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Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

Earlier this year, entrepreneur and founder of The School for Startups, Doug Richard, published his Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto – a “declaration of rights” for small businesses.

The manifesto sets out eight demands to a new government, each of which addresses a different key concern for businesses. In the build-up to the 6 May general election, Donut MD Rory MccGwire is offering his thoughts on the issues raised by Doug Richard.

Scrap Business Link?

In his manifesto, Doug Richard calls on the new government to scrap the Business Link business support service to provide savings and to migrate all government business support services online to promote efficiency.

In the report he wrote for the Conservative party earlier, I think he also recommended using the universities and specialist providers such as the British Library as a replacement business support network on the ground. More recently, Mark Prisk, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Business, has been talking about using the existing network of Enterprise Agencies for this role.

I’m sure Doug is as pleased as I am to see that the government is already going flat out to move the whole business of government online. Thousands of disparate systems and websites are being corralled into three mega websites: businesslink.gov for businesses, direct.gov for individuals, and nhs.uk for health. 

Yes, this is expensive, but what an improvement.

Lots of individuals lack a computer, but most businesses are online and will readily engage with businesslink.gov, as the evidence already shows. We small and medium-sized enterpriseslike being able to do tax returns and company searches etc online; it is a real convenience. We also use the huge library of advice pages. 

So let’s talk about the more contentious idea of scrapping face-to-face business support. But first, a bit of history. 

In the 18 years I’ve run BHP, I’ve seen governments come and go. At every general election, there’s a clamour to change the way government delivers business support. And we do change – all too frequently. 

In the 1970s, we had Enterprise Agencies, which were hailed as fulfilling an important need. 

Then someone said “No let’s have Training and Enterprise Councils”, so we had 82 TECs, with a £1.3bn budget to help SMEs in England and Wales. Scotland decided to have 22 LECs. 

Why 82 TECs? Because support had to be local, as everyone seemed to agree that “a business in Preston has a different set of needs to a business in Portsmouth” (nonsense on the whole, but that’s a topic in itself…). 

Then someone (I won’t mention Tarzan by name, as I’m trying to stay clear of party politics) said “No, these TECs are failing, let’s have a one-stop shop for business support. We’ll call it Business Link”. So we had had 82 Business Links, as local was still flavour of the month, while Wales invented something else new called Business Eye. 

Meanwhile the government had also created a network of nine massive organisations called Regional Development Agencies (in England only), each with a list of tasks and targets that went on for pages and pages. 

At this point someone said “Crikey, this costs a fortune and the quality and type of business support varies far too much, so let’s take the 82 Business Links and make them into nine Business Links”. 

And that’s where we are today. Endless change. If you ran a business like this, you would have gone bust over and over again. The cost of this never-ending change is too much to even contemplate. 

But, finally, we have a brand that, like any commercial brand, has been allowed time to establish itself. Hallelujah. There are even road signs saying Business Link in some towns. 

The question now is what we want the brand to offer, and how business support should be delivered. I’ll deal with that in my next blog. 

Rory’s other Have your say! blogs 

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Earlier this year, entrepreneur and founder of The School for Startups, Doug Richard, published his Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto – a “declaration of rights” for small businesses.

The manifesto sets out eight demands to a new government, each of which addresses a different key concern for businesses. In the build-up to the 6 May general election, Donut MD Rory MccGwire is offering his thoughts on the issues raised by Doug Richard.

In his manifesto, Doug Richard argues that business regulation should be streamlined so that people can start businesses more quickly and run them more easily. 

I agree. But in order to achieve this, I think the law must make an important distinction between small and large businesses. They have different regulatory requirements. What is fair and suitable for one is often neither fair nor suitable for the other. 

It’s also important to recognise the natural bias in our regulations, a bias that stems from the fact that regulations are always going to favour the people who make them. So our regulatory system is heavily skewed towards the preferences of the government, the public sector, big business and the trade unions. 

The seemingly simple task of taking a chunk of time off for a family holiday is a struggle for many people running a small business, so it’s hardly surprising that they do not have time to assist in the law-making process. 

