We are millennials. Treat us like it’s the ‘50s.

I’m a millennial (just!) and nothing grinds my gears more than poor customer service. We have come to rely on apps for convenience, online for choice and automation for speed but inevitably things can and do go wrong….and when that happens, you need a human. Because computer says no.

And when it does, a little empathy is what you need. Old fashioned values, based on creating a great experience and not just a service definitely still have a place in the modern world.  

Here are 5 things companies still need to bear in mind when providing customer service:

Let’s talk!

It’s super annoying to be told that you can’t speak to someone. I get this a lot, usually something along the lines of ‘that department doesn’t take inbound calls’. I’m sorry, but what? Are they locked in a room against their will? Often, the quickest way around a problem is to negotiate a solution, and you just can’t do that by pressing buttons on a phone, or using an automated chat bot. Make someone available now to resolve the situation and remember that your customer is always right!

Hurry up….and wait.

We are constantly being told that people are busier than ever, so what makes anyone think we have all day to wait around? 4,6,8 hour delivery windows just aren’t convenient to most people. Deliveries should be down to a 2-hour window maximum, with a text or app notification when the truck is a half hour away – it works for both parties, no wasted time if a customer isn’t in, and a smoother delivery process from a customer that expects you.

The Knowledge

It’s really off putting when the person you are talking to has no passion for the job, which is usually because they don’t have any knowledge / interest of the product and are just there for the money. There are probably lots of reasons for that, which we don’t have time for in a quick blog, but in simple terms a little product knowledge goes a long way to making shopping a better experience…..and would probably help to boost sales too. Employers should make sure all staff are able to help a customer make a choice, because otherwise they really aren’t any more use than a website…

Keep it simple

There is lots of ‘noise’ when shopping. Buying something simple can be a bewildering experience with a range of ‘sale’ deals, confusing promotions or conditional offers. Most of these, I’m pretty convinced are designed to confuse people. Just have one price for your products, and don’t vary them between your store and website!

Another satisfied customer

This is really easy, and creating repeat customers is surely a strategy any business would want. Make your customers feel valued by thanking them post-sale and offering them incentives not to shop elsewhere. I’m not talking dodgy loyalty points, but how about a dedicated customer support line, free future delivery, or an extended warranty at no extra cost? Stuff that’s not only useful, but creates a better experience to keep people coming back for more.

We try hard at neon to create a great experience, get in touch to talk to a real person today!

Top tips on saving money...and the Earth...

First off, a little disclaimer: Money and things do not make you happy – they provide short term fixes but true happiness comes from within. It isn’t a ‘thing’ or a place you can go, it’s a state of mind.

That said, buying things is pretty much unavoidable. We are more aware than ever about the need for sustainability of the planet, and the impact we make on the environment. That’s great, but I think we could accelerate this by thinking green and buying used.

Second hand doesn’t mean you have to compromise on quality or style – if anything you have more choice! Here’s 5 top tips to help you look cool but be green:

Cars

Electric vehicles are the future, with the Government looking to phase out petrol and diesel by 2032. Chances are you might need a new motor before then, so how about checking out Autotrader for a second hand electric bargain?

A quick look for me uncovered a smart looking Renault Zoe on a ‘15’ plate – that’s a fully electric car with rapid charge, sat nav, alloys, reverse camera, Bluetooth and electric everything for about £7,000. So now you can be kind to the Earth, and your bank balance.

Electrical

Loads of big names have refurbished sections on their websites, that come boxed, with warranties and generally in brilliant condition. Whatever you are after, just type in ‘refurbished’ at the end of your search to find bargains from Apple to Zanussi.

Clothes

Don’t think charity shops are all about some dodgy tank tops or puzzles with bits missing. If Macklemore has taught us anything, its that they can be a treasure trove of stuff. Did you know Oxfam has an online designer store….?

Furnishings

Deck out your place by grabbing a bargain on sites like ebay, or if you are super thrifty check out freecycle. People literally just giving stuff away, which is perfect if you are just getting you own place and need some stuff to get you started.

Fix it!

Maybe what you need is right in front of you? With a little work maybe you could just fix what you have? Obviously we all have our limits, and fixing potentially dangerous stuff is a no-no unless you really know what you are doing….but check out Youtube for some brilliant instruction videos and you just might save a fortune!

Do you have any top tips for buying second hand? Let us know using our contact form, we would love to hear from you!

Tech tips for your finances

Alert! Alert!

Not all banks are the same – so pick one that offers some tools to make your life easier. One of the best features is customisable balance alerts to make sure you stay out of the red. Overdraft usage fees soon mount up, and they don’t look good to prospective future lenders because it shows them that you may not be great at making future repayments. Using these should keep you out of trouble (or at least let you know when to call the parents for a quick loan!)

Spare some change?

On the theme of useful banking apps, there are now quite a few apps that automatically transfer the odd few pence up to the nearest pound into a savings account for you. If you spend say, £3.49 on a sandwich for lunch then 51p gets popped into your savings account straight away. It’s not much, but it’s a start and creates a bit of a saving habit.

Time to split

Why not set up several accounts with your bank, give them useful names (i.e. Holiday/Car/New Kitchen etc, and split your wages into them automatically using a standing order). That way, saving for things you actually want is taken care of and whatever is left in the current account is yours to spend on the more mundane stuff.

When zero is useful

If you have something big to pay for in one go, sellers will often give you a monthly payment option, but they charge a lot more for it (car insurance, I’m looking at you). Beat the system by using a 0% credit card to make the purchase instead, and set up a direct debit to pay it off with no interest at all. If you get tempted by credit cards, cut it up once you have done it!

Knowledge is power

Use a budgeting app or spending tracker to learn your money habits. It’s easier to get a handle on things when you can see it, rather than just looking at numbers. Having a better understanding of how and when you spend money should lead to things eventually taking care of themselves more and more – so if you do see something you fancy in the sales you can pick it up without feeling bad about it!  

Get in touch and let us know how you are using technology to improve your finances!

Featured Article: Rachael Revesz discusses pensions for Starling Bank

For many of us, our pensions are made up of small pots of money, scattered around with our past employers. We receive annual statements from all of them, which are left in a drawer and forgotten about. A lot of younger people are more focused on saving for their first house or topping up an ISA than contributing to their retirement. And over half of 22 to 29-year-olds have no savings at all.

