Friday, 21 December 2012

Common pitfalls to avoid

Research has indicated that there are some common reasons for businesses failing. It is important that you are aware of the common reasons for business failure, which primarily impacts on your cash position, so you can plan to avoid these.

  • Not enough capital
  • Growing too fast
  • Hiring the wrong people
  • Lack of experience
  • Too few customers
  • Setting prices too low
  • Poor financial controls
  • Bad debts
  • Poor control of your overheads
  • Competition
  • Poor communication with staff 
  • Health issues of the key people
  • Bad management & Poor supervision
  • Poor communication with suppliers
  • Poor communication with customers
  • Bad luck
  • Poor planning
We cover these areas in more detail on our dvd.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

SWOT Analysis

So what are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for your start up idea?

We have included a template on our web site to help you consider your personal SWOT analysis. The tips to consider are:
·         What advantages do you have or what do you do better than anyone else?
·         What do people in your market see as your strengths?
·         What factors mean that you "get the sale"?
·         What could you improve?
·         Are there areas you should avoid?
·         What are people in your market likely to see as weaknesses?
·         What factors lose you sales?
·         Where are good opportunities for you?
·         What are the interesting trends you can maximise?
·         What obstacles do you face?
·         What is your competition doing that you should be worried about?
·         Is changing technology threatening your position?
·         Are political or environmental decisions likely to impact your business
·         Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your business?

Once you have completed the SWOT analysis, then you should consider how this knowledge can be used:
1.    How can we Use each Strength?
2.    How can we Stop each Weakness?
3.    How can we Exploit each Opportunity?
4.    How can we Defend against each Threat?

Friday, 14 December 2012

Market research

The most common reply to the question of market research is that my friends and family think it is a good idea. Of course they will, as they want to support you and take a true friend to tell you 'don't do it'.
Effective market research is commonly broken down to Primary and secondary research. So your own specific research could include
  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Product tests
  • Test marketing
  • Published information and statistics
  • Observation
  • Mystery shopping

You should also undertake your own competition analysis to see how your competitors approach the market with their product or service. You may have a different approach, but your competitors have started their business, so we suggest you will not have to re-invent the wheel after reviewing your observations.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Can you afford to start your own business?

Are you a risk taker? They say all top entrepreneurs are willing to take risks. However these are usually calculated risks unless the business owner can afford the possible loss.
Starting your own business will always be a risk, as there are not such guarantees in life. So we recommend you review your personal financial position to ensure that you can afford to start your business.
Firstly we would recommend a review of your personal assets, especially your liquid assets such as bank or savings accounts, shares etc, so you know you have back up resources if it takes longer than planned to get the business off the ground.
On our web site we offer a template to help this consideration.
We also offer a template for considering your personal survival budget. This is the minimum figure that you need the business to earn for you each month to ensure that your personally survive. It is no good running a business that breaks even without providing you with cash or a return to achieve the motivation and reasons you started in business. 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Focus on your ideal customer and resist trying to market to everyone

You may argue that your product and service can be purchased by anyone, but if you want to make the most of your marketing resources in terms of money and time, then we suggest that you look to focus your activities on attracting your ideal customer. So why?
  • Your ideal customers usually make up most of your profits
  • Working with ideal customers is much more rewarding and enjoyable
  • You can concentrate your marketing efforts more efficiently
  • You can better understand the need and how you match your benefits
  • You will be able to better identify any expectation gap
  • You can easily adapt as you know your environment
So the best ways to identify your 'ideal customer' is:
  1. Customer profiling - review the trends of your top 20% of customers
  2. Segmentation - use demographics, classifications, life cycles, psychographics and contextual marketing to focus on your ideal prospect
  3. Market research - ask your ideal prospects, not your friends, some key questions such as what they expect, where they are buying now, why, and how often they buy.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Our 7 top tips to improve your sales meeting conversation rate

So you have invested in your marketing and created opportunities. These are our 7 top tips to ensure you convert more of those prospects to paying customers.

  1. Test different approaches with your prospects – what you say, wear, handout, offer or even the time you meet may influence your success
  2. Be honest with yourself. Review your discussions & know why you are not converting
  3. Know your market and demonstrate your awareness
  4. Remove the risk to the buyer such as giving a guarantee
  5. Listen to your prospect & match their need with your benefits. Consider the pain for the prospect by not buying from you, or the gain they would experience
  6. How clear is your Unique Selling Point to the buyer. Not just in terms of the message, but how is it important to your propect
  7. Know the influencers of your prospects decision, such as their partner, advisers, employees, existing supplier and online references.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Creating and building trust

How often do you hear the phrase 'people buy from people'. When we completed a research project into why people do buy from people, then 'trust' was the most important factor required before a buyer decides to buy from you or not.
Trust is much deeper than a gut feeling of whether you will be ripped off or not, so what can we do to make ourselves more trustworthy with our prospective customers?

