Complacency is the real business killer

Is complacency the real reason why businesses fail?

You’re probably thinking, “Oh no, not another one of those ‘why businesses fail articles’”. This article is certainly about why businesses fail, but this one is looking at the issue from a slightly different point of view. You see, the pandemic, for all its downsides, affords us a view of business issues from an accelerated lifecycle perspective. As an accountancy practice in London, Tax Agility we’ve learnt a lot over the past year.

In just a short space of 12 months, businesses have been hammered by a range of common issues one might not expect to see all at once during the normal lifecycle of a small business. At least not in such a short space or time, or as a result of a cascade of other business related troubles.

Business turmoilFor instance; it’s common for a business to fail because it experiences cash flow issues, or the loss of a major client, or staff turnover, problems or supply chain issues, or reduced seasonal footfall, even the occasional export/import issues. In recent times though, some businesses have experienced all of these, all together, as a result of both pandemic issues and the fall-out from Brexit impacting European supply routes and trading partners.

In a normal business lifecycle, all these issues can surface from time to time, sometimes over many years, and many can be weathered if handled competently. However, the global pandemic and Brexit have effectively put many businesses in a lab test tube, exposing them to a variety of tests within a short space of time. Many business owners and entrepreneurs have struggled with this. Furthermore, many more mature businesses have found that their business models simply cannot weather this type of storm.

While it’s easy to simply blame the pandemic or even Brexit, for some, the reason the business failed is not just because of these two protagonists. It’s likely that the business was already weak due to several other non-visible issues. The pandemic and Brexit have acted as a catalyst and exposed an underlying complacency in the way business has been done up to now.

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Complacency in business is a killer

complacency kills businessesIt’s important to be clear here, there’s no suggestion that a business fails because the operator of the business is sat twiddling their fingers or just counting the cash coming in. That’s not what we mean by complacency. Complacency can be as simple as working hard to meet business goals, but without acknowledging that the markets are changing around them. It’s a case of being overly ‘self satisfied’. The root cause can often be attributed to fear – fear of change, fear of upsetting what appears to be working. Under such circumstances a business owner simply convinces themselves that all is okay, rather like looking in a mirror and only seeing what you want to see.

The problem could best be exemplified by what has happened to the High Street, particularly larger stores. Such stores rely extensively on foot traffic, so when this dried up during the pandemic, so did cash flow. Some did have an online element to their business model, but not enough to support the operational cash requirements of the business when regular footfall derived income fell away.

Competitive business models will erode your primary revenue sources

You might be thinking that it’s a little harsh to criticise stores for not foreseeing something like a pandemic. The reality though is that more and more business is being done online, the trend is clear and some businesses simply haven’t adopted this extensively enough or quickly enough. Of course, it’s harder for some product lines to adapt because of the need for consumers to interact directly with this products. But not for all though, especially consumer electronics, many leisure items, regular domestic consumables and many others. Even retail apparel, although harder to manage online, is destined to increase further.mail order catalogs

Buying without fist seeing a product is far from new. Mail order has been around since the 60’s – the 1860’s!  The first mail order business was formed in 1861 by Welshman Price Pryce-Jones.

Another famous clothing and fashion related mail order catalog, Grattan, started life in 1912 and became very popular in the days prior to the internet, along with Littlewoods, Kays, Freemans, Marshal Ward and Great Universal Stores. Much has happened to them since the internet revolution. Most have either been acquired or evolved, with a web front being a major part of their business model. Take Littlewoods for instance. After merging with Great Universal Stores to become Shop Direct in 2003, very.co.uk was launched in 2009. They pride themselves on consistent reinvention. Check out Very’s story here.

Retails stores have been popular because people like to go out and shop. Will this continue? Probably. However, the population has now had an experience like no other and along with other pressures, such as the parking ordeal many towns now represent for those driving, and Covid’s likely legacy, the attraction may wane. The point is, alternatives exist, business models evolve, consumer appetites are fickle and popularity can change in an instant.  If you don’t have a Plan B, then beware. In fact, if your Plan B was the internet, it probably now needs to be Plan A.

Innovation, make it part of your company’s culture

Innovation is central to a business being able to keep up with the fast pace change we see in today’s consumer markets. We believe that for a company to be truly successful, innovation must be part of its culture. Just like Very. If it isn’t, employees and key management are likely to get complacent, because they are on the same tread mill everyday, with little motivation to explore new ideas and way to better serve their market.business needs innovation

Of course, we recognise that most companies have an eye on where their markets are going. More often though, the changes they foresee are not necessarily seismic in nature. Often they represent new product or service derivatives – more subtle shifts, as opposed to something that represents a completely different way of working. The latter represents more of an environmental response. Environmental pressure is the most likely catalysts behind evolution – not just in nature, but in business too. Nature is a great teacher.

Innovation should be a key focus area for a business’s management, not just product or service improvements, but also environmentally, in how markets and consumers are reached, engaged, and fulfilled in response to changing attitudes, technologies and needs.

It’s not just a case of, ‘lets get online’ either. That ship has sailed, so to speak, as every business should have an online aspect to their brand. Innovation online today requires thought around user experience, and how to create a better ‘experiential’ dimension to a user’s journey.

Complacency is behind many of the commonly associated reasons for business failure

The following represents a list of some of the most common reasons why a business fails.  There’s nothing new in terms of the reasons. However, if we look at these with a somewhat different eye, it’s not hard to see the part complacency plays.

1. No viable business or marketing plan

No viable business planThe business has been set up, undoubtedly with good intentions and a vision, but without any form of business planning – basically, on a ‘wing and a prayer’, because the person behind it believed totally in what they were doing, perhaps even disregarding what others were saying or what the market indicators suggested.

A business plan is meant to take a good look at the realistic requirements for a business to achieve success, the resources required, and timescales. It should also look carefully at contingencies given associated risks with the target market. For instance, what would happen if first sales don’t come within the planning timeframes? How much cash would the company need to cover the deficit and how long could it survive before sales revenues begin to appear?

Excited entrepreneurs can often cast risk to the wind, believing firmly in themselves and ignoring sage advice or overly satisfied with early encouragement from prospects. How often have you heard a potential prospect, lavish praise on a new product you are trying to sell, provide endless encouragement, but then not buy.  The danger is that a business owner can believe the hype over reality and become overly self-satisfied in the strength of the product and market acceptance. In other words, complacent belief in success, despite other possible waning signs.

As a small business accountancy firm, we are always surprised how often we find businesses that run in to problem for the simple reason that they either don’t have a business plan (or marketing plan). Don’t make this simple mistake, it’s business 101.

2. Lack of a strong value proposition

no value propositionSimilar in nature to lack of a business plan, not having a strong value proposition clearly articulated and tested, can stem from over confidence gained from an early interest in a product or service from friends and family eager to boost egos. Ultimately, only your target audience really matters and early affirmation of product viability through market research should replace friendly encouragement as the basis of the business. Put simply, does the market actually need your product and do they buy into the value it professes to offer?

3. Lack of cash

A fundamental mistake many new small businesses make is to run out of cash. They just get the numbers wrong. Again, it’s usually due to over confidence, over estimating revenues, underestimating timescales and underestimating costs.cash flow issues

Few plans ever go to exactly to plan, there are always hiccups and unforeseen problems. How well you have built contingencies to cover the costs of these ‘problems’, will determine how likely you will survive if a problem becomes extended and starts eating into cash. A common cause is simply due to revenues not arriving to plan. This is almost entirely out of the hands of the business, unless it’s secured early orders, but once they have been fulfilled, ongoing revenues need to happen quickly.

As we saw with the pandemic, it’s likely the vast majority of small businesses would not have survived unless they were given cash lifelines – either loans or help to pay salaries. However, few could have foreseen the extent of the crisis and there’s still an uncertain future, as many business still don’t know if their markets will return to a level that will support their operational cash flow needs.

As accountants working with a variety of small business types, our tip is to at the very least spreadsheet your cash flow workings, be realistic and brutally honest with yourself – look at worst case scenarios and build up from that. Do this regularly too, especially if circumstances change.

4. Over reliance on a few large customers

Over reliance on a few large clientsIt’s a nice feeling, having a couple of really great clients feeding your cash flow each month. For some business owners, such reliance would make them feel distinctly nervous. However, for others, especially those who have a great working relationship with their clients, perhaps are even friends, complacency can set in.

Tax Agility Accountants also works with its clients as business advisers, and businesses with a heavy reliance on a few major clients is an all too familiar pattern, especially with smaller or niche clients.

The problem is that you may never know there’s a problem with a client until it’s too late. When a business gets into trouble, it can be tough for a business owner to admit this to themselves and take action early. Also, because pride and ego play a part, a troubled business owner may not let his clients or suppliers know. Ultimately, the troubled business stops paying its bills, leaving your business looking at a write-off. As time ticks on, complacent business owners realise that they may not be able to fill the revenue gap quickly enough, as new business development can take a lot of time, especially for specialist or niche products and services. If this isn’t reconciled quickly, cash flow problems arise and that company’s ability to pay its debts leads to insolvency.

