Meeting successfully-10 tips for successful business meetings.

Any meeting or negotiation can be won or lost before you even step foot inside the meeting room, by good forethought and planning.

To feel in control of any scenario, you must plan, this is the difference between success and failure.

Here are some tips on how to successfully plan a meeting:
1. Ask yourself if a meeting is really necessary
Often the same things can be accomplished via the phone or e-mail etc.

2. Pick someone to chair
If it’s not you then arrange for someone to chair the meeting.  Somebody has to be in charge of a meeting to ensure that it accomplishes what it’s meant to accomplish.  Agree this up front.

3. Have a plan
Create an agenda for the meeting and distribute it in advance, to everyone who is going to be present.  Then ask them to provide you with any changes or additions to the agenda, again, do this in advance of the meeting.

4. Have the meeting somewhere that is easy to find and get to
Pick common ground for most of the attendees.  If a meeting will be held off-site or involves getting clients to your location, always provide clear directions.

5. Arrange the meeting at an appropriate time
Too early in the morning and you risk people being late because of traffic.  Too close to lunch and they’re thinking of food.  Too close to the end of the day and they’re thinking of going home.  Normally in the mid-mornings/afternoons is best.

6. Stay with and follow the plan
You will have drawn up an agenda and everyone at the meeting has seen it, so stay with it.  If it’s not appropriate for the meeting, file it away for another time.

7. Stay focused
Anecdotes or irrelevant conversations will always crop up, especially as the number of the people attending increases.  Have the chairman stay in control of the meeting and keep everybody focused on what the outcome is.

8. Create an action box for other issues
Some issues may need to be dealt with but it may not be an appropriate time to do so.  When these issues come up, note them down and place in the action box and deal with them after the meeting.

9. Good time keeping is essential
Never let a meeting run on longer than anticipated.  Keep to your original plan.  If you find you can’t get everything done, simply schedule, there and then, another meeting.  If you don’t finish on time it’s either because you didn’t stick to your agenda (so why should the attendees suffer?) or the issue really needs the extra time and attention a second meeting will bring.

10. Make a quality action plan
There is nothing more frustrating than sitting through a meeting, hearing lot’s of good ideas and dealing with quality issues, only to find that nothing will be done about it.  Give the meeting the importance it deserves and make an action plan giving clear instructions of what is needed to complete the next steps and gain buy-in to these actions from those present.  Let the attendees know that what has been produced in the meeting was, indeed valuable, and worth their taking the time to attend.

Dealing With Disaster

floodFor those who haven’t experienced a disaster first hand it’s difficult to imagine, even from the graphic images fed to us by the media, the realities of the situation. What pictures cannot convey is the frustration of an owner watching their business suffer through the several days or weeks during which power is unavailable, transport facilities are out of operation, communications are down and access to the premises is prohibited. It’s exactly those restrictions that can spell the death of a business caught up in a disaster and unprepared to deal with the consequences.

Are you prepared? Ask yourself these questions, they cover some of the most critical aspects of keeping the business afloat after a disaster.

  1. Have you audited your premises to assess how well they would stand up to the type(s) of disaster most likely to occur in your region?

  2. Do your premises have emergency backup power and lighting sources?

  3. Could you quickly obtain temporary equipment and replacement stock to keep your business going?

  4. Do you have access to a secondary site from which to operate your business if your primary location was damaged?

  5. Do you have an alternative source of supply if it is your supplier who suffers a disaster?

  6. Are your vital records (accounts, customer data, inventory records etc) backed up with a current version stored in a safe place? Consider internet back up software – set it and forget it, anything you change or add gets backed up for you.

  7. Do you have current and multiple contact information (e.g., home and cell phone numbers, personal email addresses) to communicate with your employees if a disaster prevented them from coming in to work?

  8. Have you consulted with an insurance professional to determine if your insurance coverage is adequate to help you get back in business following a disaster?

