1 “It’s natural to see your competitors as the enemy. In reality, they’re not (ignorance and blindness-to-change are what you should really be watching out for). We’ve found that building relationships with our competitors has been invaluable in terms of support and knowledge sharing, while being fun, too.”
From The benefits of making friends with your competitors by Cartridgesave.co.uk
2 “If you believe that your target market is struggling and has no money to spend, you’ll easily be able to prove that to be correct. If you were to say to yourself that your target market is making more focused buying decisions, you’ll take a different approach to your next sales conversation. Whatever is true doesn’t matter. It’s the attitude and energy you take to it that will make the difference.”
From Are your beliefs holding your business back? by Sarah Lane.
3 “Look at companies such as Comet, Blockbusters and Jessops. I'm sure their business plans didn't include going into administration! Had they had a Success Plan, perhaps their futures may have been different.”
From Are start-up business plans a total waste of time? by Mark Williams.
4 “To run a successful team, a leader needs to be creative, logical, passionate and able to be compelling and articulate. However, you also need to recognise that you can’t do everything on your own, so you must get the right people around you.”
5 “I like to think that I am an ethical consumer. I shop locally (on foot or by public transport), I purchase Fairtrade goods and my mortgage and savings are with an ethical bank. I am not alone. Research has shown that demand for ethical goods and services grew 12% during the recent economic crisis, against mainstream growth of just 0.2%.”
From New research on SME and microbusiness ethical behaviour by Fiona Prior
6 “Remember: the ‘bitterness of low quality lasts longer than the sweetness of low price’. If you put up your prices, you will always lose some customers, but only those who have bought solely on price.”
From Should your business increase its prices? by Robert Moore.
7 “Entrepreneurs see things differently. They’re happy to stick to their guns when everyone else tells them they’re wrong. They’re prepared to go it alone. Often they can spot a gap in the market that others don’t see. They’re also prepared to put in a lot of extremely hard work and cope with failure, however hard that might be.”
From Are entrepreneurs born or made? by Marc Duke.
8 “Most businesses hit a ceiling because the way they began means further improvement and growth is too complex for them to handle and pursue. The business becomes trapped in the ‘Hindu Rate of Growth’ – around 3% each year – just enough to keep pace with inflation. To break through this ceiling, new systems need to be employed. What allowed many entrepreneurs to run a successful small business simply cannot support larger, more complex teams and issues.”
From Three reasons why you don't have a million pound business by Shweta Jhajharia.
9 “With just a £20,000 loan to start his first business, Sir Philip Green went on to take over the Arcadia Group and is now worth a staggering £3.88bn. Similarly, Mike Ashley used a £10,000 loan to start Sports Direct and is now worth £3.75bn, while Sir Richard Branson’s startup capital was a mere £300, which he used to start building an empire now worth £3.6bn.”
10 “A new report commissioned by the Information Economy Council argues that resources should be focused on helping ‘scale-ups’, because this could ‘contribute a million new jobs and an additional £1 trillion to UK economic growth by 2034.’”
From Should the focus be on ‘scale-ups’ rather than start-ups? by Mark Williams.
1 “Devise a simple ‘unexpected circumstances’ plan. Detail who does what, when and where, should things go awry. Prepare a temporary office in advance if there’s a risk you can’t get to your usual one. Make sure employees can work from home if necessary. Send your people home early if conditions worsen and be flexible if travelling is dangerous.”
From What to do if your business is affected by bad weather by Hannah Tonge.
2 “Sell something people want; make sure the difference between what you buy it for and what you sell it for is big enough; find a way to get people to buy from you. And, of course, make sure you collect all the money you are owed.”
From How to keep your business's head above water by Robert Craven.
3 “A well-engaged workforce will deliver increased productivity and performance. Remember that even the smallest gesture can make a big impact, such as enabling staff to leave early once targets have been met or even treating them to lunch. It’s up to you to motivate your workforce and prevent a dip in staff morale.”
From Top tips for boosting staff morale this winter by Helen Pedder.
4 “The right time for growth is when your business is in the middle of a successful period, with a few strong months just gone and a couple more forecast to follow. Be aware that expansion will eventually require additional resources, including labour, equipment, finances and more micro-management.”
From Why it pays to fund your own new business by John Bee.
5 “Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They’re a fact of life and with a bit of thought they can be easily managed. Accept that making mistakes need not be a bad thing. After all, in the words of legendary US basketball player and coach John Wooden: ‘If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.’”
From What's the best way to handle your employees' mistakes? by Heather Foley.
6 “New businesses are a prime target for predatory salespeople. If you’re in the online space you can expect companies that host business directories, sell email data, run pay-per-click ad campaigns, etc, to contact you. Most of them will press really hard and rattle off impressive-sounding numbers, but these direct sales services rarely convert to sales.”
From Five key insights gained by a six-month-old online start-up by Pete McAllister.
7 “Over-thinking something often means that the ideas you come up with are forced and unrealistic. Watching an unchallenging film or TV show can allow your mind to switch down a gear and come up with something much less forced.”
From How to reach your 'light-bulb' moment by Paul Lees.
8 “Effective marketing is about taking someone on a journey from hearing about you to buying from you, and from there, to buying more and telling the world about you. Taking the time to understand how your buyers do this will always be a good investment.”
From The fundamentals of marketing explained for start-ups by Bryony Thomas.
9 “One in eight UK employees works more than 48 hours per week, while 54% of Britain's workforce regularly works through their lunch break. People who work long and unsociable hours could be doing themselves serious harm. Studies have shown that working 11 hours a day compared to eight increases your chances of developing heart disease by 67%.”
From Has Britain become a nation of workaholics? by Helen Pedder.
