Nine things that changed my life in 2016

Nine things that changed my life in 2016

So as another year draws to a close, it’s time for my customary post about the things that changed my life this year.

If you’re interested in previous years then you can check them out here: ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12, ’13,’14,’15

Ok so lets get on with it, here’s the run down (no particular order):

1). The birth of our daughter Alexa
This year we were blessed with our second child, and first daughter Alexa. I would obviously have been super happy with a brother for Oscar but I was secretly very pleased to get a pink one. The idea of having a daddies girl is quite appealing. Lizz and I decided (together) to create a video of the big day (don’t worry we took out the gruesome bits) so we had an amazing keepsake. You can watch that video here if you wish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTS9648qTRM

2). Our son Oscar
Ok so technically he didn’t arrive this year but watching his little personality develop has been absolutely magical and has enriched my life in a way that I’ll find hard to articulate. Whether starting to walk, uttering his first words or beginning to engage with us in a more human way, every single day there is something new to marvel at. I can’t wait to go through all that again with Alexa, while Im sure Oscar will continue to fill my heart with a love that is hard to comprehend.

 

3). Being Best Man for my Brother 
When my brother asked me to be his best man last year I was truly touched. As the majority of my friends have already tied the knot, I really thought my chances of getting this honour were running out. Then my brother surprised me and asked. I jumped at the chance. The minor mission of organising a stag do to Vegas was my first major responsibility and we all made it back alive so I guess that was a success. The wedding was an awesome day held at Ham Polo Club back in the summer. Stu and Caitlin seemed chuffed to bits so once my speech was over, I was a happy man.

 

4). The Appeal for Chris Tester
This is a story of solidarity and what people are capable of when they come together. On Christmas Night (last week) an old school friend of mine who I’d not seen for many years was shot in the head at his parents restaurant in Antigua while it was held up. The family started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the 90k needed to get Chris back to the UK for the treatment and care he needs. I picked up on the campaign on Boxing day when they’d reached 7k. I did everything I could, using all my knowledge of social media mechanics to help them promote the campaign. Within two days the campaign had raised 60k and within 4 it had reached the target of 90k. Chris is now on his way home and its all thanks to the amazing people who dug in and helped spread the message. Two things occurred to me during this horrible ordeal; the solidarity of old friends – people who hadn’t seen each other in 25 years came together and worked for the good of the campaign. I was just one of many helping spread the message, many of the rest I knew from days at Brentwood School. The second was the power of social media, without which, this would have been next to impossible and it may just have saved Chris’ life. Doing what I do, you’d not be surprised that I’m a huge advocate of this world but this amazing story just goes to cement my feelings that its not just about marketing and helping businesses, it can be focused for social good. In fact this was on a scale I’d not witnessed before. The campaign is still raising funds to help goto towards Chris’ care in the UK so if you’d be kind enough to share for me I’d appreciate it, even better if you’d think about donating: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/chris-tester-urgent-appeal/?

 

5). Vlogging (please check out my channel: https://www.youtube.com/alastairbanks)
Back in Feb of 2016 I set out to become a daily vlogger. I’d been watching the rise of the YouTube celebrity for a while and although it wasn’t my intention to become one of them, I wanted to see what it took to build an audience and to ensure I understood the medium so I could consult our clients on how to maximise their use of it. I knew it would take a long time to get off the ground so I set myself the goal of a year and away I went. I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be. Very few subscribers and less than a handful of video views for the first six months was quite disheartening. That alongside quite a bit of negativity from people close to me (about the reasons behind doing it) and it would have been easy to quit. This spurred me on if anything. I wanted to prove that I could do it and now, almost ten months on I’m really starting to gain traction. Speaking gigs, video production for others and wonderful engagement on some of my videos have been indirect benefits of this effort but I’m building for the future, its never been about the here and now. I don’t think people realise how hard these things are to get off the ground so if you’re thinking about life in ten years time, you need to be taking action now. My most popular video has now had over 4700 views (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_cryzBXSJg) and gets lots of comments which I do my best to respond to everyone of. I’d love for you to subscribe in 2017 and pass it onto to anyone you know who might find it of interest.

