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James Bennett

Best of breed or bundle strategy how to chase unicorns

Best of breed or bundle strategy how to chase unicorns 150 150 Cypher

Best of breed or bundle strategy how to chase unicorns

This blog from a Mind Your Business episode was inspired by the numerous stories we have read in the past 12 months about businesses having to pivot – some more successfully than others- in order to survive, and indeed thrive during the Covid pandemic.

As we are still in the middle of Lockdown 3.0, it was interesting to debate the best strategy for businesses considering their own pivot as many may still make this decision over the next 12 months.

My co-podder Alan Clark introduced two useful strategies; one of ‘best of breed’ and the other of ‘integration bundles’ to use when considering the route to take.

As a best of breed example, Alan cited the recent acquisition of Slack by Salesforce. At $27.7 Billion, the deal is the Martech world’s most valuable integration ever and was seen as a good enough investment to meet the current work-from-home scenario and growing demand for 100% secured Cloud-based apps for the digital economy.

As the global leader in CRM Salesforce specialises in improving external relationships with clients and prospect leads, so its decision to buy Slack, a workplace productivity tool represents a pivot strategy that brought together two game-changing organisations and now provides Salesforce a platform to improve communication and productivity internally as well.

In 2015, just 18 months after it launched, Slack reported having more than 1 million daily users — a figure then unheard of in enterprise software. When it was sold that figure had reached some 12 million. In response, Microsoft, using a design similar to Slack’s own, added Teams to its 365 portfolio without increasing the price and used an integrated bundle approach to take Teams from zero to more than 115 million users.

That disparity and ongoing demand for the Microsoft product perhaps helps to explain why Slack sold itself to Salesforce in the end. At Cypher, we still use Slack mainly as a replacement for email. We let clients have their own channels and it means they can contact us very quickly whenever they need to.

For transparency, I feel that Cypher operates a largely integrated bundle model, insofar as we do lots of different things and our clients get a bundle of services that they pay a monthly retainer for. But I also want to be best of breed and we pride ourselves on client astonishment, that’s just how we roll!

It was interesting to debate with Alan whether there was room for a middle ground; a ‘best of breed bundle’ if you will. A model where you do operate an integrated bundle strategy but within that bundle each product is market-leading. That would make a very strong business offering. But is it sustainable?

One of the reasons I am so fascinated by this subject is that we have a lot of conversations with clients around the fact that the business they have now, will not be the same in 5-years’ time. It might do a lot of the same sort of thing, but there will inevitably be change along the way. Having a polar opposite perspective on the route your business might take on this journey can lead to the establishment of a whole new set of income streams.

A recent example was the creation of the Oxford Fire Door Company by our client Rowood Kitchens and Joinery. Business was good, but Nick Rowland the MD spotted a gap in the market and wanted to fill it – literally, with bespoke, handmade fire doors.

When this growth happens, and it does more often that you would think, we discuss with the business owners whether the new companies will sit within the current business or whether they will completely stand-alone. For me, the way to answer that question is to understand the risks your new venture presents to your current business. Two separate downsides are that the new business could blow up instantly and make you loads of money, side tracking you from the one that has paid the mortgage for all those years, or there is a risk that you go off, set up company B and it’s awful, it damages the current brand and basically comes back to bite you.

Take innocent smoothies.  They built their brand on being ethical, fresh and innovative. They were bought by Coca-Cola and whatever your thoughts are on the ‘real thing’ the acquisition absolutely tanked the Innocent brand. On a small business level, if you set up a new business but don’t stick to the principles that made the first business so strong, maybe you don’t treat companies right, don’t treat customers right, don’t do a good job, perhaps because you are stretched too thin, then it can only do damage to the existing business.

It is still too early to know for certain what plans Saleforce has for Slack, or how successful the integration of two very different cultures with be, but based on this pivot strategy, as a small business owner who is used to being best-of-breed, it does sound hard to integrate with another business as a bundle or as a new company without diminishing the value of one of them. It feels a bit like chasing unicorns.

Ever the optimist, however, Alan points out that the mere possibility of being a business owner who is able to be across four or five businesses and can keep them all at a very high service level for a period of time should be exciting for anyone and reason enough to try.

The decision for business owners to pivot may not have been so much a choice as a final throw of the dice as Covid has forced many to consider new routes for diversification. For those still considering their next business step, I think my main advice is to not make that next step too big.

Pivoting can be risky in a normal world; doing so in lockdown presents a whole new set of challenges. To pivot successfully, using the Ansoff Matrix model, for me ideally you would take a relatively small step and sell something new to your existing customer base.  Leverage the trust and competency that your customers associate with your current portfolio to offer them a slightly different, or better still, complementary product. I would certainly not advocate creating one that affects your ability to grow your current business in the future.

My second piece of advice comes from the recent ‘Everyone Competes with Amazon podcast. We also wrote a blog on that. Look at your new pivot business through the ‘Amazon lens’; what can you do better and more efficiently to delight your customers even more?

And finally, from a podcast on looking for Clarity, not Certainty, if you are considering a pivot for your business anytime soon, it doesn’t matter whether you want to pursue a best-of-breed or integrated bundle strategy. Whether you run one business or five, as a business owner, you can own the position they enter the market, you own the decision on the products and services you will offer and you own their quality, how well they are delivered and the level of customer service you want to offer.

Whatever your model, control what you can and knowing these two possibilities hopefully it will help you create a pathway for a successful pivot.

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.)​

Cypher Helps Wallers Estate Agents Get the Keys to Business Growth

Cypher Helps Wallers Estate Agents Get the Keys to Business Growth 150 150 Cypher

Cypher Helps Wallers Estate Agents Get the Keys to Business Growth

Set up by owner Rowan Waller in 2014 as the antidote to a ‘typical’ Estate Agent, Wallers is an award winning, independent, Estate Agency based in Oxford and Swindon.

