Is your tenancy deposit really protected?

Did you know...

By law, if you pay a deposit to your landlord or letting agent then they must protect it in a government-authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme. It applies to all landlords and agents in England and Wales who have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreement (the contract) with their tenant.

It was introduced to ensure that you are able to get your deposit back from your landlord or agent when you move out.

These sentences are copied from one of the 4 Tenancy Deposit Schemes in the U.K.

Great words indicating it will put a stop to obnoxious Estate Agnets and Landlords/ladies. Until you realise these schemes do not hold your deposit, this is (still?) the estate agent or the landlord/lady. So they not only hold your deposit, they also hold the strings.

Then if you don't agree with the proposed deductions from the deposit and you raise a dispute with the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, the estate agent and/or landlord/lady doesn't agree with the arbitrage of this scheme. And nothing happens, because they (still) hold the strings (and your deposit). The only way then to get your money back is going to court, because the schemes can only arbitrage if all parties agree to it.

This happened to us. Two months before our moving date we informed the estate agent of this. The property we rented from them (Hobbs Parker in Ashford) was the worst of all the properties we’d lived in, but no matter how often we reported various issues, nothing ever happened. So when during this January’s storms roof tiles dislodged we reported this and decided not to pay the last month’s rent until the landlady (who also lives in Great Chart – and keeps horses) took some action to repair the roof. This, obviously, didn’t happen, not even when we reported noticeable moist stains started to appear on the living room’s (old) wall paper.

In the end the estate agent sent us an email with various proposed deductions from the deposit – including the last month rent arrears – and “threatened” to increase these deductions if we didn’t agree with them. We contacted TDS (Tenancy Deposit Scheme) to start a dispute about this – officially any rent arrears cannot be deducted from the deposit - and got nowhere at all when the agents told them the landlady didn’t agree to any arbitrage.

PiggybankSo it pays to hold the strings yourself especially at the “moving-out” period to get your “protected” deposit back if (and only if) you are dealing with obnoxious estate agents and/or obnoxious landlords/landladies.

In our opinion the only way to hold those strings it to make sure you owe the agent and landlord/lady money. Stop paying rent until the outstanding amount is higher than the deposit, normally this amounts to a bit over 1 month’s rent – so you’ll have to stop your standing order two months before the moving out date.

This is a breach of contract, you’ll have to have some guts and (written) evidence of breach of contract by the estate agent and/or landlord/lady. They could go to court to evict you, but knowing you’ll be moving out soon will make them think twice before spending money and time on this.
If they contact you about the rent arrears, keep mentioning the things the landlord/lady should have done in the property – hence the written evidence on this (you shouldn’t stop paying rent for no reason at all, there has to be ongoing issues).

When you move out, make sure you (or an appointed person you trust) are there during the property check survey and point out all the things that you’ve listed before.

Then, don’t agree to any deductions at all, not even for the rent arrears. Remember, you owe them more money than the deposit it worth. This way you keep the strings firmly into your own hands.
You then raise a dispute with the scheme your deposit is protected with (a certificate should have been sent to you at the beginning of the tenancy with the organisation’s name and an unique reference number), and we want to bet the estate agent and/or the landlord/lady will now definitely agree to the arbitrage.

This method is in our opinion the only way to protect your deposit and to tackle the ludicrous practise by estate agents to deduct money from the deposit for (small) items/issues while during the whole of the tenancy the landlord/lady has not kept their end of the tenancy agreement.

Best would be for the schemes to effectively hold the deposit – as the name suggests – but that will be wishful thinking. 


Changing clouds

My last post was about clouds and a silver lining. I have to admit now that the abundance of clouds I described and used only worked for me for about two months.

One - big - cloud

6a00d8341c660f53ef017eea6c364f970d-pi

There are two main reason for abandoning Capsule and other linked-in cloud programs:

  • no easy mail merge for specific letters to contacts
  • growing costs for email marketing due to the growth in contacts

We like to keep in contact with everyone on a regular base, and write maintenance reminder letters to all those clients of which we don't have an email address (yep it does happen we don't have a single email address - people do find us by phone and order materials that "old-fashioned" way), plus for certain tasks in the sales process we use specific letters (such as quotes, order confirmations etc) based on templates. The mentioned Alive Docs turned out to be too cumbersome and could only be used for predetermined letters, plus printing those letters was a hard task: every single one of them had to be emailed to your own address and then you were able to print it - not the most time saving task invented.

The linked-in MailChimp (which we already used - for free - for blog alerts for this and the Charing news blog) will charge you if the number of contacts grow above 2000, which is lower than the number of contacts/clients we have. Although the costs of this, combined with the costs for Capsule and Wufoo (the webform program) was still below the original costs of Octane HQ, when I found another CRM program which links with Kashflow and has its own email marketing facility I had no hard time saying goodbye to MailChimp for our main business.

intouchcrm

6a00d8341c660f53ef01901b6eca1b970b-pi

30 days free trial, upload and download data, email marketing, web forms, surveys, mail merge, task management and a bit more. That's what intouchcrm gives you.

Webforms = bye bye Wufoo (£ 10.00 per month)
Email marketing = buy bye MailChimp Monthly plan £ 35.00 per month)
Advanced mail merge (per group or per contact) = bye bye Alive Doc (free for the moment)
And of course bye bye Capsule (£ 8.00 per month)

Intouchcrm has two types of plans: Premium (£ 12.00 per month with 200 email credits and other limits) and Unleashed (£ 18.00 per month with 5000 email credits and hardly any other limits).
Since we email all of our contacts (those with an email address of course) at least once every week the 5000 email limit is reached halfway through the month, but even purchasing additional credits (for instance another 5000 for £ 15.00) makes the whole program with its many facilities cheaper than the combined cloud - and way cheaper than Octane HQ while doing all and more!

This new program comes with its own help desk, webinairs and practical advice emails, what more can you ask? The savings we make per month, plus the features the program offers was well worth the second switching of programs in a few months time.


Clouds with a silver lining

If you care to remember, beginning 2010 I wrote about our search for a better CRM program (going beyond AWeber etc)
We settled for Octane HQ, at that moment in time a great 2nd Generation program which suited the bill perfectly (then and there). Before Octane HQ we (you and me) were more used to 1st generation software programs, the ones you had to install on your own PC (or Mac).

Second Generation Programs (in my opinion) didn't involve any downloading or installation on your pc, they are online, hosted by the software maker and accessible where-ever you have an internet connection. Octane HQ did what we wanted it to do but that was/is all. Lately I had the feeling it was overtaken left, right and centre by 3rd Generation Programs - online AND able to "talk" to other online programs:

Cloud Computing - API

6a00d8341c660f53ef017c367555c8970b-pi

(image courtesy of spiral-fotolia.com)

Application Programming Interface (API) enabled online software is what I call 3rd Generation Software. Each program does what is does best - just like Octane HQ - but the main difference is it "talks" to other programs. Reducing the time and effort for business owners to enter duplicate data from one (online) program into another.

End of last year - on Kashflow's forum - I encountered Alex Monaghan, who asked me if I would be interested in a program that would enter all new Ecwid orders straight into my bookkeeping program Kashflow. Now this already happened (partly) when my client paid using Paypal, but all other payment options resulted in having to enter all the data manually (both in Kashflow and in Octane HQ).

Alex reported last week that his KFSync was ready to test out and the ease of how seamlessly it worked made me wonder about the effectiveness of Octane HQ. Surely in this time and age there would be a better - automagical - system to use?

Looking at Kashflow's Integration Pages it brought me onto Capsule CRM - which when you look at their Addons & Integration Page you'll see various well known programs. That, plus the price of the program itself, sold me and I was off to start the new process of filling Capsule CRM during the 30 days free trial, connecting the programs I needed for our business one by one.

My new "API Cloud"

6a00d8341c660f53ef017ee8189b1c970d-pi

Imagine Capsule as Main Program (where I register opportunities and manage our - growing band of - contacts) I've tried to visualise above how the API integration works.

Let me "walk you" through various scenarios to explain how everything connects:

  1. Suppose someone comes to our website (a Joomla site, online software with its own add-ons, components and extensions), reads our informative pages and decides to place an order in our secure webshop (Ecwid widgets installed as plug-in), selecting phone payment as payment option.
  2. The order is processed in Ecwid, through the KFSync lands within a few seconds in Kashflow and through Kashflow a few seconds later in Capture CRM (*1) - both programs checking if it is a new client or a new order from an existing client.
  3. I then check in Capsule if the new client is already on one of the mailing lists in MailChimp and if not I click one button in Capsule to add this person to the appropriate list
  1. Now suppose another person visits our website and requests one of our additional information filling in one of the Wufoo webforms.
  2. His/her details land automagically in Capsule (with the added tag of Lead)
  3. And sends the same details to MailChimp who emails the requested information.
  4. This person then places an order over the phone, and all I have to do is fill in the address details in Capsule and click the link "export to Kashflow" to create the invoice in the bookkeeping program.
  1. Another person used our Support Desk (Zendesk) to ask us a question, through the added Capsule App in Zendesk I can simply export the details to Capsule (and when this person then places an order click the same link to export to Kashflow) and again add them to the appropriate MailChimp list.

If you are wondering why Alive Docs is added, that is a simple program that can contact Capsule in the event you want to mail merge letters etc (letters to be emailed or posted - where posted means the mail merge is emailed to yourself as PDF)

Besides saving me time and effort, all these connecting programs will save me money too (in the end). So, definitely Clouds with a Silver Lining

*1 = do note that Capsule considers every contact coming in from Kashflow an Organization and not - as so many of our clients are - as a person. If you, like me, want to register them as person you'll have to correct this manually in Capsule - which gives me the opportunity to add the odd person to a "Case" - a great feature in this software program to remind yourself of things to print, call etc per contact.


Books wanted, books aplenty = book swap

6a00d8341c660f53ef017c34726adc970b-piThis year May my partner and I moved house, not one of our favourite tasks. In the spare bedroom we found boxes from the last move, their content still in there: books, books and books. I'm a fervent reader and over the years bought plenty of books, from novels to business and advice books. Too many for the Oak bookcase (bought new three years ago to hold the most appreciated ones close by) to handle.

The boxes got moved again - under much grumbling of my partner - and the content still isn't unpacked, 'cos where are spare bedrooms good for anyway? 