 

6). Podcasts
I really got into podcasts this year. What a great way of learning and growing as a person. One of the challenges of video is that you have to look at a screen and can do very little else while doing so. This is not the case with Podcasts. I listen to them in the car everyday and quite often in the shower too. Its an awesome way to get a shot in the arm every morning before work. My goto’s have been Gary Vaynerchuck’s channel, Boagworld, Tim Ferris and The Craft of Marketing but there is a podcast for everyone out there so I’d highly recommend looking into them in 2017.

 

7). Amazon Prime
I took the plunge and ordered a Firestick (aff link) this year. We’d had Netflix for a while and Love Film before that but Amazon Prime makes life so easy. We’re addicted to box sets so being able to watch Walking Dead, Vikings, Spartacus, Lucifer, Blacksails and The Killing to name but a few makes us very happy. Then when Grand Tour was released we were even happier (much to the annoyance of Simon who works for me at Optix). If you’ve not got yourself a firestick (aff link), go get one, you won’t regret it.

 

8). Casey Neistat
The first ever YouTube vlogger I got completely hooked on. Casey is a filmmaker from New York who made the transition from the big screen to the world of YouTube and did it in style. The quality of his daily vlogs was off the chart. Earlier this month he gave up the daily vlog having hit 5 million subscribers, his reason being that he needed to focus on new projects and that he was losing the passion in the daily uploads. He’s not done too much since but his first ‘feature’ video didn’t let us down. They built a drone big and powerful enough to pull him along in the air on his snowboard! If you haven’t watched and subscribed to his channel then you should. Watch the drone video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=At3xcj-pTjg

 

9). Speaking Events
This year I had a number of opportunities to speak publicly for which I am very thankful. The more I do this the more I realise its where my heart lies and what I would like to be doing more of in the next phase of my career. The positive interaction, engagement and feedback I get from these events is my oxygen. This year I was lucky enough to speak on the London Business School and Exeter University’s MBAs as well as various other events all over the UK and as far a field as Copenhagen. Early in 2017 I’ll be flying to Barcelona so lets hope this is the beginning of another busy year of talks.

 

So there you have it guys, my run down of the year. Another one passes and this exercise once again serves as a useful reminder of all the good things that have happened to my family and I in 2016. We’re very lucky indeed and should remember that everyday.

 

What significant things happened to you in 2016? Have you gone through the journalling exercise above? It really helps clarify where you are and where you want to get to. I’d hugely encourage it.

 

7 Tips for Money Management in a Small Business

Today I look back over the last 16 years and consider the best money management tips I’ve picked up. Enjoy

So I started a YouTube Channel!

So I started a YouTube Channel!

My first four YouTube Videos are live and I’m loving the feedback I’ve had already – its quite humbling and suggests that its certainly worth persisting with. To bring you upto speed you can check out my channel here: https://www.youtube.com/c/alastairbanks

For ease though, here are the first four videos – please forward on to students with an interest in personal brand or development, business owners and entrepreneurial friends, I will hugely appreciate it as it’s not easy creating content for a small following – you do question if its worthwhile.

My first video was about procrastination:

My second was about the most influential business book Ive ever read:

The third was all about Goal Setting:

And the fourth was about change and how important it is if you want to grow:

Please make sure you subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss anything. I’ll do my very best to make the content as useful as possible.

Thanks again

Al – @banksy6

Why is Management Accounting Important?

Why is Management Accounting Important?

I’m lucky enough today to have a guest post from my friend and the management accounting expert to my business, Ben Didier. Rather than spoil the show, I’ll let his post do the talking.

Can we afford it?

One of the biggest jumps that often shock people when moving from employed work to running a business, is the shift in thinking about spending.  In everyday life if we want something; an ipad, a new TV, a holiday, then we look in the bank; if you have the money then you can, if you don’t then you can’t – simple (or you can borrow or save up).

Spending in business works in a fundamentally different way, it is not about what you want, it is about what that spend will give back financially. What is the Return on Investment (ROI)?

The business owner or director may often ask finance: Can we afford a new sales person?   I would advocate looking at the situation in a slightly different way and ask:

“What do we need to do to be able to take on a sales person?”

