8 Things that are different when you employ an interim

If you or your company have only ever employed permanent staff then bringing a professional interim into the mix is likely to throw up some different challenges.

As someone who works as an interim manager and who has employed interims I thought it might be an idea to put forward some thoughts on what the business needs to do differently.

Thing 1 – before you start. Often when you employ a permanent member of staff you are simply looking to swap like for like. With an interim that is likely to be different.

It may be that you have a specific issue that you need to solve, a project that you want managed or need to backfill for some planned or unplanned absence.

Whatever the issue is you need to have a clear vision about what it is you want and what skills the person needs to bring with them. You’ll need to be realistic about a budget and you’ll need to find somewhere to source great talent.

Answer these questions before you start; What issue are they expected to be able to solve? How long will it take? What skills will they need? What resources will be available in-house to help them achieve?

Once you have a clear sight of what you need then you need to find the talent.

Thing 2 – where they hang out.

Finding your interim talent is likely to be different too, especially if you want the best.

Here’s a thing, with permanent people you can’t really ring someone in a different company and ask if they have someone great you can poach, but with an interim you can call your contacts and ask if they know of anyone with the skills you are looking for. This is absolutely the best way to source great interim talent because you’ll have a recommendations from someone you trust who has worked with the person in the past.

You can of course go down the traditional recruitment agency route which is probably the easiest and least time consuming method but also try and think outside that particular box.

If you need someone with a particular set of skills then check out groups related to that interest on Linkedin. You can find great talent lurking and commenting so a well placed post can pay dividends here.

Thing 3 – the interview.

Please please don’t try and interview a professional interim in the same way as you would a permanent hire.

We’re different people and our methods and experiences are probably totally at odds.

To give you an example I once went for a job and had to spend 40 minutes explaining why I’d had a lot of jobs! The hiring manager had simply not got his head around the fact that people can choose interim work as a profession rather than because they have to.

Your questions need to be much more skill and outcome based rather than exploring where the person wants to get to or what their outside interests are.

Also remember that the interim is interviewing you. They are looking at how cool the place is to work for,whether you get the idea of interim work and whether the project is achievable. You need to be on your game because the likelihood is that they have been on more of these meetings than you have and they will be assessing the quality of the company they may end up working at.

Also make the interview process a short and sweet one. Don;t go expecting to do two rounds of interviews, followed by a cod psychological test and a final meeting with a selection board. You’ll get blown out of the water long before then by anyone good.

Incidentally great interims move in and out of the market with some speed so you need to make up your mind quickly.When you have chosen the person then get to the offer and don’t go away on holiday because you can bet they won’t be there when you get back.

Thing 4 – the deal.

There may be things about the role that the interim wants to be different so be prepared to be flexible. Job titles matter to people who send their CVs to a lot of places so they may ask to change this. It may be that they have other interests such as part-time clients or charity work that they want to pursue so will you may need to be flexible around the working hours or days.

In terms of money then you’ll need to be paying market rate. Trust me when I say that the adage ‘pay peanuts and get monkeys’ was never more true than here. People find their level in the contractor market and highly experienced, well qualified and successful candidates will cost you more than someone just starting out. You may want to structure a project with a completion bonus or for contractors working away from home pay expenses.

Thing 5 – Day 1.

Specialists that move from place to place are used to getting in, learning the company quickly and becoming productive much sooner.

Make sure that you have people for them to meet from day 1 so they can get up to speed. Arrange for resources to be available so they can find out about the company, the issue they are trying to solve and the people they will be working with.

Also sort out the simple stuff. Get a workstation for them, log ins and email addresses and make sure that they have licences for the software they will need. One of my clients took 10 days to get me a log in to their system. Remember that interims are expensive so for those 10 days that client was getting less effective work from me than they should have been.

Thing 6 – managing.

I’ve worked with all sorts of managers. From some who think they need to check everything I’ve done to others who have been totally absent.

It’s likely that your interim will need a catch up meeting every so often but will probably be more fire and forget so you won’t need to closely check their work. You are bringing in top talent after all so the emphasis will be more on arms length guidance rather than day to day management.
It’s always good to set up a regular call or update session just to keep a weather eye but other than that they will probably be self-sufficient.

Thing 7 end of contract.

So you had a great time, the project is over and you are happy with how it all went. What now?

Well you need to decide whether you have any other work and if you think the person will be suitable. If so then make an offer to extend early on. Great interims will be making plans for end of contract so they will have factored in some time out, a holiday or will be lining up their next gig. You need to make your pitch early to make sure you retain them.