Deliver on your promises - perhaps obvious, but it is where so many fail
Remove the risk - offer a guarantee and show your belief in your product or service

Position yourself with authority, expertise and recognition
Have proof of delivery such as testimonials, articles, awards and case studies
Tone down the selling but still solve the problem

Friday, 2 November 2012

The value to your organisation of different behaviourial styles

We enjoy working with Thomas International as an accredited provider of the personality and behavioural analysis reports, using D.I.S.C. profiling.
So what value to your organisation does someone who has a High D, I, S or C profile provide?
Please read more from our recent blog to discover the value to an organisation of someone who has a high dominant factor of:

D - Drive
I - Influence
S - Steadiness
C - Compliance

Monday, 8 October 2012

What does your design and print say about you and your business

Your stationery, business cards, website, e-mails, brochures and advertising convey your brand personality to your target audience.
The design is important in developing your image, how you are represented and what makes you stand out from the crowd.

Please make sure that you work with designers and printers that understand your vision for the business and that can create the appropriate and effective message for your business.
This is an area that can not be underestimated, even for the smallest of businesses.
You are going to spend some money to have this created, so get it right first time with the image that is right for you and your market.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Mentoring in leisure and hospitality

So what have I been doing recently?

One exciting piece of work that I have been doing is with a long term client. They are a husband and wife team running their own restaurant in Oxford for the past 7 years.

My role has been to support their decision makiing and planning in many different areas of the business, but predominantly relating back to the numbers in the business, including the obvious turnover and margins, but also reviewing the underlying numbers such as covers, average sale value, service scores, staff turnover and  to name a few.

This last week, we were looking at the seasonal flow of their business, highlighted by the recent visitors to Oxford for the open day at the Universities.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Invited to speak in London

I am pleased to have been invited back again to speak at this years conference of the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers in London on 7th November.

Last year, I spoke on the subject of Strategic and Tactical Marketing and was voted the 'the most popular speaker'.  This year, my talk will be covering the 7 effective steps to grow your bookkeeping business.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Is there a best way to market a business?

I have been reading many articles this week all suggesting that a certain way is the best way to market your business and I can see how this can distract business owners from their marketing focus and encourage them to try anything and everything to get a new customer.

This is fine if you have the time, as any new customers can be a good thing for some businesses. However many of the people we work with have limited time for marketing or are aware that only a certain level of investment in marketing activity will be worth the likely return.

So what is the best way to market your business? Online, offline?

Well it really depends on your customers and the ideal customer that you wish to attract with your marketing activities. so I encourage you to do some great market research to truly understand your target market and more importantly, what do they do.

So for example if your target customer reads a certain publication, then perhaps PR in that publication should be your focus. Maybe your target customer is on Facebook most of the day, then of course this is a consideration for your marketing spend with adverts on Facebook.

You will see there is no one marketing activity that best suits all businesses and the key is good research and focus. Without both, you are likely to be wasting some of your hard earned money.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Know your leadership and management style

This week, I have been on a course! The subject matter was personality profiling and it was a fantastic course and insight that has developed my skills further to allow me to help business owners know more about their leadership and management style.

Our research shows us that the entrepreneurs that know more about themselves and how they can get the best from their team, usually see the best results.
It is however sometime the last focus of an entrepreneur, as they have other things to focus on such as marketing, finance, operations and to be honest most entrepreneurs consider themselves as good leaders and managers because they own the business.

My company use DISC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Compliance) profiling to help our clients understand the leaders strengths, style and compatibility with others.

If you are an employer, then we can also help you recruit, retain, develop and manage your people. We can provide you with an insight into your team, so you know, what motivates them, what are their core strengths and limitations, and what is their potential.

We work with clients that have improved their recruitment and retention of staff simply focusing on the profile of the ideal team member for the role advertised.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Dreams and visions from your holidays

September is a month when many people think of starting their own business or actually seriously progress their thoughts.

Many have been on holiday, relaxing but at the same time thinking about the future or even identifying that they are not really enjoying their current job.
When the mind is relaxed, then creativity finds a place and sometimes the best ideas are thought of.
We may even see a business operating when on holiday and think that could work where I live. It may just be the time out you needed to be able to spend time thinking about your idea. Certainly some of my best ideas for new businesses or expansions have been laid in the sun and relaxing.

