Friday, 30 October 2009

What's in a business name?

I was discussing my friend's start-up business with him earlier on today. He is closing in on a business plan and thinking about pricing for his new service.

But he hasn't got a name for the business yet.

The questions are:
  • Should the name reflect what the business does (e.g. Carpets 4 U)?
  • Should the business be named after him (e.g. Sainsbury's)?
  • Should the name be a brand (e.g. Virgin)?
I think the last one is out. Whether Richard Branson got lucky or not, I don't know, but I think it's the hardest thing to build up a brand name, especially when my friend has ONE particular service in mind.

Similary, businesses given the name of the founder give no indication of what they're about.

I think these days it is best to have a name that indicates what the business does in some way. The name should also be able to double up as a website address if at all possible. Then the name will also become a brand.

There are further questions. Should the name steer away from plurals as this gives rise to apostrophe abuse? In the same way Sainsbury's would be a no-no because it uses an apostrophe. Let's keep away from obvious trip hazards.

My advise is to keep it simple, keep it singular, let the name do the talking and double it up as a web address.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Give me back my old Facebook!

Facebook made a change to the way it displays news to users the other day. As far as I'm aware there was no announcement - it just changed. Within hours there was a Facebook "group" decrying the move. A day or two later, a solution spread across the social media site istelf, enabling people to change their view to the way it used to be.

Microsoft is probably the most famous software provider of them all. With each new version of Windows it "upgrades" its software, as it does in new releases of Word, Excel etc. The trouble is that what it thinks of as an "upgrade" many of us users think of as "a pain in the ****" and we want to continue to do things the way we used to do them!

Do they ever ask us if we want these changes?

I'll bet if they asked us, we'd say we want more reliable software that doesn't crash or lose our files or cost so much.

In the name of progress - "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Call for tax system to encourage enterprise

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) says that private businesses want a tax regime that does more to encourage business enterprise. Only a third of private business owners surveyed believe that the current tax rules promote enterprise.

Mary Monfries, head of UK private business at PwC siad that a certain, stable tax environment would help. "Reducing tax rates would be a challenge in the current economic climate, but a reduction in the rate of change and certainty should be easier to deliver," she said.

Stability was essential so that businesses could make informed commercial decisions, Ms Monfries said.

Other results in the survey showed that business owners would like a more effective voice in Government to help future enterprise, with 45 per cent saying that privately-owned businesses were not heard by Government.

A third of business owners felt that business plans had been compromised by a lack of financial support in the last year. The figure was nearly half in Scotland.

The survey also revealed that most business owners are not fully aware of different tax reliefs available in the UK.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Starting a new business - is it right for you?

Many people reach a point in their working lives where working for someone else no longer gives them what they want - whether that's in terms of money, position, self-esteem, or simple working flexibility.

At that time, their feet get very itchy, and it can often result in them deciding to look for an opportunity to start up a business of their own.

It is, however, a big step and one not to be taken lightly.

Instead of that steady monthly income, your income will now be patchy, unpredictable and, at first, probably zero! If you have a mortgage, a family or debts, you need to think about it very carefully.

Of course, many people take the decision to strike out on their own after a key event, such as being made redundant. Backed with redundancy money, starting your own business can seem a good option.

There are risks, but if you want to get really rich, then owning and running your own business has better possibilities than working for someone else (and making them rich!).

Back to those risks. They are unavoidable when you set up your own business. There's a risk you won't succeed, and lose any investment you make; there's a risk you'll fall out with any business partners; there's a risk that it will take you long enough to fail that getting back into employment will be next to impossible.

So, think carefully before you take the step. But if you do, go onward with your eyes open. Know what you're getting in, and grab the opportunity with both hands.

More in future.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The best investor of them all: Warren Buffet

Legendary investor Warren Buffet is coming through one of the most perfect financial storms ever by putting his own tenets into practice.

He has said in the past: “Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy”.

There was hardly a more fearful time than last September when banks, such as Lehman Brothers, were collapsing, yet Mr Buffet invested £3 billion into Goldman Sachs on favourable terms.

