Friday, 14 June 2019

Going to Exhibitions

One of the useful activities a business owner/executive can undertake is to attend national trade exhibitions. It need only take the investment of  a couple of days a year of your time, but the long term rewards can be great. It helps to keep your trade knowledge current and can help you spot new opportunities. I've been going to such exhibitions for over thirty years, and one soon learns techniques to make the best use of your time while you are visiting.

Sometimes it is worthwhile visiting stands where you already know the exhibitors quite well, because it gives them the opportunity to show you new products and services they might not show to you during the normal course of business. However the best opportunities are obtained by cruising the exhibition floor and stopping by stands that might have a product/service that piques your interest. 

Often conversations with exhibitors will lead on to discoveries you'd not seen at first glance as you pass the exhibition stand. You soon learn to ignore the trinkets artfully placed on the stand to slow you down and thus give the salesman a chance to descend on you. You also learn to avoid eye contact with the barkers/touts who are engaged to engage you with chance conversation. Your time, spent getting to and attending, is precious, save it for those products which are genuinely interesting.

I tend to ignore the "seminars", mostly the information is boring and a poor return for your investment.

However some exhibition organisers can go over the top in "preparing" you for the exhibition, taking a nannying and patronising approach! Here's an extract from one of the multiple emails arriving in advance.

"Check your route"...  I travel the globe on my own for business, finding the location of of an exhibition is not exactly difficult! The people sending these types of emails were probably just cells in the ovaries of a young teenage girl when I started attending trade exhibitions.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Why pay excessive phone tariffs?

We have a colleague working over in Saudi Arabia. The standard BT call tariff to  her landline is £1.45 per minute, plus a 23 pence call setup charge.  Fortunately with are using Google GSuite and it's associated Google Voice. The cost per minute is £0.07 and no call set up charge. Our last call was 62 minutes long and cost us £4.54.  If we'd used BT it would have been: £90.22 for the same duration.

If you need to make good sound quality International business calls, look no further than Google Voice. If you are calling the USA, the rates are even better, the calls are free. An incoming direct dial phone line is about £5 a month. The Google software allows you to administer call services for the team and as an option you can have the usual PABX facilities.

Monday, 6 May 2019

What happens to your email in a crash?

Imagine the situation; you are working on your PC reading your email and suddenly the lights go out. There's been a power failure. When you return to your PC and switch it back on, nothing happens. It will not restart. The disk has been corrupted during the power failure. You suddenly get that sinking feeling when you remember that all of your emails and attachments for the past five years are on that PC.

"You did do a routine back-up of your email database. Didn't you?"

"Your back-up file was on the hard disk? Now you really are stuffed aren't you?"

"No, not to worry; I keep a copy of my documents on Dropbox, so I'll be okay."

"Didn't you keep a copy of your email database on Dropbox? No? Oh dear!"

I've heard this scenario all too often. It is a great pity when you realise that you can keep a copy of your important files offsite on Amazon for a few pence.  Amazon's AWS Glacier storage allows archive of files cheaply with a retrieval time of just a few hours. It works out at about half a cent/penny per gigabyte per month. You can have a faster retrieval on AWS, but that is slightly more expensive.

More about this, and how to achieve it, later...

I've just done that for my wife's email - it was 8 Gbytes!  The peace of mind is priceless.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

USA transaction fees

Some of our websites are hosted in the USA. The bills in $USD for this are charged to my business Visa Card. The bank converts this USD amount to pounds GBP.  For each transaction there's a foreign currency processing fee starting at 1 GBP and increasing with the value of the transaction. It is not listed as a separate bank fee in the bank statement so it is easy to overlook. This can represent up to 10% of some bills.

I've just been through our list of overseas suppliers and have changed the credit card on file to one of my Revolut Debit cards. There's no foreign currency transaction fee and it is at the Interbank Exchange rate.  Less money to the greedy banks.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Calculating Foreign exchange costs on Credit Card expenses

We're just getting used to Xero accounting software at Oaksys Tech Ltd. We switched over from an ancient copy of Sage 50 in preparation for the new HMRC (UK tax) rules on electronic tax reporting. It was our accountant's suggestion and we cannot thank him enough, accounts are so much easier on Xero. As a consequence we are getting a much better understanding of our expenditure and income. One of the big bugbears is handling credit card bills for foreign exchange transactions and reconciling them against the original bills (in foreign currency). The conversion rates used by the banks never seem to match published Forex rates, and we have to add adjustments when reconciling the credit card statements against bills.

It has finally dawned on us that the reconciliation differences are bank fees for forex transactions  embedded in the the credit card statement lines. Dohh! Probably every accounts clerk knows this but we didn't.  So now we burrow into the detail of the "printed" credit card statement and record those fees as bank charge adjustments.  They are not split out automatically when Xero loads an electronic feed from the bank.

If we have been working overseas on a project, staying in hotels and travelling a lot, all the bank fees start to represent a significant cost. It either comes out of our profit or we pass it on to our clients.

We have found an alternative approach to this issue. It eliminates those unwanted bank charges. We use a debit card which does not charge fees for inter-currency transactions. Foreign exchange takes place at inter-bank rates. You can chose to pre-buy currency, or just use the rate at the time of transaction. The card is from Revolut.com    It works in a wide range of currencies and provides a feed to Xero.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Banks have a cheek!

In both the national and local newspapers this morning I see the NatWest Bank running large advertisements proclaiming how friendly and helpful they are to their customers. The advertising fees they are paying must be enormous. Yet, in our town and the adjacent towns they've closed our local NatWest Branch offices. It is now an hour's round trip to get to the nearest Branch, plus add the cost of fuel and parking.  When they closed the Branch, their managers claimed it was because the locals didn't use the Branch enough. However I don't think I ever went into the local Branch office without encountering a queue during the previous four years.

A clear case of marketing over substance. These people really have a cheek. A few, or even a flood of, dubious adverts are not going to win us over.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

How secure is your business?

We have served many businesses over the years. The majority did not own the building from which they operated. Often there would be either a lease or a long term rental from a landlord/freeholder. The business would have to rely on physical security provided by the landlord. The landlord would seek to keep costs low by not providing substantial physical security features for a general purpose rental. 

The first step should be to undertake a risk assessment to understand what risks from which you want to protect the business. You then need to evauate what methods are available to provide the necessary level of protection. One option might be to move the vulnerable part of the business away from the area of risk. However when it comes down to basics there's often no substitute to having strong physical barriers to keep the bad guys out. CCTV systems and alarms are mainly of deterrent value.

By strong physical barriers, we mean better perimeter fences, stronger doors, stronger windows, stronger walls, floors and ceilings.  The elimination of intruder hiding spaces will help too.

If the tenant business wanted to undertake works to install stronger physical security in their rented/leased property, they will have to seek permission from the landlord. The business would also have to undertake to fund the removal of security features when they vacate the property. Some physical security measures, such as protective walls, are quite heavy, and some buildings do not have spare structural capacity to take the additional dead weight loading. It may be necessary to lnvolve a structural engineer in the discussions.

You also need to be sure that any physical security measures do not contravene safety regulations and building codes.