But, pensions are a very valuable tax-efficient way to save for retirement, according to Nicola Watts, director of Jane Smith Financial Planning.

“Pensions tend to have a bit of a bad name attached to them and people think, why would I contribute to my pension rather an ISA?” she says. “But people should understand that there is usually no difference in the underlying investment [of a pension or a stocks and shares ISA] – it’s the tax treatment that is beneficial in a pension.”

You can put up to £40,000 a year into a pension without paying tax. This compares to the annual £20,000 limit for a cash or stocks and shares ISA.

There are multiple, massive benefits to saving into a pension. One is the level of protection you are offered. If you are building up a pension pot that is managed by a life insurance provider, or you’ve reached retirement age and are drawing a set income from that contract, like an annuity, and the provider goes bust, you are covered 100% by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. In comparison, Financial Services Compensation Scheme will cover a maximum of £85,000 of savings in a bank and investments too.

But with rising house prices and less disposable income, it’s no wonder younger people are sometimes seen as apathetic when it comes to saving towards their pensions. The current statutory retirement age is 63 for women and 65 for men, but both will rise to 66 by October 2020 and are projected to rise to 67 by 2028. For many of us, this can feel like a long way off. (For private or company pensions you don’t have to wait that long. Nicola points out you can take out a quarter of the pot, tax-free, at age 55, and you can use the rest as income from that point, paying income tax just like if you were receiving income from a job. In this scenario it is best to seek financial advice first.)

To kickstart a saving culture, the government introduced auto enrolment in 2012, to encourage employees to contribute to their pensions along with their monthly payroll.

From April 2019, at least 3% of an employee’s qualifying earnings is paid into a pension by the employer with 5% from the employee.

Your pension is invested into funds of stocks and bonds and some other asset classes, in line with your time horizon and attitude to risk, and how well your pension performs is down to the investments themselves. The longer that money is invested, the more likely you are to make a good return.

Employees are opted into auto enrolment – hence the name – so you have to proactively opt out if you don’t want to contribute.

If you are tempted to opt out or to contribute less towards your pension, consider the words of Rebecca Aldridge, founder of Neon Financial Planning: “If your employer also pays into your pension, that’s free money – and it’s your money.”

Not all employees have to use their workplace pension, of course.

“We routinely move clients out of company pensions so they can have access to more funds and cheaper fees,” says Rebecca.

It is understandable that people get frustrated with multiple small pension pots as they move from one job to the next. We are likely to have many jobs in our lives: a 2018 study found that 43% of millennials planned on leaving their job within the next two years, and only 28% plan on staying in their job for five years. Rebecca says it makes sense to combine your pensions into one pot, if possible, as long as they are less than 10 years old. If they are more than 10 years old, it may mean that there are significant benefits in keeping them where they are.

“Just for peace of mind, it’s simpler and nicer to have one pot of money to look at,” she says. “Sometimes it’s financially sensible to bring them together, but it’s mainly a psychological benefit.”

If nothing else, having them all in one place saves you contacting multiple pension providers to let them know every time you move home or get a new phone number.

When it comes to the self-employed, there is no employer contributing to your pension, and you are not automatically enrolled into a scheme. You will have to choose and pay for a pension product yourself. The most common options are a personal pension or a self-invested personal pension. Both products charge an annual fee and can be found on most investment platforms.

Rebecca says that in her experience, freelancers are “renowned”, however, for having no pension at all, and she does not recommend that. A full state pension is currently just £168.60 a week – if you have paid national insurance contributions for around 35 years. It’s not much to survive on.

“I understand that freelancers’ cashflow can be lumpy, so normally I suggest paying a low monthly amount into a pension, a token amount, really,” she says, “then you can catch up at the end of the year, when you know how much you’ve earned and how much tax you owe.”

At the end of the tax year, business owners and sole traders can allocate a part or even all of their profits to their pension, and offset that amount against their taxes. (All of your profits or £40,000 – whatever figure is lower.) But how much should you contribute?

“It depends what your objectives are,” says Nicola. “If you’re buying a house in the next few years, for example, you might redirect that money to a Lifetime ISA or Help to Buy ISA instead.”

Whether you’re employed or freelance, watch out for costs. Although we mentioned free money from your employer and tax efficiency, a pension is not a free product. There are multiple fees, including an annual fee for the investment platform that the pension sits on, as well as an annual charge for the fund itself. Some providers have extra charges, for example £20 a quarter for administration.

“Costs are the number one thing that will drain your pension,” says Rebecca. “Other than that, pension products are pretty similar – they’re like a can of beans, some will be tastier than others. But it’s still a can of beans. Having said that, a pension can do you enormous favours. Think of it as the superhero for your future.”

If you have further questions about your pension, there are some good places to learn up. The Money Advice Service has a detailed section on pensions and retirement. The government website also can answer some of the more basic questions about your state pension. More general information, including on how to pick your own personal pension, can be found at the Citizens Advice website. If you’re employed and part of a workplace scheme, speak to your line manager or your HR department, which can do helpful things on your behalf such as update your details when you move house.

Of course, anyone can benefit from independent financial advice from an IFA. This is very important, especially if you want to transfer all your pension pots into one place, to make sure you avoid paying extra fees or losing certain financial benefits.

Credit: Rachael Revesz - check out more of Rachael’s work here

Guest Blog: Didi Zheleva's Money advice for couples

This weeks blog is a guest entry from Didi, an insightful article about how to talk about and navigate financial issues as a couple.

For most couples money isn’t the most romantic or sexiest of topics. Particularly when it comes to merging finances, most feel rather uncomfortable raising the issue. I know people who have been avoiding the conversation for so long that even after living together for 15 years they still pay for their dinner separately.

I used to be one of those people until not so long ago. I thought that as a strong independent woman, what I earned was mine and nobody else’s. After all, why would I let anyone dictate how I spend my money? I used to think that merging finances was this archaic idea and I was never ever going to let myself be bullied into it. Two things happened that changed my thinking. Firstly, I grew up and realised that my whole thinking about this was wrong. Having a shared budget didn’t make me any less independent. And secondly, I met someone whom I wanted to share everything with. My life, and yes, even my money.

