Happy New Year!

A new year presents new opportunities – for a business and for us as individuals.   Provide the time and reflection relating to your plans for the upcoming months ahead and start with enthusiasm and focus.

Reflecting on the wellbeing of your enterprise as well as yourself and your team – can your strategic thinking also include a healthier work life balance ?  Have a read of our recent blog “10 Quick tips on juggling Parenting and Business” – there are tips for everyone, even if you are not a parent.

Engagement and inspiration, from yourself and within your company, starts with communication.   Sharing your business plan with employees and ensuring they are involved in the planning and ongoing decision-making ensures buy-in for the company goals., where they dedicate most of their time.

Start with renewed energy after the festive break.  Stay focused on your goals, get to know your employees, be passionate and open to the experiences of the year ahead. Enjoy both your professional and personal life and dream big – embrace 2017 with excitement!  Happy New Year!

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Merry Christmas from Akoni

December is a wonderful and festive time of the year.  The excitement of the season – meeting up with family and friends and taking time out from our busy schedules.

For our team at Akoni it is also a time to reflect on a busy and exciting year.

It can also be a difficult time of year for those of us who run small businesses. Staff shortages due to annual leave, increased product demand with seasonal customer expectations, and where not managed appropriately, stress remains until Christmas Eve.

Grab this opportunity to enjoy your festive season with loved ones, sit back and reflect on your year as a business , how far you have come and look forward to the New Year ahead.  This time of the year encourages everyone, whether you celebrate Christmas or simply enjoy the festive season, to absorb the emotion and wonder of the season.  Our entire year is spent moving forward, progressing and actioning a long to-do list.   If we stand still a moment, we hear the cold winter chill beckoning to slow down, reduce our workload, take a deep, relaxing breath, and take care of the important aspect of life.

We would like to say thank you to everyone who has been involved in our journey this year at Akoni.    We have much in store for next year, kicking off in early January. We look forward to 2017 and what it holds for us as a business.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings, and a great start into the New Year!  We are ready to embrace our exciting year ahead, and eagerly working towards our next phase of inspiration and innovation for businesses.

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10 tips to avoid late payments and improve cashflow

Here at Akoni we are aware that late payments are really stressful for small businesses trying to keep the cash flowing. Late payments hinder a company’s ability to expand, even when sales are high, as they spend their valuable time chasing money owed. SMEs are sometimes nervous to chase payments for fear of jeopardizing their relationships with clients. Here are 10 tips on how to reduce late payments and help ensure a healthy cash flow.

  1. Know your customers

Credit checks are valuable and can save you a lot of time and money in the future. Checks can be made easily and quickly online. You can also use credit checks on long term customers where you suspect they may have issues paying their bill.

  1. Always be clear about your payment terms and conditions

Make sure these terms are clearly printed on your invoice to avoid any ambiguity, easily available on your website and readily available to email out to a client when needed. Check with your trade association for typical terms and conditions used in your industry. Before entering into the contract ask your legal team to review the conditions

  1. Have a payment remind process in place

Once payment has not been received on the date due, call the customer and follow up with a written reminder that payment is due within a reasonable timeframe.   If the customer still does not pay then send out a warning.   Eventually you will need to send out a formal written warning asking for payments within two days before legal proceedings are followed.

  1. Introduce flexible payment options

Pre-agreed instalments are an excellent way to introduce flexible payment options to your customers.

  1. Make a courtesy call

If they have had a rather large order, call them before payment is due to make sure everything was received and there are no issues. This should prevent any delays in payment and is seen as good customer service.

  1. Incentivise customers with early payment discounts and late payment charges

Supplier invoice payment terms often include an incentive to pay early by offering an early settlement discount if the invoice is paid before its due date. For example a 1% settlement discount if paid within 10 days. The full amount must be paid within 30 days. The late payment of Commercial Debts (interest) Act 1998 allows small businesses with less than 50 employees to claim interest on overdue payments.

  1. Deliver all invoices and statements electronically

This will ensure that the customers receive the invoice in the quickest time. There is a record of when the invoice was sent, received and read by the customer. Electronic delivery also frees up staff to work on chasing late payments instead of printing, writing, stamping and posting the invoice.

  1. Make sure your invoice is going to the correct place

Always ask for a purchasing order number or a name where the invoice can be sent directly to, to avoid it being lost in the mailroom, or work mailbox.

  1. Always get your customer to sign receipts

In the first instance ask for a company stamp on the receipt, then a signature from the customer. This verifies that the customer was in agreement with the order.   Ensure that they have the correct authority to place the order.

  1. Bill quickly after delivery

To avoid any delay in payments, don’t forget to include all important information on the bill, your company payment details and the customer’s full details.

Whether you are a new startup company or a company that has been running for years, it’s good practice to review your late payment procedures regularly, to get on top of recurrent late payment offenders and avoid new ones. 

It’s important to be better organised as a company – to control cashflow and avoid late payments and bad debts.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

Heard about Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday has been taking place on the first Saturday in December since 2013. The campaign provides free training workshops, celebrates small business successes, and encourages consumers to support small businesses in their community by ‘shopping local’. Although it focuses on one day, the aim is to change mindsets so people choose small businesses all year round.

