3 lessons I’ve learnt from 20 years in Small Business


It would be easy to think – amid today’s hype about digital products and Software as a Service’s disruption of so many industries by startups – that the business world has changed a lot over the 20 years that have elapsed since I penned my first proposal in response to the tentative phone call: “We’ve heard about the world wide web and we think we need one, can you help?” With so much ink spilled over what’s changed over those two decades, I’m surprised at how often I’m reminded of how much has stayed the same. Over my time as a small business leader, there have been three lessons which I learned early, but then had to learn again and again. I set them out here to remind you too.

Lesson 1: The customer isn’t buying your product or service. In startup circles it’s very fashionable to talk about how the customer is paying to solve a problem, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. There are so many ways a customer could solve a given problem, that when they choose to do so by buying your solution, it’s crucial to understand why. It’s almost certain that your product or service wasn’t the only option, so what made them buy from you? Was it the safety and security they get from your reputation, or was it the reputation for innovation that they get from buying “the next big thing”? Are they really buying the product? Or are they trialling it for one of their departments should the rest of the organisation go a different way? Getting to the heart of why customers buy from you is absolutely essential for effective selling.

Lesson 2: You’re not selling your product or service. Depending on how you pitch and deliver your product, you might be selling the promise of repeating the experience that another customer had, or you might be selling something that you are confident you can deliver but that’s not 100 per cent rock solid yet. Or maybe you’re selling the value that you built on the foundations provided by someone else. Whichever it is, your business success depends on understanding how your view matches (or doesn’t match) your customers’, and how your business really works.

Lesson 3: Business relationships are complicated. It’s easy as a small business to work simply: we provide a service, you buy a service, the service gets delivered, the bill gets paid. If you’re selling buns in a market, you might just have a business which is that simple (though it’s not as simple as it sounds!), but if you’re selling to businesses, then it’s more likely that your customer needs your product for a number of reasons, and has various individuals with different political outlooks and different objectives. Your own team will also have various strengths, weaknesses and disagreements about how best to deliver, though various factors can change, like the economy, circumstances and requirements from your relationships. On top of this, your customer’s finance department may seem to be working to some sort of 19th century timetable, where they have until next harvest to pay your bill!

So how do you learn the lessons?

Clear brands, product descriptions and contracts are hard work to create, but worth every penny because your customers can understand you better.

Clear internal procedures and industry standard roles help your team to move fast and do the right thing even when the unexpected happens (come on – you know it will!).

Finally, trust that everything’s going to be OK, and then make sure that it is – monitor your customers’ credit scores and payment performances and don’t accept any excuses for late payment!

by Martin Campbell

New CreditHQ partnership with The Formations Company, aims to address the growing problem of late payment to small businesses

Small business founders registering their business with The Formations Company, will now be offered access to CreditHQ when they form their new companies, allowing them to check the financial health of the suppliers and customers they invoice, and know whether those trading partners are likely to pay on time.

“Late invoice payment is one of the biggest reasons for the cash-flow issues that many small businesses are facing in 2015,” said Martin Campbell, Managing Director, Ormsby Street. “But most small businesses don’t think to check on the financial health of a customer or supplier. Making CreditHQ available to customers of The Formations Company not only provides an easy way to check this but will also recommend whether a company is likely to pay on time or not.”

The Formations Company is the most cost-effective way for a new business to form and has helped more than 100,000 UK small businesses form since its launch in 2009. It offers a range of extra services from a free consultation with an accountant or web developer to £25 free credit for business cards and stationary. The addition of CreditHQ to this suite of services looks to protect small businesses from late invoice payment and the cash-flow issues that can bring.

CreditHQ uses data from seven million company records to check credit status and general financial health, and uses a traffic light system to advise small businesses whether a company is likely to pay them on time. It also provides regular updates on credit ratings, so a small business will be kept abreast of any changes in a customer’s ability to pay. 

“Forming a business can be bewildering, so we want to provide our customers with the very best services and tools to help them as they start their business journey,” said Piers Chead, CEO, The Formations Company. “CreditHQ absolutely falls into that category. Late payment of invoices is a major issue for SMEs, so a free tool that enables them to check the financial health of potential clients before beginning work with them will be invaluable.”

For more information, or if you’re ready to set up your limited company: https://www.theformationscompany.com/

New style WatchList Alerts released

The past week has seen the release of a new design to WatchList Alerts, which aims to bring some of the visual cues of the website direct into your inbox

For all companies added to a WatchList, CreditHQ will monitor changes to the credit and payment indicators for these companies, and send an email to subscribers when these changes occur, ensuring that subscribers receive the most up to date information on which to base their business decisions.

The red, amber, green indicators are clearly displayed within the email, supplementing the different data available to Basic and Standard subscribers, ensuring that from a glance the risk level of trading with a particular company is clear.

Basic subscribers receive information on the risk band the company is in, whilst Standard subscribers receive indicator scores for a more detailed view of the financial performance of a company.

Subscribe at http://www.credithq.co.uk to start watching companies and receiving alerts.

Ormsby Street chosen as a ‘Credit Today Awards’ finalist!

