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What's the best way to handle your employees' mistakes?

February 10, 2014 by Guest Blogger

What's the best way to handle your employees' mistakes?/Pop art Oops!{{}}We all make mistakes – it’s inevitable. In fact, it’s desirable. Unless people are pushing themselves, innovating and taking risks, a business could stagnate. What’s more, an inevitable part of risk-taking is that mistakes will happen.   

And while you may not want to create an environment where mistakes are feared, you need to address them. Fortunately, it need not be an excruciatingly painful process for you or the person who’s messed up.

Why you must address mistakes

If you are tempted to ignore mistakes or brush them under the carpet, you may find that your business suffers and people never improve or progress.

Instead, if you deal with the situation, your business will benefit from fewer mistakes. Fewer refunds will need to be issued, there will be fewer quality control issues, fewer customer and colleague complaints, and less time spent rectifying the same errors. Also, the employee will understand clearly how to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

Different types of mistakes

It’s important to identify what type of mistake has been made. Is it major or minor? While a spelling mistake in an important document may not be a sackable offence, wilfully neglecting an important client is pretty inexcusable.

Similarly, is this the first of its kind, or an oft-repeated action? No one is perfect and mistakes do happen, particularly when people are undertaking a task for the first time. This, though, is vastly different from someone who persists in making the same mistake over and over, despite being told about it and perhaps receiving training intended to help them get it right. Identifying the type of mistake you’re addressing will inform what you need to do about it.

Check your facts

If you have identified that the mistake needs addressing, before offering an opinion, suggestion or sanction, fully investigate with all necessary parties three things – what caused the mistake, who was responsible and what the impact was. There will be countless times you will be grateful that you did so.  It’s amazing how often things aren’t quite as black and white as they first appear. By investigating the matter objectively and fairly you’ll be better placed to take the next step.

Be clear

Once you’ve established the facts, it’s your turn to be clear with the employee. Describe what you understand to be the mistake, its cause and where the responsibility lies. The employee needs to confirm that his/her understanding matches yours (if not, go back to the previous ‘fact checking’ stage). Then you need to explore why they made the mistake and what can be done to prevent it happening again. You need a firm commitment from your employee that they will strive not to repeat the mistake.

Be kind

You must be clear and not gloss over the impact of the mistake on your business, but this doesn’t mean you need to be unkind. Acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and express your confidence and encouragement that the employee’s future performance will be better.

On-going relationship

It’s easier to deal with this type of problem if you have an open and trusting relationship with your employee. Investing in good relationships with your team is something you should do all year round. Not only will that make these types of conversations easier, but it will also help identify likely mistakes before they happen.

Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They’re a common fact of life and one that, with a bit of thought, can be easily managed. What’s more, accept that making mistakes need not be a bad thing. After all, in the words of legendary US basketball player and coach John Wooden: “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything”.

Blog supplied by Heather Foley of HR consultancy ETSplc.

Further reading

How to achieve sustainable business growth

February 03, 2014 by Guest Blogger

How to achieve sustainable business growth/Business lady inflates a red ball{{}}With the giant cogs of the British economy finally whirring back into life, many businesses may experience significant growth in 2014. However, for companies to achieve successful and sustainable growth, they must expand with maturity. Here are my top five tips on how to go about it.

1 Embrace change

When a company grows organically, you create certain processes and people can get stuck in their ways. You may also find that when people take responsibility for things naturally, or by necessity, this can lead to them becoming possessive over one particular part of the company.

It’s an age-old cliché but there is ‘no I in team’, and employees putting themselves in charge of certain things and then being unwilling to relinquish them could be very unhealthy for the company. Therefore, as you grow and start to hand over responsibilities correctly, it’s important that you…

2 Specialise

As processes grow, they often become more complex or require more detailed monitoring and management. For instance, in the case of officebroker.com these areas include the likes of pay-per-click advertising and database administration.

