Archives for June 2011

Content marketing – it really works!

The marketers

I am not a marketing guy. I am always keen on picking up new ideas of course, but I defer to others in advising businesses on marketing, and as you know, I know a lot of people who have different niches in business advice.

I write from my own experience here. There are many people who will tell you that content marketing is a real winner including some I respect greatly . I just know that it is absolutely true. The more you give your readers, the more they will be attracted.

My bit

A large chunk of my business is tax-related, and I have been dealing with tax issues for a long time. Of course experience is not all we need, and certainly I never stop learning either through general reading in my area, or because I am getting my hands dirty with a new problem.

I have been developing a particular niche in tax, which is related to property, or real estate if you prefer. I have written a number of articles which I hope are very informative to the many property investors and small-time developers out there, quite a few of which have despaired having had their pensions ruined and decided to make an effort to take control of their own destiny. That’s just like all of us, running a small business.

The tax articles do not cover every aspect of each subject of course. How could they? However they do give a lot of useful information for the lay person. Of course people may read my material and go away armed with it somewhere else. Very often, though, they will inquire as to whether I can help them, which of course I can.

The niche aspect is important. People may click through from the titles in the sidebar on this blog, and they do. Writing in a particular niche, though, does make my material available more immediately though searches on Google and the other engines. That is because people with a particular issue will be quite specific in their searches, and will be drawn to my quite specific articles.

No tricks needed?

SEO people call the niche searches the “long tail” but my take is that there is no need to think about your key words in the article itself. They will occur naturally as you write. Of course you can put in your tags etc. (I am certainly not an SEO expert), but mostly the traffic seems to be organic from the article.

You don’t have to write articles every day or even every week. You need to keep your site updated regularly and a slow stream of informative material that will interest your potential clients enough to come to you is all you need. They are already aware that you know what you are talking about and they are willing to buy that expertise. That’s great news, isn’t it?

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We can’t micro-manage our network or you can’t please all the people

As you all know I care very much about reputation – not just mine but those who I like and think should be more careful. So as far as I am concerned, I don’t like open criticism of other individuals, any sort of abuse, and definitely no swearing.

That’s my opinion and how I feel about my network, and how people see me. I accept that some people do swear on-line and for some it is important to their reputation if they wish to appear (how shall I put this?) robust and combative and perhaps with their culture, by which I mean the people they mix with in a heavy or even heavy metal sort of way. So, if I go to a blog where there is a lot of swearing, I accept it. “When in Rome…” etc. but I can then leave and very likely will. It’s a bit like complaining about a TV programme when we have the off-switch or the zapper to change the channel. If we don’t like it, leave.

Just the same, I don’t work in that sort of edgy medium, and prefer to concentrate on business and on my business network. I have unfollowed people on Twitter because they used the “f” word all the time, and instantly when someone typed something even worse.

We don’t have to be boring just because we don’t swear and we don’t abuse others. As long as we add value, we should keep our connections. Well, mostly…

Sometimes we are seen to hang with a person whom another networker really doesn’t like. That other networker may take against us because of it. The dislike may be mainly about the personality of our friend, or their on-line or off-line way of doing business or promoting themselves.

For me, maintaining relationships with my business colleagues on-line is important, especially if we are really doing business together. However, recently someone whom I greatly respect, indeed like, told me he had unfollowed me on Twitter because I RTed (odd verb) someone he really didn’t like. Apparently I do it (RT the person) quite often too. I don’t know who he means and it would be silly to speculate. Fortunately my unfollower and I are still connected on Facebook for which I am thankful.

I can’t control absolutely everything people think about me. Nor can anyone else. Chris Brogan (but I am sure I don’t have to explain who he is) has apparently upset someone who thinks that he has changed his blogging approach towards selling more stuff. Other people don’t like it either.

I like Chris and have learned a lot from him. I think he has shifted his business model a bit, but who hasn’t? I have in the nearly nine years I have been running my independent businesses. We adapt to our market and for Goodness’ Sake, we are in business to make money. Free stuff is fine and you can find plenty of it on my other site and here.

You will still get free stuff from me and I know you will get it from Chris. I will still follow him and read his blog. I will learn from seeing how he adapts to his needs in a changing market. I will actually contribute to his income through Third Tribe of which I am a member. What I won’t learn there or anywhere else is how to manage what individual people think of me.

You can’t please all the people all of the time. Can you?

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Don’t follow your dream? You can if you plan it.


Life by the sea

I am all in favour of dreams. I have them myself. The trouble is that as a tax and business adviser, I have come across a lot of shattered dreams.


