By Peter Bracey, MD at Bracey’s Accountants.
The past few months have underlined the need for better business insight to reduce risk, improve decision making and exploit new opportunities. Businesses have needed rapid access to advice, support and information – yet in too many cases the obvious ‘go to’ resource has failed.
Accounting firms with a compliance only approach have been unable to step up and support businesses that need more than the basics of profit & loss; balance sheets; and cash flow. What they require is business support, from using corporate structure to mitigate risk to undertaking robust forecasting to inform investment plans and helping to maximise business value for a company looking to sell.
From providing essential advice to protect business assets – such as property – to R&D tax incentives and VAT consultancy, whether a business requires a fully outsourced FD or support for the existing management team, Peter Bracey, MD, Bracey’s Accountants, outlines the opportunity for progressive accountants to support constantly changing business.
Whether a winner or loser during the Covid-19 crisis, businesses across every industry have had to adapt to extraordinary change. Gyms were shut but companies selling gym equipment, bikes and paddleboards couldn’t keep pace with demand. Garden centres and nurseries were trying to keep alive tonnes of bedding plants – while seeds sold out online and everyone bought a greenhouse.
For some business owners the focus was on managing job retention schemes and accessing the life-line of government finance – but now they are worrying about the repayments of deferred VAT and government loans that will be due early in 2021; about closing premises or making redundancies. For others, the challenge was in responding to customer demand for home delivery; working out new finance models and overcoming supply chain glitches. Now they are looking to build on new customer relationships and embed expansion plans.
At every step, these businesses have needed advice, support and insight. But this was uncharted territory. Forecasting is tough at the best of times. Little if any of the business’ activity pre-Covid appeared to offer any relevance during the past six months. So where could businesses turn for help?
These are decisions that require not only excellent financial and business understanding, but also excellent financial and business data. Which is where many traditional accountancy firms fall down. The majority have, of course, made the shift to cloud based software which provides shared, real-time access to business data. As yet, however, many remain committed to a service model that is predicated solely on meeting compliance requirements, not supporting critical business decisions.
Proactive firms are taking a very different approach, one that takes a business first rather than compliance only approach. Rather than attempting to mitigate risks and reduce tax liabilities after the fact, this model is about constant communication with clients to support change. By encouraging businesses to discuss plans in advance, accountants can provide vital support and insight – either working with the existing CFO or FD or providing an outsourced FD resource to those companies that cannot justify this dedicated role.
These firms are looking beyond annual accounts data to provide business insight and advice based on current, not historic – and now irrelevant, financial data. Whether the business is worrying about repaying its deferred VAT and Bounce Back loans next year, searching to minimise risk or building on new customer awareness to add revenue streams, there is a pressing need to understand the business as well as financial implications of change.
Today, that means supporting companies through a line by line approach to every item on the balance sheet. From cutting costs and chasing debts without jeopardising important business relationships; to identifying and funding new revenue streams – even creating local supply chains to mitigate the potential disruptions caused by Brexit – understanding, analysing and interpreting this data is key to making the right decisions today to support immediate goals.
But what about tomorrow? Covid-19 may have been a once in a century event but the pace of change affecting business in a digitally disrupted global economy demands this continuous level of proactive support. Few business owners or management teams have the time, resources or expertise to unravel the complexities of 21st century operations – and can become exposed to significant risk as a result.
Is it worth developing talent in house or more effective to recruit? Does the government’s latest apprenticeship scheme really work financially? What about tax incentives – such as R&D tax credits or the potential to cut corporation tax for sales of patented goods? How can the business safeguard its intellectual property?
Providing the right answers to these questions is about far more than the mainstays of accountancy: the P&L and balance sheet. It is about leveraging business understanding and knowledge to support clients through every change; about helping companies to take every possible step to build a strong foundation, maximise tax incentives, minimise risk and realise business goals.
Take the retailer that has spent 50 years building up not only a successful customer base but also a valuable property portfolio and cash reserves. At first glance, a robust business. But the company structure revealed a significant risk: the entire operation was held within one limited company. There was no separation of assets. Should the business be accused of copying a product and face a legal claim, the entire company’s assets would be at risk. The simple step of creating a group structure and transferring some of the assets to a holding company draws a line in the sand and limits a creditor’s ability to attack the entire corporate asset holding.
Or consider the business that was investing circa £1million year on year in a new software product – yet had no idea that it could claim R&D tax credits and was due a £500,000 rebate. Or the businesses that have never considered applying for a patent on a product because of the up-front costs – and are, as a result, missing out on the long term financial benefits of patent tax relief. Any company with a patent pending can apply for Patent Box relief which can reduce corporation tax on the profit generated from the part of the product that is patented from 19% to 10%.