Whether buying or selling, letting or renting a house, flat, house-boat or commercial property, Wallers treat customers as individuals and offer a unique, tailored service that has built them a strong regional reputation.

“When people ask me how we are different, I have to wonder how to answer that! We have access to the same tech as everyone else, we have a high street shop, but then so do the majority of our competitors… however what sets us apart, I think, is the way that we choose to use those tools, the level of service we offer, the people we employ and the attitude we bring to our work”, explains Founder and Director, Rowan Waller.

With a passion for customer service, a commitment to being a force for good in the local community and an early adopter of PropTech, it was no surprise that Rowan chose Cypher to be the accountancy firm for his business.

“I met Matt at a networking group a week after I opened and he has since been a godsend to me. Yes he does my accounts, but he is more than just my accountant. He is a friend, an adviser, a professional who clearly knows his business and has been generous with his time to go out of his way to learn mine. The way he bills me monthly and is available at all times has been a massive help over the years”, says Rowan.

What started as a one-man-in-his-bedroom operation has grown to a multi-office business, with plans for further expansion. This is in stark contrast to the real prospect of closure that Wallers faced just 12 months ago. After a turbulent 2019, caused by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, cashflow had reached a critical point just as the Covid pandemic hit.

“In 2019 we barely held on by the skin of our teeth, but always felt that there was light at the end of the tunnel if we could just get over the Brexit hump – and this is coming from a blue-hat-with-gold-stars-wearing, trumpet-blowing European”, Rowan admits. “Sure enough, enter January 2020 and after that last general election result, the property market exploded into life for us.

“In the first two months of trading in 2020 we agreed half the number of deals we had during the whole of 2019 and had built an extremely strong pipeline, but then the first lockdown hit. In-person viewings and valuations were prohibited and transactions were stopped before any of that income had come through. We were in limbo”.

It was during this time that Cypher’s proactive approach was most valuable. Regular briefings, self-made videos and frequent client ‘lifeboat calls’ designed to ensure that each business owner knew their options, understood the support that was on offer and that made the Cypher team available played a massive role in helping businesses to consolidate, access funding and re-open as soon as possible, many with a slightly different proposition to reflect their version of the new normal.

“In the early stages of lockdown, Matt was proactive, he was available and worked with a WhatsApp group of more than 100 business owners to show that if we all rowed the same way, we could all come out of lockdown with stronger businesses.”

With in-person viewings still a barrier, Wallers strengthened their position using video technology. An early adopter of virtual tour technology Wallers extended this to offering video viewings on empty properties. While nobody buys a house they haven’t seen in person Wallers found that this wasn’t the case for the rental market.

“We agreed 10 lets during lockdown without conducting a single in person viewing, which along with a local authority grant, allowed us to tick over until we re-opened in May”, says Rowan.

“When we came out of lockdown I still didn’t know which way the wind would blow, but we agreed a sale on the first day, and then a second on day two and things began to snowball from there. We still had our paused pipeline of deals, which started to move at last. In fact, 2020 saw us grow by 33%, compared to 2019 in terms of revenue, despite not earning any sales fees for the two months of the first lockdown. Not just that, but our profits grew by over 300%!”.

“For me to become the business person I am today I needed three people in my life. Matt was one of them, my wife is another. That is how important Matt is to me. He was one of the people who helped remind me that the possibility to open 10 or 11 offices, which started when I was just one man in my bedroom in 2014, was still there for me.

“When I started out this wasn’t on my agenda, I was looking to be agile, deliver good customer service and make some money for myself, but Matt has shown me possibilities I had never imagined.

One year on, Rowan is considering expanding and with Cypher’s support getting the keys to some new office locations soon. House prices are expected to rise during 2021 and with the Chancellor announcing an extension on the stamp duty holiday on the first £500,000 of all house purchases until the end of June, Wallers is hoping its early year success will continue.

If you would like us to help your business as we did Wallers, get in touch.

Cypher clients get access to discounted managed live chat from Melu

Cypher clients get access to discounted managed live chat from Melu 150 150 Cypher

Cypher clients get access to discounted managed live chat from Melu

We’ve teamed up with Melu to offer you a special discounted rate for their amazing managed live chat service.

It’s the one we use on our own website, so we can vouch for how well it works at providing us fantastic customer service and improved lead generation.

Melu’s UK based team of operators look after live chat on your website, so you know there’s always someone there to look after your visitors when they need something.

You can try Melu free for 14 days, with no credit card details required and no commitment.

We’ve negotiated a discount on the monthly fees for our clients, so don’t miss this opportunity to get more from your website today with their free trial and discounted rate.

Option 1: Weekdays – 8am to 10pm Monday to Friday – £79 + vat per month (normally £119, save £40)

Option 2: 7 days a week – 8am to 10pm every day – £99 + vat per month (normally £139, save £40)

Option 3: 24/7 coverage – £129 + vat per month (normally £179, save £50)

To sign-up, visit https://meluchat.com/try-melu and type the code CYPHER into the promotion code field to get this exclusive discount.

For more information contact Melu on 0800 634 3551 or hello@meluchat.com.

Everyone is Competing with Amazon

Everyone is Competing with Amazon 150 150 Cypher

Everyone is Competing with Amazon

Earlier this month, Amazon opened its first UK till-less store. Shoppers at the new Amazon Fresh shop now scan a smartphone app when they go in and are automatically billed as they leave.

This pivot to a physical store location represents a complete 180 from Jeff Bezo’s early dreams of opening an on-line book store to disrupt the established bricks and mortar brands, but it is yet another example of the constant innovation we have seen from Amazon since its inception in the mid 1990’s.

It will be interesting to see how this till-less offer develops and the reaction is elicits from other supermarket brands as Amazon starts to compete with their traditional retail offering. It also sparked a discussion that Alan Clark and I had on a recent Mind Your Business Podcast episode, that now every business, whatever their product, service or sector now competes with Amazon.

