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Charting Rise and Fall

March roars in as the UK economy shrank more than previously thought during the last three months of 2010. Gross Domestic Product slipped by 0.6% to minus 0.1%  amongst the slipping, sliding and freezing numbers for household spending, business investment, construction, finances and house price measuring. With calls going out from the CBI  for infrastructure investment, the BRC  asking for cost-easing for those in, or starting, a business, and small businesses  according to Sage’s International Business Index, saying they’re unimpressed in general with business support, March might just go out with a roar before spring and a Budget, with billions to be axed, arrives.

The Charts.

A rise was to be glimpsed in complaints to the Ombudsman, about financial services, by 15% in the second half of 2010 compared to the first half of the year, with Lloyds Banking Group topping the charts on a list that is made up from complaints about banks, insurance and investment firms and from which the FSA will publish its findings this month. Another chart topper and rise glimpsed amongst the headline making  is bankers bonuses with the aptly name Mr Diamond at the top.

Moving away from buildings, it would seem that farmland prices reached a new high  in the last half of 2010, with indications that commercial farmers are keen to expand production and capitalise on rising commodity prices. According to the Rural Land Market Survey commercial farmland demand outperformed residential.

A New Homes Bonus  scheme is possibly, according to National Housing Federation, to make the north-south divide rise when it creates more executive homes in the south, whilst halting construction of social housing in the north – because reward is linked to potential property value.

And….. Roll-Royce rolled into the charts via The Centre for Brand Analysis  as Britain’s No.1 Business Superbrand, toppling Microsoft, as the most respected brand in the UK index since 2007.  Judged by professionals from marketing, manufacturing and finance sectors it was rated against criteria of quality, distinction and reliability.

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

6 Steps to Expose Business

Fresh starts and positive attitude echoed around for the start of this year.

Again, full of gusto and mostly refreshed, with the chink of glasses being raised to new beginnings still ringing in ears….. until routine takes over.

No problem, there is the next fresh start of springtime around the corner, a time to dust off any long winter, until the distractions of the oncoming summer take over.

No matter.  Sunshine, holidays and any absence of mind can be repaid in the autumn with a back-to-school approach, that is, until routines slides in along with the darker nights.

No hassles, it’s almost the end of the year and there is a fresh start opportunity waiting around the corner…

In some form or another, we all do it, it’s part of the human condition. But how does this human condition affect the condition of a business? Which 6 risky practices do we hear from business guardians that have the potential to expose a business to the start of bad practices?

Exposure #1

I’m too busy.

  • Delegate or organise but don’t ignore. The potential pitfalls when the responsibilities of running a business are tucked under a mat means at least one almighty fall will be experienced.  By reviewing the roles and responsibilities of the business into different categories, in the zippy fast days of digital, the overwhelming nature of business can be readily assisted.

Exposure #2

I’m going to, later.

  • There’s no point in doing things now, it’s all too unsettled. Meanwhile the rest of the world keeps turning. Customers turn away, looking for better value. Effective staff move on, often feeling undervalued. Businesses move in and on, leaving little of value.

Exposure #3

I’ve tried things before and they never work.

  • An abstract concept that doesn’t fully explain what had been looked at, why it had been looked identified, how it was approached, and so on. Whatever had been considered necessary to try to assist the business could be revisited, for anything that might have been missed the first time.

Exposure #4

My business is running along just fine. I know it doesn’t need tweaking.

  • Great, if areas of the business have had a review, and not so great if they haven’t.  Delusion displaces and makes for a fragile state throughout the entire business, firm footings need facts.

Exposure #5

Everything is okay.

  • That’s a start, because otherwise the business might not be enabled to move forward if it can’t invest in itself by paying its way in terms of b2b relationships, development opportunities and the responsibilities towards members that make up the business team.There may, for example, be leakage which the assistance of a commercial Accountant, specialising in that business area, would identify immediately or by using an Agent a Landlord is ensured that Landlord and Tenant both  profit from being suitably matched.

