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Posts for July 2014

Getting your team to trust you

July 31, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Getting your team to trust you{{}}In the old days of business, a manager would command and control. He (it was usually a he) didn’t need to worry about building trust. However, today, leaders who want to drive their business forward use more sophisticated and modern methods. 

In 1990, Joseph Nye of Harvard developed the concept of ‘Soft Power’. It’s a method of persuasion that involves attracting and co-opting people, instead of coercing, using force or giving money. If you want to become a successful leader, you need to display successful powers of persuasion, and high levels of emotional intelligence. How do you do this?  The answer lies in getting your team to trust you.

1 Be genuine

There is a strong temptation, when you admire others, to imitate aspects of their personality. However well intentioned this is, your team will sense the falseness. Always be genuine. Have faith in your abilities. Without this foundation, anything else you do will be doomed to fail.

2 Show vulnerability

Everybody wants bosses to be strong and capable. You need to be able to find solutions when things get really tricky – and you shoulders need to be broad when big problems arise.

Interestingly, though, if you never show you vulnerabilities, you could forever be regarded as unapproachable and it’s difficult to build trust from such a position.

It means occasionally confiding in one or more of your team that you, too, find a particular task stressful or that you have to work hard at something to get it right. This helps people to see you not just as their boss, but also as a fellow human being with whom they can have a genuine working relationship.

3 Know yourself

How many times have you given feedback to people who have been genuinely shocked? It’s often difficult to see oneself as others do. However, the more you can see yourself objectively, the better placed you are to work on areas that might be blocking your ability to build trust.

The useful personal development technique – 360-degree feedback – is an ideal tool for this. You and your team evaluate your behaviour. You then receive a report showing the difference between how you perceive yourself and how others do. It’s a remarkably easy and powerful way of identifying where to start on self-development, to make yourself more easily trusted.

4 Give genuine feedback

The problem with giving feedback is that it’s often negative, dealing with areas for improvement. As a result, managers either don’t give feedback or (trying to be kind) give it in such a saccharine way that it’s useless. This inevitably causes mistrust, because your team members want to improve. They know they’re not perfect and they want to improve so they can enjoy promotions and increased pay.

Happily, there’s a straightforward solution. Firstly, you need to realise that the kind thing to do is to give the feedback, not hold on to it. Secondly, give feedback in a way that is received well. There are numerous techniques you could adopt, but the role of ‘framing’ is essential. By using framing, you can make it very clear that your intention is to help your employee. You ask their permission to do so. With this established, you can go on to give candid feedback. Your team members will know that you can be trusted to tell it as it is.

5 Tell the truth

Finally, always tell the truth. This doesn’t mean disclosing confidential information, nor does it mean volunteering information that could damage morale. It does mean, though, that you need the courage to say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that’ or ‘this is how it is, and this is how I’m going to help you’. The moment your team suspect you are being dishonest, you’ve lost them forever. If you tell them the truth at the right time, in the right way, you will earn their trust and their respect.

Trust takes a long time to build, but a very short time to lose. Despite the considerable investment needed to earn trust, it’s worth the effort!

  • Blog supplied by Heather Foley, consultant at HR technology and software provider etsplc.com

Further reading

What’s the point of startup accelerators?

July 28, 2014 by Guest Blogger

What’s the point of startup accelerators?{{}}It’s accelerator season again and applications are being accepted for mentoring from TechStars London, Oxygen Accelerator, Dotforge and more. Lots of entrepreneurs and investors see accelerators as a vital part of starting a tech company – but are they really for everybody and do you really need to attend one?

What is an accelerator?

Most UK startup accelerators work in the same way: they’re three-month programmes for your startup that feel a bit like going back to school.

Simon Jenner, CEO of Oxygen Accelerator, the accelerator I attended, explains: “Launching a startup is hard work. All an accelerator does is concentrates that hard work and surrounds founders with people who have vested interests in making their startups succeed. Entrepreneurs who like being challenged will exceed all their expectations and thrive in an accelerator.”

Beans on toast

Most startups enter an accelerator programme to get funding. All accelerators culminate in a demo day, where founders pitch their creations to a room full of investors, vying for any form of interest that could turn into a coffee, chat and maybe a nice, fat cheque.

But don’t join an accelerator for the money. The purpose of the small investment is to simply keep you alive for the three months of the programme.

