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Word of the Month has got to be Independent. Starting with Glastonbury’s headline act singing out Independent Woman to “All the Honeys who makin’ money” followed swiftly with singing out for Independent Retailer Month with a kick off Independents’ Day raising awareness of the Independent.
Over in the US, Independent labs and specialists, for each aspect of a drug making process, have been used by a man whose managed to bring three drugs to market on his own, using the same process as big drug makers. When the drug starts to succeed in trials, it will be sold on to one of those big drug companies. Also in the US Obama has been making unannounced visits to independent small businesses.

Over here, Government sale of banking assets has begun with Northern Rock, Banks and plc Companies being amongst potential buyers to show an interest, although it’s unlikely the full £1.4 billion will be achieved, leaving NRAM (Northern Rock Asset Managment) retaining control. Ring-fencing proposals were also announced last month for retail banking in a move that no other country has yet made. Meanwhile the major lenders are lobbying the revision of draft legislation which makes the Bank of England, whose policy committee voted to keep interest rates at 0.5% at the same time as senior bank executives are lobbying George Osborne and senior policymakers to revise draft legislation to make the Bank of England more accountable to the businesses it will regulate, and the Big-5 are making an offer to mentor small business.

A Small Independent featured in a shopkeeper story set in New York in which a mission, Store Buyout, was born. The objective of helping out the much respected local shopkeeper was to buy everything in the store before it closed down. On the other end of the scale, a Spanish supermarket has managed double-digit growth throughout the past decade, having started with 8 stores, 30 years ago, it now has 1,310 with annual sales of €16.5 Billion. The economic problems assisted after forceful cost-cutting as explained via Harvard study, highlighting the firm’s approaches to purchasing, product choice, staffing, customers and the boss.
Independent thinking, or lack of it, was paradoxically illustrated in a compare site survey that showed consumers continuing to miss out on savings to their energy bills, insurance premiums and other financial products by staying loyal to their providers of 20 of the most common financial products, including car and home insurance, bank account and mortgage or credit card provider; although premiums have risen. Only 3% of 2,000 surveyed by the compare site with the most irritating ad accolade had considered changing bank accounts. Another compare site who is ditching it’s celebratory endorsers, including an Ex-F1 Driver, X-Factor contestants and an Ex-Deputy Prime Minister, for ‘family man’, suggests in their survey there could be £2.2 Billion savings to be made by current account holders checking their bank accounts and credit cards for interest rates and considering a switch.
(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

It’s Not a Puzzle, SB is IOH

A confusing cryptic signing-off at the end of an email we discovered to be a lamenting excuse rather than reason to be tagged on to a name.  As email arrived along with a misplaced attachment we assumed the acronym held an unknown reference to said document. Phone calls were made through various departments to be given the aural equivalent of an emoticon from a self proclaiming overworked employee, IOH is I’m Only Human.  We’ll leave you to visualise the insertion of whichever  appropriate symbol you feel should follow that  i.e. smiley face, stupid grin, exasperated face, etc. because by this point the one the one we wanted is unlikely to exist.

Only those existing in some parallel universe made up of Star Wars characters wouldn’t be able to use this phrase at some time or another, the rest of us can relate to IOH, except there is a caveat; as anyone running a small business with business DNA running through them will understand. Business DNA dictates IOH is only acceptable as a reason and should never be used as an excuse, even for those who think they are superhuman. Of course it’s imperative that the business is kept under control but it’s dangerous ground when the interpretation is doing it/everything yourself (DIY).

Business owners evaluate their metrics , for strengths and weaknesses, in different areas, however, how often does that small business turn its attention to a key area, the owner, to acknowledge their strengths and analyse their weaknesses?  The jeopardy of the flexible business owner who is IOH, in terms of keeping control of their business and constantly embarking on DIY, is to  become the emoticon of a well-worn elastic band; worn or brittle and snap, Oh! My Gosh! (OMG), not a good look for the business.

Using leverage in its broadest sense can be the strength for many small businesses, by analysing and evaluating those areas of value , organising the tedious tasks and considering the potential to drive the business forward, small business can use its IOH specialism.

