Archives for March 2013

Your most important business asset

Sony Apr 10 09 070Do you know what is your most important business asset? Is it your car or your office or your technology?

No, your most important business asset, the one you can’t do without, is you.

Let me tell you a story about me (indulge me).

Over twenty years ago I had a health problem with my stomach. It wasn’t life-threatening but it did make my life miserable. Finally I gave in to the normal resistance any guy has to going to the doctor. I went. I had to keep going back, too, as various doctors tried all sorts of pills. Eventually, when my social life had all but gone and my working life was really hard, one doctor referred me to a consultant who was prepared to do a (then) unusual operation. Although I was off work for a month or so, this surgery fixed me up, and after about a year I felt like a normal person.

One thing all this did teach me is that if I thought I had any health problem I needed to go to the doc. I acquired a habit of getting checked out now and again.

So it was that a few months ago I went to our nice lady doctor because I had been feeling a bit unwell for a few weeks. She ordered all the usual tests, and while it turned out that what was making me feel unwell was only temporary (and indeed it cleared up) a blood test indicated a problem much more serious for which I had and have no symptoms.

It turns out I have one of those really nasty things guys can get which require a sort of radiotherapy. I have a very good chance of being completely cured, but if I had not been a fairly regular visitor to the local medical practice, the disease might have progressed to a point at which it would have been much more difficult to cure.

Many guys ignore symptoms. I went for years without going to the doctor until a health problem I couldn’t ignore made me go. However, it is important to get checked out and especially as you get into your forties. Guys are the worst for burying their heads in the sand, but it is not just us men. Sadly I have had female colleagues who really should have gone to their doctor before they did.

It is not your business if you are not there to run it. There might be no business at all, or no you, and maybe your family and your employees rely on you. They certainly want you around.

Don’t confuse yourself by thinking “I am fit and therefore I must be healthy”. It doesn’t work like that. I am fit and I try to maintain my fitness. Fit doesn’t necessarily mean healthy, so have those regular tests.

This is rather a personal post, but my business is personal, and so is yours. Look after yourself, because you are your most important business asset.

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Working from home constructively

Break-time walk

Break-time walk

I have been in business working from home for more than a decade. Of course working from home doesn’t mean working at home all the time. I do a lot of work at home, but I visit clients all over the place to help them with their businesses and their tax issues, and I go to networking meetings and training sessions.

Not being responsible to anyone else means I have to be responsible to myself. Working from home is not about using the technology. People have been doing it for a long time. It is about discipline.

Discipline is a word my Dad used to bark at us children when we had apprently misbehaved. In a sense it has a bad press, being associated with regimentation. Yet all we are really talking about is being sensible and organised.

It would be all to easy to lie in bed when we have work to do. We need to get up, have a set time of when we work, and broadly stick to it. If we don’t have work, i.e. business to service, or employees and subcontractors to organise to do it, then we should be at our desks, or on the sofa, or somewhere, marketing. Alternatively we should go to that early breakfast meeting.

It can be lonely working from home. Before the internet, we could have our “water-cooler” chats on the telephone, but now we can chat and interact on-line. We can use Twitter for conversations as well as for our marketing.

We have to have that discipline not to allow our social media interaction to get in the way of work. Yes, I like to see whatever everyone is up to by scrolling around Facebook, but there is a time and a place, and that certainly isn’t when we should be working for our clients and customers, or trying to find new ones.

  • Have particular times to work, whether normal office hours, or four in the morning start, but stick to it.
  • Limit the social media marketing time to an hour or so.
  • Set yourself break times and make sure you take them.
  • Try to do the on-line social stuff to the breaks.
  • Don’t work long hours, because if you feel you have to you must be doing something wrong.

What tips do you have?

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Curbing our aggression?

iStock_000011891859XSmall bored womanPerceptions

My very nice Twitter friend, Elaine Clark, commented the other day:

“Why is it that women are aggressive and men assertive – well that is what blokes always tell me!”

I do not have that opinion (and I think Elaine had her tongue in her cheek), but it set me thinking about how perceptions of people govern their success in employment or in business.

Aggressive or assertive?