Take a long hard look in the mirror. Decide if you want to put yourself through something like this. You better get used to having beans on toast for dinner or making big cheap meals that’ll last you all week. And say goodbye to spending a small fortune on a night out. You need to live cheaply and healthily and work as hard as possible.

How it works

Most accelerators are split into three phases:

1 Death by mentor: This is the most mentally grueling thing I’ve ever done. In less than two weeks I met more than 100 mentors for 30-minute one-to-one sessions. Some will tell you you’ll go bust in a week, others will be more positive. Take the criticism well and spot the trends.

2 Build, build, build: You can’t build anything during phase one, and you now have fewer than 10 weeks until demo day, so it’s time to launch, iterate, learn and repeat.

3 Sell, sell, sell: Time to segment your team, with one person focusing on building relationships with investors, and the rest trying to make the damn thing make money.

The smooth with the rough

Deciding whether or not to go to an accelerator is down to you. On the plus side, accelerators put you and your business in an environment that will help it thrive, surrounded by experts who’ve been there. And there’s a chance you’ll secure investment.

On the downside, you will be criticised repeatedly, you won’t have a social life and it’s tough financially. For every Buffer, TaskRabbit or Dropbox there are probably more than 50 successful startups that didn’t graduate from accelerators, such as Facebook, Twitter and Huddle (and they’ve not done too badly).

If you think you’ll get value from an accelerator and know what you’ll face, you should at least apply for one – what’s the worst that could happen?

© James Pursey. You can tweet him on @JamesPursey if you’d like to know about how he’s putting his experience from Oxygen Accelerator into practice at carwow.

Further reading

Why you sometimes have to reinvent yourself if your business is to stay alive

July 23, 2014 by Robert Craven

Why you sometimes have to reinvent yourself if your business is to stay alive{{}}Three brief case studies. Three businesses that had to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’, or go bust! Knowing what to do is not the same as taking the necessary action.

To turn around their fortunes, three separate magazine publishers became obsessed with the triad of strategy, marketing and teams.

All the publishers had made their money from subscriptions and sales revenues. Both of these revenue streams fell by about 70% in 2009. The entire landscape of their very different markets and industries had changed.

The solution was to reinvent the businesses. One used its incredible database to run conferences; one contracted by 70% and only kept its premium high-value work while slashing costs; one reinvented itself by focusing on editorial and content relevant for a very specific age range.

All three businesses became more profitable than they were when they hit their respective brick walls.

The moral of the story: sometimes you have to reinvent yourself. There is no other choice. Death by a thousand cuts is not a pleasant way to die.

© Robert Craven, business coach and consultant, and author of Kick-Start Your Business and Grow Your Service Firm. Robert also runs The Directors’ Centre, which helps businesses to grow. Watch a five-minute video of Robert live at PSA London.

10 tips to help entrepreneurs implement effectively

July 21, 2014 by Guest Blogger

10 tips to help entrepreneurs implement effectively{{}}Ideas mean nothing unless you make them real. Real entrepreneurial ideas get turned into products and services and are sold to customers to make a difference. Yet, entrepreneurs are often not implementers, nor project managers. They’re often distracted by the next idea, development or new opportunity. Here are my 10 tips for entrepreneurs on how to become a better implementer…

1 Clarity on where you’re going

Firstly, have clear goals. If you can’t tell everyone what you are doing, quickly and with passion, why would they care about it? If the picture you paint is of a future that makes the effort worthwhile, people will yearn for it and fight for it, with you.

2 Slow down to go faster

There is the work that directly creates our idea and makes it real, and then there is the planning and administrative work. That indirect work is an ‘overhead’. Many entrepreneurs treat overhead tasks as something to do as you go. However, by doing them early you’ll save a lot of time later.

3 Set a realistic timescale

You’ll need some time to adapt and change on the journey. Work expands to fit the time available too, so be realistic when setting the goal. If there are critical dates you need to hit, those should be clear at this point, so expectations are properly set.

4 Find the big chunks

Look at the work one quarter at a time. Identify what would have had to have been delivered three months before the end date, six months before the end date and so on. By doing that your team can see what they’ll be building.

5 Identify the building blocks

Now create monthly goals for the next two quarters and weekly goals for the first month or so. But do not go further. Great teams rely on the ability of everyone to plan their own work within the framework.

6 Identify “Now Wins”

It’s now useful to plan forward and look at what could be done this week, this month and this quarter. This can show you where there are opportunities to win now and get ahead of the game.