5 Ways Small Business Uses IOH as Leverage not Lament

  • Invest your business ready for the future. Evaluate what place you want to be in 12/18/24 months from now and how you can get it there. When you’ve measured backwards and forwards it could mean making uncomfortable changes, which aren’t an excuse, they’re the reason that you’re surviving (and thriving) in business being IOH
  • Analyse where your ROI is, if the sales are there but the margins aren’t have that conversation with your staff. If you have to be in two places at once, explain that to anyone effected, it’s not an excuse it’s a reason you’re IOH and in business.
  • Innovate your business however when/if something fails don’t forget you’re IOH, remember that you had the business DNA attitude to try things which is the reason you don’t lament excuses and the reason you’re in business.
  • Share ideas, with employees, customers, third parties and anyone that can give you feedback to evaluate because being IOH and in business you have that ability which isn’t an excuse to chat but a reason to communicate.
  • Celebrate being small, the advantages of a small business are all too often stamped out by aggressive larger competition. Smaller businesses are IOH, that’s not an excuse, remember. It’s a reason.

(Image credit: Ashtyn Renee Article credit: Copyright SUF)

The health status of micro and small businesses  improved , according to Experian’s April Insolvency Index which revealed that 0.55% fewer UK companies become insolvent, 1,808  in number (0.10% of active businesses), compared to the  same period last year. There has been an increase of 4.44% year-on-year amongst medium sized companies, whilst the big boys (501+employees), rose by 9.09%.  The year-on-year increase in business failure amongst the property sector was apparently 70.37%.

Tedious good health link: An interesting story about someone in good health, with a healthy business.  According to the article we came across  having to pay for medication in the treatment of cancer, one customer looked at her US drugstore receipt and wondered if she held precious gems. Following successful treatment the unused expensive pharmaceuticals were crafted into jewellery and it seems that Designer Drugs Jewellery pays for ongoing medication.

Unfortunately, it would seem, things are not as healthy in some areas.  The Bank of England has been criticised (again), on this occasion a  think-tank  has criticised the BoE for failing to predict inflation. The Treasury’s decision to remould the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) with a Financial Policy Committee continues  to have its critics.  Project Merlin the government’s flagship initiative to increase small business lending is set to miss its first set of targets for 2011 Q1 combined with the cost of credit rising the economic situation goes on to give much for debate and critique, and won’t be getting better any time soon.  However, in typical British style, the weather managed to breakthrough, making the headlines and offering at least a ray of hope as May’s good weather, combined with the Royal Wedding, meant that  consumer confidence had a lift.

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

Evolution Not Revolution

You ask questions about your business and you’ll likely have one of two responses;  1. Reach for the shovel to dig the hole in sand for a.k.a ostrich style head placing when facing something that you’d rather not or,  2. Panic because, although there might be things that stand out as being easy, or even obvious, to change there is likely to be some  uncomfortable sense of overwhelm.

The first point is don’t panic. You go at your own pace when you make changes.  The next point is to stay calm.  You don’t have to change everything you’ve identified all at once.  Small changes can be the most effective, even more so if they are evaluated.  The final point as a starting point is another question. What is the one thing that you would change that would make the biggest, therefore most effective, positive, impact to your business?

Direct value returned in, or to, the business is the bottom line for any business investment.  No matter what the change or adaptation, it’s accountable to business in terms of what response will it achieve?  Taking a corporate example Blockbuster almost went into liquidation. Not being the first and likely to not be the last this successful business model didn’t adapt to changes and proving that it wasn’t sustainable to stay the same. What happens at a high level of business can, and does, happen at the smaller levels and in all sectors of industry.
Identifying  the difference between what might work and what actually works takes time because the difference between an estimate and metrics is initially measured in value; being able to keep a business viable, yet considering beyond the £ signs.

The option is to take the starting point or, alternatively delay further and risk, as the slogan goes, panic and freak out.

(Image credit: thegreengirl Article credit: Copyright SUF)

After the warmest April on record it would seem the heat is on for some, as troubleshooters are being brought out. One from the City is to oversee a potentially explosive report into the near collapse of RBS, and No.10 is establishing its own panel of senior health policy experts to advise the PM on NHS reform.

Mutual Agreement

The 2010/11 ISA season has just come to an end during which we saw another mutual, Kent Reliance Building Society, transferring to a PLC Banking subsidiary via JC Flowers and to now be known as `One Savings Bank’. T he 2011/12 season has only just begun and Norwich and Peterborough Building Society has announced proposals to merge with Yorkshire Building Society some 30 years after Walker & Byker Industrial Permanent Building Society ended trading to Northern Rock.

