Juggling those Jingle Bells

Juggling those Jingle Bells

Are you just crazy madly busy at the moment? Do you feel that you are juggling so many balls and just praying that they stay in the air and don’t all come crashing down? It’s a common theme I’m hearing amongst my SME colleagues and friends at this time of year and we all know why – our work/life balance is out of kilter!!

When you are a solo entrepreneur or “solopreneur” you manage everything yourself – selling new products and services to give you billable revenue for the future months, delivering the services that you have already sold plus all the associated admin work that comes with running a business – bookkeeping, invoicing, quoting, writing proposals, marketing, PR and Social Media. Each one of those tasks is a full-time job in itself and I haven’t even mentioned putting time aside to brainstorm and plan your company growth! Plus of course, my all-time favourite – customer service! You need to nurture and spend time with your existing customers too.

But how do you manage your time to make sure that you are still getting a good work/life balance and making sure that you give yourself some precious “down” time??

These last few weeks I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, selling and delivering work and also trying to carve out time to spend with my young son. I haven’t been succeeding on the latter! I mean, that’s the reason why I left the corporate world in the first place – to run my own show and be able to spend quality time with my lovely boy as he grows up.

So, time to get that balance back by designing my own life. But how do I set and enforce the boundaries that I want to live by but also get everything done that I need to do? By making small adjustments to my everyday – the small things matter. With the smallest investments in the right place, I can make a real difference.

So, here are my 5 “small things”:

(1)    Make sure that I do something mentally relaxing every day – be that walking the dogs or having a quick coffee with a friend. It doesn’t have to be all morning or I will start to panic about time lost but just 20 mins/half an hour to give me time to pause for breath!

(2)    Get more sleep. We all know that sleep deprivation impacts mental ability and falling asleep on the keyboard isn’t productive!

(3)    No phones at bedtime – put the phone on sleep mode. Emails can wait until the morning.

(4)    Keep my sense of humour – laughter is most definitely the best medicine.

(5)    Hug my son every day.

I’ll let you know how I get on!

Personal Branding – It’s a BIG deal

Personal Branding – It’s a BIG deal

You’ve all heard the saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. Well it’s the absolute opposite when it comes to personal branding! You are judged on first impressions and these are nearly impossible to reverse or undo.

Research shows that it takes just a quick glance, maybe three seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time. In this short time, the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, your body language, your demeanour, your mannerisms and how you are dressed.  With every new encounter, you are evaluated and yet another person’s impression of you is formed. These first encounters are extremely important, for they set the tone for all the relationships that follow.

As a small business owner, my personal brand is critical. I’ve just been through a process of making sure that what I wear (colours and styles) and how I present myself absolutely compliments and highlights who I am so that when I meet someone for the first time, they see the true me in my most confident and at ease state – there is nothing quite so powerful as going to a meeting knowing that you look good and are at ease to deliver the expert knowledge and advice you know you have in your brain!

So what are the top tips for getting your personal brand right?

(1)    Colour

Make sure that you wear colours that suit you – make your skin glow, look smooth, healthy and your eyes sparkle!

(2)    Style

Don’t be a slave to fashion trends – wear styles that compliment your shape and enhance your best features.

(3)    Confidence

You know your stuff so be confident – you are the expert in what you do and have built a business around this expertise. Show people how good you are!

(4)    Smile

A winning smile is the perfect ice breaker/conversation closer. If you are confident and smile, you are a winner!

(5)    Open and Courteous

Talk a bit about yourself to make your interaction more personal. It is you they are buying a product or service from after all. And we all know the power of good manners – “please” and “thank you” are the magic words!

(6)    Positive

Be positive, even if you’ve had a bad journey to the meeting or your IT hasn’t worked, don’t moan or dwell on it. No one wants to listen to complaints but will be impressed with how you turn things around for the better.

(7)    Listen

One of the most important tips – be a good listener. If you can listen, grasp the issues and come up with a way to help on the fly, that is one impressive skill.

Seven Simple Questions to ask before Starting your own Business…

Seven Simple Questions to ask before Starting your own Business…

Yesterday I was chatting to someone at the pool and they asked me what I did for a living.

I said “I have my own business”, to which they replied “That’s great, I would love to be my own boss”.

But is that all it’s about?

Definitely not – jumping into the start-up world is a big decision and you need to be completely convinced that you have a great idea you are passionate about.

Even with this belief, you risk a great deal getting started and there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed.

There’s loads of advice online and in start-up workshops, but basically you need to ask yourself seven simple questions before you take the leap:

1. Why do I want to start my own business?

If you simply hate your job, or you’re following a trend, it probably won’t survive. You need to solve a problem in an industry you love and this passion will help you succeed.

