Business musings

Articles and thoughts about Finance

06
Dec
Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Finance  Innovation  Leadership  Our News  

Are you determined to grow your business? GrowthAccelerator can help you get to the heart of the barriers that are holding your business back, enabling you to identify the critical steps you need to take to achieve your next phase of growth—rapidly and sustainably.

GrowthAccelerator logo

What is GrowthAccelerator?

Launched in May 2012 by Business Secretary Vince Cable, GrowthAccelerator is a partnership between some of the UK’s leading, private sector growth specialists and government, which has already fast-tracked over 10,000 businesses (of which 12% are in the West Midlands).

Supported by coaching, workshops and masterclasses, the service provides a framework to help you:

  • Build a successful growth strategy
  • Discover new routes to funding and investment
  • Unlock your capacity for innovation
  • Harness the power of your people

Whether it’s insight into what’s holding you back and developing a plan for the future, helping you build a case for investment and finding new sources of finance, turning your most innovative ideas into profit, or providing training and masterclasses to develop confident leadership and management, GrowthAccelerator is focused on a single goal: the growth of your business.

How does GrowthAccelerator work?

To begin, GrowthAccelerator will help you review your business’s current position and define a bespoke growth plan specific to its needs. This plan will outline the challenges your business faces and how GrowthAccelerator can offer support, be it through coaching, workshops or masterclasses.

In addition to support from a Growth Manager and Growth Coach, GrowthAccelerator gives you exclusive access of up to £2,000 match-funding per senior manager for your senior management team to hone their leadership and management skills.

You will also become part of the GrowthAccelerator high-growth community, giving you opportunity to meet and network with other liked-minded businesses and growth experts who have already experienced or are experiencing the successes you’ve achieved and the challenges you are facing.

How are we involved?

Matt is a registered and approved Growth Coach for GrowthAccelerator. As a Growth Coach, his role is to work with companies on a one-to-one basis providing relevant and individual support. He will act as an advocate and a catalyst for change. The help you’ll receive with GrowthAccelerator is bespoke and we work with you in a way that is tailored specifically to meet your objectives.

Under the GrowthAccelerator service, we are also able to provide match-funded training for your leadership and senior management team.

Who is GrowthAccelerator for?

Just as we love to work with dynamic and growing companies, GrowthAccelerator is for businesses with ambition, determination and potential. A few other criteria also apply: to be eligible, you must be able to answer yes to all questions below…

  • Is your business registered in the UK?
  • Is your company based in England?
  • Does your business have fewer than 250 employees?
  • Does your business have a turnover of less than £40m?

How much does GrowthAccelerator cost?

Your contribution will depend on the size of your business. With Government making a major contribution towards the cost, you pay only a fixed fee.

A table showing the fees for GrowthAccelerator: 1-4 employees, £600; 5-49 employees, £1,500; 50-249 employees, £3,000; for all size of business an additional £700 VAT is also applicable.

 

 

 

*VAT is based on 20% of the nominal value of the service, at £3,500, so all businesses pay the same amount of VAT.

Should you wish to then also access leadership and management training, match-funding of up to £2,000 per senior manager is exclusively available to your company.

Find out more

If you would like to find out more, why not give us a call on 02476 100 193 or contact us for further information?

To learn more about GrowthAccelerator, you can also visit www.growthaccelerator.com

30
Jul
Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Finance  Technology & Web  

Logo for Float. Image shows an illustration of a folded, brown paper boat floating on blue waves. The boat is flying an orange flag that reads, "£loat," in white lettering.This post is long overdue! Having been using Float—a fantastic cash flow forecasting tool—since late 2010 (first in beta and now in its full release), I have been meaning to blog about Float’s awesomeness for some time now.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m proud to be a Founder Member of Float. This means that I believe in what they do and have voted with my feet by supporting them.

Float describe their vision as:

To make forecasting accessible for small business owners. Helping them avoid sleepless nights, painful spreadsheets and ultimately running out of money.