The answer here is to always have more clients that you actually need to make a comfortable profit margin. Don’t let a few large clients dominate your cash flow security.

5. Taxation oversight

Tax and VAT oversightTax is a complex discipline, made worse where issues such as overseas VAT is concerned. Always get specialist advice, especially now we are post-Brexit and the situation with the EU is far from clear.

Don’t make the mistake of simply assuming you don’t have to pay taxes.  Or indeed, that the country you are doing business with won’t demand tax is deducted until you can prove where your company is domiciled, can be simpler said than done. There’s a heavy focus by governments at present on taxation as applied to digital products and services.

Having a chunk of change removed from your expected invoice payments, because a clients obliged to hold back tax payments, can cause serious cash flow issues.

Tax advice and tax planning are key services Tax Agility provide. It is a complex issue, so take good tax advice if you are in any doubt

6. Dependency on key staff

key staff and trust issuesHaving people you can trust in key positions within your business is a great help and a boost to confidence, in that you believe somebody ‘has your back’ and is working with your’s as well as their own interests at heart.

However, one can get complacent and start ignoring the warning signs that all may not be well with your ‘partners in business’, or indeed people you rely onto get fundamental aspects of the job done. Circumstances might arise where a key person becomes incapacitated or unreachable on holiday. Business may become severely affected. Worse still is the prospect of effectively being held to ransom by a key skill bearer who suddenly decided that they are unhappy.

People are naturally defensive where sharing aspects of their work is concerned. For some, the thought that they could be replaced is unbearable. At some point the “you couldn’t do this without me” syndrome becomes a clear and present danger to the business, especially if the individual concerned is a key member of the team.

Always ensure other people can cover the roles required and, make sure this attitude is part of the company culture and embraced by all.

The other concern with dependence on key staff is the potential for fraud. It’s a subject of its own. We have an article on small business fraud here.

When people believe they have your complete trust, some may take advantage of this, or find themselves pressured in exploiting your trust because of negative personal circumstances. Don’t get complacent, review your relationships and levels of trust within the business regularly, so you can spot the warning signs.

Final thoughts

When it comes to the main reasons why businesses fail, there’s nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes. However, what recent events have taught us is that the catalysts for failure can be different to what we might normally be used to.

Is what we experienced recently just a ‘one-off’? An extraordinary event? Possibly. But, consider the pace of change we have seen in other areas of business over the past few years, such as new technologies, significant growth in internet enabled businesses, and the need to adapt to fast moving consumer / client trends as they adopt different buying or working practices. Such changes point to a future requiring businesses to be far more innovative and adaptable, not taking their client base for granted and definitely not being complacent in their day-to-day operations and outlook.

If you are concerned about the issues your business is facing, act today. Tax Agility accountants provide specialist accounting services for small businesses. We’re based in Richmond and Putney, but serve clients throughout London and the south east. Contact us here.

Why not check out our series on building a better business here.


Business to business networking

Small business owners, surprise! Your new best friend is?

Running a small business, or for that matter even a larger business in a time of crisis requires creativity and determination, and often help. When business is ebbing away due to your client base shrinking, you need to find new clients, which is not easy when businesses are in self protect mode. It may surprise people, but one source of potential business leads, could be your accountant. That would make him or her, your new best friend.

Regardless of which sets of numbers you believe, in relation to small business failure rates, it's clear that starting a new business or running a smaller business is a tough job, even more so, given the way the pandemic has affected so many small businesses and dramatically changed many businesses landscapes.

These businesses need all the help they can get; but there's one source of help that is often underestimated and under-utilised beyond their usual function, not so much from the perspective of the SME, but from the source itself, and that might surprise you!

No, not your dog, but your Accountant!Your accountant is your new best friend

Boring? Don’t click away, they, ‘we’, may have a reputation of being perhaps somewhat introverted, poor communicators, tired and dusty, but we want to dispel that myth and show you how, as a small business owner / operator, you should be looking to your accountant for business introductions.

A social B2B broker

Did you realise that your accountant could become the centre of your networking world? Now there's something to ponder! For that matter, how many accountants realise how much extra benefit they can add to their client’s business and growth opportunities, purely because of who they know and are connected to? There’s tremendous opportunity to be an effective business introducer, socially at a B2B level.

Many accountants talk about how they can help their client’s businesses grow. For the most part they are referring to the experience they have in identifying hurdles and obstacles to growth from a tax, cash flow or P&L basis. Often they are able to draw on experience from other businesses in similar markets or industries they have worked with over the years.

Smaller, more adaptive and eager for growth, just like our clients

accountants give you ideasHowever, the best way to help a business grow is to introduce it to potential clients. Some of the best accountants to do that are the ones that actually specialise in small business accounting. Why? Because they don't have the luxury of sitting back and servicing large corporate clients where little ‘personal’ interaction actually takes place.

For smaller specialist accountants, survival is all about capitalising on offering services that focus on customer service excellence and introducing services that make the accounting process highly efficient, so more clients can be served without sacrificing service levels. In short, small business accountants have to be highly adaptive, creative and fast.

This is why so many offer ‘cloud-based’ accounting services, such as Xero, our particular favourite. It puts the business firmly in control of essential management data, allowing them to make faster decisions.

For accounting firms such as ourselves, it means we can service more smaller clients and still provide valuable business advice and expertise, maintaining that close personal relationship we’ve built our name around. It just makes sense to leverage this for greater benefit of our clients.

Your accountant as a novel networking opportunity

Business to business networkingLet’s step back a moment, to the bit about introducing clients to other clients that may be potential customers. We’ve all been to networking events and know how potentially useful for new business opportunities that can be, but they can also be a terrible waste of time if they don't quite turn out as expected. As a small business operator, it’s likely your accountant is sitting on a wealth of potential opportunity for you. It’s in their interest to put people together, to quote a well-used phrase in networking circles, it’s about ‘givers gain’. And these shouldn’t be just any old referral, the nature of the business means referrals between clients are always going to be qualified high-quality introductions.

Furthermore, your accountant is often very aware of the different issues small businesses face when trying to grow. Part of what we do at Tax Agility, is to help clients overcome obstacles. And we can do that because we have helped others through the same problems. The insight this affords us also means we can see potential synergies between small businesses, where growth in one may represent an opportunity for another, or indeed, where growth in one could be the catalyst another business needs for growth.

Small business accountants often have a wealth of diverse clients, the smaller accountants with a solid base of clients are also likely to be more ‘personable’, ‘outgoing’, ‘fun’, ‘interesting’, in short, real people you can relate to, and, wait for it, becomes friends and hang out with! All the essential qualities for a little business match-making. Novel really, when you think of the usual accountant stereotypes.

We like to think we are breaking the mould and reinventing the accounting practice by not only providing essential accounting, tax and bookkeeping services to our clients, but also by proactively making the appropriate introductions between clients that could do business together.

Tax Agility is London's 'local accountants', serving small businesses, start-ups, contractors and individuals within the London area.

If you’d like to know more and let us become your best friend, call Tax Agility on 020 8108 0090


business crisis action

Business tips for weathering a crisis and the importance of cashflow management

To be able to achieve its goals and make a profit for its owners and shareholders, a company must be able to maintain an adequate cash flow. Cash is the lifeblood of a company, without it, no visions can be realised. It’s also the key to being able to weather a crisis.

Crisis events – such as an economic downturn, the failure of a key customer or supplier, a pandemic – have a way of stress testing a company’s financial position, particularly its cash position. So what are some of the best ways to build and maintain a healthy working flow of cash?

Most businesses in the UK have experienced issues with customer late payments and the statistics around this (shared below) are troublesome for many business owners. But, if you combine the late payment issue with a general crisis, such as the pandemic we have experienced, problems can mount up quickly, even for companies with a relatively strong cash position.

Once the crisis is over, any government support a business may have received will only have delayed problems if the business still can’t rely on a healthy cash flow.

Crises that affect an industry as a whole can mean that your normal cash resource – receivables – become very unreliable. Most businesses are used to chasing payments, but when those payments start to dry up because the clients concerned are going into receivership, you will have to rely on your own financial strength, and that’s where foresight and planning come in.

Preventing a crisis is better than trying to cure one, so here are a few points to consider that may help minimise the risks of suppliers and customers becoming a problem for business and impacting your operating capabilities and cash flow in the future.

Some of the key questions we look to answer in this article include:

  • “How do you survive a business crisis?”
  • “Who do you manage cash flow in a crisis?”
  • “How can a cash flow crisis be avoided”

As specialist small business accountants, Tax agility has advised and assisted many small business through troubled times. Read on to explore the advice and tips we have given our clients over the years.


