Posts By :

James Bennett

Xero pricing changes

Xero pricing changes 150 150 Cypher

Xero pricing changes

Xero has announced an upcoming change to its subscription pricing, which will affect Cypher clients in October.

As a cloud company, Xero continually invests in product development, regularly releasing updates and improvements for its customers. Like many businesses, they periodically review their pricing to ensure it reflects the value of the product as it evolves, while allowing them to invest in what’s next.

So from October 2021, Cypher clients will pay the following for their Xero plans:

Continued product development for UK customers

Since the last price increase in 2019, Xero has invested heavily in business critical areas such as cash flow, getting paid faster, automation and security. This year they’re focused on providing greater support for cash flow management and insight tools, and they’re working hard to ensure their software keeps us all one step ahead of any upcoming Government changes to compliance.

You can learn more here on Xero’s website.

All pricing is in GBP and excludes VAT.

Find out more

If your business could use the Cypher touch, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your options.

Learn, un-learn-re-learn

Learn, un-learn-re-learn 150 150 Cypher

Learn, un-learn-re-learn

The Government could announce an end to its work from home guidance in England next month, leaving companies with three broad choices: bring everyone back to the office; introduce a flexible working regime; or allow people to work from their home office, kitchen table or garden shed permanently.

It’s another step forward post lockdown and it represents just another rather hefty decision business owners will have to make.

A lot of businesses have been closed for a long time, now some are starting to reopen but in a slightly different way. Very few are operating in exactly the same way as they did before the first lockdown.

As a business, Cypher was already paperless and we use a lot of tech in our infrastructure but we have since become a completely remote business. Alan delivers his coaching sessions virtually, pizza restaurants have introduced takeaway only or meal boxes, meaning even core products may be very different to what people were selling at the start of 2020.

Can anyone, hand-on-heart, say that at the start of Lockdown in March 2020 they thought we wouldn’t be out of it by that summer? We spent a lot of time with clients dealing with the fallout of lockdown and helping them with cashflow forecasts and very few of those went past three months.

More than 12 months on, we are still, slowly, navigating the roadmap to recovery and after so long out of the office, away from core business activities, one of the biggest hurdles I foresee isn’t a lack of customers coming through the door, it’s getting back to a kind of work mentality.

As a business owner, you’ve got your feelings to manage around suddenly dealing with people and being in the business, but you may also have a team of people that rely on you for leadership who are going to be just as anxious, won’t remember how to use the new till system, won’t remember all the product ranges having been away so long.

Business owners need to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn
After nearly 18 months home working, we are preparing for another potentially disruptive move to longterm remote or hybrid working models and with absolutely no precedent, business owners need to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn different aspects of their business and that of their customers.

Some businesses that have remained open had to learn new models. Some that started in lockdown had to unlearn their business plan and go with a different one. Some will just have to re-learn what it’s like to be back in an office. All present different challenges. The pizza restaurant that started as takeaway only now has systems based around customers not being in the restaurant at all. You’re in, served, done! They have re-learned, or reimagined, their business and if they can keep that speed of service going, even when customers are eating in, then it gives them a point of difference to every other pizza restaurant.

Lockdown has been characterised by huge amounts of innovation and creativity, just like this. Lots of entrepreneurial ideas have come out and there could be another flurry of these ideas to come. Business is stronger, more resilient, as they do things that they weren’t doing 12 months ago. The opportunities are huge.

Undoubtedly, there are going to be winners and losers over the next two years. The winners, when you look back in five years, will be the people that took a deep breath at some point and did something different. That opportunity to pivot still presents itself to many business owners. The UK economy needs small business owners with strong leadership to see a way through, to take that big leap into the unknown.

The losers, if you’re wondering, will be the businesses that carried on doing exactly as they were, because there’s going to be a different world coming.

New business unlearning
Where the unlearn, relearn mindset really showed itself was in the new businesses owners we met throughout the last six months. There was a period in the first quarter of 2021 when high street banks were not opening new accounts. Where this might have stalled new business owners in the past, all these entrepreneurs have pivoted and gone to Tide, Starling or other on-line bank. Now they’re used to that new world of banking, where everything is done very quickly and easily on an app, why is anyone going to go back to a high street branch and fill out a hundred forms?

The learned behaviour that you went to Lloyd’s, Barclays or HSBC because they were proper banks has gone now and I think there is going to be a bit of that in every industry. There’s going to be the new way and the old way, and the old way is looking more and more old-fashioned.

The opportunity business owners have right now is to maximize their new business model. No-one can afford to continue in exactly the same way.  Business owners need to take stock, for those that have pivoted, understand why and then commit to it being the new way. Don’t slip back into old ways.

We talked on the Time Management Paradox podcast about how relatively short life and our opportunity in business is. I’m lucky that I get to see our client’s businesses when they are no more than a man or a woman with an idea. Then we see the million pound turnover, the new car, the new house and the happy life. But everyone starts at the same point, where their business is just an idea. The difference between the idea and the five-year success point is all about mindset. It’s not about talent. It’s not even particularly about hard work. It’s just about commitment to that end result and making it your focus. Successful business owners, if you ask them, are absolutely clear on what they are going to achieve and how they are going to do it, from the start of their idea, to five years down the line.

Another quite large area where small businesses can take heart in having a big edge on big business during the pandemic is in customer service. Have you tried to deal with a utilities company, a bank or any large organization where its customer support is normally dealt with by call centre? It was a disaster. At Cypher, we tried to deliver the same, if not better level of customer service throughout the pandemic. We have a lot less budget than those global brands and COVID has never once cropped up as an excuse for why we couldn’t speak to a customer.

