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James Bennett

NI and Dividend tax increase – how much extra will you pay?

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NI and Dividend tax increase – how much extra will you pay?

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister announced that National Insurance contributions and dividend tax rates will increase by 1.25 percentage points across the UK from April 2022. Basic-rate payers will now pay 8.75% tax on dividends, up from 7.5%, higher-rate payers will pay 33.75%, up from 32.5%, while top-rate payers will pay 39.35% up from 38.1%.

There is a dividend tax-free allowance on top of the £12,570 personal allowance, so the first £2,000 of dividend income you receive is tax-free.

The Government said the move would raise £600m in extra revenue, to contribute to funding social care in the UK, the financing of which will change from October 2023.

These changes affect 3 groups of tax-payers.

Employees will likely see their monthly take-home pay reduced by the 1.25% increase in employee’s NIC.

Employers will  pay an additional 1.25% of employer’s NIC for employees earning above the class 1 secondary threshold (currently £8,840 in 2021/22).

Business Owners running Limited Companies will pay an additional 1.25% of tax on any dividends they take over and above the £2,000 tax free amount.

There is still time before these changes come into effect, so if you have excess reserves in your company it may be worthwhile voting additional dividends in this current year to ‘bank’ the lower tax rates.

Find out more

Get in touch if you you have any questions or Read our blog on how to take money out of your business.

Winning the war on talent

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Winning the war on talent

I’ve had a number of meetings with clients, all of whom tell me how hard it is hire people at the moment. Simply put there aren’t enough quality candidates to fit all the roles available. There is a talent shortage and everyone wants the best available. This blog is about winning the war on talent.

The lack of quality candidates is represented on a national scale as according to the Office for National Statistics, job vacancies have hit a record high of 953,000 in the three months to July. The unemployment rate meanwhile fell to 4.7% in the three months to June, while the annual growth in average pay was 7.4%. Despite this overall increase in optimism, finding – and keeping -the right talent is a challenge.

Every business owner wants the best people. But, as the ONS stats show, it’s a candidate-led market and the abundance of jobs available, means the cream can pick and choose who they sell their skills to. You need to create a culture that’s conducive to attracting talent, enabling it to grow before you can reap the benefits as the best people stay and attract more talent.

The new hybrid or remote working models have provided a further challenge to creating this culture; while remote working offers more flexibility and demonstrates more trust, when people aren’t all together in a physical space there is a potential loss of team dynamic, of collaboration, or of idea creation.

Two types of leader
For me hybrid working has developed two types of leader; there’s the ones who, despite not doing this before the pandemic, are now clock-watching to check productivity, they are micro-managing their staff and stressing about how to monitor their work because they can’t physically see them. Then there is another group that has embraced remote working, provided the tech and the systems for their staff to work autonomously – with support- who are now five steps ahead of the competition and frankly killing it in the war for the best talent.

Put yourself in your candidate’s shoes
We work with a lot of recruiters and their feedback is that to attract your talent, like you would any potential customer, you need to wow them before they even step through the door –or join the Zoom call. When they’re checking your website and they’re looking at all the other little touch points within your business, or speaking to colleagues or contacts about what it’s like to work there, you  need to wow them because – like any consumer – they’ve got a number of alternative choices.

You have to put yourself in their shoes. Think, if you were a candidate now, what else would you look for in addition to the brand name and the name of the person interviewing you? There’s the history of the business, Google reviews showing who the customers are and what they say- are they good brands themselves? Will it excite someone to work with those businesses? What’s the full package you offer? Is it flexible, hybrid or office-based what sort of hours do you work, what hardware or software is there to support them and this model?

What’s your Employee USP?
If you want the best people, there needs to be a reason why they want to join you. What is your unfair advantage? Usually it’s who you are being are as a leader, the quality of the conversation you have with them, as well as your purpose and your legacy.

Don’t forget throughout the pandemic a lot of energy, ideas, motivation and passion have gone into creating new start-ups as workers have decided to go it alone, so now you have to convince candidates that working for you is better than working for themselves.

It’s not all about the money
The majority of clients and recruiters reinforce this point consistently; it isn’t always about the money. The candidates that are still in a role, or juggling more than one opportunity will receive a counter offer to attract or retain them. If that offer blows yours out of the water, the chances are you will lose out, but that business may then have to offer similar raises across its workforce whicj will eat into its margins. Or, if the candidate is out of the door enough to be looking for – and taking- interviews there is a good chance that something else has motivated them to leave.

Alan talked on the Podcast about a recent signing for his team, Glasgow Rangers. The player had offers from clubs in England and France that would undoubtedly have offered him more money. The deciding factor for him was a conversation with the manager Steven Gerrard. Many of you will know of Gerrard’s exploits on the pitch for Liverpool and England, but off it, his pledge to make the new signing a better player – ultimately enhancing his career -was what sold it. Can you offer your candidates the chance to simply be better at what you do?

Marketing to candidates
Most businesses are really good at understanding who their ideal clients or customers are and marketing to them. You need to use this same strategy in any recruitment drive. Identify who your ideal candidate might be in terms of skill set, personality and cultural fit and then market to them as if you’re trying to attract customers. Think about all of the energy, resource and creativity that goes into attracting potential customers into your sales funnel and replicate that. Create your talent strategy to win the war.

Communication and role clarification
We talked a lot about bringing people in, but you also need to keep what you’ve got. Start by reviewing and clarifying your team’s roles and the positive difference they make to your company and to your customers. Be transparent about what a good job looks like, what a great job looks like and if someone wants a pay increase what sort of contribution they need to make to get it, so then you can start to talk about career progression and development within their role.