As in most cases for Mr Buffet, it looks like being a good deal, with potential profits in the billions.

Over the years since 1965 his company Berkshire Hathaway has achieved an incredible 20.3 per cent annual growth in value, which has resulted in a raise in value of 336,000 per cent – 84 times better than the standard US index fund, the S&P 500.

Mr Buffet has made his money – not from inventing anything, or coming up with a great business idea, but from sound investments into solid companies with little risk. (I doubt he would have fared too well on Dragons’ Den!). As well as shares in companies, Mr Buffet buys the companies themselves. Today Berkshire Hathaway owns around 70 businesses. Crucially, he has always bought shares for the long-term and, as a shareholder, thought of himself as buying a part of a business.

Mr Buffett looks for investment in profitable businesses with good prospects rather than undervalued shares. He says that focusing on share prices makes you a speculator. A real investor, he says: "looks to the asset itself to produce the return".

With such success to back him up, his are investment lessons that we should all follow.

The World's Greatest Money Maker: Evan Davis meets Warren Buffett, broadcast 2100 Monday 26 October and 1120PM Tuesday 27 October on BBC Two.

Friday, 23 October 2009

UK economy stays in recession

So, whereas the French and German economies have come out of the recession, the UK economy stayed firmly in recession in the third quarter with a contraction of 0.4 per cent.

This is particularly bad, because most experts had forecast that we would come out of recession, with perhaps a 0.2 per cent growth.

It is now six quarters of consecutive negative GDP growth – the first time this has happened since records began to be collected by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in 1955.

The fact that other major European economies, plus Japan, have come out of the recession while the UK remains firmly in it, makes you wonder about PM Gordon Brown’s comments in September 2008: “…at root our economy is better placed to weather the global storm than it was in the seventies, the eighties and the nineties".

Three weeks ago the Prime Minister said: “We are now coming out of recession as a result of the actions that we have taken. I think you will see figures pretty soon that show the action that Britain has taken yielding effect.” Expect him to take a battering in the Commons in the next few days.

Upon release of the figures the pound fell more than a cent against the US dollar, as traders displayed concern that the UK may be left as the only major economy still in recession.

Despite stimulus measures taken by the government and the Bank of England, the economic decline has continued.

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Continued intervention - including help for businesses to access finance, and incentives to promote investment - is still needed. Above all else, business confidence must be nurtured, to ensure that recovery is not further delayed."

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Small businesses can save the UK economy

According to a former head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the struggling UK economy will be saved by small businesses.

Speaking at the opening of BT’s Small Business Week on Tuesday, Lord Digby Jones said: “They are the only ones which create the wealth that can pay the taxes which can repay the public debt.”

He encouraged small businesses to “move up the supply chain by providing value-added, innovative goods and services” that could then be sold around the world. While the UK economy was still in the doldrums, Lord Jones noted that China and India were still managing 9 and 6 per cent growth respectively.

“The only way to get out of the economic mess we’re in is to trade our way out of it,” he said.

Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Peter Jones agreed: “We need to think about how to make smaller businesses compete, not just on a national, but on a global scale.”

The trouble is that Britain suffers from an underlying envy of successful businesses, thinking that business owners will become ‘fat cats’. Instead, we need to nurture a culture, not of envy, but of aspiration, where business owners are encouraged to be successful, thereby creating wealth – yes, for themselves, but also for those that they employ.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Bank of England Governor calls for banking reform

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has attacked the banking system, saying that retail banks should be separated from investment banks.

He said that the financial support banks had received from the Government had “created possibly the biggest moral hazard in history”.

His comments cut against the views of both UK and US governments who have privately ruled out any banking split.

Mr King said: “It is in our collective interest to reduce the dependency of so many households and businesses on so few institutions that engage in so many risky activities. The case for a serious review of how the banking industry is structured and regulated is strong.”

Mr King is concerned that not enough efforts have been made to ensure that banks won’t fail rather than be bailed out by the state if they have problems.

In the current circumstances, banks can take risks, and pocket the money if things go well; shrug their shoulders and know they’ll be handed a rescue package if things go belly up.

