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54 posts categorized "Customer service"

18 March 2013

02 October 2012

Soul Trader – Putting the heart back into your business

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Rasheed_OgunlaruRasheed Ogunlaru, life and business coach has been a Business & IP Centre partner since our earliest days. In addition to running the Your life, your business workshop once a month in the Centre and mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs with TieUK, he singlehandedly converted me to the benefits of life coaching.

I have to admit that perhaps due to a scientific background, or perhaps just plain old cynicism, I had always been wary of life coaching. I decided the only way to address this prejudice was to attend Rasheed’s workshop five years ago. After three hours I was entirely convinced by his eminently practical approach, to putting your heart and soul into your business.
So it is great to see his practical philosophy translated from workshop to published book in the form of Soul Trader published by Kogan Page. And having read it through this week,  I would put it at the top of my list of recommended reading for everyone starting (or growing) a business. I am still a big fan of Starting Your Own Business: The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected by David Lester, but Rasheed has addressed the key issue of what you really want to get from starting a business, and to make sure you end up running it, instead of it running you and your life.

Soul_Trader_coverHis introduction sums it up nicely:

Most people do not go into business solely to make money. They want to make a living, make an impact, make a contribution, make a statement, make something of real worth and value. They want to enjoy what they do, and make themselves happy and their families secure and proud. They want to make a break from the humdrum, and express their skill and abilities. But sooner or later many business owners fall into the same old trap, lose sight of what’s important and struggle with life balance.

The book consists of eight C’s made up of seven chapters and a ‘plus’ which focusses on insights to help anticipate and embrace Change.

  1. Clarity: Know your mission, talents and values.
  2. Customers: See life through customers’ eyes to win their custom and loyalty.
  3. Courage:  Unleash your inspiration / wisdom and adopt an athlete’s attitude.
  4. Co-operation: Punch over your weight; collaborate. Use / build your network.
  5. Conversations: Learn the art to connect, converse, create and convert leads.
  6. Creativity: Know when to work, rest and be at your best, (re)gain life balance.
  7. Compassion: Connect from the heart – be transformational not transactional.

Early on Rasheed gets the you to conduct a personal SWOT analysis. Which is an excellent way of discovering what you do well, and what you need to work on or get help with.

heart_and_chairThe book is peppered with examples from his hundreds of clients over the years, and covers a problem I have encountered many times, which he calls the ‘blindness of the visionary’. People become so (understandably) obsessed by their business idea or invention, they completely forget about their customers. This leads to a very expensive and risky approach to market research, where you bring your product or service to the market and then find out if anyone will buy it. Much better to find out as you develop your idea and tailor it to what you customers say they want.

Once again Rasheed gives a practical solution to this problem by showing how to map out your customers. He also explains how to develop a set of customer ‘scenarios’, to help understand the psychology of your customers. He doesn’t shy away from the realities of doing business in the real world as a soul trader. Without sufficient income (and avoiding the number one cause of failure – cash-flow) your business will not survive. Even social enterprises have to generate enough money to pay their staff and to invest in growth if they are to succeed. These are the hard questions that so many avoid tackling in their business plans:

  1. How much money to you need to live on, and to break even in business?
  2. How much money do you seek to make this year, next year and the year after in turnover – before costs and tax – and in your personal profit after cost and tax?
  3. On average how many sales or customer does that equate to per month and year?
  4. What specific action are needed to reach those goals, and what are the challenges?
  5. What evidence, research and assumptions are those figures based on?
  6. Looking again at those figures, what are a) realistic, b) optimistic and c) pessimistic sales figures for the next 12 months, and what would they mean to you and your business?
  7. What are your main products and services? How are they priced? What are all the costs involved? Which are the most lucrative? Which incur the most costs? Which involve the most hard work? Which are most dear to your heart and to your customers?

I have been talking to lots of makers recently such as jewellers, and many haven’t properly come to terms with the issue of wanting to make everything by hand themselves, but also selling enough items to make a living.

Rachel_ElnaughCourage is term one doesn’t  come across often in business books, but Rasheed rightly recognises that this is an essential ingredient in business, and gives practical tips on how you can develop it. I am constantly in awe of the people I meet who are at the beginning of a journey that would terrify me. The book contains an example from ex-Dragon and Business & IP Centre supporter Rachel Elnaugh. Rasheed asked one simple question during an advice session, and at a stroke gave her an insight which revolutionised her life. “I can honestly say that session with Rasheed was like walking through a doorway that has led me into a completely new and completely fulfilling life where success, money and love are all now flowering.”

