Archives for May 2013

Purchasing mistakes for small businesses

Vostro 1000 with Windows 8My salad days, when I was green in judgement

Remember when you started your business, whether it was a few months ago of a few years? You wanted to buy computers, tools and gadgets. You needed to buy in services. There was so much choice, but what did you need?

When I started my business more than a decade back, the web was not quite what it is now. It seemed logical to advertise in paper form. Not long after I started up I had calls from Yellow Pages and Thomson Directory. I signed up at quite considerable cost, by which I mean £1,000. I thought it was bound to work.

Of course just being in a directory does not work for every business. I wish I had known that. It does work for a plumbing business for people in urgent need of help, and probably for the local electrician, but in professional services potential clients look for recommendations. I might have had one engagement in my three wasted years with Yellow Pages. I had no business at all through Thomson. I had the wrong sort of business to succeed this way.

Out with the old, be careful with the new

Now paper directories have gone out of fashion and have shrunk to small booklets., but still general directories do not work. We are all in Yell.com for free, and having your business listed in Google Places probably helps your SEO, but in themselves they do not help service businesses much. It is certainly not worth paying anyone for a big ad on Yell. AdWords may get you more clicks on a search, but you just cannot beat a recommendation, so don’t spend your money unless you are a plumber etc..

Shiny jewels

Our other big temptation is in buying office equipment. What do we actually need, as opposed to what we really fancy to polish our egos? I run a “professional office” from home. I would love one of those wonderful big touch screens as a client of mine had even a couple of years ago. She paid about three times what she needed to to have a functional machine running bookkeeping software and spreadsheets. Paying for that really cut into her cash-flow as a start-up, at a time when she needed to purchase stock to sell.

I have a couple of Windows desktops in my office and an old ex-Windows one running Ubuntu and which I did not fork out a bean for. I am tied to Windows by specialist software, at least for now. I have a laptop which I take when I am out of the office. I need all these.

I also have a netbook which was an impulse buy a couple of years ago. I didn’t need it. With hindsight I should not have bought it, but I liked the one my granddaughter had. I use it for business purposes because it has no other use for me, but I could well have done without it.

Taking the tablet or swallowing a bitter pill?

I am not the only one to make these mistakes. I might have bought a redundant iPad. And yes, I have an Android tablet which, fortunately, was a freebie. I could write letters, work on spreadsheets, emails and all sorts of things, but without a proper keyboard it is not nearly as convenient as a laptop. I sometimes check my email when I am out, but can just as easily use my phone. I don’t need a tablet at all. I use it only on Twitter and Facebook and then only during leisure time. Paying for one would have been a waste of money.

All new purchasing needs thinking about carefully. Do we need the product and will it serve us well? Is it cost-effective? Have we read the reviews or asked a business friend?

I have made expensive mistakes in the past. Have you?

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Short-term business follies

Over-sized garden folly

Over-sized garden folly

Sometimes I meet people who do not so much have a business plan as be after just making a fast buck. They try to follow every trend, or start implementing a strategy they just thought up in the middle of the night without thinking it through. The trouble with ideas they have in the middle of the night is that they may well be (well you have guessed it) dreams.

Anyway, there will be some product they can make or get and sell for a few weeks in the summer. It might be a pottery garden feature. “Hey, we can knock up a few of those.” Suppose the weather is poor (again) and no one can work or enjoy their garden? The summer doesn’t last more than a few months. Where is the revenue stream coming from then?

The truth is that we all need a longer term plan to make money. We need to plan our income for all four seasons. If our business is seasonal we need to think well in advance what income we can get in when our core activity is slow.

We all need to change and adapt in our business environment, and adjust our marketing strategies, but we also need to have firm long-term objectives to ensure the continuity of our income and survival.

I didn’t make up the garden ornament story. It was one example of having a “bright idea”; spending money and working hard without considering whether there was a demand and if so, how long that demand would last. Have you heard of any expensive dreams like that?

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Small business: doing, not being

Early retirement?

Early retirement?

One of the advantages of having my own business is, I have always thought, that I am doing something I enjoy and having responsibility for my own working life. In fact, having responsibility for all of my life.

