Author Archives: Elaine Nester

What can we learn from dissatisfaction?

The subject of banks and their service, or lack of, came up on Linkedin this week. It seems that, although satisfaction levels are low, people either stay with their banks or move from one to another without finding what they want. One person who joined the conversation said he had to “demand” and “manipulate” to get satisfaction from his bank at a most basic level.

This made me realise that banking is a grudge purchase on the whole, as is insurance. Most people need a bank and there are not that many to choose from. We therefore put up with service that is inadequate and frustrating. It’s the same with healthcare although we do have the option to buy private services if we have the means. High net worth people can bank outside the high street and presumably have staff at their beck and call.

It’s a matter of size isn’t it? Large national organisations become sluggish, unwieldy and out of touch with their clients. The financial crisis drove banks, the health service and councils to pull in their belts and we are now feeling the consequences. They carry less fat yet they are unaccustomed to being flexible, efficient, customer-focused and having all the other attributes that smaller organisations need.

But I do have empathy. Years ago I worked in the civil service. Our work was subject to a code of practice and, although we were dealing with benefits claimants who were in distress, initiative was frowned upon. Layers of bureaucracy weighed us down and it was an environment that stifled rather than encouraged ambition. Not a breeding ground for entrepreneurs although many ex government staff are now being cajoled into self-employment to suit election objectives (or am I being cynical?)

What if our own businesses were as few in number as banks? Would we then allow our clients to feel unwanted or undervalued. Would our marketing claims become trite and unbelievable? Would we even notice if clients grumbled or disappeared? 

If the main or sole purpose of a business is to make money, other values cannot survive. Quality and customer relationships are cast aside in the struggle to get the numbers right whether they are balance sheets, waiting lists or cost savings.

Conclusion? Maybe we should feel sorry for those rule-bound bank staff and be glad that we are free to run our businesses as we wish, succeeding or otherwise according to our own efforts.

If you would like a meeting to talk about how to build and promote a strong brand you know where I am.


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Familiarity breeds….sales

Creating brand designs for products that will be sold in countries outside the UK calls for a different approach to that used when designing for the home market. Research has shown that consumers reject products, particularly food products, that look “foreign” owing to lack of trust. This is clearly not the case with internationally renowned brands, and markets are rapidly becoming more global but, for new brands, we find that designs using fonts and image styling that are already in use in the local market are more likely to succeed. This is particularly true of tertiary brands.

Examine this in light of your own shopping experience. Sometimes foreign looking products appeal – they are different and therefore interesting – but on the whole we feel comfortable with typographic and imagery cues that are instantly recognised and understood. This is the reason that the cut-price supermarkets create copycats of UK brands. 

As a branding agency, unless our brief is to deliberately create an exotic image we position new brands within the culture in which they are to appear. This can be achieved without copying category leaders but by selecting appropriate visual and linguistic cues. There is nothing worse than badly translated text on packaging for giving the game away!

For advice on preparing products for export please contact me. Funding may be available for eligible projects.

Or call 07801251767

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A moving experience

It’s official – after 25 years of working in Shrewsbury town centre we are relocating to the studio in the grounds of our home at Garmston. 8 miles outside Shrewsbury on the B4380, Garmston is a small village amid glorious countryside. Our premises at Chester Street are being sold to a developer which will mean an improvement to the street scene on the corner where our row of railway men’s cottages have stood for many years.

We converted some outbuildings at Garmston 15 years ago to house Flash Photography which was part of the Alpha Group at that time. The photographic studio was very busy around the millennium and Flash was only the second photographic company in the country to use Phase One digital technology before digital cameras became mainstream.

Nowadays, photography is part of the integrated Alpha offering and it makes sense to use the space that we created here at our home. The house itself has been used as a backdrop or set for numerous products including food, fashion, furnishings and giftware.

We hope that our new workplace will be of benefit to our clients, partners and suppliers as well as allowing Kevin and me to avoid the daily commute. Access is easy and we have very little traffic to contend with. The majority of our clients are outside the county and many are outside the UK so Skype is used more often than face to face meetings anyway.

Apologies in advance for any interruption in service during the move. We can be reached at all times on our mobiles and the new landline number is on our website.
Elaine: 07801251767
Kevin: 07711764768


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Free one-to-one sessions in January, plus £100 vouchers.

Here we are again – at the start of another year. Time to look at whether your business (and life) objectives are being met and, if not, to make changes.

Like sailing a ship isn’t it – running a business? Some business owners work without a plan and just drift along in uncharted waters in the hope that there are no icebergs under the surface and that they will arrive somewhere in the fullness of time. Others micro-manage their journey to such an extent that they will not allow for the natural changes of current and find themselves off course despite intensive efforts. It’s mixing metaphors to say that a blinkered approach is unwise in business but flexibility and intuition certainly have their place.

I’ve had the privilege over the past 2 years to work with business owners in a closer capacity than I had done previously. As a coach and trainer for Growth Accelerator I work with business owners to help them plan their course and take the steps needed to reach their objectives. This process has revealed to me the diversity that exists – select half a dozen MDs and you could find they have little in common. This has led me to wonder about motivation. Only highly motivated people would choose to run a business, one might assume, and yet the drives within people can be very different.

