Dealing with small business cash flow problems

Learning to deal with small business cash flow problems is a lesson often learned the hard way. It’s easy enough to ask the bank for help, but they’re not always willing to lend, particularly if you’re a new business without a proven track record.

This post from The Start Up Donut contains a few ideas for solving small business cash flow before they wreak havoc, helping you to get invoices paid quickly. We’ve used a few of these techniques to avoid borrowing, and they really work.

Start Up Donut: How to get through a cashflow crisis

Don’t forget to have a look at our review of Credit Focus, an online instant credit checking service for small businesses.

Review: MyBusinessWorks Credit Focus

Review: MyBusinessWorks Credit Focus

CFIf you have a Barclays business account, you might have been told about MyBusinessWorks and Credit Focus. The two products offer a package of benefits to Barclays customers, such as credit checking, in return for a subscription fee.

In this review, we’ll look at how Credit Focus works. We used the application from January 2012 until November 2012.

What is Credit Focus?

Credit Focus is essentially an interface to Experian’s credit reporting system.

It allows you to check creditworthiness, monitor changes in credit scoring and engage a solicitor if you see a problem with a client’s payment history. You can also then send a letter.

Credit checks are free and unlimited in return for the monthly subscription fee.

CreditFocus

Over time, we have changed the way we use Credit Focus. We used to use it retrospectively, which wasn’t very effective. By the time we realised there was a serious problem, it was normally too late to do anything.

Now, check anyone who we extend credit. If a client isn’t being entirely truthful with us, we can decide whether to continue working with them.

Usability

Although I think Credit Focus is a potentially powerful service, it’s really not that user friendly. The layout really lets it down.

For example:

  • Businesses can use Credit Focus logos on their stationery, but when the user goes to the download page to grab one, they’re not there. In fact, half the screen is hidden until you click a checkbox that you have to scroll down to find.
  • On the main UI, there are no controls on the main interface.
  • The graphs you get are fine, but the display isn’t customisable.
  • The tabs across the top (not visible here) are the same colour as the background until clicked.
  • All the boxes in each screen can be collapsed, but for no reason – you can’t move the boxes around or remove them from view.
  • At the top of the page, there’s a rambling and fairly meaningless statement that takes up two lines for no apparent reason.

CreditFocus

In-app Help

This bit of the review is easy: there isn’t any help in the application.

There’s a link to a PDF of help content, but all of the Credit Focus tool-tips are very non-specific. This is a bit of a problem when the layout is poor.

For example, have a look at the top left: it appears to say ‘Experian credit score 71: Below average’. Actually, it means that the score is 71 and the risk level is below average.

Legal Tools in Credit Focus

If you want to engage a solicitor through the application, you complete details for a draft letter which the solicitors print and sign.

It works in the same way as the LegalManager software in MyBusinessWorks, except that the fields in the preview letter don’t update as you’re filling in the details – unlike LegalManager where you can actually see what’s happening. This is a bit confusing, and had me wondering if it was actually working. When I came to the last screen, I was surprised not to see some kind of preview of my finished letter.

Our final reminder reminds the client that we retain copyright for work until it’s paid for, but there’s nowhere for me to add this on the letter. I also want to specify additional fees and charges, but I can’t see anywhere to do that.

Is Credit Focus Worth Paying For?

Credit Focus is handy, but could be so much better. The cloud is a competitive marketplace, and I just don’t think Credit Focus can cut it next to more sophisticated alternatives.

I would find it easier to understand and interpret the data if the help was more comprehensive. Also, more thought could be put into how different panels are arranged.

I wish we could customise the layout and tweak the solicitor’s letter – or at least see it before we commit to sending it out.

Having said that, if you’re struggling with unpaid invoices, Credit Focus will arm you with knowledge you may not otherwise have, and that can help you to collect bad debts more effectively.

My first few days with FreeAgent cloud accounting

I blogged the other day about accounting. It’s an area I’ve really struggled with in the past, so this time I decided to do it properly. Red Robot Ltd hired an accountant via People Per Hour as soon as it became apparent that we needed one (OK, it did take me a little while to cotton on, but at least I got there!). Our accountant then advised us to use an online accounting package – sometimes called a cloud accounting or bookkeeping application – to keep our books in check.

I trialled a few online accounting websites at the weekend. I ran them through the classic technical author test: can I log on and use this without the manual? (In other words; would this site put me out of business?). The answer was no with every cloud accounting application I tried. They were all confusing. Clear Books took me straight to the referral and affiliate page which I really disliked.

Then I came across FreeAgent. At £20 a month, or £250 a year, it’s not cheap. But it’s filled in a few gaps in my knowledge around the area of dividends and tax. Now I can’t stop refreshing my stats and fiddling with the bar charts! Not only that, but FreeAgent has allowed me to schedule expenses and record some items that I didn’t even know I could claim. I even figured out I could afford an iMac just for copy writing work! (OK, it’s a second hand iMac with a missing flappy bit, but I’m sure he and I will get on just fine.)

If you want to have a go with FreeAgent, we have a FreeAgent referral link for a free trial! If you’re feeling generous, please use our link: click here to sign up.

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