Social media imprint and reputation

Trolling

As I use social media for marketing I think carefully what I say when in business mode. I think most people do who interact on-line in a business context are quite careful. However, that doesn’t mean everybody.

It is possible to go off someone because they express certain views we don’t agree with. That is only natural. However for the most part I respect differing opinions I see. What I cannot stomach is unkind comments and cruel remarks about anyone. Unfortunately Twitter is a channel for some of the most unpleasant stuff. I think that is because it is just too easy to sound off in 140 characters whereas posting on a blog is a couple of clicks more and is often less visible.

At least it is less visible until Google finds it, and that is where the trouble starts.

Careless talk

So many people use search engines to check out prospective service providers or prospective clients. Suppose you apply for a great job but you have made a nasty apparently prejudiced comment in an unguarded moment? You would be off the list of candidates. Suppose you have a possibility of a great contract? It could go down the drain if the nasty remark popped up on the customer’s screen.

So most of us are careful, aren’t we? Even so there are certain individuals who post comments with the nastiest swear words on their Facebook page. Some of these are unemployable in any circumstances of course, but for a few actually typing four letter words on a social networking site will eliminate any prospect of work.

Cussing in private

I have never posted a four letter swear-word on-line anywhere. I know some people do but, while we might swear in private as I did when the cast-iron door-stop fell on my toe, the idea of actually typing a swear-word seems ridiculous to me.

What you see of me on-line is the real me of course. It is the business and public “me” but you don’t need to know all the private life of anyone, do you?

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The Marketing Apple

 

Practical phone

Taking a bite

Some people get really upset about Apple, so much so that when a writer gives his take on why Apple is so successful in marketing their products, commenters immediately take it as a criticism or bashing of competitors and particularly one, which is dear old Microsoft.

Whether we agree with the writer that Apple do operate in a vacuum, there is no doubt that their marketing and image is extremely successful, such that the fashionistas in the tech-consumer world fall over themselves to buy the latest product. It doesn’t matter to these consumers whether they actually need the functions of the latest IPhone. They like to be seen with that latest gadget.

That fashion element drives the price too, so that Apple can make a tidy margin and a bigger profit on turnover than others who sell gadgets.

Practical wireless

I am not one of those consumers. I have an Android phone so that I can check my email and calendar and Facebook if I really want to. I can post to Twitter, but if I am honest I seldom “do” social media with my phone. That is because I have perfectly good computers which are more easily used for that purpose than a phone because I have “fat fingers”. But then I am the guy who when starting out in ham radio did not have the ability to build my own set but declined (and did not have the money) to buy a new “rig” as we call them. I bought an army surplus radio (19 Set) and adapted it for amateur radio use with a little help or at least advice from my friends.

So I admit I am the type who acquires the functionality I need. I “make do and mend”. It is great to take an apparently obsolete PC, load Linux and see it go with speed and more functionality than it ever had when it was new.

I would be that certain sort of client or customer who is practical. I would like to know how everything worked before I bought a product or service. To sell to me you would have to explain in every detail what I was buying and how it would benefit me.

Practical selling

Yet if I were an Apple fanatic I wouldn’t be bothered about the detail. I would be more interested in owning the latest whizzy gadget, being seen with it and showing it to my friends.

When we are prospecting for business or seeing a potential customer, we must remember there is more than one sort of buyer. We must adapt our sales technique to the person, whether it is the “mechanic” like me who needs to understand the fine detail, or the feel-good purchaser that has made Apple such a success.

I don’t buy Apple because their products don’t have a good fit with my business. I don’t knock them either. You have to admire their style as they appeal to their customers’ style. Are you an Apple person?

 

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Adding value by business blogging – a personal view

 

English: Screenshot of the blogging system Wor...

English: Screenshot of the blogging system WordPress using the theme "Twenty Ten". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why?

People ask me why I blog. Those who don’t, and probably don’t read other people’s blogs ask that question, usually followed with “I don’t know how you find the time”.