Whether big business or small, we all know how many headaches cash flow forecasting can cause but also how vital it is. Ultimately, cash flow forecasting should facilitate strategic and tactical decision making; it should allow you to accurately plan for the future because you know what the business can and can’t afford. Establishing a clear view on your finances also enables you to rapidly respond to changing scenarios because you’re able to see exactly how these changes cascade throughout your financial situation.

Such a perspective is vital. In start-up and bootstrapping environments, the necessity to manage your cash flow is clear (although, I have to say, I’ve met many businesses who remain remarkably complacent about cash flow management even when their backs are against the wall!). Possibly less evident is the importance of cash flow management even when a business is doing very well.

When profits are good and margins are high, it’s easy to become content about making hay while the sun shines—your finances seem to take care of themselves and managing the detail seems like an unnecessary chore. Inevitably however, overheads begin to creep and your expenditure starts to bloat. Your perspective on the future also becomes increasingly shortsighted. Where you were once planning budgets, investments and new ideas months, or even years, ahead, you begin to leave yourself open to surprises.

Why Float?

Back in the day, cash flow management typically relied upon spreadsheets and more than a little Excel wizardry! For those of us proficient in the world of formulas, functions and charts, this is doable but still incredibly time consuming. For others, it opens up a whole world of hurt!

Float aims to change all of this by making cash flow forecasts “easy, painless, and maybe even fun!” Seamlessly integrated with FreeAgent“heavenly online accounting”—Float removes much of the complexity and manual labour involved in the whole process.

There are “no formulas to understand, type in, or break!” and Float’s clean, intuitive, Web 2.0 style interface makes it a breeze to use. Unlike Excel, Float is online, so you can access it anytime, anywhere. It’s also quick to set up and, unlike many other financial planning tools, you don’t need any training or financial qualifications to use Float, so you can literally get started straight away. Colin and Phil (the founders of Float) are always on hand if you’ve got any questions too.

Image of an open Apple Macbook displaying Float on its screen. Float has a menu on its left-hand side, a graph of cash flow projections at the top and a table of numbers at the bottom.

 

Float particularly comes into its own when you consider the point at which future projections meet current reality. Using a cash flow forecast in Excel, you would need to constantly check that your spreadsheet figures match those of your bank account—does the theory match reality? Float, on the other hand, removes the need for manual checking. All of your transactions, balances and other accounting figures are imported directly from FreeAgent and categorised. This, combined with FreeAgent’s automated bank feeds from Barclays, means that you have streamlined, realtime financial planning at your fingertips!

Float, FreeAgent and Barclays

“But what if I don’t use FreeAgent or bank with Barclays?” I hear you cry.

To answer the first part of that question, part of the beauty of Float is its reliance upon FreeAgent. Much of the frustration inherent in using Excel (aside from the need to understand its functionality) is the amount of time involved in entering data manually and the mistakes that can creep in as a consequence. Float deals with this by pulling its data from FreeAgent and, personally, it’s one of the reasons that I love it most. There’s no way I’d have the time to keep an offline spreadsheet up-to-date and I’m a firm believer in using technology to improve efficiency, so why would I enter data manually when software exists that will do it all for me?

And, if you haven’t ever heard of FreeAgent or don’t yet use it for your accounting, I would highly recommend it! In the words of Ryan Havoc (Boagworld), “FreeAgent is a fully featured online accounting tool wrapped in a sleek, comprehensive and easy to use interface.” Kevin Partner of PC Pro also wrote, “It’s rare that I feel able to recommend a product unreservedly: this is one of those occasions.” Similarly, as I’ve written before, FreeAgent is a pleasure to use, makes life so much easier, and their customer support is second to none.

Float are also working towards integration with other cloud-based accounting packages, so further integration and availability is something that should be on its way.

Similarly, FreeAgent are working hard to support banks other than Barclays and, in the long term, they hope that all FreeAgent users will have automatic feeds no matter whom they bank with. Watch this space!

Planning for tomorrow and keeping an eye on today

Here at Matt Stocker Ltd, we’re passionate about helping organisations to plan for the future and Float’s philosophy very much fits with our own approach. As strategy consultants, we work with clients to build long term success; this includes minimising surprises, reducing risk and helping organisations to allocate their resources effectively.