Cooperation is an undervalued aspect of business, with many people I meet worrying about their competition before they have even started trading. The book talks about the importance of developing business partnerships through cooperation. And again Rasheed gives practical advice on how to grow and then utilize your support networks.

Conversations, which convert contacts into customers replace the ‘hard sell’ for soul traders. After all, no-one wants to be sold to, but everyone wants their opinion to be listened to. This chapter also includes how conversations work via social media channels and what precautions you need to take them online. There a lots of practical examples here, including how to deal with complaints by using, Acknowledge – Reflect back – Say what you can do.

Towards the end of the book Rasheed introduces his two-page business plan. As he says, ‘Business plans are written for two purposes and for two audiences: 1) for you to identify who and where you are, where you’re going and how you’ll get there; and 2) for investors or funders for the same purpose. If you’re seeking funding from others then you’ll need a longer, more detailed business plan…”

To sum up, I found Soul Trader to be clear and simple, friendly and supportive, passionate and soulful – just like Rasheed himself.

24 September 2012

Royal Diamond Jubilee, Olympic and Paralympic souvenirs

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diamond_jubilee_rain_050612-matt-web_2239104aIt has been quite a summer in Britain this year, and I’m not just talking about the weather.

First we had lots of celebrations and events to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The biggest was the rain lashed Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, with 1,000 boats assembled from across the world. Once again the Telegraph cartoonist Matt (left) summed it up perfectly.

Then we had the London 2012 Olympic games, closely followed by the Paralympic games (not ParaOlympics as some thought).

In keeping with the business nature of this blog, I’ve been keeping an eye out for memorable memorabilia for these three ‘once in a life-time’ events.

maamiteI think my favourite has to be the Ma’amite jar adapted from the long-standing Marmite brand. It’s a bit cheeky, but not too disrespectful of the Queen. And it seemed to find favour with supermarket buyers, as it seemed to appear in everywhere during June. In case you bump into her Majesty, you will need to remember it’s pronounced Mam as in Jam, not Ma’am as in arm.

A rather less respectful, but also best selling product was the Diamond Jubilee Sick Bag. This was a natural follow up to graphic artist Lydia Leith’s unusual souvenir to mark the royal wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011. There is a strong tradition of not taking those in power too seriously in the UK, so it was not such a surprise to see this novelty item become something of a best-seller.

Diamond_Jubilee_sick_bag

Waving_QueenI actually prefer the Waving Queen toy, whose solar power handbag meant she would give a proper royal wave whenever the sun came out. I was given one as a present, so took her on holiday to France where she made a great impression on the local gendarmes. We were even given a formal salute, and a french accented ‘God bless her Majesty’, as we drove through a police road block in Normandy.

We spent the holiday trying to perfect the energy saving royal wave twist of the hand.

Waving_Queen_in_Normandy

Waving Queen on tour in Normandy

I think my least favourite item has to be from the Royal Mint in the shape of these specially produced five pound coins. For some strange reason they have chosen a particularly grumpy looking Queen to go on the back (or is it the front). By the way, how do you call heads or tails, when the coin has only heads?

Queen_Diamond_Jubilee_five_pound_coin

Moving on to the London 2012 Olympics we have a rather motley set of  memorabilia.

Anything that is encumbered by the dreaded 2012 logo is damaged goods as far as I am concerned, even if I have not been taken in by the ridiculous Zionist conspiracy theory.

Olympics_logo

Thanks to the post games sales, I managed to pick up a Wenlock for a knockdown price, so am now in possession of this slightly scary cyclops.

Wenlock

You can read the background to Wenlock and Mandeville on Wikipedia. I tend to agree with the critic claiming that the pair were the product of a “drunken one-night stand between a Teletubby and a Dalek”.

I have to admit I haven’t seen any of these for sale, but the Olympic Condoms story is too good to miss.

Apparently 150,000 free condoms were given to athletes participating at the London Olympics, which is 50% more than at the Beijing Games in 2008. That works out to 15 condoms for each of the 10,500 competitors who stayed in the Olympic Village.

olympic_condom

olympic_condom_advert

At the other end of the cost spectrum are signed framed photo montages of previous Olympic champions. For example one signed by Kelly Holmes, Daley Thompson, Steve Redgrave, Seb Coe and Chris Hoy is a snip at £1,000.