We talked on one of our very first podcasts about the volume of consumers who are going to be more willing to deal with independent businesses. And I think a lot of that comes down to how independent businesses have navigated the same storm as these big businesses in a much more dignified and customer focused manner.

Good Customer Service is a super power for any businesses.  If you truly hold services as a top priority and genuinely try to improve every day, you will always be ahead.

During Covid a number of business owners had to unlearn their business plan and re-learn another one. Now they are learning how to thrive in a different business to the one they had a year ago.

Here are our top five tips how:

  1. If you’ve pivoted or changed any aspect of your business during COVID, commit to it and keep going
  2. Make customer service a super power of yours
  3. Accept that you have to unlearn and relearn your business because it will be completely different from the one you started
  4. Provide your teams with guidance and leadership in your new business
  5. If you have one, find a way to get your business ideas out of your head and into existence

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.

Combating ‘Overwhelm’

Combating ‘Overwhelm’ 150 150 Cypher

Combating ‘Overwhelm’

This blog was from a podcast that was created in response to a listener’s question. They had emailed in and said that since the start of lockdown, they were finding themselves becoming busier and busier, and where suffering with overwhelm.

We describe ‘overwhelm’ as the feeling that you’re just not getting to it, whatever it may be. You’re starting to let people down, you’re letting yourself down and your performance is sub optimal. These frustrations start to flow into emotions that for entrepreneurs and business owners are really dangerous for creative thinking. They effectively kill it.

In my experience overwhelm often rears its head at about three o’clock in the morning. That’s the point where you wake up and then you can’t get back to sleep because all the things you haven’t done, or have to do the next day are on your mind. Sadly, a) you can’t deal with any of it at that point and b) You, know, you’ve got an issue, if you can’t get back to sleep because your mind is just on it.

Take back ownership of your time
The important first step is taking back ownership of the time you have. Usually we have around 17 waking hours a day and it is important to add real structure to this time. We discussed on the Time Management Paradox that a person often has four common roles to play in our lives that we describe as Professional, Personal, Family and Community.  They broadly cover work, family, exercise and any other activities you undertake and we all need to find time for each of them. The important thing is to recognise which role you are playing at any time and commit wholeheartedly to being present in that role for as long as it takes to get whatever it is you are doing done.

By slowing down and adding structure, you will start to see a difference.


Focus on one thing at a time
I talk to my team members about this a lot because they feel like we’ve got a lot on and they’re busy; well you can only ever do one thing at once. So when you are doing it, focus on that.

On your list of tasks there will be three or four, maybe five things that have to be done that day. The rest are urgent because of someone else, not because they’re for you. So prioritise your list and focus on the three or four key ones and get those done first. Some days you may not get past the third one, but if that was the level of work you committed to for that day then just getting to the third one and completing it will feel like a win.

Let’s talk about procrastination. It is a real time-killer but business owners procrastinate all the time. It feels like their busy because their fiddling around doing something they shouldn’t, because it’s easier than the tasks they’ve actually got to do. It’s easy to tell yourself you’re busy and therefore don’t have time or are unable to do the jobs you don’t want to do or make the hard decisions you need to make.

Is busy-ness just laziness?
The American coach, Steve Chandler describes busy-ness as laziness. This statement is clearly meant to create a reaction, to make you stop and take notice. Actually, his big point is if you’re busy its because you’re being lazy about clarifying what’s important, what you’re trying to do with your life or your business or what roles you’re playing because you’re not structuring yourself. Uou are lazy because you’re just running around creating havoc. You’re not distinguished of our thoughts and all of that muddledness and confusion is creating lower emotions, procrastination, stress, worry, anxiety and suboptimal performance all because you’re too lazy to bring some clarity to your life.

Choose productivity
A positive evolution of busy-ness is productivity. Being busy and being productive are often two very different things. With the right structures and priorities in place, being productive is a state of mind. You can choose to be busy or you can choose to be productive. Get clarity on what a productive day would be, commit to it, add in the necessary structure and you will achieve it. Being productive doesn’t just have to mean at work either, you can productive in your other roles, just by being present in them for long enough.

The feeling of overwhelm comes from a lack of control so take control back. You can’t create more time in your day, but you can learn to partner with time and use it more effectively. Add structure, agree parameters that block out key times and give clear indication of the roles you are playing at a certain time and stick with that role or that job long enough to achieve our priorities.

Ways to defeat overwhelm

  1. Take back ownership of your time
  2. Focus on one thing at a time
  3. Prioritise the really important jobs
  4. Stop Procrastinating
  5. Understand the connection between busy-ness and laziness
  6. Choose productivity

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.

The Psychology of Pricing

The Psychology of Pricing 150 150 Cypher

The Psychology of Pricing

I have a conversation about pricing almost every week. It usually starts when a client tells me my prices are too high and I have to explain that actually we are very good value for money.

It might sound a little trite but my clients come to me to help them improve their business. Well, if I can’t do the right things in my business- if I can’t get my pricing and my cash flow right, then who am I to tell them what to do in theirs?

The big companies of this world, the Amazon’s and the Apple’s don’t give you anything for free. If you want that extra thing, you pay the extra money for it. I am happy that our pricing is bang on and that we charge for everything. It’s something I advise all our clients- and any other business to do.

