Campaign to help firms trade online

Campaign to help firms trade online

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has launched a new campaign, Do More Online, which is intended to help sole traders and micro-firms increase their online presence. Key measures include making £2 million available to 22 projects through Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and publishing specific resources for small firms. Projects funded under the campaign include the development of a digital TV channel in Manchester to provide business advice. According to Rachel Neaman, CEO of digital skills charity Go ON UK, “31% of small businesses in the UK lack basic digital skills, making them less competitive than many of their peers.”

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Small firms struggling to afford IT and marketing agency fees

Small firms struggling to afford IT and marketing agency fees

Over 50% of small firms cannot afford to use design, IT, marketing or branding agencies, according to a survey by Freelancer.co.uk.

The survey, which polled 2,500 small firms, found that 30% of respondents who approached an agency when starting up said the cost of using an agency would have deterred them from starting their business. The report also revealed that high agency fees are leading small firms to use freelancers for IT and marketing services.

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Consultation on modernising cheque payments launched

Consultation on modernising cheque payments launched

The Government has launched a consultation on proposals to use ‘cheque imaging’ in the UK, which allows banks to accept certified digital images of cheques, as well as traditional paper cheques. According to HM Treasury, if adopted, this payment method would reduce the time it takes for a cheque to clear to as little as two days, increase consumer convenience and broaden payment options.

The consultation closes on 7th April 2014.

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Export support highest for over 10 years

Export support highest for over 10 years

British firms received a total of £4.3 billion of support from UK Export Finance (UKEF) in 2012/13, the highest figure for more than ten years. UKEF provides insurance to exporters to cover the risks of not getting paid, and transactions supported in 2012/13 ranged from £4,000 to £2 billion, reportedly benefitting many small firms indirectly through the supply chain of larger firms. However, Jim Bligh, The Head of Exports Policy at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said UKTI and UKEF needed to do more to raise awareness of their services among small and medium-sized firms.

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High-street stores set to fall by 22%

High-street stores set to fall by 22%

The number of high-street stores in the UK could fall by a further 22%, according to a new report by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR). The report forecasts that the total number of stores could fall from 281,930 to 220,000 by 2018, with job losses estimated at around 316,000. The share of sales that are made online is set to rise by 9% to reach 21.5% over this period, while the proportion of sales on the high street is likely to fall by 40%. Many more stores and chains could go into administration or be forced to downsize operations dramatically.

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Minimising the risk of sub-contracting a sole trader

When a client sub-contracts a research project they have to make decisions about who they want to work with and who they think will get the job done.  Imagine you could choose a university, or an agency with hundreds of staff, or a boutique firm with ten staff.  These are my competitors.  And then there’s me, a sole trader.

Well sometimes they pick me and sometimes they don’t.

And often when they don’t, they tell me it is because I’m a sole trader and that choosing a sole trader would be risky:

 

Consultancy Week- Sub-Contracting a Sole Trader

Sole Trader

Real example 1:  “Slight risk of non-completion as sole trader.”

 Real example 2:  “The only factor which scored lower was around contingency arrangements and project risk.  The panel had specific discussion around the small business model and in terms of the contractor being incapacitated the panel did have some concerns.”

 

For a client, the worry is that if something goes wrong with me there will be no-one there to pick up the pieces.  They worry that my personal life will intrude into my work and their project won’t get done.  They’ll be stuck with no outputs, and a mess to clear up.

Well they are right in the sense that things do happen and I do have to deal with them myself.  As a sole trader I can’t just call in sick, I can’t just forget about my responsibilities, I don’t have a colleague to take on my tasks.  I need to man up and rearrange my own appointments from my death bed, and the fallout of being away is all still there for me to deal with when I come back to my desk.

