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If you have an idea for a business and want to progress it, you are probably thinking in earnest about your business plan. If you are looking for outside finance, you are no doubt keen that the business plan will be a great marketing tool for your idea to banks or other investors.
Years ago, when private equity was still called venture capital, I was involved in funding start-ups. I would look through countless business plans, trying to sort the ‘possible’ from the ‘dream-on’ varieties, with a view to investing in the best. Some plans were back-of-the-envelope affairs, with enthusiasm but no financial viability analysis; some described in depth inventive products, but showed no realism with regard to cost of production; others assumed world domination in a few months.
But what really put me off was the business plan that plainly had been written by someone other than the people who were going to make the idea happen. However slick the document, with every possible detail carefully analysed in beautiful spreadsheets, if the words do not reflect the essence of the entrepreneur – his enthusiasm, her conviction the idea will succeed, their commitment to the project – then the proposal will lack that essential ingredient that is the reason for making an investment. The basis of our decisions was mimicry of estate agents’ ‘location, location, location’ replacing the key word with ‘management’. Yes, of course we wanted to see that the projections made sense, and that the amount of investment required was adequate and would be wisely spent; that there was indeed a market for the product or service, and that it would be sold appropriately. But the key was always: is this the right person to make the proposed business succeed?
So if you do use professionals to help compile your business plan, make sure that the final result is imbued with your DNA, and that it convinces the reader why you are the one to turn the plan into the success you describe.
When selling it's often very easy to forget that a feature is what a product is… an intrinsic characteristic of the product or service.
Examples of features are:
All very interesting (or perhaps not!) but of no real concern to the buyer who really wants to know what the product will do for him/her.
In other words, the benefits.
For example: “This promotion will increase your sales (feature) which means that you will get increased turnover and profit” (benefit)
Or…. “The new display unit is compact and eye catching (feature) which means that you will get more impulse sales at the till points (benefit), therefore increasing your profits” (benefit)
Never forget… the product features are important but they are unlikely to clinch the sale without making the link in the customer’s mind to the specific benefit they will derive from the product.
That is what the customer is really interested in!
Any type of vehicle can be used to deliver cargo, freight or precious items. Most commonly you will see small vans, although once upon a time it was lots of motorcycles.
What happens if someone causes you to have an accident? Or you hit another vehicle? How will your business operate if your main tool for work is out of action?
When starting a courier business, insurance can seem like a big expenditure. People know exactly what they are getting when they buy a van, but insurance can be a bit fuzzier. For example, do you really need insurance at all to be a courier? After all it's only delivering stuff.
The answer to that question is a resounding yes, it's essential for a courier business to have insurance. What type of insurance is down to the business owner. Insurance for couriers comes in several types:
Goods in Transit Insurance covers the potential damage of goods on the vehicle whilst in transit. Goods in Transit doesn't cover all goods, so check what your policy covers.
Light Haulage Insurance offers similar cover to courier insurance and goods in transit but for a limited amount of drops per day, often 3.
Hire and Reward Insurance covers you for the carrying of other parties' goods.
At the very least you need hire and reward insurance. It may not give you as much 'cover' as the other options but to be without insurance is a situation that may cost you business. Customers are reluctant to let their goods be transported and delivered without insurance no matter how safe you think you are!
It's quite common for glass, fine arts, ceramic, antiques and second hand goods to be uninsured under the 'goods in transit' or courier insurance policies.
These need to be specified as add ons to your policy when you talk to your broker. Make sure you find out what is excluded and whether it is financially beneficial to have these added on before you buy your insurance policy.
If you decide to trade without insurance, stop for a moment and think... How will you pay if your clients goods are damaged in an accident? How will you continue with your business?
Sarah Arrow is co author of the Complete Courier guide which is an essential guide for self employed couriers looking to start their own courier business. It can be downloaded from http://www.thecouriershop.co.uk.
