YOUR SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES I return to this (oft recurring) theme as a result of an experience returning to Birmingham Airport from a Norwegian coastal cruise and a sighting of the Northern Lights. One more off the bucket list. On the plane home, one of the passengers becomes ill. A doctor on board does what he can, which is not a great deal: he thinks she has appendicitis … [Read more...] about Systems and Processes
Everywhere on the internet there are lists: the top ten films of the year, the ten best ways to get rich, the five sure signs you are losing the will to live. I may have made one of those up. And since there appears to be a current trend in advice on how to scale up your business (or grow it, as normal people would say), and in a spirit of 'if you can't beat them, join … [Read more...] about 10 Best Ways To Achieve Growth
Just recently I received a renewal notice for my RAC membership. I have been a member since 1975, so I guess that qualifies me as a loyal customer. The cost quoted was £335 which, to put it mildly, I considered a bit steep. Instead of allowing the thing to renew via Direct Debit, therefore, like I usually would - sloth is a wonderful thing when it comes to customer loyalty - … [Read more...] about Loyalty: Too Often Taken For Granted?
The trouble with having your whole house renovated and redecorated all at the same time is that a decade or so later, everything starts to require attention at the same time. I’m not asking for sympathy, just stating an incontrovertible fact.As a result, I have lately been in search of a variety of local and national trades people to help with a growing list of repairs, … [Read more...] about Importance of After Sales Service
EU REFERENDUM As those of you who regularly read this blog know, I have forthright opinions on most things and am not shy about sharing them. Because of the importance of this month’s subject though, I apologise in advance for it being much longer than I usually deliver. There is much to say and rant about.The upcoming vote to leave the EU is purely a political tool to try to … [Read more...] about The Madness of the EU Referendum
CONNECTIONS I agreed to an extension of my BT Broadband contract only because the potential new supplier of super-fast fibre-optic broadband, who was going to install cable to every door in the village, suddenly decided it couldn’t compete with the arrival of BT Infinity. I was offered the new Infinity at a price that was less than I had been paying for the old Broadband … [Read more...] about The Uselessness of BT
BACK TO LIFE (or NOT DEAD YET) Yes, I know, you haven’t heard from me for nearly a year, but I do have a good excuse. The last time I communicated through The Bugle, at the end of January, I had just been discharged from the John Radcliffe heart unit, having undergone open heart surgery for a dissection of the aorta and a leaky valve brought on by it, and then been on life … [Read more...] about The Importance of Process
BIT OF A SHOCK In case you're wondering where I've been (as if, I know), a short explanation is in order. A fortnight ago, I came over all giddy while driving, and decided discretion was the better part of valour - just as well, too. Having driven straight to the local surgery, they called an ambulance pronto (once all the rest of the people had been seen), and by 9.00am … [Read more...] about A Bit Of A Shock
RE-BRANDING A friend of mine recently invested in what he described as a re-branding exercise. Showing me the new logo, he asked what I thought of it. I managed to bite my tongue and not begin the diatribe that was already formulating in in the back of my mind, and simply replied, "Very pretty." It is possible that I should have just started the diatribe: he may have … [Read more...] about Re-Branding
BOOM OR BUST? I was at the excellent Shirlaws business conference this week, full of business owners taking time out to work on their business rather than in it. The last session of the day was a talk from founder, Darren Shirlaw, on the prevailing economic conditions and his predictions for the future. Normally I'm a bit (alright a lot) cynical about economic … [Read more...] about The Cycles of Boom to Bust
SCOTLAND Since it's the silly season for the nation's newspapers - politicians on their holliers, so a dearth of the usual Westminster page fillers - I thought I'd take a break from business issues, in favour of an English perspective on the Scottish independence vote.This month's issue has two key ingredients: 1. To give you my take on the pros and cons and 2. Find out what … [Read more...] about Scottish Independence
BARRIERS TO GROWTH I was at the excellent Venturefest event in Oxford last week and saw an interesting presentation about what sets apart the average business from those that enjoy hyper growth.Interestingly, according to the research presented, hardly anyone cited finance, or lack of it, as a core issue. Two-thirds of them suggested that the lack of a clear strategic plan and … [Read more...] about Prescription for Growth
PURPOSE I was reading an article about rock musician, Jack White, in last weekend's newspaper, and a few comments he made resonated. The article was puffing his new solo album, so I usually take this sort of stuff with a giant dollop of salt, but he was talking largely about the record label he's been running for the last five years. Here are a few comments which might … [Read more...] about What Is Your Purpose?