5 simple due diligence checks to help protect your business against preventable crises


The following five checks are basic due diligence points many businesses often fail to conduct. Also, these checks aren’t something to be done once when first creating a relationship with a new supplier or client; it is good practice to keep an eye on the fortunes of those you work with on an ongoing basis.

  • 1. Credit check

    Knowing how good a company you’re about to work with is at paying their bills, is just sound practice. The good news is that unlike personal credit scores, credit scores for businesses are publicly available through credit reference agencies. In the UK, these are: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

  • 2. Company House check

    Your second stop is Company House. Take a look and check the following:

    • The type of business accounts. Beware of ‘micro accounts’ from smaller companies (with turnover less than £632k or have balance sheet less than £316k). There is nothing wrong with being small and agile, provided that they can weather the financial storms like bigger competitors and have a good chance to pay you on time.
    • When were they incorporated? If within the last 21 months, they don’t need to have filed any accounts yet, so you’re going to dig a little deeper into the directors backgrounds.
    • The latest set of accounts. These are usually up to 9 months out of date, but can still give you an idea where the business is heading. Also, you can often see just what is on the balance sheet and how much debt and creditors they carry that may make them susceptible in the future if the ‘winds of fortune’ change.
    • Have they been filing regularly and on-time?
    • How much cash do they have on hand? This indicates their abilities to pay current creditor liabilities, and gives an insight into their cash practices.
    • Look carefully at the company that you’ve been asked to invoice. Some companies are set up as shells or holding companies. While legitimate, they can sometimes hide poor intent. Holding companies are often asset protection strategies used to limit liability in a business structure. The problem you then have is that any claim you make is likely against a company that has no real assets, leaving you high and dry. Make sure that the company you are working for and the company you are billing are the same entity.
    • Check who the directors are and what other businesses they’re involved with. This is a good way of checking the performance history of a director. How many businesses do they run? How well are those businesses doing compared with the one you work with?

  • 3. An industry view

    Get an appreciation for how the firm is engaging with its audience. These days, the internet is buzzing with information, particularly on social media. Check out:

    • What are other people saying about your potential ‘partner’?
    • Who are their clients and likely suppliers and how are they doing?
    • How much positivity or negativity surrounds them?

  • 4. Check the review sites

    The internet is packed full of useful information, so search for reviews on your client or supplier. There may be review sites for companies in your specific business area. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to do and may reveal something valuable about them.

  • 5. Ask around

    You may know other people who do business with your client or supplier. Ask around to get an appreciation for the experiences other people have had with them.

Some late payment statistics

There are some 5.7 million SME’s in the UK (as of 2018). These account for over 98% of all businesses.

78% of these businesses are owed money and are on average waiting at least one month over their greed payment terms for payment.

40% of the companies owed money claim that large businesses are the worst offenders.

34% of SME business owners report that they have to rely on overdrafts to help make ends meet because of late payments.

43% of SMEs rack up around £4.4 billion in costs associated with chasing late payments.

11% of SMEs experiencing late payment difficulties end up employing debt collectors to chase payments.

14% (1 in 7) of small business owners have been unable to pay employees because of late payments.

38% of small business owners have been unable to satisfy debts due to late payment cash flow issues.

 

(sources: Bacs, Intuit, ONS)

Why is cashflow so important?

Cash is the lifeblood of a business. Without cash you can’t grow your business, and you can’t pay your employees or your suppliers. After a while, you’ll end up with a bad credit report which will bring on even more pain, especially if you need financing, as you’ll be considered a higher risk and will likely end up paying higher interest rates, or worse, not getting the loans you so desperately need. So, cash really is king.

Tax Agility Accountants offer it’s clients cloud based accounting services, such as Xero, that make day-to-day cash flow management and forecasting a simple affair.

How much cash should you keep in a company?

It’s quite normal to hear shareholders saying that keeping large amounts of money in a company is a waste of investment opportunity. The question though, is how much is it prudent to keep?

This really comes down to the operational characteristics of your business and its markets. For instance:

  • You have a good feel for how long it generally takes for people to pay you.
  • What your ‘burn rate’ is – i.e., your monthly cost base, the essentials you have to pay for.
  • How much you need to maintain stocks of products or materials for sales fulfilment or manufacturing.
  • At the end of the day, it’s up to you, but there are some rules of thumb more seasoned business owners stick to. For instance;  keep enough cash in the business, at all times, to keep the company afloat if there’s no income for three to six months.

Do a cash flow projection

If you know your burn rate, and likely payment dates for your payables and your receivables, then, along with your current cash balance, you can perform a cash flow projection. This is a little bit of analysis that takes a set of assumptions and calculates how much cash you’ll have to work with at a later date. It will also help you understand at what points in the coming months your cash situation is at its weakest. How accurate your forecast is depends upon how accurate the data is you put in.

Cashflow planning and projection is definitely something the team at Tax Agility can help you with. So why struggle? Call us today on 020 8108 0090.

A cash flow forecast also allows you to do a little ‘what-if’ analysis. For instance: What if a significant payment isn’t made to you on time or by a certain date, what impact will that have on your ability to pay your bills? The cash flow analysis is a critical part of running your finances proficiently. While you’re doing this, calculate your current break even point – what needs to come in to cover what goes out – basic month to month profitability.

Cash flow forecasts are also essential if your business is looking to grow, and you need to use your cash at strategic points in time – will you have the money you need? How much can you take out and commit to a project and over what period of time?

crisis planning

Cashflow management in a crisis


There’s one certainty in business and that’s uncertainty. Circumstances change, which can be a good thing, provided you have prepared for it, such as naturally evolving market conditions, maturing client/supplier relationships, cost of materials and key services, etc. Sometimes though, businesses can be caught off guard, such as what happened in the banking crisis of 2008, unforeseen aspects of Brexit, or the recent coronavirus pandemic.

Forget about profit – for now

No matter what the situation, cash is always king. Without it your business won’t survive. In times of crisis, forget about profit. Some believe that profit is the number one priority in business. It’s obviously essentially that a business makes a profit at some point, else why be in business? But, underpinning a business’s ability to make a profit is working capital, the money that keeps the gears in the company turning.

Crisis review

“Facing down the barrel of a gun”, is how some business owners describe the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Without a regular flow of cash coming in, even with assistance from other areas, some businesses are only delaying the inevitable, as they must still have cash once a crisis is over to be able to recover.

However, not all crises are business-wide like a banking crash or global pandemic, they may be as a result of a crisis within a specific industry or just your company.

Examples may include issues such as:

  • Raw materials shortages because of sudden import restrictions.
  • Export issues caused by shipping issues (container shortages), such as happened with Brexit.
  • Sudden changes in currency exchange rates impacting profitability in other countries.
  • Changes in government regulations, such as the recent VAT rule changes in the construction industry that will impact those who rely on VAT collected as a form of cashflow.
  • The loss of significant personal affecting critical skill needs.
  • The loss of a major client revenue affecting cash flow.

The essential thing to do in any crisis is to urgently review your cash flow forecasts. Ideally, at some point you may have conducted a ‘what-if’ analysis and already know the minimums under which your business can function relatively normally. Now it’s time now to start looking at the areas you can make cuts.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • 1. Get a grip on your business environment

    • Golden rule:  Don’t panic. It’s especially important to those around you to see that the company’s leader is cool under pressure and reassuring. The last thing you want is to instil panic in your work force. However, people are naturally going to worry and likely have questions about their future, so prepare for that.
    • Don’t overreact. Decisions you make now will likely impact your business for years to come. The measures you take now should be calculated and step-by-step, not knee-jerk.
    • Call in assistance from those you trust – start with your accountant, then consult trusted acquaintances who know your business.
    • Keep an eye on your business’s focus, the value it brings to your clients and the market as a whole – the reason you are in business in the first place. If the changes you make take the business outside of this, you’ll likely be adding to your woes later. The changes you make should be in-line with your core business values.
    • Keep talking to your stakeholders and business partners. Make sure those who ‘need to know are in the know’. This is a basic foundation of trust, and you really don’t want to undermine that, otherwise you may start losing key support.

  • 2. What impact is the crisis likely to have?

    Dig out your cash flow forecast planning sheets. These were the ones you created when analysing your business’s operating cash flow needs and the ‘what-if’ scenarios that went with it. Look at the following:

    • Which areas of your business have been impacted and which will have the greatest impact?
    • What’s your current cash position?
    • What is the minimum amount of cash required to keep the company operating for a defined period and satisfying your essential client needs.
    • What costs are essential and which are not? Dig deep on this and prepare to be ruthless if need be.
    • Are your clients also impacted by the crisis, or is the crisis just affecting your business?
    • What debts are likely to fall due over what periods?
    • How quickly can you reduce your accounts receivables?
    • Revise your cash flow forecasts and set out new projections for the next 6 to 12 months, allowing for the variables above that you think are realistic, and perhaps a few you think may never happen. The point is to really stress test your business scenarios.

