A few weeks ago we asked Donut readers on Twitter and Facebook to share with us the best business advice they've ever received. We were really pleased with the response - thank you all for taking part! We have chosen our top three bits of advice, and the winning contributors have each received a box of doughnuts (what else?) as their prize.
Read on to hear what our winners had to say...
This advice is spot on and is not heard often enough. Clients can give you brilliant insights into the market as a whole and what they really want themselves. Employees can give you insights into every aspect of your business. And suppliers can give you suggestions on how to get better value for money from them. A killer question is always “What would you do differently if you were me/us?”
It is no coincidence that this snappy item of advice is a popular mantra: it is so true. Time and time again one sees businesses that spend the whole day every day lurching from one crisis to another. Plans and systems may sound dull, but they are a vital part of success. Likewise, it pays to make time regularly to go and talk to customers and other people who can give you good advice.
Yes, people buy from people. The biggest selling point of any small business is usually YOU: your expertise, your enthusiasm, and the care you give to each and every customer. Buyers are prepared to pay the right price if they believe that you are the right person to buy from. If you cannot charge a sensible price, you are probably in the wrong market in the first place.
Thank you all for your brilliant entries and for taking part. For more pearls of wisdom visit our Donut sites.
Virgin Media hosted what it called its "judges reveal" on Google Hangouts last week for the 2016 Virgin Media Business VOOM awards.
And what a reveal it was. Joining Richard Branson and Virgin Media Business managing director Peter Kelly are top-model-turned-businesswoman Tyra Banks, Spanx founder Sara Blakely and vlogger Marcus Butler.
The Hangout provided a chance for the judges to offer their top tips for pitching success and to reveal what they are looking for in potential winners. Here's what they said:
"The worst thing about pitching is when people repeat themselves. Keep it really short, really to the point. In two or three minutes you should be able to get your idea across. The concept of the elevator pitch is a very sensible one. You get the person’s personality and idea all in the time it takes to get from ground to level 10. My best piece of advice would be my favourite phrase: Screw it, just do it!"
"A lot of investors say they don’t invest in businesses, they invest in people. You have to see that the founder is passionate and aware of the sector that they are going into. They have that vision and won’t stop until they get a yes. There is no such thing as 'this is not possible'.
When pitching, mention things that people know and how you have a new version or combination of that. When I pitched America’s Next Top Model, I described it as a combination of American Idol, a stage show, with Real World, where people live together, but set in the modelling industry. That immediately made people go, 'oh, I get it'."
"Don’t be nervous. If you are passionate about something you can generally talk about it no matter the circumstances. When I am talking about YouTube or healthy eating I find the answers are naturally there. At the same time I want to see entrants come in prepared and knowing what they are talking about. Don’t be scared to receive criticism. You want your idea to grow so put it out there."
"I’ll be looking for someone who has a vision for scale for their particular product or solution. We are looking for companies that want to VOOM and see theirs as a big product or solution with huge potential. I stick with the B’s - have lots of belief, be brave and be bold."
"When pitching make people laugh or smile. I cold-called selling fax machines for seven years before starting Spanx and quickly learned through a lot of rejection that if I could make someone laugh or smile in the first 15 seconds I got another 15 seconds. Trust your gut, start small, think big and scale fast."
Copyright © 2016 Virgin Media Business VOOM 2016
If you're trying to get your business to break through to a whole new level of sales and productivity, then a critical component of that is setting up effective systems.
But in order to create powerful systems that optimise your output, it's vital to understand the three basic layers of systems.
What is your company committed to and how is it moving forwards? What are its values? What are the regulations in your business? What is the culture you want to build? What is the mission you have for this particular system? What determines value in this system?
We have a document that we call the "Rules of the Game" that we use to define our purpose, our goals and our expectations, of both ourselves and our clients.
This document explains the position of employees, any legal positions, any conditions or constraints, our contracts and policies. This should form a foundation that your entire company works from.
Many solicitor firms have templates of this document that are ready for you to use and will offer them for free as a way to encourage you to work with them on an ongoing basis.
There are two aspects here - the process and the procedures.
A process is a set of logically related tasks. So you have an input and an outcome, and everything in between is a process. A process sets out how your company is going to translate your rules and policies (from the first layer) into action.
A procedure is when you step inside a process and start providing detailed instructions on how that process is done at each step. The procedures ensure that the process remains consistent in its output.
Take computer back-ups. The instruction to "back-up the company account file" is a step in the process; the procedure will be a detailed explanation of exactly how to back-up the company account file, such as where to store it and how to name it.
Your tools include all the forms, checklists, guides, templates, standard documents and so on.
For example, in McDonalds's it might be that employees need to ask, "Would you like fries with that?" with a smile. The document that explains this for the employees is the tool. Tools will also include your how-to manuals and videos.
