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

8 things that changed my life this year

With the end of the year in touching distance, I thought I’d give you a run down of 8 things that happened to me in 2009 that have changed my life positively. The reason for writing this list is that almost all of it is open to you to get involved with too. If I’ve benefited so much from these things, I hope that at least one person reading this takes action to investigate one or two items on the list and see’s their own life positively impacted. (Admittedly a few are a little jokey but that’s just the way I roll) :)

So lets get on – here are 8 things that have positively changed my life in 2009 (in no particular order :)):

1) iPhone – So I’ve gone on quite a bit about this recently and I do understand it splits opinion with Android lovers so I’m just going to tell you a few quick reasons why this has had such a profound affect on my life/business. First of all, it’s not possible to deny this is a sexy piece of kit and pretty much everything on it has been well thought out from a usability point of view. The phone has made a huge difference to the way I interact with email outside the office as well as social media. A huge amount of the buzz surrounding iPhones is the gimmicky apps that you download and hardly ever use, but if you look carefully you can find ones that really do make your life easier and more efficient. I now do at least 75% of my social media work from my phone, on the move, using dead time that I wouldn’t have used before. Here are a couple of examples of apps that have made a differences to me – Tube Deluxe helped me around London recently giving me more time to catch up on other bits of work. The National Rail app tracks GPS on the trains themselves meaning you can see where the train is at any time on the line – genius. TV Guide gets rid of the need for paper based guides. Natwest now have an app that lets me track my money on the move at anytime. Skype lets me phone other Skype users for free and AroundMe has helped me find cabs/hotels and garages a number of times on the move. CoPilot is better than the inbuilt Sat Nav I have in my own car and Google Maps has walked me to a few places I would have got lost trying to find ‘pre-iPhone’. Remember the Milk helps me with GTD (see later)….I could go on and I know I’ve only touched the surface! If you’re in the market for a new phone and think the iPhone is expensive then (compared to other phones) I would agree, but its so much more than a phone and I know its been worth every penny and much much more. This, for me, is an absolute must have gadget.

2) Jeffrey Gitomer – Sales/Positivity Guru. I was lucky enough to be invited to see Jeffrey earlier this year by owner of TheBestOf – Nigel Botterill. I didn’t know who Jeffrey was at the time but trusted Nigel’s opinion and boy am I glad I did. ANYONE in sales or marketing (yes that means you business owners) MUST go and see Jeffrey if possible. He really is a sales legend. I wrote more about him in this post I wrote earlier in the year. I can honestly say that Jeffrey’s one seminar has made a profound difference to the way I treat the sales process now and the way I teach my sales team to treat it too. His Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude book is also a kick up the backside in the way we view our lives and other people. New staff members in my team will now be given one of these books and asked to read it during their first few months with us. I’ve bought every single one of his books now and strongly suggest you consider doing so too. A complete list of Gitomer books can be found on Amazon by clicking the link in this sentence.

3) Social Media – I don’t really know where to start with this. I was dabbling without knowing it for the last couple of years with sites like Facebook/YouTube and LinkedIn but then in Jan of 09 I found Twitter and my life changed (as well as that of our businesses). The clever integration of Social Media has lead to many new services from Optix Solutions, ending up in new work, new joint ventures and alliances, new friends and a very good ROI (yes we’ve been monitoring it). As anyone who knows me personally knows, I love Social Media – I love the connections I’ve made with people all over the world and the new exciting possibilities it brings to businesses willing to get started with it. Much like the buzz of ecommerce when I started out with my web business back in 1999, Social Media has given me a new lust for the Internet and what’s possible for clever, forward thinking businesses. If you’d like further information of Social Media or would like to contract my services in this area, please drop me an email or connect with me on Twitter (@banksy6)

4) White Tea – Alright so maybe this is a bit of a jokey one but I was getting really hacked off with other teas and my friend David Thomas suggested I got involved with White Tea! I didn’t even know this existed! Now a morning doesn’t start properly without a refreshing cup of this amazing drink! (p.s. don’t boil it for more than 1 minute – it ruins it :))

