Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Budget to build on solid foundations

With just weeks before the General Election, none of us could be entirely sure what the Budget would hold. 

Would our Chancellor (known to those of us in the trade as “Gorgeous George”) be buying votes or would he try not to ruffle any feathers? 

All in all, it appears to be the latter, albeit with a few sweeteners to parents/grandparents of those in their 20s looking to get their offspring out of the family nest and those with savings that generate significant income.

His overall message: “steady as she goes”.  Growth has been steady over the last couple of years and there was certainly nothing in this Budget that will lead to an uncontrollable boom – it was more about building on solid foundations of growth leading to a reduction of the deficit.

My main disappointment is that, despite stressing that he was backing British business, there really wasn’t anything for small business owners to be throwing their hats in the air over. 

The reform of the business rates system has been long rumoured and, whilst I welcome it with open arms, reading between the lines its impact is likely to be limited and definitely not the radical reform that this outdated and fundamentally unbalanced system needs.

My other big concern is that reports of the death of the tax return were, in the words of Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated. 

Whilst I can see that the change will be of benefit to those with relatively simple affairs – say just a salary and savings income that is taxed at source – even they will still need to check the figures carefully to ensure that everything is actually included and is accurate. 

Given the way HMRC’s systems struggle to cope with RTI on payroll, my heart sinks at the mere thought of the errors and omissions we are going to see when they try to deal with the pre-population of tax records from multiple sources. 

For those who are self-employed or have complex tax affairs, my concern is that HMRC will see this as being like PAYE and take a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach with the accompanying administrative burden increasing yet again for those of us running small businesses. 

What price a delay (or six) from the target 2020 launch date?

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

"Contact us now"!

The statement is there on the advert and so the customer rings and leaves messages, sends e-mails to the address on the website…. waits…..waits…... and hears absolutely nothing!

What exactly does that say to the potential customer about the business?

Recently, we had cause to call out an electrician because of a major power outage at one of our offices.  We rang five that claimed to offer 24 /7 emergency call outs.   One answerphone told us “we’re away for the holidays” – but didn’t say when they were back! Another just rang out and didn’t even have the facility to leave a message.  In the end only one replied – 48 hours later!

In these tight economic times, a lot of businesses are investing good money in having and building websites, paying for top listing on Yell and the like, or advertising in local papers or magazines in the hope that it will bring them work.  They might as well set fire to all that cash if they don’t monitor the e-mails and voicemails that their promotional activity produces.  Nowadays, with smart phones enabling everyone to be able to pick up emails wherever they are in the world, there is just no excuse for not responding.

Mind you, even when they’ve made contact, will they actually turn up to look at the work that’s on offer?  Sadly many won’t!  A client told us recently of some flooring work they’d needed doing.  Nine emails generated only four responses.  Eventually two bothered to turn up to look at the floor (one more set a date but never arrived leaving the client waiting around) but only one of them provided the pricing information they’d promised.  That’s not much better than a 10% hit rate just to get a price!

Personally, I’d much rather be told someone can’t take the business on at the moment than just be ignored.  To me a non-response is just downright rude.  And it’s so short sighted – I can tell you that a non-response means I’ll never consider that business again!  Worse still, I’m likely to actively tell people not to bother even trying them.

So, the next time you hear a tradesman complaining that they’re struggling for money, ask them how many people they didn’t reply to in the last year.  They’ll probably look baffled, but push them and I suspect you’ll find that they are one of the many that don’t seem to be able to plan a work pipeline.  They do the job in hand and just hope that something comes up for next week. 

By contrast, as we see with loads of our clients, basic courteous communication and a bit of forward planning, combined with some thought about the customer (and potential customer!) generates really positive recommendations to friends, family and colleagues and, as a result, a much more steady income.  A virtuous and profitable circle that starts with a simple response.