When we were smaller, these responsibilities were handled in an ‘all-hands-to-the-pumps’ type approach. However, to maintain their integrity and maximise their potential to influence service levels and revenue generation, boxing off these responsibilities into defined roles can be hugely beneficial. However, to specialise you need…

3 Trust

Specialising means handing over ownership and sometimes relinquishing the day-to-day knowledge that you gain from this interaction. This means you have to put trust in the person taking ownership. Sometimes this can be difficult, as you are very familiar and efficient in how you complete a task – but given the right support your successor will flourish and in many cases a fresh perspective can help to improve it. Nevertheless, for trust to be built you need to develop effective…

4 Communication

Growing companies are often built around a nucleus – be they the owners, investors or trusted employees. Stay mindful that those who were there on day one will often have a sense of ownership toward the company, built around their involvement and the part they have played in helping it grow.

As the company grows and new team members arrive, it’s important to understand that their connection and attitude may be different. To keep them engaged, communicate clearly and find the “currency” that works for them (eg financial rewards, success, acknowledgment). And finally…

5 Think forward

Change brings challenges, but similarly, challenges bring change and it’s all too easy to resist them, have knee-jerk responses or fall back into old habits when they present themselves. You need to keep thinking forward and give the changes and people delivering them every chance of success. That said, never lose sight of the past nor ignore what it has taught you.

Blog supplied by for Liz Yorke, Director of Global Operations at officebroker.com.

Why you need to focus on your intangible assets if you want to grow in the upturn

January 29, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Why you need to focus on your intangible assets if you want to grow in the upturn/Business man pointing at green bar chart{{}}As the recovery begins, it's a sobering thought that because they have become reconditioned by a common ‘batten-down-the-hatches’ approach to recession, few companies are likely to be engineered for growth. The repercussions could be fatal.

The danger is no longer 'boom and bust' - but ‘boom and rust’. Proactive organisations will grow, but more pedestrian businesses risk stumbling into terminal decline. There is the real possibility that if business owners/managers remain in a risk-averse mindset, they will preside over organisational paralysis that not only prevents growth, but also allows competitors to seize market share.

After five years of surviving it's an understandable response, but it leads to an uncomfortable truth – many UK businesses have forgotten how to grow.

So, as the 'green shoots' of recovery begin to take root, what should businesses be doing to reinvigorate themselves and create a platform for growth? Experience suggests that many will be doing the very thing they should most avoid – focus solely on profit.

The alternative approach will send chills down the spines of accountants the world over, no doubt, and it may appear to defy common business logic, but the best advice for business owners seeking growth through the upturn is don't just focus on profit.

There are tried-and-tested ways to keep your business small and stressful and the most common is to obsess about profit as the markets recover and hold on too tightly to the P&L. This approach will prevent you from creating the headspace required to innovate and grow. You may well stay profitable, but you'll also stay small.

Fundamental shift

In the longer-term, the most successful businesses will facilitate a fundamental shift from a focus on profit to a focus on 'multiple'. They'll look at the long-term value of their business and switch attention from the P&L to the balance sheet. And crucially, they'll shift their focus from income to assets. After all, income follows assets.

As well as traditional 'balance sheet' assets, there are ‘intangible assets’. And the key to long-term growth - and driving the value and multiple in a business - is to focus on the intangibles.

Intangible assets generally boil down to culture, talent and systems. They're the people and processes that drive equity value and combine to form your intellectual property. The challenge is to structure your business culturally and organisationally so that it drives value, grows sustainable revenue streams and supports your long-term ambitions. Creating and building upon the right cultural platform to empower staff to deliver these common objectives - leaving senior management free to plan for tomorrow - is critical.

Catalyst for growth

The economic upturn should present a clear catalyst for growth - but business owners must not allow their desire for short-term profit to dictate caution about long-term planning and investment. Now is not the time for 'logical' product innovation and extension based on understanding today's marketplace – taking baby steps will only keep you small. Today's green shoots represent the ‘teenage years’ - and to exploit them, businesses need bold innovations if they are to capture whole new markets and appetites.

To progress, owners should consider pursuing an asset-based strategy. The challenge is to understand the ‘rocket juice’ in your business – the core intellectual property that powers your current product and channel. Once you identify it, you'll be well placed to innovate into radical new product areas and channels that are more lucrative and less competitive.

