Social media gaming and business reputation

iStock_000005618867XSmallI care about my business reputation. Of course it is up to you what you think about my tweets and my Facebook posts, but I can assure you they are all authentic and deliberate. Everything everywhere which is under my name, out on the web, is something I have thought about, even if not much. 🙂 There is no automation other than the odd feed from my blog posts, but they are of my original content.

I see other people who automate their tweets, presumably to help their Klout scores and to boost their SEO or whatever. I have no idea if it works, but if you are like me you unfollow people who just put out automated tweets of quotations from famous people. It really is lazy to tweet second-hand material nobody cares about.

What is even worse is those who tweet or post automated feeds for which they are not responsible at all. Some attach their feeds to news stations or business sites, but many of the stories they appear responsible for are inappropriate for their business, with more raunchy celebrity news or reports of kayaking or something. That’s fine if you are in show biz reporting or sports, but not if you are in invoice discounting or factoring. It makes you look ridiculous.

You have to be careful tweeting feeds from specialist forums too, especially if you don’t monitor your output. Public forums are going to be spammed, and I saw a tax practice tweet spam about Viagra as a result. No doubt the forum moderator deleted the post, but our Twitter friend still had a dodgy web-link out in the ether.

Not everything I tweet is about my business. I post what I find interesting. I have conversations. So do you, I expect.

None of us uses social media perfectly and certainly not I, but we all do have to be sensible and be able to stand by our posts. Don’t we?

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Playing at business

I don’t think I am unique in believing that I should take seriously every activity which I undertake. This is whether I do it for fun or for money. I don’t pretend to be an expert in my hobbies. I am going back to photography, which was always one of my favourite activities, and I intend go “retro” too in using my old cameras with those things you put in them called films. Remember those? But I have to be serious about this otherwise I am not going to get results, or not the results I want.

Most people go to the gym to get fit or stay fit. Most people work hard too, whatever age or physical condition they are in. Some people don’t go to the gym to be fit, though. They go for the social aspect. That is a need for many of course, and it’s fine as long as they understand that is why they are going.

Some gym customers think they are going to the gym to be fit, but actually don’t do anything. They may look nice in their latest gear (there is a fashion aspect to gym-frequenting, at least for some) but if you spend most of the time lying on an exercise mat with your friend texting on your phone and sharing photos, you are not going to achieve much. You are going through the motions by going to the gym, but you aren’t doing anything to achieve your object if that object is fitness.

Some people play at business.  Being in business is serious, though. We need to make money. You need to make money. That’s the point. It’s not something you can pick up and drop.

It is not always easy to keep focus. To keep our eye to the ball. That is to be the most efficient in doing what we do in the best way we can.

I enjoy helping clients see past the distractions to making their businesses work better and improving their profits.

Do you get distracted, or are you the fittest person in the business gym? How do you stay focussed?

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Never mind the quality?

Eeyore being sad.
Image via Wikipedia

I love being in business, and not being an employee and part of someone else’s business. Many of you have heard that from me before. Just the same it is not all plain sailing and that is partly because we are dealing with other human beings.

Eeyore

Over the years I have had many lovely people as clients and who have appreciated the service they have received. Happy clients are those who are prepared to pay for what they get because of the benefit they perceive. However, there are some who are not very often of a cheerful nature and no matter what they get, try to pay as little as possible for it. These are the glass-half-empty people, the pessimists and the generally grumpy who want to pay as little as possible and never want add-on services. They are the people who can get you down if you let them. This is the Eeyore view of life.

Weeding

As we have said before, start-up businesses take on as many customers and clients they can get, and that’s only natural. As the business grows and develops, an owner, particularly of a service business, can afford to weed out the ungrateful and low coupon clients and concentrate on the higher value and generally more appreciative clients, and at the same time have more enjoyment in dealing with the higher coupon work which is generally more interesting.

If you haven’t got to the point of being really choosy who you work with, at least sack the miserable cheapskate customers because all you will get from them is grief; you certainly won’t get a decent profit.

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Unemployment, qualifications and aptitude

On the local news on TV there was a feature from a seaside town about the high level of unemployment. One guy interviewed complained he couldn’t get a job despite being a qualified bricklayer, gym instructor and IT technician. Now I know there is something known as a benefits trap and there may not be that many full time jobs in those disciplines, but a few postcards in newsagents’ windows would surely bring some work in any of these areas of expertise. It would also show continuing experience for a prospective employer when the jobs market picks up. If the guy were lucky his bits of work from the three areas could add up to a full-time occupation. It certainly sounds like a waste of talent.

Am I being harsh? Is this another example of the dependency culture? Should he be on his bike?

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Unwise business assumptions

Snow Leopard
Image via Wikipedia

I remember when I was starting out in the workplace, I took a client file I had been working on to my immediate boss for review. I remember he picked on something I had done and asked about it. I don’t remember the detail but I do know that I said that I had made an assumption about an issue. I remember he boomed at me “Never assume! Always check your facts.” Of course he was quite right and it was a lesson I learned.