If you fancy an umpire’s chair or other more practical souvenir of the games such as a super-long bed, just visit Remains of the Games website.

Adam_Hill_GamesmakerI have really struggled to find any specific Paralympic souvenirs, so I think I will have to go with the knitted Adam Hill. Adam was the host of The Last Leg, the surprise hit TV show of the Paralympics.

A fan of the show decided to create a knitted Adam Gamesmaker and to auction it on eBay for charity. Thanks to extensive use of Twitter on the show, the auction went viral and when last heard the bid price had exceeded £30,000.

Postcript:

It seems as though I wasn't the only one to be worried by Mandeville and Wenlock. Although on the positive side perhaps my £2 purchase above will be a collectors item in the future. How Mandeville and Wenlock derailed Hornby.

09 August 2012

Guy Kawasaki ‘Enchants’ SLA Chicago 2012 conference

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Guy_KawasakiGuy Kawasaki was the keynote speaker at the recent SLA annual conference in Chicago, and here are my notes from his talk.

Kawasaki started by talking about his time at the Macintosh division of Apple Inc. He described them as the largest collection of egomaniacs ever assembled in the US, until the creation of the Facebook development team.

In hindsight he realised that enchantment was a key part of his life, dating back to his first job in the jewellery trade.

His two recommended essential reads are:
How to win friends and influence people, published in 1931 by Dale Carneigie, and Influence – The Psychology of Persuasions by Robert B Cialdini.

Kawasaki has observed many hi-tech speakers over the years, and with the exception of Steve Jobs, they all ‘suck and go long’.

He always uses the 10 point model for presenting. So he told us if he ‘sucks’ today we will be able to tell.

1.    Achieve Likeability
-    Have a great smile – not just using the jaw, but also the eyes. So crow’s feet are good. Needs to be a Duchene smile
-    Accept others for what they are
-    Default to ‘yes’ – How can I help the person I just met

2.    Achieve Trustworthiness
-    Trust others first
o    Amazon – have a policy of returning an ebook in 7 days if you don’t like it
o    Zappos – buy the shoes online, if you don’t like them we will pay the return postage
o    Nordstrom – you can return anything to them at any time
-    Become a baker not an eater – a producer not a consumer
-    Find something to agree on with customers – it doesn’t have to be a big thing
o    Example of a dislike of Opera

3.    Perfect what you do
-    Do something DICEE
o    Deep
o    Intelligent – they understand my pain / my problem
o    Complete – the totality of the service you offer
o    Empowering – they make you more creative and productive
o    Elegant – someone has thought about the user interface

4.    Launch
-    Tell a story – a personal one, not a marketing one
-    ‘My girlfriend wanted to sell Pez dispensers online’ – the story behind eBay
-    Plant many seeds
-    The key to bottom up marketing – make them available to everyone
-    Use salient points when you talk about your services
o    Calories vs Miles to burn them off
o    Dollars vs Months of food for a family in Eithiopia
o    Gigabytes vs X thousands of songs on portable player

5.    Overcome resistance
-    Provide social proof of success – the white ear-buds that came with iPods were a visual indicator in the streets
-    Use a dataset to change a mindset
o    Gapminder.org – review of number of children and longer lives across the world
-    Enchant all of the influencers in the family not just the ones with the money, e.g. children.

6.    Make your enchantment endure
-    The Grateful Dead provide a space for people to tape their concerts for free
-    Build an ecosystem of the totality of your service
-    Invoke reciprocation
o    Don’t say ‘you are welcome’ say ‘I know you would do the same for me’
o    Enable people to pay you back in their own way
-    Don’t rely on money (e.g. price offers) – it is not the core of enchantment

7.    Great enchanters are great presenters, so:
-    Customize your introduction
-    Sell your dream
o    iPhone = $188 of parts manufactured in a factory in China, but is more than the sum of its parts
-    10 is the optimum number of slides
-    Delivered in 20 minutes at most
-    A 30 point font size is optimal – so you don’t read your text out to your audience

8.    Use technology
-    Social media is free and ubiquitous so use it
-    Remove the speed bumps for your customers
-    Capta reduces the number of customers
-    Sungevity.com – Uses your home address to mock up installation using satellite imagery
-    Provide added value
o    Information
o    Insights
o    Assistance
-    Example of Alltop.com website – aggregates information by topics
-    ‘Eat like a bird, poop like an elephant’. i.e. take little – give a lot
-    Use a lot of sources and spread the information.

