Merry Christmas from Akoni

December is a wonderful and festive time of the year.   The excitement of the season  – meeting up with family and friends and taking time out from our busy schedules.

For our team at Akoni it is also a time to reflect on a busy and exciting year.

It can also be a difficult time of year for those of us who run small businesses. Staff shortages due to annual leave, increased product demand with seasonal customer expectations, and where not managed appropriately, stress remains until Christmas Eve.

Grab this opportunity  to enjoy your festive season with loved ones, sit back and reflect on your year as a business , how far you have come and look forward to the New Year ahead.   This time of the year encourages everyone, whether you celebrate Christmas or simply enjoy the festive season, to absorb the emotion and wonder of the season.   Our entire year is spent moving forward, progressing and actioning a long to-do list.    If we stand still a moment, we hear the cold winter chill beckoning to slow down, reduce our workload, take a deep, relaxing breath, and take care of the important aspect of life.

We would like to say thank you to everyone who has been involved in our journey this year at Akoni.    We have much in store for next year, kicking off in early January. We look forward to 2017 and what it holds for us as a business.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings, and a great start into the New Year!  We are ready to embrace our exciting year ahead, and eagerly working towards our next phase of inspiration and innovation for businesses.

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Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

 

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10 tips to avoid late payments and improve cashflow

Here at Akoni we are aware that late payments are really stressful for small businesses trying to keep the cash flowing. Late payments hinder a company’s ability to expand, even when sales are high, as they spend their valuable time chasing money owed. SMEs are sometimes nervous to chase payments for fear of jeopardizing their relationships with clients. Here are 10 tips on how to reduce late payments and help ensure a healthy cash flow.

  1. Know your customers

Credit checks are valuable and can save you a lot of time and money in the future. Checks can be made easily and quickly online. You can also use credit checks on long term customers where you suspect they may have issues paying their bill.

  1. Always be clear about your payment terms and conditions

Make sure these terms are clearly printed on your invoice to avoid any ambiguity, easily available on your website and readily available to email out to a client when needed. Check with your trade association for typical terms and conditions used in your industry. Before entering into the contract ask your legal team to review the conditions

  1. Have a payment remind process in place

Once payment has not been received on the date due, call the customer and follow up with a written reminder that payment is due within a reasonable timeframe.   If the customer still does not pay then send out a warning.   Eventually you will need to send out a formal written warning asking for payments within two days before legal proceedings are followed.

  1. Introduce Flexible payment options

Pre-agreed instalments are an excellent way to introduce flexible payment options to your customers.

  1. Make a courtesy call

If they have had a rather large order, call them before payment is due to make sure everything was received and there are no issues. This should prevent any delays in payment and is seen as good customer service.

  1. Incentivise customers with early payment discounts and late payment charges

Supplier invoice payment terms often include an incentive to pay early by offering an early settlement discount if the invoice is paid before its due date. For example a 1% settlement discount if paid within 10 days. The full amount must be paid within 30 days. The late payment of Commercial Debts (interest) Act 1998 allows small businesses with less than 50 employees to claim interest on overdue payments.

  1. Deliver all invoices and statements electronically

This will ensure that the customers receive the invoice in the quickest time. There is a record of when the invoice was sent, received and read by the customer. Electronic delivery also frees up staff to work on chasing late payments instead of printing, writing, stamping and posting the invoice.

  1. Make sure your invoice is going to the correct place

Always ask for a purchasing order number or a name where the invoice can be sent directly to, to avoid it being lost in the mailroom, or work mailbox.

  1. Always get your customer to sign receipts

In the first instance ask for a company stamp on the receipt, then a signature from the customer. This verifies that the customer was in agreement with the order.   Ensure that they have the correct authority to place the order.

  1. Bill quickly after delivery

To avoid any delay in payments, don’t forget to include all important information on the bill, your company payment details and the customer’s full details.

Whether you are a new startup company or a company that has been running for years, its good practice to review your late payment procedures regularly, to get on top of recurrent late payment offenders and avoid new ones. 

It’s important to be better organised as a company- to control cashflow and avoid late payments and bad debts.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

 

10 Quick tips on Juggling Parenting and Business

All of us with families have the constant struggle of balancing our work and family life.   Even when we are passionate about and consumed by our work, it is something we continuously think about and consider how to maximise, to focus on the important aspects of both.   Here at Akoni we have the same dilemma and thought we would note a few  helpful tips in navigating this lifestyle.

1. Family and Business can work – don’t give up on your dream

Focus on the positives – think about how your career or your business is benefiting your family.  As long as you prioritise what you need to achieve and mange your time and to get the balance right, you will feel more confident with yourself and your decisions.  A happy mom or dad means a happy family.

2. Prevent Chaotic Mornings and Evenings

You don’t need to be in your office every morning before sunrise, in fact most entrepreneurs say having morning breakfast with the family helps the children to feel happy.  If they aren’t happy then you may feel frustrated and this will have a knock-on effect throughout your day.