The second thing is your internal communication; how often do you talk to your teams and not at them? What tone do you use, what subjects are discussed, are you motivational and inspiring, is it a two-way conversation and how much do you- or do they think you care about their lives and situations away from work?

These two things have a massive impact on culture – and then make it more authentic when you talk it up at interview.

Right person, wrong role
Separating the person from the role, looking at all the skills you have in your business versus the jobs you need doing can be another way of getting the right person into the right job. Businesses can learn to move things around and create the right role for the right person. Allowing your people to grow, move up or change what they’re doing will create different roles underneath.

Talent pipeline
Ill use the example of a manufacturing client; their work is specialised requiring a specific skills set. Historically, these skills were widely available in the market place, now they are in short supply. To support their talent pipeline they recruit an apprentice every year. Now in my school days – the 90’s- apprenticeships, and particularly trade apprenticeships, were reserved for the kids that weren’t particularly academic. These kids were pushed towards trades and 30 years on are all doing very well. But in the 2020’s, while apprenticeships are growing in popularity, are the same levels of apprentices in these traditional trades coming through? The manufacturing business owner has decided to push the boat out and recruit three or four to safeguard his business for the next 10 years or so.

It is important to ask yourself where your talent comes from and if the pipeline is still strong! If not, do something about it.

There is a war on talent. The game has changed. If we thought people were becoming more demanding pre pandemic, post pandemic it’s going off the scale. Unless you want to be at the back of the queue, you really do need to have a strategy for winning talent, developing your people and putting the best possible team out there.

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.

Waiting Brain

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Waiting Brain

This blog is about a concept called Waiting Brain, which came about from an article that I read and that rang very true for me.

Waiting Brain is the concept that your brain enters a kind of standby mode where you are very unproductive in the lead up to big events or important tasks.

As an example, let’s say you finish a meeting half an hour early and have another one coming up. You have thirty minutes back that you weren’t expecting, but rather than complete a few easy tasks, your brain says ‘well there’s no point starting anything new because I’ll have to stop in 15 minutes’ so you do nothing.

Or, you’ve got something big happening, whether it’s a doctor’s appointment or a big sales pitch at two o’clock in the afternoon and by mid-morning the thought of it has consumed your day and you can’t concentrate on anything else. The fact is in either scenario, you could still be productive, but rather than achieve anything you let ideas ruminate without actually doing anything about them.

It was interesting to discuss with Alan Clark , why we allow ourselves to get into this productivity-squashing cognitive funk, and importantly, how can we combat it?

An obvious solution would be to talk about productivity and time management and how better we could fill those empty minutes, or plan better to avoid big gaps leading up to events. As an example, in a typical day, I can have nine or ten Zoom meetings back to back. Usually, because everyone is prompt and on point, they finish five or ten minutes early. This means I often get an hour back in my day. In that time I tend to do a number of small, two-minute jobs that don’t require me to switch my brain on, or I do my bookkeeping because  a) it’s my comfort zone, but b) it’s something that I can pick up and put down and it doesn’t cause me any stress or bother.

In my mind every time I use one of those five or ten minute blocks to do something that I would otherwise be doing at the end of the day, that’s feels like a win.

But another school of thought we explored on the Mind Your Business Podcast is do we necessarily want to fill this time, or can we be smarter about how we approach these gaps and perhaps use them to create a break and maybe reduce a feeling of overwhelm? If we took these opportunities to step back, make a clearing in our schedule then rather than seeing it as losing 20 minutes, we might instead see the gaps as a chance to just stop and think and use the space to replenish your resilience and create insights that you can use to improve your service.

Prior to lockdown, my gaps between meetings would be spent either walking or driving to the next meeting. My default, at least in the car, would be to call a client, so I didn’t really experience the procrastination of Waiting Brain. Now I rarely leave the office – or house- and my day is Zoomed out, it’s more apparent so I think there is definitely a link to movement, which causes energy and engages our brain and prevents it getting into ‘waiting’ mode.

The second way Waiting Brain manifests itself then, is when you have a big event; a meeting, an appointment, a pitch and while you aren’t on standby mode from nine o’clock in the morning, it’s in the back of your mind throughout the whole day. And then by the time you get to an hour, or two hours out, it’s become such a momentous thing that your brain enters waiting mode and it’s game over until the thing is done.

There are two ways I deal with this. The first is that I try and break my day down so that if I can achieve three identifiable things in it, I am winning. I work around the important event by making sure that my three wins are small enough to be achieved around whatever or whenever that is. I confront whatever it is and change my working habits to maintain my productivity.

The other thing I try to do is to book those sorts of things in as early in the day as possible. I eat my frog for breakfast so I am not stressed about it all day, I get it done and then I can be productive afterwards.

The third approach is self-confidence; nothing is ever as bad as your mind lets you think it will be and if you have already spent time making your business and your approach as good as it can be then you are going to be able to deal with whatever situation you find yourself in and can have absolute confidence that you are prepped in advance and that your product or service is good enough.

Whether you use the time to plan, complete small jobs or take the time to step back and breathe, the key is to have a system that works for you.

The opposite of waiting brain is another procrastination zone created by putting things off until the last minute. I’ll use the example of my school days and homework set during the summer holiday. I was given five bits of homework, I had the whole summer to do them and yet I ended up doing them the last weekend before I went back to school. I am sure I am not alone in this approach.

Interestingly, there’s a lot of research that suggests the reason we do this is because the brain works best at a certain level of stress and pressure and that actually it’s hard to be productive without a pressing time boundary. Although we operate months in advance of our formal deadlines, I combat this by booking in client meetings for a fixed date so I create my own deadline, knowing that two days before the meeting I will deliver the product.