Some people are motivated by external factors and others by internal ones; most a mix of the two. Some are positively driven towards success, others negatively driven away from failure. It is said that the longer people survive in business, the less important their skills and intelligence become. Their sheer persistence is the greatest factor in their continued survival.

Even the most successful and highly motivated business owners suffer from fatigue at times and, at times like these, it helps to think of the sailing analogy. Remember that your intuition combined with a map to follow has served you well in the past and will do so again, even when the winds are against you.

If you would like an unbiased view on your plans for the year ahead you might like to book a FREE one to-one workshop. Sessions are available for the month of January on a first come, first served basis. We also offer a £100 voucher for redemption against any project work arising from the workshop and advice on all current funding schemes.
Call me on 07801251767.

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A real life Basil Fawlty

Offering your customers too much choice can have a negative effect on sales, and on relationships, as I found yesterday at a pub lunch. A group of us had booked lunch for 12.30 – 1pm to coincide with the end of a hill walk. We arrived at 12.40, ordered drinks and were directed to our table. This very small pub was offering a choice of 3 Sunday roasts, a full menu and a specials board. We made our selections then had to wait over an hour for most of the meals to be served. Three people were served within half an hour so they had finished before the rest of us had our food. One of the group asked the landlord whether we would soon be served and, to our surprise, he became very angry. He said that, if we had arrived on time, there would have been no problem and that he was having to serve smaller tables first. He said he would get the chef to have a word with us, which sounded more like a threat than a promise! I think we all felt aggrieved but it was too late to go elsewhere – we were tired and very hungry!

When the food finally arrived it was good but none of us felt like ordering desserts and we left shortly after eating. Most of us had dogs in cars and felt under time pressure anyway.

Three points came from this:
1. Don’t over stretch yourself. A limited menu would have been perfectly acceptable and less stressful to deliver.
2. Try to foresee problems before they arise. A plate of bread and an apology would have appeased us.
3. A Basil Fawlty approach is not so funny in real life. Blaming your customers is not an option if you want them to return – and to recommend you.

I don’t envy those in food service. It is stressful as we’ve seen on many fly on the wall documentaries. As we paid our bill and left, we apologised to the landlord for putting him under pressure which took the wind out of his sales – but will we go back? Trip Advisor shows this was not a one off.

If you would like help to create products and services that you can deliver without stress, and at a profit, give us a call. 01743 236631. Funding may be available.

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Kindness as an attribute for success – really?

I was reading the LinkedIn profile of a new contact this week. Amongst an impressive list of testimonials praising technical and professional skills one phrase stood out – “a kind person”. This attribute of being able to express human warmth and concern for other people is one that I have seen time and again in successful people. I’ve met my share of tyrants too! Their workplaces are run by intimidation at worst, or at best a careless disregard of how their staff and suppliers feel.

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Your business – a family or a battlefield?

Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer prize winning writer at the New York Times and author of The Power of Habit, said that companies resemble civil war battlefields more than they do “big happy families”. He describes workplaces as “fiefdoms where executives compete for power and credit – making their own performances seem superior and their rivals seem worse. Divisions compete for resources and sabotage each other to steal glory”.The cynic in me wants to say that many seemingly happy families exhibit the traits he describes and sibling rivalry is certainly a force to be reckoned with. However, most of us can recognise and relate to the situations that arise within businesses and organisations and contribute to, in the worst case failure, and at best under-performance and waste of resources.

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business management, business consultancy
“Everyone whinges about their boss” – and the benefits of a support network.

I just counted up 8 roles I have had this week – media planner, buyer, creative director, copywriter, HR manager, coach, trainer, account manager – all in the space of 5 days. I’m also a wife, mother, daughter, grandmother – and dog owner. I can be all these things only with the support of others – colleagues, suppliers, accountant, family, cleaners, gardener (not necessarily in priority order :-)) – and of course clients, without whom we would have no money and no reason to come to work. Many other small business owners could say the same. I think that, unless we are able to recognise our own strengths and weaknesses and focus only on the things we do well, we can very easily become overwhelmed and under-effective. The lady who cleans our house promotes herself as “A helping hand for the overwhelmed” and that’s exactly what she is (Debbie Wales at ShropGirlFriday). Sarah who cleans our offices is another star who saves us from the clutter that gathers around us as we work. And Peter who does our garden not only keeps the weeds in check but also has a key in case we’re delayed. He will walk our dog, or even take food out of the freezer when I forget. Our very good neighbour Richard also has a key. This sort of help is so valuable to working people – you may have a similar support network.

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Contracts – are they worth the paper they’re written on?

We’re encouraged to have contracts to protect every aspect of business life – but what are they really worth? In my experience, people will breach them if they are so inclined and, unless you have the appetite and money to take the offender to task, there is very little value to the contract. But let’s look at this more positively. A contract is the detailed, written form of an agreement between two parties and that is all it can ever be. There is however a much stronger and more effective contract that is never written down. It is the contract of trust.

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A party menu from 25 years ago – Carpe Diem


This menu, found in a notebook recently, was written by my son aged 11. It was preceded by a guest list and followed by a list of presents he hoped for. The present list included computer games, an England shirt, cocktail cherries and “some real good trainers”. Apart from showing that he really loved hotdogs, this book, blank apart from 3 pages, gives me an insight into his thoughts at that age and takes me back to my own situation at that time. It was 1989, the year I started Alpha.

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