I suspect throughout the pandemic, the majority of people have not increased their prices, but their cost base has gone up, so now it’s probably a good time to take a look and review your pricing.

On the Mind Your Business podcast, we always try and offer business owners some advice on the important decisions needed to run a successful business and our discussions around pricing mainly centred on:

  • How to set your price at the right level
  • How to convey the value of your offer to your customers
  • The different ways you can price your business
  • How much business owners give away for free

Cause and Effect
Often the root cause of a low pricing policy is not having the confidence and courage around the value of your service or your product. Alan and I discussed that one way to consider your pricing strategy is cause and effect. Ask yourself, how good is your service, or how good do you want it to be? If you link your pricing structure directly to service quality, then the higher the quality of the service, the easier it is to raise the price, especially if you can demonstrate greater value.

Work less for more
Most service businesses set their pricing based on units of time. in general, you can buy it by the hour, half-day, full day or longer depending on the job you want done. The problem is that there’s a finite amount of time that can be sold so business owners need to value their time. If you don’t, your customers aren’t going to either. You’ve got to attach a value to that time and then if something’s going to take an extra hour, then bill for it.

A note of caution here, what you should never do is do some additional work and then bill the client without ever talking about it. Too many businesses get ambushed by unexpected bills and it just kills relationships.

Of course, whether you sell time or another resource, the ideal scenario is to sell less but for more money. That way you can keep your service levels high and don’t spread yourself too thinly. A trap I find a lot of business owners fall into is that they start out offering a really high quality service, but their pricing is way too cheap. As they grow, they bring on more clients, who do business with them because of the quality service; the low price point is an added bonus. The problem comes when they try to scale up, but maintain the same level of service. They fill up their client bank but aren’t remunerating themselves enough so they end up with too many clients, without the resource to deal with them and so end up giving themselves too much to do. Eventually, this means the quality of service dips and clients start to leave. Eventually they become a bottom-of-the-barrel business because of their own good intentions.

Create additional services
If you’re worried that an increase in price will mean you lose some clients, well firstly this isn’t always a bad thing, knowing who you want to sell to is a key part of a business strategy, but secondly a way to maintain or increase a price point and maintain clients is to find something else you can sell to them-a kind of added extra- that gets them used to paying more.

Repricing for new customers
The other thing to do is to reprice new customers. You may have a legacy price for the clients that came on board at the start of your business, but as you grow, test the market and see what price point you should go to. Keep the older clients on their price plan if you must, but don’t be afraid to charge market rates as you evolve or as you develop offer a better service.

Should you put a price list on your web site?
A question that goes around a lot is whether a business should list its prices on its web site. Lots do, we currently don’t. Some feel it is important to be transparent with their pricing structure, others feel they should have a conversation about value first, before talking about price. I think both are valid.

In many service businesses, the delivery can be bespoke and only when you truly understand a client’s needs can you provide an accurate quote. There may be degrees of difficulty or specialisms or investment associated with the work and the price must reflect that. But there is also something in the boldness of saying, this is our price, it’s good value, we’d love to do business with you and this is what you pay for our service.

The downside of no available pricing is that prospective clients can enter your sales funnel, who are totally unsuitable for your business. You have lots of good conversations, you are a good fit, but when you discuss price you find that their budget won’t stretch. Often, you still take that client on, even at the wrong price. This is an example of where indicative pricing may help filter your prospects at the start of the buyer journey.

Your Mission Statement
A good mission statement defines your purpose as a business. The advantage of a strong mission statement is that you can communicate it through any interaction or touch point, which in turn can inspire customers to want to do business with you. Even better, if your mission statement conveys a high service quality, it can be reflected in your price.

How much do business owners give away for free?
We see this all too often, the leakages in small businesses caused by owners going above and beyond what the competition does. If you’re in trades or you sell a product then it happens marginally less because you can account for stock wastage but particularly in service businesses, because there is no real price for the extra thing you can haemorrhage revenue.

If you don’t have a price list that outlines all of the services you offer, clients won’t see the additional value in things you do, they just see it all as part of one big bundle. If you break your products or services down and are clear on what additional things cost, the client can make a choice. They may decline the additional service, to avoid the additional cost, but it removes the need for unnecessary stress – or lost revenue.

In summary
We discussed a lot about the psychology of pricing and why it’s almost certainly time for business owners to review theirs. Charging too little not only reduces your margin, but also jeopardizes the quality of what you’re doing. If you do decide to raise your price, consider adding an additional service, something your clients’ value to compensate for the increase in costs. We also talked about whether you should have prices on your website; whether you should be transparent, or discuss value first. My feeling is that indicative or minimum pricing can filter out the wrong type of client from your sales funnel right at the start.

The final point I discussed with Alan was using client feedback to set your pricing. Take your best five clients, ask them about the value they think they are getting from you and what they would be prepared to pay for it. If you charge £200 for something, but the clients would pay £350, then the next three times you meet potential new customers quote £350. You might find that your conversion rate stays the same, because then you’re finding your level. Then try the next three at £400. You will quickly find the point at which the market puts a price on your value and that’s where your pricing should be.

Find out more

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.

Self Motivation

Self Motivation 150 150 Cypher

Self Motivation

There was a great story this recently about an American-style fizzy drink that went from a simple kitchen idea to being stocked in a range of supermarkets and is now making £2million in sales a year.

