Category Archives: business management

Being a Good Debtor

debt burdenPart of being in business is that clients owe me money. And part of being an accountant is acting for clients when they owe money.  So I regularly get to play on both sides of the debt equation: being both Creditor (they owe me) and Debtor (I owe them).  This piece is about how to manage  things well as a debtor – how to be a Good Debtor.

For most people being in debt is incredibly stressful. Our culture sees debt as bad: we talk about the ‘debt burden’, and the ‘debt trap’. Having a mortgage is seen as a kind of moral negation: signing the mortgage is to “sign one’s life away”.  Understandably in this cultural context, not being able to pay your bills brings up feelings of shame, anxiety, embarrassment and fear.  These emotions can make it really hard to act simply with self-compassion and clear communication.

Understanding Power

There’s several things, though, that can really help.  First is understanding power.  When you “go delinquent” on a debt, i.e. you don’t pay when you should, suddenly you have a lot of power.  In effect you hold someone else’s money, and you are saying you won’t give it to them.  You are, at one level, unilaterally tearing up the implicit contract you and your creditor agreed to initially when they agreed to supply you and you agreed to pay.

If your creditor is a corporation, then there’s not much emotional charge involved. But debt collecting for corporations is costly – staff, lawyers, communications resources, collection agency fees etc etc.  They’d rather not be doing it. Your power in the situation is forcing them to spend money on something that’s not actually their core business.

If your creditor is HMRC or any tax authority, the situation is slightly different. You have the added power of being able, potentially, to draw public scrutiny if you are creative and energetic enough.  HMRC is constantly (and quite rightly) under scrutiny, and is sensitive to this as an organisation.  It has a whole set of standards it is obliged to stick to in dealings with taxpayers – and you can at any moment publicly claim it is not doing so.

If your creditor is a small business, then your power is much more significant.  Your creditor may be sole operator – in which case it can easily seem personal to them.  They fear that you’ve just pulled a power move by saying you’re not going to give them the money which is rightfully theirs.  This power aspect is a huge contribution to the difficulty and very high charge around debt collection particularly for small creditors.


So far and away the most important thing you can do to be a good debtor is to clearly acknowledge the debt.

Because of the shame and fear which often comes up when you can’t pay your bills, it’s incredibly tempting to project your own emotions back on to your creditor by blaming your creditor in some way: their service wasn’t very good, or their invoice is wrong, or late. Or they didn’t give what you specified. It goes on and on.

If any of those things actually are true, then they need to be addressed as issues in their own right.  And they are not the same as the issue of acknowledging the debt.

Clearly acknowledging the debt makes it clear to the creditor that you are NOT unilaterally throwing out your mutual contract. Rather, you wish to honour the contract, and there is a much more specific and much smaller issue, which is that you just can’t pay at the moment.

By far the best way to acknowledge the debt in practice is to be proactive in your communication. Don’t wait for your creditor to chase you.  As soon as you know you can’t pay on time, get on the phone to them, email them, text them – whatever.  This indicates more strongly than anything else that you care about them, that you are aware of your debt and you want to clear it.

This works even with large corporations and government bodies.  Even though you’d only be dealing with a functionary with, in theory, no emotional investment in what you do, that person will be making notes on your file, which all build up a picture of you as a good debtor – someone they don’t have to worry about.

Even if your situation is dire, e.g. you’re not going to be able to pay for maybe a year or more, large organisations would rather put your file in a holding tank for a long time than take legal action against you – because legal action is costly, with an almost guaranteed eventual failure if you have no money. So why would they throw good money after bad.

The same is true of the small operator too:  their best bet is to try to accommodate you and support you to improve your situation.  But small operators get much more antsy, because they are much more vulnerable to your power.  If you and they have no personal connection or are not connected via community, then they have no information about your integrity.  There is the constant doubt in their mind that maybe you’re just having them on, or that you are not reliable.  So small operators need more frequent reassurance that you care about your debt to them.

What is incredibly reassuring here is that you do what you say you will do.  It doesn’t matter how bad your situation is, or how long you will take to pay.  If you say you will do something then do it.  This says “integrity” more strongly than anything else.  That’s why it is much much better to be realistic in assessing what is actually likely in the near future for you with money, and much better to be honest with your creditor about what you can and can’t do.


