Do I deserve to be whipped?

Out and about

I am about on social networks mainly for marketing purposes. At least that was how it was in the beginning. However, having built relationships on-line, some become friendships on-line or off-line.

I enjoy discussions in various forums, whether business or social. I like to express my opinion., otherwise why would I take part? Very occasionally I might say something to which another person might take offence, but certainly I would not set out to upset anybody, and I hope I would be ready to apologise. As I have said before, our on-line reputations are important and easily damaged with a loose comment. If someone is hurt we have to “kiss them better”.

Taking the flak

We have to accept that our views and, I guess our morality, are not shared by everyone else. The other day I expressed an opinion in response to a forum question. That opinion was that stealing from the Government by fiddling one’s tax returns was wrong. It is not a particularly controversial view I would have thought, but some apparently believe that the Government should have higher priorities than catching the small scale tax dodgers. Perhaps they do need to prioritise, but that is no reason to let anyone get away with it, at least in my opinion.

If you have been free with your opinions you have to take some flak. It is fine for people to disagree with me. At least they take notice. Having a opinion and expressing it is better than firing quotations of the great and the good into the internet ether as some do to boost their Klout score.

For thinking this small-scale tax-stealing was wrong, I was called “holier than thou”. I was rather hurt. In fact I was rather more hurt than when I was called without provocation a very bad word in a private forum long ago. That was more about networkers I was seen as being associated with. Being called “holier than thou” was more personal.

I felt less hurt after I reasoned that maybe it was a back-handed compliment about my adhering to my beliefs.

Following our path

What we have to do is to be wary of damaging our reputation but carry on with what we believe. We have to be out there with our marketing, and we need to participate in forums to maintain our reputations, and because we are intelligent opinionated people.

Whipped

We have to take a whipping now and again. Maybe I deserved it. At least I got noticed. The pain was probably worth it.

Here is a relevant quotation from Leo Burnett, and early twentieth-century advertising executive which I promise not to tweet:

“If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything. You just have to be noticed, but the art is in getting noticed naturally, without screaming or without tricks.”

So that’s all right then. Or is it?

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The writer of letters

 

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United ...

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The writing habit

Quite a lot of my work involves writing. I write to clients, and I write to tax authorities and I write to service providers on behalf of my clients. I write articles and I write web content.

Sometimes my work involves presenting arguments. I have had a lot of practice arguing a case whether it is a business case or a tax case. I suppose I might be quite good at it by now.

The big business bullies

Especially for a start-up business but also for many small businesses, large organisations can make life difficult. That is because the big corporates seem intimidating. Their contracts and procedures can be quite arbitrary. If you query something they have done, the first answer you will get from their call centre is along the lines of “that is the way we always do it”.

So you find that you have signed up to a contract you didn’t think you had agreed to, or you have a bill for work or a service which you thought was part of the contract but they say is extra, or there is a problem with your service that they will not correct. It is very annoying. In fact it can be very stressful too, especially if you have received an unexpected bill you hadn’t budgeted for.

Letters of complaint

If I get trouble from one of these leviathans of the business world I write letters. Emails are all very well, but they are easily deleted, and you don’t always know if they have reached anyone with authority to deal with your complaint or the gumption to pass it on to someone who has. A letter somehow sits on a desk looking at someone who eventually has to deal with it.

If you have a problem with a large company or even a Government agency, try to find out who is in a position to make a decision, such as the Head of Customer Services, the Managing Director, the Chair(wo)man, the CEO etc.. You need a name and Google is our friend.

If that does not bring a result, then most industries have an “Ombudsperson”. Take the complaint to them.

Persistence

US President Calvin Coolidge said Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence”.

One has to be persistent. In the past year or so I have obtained success in dealing with bad decisions by:

  • a large telecoms company
  • a well-known health services provider
  • an insurance underwriter

In all those cases it was ultimately the letters that did the trick.

I write letters because I am used to doing it but I don’t think my success with getting justice from large suppliers is necessarily because I am good at arguing. The success is just because you write to them and you keep at it until they get fed up with you. You must have a good case and it is important to set out clearly why you think they are wrong. You don’t need to write in longhand using green or purple ink like “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”. You just need to show you mean business, which is why sending a letter is psychologically more effective than plunging an email into the ether.

Getting your complaints dealt with fairly needs dogged persistence. I believe in saving as much paper as I can, but sometimes it is very effective in winning an argument.

 

Do you write letters when you have a business issue? How do you get on?