Exposure #6

I don’t ever need to consider looking at how I’m running my business. I’m so incredible at running it that nothing will ever effect it. I am considerably successful.

  • We’ve actually met this person - several times – and, in our experience, it’s usually been someone who has lost interest in business and their business. Unless the  business is to close with all its assets taken into account, it’s a short-sighted attitude. Exit strategies are as susceptible to the unexpected as anything else in a business. Whether retail, leisure, service or property based, business needs monitoring.

Setting out with too big an idea which isn’t going to give immediate results and isn’t specific to your business is the certain way of blowing up any idea of ensuring that your business is monitored for self-gain.

It’s likely that the business is already overwhelmed  – therefore plan, strategy, review any approach with the objective of making a start that will become part of the business plan, the way it runs, the way it always runs…….Step by Step.

(Image credits: flattop341 and SUF.    Article credit: Copyright SUF )

Weathering the Economy

Contraction of the economy was, according to The Chancellor, `due to it’.  Supermarkets have blamed their flat sales on it , Ryanair claims some of its losses are due to it  and Greene King Sales were down because of it. The bad weather seems to be the reason many are citing recent decline in business, however, looking at GK’s  January upturn  it would appear from their indicator that we’ve all had enough of being inside, and are heading out.  The upturn will be interesting to watch for offsets in other areas of business. Meanwhile, Tesco-nopoly continue munching onwards  -  They’re trying out a cash for gold service  and have launched a tyre fitting service too.

Landlord Business

Speaking with Residential Landlords it would seem that an area of concern following that highlighted towards capital gains, at the start of the year, is tenant arrears and its effect.  When tenants are struggling to maintain their payments the effect for the landlord, in terms of annual returns, is for their long term profits and consequent re-investment. Astute Landlords having prepared themselves in anticipation of the see-saw economics and challenges, and have laid down plans. This collective of professional landlords, have throughout, introduced new business models to assist them through any changing times and ensured continued success within their business. There are however less experienced landlords who may not have the ability, or facilities, to cope through the ongoing changes. This will, in turn, have longer term effects for both landlord and tenant as the laws of supply-and-demand continue to play out. Whether minor or major issues, the responsibilities of being a Landlord require planning ahead for both the sake of both tenant and Landlord. For example, it would appear that some landlords haven’t yet prepared for the digital switchover process.  Fiscal challenges might likely seem that everything is going backwards but the likely consequences of stalling a tenant’s access to their TV might, by comparison, make such difficulties a walk in the park on a summer’s day.

Commercial Landlords  are facing extra bills as from April when the Empty Rate Relief is to be rescinded. It was the previous Government’s belief that by scrapping the 50%  relief from business rates, for owners of empty retail and office space, and the 100%  relief for warehouse and factory owners, they would encourage regeneration in towns and cities, because as tenants moved out, redevelopment would occur to attract new business, and avoid paying rates on empty property.  However, soon after empty rates were imposed, the recession struck and demand from businesses for new commercial space collapsed, landlords were left with both loss of rent and empty rates bills.  It is the then Government’s response of making an exemption for those with rental income of below £18,000 which is to be rescinded by the current Government.  April also sees a rates supplement in Scotland.  A Large Retailer Levy  is the Scottish Government’s proposed rates supplement for retailers with a rateable value of £750,000 or more. The tax increase, dubbed Tesco Tax, has incensed those affected and has yet to be voted on.

The End… 

Meanwhile, following the withdrawal of public funding, founders the CBI, along with the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and chair Peter Jones have voted that the charity Enterprise UK is to close from April.

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

X  Marks the Spot: The NeXt Big Thing

Whoaaa!  A Dragon circled the world twice in three hours in December and, before doubt creeps in, this wasn’t after a wee dram or three.  Space X   launched and returned to earth its spacecraft.  This private company has recognised the potential for a commercial space station supply-run when NASA retires the space shuttle this year, maybe even an astronaut taxi service.  Constantly making refreshing news,  there are lots of big numbers  associated with this project  yet, in terms of inspiration, this X Factor doesn’t spark in the same space as X Factor for interest in The Next Big Thing - Which is ironic, considering entrepreneurs look for it, successful business has it and wannabees live for it.  So who, or what, sets the standards, gives the breaks or makes The Next Big Thing?

