Partnering with others and maintaining standards

I have to say that since I have been running my own businesses I have been fortunate or perhaps just sufficiently prudent to choose the right subcontractors and joint venture partners. Where I have given work to others they have not let me down, though I have had clients who have made mistakes. Often the reason is that they wish to give work to the party quoting the lowest figure rather than vetting or asking for recommendations for the best quality supplier.

I love Dell computers. I have bought three for business in the last couple of years and my wife and I also purchased two as family presents. They are quality products and the customer service is great on the rare occasions one might need it.

This confidence in the products led me to buy a Dell ink-jet printer. I might just have been unlucky in that it has never worked satisfactorily, One thing I can say is that it has been incredibly expensive to run. The ink cartridges are appallingly expensive. They don’t last long. Guess what? Dell don’t make the printers; they are essentially re-branded Lexmark machines and the latter company is notoriously expensive for ink.

We all make mistakes and clearly I should have done my research better. I have now bought an HP printer based on reviews and my good past experience of their products, and I hope for the best. I am assured the cost per page will be far less than the Dell-Lexmark, and anyway I am trying to print less as part my effort for conservation.

Maybe Dell think Lexmark are delivering in price. Are they delivering on customer satisfaction? I think it is a timely reminder for me in choosing the right subcontractors and service providers too. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Value billing and genuine benefits

In my line of work we tend largely to bill a fixed amount per project or task carried out for our clients. There is always at the lower level a consideration of time involved so that we do make a fair profit. If there are extra items that we provide or some special premium service that we offer and our clients opt for it, understandably they expect it to be genuine and not something we offer everyone for a basic price. The rule is that the greater the benefit, the greater the cost.

This last week I had to buy a new printer, which I purchased from a well-known on-line provider (well, I guess all IT related stuff is by definition available on-line). On this occasion, though there were elements of the proposition I did not properly understand, so I actually had to resort to using the telephone. I sorted out the deal with the operator, and she then said to me “do you want next day delivery for a cost of £12.99 or standard delivery for £4.99 which is in two to three days?”. I opted for standard delivery, partly because next day delivery was not particularly convenient.

Imagine my surprise when within a few minutes I had an emailed invoice for the printer plus standard delivery followed by another saying that the machine would be delivered the following day. An hour later I had an email from the courier confirming next day delivery and that the goods had been dispatched. Indeed the package did arrive the following afternoon. For this company, next day delivery is standard practice, no doubt so that no one has any storage problems along the chain and they can keep their goods moving.

I could have paid an extra £8.00 for the same service I was actually getting and would have known no different unless I could have compared notes. I was not out of pocket but could have been if I had been very anxious to receive my printer.

In the business world, often clients and customers do have occasion and opportunities to compare notes. Imagine if your customers finding out that the “premium” service they were paying for was something nearly everyone had from you without paying extra. That is the way to lose clients, isn’t it? You wouldn’t do it that way, because people would feel scammed and ripped-off.

As customers ourselves we do have to make sure that our goodwill is not abused, and as people in business we have to ensure that all our clients and customers feel they are treated fairly. That is good business and good customer service.

© Jon Stow 2010

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Why employment is the other side of the fence

I was talking recently to a senior manager of a major financial institution. She is by any measure a successful person, well paid and valued by her employer. She is a person whom one would describe as a serious IT techie as well as a manager of others. She knows how things work in the virtual world.

I was explaining to her about my blogging activities; how often I do it (which is quite often as you know), how I get inspiration and how I manage to blog regularly. Of course I explained a few of the tricks; how one should take advantage of “purple patches” to write a string of posts, how I schedule posts ahead as most serious bloggers do to take off the pressure of readers’ expectation that they will hear from me if they have such expectation. At the same time I can still write about a topical matter fresh in the public domain and slip it in to the stream. This part is perhaps for another post.

The senior manager said to me “I don’t know how you have the time”. Well, firstly, it is about time management, and secondly I write for pleasure to a large extent so some of the pieces are written in my leisure time. Mainly of course, I blog for the market, which means my market, my reputation, and my networking as well as for my friends. It is about marketing to people, and if there is a Google effect, all well and good, and there generally is.

The Googleplex welcome sign

What struck me though was the difference between the perception of a senior employee, driven by the work that comes in, and someone in business on their own account who has to drive the business to make money, to take the business forward and build a future, and of course have some fun along the way. It is the difference between being reactive as an employee and proactive as a business person. It is the difference between being bound by others and being free to make our own decisions.

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Saying “Thank you”

I guess I would not like to work in a large chain store. I imagine that at busy times, especially at the check-out it can be a pretty relentless slog, and at other times rather boring. I expect that any little gesture of appreciation gives a lift in mood to a bored or overworked shop assistant.