So if you and your partner are reaching a pivotal point finding yourself in a place where you can have the money discussion, then this post is for you my friend. I am sat here with Axl today, and we’re both writing this (more like we’re just having a chat and I am taking notes at the same time) so the below advice is from both of us.

Before we go any further thought, I need to ask, are you actually serious about the person you’re with it? Because if you’re not, then don’t bother with the below. Merging finances is too complex of an issue if there’s a chance you split up in a few months. But if you’re in it for the long run, then you should absolutely do this.

Make sure everything is in both your names - None of that ‘The water bill is in my name but it’s his name on the Council tax letters’. Everything you share, should be in both your names. For one, this is a great way for both of you to feel truly involved and share responsibilities. Also, you’ll have the flexibility to deal with matters as and when they arise. When I first moved with Axl most of the bills were in his name because he had been living in that property for a while and then I moved in joining him. So whenever anything needed to be sorted, it had to be him doing it, or he had to be there to authorise me to talk on ‘his behalf‘. You see, in most cases people want to the account holder, not the account holder’s girlfriend. Insurers for example insist on speaking with the policy holder, so you will need to have both your names on there if you want to be able to pick up the phone and discuss issues. Same for paying bills etc.

Don’t worry about the difference in wage - Difference in income is normal. Rarely do 2 people earn the same amount, so don’t stress about it. I do see how one person bringing in more than the other could become a source of stress and event feelings of resentfulness down the line. Be open with each other, have a discussion and lay bare any concern you may have. This could be a real roadblock but you have to think as ‘us’ and not just ‘you’ and ‘me’ as two separates. If you plan to live your life together, then live your life together and share.

Do the math - what comes in, what goes out. Be super transparent about your income and expenditure. Account for all your debts, interest on those debts, as well as all other spending. Axl has poured countless hours putting together a super complex spreadsheet that lists all our expenses. And I don’t mean just rent and phone bills but also things like his barber shop visits and my eyebrow threading appointment. The more specific you are, the greater visibility you will have about your spend. You need to know exactly what you need money for at any given point in the month so you’re never caught off guard. Of course, this is what works for us and you two should find what works for you. But I highly recommend doing this way as it shows exactly where you stand financially at any given point in time.

Be aligned when it comes to goals , particularly the big stuff - Are you under the impression that you’ve been saving up for a house whereas your partner thought the money you both put aside every month is to upgrade your cars? Make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to your financial goals. If you have different goals to work towards make sure you keep that money separate for each goal. We use the Starling bank app for example, which is absolutely amazing. You can have separate pots where you deposit money. We have one for travel, one for household items we want to purchase and so on. You can name each pot and set goals so you know how far you are off your goal. Imagine, you have a £5,000 goal on your travel pot, you have £3,500 there at the moment so you’re £1,500 away from reaching your goal. It sounds simple, but when you have a number of different pots, it’s nice to be able to see where you stand at a glance. You can also automate payments so that when you get paid, a certain amount is deducted from your account and it gets transferred into the right pots each month. Honestly, give Starling a go. It will make both your lives so much easier. It has definitely helped improv how we manage our money day to day.

Be brutally honest when it comes to debt - This is the time to put your cards (metaphorical and physical) on the table. How much do you each owe? What is the interest? Make a plan to pay off debts before you move on to saving for holidays and other stuff. Don’t forget to account for Student Finance! Yes, it does get deducted automatically, but it’s still something you owe so be transparent about it.

BUDGET - This is kind of a big one. Be clear from the very start about what you expect. Try setting a spending limit, so anything above that amount will need a joint decision before you buy it. Also, most people have a negative connotations when they hear the word budget. What we do is put money aside every month for leisure and treating ourselves - days out, fancy dinner, a couples massage and so on. Without injecting some fin into it, it will be too hard, you’ll feel miserable and it will also come down crashing.

Now, I feel I have to clarify here, budgets are the pivotal point of any sound financial strategy, but sticking to them is hard. I for one really struggled with a particular aspect of this whole thing, being held accountable and having a budget. I mean, I’ve been self reliant and self sustained for so long and now all of a sudden I had to compromise. Yes, I knew it was all for the best, but I struggled with the rigidity of it. I struggled not dipping here and there or spending more than I should. This is where Axl keeping me accountable was a breaking point for me. This and actually seeing our savings slowly growing and our debt reducing.

Thanks to our budget, for the first time in my whole life I feel truly in control of my finances. I feel comfortable. So agree on a budget, stick to it and yes it will be hard to begin with but it will be so worth it. You have each other to help. Which leads me to the next point…

Take responsibility and hold each other accountable - But avoid finger pointing and playing the blame game. I tend to be the one who’s a bit of a spender and I love me an impulse purchase whereas Axl tends to be the sensible one who keeps me in check. He knows how to pull my reins back in without sounding mean and I know how to encourage him to splurge every now and then. So help each other out, after all, you’re a team.

Be involved - Don’t put all the responsibility in the other person’s hands and don’t take on to much yourself either. Decisions and input should be shared evenly.

Going through the ins and outs for this month and updating the budget

So there you have it, an insight into how Axl and I make our finances work as a couple. Now please know we are no experts and we’re still learning. We’re constantly trying new things and seeing what works for us and our dynamic. We talk to each other and adjust when necessary. The budget itself has changed so much as well, we moved house since we first started it, I’ve changed jobs as well so don’t be afraid to play around and see what works for you. Just remember that you’re in this together and it will only get better once you’re fully into the swing of it.

So tell me, how are you and your partner managing your money? Are you looking on embarking on a joint venture? Let me know!

Essential tips and tools for budgeting

In this blog we cover budgeting. But don’t think of it as dull, think of it as a way to always get the fun stuff you want by being cunning with your money. Like a fox with a spreadsheet.

Where to start

In simple terms, budgeting is about having a good idea of what money you expect to have coming in to your bank account and what money you expect to go out. The idea is to have some money left over at the end of the month, so you can start to build up some savings.

If you don’t budget at the moment (and don’t feel bad, because lots of people have no idea what they spend each month) try this. Look at your last bank statement and highlight everything you paid for that's absolutely essential (mortgage/rent, utility bills) and add it up. Do you think anything can be reduced? Try Look After My Bills which automatically moves you to the best energy deals without you having to do anything.