As most of you reading this will know, I run an accountancy business, so you might ask what right do I have competing with Amazon? I don’t sell products, I am not a distributer of goods, I certainly don’t package my advisory service up in a cardboard box with an A-to-Z swoosh on it and leave it in your greenhouse!

So let me explain what I mean by this statement.

The way I see it is that, today, if you want to buy literally anything, at some point you will go to Amazon. In that Amazon world you will have a huge choice and instant access to a range of products in your search stage. Let’s say you want to buy some Bluetooth headphones. You use the search function, which returns hundreds of options-the algorithms are very clever, they make sure you see what you want – or what Amazon and its thousands of Bluetooth headphone sellers’ want- and when you make your choice, you can proceed to the checkout, pay instantly and have them delivered literally later that day.

Amazon has built a business that delivers instant gratification. It has built a proposition that whatever you want, you will be able to find and buy it, or get the answer to a question you need resolved within the working day. This proposition is now integral to everyone’s life. So, even though my business is in the professional services sector and it can take months to deliver a product or service, we now have to treat our customer experience like we are Amazon.

For example, when we talk to a prospect client, they can get a proposal from us instantly. It can be digitally signed, while we are in the meeting with them discussing it. When they become a client, our on-boarding process is digital and seamless. And since the start of lockdown we have also made the conscious effort to always be available. Clients can contact us whenever or however they want. Whether their preferred channel is WhatsApp or Slack or email or a telephone call, we will be accessible.

For too long, particularly in the professional services sector, a potential client will choose a firm, they all agree terms in principle and then nothing happens for a week. The client chases, and in return receives a tatty email which says, ‘yes we can put together your shareholder’s agreement, it will be £1,500 plus VAT’. In the meantime the Amazon generation has spoken to a competitor, who didn’t keep them waiting, has got a price, signed a deal and moved on. Boom.

That is the new ground we are all competing on; instant gratification, or at least a much quicker acknowledgement and follow up process.

To compete with Amazon we have to turn things around in real time. It’s not necessarily because we are flashy, it’s because our client base are young entrepreneurs. Millennials or Gen Z are used to being able to sign on the dotted line and immediately start receiving the service they have asked for.

If it takes more than an hour from meeting a prospect to give them a proposal and sign them up as a customer, then someone in your industry will get there quicker and you will be haemorrhaging potential sales.

And I think this is now true for hundreds of businesses.

Amazon has conditioned us to expect to be able to pick apart a product and put it back together the way we want it, at a price point that suits us. So your operations and sales processes have to evolve to match this expectation. If you have a business model where customers can buy various different versions of the same product or service, meaning they can select from a basic budget model right the way up to platinum, with 100 different options in between, then from their experience of Amazon, your customer is going to want to instantly understand all of those options, the costs, where the differences are, and pick a solution that best suits them.

The concept of telling customers that they can have any colour they want, as long as it’s black and that the car will be ready ‘when it’s ready’ is obsolete. With its first foray into a book of the week spotlight, Amazon first brought us standardisation, then customisation and now personalisation. That is what we are competing with.

There’s also the consideration of how you deal with something if it goes wrong. We purchased a monitor from Amazon- that we had delivered not to the office but to the home of a new starter, because we were working remotely which had a fault with the power pack. We contacted Amazon and requested a new one. They said they couldn’t break up a monitor and power pack set so they would just send out a complete unit. Importantly, the whole process took less than two days and came with no stress and no quibble. A problem was fixed and we are still loyal customers.

Every small business I work with has a built-in guarantee like this. One of our clients specialises in beautiful handmade kitchens and joinery. They don’t talk about their guarantee at all and the reality is very few people experience it because they make sure they get it right first time. But if someone spent £40,000 on a new kitchen that wasn’t quite right, they fact is that Rowood wouldn’t hesitate to fix it and wouldn’t leave the site until it was put right. That’s their guarantee but they don’t shout about it. Amazon has ensured that its vast customer base expects that when something goes wrong it will be put right, no hassle, no arguments. If your customer service doesn’t match this level, someone else’s will.

Amazon is also a great entrepreneurial story. When he started, Jeff Bezos was absolutely not an expert in distribution chains but rather a guy in his garage trying to create an online book store. In another blog we talked about skyscrapers and how easy it is to only see the final product and ignore the years of hard work it took to get there. If you look at the first iterations of the Amazon home page and its book of the week section you will see how far the platform has come. Amazon probably sells more books than anyone else in the world but the lesson here for every business owner is that the business you have today will not be the business you have in five years. Allow yourself to grow and evolve.

Amazon is also binary; you either buy the product or you don’t. There’s no hard sell. A lot of business owners, certainly in the first few months of trading, fall into the trap of needing to sell to everybody, all the time. As the saying goes, everyone with a chequebook and a pulse is a potential customer. We have a restaurateur as a client; he runs a top-quality restaurant and is very clear on his menu, his price and who his customers are. A lot of people think it’s too expensive, but he’s ok with that because the price reflects the time it takes to prepare the dishes and the quality of ingredients he uses, it is a destination restaurant.

We talked in a previous pod about looking for clarity, not certainty in a business. This is an example of that clarity. This restaurateur has never had certainty that people would flock to eat at his restaurant, but by getting clarity on what he can control he has built a core fan base and has developed a thriving business. Like Amazon, he presents you with what he thinks you will like.

We started off with quite a bold statement about how every business now competes with Amazon. It’s not necessarily their products or service, but rather in the way their customers have been trained, by Amazon, to expect certain standards from every other supplier they deal with.

Whether you are a barber shop, an accountancy, a funeral directors, a restaurant, or a professional services business, your customers have been indoctrinated by Amazon to expect that they can pull apart your product and put it back together exactly how they want it. They can get instant gratification in terms of receiving whatever they order, and can enjoy a really well-rounded guarantee of customer service, if something ever goes wrong.

