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Protecting your printer warranty

December 21, 2010 by Matt Bird

Hardware warranties play a massive role in minimising early start-up expenditure. They provide not just after-sales value, but also security against future unexpected costs.

A 2009 survey conducted by Lexmark (State of Printing) suggested that 78 per cent of customers expected to have to replace their printer within five years. Printer manufacturers have attempted to assuage these consumer fears by providing guarantees lasting up to five years for most popular printers (excluding budget sub-£50 machines).

It stands to reason that you are going to want to protect this, so you’ll need to know how the terms of your warranty are affected.

Your warranty will typically be void if:

  • damage is caused by you attempting to repair a hardware fault yourself
  • modification of the hardware
  • use of the product in unsuitable environment (eg very hot, sub-zero or dusty conditions)
  • acts of God or nature
  • unreasonable print volumes for the printer in question.

Although it is slightly annoying to know my Oki isn’t covered for lightning bolts or flash floods, these are nonetheless reasonable terms. However, there is one area of huge controversy that can affect your warranty – using third party printer consumables

Third party cartridges, as feared by the vast majority of customers, can have implications for your warranty, wholly dependent on the stage of the warranty you are in.

Standard warranty

Standard warranty typically covers the first year’s performance of your printer (or a high volume number of prints stated in the warranty conditions, whichever occurs first). It is illegal for a manufacturer to void this standard warranty because of third party cartridges. Rest assured, they’ll try to tell you they can, but you’re protected by this piece of legislation:

Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act Chapter 50 – Section 2302
(c) No warrantor of a consumer product may condition his written or implied warranty of such product on the consumer's using, in connection with such product, any article or service (other than article or service provided without charge under the terms of the warranty) which is identified by brand, trade or corporate name; except that the prohibition of this subsection be waived by the commission if:

  1. The warrantor satisfies the Commission that the warranted product will function properly only if the article or service so identified is used in connection with the warranted product, and
  2. the Commission finds that such a waiver is in the public interest.

Extended warranties

Typically requiring registration with the manufacturer to activate, it is hazy at present whether these optional, manufacturer-provided, warranty extensions are exempt from the aforementioned Act. Do not be surprised if legislation soon moves to block this common practice by making the Act clearer.

This is unavoidable and places even more importance on the retailers from whom you source consumables. Always check for evidence of quality testing, performance guarantees and testimonials on customer service before buying. You are paying money in a highly competitive environment; these should be provided as standard.

Ultimately, third-party cartridges should be perfectly reliable (it’s so rare I have only encountered it once in the past year) you just need to be careful shoppers.

Working towards better warranties

At my company, Stinkyink.com, we are in contact with manufacturers for explanation of how they can legally enforce this, and we will get back with their response if they ever do provide a straight answer.

Have you had a bad experience with a manufacturers terms and conditions? Post below and see if anyone else has not only gone through the same thing, but if they have suggestions to help.

Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk

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The Apprentice: the final

December 20, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the final episode? Catch up here.

The task

Stella and Chris have made it to the final and they have one last task to complete — to create a new premium alcoholic drink brand, film a commercial and pitch it to industry bigwigs at a swanky do at the Hurlingham Club.

It’s a tough challenge. So it’s lucky, then, that Lord Sugar has invited back a few of the contestants to help them out.

Or is it? Stella is all smiles. “I’m so glad to have you all back,” she tells her team. Chris is not quite so welcoming — “I’m willing to work with you again,” he says as their first meeting kicks off.

So how do they fare?

Chris Bates

The proposition: A rum-based drink designed to appeal to young professionals that enjoy cocktails such as Mojitos.

The name: Prism

The strap: It reflects every side of you.

The branding: A dramatic three-sided pointy bottle that looks like an over-sized perfume bottle.

The taste: Three ingredients — rum, pomegranate and aromatic bitters.

The colour: Pink.

The advertisement: Three people walk into a bar. It sounds like a joke — sadly it is!

The pitch: Chris works hard to liven up his droning voice. Jamie coaches him and promises to give his delivery va va voom. It works.

Stella English

The proposition: A modern bourbon drink aimed at young professionals

The name: A last minute stroke of genius from Stella — Urbon

The strap: Urbon — the new way to drink Bourbon.

The branding: A tall, slim bottle redolent of a supermarket oil or vinegar bottle from the Christmas gift aisle. 

The taste: At the lab, Shibby gives an involuntary shudder after he tastes it but decides to go with it anyway. Lord Sugar calls it “pungent”. Stella admits that it is “over-spiced”.

The colour: Amber.

The advertisement: Two guys and two girls in a cool bar. The girls persuade the boys to try Urbon. To be honest, they don’t look convinced. Cheesy.

The pitch: Polished and with some surprising off-the-cuff humour. When one expert questions whether rural consumers will buy it, Stella says, “I’m hoping to move out to the country if this goes well” and gets a big laugh.