But can I encourage you to not rush back and hand in that resignation immediately!
Think about your business plan, get your ideas down on paper, do the finances and complete your market research. Does it work?
Create the right foundations and review all those initial considerations that need to be made to ensure that running your own business is right for you and the correct decision.
It is like building a house, which will be more stable if the foundations are right from day one.

If you are setting up a business, then good luck.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Oxford Marketing Conference

Since 2009, A1 Marketing have organised the Oxford Marketing Conference and this years event will take place on Tuesday 16th October.

If you are within easy travelling distance of Oxford, then this is a great opportunity to listen to a range of expert speakers for both online and offline marketing, plus participate in some short marketing focused activiities.

So if you work in marketing or are responsible for marketing your business, then why not come and join us on the 16th in Oxford.

For more information, please see

Monday, 24 September 2012

Test your marketing

In marketing speak, quite often you will come across the term 'Test & Measure' and I would advocate this with all your marketing activity. What is the point of wasting your resources in terms of time and money on activities that do not work.

You may have undertaken your research and identified that a certain type of marketing would be best for your target market or customer. However I would encourage you to test other marketing ideas as well and not leave all your eggs in one basket.

In addition, when testing, there are two key thoughts to remember:
1) Test small first - for example if you decide to undertake a direct mail campaign distribution of 30,000 prospects, then test your message and contact list with a small part of this total number. For example, testing to 2,000 to identify your message and market is not right will save a lot of wasted money.

2) Split testing. If we take our direct mail example, then you may wish to test a different message, material or idea to to say 1000 than the other 1000. Then see which generates the best response and roll this out on mass.

Testing with Online marketing will be much quicker, sometimes instant, so if you are marketing with offline activity such as direct mail or telephone calls, then you need to be patient to measure the true results.
If you are marketing in many different activities, then ensure you have a way of measuring the enquiry and which method truly generated the response.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Why a DVD?

Earlier this year we launched a Business Start Up Guide on DVD.
So why a DVD?
Working with many start up business owners every year, we met many that had no inclination to read a book, of which there are so many.
We were also told that many of the books covered too much detail for the initial start up period and therefore we chose our content to be the 'must know' guide covering the foundations and initial considerations for all new business owners.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Is your LinkedIn profile forgettable?

LinkedIn can be a great social media tool for many businesses.
But if you are going to have a presence on this platform, then please ensure that it is not forgettable. Here are my 10 key tips to ensure that you develop your basic profile and create a reason to attract someone viewing your profile.

  1. Photo: Ensure you have one and it represents you and your business, not the last time you were out with friends, unless of course that is your business!
  2. Headline: More than just your job title. What do you do to help your customers?
  3. Websites: Ensure they are personalised and not just 'My company website'
  4. Skills and expertise: Complete covering all your skills listed using key words your prospective customer or contact may be searching for.
  5. Status updates: Ensure you have status updates and appear active, but please ensure they are not simply self promotional.
  6. Recommendations: Obtain recommendations, as much more effective someone else saying how good you are.
  7. Summary: Include a description of your current role and how you are solving your customers problems.
  8. Interests: An opportunity to show your personal touch and not just business focused or boring.
  9. Groups: Demonstrates your interest in your sector or skill area.
  10. Connections: Link up with people from day one

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Networking secrets

Networking is a powerful marketing and business tool. There are a number of secrets used by professionals to build a powerful network of relationships and sales opportunities. Here are our top 6 secrets:
1. Be a farmer, not a hunter – sow the seeds, don’t sell to the room but build a network that wants to sell for you.
2. Generate business for those you meet - if you help generate some business for someone, they will want to return the favour.
3. Be very clear what you want – how will you measure the success, your activity and words will then replicate this.
4. Follow the etiquette of the room – usually based on common sense, but observe and respect appearances, behaviour, structure, format.
5. Listen – actively show real interest in the people you speak to.
6. Follow up – it doesn’t end after the event has finished make relevant follow ups, avoid immediate sales pitches, seek permission to add them to your mailing list.

Friday, 7 September 2012

8 Top Tips to Win that Sales Pitch

  1. Provide relevant information only
  2. Engage the interest of you r audience and 'Hook' their motivation to listen
  3. Prove your credibility with examples
  4. Differentiate yourself with clear Unique Selling Points
  5. Focus on the use of the word 'you'
  6. Demonstrate 'true' enthusiasm to really want the business
  7. Use summary questions to check understanding and 'buy in'
  8. Anticipate questions or objections and be prepared with systemised 'successful' responses

Monday, 3 September 2012

Are you on top of your finances?

