When starting a courier business you need to be aware of giving the best customer service and giving the correct information about what you can and cannot deliver.
Quite simply it's a balance. If you don't advise your customers in the right manner - you will lose them. If you lean too far the other way and do something illegal, you could lose your growing business.
Some of the things a courier should not be delivering:
There are some things a courier cannot transport because of insurance and the related costs to that. They may be items that are mostly likely to break in transit, so therefore the customer should be warned that a delivery cannot take place due to insurance reasons. The customer may then make a decision as to whether they want the delivery to proceed or not.
When taking your delivery request from your customer, the courier should establish what needs to be delivered and if the item is in boxes. The courier would need to ask exactly what is in the boxes in order to give the best customer service to the client.
When starting a courier business, it's essential to get the right advice and the correct information about what you can and cannot deliver. Failure to do so can cost you your livelihood.
Sarah Arrow is co-author of the Complete Courier Guide which is filled with up to the minute information regarding starting a courier business. She is also the author of twitter for couriers explaining in depth how couriers and transport companies can gain business from twitter.
This is our first blog post for Start Up Donut and for this post we wanted to explore something that was close to our hearts, and also something that every small business has to go through – coming up with a business name.
This article is a combination of thoughts and actions we took from our branding exercise, where we explored our rationale for using the name Resonata Consulting.
Everybody who has gone through a similar exercise will agree it is incredibly hard to be original. Not only do you want the name to reflect your business activity, but it should also have a familiar ring to it – making it easy for people to find our company and remember you. At first we explored the straight-forward options such as for example MI-Consulting or IM Consulting. But not only were the names already registered, we felt both options reflected poor creativity and didn’t explain our services or how we wish to be perceived.
To build a strong brand we would have to find a name that would:
How our name stands out:
Resonata stands out from the crowd because although it has a familiar feel to it (resonate or resonating) it also incorporates data and when you see that resonate is brought together with data it immediately gives you a connection of resonating with data, therefore it stands out, speaks softly yet firmly and is ultimately memorable to others
How our name explains our services:
We came to the name Resonata Consulting, which reflects the essence of what we do and how we do it.
Resonata is a unique word, though it has a familiar feel to it making it memorable to clients and partners alike. Depending on your interpretation of the word Resonata, it is made up from the words resonate, research and data.
Therefore, it gives you an immediate impression of how our company interprets best practice: we resonate client’s data needs and actively research on data – a process driven exercise with the client at heart.
Many branding experts, consultants and our advisers consistently told us that our brand/company name had to incorporate the term data or even data acquisition – because that is what our service is all about.
We struggled at first to incorporate it, but by merging the word data with resonate and research we did not only manage to satisfy the most critical of branding specialists but we also found a way to express exactly how we bounce ideas of clients, actively help them and research around their data needs – this is partly to do with our philosophy of not making our client’s briefs fit to the prospect data available but making the data fit to our client’s brief – hence the research that we do on data, trends and insights to gain best the best possible prospect data for our clients.
How and why Resonata could be recognised internationally:
Because both directors have travelled extensively (Asia, Europe, North America, Central America, and South America), speak a number of different languages (English, Dutch, Spanish, French and German) and have both lived and worked abroad in various parts of the world (Europe, North-America and Asia), we knew that our services would have an international appeal. Because the word ‘Resonata’ was created by us it would have no negative cultural barriers concerning its interpretation.
Why our business name had to have a consultancy feel to it:
Resonata Consulting had to have consulting or consultancy within the company name to emphasise that we want to engage with our clients in the process and we are essentially Research on Data Consultants.
Coming from an international sales and business development consultancy background ourselves, this is the kind of company philosophy we want to be part of and are confident our clients will buy into as well.
What does Resonata Consulting mean to us:
We listen to our clients' needs and act as an extension of their organisation; building on existing internal knowledge and processes, and resonating clients’ needs by understanding the clients' goals and helping them to achieve the highest quality data in the most timely and financially efficient manner.
What have clients' reactions been?
