Admin and Budgets

Changing clouds

My last post was about clouds and a silver lining. I have to admit now that the abundance of clouds I described and used only worked for me for about two months.

One - big - cloud

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There are two main reason for abandoning Capsule and other linked-in cloud programs:

  • no easy mail merge for specific letters to contacts
  • growing costs for email marketing due to the growth in contacts

We like to keep in contact with everyone on a regular base, and write maintenance reminder letters to all those clients of which we don't have an email address (yep it does happen we don't have a single email address - people do find us by phone and order materials that "old-fashioned" way), plus for certain tasks in the sales process we use specific letters (such as quotes, order confirmations etc) based on templates. The mentioned Alive Docs turned out to be too cumbersome and could only be used for predetermined letters, plus printing those letters was a hard task: every single one of them had to be emailed to your own address and then you were able to print it - not the most time saving task invented.

The linked-in MailChimp (which we already used - for free - for blog alerts for this and the Charing news blog) will charge you if the number of contacts grow above 2000, which is lower than the number of contacts/clients we have. Although the costs of this, combined with the costs for Capsule and Wufoo (the webform program) was still below the original costs of Octane HQ, when I found another CRM program which links with Kashflow and has its own email marketing facility I had no hard time saying goodbye to MailChimp for our main business.

intouchcrm

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30 days free trial, upload and download data, email marketing, web forms, surveys, mail merge, task management and a bit more. That's what intouchcrm gives you.

Webforms = bye bye Wufoo (£ 10.00 per month)
Email marketing = buy bye MailChimp Monthly plan £ 35.00 per month)
Advanced mail merge (per group or per contact) = bye bye Alive Doc (free for the moment)
And of course bye bye Capsule (£ 8.00 per month)

Intouchcrm has two types of plans: Premium (£ 12.00 per month with 200 email credits and other limits) and Unleashed (£ 18.00 per month with 5000 email credits and hardly any other limits).
Since we email all of our contacts (those with an email address of course) at least once every week the 5000 email limit is reached halfway through the month, but even purchasing additional credits (for instance another 5000 for £ 15.00) makes the whole program with its many facilities cheaper than the combined cloud - and way cheaper than Octane HQ while doing all and more!

This new program comes with its own help desk, webinairs and practical advice emails, what more can you ask? The savings we make per month, plus the features the program offers was well worth the second switching of programs in a few months time.


Clouds with a silver lining

If you care to remember, beginning 2010 I wrote about our search for a better CRM program (going beyond AWeber etc)
We settled for Octane HQ, at that moment in time a great 2nd Generation program which suited the bill perfectly (then and there). Before Octane HQ we (you and me) were more used to 1st generation software programs, the ones you had to install on your own PC (or Mac).

Second Generation Programs (in my opinion) didn't involve any downloading or installation on your pc, they are online, hosted by the software maker and accessible where-ever you have an internet connection. Octane HQ did what we wanted it to do but that was/is all. Lately I had the feeling it was overtaken left, right and centre by 3rd Generation Programs - online AND able to "talk" to other online programs:

Cloud Computing - API

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(image courtesy of spiral-fotolia.com)

Application Programming Interface (API) enabled online software is what I call 3rd Generation Software. Each program does what is does best - just like Octane HQ - but the main difference is it "talks" to other programs. Reducing the time and effort for business owners to enter duplicate data from one (online) program into another.

End of last year - on Kashflow's forum - I encountered Alex Monaghan, who asked me if I would be interested in a program that would enter all new Ecwid orders straight into my bookkeeping program Kashflow. Now this already happened (partly) when my client paid using Paypal, but all other payment options resulted in having to enter all the data manually (both in Kashflow and in Octane HQ).

Alex reported last week that his KFSync was ready to test out and the ease of how seamlessly it worked made me wonder about the effectiveness of Octane HQ. Surely in this time and age there would be a better - automagical - system to use?

Looking at Kashflow's Integration Pages it brought me onto Capsule CRM - which when you look at their Addons & Integration Page you'll see various well known programs. That, plus the price of the program itself, sold me and I was off to start the new process of filling Capsule CRM during the 30 days free trial, connecting the programs I needed for our business one by one.