Screen shot of the Float blog showing the article, 'Founder Focus #1: Matt Stocker'Back in April of this year, Float asked me to explain why I love Float and how I use it, and I was thrilled for my answers to be featured on their blog.

Float themselves say, “There is still so much more we can do to help business owners see into the future—and we are still hard at work.” As always, I’m excited to see what else is in the pipeline. Float has already come so far and, even since April, they’ve rolled out several new features.

Longer term, I’d like to see Float enable best practice for turnaround situations by providing a week-by-week view on an organisation’s cash flow. In the meantime, I know that they’re currently working on handling credit card transactions more effectively and several other ideas are underway.

Float really does have the potential to transform the world of cash flow forecasting in the same way that FreeAgent and Xero have transformed small business accounting.

RIP Excel! Long Live Float!—the start-up that’s making waves!

Sign up for Float and FreeAgent today

If what I’ve said has piqued your interest, why not sign up for Float and FreeAgent today…

Float offer a 30-day free trial, no credit card required.

And grab yourself 10% off at FreeAgent with our referral code 314yalfc or by clicking the link below:

FreeAgent Small Business Online Accounting

 

02
Apr

Once upon a time, in May 2010, John and his team at EngCo Ltd were competing to win an order from a firm in the US. John knew they could deliver a high quality job and it was a company they’d wanted to work with for some time. They’d also done their due diligence and knew the company had plenty of cash reserves, so payment shouldn’t be an issue.

Together, the team at EngCo worked out a price that included a 10% profit margin on the work and sent the US firm a quote for £244,000. However, the company shortly came back to them and asked for the quote in US dollars (USD) instead of pounds (GBP). John readily agreed and his sales manager duly converted their fee. Using a currency converter, she moved everything into dollars with a conversion rate of 1.4334 on 20 May 2010, rounded the figure up to $350,000, and sent the quote off again. The US company quickly accepted and John and his team were thrilled to have been selected!

EngCo got started on the work straight away, spent a couple of months completing the order and invoiced the client in early August. The client was delighted and paid almost immediately.

Great news…or not so much!

The trouble was that, having converted their original quote to US dollars, EngCo only received £219,485 instead of the £244,000 they’d accounted for! In the process, they effectively lost £24,515 and just over 50% of their profit margin.

So what went wrong?

When the US client paid EngCo Ltd, the exchange rate for USD to GBP was 0.6271. This meant that although the US company still paid $350,000 at their end, EngCo received much less than anticipated as they had converted their quote when the exchange rate was more favourable.

What could John have done differently?

There are a number of things that John could, and should, have done to protect EngCo from the risk of exchange rate fluctuations.

Quote in EngCo’s own currency

To be fair to John and his team, this is what they did initially and all would have been fine had the US firm not asked for a quote in US dollars. The team could however have been smarter when dealing with the request for a new quote.

For example, John could have quoted in dollars but negotiated with the client over who had exposure to exchange rate fluctuations and within what limits, thereby triggering a re-calculation mechanism should exchange rates become unfavourable.

He may also have been able to negotiate phased payment for the project (including an upfront deposit), again reducing EngCo’s currency exposure and significantly smoothing their cashflow.

Foreign currency account (or local bank account)

Another simple solution would have been to set up a US dollar account with EngCo’s bank and ask the US company to pay into this (John would simply have needed to provide the client with the IBAN and BIC numbers for the currency account). While this wouldn’t have protected EngCo from currency fluctuations at the point of conversion, John would have been in control of when the monies were converted to GBP (unless, of course, he needed the cash to cover overheads, in which case this option would have offered less benefit).

Setting up a foreign currency account would have also meant that if John had further expenses in the US (such as setting up an international office), he would have been able to pay in US dollars directly from this account, thereby entirely removing any exchange rate risk from these transactions.

Alternatively, if John was committed to the US market, he could even have set up a local US bank account through his existing UK bank. This option would have been particularly attractive if EngCo ever wished to give the impression of being a local US company.