Our clients, and most people we've met and talks and events recently, have asked the same question: Is social media appropriate for business-to-business marketing? Unequivocally, the answer is YES. In the last year, 40% of Clear Thought's revenue can be tracked back to a social media source, and 100% has been enhanced or aided by it in some way. In the last six weeks alone, here are some things that Clear Thinkers have achieved through social media:
From a new business perspective, social media has critical impact in the first three stages of the sales funnel. That is, Awareness, Interest and Evaluation. From a social media perspective, you need to do the following: To generate awareness: 'Be There' find out where your prospects hang out online and have a presence there. To convert awareness in the interest: 'Be Relevant ' provide information that is useful or controversial to pull people into your content. To make it through evaluation: 'Be Proven' provide case study and testimonials at every turn online, ideally with other people talking on your behalf. To really make the most of the channel, it makes sense to get some expert support - particularly in measuring and enhancing your activity. But, here are some really simple things to get you started. 10 FREE things you can do to generate awareness online:
10 FREE things you can do to generate interest online:
10 (nearly) FREE ways to prove your credentials online:
Note: In this blog, we're focusing specifically on lead generation. It is worth noting (and blogging in the future) that social media can be powerfully used in market research, recruitment, lead nurturing and much more. You might also be interested in:
Nasty Nick Griffin’s much-publicised appearance on Question Time raised a lot of questions, namely about democracy and freedom of speech, and about how much freedom is too much when your views just happen to be fascist.
Pay attention employers, because these uncomfortable questions may be closer to home than you think.
The media has started its own debate over the BBC’s invitation to Griffin to join other, mainstream politicians on its flagship current affairs programme; The Guardian claims the BNP is losing the support of even its own loyalists over Griffin’s performance, while The Telegraph insists the programme has given the party a platform from which to ensnare new supporters.
Either way, the BNP has upset and enraged a lot of people in the last few days alone, with its anti-almost-everybody viewpoints. Democracy is democracy, and you can’t ignore that more than a handful of people are putting their crosses in the BNP box, but it is a challenge for every one of us to decide how to deal with this.
Look a little deeper and there are parallels here with the workplace. How far should you allow your employees to discuss their religious, social or political views in the workplace, if there is a risk that they could seriously upset other people with them?
Luckily, as a business owner, there is a more clearly defined line for you to draw, partly because your employees have not been elected or recruited on their personal policies, although healthy debate can benefit your business in many ways.
While your staff obviously have a human right to manifest their beliefs and express their opinions, you must keep a beady eye out to ensure that what they express does not discriminate against or undermine other employees. It may be unlikely that you have a BNP activist in your midst, but any viewpoint that undermines someone based on their gender, age, race or religion, or simply makes them feel uncomfortable, can have serious consequences.
Aside from a dent in your team’s morale, constant controversial comments or an over-zealous employee trying to convert people to their religion or cause can lead to staff absence or legal claims of discrimination or harassment, both of which can be expensive and damaging.
Speaking to Acas equality specialist, Steve Williams, recently, I found out that employers can protect their business from these perils by including some pointers in their HR policy, and by having a quiet word with anyone that breaches them.
“Emphasise that discussion is welcome but that it must not be used to oppress or discriminate against other staff,” he adds. “Spell it out — for example, it is acceptable for an employee to mention that they go to church or campaign for the Green Party, but if they start pressurising other people, that isn’t.”
On the bright side, Williams told me that most employees have an “innate sense” of where the line should be drawn with regard to other people’s feelings, and would soon apologise if they realised they had overstepped it. If we are to take his word for it, there’s a good chance you will never be faced with this complex problem. Nevertheless, in the face of an increasingly re-politicised population, you should be well-prepared.
I love the internet; in the last 50 years has there been a more important development in the history of business? People compare the net to other important media developments, such as the printing press, the TV or radio. Wrong. The internet is bigger than all of those put together.
For business the internet is the ultimate leveller. For the first time we have a platform that allows the small guys, the spare room businesses and entrepreneurial spirits to compete with the big goliaths. And competition generally has intensified. As a software and services provider I can tell you it has forced the entire industry to up our game radically.
The internet makes it much easier to find all of the products and services you need to start a business. Much of your business can be run online and you can even access cheap but talented resources from across the world. When your product or service is ready, you can let the world know too.
Ten years ago I recall working for a mammoth international TV and media company that invested millions of both time and money into its billing and subscription platform. All it wanted to do was ensure no matter how or where you subscribed, it all came into a single system. This wasn’t rocket science, but at the time it was complex to stitch disparate software and web systems together, and it came with a suitably horrible price tag.
The internet has turned this problem on its head; you don’t need a million bucks any more. There are hundreds of free or low cost solutions available to help you run a startup professionally.
My own company, SellerDeck provides functionality out of the box for controlling multiple retail channels (e.g. web, shop, phone, mail). Ten years ago this concept wasn’t even around. Today you can buy standard applications and services at a commodity price.
So, this is a very exciting time to be starting a business. The tools are out there for you to create both great products and services. For once you don’t need an IPO to afford them.
What are you waiting for?