pros and cons of running your business from home

The Pros And Cons Of Running Your Business From Home

 

Welcome to the first of a series of blog posts about running a business from home.

For the first installment, we’re kicking off with the pros and cons of running a business from home.

The Pros and Cons of Running A Business From Home

Before you decide whether running your business from home is right for you, you should weigh up the various pros and cons of running your business from home as opposed to an office or other premises.

Every business is unique, just as every home and premises is so give careful attention to all the contributing factors before you make your decision.

The Pros of Running Your Business From Home

1. It’s low cost.

In any business you always need to be mindful of costs and keep your overheads to a minimum.  Premises are often a significant expense for business owners  and running your business from home can cut that out.  Furthermore, you may even be able to claim expenses for it.

2. There’s no commute.

No getting stuck in traffic jams, no missing the train, no standing at the bus stop in the rain. You’re already there.  No time taken out of your day to get to work and no expense to get there.

3. It’s flexible.

You’re not tied in.  If you decide at any point that you want to move to another premises, you don’t have to give notice to yourself to move.  For this reason running your business from home can be a good temporary solution if you know that your business could be going through a period of change in future.

4. There are less distractions.

Although there are distractions at home, often these are things which are more within your control, for example less people walking in, likely to be less noise.

5. You’re closer to your family.

One of the reasons most people cite for working from home is getting to spend more time with family and improving work life balance.  Be sure to have guidelines in place though when you first start about family time and work time which everyone needs to stick to, otherwise this can end up on the list of cons as you’ll read shortly.

Combine work and family life

6. You can set your own schedule.

Not having a premises to go to often also means that you aren’t constrained by particular opening hours of the premises, so in theory you can adapt your own schedule to suit you.

 

The Cons of Running Your Business From Home

1.It can be isolating.

Running a business from home often means you are working by yourself. Depending on the nature of your business, you may go days at work without seeing anyone else.  Make a conscious effort to stay connected with people.  Arrange to meet people for coffee once or twice a week to keep up your social interaction, if you can combine it with a bit of networking so much the better.

meeting friends for coffee

2. You’re always at work.

Just as when you go to work you’re always at home, when you are at home you’re always at work.  It can be hard to switch off at the end of the day.  Set yourself boundaries just as you would if you worked in an office.  Have a clear dedicated work space, ideally in a separate room that you can close the door on at the end of the day.  If that’s not possible at least make sure you tidy your work things away at the end of the day so you’re not always reminded of a nagging to do list.  Have a set time to finish, leave your work behind as much as you can at the end of the day.

Sometimes when you work from home you never escape the office

3. You are less visible.

If you don’t have a premises that can effectively act as a shop window you’re unlikely to get business from people just turning up at your place of work. These days so many people carry out internet research before they buy anything so make sure you have an online presence.  List your business on Google My Business to help with your Google rankings.  If you don’t want to use your home address you can always use a virtual office.

4. It can put a strain on family life.

Ironically, although spending more time with the family is one of the most popular reasons for running a business from home if not managed properly running your business from home can actually put more of a strain on relationships and family life.  Communication is key here and making sure you are all in agreement on what’s going to work for everyone.  Also look out for our later blog post in this series on how to achieve work life balance when you work from home.

5. You can start slacking off.

Just as it’s possible to not switch off from work, it’s also possible to feel a bit too comfortable in your surroundings and begin to slack off.  Make sure you have a dedicated work space in your home to work from.  Train yourself that when you’re in that place, you’re there to work.  In this series there is another blog post coming on determining if you have the right personality to work from home.

Weighing up the pros and cons of running a business from home is definitely a good place to start.  Next week we’ll start by delving a bit deeper, the subject is Is My Home Suitable To Run A Business From. Sign up here to get this post delivered direct to your inbox to make sure you don’t miss it.

 

Crush Interruptions

Crush Interruptions Whilst Nurturing Enquiries

You’ve probably by now seen this clip of Professor Robert Kelly being videobombed by his two children during an interview about Korean politics, or one of its variations which have been spreading like wildfire on social media this last week.  (If you haven’t where have you been as this item has been EVERYWHERE!)