Being in debt is not a bad thing in itself.  At one level, when dealing with other small businesses, it is an opportunity to use your potential power as a debtor to strengthen community by drawing on the support of others. And, as in any power play, doing this takes attention and care and respect.

Being unable to pay your bills does not need to be emotionally dramatic. It can simply a situation to encounter – and it can be encountered with competence and ease with these basic steps:

  • Clearly acknowledge the debt.
  • Be proactive in your communication.
  • Be realistic about what and when you can pay.
  • Do what you say you will do.

Getting Help

For most people, dealing well with debt is a new set of skills.  So it’s great to get help while you’re learning.

You can talk with me about your feelings and attitudes, and we can develop possibilities and build concrete strategies.  And I can negotiate on your behalf in certain conditions.

And there’s loads of free help. Here’s four excellent starting points.


On “Closing the Sale”

01-pushy-salesmanRecently I was on the receiving end of the sales technique known as “closing the sale”.  This is where a seller elicits several “yes” responses from you and then keeps narrowing the conversation to the point where you say “yes” to whatever they are selling.

Ironically, they were trying to sell a program of coaching around business development, marketing and – yes! – selling.  At the start of the conversation I was very open to their program and what they had to offer.  By the end I was fuming!

You might say this conversation was simply an example of a poor salesperson.  But what else is “closing the sale” than an attempt to shift a potential buyer from “maybe” to “yes”?  This is of course a quite legitimate shift to make – but one that needs to be made by the buyer and not the seller!

But more interestingly, is what the technique of “closing the sale” says about the seller’s attitude to their product and to their clients.  All or only some of these may be true side by side:

  • a deep ambivalence on the seller’s part about the value of what they are selling.  They believe that the value is not apparent, or perhaps not really there at all. Closing down the conversational space reduces the buyer’s scrutiny of  the product.
  • overriding anxiety about issues internal to their business: meeting sales targets, or keeping busy, or pleasing a supervisor, or simply paying the bills.  These things are not the buyer’s business.  They could be very real for the seller, and the seller could potentially share them simply as a human being – but not by smuggling them in to the buyer/seller conversation!
  • the seller views the potential buyer as not fully capable.  The seller often sees their role in the sales conversation of “assisting” the buyer to make the key shift to “yes”.  In other words the seller believes the buyer is not capable of making this shift unaided, not able to make a clear decision for themself – an incredibly insulting belief.
  • the seller views the potential buyer as an object.  The seller really has no interest at all in the buyer as a real person, and simply wants the buyer to comply with the seller’s agenda.

Of course “closing the sale” works fine when you are just selling widgets, or a one-off experience – like a fairground sideshow for example.  You take the buyer’s money, they get the goods, and you never have to see each other again.  The value of what is sold is only momentary anyway, and who cares if the transaction is interpersonally messy?

“closing the sale” is closing off the path to real connection, and thus shutting down an opportunity

But I am selling an intimate service.  Although accounting is not generally seen as intimate, in practice it involves the client disclosing things that sometimes they don’t even tell their spouse, and on occasion have never told anyone.

As with lawyers, doctors, and the sacred professions*, my service works best when the client feels safe to be entirely authentic.  This safety is generated partly by me being appropriately open and boundaried in the interaction myself, and partly by according the client the respect that they are fully capable, that their process of living is fully legitimate as it is, and that their decisions are entirely right for them in the moment.

Of course I don’t always measure up in practice to this standard I set for myself – I, like everyone, am on the path of growth.  But it is my intention to move towards appropriateness and respect with clients at all times.  It would be impossible for me to commence working with a client on anything less than that basis.

“Closing the sale” is the antithesis of what works in my business. Were I to pursue it I would feel obliged to continue my distant, disrespectful or inappropriate stance with my client, because that is what they signed up for.  Or I would need to put a lot of effort into cleaning up the mess left by ‘closing the sale’ – apologizing, and establishing a new basis to proceed. Either path involves an enormous amount of energy which needn’t be spent if one simply doesn’t use the “closing the sale” technique.

What DOES work is simply having a chat.  In that conversation it becomes clear what is the quality of connection between me and the potential client. And then if the connection supports it, we sort out what we can go forward with, and how to do that.

In contrast, “closing the sale” is closing off the path to real connection, and thus shutting down an opportunity for me to help empower others around money and thus to contribute to my community’s social capital.