Publicity ensures any red carpet is rolled out for TNBT (The Next Big Thing) only when there is guaranteed payback. Whilst taking off on a space flight and flying around in a rocket is a dream for many, few have the potential to make it reality in their lifetime. Visionaries need finance and finance needs visionaries because these people understand what they want, and have the drive to achieve it.  The deep pocket’s chicken-and-egg scenario for which the ideas person has to consistently believe in themselves, and understand that their idea has to be profitable to inspire interest, otherwise there’s no going into orbit. The public have shown their interest in empathising with a person who goes from superior shower-singing, to recording artist, in a few weeks on X Factor and the X Prize  also illustrates that those who believe in themselves can get public support.  Money follows the scent of success and gets the ball rolling for TNBT which in turn inspires those still working with their hopes…..but how often is TNBT passed by, unnoticed and undiscovered?

To Infinity and Beyond isn’t light years away and, as a philosophy, nurtures TNBTs. However, back to gravity, meteoric rising isn’t always necessary. Devoting their lives to whatever they believe in, visionaries are the terriers of their space  as many a business will understand especially when it comes to having the ability but the lack of finance to support ideas. Anything should be possible, especially when combined with the advantage of enabling technology.  Just as the purchaser has turnaround power it’s important that small business believes, then understands, it too has turnaround power.

There is no doubt that businesses, business and people will be looking at not only their money for strategy and solutions, but increasingly, all areas of commercial interaction will be looking at The Next Big Thing; To Infinity and Beyond the Next Decade.

(Image credits: Jared and FreePX   Article credit: Copyright SUF)

 

There’s no doubt there’ll be plenty of news over the coming months but as the classic lyrics remind us `I read the news today, Oh boy…’   Sometimes it’s good to have a rest from the news, especially as it’s often a deep look at shallow news, only  learning such things as ` … how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall’.  Instead we thought we’d reflect on and muse about things a bit closer to  `Come on, come on, let’s work together’.

Besides the tedious links to classic songs, much to the embarrassment of one of us, during a high day and holiday request over the counter for a `Lucky Dip’,  the assistant responded with a look which might have been followed by `Sawdust is Aisle 10, left hand side, pet bedding’  but instead said `Which one?’ only to be responded to with: `The Classic!’  ….From which we now understand,  `It could be YOU’  but , for fairly obvious reasons, is unlikely to be us.  We tend to overlook the opportunity of a Lottery win and try not to ponder on what might have been.

Missed or lost opportunity becomes a vortex when reflected on for too long but, as another classic put it  `… all the things that you’ve seen will slowly fade away’.  Which is just the reason, as in the words of another classic  `…it’s just the simple things, pure incidentals, it’s like you wouldn’t even notice’  that are often worth giving a backward glance to before starting something new. Checking that nothing has been overlooked or if anything can be gathered amongst any debris from the past; and you might not ‘look back in anger’ in the future.

So what is it that we’ve learnt in the past year?  One of the things that we’ve noted is how quickly after a new idea is born, it spreads; which can be irritating when something is blatantly copied. However, it is said the best form of flattery is imitation, we’ll let it rest at that. We’ve learnt that the need to move quickly, especially with new ideas, is even more necessary.  Having spoken with some brilliant people over the past year, those  who genuinely know their product or service inside out, borne from knowledge and experience, shine out  as much as those who genuinely want to learn. Both being great to work with as they use and recognise their skills, abilities or specialism  for best advantage.  Lessons about the necessity of communication, at all levels, continues, and will, no doubt, continue to teach as technology evolves. Whilst the two lessons that shine out, in the immortal words of a great classic will `always and forever…  be together, forever …’ 

The necessity in business for Trust and Value ….. `that won’t ever change’

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

 

 

 

  

How Can I Help You?