5) GTD – Getting Things Done is a global phenomenon and I never knew about it – until this year. I hold my hands up to the fact that in the past I have struggled hugely to keep all the balls in the air. As a multi-business owner, at any one point I have literally hundreds of things on my to-do list and I’d tried just about every time scheduling/work practice known to man – all to no avail. I had the messiest desk in the office (a source of constant banter for my employees). I never understood how anyone could have a clean desk if they were busy – it escaped me. Then in early 2009 two people I have a lot of respect for in Exeter – Scott Gould and Adam Stone recommended I read Getting Things Done by David Allen. Wow – what a fantastic book/system. It’s given me the tools to operate (most of the time at max efficiency and with a ‘mind like water’ – so I’m at my most creative) This is a very important thing to master as a business owner or you get dragged down in the minutiae of everyday life. I now have a clean (ish) desk and a system that allows me to keep on top of the hundreds of things I have on my plate at any one time. Every business owner should buy this book now.

6) Lizz – Lizz is my girlfriend and one of the points in this list which I hope you won’t be able to take advantage of :) I was a proper bachelor, living the high life for the last 10 years, since leaving university. While busy building a business, I had a lot of fun outside work with friends and family. A couple of years ago my present girlfriend Lizz came along and this year we moved into our first house together. I’ll admit, I was quite apprehensive about losing my independence but moving in with the love of my life (get your puke buckets ready) was the single best thing I did this year. Having a strong support network around you in life when you run a business is one of the most important things you can build. Someone you can share the hard and good times with…find yourself a Lizz if you haven’t already.

7) Apple Mac Shop – This year I got involved in the Apple brand for the first time. I bought an iPhone, we got a Mac Book Pro at work and through this I started to spend some time in the Apple shop in Exeter. I love the place so much so I wrote an article about the experience I had in another blog post.

8 ) Beacon Breakthrough – This one applies to those of you starting up/setup in the South West in the UK. This year, James my business partner and I found out about a new scheme for businesses aiming at becoming Beacon companies for the SW, the turnover threshold of which is £1.5million. For more information on the Beacon scheme check out their website. The Beacon breakthrough forums are aimed at companies that wish to take that next step and learn how already successful companies operate in every area from board setup to marketing to goal setting and planning. It’s a fantastic course and offers amazing value to participant companies. If you’re based in the SW, I would strongly suggest that you put yourself on this course next year as the differences it’s made to my web business are nothing short of phenomenal.

That concludes my line up for 2009. If there is one thing I’m going to be concentrating on next year it’s acting on things (minimising procrastination). I’ve learnt a huge amount this last year and changed my business in many ways because of the things I’ve learnt, books I’ve read and courses I’ve been on – I’d urge you to look down the list again and see if there is anything you can get involved in yourself and please let me know if you do and of course, how it worked for you :)

See you in 2010

Cash Flow is King! Guide to setting up a Cash Flow Forecast

Cash Flow is King! Guide to setting up a Cash Flow Forecast

Right now – Here’s my first post on Finance. To be honest with you, it probably should have been earlier because of the importance of it, but hey lets face it, finance isn’t the easiest/most enjoyable subject to blog about. :)

OK, in any business there are lots of different things you need to consider about your finances – most importantly your ‘cash flow’, ‘profit and loss’ and ‘balance sheets’. In my opinion, especially as a fledgling business there is no more important metric than cash flow. Why I hear you ask? Quite simply because if your business has no cash flow, then you cannot survive for very long. As the recession looms on its very difficult to loan money from traditional places like the Banks, so cash really is vital to how long you can stick around for. You could have the best product, with the best profit margins, but if you are not getting the money in then you may as well forget it. I think I’ll deal with getting money in on a separate post as that’s pretty important too – lets save that one for another day.

