It isn’t just personal current account customers who can take advantage of the free Current Account Switch Service to swap between banks, because small businesses up and down the country can make the most of the service, too.
Launched by the banking industry in September 2014, the service ensures that existing payments such as direct debits or standing orders will be moved to the new account automatically, and any transactions that do go through to the old account will be redirected to the new one for 13 months, so payments won’t go missing.
The company making or taking the payment using the old account details will also get a message instructing them to update their records with the new account information. On top of that, the service is backed by a guarantee that means that if something should go wrong during a switch, any charges or interest will be refunded.
Until the service was brought in, changing from one account to another could be a lengthy process, typically taking between 18 and 30 days after the new account had been opened. That was a huge hurdle for cashflow-reliant small businesses, with worries about invoice payments ending up in the right account or suppliers not being paid according to terms, with the possibility of late payment charges being incurred.
But that time’s been reduced to seven working days from the day the switching process starts to when the switch takes place.
One of the drivers behind the Current Account Switch Service has been to increase competition between banks and make it much easier for small businesses to vote with their feet when it comes to picking the account that works best for them.
So, is it time for you to look at whether you’re getting a good deal with your business banking? Here are the things you should consider…
If your business is a limited company you must have a business account. If you are a sole trader or partnership, you could use your personal current account, but that can make your finances messy. Keeping personal and business accounts separate is the better option.
Some banks charge a fee for business banking services, some don’t. Other costs are transaction-based, such as fees for cash withdrawals, cheques, Bacs transfers and overseas payments. Think about what you need to use and check the charges for each service. Some providers offer free banking, either for a set time or with limits on the number of transactions per month. Look at the penalties for exceeding those limits, and any charges that kick in when the free banking period ends.
Costs can be quite high but will vary between banks. Check interest rates, set-up fees and the amount you can borrow this way.
Many business accounts come with these facilities, but ask to see if you’re eligible for a debit card – and a cheque book, if you need one – before changing to an account where you might not qualify.
With the new Current Account Switch Service you can change your provider again, quickly and easily.
Not as long as you repay any outstanding overdraft with your old bank or building society. If there are any problems with payments as part of the switching process, your new bank or building society will put them right and make sure your credit rating is not affected.
Before you can cut your costs you need to understand your finances. Up until now, you may have been just bundling your paperwork into an envelope and sending it off to your accountant, crossing your fingers that you're in profit. But, obviously, that’s not a great idea.
Use online bookkeeping software to enter and track your finances electronically in real-time. Once you're doing your bookkeeping online, you can then use a certified accountant to process your accounts quicker, directly from your online records. This way they don’t have to wade through a messy stack of paperwork, meaning their fees will be lower.
Every year I hunt around to see if there is a better car insurance deal available. There's no reason not to apply the same principle to everything your business spends its money on.
First, contact your suppliers’ competitors to see if they can offer you a better deal for the same goods or services. Then speak to your existing suppliers and try to negotiate a better deal from them using your conversations with their competitors as leverage. If no one budges on price, you've not lost anything by trying. On the other hand, the upside is that you could instantly increase your profit margin.
Hold off paying for office space for as long as you can. If your business doesn't need physical premises, you can operate in a virtual office from home instead, using mail and call forwarding services.
For meetings, join the 'cappuccino commerce' generation and use Wi-Fi connected coffee shops, or hire a room/desk space on a pay-as-you-go basis using drop-in business centres such as Regus. Or carry out an online search for a “virtual office" in your town to see what’s available.
If working from home isn't an option, look for local start-up hubs offering free communal workspaces. Once you have a few staff working remotely, the team can stay organised using Trello, a free online collaboration tool to help track tasks and plan project activities.
If you’re working from home, you can claim expenses that contribute to your utility bill costs and mortgage or rent. Paying yourself expenses for “use of home as an office” can reduce your tax bill. This article provides guidance on how to approach calculating your entitlement.
Avoid buying expensive things outright, because it ties up your working capital. Consider renting or leasing expensive items, such as a company vehicle, machinery, high-end camera and audio or video equipment.
A sudden increase in demand can happen for many reasons and it may seem like great news at first. But sometimes it can have a negative effect on a business.
‘Overtrading’ happens when a business struggles to find the resources or cash necessary to service a customer before the business is paid. It’s a common problem and often affects start-ups and small firms that are trying to expand rapidly.
Overtrading can have many negative effects. Not only can it place a strain on finances and cause unnecessary stress, it can also damage the business’s reputation if quality dips or the business fails to deliver on its promises. Invoice finance and asset finance can offer solutions to cashflow issues caused by overtrading.
Aldermore Bank has produced the infographic below about overtrading and the cashflow issues it can create for small firms.
Overtrading is where a business takes on a lot orders without having sufficient capital to fulfil them. This often happens when suppliers or deliveries are delayed, which can create serious cashflow problems. It can be easy to fall into the trap of taking on more orders than you can fulfil. In balance sheet terms, your liabilities outweigh your assets (ie debt outweighs cash in your business).
The business will likely be viable, with lots of interest in services or products, but without sufficient working capital, the business experiences a serious problem. Working capital is actual cash or funding you have in the business, minus whatever you owe to suppliers, bank, etc.
The idea is that if you’re selling more, you’re making more money. But are you actually receiving payments from customers? You must get your invoices out on time and keeps tabs on late payers. Always ask yourself if there is enough working capital within your business.
Overtrading tends to affect start-ups in particular, because finance can be very tight in the beginning. Businesses wishing to expand can also face problems if too many orders are taken without sufficient funding being in place.