If you don’t have work then tell them as soon as you know. It’s surprising how many managers think that the interim will get upset but actually it’s the opposite. Having certainty on the end date is helpful because it allows everyone to plan a structured exit and make sure everything is in order and the interim is able to plan their holiday.

Thing 8 – after the contract.

It’s not very nice when a permanent person leaves. It is a visible confirmation that they weren’t happy with their job, their manager, the company or all of the above! So it’s difficult to go back to where you once worked or to employ someone who has left in the past.

When an interim leaves it’s merely the logical conclusion to successful contract. Make sure you don’t lose contact though because the likelihood is that you’ll have another project along sooner rather than later that you could engage them for.

Similarly be a kind person. The interim lives or dies by their reputation so make sure you write a recommendation for them on platforms like linkedin and if any of your contacts needs someone then be sure to pass on the name of the great person you found.

Interims are a fantastic resource for companies looking to add talent and capacity to their company on a flexible basis. They can make a massive difference so make sure you get the best out of yours by following these tips and if you have any of your own then be sure to comment.

Thinking of buying a new system? This post could save you money

It’s tempting to think that buying a new system, whether it’s a top tier ERP product or something more modest will solve all of the problems that plague your company.

Indeed it’s a view that is heartily endorsed and promoted by a legion of sales consultants, industry ‘experts’ and specialist media.

The latest iteration of a new system will come with glossy brochure telling of a wonderful new world where the grass is green and it is sunny all day. Where transactions are rapidly and accurately posted and management accounts simply fly out with no human interaction at all.

The reality though is somewhat different, especially in the area of ERP. In fact research has shown that in most implementations clients never actually gain all of the advantages that they expected and that it may cost more and take longer than first envisaged.

There are a number of reasons for that but to take it right back to the start, the first question you need to answer is whether you need a new system at all.

I’d argue that many of the problems solved by the implementation of a new system could be solved by looking at the processes rather than the software and that smart managers would actually be better off running a ‘ghost’ implementation rather than spending a shed load of cash on something new and shiny.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you want to buy a new system then I’ll be happy to help you implement it. Maybe you’ve got a lot of cash you need to get rid of or you’re pumping a gazillion transactions into Sage line 50 each day. In which case buy, and buy soon.

But actually a lot of the problems that are often ascribed to ‘the system’ are actually a product of behavioral issues or simply down to the fact that the business has moved on since it implemented its current software.

One issue frequently cited as a reason to buy new is the difficulty in getting information out of the black box. It’s a problem that many businesses face and certainly a real factor in the decision to buy.

However often this can be down to a need to reorganise the processes around the business. The oft quoted ‘garbage in garbage out’ is a good example. If your inputs aren’t done to the correct standard or with the required level of detail then the system is irrelevant; you just won’t get the information you need.

Similarly if your chart of accounts no longer fits with the way the business is organised then it’s no wonder that people are downloading information, chopping it up in excel and then reporting it in a different way. This is often seen as a difficulty getting reports out of a system when in fact it is more about how the system is configured.

New systems have loads of bells and whistles. The more they have the more attractive they look. Who could fail to be impressed by TLAs such as ODBC, OCR, CRM and of course CPM*

Oddly though many software producers are now turning away from integrated bells and whistles and either licencing white label versions of popular modules or simply suggesting that the clients buys a different add on for specific purposes.

One of the most striking for me was when a vendor announced in a meeting that their reporting was awful and that the client would be better off buying their mid tier ERP system and then bolting on a third party reporting app!

So if you are going to do that then why not bolt on the reporting app to your current system? It would be cheaper, quicker and cause a lot less disruption.

Indeed in these days of SAAS** connectivity and integration are taken as a given.

Why is it then that many system changes do bring substantial benefits to the clients and end users?

In my opinion it is not the system that provides the benefit, it is actually the process of implementation that helps.

When a client goes through an implementation project they are forced to think about how the system should be used, what the chart of accounts should look like,what reports are really needed and to go through a data migration cleanse.

This kind of deep thinking doesn’t require a new system, you can do it with what is in place already, it just takes the political will and commitment in the company to make it right and as already stated the company can buy third party add ons at any point in its journey.

I’d argue that many companies would be better off running a ‘ghost’ implementation where they go through all the stages of an implementation project such as scoping, design, development and training without actually spending cash on new software.

In many cases the business would benefit greatly from the refresh but wouldn’t suffer the main upheaval of implementing a whole new system.

I realise of course that I’ll be very much a lone voice in this view, after all there’s a whole industry that exists due to its ability to convince you to change.