The current economic climate has highlighted the need for many to keep a closer eye on their finances and the performance of the business.
Research has been undertaken to establish what the UK's most successful businesses do every year. The findings focus on 8 key areas:
1. Have clearly defined and measurable goals
2. Measure performance with management accounts
3. Understand your annual performance and set of accounts
4. Evaluate your performance against previous years or periods
5. Compare your performance and benchmark against your industry competitors
6. Understand and monitor your business valuation
7. Measure your key performance indicators to understand your profitability
8. Produce a defined performance improvement plan

If you would like to see how we can help with such areas, then please contact us.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Limited Companies and the Responsibilities of Directors

We are surprised by the number of people who establish limited companies because they are aware of the limited liability factor or the tax benefits, but do not know anything more about their responsibilities as a Director.
Please visit the companies house website and read more about this knowledge all directors should have.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Ensure your finance system is in order from the start

I was today working with a recent start up in the leisure business. My business has recently been asked to set up a finance system for them and integrate an office finance model with how they use Sage. Why were we asked to help? Well 3 months in, they thought they would save some money and do the accounts themselves. The result is they lost the opportunity to claim back VAT on some of their upfront costs. They lost receipts for items paid for personally on behalf of the business restricting their ability to claim back the spend. However more importantly they had been sold a bookkeeping package that they could not operate, had not set up correctly and has no chance of receiving any useful information or reports from it without help like ours.
An effective finance system from the start will show its benefits very early on. Not only will your records be accurate, many good accountants fees will recognise the quality of your day to day systems with the level of their proposed fee. However most importantly is the ability to use your financial information to make key decisions during the early months. Can you spend x? Is the business performing to the margins planned in your forecasts? Are your overheads as expected? Making the numbers work in your business from the outset is critical.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Olympic reference to business

It is obviously topical at present to make an analogy to the Olympics. So I can't miss the opportunity.
I guess the big question is to ask ourselves "were the Gold medal winners lucky?".
Like in business rarely is success down to luck alone. If you believe it is luck, then keep buying the Lottery ticket with hope and I wish you good luck.
But I would argue a clear focus and vision, affirmations, focused activity, the regular measurement and the desire to continually improve, are all key factors that can make us gold medal winners in our business lifes.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Think with your eyes wide open

It was great to read the news today that a report has revealed that more people are thinking of starting a business than ever before.
Perhaps with the current economic climate this may be forced on some people, but from the work we undertake with startups, then their certainly appears to be a higher level of positivity for entreprenuership.
We meet and talk to many people with an idea and the desire to run their own business. Quite often they have mentioned it to family and friends and as you would suspect many encourage them.
However we encourage you to enter the initial considerations with your eyes wide open and undertake good market research to establish there is a market for your product or service.
Quite often you have to push your comfort zone with market research, but look to ask your 'ideal customer' how much they pay a possible competitor, why they buy from them and how often.
This information is critical to help you build you business plan, forecasts and strategy.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Maximise your networking & generate referrals

I recently spoke in Oxford on the subject of 'How to maximise your networkiing generate referrals'.

I decided to present my thoughts based on my years experience in networking, whilst highlighting that networking is not simply about the next breakfast meeting.

The presentation was in the format of a short workshop where we looked at who is in their ideal network, what does their business really offer, their 60 sec pitch and ways they can be proactive in generating referrals.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Clean up your social media lists

It is with interest that we study the social media links of our clients. So one recommendation is to make sure you are connected, liked and followed by the right people for you and your business.

If you are not, then we suggest a clean up. For example:

• Who is connected to you simply to be very proactive with your connections? We have even seen examples where people have contacted a connection having suggested that our client recommended a contact, when they had not!
• Who have you connected with because they asked, but you have no actual connection with?
• Who is following you on twitter with no interest in you, but simply to raise awareness of themselves with your followers?
• Who likes your facebook page, simply to post on your wall messages to your followers. We even saw a posting recently started 'we hope you dont mind us promoting a competitor.........'!

We suggest it is better having a smaller list of those interested in you than a large number of followers, likes or connections to look good!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Working with Influencers for your business

A key marketing strategy for many businesses is to gain new customers from referrals.
So when meeting key business influencers for your business, remember to:
1. remind them what you do and why you can help their contacts
2. engage them with your trust, excellence and results evidence
3. ask! but focus on your ideal customer

Friday, 17 August 2012

Ways to raise finance for your business

We know that raising finance is not easy in the current economic climate, however good financial information will improve your chances of success.

