Off Piste!

I’m off skiing in Italy next week, with one of my sons, and it reminds me of the last time we went skiing together.  The snow was perfect, eight inches fell one night, the sun shone, and I was in good form.  Overall it was a fantastic week.

The off piste skiing was very good and lots of fun, although, at times, our play resulted in an unexpected tumble and a face full of snow.  I even have a video to remind me!  One of our ‘excursions’ reminded me of how easily the plans we have for our businesses can go astray when we lose sight of exactly what we are doing.

We were half way down a run and stopped for a breather.  Having calmed down our heart rate (well okay mine) we started off again and my son decided to take a different route; he would join up with me again further down the slope just around some trees that we could see. That was the last I saw of him for almost an hour!

It turned out that just around the trees, but out of sight of where we were, the slope turned in the opposite direction to that which we were going.  So he decided, like any boy would, to go off piste, through the trees, and make his way over to the slope I was on.  But that didn’t work, as the contours of the mountain forced him further away from both me and the slope he had left.  In the end a climb, a walk and a great deal of sweat got him to another lift and eventually we were able to meet up again.  I have to say it was pretty scary for a while; I didn’t know where he was or if he had injured himself.

But, what has this all got to do with your business?

Well, my son and I had a plan; to ski down a particular run to a particular lift.  It would take around five minutes.  But, because another route looked interesting, and knowing nothing about where the slope went (we didn’t look at our piste map), we ended up with a lot of hard work, a fair amount of worry (on both our parts) and almost an hour of lost time.  In truth my son did a fair amount of skiing but I just had to wait; but you get what I mean.  And often we do the same in business.  We get distracted from our goal, forget what our original plan was, and get bogged down in stuff that we should never have been doing in the first place.  Often this results in wasting a great deal of time and money along the way.  And, worse still, sometimes our goals are lost for ever!

So, my question for you.  When did you last review your goals?  How often do you review your goals? Weekly?  Monthly?  Ever?

For real success I believe that you should, on a daily basis, ensure that whatever it is that you are doing is moving you closer to your goal and not further away.  This isn’t to say that your goals can’t change, shouldn’t change, but you certainly shouldn’t just let your business run along not knowing where it is going.

46 Weeks

One of the most important things we do as business owners is to decide how much we want to earn from our business each year, because only then can we determine how much we actually have to sell.

What follows is a simple calculation to work out what your hourly charge rate should be. Now before you say, “But I’m not charged out by the hour”, the principle is the same for you. You need to know how much you want to earn and how your business is going to generate that income.

So, first decide on how much you want to earn; how much do you want to pay yourself? For this example I am going to work on £50k (before tax).

Obviously our starting point is 52 weeks but from this we need to take off 5 weeks for holidays and one week for being ill. This leaves us with 46 weeks. Why? You can’t earn while you are on holiday or off work sick. This means that based on a 5-day working week we have 230 days per year when we can earn money.

Therefore, to earn my £50k I need to invoice £218.00 per day and based on a normal 7.5 hour day this is an hourly rate of £29.00 per hour. But, this is where a great many business owners make a big mistake and end up wondering why they never make any money. Because the fact is you only make £29.00 per hour when you are doing chargeable work. And that is the key – chargeable. Sales, networking, invoicing, meetings, estimating, travelling, social media, etc., are not chargeable hours. So, you need to know exactly what that split is. Some say that of a typical working day only 40% is chargeable. But, for my example I am going to work on 50%, which means that my hourly rate of £29.00 per hour now becomes £58.00 per hour.

Now before you start thinking, that’s not so bad, or I’m already charging more than that. To this figure you need to add your overheads and variable costs. For example: rent, insurance, car, tools, computers, petrol, etc.

This is a very simple calculation but one that most business owners don’t do. Please don’t be one of them, as knowing what your chargeable rate should be will make a big difference to the standard of the life you live.

Glasses on the bar!

It amazes me how many businesses seem to go out of their way to lose business and customers. And I fell prey to this just last weekend.

Now, okay, the pub I was in had been busy. But no business can afford to throw away business – ever. Well, not if they want to be Super Successful. Or, maybe, even just stay in business.