In large businesses I would have thought that employees perceived as aggressive would not be favoured by their bosses or the owners. However, I have to say that if we think about “assertive” meaning rather pushy and extrovert then I do think that getting noticed does help people to be promoted, sometimes above those who have more ability and knowledge. That goes for both women and men.

Certainly I remember in a previous employment spotting early a very pushy female junior whom I thought would go far. She is now a partner in that international firm. Did her pushiness pay off? It might have done, because another very pushy person but not so clever guy also made partner. I like to think the pushy lady made the higher echelons because she worked hard and is clever too.

I do think it is possible that pushy people get promoted in larger organisations because their managers prefer a quiet life. Do you?

Pushy or confident?

Having met many small business owners since I became one myself, I am not convinced that it pays to be pushy and in-your-face. In fact I know it is not. Don’t you try to avoid those people at networking events who buttonhole you and thrust their flyers and cards at you even though you have not expressed an interest?

There is nothing wrong with putting yourself forward of course. I do, even though it is not really a natural thing for me I am an introvert really, but have trained myself, through watching others, to speak and to do presentations. I try not to talk too much face-to-face about my business unless asked. It is quite different to set out our wares on our websites, or have flyers delivered door to door, because that does not force anyone to look at whatever they don’t want to.

Mainly we need to show what we can do, and what successes we have had, and demonstrate our knowledge. Male or female, we should not be aggressive or assertive so that people notice, because they are likely to react against us.

We need to gain the confidence of our business community. We can have a personal brand which people like without being over-the-top and freaking people out. To me, pushy doesn’t cut it. What do you think?

 

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Small business, Windows 8 and me

Vostro 1000 with Windows 8Having revived my old XP desktop with Windows 8 I ought to report that I have updated my five-year-old Dell Vostro 1000 laptop from Windows Vista to Windows 8. The laptop was getting rather slow. Actually Vista made it rather slow. I should think it would have been quicker in the first place with XP.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t have a choice in speeding up the old machine. Given that all applications would need to be re-installed, I did think seriously about installing Ubuntu. After all Ubuntu is quick and not demanding on memory.

Just the same I thought it would be better (on balance) to “update” to Windows 8. I was allowed to reinstall Microsoft Office without a new key as MS licenses are linked to the motherboard. I like Open Office and installed that. It runs well .

I installed my other favourites which are the decent browsers, i.e. Firefox, Chrome and Opera; anything other than Internet Explorer. That is just as slow and cumbersome as in Vista, or at least that how it seems to me.

I also have the Tweetdeck client program. All fine and dandy.

So, the machine runs much more quickly. It boots quickly. It shuts down rapidly. It syncs with my other Windows 8 machine, the one which was revived by being updated from XP. That means it uses the same theme and has the same tiles leading to the same applications and social media things.

The one major difficulty in installing Windows 8 on this old machine was that it trashed the graphics driver and installed a generic one which meant that the display definition was much worse than before. The ATI website tool failed to detect one suitable for my ATI IGP Xpress 1150 graphics. After much head scratching, a visit to the Dell Support Forum brought a link to a suitable download, so all is fine now, and our screen quality is restored.

Of course the laptop does not have all the bells and whistles of touch-screen, but it is a new quicker version of itself. For everyday use with nothing too specialised in the way of software, Windows 8 has turned out to be a good choice for this maximum 2 GB machine, and is not too greedy for this older machine.

I hate throwing out equipment just because it is ageing if it is perfectly serviceable. Windows 8 has transformed the laptop back into a useful piece of equipment. I just thought you might like to know before throwing out your old machine.

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Drilling down the detail of our purchases

Buy from me!

I’m taking notes.

 

Feelings

When we are selling our services, many of our prospects will buy the feeling and the comfort of having someone else take care of things. That is usually my initial approach, and most people do not care about the detail. They just want things taken care of. I feel the same when we are having a new carpet laid. I am not interested in how it is done. My wife and I look forward to the end result.

In business and in life, sometimes the process is important and we need when selling to be open to questions about how we do things. I know I do.

The detail

I have a current health issue (don’t worry) and I have apparently three equally good ways of fixing it. It has been hard to decide which, so I have seen three different consultants to talk through my options. Only after seeing the third and getting some vital information which I had not got from the second guy was I able to choose the second guy’s option. With a complicated issue we really do need to drill down to the detail.