9.    Enchant Up
-    When your boss or partner asks you to do something – drop everything else and do it.
-    Prototype fast
-    Deliver bad news early

10.    Enchant Down
-    Book by Daliel H Pink – Drive
-    Provide a MAP
o    Mastery – if you come and work for me …
o    Autonomy – if you come and work for me …
o    Purpose – if you come and work for me …
-    Empower action
-    ‘Suck it up’ – be a boss who is willing to do the ‘dirty job’

Kawasaki summed up Enchantment as having;
The Quality of Apple – the trustworthiness of Zappos – and the likeability of Richard Branson.

Enchantment-Cover

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06 August 2012

Arganic Oil a niche Success Story

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Arganic_Argan_Oil_product_img_0Despite being a ‘jack of all-trades and master of none‘ librarian, I have to admit to not having heard of Argan Oil before. But thanks to Dana Elemara the founder of Arganic I now know much more than I did.

According to Wikipedia Argan oil is a plant oil produced from the kernels of the Argan tree. It is found in Morocco, and is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties.

The Arganic Oil website expresses it more evocatively:

Argan oil is one of the healthiest and rarest oils in the world coming from the UNESCO protected argan tree. Often nicknamed ‘liquid gold’ this oil was the Berber people’s secret for centuries

It takes approximately 15 hours and 30kg of fruit to produce just 1 litre of argan oil. This lengthy process involves skilled handwork that has been passed down from generations.

In late summer the argan fruit ripens and falls to the ground where it is gathered. It is then laid out in the sun to dry. To make the oil, the dried outer fruit is first removed, then, using traditional artisanal techniques involving stones, the seeds are extracted from the hard inner shell.

Argan TreeUp to this point everything is done by hand, furthermore it is only women involved and this employment provides not only a good source of income in a poor region but an opportunity for them to gain independence. The process is governed by cooperatives who also give these women access to free education, and use some of the profits of the argan oil trade to benefit the local tribes and communities.

The seeds are then cold pressed to extract the oil. Nothing is wasted in the process, the fruit pulp is fed to cattle and the leftover seed pulp is used as fuel. At Arganic we have strict controls at every stage of production.

Dana had attended a couple of events and courses at the Business & IP Centre, but is still relatively new to the library. But it sounds like we have already been of help.

‘I trademarked my name only after being aware of it through the free IP seminar at the British Library and it was one of the best things I could have done at the start of my business as I have come across and won IP issues since.’

Here is her story:

Dana had heard about argan oil through relatives that were raving about it but found it difficult to get hold of in the UK. It was then that she decided to leave her mathematical and corporate background behind and the idea for Arganic came about. Luckily Dana had friends living in Morocco who put her through to the right people and the more she learned about this oil the more she fell in love with it and the important social impact it plays for women in Morocco.

Update

I’ve just received this exciting update from Dana:

What a lovely post, thank you so much. There have been so many things happen since we last met, details on my last newsletter here, including TV appearances. Also last week my argan oil won a gold award from The Guild of Fine Foods, and today I found out that I won a Shell Livewire Grand Ideas award which gives me £1000 and free PR. They said I achieved the highest points in my category, and am now in the run for Young Entrepreneur of the Year which is announced in November. So I am extremely pleased right now.

I am still visiting the library and recommending the business centre constantly.

All the best, Dana

Arganic founder Dana Elemara

Arganic founder Dana Elemara

12 June 2012

Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Forward-thinking Fashion

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Tonight’s excellent Inspiring Entrepreneurs event looked at different approaches to ethical, environmentally-friendly and sustainable fashion.

Rather than seeing ethical fashion as an add-on, our speakers are taking advantage of new technology and practical innovative business models to make them more creative and also sustainable in the long-term.

Tonight was run in partnership with  London College of Fashion’s Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) and Designer-Manufacturer Innovation Support Centre (DISC).

DISC-image

Christian Smith is Corporate Responsibility Manager at ASOS, and has an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development from UCL. His work at ASOS includes measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, helping the company to understand its impacts and opportunities for improvement.

Annegret Affolderbach is designer and founder of Choolips, who revive  ancient textile traditions. She is passionate about sustainable fashion, and the exciting and potent future it presents for global fashion. Her range is now sold through the ASOS Green Room.