This is what happened. Things were becoming calmer after a hectic lunchtime and two of the bar staff started to clear the tables of empty glasses; something that really should have happened as part of the service. Soon the bar top was covered in an assortment of dirty glasses. Now to my mind it would have been better for one member of staff to collect the glasses and the other to take them off to the kitchen. As the whole bar looked a right mess.

But, things were far worse than that. No one was served for over five minutes! And there was a fair number of us; in fact the bar staff had to work their way through us to get to the bar. This was when three locals had decided they had had enough. There was another pub up the road. A couple that had only just arrived followed them out of the door. And I was only getting some extra drinks or I would have left as well.

The thing that got me was that these two members of staff could see us all waiting but didn’t think to stop doing a job that could wait and instead do a job that would make them a profit. Now I certainly won’t be going to that pub again; maybe I never would have done as we were only passing by. But the three local people certainly gave the impression that they wouldn’t be back as it seemed this was pretty much normal service.

Business is tough at anytime, and is certainly hard at the moment, so you just can’t afford to throw away business that is already in your hands. Now I’m sure that you are thinking that you would never stack a bar high with dirty glasses when you had customers waiting, but are you absolutely sure that you aren’t doing anything similar in your own business? Might just be worth a look and you never know you just might see an increase in your profits if you were to find something.

Thank You ……….

Most well-mannered people say Thank You.

However, I have to admit that I, almost, dislike intensely people who don’t say ‘Thank You’. I don’t know if they are half-asleep or just plain rude.
I’ve held a door open for someone and they just walk through as if it’s their right, without even a flick of the eyes in acknowledgement. Many a time I’ve given them a sarcastic ‘Thank You’ in passing but most often it doesn’t even register.

Then of course there are car drivers. You’ve pulled in to let them pass, or stopped to allow them into a stream of traffic, and you get nothing in return.

Surely it’s a common courtesy, just well-mannered, to say thank you?

But enough of my ranting, because I’m actually writing about those people who do say ‘Thank You’ – which in my experience is the majority of people.

‘Thank You’, ‘Thanks’, ‘Cheers’ are all nice to hear but often are ‘lost’ because it’s a semi-automatic response from a naturally polite person and you are expecting it.

Here’s a simple example – you give someone a tube of Smarties and they say thank you. Nothing wrong with that, it’s polite. The moment passes without much further thought.

But how much better would it be if instead the person said, ‘Thank you, I love Smarties’? How much better would you feel? You had got them a gift they really liked.

Think back over the last few times that someone has thanked you for something. I bet you remember, and feel better about, the times that you received more than a plain thank you.

In business, and your personal life, you will see a big improvement in your relationships if you thank people with more than just a bare ‘Thank You’.

And it’s so easy to do.

When a delivery is made, rather than saying ‘Thank you’, say ‘Thank you for delivery so quickly’ or ‘Thank you for stacking the boxes for me.’

If someone gives you a referral, try saying, ‘Thank you, that’s just the sort of work I love.’

As often as possible add something to your thank you. Imagine how you would feel if someone took the time to thank you specially. Well that’s exactly how they will feel.

It’s only a small thing but I promise it will make a massive difference to your relationships.

And thank you for taking the time to read this blog.

Who will get to the phone first?!

Communication today is easier than it’s ever been and yet it is still the biggest area where all too many businesses fail; big time. And it is costing those businesses a great deal of future business and, more importantly, profit!

If you are dealing with a customer and they are waiting on something, and it doesn’t matter what that something is, you must contact them before they contact you. If your customer makes contact first you risk damaging your relationship with them and the amount of future business you get from them and the people they know. And don’t think that providing a great service or product makes up for bad communication because it doesn’t. Great service or product is a given.

This week I’ve come across two examples of bad communication from businesses that will affect their future business.

First is a case of a business returning to put right a small problem with some work they had done. Nothing major at all; maybe thirty minutes work and no real cost. But despite promising to return do the work it took a great deal of chasing by phone and email to actually get the company to turn up. The customer was just left not knowing if the work would be done or not and started to look elsewhere to get it done.

The second case was just a matter of being kept up-to-date with a situation. Again nothing major in itself, but the customer was asking for updates and not getting any. A simple “there’s no new information at the moment” would have been so much better than having a customer think that they had been forgotten.