‘Soda Folk’ was founded in 2013 by entrepreneur Ken Graham when he moved from the US to the UK and realised he couldn’t buy his favourite fizzy drinks here. He started developing a Root Beer and Cream Soda in his friend’s craft beer brewery and hasn’t looked back.

It would be easy to take Ken’s recent success for granted. We have talked on previous pods about the skyscraper metaphor, where we only focus on the end result and gloss over the years of hard work of laying the foundations, and building a business – or skyscraper- up to the structure people see in the end. While Ken- and many others- are now enjoying the fruits of his labour – cherry, grape and blueberry muffin flavours of Soda Folk are available- there are so many more complex elements, working behind the scenes that an entrepreneur needs to get an idea off the ground.

At some point in any entrepreneur’s journey, self-motivation becomes an issue. The investment we make personally in our business idea is massive. The emotions required to go from investor to investor, or customer to customer, crystallizing our idea, positioning our offer again and again is incredibly important. Consciously, we worry whether the idea come to anything, will it be successful? Will the side-hustle get too big for our plans? As the person at the centre of any new business venture, we are the ones that have to keep going and going.  You had a huge amount of self-motivation at the start; the question is how do you maintain that level every day?

It’s not a binary thing; motivation ebbs and flows. Most entrepreneurs are inherently self-motivated, but it can be a lonely place running your own business and there are days when it’s hard; you’re tired, you’ve had knock backs, something’s gone wrong or you’re not moving as quick as you want. That’s when anyone’s self-motivation can dip and that’s when some helpful steps can help you deal with that downturn in self-motivation and get it back up to the levels you need to succeed. Alan and I discussed this topic and here are our hints!

You’ve lost that loving feeling
The first step is to understand which aspect of your business you have fallen out of love with. At the start we all have a positive connection, a strong emotion, or at least enthusiasm for our new venture, but sometimes we just lose that loving feeling. So, get clarity on what’s missing and try to re-introduce it. Get back in love with your business.

Find your purpose
Second is to re-connect to your purpose; why you started in the first place? What was your big idea and where are you with achieving that? Mission statements are clear statement of intent; the best ones bring your purpose to life. If you don’t have a mission statement, create one, they can be extremely motivating.

Knowing me, knowing you
Third, know and understanding yourself. Identify whatever motivated you at the start and ask yourself, ‘is that still motivating you now’? If you’re a big ideas person, then reconnect with that part of the business. If you are a nitty gritty-style finisher and you need someone else to bounce the big, bold ideas off find that person and have those conversations. You need to understand what you need to get going again.

Clarity of role
As you transition from start-up entrepreneur to CEO your role in the business will change. Generally you start a business because you’re really good at something and you enjoy doing it.  You spend your life learning what may be a very technical skill and by delivering it each day, over time you received greater rewards. That is very motivating.  But as your business grows, you take on different roles. Maybe you are thinking about the next 90 day plan, maybe you are doing less delivery and more strategic work, or just having more conversations to inspire and lead others, the intangible stuff. You are doing less of what you know and love and find yourself in unfamiliar territory. It means you have a harder time prioritising, daily tasks so you feel you achieve less while doing things way out of your comfort zone. To help, ask yourself ‘over the next six months, what would be the very best use of my time?’ It will help bring you clarity by demonstrating that if showed up brilliantly doing certain things, they would have the biggest impact on your business and that can be very motivating.

Eat your frog for breakfast
Most entrepreneurial folk are action orientated so you can get a massive snowball effect from completing a small, relatively easy task. Even if it is a rubbish job, ‘eat the frog’ for breakfast, and then you can go on and do more enjoyable things and build on that momentum. The first job the American military, require of active service men and women is to make their beds each morning. It is a simple concept that means before they even leave the dormitory they’ve had an easy win. It demonstrates this positive connection to action.

Give yourself time and permission to think
This takes a shift in mindset. When you’re working for someone else, when have you ever had time to just sit and think? Probably never! People are conditioned that when they’re at work, they need to be working and doing something leads to a result and a result keeps them going. But, as an entrepreneur, actually sitting there and just thinking is your job now. And that’s perfectly fine. Ignore your phone and your emails and give yourself permission just to sit and think.

Being a useful human being
It’s a very rough rule of thumb, but whenever a human being feels like they are being useful to someone else, they will feel motivated. So whenever I’m having a day where I’m not feeling a hundred percent, I pick up the phone and ring a client at random I find that speaking to another business owner, demonstrates that their problems are similar to my problems. Getting my teeth into helping them gives me that buzz back and keeps me motivated.

Start early
In his book, the Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod describes six great habits that business owner can adopt to transform their lives- all before 0800am. Needless to say it means a pretty early start, but Alan has tried it recently, joining the 5am club and says the difference has been phenomenal. Starting early means you can get more time to focus and achieve quick wins before breakfast.

As an entrepreneur, if you are struggling with self-motivation, we tried to outline a few simple steps on the Mind Your Business Podcast that can help to get your mojo back.

  • Identify what it is about your business that you have fallen out of love with
  • Reconnect with your purpose
  • Create your mission statement
  • Understand what motivates you
  • Define your new role within the business
  • Get clarity on what success in your new role looks like
  • Give yourself space and permission to just think
  • Make your bed, or eat your frog, first thing in the morning
  • Reach out and have a conversation with someone else
  • Be awesome

Remember, the longer you stay demotivated, the less productive you are and the further away from where you want to be you become. There are another 8 billion people on the planet and at any one time at least 40% could be having a worse day than you. So, choose to change, take a moment, get moving, get into action, do things, create some space to think, go for a walk and motivate yourself.

