Tips for Business Start Ups: try living your life in a retailer’s shoes.

Start ups come in many shapes and sizes, reflect many fads and fashions and have more than their fair share of dreams and nightmares to look forward to. One thing they all have in common though is the act of trading: they all have something to sell in exchange for something else, usually, although not always, money.

Every start up has to learn how to sell at some point and there are endless Motorway Service Station manuals, YouTube sites and bubble gum vouchers which offer all sorts of tips, tricks and nonsense to this most elusive of business start up activity: trying to encourage someone to part with something they don’t necessarily want to part with.

Sheila, a young start up in Nottingham is approaching the moment of trade not a little nervously. She has developed a great line in lace lingerie but is utterly perplexed when it comes to the lines she’ll need utter when it comes to plying her trade. She’s seen the motivational videos;  “look at yourself in the mirror and imagine you’re covered in treacle: stand like you’re six feet tall and bark like a dog; shake your customer’s hands vigorously and don’t let go until they give you their bank card’s pin code: But none of these hold the slightest interest for Sheila. She’s bored by the rants and the rhetoric and wants to – needs to – find an entry into sales which doesn’t involve her having a frontal lobotomy beforehand.

A simple trick when it comes to sales is to go to shopping: not with the purpose of shopping, but with the purpose of finding out what encourages people to buy. Sheila realises if she can look at the act of selling through the eyes of the buyer, she’ll learn lots more about how to sell her lingerie than she would if just kept looking at the transaction through the eyes of the seller.

And this is something that’s easily done as most of us, at one time or another in our lives, have gone shopping. Probably even today. So what happens when you go shopping? What’s your predisposition to the shop before you even go into it? Do you want to get the hell back to Kansas as fast as you can?

How do you respond to the shop assistant who walks alongside you, perpetually smiling at you whilst you choose your evening meal? Do they remind you of all those Apple Store operatives who seem to have had permanent dental surgery?

How do you react to the layout of the shop? The proximity of other shoppers? The possibility of picking up the goods, squeezing them hard and then putting them back on the shelf before anyone notices?

Whether they’re selling algorithms or apples, there are hundreds of other aspects to shopping which the Start Up would do well to observe and learn from: but not from the shoes of the seller, but from the viewpoint of the buyer.  Try living in the shoes of a retailer for a day: it will do wonders for your sales technique.

5 tips for everyone: how not to become part of the business world

Every now and then you have to take stock of what you’re part of and what is expected of you in this multi-demanding world we find ourselves in. Either every teenager is expected to want to go to university, or everyone over 50 is expected to don their dancing shoes, shake off the years and become lean, mean fighting machines, or every public sector worker is expected to turn into an eagle eyed entrepreneur and set up their own business, often on the flimsiest of pretexts.

This latter expectation is particularly worrying given the myths and legends which seem to populate public fantasies about what it’s like to work in the business world. So, here’s some advice on how not to become part of that world, should you wish to stay sane in your own personal world of education, employment or imagination.

1. Don’t think in terms of targets, key performance indicators, goals, strategies, visions, missions, or any thing else that has vaguely military overtones to it. Don’t even use these words. Ever.

2. Don’t dress to impress or invest. You can spend far too much time worrying about what you look like in other peoples eyes, particularly those who you imagine might have access to large wads of cash. They frequently don’t.

3. Don’t polish your shoes. Ever. Shiny shoes are a sign of mental anguish and a desire to please the craven. They promise the world and deliver the gutter.

4. Dowse the word ‘marketing’ with a large cup of petrol and throw a match at it. Stand well back. Try not to promote anything to anyone, ever.

5. Imagine your world shorn of logos, brands and tradmarks. Aim to live your life with the minimum of these commercial albatrosses around your neck.

6. Either trade in your passport for or take out as many as you possibly can. Refuse to identify with any one nation, one corporation or one brand of chocolate.

Go on, you know you want to.

Tips for Business Start Ups: 8 Questions to ask yourself about whether or not to export…

We’re increasingly being invited to talk to business audiences about the perils and pleasures of the export business – no doubt because of the pressures in the UK economic climate at the moment. We make the case that if we can export something – whether this be ideas, experiences, knowledge, products or services – then anyone can. In doing that, we found 8 questions we have kept on asking ourselves about why we started in the first place, and why we continue with it. They are:

1. Why do you want to do it? There has to be a point to you looking beyond your local shores; i.e. not just a bottom line but at least one or two ‘top lines’ which will affect your business, whether this be by improving the quality of your product, service or idea or improving your customer base.

2. Who are your partners? Because you will need partners, lots of them, in lots of different guises. You can’t do this stuff alone and if you can get support from your local LEP, UKTI, British Council or other national institutions then so much the better.

