Marginal gain %

Marginal gains – 1% can be all that it takes! (Part 1 of 2)

When Sir David Brailsford took over the British Cycling team in 2002 as performance director, we had only won 1 gold medal in our 67-year history.  Add to that, in 110 years, no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France and top bike manufacturers refused to sell bikes to the team for fear that it would damage the company’s reputation!

All of that changed from 2004 onwards when the British Cycling team won two golds at the Athens Olympics followed by 7 out of 10 gold medals at both the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and London in 2012.

British Cycling riders then went on to dominate the Tour de France, winning six of the following seven Tour De France.

Improve component parts

This extraordinary success has been well documented but how did they achieve it?

Sir David Brailsford was credited with introducing one the most talked about ingredient of this success – the philosophy of ‘marginal gains’. By breaking down everything that went into competitive cycling and finding ways to make small, 1% marginal gains to every component part, an aggregated increase in overall performance was achieved.

Marginal business gains

What worked for the British Olympic Cycling team can also work for you and your business.  Not by breaking down everything that goes into competitive cycling, but by breaking down everything that goes into running a successful business and finding ways to make small, 1% marginal gains that lend towards success.

We have been practicing this philosophy in business ourselves for several years and we bring the approach to life in the different elements of our ‘Insight’ client support package.  Brailsford used data to analyse and redesign the bike seats to make them more comfortable, whilst discovering that rubbing alcohol onto the tires would give a better grip. He re-imagined the secondary impact that small actions could have.

Reimagine your business insights

Now imagine you started looking at your numbers slightly different and made some minor changes to the way you think about them i.e., rather than looking at staff as an expense, consider them a knowledge base upon which you can quickly establish flaws in processes that with improvement, could improve profitability.

We applied this scenario to our own business by internally drilling down to profitability per transaction for work completed. But we didn’t stop there, because we went on to look at the staff member doing the job, the industry in which the client was based, the nature in which the work was received and time of the month it was received i.e., was it always at the end of month?

There were so many areas ripe for subtle changes right at our fingertips that might be otherwise be ignored because of their minimal isolated benefit. But by combining multiple improvements together, the impact began to feel more monumental.

Facing realities

We had to really challenge ourselves as well and face some brutal realities. For example, by tracking phone calls we were able to identify and develop significant improvements to the way clients were handled. By enabling the team to answer queries at the first point of call, we gained both time and cost efficiency as well as alleviating the frustration of being passed around for the client – just being honest! We also started adding more answers to the most commonly asked questions on our website to reduce phone call volume and move towards the ambition of delivering a hybrid 24/7 service for clients for time when the office is closed.

Where are your 1% improvements?

What information do you already have at your fingertips which; with some assistance, you could turn into 1% improvements in your business? Sometimes you just need a fresh approach or new set of eyes to help build out and identify the key metrics and drivers within your business that are most likely to identify change that will help drive your business forward.

How Us Winning Digital Accountant of the Year 2020 Could Benefit You

I’m going to show you how we took our business from strength to strength, and how you use the same processes to do the same.

[Want to get straight to the FREE resources? Click here]

If I take you back to 2017, will you promise not to run off into a pub to hug a load of strangers as soon as I open the DeLorean doors?

Promise? Ok… I’m trusting you.

We’re in Costa Del Cramlington three years ago, and we’re stood outside Graeme Tennick & Co HQ. There’s me upstairs in my office, looking pensively out the window. I’m frustrated with working long hours and seeing little in return.

You see, I know we’re not that tech-savvy, and it’s worrying me. And on top of that, we’re quite a way behind a lot of our competitors, which is even worse.

Perhaps you’re feeling like this right now? If so, I’m going to put the violins away and show you exactly how we went from this to winning Digital Accountant of the Year in 2020.

Let’s get started.

Digital Accountant of the Year 2020 – What Even Is It?

It’s all about you, actually.

You see, the award goes to a partner or practice owner that uses technology in innovative ways to help improve client’s businesses (and their own).