The verdict from the experts

Prism: Good name, clever concept, great bottle, hideous colour, poor ad.

Urbon: Great name, clever concept, dodgy bottle, horrible taste, poor ad.

But who cares about the drinks? It’s the people that count.

Stella: Meticulous, experienced, well-liked, a good leader, cool as a cucumber, impressive career progression.

Chris: Incredibly articulate, intelligent, calm under pressure, voice like a low-flying bomber, inexperienced.

The verdict?

Stella wins. But Lord Sugar predicts a bright future for Chris.

Quote of the week

“I didn’t come here to win the competition. I don’t care about that. I came to get the job and I think you’d be mad not to employ me.” Stella to Lord Sugar shortly before he hires her.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Search engine optimisation – should I outsource?

December 20, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

Last Friday I was approached by a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist, guaranteeing me page one positioning for my chosen key phrase within six months. They carried out a free SEO audit, the result of which has set my mind in some level of turmoil and has actually made me realise how much work I have to do.

Although the audit did not provide intricate details of what should be done – well, it wouldn't, it was free! – it highlighted the areas where improvements were necessary. The auditors, with their long list of blue chip clients, were asking me to commit to a 12-month contract for several hundreds of pounds each month, to guarantee me page one positioning.

At this time, that level of commitment and financial outlay is not realistic for my business, Mama Jewels, but I definitely need to do something and I’m wondering how much of this I can do myself?

Do I need to be highly technical and fully understand the complexities of Google or can I manage for now doing this in-house with the basic knowledge I already have.

I know I need to obtain good quality back links, but how? The content needs to be keyword rich, how do I do this without going too far? I am aware, but am not sure how often I need to change the content on my site? What else am I not aware of?

Every book I pick up seems to have a different answer, probably because the rules keep changing to keep us on our toes. From the audit, it seems to me that this is something I could do myself, but looking at the monthly charges from the specialist, I’m sure there must be more to it.

So, should I pay for some level of on-going SEO support or is this something I could effectively be doing myself, after all, I have the deepest knowledge of my business and should know what potential customers will be searching for. On the other hand – should I call in an SEO expert?

Amanda Waring, Mama Jewels

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

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The Apprentice: Just two survive the interviews

December 16, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the eleventh episode? Catch up here:

The task

It’s the interview stage. The previous tasks look like a walk in the park compared to a day facing Lord Sugar’s inner circle of business heavies — Margaret Mountford, Viglen CEO Borden Tkachuk, former Amstrad CEO Claude Littner and lawyer Alan Watts.

The candidates put on brave faces but the masks slip pretty fast after the first bruising encounters. To begin with they try to convince their fellow candidates that they have done well as they wait between interviews but as the day wears on, the toughness of the task is written on their faces in sweat and Stuart sums it up by saying, “I feel like I’ve done ten rounds with Mike Tyson”.

How did the candidates perform?

Jamie

Jamie’s attempt at joking on his CV — saying he has a third nipple and then revealing it’s a lie — is derided as “puerile” by Margaret Mountford. His Cyprus-based property business also comes under scrutiny in the interviews. He is accused of playing the blame game — blaming his parents for his poor qualifications and his Cyprus partner for his business failings. He tells Margaret Mountford, “I’m a key cog in a wheel.” She says, “Any wheel?” and he replies, “I am a cog”.

Stuart

Stuart greets Margaret Mountford like an old friend and gets a frosty reception. He tries to convince all the interviewers that he isn’t dishonest even though he has written on his CV that he once told the media a whopping lie — that a rival had gone bust. Worse, he has claimed to have a full telecoms license when in fact he only holds an easy-to-get, inexpensive ISP license.

Claude Littner really goes to town on him. He says, “’I am Stuart Baggs the brand’ — what on earth are you talking about? Don’t tell me what a brand is. You are not a brand.” Later Stuart says he is a big fish in a small pond. Claude responds, “You are not a big fish. You are not even a fish.”

Stella

Stella’s corporate background is still being cited as a drawback. At one point she is accused of being a “glorified PA”. Borden Tkachuk calls her the “admin queen”. But Nick Hewer leaps to her defence calling her “entirely decent” and Karren Brady says, with feeling, “She’s ambitious and there’s nothing wrong with an ambitious woman.”

Chris

Chris is not that long out of university, so he bigs up his academic achievements. This does not go down well at all and you get the impression that Stella’s “I left school at 15 with no qualifications and look where I am today” is impressing the panel far more than a first class honours degree.

Chris also has to deal with accusations that he’s a quitter having dropped out of a law degree to do politics and having left his investment bank job after just nine months.

Joanna

Poor Joanna is like a rabbit in headlights when Borden Tkachuk asks her to tell him about Lord Sugar’s companies. She doesn’t know how to pronounce them, let alone what they do.

Praised for starting a business, she is then criticised for not trying to grow the business. Joanna says “I don’t want to be known as Joanna the Cleaner”. But the panel suggests she should focus on being Joanna, owner of a successful cleaning business.