Our Survey Said…

Trust is on the increase for a majority of retail customers, who, in a survey of more than 20,500 global banking customers 1,000 respondents claimed they were `satisfied’ with the country’s banking system……. in India.   The 100th Quarterly Survey of Small Business showed firms are turning to trusted sources for advice as the economic climate, cashflow and bad debt became their dominant problems and ‘are using a variety of sources to help them through the ups and downs of the economic cycle’.  Health, education, transport, travel, retail, hotels, restaurants, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, business services, wholesalers, construction and manufacturing were represented amongst the 834 sole proprietors, microfirms, small and medium firm respondents. The number of insolvencies fell by 16%  with some 24,700 (!!!) less than the previous year.

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

Question Time

Your starter for 10 – Can you describe your business in one sentence?

1.  As a business owner, do you understand what your defining DNA is?

2.  Do your customers or clients understand it?

 

If you can’t describe your business in one short sentence, neither can your customers. If customers can’t understand the message that is your business, it all stops there;  your concept of your business won’t be communicated onwards.

 

3. When did you last look from the outside in? – We’re all so familiar with our businesses, taking a step back and looking from a different perspective is worthwhile and usually overlooked.

4.  Are your customers able to gain a sense of what you offer? – Focus on your customer’s satisfaction but don’t neglect the business needs a core model.

5.  Is your business defined by itself or by only one part of it? – Consider if your business is interpreted for what it offers or only a part of what it does.

 

If you offer something unique it should be linked to your core model; consider all elements of the business. You may be able to offer more at very little cost. The value that makes you exceptional needs to be cost effective for you and apparent to your customer.

 

6.  Would your self-descriptive sentence fully support everything that is offered in the business? – Or are you describing the obvious, I’m a Florist, we’re a Boutique Hotel, It’s a Sweet Shop etc….

7.  Is clarity avoided in favour of cliché – Either by skirting around your core business and not stating the obvious or only stating the obvious and ignoring the core business.

8.  Is your business model clear? – Obviously you don’t want to confuse customers but equally so it’s important not to confuse the business model’s sustainability.

9.  Have you said everything you really want to say? –  Doubtful in one sentence.

 

If you started your business with the same model you’re operating now, stability is likely to be under strain and growth non-existent. The challenge is to balance what your customers want with additional value to clarify the business take on `who are you?’

 

10. Are you able to follow through? – Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk at the same time.

The most basic business model necessitates some ‘assumed’ metrics which make allowance for adjustment of prices or anomalies, therefore regular checks assist in identifying estimates from actual. Regular checks not only give an opportunity to adjust any over or under volume/price forecasts, confront anomalies and consider margins but, as small businesses often don’t have the marketing budget of similar large companies, the difference in value can be measured. The combination of checks will ensure the business model remains current and sustainable.

Turning 20 questions on its head might assist in identifying not only what your business is, but what it isn’t.

(Image credit: Leo Reynolds   Article credit: Copyright SUF)

 

 

 

 

 

April Brings a Shower of Changes.

Most small businesses look out for the perpetual barrier to their growth, tax and red tape, amongst the Budget. Amongst this years’ was a reduction in corporation tax,  measures to scrap large amounts of legislation, a three year freeze on new regulations for small businesses, a further year for small business rate relief and…  21 enterprise zones were announced. New business regulations usually come into place twice a year on 6 April and 1 October therefore amongst the first implementations, Corporation Tax – from Financial Year  April will drop from 28% to 26%, with returns being compulsory electronically, and Small Companies Rate falls from 21% to 20%. More information can be found on the Business Link  site  and, as for Enterprise Zones, what are they? Direct Gov  will explain in further detail.

Keeping costs down can go some way as an attempt to balance out rising inflation that businesses are experiencing. Re-visit terms or deals with suppliers, think about best value with regard to insurances or consider potential energy savings that might have been overlooked.

More or Less Change?

Good to hear that the number of insolvencies  across UK PLC dropped, however, many businesses are still facing tough times for all sorts of reasons. Although quarterly figures such as the  GDP showed a slight increase in economic growth to that previously given businesses need to be vigilant and have good insight into their own position, especially relating to cash flow. Late payments beyond trading terms appear to be on the increase for some businesses which only increases cash flow control problems;  a vicious circle ensues to which even the most successful business can fall victim. Small to medium size businesses have always been impacted by late payments but this seems to be increasing.

