Keeping the business engine running

Slightly bristly but not so much to show.

Slightly bristly but not so much to show.

A personal note

Life has not been simple at On Our Bikes Towers the past few weeks. We planned a holiday, and then my wife was taken ill the day before we went away and she ended up in hospital. Thankfully she was sorted out by the doctors just about in time to go away on our re-arranged holiday two weeks later. So we have had to take time off rather unexpectedly.

While we were away there was a terrible storm at home and two trees in our garden came down, plus about half of a very large ash tree. We have had to sort out the mess and the tree people have been to tidy up and clear away all the excess wood.

Meanwhile my wife and I caught dreadful colds while we were away so have both been slowed down by being unwell. All-in-all it has been a  pretty awful month for us.

Why am I telling you this ?

To keep the business running well, I have concentrated on the core part, that which earns the best revenue, and I have relied on support from those around us, both family and my contractors and other business supporters. They were invaluable to me during my own medical treatment earlier in the year. Because we have great support all round, and because we have had contingency plans in place, business is fine and the engine is running smoothly.

Just the same I have had to turn my attention away from some of my favourite activities, which has included blogging my thoughts. That has been a pity because as well as good marketing, I find writing relaxing and recreational. However, now normal service will be resumed.

Movember

Following my treatment earlier this year, in November I am growing a moustache for charity in November as are many other men around the world, and yes, some women too. Good luck to Sarah, and I would appreciate your support myself please.

Here is my Movember page.

Thank you, and I will be in touch again soon.

View from Sorrel Point, Jersey on our holiday last week

View from Sorrel Point, Jersey on our holiday last week

 

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Take a break!

Deckchair happinessWe know that work stress can burn us out  even when we are young.  One of my colleagues had a serious breakdown through stress when still in his twenties.

Of course it is important to get on in our working lives and do our best, but we are not at our best if we drive ourselves into the ground. Apparently “Generation Y” workers born between 1980 and 1993 are getting badly stressed in their jobs or when trying to get better jobs by climbing the employment ladder.

Working is important, because we all need money to get on. However, if we do not look after our health and fitness we will not be able to work. We all need to have a break during the day, and take time off for holidays to recharge.

The world will not fall apart if you are away from work for a short while. If you must check your email on a day off, make one time in the day to deal with it (no more than an hour) and then relax with a book, or go windsurfing, or whatever takes your fancy.

You will feel much better for it, and be a more effective worker when you get back. You know it makes sense, don’t you?

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Do you supply your services 24/7?

Is Generation Y in front?

Is Generation Y in front?

As a professional person it is important to respond to clients’ questions promptly. Gone are the days when generally a client would write a letter and would be happy to have had a reply within a week. Now they mostly expect a reply to an email fairly promptly, by which I mean within hours. However I was surprised to see in an article that “Generation Y” accountants (born between 1980 and 1993) were best placed to deal with modern clients demands because “Greater use of mobile devices and online technologies is leading to clients expecting more support outside of the traditional nine-to-five working hours.”

Of course I am ancient compared with “Generation Y” people. In my early working life, people wanting an answer to an urgent query picked up the telephone.. Everyone had access to a telephone, even if they had to walk to their street corner and enter one of those strange red boxes with windows. Actually all our clients had a land-line in their house.

It is true that with a smartphone (I have one), a computer (I have several), a tablet (got one of those too) anyone can be in touch with their clients and answer a query at one in the morning. However, is that wise? Should anyone, ancient like me or in her twenties, be answering client queries at all hours? Even young people get tired, might have had a glass of something and would have a much higher risk of making a mistake.

Young people get stressed and ill from work pressures too. I have seen it all to often. A close and able colleague of mine of twenty-something had a complete breakdown over pressure of work.

Yes, people expect answers and quickly. Yes, we should do our best to respond promptly even if to ask for more time to think. But no, none of us should be available day and night because we need our time to relax and rest, our downtime and our sleep, otherwise we will never be at our best.

I see clients out of hours by arrangement and am open to talking to clients in New Zealand via Skype at crack of dawn if needed, and by appointment, but otherwise if someone messages me in the evening they really do not expect a reply within minutes, especially not a technical one.

