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If not now, then when?

September 01, 2014 by Guest contributor

If not now then when?{{}}The excuses for not buying now are many: too small, too big, too soon, too fast, too slow, too expensive, too complicated. But sometimes hesitancy to buy is not about the seller and the seller’s service, but the buyer’s internal thought processes.

More specifically, I am curious about why people don’t buy into a process that they know, in their heart of hearts, is one that they not only want, but also need for the development and growth of their business.

The need for what is called ‘strategic planning’ is recognised as being a cornerstone of developing, running and growing an organisation. There are plenty of trite quotes, such as, “failing to plan is planning to fail” and so on. However, at the core it is pretty much universally recognised that it is better to have a plan than no plan. And it is better to have considered the various options while being aware of the changing pressures in the business environment. I call it making your mistakes on paper.

Despite strategic business planning being almost like “motherhood and apple pie” (in other words, a good thing, something that is required), I’m still astounded at how so many people manage to delay or put off the process. This is madness, because a little bit of thinking and reflecting can help to direct and focus one’s actions on what is important and understand one’s priorities.

Copyright © Robert Craven 2014. Robert Craven is a keynote speaker and author of business bestseller Kick-Start Your Business.  His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm.

He also runs The Directors’ Centre, helping growing businesses to grow.

Further reading

How to ensure high quality when working with a translation services provider

August 28, 2014 by Guest contributor

How to ensure high quality when working with a translation services provider{{}}When trading internationally, translation is an essential tool. Materials translated accurately by humans have the potential to greatly improve conversions when compared to computer-generated translations. There are numerous factors that underpin high-quality translation, so here is our advice if your business needs translation services…

1 Only work with mother-tongue translators

Mother-tongue translators offer skill and knowledge that can’t be matched. They have an unrivalled familiarity with their own language, and can pick up on nuances that someone who’s only been speaking the language for a few years might miss. Mother-tongue translators can ensure proper localisation. Countries that use the same language still have localised differences, of course. Mother-tongue translators will also be more culturally aware and able to spot whether words or phrasing will offend. They will also have a better knowledge of structure, because some dialects use shorter sentences, while the opposite is true for others. 

2 Proofread, proofread and proofread

Although using proofreaders has become less common as a result of the ‘digital revolution’, they’re essential when translating important business materials. One mistake in a technical document, for example, could have disastrous consequences. Professional proofreaders ensure that the translation is accurate and of the highest quality. They should prevent unprofessional-looking spelling mistakes from creeping in, while awkward phrasing or poorly written sentences can be misleading. 

3 Insist on qualifications

Your translators should have a relevant qualification or specialist certification. If someone’s made the effort to obtain a post-graduate diploma or a degree in a foreign language, they’re obviously committed to their craft and are likely to have a professional attitude to their work. Where possible, ensure that they belong to a recognised translation body (eg The Institute of Translation & Interpreting).

4 Insist on experience

Work only with translators with at least five years’ experience, which is normally enough time for them to develop their skills (though more experience is better). Try to ensure that the translator has in-depth experience of translating for your sector. If they don’t, they’ll struggle with technical terms and industry-specific references.

5 Have a firm process in place

Translation is essentially a simple process, however, it can very quickly become complicated if too many people get involved. For each piece of work, have a project manager tasked with ensuring that everything is completed on time. Also, use one experienced proofreader and give them the maximum amount of time to complete each piece of work.

6 Be wary of style

Corrections are often stylistic and therefore subjective, so it’s important to ensure that there is a specified style guide for your translation work. Your editorial style preferences should be clearly explained in advance so there can be no dispute later on. These can range from whether bullet points should use complete sentences and job titles capitalised) to font use. Even basic documents require style guidance, so confirm your preferences in advance if you want to avoid wasting time, effort and money.

Copyright © 2014 The Language Factory, which specialises in translating materials across a range of industries.

Further reading

Six tips to prevent important tasks from falling through the cracks

August 27, 2014 by Guest contributor

Whether you’re a sole trader or manage many employees, you must ensure that important work gets done to a high standard and on time. So how do you prevent important tasks from being neglected?

1 Stop doing everything yourself

Share the load with people who are stronger in areas where you are weaker. The work will get done; you’ll feel less stressed; and your business will benefit.

2 Give away low-skill, low-fun tasks first

The tasks to delegate are the ones that are least enjoyable and require less-skill. Why? Because they are: easier to train others to do; cheapest to hire for; and often create the most distractions.