To support your finance application consider analysing your financial accounts (as per our last email), produce a financial forecast and consider providing a forecast of your business that shows how it would still perform if external factors were to impact your business, such as an interest rate rise or reduction in customers or price.

Your business could be financed in a number of different ways and quite often a combination is used. You can consider:

  • Your own personal monies
  • Conventional bank finance – overdrafts, commercial mortgages, business loans, commercial investment mortgages
  • Asset finance – hire/lease purchase, finance lease, operating lease, contract hire, sale and leaseback
  • Invoice discounting and factoring
  • Equity finance
  • Private investors – business angels
  • Grants

We would suggest that you explore the appropriate options for your business and from our experience the key considerations in relation to your choice of finance should be:
  • Speed of decision
  • Price – interest rate and fees
  • Security required
  • Convenience
  • Flexibility
  • Quality of service

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Prospecting with a plan

When you are prospecting for your sales pipeline, then this should be a process and have a plan.
What is your goal, what is your edge, how is your attitude and what is your key activity for an action plan?
We suggest to all our clients to keep a record of activities and measure against your objectives, especially around the areas of size of pipeline, number of resales, referrals received, referrals met, introducer meeting and events held or attended.
Keep your prospecting strong and pipeline flowing.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The common pitfalls for you to avoid as a business

Research has indicated that there are some common reasons for businesses failing, so it is important that you are aware of these common reasons for business failure, which primarily impacts on your cash position, so you can plan to avoid these.

These are key areas we are reviewing for our clients and discussing with them at the appropriate times.

  • Not enough capital
  • Growing too fast
  • Hiring the wrong people
  • Lack of experience
  • Too few customers
  • Setting prices too low
  • Poor financial controls
  • Bad debts
  • Poor control of your overheads
  • Competition.
  • Poor communication with staff
  •  people
  • Bad management & Poor supervision
  • Poor communication with suppliers
  • Poor communication with customers?
  • Poor planning

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Investment opportunities for smaller companies

£500 million of Government investment for small and mid-sized businesses is open for applications. The Government is asking for applications to manage the investment available through the Business Finance Partnership (BFP).
The BFP aims to ease the flow of credit to small and mid-sized businesses in the UK by diversifying their sources of finance and making them less reliant on bank lending. To read more please click here

Friday, 10 August 2012

Which Accounting Software is Best for You?

We are regularly asked which is the best accounting or bookkeeping software for our business? Especially as there are so many options today.
My personal preference is Sage and my own businesses use this software, but the answer really depends on your business needs.
To help you choose the best package for your business, here is an insight to our thinking:

  • The size of your business. Micro, Small, Large, Corporate all have different needs.
  • Your budget to purchase the software etc
  • The needs of your business and requirement to integrate with other software or systems.
  • The industry you're in and if any specialist software would help.
  • What features and reporting information do you need as a minimum. Make a 'desirable' list before you research.
  • How good are the support and training options.
  • Ease of use.
  • Any recommendations. From other business owners, professionals, press....
  • What software does your accountant support? Using a program they don't support could cost you more in the long run.
  • And finally, please don't just listen to the sales messages. Try and test the software.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Could Factoring Free Up your Business Cashflow?

Historically factoring or invoice discounting had a poor reputation as a last resort finance, however more and more business owners are benefiting from a more positive experience.

The lifeblood of any business is cash. You need good cash flow to keep your business viable. In some ways it's more important than turning a profit because even profitable businesses can go under due to poor cash flow during the economic downturn. If cashflow is an issue for your business, factoring could provide a good solution. Factoring companies will advance you cash based on the value of your invoices, within a few days of you issuing the invoice.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Limited Companies and the Responsibilities of Directors

We are surprised by the number of people who establish limited companies because they are aware of the limited liability factor, but do not learn more to know about their responsibilities as a Director.

If you are starting a Limited company, then please visit the companies house web site and read more on the Directors Role and Responsibilities.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Business Continuity Planning

The more years you put into running your business, the more you will feel the need to protect it and ensure no-one can take it away from you. No wonder people refer to their business as their baby!
Without getting into the area of reputation damage, product failure or an employee stealing your clients, there are broadly speaking five areas to be aware of that could badly affect your business. What is your continuity plan for the following?
  • Fire
  • Flood
  • Theft
  • Data Loss
  • Malicious Damage

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Newsletters - A few Do's and Don'ts

