Religion, politics and small business

An amateur radio operator, Yvette Cendes, KB3H...

An amateur radio operator, Yvette Cendes, KB3HTS, at station W8EDU, Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the Dark Ages when I studied for my amateur radio license we learned that we must not discuss politics and religion with our fellow hams. That was actually a condition of our licenses, but it is easy to understand why such talk was forbidden. We all have different views and these would lead to arguments and bad feeling.

When I was first licensed I used to talk to radio amateurs all over the place, but many were in what was then the Eastern Block. It was really nice to chat about everyday life as well as technical stuff, but it might have caused bad feeling if we had ever strayed into politics or even talked about how much better life was in the West.

I never had an argument with a fellow ham, but instead was able to build genuine relationships over the air. It was great.

Now in our on-line digital world we have social media and the noise of it all is deafening. Like most people, I share news stories on Twitter and Facebook, but I try to avoid being political. I look for interesting techie stuff, and tweet news relevant to my niche and followers. The closest I come to politics is passing on stories of communities in crisis due to war, but I do not speak in support of or against any faction or Government.

Of course I have my views, but I also have my network on-line, my colleagues and my potential clients, and those to whom I would look to refer business if they were the best fit for someone I know. The last thing I need to do is antagonise anyone with whom I might work.

I think I need to treat my business network in the same way as my radio contacts. I respect the fact they may have strong views and a right to those views. If I do not have any conversations concerning politics and religion there is hope we might work together in the future, which we will not do if we argue and end up hating each other.

Do you treat politics and religion as taboos never to be discussed on-line?

You are judged by your appearance

Now you can criticize...

Now you can criticize…

About a month ago, one of my clients asked for a special consultation. She wanted to discuss how her plans for the future and change of lifestyle would affect her tax position. I knew that she would also need some financial advice, which I am not qualified or allowed to give.

I printed off details from their websites of two very nice financial advisers whom I know well, and took them with me to my client. When she saw these and I spoke about both advisers, my client was immediately drawn to the lady who had obviously had her on-line photo taken professionally. It is a good photo, my friend looks sympathetic, which she is, and she obviously had her nose in front of the “other guy”.

The “other guy” I had thought of is as easy to talk to as is the lady, but did not have a photo. I said to my client that I wanted it to be a fair competition as to whom she chose, so I would find a photo of the male financial adviser. When I got back to the office I did manage to find a portrait, but it was self-evidently a “selfie” taken in the office, there was no smile and he looked rather stiff and self-conscious. I could find no better photos of him.

As promised, I emailed my client the photo of the guy, but really, I knew it was “no contest” as my client was bound to choose the lady with the nice smile in the smart business suit, as opposed to the stiff chap with the open-neck shirt and the braces (= suspenders in the USA).

Now I admit that my non-business Google+ photo is a selfie, but that is non-business and I am smiling. My business portraits are professionally-taken and up-to-date. Without plastic surgery I cannot improve my look any more.

It really is not difficult too appear professional, smart and business-like on your website by using a good photo. People do choose based on appearance and if you look untidy or uncomfortably posed you fall at the first hurdle in getting a new client, and you will not even know!

This is one of those posts where we think about people who live in glass houses, but I am risking it anyway.

Do you think your photo costs you business and money?

Window shopping business services on-line

Comma butterfly June 2014

Comma butterfly (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of new enquiries for my services via email. That is all very nice, but many of the potential new clients are located a long way from me. That does not matter in terms of the service they will get, which I aim to be the very best. The difficulty is that it is harder to establish a relationship to make the sale.

When someone contacts me via email, they can be somewhat vague about their requirements, which will lead me to ask for more information. I may or may not hear back from them, which leads me to the next point; I do not know how many other people or businesses they have contacted. Having got responses from a lot of people, they may only go back to a few, and those might be the businesses offering what appears to be the lowest price, without having qualified what they deliver for that price. I do not know if the person is seriously looking for help. Are they butterflies flitting from flower to flower?

In my case I am wary of quoting based on scant information. If others have quoted, that is fine, but I would rather not get the business than find that I am tied to an unprofitable quotation.

So how do I deal with the email enquiries? Well, I try to grade them. The best hopes for business and being genuine enquiries are the emails that start with my name. “Dear Jon”, “Dear Mr Stow” or just “Jon” are good signs, but not conclusive.

Looking at the content of the enquiry, does it have a lot of detail? Does it refer to a particular point or article on my website? Those would be good signs.

How is it signed off? Is there a “Kind regards”? Is it signed by first or given name only such as Sophie or Chris or Mohamed? More good signs.

On the other hand, does the email look like a copy-and-paste exercise? Does it not address me by name at all? Is it signed impersonally, e.g. Dr. F S Smith? Apologies to any Doctors F S Smith, incidentally.

The various pointers help me decide which of these enquirers are more likely to be interested in doing business because they are the ones with whom I can more easily establish a relationship. If I cannot meet new prospects face-to-face, it would certainly help to speak to them on the telephone, or ideally via Skype, because that normally is face-to-face.

