November 21, 2017

Business Advice from Berkshire – I’ve got round to it – when will you?

There are some things that sit towards the bottom of my ‘to do’ list as I know I ought to do them so won’t actually remove them. They won’t make me instant money nor will they, on the surface, cost me money by not doing them, so why don’t I choose to do them?

IntuitSometimes it just takes will power to go ahead. I have been training QuickBooks since 2004 and been listed as QuickBooks Advisor for many years. Last year they bought out an accreditation scheme so you could take an exam, and become a ‘certified’ version. I downloaded the course material, read it through, decided it was fine as I knew and taught most of it, but never did the exam. This year they have also bought out an accreditation for their On-Line QuickBooks so, as I am on the stand next to Intuit – authors of QuickBooks at The Business Show at Olympia, I thought perhaps I ought to go for it. I am glad to say I passed both exams to a high level so can now be one of their elite team. The only question now is why didn’t I get round to it before?

I have done my personal tax return, I have done my VAT return, how about you? Are there jobs that you don’t fancy that are not time critical yet but you will feel so much better when they are done. It may be they were part of this year’s New Year Resolution. There is still time to complete it before the end of this year.

Go on, take the plunge and share with me what you have or will achieve over the next month.

Business Advice from Berkshire – Would you accept Cash ?

Would you accept cash…

And not put it through the books? With all the current discussion concerning tax evasion and tax avoidance there are still grey areas. You may say that the example above is clearly evasion i.e. personally pocketing money which correctly should be accounted for by the business and tax, and possibly VAT, paid over to HMRC.

Birmingham-20121029-00114What if the cash received is for something other than you usual business activity. An electrician takes some rubbish down to the tip for a neighbour and gets paid for it. Is that taxable income? If he trades as a sole trader, all activities should be included in his tax return – so yes. But is this fair?

If you are sticking to the rules, fairness does not come into it. The rules say that international firms can recharge for services within the group which then means there may be very little income left to charge under the UK tax regime – is this fair?

How well do you sleep at night? Does it matter what others do if you are happy with your decision and any consequences? Using an accountant will help you understand what the rules are. As with speeding, whether you stick to the rules is up to you. Is your accountant a passenger in your car, keeping an eye on your speed, or did you leave them at the last stop and are keeping him in the dark as to what speed you did?

Tax evasion is breaking the speed limit, tax avoidance is using the dual carriageway bypass to get to your destination faster. When you are Book coverpreparing your accounts or submitting your tax return, which route do you take to your destination?

Post your thoughts below

Business Advice from Berkshire Partnership Agreements

If ever I am asked about partnerships, one thing I feel strongly about is that a partnership agreement should be drawn up. Everyone knows how much upset and anger can happen when a couple get divorced, well the same can arise when a partnership has a change in partners. This can be dramatically reduced if something is put in place at the start.

Book coverAlso, it is not just about splits to, or extra partners joining the partnership, if one partner is unwell, or even worse dies, what will happen to the business then? If the partner was married does the remaining spouse want to continue with, and contribute to, the business at the same level as their late spouse? Are they technically able? If inheritance tax has to be paid, how will the business be valued? How will the tax be paid?

On a more positive note, a simple point is how the profits are going to be shared. Does each partner contribute capital and actively work in the business equally? I had a recent call where I was asked what could be done. A client wanted to invest some capital so that her friend could carry out a project to enhance the value of the investment and then share the proceeds. One would get a share of the sale proceeds over the investment as reimbursement for risk and interest on the ‘loan’ plus the return of the original investment. The other would receive the remaining share of the sale proceeds over initial investment in recognition of their efforts for the increase in value. I suggested they sat down together to consider all aspects such as running costs, anticipated date of sale, what if something happened to one of them and then draw up a simple agreement and both sign it and keep a copy. My feeling was that at least they had documented their original intention as a starting point for discussions in the future.

I have another client who, if they had done this when they entered a joint venture some years ago would not now be dealing with solicitor’s letters. It could have all been resolved four years ago rather than dragging on taking time and money to resolve.