Rather than having a fixed event that causes a lack of productivity, it’s the lack of a fixed deadline that allows our brain to dance around and stop something coming to the top of the priority list and choosing to do other things instead.

The key thing here is clarity. Clarity on what we actually need to do, what the task or project is, what the commitment is, how long it will take and importantly when we will do it. Then add it to the calendar.

A phrase we hear a lot to combat this procrastination is time management, but I think time ownership is more useful and fits with both concepts discussed in this blog.

If you really own your time, then you are probably more mindful of how valuable it is and what you really want to use it for. So, then if you get an unexpected half an hour back it probably becomes an easier decision for how you want to spend those 30 minutes.


Waiting Brain is a cognitive state that occurs typically either when you get given half an hour back between meetings you weren’t expecting and yet you can’t be productive, or you’ve got one big thing in your diary that consumes all of your thoughts and also stops you being productive.

The different ways to combat it is to:

  1. Use the time to make a clearing in your thoughts or schedule and step away and just let your mind go
  2. Use the time to get a number of little jobs out of the way, so you don’t end up doing them in the evening or at the end of the day
  3. Use the time to re-energise, exercise and build up your resilience again
  4. Take the time to call other clients on the spur of the moment, connect and keep your brain working

The opposite; procrastination brain occurs when you don’t have deadlines. There’s no fixed timeline and so your brain wanders in a different way. To combat this, the insertion of artificial deadlines feels like an easy win. Alternatively, if you find yourself in a meeting or situation that is wasting your time, have the confidence to get up and walk out.

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.

Why aren’t all business owners thriving?

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Why aren’t all business owners thriving?

This blog set out to answer the question that given the abundance of knowledge available – the majority of it being freely accessible and even organised for us by Google- why doesn’t every business owner have a thriving business?

If everyone can find out how to do it at the swipe of a screen, why aren’t they?

We see this a lot; two business owners doing roughly the same thing, in the same place, in the same way and yet the outcomes for their businesses can be very different.

On the Mind Your Business Podcast of the same title, we distilled it down to three things; mindset, time and asking the right questions.

The power of a mindset
Previous blogs have covered the effect of a positive mindset and the sheer power of belief for business owners. Belief in your business will help you skyrocket, while doubt, uncertainty or a lack of vision about where you want to be hold you back and create a ceiling for your potential.

I do a lot of talks for start-up businesses or pre-start business about how to set a business up and I tell them to build the structure for the business they want, not the one they have on day one. A bit like dressing for the job you want. Ee set Cypher up in a way that would allow us to be roughly where we are now, more than two years on, even though we’ve grown by 300%. We created the systems and we got everything in place to be the business we wanted in the future. That was our mindset, we knew where we were going and with the right systems and structures in place we got there quicker.

Other businesses stay exactly the way they are on day one.  In the beginning they don’t want staff, don’t want additional systems because it’s just them. Their mindset is to crack on, do the work, get it done, send the invoices and bank the cash and that’s fine but the point is they don’t grow.

There is also nothing more frustrating than meeting a business owner who is struggling but who won’t accept that there could be another way of doing things. They say ‘this is the way we have always done it, so this is the way’. No, it’s not; it doesn’t have to be like that and if it does, and the only way leads to a struggling business or is way too hard work then more fool you for getting into that position. There is always another way.

Put simply, if you don’t have a clear vision about where you want to be and how you will get their – and have the confidence that this is your path, then by the time you get to a point three years in the future, your business is not very efficient, maybe because you’re doing all the jobs plus being the CEO, maybe you’ve got the wrong clients, paying too little for too much, because you’ve taken on anyone with a pulse, or maybe your brand isn’t doing what it should. Whatever it is, there will be things in that business that could have been changed from the start because of a vision and a more posituive mindset.

If you build it, they will come.

Make time
Ask yourself how much time in the last month you have sat down and just thought about your business? I would suspect it’s fairly limited. It might be when you’re in the car on the way to work or last thing at night before you go to sleep because you’re too busy doing the do. You could have all the free advice in the world, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t have the availability to take it.

Managing time is critical. I think too many business owners are too busy but not necessarily productive. They spend a lot of time doing lots of jobs they shouldn’t and then don’t have the time to clear a space in their diary or in their heads to think about their business, expand their knowledge and make the most of the information available to them, which means they don’t have time to ask the right questions of themselves.

Now it might be that you are this days old when you realise that there isn’t a one size fits all approach to a thriving business. It is very much bespoke and situational. We have a bookshelf full of business books in our office and I don’t get on particularly well with them, the reason being that every single one of them has a different way of approaching the same problem. So if you read them all, you would never be able to implement everything from every book, or indeed pair philosophies from different books, because in many cases they are at complete cross purposes and very contradictory.

If you’re running a one-man, one site shoe shop, while you may take a bit of inspiration from the guy that founded Nike, excuse the pun, but you’re just not in his shoes. So many authors write from a perspective that is completely different from that of a start-up business, or indeed one that isn’t already thriving.

Google it
One of the solutions we discussed was to simply Google the answers to the questions posed in any given situation. It may not feel like the natural reaction, but why wouldn’t you do it?

Now, given that Alan Clark my co-host on the Mind Your Business Podcast is a business coach, who is in business himself to help other business owners solve their problems, you might wonder if this approach changes his mindset to business. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t.

