How changes to VAT may affect your organisation

Rachel Eden profile April 2017Our founding Director Rachel Eden, looks at some possible changes to the VAT system that may affect smaller organisations.

The Office of Tax Simplification last week published it’s first report on VAT.

They have timed this to fit in with the planning for the Autumn budget, so it is perfectly plausible that some of their recommendations may become government policy.

The biggest recommendation they have is about the VAT registration threshold.  Currently this is relatively high compared with many other countries at £85,000 (indeed  one of our smaller clients told us a few months ago he was having trouble convincing European customers he was a business because he was not VAT registered).   There was some press coverage about the idea of reducing the VAT registration threshold to around the £20,000-£30,000 turnover level although the recommendation in the report itself is more cautious.

A number of our clients are charities or small businesses, some above and some below the VAT threshold, so it’s worth considering the impact of more businesses needing to register.

  • If you are already registered for VAT this would have little overall effect on your business.  There may be some cash flow differences if you buy from businesses that are currently not VAT registered but become VAT registered and you may find that some of your competitors start to charge VAT, which will make you more competitive.
  • If you are not currently registered for VAT but would now need to register you will have to ensure your processes and record keeping are up to speed, as completing a VAT return will become a legal requirement.  If you sell primarily to VAT-registered organisations you’ll find that there is little impact on your attractiveness to customers, but if you sell to charities, very small businesses or consumers you will effectively be giving them a 20% price hike (or have to take a price cut yourself).
  • If you are a charity you may not think you are affected but your smaller suppliers, for example tradespeople and freelancers may have to start charging you VAT and if you aren’t registered then you’ll find it increases your costs.

As ever if you are a client of our finance team do let us know if you have any concerns about VAT and if we can help:

World Kindness Day – Deliberate Acts of Kindness

IMGP8686Today is World Kindness Day. At Team Holy Brook, we believe every day should be kindness day, but the official day gives us all chance to focus more closely on what we can do to brighten someone else’s day.

You may already be familiar with the Random Acts of Kindness foundation. This is an international movement of people coming together with the aim of making the world a kinder place. A place where being kind is the norm.

I love this idea.

If you listen to the news or read a news site, there tends to be a focus on the all the horrible, negative things that are happening. But I believe strongly that there is also a lot of kindness in the world today. My favourite quote comes from a poem by the American poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

“Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes”

By sharing stories and talking about all the good things that happen, we can create a virtuous circle of kindness. When we hear about others making a positive difference in the world, it inspires us to do the same. I asked around Team Holy Brook to find out what we have been up to recently:

  • I helped a teenage boy who had fallen off his bike in the street on the way to school. He was upset rather than badly hurt, but was sitting under the bike on the pavement. I lifted it off him and talked to him for a few minutes until he was calm enough to continue on his way.
  • I spent some time chatting to a young girl on Twitter who was having a hard time, she is a mental health student nurse and suffers herself. We messaged back and forth for an hour or so, with me encouraging her to have hope for the future and sharing my own experiences of being in her situation. By the end of our conversation, she said she felt better.

  • My children and I took a box of raspberries round to our Muslim neighbours as a way to say hello during one of their festivals. They shared chocolates and we had a good chat as their daughter is starting my children’s school soon – it was a lovely way to feel more connected to others on our street.

  • I saw a young woman crying outside the train station. When I asked if there was anything I could do to help, she told me she had left her wallet at home. I bought her train ticket for her so that she could get to work on time.

  • I helped a dog walker catch her dog who had slipped off his lead and thought it was a great game to keep running away.

My only objection to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is the word ‘random’. I think that what the world needs is more deliberate acts of kindness. If we go about our daily lives with an eye for opportunities to show kindness to everyone we come across – whether that’s a big thing or something smaller such as smiling at strangers in the street – we will multiply the chances we have and the difference we make.


What acts of kindness have you been involved in recently?

Pride of Reading award nomination for Sabina Reed

IMGP8745At Holy Brook Associates we’re a small and committed team.  Our goal is ot help organisations do things better and our coordinator Sabina has been key to helping do this even mroe since she joined us in January.  She’s made a massive difference both behind the scenes and working with clients, particularly with helping our virtual finance team clients with their bookkeeping and general record keeping.