Even if all you are doing is asking someone to do some freelance sales work for you, it is worth writing out the expectations of both sides which should, of course, include confidentiality so you start with a full understanding of who is responsible for what and how the rewards are going to be shared.

bill view pennyIf you are already working with someone but have no agreement in place, it is not too late to create one. If you choose to involve a solicitor, save yourself money by preparing your joint list of things you feel need to be included before making the appointment. A solicitor may have a template but it will not include clauses specific to your business.

Two or more people working together are usually stronger than the sum of the individuals. Two or more people fighting does not get the job done.

If you feel it would be useful to have a facilitator to prepare the list of items to be covered, contact Wellington Consulting who would be happy to help.

Business Advice from Berkshire – Cost of working at home

gravatarIf you work from home, how do you calculate how much you can claim from the taxman? Over recent weeks, one of my clients has been experiencing a tax investigation. I am glad to say that he got the all clear, but in the meantime, I have had the opportunity to chat with a current tax inspector. When I thanked him for sharing some of the Revenue’s view of allowable expenses and what they look for, he said it was all part of the education process. Whatever the reason, I would extend a thank you.

One area we spoke about was the claim for ‘use of home as office’. He took quite a tight rule on this. He was looking to see if other members of the family also used the room, whether the children had their own access to the internet or used the business computer. How much of the home was taken up with storing papers (or was everything scanned in and only taking up space on the computer). Were there outbuildings for the storage of materials and large equipment used in the business, or were they full of push bikes, lawn mowers and other domestic items.

Although he was asking simple questions, you can see that the Inspector is only trying to establish the truth. Considering whether you are crossing the line between tax avoidance and tax evasion. If you issue one or two invoices a month for working at client’s premises, and it’s a long term contract so you are not spending hours surfing the internet for the next client, what percentage of internet/computer use is actually for work? How would you justify 100% business use?

HMRC have recently brought out an option for claims like this called simplified expenses. You can use them only if a sole trader or partnership. If you want to claim use of home, HMRC will expect you to work for more than 25 hours per month from home. If this is all you do, you can claim £120 per year, 100 hours per month, and it goes up to £216 per year and 200 hours per month is £316. So, instead of the flat rate, you can start to calculate exact components, but this involves square feet, number of people, number of working hours etc. If you have staff coming in with their own key, this adds to the justification.

Book coverThe truth is, it is not easy to be accurate, but you must feel confident that you can justify the figure. This is a time when talking these things through with an accountant – and then documenting the method applied can be very useful.

Have a look at your last set of accounts. Talk to your accountant before signing off this year’s. Remember it is your signature even if the accountant has calculated the figures!

Please share your thought on this subject.

How NOT to make a loss

This week has not been the most productive for me with issues of expected deliveries not happening, computers not playing and tax offices asking for what they already have – and me spending over an hour on the telephone (mostly on hold) to read HMRC what they had been given two months ago. I am sure you have had weeks like this. You get to Friday and wonder how much money the business has made as a direct result of your efforts.

Blank view pennyOther weeks the opposite happens, I get through to the tax office within a couple of minutes, speak to a nice helpful person at HMRC who suggests they can do something for the benefit of the client before I even ask it. Clients turn up to an appointment with their cheque book in hand and request to settle their account at the end of the meeting and then agree the date of the next meeting – so it is not they want to dispense with my services! Others send an email the same day as I send them the invoice, saying they have transferred the money into the company bank account.

Which sort of week would you rather have? What has this got to do with making a loss? The fact of the matter is that life is not perfect and by accepting this, you can build in ‘slack’ to cover the cost of repairs, the lost time, the extra staff salaries. When some new business owners come to me, they have worked out their expected revenue without appreciating the time needed to do marketing, administration, documentation and other roles that may have been done for them in a corporate environment. Even in larger firms, senior staff seem to think that preparing for an exhibition and attending it can just be done in addition to the usual work. Staff cannot be making sales calls while driving to and assembling a stand. When looking at costs, the set up day needs to be taken into account as well as fuel, accommodation etc.

forecastAs with much of business success it is all down to planning. Plan for the unproductive time and associated costs and base the sales required on having to cover these costs as well as those of the ‘good’ sales. If you do this, you will avoid a loss and if the worst doesn’t happen, you can make an even bigger profit.

If you need help in identifying costs you need to include in your plans, get in touch. If you want to share some of the hidden costs you have discovered, please reveal all below.

How Can you afford it ?