OK so cash flow is, as you would expect, the measure of cash coming into and out of your business. It will help you forecast your performance and assist in making important decisions over whether you need to or even can invest in certain things to push your business forward. Any business owner without a healthy understanding of cash flow or how to keep track of your own is, in my opinion destined for problems.

So lets break down how to measure your cash flow. If you haven’t set up a cash flow forecast then I strongly suggest you open up a spreadsheet now and create one with me. I’m now going to help you do this step by step. Obviously you can go into a lot of detail breaking down income and outgoings to suit your business type, but I will give you the basics so that you have a good base to expand on. At this stage I would also like to dedicate this post to Jamie our business mentor who taught me everything I know about cash flow and forecasting. :)

So now you have your spreadsheet open the first thing to do is to make a note of the year and horizontally across the top of the page put the months of that year. I measure our cash flow on our financial year (in our case its August to July) as this helps us work out averages for the year when we have completed that fiscal period. Down the left hand side of the months, (in a separate column) you can then set up invoiced values and perhaps break this down by services or products you offer. Under the month you’re currently in, you can then start to record details on money you’ve actually invoiced (Important *This is money invoiced NOT received). Add in a row at the bottom of this that sums the values above it to give you total invoiced value for that month (Sales Delivered). Now below that create a row called ‘Cash Inflows’. While you’re forecasting (i.e. the data is not real yet) I advise that you create a cell equation that automatically puts the SUM of the sales values for the current month in 2 whole months later for the cash inflows row (when forecasting this allows for the time difference between invoicing and people actually paying you). This is important because as I mention earlier in the post it doesn’t matter how much you invoice, if you don’t get the money in quickly enough. Obviously when you complete an actual month you can put real values into this ‘cash inflows’ column.

So you’ve now got rows of sales values and cash inflow. You may wish to separate these easily with a heading, in a way that suits you, such as INCOMINGS.

Now we’re onto OUTGOINGS which again you might wish to title.

I find it handy to break down our outgoings by Variable and Fixed costs. So for variables I would have rows for things like (you may have more than these):

  • Wages
  • Tax and NI
  • Project Costs (Costs that are only there IF you sell something)

Then list your overheads or fixed costs – This will include things like:

  • Rent
  • Rates
  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Phone
  • Office Consumables
  • Marketing Material
  • Accounts and Bookkeeping
  • External Services (consultancy/mentoring etc)

Again, consider your business and which costs are important to you. I find it helpful to have a few more rows at the bottom of the spreadsheet for other costs such as:

  • Capital Expenditure
  • Corporation Tax
  • VAT payments (only applicable if you’ve included VAT in other areas of your spreadsheet)
  • Bank Costs
  • Sundries

It is probably wise to have a contingency row as well which i generally set between 1-5% of all costs above.

At the very bottom of the spreadsheet you should then sum the OUTGOINGS. Finally, create a row which subtracts the outgoings from the in-comings to give you your cash flow for that month.

You should also sum up the accumulation of the years INCOMINGS and OUTGOINGS down the right hand side of the spreadsheet, so you can get a grasp on how the year as a whole looks. This is especially useful when you have a good amount of actual data and want to see a snapshot of your business in any one year. Having a row at the bottom of the cash flow, with actual bank balance figures, will allow you to predict, based on changes in in-comings and outgoings, what effect decisions will have on your available cash. For example, you can easily put in another persons wages and see how this affects the coming year, or perhaps plan what would happen if you were able to increase your sales by 10%. THIS IS THE REAL POWER OF A WELL STRUCTURED CASH FLOW FORECAST.

As you move through the year, make sure you update the cash flow from budget (forecasting) figures to actual figures. I find that when forecasting you can use averages for the rest of the year. The more actual data you have, the easier this will be.

Now you have your cash flow setup you need to make sure you review it regularly. We review ours monthly, so we have a really good idea where we are at all times. Please make sure you update and review this as regularly as possible or there is no point doing it. You’ll probably find that if you are the one updating it (as I was in the early days of our business) it helps you have a fantastic grasp on your finances, but you may have other people to show and account to and this is a great way of doing this.

