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Large Firms looking to reduce their Office Space

In the news today, we are hearing that big City firms are looking to reduce their office space. So, this gets me to thinking, what effect does this have on the economy, will it have a negative impact on growth, or will it just cause a shift in where money is spent?

It is believed that a lot of firms are looking to reduce their office space permanently, while a vast amount of their staff will remain working remotely on a permanent basis. Will this cause City Centres to become “ghost towns”? If the office staff aren’t entering the city, what will happen to those small businesses providing lunch and refreshments to these people. What will happen to the “hustle and bustle”? Where will the attraction for others be? What impact will this have on public transport? It is sure to have a positive impact on our carbon footprint as less people need to travel from A to B if they are working at home. So, there’s a couple of negatives, but one massive positive for the environment.

BUT, how much money will be removed from the city areas in rent and rates? Will councils suffer and therefore reduce their own spending if they have heavily office populated areas. Will firms just shift their spending, or will they make massive cuts because of their reduced office space expenses? Huge cuts will lead to a further downturn in the economy – won’t it? If they shift their spending or alter their spending trends, will that have a positive impact on the consumer, or staff? Would staff see this cost saving past to them in increased salaries, higher or more bonuses or better pensions etc?

Who will be immediately impacted by this change in office space? I imagine that companies serving to furnish home working areas will continue to see the up-shift in demand for office furniture etc. that they have already experienced (did anyone try to buy an office desk or chair at the height of the Pandemic?!); Virtual Assistants like me will see an increase in the use of our services (remote working would appear to be becoming the norm and not just a temporary fix for Covid-19); communications providers will continue to see an increase in demand for online meeting platforms and great remote telephone systems (I’m sure people have seen the clever marketing of “HiHi” on tv and in print).

With all of that said then the City skyline looks to be changing and that is going to have an impact on all of us. In the end, I hope we will see an increase in employee satisfaction and loyalty to firms, which in turn will feed through the businesses and ultimately right down to the consumer. A good thing in the end, but at the expense of the City skyline that we know and enjoy now and I think it will take quite some time for everything to calm down and for the economy to be able to breathe and grow. In the meantime we will have to sit back and watch this space and support those we can, who are having to make these massive corporate business ans smaller business decisions.

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A Bookkeeper or Accountant?

I get asked this question regularly. Should I employ a bookkeeper or an accountant? There isn’t, however, one simple answer (isn’t that always the way?!).
I am a bookkeeper, so I am likely to say, you don’t need an accountant, I will do just fine!

The truth is that there is no legal requirement to have your accounts prepared by an accountant unless your Limited Company is large enough to require an audit. This equates to a turnover of more than £6.5m, more than 50 employees and a balance sheet turnover of more than £3.26m. So how many businesses actually fall into that category? I know most of my clients certainly don’t and most “small” business absolutely will not! BUT would you feel confident employing a bookkeeper or do you need the “safety net” of an accountant?

The Pros of hiring an accountant:
– An accountant is qualified to a high level and knows exactly how Tax and VAT works for any type of business.
– An accountant is easy to find, there are plenty of accountancy firms out there!
– An accountant is usually supported by a larger firm
– An accountant must be regulated by the FCA and ICO

The Cons of hiring an accountant:
– An accountant is expensive (usually at least twice the price of TLC Virtual Assistant and similar bookkeepers).
– An accountant doesn’t generally look at the whole business and offer ideas for cost savings and/or benefits for the business, possible growth areas etc.
– An accountant has a lot of clients like you and might not have the time to advise your business like TLC Virtual Assistant could.

The Pros of hiring a bookkeeper:
– a bookkeeper is generally regulated by ICO and Anti Money Laundering regulations (there are exceptions, so I would ensure you find one that is regulated).
– TLC Virtual Assistant could help in other areas of the business.
– a bookkeeper is half the price!
– a bookkeeper can file your tax return as long as they are an HMRC agent.