Nor do the various small business membership organisations have the power to make much of a difference. Think back to when the government raised CGT by 80 per cent without realising until afterwards that for many small businesses the only “pension” available at retirement is the proceeds of the sale of the business. A £1m threshold was hastily added, but not before it became obvious that the small business lobby groups had not even been consulted on this legislation, let alone listened to. 

Yet it’s small businesses that end up paying the price for so much of the legislation. Take a law requiring organisations to offer wheelchair access to their premises. I’m sure everyone agrees that society wants to help make life less difficult for disabled people. But few people stop to consider who will be forced to pay for the door widening. We all pay for the doors to be widened in the public sector buildings and the corporate buildings, through our taxes, pensions and savings (some of which are invested in listed shares), which seems completely fair. 

But when it comes to all the properties owned by small businesses, it’s the business owner who pays. So if I earn a £20k salary working for the local council or for a big company, I am not affected at all, but if I would have earned £20k from owning a shop, I might be left with just £17k after the adjustments to my shop front. How can that be fair? It’s not. It is merely convenient, both for the lawmakers and for the Treasury. 

It’s the same with employee rights. Nobody questions the need for new parents to spend more time with their children. But who pays? There’s no compensation to any of the small business owners who pick up these costs. In a small business, every member of staff is a key person and losing them, even temporarily, is a considerable blow. Larger businesses have the resources to cushion the blow; small businesses don’t. 

Given that small businesses employ a very considerable proportion of the workforce, I suggest that society ought to compensate small businesses if we all want to have those benefits. If not, you end up with a situation where business owners are terrified of employing women of a certain age. It’s discriminatory, but it happens; the law has massive unintended consequences. 

Sensible regulation is essential to protect customers, employers and employees. But it must recognise the reality of running a small business. 

So much of our business regulation is designed for Hewlett Packard and Rolls Royce, not for “mom and pop” businesses. But, in my view, firms with fewer than five employees should have a completely different set of regulations. If you choose to work for them, perhaps you shouldn’t have quite the same rights as employees in larger companies, simply because these rights amount to robbing Peter (the employer, who is a person) to pay Paul (the employee). But then you would be discriminating against employees of small businesses, which is clearly wrong. 

So the only fair solution is for society (aka the taxpayer) to face up to, and pay for, the cost of implementing all these rights, instead of turning a blind eye while the costs fall onto the shoulders of small business owners. 

Doug Richard is right and all the political parties seem to agree. We need to do something to enable the moms and pops to run their businesses in a more flexible and efficient way. Now let’s see if anyone actually does anything. 

What do you think? 

Rory’s other Have your say! blogs

What do you think about the regulations affecting small businesses? Please leave your comment below.
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The software industry has long been monopolised by one provider. As Bob Young explains in this video, traditional software only gives you a certain amount of room to move whereas open source software is a completely different model.

There are two reasons this video may be relevant to your start up business. First, thinking about the software you need to make your business operate smoothly, is it worth considering the open source route for any of your key applications? Second, what can your start up business learn from the closed vs open source software model?
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Such a big part of growing a successful business is ensuring that you’re always thinking of new ideas or making improvements to your current business. But as many small business owners know, coming up with a great idea is easier said than done. If you’re someone who struggles with creativity or can’t easily prompt a brain wave, watch this show to get ideas from a brand which is growing rapidly and improving constantly.

A popular method of tracking and recording ideas is to write them down – or to “always have a notebook with you”. Tell us, when (and where) do your best ideas come to you?

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Penny Power, founder of Ecademy.com, explains why anyone starting up a new business should be active on social networks.

Are you already using social networks to get your business off the ground?  Please share your story.

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Our clients, and most people we’ve met and talks and events recently, have asked the same question: Is social media appropriate for business-to-business marketing? Unequivocally, the answer is YES.