It is also true that some companies just have to change. Maybe they need a more capable system or their current provider is ceasing support or whatever it may be. I just think that they need to have a more balanced view of the process.

The advert – I’ve run and worked in implementations for companies large and small. I’ve run choice projects and system refresh projects. If you are thinking of buying a new system then why not get in touch?

Maybe I can save you time and money.

* So I’ve been a bad person here. TLAs are my pet hate. TLA= Three Letter Acronym, ODBC=Open DataBase Connectivity, OCR = Optical Character Recognition, CPM= Corporate Performance Management.

** OK so this is Four Letter Acronym. SAAS = Software As A Service. An app that is delivered online that can provide extra capability for a base system or standalone. Good examples would be Gmail as a mail client, Salesforce for CRM or Concur for travel and expenses management.

Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

Why your finance department is rubbish and what to do about it

So listen – not everyone’s finance department is rubbish and some are worse than others but if you get the feeling that the finance function at your company is more of a cost than a value then I have some good news for you – it doesn’t have to be that way.

Clients that I have worked with generally present with the same symptoms; inaccuracy, late figures, disconnects between accountants and operations, little understanding of what the figures mean, high turnover of staff, little in the way of value add, little input into the strategic direction of the business. You get the picture.

So if some(or all) of this sounds a bit like your company what can you do?

I’ve made my interim consulting career out of fixing just this sort of issue and so I’m about to give away some of my trade secrets. I don’t mind though and I’ll explain why later.*

So here’s some reasons why things aren’t working out and what you can do.

Issue 1 – Lack of engagement. So your finance team don’t contribute, get involved, add value. It’s distinctly possible that they haven’t ever been explicitly given the green light to get involved.

So I know what you’re thinking – people shouldn’t need to be invited to contribute, they should just do it anyway right?

Well in an ideal world we’d all be go-getters with a zillion ideas just bursting to get out but in practice some people need to be given permission, incentive or a push to contribute more than their day job. I even came across a department where people had been told to not give suggestions as they weren’t welcome!

Solution; have a chat with the team, tell them their input is valued, set up a suggestion scheme with rewards and more importantly than all of that; listen to people when they come up with ideas. If people think they are not being listened to then they’ll stop contributing.

Issue 2 – missing deadlines. The management accounts don’t turn up when expected, reports aren’t getting done etc. etc.

I once had a client who cited this as one of his main reasons that he thought his entire team needed to be fired.

I asked him what his deadline was and he couldn’t tell me. That probably says more about his management skills than the quality of his team.

The problem is that if you can’t say what you want to happen then how is anybody supposed to achieve?**

Solution; Be clear about what you want and when you want it. Setting your expectations in the form of the reports you want to see with a finance calendar showing when you expect to see them is the first port of call.

Issue 3 – Poor accuracy. It’s a difficult one this but not insurmountable. Often this will simply be a result of poor technical skills in the department or a lack of controls.

Sometimes you won’t see the result until there’s a massive change in the figures from one month to the next or until the auditors present their results at the end of the year which can be a bit embarrassing!

Often though it’s down to poor integration between departments. Sales may not have input all the figures for the month correctly (or at all). Ops may have forgotten to process all the goods received notes or the warehouse has made a cock up in the stock take.

Solution; get some good control in place. An organised, technically able financial controller will be ideally placed to make sure that the inputs are coming in full and on time and that the outputs make sense.

Issue 4 – poor communication; Typically the finance department resembles a sausage machine with stuff going in and stuff coming out but with little in the way of intelligent value added commentary. Put simply you can’t understand what they are trying to tell you or what it means for the business.

As an accountant I’m the first to admit that we don’t do ourselves any favours in this respect. Sadly all too often we tend to like to shut ourselves away and communication can be a little lacking.

That having been said it’s also true that managers can sometimes keep finance staff at arms length seeing them as practitioners of some sort of ‘dark art’.

Solution; It’s all about communication and integration. Make sure you involve your finance team in meetings, if possible make sure they are sitting with the business instead of in their own little office and look at instituting some form of business partnership system.

It’s a good idea to get someone in to take a look at your reporting and refresh what you are doing. It’s also a best practice to communicate to the finance team what information you need and why you need it. Understanding what reports are used for makes a massive difference to the way it is delivered and what it contains.

Issue 5 – high staff turnover; This is a symptom of a much deeper and more troubling problem.

It is also the same problem that can be at the root of all of the issues we’ve seen here – a lack of leadership.

How often do you hear of people saying how much they love their job and yet they are paid less than their competitors?

On the flip side how often do you hear of highly paid people complain about their employer, their job, their colleagues and anything else that you care to mention?