* The Sacred Professions are “… professions in which the value delivered is something
intangible.  Musicians, artists, prostitutes, healers, counselors, and teachers…” Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics, p203

Tax coaching: how it works

My guiding theme with clients is empowerment: supporting the client to move beyond negative and even crippling stories about money, and come into a positive relationship with managing their money where they feel they are steering things from a place of confidence and pride.

Often people are prompted to come to an accountant for their tax.  But more and more of my clients don’t want me just to do it for them. Many people for whom their business is their spiritual path recognise that their growth requires them to address their difficulties with money.  One area which is often difficult for people is tax returns.

The shit with tax returns

The most immediate and obvious difficulty with tax returns is a deficit of information.  Often people simply don’t know what the rules are about tax, or how those rules apply to their situation, or the meanings of specific terms. And these things are often incredibly difficult to find out.  Not knowing what the rules are means most people are operating in a situation in which they don’t know whether they are complying with them or breaking them.  In behaviour research, this is widely recognised as the most stressful situation possible.

Another common deficit of information is what you need to tell HMRC, and what you don’t need to tell them.  Related to this is not knowing which numbers to add up, so it’s impossible to collect the necessary numbers in an ordered way.

Also with tax returns is the added concern about whether one has the money to pay one’s tax bill.  Once the tax return is done then the tax must be paid.  But of course we don’t know how much tax we have to pay until we’ve done the return.  A vicious circle! Add to this the common shame about not having enough money, and many people simply put off the whole thing.

DearHMRC_snoopyFinally, and most complex, is a very common inner process about authority figures. A tax return in essence reports your money activities to a government authority.  So our “authority issues” can readily come into play – often a potent mix of anger and fear which undermines our confidence and can cloud our capacities for mental activities like dealing with data, sorting and categorising, and so on.  The combination of authority issues and shame around money can be sufficient to entirely freeze a client and prevent them from taking any action, sometimes for years.

There’s several things I do to reduce the tension for clients around all this.  I know what the rules are, so the rules-conflict issue can be readily dissolved simply by sharing that information.  And I can also work with the client to estimate their tax bill without them having to file a tax return.  Then we can talk about them budgeting to pay their bill, or negotiating a payment plan with  the tax authority.

Also in a sense I stand in between the client and the ‘authority’.  Because I deal with that authority every day I anchor and embody an attitude of confidence and and personal agency.  Even though the client may not feel that within themselves, when they are working with me that confidence and agency is in their field – and so it is there to draw upon to the extent they are able to.  I hold a space somewhat akin to a therapeutic space: bracketed off from the full range of day-to-day concerns, so that the client can find the internal space to identify where they are at for themselves around money and recording their money activities.

Tax Coaching

Once they have identified their current relationship with money we can start to change that within the practical activity of doing their bookkeeping together.  This is what I call ‘tax coaching’: gradually helping people to be able to do their own tax returns.  Actually, filing the return itself is no big deal – it only usually takes about 15-20 minutes online these days. What IS the big deal is doing everything beforehand leading up to the filing: collecting the info about your money, putting it into some sort of ordered format, and assessing the numbers that come out the end.

For many clients all this seems mind-bogglingly complex, or totally overwhelming at first.  As we’ve seen above, clients can lack crucial information, are short of money, and have authority stuff running.  The idea of then sitting down and learning something entirely new just isn’t anywhere on the board at all.

But it’s definitely possible! Anwar Ravjani, who runs the fabulous bodywork service Embodiment Works, started with me in September 2013. He was determined to grow his business by doing some quite expensive training in a new area, but he had no spare money.  He sensed that there was a way to do what he wanted – if he could get out from under the terrible tension he felt around money and dealing with tax.

First I worked with him to record what had been happening with his money in the previous financial year. He had to do this anyway for tax, so it killed 2 birds with the one stone. I showed him how to download all his bank transactions, and how to work with them simply using some spreadsheet tools, to separate business from personal, and add up the business numbers.  He had to do this bit by bit – I usually suggest giving yourself some weeks or months to do it in, and to attack only a month’s transactions at a time.  This is about breaking down the job into small bits, with time to relax in between. And I was holding a space that knows it is possible to do, and it’s like doing the washing up: a simple procedure that gets done piece by piece.