The most successful companies at this point in the economic cycle will always be outwardly-focused - and they will look for partners that can help stretch and stimulate their thinking. Business coaching can provide an independent perspective on how companies can invigorate their core intangible assets to drive value, increase their multiple and stimulate sustainable growth.

The most common way to keep your business small and stressful is to focus obsessively on profit. But there are also innovative ways to engineer growth and the best is to concentrate on intangible assets, and to work with a partner that can help to revitalise your company and create new platforms for growth. After years of austerity, UK businesses may well have forgotten how to grow, but they need to get their memory back - and quick.

Blog supplied by John Rosling, CEO of business growth consultancy Shirlaws (UK) Ltd.

Why it pays to fund your own new business

January 28, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Why it pays to fund your own new business/wallet wrapped in a shoestring{{}}Running your own business can be exciting, draining, liberating, stressful and satisfying – all at the same time. Doing it without outside investment can be a risky proposition, but with risk comes reward. While some people might view having a small budget as a disadvantage when starting a business, in my experience it proved highly beneficial in the long run. 

I started market analysis consultancy White Space with my business partner Nick using just our individual hard-earned savings and no investor support or bank loans. We’ve now been running for eight years, rent a large office in central Oxford and work for more than 70 of the world’s most recognisable companies. There are many positives to funding your own business, and here I’m going to share some of my experiences and provide practical tips on how to overcome any disadvantages. 

Making the right decisions that benefit long-term growth

As a business owner, you’ll be under constant pressure to make decisions that are critical to the growth and direction of your business. Make sure you are clear about your overall strategic direction by applying the following principles: 

  • Develop a clear business proposition by becoming an expert on the competitive landscape and identify what you can offer that differs from your competitors, but that also meets the needs of your market.   
  • Reflect on what you are good at and bring your skills, knowledge and experience to the table.
  • Have a clear vision of what you want your business to look like in five years time, who your clients/customers might be and what you want to be known for within your industry.

Surviving on a shoe string budget

Self-funding your business will cause you to reassess and prioritise your personal expenses. In the early stages, you will be surviving off very little, without the comfort of a steady income. Many financial survival tips are obvious, such as ‘save money wherever you can’. Here are three that are less obvious, but just as important:

  1. Develop a cashflow forecast. You need to know what you’re going to spend and when, and plot this against when you’re going to receive any income.
  2. Build a ‘buffer’. Start-ups generally fail because of cashflow problems, so holding a buffer or company reserve is a much better way of protecting yourself from this than a bank loan or an overdraft.
  3. Be wary of committing to too many capital outlays that aren’t aligned with your business strategy (ie lease or hire, don’t always buy).

When and how to accelerate?

Despite wanting to conserve your cash without any major capital outlays, there comes a time when a business needs to accelerate. A steady growth model is far more scalable and allows you to fully test the market before expanding further. You are also much less likely to fall victim to the cycle of ‘boom and bust’.

The right time for growth is when your business is in the middle of a successful period, with a few strong months just gone and a couple more forecast to follow. Be aware that expansion will eventually require additional resources to succeed, including labour, equipment, finances and more micro-management.

My experience has shown that the old adage – ‘revenue and staff numbers for show, profit for dough’ – still rings true. It can be exciting to feel like you are expanding, but never take your eye off the bottom line. For the vast majority of start-ups that are not expecting to be the next Twitter, this is the only true measure of success.

Self-funding your business can provide many advantages, from enormous personal satisfaction to being able to take a greater share of the spoils when your business succeeds. Making sure you have the right business proposition, the passion to make it happen and being realistic about what you can and can’t achieve are key to a successful and scalable business start-up model.

Blog supplied by John Bee, managing director of Oxford-based market analysis consultancy White Space.

Further reading

A flexible working world?

January 23, 2014 by Guest Blogger

A flexible working world?/man working with laptop{{}}There’s no denying that as a working population we are experiencing the throes of a revolution – and a flexible one at that. The concept of flexible working is one that is rapidly emerging, resulting in the adaptation of the traditional workspace as we knew it.