2. What problem(s) am I solving?

You need to provide something unique that will solve a problem for someone else. If they can do it themselves then there is no need to buy from you!

3. What lifestyle sacrifices am I willing to make?

It’s a big decision to give up a high-paying job to follow your entrepreneurial idea. You need to be brutally honest with yourself and ask what kind of lifestyle you would be comfortable with.

4. Will my family and friends be supportive?

The small business rollercoaster takes you up and down, and as you veer from ‘busy excitement’ to ‘tumble weed depression’, you need to have supportive people around you.

5. How much money will I need?

It’s good to have some savings to use in the early days, but don’t stretch yourself too thin. Cash flow can be a killer so make sure that you have loans or access to more cash if necessary.

6. Should I grow quickly or take my time?

If you have a great business idea, you should seize the moment and grow as fast as you can. This is best with funding so that your investors can realise quick and profitable returns. However, if you’re going it alone with your own money, you can take a little more time.

7. Am I in the right place to launch my business?

You need to either know, or get to know, your industry and make contacts by going to lots of networking and start-up events. Hearing about the experiences of other people is the best way to learn. This can help you work out whether you’re in the right place geographically to launch your product.

Remember it’s great to be your own boss, but it’s your passion and belief in your business idea, plus a strong and stable support structure that will give you the best possible chance of succeeding.

The Rise of the Street Food Truck

The Rise of the Street Food Truck

Don’t you just love street food? I do. The smell of the cooking wafting towards you and like the Bisto kids, you naturally follow the smell to the source – usually a fixed pitch, gazebo or truck selling delicious, freshly cooked street food from a simple menu.

I’m obviously not the only person who appreciates good street food – today food trucks are the fastest-growing channels in the food service industry with revenues reaching a whopping £1.8 million.

Summer is finally here, so more and more people will be out and about, and this is great for those in the street food business.

It’s all about location, location, location. Getting a static pitch can often be tricky and limiting so why not expand your business and get a truck? This is a relatively inexpensive option to widen your reach and can be done for less than £50,000.

So why are food trucks so popular? They give you the flexibility, diversity and ability to quickly and easily test new concepts, menu items and recipes. They can also cater to various tastes in different locations.

My client Mac to the Future has a terrific business running from a static location in Brixton Beach and now also a vintage truck. He’s now out on the road selling his very successful Macaroni and Cheese in various different locations, including London Zoo.

We have just returned from two weeks in France and I saw some great street food trailers in the local village markets, ranging from proper barista made coffee to a cake stall where the owner actually made fresh cakes from scratch at the market and the smell of the cakes baking was just heavenly. Rotisserie chickens are also very popular – but you have to order yours early on otherwise they are sold out!

These are good small businesses selling a quality product and they take pride in what they produce. This is why the street food business is booming at the moment – we now live in a society that is less tolerant of poor quality – if we pay for something fresh it needs to be delicious, otherwise we might as well just make it ourselves!

Top Tips:

(1) The flexibility and diversity of the food truck makes it an attractive entrepreneurial venture as start-up costs are relatively low

(2) Make sure that what you make and sell is delicious so that customers come back for more

(3) Embrace and enjoy the foodie culture

Customers Just Want To Be Loved

Customers Just Want To Be Loved

I first wrote a white paper with this title 20 years ago. It was all about how organisations could improve relationships with their customers by offering the right level and quality of service early on in the relationship.

The paper was based on my own experience of having a small newspaper distribution business where I had a team who delivered early morning newspapers and magazines to over 8000 subscribers on a weekly basis. I ran a customer service desk from home and invited subscribers to call me if they didn’t receive their morning delivery. I would then get in my car and re-deliver the paper to them, no questions asked – I trusted them. Then I would call them to make sure that they had received the paper and were happy. It was at this stage that our “relationship” began.

It soon became the phone call they wanted and the actual re-delivery of the paper was of secondary importance – because they were interacting with me and not just receiving the product. They knew they were important to me. They were loyal to me and the service I offered and this loyalty would stretch to other areas of my business.

In those days (we are going back 25 years) there was not a lot of up-selling and cross-selling to be done, but I always got the commission for collecting and processing their annual renewal, and they always called me as the first point of contact.

Simple. Then why is it so hard to get and retain loyal customers nowadays? Is it the customer service they receive? My philosophy was that I would much rather sort out any issue at the outset and make sure I had a contented customer. This way I also got to know my customers and I would recognise their phone numbers and greet them by name. I’d be happy to hear from them and sort out their queries straight away.

Whether it’s a real person, an automated system or indeed a chatbot, loyalty seems to have morphed into not wanting the hassle of change. But as business owners, are we content with that?

I would say “no” and many of our customers aren’t content with that either. They want to be treated like your business relies on them, which of course it does. In a nutshell, they just want to be loved.