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July 2007

Cascading thoughts: EPA - Systems & Procedures - Hedge-hog

One thing leads to another, specially when you - so once in a while - have to make a 'snap' decision. That's what happened to me this Monday, cascading thoughts - one leading to another to another to another.

It started when Jaci Godman Irvine of Estate Legacy Services came round to discuss - long overdue in fact - arranging the Enduring Power of Attorney for my partner (Ton) and me. We're both Directors of our company, both have our responsibilities to the company and to each other - not just business wise. We have both equal shares and 'voting-power' in and overGoing Nuts the business. So, to speak in Jaci's word: if one of us goes batty the 'show must go on' without having to worry about having to go to court etc to gain the 'sole-power' in the business to make legal business decisions.

The question that caused the cascade was: but what if both of you go batty at the same time, or if one goes batty and the other in indisposed in some way (on a business trip far away was the example given) - who will take care of business (and other issues) then? A third 'attorney' would be advisable,  but who did we have in mind?
Good question. The children? No, don't have any. Family? All 'abroad' and with no knowledge whatsoever on UK business and legal issues. I suggested to ask a trusted professional, one who knows us, who knows our business (sometimes I think on some aspects he knows even more about it than we) but also the one who knows how much I care for the business. Don't get me wrong, Ton is as passionate about our business as I am, but...

It comes down to skills, talents/strengths and goals. It's a known fact to both of us that I would 'carry on regardless'. Another know fact is that my partner won't - he doesn't want to carry on in the business without me (bless him, don't 'condemn' me or him for both known facts - it's the way it is). So to me, having this third attorney on board is a very comforting thought: in the event I go batty enough I know he will make sure that the business is taken care of properly - not closed down, dilapidated, forgotten - we worked too hard for it - but either sold or run by someone with the same kind of business mentality we have.

Then came the next thought cascading down. Most of my tasks are 'filed in my head'; not just facts and figures - and most of those are in the bookkeeping program anyway - , but how we write quotes, order confirmations, marketing reminders, emails, answers on DIY-forums, answer questions on our FAQ-blog, answer the phone, welcome clients in our showroom, deal with suppliers, create ads, design web-pages, write FAQ blog posts, the lot. Even with the best intentions in the world someone else would have the hardest of time 'taking' over.

Another 'to do' item on my list then: writing systems and procedures on the above listed items (being an internal ISO9002 auditor - at the former company I worked for - might come in handy now).

Yesterday evening my thoughts cascaded further on this. Writing how-to instructions and procedures is one thing, embedding - engraving even - our business mentality, our Hedge-hog concept into it is another. How do I write the needed systems & procedures without 'killing' the hedgehog?

I need to ponder a bit more about this one, but in the meantime I am very interested in the experiences of others. Specially Art Dinkin's thoughts on this.
Art, I know you're an Financial Planner - US based - but I'm sure you frequently encounter questions like Power of Attorney and the consequences in this role also. What'you think?

Image from "Welcome to the Nut House"


Way back in October 06 I wrote my second post "Time to get an edge" how responding - as a business - quickly to any enquiry can give you the edge over competitors.

Now, yesterday we mailed our monthly Wood You Like Newsletter among other items announcing the opening of our online shop (more on that later). Low and behold, 3 hours later I receive an email from one of our readers with an enquiry about maintenance products - another item mentioned in our newsletter.

To cut a long story short: the question we ask when an online order is placed (yes, first one in!) "What was your reason for buying from us?" was answered as follows:

"You responded quickly to my email"

If that isn't getting an edge I wouldn't know what is ;-)

Case-study: blog-baby

Goose Creche in 'progress'No project is complete with a report on how things happened, how the project progressed and what went wrong, what went well. In this case: a case-study on my 'dream-project'
(plus the project has taken a turn a very unexpected way: it will be used for our trial blog-workshop next month, we might create a whole crèche or kindergarten of blogs - our, that is together with friend Lesley from ACT - and having notes on how to start will be very handy).

When you start web-publishing the first weeks/months are mostly trial and error, learning and implementing as you go. I've done that - intensive - for almost 10 months now myself. And somehow you get a feeling for it, you start to find what works, what doesn't, what helps the conversation, what frustrates the conversation, which widget are an asset and which are only a hype and a bother. You learn, you gain, you grow. But turning everything you've learned into a project is something completely different I discovered (again by trial and error!).