The problem isn’t the job or the employer, it’s the motivation and leadership in the team.

If people feel undervalued, that their opinion doesn’t count and that they can’t make much of a difference however hard they work then they’ll be looking for a job no matter how much you pay or how many team building paintball days you have.

Solution; Get the right leader. If you have someone in charge of the finance department who is a motivator, who is able to give the team a vision about where they are going and what the future holds and is able to clearly articulate what is required of people then miraculously your staff turnover will drop.

In this post I’ve tried to highlight some of the most common causes of problems with a finance department and some solutions to them. Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list but it’ll get you on the right track.

If you need further help then why not get in touch. My specialism is in setting up finance departments so that they are best in class and giving managers the confidence in their accounts that they need.

*I don’t mind giving away these trade secrets because it takes experience to be able to use them. You’ll also need technical skill to set some of the things up and that’s what people like me do.

** One of my favourite quotes from a politician has to be “we know what we know, we know what we don’t know but we don’t know what we don’t know”. It may be that you don;t actually know what’s wrong you just have that nagging feeling. I specialise in giving people a plan to put into operation and letting then know where the issues are.

Cheese moving or the art of keeping up to date

Riding down a local street recently I noticed that one of my favourite local businesses had closed down.

I say favourite, but the truth is that I rarely visited the little DIY shop because I generally shop online nowadays. It’s just easier to order a widget at 11.30 at night after a day working than it is to make a special journey into town.

The closure made me sad, partially because the business had gone, partially because I liked the atmosphere and partially because I saw it coming from a long way off.

Years ago I would visit to get that hard to find bolt and the brown coated owner would fish in the back of a shop, finding just the right thing from a myriad of unmarked wooden drawers as if by magic.

We’d chat about life, the universe and everything. And business.

Convinced that the internet was a fad he refused to think about online retailing, eschewed email, closed on Wednesday afternoon and answered the phone in a gruff manner.

In short I loved it because it was just like shops used to be in my youth.

But I didn’t buy there much.

The closure reminded me of Spencer Johnson’s excellent book “who moved my cheese” the parable of change and more importantly people’s reaction to it.

I could see that my beloved owner had decided that changing markets didn’t exist and if he stuck it out long enough then things would return to ‘normal’.

Well that doesn’t happen and it provides us business owners with a timely reminder that we need to be prepared to spot and adapt to changing markets.

A professional interim? That’s just a temp isn’t it?

If you are thinking about employing someone to complete a specific project or to steady the ship for a while then you may be considering employing an interim manager. But many people think that an interim is simply a posh name for a temp.

In fact there are a whole series of skills and attributes that an experienced and successful interim will bring to the table that make an interim professional much more of a value add proposition.

The first skill that you’ll probably see when you meet up with an interim is the ability to produce clarity. It’s likely that the first evidence of this will be before the assignment even begins as a good professional interim will want to examine exactly what you want to achieve from their appointment.

It may feel a little like you are being grilled but it’s all in a good cause. Being able to put some clarity around what it is that you actually want and what would be best for your business will make it much more likely that you’ll achieve a successful outcome.

The second attribute visible will be honesty.

This may sound a bit odd, because we usually expect that our hires in general and our financial specialists will be honest but I’m talking about a specific type of honesty here.

If the role looks like a non-starter then a good professional interim will tell you so. They will have plenty of experience and will be able to tell whether you are being unrealistic or not.

A great interim is probably identified as much by the roles they don’t take as the ones they do.

They’ll be honest about the skills they have and whether they think they can achieve what you want, they’ll be honest about whether you are being unrealistic with budget, timescale or outcomes and they’ll be honest about the resources that will be needed.

Again this may seem brutal, but the plain fact is that everyone needs to be on the same page from the start otherwise there will be upset along the way and there’s no benefit in an interim telling you that something can be done when it plainly can’t. It may give you a nice warm feeling but in the long run it will end in tears.

A great interim manager will have superb analytical skills. They’ll be able to tell very quickly where the problems are and what the skill levels of the employees are like.

An interim manager is most likely to be a high level, seasoned executive. They are not the sort of person to turn up with a host of problems and expect you to solve them. A great interim will come to you with a clear explanation of the issue but they’ll also have a selection of solutions for you to choose from. These will either be methods they’ve seen work elsewhere in their career or they will be solutions that they’ve worked up specifically for your business.

That having been said it is likely that you’ll only get to see the major problems that need addressing at a high level. An experienced interim manager is ‘fire and forget’. You can give them a task to complete and they’ll do so with the minimum of handholding or management, only coming to you or the board when they have something that requires further input.

