Reputations, referrals and let-downs

If we get a referral from a colleague or fellow business person, it is very satisfying of course, but we have to live up to the recommendation. If we run our businesses as efficiently as we can and offer a great service that distinguishes us from the rest then we have no need to worry about letting anybody down. We have a duty to the referrer as well as to our new customer. After all, the person who has referred the work has put her reputation on the line by recommending us.

I have had a good and reliable service from one of my suppliers over about eight years. I thought nothing of recommending that supplier to one of my favourite colleagues in my network. Apparently my supplier has let her down. I feel bad about this because it is as though I have let her down. I gave the referral in good faith. My reputation was potentially at stake.

My friend is philosophical about it and says I shouldn’t worry. I still feel let down, and I would hesitate to refer the supplier again.

Reputations are precious. Mine is. I refer people I think are good, but I will be even more sparing with my referrals in future.

Have you been let down like this by someone in your network? What did you do?

Your customers are your most valuable business assets

 

Customers like consistency

More clients?

The other day a local business lady said “I really need more clients”. Well, most of us would like more. However, what our friend was really saying was that she had lost quite a few recently. I could tell why that is, but she is rather in denial.

The business in question is complementary therapy. That sort of practice involves personal relationships and clients or customers coming back on a regular basis, whether weekly, fortnightly or monthly, or now and again when they feel like a little pampering. A business like that has to be there when it is needed. Not of course in the middle of the night, but regularly on a consistent basis.

On the road again

Our friend has in the past couple of years twice taken three months off to travel. It is true that during one of those she left a “locum”, but of course that involves a different person and a new relationship for the customer.

Then she moved the centre of her business, her treatment room, by six or seven miles. All those customers who found it convenient to just pop down the road to see her no longer could, especially juggling time around their working hours and the school run. They just don’t have the time and don’t want to drive.

Our complementary therapist was not thinking about her customers, or at least not realising that they would not follow her to the end of the earth or even to the end of town, They felt let down too, and messed around by the absences. If they wanted to be pampered it was better to try to find someone else who was more reliable.

Being there

Reliability is absolutely vital for any business offering any sort of service, whether it is complementary therapy or accountancy. Clients expect consistency. They come to expect that nice warm feeling of being looked after. They don’t want to phone up and ask for someone, only to be told that she or he is on holiday for three months or has moved to another location much further away.

Being there when needed is what customers expect, and why shouldn’t they? They provide us with our income, and while we see them as people they are our most important asset. Shouldn’t we work hard to keep them?

 

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We who hesitate

B&W reproduction of an imaginary portrait of H...

B&W reproduction of an imaginary portrait of Horace. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The art of procrastination

I was amused by this good piece by Rowan Pelling, about procrastination. Mind you, four years tax returns outstanding? I am sure we can help.

Horace is described as a self-help writer in the BBC piece. If he had lived a couple of millennia later, would he be selling e-books? There would be a business opportunity, and his poetry might go quite well too. It seems a couple of millennia since my school days flirting with his works, though.

Carpe diem

It is so easy to put off decisions, let alone making the wrong one. We usually know when we should make a decision because there will be problem staring us in the face, or with any luck a great opportunity if only we have the courage to decide.

Take advice, perhaps, but seize the day. Make a decision sooner rather than later.

 

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Quantum hop

 

English: Joe Napolitano, Quantum Leap '91 &quo...

Photo by Joe Napolitano, Quantum Leap ’91 “Play Ball” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regrets, we have a few

I guess most of us remember certain points in our working lives where we think we could have made a better decision. When it is a question of our own careers as employees we are very often on our own. We cannot consult our fellow workers very easily because a rumour of our unhappiness and possible resignation might get back to the boss.

Speaking for myself I only ever left a job when I was unhappy with the business owners or managers or because the work was very unsatisfying, and on one occasion when I didn’t have enough to do. The exception was when the job left me.

Of course twenty-twenty hindsight only makes us feel bad. If only we could have seen around the corner to the future, things might have been different. It is not easy to plan a career as we go along because we are hostages to fortune with the whims of our bosses and commercial issues which we have no control over.