  • 3. Emergency short term action

    Once a crisis is apparent and the facts present themselves, it’s important take action quickly to preserve your cash reserves.  Consider the following short term actions:

    • All non-essential spending to be frozen.
    • Essential purchases to be approved first.
    • Impose spend limits on essential purchases.
    • Freeze salaries.
    • Freeze hiring.
    • Review temporary staff positions.
    • Look to improve working capital: Approach creditors for short-term revisions in payment terms. Reduce your accounts receivables.
    • Consider invoice financing; this is a way to finance your business short-term based on your legitimate receivables.
    • Look for other sources of financing, such as government loans or grants, private financing options, bank loans.

    During a crisis, it’s essential to have up-to-the minute information about the financial state of your business. Central to this is accurate and up to the minute set of management accounting reports. These allow you to snap-shot the current financial state of affairs, from the state of your receivables, current liabilities, cash in the bank, P&L and balance sheet. The systems you use will dictate how readily this information is to you. Those businesses already using cloud accounting software will have this information to hand, because of the flexibility tools like Xero Accounting Software provide. If you’re not using management reports in this way, here’s an article on why management accounts are critical to the operation of your business.

  • 4. Strategic, longer term actions

    It’s important to regularly review the situation your business finds itself in and, if you can, plan for a post crisis future. Although not welcome, crises can be beneficial in some ways. A time of great change can shake up a business and make it realise what it has been missing out on. For instance, complacency in business is another major business killer. Complacency comes in many forms, but usually occurs when a company is enjoying profitability and success for a long period of time. However, many things can upset the utopian world, not least:

    • Taking your eye off the competitive situation and losing market share.
    • Not responding to changes in the market; becoming irrelevant.
    • Being unaware of changes in consumer attitude and buying trends; being replaced.
    • Not taking advantage of new technologies and processes.
    • Internal systems that become inefficient and expensive to run.
    • Staff becoming lazy in their duties.
    • A feeling of entitlement among key staff members.
    • Poor crisis cash flow planning, indeed, poor planning.
    • Lack of realistic growth plans.
    • When responding to a crisis, many of these issues will surface and need to be resolved.

    There are other essential issues you should be look at when planning a recovery too.

    Account planning

    Consider the origin of your cash; your key clients. Crises that extend beyond your business may naturally be affecting your clients and your suppliers. They may approach you either for quick payment or delayed payment terms, just as you may ask. Relationships in business are another source of life and need to be protected.

    As part of your crisis planning, review your clients and suppliers and their fundamental importance to your business:

    • Which ones could be sidelined temporarily?
    • Which should you look to accommodate as much as you can?
    • Can your cash flow support extended credit terms for key clients that have also been affected.
    • Consider reduced payments or temporarily suspend contracts.
    • Can you use this opportunity to negotiate better terms with suppliers, or even clients?

    Operational efficiency

    Crises may reveal underlying problems in your business processes, typically things you have taken for granted in the past that may now be a burden. One example may be your IT systems and software licensing. If you have internal staff managing this, maybe it’s time to consider a more effective outsource solution. Equally, if you do outsource, maybe your contractor has become complacent too and now is a time to make a competitive comparison and ask for more favourable terms.

    Software licenses: These have a habit of auto renewing. Make sure you are still using the software and that it’s still needed.

    Review your staff structure: Are you using your headcount efficiency?

    Is everyone really pulling their weight? Could tasks be combined, and staff levels reduced?

    Unused inventory and inventory levels: Are you sitting on inventory that is either sold or represents unused material? Can this be returned or recycled? How much does it cost to store these items and are cheaper options available? Could you move to a more efficient ‘just-in-time’ practice, thus reducing exposure.

    Office space: Going forward, do you really need your current office space. Changes in working practices may mean that more people can work from home and share office space if needed. Review your current leasing arrangements and perhaps plan for smaller offices in the future, investing instead in technology and processes that enable a more geographically dispersed staff base.

    Accounting practices: Review your accounting and financial management practices. Some companies have in-house accounting or bookkeeping staff. With improvements in technology, cost efficiencies can be gained. Also, it may be better to outsource your accounting function. It’s a popular choice these days, especially as cloud software such as Xero allows delegated people in a company direct access to up to the minute operational financial data. Regular management reports can be run, up to the minute cash flow reports can be created and receivables information is at your fingertips. The best thing is, with this technology, you can have access to essential management information no matter where you are, through your mobile devices.

Closing thoughts

As we have seen, cashflow management and planning is the gateway to understanding your business’s ability to weather a crisis and it’s also a testimony to the quality of your business management too.

Consider also that, crises don’t just represent a clear and present danger. Provided a company is essentially sound and financially viable, a crisis can also represent an opportunity. Weathering a crisis is an opportunity to review your company’s operations and to look for opportunities where perhaps other competitors are not able to recover so well.

Crises are times when a company is stress tested by natural events. As such it can be an opportunity to make more drastic changes to your company’s operation – justifiably so.

The message is then, don’t panic, react calmly. Take a balanced look at what steps you have to take to weather the storm. But, also use this as an opportunity to emerge a stronger and more competitive company.

The business world is more data-driven than ever before, to the point that even the smallest businesses now need the flexibility and accessibility to critical business data at their fingertips, rather than just when they review things with their accounting or bookkeeping staff.

Cloud accounting tools like Xero can help. No matter, where you are or what device you have, you have access to essential financial management information 24/7.

Furthermore, data-driven accountants like Tax Agility can help you get a better grasp of your company’s day-to-day financial management too, particularly in how to prepare and respond to business crises.

So contact us and find out how we can help in a proactive way.


Domestic VAT reverse change for building and construction services

Traditionally, the value-added tax or VAT is a tax based on a percentage of the sale price; and is applied at each stage in the production and distribution chain. However, for the construction industry, that's all changed.

CIS VAT reverse charge schemeFrom 1 March 2021, the new VAT domestic reverse charge system for building and construction services will take effect. As the name implies, it only affects jobs that building tradespeople carry out for their clients in the construction industry.
This new system aims to reduce the missing trader fraud common in the construction industry, whereby a supplier or subcontractor would invoice and charge VAT to another builder, before going missing or going into liquidation. With this reverse charge, the VAT is moved down the supply chain, making the main contractor responsible for the VAT and pay it directly to HMRC.

To aid the process, the government has published a flow chart which lists key questions that can help you determine whether a reserve charge should be applied or not if you are supplying services customers. As such your customer must have the following attributes:

  • Does the supply fall within the scope of Construction Industry Scheme (CIS)?
  • Is the supply standard-rated or reduced-rated?
  • Is your customer VAT-registered?
  • Is your customer registered for CIS?
  • You’re not an employment business supplying staff or workers
  • Your customer has confirmed that they are not an end user or an intermediary supplier?

If the answer is ‘yes’ all of these questions, then the domestic reverse charge applies, meaning when you issue an invoice to your main contractor, you don’t include VAT on your invoice. Instead, your invoice should state “Reserve charge: Customer to pay VAT to HMRC", along with the VAT rate. This is to make it clear that the reserve charge system has been applied, and the main contractor knows what rate to declare on their return later.

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of the first four questions, then normal VAT rules apply.

Further guidance provided, explains some of the differences between ‘end users’ and ‘intermediary suppliers’.

What is the difference between an end user and an intermediary supplier?

End users are the actual consumers or final customers of a service. The reverse charge does not apply to end users.

An intermediary supplier is a CIS and VAT registered business connected or linked in some way with an end user. This connection could be through the holding of relevant interests in the land or buildings with the construction work is to take place. Landlords and tenants are an example, as are constructions services carried out within a group of companies.

Further helpful definitions

To help define the circumstances and applicable scenarios further the government provides the following additional guidelines:

When you must use the reverse charge

  • Constructing, altering, repairing, extending, demolishing or dismantling buildings or structures including offshore installation services;
  • Constructing, altering, repairing, extending, demolishing of any works forming, or planned to form, part of the land, i.e. walls, roadworks, power lines, electronic communications equipment, aircraft runways, railways, inland waterways, and more;
  • Installing heating, lighting, air-conditioning, ventilation, power supply, drainage, sanitation, water supply or fire protection systems in any building or structure;
  • Internal cleaning of buildings and structures, so far as carried out in the course of their construction, alteration, repair, extension or restoration;
  • Painting or decorating the inside or the external surfaces of any building or structure; and
  • Services which form an integral part of, or are part of the preparation or completion of the services i.e. site clearance, earth-moving, excavation, tunnelling and boring, laying of foundations, erection of scaffolding, site restoration, landscaping and the provision of roadways and other access works.