I knew when I met Sabina she was someone I wanted to work with – she cares about our clients, about the Holy Brook team and she’s great to work with – a bookkeeper with a City and Guilds in photography, a mum who does metalwork for fun and a singer with a  lovely sense of fun.

That’s why I nominated for a Pride of Reading award, she’s helped Holy Brook do things better, and our clients do better things and I’m proud to work with her.  You can read the write up we got on the GetReading website here


What are you doing for small business Saturday?

Rachel Eden profile April 2017For the last few years in December there’s been a celebration of all things small business in early December.  This year it is on 2nd December.  Initially it had a feel of focus on consumer facing businesses but increasingly all kinds of business are getting involved – including social enterprises and charities that trade.

It’s a good opportunity to promote what you do and also to find out about other small businesses in your area and see if you can find suppliers, collaborators and customers.

Here are some ideas for how you might get involved:

  • Register on the website, and get your small enterprise listed
  • Share a thank you for a small business that supplies you with on social media – they are likely to reshare and of course will be grateful to you
  • Consider a special offer timed to the day, whether just for other small businesses or for anyone who quotes ‘small business Saturday’ or similar
  • Put out a story about what you’re small business is up to and why being a small business works for you.
  • Visit a small business that you’ve been meaning to buy from (Christmas shopping) and share what you’ve bought or what service you’ve used.
  • Use the small business Saturday hashtag on twitter/tag on facebook etc to increase your social reach
  • Consider getting together with other small businesses for a networking, peer training or peer event – this will make it more fun and again, increase the impact of whatever you do.

Do you have any other ideas?  I’d love to hear them.Small-Business-Saturday-UK-2017-Logo-English-Blue-Hi-Res.jpg

Lessons from scaling businesses

Rachel Eden profile April 2017Today Lyndsay, Mark and I attended a Grow-talks event on lessons from scaling food businesses.  Along with delicious samples from the speakers (and coffee from Reading’s own Tamp Culture) it was a fascinating insight into how businesses in the food industry can grow from literally using an airing cupboard as their stock room to being suppliers to major supermarkets.

The speakers, Nick Coleman, Founder & CEO, Snaffling Pig. Suzie Walker, Founder & Chief Fire Starter, The Primal Pantry,  Joe Munns, MD, BakedIn and Kyle Turner, CEO & Co-founder, Fungry were refreshingly open and willing to share.

Interestingly some themes emerged about scaling.   I made some notes that I know some of my clients and also students might find of interest:

  • Cash flow unsurprisingly  a common challenge and at different stages the companies had taken funding for working capital and expansion from sources ranging from credit cards, personal savings and business angels to loans.
  • Invoice financing while ‘expensive’ was also recommended to enable expansion something that can happen extremely quickly in the food industry – winning a client like Tesco was quoted as going from 3 pallet to 60 pallet orders.
  • There was agreement around the panel that however much finance you raise when going out to the market you probably need more.
  • There was also an interesting focus that at least two of the businesses had on trying to increase their direct to consumer sales, partially for improved margins but also to shorten their working capital cycle.
  • Similarly inventory management was something that had an impact on cash – the short life of food products (or in the case of Fungry the  nature of restaurant preparation) being a push towards what an accountant would call Just in Time inventory management but the ability to get discounts in packaging leading to buying in bulk for other areas.  Obviously something that requires a bit of modeling and thinking through.
  • Recruitment of the right people and staff was also a huge issue, and in a tweet to me afterwards Suzie suggested that this could be an ideal topic for a future event.

Aside from really hoping Fungry expand into Reading soon and looking to place an order with Bakedin my biggest take away from it was a lesson that probably applies to truly any business:

Nick was clearly passionate about his product (as were all the speakers) and his advice was that if you have created a business and products that you love your best sales person is you.   You know the business, have the passion and no-one else will be able to convey that vision to clients and potential clients in the same way.

His advice?  “Whatever is stopping you, the founder, getting out and selling – find someone else to do it and delegate.”

Wise words, I am sure this is of the reasons our virtual finance team is winning clients who are planning to grow.

The only 3 point HR plan you need?

