Purchasing mistakes for small businesses

Vostro 1000 with Windows 8My salad days, when I was green in judgement

Remember when you started your business, whether it was a few months ago of a few years? You wanted to buy computers, tools and gadgets. You needed to buy in services. There was so much choice, but what did you need?

When I started my business more than a decade back, the web was not quite what it is now. It seemed logical to advertise in paper form. Not long after I started up I had calls from Yellow Pages and Thomson Directory. I signed up at quite considerable cost, by which I mean £1,000. I thought it was bound to work.

Of course just being in a directory does not work for every business. I wish I had known that. It does work for a plumbing business for people in urgent need of help, and probably for the local electrician, but in professional services potential clients look for recommendations. I might have had one engagement in my three wasted years with Yellow Pages. I had no business at all through Thomson. I had the wrong sort of business to succeed this way.

Out with the old, be careful with the new

Now paper directories have gone out of fashion and have shrunk to small booklets., but still general directories do not work. We are all in Yell.com for free, and having your business listed in Google Places probably helps your SEO, but in themselves they do not help service businesses much. It is certainly not worth paying anyone for a big ad on Yell. AdWords may get you more clicks on a search, but you just cannot beat a recommendation, so don’t spend your money unless you are a plumber etc..

Shiny jewels

Our other big temptation is in buying office equipment. What do we actually need, as opposed to what we really fancy to polish our egos? I run a “professional office” from home. I would love one of those wonderful big touch screens as a client of mine had even a couple of years ago. She paid about three times what she needed to to have a functional machine running bookkeeping software and spreadsheets. Paying for that really cut into her cash-flow as a start-up, at a time when she needed to purchase stock to sell.

I have a couple of Windows desktops in my office and an old ex-Windows one running Ubuntu and which I did not fork out a bean for. I am tied to Windows by specialist software, at least for now. I have a laptop which I take when I am out of the office. I need all these.

I also have a netbook which was an impulse buy a couple of years ago. I didn’t need it. With hindsight I should not have bought it, but I liked the one my granddaughter had. I use it for business purposes because it has no other use for me, but I could well have done without it.

Taking the tablet or swallowing a bitter pill?

I am not the only one to make these mistakes. I might have bought a redundant iPad. And yes, I have an Android tablet which, fortunately, was a freebie. I could write letters, work on spreadsheets, emails and all sorts of things, but without a proper keyboard it is not nearly as convenient as a laptop. I sometimes check my email when I am out, but can just as easily use my phone. I don’t need a tablet at all. I use it only on Twitter and Facebook and then only during leisure time. Paying for one would have been a waste of money.

All new purchasing needs thinking about carefully. Do we need the product and will it serve us well? Is it cost-effective? Have we read the reviews or asked a business friend?

I have made expensive mistakes in the past. Have you?

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Don’t repeat costly business mistakes

Mistakes. We all make them. In the early years of a business, inexperience may lead us to make quite a few. Don’t worry about that. It is important to learn from mistakes and move on.

Starting out we are going to be telephoned by the business directories such as Yellow Pages and Thomson. If we have a plumbing business or a car repair shop that may be just the way to get business in the early years before our good reputation gets to spread around. What we don’t need to do is persist with paying large amounts of money for directory listings which don’t work. A couple of years is quite enough and if there is no result, move on.

There are people who keep trying things in the hope that somehow things will change and something will start working. This reminds me of one of my colleagues who had once been my boss. He tried hard with his IT which was to his credit, but I remember over about a week he was trying to do something in Word 97 or with Windows 2000 and it didn’t work. Of course that was because he was making the same error over and over again. The software didn’t know what he was trying to do, so it just didn’t work. My colleague should have asked someone what he was doing wrong, but he was just too proud to until a staff member just happened to notice his predicament. Yes, it was comical, but demonstrated the need to get help, and how stubbornly some people resist asking for it.

We must not beat ourselves up over our mistakes. We must learn and move on and know when we need help, and the value of that for which we pay.

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