As a business owner and an individual I have a big problem with the banks screwing things up, getting a hand-out from Government, then refusing to lend to us, and threatening to put charges up.

We continue to pay for others’ mistakes.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

SuccessTrack could set you on your way

A few days ago I spotted a "stock clearout" offer from SuccessTrack on Ecademy, and quickly filled in the form to receive a bunch of goodies. Delivered by our flakey postal system, they actually arrived this morning. Thank you!

It's a great bundle: DVDs, newsletters, reports, books. They will keep me going for many weeks.

SuccessTrack's strapline is "Success Strategies for Business Owners" and they are particularly aimed at small businesses who "want to take their business to the next level of success and profitability". It sounds great.

SuccessTrack runs webinars and seminars and has an "Introductory Meeting" on 7/8 November. To be held at a conference centre in Amersham, Bucks, it's free to attend, but lunch is charged at £29 + VAT (this enables the event to use the conference facilities for free) to Ecademy members (it's £197 + VAT otherwise).

This is great for UK business owners because SuccessTrack is based in the UK, and Founder Jonathan Jay is English.

See and see this online video

They haven't paid me to do this, but I thought they were well worth the plug!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Google encouraged by business use of its apps

Google is delighted to be spreading the word that businesses are benefiting from its technology, and it has announced an advertising push to highlight the increasing number of businesses that now use its services.

The new campaign, entitled ‘Gone Google’ is going live in the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Japan and Singapore, with the aim of promoting Google Apps, now being used by over two million businesses worldwide.

Rentokil Initial is the latest addition to the Google user family, announcing last week that it is to deploy Google’s hosted, cloud-based system, rolling it out eventually to 35,000 users.

Google Enterprise Team members Tom Oliveri and Vivian Leung said in a blog post that they had seen thousands of tweets and comments about business use of Google Apps and products, such as Google Postini Services and Google Search Appliance.

From simple search engine beginnings, Google is out to conquer the world!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Patience running out with excessive government control

Here is a letter in today's Daily Telegraph which I have decided to reprint in full. It's from Martin Moyes of Holt, Wiltshire.

"There has to be a rational explanation for the electorate being so angry about MPs' expenses and, at the same time, the MPS not 'getting it' at all.

It is not really how extravagant they have been - the sum of all their expenses is less than a drop in the ocean of Government spending.

No, the outrage is a measure of how boxed in - Shakespeare would have said 'cabined, cribbed, confined' - the rest of us are.

The comparison between them and us is extraordinary in the matter of personal taxation. Correspondents have given numerous examples of the lawmakers exempting themselves from their own strictures on the rest of us.

But the disparity is there throughout our daily lives, where the innocent are watched, measured, recorded, classified, threatened, fined, nannied and generally oppressed.

The expenses debacle is the first symptom of a desperate underlying malaise which will only be cured when the whole purpose of government changes from 'control' to 'enable'.

Sherlock Holmes put it neatly with typical understatement: 'The Englishman is a patient creature, but at present his temper is a little inflamed and it would be wise not to push him too far.'"

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Social networking: no excuses for small businesses

While it might be tricky for large companies to figure out the best way to use social networking tools - such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogging like this - there is really no such excuse for a small business.

The reasons are all there, but the underlying one is - marketing.

It's about getting your name out there, being heard, becoming known, earning a reputation.

For a small business, this is essential, and without the tools and resources of a big company, online marketing represents a glorious opportunity.

The problem for a small business is that social networking means doing it ... relentlessly. Because, if you stop, you're off the map. Like a Twitter or Facebook comment, you literally drop off the bottom of the screen.

"Not having the time" is no excuse, because if you don't market, you'll get no business. Social networking marketing is free, except for your time.

The way you use your time is up to you, but using it to market your business is an excellent way to use it.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

BlackBerry Curve 8900 reviewed

In this blog on 29 September, I praised T-Mobile for their quick response in replacing my broken old BlackBerry with a new Curve 8900 Smartphone. It duly arrived by post on the date as expected.

I was asked to review the phone, and having now used it for a couple of weeks, I can give a short review.