My new "API Cloud"

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Imagine Capsule as Main Program (where I register opportunities and manage our - growing band of - contacts) I've tried to visualise above how the API integration works.

Let me "walk you" through various scenarios to explain how everything connects:

  1. Suppose someone comes to our website (a Joomla site, online software with its own add-ons, components and extensions), reads our informative pages and decides to place an order in our secure webshop (Ecwid widgets installed as plug-in), selecting phone payment as payment option.
  2. The order is processed in Ecwid, through the KFSync lands within a few seconds in Kashflow and through Kashflow a few seconds later in Capture CRM (*1) - both programs checking if it is a new client or a new order from an existing client.
  3. I then check in Capsule if the new client is already on one of the mailing lists in MailChimp and if not I click one button in Capsule to add this person to the appropriate list
  1. Now suppose another person visits our website and requests one of our additional information filling in one of the Wufoo webforms.
  2. His/her details land automagically in Capsule (with the added tag of Lead)
  3. And sends the same details to MailChimp who emails the requested information.
  4. This person then places an order over the phone, and all I have to do is fill in the address details in Capsule and click the link "export to Kashflow" to create the invoice in the bookkeeping program.
  1. Another person used our Support Desk (Zendesk) to ask us a question, through the added Capsule App in Zendesk I can simply export the details to Capsule (and when this person then places an order click the same link to export to Kashflow) and again add them to the appropriate MailChimp list.

If you are wondering why Alive Docs is added, that is a simple program that can contact Capsule in the event you want to mail merge letters etc (letters to be emailed or posted - where posted means the mail merge is emailed to yourself as PDF)

Besides saving me time and effort, all these connecting programs will save me money too (in the end). So, definitely Clouds with a Silver Lining

*1 = do note that Capsule considers every contact coming in from Kashflow an Organization and not - as so many of our clients are - as a person. If you, like me, want to register them as person you'll have to correct this manually in Capsule - which gives me the opportunity to add the odd person to a "Case" - a great feature in this software program to remind yourself of things to print, call etc per contact.


Grow your business by renting

 

(guest post)

If you’re either about to start a business or already have an existing venture that is just ready to blossom into some altogether bigger then it may be time to consider renting a desk or office. Chances are, you may have started out in a spare bedroom, study or even the garage, as is the case with around sixty per cent of start-ups.

Move on up

Working from home is all well and good, and it’s well suited to people who want to be close to the family and get rid of the need for a tedious daily commute. It can be a cheap way of working too, but it’s not going to be for everyone. Working from home can be a solitary business, and if you’re the type that likes to network then the spare bedroom is hardly the place to do it.

So, with a recession rumbling on and lots of lovely office space up for grabs across the country, there has never been a better time to move on out and into rented space. If you’re a one-man band or a freelancer then the first concept worth checking out is that of the desk rental scheme. There are lots of these ‘desks’ available and they can be found using a simple online comparison site.

Office rental websites work in much the same way as comparison outlets for broadband or mobile phones, and quickly allow you to search for and find any desk or office rentals that are in your vicinity. The great thing about this is that you can get an instant idea of the going rate being charged for space, and due to the recession, prices are currently better than ever.

All the trimmings

If you’re a bigger business, or are thinking of expanding, then try looking for shared offices in the same sort of websites. These take the concept of the desk rental idea and add on lots of extras, which in many cases will include receptionists, post and IT support.

In either case, the added benefit of these rental deals is that they’re invariably highly flexible, contracts are short-term and on a rolling basis and the building remains the property of the landlord. This can, of course, mean a lot less hassle for you, and leave you to get on with the business of growing your venture. And, what’s more, the additional bonus is that you can pick a location that suits your needs down to the ground.

If you carry out a search using one of the comparison sites, you’ll soon see that many desk and office rental deals are available either in prime inner city locations, as well as on purpose built business parks. This means that your business will get an instant boost from having a respectable postcode, and as we said earlier, there’s also the chance to network with others as well as drumming up new clients and extra business thanks to your more easily seen location.