VISION We're just going into election mode with the European polls upcoming (and now a by-election in Newark, to keep all the chatterati busy), and nearly every time any leading politician is interviewed, they spend much of the time talking about what they don't want. This is obviously true of UKIP, since their entire raison d'Etre is dedicated to not wanting things, but … [Read more...] about Do You Have A Vision?
GOOD GRAMMAR Alright, smarty pants, I know what's wrong - but how many other people do? And how many care? Just one more question: how many errors are there in total in those two short headlines? (Answer at the bottom, for anyone who isn't sure but still cares.) I was recently sent a web article from Australia, which posits the theory that sales can be halved as a … [Read more...] about Importance of Good Grammer
WHAT'S APP? App-arently, it's got 450 million users, paying a dollar a year each (max: since first year's free, a fair proportion won't be paying anything, but let that pass.) And it takes no advertising, so as of now this is its only method of income generation. In good old Yorkshire parlance, it's the "Many a mickle makes a muckle" business model. Fair play: for a … [Read more...] about Sale of Whats App
SOCIAL MEDIA Every now and then, someone sidles up to me in the pub or at some networking event and says something like, "I see you're doing something new," and I look blankly at them, and they then trot out a message they've received from some social media site - often, it has to be said, LinkedIn. I've had another example just recently. Two messages from people I'm … [Read more...] about Social Media Concerns
EXIT STRATEGY As we enter the festive season (ugh - I'm coming over all 'bah humbug' just writing the phrase), many people take the increasingly long enforced break at the end of the year as an opportunity to take stock of their lives, their achievements - and to start making mental plans for their future. When I had the marketing services business in Oxford, I often … [Read more...] about Exit Strategies
BANKS (AND THE MILKMAN) I recently decided to cash in a long-held investment, and at first I thought I was going to be pleasantly surprised by the ease with which it might be achieved. Almost as easy as when they take the money off you in the first place. But then the true nature of the financial services industry kicked in. Going online to sell the shares took only a few … [Read more...] about The Cost of Poor Service
TEAM BUILDING Every now and again, I rock up to a business I've never visited before, and I reckon I can tell you an awful lot about that business - whatever it does - after just a few seconds. It's a truism, of course, that you only get one chance to make a first impression, but in business that impression is usually a good indicator of the style of the whole operation. … [Read more...] about Team Building
BEING ON TIME I spent a few weeks recently letting a room in a By To Let property I own in south London, and as a result have had to travel up to town several times to manage viewings. For reasons I don't really understand, the other tenants aren't interested in doing any of the meeting and showing themselves as part of the filtration process, so I've been doing it all. … [Read more...] about Time-keeping
PUBLIC SPEAKING There's a strong message doing the rounds that if you stand at the front of a room in front of an audience - however they've been persuaded to turn up - and shout the odds about something, you'll be seen as an expert in your field, and some of those people will beat a path to your door in search of your particular brand of excellence. So much so that in … [Read more...] about Public Speaking
HELP NEEDED Somehow I can't get back into my normal rant mode. This month I'm begging a favour. Nothing that will cost you. Far from it. Indeed for the right referral, I'm giving away £5,000 of my (or one of my partner's) time. I know what you're thinking: either is he mad, or here we go, another sales come-on. Well I hope you know me well enough to realise that, while … [Read more...] about Free Offer
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS I learned to my horror a few months back that up to three-quarters of all business acquisitions fail to pay back. In other words, the money that is paid for the business is never recouped out of future profits. Can this be true, I thought? And then I thought about my own experience: when we sold Marketing Principles to Interpublic in 1999, the UK … [Read more...] about Mergers and Acquisitions
CLOUD COMPUTING When I first heard this term, I was as cynical as you'ld expect me to be. As my own web-master put it, a couple of years back, They couldn't sell back-up services, so they're calling it something else. But as the months have passed, it's become apparent that (driven by the growth in mobile IT usage) cloud computing has some very big implications for businesses … [Read more...] about Cloud Computing
LUXURY BRANDS I've long taken the view that, on the whole, it's better to pay a bit more for things, on the grounds that the added value is disproportionate to the actual cost (even when it's double or even treble what you might get away with). The old adage, "Buy cheap, buy twice" has resonated with me for a long time. No doubt the cynics will say that that's easy to say … [Read more...] about Luxury Brands: Reputational Damage