3. Perfection is not expected

Particularly for women, the perfect house you had before children doesn’t need to still be perfect, rather keep on top of you household chores with some of the tips below and allow yourself time to be with your children, the condition of your house can take priority once your children have gone to college and when you will have time to appreciate it more! For all us, don’t worry about perfect time keeping take 5 mins on the way into work to stop and get yourself a latte or a juice, or just walking to work instead of driving or taking public transport can give you a chance to recharge.

4. Consider Hiring help

Hiring help in the home is a great alternative to bringing balance back into the work-life scale we all battle on a daily basis.
A survey recently found that one in three British Households now employs someone to help with chores, spending £26 billion a year on help in the home. Not everyone can afford full-time help – even a bi-monthly cleaner will help you feel a little more in control. You can also devise a system for tackling housework to help you handle this seemingly never ending task. Get your children to pitch in – small children as young as 3 can help with household chores. Share tasks with your partner – you have both had a long day, share the workload at home.

5. Spend Quality time with your children

Making time for your family and children is crucial and allows you to nurture your family dynamic. Create activities that regular fit into your schedule and avoid talking about work or checking emails and messages during these times. Ask older children for their activity suggestions and try to meet their needs. In the end it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you are enjoying time together.

6. Designate a “no work zone” in your home

Depending on the layout of your home – find a no work zone.  The lounge is usually a good place to relax with a glass of wine or cup of tea after a long day, put your feet up and chat to your partner, play with your children, or watch a movie together.  If you have a strict no work zone within your living room, it will stop the need to bring your laptop or phone with you leading to you not completely relaxing or engaging with your partner or children.

7. Create time boundaries

Be disciplined and set time limits to check emails and make phone calls, things you can do whilst your children are sleeping. Try to avoid multi-tasking, especially when spending time with your children.  A good rapport with co-workers is great and beneficial, however you can have this without numerous email exchanges, extended lunches and casual internet surfing. Focus on your tasks at work and use breaks and lunchtimes for chats with co-workers, thus enabling you to have more time with your family once you are at home.

8. Don’t overlook the benefits of childcare

There is no way you will be able to do your job properly if you are worried about your child’s wellbeing whilst you are at work. Find childcare that both you and your child will be happy with.  Obtain recommendations from friends and families or online forums, write a list of important criteria and schedule time to meet carers or visit nurseries.

9. Be fully engaged

Your priorities and time management rely on you to be fully engaged. If you look at your email whilst you are having breakfast with your children, this will create a half-heartedness engagement with both your children and your work.  Ideally aim for your complete presence in all situations. Rather use the time you have specifically set aside to check emails, speak to colleagues and spend time with your children, helping you to be more focused and more productive.

10. Know when to unplug and how to relax

Limit your screen time to first thing in the morning or intervals during the day which you have decided are the best for your daily tasks. Again rather have time allocated to checking emails and working so that you know you can be 100% focused on these tasks and know that after that is done you allow your self to action anything that requires immediate attention. Do the activities which relax you – sports, running, having a long bath, spending quality time with your partner. If you don’t unplug, you will find your daily tasks will then overlap important family time and you will not be fully engaged in either.

It is important that we all feel we are spending the most possible time with our family. We hope the above pointers helps you to balance out your business and family over this festive season. Enjoy the seasonal break!   If you have any time off,  focus on presence and if you don’t, remember that your children and partner will appreciate any time you are able to give them.  Aim  to fully recharge during quieter moments, reflecting on moments of priority and importance, in order to start afresh in the new year. 

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

 

Great British Brilliance: From 15 to 67 Medals in 20 Years

Historic. Epic. Astonishing. Dazzling. Awe-inspiring. Extraordinary. Mesmerising. Heroic.

Words seem so inadequate when trying to describe what most of us are feeling about Britain’s performance at Rio2016.

The spirit of the Brazilian Olympics started like a slow burning flame. It was most likely sparked here back home on Day 2, when 21-year-old Adam Peaty, won gold for the 100m breaststroke. Then on the same day, Jazmin Carlin, won a silver medal in the 400m freestyle. The days that followed fanned that Olympic spirit flame until it became wilder and swept more and more of us along with it. There was something for everyone – action, drama, thrillers and lovestories – all unfolding live by the second, and it was addictive.

On the second last day of the Games, when we were already gasping at the dreamy results, we were in for more treats:

First, Liam Heath won Gold in the men’s kayak 200m sprint.

… Shortly after that, Vicky Holland was awarded a Bronze medal after her gruelling race in the women’s triathlon,

… then boxing flyweight, 33 year old Nicola Adams, won Gold – becoming the first British boxer to retain an Olympic title in 92 years.

… Next came Bianca Walkden, with a Bronze medal, beating Morocco’s Wiam Dislam.

… Then came one of the highlights for millions around the globe: possibly the greatest TeamGB athlete of his time, Mo Farah ran to clinch his incredible “Double Double”. Witnessing this sporting icon trip and then get back up to take the men’s 5,000m gold medal, was enough to bring many to tears. Indeed, Mo Farah made Olympic history by winning the 5,000m and 10,000m in both the London and Rio games.

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Mo Farah wins the 5,000m and 10,000m Mens track events, achieving his “Double Double” gold

But there was more to come. Team GB women’s 4 x 400m relay, won a bronze medal – Ceilidh Doyle, Anyika Onuorh, Emily Diamond and Christine Ohuruogo bringing it home in style.