Thanks to technology, I can speak to friends in Australia at the click of a button. But with this new technology comes what I call the ‘Amazon Era’, whereby we want more, for less, quicker.

You now face competition from businesses and software companies around the world. As challenging as it may be, it also presents new opportunities, which is your first takeaway:

If you run a small business, you can use your size to your advantage since you’re more agile than the larger corporations. Where they perhaps used their size and financial might in the past, you’re in a better position today.

Back to 2017

Since I’m dragging you back and forwards through time, I’ll let you have a pint before we crack on with storytime again.

Enjoy that? Good. Moving on.

Now we’re somewhere a bit more interesting. We’re on a ski trip in Morzine, a town on the French/Swiss border. As you know, I’m stressed about work. I self-financed everything, had five staff members to look after and my margins were getting narrower by the day.

It was on this trip where I have a word with myself and go home a new person, full of fresh ideas and vigour. Now, I know what you’re thinking: does that make the trip tax deductible? Sadly not.

A Revelation

I realised that I’d structured my business around clients first, and me last.  And because of this, I’d always seen tax savings a sign of success – telling clients this was how best to judge us. This was wrong.

So the journey of transformation began. I tipped my business upside down, gave it a good shake, and rebuilt it around four key pillars that ultimately meant we won the award.

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Technology
  4. Data


We already had a great team, but I knew I needed to hire more people from different backgrounds – and I certainly did that. In fact, neither of my last two recruits have an accountancy background. One is from my local pub, and the other a software/data engineer.

Emma – Customer service will always play a big part in the future of our business. While Emma trains to be an accountant, she already had people-skills that you can’t teach. It’s something our clients love when dealing with her.

Ewa – We were using 23 pieces of software before Ewa came on board, and she showed us that we were not using them efficiently or, in some cases, correctly.


People and technology come with a catch-22. You see, when you put all of the emphasis on people rather than processes you come a little unstuck when one person leaves.  And when you add technology into the mix, it can be easy to have an over-reliance on the software.

We stripped everything back and started with a good old Excel spreadsheet (admittedly, using it better than the Government).

It’d be helpful for you to do the same exercise. What you need to do is list every process in your business, the technology you use, and then assign responsibilities to each one.

What you’ll find it by sharing ownership with the correct people, you’ll progress as a business rather than it falling on you – the business owner. I’d actually slowed growth by doing it myself.

Having your people and processes working correctly and together frees up your own time. Time you can spend developing new ways to make your clients’ lives easier.


Technology allowed us to very quickly make up for lost time. It felt like a 5000m race where the runner at the back has a burst of energy and catches up to the main pack.

Being an impatient bugger, I got a bit excited and invested in too much software too soon without the correct foundations in place. That didn’t work.

When I got it right (but still by no means perfect), we built solid foundations and have been using technology to help clients with answers to their individual problems ever since.

We now have software that allows us to:

  • Qualify a lead before we even have a meeting,
  • Support a client anywhere in the world
  • Predict and fix a problem for a client before they know they even have one
  • And run a more profitable and agile business than we ever thought possible

Technology provides us with the data necessary to do all of the above, without needing a finance team of 10 or an investment that means a getting a second mortgage on your home.

What Difference Has This Made For Our Clients?

We are now regularly seeing clients surpass year-on-year figures, and hit targets while enjoying personal rewards like cars, holidays, and holiday homes – all while also striking a better work-life balance.

Clients love our ‘value-based’ approach. Now our success is measured on the difference we make to their lives, instead of how much tax we save them.

What’s Next Following The Award?

Everything is a work in progress, so while we’ve come a long way since 2017, we’re still learning and evolving. In the short term, we’re working on the following:

  1. A complete rebrand that matches our company goal of building sustainable legacies underpinned by the right blend between technology and people.
  2. A very modern and dynamic marketing machine that is fit for purpose and designed to maximise the value we add to the right people at the right time.
  3. A NEW website to serve as a resource centre to help support you, and make it easier than ever to use.

There are of course other ideas in the pipeline, but you’ll have to wait for those.