This year’s figures are not yet announced, but on Small Business Saturday in 2015, customers spent £623m with small businesses – an increase of 24% on the previous year. #SmallBizSatUK trended at number one all day, with over 100,000 tweets sent, reaching over 25 million people. And over 75% of local council supported the campaign, for example, by providing free parking.

100 small businesses were highlighted in the 100 days running up to this year’s event on 3 December. They attended receptions at Downing Street and The Treasury Drum with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and benefited from exposure on social media and in the local press.

One of the featured businesses in 2016 was Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet! – a pop-up disco for people who love soul, funk and disco music from the 70s and 80s. Founded in 2010, they have performed in South East London and Birmingham, with vinyl DJs, dance line-ups, retro sweets and fancy dress prizes. Ad agency, JWT, called them a “trailblazer” for targeting the under-served 50-something market.

Spice Kitchen in Walsall is a mother-and-son team producing home-ground spices and spice mixes sold online via Etsy and Not On The High Street. They were also finalists in the Guardian Small Business Showcase competition, won a Great Taste Award in 2015 for their garam masala, and received the BBC Producers’ Bursary Award 2015 for up-and-coming food producers. The owners say customers love the products, and the fact that they are a family-run business.

Marvel Plumbing was one of the first businesses to be highlighted in 2016, and organised a fun event on Small Business Saturday to bring other businesses together and expose them to the local community. The company has grown from one man-and-van in 2012 to eight vans and four full-time office staff. They have also been asked to write and deliver part of the gas course for Southgate and Barnet College, so training future gas engineers to meet their high standards.

Small Business Saturday is a non-commercial initiative headed by Director Michelle Ovens MBE. It covers all types of small business, and is free to join. The campaign is supported by high-profile sponsors including American Express, Federation of Small Business, and Vistaprint.

This year, they have even launched a free cookbook containing recipes inspired by small businesses.

Find out more at smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

What the Autumn statement means for your business

Autumn

Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has delivered his first Autumn statement. Most announcements came as no surprise, with core messages about continuity of financial stability and control of public spending.

The statement was considered and concise, which is encouraging at a time of uncertainty. However, business groups interviewed by the Guardian didn’t consider the statement bold enough, and were disappointed that it didn’t tackle business rates or provide support following the Brexit vote.

Here are some of the headlines:

Impact on business

To reinforce Britain’s competitiveness while negotiating Brexit, Hammond confirmed he will stick to the business tax roadmap that was announced in March, with Corporation tax reducing to 17% and a reduction to business rates worth £6.7bn.

Funding

In an effort to boost the long-term economy and reduce the ‘productivity gap’, £23bn is going into a new National Productivity Investment Fund, including:

  • £7.2bn to tackle congestion and transport
  • £7.bn to support house-building (including £3bn Home Builders Fund to unlock finance for over 200,000 homes)
  • £4.7bn towards science and innovation
  • £2bn to accelerate construction on public sector land
  • £1.1bn for local infrastructure
  • Over £1bn for digital infrastructure (to encourage the private sector to roll out more full-fibre broadband and support trials of 5G mobile telecoms. What’s more, full-fibre infrastructure will benefit from 100% business rates relief for five years from April 2017.)
  • £27m development funding for the Cambridge-Oxford growth corridor (as recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission)

To make Britain the ‘go to’ place for science and innovation, these sectors will also benefit from an extra £2bn of funding per year for business research and development.

£400m is being invested into Venture Capital Funds from the British Business Bank, to:

  • Unlock up to £1bn of investment in innovative firms planning to scale up
  • Review to identify barriers to access to long-term finance for growing firms
  • Funding from the Department for International Trade for FinTech specialists

Benefits in kind reformed

Tax will become payable by employees who sacrifice salary to receive ‘benefits in kind’, except:

  • Cycle to work scheme
  • Ultra-low emission cars
  • Pension savings
  • Childcare

HMRC expects to gain approximately £2m through this measure.

Economic forecasts downgraded

As a result of the EU Referendum decision, economic growth is predicted to be 2.4% lower than previously expected. Here are the revised OBR forecasts:

  • 2016: 2.1%
  • 2017: 1.4%
  • 2018: 1.7%

Borrowing increased

Hammond made a distinction between borrowing to cover the deficit and borrowing to invest, and at £122bn, Government borrowing will increase significantly.

New fiscal rules

To protect against bumps during Brexit, Hammond announced three new rules:

  1. Cyclically adjusted borrowing to fall below 2% by the end of this Parliament, and public finances to return to balance as early as possible during the next Parliament
  2. Public sector net debt to fall as a share of GDP by 2020
  3. Welfare spending to be capped

Just About Managing (JAM)

Due to the state of the economy, Hammond avoided this phrase coined by Theresa May, but did announce:

  • Freeze in fuel duty
  • Offset the rising cost of foreign holidays
  • Ban on letting fees being charged to tenants
  • Income tax threshold rising to £12,500
  • Higher rate threshold rising to £50,000
  • Minimum wage rising to £7.50 (in 2017)
  • Possibility of removing the pensions triple-lock (after 2020)

Budget moved to Autumn

To allow time for tax changes to be made in advance of the tax year, the Budget is moving to Autumn. That means no more Autumn Statements – from 2018, there will be a Spring Statement instead. At least that means major changes will only happen once a year.