It is down to time management and discipline and even Generation Y will have to ration themselves otherwise they will not get to be as old as I am. Even being on-line most of one’s waking hours should not mean working most of one’s waking hours.

Maybe I am old-fashioned. On the other hand, perhaps my experience has taught me better time management. I think the conclusion of that article was nonsense, but do you agree with it and think it was Sage advice?

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More time-sheet follies

We are not all the same

Hammering home my point about time sheets, remember how much we are selling in terms of our know-how. For those hung up on charging for time spent on each job, if you must think about time, remember how much of that you spent learning to do what you do.

What counts is always what value both in comfort and in money we give to our clients. I remember once upon a time when I was with a large firm we sold a product which saved a particular client £500,000 every year, for which we charged £50,000 just once. The staff time doing it in terms of salary and overheads cost no more than £15,000. The client was happy to pay, still being ahead £450,000 in the first year, and the whole £500,000 per annum for several years afterwards.

Not long before I “left” my last job I was beaten over the head along with the team for having hardly any time down to clients on my time sheet. Those who were upset were stuck in the Dark Ages. Most of my time was spent on research with a little marketing and selling. As I said , selling was not my best attribute, but of the one-in-four (let’s be conservative) products I sold, the price was £6,000 to £10,000, and I had just done one for £30K for a couple of weeks work, because that was what it was worth to the client.

You have worked hard. Your knowledge has cost a great deal of money and a lot of your time. Always remember what you are worth and don’t sell yourself short. You will, won’t you?

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Dealing with yesterday’s men and women

 

Harold Wilson, UK Labour leader, at a meeting ...

Harold Wilson, UK Labour leader, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Old times

In 1970 the Labour Party published a poster during the General Election describing the Tory opposition as “Yesterday’s Men”. It was a short-lived element of the campaign and was withdrawn very quickly. The Labour Party lost that the election, but we can understand the thrust that the Tory old guard had not moved with the times. Prime Minister Harold Wilson had some years earlier talked about “”burning with the white heat of technology,” which he saw as something in which the country should be involved. He believed in modernity or at least thought it was a good theme for winning elections.

As an aside I hope I can say that Wilson was not a conviction politician. He wanted to be Prime Minister, achieved that objective, and thought that was enough.

Modern times

Perhaps that was not so much of an aside though when we see people in larger businesses promoted beyond their appropriate level in accordance with the Peter Principle. They are often yesterday’s men and women with yesterday’s ideas, just happy to be where they are. In the modern world, we have to adapt in business or our business dies.

Time sheets

Yesterday’s people stick with yesterday’s ideas. I have nothing against time sheets for seeing what directors, partners and employees do with their work time. I do have an issue with charging out clients according to how much work time is spent on them.

  • It ignores the value of the work done for the client; perhaps a lot more than some arbitrary charge-out rate.
  • It gives the client no certainty as to the bill they will receive, and
  • the client might believe that your people will string out the time to charge more than your business deserves.

Because you’re worth it

I believe that as far as practical and especially in professional services, your client deserves a fixed price. That price should reflect the value of what you are doing. The knowledge you are selling is worth a significant sum. It may be saving your client a large amount of money and the value of that is what the client is buying.

After all, how much does an iPhone cost to make? The answer is a small fraction of what it is sold for. The customer is buying the experience, comfort she is in safe hands, and the valuable and probably money-saving service you offer. This means you can pitch your price at a level that makes a good profit.

You deserve it, don’t you?

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Wasting our most valuable resource – time

Am I wasting my time?

Neighbourhood watch

One of our neighbours – and I hope he doesn’t read this – spends hours of his time and quite possible six to eight hours a week cleaning and polishing his car. He seems to get a new car every year. I am sure anyone would find it satisfying to have a lovely shiny new car outside the house, but why spend all that time? No one will notice from any distance the odd speck or two. He won’t preserve the value any better. It seems a terrible waste of time.

Of course, it is not for me to say what he should do with the extra six to eight hours, but that is practically a working day a week. He could make something if he were good with his hands. He could do voluntary work. He could make some money with an eBay business. He would still have a nice shiny car and achieve something valuable for himself or for someone else.