Annegret spent a year and a half after graduating collecting ideas on Post-It notes trying to work out how she could use her talent to make a positive difference to fashion in the world. She also felt the need to be inspired for her whole business career, rather than a short term goal.

Annegret spent another year travelling and listening, visiting the Gambia to learn about Batik, and how the local producers thought about their lives and impact on their local environment.

She was determined to create a product that would be harmonious to both the producers and consumers of the products, and started with just two simple dresses.

Electrobloom flowerMark Bloomfield with a background experience of designing wearable accessories for brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson and Asprey, talked about developing his own jewellery business, Electrobloom.

This has been inspired by how the worlds of nature, art, technology and science collide, he produces unique jewellery designs using 3D printing technology.

Eleanor Dorrien-Smith is the founder of PARTIMI, and graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA in Fashion and Print. She has worked for Mary Katrantzou, Tata Naka, John Galliano and Eley Kishimoto before setting up PARTIMI. After creating a capsule collection for US retailer Anthropologie, the PARTIMI ready-to-wear collection was launched in 2010. The PARTIMI collections are defined by striking prints, a distinctive personal narrative and an environmental edge.

The evening was chaired by Melanie Frame, Sustainability Manufacturing Developer at London College of Fashion (DISC). Melanie is part of the DISC project to support fashion manufacturers and designers to innovate their production process. Melanie has been involved in various sustainability projects helping small businesses to set up sustainable and ethical practices.

A question about the concentration on sustainable supply lines led to a fascinating discussion about the speaker’s views on what sustainable fashion means to them.

For Mark it was about recreating a made-to-order type of personalised shopping experience, which gives a more engaged experience for customers.

For Christian improving the welfare of the environment and fashion producers are an important new additional part of the business model, from the traditional success measures of company share price and market share.

He talked about how the Green Room at ASOS helps breakdown the enormous challenges of sustainable fashion into bite sized chunks, making it more manageable. Also telling the story behind the product is another way of engaging customers and staff.

He gave several examples of innovation and change:

The discussion ended with a transparent discussion of producer pricing and markups that are common in sustainable fashion.

26 April 2012

The Apprentice hits the mark with gourmet street food

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Lucky_ChipThis evening’s Apprentice shows the show’s researchers have their ears to the ground with regard to the latest trend in street food retailing.

Pop-up shops selling gourmet fast food is all the rage in the trendier parts of London these days.

Luckily the Kings Cross development area is just one such place, with its Eat Street, just up the road from the updated eponymous station, and literally across the road from the recently opened University of the Arts.

I have been lured over to this new venture on numerous occasions, despite the relatively high prices compared to traditional fast food outlets. But the food has always been worth it, with a notable spicy burger which had a real bite to it.

As was pointed out during this weeks Apprentice episode, branding is a key element of any enterprise, and some of the stalls in Eat Street certainly have memorable names. My favourites are Daddy Donkey, Well Kneaded Ltd, Yum Bun, Hardcore Prawn, and Eat my Pies.

Tongue-n-cheekHowever, I think that Tongue ‘n Cheek needs to find a way make its delicious sounding underrated meat cuts and Italian inspired street food treats, such as Ox cheek with caramelized onions and polenta, a bit more accessible given the queue size I observed the other day.

These names certainly compare favourably to the Apprentice team’s choices of Gourmet Scot Pot and Utterly delicious Meatballs.

 

19 April 2012

An Aga Saga blog – to write home about

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aga-ladyI last blogged about Aga cookers way back in June 2008 (Aga goes Web 2.0). Well, they have finally seen the social media light (Blogging for fun and profit) and started a blog.

Rather painfully it is called The World According to Lady Aga, I’m guessing Lady Gaga is unlikely to take action, as she has against Moshi Monsters (Lady Gaga wins injunction against Lady Goo Goo) and the Icecreamists (Milking a story for all it’s worth). After all the AGA brand is nearly 60 years older than Lady G.

On the positive side, it does publish some interesting facts about the expensive cookers (AGA inventor was a Nobel Prize winner), as well as some tasty recipes. And, more importantly, it has a sense of humour, with AGA Characters: Retired Rock Chick, and AGA Characters: Yummy Mummy just two examples.

So the occasional post about new product launches or expansion into new territories can be easily forgiven.