But then again…

As business owners, we do have control over our destiny. We can make plans and do our best to implement them. Of course the commercial environment might affect what we do, but we have more control.

As independent business people we are much more able to take advice about our work. We will more easily have made friends who can give sound advice, and we can find a mentor we trust, paid or unpaid. We can give our advice to others as well as receive counselling on our issues.

Oh boy!

Of course some people plough on blithely in their own way and never seek help. Yet it is so much harder not to make mistakes if we ignore the people around us and do not take account of external factors. Therein lies disaster. Sometimes I see people who have made the wrong decision at a critical time for their business. It might be too late to save them.

Do you remember Sam Beckett, played by Scott Bakula, in the TV series Quantum Leap? Sam found himself going back in time into other people’s shoes at a time when they needed to get right a critical decision in their lives. Poor Sam felt trapped, but he did get to put so many people in the right track. I wish I could go back and do the same for some who got it wrong, but I can’t. Of course I can help with any salvage operation.

If we need to make a big decision in our business lives, we all must get the best advice we can before we make that leap. Otherwise we just take a short hop into disaster.

Have you made a great leap forward recently?

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Names you shouldn’t call yourself

It is no secret that I don’t like the term “social media expert“. You can’t be an expert on a vast subject and know everything that is going on. You have to be a specialist in some areas, know how to find out things you don’t know when asked to, and have credibility as a capable person in a capable business. “Expert” doesn’t mean much.

Fortunately most people don’t call themselves experts. The very term is usually shorthand used in newspaper headlines  when a more descriptive term would be too long. It is a bit lazy. Another meaningless headline alternative word is “boffins”. Who would say “boffin” in normal speech?

Some terms people use about themselves which actually make me giggle are “visionary” and “entrepreneur”. While these words have some meaning, they are subjective and a matter of opinion, which is why they should only be used about an admirable someone other than oneself.

There is an individual I have come across who calls himself a “visionary entrepreneur”. ROFL. It is hard to take seriously.

When describing ourselves we have to be careful to define our USP and skills without comedy, unless of course we are comedians. Most of us don’t want to be the laughing stock, do we?

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Do you really have a business? Part 4

A business lost

A few years ago I said I would help a friend who was thinking seriously about buying a nightclub or “venue”; that is one which had live entertainment.

Of course I was happy to help my friend, and said she should ask for copies of the recent accounts produced for the business. What she received and sent to me were records which had been obviously compiled by the owner overnight using QuickBooks, and which in my view were entirely fictional. It was clear that they left out not just a lot of the more obvious expenses such as the bar cost; hardly any beer purchased compared with that sold; but also hardly any staff costs (either left out or paid in cash, no questions asked).

My friend did not understand that side and she was looking to part with nearly £100K.

So here is a tip. If you are looking to buy an existing business, even a small one, ask for certified copies of accounts from a reputable firm of accountants or tax advisers. If the owner is a DIY bookkeeper-accountant, ask your professional to go through the books and give an opinion as to whether they add up not just numerically, but in a business sense.

Don’t part with your hard-earned money until you know what you are buying and how much it is really worth. Buying a business is one of life’s big decisions. You need to get it right, don’t you?

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Emulating and bettering the best in business

 

My Yashica TL-ELECTRO with original 50mm lens

Cyber wars

There was an interesting take recently on the Apple v Samsung wars, in which accuse the other of violating their intellectual property particularly with regard to mobile or cell phones. Apple had a really big win on home ground in California, being awarded over $1 billion.

It is an interesting suggestion that if the Samsung products are really very similar to Apple’s in consumers’ minds, perhaps prospective purchasers might consider the much less expensive Samsung offerings. After all, if they are gadgets which do the same thing they would be better value for money. Of course Apple wants some Samsung products taken off the market, but maybe the seeds might have been sown in the minds of some consumers?

Apple fans will not be convinced. It is the other market, mainly Android and those who look at functionality first who may be swayed. No one should underestimate Apple’s clever closed marketing, and the fact they have a fan-base so well managed.