The reality is that many on-line enquiries are a waste of time. My grading system saves me some of that time and I hope gains me more business. Wasn’t it so much easier when we gained nearly all our business through networking meetings and off-line relationships?

How do you weed out the window-shoppers, time-wasters and “copy-and-pasters” in your on-line sales enquiries?

Burying the bad news

iStock_000005618867XSmallGoogle is being required by the European Court to allow individuals to request that certain personal information about them will; not be found in a search. This does not mean that if you already know the web address where such information is to be found you cannot see it. It is just that Google cannot lead you there.

This is rather worrying and one wonders exactly whose rights are being protected here. This article states: “the BBC learned that more than half of the requests sent to Google from UK individuals involved convicted criminals.” Well, if I want to know whether my potential client has a criminal conviction, or to make a quick judgement as to whether I should see the person in the first place, I think I have the right to be forewarned.

On a non-business level, surely we should have the right to find out whether our new love is a criminal or dangerous? Fortunately I am not in the dating market, and we are very happy, thank you.

This brings us to consider how much information about ourselves we should share on the good old world wide web. I am very active on various social networking sites, particularly Twitter. I have a moderate number of friends on Facebook; not thousands, you understand. This is because I do like to have some idea who everyone is. Most of the hundreds I have met, and if not then either my friends I have met know these others, or they are quite famous bloggers who have allowed me the honour of being their friend.

Also on Facebook, I do not believe in sharing every personal detail as some do. Some things are private, although there is really nothing in my private life I am ashamed of (honest, guv).

I tweet a lot. It is mainly business-related content, though not salesy stuff. I do let slip some geeky and technology related material, but that is me. I do not usually tell anyone what is going on at home – not even what we are having for dinner.

I have several websites, all of which have some information about me, mainly business. The exception is the health issues I have blogged, and that is because I believe people, and especially men, need to be conscious that they are not invulnerable to becoming ill.

You will have gathered that if you type “Jon Stow” into Google or any other search engine, there will be a lot about me; more than about all the other Jon Stows. I have a high profile, and nearly everything you will find on the first few search engine pages will be fairly recent and probably no more than two or three years old. You will get tired after that. There is nothing I have to hide anyway, going back however far you wish.

Some people have had embarrassments in business though, or even worse. Someone I have worked with quite a few years ago is not at all active on-line. He has one business website and as far as I know is not at all active in social media. Consequently one frightful business mess which did not reflect well on him always comes up on a name search. This financial scandal, in which my ex-colleague may in reality have done nothing wrong, took place fifteen years ago. Because his name is not very common and because even that long ago newspapers and trade magazines published on-line, the stories will be on page one of any search.

I think it would be in the interest of this guy to be very active on social networking sites, at least for a year or so. The search engines like newer stuff. The old embarrassing stuff can be buried further down, and perhaps not come to light on a cursory search for this individual’s name.

I enjoy the positive benefits of my higher on-line profile, because they lift me up the scale of being noticed. It just occurs to me that negative stuff can be buried with a bit of work, while avoiding restricting our rights to know what we should about people, and without restricting our personal freedom.

What say you?

 

The End of Business Cards?

I checked my drawer the other day to see how many business cards I had left from the last print. To my surprise it was a lot more than I had thought.

This leaves me with a dilemma. In one sense, I need my cards updated. My business has evolved, and although the call to action on the reverse side is still relevant, it does not precisely chime with my favourite niche.

On the other hand, I am not handing out many cards these days. Once upon a time when I started with breakfast networking groups, we handed out loads of cards, gave other members a supply to give to their contacts, and generally hoped they would bring referrals. Now, I mostly give cards to people who actually ask me at networking meetings and elsewhere. I think that is because everyone is now aware they can find everyone else on-line, or at least they should be able to do so.

A deterrent to handing out many cards is the likelihood we will get on people’s email mailing lists. I guess we know if we go to a trade exhibition and get asked for our card that is because we will be put on the trader’s email marketing list. I do not feel guilty about unsubscribing from those, but when someone I meet while networking adds me to their email list, I feel worse about unsubscribing even though I did not give them permission to add me in the first place.

The reality is that there is much less call on my supply of business cards. I am more reluctant to hand them out and do not feel I am expected to. My contact information, my skills and my businesses’ niche services are on-line for everyone to see. Do we really need to order 1500 cards at a time as I did several years ago? In five years’ time, will I need any at all when there will be some app for each of us to pass our details and spread the word?

What do you think?

Avoiding taking the rough with the smooth in your business

iStock_000020557146LargeI started writing On Our Bikes to help others who, like me, found themselves with no work and had to go out and find it as an independent business person. I had no experience of running my own business and had not expected to have to do so.

It was for me a really tough position to be in, especially when like many, I expected that someone was bound to want my services. Of course I did not understand that clients have to be convinced that they need us, and understand our value to them.

Someone I have known for quite a few years through social media and face-to-face networking is Rory Murray. He has written a great Kindle book, The Saw-Tooth Dilemma (this is not an affiliate link) on getting work as a consultant and how to avoid the “feast-and-famine” scenario so unfortunately familiar to independent service providers and consultants.

