Friday, May 10, 2013

Its been a while since we posted on this blog(our bad!) but here one that was sent to us from Susan Hayes, who gived talks to CEB clients countrywide. Its about how giving back in the form of CSR can help your business.

Don’t believe that “if you give, the world gives back”? Where does that leave you?

I was delighted to have a very busy week recently with International Women’s Day. I talked to two corporate audiences, spoke at the “Women & Enterprise” Week in Derry, and sponsored an event for Roscommon Women’s Network, among others.

In each case, I always finish with a slide that shows the word give superimposed over receive. As you won’t have missed I’m sure, the latter has more letters than the former. This play on words is a visual reminder of my belief that if you give to the world, you will receive much more in return.

The other day I got a cheque in the post, the first royalties cheque for the textbook I wrote with Trudie Murray and Brian O’Connor. Now very few people ever get rich writing textbooks, that’s for sure. Still – it’s a sum that won’t go unused!

If you give, the world gives back

This cheque came as a result of my “CSR” efforts. As you may or may not know, CSR stands for “corporate social responsibility”, or, without the jargon, the way companies make efforts to impact the world in a positive way.

Very often as consumers we feel CSR is just a bit of window dressing to hide less palatable truths. The more cynical of us think it’s just about having a couple token projects on a website to encourage more customers to buy…

But how about the other side of the coin? What do we, as businesses (from the multinational to the sole trader), do for CSR? What can we do?

I like to be proactive about things, and I believe that what goes around, comes around. However, I don’t undertake CSR activities to get the nice surprises on the way back… In fact, if that’s all I did it for, that would remove the good out of it completely.

My company was set up in a recession; we have a high client retention rate and we have received so much help, both financial and otherwise, which was a decisive factor in overcoming the formidable economic odds stacked against us. This is why I’m genuinely and deeply appreciative of the people, clients, suppliers, government agencies, friends and mentors who have been constant companions to the business. This feeling of gratitude spurs me on to look at the world and wonder how the economy generated by our company can better our business environment.

Whether you call it CSR or karma, it works

This royalties cheque is direct proof of that. It’s only the latest link in a chain of events that started in 2008. At the time, I hadn’t started the company, but was self-employed and with the implosion of the stock market as well as the onset of the economic recession, business was slow. As a result, cashflow and morale were very low… I was trying hard to bring in new business, but the macro issues were strongly stacked against me, and in the meantime I needed to keep the faith

So Ardle and I decided to tackle a pet peeve of ours and to make a few steps in the general direction of solving an issue that had been bugging us for a while: the fact that there is no financial, specifically no financial markets, education to speak of in Irish schools.

You can take your Leaving Cert in a state of blissful ignorance about such things as how the stock market actually works or what it means for the government to borrow. As a result, if you don’t choose to study these topics at university, you can be a voting citizen and still know zilch about those powerful economic and financial forces, whereas they shape your life in so many profound ways.

So we set to work, and decided that what we could contribute was a teaching module. After all I was a trainer myself, and I knew what it was that people needed to learn about the stock market (answer: everything). So we set out to build a comprehensive module to make the work of teachers easier and to inspire more students to become interested in finance; or at least make them more actively informed about the way the financial world works, and how they can take control of their own financial universe.

Why it pays to also focus on activities that don’t generate revenue directly

The result was “Introducing Wall Street to the classroom”, an eight-week course with slides, videos, activities, homework, tests, project ideas and teacher’s guidance. It is a comprehensive pack that teachers can deliver in Transition Year right away. If the feedback from teachers and students is anything to go by, it has in fact proven quite useful and engaging within their schools.

So there I was, young businesswoman me, in front of my computer, working out slides and voiceover, pouring hours and hours of work into this, for nothing – or rather, for no immediate gain. Yes, it was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun. In addition, I had to think in new ways as I had to familiarize myself with how to teach sixteen-year olds – I had to think laterally in terms of the different ways in which a sixteen-year old learns and incorporate examples relevant to them.

And as I was to discover very quickly, I got an awful lot from it and I was compensated in more ways than I could count, although they weren’t monetary at first.

This module opened the doors to a veritable flood of opportunities, more and more of which were paying. It led to working with the Professional Development Services for Teachers, speaking at teachers’ conferences and consulting with teachers’ bodies, delivering economic in-services, school visits, designing resources and brochures. None of this I would have imagined would come to pass, while working through the module late at night.