Or as Barney, from ‘How I met your mother’ would say, ‘don’t be de-motivated, be awesome instead.’

Find out more

If your business could use the Cypher touch, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your options.

Viafuture: Energy, Sustainability, Community

Viafuture: Energy, Sustainability, Community 150 150 Cypher

Viafuture: Energy, Sustainability, Community

The number of countries announcing pledges to achieve net-zero emissions over the coming decades continues to grow.

But the pledges by governments to date – if they are to be fully achieved require sustained support and participation from individual citizens, whose choices and lives will be affected in many ways.

One Oxfordshire business that is trying to make sustainability an individual choice is Viafuture, a collective of associates with a unified passion to remove the barriers that prevent organisations from reaching their full energy and sustainability potential.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world has a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050, but it is narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally it said in a special report released this month. Based on their modelling tools, the IEA Roadmap sets out more than 400 milestones to guide the global journey to net zero by 2050.

For its part, Cypher client, ViaFuture provides the opportunity for organisations, regardless of size to able to pursue their own sustainable pathway, for individuals to feel they can have a role to play within their organisation and for stakeholders to foster a deeper connection to the impact that can achieve locally within their communities.

As Zoe King, Founder of Viafuture explains, “We all have a role to play to achieve the Government’s Net Zero targets and we want to remove perceived barriers and make it as easy as possible for individuals to contribute either through their employer or in their own right.

“We ensure organisations have an authentic, credible sustainability policy and have structured our offer around three pillars including, procurement, policy creation and community engagement.

“Firstly we advise on the best fit strategy for utility purchasing to ensure contracts meet business needs, whether this is fixed purchasing or more complex risk managed services.

“Secondly, we can create a sustainable policy for any business, aimed at reduce wastage but also allow an organisation to achieve B Corp or ISO14001 environmental standards if they choose. Part of this pledge is to allow employees of these businesses to make a donation to charity when they too switch provider.

“Thirdly, we work with clients and partners to create funds that can be donated to local causes in the community to foster a much deeper relationship between businesses, staff and their local environment. Our aim is to create some community-owned renewable energy resources.”

The IEA’s report is the world’s first comprehensive study of how much it will have to transition in order to create a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth.

The Roadmap it sets out is both formidable and critical on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050, but its course could bring huge benefits.

Zoe however, urges caution to business owners striving to do their bit.

“I think we must all be wary of Green-Washing,” she explains.

“Just because something says it is renewable, doesn’t mean it is and one of the greatest risks a business can face on its route to creating a truly authentic a sustainability policy is its credibility. A wrong move can seriously damage firm’s environmental credentials which can have a significant financial and reputational impact. Our advice is always double check or to peak to an expert.”

If you would like to know more about how your business can adopt a robust sustainability policy, contact Viafuture today

Is it time for your E-Car?

Is it time for your E-Car? 150 150 Cypher

Is it time for your E-Car?

Following the news that Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator has approved plans to invest £300m in low carbon projects including support for 3,550 new charging points for electric vehicles it is expected that this industry sector will see another boost.

With sales of new cars powered solely by petrol or diesel banned in the UK from 2030, a recent report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) found that demand for electric vehicles is growing in the UK – accounting for one in 10 car registrations last year – mainly fuelled by businesses or buyers of fleets. Just 4.6% of new consumer vehicles were battery powered.

One Oxfordshire company that is supporting the growth in electric and hybrid cars locally is Your-E Car, which specialises in hybrid and electric vehicles for fleet and personal customers.

Following a successful career in motor parts, sales and leasing, MD Ben Fleetwood, created a leasing business of his own called Red Kite Leasing in 2018. A successful 2019 followed but during lockdown Ben had an epiphany.

“The roads outside our house were absolutely silent for the first two weeks of lockdown 1.0. There was no noise, no pollution and I thought, imagine if the world could stay this way,” says Ben.

In 2020, the re-branded Your E-Car was born.

Ghandi has been credited with saying ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’, this was Ben’s starting point.

“A number of companies offer general leasing but we wanted our offer to be more specialist. We aren’t going to change the whole world leasing electric cars one at a time, but I feel that we are doing our bit, locally at least. We are increasing the supply and the opportunity for business owners across Oxfordshire to make a sustainable choice for their fleet vehicles.

“Commercial vehicle owners are prepared to look deeper into their environmental impact and by offering staff a choice that includes electric models they allow a whole company to make a difference.”

Driving an electric vehicle needn’t be expensive either. They come with the latest technology, which improves the driving experience, but in reality they may even be better for your bottom line and contribute to a cleaner, better environment.

Until recently, if you’d asked your accountant if you should buy a car through your business, the answer would almost always have been no, because the Benefit in Kind tax you would pay would far outweigh any tax relief you got on the vehicle. However, that all changed last year and as part of the Government’s commitment net zero, business owners are now in a position where, if you buy an electric car, then the benefit in kind tax is just 1%.

There are a number of impressive electric or hybrid models available, but what it even more impressive are the tax savings you can now benefit from by having an electric car in your business. You now get 100% of the cost of the car off set against your profits – on which you pay corporation tax.

If that isn’t reason enough, then consider this; if you are currently funding your car privately, but using it for business, then the money you are using has already had tax deducted. If you are taking a salary or dividends out of your business then HMRC are charging you tax on those funds before you make any payments. But, now, if the company buys the car, then not only do you save Corporation Tax relief on the price of the car, plus the running costs, but you also get to keep more of the money you do take out – because you aren’t funding the car – or you take less out in the first place, so pay less personal tax on it. Either way it’s a win, win.

