A basic lesson in business from the Apprentice.

So the Apprentice is back on our TV screens and with it the usual lessons in how not do do business! The first episode saw the teams challenged to buy fish at Billingsgate market and to sell it at a profit, the group that made the biggest profit would win. This is a basic business principle that every would be entrepreneur should be able to master but one group failed miserably. I think there are three key lessons that every business owner needs to remember:

  • Buy at the right price
  • Control costs
  • Be where the customers are

Buy at the right price

We saw the losing team manager buy a significant amount of fish from the first supplier they spoke to at the price the vendor wanted to charge! We should always shop around or at least know the market rate and then haggle. If you know what others are charging for an equivalent product you have a good starting point for your negotiations.

Control costs

Having bought their fish at an inflated price our losers then went on to make the most enormous fishcakes ‘because that’s what the specification said’. This meant that they couldn’t keep their costs down to the level where they could make a profit. It’s a mistake I often see in start-up businesses. Every time you add a little extra this or that your profit margin is compromised unless there is scope to put up your prices to cover the additional costs.

Be where your customers are.

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There’s a time when people want to eat lunch and a time when it’s too late. Lunch has to be ready when your customers want to eat.

Probably the biggest mistake that our hapless losers made was taking too long to prepare their dishes so that they missed the lunchtime trade. You can’t make money when no-one wants to buy. Could you be guilty of taking too long to get to market with your idea because you want it to be perfect or because you aren’t prepared to invest in the help that will get your product or service out there? It’s an easy mistake to make but a good product delivered on time will make more money than a perfect product launched when the market has already been satisfied.

Did you spot any more lessons in this episode? Why not share them here?

I’m sure I’ll be returning to the Apprentice for more blog posts in the coming weeks that is if they don’t drive me to mad first!

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How to make the most of your holiday to develop your business, part 2

They say travel broadens the mind. Time away from the coalface will give you a new perspective on your business and possibly on your life. A holiday gives you time to think, to read and to reflect. So here are a few more tips on using your holiday to give your business a bit of a boost.

Holidays can give us a fresh perspective on life and business.

Holidays can give us a fresh perspective on life and business.

Read a book or three

Holidays give us more chance for reading than any other time of year. I’m not suggesting reading heavy tomes or text books but business books can be entertaining. Read that biography you were thinking about, so

me of Richard Branson’s books are inspirational, I enjoyed Golden Apples by Bill Cullen (Ireland’s Alan Sugar) and am currently fascinated by Steve Harrison’s introduction to Howard Gossage. Read a classic like Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ or Robert Kiyosaki’s ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’.

Take a look on Amazon’s website for some inspiration. You might even find some free books for your I-Pad or Kindle. I’m currently ploughing my way through Napoleon Hill’s classic ‘Think & Grow Rich’ which is widely available at no cost.

The beauty about reading on holiday is that we have time to process what we are reading. We can take our time to reflect and learn.

Take time to think

Research by the University of California, San Diego says that the average American consumes 100,500 words in an average day! No wonder that information overload is said to make our thinking shallow. Holidays are a time to get away from information overload and give us space to think in more depth. They allow ideas the space to play around in our minds and to take form and shape.

There’s not a lot you can do on a flight, or sitting in traffic jams, on train journeys etc but we can use the time to think or to read (unless you are the driver). A lazy day on the beach can clear clutter from our thought processes. Use that notebook I talked about in my last post to capture your good ideas and then get on with chillaxing.

And finally…

You never know who you are going to meet on holiday so just in case you meet potential customers, joint venture partners or investors make sure you have some business cards with you. Then get on with have a relaxing time, you’ll return with recharged batteries ready to build your business with renewed vigour. Have a great time.

Is it time to shut up and listen?

This week Zeeshan Shah heard the inevitable words, ‘You’re Fired’ as he was booted off the BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’. Few disputed Lord Sugar’s decision. Shah had to go because he was the Project Manager on the losing team. His team lost because Shah knew it all and was too arrogant to listen to other people’s ideas. The episode really brought home how important listening skills are in business.

Line art of a screech owl.

A wise owl knows how to listen.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You probably know the poem:

“A wise old owl sat on an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard;
Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”

The wise old owl knew a thing or two about listening. Listening is such a vital skill it’s worth making an effort to perfect it. If we don’t listen effectively how will we understand our customers, our prospects, our staff or our nearest and dearest?

As American chat show host Larry King said, ‘I never learned anything whilst I was talking.’ So why do so many people think they need to talk all the time? Try talking and listening at the same time, it’s even more difficult than rubbing the tummy and patting the head in unison! What right do we have to do all the talking? I get particularly cross with those people who ask a question and then carry on talking without waiting for an answer.

Effective communication is a two way process and in most instances it requires active participation and an exchange of information by both parties. Listening effectively is hard to do. According to research we think at between 500 and 800 words per
minute and yet we speak at just 125 to 130! The natural tendency is to let our brains wander instead of listening properly. We might be contemplating what we’re going to eat or do in the evening; we may be thinking about our shopping or to do lists; we may be planning our response. We may be thinking that the speaker is an idiot! Whatever else we are doing we are not fully concentrating on the message.

We may also fail to listen because, like Zeeshan, we think we know it all, that we have nothing more to learn. Wrong! There is always something we can learn. Sometimes we need to be reminded of something we once knew but have forgotten.

If we don’t focus on our listening we can miss something really important. It might be the clue that allows us to make a big sale. It might be a cry for help. It might be our light bulb moment. But if we’re not listening we’ll miss it!

The advantages of developing acute listening skills are tremendous in life in general and in business. Very few people are really good at listening so an exceptional listener can give a business a competitive advantage. It is by listening carefully that we know what our customers really want and can tailor our sales pitch to show them how we can deliver. It is by listening carefully that we can hear the message our staff want us to hear and take appropriate action before a major problem develops. It is by listening carefully that we can spot business development opportunities.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemmingway

So I’m off to listen with a bit more care and attention. I wonder what new discoveries await me? What about you, will you spend just a bit more time listening?

Creating space for new growth.

Not much room for growth here.

Watching Gardeners World last week Monty Don was advocating the need to split and thin old plants to make space for new growth. We need to do the same in business. Just as old plants cease to flower as prolifically so do old products and services cease to generate as many sales or as much profit.

August is a great time of the year for a bit of judicious pruning. Many of us will be taking a holiday so creating a bit of distance between ourselves and our businesses, that should create some mental space. Even without a holiday August tends to be a quieter time of year for all but businesses in the travel and tourism sector so can be a good time for a clear out.

I’m certainly not suggesting you spend your entire holiday thinking about your business but here are a few ideas for things you could do to make space for new growth in your business:

  • Before you go clear the clutter from your workspace. If you haven’t time to go through everything deal with the priority items and stuff the rest in a box. If you haven’t needed to refer to the box within two months of your return destroy the contents, you didn’t need them.
  • Take a notebook and a camera on holiday with you. Make notes of ideas you have and take photographs for inspiration. Don’t spend time thinking them through now (you are on holiday remember!) but capturing them will mean you can develop your ideas later.
  • Book an extra few days ‘off’ at the end of your holiday. That’s the time for developing your new ideas and pruning dead wood before you get sucked back in to everyday routines and pressures. Most of us don’t hit the ground running after a holiday but new ideas should fire your motivation to get going.

Just as thinning plants in the garden creates space for growth I have always found that a major de-clutter is quickly followed by new opportunities. Here’s to your successful Autumn and if you are having a holiday may it be a good one with lots of relaxation and inspiration.

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