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Quote from Lee Alley - “Despite having an MBA, I found Tony’s practical experienced advice was absolutely spot on. As a result I now work only 50 -60 hours a week rather than the 80-90 previously and I am working much more effectively and spending 25% of my time working ON The Business. I would thoroughly recommend Tony to any Business Owner who wants to change the way he/she works in their business.”

Running Your Business: It’s About Doing What You Want

By Jon Sawyer on 18/07/2017 - 0 Comments

The title of this article should not be frivolous, but a statement of fact for all those business owners who have got their business to the right place where they are truly running their business effectively.

A business owner truly in control of their operation provides themselves with choices and it is from these that you can decide what you want to do. It is very easy to get pulled around and be at the mercy of the demands of the business, as David Leadbetter puts it, ‘Let the dog wag the tail’ and not the other way round. 

As now is the time when over 60% of the population go on holiday during the months of July and August it is probably a good time to review whether your business is controlling you or are you in control.

The following is an examination of what you need to do to get into control and a review of what some of the choices may look like when it all works.

One of the main keys to success in running any business is once you have established a robust business proposition based upon your product or service that profitably captures a sustainable niche of customers, is to implement effective systems and process.

It is the experience of most of our Advisors at ICON Business Solutions that most business owners have developed a sound product and service offering, and yes, whilst there may be some work required to formulate a stronger marketing platform the missing link is often systems and process.

Most business owners don’t plan to fail but fail to plan and build in these systems and processes. At the heart of this is a reluctance of the business owner to extricate themselves from the functional areas of business – these being marking, sales, production and operation, HR and Finance.

Often the business owner seems to have a main focus only on production or operation which is to the detriment of effective management and ‘strategic ownership’. This last term refers to the ability to identify and exploit other opportunities as and when they arise. Being stuck at the ‘coal face’ in operations will often mean that such opportunities are often missed.

Business Focus

What can be done to resolve this? The answer lies in putting robust systems and process in place to manage all the functional areas of the business so that these each have clear expectations and deliverables, and performance against which is regularly measured.

Often these measures get called Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and are published for the business owner to review on a monthly basis.

The benefit of ‘bedding down’ the business with robust systems is that actual performance of the business can be measured against budget to determine if the business is on track. If not, then corrective action can be taken because the business owner is in control and can steer the direction of the business as required. 

As we enter an every changing competitive landscape, in particular, with the roll-out of Brexit, there is no more pressing time to put such system and process in place.

What are these systems and process? These will be different for all businesses and will vary according to the size of the business. This will require a thorough examination of the importance of each area in terms of what it contributes toward the goals of the business.

Functional area goals will need to be developed and itemised by month. These can then be put into a plan for each functional area of the business that cascades into the overall business plan. The monthly review then becomes a tracking process to see if the milestones are being achieved to ensure the business is on the right track.

What are the benefits of such an approach? This will give you the chance to delegate effectively to functional teams and will ensure you have the time and scope to exploit broader more strategic opportunities for the business. As the business grows, management of the business can be achieved by reviewing a monthly budget and KPI review pack which will have submissions by function.

Whether or not you think this approach is for you, this is how the big corporations run their business, and so if you have aspirations of growing, then at some stage, you must also embrace this method of management. Just think of how it what it would be like if you were able to manage your business by taking regular time out from the business.

This doesn’t mean that you do not need to be present in the business to verify with your own eyes what is going on, what has been called ‘management by walking around’. What it does mean is that you now have choices as you are in control.

The main benefits can be accrued in terms of time to effectively manage and grow the business. This time can also provide greater levels of flexibility for you to enjoy taking time out to enjoy holidays and other pursuits.

The business should be there to reap rewards for you so that you can enjoy the ‘fruits of success’. If you are stuck in the UK over the summer period and did want to get away, then it is probably the case that the ‘tail is most certainly wagging the dog’ for your business, and it should be time to consider changing.

The Two States of Life

By Team Icon on 16/07/2017 - 0 Comments

This article is another one taken from from the Icon Business Solutions "Your Business Your Life" book.

There are two natural states of life:

  1. You are growing; or
  2. You are dying.

Your business will be in one of these two states, it’s either in a growth phase or it’s dying. You can’t maintain stability or stay static as it is not a natural state of the universe.

