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Who cares?

25th January, 2016 No Comments


Tired and exhousted business woman with ringbinders

That is a favourite question of my teenage daughter! My usual answer is everyone cares and you should too! That applies equally though in a business sense.

In running a business there are many questions for the entrepreneur:
• What is the vision
• How’s my cashflow
• How do I market my business effectively
• How do I manage time better to meet demands of staff, customers, visitors let alone my personal responsibilities.
• How do I plan for the future, what is my forward plan.
• And there are many more!

Focussing on the above key areas and finding that space to think and plan is a big challenge and recognised by many running small businesses, solve that and you are doing well! One approach I have found successful over the years has been to focus on the ‘care’ question, if you care properly for two key areas of your business you will naturally focus on the key issues, tackle the important matters and create that space to ‘think and plan’ – vital for successful entrepreneurs.

So what should you ‘care’ about – the two key aspects for me are your people and your customers.

Your people

The people you employ/contract are vital to your business. They represent you/your business, they sell your service/product and they interact with your customers. If your people get things wrong consistently serious damage could be caused to your business. Additionally if your people are unhappy or feel undervalued you are more likely to have a high staff turnover and low staff retention rates. Suffer this and you’ll be in a constant state of recruitment and training new staff – that all takes time (and money) and is something to avoid.

I have found by implementing some simple measures to ‘care’ for your people you can get great people in your business doing great things for you and your business.  Try these for example:

• Give and take!

Flexibility is vital these days and being accommodating and versatile with your people is key – supporting people with commitments outside of work, work at home policies and allowing staff time off for medical appointments etc is always appreciated. I find this is repaid in many other ways and drives staff loyalty and commitment.

• Training

Supporting your team with training activity by time off or supporting costs where possible is always well received. As a business you get the return/payback in a better trained team member who values the support you’ve provided.

• Communication

Formal, informal it doesn’t matter just do lots of it! You will be surprised what can be learnt from an informal conversation, if you hadn’t had that chat you may miss out on key information you need as a business owner. As part of this I would also include recognition – a simple email/text from you as the owner creates a real feel good factor. Never forget to recognise achievement and say thanks – it’s a simple task that takes minimal time but can bring much benefit.

I have found these simple steps a key part in maintaining high staff retention rates, generating loyalty and commitment to the business and helping to create a happy, productive team.

Your customers

The second key area that requires your care! Happy, loyal customers will do two things – come back for more and tell others about you! So much energy and effort goes into finding customers and yet I often see not as much effort put into making sure once you have secured a customer you keep hold of them! Too much time and money is spent chasing and trying to find new customers, yes that is vital but keeping hold of the ones you have is arguably more important. A key aspect of keeping hold of customers is ‘care’.

There are some simple measures that can be implemented to help look after your customers:

• Keeping in touch

Keep reminding your customers who you are, what you do and how you can help them. Several easy, low cost ways to do this via newsletters, social media etc

• Say “Thank you”

Simple but effective, a really nice message but it reminds customers of your business and enables you to offer them more service/product.

• Create value

What can you offer existing customers so they see the value of staying with you. As mentioned above lots of businesses focus on new customers and will offer incentives/freebies etc – you need to counter that by offering similar measures so customers see the benefit of staying with you. Happy customers who feel valued/appreciated will be customers for the long term and spread the word about you!

So, in conclusion in among all the questions that an entrepreneur has in their mind I would encourage you at the start of a New Year to ask yourself a couple of key questions:

• How do I care for my people?

• How do I care for my customers?

Get your approach and strategy right here and you’ll have happy, settled people working for you delivering excellent service to loyal customers who want more and more from your business – sounds a good formula to me!

Written by Richard Dearden, CEO, NBV Solutions Ltd

Carole-White-cropped-square-BW

Time to grow

18th January, 2016 No Comments


Workers cutting pvc window profiles on a factory

To staff, or not to staff?  That is the question ….

So you’ve been running your business as a one-man/woman show for a while now. Things are picking up, word of mouth is spreading and business is good. In fact, things are going so well that there’s a chance you soon won’t be able to go on alone any more. It’s time to start thinking about taking on staff.

Making the leap and becoming an employer is a daunting step and being responsible for another individual’s ability to put food on the table isn’t something you can take lightly. Then there’s also the logistics to be aware of: tax and book-keeping implications, cashflow concerns, holidays, pensions; the list goes on.

The aim, of course, is that taking on staff helps an enterprise to grow revenues and improve profit. So let us look more closely about how you can give yourself the best chance of making it as a boss – and helping your business fly high in the process.

Do you have the time to manage?

If you’re taking on a second member of the operation then you are going to have to act as line manager, and that means offering a guiding hand when required. If you are lucky you will find someone who knows the field already, although that sort of experience is obviously going to cost more than hiring someone young and inexperienced who is eager to learn. Either way, you’d best be prepared to put aside your own workload, answer questions and be a mentor for a while.

Can you afford to pay staff?

