Elaine’s Blog

Your business baby

Nurturing a new business in its early days is a bit like when you have a new baby.

You’re delighted and excited when all the planning comes to fruition and your wonderful offspring is ready to introduce to the world.

You make sure it has resources to sustain it through the times when it has no independent means of support.

And, when the time is right, you back off and feel proud as it stands, maybe a little unsteadily at first, and gathers its own momentum.

Just as a human child will always be in your thoughts, your business baby will be a cause of sleepless nights, anxious moments and relief when fears turn out to be unfounded. You will defend it against anyone who causes harm and guide it back to safety time and again.

But this is where the analogy ends – whilst a parent/child relationship is for life, and ideally reciprocal, the relationship between a business parent and her business baby needs to be much more clinical. No matter the depth of love you have for that baby, you have to be prepared to let him go if he underperforms. Give him a second, third or fourth chance by all means as you adjust him to suit the market but don’t wait too long to sever the ties if you need to.

Richard Branson has 5 golden rules for running a successful business:

1. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. You must love what you do. 

2. Be innovative: Create something different that will stand out.

3. Your employees are your best asset. Happy employees make for happy customers. 

4. Lead by listening: Get feedback from your staff and customers on a regular basis.

5. Be visible: Market the company and its offers.

These are the rules we’ve set ourselves for Share Space and other businesses we‘ve set up in the past. I‘d add a sixth rule to that list – analyse performance continually. Keep that baby on his toes and, if need be, involve a dispassionate third party – a business advisor or accountant – to help you to decide at any point whether your heart’s ruling your head.

Let me know if input is needed as you rear your own business baby. I‘d be pleased to act as a sounding board or point you in the direction of experts who have helped me over the years.

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Statistics, statistics and…..

Over the weekend I was struck once again by the way facts are presented in an unbalanced way to validate a viewpoint on social media. This also happens in print and broadcast media of course even by, or perhaps especially by, full-time professional communicators. Nothing new about that you may be thinking – it’s human nature to demonstrate confirmation bias in communications.

Which is of course true but nevertheless frustrating. The example that struck me was a statistic about money being wasted by governments without any context or comparison to the norm. The figure quoted was therefore meaningless and used only as another missile to toss onto the bandwagon of popular opinion.

If only we were fitted with filters so we could gather information with confidence, knowing it hadn’t been skewed in any way and good decisions could result from it. I was talking to a new contact recently who is creating AI to help in the selection and buying process – a tool to ensure that you can effectively short circuit research and arrive at the best product for a particular purpose. Who knows where this could lead.

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Twenty years on…

Just realised I started this blog in July 2001, over 20 years ago. There might be something of interest in there at some point for my grandchildren – some of the articles show how the progression of technology has changed the way we work. And some articles might still be relevant to business people in future years as some things never really change – like a sort of time capsule.

Hopefully I’m not part of a history lesson just yet and there are lots of new experiences to come. And why is there a poem in there? It’s something I do as a member of Shrewsbury u3a.

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Learning to earn

My first taste of earning money, as opposed to receiving pocket money, was when I was given a Saturday job at age 11. Even in those days, child labour was uncommon in the UK but my mother asked the owner of a market stall if I could help out for a few hours on Saturdays. This was a dream come true for me. My father was a retailer and for as long as I could remember I’d played shop using price tickets he brought home for me. I would set out my stall in the living room and sell to my parents and my younger sister.

The market stall sold toys! What could be better. The stall owner also had a hat stall upstairs on the market balcony but that wasn’t of great interest to me. My first day passed very quickly and I was very excited to be given a handful of change at the end of it. This I promptly spent on a pottery dog for the middle sister and an “upside-down doll” for our new baby sister who was only a year old. The doll had two heads – a happy one and a sad one – which could be alternated by flipping the skirt over one of the heads. I can see those two toys as vividly as if it were yesterday and I remember my excitement as I hurried home to bestow them on my sisters.

Fast forward five years to my second earning opportunity. I was sixteen when my mother saw a notice on a high street boutique. Saturday Girl Wanted. Apply Within. Before I knew it, I was gently propelled through the door and I was granted the role. To my great pleasure, I was offered not only £1 a day plus commission, but also the chance to wear any of the clothes that I chose whilst at work provided I took them home to wash and replace on the rails – wow – unbelievable! There was an eight track music machine behind the counter and we grooved the days away to the sound of Lou Reed. My happiness was complete when another Saturday girl was needed and my school friend joined me at the boutique. This cemented our friendship for life and we shared a babysitting job too, for the singer and guitarist of the band at the local nightclub. Babysitting paid £10 a week between us for 5 nights – we took it in turns. We felt very well off.