What’s Next For You?

Are you feeling inspired to work on your own business and take a fresh look at your people, processes, technology, and data?

We are far from the finished article. However, this award proves just how far we have come and we would love help more businesses develop in the way we’ve done.

If you want to learn from our mistakes and successes, we’ll help you build a sustainable legacy you, your team, clients, friends, and family would be proud of.

Start with these FREE downloads. They’re actionable tasks and processes you can use to improve your business. In fact, they’re the very same we used.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch at if you have any questions.

Banks And Funding Update

CBILs update

The Government has now announced as extension meaning that the deadline for final approvals for anybody after a CBILs loan has now been pushed back to 30 November 2020.

The deadline for larger CBILs has been pushed back to 31 December 2020.

Don’t forget, for those with a CBILs already who want to flip this to a BBL to benefit from the lower rate of interest and who can comfortably survive on the reduced amount of borrowing, should soon start thinking about this.

Banking partnership

post 27 august phone

We are delighted to officially announce our partnership with Starling Bank.

Whilst we have been working alongside Starling bank with a number of clients for some time now we are stepping this up a level having seen the support that that they have been providing to clients and how they have picked up where some high street banks have fallen down.

They also have the added benefits of:

* No monthly account fees
* Speedy set up
* They are taking on new customers today
* 24/7 customer support
* Real-time alerts and categorised transactions

If you are looking to move why not get in touch with us or if you want to apply direct why not click here.

If you are still unsure, why not get in touch and register for our webinar that we are running with Starling on Thursday 24 September at Midday that will last 45 minutes and include an opportunity to ask any questions?

COVID-19 Update (24 March 2020)

So following last night’s announcement I’m sure many more would have struggled to sleep last night and woke up this morning feel anxious, nervous, upset and even perhaps lost.

For many, today will be the day when you have to decide whether you fall within the Government guidelines of being ‘essential’ and thus determining whether you can still ‘open your doors’.

We cannot help you determine that, but what we can say is we made the decision ourselves to work remotely on Sunday night so as of yesterday morning our offices were emptied and we worked from home and will do for the foreseeable future. What we noticed was there was no disruption to how we serviced clients and if anything, processes and communication improved even further.

For some though; the idea of working remotely will not be possibly and you will now be looking at a scary period of financial uncertainty.

It goes without saying though that health is far more important that money so whatever difficult decisions have to be made, always put health at the forefront of things and we can support you with the rest.

I appreciate this will put people in what might seem an impossible position but at least you then stand the best possible chance of being healthy when the current situation passes.

Let us focus on the financial side of things for you and this is where we will step forward. We can naturally never make an guarantees, so we need to be honest, but what we can guarantee is that following Government guidelines reduces the risk of you being infected. You can then focus your efforts on working alongside us for structuring your finances accordingly to give you the best possible chance of coming through this and also coming back stronger than ever when normality resumes.

You might then ask where are we at as a firm?

The first thing I would say is that we have been preparing for this for quite some time now and working relentlessly the best we can to support you in amongst all of this uncertainty.

We actually had somebody new join us yesterday to strengthen our support for clients and bless Sam Oliver; who many of you know, turned 30 on Sunday and had this week booked off but instead cancelled this so that he could come in and support clients in this difficult time.

Our focus has initially been on keeping all clients calm and we cannot stress enough that this needs to remain the case.

Since then we have focused on getting your data as up to date as much as possible for those using cloud accounting software. For those not on cloud accounting software I suggest you move in this direction otherwise reliance will be on you for bringing everything up to date.

Our focus this week will be on accessing the Government grants and external finance and we’ve already had positive conversations with the director of Natwest, are speaking with Barclays tomorrow and will know about further lenders Thursday so we are ready in the knowledge of what they need and when by.

To reiterate what I have mentioned above, all I ask now is for you to remain calm and MOST IMPORTANTLY follow guidelines to remain healthy. Let us take responsibility alongside you for helping sort the finances and we will be in touch in due course regarding this.