SALES PROMOTION I thought this was going to be a shorter rant than usual, but it seems to have turned out the usual length. It concerns the everyday purchase of toothpaste at my local Boots. All very ordinary. It took a while to locate, being at ground level, tucked away in a side aisle, but hey - not every product can be at eye-level in a prime location. That usually costs … [Read more...] about Sales Promotion
GOOD SERVICE As regular readers of this column know only too eel, I have a tendency to use it to get off my chest a few home truths about some unfortunate business practice or other. It is a fact, supported by several bits of consumer research over the years, that in good old Blighty we really don't like complaining about poor service. Only one in ten actually does … [Read more...] about Good Service
XMAS IS COMING Yes, I know, but indulge me. I personally refuse to shop anywhere playing Christmas music before December 1st - so it's Amazon again then. However, there is a worthwhile business point to be made here about the festive season. I read somewhere (not The Sun) that more employees go back to work after the Christmas/New Year break and resign than at any other … [Read more...] about New Year Resignations
QR CODES As a member of what some marketeers euphemistically call 3rd Age (ie old), my acceptance - not to mention use - of new technology tends to come some way after the 'Early Adopters'. And I guess you could say that QR codes are already past that point anyway. I do have a smart phone; I do have a QR reader on it (Red Laser, since you ask - and I do know how to … [Read more...] about QR Codes
NO PROBLEM A friend of mine (no, not me, really) was hosting a black tie event for a couple of hundred luminaries of his industry (house building since you ask) and turned up at his several-star city centre hotel in need of an iron to take the creases out of his dress-shirt. Two hours before the event started, so no particular rush, but when nothing appeared in the first … [Read more...] about The “No Problem” Irritant
GENERATING LEADS Can you generate too many? The received wisdom is that profitable business, on the whole, comes on the back of the principle that you have to kiss a lot of frogs... As digital marketing takes an ever-greater share of the marketing budget, especially in the small business sector, and as social media tools like Twitter generate an ocean of verbiage - … [Read more...] about Lead Generation: Quantity v Quality
THE OLYMPICS I've been to London twice in the last few days, once by car and once by train, and it's prompted me to speculate what the real legacy of the awfully imminent Games might be. Even on Sunday, when I was driving, it was pretty obvious from the ubiquitous Olympic (aka Zyl) lanes that traffic chaos in most of the capital is inevitable unless the majority of … [Read more...] about The Olympic Effect
TAX AND EMPLOYMENT Boy the business press must love this government. Hardly a day goes by without another fatuous pronouncement by some Minister or other, if not the top man himself. In the last fortnight, we've had to particularly egregious pronouncements (I use the word deliberately, since Cameron inserted it into one of his responses, no doubt thinking it would endear … [Read more...] about Government Ignorance of SMEs
WRITING A BOOK The received wisdom is that if you have a book published - even if you self-publish - it somehow enhances your credibility and standing in the business community. But is this true? I guess it depends, at least in part, on the quality of the writing, the subject matter, and the perceived usefulness of it to the average business reader. It certainly sets … [Read more...] about Self-publishing as self-promotion
THREATENING LETTERS I received a threatening letter last week. And to those of you expressing no surprise whatsoever because you were thinking of doing the same, I will say only this: bovvered? This particular one came from my friendly supplier of electricity, NPower. It alleged (having long since hit the bottom of the bin) that they had a statutory duty to inspect my … [Read more...] about The Costs of Poor Communication
WORD OF MOUTH I spent the best part of a day last week at a seminar (I know what you're thinking: surely he knows it all already, doesn't he?) Run courtesy of one of my networking groups, NRG (shameless plug), the subject was, "How To Make Word Of Mouth Really Work For You." Since most of the small businesses I talk to claim that this is their primary method of gaining … [Read more...] about Word of Mouth
ILLNESS OR INJURY I write this as a direct result of a call I received recently from one of my clients. It was a tale of woe involving a broken limb, as a result of a domestic accident that could happen to any of us: a simple trip, resulting in a lot of pain (obviously), but more to the point, incapacity for several weeks, while said limb mends. As usual with these things, … [Read more...] about Illness/Injury: Threat or Opportunity?