With disasters, both natural and man made, now very much in the spotlight, numerous government agencies and business organisations have developed information brochures and programmes advising SMEs on how to mitigate the effects of a disaster and speed recovery.

In developing a disaster plan and dealing with the aftermath your accountant should be one of your most valued partners. The weeks and months following a disaster can be confusing and difficult with numerous financial issues and personal concerns to address. People who have been through a traumatic experience often have difficulty making sound decisions. Your accountant can help you develop a financial recovery plan for regaining your financial footing following a disaster by reconstructing lost records, documenting income lost as a result of the disaster, preparing and defending insurance claims, acting fast to apply for loans and grants and applying for tax relief concessions.

Many businesses that are forced to close after a disaster never reopen at all. SME owners who educate themselves in disaster management and have a planned process for returning to normal operation maximise their chances for recovery.

Does Social Networking Pose A Threat To Your Business?

facebook

Currently there’s a lot of buzz in business circles about the value of using social networking services (SNS) as a channel to drive sales, promote brand and network for business opportunities. Much of it comes from marketers who are excited about the target marketing possibilities of these sites — they gather so much data about individuals that marketers are able to profile very specific demographics. At the same time, IT security companies post regular warnings about the potential for damage that social networking can pose to business computer systems.

The huge uptake of SNS membership and the increasing spend by some major consumer product companies on these sites provides a sense of ‘normalcy’ about them that could prove dangerous to the unwary user. Mainstream acceptance hasn’t been matched by efforts to improve security. It’s not unknown for fraudsters to gather, piecemeal from a number of company employee profiles, sufficient information to access company intranets or launch malware attacks against company computers.

Increasingly the question is being posed — should employees be allowed to access SNS over their organisation’s computers? Many major corporations who need to maintain absolute security over client data, their records and their reputation, such as financial institutions, have answered with a firm ‘No’ and simply locked them out of company computers.

But with social networking being viewed by many employees as just another form of communication essentially no different from email or instant messaging, employers may be put under pressure to provide access or face an employee backlash. If you intend to allow employees to use social networking from work computers you would be well advised to proceed with caution. Here’s how to minimise the risks.

Develop an acceptable use policy: According to experts, the first step is to develop policies and train employees. If you don’t have policies in place for SNS use (along with blogs, wikis, and their like), then you’re leaving yourself at risk.

Define the times when social networking is acceptable: Social networking is addictive and unrestricted access inevitably results in employees spending more and more time online checking out what their friends are up to. Assign only out-of-work periods (lunch break, before or after their work hours) as times in which employees can social network.

Mandate the use of privacy settings: SNS sites are notoriously short on privacy. In their profiles users can enter a host of information including their name, address, phone number, email and their workplace. A privacy level can be assigned to each field of information restricting who can access it, though few users appear aware of this. Mandate that any business related information is assigned the highest privacy setting the site provides.

Set guidelines for chatting about work related matters: It’s very natural for people to talk about work, and that talk often gets into messages posted to social networking sites. The business’ reputation could be put at risk by inappropriate comments by employees. Criticism by disgruntled employees or jokes that could be misunderstood by people outside the organisation can do irreparable damage. Spell out the principles for business related chat such as the need to maintain client confidentiality, the contexts in which your organisation’s name can be used and the inappropriateness of making disparaging remarks about fellow workers.

Point out the IT threats: Malicious code is being embedded in Web 2.0 links. Employees casually clicking on links could lead them to malware that will infect work computers. Train employees in the company’s IT security policies to make them aware of what’s allowed and what they’re prohibited from doing.

Make improper use a disciplinary matter: Make it clear there will be consequences for posting unacceptable comments or business information on social networking sites and detail the disciplinary action that will be imposed.

What Employees Want

employee of the monthThe difference between working with engaged people and a group of alienated, uninterested ones isn’t just the difference in productivity you can expect from each – it gets right down to making the difference between feeling you want to go in to work or stay away to avoid becoming depressed by the unenthusiastic atmosphere.