This level of proactive support and advice is invaluable but for many companies, and accountancy firms, it has taken a global pandemic to drive a change in expectations. As the firefighting phase draws a close, businesses will continue to face extraordinary, unprecedented change – not only as a result of Covid but also Brexit. Throw in the implications of a post Covid budget, evolving environmental legislation and technology enabled disruption and the ability to adapt and respond is now prerequisite for business success.
Business owners have never had more issues to consider – or more need for rapid, trusted business advice and support.
Is Digital Transformation the Key to Business Survival in the New World?
After a turbulent year, enterprises are returning to the prospect of a new world following an unprecedented pandemic.
Around the country the way we interact with customers, how consumers buy, and what interests the public has rapidly changed. Successfully managing these digital transformations may be the difference between your success and failure at this stage of continuing economic uncertainty.
Of course, the investment may appear unviable, but the benefits maintain growth and profitability. Digital transformations change the way you conduct your business. It allows you to take a step back and reconsider every aspect of your business. This includes the technology you use, how your staff operate, and how customers interact with your brand.
The World Economic Forum has predicted that the value added by digital transformations across all industries could be greater than $100 billion by 2025. Digital transformations are allowing organisations to rapidly innovate.
Accepting this innovative approach to your business right now may spell the difference between company liquidation and prosperity. Here, we look at the benefits of digital transformation and why it’s essential for your business.
Transform your customer experience
The main objective for a business is to fulfil the needs of their customer. A positive experience is vital to retain customers and encourage new consumers to interact with your brand. Likewise, positive customer experience is a core principle of digital proficiency.
A recent study found that 92 per cent of the top 100 organisations have a mature digital transformation strategy in place to improve their customers’ experience. This is compared to all other organisations where only 22 per cent of responding companies have these strategies in place.
One way to achieve this is to recreate your e-commerce platforms to better represent the needs of your customers. A complete rejuvenation can help to identify problems and obstacles in your current system.
SMEs have the opportunity to base their digital transformations on the successes of other businesses. In terms of customer satisfaction, 70 per cent of the leaders reported a significant and transformational value in overall customer satisfaction.
Digital transformation can help you to better understand your market. By tracking metrics and analysing the data that you collect, you will be able to better understand your customers. You can also gain a clearer understanding of how the sector operates under varying circumstances. This helps companies to make better business decisions.
One survey on the use of data in business showed that 49 per cent of businesses believe that analytics are of most use in driving business decisions. Two-thirds of businesses surveyed believe that data plays a pivotal role in driving strategies.
There’s a plethora of ways that businesses can collect essential data. These include surveys, transactional data tracking, social media monitoring, and in-store traffic monitoring.
Greater collaboration across departments
By centring your organisation around digital infrastructure you can create a consistent working experience. Sharing data and information with your staff can promote idea sharing and innovation.
Organisations are beginning to create companies based on a digital culture. This shapes the way that staff communicate with each other and how technology influences the way they work. This culture reinforces their other digital strategies.
It’s important to maintain engagement with staff during a digital transformation. One report indicates that 79 per cent of companies that focus on culture sustain strong performance throughout their transformation.
When organisations are built around a common goal, business transitions will be smoother.
Improved agility and innovation
Digital transformations allow your business to stay agile, in that it is always prepared to and welcomes change.
The most successful organisations do not follow the beaten track. They look to see how their company can diverge from their original mission and build on their successes. Technology allows these new approaches to be developed alongside extending business enterprises.
One survey shows that 68 per cent of businesses believe that agility is within their top three most important initiatives. This means ensuring that every interaction between customer, technology, and staff is meaningful.
These agile interactions can include, for example, the development and improvements of chat-bots. It all works towards helping locate the best possible options for staff and customers.
Frequent technological innovations make it difficult to predict what business will look like in the future. Organisations can prepare themselves for this through digital transformations, allowing any future developments and changes to integrate into their business operation.
Being recognised as a digitally transformed business, customers and staff will recognise your attempts to innovate and provide the best possible service. The ability to create additional revenue also highlights the need to adapt to the digital age. The future is showing its face through technology. Businesses must take advantage of the transformed society to change how they operate and reap the rewards.
