Blog Archive

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Practice 1-2-3 : The Business Standard

All too often areas, even within the smallest of businesses, having potential for performance and growth are overlooked because standard good practice isn’t backed up with standard practice procedures.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the economy, or hours of sunshine giving out a dip, drop, decline or rise, managing a micro or small business is a grapple with the grind before any fun stuff. When additional pressures threaten the business environment, the full time challenge of mustering energy, motivating drive and maintaining standards becomes a greater undertaking. If you’re concerned about your business having the ability to continue, considering growth might seem like impossibility, especially when all your efforts are focused on that daily nitty-gritty. As for those in industries with full time engagement and obligation to standard practice responsibility, before they can even get to a customer, they’re unlikely to have either the inclination or ability to acknowledge potential growth in areas outside that standard practice.

Every business has its standard practices towards record keeping, managing incidents, undertaking staff training, maintaining premises and equipment. The landlord’s agent checked the property, was satisfied and sent out the deposit cheque immediately. When the landlord checked the property and was satisfied ….no cheque was sent out for 6 weeks, despite requests. The scaffolding company’s estimate arrived but with additional information to assist the customer. When the scaffolding company took down the scaffolding ….and broke the window… no liability was reported or acknowledged. Some Saturdays, 30 or 40 minutes before the shop closed, any remaining bread, cakes or pastries were given out to neighbouring shops and passing customers, in return, the newsagent gave out-of-date magazines and the greengrocer ripened fruits. At the end of the week any unsold bread was collected to feed the small-holders pigs. All business practices we’ve experienced from different businesses, during different eras and economies however, then, just as now, the relative management, leadership or responsibility behind the scenes of a small business, irrelevant of the economy, isn’t always apparent to its customers.

Dead wood amongst products, services, sometimes staff, and even customers can hover under the tough decision making pruning axe that controls expenses through budgeting and cost cutting. Arguably seen as the most effective long and short term benefit for a business under fiscal threat, expense chopping is often the standard practice strategy reaction. Contradicting any business’s responsibility in excluding elements that don’t contribute to its continuation isn’t disputed however, ensuring structures are in place to measure business performance is a good practice that should be a standard practice for making the right controls.

  • Re-organise standard good practice with standard practices
  • Include frameworks for mutual reference and guidance
  • Use standard practices as a management tool for planning and direction

No matter what the economy, a businesses standard good practice is worthy of recognition and acknowledgment by its standard practice.

(Image credit: Irargerich Article credit: Copyright SUF)

The high days and holidays started with a month dominated by news of a business’s standard practice included hacking, the US managed to overtake the headline-grabbing with the standard dominant phrase of debt ceiling. This headline will likely change, over the coming weeks, as we learn more about their economy predictions, long term issues and impacts of the situation.

With tougher regulation and  the eurozone  crisis continuing, Banks are starting to give out their interim reports this month.  So far Barclays have shown their profits are down because of PPI scandal payouts, Lloyds of London insurer Hiscox  produced its worst half-year for a decade after a string of natural disasters which left an £86m loss  and Lloyds are still seeking a buyer for their 630 branches up for sale  because of  Project Verde’s deadline.

The Queen’s remark to her party guests that Banks need to ‘change their attitude’ might be deemed as been taken up by HSBC as they announced they are to lay off 30,000 workers, despite interim pretax profits of £6.8Bn,  in order to focus on emerging markets whilst they’re set to hire up to 15,000 in other markets.  Entrepreneur James  Caan stated his belief that employment could be eradicated if each of the UK’s 4.9 million businesses each took on one employee while Capital’s SME Employment & Optimism Pulse revealing that UK SME’s plan to create 470,000 new jobs in the coming year.

August 10 the Bank of England releases its quarterly Inflation Report. Rates are anticipated to stay at 0.5% because of the subdued Q2 GDP growth figures of 0.2%, figures which seem to have been affected by data reading challenges; due to changing factors, such as winter weather, Japanese Tsunami and extra Bank Holidays. According to a study by Santander inflation hit out at children,   with parent power maybe having to change as the study shows a 68% rise because of  the cost of goods and services, typically bought by 10-16 year olds, rising  by 14.3% against RPI 8.5%.  The only change that doesn’t seem to be happening is stagflation.

With poor GDP data in the UK, the USA government having spats, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland throwing their rattles around, it seems the high days and holidays of the summer are in full swing.

(Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF)

Engage Crowd Sourcing for Small Business

We don’t offer loyalty cards. We’ve never done BOGOF. We’re not intending to join Groupon, give out discount cards or a free coffee reward for every 3 that you take with us. And, for the record, we’re not meanies. The reason that we don’t do any of the above is that as a B2B service our business model doesn’t make accommodation for drivers of consumer behaviour. But that’s us… what about you?

Loyalty schemes and rewards aren’t just for the big boys and girls, small businesses are just as able to create and take opportunities that can enhance their customer experience and encourage customers to return.
They are another example of how the smaller business has the ability and agility to be flexible in a changing market place. Different business sectors will have different objectives in wanting to engage their customers, but it’s a certainty that the potential to grow a customer base and extend customer loyalty shouldn’t be ignored, as neither should the opportunity to re-engage or inspire existing customers to drive repeat business.

Some examples of cheap and quick integration with customers would be:

BOGOF or buy half a dozen and get one free, or buy 3 get one free; you get the idea

Earn points for freebies including the opportunity to trial services

Offers relating to social media can be implemented, i.e. customers who mention the word-of-the-day get a discount

Competitions involving the business reinforce that businesses profile

Offer your knowledge and experience

Leveraging opportunities for the small business, in terms of engaging customers, needs to be directed appropriately for best effect. Identifying considerations of cost identifying the potential most frequent users, and driving interest to your business, will need some homework but it’s definitely not out of the smaller businesses reach. Providing there is an incremental plan, it doesn’t even have to be exceptionally innovative if its consistently executed. Engagement is the measuring stick and the step-up to ways of promoting your business – Give your customers something so that they’ll want to return to you.

In the arsenal of small business is personal service, it’s what small businesses gave to become big business and it’s what big business is marketing itself as giving, to appear small. Every sector of small business is able to promote itself and engage new customers.

We’re not suggesting that you’ll go viral but it’s worth starting somewhere. Your business is worth it…. and so are your customers.

(Image credit: Sreejith K Article credit: Copyright SUF)

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)

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