Archives for Business Costs

My First CreditFocus Experience

In these times of austerity, cut-backs and rising costs the amount of disposable income is less for many people.

The slow economy is putting a strain on businesses as well as consumers and the paying of bills is prioritised by what is essential and who is making the most noise.

This is the same for everybody and essentials such as the mortgage, food and electricity are clearly top priorities for homeowners and I found a helpful guide of ‘Priority Bills’ here: http://moneyaware.co.uk/2012/08/which-bills-should-i-pay-first/#more-3788 with a link to an ‘infographic’ (a picture with information) detailing the consequences of not paying these priority bills.

Losing your house is quite a big incentive and when faced with this as a consequence people tend to get motivated and do whatever they can to meet the payments.

Some people also bury their heads in the sand and hope the problem sorts itself out but my recent experience focuses on the former, more motivated kind of person (well, eventually!).

A company owner/director of a one man band working in the building industry had a bit of trouble getting motivated to pay his bills.

This went on for a while and a small, friendly business kept doing little bits of work for the company director without receiving monies owed.

Naturally this couldn’t go on forever but the service provided by the small business was not unique so the reluctant payer could easily up sticks and go elsewhere and although the small business could quite easily stop doing any further work there was no incentive for the bills to be settled.

One had to be created!

Now there’s often no need to ‘send the boys round’ at the first sign of trouble. It could be considered overkill when there’s a far more sensible approach.

CreditFocus!

As a point to note I am not familiar with any other systems or similar solutions so I don’t know if there is better or worse available.

CreditFocus was introduced to me through Barclays with whom I bank but don’t own shares in.

It is an online system that costs £10 per month (+VAT – which I found out after the first payment was taken!).

In my opinion it’s still worth it!

What you do is….. Once registered, sign in and create a record of clients. You can add them all or just the ones who are already a bit behind.

Then add the details of each outstanding invoice.

Then (and here comes the science) click a few buttons and hey presto, a letter is sent out to your client from a solicitor politely suggesting they pay their bills or face potential legal action.

7 days later that same solicitor gets in touch (by email) to ask if you’ve managed to recover the debt or if you’d like them to pursue it further (for a fee).

At no point do ‘the boys’ get called into action!

I found the first stage was a sufficient incentive for my reluctant payer.

A nice letter….

So far I’ve only had to use it once but since registering for the service I have recovered 36x the cost of the service!

All in all a very easy system to use and effective.

To be honest I actually send statements out to clients now with just a footnote mentioning that unpaid debts may be referred to a debt collection service and that has also worked on occasion!

Sometimes people just need a gentle shove in the direction of their wallets!

Falling into a ready made company

Every now and again bloggers can be found using the internet for their own personal gain. And why not. The internet is massive, the marketing potential is huge and the target audience is sometimes ready made and although the internet is really about information there is no doubt it’s also a great money spinner.

Therefore, having recently inherited a small business that requires a little TLC I thought I’d try to boost its online presence slightly by writing a little article with a touch of search engine marketing thrown in:

Since 1978 my Uncle had a small bookkeeping practice. For many years he serviced many regular and happy customers who were mostly self employed people. A botched operation sadly left him unable to concentrate properly which is very counterproductive when you need a head for figures.

My father took over the business and by taking on better premises and making a bit of a noise he was able to build up the business to provide small business and self employed bookkeeping and accounting services to a good number of clients in the Southampton area.

Several years on and a bit of bad luck with the office premises meant the business had to move from a main road shop front location to a small back room in another building. In addition my father’s business interests had strayed somewhat from the bookkeeping and we all know what happens in small business if you take your eye off the ball!

So when the old stick suddenly shuffled off last year I found myself in a bit of a predicament.

What to do with the business.

It was approaching Xmas and the two very loyal members of staff needed paying and client accounts still needed to be completed. The choice was obvious really!

Having been working in the shrivelling mortgage industry for the last 2 years this was clearly an opportunity to rejuvenate an established business that was once quite profitable and at the same time safeguard the jobs of the staff and the needs of existing clients.

Just over 6 months on and the business is once more on a main road with a shop front and a new sign, the staff are in a much bigger room with bigger desks, flat screen monitors (finally!)and a dedicated store room for files (instead of piles in corners!). 

The premises we now let come with a flat above and subletting the flat virtually covers the total rent keeping our overheads much lower. A saving we can pass onto our customers.

I am now embarking on bookkeeping and accountancy courses so that I can continue to grow and expand the business and put more letters after my name.