If cashflow is a problem, look at ways to cut costs in the business. If you’re experiencing VAT or PAYE problems, agreeing a Time to Pay deal with HMRC is worth considering, because it can enable you to spread payments.
If your business needs restructuring and is running up too much debt, a company voluntary arrangement between the company and creditors could be the best solution. It’s a great option for viable businesses that need additional finance or just some extra help to restructure. Always seek legal or insolvency advice before going ahead with a restructure or insolvency procedure.
Copyright © 2014 Keith Steven. Keith Steven of KSA Group Ltd has been rescuing and turning around companies since 1994. He is the author of insolvency and turnaround website www.companyrescue.co.uk and has been nominated as Turnaround Practitioner of the Year at the Insolvency and Rescue Awards 2014.
When you’re feeling the pinch and money is tight it’s easy to assume that everyone is feeling the same way. You transfer your money beliefs over to your potential customers, by thinking: “Surely they won’t pay that” or “They can’t afford those prices”.
And your mind reinforces these beliefs by adding little comments such as: “Who do you think you are, charging those prices?” and “They’ll see through me and realise I’m not as good as they think”. This is what happened to someone I was chatting to recently. Instead of positioning herself as the true expert and brilliant coach she is, she made it into a money issue.
There are loads of business owners who feel uneasy when they’re discussing price and who subsequently charge a fraction of what they’re really worth. And assuming their customers have the same money beliefs as themselves is just the start.
They don’t know who their ideal customers are and, as a result, don’t understand the huge value they bring to them. They have a “spray and pray” approach to marketing, where any customer will do, and then they end up competing on price. Bad place to be.
Let’s face it, when you get into the “competing on price” game you’re always focused on being the cheapest. If you only attract people who want the cheapest, you will always have to offer more for less, just to keep up. It’s a hard way to make a living.
But do you really want to be the cheapest? People looking for “the cheapest” probably won’t be loyal. They don’t really care about you. They just want a commodity at the lowest possible price. Which is fine if you’re selling baked beans or toilet rolls.
But you’re a small business. Your business is a huge part of your life, filled with your passion, energy and time. So it’s better to find those ideal customers – people who really value you, love what you do, for whom you make a real difference. They aren’t looking for cheap. They’re looking for the best fit for them. There’s a big difference. Leave cheap to the others.
Value what you do. Price it so you make a decent profit. Get clear on how you make a difference to your ideal customers. Then, only market yourself to your ideal customers, not people looking for “cheap”. It will make a huge difference to both your bottom line and brand value.
Copyright © 2014 Claire Mitchell. Marketing expert Claire Mitchell runs The Girls Mean Business, a 60,000 strong global coaching community of women business owners, where she shares marketing and business advice.
As a business owner, I constantly remind myself of the age-old adage: “Turnover is vanity; profit is sanity; cash is reality.” At my start-up, whether we’re riding a wave or encountering a turbulent period in our growth, one question is always raised whenever a management meeting takes place: “How can we tighten our belt and cut out unnecessary expenditure?”. Here are my tips:
When starting out, be very modest with your workspace. Share space with other new and established businesses to keep your costs down. A shared workspace enables you to explore ways of sharing costs beyond rent. You can consider things such as promotional initiatives. We’ve enjoyed great success with sharing stationery, printers, secretarial support and we’ve even produced co-branded press releases with complementary businesses, sharing knowledge and the results of surveys, etc.
It’s a competitive job market out there. As a business owner, you can use this to your advantage by welcoming smart students and recent graduates into your fledgling empire. It costs a little, and the benefits are tremendous. Many organisations can help you find talented and ambitious candidates who can give your business extra bandwidth.
From past experience, I’d recommend being as specific as possible when writing out a person/job specification. Define the role as clearly as possible and take the time to train your ambitious upstart properly. Pay your interns well, it improves the experience for all parties and creates confidence in the relationship.
Leverage as much as possible from your first 100 customers. It’ll prevent spending a lot of money on hit and miss advertising. We were a firm believer in making all our early adopters feel a part of our journey. The benefits are endless: word-of-mouth referrals, feedback on product and creating a loyal army of brand advocates.
Likewise, always try to share value and knowledge where possible. Start a blog, dive into relevant social media conversations, contribute to other like-minded websites and become a thought leader in your industry. These are low-cost routes to building buzz and attention for your business.
Whether you need stationery, office space, foreign exchange or help with your website or marketing, run a competitive process and seek at least three bids. Not only will you get better product, but you’ll also make significant savings. Always distinguish between purchases that are nice to have versus those you must have.
Many businesses lose lots of money each year unnecessarily when making international money transfers to overseas costumers or suppliers. When paying overseas suppliers, beware of the “we offer 0% commission” marketing gimmick. There is rarely a ‘free money transfer’ offer out there. The devil is in the detail and most banks and currency brokers make money by applying high profit margins to the rate of exchange. Always remember: the difference between a good and bad money transfer deal will be within the rate of exchange. Try to obtain multiple quotes on every transfer. It pays to shop around.
Copyright © 2014 Daniel Abrahams. Daniel is CEO of CurrencyTransfer.com (“the world’s first international payment marketplace”).
It is only natural to try to compete on price. But what you’re telling customers is “buy from me because I’m cheaper”, when what you should really be saying is “buy from me because my product meets your needs at an affordable price”.
Where does this tendency come from? Price is very rarely the primary motivator. What tends to happen is once someone has decided to buy from you they just want to pay a bit less. It makes them feel like they got a bargain. How often have you thought to yourself: "I will only buy this product if it is at this price"? Maybe at an auction, but you wouldn’t think this way when making daily purchasing decisions.