In the last year, 40% of Clear Thought’s revenue can be tracked back to a social media source, and 100% has been enhanced or aided by it in some way. In the last six weeks alone, here are some things that Clear Thinkers have achieved through social media:

  • Hooked up two people met through Twitter with paying B2B clients.
  • Received two good quality new business enquiries, both of which are now at proposal stage.
  • Sourced experts willing to talk to us about their business as part of market research projects.
  • Enhanced relationships with prospective businesses using online nurturing techniques.
In B2B decision-making or considered purchases, social media has most impact in the top half of the sales funnel
In B2B decision-making or considered purchases, social media has most impact in the top half of the sales funnel

From a new business perspective, social media has critical impact in the first three stages of the sales funnel. That is, Awareness, Interest and Evaluation. From a social media perspective, you need to do the following:

To generate awareness: ‘Be There’ find out where your prospects hang out online and have a presence there.

To convert awareness in the interest: ‘Be Relevant ‘ provide information that is useful or controversial to pull people into your content.

To make it through evaluation: ‘Be Proven’ provide case study and testimonials at every turn online, ideally with other people talking on your behalf.

To really make the most of the channel, it makes sense to get some expert support – particularly in measuring and enhancing your activity. But, here are some really simple things to get you started.

10 FREE things you can do to generate awareness online:

  1. Ensure your company & all employees have a LinkedIn profile.
  2. Join or set-up an interest group on LinkedIn.
  3. Set-up a SlideShare space, link it to your LinkedIn profile.
  4. Set-up a YouTube Channel or Facebook page (if appropriate).
  5. Set-up a company Twitter Feed.
  6. Bookmark your content (StumbleUpon, Digg, Delicious, etc).
  7. Set up a BT Tradespace profile.
  8. Set-up Google, BlogSpot and WordPress identities.
  9. Comment on, or become a contributor to, blogs and forums.
  10. Regularly update email signatures with new content.

10 FREE things you can do to generate interest online:

  1. Post snappy links to content via Twitter, Status, Email footer, etc.
  2. Post regular interesting short blogs (10 mins).
  3. Prepare deeper content like pressos, papers and articles (20 mins).
  4. Give each of your team an area of expertise to track and comment.
  5. Post details of other people’s content relevant to your audience.
  6. Comment on industry news and happenings… in real time.
  7. Make sure all employees regularly update online statuses.
  8. Follow-up traditional touch-points with online contact.
  9. Gather permissions to send email updates.
  10. Ask intelligent questions in online forums.

10 (nearly) FREE ways to prove your credentials online:

  1. Provide written case studies on your site, blog, etc.
  2. 140 character lines to link back to your case studies, articles, etc.
  3. Post case study videos on your site, YouTube channel, etc.
  4. Post webcasts and presentations on your site, SlideShare, etc.
  5. Post product demos on YouTube, SlideShare, etc.
  6. Re-use the words of others about your products and services.
  7. Provide intelligent answers to questions posted in Forums, Groups
  8. Run live Q&A sessions via Twitter.
  9. Add a customer feedback / rating system (like Kampyle) to your site, blog, etc and re-use the positive feedback.
  10. Ask LinkedIn contacts for endorsements.

Note: In this blog, we’re focusing specifically on lead generation. It is worth noting (and blogging in the future) that social media can be powerfully used in market research, recruitment, lead nurturing and much more.

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“So, what do you do then?”

If someone asks you to describe what your new business does, what do you say?

For many, this is not as easy as it sounds. Whether it’s for your business plan, on your website or in person, you need a clear, compelling description. You need to get your idea across in a way that will really get the attention of potential clients.

Here are 5 crucial questions to help you communicate what you do in a way that people understand, and act on:

  1. Talk about your CUSTOMERS: who do you work for? What kind of people benefit from your services? Where are they based?
  2. Talk about the PROBLEMS YOU SOLVE: what kind of issues, opportunities or challenges do you help with? Why are these so important to your target customers? When should a potential client pick up the phone to your company?
  3. Briefly describe your SERVICES: how do you help? What kind of services or products do you offer? What’s your process?
  4. BENEFITS: what kind of results or outcome can they expect from working with you? Prove this with case studies and testimonials.
  5. Explain your MISSION: What’s the story? Why are you in business? What difference have you set out to make to your customers?

Whether you’re writing your business plan, web content or describing what you do in person, remember to answer these five questions. Don’t just talk about your products and services. Tell your customers how you solve problems for people just like them

When they ask you what you do, this is what they really want to hear.

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