In employment, we may think we have a career, but if we work for someone else, however ambitious we are, we are always going to be dependent on other people’s opinions about us, right or wrong. There will always be an element of “seeing out our time” until we retire. That amounts , at best, to being on a ladder to climb in the world of employment, and at worst, a treadmill. I am not sure where I used to be before being unexpectedly ejected, but I cannot say the overall experience of employment was entirely wonderful, though I had some fun.

To me, having my own businesses means I am in control of my own destiny.

The other day I was sitting in a waiting room talking as you do to a guy I had met briefly a couple of times before. Our appointments were running very behind so we had quite a long time to chat. My companion told me he had retired at the age of forty-seven and taken a pension, which meant he had been retired for fifteen years. I guess he was fortunate to have one of those old-fashioned final salary pensions which we all wish we had or could qualify for.

I know the guy has a serious hobby working with wood, but it is not a business. So is working with a hobby doing, or is it just being? If he had run even a part-time business for the last fifteen years would that have been more in the way of doing? Should not we keep ourselves sharper by doing?

I cannot imagine not working at something even if it is voluntary work, because surely we should keep our brains active? Is having an activity without a beneficial end result for someone else not doing, but just being? I do not want to judge my new acquaintance, but just to understand him.

Would you just like to be or do you always want to do?

Poor customer service on the carpet

Be nice to your customers!

Be nice to your customers!

The long wait

We have an apartment for sale. We don’t live in it. It was my Mother-in-Law’s home but sad-to-say she is no longer with us.

The flat is empty of furniture and redecorated, but the carpets need cleaning. My wife telephoned a local carpet-cleaning business and left a voice-mail. They called back (rather oddly on a Sunday afternoon) to make an appointment to do this.

My wife waited at the flat at the appointed time to let the carpet cleaners in. In fact she waited an hour after the appointed tome. During that hour, both she and I called the business’s number, but we both got voice-mail and had to leave messages.

Yesterday afternoon the carpet cleaning people returned our calls and seemed unaware that they had missed the appointment. They asked if they could come round to do the job, but my wife said that she would give the business to someone more reliable.

What have we learned about the carpet cleaners?

  • They do not monitor telephone calls so are not available to customers and prospects when needed.
  • They do not follow up messages left for days.
  • Their booking system is poor and unreliable.
  • They are unbusinesslike.
  • They do not realise their failings so…
  • …they do not apologise

What can we surmise?

  • They are too mean or cash-poor to invest in a proper telephone answering system to which they can respond.
  • They have no concept of the meaning of customer service.
  • Their business will fail or most probably already has even if they don’t know it yet.

What do we know we should do?

  • Make sure our customers can find us and speak to us when they telephone.
  • Deliver what we say we will when we say we will.
  • Be courteous.
  • In the event something has gone wrong despite the best efforts we always make, APOLOGISE.
  • Make up for any failure promptly and maybe we can save losing their business.

We know all that. Can anyone explain why it is not obvious to our local business that may not get to clean many carpets? What do you think?

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Some things for the long weekend

Weekend in the sun (edited with PicMonkey)

Weekend in the sun (edited with PicMonkey)

Have you tried Zemanta when blogging or managing your on-line content? It helps find your own related content and images as well as articles and blog posts from other people which will add value to your writing. It will also connect you to those other writers who may feel complimented by your interest and remember you well. It will help you build your community and gain helpful links back (but don’t ask).

A very handy post on the Zemanta blog highlights a long list of content marketing tools. I have not tried them all and have my reservations about the continuing usefulness of Google Alerts, but as they say, suck it and see.

Then there is a further list of tools used by on-line luminaries. The only one I use currently is Buffer, and probably not enough, but I am working on it. I will try the others, but not over the weekend if it is sunny.

Finally, there is PicMonkey, a free way of editing images for your blog without downloading any software, brought to my attention by Blogworld.com and then by Jim Connolly.  PicMonkey is mainly free, but often it is useful to pay for extras, and after all, that is how they make their money.

Good luck with your research on these useful tools. Maybe we can share experiences. Have you tried any of these, and how did you get on?

 

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