If you’ve never entertained the prospect of renting desk or office space then it may well be time to think again. The overheads can be cheap, it can be a lot less stressful than you might think and, ultimately, you may well boost your business as a result.  

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About the author: Rob Clymo writes on behalf of Office Genie, the UK's first proper online marketplace for desk space and shared office space.

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Interested in starting your own Ecommerce Venture using rented office space? Check out the brand new E-guide "Selling Online Basics", a publication by 1 Plus 1 Makes 3


API - connecting the dots (com)

Was email The electronic innovation of the late 80's, the wibbly.wobbly.web of the late 90's and Cloud computing of the late 00's, Application Program Interface must be The innovations now - do we actually have a name for this decennia yet, do we call this the 10's, tens or teenies?

Connecting dots

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Image taken from Narrow Boat Albert (book-reviews)

In the olden days sending products (read data) needed a lot of manual handling when transported from one area to another. Take for instance transport of goods over water.
Loaded into one boat, "sailed" as for as the water way would carry that particular boat, unloaded again to be loaded into another boat taking it over another water way as far as possible, unloaded/loaded again into another until it finally reached it ultimate destination. Cumbersome and taking a long time. Until larger water ways were connected by canals, reducing the amount of handling tremendously. (I'm rather a fan of the old travel ways using narrow boats, call me a romantic, but have you ever seen the breathtaking aqueducts built especially for this?)

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(Image again from Narrow Boat Albert blog)

Bringing the idea of connecting canals into the 21st century, API connects especially various Cloud computing programs with each other, reducing the number of times data has to be manually handled. Other - desktop - software programs use API also to extend their usefulness.

I regard Cloud Computing programs those software programs you can access anywhere where you have an internet connection, from blogs, email marketing, CRM to ecommerce sites and even online banking (Software as a Service). Accessible everywhere is great, but none or very few programs take care of all the essentials. Email marketing does not include your bookkeeping, blogs don't process your payments from clients and CRM's don't sell your products online.

Meaning, without the means of a API connection, the details of your contact/clients need to be handled many times over. Connecting programs - letting them talk to each other in bits and bytes - overcomes this cumbersome problem.

Take for instance our own secure webshop. Since mid last year we use Ecwid for this, the widget embedded in our blog (and main website also). Client decides to pay using Paypal.
With one click - place order - details of my client are captured in Ecwid, in Paypal and in Kashflow (our bookkeeping program we also started using mid last year).

If I want I can even transfer (one click again) details of this client from Kashflow into MailChimp and email further marketing messages to them. We don't use MailChimp for our email marketing at the moment, Octane HQ takes care of this (including none email marketing), but on the other hand I do have a MailChimp account and use this for a village project.

So, no more manually entering details in various (online) software programs, all done (almost) automagically through API.

Other connections

Of course, other online programs use the same principle. Tweet a message and add specific hash-tags and the same message appears in Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Publish a blog-post, and various API's will show an announcement on Twitter, Facebook to name but a few.

Then there are desktop software programs who, by utilising API, can upload data to all kinds of online programs. One I frequently use - this blog-post on Typepad is a fine example of it - is ScreenSteps Desktop. I can even publish the same article in other programs without having to lift a finger (well, I only have to tell ScreenSteps in which programs I want the post to appear).

Bringing it together

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At the moment I'm working on a specific guide to show how using various Cloud computing programs, all using API in one way or the other, can help you create an ecommerce project very quickly and efficient. My target group will be small business testing the waters of ecommerce, those who need to simply test a new product (digital or physic product) without disrupting their normal website or which could interfere (marketing wise) with their existing ecommerce presence.

For some of the programs in this guide I'll use free editions of award wining software, so even start-ups don't have to break the bank getting started with ecommerce. The beauty of using free edition first is that you can always upgrade to a more advanced edition (with more features and benefits) without having to start all over again.