When you must not use the reverse charge

Do not use the charge for the following services, when supplied on their own:

  • Drilling for, or extracting, oil or natural gas;
  • Extracting minerals and tunnelling, boring, or construction of underground works, for this purpose;
  • Manufacturing building or engineering components or equipment, materials, plant or machinery, or delivering any of these to site;
  • Manufacturing components for heating, lighting, air-conditioning, ventilation, power supply, drainage, sanitation, water supply or fire protection systems, or delivering any of these to site;
  • The professional work of architects or surveyors, or of building, engineering, interior or exterior decoration and landscape consultants;
  • Making, installing and repairing art works such as sculptures, murals and other items that are purely artistic signwriting and erecting, installing and repairing signboards and advertisements;
  • Installing seating, blinds and shutters; and
  • Installing security systems, including burglar alarms, closed circuit television and public address systems.

Some basic examples of how this works in practice

Example 1: a transaction under reserve charge

You are a subcontractor who is VAT-registered and you charge 20% VAT normally. You carry out painting and decorating work in an office block for the main contractor AB Construction Ltd. Upon completion, you invoice AB for £2,000 on paint and other materials, and £4,000 for labour. You charge £6,000 in total but no VAT. Your invoice will mention the VAT rate (20%) and the phrase ‘Reserve change: Customer to pay VAT to HMRC’.

On your VAT Return:

  • VAT on sales – suppliers must not enter output tax on sales under reverse charge. The supplier only need to enter the net value.
  • VAT on purchases (goods) – if you buy services subject to reverse charge, you must enter the VAT charges as output tax on your VAT return. Make sure you do not enter the net value of the purchase as a net sale.
  • If the services provided (expertise/labour )are  subject to reverse charge from the subcontractor, the VAT must be accounted for in your VAT return and VAT will be recovered simultaneously on the same VAT return.

Example 2: a transaction not under reverse charge

You are a subcontractor who is VAT-registered and you charge 20% VAT normally. You carry out painting and decorating work in an office block for the owner, who confirms that he is the end-user. Upon completion, you invoice the owner £6,000 for the materials and labour, plus £1,200 for VAT.

This is reported normally in your VAT return.

Important note on the cash accounting and VAT flat rate schemes

An important point to note here is that the cash accounting scheme cannot be used for supply of services that are subject to the reverse charge. The same is true for the flat rate scheme (FRS). Users of these schemes will need to consider whether it is still beneficial to their businesses to use these schemes.

This will impact likely your cash flow, so be aware

Under the old scheme, a business would charge their fee plus VAT. If the customer was a prompt payer, the charging business would have a 20% cash flow advantage from the VAT, potentially for up to 3 months. Under the new scheme, the business won’t charge VAT and therefore won’t benefit from the cash flow advantage.

If you aren’t sure, talk to Tax Agility

Prepare yourself by making sure that your accounting systems and software can deal with the reserve charge, and take time to review your contracts with other builders and suppliers.

At Tax Agility, we are also here to provide professional guidance on this issue. You can speak to our VAT specialist.


R&D Tax Relief Scheme Changes 2021

Changes to the SME R&D tax relief

Changes announced late last year concerning the R&D tax relief scheme come into force on April 1 this year, are you ready?

R&D Tax Relief Scheme Changes 2021Aiming to put UK at the forefront of R&D and help companies compete on the world stage, the government has introduced various R&D tax reliefs, including R&D for small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), universities and charities, as well as R&D Expenditure Credit for large companies.

From 1 April 2021, the new SME R&D tax credit scheme will take effect, with the introduction of a cap on the amount of credits that could be claimed.

An overview of the SME R&D tax relief scheme

When the SME R&D tax credit schemed was first introduced in 2000, it had a cap on the amount of credits that a company could claim. In 2012, the cap was removed, thereby allowing eligible companies to deduct an extra 130% of their qualifying costs from their yearly profit, as well as the normal 100% deduction, making it a total of 230% deduction. Even when a company was making losses, it could still claim a tax credit worth up to 14.5% of the surrendarable losses.

The system was subject to abuse and fraud – HMRC announced that they had detected and prevented fraudulent claims amounting to over £300m in recent times. Many deceptions included people setting up a UK-based entity just to claim tax credit despite no R&D work was actually performed in the UK.

Consequently, from 1 April 2021, the government will introduce a cap, limiting the payable R&D tax credit to three times the total PAYE and NIC liability of the company for the year, plus £20,000. This also means that the first £20,000 of repayable tax credit claim will be exempt from the cap, thereby protecting smaller SMEs with few employees.

For a genuine SME that employs people to carry out R&D work in the UK, the new changes will have little or no impact. However, for a company that doesn’t have any real UK-based activities, or one that doesn’t employ people but relies on subcontractors, the new rule will discourage them from making an R&D tax credit claim.

Exemption

The new changes will not apply to companies that:

  • Have employees creating, preparing to create, or managing Intellectual Property (IP), and;
  • Do not spend more than 15% of its qualifying R&D expenditure on subcontracting R&D to, or the provision of externally provided workers (EPWs) by, connected persons.

R&D and IP creation

Ideally, R&D work would lead to IP creation, and if this is the case, your company could also take advantage of the Patent Box – a scheme that allows companies to apply a lower rate of Corporate Tax to profits earned from its patented inventions.

‘Related party PAYE’

In calculating PAYE and NIC liabilities, claimants may include related third parties, i.e. those companies performing R&D activities on the claimants behalf, as long as the work is directly attributable to the development activity.

Talk to Tax Agility

The first step is to seek professional guidance on this issue if you aren’t sure how it is going to impact your business.


Small Business: 5 ways to get new customers

For many small business owners, the top priority is always this: how do I get more customers?

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Every small business owner knows that it is risky to rely on a regular base of clients, particularly when customers today tend to change their product or service providers often. The most desired outcome is to have a continuous stream of new customers, with some of them becoming loyal customers and thereby allowing the company to grow and expand organically.

Yet the task of finding new clients is easier said than done.

Traditional approaches to finding new customers – such as cold-calling and door-to-door marketing – require excellent communication and people skills, which not everyone possesses. On the other hand, modern marketing techniques can also be challenging for small business owners who struggle to keep up with the rapid evolution of technology, not to mention that some techniques like email marketing are also restricted by GDPR regulations. With this in mind, our small business accountants aim to discuss and explore a few tips which can hopefully help entrepreneurs like you gain new customers and generate new sales.

1. Finding new customers online

If you are running an eCommerce business, chances are, you have explored many online opportunities and now reap the benefits from your website, social media, online reviews, plus other eCommerce platforms and content tools at your disposal.

But if you run a traditional business, one that doesn’t sell online or has a small digital footprint, can you still gain new customers online? The answer is yes. Technology has indeed created a level playing field for companies big and small. Take a client of ours for example – this is a dedicated transport provider who relies on local business and has a simple website, yet thanks to the internet, he can now identify other local groups and associations that match the profile of his target customers. In addition, he also runs an online pay-per-click campaign targeting people in his immediate vicinity. As a result, he is able to get new clients and can keep building his customer base.

2. Finding new customers through networking

There are thousands of networking groups across the UK, many of which are eager to help business owners build relationships and explore new opportunities among their members.

Networking, at its core, is about building relationships that could produce mutually-beneficial opportunities, including quality leads. As one of our clients put it, “Effective networking is like having a good sales team but without carrying the overhead.” This is so well-said because when you make a new contact, you can potentially reach out to all the friends and business associates whom the individual has made.

Despite its benefits, you must also be prepared to reciprocate, meaning you must be willing to introduce your contacts to people in your network and help them to grow their business, just as they would help you to expand yours.

Recently, there has been a move from traditional greet-and-meet to ‘video-centric’ networking, where members meet and discuss opportunities via video conference calls. Some small business owners find this less stressful than meeting in person and if this suits you better, do give it a go.

3. Finding new customers through engagements

Raising your profile through a series of speaking engagements or getting featured in the news is fast becoming a popular option among small business owners.

Undoubtedly, speaking at a conference or an event – ideally one that is attended by your target audience – is likely to boost your credibility and help to reinforce your position as an expert in your industry. When your prospects see you as an expert, they are more likely to do business with you and become your clients. However, beware that most speaking engagements do not allow you to do the hard sell. Rather, you are expected to share your expert knowledge with the audience, preferably in a fun and engaging way.

Getting featured in the news (which can be newspapers, magazines, on radio or TV) is another way to raise your profile and build influence. While you can certainly contact journalists directly, there are also many PR sites that allow journalists to reach out to the small business owners and get their story across to a wider group of audience.

In addition to sharing serious business insights, you are welcome to pitch light-hearted stories. For example, a client of ours once helped to direct traffic and rescue a swan that was trapped on a central reservation a short distance away from his store – his story was featured in the local news and in the weeks that followed, he had more visitors to his store than ever before.

