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What difference does a good headshot make anyway?

August 20, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

We’ve been creating a lot of blogs for people recently, and I often must sound like a broken record in briefing meetings due to my insistence that bloggers work with a good photographer to get a professional headshot.

I can’t tell you the difference it makes.

Let’s start with the presumption that a good headshot will make you look your most attractive, professional and approachable. By attractive I don’t mean sleazy or sexy or like you’ve just stepped off a boudoir shot. I’m talking about a photograph that strokes your ego and makes you proud. But it also needs to look like you.

Before I met Matt Pereira my headshot was a picture I’d had taken in a studio in Birmingham several years before. I was one of the female entrepreneurs invited to take part in a cover shoot for a franchise magazine. They had hired a make-up artist and after several hours (I kid you not) primping and preening, we were wheeled out into the studio where we were draped over a chaise longue . To get us used to the camera, the photographer initially took headshots of us on a bar stool. I looked attractive but nothing like myself. I limped on with this photograph for several years but I had to laugh when I met the lovely Shelley van Lit from the Elmbridge magazine at an Elmbridge Women in Business event I was speaking at. Shelley said to me “I’ve been looking at your website today, I wanted to meet you. You look nothing like your photo! I wouldn’t have recognised you if you hadn’t introduced yourself”. That was me told.

Fortunately a couple of weeks later, I had the most gorgeous shots taken by Matt and I’ve never looked back. Like I said, a good photographer will take photos of you that actually look like you. But they’ll be of your best self. He or she will capture the essence of you and present you as someone people want to get to know. A good social media photograph has got to be engaging and approachable. And so that means eyes to camera, smiling and saving those sexy pouts for the boudoir shoots.

And a good headshot isn’t just about helping you appear more engaging in your social media profile. It’ll also help your website and blog appear more attractive.

So next time you think you’ll just upload that holiday snap from two years ago, think again. Find a great photographer and get some professional headshots done. It will pay dividends.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing

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Will you be at Sage World?

August 19, 2010 by Rory MccGwire

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the forthcoming Sage World event on 8-9 September.

For my part, I will be chatting about a question that has fascinated me ever since my first ‘proper job’ as an investment controller at the venture capital company 3i: What simple principles and tactics make business success easier? Or, put another way, what things allow you to survive the tricky first stage of business growth, so you can then have the time to build a truly successful business?

I’ve been discussing this topic with audiences for over ten years. It is a subject that never loses its excitement, because starting a business is never anything less than exciting for the people doing it. I come out of these sessions buzzing with enthusiasm and wanting to spend a couple of hours with each of the people who come and talk to me about their businesses straight after the session. I think it helps enormously that I started my own business as a one-man-band and I’ve continued to grow the company with no outside investment — in other words I am like 99% of the people in the audience.

Sage is one of a handful of mega-success stories in British business over the last 25 years and I’m pleased to see that Sage World is trying to do something different from the usual business event, by using their ‘interactive delegate technology’.

So there will be lots of demonstrations of the software tools you can use to get your business idea off the ground. If you’ve already established your business, then you’ll find plenty of ideas to help you build on that foundation and meet the technical challenges that small firms face in the modern business climate: finance, HR, sales, marketing, and so on.

Sage World also offers a tremendous opportunity for you to build useful contacts. Networking is about meeting the right people, making the right connections and tracking them during and after an event. So I’m dying to try out Sage’s Spotme electronic networking device - I’m sure this will really help me find and talk to the people that matter to me.

I’m sure it’ll help you, too. So please do track me on Spotme, come and say hello and make the time to hear the presentation.

Sage World is a free two-day event in September for anyone starting or growing a business.

Rory MccGwire, BHP Information Solutions

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Five tips on how to make the most of a business break

August 17, 2010 by Emma Jones

When you start and grow a business, you’re involved each day in the detail of running the business; perfecting customer service, ensuring positive cashflow, making new products and so on. This is all good and right but to plan for business growth, it’s important to step away from day-to-day affairs and take a good look at the business from a distance.

Years ago someone told me the story of a successful business owner who, once a year, would pack his bags, leave the family home, and head off to spend a week alone with the business plan. I’ve emulated this ever since and every year I think it’s time well spent. Freshly back from this year’s break, here are my five tips on how you can reap rewards from taking a business break.  

1 Head to a place that stimulates the senses

This place doesn’t have to be far from home but it’s important you travel to it as the journey itself gives a sense of separation. As the car drives away/train pulls out/plane takes off, you positively feel yourself moving farther from the detail of the business and heading towards a space and place that will help you focus on ‘the bigger picture.’ Ideally, choose a place with dramatic scenery; open seas, rolling hills, tall skyscrapers; essentially you’re looking for a landscape that’s different to the one you’re used to as this will stimulate the imagination and create the perfect setting for planning.

2 Get settled

You’re in the setting and a new place, get yourself accustomed to it; take a walk, have a drink, allow your mind to wander and people watch! Feel yourself starting to relax? Good. You’re in the right frame of mind to start planning!  

3 Ask yourself two questions

How has the business performed over the past six months/year and where do you want to take the business in the next six to 12 months. Write down your thoughts... on napkins... in a notebook... on your phone... whatever is closest to hand. Be ambitious in your goals and make the most of being in a place that’s encouraging you to plan for your dream business.

4 Don’t rush it

It’s likely you will come up with a new idea for the business in a ‘eureka’ moment of "Ah! Why didn’t I think of that before!" – allow time for this moment to come. You’ve certainly created the right conditions for innovation as your brain is finely tuned on the business and not distracted by detail.

5 And now for action

Possibly the most important point of all. Take your notes, head home, and get started on turning plans into reality!  

