Erica Wolfe-Murray
Erica Wolfe-Murray

With all the changes going on in the world around us at the moment, many small business owners and freelancers need to ensure they put their houses in order to face the bumpy road ahead. This month we’ve gathered some questions that apply to many business owners – I hope you find the answers useful. And don’t forget - do feel you can ping me an email if there are specific subjects you’d like me to address in the column.

I am in debt and totally overwhelmed - I have an interiors business but every bit of profit I make goes into clearing my £10k debt what should I do?

I’m sorry to hear this, but what matters now is that you work out a plan to repay it an set yourself on a more profitable road ahead.

Firstly let’s look at the debt. Is it all consolidated in one place? Often that can be the easiest way of managing it. Rather than having to repay multiple creditors, put it all in one loan. Is the debt on the lowest interest rate you can find, or are you paying a high level on, say, a credit card? A bank personal loan or small business loan may well have a lower interest rate. Look for the lowest rate you can find. Work out a regular payment plan and stick to it. Once you know you are managing the debt and are in control, you will stop worrying about it.

Now let’s consider the business. You need to look at why you are in debt in the first place? Did one of your clients not pay you? Have you been charging too little for your services? Is there little or no appetite for what you do in your area? Are you marketing your business properly?

It’s important to get to the bottom of the problem. And to address the causes. If client payment is a problem, ensure you ask for payment in tranches through a project so at the end, there is only a small amount outstanding. If you are charging too little, rethink your value and set an appropriate fee level. Find out what others in your marketplace are charging. You could also look for additional revenue streams… Could you offer an interior design evening class course to local home owners? Or teach people how to make curtains and soft furnishings to boost your income? And take a long look at your marketing to ensure potential customers are hearing about you.

Good luck – I hope you manage to get on top of it in the near future.

I have just set up a new business and everything is very new to me - how much time should I be putting aside to ‘run the business’.

Congratulations and welcome to the world of being an owner/manager!

There is no hard and fast rule I can give you about time working ‘in’ the business as opposed to time working ‘on’ the business. You have to juggle both. But it’s vital that you do attend to both. Working ‘on’ the business will include business planning and development, marketing to win new business, managing your finances, your tax and legal requirements. Allow a small amount of time regularly to do this – I’d suggest allocating an hour or so every day. That way, if you don’t manage to catch up on one day, you know you will be picking it up again the following day.

Working ‘in’ the business is doing the revenue-earning work. Because this is what is paying your livelihood, it is very easy to let this dominate your schedule. But you must not overlook the admin. I have seen so many company owners get sucked into this area because earning revenue, servicing clients has dominated, their own business development has been forgotten.

The balance will really depend on what business you are in and how you can best manage your time. Good luck, I hope it goes well and your venture is successful.

Help - I have no idea how to write a business plan but I know my business idea is strong and I don’t need investment - do I still need to write one?

Having a plan is a good idea for every business as it can help you map your route ahead, ensuring you are heading in the right direction. I try to do one every year between Christmas and New Year to map out the months ahead.

There is a lot of planning advice on the internet to help you, but often it is overly complex or aimed at different goals such as raising investment, whereas a good plan for a small business can be elegant, simple yet very powerful.

Firstly ask yourself what your hopes and dreams are… What are you looking to achieve in the next 3-5 years, which should be a combination of work and home ambitions? These are the targets you are aiming at.

Now assess where you/your business is. Write down your background, the ‘route to here’, list all of the clients and customers you have worked for, then list all of the work you have been paid to do. It is also a good idea to detail your passions, skills and talents as these often get overlooked. As you will notice - all of these aspects to your plan are about you and your business – they are internal. You will be able to draw up a list of your company Strengths and Weaknesses from this part of your plan.

The second section you should now focus on relates to what is going on in the world outside of your business. Review your market, what trends are impacting it, your competition, your positioning in that space. You will be able to identify Opportunities and Threats for your business in this external review.

The next step is to plan what you are offering as products/services. These should emerge from the Strengths you have identified, and should be mapped against the Opportunities you have can see in the external market. These will lead you to creating the Vision for your company in the longer term, and can also lead to your USP – unique selling point. An easy way to think about your USP is that it should answer the question ‘what will the business be famous for?’.

This simple, easy to draw up plan gives you’re the framework to then look at your financial model, what people you need, your marketing plans and so on.

If you want to read more about it and see a diagram – it is outlined clearly in my book Simple Tips, Smart Ideas which is available from Amazon and Foyles bookshops.

Enjoy doing it – planning your business is always such an exciting thing to do.

Erica’s new book ‘Simple Tips, Smart Ideas : Build a Bigger, Better Business’ is out now. Full of her usual easy-to-use advice, lots of case studies, quick tips, diagrams and innovative ways to think about growing your business – its 288 full colour pages will help you transform your business. Available to order from Foyles, Amazon and all other good bookshops.