One of the key attributes of a successful interim is their ability with soft skills.

An interim doesn’t have a long time to work out who is who and then build relationships. Instead they will be able to understand people’s places in the organisation very quickly and will then form effective business relationships very quickly indeed.

Communication is often crucial to the success of a short term role. Being able to effectively communicate at all levels of the organisation means that the interim is able to obtain accurate information quickly, analyse and then disseminate to the right people in the right way.

Building a great team, even if it is an informal one is another key skill that a superb interim has mastered. The experienced interim manager understands that they are just one person and consequently they won’t be able to do everything themselves. Instead they are able to bring colleagues along and leverage their specific knowledge and resources to achieve things that one person alone could not manage.

Starting and leaving a job every six months or so can be an emotionally difficult concept, as can the highs and lows of a project type role. An experienced interim has seen this all before and tends to be emotionally stable and resilient so that they are able to take the ’slings and arrows’ with good humour and a sense of perspective. Many people assume that their interim will get upset at the end of a contract but this isn’t the case. It’s just something that the interim accepts as part of their way of life.

A typical interim executive will be completely goal oriented. They’ll have built their career on achieving what the client needs quickly and effectively. Indeed their future roles depend on their track record, so getting a great result for you is all important to them. Having someone who isn’t thinking about their career in your organisation or the politics of the firm but instead are totally focused on the task in hand is incredibly powerful.

Finally your interim manager will bring the skills needed to complete whatever task you have set them but they will also bring vast knowledge of other companies and sectors allowing them to add value to other parts of your organisation. In fact executives often find that their interim becomes more of a sounding board for ideas as time goes on.

Hiring an experienced professional interim manager can be amazingly powerful for a business that needs to complete a project or is in a period of change. The skills that they carry with them and the knowledge that they bring to bear allows them to add significant value to their clients.

Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

Business recovery through liquidation

It may seem counter intuitive, but one of the best ways to ensure recovery of a distressed business is to go through a quick liquidation process.

Whilst winding up a limited company means the end of the legal entity that is the company this is no reason to think that the actual business of the firm needs to stop. In fact it is a more common occurrence than people think for a business to close but for the trading style, brand and assets of the firm to continue.

If we imagine a very healthy company that has been saddled with historical debts but has a profitable trading business, it makes sense that the ‘good’ business is separated from the ‘bad’ allowing the new company to flourish and provide jobs in the future. Eliminating a firm simply due to some bad decisions that may have been taken years before or by people no longer with the firm seems irrational.

This makes sense when viewed from the point of view of the employees of course as they are able to continue in their jobs but with the knowledge that they have the security of a healthy and flourishing business behind them.

It is often the case that a business may be essentially profitable at an operational level but may be saddled with very high interest payments on legacy debt, may be tied in to a very large contract that has ceased to be profitable or to a lease on premises that are costly and no longer meet its needs. In these cases the day to day profitability will be eroded by the legacy issues and the firm may find itself facing Administration.

By taking quick action the directors could ensure that the legal entity that is the company is wound up in a structured and professional way by a licenced insolvency practitioner, and a new ‘phoenix’ company (newco) is formed which buys the assets and the good business from the old.

The old company retains those aspects of the bad business and is liquidated with any remaining cash and of course the proceeds of the sale to the ‘newco’. Using this structured and managed way to close a limited company ensures that maximum value is retained for the creditors.

Again it may seem that this presents a rather unattractive proposition for creditors however the alternative is even less palatable. Let’s imagine the same company carrying on as long as it can. Before long the interest or lease payments take their toll and the firms’ bills start to take longer and longer to pay. Eventually the directors lose the battle and the company is faced with insolvency but any reasonable chance of saving the trading company is lost along with any remaining value for the now larger list of creditors. The employees also suffer as the firm then closes down with loss of jobs as a result.

A managed liquidation of a company is also better for the directors. Opting for a quick liquidation is cheaper than waiting until it is forced upon them by bankruptcy. The chances of accusations of wrongful trading through insolvency are reduced and the directors can then be free to get on with managing the newco secure in the knowledge that they have done their legal duty .

Restructuring a limited company in this way ensures that the brand and trading styles of a business can be retained. It means that the firm is still able to serve its customers and given that it should now be a profitable and cash positive company may well mean that it is able to expand and grow. All of which means that a restructured firm that was to all intents and purposes failing now becomes a valuable asset to society providing jobs and of course taxation income for the economy.