As I say, both of these cases will cost the businesses concerned future business. In one case all possible future work, as the job had a problem and it took a great deal of effort to get it put right. The person concerned not only won’t be using them again, but, worse still, they won’t refer them to anybody else.

In the other example the person concerned now has a doubt in their mind. They will use the business again but they will be more cautious next time and, until they are completely happy again with the service, they won’t refer them.

Both these businesses have lost potential business through poor communication. And, in today’s world of phone, text and email that is just crazy!

So, who should you have got in touch with? Make that call before whoever it is can call you. Do you have a procedure in place for customer communication? What are your rules for ‘Follow Up’?

Better communication will improve your sales in the long term; all you need to do is make that call!

Smile please!

I’ve recently started to mentor a business owner who needs more sales, not just to make a profit, but just to stand a chance of staying in business. Now there are a number of things that we need to work on urgently, and one of the most important is the marketing of the business.

The simple truth is that the business is a good one; it just needs more sales. The trouble is, however good a business you may have, without sales it’s dead. So, the marketing of any business is the key to its success.

The market, message and media are critical. You need to know your exact market, craft a message to that market, and know which media to use to access that market. But that’s all for another day.

What I want to talk about here is one of the major problems that this business has. It only has one route to market and that route isn’t working. A significant problem!

The first thing we did was to consider every route to market that we could think of; in just a few minutes we had upwards of forty. Why not stop here for a moment and write down how many you can think of in a minute? We then worked through our list and picked twelve that would work the best. Having twelve or more routes to market is a good guide. Not the most obvious, cheapest or easiest, but the ones that would work the best and that could be achieved. No good a small company thinking of advertising on prime-time television, for example.

On the list was networking. Why? Because it could be started the next day, can work well and is low in cost. However, after a few weeks, it became apparent that networking really wasn’t working and I suggested that at the next networking event I go along with him. I would watch and listen and see if I could spot anything that he could do differently. Well, it wasn’t long before I came up with one major problem. He looked miserable! He was my client and even I wouldn’t want to go over and say “Hello”.

Think about it, unless you are a life coach, when was the last time that you were out networking and you went and looked for the most depressed person in the room? I can only imagine never!

So, if you find that networking is a pretty lonely place, that nobody wants to talk to you, just ask yourself: What do I look like? And then smile. It makes such a difference.

You could even try an experiment. Smile at the next person you meet and see what happens. Bet you they smile back!

Pretty Woman

One of my favourite films is the 1990s film Pretty Woman starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. I like the film for all sorts of reasons, but it was something that happened to me this week, and a similar event that happened to Vivian (Julia Roberts) in the film, which got me thinking: namely, the short-sightedness of some businesses.

In the film Vivian has been given some money to buy a dress, but because of the way she looks she can’t get served and so can’t spend her money; needless to say, another shop gets the cash.

Well, what happened to me was nothing like that, but it was the same short-sighted view on business.

I was co-directing a stage show a while ago, HMS Pinafore. We had given the show a modern twist and the ladies’ chorus first appear on stage having returned from a shopping spree (see the connection?!). One of my jobs was to source props, so I went in to my local town (Kingston) to see if I could get a few. We needed around twenty bags – classy paper carriers from the top shops there. All the shops were really helpful and interested in what we were doing: Crabtree & Evelyn, T.M. Lewin, Tommy Hilfiger, Fat Face, L.K. Bennett.

All bar one that is: French Connection. “We don’t give carriers away”, I was told in a snooty tone.

Why do I think this is short-sighted? Well for three reasons at least. 1) All the other bags will be shown to an audience every show (free advertising), 2) I’m unlikely ever to shop at French Connection again, whereas the others I will, 3) some of you reading this will have negative thoughts about French Connection.

So, my point is this, are you doing anything in your business that might be hurting it without meaning to? Is your local PR as good as it should be? Little things can mean so much and often a business can’t tell when things started to go wrong for them.

You might be wondering which shop was the nicest to me. Just in case you are it was T.M. Lewin. I was asked if I wanted men’s or ladies bags by a member of staff, but before I could answer another member of staff said to give me some of each. What a difference in attitude!