You might Google the error codes on your washing machine, get your hands dirty, learn on the job and maybe even solve the problem, which will give you great satisfaction but when you can’t you call the repair man and sometimes it costs more! Getting good people, real experts to help you in your business can be priceless.

You might be firefighting 18 different situations at once; problems with suppliers, problems with teams, a loss of market share, the pressure is on. Or more positively you have a phenomenal, new idea that you want to get to market. It’s a huge opportunity but you need help realising it. Using experts can go deeper into your issues or give you a higher level of emotional support.

Start with a question
Your solutions or gateway to a thriving business can start with the quality of question you’re asking yourself. I didn’t know all the questions and certainly not all of the answers, but I did know that at Cypher I wanted 200 clients and 10 members of staff. That was my vision and then we went all the way back to what do we need to do to achieve this? We need to astonish our customers, we need to have all the systems in place, we need to bill monthly and set our prices correctly.

Most of the answers for how a business can thrive are within the business owner. No one knows their business more intimately than them. But unless you know what the question is, how will you find them. I often go into a coaching session not knowing what the questions are that I need to ask, but through the coaching process the questions bubble up and at the end of a session can have a profound effect on my business. You can Google and get the answer, but you cannot get that accountability that another human will give you.

What questions are you asking yourself around the possibilities for your business?

Double your business
Could double your business by setting that target and giving yourself the space and time to come up with the big questions that need answering to achieve that goal and then find a set of answers either by reading literature or engaging another professional?

We’re not saying it’s simple, but we are saying it’s a possibility that a large amount of business owners simply are not accessing.

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.

Silencing your inner critic

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Silencing your inner critic

Most of us have experienced our inner critic: that little voice in our head that’s sniping away, bringing us down, criticising our efforts and ultimately convincing us that we’re not good enough.

Overall, it gets incredibly bad press. But on a recent Mind Your Business Podcast, Alan and I wondered whether it can have a more positive use?

Where does our inner critic come from?
According to psychologists the roots of our inner critics are found in childhood. Sigmund Freud, in particular explained the formation of our superegos as a process during which we internalise external views of ourselves – predominantly those of our parents, while at the same time, accepting wider social expectations and ethical norms that begin the generation of ego ideals – of which we then regularly tend to fall short.

A more scientific explanation locates our inner critic in the older parts of our primitive “survivor brain” that is tasked with physical survival and the fight-or-flight response to danger. Originally, our inner critic had a positive function: to ensure our survival. This includes not just spotting danger in our environment but also inner work in the form of psychological sense making.

Two things we have discussed, and written about, previously support the work to combat the inner critic; firstly, we discussed how not to create a business horror story, for which your inner critic seems a very willing and able co-writer. But also we talked about the brilliance of resilience and how to view everything that goes wrong as a learning opportunity and an opportunity to improve.

Separate yourself from your inner voice
At some stage in our lives we all listen to our inner critic, but while recognising it exists, and accepting it isn’t going away there are practical steps can we take to deal with it. The key is to be able to take on board what it says- to keep us ‘safe’- but then to ultimately move past it.

To do this, first of all, try to get a level of separation from your inner critic. For example, instead of the voice being yours, consider it’s an employee or a colleague. This allows you to manage it like you would any relationship with these people in real life. Their negative views may have some validity, but ultimately you are able to largely ignore them and move on.

Alan used this example when dealing with a business coaching client. They had a mix up on times and his inner critic immediately went into overdrive, telling him it was his fault, he was incompetent and had basically ruined his business; why would anyone want to be coached by him again? His response was to smile, actually take time to consciously thank his inner critic for its input but graciously decline to take the feedback on board.

He moved from catastrophizing the event to actually dealing with it in a calm and productive manner. The dates were sorted, the client was happy. Job done. In this way, giving your inner critic a personality is a step forward to actually managing it, but also being able to deal with it before it can have any further negative impact on your response to a situation is crucial. I know there are people that don’t have that ability, their inner critic is too loud to just silence.
I think it’s important to understand that it’s very rare for anyone’s inner critic to be a hundred percent right. The doomsday scenario doesn’t happen every 10 minutes of every day. Accept that there is an inner critic, everyone has one, but it doesn’t reflect reality, it’s a separate thing and a lot of what it says is absolute tosh.

Optimists v pessimists
I have talked a lot about the difference between optimists and pessimists. I think a natural born optimist is probably able to compartmentalise their inner critic better than a pessimist does, what brings out the pessimism is the louder inner critic’s voice and their view on the world.

Consider this concept; if the words and language we use, including our self-talk, reveals everything about how we perceive situations and how we feel, then –shocking headline- the more negatively we perceive something, the more we worry and the more anxious we feel  which informs our actions and ultimately outcomes.

So if you are consistently listening to your negative inner critic and taking its views to heart then you are probably going about your business in a far more negative way and displaying behaviours and actions that are not conducive to building relationships and growing businesses. Whereas, if your inner critic is more positive, more balanced, then it probably feels better being you and being with you.

Give your inner voice chance to speak
A way I used to deal with colleagues that were always very negative was to get them to write down all of their gripes. That process often allowed us to focus on real grievances and bat off things that weren’t an issue. If at certain times you subconsciously – or even consciously – allow your inner critic to vent then maybe there is a learning opportunity in there somewhere. Maybe you’re inner critic telling you that you are about to lose a client suggest that perhaps you aren’t paying them enough attention.

From this perspective there are parts of the inner critic that are definitely useful. It could be intuition. It could be sent from the universe. It could be something built into our evolutionary fight or flight response but there’s something going on that you might want to pay attention to.