Let’s now work together and beat this and reflect on some of the real life positive stories that I heard of yesterday and yes these all happened in the space of one day which prove that together we can fight this!

Some uplifting stories

Given the current climate I couldn’t help but mention stories I experienced and heard yesterday that literally gave me goosebumps:

  • As mentioned above, Sam Oliver; who most of you will be aware of in our office, turned 30 on Sunday and was due to have this week off but cancelled his week off to come in and help support clients.
  • Other people in the team are working extra hours to again provide further support to our clients to put their minds at ease and have even had staff offer to buy equipment for home as we start working from home; which I refused, but it shows how much everybody cares.
  • A client of ours had one of their biggest customers call them and say, given the current climate, they will be paying invoices sooner and if they wanted to invoice for work in advance of it being completed they would happily pay for this to support them.

They stories genuinely all came about in one single day and we as a firm have even taken the decision to support our suppliers as far as possible and continue paying them throughout this period; even if we get nothing for it, to help them come out the other side.

Let’s continue to look at the long-term picture, support suppliers and customers where possible, and ensure we have the necessary team around us, as we need one another now more than ever.

COVID-19 Update (22 March 2020)

Following the Government’s latest announcement at the back end of last week and some of the further details that have since come to light, we now issue you with an update.

Let’s first start with an updated list of the measures introduced to support businesses before adding a bit of further context to what we now know/suspect:

  • a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • deferring VAT and Income Tax payments
  • a Statutory Sick Pay relief package for SMEs
  • a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses in England
  • small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief
  • grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
  • the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank
  • a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans
  • the HMRC Time To Pay Scheme

We want to focus here on two areas in particular that are either new or where more details have been released:

  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The key point to note here; based on what details are currently known, is that this is aimed at supporting up to 80% of the salary of somebody that would have otherwise been laid off as part of this crisis up to a maximum of £2,500 per month; ‘furloughed workers’ as HMRC defines them.

It is not aimed at those staff that are still working but that are now working from home.

Naturally we fully expect further measures to be introduced to reduce the risk of this support from being abused.

  • Small business grant funding of £10,000 for all businesses in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief

There has been conflicting advice given around this so far that whilst it seems to suggest that the eligibility is very broad; we seem to have stumbled across restrictions elsewhere. Our thoughts internally are that this is a very generous bit of support given how many businesses of all very different sizes; take our building alone, that would in theory qualify for this grant.

Guidance should be forthcoming from local authorities on this matter shortly so our advice is wait for this before relying on the Government’s announcement alone.

For more detailed guidance around any of the above please click here.

Don’t miss a tax trick!

The Chancellor recently announced that the 2020 Budget will be delivered on Wednesday 11 March. The 2020 Budget will be the first to be delivered after the UK’s departure from the EU.

In light of this we thought let’s remind everybody that there is still time to save tax for the current tax year.

First though some rumoured changes to come in March; stress the ‘rumoured’ changes:

  • The proposed reduction in corporation tax rate from 19% to 17% may be scrapped.
  • Entrepreneur’s relief might be scrapped and this may come sooner than 5 April 2020.
  • New student loan repayment system to come.
  • Off-payroll working working rules are changing and this is a little more than rumoured but we are expecting a lot more clarification over the coming weeks.

There is one thing certain though, there is still time to put things in place now so don’t waste any time and get in touch with your client account manager today.

Retirement Planning


Whilst tax planning remains a key consideration, it is also a great time to revisit or even start looking at your retirement plans.

Let’s dovetail the two and ensure that you are financially sound from all angles.

Profit versus Cash

We’ve touched upon this before but we think it is worthwhile revisiting this in light of the ‘clarity’ focus that we had as our headline in December; and the introduction of some of the new software we have now have access to.

What is profit?
Profit is simply your sales less all costs.

What is cash?
This is NOT what is left sat in the bank. You must start here, but then factor in those amounts still due to be received and those amounts due to be paid out. There is far less certainty around these amounts!

