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Is your design losing you business?

November 24, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

Most of us realise that great design can win us more business. And many of us invest in professional graphic design for our brochures, leaflets and website.

But what about the rest? What about that PowerPoint presentation you send to clients? How about leaflets you take to networking events? What about the checklist for businesses you’ve uploaded to your website?

If we accept that great design will engage, inspire and build trust with your customers (existing and prospective), what effect do you think bad design will have? You probably don’t need me to spell it out…

Many businesses design things in house. Even marketing executives at big blue chips design some pieces of collateral. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It can save time and money. But it’s those bits of collateral – your leaflet, your PowerPoint, your case studies or your self-designed blog – that can undermine your professionalism.

The bad news is that usually people don’t realise there is anything wrong with their designs. Oversized logos compete with standard colours and standard fonts to create a look that jars with all your well-produced work. The result? Your clients are confused and lack conviction in you.

It’s unrealistic to expect you to use a graphic designer for every piece of communication you produce, but you can learn some simple graphic design rules that you can apply to everything you do. And you can reduce the gap between the professionally produced stuff and your own stuff.

Do a bit of research into what makes design work. Read magazines, books (Robyn Williams’ The Non-Designer’s Design Book is excellent) and learn important from designs that inspire you. You can also find advice here on the Donut sites, too, of course.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing

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Mama knows best

November 22, 2010 by Mark Williams

Many regular Start Up Donut blog visitors enjoyed following the story of Marcela Flores-Newburn of Rico Mexican Kitchen, Nottingham-based maker of salsas, beans and cooking sauces, as told on the inafishbowl business reality website.

For the next six months, on this blog, you’ll be able to follow the trials and tribulations of another start up, Mama Jewels, another Nottingham-based business.

The business was the brainchild of Amanda Waring. Following a successful career in quantity surveying and construction project management, recent mother of two, Amanda is taking on a whole new challenge.

For the past 10 years she’s been designing jewellery as a hobby. But following the birth of her first child she realised there was no fashionable baby and childproof jewellery for mums.

Keen to change this, she has created an impressive range which is available to buy online and in a select number of independent retailers. Mama Jewels was a Bronze Winner for Most Unique Product at the 2010 Mumpreneur Awards.

Amanda’s ambition is to see her products in large retailers throughout the UK. To achieve this she’ll have to juggle the role of being a young mum with the demands of growing a new business on a budget. How will she get on? You’ll be able to read updates each month, but for now, you cab find out more about Amanda’s business by watching this short video.

What’s wrong with being a small-business owner?

November 18, 2010 by Simon Wicks

Because this is Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) and because I was intrigued to see the interior of Coutts Bank in the Strand in London, I went to a panel debate on Wednesday organised by the Sunday Telegraph.

Titled ‘The time is now for entrepreneurs’, the debate featured a line up of the great and the good in UK enterprise – Brent Hoberman, Julie Meyer, Sara Murray, Joe Cohen and the man behind GEW, Tom Bewick.

These are influential people. Many are direct advisers to Government on enterprise and entrepreneurship. They are genuinely keen to help the powers that be develop an enterprise culture in the UK and to turn entrepreneurship into an aspiration for many of our young people. Some would like to see enterprise introduced to the curriculum as a formal element, alongside science, English and maths.

There was talk of rapid growth, high turnover, capital investment, economic output, and so on – all good stuff and the panellists seemed to mostly agree on everything. There wasn’t much in the way of debate going on. I was lucky enough to be picked to ask a question. To paraphrase, I said:

“We’re all talking about entrepreneurialism and high-growth business here, and all the political lobbying and Government policy and media conversation seems to be geared towards these firms. But the majority of people running small businesses in the UK don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. They’re small-business owners. What are we doing for them?”

The panel was perplexed. You could almost see them thinking “NOT high-growth? I don’t understand the question.” And it’s true, perhaps I didn’t make my point as well as I might. But I was surprised none of the panel took up the opportunity I gave them to explore the distinction between an ‘entrepreneur’ and a ‘small-business owner’ and think about the needs of a range of different kinds of business owner.

Instead they talked about the need to generate and support high growth businesses. Julie Meyer was somewhat withering about ‘slow growth’ firms (as she had been earlier about ‘lifestyle’ businesses); Sara Murray pointed out that the “majority of those businesses are corner shops” and that the Government wants to help create the next Tesco. “Tesco,” she said, paraphrasing Vince Cable, “is a bigger driver of economic output.”

This, I suppose, was the salient point. To be fair, Sara Murray also observed that Tesco had actually ruined hundreds of small businesses, so she didn’t necessarily agree with Vince Cable. But the panel as a whole seemed to find the idea of anything other than rapid growth alien and undesirable.