Still looking for a proper name for the guide though, "connecting the dots (com)" might work here too ;-)

Do you have a favourite program that uses API? And how does it benefit the running of your business?


When your accounting program starts emailing you, you pay attention!

Since we switched from Aweber and Mamut CRM to Octane - which does our both email and follow-up marketing - I receive an email every morning telling me which follow-up letters to print, which prospects to custom email or to call in regards of an outstanding quotation. An online program as "task-master" where ever you are (and have internet/email access of course).

I'm also used to receiving emails from my accountant on what to do next on the business, I hope your's does this too. But now even my accounting program is emailing me!

Further switching to on-line programs

In an earlier post I explained why our existing accounting and -ecommerce desktop software needed replacement. The new Ecwid e-commerce widget was quickly found and doing what it is supposed to be doing: easy navigation for our online shoppers with a simple and straight forward check-out process (offering various payment options too).

Next up was the accounting part. The search concentrated on UK based SaaS (Software as a Service) software, eliminating waiting time on support tickets if and when needed (5 - 8 hours time difference between UK and USA is half a days work missed - been there, waited that long). Having some experience with Liberty accounting I discarded that program - not flexible enough for my standard/methods of bookkeeping, project management and financial reporting (yes, we are a small company but facts and figures does help you to know where you stand and where you want to go, so rather important).

Kashflow, online accounting softwareHad a look at Clearbooks but like Liberty it has a fixed fee for limit on transactions then additional costs when you go over your "llimit", which IMHO restricts effective bookkeeping in service of financial management. So I in the end I selected Kashflow (found this program through a tweet from Duane Jackson, Kashflow's founder, when I tweeted about Clearbooks - now that's a clever and effective use of twitter).

Liked what I saw and read, specially the API link between Paypal and the online software, plus one fixed fee per month for everyone with no nonsense about limiting the number of transactions. Free trial available for 2 months - which I took. After only 1 week I decided to open an account - free trial continues, I won't be billed until this period has finished.

When features are benefits

Kashflow comes with many (simple) features which in many cases are real benefits for those, like me, who consider bookkeeping an essential and important part of running your business in such a way that working in the business becomes working on the business.

Customer details included the source this contact came from (with the additional "feature" of setting a cost per source - enabling you to finally discover which 50% of marketing expenditure works (sure you all know the famous quote about knowing 50% or your marketing budget works, but you don't know which 50%), reports of income per month or any period you want to see, per source, drilling down to client level.
(Side-note: I have one little problem with these on screen pie-chart reports: selecting invoice issued or invoices paid gives a rather different result, one reports ex VAT, the other including VAT; just a matter of adjusting the way you "think" about "income" I guess.)

Like the first ever bookkeeping program I selected when we first arrived in the UK (there is a slight difference in Dutch or English bookkeeping methods, won't go into that here) MYOB, Kashflow trusts its users to know what they are doing and allows editing of bookings unlike other - big name - software programs. When MYOB was taken over by Mamut we added the accounting package to the Mamut CRM - only to discover that now some beneficial items of the CRM program no longer worked. The only solutions was to upgrade again to an even higher package (Enterprice 3) to resolve this problem. Strange but true.

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Mamut accounting did not have the option of editing any of the bookings which meant credit notes, correction journals etc. Finally with the last upgrade this was sorted: only it seemed Mamut is so afraid business owners do not know what they are doing that every time you want to correct/edit a booking (only very limited corrections also) you had to enter your user name and password again, even when you - like me - are the only administrator in the program. For every single correction!
Come on Mamut - we're no naughty kids, we are business owners!

Anyway, those days are now gone and I'm quite happy with the Kashflow online software. When the trial period is over we'll be paying £ 14.99 ex VAT per month, plus £8.45 per month for the Paypal imports. There is a second option for Papal, importing income and outcome once a week for £2.99 a month but I decided to compare "costs" versus time to be spent on adding known data - already online - to another program manually.

