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Blog posts tagged teamwork

The Apprentice: The Stuart Baggs show

November 18, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the seventh episode? Catch up here:

The task

The cars are coming to take the candidates to Pinewood Studios. Joanna has vaguely heard of the world-famous film studios where Harry Potter and the James Bond movies are made and hazards a guess, “I’m sure it’s a furniture store.” Standing in front of the biggest blue screen in Europe, Lord Sugar explains that the two teams have to create and sell virtual experience DVDs to shoppers at Westfield Shopping centre. This involves making a background action movie, buying props, filming people in front of a screen and flogging the DVDs.

The best bits

It was the Stuart Baggs show last night. Project leader for Apollo, Stuart was so bad, he was good. There were definite shades of David Brent. The team selected motor-racing for the backdrop which allowed Stuart to race around Brands Hatch and utter the immortal line, “I have to rein in my own extreme masculinity in this task.” Stuart’s leadership style was horrendous. He talked over everyone, made quick bad decisions, took a dramatic u-turn when he realized his mistake and then took the credit for the new strategy. At one point he says, “I think we made good decisions under quite a lot of pressure.” Guess who provided the pressure? Best of all, he kept trying to score points against Stella in a game of “how many different ways are there to say, ‘I’m brilliant and you’re useless.’” Stella simply batted him away like an annoying fly.

The worst bits

Synergy, meanwhile, was lead by Sandeesh, who was trying to assert herself and shake off Lord Sugar’s accusation that she does “naff all”. She did try, bless her, but was undermined by Jamie, who was unhappy with his role as errand boy.

Both teams displayed a very cavalier attitude to pricing. Apollo started selling the DVDs for £10 but as sales took off they decided to up the price to £15, leaving customers distinctly unamused. Over on Synergy, the team dropped the price early on and sold the DVDs too cheaply.

The winners and losers

Neither team did brilliantly but Apollo scraped a win. It’s worth watching Stuart Baggs’ hilarious reaction to winning, puffing himself up and only just stopping himself from punching the air and shouting “come on”. Ooh the masculinity! And so Synergy lost and it was left to Sandeesh to bring two team members back into the boardroom. To say she doesn’t have the killer instinct is putting it mildly. She has been the sacrificial lamb enough times, but for some reason she lets Jamie off the hook and selects the two strongest members of her team, Chris and Liz. Why, Sandeesh, why? It doesn’t take Lord Sugar long to point the finger. Sandeesh, you’re fired.

The ones to watch

Stella continues to shine like the star that she is. I’m ready to put money on her to win. But let’s hope Stuart Baggs hangs on for a few more weeks to keep us entertained and to make the saner contestants look good.

Quote of the week

“Stuart’s leadership style leaves me trembling with irritation. Who does he think he is.” Nick Hewer.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

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Managing the business brand

June 28, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

I have found that as an entrepreneur, it’s essential to recognise what I’m good at, my weaknesses and some gaps in my current business. I have really enjoyed reading Rachel Elnaugh’s comments to all three fishbowl businesses, because it really strikes a chord.

For example, her advice to Matt at Fishbowl 1 is about the cycles of a business, the ups and downs. She says “...feeling real joy for running your business - no matter what is happening – is the best way to keep your energy high and to stay positive”. I have no problem with this myself, not yet anyway, I do love Monday mornings- in fact, there are no Monday mornings for me, because I can’t remember the last Sunday I didn’t work, at least a few hours.  It’s that endless motivation and passion and belief in what you are doing that will keep on going when the going is tough.

Rachel’s advice to me is about branding and brand execution, which I totally agree with. However, not a visual person myself at all, I need to work closely with people who are, and who have experience in branding. This is where the team player bit comes...

I have met two other people who have much more experience than me in running a business but we have very strong common goals. It’s, as one of them put it, when 1+1+1 can add up to 10. One of them is very strong on the supply chain, the other is a celebrity chef very much into Mexican food and understands the cuisine as well as I do. It sounds great, but trying to meet and make important decisions with two other people is so complicated and it can take such a long time. We are working on the branding at the moment, but the process is complex and I’m finding this stressful... Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about keeping everyone happy, but it’s important that everyone is on board.

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How to keep in touch with customers in the startup stage

May 17, 2010 by Tim Fouracre

Starting a business for the first time is undoubtedly one of the most exciting things you can do (if you enjoy business!). However there comes a point where customer demands can weigh on your ability to progress. Here are five tips on how to keep your customers happy during the start up stages.

1. Be honest
Some business owners feel that they have to present their company as bigger than it is, which can lead to customers placing greater expectations in terms of support and business development. It would be better to be honest with your customers and for you to tell them exactly how big your business is, if not understate your size. This is not suggesting that you slack on customer service. As a customer, if you know the size of the business you would rather be told that your problem will be dealt with tomorrow and then have the issue dealt with well, rather than the issue being sorted today and receiving a half hearted response. Having a set policy (see point number two) to customer support will make customers used to what to expect, it could be argued reliability is more important than punctuality and if done right it can buy you time.