Here is my review of his book on Amazon:

“Rory has written a roller-coaster account of his feast and famine experiences in work opportunities, and most importantly he tells us how to avoid them. This is a very personal account which would help anyone who is unemployed, who is a contractor or a consultant without a guaranteed stream of work. You will learn how to apply your social skills to gain work and how to use the on-line networking sites to best effect.

I cannot recommend this book more highly.”

Other reviews are here.

This book gave me a lot of food for thought, and I have run my own businesses for a dozen years now. We are all learning all the time, or we should be.

Do buy the book and download it onto your Kindle, PC, Mac or whatever device you choose. As I said, I am not on commission for this. I must really mean it, don’t you think?

Come back and tell me what you think of it.

 

Do keep up!

Has your business changed in the past few years? Mine has. In fact, since I first started working in my profession as a young lad, the entire nature of what people like me do has changed beyond recognition.

My first proper job involved using a pen all day. On my first day I was given a pile of dividend counterfoils relating to the income of a recently deceased gentleman, shown the format in which I had to list his dividends for the year, and left alone to get on with it. This chap had had maybe a hundred shareholdings. It actually took me more than a day to write them out and to do some of the sheets again because I had not got it quite right. When the dividend schedules were finished, they were copy-typed.

Nowadays, if I had dealt with a client last year, his dividend list this year would be automatically generated by my software, and my only task would be to check for changes in shareholdings. Except of course that in modern times, far fewer investor-taxpayers have large portfolios of shares, loan stock or gilts. How I miss “3½% War Stock 1952 or after”!

The point is that we have to invest in new technology and we have to give our market what it wants – or rather something that they want, as our market consists of people. In my case the value is still there for my clients and the costs are in the software and in my knowledge and training rather than in handwriting schedules to be typed out.

We have to adapt constantly and I take no pleasure from a business failing because it makes a product no one wants any more.

Very few people have milk deliveries these days, no one buys meat for their cats from a street seller as they did before the First World War, and sadly no one buys sheepskin coats, cosy as they were.

If we cannot adapt our businesses we must invest in new ones before the old ones fail. I try to keep my eye on the ball. Do you?

No time-wasters?

Blog pix 21 March 11 001I do not like having my time wasted. However time-wasters are hard to avoid when they telephone to try to elicit free information or professional advice, even though they should know that free advice is not worth the paper it is written on, as Sam Goldwyn might have said, but didn’t.

I well understand the sentiment of wishing to avoid such people who just want to use us, but quite often I see small ads selling an item or a product, with that “No time-wasters” prominent in the entry.

It just gives a bad impression of a grumpy person or business owner. The average would-be purchaser would want to avoid dealing with an angry seller, and time-wasters would be too thick-skinned to care and would turn up anyway.

If you are selling a product or a service and are writing any sort of copy, you want it to be attractive and to sound inviting, and more genuine than someone else’s offering in the same market. That is why you need to explain what your offering will do to make the buyer feel better.

Comfort is what most people want. They do not wish to be scared away by someone’s list of qualifications which most of us have, because they think such a list sounds pompous and expensive. They do not wish to read about a business’s prestigious premises on the High Street because that sounds expensive as well.

Customers want to feel welcome and hope to get that nice warm feeling inside, and we all need to remember that when presenting ourselves and our businesses. Don’t you agree?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Difficult people we do not work with

We know how to deal with customers who are making our lives less fulfilling. What about the non-customers who are unkind to us?

Many of us market our businesses on-line. That does leave us open to abuse. I do accept that many high-profile people have to put up with targeted abuse. The rest of us just catch random abuse. It is important not to take it too hard. After all it says more about the abusers than about us.

The on-line world has highlighted that there is a small minority of people who enjoy being unkind and who harbour dreadful prejudices, often based on ignorance, although with the web has been up and running, there is no excuse for ignorance. Maybe it is studied ignorance, but one only has to look at comments on stories on newspaper websites to realise that there are some with serious chips on their shoulders.

Those people spitting bile we do come across now and again. We do not need to take notice and let them spoil our lives. It is probably not personal (but if it is, that’s different). Sadly it is their lives that are already spoiled if they do not get help. Rise above it if you can. Have you had to rise?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Reading is good training for writing about your business

I like to write, and I have always thought I found it easier because I read a lot. I read other blogs, newspaper articles, I read non-fiction and I read novels. Some may think a lot of that is a waste of time, but I am sure that I benefit from the knowledge and also from the relaxation I get from fiction.

Apparently reading good novel boosts our brain power for days.  That is great news for those of us who may have worried that our reading was too much of a distraction from our work. Now we know that enjoying escapist ideas from other people is beneficial. The better our brains are working, the better we are in business.

I do not claim to be a great writer or even a good writer. After all, however good a football coach I had, I should never have become a good footballer. However, just as I know that having a good gym trainer encourages one to try harder in training, and to enjoy being fit, having the benefit of great writing from others must help us to do what we need and at least ensure our writing keeps fit. That must be good for our marketing.

What do you think?

Enhanced by Zemanta