The SoUE learning curve

We thank Jess Tyler for contributing this blog to Business Tasmania.

Jess TylerNo, ‘SoUE’ is not a new marketing term. It’s something we’ve all experienced, a ‘Series of Unfortunate Events’. While SoUEs might make you feel as though you’ve failed, they actually carry important lessons for survival.

The book A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket is a must-read, not only because it’s a jolly good laugh, but because it contains valuable lessons on coping with and learning from adversity. 

Everybody has one or several SoUEs in the course of running their business – even the most successful business owners. SoUEs are there to help us learn from our mistakes and refocus our goals. 

In Snickett’s book, the evil protagonist Count Olaf assumes various disguises and causes all kinds of hardship. Business owners are no strangers to their own metaphorical Count Olafs. He can appear in many guises – an unhappy customer, someone who pips us at the post with the ‘Next Big Thing’ or even an economic downturn. Sometimes the Count is our own tired ideas and stale products. And sometimes you can feel that Count Olaf has become a permanent family member!

But does having a SoUE mean that you’re a serial failure? On the contrary, weathering your SoUE can make you more determined and focused, by forcing you to address important questions. Any SoUE that brings learning, new awareness and development is not the same as making mistakes repeatedly. Rather, surviving a SoUE can make you more determined than ever. 

For me, my SoUE saw me questioning whether I was cut out for a solo career. But after emerging from my SoUE I concluded that I am actually destined to work by myself, for myself. There’s no other way I want to live. I might make mistakes, but this is my passion and without that I might as well shut the doors. 

I can’t think of very many businesses or people who were instant successes. There’s no reality TV show for working hard in business, because it’s long, often gritty work. But the reward is self-determination. So count me in. 

In all business advice books and blogs, you’ll hear that you need to adapt, improvise and overcome adversity to succeed. Roughly translated – stuff happens.

The lessons you learn will be unique to you, but I’ve found at the times when I’ve needed to brace for another SoUE, reflecting on how I came through the last lot is edifying. It helps me to not only survive, but to come out on top. 

What lessons did you learn from your SoUE?

Jess is a business owner of Synapsium and an invited founding member of the Tasmanian Science & Technology Council and of the Australian Science Communicators . She has worked with some of Australia’s leading innovators and research agencies including the Australian Commission for the Future, the Australian Antarctic Division and many divisions of CSIRO.

Jess is a three-times finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards.

au.linkedin.com/in/jesstyler/

 

How not to be in small business

Written by Dr Polly McGee.
There are many paths to becoming a business person. Sometimes it’s solving a problem that has irritated us enough to step in and fix a market issue. Other times we find an opportunity so compelling that we simply have to be part of it. We might be social entrepreneurs, righting inequities. And occasionally we are accidental entrepreneurs, who are often the best. 

Getting into business and the motivation to start up is one thing; staying up is another. The motivation that propels you to market is not a guarantee of success.  Start-ups and small businesses are susceptible to market pressures. If there hasn’t been a thorough interrogation of the business’s strategic planning and risk management prior to going ahead, the pitfalls that can undo a business will be hidden in the start-up phase. 

Here are the top five phrases that strike fear into my heart. 

  1. “I’m making lots of money on my [insert input for product] but I haven’t charged for my time.” This is the classic mistake of artisans who turn their hobby into a business. When properly costed, the time spent making their product puts it into a stratospheric price range. A $300 bottle of cider or baby bib anyone?
  2. “I’ve applied for a patent myself, my mum did some research on the internet, then sent the [insert unprotected item] to some friends.” Intellectual property is a critical consideration for any product heading to market. For a small business, rarely does that protection involve patenting. The obvious protections such as keeping the idea secret, securing domains and trademarks, brand protection if necessary and, more importantly, securing market share, are often not considered strategically. Seeking expert advice from a quality patent attorney is the key.
  3. “I’ve got a great product, but I can only make [insert small number] a week and I’ve just had an order for 500!” The difference between a hobby and a business is the ability to service the market, which is by nature scalable. While many entrepreneurs don’t start out to be ‘massive’, being able to sustainably increase revenue, and make your family and lifestyle more secure, is a good aspiration. If you know your artisan product is limited by production time, think about ways to outsource or allowing others to create it, without compromising the quality.
  4.  “I don’t use [insert online payment or social media website] it’s a waste of time and you can’t trust the internet.” If it’s a waste of time putting yourself in front of customers you would never normally access, or forming relationships with people who could be essential in your supply chain, then you’re right.
  5. “I just know that it will be a massive success, my [insert family member or partner] says it’s awesome.” A valid test market consists of as many people as possible – who aren’t directly related to you – giving honest feedback about the product, preferably before it hits the market. Let customers be your copilots in the usability and market acceptance of your idea.

