Sunday, 30 November 2014

Trust; every good turn deserves another

Whilst chatting to a client over lunch one day she said something that stuck in my mind. We were discussing generosity and trust. I can’t remember how we got on to the topic now but what stuck in my mind was that when an item she had sold on Gumtree was going to be collected, Catherine would leave it outside and trust that the person would put the money through her letterbox. Having been told by friends that this is very generous and trusting her response was ‘every good turn deserves another’ and she believes that you can pass that trust on to others.  So here is my tale:

I needed to buy some new down lighters for our bathroom. My husband had reminded me on Friday night that the electrical store closed at midday on Saturday and not to be late and miss it. When my teenage daughter finally descended from the depths of her room we set across from Wantage to Didcot to the electrical store. On the way I stopped briefly in the charity shop to drop off a few bags of clothes. When I got to the electrical store it was ten past twelve and the shop was closed. I had it in my head that the store closed at lunchtime but had forgotten (despite being reminded) that it closed at midday not 1 o’clock. Another potential customer also did the same and to my surprise the large DIY store Travis Perkins had also closed. Now this may have been a good thing to do many years ago but now most people are at work during the week, the only time they have to shop and do DIY is at a weekend so why do they close at midday on a Saturday? Aren’t they losing out on potential business? Perhaps this is another blog for another day.

On finding the store was closed I was then thinking of other towns with other electrical stores that might be open. We were heading over to Wittenham Clumps for a walk and Wallingford wasn’t too far from there. So I searched the internet and found Flex Electrical Wholesale. Now worried they might also be closing I called to check. Matt answered the phone and said he would be closing soon but would wait on for me. Down a small lane it wasn’t easy to find but he did wait. I showed him the type of light I needed and he disappeared to come back with two that he had for some time. He also had the bulbs I needed. He generously said I was welcome to have the lights as they’d been in the warehouse for a while and I could give him a couple of quid for the bulbs. To my embarrassment, as usual, I had very little cash in my purse and it wasn’t worth paying for them by card. He said ‘don’t worry about it’ which made me feel terribly guilty, not only had he waited for me he was now saying I could take away the things I needed without paying. It didn’t sit right with me, he’s in business and should be paid for the goods, especially as he had helped me out.

Remembering Catherine’s words that had stuck in my mind, I promised to return in a couple of weeks time next time I was due to visit a customer. True to my word, next time I went to visit Catherine at her office I stopped by Flex Electrical and gave Matt some money. It was much more than the lights and bulbs were worth but I didn’t mind. He said it was very kind and I replied that he had been very kind to me and helped me out and I appreciated it. And as a parting comment, I asked that if anyone ever asks him to recommend a bookkeeper that he remember the name Blueberry Business.

Every good turn deserves another. So what will you do next as your good deed for the day?

Trust and integrity are values that bookkeepers must live by. If a business owner is in a mess, stressed out or feeling out of control, they need someone not only who is capable but also someone they can rely on and trust. Blueberry provides bookkeeping services to sole traders and small businesses.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Should I stay or should I grow?

​When businesses first start up the focus is getting customers and increasing sales so you have enough income to survive. Assuming this is successful, after a period of trading for 4-5 years (sometimes earlier for others) there comes a different situation of having so much work that you struggle to keep up with either delivering your core offering/product or doing the other critical activities such as sending invoicing, chasing late payers, responding to enquiries, sending quotes and knowing your bottom line let alone doing any marketing. This can be an overwhelming feeling and often keeps business owners awake at night. The stress is sometimes in tandem with feeling of guilt of not delivering in your business or due to lack of time with loved ones. I've seen this with new customers recently who've decided to get some support from Blueberry. So what are the options?

Achieve more by doing less

Who are your perfect customers? Can you drop the customers you don't want, increase your prices and retain the customers you like? Earlier this year I finished with a client I loved working with, not because of a disagreement, but because the client's business was growing and they needed more time that I could give. It was a blow and I worried about how to replace this regular income. Having focussed on marketing I've been able to take on new customers on at a slightly higher rate right from the start. I've now got a wider base of customers, spend less time away from the office and the financial result is positive. For those who don't want to go down the route of employing people or subcontracting this is a good option.

Focus on what works best

What is your most successful product or service? Figure this out, focus your efforts on the services that bring most success and do more of it. Bear in mind that your most popular product or service may not be the most profitable! This is most likely to be doing what you enjoy best, increasing sales and freeing your time from doing things that perhaps aren't working so well.

Streamline your processes

Many small businesses start off using Word to send quotes and invoices, using Excel for their accounts. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, as your business grows having systems like this can be cumbersome and time consuming. I've come across this with customers who have spent hours calculating their vat returns and after we've switched them to accounting package it can be done at the click of a button. There are so many software systems that mean you can run your business efficiently and virtually anywhere with an internet connection. I used to spread sheets for tracking billable time now I use an online time tracking widget and a mobile app which pulls together my time and my teams' time so reporting and therefore invoicing on projects is so much easier.

Grow your team

What do you spend your time doing? Consider the tasks that you can delegate effectively or outsource completely. Those who are experienced can often be very productive and efficient. There are dangers here though – choose them carefully or you could get your fingers burned. Set the scene right from the start. Communication is key to make sure they understand what is expected of them. Have an induction process so they can be briefed properly. Don't be afraid to ask questions, oversee the work and ensure you understand the output. Avoid the situation of "I don't know how it's done – xxxx takes care of that" as you wouldn't want to be left high and dry if they were to move on. Delegating or outsourcing frees your time to grow your business. You may take a small hit on your profit for a while but focussed effort on marketing and building a strong team will reap rewards.

Monday, 3 March 2014

If you snooze, you lose

In any business there are four key areas that are fundamental to its success. I've particularly observed these within membership organisations however the following could apply to any business:

Following the leader, the leader, the leader...