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Amateur emails addresses and unbusinesslike appearance

Not “fredsglass&glazing@hotmail.com”

Starting in business we are eager to get our telephone number found and to have all lines of communication open. After all, what we need is customers, and if no one can contact us we will not get any.

Right at the start we will put our email address in the local magazine or newspaper. At the beginning it may well be a personal email address. We all have one of those. However if after the first few weeks and months we still only have our personal email address available for potential customers, it starts to look as though we are not serious. People are used to businesses having a domain on that internet-web thingy. Having a domain makes the business look more serious.

I happen to believe fervently that all businesses should have a website, but that is probably another blog post. Even if a business does not have one though, it should still have a domain so that it can have a serious-sounding email address.

I own a number of domains, each of which is special to one of my business ventures, and each of which does actually relate to one of my websites. However, each email address I have says something about my business without anyone going to look at the sites; each one says I am serious about what my businesses do.

The other day I saw an accountant on LinkedIn using an email address along the lines of beezeraccountants@live.com. No, it doesn’t go anywhere so don’t try clicking it. There is another professional firm not far from me that uses a private email address something like taxchap@aol.com. That firm doesn’t have a website.

Even some businesses with websites don’t utilise the domain for email. An example would be www.reallywhizzyflorists.com advertising an email address such as reallywhizzyflorists@yahoo.com. It doesn’t sit right. To quote John McEnroe “You cannot be serious”.

You always get one email address with a website package, and you may get hundreds you don’t need. But for the price of less than $20 a year, you can probably own a domain and get all the email you need through a professional email address even if you haven’t got round to building the website.

To be serious about a business you have to look serious in the right way. Not unprofessional. Don’t you agree?

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Low value clients

All grist to the mill?

When you start out in business for yourself and are providing a service, there is a temptation to take on any client thinking it is all grist to the mill. Each new client will bring in a bit more money. I have been there myself and made mistakes. Part of reason for this blog is to share my mistakes so that others don’t make them.

Of course, low value clients are not just those who don’t pay you much money. Their low value is also because they do not appreciate what your business and you do for them. They accept what you might be doing for you as a commodity, not as a personal service for them.

Still, we can have some lapses and forget our lessons. I saw someone last year, and as she had a new start-up business I thought I would give her a really good starter deal for the first year to help her along and because (I thought) she would appreciate the gesture and we would build on the relationship.

So as it was time to deal with annual matters, though not all that long since we last spoke having dealt with the previous year issues late, I dropped her a line. I had a reply “I won’t be needing your services as my father has managed to do it for me for free”.

So that is me told, in no uncertain terms. She does not need my help or my technical expertise. She would rather rely on an amateur. The sweetheart deal I had already given her was not considered of even such value that she had the courtesy to tell me she did not want me again. She might have paid a fairer price last time if asked, but it is too late now.

There are lessons here:

  • Always bill what the job is worth.
  • Accept that some customers cannot see value in what we do, ever!
  • Some people are just discourteous and rude, but get over it.

Of course another lesson here is that we never stop learning. Have you had a slap in the face recently?

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Shops and the personal touch

 

That friendly hardware store

Times are changing

There is no question that shopping has moved on in the last couple of decades. It has moved to out-of-town retail parks and it has moved on-line. As a result, many shop premises in the UK are empty, and the owners of those shops that remain are struggling with their businesses, just to keep afloat.

When town and village shopping areas on what used to be the main drag dwindle away, so does the sense of community. People always used to feel that they belonged in the area they lived; a sort of neighbourhood spirit. All that gets lost when shopping moves away. It even affects the other centres of gathering such as community centres, and the local pub is not what it was in terms of old-fashioned gatherings of friends.

Queen of Shops

Even Government has recognised that there is a social change as a result of the drift from the High Streets. We have had a very commendable report from Mary Portas, “Queen of Shops”, as to how to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape and also to change the thinking of the local authorities.

Even so, local shop owners need to think how to engage their customers so that they “belong”. It is all about getting a following, and in a way it is the same process as getting one on Twitter or Facebook. Businesses have to be interesting, and chatty, and when they discuss their products it needs to be in a friendly helpful way, with no blatant selling.

Getting personal

My own local village has two major supermarket companies who have small stores by their standard. It is not really fair to our local (franchise-owner) grocer, but that is life. However the four obviously successful shop businesses in our local community all have one things in common, and that is the personal touch.

A while back I mentioned our local Chinese takeaway.  Actually, we have two, but only one cooks your food to order in front of you. People love to watch.