Since the switch from Mamut ecommerce to Ecwid ecommerce there has been a significant increase in online orders being paid through Paypal express or normal Paypal checkout. More orders also mean more often booking the courier (also online, great company) which we pay by Paypal. All sales, purchase and transfer details are collected by Kashflow once every hour through the Paypal API, creating new customers or suppliers where needed and adding the invoice, purchase order to the contacts. IMHO this saves me more in time than the £ 8.45 represents.

Minor issues

Of course, there are - as with every program - minor issues. Already some of my questions/querries, suggestions submitted through the excellent and quick to respond support desk (who seem to work during the evenings and weekends!) have been added to the to-do-list of the development team. Could be that I have a different way of looking at bookkeeping than others, but nice to know Kashflow appreciates involvement of their clients.

One of the issues I have are the product codes: at the moment I have to create a product code in both the "Sales-Type (as Kashflow renamed the nominal accounts group for turnover) as well as to the "Outgoing Types" (as Kashflow renamed the nominal code groups for costs of sales and expenditures).

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Why not one product code tab which has a sales type and an outgoing type as default value? I'm adding the code products now as and when needed.

Repeat purchases are easily created, which is a great time saver, only not for those suppliers who bill you in different currency than GBP

Repeat invoices and bank transactions can also be created, only not repeat journals. You can create journal templates though, so perhaps turning the templates into repeat journals once o month, quarter etc will be possible in the near future too. I hope so.

The software works so effective the "books" are now up to date every day, more and more purchases are added to the automated repeat purchase list, so next month I'll have even fewer items to book. And the normal financial management reports I create every 3 months for myself and my team, including our accountant, are already "in there" with one click of a button.

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So top marks and the Kiss Award for Kashflow, makes running your business easier with in-depth instant details on how you're doing. And of course sending me early morning emails telling me which suppliers need paying and which clients should pay us today.

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(Side-note on Mamut: I've now been told that because we're not renewing the annual service agreement fee I will loose access to the desktop software program the minute the existing agreement ends. A desktop program - not online "hire" of server space. When I argued I'd paid for the actual program itself and the service agreement is for updates and support all I hear is: it is mentioned in the licence agreement. Well, the person who sold me the first ever Mamut product (CRM & Sales) never told me that.
So, be warned if your business needs a more complex Enterprise Solution - check you don't end up with only the exported bits and bytes of all your historical data when you cancel the service agreement of a desktop program!)


Quick update on Ecwid and ponderings on tasks

(as in: who does what and why you should keep it simple).

End of last month I wrote about Ecwid "the ultimate Ecommerce multiple outlet option". I'm still very impressed by the program.

Simple, simple, simple - and effective

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Adding products is very simple, adding products to one or more categories is simple and a great feature I was missing dreadfully in our old shop. Last week (09.09) we took the plunge and opted for Ecwid's Silver Account. So now we are charged a monthly fee for the pleasure (a small fee in my eyes).

Side-note on upgrading: the compare plans page of Ecwid shows the price in US $, purchasing the upgrade I was suddenly charged in €'s - that's having to make a calculation of the costs in £ twice. Can't see any reason for Ecwid to show only prices in $ when actually the invoice you receive is in €. (Could be that for US clients it stays in $, I don't know).

Anyway, back to the program itself and the extra benefits a Silver account gives you. The one most important, at the moment, is the "Discount codes" option.

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In the system you create your coupon code, give it a name, a discount % or amount, set the settings to always, once, returning clients only or simply for a single use and if there is a minimum amount your client must spend before the discount counts.
All in one little window - no fiddling to and fro between screens, sections or options.

You email/hand out the coupon-code to your prospects/clients and once they apply the code to their shopping bag - even before having to go into the check-out process - the promised discount immediately is "in the bag".

Simple and very effective.

Oh, and it took 1 minute to follow the simple step in Ecwid's knowledge Base to add the shop to our Facebook Fan Page.

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Without any big problems - getting used to any new program comes with some problems, tiny ones in this case - our brand new secure webshop has now found 4 outlets:
Typepad blog (in same design as our FAQ wooden floor blog)
Main website (in same design as our main website)
Landing pages (one simple new example for our Easiest Maintenance Program - Ever)
Facebook Fan Page

If that's not simple and effective I wouldn't know what simple is then!

