Learning by doing

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI (Photo credit: Wikipedia) – not my station!

How did you begin to learn to do what you do for a living? I started in my first job by being given a pile of basic routine work to do. When I had done it, I was shown how to apply it to produce the finished product, which in my case was a service provided to a customer.

I could not have learned by watching someone else just sitting at a desk. We all need to have hands-on experience to learn and become interested in a subject in the first place.

It is the same with anything we do which can inspire us. As some of you may know, I am a radio amateur or ham. I first became interested in radio when I was at school, aged about fifteen, and watched and heard people (mostly older boys) using the army cadet forces network to communicate. It was learning by watching and by being involved, and it opened up a whole new world to me.

If it had just been a question of someone using headphones and hearing just one side of a conversation, I would have learned nothing, and would have been bored. My being involved in the entire conversation was essential to spark my interest. It gave me a hobby I value today in the same way I have had an entire career from being involved and useful from the start.

Whatever we do, we need to have a sense of self-worth. How do you inspire those who will come after you and follow you?

Having a sense of direction

It is no good starting in business if you don’t have a plan and ambition, or you are doing so for the wrong reasons. It is no good going for a job working for someone else if you don’t really know what you want to do.

I well remember, when I first started my business, meeting someone who had started his to undermine and destroy the guy whom he thought had destroyed his father’s business. Having left his father’s rival in the smoking ruins of his business he had no further purpose for continuing. That is no way to go about business or life.

A young person I know wants to leave home and get a job without knowing what she wants to do. She needs a plan, and just wanting to leave home is not a plan without something positive to build her independence in the way of a career.

If you want to start a business or get a job, just think what you would enjoy doing, and work out how you can achieve it. Running away without direction will have you ending up where you do not want to be.

“Dutch auction” clients

English: Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx...

English: Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx, cropped from group photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently a prospect to whom I had quoted a fee in an email replied to that email after four months. She asked if I was still prepared to act for her. Naturally I said yes, and assumed she had accepted my quote. I sent her the usual “terms and conditions” email.

In reply she said that although I had the knowledge and expertise she required, actually she had obtained some other quotes. She effectively asked me to cut my fee in half.

Clearly she did not value me despite her comment and did not appreciate my experience, the cost of my ongoing training, my business overheads etc. Mainly though, she did not see value in me; only in saving money. Frankly, if she can get a process done for half my price, I fear for her as anyone in my field of work who was half decent could not possibly be relied upon if charging such a low fee. Too many corners would be cut. Instead of saving money, she may waste money.

I didn’t come here to be insulted, but I have got the tee shirt, so am not too upset. Very likely I was dealing with Rufus T Firefly’s daughter. She will land herself in the soup with HMRC; maybe Duck Soup.

The moral: know your value and charge for it. Clients worth having will appreciate the work you do and will be happy to pay for the comfort you give them.

 

 

 

Minding your Ps and Qs

English: Compositors working in the case depar...

English: Compositors working in the case department of Svenska Dagbladet in 1904. Svenska: Arbetare på Svenska Dagbladets sätteri 1904. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are various theories as to the origin of the expression but old-fashioned print compositors claim it for their own. A lower-case p the wrong way round is a q.

Print compositors had to pay attention to detail, and so do we in running our small businesses. I was looking at my routine expenses the other day while doing my quarterly VAT (sales tax) return. I noticed that there were a few small monthly charges for services I never use, almost never use, or which are completely unnecessary if I am paying two providers for the same thing.

Like many people, I like a good idea and am willing to sign up for something useful, perhaps on the spur of the moment. However, I might sometimes forget that I am actually duplicating or purchasing two services which are fairly alike. Do I need two on-line directories? How much blogging coaching do I need to pay for when half of it I do not have time to do, or it is essentially what I am already paying for elsewhere.

I am stopping a lot of payments of mainly very small amounts but they all add up to quite a saving.

Are you paying for stuff you do not need or do not use? Have a look. You may get a surprise, plus more money to play with.

With a little help from my friends

Joe Cocker

Joe Cocker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joe Cocker died recently, and although he was a prolific recording artist, he is best remembered for his cover of the Lennon-McCartney song “With A Little Help From My Friends”, which they wrote for Ringo Starr. Joe tailored the song to his style and made a very memorable song one so good that most of us will always remember his interpretation. He was friends with the Beatles and they did help each other more than we knew back then.

In a business context, most of us have not been fortunate enough to discover a product or service that is unique, and it is a question of putting our own personal touches into our offerings to make them special to our clients. We can do that by developing ideas from others in our business. In my line, I do not look on others with the same type of offering as competitors. They are colleagues with their own take and approach.

That said, we cannot work in isolation, and I rely on others for some of the services I offer to clients. I am very good on many technical issues, but not on a few, so I turn to paid-for technical support and to my sub-contractors, who also do the sort of work I do not take pleasure from doing, but they do. We all have our strong points and our weaker ones, but if we know and use the support we need, our clients will get the very best from us, which they are entitled to expect.

Our paid supporters are also very important when we need to take time off for holidays, and also, as I have needed recently, some personal time when someone close to us is very unwell. I am so very grateful that I have a social circle too including a lovely neighbour who was incredibly supportive quite literally in my hour of need.

So what am I saying? Small businesses need to have support in place to fill in the gaps in what they are good at, and also to be there in a crisis, whether internal or external. As business owners, we also need to have good business and social circles to help us out personally when the unexpected happens. Until it does, we must help others in crisis.

We all need a little help from our friends and it is a great comfort to know that we can get it.

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?

 

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.

 

Cheapskate prospects

Photoxpress_10909891 calculatorWell, a cheapskate is not really a prospect, as why would you take on a client who was not prepared to pay you a proper fee or have any respect for what you can do for them?

The other day I had a call from a guy who asked if my business was something I ran “on the side”. He meant, “Do you have a “real” job working for someone else, and are you just making extra pennies on your evenings and weekends?” In other words, was I going to be cheap?

I told him my business provided my living and my fees reflected the benefit he would get from my services. I did not bother with the list of costs we have such as insurance, software and training, and the value my expertise would bring him, because clearly that would have been a waste of time.

I wished him luck finding someone who would do the job at a very low cost, and bid him good day.

What would you have done?

Where we are now

Canary Wharf from Excel Centre

Canary Wharf from Excel Centre (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

We can all look back and regret decisions we have made. I could if I felt like it.

Should I have been more serious about that girl? Should I have had ambitions to be a Lloyd’s broker when I was a lad? Should I have accepted a posting in the Far East? Should I have taken that job? Should I have left that job?

We did not know then what we know now. We started our businesses based on what we knew then. We have learned along the way, and with hindsight we can see our mistakes. That is called experience. As long as we learn from it, we will be stronger.

We should be happy with what we have achieved, but never complacent. There is so much more we can do and look forward to.

Don’t look over your shoulder with regret, but only to check the lessons you have learned. Me? Non, je ne regrette rien.