The Cons of hiring a bookkeeper:
– a bookkeeper might not have the answer to every question at their finger tips, but have the resources to find out.
– a bookkeeper doesn’t have to hold any qualification, a lot of bookkeepers are qualified by experience.

Small businesses would probably benefit from using a bookkeeper – it’s cost effective and bookkeeping for small businesses is generally relatively straight forward. It takes the pressure away from you as the business owner without the large price tag!

So with the above said who would you/do you hire? An accountant or a bookkeeper? I’d be interested to hear people’s views and for this blog to generate discussion……….
………….and GO!!

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Social Media Marketing

Everyone seems to be an expert on Social Media (SM) platforms, don’t they? One person says that you can optimise your audience with simple in app adverts (with the correct wording of course!); another says you must post at least daily; more experts say you really must be going “Live”; your friends say that videos worked for them and don’t get me started on Google Ads! Who’s right?

I truly believe that no one is RIGHT! When first starting out, it is entirely possible to complete SM marketing yourself by posting regularly to Instagram (IG), Facebook (FB), LinkedIn (LI) and any other platforms you feel comfortable with. Make your content interesting and it is good practice to have a colour theme (business logo colours for instance) so that your posts are instantly recognisable. My personal experience is that LI is the best place for me to grow interest in my Virtual Assistance business, but when it comes to products, it appears that IG is probably best (although there are always exceptions to the rules!)

What is important is that you do as much SM marketing as you can and you adapt to the trends that are occurring within your business area. I would also suggest you befriend like minded business owners – even those in competition with you, it’s all about collaboration on SM! This felt a bit alien to me when I first started with SM advertising, but I have made good friends, colleagues, sounding boards and generally found collaboration far more effective than I could ever have realised!

Once your business is up and running, making you a reasonable income, then it may be time to look at finding someone else to keep on top of your social media requirements. This is ONLY if you just can’t find the time to post regularly, or if you can’t find the content you require regularly. If you are happy to continue with your own SM advertising then please do – if you’re at the stage where you could afford to employ someone to do it for you, then you’ve been doing a pretty good job of it so far – haven’t you?! However, if you just don’t have the time and/or inclination then there are plenty of people out there who would be willing to help, just look on SM and you’ll find lots of good and helpful Virtual Assistants who specialise in SM marketing.

I just wanted to say there is no wrong or right answer to SM advertising – a lot of advertising is down to luck, if your ad pops up just when someone is looking for your goods or services, then bingo, you’ve probably bagged a client! I continue to do my own SM advertising and I think I shall do so for the foreseeable future. When things become too busy, that’s when I shall look to outsource. The same could be said of any administrative task a business is faced with, if you don’t have the time to get to a particular job, then now is the time to outsource – check out all the VA’s who specialise in bookkeeping, HR management, credit control, diary management etc. and free up your time to concentrate on your business development and business plan.

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Holiday to France

We have just arrived back from France – well 2 days ago at least. We were asked to fill in a Public Health Locator form, but have been lucky enough not to need to self isolate for 14 days. Should we have gone? Was it a risk worth taking? Personally, I think it was, but completely understand that some people may think otherwise.
Just look at this view, what a beautiful country France is – this was in a place called Sumene where our ancestors originate from (late 1400’s) and is one of the many places visited during our visit. We stayed at a friends house in Montpeyroux and maintained social distancing whilst out and about. So were we wrong to go? I believe my family’s mental health was truly assisted, to get away and experience the world once again and to feel the warmth of foreign climates was definitely a great thing for us. Easyjet were very careful with social distancing, everyone wore masks/face coverings (delete as appropriate!!) throughout the flight (these masks made courtesy of my mother!) and snacks could only be purchased by card. Unfortunately upon our return we had to wear surgical masks as this was a new regulation brought in by the French authorities, but mum’s masks made appearances throughout the holiday.

