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A very different version of success

October 05, 2015 by Robert Craven

A very different version of success{{}}When your fast-growing business is on a winning streak, life is great. When things go wrong - it doesn't feel so good.

There's also another place we can end up – partly as a result of the stress and partly as a result of a lack of clarity. Put simply, it's 'losing your Mojo'.

Everything goes flat. From the outside, you appear to have everything and yet you know there's something missing. Many of us have been there. And I am afraid the results can be catastrophic. It is just that we tend not to talk about these things, because they don't happen to people like us. But they do.

It seems that we have all fallen into a trap that we have set ourselves. Within the business we often forget our 'why?' - our purpose - what we're really trying to achieve rather than just making 'loadsa money'. And this trickles into every aspect of our lives.

What I am seeing is more and more MDs and CEOs who feel they earn more than enough. Yet they are somehow dissatisfied.

They still want to work but now they want to create something of value (in whatever terms): they want to create a legacy. More importantly, this breed of MD and CEO wants to create their own version of success. And this may not simply be about maximising earnings at the expense of exploiting whatever needs to be squeezed dry.

Copyright © 2015 Robert Craven (@robert_craven), business speaker, author, consultant and owner of The Directors' Centre, a consulting and training company, which helps owner-directors. His latest book, Grow Your Digital Agency, "provides the business fundamentals that every growing agency needs to address".

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How to control business expansion and manage sustainable growth

September 28, 2015 by Guest contributor

How to control business expansion and manage sustainable growth{{}}Growth is often a difficult concept for start-ups. Many unjustly believe that their business will grow organically and that they will simply add additional resources as the business expands. But once you reach a certain size, upscaling needs to become a conscious choice rather than a reaction to growing market share. So, how do you control the expansion of your business and manage sustainable growth?

Assess your current situation

To determine if your business is ready for growth, you need to have a clear picture of where it is now. It's all very well making a steady income on a day-to-day basis, but that doesn't necessarily mean your business is ready to expand. You need to consider the effect expansion will have across the board. Do you have enough capital to invest in upscaling? Will the expansion divert too much of your time away from your core business?

Getting too big, too fast has been the downfall of many small businesses. To grow sustainably, you need to keep a tight rein on your operations and don't let booming sales lure you into making rash decisions such as taking on too much debt. For example, if you take out a loan to upscale operations to meet current demand, you need to work out how much return you need to get from that investment to keep the business running. Getting more customers is great, but if you need additional resources to serve those customers, you may end up increasing your debt rather than your profits.

To work out how fast your business can grow without losing money you need to work out your affordable growth rate (AGR), a term coined by Hewlett Packard in the 1950s. This is a simple calculation where you divide this year's net profits by last year's equity. You can then limit your growth to ensure that your business remains sustainable, without having to raise additional funds.

Don't forget your original vision

The key to successful expansion is to keep your original mission in mind. This defines what is important to your business and allows you to plan ahead accordingly. With a clear vision, external or internal changes won't be able to distract you from achieving your business goals.

When you're starting out as a small business, most entrepreneurs have a clear idea of what their product/service is and the market they want to target. This means they can focus all their energy in getting that particular product to their target customers.

However, once you become more established, it's very tempting to start pursuing related revenue streams that open up new opportunities. For example, if you started out successfully selling blinds to consumers, then you might think "hey, why don't I sell the same blinds to commercial customers?"

Many businesses have had great success branching out into unknown territory but it is a huge risk nevertheless. If you decide to pursue a new direction, you must bear in mind that a certain amount of time needs to be allocated into researching current market conditions, the customer base and competitors to build a plan for sustainable growth. On top of this you may have to invest in new machinery, additional staff and various other resources. Businesses often underestimate the amount of cash and time that will be needed to break into a related market, so plan carefully.

Copyright © 2015 Helen Naylor. Following a number of years writing for leading industry magazines, Helen has extensive experience with SMEs and now works with various organisations to provide commentaries and information covering a range of industry topics including business solutions, advice for SMEs, business development, manufacturing, technology, logistics and careers.