But if you haven’t seen it, I’ll summarise for you.  Professor Kelly is being interviewed from his office live on the BBC News on the subject of North and South Korea, a serious topic, when all of a sudden the door behind him opens and in marches his three year old daughter, dramatically swinging her arms and purposefully heading towards her father in the middle of his interview. The remarkably calm professor puts out his arm to block her from taking centre stage as he attempts to continue. As if this wasn’t enough, next appearing at the door is a baby in a walker, following in the path of his sister. Baby brother is shortly followed by Mum, clearly panicking, she hurls herself though the door, keeping low in an attempt to keep out of vision, hurtles towards her escapee children, who she then pulls backwards out of the room, closing the door behind them.

It has to be said that Kelly does an exceptional job of staying cool under the collar and keeps his composure to carry on through the rest of the report, but to just about everyone else who has witnessed it, it’s been a cause of considerable mirth. Undoubtedly one reason for this video going viral is the humour, but another reason for its popularity is that it’s something a lot of people can relate to on some level or another.

For business owners, particularly those who work from home, many of us can identify.  Although few of us are likely to be caught out like this on national TV, most of us have been in a similar situation on the phone, when perhaps a child comes in to the room, a dog barks, your neighbour starts working on a DIY project etc.  Whilst, we may, like Professor Kelly do our best to maintain composure in these situations, the fact is if it’s an important call your stress levels go up.  You’re concentrating on what the child is doing, praying that they’re not going to make a noise.  You’re trying to give a professional impression but you’re not able to focus properly on the conversation, and you know it.  On the flipside if you do give the call your full attention you ignore your little treasure at your peril.

We’ve probably all been in that situation where the phone rings and you think to yourself ‘dare I answer?’

I’ve felt this way myself on many occasions. As a mum of three boisterous boys, two dogs and two guinea pigs (!) our house is always a bit crazy. Part of being able to work from home and be close to family life is one of the major plus points, but it’s also one of the drawbacks when you’re waiting for an important call.

Using a telephone answering service means that your calls will always be answered in a calm, controlled office environment. There are no kids, no animals, no neighbours with a penchant for DIY or loud music.  You can be sure that calls will always be answered in a promptly by a trained, friendly, professional call handler, who is entirely devoted to answering calls and nothing else.

You need never miss a call again because you’re worried about the background noise, you’re already on the phone, you’re not in the office, you’re in the middle of concentrating on something important etc.

For small business owners, it can make a massive difference.

  • Improved time management,
  • Increased sales leads since you don’t miss any telephone enquiries
  • Giving a professional impression of your business
  • Providing great service
  • Improving work life balance

In addition, a telephone answering service is highly cost effective since you only pay for the calls that we answer.

As we’re on a mission to help small businesses succeed we’re giving you the chance to try our call answering service COMPLETELY FREE for 7 days. We don’t take card details and there’s no obligation to take it further.

Like to see what a difference our call answering service makes.

Start Your Free Trial Now.

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Offer expires midnight 31st March 2017.

Subject to fair usage. 10 call units per day.

Know someone else who could benefit from a free trial? Feel free to share.

Keep your focus when you work from home

How to stay focused when you work from home.

Working from home can seem like a dream come true, you choose your own hours, you don’t have to travel, you can be in comfortable surroundings. But sometimes the reality can be very different to how you imagine; distraction, isolation and either not doing enough work, or not knowing when to stop can all be components that turn the dream into a nightmare. Keeping your focus when working from home can be a challenge, but with a few simple steps it’s easy to stay on track.

Here are our ideas for how to make working from home a productive, stress free experience where you really do gain the work life balance you want.