My third job was more like real work – 8am to 8pm on the tills at Tesco, Shrewsbury town centre. I did this in the holidays as by now I was studying for A levels. It was gruelling work and despite being young and fairly fit I developed an aching neck and back from repetitively moving groceries along the counter. £15 a week was my reward. I also gave my mother more Green Shield stamps than she was entitled to when she came to shop. One day I was asked to leave my till and sweep the floor in front of the windows. I refused on the grounds that someone might pass who knew me and see me sweeping. For some reason I was allowed to get away with this. The next day I was called in to the office and my arrogance was rewarded by an offer of a full time management position. I suppose you could be charitable and say that I had a strong sense of self-worth? I declined the job and continued with my A level studies before starting my first grownup job in the civil service as a clerical officer. Going to university wasn’t an option as I passed only one of my three A levels. I wasn’t very studious having met my husband-to-be on the first day at technical college where I’d opted to go after rebelling against the restrictions of my all girls’ grammar school.

Maybe this tells you a little about the sort of girl I was and how I grew up with an understanding that money is the reward for work and the satisfaction that can be gained from earning, even when the work itself might not be ideal. Later I was lucky enough to be supported by my husband whilst I started my own business. But that didn’t happen until I was 33 and the mother of an 11 year old. And that’s a story for another day.

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Do you let people get to you?

Accessibility – a slightly sore point for us at Alpha this week as telephone number transfers didn’t go to plan. That aside, it was brought home to me this week that being accessible, or being available when needed, is one of the most important aspects of business success.

This is not about technology, although recent advances have given us the opportunity to ditch switchboards and give people direct access to mobiles, but more about having an attitude of accessibility. This, for me, separates truly great people in both business and personal life from the average.

An example arose last Sunday. I had sent a client a request via Linkedin to reuse a testimonial he had written about our services. This was a couple of weeks ago and I was surprised and very pleased to hear from him on Sunday granting my request and explaining that he would have come back to me sooner had he not been away on business. This man runs a large, highly successful company. He is nevertheless accessible to me, a supplier. He makes people feel valued.

This is the spirit that has come about through social media. It has been a great leveller. If people choose to engage they can access, or at least make contact with, almost anyone. How you respond, or not, to contact is your decision but my view is that, if we place ourselves into the public arena, we will gain by engaging in a positive way with those who pay us the compliment of noticing us. Social media is a huge virtual meeting place. It’s not a good policy, or good manners, to ignore people, any more than it would be to turn away when spoken to at a social gathering.

If you would like help with formulating a social media strategy for your business, give me a call on 07801251767 or email elainenester@adm-group.co.uk. Funding is available for this and many other aspects of business growth – let me know if you are interested.

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Bricks and Mortar still key

As the private equity backed Graze brand launches in Sainsbury’s we see that the importance of an off-line  presence. It will be interesting to see how this goes. Many brands that began with Internet sales have added high street retail to their mix in order to engage with consumers and increase market share. An expensive option? Maybe – but if it’s managed wisely it can pay off.

Fubding is now available to help brands to become retail-ready. Contact us for eligibility details. elainenester@adm-group.co.uk or 07801251767

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Death of a Salesman?

elainenester:

It’s getting on for 3 years since I wrote this – I think it’s still valid. Which sales and marketing channels do you find most cost-effective for your business?

Originally posted on alpha design and marketing:

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the death or terminal illness of outbound marketing. By definition that also implies the death of sales as we know it in terms of proactive people who represent their companies and transact business face to face. Now I come to think about it, it’s a very long time since we’ve had a visit or even a phone call from a potential supplier, that’s if you leave recruitment companies out of the scenario.

Cuts have been made in the following: Printed literature, Telemarketing/Telesales, Attendance at Exhibitions, Visits to clients and potential clients, Advertising (both on and off-line) and PR. Companies have reduced marketing budgets unilaterally and jumped with relief on the inbound marketing bandwagon. Why? Because it costs less and they believe that the same results can be achieved despite the evidence to the contrary on balance sheets.

As a marketing company that was founded in…

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What would you say to your younger self?