4. Partnering for success

Teaming up with another business that offers complementary services is a proven strategy that can help you and the partner to broaden product awareness, increase brand recognition and expand customer base, while saving costs for both parties.

The trick, however, is to find a partner who is on the same wavelength as you – having similar work ethics, believing in fairness, respecting and accepting each other’s shortcomings and sharing same goals, which are just some essential elements of a powerful partnership. Before any collaboration, it also pays to conduct due diligence on the other partner, and establish clear agreements and boundaries.

5. Give (some) stuff for free

Everyone loves a good bargain, which is why many of us look for discounts, sign up for a free trial, love a free sample, and shop with companies that provide free shipping, to name but a few. The objective of this is to encourage the prospects (who have received some free stuff), to take up your main services or purchase your products.

At Tax Agility, we also give a free introductory consultation session to new customers who are considering our accounting and bookkeeping service, as well as offering free quotes to customers needing tax or payroll management services. What we do is not unlike an optician giving you a free eye test or a car salesperson allowing you to take the car out for a test drive.

It is widely believed that your prospects respond more positively (albeit unconsciously) when they get something for nothing. For instance, they may believe that you are very generous and they are more inclined to reciprocate your generosity by becoming your customers.

Tax Agility is here for small business owners

At Tax Agility, our small business accountants work in tandem with entrepreneurs across London, Putney and Richmond. Our aim is to help entrepreneurs like you get the business account in order, so you can use the financial data to make informed decisions and grow from strength to strength.

Our services include:

  • Accounting & Bookkeeping: leave your day-to-day finances to us. We will also provide monthly management accounts, prepare statements and help you set-up cloud accounting.
  • Tax: if you are tax-efficient, you will have more money to invest, expand and create jobs in your community. Let us help you with tax planning, tax computation and tax returns.
  • VAT: from VAT returns to manging VAT on import and export goods, we take care of them so you don’t have to.
  • Payroll: As your team grows, outsource your payroll administration to us so that you and your team can continue to enjoy accurate and on-time payslips every month.
  • Management consultancy: take your business forward with practical advice based on financial data and benchmark analysis.

Call our small business accountants today on 020 8108 0090.

Alternatively, you can use the contact us form to get in touch.

You may also like:

This blog is a general summary. It should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstance.


A concept image of starting a business

Starting a part-time business

Not ready to take the leap, consider a business on the side while keeping your main employment.

A concept image of starting a business

Having a full-time job is, for many people, the path to job security and financial security. While employment is a more comfortable choice when compared to setting up, owning and running one’s own business, the pace of technology growth and a less than stable economy in recent times have threatened this supposed ‘safe-haven’.

Many working adults have come to realise that relying on full-time employment as their only source of income is potentially risky, as jobs can be outsourced or replaced, plus changes in business fortunes can leave them facing the stark reality of unemployment. Accordingly, more and more working people are considering starting a business on the side and seeking additional income streams. If you’re facing a similar situation, this post may make a great read.

Benefits of starting a business on the side

Starting your own business on the side while working full-time can seem quite a hill to climb, but the benefits often far outlay the early pains soon. For instance, after getting a business going and experiencing your first success, a side-line business could soon:

  • Provide a second income that supports the payment of your rent or mortgage, or ideally, help to pay down the mortgage more quickly than your main job could do on its own.
  • Lessens the impact of losing your job. In many cases, people who have started their own businesses on the side often quit their jobs to focus on the business full time later. This comes once they are confident that the business has overcome any initial teething problems and can continue to support their dreams.
  • The second income, or additional disposable income, could also help to afford a few extra luxuries in life.
  • Running your own business often brings you into contact with people in a similar situation. These interactions will broaden your circle of acquaintances, leading perhaps to greater opportunities.

While there are many benefits, it pays to be clear about what you want to achieve before setting up a part-time business though. Do you want it to be just a part-time or seasonal thing, or do you see it as a potential replacement for your main job? Setting realistic expectations is critical, and can help you to be better prepared too.

Things to prepare before starting your part-time business

While there are few businesses that just followed an idea and been successful right out of the gate, in reality most entrepreneurs spend a fair amount of time on planning and preparation. The main reason is that even the best and most innovative ideas may not turn into great business concepts, unless there is a nurturing environment to help them flourish.

Write a business plan

The first advice most seasoned business people give to budding entrepreneurs is to write a business plan. While there are no rules on what you should include in your business plan, standard items like stating your goals, highlighting market research, operation plan and financial strategy will help you see your business more thoroughly.

A concept image of resaerchConduct research

At the very least, you should know:

  • The needs and preferences of your target market
  • How are you going to find your customers?
  • Your competitors
  • Their price points versus your pricing strategy
  • Do they have any gaps in their product or service you can exploit?
  • What makes you different from them?

Know your responsibilities

If this is your first attempt at starting a business, you may not be familiar with all the responsibilities and duties of running a business. For example, if you are selling toys, your products need to comply with the provisions of the Toys Regulations 2011, meaning they must bear the CE mark, satisfy the ‘essential safety requirements’ in the regulations, be properly marked to ensure traceability, and be accompanied by instructions for use, along with warnings where necessary.

Crunch some numbers

The first number-crunching exercise you do should be about cost, revenue and profitability – because everyone wants to run a profitable business. Be sensible in how you plan your costs – especially marketing costs, as they are essential to get your products or services to the right people. Equally, be realistic about how much you can make over a period of time. Create a pricing strategy and calculate your break-even point. Find out about the risks you are exposed to and ways to mitigate them.

The second part of finance relates to funding. In essence, your plan to get the funds needed to launch and support the business until it turns a profit. There are a few types of funding – self-funding, funding through debt (borrowing money to start your business), equity (trading away ownership of your company to receive funding), and mezzanine (a combination of debt and equity). Most part-time businesses are either self-funded or through borrowing from friends and family members. Both approaches are helpful, albeit risky, so it is wise to have a back-up plan and know when to source for additional funding later. If you’d like to know more, follow the link to the article The complete guide to business funding.

Choose a company structure

Choosing to start your business as a sole proprietorship or as a limited company can impact how much tax you pay, how far you want to protect your personal liability, how much you want to pay to maintain the company, and how much administrative work you want to do it yourself. At Tax Agility, we help entrepreneurs to set-up a structure that works for them. If you’d like to talk to us about setting up a company, call us on 020 8108 0090 today.

Beware of pitfalls

Working fulltime can be exhausting, and by the end of a long work week, you probably do not have the time and energy to work on your part-time business. Add to that family obligations, and you may quickly find yourself defeated. One way to overcome this is to outsource the work you aren’t good at, if you have the initial investment funds ready. For instance, if you need a website, hire a good web company. If you need advice on company structure, talk to a qualified accountant like us.

Also, beware that those around you may not be as enthusiastic as you are. It goes without saying that to start and run your own business, you need to believe firmly in yourself and know what you want to achieve. Having a clear set of goals and milestones is critical. And, don’t forget to reward yourself a little along the way too.

Once your business takes off, you will soon find yourself spending more time with your clients. The challenge of juggling your time with the new venture may start affecting your day job, leading to undesirable consequences like making mistakes on your job and losing your job before you’re ready to quit.

Popular part-time businesses

Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

  • Selling products on an e-Commerce platform
  • Creating creative products – videos, pictures, jewellery etc
  • Providing handyman services
  • Becoming virtual assistants
  • Becoming a freelance designer
  • Writing for websites

Tax Agility is here to help small business owners

As leading small business accountants in London, Putney and Richmond, we have gladly worked with many entrepreneurs who started small and grew organically over the years. In the process, we become their trusted go-to accountants as well as business advisors.

Our services include:

  • Accounting & Bookkeeping: leave your day-to-day finances to us. We will also provide monthly management accounts, prepare statements and help you set-up cloud accounting.
  • Tax: if you are tax-efficient, you will have more money to invest, expand and create jobs in your community. Let us help you with tax planning, tax computation and tax returns.
  • VAT: from VAT returns to manging VAT on import and export goods, we take care of them so you don’t have to.
  • Payroll: as your team grows, outsource your payroll administration to us so that you and your team can continue to enjoy accurate and on-time payslips every month.
  • Management consultancy: take your business forward with practical advice based on financial data and benchmark analysis.

The beauty of working with us is that you have the freedom to choose the level of engagement you want from us – for instance, you may need us to manage bookkeeping for now, give you tax advice when you need money to invest, add payroll when your team expands, and use our management consultancy service when you are ready to grow. All of our services are competitively priced with no hidden charges, and our small business accountants are always here to assist.

Call us today on 020 8108 0090. Alternatively, you can use the contact us form to get in touch.

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This blog is a general summary. It should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstance.


A concept image of a fraudster working on a laptop

Small Business: Protect your business against fraud

Learn how to recognise common fraud and protect your business.