10 “Factually, right now, about 60% of the people in your sector are only doing OK and 20% are struggling. This means that by stepping up and standing out, you could be in the 15% that are doing very well and if you really excel – you could be in the 5% that are exceptionally successful.”
From How to be an exceptionally successful business by Anne Mulliner.
Thank you to our site sponsors for their support in 2014. Many thanks also to the experts who shared their knowledge to ensure this blog remains a popular source of information, advice and inspiration. A massive ‘Thank You’ to all our readers, of course. Whether you were thinking of starting up and wanted inspiration or started your own business in 2014 and needed advice, we hope you found what you were looking for. Happy Christmas – here's to a fantastic 2015…
When was the last time you were up at 3am? Big birthday bash? New baby? Box set? There are many life-affirming reasons to have your eyeballs open at silly o’clock. But slaving over your accounts or squinting at your Google Analytics dashboard aren’t among them. There are four classic mistakes that start-ups and small businesses often make. Here’s how you can avoid them:
There’s an unavoidable period where start-up owners have to wear all the hats: sales, marketing, finance, IT, operations. While it is possible to find joy in all these tasks (the thrill of a sell, the hum of a server, the glint of a spreadsheet anyone?) there are some you will always despise. But if you’re not careful you’ll end up doing everything forever. So cherry-pick the bits that give you a buzz and for everything else, use freelancers to get it off your desk and get it done. If you can’t face your accounts, your blog or your SEO, ship them off to someone who can. You get some sleep – or finish that box set.
If you’re trudging through your tax return or fiddling for hours with Photoshop, you’re definitely not making best use of your time and you’re probably not making a great job of it either. Don’t run your business doing lots of stuff averagely; do less stuff, but outstandingly. Build a network of fellow specialists and you’ve created a multi-skilled team without employing a single person. Find freelancers with the right skill set and experience, check out examples of their work and read independent reviews from other business owners. When you hire, set a fixed rate, for an agreed period, with clear deliverables.
Unless you live in a cave, you’ll know the two Truths of Domestic Existence: 1) you will one day, possibly quite soon, have need of a good plumber and 2) there is nothing harder to find than a good plumber. However – and here’s the point – you still wouldn’t hire a permanent one would you? Similarly in your business, you might have a recurring but unpredictable need for say, a proofreader, a salesperson or a website designer. Using online hiring platforms such as Elance or ODesk to hire an expert resource on a project-by-project basis – exactly when you need it – keeps your options open and your cash available. Even if business is flying at the moment, future demand is hard to foresee. Focus on what you need now and stay flexible for as long as you can.
What happens when you go on holiday or get ill? Do all gears grind to a halt? If so, you’re not running a business, you are a business. Diverting streams of repeat activity such as admin support or website maintenance through reliable freelance channels makes your business less vulnerable to disease, pestilence and man-flu. It also gives you a greater sense of progress: in addition to the furrow you’re ploughing, you have another production line. Most importantly however, placing tasks with others automatically promotes you to an executive position. That means you are reviewing, checking, approving and deciding everything, which is a lot less time-consuming and more important for your business than doing absolutely everything.
Get $50 towards paying your first oDesk freelancer >>
The world of work is changing. The Connected Age has enabled business to become more agile. Online work platforms provide access to professional talent quickly and affordably, meaning businesses can staff up when they need to, and quickly respond to changes in market demand.
Outline exactly what’s expected and try to answer the freelance’s questions up front. For example, if you’d like to have an article written, specify exactly what you’re looking for and don’t neglect details such as word count, purpose, subject and key themes.
Spell out the skills you’re looking for. If you’re seeking someone with a background in animation or Adobe Photoshop, make that clear. Include the timeframe and decide whether you’ll be hiring on an hourly or fixed-price basis. Hourly projects are useful for ongoing work or if the scope of the project may change.
Outline a budget. Freelances are generally professionals who work online for a living. Set the price at a level that you believe is fair.
It’s important to consider all factors when evaluating proposals from freelances (not just the price).
First and foremost, you should avoid template submissions, and focus on those that are written specifically for your project. Look for professionalism and attention to detail, plus a logical structure and information flow in the proposal.
Some freelances will include samples of their previous work. Give the most weight to samples that are closely related to your task. Ultimately, it’s wise to select freelances that are most excited by the opportunity, show that they are truly interested in the work, and can bring enthusiasm and quality to the finished product.
In addition to a freelance’s proposal, you can delve deeper into their profile to get a better sense of how they will perform. Review their ratings, work history, accredited skills and examples of past work. Browse through written feedback from previous clients and see how the freelance responded to this feedback. This can be a good indicator of the freelance’s level of professionalism.
Consider the freelance’s expertise, but don’t be afraid of new profiles. Although untested, these freelances may be more motivated to impress you in order to launch their freelancing career. Use multiple forms of communication to screen candidates and get a better sense of how they’ll work. You can send emails or make video calls, but be sure to record all communication on the platform for safety and future reference.
If you’re hiring for a long-term or recurring task, do a small test project to evaluate two or three freelances before making a selection. You’ll get a good idea of each person’s skills and work style to help you make a better decision.
If you need to provide sensitive information, ask freelances to sign a non-disclosure agreement before engaging in further discussions. This will help protect your intellectual property.
When you’re ready to select a freelance and finalise negotiations, confirm the price and the job terms before awarding the job. If the scope of the project or milestones change, you can always update a project’s terms with agreement from the freelance.
Communication is key when managing online projects, and you should constantly ask questions and track progress to ensure outcomes and deadlines are met. Use the tools available to view work in progress, and set clear timelines for receipt of deliverables.