Virtual communications: How to handle difficult workplace conversations online
Have potentially difficult conversation at work, like discussing a pay rise, explaining deadline delays or going through performance reviews are hard to do successfully under the very best of circumstances. Now many of us are faced with the additional challenges that remote working presents meaning you need to have these kinds of conversations virtually. A little preparation and advance thought about the direction of the discussion can really help to make the interaction feel more natural and improve your changes of a successful outcome.
Tony Hughes, CEO at Huthwaite International leading global provider of sales, negotiation and communication skills development, shares advice on how to handle difficult workplace conversations online.
Plan your communication airtime
Planning for a call can be an unpopular task, but taking a few minutes to think through the structure and purpose of your conversation can really help you to achieve your objectives – assuming you know what they are! Work out your primary, and also secondary objective as a fall back, so you will not have to rely on pressing for just one outcome if that becomes too difficult to resolve in one conversation.
Think about how you will show empathy
It can be difficult to observe someone’s body language over a virtual camera call so tone of voice is more easily interpreted. Listen carefully for clues to how the conversation is going from their tone and note that nerves tend to make the voice higher and this can be very noticeable – a warm drink may help to relax your vocal cords and deepen your voice. Smiling when you speak (if appropriate) will also help to relax you and the other person. If you need to get it all right first time, practice makes perfect. Practicing with a friend of colleague can help to produce the relaxed tone of voice necessary to sound sympathetic or authentic.
Active listening is essential
Listening is what separates skilled communicators from unskilled and using active listening is key to ensuring the conversation goes well. We demonstrate active listening by acknowledging statements. Acknowledging is not the same as supporting, by acknowledging we show we are listening but do not necessarily show agreement. Using phrases such as ‘I understand’, or paraphrasing statements show that we are aware of their opinion and their thoughts without necessarily agreeing with them. Taking care to allow people to fully express themselves, especially if they are agitated or excited, is key to defusing the situation.
If we must disagree with them, we should take care to make a positive statement before and after the disagreement. This means saying things like ‘I fully understand what you’re saying, and will do my best to help. However, I will need some time to investigate the situation. Let me come back to you in X time’.
Remember counter offers can be counterproductive
Communicating online can bring a sense of urgency to get the conversation over with quickly, especially if people are not used to virtual communication methods. This unnecessary pressure can cause people to make hasty, often ill-considered counter offers or proposals in a bid to reach an agreement about the difficult conversation they’re having or to tick the task off our list. Whether this is agreeing to workloads for the week, or discussing a pay rise – rushing conversations and making hasty proposals can be counterproductive and may show you’re not really listening and intent on pushing your own agenda. Good communication is about listening and understanding the needs of others, whilst maintaining a strong stance.
Avoid irritating verbal behaviours
Having a difficult conversation in the workplace is hard enough without the added complication and tensions that communicating virtually may present! Try to avoid adding to this by keeping the conversation free from irritating verbal behaviours. This means avoiding self-praising declarations by using words such as ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ when talking to people. This can cause tension as they can undermine the person you’re speaking to and may cause lasting damage to your relationship.
Other verbal behaviours such as telling someone you’re ‘being honest with them’ or ‘that you’re trying to be frank’, can indicate that you may not have been completely honest in the past, or that you may be suggesting your counterpart is being intentionally dishonest. Steer clear of this use of language. It can lead to tension and a breakdown in communication further down the line.
Remember to show emotion
Perhaps surprisingly, skilled communicators show their emotions and indicate how they are feeling towards a situation more than the average communicator. This skill is particularly important what dealing with a difficult online conversation. For example, phrases including ‘I am pleased we are making progress’ or ‘I’m worried that this won’t work out’, can be used as a substitute for an outright agreement or disagreement as it’s difficult to argue with someone else’s emotions. This verbal behaviour also reveals something personal, which is likely to encourage trust within a conversation. If someone expresses that they’re concerned a deadline won’t be achieved – it’s then difficult to retort with ‘no you’re not.’ When used in the right context, showing emotion is a highly effective way of deescalating confrontation.
Ensure you avoid defend/attack spirals
Defend/attack verbal behaviour is when the focus shifts from the problem to the person and the conversation becomes personal. Skilled communicators avoid this behaviour during a difficult conversation, as it can generate frustration and end very negatively. Usually, involvement in a defend/attack spiral is a heat of the moment reaction and it can be tricky to avoid. Difficult conversations tend to be high pressure, so to avoid this behaviour communicators should aim to understand and resolve, rather than react. This allows the conversation to become open and a solution to be achieved harmoniously.
