Four ways to guarantee fast and effective team meetings

I’m not the only one who hates long meetings with seemingly no purpose. We’re all time poor these days…so here’s 4 tips from our friends over at Start-Up Donut…work every time.

Although they can sound like a waste of time, effective team meetings are essential for all new (and existing) businesses if they are to reach their potential. They can help you leverage the collective intelligence in your business, as well as move the team forward cohesively.

Ideally you should have more team meetings, not fewer. This is because effective meetings lead to:

  • Broader buy-in and consensus.
  • Better understanding of complex problems and issues.
  • Better understanding of individual contributions.
  • Greater positive social obligation.

But what should you avoid if you want to ensure effective team meetings?

  1. Lack of drama (conflict). Heated arguments and demonstrations of passion, as long as they remain constructive, can generate a deeper and broader understanding of the topic.
  2. Lack of context. The type of meeting and the organisation of the meeting must be tailored to the issues being addressed.

There are four important elements that need to be implemented if you want an effective team meeting:

1 Define the purpose

Be really clear. Are you strategising or discussing operations? What do you want to get out of this meeting?  Everything stems from the purpose.

2 Create an agenda

As the leader of the meeting, you should make your agenda sharp – and make sure you stick to it.

3 Set a time limit

Keep to the purpose and agenda. Otherwise you could spend half your day in team meetings without actually getting anything productive done.

4 Limit the number of attendees

If you want meetings that will move your business forward, the right people need to be present. This will come naturally if you move through the previous steps. Once you know the purpose and agenda for your meeting, it becomes clear who needs to be there – and who is only going to be wasting time if they attend.

Every meeting is different and will have unique requirements, so you need to be flexible with your structure. However, these elements are common to all effective and productive team meetings.

Above all, before every team meeting, ask yourself one simple question: “What do I want my team members to achieve after this meeting?” You will be amazed at the clarity that answering that one question will bring – and what a difference that will make to the meeting and its effectiveness.

This article was originally posted on

Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2014. Shweta is a multi- award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.


Is it necessary to ‘sex-up’ or create a personality for your brand?

Developing a company mascot

To that end we developed Dave the Badger; a charming company mascot that we believed would make us memorable amongst the sea of competition. Dave became the face of the company and we committed huge amounts of time and creativity in bringing Dave to life; through his own dedicated twitter feed, his own ‘thought trumpet’ blog, and his own cartoon design. But not only was it exhausting; it was ineffectual. As fun as Dave was, it was not what our customers wanted. Our email unsubscribes increased and we found that simple copy became more laboured and longer to compose and read, because we were constantly trying to bring Dave to life. In our attempt to create a ‘personality’ we had momentarily lost sight of what attracted and retained our clients: best product prices, peerless customer service and excellent delivery. From day one, our success has been built on creating a loyal customer base. This was done purely by offering the basics customers want. Dave was a fun add-on – but far from a vital cornerstone. It was a fantastic lesson though. The experience underlined the importance of knowing what’s best for your business; and it’s a lesson we keep in mind at all times. For example when thinking about commissioning a service like PR, we always consider the end business goal. We’ve seen so many companies invest money in coverage that simply raises the profile, and inflates the ego, of the guys at the top, with no real commercial benefit. We always consider whether ‘X’ activity will actually drive new customers to our site. The same is true every time we contemplate re-branding – we evaluate if it will help us extend our service reach.

Focusing on core values

All that said, while creating an external personality has not proved essential, what has been crucial has been devising an internal ethos. Our internal personality is structured around a series of core values that permeate throughout the business. Every decision, from how to handle customer service to the overall business strategy is based on two key criteria:

  1. Will it be better for our customers?
  2. Is it more efficient for us?

These shared, guiding principles mean our whole team is aligned with our umbrella value: making it easy for customers. If the answer is “yes’” on both counts then a decision can be implemented. This internal shared personality means our customers consistently receive good service – no matter which member of the team they speak to. To summarise, don’t feel under pressure to inject personality into your brand if, like ours, it sits on the rather unsexy end of the retail scale. The important thing to remember is what matters to the client. If the customer needs to buy into the brand, then creating a brand that engages through aspiration or humour is important. However if you’re like us and your customer just needs a brand they will trust to buy from, focus on what drives their purchases: service and prices. Ian Cowley is the managing director of

6 Tax Tips for Sole Traders

Whether you are new to self-employment or have years of business experience, it can often be difficult to work out what expenses you can claim on your business whilst filing a self assessment tax return or sorting your accounts. The general rule of thumb is that you are able to claim expenses that are purely and exclusively for the purpose of running your business. Thanks to Plummer Parsons who gave us a few expenses that a lot of people tend to miss:


Many self-employed jobs will require you to do a lot of driving, so it makes sense for you to claim mileage expenses. You are able to claim 45p per mile (up to 10,000 miles and 25p for each mile after that) against your business for any business travelling in your own car. A sole trader could claim capital allowances and motor expenses, such as petrol.