Dr Polly McGee has worked as a digital strategist and business consultant, freelance writer in entrepreneurship and commercialisation and has been published in Start-up Smart. She is regularly featured as an expert on Startups and women in entrepreneurship. Polly is the current Chair of Tasmanian literary magazine Island, occasional media commentator, wannabe novelist and sporadic food blogger.

Five good reasons why investing in employee training is worth it

 

Business Tasmania thanks Kelly Smith from Careers FAQs for today’s blog

Kelly SmithWhen it comes to small companies, training is vital. It improves the efficiency of your workforce, boosts your business’s profits and positively impacts staff morale. 

Here are some potential perks of employee training to show you why it’s worth investing in the knowledge and skills of your staff. 

1.     Building company identity 

A well-defined training strategy will make your company look attractive to prospective employees. Additionally, it will help to build your reputation with all kinds of talented people: recent graduates and mid-career professionals alike. 

2.     Workforce improvement 

Investing in your workforce shows your staff that you value them. This improves loyalty, commitment and staff retention. The skills acquired through training will allow your employees to perform a greater variety of tasks. The end result is an enhanced ability to actively respond to changes in the company business strategy. So your workers will be better equipped to meet both the present and future requirements of your business. This makes your operations smoother and more productive, and your employees will boost their self esteem by expanding their contribution to the business – a win-win situation! 

3.     Practical reductions 

Training can help to reduce inefficient use of time and resources. This includes curbing the number of workplace incidents stemming from insufficient workplace health and safety training. 

4.     Important increases 

Training has the potential to boost the company’s profitability and customer satisfaction, which provides good grounds for the future implementation and realisation of specific goals, as outlined in your company’s business plan. 

5.     Company atmosphere 

It might seem obvious, but fostering a positive workplace culture is vital to any business’s continued success. By improving the overall atmosphere of your workplace, you’ll avoid problems like absenteeism and high staff turnover, which inevitably add to expenses. Demonstrating a commitment to ongoing workplace training will have a great effect on morale, promoting job satisfaction and making your employees truly engaged in working towards your goals. 

As you can see, providing your employees with ongoing training has multiple benefits. Each of these help to create a foundation for improving a company’s overall performance and to boost your brand.

Kelly Smith works at Career FAQs – http://www.careerfaqs.com.au/, an Australian online education resource. She also provides career advice for students and job seekers and works as a freelance writer.

 

Do you want to export?

Exporting can be a profitable way of expanding your business, spreading your risks and reducing your dependence on the local market.  Like any business decision, the key to a successful exporting venture is planning.  There are no quick ways to do it.  Before you look too deeply into what markets your business could export to, you should consider the following points.

Is your business ready to export?

Commitment

  • Does your business have staff that can dedicate time to undertake this new activity? Do they have the skills, expertise and commitment?
  • Do you have an export business plan?  Or have you become an exporter by accident, after an internet enquiry? 

Capability

Does your business have the funds to:

  • spend on new marketing activities
  • visit the market to meet distributors and/or consumers
  • make product modifications or packaging changes
  • gain certification, pay insurance, and get protection for your intellectual property?

Capacity

  • Does anyone in your business have market development experience, negotiation skills or international marketing experience?  Will you need to recruit or hire a consultant?
  • Does your business have the funds to increase stock holding, or to increase payment terms?
  • Is your workforce casual or full time?

Competition

  • Do you know who your competition is in the export market?  How many are there? What is their market share? Why do customers buy their brand? Are they cheaper?
  • What will they do if your product is launched in their market?