Ponderings on Tasks (as in: who does what and why you should keep it simple and strict).

Bookkeeping is part of running your business and you either love it or hate it. When you love it - me, me, me - it's a task you rather don't delegate.
However, if you hate it and delegate the task, delegate the complete task. Don't have 2 captains on a ship, especially not if you outsource the task and pay for the time of your bookkeeper. It's bound to end in extra costs, extra - wasted - time to correct entries of the other captain.

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With the modern online bookkeeping programs you have to be very strict with yourself, 'cos it seems so easy just to log in to the program in a spare moment and add that payment to the system. Only for your bookkeeper to discover the bank balance (reconciled a week ago) in the system is out of sink.

Sounds like nitpicking? When you become "piggy-in-the-middle" of an email discussion between a "paid for" bookkeeper and the owner of a business (for whom you have done the books for a while) you'll know it will frustrate everyone. The owner, for thinking to reduce the time of the bookkeeper and do little bookings in the system, is frustrated for being "slapped on the wrist"; the bookkeeper is frustrated for having to unravel the accounts again and for the "piggy-in-the-middle": it's not my task any longer, so leave me out of it and get your proprieties and instructions right!

Set strict agreements for this task: who does what? If the owner does want to do some of the books make it absolutely clear to everyone what "some of it" contains and don't cross the line - ever. Accountability comes to mind - and effectively saving costs.

In those occasions I really consider myself lucky to have the "bookkeeper" bug in me ;-) I don't have to share the task with anyone and therefore I'm the only one accountable. Life can be simple.


Business Insolvency UK

Guest post

Business Insolvency UK

Businesses are at their lowest number in the last three years according to a new found report.

With more and more business not being profitable many business become insolvent. According to Experians insolvency index it reached its lowest point since June 2007. Business Insolvency is becoming a worrying issue in the UK economy and action must be taken, if we are to re-address the situation.

One company who are trying to advise people are PKF, who are business advisers and accountants. With detailed information about a wide range of areas, it could be worthwhile taking a look at the information supplied on their website.


Your accountant: fixed costs or asset?

(Article first published on Ideate - The only South African blog written for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs as guest author)

Every business needs one; it's one of those essential service suppliers like your insurance broker or stationery supplier. You can't really go without one.

How you regard your accountant however is a completely different matter.

Fixed Costs or Asset

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If you expect your accountant to just "do the books" then most often you hand in your ledgers (shoe box filled with receipts even?) once a year and he/she'll turn it into a readable profit and loss statement, balance sheet and tells you how much (corporation) tax you'll have to pay. And of course bills you for the works done. End of story. The invoice gets booked under your fixed costs - like the utility bills, travel costs, letterheads etc - those type of costs that only deduct value from your bottom line.

Or...

  • Your accountant talks to you at regular intervals, quarterly or even monthly. Informing you about new legislation your business can take advantage of by adjusting your methods, your legal position.

  • Or he tells you how you can lower your salary costs by turning employees into B-share holders. This might also give your employees an extra incentive to find more efficient/effective ways to do their work, now their earnings are more directly related to the overall performance of the business.

  • Or he spots a marketing opportunity for you, a new marketing method other clients of him have implemented rather successful and he's convinced it can work for your business as well.

  • Or you pick up the phone to him and bounce off an idea you have, would/could it be feasible? He's a step further removed from the business so can give you a more objective view; highlight the risks or the gains you hadn't spotted.

  • And together you discuss, brain storm where to take the business next, a rolling 3 - 5 year plan. Put on paper, outlined in more or less detail to which he refers every time you meet up again: are you where you are supposed to be now, are you ahead, are you implementing all the tactics and strategies from the plan? If not, why not?

When you regard your accountant as trusted team member, an essential part of your business then he becomes an asset: adding value to the bottom line.

