Lucy and Lucy – Co-Founders of
Barfoot + Duggan
Emma Lanman – Founder of
Bridget Harris – Founder of
Tess Alshibaya – Founder of
Why humour helps Cash Flow – with thanks to the Royal Marines
The Royal Marines Hasler Company is the naval service Recovery Centre. The objective of the centre is to administer a bespoke recovery pathway for every soldier and to provide effective assistance and support for the soldiers and their families. For many soldiers trying to get a civilian job is not going to be an option and starting a business may be the only way they can create a viable economic future. The objective of the workshop was to give the soldiers confidence to consider doing a business start up. This was the second time that I had spent a day with the unit and based on my experience from the first visit completely redesigned the workshop. What was clear from my first visit was that despite having seen active service, the prospect of starting a business filled them with dread. The key thing was to give them the confidence to consider this option. The workshop was broken down into three sections: 1. Obstacles to overcome. 2. Business navigation i.e. the numbers. 3. Organisation and management. This article will focus on the first one – the obstacles to overcome. Three key obstacles were identified: • Idea generation. • Do I have the right skills. • Raising enough money. The workshop included a very relevant case study, which featured a company called Van Girls. I had met the founder when she came on my workshop ‘Get Cash Flow Confident’. Emma’s background before starting the business was within the Services (Fire Service). She had seen first hand poor removal service and believed she could do better. As we shall see later this is a classic way of coming up with a good business idea. So lets look at the obstacles. Idea generation Finding ideas to start a business is probably similar to finding a partner – when you’re not looking there are lots of them and as soon as you start looking you can’t find one for dust. So if you’re struggling with your idea or rather struggling to find an idea, there are four key sources of ideas. (This is taken from a great book by John Mullins called the New Business Road Test.) First there is the blue-sky business idea – the Dyson approach. In practice there are very very few businesses which are based on a completely new and original area. And usually this requires a huge amount of time and cash. The second source of ideas is finding a pain or a need that no one else is solving. – something which you want or find painful and no one is addressing this need. A small example of this would be the Cambridge Satchel Company which was started because the owner couldn’t find any traditional leather school satchels. Next there is a pain or a need and you believe that you can satisfy better than anybody else. Van Girls is a perfect example of this. Emma believed she could provide a much better service using a team based predominantly on women, taking greater care of packing and removals. Finally a great source of ideas is to import something that you have seen working well in another country. A good example of this is Go Ape which as it happens was set up by a former soldier Tristan Mayhew who had seen high wire activity centres in France. He brought the idea to the UK and after a lot of hard work that business now operates something like 25 centres and turns over in excess of £20 million pounds. Do I have the right skills? I mentioned at the beginning how I was surprised that the Marines viewed the prospect of starting a business with apprehension. The big change I made in the presentation this time was to highlight how their skills and experience as Marines was more than a sufficient qualification to start a business. You can see this clearly when you look at the Royal Marines ethos which comprises: • courage • unity/teamwork • determination • adaptability • selflessness • humility • gentleness • professional standards • fortitude • commando humour Clearly teamwork and determination are crucial when running a business. But when things are going wrong and cash is looking tight I am sure a good dose of “commando humour” is what’s required to keep the spirits up! Raising enough money There is a big misconception that the first thing you need to do is raise a big heap of money before starting a business. One of the reasons I chose Van Girls as an example in my workshop was that Emma set the business up with a very modest amount of money – literally enough to put down a small deposit on a very very old transit van. So what are the options for funding a business start up? First you need to be clear about the difference between debt or loan finance and equity finance. A business loan is very similar to any other kind of loan. You will need to make monthly repayments of principle and interest and inevitably you will be required to give some kind of personal guarantee. However you will not be selling any of your business. Equity finance is what goes on in Dragons Den where an investor puts money into a business in exchange for shares. There are no monthly payments and no interest – the investor makes their money when they come to sell the shares. And because they’re sharing risk (which is why it is called equity – they are equal with you) they are looking for a considerably higher return, typically at least 5 to 10 times the money. And then there is the new development or comparatively new development of crowdfunding. You can get loan finance and equity finance through crowdfunding platforms, but you can also get product funding i.e. advanced sales – literally before your product has even been built. For example, two entrepreneurs came to my workshop wanting to set up a craft brewery and I suggested that they look at Kickstarter. They successfully raised money for buying brewing equipment – I put in £50 – what did I get? A T-shirt, a bottle of beer with my name on and a lash up in Shoreditch. Well, two lash ups. So as you can see you can use crowdfunding to get money from your customers before you have had to actually produce your product. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the amount of work that is still required for fund raising even with crowd funding. Finding an idea, assessing your personal skill and getting the funding are some of the big challenges to starting and running a business. When it comes to assessing your skills – in my travels running workshops, I have met so many entrepreneurs (and they are all very very different). Successful businesses are run by introverts, extroverts, thinkers, party goers, sports fans, book fans – but there is one consistent theme – they have all had bad times. And that’s where a good dose of Commando Humour comes to the rescue!