And I know, because I have had personal stuff that I’ve chosen to or been forced to fit around my work.  I’ve had a few days of sickness, I’ve had a few days when my computer was down.  Some of it has been unexpected, some of it has been quite awkward to rejig.  Some of it has been really really important to me personally but of no relevance to my working life.  I’ve been on holiday…  I’ve taken a degree…  My cat became sick, and required constant care for a time, then died…  I have had some time consuming and inconvenient medical issues to deal with…  I’ve received bad news…  This has all happened, and in the vast majority of cases my clients don’t know.  They generally don’t need to know.  They don’t need to know because I have excellent time management and prioritisation skills, I plan ahead for the unexpected, and I am 100% committed to presenting my clients with a professional service and delivering on my promises.

To start with, I only get involved with a project in the first place if I am as certain as I can be that I can complete the project on time.  I never over-promise.  If there is any doubt I don’t put the tender in, I don’t get involved in the conversation, or I decline the work.

When the project comes around, I make a plan which has plenty of contingency time built into it, particularly around risky areas.  Risky areas are large tasks, or times when I will need to get something from someone else, whether that is corresponding with members of the public or getting a sign off from a client.  If I find myself with a bit of unexpected time, I use it to get ahead.  Maybe I brainstorm some ideas, or start drafting a document, or set up a template or some charts for a report.  And I always give myself an internal deadline of completing tasks one day earlier than the official deadline.

This means it is really easy to accommodate short-term absence of up to a week or so, especially if I have a bit of notice.  If I’m sick, well yes I might have to rearrange things if I’ve got fixed points (meetings, appointments) but it would be very unusual for this to actually disrupt the critical path of the project.

If I was running uncomfortably close to a deadline (and I don’t recall this happening in two and a half years of self employment), I could work long hours or pull an all-nighter.  If I was sick I could take a meeting remotely and then go straight back to bed.  I’ve done that – I’ve pitched for work by Skype on a day that I was technically off sick with a dress over my PJs, and I won the work.  As a sole trader and a home worker it is relatively easy to do that sort of thing.  And you can always take the day off afterwards to recover.

Consequently, all Ruthless Research projects to date have been delivered on time.  Some have been delivered early, and many have been delivered on a tight turnaround.

I will concur that if I was run over by a bus or (god forbid) actually killed there would be a bit of a problem.

But even in that case, I have systems in place to ensure that the appropriate parties would be notified and that my immaculately maintained and backed up files would allow someone else to easily pick the project up and run with it.  I have expert colleagues who could do this on an Associate basis and I have made arrangements with my next of kin and a specific trusted Associate just in case.

Is this enough?  No.  Some people will never pick a sole trader.

Which is a shame, because I think the benefits that I can provide in terms of flexibility and expertise and seniority and price and a guaranteed personal service may well be worth the risk.

Why a Google Plus is Powerful for Consultants

Many consultant want a strong on-line presence. However before today it was very expensive and time consuming to get Google to recognise someone with authority on a subject. However this has started to change recently with the introduction of Google plus and identification of individual authorship for on-line articles. By establishing a profile in Google+ and also linking it to your website you can now see your profile picture appear in search results. Further more Google will recognise you as an authority on a topic and place your ranking higher in the search results. The search results below show an example of my profile picture showing next the the Google listings. This has the advantages of

  1. Making you result stand out in the overall listings.
  2. Improving the click through rates for a particular listing.
  3. Increasing peoples trust in the listing because they know who has writen it.

 


So what do you need to do to see these nice profile photos in search results.

Step one establish a Google Plus Profile

1) First you need to register with Google Plus, this is the google’s equivalent to face book. It is easy toregister for  Google plus. Once you have an account you need to edit your profile page, adding a description about yourself and a photo.

2) You then need to establish a author link back from you posts or author page back to you Google profile. This will look like

<a   href=”https://plus.google.com/your google profile number/posts” rel=“author”> My Google Profile</a>

so for my blog this looks like <a href=”https://plus.google.com/100214655021160928517/posts” rel=”author” >Paul’s Google Profile</a>

You can see my link at the end of this post.