This morning I went into a well-known motor accessories chain to buy a packet of “dust caps” for the tyre valves on my car as some person who had lost theirs has helped themselves to mine. These dust caps were difficult to find, but luckily the place was quiet and asking for directions twice from helpful assistants (but it is a big store) I found what I wanted. Obviously I thanked both people and had a nice chat with the lady on the check-out, and I thanked her for the helpful service.

This seems a trivial matter to relate, but I do always make a point of showing my gratitude even to the bored and busy in shops. Why? I like to be thanked too. I also thank the suppliers of goods and services I receive, whether it is the owner of a business or the delivery driver; whoever is the person I am dealing with. It never does any harm, there is no downside, and I might get even better service.

There is another way of thanking our suppliers and contractors and that is by making sure they are paid promptly. It is insulting to make people wait for their money after they have delivered their service or product. Late payment makes people feel less valued or respected. Actually, quite apart from getting ourselves a bad reputation by paying late, our suppliers may decide not to refer us and refer another customer instead for that juicy contract. We do ourselves damage by not showing our gratitude with thanks and with prompt payment.

How do you feel when someone takes ages to pay you or your business for a product or service you have delivered? Do you feel, as I do, that the client or customer is disrespectful and doesn’t value you? Do you also like to be thanked properly? I know I do. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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You are more versatile than you think

As we know, there is far less job security these days. It is not just because of the recession and hard economic times. There is less of a tradition of working for one employer one’s whole life. People tend to want to move and somehow the entire job market has changed. This was a process which started twenty or thirty years ago.

What we now have is choices. We can be independent. We can work for ourselves. We have broadband. We can run several businesses at the same time. We may need to to earn a decent living. Life is good, or it can be if we make it. Don’t be afraid. The future is ours, and it is different.

I am not the only one to think so. Look at portfoliocareers.net (not an affiliate link) and also listen to Chris Brogan’s thoughts.

Do you agree? What do you think?

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Have we bred a dependent society?

Realism, job seeking and cats

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The right business to start up?

People start businesses for different reasons. It might be to fulfill a dream such as running an art shop or an old-fashioned confectioners, or because they have been made redundant and think they are good enough at what they do to have the same type of business on their own.

There should always be certain factors our budding business people should think about. Will there be a demand for their product or service? If they are redundant from a company in which they used a similar skill to that which they will be using in their own business, the market may not be there; that would be why they were made redundant in the first place. In the latter scenario it might not be hopeless in that often larger corporates waste a lot of money which they reflect in higher charges so a small business run efficiently may be able to cut in to their remaining market. It needs thinking about.

Running a small business is hard at times. Small business owners have a lot of responsibility. Unlike in a larger corporate environment there are no safety nets if the owners can’t work I would not want to put people off, but all small business owners need to be able to deal with problems and think on their feet.

So, if we really want to run our own business, maybe we need to turn away from what we did before. Do we have an interest or a hobby we could turn into a business? Are we ex-insurance salespeople who are good at carpentry or kitchen installation? Are we former bank employees who are already into property letting and could become a letting agent? Are we tyre and exhaust fitters who know all about making and selling scale models of railway locomotives, aircraft or boats and could be a full-time EBay dealer?

DC3 Scale model - Photo by O-VMikkel

I have started businesses myself; several of them. I was good at tax and started my own tax consultancy. It took a lot longer to be successful than I had thought it would. I learned to be flexible and start other businesses too, based on my “life skills”, to ease the pain.

Starting a business takes a lot of thinking about and I learned from my mistakes. I hope it can help to learn from my mistakes too rather than have to learn from your own.

© Jon Stow 2010

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Being in business is not a game

Some things start-up businesses need to know

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Business start-up planning and taking responsibility

Planning to start a new business is not easy. At the outset we need to have a real plan, and not just for the bank. We should be sure there is a need for our type of business, a niche we can fit in, and know who our clients or customers will be. Whether we realize it or not, we have to establish a team. We need our bank manager, we need a marketing person, we need a web designer, we may need an SEO expert and we need an accountant or tax adviser. There may be other people too in our team. If we are in retail then we need a supplier or several. All those we need even before we think about perhaps taking on employees.

We need to establish dialogues with each member of the team, and we sometimes need them talk to each other. Above all, we must tell them what we need from them and tell them what they need to know in order to help us.

All too often with new businesses I have seen them get into trouble or even fail because their enthusiastic owners simply forgot to communicate. They hate their web design, their website is not found because their SEO expert did not understand their business or they miss an important deadline relating to financial issues. If their advisers don’t know what they want, they have not sent them important letters from Government Departments because “they assume they would know”, and if the new business owners don’t understand the basic principles of running a business and do not ask for help, then they will probably fail, and failure is expensive in financial terms and for morale.