There have been many studies showing that a small proportion of customers buy on price and the rest for a multitude of other factors. If price was the primary motivator there would be no luxury items. Luxury items sell for high prices because they are seen as exclusive, high quality and, of course, they make the buyer feel good about themselves.
The key is to make sure that your product is unique. So why is it that some sales people are against raising prices?
Some will say: "Nobody in this market will pay that sort of price!" Alas, if the product is worth it, customers will. Many successful entrepreneurs have created extra value or new products in their industry for their customers and have charged a higher price.
A classic example is the Dyson vacuum. When the first Dyson came out in the mid-1990s it sold for £400. In today's money that is £600 at least. Yet they were snapped up and made Dyson a fortune. Why did it sell? It was different and made people feel good about themselves. A boring household appliance has been turned into something a bit cool, trendy and exclusive - a bit like Apple did with the home computer.
So many sales people complain that the service or product they are selling is too expensive, but they forget that others in their team are not having any problems.
Remember the “bitterness of low quality lasts longer than the sweetness of low price”. If you put up your prices, you will always lose some customers, but only those who have bought solely on price. So what? Isn’t it better to have a higher proportion of customers who actually value your products or your services and are prepared to pay for them? Obviously, charging more money brings in more capital, which enables you to invest more into your business. It can also allow you to cut costs as in some ways fewer customers paying more are likely to use up less of your time complaining!
It’s probably best that you do not set your own prices. The best person for the job is your customer. Ask them what they like and don't like about your products or services. Listen to what they say and focus on improving the negatives. Test everything and raise your prices by a minimum of 5% and perhaps a maximum of 20% on your existing offerings.
If you raise prices, make sure you have a plan. Try a few customers and see what their reaction is. Give them plenty of warning, because no one likes a surprise increase. If you lose too many, keep monitoring and adjust if necessary. Can you start charging for products or services that have previously been free? Almost always free stuff isn’t as great as paid-for services and customers often expect this.
When I was selling information about businesses for sale, the yearly subscription was £165. This had not changed in many years. Our sales were good, but we decided to put up the price to £195 and this made no difference to our monthly figures of c.100 new subscriptions a month. In fact – it went up.
Three months later we put the price up to £225 a subscription. Sales levelled off, but our margin was up significantly. Our closest competitor was offering a similar and in our view inferior product at £99 a month. When the Credit Crunch hit, we lowered it back down to £195, but never back to £165. It turns out that my co-director just felt uncomfortable charging more than £200! People deemed the product to be worth it and in the end, it helped us to drive more innovation like e-books, additional products and a better website experience.
One computer consultant I’ve hired in the past was charging £35 per hour. I knew this was far too low but didn’t let on, of course. They decided to later raise the price to £45 per hour but this made no difference to me. I am actually happier because I am confident they will deliver an even better service.
Copyright © 2014 Robert Moore of KSA Group and www.companyrescue.co.uk.
I ask every audience I talk in front of one key question: “What’s the most important thing to measure if you want to find out how well your business is doing?”
And, without fail, people always come back to me with the wrong answer! They call out ‘sales’ or ‘turnover’ or ‘profit’, but they hardly ever mention the right and probably only answer that really matters – ‘cash’.
In reality, it’s impossible to carrying on trading if you run out of cash.
In the current economic chaos there are plenty of casualties, the weak and vulnerable businesses will go bust. More worrying is the profitable businesses that go to the wall because they run out of cash.
So, how do you keep your head above water? In basic terms, sell something people want; make sure the difference between what you buy it for and what you sell it for is big enough; find a way to get people to buy from you, take massive action. And, of course, make sure you collect all the money you are owed:
As a self-confessed serial entrepreneur I hate the detail and intricacy of putting cash-flow processes in place, but you can’t afford not to.
For many businesses planning for growth, exporting can seem a highly attractive, but sometimes daunting, opportunity.
According to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, approximately one in five of the UK’s 4.9m SMEs already exports and the Confederation of British Industry says you’re 11% more likely to survive if you export. So, it seems natural for many SMEs to start trading internationally, especially since many have suffered from stagnation or declining domestic sales in recent years.
But there is a degree of risk. Among the cultural, legal and bureaucratic barriers sits the challenge of financing new oversee sales and ensuring that your cashflow remains healthy.
Standard considerations when you’re an exporter include taking a localised approach, adapting your pricing strategies, perhaps establishing a local agent partnership and seeking support from a foreign trade advisory service, such as the UKTI.
But SMEs are faced with numerous challenges and difficult choices, and you may need to make some adjustments and allowances.
Recent data from the Economia Exports Survey suggests that SMEs that are new to international trade (as well as experienced exporters moving into new markets) cite a number of success factors, including having the necessary finance (34%), the ability to manage payment risk (26%) and solid management and leadership skills (28%). Concerns associated with exporting include the cost (36%), not getting paid (29%) and risk control (29%).
The international market is highly competitive and credit terms offered to prospective new customers can be the difference between winning or losing a deal – especially when it comes to larger clients. When you are at the mercy of their terms, foreign exchange fluctuations and cashflow management can be an issue. Not only might you have to manage extended credit terms, but high-value material costs may also need to be paid up front, while goods will now take longer to be shipped to the customer. The result is a cashflow void, and small businesses need to have cash management strategies in place to lessen the negative impact this might have on them.
Short-term finance is sometimes necessary to bridge the gap between supply of the product or service and payment receipt. Traditionally, financial securities such as International Documentary Collections and Documentary Credits have offered exporters peace of mind, however, it is estimated that as many as 80% of exporters have moved away from these somewhat burdensome trade finance products. Instead, they are conducting international trade on the more cost- and time-efficient open account basis.
