I’ve gathered three questions together which hit my inbox this month, but which are echoed widely by the company owners I work with face-to-face. Please do keep questions coming in – no matter how simple they seem – just email me at [email protected] putting ‘Female First question’ in the subject line.

Erica Wolfe-Murray returns to Female First

Erica Wolfe-Murray returns to Female First

My business is growing and we need more staff, but I haven’t got the spare cash to pay someone – have you got any ideas?

It’s great to hear that your business is on an upward curve, that’s always exciting, but it can bring additional pressures as you are discovering.

The first step is to look at your existing business. Now that you are growing, are there savings you can make? For example if you are buying more from suppliers, can you ask them for a bulk or early settlement discounts? Can you negotiate better terms with the bank, your power supplier, your insurer or courier company? Could you tweak the pricing of your products to generate a little more income? Look across every aspect of your books to see if there are savings to be made anywhere to free up cash.

Next take a cool look at the roles in which your current team are working. Can you gain any extra hours by shifting responsibilities and re-thinking working practice between them? Ask them for ideas to help with capacity. Can you take any freelance jobs in-house to free up cash?

Once you’ve looked at all of these aspects and tightened up as best you can, start thinking about how you can be inventive about a new member of staff. Most companies I work with find themselves in this position at some time or other – so one of the first things I suggest is to consider taking someone on part-time. There are millions of people who would love to work a few hours a week, but don’t want full-time employment. They may be carers, parents returning to work, those who’s physical ability or health is compromised but are brilliant for shorter hours or they may have their own side-hustle, be writing a book. These people can bring a real impetus and vim to your business because they are so happy to be there and love contributing to a team effort.

If you share space with other companies, why not approach them to ask if they have part-time workers or spare team capacity, who you might be able to employ for a few extra hours but without too much additional burden.

Then the other option to consider – particularly if you want to give younger people opportunities – is taking on an apprentice. This is partly funded by the government training schemes and can help you access the skills you need, allows them to train on the job as well as doing day-release at college.

Work your way through the options above and I’m sure you will be able to identify a route forward that can help you find extra hands.

Can you tell me the difference between book-keeping and accountancy – can the same person do both?

Oh my goodness, what a good question!

A book-keeper is generally employed by you to do the day-to-day financial work within your company. They do all the payments to suppliers and your team, they send and chase invoices, they run the bank accounts checking that everything reconciles at the end of the month. Using on-line accounting software like Xero, Quickbooks or Kashflow, they stay on top of the everyday movement of money in and out of your business. They are a vital part of your team.

An accountant, however, is really there to ensure that you, as a company owner, fulfil your legal financial commitments to HMRC. They don’t get involved in the day-to-day bookkeeping but should have a quarterly or annual overview of your business, will prepare regular profit and loss (P&L) reports, do your annual accounts, work out your corporate tax liability, ensure your VAT, PAYE etc payments have been made. Yes, they can help you plan the bigger financial vision for your company, but they don’t get involved in the day-to-day.

Some accountancy practices do offer book-keeping services too, and you will notice that you pay a much lower fee for a book-keeper than the more highly qualified accountant. However a good book-keeper can be worth their weight in gold, so if you find a good one – hang on to them!

I am feeling alone in my business – and have been wondering whether finding a coach would be a good idea. What do you think?

I’m sorry to hear this but yes, running a business can be a lonely place. You have to make a raft of decisions and may not have anyone to bounce ideas off. But a coach may not be what you’re looking for so I thought it would be useful to review the support options available.

a. Have you thought about taking on an advisory board or non-exec director? This extra brain power within your business can be incredibly helpful and will spread the load, but can come at a cost.

b. Look around to see if there is a local business networking group or Chamber of Commerce you could join. They will hold regular breakfasts and lunches where members can meet, share experiences and problems, learn from each other. They often have expert speakers on particular issues.

c. Then there are several different types of coaches – a personal coach who will help you explore your own route forward, to evolve your own management style, your leadership qualities etc. Then there is a business coach who will work with you to develop the business, the company opportunities. This is the area where I do a lot of work with companies. Both types provide great support but in very different ways.

d. And then there is a mentor. This is someone who may have experience in a similar business to you but is in a different place in their career. You can meet regularly to discuss problems, issues you face and they can help you explore them through discussion, suggestion, reading. They may introduce you to others within the industry who can help you face issues, open doors and contribute in interesting ways to the bigger picture around your business.

And remember mentors don’t need to be older. Being mentored by someone younger who has greater experience in digital or some of the new economies can bring a fantastic breath of fresh air.

I hope you find the person you need to help alleviate your loneliness. It’s really important you find someone, both for your own health and that of your business.

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.