If a new sales person can bring in more than they cost each month (to be fulfilled by the existing team) then yes, it’s a good move.

In practice there is more to it; sales people generally take a few months to build up a pipeline of work so the business effectively pays the salary for no return at the start.  Then there are additional cost of travel, communications and IT, not to mention the extra delivery capacity required if none is spare.

It many not be more sales directly, perhaps better IT or a new administrator means you can turn out more work in a month.

If for every pound you spend on marketing you get back two pounds of additional gross profit (income after raw materials) then that is money well spend.  Contrastingly buying a gold-plated chair for your office because you like it, is not going to pay you back much.

The fun part look looking at projections – amounts and time scales.  If you need an extra £5k per month in sales to cover costs of a new sales person, then you need to ask some questions:

Can your business handle the extra work?
How many more production people would you need?
How long would it take to build up to that level of extra sales?
Can you fulfil it with your current equipment and office space?
Is there the cash in the bank to pay the salary for 3 months with no additional sales?
At what point do you expect to break-even?

Ask yourself “What if…”

If your top current salesperson finds 5 new clients per month, then expecting a new employee to get 10 per month would be ambitions, but 2 per month should be easy.  That is the kind of situation-modelling that can help shape your expectations, allow you to take considered risks, and monitor progress in an informed way once you have made that investment.

It doesn’t always work out, but if you have thought through the risks, then at least you know the company can still continue if it doesn’t.

Benjamin Didier
Exeter Commercial Accounting

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/karola/

Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Yesterday I was lucky enough to watch a presentation from a client and friend of Optix who has taken his business from a couple of million turnover to 30+ in just 6-7 years. Oh and the best bit – he only has around 40 staff. He talked about his meteoric growth and the lessons they learnt along the way. Some of the stories were gob smacking to say the least.

I live to learn from people like this. I think anyone who can’t sit and soak in that kind of information is missing such a trick. If you get the chance to talk to people who’ve ‘been there, done that’ take it with open arms, you’ll learn so much.

One thing that shone through from his presentation was the need to be transparent and honest in business. He particularly referenced his relationship with his bank manager which I thought was interesting. If anything goes financially wrong in his business he explains it straight away to their bank and similarly, he shares good news too. He feels strongly that this honest and transparent relationship means that when it comes to needing help then everyone knows the score and he’s more likely to get it. I can see his logic and while I have a great relationship with my bank manager, its probably not as solid as his is – something I’ve taken away to work on.
If you make a mistake, own up. Face it down and deal with it. Sticking your head in the sand or trying to hide something or worse hoping no one finds out will lead you down a dark path, one where you’re bound to be found out and everything will look worse on you if you choose that route.

If you’re starting in business make it your mantra, if you’ve been going a while, perhaps you need to revisit your thoughts on this and make sure your team(s) sing from the same sheet. My team at Optix know my feelings on being transparent and see-through. I believe in this digitally connected world, there is no place for business with dirty laundry.

photo courtesy of Urbanshoregirl

Now Your Thoughts

  • I’m very interested to hear if you have stories where you’ve owned up to a mistake and it’s paid off hugely.

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

One of the things its easy to forget when you’ve been blogging for a long time is all the great posts and content you’ve put together over the years. All that effort you put in, potentially lost in the mists of time.

Unless a user finds your posts by a search engine, its unlikely they’ll navigate back over years worth of content – lets face it, who has the time for that?

There is an easy solution to this though – A ’round up’ post. A collection of posts from your blog linked to from another post just like this. It could be your ‘favourite 5 articles’, ‘7 posts you’ve written on a  particular topic’, it could just be a random mixture you want to highlight for another reason.

So with that in mind, here is one from me.

I use a tool called Postrank (owned by Google) to help me work out which of my posts are well received and which flop. It scores on all sorts of metrics like comments/shares etc…

So here are my top 8 posts of all time according to my post rank stats – enjoy:

1). Here’s a great way to loose some customers – I got quite miffed one holiday in Cornwall a year or so ago and decided to rant a little on my blog. Right or wrong, this post topped the charts!