A timely reminder that when any credit is applied for its worthwhile checking through your records first rather than being turned down and effecting your credit footprint. The cost of credit continues to rise  and fees on existing borrowing are moving upwards. Lenders facing an increasing amount of expenses due to changing regulations and lack of liquidity, in turn will mean an increased cost for consumers; there is no doubt that lenders are stricter in the aftermath of the financial blowout.

Sum Change.

The FSA (Financial Services Authority) has approved collecting money from dormant Bank Accounts for the Reclaim Fund  at the Big Society Bank which will support good causes and to is to be run by Co-op Financial Services.  It is estimated that the fund will receive around £400 million from current dormant accounts for which part of the money will be held in reserve for customers who reclaim money from accounts they have forgotten about.

Web advertising topped £4bn spend  in a record high and eCommerce is showing no signs of flagging as the fastest growing retail sector. Entry barriers are so low that its essential for anyone in business to have even a rudimentary online presence as a marketing tool; without wanting to make online sales available, although selling online is a model which can be adapted to many existing businesses. Although we have come across some that don’t give out contact numbers, the obvious additional exposure to a what a business has to offer is immediate with a website as all types of services and products are sourced online and include trying to find business hours, availability of products or that contact number.

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

Drop the Dead Donkey – Plan, Strategy, Review

You’re born, you live and then you die. Allowing for the bits in between blowing it all apart, a simple narrative many of us can understand. It’s the bits in between that can get as complicated as a chemical equation. Whether choosing what to have for breakfast, how to get a rein on the economy or any of the things that come up as quoted by Underworld; job, family, tv, car, DIY, what to do on Sunday morning, there are pros, cons and perspectives everywhere. And, as soon as one problem goes away another turns up.

Not just in the financial industry do numbers pour out every day with another statistic to make another headline. There are astonishing analytics blogs overflowing with information, great economists  blogging their understanding and opinion can be heard from every type of news media available, however, often they don’t immediately relate to some businesses.

When the smaller business person is battling hits from up, down, and all around, inflation is devaluing assets, liabilities aren’t always matched. A business can be caught in a whirlwind, attempting to reduce its debts during traumatised times and trying to weather the storms of the current economy with a resulting bewilderment interpreted as complacency. Treading storm water can only be maintained for so long before becoming exhausted trying to minimise debt as a priority to maximising profit; a challenging U-turn, especially when lenders are risk-averse and have high charges and fees. For any whose foundations have been maximise profits to minimise debt, expecting to maintain and invest in themselves at the same time as protecting employees and themselves, all at a time of being extensively hit from supporting capital stresses, the situation can quickly turn to sink.

We’ve met many businesses who’ve taken a wrong decision at some time or other but that doesn’t, necessarily, make that business bad. We have also, on occasion, come across a business which, with all the will in the world, won’t ever be run efficiently and leaves plenty of room for improvement, which is disheartening for those whose business is desperate to be innovative and seeks out improvement.

Using our mantra, Plan, Strategy, Review – here are 5 ways that micro and small business could be enabled to gain some traction.

  • Value:  Value your business by valuing how it translates to others –  Plan, Strategy, Review
  • Prioritise: Life’s constant is that everything changes –  Plan, Strategy, Review
  • Adapt: Be aware of changes – Plan, Strategy, Review
  • Maximise: Potential –  Plan, Strategy, Review
  • Communicate:  With and about the business – Plan, Strategy, Review

 

A recent story told to us examples how this works, (not how businesses work generally, it should be read with tongue firmly in cheek).

Plan, Strategy, Review – A decision is taken to buy a donkey for £100.

  1. When it’s delivered the seller apologises that there is some bad news the donkey has `ceased to be`, `its dead’.  Plan, Strategy, Review the Value.
  2. The person asks for their money back and the seller says they can’t make a refund because they’ve spent the money. Plan, Strategy, Review the Priorities.
  3. The person decides to take the dead donkey and hold a raffle. Plan, Strategy, Review  how to Adapt.
  4. They sell 500 tickets at £2 each, making a profit of £898. Plan, Strategy, Review any Potential.
  5. £898?  Yes, the original £100 repaid, less £2 returned to the winning ticket who complained the donkey was dead. Plan, Strategy, Review effective Communication.

Not so massively complicated……..

 

(Image and  Article credit: Copyright SUF)


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