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.

Mutual trust between client and provider

amateur radio transceiver Collins KWM-2A

amateur radio transceiver Collins KWM-2A (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a young chap I got my amateur (ham) radio license. I passed the exam and took and passed my Morse test at the Post Office Headquarters in London. I was very active while I was still living with my parents and had few responsibilities.

When those responsibilities kicked in and I was busy working in Town I did not have time for my hobby, so I stored away all my gear. Recently, I though I would make a come-back in radio. Of course the technology has moved on and I will embrace it. However, there is a particular old radio transceiver (“rig” as we hams call them) I really wanted working. It was not, and as I lacked all the equipment and probably the expertise to fix it, I arranged to send the radio to a professional service workshop.

After a couple of weeks, which seemed longer, the guy at the workshop telephoned to say the radio was fixed, and I should send a cheque (or check), which is what I did. After another week with no sign of my transceiver I telephoned him and was told that as my cheque had been cleared , which means processed by the bank, my radio was being sent back to me. It duly arrived and is working, but it has also been rather a long wait.

I think the workshop sent all the wrong signs. Firstly, to await the clearance of the cheque seems to show a lack of trust. Maybe once bitten but, with mixed metaphors, we are not all tarred with the same brush.

Secondly, part of any service is a reasonable turnaround, and this long wait to check payment added to the delay.

All this could have been avoided either by accepting payment by instant direct bank payments, or indeed why not use Paypal? Then there would be no suggestion of lack of trust since we are all used to paying this way, and there would be a quicker delivery of service.

The radio workshop’s old-fashioned ways must make the customers uncomfortable. I felt rather insulted. That is unnecessary as their work is good. Even if they do not trust the customers, they do not need to make it obvious if they accept modern methods of payment. What do you think?

 

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.

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?

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.

Rushing around achieving nothing

Make some family time

Make some family time

We all want to make money and have a better life. What we really need is one good business.

Now I know the old adage about not putting all our eggs in one basket, but it is very difficult to run two or three businesses efficiently on our own, or with just one or two other people. We would end up time-poor. That means that not only would we not have time for family life, we would not have time to plan how to run our businesses efficiently. We would probably make less money out of the two or three businesses than the one, unless we recognise our inadequacies in time and invest in good managers.

Life can be very chaotic if we have to be in several places working on separate businesses on the same day. We would need to keep one central diary (easy these days with on-line technology) so as not to miss appointments, as I know some of these over-busy people do. In any business that is one of the worst crimes. Of course we can organise our time, but there are only so many hours in a day.

Then again, if we make ourselves time-poor we will neglect our family and our relationships. We will be unhappy as well as permanently exhausted.

Do not over-stretch yourself. Don’t run too fast.