Five cups of coffee

Polly McGee is our contributor this week

For one of my colleagues, five cups of coffee is the measurement between looking for new business and finding it. He explains it this way: the five cups weren’t with the same person, but they represented the average number of conversations it took to convert talk into action. 

It makes sense in this socially networked era that business comes from conversation, not advertising or hard sell. If you consider what business-to-business relations are all about, it means an open-ended conversation with your peers, customers and potential clients. You are inviting them to experience your brand, via you, in an authentic and transparent way. Much as you would over coffee. 

I like this social beverage-driven metric. It evokes an open dialogue that is truly two-way, rather than meetings based on outcomes. Over a coffee, you’re not giving a monologue about how great you are. You’re learning about the person you’re with, what they like, their values and their needs. 

There are parallels here with the way that Asian cultures do business. In a world based on trust, rather than the capacity to enforce contracts, the preamble to a deal is about building the trust that overlays the deal’s actual nuts and bolts. 

We often approach networking as some kind of gladiatorial contest, where the most business cards exchanged wins. This feels hard because it is. Conquering a room of strangers with limited focus is never a great way to make friends and influence people. It is however, a good way to get an instant gut reaction for who you may want to do business with. Then you can instigate your first cup of coffee.

My personal approach to business has always been to do it with friends. I want to work and deal with people who share my values and goals. They are going to represent me, and my products and services as an authentic evangelist, because my business becomes an extension of our relationship. 

If interactions are hard and communication is a chore, it stands to reason that the whole transaction will be like that, and probably the relationship. The time spent trying to resolve your issues could be better spent, cultivating a relationship with someone you really want to have a cup of coffee or five with.

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.

Dress to impress? Think about it

Men in suitsMost employers recognise it’s essential to maintain the right professional image for their business, but there are several considerations to make when creating a dress code. 

You want it to reflect your business’s image and conform to safety regulations. At the same time, you need to respect your employees’ rights. It pays to be careful as mistakes can lead to legal issues. 

Consider these three questions. 

  1. Does your policy enforce gender stereotypes? 

Remember that we humans are a diverse bunch. Avoid a dress code that promote stereotypes, or categorise an employee’s expected behaviour or appearance according to their sex. 

If you target workers because they don’t conform to a specific societal view, they may have grounds to take legal action. 

  1. Have you taken religious beliefs into account? 

If you prevent an employee from wearing a spiritual headdress, showing religious tattoos or even from piercing certain parts of their body, you may be infringing their rights. But there are also exceptions to this rule, like requiring staff to wear safety helmets even if it conflicts with religious beliefs. 

There have been court cases brought about by employees in relation to this. So if you’re in doubt, call a lawyer. 

  1. What about weight or grooming? 

Generally speaking, weight issues should be left out of a dress code. You should deal with all body types indiscriminately. It’s an easy path to future difficulties. 

Appropriate hair style is another tricky question. You are within your rights to impose regulations for hygiene and grooming, but think carefully about your policy. It shouldn’t enforce gender stereotypes, or risk allegations of discrimination by banning specific hairstyles. However, there are again some obvious exceptions to this, like requiring hair to be netted in a food preparation area. 

If you take some time to set these rules, you will avoid potential legal hassles in the future.

Our contributor this week is freelance writer Lauren Downey. who writes on behalf of Total Image Group,  an Australian owned and operated company dedicated to designing, sourcing and coordinating uniforms and branding solutions.

Are Tasmanians giving away valuable intellectual property rights?

Is Tasmania under-represented in patent and trade mark filing statistics?

Ben MottThe Australian Government’s Australian Intellectual Property Report 2014 suggests that Tasmanians filed just 22 patent applications in 2013. To put it another way, Tasmanians filed just 43 patent applications per million people. Compare this to Victorians, who filed 134 patent applications per million people. The figures are similar for filing trade marks. Tasmanians filed just 714 per million people, compared to 2021 per million Victorians.

Are Tasmanians missing out on profits?

Underinvesting in intellectual property rights means that Tasmanians may be losing sales, or missing out on revenue streams arising from licensing the intellectual property (IP) rights. Worse, they may be lowering their pricing in the face of unnecessary competition, or even counterfeiting.