I am not the first to talk about the raison d’etre of blogging. You will find many posts about this on the web, and there are many different driving forces, but they are all about the writers sharing information. In the case of a business blog like this, I share my personal views on business issues and based on my own experience. That experience may not be the same as others; in fact of course it won’t be.

Observation

The honest and obvious answer as to why On Our Bikes came about is as a way of marketing my business, or, I suppose, my businesses. I share what I know and hope people find it useful and even entertaining at times. After all, what I write about is what I have observed, what I have done, and of course what has happened to me even when I did not plan or want it to.

Without focussed marketing a business is lost, so of course I find the time to write.

Does it work? Yes, I get traffic to this blog and it channels hits on my other websites, which leads to business.

Engagement

Do I expect dozens of comments? Well, I like comments because people have engaged with what I write if they do take the trouble to post, but comments are not a measure of success of a blog in terms of whether it works for the writer. After all, a well-known blogger has 54,000 subscribers to get his posts by email and presumably is read by many more, yet even he seems to average less than 50 comments. Yes, I would love 50 comments, but as they say, do the math. OK, I’ll do it for you. That is a response rate of 0.09% even on the 54,000. So comments are not a measure. And this blogger writes great stuff.

Results

Blogging is not about gaming Google either. I don’t even know how to do that though I get found very easily directly through Bikes or through the sidebar links to my sites elsewhere. What I do know is that it has at least three functions for me:

  • Marketing my businesses
  • Meeting more people on-line, which may lead to off-line meetings
  • Relaxation which sharpens my business thinking.

What do you get out from blogging?

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Corporate life and being the Captain of your own ship

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Mine when I want it and not when I'm told (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

What I miss about my old corporate life:

  • Having huge resources in terms of reference books.
  • Having camaraderie of quite a few colleagues in sharing a lunchtime meal and drink.
  • Not having to think about paying the business bills.
  • Having a known and reliable amount credited to my bank account each month.
  • Having all my CPD training paid for.
  • Enjoying a lavish Christmas party.
  • The buzz of the big city

Here is what I don’t miss:

  • The office politics.
  • The inflexible management structure.
  • The lack of communication from management (and it is easy if someone thinks about it).
  • Being judged by my (small firm) origins,and being under-rated.
  • The long commute and the delayed train journeys and the over-crowding.
  • That guy on the morning train who shaved with his Remington without regard to his fellow passengers. Yuk.

Here is what I like about running a business:

  • Having all those resources on-line and not in someone else’s books.
  • Making all the decisions.
  • Being responsible for my own destiny.
  • Not being judged except by myself.
  • Working hard but not too hard.
  • Taking time off to de-stress and relax when I want to.
  • Working with people I have chosen myself.

Lots of people never work for anyone but a big employer. Many are probably happy, but they are not really independent or always allowed to think for themselves. We small business owners are both independent and free thinkers, so be happy like me. Don’t you enjoy it too?

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Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in small businesses

Literary truths

I have borrowed from Shakespeare in the title, but also remember Enid Blyton who inspired me to be a bookworm as a child:

“What does it matter if things go wrong?
l sing and I’ll whistle my brave little song.”

Not that I was very keen on Noddy himself,whose song this was, but things do go wrong in business and sometimes there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. I asked a former client if she wanted her private papers delivered back by me when I was passing, or to have them sent by courier. She chose the latter and with the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight I should have chosen a local courier rather than the international company which had been recommended to me. Of course the parcel got lost.

Horrible accidents

No amount of compensation could actually compensate for the loss of unique papers. The couriers will not anyway pay compensation on something which has no intrinsic value. The former client is naturally very upset and keeps pressing me to extract something from the delivery firm or get back her papers. This is a hopeless task. They are one of the largest home delivery companies in Europe, they operate entirely on-line and have no telephone number for customer service and no published numbers for any of their offices or depots. They are all apparently ex-directory.