Been there, done that, paid the bills

10 years ago, after an initial meeting we never saw our first accountant again. We did talk to them in the beginning, only to receive a new invoice every time they'd picked up the phone to answer any of our questions. And as newbie's on the block there are many questions. To be honest, they never did more than answering our specific questions. Billed us for the annual accounts and "advice" given. Fixed costs - not an ongoing relationship.
We stopped calling in the end, rather struggled on/muddled through on our own than having to add to the fixed costs.

When the business we worked for folded and we started on our own we were in the fortunate position to have found a true asset. From day one he's been driving us onwards and upwards, helping us grow the business from a struggling start-up to the successful business we are now 8 years later - and he's still convinced we can do more, better, grow further/faster.

We're always looking forward to our meetings, bouncing off ideas, plans, being brought down to earth again - often too, we're being told we're not bold enough. He's relentlessly driving us forward. An asset, an ongoing valuable relationship, adding value to the bottom line.

Your decision

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Which of the two above examples does your accountant represent at the moment? Is he/she only a fixed cost, can he be changed into an asset or do you have to part ways and find one who is?

Think hard about what your accountant represents to you, but don't think too long about it. If you regard your accountant as fixed costs it's high time to stop wasting money. Find an asset, quickly and start adding value.

If you are in any doubt, fill in this little questionnaire to help you decide. We decided 8 years ago and have never looked back.



How government's spending cuts could be really easy realised.

It was predicted and it was delivered: the government is cutting its spending. Some departments have to find ways to cut their budget (IMHO quite different than what they actual spend, but that's a different story) as much as 40%

If it all works out, all of us - tax-payers and beneficiaries of those taxes - will have a more sustainable financial future. That's the plan. As business owner and tax-payer (double, on personal and business "profits") I would love to see this happening.

Place to start: accountability

After the emergency budget was announced we received the following online order from a gov.uk email address - very local as well. A Kent council project/centre in nearby Ashford - 6 miles away from our showroom.

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1 bottle a £ 10.54 - total price paid: £ 43.17
Let me break this down for you:
bottle £ 10.54
shipping costs £ 17.63 (default setting, can be changed to appropriate costs during check-out)
additional fees £ 15.00 (fixed fee for payment by credit card)

So now lets retrace the steps the gov.uk person took ordering this one bottle:

Product and pricing information

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Underneath every single product in our online shop we list the P&P per quantity. In this case: ordering 1 bottle will cost £ 8.50 ex VAT for P&P

Check-out options

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First page on our secure check-out:
1) Delivery Method, select delivery method.
2) Default setting is the top one, 99% of our clients change this option when needed to a lower or higher one, depending on the information found on the product page.
3) The option the gov.uk person ordering the bottle should have selected

Payment options

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Again, default is the top one: place your order and pick up the phone (9 times out of 10 we're the ones who pick up the phone to call the client and discuss how they would like to pay.)
This time the gov.uk person ordering the one bottle did manage to select the correct one and changed the default method. But don't take me wrong, for an item costing just over £ 10.00 would you personally pay £ 15.00 extra just for the pleasure of using your credit card?

Simple savings could have been made

If this gov.uk person had read the information correctly the first saving would have been £ 6.50 ex VAT (£ 7.63 including VAT). If only this gov.uk person had picked up the phone to discuss the payment method/options another big saving could have been made.
We do charge a fee for payment by credit card, 3% on the amount paid because that's what the credit card companies charge us for the pleasure. Our online shop does not work with percentages so we calculated what the normal amount ordered is and based our fix fee for this payment option on this (and we win some, we lose some).

A simple phone call to the shop - only 6 miles down the road of the gov.uk person - would have told them:
it's only £ 8.50 for the delivery and if you insist on paying by credit card we'll have to add £ 0.61 to the total price = £ 21.13
That's a saving of £22.00 or 51% - more than any department is asked to save.

(And would a short journey from Ashford to Charing really cost that much in time and petrol? If they'd visited the showroom they could have saved another £ 10.00)

The principle of many small ones, pennies and pounds

Now of course does this £22.00 not make a big dent in the deficit. But as bookkeeper (and double Capricorn) I know very well that many small ones make one big one; that to keep an eye on the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves.