A concept image of a fraudster working on a laptop
According to the National Crime Agency (NCA), the estimated annual cost of fraud in the UK is about £190 billion. Victims of fraud are varied – they could be individuals, major corporations, public sectors, and of course, small businesses, which make up 99.9% of the business population.

The NCA believes that private sector is hit the hardest, losing around £140 billion a year to fraudsters – this shouldn’t come as a surprise as many small business owners are regularly targeted by fraudsters who could be internal staff, customers, suppliers, or professional criminals.

Some examples of fraud committed by internal staff include an employee stealing and passing sensitive company data to third parties or a contractor deliberately fiddling their expenses. On the other hand, fraud involves external parties may include scammers selling counterfeit products to your company, requesting your business to pay fake invoices, or tricking you and your staff into installing software that allows criminals to access your files to steal information or lock your systems on purpose – which they then demand ransom from you.

Fraud affects us all, and when small business owners like you and I are being hit, we may see our profits being wiped out and reputations crumble, and the ripple effect may sadly lead to business closure.

An overview of fraud

The Fraud Act 2006 defines the three ways of committing fraud by:

  • False representation
  • Failing to disclose information
  • Abuse of position

The Act also covers a number of other offences relating to fraud, including:

  • Possession of articles for use in fraud
  • Making or supplying articles for use in frauds
  • Participation by a sole trader in fraudulent business
  • Obtaining services dishonestly
  • Liability of company officers for offences by company

Fraud covers every form of deception and it won’t disappear because there are always individuals looking to take advantage and make quick gains. There is no one solution to prevent all types of fraud too, and some also evolve quicker than the others. So let’s take a look at a few common types of fraud and discuss how we can protect our small business against them.

Fraud committed by internal staff

No business owner likes to think that they are being targeted by their trusted employees, but the sad truth is that fraud committed by internal staff is more common than we’d like to believe and many such cases have never been made public. In addition, research has shown that employees who hold positions of trust tend to be more dangerous as they can commit the crime longer and use various schemes to cover their tracks.

As chartered accountants for small businesses in London, Putney and Richmond, we do our best to help our clients uncover fraud committed by internal staff. For instance, when you’ve been tricked into signing off duplicate payments, especially on reoccurring charges, then we can spot and alert you when we go through the accounts. However, we must admit that sometimes it is impossible to tell if the transactions are genuine (or not) by looking at them alone.

Here’s an example – a business owner hires seasonal staff during busy periods, so when a manager authorises payments to temp staff, one can’t tell, without digging deeper, if these temp staffs are genuine or if the manager has committed payroll fraud, which is rather widespread.

Fraud committed by internal staff is often uncovered during an audit of a company’s annual accounts, which is burdensome and costly to most small businesses. In comparison, entrepreneurs may find it easier (and cheaper) to establish tighter internal controls and perform random checks.

It is also important to understand why an employee may choose to commit fraud against your company – usually it is driven by personal greed, to fund an expensive addiction like gambling or drug use, or in some case, they simply want to abuse the trust the company has placed on them. And after a while, the staff who has been defrauding the company is likely to show a change in their lifestyle habits, such as taking frequent holidays or showing off their knowledge about high-end brands.

Fraud committed by customers

If you run an eCommerce site or a retail shop, you may be familiar with card-not-present fraud committed by some customers. It happens when someone uses a fraudulent card to pay for goods over the phone or online, and the goods are picked up by courier to the customer right away. In the UK, which party should be responsible for the amount lost in a fraud case depends on the payment method. If the customer gives their fraudulent credit card over the phone or online (without using 3-D secure like Verified by Visa), then the merchant is often liable. But if the merchant uses 3-D secure for all online payment, then they are not liable.

On the other hand, if a customer walks into the shop and uses contactless or Chip & Pin to defraud the owner, in this case the owner is not liable. To minimise customer fraud, banks and credit card companies often encourage business owners to deploy 3-D secure online or have the customers pay in person.

Fraud committed by suppliers

Most small business owners tend to be careful when they first select their suppliers but after a while, they tend to let their guard down and do not notice if the supplier is over-changing them. Sometimes, business owners also comply when the supplier asks to be paid in cash and avoid VAT on a sale, which is also a type of fraud.

If you believe your supply chain is vulnerable to fraud, then it is good to review the process and conduct due diligence when necessary.

When seeking out a supplier like an accountant or a cybersecurity specialist, it is also worth checking their credentials. For example, we are ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) chartered accountants and this means we follow a set of principles such as integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality, and professional behaviour. In other words, as our client, you will receive honest answers from our knowledgeable teams who keep abreast with the latest developments in practice, legislation and techniques. We also act diligently and respect confidentiality.

Fraud committed by criminals

Out of all the cases mentioned in this article, fraud committed by criminals is perhaps most widely encountered and reported, and phishing and malware (or ransomware) remain high on the agenda.

Phishing happens when scammers pretend to be from a trusted company and they trick you into giving out personal information, such as bank details. They often appear helpful, like alerting you to suspicious activity on your bank account, offering you financial rewards (including tax refunds from HMRC), or helping to verify and restore your records after a technical error. They are also good at manipulating your emotions, using words that can make you panic, fearful, or even curious and hopeful, so that you can divulge information quickly. The best thing to protect yourself against phishing is to take a step back and don’t respond to their requests. If you think the message could be genuine, then seek to verify the message yourself – by calling the authority or the company from a number listed on the website. Under no circumstances, you should use the contact you have been given over the phone or email.

Malware or ransomware, on the other hand, is about scammers trying to trick you into installing software that allows them to access your files or lock your systems unless you pay the ransom. It may come in an email or is attached to a file you have downloaded online. Sometimes it also involves a scammer impersonating as your IT provider and informing you that something isn’t working (like your software is compromised, broadband speed is reduced, etc). Their goal is to get you to install something so they can take over your system later. To protect yourself, be vigilant when you click on attachments, links in email, or access breaking news through an unknown link. Also, keep a back-up of your data offline.

Don’t let fraud ruin your business

Many small business owners work hard to create a successful business, so it is very unfortunate that fraud can cause a serious reputation and financial damage to businesses.

While prevention is key, entrepreneurs also know that the cost of fighting fraud can spiral out of control quickly and have a direct impact on your profit margin. If operating costs and profitability are a concern, perhaps you can talk to one of our small business accountants.

When we review your business finance, we can also help you with accounting & bookkeeping, tax, as well as payroll management.

Our approach is flexible and entirely depends on your business needs. You can hire our bookkeeping and tax services now, add payroll when your team grows, then use our management consultancy service when you are ready to take your business to new heights.

All of our services are competitively priced with no hidden charges. Call us today on 020 8108 0090, or use the contact us form to get in touch.

 

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This blog is a general summary. It should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstance.


Social media icons concept

Small Business: Adapting to changes in social media

Many small businesses view social media as an important component in the marketing mix, but have you kept up with the changes?

Social media icons concept

Many social media services that we are familiar with today are well over a decade old, with some approaching 20 years soon. Yet many of them don’t remain still – they continue to evolve and adapt, pushing out new features that aim to make communication easier. In view of this, small business owners like you and I are wondering what does it all mean? Do we have to continue using social media as part of our marketing mix? And if so, how do we adapt? Questions like these deserve honest answers, so we think it is time to create a post that can help us – and also our clients – to understand social media better.

Before we start, it must be said that we are not social media experts – our expertise lies in accounting & bookkeeping, tax, payroll and management consultancy for small businesses across London. We work with clients and help them become efficient, meet regulatory compliance, and confidently rely on accurate financial data to make informed decisions. When our clients grow, we grow too, which is why we are always keen to share ideas that can benefit small business owners, including how all of us can harness the power of social media better.

Social media for small businesses

Social media refers to internet services and mobile applications that allow users, including individuals and companies, to share content and interact with others. As these services are free and easy to use, they can attract millions of users in a short space of time, and with that many people congregating on any one of the platforms, companies big and small soon realise the potential of social media.

Nowadays, most companies spend time crafting social media posts and share them on popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Those with a bigger budget also create videos and post them on YouTube and TikTok. Essentially, they all hope that their content is viewed and shared rapidly, thereby broadening their reach.

But social media isn’t all rosy and full of promise. It has given unhappy customers, jealous competitors, disgruntled ex-employees and even trolls a platform to complain, provoke, with some choose to hurt your brand on purpose simply because they can.

Big companies respond to these negativities by hiring a team to investigate, monitor and talk to customers directly. But small business owners tend not to have such luxury, leaving many question the benefits of social media. With this in mind, let’s look at a few areas which can help small businesses.

Take another look at your social media strategy

If your small business has been posting on social media for a while, chances are, you will continue to do the same without giving it much thought.