3 Match the correct person to the role

Before you hire, define the role along with responsibilities and desired output. Then match that against a few key considerations:

  • Do they have the right skills for the job?
  • Does their personality type match the tasks they'll be doing?
  • Are they enthusiastic about the job?

4 Develop a system

Introducing a system is critical if you want to ensure tasks don’t fall through the cracks. It will also you help you manage your team.

  • Define the outcome. Ensure team members know exactly what is expected of them.
  • Timeline everything. Start with the date when the result needs to be achieved and plan backward from there.
  • Ask employees to recap. Hear it in their words and make sure they have understood your instructions.
  • Include a touch point in your diary. Mid-way through the project make sure everything is on track. If you wait until the end – it may be too late to deal with serious issues.
  • Install a task-management system. A basic spreadsheet can be used to manage tasks.

5 Document everything you do

Create concise but comprehensive documentation and it will feed back into your business by making the training of new hires a breeze, ensuring your business runs without interruption. Remember to keep it concise and simple:

  • Limit yourself to one-page documents.
  • Make use of checklists and bullet points.

6 Use a Google Drive spreadsheet

At the London Coaching Group, we have an efficient team that works very closely. And we exchange barely any emails.

What you need:

  • A Google account (which is free) and an activated Google Drive (also free).
  • A Google Spreadsheet within Google Drive (click Create > Spreadsheet). This works much like an Excel Spreadsheet. It must also be shared with your team (click on Share in the top right).

You then create column headings for:

  • Task description.
  • Due date.
  • Date started (filled in by your team to indicate when work on a task has begun).
  • Date complete (filled in by your team to let you know a task is ready for review).
  • Team Qs/comments (filled in by the team if they have any comments about the task).
  • Leader responses (filled in by you, giving comments to the team).

So how do we use this?

Whenever a task comes to mind, I, as the team leader, add it to the spreadsheet straight away. My team then fills in the fields accordingly. Once a task has a "Date complete" I double-check the task. Once I've double-checked and it's done, I delete it from this list. Only I can delete.

My team and I keep this document open during our working day. It acts as our communal 'to-do' list. Everyone is aware of the status of all other projects, which makes meetings a breeze and ensures nothing falls through the cracks.

By using the tips and tools above you can run your business and your projects smoothly and efficiently. You will be 100% in control of each project, which reduces stress and that feeling of a ‘heavy load’. So you’ll have more time to work on your business and its future.

Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2014. Shweta is an award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.

Further reading

Four ways to guarantee fast and effective team meetings

August 19, 2014 by Guest contributor

Four ways to guarantee fast and effective team meetings{{}}Although they can sound like a waste of time, effective team meetings are essential for all new (and existing) businesses if they are to reach their potential. They can help you leverage the collective intelligence in your business, as well as move the team forward cohesively.

Ideally you should have more team meetings, not fewer. This is because effective meetings lead to:

  • Broader buy-in and consensus.
  • Better understanding of complex problems and issues.
  • Better understanding of individual contributions.
  • Greater positive social obligation.

But what should you avoid if you want to ensure effective team meetings?

  1. Lack of drama (conflict). Heated arguments and demonstrations of passion, as long as they remain constructive, can generate a deeper and broader understanding of the topic.
  2. Lack of context. The type of meeting and the organisation of the meeting must be tailored to the issues being addressed.

There are four important elements that need to be implemented if you want an effective team meeting:

1 Define the purpose

Be really clear. Are you strategising or discussing operations? What do you want to get out of this meeting?  Everything stems from the purpose.

2 Create an agenda

As the leader of the meeting, you should make your agenda sharp – and make sure you stick to it.

3 Set a time limit

Keep to the purpose and agenda. Otherwise you could spend half your day in team meetings without actually getting anything productive done.

4 Limit the number of attendees

If you want meetings that will move your business forward, the right people need to be present. This will come naturally if you move through the previous steps. Once you know the purpose and agenda for your meeting, it becomes clear who needs to be there – and who is only going to be wasting time if they attend.

Every meeting is different and will have unique requirements, so you need to be flexible with your structure. However, these elements are common to all effective and productive team meetings.

Above all, before every team meeting, ask yourself one simple question: "What do I want my team members to achieve after this meeting?" You will be amazed at the clarity that answering that one question will bring – and what a difference that will make to the meeting and its effectiveness.

Copyright © Shweta Jhajharia 2014. Shweta is a multi- award-winning business coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.

Further reading                                                             

How long can you bootstrap a start-up before real investment is required?

August 18, 2014 by Guest contributor

How long can you bootstrap a start-up before real investment is required?{{}}Battle lines have been drawn in the entrepreneurial world, with venture capital squaring up to its penny-pinching cousin, bootstrapping.