Unless you are planning to get out of your business or let it die a natural death, the only choice is to grow you and your business.


Are you holding back the reins of your business and stopping it from running? Sure you have to control your business to a degree so it does not run into undue danger, however, if you hold the reins too tight for too long both you and the business will never go as far and as fast as you could have.

The culture of your organization will be one of forever holding back. You will hold on too tight and nothing will be able to change. You will maintain direction, even if it’s wrong and is going down the wrong track.

One of the largest challenges in small business today is that the business is never going to get anywhere. The owner is moving too slowly and is holding on too tight.


Step 1: Hold both of your fists as tight as you can and don’t let go;

Step 2: While holding your hands like that, as tight as you can, get somebody else to put money into your hands.

If you hold on too tight, you can’t receive and you will never be able to get what you want.


There are a many and varied number of methods to improve this area.

For some, it will be a long journey and for others it will be fast and exciting - the choice is yours.

Contact your local Advisor today and develop the processes for continual growth for your business.

Dealing with Uncertainty for Business

By Jon Sawyer on 26/06/2017 - 0 Comments

For this article we are again taking inspiration from the Icon handbook - "Your Business Your Life" This section is more valid than ever: 

There are a myriad of challenges a business can face and these can come completely out of the blue, but will still need to be managed correctly. Such crises may include illness of a key director, fire, loss of information and theft, and each of these may make it impossible to deal with business in the normal manner.

The parallels with political uncertainty are more than apparent as Theresa May tries to work towards a successful conclusion in Brexit talks with a reduced majority. The politicians, nor media did not predict the outcome of the June 2017 election. Instead of strengthening May’s negotiating hand, the results of the election may limit her room for negotiation. As a result she will now work with the UDP to drive through agreed changes into UK law.

Did Theresa May have a plan in place to deal with such a crisis? The answer is probably no!

Instead of crisis management is there a better way to be prepared for whatever markets, competitors, customers or your staff may throw at you. The answer is YES. With good planning it is possible to mitigate against the potential impact of such crises, and may even prevent its occurrence in the first place.

The best approach is to have a guide or plan to deal with each potential crisis. Otherwise, failure to plan may result in potential damage to your brand, reputation risk of loss of sales and market share.

The need for a plan to cover such emergencies is self-evident, and is more than apparent for small business as they may lack the resource to cope easily in such circumstances. The following 4 step process sets out a methodology for dealing with the unexpected in your business.

      1. Identify all the potential events that may affect you and the likelihood of their occurrence

      2. Determine ways in which you can mitigate or avoid these from happening – focus on the priority areas.

      3. With your management team - set out a business continuity plan – an action plan for dealing with such adversity.

      4. Test the plan and put regular checks in place to update.

A classic example of such a crisis is in the event of loss of trading data and was highlighted in the loss of account information earlier this year for HSBC customers. Faced with such an eventuality there should be a back-up plan in place so that trading does not grind to a halt.

One of ICON’s Advisors worked for a timber company that suffered a fire resulting in the loss of the main operational site. In these circumstances an emergency premises was used and all information was backed-up off-site to ensure trading could continue the following day.

Any continuity plan needs to be effectively communicated to all staff to enable them to deal with the crisis more easily, and should be sufficiently resourced, and also tested from time to time. Doing this may even give you an edge over competitors as you may build greater levels of resilience into your company through the continuity plan.

Remember that whilst scenarios such as a major theft, fire, or illness of key staff may be unlikely, it is prudent to start planning for them now.

As Steven Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) would say, start ‘planning with the end in mind’. Build the continuity plan into the fabric of your business and make sure they are fully ‘road tested’.

Start building resilience into your business. If unsure of how to deal with this then get help to put a robust plan in place by giving one of our Advisors at ICON a call.

Everyone Has An Unfair Advantage

By The Icon Team on 23/05/2017 - 0 Comments

Remember this … if one person in the world can achieve something, then so can you.

If Bill Gates can create an outstanding business that generates an annual revenue greater than that of the country Turkey, so can you.

All you need to do is to be ever improving in your gain of knowledge and then apply that knowledge to all things around you.

