Meeting up with Virtual Clients

I am looking forward to finally meeting up with a long-standing client of mine this evening – a virtual client.  Although we have worked together for almost 4 years, we have never met in the flesh as he is based in Los Angeles, US. 

Yet technology has allowed us to work closely over the years despite the significant distance between the UK and US and its getting easier and easier. We rely heavily on email and telephone on a day-to-day basis but screensharing, shared online workspaces and Google Wave-type continual contact are on the horizon. He works largely from home and I try to work from home on regular occasions yet this doesn’t impede our flow of communication due to improving broadband speeds.

Virtual / Global / Cloud consulting – whatever you wish to call it – is becoming an exciting reality.

But how powerful and long-lasting can virtual relationships be? Lisa Tse discussed the importance of bridging the gap to turn virtual communities into real-life flesh and blood communities – via TweetUps for her Twitter followers and friends in her case. This has been immensely powerful for her business in building sustainable and long lasting relationships. Geography can be a significant stumbling block but meeting for real can really cement a relationship – I hope the same will be true of tonight’s real-life meeting! 

The only issue is how I will find him at the restaurant in Manchester this evening – having never previously met in the flesh, it’s slightly concerning that we won’t initially recognise each other! Until we speak and I hear his (familiar telephone) voice.

Show 002 – The F-Word, Twitter and Sweet Mandarin with Lisa Tse

I am delighted to introduce Manchester-based entrepreneur, Lisa Tse of The Sweet Mandarin, as an inspirational guest for this week’s BusinessN2K podcast.

Lisa is famed more recently for her appearance on Gordon Ramsey‘s The F-Word, in which her family-run restaurant Sweet Mandarin won the prestigious Best Local Chinese Restaurant in the UK. Aside from the wonderful cooking, Lisa and her sisters have broken new ground in mixing new marketing techniques to help build a traditional yet thriving business. Her forward thinking approach to business and creativity has led to her role as an alumni of Manchester Metropolitan University Business School and she is in high demand to speak at business conferences throughout the North West and beyond.

I first ‘met’ Lisa on Twitter after being bowled over by how much she ‘gets’ social mediaTweetUps and all! Her business has continued to thrive as they have steadily built their community of enthusiastic customers. Lisa has a refreshing outlook on business, having worked as a financier in London (a ‘corporate job’) and made the leap to running her own entrepreneurial business. She is focused on making every experience the best for her customers in order to build the restaurant and leave a legacy – rather than focusing on building a chain of restaurants which could result in growth for growth’s sake.

In this conversation we cover:

  • What inspired Lisa to make the leap from the safety of a corporate job to running her own business with her sisters
  • How she has embraced social media such as Twitter to help build her business
  • The importance of staying close to your roots and understanding what contributes to your success
  • Being open to new ideas and suggestions from customers to create new services
  • The value of looking after your customers and how they can turn into some of your best marketeers
  • Innovative ways of taking customer orders!
  • Staying focused on what you are good at and not getting distracted by new trends etc
  • Finding new ways to connect with your customers
  • (unfortunately we ran out of time to discuss their Sweet Mandarin book !)

The Sweet Mandarin represents a new breed of entrepreneurial business that is closely intertwined with its customers. Lisa and her sisters are the ‘face’ of the business and they actively engage with their customers and the wider Manchester business community. They manage to mix more traditional and established business (restaurateurs) with new (social media, community engaged, transparent, forward thinking).

I firmly believe that we can all learn as businesses from Lisa, her sisters and Sweet Mandarin.

How you can listen to BusinessN2K:

  1. Subscribe by clicking on the Subscribe to Podcast icon in the side bar or subscribe via iTunes. This is the best way to listen as it will ensure that all future episodes are delivered directly to you as new episodes are released, or
  2. Click on the Blubrry player below to listen now:

Blubrry player!

Please leave your comments, feedback and suggestions for future shows in the comments section below.

