Archives for November 2014

Small business and swimming out of your depth

 

English: The Beatles wave to fans after arrivi...

The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at Kennedy Airport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A week or so back I was watching an antiques and collectible show on the TV. It was one of those where people bring along some item in the hope that one of the dealers on the show will buy it for cash. These programmes are quite interesting and one can learn a lot about antiques sitting in one’s armchair.

On this particular episode a woman brought in what purported to be all four of the Beatles’ signatures. These were on a torn-out diary page which had a couple of entries for November 1968. When asked where she got these signatures, the seller said her aunt had worked at the Liverpool Empire when the Beatles were just starting out.

The dealer and the show presenter said that the fact they were on a diary page and that the aunt had worked at the theatre gave the signatures provenance, yet to me they gave them quite the opposite and the alarm-bells started ringing.

Firstly, the Beatles were not just starting out in 1968. They made it big in 1963 and started out several years before then. Secondly, even without checking, I thought they had not performed live in 1968 anywhere, and certainly not in the UK. Having checked since, I think the last UK performance, apart from on the roof of Abbey Road Studios in 1969, was actually in 1966. As far as it is possible for me to check, the last performance at the Liverpool Empire was in December 1965; definitely not in 1968.

By 1968 the Beatles were not getting on as well. It would have been difficult to get their signatures all at once, and definitely not at the Liverpool Empire.

These are all simple clues to someone who even had some idea of their Sixties pop history.

Logically these signatures were fakes, yet the dealer bought them for a fair sum and sold them on via auction. Dare I suggest the woman who brought them in knew perfectly well they were not genuine?

I am not an expert on the Beatles. I am just quite old. I would not have touched the autographs with a bargepole and if anyone is liable to be sued for misrepresentation it might be the auction house, though I hope they were sold “as seen”.

The dealer on the show admitted he did not know much about autographs. In my view it would have been safer to pass up the opportunity to purchase them, although I think he was lucky to get away with buying and then selling them on.

In my line of business, I cannot take chances. If I do not think I have sufficient knowledge to advise a client, I will be honest. I will suggest someone who is much better in that particular area.

None of us can afford to get out of our depth. If we make mistakes, we could cost our clients a lot of money, and even if we are well insured, we can end up losing out as well as having much heartache and worry.

I would rather work in an area where I am comfortable and have good knowledge. I do not want projects in unfamiliar territory to come back and bite me. Would you?

 

The value resold

A few months ago I advised a client on some potential tax issues he was concerned about. It took a while to research; well mainly to check as I had good knowledge of the issues. It is always important to check one’s memory against the latest legislation and case law as things can change.

What my client was looking for was not a tax scheme – I don’t do those – but the answers to a series of questions. It was a “what if?” sort of project.

When I was asked to quote in the first place, as always I thought about the value to the client. How valuable could it be to him in terms of money-saving in choosing the right path? How valuable was it in terms of peace-of-mind knowing what course of action he should take, and what to avoid doing?

I quoted a fee which he accepted. It was worth doing from my point of view because I could make a decent profit taking into account my overheads and time, but the determination of price was nevertheless the value to the client.

More recently I have been asked by another new client virtually the same set of questions and “what-ifs?”. Really, subject to a few minor tweaks, I can give pretty much the same advice. However, it will take much less time and other costs will be minimal.

Should I charge less? Of course not! I believe the value to the new client is much the same as to the previous client. I can bill him the same, and he will be happy paying for the money-saving and peace-of-mind. I know that because he has accepted my quotation.

Those of us who provide advice, knowledge, or if you like, our intellectual property, have studied hard for a long time, and have constantly to keep up-to-date with the latest happenings in order to give the correct current advice.

We have earned our value and deserve our reward. Why should we sell ourselves short and think in terms of labour costs? Never undervalue your own expertise when selling to clients.

Ignoring the signs

Some signs people ignore

Some signs people ignore

It is great when our businesses are running smoothly. It is easy to take our eye off the ball, and not think about the future.

It might be that there is plenty of income coming in, but are we relying too much on too few customers? We do not know how fickle those customers might be, no matter how hard we work on their accounts.