Then we have the bakery. That is quite a distinction from a bread shop, which just buys in its products. If you pass the bakery in the small hours (I don’t very often) you can see the bread being baked. All food shops of this sort probably need to buy in a certain amount, but if we can say that what we buy is locally produced that induces that sense of belonging. The bakery staff also recognise their customers and chat, again making a connection we don’t get in the supermarket.

In our village, we get the same experience in the fish-and-chip shop as in the bakery. The staff are friendly, and we can see our food being freshly cooked.

The fourth great business is the hardware store. One might expect they would struggle against the out-of-town retail and DIY outlets. Their secret is that their staff are so helpful. If you cannot see an item you want, they can usually find it somewhere. If not they can order it. If you need a special light bulb for your granny’s night light they will find it and fit it for you. They are more expensive than the big store in the shopping park, but you get great service, and save the cost of expensive fuel.

Old-fashioned value

What do all these businesses give you? That’s right: value for money, that feeling that they what they offer is worth paying for. They can charge more than the big outlets because they have to in order to be profitable, but they also have a loyal customer base. That is known as goodwill, and it is so important.

In a sense, these businesses over-deliver, or at least they appear to. That extra personal touch is so important in keeping the loyalties of all our customers, whether or not we are High Street businesses Those that run shops in the High Street or village street can still make it once again the Main Drag, but it will take that personal touch.

Do you remember to get personal in your business?

 

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Last chance to buy! Last chance to register!

English: Mike Michalowicz, Author of The Toile...

Mike Michalowicz, Author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur -(Photo credit: Wikipedia by Scott Bradley)

Do you get those annoying emails saying either of the above? How often can you remember having had a previous email offering you the same opportunity? You probably didn’t.

The sender is trying to make you think you are going to miss out on a special offer if you don’t get right in there now and sign up.

It is a good trick, and infuriating though it is, many of us can try that little trick in our marketing.

Here are some other handy tricks at least as good as that one, recommended by Mike Michalowicz and entitled 9 Slimy Sales Tricks That Work

Do you have a favourite little sales ploy?

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Mind control? It’s your business.

 

Do as you are told!

Mind your own business

The great thing about having a business is that it really is your business. How you run it is your business too.

Now I am assuming that you will know when you need advice from someone like me. All good business owners should know when they need help, and there is no shame in asking for it. It is the right thing to do sometimes. I get help myself, sometimes with things I am not good at, or don’t have time to get up to speed on.

Busybodies

What we don’t need is unsolicited advice, people telling us how to run our businesses and self-appointed experts judging our moral character based on what goods and services we sell.

I choose what I want to sell according to my own morality.  That doesn’t mean that in my business I sell anything in my area of business which is legal for me to sell. I decide where to draw the line. It has to do with my ethics, my image and my reputation. I sell what I am comfortable to sell. It is my choice.

Yet in the tax world there are self-appointed guardians of our souls who tell us what we should be doing, who set themselves up as experts, who get invited by broadcasters and other media to pronounce. (There is a lesson in self-marketing and self-promotion to be learned from them, but that’s for another day).

I “sell” what tax savings I feel are reasonable and fair. I sell my expertise in avoiding tax pitfalls. Do these people think we should let clients fall into elephant traps and pay more to the Exchequer than is even fair? Recently I had a client who came to me too late. He had fallen foul of a trap and paid a disproportionate amount of tax on his gain. If I could have saved him the excess of tax over the normal rate, would that have been unreasonable? I don’t think so. But some strident commentators apparently think the Treasury deserves everything it gets.

Telling us what to think

The other day I was listening to the radio while driving, and there was a feature on the latest on-line and now off-line book sensation, Fifty Shades of Gray by E L James. I have not read the book and understand I am not within its target audience. Apparently it is an erotic novel featuring a younger woman in a submissive relationship with an older man. It is a book the mainly female readership can read on their e-readers on the train without the paper cover giving away their reading matter. Of course the paper versions are now available.

The radio feature first played an interview done a couple of months ago with the author, and then brought on a couple of critics, one an academic. They both criticised the author for writing material that demeaned women or (as far as I could tell) portrayed a poor role model. One went on to criticise crime fiction where women were victims. Well, hang on, women might be victims and so might men. Many of the best crime fiction novels portray strong women cops or forensic pathologists solving crimes.