It did got me thinking though, after a (again) discussion with my partner about the multitude of books I've seemed to have gathered. When we moved from the Netherlands to the UK in 2000, many of my book possessions were given away, how could I have increased the numbers of books to the level of before our big move? Easy, I love reading! (Nowadays the number of books bought is drastically reduced, due to becoming a library member - I still read 2 - 3 books weekly though.)

Idea - I can't be the only one

This thinking process started by my "excuse" to my partner: I can't be the only one in this situation! How many of you have the same "problem" of overflowing bookcases, boxes filled with books you haven't found a reason to get rid of (yet)? Becoming a library member has indeed helped with buying new books, but that still leaves the problem of all the existing books - will they be simply moved again when the next home move comes around without having been out of the box at all? And the number of boxes has grown since the last move.

So, deciding I'm definitely not the only one I decided to create a kind of membership site, where like minded people can swap books. Going one on one with swapping books would be asking too much: what would be the chance of you having the book I want and me having the book you want? Strength in numbers is called for here. Hence the membership site.

6a00d8341c660f53ef017ee615dd00970d-pi

Setting up the site has been quite easy, using Joomla, finding the needed components and add-ons took a bit more time (in between the normal daily working tasks), but it is here: the Book-Swap-Place

It contains a forum - accessible for members only - with three categories:

  1. I'm looking for...
  2. I've got....
  3. Try out area

where members can swap/sell/purchase any books they have aplenty or that they are looking for or find fervent readers willing to give comments on stories (fact or fiction) people are writing/have written.

Plus, since more and more people are publishing their own content (through PoD - Publishing on Demand - or as E-book), a dedicated listing for "Publications by Members"

Subscription to access and interact on the forum is a measly £ 1.00 (or £10.00 = 12 months for the price of 10), having your own publication added to the listings is £ 15.00 (and includes the membership's fee).

The more, the merrier

As with all membership's sites: the more people involved, the better the site will work, therefore all pages contain social media links/likes to get all your friends along and join in the fun. Because, lets be honest: reading (and writing) is fun!

And it is not just limited to UK readers, online can - and will - reach global readers (and I've got plenty of books in Dutch that need a different home than the boxes they've been in for years!). so, no matter where you live, join the Book-Swap-Place and get swapping


Recharging Sundays: 08.07.2012

When you're a retailer working 6 days a week, the Sunday is your day to recharge the battery. This is how I do this.

Sunny with the odd (heavy) shower

Woke up around 9.45am, Ton was already up and the coffee ready. Read the Saturday's Times at the dining table. Very interesting article by Jonathan Sacks on trust or risk economy. Think we can all agree with the sentiment, but strongly feel it is more an utopia. Human nature - from the stone age onwards - is and always will be about territory and trying to have/get more than others. Greed will prevail I'm afraid, from school kids to banks and politicians.

Ton went out to do the weekly shopping, for the second time in the courtesy car. Our "new" car is - again - back at the garage where they (still) try to figure out why ot does not want to start normally. We think it's down to the immobiliser, but we'll have to wait and see.

After taking a shower I vacuum cleaned downstairs, switched on the washing machine and finished reading the paper. Helped Ton unload the shopping. We then made cheese sandwiches and washed the dishes, put the washing in the tumble dryer in the shed.

Time for the "Sunday" bake: raisin/fruit scones, an adaptation from an Hungarian bacon-scones recipe:

Ingredients

  • 60ml milk
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 200g raisins/mixed fruit
  • 500g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 120g butter
  • 120ml soured cream
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • beaten egg and a drop of water, to glaze

Preparation method

  • Gently heat the milk in a pan until it is lukewarm, then pour it into a jug and stir in the yeast. Leave it for 15 minutes or so to get working and froth up.
  • Sift the flour into a bowl and mix with the baking powder and salt. Stir in the cinnamon.
  • Put the butter in a small pan over a gentle heat and allow it to melt until it is just liquid. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the soured cream and add the beaten eggs – make sure the butter isn’t too hot or the eggs will scramble. Add the raisins/mixed fruit and stir in the yeasty milk.
  • Pour the buttery egg and raisin mixture into a large bowl, then add the flour and other dry ingredients, a little at a time, until everything is combined.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes or so until elastic. You can do this with a mixer and a dough hook if you like. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave it in a draught-free place for about an 1½ hours until it has doubled in size.
  • Turn the dough out again and knock it back with your knuckles. Dust the dough with flour and roll it out to about 4 cm/1½ in thick. Cut out rounds with a pastry cutter and place them on a sheet of silicone baking parchment on a baking tray. Using a sharp knife, cut a criss-cross pattern on the top of each one, then leave to rest for another 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
  • Brush the scones with the beaten egg and water to glaze and bake them for 25–30 minutes until golden.

Cleaning the used utensils, there was an almighty "bang" outside: the garage door of the neighbours, whom dismantled their garage the weekend before to make space for their planned extension work to begin, had - standing up to the wall of the house - caught the wind and had fallen down with a loud bang.

While the dough is resting to gain its doubled size, I'm reading "All the nice girls" by Joan Bakewell, a novel about the Merchant Navy's Ship Adoption Scheme during the second world war. Never knew of this scheme, so rather interesting read.

Tumble dryer has finished its program, time to fold the washing. Two items need to be ironed, that's for next week.
The scones are ready to come out of the oven:

scone result

6a00d8341c660f53ef0177432aff97970d-pi

We watched a bit of Andy Murray's Wimbledon final, perhaps next year he'll get close enough to actual win the thing.


Brand (mis)match, blur, blur, blur

6a00d8341c660f53ef0153924bad37970b-pi

When one of the big supermarkets proclaims to Brand Match the price of their competitors, the first thing which comes to mind is that in fact they - Sainsbury in this case - are actually telling me:

Our prices have been too high for a long time

 

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8c3f9a1c970d-pi

IMHO it is a brand mismatch:

  • you go to Sainsbury because this company is regarded as being of higher quality (just like Waitrose is perceived as);
  • you go to Tesco or Asda because these two are always trying to win "we're the cheapest" game, not quality (perceived quality).

Is Sainsbury joining this game now and by doing so "re-branding" themselves for the sake of market share? Blur, blur, blur

What do you think?


Are we dumb?

In the last two days I received the following emails, both warning me about restriction of my account due to irregular activity.

Future activity

The first one was from Barclay - yesterday 26.09.11

It stated: We detected irregular activity on your Barclays Check Card on 27 September, 2011

Wow, I want one of those, a bank card that already knows what I'll be spending my money on the next day.

How to detect a spoof email

6a00d8341c660f53ef015435bb08a6970c-pi

Today it was an email from Paypal:

Dear Customer,

You may have noticed that some limitations have been placed on your PayPal account. As a valued PayPal customer, we want to let you know what this means and how to resolve the situation.

And right at the bottom the very helpful tip:

How do I know this is not a Spoof email? Spoof or ‘phishing’ emails tend to have generic greetings such as "Dear PayPal member". Emails from PayPal will always address you by your first and last name.

Are we dumb?

I do know these phishing methods do get a result once in a while. But to be honest, everyone who falls "victim" do these scams I really can't feel pity for.

If you cross the street without paying attention you might get knocked down by a car, if you don't pay attention to all the warnings your bank etc bombards you with you might get robbed. Not your bank's fault, not the government's fault - your fault!

If you do fall for these tricks and scams, yes, then you are dumber than dumb. So stop complaining and start paying attention to what exactly you receive in your inbox.


Experiment - a manifest, with a twist

This week I've launched a new blog, a new experiment.

For a few months now I've been trying to put my thoughts and ideas (and in other words, grumbles) on the existing state of the economy on paper as a kind of "manifest": why these things seem to happen in deepening cycles and how/why there has to be another way in business, life, community and society. Like I said, a kind of manifest.
To cut a long story short: none of my trial versions passed muster in my own eyes. Too much to tell, explain, show a different way. I failed to put all of it into a comprehensive - and readable - paper.

It would come out as gobbledygook, and no one would have a clue what it was all about I'm trying to tell. I'd almost given up on the idea, because if something is worth doing, it's worth doing well - and I was not getting anywhere doing it even half decent.

Combining ideas

Then, two weeks ago, my "love for combining" brought the solution:

For many years I have this story in my head I always thought I would write down some day (when I'm old and retired?). The story is not another business novel like my first ever paperback publication (of which this blog is a spin-off): "The Kiss Business, the Keep It Simple Sweetheart principle in business".
No, this time it' going to be a different genre, one I've always been a great fan of, even since childhood: science fiction.

Why not combine the two? The outline of the SF story has been in my head for years now, but not (yet) set in stone, just the general gist of which characters and which adventures they would encounter. I don't know if you've ever written a book or long story, but my experience is that the story seems to develop itself further and firmer once you start the actual writing. And often the story takes a surprising turn through a specific - unplanned - sentence. It twists, turns, rolls around in the head and on paper.

Adding an extra "ingredient" in my SF story is therefore quite easy and a new idea was born. For years I have a title in my head: "Jumpers" - the actual story will explain why this title. I've now added a sub-title to it: Jumpers - a manifest.

Over the years I've learned that telling stories is one of best ways to explain a new concept, a new idea. Contrary to believe; words do sometimes tell more than a picture ;-)

The Experiment

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8bb2f474970d-pi

Writing a story, specially one with an extended purpose, is quite good fun. Side paths can be taken, flash backs used to introduce the history of various characters, two way discussions inserted to explain how and why the characters are worried, excited, doing the things they do etc. A very different method than just writing a "white-paper".

So, how about following this very process yourself? If, of course, you're at all interested in this. But if you are, you can follow the development of the story, the characters and the adventure on my brand new blog: Jumpers - a manifest, where draft chapter by draft chapter will be published (and edited if and when needed).

The first draft chapter went up yesterday, then I discovered I should have called it chapter 1.0, because a first twist already appeared and turned into chapter 1.1 (not published yet). I can't promise how regular the drafts will be published or how often an edited chapter will replace a draft.

You can subscribe to receive an email alert when new material has been published and by all means: leave your comments, thoughts in the comment box of the new blog.

I'm sure I'll be having a great time - and once in a while a bad time - writing my "manifest" with a twist. Come and join the adventures of my characters. I promise there will be some radical business ideas strewn in for good measure!


Shall I Clarify-it for you?

When words are not enough to explain a problem or a bug in a software program screenshots normally will help to clarify the problem and speed up the interaction between user and support desk.