After some months we had a picture of the 2012-13 year.  Then we could see what his actual income was, which prompted him to reflect on his income flow more recently. He was surprised to find it was more solid and more reliable than he’d thought.  This then enabled us to look towards the future and do some numbers to see how he could manage paying for the new training.  We found that with careful scheduling and some leeway from the trainer it could actually be done.  Then we filed his tax return.

I didn’t talk accounts with Anwar for 6 months.  Then he contacted me in mid-April saying his work was going better than expected and he was worried he’d have a tax problem.  Again the first thing to do was to get some numbers for the previous financial year, which had just finished 2 weeks before.  Again this took some time, but it was definitely quicker than the first time now that Anwar was clearer about what was needed.

With the numbers to hand we were quickly able to estimate what tax he would pay. Then we worked out how he could collect that money before the deadline in 9 months time.  With this out of the way, we filed his tax return.

Again I didn’t hear from him for a year. Then a few weeks ago he contacted me to say he’d done all his numbers for 2014-15 and could I cast an eye over them; the numbers said this year he would pay no tax, but he didn’t quite believe that.  We got together, I did some minor adjustments and we filed his tax return – all of which took less than an hour and a half.

We were both surprised by how quick it was.  Anwar said he’d gotten into a pattern of doing his accounts once a month because it was so easy and it gave him a feeling of being in touch with his money.  He was delighted in his new-found sense of competence with money, and how that empowered him in his relationship with money in his life. The focus had shifted from tax as a set of fear-inducing unknown rules associated with a threatening authority figure, to tax as a relatively small aspect in a landscape of complete information about money.  He reflected that, when we started 2 years ago such a situation seemed impossible.

I’ve found it usually takes three full cycles of doing something to really get the hang of it. For bookkeeping and tax this means doing three years of figures. I’ve now been established in London long enough that several clients have gone through this sort of transition.  It is really one of my greatest delights to be on that journey with them and to celebrate yet another member of our community who is empowered around tax.

The diary of Thomas Wood

My dad’s family, the Woods, come from a coal-mining village just outside of Birmingham – a little place called Baddesley Ensor. My great great grandad Thomas was born there in 1813, and grew up with his surviving sister and seven brothers (4 died as babies).  As was the way of things then, the boys went down the mine, and some stayed their whole lives.  But Thomas got out of the mine and set up as a butcher.

I’ve been fortunate recently to come across a diary Thomas kept from 1865 up to his death in 1884.  It is not so much a personal diary in the style many of us keep these days. Rather, it is more akin to a family farm log. Significant family events are recorded, especially deaths. Major happenings in his church community especially significant issues raised at governance meetings.  Comments on the weather, strange or dramatic events in village, notable anniversaries, snippets of scripture.  But by far the greatest number of entries are to do with business:

1866 Feb 22 Bought of Mr Wilson’s 5 Fat Wheather sheep, 1 sheep 2.7.0; 4 [ditto] 3.2.0 a piece, I think they are worth their cost.

March 9 Slaughtered a fat calf for Mr I Baldocks, price 3.0.0. Not a bad bargain. Mr Baldock feeds his calves well.

And it goes on like this for decades:

1877 Nov 6 Paid Mr Wilson for nine fat sheep 24.15.0.

Although these entries can become boring (as so much accounting can be), reading them with a different eye reveals what the business actually involved and how he ran it:  he drew stock from a radius of about 4 miles both at markets and from specific farmers.  Four miles is about a half-hour’s ride, and close enough to be able to walk the stock back to the shop within 1 & 1/2 or 2 hours.  He typically bought one cow/bullock or a ‘fat pig’ or 3 sheep every 2-3 days, and slaughtered, butchered and sold them while still fresh.  Before refrigeration this time cycle was crucial.

Sometimes Thomas would buy a small herd from a farmer, with the deal of being able to draw off the stock from the farmer’s paddock within a fortnight or so.  He could then just send one of the children every couple of days to pick up another animal and drove it back.

Thomas also kept pigs and regularly slaughtered the piglets and occasionally full-grown pigs.  And he bought in tubs of butter and big sacks of flour, which he would re-sell in the shop for a good margin.

Sometimes there was even stock for free:  Every late summer for days on end when the fish were running he and at least one of the children would go fishing in nearby streams and holes, coming back with catches of 5-20lbs which would also be processed and sold.