According to Zap-Map, there are nearly 24,000 chargers installed around the country. So far, they have mainly been concentrated in London and the South East. But Ofgem has said the investment by energy networks would support more ultra-rapid charge points in cities such as Glasgow, Kirkwall, Warrington, Llandudno, York and Truro.

Some 1,800 ultra-fast chargers, capable of charging car batteries in minutes rather than hours, will now be installed across the motorway network – as reassurance for electric vehicle drivers who want to embark on long journeys.

If you would like help with choosing the right car, is a great place to start, but if you are interested in really saving some money, then give the team at Cypher a call and we will be happy to help you out.

The art of conversation

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The Art of Conversation

It is undeniable that throughout 2020 and 2021, most business conversations have happened over a screen of some sort. Unless you live under as rock, everyone is now aware of Zoom, TEAMS and Google Hangouts.

It has been interesting so see how quickly we have adopted these video conferencing platforms as the norm and, as Alan and I discussed it will be interesting to see how this practice evolves and how quickly elements of face to face meetings return later this summer.

Zoom has very quickly followed Google, Skype and Facebook, where the name of an application has become synonymous with the action of using it. But has this adoption been to the detriment of the art of conversation?

Actually, I think not!

What I noticed most about the world of virtual meetings was that firstly, I was having a lot more of them than I ever could face to face but, secondly they ran to time a lot more and I was getting a lot more action points from them. In short, my day is now more structured and I feel a lot more productive.

On the Time Management Paradox pod, we discussed that doing more of what drove a business forward and wasting less time on unnecessary and unregulated meetings was definitely a positive.

Zoomed Out
Overall, while I find the whole in, out, done, element of Zoom meetings really positive, I’ve also found them fundamentally more draining than in-person meetings. After a face-to-face meeting I would write up my notes for the client or the team and during that time I would decompress my brain. Now meetings are stacked back-to back, I decompress in one go at the end of the day, but by then my brain has gone, I am Zoomed out. I see the same impact on clients.

It could be the screen, it could be the volume, or that Zoom meetings are punchier, but I think everyone suffers serious Zoom fatigue from a day of video meetings. Alan likens it to a poker player after a long game. When we listen, properly, without the distractions of a coffee shop or a busy office, we are concentrating so much harder and our investment is deeper, which after 30 seconds of niceties at the start could last for anything up to a few hours.

It’s been interesting to see how quickly we have all adopted this technology and we discussed whether, in a Covid-free world, we would still conduct the majority of our conversations digitally or if ‘in person’ meetings would creep back in to our lives once we were able. For me the jury is still out. There may be industry biases, either way, and of course personal preferences will make a difference and not just because of on-going health fears. Some businesses – like Alan’s -thrive in this virtual world.

Time to thrive
As a business coach, Alan is a huge fan of virtual meetings. He finds it easier to help clients create the change they’re looking for during a series of Zoom meetings because he feels there is a deeper, longer investment in the conversations he has. Specifically, Zoom allows his clients to really focus on their objectives and desired outcomes.  Of course, this could be part of his evolution as a coach- as solution providers we all need to get better at this -but the focus provided by a Zoom meeting means that he gets to root causes, discovers options and identifies possible actions far quicker than when in person. The compound effect of carrying this on to the next coaching conversation means that the progress and the rate of change increases – dare I say it exponentially, and as business owners isn’t that what we are all looking for!?

I think this demonstrates that it’s not the fact that you’re sat next to someone that creates a worthwhile conversation. It’s the type of conversation you have, the investment you make it in it and the genuine focus on the outputs you generate. Whether you’re in the room or 300 miles away, nothing’s different. So I think now that people are used to it, it’s going to take time before we go back to how we were, and honestly we may never go all the way back.

Being productive was a key element for our Managing the Time Paradox podcast and with no lengthy commutes, a timely start and finish time means everyone gets more time back, but the bigger opportunity is that no-one is geographically barred from doing work with anybody else. If a series of Zoom calls is now the way we serve clients, then we can deliver this service wherever they are, whether that’s Manchester, Northern Ireland, San Francisco, Glasgow or Oxford, it makes no difference.

It will also be interesting to see what people’s new tolerance for drive time to a meeting is. Seriously, would you now drive for more than 30 minutes, if you could hop on a Zoom call instead?

The power of emotion
In any long-term business relationship, there is an undeniable human connection and emotional connection. It is an element of in person meetings one might expect to lose in a virtual space, but I think actually the opposite has been true. Conducting meetings with people at home, in their safe space, particularly during lockdowns 1.0 and 2.0 we have seen some serious emotions and emotional shifts, including anger and tears which demonstrated the level of investment being made by people in the meeting. So the accusation that you cannot get that level of emotion on a virtual call is simply untrue.

Better in person
That’s not to say that sometimes you feel you just need to be in the room. We have all seen the now infamous parish council Zoom meeting and the fabulous Jackie Weaver who had all the authority in the world. I wonder if that meeting was held face-to-face wherever half the people that we’re kicking off, shouting at her would have the balls to have done that. Conversely, the ease with which someone can be effectively thrown out of the meeting probably also had an influence on certain actions. My thoughts are that how dysfunctional must the meetings be in the first place to get to that point?

