When the chips are down for SMEs - Business Works
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When the chips are down for SMEs

by Luke Godfrey, Owner, Godfrey's Fish & Chips There are highs and lows to owning a small business, says Luke Godfrey of Godfrey's Fish and Chips, as he has found owning a restaurant that serves up the nation's favourite dish. Here are my top tips for anyone considering opening their own restaurant - or any small business.

You can imagine that it is a highly-contested claim to say any one restaurant in England serves up the best fish and chips, but we have won awards and have the special honour of not only being the highest-rated restaurant in Harpenden, but we have also been shortlisted for the National Fish & Chip Awards now for the third year in succession.

I opened Godfrey's four years ago after tiring of the corporate commuting life. When I was young, my mother ran a fish and chip shop where I used to help out and when faced with the open-ended possibilities of life outside the corporate world, it seemed to be a natural thing for me to do.

From the outset, we knew that we wanted to keep things simple, but do them well. All of our fish is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable and our packaging is compostable. We do offer pies too, but they are homemade by my Dad who also worked in the catering industry when I was growing up. We've gone back to basics and our customers seem to appreciate that. We even have a dedicated gluten-free day so that people with coeliac disease can enjoy fish and chips too.

Indeed, this mindset has proved to be incredibly successful for Godfrey's. In an industry particularly renowned for harsh first-year failure rates, Godfrey's was instead placed in the top 10 at the National Fish and Chip Awards in its first year and won in its region. From a small team of eight, Godfrey's has since grown to a 35-strong staff team and my Mum works alongside me, as well as my Dad.

Ensuring that you have the right team of staff is a constant challenge, as is maintaining the consistency of the product you're serving up. But, we're lucky to have found our niche with the UK's favourite food - you just can't beat it when it's been done right! This is true throughout the hospitality industry - as well as others.

Fish and chips is a simple dish that's a favourite all year round. It is comforting in winter and imbued with memories of the beach in the summer. Though we're often asked, we don't have a secret recipe. We just put a lot of love into our food - and double cook our chips. Maybe that's the trick!

Fish and Chip award winners However, with the highs come a few lows. Of course, it's hard not to take reviews personally, whether on TripAdvisor or in other places. Godfrey's is definitely a labour of love for me and as it has evolved into a family business with my parents helping out. It honestly couldn't get more personal than that. However, it is also good to take a step back and look at what's directly in front of you. If the shop is busy and you have happy customers, it validates all the hard work you've put in.

When I am not greeting customers, refurbishing the listed building that the restaurant calls home or dropping a basket of chips into the fryer, I have to take care of the behind-the-scenes aspects of running a fish and chip shop - invoicing, checking payments and payroll. Front of house is closed on Sundays so that's when I sit down to manage the nitty-gritty bits of Godfrey's. When I first started out, I didn't have a good system in place, so managing our finances and paperwork took ages, even with having a third party to handle the payroll. But now I use a software package, Xero, which means that I have got it down to a 20-minute process and I've even cut down on costs as it can all be done in-house. Now I actually enjoy how simple it is - you can tell they've put a lot of thought into the software. You don't need accounting expertise to be able to use it and not needing to rely on someone else is fantastic. Having to instruct another person about our receipts and invoices was incredibly time consuming. I wanted to do it myself and gain control of my business back. Xero has let me do that and now I can feel confident in our cashflow with just a glance, knowing our payments are up to date.

I have a few short tips to anyone considering starting their own business:

  • Always keep things simple - it is better to do one thing really well, rather than lots of things not so well.

  • Make sure to put a good bookwork and accounting process in place from the start as it will save you endless time in the future!

  • It might seem obvious, but ask yourself if you truly enjoy interacting with the public. Being a restaurateur is a very demanding and public-facing role, so it is essential to enjoy interacting with people on a day-to-day basis. This applies to any 'service industry',of course so bear it in mind if you are going to be customer-facing.

Gary Turner, MD of Xero, adds his tips on how to ensure your business is paid on time, invoices efficiently and has more cash flow:

  1. Discuss payment terms before you get started - Getting this sorted up-front means that there is no confusion down the track. It also sets the customer's expectations around payment before you start the work.

  2. Keep detailed records of inventory and time - This saves time when it comes to creating the invoice and makes sure you don't miss anything. It also means if things are going over budget you can let your client know, instead of sending them an expensive surprise at the end of the month.

  3. Make the invoice clear and easy to understand - List the details of the job in a way that makes sense to the client. Any confusion could create a payment lag. It's also good to personalise your invoice with your business logo - it helps carry on the professionalism of your work. And ensure you bank details are on the invoice so you can be paid!

  4. Keep on track with debtors - The squeaky wheel gets the oil. When things become overdue, send reminders, monthly statements or make a phone call. It will remind your client that you are serious about getting the invoice paid. Having a process that helps streamline invoicing can reduce the amount of time you spend collecting your hard-earned money.

Today (3 June) is National Fish and Chip Day (yes, really!), so Luke and Gary's advice for small business seems rather appropriate!

If you fancy celebrating with some fish and chips in the Harpenden area, take a look at Godfrey's Fish and Chips on Facebook

For more information on the Cloud-based accounting software, please visit the: Xero website

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