2. Have customer service processes in place
Having a process (between yourself and however many employees) in place allows you to know what to do when an issue is raised. An example could be a customer calls and has a problem, the query is logged and then the customer is told how long it will be before they receive an answer based on number of problems in front. If the issue is an emergency/urgent (this can be difficult to distinguish as some customers may claim it is urgent, but in the grand scheme of things their query can wait) being able to fast track it will be important. It can be hard when customers get angry at you, however as long as you communicate why their query is taking a while to resolve then at least they will not feel left out in the cold.

3. Get your hands dirty
Despite point number one, it is important that you get involved in sorting out customer queries, even if you happen to have raised enough money to employ someone to handle customer support. Following this rule will also allow you to have a feel for your customers' needs plus it will allow you to identify your earliest customers. That sort of recognition towards a customer from a CEO or MD is greatly appreciated. How can you make sure that you keep your original customers close? Consider having a separate email address for them (even if it is not you responding to their queries). A phone line could be going a step too far as you don't want to be held back from the day to day running of the business.

4. Have a time to shut off
Have a time to shut off from customer problems so you can focus on another area of the business each day. It all comes back to the principle of focus, if you can break your day up into focused segments you will get each segment done better than if you try to multi task by doing a little bit of everything. Read this post on how to become a better mono tasker.

5. Listen, don't ignore
Always listen and never ignore the customer. Even if you do not feel that the customer is right or cannot act on what they have said this instant, by listening to them you will be aware of the issues that your customers are raising. If you simply shut out your customers in pursuit of growth you could end up with a backlash that brings about your downfall. Little and often should prevent customer enquires becoming overwhelming in the start up stages, it's a better approach than letting them mothball and ultimately build into an uglier beast. If you have been abiding by point three you will be able to prioritise your customers and keep the major ones happy.

Nick Braithwaite, Clear Books Small Business Accounting Software

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Managing my business finances

May 17, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

Entrepreneurship is all about making things happen and turning ideas into a profitable business. However, it’s impossible to have all the skills and attributes in one single individual- no matter how motivated or how working one can be, to turn an idea into a long-term profitable proposition requires a team of people who complement each other.

I realised a while ago that I could do with bringing into the team someone who has the skill sets to help me really get the numbers behind the forecasts right, and to help me negotiate with banks, funders and other possible stake holders. Someone who can help me turn the forecasts into a reality; in other words, an experienced, trustworthy financial director.

It was time for me to call in the experts. I came across an organisation which offers the services of a “virtual” or part-time FD who will work with a company for a minimum of 1-2 days per month and helps with all the financial strategic stuff. I met with the regional director of that organisation and my FD-to-be if we will take things further. It was a pleasant, purposeful meeting, and I felt I could trust the guy. They call it the “barbecue test”, in other words, would you invite the person to a barbecue. We will go to the next step and meet for a full day to discuss the business past, present, future and financial strategy.

I think this model will be the affordable way to bring an experienced helping hand to complement my winning team and turn my proposition into a reality.

You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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Allegra McEvedy MBE: The celebrated anti-celebrity

November 24, 2009 by Kate Horstead

There was much to be inspired by at the 2009 National everywoman Conference last Wednesday, but the thing that jolted most of us into unprecedented awe was an animated speech from Allegra McEvedy MBE, founder of healthy fast-food restaurant chain Leon.

McEvedy, instantly deriding the term ‘celebrity chef’, launched into a condensed story of her life, endearing us with her account of a somewhat rebellious and directionless youth marred by the death of her mother, which she spoke of frankly and without self-pity. This was followed by some time gaining experience in the restaurant industry, a stint in the United States, and some botched attempts at setting up a successful business, before finally finding success, fame and, most importantly, happiness, in the much-lauded Leon.

What we like about Allegra is her ‘real-ness’, despite the professional success, despite the MBE, and despite the Observer Food Monthly Award that she was afforded just months after opening Leon. She is warm, funny, full of life, and doesn’t seem to see herself as anything special. To most of the delegates, though, keen to make a success of their own businesses, she is pretty darn special and has an awful lot to teach them.

McEvedy reminds us that it is fine to be human and to make mistakes, in both our personal and professional lives, and that our achievements will be better for it. Openly and with humour, she puts forward the view that a successful entrepreneur is someone who has trialled and erred, and picked herself or himself back up again when things have truly hit rock bottom. Although no longer strictly an entrepreneur herself — McEvedy gave up her role in early 2009 to focus on writing and media work — she was keen to pass on her pearls of wisdom to the entrepreneurs in front of her.

Leaving the stage to a tumultuous round of applause, McEvedy left us with these top business tips to consider:

  • Remember: Graft is good
  • Take a chance to do something different
  • Know your business from the bottom up
  • Don’t ask anyone to do anything that you wouldn’t do yourself
  • Don’t disconnect from your own business
  • Build a great team
  • It’s the hard times that define you
  • Don’t over-commit
  • Trust your instincts
  • Take some time out
  • Enjoy yourself

Do you agree with these tips? What would your top tips for start-ups be?

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