Rapidly advancing technologies are making it easier than ever for professionals to work remotely, on the move and reduce the need for a business to run its operations entirely under one roof 9-5, seven days a week.

The number of employers offering work-from-home options increased from just 13% in 2006 to 59% in 2011, according to the CBI/Harvey Nash Employment Trends Survey 2011. Indeed, its most recent survey in 2012 also spoke of the flexibility of the UK’s labour market, believing its freedom has made the country a good location for sizeable international projects.

Flexible working has psychological, financial and business benefits and these all result in heightened productivity and efficiency. Finding the right work-life balance is something we all strive for and can be one of the biggest challenges any entrepreneur faces when starting a business. Flexible working hours, whether that means working alternative hours or at different locations, may help to strike this balance.

One of the many reasons entrepreneurs start their own business is because they feel stressed and restricted by conventional working hours, particularly if they have young family commitments. The ability to work outside the office and keep your fingers on the pulse is a positive for both employees and employers.

Small-business owners concerned about the bottom line are also welcoming flexible working because it is proven to be good for businesses, too.

The Department for Work and Pensions produced a report on the effects of flexible working on employees and employers and it found a marked reduction in costs as a result of fewer people missing work or leaving their positions. Similarly, 58% of small-business owners recorded notable increases in productivity within their workforce.

Flexible working has made business increasingly global. Firms can entertain the idea of spreading their net further than ever before by travelling overseas for client pitches and meetings without the fear of taking their eye off the ball back at headquarters, with email, apps and the cloud improving connectivity in ways we could never have imagined just a couple of decades ago.

The growth of business hubs and fewer business owners demanding central office locations, combined with the continued use of smartphone and tablet devices means professionals can increasingly take responsibility for finding their own work-life balance.

Guest blog supplied by Generator, one of Europe’s fastest-growing hostel accommodation chains, with eight locations across the continent.

Further reading

Why it pays to pick the right business phone number

January 20, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Why it pays to pick the right business phone number /retro red telephone{{}}Choosing the right telephone number for your business is vital because it says a great deal about you. But if you don’t know your 01s, 02s, and 03s from your 0800s and 084s or the potential costs to you and your callers, it can be a minefield. Here’s a guide that should help you choose correctly.

Telephone numbers are more than just a means of customers and prospects getting in touch with you, key as that is to a thriving enterprise. They also reveal something about your business.

If you provide only a mobile (07) number, people may think your business is small. Choose a geographical number (beginning with 01 or 02) and you appear to be tied to a specific area, which, of course, is fine if you wish to operate on a local or regional basis, but not ideal if you have ambitions to trade nationally.

Provide a number that begins with 084 or 087 and callers may fear the call will cost them too much following the recent bad press about them being used for helplines at premium rates.

Opt for an 09 number and people will know you are looking to make serious money from the call, perhaps, quite rightly, for a cause or a competition – or maybe they’ll just think you’re greedy!

First impressions count. The customer or prospect may not make the call – and perhaps you just lost a new client or maybe an existing customer went elsewhere.

Yes, playing the numbers game when it comes to choosing a phone prefix for your business or organisation can be daunting, but for smaller businesses, 03 could be your lucky number.

So why is 03 so good? While it may not suit every business, 03 has the following advantages:

  • It will be free to use for the majority of callers because, by law, it has to be included in free minutes and free call deals.
  • Even if paid for, a call to 03 will be at no more than the basic rate.
  • You may attract more enquiries from outside your area. With an 03 number, you won't be judged on your location.
  • A non-geographic number such as 03 may also give the impression your business is bigger than it really is in the start-up and development phases.
  • It is a less costly alternative to 0800 ‘freephone’ numbers, for which the business has to bear all the costs of incoming calls.

Public awareness of 03 numbers is limited. There’s no doubt the government needs to do more to promote the benefits of an 03 number for callers and business owners, especially in the wake of recent legislation banning the use of 084 and 087 numbers for consumer helplines. 

Blog supplied by Lindzey Evans, Client Support Manager for Penelope, the virtual phone system for start ups and emerging businesses.

Further reading

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