Super heavyweight boxer Joe Joyce’s silver medal brought the total medal count for Great Britain to an outstanding 67, second in the world to the USA – even beating China, and smashing a 108-year-old national record for most medals won.

Compare that to the 15 medals won in 1996 – which included a solitary gold medal won by Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent, who won the men’s coxless pair in the Atlanta Games.

… That’s a mere 20 years gap between 15 and 67 medals.

Have a look at the detailed TeamGB Rio Olympic 2016 medal table here.

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Great Britain’s medal takings at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 – BBC

For any nation competing, success at the Olympics demands a focussed plan and sufficient funding to implement this plan. Funding is essential to nurture athletes from a young age, through specialist training programmes, by providing subsidies, research, facilities, equipment and expert trainers.

In Britain, the establishment of the National Lottery was pivotal to this plan to succeed, and it started funding the World Class Performance Programme – which was implemented in 1997, after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics result. The British have increased spending on Olympic sports from £5m a year before the 1996 Atlanta Games – when the UK came 36th in the medals tables, to £350m (€410m) by Rio 2016, where it came second.

Regarding focus: The Olympics is a competition where you need to be the best in the world to even qualify. Being a Jack of all Trades and a Master of none is simply not an option here.

After the 1996 Olympics, it was decided to concentrate funding and focus only on sports that we performed in. This decisive move, that caused much controversy worked. By focussing on what British teams had an advantage at already, they already had a foot on the road to a medal. The Brits also concentrated on sports are not hugely popular or widely played – this gave them more of a chance of a medal with less competition – pretty clever “niche market” strategy.

In 2006, the year after London won the right to host the 2012 Games, UK Sport became responsible for all performance funding, which is reflected in figures that have risen from just under £60m for Sydney to the current total for Rio.In essence, every citizen has donated £ 1 per year to the training of this team.

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After an heroic battle, British champ Andy Murray beat Juan Martin del Porto to win gold in the Men’s Singles tennis event

Rio Olympics – the connections that will keep giving:

On the day of the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, UK trade minister Lord Price said in his speech at British House in Rio that the Olympic Games reminded us all that we are equals united by sport, and that this extended to other areas. He wanted Brazilian investors to know that the UK was “open for business”. He had lead the first trade mission to Argentina in May, before the brexit result was announced, and had said at the time that the growing economies of Latin America offered huge opportunity for British business.

UK suppliers won contracts in excess of £ 150m for the Rio Games, confirming that small firms are keen to trade with South America. FSB national chairman, Mike Cherry has said that the number of small businesses exporting to the continent have increased by 50% over the past five years.

Latin American countries have expressed an interest in striking free trade deals with the UK in the wake of Britain leaving the EU, and Brazil’s foreign minister, José Serra, said last month he would look to open negotiations via Mercosur, the five-member trading bloc.

With our team’s commendable behavior and performance throughout the Games, the cultural diversity in the team and diverse talents represented, Britain has really made it clear to the rest of the planet that this small Great island is Ready to do Great Business with the world.

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Team Great Britain – Thank You from every one of us, united as a nation, claiming our place on the podium at the Greatest Show on Earth

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

 

 

 

 

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Email Marketing Basics for your Business

One could not have failed to have noticed that the festive season is upon us once more, bringing with it the annual year end frenzied product push. Our team at Akoni thought it particularly relevant to highlight ways in which your business can optimise your email marketing to maximise sales from existing subscribers or prospective client bases.

Email marketing is the most powerful tool of a marketer – it is easy to measure ROI and is a tool that enables business to reach the customer directly. It is often mistakenly assumed in marketing that a measurement of deliverability is simply the proportion of emails that were ‘accepted’. If an email does not bounce back or is not rejected, it does not necessarily mean that it has been delivered.

Delivery rate is a calculation of mail sent minus the volume that bounced. However, this is quite misleading as it doesn’t take into account the emails that are simply filtered into spam files or are ignored. Overall, deliverability is making sure you are doing what you can to put yourself in the best position to be actually seen by your subscribers, says Tom Corbett of Experian.

70 per cent of mail sent globally being considered spam by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which have developed settings which the customer can adjust to suit their unique inbox preferences. These filters massively reduce the volume coming to an inbox. However, the interpretation of spam differs according to personal preference. As a result, what is becoming increasingly important is personalisation in email communication – making your email wanted is the key to a successful email campaign.

Know Your Client

Up to date research into customer behaviour and market analysis will show you where and how you should target your audiences effectively. This will help hone your campaign and make sure it appeals to the right group. This is the most important step in any marketing campaign by far, as everything starts here.

Make Customers Feel Special

Creating a feeling of belonging to an exclusive club or a select group is an extremely effective marketing tool. People are naturally competitive, and want to be made to feel special, the chosen ones – more superior. By making sure that your clients are given VIP passes, or exclusive prices or a top-class service reserved for a few, you are immediately tapping into a very powerful psychological tool by stroking their ego’s, catching their attention and creating a bond.