In business there is another expression which can sound rather trite, which is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Of course this also applies to our general knowledge. There was a recent short series on BBC Television about the Lost Land of the Tiger which was about looking for and finding (Bengal) tigers in Bhutan, from the forest up into the high Himalayas. Now I had not ever thought much about whether there would be tigers in Bhutan, but watching the programmes I also learned that Bhutan had clouded leopards, golden cats, flying squirrels and more conventional (in my mind) spotted leopards. Now I had assumed I knew that flying squirrels were Australian marsupials and spotted leopards were only found in Africa. I suppose I had no basis for these assumptions, but I thought I knew these assumptions as facts. It turns out there are species of flying squirrel in many parts of the world.

In business there is a great danger of stumbling alone and trying to deal with difficult issues and assuming we know just what to do, or that we know there is no solution to our problem. Most of us have done it. Usually there is help at hand if only we ask for it. We should never assume that we know all the answers, because no one does know all the answers. However, collectively there will be people who between them do know practically all the answers. We only have to ask our network and someone will be there to help. Our network is part of our business team.

Apple Mac enthusiasts will have been disappointed that the Bhutan expedition did not film a snow leopard but only found the remains of a yak a snow leopard had half eaten. Just the same the series was a reminder to me not to assume anything which is outside my area of expertise. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Partnering with others and maintaining standards

I have to say that since I have been running my own businesses I have been fortunate or perhaps just sufficiently prudent to choose the right subcontractors and joint venture partners. Where I have given work to others they have not let me down, though I have had clients who have made mistakes. Often the reason is that they wish to give work to the party quoting the lowest figure rather than vetting or asking for recommendations for the best quality supplier.

I love Dell computers. I have bought three for business in the last couple of years and my wife and I also purchased two as family presents. They are quality products and the customer service is great on the rare occasions one might need it.

This confidence in the products led me to buy a Dell ink-jet printer. I might just have been unlucky in that it has never worked satisfactorily, One thing I can say is that it has been incredibly expensive to run. The ink cartridges are appallingly expensive. They don’t last long. Guess what? Dell don’t make the printers; they are essentially re-branded Lexmark machines and the latter company is notoriously expensive for ink.

We all make mistakes and clearly I should have done my research better. I have now bought an HP printer based on reviews and my good past experience of their products, and I hope for the best. I am assured the cost per page will be far less than the Dell-Lexmark, and anyway I am trying to print less as part my effort for conservation.

Maybe Dell think Lexmark are delivering in price. Are they delivering on customer satisfaction? I think it is a timely reminder for me in choosing the right subcontractors and service providers too. What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Online reputations again

Imagine you have spent a long time building your on-line reputation. You have spent years talking to people, befriending them, helping them and building trust. Your network has become a source of advocacy for your character and your business. You are held in the highest esteem.

Then one day, in respect of a relatively trivial matter you lose your temper, you rant, you criticize people and institutions that others in your network greatly respect. In doing so, you cause people in your network to see you in a different light, as an unbalanced, prejudiced crazy person lacking in judgment and sensibility.

Such a thing is inconceivable, an anathema, isn’t it? Yet only yesterday I saw that someone in one of the well-known on-line networks, a member of many of its business groups, had flown into a rage in a discussion on one of the hobby forums. He lambasted his Government’s leaders and its institutions and saw Government complicity and conspiracy in many of the tragedies that had befallen his country. He seemed completely paranoid and unbalanced, so much so that another member of the forum posted that he would never do business with him and would never enter into a discussion with him on any topic. I felt the same way myself as no doubt did many others.

Our reputations are precious things and they can take a long time to build on-line. They are so easily destroyed by careless words. I am not saying we shouldn’t be ourselves on-line. We should not appear false, and we should all endeavor to give what we can. If we do have any unsubstantiated prejudices, though, we really should keep them to ourselves out of respect for our friends, and because we could destroy years of work and ruin our reputations for ever.

© Jon Stow 2010

Related post:

On-line reputations and why we should avoid politics

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How I tailor my business purchases and strategies to my needs

An alternative title to this post might be “How I run an introverted business in an extroverted way” since the two are inter-linked.

My business is for the most part involved in dealing with tax issues. There is some flair required, but no artistic ability. That means that in terms of hardware, I have what I need, and invest in the literal sense in what is required. In my case that means a Windows-based network to run the specialist software I need to buy. There is no equivalent for say Mac or indeed for a Linux system, so I use Windows and on the whole it is reliable. Yes, I could use a Windows emulator but it would be an additional risk to data.

I do like gadgets. If I had the resources and I thought it made sense I would have a Mac, an iPhone, and iPad, an iPod and every new toy possible, but maybe I am a bit conservative. Though I could claim most of them for business expense purposes, in reality it would not wash with my conscience. I content myself with having loaded Ubuntu on two old machines both over eight years old which are not worth a bean now but are much happier with the lighter requirements of Linux. They can still function well though they would not manage with their old Windows systems in the modern world.

My point is that I do not invest more money than I think I need to to take the business forward. I try not to invest too little either.

