not do.

Do you stick to what you are good at? It is more enjoyable and more profitable too.

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

The Water Margin guide to business


The Water Margin

The expression “small business” has many meanings. There is no way of knowing whether we mean a business with fifty employees or just one person on her or his own. What I am going to say apples to the smaller small businesses although slightly bigger businesses may benefit too from that magic word “cooperation”.

I believe in sub-contracting what I don’t like doing and maybe don’t do well. I believe we can benefit others through channeling work to them while making a profit in their contribution as well.

Sometimes there are some quite large projects that we may baulk on taking on on our own. As a tax practitioner and business adviser, I might with a large project such as a share scheme introduce to a client one of my tax adviser friends, perhaps also a solicitor or lawyer, and perhaps a financial planner.

In the past with a large project I have engaged a franchise expert, a lawyer and a health and safety specialist to work on a project for me. In fact aside from a little project management I did little of the work, and I could not have done any part of the project on my own.

Many people are afraid to take on what sounds a large project if they are a very small business. I think that if you have a good network around you and can get the right team together, you can do a better job than much larger businesses.

The only real issue is the level of risk just in case something goes wrong. If the worst case scenario occurred, would everyone’s insurance cover it? Remember that you don’t have to have done anything wrong to get sued because some people have an eye for the main chance.

Given that proviso, though, and if we use sound judgment we can deliver premium work and exceptional service because we can give the attention of a small business and small business people as against somebody else’s managers and employees with other distractions.

It’s not just joint ventures, though. We can impress all our clients by bringing in specialists in our network without any formal agreement. If someone needs a financial adviser, I know several and would pick the most suitable one. If they need health and safety I know just the people. If they need sales and marketing… We can deliver just what our clients require much better than large corporations.

Do you remember the 1970s TV series (based on ancient tales from China) called The Water Margin? It started with a quotation:

“The ancient sages said “do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon? So may one just man become an army.”

That is true for all of us in business because even when we are small. One just woman or man can become an army and deal with very profitable large projects. It is all about who you know and can enlist to help you.



Here is the opening sequence of a vintage TV show.

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Loneliness is such a sad affair

It is a lonely affair being in business on your own or just in a small business of a few people. There is also the question of fear of other businesses in the same line, seeing them as competitors. I don’t think that is the right attitude.

Since I have been in business I have got to know many business owners who work in the same areas as I do, especially through networking, but also because I have sought them out at conferences and seminars. Of these people nine out of ten are friendly and we try to help each other with ideas. There is always the odd one who is afraid to give anything away. That is their loss.


It is incredibly useful to have others around us. I work with others in allied businesses such as bookkeepers and accountants, and this means I can provide services which I could not otherwise do, and also have more satisfied clients who get a more rounded service.

So, cooperation can lead to the big project. We always need to use our judgement as to financial risk if something goes wrong, but we do that anyway. If we are comfortable working with other business people we can manage much bigger and more profitable projects than we could on our own. It doesn’t mean we have to make long term commitments to joint ventures, though we might. It does mean we can enter into larger and more profitable projects.

Some people are afraid they will give too much away about their way of working, but that is a bit silly. Unless we have a unique piece of intellectual property, how can it matter? Do you remember those kids at your school who shielded what they were writing from supposedly prying eyes, and even from the teacher pacing around the room. I have no problem showing people what I do and how I do it. It doesn’t necessarily mean they can get to do it as well as I can, but even if they do, there is plenty of business out there. Really there is.

Working efficiently

Working with others is satisfying. It can be very efficient too. My builder friend (he knows who he is, don’t you Trevor?) said that with many jobs it is better to send two people because one might take three days to do it whereas two might well do it in a day. Two heads are better than one as are four hands better than two, and it provides variety as well as profit.

If you get a project you think might be too big for your business, phone a friend before you turn it down. There may be a lot of satisfaction to be had as well as a lot of profit and a happy customer. Do you work that way sometimes?

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