A Clear, Simple Message – Repeated

Know what your company does, what they stand for and why the customer needs your product. Get your branding right. Keeping to the basic core with simple, direct messages.Repeating the lines that are part of your branding core, that won’t change and are easily associated with your brand will create a sense of familiarity and a sense of trust for your customers. They will think of your brand when they hear similar words, or catch phrases. Own your taglines.

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Always focus on the customer. Personalised campaigns are becoming more and more essential.

Well Presented

Employ a designer or use the templates provided in tools available. Design is essential as we are all far more likely to read visuals than words. Make sure that you tap into this, as getting simple elements like the colour tone wrong can have expensive consequences. Watch spelling and grammar.

Regular Emails

Keeping in touch with customers on a regular basis is important. It reinforces the notion that your company is reliable and trustworthy. Keep postings or mail drops to the same time on the same day. Be aware that too many emails a week can lead to engagement fatigue – making your company an enemy as opposed to friend.

Strong Call to Action

It’s all very well having a clear email selling you something, but people need instructions. The Call to Action is the moment a potential target takes the bait – the conversion of effort to profit. Tell people what you want them to do, very short, sharp and clear, containing a verb – three words maximum. “BUY NOW” or “ENTER HERE”

Sense of Urgency

The sense that this offer is only available for a short period of time certainly makes it more valuable. Some emails have an actual clock feature that counts down the time till the offer expires. It puts incredible pressure on the customer, which is effective.

Choosing the Right Business Tools

There are many examples of excellent products out there which offer top class  email marketing software (MailChimp,  ConstantContact, Campaignmaster) through to all-in-one CRM and Sales package tools such as Hubspot, Salesforce and Pipedrive . It’s imperative to find a solution that fits your brand’s unique needs and requirements. When you are starting out, here are some key items to take note of and factor in before settling on a CRM system:

  • Does it offer support? What are the hours that support is offered in?
  • Is there training offered as part of the package? If not, how much extra will this cost?
  • Does it integrate easily with your current systems?
  • Find out how pricing scales, the longer you use it, and the more features you engage – especially regarding database size. Are there add-on features available or do you have to upgrade for more features or additional contacts? Are there hidden fees? Limits of messages sent a month? Charges to add users?
  • Find out if the software is designed for use by both sales and marketing. How it will better align sales and marketing teams? Ask for examples of how each team can use it. Get your marketing and sales teams to sample different tools before deciding on one.
  • Does the platform manage full customer life cycles, or only leads and prospects? You want to be able to engage and nurture contacts throughout the entire life cycle. After all, the best customer you can get is the one you already have.
  • Ask about email deliverability, specifically the vendor’s inbox and deliverability rate.
  • Is data available to track and assess progress?
  • Ensure the software offers mobile optimised landing pages and forms, as well as responsive email templates. Do you have additional mobile technology needs? It is essential that the software can meet your mobile requirements.

There is no replacement for personal engagement with clients. People want to see that they are valued and can trust your service if they engage it. That is what marketing comes down to – convincing the your client base that your product is better than the next. Try and humanise your email communication as much as possible – making your email wanted is the key to a successful mail programme.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

 

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Brexit, the US Election and British Business

After a seemingly endless trail to these fraught US elections – which have featured more turbulence, twists and turns than a series of Game of Thrones – businessman Donald Trump has become the 45th President of the United States. Indeed, 2016 will go down in history as one of the most volatile financial years ever. With the uncertainty of Brexit dangling over their heads like the Sword of Damocles, hundreds of Britain-based SME’s are now facing the impact of “Trumponomics” on top of Brexit uncertainties.

As expected, the dollar immediately plummeted after Trump’s victory, and may be unstable for a while. The US economy may take time to settle before changes start to kick in. The main European markets ultimately ended the day up – as such the expected meltdown did not occur. Experts are saying that radical change is unlikely to happen immediately – which is good news for stock markets. How the US economy reacts over the next few years will be interesting to watch, however.

Trump’s victory speech certainly soothed some fraught nerves, and towards the end of the day many markets were calmer. The President Elect spoke of healing and uniting the nation, he offered his thanks to Hillary Clinton for her service and hard work over the years, and talked about global relations.

While a Trump presidency is likely to add to global economic uncertainty, analysts believe the impact on the UK economy will – at least in the short term – be limited. Capital Economics has left its forecasts for UK growth unchanged 1.5pc in 2017 and 2.5pc in 2018 following the US election result. Outside the EU, the USA is the UK’s biggest export market, with a fifth of UK goods and services sent to the world’s biggest economy, equivalent to 6pc of UK gross domestic product (GDP). But Jonathan Loynes, an economist at Capital Economics, argues that there are several reasons why a Trump presidency would not be as painful for the UK, as it might be for other European countries. He sights factors such as the plunge in the value of the pound following Brexit – ultimately helping the UK to regain it’s competitiveness; a weaker dollar against low yielding currencies could help the pound to “find a floor”, easing concerns about runaway inflation. He also added that the political consequences for the UK, due to our good relationship with the US, plus the bonus that the UK has already had its “revolution” against the establishment, as positive factors. Brexit inspired the Trump vote, while mainstream politicians in the euro-zone – especially France, Italy and Germany – will be looking on with considerable unease while populist parties take encouragement from the events that have unfolded in the US and teh UK.