The principle of who's money is it anyway?

Mine, and yours. And if you are only a little bit like me, you care about your money and how it is spent.

But for a gov.uk person in an office ordering one bottle online it seems to be nobodies money. It's on a credit card anyway, who knows who gets to see the monthly statement of all the spending?

Government spending cuts should start with accountability for every penny spent in her name. If there's a waste of yours and mine money the gov.uk person accountable should pay the moneys unnecessarily spent out of their own pocket, definitely making it their money too.

I predict that then a lot of savings will be made straight away, without any hardship to beneficiaries of taxes. (Update 12.07.10: listed this also on George Osborne's website: Spending Challenge)

(And before you berate me of having accepted this order with this tremendous waste of your money, the extra profit on this order has been donated to Room to Read - World Change Starts with Educated Children)


Business plan, annual waste of time or essential for your business

The minute you mention "business plan" to anyone 9 times out of 10 the reply is a loud groan or a shake of the head. Many think it is "only" essential when you are trying to secure external funding, whatever type of external funding that comes to mind (from bank loan to venture capital).

Every business template I've come across (and there are many organisations/institutes that can provide you with a free template) has the same structure you are deemed to follow and the explanation of some parts confirms that a business plan is "only" essential when looking for funding:

1. Summary
(Enter your text here)

The summary is the last part of the plan that you write, but should be included at the beginning of the plan. This allows busy readers to quickly see what the plan is about without reading all the details.

(copied from a standard business plan template offered by one of the large banks).

Specially the part of "busy readers" shows it to be more an external focussed plan than for internal use. The biggest problem or even largest pitfall for this is writing to please/seduce that external source instead of being a honest presentation of past, present and planned future. Don't fool yourself, we've all done it. Even if you write such a plan only for your accountant or bank manager we tend to write it in the most optimistic way we think we can Businessplanstackget away with. So who's fooling who?

 No wonder then that so many (annual) business plans end up in the archives once written, stacked on top of the plans from last year, the year before and so on. Where in fact it should be an ongoing (rolling) report/assessment of where your business is now and where you want to take it.

This month's free download at the Director's Centre Business Club is all about "Where do you want to go?".

"If you are able to start to define where you want to be and what you want to be, then you are also starting to define what it is that you do not want to be. This process of defining the direction that you wish to move in makes it easier to decide what the steps on the way will need to be.

The more focus you have, the greater your clarity, then the easier it is for you to define the path. If you do not know where you want to go then any road will do!
While many consultants get very excited about the definitions of purpose, vision, mission, objectives and goals, what really counts is how you can use the process to define and determine the future development of your business."

It contains one of my all time favourite remarks: if you don't know where you want to go, any road will do.

You have to know/find out/discover where you want to take your business. You, not your bank manager, the venture capitalist or anyone else. You are in the driving seat and it all starts with focus. And focus is better "captured" and sustained when you write your goal/aim/plan down - in your own words, comprehensible for you and not just for your external sources - and once it is written down this way it becomes more real and achievable.

You can register for the Director's Centre Business Club still for free, just start here (the first page tells you it is indeed for free and no credit card details will be asked, then on page 2 you are asked to fill in your business details).

Once you've registered find this month special workbook. That's right: a WORKbook, not just something you should only download and read, but work on/with it to grow your business. Does this replace the annual business plan? Perhaps in more ways than one.

Services-roadmap Using the workbook you'll have to come clean for yourself, it makes you think hard and long if you are on the "right track" of what you set out to do when you started your business and how you want to proceed. Once you know/realise this, the road is clear to plot/plan your own and your business' future in sustainable steps. (And the same applies for when you are "only" just thinking of setting out to start your own business.)

And believe me, if you know deep down in your heart that the steps of this plan you write down are honest, of your own making and sustainable, it will become so much easier to convince external sources if in the event you are indeed looking for external funding. Now that's what I would call a plan to do/stay-in business, the only business plan worth your time.

(This article/pondering came about after a discussion on a DIY-forum - of all places!)