As well being small business and self employed bookkeepers and accountants in Southampton clients also now have access to a wide range of personal finance services from mortgages to pensions plus web building, marketing and IT.

BT Call Plan Offers with 0845 Numbers

The heading of this post may lead you to think it will be about the various offers and deals available from BT.

But it’s not. It’s about one particular offer seemingly available on BT’s own online Terms and Conditions but peculiarly unobtainable.

BT have a great call plan offer, don’t get me wrong I think it’s great for people who may do some work form home and need to call 0845 numbers now and again.

Sky have ‘Sky Talk’ which you can pay £5 per month for and pay nothing for the first hour for calls to 01, 02 & 03 numbers. If you want to talk for more than an hour you simply hang up and start again.

BT have recently launched ‘BT Unlimited Anytime Plan’ which is a similar offer but also includes 0845 numbers and their introductory offer is £4.95 per month if you subscribe for 12 months.

I can easily add £10 – £15 to my monthly phone bill if I work form home so this is a great offer.

But.

Please allow me to draw your attention one particular cherry of a deal that appears to offer an extra £1 discount on line rental and is clear to see on the BT terms and Conditions (at time of writing this post anyway!) but for some reason, nobody in BT seems to know about it!

These T’s & C’s can be found via a link at the bottom of the BT Calling Plans page. I’ve found a direct link to the page but who knows how long it will work for

http://www.productsandservices.bt.com/consumerProducts/dynamicmodules/pagecontentfooter/pageContentFooterPopup.jsp?pagecontentfooter_popupid=24641

If you open this in a new window and do the following:

Click on ‘Unlimited Anytime Plan offers/deals’

You should see a read bold heading that says ‘Unlimited Anytime Plan’

Under this there are 5 bold black sub-headings each describing different variations of the Unlimited Anytime Plan.

Scroll down to the third sub heading which reads:

“Unlimited Anytime Plan for £4.95 per month and Line Rental with £1 off – 12 month Renewable Special Offer

This special offer is available to eligible new and existing residential customers agreeing to a 12 month renewable contract on the Unlimited Anytime Plan between 16th March 2009 and 15th August 2009 (inclusive).

You will pay £4.95 per month (£1 discount compared to the same plan without a renewable contract, discount via bill credit), plus line rental at £10.25 per month (£1 discount compared to standard line rental), if paying by Direct Debit or monthly payment plan and the customer elects for paper-free billing. Otherwise add £1.50 per month for payment processing fee levied by BT Payment Services Limited, a BT Group company, plus £1.25 without paper-free billing discount. Exclusions and conditions apply. Discount is via bill credit.”

Interpret this how you will but to me it seems to suggest the call plan will cost £4.95 and you’ll also get £1 off your line rental.

But can anyone in BT actually sell you this offer? Is it available via their website? No!

I tried and I tried. I spoke to 5 or 6 people (I forget) and each person I had to direct to their own T’s & C’s to show them the offer.

I was told I’d have to go through and complete the order and select the option online.

I did this and ended up with the wrong deal. There was no option!

I called them and after several more explanations and re-reading of the terms a nice woman actually told me she’d found the offer and changed my incorrect online purchase to suit. I was delighted.

Then I received a letter about my purchase showing the wrong offer without the extra £1 discount.

Another call and even more discussions and this time I was met with flat denial about the offers existence! Even though it was in black and white on their T’s and C’s.

I know it’s only £12 for the year but it’s the principle!

After an interesting conversation it was agreed that my account would be credited £12 so that I received the same benefit as the offer I wanted.

Something of a hollow victory because I was still met with denial of the offers existence despite being given £12!

I then logged onto my BT account and discovered there were 2 calling plans showing on my account and Friends and Family which I hadn’t ordered!

Another phone call to BT.

Apparently the online system doesn’t reflect their actual billing system!

How is anyone supposed to resolve a dispute if you’re both looking at completely different sets of information?

It turned out that I did have a variation of the original offer set up with the correct monthly discount but worked out slightly differently. (Someone had to perform a manual override to give me the discount because the offer wasn’t on their system!)

I have also been credited £12 and learned not to trust my online customer account!

I might give the £12 back once I’m satisfied I’m being billed the correct amount….

So, anyone who works from home and can be bothered to go through this rigmorale could save themselves an additional £12 per year.

Or if you just want to play with BT for half an hour why not try to find out more from them!

