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Best laid plans

July 12, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

After a very busy period planning for a major consumer show at the NEC and other important activities, I was looking forward to a few quieter days in the office, whilst Tony, my production guy come right hand, was fulfilling weekly orders and perfecting the new product to send samples of later on this week.

However... best laid plans. A large order arrived today marked URGENT and I need to drop what I’m doing yet again and come to the rescue.

Customer service vs business strategy

My customers come first. But the stuff I need to do this week is strategic stuff, things that move the business forward. I’m torn and, quite frankly, I’m tired. If I don’t come to the rescue the orders won’t be complete in time and, if I do, then I have to work all hours to do the strategic stuff in the night. And to make matters worse, Tony in production told me ages ago that he needed two days off this week.

You may think that this is partly due to bad planning on the production side and that I should hold stock. However, our products are chilled, with no preservatives, and have a short shelf life (30 days from production), so I need to produce and ship quickly so the distributors and the shops get products with a decent shelf life.

It looks like I’m up until 2am again working for a few days! Oh well, I don’t mind, it’s a super exciting time and being stretched to fulfil orders is a nice problem to have. I just have to make sure I do the strategic stuff as well so that I am working on my business as well as in it!

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

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Are you an entrepreneur, manager or technician?

July 09, 2010 by Martin Johnson

Reading E-Myth by Michael Gerber changed the way I thought about my own business, Big Picture. It helped me decide to change my offering from business consultancy to providing a template that could be packaged up and delivered to established coaches, consultants and accountants.

After much research and development, we’re back thinking about start-ups and how Big Picture can help shape successful businesses. So, getting back to E-Myth, what are key parts that Big Picture and it share, starting with the personalities that are present in any new business?

It’s no coincidence that the three personality types E-Myth describes are easily placed on Big Picture: the Entrepreneur; the Manager; and the Technician. To quote: “While each of these personalities wants to be the boss – none of them wants to have a boss”.

Anyone can start a business, but to build one that actually succeeds you can’t just play the natural role of technician. “Your ‘Entrepreneur’ needs to be coaxed out, nourished, and given the room it needs to expand. Your ‘Manager’ needs to be supported to develop its skill at creating order and translating the entrepreneurial vision”.

For a new business to progress from infancy, through adolescence to maturity, starting with an Entrepreneurial perspective provides the best chance of success... That’s the theory, anyway.

Martin Johnson, Big Picture

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Are you putting all your eggs in one basket?

July 08, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

It’s tempting to think that a website will solve all your marketing problems. Once that new site’s built, the customers will come flooding in. Or will they?

I speak to far too many business owners who have invested (usually not enough) money in having a website built for them. They’re struggling to make ends meet and genuinely can’t understand why their website isn’t generating the enquiries they need. So they chuck a bit more money (again, usually not enough) at someone else to try and fix the problem.

The thing is that I think the problems are usually much deeper. Take a contact I spoke to at the beginning of the week. He’d just had a site built by a company and was frustrated that his site wasn’t being found in the search engines. A quick look at the site told me the problems were greater than just being able to Google him.

The copy was weak. It didn’t show prospective clients how he could help them. Instead he talked first about himself and his business. Secondly, there were no “products” that people could easily “buy”. But crucially, his marketing plan started and ended with his website.

Your website is a piece of the marketing jigsaw. But it’s only a part of it. If you haven’t thought through your offering; if you haven’t created a process for managing and converting your enquiries into clients; if you haven’t identified other ways of spreading the word offline as well as online, then I think you’re going to struggle.

So before you invest all your time, energy and hopes into your website, just think for a minute: do I have a robust marketing plan that will help me win the clients I need? If not, then start looking there first and come to your website when you know what you want it to say.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing

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I blame Simon Cowell

July 06, 2010 by Mark Williams

So the new series of Dragons’ Den starts on 14 July on BBC2. Well, let me tell you where I am… I’m out, if I’m honest.

For those who don’t know – and if my Wikipedia serves me well – this will be the eighth series of the Evan Davis-hosted show, which was first broadcast on 4 January 2005. The Sony-owned format is based on the original Japanese series and it has proved a hit around the world.

Contestants who lack funding, yet believe they have a good business idea, get the chance to present to five successful entrepreneurs (the “Dragons”), in the hope they will invest their money, time and expertise. If contestants don’t raise the money they require from one or more Dragons, they leave empty-handed. In exchange for investment, the Dragons receive equity, the percentage of which is open to negotiation (they usually want much more).

