What’s your story?

We have a sales process that we follow that’s quite long-winded. It takes a while and it involves a lot of documentation. If you look likely to become one of our Premium clients, taking our full custom-built service, then we will write a proposal, a specification and an action plan before we even get close to a sale.

That’s a lot of work with no guarantee of a return. But 20 years of experience has shown it to be really important.

IT projects have a reputation for going over-budget and never working correctly. That’s because people don’t always know what they’re getting.

Our process is designed to capture the most important part of what you’re asking for – the story. Who’s going to be using this system? Why are they doing this? What are they hoping to achieve?

Because an IT project isn’t about the technology – the computers, the code, the phones, the networks. It’s about the people and their stories and their lives and how they want to finish work so they can go home and read a good book.

Writing an employee handbook

I’ve been writing an employee handbook. It’s a dull and thankless task. But I suspect it’s going to be one of the most valuable things I’ve done in a while.

I’ve written before about drawing up an organisation chart for your business. Even though you probably fill the majority of the roles on it.

Drawing up an employee handbook is the next step. As you do the jobs yourself, you should be able to ask yourself “when I’m being the Managing Director/Sales Executive/Chief Tea Brewer, what do I have to do every day? Every week? Every month or quarter? What else is my responsibility”.

Write all that stuff down – a page for each role.

Because when it comes time to hire – you can use that to put the perfect description into your advert. And when you find the right person, you’ll be able to explain to them exactly what it is you want them to do.

When should you ask for help?

When you run your own business, you’re going to hit tough times. Sometimes it’s going to feel like a never-ending slog of tough times.

You can’t carry it all on your own.

At some points, you need to ask for help.

When is that point?

I once did a course that described that point perfectly. They called it the FTM – the “fuck this moment”. You know, you’re at work and someone says something, the tool you’re using breaks, it starts raining or a bird craps on you from a great height. And you just say to yourself “fuck this”.

What help do you need? Well, that depends on the circumstances. If you’re too busy, if you’re always stressed, if you can’t seem to balance how much you work with how much money you’re pulling in, then I can probably help.

Three good things for September

Well, September’s been an interesting month.

 

  • We’ve switched our project management system.  It’s not a massive deal, but it’s exciting to me.
  • I’ve started coding a lot more – I’d forgotten how much I enjoy it.
  • We’ve run a few consultancy sessions – instead of trying to design a full-blown system for you, we can take a look at what’s going on and try and figure out a quick and easy fix to make things a bit better.

 

Failing fast

Silicon Valley.

Home of the modern tech industry.

Semi-conductor dreamland.

I once made a bid to go there. Myself and five friends built an advertising product that was pretty fantastic. We never aimed to topple Google – we just wanted to sneak into that healthy second place. But to get there, we needed funding.

So we did the whole Dragon’s Den thing – we pitched to a load of investors, getting dressed up in uncomfortable suits, after preparing a business plan and a presentation.

And they gave us money. A whole load of money.

Which we then spent.

We built some amazing technology. Beautiful stuff, that worked in complicated, hard to understand ways. It learnt from its responses, adapted to conditions, improved how it displayed its advertising.

But it made no money at all. We spent all the investors money and them, and us, had nothing to show for it, apart from some high blood pressure.

I often think back to what I could have done differently.

And it all boils down to this – fail fast.

Do the very least piece of work to test if your idea is viable. Test it. And if it doesn’t work, at least you’ve not lost out too heavily.

In this case, instead of spending two years building this great technology, let’s pick a few adverts by hand and show them on a few sites – see how they perform – then start building the technology afterwards.

Fail fast. Save more.

The value in repeat business

It’s sometimes said that the hardest thing in business is to get a customer to part with their first pound. (Or dollar, or euro, or rupee or whatever).

It’s much easier to get repeat business off existing customers – because, unless you’ve screwed up royally – they already know and trust you.

But are you taking advantage of that? What systems do you have in place to make sure you go back to your existing customers and see if there’s anything more that they need? It can be as simple as sending them a postcard a year after the job was completed – just to keep you in their minds. Or are you content to just let that potential cash slip through your fingers?

What stages do your jobs go through?

I’m Baz and I help business owners reduce the amount of time wasted on administration by designing and refining processes and automating things.

Nearly all of us have to process orders or jobs of some kind. Sometimes that’s easy – an order comes in, we pick an item off the shelf, stick it in a bag and shove it in the post. All done.

But sometimes, it’s complicated. We write a quote, we prepare materials, we get a deposit, we start work. Then we track progress over several months. At some points, there are crises and we have to rip up the project plan and start all over again. There are staged payments, final payments, late payments.

So most businesses deal with orders or jobs or projects. But each of them deals with them differently.

What stages do your jobs go through? Do they have a nice simple flow – moving from left to right in an orderly journey? Or is it complicated – with decisions here and there that send it down different routes?

Drawing up a flowchart of your jobs and the stages they go through can be your first step to organising your business. Because once you know that, you can start getting other people to take some of the burden off your shoulders.

Working in an office vs working remotely

Most of the time when I’ve been running my own company, I’ve been working remotely. Today, my entire team works remotely – I don’t have anyone sharing an office with me.

But it’s not always been the case.

When I’ve worked in an office with people, I’ve been shocked at how bad the communication is. Someone can be sat at a desk ten yards away from me and I have no idea what they’re doing. With my team, I know what everyone’s working on all the time.

Because, when you share an office, it becomes easy for the important communications of the day to become casual. A status report when you pass in the corridor, a discussion about that project while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.

When you work remotely, that just won’t do. We need to communicate constantly, so we have systems in place for that. I know who’s working on what, because those tasks are all on a (virtual) board and they’re all marked as “Started”. I know which customers we’re waiting for, because their tasks are marked as “Awaiting Approval”.

That level of communication is baked into a remote-working organisation. But all too often forgotten about when working locally.

Does that happen to you? What do you do to make sure everyone knows everything that they need to?

If you ran your business off a whiteboard, what would it look like?

So I spend my time thinking about ways of making small businesses work better. Saving the owners time and stress, saving them money.

Because of my background, most of the time, that means using software. Automating things. Digital information, workflows, things like that.

But often, that’s not the best place to start.

Imagine running your business without computers, without mobile phones.

It would probably have lots of information on bits of paper. And you would probably have one or more great big whiteboards, with your summaries, jobs, sales figures and so on, up there for all to see.

What would that whiteboard look like? What information does it contain?

If you start from there, figure out how to run the business that way, then think about the technology, you’re going to get a better result. Something that does the job, no matter how the landscape changes.

Personal Trainers

I had a personal trainer session the other day. I’ve never had one before. I tell you what, I’ve never ached like I did after that. He had me doing push-ups until I fell face down into the floor. It was really hard but I absolutely enjoyed it.

But, if I’d been for that same session a year ago, I would have hated it. I would have despised the guy for pushing me so hard, I would have not put much effort in and I would have just walked away at the end of it, cursing myself for having done it.

Because sometimes, we’re not ready to take on the stuff that others are teaching us.