The owner of a patent (or a registered design) has the right to stop others making, using, selling or importing the products or processes covered by the patent. This means IP owners can limit competition and charge a premium for their products.

But patent and design rights can also be licensed. For example, while a patent owner may continue to sell their product (at a premium) in their own industry, they can also collect royalties by licensing someone else to produce versions of the product that suit a different industry.

The owner of a trade mark can stop competitors from using deceptively similar trade marks to draw away customers. Registering your trade mark simplifies action against these competitors.

Like patents, trade mark registrations can also be licensed. Imagine you’ve been running ‘Lexus Pool Maintenance’ for several years and have built a great reputation. Allowing another company to call themselves ‘Lexus Pool Chemicals’ means you could charge royalties.

Other less tangible benefits include marketing advantages. Many see the term ‘patented’ as a benefit in the marketplace. It may also help to promote an innovative business culture, as employees are often proud to be listed as an inventor on their employer’s patent.

So what’s holding you back?

We suspect that Tasmanian’s under-representation in the statistics is due partly to Tasmania’s particular industrial and commercial environment, and partly to some false assumptions about the IP system. Many business people incorrectly believe that others are not allowed to copy their products, or that their products would not qualify for patent protection, or that IP protection costs more than it does.

That’s not to say that all products should be patented or all trade marks registered. Both actions require an investment. So deciding whether to proceed should involve a comparison of the likely costs and benefits.

So what’s the next step?

We suggest simply being alert to the issues. When you develop a new brand, take a moment to think, ‘am I allowed to use this trade mark?’ Is it worth being able to easily stop others using a similar trade mark? When you develop a new product or process, keep it secret until you have at least considered patent or design protection.

If you decide that these, or any other IP-related, questions warrant further consideration, make contact with an experienced patent or trade mark attorney. Most professionals do not charge for a brief initial telephone discussion and this will help you to weigh up the costs and benefits of proceeding further.

Ben Mott is a Principal at wadesonIP.com.au. He’s also a patent attorney and mechanical engineer.

We at Business Tasmania would like to thank Ben for his contribution  

 

 

Service and value versus growth and revenue

Julie Foster

 

Though customers and businesses are closely linked, they often have conflicting needs. 

 Customers want:

  • to receive excellent service
  • to be treated consistently and feel as if they are known
  • problems resolved in a timely fashion 
  • the best products and services
  • convenience
  • to feel like they’re valued by the business
  • a great and, if possible, unique shopping experience 
  • choices on how, when and where they buy. 

Businesses want:

  • growth and revenue
  • to be efficient and reduce costs
  • to increase the lifetime value of their customer. 

These needs may seem diametrically opposed, but businesses can fulfil customers’ needs while satisfying their own. In order to deliver great personalised customer experiences, retailers must understand their customers: who they are, why they buy, what they buy, when they buy and how they make contact. 

The old retail landscape is disappearing rapidly. Nowadays, customers are informed, tech-savvy and their expectations for service have changed dramatically. The generational shift, as baby boomers move into retirement and Generations X and Y become the major force in the economy, is apparent in the use of technology. Smartphones, tablets and social media have changed the face of customer service and increased the customer’s ability to engage in public conversation with business. 

So in this new environment, how can businesses strike this balance? 

1)  Make it easy for your customer to do business with you 

It’s all about embracing and integrating new and existing channels of communication for your business and brand, which can be converted into sales. 

Today’s customer is time poor and wants choice on how and when to shop. You should embrace as many delivery channels as are suited to your business. Not every retail business must have an online store, but every business can use an online presence to provide information. This could be through channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ or, for professional services, LinkedIn. 

Statistics show that potential customers prefer to use businesses and brands they know, including these online channels. If your business is not in these spaces, customers may go elsewhere. 

2)  Customer relationship management 

Know your customer: their age, where they’re from, how often they buy from you and their average spend. Know what brand and products they prefer.  

A good point of sale will provide all this information. There are plenty of affordable cloud-based platforms that have excellent customer relationship management tools. Some also provide valuable management reporting tools and integrate with various e-commerce and accounting platforms. This can save time, resources and money. 