Only time will tell I suppose, if we were right to go – 14 days until there will be no chance of a call from Public Health England (if anyone tests positive for Covid-19, who was on out flight). I am a strong believer in wearing your face-covering and washing your hands regularly. Let my family be the “guinea-pig” if you like………maybe we can be proof that travel is OK during this pandemic, if you follow the procedures issued by the government of you own country and/or the country you visit.

Anyway, we’re back now and we’re ready to get back into full swing with TLC Virtual Assistant with a clear and refreshed mind – Vive La France!!

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Spare a thought for the deaf/hard of hearing while wearing face coverings.

My family suffers a lot from hearing difficulties. My mother has age related hearing loss at the age of 72 and wears bi-lateral hearing aids; my sister is a Head teacher and during her time training and teaching Primary School children she managed to catch almost every cold, cough or ear infection doing the rounds and now suffers from hearing loss due to scar tissue in both of her ears (she has less than 50% hearing in one ear); my other sister has what one can only assume is a hereditary problem in that she has reduced hearing in both ears, without a real known explanation; my husband is hard of hearing due to excessively narrow ear canals that get clogged up (Yuk!) very easily, thus reducing his hearing. When we are all together, it would appear it is only me (and my 9 year old son, but he’s often switched off to adult conversation anyway!) who has acute hearing. I often astound my family with the fact I can hear what is being said in another room, when they often don’t hear what is being said in the room they are in!! I am truly thankful I have such good hearing.

My point is, all of the people I mention above use lip reading to compensate for their reduced hearing. It’s actually amazing how much they lip read; how much conversation they pick up using this measure. We all lip read as part of communication, but the hard of hearing more so. It’s a technique they have built up without even realising. So, now that we all have to wear face coverings to go into shops, things become a nightmare for those with hearing problems. Please can I ask you all to pause and think about how you react to someone while shopping:-

~ If you speak to someone and they appear to ignore you – consider that they maybe didn’t hear you.

~ If you say excuse me to someone and they don’t move out of your way – don’t just huff and puff and barge your way through, consider that they might be hard of hearing.

~ If you shout at someone and they still ignore you – don’t presume they are ignorant or rude, your first thought should be are they deaf or hard of hearing?

~ If you try to communicate with someone and they don’t respond – think about where you are standing in relation to that person. If you are stood behind them, they will probably have no clue you are even there, let alone speaking to them.

One of the things many people won’t know about people who are hard of hearing is that if there is a lot of noise around them, they are unlikely to know from which direction a sound is coming. For example if my mother is in the car, and there is talking in the car, the engine sound, the sound of other vehicles, HGVs and other noises, then there is a siren on top of all of the existing noise, she will have no idea where the sound of the siren is coming from. If my sister is in a room full of people and there are various conversations going on, she is actually only able to lip read what is being said in her own conversation because the cacophony of sound is too much for her ears to be able to decipher just one person speaking – imagine how tiring for her brain that is throughout an evening! Please bear this in mind when you are shopping, now that we are expected to wear face coverings. If you want someone’s attention, please stand in front of them, gesticulate (it’s a great form of communication) and if that person still doesn’t know what you are saying, find an alternative way of communicating. Perhaps you could write something down, or use some form of sign language, it doesn’t have to be the best British Sign Language, just pointing to something or guiding the person to where you want them to look will do just fine!

Most importantly of all, please don’t treat my mum, husband or sisters or any other person with hearing difficulties as if they are thick, rude, arrogant or abrasive – they just can’t understand what you are saying behind the face covering. They are in fact perfectly well educated and it is highly unlikely that they are being deliberately rude!

One final plea, to the staff working in retail. Please be patient, come up with innovative ways of communicating with the hard of hearing, make everyone feel welcome in your shop, including the hard of hearing. Face covering requirements mean that my mother will not be going shopping for leisure (which she always loved to do) as she is so concerned about not hearing instructions or requests. If you could make someone like my mum feel more comfortable you might just get more customers into your shop, which can only be a good thing, following lock-down and all that it brought with it for the retailer.