Britain’s main stock index, the FTSE 100, recovered from it’s early-morning slump, gaining 0,7 percent, while Germany’s DAX was up 0.5 percent and France’s CAC-40 gained 0.5 percent. This pattern has echoed the reaction to the Brexit vote – only it happened much faster: complacency, surprise and panic followed by swift recovery. Maybe Trump will prove to be less controversial than he has promised? Let’s hope so.

Practically speaking, there is a bit of breathing space before all these policy changes would come into being. In a Brexit scenario, the process of leaving the EU will take two years before it is phased in. The US president is sworn into office in January 2017, after which policies that President Trump has mentioned in his campaign will need to be passed by the Senate – and his revolutionary policies may or may not be approved by the extremely conservative administration in place.

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Extraordinary times call for caution and sensible business practice.

In terms of practical advice for businesses, it is crucial that they use this period to renegotiate, reassess and re-strategise to manage all foreign exchange risks. Many companies buying US dollars have already shortened the length of their forward contracts significantly, dropping these from an average of 90 working days per contract to less than 70 days, in anticipation of financial upheaval. Some 75 per cent of the earnings of the UK’s largest 100 companies come from overseas with many reporting their results in dollars. If we are faced with a situation where the pound becomes weaker, the knock-on effect may be felt down entire supply chains.

It is also on businesses to make sure that these supply chains are performing super-efficiently and cost effectively. It is a good idea to try and renegotiate future deals with one’s current suppliers, or in some cases, seek new suppliers who can offer the best possible deals.

It seems that UK business owners are relentlessly carrying on with business as usual. Given the difficult economic conditions in the recent past and the unpredictability of the future, business owners here have come to believe that with a combination of new technology available (i.e. access to effective ways to market their products online and many business tools) together with their own hard work, an innovative approach and good business management, there is every chance  of succeeding in this economic climate. After all, small businesses are essential to the economy of the UK, and the government knows it. Trump is all about business, hence the world is all about business as never before.

One part of Britain that will have their eye firmly on developments in the USA is Wales. For 70 years the US has been Wales’s top investor, accounting for 40% of the foreign money invested in it, and therefore the ramifications of the Trump administration’s economic policy are of massive interest there. Around 275 US companies are employing 48,000 people operating in the region – a significant chunk of the economy. Welsh exports to the USA are around £2.7bn while imports from the US to Wales are valued at £0.6bn.

Theresa May’s diplomatic message to the President Elect was that Britain and the USA have had an enduring and special relationship based on the values of freedom, democracy and enterprise in the past. The USA has been a close ally of the UK, with British foreign policy being closely coordinated with the US.  This special alliance has been strengthened by close cooperation through the World Wars, the Korean conflict, the Persian Gulf War, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in Afghanistan, and through trade agreements such as NATO. The two countries are in constant contact on foreign policy issues and global problems.

After Trump’s election result was confirmed, the UK government has made it clear that it is open to beginning a new trade relationship with the US. Keeping an eye on the business ball but adopting an optimistic outlook, wouldn’t it be excellent if trade relations with the US were favourably negotiated for Britain – offering new and favourable markets as an alternative, or an addition, to existing European markets after Brexit kicks in?

As long as businesses are prepared for the inevitable ups and downs ahead by having various risk mitigation plans, including buffers and insurance strategies for padding, there is a great chance that the effects of these upheavals can be minimised – even optimised.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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Onwards and Upwards: StrongJones renames itself Akoni

There are many advantages to being involved in the very first stages of a startup: the buzz of pitching to potential investors; the pressure to innovate and invent new and improved product on a regular basis; the kick of meeting new recruits to the Dream pretty much every time you see each other. You form a formidable posse knowing that each of you has a common belief in the vision of your startup’s success.

Ours is a startup company in the earliest phase of development. The idea behind the business is feasible – we’ve proved that with our model works well: we’ve identified our target market, and it looks promisingly large enough to sustain a business – in fact the more research we do, the better it looks. No doubt changes will be made and pretty much every aspect of the company will be revised and reviewed many times until perfected, but the point is, the ball is in motion, and it’s direction is being determined by our little team. 

As part of the development process, we’ve been trying out names for our startup. We’ve all been looking at the market reactions to the original name, StrongJones, and we’ve been engaging in much “new name” banter. This has lead to much team hilarity, as you can imagine – but it has also lead to much thought about our brand essence, and where we are heading.

As a consequence, it has been unanimously decided that StrongJones no longer suits us, we have moved on. Our target market is More in so many ways. We need a name that is more inclusive – more accessible and more current, after all our target market is professional, money-savvy, forward thinking and innovative.

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OLD LOGO AND NAME: StrongJones is being replaced with the more up-to-date name, “Akoni”

 Out with the old, and in with the new

We have decided on “Akoni” as our new business name (in case you were wondering, Akoni is pronounced: [ 3 syll. a-ko-ni, ak-oni ] ahKOW-Niy- †). Akoni is often used in the Hawaii as a name derived from the longer version Akonani – however its language of origin is Latin, it being a variant form of the English male name Anthony. Akonani, Akoni and Anthony all mean (more or less) the same thing: “inestimable or priceless”.