For hourly jobs, be sure to review timesheets on a regular basis so that there are no surprises. For fixed-price jobs, specify the milestones and key dates you expect work items to be delivered. This gives you multiple opportunities to view, approve and pay for work along the way. Request weekly reports on tasks performed, hours worked, files completed and plans for the upcoming week. Ensure all files are uploaded and all communication is tracked.
By using online talent you only pay when services are delivered. As the freelance completes phases of your project, evaluate their work. Is it what you expected? Be straightforward with your freelance about their performance, their professionalism and their overall contribution to your business. Feedback enables freelances to grow their careers and businesses to thrive.
When you’ve finished the project and paid your freelance, take a moment to rate their performance. Be honest and professional. You can provide feedback both one to one and for the broader community to see. Your opinion matters, because it is the most significant way clients differentiate between freelances. Once you get started, you’ll find that hiring talent online is a safe, fast and effective way to get things done.
From the Grumpy Boss to the Barely-There Manager and the “David Brent”, every manager has a different style of management. Officebroker.com looks at ten types of boss. Maybe you’ve worked for one. You may even be one of the following…
They put everything into their job and are constantly willing to “take one for the team”. They have no concept of the word “holiday” and are in work regardless of the weather or ill health. They expect their staff to meet their high standards, so employees can forget about leaving early. Ever.
They are smarmy and often get a little too close for comfort. Establishing friendships with employees can have many benefits, but relationships must always be kept professional.
The type of boss who yearns to be both friend and mentor to employees. They imagine their “people” find them to be “hilarious” and great company, while still looking up to them. In truth, employees find them annoying, frustrating, offensive and a bit of a joke.
Tends to lose focus, with employees having no clear idea of where the business is heading as a result. When the Barely-There boss does show their face they always try to take credit for other people’s hard work and success, before disappearing out of the door for another “meeting” or to “work from home”.
Even when a situation is completely under control, the Stresser is always running around like a headless chicken. They’re first to panic when something goes wrong, and prefer to stress rather than find solutions. All employees agree that the workplace would be a much calmer (and better) place without them.
Never satisfied. They’re constantly leaning over employees’ shoulders commenting on everything they do. Lunch breaks are always too long and nothing is ever right. Grumpy Bosses damage employee mood, goodwill and confidence. And restrict their businesses as a consequence.
Has the biggest mouth of all. They probably don’t get the opportunity to voice their opinions outside the workplace, with employees’ eardrums suffering as a result. From moaning about their commute to sharing details of their divorce, they have no boundaries when it comes to telling others what they think.
Their mood determines their management. If they come in with a face like thunder, they’re best avoided – unless you want to have your head bitten off. Can be great when they’re in a happy mood, but can be extremely unpleasant at other times, when employees are forced to walk around on eggshells.
A totalitarian who rules by fear. Terror is their key weapon when seeking to motivate employees, often using the threat of the sack. They shout at their employees for whatever reason and treat no one with respect.
The Nice Boss gives praise where due and is always willing to muck in. They know where to draw the line when using their authority, which they’re not afraid to use when necessary. They don’t mind getting their hands dirty and helping out the team. They’re firm but fair and are respected by their employees as a result.
Copyright © 2014, Officebroker.com
Whether you’re a sole trader or manage many employees, you must ensure that important work gets done to a high standard and on time. So how do you prevent important tasks from being neglected?
Share the load with people who are stronger in areas where you are weaker. The work will get done; you’ll feel less stressed; and your business will benefit.
The tasks to delegate are the ones that are least enjoyable and require less-skill. Why? Because they are: easier to train others to do; cheapest to hire for; and often create the most distractions.
Before you hire, define the role along with responsibilities and desired output. Then match that against a few key considerations:
Introducing a system is critical if you want to ensure tasks don’t fall through the cracks. It will also you help you manage your team.
Create concise but comprehensive documentation and it will feed back into your business by making the training of new hires a breeze, ensuring your business runs without interruption. Remember to keep it concise and simple:
At the London Coaching Group, we have an efficient team that works very closely. And we exchange barely any emails.
What you need:
You then create column headings for:
So how do we use this?
Whenever a task comes to mind, I, as the team leader, add it to the spreadsheet straight away. My team then fills in the fields accordingly. Once a task has a "Date complete" I double-check the task. Once I've double-checked and it's done, I delete it from this list. Only I can delete.
My team and I keep this document open during our working day. It acts as our communal 'to-do' list. Everyone is aware of the status of all other projects, which makes meetings a breeze and ensures nothing falls through the cracks.
By using the tips and tools above you can run your business and your projects smoothly and efficiently. You will be 100% in control of each project, which reduces stress and that feeling of a ‘heavy load’. So you’ll have more time to work on your business and its future.
Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2014. Shweta is an award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.
Although they can sound like a waste of time, effective team meetings are essential for all new (and existing) businesses if they are to reach their potential. They can help you leverage the collective intelligence in your business, as well as move the team forward cohesively.
Ideally you should have more team meetings, not fewer. This is because effective meetings lead to:
But what should you avoid if you want to ensure effective team meetings?
There are four important elements that need to be implemented if you want an effective team meeting:
Be really clear. Are you strategising or discussing operations? What do you want to get out of this meeting? Everything stems from the purpose.
As the leader of the meeting, you should make your agenda sharp – and make sure you stick to it.
Keep to the purpose and agenda. Otherwise you could spend half your day in team meetings without actually getting anything productive done.
If you want meetings that will move your business forward, the right people need to be present. This will come naturally if you move through the previous steps. Once you know the purpose and agenda for your meeting, it becomes clear who needs to be there – and who is only going to be wasting time if they attend.
Every meeting is different and will have unique requirements, so you need to be flexible with your structure. However, these elements are common to all effective and productive team meetings.
