Posts Tagged ‘business’

Axel’s and Sophie’s quirky guide to running a small business

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Here’s our list of things we have learnt over the last 10 years of running a small start-up and a guide to the way we do business. It’s all rather homespun and certainly will never find its way into books on how to run a successful business nor in any business school. After all, we are still a tiny business, even though we have been around longer than Facebook and Youtube. While these things might not make you rich, they help us sleep easily at night with a clear conscience and make us happy.

• Never wear a tie or suit
• Like your colleagues
• Avoid meetings
• Living is more important than making money
• Take time out to watch your kids and friends playing sport and music and acting
• Smile, laugh and cry
• Sing, however badly – and we’re really bad
• Never grow up
• Work hard – roll your sleeves up and get stuck in
• Be patient, act swiftly
• Don’t get hung up on sales or profits
• But keep a tight focus on cash-flow and balance sheets
• Don’t do budgets, except if the bank asks for one!
• Always pay your bills
• Avoid customers who are too posh to pay – this is an attitude of mind as opposed to a statement on anything else
• Never become that business or person that talks aggressively about “killing the competition”, just be different to them and do your own thing
• Never become that business or person that lies to get a call taken or to get money off
• Be compassionate – we’re all real people, with real lives
• Be honest to yourself, your colleagues, your customers, your suppliers and everyone else we’ve forgotten
• Reinvent the wheel – it can always be done better
• Break the rules
• Make mistakes
• Admit to your mistakes, understand them, then try not to do it again
• Spend your money wisely
• Spend your money morally and compassionately, doing good things that help make the world a better place
• If you’re not comfortable with it, don’t do it
• Don’t be bullied by customers and suppliers
• Best practice is just average practice with a positive spin
• Don’t trust suppliers who drive flash or expensive cars
• Don’t waste company money on flash cars
• Make teas and coffees for everyone
• Eat breakfast, lunch and tea
• Eat cake, biscuits and pies
• Listen to what everyone has to say – everyone knows more about stuff than you do
• Ask questions, however stupid
• Be fair
• What is fairness? Sharing risk and reward equitably
• Treat people how you would like to be treated
• Try and only deal with people you like
• The customer is not always right
• Never do favours for people you don’t really know, because they are never reciprocated, but bend over backwards for your friends and favourite people
• Shit really does happen
• Everything seems better after a cup of tea and cake, or a bath and a sleep
• Keep on dreaming

Where’s the money…for us?

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

In the last couple of weeks, I have been contacted by The Executive Chef magazine and St James’s House on behalf of the Royal Agricultural Society.  Both of them had the most wonderful advertising opportunities and we had been specially selected out of all businesses in the UK.  We really must appreciate the lauded company into which we have been specially allowed to enter. 

I think not; it really must be a deep recession if they are having to scrape the barrel trying to beg money out of me, a tight Northern curmudgeon.

The Executive Chef is running a one-off magazine and we were offered a full page at the heavily discounted price of £12,500 down from £22,000 (I perhaps correctly typed prize first as these really do sound like those spurious competitions you sometimes get rung up about, where you have won a special cruise trip around the Carribbean if only you can get to XYZ venue on a certain day to be flogged time shares).  The St James’s House offer was a mere £5,500 for an entry in some book that will be circulated around politicians and civil servants – not a market that has any particular interest for us.

What annoys me about these hard sell tactics is not actually the wasted time, although that does irritate nor the fact that Steenbergs could never afford these levels of cost – these figures are just not even in a negotiating area as they are so way off the mark.  Rather it is the fact that they need to explain the benefits to me, i.e. how is it going to enrich Steenbergs as a business and not what a privilege it would be to be part of this special magazine or book or event.  I am not interested in privilege or famous people, so that will not move me, nor am I moved by vanity.  Perhaps, the only thing that can ever sway my mind is a well-timed cup of tea.

For advertising and marketing, I am interested in its financial return; I expect to get a provable level of extra sales of 4 times the cost of the advertisement which some think too high a hurdle.  And that is where the sales pitch falls flat as the salesmen (it does always seem to be men) can never explain how much return they would expect Steenbergs to get, nor will they do a deal where, for example, we pay 10% upfront and the remainder on success.

And that’s why old style print advertising is really going to die out, as you cannot track the results as easily as online, plus the costs are way out of kilter with the rates available online.  So yes, it might work if you have a huge budget and are trying to create a general ambience around your brand as for a car or a lifetsyle brand, where you might put adverts in relevant magazines to support your more targetted marketing elsewhere.

So we will not be swayed from our chosen path of search engine optimisation, social networking and general online activity.  It is perhaps less sexy, but we feel much more comfortable with gentle and slow hard graft than fancy one-off jamborees.

A Big Shout Out To Small Business Owners

Monday, September 6th, 2010

We, the small business owners and micro-entrepreneurs, are the forgotten, ignored and trodden upon solid foundation of the British, American and every other economy in the world.  We employ most of the employed people and generate much of the new, ground-breaking discoveries that have shaped the world.  We pay huge amounts of employment taxes, local business rates and tend to have greater loyality to our fellow local businesses, supporting local support services rather than going for the national groups.