Before budding entrepreneurs can reach the dizzying highs of business triumph, they must first launch their idea off the ground, and this requires finance. Venture capital (AKA private equity) is hard to obtain, competition is immense and investors can be reluctant to hand over their capital without evidence that the business can work and eventually bring a return. Most start-ups must go through a phase of bootstrapping before they can prove to investors that they are a good bet. The question is – can bootstrapping successfully continue indefinitely?

Bootstrapping means entrepreneurs going it alone, by whatever means possible. This can involve tapping into savings and accumulating private debt, including loans and borrowing on credit cards. It is clear that if bootstrapping goes wrong, it can go terribly wrong for the individuals involved.

However, there are also many positives associated with bootstrapping. Bootstrapping does not mean sacrificing equity, and it allows entrepreneurs to keep control of their business. This can seem undeniably appealing; the dream of starting your own business is, after all, about freedom. Bootstrapping allows business owners to call the shots (and, perhaps, make their own mistakes).

Investing personal finances arguably promotes caution, and a real consideration regarding where money is being spent. When their livelihood and savings are on the line, people tend to think through every business decision with precision. Lastly, when you bootstrap there is only one possible source of income, and that is your customer. Pleasing the customer is an essential element of business that many failed start-ups somehow seem to have missed, and bootstrapping can help prevent this. Yet, for many businesses, a point is reached when the credit cards are ‘maxed’, when customer revenue cannot come in fast enough and at that time growth crawls. Bankruptcy is a real possibility and driving the business forward seems unfeasible. 

It is hard to obtain venture capital backing, but it is also hard to grow your business at a sufficient rate without it. Focussing on building the product is not enough, marketing and sales must be grown if the business is to succeed. The fact of the matter is it takes money to be noticed.

Hiring is affected, too. When candidates look for a job with a start-up, they need to know that the business they might join is financially secure, with viable plans for growth. Investors can provide credibility and reassurance. Joining a start-up can feel like a risk to many, and if the business is stagnant and relying on personal investment to stay afloat, it may not seem like a risk worth taking. For business to attract the best, they need to not only be ambitious, but also have the finances to back up their ambition.

It is all about the rate of success. If your business survives bootstrapping financially, it still faces the hurdles of sustained growth and marketing without an influx of investment. When it comes to starting your business, bootstrapping is for the beginning – otherwise it can be the end.

Copyright (c) BlueGlue 2014

Further reading

Do you have to give your employees time off for bank holidays?

August 15, 2014 by Guest contributor

Do you have to give your employees time off for bank holidays?{{}}Many of us look forward to that longer break that bank holiday weekends bring, because it can provide the perfect opportunity to get together with family and friends, who we don’t see as much as we’d like due to the demands of our busy daily lives. But do businesses look forward to bank holidays?

Each bank holiday is reported to cost the UK economy £2.3bn (according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research) and they can cause a headache for business owners, with some questioning the need for so many public holidays. But the UK has the lowest number of national public holidays of all major economies, with just eight public holidays compared to a G20 average of 12. The UK even has fewer public holidays than countries viewed as stereotypically industrious, including Japan (15) and China (11).

Do you need to let staff have time off for bank holidays?

According to Direct.gov.uk, bank or public holidays do not have to be given as paid leave, but an employer can choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave.

Most retailers are now open during bank holidays and expect their staff to work their normal or Sunday hours. However, most offices close, while choosing to include bank holidays within employees’ holiday entitlement. Most office-based small businesses close, but some staff (and many business owners, of course) work from home.

Should this come out of holiday entitlement?

According to ACAS and Direct.gov.uk, this should come out of holiday entitlement, they also state that: “Employers can set the times when workers can take their leave - for example, a Christmas shut down.”

Many seasonal businesses don’t allow holiday to be taken during the summer months, but is this fair? For parents in the UK, taking holiday during term time to fit in with school holidays means higher costs for breaks away.

How can you keep your staff happy if your business operates on bank holidays?

If you are an office-based business you might want to allow employees to take it in turns to work bank holidays or allow some staff to work from home if possible.

Speak to your customers and find out if they are working before you shut down your business for the bank holiday weekend. If you will be sitting in a silent office with phones that are unlikely to ring, it might be just as well to close down.

Other businesses welcome bank holidays, of course, because they are able to cash in on extra money being spent by people who are happy because they are not at work.

Copyright © Chinny Ogbuagu 2014, regular writer for the Pitney Bowes blog.

Further reading

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