What went well (and why)

  • use a program (tool) that you are familiar with, or one that is very straightforward to start with - without having to have extensive knowledge of coding.
    • In this case: Typepad, because it ticks both 'boxes'.
      For the non-coder it has various 'pretty' design templates where the specific column lay-out can be varied too - at a 'mouse-click'.
      I used my own (Pro) account to create three different designs for Richard - the Pro account gives you an unlimited number of blogs, handy - all with a different lay-out. He could mix and match his decision from a multiple range (3 x 3 = 9, not?). He 'settled' for my own favourite: Curved Green with 3 columns.
  • know the goal - aim of the blog (even if it's not your own blog) and add approriate 'widgets' for it.
    • the one widget every blog should have is a feedburner. And it comes - of course - with its own webmarketing widgets to make it very easy for readers/visitors to add your blog to their 'feed-reader'. It also assists with various other widgets - like MyBlogLog.
      (Our own Wood You Like FAQ blog is dedicated to inform our prospects/clients on wooden flooring products, installation methods and services we provide. Widgets like MyBlogLog - showing your face around the blogosphere - or TheGoodBlogs don't add to this so I left them out, but both definitely show on my other two 'conversational' blogs)
      Widgets added on Richard's blog are: various feed-subscribers (including a new one I found: add to BlogLines) and a 'subscribe by email' option, the MyBlogLog 'latest guest list' and the TheGoodBlogs: Bloggers promoting Bloggers. Typepad 'widgets' include recent comments (bit of love-link) and a 'make yourself widget' The Wheelbarrow awards
  • Deciding the first posts.
    • Typepad's new feature Pages works (IMHO) as an alternative 'static website'. A static website normally contains an 'about us' page, a portfolio page and a contact page - with the fixed pages of Typepad you can do the same but then integrated into the blog itself.
      I saw another advantage in this for Richard - brand new to the blogging, sorry web-publishing, world. His first posts could be roughly the same as the three fixed pages he would have had if this was a new static website for him:
      The Introduction of the Blogger/web-publisher himself - About Page
      The Introduction of the 'business' - Our Services
      The Introduction of a speciality - Our Specials
      In fact 3 pages and 3 posts in one go. The posts will 'fade away' in the 'Archives' over time, but all the important information about the blogger and his 'business' will stay 'upfront'. And it saves time for a first time blogger.

What didn't go well (and why)

  • The why is simple in this case: due to my own experience I tend to 'forget' that road of gaining specific knowledge myself, the aforementioned trial and error path of gaining insight. I skipped whole processes - and am back-tracking because of that now.
    Lesson learned - and it will be the starting point of our workshop!
    • Not explaining the various webmarketing widgets better.
    • Not showing how to reply to comments or how to leave a comment on someone else's post.
    • Both errors combined with under-estimating my own 'promotion' power left various commentors of the first posts 'in the dark'.
      Richard is catching up on this, so bear with him ;-)

A big thank you to Kent Blumberg is in order too. His presentation on Blogging is going to be a great help for our try-out workshop.

Wheelbarrow: Pick-up and push - an ongoing rewarding task

During our launch-lunch with Richard C, we discussed the Wheelbarrow awards. Richard has been working with us - very effectively helping us grow our business - from start-up to where we are now and of course we have implemented many of his advice and ideas. So when Richard said I could have a Gold Wheelbarrow Award to say I was surprised, no not really (proud and honoured, of course!). But then there was a twist - a new challenge if you like.

In order to be officially awarded the gold award I have, like everyone else will have to, to put to paper at least 7 implemented ideas and the (positive) results of it.
(Easy, I said immediately, many of them are already listed in my Kiss Business Novel, but apparently that only gives me a head-start, so here goes, from the start:)