TESCO OR WAITROSE When my daughter was moving to London a couple of years ago and we were discussing what area she might find somewhere to live, I vividly remember her response to one putative bolt-hole: "Oh, I can't live there." "Why not?" I enquired innocently. "There's not a Waitrose." This conversation was brought back to me last week, as I sat in the Shepherds Bush … [Read more...] about The Difference Between Waitrose and Tesco
CHARISMA AND LEADERSHIP There is much talk at the moment about the qualities of leadership required to run a business. Barely a day goes by without another feature article or seminar extolling the virtues of knowing how to inspire people. Here is an excerpt from a recent Sunday Times article: "Most communication is rationally formulated and then rational messages are … [Read more...] about Can You Teach Leadership?
WHAT DO YOU DO? The dreaded question. There was a time when only the Queen or some visiting dignitary would ask such a question, and it was advisable to have a short, pithy answer before boredom set in. Nowadays, with business networking proliferating (a new group seems to spring up weekly), it's a question you have to answer on a regular basis. And I'm sure you've all … [Read more...] about The Benefits of a Non Exec Director
SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES Sitting in a local hospital Outpatients earlier this week (don't ask: the hernia 'repair' I had done in the Spring is recurring and will result in another month of what the medics laughably call 'discomfort' shortly), I was struck by how their systems and processes have changed over the last few years - and generally for the better. My 2.45 … [Read more...] about Systems/Processes Define Your Business
PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING You may well ask. The phrase came up recently on a TV programme about the delights of Scarborough - where else? What happens is that after all of the fixed costs of running the borough - the stuff you have to do, come hell or high water - the council opens up what's left over to bids by interested parties. Candidates might be as diverse as … [Read more...] about “Participatory” Budgeting
COMMUNICATION I was at a post-networking lunch talk a month ago by Angels Den founder, Bill Morrow (g'day, Bill), in which he enumerated the five simple questions that business angels ask of early stage businesses looking for funding. Number one, which 31% fail on - a bit like falling at the first fence in a horse race - is, "What do you do?" Yes, you read that right. … [Read more...] about So What Do You Do?
REFERRALS Any of you who are on my LinkedIn network will have recently received an e-mail from me, inviting you to hook up via a referral site called "Referral Key". What prompted me to do it, other than the rather obvious new business motive? (Anyone out there not interested in new business? No, thought not.) Two things: first, and short term, I was invited to do so by … [Read more...] about Referrals: Giving and Receiving
GOING GREEN I do have to confess a personal interest here. I'm working with a green energy business (www.greenlivingenergy.co.uk); I've had solar panels on my roof for over a decade; and I believe that the future lies in local micro-generation of power, with the big centralised generators acting as a back-up and filler-in of gaps in the system. If you go to any of the … [Read more...] about Going Green?