One of the simplest but most important questions you need to ask is whether or not the business is making enough to support another wage. There’s also the question of just how much you should be paying the person you need for their time and skills in order to attract the right talent. There’s no point in hiring someone unable to bring anything to the business. Before making decisions on when and who to hire, you need to know exactly what you can offer and what you will expect in return.

Do you know your responsibilities?

Taking on staff will entail entering a contract – both literally and figuratively speaking. You have a duty of care to your employees and there are certain things you need to provide to make sure you are a good and fair employer. For a start you’ll be responsible for maintaining their place of work, equipment, managing the hours they keep, allocating holiday entitlement and holding the fort when they are sick. To understand the full extent of your responsibilities a bit of research, advice and even a consultation with a legal professional may be required.

Will they bring money to the business?

Yes it sounds a bit blunt, but there really isn’t any point taking on staff if they don’t contribute to growing the bottom line. It is down to you as the employer to consider how you want to deploy your staff most effectively to achieve success – be it bringing in leads, selling direct, generating ideas or simply offering billable time. Always be sure to give yourself breathing space when it comes to margins, though. The cost of hiring a staff member goes beyond an hourly rate.

Consider all of these factors and prepare accordingly, and you could find that your staff members become a huge asset to your business. And they may even allow you to re-establish the work–life balance you always promised yourself when you first set up!

Written by Carole White, CEO, TEDCO

You may have a new business idea which includes the need for staff at start up or the very early stages of trading.  If so, the above considerations will still have to be made.  You may be eligible for support and advice under the Start & Grow programme.  Contact your local agency to find out more.

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Ten questions to ask before you start a business

8th January, 2016 No Comments


Business plan flow chart
After creating your business idea there are ten things to do before you can start to turn your idea into a reality. These ten steps will ensure that you not only have a solid understanding of what sort of business you want to start, but also that you understand all aspects of the product or service that you will be providing. Once you have considered these steps you will also be ready to move your idea forward by writing a business plan and accessing funding.

Do you have the passion?
Starting a business is a big commitment and you will need to have a passion for what you do. You will be sacrificing many hours of your life to start your business and it is certainly not going to be an easy way out of working for your boss. You will have to ensure that you are mentally, financially and emotionally prepared and that you believe in your idea, because this is key to your start-up flourishing into a successful business.

Do you know your product inside out?
Being able to outline the key features of the product or service that you are planning to offer is a necessary exercise. If you can’t talk about your business in detail it means that you haven’t put enough thought into developing your offering. If you can explain not only what your product or service is, but what makes it difference from competitors, the benefits, how it is produced and why people should buy it, then you are ready to start talking to people about your idea.

Does your idea provide an effective solution to a current problem?
Your business should always provide some sort of solution to an existing problem, but does your idea provide the best solution? Does it provide a long term solution? Most importantly, does it provide the optimal solution? If not, now is the chance to tweak and change your idea until it’s the best it can be.

Does your product or service already exist?
You will need to do some research into your competitors. Having competitors isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you will need to identify them and highlight what makes your business different. Your business will need to have a unique selling proposition and be able to win and also maintain a profitable market share. You can also use this time to see how similar businesses promote themselves and which markets they appear to be targeting. Learn from their mistakes and recognise what makes them successful.

What is the ultimate aim of your business?
Although your business is just starting out, you should have a solid vision and overall aim. This will provide you with direction and give you something to work towards; without this you may loose direction and even end up heading backwards. Think about what you want to achieve, how you will measure your success and what is important for your business.

Have you asked your family for feedback or conducted a survey?
Before you release your business idea out into the public realm you should consult friends and family. Only ask people who will give you an honest answer, otherwise you will be wasting your time. After this you should start to conduct surveys with a wider audience that will provide you with much more well rounded opinions. Try testing your idea at community fares or markets, demonstrate your product or service and talk with people first hand to find out what they think about it.

Have you identified your customer base?
Begin by creating a simple website landing page with information about your business with an option to leave feedback or to ‘sign up’ to find out more. By taking out digital advertising through Google and social networks like Facebook, people will click on the link if they are interested in your business. Setting up an initial campaign such as this isn’t too costly and is a great way of finding out if your business really has a market.

How much capital will you need and do you need additional funding?
It is important to identify how much capital you will need to start your business, as failing to take every expense into consideration will be costly. Explore different funding options such as start-up grants and loans to assess your different options. Each type of finance has different eligibility criteria, so make sure you qualify.

Have you identified local support networks?
Starting a business can seem daunting, but there are a wealth of services out there to provide you with support and guidance – You aren’t alone! Industry experts can help you understand how to maximise opportunities and further identify the needs and characteristics of your target market. A mentor is a valuable asset to anyone starting a business and this avenue shouldn’t be overlooked. A mentor will work with you one-on-one and provide you with honest advice and guidance. They will likely have great knowledge and experience and will help you to avoid making costly mistakes. If you begin to feel stressed and overwhelmed, your mentor will help you to work through the problems that you may experience. Attending seminars and workshops is another great way to develop the skills and knowledge that you will need to get your business of the ground.  Get support for your start-up with Start & Grow.

Written by Tara Gillam, Business West

 

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