Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Charity Begins at Work?

By The Business Battle-axe, Amanda Vigar, Managing Partner, V&A Bell Brown LLP.

As the old saying goes, charity begins at home. But why not let it continue at the workplace?

A recent study by employee engagement consultancy LeapCR caught my eye when it found that almost half of UK workers claimed they were more likely to stay with an employer that allowed them to carry out charity work during office hours. Even more surprisingly, one in 10 people said they would take a ‘significant’ pay cut to stay with an employer who encouraged charity amongst staff.

Earlier this month I was given the honour of becoming a director at the Nerve Centre, a charity based in Huddersfield. The charity does amazing work for people and families affected by neurological conditions. The charity carries out vital work in providing advice, activities, therapies and support for people suffering from a range of neurological conditions. The devastating fact is that eight million people in the UK are currently living with such a condition.

Personally, I cannot fathom as to why an employer would stop anyone from carrying out charity work under the company name. The personal development benefits to workers are clear; through charitable work they can learn new skills, bond with colleagues and help to boost overall morale in the office.

Allowing employees to volunteer for charity work also keeps them busy and motivated if times are a bit quiet for your business whilst also drawing an association between the company brand and a charity. Numerous companies have seen business bloom after having untapped market segments opened up by their charitable links reflecting positively upon them.

Despite this, the charities themselves should not be forgotten. The charitable, or the ‘third’ sector, is experiencing a financial squeeze at the moment and every assistance, no matter how small, is appreciated. Payroll giving can be an easy way to do this – and it’s tax efficient for both the employer and the charity! A hundred employees giving just £5 a month can make a significant difference to a small local charity like the Nerve Centre. After all, we need to look after charities because we never know when we might need them to look after us or our loved ones.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Calling Time on the Late Payers!

By The Business Battle-axe, Amanda Vigar, 
Managing Partner, V&A Bell Brown LLP

Whether you are in business or not, you’ll have heard the phrase ‘cash flow is king’, many times before. The saying has never been more true in the thick of a recession when businesses of all shapes and sizes are going to the wall; quite frequently due to the mammoth task they face when trying to balance the books.

Yet, one of the most difficult tasks any small business owner can face is how to chase up an overdue invoice. I say difficult because the SME has to navigate a tricky path between having their bill paid and not falling out with the customer. Here are some tips that will help any small business owner chase up overdue invoices:

     Check payment runs - find out when customers make payment runs and what the cut off is. There’s no point in submitting the invoice on the 20th if the cut off for that month's payment run is the 19th!

     Make it easy to pay – You should have a clear collection policy in place outlining credit terms, how you will collect money and any overdue payments.
     Make invoices clear – having a good system in place to record invoices is key. There are many software packages available so you can also track payments. Remember also that, the last time a company can object to an invoice they receive is on the day they receive it. After that time, they cannot quibble and dispute it.       
    Follow customer instructions – large companies in particular often have strict systems for paying. Maybe they want a special invoice number – so make one for them. Also ensure that it’s consistent throughout your communications to avoid confusion.

      Follow up promptly – Make sure you have a consistent collection procedure and always follow up as promptly as possible. Keep a close eye on patterns in which clients generally pay; and ask yourself whether this fits in with your billing cycle? If the client does not pay ten days after the invoice is due, send them a ten-day letter re-iterating the fact that the invoice is due and (politely!) asking for payment.

     Be polite – Shouting threats is not going to do you, or your business, any favours. If all else fails, and the client is ignoring you, or refusing to pay the bill, then consider whether you really want their business in future, and make a decision about whether or not it’s worthwhile to take them to the small claims court. You can process a claim for money owed up to a value of £25,000 online at This covers most debts owed to SMEs; but if the debt exceeds this level, consult a solicitor.

     Consider as well that the business could also be going through tough times, or they could be unhappy with the service you have provided. Either way, your main aim is make them pay their bill. Cash flow is king, remember. 

Putting the People Back into Business!

By The Business Battle-axe, Amanda Vigar, 
Managing Partner, V&A Bell Brown LLP

The demise of the small independent business against the larger national chain has been a hot topic for some time. However, with the current tough economic conditions, we are finding that larger national companies are far from flourishing.

In recent times, JJB Sports, Clintons Cards and Julian Graves have fallen into administration, while electrical retail conglomerate DSG, the owner of Currys and PC World, plunged £30m into the red. The issue is that people want to deal with people they know and trust.  This is where the smaller businesses and independent traders can, and often do, come into their own.

Ask yourselves – do you want to deal with someone who you have a personal and engaging relationship with, or do you want to deal with representatives of a larger national, often faceless, organisation? Do you want to shop locally from retail outlets that have been fixtures on your high street for years? Do you want to have a business relationship with someone who prides themselves on personal recommendations? And do you want to deal with someone you might actually have the chance of meeting in person?

I suspect that most people, whether they’re looking at making a high street purchase or want professional advice on anything from finance to marketing would prefer to deal with someone they know and trust.

In my accountancy practice, we like to put the people into business. In practice this means that we work with numerous people in all sorts of trades and occupations; we have built strong relationships based on trust with our clients; clients know they can meet with the same person every time and are not simply assigned to whoever is available; and we value each and every client, no matter how big or small.

We are also more than happy to provide testimonials from clients who are more than happy to say when they think we’ve done a good job. I for one firmly believe that putting the people back into business should be the way forward for our high streets; it may well also have the knock-on effect of re-invigorating our town centres.