The Australian Trade Commission’s  Austrade website has a great International Rediness Indicator, that can help determine if your business is ready for export.

Once you can truthfully say that your business is ready and capable of exporting, you are ready to look at the next steps.

12 Steps to Successful Exporting

  1. Export for the right reasons.
  2. Assess your capability and readiness.
  3. Select your markets.
  4. Collect information.
  5. Understand documentation and finance.
  6. Prepare an export plan.
  7. Establish your market entry method.
  8. Use the right promotion.
  9. Finalise pricing.
  10. Prepare to visit the market.
  11. Prepare your sales pitch.
  12. Visit the market and follow up.

Determining whether you are ready to enter the international business arena requires both an examination of your commitment in terms of resources, as well as your ability to compete with international competition. Once you have done this initial review of your capabilities and feel confident, you should visit our Business Tasmania website to learn what are your next steps. 

We at  Business Tasmania thank our colleagues at Brand Development and Marketing for writing this blog. It’s great!

 

 

It’s all in the timing

I’m confused. How do you know who to believe?

I’m talking about how often a blog should be published. Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? There’s compelling ‘evidence’ from so-called experts for all of these. The one thing they all agree on is consistency.

When we first launched Business Tasmania, it was recommended that we post blogs at least twice but preferably three times a week. Being new to the game we agreed. We realised very quickly that unless we had a staff member dedicated to blogging – and that just wasn’t going to happen – more than once a week was totally unrealistic.

So for over a year now, we’ve posted articles on all things business once a week. We’ve encouraged guest bloggers and we’ve been very fortunate to get great stories and advice.

With a year’s worth of statistics (courtesy of Google), we’ve done some analysis and concluded that we would like to give you longer to read our posts. So we’ll be publishing once a fortnight from now on, unless there’s a groundswell of objections. We will listen, I promise!

Also, please let us know if you have a business-related blog you’d like to share (sorry, no advertising allowed!) or if there are any topics you’d like us to cover.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

This post was written by Rosemary, one of the BT crew. She likes having heaps of interesting blog ideas to work on.

Are You Ready to Risk it All?

Dr Polly McGee is our guest blogger this week.

I recently had a strategic advisory session with an aspiring business person – let’s call her ‘Ms X’. She had an opportunity to lease a small venue for her dream café. Ms X loved to bake and wanted to establish a venue with a community feeling, where mothers and locals gathered over beautiful cakes and coffee. 

She was working for a large institution with good pay and flexible conditions, but was deeply unfulfilled. Her partner was fully occupied with his work and not keen on the café business, and Ms X was still the primary carer for two young kids. She had excellent marketing, communication and social media skills, and could mobilise her networks and friends to support her business, although most of them were not in her local jurisdiction. The rent on the space was about $5 000 a year. It was close to home and a blank canvas for her potential business. At first glance it sounded great and she was all fired up to sign the lease. 

Many people make decisions based on the romance of starting their dream business, rather than sound market and risk analysis. My risk assessment of her café was broken into the three basic questions: what is the demand, what are the risks and what do the numbers say? 

As the venue was empty, there was no established demand as a café, but the capacity to establish demand was quite achievable, with an investment in marketing. It was on a route to a bus stop, so foot traffic was good, as was the opportunity to establish a community-style brand and a following for her cakes and high teas. There was the usual competition with established venues in the area. More critically, the market would be limited by the size of the venue, about 30 seats, making a quick turnover and high-value spend per head essential for sufficient profit.  

When calculated, the risks looked nasty. Ms X had no experience in commercial cooking or café management, no savings and no connections into the supplier and input side. The space was empty, so even a minimal second-hand fit out would nudge $20 000 by the time fridges, appliances and furniture were included, not to mention certifying the space for food production. The biggest sticking point was the actual running of the shop. It was too big for one person, but paying wages meant an immediate drain on income and another level of management and compliance. Then there was the opportunity cost of Ms X forgoing her actual income for the earnings of the café, and a significant risk as a ‘solo-preneur’ of how to keep things running if she or one of the kids got sick, etc. 