If you want to learn more about how Huthwaite International can help your team develop a highly effective virtual communications strategy visit: https://www.huthwaiteinternational.com/business-performance-solutions/delivery-options/virtual-learning
Brand guidelines: the antidote to your business’ identity crisis
By Andrew Johnson, Creative Director and Co-Founder.
How well do you really know your business?
Do you know which derivative of your logo to use on a pink background? Have you got a preferred font for PowerPoint presentations? Would you be able to look at a range of social posts and pick out the ones from your brand?
If your answer to any of the above is no, it’s probably time to think about your brand guidelines. Whether you’ve already got a set but feel they need a refresh or you’re starting from scratch, it’s crucial to have a firm grasp on your marketing do’s and don’ts.
Consistency makes you memorable
Before we get into the details of what to include, why do you even need brand guidelines? The simple answer is consistency.
Consistency is arguably the most important element of marketing. It makes your brand recognisable and helps you become known for a certain look and feel. Having a consistent brand also builds familiarity with your audience. People want to know what to expect from you. If you’re persistently using the same logos, imagery and tone of voice (TOV), people will start to take note and, over time, become fond of your brand. This is how brands become household names.
What’s more, just because you think you know your business inside out doesn’t mean everyone who joins your team does. For anyone creating marketing materials for your business, brand guidelines are an invaluable tool to ensure everything is in line with your desired look and feel.
Building your brand
Having a set of concrete brand rules will help your company look its best at all times. So, what type of things should you include in your brand guidelines?
- Define your vibe with TOV
Tone of voice is your brand’s personality coming through in words. Do you want to appear funny or serious? Casual or formal? Cheeky or respectful? Enthusiastic or matter of fact? Your TOV will be a blend of these different elements and work on a scale.
In your brand guidelines, you should clearly state “we write like this” and “we don’t write like this”. Are there any words you don’t like? Can you use casual contractions (“you’re”, “it’s”, “can’t”) or would you prefer to take the more formal route and avoid them? Are you comfortable shortening your brand name from, say, “Hyped Marketing” to “Hyped” or should the full name be used at all times?
These are all important things to consider if you want to make sure anyone writing marketing materials for you is on the same page.
- Pick (and stick to) your colour palette
Colours have a remarkable way of evoking certain feelings. For example, blue is often associated with trust, which is why you’ll see banks and hospitals use it a lot. Once you’ve chosen your colour palette, it’s important to stick to it to create a cohesive feel across all materials.
Your brand guidelines should contain CMYK, RGB, Pantone and Hex colour references for each colour in your palette. These references make it easy for anyone producing or printing materials for you to ensure they have an exact colour match — rather than just taking a wild guess!
- Learn your logos
Your logo should reflect what your company does day-to-day and marry together your colour palette and TOV into one little emblem.
Most businesses have derivatives of their primary logo, which should be used wherever possible. Your choice of logo will depend on where it appears. For example, you might use a white version of your logo on a solid colour background or a black version when colour printing isn’t available. Icon logos (with no accompanying text) also tend to be more suitable for social media profiles.
It’s also important that your guidelines include the correct proportions, opacity, colour usage and exclusion zone so that your logo always appears as intended. No one likes a squashed, off-colour logo!
- Tune into typeface
Selecting one or two fonts to be used across all materials is vital for maintaining consistency and expressing your brand personality. Do you prefer serif or sans serif? Sans serif is becoming increasingly popular (particularly for online materials as it’s easier to read on a screen) but serif still has a more formal effect.
In your guidelines, define where these fonts should be used. For example, you might use one for internal communications and another for external or different ones for online or offline materials. It’s also worth choosing one font for headings and another for body copy or sub-headings. Make sure you note which colours from your palette should be used as well.
- Include the right imagery
Elegant copy, snazzy colours and a slick logo are all essential for your brand’s identity. But what about images? It’s key to include a section in your guidelines about the kind of imagery that should be used across your marketing materials.
Do you prefer photographic or illustrative imagery? Should your images feature people? Will you take the photos yourself or are you sourcing them elsewhere? If so, where are you sourcing them from? Get it all written down to ensure all imagery used is in line with the look and feel you want to create.
It’s never too late…
You may be reading this and thinking it’s too late for you to draw up brand guidelines for your company — but it never is.
While it may feel daunting to overhaul the way you produce your marketing materials, progressing with more consistency only cements what works for your brand and helps dispose of anything that doesn’t.
Are you looking to refine your brand and ensure it’s instantly recognisable? Get in touch with us today to learn more about our branding services and how we can help create brand guidelines and a TOV document for your business.
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