Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The King of Cash

Nick’s secretary Gemma has finally come back from her two week holiday, and bursts into his office just when he was beginning his second, much needed cup of coffee, brandishing red bills from suppliers. ‘These bills are due ages ago! They need paying or I’ll get them yelling at me down the phone. How come my cover didn’t organise this?’ she whines. Nick can feel his lips tightening slightly – surely the suppliers can wait another few days? He thinks to himself - ‘It’s not like we haven’t spent enough money with them recently. Though a cheque does take 5 days to clear, so perhaps it’ll be ok. That big customer who wasn’t in last time I called is supposed to be paying us tomorrow’.

He open his now rather parched mouth to placate her and tell her he’ll sign some cheques today, could she please just go and find the chequebook? But the telephone rings. Nick’s long suffering wife bought him a telephone in pillarbox red, which flashes when it rings. At the time he found it hilarious, and she had just smiled knowingly. Unfortunately these days it is worryingly appropriate, and he has a better idea of what that smile meant.

‘Good morning mate!’ says the voice on the other end of the line. Nick relaxes and leans back in his chair – it’s Vic, his long-term business pal, who has been a great customer for over ten years. After the morning he’s had so far, it’ll be great to have a moan about the industry for a bit. Nick pick up a pen and starts twirling it around his fingers absent-mindedly.

‘Sorry I’ve not been in touch for ages- you know how things are at the moment- busy running around in circles after my creditors!’ Nick nods and agrees, rolling his chair from side to side, pleased that he is warming up to what must be a good bit of gossip to make him feel a little better, perhaps something juicy on how badly the competiton is doing?

‘Tell me about it mate’ he enthuses, ‘Chasing customers eh? I’ve had two weeks of trying to get hold of people, and everyone seems to be on holiday, including my Gemma who normally does the calling. She’s so much better on the phone than I am. I can’t do the tough-guy act on my customers – it’d ruin the image I’m trying to build!’

‘Too true’ Vic commiserates. ‘you’re too nice to some of them. Has anything happened with that big contract that made up that ridiculous dispute to get out of paying you?’

Nick’s pen-twirling hits a knuckle and flips onto the floor and skids to a halt in the dust underneath the filing cabinet. The business mobile phone starts ringing, setting off a ringtone of his children laughing and singing their favourite TV tune. ‘Er, er, hang on a minute,’ he stutters, ‘good to hear from you mate – can I call you back?’

Vic suddenly has a tone of urgency in his voice, and begins talking uncharacteristically fast. ‘Well actually I was just really quickly phoning to ask a little favour…. You know how I’ve been chasing my customers, well, I’m having a bit of a cash flow struggle at the moment… would it be ok to put off our payment for another week or so?’

Nick blinks as the mobile phone stops ringing, but there is shouting in the office – Gemma’s probably on the phone to the suppliers again to sort out the bills. She doesn’t half give them some. He cringes slightly, imagining their faces the next time he places an order – he wishes sometimes she wasn’t quite so assertive!

‘Mate, I’ll have to get back to you, that was the bank. I’ll check out my figures and let you know- you know I’ll do whatever I can, but things are getting a bit tight here too’.

‘No probs mate, I’ll call you later then’ and Vic hangs up, before Nick can tell him he’ll be in meetings all afternoon.

A timid knock on the door brings Nick back to the moment, and the new lad pokes his head round the door. What was his name again? ‘Two people have just come into the showroom, boss. They want to talk to you about setting up credit terms? They’re going on about a big contract. Are there any forms I can give them until you’re ready to speak to them?’ Knowing that he meant to create those forms ages ago – it certainly would have made things simpler!- Nick hurriedly leaves his comfy chair and still steaming coffee and grabs his suit jacket. ‘Nope, don’t worry, thanks for the tip off, I’ll go and talk to them now’. He sweeps out of his office in an entirely contrived air of authority, leaving the new boy still proffering a notepad and pen in his wake, wondering what the bank wanted and if he can afford extending credit to any more customers……

Ever felt like events are out of your control? Be they economic factors or finding how much your business partner has spent on the company credit card, money matters often take on a life of their own. So much so that over a third of small- to medium- sized businesses claim problems with cash flow are the main reason for their business failing in the first 3 years.