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Four reasons why keeping electronic records is a must for small businesses

September 22, 2015 by Guest contributor

Four reasons why keeping electronic records is a must for small businesses{{}}Nobody likes dealing with paperwork. That's especially true when you've just started a business and there are a hundred and one other things to do.

Document management is likely to be the least of your concerns, but if it isn't done properly it could cause numerous problems for your business further down the line.

Now is the time to get the planning right and put in place best practice processes that will support your company's growth. So, why is electronic records management so important for your start-up business?

1 It's highly efficient

Having a good electronic records management (ERM) system will improve both internal efficiency and your overall business competiveness. There's nothing more distracting or frustrating than having piles of paper documents and files lying around.

And not being able to find what you need could ultimately prove harmful. Having an ERM system will ensure records aren't lost, and help you get any information or data you need quickly and reliably.

2 It's cost effective

Saving money wherever possible is key for any start-up, and storing documents electronically is a cost-effective way to manage all your records.

Manual document management is a time-consuming back office process and you'd be much better placed freeing up internal resources and costly staff time. Reallocate them instead to more important and productive tasks that will help strengthen and build your business.

There are also costs associated with physical storage - particularly as a fast-growing business you will probably generate many files. Switching to digital storage will allow you to manage your expansion cost effectively.

3 It supports good compliance practices

The type of industry or jurisdiction in which your business is operating will dictate regulations with which you need to comply when it comes to document and data storage. Legacy files may need to be kept for a certain numbers of years, and you might need to show that certain procedures were followed and sensitive information stored correctly. Electronic records management takes the worry out of compliance. It can even be set up to ensure records are destroyed in a secure and timely manner when you no longer need them.

4 It protects your business

Finally, an ERM system is the safest way to store documents and files. There have been numerous high-profile data breaches in recent years, and your business needs to protect sensitive financial information and trusted customer details with a secure system. It also has the added value of providing an offsite backup, in case of a disaster that could destroy both physical and electronic files at your premises.

Electronic records management is a vital asset for the administrative function of any business, large or small. If you haven't got a process yet, it makes good business sense to set one up as soon as possible.

Copyright © 2015 Sheelagh Carroll, head of commercial for UK-based digital documentation management provider Kefron.

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Top tips to a successful online business

September 14, 2015 by Guest contributor

If you're considering taking your business online, or are in the midst of starting up a new business, check out DLR Accountants' infographic below. It includes advice on your website's loading time, the importance of online reviews and using social media to promote your business. 

Top tips to a successful online business{{}}

Infographic supplied by DLR Accountants, © 2015

First things to consider when launching an online business

September 08, 2015 by Guest contributor

First things to consider when launching an online business{{}}The world of ecommerce is extremely lucrative and its growth is showing no sign of slowing. In fact, online shopping is set to double in value over the next three years alone. And it's not just the large retailers that can cash in on its popularity, there's huge potential for small businesses, too.

However, there are still many small firms that are yet to venture online, finding the prospect of entering a new space too daunting, or lacking the resources to launch their own ecommerce enterprise. But with competition rife in the retail market, sitting back is no longer an option and small businesses must start taking their first steps or risk losing further revenue as more consumers go digital.

Proper planning

There are many aspects to launching an ecommerce business – it's not just a case of setting up a website, adding some products and going live. If SMEs want to better secure the success of their online efforts, a clear business plan must be in place right from the start.

Creating this solid structure will enable you to refine your strategy for launching to a digital audience – many of whom will be very different to typical in-store shoppers. For example, online customers are not limited to the local area, they can come from anywhere in the country (or even overseas). Once this is finalised, you can then get started on the exciting bit – producing the website.

Launching a website

The great thing about launching a website is the almost unlimited number of features and functions that can be added. However, be warned. Experimenting with too much too soon could mean you can't maintain a high level of customer service.

