Sunday, 4 April 2010

This is just a test

OK It's been a while, testing out a few settings...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Do's and Don'ts of working from home

So you are setting up a business. You have looked at the likely costs and income of the business and you are aware that money will be tight. You realise that you can do without an office, everything you need is right in your home. Confident you launch your advertising and start your business....

Six months later you admit defeat, poor a cup of tea and turn on Jeremy Kyle. What went wrong? The business was sound, the early weeks were so promising, but you have run out of money and jobs have tailed off. Reassessing the early days of the business you spot the one error you made.... You worked from home....

Not everyone can work on their own. It takes a certain amount of discipline and mindset that not everyone has naturally, however you can learn techniques to help. Whilst the costs of working from home are significantly lower than renting an office, the home has many distractions that an office does not have. Alternatively it is possible to close the office an leave at the end of the day, and we all need some quiet time.

So here are some tips on how to work from home successfully

DO Make sure your business can run effectively from the space you have. The box room may make a perfect study but if you spend all day tripping over piles of papers, or boxes of stock, you will soon get frustrated.

DO Have "Office Hours". Have a set time each day when work starts. Obviously one of the advantages of working at home is you can be flexible, but having a set start time helps put you in the mindset to start work for the day

DO Get out once a day. Sometimes when home and office are combined it can feel like you are trapped. Escape once during each day. Dogs are a great excuse, they are always happy to go for a walk. Walk round the block, run out shopping, go and see a client. Get some fresh air.

DON'T Get distracted by personnal chores. If you worked in an office you would not be able run personnal errands every day. If you must do them link them into the above. Treat it as a task to do in your lunch hour

DON'T The internet, just don't. If it is not work related then save it for lunchtime, or after hours. We all know how easy it is to lose track of time reading something that is ultimately pointless.

DO Use background noise. If you have always worked in big open plan offices surrounded by people it can be really offputting sitting on your own in a quiet room. A radio or TV is perfect for this. Daytime TV is remarkable short of content and makes fantastic noise in the background. But...

DON'T Put anything on that you want to watch and listen to. The new DVD is a not going to work. The Teach Yourself Spanish CD's may seem like a great idea to feel the silence, but you will neither work well, nor learn Spanish!

DO Have two phone lines. Both lines should have answer machines and the ability to turn the ringer off. There are times where you may wish to escape either phone line! The same goes for mobile phones.

DO Have a landline for the business. Landline numbers give people more confidence that you are not going to just vanish overnight. It is easy to get call forwarding set up to your mobile so you do not miss calls. Your business cards can have both numbers on them, but advertise the landline.

DO Check your insurance. Does your household insurance cover any home business? Probably not. Talk to your insurance company and arrange suitable cover. Cover for a largely clerical business is a minimal expense, provided you are not seeing clients/customers at home.

DO Claim your £3 per week "Use of Home Allowance" in your accounts. Or see a good accountant ( hint!) and talk about other ways of accounting for working from home.

DO Train the people you live with to realise that Working from home does not mean "Able to do all the housework and DIY jobs, oh and pop out to get...."

DO A tidy desk is a tidy mind, and stops the other half moaning so much. You are your own office cleaner. Do it regularly and keep your workspace clear.

DO Break the rules occassionally. Just not too often....

DO Find out what works for you. The more you can focus on the work the better. But ultimately what works for one person does not work for others. Some people get dressed in a suit and tie. Some have converted the garage so they have to "commute".

Have you got a Do or Don't please comment and let the world know.

Now if you'll excuse me I have an oven to clean, a huge stack of ironing, then I have to go shopping.....

Friday, 27 March 2009

Virtual Accountant #virtualaccy

Today we launch a new free service.

Virtual Accountant.

The purpose behind VA is to provide quick and simple answers to the occasional questions that every one has. Want to know if an expense is allowed for Tax. What about how to account for stock. Everyone has these small problems from time to time.

It maybe that you do not want to trouble your accountant. After all your accountant may well include it in their next bill. Or it may be that you do not have an accountant. Either way we are happy to help.

Please note this service can not provide advice. It is for factual responses only. This is due to various legal restrictions. However if you need advice please contact us and we will be happy to help. You can find the contact details on the website (link below).

Please complete the form on the website to submit a question. If your question can be asked in less that 140 characters you can reach us on twitter @ataccounting. Please use the hashtag #virtualaccy. In addition we have a frequently asked questions page building up with common questions available on our website.

You can find the Virtual Accountant contact form here: Virtual Accountant

Our website is here:

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

So you want to start a business... Part 1

Anyone out the looking to start a business? If you answered "yes me" then it means someone out there is reading these words, for which I am truly thankful. It also means that you are like thousands of others each year.

In a resession the number of new businesses being created actually increases as people try to find work by creating their own job. The sad fact is most of these businesses will fail within two years. With my blog over the next few days I will look at what you (and your accountant) can do to help prevent this.