In the main clients feel positive towards our company name and are often curious as to where it came from and how we came up with it. Although sometimes if it is a bad phone line we have to spell it – something I did not expect!
All in all the naming of our consultancy was an interesting and involving exercise that in the main has had incredibly positive results!
You can see more about us on our website: http://www.resonata.co.uk where you are able to see more about our brand and how that has translated into a logo and overall feel of a Fresh Player to the Market.
Matthew Baker is the Co-founder and Director of Resonata Consulting.
Christmas underpins profitability for the whole year for most stores. When it comes to preparing for the Christmas season online, “the early bird catches the worm” as they say. Before you know it, the rush to service orders has replaced any consideration on how to optimise sales. Here are some seasonal tips from SellerDeck and some e-store owners to help you get ready.
Prepare marketing ideas early
Whatever your Christmas marketing plans, run some small-scale tests soon. Establish what works, and refine it. If search engines matter to you, optimise in plenty of time.
Keith Milsom at http://www.AnythingLeft-handed.co.uk advises, “We plan ahead for promo emails to various customer groups as they take a while to prepare. We also boost PR with a press release in September.”
Can you handle the extra traffic?
If there is anything worse than having no orders, it's having more than you can handle. This just produces dissatisfied customers.
The average etailer gets 30% more orders in November/December. Make sure you can cope with the increase. This includes web hosting, and extra staff for packing.
Bill Stevenson of www.spicesofindia.co.uk advises ordering extra stock and advertising for temporary staff in September. “Last December visitors fell, but conversion rates tripled. We ran out of many Christmas gift sets and could not get new stock. This year we will order a lot more.”
Sort your logistics
Make sure your logistics supplier can cope. To avoid missed deliveries, let customers select delivery to their work address.
Robert Johnston of www.gentlemans-shop.com adds, “We email customers their parcel tracking details and confirmation of delivery date. This dramatically reduces calls about deliveries.”
“Don't be a bah-humbug! Decorate your site and get into the Christmas spirit,” says James Auckland at www.lunaspas.com.
Find creative ways to mark the season. Put gift ideas on your home page, and stock Christmas-themed items. Remember to change the pages on Boxing Day.
Last minute shoppers
Cite a final ordering date for Christmas delivery on every page - highlight when the deadline has passed. You’ll need different dates for home and overseas orders.
Drop customers a reminder email, e.g. must order by end of tomorrow for delivery outside Europe.
Customers in a rush
Most online shoppers are in a hurry, particularly at Christmas. Help them out with a search capability that can match by category and price. Text-based searching is no help when you want a gift for less than £10 for your eight-year-old niece.
Another aid for rushed buyers is a gift-wrapping service. It can also increase your margin.
Upsell to maximise the opportunity
Where gifts need additional items such as batteries, ensure they can be ordered together. Suggest similar gifts, and incentivise extra purchases with offers like 'buy two and get one free'.
James Auckland again: “Thank your suppliers, as well as your regular customers.” Good supplier relationships can help resolve problems. Consider offering discount during January to suppliers and good customers.
Keep a sense of humour!
Robert Johnston once had an irate customer repeatedly phoning on Christmas Eve, “about the delivery of his father’s missing present. He accused me of ’ruining his Christmas‘. Just as we closed, he called to apologise. His sister had signed for the parcel, and dad’s present was already wrapped and under the tree.”
Advertise January sales
Plan your January sale early. It gives ‘value shoppers’ a chance to clear all that dead stock for you.
Finally, book a well-earned rest for February. You will probably need it. Just beware of tour-operators trying to up-sell you to something more expensive!
In a recent FT article, there was a discussion about how some business owners have taken a holiday this summer for the first time in years.
Are they mad?
I understand the compulsive nature of many entrepreneurs, but I do not understand why they don’t take breaks – like I’ve said in previous posts, yes business owners are super-busy but breaks are essential to recharge the batteries and to keep the mind fresh.
That said, I am not suggesting that you shut up shop and head off to a remote beach for two weeks. That would be too much for the average business owner to bear (even though the business will probably survive better without you that you would like to admit to).
