The Secret Entrepreneur: RTFM and get your hands on the prize!

Winning awards, securing grants and tax credits doesn’t just happen. There’s one surefire way to win. Find out here

“One of the things that I find most frustrating is when people screw up because they haven’t bothered to read the instructions. This applies to myself, my team and, yes, my customers – although I tend to be more forgiving with the latter.

Some things are difficult. They need concentration and effort to complete. They’re tricky and quite often, boring. Doing them well is what will make you more successful than everyone else. In many cases that starts with reading the instructions.

Perhaps a couple of examples will help make my case. My companies and I have won quite a few awards. They’re great for PR and for boosting team morale. I have a phenomenal hit rate at not only getting entries shortlisted, but also winning.

Is this because we’re so much better than everyone else at everything? Not really. Although of course part of me likes to think so.

It’s mainly because I always read the judging criteria in great detail. Then I read them again. Then I write an entry which answers every single criterion.

Even if I’ve only got a weak response to a certain point, I still add it. Why? Because I know most people don’t bother to read the instructions fully, and that matching entries to those criteria is the only way that judges can evaluate a lot of entries. Cover all the points they’re looking for and you massively increase your chances of winning.

The same thing goes for dealing with HMRC. For example, with Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credits there’s a set of criteria you need to meet in order to qualify. If you’re doing any kind of R&D you almost certainly do qualify, but you have to prove it.

You need to understand what the criteria are, then write your claim to make sure you match them all. It’s not fun, but follow the guidelines and it’s straightforward. It’s also a massive tax saving if you qualify.

The paperwork you send to HMRC is going to an underpaid, overworked government employee. Make their life easier by reading the instructions and making sure you hit all the buttons and you’ve got a substantial chance of getting your credits without experiencing the joy of a visit from your local tax inspector.

I learned this the hard way. The first time I claimed for this, I didn’t lay things out clearly, I didn’t read the instructions. I was asking for a lot of cash back, so I got a drains-up visit from a tax inspector who wanted to “understand what we did”.

A tax inspection is not fun. You feel like they want to catch you out, even though you know you’ve done nothing wrong. So, in preparation I went back to the qualifying criteria and read them carefully, I made sure I knew them inside out, and prepared answers that I knew met every point.

When the inspectors turned up to interview me, they simply worked through the checklist of criteria, asking me about each element. Having read them, the process became a piece of cake and was over pretty swiftly. The result? I actually got more money than the original claim!

There’s a nice acronym for this in the software industry – RTFM. Read The Fucking Manual. Words to live by I think.”

Read previous Secret Entrepreneur columns here on Startups.co.uk.

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