Whatever business you are in, you need to focus on your customer touch points. Whether it’s your initial engagement and proposal process, how you on-board a client or how you package your product or service, take a look at your operation and then Amazon it, because as customers that is now the model we expect.

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.)​

Don’t create your business horror story

Don’t create your business horror story 150 150 Cypher

Don’t create your business horror story

This podcast episode was inspired by my first ever conversation with Alan Clark. I started Cypher by buying another business. The payments were split, some upfront, some due 12 months’ hence; a pretty standard practice. But I spent that first 12 months fixated, I was worried and anxious that I simply wouldn’t be able to make the second payment. My thoughts were that defaulting on this payment would lead to me losing the business, losing the business would mean losing the house and probably my wife to boot.

I had created this vision for something that might happen in the future, which was a complete horror story for my business and my life. Enter Alan, who provided another perspective, grounded in fact and logic. I chose his route and I am pleased to say that my personal horror story didn’t end the way it could have in my head.

As a business owner, whether you are running a new start up or a business that has been around for generations, sadly you can, quite easily, become the director, producer, scriptwriter and actor of our own horror story.

Talking to Alan, Scary movie land is a land of perception, a self-created perception that has a massive impact on how we feel, how we act, what decisions we make and ultimately how we perform. Part of this self-creation stems from the context we create and the language and words we use to describe a situation we find ourselves in. I was describing my situation as one where I wasn’t going to have enough money to pay back what I owed. It was catastrophic; it was the end of the world. In that context I was seeing myself as a failure, it was muddying my emotions, it was slowing me down and I was becoming limited.

To break the funk I was in, Alan encouraged me to talk about the service I wanted to give, my purpose for creating Cypher, the offer I was making to the world and how I wanted to inspire people through what I thought was possible from an accountant. It was a powerful moment. It helped me to reconnect with my passion and reminded me why I created Cypher in the first place. Of course, I had to keep a level of clarity on what needed to happen to pay the money back, but logic and the business financials showed me the likely end of the movie. Spoiler alert…we are still going strong.

One way to explain my self-perception is that the mind is a powerful thing that is designed to protect you. It is hard wired to make you pull back every time you get too close to the edge. It throws up all the possible negative outcomes to ultimately keep you safe in the status quo. But once you see passed that, see what’s likely, what’s possible even, then the weight off your shoulders is significant.

To help get a different perspective, Alan describes four domains through which one can view any situation. They are Logical, Emotional, Spiritual and Structural. Needless to say the more balance we can achieve, the more developed we are in each of these domains, the better our decision-making and the better our performance as we let go of the baggage that is dragging us down.

I was stuck in the emotional domain, which was draining my energy and limiting my performance, Alan, urged logic – and financials – to frame my context in a better way. A more accurate way in fact. He also reconnected me with my purpose through the spiritual domain and because of the structures we had already put in place at Cypher, we had created the ability to thrive.

To prevent your business’s movie from having a horrible ending and add a different perspective to your context, both Alan and I recommend creating partnerships with other professionals. To keep the movie metaphor going, they can become your supporting cast and crew. This could be a business coach, a marketing consultant or an accountant who can each give you access to new expertise, a new perspective that can help guide you.

Secondly, try to connect with your emotion, be clear what is it you are feeling, own it and be prepared for an honest answer. You might be too scared to look in the metaphorical basement because there may be a scary monster in there and you don’t want to confront it. Stay true to the intent you had at the start of getting better at whatever you do and suddenly you will access more useful insight and do less ruminating. Alan always recommends using your emotion to help you.

A trick Alan shares on the podcast is that if you use language like ‘I worry that’…for example; ‘I worry that I won’t sell enough’ or ‘I worry that my clients aren’t happy’, guess what, you are rewarded with a lot of worry. Instead, change your language to ‘I wonder how….’ So, for example; ‘I wonder how I can deliver a better service’, ‘I wonder how I can compete with bigger businesses and win more profitable clients’, then you will be rewarded with a more creative mindset, you will feed your purpose, which is liberating.

Another example of this change in mindset is giving bad news. Sometimes you have to have difficult conversations or give a client bad news. It is unavoidable. In my experience those conversations are never ever as bad as you think they will be. You build them up to be another brutal scene from your horror movie, when in reality they aren’t. As business owners, we have to be comfortable with the fact that not every interaction will go perfectly, not everything will be optimal every time. The important thing is recognising that generally it isn’t as bad as we think it will be and then doing something about it. Don’t fixate on the ‘what ifs’, think, ‘what else’.

Alan says we have around 6000 conscious thoughts a day (Google it). Not all of them are spent in the present. A percentage of these will reminisce in the past, while others will transport us to the future we have created- good or bad. If we accept this and come up with an accurate way to explain the situation, past, present or future while remaining true to our intent then it will change our context, change our perception of ourselves. it will change you into more joyous passionate emotions your axe bolder and your create better things for both yourself your business and your clients. Remember we create our own experience.

So much anxiety for business owners stems from a desire to make everything perfect; every client interaction, every piece of work. In reality that will never happen and often you don’t have to be the best in the world at what you do, but you need to be good enough. We have around 200 clients in our business and if three had an issue, this would have kept me up at night. In reality if I speak to them directly two may not see their issues as that big, the other may have a genuine concern, but the important thing is that by addressing it, understanding it, we will do something about it thus preventing the catastrophe we have predicted.

In summary, we called the podcast ‘Don’t create your own business horror story’. This title was based on the premise that perception and context are all self-created. How we describe a situation to ourselves is often how it will turn out. Identify the emotions you are experiencing about a context and try to view it through a new lens, ideally with the help of someone else. Getting clarity about the context and the situation can move you away from negative thoughts and lead to higher performance. Open the basement door, take a torch with you and confront the monster. It is unlikely to be as big or as scary as you think.