Expenses of working from home

If you work from home you’re able to claim £4 for every week you use a room in your house for business, throughout your working year. An alternative would be to take away a portion of your homes utility cost, making sure you only count the costs of the room being used for work.

Cost of redecorating

If you decide to redecorate your office or house then you are able to claim all the costs back against your business. If you need to carry out any repairs on your house that relate to your business, then you will also be able to claim this as an expense.

Phone and Internet

When most people start up a business they already have a landline or mobile phone, and it serves as their main business phone. If this is the case then you’re able to claim this as an expense. The same can be said for the Internet, if your broadband is essential to your business then you’re able to claim it.

Furniture and office equipment

If your business requires any furniture or the use of office equipment, and they are essential for day-to-day work, then you may be able to claim this as an expense. Many people will have bought these items before establishing their business, so it’s worth seeing if you’re eligible for reimbursement.

Printer Ink

Many sole traders require the use of a printer, and this means they could be replacing ink cartridges frequently. If this is the case you will soon realise that it’s not cheap. If a printer is an essential part of running your business then it makes sense to claim a certain amount of the ink used as an expense.

These days more and more people are opting for self-employment, being your own boss means you have to cover the majority of the business expenses yourself. The first few years of a self employed business are never smooth sailing, so to make sure you don’t become unstuck by expenses it’s important to know what you can claim back against your business.

How a small business can win at the internet

Making friends online is great, but social media is a waste of time unless it boosts sales.

Businesses had enough on their plates before social media came along. However, as it’s a freely available resource that can connect a business directly with its customers, it’s worth giving it a go, right? Wrong. The truth is that unless you come up with a strategy and stick to it, you probably won’t get more than several wasted hours and a few dozen online fans and followers, most of whom are probably your friends and family.

What you should be aiming for is to reach the top of Google search rankings for your relevant search terms. By getting your website on the first page of search results you will be the first port of call for a potential customer searching for your product or service – but this won’t happen overnight. This is where social media comes in: Social media should be seen as a spider’s web of tools that will get you to the top.

Google changed the game for search engine rankings a few months back, and now the best way to reach your customers and bring in new ones on social media is to create a blog. A space on the internet for your business to supply customers with information that’s useful and interesting enough to then be sent on to friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook.

To get started, you should think about who your customers are and what knowledge or ideas you have already that you can pass onto them via your blog. Are you a local plumber who can tell anyone typing “Emergency plumber in my postcode” into Google how to fix most broken toilets in three easy steps? A helpful temporary solution that will stop an overflowing cistern today is a customer for life tomorrow. If you’re the town butcher, why not offer advice on how to cook certain cuts of meat and recipes that coincide with what you have on special that week? You could even offer discounts to your readers.

Once you have a few posts for your blog lined up you need to make sure they are social media and search engine friendly. This means hashtags and keyword optimisation. If those two terms are just gibberish to you, don’t worry. There is a lot of free advice out there on how to use each social network correctly – or you could just ask any 13–year old girl. Keyword optimisation forms part of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and is a more complex beast, but essentially it just means making sure your content follows a set of rules so that it will be picked up by search engines easily.

Two important things to remember when sharing on social media are to not be too promotional and to not leave any stone unturned. Sign up to as many social networks as possible, learn how to use them correctly and make sure there’s a button for each on each of your blog posts to make it easy for your readers to spread the word. As well as sharing on Facebook and Twitter, you can also load pictures onto Tumblr, Pinterest, and Flickr and link these back to your site – links are very good for SEO. While Google+ is not (yet) the coolest of the social sites and you may not have heard of Squidoo, both are useful for climbing the ranks on Google searches.

Whatever you do on the social web, follow one single rule which is relevant for all of your social sites. Be interesting or useful. Do not be promotional. You can provide incentives and offers, but in the main you need to be offering your customers value, something that will convince people that they simply have to visit your website. After all, isn’t that the goal? Get them to your website, and then the quality of your product offering will – hopefully – do the rest.

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Good Reasons You Should Have a Will

Having a will is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, your family or your business. It will legally protect your loved ones and assets, as well as let people know exactly how you want things handled after you have passed away. Everyone will have a different will depending on his or her own situation. Here are some of the reasons why having a will is so important.