Obviously, part of the Dragons’ role is to expose non-viable ideas and shortcomings (great and small) in the entrepreneurs’ thinking. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. If done properly, it gives someone with a badly thought-out idea the chance to go away and reconsider. Better to save money or not waste any more on an idea that’s doomed to failure.

My problem is – to the great detriment of the show – more recent series of the Dragons’ Den have seen some of the Dragons take ridiculing of the entrepreneurs to new depths. I used to enjoy watching earlier series, but why now is there the need to be so aggressive and insulting – even if ideas aren’t viable? What purpose does it serve?

The answer? Well, it makes for good TV – or at least it’s supposed to. It’s the type of thing you see every week on X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent (sic), where TV audiences are treated to the modern day freak show spectacle of the talentless and deluded being encouraged to humiliate themselves for ‘our’ entertainment. Then, of course, they suffer further ridicule at the tongue of Simon Cowell and others, before finally being booted off back into obscurity.

Restricted as it is, is this really the type of thing we want from business programming? Go down this route too much and the value of Dragons’ Den and other entrepreneurial programmes is severely diminished.

There’s no doubt that successful people, such as those who sit in judgement on Dragons’ Den, have much to teach other would-be entrepreneurs. So why relegate their role to little more than pantomime villain? Let’s have more insight and less sarcasm. Let’s not allow the balance to tip too much in the favour of ‘entertainment’ at the expense of education.

And I’m not just taking a cheap pop at the BBC. At least the Beeb is making programmes for the small-business community. The recent series of Mary Queen of Shops has been excellent – and you don’t have to run a small retail business to benefit from the knowledge Ms Portas shares while trying to help ailing small firms to get out of the ‘brown sticky stuff’.

Famously, of course, she is credited with successfully transforming the fortunes of Harvey Nichols during the recession of the early Nineties. Mary certainly displays the patience of a saint while trying to convince others – from bakers to hairdressers – to follow her recommendations. Rarely, if ever, has she lost her rag or resorted to ridicule.

In May I was similarly impressed by High Street Dreams (another Beeb production), in which hugely successful fragrance entrepreneur Jo Malone gave the benefit of her experience to small-scale producers looking to make it big. Once again, the tone was advisory rather than antagonistic, which made for a much more valuable and enjoyable viewing experience.

I care little for so-called ‘talent’ programmes or for those who appear or sit in judgement on them. I know these things are popular and they attract ratings. But please, when it comes to business advice programmes, let’s focus on advice and ease off on the mockery. Cowell’s already won the ratings war hands down.

Mark Williams, Start Up Donut editor

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Is passion for your products enough?

July 05, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

Marcela has never read a sales book. She has never learned about sales techniques. So can her passion for her product alone be enough to sell?

With her confidence in her product and her ability to answer any questions about it, Marcela feels well equipped to sell Rico Mexican Kitchen's products to anyone. What do you think of her sales technique (as seen in the video)?

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

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Ten applications to connect your home office to the world

July 05, 2010 by Emma Jones

Here are my top ten software applications that can enable you to connect your home office to customers, contacts and partners in the world beyond.

Attend meetings

Say ‘hello’ and talk business with contacts by using these online tools and services:

  • Dimdim – enables you to attend live meetings, demonstrations and webinars
  • Ketchup – enables you to share and record meeting notes
  • Pow Wow Now – free conference calling at ‘Open Access’ level. Priced packages also available
  • Skype – free and easy to use conference calls for Skype users
  • Tinychat – group video conferencing, for free
  • GoToWebinar – host a meeting of many and present to potential customers by inviting them to join you for an interactive webinar   

Manage projects  

Stay on top of projects and in touch with partners via one of these project management tools:

  • Basecamp – allows you to create projects, invite people to view them, upload files and make comments. It’s effective online project management that can be accessed from anywhere
  • GoogleDocs – share documents via Google with GoogleDocs. You can edit on the move, choose who accesses documents and share changes in real-time 
  • Glasscubes – this tool offers project management, collaboration and CRM (customer relationship management) all in one package
  • Huddle – offers simple and secure online workspaces. Huddle is hosted, so there’s no software to download and it’s free to get started

There are also technologies you can adopt to ensure your business travels with you. These include: webmail systems that enable access to your emails from anywhere; a remote desktop offering files and folders on the go; or web-based office systems such as Google Apps or Open Office, so your entire business is stored online and in easy reach. I’ll cover these in detail in a future piece. Until then, happy homeworking and connecting with the globe.

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation the home business website and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’ and ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’.

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