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CREDIT CONTROL

Do you find it difficult to get payments in, for work completed? Are you uncomfortable asking for money? Debt recovery can be very time consuming and it can be difficult asking clients/customers for payment. The key is consistency and sometimes work commitments make it difficult to maintain that consistency – that’s the first stumbling block. In addition. one of the most important aspects of collecting a debt is to give reasonable deadlines to the customer/client. In doing so though, those deadlines must be adhered to by you the one chasing for payment; it’s no good giving a deadline of say Wednesday at midday and then not following up until Thursday at midday. The client/customer will not take you seriously – that’s the second stumbling block. You must remain professional, do not make empty threats. For example, if you are not going to hire a solicitor, do not suggest you will pass the matter to your solicitor if payment is not received. I would highly recommend that you engage a solicitor to pick up those clients/customers who will not pay following consistent, persistent and professional chasing. However, there is no need to hire a solicitor if you stumble at any of the stages mentioned above – that’s where TLC Virtual Assistant could step in and help.

With over 8 years experience in chasing aged debtors, I pride myself on getting results consistently and professionally. I commenced work with a client some 5 years ago who had aged debts amounting to £1.5M! By the time I had finished, their debt sat at a much more manageable £200K. I would have much preferred to leave them with no debt to pass to their solicitor though, so this to me is not a total success, but a good start!!

If you would like to discuss your options regarding outsourcing your credit control and debt recovery, then please do drop me a message – I’ll be happy to help. At present, I ensure that there is a more gentle approach in a lot of cases, due to the disruption caused by Coronavirus, but I remain firm and fair, offering payment plans etc. where appropriate. After all, we have to be looking to help each other, we are mostly in the same boat and a lot of businesses have cash flow issues caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. The provider requires payment to continue to trade and the purchaser requires ways to reach a resolution to make that payment – it works both ways!

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Business Fails

There are many ways that a business can fail, including, but not limited to:
– Little or no Business Plan
– Product Changes
– Poor Content on Social Media
– Not enough Social Media Activity
– Poor Customer Service
– Product Changes

Let me start with “Product Changes” – now, generally these can be seen as a real benefit to most businesses, product development after all is extremely important in this highly competitive world we live in. For instance advances in information technology can only really be a good thing, surely? But what about all those products which change for the worse (for the consumer). We see it everywhere: chocolate bars look so much smaller than when we were kid! While some of that can be blamed on you yourself being smaller and therefore the chocolate bar seeming bigger, I am convinced that in reality they are indeed much smaller. The other one which is really winding me up at the moment is toilet paper, soft strong and very long?! Not so long these days?


Companies are making products smaller, butter, soap, chocolate to name but a few. Sure, it makes economic sense to the companies, as they are saving a fortune by shaving small amounts off each item during production (I get that!); but I for one have changed my allegiances and now purchase alternative products to those brands that I have purchased for so long. In the end the “shaving off” can’t make good business sense can it, if it loses so many originally loyal customers? Maybe there’s niche here? Produce, for instance, a tin of chocolates the size they used to be, while still charging a profitable price for them – you’ve got to be onto a winner?! (You heard it here first!!)

OK, so let us move onto the topic that really interests me – a good Business Plan, or (dare I say it?) some sort of Business Plan. It is so important to know where you are, where you are going and where you want to go with your business.

http://www.gov.uk (2020) suggest a business plan is a written document that describes your business. It covers objectives, strategies, sales, marketing and financial forecasts. A business plan helps you to: clarify your business idea, spot potential problems, set out your goals, measure your progress. You’ll need a business plan if you want to secure investment or a loan from a bank. It can also help to convince customers, suppliers and potential employees to support you.

So if you are just starting out with your business, I would like to think you have an objective, even if it’s just in your head. Good! So get that objective down on paper (or screen) and hey presto! you have the beginnings of a Business Plan. It’s important to think about the things that are most important to you – for me its about assisting businesses in an ethical, professional and friendly manner; its about collaboration, improving opportunities and giving people choice. For instance, if you are a small business you don’t HAVE to use an Accountant to complete your books, it’s not a legal requirement, a bookkeeper is perfectly acceptable (as long as they have the correct knowledge) and part of my mission is to ensure that small businesses are aware of this fact.