Probably like most business users, I mainly use the phone for email and phone calls, backed up by some texting and Internet use. I don't tend to use the music or games facilities, though I have tested the camera.

Let's start with the camera. It has 3.2 megapixels - not large by today's camera (or many phone) standards, but I have found pictures taken in the daylight to be perfectly adequate for my needs so far.

The Curve is wider than my old BlackBerry 8110, but this has not been an issue to date. It still slips easily into a trouser pocket, or even a shirt pocket, and is not heavy enough to be a problem.

The width of the Curve has the advantage of giving it a wider screen, but, presumably, the reason the phone is wider is to make room for a full QWERTY keyboard. This is certainly better for typing (no more of that old predictive text or multi-presses), but the keys are mighty small!

One feature I particularly like is the single press (top left of the unit) to release the phone from keyboard lock as opposed to the double key press of the 8110. Small thing, but significant.

The screen gives a clear presentation and although website text can be miniscule (reach for the glasses!), it is still clear and readable.

All in all, I am very pleased with the phone to date.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

BCC says recovery is "fraught with danger"

Another day, and another assessment of the state of health of the British economy.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) says that the economic recovery is "fraught with danger". Its quarterly survey indicates that both manufacturing and services companies are predicting improving turnover and profits, but the overall picture is still negative - businesses still expect things to get worse before they get better.

The BCC said that any signs of Britain emerging from the recession were "fraught with danger" as highlighted by the fragile figures.

Although David Kern, BCC chief economist, is confident Britain will technically come out of recession in the fourth quarter, he is more concerned about next year.

"When the stock cycle finishes and starts to turn towards the middle of next year, the crucial question is whether at that time we get demand sustaining the economy or we fall into a double dip," he said.

The BCC called upon Government to avoid placing additional taxes on business, and recommended scrapping the increase in National Insurance contributions planned for 2011.

Monday, 12 October 2009

UK business climate improving, says turnaround survey

A survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) suggests that the business climate is improving in the UK.

The survey was conducted for turnaround specialists, currently engaged in turnaround projects. Two-thirds believed their current projects would be successful.

Most of the respondents felt that the economy would recover in the next six to 12 months, and 85 per cent noted that their key indicators for trading had flattened out or were on the upturn.

However, the very optimism portrayed by some businesses is standing in the way of some turnarounds succeeding, the specialists said.

It is my belief that desite all the bad news of the past two years - and especially the last 12 months - it is the optimism and pride in our own businesses that have kept many of us going.

And we will continue to battle through to make things come good again.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Royal Mail will lose customers if strike goes ahead

The postal service is not as important as it used to be to businesses, as many things are sent by email, and many physical items are already sent by courier.

Nevertheless, the threatened strikes by postal workers will come as a pain to British businesses, and many more are likely to abandon the Royal Mail, not just for the duration of the strike, but permanently.

A survey carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce and Sky News discovered that 75 per cent of British businesses will look for a more viable postal service if the strike threatened by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) goes ahead.

Businesses feel they are being held to ransom and that the national strike will hit the economic recovery and harm trading as Christmas approaches.

The union is encouraging its members to strike in a dispute about working conditions. The CWU claims that the management has broken the terms of its 2007 agreement about modernising Royal Mail. It also has concerns about funding the Royal Mail pension scheme in the future.

The future may turn out to be a whole lot bleaker if customers move elsewhere and don't come back.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Fairtrade: what's it all about?

Fairtrade products are apparently becoming increasingly popular, according to the organisation itself, the Fairtrade Foundation. But, though you may have seen Fairtrade on various products, do you know what it is?

According to its own website: “Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.”

Martine Julseth from the Fairtrade Foundation told researchers that the launch of the Fairtrade at Work campaign (which includes encouraging cycling to work and recycling waste products in the workplace) had helped raise awareness.

Surveys by YouGov and Faritrade showed that the 30-50 age group were most enthusiastic about Fairtrade, and that 38 per cent of all workers thought that Fairtrade products should be available at work.

Ms Julseth added: “It is the right thing to do, to think about where your products are coming from.”

Also see boss-to-boss.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Bankers must learn their lessons

It is with interest that I read that the chairman of HSBC says that the entire banking industry “owes the real world an apology”.