Start simple, to get it right. Outline what your website needs to do right now and implement that to begin with, you can always add more features later.

Don't forget to think how the site will look on a mobile device. This is extremely important to today's consumer, so consider a mobile optimised or responsive design.

Agency or DIY?

It can be very tempting to take a do-it-yourself approach to building a website. It can be cheaper and offers total control. However, it's important to consider how time-consuming it will be, along with the extra strain it can put on resources.

Partnering with a professional design agency will likely provide a slicker look and finish, while allowing small firms to draw on external expertise and have ongoing support when required.

So, just as consumer behaviour changes, so must small retailers, as they seek to provide shoppers with the means to browse and buy however they choose.

Copyright © 2015 Gareth Poppleton, managing director of Retail Merchant Services (which you can follow on Twitter @RMSCardPayments).

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The importance of selecting the right courier for your small business

September 07, 2015 by Guest contributor

The importance of selecting the right courier for your small business{{}}What's the secret to selecting the right logistics partner? Price and reliability are important points to consider when organising your distribution and delivery operations. However, there are other elements to logistics besides price and reputation. Here are four important questions every business owner should ask before selecting a courier partner.

1 Is it better to have your own-brand van?

In most cases, it's best to have your own-brand van, because it leaves a lasting impression on customers and advertises your name around town. Realistically, few retailers, let alone e-commerce sites, can afford to have their own in-house logistics and van fleet. Some of the biggest e-commerce sites, such as Argos and Amazon, use courier companies for many of their deliveries.

Select companies such as operate their own logistics. This is a core focus in the company's brand strategy and shopping experience. While you may not be able to afford your own-brand vans, opting for an established courier will deliver the same professional experience without the investment and risk of running your own logistics in-house. Alternatively, if you have a high street presence or a bricks and mortar store, consider offering 'click and collect' services.

2 Should you choose a lifestyle courier?

Many low-cost couriers rely on self-employed couriers to deliver packages. Drivers are paid per delivery and are often referred to as 'lifestyle couriers'. Unlike traditional post workers or full-time employees of courier companies, self-employed drivers can sometimes resort to 'off-piste' measures to delivering packages. Horror stories have emerged about underpaid employees leaving packages in bins and throwing fragile items over fences.

If you are starting up your own business, do you really want to risk your first sales with a poor or unreliable courier? Booking a delivery with a discount courier may save you money in the short-run, but you are risking your brand's strategy in the long run. Consider booking with a professional courier service. You get the saving without compromising your brand in the eyes of your customer.

3 What tracking facilities are offered?

Tracking facilities vary from one courier to the next. Some courier companies offer different tracking services to help customers plan or reschedule deliveries. Not only does this service allow the company to be more efficient, it also helps customers plan shipments, so it's a win-win. Real-time tracking facilities can reduce the number of customer queries and significantly improve operations.

Select services cut the delivery window down to a 15-minute slot and give customers the option to have their parcel delivered to a safe place, be collected from the nearest depot or upgrade their delivery.

When selecting a courier partner or service, you should always see what technology and apps are available. Look for companies that offer real-time scan info updates and mobile tracking apps. This will ensure you are offering a complete and state-of-the-art shipping service to your customers.

4 Can you offer multiple delivery and/or return options with the courier?

Giving customers the option to send their parcel economy or express is essential, so customers can pay for faster delivery for last minute or urgent orders. Allowing free returns may encourage first-time buyers to purchase from your website. While some retailers do not offer returns, they may be losing out on first-time buyers or return shoppers.

Courier services and delivery windows vary extensively. Consider using more than one courier to provide your customers with greater delivery and/or return options. Again, it is about balancing short-term goals with long-term growth. Using a parcel broker may allow you to pick and choose the best service for a particular customer or delivery region.

Copyright © 2015 Mark Bunce of Fastlane International Couriers. Follow them on Twitter.

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