Are our suppliers creeping their prices up faster than they deserve, and can we sustain those higher costs? Should we be shopping around?

Is our admin work becoming too much of a burden? Should we get assistance before it gets in the way of our production and our marketing time?

Some signs we ignore at our peril

Some signs we ignore at our peril

Is our marketing working, or are there signs we should make a change? Should we make a change anyway before it gets too stale?

When our business is failing we may not notice the signs, or we may ignore them. If we look around us we may realise when we are in trouble and take action, and ask for help.

There is no shame in asking for help.

Seth Godin and the Time Machine

British author H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Tim...

British author H. G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine is an early example of time travel in modern fiction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seth Godin said recently that we need the drive to want more and to be better. Our businesses and indeed our lives would be no fun if we knew we had achieved all we could, and that there was nothing more.

The will to win, the excitement of the game, and the reward of getting things done are what give me satisfaction, and I guess you feel the same.

What if we thought that we had achieved all we could? It would be so depressing having to have to sit on our hands, having no new ideas. That would be the decline and fall of our businesses, and if everyone caught the mood, the end of the world as we know it.

Have you read The Time Machine, published by H G Wells way back in 1895? In his story, in the far distant future everyone felt that they and technology had got as far as was possible, and there was no more incentive to be creative. Civilisation was apparently in terminal decline.

The moral is that fulfilment is in our work, or if you prefer, the game. It is not about achieving some ultimate goal, but in our journey getting there.

 

Networking with old friends

Successful Business People.I have been in business on my own account for a dozen years, now. In that time, I have met many people, both in formal organised networking and just in bumping into people in the course of business.

I enjoy networking, and have a long track record of meeting new people. Isn’t it great?

Now, people come and go from our attention as we move on and expand our informal networks, and maybe we over-stretch ourselves. I think that in my case, although I must have met thousands of people, Dunbar’s Number is relevant. I can only relate to around 150 business friends. Some come into the group and some fade out, but 150 is a fair estimate of those in my circle.

When I look back, though, I have had a greater connection with certain people whom I may not have seen for a while. Those people I can still help, and maybe they can help me, and what is more, it is great to work with those who make one feel comfortable.

So it is that I have been catching up with old friends, seeing how we can help each other, and at the same time it is great to reminisce, compare notes and generally enjoy ourselves.

Are you staying in touch?

Can you network when you are shy?

To move ourselves on

To move ourselves on

I am a shy guy. It is just how I am. In those psychological tests they had in the Eighties and Nineties, and even into the Noughties, I ended up on the quiet introvert spectrum. I would have been too shy to volunteer for these tests, but large firms I worked for made everyone take them, and I even had one sprung on me as an “entertainment” after dinner at a tax conference. I preferred the roulette and blackjack games to that test.

You will gather that I was not confident to speak in public. As it happens, I had done a course on public speaking at my old firm’s training centre. This was not because I wanted to, but because I had done all the other courses at one time or another, but was short of training hours that year. I still have the VHS video of my last performance (presentation) on the course. I was terrible, jumping about, wringing my hands, and looking like a startled rabbit as I was trying to look around the room to meet the eyes of different members of the audience.

As an independent business person, I learned early on that I would have to network. I started with the breakfast meetings, and was pretty scared when I found that I would have to stand up and tell everyone about my business, even if I was only on my feet for one minute. Still, I had to do it.

You know what? I got used to it. It was good training. I learned that I had the support of those listening. They did not want me to fail, any more than I wanted them to when it was their turn. They were on my side and we were in it together.

Later, I was asked to do my “ten minutes”. That was not a problem. I started to enjoy it. I learned to talk without a set script, though we all need something to remind us to cover all the points we want to make.

After a while, I was comfortable visiting business groups to do longer presentations. It is really quite fun, as is meeting new people.

That is the point. Once I had “broken the ice” in terms of getting out there, I became used to mixing with my fellow business people and enjoying their company.

I am not a different person, though. Most would still consider me an introvert, and that is fair. Learning to network and to speak in public are like learning to ride a bike. We all had to get on our bikes, didn’t we?