There is a large waiver that accompanies this blog. If you do find yourself in a rickety old house, isolated on the moors and you hear a banging under the floorboards, don’t go down there. In this context horror movie rules do still apply!

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.)​

De-Cyphering the Budget

De-Cyphering the Budget 150 150 Cypher

De-Cyphering the Budget

The chancellor Rishi Sunak has released his much anticipated budget. Many of the headlines were trailed before today, so there were very few surprises.

Before today’s announcement he was clear that he would focus on three areas in particular; protecting jobs, protecting businesses and protecting the housing market. Our initial thoughts are that it feels like it’s a budget that is good for business and particularly small business which is the majority of our client base.

Along with the extension to the furlough scheme until the autumn and a freeze on personal tax allowances, three things stood out for us in the details of the speech, the widely anticipated Corporation Tax increase isn’t as bad as predicted, the super deduction and increases in capital allowances will represent massive savings for businesses that invest in plant material or electric car fleets and with the potential for an even bigger impact is the news that the loss carry back period for businesses has now been extended.

Let’s start with the Corporate Tax Rate rise to 25%

To balance the need to raise revenue with the objective of having an internationally competitive tax system, the rate of corporation tax will increase from April 2023 to 25% on profits over £250,000. The rate for small profits under £50,000 will remain at 19% and there will be tapered relief for businesses with profits under £250,000 so that they pay less than the main rate.

Firstly, the rate isn’t going up until 2023, so that does offer businesses the chance to bounce back somewhat after Covid, and realistically, I think 90% of small businesses will not be paying the new headline 25%. A huge amount will remain on the 19% rate they are paying now while under the new tapered system, the rest will be somewhere between 20 and 23%. Interestingly, under the previous budget, pre-Covid, the corporation tax rate was due to be going up past19% anyway. The flat rate was going up to 20, 21 and 22% over the next few years. So actually a number of small business with profit below 50K could look at this like a tax cut!

Linked into this is the super deductions capital allowances scheme.

From 1 April 2021 until 31 March 2023, companies investing in qualifying new plant and machinery assets will benefit from a 130% first-year capital allowance. This upfront super-deduction will allow companies to cut their tax bill by up to 25p for every £1 they invest, ensuring the UK capital allowances regime is amongst the most competitive in the world.

For businesses that buy plant machinery, electric vehicles or anything that capital allowances would normally apply to, or anything you would have got annual investment allowance for this is huge.

The chancellor has also removed the annual investment allowance limit. It was £1m which sounds like a lot but we have agricultural clients that can easily spend that in a year. It now appears the £1m limit has been abolished, and there is another 30% added to the tax relief you can claim.

The final and possibly biggest news of the day is the extended loss carry back for businesses.

To help otherwise-viable UK businesses which have been pushed into a loss-making position, the trading loss carry-back rule will be temporarily extended from the existing one year to three years. This will be available for both incorporated and unincorporated businesses.

In addition:

  • Unincorporated businesses and companies that are not members of a corporate group will be able to obtain relief for up to £2 million of losses in each of 2020-21 and 2021-22
  • Companies that are members of a corporate group will be able to obtain relief for up to £200,000 of losses in each of 2020-21 and 2021-22 without any group limitations
  • Companies that are members of a corporate group will be able to obtain relief for up to £2 million of losses in each of 2020-21 and 2021-22, but subject to a £2 million cap across the group as a whole

At present if you make a loss in any given year, you can carry back that loss against profits you made the previous year. So let’s say you made £100,000 profit and paid £19,000 in tax last year, but this year you lost £50,000. Under the old rules you could carry that £50,000 loss back and get half of your £19,000 of tax back.

The new rules mean that we can go back two years.

So, if you made £50,000 of profit last year, but due to Covid you made a substantial loss of £100,000 this year, under the old scheme you would be unable to go back and recover the £50,000 loss over and above last year’s profits.(instead you would have to carry the rest of the loss forward against future profits). Now you can carry all of the losses back against profits last year, and if necessary go back to the before that and use any of the profits there. And if there are still losses that haven’t been relieved, at that point you can go back to the year before. Any regained funds will come in as a tax refund, which could represent a massive cash flow injection for a number of businesses.

There was also good news for a number of the sectors we support. The chancellor announced the up-to-£500,000 “nil-rate band” for stamp duty will finish at the end of June, rather than the end of March, as planned, which will continue to drive activity in the housing market.

The government will also provide ‘Restart Grants’of up to £6,000 per premises for non-essential retail businesses and up to £18,000 per premises for hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym businesses, giving them a level of cash certainty to plan ahead and safely relaunch trading over the coming months. The government is also providing all local authorities in England with an additional £425 million of discretionary business grant funding, on top of the £1.6 billion already allocated. We will work with clients in these sectors to access these funds as they need them.

Find out more

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

Domestic Reverse Charge For The Construction Industry

Domestic Reverse Charge For The Construction Industry 150 150 Cypher

Domestic Reverse Charge For The Construction Industry

What is it?
Domestic reverse charge (DRC) is a new way of accounting for VAT, it will apply to all VAT registered construction businesses in the UK. The new legislation is being introduced as an anti-fraud measure, it intends to cut down on the ‘missing trader’ fraud, where companies receive high net amounts for VAT from their customers but have no intention of paying the VAT to HMRC.

From Monday 1 March 2021 the domestic VAT reverse charge must be used for most supplies of building and construction services.

The charge applies to standard and reduced-rate VAT services:

  • for individuals or businesses who are registered for VAT in the UK
  • reported within the Construction Industry Scheme

What does it mean for you?
Firstly, please do not panic, put simply, the new legislation moves the VAT liability from the supplier (subcontractor) to the customer (contractor) but also not always, only if certain criteria is met, so please read on and we hope this document helps. There is a lot of information included here, so please do not hesitate to contact us if a call would be useful.

