Turning down work – really?

One of the mistakes many start-up businesses make is taking every project or job, no matter what. I made it myself.  It is very tempting to accept anything which comes along, but the new business owner needs to consider:

  • Is it within our expertise?
  • Will it be profitable?
  • Have we the capacity to do it?

If the answer to any of those questions is “no”, then we should decline politely.

Sometimes even more experienced business people can get this wrong too, and accept work which cannot be delivered satisfactorily. That may lead to damage to reputations. Never be afraid to say no. Feel able to refer another business for the work if you think they will be able to do it. That will make more friends too.

What does not make for a good reputation is a business owner saying “I will get back to you with an estimate or a quote” and then not doing that because they do not fancy doing the job. That is a good way of losing friends and again damaging reputation.

Never leave a prospect hanging. They will think more of you if you decline and tell them why.

Have a break!

Some young people I know starting out at work are expected to work long hours with only brief breaks. It is true that in our youth we can concentrate for longer. That is important with a skilled job whether in a factory or the dealing room. However most of us can use a break, and that is important because we work better when we go back to our tasks.

I have been lucky in that respect. I have never worked in an environment where I could not take a break. In my first job, we were allowed out for fifteen minutes to get a coffee at a café opposite our work. The break was written into our contracts. We had a proper lunch break and an afternoon tea break. We did work long hours, but nobody was looking over our shoulders and begrudging us our breaks.

These days I am my own boss, and I work from home. I could work all the hours in the day, but I would not get more done, nor would I be more efficient. I take quite a few breaks, and find myself refreshed when I get back in the office. I am more energetic, and get a lot done in shorter bursts.

I am flexible in my working hours and no evenings. If I feel the need to unwind I go out for a walk. I enjoy the exercise and relaxing my mind when I am out makes me more creative when I get back. I do my best thinking when I am not really trying.

Are you able to get out during the day? Here are some photos from my favourite thinking walks.

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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.

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.

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.

Encouraging the shrinking violets

Violets

Violets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we are managing a team in business, we will have one or two people who shine more brightly. They will show their talent and volunteer for difficult work. They are great to have working with us.

There may also be some in the team who are more shy and self-effacing. They may have great potential ability, but lack confidence. They may feel intimidated by the unintentionally more forward colleagues.

We need to encourage our quieter colleagues by allowing them more demanding tasks and giving them support to see them through. We may well find that they will flourish, produce great work and push for more, having gained confidence from their achievements.

I was once a shrinking violet. I was fortunate to be given my head in difficult demanding work, which helped me realise I was really very good. I also learned that false modesty gets you nowhere. 🙂

Were you one of the shrinking violets? Do you nurture them? It can be very rewarding.

School’s out

The last bell

When I was at school, back in the mists of time, even when the last bell rang we could not pack up and leave the classroom until we were dismissed by the teacher. It might be different now of course. However, a desperate rush for the door would not seem to indicate much enthusiasm for the subject we were being taught.

Not far down the road is the main office of a local vocational training centre. At 5pm there is a veritable stream of employees and possibly some students out of the door and down of the road, many lighting cigarettes or on their phones as soon as they step out of the door. I find that very surprising. I would guess that there is not much job satisfaction there if everyone is so eager to get away, but it seems these people are not alone. The Cabinet Office has apparently found that there is a huge variation in job satisfaction.

Getting satisfaction

Of course I am not surprised that those in authority have more satisfaction than those that do not, and clergy as top dogs work mainly at their discretion, helping people, which must be rewarding. However, farmers come pretty high despite lower incomes, and I suspect that is not so much because they are in charge of others, but because they are actually self-employed and more in control of their own destinies unless weather takes its toll.

We small business owners do have a considerable advantage in having job satisfaction, don’t we? We make our own decisions, do not have reason to resent the boss (unless we really hate ourselves), take time off when we decide to, and should anyway be running a business we enjoy.

I did not originally choose to start my own businesses, but I am so glad that it happened. After all, as referenced in the BBC article, while we should make good profits, our social well-being and life satisfaction are the main elements in being happy in our work. That stems from our independence rather than dependence on less considerate employers. Aren’t we lucky?

Getting advice for free

Last time I mentioned those time-wasters who call or email on the pretext of getting a quote, or sometimes even without the pretext, just to get free information. It is so annoying.

However, we can understand that not everyone wants to pay. Many do want a free ride. The downside for them is that even if they do get free information from one of us in an unguarded moment, it is probably of little value.