  1. Create a conducive work space. If you don’t have the luxury of a separate office in your home then do at least work from a desk or a table, rather than the sofa.  It’s important that you have a space where you can sit up straight, set out everything that you need in an uncluttered environment.  Make it a pleasant environment to work in, clutter free, with perhaps a couple of pictures or personal items to make it an enjoyable space to work.  If you’re working from the table that your family will be eating around later that day, you also need some storage to be able to pack away at the end of the day neatly.
  2. Make others around you aware that you are working from home. It’s all very well having good intentions about working from home, but if others around you don’t realise that’s what you’re doing what should be a day at work can soon end up as just a day at home.  If you share your home with others it’s crucial they understand and are supportive of you working from home.  When you select your workspace you need to consider if the space you want to work at is a shared space which other people may want to use, if it is, you will need to get buy in, not only to use the space, but also that others around will respect the fact that you are working and not disturb you.  It’s not just the people you share your home with too, you may need to consider other neighbours and friends nearby who could see that you are at home and want to call in for a chat.  DON’T feel bad about explaining to them that although you are at home you are working but DO arrange a time to meet them for coffee so that you can take a break as well as fit in some social time.
  3. Stick to a schedule. Although this is something everyone should do, when you work from home it’s more important than ever.  If you don’t have a clear plan for your day it’s all too easy to find yourself putting on a load of washing, doing some dusting or tackling a DIY project that you’ve been putting off for months, not to mention being distracted by the TV, the dog etc.  Have a clear plan for what you want to achieve that day and properly plan the day.  Click here to get more ideas for writing effective daily plans.
  4. Take regular breaks and don’t overdo it. When you create your schedule it is important that you build breaks in to it. One of the nice things about working from home is that you can use your lunch break to watch the TV show that you recorded last night or to take the dog for a walk, so long as you keep disciplined on time.  Taking regular breaks actually helps you to become more productive, so don’t fall in to the other trap of working too hard as you will be less effective.  It’s also important to know when to stop at the end of the day.  In fact, whilst it’s a popular opinion that working from home is an easy option, the reality is often that you end up working harder, not knowing when to stop and never really getting away from work.  If you have a separate room in the house to use as an office that you can close the door on at the end of the day that’s ideal, but wherever you work, when you put together your schedule for the day decide when you are finishing and stick to it.  When you do finish if you’re not in a separate room, pack your things away out of sight so that whilst you are using your home as a relaxing home space you are not being nagged at by reminders of the working day.
  5. Try to fit exercise in to the working day. Exercise isn’t just about losing weight, studies have proven that regular exercise does improve work performance through a whole range of benefits which include elevating mood, improved concentration, sharper memory, enhanced creativity and lower stress.  Half an hour a day of exercise can give your performance a significant edge, and one of the benefits of working from home is that it’s very easy to fit in.  You could do anything from some stretches, a lunchtime jog, or even a brisk walk to help boost your mental energy for a challenging task ahead.
  6. Build in regular people time. The downside to working from home is that it can feel quite isolating at times.  Social media is both a blessing and a curse; it can be great to have that contact with people, but at the same time a quick chat on social media can quickly turn into an unproductive hour.  Better to arrange to have a phone chat or meet up with friends for a coffee at regular intervals to have real people contact.  Perhaps research if there are local small business networking events that you could go along to and meet people at and perhaps do some business.  Alternatively it can be good to meet up with someone else you know who is also working from home so you can talk about what is working well for you and if you are finding any challenges with working from home.
  7. Get dressed. Another myth about working from home is that you can spend the whole day working in your pyjamas.  I suppose in theory you could do this, but I would absolutely not recommend it.  The clothes you wear have an impact on your attitude and if you are sat there in your pyjamas you will definitely not be in the right frame of mind to achieve much.  You need to be dressed for work.  Although, you don’t need be dressed in a suit, make sure you are at least presentable to walk down the road and meet someone for a coffee.
  8. Keep your To Do List visible. Whether you write your to do list on paper or keep it electronically, make sure you can see it all the time.  Seeing what you still need to do before the end of the day spurs you on and it’s also motivating to see what you have crossed off the list too.
  9. Have water and healthy snacks close by. One of the distractions of working from home can be the kitchen.  Whilst you do obviously need to eat and drink regularly throughout the day   repeatedly getting up to the fridge can be a distraction.  At the beginning of the day get a large bottle or jug of water so that you can keep topping up throughout the day and a fruit bowl to help yourself from.  This saves you having to get up unnecessarily, also, if healthy food is in sight you are more likely to help yourself to this rather than be tempted by the biscuit barrel, which although you may get an initial burst of energy from, will certainly make you feel sluggish later on.  One of the other benefits of working from home is you can make your own lunch, which not only gives you a more varied range of options but is also cheaper.
  10. Focus on what you want to achieve. If you’re just starting out working from home, perhaps having come from a larger company environment, one thing you can miss is the buzz of the office and the motivational effect of this shouldn’t be overlooked. When you work from home, there won’t be other people around you to motivate you, you will need to do it yourself.  The good news is, when you run your own business and work from home there is a lot to feel positive and motivated about, but you will need to make sure that you regularly remind yourself of this.  At the start of the day, and at regular intervals throughout the day think about your long term business goals and why you want to achieve them.  Understand how what you’re doing that day fits in to the bigger picture and know that the end of the day you will be a little bit closer to achieving that dream.  Don’t just think about the buinsess goals themselves, but what they mean to you and your life, perhaps more time with your family or that house with the extra bedroom.  Thinking about these things and knowing why you’re working, gives you so much more focus and determination.
  11. Review at the end of the day. At the end of the day, look back at your to do list, see what you have crossed off and evaluate what you have done.  Congratulate yourself, you have worked hard, be pleased with what you have achieved and be pleased that you enjoy your working lifestyle.