Smart steps

For the non-essential stuff, try to work out where you could save a little, but don’t cut back to the stage of making yourself miserable. You work hard, so play hard. Just make smart little changes that don’t affect your standard of living, but keep the pounds in your pocket:

  • If your mobile is only a couple of years old, why not get a SIM only deal? You will probably halve your monthly bill, and let’s be honest, is the latest smartphone really that much different to the one you have?

  • If you are keen on keeping fit, consider switching to a lower cost gym – there are plenty around with no joining fee and no contract for about £15 per month.

  • Like going out for dinner or seeing the latest film at the cinema? Who doesn’t. It’s even better when it’s half price. Next time you buy insurance (home, car, travel…) then do it at Compare the Market. Everyone needs insurance, so why not get something to sweeten the deal!

Business owners

If you run a business, knowing your numbers is vital. Don't rely on your accountant to tell you what you've made this year - get to grips, use a good accounting system and take responsibility. There’s a reason why people in Dragons Den are asked key financial questions about their businesses - it’s because they are important. Do you have systems and tools in place that can answer these in a few clicks?

  • What’s your profit for the year to date?

  • What percentage of your expenditure is met by income that’s guaranteed, or paid regularly (like contracts, or subscription income)?

  • What’s your forecast profit for the coming year?

  • What is your aged debt (i.e. how much do people owe you?)

  • How long does it take your clients to pay you?

Be prepared

If you have any surplus income each month our first top tip is to build up some emergency savings. Try to aim for 3-6 months of normal essential spending. Put it into a bank account that’s separate from your everyday account so you don’t get confused about your balance and dip into it.

If you need any help with budgeting, get in touch and we will supply you with some spreadsheets to make the task easier!

Once you have some emergency funds in place, it’s then time to make the most of any surplus cash you have – this could mean investing into a savings plan for your future goals, or even putting some money into pension for your long-term future. Contact us to learn more.

Guest Blog: The way we work has changed

We are delighted to have Ross Cox, co-founder of Dispace talking in this weeks blog about the benefits a flexible working solution can bring to your business.

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57% of people now spending more than half the working week away from the office, and 31% of the working population would choose flexible working over a pay rise.

1 THINK ABOUT PERFORMANCE AS A MEASURE OF OUTPUT

Since the industrial age (for context, back when toothpaste was made of charcoal and honey) we’ve been locked into a 9-5, Monday to Friday, travelling on masse to central locations routine. This is now entirely unnecessary, expensive and counter-productive (over 400 hours a year are typically lost to commuting).

We’re not saying ditch the office but look at work in terms of what needs to be achieved rather than how, where and when it gets done. Be open-minded about this and strike the right balance between when you need the office, when working from home makes more sense and when your day deems it sensible to look at another location.

2 TRAVEL TIME SHOULDN’T BE DEAD TIME

We’ve all been there, left with a couple of hours here and there to kill between meetings and either stuck between two prams on a tiny table in a chain coffee shop, or even wedged with laptop on knee parked up in the car.

Our towns and cities have a host of fabulous hospitality spaces, often with low cost, inviting meeting spaces that simply aren’t used during weekday work hours. Find somewhere a bit more comfortable, inspiring and productive to plug in. Places like these.

3 EVERYONE’S IN THE SAME BOAT

We’re all looking for the same things. Other great people to sell to, buy from, collaborate with, learn from and share some downtime with. Home-based and regularly mobile workers often suffer from isolation and lack of human contact.

Networking events can range from pressure selling to something akin to a middle-aged stag and hen party. Focus on meet-ups that are about informal co-working, focused on shared problem solving, natural discussion and not a forced agenda. Building relationships in this way will be a far more guaranteed route to doing business.

4 ADOPT THE GREAT TECH TOOLS THAT BIGGER BUSINESSES ARE EMBRACING

Technology becomes more accessible, intuitive and has lower skills barriers to adopting day by day. This doesn’t just mean the established services like cloud accounting and CRM platforms, but neat tools for product development, customer management and hooking everything together in a workflow for your business.

In the UK we are lagging behind in productivity terms, with a big part of the challenge resting with micro businesses. Using proven tech tools has a clear and positive impact on performance. Those businesses with high digital adoption typically earn £103,000 per year more in revenue than those with none and using accounting and CRM systems provides a 13.5% increase in sales per employee over a 3 year period.

5 GET YOUR SERVICE DELIVERY HOUSE IN ORDER

A big part of the productivity challenge relates to getting paid by customers, and whilst some of the behavioural aspects of this are harder to solve, those that are process related are not.

Get to know your customer first, use a KYC checking service from one of the Credit Bureaus and ask for references.

Put in place a clear and unambiguous contract for services. Ensure it is clear about what you are delivering, by when, how much the client will be charged, when the invoice will be sent, what the payment terms are and what penalties exist for late payments.

Make it easy for the client to pay. Automate production of your invoices and bring your payment facilities online so that you don’t have to remember to send the invoice and the client has the means to pay immediately with minimal effort.

Dispace is providing a platform that helps support people in the way they work. This will extend from its network of flexible work and meeting spaces and co-working events, to supporting business with tech tool adoption through a personalised diagnostic, and providing the platform to managing work, from engagement and contract, to fulfilment and payment.

Dispace is entirely FREE to join. Check it out here. You can check out their facebook community here too.

Guest Blog: Legal tips for solo entrepreneurs

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In this weeks blog, we have a special guest editor - Heather Stanford of Stanford Gould Limited discussing the 5 must haves for your client contracts:

1.      Manage your client’s expectations and your own.

This is the primary reason why T and Cs exist – setting out what you are expecting to do as your part of the bargain – and what your customer is expected to do as well. This is a two-way street and both sides have responsibilities and obligations as part of the delivery of your goods and services. Be clear. Nasty surprises often lead to fall outs...

Make sure you have dealt with your obligations for processing personal data under GDPR in your contract. Got a GDPR proofed privacy policy? (…you better have...) then signpost it here to meet your layering obligations.

The most important thing is to be clear about what, when and how you are going to deliver, and what information you need from them and their payment obligations.

2.      Define your services or goods properly – what’s included, what’s not.  What bang are they getting for their buck? What are the extras? Do you change for travel, mileage, other expenses like meals or drinks (often called subsistence), Is VAT applicable (watch the rules if you are not registered for VAT and check with your accountant about what you can claim back, or pass to your customer) Do you add delivery charges, handing fees, postage?

