Received this Christmas card email today:
If that's not a Merry announcement of double super service, I wouldn't know what is!
Merry Christmas to you too - kashflow and thanks for putting the ease back into bookkeeping.
Received this Christmas card email today:
If that's not a Merry announcement of double super service, I wouldn't know what is!
Merry Christmas to you too - kashflow and thanks for putting the ease back into bookkeeping.
Running a small business means, among other things, having to keep the books. Having a "business pondering" blog means writing about relevant programs which, often, make live for small business owners easier/simpler, especially bookkeeping/accounting software.
Writing about software means attracting request from various software programs.
This morning I received the following email:
I am contacting you from Intuit UK regarding a link suggestion for your website.
Intuit UK is a leading provider of business and financial management solutions for small organisations and their advisors including accountants and bookkeepers. The flagship product is QuickBooks, the accounting software designed to help small businesses succeed through taking the worry out of managing business finances. Having analysed your website’s content, we think that a link to QuickBooks would be very relevant and useful to your visitors.
Therefore we would greatly appreciate you placing a link to us from your http://www.thekissbusiness.co.uk page. Should you choose to link to us, our homepage URL is: (*)
Please let me know if you would like some further information regarding linking to QuickBooks and for more information about Intuit UK, please visit (*)
Look forward to hearing from you soon,
Thanks and best regards,
(name removed by me)
Sorry, not a fan of Quickbooks and therefore it would not be fare to my readers.
(Plus most often if others ask for links from my site to a program/company they offer a "reward" or link love. Can't see anything you're offering - and that for a large business)
Intuit is "rolling" out a SaaS version of Quickbooks - a beta version you have to pay for for the pleasure of helping them out finding the bugs (Duane Jackson of Kashflow had a field day with this and so did Dennis Howlet)
Next up is Sage, banning Duane from the GEW party - read all about it on Duane's and Dennis' blogs)
Imagine my chuckle when my comment on Duane' post about the ban turned into this tweeter question by him:
How's that for proper analysing someones website - asking the competition to give out links?
Are the "big" software companies feeling the pressure of being overtaken by other - better, simper, cheaper, better value for money - software companies that they resort to shooting themselves in the foot? Not once, but continuously this week (which is Global Entrepreneurship Week for that matter ;-))
(* = links to the software and business home page removed - of course!)
Like yours, my inbox frequently receives marketing messages from plenty of businesses; some are expected and welcomed, plenty are really just spam, others come from businesses you dealt with one time or the other and some have the audacity to state the email I receive is within the anti-spam regulation and all I have to do is opt-out. If you know me a little bit you know how I despise this opt-out practise, there is no way in the world a practise like that can ever create a happy new client.
Then there's that other bug-bear of mine: email marketing messages you can't seem to get rid off. Why do some businesses make it so hard for their prospects/clients to unsubscribe? What's the use/benefit of that? I know nobody wants to see their email list decrease in numbers, but making it almost impossible to stop further emails coming in feels like the ultimate begging: please, please don't leave me!
Beginning last week I received an marketing email from BT (British Telecom) about the benefits of returning to them as client. Since for the last four years we're very satisfied with the tariff and service we receive from Your Connection whom take care of all our business phone lines (except mobile phones, which are taken care of by Digital World Direct, also providing us ongoing great service) I saw or see no need to switch back to BT. So I went in search of the unsubscribe link and finally found it in the small print almost at the bottom of the email. To my amazement the link brought me to a BT web page that stated the following:
"We will deal with you request to unsubscribe from our marketing list as soon as possible. In the meantime you might receive further emails from us."
Begging your pardon? Deal with my request as soon as possible? BT? Whom took over 3 weeks to connect our new home phone, doing something as simple as removing my email address from their list as soon as possible? Where the simplest - free - email marketing systems have the ability to do this automated the minute a subscriber clicks the unsubscribe link, why on earth does it take a company, who fames itself for quick and easy communication, so long I can receive further emails I don't want anyway?