If legal hurdles are overcome and Article 50 is triggered at the end of March 2017, the final Spring Budget will be a significant measure of the nation’s fiscal position.

Going forward

Although there are many challenges and changes to the economic climate, the Government is committed to boosting business in the UK.

Philip Hammond said: “My priority is to ensure that Britain remains the number one destination for business – creating the investment, the jobs and the prosperity to protect our long-term future.”

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10 Quick tips on Juggling Parenting and Business

All of us with families have the constant struggle of balancing our work and family life.   Even when we are passionate about and consumed by our work, it is something we continuously think about and consider how to maximise, to focus on the important aspects of both.   Here at Akoni we have the same dilemma and thought we would note a few  helpful tips in navigating this lifestyle.

1. Family and business can work – don’t give up on your dream

Focus on the positives – think about how your career or your business is benefiting your family.  As long as you prioritise what you need to achieve and mange your time and to get the balance right, you will feel more confident with yourself and your decisions.  A happy mom or dad means a happy family.

2. Prevent chaotic mornings and evenings

You don’t need to be in your office every morning before sunrise, in fact most entrepreneurs say having morning breakfast with the family helps the children to feel happy.  If they aren’t happy then you may feel frustrated and this will have a knock-on effect throughout your day.

3. Perfection is not expected

Particularly for women, the perfect house you had before children doesn’t need to still be perfect, rather keep on top of you household chores with some of the tips below and allow yourself time to be with your children, the condition of your house can take priority once your children have gone to college and when you will have time to appreciate it more! For all us, don’t worry about perfect time keeping take 5 mins on the way into work to stop and get yourself a latte or a juice, or just walking to work instead of driving or taking public transport can give you a chance to recharge.

4. Consider hiring help

Hiring help in the home is a great alternative to bringing balance back into the work-life scale we all battle on a daily basis.

A survey recently found that one in three British Households now employs someone to help with chores, spending £26 billion a year on help in the home. Not everyone can afford full-time help – even a bi-monthly cleaner will help you feel a little more in control. You can also devise a system for tackling housework to help you handle this seemingly never ending task. Get your children to pitch in – small children as young as 3 can help with household chores. Share tasks with your partner – you have both had a long day, share the workload at home.

5. Spend quality time with your children

Making time for your family and children is crucial and allows you to nurture your family dynamic. Create activities that regular fit into your schedule and avoid talking about work or checking emails and messages during these times. Ask older children for their activity suggestions and try to meet their needs. In the end it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you are enjoying time together.

6. Designate a “no work zone” in your home

Depending on the layout of your home – find a no work zone.  The lounge is usually a good place to relax with a glass of wine or cup of tea after a long day, put your feet up and chat to your partner, play with your children, or watch a movie together.  If you have a strict no work zone within your living room, it will stop the need to bring your laptop or phone with you leading to you not completely relaxing or engaging with your partner or children.

7. Create time boundaries

Be disciplined and set time limits to check emails and make phone calls, things you can do whilst your children are sleeping. Try to avoid multi-tasking, especially when spending time with your children.  A good rapport with co-workers is great and beneficial, however you can have this without numerous email exchanges, extended lunches and casual internet surfing. Focus on your tasks at work and use breaks and lunchtimes for chats with co-workers, thus enabling you to have more time with your family once you are at home.

8. Don’t overlook the benefits of childcare

There is no way you will be able to do your job properly if you are worried about your child’s wellbeing whilst you are at work. Find childcare that both you and your child will be happy with.  Obtain recommendations from friends and families or online forums, write a list of important criteria and schedule time to meet carers or visit nurseries.

9. Be fully engaged

Your priorities and time management rely on you to be fully engaged. If you look at your email whilst you are having breakfast with your children, this will create a half-heartedness engagement with both your children and your work.  Ideally aim for your complete presence in all situations. Rather use the time you have specifically set aside to check emails, speak to colleagues and spend time with your children, helping you to be more focused and more productive.

10. Know when to unplug and how to relax

Limit your screen time to first thing in the morning or intervals during the day which you have decided are the best for your daily tasks. Again rather have time allocated to checking emails and working so that you know you can be 100% focused on these tasks and know that after that is done you allow your self to action anything that requires immediate attention. Do the activities which relax you – sports, running, having a long bath, spending quality time with your partner. If you don’t unplug, you will find your daily tasks will then overlap important family time and you will not be fully engaged in either.

It is important that we all feel we are spending the most possible time with our family. We hope the above pointers helps you to balance out your business and family over this festive season. Enjoy the seasonal break!   If you have any time off,  focus on presence and if you don’t, remember that your children and partner will appreciate any time you are able to give them.  Aim to fully recharge during quieter moments, reflecting on moments of priority and importance, in order to start afresh in the new year. 

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com