I often use(d) ScreenSteps Desktop for these matters

ScreenSteps Desktop

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8b8bdf1a970d-pi

One of my favourite programs to write documentation, manuals, blog posts and instructions with. Very simple to add screenshots or other images and a multiple way to export the document (or whole manual) to Word, PDF, Blogs, Websites, ScreenSteps Life etc.

But using ScreenSteps Desktop for the one-off documents to explain a problem is now a thing of the past. No longer do I need to have a separate "manual" in the program where they add (uneccesarry) to the number of files in my Library.

From the makers of all things ScreenSteps: Clarify-it

6a00d8341c660f53ef01539198263d970b-pi

A product name that does exactly what it says on the tin: it clarifies your (one-off) communications.

It works partly in the same way as SSD, but with some specific differences: no instant saving to your library (you can opt to save the document though) and what I quite like about this (can I call it like that) "spin-of" is it has nestled itself in the task bar

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8b8bdefb970d-pi

always "at the ready" to quickly take a screenshot - which then automagically opens the program - add a tittle and some - if needed - further details, click share and off it goes as online document to be viewed by the support desk of the company I need to explain the problem to.

Clarify-it or Dropbox

6a00d8341c660f53ef01539198261a970b-pi

You can upload it to your (free) account of Clarify-it (which also works with ScreenSteps Desktop) and/or to Dropbox.

Automagically the link to the page (hidden for google spiders and bots) on Clarify-it.com is copied to your clipboard and all you have to do is create an email to the support desk you need help from, paste the link and let them sort out the problem.

I don't even have to save the document, it's online and when the problem is solved I don't need it any longer so why would I add extra files to my pc?

Example:

6a00d8341c660f53ef015391982653970b-pi

Here's the actual link.

And presto, hardly half an hour later:

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8b8bdf15970d-pi

In need of clear as crystal and speedy one-off communications? Just Clarify-it

(Beta download now available for both Mac and PC)


Connecting with your clients via conference calls

sponsored article - PowWowNow

6a00d8341c660f53ef0153919804b6970b-pi

Image courtesy of Randy Kashka

Meetings with clients in the conference room are difficult enough to manage, but meetings in a virtual conference room are another matter entirely. Too many conferences go to waste through miscommunication and timewasting, so it is extremely important for every business of every size to make the most of the time it has in a conference call with a client.

Time is money in today’s frantic business world, so connecting with your clients as early and for as long as possible is vital. You should have a focused plan in place before the call to ensure that not a second is wasted. Set your own goals but understand what you think they will want out of it and tailor your approach to that. Understanding your clients’ needs is obviously a standard business practice, but it is especially important in conference calls when you are not sat face to face. The last thing you want to do is waste their time.

Sticking to your own goals during the conference is paramount, since it’s your business you want to give precedence to first and foremost. In this respect, it’s good to adopt an assertive tone on the phone, but not so much so that it undermines the client you might risk losing them. Remember, assertively portraying a message over the phone is not the same as doing it in person because they can’t see your facial expressions.

Teleconferencing presents slightly different challenges to face-to-face meetings, so it is a potential minefield for anybody who overlooks them. We like to think that people are always courteous on the phone but the unfortunate truth is that being in a separate room altogether means that participants can easily find distractions. If a client is distracted, it would suggest that either your approach is wrong or that they’re not worth the business effort. If things start going awry, though, consider your own approach first. Are you being too assertive or too demanding? Are you giving them a reason to stay in business with you or is it becoming one-sided?

It is obviously good practice not to eat, shuffle papers or type on a keyboard during a conference call. Any unnecessary and annoying background noise will irritate clients and potentially drive them away. In the long run, conference calls could be beneficial to your relationship because it minimises the need for excessive travel, but this all depends on your etiquette and overall approach in the actual calls themselves.


I'm just a silly blogger, I know. But nasty?

Early this month I compared Real Time Marketing with the "speed" paper magazines can publish a two-way conversation.

I'm known to speak my mind (and known to write double Dutch English too), 'cos I'm just a silly blogger interested in IT, progress, marketing and interaction between various parties.

Invite to comment

And, as silly bloggers do, kindly invited the editor and the regular contributor mentioned in my post to comment in the comment box. The editor in question did reply, by email only and only to state that modernising the online presence of the trade magazine would costs a lot of time and recourses. (I still beg to differ.)

The regular contributor (Sid Bourne) replied in the September issue, but only on our reply - published in July's issue - to his story from May.

Who's nasty?

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8b1f3a8f970d-pi

Not only do I lack proof reading skills, according to Mr Editor I'm nasty too (besides being, as already acknowledged, silly).

Funny thing, the Internet. The original post is being found time after time since yesterday (when the September CFJ issue landed on all subscribers doormat) on various phrases all containing: CFJ goes pubic. Oh, those modern times and tools!

Honourable

In 2007 I received an email from someone I did not know, but who very kindly had taken time to inform me on a typo he discovered on my site where I explained where the business novel :The Kiss Business was all about.

I'd missed out the c in the word exciting, making running a business both exiting and scary - funny that ;-)

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8b1f3a41970d-pi

Thanks again for this, Paul F. - hope your business is going well and you enjoyed my book?

Now I could of course return the favour and call Mr Editor a nasty and ignorant person, but that would just be silly, wouldn't it?
Honourable however, he definitely isn't.


Old speed - new speed: DM Scott versus Contract Flooring Journal

Yesterday two things happened, both related to speed of interaction.

New speed - David Meermans Scott

David Meerman Scott explains Real-Time journalism, a mind-set

Being a (full) member of The Directors' Centre Business Club I'm treated every month to interesting, worthwhile articles, tips and videos, collected by Robert Craven's people.

This month they uploaded the crowdsourced video of David Meerman Scott delivering his key-note speech about Real-Time Marketing & PR at the Marketing Sherpa Email Summit in Las Vegas (2011). (You can also watch the video here on vimeo, I highly recommend you do)

At the time of writing this article I have only had time to watch about 35 minutes of the full 50 minutes yesterday, but it left me impressed of what Real-Time journalism (marketing) can establish and am fully aware this "mind-set" is within everyone's grasp and ability. In this day and age of interaction in a blink of an eye, he outlines the importance of a fast response to enquiries and using current trends to get your brand and products talked about.
(And he's not just talking about twitter, facebook or QR's)

Old speed - Contract Flooring Journal

The second thing what happened yesterday: the August issue of Contract Flooring Journal was delivered by our village postman. CFJ is one of the floor trade magazines we're subscribed to. It contains news about floor covering products, preparations, legal and regulation tips/advice etc for the contract flooring trade (as retailers ourselves we are not often involved in contracted work but we like to read everything that is happening in the market).

Underneath this month's article of one of the regular contributors to the magazine (Sid Bourne) there was a little note:

Contract Flooring Journal applies cliff-hanger tactics to keep readers interested?

(had to use my good old scanner to get the image)

Oh, goodie. CFJ employing "cliff-hanger" tactics.

Short history:

  • in CFJ's May 2011 issue Sid Bourne wrote something in his article we did not fully agree with (and fortunately, the May edition of CFJ has just been uploaded to their website, so I can now link to the original article, instead of having to scan it from the magazine, print it as PDF, upload it to my own server for you to read).
  • after reading Sid's article we wrote a comment and emailed it to the editor.
  • the editor replied:
    • "We love to get feedback from readers, the more controversial the better.... We work about six weeks ahead, so it will be the July issue."
  • Duly in July my comment on a specific part of Sid's article was published - we did not write the headline though, editor's prerogative
  • Sid must have written his reply soon (remember, 6 week deadline)
  • We're in August now, cliff-hanger note in CFJ
  • September: we will finally be able to read Sid's reply
  • In the event we want to reply to his reply - do the calculations: Sid and others will be able to read this in...... NOVEMBER 2011

A full six months later for the 4th item in a discussion to be published and read - would anyone still remember what the original article and first comment was about???
Really 21st century breakneck speed here.

Come on CFJ, get up to speed. Open up your website for interactive conversations like this. May issue is now pubic *(see edit below), 3 months old news. Extend your website with an "subscribers only" area and have the latest issue there the minute the genuine article lands on our doormat. And allow instant comments and replies on all articles.

Having a Facebook profile (not a Page) and a Twitter account is not enough to get new speed.

Inviting Sid to the new speed era

Sid, if you happen to read this, you are kindly invited to publish your reply to our comment right here in the comment box, so we can drag this conversation - in my opinion sure to be a worthwhile exchange of opinions and experiences - into this century of Real-Time journalism.

---------------

* Edit 31.08.11

CFJ editor's "reply" in Sept issue:

CFJSillyBlogger

No Alan, pubic IS the word used, "grave typing error" on public. It does exactly what it says on the tin here: known to write double Dutch English ;-). And I plan to leave it in as not to disappoint all those now searching "cfj blog now pubic" (17 and counting).

Of course, it would have been much more honourable of Mr Editor, during our email conversation about above "nasty" post early August, to give a gently nudge about the "grave typing error".
Apparently, giggling as a schoolboy over the word pubic is more important than keeping up with modern times.


The irony of it all

The struggle this morning to log in to our bank account:

Some good news first

6a00d8341c660f53ef0154341586a0970c-pi

Trying to log in

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8a358022970d-pi

Eh... trying to log in, only hit the enter button

After the third attempt the bank finally let me see my account. Then when I tried to make a payment:

Time flies!

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8a35800f970d-pi

But fortunately:

logging in to Online Banking is going to become easier!

It can't happen fast enough!


From lead-page to delivery (and Ecommerce in between) - combining expertise

Stacking solutions for an Ecommerce ventureIf you are a frequent visitor to this blog of mine, you know I love combining things. Over the years I've discovered that by "stacking" solutions the sum of the stack is 9 times out of 10 much larger than the individual items on their own ever can be.

Although everyone seems to be talking about Social Media and how businesses should embrace all the various "buzz" out there, a good old static website combined with conversational (medium to long) sequence of informative email messages to potential and existing clients is still hard to beat. Then, once your client has purchased your product (or service) the delivery should not just be an afterthought, but an integrated part of the "customer experience".

Like a good diner, slowly cooked and eaten to enhance the flavour/experience

Tweets and updates (with or without links, photo's or videos) on Facebook/Google+ are like quick bites, but will they ever satisfy your potential client/existing client with all the information they need before deciding to purchase from you?

