Business Answers
Business Answers is a place where HP in the UK can engage with owner-managers in small and medium-sized companies. It embraces this blog, a vibrant LinkedIn group, Twitter and YouTube videos. We hope you find this useful and that you will share your thoughts with us by leaving comments and sharing articles you like with your colleagues.

Displaying articles for: November 2010

How to get an extra hour every day

iStock_000000376586XSmall.jpgTime pressure is acute and frustrations such as commuting, inflexible working hours and tedious meetings make it worse. Everyone could do with an extra hour in the day. Imagine how you could spend it: leave work an hour early, stay on top of your email, get time for long-range planning or just have a bit more time to think. Read the rest of this article for ten sure-fire ways to get an extra hour a day.

Tags: productivity

Small businesses must keep investing in IT security

iStock_000004426908XSmall.jpgTo some extent, urging small business owners to invest in IT security solutions may be preaching to the converted – unsurprising given the huge amount of media attention given over to the subject over the last decade. Unless they have been living under a rock all this time, company leaders should by now be fully aware of the importance of protecting their business IT solutions against web-based viruses and other malware. Read the rest of this article for powerful insights into IT security from Microsoft UK.

Top ten entrepreneur mistakes

iStock_000001285627XSmall.jpgStarting a new business venture is always a trial and error process – even for experienced entrepreneurs. After all, there is no playbook or game plan out there that will ensure a start-up’s success.

 

Hence, a recent article by Rosalind Resnick, the founder and CEO and Axxess Business Consulting Inc. (a New York consulting firm that develops business plans and financial projections for start-ups and early-stage companies), for the Wall Street Journal about the top 10 mistakes entrepreneurs make is well worth reading. These mistakes included:

 

  1. Going it alone. In Rosalind’s opinion, it's difficult to build a scalable business if there is only one person involved. Hence and even if you are running a solo shop, you must ensure that there is enough margin in your pricing to allow you to bring in more people when you need to.
  2. Asking too many people for advice. Rosalind wrote that while it's always good to get input from other experts, getting too many people's opinions may in fact delay your decision making abilities. He advises that you assemble a solid advisory board but leave the day-to-day running of the business to yourself.
  3. Spending too much time on product development, not enough on sales. Rosalind conceded that while it’s difficult to build a great company without a great product, a competitor with a stronger sales organisation can still grab your customers. In other words, keep one eye focused on sales so that you don’t run out of both energy and money before your product reaches the market.
  4. Targeting too small a market. Rosalind pointed out that while cornering a market or niche may be tempting, your growth may quickly hit a wall if your target market or niche is too tiny. In other words, try to pick a bigger market where you can grab a bigger slice of the pie.
  5. Entering a market with no distribution partner. Rosalind noted that a market that already has a good network of agents, brokers, manufacturers' reps and other resellers will be easier to break into while service businesses tend to alternate between “feast and famine” or just plain struggle to survive. Hence, Rosalind suggested that you make a list of potential referral sources who you can then ask to send business in your direction.
  6. Overpaying for customers. Rosalind wrote that while advertising spending may bring in plenty of new customers, you will ultimately lose money if you can’t convert those dollars into “life-time customer value.” Rosalind’s solution: “Test, measure, then test again.”
  7. Raising too little capital. Rosalind noted that many entrepreneurs assume that all they need is money to rent space and buy the necessary equipment while forgetting that they will also need to pay for things like salaries, utilities, insurance and other overhead expenses plus themselves until the venture becomes profitable. Rosalind’s point was that you will need to calculate your start-up cost before you start your business – not afterwards.
  8. Raising too much capital. On the other hand, Rosalind wrote that raising too much money can also be a problem as over-funded ventures tend to get big and bloated – until they run out of cash (like during the dot.com era). Hence, Rosalind wrote that no matter how much cash you are able to raise, you will still need bank some for a rainy day.
  9. Not having a business plan. Rosalind pointed out that not every company needs a formal business plan, but one that requires significant capital to grow and more than a year to become profitable will need a roadmap that also thinks through key business metrics.
  10. Over-thinking your business plan. On the other hand, Rosalind noted that some entrepreneurs or potential entrepreneurs are afraid to pull the trigger until they are 100% certain that their business plan will succeed. In other words, there is a certain point when you have to “close your eyes and take the leap of faith.”

Rosalind ended her article by noting that it's probably not possible to start a company without making at least a few mistakes along the way. However, you will need to try to avoid making any mistake “so large that your company can't get back on its feet to fight another day.”

Why you shouldn't cut training (even in hard times)

iStock_000009027655XSmall.jpgWhile it may be tempting to cut your training budget, especially in a recession or hard economic times, doing so may be detrimental to your business according to a recent post on the TalenTrust blog. The post began by quoting management guru Jack Welch who once said that “An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

 

TalenTrust then pointed out that the opportunity for career growth and advancement is consistently one of the top three reasons people choose to stay with their current employer and the lack of it is the primary reason for employees to leave. In other words, there are many benefits to establishing and maintaining a robust training program as such a program can:

 

  • Ensure that people can do their jobs effectively.
  • Increase employee motivation.
  • Increase efficiencies in processes and systems.
  • Inspire innovation in strategies and products.
  • Cross-train between departments and across regions (a safety net when you lose staff).
  • Lower risk management (in areas like sexual harassment and diversity).
  • Increase productivity.
  • Improve customer relationships.
  • Help maintain a competitive advantage.

Moreover, TalenTrust pointed out that training and development is actually at the heart of succession planning because it’s the process where you identify, assess as well as develop your staff to ensure that they are ready to take on key roles in the organisation.

 

At the end of the post, TalenTrust pointed out that you can actually save money and increase your profitability by investing in continuous training and development for your employees – even in a bad economy. Moreover and by simply reallocating your resources and by adapting the delivery of training to meet your current economic circumstances or challenges (rather than just slashing your training and development budget), you will create a much more sustainable long-term business. 

The value of PC Refresh with Windows 7

Is it time to upgrade to a new PC and a new operating system? Intel IT began an enterprise-wide deployment of Microsoft Windows 7* on PCs with Intel® vPro™ technology in early 2010. We conducted an extensive three-month evaluation that showed the OS meets the key requirements of Intel’s business groups, giving us the ability to improve employee productivity, deliver IT cost efficiencies, and improve manageability and security. Download the full report from the Intel IT Galaxy UK website.

PR on a budget

iStock_000011817723XSmall.jpgIn today’s uncertain economy, many big and small businesses alike have had to rethink their marketing budgets. However, it is now more important than ever to have your products or services to appear in media publications that are read by your target audience.

 

Hence, a recent article by lornasixsmith for Bloggertone is well worth reading as she outlined six steps that Garrendenny Lane, her small company which sells interior design consultancy services plus designer fabrics and wallpapers, did to effectively build up their PR on a budget. Lorna began her article by noting that while she was happy with the results her online publicity campaign was generating, she realised that she had to further tweak it as well as improve the online image of her business. She did this in five easy steps:


  1. Find your uniqueness. Lorna wrote that you need to find your so-called USP or unique selling point. And if you find it difficult to come up with something, Lorna suggested taking a look at what other businesses are doing plus do some brain storming. In her case, she negotiated and obtained exclusivity with two up and coming designers known for high quality products and the fact that she got an exclusive deal with them became the focus of a press release.
  2. Use online press release distribution. Lorna suggested using services like Media Contact, Przone or Irish Press Releases or to simply send the press releases directly to the editors or journalists who write or work for your preferred publications. In her case, she featured one of her exclusive lines in her press release and this led to extensive media coverage.
  3. Track media contacts. Lorna noted that she keeps track of her media contacts and whenever she has a new product or an exclusive deal, she emails them. In her case, she has three journalists who regularly feature her products and she always makes sure to send them a thank you note when they do so.
  4. Align online and offline marketing. Lorna wrote that both your offline and online marketing efforts should complement each other. In other words, when you are mentioned in an offline publication, scan it onto your blog, website, Twitter or Facebook page. In turn, you may actually end up being contacted again after your offline mentions are seen again online.
  5. Be patient. Lorna pointed out that you should not expect miraculous results from just one media mention. In her opinion, PR is about keeping up a profile and building up a business in people’s minds. Hence, you will need to keep working at it.

At the end of her article, Lorna noted that she actually has no PR or marketing experience but she has had to work hard at it because her budget for marketing and advertising was virtually zero. So, if she can make it work, then so can you.