Do you have any other tips to share with others about working from home? Perhaps you are finding particular challenges, please comment and I will reply.  Feel free to share this with anyone else who would find it useful.

 

Plan 2017 Now!

Plan 2017 effectively. Arguably the best use of your time between now and January.

Many of you reading this will be by now caught up in the madness of Christmas preparations, working through Christmas shopping lists, trying not to forget anyone.  Yet how many will actually be thinking ahead to Christmas 2017?  This might sound crazy, but put this in place and this gift to your business, will actually come back to benefit you too.  A well-considered and executed plan to be achieved within 12 months will not only push your business on to where you want it to be, but will also start to give you the rewards for your hard work.

To plan 2017 properly, first of all write down your goal for where you want your business to be by Christmas 2017.  Yes, this is one present you need to start searching for now.

You need to write this down somewhere and not just consider it. If your plan for 2017 is going to work is should be SMART.

If you’ve never heard of SMART objectives it stands for

Specific. (Well defined and clear to anyone who has a knowledge of the project)

Measurable. You should be able to tell how far away from completion you are and it should be obvious when you have achieved your goal

Agreed Upon. Everyone involved in the project must know this.  If this is just you by yourself, but you need to make a firm commitment to yourself to achieve this.

Realistic. Within the availability of knowledge, resources and time

Time Based. There should be enough time to complete the project, but not too much that you then slow down the pace.

When you have your goal decided upon and written down you then need to make a plan of how to achieve this.  You need to come up with a series of steps to break down what you need to do.

First of all you need to come up with a list of tasks and activities that will need to be accomplished to achieve your SMART objective.

You need to create a sequence for each of these activities.  You might find that some items on the list will obviously flow from one item to the next but others may be a little trickier to order.  Try to group similar tasks and activities together.  This makes sense anyway from a time management point of view.

You should find that when you have done this you have come up with a series of phases.

Use a project management tool such as Freedcamp or Trello to plan out your project.

Create milestones at the end of each phase.  Sometimes working towards a goal which is 12 months away can seem daunting, so if you have milestones along the way it helps you to know that you are on track and to celebrate your achievements along the way.

Each stage of the project must have a time estimate next to it.  This is where project management tools are very useful.

It’s useful to sometimes factor in a couple of extra days here and there for each stage.  Sometimes you will be dependent on other people fulfilling certain tasks and they may not react as quickly as you.

Plan this out carefully and make sure that each week at least, you are doing some small activity which is taking you towards your ultimate goal.

Then you have to do it.  It’s amazing how many well written and considered plans never actually get completed.  This is largely because people get overwhelmed with the scale of a project and sometimes they don’t feel that they are getting anywhere.

This is why it’s important to break the ultimate goal down in to small manageable chunks. That way each stage feels achievable. And when you complete a stage it’s satisfying to tick it off your list.  It’s satisfying to see the progress being made and that motivates you to continue.

Keep going.  Keep going until you have ticked everything off your list and you have achieved your ultimate goal for Christmas 2017.  If by next Christmas your work hasn’t already started paying dividends it soon will.  Do this one right and this is one Christmas present that you will be repaid for over and over.

Where do you plan on being with your business by Christmas 2017?  Please comment and let me know and feel free to keep me posted on how you’re getting on with working towards it.

Networking Tips

Networking Tips

It’s been an exciting week for me.  My book, 101 Networking Tips was finally completed and went on to Amazon last week.

Writing a book is something I have always wanted to do but I never really knew what I wanted to write about. I had always imagined that I would write fiction but after several years of waiting for a fantastically witty and inventive story to come to me I decided to take the non-fiction route instead.

Networking is something I have been a passionate advocate of  myself for years and since we started running the Office Drinks networking events 5 years ago, it’s something that I have been asked about a lot.

Clearly on the part of the first time networker there are a lot of nerves to overcome.  Many people are apprehensive about networking because they see it as selling, rather than relationship building.  I wanted to write something which would first of all make first time networkers feel less intimidated about attending these events, partly by making it clear that it’s not about selling and partly by providing a step by step guide to researching, attending and following up after events.