NEW EDEN An acquaintance of mine recently expressed the opinion that anyone who showed any desire to become a politician should automatically be disbarred, as a result, from ever becoming one. It ranks alongside Groucho Marx's comment that he wouldn't want to join any club that would have him as a member. This was brought back to me forcibly a week or three ago, when I heard … [Read more...] about Eden Project: Strategy for Growth
ACTIVITY PLAN Looking at my diary for the last month, I find I have attended 10 networking events, 25 one-to-one meetings with people who may be variously as prospects, referrers or centres of influence, not to mention the client meetings. In other words, the usual mix of sales pipeline and operational activity. And lots of it. Never been so busy. That's good, isn't it? … [Read more...] about Meetings: business or just busy-ness?
COMPLAINTS I see that the latest batch of politicians who know what's best for us (aka The Coalition) have the same touching faith in empty rhetoric as all their predecessors. Sure, we all know what balancing the books means: in small businesses, if you run a deficit for more than twenty minutes, you generally cease to exist - simples. At a national political level, however, … [Read more...] about Complaints as Opportunity
NEW JOBS I see that the latest batch of politicians who know what's best for us (aka The Coalition) have the same touching faith in empty rhetoric as all their predecessors. Sure, we all know what balancing the books means: in small businesses, if you run a deficit for more than twenty minutes, you generally cease to exist - simples. At a national political level, however, … [Read more...] about New Job Politics
Sales For nearly everyone I speak to, sales (or the lack of them) is a major and ongoing issue. Many small businesses have no individual in the organisation with the word 'sales' - or alternative descriptor - in their job title. All business comes through the magic of the phone somehow always ringing often enough to keep the wold from the door. For those that do have a … [Read more...] about The Secret of Success: Persistence
TIME I talk to dozens of business owner/managers every month, and when I ask them what are their greatest challenges, the same three themes consistently emerge. Time. Team. Money. There aren't enough hours in the day to do all the things that need doing. They can't seem to find (and keep) the right people. and cash-flow is nearly always tight. But while team-building … [Read more...] about Time Management
BRANDING Driving round the country lanes where I live, it's impossible not to notice that there's a new farm shop opened up, not ten minutes drive away. To give them their due, they have done a sterling job in making sure that the as many people as possible in the area know they exist: flyers, press ads, direction signs on lamp-posts for miles around (probably illegally, … [Read more...] about The Basics of Branding
The Inside Advantage If you are a regular reader of this missive, you'll know I have a tendency to use it to pour scorn on the many acts of pointlessness and incompetence inflicted on us by organisations who should know better, so it is with a degree of pleasure that this month I recommend something that can only be a positive influence on your business. I frequently run … [Read more...] about Give Your Business an Inside Advantage
An Apology Let me start by apologising. Unusual, I know, but this month I am using the Bugle as unashamed self-publicity (as opposed to the slightly coy, but ultimately just as shameless variant you usually get.) The cause of this unlikely outbreak of honesty? I've written a book, and this is your invitation to read it completely free of charge. That's because before it … [Read more...] about My Business Memoir
People Power I still remember, 30 years ago, visiting the Head Office of a tyre company in Slough, and being part amused at and part horrified by the teenage cockney receptionist answering a call to the Managing Director: "Nah, 'e ain' in." Even then, it struck me that, however down-to-earth the business of vehicle rubber is, this was probably not the image the company … [Read more...] about Building a Team
Customer Service I was wondering what to entertain you with this month, when I received this pearler of an e-mail from Easyjet. The background was a summarily cancelled flight back in November (yes, four months ago), which I discovered by chance - no one bothered to tell me my booking was null and void - and I asked for advice on rebooking. As it happens, a friend effected the … [Read more...] about Another Customer Service Own Goal
MARKETING MADE EASY I make no apology for returning to this theme - I have, after all, spent most of my adult life doing it for a whole succession of employers and clients. How sad is that? And I know that many people in business treat marketing as a cross between snake oil and one of the mysteries of the universe. But really, it boils down to finding the answers to four … [Read more...] about Your “Uncommon Offering”
SOCIAL MEDIA... Let's start with a confession: I'm prejudiced. I may be on FaceBook (I like to know what my kids are up to), and I may be on LinkedIn - business users rather than social apparently, though I rarely do anything positive with it: just maintain a presence. But for the life of me, I cannot get Twitter. It's not the arguments which are frequently employed in … [Read more...] about Twitter: Yes or No?