As for the numbers, with the upfront borrowings, the establishment costs and the unknown period of turning a profit, the break-even point was a distant spot on the horizon. Whilst the margin on coffee is great and cakes can be a good money spinner, the margin on perishable food in niche quantities gets smaller and smaller, especially when anticipating uncertain demand at the outset. That super-cheap $5 000 of rent suddenly gets a lot more expensive when laid out in this way, and the dream café can turn into a nightmare. 

Happily, Ms X is a smart and pragmatic gal. She could see the risks to her family and the rising stress levels if she went ahead. But she could also see a model forming, where this type of business would be achievable and that by biding her time, and focusing on the good things about her current job and security, she could build a skill, support and cash war chest to take on another opportunity with gusto.

We at Business Tasmania would like to thank Polly for her contribution. If you have any queries about starting a business please contact us.

Dr Polly McGee has worked as a digital strategist and business consultant, freelance writer in entrepreneurship and commercialisation and been published in Start-up Smart. She is regularly featured as an expert on Startups and women in entrepreneurship. Polly is the current Chair of Tasmanian literary magazine Island, occasional media commentator, wannabe novelist and sporadic food blogger. Now devoted full time to the executive team of freight rail company TasRail as their Corporate Relations Manager, Polly remains a keen observer of the business and startup environment in Tasmania.

Listen……and learn

Do you know what your staff are saying to your customers?

James, a restaurant chef, once told me how he ran his business from ‘back of house’ (the kitchen) and employed waiters for ‘front of house’. The business bubbled along with very few complaints and enough compliments, but he felt he wasn’t achieving the complete customer experience to be really successful.

James knew his product was good. The location, in a street of buzzy cafes and boutiques, was perfect. His prices were competitive and the wine list well-chosen by a sommelier friend. His waiters came and went but that’s normal for casual staff – isn’t it?

Looking for answers, James decided to spend a couple of evenings ‘front of house’. He noticed that occasionally customers waited on arrival as all the staff were too busy to greet them. He listened to the questions his guests asked the waiters and was stunned by some of the replies. The waiters were unfailingly pleasant, but there were a few odd descriptions of the food among several “I don’t know” or “I’ll find out” answers. Not good enough!

James realised that as his staff had slowly changed, so had their understanding of the menu. Next day, he called an early staff meeting and cooked every dish on the menu for tasting and discussion, and promised that any future additions would also be sampled. He hired a permanent staff member to ‘captain the ship’ and take care of the little but oh-so- important details. This person was responsible for continuity – including ensuring any new staff member was fully briefed and trained.

We all know what a difference it makes to have a well-informed sales person instead of one who just means well. We need to know what we’re buying is what we want with no surprises.  

Listen to your people. Are they well-informed?

This blog was written by Rosemary, a BT staff member. She loves to talk so if you have a business query.. give her a call!

Why use LinkedIn? Here’s why..

Polly Venning, Managing Director of CEO Tasmania, is our guest blogger this week.

This article and our latest Digital Directions video show how CEO Tasmania uses LinkedIn to its best advantage. They also highlight how choosing the right social media platform for your business can make an enormous difference.

Since the inception of our business, CEO Tasmania has used LinkedIn as a way of reaching our audience. Using LinkedIn means that we always hit our target audience. It is the place to reach professionals every time.

LinkedIn lets us reach an audience that is not bound by geography, culture or language. We reach people we never even dreamt of. Connecting with the right audience means not wasting our time, by getting direct to those who are interested in us and what we can do for them.

But we’ve not always got it right. In the past, we tried loading up several weeks content in advance and automatically sending it out. Sounds like a good idea on paper and certainly saves time. However, as we always say, social media is about being social. That is, a conversation between people. You must stay on topic and be prepared to be challenged, enlightened, questioned, supported, but most of all connected with.

LinkedIn? Love It.

We at Business Tasmania would like to thank Polly for her contribution.

Tips from a chatty friend

Rosemary JonesI admit it – I hate networking. Some people do it with ease, but I cringe at the thought of a crowded business function. Many people think I’m a chatty extrovert, but inside I’m just a shrinking violet. I find it almost impossible to walk up to a group of strangers and loiter on the edge of their conversation until some kind soul takes pity on me. I generally hug the walls and pray for invisibility until enough time has passed and I can leave.