Our Do's
  • Review the intention and content of your e-mail newsletter. It needs to provide useful information - not a pure promotion of your product or service.
  • Have content of real value for your target market, such as tips, new ideas or industry articles.
  • Consider the length of your newsletter. Aim for it to be read in max 10 minutes.
  • Build your mailing list. Have easy sign up options in all your communications and encourage people to join your list. Remember they have to opt in to receive.
  • Send it in the simplest format so that your readers, who have a wide variety of e-mail software and computers, will hopefully receive it in an easy to read style.
  • Keep it short. For lengthy points use a URL link pointing to further information on your web site.
  • Use hyperlinks to your web site or related articles.
  • Ensure that you include easy unsubscribe information in each of your e-mail newsletters.
  • manage your newsletters and understand the type of articles that engage your readers.
  • Keep your title and timing consistent, as people and spam software will recall previous copy.
The Don'ts
  • Send attachments or special formatting, unless you know that this is what your entire audience can and wants to receive. Also a risk of going straight to spam boxes.
  • Send unsolicited e-mail (spam). You could permanently damage your reputation.
  • Send an e-mail newsletter out to often.
  • Use too many images.
  • Use technical or slang wording.

Friday, 27 July 2012

7 effective steps for business growth

Each area of business growth should be systemised, so that it is a habit in your business and business as usual instead of something for occasional focus.
Our suggested 7 steps are:
1.Number of leads marketing
2.Conversation rate sales
3.Number of customer sales cross sales
4.Value of sales prices
5.Margin cost management
6.Buy more often sales & service
7.Increase customer lifetime retention

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Your Business Plan

Your business plan is arguably the most important document that your business will ever create. So why do some people only complete a business plan when asked by the bank? 
Is it not knowing where to start or what to include? Is it because people ‘know’ the business and do not feel they need one? Or is it the fear of monitoring performance against plans? 
In our opinion, not one reason should stop the planning of your business in such a formulated manner, providing you with the ultimate reference document. If you out perform the plan then great, but many times, when we speak to business owners, we get told ‘I do not know why it has not gone as I thought it would. It was not as I planned’.
We suggest that as a minimum, your business plan should include:
  • The key details of the business.
  • Your executive summary including your aims and objectives.
  • The business description including your unique selling point.
  • Your key people and the business operations.
  • Elements unique to your business such as stock, premises, training plans, equipment, insurances etc.
  • The Marketing plan.
  • The financial forecasts including flexing for potential scenarios.

Friday, 20 July 2012

What is your Motivation?

Why do people start their own business and what motivates them?There are a number of personal reasons why people start their own business. Some see an opportunity, some suffer a personal situation such as redundancy or unemployment, whilst others have a family history of self employment or consider it as a way of earning their living. Thinking about your motivations can help you think about the goals you may set yourself and provides a measurement for success as defined by you and not as defined by others looking at your business externally.Success means different things to different people.You need to define what success means for you and this will certainly help you to find the ways to achieve it. If you do not know what you are aiming for it is unlikely you will ever achieve it. Understanding your motivations will help you identify the real purpose of your business and its aims and objectives.So for example, if it is a bigger house for your growing family, then how will the business generate the cash for this? Motivations such as “I simply do not want to work for someone else anymore” is not strong enough on its own.You should also consider planning your exit from day one. You need to have a vision of your exit from the business, so that you get the timing right for you. Too often business owners say my business is my retirement nest egg, but in reality when they come to retire it may not be the right time to sell or the value may not be as expected.So consider the need to groom successors and how to exit at your chosen time, not when other pressures may dictate. Then plan your business to build towards that exit plan. So if you want to sell for a price of £250,000 in 25 years time, what do you have to achieve in the meantime to get there?Possible exit options include: your family succession, selling the business, flotation of the business, a merger or simply closing down the business.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

What is out of date?

If you are selling food, then it is obvious when one of your products becomes out of date as it is past its best before date quoted. However do you regularly review your offering to ensure that it still matches the expectations of todays market and has not gone out of date?The reaction of a consumer to eating something out of date would be one of disappointment. Perhaps this could be related to a prospects expecations when they are reviewing your web site to read about a product or service that has not evolved or been updated for a long time?If it is not broken, then don't fix it, but we encourage you to regularly review your offering and how you fit in todays ever changing market place.

Monday, 16 July 2012

In summary, What is business networking?

Business networking is not about the next full English breakfast and effective networking for your business can perhaps be achieved without ever attending an event.Break down the word 'NETWORKING' and you have some of the answers already.

Networking - identify a network of contacts and business influencers that can truly impact your business (eg they will buy from you, they will refer others to you, they have a synergy to work with you, they sell to the same market)

Networking - cast a net and capture your contacts with the objective to convert them from a nice to know contact to an advocate of your business

Networking - proactively work on building the relationships and making regular contact

Networking - if you get networking right, it can be the cost effective king of your marketing strategy

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Is running your business like your diet?