Blog 1 The Idea

You would think that everyone would start at this point. In fact normally people have a fuzzy idea of what they intend to do. These range from the fairly well formed "I want to open a shop that sells X" to "I think I can run a shop".

Focus the idea as far as possible. What do you know enough about to make a career? If it is a new product is it something people will actually use? Are you making something for others to sell to the public? What outlets will you sell through.

Anyone who has ever watched Dragons Den will of seen how many people get a long way down the road to market without ever really having thought about their market. Do not be afraid to talk to other people. Be careful about talking anyone too close to you. Mum's for example are well known for thinking anything you do will be great. Try to talk to people outside your normal circle.

It is often a concern that by talking about an idea you are open to someone stealing it. There are ways round this. Talk to an accountant. Some Market Research companies run small focus groups that ask about a number of ideas and provide feedback. One question in these groups can be a good investment.

Finding out than an idea is a non-starter at this stage is much less expensive than starting that fails in the first six months. Once you have an idea that you know can work the next thing to find out if it can make money. You are now ready to put together The business plan

To be continued....

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Credibility - you either have it or you don't. You either work at it or you fail.

Following on from yesterdays post about the business expo I thought I'd give you my thoughts on credibility. (After all its my blog and it would not be fair for me to give you your views on credibility).

At the end of the seminar on Social Marketing a young man asked a question.

"How can I get credibility. I have just left university and have a few ideas for an Internet business. How can I sound like an expert? All people see at the moment is a former university student"

Now for all I know this guy IS an expert at the field he plans to go into. But all I have to go on is his question. Looking at his question as an accountant I can see a number of things that need to be broken down and discussed.

How can I get credibility?

There is only one way to get credibility. Be credible. No shortcuts, no fantastic online tool. If you are answering a question know the answer. Online this is even easier than in offline life. If you see a factual question on an online forum and you think you might, possibly, but are not totally certain, know the answer, don't post. Be sure, do your research. Once you are as certain as you can be then post.

If the question asks for an opinion then actually be sure you have formed an opinion. Have you read up widely on a subject? Do not just read on article and regurgitate it. The more you can read up on a subject the better formed your opinion will be. Can you defend your position? Do you know enough to support what you have written if someone argues against it? The "I'm rubber you're glue" defense does not look good to professional people.

Know the difference between something that does not resonate with you and something which is badly constructed. If you look at any website relating to the arts (films, literature, music, painting etc) you will see plenty of examples of people attacking something as bad with any argument that people are idiots for liking X as they personally do not like it. If you are the only one in a crowd to disagree with something it may be down to group dynamics at work, but it is equally likely that it is you that has the problem.

Offline questions are slightly different. It is OK to sometimes say "I don't know the answer to that off the top of my head I will get back to you". Obviously you will not want to do this every time. But occasionally will not be a problem.

I have just left university and have a few ideas for an Internet business. How can I sound like an expert?

Again you need to do research. A few vague ideas is OK when you are at the very early stages of a business. The first thing any accountant worth their fee is going to do is strip everything down to the best idea. Next is to work out if that idea can actually make money. Plenty of people have ideas for business but most are unworkable.

Make a business plan, not for anyone else, but for yourself. I will go through business plans in another blog, but the key thing is can you actually at least break even. If you can sell a widget for £2 and it costs £1 to make then you can possibly make money. But if it takes 1 hour to make a widget you are never going to be able to live off the business.

Next work at the business, research everything you can about the market. Research other business in the same market. If you think you have found a completely new market then do your market research. Does the market really exist?

Now you can sound like an expert! And that is because now you are an expert.

All people see at the moment is a former university student

The easy bit. People will see what you believe. They will stop seeing you as a former university student when you stop being a former university student. If you have a business idea they be a business man. Again, see above, research, work.

Credibility is hard to get and easy to lose. Do not be afraid to admit your mistakes. Every one makes them and your credibility will be less hit if you spot and correct the mistakes before someone else does. Be sure of your self. If you have put the work in it will show. Do not be afraid to call others on things, but be ready to defend your opinion, and be will to listen to theirs. Do not be afraid to change your position if your view of the information changes. It is better to show flexibility than to be the last man desperately trying to stand up for a discredited cause.

PS. And finally spell check every document. That way you won't lose you crejibility

Monday, 23 March 2009

Grow your own business Expo - The Good, The Bad & The Very, Very Ugly

I attended the Expo last Friday. It was actually a small subsection of a Franchising Expo which was being held at Olympia. There were a number of stands and a small theatre area which had a number of seminars throughout the day. I am usually a big fan of these sort of events. Accountants tend to ignore them as time consuming and unproductive. However I like them as they are a good way to see what information is being fed to clients.