For small businesses trading with an overseas customer for the first time, trade finance might not offer much help if less than favourable terms have already been agreed. Similarly, an open account may be a risky option early on in the relationship.
To overcome the financial challenges of operating in foreign markets, invoice trading has emerged as a new form of trade finance and it allows invoices in foreign currencies to be traded. This means that businesses can remove the ‘cashflow squeeze’ that can occur in contract delivery.
The result is a flexible and competitive way to raise short-term working capital without having to sign lengthy contracts. SMEs can obtain up to 90% of their international invoices upfront from investors who understand the commercial realities of international trade and bid between themselves to provide the lowest cost finance.
When essential cash is needed to finance paying upfront for materials and maintain a healthy operation until the end customer pays, invoice trading can provide a valuable lifeline.
Ultimately, the success of a business may be the result of taking a risk. In the context of international export, that risk may be the acceptance of a new, large customer. The right short-term finance and cashflow products in the form of selective international invoice sale and repurchasing can provide one of the building blocks for export success.
Blog supplied by Beth Nicholas on behalf of Platform Black, provider of complementary and alternative finance solutions including invoice trading, supply chain finance and channel finance.
As the high streets prepare for a shopper-invasion and the countdown to festivities begins, businesses that traditionally feel the financial impact of the peaks and troughs of seasonal trading are once again preparing their strategies to manage cashflow.
Research published earlier this year by Santander Corporate & Commercial suggests that 61% of UK small and medium-sized businesses are impacted by seasonality – with 37% suffering as a result.
But the truth of seasonality is that it doesn’t always fall at Christmas, nor is it industry specific. For businesses across the country, delayed receipt of revenue and seasonal fluctuations in demand can lead to serious cashflow problems that existing finance arrangements cannot accommodate. Even for the most hardy business management team, a significant slowdown in business or revenue can make for a tough time.
Management strategies that have been agreed in advance can help to soften the blow when a seasonal dip is on the horizon. Here are four ways to stay on top of cashflow when things get tight:
One of the biggest issues facing businesses today is that of late payment. According to the Forum of Private Business, more than one million UK SMEs currently face difficulties with late payment – about 20% of the UK’s business population. The total amount of late payments across the UK now stands at just below £37bn.
Of course, you want to keep the customer on side and encourage future business, so a slick invoicing and payment processing operation can keep relationships harmonious and reduce the chances of late payment. Make sure invoices are sent out promptly, chase due and overdue payments regularly. Consider introducing an incentive scheme where discounts are given for early payment. Interest charges and financial penalties can be applied for late payments.
Cashflow forecasting, as part of the wider financial planning process, is essential for all businesses – not least seasonal ones. Healthy and detailed insight into anticipated fixed and variable business costs, set against data gleaned from your sales forecast, can help predict the future cash needs of your business and allow you to put financial back-up plans in place.
Not only will this process keep you aware of your business’s cash position at all times, it will allow you to creatively map and move around payments and budget allocation during leaner months.
While you need to manage and improve cash inflow, there are creative ways of managing cash outflow, too.
When entering into a new supplier agreement or looking back on existing ones that can be improved, make your suppliers go the extra mile. Negotiate favourable payment terms, work to drive down the price, arrange purchases on a sale or return basis, or settle on a bulk discount agreement. If you can, work to spread out recurring expense payments throughout the year so that they fall outside of your slowdown period.
Many vendors and suppliers are flexible, since it is in their interests to retain your business and put an affordable and sustainable agreement in place that will also prevent them receiving late payment from you.
Seasonal trends are beyond our control. One-in-20 UK businesses closes their business during seasonal periods to reduce costs; 6% of UK businesses admit to relying on credit cards to manage seasonal fluctuations in supply and demand; 4% use business loans; while 17% either increase or decrease staff numbers.
For stability during seasonal slowdowns or growth management during speed-ups, short-term cashflow facilities can be an invaluable lifeline. These funds offer a precious injection to pay off creditors, pay staff and maintain an overall healthy operation.
In the £250-500k annual revenue category of businesses surveyed by Santander Corporate & Commercial earlier this year, 30% of those that suffered from seasonal fluctuation said invoice or supply chain finance was used to ride out seasonal downtime.
Invoice finance has now evolved through crowd-funding into invoice trading, a facility that creates a market between businesses and investors to give flexibility to businesses in need of short-term working capital finance, without the need for long-term contracts or a whole of ledger commitment.
Blog supplied by Beth Nicholas, writing on behalf of Platform Black, provider of complementary and alternative finance solutions.
Mobile Chip & PIN payments are becoming more popular around the UK. This is mainly due to the fact that they are an inexpensive and modern way to increase profit.
For a while now, small-business owners have been unable to accept card payments due to problems with traditional card readers. This is due to the fact that they involve lengthy and expensive contracts, monthly fees and equipment that is bulky and hard to transport. Mobile Chip & PIN payments solve this problem by providing a non-contract service, with no monthly fees and a sleek modern design that fits with any business image.
There is no doubt that there are benefits to employing mobile rather than traditional Chip & PIN technologies, however, you may be asking yourself why it is necessary to even take cards?
One reason is that accepting cards gives your customers the option to pay by a variety of means. This might sound like a non-issue, however, one of the biggest reasons that merchants loose business is interrupting “customer flow”. Specifically in the situation where a customer wishes to buy a product, but has no cash on them, if the customer cannot pay by card they simply have no option but to leave. In this case, the merchant has not only lost out on a sale, buhas also lost a customer whose opinion is valuable to your business.