We’re thrilled to announce that we have been picked as a finalist for the Credit Today Awards – in the ‘best use of technology/credit decision making’ category!

Now in their 16th year, the Credit Today Awards celebrates success and innovation of numerous companies working within the credit sector, with this year’s finalists ranging from startups, such as ourselves and business loan startup, Iwoca; to traditional banking institutions such as Lloyds bank and RBS.

Ormsby Street is the software-as-a-service company behind CreditHQ, which uses data from seven million company records to check credit status and general financial health, and uses a traffic light system to advise small businesses whether a company is likely to pay them on time. It also provides regular updates on credit ratings, so a small business will be kept abreast of any changes in a customer’s ability to pay.

To see how your business appears to others, and to check for FREE how your trading partners are doing, register on http://www.credithq.co.uk to get started!

CreditHQ at SXSW!

We’re thrilled to announce that CreditHQ have been chosen to be one of the 46 companies picked by the UKTI as part of their UK EXPO at the South by Southwest festival which kicks off tomorrow in Austin, Texas.


If you’re in Austin this week, and want to learn more about how CreditHQ can help your small business, pop along to the Austin Convention Centre and find us at the UK Expo on Sunday morning from 10am-2pm (CDT).

We look forward to seeing you there!



Late payments force small business directors to take pay cuts

Today’s report in The Times, outlines the increased importance of checking out the financial health of the companies you’re trading with: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/workinglife/article4354941.ece


The latest figures from this story, report that the average UK small business is now owed £32,000, resulting in around £677 per month for each company affected – this adds up to over £8.7 billion in late payment costs for the whole of the UK – forcing one in five directors of these companies to be taking salary cuts.

So, if you run a small business – what can you do to ensure that you don’t become one of these statistics? Check, Monitor and Collect…

Check: KNOW who you’re trading with. By registering with CreditHQ, you can check who your suppliers, customers and competitors are for FREE! The simple ‘traffic-light’ payment and credit indicators quickly show you who has a solid credit rating, and who pays their invoices on time- if both of these indicators are red, it might be worth your while having a look for more secure businesses to deal with. If you do want to find out more detailed information about a company, you can upgrade to the Standard subscription to obtain details of net worth, assets, liabilities, sales, and details of adverse credit events.

Monitor: Keep a watchful eye on those you’re doing business with. Add businesses to the Watch List on CreditHQ and receive alerts when that company’s details change – if they’re beginning to struggle financially, make sure you’re the first to know rather than finding out when they get into deep water.

Collect: Chase your invoices before they become due. If a business you’re monitoring is beginning to experience problems, think about re-negotiating your payment terms with them, or reducing the amount of credit you offer to them the next time you trade with them.


Checking out your trading partners need only take a few minutes, but could save you months of chasing payments and juggling cash-flow, simply because you went into business with someone you hadn’t researched. Plus, it’s free to do and could potentially save you from a pay cut later in the year! www.credithq.co.uk




Fall in love with your business finances again this Valentine’s day, with one month’s free access to CreditHQ!


One of the major problems small business owners cite when questioned about running their own business is ‘cash-flow’, and knowing who they should be doing business with.

On average, nearly two thirds (60 per cent) of SMEs in the UK (according to research from Sage), have had to wait for 60 days or more for payment; while almost half (47 per cent) have experienced waits of 90 days or more. As a result, cash flow suffers, and small businesses suffer. Research by the Credit Management Research Centre reported that the average small business incurs £14,000 worth of bad debt write off every year.

So how do you go about resolving cash-flow problems and choosing reliable, credit-worthy businesses with whom to trade?

CreditHQ is a straightforward service, allowing users access to credit and payment reports from the leading Credit Reference Agency, Dun & Bradstreet.  For absolutely no charge, you can check all of your potential customers, and keep track of suppliers and competitors as well – receiving updated information when their credit or payment details change so you know what action to take.

CreditHQ is available FREE, providing users with access to over 7 million UK company records via simple-to-understand ‘traffic light’ financial indicators.

For more detailed financial records, such as net worth, assets, liabilities, sales, and details of adverse credit events; the Standard subscription is available for only £25 per month – and we’d like to offer you the first month absolutely FREE this Valentine’s weekend. 

Just enter “VAL15” in the promo code box when signing up for a standard account to track what others can see about your company’s prospects and to be the first to know the key information that impacts your business.* If you discover that CreditHQ isn’t for you, simply cancel your subscription any time within the first month.

 Use CreditHQ to keep an eye on your own business!

Maintaining awareness of your own company’s details and credit score is vitally important for any business, and even if the impact is less dramatic than in this example, your company’s credit score can be impacted by incorrect data, errors or data not reaching credit reference agencies like Dunn and Bradstreet.  CreditHQ is the simplest and most cost-effective way to set your mind at rest and closely monitor the credit status of your company.  Not only can you see the credit score that other companies use to assess whether to place an order with you, but you can also check Companies House information – ensuring you’re up to date.

Go to www.credithq.co.uk to get started!
*offer valid until midnight on 28th February