If it brings our attention to something, it has done its job. Manifest in negativity and criticism it certainly isn’t a truth detector and 80% of what it says is potentially noise around the edges of reality but there are some nuggets in there you should listen to. If we know that then we can listen to our inner critic, not take it too seriously and maybe even love it.

Imposter Syndrome
Another way your inner critic raises its voice is as the lead cheerleader for imposter syndrome. A way to deal with this is to quickly list facts and not base decisions on assumptions. For example, what is going on with your business? How good is your performance? What are you doing to get better? How are you leading? What are people seeing and saying about you and your business?

Then expose the lies, the made up horror stories that you have created by shining a light on them and asking yourself honestly what are you basing the decisions that you aren’t good enough on? By bringing clarity to a situation it can demonstrate that the whole imposter syndrome that has limited you as a human being for decades is based on an untruth.

A technique I use whenever I get critical thoughts about the business I score areas of it out of 10 as honestly as I can. I use industry benchmarks and competitors, but often other sources sometimes to keep it interesting but if I feel we are on a par, or better than many then we are ok to be doing well. It’s a powerful tool.

Everyone has an inner critic; we all listen to it and its voice, no matter how quiet or strong, will have an impact on our response to a given situation. Listen to it, that’s its job, and why 8 billion human beings have one, but remember, the inner critic is not you, it’s going to be negative, probably hurtful but it’s not a truth detector. Engage with it, shine a light on it, sift through the noise and find the nugget that can help you actually deal with a situation.

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.

Work Life balance

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Work Life balance

On our twentieth podcast we discussed the distinction between work-life balance and work life integration.

We all want a good work- life balance; it has become so much more of a talking point since the first lockdown of 2020 when we all forced to work from home. Effectively that migration to homeworking broke the natural barrier between work life and home life.

Before lockdown, the majority of people could leave work at the office. When they logged off, they decompressed on the drive home, turned up at their house and were then in home mode. Now for lots of people home life and office life are one in the same. You put the kids to bed, you walk passed the back bedroom, where your laptop is and you sneak in and do some more emails. It might have exacerbated by the fact that at the start of the first lockdown there was literally nothing else to do, so people were filling their time by doing extra work.

Sadly, a consequence of this is increases in feelings of overwhelm, which is affecting people’s mental health and is detrimental for ongoing performance.

Whereas the definition of work-life balance is pretty straight forward; you work when you need to and are doing completely non-work things for the rest of your time, the definition of work- life integration is rather more subjective, and what is optimum integration anyway?

I have found is that while I work the same amount as I did when I was going to the office, my working hours are completely different. Now, instead of a commute, I take my daughter to school and because I am at home, I can help with the baby’s lunch. These are now two events in my diary. But then I work for an hour and a half in the evening, not because my work-life balance is skewed, it’s just that I spread my work around the day, which feels like an optimum situation for me.

Others may choose to start with a run at 4am before they start work at six and finish at three to collect the kids, which demonstrates that the hybrid model provides a genuine opportunity for business owners to truly own their time and create a better quality of life. But there is a risk that we now fill every single second of our day. Getting the work-life integration right is a new skillset and one that probably requires more self-discipline to create the boundaries that allow you be productive but still access a better quality of life.

Dolly Parton, sang about it but the concept of nine-to-five isn’t a true reflection of life anymore and we need to achieve better work- life integration to balance the amount of time we’re working with the amount of time we’re not. When we were all home schooling the Cypher team kept varied ‘office hours’ in order to maintain some semblance of normality, particularly for the children. It meant we responded to emails late at night, but if you contacted us at three o’clock on a Thursday we weren’t available. Lockdown has changed the boundaries of what is an acceptable time to contact people.

For me business owners are used to working extra, longer and odder ours. It’s the team that this is new for. If you’re managing a team and offer a hybrid working model, work-life integration will be important to maintain productivity, mental health and balance.

It’s about setting good boundaries and providing clarity on what each individual’s role is, what good looks like and what they need to accomplish in any given time period. Then people can manage their time, integrate your business into their life and if they deliver on expectations they know they have done a good job, which keeps everyone motivated.

Secondly, while there is plenty of evidence to suggest that productivity is higher in a hybrid workforce, business owners shouldn’t underestimate the value of looking after their teams, staying in regular contact, reaching out, setting expectations around email usage and timings for switching on but importantly logging off.

Now it just so happens that I recently managed a potential client crisis from my bath! I was communicating with a team member and a client – not on video calls for obvious reasons- but we averted any real danger and got the job done. Did anyone care that I was in the bath, or at my kitchen table or at a cottage in the Cotswolds.

Google meanwhile have issued their policy on the hybrid working model. It’s three words; flexibility and choice. Basically the employee gets to choose what’s right for them! They have access to all the tech in the world but, more importantly, they recognise the value and maturity of their employees and trust them to make good decisions.

It proves another of the unintended consequences of remote working was to shatter one of the most durable myths about a workforce: if you can’t see them, you can trust them. Nonsense, business owners need to get over themselves.

We are entering a situation where, as more employees are able to really integrate work into their home life, they simply won’t want to go back to the office, at least not full time and the employers that demand it of them will soon find themselves losing lots of good people, probably to the benefit of their competitors because of their short-sightedness.

Clearly there are some businesses that need people physically in the workplace; retail, hospitality, manufacturing but many don’t and if there’s a choice, because a job could be done as effectively- or even better -at home as in the office, then surely it’s a least worth the conversation.

I think a hybrid model is going to become the natural bias for employees. Your talent pool has gone global but if you want access to the best people it’s going to be an absolute prerequisite that you allow them to work flexibly and provide an integrated approach to the work-life balance.