Remember, however, that your tools are not 100% instruction manuals. Every employee will have their own way of delivering the final result. What is important is that your tools cover the systemised routine parts of the job.
Gaining leverage in your business requires these three layers; your team will then be able to follow your systems with a clarity that will ensure much smoother automation within your business, reducing the need for your constant intervention.
Whatever the shop floor means to your business, when you started your company, you probably spent 90% of your time on it. As your business grows, the balance needs to shift; you should be spending more than 50% of your time on managing the company, not just working in it.
Your sense of ownership will be huge, and that may be an excuse to keep doing things yourself - but you must stop. You have to learn to work on your business, not in it.
To work on your organisation, you'll need to train yourself to spot a few things. Here's what to look out for:
Remember that people need to understand and buy in to the reasons for doing things in a certain way - and you need to learn how to help your staff do it.
Take the example of customer service. We've all received calls from call centre staff; how many of them sound like they're reading from a script? This is because a particular way of making calls worked for someone, and that method has been passed on - regardless of whether it's a good fit or not for everyone. Just because something works well for you, doesn't mean it will work for the people you employ.
Speak to your team. Instead of telling them how to do something, tell them what you want to achieve. Together you will come up with a variety of ways of achieving the original outcome. They'll feel empowered. And you won't need to watch them like a hawk.
This year, thousands of SMEs will reach their staging date and begin the process of auto-enrolment. Although it is a topic that is now on most small business owners' radar, it seems that many businesses are still unprepared or unaware of the changes afoot.
The Pensions Regulator has revealed that it issued 2,596 warning letters in Q4 2015 - roughly 28 warning letters a day - to those businesses who have failed to enrol their staff on a Government pension scheme.
This is supported by our research, which shows that 40% of micro-businesses are not aware that auto-enrolment will cost anything to set up. But when told it could cost up to £8,900 to implement, 34% admitted they would consider offsetting the financial implications from auto-enrolment and the increased contribution into staff pension pots by capping staff salaries and/or bonuses; with 19% claiming they would have to reduce employee benefits as a result.
Auto-enrolment will affect almost every person across the UK in some way, so it is worrying that micro-businesses aren't fully aware of the investments they need to make. Not only do they need to ensure they're compliant with their staging date, but they must be ready for the ongoing impact that workplace pensions will have on their employees and business.
To ensure employees are not negatively affected by auto-enrolment, business owners need to fully understand what processes need to be in place ahead of their staging date. Key to this is gathering staff information, such as pension percentage contribution and calculating the costs of implementing auto-enrolment.
All too often, small business owners and entrepreneurs ignore or simply don't have enough time to get clued up on the Government legislation that will affect them, and they end up paying a price down the line.
While it may seem daunting, there are a lot of resources available to help businesses navigate auto-enrolment and ease the administrative task. An accountant can also advise on critical business decisions to get finances in order and prepare employers to make contributions each month into their employees' pension scheme.
Additionally, small businesses should ensure that they have the right tools in place to assist in setting up the auto-enrolment process. Cloud software is available that will remind owners when to complete certain tasks in order to remain compliant, and will also help navigate the challenges of what to pay and when.
Armed with the right information and third party support, SMEs can stay ahead of the workplace pensions curve, remain compliant and avoid some of the unnecessary costs that some businesses are experiencing.
Copyright © 2016 Rich Preece, Europe vp and managing director at Intuit QuickBooks.
Becoming your own boss, being completely independent and having the freedom to make your own entrepreneurial mark on the world has huge appeal. But making the decision to start a small business and then evolve it comes with its own particular set of professional challenges. Here are five key tips for success in a competitive world.
One of the most important questions you'll be asked as an entrepreneur is "why?". People will buy into your reason for starting your business; it's your story. As well as your product or services, define your reason for starting up from the offset - if your "why" is strong, so is your proposition.
As well as creating new opportunities for your fledgling business, networking is excellent for personal growth. Whether you're picking up marketing tips from a seasoned pro or accessing support on improving the health of your cashflow, constantly connecting with a stream of fresh faces is essential to help develop your business and your own skills.
Always keep your eye on the space for growth and exploration. If you notice that something in your business strategy works well, use it as a point from which to diversify and expand further.
The most successful people in business are those who never stop learning from their experiences. Make it your quest to learn something different about your sector, make a new contact or identify an interesting opportunity every week. Also, keep an open mind. Never close yourself off to an idea - it could be the one that changes your future.
If you're full of excellent ideas but capital is an issue, crowdfunding could be a great option. The projects that do well on crowdfunding sites are those that benefit the wider community, as well as the business or individual behind them.
By taking time to take on board these entrepreneurial tips and boosting your networking opportunities, you're putting the building blocks in place for a more profitable, more rewarding business future.
Sponsored post: copyright © 2016 Staples.