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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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The Apprentice: Stuart bags a place in the final five

December 13, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the tenth episode? Catch up here.

The task

And then there were five. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel — characters keep getting bumped off left, right and centre. But before we get to this week’s boardroom firing, the remaining six have to set up tours around London and sell tickets to tourists. Stella and Liz are in team Apollo with Stuart at the helm while Synergy’s Jamie and Chris are lead by Joanna.

Apollo chooses to run a cockney tour while Synergy plumps for a ghouls and ghosts experience. Both team get the chance to pitch to the London Visitors Centre who are willing to sell tickets on behalf of one team – for the right deal.

This task allows Stuart Baggs to say lots of disturbing things like — “Tourists are just juicy money bags. I’m going to dip my hands into their pockets.”

The best bits

No-one handles the negotiation with the London Visitors Centre well. They don’t have a plan and their negotiation skills are poor. Stuart pitches his prices far too high. But the manager of the Centre is rubbing his hands in glee when Chris inadvertently offers the Centre 20 per cent of the entire takings — rather than just a cut of the Centre’s ticket sales. Synergy even has to hand over 20 per cent of Jamie’s hard-earned tips! Collected in his very own hat!

But it turns out that this deal is, in fact, a stroke of genius. The partnership with the Centre ensures they sell way more tickets than Apollo.

The worst bits

The tours are terrible. It’s amazing that the passengers don’t simply get off the bus when it stops at traffic lights. Jamie’s commentary is endearing but wildly inaccurate — “The Thames is the second biggest river in London”. Nick Hewer is on board and his face is a picture.

Stella’s tour includes a lot of time spent wandering around the East End looking for a jellied eels stall (and never finding it) and having a lovely sing-song on the top deck of the bus. Karren Brady also looks less than impressed.

It’s getting pretty tense too as the competition reaches its final stages. Chris and Stuart have a turf war in Trafalgar Square and after a good deal of swearing, Stuart challenges Chris to an actual flight. It reminds us that Stuart is young enough to behave as if he’s still back in the playground.

The winners and losers

So Synergy wins and Liz, Stella and Stuart are left in the boardroom. Stuart quickly takes the offensive, making crazy financial promises and pleading for another chance. The substance of what he says does not impress Lord Sugar. “One day you’ll look back and cringe,” he tells Stuart. Lord Sugar also highlights Stuart’s childishness and wonders if it’s time for “beddybyes”. But Stuart’s spirit has made an impact and, amazingly, Lord Sugar points his finger at Liz.

The ones to watch

Stella, Joanna and Chris still look strong but after this week’s bombshell, who knows?

Quote of the week

“I’m not a one trick pony, I’m not a ten trick pony. I’ve got a field of ponies waiting to literally run towards this.” Part of Stuart’s impassioned speech that persuaded Lord Sugar to keep him in the contest.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Should I focus purely on online?

December 13, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

Having spent the past two weeks carrying out research into potential retail stockists, I was starting to think much of it had been wasted, when I came to the realisation that perhaps the high street is not quite right for my business, Mama Jewels, at this time.

Following some sound expert advice, my aim has been to steer clear of the bigger retailers for now and slowly build up capacity and turnover, approaching smaller stockists at a slower pace. This is a wise but difficult decision, because I’m quite impatient and would like to see results much faster.

My research has been aimed at finding smaller high street stores that stock products that would complement mine. With a couple of dates in my diary, I set about making appointments, firstly at local businesses I could easily visit and get a feeling for their interest without making long journeys to other parts of the country. A great plan – or so I thought – until I started to make appointments and came across an overwhelming response that these shops were closing down premises and moving purely online.

I quizzed one of the shop owners, in the midst of a closing down sale, why a lovely shop based in one of the most affluent areas of Nottingham would be closing down. Their response did not entirely surprise me: they could not make it work offline; competition from the web meant that they too were planning to become purely web-based.

After contacting two more shops, another based in the city centre and one more towards Leicester (facing the same issues) it was time for a rethink. I’d already been successfully approaching online boutiques; maybe this was now where I needed to focus. Yes the World Wide Web is potentially a black whole, but if that is where shoppers are specially looking for my type of products, together with those associated with maternity and nursing – then that is where I need to focus my very limited time and resources.