This brings us to the second benefit of accepting card payments – customer satisfaction. Most businesses strive towards providing excellent customer service, after all, for small businesses referrals are often the best advertisements of all. Disappointing the customer by not offering a convenient way to pay may come back to haunt you by damaging your reputation.
However, the direct benefits do not stop at the customer. Taking card payments means that your business does not have to run the risk of having large amounts of cash stored, it also saves on daily trips to the bank to deposit the money. Perhaps the biggest advantage to a small business owner, though, is that is allows for more efficient accounting. By accepting more cards and less cash, it means that your transactions are easier to keep track of, which is vital for financial planning.
Mobile Chip & PIN payments are secure, with all reputable companies required to pass rigorous security checks and verifications. They are also convenient for both customer and merchant, and are a great tool to increase profit. So why not find out more?
Blog supplied by mobile card payment solution provider payleven.
Becoming a paperless (or near paperless) business isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. It takes time, effort and patience from every member of your team. It was reported by The Guardian that more that 80 million tonnes of paper is wasted every year.
Going paperless will certainly benefit the environment, but what are the business benefits? Not only can it clear away clutter and create more space, you can also expect increased levels of productivity and lower long-term costs. So how do you become a paperless business?
The road to becoming a paperless business isn’t an initially cheap one. If you want to see results in the future, you have to be willing to invest in new technology now. After all, if you’re intending on banishing printing forever, your staff are going to need paperless alternatives.
If you invest in second monitors for your employees, they will no longer require printed documents to refer to as they work. Productivity will also increase thanks to shorter queues around the printer and the ability to multi-task.
Tablet computers are fantastic for displaying presentations, taking notes in meetings and referring to documents side-by-side while you work at another computer.
If your filing cabinets are full to the brim, it may be time to start storing your documents in the cloud. All your files can be stored online and accessed anywhere, from any device. Services like DropBox and Google Drive allow you to save files online, eliminating the need for paper copies. You can also apply specific restrictions to the files, so that only certain documents can be accessed by certain people.
Finding documents becomes a lot quicker and easier too, because your employees can use the system’s online search tools. Staff members are able to access the files they need without leaving their desks.
It’s time to clamp down on all unnecessary printing. Make it clear to your people that documents should only be printed if absolutely necessary. This is a much trickier process if you haven’t put new technology and other alternatives in place.
Take the time to look at your printing habits to identify particular bad practices or repeat offenders. Remove a couple of printers from your office and insist that documents are printed in mono and double-sided at all times.
Print management software allows you to take control of your printing output quickly and easily. It usually allows you to set monthly ‘printing allowances’ for each employee to foster better habits.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it’s important to remember that this process takes time. Stay positive and you will begin to see progress every day.
Blog supplied by office supplier Viking.
In this economic climate businesses everywhere are looking at ways to lower their costs. Your electricity bill is an easy place to start and there are a number of ways you can save money.
Talking to your current energy supplier is a great place to start. Most suppliers will be happy to discuss the tariff you are on and see if this is the best for your business. Shop around with other suppliers and energy brokers to see what’s on offer. Depending on what stage your business is at, it may be worth opting for a longer deal or something more flexible.
While talking to your supplier about tariffs, ask if they offer discounts for certain payment methods. For example, most energy suppliers will offer a discount or incentive for paying by Direct Debit.
Make sure you spend a couple of minutes checking your bill. Has your supplier billed you accurately on an actual read or have they estimated your usage? Check the read against your meter; it only takes a few minutes to send your read in. By giving regular reads you make sure your bills are accurate and that you only pay for the energy you use. Many suppliers are also letting customers trial a smart meter prior to government roll out, which will provide regular meter reads automatically, so ask your supplier if you can apply.
We have found that businesses are less likely to look at energy efficiency than our residential customers, yet there are some really quick and easy measures you can take, that can reduce the amount of energy you use:
Approximately 40% of all energy consumed in buildings is used for lighting, so here are a few simple steps you can take to lower your costs:
Most of us take heating and cooling for granted. Come rain or shine we expect our building to be at a comfortable temperature. Many of the best practice principles are the same for both situations.
There are some really easy steps you and your employees can take together to reduce consumption.
Blog supplied by Richard Hughes, Director of SME at EDF Energy, which offers advice to businesses about the best ways to save money on energy bills. For a free energy efficiency audit visit www.edfenergy.com/business-fit. It’s available to all small businesses – even those that aren’t EDF Energy customers.
Having walked past a shop called Recession this morning, I was reminded yet again about the tough times that small firms continue to face. All the small-business owners I meet through my work as a coach are really busy. They tend to work much harder than their counterparts in the corporate world and are frequently more motivated, too. There’s so much involved in running your own business – and not many people to help.
Here are my top six tips on how to give your small business the best chance of surviving when times are tough.
It seemed to work for Bill Gates. He’s reported to have spent one month every year thinking up ideas for his business. Yet in a survey of 4,000 UK businesses, 95% of small-business owners didn’t even have a business plan. Owners spend all their time working in the business, leaving no time to work on the business. But failure to plan, as time-management guru Alan Lakein said, is indeed planning to fail. It’s like setting off on a journey without knowing the eventual destination – fun, perhaps, but unlikely to be effective. Just half an hour a day spent thinking and making plans will enable you to focus on what’s really crucial to the business. Urgent isn’t necessarily the most important.
Failure to manage cashflow kills more businesses than anything else. Cash is king when it comes to the financial management of a business. The lag between the time you have to pay your suppliers and employees and the time you collect from your customers is the problem – and the solution is effective cashflow management. This means delaying outflows of cash for as long as you can, while encouraging anyone who owes you money to pay it as soon as possible.
