Adventures In Micro-Business: You are not a bank, so chase your debtors

Each month Professor Russell Smith answers your queries
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Q. What one thing should I do every month to help my business succeed?

A. Every business must make a profit. But even profitable businesses can fail if customers don't pay on time since they may not have the cash in the bank to meet their own bills. Every month, identify customers who haven't paid you on time, known as "aged debtors", and chase them. Remember that you are in business to make money and not to lend it - you are not a bank!

Q. I intend to start a business that will supply specialist food products to restaurants. Where can I find a good guide to the regulations that will apply to my business?

A. There are a number of regulations for your business and you will also need to comply with the appropriate product-specific regulations. The Food Standards Agency produces a number of useful guidelines (0845 606 0667; Also contact your local authority's environmental health service; local authorities' websites can be found at

Q. My small business is doing well and I'd like to cut back on my hours and reclaim my family life. I can afford to earn less but I'd be worried about the effect on my three employees if turnover falls. Is there a compromise?

A. Why not turn this around and seek a positive outcome for your employees? Your question suggests that your business could survive without you at the helm on a full-time basis. Perhaps now is the time to select one of your employees for promotion as General Manager? Alternatively, you could distribute some of your own activities across the three employees as appropriate. This issue is quite common for a maturing business; now would be a good time to meet with your accountant before you make any decisions.

Q. I've been planning to start my own business for some time but feel anxious about finding the cash to get started. Is there a book I can read before I visit my accountant?

A. Business Link produces two excellent documents: the "No-nonsense Guide to Small Business Funding" and the "No-nonsense Guide to Finance for High-Growth Companies." I would also recommend the"No-nonsense Guide to Government rules for setting up your business"; (


Send your questions to Professor Russell Smith at

Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice. Professor Smith is the founder of Oxford-based Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University Business School, delivers sustainability support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent on Sunday readers can enrol on the university-accredited programme at a discounted rate. For details, see: