New Year, New Business?

Thinking of starting that business? redundancy looming? fed up with working for someone else, have a great idea but just unsure of how to make the jump into self-employment?

These are the main reasons that people start their own businesses.

Sadly, the failure rate for start-ups can put you off from even trying. Starting and running a small business is tough. You are subject to high levels of mental stress. You need a solid physical constitution because you may find yourself working longer hours than you ever did as an employee. You have to deal with uncertainty and anxiety and, if you make mistakes, you have to accept the consequences. All that and no absolute guarantee you will even succeed! You may start a small business and find two or three years down the track that your investment has gone up in smoke.
But if you are suited to running a business, you may find that it is one of the most exciting and rewarding things you do in your life. You can control your own destiny in a way that you never would as an employee. If you succeed, you will have the satisfaction of carving out a place of your own in the business world. And you may find yourself wealthier than you otherwise would have been working for someone else.

Your first step in becoming a business owner should be to assess yourself. Can you accept the risks and the hard work? Are you the kind of person who will be satisfied by the rewards offered from running a business?
There’s been a lot of studies of small business people who come up with different ideas about what makes them tick and what characteristics they have in common that makes them successful in business. They find some pretty obvious things like; entrepreneurs as people tend not to like taking orders – they strongly prefer being their own boss; they are high-energy people; they are passionate about their business; they tend to be sociable – which helps when it comes to marketing and selling of course; and they are self-reliant and can work long periods in solitude and without support. More than that, they are resilient, can cope with rejection and failure and still come back for another try. They have mental stamina and can exercise good judgment under stress.

Do you have what it takes?

If you have confidence in your idea and are willing to put your energy into doing what it takes, then the only missing jigsaw piece is knowing the key aspects of creating and developing a business quickly and effectively and getting that right first time round without making expensive mistakes.

Find yourself a mentor, that you know you can work with – who will encourage, push you and make sure you have enough information to make informed decisions as you develop your plans for your business.

 

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The Value of Research

I recently watched a student who wants to start his own business, go through an experience that led him to say “this start-up process isn’t as easy as I thought, is it?” – he was learning lessons fortunately before spending vasts amount of money about what you need to know before making decisions in business.

When starting up it is unlikely that you will know all you need to avoid making costly mistakes. For those of you considering a self employed life here are some tips!

  • Ask someone you trust for some independent reality checking of your plans
  • Do your research, about your idea, the market you are entering, your prospective customers, your competitors and your possible suppliers.
  • Try not to view seeking paid for support as a cost, it can be the best investment you consider.

In the students case doing his research and discussing it led to me seeking more specialist help on his behalf, regarding intellectual property issues, saving him £££’s in the longer term.

If you are unsure of your next steps in start-up then speak to someone you trust and don’t just assume everything will be alright!

Till next time….

The Power of Testimonial

One of the major headaches new business owners face is having the confidence in selling their services because they feel they don’t have a track record to shout about. This is a real challenge for many and one that has to be overcome quickly.

If you have testimonial about your products, services and how you work then, it is a fabulous way of demonstrating your value at a time when you might be feeling a little shy!

If the client or customer giving the testimonial has a high profile themselves, then others tend to respect and value what they have to say and therefore a more persuasive approach to support your other general marketing activity.

Generally, recommendations help raise your profile and possible introductions to new work opportunities, will often follow word of mouth testimonials from people you know, who know you and what you have to offer.

After all, we all seek advice and guidance from friends, family and associates when we are making a purchasing decision.

In my experience, testimonials are still not used enough and mostly for the following reasons:
• Not sure how to ask for one
• Nervous about the reaction you might get
• Assumptions that a recommendation shouldn’t be asked for at all
• Lack of confidence in yourself and in the value of the work provided, particularly in new and young businesses

So, which are the best ways of gathering some testimonial for your business? Here are a few ideas:

If you have had some positive feedback for your work, develop a habit of asking if you can use it in your marketing, you might say, “Thank you for that lovely feedback, would you mind if I used that in my future marketing?”

You can add that you don’t have to use their name if they want to be anonymous – there are some businesses where a level of confidentiality is required.

Some networking organisations encourage written testimonials which can then be displayed for all to see, that way your customer can also promote their own business by using headed paper.

It is essential that you do get permission to use testimonial in this way and many who are asked are usually very happy to agree. I have also found that happy clients will also become a willing advocate for your business and talk to prospects personally about their experience of working with you, which is also very reassuring for prospects considering using your products or services.

So, when is the right time to ask? Well, usually when the experience of purchasing from you or working with you is fresh in the customers mind.

One response at this time can be: “Yes of course – what do you want me to say!

Some customers will be comfortable writing a few words based on their experience. Others just unsure of exactly what you need and in what format.

If you want to really capture their appreciation of your work – you might suggest some areas that you want to highlight, for example:
• Why they purchased from you?
• What value did the product or service give them?
• What was it about how you delivered the product and service that impressed them?
• Why should others consider you?

Often the words and language a customer uses is much more appealing and accessible, than the jargon we can sometimes use in our own business. They will describe you and your business in a way that your prospects are more likely to engage with.

Another increasingly popular method would be to ask for video testimonial, which you could use in its entirety or edit for some few good ‘sound bites’. This you can use on your website or You Tube account if you have one.

Remember, you want the whole process to be effective, so ask people who you know will feel comfortable and who will enjoy the experience – it is also an opportunity for them to promote themselves at the same time.

