Operations

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

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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

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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

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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

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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:

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Here's the actual link.

And presto, hardly half an hour later:

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

(Beta download now available for both Mac and PC)


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.

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* 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.


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.


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.  

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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.

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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


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?

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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.


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

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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).

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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.

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(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.


Call to action - Time not to Change, for the better

Saturday 30 October I drove home at the normal time of 5pm - in clear day light. Two days later, Monday 1 November, at the exact same time of 5pm, the drive home was in darkness.
I hate this abrupt change!

Economical sound

Yes, I know, the seasons change and going into the Winter there will be fewer and fewer hours of day light until the end of December where nature will pause a few days and then slowly, very slowly in the beginning, we'll have more light.

But having to adopt so suddenly in one day time instead of gradually getting used to the darkness is not natural. It's too abrupt, especially when the rush hour in most towns and villages start around 5pm and over one weekend this rush hour lands from day light into complete darkness.

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All because we're switching from British Summertime back to GMT in the last weekend of October. Last Saturday Andrew Ellson (Personal Finance Editor) made some valuable points in The Times why "ditching the GMT" is an economical good decision:

  • lower energy bills (and fewer carbon emissions) - lighting up later in the running up to December
    • "A study published earlier this year also found that about 447,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions would have been saved if the clocks were not put back each year between 2001 and 2008, equating to electricity savings of 885GWh – enough to supply 200,000 households – and a reduction in peak demand of 4.3 per cent."
  • fewer accidents, evidence suggests that lighter evening mean fewer accidents and fewer accidents means less costs for the NHS
    • "Road safety experts believe up to 100 deaths could be prevented every year and it would also enable children to travel home in light."
  • more savings in the public sector by spending less on heating and lighting

Others have already indicated that not switching back to GMT will mean longer and safer training periods for youngsters in the various sports. Over three hundred sporting organisations including the FA and Lawn Tennis Association are very much in favour of keeping the BST, it would increase participation and therefore cut obesity.

And of course for shoppers it will mean lighter and longer midday shopping - welcomed by retailers, bistros, bars, pubs etc.

"Up to 80,000 new jobs could be created in the tourist industry, as longer evenings would extend the tourist season and allow attractions to stay open for longer in the year."

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There's a Private Member's Bill (by Rebecca Harris - Con) working its way through Parliament that, if passed, would mean the clocks stay unchanged next winter.
This Bill is due for its second reading on 3 December.

If you support the idea, write to your local MP to demand he or she supports the legislation. They should!

According to Andrew Ellson, they - politicians - won't get many easier opportunities to put some money in their constituents' pockets.

(The MP for Ashford is Damian Green - Con and you can reach him through greend@parliament.uk or leave a message through his Ashford page).


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!


Can a busy small business close shop for 3 weeks?

A tweet from former colleague from our "corporate" days in The Netherlands caught my eye this morning

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Translation:

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.

Stretched out "pain" or short "pain"?

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.

One, two up to five "men" bands

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.

Break out the system - double meaning

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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.

  • Phone answering services are one option to redirect your business phone to if you know your prospects/clients won't leave a message on your own answering machine.
  • Some service offices can even take care of more than just answering your phone on your behalf, I know of one who posts your marketing material in answer of specific enquiries.
  • Online shops can use fulfilment businesses - they pack and dispatch your products to your clients.

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

  • not booking installation work for those two or three weeks holiday, not that much of a problem logistically or frustrating for clients - we're normally looking 1.5 -2 months ahead anyway in busier times.
  • Online orders for small products could be handled using drop-shipping (as we often do now) in combination with a fulfillment service.
  • Phone would be redirected to an answering service, who we would "stock" with marketing materials.
  • And for all the enquiries through our website the CRM program will come into its own. Octane HQ will keep doing what it does now, as soon as someone fills in one of our webforms it will email the requested leaflet or access details to the Full Colour Online Wooden Floor Ranges Brochure and email the follow-up messages in the same automated sequence it does now.
  • Even our most popular webform: "Ask Personal Advice on Wood" could keep functioning by redirecting the notification email containing the question to a service office - which will have access to our online ScreenSteps Live database of FAQ to find the correct answer.