Comfort zone

I use some very specialised software. A year back I had become disillusioned with the inflexible package I was being offered by my then provider, which meant I was paying for stuff I did not need. Nevertheless I was afraid to change because I liked the way the software worked and I was comfortable with it.

Asking questions

I tried several trial versions of software from other providers. I wanted more details from several of these software houses, and some were helpful and others were not. Some had FAQs which they did not answer in a way I understood. The unhelpful companies did not get my business.

The most helpful people were the ones I bought from. Their package is great, and after a year I can say I am very happy. Surprisingly, although I was not hung up on getting the best price, the cost is fairly modest. I expect they sell more because they are so helpful. Good luck to them.

If your prospect wants the detail of what you are selling rather than just looking forward to being pleased with the end result, do indulge them.

If you are buying, sometimes you will put your faith in a person you know. Otherwise, do not be afraid to ask for the detail, particularly if the process is vital to your business.

Do you ask enough questions? Don’t be afraid to.

 

Why we need the assurance of business insurance

26 Feb 12 upload 011It seems obvious that we should insure our houses and our house contents. We have to insure our cars by law. Strangely many people do not believe in insurance for their businesses.

Of course it is true that many contractors under the control of other people or businesses (such as builders) have to have their own Public Liability Insurance. Many business owners, worried about the cost, skimp on this. Yet the insurance is not expensive. The consequence of not having it can be catastrophic if a customer has an accident and sues, because the cost of defending can be disastrous.

If a mistake in the work we do can result in a loss to a client, we need to be insured against that. Professional Indemnity Insurance covering being sued for at least a few hundred thousand seem sensible. I wouldn’t be without mine, though, touch wood and taking care, I have never had a claim. Again, even if we have done nothing wrong, the cost of defending an action can be terribly expensive and destroy a business, and maybe our wealth.

If we have a business with particular employees or of course ourselves as owners, we can insure against loss of their services in what is known as key-person insurance. It is intended to compensate for business losses in case the important person dies or is unable to work again due to illness.

I insure against loss of business income if I were to be ill and unable to run my practice. Shouldn’t everyone?

You and I may never have a loss of someone’s services or be sued, but you never know. Most of us keep an umbrella handy, don’t we? Why should we leave our businesses and our income open to the elements?

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Minding your own business content

WordPress logo blue

WordPress logo blue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As our small businesses are so personal to us it makes sense to keep control of what we put out in the big wide world.

You may have seen recently that Posterous is being closed down by Twitter, who acquired the platform in March 2012. I rather enjoyed using Posterous. I posted quite a few of my photos there, mainly from my walks around the countryside locally. I was disappointed that my content was under threat.

However, Posterous has offered us a back-up solution which I have taken up, and in fact I have transferred everything from my Posterous site to a WordPress.com blog, which is here. It needs work, but everything is there.

Now people might say that as another “easy” blog platform which I don’t own, that WordPress.com blog is still subject to the whims of the business which owns it. Well, firstly, I trust them to act in the best interests of their customers, and secondly, I have bought the domain through the owners, Automattic and if something terrible happened to their company, which I am sure it won’t, I can take my domain elsewhere as I did with onourbikes.com. It is still a WordPress site of course, albeit WordPress.org one, but the domain is mine and the site is backed up.

My ex-Posterous WordPress site is not a business one, but it does illustrate that we need to own all our material and content. My own opinion is that we need to own the domains of all our websites and blogs. If we use a platform such as WordPress.com, then it gives security to own the domain for $18 a year or so.

It is true that I have a blog on Blogger.com because it is convenient to post my opinion about tax issues there rather than on my main business website, which is all about content to help clients and to attract prospects.. However, from experience I know it would be easy to extract all the content via a back-up or directly onto a WordPress.org site because I have done it already.

Just do not take it for granted that everything you think you own will be preserved in aspic forever unless you really do own and back up the domain where it sits. Keep your ear to the ground for what could happen to all your other stuff, because you are just paying the rent if it is on someone else’s platform. Just because I pay the rent on Flickr doesn’t mean all my photos are not saved and backed up securely.

I think we need to keep our business stuff and all our original material in places we own. If we really cannot own them we must pay the rent for a space we can have backed up properly. Don’t lose it.

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