Networking is important for small business owners.  Not only is it about promoting products and services, but it’s also about finding suppliers you can trust, bouncing ideas of people, being supported and generally keeping abreast of what’s going on in the business community.

Many small businesses will start up with just one person, or just one director anyway and trying to do it all by yourself can be lonely and you can wonder if you’re heading in the right direction.  Networking helps.  It makes you get out there and meet people.  It keeps you focussed on what you are doing and it does bring in business.

Whether or not you have read the book I urge you to give networking a go. (If you’d like to take a look inside the book click here). There is everything to gain and nothing to lose.

I’d be interested to hear what your experiences of networking have been.  Have you got some advice you’d like to pass on to our readers?  What do you think has been the greatest benefit of networking?  Please leave a comment below.

Virtual Office

How to find the right virtual office for your business.

So you’ve made the decision to use a virtual office.  How do you then go about finding the right virtual office for your business?  It’s important to make the right decision as you could be partnering with your virtual office service provider for a number of years to come so spend some time in advance carrying out your research to make the right decision from the start.

There are a number of factors to consider and you should weigh up all of them.

 

Location

Location should be a major consideration for you in deciding on your virtual office.  The business address plays a crucial role in the impression of your business to the outside world.  You need to weigh up both the prestige factor that your business address will give as well as the likelihood of picking up business in that area.

Think carefully about who your ideal clients are.  Would they be likely to do business with a company in a more upmarket part of town or is something more modest appropriate?  Do your clients want to see you as a local business or is that not important.

 

The Premises

Although you will not be based from the virtual office it’s still important that the premises themselves, not purely the business address play a very important role.

Ideally visit the premises yourself, or if not at least take a look on Google Places to see the building and what sort of impression that conveys.

Again, just as you considered for location whether the location and address give the right impression for your business, think too of the premises.  Is the building smart, presentable, on a nice street?

Is it obviously a virtual office building or could it be conceivable that your business is actually based in there?

 

The services

Think carefully about the services you require from your virtual office.  Is it purely telephone answering and a virtual business address or do you require other services too, such as a virtual assistant service?

Make sure you clearly understand the services that the virtual office does offer.

Telephone Answering

What are the hours of business?  Do you need 24/7 telephone answering?  Most businesses don’t need this, but be clear when the opening hours are.  What happens if there is a call out of hours?  Is there a dedicated voicemail for your business?

How will messages be sent to you?

Mail Forwarding

Does the business offer same day mail forwarding?  If not find out how quickly any mail will be forwarded on.

Can you collect the post if you want?  If you do collect will you be informed if you have any mail to be collected?  How will they make contact with you? Will the mail be stored securely?

 

The size of the company

Think again about the impression that you are trying to convey of your company and choose an appropriate virtual office service provider to partner with.  A larger company with a bigger telephone answering team are likely to convey the impression of your business being considerably larger and busier with more of a call centre feel.  A small business answering service may be able to offer a more bespoke personal service.  Staff are more likely to get to know the businesses that they are working with and will often just know the information about the clients who they are answering the telephone for without having to look up information and may even get to know some regular callers, therefore becoming a convincing part of the team.

 

Make a phone call

Ring the business yourself and see how they answer.  A phone call to your company may well be the first contact a caller has with your business and it’s absolutely crucial that you make a great first impression.  Is the receptionist’s tone clear and well spoken?  Are they friendly, welcoming and professional?  Above all, ask yourself “Would you be happy if this person was answering the phone for my business?” – if the answer is no then go no further, but if the answer is yes give this company a big plus point as you continue weighing up your options.

 

Costs

Weighing up the costs is an important part of any business decision and this is no exception.  Are there pay as you go telephone answering options or are there virtual office packages available?  Think about how you are likely to use the service.  Are you likely to want them to answer every single call that comes in to your business, or just the overflow calls?  It can be difficult to estimate the volume of calls that come in to your business if you’ve never used a service like this before.  Try keeping a tally over the course of a week of the number of calls that come in to give you a rough idea.  Are you likely to experience periods of higher volume at certain times than others?

Pay as you go telephone answering will provide you with an accurate bill based on the number of call units you have paid – you are only ever going to get charged for what you use.

Virtual office packages offer bundles of minutes, and if you can reasonably accurately forecast the volume of calls you are likely to get this can work out cheaper, but not if you get it wrong.