This is fiction. It is not about role models. People can make up their own minds what they buy and read. They don’t need moral judges any more than do the authors of the on-line and off-line booksellers. Fantasy is private to ourselves.

Anything legal?

You have the choice as to what you sell, whether services or products. Your motivation will be what the market wants that you can supply, and your direction will be affected by your own values, as well as the law.

I don’t need a moral judge other than myself, and neither do you, do you?

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Getting out of our depth in business

 

Modern version of stitching yourself up

A raging storm

As I write this there has been a furore about certain wealthy or high-earning celebrities who have been involved in tax avoidance schemes in the UK. The furore is because of anger that these rich and successful people are seen to be paying to the Government less than their “fair share” in tax, whatever that is. I am not going to debate the subject here.

As you know, I work in tax. What this row has brought to the surface is that there are a number of promoters of tax schemes, and many of these are just “front-men” or “front-women” if there is such an expression. In other words, whether qualified financial advisers or not, they are first and foremost sales people encouraging people to buy into these schemes.

Gullibility and greed

I have read the websites of some of these people, and I assume they wrote their own copy or at least approved it. What terrifies me is that there are often serious inaccuracies in what they say, either because they are setting out to mislead or (much more likely) that they do not understand how these schemes work and they believe everything they have been told by the direct introducers and the devisers of these schemes.

This means that as business or financial advisers, they do not appreciate that these schemes are risky not only to the clients but to themselves. They are only interested in a fat commission, like the cartoon characters with cash-register eyes.

Compensation culture

Now if the woman or man in the street were sold any sort of financial arrangement which did not work or caused them some financial embarrassment, they would consider looking for compensation. A very wealthy or high earning person would look for a lot of compensation. From whom might they look for that compensation? Why, from the person who first introduced them to the scheme.

Even if the scheme promoters and devisers were to take responsibility ultimately, there would still be the heartache for the “front-person”, the embarrassment and yes, once again, damage to the person’s reputation.

Within the tram-lines

Now, I am very good at what I do. That is because I make sure I understand everything about it. I keep myself up-to-date with my CPD. However, I am not an expert in everything. In fact I am not an expert in many business skills, or even in some aspects of tax, which is why I know when to refer a project to someone else. I try to be a business good connector, but I keep out of the loop.

If we involve ourselves in business matters we don’t understand fully, at the very least we make fools of ourselves. At worst we can get sued for a lot of money, and if we have strayed from our comfort area we may not even be covered by our insurance.

It cannot be worth anyone putting at risk the roof over their heads for a reckless business decision. I wouldn’t do it. Nor should you.

Plumbing the depths and ruining a business reputation

 

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Vice Pres...

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Vice President George H. W. Bush – Don’t talk about them! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Less than professional

While I am talking about reputations, which I was the other day, have you noticed the comment threads on some of the professional websites? Often one can have a perfectly well-chosen and appropriate piece ultimately damaged by some very stupid comments.

What seems to happen is that initially there will be useful intelligent responses but a certain point someone will latch on to a throwaway remark in an otherwise considered response and then it is all downhill.

The silliest comments usually start after the first twenty more reasoned ones.

Quite often we will get into kitchen sink politics involving prejudices about Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan or George Bush the elder or the younger, which is bound to get some peoples’ backs up, depending on their own views. Fortunately, on professional websites (and I include accountants’ websites) we do not generally descend as far as invoking Godwin’s Law  but there is no guarantee. Once a thread has gone into decline it deters others from commenting who would have had something of value to add.

Anonymity is not what it used to be

It is of course true that many of the most unconsidered comments are from those who suppose they are anonymous, but they are bound to be known to some through their style or from clues they give. For example in my professional (accounting and tax) area, the world is not that large. Most people know someone who will know someone else and identities are not so hard to guess.

Then again there are there are those who actually get into ridiculous debates using their own names.

If you see someone making intemperate comments about another, arguing ignorantly over ancient politics or re-writing history, would you engage them to act for you on a professional basis ? No, I thought not.

Avoiding Radio Ga Ga

Apart from politics, the only more sure-fire way of getting someone’s back up is to invoke religion. Some of you may know that I am a licensed radio amateur (ham) though not very active these days. The one big rule we always had was to avoid talking about politics and religion. That is because discussing either is a guarantee of trouble.

Don’t become some background noise. You wouldn’t want to lose the respect of your fellow professionals or drive away a prospect with a silly prejudiced remark. Then again, perhaps these out-of-control comment threads are a useful filter for all of us when deciding with whom to do business. What do you think?

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