 

Cheap Document Wallets

Where do you buy your office supplies?

There are dozens of places to go and a dozens of products to compare and like anything, time is always a factor.

I recently needed to top up my supply of document wallets and because they’re only going to be used for storing files and not for display they can be as cheap as possible.

But where is the best place to buy cheap document wallets? Who sells the cheapest office supplies?

Although time is not something I have an abundance of I thought it might be useful to suggest a few options based on my experience of shopping around for cheap document wallets.

Because time is short, the internet is my first port of call when seeking the cheapest office supplies and Google is always a good place to start.

I searched and then researched and a few names were more prominent but others like Staples and Rymans didn’t come up in my search so I looked at them separately.

I didn’t want to bother looking at the price of single wallets because I need a few and I don’t really need boxes and boxes of them but…

For 50 document wallets the cheapest I found were: (prices include VAT)

In 4th place at £17.45 (5x pack of 10) – Rymans (+ £5.17 postage)

In 3rd place at £12.86 (pack of 50) – Euroffice (+ £4.54 postage)

In 2nd place and the leader for packs of 50 at £8.60 is… Staples! (+ £4.54 postage)

But for bulk orders you can buy 800 wallets, that’s 16 packs of 50 at an equivalent price of just £3.94 per 50 giving a total of £63.11 (with no postage)..

The winner is… ebay!

Tax Refund Information Notice from HMRC

I’ve just received a supposed notification from HMRC that I am eligible for a £225 refund.

The HMRC logo is at the top, there is a picture of a stack of pound coins down the side and there is a link at the bottom of the email which I am required to click to process a ‘Tax Refund Request’.

The problem is the email address to which this notification came is not one I would have given to HM Revenue & Customs because it’s not one I use very much.

Secondly, the link at the bottom does not point to any of the official government websites I know of. HMRC can be found here: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/

Thirdly, I know what my tax situation is and I know I’m not due a refund!

Needless to say, I’m  not going to click on it because the email itself is spam and the link could go anywhere.

Has anyone else had a similar email? Has anyone clicked the link?

If you think you should be or are due a tax refund but you are not sure how to go about claiming it back then you can sent a request for assistance to admin@countyaccounting.co.uk .

It is estimated there are millions of pounds in unclaimed refunds available to self employed individuals and it’s a very cheap and simple procedure to find out if you are eligible.

Staggering BT Incentives for Switching to Direct Debit

From the 1st of July, BT introduced a discount for customers paying by direct debit or Monthly Payment Plan.

This discount will run for 18 months from the 1st of July to December 2008.

Exclusions include BT Mobile, BT Business Total Broadband and OneBillPlus customers.

But how much is it? What’s the discount?

It is, an amazing, £0.50 a month.

50p

OK, so over 18 months it does stack up to quite a hefty £9….

So that’s the carrot but… NOT paying by direct debit will now be subject to a fee!!

Of £1.50 per month!!

Their recent circular explaining all this used plain English that did everything it could to make this sound like a positive step. Even to the point of justifying the move by saying, ‘Many telecom companies already do this, and in some cases their fee is higher’.

I bet in some cases the fee is also lower….

Having always used BT by default, I have never heard of a fee being charged for choosing not to pay by direct debit. Is this the case?

The letter even says that paying by direct debit can ‘save’ your business £24/year or more!

The way I read it was, if I don’t pay by direct debit, it will now ‘cost’ my business an additional £24 or more.

Although there is a silver lining.

In association with the Woodland Trust, BT will plant a tree on behalf of each of the first 10,000 customers changing to Direct Debit.

That’s got to be worthy of consideration…..

Dell, You’re Having a Laugh!

I started experiencing a few problems with my trusty laptop lately and thought I better look into a back-up or replacement.

In the DELL catalogue I found an amazing deal. A Dimension C521. Not the latest or highest spec machine around but:

Dual core processor 3600+

1GB RAM

250GB Hard Drive

DVD RW

13-in-1 card reader

Genuine Windows Vista

1yr collect and return.

And….

A 19″ flat panel monitor.

All for just £199 (plus VAT and delivery).

The catalogue also offered a further reduction to just £179 if ordered before 11/07/2007.

Unfortunately I missed out on the £179 deal by a few days but called DELL anyway to place an order.

The first thing I asked however, was if there were any other offers or deals similar to the £179 offer. I was told that unfortunately there were not.

So I went through the process of declining all their kind offers of options and extras and the final price came to £293.82.