So, here are a few ideas for making the concept of a holiday work:
In overview, use the internet/ mobile phone technology available to you. In the last 5-10 years, it has become immeasurably easier to get away and keep in touch with your business at the same time...to me it is a marvellous opportunity to enjoy life that little bit more!
I recently interviewed Dan Germain, the Head of Creative at Innocent Drinks.
A jovial, bright eyed, bearded chap who clearly loves working at (read: being one of the driving forces behind) Innocent 10 years on. We had a great chat, and he shared a lot about how the team at Innocent have managed to make it all work.
In fact, he's the guy responsbile for the packaging on all of Innocent's products. He now has a team of people working with/for him, but the very different packaging is his baby.
We had an interesting conversation about being different. And Dan's view is that you don't actually need to be different. You just need to be better than the other guy. So in the case of Innocent Drinks, they aspire to offer the best smoothies on the market, alongside a whole bunch of other "bests". Best distribution. Best packaging. Best communication etc etc.
Interesting theory which I could spend some time debating (largely with myself). My view is that whether you aim to be different or better could just boil down to semantics and how you view the world. But the key thing (which applies in equal measure to both "differentiation" and "being better than") is to ensure that you stand out from your competitors thereby getting the attention of the people you want to buy from you.
Watch this interview in our upcoming Business Startup series on yourBusinessChannel, which we'll publish soon.
One of the first things you need to do when you set up your own business is to find yourself a good accountant. However simple or complicated your business’ finances are, you are going to get yourself in a muddle if you don’t know exactly what you need to record, how to fill in your tax returns or when to file your accounts.
Speaking to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)’s Clive Lewis the other day, I learned that many start-ups don’t use their accountant as much as they could or should.
You should be able to rely on your accountant to be there for you if you call up with a query about your book-keeping, however trivial it may seem, or if you have a sudden change of circumstances – for example if a client suddenly puts in a big order and your cashflow is thrown off-balance. They should also be reminding you of deadlines for self-assessment or, if you’re a limited company, when your accounts are due to be filed.
There is certain information your accountant will need from you in order for him or her to understand your business and do your accounts for you, too, but again, a good accountant will tell you what they need. According to Lewis, your relationship with your accountant should be a long-term one with regular contact.
Ask other business owners you know who they use, or visit one of the accountancy associations’ websites to do a search for your local accountants. Even if you have a good brain for maths, you still might need somebody to hold your hand while you work out how to use your new accountancy software. Ideally, you will choose an accountant who has previously worked with other businesses of your size and in your industry.
So, don’t be shy; pick up the phone and ask away. And if the person at the other end doesn’t want to help you out, take your fees elsewhere and find an accountant who will make life easier for you.
Seth Godin talks about how people have to decide whether they're going to create a brand that people fall in love with, or one that's just less annoying. Personally, I'd plump for the former.
Brands that people can fall in love with are more resilient. People who are truly in love with a brand will buy more, more often and they'll forgive more easily when you make a mistake. People who are in love with a brand will remain more loyal and become more profitable customers.
Great brands that people can fall in love with are Ikea (annoying, but their loyal clients love them!), Virgin, and (of course!) printing.com. All of these brands have identities that are bigger than their logos. They have strong visual identities, but the brand also comes across in the 'voice' and the service that's on offer.
So how can you create a brand that people can fall in love with?
You can download your free 'Brand Profitably' article which will give you plenty of tips and insights into creating a brand people can fall in love with.
The two most common complaints in business are that no one asked me and no one told me. While, in my experience, it’s impossible to ever fully eliminate these complaints, making a concerted effort at addressing them can lead to a big boost in team morale.
As a manager, I feel that if I don’t tell people what’s going on, I can’t complain if they fill in the gaps with negatives. And if they don’t feel that their input is taken seriously, they will become de-motivated and probably work less hard, as well as putting up with things that frankly, they should be screaming about.
In fact, listening is the key to continuous improvement. I do try to practice what I preach and I interview all staff, including those in junior roles, on a regular basis. It doesn’t take all that long, it’s amazing what you find out, and the very act of listening leads to a big improvement in morale.