Life by the sea

I was reminded of this again the other day when watching a re-run of a Relocation, Relocation programme. If you haven’t seen it or don’t live in the UK, it’s all about people moving from one part of the country to another, as the title suggests.

A couple were looking not only for a new home in the South-West of England, but also for a cafe-bistro to run. It sounded a lovely idea.

As regards the cafe they were looking at, the owners wanted about £70,000 for the business, which might be roughly what their profit was, plus about £200K for the premises. £70K sounds great doesn’t it? However, the couple would have to borrow the money. It struck me that they could well end up paying about £20K in interest. Had they thought about their children’s childcare? Running a cafe is pretty full-time. If they weren’t going to be on the premises all the time wouldn’t they need more employees to cover the childcare times?

The thing is, the idea of running a cafe in a seaside location does sound idyllic, doesn’t it? It just needs planning and adjusting not only lifestyle in terms of time, but in terms of costs of living. Do they want their luxuries or do they want a comfortable life without pressure to spend on extras? These are questions that have to be asked.

Déjà vu

Some years ago, I saw another couple who had started a cafe in a seaside town, because it had been their dream. They really hadn’t thought it through. Yes, there was plenty of trade passing, but not so much coming in, because there was a cafe in every other shop along the main drag. The rent was extortionate, and they were trying to supply full short-order hot food. That meant more electricity and gas, but the few times they were full up, they had simply not enough covers. In small premises a cafe-type business is better supplying cold food, sandwiches, rolls and cakes with a choice of eat-in or takeaway (or carry-out). The turnover and therefore profit would be much higher. This couple went out of business and lost their savings because they had not done their homework.

Planning the dream

I am all for following the dream. It’s just that the dream needs a plan which involves adding up the costs including the rent, the utilities, the business rates to the local authority and also employee costs. Then think about how much you need or expect to draw out of the business to have a good life. Then look at the expected takings. See if you find out how other similar businesses in the area do.

Ask the previous owner about takings and profits if it was a similar business and check that the accounts they show you make sense. Get a second opinion from a professional. I have been asked to check the accounts produced by a vendor and could see that they were complete fiction. Don’t take it all on trust.

Do follow your dream. Just plan it first. Take advice. Write down the plan. You might have to write one for the bank when you need a loan, but write a proper plan for yourself. One that makes sense. Not one to try to convince yourself it will work if you know in your heart it won’t.

If after you have thought it all through properly and taken the advice you need you know your dream is there for the taking, grab it and hang on to it.

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Let another brain take the strain

Local businesses

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Are you good at everything? I’m not. I doubt many people are.

Do you like having to do everything in running your business: both the creative and the mundane?

Of course what is mundane to some is interesting grist to the mill for others. My business started very small and once upon a time I did everything myself. Now I only do the things I enjoy doing and which I find most rewarding, and the things I am best at.

It took me a while to realise that there were some tasks that were no fun at all, and that I wasn’t very good at some of the work my business was expected to produce. Also, I didn’t have time to do everything, so it seemed a good idea to concentrate on doing the fun stuff, the premium higher work. That didn’t mean that I stopped supplying the other services. It seemed logical to me to subcontract work to those who were better at it than me and who enjoyed doing what I didn’t.

Subcontracting has been great for my business. My subcontractors are good people, otherwise I wouldn’t use them. They deliver to me on time so that I can deliver to my clients, and I can negotiate a rate which gives them a steady income, but allows me to sell on a great service at a margin. That way everyone is happy and my business makes money without my having to do all the work.

You might ask why this system differs from having employees. Well, that would be a commitment, and in a small and growing business, I would not always have enough work to keep them on. They supply other businesses too and they have their own customers, so we are not tied to each other, but what we have between us is trust.

The business model I have suits a supplier of services. If my business made anything or was in retail, the concept wouldn’t work.

It is just no good trying to do everything yourself. I think all small businesses should use their networks (and build a network if they haven’t got one) because there is someone out there who can do for you what you think of as the boring bits, and you can profit from their expertise while concentrating on your favourite most profitable and valuable stuff. Your subcontractors can be your best referrers too.

Do you subcontract? If not, should you?


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Telephone warning for start-ups and all small businesses

Sumerian contract: selling of a field and a ho...

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When we start our shiny new businesses we are eager to get all the basic services in place, and these days that includes our telephone and broadband services.