Thomas and his wife Ann had 12 children, 5 girls and 7 boys, all of whom lived to adulthood (a sign of increasing affluence).  It’s clear from the diary the children were integral to the business operation from early teen-hood, though only some of them showed definite interest. These latter started writing in the diary, at first just comments but as time went by duplicating Thomas’ recording of business activities.

Thomas’ six brothers also feature often, since they were all living in the village within a stone’s throw. One of his brothers actually died in Thomas’ living room, and he vividly records the shock and drama of this.

The village almost certainly had several butchers but clearly Thomas had a solid reputation among loyal customers whose support enabled him to send his children to a better life and eventually to build 4 cottages.  There was no question of ‘retirement’:  he just kept going til a health condition slowed his activities, until finally

1884 Jany 6 My dear father fell asleep in Jesus after a long illness he died triumphantly over death. Very happy.


There’s no account about how Thomas got going in business, but my bet is that he just started.  It wouldn’t surprise me also if Thomas started in the backyard where he lived.  The village was at that time a string of cottages fronting the road and backing onto fields. Space was just there.

He learned his trade as an adult; the 1841 census has him age 27 as a coal miner living with his in-laws, his wife and three young children. So somewhere there was a deliberate plan to change focus, though almost certainly he learned his trade locally, perhaps from a nearby butcher or farmer, perhaps even a relative since the Woods were thick on the ground in that village. And if he was competent and built a reputation for fair value, freshness, and pleasant company then his success was assured.

Speaking of relatives, it’s also clear that Thomas’ business went on very much in the community.  His seven siblings are always dropping in, he clearly relies on particular farmers for supplies, sometimes over decades, as is true of many customers also.  And his eleven children are incorporated into the operation as soon as was practical. Almost all the children ended up emigrating to New Zealand as young adults (that’s how I come from Australia), but because there were so many of them the youngest were still at home and working in the business when Thomas died aged 71.

There’s a great richness in serving one’s community in such a practical way for so many decades.  The embedment in community means one’s relationships both with suppliers and customers simply flow because they follow a familiar pattern.  Trust is continually created and affirmed.  And the continuity of unspectacular but steady money over a long period – the original basis of middle class wealth – also results in material ease.

Thomas was able to sustain his activity supported by family, church (he was devout), community and the fertile English land.  The question for many of us these days is different and more complex because our choices are at once far broader and far more constrained.  For example Thomas’s business was simply supplying an already well-recognised product without any agenda around spiritual innovation or social change.

For me, what is sustainable in the long term is very much about what feeds my soul, what is on my path, what resonates deeply with me and gives expression to those depths.  Our simultaneously broad-and-narrow range of choices with our desires for innovation and change makes this immensely tricky.  But alongside this there remains the very human and very fulfilling satisfaction, which we can share with even Thomas’s generation, of being recognised and valued in one’s community.

Money and the Spiritual Path: Being a bridge

Abandoned_Railway_Cutting_in_OtleyFor many people who are committed to spiritual growth, a major question is how to combine spiritual path with generating an income.  This is often a tricky area because many people who seek to integrate path and income also seek to bring something new into the world. So, almost by definition, what we seek to bring into the world is not widely recognised as valuable or useful – otherwise it would already be in existence!

It’s easy to go into despair about money and our spiritual path – or go into anger and resentment.  These two common emotional responses keep us focused on money as a stumbling block.  But what if our struggles around money are trying to tell us about something else?

I think of us ‘spiritual activists’ as being a bridge between social life as it is now, and another reality where beauty, love and similar non-material forces hold sway. Our work is to bridge those two worlds, and to bring more of love and beauty into current social life.

Bridges have the extraordinary quality of being anchored in two places at once.  Each end of the bridge rests solidly on the ground in each place – these resting points are called the abutments.  Without both abutments, the bridge is not actually useful – it doesn’t stand and gramlins.netdoesn’t do its job of being the passageway from one place to the other. It ends up looking like this bridge: well-anchored at one end, but it leads people straight into the water.

Both abutments have to be present. One abutment anchors the bridge in the spiritual world – the world-yet-to-be. This anchor emerges from our knowing that our gift is right and true – and for those of us active in our paths this anchor is usually very solid and vivid.

The other abutment anchors the bridge in the social here-and-now, in existing social arrangements and conventions: the language we use to communicate about our gift, and the structural and organisational things we have in place which allow people to come into relation with our gift.  When these concrete things are solidly in place then people’s energy can flow from the existing social world across towards the yet-to-be and help to bring it into being – including financially supporting us to be that bridge.