I was pleased to be called this week, as I often am, by a young person asking career advice. I thought back to my school days and the advice I was given. This was mainly about studying for exams, going to university and finding secure employment. Whilst there are still merits in that path, employment is no longer as secure as it was, and people need to become more flexible and resourceful as a result.

If I could meet my young self here in 2015 (and she was willing to listen) I would advise her as follows:

1. Don’t be too focused on results. Your qualifications will matter much less than your attitude. Experience is more valuable than results on paper.

2. Trust your first instincts about people. They are usually right. Surround yourself with positive people.

3. Spend time with people you respect, both at work and in your free time. You can learn so much from other people, and they from you. Share information freely.

4. Think before you act. It’s great to be passionate about a big idea but think it through to anticipate all likely outcomes. Then go for it.

5. Treat bad experiences as development opportunities and don’t moan about them. A negative attitude reflects only on you.

6. Guard your professional reputation and use social media with care – always.

7. Don’t stay in an environment that doesn’t suit you. It’s a waste of life. 

Starting work life in 2015 is different in some ways than it was when I was young back in the 70s but there are just as many exciting opportunities. Career paths are rarely signposted or predictable and sometimes, when you feel you are treading water, another opportunity presents itself.  

At Alpha we offer coaching and training for business owners and managers. Funding is often available. Contact us for eligibility criteria. 07801251767
 

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Role reversal

The review of the fox hunting ban has given rise to repeated use of the word “toffs” on social media in recent days. Curiousity led me to discover the origins of this word. A 100 years ago or so the well-heeled often used snuff which caused their noses to run with a toffee like substance. They held their heads high, and no doubt sniffed a lot, owing to this which earned them the description of “toffee-nosed” or “toffs”.

Has the gap between social classes widened or narrowed since Victorian times? Debatable. What is beyond doubt is that prejudice exists in both directions along the social scale and, like most prejudice, it is often unfounded. Stereotypes are just that.

I just read an account of a man who spent a day as a Big Issue seller on a street in Scotland. The treatment he received from most of the public was shameful. He was ignored and sworn at, even by people who worked with him in his normal role and failed to even recognise him as a person deserving respect, let alone as one of their colleagues.

Maybe it would help us all if we could step into the shoes of someone with a different life from time to time? In the meantime, let’s hope the new Government achieves its aim of improving standards for everyone.

No sales pitch today – bye for now.

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Irritating words and phrases – have you used any today?

The Telegraph published a list of the ten most irritating words and phrases a while ago:

1 – At the end of the day

2 – Fairly unique

3 – I personally

4 – At this moment in time

5 – With all due respect

6 – Absolutely

7 – It’s a nightmare

8 – Shouldn’t of

9 – 24/7

10 – It’s not rocket science

You can probably add your own pet squirmy phrases to this – one of mine is “out of the box” particularly when used by people in the creative sector. It’s just so…. in the box. Words and phrases come in and out of fashion and it’s odd how you notice the same ones popping up, sometimes in the course of just one day. My word of the day is “curated” and my phrase is “reaching out”. Curated was mentioned today in connection with a museum collection in an article I read and then, only an hour or so later I was reading about “curated commerce” in relation to driving selected content to consumers online.

The phrase “reaching out” was used in an email from a client today as in “I will be reaching out to you soon about…”. I then heard the same phrase on the morning news referring to the utilities companies who expect their customers to “reach out to them” when they cannot pay their bills. So much more emotive than saying “I will be in touch” or “I will contact you”, reaching out begs a sympathetic response – at least until we get fed up with hearing it.

I thought about these two concepts and how they apply to today’s business world. Business is in many ways less personal than it used to be. The sales funnel has been turned on its head as buyers are no longer limited to the choices that are set before them. As vendors, we really do need to curate our offers to make them relevant and we certainly need to reach out to our target customers in ways that will make them take notice.

This has always been the raison d’etre of marketing of course (sorry if you hate that phrase). Ever since the Henry Ford approach was abandoned and people demanded colours other than black, marketeers have been preaching about tailoring content and accurate targeting. But when you really start to think about the intelligence that is available to us now, you realise that we are only just starting to scratch the surface of what can be achieved.

Reach out to me on 07801251767 or elainenester@adm-group.co.uk. We offer a whole long list of services as you’ll see on our website but we’ll be delighted to curate them to suit your particular needs.

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