Above all, before every team meeting, ask yourself one simple question: "What do I want my team members to achieve after this meeting?" You will be amazed at the clarity that answering that one question will bring – and what a difference that will make to the meeting and its effectiveness.
Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2014. Shweta is a multi- award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.
Many of us look forward to that longer break that bank holiday weekends bring, because it can provide the perfect opportunity to get together with family and friends, who we don’t see as much as we’d like due to the demands of our busy daily lives. But do businesses look forward to bank holidays?
Each bank holiday is reported to cost the UK economy £2.3bn (according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research) and they can cause a headache for business owners, with some questioning the need for so many public holidays. But the UK has the lowest number of national public holidays of all major economies, with just eight public holidays compared to a G20 average of 12. The UK even has fewer public holidays than countries viewed as stereotypically industrious, including Japan (15) and China (11).
According to Direct.gov.uk, bank or public holidays do not have to be given as paid leave, but an employer can choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave.
Most retailers are now open during bank holidays and expect their staff to work their normal or Sunday hours. However, most offices close, while choosing to include bank holidays within employees’ holiday entitlement. Most office-based small businesses close, but some staff (and many business owners, of course) work from home.
According to ACAS and Direct.gov.uk, this should come out of holiday entitlement, they also state that: “Employers can set the times when workers can take their leave - for example, a Christmas shut down.”
Many seasonal businesses don’t allow holiday to be taken during the summer months, but is this fair? For parents in the UK, taking holiday during term time to fit in with school holidays means higher costs for breaks away.
If you are an office-based business you might want to allow employees to take it in turns to work bank holidays or allow some staff to work from home if possible.
Speak to your customers and find out if they are working before you shut down your business for the bank holiday weekend. If you will be sitting in a silent office with phones that are unlikely to ring, it might be just as well to close down.
Other businesses welcome bank holidays, of course, because they are able to cash in on extra money being spent by people who are happy because they are not at work.
Copyright © Chinny Ogbuagu 2014, regular writer for the Pitney Bowes blog.
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.
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.
Everybody wants bosses to be strong and capable. You need to be able to find solutions when things get really tricky – and your shoulders need to be broad when big problems arise.
Interestingly, though, if you never show your 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.
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.
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.
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!
Copyright © 2014 Heather Foley, consultant at HR technology and software provider etsplc.com
|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:
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.
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.
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.
I co-founded the cleaner-booking platform Mopp in April 2013. For us, hiring interns (ie a student or trainee who works in order to gain experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification) has been a great way to help grow the business while staying lean. But how do you find great candidates and motivate them to really contribute to your business?
Blog written by Pete Dowds, co-founder of cleaner-booking platform Mopp.
I understand all too well the trials and tribulations of setting up a new business, which is why I agreed to become an ambassador for Britain’s Top Real Role Model 2014. The annual competition, launched by direct selling company Amway UK and now in its fourth year, is dedicated to encouraging new talent amongst the nation’s entrepreneurs.
Amway UK has already handed a total of £20,000 in funding to entrepreneurs for the business ventures they presented, but we now need a new wave of creative bravery in business to generate success and employment opportunities.
Recent research carried out by Amway UK suggests that more than two-thirds of us would prefer a female boss to a male one, with the stereotypically female attributes such as compassion, trust and loyalty coming out on top. These ‘softer’ attributes were favoured over more traditional ones such as courage, confidence and strong leadership.
I think this is a very interesting shift in attitudes. I feel that female bosses tend to have a slightly more ‘3-D approach’ to business and see the whole picture. They also tend to care more about their employees, which helps get the best out of people. You don’t have to scatter people out of your way to be successful.
Starting up your own business and backing your ideas can be very lonely and takes a lot of courage so it is crucial that we support fledgling companies. I can’t wait to see the finalists’ ideas and share their enthusiasm and energy. I have been fortunate enough to have people around me to encourage and share my dreams.
I ran Twenty8twelve with my sister Sienna for seven years, in what is a notoriously fickle and unforgiving industry. You need a bit of steel to go with the creativity, but it is important to be a good boss, as well as a good designer. Having Sienna in the business was an amazing help because of the profile she has. We made a good team, because she has incredible style and she forced me to take risks.
My current label, Savannah, is about finding out what my customer wants and meeting her needs. I’ve kept true to my mantra of providing style at an affordable price point.
I am a driven person because I love what I do, but I have space for other people and I don’t think you can run a business without understanding what makes your staff tick as human beings. I was brought up to believe that if you wanted something, you had to work for it.
So, my advice to would-be entrepreneurs is to roll your sleeves up, be prepared to start at the bottom, but once you have employees, let your softer attributes come to the fore – trust and loyalty can go a long way.
There are only so many hours in a day and there’s only so much you can charge for your products or services. Once your start-up hits these inherent ceilings, you’re at full capacity in terms of financial return. You’re probably near the end of your tether, too. But there is a way to expand your business beyond this point, without the responsibility of employing staff.
Gone is the need for an endless list of “Stuff I need to do” (aka everything). Instead, have two lists:
Write down what you’re best at. You will be far more productive, with better results, if you only do the stuff that interests you, the things you are best at, the jobs your skills are best suited to – in short, the reasons you started the business in the first place.
Deep down you probably know that while you love analysing customer feedback (List One) or coming up with new product ideas (ditto), you usually put off writing your blog or doing your accounts. Or maybe there is something you put off because you just don’t know how to do it (that new e-commerce part of the site maybe or the wireframes for your new mobile app). Those are the jobs that belong squarely in List Two.