If the leadership of an organisation is tired or weak it really is a recipe for disaster. A clear mission statement tells others who you are and why you exist but that alone won't suffice. Organisations need to have a strategy with specific goals to support it. Without it they run the risk of bumbling along in Neverland not achieving anything and members and key stakeholders will lose interest. Once this happens it is hard to recover from it and you can end up on a downward spiral fast. If the culture of the organisation is sluggish and slow to react to hot topics in their industry they will be in danger of becoming irrelevant. And it won't be long before someone else comes along to fill the gap. Strong leadership is critical - whether it is one person or a committee, leaders should have their finger on the pulse, have the desire to drive an organisation forward and qualities that make others want to follow.

It's good to talk

In the case of membership organisations volunteers and staff often work remotely and with pressures on everyone's time poor communication can have repercussions both internally and externally. If the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing it can lead to frustration and confusion amongst the troops - who is leading on what, time wasted waiting for decisions to be made, duplication of efforts and going round in circles. It can ultimately result in nothing being achieved - nothing worse than being full of promises which raises expectations and then failing to deliver. Clear lines of communication and setting realistic goals have to be agreed.

You've got the power!

Organisations that are committee or volunteer based after a time need fresh new energy. However if the newbies are not engaged in your organisation in some way they will quickly lose interest and wonder why they bothered to sign up. They will begin to feel that they are no longer needed or their input or experience isn't valued. Find their passion, what they would enjoy doing and give them a job to do. Empower your teams, let them own it and be an ambassador. Offer support and guidance and a little bit of encouragement if needed. It can reap rewards and you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

Show me the money

It's all well and good analysing individual projects for their profitability but someone needs to look at the bigger picture. It's not just a case of knowing the bank balance someone in the business needs to understand the numbers, its regular overheads and the bottom line, otherwise you could be haemorrhaging money and only realise when it's too late. Regular reporting will help you spot trends and recognise things that seem unusual.

At the end of the day whether you're a non-profit organisation or a commercial enterprise your members are your customers. If any of the above are lacking in your organisation it will be noticed internally and externally. Your staff and members will disengage, the organisation will lose credibility and competitors won't be far behind.

​Blueberry Business Support Ltd provide secretariat services to membership organisations with over ten years experience in non-profit organisations. To find out more please get in touch.

Friday, 28 February 2014

The Cloud for Freelancers, Consultants and Small Businesses

There are many advantages to moving your business processes into software applications but what is the Cloud and why should you seriously take a look at what’s on offer?

The Cloud

No it doesn’t refer to the big white fluffy things in the sky. In reality it means a range of hosted services that are stored remotely and accessed via the internet. The benefits of using cloud based applications are generally the same:
  • No installation of software of your PC 
  • No large upfront costs 
  • Backup of your data is taken care of for you 
  • Multiple users accessing the same set of data 
  • Real time updates 
Adding to this the specific services for that application is what puts them into specific categories. No one knows for certain who invented the idea but it was only when Google, Microsoft and Apple started packaging these applications into the term ‘The Cloud’ that there was a boom in cloud based technology.

Some people embrace new technology with eagerness whilst others are reluctant to change and may be suspicious. In my experience not all cloud based software or the companies that provide them are equal. Some offer great features but aren’t user friendly or intuitive to navigate. I recommend researching a few different providers and testing them out before committing yourself. Many have free trials for limited period. In reference to security you need to satisfy yourself that the provider you select is a reputable company, with good customer service, excellent security and that you can download your data, if you wish. Your information is valuable so make sure you feel confident.

Here is a quick overview of the ones I recommend:

Time Tracking

FREE for freelancers Paymo is a useful time tracking software if you charge by the hour or simply wish to track your timed projects. Add your clients and projects with tasks and budgets, run reports and raise invoices. It has a desktop widget so you can keep track of time spent easily. Your customers may also have a link if you wish. Harvest is another online time tracking software.

Mileage Trackers

Miles or Tripcatcher plus other mobile apps can track your business mileage by GPS, making billing or claiming business miles easier. Some will email you a report where others will submit an expense claim directly into your accounts software.


Xero is shaking up the accounting software industry with clever features such as bank feeds, easy reconciling, bank rules, online invoices with easy “pay now” buttons, updates when invoices have been viewed online, attach source files to documents, financial data, mobile app and much more. It is clever and, dare I say, checking your accounts becomes a little addictive.

File storage & backup

Online file storage has its uses if you want to access files whilst travelling, or perhaps if colleagues from a different office need access to them too. This saves emailing documents back and forth and avoids the potential issue of different versions being used. Microsoft Sharepoint, SkyDrive and DropBox offer online storage. DropBox makes sharing files and folders very easy and if you download DropBox on your computer when a file has been uploaded or amended a notification pops up on your screen. With different access options so you can share a document as view only, or share an entire folder you control how you do it.

Backing up your data online means that if the worst should happen the data can be recovered and you can be back up and running quickly. When I was looking for backup software Mozy was highly rated. Very easy to use you select the folders you want to backup and the frequency and it will automatically backup your files, working away in the background. Be sure it works and check that you can access the data – you would be surprised how many people don’t test it out.

Finally, always bear in mind that any online software needs strong passwords. The provider may have the best security but if your password is weak you could be asking for trouble.

For me, I’ve found moving to cloud based applications has been a revelation in how I run my business and how I’ve impacted positively on my customers’ business administration and processes. Once you open your mind to integrating or connecting software together you begin to “wonder if there’s an app for this” and what possibilities there are for streamlining your admin.

Angie Major

About Blueberry Business

Blueberry are Xero Certified Advisors and can help with Xero setup, conversion and training as well as setting up systems to make you efficient and save time.

Article originally published in CRGCP