Another angle that we have tried is to hold a series of workshop sessions with all staff whenever we review our strategy. These enable us to get useful input on the broad thrust of the strategy, and identify many of the potential pitfalls. It also means that we communicate and get buy in as we go along. By the time the strategy is completed, everybody is on board and starting to act on it. This is hugely better than a brilliant strategy done by outside consultants but that sits beautifully documented but largely untouched on the shelf. With that sort of strategy, you wonder a year later why the business isn’t really following it, and why it faces resistance at every turn. The lesson is that it’s important to explain where you are going to everybody even when you are a small company.
In most businesses, money is not a great motivator, but can certainly be a great de-motivator. So it’s important to try to be consistent in how you reward people, and also to explain pay policies so that there is a degree of buy in. Sometimes, it may be better to reward with bonuses rather than pay rises, as rises institutionalize pay differentials in ways that may become unfair over time, They can’t easily be unpicked and when discovered will destroy morale.
Motivation is a funny thing, and is pretty hard to achieve. I hope that some of the ideas here will stimulate your further thoughts.
For many Start-ups, the website is an early investment, and for many more an early headache. To avoid common mistakes, it can be good to adjust the way you think about your site. Rather than thinking of it as a project or a tool, think of it as your first employee – a valued member of the team to be nurtured and developed.
Key ways in which a website is like an employee:
A website has a permanent, full time, role in your business: It never ceases to amaze me how many small businesses think of a website as a self-contained project – with beginning, a middle and (even more worryingly) an end. You wouldn’t recruit someone into your business and think that, once they’d signed the contract, their job was complete or that they’d stay exactly the same as the day they walked through the door. Neither should you think the same of your website.
A person comes to your company with some skills and knowledge, but over time they will gain more specific knowledge about your company, and become more skilled as they learn on the job or undergo formal training and development. A website is just the same – however well conceived and delivered, it is only when real people start to interact with it that you’ll know what really works, and what doesn’t, on your site. Through reviewing analytics and undertaking user-testing and feedback, you will be able to constantly refine and improve your website’s performance. Which brings me to performance… you’re likely to set of minimum performance standards for your staff, have you done the same for your website? And, do you have the tools to measure against those standards.
And of course, things change. Think also of a scenario in which your employee’s area of the business is subject to some sort of change (legal, environmental, new product, etc.) – they’ll need to adapt and respond. Your website is no different. Just because it was beautiful when you launched it, it may not be in a new context. What’s more, this is technology we’re talking about. The tech big boys work to a circa 6 month product development cycle – the pace of change is fast and furious. If your website is to stay current, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the new trends, like Twitter, Tag Clouds, etc… and whatever is just around the corner.
But, it many ways it is even better than an employee:
Useful people management techniques you can apply to your website:
For many businesses, the website is probably quite an early investment – thinking of it as your first ‘employee’ is a healthy starting point – meaning you’ll feel happier with seeing it as an ongoing task rather than a one-off project. For other businesses, particularly ecommerce businesses, your website is more like a team of employees, rather than just the one – and just like a team of people you’ll need to think about the way that individuals interact, etc.
This is even more critical in a Startup. By the very nature of your business being new, you’ll need to test and learn. And what’s more, money is tight at the beginning of any business – if you simply invest and ignore, you’re wasting precious funds. By going into a relationship with your website, based on the certain knowledge that it is an ongoing task, your initial and ongoing investments are money well spent.
So, if you think your web project has come to an end because you’ve gone live… I advise you to think again. I advise you to think of your website as a valued member of your team and to treat it accordingly.
So that’s it then, Manchester Brit Pop icons Oasis have finally called it a day, following an alleged violent “altercation” back stage between singer Liam and guitarist Noel, only moments before they were due to play at a show in Paris recently.
Noel has said he can no longer work another day with Liam (AKA “our kid”) and as a result the rest of the band’s sell-out tour was cancelled, leaving fans with tickets for shows at V and elsewhere none too happy.
