Reality TV has taken a big role in raising the profile of entrepreneurship in the UK. But does watching a bunch of self-important investors smugly tearing strips off some poor first-time entrepreneur really show us what it takes to set up and run a small business? Are they conveying sound business lessons or simply mugging for the camera before striding off to negotiate another well-paid advertising contract?
Ok, I’m being deliberately cynical. But I think the major attraction of shows like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice is the in-built ritual of humiliation. It’s sadism as entertainment. Having said that, I reckon there’s plenty a business owner can learn from watching these shows - even if it’s what not to do in business (eg, don’t pitch to Peter Jones unless you’re REALLY sure of your figures; don’t EVER answer back to Alan Sugar, that sort of thing).
Anyway, we’d like to know what you’ve learned from watching TV business shows. Do they contain proper business lessons that entrepreneurs can draw on? Or are these programmes just pure popcorn entertainment where the lesson for business owners is ‘Don’t ever do it like this’?
Let us know! We'll compile the best responses into an article for our newsletter and credit the contributors.
Please keep your contribution brief and to the point and send it to us by:
Is it better to work with more businesses (in a relatively shallow way) or is it better to work with fewer but in a more intense way (and therefore with more long-term benefit)?
When working in Africa my preference was to work longer and deeper with fewer people - by handing over the tools I was able see more benefit.
But does this theory (better to go narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow) hold in the UK?
Applied to your own business (and specifically to your marketing) is it better to narrow your focus and look for deep knowledge in a narrow field (niche) or is it better to go broader and shallower?
Case Study One: the business coach who only sells to dentists charges four times the going rate because of his narrow focus/niche expertise.
Case Study Two: the 'tart with a heart' business will sell anything to anyone and does make sales but she gets known for what she does and becomes known as a 'jack of all trades'... Gets lots of work but at low rates. "Jump!" the clients say. "How high?" she says...
Do you have the bottle to go narrower and deeper in your niche or is the recession making you more of a tart? How do you think this is perceived in the marketplace?
The customer may always be right, but are they the right customers?
One of the customer’s of my company (SellerDeck) was incredibly picky about how their business wanted to use our software. We are a mass market, low price supplier and we’ve sold tens of thousands of products and services, so we normally can’t make changes for individual companies who typically pay a few hundred pounds each. However, this particular customer was very persistent. So one of our product managers contacted them, spent ages discussing their requirements and subsequently we agreed to make some changes. Responding in this way was exceptional and it cost us much more than we could ever make in sales from the particular guy.
But this customer isn’t at all grateful. In fact, recently they have become even more critical, and have continued to cost us more in support than almost anyone else. Would it have been better if we had said “no” in the first place?
Without sounding too critical, the customer in question doesn’t appear to be particularly successful, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence. If someone can’t understand the business needs of their suppliers, they probably don’t know how their own customers tick either.
Some clients are very demanding, and whatever you do they are never satisfied. I’m not talking about customers upset with poor service, who need helping. Nor am I talking about customers that need a lot of handholding. Nor about customers who buy the wrong product, who should have their money returned. I’m talking about customers who fundamentally don’t understand the trade-off involved in human and business interactions.
Although the circumstances I’ve described are rare, they aren’t unique. My guess is that this applies to maybe one in two hundred customers. The cost in time and demoralising impact on staff makes it more difficult to give good service to everyone else. As a result, I am coming to the conclusion that for this small minority, we would do better to suggest that they do business with our competitors.
It’s critical not to provide our customer service team with any excuse for bad service, so there are some dangers in adopting such measures. However, applied incredibly carefully to a very small minority, surely it’s time to review the relationship with these sorts of customers?
This year's Small Business Week kicked off with the results of the latest Business Pulse Survey conducted by BT and their associated partners. Over 7,000 small businesses took part and the findings indicate a level of optimism to the tune of 75 per cent expecting to see an end to the recession by the close of 2010. The remaining 35 per cent are even more upbeat and state we will be clear of it at the start of next year.
One of the reasons for such optimism is the availability and vast improvements in technology for business. The bigger technology picture that we can draw from the survey findings detail that 61 per cent said that faster broadband speeds had had a positive impact on their business. 40 per cent said that better websites and ecommerce were benefiting them.
But for me, that isn't the best bit, oh no.
As a keen advocate of social media, it is encouraging to see this relatively recent addition to the marketing toolbox appear in the survey results as something which has registered on the radar of small businesses and is seen to be having a positive effect on their performance.
The stat that vindicates the banging of the social media drum reads as follows: '19 per cent of those questioned for the Business Pulse Survey said that social media, forums, Twitter, Facebook, etc, were having a positive effect.' The significance of this is that the need for such a statistic did not exist 12 months previously. Social media as a means of small business practice is on the up.
Having recently attended the Like Minds conference in Exeter, which examined the return on investment from social media, the support and need for social media business practices to be part of the small business agenda is ever increasing and it will be the innovative small firms which will capitalise on making the most of available technologies and be the wealth creators of the country.
'Reduce your carbon footprint', they said. Travel by train to 'ease the strain' they said. So, with a meeting in London last Monday and trips to Leeds and Manchester for the rest of last week, I booked all my journeys (Banbury to London to Leeds to Manchester to Banbury) on-line. As a customer, I had to work really hard to get it all done on the web but nonetheless, so far, so good... tickets to be collected at 'starting' stations (don't risk the mail, eh?). I printed the booking references, which confirmed all the non-transferable train travel details for each journey and I packed them carefully.
Life got interesting at Kings Cross, Monday evening for the trip to Leeds. Rows of ticket collection machines were three-deep in travelers but I got to one, entered my details and tickets were produced - outbound ticket, booking receipt, and credit card voucher. And that was it. So, I waited 20 minutes for the platform to be called - only 7 minutes to departure - then hurried to the barrier.
At the barrier, I was told that I needed another ticket in addition to the ones I held. I said I picked up all that was produced; I showed the on-line confirmation. No good. I was directed back to the ticket machines for the missing ticket. I explained that would have been 20 or more minutes ago so even if I had missed a ticket, it would be long-gone and I could only travel on that train or forfeit the fare - no deal.
Not only could I not identify exactly which of the many machines I had used, the 'help desk' had 30 or more people already queuing.
Panicking, I found a security guard who found me a railway employee. He took all the tickets and the on-line confirmation I gave him; he hand wrote: date, train time, destination, seat number on a blue slip only from the detail I gave him. AND HE ADDED NOTHING NEW...! The guy at the barrier saw the blue form but didn't check any detail....
If I wasn't athletic, I would have missed that train.
So, why this procedure? Security, Client Service - or 'jobs for the boys' on the railways?
Today is the first ever Like Minds conference in Exeter. The impressive line-up of speakers will be sharing their wisdom about social media and its applications in business. The big questions of the day include What is the return on investment from using social media? How can it be used to engage customers best? We will bring you all the crucial ideas from all the speeches and will pitch your questions to the various panelists throughout the event – completely live! Following the event is simple. Either bookmark this page now or register for email notification in the window below. Sit back and watch this live-blog page from 2pm this Friday or if you want to get more involved, you can submit comments using the system in the window below (when live) or by sending a question to the @MarketingDonut Twitter account. Like Minds Conference, Exeter