This is about being clear about WHAT you are providing, WHEN you are providing it and to some extent HOW you are providing the goods or services. Be careful not to get too hung up in the details and then end up with a set of T’s and C’s running to several pages of logistics and expectations. It’s always a balance between clarity and trying to deal with likely outcomes ahead of them arising, with being sensible and having a document that you understand and actually works for both of you.

3.      Be explicit about deposits and cancellations - one of the most problematic areas if your contract is silent on this issue. Define the deposit or booking fee and why you might make it non-refundable – for example because it secures the date of your delivery, and what it covers otherwise. What happens if you cancel? What happens if the customer changes their mind? These two things are different and should have different consequences. Be clear.

Whatever cancellation provisions you have, they need to be tied into your payment schedule or time line. Do not find yourself in a position where your customer cancels and you still need to extract some payment from them as a cancellation fee or penalty …you will soon know the meaning of the expression ‘blood from the proverbial stone….’

4.      Limiting your liability – yes you can, but do not attempt a blanket clause that makes you responsible for nothing, ever, anywhere…. There are statutory provisions and case law that make such clauses ‘unfair’ and thus unenforceable. You cannot limit your liability for causing death or serious injury – that’s in part why public liability insurance exists - but you may be able to limit your exposure for causing loss when you ‘cock it up’. This is obviously not a legal expression, but it means you can limit your liability when you are in breach of contract or negligent. Take advice about this.  You can also legally exclude your responsibility for some specific types of loss – like loss of profits. Make sure you understand your exposure and have appropriate insurance cover to protect you.

5.      Getting paid – probably for most of us the most important clause in the contract! I like to get paid when I’ve done my job…otherwise we could all be busy and make no money (not the definition of a business the last time I looked…) Your terms need to be clear on when you will invoice, when your invoice is due to be paid, how you are paid, and what happens if you are paid late, or not at all. Can you ask to be paid in advance? Commercial Interest can accrue on late payments – check the rates that currently apply - and you may also add administration fees to deal with late payers. All this needs to be in the contract. And if you do nothing else, be sure to have a clause which entitles you to stop work if payment is not made or is delayed – sounds like a no brainer, but it actually isn’t!

If you need some advice about your contracts or your standard T and C’s, client contracts or GDPR we can help.

Heather Stanford is a non-practicing solicitor and the Managing Director of the Stanford Gould Group – incorporating  Stanford Gould Limited – offering flexible legal, contractual and operational services to small businesses, and Stanford Gould Online limited - a specialist online contract template solution for wedding professionals.

Stop. Take a closer look.

In this weeks blog, we look at ways of keeping you safe from financial scams. You work hard for your wealth, don’t get caught out by investment scams.

Data from Action Fraud shows that almost £200 million was lost to fraudulent schemes last year. Here are 5 tips to make sure you take a closer look before you commit to anything:

Being offered a ‘great opportunity’ out of the blue on a cold call.

Cold calls should always get your alarm bells ringing, even if they seem to know some basic info about you. Typically you might be offered shares or other ‘opportunities’ like a land or property deal in return for a quick investment. Never give out your personal or bank details to these people over the phone, legitimate investments are never marketed in this way.

Phishing

Typically done with an email (though it could also be SMS or social media ad), which at first may seem to be real. Scammers are getting better at using official looking logos and terminology, but if you look closely you will see the typical signs:

  • Spelling errors / grammatical mistakes in the email body, or the senders domain name.

  • The email is not addressed to you personally, it may say something like ‘dear user’.

  • Time pressure. It may say something like ‘you must update your details in 24 hours or we will close your account’ .

  • Requesting passwords and/or verification of your personal data. A legitimate organisation will never ask for this via an unsolicited email.

  • It will probably contain links and/or attachments, which if opened, could allow them to retrieve data from your computer. Never open these unless you are sure it is a genuine email - if you have any doubt delete it immediately.

Feeling pressured

Don’t let anyone tell you that you could receive a bonus, discount or other incentive for signing up to an investment before a deadline - it just isn’t true . It’s a common tactic used to pressure you into something you aren’t sure about in return for a ‘sweetened deal’.

Check the FCA register

Only deal with FCA authorised advisers, if you don’t, you may not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) or Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). You can check the FCA register by visiting https://register.fca.org.uk/. If the firm you are dealing with cannot provide you with an authorisation number, walk away.

Do your research

Slow down, tread carefully and research any potential opportunity before committing to anything:

  • Talk it over with someone you trust. Your partner, family and friends would have your best interests at heart.

  • Go online - research the product, person and firm you are dealing with. Check they are genuine and read other peoples reviews and experiences.

Finally, remember the golden rule. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

3 essential planning tips before the tax year end

tax planning year end 2019.jpg

The tax year will come to an end on 5th April 2019, so there’s not long to take planning steps that could make a big difference to you.

Here’s our top 3 essential planning tips that are designed to save you tax, get your finances in the best shape possible, and generally make you feel rather pleased with yourself.

1. Use your ISA allowance

You can save £20,000 per person, per year into an Individual Savings Account or ISA. That’s £1,666 a month. You can pay into either a Cash ISA or a Stocks & Shares ISA during the same year.

Why should you bother about it? Because ISAs grow free of tax. Other investments can suffer tax when they make income (like interest, or dividends) or gains. Tax is like a hungry mouse constantly nibbling at your chocolate and you feel like it’s not doing too much harm but one day you turn around and realise nearly half of your chocolate has gone. Protect your chocolate from mice. Protect your money from tax.

If you need help in setting up an ISA, that’s something we can do for you. We can recommend an ISA that fits what you need.

2. Use your children’s junior ISA allowances

If you have children under 18 they will be eligible for a Junior ISA. Which is an ISA… for children. They can’t access the money themselves and you don’t have to tell them about it. It’s a great way of putting money aside for their future, provided you’re comfortable with the fact that it will become theirs when they’re 18.

The maximum that can be put into a Junior ISA this tax year is £4,260. That can be paid in all at once, or in bits and pieces.

Why might you do that? If you have money available and want to pass it on to your children to give them a financial boost as they get older, this is a very tax effective way of doing it. The money grows tax free inside the Junior ISA and there are lots of investments that you can have inside the wrapper, based on how much risk you want to take and how long you think it will be invested. We can help set up a Junior ISA for you, with suitable investment funds inside.