True to their word on Friday another BT marketing message arrived in my inbox - grrrrr!
Found the unsubscribe link again, to discover this time I'd landed on quite a different web page where it's hard to make out where and how you can be removed from their list. It took selecting one out of two options, which brought up two new links to select between and finally two new options to let BT know for once and for all I do no longer want to receive their messages - I had to reread the sentence twice to make sure I had finally arrived on the correct option to unsubscribe. The sentence even included the wording: we do not like to see you go - no, that's why they make it so difficult to leave no doubt!
This whole episode of trying to escape from marketing messages you don't want any longer, reminds me of the lyrics from "Hotel California" by The Eagles:
So I'm now wondering when the next BT marketing email will arrive.
Interim Management Jobs
A keyrole in spearheading the public or private sector are interim managers.
With the cuts in many organisations budgets, Interim Management Jobs are becoming more widely available and not as many opportunities.
However Interim Partners, help companies to lead change, with proven records in many positions such as: Chief Executives, Managing Directors and Financial Directors. In which will more likely make a company successful and potentially turning a loss into a profit.
(Article first published on Ideate - The only South African blog written for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs as guest author)
Every business needs one; it's one of those essential service suppliers like your insurance broker or stationery supplier. You can't really go without one.
How you regard your accountant however is a completely different matter.
If you expect your accountant to just "do the books" then most often you hand in your ledgers (shoe box filled with receipts even?) once a year and he/she'll turn it into a readable profit and loss statement, balance sheet and tells you how much (corporation) tax you'll have to pay. And of course bills you for the works done. End of story. The invoice gets booked under your fixed costs - like the utility bills, travel costs, letterheads etc - those type of costs that only deduct value from your bottom line.
When you regard your accountant as trusted team member, an essential part of your business then he becomes an asset: adding value to the bottom line.
10 years ago, after an initial meeting we never saw our first accountant again. We did talk to them in the beginning, only to receive a new invoice every time they'd picked up the phone to answer any of our questions. And as newbie's on the block there are many questions. To be honest, they never did more than answering our specific questions. Billed us for the annual accounts and "advice" given. Fixed costs - not an ongoing relationship.
We stopped calling in the end, rather struggled on/muddled through on our own than having to add to the fixed costs.
When the business we worked for folded and we started on our own we were in the fortunate position to have found a true asset. From day one he's been driving us onwards and upwards, helping us grow the business from a struggling start-up to the successful business we are now 8 years later - and he's still convinced we can do more, better, grow further/faster.
We're always looking forward to our meetings, bouncing off ideas, plans, being brought down to earth again - often too, we're being told we're not bold enough. He's relentlessly driving us forward. An asset, an ongoing valuable relationship, adding value to the bottom line.
Which of the two above examples does your accountant represent at the moment? Is he/she only a fixed cost, can he be changed into an asset or do you have to part ways and find one who is?
Think hard about what your accountant represents to you, but don't think too long about it. If you regard your accountant as fixed costs it's high time to stop wasting money. Find an asset, quickly and start adding value.
If you are in any doubt, fill in this little questionnaire to help you decide. We decided 8 years ago and have never looked back.
This week I kept reading blog posts about "picking your brain" mentalities - good or bad for your business/brand/network?
Some posts were reactions to blog posts - as happens so often in the blogosphere, and this post is in fact a reaction too - and others took a different spin/angle to the question.
And this morning in a trade magazine (CFJ) I read the same sentiment when one of the top technical/hands-on advisers of the wooden flooring trade used his monthly column to announce he has set up a new system you can "subscribe" to for an annual (small) fee to get his advice by phone or in writing (where before he'd given his advice for free).
All in all, reading the tweet, posts and magazine column I can fully understand what they are doing: in this time and age of "FREE to all" those who make their living out of advising others (businesses, traders, writers etc) are starting to feel the profit pressure.