Good Reasons You Should Have a Will

You can decide how your estate is allocated

Dying without a will means you can’t 100% guarantee your estate will be handled how you would have liked. A legal binding document such as a will cannot be disputed, so whatever it says is what will be carried out. This reduces family arguments over your estate because your will has already determined who will get what. An unmarried partner will not automatically inherit any pension payout following death, so it’s important to make your intensions clear.

Choose who takes care of your minor children

Without a will the court will decide which members of your family or an appointed guardian will look after your minor children. By having a will in place you can make sure that the right person raises your child, and also make sure that certain people don’t.

Avoid a lengthy probate process

A will makes sure the probate process is a lot faster and it informs the court exactly how you want your estate to be divided up. Without a will there will be lots of unnecessary delays because it will then be up to the court how your estate will have to be divided up. The will is a way of giving the court your input even when you’re not around anymore.

You can decide who takes care of your affairs

By electing an executor of your will you can make sure that the person handling it is someone you trust and can rely on. An executor is the person who will make sure all your affairs are in order. For example paying bills and notifying the bank is something important that will need someone organised to take care of.

Minimising estate taxes

By having a will you’ll be able to minimise your estate taxes. The value of what you give away in your will reduces the value of your estate when the time comes to pay taxes.

Donations and gifts

Another great reason to have a will is so you can make gifts, which then will still reflect your values and interests even after you are gone. Depending on the circumstances and amount of the gift it may incur very little tax or be tax-free. So by giving a gift you will be increasing the value of your estate for those named in your will to benefit from.

Something as important as a will shouldn’t be overlooked, but you may not have even thought about it until now. Getting all your affairs in order and not having to worry will be a massive weight off your shoulders. This is where we can step in and make the whole process a lot easier for you.

Do you have a family and not have a will yet? If not we’d love to hear your reasons why not? Perhaps we can help convince you it’s the most important thing you could do tomorrow.

Starting Your Own Business and Need a Plan? You Must Read This!

When you start your own business there is so much to consider and take care of. With plenty of moving parts it’s easy to become overwhelmed and find the whole process difficult. This is where a business plan comes in, and how it will help you stay on track whilst setting a blueprint for the future of your business.

Why do I need a business plan?

Why do I need a business plan?

When you’re in the preliminary stages of starting a business there are some important questions you need to ask yourself. What goals do I want to achieve? How am I going to achieve them? What problems will I run into along the way? This is where your business plan will come in handy because these are all things you’ve already considered, and you know exactly where to go from here.

A business plan is also a great way of sharing ideas and information about your business. By using this as a base you can then estimate how well you will do when you start up, and change or develop aspects of your business accordingly.

By planning ahead you will be able to spot areas of your business that could cause issues in the future. This will give you the opportunity to develop plans to deal with any problems as and when they happen, rather than having the pressure of working out how to fix it at the time.

Formatting a plan to suit you

When you think ‘business plan’ there tends to be the assumption that it will be a massive document full of facts and figures, in reality this doesn’t have to be the case. Every business will have a different plan, choose a plan that will suit your type of business the best. There are even some great templates available, so all the hard work has been done for you!

Easy to express your thoughts: You want to use a plan that will make it simple to show your ideas and thoughts. Some plans will require visual aids and images, such as a designer or a company with lots of statistics to show. Whereas a writer will probably just use a document.

One you will actually use: Many people will use a business plan to get set up then never even look at it again. Why not use it as a daily part of running your business so you always have a plan to fall back on.

Easily presentable: Your plan will be seen by plenty of people, so it will need to be something that is easily read and understood. Especially if it is someone you are trying to get on board such as potential investors.

What do I need to include in my business plan?

All business plans will be different and require a variety of components, but when it’s comes down to basics this is what you will need:

Business overview: What do you do and how will you be different?

Audience and market: Who will you supply and how will you reach them? Who are your competitors and how big is the market for what you are offering?

Goals: What do you want your business to achieve? Setting some objectives early will give you an idea if the business is succeeding.

Products: What are you selling and how much does it cost? How will this compare to your competition?

Finance: You will need to include details of prices, sales, costs and investments involved. If it’s investors for your start-up that you are looking for then make sure you include details about what your likely to return.

Who is involved: A business is only as good as the people involved in it. Make sure you provide information roles, experience and how they will benefit the business.

With a good business plan in place you are giving yourself a head start and making sure that you will be prepared for the future. A well thought out plan can maintain success and growth, as well as prevent any issues that may be down the line.

As accountants in Brighton Plummer Parsons have years of experience advising the local business community. If you are in need of some help with a business plan or simply need some advice please don’t hesitate to contact us.