No matter how many statistics are out there, sometimes forcefully forcing you to believe that ONLY Social Media involvement is going to safe your business, my own experience - by listening to our own clients/friends etc - is differently. More often than not, a well balanced diner will be enjoyed better and longer remembered. And this you can only establish by cooking slowly, taking your time with the preparations, the presentation and the "after-diner" treats and relaxation.

So, how do you translate a well-balanced diner (with all the trimmings) into a web marketing strategy? As with diner, you combine the expertise of others - often only featuring in the back ground of your clients experience - to create, present and deliver the goods. Would your diner guests be interested in the name of the farmer who grew the vegetables or reared the animal you serve? But still, your farmer's expertise does add the necessary "flavour" to the dish you make. But your diner guests only see you - the host - giving them a great and enjoyable time

Same applies for "cooking" your customers' experience online.

This week I found various experts that can help you "cook" your diner and give your guests a great experience. Combined, they become an army of little helpers in the background, where you can shine and take the "glory" (respect and long-time commitment from your clients).

Lead pages

Ed Rivis new program: leadsite Launcher

Having a website is not enough, you need to have that extra special you can offer your potential guests. As an invitation to come to diner.

Ed Rivis (author of Massive Traffic and Email marketing Dynamite) is on the verge of launching a new program: Lead Site Launcher.

It will be a great and simple software tool to create (almost instantly) those invites that'll wet the appetite of your future diner guests. Watch the video on his blog post to get a first taste yourself.

Tasteful invites

Is your web copy inviting enough

Lead pages on their own are not enough to entice your guest to accept your invite. It has to leave them with the impression they just can't miss out on what you are offering.

Carol Bentley is your "little helper" here, working in the background giving you the most simple but effective copy-writing tips to establish just that. Subscribe to her blog or purchase one of her books (my favourite is still "I want to buy your prioduct.... Have you sent me a letter yet?")

The menu card and table setting

Now your guests are jumping impatiently to come to diner, you have to make sure the menu card is easy to understand and the table setting is so obvious no one's going to feel left out or placed at the wrong end of things.

Your webshop and order processing should be the same. Do all the items have a detailed description and is the pricing clear, are the delivery costs easy to understand. What payment options do you offer etc.

My own E-guide "Selling Online Bascis" is just the ticket for this part of the diner experience.
You don't have to take my word for it, this week Carol very kindly wrote a review on this guide here. (Couldn't have wished for a better review to be honest, so thanks once again Carol)

The delivery

Don't spoil the last part of your customer's experience

Now your guests have arrived, you "only" have to deliver the goods. And this is often an afterthought. How often have you received an order late, damaged or incomplete? Or even not at all?

Sam(antha) Anderson of Post and Packing Warehouse (P&P for short) has just written a very helpful guide on the very subject: "How To Make Your E-commerc Business Work For You". It highlights the pitfalls of order picking, packaging and tips/advice when to consider outsourcing this part of the experience to a trusted third party - just the way you would employ a catering company when your diner plans are growing and growing and your own time is spread too thin to take care of everything yourself.

You don't want to disappoint your diner guests now, do you?

Make it one complete experience

All the above expertise can be combined by you to create one streamlined and uninterrupted experience for your potential and existing clients.
It's not the quick bite of a tweet, or of a nudge on Facebook. It's is a carefully build diner your guests will remember for a long time - in the best possible way.

And here's the clinger: they all want to come back for more.


Carved a niche? Be careful about moving your goalposts!

Especially during a recession.

Two niche suppliers

At the start of 2008 - when according to many the recession started to bite - we had two main suppliers, both having carved out a niche for themselves.
One renowned for its high quality products from its own FSC certified forests in South America, one renowned for its high quality and bespoke parquet products (all from sustainable sources). Both are highly respected companies.

Fast forward to middle 2011: one is laying off its European Sales department, one is working long hours to fulfill all orders before their standard 3 week Summer break.

Moving goalposts 1

In the wooden flooring trade, 2008 also saw an increase of joint-ventures between European manufacturers/wholesalers with manufacturers in China. Some products were not worth the money it costs to produce and ship, many others however were/are of high quality and worth promoting as acceptable "alternatives" to products produced in Europe. A fact appreciated by many independent retailers - like ourselves - to keep the promise to clients: we give you value for money (less money, good quality).

6a00d8341c660f53ef01539018c3e7970b-pi

However, it soon became rather clear that it is China who decides who will get a constant supply of good quality products. And some smaller European manufacturers/wholesalers, after heavy promoting their "alternatives" to their clients, started experiencing stock problems. Not something independent retailers can cope with when times are already tough. No stock or increased leadtimes up to 3 months is often a sale missed.
Then, when larger manufacturers/wholesales come knocking and are able to offer the "goods" and support, the decision for an independent retailer to switch is easy.

Problem was: while the highly respected company with its own unique products tried to jump on the China wagon, the promotion of and focus (quality control included) on their unique products seemed to fall to almost zero. All focus was on the cheaper alternatives. Which in the end resulted in aggravated clients when stock levels turned to zero or to too sporadic and complaints about the quality unique products turned from almost zero to frequent. Special offers on the unique products are not longer believed to have value for money due to doubts on the quality.
Trust becomes a rare item in these matters. And when trust fails, you are looking at a very long and hard battle to turn it around again.

The European Sales Department team members' tasks are added to the National Sales team members. In quick succession we received emails from the team members who had to find (have found) other employment.

Moving goalposts 2

Strange but true: unique products - of high quality - always seem to be in demand, be it in boom or bust times. The only change could be in the quantity, not the quality.

6a00d8341c660f53ef01539018c408970b-pi

So offering more varieties of quality unique products is one way to keep the quantities coming in, as long as you keep complete control on the whole production, quality control and shipping yourself. Keeping in constant contact with your clients keeps the quantity of clients on an even level and could (has) result(ed) in more clients. Improving your marketing and support to a high(er) quality allows your clients to "borrow" quality marketing materials to show their own clients.
And this was exactly what our other supplier has done, and then some. They moved the goalpost too, but to higher grounds, taking full advantage of the niche they had already carved out for themselves.

And then when other manufacturers/wholesalers come knocking and are able to offer the "goods" but not the support or commitment, the decision for an independent retailer not to switch is easy.

The production unit is now on a well deserved three week summer break, after having worked full tilt the last two week to fulfill all the orders for bespoke and standard wood floor products that came pouring in after the annual announcement of the summer break. Orders placed in these last two weeks could no longer be guaranteed to be made before the break. And we are one of the businesses who now have to wait until the production restarts to see our order made and shipped.

As our own client stated: "good things come to those who wait" (the company his insurer had hired to supply and install an exact copy of the damaged parquet floor had failed to come up with the bespoke "goods", therefore he had told his insurer he had had enough of standard suppliers and insisted on us supplying and installing the floor.)

Moral of the above...

6a00d8341c660f53ef01539018c3d9970b-pi

Being a great fan of Jim Collins and Co (Good to Great) and strong believer in the "hedge-hog concept" explained in his book, the message in the above experience to me is clear:

If you have carved out a niche for yourself, be very wary and careful when and to where you move your goalposts, they tend to fall down completely if you remove the foundation i.e: swapping your hedgehog concept (keep doing where you can be the best in, has the best long term commercial value for you and your clients, and has your passion) for short term profit.


Pay attention to get attention

Today the local postman delivered a large envelop, that is one thing to get my attention.

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e890b0fa3970d-pi

The address was hand-written - now that always gets my attention
(although I never write the address on envelopes we mail out, I couldn't bare to waste any postman's time trying to figure out what on earth has been written down - I know, I have a terrible hand)

Therefore it was the first envelop to be opened. Inside I found two leaflets (A4 and double A4): new products and trade price list of the new products. Plus one letter.

"Dear Sir / Madam

I am writing to thank you for your continued business and support in these very difficult times and....."

Now they'd lost my attention.

Cold leads, prospects, clients and returning clients

Trouble is, I don't know the business sending me the handwritten large white envelop with shiny A4 leaflets inside. In fact, I've not even heard of them, let alone am continuing to do business with them.

If I had been a returning client - as the wording "continued business" would indicate - the writer would have known my name and tittle to address the letter to me personally - which always gets my attention (after I check if they wrote my name correctly and not changed it into Karen - or Caroline as frequently happens too)
If I had been a client (having made a first purchase) the wording continued business would not be appropriate - and they would have known my name to address me personally.
If I had been a prospect, see above.

As cold-lead, I'm the last person to deserve the thanks the writer is expressing.

So instead of turning the first sentence of the letter into a feeling of being seen as a valued contact - as no doubt the writer's intention was, it put me off completely and I binned the lot, shiny leaflets and all.

Now there is nothing wrong with trying to rake in new business in "these very difficult times", we all do it in various ways. It only works much better if the letter, the wording, the content is appropriate for the reader in question. Explaining all the benefits of doing business with us to a long standing client would definitely get me on the wrong side of my valued client - they already know. Thanking a cold lead for their continued business.... you get the picture.

Have you divided your contact database into specific groups

Database

Every business is able to create a database, be it through the most elaborate software or a simple spreadsheet. It is quite easy to divide your database of contacts into specific groups:

  • leads (cold leads)
  • prospects (warm leads)
  • clients
  • returning clients

Writing two (leads and clients) or four (to each group individual) letters does not take much more effort than writing one "trying to catch all" letter and wasting precious materials (envelop, leaflets, postage). At least you won't aggravate the very people who's attention you are trying to get.

When's the last time you checked your database?


Dressing down or dressing up? #BNBT

This week's episode of Britain's Next Big Thing brought new developments for some contributors and more insight into the sometimes strange world of big retailers (and business sense of some).

Dressing down the products

It really seems there's a big difference between how the three participating retailers work with their brand new - or soon to be, and for some hopefully soon to be but still unsure - designers and suppliers.

Besides Catherine Gray (of the ceramic brightly coloured vases) it now also became clear that Laura Wellington's Hula would be licensed to Habitat in a dressed down version of only white plastic strips for the light instead of the multi-coloured strips.

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e9946d6970b-pi

In one of the earlier posts on #bnbt (License to sell) showed that Catherine was happy to take around £900.00 for the pleasure, instead of a higher profit. In this week's episode she told Theo she realised now that in fact she was getting "paid" for high buzz exposure (my translation of what was said).

The same is now happening with Laura.

Both dress down their product to make it an unique item for Habitat, while staying in control over the other versions and where the big retailer takes the risk of the production and the sale of the "unique item". Both are being paid of the numbers produced, not on the numbers sold.

Who's got more control?