3. Put money into your pension plan

Most people can pay in the lower of £40,000 or 100% of their earnings into a pension plan. If you earn more than £45,000 it’s an incredibly powerful way of getting income tax back that you would otherwise be losing without really being aware of it. If you earn over £100,000 it’s more powerful still, because the tax rates at that level start to become particularly penal.

The allowances apply for each tax year, and although you can go back three years to catch up, it’s best to at least think about contributing each year.

If you have had a big bonus or it’s been a profitable year in your business, making pension contributions should be absolutely top of your agenda of things to be discussing with your accountant. And if you need help in working out how much to pay, and where to pay it (and what to do with all those old pension plans you’ve gathered over the years), we are on hand to help. Just pick the services you need and we’ll step in.

Just a word of warning - if you have very high earnings, pension contributions can be limited and the rules are complex. If you think that applies to you, please get in touch and we can help with some bespoke calculations.

If you have any questions at all, please get in touch.

Rise of the machines

robo advice

Financial advice, like the rest of the world is being shaped by technology. This can only be a good thing – lower costs, more transparency, and greater convenience. The tech isn’t perfect yet (and probably never will be) so it’s probably wise that an element of human control should remain in place to police things and provide guidance.

Here’s 5 ways that tech is changing the future of finance:

  1. Algorithms
    Investments are typically handled by fund managers – they pick stocks that they think will perform well. Sometimes they get it right….and sometimes they don’t. The thing is, they still get paid (from the charges on your fund) and their salaries are usually well into six-figures. Algorithms (that’s computers following pre-defined instructions) are able to mimic traders with greater speed, but without the emotion, and at a fraction of the cost.

  2. Digital delivery
    Automated tools help to make advice more efficient, and greater efficiency is better for everything. Traditional advice usually means:

    - A big expensive office.

    - Driving, traffic, pollution, parking.

    - Paper. So. Much. Paper.

    Implementing tech like automated advice portals, video meetings and interactive, digital delivery means all of those things can be cut out – which is better for the environment, and your wallet.

  3. Money tracking

    It’s surprising how many people ‘don’t know’ what happens to their money. It can fritter away and if an unexpected bill pops up it can be a problem. Knowledge is power folks – get a handle on your spending using a money tracking app and put yourself back in control.

  4. Building trust
    Using online portals, apps and instant communication means that your information is accessible in real time. More information means increased transparency. No more waiting for an annual statement or having a meeting to see how things are going. Simply check your ISA and make that trade right from the sofa.  

  5. Advice for everyone
    Financial advice may have been viewed as for those who already have wealth. Technology gives us the option to make advice more engaging, more interesting and more accessible. Advice for everyone. The way it should be.

Neon was built on the principle of using technology to make advice accessible. Talk to us today.

Generation rent

first home rent

Up to a third of young people now face living in rented accommodation for their whole lives, due to an unfortunate combination of huge property prices and lower relative earnings compared to previous generations. The UK rental market is now worth a staggering £50bn per year. There is nothing wrong with renting – but it does provide less security, and in the UK, buying your home is traditionally seen as the ‘done thing’.  

Here’s 5 tips that might help you to buy your home:

  1. Helping hand
    The Government do recognise this as a problem for Millennial’s, and there are a few incentives to help:

    - Lifetime ISAs. If you are over 18 and under 40, you can get a tax boost on your savings for your first home. You can put a maximum of £4,000 per year in, until you are 50. The Government will add a 25% bonus to anything you contribute per year, up to a maximum of £1,000. Find out more here.  

    - Help to Buy Loan. You can get a loan of up to 20% from the Government at a really low interest rate, which means the deposit you need to contribute personally could be as little as 5%. The remaining 75% is provided by a traditional mortgage. Find out more here.

    - Shared ownership. If you have a modest household income, this could be for you. You buy a portion of the house (between 25% and 75%) and pay some rent on the bit you don’t own. Not ideal, but at least you have the chance to build up some equity, rather than never seeing that rent money again. In time, you might be able to purchase the whole place if your income situation improves – so it’s a start. Find out more here.

  2. Saving
    Ok, so this one is easier said than done, I know. But, there are some things to do that could boost your savings pot:

    - Ebay your old stuff – I bet you have all sorts of things you don’t use any more.

    - Consider some extra work. In some cases you can earn up to £1,000 from casual work without having to pay any income tax.

    - Cut back – not exactly fun, but cutting back just a bit could make a big difference. Skip that regular coffee when you are out, make your lunch at home – it all adds up.

  3. Keep your credit history in check

    If you do qualify for a mortgage, it’s really important you can demonstrate to a lender your ability repay. Pay your bills on time, set auto-payments for any credit cards and check your credit history with someone like Experian or Clearscore for anything that could be affecting you – even something really small from the past, or something you aren’t aware of could be affecting your ability to borrow.

  4. Team up

    Why not consider buying with friends or family? Some mortgage providers are able to split mortgages between several tenants. Tread carefully though, and choose wisely as a falling out could be hard to handle.

  5. Be really different…
    Who says a home has to be made from bricks? Why not consider living differently – houseboats are becoming more popular or how about a converted school bus or camper van for that real adventure vibe.

If you need some more help or inspiration, talk to us today.


Are you looking after your employee’s mental health?

support employees mental health awareness

A recent joint survey from the CII and Mind yielded some surprising results. 7 in 10 workers have said that they have experienced poor mental health at some point in their lives and it’s estimated a whopping £33bn to £44bn is the annual cost to UK employers from sick-days related to a mental health condition. Here, we look at 5 ways you could help to improve things at your organisation.

  1. Talk!

    It’s national Time to Talk day on 07 February 2019. It’s true what they say, in many cases a problem shared is a problem halved. Why not pop the kettle on, turn your phone off and make yourself available for an hour to hear any employee concerns? That’s a small time cost to you, but a potential huge benefit for employees. If talking doesn’t come naturally to you, then download some resources to kick-start the conversation here.

  2. Remove the stigma

    People in distress often won’t say anything because they are afraid of a negative response. Look out for changes in behaviour as this is often a sign something isn’t right. Try to create an open environment at the workplace where people feel it’s ok to speak up, and why not appoint a designated member of staff who has been trained to listen?