Find out if the service can change and grow with your business.  If you are just starting up, the chances are you may not receive huge volumes of calls in the early days, but this may well increase as your business becomes more established.  Can you change your plan if needs be depending on your business requirements?

Find out if there are set up costs and what realistic monthly charges may be.

Cost is important but maybe not the most important factor.  If you estimate that one company may cost you £5 per month more, but the address is more appropriate and the telephone answering service is better it is probably worth paying the extra for.

 

Can you use the business as a both a trading address and a registered office address?

If your business is a Limited Company by law you are required to state your registered office address.  This is an address to receive formal correspondence from HMRC and Companies House.  Check if the price for the virtual office includes both trading address and registered office address if this is what you require.

 

Can you publicise the address?

Usually you can publish the address of your virtual office, but it is worth checking.  If you want to use this for marketing campaigns, listing on Google, your website, your business cards, any other marketing material do check that this is allowed.

 

Check the terms of the contract

Are you tied in for a particular length of time or does the contract work on a rolling basis.  If you are confident that you are going to be staying with your virtual office provider for some time there are often cost savings to be made by signing up for longer periods of time and paying up front, but paying monthly offers the opportunity for you to move on should you wish to.

 

There are quite a lot of factors to be taken in to consideration, but this is an important decision.  The address of your business and the way the telephone is answered is so influential in determining how the outside world views your business and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

 

Unsure if a virtual office is right for you?  You might like to read this article on whether to work from home or an office to weigh up the pros and cons.

 

Do you use a virtual office?  How did you find yours?  Any knowledge you would like to pass on to our readers if you have been through this process yourself?  Please do let us know.

 

Small business telephone answering service

This week in Virtual Head Office – A telephone answering service and mail handing – how one small business relocates but appears to stay at the same business address

A small business who we’ve worked with for the past 5 years has relocated this week to London.  He has used our mailing address and telephone answering service ever since he started up his cleaning business, to give him a presence in the Bury St Edmunds area.  He lived in a nearby village and didn’t want to give out his home address.

His cleaning business was aiming at the commercial market and not really looking for domestic clients at all.  He wanted a dedicated office address to give his small business the appearance of being a bit larger and more entrenched than was actually the case to give his potential client base confidence in his business in order to help him win some corporate business.

Over the last 5 years this small business has grown substantially, both in terms of its number of employees and in terms of the volume of business they have won, some of which I’m pleased to say can be attributed to telemarketing campaigns which we have run for them, the rest through their own business development activities.

Our telephone answering team are always busy speaking to this clients callers, who may be new business enquiries, existing customers calling with queries or the cleaners employed by this small business.  The calls are always varied and frequently urgent.  This business owner is a very proactive busy person who is always on the move, whether he is visiting clients, out on meetings securing new business, managing his team or hiring new staff.

For a small business like this a telephone answering service means that there is a central point to coordinate his day to day activities.  His team and his customers all have his mobile number, of course, but the fact is they are unlikely to be able to actually catch him on it, and as he’s so busy if questions can be dealt with by someone else he would rather not have to call back.

He will often phone in or email our team to make us aware of his movements for the day, so that we can tell callers that realistically he won’t be able to return their call for 3 hours if they want to speak to him personally.  This really helps to manage the expectations of the caller and helps give his business a reputation for providing good customer service.  The answering service is bespoke so if he wants to let us know for example that there is a specific message for a particular person should they call we are able to relay that for him, so that quite often they don’t actually need to speak to him in person.  We just send him an email making him aware of the conversation so he is up to speed with what has been said, if he needs to contact this person further then he can do.

He currently comes in to the office when he is passing through to collect his post which has come in to his business address.  We always enjoy having a catch up with him when he comes in as he’s always got so much going on it’s really interesting to hear about.

Over the last few months he has been talking more and more about the business that he has won in London, as well as in Suffolk and he has been spending more and more time there.  Recently he made the decision to relocate to London, but to continue with the work that he is doing in Suffolk, which is now quite well established and able to continue with less day to day management from him.

Although he is not local enough to pop in any more to collect his post it doesn’t actually affect the virtual office service he uses.  Instead of coming in to collect, we will be forwarding the mail for him from now on.  The telephone answering service will remain entirely unchanged.  He will still maintain the telephone number that he already has and we will still continue to answer calls for his business in his company name and as far as they are concerned they are speaking to someone sitting in his office so he is very much maintaining a local business presence.

Going forward he may decide to also purchase a London telephone number, which can also be diverted in to our team so that he is able to give the appearance of having two offices.