Credits: Thanks to Lisa Tse for this week’s show + music used in the BusinessN2K podcast is by Viba – In the Orchard lies a Secret – available as a free download and is released under a Creative Commons Licence

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tax holiday for business start-ups in Ireland

Welcome news if you’re a start-up business in Ireland is that a tax holiday is now granted for the first 3 years of trading.

This tax exemption is only available for start-ups that commenced trading on or after 1 January 2009. The only restriction is that the tax liability otherwise due for each year must not exceed €40,000 – hardly troubling for most start-up companies given that the current prevailing corporation tax rate in Ireland is only 12.5%!

Let’s hope that the UK government are keeping a watching brief…

Why being a middle of the road business is a BIG mistake

It seems reasonable to assume that targeting your business at the middle is a safe bet.  After all, the middle comprises the majority of customers. Right?

Perhaps – but there is a nasty sting in the tail for the unwary…

The middle is big.  Very BIG. The middle provides the most choice for customers. The middle is the most competitive. The middle is the noisiest. The middle makes it harder for you to appear bespoke – you are trying to serve too many in the middle.  The middle is where the high street and big internet brands hunt (and they have deeper pockets than you).  The middle ignores the genius of the 80/20 rule.

Those in the middle normally struggle. The middle is tough. The middle is the hardest work. The middle needs a lot of marketing (and therefore cash).  Those in the middle have to struggle in good times and bad.

Many business owners spot this and set off on the right path i.e top or bottom but a little farther down the line they can’t seem to help themselves from gravitating towards the middle. They lose their nerve. Particularly in especially good or bad economic times (like now).  But why?

Despite the recent recession, many prestige businesses continue to do well. This is because the world is still full of very wealthy individuals who can ride this dip out quite comfortably – and want somewhere to shop or service their needs in the meantime.  My local Selfridges in Manchester still looked pretty packed over the recent Christmas rush, particularly around the new Tiffany concession store.

Meanwhile, businesses that had raised their sights during the recent good times will be wishing they had stayed as bargain-basement £1 shops. But it may be too late. Those that held their nerve have first-mover-advantage and will deservedly reap the rewards – our local 50p shop is busier than ever (for obvious reasons) but it didn’t start being a 50p shop in the last 12 months.  It stayed as a 50p shop when there was plenty of cash credit swishing around over the past 10 years.  It never lost its focus.  It never lost its nerve.  It never became middle.  It deserves to win.

Being middle is a mistake.  Aim high or aim low.  Either way, hold your nerve and never ever be middle.

Picture credit: Paul Watson

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Future of Work – No jobs by 2030?

Thomas Power makes the assertion that there will be no jobs by 2030 in the excellent Smarta ebook Smartest Brains 2010 and beyond!

Meanwhile Seth Godin pleads with us to become indispensable in his latest book Linchpin arguing that the Industrial Age model of work is over – therefore if your current job involves tasks that can be broken down into process-driven bits then you can kiss this job goodbye in the not too distant future due to a combination of globalisation and automation.

Are they right? Dan Pink argued along similar lines a few years back in A Whole New Mind and there’s little doubt that our concept of work has to change in today’s Knowledge Economy.  We are now paid to think rather than do.

I suspect that by 2030 manual jobs will still exist at the lower end but perhaps the real risk lies in store for middle-managers and professionals with process driven roles. We have already seen this emerging in the latest recession with the introduction of the 4 day work week and mass redundancies. Highly educated professionals, particularly those in their late 40s-50s who have followed the accepted path, have been left feeling disillusioned – and unsure where to turn next…

Has the Industrial Age managed to turn us all, including educated professionals, into dependants? If so, we now need to rediscover our latent entrepreneurial talents and tolerance for change and instability (not something that most of us are naturally predisposed towards).