In this picture money is like a glue that sticks our bridge solidly onto the ‘society’ abutment.  Without money then the bridge just sits there by chance – it stays only so long as everything else is stable, only as long as our life circumstances allow us to give our gift for free.    Without the glue of money, life’s normal circumstances can disrupt the bridge: changes our relationships, our health, our community, our home.

This analogy suggests that money is a result of us being very grounded in society as it is.  So problems with money can prompt us to look at how we are engaging with existing society.  Even though we may believe we are doing our best around integrating money with our path, society is so various – so multi-faceted – that there are always other ways to engage with it.

If we are trying to run a business then there’s some good basic places to start looking at how we can do things differently:

  • language: how do we describe what we offer? The phrasing and terms we use may make sense to us, but how do we describe something we know about from our own experience to someone who has never experienced that? It’s obviously not possible.  But many people have a yearning for what we offer – and they can’t put that yearning into words.  So maybe we can put it into words for them… because we know what it’s like on the other side of that yearning…
  • where we are looking for the people? Because we’re offering something new, our potential clients are seldom clustered into established demographics or familiar marketing groupings.  It’s likely we’ll need to contact people through groups which have a different-but-related interest.  For instance a tantra practitioner has a profile in the nudist community and picks up people who want to go deeper than just physical nakedness. Part of my target market is healers and therapists – people who recognise and value presence and deep communication.
  • What form are we offering our gift in?  We might offer one-to-one sessions, or weekend workshops. Or we might deliver classroom programs. Or write a column.  Or consult to organisations.  We might do several of these things.  Often the form we offer is driven by our own ideas about our gift, what sort of lifestyle we want, what we believe our strengths and weaknesses are, and so.  All these are valid considerations.  And also we can ask: what form(s) might work well for those we want to reach? Maybe introductory talks are what’s needed. Maybe a book is important.

Doing things differently to how we’ve done them is very challenging. The areas I’ve discussed above are generally called “publicity”, “advertising” and “marketing” – for many people very confronting to get involved in.  Yet if our priority truly is our path and not protecting our ‘small’ self then when we engage with challenges amazing resources emerge to help us on our path.

We don’t have to frame these challenges as advertising or marketing – labels which keep us thinking in conventional social terms.  We can think of our activities in these areas as enhancing our capacity to be that bridge – by learning to reach across and anchor ourselves even more firmly in the social here-and-now.

Related Links

Money as a Spiritual Asset

Money and Spirituality

Money and the Tao

Practicing Spirituality with Money

Why I love financial reports

A good friend accuses me of reading bank old_account_ledgerstatements for pleasure.  It’s true!

Financial reports give us a unique picture of our activities.  As we go about our daily activities in business we are taken up with the immediacy of talking with customers, and with the focus on delivering our special products or services, and paying the bills, and dealing with the landlord, and … and … and attending to all the myriad details which are part of running a business.

Financial reports give us a totally different perspective on all that daily activity. They can give us a moment of stillness in amongst all that.  It’s a bit like standing outside a window, looking in on our business.  Inside the window everything is very brightly lit like a stage set – every aspect is highlighted in sharp detail.

The sharp lighting means that we can see everything very precisely – the numbers are definite and exact.  And because we are standing outside, we can see the whole scenario in one sweep – we can see how all the various strands of our business relate to each other, and go together to create a complete picture.

But at the same time, it is only one view.  Financial reports enable us to see our whole business from a very specific angle.  It’s not the same angle as the marketing angle, or the product-delivery angle, or the staff management angle.  It’s the angle of our money  – where the money has come in from and where it’s gone out to, how much we have at the moment and where it currently sits.

Financial reports give us access to this complete picture of our money.  They enable us to see the flows of money through our business, and the shapes and sizes of those flows. It’s very reassuring and very clarifying to have such exact and comprehensive knowledge about out money.

One report gives us a static picture, like a snapshot.  What starts to make it really exciting is to get a series of financial reports across time. It’s like looking at a series of time-lapse photographs of the same scenario.  You can gradually see how the scenario changes, how it can slowly morph from one state to another.

But the final piece of excitement is coming to understand how you, as the business owner, can look at the current scenario, see what you want to change, and then go ahead and make those changes – so that when you get the next set of financial reports, you can see how the actions you took had an effect on the scenario the reports describe.