In the end it is all about communication. Tell your advisers everything, even if you think they ought to know. Good professionals generally won’t be insulted. If they roll their eyes it will be in private. At least you will know that they are in the loop. Leave nothing to chance, don’t be too part-time, and you will have a sporting chance of success.

Do you agree?

© Jon Stow 2010

Related posts

Better to have a business plan than have your dreams shattered

Why we need to have the right business in the right place

Being in business is not a game

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Flirting with prospects and with clients and customers

I talk to many different business people, whether it is when I am out networking, on-line, or in dealing with my clients and prospects, or indeed when I am someone else’s client. From a consumer point of view generally I get a good service, but that is partly because I seek it out in getting recommendations before I engage a business to do something for me.

Occasionally, though, I hear of stories or experience myself a very disorganized business. It does seem that there are those who take on too much, promise loads and have not worked out when they have time to deliver. Of course if demand is there, it is sensible to take on an employee or two, or if the need is anticipated to be short term then the answer is to take on a recommended contractor for the duration. Some people do not have the courage to grasp the nettle and delegate, or do not know when they do not have the ability or skill to deliver what is required.

There are those in business like moths flying from one light to another. They flutter round one project, and before they have seen it done they fly off to another. They never get anything finished, they never respond to customers’ questions about progress and they never organize themselves to make serious money. In the end they will get a poor reputation and their business will fail.

We all like the bright lights, but instead of spending our time fluttering around them we need to keep our feet on the ground and use our heads rather than our imaginary wings. The wings are great for dreaming but first we need to be successful to realise our dreams.

Have you met a business fluttering aimlessly, trying to please everyone but failing to deliver?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Being in business is not a game

Keeping our clients in the loop

Keeping our clients in the loop

Many of us have several client projects agreed and on the go at the same time. That is the nature of many of our businesses. We all know it is important to give the client an idea of how long an engagement will take to come to fruition. The client needs to be given a realistic expectation of delivery.

Life being what it is, sometimes not everything runs smoothly. Things go wrong. Our contractor fails to deliver their part promptly. Someone is ill. Another client has an emergency and needs to be saved from complete disaster, and we have to make a decision to delay another client’s project slightly in order to save our desperate client’s bacon.

We do need to make sure everyone knows what is going on.

  • With a new project set a sensible time for expected completion bearing in mind what other work our business has and in accordance with the client’s needs.
  • Keep the client up to date on how their project is going.
  • Involve the client in the process to make them feel comfortable in the relationship.
  • If something goes wrong or there is an unforeseen delay, keep the client informed.
  • Do not make promises we can’t keep. Do not promise delivery be the middle of next week without checking we have all the resources, materials, personnel, permissions or whatever we need to make it happen.
  • Apologize if we need to. The client will understand if there really is some problem beyond our control.

If we deliver late without a proper explanation we will not be given the next project our client needs to be carried out. We will not be recommended and referred. We will lose business down the line. We may end up with a fee dispute over the current project.

In the end, keeping our clients informed is part of basic customer service, and there is nothing more important in business than that, is there?

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Are we pre-conditioned for our working lives?

I was listening to a discussion on a news channel this morning in which there was a debate about the new British Coalition’s proposals to get unemployed people to where the work is by helping them re-locate, and how this sat with the review of the current range of benefits, particularly unemployment benefit (known as JobSeeker’s Allowance) and Incapacity Benefit for those deemed unfit to work. There is quite a lot of debate about Incapacity Benefit. Of course the majority who receive it are those for whom it is intended, but there was a suggestion that some long term unemployed receive this benefit because the State currently has no other options.

I do not want to debate these complex issues and there must be people much better able to comment than I. However, what was interesting to me was the general agreement that unemployment in young people in deprived areas was often a culture derived from their parents and sometimes their grandparents; possibly third generation unemployment. One commentator said that she felt that the problem was partly in failing to encourage the young to get a proper education; to pay attention at school. Some parents feel that school didn’t help them to get work so they do not encourage their children.

This seemed to me a worrying view, but when I thought about it I could see the point. It struck me that there is also a culture of employment which tends to make people think that should be their lot. Things have moved on since I started work, but at the time I went for a job in a bank because both my parents worked for banks and it was agreed to be the right thing to do. I only ventured into business on my own account when I lost my (well-paid) job and couldn’t get another of any sort due to a downturn and my more mature status. Running your own business needs a whole different mindset.

I applaud at least one local school which I understand does give near-leavers in the sixth form some time to study independent business – being self-employed – but I wonder how much we are conditioned through parenting and education, or lack of it, to be employed, self-employed or unemployed?

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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