Photo days

The whole issue takes me back to when I was a very young lad keen on photography. The new much-desired 35mm camera when I was starting out was the Pentax Spotmatic SP 1000, a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera. It had through-the-lens light-metering and the advantage over compact cameras was that you saw through the view-finder exactly the photo you would be taking, courtesy of the mirror which flipped out of the way when you pressed the shutter button. That was really something back then.

In the early seventies I couldn’t afford a Pentax Spotmatic and made do with my Mum’s old camera, with which I had some good results.

Some years later I had enough money to buy an SLR second-hand. The camera I chose was a Yashica TL-Electro. It was cheaper than a second-hand Spotmatic, but actually it is a very good copy with only minor differences to the metering and design. Yashica had taken an excellent camera made by a competitor and made one quite like it. In my opinion it was as good as the Spotmatic, and used the same “Pentax Screw” system of interchangeable lenses.

I still use my TL-Electro today with excellent results, and yes, there is still a second-hand market in suitable lenses. Over the years I have acquired several.

Our unique services

These days we cannot copy a product without getting into serious trouble. Large companies will threaten even if they do not have much of a case, because they have the financial clout. Yet excellent service can be reproduced by anyone. There is no copyright on services, add-ons, making our customers and clients as comfortable as they can be, and making sure we are better than the rest. That means paying attention to other people’s offerings and keeping up with our industry standards and expectations.

Many of us in business are in the same market as very large companies and corporations. Offering the very best service as good as or better than they can will bring customer loyalty, and the additional personal attention will bring us referrals. We can all do it as well or better than the others, and get our noses in front.

We can out-do the others if we make the effort and offer great value and comfort in doing so. After all, as customers ourselves, we know we can’t beat that nice warm feeling, can we?

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Do you really have a business? Part 3

Holiday cottage

Putting all your eggs in too small a basket

Leisure renting is popular. Those who know me better are aware that I have an interest in let property. There is quite a boom in buy-to-let even in these difficult times. One of the most potentially profitable rental opportunities is what is known as “furnished holiday lettings”. In the UK that means renting out holiday cottages, houses, flats and apartments.

The minus side of letting holiday property is that the season may not be all that long. There is potential for a lot of money to be made in the high season through short-term lets. This should leave a tidy profit even allowing for periods off-season when the units might be empty, or let at a much lower rent usually to tenants staying longer.

Being the best

Of course the services provided must be excellent whether you do the work yourself, or employ an agency. The secret of making money from any holiday letting or indeed even from a guest house is location. The accommodation has to be in place where people would normally want to be , so near the sea or in picturesque countryside for walking. You get the picture.

If you don’t have a location like that you have to be very good at marketing and persuading customers of the merits of your local area. You also have to have very attractive and spacious accommodation. If you don’t, however much money you put in the business you will end up working for nothing.

Do your research

Ask yourself:

  • Is the accommodation large enough?
  • Will I get a good return on investment?
  • Am I in the right place?
  • If I am not in the “right place”, can I compensate through marketing an by being exceptional and different?

If you can plan for the worst and you would still make a profit, then think how much you can make if the worst never happens. Usually it doesn’t. Have you thought about being in the holiday business?

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Sales and marketing and the butcher’s apostrophe

It is always dangerous to write about grammar, spelling and punctuation. We all make the occasional mistake. In writing a blog post like this we’re all allowed the odd contraction (see?) to be more conversational than we might be in a professional article.

In our marketing and advertising copy we really have to look professional. That involves not making dreadful errors that others will pick up on, and think us unprofessional. The “butcher’s apostrophe” is a real clanger.

In our Tesco Extra yesterday I sauntered past the section where they have on display computers and accessories. Tesco sell everything these days, of course. There were a couple of large signs upon which were written “Laptop’s and Notebook’s”.

Oh dear! Had no one checked these notices before they went out, or is there no one who knows any better? It doesn’t look good from Tesco with such amateur mistakes.

Yet recently I saw similar mistakes on the website of a firm of accountants. We do need to keep our marketing copy looking professional. If we are not confident in getting it right there are plenty of good professional copywriters and editors to help us.

There is no excuse for making ghastly errors in the place where our prospects’ eyes will come to rest first when seeking us out.

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