A simple analysis of your customers can be enlightening. Who are most profitable/most rewarding to work with/have the most potential? It’s said to be five-times more profitable to spend time and money on retaining existing customers than it is to acquire new ones. Michael LeBoeuf’s book, How To Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, highlights the reasons why customers leave - 68% of them because of an attitude of indifference shown by the owner, manager or an employee. Given this, how valuable it is to fold your customers in a warm embrace and love them to death.
Social media is no longer the preserve of teenagers. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a business that cannot benefit from using social media. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are now essential tools to connect with customers, prospects and suppliers. Your competitors are already using social media to boost awareness, enhance reputation and win business. If (like me) you didn’t know where to start, make it your business to find out more about using social media for business. It could bring you many more sales.
It’s no coincidence that businesses that increase and hone their marketing spend in a recession are those that emerge strongest when recovery comes. Bill Gates (yep, him again) famously said that if he was down to his last dollar, he would spend it on marketing. Research has shown that companies that increase their marketing spend in a recession recover three-times faster when economic conditions normalise.
People don’t stop buying in a downturn, they just focus on value and “out of sight, out of mind” still holds true. Customers will notice if your brand falls silent and will smell failure. So set objectives, be clear about what you want your marketing to achieve, and measure the results. The more you know about your customers, the better you will be able to target them successfully by understanding their problems and presenting appropriate solutions.
The internet – and Google in particular – represent cost-effective platforms. Used properly, marketing has the power to stop a business being caught like a rabbit in the headlights.
Many small-business owners try to do everything themselves, which is plainly daft. Even decathletes who train for years have events in which they perform better than others. No one can be a jack-of-all-trades.
How much better is it to defer to a bookkeeper or PR specialist than to attempt to muddle through yourself? It can be immensely liberating to free yourself up to do the parts of the job that are most rewarding or to which you are best suited. Leave the rest to people better qualified than you. Smart business-owners know when to outsource, delegate or automate. You will more than make up the money it costs you through focusing instead on getting more sales or developing product or service enhancements.
By Bristol-based business coach Chris Kenber.
Most business people have one aim when they launch a company – generate enough turnover to produce a profitable business. No matter which path they choose to achieve this, they will need to grasp the basics of their business in order to maximise their sales effort.
If you are preparing to set up a business, first do the following:
Before approaching anyone else with your business idea you need to fully understand your business proposition. This sounds obvious; it’s your idea, after all. However, if you can’t verbally and succinctly convey your offering (in what is often called the elevator pitch), how can you communicate it to potential customers? It happens again and again. Entrepreneurs have great ideas, but wordy websites and offerings that are overly complicated and difficult to understand turn potential customers off.
You know what you’re selling - now you need to consider why you’re selling it. What value does your product or service add that no other business does? Start by listing your differentiators and then think about how you can best explain your “value-add” to your prospects.
Your business may be amazing to you, but you’re not the customers. You must identify your position in the market and consider the size of your prospective customer base. This will help you to assess the potential and viability of your offering. You need to be realistic. If your plan shows you signing up more than 10% of your target demographic in the first year, you are likely being overly optimistic. If your plan depends on this to be viable, it’s not too late for you to go back to defining the proposition and start again in order to identify your market.
Now you have the basics in place, begin thinking about your route to market. How will you communicate the values of your offering to the prospective customers you have identified? You can do this in a number of ways, depending on the type of product or service you’re selling. If you’re retailing products, you can open a shop in a location with a good concentration of prospective customers passing your shop front. If you intend to sell products online, you will need to develop a marketing plan to drive prospects to your site. Whatever you decide, make sure to do your research before committing any money.
It’s time to make some sales and build your turnover. None of this messaging and communication will be worth anything if it doesn’t lead to converted sales, so be determined in your pursuit of leads and execute your sales well.
A word of warning – maximising turnover is not always best for your business. You need to ensure that your sales are profitable and convert to cash quickly. However, if you get the above basics right, you will be in the best position to succeed.
Clive Kahn is CEO of CardSave, supplier of card payment services to small businesses in the UK.
When do you start chasing a late payment? When the work has been supplied? When the payment terms have passed? When your cash starts drying up?
Too many businesses believe invoice collection should begin when they are overdue. However, when some customers respond only to final demands the time between job completion and payment collection can stretch cashflow to breaking point.
Too many businesses delay collection because they are worried that asking customers to pay will drive them away. It is possible to cause offence if you go about it in the wrong way, but you could enhance the relationship if you remain professional.
Here are some credit-control tips intended to help your business:
1. Decide on payment terms with clearly defined terms and conditions and stick to them. As long as they are communicated to your customers, they’ll be expecting you to follow up on any overdue invoices. If you are unsure what terms to use, seek expert advice.
2. All new customers should sign a credit account application form. The signatory should be a duly authorised person who should sign below a statement requesting explicit acceptance of the terms, with particular reference to prompt payment. Any prospective customer who refuses to sign could provide a useful early warning for you.
3. Check out the new customer with a reputable credit reference agency and set your larger customers up for monitoring so that any abnormal activity is spotted at the earliest point. This can help you avoid a bad debt. If an actual or potential problem arises, talk to your customer about how it affects your trading relationship.
4. Every priced document (eg price lists, quotations, etc) should contain a direct reference to ‘prices subject to payment within our terms’.
5. Don’t be afraid to reference prompt payment at the start of every new job or contract. At this point any customer-requested deviation from your standard terms should be confirmed in writing before work starts.