But networking is a must these days, so I’ve decided to get better at it. I’ve taken the advice of a dear friend who can (and does) talk to anybody in any circumstance. He once got an invitation to a smart lunch just by chatting to the host in a deli. So I thought I’d share his tips with you.

  1. Take a deep breath and remember you are interesting and have something to give. Don’t think about what you need to get from the event.
  2. Take every opportunity. Talk to everyone you meet and don’t discount people too quickly. There’s no point in looking around the room for someone more interesting as you never know where a conversation might lead.
  3. Don’t fall into the trap of using buzz words and jargon – they don’t mean anything. Speak in plain English and ask questions that can be easily answered.
  4. Keep it short. If the person you want to speak to is surrounded by others and you can’t bring yourself to join the group, then politely butt in, introduce yourself, ask for a business card and follow up later.
  5. Practice makes perfect. Networking is a professional skill and it needs work. Rehearse answers to common questions. Practise your opening line when joining a group. Go to every event you can. It does get easier.

Or so I’m told.

 This post was written by Rosemary, one of the BT crew who will, one day, be good at networking.

Does your business need an app?

 We think this blog written by tourism expert Rebecca King is particularly apt as this week’s Digital Directions video is all about developing a smartphone app. It was first published on the Coachestuff blog

If you are thinking about developing a smartphone app for your tourism business, ask yourself this simple question – what do you want your potential customers to do? Having a clear answer can help you make the right business decision.

Typically, the answers are:

  • ‘I want them to know we exist’
  • ‘We want more people to choose our property instead of the guy down the road’
  • ‘I want them to book our attraction as soon as they see it online’.

In short, getting more customers booked and paid up. Given that, there are online marketing ‘must haves’ that should be in place before building an app.

  • Is your website found at the top of relevant Google searches?
  • Is your website easily read on various screen sizes?
  • Is your business listed on Google Places so it appears on search engine maps?
  • Is your product able to be booked on your website?
  • Is your product able to be booked on other distributors’ websites?
  • When someone first views your website, does it look good enough to retain interest?
  • Are you posting engaging content across various social media channels?

It makes sense to build an app once your other online marketing activities are in order. Then an app can be an effective additional tool to interact with your audience.

What are some of the advantages of building an app for your business?

  • Captive audience.
  • Good way to enhance branding.
  • Can be very interactive.
  • Can use smartphone features such as torch, camera and GPS
  • Can be used without an internet connection.

Of course, there are also disadvantages.

  • Can be costly to develop.
  • They need to be developed across different platforms.
  • Require updating to maintain currency.
  • Require promoting on the web and within the app store.
  • Require user ratings and reviews to be valued.
  • Some people may be reluctant to download over 3G/4G networks because of data costs.

Now it’s time to think like a customer and consider what need your app is going to fulfill.

In general, there are two types of apps that tourism businesses should consider.

  1. An ‘interpretation app that helps consumers find their way around your property, tour, attraction or restaurant. It should be full of information on what makes your product unique. It may include features like GPS or ‘augmented reality’, where people can look though the phone screen and see an extra layer of information. It can save on signage and printed brochures. A great example of an interpretation app is the O app at MONA.
  2. A sales tool that allows people to get information and book your experience. There are thousands of distributor site booking apps available.  It would take an innovative tourism operator-owned app to cut though this busy market.

An example of a smaller business app which combines the interpretation and booking features comes from Josef Chromy Wines Tasmania. It’s available at both Apple and Google stores.

 Blog written by Rebecca King from Kingthing Marketing

Rebecca is a multi-award winning tourism marketing consultant who has worked in small business, state government, the airline industry, media and now as a director of her own national tourism marketing consultancy, Kingthing. In the five years that Rebecca was marketing manager at her Launceston-based cruise company they won nine awards, including Tasmanian Tourism Awards and the Telstra Business Award for Innovation, and Rebecca was awarded the 2006 Telstra Tasmanian Corporate Business Woman of the Year.