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e9946ec970b-pi

Two other Habitat potential new suppliers (although if you check Habitat's online site you know who's made it) plan to supply the retailer with their own produced products.
Take the Beeble - the best example in this case. Steven Biddulph started by asking £ 85.00 for his foot stool, Habitat is still expecting to pay no more than £ 30.00 per Beeble.

So, Steven keeps tweaking his design - dressing down - to accommodate their demands.
Contrary to the two ladies who take a royalty, will he be able to produce the normal Beeble once the product meets Habitat's purchase price? Where will he find reasons to ask "private" clients a higher price. The only way I can see is varying the cover fabrics, but would that make a sufficient "different" beeble?
My guess is next week we'll see the two parties part:

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e9946db970b-pi

The Frog Brackit has made it into Habitat without being dressed down too much. Habitat only wanted a very small change in the frog it self and possible coloured ones (green and brown frogs were being tested during the episode, specially the green one I thought looked quite nice). Debbie Evershed stays firmly in control, and is in my opinion one of the winners of the program.

Although:

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e9946c9970b-pi

Dressing up

Richard Weston traveled to Como to watch his exquisite scarves being produced next to products of well known brands. He's getting ready to supply Liberty with his scarves and keeps a close eye on the quality and quantity.

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e9946e5970b-pi

Don't think so Richard. Think it is more down to the authenticity the Italian visit portrait.

Looking forward to next week's episode, the last one in the series. Who will end up in the winner's team, who will fall at the last hurdle? (Of course, this program has been made way before the first episode was aired, keeping your ear - and eye - out on Twitter and Facebook or on the various contributor's websites gives you a decent guess already).


Grow your business by renting

 

(guest post)

If you’re either about to start a business or already have an existing venture that is just ready to blossom into some altogether bigger then it may be time to consider renting a desk or office. Chances are, you may have started out in a spare bedroom, study or even the garage, as is the case with around sixty per cent of start-ups.

Move on up

Working from home is all well and good, and it’s well suited to people who want to be close to the family and get rid of the need for a tedious daily commute. It can be a cheap way of working too, but it’s not going to be for everyone. Working from home can be a solitary business, and if you’re the type that likes to network then the spare bedroom is hardly the place to do it.

So, with a recession rumbling on and lots of lovely office space up for grabs across the country, there has never been a better time to move on out and into rented space. If you’re a one-man band or a freelancer then the first concept worth checking out is that of the desk rental scheme. There are lots of these ‘desks’ available and they can be found using a simple online comparison site.

Office rental websites work in much the same way as comparison outlets for broadband or mobile phones, and quickly allow you to search for and find any desk or office rentals that are in your vicinity. The great thing about this is that you can get an instant idea of the going rate being charged for space, and due to the recession, prices are currently better than ever.

All the trimmings

If you’re a bigger business, or are thinking of expanding, then try looking for shared offices in the same sort of websites. These take the concept of the desk rental idea and add on lots of extras, which in many cases will include receptionists, post and IT support.

In either case, the added benefit of these rental deals is that they’re invariably highly flexible, contracts are short-term and on a rolling basis and the building remains the property of the landlord. This can, of course, mean a lot less hassle for you, and leave you to get on with the business of growing your venture. And, what’s more, the additional bonus is that you can pick a location that suits your needs down to the ground.

If you carry out a search using one of the comparison sites, you’ll soon see that many desk and office rental deals are available either in prime inner city locations, as well as on purpose built business parks. This means that your business will get an instant boost from having a respectable postcode, and as we said earlier, there’s also the chance to network with others as well as drumming up new clients and extra business thanks to your more easily seen location.

If you’ve never entertained the prospect of renting desk or office space then it may well be time to think again. The overheads can be cheap, it can be a lot less stressful than you might think and, ultimately, you may well boost your business as a result.  

Media_1305885548865
About the author: Rob Clymo writes on behalf of Office Genie, the UK's first proper online marketplace for desk space and shared office space.

-------------------------------

Interested in starting your own Ecommerce Venture using rented office space? Check out the brand new E-guide "Selling Online Basics", a publication by 1 Plus 1 Makes 3


Launch of Selling Online Basics E-guide, thanks #BNBT

The idea of creating this E-guide started when I switched from our desktop ecommerce software to the online software Ecwid (Ecommerce Widgets) for our retail secure webshop (still IMHO one of the better decisions we made).

Until recently this idea just sat on the back-burner. It wasn't until I started watching and writing about BBC's Britain's Next Best Thing (#bnbt) I realised how needed this simple guide really was. The show on fledgling designers and many mumpreneurs made me truly aware of how many other start-ups, work-from-home-persons, I-have-an-idea-lets-build-a-website youngsters and semi-retired baby boomers could be around.

6a00d8341c660f53ef015432677dfe970c-pi

What BNBT also showed us (me in any case) is how little aware many still are on free online programs they can use to start an Ecommerce Venture without having to break the bank and/or without having to know in-depth knowledge of software. You don't have to wait til a high street retailer decides to stock your product before you can start selling, nor do you have to dress down your product or idea to accommodate high street retailers desired purchase price. Just launch the darn product!

So thank you, #BNBT of kicking me into higher gear and finish the "darn" thing in double quick time:

The basics, right here

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e888803d9970d-pi

There are more Ecommerce sites being launched every single day than there are premises being opened for "old-fashion" retail outlets. More and more articles, blog-posts, magazine and even books are written on the rising tide of businesses selling products online. But none, or very few, will hand you the simple steps to launch your own Ecommerce site.

This guide will.

No need for:

  • an existing email address
  • an existing website
  • an existing webshop
  • PDQ equipment (to handle incoming payments)
  • an existing money-pot to pay for software to start selling online

All you need is:

  • your product, even if it is just one single product, be it digital or physical
  • internet access
  • passion about your product(s)
  • some writing skills to pass on your passion to your prospects
  • this guide

This guide is for:

  • work-at-home people with a ready product, by it digital or physical
  • existing start-ups without a foot in the door of existing retailers
  • hobbyist planning to turn their hobby into a sustainable income
  • people from 16 years old (due to some age limits software companies have implemented) to lively and entrepreneurial pensioners
  • anyone already using PayPal's "buy now" buttons or PayPal shopping cart and who finds this too limiting
  • anyone who knows their (new) product will excite others
  • anyone just wanting to empty their attic or garden shed but don't like Ebay
  • anyone without html coding knowledge, seo knowledge, web-design knowledge
  • anyone who wants to start selling online in one single day (half a day even)

It will hand you the online tools to start selling, it does not promise you'll be rich within a day - or a week, it's a tool guide, not a "get-rich-quick" scheme.

Who am I to write this guide?

Together with my partner I run an independent specialised retail business, he does the installation of the quality wooden flooring I sell. Besides the selling of our products through our showroom I manage our website, blog, ecommerce site and all other web marketing. Single-handedly - without an IT department, without an IT manager, even without an IT background or college grade.

However, I only use software programs that comes with an excellent customer support, be it with their documentation, training videos or email support. Some even come with their own users forum or twitter account for instant help.

The four online software programs (all award winning software) I will be discussing in this guide are free, and still have superb support available. Why? Because 3 of these programs have fee-paying account levels too. It's the principle of these companies to help you out from the start and they make no difference if you pay for your account or have a free account. Simply said: they hope you will love using their program so much you eventually become a paying customer once you realise how many more benefits a higher account level can give you. That's how I got to know all the ins and outs of the programs in this guide and on most I'm now a fee paying customer.
But for starters, the free versions are all you need to get started selling online.

The fourth free program is quite different, it has related programs - some free, some "pay-as-you-go" - you might become interested in later. The fifth essential online program you need is one of the so-called "pay-when-you-sell", no fees upfront or fixed monthly contribution.

Because of managing the webmarketing "single-handedly", I started to see/learn/experience how programs can be combined to become bigger than their own parts. None of these programs on its own will give you a complete ecommerce site, but by cleverly combining them you'll have absolutely everything you need to start selling your product or products online. Since more and more online software programs are able to "talk" to each other the combining (or linking them together) has become easier than ever.

This guide will focus on how to sell your product online as simple, quickly and easy as possible. It is therefore not an in-depth guide on all four individual programs. The title of this guide is called "Selling Online Basics" for a reason, it gives you instantly what you need to get the basics to start selling your product/products online. Later on you can dive into the single programs yourself to see what else they can do, but the "basics" is all you need for the moment. And all of these basics are covered in this guide.

So, what's in the guide?

  • An introduction to all the programs you need, the reason(s) why you can start with the free version (if applicable) and how to upgrade to a higher account level of the programs (if applicable for you).
  • A logical sequence of opening accounts for the free version of the online software programs you're going to use for your Ecommerce site (online presence).
  • Step by step screen shots of what you will see and need to do during the opening of these accounts
  • Extra information on the programs, but only if and when relevant to the essence of Selling Online Basics
  • How to combine/link the programs together into one effective working Ecommerce presence without the need to enter data all over again in separate programs.
  • An "if you already have..." per chapter, giving you shortcuts for the whole process
  • An extensive reference section for additional tactics and advice at the end of the guide to help you become a successful ecommerce business. (Remember, this guide only covers the online "basics" - but all of the basics you need.)

This guide starts on the premise of not having any the tools yet. Some tools, such as an email address, everyone might already have in place. Then still, it might be very handy, for a one-off product for instance or testing a brand new range, to sign up with the free version of the online tool discussed in this guide.

It's the simple combination power between the programs which makes the whole selling online process so simple and effective!

Karin H - proprietor of 1 Plus 1 Makes 3, managing director Wood You Like Ltd


Just ship the thing #BNBT

From yesterday's BNBT (Britains Next Big Thing) 5th episode, two things stuck in my mind: don't wait for permission and why did some not predict and benefit from the exposure (free marketing!) now their contributions are aired on national TV?

To patent or not to patent

In our world of wooden flooring everyone knows of the ongoing legal war between two multinationals in laminated flooring. Who's infringing on who's patent on the click system? This has been going on for years and every time the trade thinks it is finally settled, off they go again for another very expensive legal war in another country. These are multinationals, not work-at-home mums with a great invention many were looking for.

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e6a4ab5970b-pi

Elaine Armstrong, mumpreneur from West-Sussex has looked into patenting her bikeback but the costs to hold a patent can be enormous.

6a00d8341c660f53ef0154323d190b970c-pi

When Theo Paphitis remarked on the fact she had not pursued it further, Elaine gave the best answer possible in my opinion: and besides the costs for a patent, I would not have to money to fight any copy-cat.