When we eat the 'right things', we generally feel healthy and energised. If we applied this principle to our business and did the 'right things' would our business be more healthy?Research shows that if you plan your food, then you have a better chance of controlling your weight and your healthy diet. So applying this to our business, if we plan our business and our activity well, then the same question, would our business be more healthy?When you have a diet plan, you are less likely to be tempted by something that you perhaps should not be having. So again looking at our business, if we plan the activities that we undertake, then it is less likely that we will be tempted or distracted by other less important activities or fire fighting.

We work closely with SMI (UK) and at our recent Pathfinder Club Meeting, we explored the benefits of planning. We looked at ideas and tools to manage and better plan our diaries, as well as the prioritisation of our To Do lists.

So like a diet, if we do the right things such as eat the 'right' food and take exercise we will be healthier. So if in our business we do the right things and exercise the right activity then it is likely we will have a healthier business.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Finding time for your Non Urgent, Important activity

These activities are also known as your 'High Pay Off' activities. Those activities that if you focus on them will make a true difference to your business. They are activities such as planning, research, communication and relationships to name a few. 5 tips to help you find the time are:

1. Set your goals with focused deadlines
2. Plan the achievement of your goal (action steps and a planned timeline)
3. Communicate to those that need to know (your customers, team, family etc)
4. Schedule your priorities (diarise actions that are important and imperitive)
5. Track your performance against the commitment to yourself

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Time Management and knowing the basics

Do we really know the full extent of what we are trying to manage?
Many people we work with identify the need to manage things such as work for their customers, their emails, their travel time and the day to day administration. However only a few consider those small things that eat into our precious time.
Remember we only have 7 days a week, 24 hours a day to choose what we want to do. Once it has passed it has gone forever.
Some say they would not have the time, but we recommend keeping a daily time log for at least two weeks and logging every minute of your day. What did you really do. Then analyse the period and identify the true activities that need your time management focus.
Without such knowledge, it is then difficult to plan for the obvious without the time getting hijacked by another unforeseen activity.
This may also highlight areas where you may be undercharging or activities you can delegate or outsource.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

What are the top 5 numbers in your business?

Is it your turnover target or your margin percentage? Is it the number of leads you want each month or thenumber of new customers? Is it the maximum number of times the phone should ring before answered? or is it the maximum number of hours to which you will reply to an enquiry?

These numbers will be very personal to you and if achieved will help drive the success of your business.
So are you measuring these 5 numbers on a monthly basis in your management information? Are they on every meeting agenda looking at ways to improve them or simply focus on them?
If not then why not, as you have identified them as your top 5 numbers.
Mike Foster, speaks on this very subject. To read more, please see our web site

Saturday, 30 June 2012

7 ways to deal with a price objection

How many times have you discounted your price simply because the price objection was raised?
Here are our 7 top ways to approach this common objection:

  1. Target the right 'ideal' customer to sell to, as they are less likely to be price driven
  2. Define value from the customers viewpoint not your own
  3. Ask powerful questions to establish what is 'important' to your buyer
  4. Remove or reduce the risk for the buyer by offering a guarantee
  5. Use strong benefit statements, not features, and position from as if you were in their shoes
  6. Know and rehearse your responses to the common ways such an objection is raised
  7. Have reasons why you hold a price rather than being able to discount to create empathy from the buyer

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Customer service

In my view customer service is a series of planned and systemised activities in your business that ensures that your product or service delivers high levels of satisfaction and exceeds the expectations of your customer.
It is far too easy to get this wrong by not listening to your customers and doing what you think they want.
Your activities should be before, during and after a purchase.
It is just as important to consider your service delivery whether you sell a product or if you offer a service.
I would suggest that you need to consider every time a customer touches your business and then consider what you have to do to ensure that the customer experience is exceptional every single time. Every time a customer interacts with your business you have the opportunity to improve your reputation with them.
Not one service will fit all. A positive experience will be more important to some customers than others. Can you segment your customers and identify possible different expectations for different customer groups?
It may also be that the service experience is expected at different stages of their journey with you. For example on placing the order it may be a different expectation than when they receive the delivery?
Excellent service delivery can be more important in some businesses than others and will vary according to your industry.