Now a lot of people may have been ready for this hybrid approach for many years but the infrastructure or tech simply wasn’t available to support it. That’s changed radically and we are part of a new paradigm, let’s embrace this hybrid model and the opportunities it offers to integrate work into life.

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.

Mistakes for early stage businesses

Mistakes for early stage businesses 150 150 Cypher

Mistakes for early stage businesses

This blog was based on a podcast that was inspired by an article I read about the four overlooked mistakes that sabotage first year entrepreneurs. As you know Cypher supports a lot of start-up businesses so Alan and I noted the four big points and discussed their respective merits.

According to the Entrepreneur web site, the four critical errors to avoid when launching and growing your business in the first year:

  1. Not choosing a well-defined niche
  2. Not seeking help and support
  3. Not collaborating with your competition
  4. Being busy but not productive

Choosing a well-defined niche
So, apparently, the first problem that a lot of first-year businesses encounter, is not choosing a well-defined niche. By creating a niche, the author suggests, you get better at selling your service because you’re repeatedly pitching the same thing. This allows you to build up reviews and testimonials faster for the service you’re known for and as each project is similar, you can create templates, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and streamline your processes so you can complete work in less time.  He continues that the more you specialise, the more people that have a specific need will seek you out.

Fundamentally, however, I completely disagree that you need a niche to be successful for two reasons. Firstly, when I was looking for a business coach, I was approached by a number of potential candidates who specialise in coaching accountancy business owners. I spend my life on LinkedIn dodging them. Now there may be a bit of arrogance on my part, but I feel that I understand how to run an accountancy business; I did it in my previous life and I’m doing it now. Fundamentally, I didn’t want someone telling me to do the same thing I’d already done. I wanted an outside perspective; I want to know how things work in other businesses or sectors and how I can apply them to mine.

Secondly, when I started Cypher, a lot of people told me to niche, to become the accountant for estate agents or the accountant for recruiters and again, we purposely stayed away from that approach because one of the joys of my business is getting to work with so many different businesses, from different sectors, doing different things. It makes it more interesting but also as people find so many wonderful ways to make money, it allows us to learn from other businesses.

That said, I think we probably do niche a bit, but not on what someone does, rather on how they think. We only work with business owners that get it; that get what we want to deliver and want to join us on that journey. There’s plenty that don’t, and that’s great, but we only work with people that have a similar mindset. It’s quite a broad niche, but I think it’s enough to separate us from others.

We do work with businesses that niche, but if I was to highlight factors that sabotaged an early stage business, I don’t think niching would necessarily be in my top four.

Seeking help and support as a start-up business
The second point in the article, however, that business owners don’t seek help and support at the right time is definitely right up there. I found out myself that there are just so many things you don’t know when you start up.

Because I’d been helping small businesses for years, I thought I knew a lot about running a small business, but then in those first few weeks, as I sat at my own I realised I didn’t know very much at all. What has overwhelmed me in the two years we have been in business was how much support I got for free in those first few months. The small business community is overflowing with people willing to help other people out.

When you start a business, it’s because you’re generally very good at what you do; you’re a great plumber, or a great estate agent. But then suddenly you’re dealing with balance sheets and insurance and HR and marketing and Facebook profiles and it all comes at you on day one and you find you are very inexperienced in many of the aspects needed to run a business.

My advice was that I joined a networking group early on and generally in any group there is a bit of everything. If you want financial support, HR support, coaching or marketing, it’s all there and people are happy to offer one-to-ones and give you an hour’s free advice. Make sure you get advice from actual experts, but absolutely seek it out. People will offer it because it builds a relationship for down the line.

Collaborate with your competition
The third point in this list of problems for early stage businesses is not collaborating with your competition. We’ve talked about this on a few times on the Mind Your Business Podcast, but again, when I started Cypher, I was overwhelmed by how other accountancy businesses interacted with us in such a positive way. One of the most important things in businesses is relationships.

Now, I think day one might be a bit early to collaborate with the competition, unless – as we discussed in another podcast you are completing one of their products or services, and in general you should let your business grow a little bit before you start engaging the competition. A key element of being able to collaborate is having the utmost confidence in your business. Having belief in your products and services means you are more comfortable seeking others out, collaborating together and going after the bigger fish.

The sweet spot for collaborating with your competition is if you’re doing the same thing, but you’ve niched successfully to different marketplaces. For work that is slightly outside our comfort zone, we recommend other firms that, we know, will offer a great service and in return if they receive complex ‘Xero’ requests, they kick things over the fence to us. While we are competing in some areas there is enough to go around, making it a very lucrative co-opertition model.

Being busy but not productive
Finally, point four on the mistakes to avoid, is being busy, but not being productive. Busyness is often disguised as productivity, you feel good because you are doing something. It is vital that new business owners understand and appreciate the value of their own time. A trap that a lot of people fall into is not only do they not get the right support, but they also don’t outsource enough tasks at the right time.

You have something like a thousand minutes a day to do something with, so your mentality should be ‘what is the true value of my thousand minutes and how should I best spend them?’ Small business owners always have two or three jobs they won’t let go of and there are a number of ways we can all work smarter, not harder to give us back time and be more productive by doing the things that actually make a difference to our business.

On balance, the article on the Entrepreneur web site raised some valid points, highlighting some of the traps start up business owners fall into. First of all, not choosing a well-defined niche isn’t necessarily the death knell for your business, but having a niche can be a positive. Secondly, both Alan and I agree that not seeking help and support at the right time is definitely an issue that can be easily resolved. Thirdly, similarly to point two, seeking others out, even if you deem them competitors can be a good thing and collaboration is the way forward for so many businesses, and finally being busy, but not productive is 100% something that all business owners, not just early stages ones need to be aware and avoid.