  3. Be flexible

    At Neon, and our fantastic sister company, Balance Wealth, we actively promote responsible flexible working. If our employees need some time to do a personal task, there are no questions asked. Allowing people to control the balance between personal and work lives means happy employees. Happy employees means greater productivity. Win-win.  

  4. Fit body, fit mind
    Regular exercise is known to boost your mental health too. Employees with outdoor activities will find this easier to fit into the working day, but if you have employees who are office based – why not do whatever you can outdoors? Have a meeting outside, take a walk at lunch, organise a team activity in a local park – there is lots of choice, make it fun!

  5. Eat well
    It can be hard to eat healthily at work, and eating well is another thing that’s know to boost mental health too. Why not make it easy for your employees to have a healthy choice – keep a water cooler well stocked (with a sign reminding people to drink regularly. Most supermarkets sell misshapen fruit and veg at a fraction of the cost of normal stock ….so why not create a healthy snack box for your employees?

Have a healthy 2019 folks :-)

If you would like to find about other tax efficient incentives that you could use to boost employee well being, contact us today.

New Year, New Beginnings: Money Health Check

money saving tips

January often feels like a long dark month, especially after early Christmas wages, so it’s a good time to start counting your cash. To keep things simple, we’ve pulled together a money health check to help you stay one step ahead this year:

1. Consider the true cost of Christmas

We know it hurts… But it’s time to be honest with yourself... Add up your festive costs and check when any credit card bills are going to hit. Try to pay off as much as you can, as soon as you can, to avoid getting caught in the interest payment trap. Make a note of what you have spent in 2018 to help you plan for Christmas 2019.

2. Think about what you need to spend this year

Write a list of all the things you’re planning to do this year, whether it’s home renovations, holidays, or buying a new car. Add an estimated cost alongside each one. If your car is a few years old and you plan to keep it, add in some possible repair costs - this goes for your boiler and other appliances, such as cookers and white goods too.

3. Think about how ways you can start to save

Look at the things you spent money on over the past year – this could include going out, buying takeaways, and so on. If you start putting away a small amount of cash each month into a savings account, this will soon add up by the end of the year. Just saving £10 per week leads to £520 by the end of the year, which could go towards a holiday.

4. Think about things you want to do in the future

If you’re looking to make big plans then it’s likely you will need to fund your dreams. Be realistic and start planning as soon as possible. If you’re looking to buy a home, there are different schemes available to help you step onto the property ladder.

5. Time to check your pension statement

Even though retirement feels like a long way away, time flies… Review your annual pension statement and consider whether this is likely to fund the lifestyle you’re looking to achieve when you retire. Talk to one of our advisers if you need advice.

6. Protect what you already have

None of us know what lies around the corner, and if you have a young family this is especially important. There are simple ways to cover your loved ones should the worst happen, and you’re suddenly faced with a major life event. Give yourself and your family as much financial security as possible.

7. Make your money work for you

There’s little point stockpiling cash in a high-street bank account with low interest rates. Have you ever thought about turning your hard-earned cash into investments? If you’ve considered investing before, but you’ve always been too busy then why not ask a professional to manage this on your behalf?

Our tip: think about your desired lifestyle, both now and in the future, as this will help you set realistic goals.

Need help with your financial planning? Get in touch for a chat.

5 Unusual Ways to Spend New Year’s Eve

new year resolution financial advice

As the new year is only a stone’s throw away, we decided to check out some interesting ways to spend New Year’s Eve. Whether you’re planning to celebrate with friends, family or as a couple, here are five inspiring ideas:

  1. Murder Mystery
    Fancy yourself as a budding Luther or Sherlock? How about conducting your own murder investigation in the comfort of your own home? You can buy murder mystery kits online, which includes ‘whodunnit’ cards, character sheets, a DVD (or downloadable game content) and costume ideas, if you’re up for a bit of fancy dress. Murder mystery game themes include a variety of locations, such as Hollywood, Las Vegas, Country Manor, as well as festive and 1920s themes. Go detective for the night!

  2. Below Zero
    As the UK’s only permanent ice bar, BelowZero in London has a “fun and frosty” New Year’s Eve Party in store for ice-lovers alike. If you’re already feeling the cold, their restaurant is warm, so you can sample tasty dishes away from the freeze! The ever-changing ice bar is the result of a team of ice artists and designers, and expert mixologists are on hand to create signature cocktails.

  3. Hogmanay

    If you fancy a trip to Edinburgh, you could enjoy one of the most renowned new year’s celebrations in the British Isles - Hogmanay. Events take place from 30th December to 1st January. Best-selling bands and DJs perform concerts and street parties across the city. Take part in the Torchlight Procession the day before New Year’s Eve, where thousands of people walk through Edinburgh's Old Town, accompanied by pipers and drummers, and then see the sky light up when wicker sculptures are set ablaze. On New Year’s Eve, spectacular fireworks can be seen over Edinburgh Castle with music from a traditional Ceilidh band, if you fancy a wee jig.

  4. Ancient Magic
    Why not go ‘druid’ for the evening and enjoy a 360-degree view of firework displays from the impressive viewpoint at Glastonbury Tor? Steeped in history and famed for its ancient ley-lines, legend has it that King Arthur once visited this famous hil! If you’ve not over-indulged, you could get up early to watch the sunrise over Stonehenge (an hour’s drive away). However, if you want to set foot on this ancient site then you will need to book in advance.

  5. King or Queen?
    If you have a large party, why not consider hiring a castle or a country mansion for a few days? You might be surprised to find that the cost per person can be less than staying in a hotel, especially if you have more than 20 people ringing in the changes. It’s probably too late to consider this idea for the coming new year, but you might get lucky with a last-minute booking or cancellation

At Neon Financial Planning, we wish you all a very prosperous and Happy New Year.

Fancy a chat with our team in 2019? Feel free to get in touch.

5 Ways to Achieve Christmas Finesse

christmas budget

Whether you’re planning a quiet one, or you’re preparing for the famalam to descend, everyone wishes for a perfect Christmas Day. So, we’ve checked out five fun ways to jazz up your décor and festivities to help you create a Christmas Day full of finesse and sparkle.