For example, online businesses will not need the face to face positive contact, but will need order efficiency, after sales care, complaint handling, effective delivery channels. Or as a retailer you will have the face to face contact expectation, but how good is the telephone manner of your staff if a customer calls before visiting and what is the returns policy?
Customer service will be more important in some employees roles than others, however every role in the business should have a customer service focus. Receptionists, sales staff and any role meeting the customer is obvious to us that we should train these people in customer service. However what about the person who cleans the floors, arranges the distribution of goods on time, manages the web site or cooks the most fantastic meal? Without them your customer service and reputation will suffer,
Customers will pay more or return more often if they receive a level of service that meets or exceeds their expectations.

Social Media to suit your business

LinkedIn for your business - The complete profile

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The first few days with a new employee

It is recommended to give all your new starters an induction. All inductions should be structured so that the messages and information are consistent. A Professionally organised and delivered induction is your new employees' first impression of you and your organisation. A good induction will help to retain your new employees in those early months. An induction is the initial activity to welcome your new employee before any formal training plan is started.
 From experience an induction helps your employees to understand the business and where they fit in, get motivated to do their best, become productive earlier, understand the job more effectively, understand any health and safety obligations and acknowledge the culture of the business.
If you plan to undertake group inductions, then it is recommended to have an induction session for specific or related roles as to avoid any confusion.
An induction can last a few hours to a few months depending on the business and the role. The content of an induction should be planned to ensure that the interest and concentration is maintained. In my opinion it is bad practice to just push the new employee around the business to the next person who has some time to show them something else.

The main areas to cover in an induction include:
·         Any administration such as pension scheme, handbooks, uniforms etc  
·         Any clarification in the Terms and conditions of employment especially the working hours, breaks, sickness, and disciplinary and grievance procedures
·         The providing of Health and safety information including the business' health and safety policy, fire safety procedures.
·         A tour of the premises
·         An introduction to colleagues, especially the owners, line manager, human resources manager, health and safety officer
·         An introduction to the job
If their job involves the use or operation of machinery or equipment, you must ensure that they are properly trained, that they understand any associated risks, and that they have the appropriate safety equipment.

Either you or your human resources manager should also ensure that you have all the required paperwork to add the new employee to the payroll immediately as you do not want to leave it until it is too late and you cannot pay them at the first attempt.

Monday, 18 June 2012

How to decide where to promote your product or service?

You could promote your business anywhere, but we suggest your marketing activity will be much more effective and resourceful if you have a marketing strategy.
A marketing strategy is a process that will allow you to concentrate your resources on the best opportunities to increase sales and achieve a competitive advantage.
Within a good Marketing strategy, you should make considerations such as:
  • Do you know your market
·         What is your vision of the ideal customer
·         What is your strategy & vision
  • What is your position in that market
  • And how do you plan to target your market, your tactics

Your customer base will contribute towards the success of your business and how your business is represented.
So who do you really want as your customers?
Start with profiling your potential customer. For example, what is their industry sector, what size are they, where are they located, what is the personality of the owners, how much would they spend per annum, on what terms would they trade and how established are they.
You can also segment your potential customers by knowing their demographics, their Classification, their Life cycle stage, or by their psychographic attitudes and values.
In terms of contextual marketing you need to understand ‘what’ the customer was doing when they decide to purchase and ‘where’ they  were.
This is identified with effective market research. Unfortunately too many new start ups do their research with just friends and family, who tell them the answers they want to hear. We suggest you go and find the ideal prospective customers you have identified in your profiling and segmentation and ask them.
Ask them; Where are they buying now? Why from them? What do they get for their money? How often do they buy? What are their buying habits? Who influences the purchase decision? Do they buy on a Want or or a Need? How was that product or service brought to their attention?

Some business can sell to anyone, but we suggest this is not the strategy for most start up business because with focus:
       You can concentrate your marketing efforts in the places where your customers dwell, whether that is in the on or off line universe
       You can better understand their needs. Where your product or service can help them and why or when they need them
       You will be able to start identifying product or service gaps
       You can easily adapt as you know your market environment

To help you build your business strategy & vision it is a useful exercise to take yourself forward and identifying factors such as how many clients will we have, where will we work from, how will we deliver, what is our preferred type of work or main products, what is our niche, what will our employees or resources look like, what is our pricing policy?

Once you know more about your business positioning and your potential customers you will better placed to understand your position in the market place.
For example, if you plan to open a food shop, you may have little chance competing directly with the major food outlets, so you will position yourself for a different customer with a different offer to them otherwise it is likely to then simply about the price and their buying power will win.

When people talk about marketing, they will refer to the 4 P’s or the ‘marketing mix’ which is:
·         Product
·         Price
·         Place – the purchase location or distribution channel
·         Promotion – your chosen marketing communications such as advertising, public relations, personal selling and sales promotion.