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.

Work smarter, not harder

Work smarter, not harder 150 150 Cypher

Work smarter, not harder

A few months ago the Harvard Business Review included a special offer for a suite of books under the banner ‘working smarter not harder’. It’s a bit of a cliché that is often used but potentially misunderstood. What does it mean and how do we actually work smarter, not harder?

The Cypher business is based around this ethos, there are numerous mentions of it throughout our business plan and it won’t surprise you to know that the first example I’ve got of working smarer not harder is through your finance function.

If your business finance function- the way that data gets into your accounts- isn’t automated; you’re not in the cloud and you’re not letting software and all of Google’s robots do their thing, then you are working harder not smarter.

If anything written in the next part of this blog looks or sounds like something you do when you are managing your bookkeeping then you need to stop, immediately, and Google Xero, or DEXT.

If a supplier sends you an invoice and you print it, if you print your sales invoices to then send to your customers, if your customers pay you by cheque or if someone sends you a bill and you have to then manually type information into another system, quite simply there’s a better way of doing it.

I could bore people for hours on this subject, but basically, if at any point something crosses your desk and you have to do something with it other than take a photo, then there is a quicker, smarter way of doing it. That’s the way modern, automated, cloud-based finance functions like Xero work.

We’ve got clients, literally brand new businesses, which have finance functions that are now far more advanced than businesses that have been going for 10 or 15 years because they’ve had no legacy system.

You can receive invoices via an email and Xero ingests that email, takes a snapshot of the PDF, harvests all the data; the date, the invoice number, the due date, how much VAT is on it, sucks out all of that information and puts it into your bookkeeping system. It takes an hour to set up and then you never have to manually enter another purchase invoice.

Xero allows you to create sales invoices with links embedded in them so that anyone can click a button and pay you by card, so you don’t have to take a payment over the phone and you don’t have to send a cheque or even a bank transfer. If you are a trade’s person you can set up an app, so when you finish a job, you push a button, the invoice is sent and the customer can pay you automatically.

And then you integrate a feed from your bank in to your bookkeeping system so all of your bills are harvested from your inbox. The only thing left then is when you spend money on a debit card, you use an app to take a photo of the receipts and then all the info- all the data- is extracted and goes straight into the system.

That’s how modern bookkeeping works. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for bookkeepers any more, robots aren’t taking our jobs, but rather the clever bookkeepers are using technology to allow them to service more customers. It’s a great example of people working smarter.

How many small business owners spend hours at the weekend doing their bookkeeping, manually inputting data? Think, if you could get that time back, what else could you be doing; golf, pilates, watching the kids football?

Imagine how powerful that time could be if you used it instead to stop and actually think about your business? It’s phenomenal and could fundamentally change the work-life balance of a business owner if they use automation properly.

Sticking with the automated data entry theme, if you are spending more time completing your timesheets than actually doing the work, there is also a smarter way of doing that.

Another example of smarter working is choosing between sending an email and picking up the phone. It may be a bit old school, but we have a rule in Cypher that is very simple; if you have spent more than two minutes writing an email and you are still on the first paragraph-maybe the contents of the email you are replying to or the topic you are discussing requires more time and thought- then bin the email and pick up the phone.

Taking time to clearly articulate your thoughts or position on a more complex matter, rather than getting caught in a flurry of emails is another simple example of working smarter not harder.

Staying with the technology theme, how many businesses find their sales teams are having too many conversations with prospects that just aren’t the right fit; they’re not necessarily timewasters but not the right target market?

To improve their conversation rate a client of ours uses an app called Zapier, which if you haven’t heard about it is like programmable robots on the internet, plus some other tools to help filter out the wrong type of client. They have spent some time understanding their target client and found they had a particular sweet spot. So now if someone visits their website, the tech can understand who this person is by scraping data from Companies House and various other places, so even before they have started a sales conversation they know whether or not they are dealing with the right type of business. Within about 30 seconds of someone landing on the website the bots have decided whether this is a suitable client, given them prices and pushed them into the automated sales funnel. That’s smart.

Rather than a business cliché, working smarter, not harder might instead become a philosophy. One of our core values at Cypher is that we are digital first. If you distil that down, it means that if we can let software or automation do the job we should, because this actually frees up more time for the human contact that our clients really value. No software can replicate that. Our clients don’t care if a computer puts their data into the system or human does. As long as it’s in there, so they can see it and we can have the conversation about it, that’s where they get the value out of our business.

I’m sure this is the same for millions of different types of businesses, so, if you can get software to deliver it and it doesn’t affect the service and it doesn’t affect the human aspect of your brand, then get the software to do it and let your humans do what the software can’t, which is looking after the people, actually talking to the customers.

Moving away from technology and automation, we have also talked a lot about time, on the podcast, how best to use it and how to work smarter in the time you have. As a small business owner, you could be CEO, bookkeeper, credit controller, sales rep and social media contact. To work smarter, the key is to try and do more of the things that actually improve your business. Working smarter means considering what you can get off plate, what can you outsource and what jobs are absolutely not yours to waste time with so instead you can be really productive.

Lastly, in my opinion, one of the smartest things you can do is switch your email off. Having your email browser on your phone is a massive distraction. The constant pinging will mean it takes you longer to focus and get back to the job in hand, which then takes longer. It also means you never switch off and find yourself answering emails at 11 o’clock at night, which means you can’t sleep because you are stressing about this client’s email.