However, big Government pays little heed to our plight.  They presume that all business is big business with unlimited amounts of time and deep financial pockets, and so able to consume all the new bits of legislation, digesting and understanding the intricacies of what the legislature has to say for itself, while carrying the financial burdens of increased local and national taxes to pay for quangoes, pensions, sinecures and further layers of bureacratic inefficiency.

Sometimes it feels as if no-one really gives a damn nor that they will ever give useful help or advice.  They criticise; god, isn’t everyone good at telling you what you should have done, what you have done incorrectly and what they would have done better, but practical, helpful, apt advice never seems to be available.  Armchair advisers rarely seem ever to do anything themselves; yes, they have worked for big businesses or government, but actually to have done something starting from scratch and doing it all themselves, those people are really few and far between, then few (if any) of those ever have time to give you any help.

In spite of their best efforts, the lobbyists for small companies are pretty ineffectual as they do not have real, small business entrepreneurs at the centre of government that understand the difficulties of small businesses – what did Alan Sugar know about small business, having built a large empire and so assuming that all small businesses grow like big oaks from a small seed; most of us just run around in a never-ending wheel, getting tired but not much further forward despite our heavy exertions and great, grand schemes.

Nor am I talking about the bright and sparkly, sexy start-ups that find media favour on TV programmes like Dragon’s Den, nor techie startups that can find early stage capital from Enterprise Ventures like Yorkshire Seedcorn and live by cash-burn and flip on to a new buyer, rather than building a profitable, cash-generative business.  Our newspapers are full of these successful, media savvy small companies. 

I mean the small retailers, the pie makers, the painters and tilers, the gardeners and the tea shops, as well as the small butchers, brewers and shoe shops etc etc.

We toil.  We busy ourselves.  We strive.  We have business dreams.

So from us, we say well done, you are all doing a great job.  It is damn hard and at times soul-destroying, but carry on and you never know we might all become successful one day. 

But do not expect any useful help from Government, bureaucrats and bankers as they do not genuinely have your best interests at heart; you are just there as cannon fodder to win elections, to tax so they can create new jobs, to busy themselves with in inventing mindless regulations to tie you in knots and waste your valuable time and so prevent you growing your sales, and to charge humungous arrangement fees and overdraft rates when you need leaner margins and overextend loans to you on low rates just when you should not be taking them.

This is a big shout out to all small business owners.  You are doing great.

Recipe For Business Success Cake

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

I am a fan of those little self-published recipe books as within them you often get real recipe gems that have been handed down from generation to generation within families.  You also get a lot of rubbish, as well, but a recipe book with even only one good recipe is a decent book. 

Within a small Cook Book prepared for the St Clare Hospice in West Essex, they not only have some interesting recipes, but two of those quaint, sentimental recipes for life – one for marriage and another for motherhood.  To these, I have created my own, slightly jejeune version – a Recipe For Business Success.

Recipe For Business Cake

For the base:

6oz Good idea
3oz Some starting capital
1tsp Good luck

For the filling:

11oz Hard work and grind
3oz Busy sales & marketing
5oz Plain cost control
4oz Credit control
1tsp Some good fortune
1tsp Understanding bank manager
Juice of common sense

For the sauce:

12oz Youthful enthusiasm
1oz Good humour

Crush the Good Idea, melt the Capital, add Good Luck and stir togther.  Press over the base of a loose bottomed cake tin.

Mix together all the ingredients for the filling in a large mixing bowl and blend thoroughly together until light and creamy.  Pour over base in the cake tin.  Place in oven and cook on a high heat for 2 – 3 years, then reduce heat and bake at medium heat for another 7 years, then test for taste and to see how well it has come together.  Cook for longer if required.

Prepare the sauce by melting together the Youthful Enthusiasm and Good Humour in a small sauce pan.

Take the Business Cake out of the oven and serve immediately with the sauce poured over it.

If it does not work the first time, try it again but alter the recipe based on previous experiences.

The classic recipes

Here are the classic recipes that you sometimes find printed in these sort of booklets:

A Good Wedding Cake

4lb love
½lb good looks
1lb blindness of faults
1lb pounded wit
2tbsp sweet argument
1 wine glass of common sense
1lb butter of youth
1lb sweet temper
1lb self forgetfulness
1lb good humour
1 pint rippling laughter
1oz modesty

Put the love, good looks and sweet temper into a well furnished house.  Beat the butter of youth to a cream and mix well together with the blindness of faults.  Stir the pounded wit and good humour into the sweet argument, then add the rippling laughter and common sense.  Work the whole together until everything is well mixed, and bake gently for ever.

[This was found in a church booklet of recipes printed in the early 1900s]

Recipe for Motherhood

Mix an abundance of patience laced with an ample amount of understanding.  Add daily two armfuls of tenderness.  Season with a sense of humour.  Blend the above with enough love to last from yesterday until tomorrow.

[Origin unknown – Came in a mothering sunday gift from a playgroup in the 1970s]