For those asking to pick their brains there seems to be no line (not even a thin one) between reading the free blog posts/articles filled with advice, tips and hints for all who want to read it/learn from it and the direct (personal) request for advice. "You're constantly giving out advice left, right and center so why wouldn't I pick up the phone, write that email and ask a direct question?"
And there's the catch. Writing blog posts, articles about your experiences, knowledge and expertise is - in general - meant as showcase of your experience, knowledge and expertise. Like a port-folio, an (very extended and ongoing) introduction. A modern way of attracting prospects, clients, financiers etc etc (again, in general).
Free content is not the same as free case specific advice.
Funnily enough, our own business best performing webforms or source of clients is exactly that: giving out case specific advice for free.
Daily I answer questions not just be email but also over the phone. Free, helping out in very specific cases with tips, hints and product recommendations.
In fact we thrive and grow on having our "brains picked", day in day out, week in week out. It takes up our time (my time especially) and we love it, our bank balance loves it too. So, where's the difference?
Reading those various posts and articles this week on the same subject: "free as long as it for general purpsose, if you want case specific advice/help I'll charge my normal rate", does show where IMHO the difference is:
It depends what you sell.
We don't supply wooden floors for free, we don't install wooden floors for free and since recently we also don't restore floors for free (not that we ever done that for free, we just recently added a new "department" to our business). Our profit comes from those three services: supply, install and restore. Our profit does not come from giving case specific advice (althoug based on some of those cases we did publish our first Q&A on Wooden Flooring, which became profitable within 1 month).
And as long as this case specific free advice brings in more profit (from small to large orders based on the case specific advice given) than it costs us (time to answer the phone and writing the emails even for those who don't turn into clients) we will continue our free service. And if ever need be we would even employ a second "adviser".
Free case specific advice on our products and methods (installation, restoration and how to guides) sells our products and methods.
That's a big difference in giving free case specific advice to a specific business on how to implement a social media strategy or as Gini rightfully states:
"I think Jason’s blog post is less about incentive-based consulting and more about something that is rampant in the industries where people sell their brains for a living. Time is how we make our money. We don’t make widgets. We don’t sell products. We don’t manufacture anything. We don’t process anything. Our brains are our products and, Jason is right, every time someone asks us for free help, they’re taking us away from clients or opportunities to make us money."
What do you sell? Can what you do/make help you become more profitable by giving case specific advice for free or does it eat into your profits? Can you let me know in the comment box?
A tweet from former colleague from our "corporate" days in The Netherlands caught my eye this morning
Can you as hard working small business close shop for 3 weeks? No. Will I do it? Yes! We're closed the 1st 3 weeks of August..
It made me think (which I told her and then she made the bold statement I was always on holiday - I can't help it my work turned into a hobby ;-)). Joking aside - my "hobby" takes up so much of our time we haven't been away for more than a long weekend for years - it is a good and valid question and somehow I don't really agree with the straight NO answer.
If you employ others also your employees are entitled to holidays, no matter what you as owner do with your own holiday entitlement.
When Rahma and I both worked for a manufacturing company most departments during the summer months used the following system: only one or two could be away at one time, the rest had already been on holiday or were going later. Meaning spreading the work load, normally carried by the whole team, over fewer persons for many weeks in a row.
Stretched out holiday planning regularly produced "stressed-out" employees and managers. 'Cos the demands on the department stayed the same, no matter how many or few employees were available to fulfil the tasks. This can have/had a ripple effect on other departments too, which in the end can/will effect the clients.
Other (smaller) factories (and even the above mentioned company we worked for in its earlier days) use a different system: the whole caboodle closed for 3 weeks. Meaning, nothing coming in - no new orders too - and nothing going out. Short pain.
But no stressed-out employees either (not counting the bookkeeper worrying about his cash-flow). And clarity to existing clients too: if you need our product before this or that day, make sure you get your order in on time otherwise you'll have to wait until we're all back from our well deserved 3 weeks break.