We’ll spare the details about how we came to let out “the Terriers in us who won’t let go”; suffice to say there is a difference between Customer Service sand Customer Services.  The distinction being, it would increasingly seem that one being about the customer and one being about the business but only a small S between the two.

“Could you please make your way to the tills with your purchases, or make your way to the exit, as the store will be closing soon”, was the arousing information announcement. Thinking there wasn’t time to browse, select and then make a purchase, it was a surprise to find, having left the store, that announcement had been made a tad (25 minutes) prematurely at `5 past 5′.  Surely Customer Services at TK Maxx would be able to service their potential customer with information that conflicted with the information put out on their website? Seems not the first formulaic time around, as a typical and slow response came back apologising for their service at (fill in the blank), with paragraph about (fill in the blank) being important for customer happiness, along with reassurances for (fill in the blank). The query wasn’t answered, but there was polite thank you for the never given, `feedback’.  Terrier time; to which we only had to wait a further ten days, and two reminders, to get a personal response that finally answered the query.

Well, that’s big Companies, you might say. In our experience, afraid it’s not. It wouldn’t be the first time that we’d had to speak with an independent business only to be greeted by a phone-guard  who takes a decision that you will not pass go because ‘(fill in the blank) won’t be, or isn’t of,  interest’.  Hang on!  They’re expecting the call!  ….Phone goes down. Unbelievable for business today but, sadly, true.   We got around the rebuff, Terriers that we are,  and gave feedback to which we were genuinely thanked, especially, as we pointed out  that might have been an opportunity  missed for the business, taken away by their employee;  fair comment if  instructions were being followed, although short-sighted in business terms.

Are Customer Services overtaking what is known as Customer Service?  The nature of working with businesses means that we see all types of behaviours and attitudes but try telling that to a customer whose experience is only limited to their personal experience.  To the customer, which we all are at some time , who wants exemplary Customer Service, but use their spending power in places that are generic, places in which Customer Services is the replacement for Customer Service, hence employees  tend to be the on the front line of complaints, returns and general confrontation on behalf of their employer.

Expecting a Corporate to take time to respond to a two-way conversation that goes beyond the tick-the-box query is normal. Many have superb Customer Services websites but their Customer Service can be lacking, equally there are superlative Independents when it comes to Customer Service whose Customer Services are lacking.  Getting the balance is all important because, as we all know, customers have the ability to make their persuasions known with their wallets.

Courtesy is a two way thing between customer and business, or business to business, therefore shouldn’t be confused as being either Customer Service, the ability to assist customers for customer solution, or Customer Services, the ability to assist customers, for Company solution. As directive always comes from those in charge, it is only reasonable to be sympathetic towards staff, there are some genuinely brilliant employees and equally genuinely unreasonable customers, with an emphasis on fair, a firm-but-fair approach would seem to be a starting point for any organisation’s directive. Whether Customer Service or Customer Services, a business doesn’t want to hear “It’s a joke!”  Always give 100%     …..12% Monday…. 23% Tuesday…. 40% Wednesday…. 20% Thursday ….and 5% Friday.

 (Image credit: Kenny Louie   Article credit: Copyright SUF)

 

The  CRC  (Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme)   which was thought to be recycled back to participants as an incentive to reduce omissions has had some further consultation. Those likely to be affected to take a hit, probably at the same time as VAT being hiked, are big high street chains such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Argos, etc .

 The 2.5% VAT increase comes into force on 4 January 2011,  and it’s being suggested that up to a third of consumers plan to make big purchases before then, to make savings, say uSwitch.com.  Just under half of this spending will be on electronic gadgets, while 36% will go on white goods and 29% on holidays, with around a fifth of money being spent on car purchases that have been brought forward, and 8 out of 10 people said they thought the rise would have an impact on their finances next year.

According to Nationwide, house prices fell for the fourth month in five (November), claiming that the average price of property fell 0.3%, a slightly bigger drop than  the  0.2%  fall forecast by analysts, with the annual rate of growth falling to 0.4%.  Their chief economist has said that supply pressures were starting ‘to ease and there was little to suggest house price declines would accelerate in the months ahead’.