Forward foreign exchange contracts

If John had been completely certain of when his team would invoice and when EngCo would be paid, he could have set up a forward foreign exchange contract. This would have meant that John was committing to converting $350,000 to GBP at a fixed point in time and at a pre-agreed exchange rate—a great solution for removing exchange rate uncertainty in a predictable transaction.

That said, a forward contract would also have had the potential to expose John to significant risk if he had not been paid on time. A forward foreign exchange contract requires that, whether payment has been received from the client or not, the exchange must be actioned regardless. Had John not been paid, he therefore would have had to find $350,000 from somewhere else in EngCo!

Similarly, if the August exchange rate had instead gone in EngCo’s favour, John would still have had to convert at the agreed forward contract rate, thereby missing out on any additional profit.

Currency options

Currency options are in some ways similar to forward foreign exchange contracts in that they enable you to buy or sell currency at a specified exchange rate at a given time. As the name suggests however, the key difference between currency options and forward contracts is that options are optional!

If John had pursued this path, he could have bought an option to sell EngCo’s US dollars at a pre-determined exchange rate but later decided whether or not to use the option. John could even have purchased an option before he knew he had won the contract, giving him the security that, whatever happened, EngCo’s margins would have been protected. If EngCo hadn’t won the contract, if the client had failed to pay when expected, or if the August exchange rate had gone in EngCo’s favour, John could then have simply chosen not to use the option, only taking the hit on the option premium.

Don’t leave your foreign transactions to chance

As John’s story illustrates, currency can have a significant impact on your profit margins and you can incur huge losses if you’re not careful! We tell the story here with two fairly stable currencies but the risks and effects are magnified further when dealing with countries in which currencies are more unpredictable.

For those of you who are looking at internationalising or are dealing with international clients, take heed! The uncertain financial environment that we find ourselves in at present only increases the likelihood of uncertain and extreme currency fluctuations, so don’t leave your transactions to chance.

Similarly, in our story, John was certain of the buyer’s ability and willingness to pay and he was able to cover his working capital requirements through EngCo’s reserves: if a relationship with a client is less certain for any reason or you are unable to fund the cashflow requirements of the project yourself, you should also look at reducing risk through various export finance and insurance options.

 

01
Feb

I went to the Barclays ‘Let’s Talk More Profit’ seminar in the latter half of last year and have been meaning to post this blog for a while. Robert Craven, author and consultant, spent half a day talking to around 200-300 companies about how to increase their profits. I found it really useful and practical, so thought I’d share the key message.

There are only 5 ways you can increase your profits…
and not all of them are created equal!

Here are the only 5 ways you can increase your profits:

  1. Raise your prices
  2. Lower your direct costs
  3. Fix the underperformers
  4. Increase volume
  5. Lower your overheads

And the winner is…

We looked at each of the five methods of increasing profit, and looked at how effective they each were. In reality, increasing your prices is by far the most effective way of increasing your profits.

Let me give you an example:

If you sell a widget at £100, with a cost of sale of £70, this creates £30 gross profit
However, if you reduce the price by just 10%, and sell it at £90, with the same cost of sale of £70, this only creates £20 gross profit.

Therefore, you would have to sell 50% MORE widgets just to make the same amount of profit you had been previously.

So, raising prices has the opposite effect. Sell at £110, less cost of sale £70 = £40 gross profit. A 33% increase in gross profit.

The counter argument is that, based on the supply and demand curve, you would expect to sell fewer widgets if you are charging a higher price, therefore making less money. The bit about selling fewer is true; the bit about less money depends on the demand curve. There is more profitable flex in this than you might imagine.

Say you sold 100 widgets at £100 making a total gross profit of £3000 (£30 profit on each widget x 100), then increased your prices to £110. You would now only need to sell 75 widgets to make the same profit (£40 profit on each widget x 75 =£3000), resulting in less work (and therefore overheads) for the same amount of money.

In addition, it is likely that your ‘worst’ customers are also the most price sensitive and will take up the majority of your time.

So, let me put it this way…

If you would like to work less, earn the same, and get rid of your least favourite customers… consider putting your prices up!