However, I do think it well worth targeting on-line presence with some investment, both financially and in terms of time. My websites and indeed my blogs will be undergoing a makeover very soon which is where the financial investment is coming in. I need to be noticed as we all do.

So I am active in social media,and of course it is fun interacting with people who were already friends, who have become friends on-line, and in looking for more amongst those whom I am following and who are following me. I invest a few hours a week, and it is after all no chore talking to friends as well as commenting on their blogs and mentioning my own.

It is important not to try to do too much. Just as in off-line networking one can go to too many events organized by too many different people and end up not having time to follow-up so it is with on-line networking. You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Ecademy and FriendFeed. If you want to you can find me on Facebook. I think any more would spread my attention too thin to have conversations with people, and that is what it is about, even for an introvert like me with a necessary but not very showy business.

I am registered on foursquare because I was invited, but I do not have a clever phone yet, not being convinced I need one. Convince me, and I will join you all there.

In the meantime I will continue my on-line stuff as it is and will attempt anything else I think will be useful, as social media evolves and never stays still. I will keep blogging and picking up blogging tips. Chris Brogan recommended Technorati for helping blog reading figures – thank you Chris – and here is a code for the Technorati people : G4W22KBUX42W

We have to be out there talking and being seen, and for some of us it was a skill we had to learn. However, just as we need to preserve our cash flow and tailor our expenses to our needs, we have to follow the same philosophy with our social media too. That way it will be fun and will not overwhelm us.

What do you think? Do you see things differently, and why? I would love to know.

© Jon Stow 2010

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Economists with the truth

I went to an interesting meeting last night. Two out of the three speakers were economists. It is often said that there are as many opinions of economic issues as there are economists. There were two opinions of the economy from the two speakers, but really it was all about a difference in attitude.

The first speaker, a lady, did not want to be attributed so we will only say that she in connected to a well-known Old Lady who lives in Threadneedle Street. Her view of the current economic climate in the South East is that things haven’t been so bad, the economy is on the up and eventually everything will be all right even though the UK economy has contracted by 6.1%

All fine and dandy. She says she speaks to lots of businesses north of the Thames and that is her general impression. Funnily enough I also speak to a lot of businesses in my local area, which is specifically South Essex, so much smaller. I get a somewhat less optimistic view of the situation as it is.

I could hardly wait to be disappointed by the second economist, Mark Pragnell of the Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership (TGSEP) . However I was pleasantly surprised both by his honesty and his attitude. Yes, the economy had contracted by 6.1%. He thought that South Essex had been very badly hit by losses of jobs both in London and locally, possibly worse than in the South East as a whole. He might have had a vested in talking up his view as the Old Lady’s representative had, but he didn’t. What he did say that there was a huge opportunity for growth in the area, that we had a skilled workforce ready to go, and we had attractive lower housing costs and we have industrial units and warehouses which can be rented very cheaply (poor landlords) but potentially profitable for many.

I hope I have not misquoted too much. I was not able to make notes, but my general impression after hearing the first speaker was that I was now listening to someone saying “yes, things have really been bad, but we have the chance to really make hay and bounce back quickly.” Really it is all about attitude and realism and not towing the line of officialdom notwithstanding that TGSEP is very much an institution of local government in the area. Well done, Mark!

If we wait for our businesses to improve they may eventually, but it is likely they won’t. If we are positive, proactive, make plans and exploit the opportunities that are out there our future is in our hands and we know we are not hostages to fortune. Seize the day! Carpe diem.

© Jon Stow 2010

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How I use Twitter

I love Twitter. Many people blog about it, but a networking friend of mine is struggling to understand how she may benefit, and this is what I have told her.

I use Twitter:

• to stay in touch with as many as possible of my on-line and off-line network with whom I had had contact already when I started a year and a half ago.
• to find new connections and interesting people.
• the above would include people in my own business or allied businesses in tax and accountancy, and across borders too.
• to keep up with the latest news, by which I mean news in general, social media news and news in my own business area
• to have a bit of fun with people I know or have met through Twitter.
• to follow the exploits of celebrities of interest to me
• to find blogs of interest from a professional point of view or of general interest including those related to social media
• to draw people to my own blogs and hope they find them interesting

I use tools to manage my contacts in groups and Twitter lists, because no one can do anything more than dip in now and again to the main “All Friends” Twitter stream. The main tools I use are TweetDeck which is desktop based and HootSuite, which is web browser based. That way I can see what my closer contacts are saying all the time and we can have conversations and help each other. In the beginning it does need a bit of work, but after that one can just dip in and out, a few minutes a day, or however long one wishes, and can use the various phone apps to stay in touch when out and about.

Twitter is the cement or glue which binds my larger network together. It has vastly increased the number of people I feel I know at least a little, and there are more people to whom I could give referrals. I have reconnected with people with whom I had lost contact.

Above all, Twitter involves conversation and being part of the conversation, and it has brought me business too. Of course, depending on your current business and situation it may not be of benefit, but I would feel that spending just a little time on Twitter was an investment for the future,

Follow me on Twitter @JonStow