All my correspondence with this company has to be done via email. Generously they have refunded the fee I paid them to take the package; a whole £7.14. I have been as pleasant as can be with the ex-client, who is very short with me, but there is just nothing I can do to make matters better, though I will never use this company again.

So while I will keep bashing away at the courier company I have to move on, but it is stressful when people are unhappy with my business and me, even though the fault is not mine. I do care very much, but I cannot help any more.

Picking ourselves up

We have to look beyond upsetting events in business. We have to relax and de-stress. Following the latest telephone call from the lady whose papers are lost I went to the gym and felt better afterwards.

We have to look to the future and put behind us that which was out of our control. We have to keep focussed, to do what is right, and not let anyone down even though multi-national companies dump on us.

How do you get past unpleasant incidents and work off your stress?

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The measure of a good client

 

No nasty surprises

Accidents and reputation

We can send our breakdown recovery service to deal with business accidents. One of the ways of avoiding accidents is by being careful whom we take on as clients, particularly when we provide professional services of one sort or another.

I always think that the quality of relationship we have with a client is very important. I value being on first-name terms with all my clients save those of possibly more advanced years who like the dignity of being addressed more formally. Also I want my clients to speak well of me as I of them.

Establishing rapport

When I first meet a client, as in all first meetings I form an impression, but over the years I have fine-tuned my ability to make assessments of people because I have to deal with them on a professional basis. Not least because this involves money, I want to be able to feel I can trust them and I want them to be comfortable with me also.

If I am not comfortable about a new prospect because perhaps I am not happy they are being truthful in answering the questions I have to ask, I walk away. If I do not think we can have a good relationship and feel the fit between us is not right, I make my excuses and leave. If I think the prospect would make a bad client involving a lot of work for which they would not want to pay, again I will depart as politely and quietly as possible.

Vitriol

It is part of life that there are difficult people out there; people with impossible prejudices we find hard to deal with. Some of the extreme views might come out in an initial meeting, and if someone has other opinions not backed by hard evidence but on hearsay or ignorant belief, that is a bad sign for any hope of a business relationship.

If we want any evidence that there is ignorant prejudice out there we only have to look at the generally anonymous comments even on articles on broadsheet newspaper websites. We do not want that prejudice turned on our businesses and we do not want clients who are trolls and who will come back to haunt us.

Perfect harmony?

I want to be able to like all my clients. How do you vet yours? Do you do it by instinct or does it come with experience? Are you a less sensitive soul than I and do you not need to like your clients?

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Accident recovery in business

Feelings

Business life is not always perfect. Sometimes things go wrong. A client has a bad experience. It may well not be your fault, but the client may not share that perception. You have to work out what you can do to make things better.

In my tax world, I might get a client coming to me who has made a mess of their financial affairs. Maybe that mess goes back a number of years. They expect help to get out of their mess. I may be able to make things less bad. If they need a deal with the tax authorities I can very likely do better than they could. What I cannot do is make the past go away. I can’t change history. That is not my fault. I have to explain that the client is getting the best outcome I can manage ( and often they can be remarkably good) but it still involves writing a cheque for a lot of money.

Perception

If I want to keep the client, that client has to have a feel-good feeling, and that feeling comes from their perception. I will help them understand that they are in a better place than they might have been. They have been fortunate. That will help their confidence and themselves and it will boost their confidence in me if I want to keep them as a client. They need a full explanation of everything that has happened since they came to me.

Accidents

Sometimes a business can get something really wrong. Complementary therapy practitioners rely very much on giving the feel-good factor to their clients. Imagine if a therapist accidentally physically hurts a client but not so seriously as to be sued, with a little inattention, or the client just has a bad experience. It could happen to any service-providing person in a metaphorical sense, of course.

So the client is unhappy. He is likely to tell his friends, including some who may already see the same complementary practitioner. The business is likely not only to lose the client, but several others as well.