The losers

Lord Sugar wastes little time in sacking Stuart. He tells him, “I don’t believe a word you say.” And he berates himself for allowing Stuart to come this far.

Jamie, meanwhile, is let down a little more gently — he has “come to the end of the road”.

Finally, Joanna gets high praise from Lord Sugar as he, regretfully, points the finger at her. He says, “You leave here with your head high, You’ve done very very well.”

The finalists

So two bankers — Stella and Chris — have made it to the final. My money is still on Stella.

Quote of the week

“My four advisors, they have said to me you’re full of s**t basically.” Lord Sugar, as he fires Stuart.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

How to deal with negative comments on your blog

December 15, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

Many things hold people back from blogging: fear of writing; fear of weaknesses being exposed; fear of peoples’ reactions to your beliefs. At the top of the list is fear of being ridiculed. How many times have you hit the “publish” button terrified of what people will think or say?

Negative blog comments can destroy the confidence of all but the most experienced blogger – and they can knock the wind out of the sails of the best of us. In all the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve received two of what I would describe as negative comments. That’s out of almost 1,000 comments. I can’t say I’m plagued by negative comments then, but I hope I’ve learnt from my own experiences and that these thoughts are helpful. Here’s my own checklist:

1 What’s the spirit of the comment? Do you sense the commenter is being constructive or are they being downright negative and unconstructive? If unconstructive, hindsight tells me now to simply not publish the comment. Remember: it’s your blog, you are in control! If you don’t want to publish that comment, well – don’t do it.

2 How does the comment sit with you? OK, so they might not be singing your praises, but if it’s said constructively, is likely to spark some debate and you’re happy with it, publish and come back with your own response.

3 Take time to construct an objective, balanced response that addresses the points the commenter has made. Avoid getting personal or emotive!

Most of all, remember that most of us are blogging to win more business. If the comment is untrue and likely to undermine your professionalism – don’t publish it. Let me give you an example.

Some months ago I published a post about a website we’d created for a client. I was pretty excited about it and was enthusing in the post. Reading back I can see that I was probably a bit too excited, which could have been perceived as being cocky. Perhaps I wound the commenter up…

Anyway, he commented to tell me that the site was dreadfully coded for mobiles and a couple of other points. At the time I thought – constructive comments. Let’s publish them and look into them and come back with a measured response. The fact was that on investigation, all of his points were utterly without substance and untrue. We responded and never heard from him again. At the time I felt I was doing the right thing showing that we could take the criticism.

But was it the right thing to do? I’m not sure. The negative commenter had undermined a small part of our credibility, however credible our response. And at the end of the day, this was our blog! A few days later, with the comment still praying on my mind, I unpublished the comment along with my responses to him. And I felt that the world was a better place.

Now I’m not suggesting that there’s not a place for constructive criticism – we actively encourage feedback. But there’s a difference between constructive criticism and unconstructive criticism. Sometimes you need a little time to spot the difference.

Have you heard of ‘trolls’? It’s when someone deliberately leaves an inflammatory comment to cause mayhem. They’re not always easy to spot but when deciding what comment to publish on your blog, remember, not all comments are left in the constructive spirit you might hope.

Finally, remember – you reap what you sow. If you drift around other peoples’ blogs peppering them with negative and unconstructive comments, you can expect the same in return. Take the time to sow some constructive and positive comments and you’ll see the benefits in return.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing

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A Twitter convert living in Marrakech writes…

December 14, 2010 by Andy Robertson

I run Splash Morocco, an adventure company and riad (small B&B) in Marrakech, Morocco. When a colleague told me Twitter was the future for web marketing I rolled my eyes, but I was prepared to hear him out. One year later, after giving it some time and effort, I'm forced to agree with him: Twitter rocks! 

I use social media as a way of attracting clients, building contacts and providing free information to prospective travellers. The cost of using this medium? Absolutely nothing. The benefits? Several thousand pounds worth of bookings and all for the cost of some of my time each day.

I'm lucky that here in Marrakech, there aren't that many other businesses that are Tweeting on a regular basis, so slowly I'm developing into an authority on travel and information in the area. I use TweetDeck and have various search terms set up to allow me to filter through the myriad of information out there and capture the useful data I can directly respond to.

Tweets I love seeing are things like "Just booked my flights to Marrakech - anyone got any tips on things to do?" or "Looking for an adventure in Morocco". With these, I can send a speedy response speaking about the riad or the adventure activities and tours I offer. These vary from white water rafting, canyoning and quads to gentler sightseeing tours of the High Atlas Mountains.

Any business can use this as a method of not only sharing information about their products on the web, but also of directly interacting with their potential clients and even acting as a free information service, building trust and reputation amongst followers who otherwise may have never considered or found your business.

Follow @MarrakechAndy on Twitter

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