Liquidation isn’t right for every company and there are other ways the firms can restructure. There are also clearly costs and legal implications so we’d always advocate that specialist advice is taken from a licenced Insolvency Practitioner before making any decisions. However liquidation in the right circumstances can prove to be good for the directors, employees, creditors and customers of an insolvent company.

 

Wrongful trading and how to avoid it

When setting up limited companies we all hope and expect that everything will work out well but sometimes events overtake the owners of a business and they find themselves in a situation where the company is wound up, whether that be voluntarily or otherwise.

  One of the duties of a company liquidator in any insolvency situation will be to determine whether there has been any wrongful trading on the part of the company and directors. Wrongful trading, according to The Companies Act 1986 is the act of continuing to trade even when there is no prospect of creditors being paid and there are stiff penalties for directors who don’t comply with the law.

 In fact it is not enough to wait until absolutely certain that the company cannot continue; directors are required to take action if

 at some time before the commencement of the winding up of the company, that person knew or ought to have concluded that there was no reasonable prospect that the company would avoid going into insolvent liquidation” 1

 It is important that directors stop and think about the possible consequences of trading wrongfully and in this article we look at what signs show that you may need to examine the issue and what you can put in place to give early warning of any impending problems.

 It is not a defence to suggest that a directors doesn’t have the requisite financial knowledge or information to understand the situation. It is a requirement that they apply the care of ‘a reasonably diligent person’ and that they apply the skill expected of someone taking on the office of director or if they hold a specialist office (such as finance director) the higher level of skill expected of that position.

 Signs that wrongful trading may occur;

 

  • The company continues to make a loss with no sign of the trend reversing

  • There is no prospect of raising additional funds

  • The company loses a major customer

  • The loss of a key supplier with no replacement being found

  • Substantial debtors are in financial trouble and debts are not insured

  • There are significant onerous  or loss making contracts

  • Banks remove their facility

 This is not of course an exhaustive list. The overarching principle has to be that directors take action when any event occurs that suggests the company may be in trouble. In cases such as these it is important that the board meet and discuss the future and where appropriate take specialist qualified advice. Hoping that the problem will go away or developing an unreasonably optimistic outlook are not recommended courses of action!

 How can you protect yourself against a claim of wrongful trading?

 There are steps you can take that will help to show that, as a director you acted responsibly and within the law. Of course it is impossible to give a remedy for absolutely every case and you won’t be protected just because you have done a few of these but these are some useful guidelines for the sort of safeguards you should be thinking about.

 

  • Maintain good, timely accounting records and management reports - Knowing what is going on with your company, even if it is not your area of responsibility will give you a chance of spotting problems early.

  • Ensure you have adequate training - ignorance is not a defence so ensure that you have the level of skill that allows you to understand what is happening within your company.

  • Meet regularly - and discuss as a board results not only for the past but also the future outlook. Ask the difficult questions and make sure that assertions made are tested for validity.Ensure that discussions and decisions are recorded.

  • Adopt a realistic worldview - ensure you have a basis for any optimistic forecasts and don’t just assume that everything will be OK.

  • Take action - Minimise costs and don’t continue to spend money. Taking action to reduce any possible loss to creditors shows that the directors have thought about the ramifications of continuing to trade.

  • Think about the future effects of current events - does losing a supplier mean that you can no longer manufacture your product? Will a loss making contract cause irreparable financial harm to your firm? If your main debtor goes bust how will you replace the cash lost?

  • Actively monitor and control debts - ensuring that no further liabilities are taken on and that current debts are monitored and paid down where possible shows a responsible approach to the company.

  • Take qualified advice - If there is any doubt then getting in independent experts show that the board are serious about their responsibilities to creditors.

 In most cases of company insolvency directors have acted with care and responsibility. When a business goes into liquidation the creditors invariably lose out and so it is important that their losses are minimised and this is an area that a liquidator will take a look at.

 Adopting these good practice principles will help immeasurably but as ever it is really important to ensure that you have taken qualified and experienced advice about your specific circumstances.

 You can find an interesting HMRC manual here - http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/insmanual/ins44321.htm

 and the independent accountancy body ICEAW has produced a useful guide here

http://www.icaew.com/en/archive/library/subject-gateways/law/insolvency/legal-alert/when-directors-can-be-personally-liable-on-company-insolvency



1 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1986/45/section/214



Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

To compromise or not? that is the question

Seemingly simple decisions can get stuck in the mud and seem to be intractable when you are working on a project. The inspiration for this entry comes from a talk given by Sophie Personne at a networking event I attended recently. Sophie runs an excellent local business called Sophisticated Singles and spoke eloquently about the power of compromise.