3) Invest in your people 

They are your brand ambassadors. Arm them with the product knowledge and sales skills to identify customer’s needs and appropriate solutions. Give constructive feedback and reward outstanding results. Allow them to be part of the solution and make it easy for them to engage with customers. 

In the past, the cost of training and upskilling frontline staff was prohibitive for some, but in a digital world there are no excuses. Businesses and their staff now have affordable and time-efficient access to online training tools for all things retail, sales and service.  

Customer experience is a key factor determining how much customers spend and how loyal they are to a brand. We all know from experience that the quality of a single contact with a business can shape perception of that business and its brand forever. 

For retailers to remain competitive, it’s more important than ever to consistently provide a unique customer experience, both in-store and online.  

In summary:

  • get in people’s consciousness
  • give them a reason to buy, now
  • make it easy for them
  • give them a reason to come back
  • provide them with the tools, in-store and online.

We’d like to thank Julie Foster for writing this blog for Digital Ready. Julie is a director in her family retail business, Passport Surf, in Devonport. She also has her own consulting business and can be contacted at julie@juliefoster.com.au

 

Tasmanian Free Public Wi-Fi

Beck KingThe Tasmanian Government is seeking public comment on its vision to provide free public Wi-Fi (wireless internet) services, targeted at tourists in towns and cities across Tasmania. So what does this mean for your business? 

From a traveller’s perspective: 

Last year I was lucky enough be in Europe. As I’m a tourism online marketing consultant, I was keen to discover how I could use the internet to enhance the overall experience. 

When using your phone away from home, the options for getting online are often not great. I’ve been stung by international roaming fees previously, so after a few attempts using both travel and local SIM cards. I gave up and went on a relentless hunt for Wi-Fi. Not surprisingly, I often chose accommodation and cafes that had free Wi-Fi. 

Some regions were great, others not so. When I did find a Wi-Fi network, I was able to choose the perfect restaurant for the evening, find the best shopping, choose my must do activities, check the weather, book the next leg of the journey, see exactly where I was on a map and learn the local way to say thank you. 

I then got onto my own housekeeping. Typically this included some emails for work, internet banking and social media. I used Facebook to keep up with happenings at home and to show friends and family what I was up to – some would call it bragging! 

How does this relate to your business? 

This so-called ‘bragging’ is an opportunity that can be leveraged by all types of businesses. A simple check-in on your business’ Facebook page could be seen by hundreds, possibly thousands, of people. Photos shared on Instagram with the right hashtags could reach state and national tourism offices (they are always searching for beautiful photos to promote their destinations). And a good review on Tripadvisor can bring many people to your door. 

Social media combined with immediate internet access means content can be shared in the moment. If we rely on customers to remember to check-in to your establishment when they’ve found Wi-Fi hours later– well, it’s unlikely to happen. 

You could be forgiven for thinking that Tasmania’s large percentage of domestic tourists all have ready internet access through their phones. They don’t and many only have coverage in Australia’s big cities, and not regional Tasmania. Free Wi-Fi could be a perfect solution. 

How could your business make the most of free public Wi-Fi? 

  • Ensure your business has amazing experiences that people will want to share.
  • Be supportive of getting Wi-Fi in your area
  • Signs and brochures explaining how patrons can get on the free public Wi-Fi.
  • Put signs up in your business encouraging participation, like Facebook check-ins or using hashtags on Instagram and Twitter.
  • Consider offering a bonus if people show you they’ve shared your business on social media. For example, some cafes offer a little biscuit with a coffee purchase for those who have checked-in.
  • Hold photo competitions for your patrons. Have a hashtag for the competition and show results in real time on a tablet screen on the front counter.
  • If you own a café, be prepared for customers to stay longer. It’s a great opportunity for staff to upsell that second coffee!
  • Any information you can get about who is using the free Wi-Fi and what content they’re looking at will help inform your online marketing activities in the future. 

We should be enabling our tourists to help Tasmania showcase itself as a leader in national and international tourism. 

How do you think Wi-Fi services could enhance visitor experiences?

What could your business do to make the most of these services? 

Click here to read the Tasmanian Free Public Wi-Fi consultation paper.