If you improve just 2% every week then you will be a massive 104% improved by the end of just one year.

One other important factor most of us are unaware of is this: “Most people over estimate what they can achieve in one year and grossly underestimate what they can achieve in ten  years”.

List what you want your business to achieve in the next ten years. Take into account what will best support you as a person with regard to your lifestyle, wealth and family interaction.

The above is a small snippet from our book - "Your Business Life".

Over the next few months we will be revisiting more of the book in detail - Where do you start in Business? A Job for Life! and many more. Look out for these - and if not already on the mailing list let us know and we will add you on to ensure you do not miss out. 

To discuss any aspect of advice on how to grow and develop your business - make sure you contact your local ICON Business Solutions advisor now.



Is running your company like playing a game of chess?

By Mark Birchall FCCA on 05/05/2017 - 0 Comments

I remember being taught the basics of chess many years ago. Playing chess is a game of strategy and can be compared to running a business as there are optimal moves that can be taken that maximise the chances of success.

The game of chess shows how something with 64 spaces and 32 pieces can become very complicated. A bit like a setting up and running a growing business. Looking at the game of chess in more detail, there are only 64 spaces and there are 16 pieces each. How many possible move combinations are there?

Chess is infinite: There are 400 different positions after each player makes one move a piece. There are 72,084 positions after two moves a piece. There are 9+ million positions after three moves a piece. There are 288+ billion different possible positions after four moves a piece. There are more 40-move games on Level-1 than the number of electrons in our universe.

There are more game-trees of Chess than the number of galaxies (100+ billion), and more openings, defences, gambits, etc. than the number of quarks in our universe! –Chesmayne. (

Before being able to play, you need the determination and confidence for success, the resources to deliver, and the finance to get you started. As the business grows, you will need processes, systems and procedures to be introduced. These will be revisited during growth cycles of the business for a variety of reasons.  

The intended strategy is to learn and win the game. The multiple game plans test the battles of the minds, wits, nerves and resources. By way of example, I did a brief internet search for the shortest, average and longest chess game with some surprising results being revealed;
The shortest decisive, non-forfeited world championship game occurred between Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand in game 8 of the World Chess Championship 2012. Gelfand resigned after Anand's 17th move, 17.Qf2

I found that the average length of a game (played by humans) is roughly 40 moves. Based on the statistics provided by Chess games database (685,801) games, the average number of moves is 40.04 (26th Jun 2013). The business owner doesn’t have the generosity of making a “0.4 decision.” The owner must commit 100% to either a Yes “proceed”, or No “reject.” The decision may even be made on their behalf. Deferring the decision is also an appropriate response. Sometimes the decision will go away. Sometimes the owner makes the decision later when time permits. An internal/external event may force their hand for a response and game manoeuvre to be played.

The longest tournament chess game (in terms of moves) ever to be played was Nikolić–Arsović, Belgrade 1989, which lasted for 269 moves and took 20 hours and 15 minutes to complete a drawn game.

Chess is clearly a game of strategy not luck. Understanding, logic and experience can increase chances of success as they can in business.

What is surprising is the sheer number of moves, the time taken when comparing the shortest game, average game and longest game with the latter being a mere draw! Were the players procrastinating? Would the outcome have been different if the moves were discussed with another expert or computer modelled before commitment.

What was the tipping point that caused the game to alter from being an assured win to a mere draw with 20 hours and 269 moves (enjoyment or punishment) for both parties with the audience watching? Was this a deliberate game strategy by the players from the start or did this strategy emerge as the game progressed. Did it just happen?

To function effectively, business owners look at the pieces they have, assess the competition and consider the next 3 to 4 moves to succeed. If the moves are mastered well, the player removes the opponent’s pieces. Be warned, the early quick wins may help or destroy the end game strategy. If the next move is wrong, the cost is losing that chess piece and future ability to use this. This means you have less resources to achieve the same intended strategy of winning. In business, you also have limited resources of TIME and MONEY. Usually the business owner will continue with the chosen path until they either loose, forfeit, draw, go bust or WIN.