Hot breakfasts

Our neighbour is not the only one to waste time. Many of us do it. I have been wasting time going to weekly breakfast networking meetings until the last year or so. They were not always a waste of time, but the environment for referral networking has changed. My business has changed too, so that the value of the meetings has become much less.

For me the weekly local breakfast meetings stopped working for me. I carried on too long because I enjoyed them, but in business terms that is not enough. We are in business to make money for our families. I gave a lot in terms of time, even ultimately running a networking group, and a lot in terms of referrals but with dwindling returns.

There was a point when the meetings ceased to be of much value at all. I think they do help new business owners starting out if only in overcoming shyness, as they helped me when I started a decade ago. I have stopped going to any morning meetings except the occasional local authority ones, which do at least provide an insight into local planning as it affects businesses.

Spreading our wings

My clients are now not just spread around the country, but also around the world, though rather scattered. The service my business provides is not just something which needs to be done locally. I do not need to meet every new client. We have Skype to talk, and we have Dropbox (I like Dropbox) or Google Drive or other cloud resources to exchange large documents where email does not quite suffice, and my web-based content marketing attracts the work. In addition on-line networking and social media provide opportunities for me to refer my friends and clients as well as receive referrals.

Although I have cut down local networking it does not mean I have no local business. I value my local clients and my main source of local new business is referrals from them and from the old-fashioned medium of paper advertising. I have one ad that works, and one only. The secret is that it appears in a monthly publication every single month, so that if potential clients have thrown away the last edition, they know they can find my business in the next one.

Bringing home the bacon

Not going to breakfast meetings saves me twelve or fourteen hours a month, which I use for paid value-sold work and in on-line marketing. I could use some time saved to clean my car, but not that many hours a month.

I think we all need to watch out for work time slipping into a black hole of waste. How can we make our businesses more efficient? What isn’t working for us?

How have you saved time in your business?

Forgetting why we work

Get off the treadmill...

It’s no secret that I believe in taking breaks from work because it helps me relax and be more efficient. Enjoying ourselves and having a bit of fun is good for us.

What I find really frightening is when I see people so buried in fighting their business issues that they end up working all hours, sometimes seven days a week. Often they are not making money, and that is when they seriously need help from someone like me. However, some people are making a lot of money, but they have lost sight of why they are doing it.

Making a pile of money is all very well, and of course business owners want to give their families a good life. Except of course they hardly ever see their families because they are always working.

One real downside of having their noses to the grindstone all the time is that these workaholics actually forget how to have fun at all. They neglect their outside activities, reduce their options to have holidays and race through their self-imposed tasks like slaves under the cosh. But they have enslaved themselves. I am not a doctor, but this seems to me like a recipe for driving themselves into an early grave through addiction to the work treadmill.

Of course I know some employees with the same addiction; some who really ought to have retired by now but think they are indispensable. Money really isn’t everything, except that their money pot means they could go and enjoy themselves in a useful manner. The trouble is, with all that work they too have forgotten how to enjoy themselves.

We work to make our lives better and to look after our loved ones, perhaps the better to help others, but also to have time for enjoyment and leisure. All of these things make us happier. I should hate to forget how to be happy.

Do you manage not to be busy all the time? Do you need help learning how not to be busy and how to make your business stop running your life? Call me if you need that help.

How do you manage your time to have some fun? What tips do you have?

 

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Why we don’t need social media for business

Losing the plot?

Well, we tend to forget that social media is (are) a means to an end. Or maybe it was just me. I can’t speak for you.

Like lots of people I have embraced Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, signed up for newsletters and blogs of interesting people, and of course bought things from various people and businesses. The result is that my email inbox is being inundated with lots of stuff, most of which I never read.

In addition to subscribing to blogs via email I also collect new posts vis Google Reader. Do you know what? I almost never look at Google Reader so miss out on most of whatever I thought I might like. Sad, isn’t it?

Having a clear-out

So anyway I run a business; well I own three actually. I have got past doing everything myself of course, to free up time to run my business and spend my time more valuably. I still have to use the time though, so it is no good eating into it reading a lot of stuff that probably isn’t really useful.