Whether Oasis will record or play together again is anyone’s guess, but the fracas between the brothers Gallagher (and their numerous, widely reported previous bust-ups) highlights the dangers of working with your “nearest and dearest”. This is an important consideration for many new and existing small businesses, of course, where enterprises are often jointly formed by married couples, siblings, parents and children, work colleagues or just good friends.
Having worked for quite a few husband-and-wife management teams, I’ve seen both sides of the coin at close quarters. I’ve experienced how it can work perfectly well, where couples are able to successfully leave “domestic stuff” at home once the world of business has been entered. Being able to share responsibility and workload with someone close to you can be a good thing. It can certainly make running a business a less lonely pursuit.
Family businesses or those run by friends can and do succeed. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, about 65 per cent of the UK’s 4.6m small firms are family-run enterprises. They generate about 30 per cent of UK GDP and employ some 3m people. Interestingly, about 56 per cent of family businesses are sole traders with no employees. By the way, on the Start Up Donut, you’ll find an excellent Q&A interview with a legal expert about drawing up contracts with family members who invest in your business.
However much of a challenge, if your family-run business is to succeed, you also must be adept at not taking “work stuff” home, of course. You’ve got to be able to separate the domestic and business spheres, while (in the case of spouses) perhaps accept that the distribution of power in the workplace might need to be wholly different to the home, where the other person might indeed “wear the trousers”.
Not everyone is up to the challenge and the dream of running a successful business with a spouse, relation or mate can quickly go wrong, however much you believed you could trust and rely on them. The pressure of work and money often brings out the worst in people.
I also recall being able to judge how “good” a night or weekend one young husband and wife management team had had at home by their relations in the workplace, which ranged from sickeningly lovey-dovey to barely concealed hostility – both of which often left others around them feeling very uncomfortable. If, as suspected, they’d had a spectacular row at home, then often the wife would be too “unwell” to come into work, but make a Lazarus-like recovery to full health the next day, presumably after they’d kissed and made up.
Often (well-founded) resentment can also be felt by employees, especially when a family member is given preferential treatment (eg extra time off) or responsibility way out of line with their skills, knowledge and ability.
Financial rewards and issues around commitment to the business can also quickly and permanently sour relations, which is why it’s wise to establish expectations (and document them, especially when it comes to financial investment) before starting a business with your spouse, family member or friend, then everyone at least knows where they stand and what’s expected.
Open and honest communication is a crucial, too. If one of the parties isn’t pulling their weight, for example, not feeling able to tell them will lead to severe problems sooner or later. It will probably even spell the end for the business and the relationship – something else I’ve witnessed close up and personal as an employee in family-run businesses.
As the old saying goes, better to build a friendship on business rather than a business on friendship. I’m sure Noel would agree.
It was with interest that I read Andy Lopata’s blog a couple of weeks ago (13th August 2009, full article here: http://www.networkingandreferrals.blogspot.com/)
His first point is his pet hate of the use of the question “what do you do?” Well I’m very sorry, but after my experiences over the last couple of networking events I think this is actually one of the most useful questions you can ask! Let me explain why.
I really enjoy talking to people, it’s one of the main reasons that I do what I do. I also enjoy meeting new people, so I quite enjoy networking events. I think that like most people I can sometime be apprehensive walking into a room full of strangers but I’m lucky, because I target my networking, I now usually find that I know at least one friendly face in the room and if not there’s usually someone else standing alone so I usually start by talking to them, or the person next to me in the queue for a drink or to register.
In the last month I’ve been to 2 large networking events with a lot of new faces at them. Something happened to me at both these events that hasn’t happened before: someone was very friendly, talked at me with a lovely smile on their face and then offered to sell me their services. Now this isn’t unusual, but because they hadn’t asked “what do you do?”, well in one case hadn’t asked me anything at all, they were offering me services that I offer to my customers!