YOUR BUSINESS... I popped in to see a prospective client the other day, and after a suitably proprietorial stroll round the premises, he sat me down in his office and asked me what I thought he should be doing to grow the business. Well, I'm all for directness, as anyone who knows me will attest, but even I was a bit taken aback: it was like going to a stockbroker with a … [Read more...] about What Is Your Business Purpose?
HOW AMBITIOUS ARE YOU? I ask because the way that many businesses are behaving in this recession (as in previous ones) you'd have to draw the conclusion that many â€“ if not most - lack all but the most basic of ambitious tendencies: let's try to stay alive. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not denying the severity of the downturn in many sectors or its potential threat to … [Read more...] about The Mindset of Ambition
I ask because most business owners, at some point, envisage someone somewhere paying a fat sum to take off their hands the fruits of their labours. They're probably not putting enough away in a regular pension scheme, so the business itself is effectively their main pension plan (I know mine was). For most people in this position, they only get one chance to maximise the … [Read more...] about What Is Your Business Worth?
We assist business owners who are preparing to sell their businesses, particularly for retirement. There are a significant and atypically large number of business owners born between 1945 and 1955, who are in the process of preparing to sell their businesses in the next few years. Business Analysts report that the largest transfer of business wealth and assets in history is in … [Read more...] about Planning Your Exit
WAITING FOR THE PHONE TO RING? Talking to a small business owner the other day, I asked where most of their business came from. "Oh, you know",came the airy reply, "word of mouth mostly"."So you don't do much marketing then?" "Well no, none".All this with a cheery confidence-nonchalance even. You hear it all the time:"The phone usually rings". Except when it eventually … [Read more...] about Marketing Your Way Out Of A Recession
AUTOMATION: BOON OR BANE? I ask this because I was at a business seminar last week when someone mentioned, in suitably derogatory terms, the curse of the automated phone answering service, as routinely practised these days by big corporates the world over; and it got an unscheduled round of applause and a whole lot of “Hear, hears.”Of course, automation has helped us to … [Read more...] about The Bane of Automated Phone Systems
Every day, my inbox contains at least one, and often up to half a dozen, of these missives, all designed (natch) to persuade me what a credible operator and genuine help the sender is.I've been collecting a few gems from the plethora of the last fortnight, just to labour the point:50% of small business owners are cautious about employing young women. (No..I wonder … [Read more...] about Pointless Advice
SPECIAL OFFER Those of you who know my background will (I hope) be unsurprised to find me using blatant sales promotion techniques to bring my latest offering to the attention of the massed ranks of my business contacts. And anyone else who falls across this message. Having spent half a lifetime devising and implementing promotions for many major national (and … [Read more...] about Free Gift For You
Marketing and communications isn't rocket science. It is however much maligned and misunderstood. But without a proper strategy and plan, the chances of your business growing to achieve your business plan (you do have one, I hope: if not we'll start from a bit further back.) Marketing should be at the heart of everything your business does. nb Definition: marketing is not a … [Read more...] about Marketing
As a natural consequence of my traditional advising, as well as extensive experience in franchising, I am regularly approached to look at the feasibility of taking an existing business to franchise. In addition, I work with experienced franchisors, helping them to expand nationally and internationally. I have an extensive business network and have assisted businesses in many … [Read more...] about Franchising for Growth
Exit Planning I assist business owners who are preparing to sell their businesses, particularly for retirement. There are a significant and atypically large number of business owners born between 1945 and 1955, who are in the process of preparing to sell their businesses in the next few years. Business Analysts report that the largest transfer of business wealth and assets in … [Read more...] about Exit Strategy