2). Do what you do best and delegate the rest – A post about my framework for delegation, essential as your company grows.

3). 7 Super useful resources for busy business owners – Gotta love a list of useful resources. It seems other people did too.

4). Facebook Places – Are you Aware – One of my most commented on posts so it clearly hit a nerve. A post about thinking before you ‘check-in’

5). If I were a solicitor… – Here’s a post for all solicitors thinking about how to use social media. Loads of great ideas, crowd-sourced from others as well.

6). The sale ain’t made ‘til the bill is paid! – Putting together a policy on money and collecting it is essential to any business, large or small. This post gives some hints and tips on this topic.

7). 5 traits successful business owners have – This one got a lot of traction. The title speaks for itself.

8). Cash Flow is King! Guide to setting up a cash flow forecast – My most visited post (and one of my oldest) by a long way. It proves that if you give a bit of value away you get search engine listings and lots of traffic in return.

Now Your Thoughts

  • If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog and have others you think I’ve missed out please do highlight them.
  • Have you thought about doing a round up post yourself? Its really quite fun to reminisce…

Photo courtesy of Fabio Marini under creative commons

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Stop Worrying and Start Living

Stop Worrying and Start Living

I was talking to some of my team yesterday and discussing how, in business, you simply have to face up to tough decisions and things you wouldn’t necessarily want to do given the choice. Last week I wrote about eating the frog which has struck a few chords it seems from comments and emails I’ve had. That technique is a great way of dealing with individual tricky situations but what about stress and hard times in general – how do you deal with that?

In my business over the years, I’ve had to take people through disciplinary procedures, I’ve fired people, dealt with horrendous computer system crashes, irate clients and many many other difficult situations. These have an impact on my general stress levels and work/life balance and over the years I’ve learnt ways of dealing with this. I’m sure you feel and suffer the same and please believe me this is not a post to get sympathy.

Dealing with difficult times is something you have to do if you want to progress in business and guess what, quite often it’s these times that teach us more than the good times so there is a positive spin on this already. In fact I remember someone saying to me once that the clients who moan the most are often your best as they point out the problems within your business. You should thank clients that moan at you – they are teaching you a lot.

I use a few visualisation/positive thought techniques to help me when the chips are down – I’d like to share a couple with you this morning.

What’s the worst that could happen?
In his book, ‘How to stop worrying and start living’ (aff link) Dale Carnegie’s first chapter focuses on thinking about what the worst thing that could happen to you is – Are you likely to goto jail? Are you likely to die? Will you lose your entire business? No? Well let’s start to put a scale of how bad this really is then. By working out what the worst that can happen to you is and dealing with that, you can start to deal with it and move on.

How did they do it?
My Grandfather was in World War 2. He landed in D-Day and was blown up and shipped back to England pretty quickly. He also served in the desert and received the military cross for bravery. I remember fondly as a child, he used to recount stories to me of his time during the war. I learnt some very valuable lessons from him. None more so than just getting on with it. He lived through some awful conditions but never once moaned about them or felt he’d be dealt a tough hand. He taught me to get on with things and face up to the fact that life isn’t always peachy. I miss him dearly now and thank him for some of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learnt.

What would others do?
Last year I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Floyd Woodrow – One of the SAS’s youngest recruits at 22 years of age. He now runs a ‘performance optimisation’ company working with business and sports leaders. He talked about leadership that day and one thing in particular stuck in my mind. When faced with a difficult situation he uses a number of techniques. One is to touch his ear which he has linked mentally to pleasant visions and ideas and the second is to consider what others would do in his situation. Faced with a tricky decision he quickly sums up what 4 or 5 other people he highly respects would do and then makes his mind up. Perhaps a useful tool for you to use? You can follow Floyd on Twitter.

I have to say folks, on reading this back to myself this post feels a little negative but it’s really not meant too and I don’t feel at all down today – I thought it would be a good follow up to eating the frog and hopefully give you some ideas for techniques to use when you’re next feeling like things are against you. After all, if you’re down, think of all the people around that you will also bring down with you.

Chin up and keep smiling :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • Do you have any techniques for keeping your chin up during adversity?
  • What keeps you going?