If you are a CIS subcontractor you will no longer charge VAT to your CIS customers. Instead, on your invoices you need to state your customer is responsible for the VAT and show what VAT rate should be applied.

If you are a CIS contractor when you receive a bill from your CIS subcontractor you are responsible for reporting both the input and output VAT on that bill.

This change may impact your cash flow. If you are a subcontractor then it’s likely your short term cash flow will be adversely impacted as you will no longer be receiving the VAT element from your customer. If you are the contractor, you will likely have a short term cash flow benefit.

Good News
If you are on Xero, they are ready and the movement to DRC will be pretty straight forward. Once we get our heads around when we charge who for what, Xero will handle the VAT return calculations with the introduction of the new tax codes. We will make these live for you and you will see these available for use from Monday. By using these new tax codes your sales invoices will be prepopulated with the required note that no VAT is charged under the domestic reverse charge. It also applies the correct treatment itself on the return, where the amount basically goes in quite a few boxes and would otherwise give us all a headache, so thanks Xero for making this step easier!

For most, this is another scheme that you will not need to know much about. VAT loves schemes and there are quite a few around, but it is something we need to bear in mind so we are hoping this fact sheet will just make life a little easier.

Finally, we are obviously on hand if you would like to talk through any of this information or if you would like us to go through your first invoice under the scheme together please do not hesitate to contact us and we are more than happy to talk.

HMRC understands that implementing the reverse charge may cause some difficulties and will apply a light touch in dealing with any errors made in the first 6 months of the new legislation, as long as you are trying to comply with the new legislation and have acted in good faith.

If you would like to talk to HMRC their contact details are:

CIS Helpline on 0300 200 3210 (or +44 161 930 8706 if outside the UK).

VAT Helpline on 0300 200 3700 (or +44 2920 501 261 if outside the UK) for any uncertainty or clarity on whether the reverse charge applies.

Let’s understand if the work you are carrying out is subject to DRC?

When you must use the reverse charge
You must use the reverse charge for the following services:

  • constructing, altering, repairing, extending, demolishing or dismantling buildings or structures (whether permanent or not), including offshore installation services
  • constructing, altering, repairing, extending, demolishing of any works forming, or planned to form, part of the land, including (in particular) walls, roadworks, power lines, electronic communications equipment, aircraft runways, railways, inland waterways, docks and harbours, pipelines, reservoirs, water mains, wells, sewers, industrial plant and installations for purposes of land drainage, coast protection or defence
  • installing heating, lighting, air-conditioning, ventilation, power supply, drainage, sanitation, water supply or fire protection systems in any building or structure
  • internal cleaning of buildings and structures, so far as carried out in the course of their construction, alteration, repair, extension or restoration
  • painting or decorating the inside or the external surfaces of any building or structure
  • services which form an integral part of, or are part of the preparation or completion of the services described above – including site clearance, earth-moving, excavation, tunnelling and boring, laying of foundations, erection of scaffolding, site restoration, landscaping and the provision of roadways and other access works

When you must not use the reverse charge
Do not use the charge for the following services, when supplied on their own:

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

Subcontractors – what do you need to do?
Life just got a little simpler for you! If applicable you do not need to charge VAT, you just need to state on your invoices that your customer is now liable for the VAT and you just state if this is at 20% or 5%. Do this in Xero by using the appropriate tax rate when creating a sales invoice and they does the rest! Now let’s look at who this will apply to:

The reverse charge will need to be used if you sell building and construction services when:

  • your customer is registered for VAT in the UK
  • payment for the supply is reported within the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS)
  • the services you supply are standard or reduced rated
  • you’re not an employment business supplying either staff, workers or both
  • your customer has not given written confirmation that they’re an end user or intermediary supplier

If the criteria above is met – What you now need to do:

  1. Check if your customer has a valid VAT number.
  2. Check your customer’s CIS registration.
  3. Review your contracts to decide if the reverse charge will apply and tell your customers.
  4. Ask your customer to confirm whether they are an end user or intermediary supplier with a written notification, as discussed below
  5. Record the invoice in your accounts with the correct VAT treatment.

As a subcontractor you should also be aware that your customers will no longer be paying you VAT, which will reduce the gross value of payments coming into your business, as no VAT will be due on payments from customers where the supply is covered by the reverse charge. So you’ll need to consider and plan for the impact of this on your day-to-day cashflow. On the bright-side though, you aren’t having to worry about a large VAT bill when the VAT you have been collecting for HMRC is due!

What if the criteria is not met – Who does the reverse charge NOT apply to?
The reverse charge does not apply to any of the following customers:

  • A non-VAT registered customer
  • ‘End users’ i.e. a VAT registered customer who is not intending to make further on-going supplies of construction
    • For reverse charge purposes consumers and final customers are called end users. They’re businesses, or groups of businesses, that are VAT and Construction Industry Scheme registered but do not make onward supplies of the building and construction services supplied to them.
    • The reverse charge does not apply to supplies to end users where the end user tells their supplier or building contractor in writing that they’re an end user.
  • ‘Intermediary suppliers’ who are connected e.g. a landlord and his tenant or two companies in the same group
  • Overseas customers – it only applies to UK companies providing building and construction services in the UK

If you supply services that are not subject to the reverse charge, for example to private individuals or end users, you must account for VAT as you did previously, either standard 20% or reduced rate 5%.

In order to confirm if a customer falls under end user or intermediary suppliers HMRC request that you receive written notification in the form:

  • on paper and sent by post
  • electronically in an email
  • in a contract

The notification should be kept as part of normal business records and show clearly what supplies are covered. Contracts can be either for specific supplies or it can be a Heads of Agreement or call-off type contract for supplies that are to be made at some time in the future.