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?


How government's spending cuts could be really easy realised.

It was predicted and it was delivered: the government is cutting its spending. Some departments have to find ways to cut their budget (IMHO quite different than what they actual spend, but that's a different story) as much as 40%

If it all works out, all of us - tax-payers and beneficiaries of those taxes - will have a more sustainable financial future. That's the plan. As business owner and tax-payer (double, on personal and business "profits") I would love to see this happening.

Place to start: accountability

After the emergency budget was announced we received the following online order from a gov.uk email address - very local as well. A Kent council project/centre in nearby Ashford - 6 miles away from our showroom.

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1 bottle a £ 10.54 - total price paid: £ 43.17
Let me break this down for you:
bottle £ 10.54
shipping costs £ 17.63 (default setting, can be changed to appropriate costs during check-out)
additional fees £ 15.00 (fixed fee for payment by credit card)

So now lets retrace the steps the gov.uk person took ordering this one bottle:

Product and pricing information

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Underneath every single product in our online shop we list the P&P per quantity. In this case: ordering 1 bottle will cost £ 8.50 ex VAT for P&P

Check-out options

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First page on our secure check-out:
1) Delivery Method, select delivery method.
2) Default setting is the top one, 99% of our clients change this option when needed to a lower or higher one, depending on the information found on the product page.
3) The option the gov.uk person ordering the bottle should have selected

Payment options

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Again, default is the top one: place your order and pick up the phone (9 times out of 10 we're the ones who pick up the phone to call the client and discuss how they would like to pay.)
This time the gov.uk person ordering the one bottle did manage to select the correct one and changed the default method. But don't take me wrong, for an item costing just over £ 10.00 would you personally pay £ 15.00 extra just for the pleasure of using your credit card?

Simple savings could have been made

If this gov.uk person had read the information correctly the first saving would have been £ 6.50 ex VAT (£ 7.63 including VAT). If only this gov.uk person had picked up the phone to discuss the payment method/options another big saving could have been made.
We do charge a fee for payment by credit card, 3% on the amount paid because that's what the credit card companies charge us for the pleasure. Our online shop does not work with percentages so we calculated what the normal amount ordered is and based our fix fee for this payment option on this (and we win some, we lose some).

A simple phone call to the shop - only 6 miles down the road of the gov.uk person - would have told them:
it's only £ 8.50 for the delivery and if you insist on paying by credit card we'll have to add £ 0.61 to the total price = £ 21.13
That's a saving of £22.00 or 51% - more than any department is asked to save.

(And would a short journey from Ashford to Charing really cost that much in time and petrol? If they'd visited the showroom they could have saved another £ 10.00)

The principle of many small ones, pennies and pounds

Now of course does this £22.00 not make a big dent in the deficit. But as bookkeeper (and double Capricorn) I know very well that many small ones make one big one; that to keep an eye on the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves.

The principle of who's money is it anyway?

Mine, and yours. And if you are only a little bit like me, you care about your money and how it is spent.

But for a gov.uk person in an office ordering one bottle online it seems to be nobodies money. It's on a credit card anyway, who knows who gets to see the monthly statement of all the spending?

Government spending cuts should start with accountability for every penny spent in her name. If there's a waste of yours and mine money the gov.uk person accountable should pay the moneys unnecessarily spent out of their own pocket, definitely making it their money too.

I predict that then a lot of savings will be made straight away, without any hardship to beneficiaries of taxes. (Update 12.07.10: listed this also on George Osborne's website: Spending Challenge)

(And before you berate me of having accepted this order with this tremendous waste of your money, the extra profit on this order has been donated to Room to Read - World Change Starts with Educated Children)