Hints and tips from Xero

Xero are currently running a series of posts on hints and tips to get more out of their software. I’ll collate the links and post them all here

1.Xero mobile app for your clients to do their bookkeeping while out and about. This may be less intimidating for many businesses than the full functionality of the main software. Raise invoices in site and collect payment instantly by card with an app like iZettle. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-2ZRwaup1Gk

2. Invoice reminders can help you chase debts even when you’re busy. (For even more functionality consider add on Chaser.io) https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=vZJ6MGzATmM

Top Tip – Pomodoro Technique


This is a great technique when you’re struggling to concentrate as I was earlier this week when I was overtired. It’s also a good way to eat the frog that you’ve been dreading.

– Set a timer for 25 minutes.
– Roll up your sleeves and work intensively on a single task for 25 minutes. 
– When the alarm sounds stop work and stretch your legs etc for 5 minutes. 

You may manage to repeat this 2-3 times in total and you will be amazed at how much you can achieve in a relatively short time. I’d love to be able to work at this 100% rate all the time but the rest of the day usually continues at a more sedate pace after these initial few bursts of mental energy.

Give it a try and let me know how you get on.

Laryngitis

When I was small I lost my voice. 

Even back then I was an optimistic little thing and I was pleased that it was my voice and not my eyesight, because I loved to read. (Perhaps it was reading too much Pollyanna that led to such a positive outlook on life). Even in the doctor’s waiting room I began to make plans about how I would communicate everything in writing and learn sign language. 

All this activity because nobody had explained that my laryngitis was only temporary. Nobody thought to tell me because all the grown ups already knew.

How often do we do this to clients? 

It’s not just a question of jargon. How often do we do it with our own team? Do you, like me, drop an idea on them and then race on ahead with the implementation without allowing them to digest things first? 

How often do we leap ahead of their understanding when we have conversations with our partners?

Conversations should be two way which means allowing time for people to question. Or keep an eye out for signs that they’re not keeping up so you can step back a little and continue the journey together.

Multiple products, niches or markets

The general advice from marketeers and others is to niche for maximum profit and minimum effort. But what if you have multiple niches?

I have three core products: I speak, I write and I provide what I broadly describe as consultancy (including coaching and an online training course). These all interlink as hearing me speak may lead to people buying my book. Reading my book or other articles that I’ve written may lead to people signing up for me to coach them or for one of my online courses or a piece of ad hoc consultancy. There may be multiple products/services but they are all for a very similar market.

Except that I also continue to provide all this (writing the book is my next project) for generic businesses as I used to as the advisory part of my practice. So now I have at least three products that I provide to two different markets. I also have a couple of part time FD roles where I am employed for my strategic, as well as financial, knowledge and experience.

Real life is never as simple as those beautifully theoretical business books.

There are different decisions to be made even for a company and you may choose a mixture of these ideas.

  • Drop one of the markets to focus on the most lucrative. You will have one set of marketing and one set of systems.
  • One brand with two different pages on the same web site, one for each market. This is the cheapest and simplest. You may have one set of systems but one-two sets of marketing. Consider two sets of business cards or whether you can have one side relevant for each market. Also consider one business card with company details on the front and both markets mentioned on the back
  • Two brands but one company. This would avoid confusion over people coming across the wrong literature/marketing material. You would have two websites with two different brands/trading names of the same limited company. You would still run your business with one set of systems.
  • Two completely separate companies. For accountants this would require two sets of accounts, two lots of admin and two practising certificates, PI insurance, AML systems and HMRC agent set ups. Although you would have to have two sets of systems it may well be the same systems copied and pasted. There is a chance that the markets/products would be sufficiently different to allow you to have one company VAT registered and the other not but I would recommend taking expert advice on this. Even as profession which is good at admin I can’t see much point in creating a second company unless you plan to sell off one side or the other in the future.

As you can see I’ve opted for the second but may well create two separate brands at a future date if there is no clear driver for one market or the other. Some of my products may take a back seat allowing me to refine my marketing further. What you choose to do will depend on your individual circumstances.

If your business is at an early stage then you may take a wait and see approach but, if you are more developed then you should spend time with a professional marketing consultant (I’m happy to recommend one)

Why you may need to increase your prices

The income that you generate in your own business allows you to do three things:

1. Financial freedom is the obvious one.

If you were to replace yourself with an employee doing the same work at a commercial salary would there still be any profit? If not, this is self-employment rather than a business.

