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.