Read the small print

It is tempting to choose the best price over recommendations from others. After all, cash flow is important. What you need to know is that the telecoms giants may expect you to agree a contract for twelve months or longer. You might say that is fair enough. After all, most business customers would expect to be tied for a reasonable term to make it worthwhile. Make sure you don’t find yourself or your business being billed for a penalty charge when you give notice that you wish to change provider.

Unfair competition

You may find that your business is supposedly on a twelve month rolling contract, which probably means that you have to give twelve months notice of termination, especially if you are within the first two years or so of your contract. If you don’t, the telecoms company will expect to make a penalty charge for taking your services away. Yet how can you give twelve months’ notice in the expectation of shopping around in nearly a year’s time? Would you not worry about continuation of service? A loss of service is every business’s nightmare.

Hope on the horizon

Fortunately, the rules may be about to change. The UK regulator, OFCOM, stated via press release on 3rd March this year:

“Ofcom is concerned that rollover contracts make it harder for customers to switch providers and consequently reduce the benefits of competitive choice.
For individual customers, this can mean that switching is made unattractive as the costs involved are unexpectedly high.

For the market generally, it means less competition as it is harder for competing providers to attract customers on rollover contracts and therefore their ability and incentive to create lower cost and higher quality services is reduced.

Ofcom is proposing to amend its existing rules in relation to contract terms to prohibit opt-out contract renewals in any form in the land-line and broadband sectors.”

Caveat emptor

The messages to take are:

  • Be very careful of the conditions of any contract with a telecoms provider.
  • Complain to OFTEL if you find yourself in a rolling contract with a penalty clause if you don’t give a long period of notice.
  • As with all purchases, take care. Buyer beware!

I would be very interested to know if you have had this sort of problem with a telecoms company and how you managed to resolve it. Is this a problem in countries other than the UK?

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The fear of the unknown

Wall Street, Manhattan is the location of the ...

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The premise of this blog is my story of starting my own business by accident, because I became unemployed and couldn’t find another job. I had no choice.

Of course prior to my involuntary arrival in what was a freelance market (my businesses have evolved and diversified since and some is outsourced) I would not have dreamed of going out there on my own from the comfort of an employment with a great monthly “pay check”.

Lack of freedom

In employment we have little freedom, though. We do not make decisions about the business which could affect us or improve our situation. We cannot plan to change things. We can suggest to our bosses how things might be done differently. Our best ideas may be taken up, but we cannot guarantee to get the credit or the benefit.

When we are bosses ourselves, I hope that we do give our employees credit where it’s due, and proper reward, but as an employee we have rights in connection with our employment, but not rights to be appreciated.


It is understandable when we come across employees who are talented enough to run their own businesses that they are afraid to make that big step. As employees they feel more secure in getting a regular income, but that is month-to-month security. It is not a guarantee that the future will bring the same rewards they are getting right now.

Of course there is no guarantee of success in running one’s own business. There is much more control of our destiny, though. We can make a decision which will have an impact in the future. We can make changes to our lives with more freedom. We can build relationships with other businesses. It’s just simply being much more satisfying.

I would not try to badger a talented employee into making a giant leap into starting a business, but I would give every encouragement if I thought their idea was sound. What would you do?

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Is your content out of your control?

In this world of social media competition, I worry that some people are not in charge of their content. As far as I am concerned, social media is (are?) not supposed to be competitive, but about having conversations and getting to know people? At least, that is how it is for me. Those who are obsessed with scores may do things differently. Well, each to their own.

The one thing that would really upset me in terms of my on-line business networking would be to have material put out in my name that I did not agree with, or would make me or my business look rather stupid.

Quite a lot of people seem to auto-tweet posts from websites they do not own, including national and local news, or from businesses websites or forums (OK, fora). Presumably this is intended to increase their ratings or scores on the new indices riding on the back of Twitter and Facebook. That is fine (well, I wouldn’t do it) until some ghastly story of debauchery is posted on the source site, or some piece about fake Viagra in a total non-business context.

The other day someone in my line of business auto-tweeted a spam message for a tax forum from some guy who wanted to sell American Football jerseys. Of course the moderator would have zapped the post but the Tweet had gone out.

I thought at one time it would help to join one of those guest blogging exchange sites. I have to say that none of the stuff I have been offered to post on this blog has passed muster. It was a mistake in thinking this was a good idea, but I have neither accepted guest posts from the site nor posted any on anyone else’s through the exchange site. I need to approve and endorse anything posted on my blog.

The other day I saw this excellent piece about Triberr by Neicole Crepeau on Danny Brown’s blog. Now of course I can see the advantage of having lots of other people promote our blog posts via Twitter as long as they like them. Neicole says that she has her favorite bloggers she may re-tweet, but not every one of their posts. I agree. I wouldn’t want to endorse every post even by a top blogger, because I may not agree with it or the writer may have had an off-day.