This really is Empowerment with a capital E!  Not only do you as the business owner have the power to take action.  In addition, financial reports give the added dimension of their precision and completeness to help you decide which actions are best to take in order to achieve your desired goals. You are in a position to make informed and thoughtful decisions which take into account all known factors. You no longer need to react. You don’t have to spend your days fighting bushfires.

The key to this empowerment is being able to read financial reports.  This requires a little bit of specialised knowledge.  Because I love reading them I’ve learned to be able to read a wide range of reports.  But the only reports you need to learn about are the reports about your own business – which is not such a big task.

One of my greatest pleasures with clients is making my specialised knowledge available almost like interpreter or translator, working with the client to bring into sharp focus the view of their activities which the financial reports point to. Getting the numbers to tell the story of your business.

But in keeping with my ethos of spreading the empowerment around, I get equal if not more pleasure from helping people learn to read their own financial reports.  For most people, the best way to learn is by doing, and running a business is one of the best places to learn by doing!

Most people start to get a pretty good grasp of their financial reports over 3 reporting cycles – that’s over 3 months if you do your accounts monthly.  Or 3 years if you do your accounts only annually. If you want to speed up your learning, we can look at past reports too. Most of the learning just happens in our conversation as we look at the reports together and discuss what the reports tell about your business.

Financial reports are tools for empowerment when the simple numbers on a page are understood as real and concrete information about your business.   With this information you are then in the driver’s seat – able to make informed decisions, make proactive plans, carry them out, and measure the consequences.

That’s why I love financial reports. 

“Doing everything yourself” vs. “Ensuring everything gets done”

There’s so many different aspects of a business – sales, marketing, admin, the technical ability or skill to deliver the core service, finance, design, and so on.  Some of these areas require exactly the opposite skills required for other areas – for instance sales requires empathy and people skills while finance requires a logical mind and abstract skills.  Its a very rare person who can bridge all the areas required.

But all these aspects of a business have to be attended to.  As a result, many business owners put huge pressure on ourselves about the areas we are not good at: we can see that things need doing but we struggle to do them. So we feel guilty about not doing them, or worry about them and do nothing, or beat ourselves up because we “should” be able to do it, or blame others for the poor performance, or get frustrated or angry that the stuff has to be done at all, or any number of other responses.

None of these responses really help, of course.  They’re just perfectly natural responses to feeling jammed into an impossible situation where something needs doing, you’re responsible for it, and yet you lack the resources to do it.  Awful!

To help my clients with the tensions around all this, I often find myself drawing attention to the business owner’s role as director of operations.  The shift here is to acknowledge that, yes, the owner is of course responsible for everything – but that responsibility is more specifically to ensure everything gets done.  This is NOT the same as “doing everything yourself”.

“Doing everything yourself” is like a rod for your own back.  “Doing everything yourself” is part of the stoic old-style grit-your-teeth model of masculinity – which carries over into the world of small business no matter what your gender is. It assumes that we are all isolated units, each entirely self-sufficient, and that we are judged by how capable we are of living up to this unrealistic and even cruel ideal.  In this world, responsibility is a massive burden that can kill.

“Ensuring everything gets done”, on the other hand, is a softer more humble approach yet it also implies the power to take action.  It assumes that we are limited creatures, who have strengths in some areas and are weak in others.  It’s part of the new spiritually-oriented or values-driven entrepreneurship which holds that we all have a unique contribution to offer, and that business is a collaborative effort which is a vehicle for each of our unique contributions.  In this world responsibility is empowerment to create the world of our dreams.

Ensuring everything gets done means getting other people to fill in the gaps where you’re not good at stuff.  This usually costs you money – though not always:  all sorts of creative arrangements are possible.  But whatever the exchange is, the pay-off can more than offset it – which is the whole point of synergy through collaboration.  If you get other people who, in supplying that service, are also pursuing their own unique contribution, there’s 3 returns:

  •  Bottom line: Every aspect of your business functions as it should.
  • Personal affirmation:  You get the space to pursue your unique contribution as well as the satisfaction of seeing you are a good business director.
  • Community celebration: Your own values, and the values of everyone involved, are affirmed and celebrated.

Its so easy, of course, to fall into “doing everything yourself”.  Thank goodness, these days there’s more and more support  for “ensuring everything gets done”!