Cash Flow – For Funding, It Sometimes Pays To Think Local
An entrepreneur was recently introduced to me asking advice how to raise money. She had spent nearly £8,000 with so-called advisors who over a year had failed to produce a plan or an investor meeting. These advisors weren’t obvious cowboys but prosperous looking retired company executives who had claimed they were writing a plan for wealthy investors they knew…caveat emptor you can hear me say. This was my action plan for her: 1. Get a business plan template and start doing the plan yourself. There is a mystique around business plans – but common sense will get you through. All you are doing is writing the story of how you plan to take your idea and turn it into a profitable business. The trick though is to use a tested template and not reinvent the wheel. 2. The dreaded numbers – again common sense will see you through but you will save lots of time using a forecasting template – there is a free up to two years forecasting template on my website. 3. Buy a packet of Post-It notes and write out 108 names of people who you know or would like to know who could be useful. (108 is a very powerful number (12×9) – more on that another time…put these names up on the wall – and start visualizing to bring them into your life! 4. Now think of raising money like any other marketing exercise – and set yourself targets for contacting this list. Get onto Linkedin – and work out the connections – never cold call for money – a waste of time. 5. Get last years statutory accounts finished off if you are already trading and get this years management accounts set up with a budget ideally using a cloud accounting package. Investors love boringly well organised companies. Last week she had her first successful meeting with a potential investor who lives 4 miles away who she had known indirectly for 10 years. Next step – the investor wants his accountant to go through the numbers….so think local!
How Financial Routines can generate big “marginal” gains in cash flow
The success of British cycling under Dave Brailsford is attributed to his relentless, relentless, relentless pursuit of even the smallest marginal improvements. As a result the team benefited from what he describes as “the aggregation of marginal gains”. By this he means that if you improve every aspect of an activity by even a small amount then cumulatively this will add up to a big improvement. This approach could be applied to any area of your life – including weight loss, personal finance and certainly running your business. So my big idea for you in this article is rather than hunting for that “quantum leap” that consultants usually advocate to boost your cash flow – look for the small improvements which made consistently over time will really help your cash flow. The first step to finding these gains is to develop a financial routine. Here are my tips for some key areas to build in to your financial routine. Daily routines Invoicing – every day you delay getting out your invoice is a days delay in your cash flow. Delays in invoicing also increase the chance of getting the invoice wrong by missing out items. Sometimes invoicing takes time – even so get into the habit of at least preparing a draft invoice daily and then weekly have a finance meeting scheduled with yourself where the invoices are finalised and sent out. Expenses – again delays dealing with expenses lead to receipts being lost – and the longer you leave it the bigger the pile becomes and the more daunting. Look at using software like Receipt Bank to capture expenses digitally. Weekly Routines Credit control – the most disappointing aspect of business is how reluctant customers are to pay – weekly you need to review your “aged debtors” (aka “aged receivables”) – this is a report from your accounting system that lists customers, the amount over due, and whether it is 30, 60 or 90+ days overdue. Send out reminders, call, and if needs be put on hold. Invoicing – finish those invoices and get them out “the door”. Agreements – more cash is lost in my opinion through lack of documenting business agreements than any other reason – with email there is no excuse – at least send a confirmation of key terms agreed. Bank Accounts – check all bank accounts for the balance and transactions