And we have all sat through Zoom meetings, professionally and personally, where people are muted, cameras don’t work, Wi-Fi is slow, or someone is sat too close to a camera so you only see half of their head. Thankfully that seems to be reserved for a certain age group, but in general of the thousands of meetings we have attended in the last 18 months, very few could have been better in person.

Every good conversation is 50% speaking, 50% listening.
I think we demonstrated on the Art of Conversation podcast that we are definitely pro-virtual conversations, but there is still a balance to find. We want to meet people, absolutely, but in this new world, the art of conversation has evolved, not disappeared. The paradigm has shifted; the Genie is out of the bottle but without loss of conversational impact.

Now I think there’s a linear relationship between the number of people on a Zoom meeting and the impact it can have. As you follow the curve of the imaginary graph, as the meeting attendees do up actually it is to the detriment of the meeting. But the business meeting with say one to five people is the sweet spot.

In summary, we talked a lot about the art of conversation, 2021 style. Alan and I dived in to what is different about a virtual conversation versus an in person one and I think we raised a number of positives for this new way of working.

Conversations are different now, but not in a bad way. If video calls enable you to structure your day better, have a greater number of more productive meetings, with clear outputs, if you are able to dive in, listen better, then your conversations are going to be better. It doesn’t matter whether they’re virtual or whether they’re in face-to-face.

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.)​

The Time Management Paradox

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The Time Management Paradox

Full disclosure Alan and I weren’t able to stick to time on this Mind Your Business podcast!

Did you know that the average human being lives for around 4000 weeks, which equates to about 77 years.  Measuring life in weeks is a sobering thought.  Obviously there are even less weeks spent building up a business so to make the most of our time, we need to use it effectively.

Hands up, how many of us have attended a time management course? I know I have. We all want to get the most out of our time and many of us feel we are failing in this regard. As business owners-or frankly just adults – we are all busy. But how busy and does our busyness bring us the rewards we want?

It sounds like a Star Trek episode, but the title of this podcast, The Time Management Paradox is actually a philosophy of Alan’s that suggests we can’t manage time, time manages us. Rather you can partner with time and therefore, you can use it more effectively.

Understand your life roles
Step one to mastering time is to understand all the factors in your life and how they fit into four distinct roles. We describe them on the podcast as Professional, Personal, Family and Community.  They broadly cover work, family, exercise and any other activities you undertake.

Let’s be generous and say we sleep for eight hours, so we are awake for 16. Create your own pie chart and decide what percentage of your time you commit to each of these roles. Every day is different so it is unlikely to be four 25% splits. Now ask yourself are you happy with the result?

On the Podcast, I gave the example of when in corporate life I would always try to be home before five o’clock to bath my daughter. In general I managed it more often than not, but a lot of the time, while she was in the bath, I would be on my phone to the office or to a client. In this example my daughter didn’t have a fully present dad, the client wasn’t getting my full professional attention and I felt a lot of stress and anxiety as I was trying to do at least two things- and doing them both badly.

To manage time, we need to be present. To do this we need to understand which role we are playing and commit wholeheartedly to that role.  It is better to do something well for 30 minutes than do it half-ar$ed for two hours.

Create parameters for your work life balance
Putting in parameters, around your day or blocking out key times, doesn’t give you more time but it gives you clear markers as to when you are playing a certain role and when it stops to make time for  another role.

If you work in a team then they need to be on the same page. They need to understand that it is ok not to answer an email at eight o’clock at night. You can’t switch your email off 5.30pm but expect them to keep theirs on all night. Creating parameters is equally important when we are working from home. We have all seen children creep into Zoom meetings or had home schooling wreck a planning day. If you were in the office that wouldn’t happen  but so many of us are –and maybe always will be- working from home, so setting clear expectations with our family stakeholders is as important as doing so with colleagues, clients and employers.

Being productive
Let’s say you work 830 to 530 every weekday to free up evenings and weekends.  In those nine hours, whether you work alone or as part of a team you want to be as productive as you can. As Alan says, you want to play all out and do the high impact stuff.  In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey uses the concept of focusing on the ‘Big Rocks’ over the ‘Grit’.

I always think that a barrier to real productivity is the two or three jobs that a business owner won’t let go of. We all have them, mine is the bookkeeping for Cypher. I am probably the most expensive bookkeeper in the country.  In truth I have no business doing it and there will be a 100 tasks being done by business owners up and down the country that if they sat back and put an actual value on their time, and looked where they were spending it they wouldn’t do those jobs.

Here’s a useless bit of trivia: The word “priority” is derived from the Latin word prioritas (“fact or condition of being prior”), the word meant “the most important thing”, the “prior” thing or the thing with precedence.  When it was first coined, the word “priority” had no plural.  You could only have one priority.

At Cypher we use a diary system so we are able to set clear parameters and clear priorities for our time. We need to build in a level of flexibility as a degree of our work is responsive to client’s needs. We have set team times, meeting times, lunch breaks and triage times throughout the week to ensure we can focus on what’s important. Alan uses a simpler task list which is reviewed each day in order to set and achieve clear priorities. Whatever your method, it shouldn’t just focus on work-based tasks, include personal, family or community roles in your priority planning.

Lose your email
I could spend an entire Podcast episode and blog talking about the virtues of taking email off your phone. At Cypher a colleague manages all of our external emails and internally we use Slack to communicate. This means that when we are getting our heads down to prioritise a piece of work, we aren’t distracted by the ‘ping’ of a new message. it is life changing, believe me.