  1. Go for a theme
    We’re not talking cheesy themes (unless this is your thing!); we’re talking colour schemes. The easiest way to create classy and elegant Christmas décor is by choosing a colour palette. Select one overall main colour and then use an accent colour for smaller decorations, such as silver and blue, red and gold, etc. For example, a white theme could be offset with silver decorations and a table runner. The less colours you choose, the less gaudy your Christmas décor will appear.

  2. Go eco-friendly

    Environmental issues have been a hot topic this year, so why not consider an eco-friendly approach to festivities. Plastic Christmas trees cannot be recycled, so why not go for a wonderfully fragrant real tree, which can be chipped and composted? Invest in some energy-saving, LED fairy lights to help you set the scene.

  3. Christmas Eve box
    This trend is gaining popularity in the UK and is a great way to ease young children’s excitement before the big day. Go for a reusable box that you can bring out every year and fill with a few small gifts – this could be a book, sweets and a cuddly toy. There are some beautiful Christmas gift boxes available made from porcelain, tin and wood, and this makes a lovely addition to your festive décor too

  4. Eat something different
    So you’ve always done the same thing at Christmas – a big turkey dinner on the day with all the trimmings. However, many people are now switching to different main courses to add a bit of variety, such as roast beef or stews - whatever you fancy! And, this saves you having to get up in the early hours to start off your turkey too! If you insist on staying traditional, why not get creative when it comes to your evening nibbles? Check out your nearest deli for high-quality, local produce to really wow your guests.

  5. Lay the table in style

    You’re ready to sit down and eat your meal, but how’s the table looking? Before you start bringing out all your festive dishes, why not prepare a table that’s also a feast for the eyes. Think about your placemats, coasters, napkins. Why not add some stylish napkin rings and handwritten name cards tied with a matching ribbon? Always choose crackers that blend in with your colour theme to create a classy look. Why not place small plates of festive nibbles around the table to keep the hunger pangs at bay while you’re all waiting on the turkey?

At Neon Financial Planning, we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The REALLY Easy Christmas Budget

groupon wowcher financial advice

Christmas Day is just around the corner – are you ready? If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, then our easy-peasy checklist will help you plan your Christmas shop and spend, so you can sit back and relax well before the big day arrives…

  1. How much do you want to spend?
    Decide on a number. Think about how much you’re willing to spend this Christmas, even if you only have a rough idea at this stage, and make sure your other half agrees too!

  2. Who do you need to buy for?
    Break your total number down into separate costs per person. Make a list of everyone you need to buy a present for and alongside their names, leave a space for gift ideas and then a space to record the actual cost of each present. Ideally, it’s best to do this in some sort of spreadsheet, or you could use a Christmas shopping app – see point 5 below…

  3. What else do you need to buy?
    Next, list your Christmas food and drink – this is usually where budgets begin to break, as all those little details soon start to add up. Have you considered table decorations, such as crackers, candles and festive napkins? What about tasty nibbles like cheese, festive pastries and chocolates? And, don’t forget your festive tipple! Alcohol can be a big expense, especially if you’re hosting a party, so always make sure you include this in your festive budget.

  4. Where are you going to shop?
    Well done if you have been really savvy and made use of the recent Black Friday deals! However, for most of us, December seems to creep up and before you know it, Christmas is only a week away. If you’re still looking for deals, then keep an eye on retailers’ websites as they tend to push certain sale items. If you’re searching for a gift with a difference, check out Groupon or sign-up to Wowcher, as you may find some unusual presents while saving a few pennies along the way…

  5. Have you tried using a Christmas shopping app?
    One of the easiest ways to keep track of your Christmas budget is by using a smartphone app, such as Santa’s Bag, The Christmas Gift List and Manage Christmas, which are usually free if you allow pop-up adverts. You can plug all of the above points into the app and it’ll give you a running total, so you can easily manage all of your festive shopping. And, the best bit of all, next Christmas you will have a record of everything you’ve bought the year before, so you don’t end up buying Grandad yet another jumper!

Our tip: Use this year’s Christmas list and budget to help you plan for next year; put aside a small amount of cash each month to help you manage the impact of the festive season.

Need ideas when it comes to saving for the festive season? Get in touch and have a chat with our team.

5 Tips to Make the Right Impression for Promotion

career advice better job

Looking to take the next step on the career ladder? Have you set your sights on a better role at work? This week, we’ve listed our five top tips to help you get that all-important promotion:

  1. Check any bad habits
    When you’ve been working at the same place for a while, it’s all too easy to slip into bad habits. So, look at your timekeeping and how you dress for work. If you’re continually late, or you regularly turn up looking scruffy and dishevelled, you’re not going to make the right impression. Sometimes it’s the small details that can hold us back from moving upwards…

  2. Show interest and initiative
    Ask questions only when really needed – if you can get the answer by doing a bit of research or factfinding, then go for it! If you keep asking simple questions when you should know the answer, this can give the impression that you’re not quite cut out for your job. When you’ve worked things out for yourself, this shows initiative.

  3. Do something unexpected
    If you’re working on a project, why not try and deliver this before the deadline? Or, if you’re aware that something needs to be done and you know how to do it, then offer to take this on. When you only stick to your core job responsibilities, this can show a lack of enthusiasm. Managers will be looking for people who are not afraid to go above and beyond their job description. Why not prove to your boss that you are a flexible and capable worker?

  4. Develop your skill set
    Most large companies offer training and development, so take a look at what’s on offer. Ask your manager to see if you can go on any relevant training sessions. By showing an interest in your self-development, you’ll be making the right noises when it comes to being considered for a promotion. If you’re working at a smaller business, research external training courses and discuss these with your boss – they may be willing to fund your training. However, if they don’t have the budget and you need to pay for your own training, you will be proving that you’re willing to progress your career.

  5. Go above and beyond your duties
    Keep an eye on potential opportunities where you can make a good impression at work. If there’s a project you could get involved in, then volunteer. Think about all the ways you can add value to your current responsibilities – this could be in the form of cost-savings or extra sales. If you want to attract the attention of your boss, make sure you’re the one at work showing genuine initiative and enthusiasm for your job.

Our tip: Talk to your line manager about your career ideas and explain how you can help with extra responsibilities.

Looking for a promotion and need to fund your self-development? Why not get in touch and have a chat with our team? We may have a few ideas…