  1. Choose an accountant/consultant best suited for your business (your character even)
    It's like with most things, there are plenty around in various shapes and 'colours' but to choose the first one you find in the Yellow Pages could - in the end - cost you dearly. I'm a (Dutch) qualified book-keeper myself, so an accountant who only has 'one-fits-all' tariff would be too costly for us (been there, paid it - but that's a chapter on its own in the novel). Is practical advice every time you need it included in the contract, or are you invoiced every single time you dare to pick up the phone to ask a accounting related question? (Been there, paid it - see same chapter.)
    Burns Waring, offices in Canterbury and Maidstone We 'found' Burns Waring through networking - BNI Ashford. Richard had joint this chapter a few months after we had when we were still employed by our former 'partners'. Unfortunately the partners also dictated which accountants bureau we had to use, but in the meantime - listening to 60 seconds presentation from Richard and being able to talk to him for 10 - 15 minutes during the breakfast meetings every week - had given us a reliable picture of what Burns Waring could mean/do for us. When we decided to 'go-it-alone' we knew upfront they would suite us best (and over the years, that hasn't changed).
    Result of this implementation: a reliable 'partnership' based on mutual trust.
  2. Trust your own skills, knowledge and strengths, and keep learning
    When 'the partners' closed us down, made us redundant we had a hard decision to make: going 'back home' (to what?) or start our own wooden flooring company. We were worried we didn't have what it took after the disaster of the first 'venture', so of course we discussed this with Richard. He was very straightforward with the dilemma:
    "Who managed the showroom these two years, you or the partner?" Eh, we.
    "Who gained trust from the customers, you or the partners?" Us again.
    "Who worked in a professional manner towards prospects, customers, suppliers and took responsibility for the after care of any job, you or the partners?" We did.
    "Who did the books, you or the partners?" Me.
    "Who creamed of too much cash-flow, resulting in the close-down, you or the partners?" That would be them, definitely.
    He didn't need to ask more questions, he showed he believed in our capabilities to run our own business earlier than we did. We took a deep breath and 'started', diving straight into a steep learning curve - and we never stop learning.
    Result of implementation: a new company was born and the rest - as they say - is history. We never looked back and are starting to reap the rewards of 'the plunge'.
  3. Position your start-up business as if you're already trading for 5 years
    "The term 'Small Business' is just a typology used by economists or for financial statistics - not  a label you should wear. Think big, from day one on."
    (One of the many quotes from Richard both Mike - the webwizard - and I favour.)
    It's a mind-set, but why would a start-up business 'come in lower' (price, quality, service) than the existing market offers? To get 'a foot' in the door? Which door? Once you're trading and gain customers, how hard is it afterwards to 'crank-up' everything (price, quality,  service) to become level with the market-leaders? Never apologise for being a 'start-up'.
    Result of implementation: quality customers from day one on.
  4. Increase profits by increasing your sales price, not by cutting costs
    Most business persons I know personally are afraid to raise their prices, afraid that this will lose them customers. There are in fact loads of tables and figures that can show you this is not true. Not true so far that by rising your sales price with x percentage and keeping the same gross margin you can afford to lose some customers without suffering at the bottom line (those fact-tables are in my novel too - e.g. 10% increase in sales price with a gross margin of 30% the turnover can decrease with 25% before you lose net profit. To do the same with cutting costs you would have to save 16% on all your fixed costs). Imagine what happens if you don't lose any of your customers?
    Result of implementation: more gross and net profit without extra effort, plus our customers realised that quality products and service come with their own - reasonable - price tag.
  5. First calculate the extra gain, not the costs, a new investment or marketing decision will bring (my own personal favourite chapter - 4:The Yellow Brick Road - in my business novel)
    Wood You Like in the lovely village of Charing, Kent We started our business working from home, not the most ideal situation when you try to sell natural wooden flooring. When the opportunity came to lease a small showroom in our lovely village we really hoped we could 'afford' it. Turn it around was the simple advice from Richard: if you have that showroom, how much more would you turnover? 20%? 50%? 100%? Would the net profit of the extra turnover pay the lease?
    It's a much more positive - and fun - way to make such a decision, I can tell you that.
    Result of implementation: in the first full year in our showroom we doubled our turnover and this (2nd) year we're well on our way to reach that same goal - doubling again.
  6. Write you, not we
    Have you noticed how many websites, company marketing brochures are filled with we, we, we. "We offer the best" - "We are the most acclaimed business in our field" - "We are top of our field".
    A prospect or customer is tuned in to WII.FM: 'What's In It For Me'. He/she wants to hear, read what you can do for him.
    "You benefit from...." etc.
    Result of implementation: after rewording our website (and other marketing materials) and the wording in our quotations we increased the conversion rate from 47% to 70%
  7. Test, measure - increase or stop
    Sometimes it seems we're all surrounded by hypes: you've got to have a quarter page ad in the Yellow Pages, you've got to hire a PR-company to write editorials for you, you've got to air radio-commercials, you've got to have this, you've got to do that: everyone is doing it and everyone is making big bucks out of it.
    Before you 'follow' the herd into the next craze and spend way too much money you have to test any new or additional idea: would it work for us, what would be the extra profit and would it be worth the costs? Test it on a small scale (local radio station instead of regional station, one Yellow Pages book instead of three), measure the results - enquiries received, extra sales generated - and then decide if you continue on the same level, increase the level (weekly ads in the paper instead of monthly, broadcasting your commercial on the neighbouring 'local' radio station) or stop wasting money.
    Result of implementation: we tested a radio commercial with a local station for two months - one week on, one week off - only received the wrong enquiries and pulled the plug. We're pulling the plug on our Yellow Pages ads next. We're increasing the amount of time spend on tweaking our websites.
  8. (Oops - well, after publishing my novel beginning last year, of course we didn't stop implementing other ideas)
    Diversity from the same kitchen