If a written notification is not made correctly the customer will be liable for accounting for the VAT that should have been charged under the reverse charge. It’s important that the person making the notification knows and understands that it’s correct.

An example of the wording to obtain for the written notification is:

‘We are an end user for the purposes of section 55A VAT Act 1994 reverse charge for building and construction services. Please issue us with a normal VAT invoice, with VAT charged at the appropriate rate. We will not account for the reverse charge.’

The below flowchart has been provided by HMRC to help determine whether the supply is DRC or normal VAT rules applies:  

Contractors – what do you need to do?
Life just got a little better for you, you should notice the difference of the scheme with a short term cashflow boost. If applicable, subcontractors will not be charging you VAT so you will not be paying it over to them when settling their invoice (everyone likes to hold on to their cash a little bit longer)!

The reverse charge will need to be used if you buy building and construction services when:

  • payment for the supply is reported within the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS)
  • the supply is standard or reduced rated
  • are not hiring either staff or workers, or both
  • you’re not using the end user or intermediary exclusions

If you receive a service subject to the reverse charge from subcontractors you’ll have to account for the VAT in your VAT Return and recover it simultaneously on the same VAT Return, subject to the normal rules on VAT input tax deduction.

If the criteria above is met – What you now need to do

  1. Check if your supplier has a valid VAT number.
  2. Tell your supplier if you’re an end user or intermediary supplier, as the reverse charge will not apply.
  3. Find out how to account for the charge.

Once you’ve confirmed your accounting systems and software can account for the reverse charge, you’ll need to:

  • make sure the invoice you receive is correct
  • check the list of services that must use the reverse charge
  • record the reverse charge on your VAT return and reclaim it in the usual way

The Reverse charge does not apply to any of the following supplies:

  • Supplies of VAT exempt building and construction services
  • Supplies that are not covered by the CIS, unless linked to such a supply
  • Supplies of staff or workers

The Reverse charge does not apply to any of the following customers, you as a contractor to a subcontractor:

  • A non-VAT registered customer
  • ‘End users’ i.e. a VAT registered customer who is not intending to make further on-going supplies of construction
    • For reverse charge purposes consumers and final customers are called end users. They’re businesses, or groups of businesses, that are VAT and Construction Industry Scheme registered but do not make onward supplies of the building and construction services supplied to them.
    • The reverse charge does not apply to supplies to end users where the end user tells their supplier or building contractor in writing that they’re an end user.
  • ‘Intermediary suppliers’ who are connected e.g. a landlord and his tenant or two companies in the same group
  • Overseas customers – it only applies to UK companies providing building and construction services in the UK

Telling your supplier (subcontractor) that you are an end user or intermediary supplier:
In order to confirm if you as a customer fall under end user or intermediary suppliers, HMRC request that you provide written notification in the form:

  • on paper and sent by post
  • electronically in an email
  • in a contract

The notification should be kept as part of normal business records and show clearly what supplies are covered. Contracts can be either for specific supplies or it can be a Heads of Agreement or call-off type contract for supplies that are to be made at some time in the future.

If a written notification is not made correctly the customer (you) will be liable for accounting for the VAT that should have been charged under the reverse charge. It’s important that the person making the notification knows and understands that it’s correct.

An example of the wording to use for the written notification is:

‘We are an end user for the purposes of section 55A VAT Act 1994 reverse charge for building and construction services. Please issue us with a normal VAT invoice, with VAT charged at the appropriate rate. We will not account for the reverse charge.’

The subcontractor should report on their invoice to you what rate the reverse charge is applicable, please be aware this can be standard 20% or reduced rate 5% depending on the service and supply.

The below flowchart has been provided by HMRC to help determine whether the supply is DRC or normal VAT rules applies:

Are you using the Cash Accounting Scheme or Flat Rate Scheme?
You cannot use the VAT Cash Accounting Scheme for supplies of services that are subject to the reverse charge – VAT is due when a VAT invoice is issued (tax point) or the payment is received, whichever is earlier.

Reverse charge supplies are not to be accounted for under the Flat Rate Scheme. Flat Rate Scheme users who receive reverse charge supplies will have to account for the VAT due to HMRC and recover it simultaneously on the same VAT Return. Users of the Flat Rate Scheme will have to consider if it’s still beneficial to them bearing in mind that under the scheme they cannot recover VAT incurred on purchases of materials, overheads and so on.

Useful links

HMRC Guidance – they are the ones to set these rules I suppose! This link is useful for ver specific matters too like new builds, joint ventures, local authorities and utilities (the list goes on): https://www.gov.uk/guidance/vat-reverse-charge-technical-guide#flowcharts

Xero – If you are with Xero, they have your back, the software deals with all the legalities: https://www.xero.com/uk/features-and-tools/accounting-software/domestic-reverse-charge/

Link to check for valid CIS registration: https://www.gov.uk/use-construction-industry-scheme-online

Link to HMRC list of services, included above, but subject to updating, it is worth to reference the source document: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/vat-domestic-reverse-charge-for-building-and-construction-services#whentouse

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

Online VAT Deferral Payment Scheme Service Extended

Online VAT Deferral Payment Scheme Service Extended 150 150 Cypher

Online VAT Deferral Payment Scheme Service Extended

Businesses that deferred VAT payments last year now have more time to join the new scheme to pay it in smaller monthly instalments it was announced this week.

In a blog at the start of the year, we wrote about the various options to defer Tax owed from last year. If you did decide to defer your VAT payments, due between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 and still have payments to make, you now have three options. You can:

  • pay the deferred VAT in full, on or before 31 March 2021
  • join the VAT deferral new payment scheme – the online service is open and has been extended to 21 June 2021
  • contact HMRC on Telephone: 0800 024 1222 by 30 June 2021 if you need extra help to pay

Over half a million businesses are thought to have deferred VAT payments last year, mainly due to the Covid Pandemic, but these businesses can now join the online VAT deferral payment scheme which has opened last month.