I believe we will see 2 primary worker-types emerge over the next 10-20 years:

  1. Highly networked freelance workers
  2. Portfolio workers

The highly networked worker represents an entrepreneurial type.  Someone who runs one or more businesses, probably mostly outsourced.  This would also encompass certain professionals who are deep specialists in their area of expertise and are called into teams to work on specific assignments on a project-by-project basis. These people are the more entrepreneurial types and may well have left the corporate world to do their own thing at some stage in the future anyway.

The biggest change would be for the newly labelled portfolio worker. These are the people who would have quite happily worked for the same company for life – or at least for many years, perhaps choosing only to move on to another steady job if things changed for the worse or there was an opportunity for promotion and progression elsewhere. Rather than have one job – they might end up with 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 day-jobs per week? A day here and a day there.

The latter model may initially sound unappealing, however, as I discussed with Ian Sanders, adopting a portfolio or plurality approach to work opens up new and exciting opportunities. Imagine if your average week went from working 9-5 for the same company to say:

  • Monday – fulfilling orders, marketing and general running of online home business.
  • Tuesday – work for Company A as a part-time financial director (FD)
  • Wednesday – charitiable activities e.g. tending to trustee responsibilities and planning events
  • Thursday – mixed day. Update books for online home business am. Complete freelance financial consulting work pm.
  • Friday – back to Company A for the day as FD

Think how much Company A would benefit from a fresh, revitalised worker plus the insights gained from the plurality of work. Likewise, from the portfolio worker’s perspective, think about the variety enjoyed in a working week by adopting a portfolio or freeformer approach.

It is easy to paint a gloomy picture of the future of work. We need to remind ourselves that the Industrial Age has only been in existence for 100+ years and we were self-sufficient for 1000’s of years before this Age of Dependency.

By preparing ourselves now both mentally and practically, the future of work looks exciting and I suspect that in years to come people will look back and think that the concept of a Job for Life was a missed opportunity rather than the panacea that we all grasp after today.

Look forward to your comments and thoughts.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Design Thinking for Business – Lessons from Apple’s ipad

We are tentatively emerging from a painful recession yet the masses (myself included!) are salivating over Apple‘s latest creation – the Apple ipad.

It’s a snip at just $499 but we seem to forget that most people already have perfectly decent laptops or PCs at home. Yet you can bet your bottom dollar that millions of these things will fly off the shelf once released later this year – but why? What is it that Apple have become so masterful at that they can create a roaring demand for something that people don’t (truly) need?

For me, there are 3 key traits of the ipod – iphone -ipad:

  1. Design
  2. Experience
  3. Simplicity

Underpinning all 3 is the willingness to strip commonly accepted everyday items down to their bare bones and to start again – true innovation thinking.  They did this with the mp3 player, the mobile phone and now the laptop / netbook.

So what lessons can we learn from Apple’s approach to business?

  1. Design thinking = fantastic user experience = Salivating customers / owners = Mad raving fans. How cool is the stuff you make or the experiences your services provide? Are your prospects salivating…?
  2. Build the fire and the heat will come People will always pay for or reinvest in beautifully designed stuff and experiences (we’re not rational beings! we even purchase or change service providers when we already have something that functionally achieves the same objectives). In a crowded and fast moving market, Apple just shifted the goal-posts…again
  3. KISSKeep It Simple Stupid. Apple constantly re-engineers products to reduce complexity and get back to basics
  4. Mix old with new to help transition customers from what they’re used to – see how the ibooks are made to look like normal paged books as you thumb through the pages to help transition traditional book reading purists. Experience is everything (for everyone)
  5. Keep adapting and driving forward. It would have been easy for Apple to sit back and keep tweaking their iphone. Instead they took the riskier option. Today it’s more risky to play safe.

What’s your take on the launch of the ipad and ensuing media frenzy? Why has it captured everyone’s attention? As entrepreneurs, business owners and ambitious employees, what lessons can we learn from this?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Show #001 – Juggle! ReThink Work, Reclaim your Life

I’m delighted to kick off our podcast series with a fascinating chat with Ian Sanders of The Ian Sanders Company on his latest book Juggle! Rethink Work, Reclaim your Life

Ian Sanders is an entrepreneur, ideas guy, marketing bloke, business potentialiser, unplan evangelist, specialist in creative industries and author!