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NEW LOGO AND NEW NAME: Akoni means “Invaluable”

Akoni has been born out of a real need to help SME owners to find a better way to maximise the cash savings they have worked so hard to accumulate. The driven and experienced team is headed up by Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, no stranger to the finance world. Felicia, chief tech genius, Panos Stavvos, and experienced banking industry advisor, Yann Gindre, met whilst studying at London Business School, and have managed to set up an experienced and skilled team, bringing in Duncan Goldie-Morrison as the chairman. One could hardly wish for a better grouping of capable business brains whose combined extensive experience covers global and UK banking, insurance, financial accounting and systems and technology, data analysis and especially SME businesses.

So – watch out for the next steps in our Akoni evolution. This is a startup now – but just you wait. Akoni will make an enormous difference to SME businesses across the UK – and further afield – in the near future. In the meantime, the team behind the new name will keep those innovative ideas coming, because they’re passionate about making Akoni a success.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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Big Data, Small Data and SMEs

Data is vital to strategy and insight in the business world today, and in the future. But what exactly are Big Data and small data, and how are they useful to small business?

What is Big Data?

Big Data refers to massive sets of “raw” data (numbers, letters, symbols) that are too large or complex to store in traditional processing applications. What makes Big Data a massive challenge is how to organise, interpret and utilise this deluge of “chaotic” information most effectively – without this it is of little value.

The term, “Big Data”, was actually coined the 1990’s, and is different to other data because it has certain features – known as the three Vs:

  • Volume on an unprecedented scale, and this is increasing continuously. The global technological per-capita capacity to keep information doubles every 40 months. Since 2012, 2.5 Exabyte of data is generated every day;
  • Velocity – the speed in which it comes in;
  • Variety – the range of sources it comes from. Data is gathered from a myriad of sources: mobile devices, cameras, software, microphones, wireless networks, remote sensing, radio-frequency identification readers – and the cheaper and more accessible these become, the more data there is.

Big data is associated with large companies, however, in many cases it could equally benefit SME’s, simply due to the agile nature of these types of businesses. Even the most potent insights are valueless if your business cannot act on them in a timely fashion. Smaller businesses have this advantage, being suited to act on data-derived insights with speed and efficiency.

In the online gaming industry, for example, SME’s are already running Big Data technology within their enterprise without even thinking about it as such. Bookmaker WinUnited has put in place a MongoDB open source non-relational database from 10gen to bring its gambling products together and help it to better update betting odds in real time. This allows them to service customers and update their information as it happens – essential qualities that define this industry.

By running Big Data through a hosted service such as MetaMarkets, the small business can benefit from immediate insight – which needs to be acted upon, and used timeously to be of value. If SMEs collaborate with a channel partner, such as Splunk, they can take advantage of some of the most effective methods to gain necessary data insight, while gaining a deep level of industry expertise. This ensures the business maximises revenues, is able to strategize and develop new products as the market feedback reflects consumer needs. It all depends on how much the SME has to spend and why what the purpose of the data is for.

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Data is useless if one is not able to interpret it, and use it effectively.

Small Data is the new Big Thing for SME’s

Small data is data that one can comprehend easily. In a way, it’s the old “data” – much more accessible, understandable and actionable for everyday tasks than Big Data. Small data is essentially what will shape our future, because where Big Data is all about predicting the future by sifting through millions of data points, small data is really all about the causation of the data, the reason behind the actions – why things happen.

Customer behaviour insight

Small Data is invaluable in SME Marketing, Client Relations and Customer Retention fields, because it clearly and quickly shows trends in product preferences which can help decipher consumer thought processes. This information is used by these departments to predict what products will be popular, how to drive sales in their target market, and gain customer loyalty by delivering to the needs of the consumer, in the right place at the right time, in the right packaging. Small data can also help to indicate where the company should be developing new product and drive their branding strategy, and therefore increase profits while lowering risk.

Even small data sets from CRM platforms, social media or email marketing programmes can also provide much-needed insight to help businesses understand customer behaviour patterns and showcase trends. Google Analytics offers free data analysis. Hootsuite, Sprout Social’s Sprout Insights, Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Moz Analytics are a few tools to consider which offer great insight into social media behaviour – all aids in helping to understand the client, hone the product delivery and gain insight into product suitability.

Learn about your SME, and gain foresight

Many companies simply want to do better analysis with the data they already have. If one’s company has been operating for a year or more, there is a likelihood that a ton of big data exists in the company records. Information from sales ledgers in various forms such as Excel or QuickBooks provide data sets and interpretable statistics to cross-reference with other information in the company provided by the Marketing and CRM departments, for example. By learning about the way in which your company behaves, one can start to predict trends and prevent potentially damaging scenarios from occurring.

Use data to gain a competitive edge

Barclays provides a free service to SMEs, whereby the business can review their market positioning – which includes a downloadable report based on your postcode, constituency or the region the company operates in. The report includes a breakdown of consumer spending in your region; income and age bands of spending growth; turnover of businesses, analysis of the largest sectors, and commentary on the broader economic situation and impacts on small business. This can be extremely useful in terms of marketing and product development, for example.