Let’s examine what may happen in a typical business. What happens when new people join? Do people abdicate responsibility, delegate, or get feedback through results and appraisals? Do business owners set out with a clear path and strategy to achieve their goals, and if they do, are they able to respond effectively to what is happening with internal and external pressures such as staffing, competition, increased regulation etc. Is the business strategy designed to deliver positive cash flow and growth with a clear exit plan.

This is the path of a clear winner. Chess masters would study moves in detail to know how to respond to their opponent to ensure success. This adversarial activity is clearly comparable to the strategy a business owner must develop. Failure to learn as they proceed will compound a bad situation leaving it impossible to recover from. In chess the loss of the key pieces may make it impossible to win.

During my business career, I remembered this quote during the highs, lows and challenges faced:

"the past is history, the future is a mystery, which is why we live in the present today.”

Ever had that feeling that the present is not what you want. For example, the customer slips his promised payment causing you grief to pay the wages or vat bill. Could this have been pre-empted by thinking three steps ahead on the chess board. What about the scenario of someone knocking your chess board causing confusion or damage? This could a subsidence claim, virus attack or an unplanned event such as a fire, flood or key employee moving to a competitor.

As a business owner and player, you need to “work on” the business (using a helicopter vision of the game) rather than working deep within the business (resulting in being sucked into the quicksand) requiring life line support. The more you struggle, the quicker you sink. Owners need to master the fast-paced society that businesses operate in. The game will not play itself and may even be played around you. Ask yourself the following:

  • Do the directors, management teams and employees have job descriptions and functions which are clearly laid out like the rules of Chess?
  • Does your work force follow GIRATT (get it right ALL the time) or could your systems and processes be improved?
  • Does your management team imposed SMART Objectives being specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely?

In playing chess, you have the chess table and pieces, and you will know the rules. The difference comes in the skill the player has to make the right moves most or all of the time. In comparing this to business – do you have the knowledge to make the right moves? Do your employees know the regulations and what is expected of them, are there clear goals, and review processes for the business.

Just like business strategy, there are many books and experts on the game of chess. I am not an expert on chess. However, the ICON business model and advisors have used their success model on 7000 clients with proven results. Don’t procrastinate like the longest chess game with a draw result, take the decisive action FAST like the short game and enjoy the benefits of winning.

ICON and their experienced advisors can work with you to design and implement specific business strategies to achieve your personal and financial goals by working with you through the chess board of opportunity. Start today!

The Life Cycle of an Accounting Function

By Mark Birchall FCCA on 05/05/2017 - 0 Comments

I have come across examples where the business owners do not know or understand the background, qualifications of an accountant or the structure they require for a finance team. This is a key issue when you have a growing business. The resources you had a few years ago may have served you well. However, the business may have gone through a tipping point requiring the business owner to upskill the finance section. Would you know what MAAT, FMAAT, ACA, FCA, CIMA, FCIMA, ACCA, FCCA, or CIPFA mean when presented on a CV or business card. Are these merely funny letters that you know mean something? This article will help you understand the lingo and place you in a better position when talking to accountants generally.

What the letters mean.
Any letters quoted after a person name means they have undertaken some form of formal assessment illustrating the individual has invested time and money passing exams. The qualifications range from studying the association of accounting technicians (levels 1 to 4) through to a chartered association status. Usually after 5 years the association awards fellow membership status based on practical post qualifying experience.

The five bodies of accountants being:
MAAT = member of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), (but not chartered).
ACA = Qualified Chartered Accountant.
CIMA = Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
ACCA = Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants.
CIPFA = Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accounting.

As a business owner, which do I go for?
As your business grows, you may decide to appoint a book keeper (like MAAT), outsource to a qualified accountant using a service company or recruit in house so you have their expertise at your fingertips. The decision depends upon several factors facing the owner and the rapidly changing technology market for finance systems.  A good indication of your requirement is the turnover, profit and cashflow demands. What is the impact on your TIME, do you have an effective TEAM?  Who is looking after the numbers and team, are the numbers accurate, are the processes tight, are they impacting your ability to work on the business rather than within it. The finance function is like the product life cycle (see later) which will require re-investment to grow and adapt to the new demands. As the business moves through the growth phases the need for a suitably qualified accountant will increase. You must assess the skills you need now and the future when deciding which version of accountant to use. ACA tend to be more practice driven and do operate within industry, CIMA more management accounts driven, ACCA a combination of both practice and industry driven and CIPFA being local government driven. Although technically, anyone of these can do a role, the decision is driven by experience, personality, getting the job done and meeting tomorrows needs today.