Sadly compromise is something that is often lacking in project meetings with political game playing, resistance to change and downright obstinance all playing a part, so how can you push decisions through when things get tough? Here are a few tips to help you on the way.

Tip 1 – Speak to people privately. Sometimes taking 5 minutes out of a meeting environment can help people understand the other’s point of view. Simply taking time to listen can often show up misunderstandings that actually would be masked in a meeting room.

Tip 2 – Find out the real reason. Often people will dig their heels in on an issue for an unrelated reason. I remember one project where an accountant absolutely refused to budge on an issue. It turned out that this was as a result of management not spelling out where he fitted into the organisation post project. Once he’d been given clear sight of his future position he became a positive and valuable team player.

Tip 3 – Understand the impact of everyone’s suggested course of action. If a course of action has no impact on the project, won’t cost anything but makes people feel more included then why wouldn’t you adopt it? Sometimes sitting down with each side and spelling out what the consequences will be can often produce a compromise position easily.

Tip 4 – Use peer power. If people can see how their actions are affecting others then often they will at least compromise or sometimes back down entirely. In a group setting spell out what effect the impasse is having on the rest of the team.

Tip 5 – Get the project sponsor involved. Sometimes whatever you do people refuse to back down. Get the sponsor in to sit people down and clear the blocker. This needs to be used sparingly because the power of the sponsor and the shock of them getting involved tends to wane when they turn up every day to mediate on minor disagreements!

Tip 6 – Get an outsider in. Often people that work together every day will react differently (and be much more grown up) when an outside agency becomes involved. Get an independent (ahem!) professional in to do a project review and see how that moves things along.

If you need help with your project then get in touch for an initial chat and we’ll see if we can get your team to compromise!

Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

What buying behaviour is and why you need to know

We all want people to buy what we are selling right?

But I’m a firm believer that we can’t make people buy they have to choose  to buy.

If we understand how people choose to buy then we can put in place all the information they need to make a positive choice. Buying behaviour is all about the steps people go through when they are making that choice.

Think about the last thing you bought. How did you decide who to use or what product to buy?

Oddly, although we’re all different, research has shown that humans make buying decisions in the same way. We may take longer or shorter time, gather more or less information but we still go through the process.

There are 5 steps in this process and the great news for businesses is that understanding these steps allows them to make it easier for the consumer to choose their product or service.

These are the steps that people go through when they are thinking about buying something;

  1. Recognition – people realise there’s a need either on their own or they get prompted.
  2. Search – when they realise there’s a need our prospective buyer will do an information search. They’ll probably do an internal search ( memories of good/bad experiences, recommendations that friends have made, ads they’ve seen) or they’ll do an external search by checking Google or asking around. They’ll look at all the features of something they want to buy and maybe subconsciously will rank them in order of importance.
  3. Matching – they’ll make up a short list of possible buys and then match them against the ranking that they made up in the previous stage.
  4. Choice – They’ll form a short list and then make a choice based on the results of their matching process
  5. Purchase – they actually go through the process of buying

However there’s something important that businesses need to know. A buyer can choose to either re-start or leave the process at any time. So if your prospect gets all the way through to stage 5 and your purchase process isn’t smooth and intuitive then they can easily drop out and go and find another supplier. Similarly if no product gets through the matching process they may go back and do another more detailed information search.

Stage

What buyers do

What you need to do

Examples

Recognition

Realise there’s a problem – decide whether to do anything about it

Prompt people to realise there’s a problem or create a need

Insurance, car cam belts, gas boiler servicing

Search

Look for information on solutions both internally (memories) and externally, develop assessment criteria

Make sure you are around and that they can find information, make sure that you are memorable so that you are stored internally

Google, tourist information,key fobs, Meerkats, loyalty schemes

Matching

Assess features and benefits of each against their criteria developed in stage 2

Ensure your benefits are clear and that you compare favourably. Factfind. Give incentives or bespoke

Mobile websites, comparison sites, comparison charts

Choice

Decides which (whether) the product sufficiently matches the criteria

Spell out how your product meets the need, answer request for further information, bespoke your service

Statement of benefits, Car websites

Purchase

Goes through with the purchase then evaluates their experience and stores it in memory for next time

Make sure it’s easy to buy

Repeat orders, shopping lists

The process is longer or shorter depending upon how important the purchase is. The more important a decision, the more consequences or the more expensive then the more information the buyer will seek. Would you look to do a structural survey on a shed? Probably not. The consequences of getting it wrong won’t be as disastrous as choosing which house to buy and it doesn’t cost as much money so consumers won’t look for as much information and won’t view as many alternatives.

