Learning to Run Step One – Get the right tools for the job

As I said in my previous post How life changes – looking back and going forward, I have decided that in 2013, having mastered walking, I am now going to learn to run. I thought I would share the tools I have used to get me started – as having the right tools for the job definitely makes things easier.

My Smartphone

I have a Galaxy S2 smartphone – and I use it for EVERYTHING, so it was the first place I turned to when I was looking for help with my challenge.  I already used the sports tracking app Endomondo to track all of my walks and other exercise last year.  Endomondo has great challenges you can join, and that was how I logged my 100 miles every month – no messy spreadsheets to manage – just turn on your GPS – set Endomondo running – and the app does the rest.

Runkeeper

So I searched for an app which provides an easy-to-follow programme to get you running, and I settled on Runkeeper.  I was able to set my target as being able to run a 5k in early March – and then the app gave me a programme of walks and runs to follow leading up to this goal.  It suggests one workout every other day , which as I used to try and walk every day, seemed quite manageable.

However, Runkeeper did suggest I did short runs from quite early on, before I was really ready to – so I used it alongside my Endomondo, where I set up an interval training programme which would beep every minute or so, and I used this to do my burst of exercise with alternating walking and running segments.  This has really helped me to keep focused and spurred me on to run a little more than I would have done without these apps to tell me what to do.

Heart Monitor

For my birthday I was given a Zephyr heart monitor.  If you are exercising to lose weight, using a heart monitor makes the calorie burn estimates in Endomondo much more accurate – and you can see your fitness levels improving too by seeing how quickly your heart rate comes down after exercise.  This monitor attaches to a strap you wear round your chest, and links via Bluetooth to the Endomondo app on my phone.  I was very interested to see how my heart rate fluctuates during a Zumba class – we do a very high impact routine to a Rhianna song and that gives me my peak reading!

Supplements

I take several supplements which help keep my energy levels up.  For a start, I take Bee Pollen tablets each morning which helps with energy and stamina,  I take Arctic Sea  for the fish oils and Omega 3 and 6 which has really helped control my inherited high Cholesterol levels and also I take a vitamin C supplement called Absorbant C which helps maintain healthy connective tissues, skin joints and respiratory functions.

Products for Fitness

Products for Fitness

The new supplement I have been trying is a drink you make up from powder called ARGI + which maintains healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular health.  ARGI+ contains L-Argenine and vitamins and I take the drink just before I go out running – and I have noticed that I can catch my breath more easily  when I remember to take it just before my run. I have seen some excellent testimonials from Iron Man competitors about the Forever Living supplements I am taking and how they have helped others – I am not quite up to their activity levels, but every little helps!  You can learn more about these products on my website – clicking on the Order Forever Nutri-Lean button at the bottom right to get access to the web shop.

Progress So Far

So how am I doing with my challenge?  Well, on Sunday 27th January I took part in my first Just Racing 5k Cross country race.  I managed a time of 38:28 and although I walked up some of the hills, I am very proud of my achievement.   Weather and work have now meant I have missed out on a couple of weeks of running – but you may see me at a Park Run in Northamptonshire soon trying to improve my time!

Myself and Jo with our medals.

Myself and Jo with our medals.

Silicon Bullet Forever !

I have been thinking about how to support small business in a more effective way through the services Silicon Bullet offers, and one way is to offer services to a vertical market, which means we really understand how a particular sort of company or sole trader works, so that we can offer insight, help and support for clients.

One of these markets is Forever Living distributors.  I already do the regular bookkeeping for a distributor (Frances Woollard of Forever Your Success), and have helped another distributor in the past too.  The Forever Living business model encourages those signing up to set up their own business, and in the first instance distributors are self employed, but hopefully when the business grows they may wish to set up a limited company and even register for VAT as their income grows.  The responsibility of keeping accurate records of Sales and Expenses is on the distributor, so that they can fill out their tax return or year end accounts.

As a bookkeeper to several different types of business, the most challenging thing when I take on a new client, or train someone new in Sage or ACT! is actually understanding their business.  By offering my services to distributors as they set up their business, I can offer advice from a position of knowledge which means I am half way there already.

I use Forever Living products myself, and have done for a few years now.  The Aloe Vera products help me with my Arthritis, and also soothe the children’s eczema, and the Bee Pollen products ease the effects of Hayfever.  I have now taken the extra step which will really mean I can provide a unique service to Forever Living distributors in doing their accounts and bookkeeping – I have become a distributor myself.  This means I am really learning about how Forever Living works, and about the other products available – and I can offer my services with renewed confidence.