Xero, the SME cloud-based accounting platform provider, recently launched Xero Signals, giving small business access to an unprecedented level of data, launching initially for New Zealand, with more countries due to follow. It claims to represent a true signal of the state of the country’s small business economy, based on aggregated data from almost 10,000 businesses. This is incredible industry knowledge if your sector is involved in finance, for example, where cutting edge tools are essential.

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Trend spotting. Data is essential to gain insight, gain foresight and maximise profits in business of any size these days.

In the very beginning, most young SME’s probably just need a good quality CRM system, (Hubspot, Salesforce) or ERP (such as Oracle or Sage) if it’s bigger or more complex, and a proper customer contact strategy. Don’t be fooled into spending vast amounts on over-specced software and data-systems providing which are unnecessarily complicated for one’s small company. Upscale as you grow – your needs will change – but it is essential to take advantage of small data to drive strategy and profit in today’s business world.

A word of advice: An SME needs to understand clearly what it’s objectives are (i.e. to understand competitors / geographies or customers or increase prospect pipeline or sales etc) before launching into data analytics, because otherwise the process can become incredibly confusing and complicated – and fascinating – and one can waste valuable time searching and gaining very little.

At the end of the day, the aim of data is to enable companies to make clearer business decisions and plan for the future – and this is definitely possible using both Big Data and small data for SMEs. It all depends on what the purpose of using the data is, and whether you have a budget. Both are incredibly valuable and essential tools to have in business today. Always remember though: it’s not what knowledge and information one has, it’s what you do with it that counts.

What are your experiences using new FinTech products? We would love to hear from you, please post your comments or or get in touch via our website: Akoni

About Felicia Meyerowitz: I am passionate about technology and innovations in financial services adding value to Small and Mid-size business in a practical way. I work as a co-founder at Akoni, aiming to bring innovation to the key asset within all enterprises – cash. Follow me on @Feliciatedx.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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6 Reasons Why Professionals Want to Work at SMEs

Statistics show that the SME sector continues to grow: 58.3% of small companies plan to take on staff over the next six months, up from 56.7% last year and just 48.9% the year before. There is no doubt that the future of business rests on the bedrock of upcoming SME’s. Small companies are vital to the economy’s growth – and even more so now after Brexit. It is not surprising, therefore, that the perks of working for a small business are being noticed by the best of the jobseekers.

When Linkedin conducted its latest Job Job Satisfaction Survey, it found that 87% of professionals that took part were keen to work for a startup or small business (employing 10 or less than 10 employees), rather than at larger companies. The survey questioned more than 10,000 professionals and over 3,500 employers worldwide. 

There were some surprises amongst the statistics: the survey found that 45% employees of small businesses were Very Satisfied or Fulfilled at work; that SME’s had some of the most loyal employees possible – 3 out of ten 10 wanted to stay where they were for the rest of their lives. Just over one in three small business employees were willing to take a wage cut to work at a startup or small business, and 77% say they would recommend their small business to their friends and family as an employer.

It was found that being able to align one’s values with one’s employers values was crucial to job satisfaction. Salary and promotional opportunities are key motivators for professionals today. Another major factor was work/ life balance (see our previous blog on this) which topped the list – even before salary – for people over 40.

So – why is it so desirable to work for a startup or small business?

1. Small business are perceived as being more flexible – “more human” – when it comes to making demands on their employees. If one is part of a small team, each member matters more – to get employees performing at their best, it is important that they are supported in their work. Working from home, flexible hours, bringing kids or dogs to work – there is often a way of making challenges into advantages for the business and the employee, with a bit of creative thinking.

2. Get ahead – much faster. Because each person in a small company is relied upon from the get go,  taking on further responsibility as the company expands, and therefore your rise through the ranks is quicker. Your talents are also more noticeable because there aren’t another hundred of you doing the same job.

3. Hard, but satisfying work: It goes without saying that you are expected to produce the goods – and often for less – but there are such great rewards. To be involved at the start of a small business is always a good thing – you will ride the wave of success, and be a part of the financial wealth when that comes.

4. Culture fix: Most small businesses are very picky when it comes to new employees – and for good reason. Apart from having to have the appropriate skill set, the candidate also needs to fit into the company culture. Creativity and genius flows in a safe place to innovate and conceptualize – and everyone’s different personalities need to gel, for maximum results. Each company has it’s own quirks and fitting in comfortably with these are essential.

5. Broaden your skill set: In small companies there is more likelihood of learning new skills and possibly even working across different departments. Sometimes everyone needs to “muck in” to finish a presentation for a deadline or cover for someone who is off on leave. You’ll see how the business operates as a whole, and develop transferable skills.

6. You can make a big difference: In an a small business it is hands-on. The chance to grow and to be there as the company develops, is exciting. Many people feel satisfied in their jobs at SME’s because they’re able to see real, tangible results of their work.

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Small business may be the most attractive employment option to professionals, yet it struggles to reach the right talent. Social media and an online presence can help boost your profile in the right places in order to overcome this challenge. Image: Pexels.com

Interestingly, SME owners who took part in the same survey said that they found it difficult to attract the talent they need, because of competition from larger organisations in the job market. They battled to become noticed.