Business breaks don’t have to be a full week or far away. What’s important is to place yourself in conducive surroundings. I do this alone, as did the man I emulate, but you may choose to go with a business partner or friend so you can vocalise your thoughts. Go with what works for you and know that taking time out may seem like an extravagance, but it will pay dividends.

Emma Jones is founder of Enterprise Nation, a business expert, and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up’ and ‘Working 5 to 9’

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Complaints are like gold dust

August 13, 2010 by Chris Barling

Complaints are great. Although there is a tendency to do the same with complaints as with a medieval runner bringing bad news from the battlefield – blame the messenger – this temptation must be avoided at all costs. Complaints are the best and most unvarnished source of customer feedback. That’s when they are read in the raw, uncorrupted by staff editing, “summarisation” or by any other subtle bias from your customer surveys.

It’s much better to hear from a customer, and have the chance to fix things, than for them to bad mouth you behind your back, or even worse, broadcast your failings for others to hear. A customer who has been able to complain, and feels that the complaint has been taken seriously has already reached the first base in changing their feelings about your organisation. They are then much less likely to spread their complaints more widely.

Customer complaints highlight problems with people or processes, often way before other indicators show red. You can then fix them before they cause too much trouble. It’s all too easy to glide blithely along while significant problems are developing, with no recognition at management level. Complaints help to shatter the peace, for the better.

If you don’t already have a customer feedback facility on your website, consider introducing one. Ideally hosted by a third party so people know that the comments are authentic. You’ll get positive and negative input, and make sure you respond to the latter saying how you’ve tackled the issue.

Research has shown that customers with issues that are resolved quickly often become very loyal, which is good for all involved and often helps boost the bottom line. In other words, listening and fixing complaints creates better customers, and better customers are more profitable.

Chris Barling is Chairman of ecommerce software supplier SellerDeck

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Secrets of growing your business from the kitchen

August 11, 2010 by Antonia Chitty

If you have a home business, how can you run it in an effective way, maximise your results and allow the enterprise to grow? Here are some tips on breaking through the barriers that could be holding your business back.

If you look at your business right now, who is involved in running it? What would happen if you took a day off, wanted a week away or were unexpectedly ill for several weeks? If you want to build a business income that your family can depend on it is important that the business does not just depend on you.

Do you ever feel the pressure of running your business is overwhelming? You can be required to cope with selecting new products or developing new services, pick and packing, promotion, marketing and accounts as well as being your own receptionist and tea lady.

There is a way to both make sure that your business can run without you AND ensure that the money continues to come in whether you are there or not:

Build a team for your business

Look at all the functions in your business. Make a list right now of all the things that you do. You might want to include:

  • Website management
  • Marketing through social media, blogging, newsletters
  • Public relations
  • Picking and packing
  • Arranging couriers or taking parcels to the post office
  • Customer services – answering queries by phone or email
  • Bookkeeping and end of year accounts and tax return

When you’ve made your list, put a tick by the things that you like doing and feel that you are good at. Then look at the other areas. Which one would you be really pleased to get off your hands? Who could help you with this? You might need the help of a:

  • Bookkeeper
  • Accountant
  • Lawyer
  • Public relations specialist
  • Marketer
  • Website manager

A virtual assistant can do many things for your business and different assistants have different areas of expertise. Some may be able to create emails and newsletters for you and upload items to your website. Others may offer call handling and be able to answer simple customer queries for you.

Or you might need someone local who can come in on an occasional and part time basis to help with packing and dispatch.

Having got this far, is there a little voice inside your head saying: “But my business can’t afford more help”? If so, push it aside for a moment or two. Think how much more effectively you could work on the tasks that you have a natural talent for if this one task or area of work was taken off your hands. Could you do more work to generate sales that would then pay for the support? Are there tasks that just aren’t getting done that are holding the business back? Getting extra specialist support could help you take the business to a new level.

Think about this over the next few days. Work out how much you would have to increase sales in order to pay for help – and conversely estimate how much sales are being held back because of the things you aren’t able to do or can’t do quickly and efficiently.

Build your network of support for your business and it can really allow your business to take off. Network on and offline and ask for recommendations to help you find your essential support people.

Be clear about the tasks you want to delegate. If you are nervous start by passing on small tasks and build up as your confidence grows. Develop ongoing relationships and set up systems that work and you will get to the stage where your business can succeed even when you aren’t there.

Antonia Chitty of Family Friendly Working

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Taking Mexican food to the masses

August 09, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

I have heard time and again that a business like mine needs a face. Well, the worrying thing is...whose face would it be? I guess it would have to be mine!

Now that I’m breaking even and orders are steadily increasing, I need to look at how I can promote the message that I want to shout about: about how amazing Mexican food is. I don’t want to preach about it, I just want to share recipes, mouth-watering ideas for creating food and drink to impress your friends, and a bit of the history and the nutritional properties.

And there is some absolutely fantastic news for the cuisine: UNESCO, the branch of the United Nations that is best known for its list of World Heritage Sites, has just awarded the Mexican cuisine the very prestigious status of “intangible cultural patrimony” along with Chinese cuisine. The French cuisine has been turned down twice.

The superior methods and ingredients used to prepare traditional food such as Mole sauce tamales and salsas are a sharp contrast with the processed cheese and sour cream-covered nachos and cardboard-like hard-shell tacos that many people outside the country typically confuse as Mexican food. I would love to inspire foodies to try a variety of new recipes and ingredients.

Not being such an internet whiz, I will need lots of advice to use the internet era to inspire the foodies who want to try new things. Your suggestions will be welcome.

  • Add your ideas for Marcela to the comments section.

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

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