Above two systems (stretched out or short) are more for larger businesses, employing over 10 - 15 people (or at least, that's my guess). How about what both Rahma and we are now "running": small businesses with a small number of employees.
Would stretching out be easier to handle or not? The owner/manager could decide not to take a holiday at all (been there, doing it - again), which leaves the "executors" of the work. Like in our case our fitters (conveniently forgetting that one of these fitters is my own partner who does not go on holiday without me!). One could not do the jobs normally carried out by two, so spreading the weeks does not help, clients/orders will have to wait anyway. And what about the bookkeeper? Who will do his/her task in between the normal other tasks?
Stressed out employees, stressed out owner, stressed out clients again.
So, the short pain system would be better here? Closing the "shop" for everyone for 2 - 3 weeks. Everyone away at the same time, clients know you're away for this specific period of time (do tell them way upfront and not the week before - seen it!)
Many small business owners (us among them) will worry about lost sales when the "shop" is closed for this x period of time. And what about new enquiries? For most, times are hard enough as it is.
Every single one of us needs a break from the system once in a while. Refuel the engine, step away from the daily grind, exposing yourself to new views, new experiences and new impressions or just simply to relax and only do those things you want to do (reading a book, taking a stroll over a beach, visiting musea or castle gardens). Revitalise, both for your own health as in fact your business health.
But closing shop does not have to mean the enquiries or sales have to "close" too.
Takes some upfront logistics of course, but hey, that's keeping the business going during your own break for you.
In our case it would mean
Of course not everything will go as smoothly as you would be on stand-bye but, hey relax, you're on your well deserved holiday. This means letting go, delegating the control too. It's only for 2 - 3 weeks. And besides, you still got your smart phone to read your daily emails from the answering and/or fulfillment service in case of emergencies.
Systems to allow you to break out your system. That's modern business life for you.
Hmm, where did I leave that holiday brochure?
We keep our contacts up to date with news on products, methods, regulations etc. And our suppliers do the same fortunately. Communication is important when running a business, so everyone knows which products are changing, are new - or improved - or will be discontinued.
Or so we thought.
With the last shipment from our regular Dutch supplier the box of one type of products contained the manufacturer's April newsletter, proudly announcing: we're going green! Not just their products but also their house style; green labels, brochures, website and all.
The newsletter is in Dutch, but that's not a problem for us, as you might know we originate from The Netherlands.
The translation of the main news is as follows:
"Starting from 1st July we will only supply products to the professional floor fitter which comply with the VOC regulation (OPS-wetgeving) but keep/establish the same quality and end-result ... we love to help the floor fitter to establish a Volatile-Organic-Compound-free result."
We frequently use and recommend two of the products that are now definitely disappearing from their range and which are all replaced with greener ones. We decided there and then after reading the news we would not re-stock these two products and inform all of our contacts through our newsletter.
Partly unbeknown to us various floor-fitters, retailers and even wholesalers in the UK are subscribed to our newsletter - nice to known of course and good practice: best way to keep an eye on your competitor, read their newsletter.
Within an hour after emailing our newsletter to around 1290 contacts we received a phone call from the UK rep of the manufacturer, a bit angry too. Where did we get this news, several of his clients in the trade had been calling him to confirm "our news" and one had even be so kind to forward our newsletter to him.
When I explained it came from the manufacturer's own (Dutch) newsletter in a box with their own products I was told the following amazing - to me - statement:
yeap, but that's just for the Dutch and Belgium market where this VOC regulation has been ratified by the industry, not for the UK market.
I questioned him about this VOC regulation being an EU regulation and wasn't the UK part of the EU? To no avail, here the regulation, according to him, is apparently not ratified by the industry and non-green products in that regards are therefore still available.
He then went on to tell me I should email everyone again to inform them of this, I told him I would insert a note on the blog post about the same subject, which I did. I used his own words and also repeated that once our own limited stock is gone, it's gone and will not be replaced with new "old" products from this manufacturer.