This includes everything else. Whether it’s not the best use of your time or you don’t have the right expertise, be honest with yourself about what would be done better or more quickly by somebody else. As a business owner, knowing when to delegate work can be one of the most difficult decisions. Remember that your time is finite – and probably your most precious resource. Here are five suggestions for jobs you could hand to someone else and get some valuable hours back in the process.
Faffing around with fonts, colours, symbols and swooshes is a) fun and b) a gaping black hole of productivity. Twiddling with our logo or letterhead is what we do when we’re avoiding doing something more difficult and more useful. Better to browse designer’s portfolios to find a design pro who matches your requirements and let them get on with it.
Good businesses communicate – regularly. But when you’re short on time, generating engaging, fresh, on-brand, unique, SEO-rich content for that weekly blog, e-shot or customer newsletter can feel like a millstone round your neck. Hiring a freelance writer to create your copy is easy: just give them a few topics to work from and enough information to help them capture your voice. Bingo! A 500-word blog post. No more trying to be pithy and punchy in your kitchen at 2am.
If your website is your main customer-facing platform, you need web analytics to make sure it’s doing the best job possible. But it’s way too easy to get sucked in. Nicotine, alcohol, Candy Crush… compared to the addictive and hypnotic glow of the Google Analytics dashboard, they got nothing. Outsource it, read the top-line report and free yourself from this time-zapping peril. Similarly, buying and optimising keywords on Google, Bing and Yahoo has become a complicated science with ever-morphing algorithms. Get an SEO expert to keep an eye on your clicks and conversion rates for you.
Managing a social media campaign is a 24-hour, rapid-response activity, and as the leader of your business, you just don’t have the availability. By all means, check in on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn every now and then, but delegate the day-to-day campaign stuff to a freelancer who can dedicate himself or herself to making your business a social media success.
How many hours a week do you spend on basic admin tasks such as data entry, research, database management, transcribing, planning events or organising travel? It’s blatant misuse of your most valuable business resource (yes, that’s you!). You’ll find thousands of freelance virtual assistants online with a good broadband connection and a typing speed way faster than yours. Get one.
• Blog supplied by Hayley Conick, Country Manager for Elance UK & Ireland, which enables small businesses to find freelances.
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One of the biggest recent changes to recruitment has been the rise of the video interview. Enabled by lower cost, easy-to-use video conferencing software-based systems, an increasingly global job market and cuts in HR budgets have been key drivers. And with businesses facing pressure to speed up the recruitment process, a first or second interview can be conducted via video conference, played back and reviewed quickly and easily.
So with the traditional face-to-face interview being replaced by video, how can candidates and prospective employers better prepare themselves and what should both be aware of during a video interview?
First, a video interview features the same elements as an in-person interview, so the same rules of engagement, attention and acknowledgement must be observed. This means dressing to impress, looking alert, engaged and professional throughout.
Remember, 93% of communication is thought to be non-verbal, so don't forget to pay attention to body language. Positive body language includes nodding your head, smiling genuinely and leaning forward to show interest or understanding. A furrowed brow, frowning and leaning back can all be perceived negatively.
Also ensure that you have the proper hardware and test it before you start. A good webcam is essential to maintain eye contact without losing sight of the other person, and make sure you adjust your seat/computer to frame your face.
Use headphones too, because they are much better than speakerphones, which can amplify background noise, disturb and distract you from the conversation. Make sure you have a neutral backdrop, because a distracting or messy background may cause the other person to lose their attention. Proper lighting is important to make you look your best, and you also need to be aware of any reflective surfaces that can be distracting. Finally, be prepared. Just because it is remote, a video interview should be treated just like a face-to-face one.
Blog provided by video conferencing solutions provider Vidyo.
Every business owner wants their employees to be dedicated, hardworking and willing to go the extra mile by putting in extra hours when necessary. However, there is a balance to be struck between hard work and unhealthy, obsessive behaviour. So, has Britain become a nation of workaholics?
The stereotype of an overworked executive was once associated with American high-fliers, yet in recent years this poor work-life balance has made its way across the Atlantic.
Figures from the Trades Union Congress suggest that one in eight UK employees works more than 48 hours per week, while research from the BBC suggests that more than half (54%) of Britain's workforce regularly works through their lunch break.
People who work long and unsociable hours could be doing themselves serious harm. Indeed, studies have shown that working 11 hours a day compared to eight increases your chances of developing heart disease by 67%.
In Japan 'workaholism' is referred to as Karoshi ('death by overwork') and is the likely cause of some 1,000 deaths each year.
It is crucial that owners recognise the damage that a long-hours culture can have on a business and its people.
One American firm takes the idea of combating workaholism so seriously that its employees are punished for working more than 40 hours a week.
A less drastic approach is to implement time-management tricks that can help boost productivity and performance. Time wasted by office workers during meetings has been estimated to cost the UK economy about £26bn a year. Rather than sitting around a table, you could request that staff members stand for the duration. This helps to rapidly reduce meeting length, while ensuring the same ground is covered.
Some firms use video conferencing to keep in touch with key individuals. This provides a powerful way to communicate in real time, meaning work can happen anywhere and at any time. Something as simple as implementing a flexible working policy can help to combat workaholism. When handled correctly, flexible working can boost employee morale and motivation, while reducing absenteeism.
If a staff member suffers from ‘workaholism’, your first step should be to review their responsibilities and duties, to determine whether they're burdened with an excessive workload and identify any reasonable adjustments that can made to address the issue.
Under the Working Time Regulations employees aged 18 and over are limited to working 48 hours a week. Members of staff have the legal right to opt out, enabling an increase in their working hours, but this must be done in writing and on a voluntary basis.
Start-ups and small businesses have the upper hand when it comes to tackling overworking. Effectively monitoring and managing the issue helps to prevent a workaholic culture from developing.
Blog supplied by Helen Pedder, head of HR for ClearSky HR.