As my last blog indicated the "someone told me" call is a common one, and one which usually creates more problems than it fixes. So attending these sort of events helps understand the current thinking. It takes us as Accountants out of the Ivory towers to the dirty cobbled streets below. That said, if I had staff I would be sending one of the more junior guys instead of me and have them give a presentation.

As the title of this blog suggests it was a mixed day. Some things were useful, some were less than useful and a lot seemed to be missing the point of the Expo.

The Franchise Expo took up more than two thirds of the floor space. Including a stall for McDonalds which surprised me. McD's have been closing sites in recent years. Maybe they see a growing business in a recession? There seemed to be a disproportionate number of car repair franchises. And some odd franchises (Vinegar store? Honey and jam reseller?). All seemed to be busy throughout the day. I guess that in an employment market that is falling every day people are attracted by buying into a brand name.

But what are you really getting. For example there was a greeting card company exhibiting. But it was not Clintons, Hallmark or another high street name. So with no brand name it appears all you are getting is a line to a supplier. Now admittedly I did not enquire as to the details of the franchise, but can anyone tell me I'm wrong?

The seminars were poor too. Unfortunately thanks to the London transport system I missed the first seminar. The second dealt with Franchising which was odd as the Franchise area had three theatres going all day.

The third seminar was "Maintaining and growing cash flow, sales and profitability". Unfortunately this was given by an accountant and turned into Accounting 101. Yes it is important to understand that profit does not equal cash, but that hardly helps build cashflow! It maybe that I am being unduly harsh (accounting jealousy!) but there seemed to be little here that was anything other than common sense. If businesses are not planning ahead it is unlikely they will succeed no matter what the economy is doing. I guess the main thing to be taken away from this seminar is that times are hard, keep trying until you find something that works!

The theatre was orientated so that the sun shone on the screen all the time. This meant that the PowerPoint slides, whilst I am sure they were useful, remained invisible.

The next seminar dealt with social marketing which is a whole blog on its own. Ultimately it felt like a 30 minute pitch for Ecadamy (which the speaker was associated with!) but had a few useful tips. I guess the most important was "first impressions count, don't blow it".

I tried to last until the next seminar. But the expo was so small that I think some of the people on stands thought I was stalking them as I had been past so many times. I gave up. It was 2pm on a Friday and I was too bored to stay. Looking at the floor plan there was a visitors area, which I thought was seating for a coffee bar! There really needed to be a business area where people could of sat to pick up messages, dealt with phone calls etc. The Expo only used about 3/4 of the total floor space (I went up to the gallery to see) so it would of been easy to have an open area with chairs for sitting and plenty of space for everyone to find a quiet area for a phone call.

The Dragons Den stand raised a chuckle, particularly as one time I walked past I overheard the trophy girlfriend (whatever image is in your mind right now is probably about 50% there!) of a young would be TV star beg for a mention in his pitch!

Ultimately the whole Expo seemed like a good idea wasted. Maybe companies were reluctant to attend due to cost. But the only IT company in attendance was Sony (Like the Vaio netbook btw). No software suppliers of any type. Surely one of the best ways to grow, or at least maintain profitability, is to upgrade IT to run the business as efficiently as possible?

On the walk home it really occurred to me that what should of been running was an Entrepreneurs Expo. The Franchisers would still be there but the focus would be much more on new or small businesses. That would be when Accounting 101 courses would be useful...

Thursday, 19 March 2009

A guy down the pub told me... and other fairy/horror stories... Part 1

Its one of those phone calls that every accountant dreads. Its 9.05am. The computers booted up and the screen is full of last nights e-mails and twits. (That's twits as in Twitter, not twits as in stupid e-mails... although...). You're on the 6Th cup of double espresso trying to remember if its Wednesday or Thursday (it will later turn out to be Tuesday!). The phone rings.

"Hello, good morning AT Accounting how may I help you?" (OK its often "Grunt")
"Hi Andy I was talking to a guy down the pub/club/library/burger bar/other place no one would actually go to find an accountant. And he told me....."

Whatever words that come out of the clients lips next will always be either:

a) Wrong on a fundamental level
b) Highly illegal
c) Both

Often the advice comes from some half remembered news story. A recent example is of a client who works from home. He also has a pet dog. Now its not the biggest dog in the world, and is best described as a big lovable bundle of fluff. So when my client informed me that the dog was now officially his guard dog and therefore all his food and vets bills were all tax deductible and could I therefore change his tax return, I had to pause long enough to stifle a laugh.

I politely asked what would happen if a tax inspector came round to view the guard dog? Would he maybe attack the Inspector? Or lollop up to him and sniff his jacket pocket for biscuits? If the later and the Inspector was not scared of dogs in general then it was highly unlikely that any deduction would be allowed.

Yes guard dogs are tax allowable. Yes potentially you could argue that a family pet could also be a guard dog and apportion some expenses. But not all dogs are guard dogs.