The first time this happened, the gentleman, who is employed by a large government agency as a business advisor, asked twice if we could meet to discuss my business at my premises, or at a coffee shop and he’d like to carry out a business review for me. I should perhaps say that the event we were attending was organised by a friend of mine, I had been on the organising committee, I had my photo and profile in the brochure for the event, I had opened the event by welcoming everyone and introducing our host for the evening and as we were having the conversation we were standing by a table, on which I had my business cards, some marketing materials and a promotion for all the attendees at the event, - the offer of a free business review!
He then walked away without asking my name so how could he follow up on his offer anyway? Which brings me onto the subject of exchanging business cards and the people who use this exchange as an excuse to bombard you with newsletters and emails... or perhaps I’ll leave that one for another time.
But in the mean time, please find out who you’re speaking to and what they do, or you will be very memorable, but perhaps not for the reason you want to be. And Andy, I’m very sorry to have to disagree with you on this one.
Enjoy your networking,
Firstly, I guess I should tell you about my break for entrepreneurial freedom…
My brother and I left the security of good professional careers in June 1997 to buy a pub. Why? Well – it seemed like a good idea at the time, despite the fact that neither of us had even worked behind a bar in our lives! Despite a lack of experience, we raised equity from friends and family, got a loan from the bank and about a year later, bought and refurbished a pub.
Over the course of the next few years, we turned it into one of the most successful pubs in the area and in the process, more than quadrupled the turnover that the previous owners had achieved.
A big part of the original plan had been to produce our own beer; and once we had the pub operating well and a good operational team in place, we turned our attention to opening a micr0-brewery. Again, having no direct experience in the industry, we tracked down a consultant who advised us on brewery design and recipes. We converted an industrial unit in Battersea and started brewing. The beers we produced tasted great and sold well, even winning the occasional award! Sadly, the London market was not an easy market for brewers at that time, many pubs were tied and would not accept guest beers and the costs of distributing in London traffic meant that the brewery never did much more than wash its face.
One of our best sellers in the pub was a shot-sized vodka jelly product, until one day, our supplier stopped delivering. A (pre-Google) search on the internet did not reveal any alternatives, so we set about making our own. I got a recipe from an old friend, eventually sourced the pot and lid and started making vodka jellies in the pub kitchen. They sold well and after a while, we started getting calls from other bars wondering where we got the product from. One thing lead to another and we started selling nationally. Soon, we were attracting the interest of the big pub chains and it became clear that if we were going to have a proper go at it, a strategic investment was required. Nine months later we had a new round of investors, a new patented pot and lid, a manufacturing line in Wales, a storage unit in Liverpool and a full sales and marketing operation in place!
Over the next couple of years, we sold around 5 million vodka jellies. Sadly though, it wasn’t enough. The pub chains were demanding increasingly competitive prices and the big players in the drinks industry (and boy are they protective of their markets) muscled us out. The impact was sufficient to leave our whole business in trouble and we had to sell the pub to clear the decks financially.
Licking our wounds with no interest in returning to corporate life, I was contemplating what we might do next when I took a call from a friend, asking if we knew of any good accountants. She ran a PR agency in the area and was looking for a new solution. The door to the new business opportunity opened before my eyes and we jumped in! For a start my brother and I are both trained accountants, plus we had spent the last 8 years running 3 small businesses – I think we had a good mix of technical grounds and commercial experience to make an accounting practice for small businesses work. Haggards Crowther, as it is now called, is now well-established and looks after over 600 clients.
The entrepreneurial fires have continued to burn brightly, more in me than my brother. He has been keen to keep the accounting practice focused on core products, whereas I wanted to expand into new areas. Thus, whilst I remain heavily involved in Haggards Crowther, I have started work on Start-up venture number 5 – My Bookkeeping Online.
Launching in autumn, this is an online platform designed to help small businesses keep on top of their bookkeeping. From the outset, it has been really important to me that owners of the smallest businesses with no bookkeeping knowledge can use it…and designing it accordingly has been a challenge! It is under development as I write and it is coming together well.
Other than that, this blog is going to be about small business. No doubt my focus will head off in many tangents in the coming weeks and months, but the primary purpose is to talk about small businesses that are starting up, help with some broad advice and talk about the issues small business owners face in specific industries. Please forgive the occasional rant too!