Just ship the darn thing - establish your product as The Original as soon as possible, copy-cats will follow anyway, patent or no patent. At least then you have been able to recoup all the research and development costs.

But it seems the bikeback is not yet for sale, anywhere!

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e885dc754970d-pi

Waste of buzz created by BBC's program. It only takes 30 minutes to set up a secure online shop (with Ecwid Ecommerce widgets) and start selling the darn thing. Even if it is not yet really polished or if the packaging isn't perfect yet - at least get pre-orders in!

The Ledge, without an edge

6a00d8341c660f53ef0154323d1930970c-pi

Russell Leith's invention of The Ledge - a self-supporting stand, wooden plank/board supported by only one leg and the wall - failed to get into Habitat. Reason: their product technology expert thought it was too much of a risky product that could trigger loads of complaints from clients when their Ledge was knocked over by children or pets (while Russell's' own family and many of his friends don't seem to have a problem with it, having the Ledge in their homes for over 9 years).

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e6a4aea970b-pi

But by Habitat's decision it seems to be the end of the line for him. While others, still in the running or dropped by one of the three big retailers participating in the program, can at least be found on the web (see here for the full list - as far as known) no Google search can give you any further details on Russ or his Ledge.
He himself claimed after the last meeting with Habitat: there is a future for the product.

Sure there is and having watched the program there must be plenty of potential buyers out there. But you can't find the darn thing on the wibbly wobbly web at all!

Missed opportunity, wasted time going through all the (e)motions of contributing to the program.

Any takers out there to pre-order the soon to be launched "Selling Online Basics"?

UPDATE 19.05.11: Selling Online Basics" launched!


License to sell? #BNBT

This week's 4th episode of Britain's Next Big Thing was often "interrupted" in our house due to lively discussion between me and my partner. Sure means it is an interesting program, but some items!!!

Poor retailer

Theo Paphitis boxing with profit

Mr retail himself Theo Paphitis used boxes to explain how little profit a retailer ended up with, just a measly 5% if the buyers got it right. Dear of dear me. Poor retailer.
According to Theo the numbers for the poor retailer works as follows:

  • 50% of turnover minus VAT goes to purchasing of the products (now that's quite odd, especially with Habitat and their shocking maths, remember the Beeble? - 40% tops, so where's the remaining 10%, hidden profit?)
  • 20% to overheads, such as utilities, rent etc
  • 15% to staff - on the shop floor
  • 10% to storage, logistics, marketing and the wages for buyers and inhouse designers.
  • 5% is "all" that's left for profit (I guess it is more like 15%, see note above on costs of sales)

Easily forgetting that the larger the retailer, the higher the total overheads are - the economy of large numbers. Besides, the 5% profit is more often than not for the shareholders, like Dragon's Den man Theo and his colleagues.

Poor Mr retailer Theo Paphitis

So, does this really explain why the big high street retailers squeeze their suppliers that much and hard?
Small, independent retailers work quite differently, lower mark up, lower overheads, higher % of nett profit - if they work smart. And establish a fair relationship with their suppliers at the same time.

(Side-note: the VAT man does not take a part from your profit; every VAT registered business acts as a collector of the Value Added Tax, deducting any VAT they pay themselves from the VAT their clients pay. And why were the buyers and in-house designers of the poor retailer grouped in a different class than the floor staff when it comes to their wages/pay?).

Supplier or royalties?

Catherine Gray's ceramic vases destined for Habitat

One of the contributors for Habitat is Catherine Gray with her ceramic vases, made in her own studio. She's selling them for as high as £ 195.00 a piece - giving her a £ 75.00 profit per vase, but Habitat is eager to sell them for £ 30.00 - wow. Problem there you would think, this retail price means the vases are made at a loss if Catherine produces every single one herself (her largest order to date has been 16 pieces) or... licensed by Catherine to habitat to have them mass produced in Italy.

The mass produced vases (for which Catherine will receive £ 0.30 per vase) will differ from the unique, produced in the UK in her own studio for her private clients in order for both parties to do "their own thing" without competing with each other.
Not much profit in there you think? Well, that depends how you look at it. Catherine has no costs, liability or risk to take with licensing her "habitat" vase, but receives £ 0.30 royalty per Habitat vase, plus - as she states herself - being recognised as an official Habitat desginer comes with its own kudos: almost free marketing for her other, more personal, bespoke vases. Which she can produce and sell for as much as her private clients are willing to pay for. Deal.

If you saw Charlotte Sale struggling to get the order out for Liberty you might wonder why she doesn't go the same way and license one - or more - products the same way, stopping the risk of making the unique glass pieces without a profit (due to the number of "faulty" ones). However, Liberty is quite a different beast than Habitat, with only one store (a very prestigious one at that) and giving their suppliers a fair deal.
This was also confirmed by Richard Weston, the professor of architecture and creator of colourful and amazing scarves with blown-up prints of minerals.

Richard Weston's mineral scarves going to Liberty

He's now - in his own words - at risk making an earning from his business and stands to make £ 1,500.00 profit on supplying the first 100 scarves to Liberty

Both new Liberty suppliers stay producers, in control of production with its own risks, which does come with larger profits.

Then there's Boots

6a00d8341c660f53ef0154322119af970c-pi

The retailer in BNBT with the most outlets, which prompted Theo to give us some more pointers on the economy of large numbers when getting your product into one of the High street "giants". The other two could sell 100 of your product for £100.00 - netting £ 10.000 turnover (the retailers, not you), where as Boots could sell 250.000 of your £ 1.00 products - netting £ 250.000 turnover (Boots, not you).

It's the low priced items Boots is after, which became very clear when their teenage testing groups were shown the It's All About Me teenage skin care products:

It's all about me skin care, it's the packaging not the ingredients

The older teenagers didn't like the packaging, would pay no more than £ 2 - £ 3 for it, not the £ 6.00 Elaine Weston had set. The packaging, according to Boots teenager didn't make it look professional or trustworthy enough to do what it said on the tin.

Boots buyers' comment to Elaine after the test with the teenagers was completed: you'll have to find cheaper ingredients, they are not willing to pay the price for it you want.

Eh? It's the packaging stupid, not the ingredients! Fortunately Elaine refused to change her ingredients to comply with Boots request. Not sure if Boots mentioned the real reason this - none-target - group was not willing to pay more for it, otherwise a completely different discussion would have taken place: are you willing to change the marketing, the labeling to make it more attractive to this group?

Talking about labeling:

stickers on Charlotte Sale's expensive glass vessels instead of appropriate labels

Looking forward to the next episode of #BNBT, more and more convinced some of the contributors will make a very good deal (while keeping in control) and others will, I'm afraid, not see beyond the kudos of getting that foot in the door.

As for the E-guide "Selling Online Basics - SO-basic: being a small independent retailer (lower mark-up, lower overheads, higher % of nett profit) with all the tasks that come with it - all joyfully excecuted every day - does limit the "free" time I can spend on it at the moment, but the end is near. So, stay tuned (for BNBT and more news on the E-guide).

UPDATE 19.05.11: "Selling Online Basics" officially launched!


BNBT update - for sale!

After my wonderings (why so many seem to be so eager to get a foot in the door at large retailers) of the last two weeks on Britain's Next Big Thing, an update on various contributors to the program.

Although there is economy in large numbers (sold through big retailers), never forget the "economy of profit in smaller numbers"

Beeble

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e882ad77c970d-pi

Straight from the designer's own online website, and priced according his own expressed wishes during BNBT #3 (normally £ 200.00 - now with 25% off, but with the profit in smaller numbers).

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e882ad7a3970d-pi

Hula for sale at Habitat

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e374a53970b-pi

"Habitat Hula" at a price of £ 230.00 (where Laura sold her original Hula direct to her clients for £ 300.00)

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e882ad7dd970d-pi

No online shop available to buy direct from Laura Wellington

SunSnoozer

6a00d8341c660f53ef0154320a381f970c-pi

For sale online. all 1500 of them! Through Baby Beamers own online shop, Jojo Maman Bebe and.... Amazon.co.uk for £ 24.99 (ex P&P)
(SunSnoozer not to be confused with the black SnoozeShade from another mum + designer)

It's not the price that's always more important

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e374a5c970b-pi

Always love to see these statistics on Amazon.co.uk - puts paid to the myth that everyone always makes their buying decision based on price alone.

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e882ad7df970d-pi

Frog BracKit

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e882ad782970d-pi

For sale on Debbie Evershed's own Frog BracKit website
(which home page "jumps" all over the place and is missing various very basic SEO items, such as page titles - not a great advertisement for the web designer The Design Complex, who shows the Frog BracKit as their Featured design, oh dear. For the webshop itself I would have chosen the free version of Ecwid, not the Shopify "pay-when-you-sell" program - but that's for another post, not here - UPDATE 03.05.11: someone's been paying attention, pages on Frog BacKit now all have names ;-))

Prices and kits

6a00d8341c660f53ef0154320a3808970c-pi

Price for the Frog BracKit £ 18.00 (frog shaped bracket only), the various kits containing the bars and hooks start from £ 18.59 to £ 34.54

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e374a93970b-pi

At Habitat (confused!)

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538e374a24970b-pi

The Frog Kit is for sale in the Habitat online shop, but rather confusingly the bars and hooks can't seem to be found straight from the essential product.
(Originally found the Frog Kit through Google, can't figure out in which category in the habitat online shop it is listed - they don't seem to be using simple "bread-crumbs", just major categories)
Tried a product search on Frog It to see if the bar and hook kits were listed somewhere else only to find this result:

6a00d8341c660f53ef0154320a37f1970c-pi

Frog Bracket or Frog BracKit gives the same 0 result.
Then I tried "Frog" and up they came:

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e882ad7ea970d-pi

Not a very user friendly experience I must say. It's like hiding the "latest product with a buzz" deep at the back of the store.

Frog itself, cheaper than on The Frog BracKit site, but combining the sets of same length bars makes any ready packed kit still cheaper IMHO. (the lengths above do not actually read 141.5 cm but l (as in length) 41.5 cm)

Tracy Wood Products

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e882ad81a970d-pi

Now, that's a great sight for sore eyes ;-)
No wonder Tracy tweets:

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e882ad7f1970d-pi

Although, her website could do with some better SEO too - again the page titles are missing, what's so difficult for a web designer - Vosweb - to do this little simple thingy?