As an aide i’ve included some questions below, see if it gives you any inspiration for marketing your business or product

Stage

Questions

Recognition

  • At what point do your customers realise their need?

  • Is location important (A kebab shop outside a pub)?

  • Is timing important (Buying a cycle helmet with a new bike)?

  • Can you induce need (Telling customers that they need to get their boiler serviced)?

Search

  • How would a customer find out about you?

  • Are you memorable?

  • Would they recommend you?

  • Are there any places that people always look for your service?

  • Are there any times that they look for information?

Matching

  • How do you show your customer that you match their criteria?

  • What methods are available to help the ‘ticking off’ process

  • Is the customer able to bespoke your service?

Choice

  • Are you able to spur a customer into choice?

  • How do you avoid your customer going round again?

Purchase

  • Do you make it easy to buy?

  • Are there any blockers to buying?

  • If there are can you remove them or make them easier?

  • Is it easy to repeat buy?

These are the steps for a personal purchase and we’ll usually make them in isolation but often the business buying decision can be the same or similar. It may have more formal steps, it may be longer but it’ll still contain the same basic methods although it may well include more people in the decision making process.

If you tailor your service or product to the way that people buy you should have happier customers. Happy customers will come back (because of their information search) and you’ll have a busy business. Everyone’s a winner!

 

Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

Windows 8 – my favourite workarounds

Right let’s be honest Windows 8 isn’t the best. (I’m trying to be diplomatic)

When it first appeared I absolutely hated it. This was a fine example of a company taking it’s user’s thoughts on board and launching them straight into the bin. I’ve started to get used to it and some of the features I love (but only some). I find it difficult to understand why a company will take probably the best known user interface and stamp on it with a big fat muddy boot (rant over).

To be fair W8 works fine when you have a touch screen but if you are a desk based person then it’s rubbish.

On the plus side there are a series of workarounds that can make your life less traumatic.

First off if you’ve got Windows 8 then download the update Windows 8.1. This is a sign that Microsoft knows it’s made a boo boo. For those of you that hate the fact that MS got rid of the Start button then you’ll find it returns when you download it. You can find out more about W8.1 here http://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows-8/meet

Tip 1 – remember the scroll wheel. When you are on the ‘Charms’ ( I know, I know) screen then the scroll wheel is really useful for moving from one end of the icons to the other

Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

This is the hideously named ‘Charms’ screen

Tip 2 – reorganise your charms. Move the ones you want the most to be front and centre of your home screen. Simply click your mouse on them, hold and drag the icon to where you want it to be.

Tip 3 – to find the program you want then just start typing on the charms screen and W8 will bring up a list that matches like this (click on the image to see a bigger version)

Isango8 - providing project management and accounting support for SMEs in the South and South West

Search from the start menu

Tip 4 – Learn some handy shortcut keys. Here’s some of the ones I use most:

  • What to shut down? Pressing the windows key and ‘I’ at the same time brings up the stupid settings thingmy (press Esc to make it go away
  • Opened a program you didn’t want? Press the Alt key and F4 to shut it down. ( this closes the program so save your work if you need to keep something)
  • Want to move between programs? Hold down the Alt key then press tab, each time you press tab you’ll move to another open program, let it go and the one you chose will magically appear
  • Zoom in or zoom out. Hold down Ctrl and turn the mouse wheel
  • Want your desktop? Press the windows key and ‘D’ at the same time. If you’re already on the desktop then it’ll show you the start/charms screen.
  • Visit this place for more keyboard shortcuts http://windows.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows-8/keyboard-shortcuts

Tip 5 – right click on the start button – you did download W8.1 right? Well when you do you’ll get a funky new device from MS called a start button (what a great idea).  Right click on it and you’ll get a list of the most commonly used features like signing off and shutting down. Smashing.

windows button

ooh look! What a great idea from Microsoft

Tip 6 – and this is the best one. Use it. Seriously Microsoft is trying to force its way into the mobile/tablet arena and they won’t drop W8 so we’re stuck with it for a while. The best bet is to start using it, exploring the functions and getting to know the cheeky little fella. Just be comforted by the fact that everyone else hates it too.

windows

The Windows key – bet you wondered what it was right?

tab

The tab and Alt keys – now you know why they are there!

 

This post isn’t designed to make you a W8 wizard. All I want to do is take some of the pain away. There’s some great communities on the web that will be able to tell you much more than I.

To get you started there’s another really useful article on customising the whole Windows 8 experience here http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/how-customize-windows-81-start-screen-and-keyboard-shortcut-tricks

Good luck!