This is a shame. Let’s be realistic about this: the vast majority of the UK’s 4.5 million small businesses are not high-growth and will not become the next Tesco. What’s more, their owners don’t want to be the next Richard Branson, either. But they continue to employ people, pay their taxes and provide essential goods and services, year after year; they, too, provide ‘economic output’.

So why focus all of our attention on the tiny proportion of firms that will grow rapidly and make mega-millions? Why encourage all of our young people that it’s a realistic aspiration. It’s not – and X-Factor provides a salutary lesson here: for every Will Young or Alexandra Burke, there are innumerable other aspirants who now make a small living crooning on cruise ships or in pubs, or who have gone back to whatever they were doing before. Sure, they’re not as glamorous or as eye-catching, and they’re not making as much money for other people, but they are still valuable.

There seems to be something in our culture at the moment, where we consider only the spectacular and the highly lucrative to be deserving of attention. But tradespeople, enthusiasts who have turned their passion into a livelihood – yes, even corner shop owners – they are the meat and drink of our economy, and they all need a little thought from lobbyists and policymakers.

So while we’re blowing the trumpet for enterprise during Global Entrepreneurship Week, let’s remember that even though ‘now’ may well be the time for entrepreneurs, it is ‘always’ the time for small-business owners.

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The Apprentice: The Stuart Baggs show

November 18, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the seventh episode? Catch up here:

The task

The cars are coming to take the candidates to Pinewood Studios. Joanna has vaguely heard of the world-famous film studios where Harry Potter and the James Bond movies are made and hazards a guess, “I’m sure it’s a furniture store.” Standing in front of the biggest blue screen in Europe, Lord Sugar explains that the two teams have to create and sell virtual experience DVDs to shoppers at Westfield Shopping centre. This involves making a background action movie, buying props, filming people in front of a screen and flogging the DVDs.

The best bits

It was the Stuart Baggs show last night. Project leader for Apollo, Stuart was so bad, he was good. There were definite shades of David Brent. The team selected motor-racing for the backdrop which allowed Stuart to race around Brands Hatch and utter the immortal line, “I have to rein in my own extreme masculinity in this task.” Stuart’s leadership style was horrendous. He talked over everyone, made quick bad decisions, took a dramatic u-turn when he realized his mistake and then took the credit for the new strategy. At one point he says, “I think we made good decisions under quite a lot of pressure.” Guess who provided the pressure? Best of all, he kept trying to score points against Stella in a game of “how many different ways are there to say, ‘I’m brilliant and you’re useless.’” Stella simply batted him away like an annoying fly.

The worst bits

Synergy, meanwhile, was lead by Sandeesh, who was trying to assert herself and shake off Lord Sugar’s accusation that she does “naff all”. She did try, bless her, but was undermined by Jamie, who was unhappy with his role as errand boy.

Both teams displayed a very cavalier attitude to pricing. Apollo started selling the DVDs for £10 but as sales took off they decided to up the price to £15, leaving customers distinctly unamused. Over on Synergy, the team dropped the price early on and sold the DVDs too cheaply.

The winners and losers

Neither team did brilliantly but Apollo scraped a win. It’s worth watching Stuart Baggs’ hilarious reaction to winning, puffing himself up and only just stopping himself from punching the air and shouting “come on”. Ooh the masculinity! And so Synergy lost and it was left to Sandeesh to bring two team members back into the boardroom. To say she doesn’t have the killer instinct is putting it mildly. She has been the sacrificial lamb enough times, but for some reason she lets Jamie off the hook and selects the two strongest members of her team, Chris and Liz. Why, Sandeesh, why? It doesn’t take Lord Sugar long to point the finger. Sandeesh, you’re fired.

The ones to watch

Stella continues to shine like the star that she is. I’m ready to put money on her to win. But let’s hope Stuart Baggs hangs on for a few more weeks to keep us entertained and to make the saner contestants look good.

Quote of the week

“Stuart’s leadership style leaves me trembling with irritation. Who does he think he is.” Nick Hewer.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

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Is being your own boss really for you?

November 17, 2010 by Heather Townsend

Are you prepared to work hard? And not just hard, harder than you have ever worked before in your life?

Are you prepared to experience and savour the intense highs of business success?

If yes, then read on...

Your first 18 months of business life will be a roller coaster ride. Being your own boss brings you true freedom to do what YOU want with YOUR business and take it to where YOU want to take it. Being your own boss is addictive and compelling, and after six months you will know for certain whether you ever want to go back to corporate life.

As your own boss you are not just plotting a course and steering the ship, but deciding what ship to steer and the reason why you need to steer it in this destination. Sometimes luck plays a part in business success, but more often than not any luck is underpinned by a lot of hard work and dedication. Your role as boss is to provide the drive, vision and motivation to take your business through the storm into the next port.