At the time of speaking to store owners, I had a sinking feeling, but actually this research has given me clarity and spurred me on to explore online marketing in much more detail.

So, my business continues to grow slowly, week by week. Sales are rising via our own website, auction sites and online boutiques. The feelings of panic and the enormity of not knowing whether I’m pitching enough or at the right people have subsided for now and I am so glad that I spent those two weeks in research rather than blindly pitching to any shop that would see me.

Amanda Waring, Mama Jewels

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

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Facing hard facts on the route to success

December 10, 2010 by Chris Barling

When you start a business, you need to be a raging optimist. That’s because, frankly, it’s hard and many people don’t succeed. So to stand a chance, you really need to have a sunny view of the future.

However, you also need to be a realist. A friend of mine was working in a new start up. He asked me if I was interested in investing, so I took home a sample of his product. In the meantime, he had managed to place it with a couple of major high street chains. I tried it with my wife and daughter who were in the target market. Neither of them liked it, so I declined to invest.

The business in the meantime continued. A while later they were back to the drawing board, because the product hadn’t sold through the retail channel at all and had been dropped by the retailers. Fortunately they have now completely changed the offering and are doing okay, albeit on a much smaller scale. My friend is no longer involved.

Another business planned to sell a website monitoring service to small companies. After a few months of selling, it was clear there wasn’t much of a market. The management team changed direction and started selling to big corporate sites instead. This was a raging success and several years later they still have a razor focus on the same market. I was happy and this time invested in the company when they changed direction.

What are the lessons from these stories? It’s about realism and facing the facts. The lesson isn’t to chop and change, as the second company had to stay their new course for several years. However, the quicker you face difficult facts the better, particularly when it comes to customers.

The most important thing any start-up can do is to get some happy, paying customers. If the prospects won’t buy or don’t like the product after they do, don’t try to tell them how they’re wrong. Instead, change direction and provide something that they want. Then press on. A dose of realism is worth a ton of investment. In fact, having the money to continue backing a losing strategy can be the biggest disaster.

Chris Barling is Chairman of ecommerce software supplier SellerDeck

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Is HMRC failing to follow its own rules?

December 07, 2010 by Julian Shaw

After winning a case on behalf of a client in which HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) was forced to back down and write-off more than £2,000 of previously demanded tax, Elaine Clark of CheapAccounting.co.uk has accused the tax office of not applying its own rules correctly.

“This is a terrible case. [The taxpayer] receives incapacity benefit as well as an NHS pension,” Elaine said. “HMRC was informed of the two sources of income by the Benefits Agency and the NHS, but did not act on the information provided.”

Elaine claimed under the provisions of Extra Statutory Concession A19. The full version of the concession is quite lengthy, but basically it says the tax office must waive tax owed in certain circumstances if it makes a mistake. You could claim if:

  • HMRC failed to act on information it had
  • that failure lead to a tax underpayment
  • it did not say how much was owed by the end of the tax year after the mistake was made 
  • it was reasonable for you to think everything was in order.

(If the tax office made more than one error, the time limit may not apply.)

If you have been sent a bill and you feel this applies to you, then you may wish to seek further advice. Alternatively, there are a number of draft letters available online. (Search for “Sample letter ESC A19”.)

HMRC correctly said it could not comment on individual cases and that the concession would in all likelihood apply only to a small number of cases.

The problem arises because our tax laws place the onus squarely with the individual. Basically, if your tax is wrong, it’s your fault – even if you were not aware of the situation or if the tax office made mistakes. This is clearly ludicrous, especially given the complexities of our tax laws.

Which is why we have ESC A19. It is an incredibly powerful clause – without it HMRC would be almost unaccountable. Six million people could be affected by recent mistakes by the tax office, through no fault of their own, so the usual rules should not apply. Television programmes such as Panorama and cases such as this have highlighted the problem.

Elaine is right – HMRC is failing to instigate the concession when it could do. It is an Extra Statutory Concession that is being debated, so surely it is not beyond HMRC’s remit to introduce a temporary measure – something as simple as sending out a slip inviting a claim, with space for the relevant details perhaps.

Ethically, this would be the right thing to do, but it would of course cost HMRC and by default the government. 

Julian Shaw, Founder of The Practice Hub

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