Do you sometimes find yourself wanting something for the business, but thinking you can’t afford it? Like any purchase, you should first ask yourself the questions ‘why do I want it? What benefit will I get once I have purchased it?’

miniDepending on the answer to these two questions, you can then decide whether to even think about how to fund it. A very simple and small example was a purchase I made at the weekend. I am a latecomer to iPhone’s and have historically logged my mileage in my diary so I could make a claim at the end of each month. Sounds good as I always have my diary with me so can easily enter the mileage. Trouble is, you run out of space against the day; although I keep my diaries, it would be hassle for the taxman to go through and agree my monthly claims even though I do circle the numbers for easy reading. However, one of my clients has been using FYI Mileage and sending me the sheets each month. I splashed out £1.99. I can now tell you I have done 12 trips amounting to 143 miles since 1st July. By recording 27 more miles than I would otherwise have remembered to claim for, I have covered the cost by the reduction in Corporation Tax I will have to pay. I am sure I will manage this by the end of July. So, return on investment one month maximum.

 I know this is a minute example, but I also placed an order for a stand at The Business Show at Olympia. This is costing nearer £3,000. Same rules apply. What do I need to ‘sell’ at the show to recover the cost and cover my, and my staff’s, attendance and travel and accommodation? I have done the maths and happy that we will bring in revenue that will exceed the costs.

 So the next question is cash flow. How do I pay for the show before I get the money from the sales? The answer is I agree a payment plan to spread the payments. The salesperson was amused that when I had said that my business is training clients in the area of understanding their finances, that I was demonstrating exactly the same to him regarding my own. Justifying why I was not prepared to pay it all today, or even all within 30 days when the show was not until November. That I could use much of the cash not paid up front to generate the income that would allow me to pay the balance prior to the show. A mutually beneficial timing was agreed with the condition that I would be included in all marketing even if they had not received full payment. I have got caught out by that one before. So watch out for Wellington Consulting links in The Business Show marketing. I also hope to see you at stand 160!

So what have you bought recently that you first thought you could not afford until you worked out the benefits? How did you finance it? Please share your ideas so that others can enjoy accounts and grow their business.

How much do your customers owe you?

If you go overdrawn at the bank, they are quick enough to let you know you have their money if it is not by prior arrangement. And they charge you to let you know and charge interest until you pay them back.

Birmingham-20121029-00115Would you be better off if you treated your customers the same as the banks treat theirs? It may be that you wouldn’t want to upset your customers and you would rather they did not go to the competitor every couple of years. But, you are in business. If people buy from you, they should expect to pay. It is up to you to make it clear before they buy, when you are expecting payment to be made.

If you operate with a bank overdraft, you know all about paying interest. If all your customers paid you within the terms you lay out at the start, how much smaller would your overdraft be? How much less interest would you be paying – all that then becomes profit and can either be used elsewhere in the business or be enjoyed by the business owners.

Many business owners don’t like to charge customers interest, but the banks have no problem! Remember, the alternative to charging interest is to either make sure you are paid before the work is done, or depending on the industry, issue credit terms and make sure you have a system in place to chase the moment an invoice becomes overdue, relentlessly until it is paid.

Penny LoweI do suggest a system as otherwise you can find you spend more time chasing money than making it. If you do find this is the case, you may need to revisit some more basic questions such as why do customers feel they don’t need to pay. Do you need to charge some customers a premium as you guess from the start they will be late payers? Do you need to hire someone to get heavy as you would rather keep them sweet for the next purchase they choose to make. I have been used as an excuse – and a threat when my clients are chasing money. My accountant is worried that you might be unable to pay and won’t let me do any more work until you do. If you don’t pay, you will leave me no choice but to pass this debt over to someone else to deal with (accountant or small claims court).

The trick is to be consistent and this is another reason to have a system. If ‘it’ can chase for you, it will free up time for you to do the more profitable tasks.

What tips do you have for making sure your customers pay? Enter your comments below.

Would You like an upgrade?

How often do you ask clients if they would like to spend more with you? To sell more to existing clients is cheaper than finding new clients!

gravatarWhen we flew home from our holiday with British Airways, the simple question above resulted in them getting more income for not a lot more expense. They already had the air side lounge with food and drink and staff available. On board the plane the comfy seats would have been empty, the staff would have had time on their hands if we hadn’t upgraded. The only costs to them were food and drink and processing the extra payment.