The Sale ain’t made ’til the bill is paid!

The Sale ain’t made ’til the bill is paid!

It’s funny, almost every one of us would celebrate making a sale – and so we should, it’s a big thing, but it’s not the whole deal and never forget that!!! Strong opening statement? It’s probably not strong enough…

You only have a complete deal when you’ve made a sale, done the work and then collected the readies. Don’t disillusion yourself into thinking that you’re doing amazingly well just because sales are being made – getting the money in the other end is just as critical and sometimes just as tricky :)

Its very easy when you’re new to business to let your clients get away with not paying you very quickly – don’t worry I’ve been there and done it myself. This, however is not a good strategy and will only leads to problems, here are just a few of them:

  • The time you’ll waste chasing debts can become ridiculous – taking you away from your day to day work
  • Clients can begin to ‘expect’ better terms
  • Many companies have a ‘don’t pay until questioned’ policy – if you don’t ask, you simply won’t get
  • As you get more established, older clients that have been with you since the early days will continue to pay you on the old terms you let them get away with – this is very hard to change down the line
  • Clients will know those suppliers that are less likely to cause them problems when it comes to asking for money – you’ll be further down their priority payment list
  • An aged debt is more likely to turn into a bad debt

If you’re about to start a business or are still fairly new to it all, make a strict policy for how you’re going to deal with the collecting of monies and stick to it.

Here are a few quick suggestions:

  • Create regular statements – At least once a month – send your statement in the middle of the month when most other companies send theirs at the beginning or end, it’s more likely to get noticed.
  • Try and make your statement stand out – We have a stamp with a picture of a man crying, saying ‘please pay this, it’s overdue’
  • Keep a close eye on your aged-debtors list – At least  once a month
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for the money – after all, you did the job, you deserve it
  • Have a process in place for chasing debts that are older than your terms
  • Consider if you can minimise your risk of bad debts and cashflow issues by putting in place deposits or at least stage payments
  • If the debt gets really old, don’t be afraid of losing a customer by passing it to a collector, are they really worth having as a customer if they are putting you through this? I hear you thinking, ‘but yes Al that’s fine but they are so important to my company, I can cut them a bit of slack can’t I?’
    NO
    Seriously, it’s not worth the agro – get yourself a policy and make sure you stick to it religiously, whatever the size or importance of your client. No exceptions.

One last tip, if you employ sales people who are have any sort of commission, make it a condition of that commission that’s its only paid when the money owed from the client is in the bank. Give them the responsibility of getting the money in – this will make your life easier in keeping on top of aged debts.

How have you found getting money in? Do you have any further tips for business owners regarding this tricky issue?

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5 traits successful business people have – do you have these?

5 traits successful business people have – do you have these?

Missed a week due to travel folks so firstly apologies for that – clearly my first trait should be the inability to keep an appointment with ones blog :)

OK so there are probably hundreds of things you need to be successful in business but I’ve been day dreaming this last week and working out my top 5 – I love a top 5 as you know :)

So here they are in no particular order

1). Passion – In bucketfuls. I spend an awful lot of my time with other businessmen and women. In my working life, networking constitutes at least half my time. It’s one of the key ways we build our brand and get our company noticed. From there, when people want a job done, we’re at least in with a chance. One trait of seriously successful businessmen and women I’ve met over the years is passion for what they do. Passion is catching; you know when you’ve met someone who is passionate about their business – you come away feeling good about yourself. Without this trait you’re going to start off on the back foot. If can’t get passionate about your business is it the right business for you? Think on that for a while.

2). Sales skills – Every start-up business needs to bring in sales. If you’re on your own then that’s you pal :) If you’re not and you don’t like selling you better hope you’re in partnership with someone that does. You could have the best product or service in the country but if no-one knows about it then you may as well give up now. Sale’s doesn’t need to be cheesy, it doesn’t need to be immoral, it doesn’t need to feel dirty! Much of good quality sales is about building relationships and making the customer want to buy (not be sold). I strongly suggest reading the book below (affiliate link) which will, without a doubt, help with your sales process. In fact, even if you’re not in sales or running a business, read it anyway because its awesome.