We all make mistakes – it’s inevitable. In fact, it’s desirable. Unless people are pushing themselves, innovating and taking risks, a business could stagnate. What’s more, an inevitable part of risk-taking is that mistakes will happen.
And while you may not want to create an environment where mistakes are feared, you need to address them. Fortunately, it need not be an excruciatingly painful process for you or the person who’s messed up.
If you are tempted to ignore mistakes or brush them under the carpet, you may find that your business suffers and people never improve or progress.
Instead, if you deal with the situation, your business will benefit from fewer mistakes. Fewer refunds will need to be issued, there will be fewer quality control issues, fewer customer and colleague complaints, and less time spent rectifying the same errors. Also, the employee will understand clearly how to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
It’s important to identify what type of mistake has been made. Is it major or minor? While a spelling mistake in an important document may not be a sackable offence, wilfully neglecting an important client is pretty inexcusable.
Similarly, is this the first of its kind, or an oft-repeated action? No one is perfect and mistakes do happen, particularly when people are undertaking a task for the first time. This, though, is vastly different from someone who persists in making the same mistake over and over, despite being told about it and perhaps receiving training intended to help them get it right. Identifying the type of mistake you’re addressing will inform what you need to do about it.
If you have identified that the mistake needs addressing, before offering an opinion, suggestion or sanction, fully investigate with all necessary parties three things – what caused the mistake, who was responsible and what the impact was. There will be countless times you will be grateful that you did so. It’s amazing how often things aren’t quite as black and white as they first appear. By investigating the matter objectively and fairly you’ll be better placed to take the next step.
Once you’ve established the facts, it’s your turn to be clear with the employee. Describe what you understand to be the mistake, its cause and where the responsibility lies. The employee needs to confirm that his/her understanding matches yours (if not, go back to the previous ‘fact checking’ stage). Then you need to explore why they made the mistake and what can be done to prevent it happening again. You need a firm commitment from your employee that they will strive not to repeat the mistake.
You must be clear and not gloss over the impact of the mistake on your business, but this doesn’t mean you need to be unkind. Acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and express your confidence and encouragement that the employee’s future performance will be better.
It’s easier to deal with this type of problem if you have an open and trusting relationship with your employee. Investing in good relationships with your team is something you should do all year round. Not only will that make these types of conversations easier, but it will also help identify likely mistakes before they happen.
Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They’re a common fact of life and one that, with a bit of thought, can be easily managed. What’s more, accept that making mistakes need not be a bad thing. After all, in the words of legendary US basketball player and coach John Wooden: “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything”.
Blog supplied by Heather Foley of HR consultancy ETSplc.
With little or no daylight outside of work, it’s perhaps easy to understand why people’s morale descends into the abyss during winter.
As some employees suffer a bout of the winter blues, small businesses can breathe a sigh of relief when they begin to realise that very little budget is needed to boost staff morale.
In fact, contrary to popular beliefs, money isn’t the best motivator. Praise and flexibility are far more influential than bonuses and pay.
A high proportion of small businesses will suffer a drop in staff numbers this winter, whether that’s caused by a spike in sickness-related absences or an influx of last-minute holiday requests. Combine the two, and your other employees could be facing a crippling workload.
A watertight sickness absence policy and holiday request policy offer the best preventative measures to manage the risk of a limited workforce.
It’s also crucial not to forget those who are left behind, with recognition for their achievements helping to reinforce morale.
Adopting a flexible approach also helps to keep morale high. Take severe weather for example. Offering your employees the chance to work from home helps to reduce absences and prevent the business from grinding to a halt. In such an event, it’s crucial that you have a robust flexible working policy in place.
A dysfunctional team can have a devastating impact on productivity, which is why good communication within the workplace is vital.
Be sure to keep your employees up-to-date of any business news. However, do remember that this is a two-way street, as your employees should be able to approach you with any work-related issues.
A well-engaged workforce will ultimately deliver increased productivity and performance, therefore it’s crucial to recognise and meet the needs of your staff.
Remember that even the smallest gesture can make a big impact, such as enabling staff to leave early once targets have been met or even treating them to lunch.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you as the employer to motivate your workforce and prevent a dip in staff morale.
Blog supplied by Helen Pedder, head of HR for ClearSky HR.
For many reasons small and large businesses choose to outsource particular tasks or services to third parties and agencies. As outsourcing continues to evolve, so do the reasons for SMEs and bigger organisations to consider adopting those methods for the good of their business.
The primary reason for outsourcing and outsourcing immediately is to cut costs, because this is the main driver for many businesses that choose to outsource work. But let’s look beyond the pound signs and see some of the other popular reasons for outsourcing services in 2012 and beyond.
In demanding industries there are many instances where highly pressurised employees simply don’t have enough time to focus on core business functions that can drive long term growth.
Businesses need as many people as possible to be able to focus on the profit-driving areas of their organisation. By outsourcing certain tasks or services to third parties, companies can save valuable internal resource to devote towards moving the business forward.
Some businesses choose to outsource particular services or divisions of their business overseas to take advantage of greatly reduced corporate tax rates. Countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and closer to home, Ireland, all boast very low corporate tax fees that can significantly improve a company’s bottom line.
There may be an area of your business that would require significant in-house and external training to get employees up to speed. Subsequently, it may be more cost-efficient to simply outsource the entire service to a third party or agency. It is quite possible they will add greater value than you even anticipate due to the skills and expertise they possess. Why spend time and money learning new services and skills if you can employ a professional to do it for half the cost?
In some cases, businesses choose to outsource services or divisions of their organisation to make sure they appear constantly accessible and available. To create the impression of operating 24-hours without closing down it is possible to outsource to an overseas partner that can do important work overnight, while catching up on much-needed sleep!