What I am doing about this? Well, now each time I see a new post I think about whether I need it. If I don’t I unsubscribe. I have done a lot of that recently. That’s not to say that there is not content that I do value. However if I spend all day reading other people’s blogs and what might be useful information, I can’t take it all in and still have time for my serious business life.

What is easy to forget is that social media interaction, and blogs where we like to comment, involve people. It is the people we need to think about and not the game

I am not the only one who is cutting down, but he is not one I am going to unsubscribe from.

We can employ others to do our work or we can subcontract and either way manage our businesses. But we can’t do that when we are eating into our time reading stuff we might never need and using on-line networks in a less than efficient way.

People matter

I am staying with Twitter. I like Twitter and I have made valuable new contacts there. I have helped people. I have gained business via Twitter. I just don’t need to post 25+ times a day or worry about irrelevancies such as Klout scores. In networking I have always preferred quality over quantity and I think that includes my own output. People know who I am. Better still, I know who other people are whom I would turn to.

So it isn’t social media that we should worry about. It is the people we meet through participation.

Have you got too busy with the social media game, can you manage the fast pace, or are you cutting down too?

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The sands of time

I believe in making the most of my time. Especially I like to have some time off when I don’t think about work. I might have some of my best ideas when I am not working, but that’s another story.

I have already mentioned that I subcontract some of the business that comes my way. It still has the care and attention it should because I manage it. My reputation is at stake, and I value my clients. It is just that I am expected to be able to provide services which are not profitable for me to do myself, or I am not very good at, or I just don’t like. So I ask trusted people to help me where we can all make a decent turn and deliver value for money. The work is done by people better at it than I, and by people who like doing it.

This leaves me with the stuff I like doing. Great! The trouble is that a lot of the stuff I like doing also doesn’t pay me well.

I was thinking about this reading a piece about solving a WordPress problem.  Now I love WordPress! I am not the best at it yet. I do try hard, but sometimes I can’t solve a problem if I don’t know what the problem is.

Hours can drift pass with software issues. I both know this from dealing with tax software issues waiting for “Support” and from my days years ago when I used to fiddle about with BASIC and DOS. It could be the middle of the night or even dawn before I surfaced. All a bit silly. I was good at DOS, though, when it used to matter.

Nowadays I not only do myself that which is really profitable and requires my high level of expertise and I enjoy. I discipline myself not to do the stuff I really enjoy but takes up too much time I haven’t got and which has a poor return.

So I defer to those who are good at WordPress and leave the difficult stuff to my expert.

But I am still learning, have my sandbox WordPress sites to play with in my leisure time, and when I am good enough, I won’t be wasting valuable time actually when doing more of it myself. I know my current limitations in this area. How do you stop yourself doing things someone else should be doing for you? Do you know what those things are?

 

Rare weekend off

Not so rare weekend off

Someone in my line of business tweeted the other day “I am having a rare weekend off. I hope the weather stays fine”. Well, I think the weather probably held up and delivered, but what a statement, or should I say admission?

Of course the world has changed. Because of technology, many people like me work partly or wholly from home, but we can work almost anywhere we can get on-line, which is actually really literally almost anywhere. Whether or not our work is that mobile, it doesn’t mean that we should work all the time. We need down-time with our families, and to pursue interests which put no pressure on us otherwise we are bound to get stale and perform less well. There are studies that support this and even that not taking a lunch break makes us less productive during the day.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and the same would apply to make Jill dull too.

Then again, consider the treadmill of having to work most weekends. What is likely to be wrong here? Probably the Tweeter likes to do everything himself. I guess that makes him truly self-employed in that he works like an employee rather than someone who runs a business. Anyway, he can’t be good at everything. He can’t enjoy all the work he does. Why can’t he subcontract the work he doesn’t like or isn’t good at and still make money on it?

Running a small independent business I can choose to work when I like, though I try to be accessible to clients at reasonable times, which do not include evenings and weekends except by prior arrangement. I can take time off when family members need to be taken for medical appointments. I can go on a midweek picnic, though not in mid-December. I have people to answer my telephone.

I have most weekends off. I take time off during the week. I work when it suits me, often early in the morning. I spend time with my wife. I go for walks. My business doesn’t run me. I run it and I have help. I don’t have all the answers, but I have some of them.

Do you have help, or are you a slave to yourself 24/7?