You can either listen to the podcast from your computer now or you can subscribe to listen to this and future episodes on your ipod, smart phone or mp3 player at your convenience – all for free.

In our 20 minute chat, topics covered with Ian include:

  • Ian’s life as a Juggler
  • introducing ‘plurality’ into our work and lives
  • avoiding being defined by our job title
  • how employees can also embrace the Juggle lifestyle to be more entrepreneurial
  • how the introduction of a reduced (often 4 day) work week during the recession could benefit both employers and employees over the longer term
  • rethinking the notion of retirement by reframing work
  • challenge of ‘switching off’ given the ‘always on’ 24 hr nature of technology tools
  • key lessons from Kevin Roberts (global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi) on balancing work and life
  • importance of being passionate about what you do – “play where you play best”
  • effectively managing your 24 hours per day

You can find this book at Amazon and you can find more from Ian Sanders at his website, plus regular updates on Ian’s latest thinking on his blog and on Twitter.

How you can listen to BusinessN2K:

  1. Subscribe by clicking on the Subscribe to Podcast icon in the side bar or subscribe via iTunes. This is the best way to listen as it will ensure that all future episodes are delivered directly to you as new episodes are released, or
  2. Click on the Blubrry player below to listen now:

Blubrry player!

Please leave your comments, feedback and suggestions for future shows in the comments section below.

Credits: Thanks to Ian Sanders for this week’s show + music used in the BusinessN2K podcast is by Viba – In the Orchard lies a Secret – available as a free download and is released under a Creative Commons Licence

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Who’s in charge of your business?

UNSPECIFIED - OCTOBER 10:  In this photo illus...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

You may think that you are in charge of your business, however, in the digital age of social media where anyone has the power to comment on your business and influence both local and global opinion (either via blogs, Twitter, forums, Facebook etc), is this still the case?

There have been many recent high-profile incidents where global brands have been forced to change direction commercially or, at the very least, acknowledge the comments and feedback of disgruntled customers whether they wanted to or not e.g. Dell, Apple are a amongst a distinguished line-up of apologetic global brands.

A few harsh and frank words typed into a blog, Facebook, Twitter or a video review posted to YouTube has the power:

  • at worst to bring about a viral movement resulting in an army of disappointed individuals congregating online who collectively could cause serious harm to your business, or
  • at the very least rank some negative feedback within Google ready to leap out the next time your dream prospect does a search on your business in Google (and they will).

There is nothing you can do to stop this – and why should you?

Feedback is a gift after all whether positive or negative. It is how you deal with negative feedback that is key when the eyes of the world are watching…

A recent study showed that potential customers warmed more to businesses who had negative feedback but took proactive steps to remedy the complaints compared to those that bathed solely in positive feedback. However, for this strategy to be effective it is vital that you are listening for comments made online about your business – and act on it (quickly).

A good example is my local hostelry, The Swan Hotel in Tarporley. A thoroughly nice country pub and hotel with largely 4-5 stars on Trip Advisor. However, scroll down through the recent reviews (as most people do) and you can’t help but be drawn to a review that gives 1 star and says “Child unfriendly”. Read on and the reviewer goes on to berate the hotel and service for a whole host of cock-ups. Left unattended this review leaves a huge black mark against the rest of the positive reviews and, on personal a note as a father, I’m sure I would be scouring through for alternative child friendly options.

The good news is that the owners of the Swan Hotel were listening and promptly posted the following apology under the review:

Problem (not only) solved but turned into a positive.

Be under no illusion, you are no longer in charge of how your business is perceived. Your business will be held accountable for every action it takes and it will receive continual feedback. Your job as business owner, manager or employee is to listen, respond, engage and use the feedback to continually improve and adapt your products and services.

In this way, your millions of managers can help keep your business on track far better than you could alone.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]