3) Back to google plus and click on the right-hand column click on “contributor to” and add a custom link to your author page on your blog. To do this, type your “Blog Name” in the first line, and then add your author page URL in the second. Make Sure thet e sure that “anyone on the web” is selected in the “who can see this?” box, and click save.

You can now test that it has all worked by running the rich snippet testing tool on the page Google’s rich snippet testing tool. Enter you blog post URL and you should see you photo in dummy results something like this. 

 

 

After a week or so the results should show in the google search results.

Step Two Establish your Reputation

Google measures author reputation by the number and quality of the people in the people you have following you in circles. The more influential these people are and the more people you have the higher your results will appear in the ranking. So start engage with people on Google plus, comment on there posts, follow them and they will follow you back. As you authorship rank increases so will your results in the search engine results.

Paul’s company offer project management training and SEO consultancy is just one of my tools of trade.

Back to Basics

How well do you (and your team) know your competition?

Maximising your knowledge of your competitors’ product is a vital support to any hotels sales and marketing efforts and investment decision making.   Recent experience suggests that some of the basics are being forgotten about.

Today individual hotels, as well as large hotel companies, have access to more information than ever about their competitive performance and customers’ views of their product.   This comes from a wide variety of sources:

  • The ability to compare prices and availability “minute by minute” using web booking sites.
  • Commercial performance/market share data provided on a daily basis.
  • Electronic questionnaires delivered to every guest after their stay.
  • National surveys of brand preferences and consumer behaviour.

No-one would say that such information is not highly valuable but experience tells us there is no substitute for actually talking to your customers to hear what they have to say about your products and services and those of your competitors, of which they have first-hand experience.

AND no substitute for seeing and experiencing competitors for yourself.

Too often today management and staff find insufficient time for these two activities.   It is time to “get back to basics”.

What can you find out about the competition by talking to your customers?

  • Number one — which others were real alternatives for the customer to buy on any particular occasion; a room for the night, dinner, conference/meeting, function, or just a drink in the bar.   This helps you to know who your real competitors are.
  • Why they have chosen you not a competitor.   Were you genuinely the preferred choice or was everyone else full!
  • If a genuine choice, what were the deciding factors.   Were you just cheaper or can you identify your real product or service strengths — the things you need to stress to prospective customers in sales pitches and on your web site.
  • If they are trying you for the first time, will they come back.   Or have they found a weakness in you they think the competitors do better.

Of course you can’t corner a customer and reel off your list of questions.   The whole management team (and others) need to understand the benefits of such knowledge and take opportunities whenever they arise to gain such feedback from customers.   Competitive insights could then be an agenda item on regular management meetings so that the knowledge can be shared and made use of to:

  • Ensure sales and other staff are aware of key strengths and weaknesses for each part of the product.
  • Plan product or service improvements.
  • Concentrate investment in areas that will contribute most to improving the hotel’s competitive position.

The other aspect of building competitive awareness is to get out and see the competitors for yourselves.   This is often an aspect of particular weakness amongst those involved in on-site selling to potential customers, including conferences, weddings, corporate accommodation contracts and other “big ticket” items where closing a single sale can secure very high levels of revenue.   It remains common for such staff to be completely unfamiliar with what the competition have to offer, and without that awareness they are poorly equipped.   Just being able to handle a show-round is not enough; staff must be fully aware of what aspects of the product makes them different and better than the alternatives the customer might be looking at.

It is not just members of the sales team that need to build up such awareness.   Front Office, F&B and Banqueting staff are often the ones who have the greatest influence in closing a sale — they would all benefit from first-hand experience of competitors, be this a simple walk round, a meal or an overnight stay.   We believe the investment in such aspects is fundamental to success.
Such internal and external activities to build competitive knowledge add a level of insight which complements hard data and questionnaire analysis.   They are a vital part of making the most of your business.