If you are interested in becoming part of an incredibly supportive team of Forever Living distributors and earning an extra income promoting great quality products, please get in touch with me via Twitter, Facebook, or our website, using the links at the top of the page.

Or if you are already involved with Forever Living but struggling with the financial side of your business, let me share my bookkeeping skills and advice with you.

Why I do my tax return in April

Excellent advice re self assessment

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Many people I know who are self-employed or run small businesses submit their tax returns – and find out what they owe – AND pay what they owe – at the end of January each year.

I have just done mine this morning. Not to be smug, I promise, although I am feeling a little smug about it right now, but because a) I have all the information ready, and b) I want to know what I owe the taxman, especially as this is the year I will have to start paying my tax on account (AKA “The double tax year”). You can read all about that in my guest post with Emily Coltman.

And, I am pleased to say, I had a nice surprise. I went a bit wrong and wildly overestimated when I worked out what I thought I was going to owe. But even if it…

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2012 Budget ~ what might it mean to you?

My thanks go to Brian D. Hogg of Brian Hogg Accountancy for writing this excellent review of the recent Budget.  Brian Hogg Accountancy delivers a professional and efficient accountancy service geared to small and medium sized companies.You can contact Brian on 01604 781 593.

Mr. Osborne claimed that his Budget was aimed at the simplification and modernisation of the Tax System, the removal of barriers to the UK’s competitiveness and a warning of dire consequences for undertaking ‘morally repugnant’ aggressive tax avoidance.

 But how does this affect the average small business person?

 Income Tax

As previously announced, the personal allowance at which normally you start to pay tax will be £8,105 from 6th April, 2012 increasing to £9,205 from 6th April, 2013.

Basic rate tax will remain at 20% and from 2012/13 this will be on the first £34,370 of taxable income, reducing to £32,245 from 6th April 2013.  This means that most people with income over (£8,105 + 34,370) £42,475 for 2012/13 will have the excess taxed at least at 40%

Age related tax allowances are to be phased out (The Daily Mail refers to this as a ‘Granny Tax’)

The 50% tax rate on income over £150,000 is to be reduced to 45% on the grounds that it ‘raised next to nothing’ and the lower rate will encourage high rate tax payers to remain in the country!

Child benefit

Will be reduced incrementally when someone in a household has an income of more than £50,000. It will fall by 1% for every £100 earned over £50,000. Anyone earning more than £60,000 will lose the benefit completely.

It appears that child benefit will still be paid to all, but claimants will have to fill out self assessment tax forms and they will have the relevant amount reclaimed via their tax assessments.

Corporation Tax

Although reductions were announced in the main rate of Corporation Tax, there were no changes in the threshold rates for small companies (profits up to £300,000), which remains at 20%.

Capital Allowances

As previously announced, the annual writing-down allowance (main Pool) will be reduced to 18% instead of 20%.  The maximum annual amount of 100% Annual Investment Allowance is being reduced from April 2012 to £25,000 (previously £100,000).  These reductions could be significant in terms of cash flow for businesses making significant investments in capital items such as vans or lorries exceeding £25,000 per annum.

The emission thresholds for cars are changing to match the emissions target.  This could mean reduced capital allowances for businesses buying or leasing cars.

National Insurance

There are no changes to previously proposed rates, but detailed consultations are to start on integrating the operation of National Insurance and Income Tax.  This seems a good way to keep civil servants busy for a long time.

Capital Gains Tax

Not much change here.  The annual exemption in 2012/13 will be £10,600 with tax on gains within the basic rate income tax band being at 18% and gains above at 28%.  Entrepreneur’s relief on qualifying business disposals gives an effective rate of 10%.

Stamp Duty

If you are buying a house costing over £2m you are probably not living in Northamptonshire, so the increase in rates will not affect most of us.

Inheritance Tax

No change in 40% rate or threshold of £325,000.

VAT

The VAT registration turnover threshold has been increased to £77,000 from 1st April, 2012 (previously £73,000). Remember this is a rolling 12 month period not the accounts year or tax year.

There are some proposed changes to the supply of hot food (an outrageous attack on those of us who enjoy hot pies and pasties?) and static caravans.

SO ~ did the Chancellor do anything to help small businesses?  I am still looking but let me know if you find anything!

The above is just a summary of part of the Budget.  There may be other items that affect you particularly.  Speak to your Accountant for advice on your own circumstances.

Follow Friday Farce

If you are on Twitter then you cannot miss the endless streams of names that get tweeted and re-tweeted on a Friday with the #FF hashtag.  But how many of you ever click on the names and pay any attention to them?  I have to admit that I now skip over and totally ignore them, and I would guess many of you do too.