Although reaching agreement with outsourcing contractors can be unsettling and protracted, outsourcing work carries significantly less contractual risk than employing a full-time member of staff. Contractual agreements can be created to offer protection for both parties, while removing any difficult human interaction that can occur when in-house employees are dismissed. Outsourcing firms can be held just as accountable for poor performance and poor quality of work as a full-time employee.
While outsourcing requirements will naturally differ from business to business, there is no getting away from the fact that outsourcing is becoming a key component to the day-to-day strategies of successful businesses.
Blog written by David Campbell of Pall Mall Estates, “one of the UK’s leading providers of affordable commercial space to rent”.
Teams are the building blocks of many new businesses and keeping your team working effectively will reap many benefits. So how can you help your team to get the most out of working together?
A good working atmosphere makes a huge difference to a team’s productivity. The key to the difference between high-performing and low-performing teams is the ratio of positive to negative comments. Interestingly, this doesn’t need to be balanced; it needs to be weighted in favour of positive comments, at least by a ratio of 3:1.
Forget weaknesses – play to strengths. This will reap greater benefit in terms of performance improvement. This is because when we are using our strengths work feels effortless, we are energised and confident, we are engaged and probably experience moments of flow. Feeling like this we are more able to be generous and patient with others, so the benefits flow onward.
Teams are often made up of people with different skills and areas of expertise that tend to see the world and the priorities for action within it differently. This can lead to a great awareness of difference, which can come to be seen as insurmountable. A productive way to overcome this is through sharing of personal stories about their moments of pride at work. In this way, they are expressing their values and sense of purpose in an engaging, passionate and easy-to-hear form. The listener will undoubtedly find that the story resonates with them, creating an emotional connection at the same time as they begin to see the person in a different light.
Groups can get stuck in repeating dynamic patterns. When this happens, listening declines, because everyone believes they’ve heard it all before, and so does the possibility of anything new happening. To break the patterns we need to ask questions that require people to think before they speak. This brings information into the common domain that hasn’t been heard before.
When teams suffer a crisis of motivation or morale it is often associated with a lack of hope. In ‘hopeless’ situations we need to engender hopefulness. Appreciative, positive questioning can help people imagine future scenarios based on what is possible. As people project themselves into optimistic futures clearly connected to the present, they begin to experience some hopefulness. By using the techniques described above it's possible to get a team moving again or move a working team from good to great.
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Research published recently suggests the average working adult in the UK is “59% happy in their current job role”. Researchers commissioned by Surbiton High School asked 2,000 employees to rate their level of contentment at work in 11 key areas, “from pay and company perks to relationships with colleagues and management”.
According to the study, workers are generally satisfied with their holiday allowance and relationship with colleagues, giving ratings of seven out of ten for both. Perks received four out of ten, the lowest score, with employees believing they should be entitled to mobile phones, laptops and even private health care.
Respondents were unhappy about their promotion prospects, which were rated just five out of 10. They gave a more encouraging six out of ten each for level of pay, relationship with the boss, work load, working hours, working environment, social life, size of team and hierarchy.
14% claimed they would be happier if they were allowed regular tea breaks, while 34% appreciated being able to manage their own workload. One in three said they liked the feeling of being able to make a difference, while 22% wanted to be able to talk to people every day. An easy commute was also important to 35% of people, while 18% said they would appreciate yearly bonuses.
When it comes to profession, teachers were happiest at work (presumably the poll took place before Education Secretary Michael Gove called for pupils to work longer days and have fewer holidays), with the “satisfaction they gained from working with children far outweighing the negatives”. Secretaries were second happiest group at work, followed in order by engineers, accountants, drivers, shop assistants, caterers, trades people, lawyers and those working in customer care.
Career dissatisfaction continues to be a key reason why people continue to give up their jobs to start their own business, with numbers continuing to rise. According to Enterprise Nation, there was a 10% increase in new businesses in 2012 (484,224) when compared to 2011 (440,600).
It’s hardly the greatest time to be a young British adult, trying to make your way in the cruel new world in which we find ourselves.
Punitive fees and budget-busting living costs mean a university education is set to once again become the preserve of society’s wealthier members. With households under immense pressure, many parents (even those who would be considered fully paid-up members of the middle classes), simply can’t find the money to pay for their sons and daughters to go to university.
Hard luck. Welcome to the real world, you might say. Why not go and get a job like the rest of us? Well, things aren’t that easy. As reported by the Mail Online in late January, according to a study by the Work Foundation, youth unemployment in the UK has increased at a faster rate than any country in the G8 since the start of the recession five years ago.
Indeed, out of the countries that make up the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), only Spain and Greece have higher rates of youth unemployment than the UK (currently standing at about 1m). Youth unemployment here in the UK among 15 to 24 year olds increased by a staggering 35 per cent between 2008 and 2011, compared to an average of 15 per cent in the G8 countries (ie Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and USA). The politicians should hang their heads in shame for failing young people so badly, you might say.
According to the Work Foundation report, during the same period youth unemployment decreased in Germany, Russia and Japan, which, said the report’s authors, suggests that youth unemployment problems in the UK couldn’t be attributed entirely to the recession, other factors have clearly played a part.
One of the report’s author, Lizzie Crowley, said: “'The government should focus on those policies that have been shown to work, cherry-picking the best responses from other countries and adapting them to the needs of the UK labour market.”
Many experts see apprenticeships as a useful weapon in the fight against endemic youth unemployment in the UK and elsewhere. The Work Foundation report recommended that the government should do more to encourage larger businesses in particular to sign up to an apprenticeship agreement.