Many SME’s don’t have a specific brand – they often grow fast and are so busy managing this, that their very persona is never honed. This is an essential step in the growth of a successful small business – if you don’t know who you are – what your authentic core values are – how are customers or top drawer job-seeking professionals going to find you? Providing happy employees the brand marketing tools to sing your praises over social media, small businesses can really make an impact in all the right areas.

Times are changing – a grand job title is not much of a motivator any more. Compensation, work-life balance and opportunities for advancement rank as the three major motivators amongst job-hunters. They want to be contributors who can make a positive impact on a business, hopefully learning new skills in the process. That is why SME’s are attracting the talent they deserve, and shall continue to do so.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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#timetorebalance: Your Work/ Life Depends on It

As a small business owner, you are most likely a Jack of All Trades and a Master of Most. Managing your business often implies that you multitask and cope with production crises, cashflow nightmares and so much stress that you never sleep properly. Well – this is National Work Life Week, and having been a small business owner myself, I understand why it is necessary to create a national campaign around Work/Life Balance – because SME owners are far too busy and stressed to notice it otherwise!

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Here are some tried and true tips I have practiced – hopefully you’ll find them useful too. Listen Up – it’s time to take stock, #timetorebalance:

Remember why you started your company in the first place. You spend a large percentage of your life working – you go through stress and sacrificing many things for your SME to succeed. You need to remember the passion that lead you to getting it off the ground. Keep coming back to that. That is what will get you up in the morning.

Learn to delegate. You won’t believe how liberated you’ll feel when you hand that work that you hate doing and aren’t very good at anyway to someone who specializes in it! Now you can concentrate on what you are best at, and this will be much more rewarding and enjoyable. By delegating, you will lower your stress levels. Use tools and apps to cut down on one’s workload and money spent on travel and outsourcing significantly. Here is a range of some that may be useful:

  • Cash management and accounting tools such as Xero, Freshbooks, Quickbooks, Sage are the most widely used, and all are excellent products, well worth investing in. (Have a look at our Akoni blog on Cashflow Tips for SMEs for some more on this subject).
  • Try Skype, Google Hangouts, ClickMeeting for online meeting and webinars. These can be used to conduct webinars, teleconferencing, online meetings and presentations. No more travelling out of town or even across town – saving you money and time.
  • Asana is a task and project management productivity tool for team collaboration and communication that eliminates the use of email. Free for up to 4 users. With Asana, you can set up projects, and tasks within projects. Add staff or clients to tasks and projects to keep everyone up to date.
  • Apps like Producteev and Harvest let you see how you’re spending your time, what’s on target and what requires follow-up.
  • Pocket – this allows you to store videos, articles or anything else you find of interest. It’s all in one place and ready to look at when you have time.
  • Evernote – one of the most popular apps for managing a to-do list and keeping notes. It even has an app to make it faster to read blog posts and articles by showing them in a simple format.
  • WorkflowMax: An end-to-end time tracking and invoicing solution, seamless integration with Xero Accounting software.
  • Hootsuite for social media management
  • For some more interesting tools, have a look at useful tools for SMEs

Learn to set boundaries. If you are open about realistic timings at the beginning of each project, explaining why you need that time to do a good job, your clients are far more likely to understand – because they need the best quality product you can deliver.Turning down work is hard, but is it worth taking on if you and the client are going to be dissatisfied with the result? Your reputation may suffer, which affects future work and client relationships.

Write things down. In this age of electronics it sounds archaic, but often the simple task of writing down ideas and thoughts or tasks that you think of suddenly will reduce your stress levels. Write a  TO DO list before lights out. It clears your head, and facilitates sleep, knowing that you will have your list when you wake up. Same goes for those 2am thoughts – write it down and there is a good chance you’ll get to sleep again.

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Activate your brain and body. Your body can’t take stress for extended periods without it having often serious health consequences. Find something that you enjoy doing. The brain and body benefit far more if you practice an activity you prefer instead of dreading your training sessions. Yoga, running, lifting weights, walking – just get out and do something fun. Your brain needs blood flow to function at it’s best, and different environments are stimulating.

Family is important.  As a small business owner, speak to your employees about what they would suggest in terms of flexible hours and/or the option to work from home. Being flexible in one’s approach will have benefits all round: happier employees, better quality work, you’ll attract quality talent when recruiting and your clients will ultimately benefit from dealing with a motivated company. Have a look here for some more tips as an employer.

Remind yourself what success is. Ian Sanders, author of Juggle: Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life and Mash Up says,I recommend creating a personal dashboard where you set out the things you want in life and the reasons why you are doing them. You should write down all the things that are important to you, whether it is making money, creative stimulation, spending time with your kids or playing tennis. These are your definition of happiness and success. Then you can monitor this regularly to see how you are doing.” 

In this frenetically-paced age, it is important to keep your eye on what Really matters – your health, your happiness, your family and your goals in life. Enjoy what you do, otherwise change it. A frazzled, crabby and stressed business owner is not going to be any good to anyone. You owe it to your family, your staff and clients to be the Best Version of You possible. And that means gaining perspective by getting away from work every now and then – really make an effort to unplug from all those digital devices, look up at the sky and B-R-E-A-T-H-E deeply. Your life depends on it.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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