For this small business owner using having a virtual office means that he is able to carry on with business as usual in a geographic area that he is now well established in, whilst being able to spend more time where he is needed more looking after those accounts which are still in their infancy and still need a lot of day to day involvement.

We’re really excited for him as he continues to expand his business and feel really pleased to be part of the team.  The only thing we’re a little bit sad about is that we won’t be seeing him in person now that he won’t be calling in to collect his post any more, but I’m sure he will be calling in to say hello when he’s in the area.

Credit Control

Credit Control: How To Get Another £20k In Your Business Bank Account

According to research by Tungsten, the average SME is owed £40,857 in unpaid invoices, with £20,937 of that total amount being overdue.  An amount which, according to the 1000 companies surveyed, places 1 in 5 of those businesses at risk of insolvency.

Even if it doesn’t put your business at risk of insolvency it certainly has an impact on your cash flow.  A recent article in the Telegraph summed this up well, saying that ‘Late Payment doesn’t just affect cash flow, it affects a small firm’s appetite for investment and growth’

Not only does this have a detrimental effect on finances, but it also wastes time, as the average small business spends 130 hours per year chasing invoices.

So what can you do to minimise the risk in your small business?  The answer is you need to get an effective credit control procedure in place.

Here are our tips for keeping on top of credit control and cash flow in your business.

  1. Do what you can do to avoid giving credit wherever possible. If it’s possible for you to charge up front, or at least get a deposit then do so. If you never give someone credit they are not going to pay you late.
  2. Invoice promptly. Send invoices straight away as any delay there is likely to cause a delay in payment.
  3. Clearly state your terms and conditions on the invoice.
  4. Also on the invoice clearly state your bank details and how you want the client to pay.
  5. Make it as easy as possible for your client to pay. Automating the process by setting up a direct debit can be very simple for both the client and you as a business owner. We use GoCardless to collect direct debit payments and we have found the service to be invaluable in terms of saving time spent chasing invoices for a nominal fee.  You will also be alerted if any of your clients cancel their direct debit arrangement which can alert you to any potential problems early on in the process.
  6. Ensure that someone, either a person within your organisation, or an outsourced service partner has responsibility for credit control. This incumbent should not only have dedicated time set aside each week to devote to your credit control, but they should also understand the importance of this role to your business.
  7. Don’t automatically assume that you are the best person to take on the task of credit control for your business. Often there are advantages to delegating or outsourcing credit control to either a credit control agency or a Virtual Assistant, which can include:
  • freeing up your time to concentrate on more profit making activities
  • separating you from the process of chasing the client can be good as business owners can often feel embarrassed or awkward about chasing money (although you shouldn’t).
  • It makes sure that it does get done every week, as as the business owner you may find yourself pulled in other directions.
  1. Be systematic. It’s important that you have a clear credit control procedure in place that you follow to the letter. Following a system, and keeping a record of this has a number of benefits:
  • You know exactly where you are in the process at any one time.
  • The process usually works, preventing invoices becoming overdue is always the best way.
  • In the worst case scenario, should you need to take this to a debt recovery company or take legal action you have shown that you have followed a legitimate process.

A procedure for a business with 30 day payment terms would be something like this:

  • Day 1 send your invoice
  • Day 14 make a courtesy call to check that invoice has been received and to confirm when payment is due.
  • Day 28 make another call to remind your client when the invoice is due.
  • Day 37 send a first gentle reminder that the invoice is overdue.
  • Day 44 send a stronger reminder asking for the invoice to be paid within a particular time frame to avoid further costs being incurred.
  • Day 51 send a final reminder letter giving 7 days to pay before legal action is taken.

We use Kashflow for our accounting software and this has sample letters within it which can be sent at the click of a button and also recording everything that has been sent.

  1. Throughout the process it’s important to maintain good relationships with your client. Not only will they be more inclined to pay promptly or even early in some cases if there is a good relationship, but it’s also important for future sales with this client, or anyone else they may recommend you to.
  2. Regularly review payment ledger. Make sure if someone has paid that you are not continuing to chase them in the interests of maintaining a strong relationship.
  3. Make sure your business maintains a good reputation for paying suppliers promptly, not only does this give you the higher moral standing, but word gets around in the small business community and you don’t want to be known as someone who is a late payer as this weakens your position when chasing late payments from others.