Apparently WikiLeaks plans to release tens of thousands of internal documents from a major U.S. Bank, early next year. The Bank hasn’t yet been identified but apparently the release would `lead to investigations’, with one being a `megaleak’  about a Bank `still in existence… that will give a true and representative insight into how Banks behave at Executive level’.

CCH, Accounting and Tax information provider, has a UK business league-table which shows which businesses are maximising their returns on the capital they invest in their businesses, and is an interesting indicator or how different industry has reacted to the downturn. ROCE: Return On Capital Employed.

Ranking  -  Industry sector  -  Average ROCE%

1  Retail of fruit and vegetables: 33.04%
2  Veterinary activities: 32.64%
3  Plastering: 31.725%
4  Legal activities: 29.45%
5  Dental practice activities: 23.545%
6  Driving school activities: 21.895%
7  Floor and wall covering: 20.575%
8  Insulation work activities: 19.955%
9  Other building installation: 19.65%
10 Erection of roof covering & frames: 19.4%
11 Wholesale of waste and scrap: 18.55%
12 Joinery Installations:18.315%
13 Manufacture of luggage & the like, saddlery: 17.25%
14 Plumbing: 17.2%
15 Painting and glazing: 16.815%
16 Manufacture of taps and valves: 16.68%
17 Retail of meat and meat products: 16.66%
18 Installation electrical wiring etc: 16.05%
19 Security broking & fund management: 15.745%
20 Services to oil and gas extraction: 15.7%

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

Sounds Like Team Spirit

Marmite Moment, The Apprentice was, on a recent episode,  almost diluted to a thinly disguised former self when one team spectacularly fell apart; not for the first time, or last, at the usual seams but with a definitive splintering like shattering glass on a very hard surface.  No serious harm done because this is light entertainment and the team effort will always have the same outcome, because each project has a team which plays to win and additionally play to squash their team mates. Attempting to shine out as business beacons they use slivery-tongued self-promo one-liners such as `Everything I touch turns to Sold’,  `To me making money is better than sex’  and  `When I wake up in the morning I can taste success in my spit’.  Nice.  If nothing else, it’s a reminder for managers and leaders in all spheres, be aware for any ego landing and manage or lead by solutions not slogans.

If you’re in business you’ll know about the need to put a team together at some time and, obviously, this Apprentice-type team doesn’t exist in business….. Does it?

Teams can be temporary as well as permanent. Put together to evaluate the factors of a project before closing in on a goal, whoever is leading the team shouldn’t be left with any uncertainties about the goal. Each member of the team should be chosen for their area of expertise, giving extra time for wherever or whatever that leader’s time is needed for.  As Intermediary, other members in the teams we become part of  are usually, but not exclusively, Accountants, Valuers, Surveyors,  Lenders and Solicitors with our client being the Leader, however some teams we’ve met have Agents, Employees, Partners and even family members.

Understanding the true value of a business or property is absolute and there should never be a pressure felt by the project leader to make decisions they are not totally comfortable with regarding projects that have this at its core. Therefore, irrelevant of the project size, putting the right team together is invaluable in terms of ensuring the right outcome being kept in check.  The potential for projects to fall apart are many; misinformation, trying to be in three places at one time, third parties, missing or not fully understanding relevant information, not scrutinising documentation appropriately and, for such reasons  it is the job of a team to work to achieve a common goal by taking the emphasis from one person for  effective result.

`Going it alone’ for a project doesn’t stop pulling a team together, to spread skills and experience either for that specific project or to become permanent. Defining roles that will need support and choosing people who will take on those responsibilities, deliver ideas or solutions, will pull together a project quicker than stopping and starting and, for any tough going, a multi-faceted team will add leverage or keep pressure on.

When team leaders are given a type of intellectual property, opinions and ideas, they can gain perspective and if necessary re-route strategy but unless the team communicates `Together we stand, divided we fall ‘ (not  one of Lord Sugar’s expressions, it’s not sharp or pithy enough) is as near assured as it is one of the cardinal sins of business ……not pulling your weight.

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)


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