Managers can’t force employees to be motivated but they can contribute to creating an environment that encourages and promotes them to feel self-motivated. Motivation is getting people to do what you want them to do because THEY WANT to do it. The right sort of environment can be summed up in 4 words: security, involvement, responsibility and appreciation.

Making employees feel secure

If you think you can motivate people by instilling fear in them then think again. Over the short term, fear can keep people at a task, if not exactly ‘motivate’ them to do it. But all the while they are being fearful they are plotting how to get back at you. And that doesn’t make for a productive workplace.

The boss who openly threatens to fire employees when they make a mistake or blames individuals when things go wrong is creating a fear culture. On a less obvious level, tolerating things like sexist behaviour or racist slurs in the workplace equally creates a sense of fear in the target.

The workplace should be a level playing field where every team member is treated fairly and respectfully so as to build a constructive atmosphere free of fear. You can go a long way towards creating that sort of environment by clarifying your expectations about how people are to behave (including yourself) in a written company code of conduct or through clearly defined policies about ‘how we do things around here’. Clearly defined expectations also form the basis for consistent decision making in other areas of importance to your employees such as fair performance appraisal for deciding promotions.

Getting them involved

People are more motivated when they feel ‘in the loop’ of what is going on. The key here is good communication. Employees can’t work to achieve the business’ goals if they don’t know what those goals are. You need to communicate your vision and goals for the business to them so they don’t feel like they are working in a vacuum. Better still, provide opportunities for them to actively contribute to the business through regular team meetings and promote the contribution of suggestions that could help improve the business. Suggestion schemes encourage engagement and can result in valuable ideas for everything from improving operations and developing new products to providing better customer service.

Empowering your people

If you find yourself micromanaging your employees by constantly telling them what to do you can be certain that you are having a detrimental effect on their motivation. Being given responsibility for something is an important motivator for humans. Your intentions may be good but your ‘help’ is likely to be perceived as lack of trust.

Managers interested in keeping their employees motivated should set the ground rules and expectations and then allow them to get on with their job. Shift your focus from making sure that specific tasks are completed correctly to establishing standards and expectations. Where the standards aren’t being met, the way to fix the situation isn’t to constantly look over their shoulder and direct them, it’s to help them improve their performance through a coaching or training programme. Most employees actually want to learn new skills, gain new experience, build their personal attributes and take on new challenges, all of which improve motivation.

Showing appreciation for effort

Public and private praise can work wonders in keeping people motivated. Achievement in any area considered important by the company, such as an outstanding sales record, contributing a valuable suggestion or providing great customer service, should earn some form of appreciation. And don’t overlook opportunities to build morale by celebrating the business’ wins, like getting that new contract. These only happen because of the combined effort of your many individual employees.

While some employees will be innately more passionate about their jobs and careers than others, organisational structures and management styles that deliberately foster engagement with their work play a key role in raising the motivational barometer.

Good Workplace Design Improves Productivity

workplaceLooked around your office lately? Familiarity can blind us to the obvious so you probably didn’t notice anything in particular. Try looking at it from an employee’s point of view. How do you think it makes them feel? It’s no surprise that surveys report a direct link between the quality of the working environment and the effectiveness of the people who work in it. So is yours the sort of environment that would likely motivate and inspire your employees to work productively?

Take a walk around keeping these three fundamental principles of productive workplace design in mind and check how your premises rate.

Principle 1: the workspace should promote health and well-being

Daylight is invariably cited by employees as a crucial factor for a good working environment. It is widely accepted that one way of improving the health and morale of workers is by providing good internal lighting and access to natural daylight. Good lighting has even been linked to reductions in absenteeism. Don’t block off windows with equipment or make them inaccessible by building office spaces around them all. Use ceiling mounted lights with a luminosity level that achieves adequate illumination without glare or reflection to reduce eyestrain. Accent lights can be used to help create moods and highlight and define different areas of the office. Cleverly combining natural light and illumination can recreate that ‘feel good’ factor of a sunny day and spur employee productivity.