Instead of work smarter not harder, I think the saying should be ‘think smart, work hard’. You still need to work hard in order for your businesses to thrive, but you should do the thinking first. Understand the drivers for your business where your time is best used and then work on how you can get technology or supporting businesses to take away the things that take time to free up your time to deliver more human capacity to your clients.

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.


Belief 150 150 Cypher


This blog, from a Mind Your Business Podcast Episode is all about the power of belief for the entrepreneur and business owner.

Belief is probably one of the most powerful human emotions. Cards on the table, I think it’s absolutely critical to the success of any business. We know that every entrepreneur or business leader across the world needs high levels of resilience, persistence, and drive, but at the heart of all of those characteristics is a belief that what they are doing is worthwhile.

But, while every business owner starts out with a huge amount of belief, as time goes on, maybe you didn’t have the instant success you expected, maybe you see competitors doing really well, either way it’s not working for you, you’re worn down and that belief has gone.

But if you don’t have belief in your business, who else will?

Beware the Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome affects a huge amount of business owners. Typically, it’s characterised either by a loss of belief in one’s ability or a belief that we don’t deserve the success they’ve had, or a belief that their success isn’t sustainable.

An antidote to impostor syndrome is to get absolute clarity on the role you play for a business and what a successful outcome looks like for you and then using your emotions, your energy and your time to deliver that outcome. If you didn’t have high levels of belief at the start, you’ll get them because as you start to deliver it takes the focus off you and on to your desired outcome.

Next, take a look at your products and services. Are they good, are they great? How can you make them better? Focus on serving and if you believe you have something worth buying, you develop a confidence in your product and that is a position you can sell from.

Don’t catch ‘comparisonitis’
While everyone is comparing themselves to someone else, it breeds something we call ‘comparisonitis’. When you see how well someone else operates you might feel that, in comparison, you will never be as good as them. Social Media does a lot to portray a very positive side of any business and fuels this potentially crippling mindset. Maybe someone is boasting an amazing week; they’ve won five new clients this week and you haven’t. Or they are posting some great profits or a day out with staff. Remember, everyone has ups and downs and maybe about 75% of the stuff posted is a true reflection of reality.

Use more positive language
A lot of the language used in coaching conversations around imposter syndrome; around limiting beliefs, what’s holding people back and why they feel their business just isn’t good enough is typically very negative. It puts a lot of focus and energy into what’s wrong in order that business owners see that the reality is actually far more positive.

But if you are more positive from the start, you will have far more productive conversations. The next time you meet a prospective client, surely you going to have a better chance of securing a contract if you genuinely believe that your products and services are world-class or at least very good, versus not really being sure, but you really need the money and so you really need this deal.

If you have genuinely spent the time thinking about your products and services and believe that they’re really good, but certainly they are good enough for what your clients and prospective clients are looking for, then that puts you in a really powerful place. If you’re trying to sell effectively, you have to have that utmost confidence that what you’re doing is serving a purpose. Either you are fixing a problem or you are creating some value, but either way your customers have got to see that passion in you. It’s a big advantage a small business owner has over Tesco’s or other large businesses in the same space.

One of the best things any business owner can do is make themselves better. It is a process they can own and as they get better, they serve clients better, who tell more people, and as your reputation grows, it brings in more money. It’s a win, win. You don’t always have to be the best, but you have to be good enough. But as soon as you’ve got that confidence that what you are doing is really going to help your clients, it will really help.

Belief builds intent
Another big positive of believing in your products and services is the energy and industry you will bring to your business and your conversations, driven by the intent behind what you’re doing. That breeds confidence so when you explain your business, it gives you an air of authenticity.  It means that in any conversation, you’re coming from a position of strength. Yes, you’re listening to what somebody is looking for, but you know that you have spent time getting better and better at what you offer and people notice that, which removes purchase barriers and which, in the end, may make the extra difference between the deal coming to you or going somewhere else.

Competitors can bring you customers not steal them
Another key part of maintaining your belief is understanding who your competitors are and more importantly what they may be doing for your market place. For example, rather than worry about all the new digital accountancy firms setting up that look like Cypher, feel a bit like Cypher,  I found instead that it strengthened my belief that we were doing something right. While we used to try and show up better, bigger and bolder than all the other visions of a modern, digital accountancy firm, over time, I’ve realised that I actually want more businesses like that in the market place. With each new accountancy firm that sets up like Cypher, has the same ethos as Cypher, we move another step away from the old, traditional model of accountancy that we are all fighting against!

Whenever another modern accountancy firm takes on a new member of staff, we see this as a cause for celebration because it means there’s more demand for what we do. And that puts my belief right up. But to make that happen, you have to be secure in yourself, have belief in your core principles and have belief that your core product is good enough so you can interact with your competition in a more positive way.

Believe in your Forecast
I spend a huge amount of my time looking forwards with business owners. I ask them what this year looks like and what they want to achieve. Someone might say, ‘I want to do half a million…’ but I feel like shaking them and saying that I can see you don’t believe that. Or another way is to find a number that really excites a business owner. They say that is what they want but you can see that they don’t believe it and in the end they’ll get 50% or 60% of what they wanted.

And then, every now and again you see that something clicks. A business owner sets out his or her goals and commits. They have never been so focused or so determined to achieve something.

When you look at any successful business owner, an important part of their journey is the inbuilt belief that they will achieve the goals they set out to achieve.

If I consider the top 20% performing businesses that we work with, it’s not always the quality of their product that has brought their success rather it’s the belief of the business owner in the quality of their product.

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.

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.