Things our micro business does
Here are some of the things that we do as a micro business
This month we turned 5, which is no small achievement! We must be doing something right, so in this article, we will share some of the things we use and do in the hope some of them might be useful to you and your business.
According to Companies House, the average age of UK businesses has been declining since 2000. From an average age of 10.7 to 8.5 years;
As of March 2019, the average age of a company on the register was 8.5 years. Since 2000, this has gradually declined from 10.7 years. UK Company Statistics
Considering this average includes many businesses that are decades old, I’m happy to say we’re still going strong at five.
A little about our business
I’ve described us as a micro business. Which is because we meet at least two of these criteria;
- turnover must be not more than £632,000
- the balance sheet total must be not more than £316,000
- the average number of employees must be not more than 10
Unfortunately, we aren’t making that much money, and we have zero employees, just two directors. I imagine most smaller web agencies fall into this category. When we need some additional help, we work with freelancers to either fill in gaps in our knowledge or help with the workload.
We do web development and consultancy either on a per-project basis or on a regular retainer for some lovely clients.
We are a limited company. However, I think the term lifestyle business most accurately describes us;
A lifestyle business is a business set up and run by its founders primarily with the aim of sustaining a particular level of income and no more; or to provide a foundation from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle. Wikipedia
Our goal isn’t to take over the world; we want to live comfortably and go on a couple of holidays a year.
We work entirely remotely from our home office in Belfast.
Tools and services we use
Nothing is shocking about the tooling we use to run our business. We’ve typically picked the “boring” option because we don’t want to waste time integrating or learning something that isn’t well supported, especially for things that don’t bring us value. Gmail is a perfect example, we could self-host our email server or use one of many competitors, but the time I spend fighting with email is time I would rather be doing pretty much anything else.
To make life easier for our clients, we will default to the various tools they like to use. If they don’t have a tool in mind, or if the project is entirely internal, this is what we will use;
We use GitHub to store our code, manage projects, and run continuous integration tasks. To do this, we have a paid organisation account.
When it makes sense, we will recommend client’s use their own GitHub account, but for some folk, it doesn’t make sense, we will use ours and allow it to be transferred to someone else should they need it.
We use GiHhub projects to organise our working week; I will get onto that in what we do weekly.
We use Gmail for email and Google Drive for document storage. Gmail works with almost every other tool we could think to use, and Google Drive is just handy for throwing together documents and collaborating with clients. We pay for this.
Most of our clients use Zoom for video calls, but our preference is Google Hangouts. I haven’t found a compelling reason to drop them in favour of Zoom for our needs.
For day-to-day communication with folk we are working with, we try and use Slack; we also use it for all internal communication. We are on the free tier because there are only a few users at any one time, and we don’t need any of the additional functionality of a paid account.
We use Crunch to handle our payroll, invoicing, tax, and all our accountancy. They do a fine job at keeping us right. They have a fairly intuitive system and are quick to answer questions. We pay an annual fee to use their services.
We bank with Metro, which made loads of sense when we started because they had branches all over London and can automatically talk to Crunch, making bank reconciliation easy. They also have an easy to use mobile banking app, which is a big plus.
Now we’re back home in Northern Ireland; Metro is a slightly odd choice since they don’t have a presence here. We haven’t had any issues arise yet from not being on the same landmass and don’t anticipate any. We pay a business banking fee to Metro.
We have business insurance through WithJack, which specialise in insurance for freelancers and small businesses in the UK. It surprises me how many freelancers and small limited companies don’t bother to get insurance. It costs relatively little and gives you so much peace of mind.
I don’t think most of those tools or services will raise an eye; what is more interesting about how we work is what we do weekly and quarterly.
What we do daily
When running your own business, you need to do loads of tasks that don’t fall into the group of tasks people are paying you for. Most of these can be bundled into larger chunks of work, for example doing sales or marketing tasks (like writing blog posts about things your micro business does). These tasks will be put into our GitHub project and planned appropriately. There are, however, some tasks that we need to be able to react to, things that would typically be done by a project manager, for example.
We will check our emails and Slack throughout the day to ensure client messages aren’t getting missed. If something urgent comes in, we will plan and communicate how we propose to move forward. Because of how we plan our days, we can typically move things around without issue.
We will log our time in a simple timesheet in Google Sheets at the end of each day. We log both client and personal project time so we can see where our time is going.
At some point in the day, we will go for a walk. We often talk about some aspect of work, and even if we didn’t, getting outside for 30 minutes provides enough benefit to be listed as something we do for our business.
What we do weekly
Each Friday, we have a long meeting to discuss everything completed that week and loosely plan work for the next week. It could loosely be described like a retro and sprint planning in one.
As I said at the start, we run our company as a lifestyle business, which means we will consider our calendar first. If something cool is happening in town on Thursday afternoon, we will plan to work around that.
We will pick the most important tickets and tasks across each of our clients and work out what we have time for in the week. We leave enough padding in the week that when something unexpected happens for one client, we can generally respond to it fairly quickly without impacting other client work.
This is how we manage multiple clients and projects whilst keeping stress to a minimum.
I schedule time each week to check our accountancy set up to ensure there are no expenses to claim, invoices to chase, or taxes to pay. Doing this weekly makes it a 20-minute task instead of spending days gathering information ahead of a tax return deadline.
What we do quarterly
Every quarter we block off time and do a strategy meeting. I think this is by far one of the more unique things we do. Very few medium-sized companies manage to do this, let alone micro businesses! It is one of the most productive things we do.
During the meeting, we will discuss;
- the finances of the company, how much is coming in and going out
- our main clients and what big projects are coming up for them
- are we happy with the work we are doing and the people we’re working with
- is there anything about the work or our setup we need to change
We always come away with two things, clarity on the current state of the business and a massive task list of things that, after chatting through, seem so obviously needed.
Other things we do
Here are some other things we do which don’t neatly fit into any of the above categories.
We have a pension through the company. Not only is this a tax-efficient way of handling income, but it also gives us massive peace of mind to know that what we are doing today can benefit us in years to come — ignoring, of course, how terribly pensions are performing across the board at the moment.
Regular learning time
Each week we try and both block off half a day for dedicated learning. This typically takes the form of reading books or following tutorials. This helps keep our knowledge fresh, and several times, something we’ve recently learned has come in useful with client work. Half a day sounds like a lot of time to not be billing someone for, but it pays off in the long term.