going through the accounts. Trading – review sales and enquiries. Are these tracking your business plan assumptions – if not assess impact sooner rather than later. Monthly Routines “Board Meeting” – diarise a monthly board meeting – say the last Friday of the month and set aside 2-3 hours. As well as your regular weekly items, you should review your profit & loss report for the month and year-to-date and your cash flow forecast. If you are not tracking your budget assumptions, the cash flow will need updating. Review Expenses –– are you tracking budget? Are there any expenses you can reduce? Any suppliers you can start renegotiating with. Pricing – most businesses don’t charge enough for what they do and this is exacerbated by not having a routine for price review. Consider what you can do to make your offer more profitable – it doesn’t have to be an actual price rise – eg. what about a smaller portion? Or a different way of charging. If you don’t follow these routines on a regular basis it probably won’t make much difference – in the short term. But as time goes on, you will see the gap growing between the amount of cash in your bank account and what there could be. So schedule time for your financial routines to start generating big “marginal” improvements to your cash flow. Johnny Martin FCA is an experienced Finance Director who now passionately explains business numbers and jargon. He is a partner at the British Library Business & IP Centre where he runs regular workshops and he is the author of “Understanding Your Business Finances”.
“Thank you for your brilliant jam packed day on finance at LCC. Believe it or not I came home and began sorting things out straight away, as tired as I was. Much to be done! As I mentioned to you I work at the Royal British Society of Sculptors as the Education Projects Manager and organise professional development seminars for sculptors on various aspects around making a living. It would be wonderful if you could lead the seminar on finance coming up.”
“Thank you very much to the connection to your film. It is really very good and I agree with you about the necessity for training people to understand this stuff by taking the mystery out of it. To be honest there are a lot of people who are already supposed to be in business who could use a simple refresher on many of these points.”
“I really enjoy your classes. You cover the important topics that we need to learn step by step, and like Weronika said you add a human touch to what would otherwise be numbers numbers and numbers.”
“This enterprise and financial management in cultural production has been an enjoyable and high level learning experience and I feel that the method and techniques related to finance, I learned on the unit helped me to make this business plan much better than if I had tried to develop such a project without the theory.“
“I looked through your videos – they look good and the principle behind it is definitely useful, and I think there could even be an idea of EMCA students viewing them before starting the EMCA finance unit, so could be a great way of getting up to speed.”
“I thought the course was fabulous because I actually understood the basic principles of cash flow, balance sheet and profit and loss. The course was taught in a less formal way than one would in a financial training course which made it easier to understand to learn. Overall, I really liked the course, I found it very helpful and it’s been really great of you to upload all the documents, excel models after each class. I really learned a lot and enjoyed it!”
“You must make commercial decisions based on what you know you can afford. Follow Johnny’s clear and practical, simple to follow advice to help you thoroughly understand how business finances work.”
“I greatly value your clear thinking on the board.”
London College of Fashion
Johnny demystifies the numbers for students at LCF.
Royal Marines Hasler Rehabilitation Unit Workshop
Johnny led a workshop entitled ‘Confidence to consider a business Startup’ for the Royal Marines Hasler Rehabilitation Unit, Plymouth.
Speed mentoring at the Business & IP Centre’s Digital Season
Mentoring session focussed on growing your business online. Trusted advice from Johnny and other experts on the topic of boosting online presence.