Tag Archives: SME

Another perspective

Running a small business is a tough life: even when things are going well there are challenges and potential crises coming at you all the time.

It is so easy to get lost in “the thick of thin things”… but there is a lot of value in standing back and thinking about how things are going; looking at the big picture.

Have you got the customers you want to have? Are you making the number of sales that you were targetting? Are they as profitable as you expected? Is the difference better or worse than you were expecting, or is it just different (not better or worse!).The perspective that a non executive director offers is invaluable

“It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small”
– a line from “Let It Go” from the film Frozen

The way to get this perspective is to dedicate time to looking for it. I recommend that my clients schedule monthly meetings dedicated to thinking about how things have gone and what you need to do to make the future turn out the way you want.

In big companies this is called a Board Meeting, but it doesn’t have to be a big event. The key thing is to turn your phones and email off for an hour and focus on the business, not just working in the business.

It is useful to recruit someone who is not involved in the day to day business to help.
In plc businesses these people are called Non Executive Directors – responsible to the shareholders for the running of the business, but not given any decision making role.

You don’t need to make this person a Director, and they don’t need to have any specific experience in your industry or your type of business. What they do need is:

a) to be interested in your business and care for its success
b) some form of business experience, and definitely experience in a small business – it’s very different from a large business
c) to be someone you trust and respect

The last point is perhaps the most significant; this person is here to help you – if you don’t want to share your feelings with them, or take their advice they won’t be much help.

In my experience one of the most valuable features to look for is someone who asks questions – lots of questions. It’s not their business, so you wouldn’t expect them to tell you what to do. But questions help shine a light on why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Finally, its very easy to continue doing what you’ve always done: you really can’t underestimate the value of a fresh pair of eyes when it comes to running your business.

A fresh pair of eyes helps in small businessDo you find yourself repeating the same excuses for failing to reach your goals? Does it matter to you if you fail to meet a deadline that you have set yourself?

If you had to explain to someone else why you had missed your target it would start to mean a lot more to you! There would be no room for excuses.

It does of course take courage to open yourself up by asking someone else to look at your business.

It’s not always easy to hear someone else’s opinions. However if that person has your business and your own best interests at heart it will be advice worth seeking out.

How do I get good advice from my Accountant?

Every professional adviser (Solicitors, Accountants, Consultants, etc) takes pride in giving good advice.

However sometimes it feels hard to get the advice you’re looking for and in this case it usually turns out that no-one’s satisfied. Getting good advice means asking the rights questions

Compare business advice to going to see a Doctor: you go in and say “My arm’s been sore since I fell over”. They might say “You’ve got a broken arm, lets put a plaster on it.”

But if you said “Doctor, my big toe’s a bit sore.” they wouldn’t look at your arm… You didn’t ask them too!

Here are my tips to help make sure you get the advice you need from your adviser:

1. Remember that you’re paying.

In my experience most people expect not to understand what their professional adviser tells them.

Advisers are very clever, well qualified people who are engaged for what they know about their subject. But hold on: they are clever and well educated and so they should have the understanding and skills to explain the important points to their client.

One of the best bits of advice I was given when I started my training was that I should never leave my client’s office until I knew (and fully understood) the answer to the questions I had – it was unprofessional to go back and ask again.

The same applies in reverse, you’re the only person who really knows whether you understand the advice or not!

There's no such thing as a silly question

It’s not a stupid question – I don’t know what it is…

2. Expect to ask questions.

Don’t be afraid of asking a stupid question, if you’ve got a question then ask it!

This especially applies if you’re in a group. Everyone else will be nodding sagely in response to the advice, but if there’s something you don’t understand then I guarantee that you’re not the only one!

3. Think about what advice you need in advance.

You can’t expect good advice if you say to your accountant “Tell me what I need to know”.

You will get lots of advice, some of it will be big and you will probably get a bill that looks like you’ve had good advice.

What you need to say is something like “Tell me what I need to know about buying a business” or “Tell me what I need to know about suing another business” (I’ve had a busy week!).

Or better still you could say “Tell me what I need to do to … (choose your ending!)”.

This requires time and effort from you, which I guess is why it is often missing!

This raises an interesting point about advice from accountants.

A large proportion of their work is helping people make sure they are not paying more tax than they ought to. Grey HairSo when you sit down in front of them and say “Give me advice” they can often help you even if you haven’t specified what kind of advice you want.

But if it isn’t tax advice that you want…..

4. Make sure the advice you want is something your adviser can help with.

It’s always useful to add “Is this something you can help me with?” to your request for help.

To repeat what I said earlier, consultants like giving good advice. Their reputations are built on their knowledge.

If you ask them for advice in an area where they have little experience it is sometimes difficult for them to say “I don’t know about that”. You need to make it as easy as possible to point you in the direction of someone who does.

5. Let them know when they’ve hit the target

It’s easy to think that because you’ve paid the bill your adviser will be happy (they will be happy!).

But if the adviser really has solved your problem perfectly they will always appreciate a “thank you”. Just a phone call is enough, but in some way communicate that they gave you good advice.

On target

This helps them know that they understood what you wanted and gives you a relationship that will help avoid problems with points 1 to 4 in future!