My involvement with secondary education led to my meeting Trudie and Brian; and this is how “Positive Economics” was born. It is now the market-leading Leaving Cert economics textbook.

Now while I was recording the module, I had no idea this would be the result. I just wanted to help the investing generation of tomorrow avoid the mistakes of today. A lot of people would have told me that then was not the time at all to be indulging in any activity that didn’t directly generate revenue – I had a business to run, what was I doing fiddling with not-for-profit projects?!

And still, it is the one best thing I did to take my business out of that lull. It was effective beyond my wildest expectations

Thanks to Susan Hayes

Monday, April 16, 2012

SWIBN Goal Setting Workshop with Amanda Scott, Pentacle

Goal setting is a proven way to help achieve success, so why is it that 80% of small business owners say that they don't use goal setting to drive their business forward? We know just how hard it is running your own business. We start with wishful hopes to add, reduce and change but the 'phone is ringing and it's your client on the line. Before you know it, you are back responding, delivering and working hard just to catch up. Well it's not too late, so why not take the time right now to make 2012 the year you went in the direction you wanted. Here's the top 10 things a goal needs to stand the best chance:

1. Be written down

2. Be visible

3. Have a means of measuring progress

4. Have a clearly defined destination

5. Have a target date by which it/they will be achieved

6. Be set without limits

7. Expressed in the present tense

8. Have a tangible reward for achievement

9. Have a defined support infrastructure

10. Most importantly they must be valued/wanted/worth it!

Goals are nothing without a BIG reason why - so we added two more criteria for building your commitment:

1. What strength do you already have that will help you achieve your goal?

2. What will be cost to you/pain of not achieving your goal?And to help you to accomplish your goal, like it or not, accountability is key.Here are some of the promises we made to ourselves at our recent workshop:• Ask a buddy to support you - accountability helps focus the mind!• Open a new discussion on our Linkedin group to post updates• Set aside a time every week to review progress• Read your goals aloud every day ( being visible really helps)• Share thoughts from some of the great writers on the subject - Steven Covey for example and Fiona Harrold/Be your own Life Coach

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

SWOT Analysis -the key to business planning!

by Orla Leydon of Office and Training Solutions Ltd.

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses (internal to an organization) , Opportunities & Threats (external to an organization) and is a popular method for helping businesses take stock of their current situation and support decision-making.

The SWOT analysis process……

Step 1 – In the here and now… List all strengths that exist now. Then in turn, list all weaknesses that exist now. Be realistic but avoid modesty!

Step 2 – What might be…List all opportunities that exist in the future. Opportunities are your potential future strengths. Then in turn, list all threats that exist in the future. Threats are your potential future weaknesses.

These CONDUCTING A SWOT ANALYSIS questions will provide a basis for this analysis and will help greatly when brainstorming to thoroughly identify these strengths and weaknesses

Step 3 – Plan of action…Review your SWOT Analysis Grid with a view to creating a structured Action Plan to address each of the four areas. In your action plan remember to 1) Allocate timescales, tasks, people responsible, finances and 2) Build in a review process…when, who how…this is VITAL!

In summary; Strengths (maintain, build and leverage), Opportunities (prioritise and optimise), Weaknesses (remedy or exit), Threats (counter)

Good luck with your SWOT and dont hesitate to contact Orla on 086 3807802 or if you would like support to facilitate this process.

Established in 2003 Office & Training Solutions is a FETAC approved training provider and a vibrant and innovative consultancy practice.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Using the Right Keywords - The Key to Success Online!

By Louise McDonnell of

So you want your website to be found by potential customers? Well, the first thing I recommend for my clients, is to research what words and phases people are using for searches relating to what they are selling.

Don’t use guesswork!

I come across companies all the time that use words throughout their websites, that they think people are using to search for their products. Not only that, they also monitor their websites’ performance in Google vis-à-vis these words and phrases.

But what if you’re optimising your website for the wrong words and phrases?

Google takes the guesswork out of this important task by providing a tool which clearly reports how many searches that actually took place for whatever word or phrase you select. Not only that, you can monitor monthly searches for any country in the world.

So whereas “Irish Gift Store” had 1600 searches in Google in the USA in December, the term “Irish Gifts” had 33,100.