You can then spend the time you have saved looking for new, higher paying customers. When you have found these new customers and returned to selling 100 widgets, you will now be making £4000 profit instead (an extra £1000).

The only proviso is to be aware of demand sensitivity: if your business’ particular demand curve is very price sensitive (for example, if you were raise to prices by 10%, you would lose over 25% of your customers) you will then end up making less money, not more. That said, this sensitivity may be counteracted by upgrading your branding, customer service, or product/service differentiators to justify the price increase and thereby retain more existing customers. Raising your prices might mean raising your game, but then when has that ever been a bad thing?!

And finally, what about the other 4…?

The other 4 listed above are also very valid. Robert Craven suggests you work down in order, from 1 to 5. Implement each element and then move onto the next. By working in order, you ensure that you start with those that will have the most impact on your business’ profitability.

So, why not consider giving it a go!

12
Jul

As businesses are starting to report a slowdown in sales and a weakening in their financial position, there has been a lot in the news about a serious recession pending for the UK, especially after the report from the British Chambers of Commerce.

So, how should you respond? Do you know how you can make your business stronger and more competitive and therefore better able to deal with a recession? Markets shrink in a recession so where there were lots of people wanting and willing/able to pay for your product or service before, there are now less people able to purchase what you have to offer. That means you are going to have to change your strategy to win the remaining customers and fight off your competitors.

Here are 5 steps to prepare your business for a recession…

  1. Plan for the future
    Don’t just meander along hoping for the best – plan! Your business will work best if you know where you are trying to go and what you are trying to achieve in the next 3-5 years. It doesn’t have to be a long, detailed or ‘impressive’ strategy, but it does require thought!
  2. Draw up an action plan on how to get there
    You will need decide on short, medium and long term actions out of the strategy you drew up. These are specific actionable things that you can start working on, starting immediately. There will be both big things that you can do to improve (break these down into manageable parts) and also lots of little things. Don’t forget to prioritise.
  3. Forecast your money
    Prepare a 3-year financial forecast or get someone to do it for you (like your accountant). Add in your costs and expected benefits from the action plan above. Even with a positive economy businesses often over-estimate sales, so be careful. Try cutting your revenue in half and see what it looks like; how would respond if that actually happened? Try cutting it in half again. Keep updating it monthly so you can see where you are against your plan. This will give you early warning of when you might run into problems. If things get really tight, then move from a monthly cashflow forecast to a weekly one, and watch your money like a hawk. When you see a problem do something about it in advance – don’t just wait for it to hit you!
  4. Spend time working on your business not in it
    In order to implement your plan you will need to starting working on your business. It’s the difference between say, restoring and renovating a house and just cleaning it. It can be hard work and uncomfortable knocking walls out, getting a plasterer in etc. but you end up with a much better house at the end of it. Don’t fall into the trap of just doing continual maintenance work when  actually there is significant change that needs to happen. Don’t get me wrong, maintenance is important but it won’t significantly push your business forward. Your business needs to be the best it can be in every area. If you don’t have time to do this, then you either need to make time or find someone to work with you to implement the action plan.
  5. Don’t stop marketing, just do it better
    As things start looking tight many companies start to reduce their marketing budgets. Proceed with caution on this one. You should do a separate 12-month marketing plan that links into both your strategy and your general business action plan. You might not know how effective your current marketing actually is; measuring its effectiveness can be hard but certainly not impossible. Marketing shouldn’t just be seen as a cost – it should bring in more business in monetary terms over the year than you spend on it. It is worth noting there are no silver bullets when it comes to marketing; it is about a consistent, focused approach in line with your branding and strategy (hence the plan!). By all means, put your marketing effort under the microscope and work to make it more effective, but don’t just cut it to cut costs; there is a real danger that you’ll end up cutting yourself off from your life blood – your customers!

Though it would seem that there are difficult times ahead, don’t panic and don’t give up. Times like these can actually be a real opportunity. Whilst you might worry about what is just around the corner, the fact that you are looking at what you can do about it now puts you in a much stronger position than most. This could be your opportunity to build a stronger, more resilient organisation and to outshine and outperform your competitors.