It may be that self-employment is all that you want or it may be a step on the way to growing an independent business. Yes, there was a point when I was in this situation too on the way to scaling my business. Earning money for ourselves is usually a major motivation in setting up a business, so let’s do it well.

2. Quality and pride.

If you want to provide a service or product of which you can be proud then you need to be able to spend sufficient time to put in the work required. Do you feel as though all the work you produce is top quality? How often do you rush to complete a job because it is just haemorrhaging cash and time? Only do work that you can be pleased to acknowledge as your own.

3. Time freedom.

If you do not charge enough to pay someone to do the work it is often the business owner who puts in the extra hours to complete the job. Proper pricing will pay for time, either personal time or time to grow your business.

Am I a failure?

Back in 2017 I undertook a huge triathlon over ironman distances.

The event was 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile (marathon) run.

On the day I found myself struggling on the bike and “only” completed 89 miles of the bike course. But this is still the longest, toughest endurance event that I have ever undetaken.

Was I a failure for missing 23 miles of the bike course? Or have I succeeded in pushing my body further than most (sane) people would even contemplate?

So why not take a chance in your business and set yourself some stretch targets?

 

5 things I never foresaw in a 5 year plan

  • Having kids
  • Starting my own business
  • Entering an ironman
  • Selling my business
  • Writing a book

Things often happen which you couldn’t foresee 5 years ahead. Some things only make it onto your agenda a year or two ahead and somethings hit you completely out of the blue. This is often used as an excuse for not having a business plan.

Here are the two main reasons that like to have a plan A.

  1. If you aim at nothing you’ll hit nothing. I didn’t actually complete the whole ironman. I “only” did 89 miles of the 112 mile bike section. But it is still the longest, hardest endurance event that I’ve done in my life. If I hadn’t set myself that target I would never have done more than an olympic triathlon which is a quarter of the distance.
  2. Which way do you turn when you pull off your drive? If you don’t know where you’re heading for then how do you know the first step?

So, grab yourself the back of a fag packet (or a laptop or pen and paper) and work out where you want to be in 5 years time. Then break it down into the smaller steps needed to get there. 

If you need a hand or a more formal plan then I can help you with a strategic planning day but start by getting your thoughts clear

How should I prepare for my first client meeting?

I opened a bottle of champagne when I got my first enquiry from my hand delivered mailshot. Then I wondered how to prepare for my first meeting. Over the years I found a way which worked for me.

You need to have some idea of your pricing. Don’t get caught on the hop or you’ll probably price lower. I used to keep a sheet with various prices to consult or you may invest in software which prices for you. Later we put our starting prices on the website to filter for better quality enquiries.

The reason I had a price list with me was:

1. In case I didn’t know

2. I think it was Paul Shrimpling or Steve Pipe who pointed out that people accept prices better from a price list than from your head

Before the meeting do a bit of basic background research. Google, Companies House, their website and social media accounts as well as asking around. No need for a private investigator, just what’s in the public domain.

Confirm the meeting 24 hours beforehand. Include directions of how to find you.

Have an agenda for the meeting.

1. Ask about their business and their personal ambitions

2. Ask about their accounting needs (and why they’re changing accountant)

3. Explain how you can help with exactly what they’ve said. Use their own words if possible. 

4. If you can’t help don’t push it, refer them elsewhere if you can.

5. Quote for the service discussed

6. Ask if they want to proceed or if they’d like you to email the quote and speak again next week

7. Generate email quote or engagement letter etc as soon as you get back to the office. Look at Practice Ignition or Go Proposal as soon as you can afford it. They can be used to generate the “paperwork” in the meeting itself

8. Engagement letter for company plus each director, 64-8 for each, invoice, standing order or direct debit form. All can go out electronically for online signature. Also professional courtesy letter for former accountant.

9. Set up all files/directories once engagement letter is signed

10. Celebrate (again)

How much should I save before taking the leap into running my own business?

I always recommend having 12 months living costs, less is you already have some established income

1. This means that you will only take on good quality clients and not be tempted to discount or take unsuitable work just to get somebody signed up. 

2. You will feel better if you aren’t trying to bootstrap in the business AND at home too. 

3. Allow a couple of years to get back to where you were financially but there’s a huge variation depending on the nature of the business and clients, how much time you put in, how much money you invest in automations etc.