Damage limitation

What should the practitioner do? Well, firstly, be very apologetic and take responsibility. Offer some free less risky sessions. Send some flowers. Limit the damage, because if the client still mentions the incident to friends he well also say that our therapist has been very kind and caring in the aftermath. Business may not be lost. The client may regain the feel-good factor and continue to visit for further sessions.

Save the day

Whether we have an unhappy client because something has really gone wrong, or because they simply do not appreciate our service, if we know about it we must work on our relationship. Provide as much information as we can. Give something extra, something to make them feel special, even flowers or chocolates can do the trick. We must not just stand by and shrug our shoulders. That can cost far more than giving that little bit extra.

Business partnerships and collaborations – Part 2

Love and marriage

In Part 1  I said that a business partnership is like a marriage. It joins together two or more people in a close relationship in which they have to co-operate and work with each other.

In any relationship, things may go wrong. There may be a breakdown in a personal relationship between the partners. There may be a major disagreement on a business issue, which may be about the direction a business should go, or about finance or about responsibilities for different aspects. Sometimes these disagreements cannot be resolved. If everyone is arguing, sometimes a relationship cannot be fixed.

Business pre-nups

Now in a marriage, I think pre-nuptial agreements are mostly not a good idea because they indicate a lack of trust between the prospective spouses. I can see why some wealthy parties might want one of course, but my feeling is if you don’t trust someone, don’t say you will commit the rest of your life to them, or anticipate that you will split up.

However, in business relationships I think a pre-nup is essential, because it lays down the ground rules for the the future. A business pre-nup takes the form of a partnership agreement or for a limited company, a shareholders’ agreement. Generally it will lay down who puts what in in terms of cash and who gets what out in drawings etc.. It may go into quite a lot of detail about how the profits are shared out between the participants.

Partnership and shareholders agreements should also say what will happen to the finances of the business is sold, broken up or if a participant wants to leave. The agreements will provide certainty when the participants are moving on for whatever reason, and will avoid involving lawyers and engaging in expensive court cases.

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A partnership agreement can help a business relationship to be plain sailing (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

Make it legal

A partnership or shareholders’ agreement will be need to be drawn up by a professional, which means a lawyer, and like everything else worth having will have to be paid for. All too often I have seen agreements by amateurs proving useless when partners have fallen out. Even worse, unscrupulous partners have exploited the naivety of their more trusting former colleagues to extract far more money than they deserved. I could be more vulgar about this because it is sickening to see.

Breath more easily

Any business collaboration can be very satisfying and last a lifetime. A proper legal agreement between the parties should be seen as an insurance and not as an indication of lack of trust.

Who wants to be a hostage to fortune in business or in life? We cannot plan for everything, but there are some disasters we really can avoid with a little foresight?

 

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Business partnerships and collaborations – Part 1

Bliss

It can be lonely being in business on our own. We might want to work with someone else. Maybe we have met someone and dreamed up a great idea for a business, or perhaps a great product. We have that excitement that comes with the beginning of a relationship. We want to go into partnership. It all sounds like a budding romance, doesn’t it?

I am talking about a business partnership in the usual context, and also about working together through a company. Whatever the strict legal status, the working environment is the same.

A business partnership, especially a small business partnership, is just like any relationship. If we commit to it, it is just like a marriage. So in many ways, the rules of the relationship are the same. We have to live with our partner and be happy that when the initial thrill of meeting someone exciting is over, we still are happy together. After all, there is money involved on both sides otherwise why would we be in business at all?

  • Is the great idea behind our relationship likely to be sustainable?
  • Have we known our partner long enough to know we can work (and be) with them long term?
  • Can we live with their work habits?
  • Are we sure they are reliable and will be where they say they will be and do what they said they will do?
  • Do we know enough about their past?
  • How good are they with money?

You might think that all sounds rather mercenary especially when I compare a business relationship to a marriage. Although all marriages whether business or personal are exciting, they are also about willing compromise and working round each other in a happy way. If we can do that, it’s bliss, isn’t it?

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