The DELL process then requires me to confirm the spec by responding to a confirmation email they send out.

When the email finally arrived (I had to prompt them again) I did not respond straight away. Instead I told a friend about the offer who promptly visited the DELL website and actually found the same system, still on offer online for £179!!

Naturally I called DELL and said I’d like to amend my quote to reflect the offer available online. The operator went through a few checks to make sure the spec was the same and it was in fact the same system then confirmed he would make the changes and send me a new quote.

Just 10 minutes ago, he called me to say that after checking, the system wouldn’t allow my original quote to be amended so they wouldn’t be able to change it for the cheaper offer. I felt a warmth of righteous anger envelop me and keeping completely calm just said, ‘OK, then cancel the order completely and I’ll call you back in a few days to get a new quote for the cheaper price’.

All the operator (Michael) said was, ‘fair enough’ because there was little more he could say!

The current £179 offer runs until 25/07/07 so I think I’ll give them a call on Monday….!

Page 1 of the Yellow Pages Loan Section, For FREE!

Thanks to the way my local yellow pages organises the adverts on the first page of the loans section they have space to feature the first few standard text listings and I made the No.1 spot!

If you look at the loan section of any yellow pages you will see ALL of the boxed or larger adverts contain a string of ‘A’s.

If you see a Firstplus advert covering half the page, right at the bottom of the ad, sure enough you will see ‘AAAAAA FIRSTPLUS FINANCE’.

I was told in the past by Yellow Pages how this makes the order in which the ads appear fair and without favouritism but I can’t remember how it works!

Nonetheless there are companies advertising on the first page with big colourful adverts which must have cost thousands.

Ocean Finance has even got a full two sided thick glossy page full of their information. For some reason though this page appears between the ‘Golf Clubs’ and ‘Government Offices’ sections!

But there I am, number 1, the first text listing on the loans page. Which also explains the calls I’ve had in the last couple of days!

 

Paid! Finally!

I haven’t written about this until now because I ran the risk of venting on page but I have finally received a long overdue commission cheque.

Naturally the first thing I did was jump on my bike and cycle to the bank! (It’s just up the road..)

The cheque comes from one of the price comparison sites that advertises on TV. The one that advertises it’s comparison service with a ‘surprise’ gospel choir…

Apparently they’ve have not only been replacing their computer systems but they have also only recently replaced their long-term Accounts Payable temp with a permanent member of staff. Both of which combined has resulted in affiliate payments being extremely late.

Adding to my frustration is the bizarre fact that I cannot send emails to them. I have until recently had to fax invoices and leave voicemails here and there.

What I have learned from doing this is that people do not tend to respond to voicemail as effectively as they do to email!

I have since signed up for a web based email service and now I can send to them again because, despite voicing my annoyance at the fact that I couldn’t, no one saw fit to try and effectively tackle the problem internally even though it is the only company I have ever encountered this problem with.

Ah, well… If you want a job done right…!

Saving Over £10,000 on Online Marketing

I was approached by a company last year regarding advertising on their online business directory. I’m not going to name the company concerned as it would be quite embarrassing for them and wouldn’t help me much either.

Let me explain why: The offer was a 2 month free trial campaign whereby they were to replace existing Yahoo Search Marketing results that they were displaying in their directory with their own managed sponsored listings.

I was told the company had recently secured several million pounds for future development and advertising. I was also told a selection of statistics regarding various search terms relevant to my site which were all quite attractive. If the stats were accurate, the campaign could have easily paid for itself despite a monthly cost of £940 (£11,280/year).

I said yes to the trail and secured a selection of ‘keywords’ for which my site would appear at the top of the search results. 2 months later after not a great deal of communication there had been what I can only describe as well, 2 clicks. According to my website stats I had had no more than 2 clicks from their site in a 2 month period for search terms that were supposedly used in their thousands each month.

Needless to say I decided not to continue the campaign or make any payments towards it.

Recently I discovered my results are still being displayed.

Certain ‘keywords’ used in this directory still bring up my ‘sponsored’ listing above all the other results!

Sadly, the number of click through rate hasn’t increased by any means and I can only hope the millions in funding they had apparently secured will be used to further develop and expose their directory!

I find this all quite amusing for two reasons.

  1. I’m currently getting a little bit of free exposure from the occasional search visitor.
  2. A company capable of securing millions in funding can’t keep track of their own marketing campaigns and are currently missing out on the opportunity of selling my ad space to someone else!