This made me think of how often, or not, I try to up sell my services. If it is classroom training on QuickBooks, then every time. I feel that in most cases classroom training is too general. You only need an accountant who understands all, a business owner who understands nothing about accounts and a book-keeper that has used Sage for years and wants more of a conversion course. With this diversity, what level should I pitch it? Then add in the different business sectors that each of these may work in, how can you justice to all? I know one to one training would be of most benefit to my clients, so that is what I sell. I then give them a couple of options and let them choose.

If a prospect asked you what is different about your premium service, what would you say? What would be the benefit to them of paying you more? Is it a more personal service, delivery by the most senior staff, extras that the prospect may not even have considered?

The decision for the prospects comes down to available products and prospect education. If they can see what is in it for them, it will make their choice easier. It will also demonstrate what makes you different from your competitors. You have the prospects’ interest at heart.

What you are offering them is an educated choice. For them the ability to make a decision based on fact rather than simply going for the cheapest and living to regret it. Have you ever found yourself in that position?

If you haven’t already, make a list of what your business offers as an upgrade, then cost it, decide on a price and trial it. Remember, you are only educating your prospects on other choices available. You have nothing to loose and extra income to win. Wouldn’t you like higher profits?

Enter your comments below about whether you are going to offer an upgrade and why.

How much are your customers worth to you ?

This may be a question that a marketing person asks you, but do you know how to calculate it?

The first element will be how much does a ‘typical’ client add to your turnover in a year? This then begs the question, what is typical? So, you might wish to group them and do a calculation for each type. That’s fine as you are already identifying that not all clients are the same.

Tax return sooner rather than laterHaving decided contribution to turnover, the next element is contribution to profit. You may have some clients where there is only a small contribution, but it is regular and there are no hassles involved in these types of clients/customers. They do what they are told, give you plenty of notice and always pay on time. You may also have a group who seem to apply the 80/20 rule. They use 80% of your time for 20% of the rewards. If you are accurately measuring profit, have you included enough follow up and administration time to answer all their queries and spend days on the phone and writing trying to collect payment.

The next element is how many purchases do they make from you? Have they driven you down on price, purely to move on next time to the next special deal they can find. Do they value consistency and may even be prepared to pay more for the knowledge that you will charge them a fair price and offer a quality service rather than skimping to keep within budget?

The final element, which is what made me choose this topic, this week, is how much marketing do they do on your behalf? Sometime this may be a direct referral, sometime it may be that several of your clients/customer have spoken positively about their experience of your service/product, or it may be that you have signage on your car/van and others have seen you in the area and built up a certain trust. If you had not been in the area for a particular customer, others would not have seen you.

So, I have not given you a precise formula for how to work out the answer, but hopefully food for thought.

Read the Small Print !

When you sign up to ‘something’. Do you actually read the small print, or do you just press agree/sign here?

A client recently accidentally spent over £700. Over the last few years, the annual renewal of some software she had to use to for a customer (to enter the invoice into their system) asked her to pay by credit card before the end of January – with countdown warnings. The details were entered and the invoice paid. That was fine.

Tax return sooner rather than laterThe customer has now changed systems, so when the invoice came through this year, she chose not to pay it. As she didn’t need to use the system, she did not bother to log in. I am sure we have all been in that situation. However, last year they changed their small print to say they would retain the card details and automatically renew if you did not cancel within 30 days of getting the invoice. Unfortunately, she and I did not appreciate we had to log in and remove the retained credit card details and unsubscribe in order to cancel the contract. They have also given up issuing the countdown warnings so even if we had of logged in, we would not have been reminded.

The payment was spotted when the February card statement came through after 28th February (the money being taken 1st February). When we phoned, we were told it was too late to complain and they did not do refunds, even pro-rata refunds. She has now cancelled that card so any other organisations that have the details, will need to contact her for new card details if they would like to be paid.

So, when you sign up for something, check if it is automatic renewal. I am happy for 1 & 1 to take automatic renewal for my web site hosting. And I appreciate their reminders in case I want to cancel one. What do you pay once a year? Do you still use it? You do check your card statements, including PayPal, don’t you?