6. It is good business practice to adjust your application for credit each year and send out a new copy to all of your active customers to sign, ensuring that you always have an up-to-date agreement signed.
7. Avoid being subject to the buyers’ terms as printed on any written order by sending an order acceptance ‘subject to your terms of sale’. The last document that changes hands before performance of the contract becomes the contract document.
8. If you are sending out a large invoice telephone your customer shortly afterwards to confirm receipt and acceptance of the invoice to highlight any problems early on. If there are no problems you can confirm the payment date and their intention to honour their agreement. Telephone such customers shortly before the payment is due and seek confirmation it is being processed. If a query or dispute is raised, deal with it promptly and ensure that the customer accepts your response, thereby removing a potential block to payment.
9. If an account does go overdue, ring the customer immediately, ‘We can’t trace your payment, can you confirm it has been sent?’ is less confrontational than ‘Your account is overdue’, but still requires a specific answer.
10. If your best efforts to obtain payment produce no results (and two broken promises to pay is a good indicator) consider what you need to do to protect your investment in that contract. When the terms, as detailed on your invoice are exceeded, send an account overdue letter. Seven-days later send a final demand and seven days later initiate full recovery. Maintain constant communication in between these steps.
Effective collection of money you are owed is vital, no matter how large or small the customer. Ultimately your first responsibility is to protect your business. The consequences of not acting for fear of losing a customer could end up seriously harming your business. It is how you go about it that can make all the difference. Consider your own reactions when suppliers chase you for overdue accounts. If they are rude or offensive you might seek to take your business elsewhere but, if their approach is at all professional, your main reaction may well be ‘What can I do to pay that?’
Christopher Moore is a credit management consultant at ICSM Credit.
Since the credit crunch first began to bite, some UK businesses have had to extend their agreed payment dates and terms, which means that some firms now face waiting as long as five months for payment. The average time it takes for businesses to settle their bills after agreed terms has also extended. Consequently, businesses must ensure their billing process is effective when it comes to overdue payments.
By addressing issues such as cashflow or order book problems early enough, businesses can stop them from escalating. But what action should you take and when do you need to start? Many businesses are too wary of being over-zealous when chasing payment so as not to upset a customer, but avoiding the issue could have a catastrophic effect. Here are ten tips for what to look out for and what steps to take:
1 Know your customer
Whether the customer relationship is new or long-standing, regular credit reports are essential. They are quick and cheap and enable you to be fully informed of any changes with the business. Perhaps you could use a particularly large order as a trigger to run a check or simply implement one every quarter or six months. As well as granting peace of mind it limits your exposure. The next stage is to identify and weed out any high-risk business prospects.
2 Assess payment behaviour
Keep an eye on changes in payment patterns, times and delays, as well as a move from BACS to cheques. These small factors can indicate something is happening behind the scenes. It doesn’t hurt to call the customer and have an informal chat, just to make them aware of your interest. These checks can also indicate how long you will be waiting for payment. Also be aware that bills being settled later and later each month is a key indicator of a business’s deteriorating cashflow.
3 Introduce changes
Your customers may just have a culture of late payment but to combat this, steps should be taken to encourage faster payment, such as direct payment methods or more creative collection strategies. Also monitor CCJs, because these can be a trigger to exercise some caution and review the relationship before extending credit.
4 Carry out checks
Regular company credit checks will also highlight small but possibly significant changes, such as who is on the board and any alteration in the addresses of those members. Also for smaller and newly formed companies, cross reference consumer and business information to build a picture of the personal and wider business interests and the track record of those running the business. Knowing what happened in the past creates confidence in future co-operation. When financial details are limited this can be the best indicator of a business’s commercial integrity.
5 Revise regularly
The validity and worth of credit reports lies in their frequency, which could be related to the value of business done, the importance of the account or the volatility of the market they are in. There is no point running one at the start of a working relationship and believing that will ensure there is no risk.
6 Be aware
Be mindful of external economic pressures because if you are feeling them you can be sure your customers are, too. The warning signs these present can be more effective than any internal procedures and controls. There is help - use the credit community, it's what it's there for; share information about your debtors and listen to what other industry people have to say.
7 Be accountable
Often businesses with poor trading results tend to delay submitting their accounts as long as possible. Experian research has shown the late filing of annual returns, which is a statutorily required list of directors and shareholders, is a characteristic of failing companies and at the very least can indicate a level of management inefficiency within the business.
8 Keep talking
Keeping communication lines open is key. As long as businesses are talking to their customers, resolutions can be swiftly and easily achieved without the need for legal action that can prove costly.
9 Take action
Don't delay. It’s tempting to wait and hope the payment will be made, but if the process is not started immediately, resolutions will take longer, putting cashflow under greater pressure and leaving you more vulnerable.
10 Call for help
While a business that can demonstrate a clear action plan is in place and was adhered to will more likely achieve a successful outcome, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. A quick chat with an adviser could help you identify the next most appropriate step. For example, a legal letter might be enough to bring the matter to an end.
Christopher Moore is the Marketing Manager at ICSM Credit
When starting a new business, the way that you spend your limited resources is critical to your chances of success. There are places where you can’t afford to scrimp, and there are places where you simply must not waste. You need to keep the chance of failure down by spending what you have very wisely.
It sounds easy, which it isn’t. However, following these tips will increase your chances of success. Good luck.
Brendan Flattery, managing director of Sage’s Small Business Division, answers some key questions about the importance of maintaining healthy cashflow.