I can see the difference but surely there isn’t that much to worry about?
Whilst in time you’d hope the two become the same figure; factor in the idea that your customers pay you sporadically and that you might even give them 30 days credit, whereas your suppliers may demand immediate payment. Now we start to see some of the potential problems not immediately evident from profit alone.

Doing something about it
Time continues to be the barrier for most as is the cost of improving cash flow and this is where a mixture of the correct software and a degree of accountability can fix both.

We have software here that will predict future cash flow based on historic cash flow EVERY 5 minutes; and this feeds directly into Xero.

Alongside this we can devise a cash-flow based strategy and hold you accountable against this which some clients are already today benefiting from and are thousands of pounds better off each month.

You might also be able to do this on your own and if so what is stopping you?

Clarity, focus and direction

As we go through the various stages in our business journey it is very easy to lose focus, direction and really struggle with any sense of clarity.

How often do you go back to those days when you were thinking of setting up in business, setting goals in terms of what you hoped to achieve etc?

How often do you check progress against this?

What are you doing about this if anything?

As businesses grow and develop we can significantly veer from where we first hoped to be but with the right support, team and infrastructure around you, control can be regained.

If this is you, why not get in touch for a chat?
We now have a vacant office in our building available on flexible terms so if you or anybody know would be interested then please send them our way.
We will be closing our offices over the Christmas holidays with our last working day being Friday 20 December and will be reopening on Thursday 2 January.

If you have any concerns regarding this please contact your account manager and we will work with you to overcome these. The emergency contact number over this period will be 07809 695081 so the support will still be there throughout should it be needed.

Have a great break everybody and we look forward to supporting you further in 2020; maybe the number is a hint for further clarity in your business?

Cash flow

Most of us; if we’re honest, would say we could do with a little more cash and could manage this better. Does this apply to you?

Do you even know what cash is? Cash isn’t just what is in the bank but also needs to be considered in the context of what is due in and what is due out in the future.

Similarly, the management of cash starts far sooner than the raising of an invoice and should not end once it hits your bank account.

In terms of cash coming in you should be fully understanding the associated costs and the time when these need to be paid in the context of when you can expect to receive payment from your customer. For example, if your customer is going to pay after 90 days but you need to pay your supplier after 60 days then you might have a problem.

Have you done a credit check on your customer though before ordering anything and have you even done a credit a check on your supplier so that they can deliver what they promised so you aren’t letting the end customer down.

Let’s assume everything went well; what can you look back on and learn? Were there any unexpected costs or just overall lessons learnt to take into the next piece of work.

Cash flow can be managed much better with the correct systems and processes built around it but don’t understimate the importance of this and do something today to improve it.

We can help so get in touch if wish to discuss further.
We now have a vacant office in our building available on flexible terms so if you or anybody know would be interested then please send them our way.

Any surprises ?

As we approach Halloween we thought we’d jump on the bandwagon; or more appropriately the witches broom perhaps, and use this as an extremely loose connection to nasty surprises in business.

Now we all lead very busy day to day lives which means that things in business can easily be forgotten; and I’m talking about the less than obvious things but which could have a massive impact. For example, it would be very easy to not be aware that say a customer’s credit rating had decreased significantly overnight. You might; for example, not realise how heavily exposed you are to one supplier or customer meaning that should anything go wrong; as it did with Thomas Cook, you’re not prepared.

These examples are all too common with smaller businesses and the impact can be massive.

Even where we manage to avoid such pitfalls, the deluge of information around us can often mean that we lose focus and before long our businesses stagnate or even worse.

We have some great tools here and the team has experience of helping clients avoid issues such as above.

Above is just one example of what data we could make automatically available to you off the back of work you’re already doing on a day to day basis.

Want more information again? Well what about below where you basically just get the headlines from your accounting data and can delve deeper as and where you wish?

Having the correct infrastructure and management information around you means that nasty surprises can be avoided and you can keep you business on track and heading towards a very successful future.

For more information please get in touch.

Speak to the team about your goals and vision. We'll tell you how we can help you make them a reality.

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