3. Who’s in the room right now? Sometimes (often) you don’t need to travel 1,000 miles to find an export partner. They may be sat right next to you, blissfully unaware of each others presence. Ask people on your own doorstep first, you’ll be astounded as to who they will introduce you to.

4. What are you selling? Products? Services? Knowledge? Access? Ideas? It doesn’t matter whether it’s one or all of these: but you have to be selling something that some-one elsewhere wants. Obvious really but sometimes an export drive can be seduced by the thrill of flights, cheap beer and balmy evening temperatures. As Milo Mindbender in Catch 22 infamously remarked, “There will always be trade.”

5. How do you deal with difference? Because you will be dealing with a ton of difference; not just food clothes and customs, but how people talk with you, their expectations of you, their business manners and table manners. If you think that your homeland can teach those people over there a thing or two about how to behave in business, then export may not be the right thing for you.

6. What language do you want to learn? You will need to learn another language – not just the phonetics, grammar and niceties of the spoken and written word- but the languages of money, of relationships, of success, of failure.

7. How will the cash flow? Once you’re talking turkey about selling turkeys to Turkey, then that’s the time to get the cash flow agreement in place. This is not easy but requires a dedication to duty sometimes beyond what is reasonable. But it matters immensely.

8. Are you running a sprint or a marathon? Are you in it for a quick fast buck or to build long term relationships? Both have their places and only you will know what’s right for your business; but just remember the nasty infections that lurk around the strangest corners. Cast your mind back to your school or university days if need be.

And in the end, the final question to ask is, Am I enjoying this? Because if not – you’re best staying put at home.

Tips for Business Start Ups: 5 things your MBA won’t teach you. And 1 it will.

If you’re about to set up a new business then you need to know that you’re not about to enter a Newtonian type universe where every cause has an effect or where every action has a reaction. You’re joining the slippy sloppy world of quantum mechanics where minor variations in inputs have surprising unplanned and unexpected consequences on your outputs. You’ll need to be reading up on chaos theory soon.

But if you don’t have the time to wade through complexity, strange attractors and topological mixing, then here are 6 essential tips to prepare you for those next strange journeys you are about to encounter.

1. Working hard doesn’t necessarily get rewarded. You can work your backside off over many years but it’s a guarantee of nothing. There’s no straight forward logic between effort and reward.

2. The market place is not a fair equitable system which is built upon civilising values of integrity, honesty and balance. Markets are not like super-bazaars where there’s a variety of stalls selling you 7 sorts of trinkets. They’re imagined, fluid and fickle apparitions which wander Second Life. You’ll be dealing with 2 dimensional avatars not 3 dimensional people in those virtual spaces. Avatars have questionable ethics, suspect memories and indefinable bank accounts. They’re not who they say they are, they don’t do what you think they’re doing.

3. It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know either. No, it’s what you imagine that will get you through the days. What you know is probably outdated; who you know was another avatar from another second life. You can at least trust your own imagination as it resides in your mind and body, not anyone else’s.

4. Be clear what your targets are. Proper targets are things like what time you get up in the morning, how much sugar you put in your coffee and what time the bar’s open. These are knowable, quantifiable and achievable. Concepts such as wealth, love, happiness are not targets at all but mirages with a mind of their own. They will come (or not) to you when they’re ready, not when you decide you want them.

5. Will there always be trade? To paraphrase what Milo Mindbender in Catch 22 was fond of saying? No, there will always be a desire for selling and buying and pretending to buy and sell. Whether there is any actual buying and selling is another matter altogether. There will always be pretence, mirage and unexpected consequences.

6. Cash is king. This is true.

Tips for Business Start Ups: how to avoid getting in your own way

If we’re trying to develop a policy, business, project or whatever – the process of determining the changes you want to make might appear simple enough until you realise there are various trade offs to be accommodated; creativity or standards for example? Compliance or independence? Responding to policies which say ‘turn left’ coupled to others that demand ‘turn right’: sometimes, legitimately, both at the same time.

Organisational growth is in one sense a mirage of a mechanistic process which suggests growth is simply a matter of increased turnover, more staff, more premises, more profits and that these things arrive in good mechanistic ways which are based on the principle that if I do ‘X’ then this will cause ‘Y’ and that if we behave in a certain way then we will be due – or we will deserve – the consequences.

But the environment we work in isn’t like that at all. It’s far more complex and indeterminable than those assumptions allow for. If we follow the mechanistic logic of following policy, guidelines and so-called best practice – then all to often we will get in our own way and end up contradicting the very steps we want to take.
One model for new businesses is to avoid the notion of the Business Plan like the plague – but opt for Emergent Responsiveness strategies instead, meaning that instead of following a plan – which can be built upon contradictory policies and calls to action – that we respond to the business moment, the glimpses of opportunities and the acceptance of serendipity in the business growth process.