Think about it. No telephone call or brief interaction will entail a proper exchange of information for the free provider to give any useful advice. Vital facts will get left out, context will be missed and comments will be misunderstood.

If your free-loader has not paid for something, he has no comeback if the advice he got was wrong, whether based on a correct understanding or a wrong one. He has no one to turn to if there is a hitch, even if the free advice is correct. He is floundering in the darkness rather than having paid for advice, help and support which should be of real value. There is no friendly ear to listen to the problems and no helping hand to steady the ship.

Free advice is useless unless it is from a friend. Then it is paid for in another way and given by someone who cares and is committed. You give benefit through your friendship, and you get pleasure from giving too.

If you need free advice from a stranger, make sure you pay for it and have a proper agreement of the terms. Then you know you have something of value.

Falling down

 

Looking towards Shoeburyness

Looking towards Shoeburyness (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

I fell over the other day. I do not make a habit of it and I was rather surprised. My first reaction after finding myself on the ground was to check for damage. Because it was a cold windy day, I was wearing several layers of clothing. I reviewed my body and limbs and concluded I had got away with it, and without even a bruise. I was lucky.

The next stage in the process was to review why I had fallen down. In this case, it was because I was looking too far ahead (out to sea) and was not concentrating on what was in front of me. There were two steps down where I had been walking, and I missed them.

The third stage was to get up, which I did. The whole process took less than a minute. I noted to myself that I should be more careful.

All this got me to thinking about my business. Things have not always gone well. I do believe we should all have a dream as to how our business should be, and to remember it. That is looking far ahead, or perhaps not so far, but if we think only of that we will not see what is right in front of us.

Maybe our marketing stops working. Perhaps we have clients who pay us late and we are endangered by lack of cash flow. It might even be that we should have anticipated that our business client would become insolvent.

Perhaps we have allowed one customer to make up the lion’s share of our business, and now on a whim they go elsewhere. There are all sorts of accidents. If we do not look our businesses may fall down. Often we can get up and learn, but not always.

We have to keep our eye on the ball. We need to be aware what is going on around us. Our goal is there for us to aim and our dream is attainable. We just need to dodge those obstacles, avoid tripping and do our best not to fall down.

Have you stumbled? What did you do?

 

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The decline and fall of a successful business

 

Shut up shop?

Sun roofs

Once upon a time there was an entrepreneur (except they weren’t called entrepreneurs in those days) who had a brilliant idea for a business model. He put it into action, offering a type of franchise and took lots of money up front with promises of good and even very large income.

The money just rolled in, year after year. Those were heady days in the eighties bubble with everyone making their mark in fashion with those shoulder pads, and having sun roofs cut into their runabout cars. The profits of the franchisees were not so huge, but in pre-internet days it was easy to keep from prospective new recruits that life wasn’t quite so rosy within the organisation as they might have been led to believe.

The web they wove

Then, gradually at first, the internet enabled people to talk to each other. Those who had bought in found that they were not alone in not making the large amounts of money they had been promised. After a while, everybody was talking and those who might have been potential recruits in the wider marketplace found that the road within the organisation was not paved with gold.

The sign-up income of the erstwhile entrepreneur dried up. He still many of his recruited members, but perhaps had lost the energy to plan. He hadn’t counted on everyone being able to communicate and be so well-informed. In a foolish moment he had decided to do away with the basic annual subscription and without new recruits buying their way in, he had no income.

He decided to sell, but unsurprisingly with no income coming in, there were no takers. You cannot sell a model that doesn’t work.

The Empire crumbles

Our owner had never listened to advice. He had always known best in the past. His was one of those autocracy businesses, with him at the top of the pyramid.

So the business started to crumble away. The owner tried to reintroduce a subscription to keep the basic infrastructure in place to allow the members to communicate with each other. Many of them laughed at this, having seen little return on their investment even in the organisation’s heyday.

Necessity is the mother of invention

What was a great business model 25 years ago might well be a poor one in the age of the internet. There are other ways and, yes, very many ways of making money if we are adaptable.

That is the point. We must be adaptable. We need to change. We need to use the new tools to the best of our ability.

What will become of our autocrat? He will probably retire and is handing over the remnants of his business to his son who is far more experienced in information technology.

What do we take from this? The answer is that the business environment is always changing, and even if we think we know best, we must seek advice as soon as we have a problem we cannot handle. You know when you need help, don’t you?