However, maybe Triberr does have a place if the members collectively can moderate what is posted around. I would rather see that option. Do we have time to moderate our queue of potential tweets of other people’s blog posts? Will we annoy our friends with the extra tweets? Can a machine or a bit of software do the moderation satisfactorily? Do you use Triberr and how has it gone for you?

Otherwise, what should we do? Should we lower our standards and almost prostitute ourselves for the sake of self-promotion with random auto-feeds? Would it help enhance our reputations when we are expected to recommend unsuitable stuff? I don’t think so? Do you?

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Having a negative influence online

Digging the dirt

Haven’t we talked about online reputations before? We certainly have! Just the same, I sometimes worry about apparently intelligent people who probably do their businesses no good with their unfettered pronouncements on anything we care to think about.

I am all in favour of being ourselves in our blogs and when commenting on others. I think Twitter is a great medium for conversation, making connections and learning. What I do not want to know from my business contacts is their opinion on politicians, on other countries, and on celebrities, and especially using intemperate language. “Warts and all” is not a good thing in a business context.

Some such opinionated characters have large followings on Twitter. You might ask why I or others follow them if they are that bad. Why don’t we just un-follow? The truth is that there is a fascination (cliché alert) in watching a train wreck. You don’t want to watch but you can’t help it.

Quite a number of these “offenders” have high Klout or PeerIndex scores. If these were a measure of influence, I don’t think it’s going to be good influence: the sort of influence that encourages people to buy from them. Most likely it will be a deterrent to having any business dealings with them.

I guess I am letting of steam. None of these opinionated bigots who might read this would recognise themselves. How do you react to such people?

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First impressions


Elephants never forget

There are an awful lot of cliches. You know the sort.


  • You have thirty seconds to make an impression on a first meeting.
  • You’ll never get a second chance to make a great first impression.

Psychologists tell us that we do make judgments about the characters of the people we meet fairly instantaneously. It worries me that people do this, because we can all be wrong, and quite radically wrong. If we are out networking and therefore perhaps working our way round a room, I think we can make quite serious mistakes.

Fish out of water

When I left the corporate world and started in business on my own I carried with me all the old prejudices, and because I started meeting a greater variety of people and indeed clients, I floundered at the outset. I didn’t know how to deal with many of them.

In the world of the City, most clients were wealthy and / or high earners and most had a good educational background. By “good” I mean that they had gone to schools in better-off areas, and had gone to university or college. Perhaps they had worked their way up after starting as school-leavers. Perhaps they had been taken on by more sought-after employers because of whom they knew or more likely whom their patents knew. It was all very cosy as I now realise.

The new pond

However, there are some very smart people out there who do not speak “posh”, who didn’t get through college and who have got where they have got through hard work of course, but also because they are very bright; yes, intelligent.

It takes not just guts to build a major firm of hauliers (for example) from scratch. It takes intelligence and an ability to think on one’s feet. An ability to keep quite a few balls in the air if only in the head. An ability to adjust quickly to deal with the unexpected. Of course this is stuff we mostly don’t learn at school anyway, but it takes a clever person as opposed to just a well-educated person to run a business well.

Some people may come across as brash. They may have a questionable taste in clothes (although they may think we have). They may have hobbies we might think of as odd. They may just know what they are doing pretty well and can teach us a thing or too.

Mr Memory

It is easy to judge a book by its cover – and I am rolling out the cliches – but I remember in another context making a mistake I am glad I made because I learned from it.

A few years ago my wife and I were in South Africa staying in a hotel in the bush on the edge of the Kruger National Park. We had a waiter who was not in the first flush of youth. He was a local with a brilliant sense of humour, but obviously with no or little formal education. Because we were on a tour, we were regularly seated at a table of eight. This guy came and took the orders for the starters and main course (different every night) in one go, plus the drinks order and the wine for later. That isn’t necessarily the done thing in restaurants at home, but we weren’t at home.

The thing about our waiter was that he never wrote anything down. Sixteen food orders plus eight aperitifs and the wine, all in one go. Plainly the reason our waiter didn’t write down the orders was because he couldn’t read and write. He never got anything wrong though, and when he brought the order he remembered who was having what.

Plainly this gentleman had a fantastic memory and probably a terrific brain, but he had never had an education.

So please don’t judge a book by its cover or a person just by their appearance and the way they speak. You may be missing your next great business opportunity.

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