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August 2010
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October 2010

September 2010

You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.

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.

Marketing messages from businesses you do know but no longer want

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?

Jumping through hoops

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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:

"You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave."


So I'm now wondering when the next BT marketing email will arrive.


IVA Advice

Guest Post

IVA Advice

With more and more people entering financial difficulties, IVA advice can help those unfortunate who are borrowing more and more and whose finances are spiralling out of control.

Website cleardebt.co.uk have a fantastic debt analyser service, which is quick and easier to use and will guide you towards a better financial future.

Cleardebt can help reduce debts by over 70% in some instances, so are more than likely able to assist you or a business in difficult circumstances.


The benefits of moving home

In 2005 we found our showroom very close by home in the lovely village of Charing - 150 meters from our home. Before this, the first two years, we had been trying to run our "retail" business from that homely location - not something I would recommend.

Living so close to the "work-place" come with its own perks: no commuting, no parking problems and simply crossing the road to open the shop door when needed - even after or before official opening hours. And that's what happened - in the end I "worked" 6 days per week in the shop.

When occasionally becomes standard

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That 6th day happened kind of by accident: on a Saturday we received a phone call from people in London: would we be open the next day? Since we hadn't planned anything for Sunday we said: yes, by all means drop by. As chance would have it, after this couple had left, another car parked in front of the shop and came into the shop looking for wooden floors - their only intention had been to see where we were located, but since the shop doors stood open they simply ventured in there and then.

And I'm sure you know how occasionally becomes more frequently, becomes the standard. The last three years we were open on Sunday afternoon as standard. More often than not no one visited on those afternoons, but I'd found myself plenty of tasks to do - as you do.

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Until end of April this year the 3 men strong committee of trusties of the School House we had been living in since early 2002, brought us the message that the house - due to several reasons, Offsted regulations and lack of major maintenance the largest ones - would be demolished during summer and we were gracefully given 2.5 months to find another home for ourselves.

Having to say goodbye to the lovely, drafty and starting to leak, house we'd called homes for the last 8 years brought some stress with it, also because we knew there's a lot of competition out there at the moment to try and rent a home (getting on the property ladder is becoming more and more difficult for many which brings more demand than supply in rental properties).

New lovely home

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Fortunately within a month of being told to move out we'd found another lovely home - although outside Charing this time. Where and how we found this house - that received a total of 5 applications from hopeful future tenants - would take a whole post on its own. Suffice to say we used proper marketing tactics to become more desirable tenants than others.

So for the last three months I've been "commuting" the 8 miles between home and work every morning and afternoon - on its own a very lovely drive through Kent's county roads (A roads nonetheless). Work is now too far away to simply go there that 6th day.

New lovely Sundays

Sundays are now spend at home. The mornings occupied by reading the Saturday Times - like in the old house - but from then onwards the habit has changed tremendously. Late mornings are now filled with household shores - something almost alien to me in the old house - and afternoons by pottering in the large garden, walks to the local pub - a walk of over 1.5 mile - and simply enjoying time off, recharging the battery.

Lovely new toy

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That is, until the weather turned. We're not ones to go out and about in the car on Sundays and are (now) quite happy to spend a whole day at home. But I see the darker days of Winter coming and started to fear boredom, since the home pc didn't survived the move. Therefore last week I purchased a lovely new toy: a Samsung N210 10.1 inch netbook to keep my mind and writing urges happy (my hand-writing is never been of such a neatness even I have trouble deciphering what is written one day later, so pen and old fashion note book were out of the question).

The Netbook arrived Saturday and the first program I installed was my beloved ScreenSteps Desktop - since I don't plan to ferry the netbook to and fro a memory stick will quite simply suffice to import newly written "lessons" into the existing SSD libraries in the office PC.

The keyboard of the N210 and its bright but mat screen are absolutely great and although I still have to get more used to all the short cuts and using the touch pad instead of a mouse (which of course could be added through one of the many ports the N210 comes with) I'm sure it will give me hours and hours of writing pleasure. This post is written on it and more will no doubt follow - which gives me the opportunity to publish a bit more regular on this blog and the FAQ & News blog of our business.

Sundays are now writing days, where the Netbook will feature on the dining table in our large room, where a wood fire will be roaring to keep the Autumn and Winter cold out.

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Lovely!


Interim Management Jobs

Guest Post

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.


Quick update on Ecwid and ponderings on tasks

(as in: who does what and why you should keep it simple).

End of last month I wrote about Ecwid "the ultimate Ecommerce multiple outlet option". I'm still very impressed by the program.

Simple, simple, simple - and effective

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Adding products is very simple, adding products to one or more categories is simple and a great feature I was missing dreadfully in our old shop. Last week (09.09) we took the plunge and opted for Ecwid's Silver Account. So now we are charged a monthly fee for the pleasure (a small fee in my eyes).

Side-note on upgrading: the compare plans page of Ecwid shows the price in US $, purchasing the upgrade I was suddenly charged in €'s - that's having to make a calculation of the costs in £ twice. Can't see any reason for Ecwid to show only prices in $ when actually the invoice you receive is in €. (Could be that for US clients it stays in $, I don't know).

Anyway, back to the program itself and the extra benefits a Silver account gives you. The one most important, at the moment, is the "Discount codes" option.

