Thursday, 25 July 2013

Reviews, Recommendations and Referrals    Based in Lower Earley, Reading

At a networking event today I got talking to sole trader who said that he was struggling to get referrals.   Not that people thought he wasn’t any good but he wondered why nobody was sending him testimonials or recommending him.   My question to him was did he ask them to refer him then did he think to refer other suppliers / contractors when they did work for him.  Surprisingly he didn’t and when asked why he said he never thought to although he would have been happy to in most circumstances.
I must admit it’s only a few years ago that I started to put a recommendation or negative remark, if warranted, on tripadvisor. Now if I go on holiday I now look to see what’s been said about hotels or restaurants and also what sights are worth visiting beforehand. I will still look to see what else is at my destination but it’s good to have a rough idea of what to do when I get there.

 In the same way I think it’s good to let companies know when you have been given good or bad service, and I happily go onto websites (info usually provided on the reverse side of the till receipt) and spend five minutes commenting on the quality of service.

 Sole traders and small businesses rely on referrals so if the customer says you did an excellent job it’s worth asking them if they will put that in writing so you can add it to your testimonials, alternatively leave a couple of business cards for them to give to friends / colleagues if they ask who did the work. 

 Most people are happy to refer and recommend, we just need a reminder to do it.  Once my clients have been with me a year I plan to ask them if they are a) happy with my work and b) will they refer me / provide a testimonial.  I’m hoping the answer is yes in which case I’ll be adding a testimonial tab to my website.  So watch this space.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Who do you trust with your business    Based in Lower Earley, Reading

After attending a talk by a local private investigator it made me think about who you can trust these days.  If we open a paper, look at updates on LinkedIn or look at the latest events on twitter, not a week goes past when a director, a member of staff or a member of a professional body has been arrested for fraud or embezzlement.   

We read about the latest scam and know it’s not going to happen to us, we’ve seen through the scam, those that have been affected we tell ourselves they should have had more sense. When it comes to business though are we any the wiser.  When a fraud has been found out we all say ‘ I would never have suspected it, I trusted them’. True – we would not have employed them if we had not.
But what do we do to safeguard ourselves or our business against it happening.

As a small business you have probably started off either on your own or with a couple of friends or like-minded colleagues.  You’ve set up your limited company or partnership and you’ve worked out how the profits are going to be shared.   Have you ensured that cheques need to have at least two signatures if not what’s to stop the other director(s) disappearing with the funds when you take that well deserved holiday? 
While your time is spent bringing in sales or providing the great service your company is getting known for, you decide to take on additional staff.  They do all the back office functions, setting up new accounts, ordering goods and making sure everything is paid on time. Their doing a fantastic job, you have no need to supervise them and you don’t want them to feel you’re keeping an eye on them. 

However  if they do all these functions what's to stop them setting up a false account, issuing an invoice and authorising  bank payment. Small values would probably go unnoticed it's when people get greedy they tend to get caught. Make sure you have processes in place to ensure that you are keeping track of what is being bought and who from. 
While the majority of us are honest there are always going to be the odd one that takes advantage of a situation.  If they didn’t then the fraud squad, the police and the private investigator would be out of work.  The less opportunity we provide for it to happen the less it can happen. 

These needn’t be expensive solutions.  We have burglar alarms to put off people from breaking into our houses but we need to put solutions in place to ensure that nothing gets taken at work.
These can be as simple as ensuring a second signatory on a cheque, purchase orders signed off by management, new accounts needing authorisation before being set up.  The list is endless but a bit of thought can make a big difference.

As stated before the majority of people are honest but opportunity can change people and a change of circumstances can be the tipping point. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

What’s the difference between an Accountant and a Bookkeeper      Based in Lower Earley, Reading

Well the joke answer to this is about £30 an hour?  Ok I don’t expect you to be rolling on the floor at that one but on a serious note do you pay your accountant to do your bookkeeping? If so why?  Do they charge a cheaper rate for the bookkeeping  or charge you at their normal rate.  Do they do your bookkeeping  themselves or do they outsource it to a bookkeeper?

If your accountant is a good one they are probably advising you how to keep your tax costs down after they have examined your books.  If they are doing your bookkeeping too then any savings may have been wiped out by the accountancy bill.  

So what’s the advantage of having a bookkeeper?  If you are a sole trader or small limited company or partnership then having a bookkeeper do your books on a regular basis means you will not be waiting till the end of the year before finding any problems or unexpected surprises.  You may only have them working for a day a week or month but as they have a more hands on feel to the business they can point out irregularities, overpayments, debtors outstanding, problems with cash flow etc sooner.

Obviously this does depend on the experience of the bookkeeper so just picking the cheapest because ‘all their doing is inputting to an accounts package’ is not always going to be the best option. Value for money is finding one that understands your business and understands you. 

Finally if your one of those traders that hand over a bag of receipts to your accountant at the end of January asking for it to be done urgently as the taxman wants paying,  then think about having a bookkeeper look at the first half of your accounts now. You might be surprised what a difference it makes.