Under the VAT Payment Deferral Scheme, businesses have the option to pay their deferred VAT in equal, consecutive monthly instalments from March 2021 April, May or June 2021 without incurring interest. 

Payment Instalment options available

The date you join the scheme will determine the maximum number of payment instalments that are available to you.

The following table sets out the monthly joining deadlines (to allow for Direct Debit processing) and the corresponding number of maximum instalments (including the first payment):

If you join by Number of instalments available to you
19 March 2021 11
21 April 2021 10
19 May 2021 9
21 June 2021 8

Businesses need to opt-in to the VAT Deferral New Payment Scheme themselves; their agents can’t do it for them, while it is open between 23rd February 2021 and 21st June 2021. For those that opt-in to the VAT Deferral New Payment Scheme, this means that your VAT liabilities due between 20 March and 30 June 2020, will now need to be paid by 31 March 2022.

If you don’t pay your VAT, don’t opt in to the new scheme and don’t contact HMRC to discuss your situation, you may be charged interest or a penalty on the outstanding funds.

If you are still concerned about not being able to pay HMRC, speak to your accountant or ring this number and speak to the HMRC Coronavirus Helpline: 0800 024 1222 before 30 June 2021.

As the UK begins its journey on the roadmap the Prime Minister has set to come out of lockdown, it’s important that as a business- and a sector- we learn our lessons from 2020 and adapt accordingly. For the last 12 months we have tried to ensure that business owners know their options, understand the support that is on offer and that we are available for them.

Find out more

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

Cypher Joins the Hoops

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Cypher Joins the Hoops

I am delighted to say that earlier his month Cypher joined Oxford City as one of their Principal Club Partners until the end of the 2021/22 season.

The news and timing of joining 90 other local organisations in support of the club is slightly bitter sweet as during week two of the new sponsorship, the league that the Hoops play in; the Vanarama National League South was cancelled with immediate effect.

Clubs in the league had been asked to vote on their preferred outcome of the campaign after a £10m government grant expired last month. And 24 of the 43 sides in both the National Leagues North and South opted for the season to be declared null and void.

We know this is a massive blow for City, who were fourth in the table, unbeaten since December and wanted to play on.

But we remain optimistic. In the past 12 months, in particular, we have spent a lot of our time working with clients and business that have had to pause, close and then reopen after a period of furlough or due to lockdown. And that, along with the other 90 commercial partners I am sure, is what we intend to do for Oxford City.

The Business Club we are members of as part of our new deal gives business owners the perfect platform to share ideas and network with local organisations associated with the football club. Ultimately, being involved in the Business Club helps us help the club make a real difference to the local community.

We were buoyed by these words from Mick Livesey, Commercial Director, Oxford City FC.

“I am delighted to welcome Cypher as one of our latest commercial partners. I am so proud that our commercial partners are the best in the business, they have our back, and they support us. Alongside them, Oxford City is ready and willing to carry on being a vehicle for positivity in the community and a beacon of positivity for everyone in Oxfordshire. Anything in the future is possible.”

We can’t wait for the start of next season. Not least because we are sponsoring a match and will have 400 tickets to distribute to clients and contacts. Come on you hoops!

Cypher Helps Rowood Open Doors to a Fireproof Plan!

Cypher Helps Rowood Open Doors to a Fireproof Plan! 150 150 Cypher

Cypher Helps Rowood Open Doors to a Fireproof Plan!

With more than twenty-five years’ experience, Rowood Handmade Kitchens and Joinery Ltd has become one of Oxfordshire’s premier specialist carpentry and joinery companies, delivering handmade, quality joinery that is guaranteed for life for both residential and commercial properties.

From their purpose built HQ in Brize Norton, MD Nick Rowland, and his team design, create, deliver and install anything from individually designed doors and windows to kitchens, bathrooms, dining rooms or bedroom furniture to drive gates from scratch, all from sustainable timber.

With such an eye for style, precision and reassurance, it was no surprise that Nick chose Cypher to be the accountancy firm for his business.

“It was all about Matt Williams”, Nick explains. “It didn’t matter about the name above the door, I wanted to work with Matt. He is a problem solver, he has a can do attitude. He has earned the respect of a lot of people for the way he approaches things and so it was an easy choice.”

Rowood, has built a solid reputation for delivering on time and to a quality few can match and boasts an impressive client list that includes Blenheim Palace.

Business was good, but Nick had spotted a gap in the market and wanted to fill it – literally, with bespoke, handmade fire doors.

He explains, “You can buy commercial fire doors anywhere, but for many of the businesses and period properties we work with there is no uniform size, no straight lines, so getting a door off the shelf to fit is impossible. We take that pain away by offering a bespoke service, and make the doors to fit.”

At the start of 2020, Nick had plans in place, test products made, testing complete. He was ready to open the Oxford Fire Door Company. Then lockdown hit and the doors were well and truly slammed shut. But with the support of Cypher Nick was able to open the new company and create another chapter for his quality handcrafted furniture.

Says Nick, “We had everything ready, but we had sat on the idea. We spoke to Matt and he helped convince us that we could go to market. We spent the first part of lockdown getting ready, testing more products, getting some photography done, so when the world was ready, so were we.

“Despite having 25 years in business, a year ago we panicked; we didn’t know what was going to happen a lot of us didn’t. It was Matt that guided us through, he opened the doors, helped us create this new start up. He helped us consolidate with the other businesses and helped protect our existing assets and it is already doing really well.”

One year on, Nick is considering expanding and utilising more space in the Rowood’s HQ building with the support from Cypher as solid and tailored as one of Nick’s own designs.

If you would like us to help your business as we did Rowood’s HQ, get in touch.