A good place to start is to take another look at your social media strategy and ask what social media can do for your business. To get the answer, you need to look at your customers, your competitors, and also your financial data. In other words, you are examining several key factors, including but not limited to:

  • What is the purpose of your social media strategy?
  • Where does your target audience congregate online?
  • What information is relevant to your target audience?
  • What are your competitors doing on social media?
  • What social media inspiration can you draw from industry leaders?
  • How much do you intend to spend?
  • How do you evaluate the process?
  • How do you measure success?

Once you have reviewed your social media strategy, the next step is to understand the risks of social media so you can actively avoid them. Some common risks include:

There may not be any tangible return

While social media can help to amplify your brand, often it may not contribute to tangible return. For example, a person seeing a short video clip of your service may not call you and become your client. Sometimes, it can be hard to measure the return on investment too.

Undesired information may go out of control

You may make a mistake in one of your social media posts, a troll may decide to inflict hurt, or a customer’s complaint may have gone viral, when this happens, it is hard to control the spread of undesired information.

Making a situation worse

When a small business owner responds in anger, or when a company’s social media team cannot adequately handle customer complaints, things can go out of hand quickly and the domino effect can undo a company’s years of hard work in just a few hours (or less).

Legal issues

Every content you use online must adhere to the appropriate policies like copyright law and privacy legislation. Otherwise, you are putting yourself and your business at risk.

A few tips

Every business uses social media somewhat differently, depending on their strategy, however, there are a few common tips that we believe can benefit small businesses.

Local versus international

It is said that there are now 3.5 billion social media users worldwide, but if you are a brick and mortar company relying on local footfall, this astronomical number probably doesn’t mean much to you. Instead, you may choose to advertise locally (through local targeting or using selected hash-tags).

Show personality with care

Everything you post on social media is a reflection of your company – this is why sticking to the script is safe. You can, of course, show some personality by using emojis to inject some fun. At Tax Agility, we choose to share an inspiration quote once a week to encourage fellow small business owners.

Don’t respond when you’re angry

Social media gives many unhappy people (customers, competitors and trolls) a platform to vent, but it doesn’t mean that you need to act when you’re angry. Stay calm and remain professional. Also, don’t confuse angry customers with trolls who simply want to provoke and hurt.

Plan your posts

Many popular social media posts today are carefully crafted, accompanied by an appropriate picture or a video. So it is worth planning out your posts and making sure they are suitable for your audience.

Tax Agility is here for small businesses in London

Like many small businesses, we are still working on how to better engage our target audience – and also our customers – on social media. While we may not be able to assist your day-to-day management of social media, we certainly can help small business owners rest easy, knowing that their accounting & bookkeeping, tax, as well as payroll management are in our capable hands.

Our approach is flexible and entirely depends on your business needs. You can hire our bookkeeping and tax services now, add payroll when your team grows, then use our management consultancy service when you are ready to take your business to new heights.

All of our services are competitively priced with no hidden charges. Call us today on 020 8108 0090, or use the contact us form to get in touch.

 

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This blog is a general summary. It should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstance.


A concept image of outsourcing

Small business: Gain competitive advantage through outsourcing

Outsourcing allows small business owners to optimise the use of resources and achieve maximum customer value.

A concept image of outsourcing
In today’s business ecosystem, small business owners are familiar with the concept of outsourcing, which is to use third parties to perform work that is normally done within a company, as the third parties can provide a better service at a lower cost.

At Tax Agility, we have a team that is dedicated to serving companies’ outsourcing needs in accounting and bookkeeping, as well as payroll. Over the years, we have built up strong relationships with our clients and witnessed the advantages of outsourcing brought to them. If you are a small business owner looking to outsource your bookkeeping and payroll, give us a call on 020 8108 0090.

The eight benefits of outsourcing

1. Lower costs

The true costs of hiring a full-time staff can be substantial once you add National Insurance, pensions, benefits, as well as office facilities and equipment which you need to provide for the person to work. Outsourcing is often a cheaper alternative.

2. Increase efficiency

Companies that focus on core competencies and outsource activities they aren’t good at tend to be lean and efficiently-managed. For example, if you rely on third parties who have the economy of scale to perform the same tasks inexpensively, you can pass the savings to your customers and remain competitive.

3. Improve flexibility

Outsourcing allows you to pick and choose the level of engagement that suits your business at a particular moment in time. For instance, you can select the bookkeeping service from us when you first launch your business, add payroll when your team expands, then engage our management consultancy service when you are ready to grow and take your business to new heights.

4. Access to specialists

Outsourcing allows small businesses to access the same level of expertise enjoyed by big companies. For instance, a small business may not afford to hire a full-time CFO, but by outsourcing and becoming our client, you now have a team of chartered accountants who are ready to assist.

5. Reduce risk

Our chartered accountants and payroll specialists help to reduce your financial and compliance risks by managing every task accurately, including sending the right documents to HMRC on time.

6. Not affected by staff holiday or sickness

The companies that you outsource the work to often have a big team that can provide year-round cover; therefore, your tasks and deadlines are not affected by staff holidays or sickness.

7. Increase confidentiality

Most offices today have an open-plan layout with limited storage space. Confidential data such as salary information may be left on a table or stored in an unlocked cabinet that can be accessed by all employees. When you outsource a business function that contains confidential data, you essentially increase confidentiality within your office.

8. Support your wellbeing

It is no secret that small business owners take on a lot, with some work so hard that they experience stress and anxiety. Outsourcing is a cost-effective way to help busy entrepreneurs reduce workload, giving them time to focus on their strengths and their mental wellbeing.

Five popular business functions to outsource

Small business owners tend to outsource niche business functions that require specialists who know what they are doing and can generally do the tasks cheaper and better. These functions include but not limited to:

  • IT support – covering network, wireless, cyber-security, database management, web development, and digital transformation.
  • Accounting & bookkeeping – from day-to-day bookkeeping to filing the right documents with HMRC and Companies House.
  • Marketing – evolving quickly, marketing today has a sharper focus on email, social media, video, search advertising, native content advertising, and apps.
  • Customer support – having first-level customer support that can provide quick answers to customers and keep them happy is valuable.
  • Payroll – every payslip in the UK must be calculated accurately and delivered on time, this complicated process is best left with the professionals.

Choose Tax Agility’s accounting and bookkeeping service

Tax Agility has worked with small businesses in London, Putney, and Richmond-upon-Thames since 2008. We have worked with entrepreneurs from all walks of life and different companies with varying business models.

Our accounting and bookkeeping services specific to small businesses cover everything from basic data entry to high-level management reporting and analysis. Accurate financial data that we provide, such as management accounts, budgets, cash-flow forecasts, can also help you to:

  • Improve profit margins
  • Reduce costs
  • Compare performance
  • Make informed decisions
  • Unlock business potential
  • Ensure regulatory compliance

Call us today on 020 8108 0090.

Choose Tax Agility’s payroll services

Payroll demands absolute accuracy, and each payslip must be calculated individually and delivered on time. Our payroll team has worked with all types of industries, including companies that offer commissions, ad-hoc bonuses, as well as restaurants, bars and hotels that use the TRONC scheme.

By outsourcing your payroll administration to us, you can keep your costs down while maintaining accuracy and efficiency. Our team also provides year-round covers, so your Full Payment Submission to HMRC is always on time, undisturbed by staff holidays or sickness.

Call us today on 020 8108 0090.

Other services

Apart from bookkeeping and payroll, we also provide tax and VAT services, along with management consultancy to small businesses across London.

Our aim is to assist entrepreneurs in becoming tax-efficient, so you have more money to invest, expand and create jobs in your community.

Management consultancy also puts a sharper focus on using financial data and benchmark analysis to improve efficiency, increase profitability and grow sustainably.

The challenges of outsourcing and how to address them

Outsourcing has indeed helped many small businesses to grow from strength to strength, but it is not without some challenges. It is useful to discuss a few tips that can help you navigate around common pitfalls.

Choose a reputable company

Only outsource your selected business functions to a reputable company that belongs to a trade organisation with a defined code of ethics. For example, we are ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) chartered accountants, and we follow a set of principles, including integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality, and professional behaviour. This means that as our client, you will receive honest answers from our knowledgeable teams who keep abreast with the latest developments in practice, legislation and techniques. We also act diligently and respect confidentiality.

Formalise processes

Formalise a set of guidelines which you want the outsourced company to follow and communicate your expectations clearly. This way, you have greater control over the quality of services rendered.

Check their data security commitment

If the tasks you outsource involved confidential information, like customer information or personal data from your employees, ask the provider what steps they have to keep the data secure, and what happens if there is a breach.

Local versus overseas

Outsourcing to local companies may also work better for some businesses, as they don’t have to manage time differences and cultural barriers. At Tax Agility, our offices are in Central London, Putney and Richmond-upon-Thames, so clients could pop in to ask a question at any time, without having to worry about time differences.

Outsourcing has indeed helped many small businesses to scale, remain efficient and competitive, so are you ready to enjoy the benefits of outsourcing?

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This blog is a general summary. It should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstance.