Serena Humphrey is taking a stand by running a campaign which will allow the public to speak up about the new changes made to the dividend tax system. We have asked her some questions to find out why she is so passionate about helping businesses around the UK and what she plans to do next with The F Word.
Q. When was The F Word established?
A. I set the business up in 2012 after selling my previous business, which was a specialist management accounting practice.
Q. You have said that your mission is an obsession, we would love to know why you are so passionate about helping other businesses.
A. Well in the early ‘90s 3 things happened that changed the course of my life and set me on my journey to help businesses – firstly my parents lost their dream; their hotel in Scotland was lost due to the recession, after they’d been in business for over 25 years. They lost their business and their home and had to start again with nothing in rented accommodation.
Then I lost the house I’d bought when I was 18 – 15% interest rates meant the mortgage was more than my salary so I had to give the keys back to the bank just before my 21st birthday, and then the amazing family business I worked for went bust. I’d been there since they turned over just £500k and we built it to £10m in just 3 years. I was in charge of finance for the group. I had to make the factory redundant and close down all our stores, then I watched as my bosses lost everything they’d ever worked for.
I was 22 years old, and the very harsh lessons were learned there that could help small businesses everywhere – the perfect example of how not to do it! This was a really painful formative time in my life and I decided there and then that I had to understand what had happened and how I could stop it happening to other business owners – to stop them losing their dream.
Q. If you could only give three pieces of advice to businesses what would they be?
- Make sure you’ve got enough cash – always forecast assuming the worst. Lack of cash will kill your business.
- Don’t delegate your finances – it’s down to you to understand what is going on. Never assume your bookkeeper knows what they are doing, or that your accountant will tell everything you need to know.
- The best idea in the world will come to nothing unless you can work out very precisely your route to market and how you’re going to market what you do.
Q. At businesscomparison.com, we focus a lot on women entrepreneurs, have you ever been knocked down because of your gender?
A. Not really – it’s not something that I have ever considered.
Q. Has there been a role model in your life? – If so who?
A. I’ve had several amazing bosses who have inspired me, and now I work with lots of business owners who do the same.
After George Osborne announced the changes in the July budget it gave you the chance to do what you’ve wanted to do for many years with the ‘survive and succeed campaign’. The petition has allowed you to go out there and make a statement.
Q. How long exactly has it been running for?
A. We launched the campaign officially in September 2015 and set up the petition then too.
Q. Are you happy with the responses you have received so far?
A. Yes! We hit 30,000 today, but I want to make sure every business owner in the country is aware of this and has the chance to say “no.”
Q. Did you think you would get so many?
A. To be honest, no. I’ve never run any kind of campaign before so I had no idea what to expect.
You have said that there are three areas of the campaign:
- Raising awareness of the low long-term survival rate
- Helping companies understand how to build resilience into their business and understand finance
- And most significantly, the fundamental shift of the governments approach and support towards small companies (the dividend tax changes).
Q. How will you do all this?
A. Obviously this is a long-term campaign – I’ll be working on this for the rest of my career, these are the ways I see we can make an impact:
Through writing my blogs and articles and reaching people that way.
Writing for other business publications.
Speaking – I’m getting lots of opportunities to speak at business events now so I hope that I can influence every business I come across to look at their finances in a different way.
Working with business support agencies to get better finance training into their support packages – not the usual accountants jargon based stuff, but things that really get through to business owners and help them understand the important things.
Breaking down this wall of jargon that accountants have built up – the vast majority of business owners don’t understand what their accountant tells them but daren’t ask – when people get that it’s about their money and their future, and how they can control it they get excited.
Q. What has been the hardest part of running the Survive and Succeed Campaign for SMEs?
A. Juggling the time demand with running my business – we’re in a growth phase so that is proving a real challenge at the moment.
Q. What has been the best part of running the campaign so far?
A. I guess realising that I can do it – it took a lot of soul-searching to step up and put my name on the line for this, I am really glad I took the challenge and finding that so many business people are really upset and worried about this tax and that this has given them a platform to say NO!
Q. How will you bring this forward?
A. We’re working on the next phase of the campaign strategy right now, and we’ll be getting people in to help us.
Q. During this campaign have you learned anything new?
A. Yes! Learning how to run a campaign! The power of leverage and getting other people to help with the heavy lifting.
Q. You have said that telling the truth will help businesses feel more supported? Can you expand on that?
A. I can indeed – most of the press we see about small business is promoting the super-successful, the apparent overnight success, and it rarely talks about the years of slog, the hard work for little rewards in the early months and years. This has a damaging effect because it discourages the average business, owner.
In the early years of The F Word, I almost quit 3 times because all the press out there made me feel like a failure. Then my coach gave me a book called The Dip by Seth Godin which made it clear that most business is just damn hard work, and the key to success is just to keep going. I think if more people knew how hard it will be, and that it is normal, we’d see more businesses keep going rather than quit in those important early years.
Q. Finally, what is next for you and The F Word?
A. Well more growth on the consulting and training arm, and then in the New Year we’re launching our online training programs – jargon fee easy to understand online courses covering all the aspects of running finance in a small business.
In addition Serena, it would be great to hear what your top tips are for small businesses that need motivating to achieve success?
Interesting question. I don’t think you can motivate someone to want to achieve success. Making a business work is all consuming and incredibly hard so if you don’t have the drive to succeed, the truth is that you probably won’t make it. Over the years, I’ve mentored lots of businesses and encouraged friends and family to set up on their own. The key ingredient to success is grit, and to keep going, even when things feel awful. Motivation just isn’t something you can teach. You’ve either got the fire or you haven’t.