Conclusion

The three big retailers are attractive for suppliers/designers to sell (hoping to sell) larger numbers of their products. BNBT gives them a higher profile, and I sincerely hope their own websites and online selling takes off or improves as a result. My fear with new buzz products is always: how long are they the Next Big Thing at these big retailers? And then what?

The websites I've seen today could all do with improvement though - even the Habitat one, but that's not my objective - from the most simple SEO Meta tags to simpler and cheaper shopping carts.
Upwards and onwards with my guide, it's great fun and exciting at the same time bringing 4 free (plus 1 "pay-when-you-sell") online software programs together to help small businesses with the "economy of profit in smaller numbers".


BNBT #3, Habitat - shocking maths

Watched Britain's Next Big Thing episode 3 last night, designers trying to get a foot in the door at Habitat (150 outlets). For starters, if anyone still dares to say Britain does not have designing talent any longer, they better start watching this program. From frog-brackets (Debbie Evershed, selling them already at markets - through to the next stage) to modular seating (not gone through).

The eagerness

What made me shake my head various times during the program is - as mentioned last week - the eagerness some display to get that foot in the door with one of the big retailers, no matter what the costs!

One candidate who was introduced last week, pitching her sunsnoozer to Boots buying team, has gone through the next stage of discussions with the health and beauty retailer but nothing definite yet. Still, Brigitte Lydum as gone ahead and ordered 1500 units of her Sunsnoozer from her Srilankan manufacturer (that's a lot of boxes stored in her living room, as you can see during episode 3).

6a00d8341c660f53ef015431faea4f970c-pi

It's down to Mr Retail himself Theo Paphitis to tell her to start thinking about how she's planning to sell the 1500 units if Boots decides not to take it on now - the sunsnoozer being a seasonal product, no much sun in Winter. A personal loan she took out for the order is at stake if she doesn't start asking Boots what their real and short term plans are. Being asked the samples is all she heard lately, not even a date of when the next discussion will take place based on the samples sent.

The maths

Beside the "I am in the next stage, so I'll just wait for things to happen" there are the maths.

Steven Bidduph pitched his Beeble footstool at the open day of Habitat. During his pitch he mentioned the retail price he had in mind the outlets would charge for his product - around £199.00 and him selling his footstool to Habitat for around £ 85.00.
This was immediately waved away by the buyers: we have to sell this under £ 100.00 so that means a purchase price lower than £ 30.00

Holey smoke! Supposing the £ 100.00 is including VAT (£ 83.34 ex) it is still lower than the purchase price the designer had in mind. I can imagine the overheads of a big retailer being quite large, but a mark up of 177% is jaw dropping. But again, a very delighted designer - he's gone through the next round and is already hard at work of getting his product price to the level habitat is expecting of him.

Simple maths now. There is of course economy in large numbers, but still. Steven still has to make his own profit. Suppose he manages to bring the purchase price for habitat down to £ 29.00 and habitat sells it for £ 99.00 (£ 82.50 ex VAT). Habitat's gross profit £ 53.50 per Beeble, Steven's profit per Beeble? Sincerely hope for him he makes at least a fiver out of it or perhaps even a tenner. Let's, for simplicity sake, make it £ 7.50 gross profit for him per Beeble. So he has to hope habitat sells all lot of Beebles. It will take at least 7 of them for Steven to make roughly the same money (gross) Habitat does on one.

What if he would sell the Beebles on his own? Retail price £ 95.00, on a higher production price (lower numbers in production) of £ 35.00. That would make his gross profit around £ 44.00 per Beeble. Meaning, he only has to sell 2 to reach the same gross profit he would have if Habitat managed to sell 7.
Another designer at Habitat's open day also got through to the next stage with her Hula lamps, but on the condition she will stop sell her products (charging £ 300.00 a piece) herself and grand habitat exclusivity on them - while they plan to sell them at a much lower price, more in line with other lighting articles they already carry.

The Long Tail

Getting through to the next stage during the open days at the big retailers in this program means a few things, one extremely important:
if big retailers can see there's a market for your design, product - so should you. Proof is in the pudding with the frog-bracket, Tracy Woods Eczema ointment and even the Hula's

Many other hopefuls fell at the first round, they didn't. I just can't get my head around the fact that especially now with more and more evidence of Long Tail commercial viable products - read "profitable in smaller numbers", it's still the big retailers many turn to instead of doing some simple maths and "going-it-alone". To me it's a no-brainer

Selling Online Basics (SO-basic)

6a00d8341c660f53ef015431faea5b970c-pi

Since the second episode of BNBT I've been steaming ahead with my new E-guide: Selling Online Basics and it is progressing nicely. The more I see of BNBT, the more I'm convinced it is the basic online knowledge - absolutely not hard to learn - many are missing to take the step to "go-it-alone" with their products.
Give it another week or so and my guide will be ready. 

UPDATE 19.05.11: "Selling Online Basics" officially launched!


To retail or ecommerce

BBC has a new "business" program: Britain's Next Big Thing - launched last week. MR RETAIL himself, Theo Paphitis follows a group of small businesses, some working from their own kitchen or workshop, when they try to have their products accepted on the shelves of 3 big retailers: Liberty, Boots and Habitat

Boots

6a00d8341c660f53ef01538dfff116970b-pi

This week's episode showed 10 hopefuls venturing in to Boots HQ. The one that amazed me most, just by one single revelation, was Tracy Wood, producing eczema ointment in her own kitchen in New Haven.

(Her story could have been my mum's story. Not that my mum created a natural product to ease eczema and walked into a big retailers HQ, more her story about also having a very young baby - me - with atopic eczema and the natural remedies she tried to ease this skin problem with. Sea salt and soft soap (groene zeep) for years and years. Boy, these remedies didn't half sting! But they did ease the eczema: sea salt - swimming in the North sea every single day during the summer holidays - and soft soap, rubbed - really rubbed! - in my skin during the winter months.)

During a quick take showing Theo and Tracy she revealed she was already selling the product, due to existing clients recommending her product to others.

"I've must have sold around 70.000+ jars from my own kitchen already."

Holy-smoke, that's a big buzz - even Theo was impressed.

I understand the image of having your own product on the shelves of one of Britain's biggest health and beauty care retailers gives - and at this point in the series it is still not known if Tracy will succeed in this - but 70.000+ sold already without any noticeable branding is IMHO quite an achievement.
(Looking at Tracy's website, which loads terrible slow and is kind of off-kilter I don't think this site generates many new contacts - Quirk SearchStatus only shows back links from her own domain and a single one from 123people, Google doesn't list a single link coming in. Her Facebook page has 2 posts and 30 members and I guess she just started on Twitter, first tweet of the 26 in total was 16.03.11, so hardly any Social Media presence at the moment).

Quantity in products or quality in profit?

So even without a decent web presence her natural products have created such a buzz among her clients, she's managed to sell 70.000+ single items.
Of course, this on its own does not make a new product Britain's' Next Big Thing - having 100 units of your product in every Boots shop would mean you have to at least produce 200.000 units. And of course there's economics in producing big quantities but how about the quality in profit on those same 200.000 units? My - and I think anyone's - guess is that Boots would take the biggest profit from it.

Tracy is only one of the many persons working from a small unit - kitchen, workshop, bedroom - nowadays. And not many will make it "on to the shelves" of Britain's biggest retailers. But in these days of the long tail, easy internet access and free software programs to help you market and sell your products online I'm wondering why many would still opt for increased quantities versus reduced profits in absurd large numbers of units?

Last night's broadcast gave me an extra incentive to create this new guide I have had in mind for the last few weeks "Selling Online Basics" with a bit more haste ;-)
There's a lot of people out there with great products that could do with a simple but effective step by step guide showing them how to keep the full profit in their own pocket.


API - connecting the dots (com)

Was email The electronic innovation of the late 80's, the wibbly.wobbly.web of the late 90's and Cloud computing of the late 00's, Application Program Interface must be The innovations now - do we actually have a name for this decennia yet, do we call this the 10's, tens or teenies?

Connecting dots

6a00d8341c660f53ef0147e3c14529970b-pi

Image taken from Narrow Boat Albert (book-reviews)

In the olden days sending products (read data) needed a lot of manual handling when transported from one area to another. Take for instance transport of goods over water.
Loaded into one boat, "sailed" as for as the water way would carry that particular boat, unloaded again to be loaded into another boat taking it over another water way as far as possible, unloaded/loaded again into another until it finally reached it ultimate destination. Cumbersome and taking a long time. Until larger water ways were connected by canals, reducing the amount of handling tremendously. (I'm rather a fan of the old travel ways using narrow boats, call me a romantic, but have you ever seen the breathtaking aqueducts built especially for this?)

6a00d8341c660f53ef0147e3c14563970b-pi

(Image again from Narrow Boat Albert blog)

Bringing the idea of connecting canals into the 21st century, API connects especially various Cloud computing programs with each other, reducing the number of times data has to be manually handled. Other - desktop - software programs use API also to extend their usefulness.

I regard Cloud Computing programs those software programs you can access anywhere where you have an internet connection, from blogs, email marketing, CRM to ecommerce sites and even online banking (Software as a Service). Accessible everywhere is great, but none or very few programs take care of all the essentials. Email marketing does not include your bookkeeping, blogs don't process your payments from clients and CRM's don't sell your products online.

Meaning, without the means of a API connection, the details of your contact/clients need to be handled many times over. Connecting programs - letting them talk to each other in bits and bytes - overcomes this cumbersome problem.

Take for instance our own secure webshop. Since mid last year we use Ecwid for this, the widget embedded in our blog (and main website also). Client decides to pay using Paypal.
With one click - place order - details of my client are captured in Ecwid, in Paypal and in Kashflow (our bookkeeping program we also started using mid last year).

If I want I can even transfer (one click again) details of this client from Kashflow into MailChimp and email further marketing messages to them. We don't use MailChimp for our email marketing at the moment, Octane HQ takes care of this (including none email marketing), but on the other hand I do have a MailChimp account and use this for a village project.

So, no more manually entering details in various (online) software programs, all done (almost) automagically through API.

Other connections

Of course, other online programs use the same principle. Tweet a message and add specific hash-tags and the same message appears in Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Publish a blog-post, and various API's will show an announcement on Twitter, Facebook to name but a few.

Then there are desktop software programs who, by utilising API, can upload data to all kinds of online programs. One I frequently use - this blog-post on Typepad is a fine example of it - is ScreenSteps Desktop. I can even publish the same article in other programs without having to lift a finger (well, I only have to tell ScreenSteps in which programs I want the post to appear).