Another report published recently by the Centre for Economics and Business Research claimed that 3.8m people will complete an apprenticeship in the next decade, contributing £3.4bn to the UK economy a year in productivity gains by 2022.
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, said: "This research confirms the economic importance of apprenticeships and sends a clear message that they deliver for employers, individuals and the economy. I want to see more small and medium-sized businesses reap the benefits of apprenticeships, which is why we have introduced a £1,500 incentive for SMEs who take on a young person.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said apprentices were “vital to Great British business”. He continued: “They are at the heart of our drive to provide employers with people who have the skills needed for their businesses to prosper and compete, often in a global market.”
This week, National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) 2013 is taking place. According to the National Apprenticeship Service, which organises NAW: “Apprenticeships deliver real returns, helping [you] to improve productivity and be more competitive. Training apprentices can also be more cost-effective than hiring skilled staff, leading to lower overall training and recruitment costs.
"Apprenticeships deliver skills designed around your business needs, providing the skilled workers you need for the future. They also help you develop the specialist skills you need to keep pace with the latest technology and working practices in your sector.”
Although many employers choose to pay more, the National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £2.65 per hour, making them an affordable option for many firms. There are even grants available to some employers. Maybe it’s time your business joined the fight against youth unemployment and took on an apprentice. Looks like the politicians need all the help they can get.
The light bulb went off for me when I read Marketing 3.0 by Kottler. For a brand to be authentic there needs to be full alignment with the culture in the organisation. HR is the new marketing.
Almost as an extension of that is the increasing belief that passion is the ‘X-factor’ in culture. My friend, colleague and business partner Yanky Fachler wrote about the need for “fire in the belly” ten years ago. Since then books such as Mavericks At Work, Poke the Box and The Thank You Economy all agree that passion can and should be the driving force for your business. Their argument is that in a world where everything is commoditised and similar, the only way to differentiate yourself is with your passion.
Since Marketing 3.0, Bookbuzz has covered a wide range of books in the HR and marketing space all touching on that subject. They include:
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk really hit it home for me. He would go as far to say that the next battleground for business after e-commerce and technology will be culture. The book is about extreme customer care (similar to “delivering happiness” and how to use social media. What do you think he thinks is most important for businesses, customers or staff? Giving his obsession with customer care you would suspect he would maintain that the customers are most important. Nope, he is adamant that your focus should be on your staff.
And he takes a leaf out of Why work sucks and how to fix it and applies ROWE (the results only work environment) approach. No rules; treat staff as adults. He talks about the need for a Chief Culture Officer, which is not to be confused with the Chief Curiosity Office that Little Bets and Egonomics would suggest. What else does he say?
As a start-up and as a small business, “culture as the new battle ground” is good news. This is where you can compete with big business. They can’t beat you on culture. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you read Killing Giants.
In the latest installment of Marcela from Rico Mexican Kitchen's startup story, she employs her first member of staff and decides how best to distribute the everyday responsibilities.
Marcela was advised that her new employee would be extremely important to her business so she wanted to find someone she could trust and who could take on some of the responsibilities to allow her to concentrate on making Rico Mexican Kitchen a success. Having found that employee, can they find the right balance between friendship and work relationship?
With her new employee in place, they created a mind map to help them list all of the jobs that need to be done, who will be responsible for what and how they can support each other.
Do you have any advice for Marcela on her new employee and how having him around may affect her and the business? How can she ensure she is aware of what needs to be done at all times? How much input should she have in the work done by her employee now that they have split their responsibilities?
You can find out more about Marcela on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
I dread appraisals. I sit through every one clenched and sweating, convinced I’ve cost the company gazillions in lost business and waiting for my boss to tell me to clear my desk and get out. I expect I have a face like a frightened deer. I also expect my boss thinks I have some sort of nervous disorder (I probably do).
In fact, I usually leave the room feeling fairly chipper. I’m lucky enough to work for a company that uses appraisals to give a fair review, set realistic objectives and listen to what I have to say about the business. Which is as it should be, right?
It seems I’m one of the lucky ones. An Investors in People survey revealed this week that almost one in three (29%) UK employees believe appraisals are a waste of time, and just under a quarter (23%) think their boss sees an appraisal as nothing more than a bureaucratic exercise.
This is a shame, because no matter how much I dread my appraisal I appreciate its value. But it gets worse. The research implies that the UK’s small businesses don’t particularly care about appraisals, with only slightly more than half (54%) even bothering to offer them to staff. This compares with four in five (81%) bigger businesses.
It’s easy to take figures like these and use them to create a picture of an army of hard-nosed small business owners shouting “Stop whingeing and get on with it!” every time an employee has the cheek to express a smidgeon of dissatisfaction. But I don’t believe this for a second. In fact, I’m willing to bet that most of the people who think their appraisal is a waste of time work for bigger businesses, not smaller ones.
The reason I think this is something the big boss at our company, BHP, said to me this week. I was picking his brains for an article on staff retention and he suddenly leant forward, fixed me with a rueful gaze and declared, “The problem is, Simon, that as soon as you get to ten employees you stop having personal relationships with them. You have to introduce systems.”
He’s right. As businesses grow, the gap between the boss and the people at the other end of the chain also grows until, eventually, they don’t know each other at all, and everybody matters just a little bit less. So you need appraisals, to keep tabs on everyone – and, sometimes, just to give the impression that you care. At this point they can become a waste of time.
In a smaller business, the boss has more far more opportunity to find out what makes their staff tick, what they want to achieve, how they’re getting on with the job. Bosses who take the time to get to know their staff may not feel the need to conduct an appraisal every year or every quarter; they’re already doing it, every day. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t conduct formal appraisals; but it does mean that when they do their appraisals are far more likely to have value, simply because they care.