It is, of course, the only interest we will get out of the banks these days, as interest rates on savings are so low!

Stephen Green said to BBC World Business Report that a cultural change was needed to improve bankers’ standing with the public. He admitted that the global banking industry owed the real world an apology for the financial crisis and said: “It also owes the real world a commitment to learn the lessons. Some of them are about governance and ethics and culture within the industry.”

“The lessons” could turn out to be the most expensive ever given. Let’s hope they are learned.

If small businesses made the mistakes the banks did, they would go under – no question, no comeback, no rescue.

In the main the banks have been protected by various government bail-outs around the world.

That the Americans let Lehman Brothers go under could be the most salutary lesson of them all.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Perception is everything

At my two businesses the number one value is "Honesty and Integrity". I pride myself on this and wouldn't have it any other way.

Nevertheless, despite all good intentions, the integrity of one of our methods of passing work on to sub-contractors was questioned recently. In fact, it was a mis-understanding and I was able to explain fully to the sub-contractor how we do things and how he mis-understood.

However, it is at that point that you have to look at the way you do things and the way you are perceived.

Because perception is everything.

If you are perceived to lack integrity, then you lack integrity. It's as simple as that

We will be doing our utmost to ensure that the perception matches the way we do things: honestly and with integrity. The explanation of mis-conception to the sub-contractor will be used to construct an explanation to all our sub-contractors of the way we pass on work .

Keep an eye and an ear out for how both your customers and your workforce perceive you. Try and avoid any trouble ahead.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Your business must invoice!

I once read somewhere that the most important thing a business does is to invoice!

It was alluded to in a John Grisham novel. A high-flying lawyer told a junior: "The most important thing you do is to rack up billing hours" or something very similar.

Without invoices you're not charging any clients. And without that you'll get no money in, and your business will soon collapse.

You can advertise, market, you can even get the work done, but without invoices, you're dead.

Keep on top of your invoices to make sure your business stays viable.

See this article too: Why Invoicing is Critical to Your Business by Chad R Fisher.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Business people create work for others

There has been a lot of talk of overpaid bankers in the last year or so, and unfortunately everyone who works in a bank has become tarred with the same brush.

"Oh, you work in bank, do you? You've lost all our money and get a bonus for doing so!"

Totally unfair on the poor cashier and 95 per cent of people in the banking industry who are victims of others' excesses like most of us are.

In a similar way business owners have become tainted. As the economy falters and unemployment grows there is a tendency to blame it all on "money-grabbing" business owners.

Yet most business owners - and I include myself in this - are desperately struggling to make their small business a success, and, critically, create work for other people. That's because to make a business really work, it has to be scaleable and cannot remain a one-man band.

At we three partners do everything we can to get more work than we can handle so that we can pass it on to our sub-contractors. In this way we expand our business AND create work for other people (yes, it was worth saying again).

Without business people and entrepreneurs doing this, what work would there be?

Stop slating business people. We need more support, not less.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Is stock market rise reflected in increased business?

If the stock market is an indicator of how well the economy is doing (and I realise it is only ONE indicator), then the last quarter's FTSE 100 index resurgence tells us that the economy is doing very well. Quarter 3 2009 saw the FTSE 100 rise by 21 per cent - a record quarterly rise.

The previous best was in quarter 4 of 2009, when a 15 per cent rise was fuelled by the dotcom boom. This time round, the stocks that have fared the best have come from financial and mining stocks. (Finance stocks undoubtedly recovering from terrible previous falls.)

The single best performer, however, was British Airways, which rose by 77.8 per cent.

Does the rise signify a bull market? Or is it done for now?

Allan Collins, of brokers Redmayne Bentley, said: "A correction is overdue, but this market deson't look as if it wants to go down. Looking forward to next year, we're not going to be raging bull."

For my own businesses, a 21 per cent stock market rise has not meant a similar increase in revenue, profit or enquiries.

However, the stock market usually reacts ahead of business market changes. I would hope it translates into increased business henceforth.

And I can report that enquiries have been up this week!