7 Don’t be a slave to the plan – the plan is your slave

If necessary – take a step back. Do some work on the project, deliver some elements of it and then look at where that takes you and how to plan further from there. Project planning should be no more than a few minutes each week, once the original plan is put in place.

8 Remember resources and materials

In any project there will be times when you need specific essential materials or resources, so each week and month take a look ahead, check what resources you’re expecting to need and make sure they’re on track for delivery.

9 Reward success

It’s important to recognise and reward incremental successes within the team. Let them know that it’s on track and going well. It will help ensure that this and every implementation easier.

10 Document along the way

In reality, every task in a project has probably been done before in a different context. The mistakes have been forgotten, making them easy to repeat, with shortcuts forgotten, too. This step is not for this time, it’s for next time. You’ll get quicker and can move on to the next idea ever faster.

Implementation brings your ideas to the world and when it’s done brilliantly it’s because of attention to detail and great planning. It builds on past experience and creates the foundations for future success. Brilliant products and remarkable companies implement brilliantly.

© William Buist, owner of Abelard Collaborative Consultancy and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club, an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners.

Further reading

How to avoid being overcharged for office space

July 17, 2014 by Guest Blogger

How to avoid being overcharged for office space{{}}Operators and landlords will do their utmost to ensure they get the best possible deal from the start of a contract term. When you rent a traditional office space you’ll often be bound to an agreement for around three - five years. Therefore, if you sign up for services and facilities on a whim, it could affect your business for a very long time.

If you’re currently on the hunt for suitable premises or if you’re about to sign a contract, you could save some money by following these simple steps.

Find businesses that are subletting

It may seem unethical to benefit from someone else’s misfortune, however, business is business and if it means you’ll get a better deal, don’t let morality take precedence over your decision. Businesses that have signed long-term lease agreements will often sublet if they have to downsize. According to Inc.com the average subletter will lease their property for 25% cheaper than the usual asking price.

Share your space with another business

Nowadays it’s not uncommon for businesses to share a lobby, reception area, kitchen and recreation room. Consider splitting the costs with another business to get a better space at a cheaper price. If you manage to find a business that works within your sector, but isn’t a direct competitor, you could also share clients and create an informal partnership.

Check the square footage

You’ll be surprised by how many people sign contract agreements without checking the square footage. Don’t take the operator or landlord’s word or “approximate guess” as gospel. Measure the square footage of the space to see if it matches what’s stated on the contract. If it doesn’t, negotiate a better price.

Negotiate a cap on annual rent increases

This is especially important if you lock yourself into a long-term contract. Landlords will often add clauses to contracts that allow them to raise their prices with inflation. If you’ve signed a long-term contract agreement this could be difficult to get out of. Don’t sign anything unless you have a written agreement stating that rental prices will remain the same.

Make sure you can sublet the space

If you aren’t hiring the space off another business that’s subletting, make sure you have the option to sublet yourself in the future. If you want to downsize your business or move to a larger space, but still have to honour the contract agreement, it’s not worth paying the extra costs. Subletting will allow you to lease the space to other businesses so you won’t have to pay for an office that you aren’t using.

Use a serviced office instead

Serviced offices may seem more expensive, but if you only need premises on a short-term basis, there’s no better way to cut down costs. A serviced office comes with everything set up and ready-to-use, meaning you can move in and out without disrupting the flow of business. In addition, contracts are highly flexible and can last for as little as one month.

Renting office space is a scary concept and any wrong move or overlooked aspect of the contract could result in excessive fees. Thoroughly read the contract and ensure you understand all of the terms before you sign or pay the deposit.

© James Timpson, writing on behalf of Skyline Offices, London serviced office specialists. James is a freelance blogger, writer and wannabe-entrepreneur. You will find him at tech conferences throughout the UK and Europe.

Further reading

Creating your small business online

July 14, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Creating your small business online{{}}There are many options for small businesses when setting up online. You need to work out exactly what you want from your web presence. Will it be generating sales or selling products or will it be a point of reference for customers?

Knowing what you want out of being online will help you narrow down the many choices you can take. If you are creating a website to be your online store you could consider getting a web design company to build you an ecommerce website. However, this is the most expensive route and options such as www.shopify.com and www.etsy.com offer a much cheaper online option.

Spread the word

A great way to get the word out about your business online is via social networks. Twitter and Facebook are the most obvious choices, however, also look at Pinterest and Google’s social network G+. By offering your social networks advice and content around your services or products, you can quickly start to grow your brand online. It can be a great way to get other people recommending your products or services.