Similarly “slimming tablets” had 8100 searches in Ireland in January 2011, whereas “diet pills” had 5400 and “slimming pills” had 1300.

This tool will identify the best selection of words and phrases to use. It eliminates guesswork!

So before you write the content of your website, choose your meta titles, description or analyse your performance in Google – make sure you research what you want to be found for!

The Google Keyword Tool will also show you monthly variations for your keyword searches – thus allowing you to plan your online advertising campaigns. So my client selling diet pills will run a campaign in January and May when searches for their products are at their peak.

So – what are you waiting for – check out Google’s Keyword External Tool at:

Friday, February 11, 2011

5 Tips for Marketing your Business During the Recession

In our latest blog Louise McDonnell of 2Market gives us 5 tips to help you market your business in difficult times.

1. Look After your Existing Customers: Remember it's 8 to 10 times easier to sell to an existing customer than to find a new one! So think about "customer service", "moments of truth" and product or service "add ons" . Make sure everyone in your business is out to impress your customers.

2. Email Marketing: Email marketing using specialist software is cheap and effective. You can email customers or potential customers and track who is interested by monitoring the number of times your email is opened and links are clicked. This will help to identify your hottest targets!

3. Search Engine Optimisation: Keep your website content up to date, ensure your page titles, description and metatags are accurate, investigate possibilities of increasing "backlinks" from other relevant websites to your own. Ranking high in the search engines is a very cost effective way to drive traffic to your website.

4. Social Networking: This involves using social networking sites to generate traffic to your website. The underlying principle is that people make recommendations to people they know. You can then expand your network through your contacts' contacts.

5. Public Relations: Public relations adds credibility because stories are perceived to have gone through a third-party – a journalist or editor – rather than the companies making their own claims'. PR translates into your company getting “free” editorial coverage in a publication rather than paying for advertising space. The materials generated as part of your public relations activities can have multiple uses as a means of fulfilling your campaign objectives. For instance, press releases can be posted on your website or used as part of an online newsletter. Public relations is cost-effective when compared with other marketing techniques, particularly advertising. But remember that “With Advertising you Pay and with PR you Pray!” – Coverage is never guaranteed.

Call Louise McDonnell on 096 37777 or feel free to fill out an online enquiry form at

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cash Flow is the Pulse of your Business

by Anne Feeley
Affordable Accounting Services

 Cash flow is the life-blood of every business. If you fail to have enough cash to pay your suppliers, creditors, or your employees, you’re out of business.

Cash flow is concerned with the timing of the movement of money. Inflows occur when you make a cash sale, collect from debtors, have investment income, or borrow money, etc. Outflows are generally the result of paying expenses such as wages, stock, taxes, purchasing fixed assets, etc. Cash Flow is not the same as “profit”, which is a snapshot of income and expenses at an event or over a certain period of time. You can make great profits, but if it’s all in accounts receivable, you have no cash to pay your daily expenses.

Four basic but important components to examine:

Accounts Payable & Cash Flow

Accounts payable and cash flow: Without payables and trade credit you'd have to pay for all goods and services at the time you purchase them. For optimum cash flow management, you'll need to examine your payables schedule.

Ensure you are purchasing at the best deal you can get. If you can’t get a better price, get better terms.
  • Ensure you get appropriate discount for early payment.
  • Only pay on the due date and not before.
  • Review contracts to ensure you only pay for what you want/get.
  • Negotiate volume discounts.
  • Review supplier contracts on a regular basis.
  • Aim to reduce the number of suppliers to leverage spend and prices.

Accounts Receivable & Cash Flow

The longer it takes for your customers to pay on their accounts receivable, the more negative your cash flows will be. Stay on top of your collection efforts.

  •  Issue invoice straight away and ensure it is correct.
  • Have the sales person do the collecting of cash.
  • Link any bonus to cash collection.
  • Review credit limits on a regular basis and reset based on current, not past, levels of business.
  • Implement strict early payment discounts.
  • As soon as credit period elapses have a regimented debt collection procedure in place.
  • Initiate credit collection procedures before invoices become due.
  • Trust your instincts. Sometimes it might be better to take less than 100% to get the cash rather than wait and/or never get the amount owed or go through expensive litigation.

Credit policy and terms form the blueprint you use when deciding to extend credit to a customer. The correct credit policy is necessary to ensure that your cash flow doesn't fall victim to a credit policy that is too strict or to one that is too generous.