There’s nothing like physical pain to distract people from their work. Poor ergonomics is the root cause of most back pain, migraines, sore fingers, wrists and stiff necks. Ergonomic seating and adjustable work surfaces mean workers are more comfortable for longer periods and require fewer breaks. Properly set up computer workstations minimise discomfort and the likelihood of developing repetitive stress injuries.

Principle 2: the workplace should be a pleasant place to work in

Office decoration provides the backdrop to work activity. It can inspire or depress us. Drab colours are dispiriting. Office walls can be painted in schemes that make the environment cheerful and fresh. You can develop a colour scheme that reflects your brand and does a little promoting or you might select a scheme that reflects the spirit of your business. If you work in a traditionally conservative industry such as financial or legal services, you’re better off choosing a neutral colour. If your business employs more creative types such as designers or artists, then prefer more energising colours. Colour also has the ability to make a space appear larger or smaller and the occupant feel more or less claustrophobic.

Bare walls and an unrelieved vista of office equipment can make a workplace feel sterile and unlived-in. Photos, prints, or paintings on the walls and a few plants warm up your workspace and make it feel more comfortable and human. Maintain the same style of furniture throughout the office. Mismatched tables and chairs give the impression of having been thrown together and look rather cheap.

Physically, temperature can make or break our ability to concentrate and get on with a task. Decent temperature control and ventilation systems that keep employees comfortable also keep them productive.

Principle 3: workplace layout should support work activity

Office design can be used to enhance moods, speed up task completion and encourage interaction between employees. Employees become frustrated and annoyed when their office isn’t designed to support them in carrying out their job efficiently.

Efficient layout of workspaces allows for better and more efficient workflow. If someone has to get up from their seat to reach for a file or access information, more time and effort are expended. Multiply these tasks dozens if not hundreds of times a day and the time wasted not only distresses the employee, it really cuts into productive work time.

Tools and equipment should be close by to those who use them and employee’s workplaces located close to others in the same work group. To arrive at the most suitable arrangement you need to have analysed just how groups relate to and interact with one another and how work flows from one group to another.

While the Cube has become the symbol of modern office layout it has drawbacks for certain kinds of work where the task demands visual privacy and freedom from the distractions of nearby noise and conversation. If the office is open, there should be places for sensitive conversations. Match workspace arrangement to the needs of the person using it. For example, an architect may require a private office for client meetings, software engineers work best in an open group environment where they can share ideas and issues whereas salespeople might be happy with just a hot-desk on those occasions when they come into the office.

An employee’s workplace is responsible for 24 per cent of their job satisfaction level. Poor workplace design is directly linked to increases in stress level and lower performance among employees. Creating a professional, functional and comfortable space will keep your people happy and productive.

Davies McLennon are Stockport Accountants

Companies Act changes from 6 April 2008

If you are involved in the management of a limited company, you may like to make a note of the following changes which apply from 6 April 2008:

1. Filing Accounts
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For all private companies the filing deadline for delivery of accounts to Companies House has been reduced from 10 to 9 months. The change will apply to accounting periods beginning on or after 6 April 2008. For public companies the deadline is reduced from 7 to 6 months.

Qualifying companies will still be able to file Abbreviated Accounts.

2. Company Secretary
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For private companies only, the appointment of a company secretary becomes optional from 6 April 2008.

. the choice to continue with an existing appointed secretary is optional,
. if you decide to dispense with an existing company secretary after 6 April, you will need to advise Companies House using form 288b,
. you will not need to amend your Articles of Association unless there is a specific reference to a company having a secretary,

From the 6 April it will be possible to have a sole director and no company secretary.

Davies McLennon are Stockport Accountants

Construction Industry – automatic disqualification

One of the more draconian aspects of the new CIS regulations is the power of HMRC to withdraw gross payment status if they consider that a contractor’s circumstances have changed in a particular way.Under the pre-CIS rules status would generally be reviewed at renewal date. Under the new rules if an inspector is of the opinion that a contractor’s circumstances have changed so that if he applied now, he would not be granted gross payment status, then gross payment status may be withdrawn.