Time management is a paradox. Instead we should focus on partnering with time. We need to value it, especially as we can measure it in weeks, to try and make the most of the time we have for all of our important roles. The good news is that there are simple steps we can all take and behaviours we can  adapt to make sure we are present in any role long enough to achieve our priorities, whatever they are and make the most of the time we have left.

Ways to manage the time paradox

  1. Understand your roles – Professional, Personal, Family, community
  2. Be present for the amount of time you need to spend in a role to do it effectively
  3. Manage your priorities- be clear on what you want to achieve for the day, week year
  4. Always do the most important things that bring the most value to the business
  5. Cut-out the time stealing jobs and delegate them to someone else
  6. Say no more often

Take email off your phone

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.)​

The Brilliance of Resilience

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The Brilliance of Resilience

Resilience is a term we have heard a lot over the last 12 months. It has become somewhat of a buzzword during lockdown. It is also a subject very close to Alan’s heart. He feels that if we can understand how to access it and use it properly, it can be a very powerful trait both personally and professionally

There are two definitions of the term resilience that I like. One comes from an engineering context and describes resilience as the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape. Another definition, perhaps more relevant to the current context is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.  Well, we have all had a few of those!

We are facing challenges on many fronts; home schooling, furlough, social distancing, remote working and endless Zoom calls, which can all nibble away at our resilience. Alan and I wanted to use the Mind Your Business Podcast to provide some hints and tips to help business leaders, owners and entrepreneurs rebuild their resilience.

We discussed two approaches to resilience; a psychological one and a philosophical one. Alan describes the philosophical approach as a state of mind he adopts each morning as he visualises his day ahead. He connects with the emotions he needs to take positive steps forward, regardless of the challenges he may encounter in that day.

In his book, the Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod describes the empowering effect of visualisation. He introduces visualisation as way to generate positive results in your outer world by using your imagination to create mental pictures of specific behaviours needed to lead to desired outcomes occurring in your life.

For him, visualisation is the process of imagining exactly what you want to achieve and then mentally rehearsing what steps you need to take to make it a reality. Elrod suggests that this turbocharges the programming of your subconscious mind for success. All before breakfast!

Alan and I agreed that when you visualise your goals daily, you align your thoughts and feelings with your vision, which makes it easier to maintain the motivation you need to keep taking the necessary actions to achieve those goals. It can also be a powerful tool to overcome any self-limiting habits such as procrastination or self-doubt.

Face the two imposters
I have tried to add my own philosophical viewpoint to this discussion. If resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, then a way to achieve resilience is to use every disaster as a learning experience.  In other words, if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same, then you will have resilience my son!

My point is that when we experience even the worst failures, if, when the dust settles, we can make them positive learning opportunities we will become better and stronger for it. As a business owner seeing barriers as challenges can help develop a mindset that allows us to approach life in a far more positive frame of mind. This in itself helps to create inbuilt resilience.

Alan and I discussed the difference between introspection, i.e. looking for the learning opportunities in any given circumstance and rumination, which is in effect just a past version of worrying. We agree that there is a clear negative correlation between worry and resilience. Worrying-about past or present- effectively saps your inner strength and takes your resilience away.

Alan and I have talked much- see previous blogs- about the power of getting clarity over issues as a way of defeating worry. Worry often leads to writing a horror story for our businesses. Viewing what is worrying us in glorious technicolour can often expose it as a lie and upgrading a worry to a challenge allows us to take some more positive action.

Even using language such as ‘here is my challenge and I am looking for ways to solve it’, feels more empowering that ‘here is something I am worried about and it keeps me awake at night’.

Grow your Circle of Influence
In his book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, Stephen Covey refers to two concentric circles. The inner circle is called the ‘Circle of Influence’ and the outer circle is called the ‘Circle of Concern’. What he advocates is focusing on your inner Circle of Influence and what you can control. For example, how you can improve, how you can get better at what you do, how you can make your service better or how you can create client astonishment.

In this way you are expanding your Circle of Influence and as your Circle of Influence expands, by definition, your Circle of Concern diminishes. Growing or expanding your Circle of Influence effectively shrinks your Circle of Concern.

Our final discussion topic was how optimism and pessimism are linked to resilience. I consider myself a born optimist I will always look for solutions, the actions I need to move forward. But there are people out there who are the opposite and consistently let worry become their driving emotion. I’m not a psychologist but I am confident that there are significant benefits of optimism versus pessimism. I suspect optimists are more resilient than pessimists.

Even if we are born as either a pessimist or an optimist and there is a direct genetic link to these traits, I am confident we can we can learn to be more optimistic and therefore more resilient.

For inspiration, I think we should look to our children, specifically pre-teens. They too have coped with many challenges this year but I still see them taking it on the chin and starting each day with optimism and the resilience to make the best of it.

Building Resilience
Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience has many benefits but it requires time and dedication. If you don’t put in the work, it might atrophy. People are conditioned to think of resilience as a personality trait-either you have it or you don’t, but this isn’t necessarily the case. With intention and practice, you can become more resilient, no matter your circumstances.

Top tips for building resilience

  • See everything that goes wrong as an opportunity to learn and be better for it
  • Focus more on your Circle of Influence and less on your Circle of Concern
  • Optimism and pessimism are both learned behaviours and we think there is a direct link between optimism and resilience
  • Visualise your day and choose to be resilient through whatever challenges it presents
  • Get real clarity in issues that worry you to change them into challenges

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.)​