All too often, a business story can end up more like a Lewis Carroll story: "No, no!" said the Queen. "Sentence first - verdict afterwards!". (Alice in Wonderland). So many businesses look back and can see exactly where they went wrong, but had no idea at the time. By the time it has become clear they are already paying their penance, be it bad debt, huge loans, or even a failed business.

If any of this sounds familiar, the constant pressures, worries and confidence around managing your customers and cash flow, log in to the next instalment to see how Nick gets himself out of it!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Jenny needs a holiday

Jenny has been running her business for the last 5 years. In those first years of trading her business has significantly grown, she is now providing a wide range goods and services to her customers, increased her staff force and most importantly made a great profit.

However with the success there has been some set backs. Due to public demand Jenny extended her opening hours which has meant that she is now working even harder, her manual bookkeeping and administration is behind, she is working late into the evenings and feels that she is unable to take a holiday.

Jenny is making great profits however feels that she has no work life balance.

In fact Jenny is not alone. The Bank of Scotland completed a survey of 1000 entrepreneurs and found that on average they are working 50 hour weeks.

The survey found a number of small business owners are neglecting holiday and a further 26% think they will work even longer because of the economic climate.

The survey found that 71% of small business owners claim to be stressed, up from 54% last year. The main reason for working 50 hour weeks was down to dealing with administration and regulations.

Jenny knows that it is not productive to be working that amount of hours. Therefore she changes her bookkeeping and administration from paper to computer, examines her existing workforces and identifies members of staff that she could train and delegate additional duties too.

Jenny now feels that she can take a holiday.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Jenny Does Business Part 4: How to Retain Valuable Staff

Previously Jenny offered Nicholas a new role within her business. Nicholas was recruited to replace Larry. Previously Larry had been poached by one of Jenny’s local competitors. Her existing staff did not have the right skills and experience to replace Larry at this time.

Before Nicholas joins her business, Jenny completes a number of employment checks to ensure that Nicholas is eligible to work in the UK and that the information he has provided is correct. Jenny is aware that there can be potential larges fines if she does not carry this out successfully.

On Nicholas’s first day, Jenny ensures that the existing staff give him a warm welcome. Jenny then completes a full induction and personal development plan with Nicholas to make sure that he is aware of his training plan and objectives.

When Larry advised that he was leaving, Jenny looked at her existing staff to see whether any of them could replace him. At that time they did not have the right skills and experience.

Jenny therefore needs to ask herself the following questions

1) What training does her existing staff require?
2) When should this training be completed?
3) What effect will this training have on her business?

The Leitch Review set out a number of goals for employers training their existing work force. Many employers need to increase their existing staff skill levels while also ensuring their career aspirations and goals are achieved. By employeers completing this, they can then be expected to improve and retain existing staff.

Therefore Jenny completes full appraisals with her existing staff to evaluate the progress they are making and also provide a framework to guide her existing staff to where they need to be.

Three months on, Jenny has a successful and happy work force. Nicholas is settled into his new role and has already improved her business performance. Danny, who only started six months ago, has completed his training plan and is now taking on new and exciting responsibilities.

Jenny is happy with her business and continues to support and train her staff. The last six months have been challenging for Jenny, however she now understands how crucial the planning behind recruiting, training and retaining her staff is to the success of her business.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Jenny Does Business Part 3: How to Identify Valuable Staff

Previously, Jenny has advertised Larry’s role in the local paper and also on a number of online websites. Two weeks ago Larry was poached by one of Jenny’s local competitors. Her existing staff did not have the right skills and experience to replace Larry. Therefore Jenny is looking outside of her workforce to find a suitable replacement for him.

Since Jenny has advertised Larry’s role, a total of 10 individuals applied for the job. Due to time and cost Jenny decided that it would not be wise to interview all 10 individuals. Therefore she used her Job description and Person specification to shortlist her candidates from 10 to 4.

Jenny then had to make the decision of what interview format she would use to identify which of the candidates would be best suited for the role. Jenny looked at the various interview methods, ranging from standard questioning to presentations and even a
practical exercise.