The process of building testimonials and recommendations for your business is an ongoing one and that also means that you need to be mindful of their relevance and whether a testimonial needs updating.

The way you do business needs to reflect your attitude to the experience your customers have working with you and maintain the highest standards so that your testimonials keep coming.
What people perceive about your business has an enormous effect on whether or not you attract the kind of customers you want, however you will only maintain your reputation by delivering product and services of quality that add value.

So, for those of you who are a little nervous, think about someone you have worked with recently who was thrilled with what you did and you haven’t a testimonial from them – will you ask?

5 Top Tips for Business Success

Here’s a question for you:  Do you enjoy your business?

  • Yes – absolutely
  • Most of the time
  • It has its moments
  • Not really
  • Can’t stand it but have to get on with it

This is a question I ask all my new clients, it may surprise you that many business owners actually find themselves struggling to enjoy their work. Many of the challenges we all face are because of business issues, rather than related to the skill, training or passion that your business is based on.

Generally we start a business based on those skills and tend not to be trained in understanding the key functions of a business and understanding how to make them work effectively. So, winning work, cash flow, dealing with difficult situations and people and lack of planning and resources become obstacles to greater success.

So, here are my top 5 tips for business success this year by helping you refocus your efforts , boost confidence and revive your energy for 2011:

  1. Business Planning – set aside at least 2 hours a week for ‘bigger picture’ planning, consider what it is exactly you want to achieve, what resources you need in place to make it happen, a timetable allocating activity, who will do it and deadlines. Break the activity down into small actions steps – so that you know what you have to do today to bring your goals closer and make what seems impossible, POSSIBLE.
  2. Marketing and Winning More Business – review how you won your work best since you started out and then repeat and do more of what works, avoid over complicating your activity. Many opportunities for business are lost because we focus on chasing new work in isolation, rather than prioritising looking after the customers you already have- why not ask your existing customers for referrals?
  3. Manage Your CASH – implement a simple easy cash flow system, Keep a tight control on costs, invoice more quickly, follow –up late or slow payers and if you are uncomfortable doing this – OUTSOURCE this.
  4. Market What Makes You Different – consider seriously, why your customers choose to buy from you, obtain constructive feedback about how you are really different from your competitors. Regularly use case study and testimonial to sell your services, they are much more powerful.
  5. Manage Yourself – analyse how YOU spend your time, a real wake up call for me early in my business life was checking how many hours a week I was actually being paid for! I had a diary full of meetings scheduled and none of them generated income. Consider any bad habits you may have developed and prioritise the time to do work you love and outsource everything else. Don’t forget to celebrate success and keep learning. Build a trusted support network around you and COMMIT TO TAKING ACTION…..

The Power of Clarity in Your Brand

Today’s BBC  Business news highlighted Monarch Airlines revealing its re-branding initiative. This doesn’t mean new logos and new uniforms but is more about improving the customer experience and help differentiate the business, as it operates in a highly competitive industry. Having a strong and consistent ‘Brand’ message is just as important for small business owners and links the owner, the business and the way it is perceived in its market place and beyond.Co-incidentally, I have just had a great conversation with Ruth Edwards of IMojo – who explained perfectly how she helps business owners develop simple clarity in their Brand messages.

Small business owners, often constrained by limited resources will not prioritise development of a brand and will see it usually as the creation of a logo they like.

Developing a brand that reinforces your credibility and quality of service takes working at and will add value to your business. Unfortunately, small things can undermine the strength of your image. As human beings we all make snap judgements no matter how unfair! Poor quality business cards, personal email account addresses at one end of the perception chain and a poor or inconsistent social media strategy at the other end can undermine your business reputation.

It is well worth spending time on your personal / business brand to maximise its potential for you and your business future.

Release the Power of Your Ps!

Love to hear from you – what have you done to develop your brand identity?

Do You Manage Your Business or is Your Business Managing You?

Many owners have ideas and plans for how they believe their business will develop over time and sometimes the reality of setting up a business doesn’t match those original ideas. There are many factors that impact progress – some positive and some negative: Here’s a few

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Unclear message
  • Competition
  • Lack of difference
  • Lack of market (products or services that you are convinced will sell and yet no sales)
  • Lack of resources
  • Unexpected growth
  • Timing delays
  • Cash flow
  • Initial expenses exceed your budget

The process of planning and developing a business plan is a good way of looking ahead and planning for the development of your business. It can help you stay on track when distractions come your way.

I have outlined some key areas of management information that may help you manage your business more effectively. See how many you can agree with!

Your Business:

  • I know the  business /market I am in
  • I know what I will sell
  • I know who will buy and why
  • I know why those customers will choose my business

Your Market:

  • I know exactly the opportunity there is for me and my business – where my potential customers will come from and why they need my products or services
  • I have researched and understand what my market place will look like over the next couple of years
  • I have planned an effective method of retaining my customers loyalty
  • I have implemented a method of ensuring the highest levels of customer service in my business
  • I have established a way of capturing data from prospects and customers so that I can market and communicate with them effectively
  • I can clearly define my ideal customer
  • I have researched and understand my competitors – how they operate, add value, differ from me and the way they charge for their products and services
  • I have a resource team around me to help provide me support and specialist information that will enable me to manage my business well – for financial and legal guidance.
  • I have set up systems to manage cash in my business
  • I have set targets and will monitor progress against these

If you are starting a business, or managing an existing business – this checklist is a great starting point for ensuring that you are on the right track. If you have some observations/suggestions and ideas about items to add to the checklist then please do get in touch.

Release the Power of Your Ps!