This rep was not happy, and I was left wondering about the green pat on their own back by this Dutch manufacturer.
My impression is they are - with right - proud to comply with the new VOC regulations and help protect the health of the professional floor fitters and the environment by innovation products that are greener but still do "what is says on the tin". Their whole marketing/brand is being turned green for it.
However, and here's the snag, what about the health of professional floor fitters and the environment of countries where the industry - en mass - has not ratified this tightening regulation.
Here in the UK there are plenty of companies/manufacturers voluntarily complying with this regulation - see the same blog post about another replacement product we introduced.
Inconsistency never works for a brand - you are either green, brown, red or whatever statement you want everywhere, or you are not. You can't have it both ways. You'll be "found out" and very quickly nowadays.
This also makes me wonder the following: if the UK is lagging behind in ratifying and complying with these new green regulations there is a very big risk that the UK will be used as a "dumping ground" for other EU manufacturers for their non complying products. Not sure this EU regulation was meant this way.
And not sure how you can use green marketing in one country but decide to forget all about it in another, just because it's not enforced (and therefore more convenient for the bottom line?).
Can you be a different shade of green in different countries?
Does silence in strategic alliance work?
Last week I wrote about our encounter with Royal Mail on Direct Mail options which ended in having to go back to the drawing board.
As Ed Rivis rightly remarked in his comment on my post: Direct Response Advertising is what it's all about when targeting specific not yet known prospects. Because we don't know what type of floor covering and in what kind of state the new home owners will find once the Big Day has arrived our aim is to offer handy "first-aid" tips for stain removal and simple maintenance on both wood flooring - our own expertise - and carpets - of which we do not have "inside" knowledge.
Fortunately, we have been in contact with a carpet cleaning company who indicated over a month ago they were in for strategic alliance. On their request earlier I was following a sequence of email messages about how to find a decent carpet cleaner and how to spot the "tricks of the trade". I also submitted some IMHO constructive comments on the messages, the layout and the style used; sharing our own experience with email marketing and the results we have. Their sequenced emails keep coming, but no reply to my comments.
So, in regards of our new project, we gave them a call and left a message on the answering machine over a week ago.
Which is a pity, because if we work together on this project, they could do the same for new home-movers in their area and use our tips on stain removing and maintaining wooden floors while promoting their own services to those with carpets.
Fortunately we always have Google to search and find the information about stain removing etc ourselves to compile the report we have in mind on our own. One site I discovered truly is a gold mine on giving information, tips and advice on all kinds of stains and how to prevent/remove them.
Great, problem solved I thought. All I have to do now is contact them and request permission to use their info - with naming the source and linking to their site - for our reports. Their contact page invites feedback, by subscribing to their newsletter and entering a comment in the text box. Which of course I promptly did. A kind request to share and promote their expertise on stains.
Great, another chance to explain to the person in charge our idea. So I replied to the email with an offer to do even more than the above, we would be more than happy to inform all of our contacts of their site.
That was a week ago. Silence until..........
A new (auto?) email which arrived in my inbox yesterday.
Oh yes, I'm interested in interesting information but was actually hoping they would be interested in our proposal. Or at least acknowledge our request.
It seems they are more interested in the number of Like's on Facebook. Pity, we could have added so much extra free information to their site in regards of stain removal and maintaining wooden floors to the benefit of their readers and "fans".
what's with businesses that seem to step on the Social Media and webmarketing ladder only to turn it into a one-way traffic: from them to us. To them I can highly recommend the "Age of Conversation 3 - It is time to get busy"
There was a ps in the last email: "If you would like us to stop contacting you please reply to this email with 'REMOVE ME' as the subject."
What I'm wondering/even begging is: how can I make you contact me in earnest??
So, stuck again? Back to the drawing board again?