Keep it updated

If you decide to set up a website rather than using an ecommerce platform, keep it updated with news and fresh content. Don’t build and forget. So many small businesses online spend lots of time (and money) setting up a website, but then just leave it to stagnate. If you keep your website active, you will have a website that users and search engines will love.

Get blogging

A blog must also be kept active and updated. Another great way to spread the word of your brand is having a popular blog attached to your website or social networks. If you don’t think you can keep an updated blog (posting once a week at least), don’t set one up.

Know your demographic

Who are your customers? If you already have an offline presence and know what works, carry that over to your online ventures. Target your customer base and be as courteous to customers and people as you would be in your offline customer interactions. 

© The Accountancy Partnership.

Further reading

The importance of effective cashflow management

July 10, 2014 by Guest Blogger

The importance of effective cashflow management{{}}We see it all too frequently, businesses of all sizes getting into financial trouble and struggling to pay their suppliers, the taxman and their own staff. This can happen because the people running the business are so focused on their product or service or customers that they forget to take care of cashflow management, which is key to sustainable growth. Cash is the lifeblood of every enterprise, but although entrepreneurs want to make money, ironically, they sometimes forget about cash.

Recently we saw a marketing services business that made lots of sales and had great service delivery, but could not deliver its services at a profit and made so many mistakes with its invoices that it struggled to get paid, even when the customer was happy with the service. They were growing too quickly and could not manage the business they had become.

We live in strange economic times. Banks are not supporting businesses to anything like the degree the economy needs, while at the same time, too many businesses operate a culture of slow payment to their suppliers. This is a top-down problem. Too many of the largest UK companies pay slowly and this trickles down through the rest of the economy.

This means that you must take care of yourself and implement strong cashflow management in your business. Manage your outgoing payments, while getting everyone who owes you money to pay you as soon as possible.

How to manage cashflow

Improving receivables:

  • Get customers to pay sooner by offering small discounts (eg 1-2%).
  • If you have a long-term project with a customer, agree to invoice them at regular intervals – don’t wait to bill them until the project is finished.
  • Ask for a deposit or part payment before you start work.
  • Carry out background checks on your customers’ credit scores.
  • Send out clear and correct invoices promptly and chase them up before they are overdue.
  • Stop dealing with and prepare to take legal action against customers who continually fail to pay on time.
  • Get funding from investors.

Dealing with payables:

  • Negotiate credit terms with your suppliers. They might offer you special terms.
  • Lease your equipment instead of buying it. It’s more expensive in the long run, but better for short-term cashflow.
  • Take advantage of payment terms. Pay on the last day via an electronic bank transfer, when the full amount becomes due.
  • When you buy equipment think about whether it’s the right time to make that purchase. Perhaps you don’t actually need it or it will be on offer later.

And reflect your cashflow management in a cashflow model, so you know where you stand all the time and can predict and negotiate bumps in the road ahead.

© Michael Austin, founder and managing director of Blue Dot Consulting, a firm of chartered accountants focused on small and new businesses in southwest London.

Further reading

Frogs are not small crocodiles – and small firms are not little big companies

July 09, 2014 by Robert Craven

Frogs are not small crocodiles – and small firms are not little big companies…{{}}Governments and blue chips think they're talking and marketing to smaller or owner-managed businesses, but they're not. They don't know how to talk to owner-managed businesses. They don't even realise that small businesses have a separate language and way of being.

There are more than four million small businesses in the UK and they employ 12 million people. All of my qualitative research shows that owners of the so-called 'small and medium-sized' businesses feel ignored and sold to in an insulting manner.

Small businesses are not the same as big businesses and they do not make purchasing decisions in the same way. Small businesses are small by choice.

Meanwhile, corporates assume that a small business is just a little big business. Wrong. Frogs are not the same as small crocodiles. They do not have the same mindset.

Most advertisements focusing on the small business market, from banks, IT, software, HR service providers, etc do not communicate with small businesses - they are not creating (or even attempting to create) a relationship or demonstrating values important to their target customers. Most ads aimed at the small business are relatively ineffective because the ad agency fails to understand the needs and wants of their target.

Further reading

Does Fido have the Midas touch?

July 03, 2014 by Guest Blogger
Does Fido have the Midas touch?{{}}
Bruce, our very own Atom office dog

The national campaign, Bring your Dog to Work Day, launched on 27 June. It raises proceeds for three major animal welfarecharities and encourages businesses to allow dogs in the work place.