IMGP8686Sarah Browning shares her thoughts following a twitter conversation she had with Rachel Eden, our Coordinating Director

It started with my eye being caught by a LinkedIn article  from a connection of a connection of a connection of mine (you see how social media gives you a wide reach to people beyond your own network?) about the silly company ‘rules’ that make good people leave an organisation.

This struck such a chord with me that I re-tweeted it and our  Coordinating Director, Rachel Eden, spotted it and liked it too. Her response about a 3-point HR plan inspired me to write this blog piece.

The rules that Travis Bradberry cited as reasons that people get fed up and leave included:

  • shutting down self-expression (does it really matter how many photo frames an employee or volunteer has on their desk, as long as they have enough space to get their actual job done?)
  • limiting bathroom breaks (if you’re going to limit how many times people can do that, you might as well tell them outright you would prefer to employ actual robots) and
  • requiring ridiculous amounts of proof for leaves of absence such as doctor’s appointments and bereavement (if a member of staff feels the need to invent a funeral just to get a day off, what does that say about your organisation?)

Everything Bradberry talks about comes down to a lack of trust in your people.   If you are employing people you don’t trust, then your problem is not how many times they need the loo or whether they have a throat infection that the GP needs to see.

Somewhere along the line you have lost sight of why your organisation exists in the first place, what you are trying to achieve and how to engage your people to perform to their very best in pursuit of that purpose. People who don’t feel trusted will often start to act up – a culture like this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In order to engage people with a purpose, everyone needs to have a clear view of what your organisation is there to do and of the part they play in delivering it. There are a whole range of ways in which you can involve people, perhaps by helping to define that purpose from the start or by looking at the direction the leaders have set and using their own knowledge of how things work ‘on the front line’ to put detail into the bigger picture. As Rachel said in her tweet, people with meaningful work that they are trusted to get on with will always be an asset to any organisation.

At Holy Brook, we work with our clients to support them in identifying what their organisation is there for and what that means in practice. Developing a culture of engagement that delivers higher productivity can be a tricky thing to start, but with support, tools and a willingness to trust people, there is a big difference to be made.

Incidentally we also offer social media training, so if you want to tap into that far-reaching network I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, we can help you with that too.

Family communication lessons

IMGP8686Sarah Browning shares some lessons from communicating with family
Many of us take the opportunity to spend time with our loved ones over the summer, as did I. This got me thinking – the notion of family is something that is sometimes talked about within organisations. Leaders in particular can be fond of saying “We’re all one big happy family here!” 
Sometimes I hear that said and it doesn’t quite ring true, as if someone on high has decreed that this is what should be said and everyone else has to toe the party line. Sometimes it can sound a bit scary, a bit cult-like – in these circumstances, my reaction is that I have a family, thank you, and I like to spend time with them away from my workplace. I don’t need colleagues to replace the family I already have.
But the organisations that get this right take the good bits of being part of a family and apply that to the working world. For this to work, I believe that actions and words must match and feel genuine, authentic, real.
So how do you create an organisational culture that feels like a family, without being too cheesy or insincere? Here are a few things I think you need to consider:
  • Shared purpose – at successful organisations, everyone understands the business strategy and vision and what they are there to do. Take time to help everyone in your organisation understand the bigger purpose and their own contribution to it.
  • Connections and shared history – there will always be times when individuals bicker or have different opinions, but by and large, people are people and like to feel part of something and connected to others. These connections build up stories and shared experiences, which can be shared with new people who join the group. Use opportunities to tell stories of what happens in your organisation and cement those connections in people’s heads.
  • Language and meaning – the words that people choose to use can create a shared understanding of something. Find the right words to describe the work that your organisation does and the environment you work in and apply those words to everything from team names and meeting room signs, to project reports and marketing leaflets.
  • Recognising the whole person – we all have things we’re good at, things we’re not so good at. We all have interests outside the group, whether that be our home-life, our hobbies, other friends. In a family, we put up with all sorts of ‘funny little ways’ from family members; successful organisations recognise and celebrate the whole person. Colleagues chat to each other about all the things that they are interested in, not just work topics – this makes individuals feel valued and recognised.
I’m sure there are lots of things about families that organisations wouldn’t want to recreate, but there are plenty of positives too.