No, I've decided to do exactly what they are asking: use their tips and link to their site and Facebook page because all in all the information that can be found there is a gold-mine and would absolutely benefit our yet unknown prospects who just moved home and might be facing stains on (inherited) carpets. We like to help out - that's how we grow our business. And if need be, as it seems now, we go-it-alone!
Last week I had a visit from one of Royal Mail's New Business Managers to discuss Direct Mailing options Royal Mail has to offer small businesses. We are always interested in trying out different marketing methods and this meeting would go deeper into the option "home-movers".
The Royal Mail person had experience in helping to organise a marketing campaign for small to medium businesses targeting those who are about to move home or had just moved. Since Ashford Borough with its new excellent High Speed Link to London (and the Eurostar to mainland Europe) it is getting more and more attractive for commuters looking for a more rural (and cheaper than London) life. A great source of new prospects for us, but how to find them in time?
Moving home is rather stressful, specially the way here in England you seem to buy a house - for us Dutch people still a very strange and unbelievable illogical and even weird way: until the actual exchange date the deal could go pear-shaped and accepted offers don't seem to mean anything at all. And everyone is in a chain of selling/buying homes where if only one shackle breaks all the other deals are off too - with no compensation for the "innocent".
Until the actual exchange no-one is even certain the home of their dream will be theirs and therefore no one ever plans many new items for the new home in advance.
Which means we - as retailer in wooden floors - should not contact possible new prospects in the area until after they truly moved in (in a chain everyone seems to move on the same day or weekend because the next new owner is queuing up) and the dust of the stressful move has settled. For us from a different country where you would have at least one week to prepare your new home (including new floor covering) for the arrival of the contents of your old home a strange concept to get used to.
The direct mail marketing campaign we wanted to discuss would therefore focus on an informative way to new arrivals in the area about their existing floor covering, very often "inherited" from the previous owner. Being informative has always been and always will be a large part of our marketing strategy, direct mail marketing using home-movers data from the Royal Mail would be a new tactic for us.
During the conversation with the New Business Manager we discussed how we market our business normally, the internet and email marketing are still the main tactics. We do have one "paper" ad in a local "Village Directory" that is publish monthly, contains ads from local businesses and local news. It's distributed in many villages around Ashford town, and in our experience is the only paper ad that works for us.
In the latest Village Directory a editorial about our recently publish book "Wooden Floor Installation Manual" shows on the same page as our ad. When I showed this to our guest he skimmed the editorial and immediately remarked:
"Well, your branding is missing."
(The editorial has a headline: "Planning to Install a Wooden Floor", not a "headstone" and no logo of our business, the simple contact details can be found at the bottom of the article, just above our ad - again without a typical "branding" headstone.)
He completely missed the message in the article, the offer to help solve a problem. Fortunately the readers of the Village Directory care more about the message than about the missing banding "headstone".
This morning, enjoying my first cup of coffee of the day, I continued reading my copy of the Age of Conversation 3 - It's time to get busy - and was reminded of the above misguided remark when I came to the excellent contribution of Efrain Mendicuti (page 59) "Branding is not about your ad campaign".
Mr Royal Mail New Business Manager seems to think it is, headstone included. Pity.
(In the end Royal Mail also does not seem to understand that a new marketing campaign, especially when using a new method - new for us - the first test should be small. A minimum of 5000 addresses of home-movers is not small, not in our book. So, back to the drawing table - new tactic already found and in the process of being implemented coming month, as a small test.)
Talking about branding and "headstones" - how about Google's latest "logo" display!
The text in the extra button below the "logo" is IMHO absolutely priceless!
They are welcome to it, and well done to put a smile on many faces. I lost count of all the tweets yesterday and today pointing me towards this remarkable piece of creativity.
For our business I'm more than happy our brand gets across as being the most informative business, helping to solve problems in regards of wooden floors - before, during and after the installation of it.
Honestly think this does not need a headstone or logo. Just the right message.