The blog was written by Rebecca King of Kingthing Marketing, her national tourism marketing consultancy.  Rebecca has previously worked in small business, state government, the airline industry and media. She’s a multi – award winner - nine for her Launceston-based cruise company, Tourism Tasmania awards, the Telstra Business Award for Innovation, and the 2006 Telstra Tasmanian Corporate Business Woman of the Year.

 

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Business advisors and mentors – what’s the difference?

Rosemary JonesThe Tasmanian Government offers free business mentoring and advisory services to small business owners, through the Enterprise Centre Tasmania network and Mentoring Service Tasmania.

These statewide services are designed for you in every stage of your business life, whether you’re starting, growing or, when you’re ready, planning your exit.

So what do they do?

Business advisors focus on your business.

Enterprise Centres Tasmania are run by small business experts who will listen to your ideas, look carefully at your business plans, help you set goals and develop strategies for your success. They’ll also point out any areas of concern. They can be consulted for a specific need or on an ongoing basis.

The advisors were chosen for their resourcefulness and know-how. They understand all types of business, are financially savvy (a crucial skill) and understand key business drivers, like:

  • product and service development
  • marketing and sales
  • operations and finance
  • human resources
  • customer service.

A good business advisor can become a very important member of your team.

Mentors focus on you.

A mentor will steer your personal growth and development as a business leader, motivating and encouraging you to achieve your goals. Mentors provide guidance, support, introductions and even the proverbial kick in the pants when warranted.

Mentoring Service Tasmania’s mentors come from all over the state, with skills and qualifications in a wide range of industries and disciplines.

Why do they do it? Some were mentored themselves in the past and want to help others the same way. Others just sincerely want to help or give to the community. Whatever the reason, they are of enormous benefit to small business.

So that’s why you should use these free and confidential services!

Get in touch with Business Tasmania and we’ll connect you with these services. Contact us on 1800 440 026 or ask@business.tas.gov.au

This post was written by Rosemary, one of the BT crew (and cat lady). who thinks life is just a bowl of cherries.

Protect your intellectual property – How to avoid these five start-up mistakes

The right approach to intellectual property (IP) can protect your profit margins and even provide access to new revenue streams or finance. Equally, a lack of careful IP planning can lead to high costs with no prospect of return. Avoiding some common IP-related mistakes can make a real difference to your business’s long-term success.

1.      Not recognising that you have an idea to protect  

Australian business creates new products and processes every day. Not everyone realises that even a small change to a product may constitute an invention. If it provides a commercial advantage, it should be protected. 

2.      Not recognising that patents, trademarks and designs can put money in your pocket

If a new idea is making money, competitors will look to imitate that success. IP protection prevents low-cost imitators. Without it, having the lowest price can become the major point of competition. 

Remember, a patent, trade mark or design is an asset which can be licensed or sold to third parties, or used to help secure finance. 

3.      Disclosing your idea before filing for IP protection

The race to get a product to the marketplace may cause your idea to be publically disclosed before a patent or design application can be filed. For the sake of a two week delay, you can preserve your potential IP rights at home and overseas.

4.      Confusing your ambition with your capability 

It’s easy to believe that your hard-won invention will be a long-term, global market-changer and must be protected. Truth is, many inventions confer little or only short-term advantage. Make sure that you’re not wasting money on IP protection for inventions or in countries that you do not have the capacity to exploit. 

 5.      Re-inventing the wheel

Why sink valuable dollars into research and development on problems that are already solved? There is an incredible amount of innovative technology that is searchable online, using services like Google Patents. Patent applications are public and must provide technical information that skilled people can use. When the patent term has expired or lapsed, the technology is there for anyone to use. Equally, many overseas patents are never filed in Australia, so the technology is free to use inside our borders.

Many patent and trademark attorneys can provide a free consultation to help you identify what IP you may use, or what could be valuable to protect and how. You can find a patent attorney through the Institute of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys of Australia.

Paul Davis, Principal and Head of Engineering at Fisher Adams Kelly, is a Fellow of the Institute of Patent and Trade Marks Attorneys, with 20 years of experience working with intellectual property in the field of manufacturing and engineering.

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.