Bringing it together

6a00d8341c660f53ef0147e3c14517970b-pi

At the moment I'm working on a specific guide to show how using various Cloud computing programs, all using API in one way or the other, can help you create an ecommerce project very quickly and efficient. My target group will be small business testing the waters of ecommerce, those who need to simply test a new product (digital or physic product) without disrupting their normal website or which could interfere (marketing wise) with their existing ecommerce presence.

For some of the programs in this guide I'll use free editions of award wining software, so even start-ups don't have to break the bank getting started with ecommerce. The beauty of using free edition first is that you can always upgrade to a more advanced edition (with more features and benefits) without having to start all over again.

Still looking for a proper name for the guide though, "connecting the dots (com)" might work here too ;-)

Do you have a favourite program that uses API? And how does it benefit the running of your business?


time warp

Finally - after years and years of trial and error, smoking pc's and phone lines - I managed to email back in time!

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e86e3e5f0970d-pi

Just by a few minutes only this time, but one of these days someone may be able to read my answer before they even asked the question!


The ultimate "your site cannot be found cold call" stopper - StatCounter

For as long as we manage our own website, blogs and most other online presences we are using StatCounter for web traffic analytics.
StatCounter gives you much more indebt insight in various statistics than IMHO Google Analytics, specially the "visitor path".
I can give you plenty of examples, but that's for another post.

Beta (New) has just got better

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e5f95f2aa970c-pi

Since the launch of the Beta version, with brand new features making navigation between various projects simpler, I've switched from the old to the new StatCounter site.
During this short time, the good people of StatCounter keep improving the features, giving you more instant extra data.

The statistics of StatCounter has helped us improve our website, we keep an eye on most frequently used search phrases and implement those in our pages or, as happened a few times, wrote whole new pages/guides based on it. The "7 Easy Steps to Repair/Restore your parquet floor" is one of those examples - and within days this page was (and is) one of the most popular pages on our site (and bringing in new clients frequently).

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e86707f8c970d-pi

We know our website, blog and other presence often score high on many Google searches - and still you get, sometimes on a weekly base, those calls from SEO businesses.

"We couldn't find your website on Google, we can help you getting better found" - The Holy Script of all of them I think. My standard answer is always: well, fortunately for us, our clients and prospects can and do find us.

And now this new feature in the New StatCounter will stop them right in their track:

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e86707fd0970d-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef014e5f95f2b6970c-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef0147e2f0c515970b-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef014e5f95f2d4970c-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef014e86707fb4970d-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef014e86707fc6970d-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef014e86707f9a970d-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef0147e2f0c523970b-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef0147e2f0c52d970b-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef0147e2f0c547970b-pi

Just a few examples (at the moment the ranking icon shows only when the searcher used the redirect - cached page).

So, SEO cold callers, be warned. We've now got even more proof you are telling porkies!


Forecourt deceit at Shell Lychgate, Faversham

Petrol prices and diesel prices are ridiculously high nowadays, we all know that and we all can't do anything about it it seems.

But that does not mean certain forecourts should take advantage of us poor divers!

How much?

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e8642ab24970d-pi

I filled up our estate care on Monday at our usual petrol station on the A20 at Hothfield (Esso) and paid £ 1.309 per liter. So when Ton in the van on its way to the job on Tuesday morning passed Shell Lychgate at Faversham and saw the price on the big board for diesel showing £ 1.329 he thought that could be about right, diesel being more expensive as petrol.

List price is not the pump price!

So on his way back home, he drove onto the forecourt and started filling the van with diesel - only to realise the price at the pump itself was £ 1.4089 a whopping 6% higher!
When he went to pay he remarked about the big difference between the price on the big board - attracting him and many other drivers to fill up there on the Thanet Way - and the actual price he was told the following

"Oh, the board has been broken for a few weeks now"

How convenient (for them)!

Contrary to most petrol station the receipt he took home for the books, only shows the amount of liters and the total price - not the price per liter. How convenient, for them!

Ton is furious and so am I - what kind of deceit is this, IMHO it even smells of fraud. How can they get away with it? Daylight robbery, nothing else!

So be warned, if you are driving around in Kent and need some petrol or diesel - avoid the Shell Lychgate station on the Thanet Way near Faversham, listed prices are not what they seem!

Avoid Shell Lychgate on Thanet Way Faversham, the price listed is not the price you pay

How many other forecourts have a broken big boards and take all the time of the world to fix it? Until, no doubt, the minute the actual price drops below the advertised "broken-board" price.


Recharge - Rework

When we moved home last June we closed the showroom on Sundays - before we only had to cross the road, now it is a 10 minute drive. Thinking I would find more time to write on these now leisure days - even wrote about it here - things turned out differently, even after the weather turned and no more Sundays spent in the sunny garden or on walks (to the local pub - a walk of 25 minutes on its own).

Recharge Sundays

6a00d8341c660f53ef014e860c2449970d-pi

On dark and wet Sundays of late I did write, but not as presumed for this blog. Marketing projects and ideas for our business took prevalence over general ponderings on business. Plus I rekindled my baking hobby!

There's nothing more satisfying than plunging your hands in sticky bread dough. No cheating with a bread machine here. Experimenting with ingredients, with temperatures and baking time takes your mind of the tasks and sometimes worries of the working days. I've come to call these days my recharging Sundays. It is a known fact that when you stop thinking about matters that occupy your mind normally, ideas, solutions and aha moments seem to pup up in the more relaxed mind of busy people. It recharges the battery, and you start the week revitalised (and with home made bread in the lunch box with as treat a slice of raisin and current bread!)

There are Sundays the only thing that enter my head is the lovely sweet smell of fresh muffins or biscuits (the Dutch spiced biscuits spekulaas as current favourite).
Might even write a (e)book on the subject"Recharge Sundays", filled with little tips and recipes for other retail and trade businesses like us, working 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. It might just changed the way they think about work, it has changed mine (for the better),

Which brings me nicely to the book review I'd planned to write months ago:

ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever

second book by 37Signal owners Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

Bite-size snippets of wisdom where almost none of the chapters is longer than 1.5 pages. And at the same tine showing/teaching you everything about being in business a MBA graduate adviser tells you not to do. If you want to start or grow/improve your business it is a must read, you will worry less and succeed sooner.

Example:

Don't Write It Down (page 164)
How should you keep track of what customers want? Don't. Listen, but then forget what people said. Seriously.
There's no need for a spreadsheet, database, or filing system. The requests that really matter are the ones you'll hear over and over. After a while you won't be able to forget them. Your customers will be your memory. They'll keep reminding you. They'll show you which things you truly need to worry about.
If there's a request that you keep forgetting, that's a sign that it isn't very important. The really important stuff doesn't go away.

Another snippet (from the introduction): They - the critics - say you need to sell to the Fortune 500. Screw that. We sell to the Fortune 5,000,000
Another gem of advise can be found in Building to flip is building to flop (page 59): you need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy.

Some books should b e compulsory reading, when we opened a business account with Barclay we received Kick-Start Your Business: 100 Days to a Leaner, Fitter Organisation (Virgin Business Guides) by Robert Craven. Where Robert's book gives you plenty of practicalbusiness advise on starting/running your business, Rework should be added to any new business account opening package for the sake of business attitude and long term strategy.

Let me give you some further chapter tittles to wet your appetite:

  • Out-teach your competition
  • Press releases are spam
  • The myth of the overnight sensation
  • Don't scar on the first cut (side note for UK readers: this is where the Big Society Idea is all about IMHO)
  • Start a business, not a start-up
  • Learning from mistakes is overrated
  • Enough with "Entrepreneurs" (side-note: Robert Craven should read this, he will have a field day ;-))
  • Mission statement impossible
  • Go to sleep
  • Let your customers outgrow you
  • Decisions are temporary

Go on, you know you want to read this, if it is only to fulfill your curiosity to find out what's behind the chapter tittles. And curiosity is a great characteristic to have as business person.


When images are not enough - a little game for the holidays

It's often said "a picture tells more than a thousand words". But then again, and as with everything, it really depends on what you are trying to "depict" (excuse the pun).

Installation instructions

Suppose you've been looking forward to this moment: boxes and boxes of wooden floor arrive at your doorstep and you're rearing to go, install that floor and score those needed brownie points with the missus (or nowadays also more often: showing the man in the house women are as good at DIY as the boys think they are).

Behind the wrapping of the boxes you see that all important document: installation instructions and you quickly you - carefully - rip open the top box to get your hands on the instructions.

Let's play a little game

6a00d8341c660f53ef0148c6f71571970c-pi

I've copied the installation instructions recently found in boxes of quality wooden floors. You tell me, in the comment box, what each picture tells you (there are "only" 19 of them and fortunately each one has a number).

6a00d8341c660f53ef0148c6f71599970c-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef0147e0ed1837970b-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef0148c6f715c1970c-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef0148c6f715f9970c-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef0147e0ed1884970b-pi
6a00d8341c660f53ef0148c6f71647970c-pi

Now even I can't make any sense of this last one. I do know you should not install a floor like this with a fixed pattern as the picture shows, but not sure about the foot prints though.

What do you think? Could you install your wooden floor with help of this pictures? I'm very curious - so tell me in the comment box what you think each picture means, or just the ones you think makes sense (or which ones has you baffled).

The strangest thing of all is that underneath the pictures there's a website mentioned where you can find a PDF file (in 4 languages - Dutch, English, German and French) where all the pictures are explained, plain and simple.

6a00d8341c660f53ef0148c6f7166c970c-pi

(I found the meaning of image 19 there too, and it is quite different to what you might expect, but I'm not going to give the "game" away.

So, manufacturer, why do it the hard way? What's wrong with adding the elaborative laying instructions in the box instead of the riddles?

Rest assured though, whenever you buy one of the quality floors from this manufacturer from us (Wood You Like Ltd), we'll print out the elaborative instructions for you, before we deliver the boxes of wood to you.

Oh, BTW (by the way), because it's a game there's a price too of course. The one who manages to turn these images in the most practical installation guide wins an Amazon.co.uk Gift Voucher of £ 5.00 (because it's Christmas ;-))
(Or if you live local to our showroom I'll present you with a tin of Wax-care for your own oiled wooden floor.)

Get your entry in before 2011 to make a chance to win.