Once Jenny had decided what interview method to use, she then needs to ask herself the following questions;

1) What information do I need to find out from my interview candidates?
2) Which questions should I prepare before the interview?
3) Are any of my questions illegal under discrimination laws?

Which? Consumer group advised in their CV and interview handbook which was published in 2008 that many businesses are still confused about what interview questions they can and cannot ask.

Many businesses are still asking inappropriate questions in job interviews. As a result their companies risk being taken to employment tribunals where they can face unlimited fines.

Potential employees are protected by legislation including the Age and Sex discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act, the Employment Equality Regulations and the Disability Discrimination Act.
As a result, employers are not allowed to discriminate against job candidates on the grounds of race, beliefs, gender, religion, sexuality or disability.
Therefore the following questions are not allowed to be asked
How old are you?
Are you married?
Are you gay?
Are you planning to start a family soon?
What political party do you support?

So what does Jenny do?

Jenny puts together a detailed interview script with pre-prepared questions that do not break any discrimination laws. She interviews the four candidates and based on their interviews offers the role to Nicholas. Nicholas is highly qualified and experienced and would be a great asset to Jenny’s team.

Find out soon how Nicholas settles into his new role….

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Jenny does Business Part 2: How to Replace Valuable Staff

Since last week, Jenny has decided to look for suitable replacements for Larry. Larry who was her most senior and experienced member of staff was unexpectedly poached by her main competitor. Therefore Jenny only has four remaining members of staff, they range in various ability and include her new recruit Danny.

Jenny is concerned that she is unable to train and develop the existing staff in time for when Larry leaves. Therefore she has made the decision to look outside her current workforce and find a suitable individual to replace Larry.

Before Jenny looks for suitable replacements for Larry she needs to ask herself the following questions.

1) What skills and qualifications do I need my new member of staff to have?
2) Where and how will I advertise my Job?
3) How will I decide which candidates I need to interview?

In a recent survey by
CIPD (Recruitment, Retention and Turnover 2008), it was found that the average direct cost of recruiting a replacement member of staff is £4667. This can rise to £5800 if recruiting, inducting and training is taken into account.

There are many hidden costs in association with recruiting a new employee. Therefore Jenny needs to accurately plan exactly how she will recruit her member of staff.

So what is Jenny to do?

Jenny decides that to find her new member of staff, she puts together a detailed job description and person specification to help her identify what skills and experience her new member of staff needs to have. She puts together a job advert which she advertises in the local newspaper and online job web sites.

Find out soon how many individuals apply for Larry’s job and how the interviews go….

Friday, 8 August 2008

Jenny does Business: Replacing Valuable Staff

Jenny runs a small business with five fulltime employees. Her most senior and seemingly happy, staff member Larry, has just been poached by your largest competitor, conveniently located across the street. Jenny’s four remaining staff members have various levels of ability with the newest recruit Danny showing the most promise within the business. She starts to panic because the likelihood of having someone trained to the same standard as Larry by the time he leaves, seems impossible.

Here are some questions Jenny needs to ask herself:

1. Do I have the talent available in-house to replace Larry?
If so, what training needs to be completed before Larry leaves?
If no, how am I going to go about employing a suitable candidate?
2. What happens if this situation arises again?
3. Do I have a suitable training plan in place to avoid a skill gap?

Jenny has a problem that needs to be resolved quickly. She is not on her own though, these are the problems faced by small businesses on a day to day basis.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s study, Aligned at the Top: Technology, Media & Telelecommunications Sector, shows that retaining critical talent is ranked the most important when dealing with the scope of management. Deloitte’s study also suggests that companies are most likely to find their most valuable employees from developing and training existing ones.

As seen with the scenario above and the views of the polled companies in the study, skill gaps in training and recruitment are the greatest challenges faced.

So what is Jenny to do?
Jenny decides that, in this situation, she is going to recruit someone new to replace Larry but is determined to not be placed in the same position again.
Jenny wants to make sure that all her existing and newly recruited staff members are adequately trained for

Jenny now just needs to find her new staff member and have a training plan in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Stay tuned to see how she gets on……