However, when it is just you in your business, with potentially a mortgage to pay, you need to be very focused and disciplined. This means motivating yourself to get up each morning and get to work – even if this is your kitchen table or study. It also means being able to finish what you have started, and focus on the strategy and plans which will build your business. Only your energy will take your business forward, no-one else will.

Discipline is more than focusing on a strategy or plan until you get the required results, it’s also about making sure the tasks that you don’t enjoy get done, and they get done on time. To survive the first two years in business, which 70% of businesses don’t, you need to keep an iron fist on your finances, and regularly monitor your incomings, outgoings and your cash flow.

Your time does now really equate to money. If you are focusing on something that is not directly linked to running or building the business, this is costing you money. Discipline is needed from you to work to your business plan, and make sure that you give yourself re-charge, reflection and planning time. This time is just as important as time working ‘in the business’.

Does the thought of building something from scratch for yourself appeal? Or are you scared at the thought of having to put in your own processes, systems, plans in place and constantly use your own initiative? If you are not ‘turned on’ by the thought of building it all from scratch you may benefit from buying a franchise – i.e. getting a ready-made business in a box.

Rejection is part and parcel of life as a business owner. To succeed as a business owner you have to connect with your inner tigger. I can guarantee that as your own boss, you will ‘suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Your inner tigger will help you bounce back and re-motivate the troops when your business has hit a setback. Because, if you don’t inspire people to get back up and going again, no-one else will.

So to summarise, you will need drive, passion, enthusiasm, vision and bucket loads of discipline and focus.

Are you up for the challenge?

Heather Townsend, The Efficiency Coach

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The Apprentice: The guru is gone

November 15, 2010 by Adrian Wilkinson

This week’s Apprentice saw the two teams rudely awakened by Lord Sugar who arrived early at the candidates’ house. So early, in fact, that some of them were still in bed, and appeared downstairs before a Peer of the Realm, still in their night attire!

The task this week was to promote, through advertising, a new brand of household cleaning liquid, by producing new packaging, as well as a TV and radio ad.

Step up to the plate this week’s Project Managers – the battle of the northern giants! In the blue corner from Cheshire, Chris Farrell, selected because he was the only team member not to have been a PM up until now. Good selection criterion!

And in the red corner, from Manchester, the marketing guru that is Alex Epstein. Hot-foot from his roaring success in the fashion-selling project in the Trafford Centre, the previous week, Alex, whose quote of last week was “Be different. When everyone is zigging, you should zag”, saw this as his opportunity to shine! (Get it? Cleaning liquid – shine!)

Given support from one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, Chris’s team produced a nice pastel-shaded bottle, a passing reference to an octopus, and an advert that came straight out of the fifties. Talk about cheesy.

Meanwhile, Alex — “if I were an apple pie, it would have oranges inside” — brainstormed with his team, and finally selected a name and concept that he said wouldn’t work, and which he didn’t believe in!

The final product came in a black bottle with a red top and was called ‘Germ-n-ator’. Judging by the design, it should have been called “engine oil”.

So now to the exciting bit – making the advert. Why is it that every year when this task is set, it seems to bring out yet two more budding Arthur J. Rank characters, who on this occasion were Chris & Chris – a bit like Saatchi & Saatchi!

After scripting and filming, each team had to pitch the new product to a selected audience of advertising industry gurus – you know, mates of Alex “I am a guru” Epstein.

The ads were shown and the teams departed to allow the audience to tell Lord Sugar what they thought of them. Which was, it turned out, “not a lot”!

Back in the boardroom, Lord Sugar announced that Chris’s team had triumphed – but it was not so much that they had won, but that the others had lost. This is known as the “best of a bad bunch syndrome”.

The final showdown saw Alex pitted against the rest of his team. And so it was that Alex “yes Lord Sugar, no Lord Sugar, three bags full Lord Sugar Epstein, brought Chris and Sandeesh into the boardroom with him. Yes, Sandeesh, making her second appearance in two weeks, even though she was credited with having done a good performance at the industry pitch.

Lord Sugar soon dispatched Sandeesh back to the house, because he, along with millions watching the programme, couldn’t believe what Alex had done.

After further deliberation with Karren Brady and  Nick, who really ought to have his own show sometime — The Many Faces of Nick Hewer, Lord Sugar pointed the finger. Alex, you’re fired!

And Alex’s parting words? “Thank you Lord Sugar, it has been a pleasure to meet you, and likewise Nick and Karen.”

The guru is gone!

Adrian Wilkinson is the owner of marketing consultancy Image and Profile

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