The number of UK businesses with office dogs is increasing. A canine mascot is a common addition to the open plan workspace of many a trendy start-up. But, more than just a fashion accessory, the presence of a dog in the office may have a real impact on employee efficiency and wellbeing. Here’s the evidence:

Happier employees are more efficient employees

Countless studies suggest that people who are content in their job are more productive and animal/human interaction has been shown to dramatically lower stress and anxiety.

The National Canine Research Council describes how people who take their dogs to work experience lower stress and increased work satisfaction than employees who don’t take pets to work. The use of dogs in care homes, rehabilitation centres and court rooms in the USA is increasing because it has been proven they contribute to lower blood pressure, faster recovery from surgery and increased oxytocin levels, as well as reducing depression, while increasing self-esteem.

Healthier employees equals less downtime

Across the board, dogs in the office can keep the team fitter with a mix of fresh air, exercise and stronger immunity.

Many companies now run dog-walking schemes, where employees sign up to a dog-walking rota. Plus, dogs bring a taste of the wild into a clinical office environment in the form of bacteria we would not otherwise have contact with. Scientists at Your Wild Life carried out studies that found that doggy germs (which, contrary to expectations were not from ‘doggy doings’) help to improve immunity and can reduce allergies and wheezing.

Humanise the workplace and improve company culture

Dogs can help us make friends with each other. Researchers at Central Michigan University found that dogs in the workplace may act as social catalysts and encourage collaboration and bonding. In experiments, people were asked to complete a group task: those groups with a dog in their midst scored higher than teammates in terms of trust, team cohesion, and intimacy.

The workplace can be a dispassionate landscape, where people use language that is corporate and alienating. Throw a dog into the mix and the ice is immediately broken, with a disarming canine cocktail of crotch sniffing, face licking and lashings of affection, regardless of the recipient’s status!  

Leaving a dog alone at home can cause it undue stress and anxiety, and the more businesses allow dog-owning employees to bring their dogs to work, the less dogs will suffer or be taken to rescue homes.

  • Blog supplied by Tara Gould, who writes for VWHeritage (“where dogs rule in the office”).

Further reading

Why going on holiday is good for you and your business

July 02, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Why going on holiday is good for you and your business {{}}Research suggests that going on holiday not only makes you feel good while you’re away, but also helps you feel better for weeks, sometimes even months afterwards.

But how many business owners have taken heed of the advice provided by the Holiday Health Experiment, as reported in 2013 by tour operator Kuoni and Nuffield Health, which urged us to make sure we get away? Huge numbers of us appear not to be resting sufficiently and we know that start-ups and sole traders are among the worst at letting go, fearing leaving their business unmanned. 

As much as we know we need it, we can all come up with reasons not to take a holiday (‘I’m too busy’, ‘no-one can look after my business like I do’, ‘I can’t afford to take my foot off the gas’, etc). But whatever reasoning is holding us back, think again, because jetting off has been clinically shown to reduce blood pressure, help us sleep better and bounce back from stress, benefits that shouldn’t be ignored.

But it’s not just about getting away; it’s about completely switching off. Years ago it was technologically impossible to keep in touch on a beach, but now it’s the norm, with emails, text messages and social media with us wherever we go – but only if we choose to have it that way.

As tempting as it is to always have one eye on business, we are risking our health and wellbeing and thereby our ability to perform well at work if we don’t take a proper break. So, the benefits of a complete break are clear, but we are still surrounded by evidence of business owners struggling to switch off.

Earlier this year, Alexander Ehmann, deputy director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “You won’t be able to stop people checking their BlackBerry from the beach, and it may be necessary to be contactable in emergencies, but we’d call on businesses to use their common sense and relax when on leave.”

Part of being able to switch off is ensuring your business is covered while you’re away. Holidays are always a challenge, whether for start-ups and smaller businesses anxious about staying in control or for larger businesses juggling staffing levels. In a fast-moving, 24/7 world it can be difficult to let go, but with the technologies and services available today there’s no reason why business owners should not be able to relax and enjoy their holidays.

Returning from a holiday feeling happy and healthier makes for greater productivity and creativity, so don’t be afraid to relax. After all, regular, restful breaks are the best tonic for you and your business.

  • Blog supplied by Lisa Gough of telephone answering service provider Moneypenny and virtual phone system Penelope.

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