When you really get going with your Business Plan it enables you to investigate properly what it is you are offering and why. What is your service or product? Who is it for? What is it about you that enhances your product or service?

Finally, a Business Plan will enable you to lay out your future plans, where you want the business to be in 5 years time. It will help you have a vision and reason and the impetus to work hard at what you do; it will help you make it work.


The moral of this blog?

If you are going to change your product in any way, explain the change to your existing customers, don’t appear to be “ripping them off”. Customers will easily lose their loyalty, if they ever had any!

Have a plan, a reason, a goal, it helps your business and it helps you mentally to have that aspiration. Others will see that and appreciate it too!

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Eight weeks until the children go back to school! (Are you counting down?)

So…. how are we all feeling about the idea of the children going back to school in September (all being well)?

I for one have been thinking about it rather a lot. Am I pleased that there is light at the end of the tunnel? Of course I am! I will be able to spend the vast majority of the day earning money, making a living and growing my business for the benefit of my family. Isn’t it weird that this year (the strangest of years), at the end of the Summer Term instead of seeing 7 weeks of holiday looming, ominously ahead of us, I choose to see the light at the end of that deep, dark tunnel, caused by Covid-19. At the beginning of September, those of us with school age children, will be able to get back to some sort of routine, become much more productive and partake in all those things we have been missing for so long, those things which were normal pre Covid-19. The most exciting thing for me will be adding to my client base with a handful of new clients who are due to come on board in the next few weeks, driving my business forward, developing it, putting strategic development at the forefront of my mind and generally throwing myself into my business.

BUT, on the other hand………I am going to miss that closeness we, as a family, have been able to experience, without the threat of work interruptions (although there have inevitably still been a few!), the family time, the precious moments – the memory building. All of this, we have had in bucket loads and I firmly believe my family is stronger and healthier for it. How am I going to feel when, once again, my son’s school (as lovely as it is) takes over influencing and nurturing my child for the vast majority of the day? Not seeing his happy face all day every day is going to be strange at first. That young person looking to me for guidance and boundaries, fun and games, walking and cycling, nourishment and health. How is it going to feel? Somehow it has been all too easy to slip into a routine of being together all of the time and soon that will be taken away.

Will the copious amount of precious time given to us due to Covid-19, make me appreciate the evenings and weekends more? I do hope so, although I fear by this time next year we will all be back into our work/school/home routines and slowly but surely Covid-19 and all that came with it, will become a memory and as such, our new found appreciation of this “2020 norm” will slowly vanish too.

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What is a Virtual Assistant (or VA for short)?

Wikipedia would describe a VA boringly as a person who is generally self-employed and provides professional administrative, technical, or creative assistance to clients remotely from a home office. 

OH HECK! I hear you all groan, B-O-R-I-N-G!

Well………I would describe a VA as a resource that so many businesses could utilise but fail to do so!  I want to sing the praises of VA’s everywhere, who do an amazing job helping businesses all over the world, by not only providing a professional administrative, technical or creative service, but saving businesses a HUGE amount of money!

The thing with a VA is they don’t cost you the usual phenomenal amount of money required to recruit someone full or part time into your business.  They are self-employed and as such don’t incur the on costs you would normally have when hiring someone (NI contributions, pension costs, holiday entitlement etc etc). You basically pay for what you use, be that 1 hour a month or 100 hours a month.  Some VA’s will require a minimum retainer, others are happy to work ad-hoc. There are many to choose from, so find the right fit for you! So………..what’s stopping you – get out there and look for a VA who is the perfect fit for your business and see just what they can bring to the table for you.  I have no doubt you will be impressed and surprised at how much a VA can offer.  TLC VA for instance offers admin support, HR support, Finance support and much more besides!