Stocks & Cash Flow

An excessive amount of stock hurts your cash flow by using up money that could be used for other cash outflows.

  •  Don’t order more unless absolutely necessary.
  • Enter all stock on your system as soon as it is received to ensure full transparency.
  • Identify slow moving stock and repack, re-price, re-use to generate cash.
  • Renegotiate lead times from suppliers and reset minimum stock levels and order levels accordingly.
  • Negotiate consignment stock from suppliers.
  • Introduce/modify approval levels for stock purchases.
  • Discontinue slow moving / loss making product ranges.
  • Ensure ownership and accountability exists for every item of stock (i.e. stores manager)
VAT & Cash Flow

  •  Ensure you claim any VAT re bad debts written off in your VAT return.
  • Process supplier invoices as soon as they are received/issued.
  • Consider timing of invoice issue at month end to optimise credit on VAT return.

Four tips on managing your cash flows:

1. Contingency plans. You should keep three plans at hand.

a. Cash flows requirements when business is going according to plans.

b. When business is slightly lagging.

c. When business is hit hard (such as during these economic times).

2. Cash Forecasting. Forecast, make a budget, stick to it. Modify your budget only after thorough ongoing reviews of your cash flows and remember to include expenses that may not be due each month, such as annual insurance premiums and taxes.

3. Spending Controls. Make sure you carefully negotiate leases and look for price quotes. Frequently analyse operations.

4. Add Employees cautiously. Actively seek ways to maximize your and your employee’s productivity. You may also want to remember to consider alternatives such as outsourcing.

Cash Flow is the lifeblood of every business. The concept is much broader than that of profit, alone. Close monitoring is critical to success. You must have a firm grasp on carefully monitoring and managing the cash-flow pulse of your business. For more information on Anne Feeley, Affordable Accounting Services see  or call 071 9174132 / 087 9719606. See our Facebook page at

Friday, November 12, 2010

How to lower your insurance costs

by Enda Candon of Firstwestern

Insurance is one of those dead money costs that we all in business have to have, but in many cases consider it as dead money as we rarely get an economic return on it. Cost containment and control are essential in these tough economic times, so a saving on any overhead is welcome. Here are some practical tips that we have used with clients to save them money on their insurance costs. In cases we have helped achieve 25% discounts on individual policies.

Increase your excess

Raising the excess on your insurance policies usually lowers your premiums. This can lead to savings of up to 10% on policies.

Bundle your Policies

Even though your policies may fall due for renewal at different times of the year, bundle all your policies and ask insurance companies / agents to quote you for all of the business.

Use a Broker

Work with an Insurance Broker to help you figure out what coverage you need and get it at a competitive price can be a good option, if you are unsure of the precise cover you need. An independent agent or broker is paid by commission, but will shop around to find you the right coverage at the right price.

Reduce Risks

Risk management minimises your insurance claims and brings your premiums down. Implement procedures to make sure that you aren’t taking on risky employees—for example, by checking the driving record of anyone who will drive for you. Many companies offer lower premiums or discounts to policyholders who take certain safety precautions. Installing smoke detectors or a security system is a couple of steps you can take that may get you a lower-priced policy. Always make sure that your business is adhering to relevant legislation such as health and safety and employee legislation as in some cases insurance can be invalid if you do not.

Levels of Cover

Evaluate all your insurance policies for their risk/benefit, and decide which ones you think you will really need. Don't over insure. Do you really need cover for old and low value office equipment and computers?

Motor Insurance

Consider dropping collision cover on older vehicles. If the car is only worth €1,500, why pay €200 per year extra for collision cover.

Prioritise your Greatest Risks

Once you’ve dealt with required coverage, spend your money where you need it the most. If you face a serious risk of a loss that could wipe you out, put your insurance cover there first.

Don’t Duplicate Coverage

A business can have so many policies in place that you may find some things being insured more than once. For example if you have only a few relatively inexpensive pieces of business equipment, your existing property coverage may be adequate. Or, you may be able to purchase an inexpensive endorsement to increase your coverage. Review all your policies carefully, or have your broker do this. Eliminating dual coverage should save your money.

Group Insurance Schemes

If you belong to a trade organisation, professional group, or other business association, you may be eligible for special rates on certain types of insurance.

See the first western blog at

Contact Firstwestern at or e-mail: phone: 071 912 2834