Check before you recruit.
Before you allow someone to look at your records or even make offer a job, check the validity and request their membership number, copy of their qualification certificate, practicing certificate (if applicable), seek references and check with the professional institute to ensure they are genuinely qualified and not been subject to any disciplinary hearing.

Recruiting an accountant.
If you are recruiting or interviewing for any accountancy role, it is important you understand exactly what you are recruiting for and why you are recruiting or appointing an accountant. Do you want them to do the statutory accountants, corporation tax filing, internal auditing etc.? Are you after a book keeper, accountant qualified by experience but not qualified with exams, or an accountant with formal qualifications ranging from AAT to Chartered status qualifications? An accountant with Chartered status has a strict ethical code of conduct to comply with. Some business owners can become very frustrated with the ethics of an accountant. However, these ethics are in place to ensure the integrity of the profession they belong too and to protect their employer given their specialised skills and knowledge.

Replacing an Accountant.
There may come a time where your accountant resigns or you realise a different skill set is required. You may have an external accountant, employee or director of the company to change. This can be a painful decision for the business owner, the team, the individual and the organisation. Sometimes the business owner doesn’t understand how much the control or business understanding the accountant has until they leave. I once had to step into an organisation after an accountant died due to a car accident. No one knew the passwords for the accounting server or payroll package. Do you have these vulnerable issues? If so, this must be handled with extreme care to prevent the business and owner suffering a meltdown.

The Product Life Cycle
The table shows the general life cycle of revenue over a period for businesses. The peaks and troughs will vary which drives how you resource and structure your finance department. The pace of revenue will drive the demand for resources. The finances function can quickly turn into an ugly mess requiring a substantial investment, change of year ends, and cash outlay to recover. This is critical when companies have a legal duty to file accounts with companies’ house creating an ultimate deadline. File these late and it looks bad by credit agencies, banks and funders.

The Phase of Growth General Resources Used. Qualifications
Start Up Start Up Do it yourself booking
External/Internal Book keeper.
Retired accountant.
Part Time/consultant  Unqualified.
Qualified by Experience or AAT
Possibly dealing with funders requiring qualified accountant
Qualified by Experience or AAT
Possibly dealing with funders requiring qualified accountant
Growing Early Using own external accountant
Outsource Service
Ranges of Options are
Qualified by Experience or AAT
Part Qualified Accountant.
Part time Finance Director
Qualified Accountant
Growing Fast Using own external accountant heavily.
Recruit own Full Time Accountant.
Finance may be brought in house. Business will need to recruit a qualified Accountant who are experienced here.
Growth Slow down Qualified Accountant focusing on cashflow and costs. Finance team may be become battle scarred.
Sustaining Qualified Accountant Qualified Accountant with change Management skills to fire fight to prevent decline
Decline Qualified Accountant managing Cashflow Accountant resigns as seeing trouble ahead or treads water.
Decay Qualified Accountant waiting for administration or redundancy Team is battle scared.
Turnaround specialist required
Possible risk of Insolvency appointment.

The article has covered the various accounting institutes. A popular way to grow your business is to recruit an AAT person and support them through the studying to MAAT, FMAAT and onto one of the Chartered status routes. Other options are to outsource the role requirement or appoint your own accountant with the word chartered included. Also, remember your accountant must follow your rules, procedures and their professional ethics. A good qualified accountant should be adding substantial value across your organisation. Use them well, and they will serve you very well.  Even with all the hard effort to become a Chartered Status accountant, you still need to be careful who you recruit. I am often shocked when I come across qualified accountants who have embezzled employer’s funds, abused the position of trust, and knocked the reputation of those who are genuinely are hardworking, honest and loyal accountants. Choose your accountant with care, do your own due diligence and don’t be afraid to ask your auditor to interview them.

I hope the article has given you an insight into the various accounting professions and meaning of the funny letters used after accountant’s name. Icon Business Solutions can help *you* understand the needs of your organisation and help *you* with the process using one of our experienced advisors. Contact us today for a free no obligation chat.

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