The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness – You can buy it from Amazon here.

3). A good product or service – Not technically a trait, but the ability to either come up with or be involved in selling a good product or service is a trait that I see all the time in successful people. You make your own luck, you earn it. These people have a sixth sense for getting involved with projects that do well. They fail a lot as well but the difference is the ones that work, really work. I know there are an awful lot of people out there selling sub standard products and services in their business – forget that – it’s a short-term attitude if you ask me. It won’t be long before you’re found out and the churn rate on customers will be huge meaning you never build relationships with people, you continually need new prospects poured in the top of your sales funnel. If you ask me, without a good product or service that you truly believe in, just don’t bother. You need to believe that your customer is truly better off by choosing you over your competitors.

4). A head for numbers and in particular cashflow – Since I started this blog almost exactly a year ago I know for a fact the most blogged about topic has been cashflow. There is a good reason for this – because it’s so damn important :) Without cashflow you have no business. I’m not going to go over old ground again on this. I wrote quite a lengthy post about cashflow here and even gave a step by step guide on how to write a cash flow forecast – you have no excuse :)

5). The ability to accept help and support – Business is a lonely place sometimes, help and support is essential but how often have I seen business owners that think they know it all and therefore are not prepared to accept it fail – Too many is the answer!!! Friends and family without their own business may not understand quite what it takes to run a business and unless they ever do it themselves they may never understand. This doesn’t mean you don’t listen to these people or dismiss their input – it can be just as valuable. It’s important to build a network of support around you that you can bounce ideas off. I’m lucky to have a great business partner at Optix Solutions who I bounce ideas off and chat with about strategy regularly. We also have a couple of mentor figures who consult us on the business regularly and keep us on track. We also have supportive families and friends – all of which make the days when it’s not so fun, easier to deal with. The successful businessman or woman doesn’t know it all and is willing to listen to others…do you?

So what are your top 5? Maybe you just want to add in a couple? I’m keen to hear from you

Turnover for show, profit for dough

Turnover for show, profit for dough

It’s interesting when you think that the majority of people, having been asked the question, “how well is your company doing” or “how big is your company” would probably quote a turnover figure or number of employees. “Hey, I’m Billy big banana’s because I’m turning over 5m a year”, or “Yes, I am the man/woman, I have 100 employees”! I wouldn’t be surprised if the percentage of people in that scenario giving one of those two answers is in the 90%+ region. So how many give you their profit figures or margins? Not that many, maybe because they feel they don’t want to give away sensitive data and there is certainly a case for that but I just find the metrics we all seem to monitor our companies by publically to be a bit farcical.

Lets take a quick example – A 5m turnover company producing a profit of 100k and a 500k turnover company producing 80k – which would you rather have? I know which one I would! Think of the work required, the staffing, the redtape in the 5m turnover business all for just another 20k profit – starting to make sense? Yes I realise that small margin businesses could churn out a scenario like the one above comfortably but I’m trying to give a more general overview for the purpose of this post.

I also think, and this is the main reason for writing this post, that this whole topic has the potential to be a danger to young start-up’s who get caught up in their own hype – thinking they are doing well because of the inflated figures and then coming a cropper because they’ve not concentrated on what’s really important.

So, be careful of not getting caught in the trap of thinking success is in Turnover or how many staff you have. I’ve made that mistake myself on a number of occasions. To be fair, it’s quite easy in our industry to flatter your turnover figures because more often than not digital agencies will pay for online advertising on behalf of clients (services like Google Adwords) then simply bill this straight back to the client. This has the effect of inflating your turnover but doing absolutely nothing for your bottom line. If you’re in digital and want my advice, then I’ve tended to stay away from this altogether as it can cause cash flow issues and as we know “Cashflow is King

It’s vital in any business to keep an eye on management figures regularly. If you’re anything like me, in the early days you’ll probably know everything off by heart because you’re staring at it everyday. As you grow I recommend having monthly management meetings where you keep an eye on cash flow forecasts, monthly P & L’s and breakeven charts. Together, these figures give you a good snapshot of where you are as a business.

Stay on top of the numbers – don’t stick your head in the sand and hope they are not there…

Have a great week