Five lessons learned the hard way

iStock_000001285627XSmall.jpgAll entrepreneurs and small business owners have made their share of mistakes or have learned certain lessons or business fundamentals the hard way. Hence, a recent article by Tim Berry, the President and founder of Palo Alto Software and the founder of bplans.com, is well worth reading as he wrote about five business fundamentals that he learned the hard way.

 

Tim began his article by noting that it has been 27 years since he was last an employee and 22 years since he started running his own business. And although he has a “fancy business degree,” he still learned these following five mistakes the hard way:

 

  1. Your employees can’t also be your friends. Tim pointed out that many small business owners want their employees to also be their friends and that they hire people who they like. However, Tim makes it clear that people you pay aren’t really your friends while running a business requires management, the meeting of goals, accountability and feedback. Moreover, he noted that you can’t be both equal and effective with your employees.
  2. Profits aren’t cash (or cashflow). Tim wrote that profits are merely an accounting concept and that having a sale does not automatically mean that you have the money. Moreover, the costs that were associated with a sale may have already been incurred some months ago while profits completely ignore debt repayments or the purchases of assets. Hence, Tim wrote that it’s still possible to go broke while being profitable. 
  3. Good liars are rare but dangerous. Tim noted that it’s easy to spot most liars as lying usually trips up most normal people. However, he quoted an investor with a firm that recently ran into trouble as saying, “when people answer straight direct questions with straight direct lies, they can get away with it.”
  4. You have to live with mistakes. Tim pointed out that if you can’t handle making a mistake, then you are probably not cut out to be a small business owner or an entrepreneur as you are going to make mistakes and you will need to quickly recognise them and take appropriate action.
  5. You can’t do everything, so at least try do the right things. Tim wrote that as a small business owner or an entrepreneur, everything you do will rule out something else that you can’t do. In other words, trying to do everything does not work as you eventually end up not being able to do the important things that you should be doing.

Tim’s entire article is well worth reading as it will help you to avoid some of the same mistakes that he learned the hard way.

Starting is cheap. Scaling is expensive

iStock_000005478858XSmall.jpgMateen Greenway, an HP Fellow based in London and the chief technologist for the EMEA Defence, Security, Government & Healthcare industry, has recently noted on the Next Big Thing blog how he had read an interesting article (“Starting up is cheap. Success is expensive”) for The Register by Matt Asay. In the article, Asay had argued that while IT startup costs for new businesses today are very cheap, significant investment is still required to build a new business that can handle scale. Moreover, Asay backed up his idea with the following facts and statements:

 

It's undoubtedly true that startup costs have gone down. Ironically, this comes at the very time that venture capitalists are sitting on mega-funds that must disburse ever greater investments. According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers Money Tree survey, the average seed deal size has actually climbed to $5.4m, up from $4.0m in the fourth quarter of 2009. Across all stages of investment, National Venture Capital Association data suggest that average investments are roughly constant since 2007. If startup costs are lower, apparently VCs and startups didn't get the memo.

 

Mateen then pointed out in his post that while access to cloud business services is a great way for a new business to quickly and cheaply get started without having to make large capital investments, a new company will still need to invest money in developing a unique business value as these are the areas of a business that will differentiate a company and must be protected.

 

Asay also concluded his article by writing that:

 

In sum, we seem to be entering an age when it's dirt cheap to start a company, but still expensive to scale one. Sure, it's cheaper in the short term to outsource your data center to Amazon or Microsoft, but ultimately the Facebooks of the world aren't going to outsource their crown jewels to a third party.

 

Meanwhile, Mateen noted the problems faced by large companies and governments alike when they attempt to adopt and gain the benefits of cloud computing technologies and while the cost savings are attractive, the lack of strong service levels will probably mean that they turn out to be appropriate solutions only for non-core activities. Mateen also added that many companies have difficulty in deciding just what is core to their business in the first place.

 

Both Mateen’s post and Asay’s article are both well worth reading by would-be entrepreneurs and existing small business owners alike. 

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About the Author(s)
  • Matthew Stibbe is CEO at Articulate Marketing and TurbineHQ. He is an HP fanboy.
The opinions expressed above are the personal opinions of the authors, not of HP. By using this site, you accept the Terms of Use and Rules of Participation