“Any successful small-business owner will tell you that healthy cashflow is critical to the smooth running and growth of their business. It’s been a challenging time for all businesses recently, regardless of size, and one that will have a lasting impact on the way businesses structure and manage their operations. One of the key lessons that many small businesses have taken from the recession is the importance of healthy cashflow.
“Put simply, cashflow is the movement of money within a business, but this seemingly straight forward concept can have detrimental effects if badly managed.”
“Healthy cashflow is vital for all businesses, but the consequences of not managing it effectively can quickly have a massive impact. A small business can only survive for a limited period with a negative cash flow. Ultimately, the business will end up insolvent, which means it will fail because it won’t be able to pay its creditors.”
“Cashflow forecasting software is an important business tool that can not only show payment patterns and forecast the year ahead, but also highlight re-occurring late payments.
“It’s been widely reported that most failed businesses have closed because of problems caused by inefficient cashflow management rather than anything else. If small businesses put into practice the correct processes they will be able to manage their financial planning effectively, forecast the year ahead and identify any potential cashflow issues early enough. Then they can take action to avoid any anticipated downturns. More effective cashflow management will help stabilise the business, as well as ensure the business emerges from the recession in a stronger position and cash positive.”
“Julia Boggio Photography is a Sage small business customer. The business has experienced first hand why accurate cashflow forecasting is a must. They used Sage 50 Accounts forecasting tools. MD Julia Boggio says:
‘When I was reviewing our cashflow forecasts in November of last year, I could see there was a dip due in February. We reorganised our finances, cutting down on advertising and came up with an alternative contingency plan, which we put in place. This ensured we were well positioned to account for the dip and even enabled us to have a better February than the previous year.”
“More than half of the 2,000 small businesses polled by Sage in our monthly Omnibus survey said they had been impacted by late payments over the past year. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills reported that more than 4,000 businesses failed in 2008 solely because of late payments.
“It is critical that start-ups and all other businesses to remain aware of exactly how much money they are owed and when payments are due. This helps to prevent late payments in the first instance. However, if they do occur, good management can ensure that they do not have a damaging effect on the business’s overall cashflow. These are all aspects that business accounting software can help you get to grips with.”
“Make sure all your employees – if you have any – are kept informed about the state of the business’s cashflow. This will hopefully prevent them from making purchases your business cannot afford. At times you might be waiting for a large invoice to be paid, so you may have to put spending plans on hold.
“Create accurate cashflow forecasts for the year ahead. It will enable you to plan for the future. Forecasts allow you to identify potential cashflow crises, for example, be identifying periods when your costs exceed your revenue. At such times, your business might need to seek financial help. To be fore warned is to be fore armed.”
Brendan Flattery is the Managing Director of the Small Business Division at Sage UK and Ireland
Cashflow is the lifeblood of any organisation. Getting it wrong means that your business will fail, but getting it right at a time of economic uncertainty is a significant challenge.
Having a healthy cashflow is crucial for all companies, but can have a massive impact for start-ups. A new business can only survive for a short time with a negative cash flow, and ultimately the business will end up insolvent. Start-ups must adopt processes to help manage their cashflow from the moment they are set up.
Late payments are a significant problem for entrepreneurs to deal with. Half of the small businesses polled by Sage in its monthly Omnibus said they had been impacted by late payments over the last twelve months.
For start-ups waiting to improve their business cashflow, there are a number of steps to take, including:
Know where your money is – It sounds simple, but a lot of small businesses will fail because their owner doesn’t keep a close eye on the funds coming in and out of the business. That visibility is best achieved by maintaining regular updates on your cashflow forecasts.
Know your customers – Many businesses have a set date for paying invoices, learn when these are for your customers and record the date. If the date passes and you are yet to be paid, then there is a good chance that something is not right and you can follow up with your customer.
Set-up an online automated contingency plan – This will help you actively manage your cashflow. It is critical that start-ups remain aware of how much money they are owed and when payments are due, so that late payments do not occur in the first instance. However, if they do occur good management can ensure the late payment does not have a damaging effect on the overall cashflow. These are all aspects that business accounting software can help you get to grips with.
By implementing theses correct processes a start-up will be able to manage their financial planning effectively, forecast the year ahead and identify any potential cashflow issues. By following these guidelines and implementing the right software, businesses can make sure they remain strong and cash positive.
Brendan Flattery is the Managing Director of the Small Business Division at Sage UK and Ireland.
One of the first things you need to do when you set up your own business is to find yourself a good accountant. However simple or complicated your business’ finances are, you are going to get yourself in a muddle if you don’t know exactly what you need to record, how to fill in your tax returns or when to file your accounts.
Speaking to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)’s Clive Lewis the other day, I learned that many start-ups don’t use their accountant as much as they could or should.
You should be able to rely on your accountant to be there for you if you call up with a query about your book-keeping, however trivial it may seem, or if you have a sudden change of circumstances – for example if a client suddenly puts in a big order and your cashflow is thrown off-balance. They should also be reminding you of deadlines for self-assessment or, if you’re a limited company, when your accounts are due to be filed.
There is certain information your accountant will need from you in order for him or her to understand your business and do your accounts for you, too, but again, a good accountant will tell you what they need. According to Lewis, your relationship with your accountant should be a long-term one with regular contact.
Ask other business owners you know who they use, or visit one of the accountancy associations’ websites to do a search for your local accountants. Even if you have a good brain for maths, you still might need somebody to hold your hand while you work out how to use your new accountancy software. Ideally, you will choose an accountant who has previously worked with other businesses of your size and in your industry.
So, don’t be shy; pick up the phone and ask away. And if the person at the other end doesn’t want to help you out, take your fees elsewhere and find an accountant who will make life easier for you.