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In the system you create your coupon code, give it a name, a discount % or amount, set the settings to always, once, returning clients only or simply for a single use and if there is a minimum amount your client must spend before the discount counts.
All in one little window - no fiddling to and fro between screens, sections or options.

You email/hand out the coupon-code to your prospects/clients and once they apply the code to their shopping bag - even before having to go into the check-out process - the promised discount immediately is "in the bag".

Simple and very effective.

Oh, and it took 1 minute to follow the simple step in Ecwid's knowledge Base to add the shop to our Facebook Fan Page.

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Without any big problems - getting used to any new program comes with some problems, tiny ones in this case - our brand new secure webshop has now found 4 outlets:
Typepad blog (in same design as our FAQ wooden floor blog)
Main website (in same design as our main website)
Landing pages (one simple new example for our Easiest Maintenance Program - Ever)
Facebook Fan Page

If that's not simple and effective I wouldn't know what simple is then!

Ponderings on Tasks (as in: who does what and why you should keep it simple and strict).

Bookkeeping is part of running your business and you either love it or hate it. When you love it - me, me, me - it's a task you rather don't delegate.
However, if you hate it and delegate the task, delegate the complete task. Don't have 2 captains on a ship, especially not if you outsource the task and pay for the time of your bookkeeper. It's bound to end in extra costs, extra - wasted - time to correct entries of the other captain.

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With the modern online bookkeeping programs you have to be very strict with yourself, 'cos it seems so easy just to log in to the program in a spare moment and add that payment to the system. Only for your bookkeeper to discover the bank balance (reconciled a week ago) in the system is out of sink.

Sounds like nitpicking? When you become "piggy-in-the-middle" of an email discussion between a "paid for" bookkeeper and the owner of a business (for whom you have done the books for a while) you'll know it will frustrate everyone. The owner, for thinking to reduce the time of the bookkeeper and do little bookings in the system, is frustrated for being "slapped on the wrist"; the bookkeeper is frustrated for having to unravel the accounts again and for the "piggy-in-the-middle": it's not my task any longer, so leave me out of it and get your proprieties and instructions right!

Set strict agreements for this task: who does what? If the owner does want to do some of the books make it absolutely clear to everyone what "some of it" contains and don't cross the line - ever. Accountability comes to mind - and effectively saving costs.

In those occasions I really consider myself lucky to have the "bookkeeper" bug in me ;-) I don't have to share the task with anyone and therefore I'm the only one accountable. Life can be simple.


Business Insolvency UK

Guest post

Business Insolvency UK

Businesses are at their lowest number in the last three years according to a new found report.

With more and more business not being profitable many business become insolvent. According to Experians insolvency index it reached its lowest point since June 2007. Business Insolvency is becoming a worrying issue in the UK economy and action must be taken, if we are to re-address the situation.

One company who are trying to advise people are PKF, who are business advisers and accountants. With detailed information about a wide range of areas, it could be worthwhile taking a look at the information supplied on their website.


Your accountant: fixed costs or asset?

(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.

Fixed Costs or Asset

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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.

Or...

  • Your accountant talks to you at regular intervals, quarterly or even monthly. Informing you about new legislation your business can take advantage of by adjusting your methods, your legal position.

  • Or he tells you how you can lower your salary costs by turning employees into B-share holders. This might also give your employees an extra incentive to find more efficient/effective ways to do their work, now their earnings are more directly related to the overall performance of the business.

  • Or he spots a marketing opportunity for you, a new marketing method other clients of him have implemented rather successful and he's convinced it can work for your business as well.

  • Or you pick up the phone to him and bounce off an idea you have, would/could it be feasible? He's a step further removed from the business so can give you a more objective view; highlight the risks or the gains you hadn't spotted.

  • And together you discuss, brain storm where to take the business next, a rolling 3 - 5 year plan. Put on paper, outlined in more or less detail to which he refers every time you meet up again: are you where you are supposed to be now, are you ahead, are you implementing all the tactics and strategies from the plan? If not, why not?

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.

Been there, done that, paid the bills

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.

Your decision

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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.



Exhibiting? Stand out

Guest Post

Why Nimlok are First-Rate in Exhibition Stand Design.

‘Finding a quality exhibition stand design service on the internet is nowhere near as difficult as you would imagine. Like anything else in life, it is all to do with how you go about looking. True, there are plenty of exhibition stand suppliers out there, but they will not all be able to deliver you with the same high quality of product and many will be lacking when it comes to customer service...

However, when you are dealing with a supplier such as Nimlok, you can be sure of getting the very best in all areas. Not only do they offer you a great range of products, but their service really is second to none! A quality exhibition stand design team will work with their clients to ensure that they get exactly what they are after; and this is exactly how Nimlok work. If only all companies had the same intuitive attitude towards their customers!

Even in this fast-paced and technological age, word of mouth is still the best type of advertising. And if you are to discuss exhibition stands with anyone, then it will not be long before they mention Nimlok. This is simply because they have such a good reputation when it comes to providing a quality exhibition stand design service.’

(Guest post)

When we exhibited a few years ago, it was the design of our own stand that made our company stand out. You can read about our experience in these related articles:

To Boldly go... Learned to think bolder

How to have fun during a B-2-B exhibition