    Although doing very well in our showroom, supplying and installing many floors in the East Kent area, we want to grow even more. Not really ready to employ more fitters, but trying to grow our DIY-site of the business beyond Kent. In May I wrote a whole post about this: Dilemma in progress and what advice we received to establish this.
    Result of implementation: our online shop is almost ready to launch - logistics almost all in place - ready to g(r)o(w).
  9. Promote benefits, not features
    Our wooden floors are made of.. wood (but of course), have T&G' all around, oil or lacquer finish etc. Features nobody really gets exited about. However those same features combine into the following benefits: easy to clean, adds value to your home, is a hygienic and ant-allergic floor covering and eco-friendly. Now here I can get exited about - as do our customers.
    Result of implementation: not every customer is looking for the same benefit of our product, we can 'cater' the conversation with the customer to this specific benefit - they feel we understand their needs very well.
  10. Don't be afraid to acknowledge your own expertise
    This sounds like a chapter out of "Brag! The Art of Tooting your own Horn without Blowing it" by Peggy Klaus. A few months ago I mentioned to Richard that on a regular base we received phone-calls from Architects, Designers and Developers asking for advice. And as always I received a question: do you mention that in your marketing materials? Eh, no, that's bragging, we're not really experts, we base our advice on our experiences. And personally I resent the word expert, but that's a completely different story. Even for that 'excuse' Richard found a solution and suggested the following text:
    "As the acknowledged authority on wooden flooring, many architects, interior designers and property developers, nationally and locally, frequently call 'Wood You Like' for advice on choice and suitability of different wooden flooring and advice on the fitting and maintenance. You can also feel free to contact us: our advice and help is only one phone call 01233 - 713725 (or email) away"
    Result of implementation: increased number of phone-calls, increased number of enquiries by even more Architects, Designers and Developers.

And I haven't even touched on the many other ideas for specific marketing projects, tax advice or IT Tools we have discussed, thought about and if 'approved' implemented - but I think I'll leave it at these 10 (it's a long enough post as it is, sorry 'bout that).
I'm sure it will keep Richard busy over the coming weeks to publish articles about all these items - that's the twist - challenge - I'd like give to him ;-)

Well, Richard, what you think? Worth the Gold Wheelbarrow award?

Signs, we do need them - but...

We are surrounded by signs nowadays.

Exit sign Multi signs Promotional signs Health & Safety signs Crazy signs

Wood You Like's stylish van. Signage by Medash Signs - AshfordWe use signs to promote our businesses. Simple, colourful signs that tells everyone who we are, what we are, where we are and who they can contact us.
Useful signs.

We use signs to enforce new regulations.
No smoking - but what if it's raining? Since 1 July this year every office, every shop, every restaurant, every pub, every public place that has four walls and a ceiling (enclosed space) must portrait this sign.
(which also means I'm getting a lot of extra fresh air now). I still think this is 'overdoing' it a bit, everyone knows about the smoking ban in public places, but the signs are everywhere, on every window of every shop.

We use signs to warn traffic for changed circumstances. After almost 30 years of one way traffic Ashford's ring road has been turned into a two-way system since last Sunday (1 July), so signs everywhere to make regular drivers of the ring road aware of the changed system.

We need signs, if we like it or not. But sometimes you have to take a step back and look at your own signs properly: does it do what it is supposed to do? Isn't contradicting, confusing instead of warning, teaching?

Beware of on coming traffic, they go first! Last Friday my partner Ton was on his way to a survey when the B-road he was travelling on  had some roadworks on it. On his side of the road. This sign was in front of the roadworks: Give way to oncoming vehicles.

There was one car in front of Ton, waiting - as 'ordered' by the sign. Past the road works on the other side of the road (oncoming traffic) there was one car: waiting.

When the driver in front of Ton decided he'd waiting long enough and drove on, Ton followed. Passing the road sign on the other side of the works he looked back: exactly the same sign: Give way to oncoming vehicles!

Have you checked all your signage lately? Any contradicting another? Any not really clear on what it is supposed to instruct, tell, and most important warn for?

It's life, Jim...

We all have our roll-models, hero's even.
Many years ago these were my hero's:

Mr Spock Dr 'Bones' McCoy Mr Data

Although 'fictional', their characters and mentalities taught me some basics about work, teamwork, life and humanity. And it got me interested in IT too (hey, Star Trek already invented a kind of IPhone in 1967! - so who's old-fashioned?)

Richard C, Company Doctor No more fictional roll-models, hero's for me nowadays, real persons are much more interesting. Specially when it means interactive conversations and teamwork.

After two weeks of proper teamwork - bouncing off ideas, enhancing on ideas, activating each other's strengths - it's with great pleasure (and a bit of pride) I can now announce that the "Company Doctor" Richard Calderwood web-publishing site (aka blog) is live!

I not only hope you pay Richard a visit to say hello, but also that you'll 'hang around' on his site. He taught me most I know about running and growing a profitable business and his blog is on 'how to' - it is pretty easy with the right guidance, right tools and the right attitude to implementation - closing the Knowing-Doing Gap in the most simple and effective way.
Richard C can tell you, show you much more about this.

Give him my regards ;-)