Follow Friday Helper

I think the problem is that, rather than being a true recommendation of great people worth following, follow friday has become a habit or a tit for tat thing, especially with people using the Follow Friday Helper app so they can send them out without even thinking.  You can use the app to send individual clarified follow friday recommendations too; but it seems that just too many people take the seemingly easy option.

Also, when you receive a follow friday recommendation, it is polite to thank the sender for mentioning you, but this is often done by a re-tweet where all those names in the list are again repeated.  You have to look really carefully at your stream to see if you are suddenly very popular getting recommended again, or you have just been caught up in the thank you messages as a passenger!

I am not being all bah humbug about follow friday, as Twitter is after all a social media tool and all about making connections with people and sharing those tweeters who you really connect with, but if you give a reason why I should follow someone,  I am far more likely to take a look at that Twitter account and perhaps add them to my own following list.

My ideal type of #FF

And when you say thank you to someone who has included you in a follow friday message – please just thank them personally and remove all the other Twitter names from the list so we don’t all get our feeds clogged with fake follow friday messages.

I would like to thank @PilgrimChris for being the inspiration to this post via his audio boo entitled No More #FF For Me! , and the follow up audio boo #FF – A Clarification.  If you have not come across Audio boo before, it is a mobile and web platform for recording and sharing audio – and can be used like an audio blog.

Maximising the power of networking

Many of us realise the power of networking and how it can bring in new business, but how can you make sure you make the most of going to those meetings – and ensure that you remain in the forefront of people’s minds? I thought I would share some techniques which really seem to work, so when people need a some Aloe Vera they think of me. When I return home from a networking meeting it is usually with a handful of business cards. As soon as I can I enter the contact details of who I have met into our ACT! contact management database, with a brain dump of who the people are and what sort of business people are looking for. I include which meeting we met at and when. This means I remember who I have met, and I can easily put people in touch with each other if relevant. Next I will send an email out following up any promises I made in the meeting, putting people in touch with each other or passing on useful information. In this email I also remind people who I am and ask if they would like to receive my monthly e-newsletters. I don’t assume everyone wants my newsletter, and ask people to opt in, as I know how annoying unsolicited email can be. This two pronged approach of recording the details of meeting people, with a timely follow up, ensures that I stay in the forefront of people’s minds. It also helps me to measure the success of the meetings I go to. This week I had a call from a company wanting an upgrade of their Sage accounts; they had got my details from their IT services provider, who in turn had heard about me from a local firm of accountants. I was able to look up in my ACT! database where I had last met someone from the accountants firm, and send a personal thank you. It turns out I had met them right back in February this year at a  Towcester Business Club meeting, but they had been receiving my monthly e-newsletters. I am sure that is why, when they were asked for an expert in Sage 50, they thought of me. By acknowledging the referral and thanking them I will hopefully be thought of again when a similar situation arises. So make sure you too become a ‘good networker’ and make the most of the time you spend going to meetings. You never quite know where that next referral is going to come from. If you are a novice networker then take a look at the post my friend Liz Broomfield, an editor, writer and proof-reader from Birmingham, has published – Networking for Newbies.

Small Business Partnerships

We small business owners need to stick together and support each other. We are very good at what we do, but the very nature of a small business means we can’t always solve our clients’ issues alone, or we don’t have all the skills required to promote, manage and grow our own business.

I think many of us are guilty of feeling we have to do everything ourselves, and we can’t afford to outsource work. I know this is something I am guilty of.

Shaking Hands

This is where we can help each other, stick to our strengths and set up strategic partnerships with like-minded business contacts with complementary skills. If there is a job you don’t enjoy or don’t have the skills for, when you pass that to another small business you can then concentrate on your core skill set, which hopefully you do enjoy; otherwise why did you set your business up?

I find the best scenario is when you can swap skills directly with another company. I have managed to do this a few times myself. A very apt example is to do with this blog. Liz Broomfield of Libro Proof-Reading and Copy-Editing Services proof-reads all my posts to correct my terrible spelling, mistypes and grammar, and in return I can offer bookkeeping advice.

Also recently I approached an IT company and offered to be a consultant Sage expert for them. They were then able to visit a prospective client to review their IT systems, and as it turned out they were the only ones who offered Sage support and advice as part of the service. This gave them a unique selling point which made them stand out from the IT crowd. We can now both benefit from this sharing of skills.

So think about where your strengths lie, and where alliances could be made – then we can all support each other and grow.

Photo: Aidan Jones on Flickr