I cannot tell you just how important cash flow is and although not the most interesting of posts, I’d urge you to do this today if you haven’t done so already and get a better grasp on your business.

I have uploaded a sample cash flow forecast for you to look at and check whether you’ve followed the instructions above correctly. If you click on the image below it will load a larger version of this sample. Have Fun :)

Sample Cashflow Forecast

Sample Cash flow Forecast

click me

Business Mentoring and its Importance

Apologies for the time its taken me to write this post. Moving house has been my priority this last couple of weeks and left me very little time to sit down and think about this important subject.

This post deals with the role business mentoring plays in successful businesses. It can be lonely at the top! :) OK so maybe that’s a bit dramatic but in all honesty when you are at the top of your business there is often no one to turn to, no one to ask whether you’re doing the right thing and if like me, you’ve not worked for anyone else (I started my business at University and am still running it 10 years later), no precedent has been set for most of the situations you come across. The learning curve is unbelievably steep, especially at the beginning and a big factor for why something like four out of five start-ups fail. This, in my opinion is why its so important to find yourself a business coach/mentor.

In Optix (my web design business), I’m lucky that I have my business partner James to bounce off. I’m sure that many of you reading this will not have anyone else because you’re running things yourself. If you’re in that position then I’d suggest a mentor is probably even more important for you.

James and I are extremely lucky that my father Jamie doubles up as our business mentor. Having run businesses with more that 150+ staff and now running his own consultancy in Essex, he is perfectly placed to offer advice to James and I as and when we need it. I’m big enough (well actually if you know me you’ll know I’m quite small!) to say that without Jamie’s help I don’t think James and I would be here today.

So what do you need to look to a mentor to help you with and why? When you find someone you get on with, trust and respect (this is critical), the sort of things you might want to talk to them about include:

  • Regularly looking at cash flow (the lifeblood of any business)
  • Profit and loss
  • Contracts (both ones you’ve been asked to sign and ones you need to draft for other companies)
  • Personnel issues
  • Financial decisions
  • Company strategy and Goal Planning

We have a regular monthly board meeting with Jamie and stick to a structured agenda with many of the points shown above discussed as a matter of course, even if there is nothing to note that month. It’s great practice to get into this routine so you always have a grasp on where the business is at that moment in time and where its going. It’s also a good time to report back to the board on issues that only you have been dealing with.

One thing I see a lot of is people who act as business coaches. Business coaching is a different kettle fish. Many coaches have developed their own models which can help you focus on your business goals and not get sidetracked by the day to day runnings of your business.

So if you’re reading this and saying to yourself, ‘yes but I don’t need a mentor/coach because I know my business and am successful in it’ then let me make a quick parallel for you:

Just think about sport at the top level – If you’re a premiership football club at the top of your game you have coaches, similarly if you’re a top ATP tennis player you will have a coach. Sportsmen and women all over the world have coaches and I believe in the business world its sensible to do the same.

Quite often as a director you’ll find yourself too ‘inside your business’. By this I mean you’re blinkered by the day to day goings on. Someone with experience of business outside can often break things down for you and help you make the best decisions for your business. A good mentor/coach in my opinion doesn’t make decisions for you, they merely pose the right questions that help you get to the right conclusions. You may find that these ‘answers’ often seem obvious but it’s this kind of mentoring which is fantastic for any business which wants to grow and go places.

I’ve met a lot of directors that have said they don’t need mentors/coaches and in my opinion some of these have let thier egos get in the way of good solid business sense.

If you’re wondering now how you can find a mentor, I’d suggest networking your local area and asking around – make sure you get recommendations for the person you’re thinking of getting in and of course, it goes without saying that if you’d like to talk to my father Jamie about what he can offer your business (anywhere in the UK), please contact me and I will happily put you in touch. I can put my hand on my heart and say that he is one of the biggest reasons that Optix is still around now, ten years after our incorporation and doing so well. :) Thanks Jamie!