Obviously it is important to ensure that you stay the right side of the qualification process, in order that your gross payment status be maintained. The following compliance notes are quoted from a Revenue Fact Sheet on the topic:

“To pass the compliance test, you and any business partners (or your company and each of its directors) must, during the 12 months up to the date of the application, have done all of the following:
1. Completed and returned all tax returns sent to you.

2. Supplied any information to do with your tax that we may have requested.

3. Paid by the due dates:

. all tax due from yourself or the business

. all your own National Insurance contributions (NICs)

. any PAYE tax and NICs due from you as an employer

. any deductions due from you as a contractor in the construction industry.

When considering whether you have passed the compliance test, we will disregard, during the same 12 month period, any or all of the following.

. Three late submissions of the monthly return – up to 28 days late.

. Three late payments of CIS/PAYE deductions – up to 14 days late.

. One late payment of Self Assessment tax – up to 28 days late.

. Any employer’s end of year return made late.

. Any late payments of Corporation Tax – up to 28 days late, including where any shortfall in the payment has incurred an interest charge but no penalty.

. Any Self Assessment return made late.

. Any failures classed as ‘minor and technical’ in relation to your obligations under the old Scheme, where these fall within the 12-month period up to your application.”
If you do receive notification that your status has changed this can be appealed. Be sure to call us immediately.

Revenue Powers and Penalties

Powers

From the 1 April 2009 HMRC will be aligning its powers across all taxes and duties. In a nutshell they will be able to exercise the following powers:

. a power to inspect records required under the record-keeping legislation – this restricts the existing VAT and PAYE inspections to statutory records and introduces a new power of inspection for direct tax;

. a power to require supplementary information which is relevant to establishing the correct tax position;

. a power to require third parties to provide information which is relevant to establishing a taxpayer’s correct tax position;

. a power to visit business premises and to inspect records, assets and premises;

. removal of VAT and PAYE powers to undertake inspections at private homes without taxpayer consent;

. appeal rights against any penalty, and against information notices which have not been pre-authorised by an appeal tribunal;

. penalties for failure to allow an inspection and failing to comply with an information notice, including a tax-geared penalty which can be imposed by the new upper tier tribunals; and

. an updated criminal offence of destroying or concealing records requested under a notice authorised by a tribunal.

An additional power that has recently been granted to HMRC is the right to intercept phone calls – “bugging” powers! The Customs branch have always had this right, and it is now rolled out to investigations that involve all taxes. The powers were granted in the Serious Crimes Act 2007; the relevant implementation date was 15 February 2008.

Penalties

The Budget March 2008 included provisions that will enable the Revenue to introduce a single penalty regime across all the taxes, levies and duties they administer.

The changes are likely to commence for all incorrect return periods commencing on or after 1 April 2009, where the return is due to be filed on or after 1 April 2010.

New penalties for failure to notify the commencement of a new taxable activity are expected to have effect for those that arise on or after 1 April 2009.

The penalty will be determined by the amount of:

. the tax understated,
. the nature of the behaviour giving rise to the understatement, and
. the extent of disclosure by the taxpayer.

The use of suspended penalties will be extended.

There will be no penalty where a taxpayer makes a mistake, but there will be a penalty of up to:

. 30 per cent of the tax understated for failure to take reasonable care;
. 70 per cent of the tax understated for a deliberate understatement; and
. 100 per cent of the tax understated for a deliberate understatement with concealment.

The measure will provide for each penalty to be substantially reduced where the taxpayer makes a disclosure (takes active steps to put right the problem), more so if this is unprompted.

. For an unprompted disclosure of a failure to take reasonable care the penalty could be reduced to nil.
. Where a taxpayer discloses fully when prompted by a challenge from HMRC each penalty could be reduced by up to a half.