If you’re not already following the above steps if you do introduce them will have a dramatic improvement on the cash flow and financial health of your business, but should you have done all of the above and you are still owed money don’t hesitate to take legal action.

If you’ve found this article interesting please feel free to share with anyone else you think would benefit.

 

Business Address

This week in Virtual Head Office…a business address for an online retailer

Not all of our clients take up multiple services, some will use just one or two.  This week I’ve decided to talk about one of these clients, an online retailer that we provide a business address service for.

We’ve worked with this busy home based business owner for about two and a half years and have got to know him pretty well over this time.  As is often the case it’s getting to know our clients personally that often makes our work all the more rewarding as we get to find out what a difference our service means to them.

The first time we met the business owner, he arrived at our office seeming rather troubled, the night before his garage had been burgled and some of his stock had been stolen.  He explained that he had been looking at taking up a business address for some time as he was aware that having his home address on his website, as all websites are legally obliged to do, was a bit of a security risk.  Although his home address was not where he stored the majority of his stock he was worried that the outside world would perceive his stock to be held there and he felt that this put him at risk.  The burglary, unfortunately had been the catalyst for him making the move to actually finding a virtual office to work with.

So what do we do for him?  Quite simply, we provide a mail handling service, which means we let him use the address of our building as his business address.  He can use this address on his website, on his business cards, his headed paper, his marketing material, wherever he wants to use it.  The address is a realistic one as we are in a multi-occupancy building with lots of small businesses based within it.  It’s also a lovely Georgian building on a very nice street.

We receive his post for him and as he lives locally to us, he chooses to come in and collect the post rather than have us forward it on to him.  His post can be anything from usual correspondence to items that have been purchased via his website being returned.  We receive it all here, store it securely and then let him know he has items to collect and then wait for him to call in.  In the meantime, he carries on working from home, enjoying the benefits of being near to his young family, having no commute and in general having a good work life balance

We always enjoy seeing our clients face to face when they come in to collect post from their business address and especially nice to see the smile that is always on his face these days.

Small Business Brand

How To Reinforce Your Small Business Brand Without Spending A Penny

Everyday Ideas To Promote Your Brand Without Spending Money

It’s difficult to measure the value of your company brand, but one thing is for sure if you have succeeded in developing a strong brand it will engender confidence in your business and help you win and secure clients. If you don’t really have a brand to speak of it will require more effort to develop business.

As small business owners, many of us will be convinced of the importance of a strong brand already, yet the challenge is often how to reinforce that brand on a budget.  Here are a handful of small ideas that everyone can do to reinforce their small business brand.

  1. Your brand is about so much more than your logo. If you haven’t already, ask yourself what kind of values your small business brand stands for and then make sure that you reflect that, in your actions, in the way you treat your customers, in the way you dress and present yourself in general.  If you employ staff make sure that you convey your message to them as well so that they emulate you and your business brand.
  2. Tell people. Get out there and network.  There are many low cost or even free networking events happening all over the country.  If you haven’t already attended any then get out there and start spreading the word about your brand.  It’s important to note here that whilst it’s important to get your message across you should always be polite and respectful to the other people you are networking with, listen to what they are saying and take a genuine interest in them.  Talking over other people or hogging the conversation will not do your brand any favours so take turns appropriately, you might also find some other great businesses that can help you out too.
  3. If you’re brave enough to get out there in to the world and network face to face why not also try social media? Promoting your business through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or any of the other vast number of platforms is free and a great way to get your message out to a sizeable audience.  As with face to face networking be friendly and unselfish to be remembered for the right reasons. Post content that is relevant to your audience and true to your brand, reflecting standards appropriate to your business.
  4. Keep everything consistent. Assuming you have a logo, which every business should, make sure you are using it everywhere, not just on your marketing material, but on all your documents, on your email auto signature, your invoices and for any communication you have with anyone outside the company.  Make sure that your website, business cards and other marketing material all use the same version of your logo and that further than that you have a consistent image, for example always using the same font and overall style.
  5. Make sure your name is known. Just as ensuring that the logo and style of the business is across the board so should your name be.   This may sound obvious, however, businesses with long names may sometimes find themselves abbreviating the name, this is fine if that’s what you’re going to go with, but choose one or the other and stick with it and make sure that that name is known.  For example brief everyone who answers the telephone in your business to answer the telephone professionally using the same company name.

Do you have any other ideas to help small businesses, either in terms of branding or helping businesses to work smarter?  We would love to hear if you do.