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We all have good years and suffer tough ones, but Christmas comes in all economic conditions. It's like a lifelong census of your approach and attitude, and says much about you as a leader.
In austere times when staff may have been let go, wages frozen or cut, and profits and cash placed under pressure, it can on the surface appear a good idea to avoid the costs of the Christmas bash. Let's face it, many of us do find it a bit cringeworthy to watch Brenda from Accounts Receivable suddenly hyperactive and over friendly on Egg nog (what actually IS egg nog? Does anyone know?).
But the truth is you need your team firing on all cylinders in difficult times. They are your biggest cost and you need more from less if you are to improve your profitability. If you cut Christmas and the water coolers you'll look not only look petty and run the risk of annoying even your best and most loyal people, but you'll panic your entire team into insecurity, which is bad for morale, bad for productivity, and bad for profits. Leaders lift horizons and spirits. Losers wallow in the recent past.
What does it say about you if you won't invest the equivalent of a couple of hours worth of pay in saying "thanks guys"? And not to celebrate the survival of your remaining crew to this point in the most treacherous economic storms known to man because you've lost a few overboard is weak leadership. In tough times you need to lift horizons and stay to task, not wallow in the inevitable imperfections of the journey. Business is a challenge worth doing because you can lose. Celebrate those who have left as if martyrs to the business cause.
There's no sin in a laugh. Think back to the war years when times were really austere and remember that humour helped us come through.
So, don't cut back on Christmas. Don't let tough times of the politics of different religions convince you to reign back. Celebrate - we could all perish in an asteroid collision tomorrow. Count your blessings at this time of year, not your excuses.
Above all never miss an opportunity to say "thanks" and to raise horizons. These two simple traits separate the Gandhis from Gordon Gekkos, Greed is not good. Generosity is great!
Alex Pratt is an entrepreneur and the author of Austerity Business.
Alex has given us a copy of Austerity Business to give away to a lucky Marketing Donut reader. All you have to do is leave a comment below telling us what you're doing to thank your staff this Christmas. We'll put all the commentators' names in a hat and pick one out on Thursday, 23 December to receive the book. Get commenting!
Entries will only be accepted via the Marketing Donut website. You can enter by leaving a comment on this blog post telling us how you're thanking your staff this Christmas. To leave a comment, you will need to sign in or register to set up an account. Registration is completely free. Multiple comments from the same user will only be entered once. Comments will only be published at our discretion and no links will be allowed. Inappropriate or offensive comments will not be published. Comments submitted between Thursday 16th December and Thursday 23rd December 2010 (17:00 GMT) will be entered into a draw and a winner will be picked at random. The winner will be contacted on Thursday 23rd December using the email address they provided when they registered on the Marketing Donut. If the prize is not claimed by Monday 10th January 2011, another winner will be selected. We will post the prize to a UK address in January 2011. The prize is one copy of Alex Pratt's book 'Austerity Business', there is no cash alternative.
For this month’s issue of MyDonut, we've interviewed three small businesses that have been around for more than 100 years. Two of them sent us some great photos – so good that I thought we should have a blog post about them.
As a child of the 1970s - an era before the great retail modernisation of the 80s, I find these images of Parsons the Jewellers in Bristol and London cheesemonger Paxton and Whitfield familiar and strangely comforting. Perhaps you will, too.
This is the Jermyn Street shop interior as it was in the 1960s:
The exterior of the shop looks today much as it always has – it still has a reassuringly old-fashioned air from the outside:
But the inside is much more modern, though it retains its ‘artisan’ feel:
The three images show the changing faces of Parson’s the Jewellers, which has inhabited three different sites in Bristol over the last three hundred years.
The original Old Market premises before being demolished to make way for a roundabout in 1966. Just creeping into the top left is the base of a statue of Cupid that was perched precariously on top of the fascia. The statue disappeared when the shop was moved and was rediscovered above a jeweller in Hatton Garden, London, where it remains.
I’m not sure about the location of this shop but, there is a clue in the newspaper advert for Parsons next to the photo. I’d say it’s the Clare Street branch, opened in 1923 and long since closed.
The shop now resides in The Mall in the centre of Bristol – you can see a photo of the modern-day premises here: http://www.parsonsjewellersltd.co.uk/
If you’re interested in photographs of small shops, then I strongly recommend Shutting Up Shop: The Decline of the Traditional Small Shop by the photographer John Londei. It’s a marvellous book which powerfully evokes an era before mega-chains when almost every shop was a small family-run businesses and each had its own unique flavour. Is this something we’ll ever see again?
By the way, we’d also love you to send us your own images of old businesses and business premises. Just email them and we’ll try to include them on the site.
I see it all the time. I even take advantage of it. Some businesses have too many discount sales and special offers — in fact it can seem like a permanent sale. I call this the DFS effect.
But what happens? No-one buys at full price.
Now it is, of course, very tempting to drop your prices when you have stock to move, and I am not suggesting that you don’t ever have sales, just don’t have them all the time.
If every email you’re sending out to your list is just what’s on sale, or that you’ve knocked so-and-so-many per cent off “this weekend only”, and if you send them often enough, it’s not going to take long to wipe out all your full price sales.
There is a certain children’s mail order company that I often use to buy things for my small people and I know that I only have to hang on for another week or so every time I want to buy something and sure enough a discount voucher will plop onto the doormat through the post. I am regular customer and so I know I don’t have to wait long. Now what’s silly about this is that yes I do buy when I get my discount voucher, but the business has lost my momentum, and also the cash I was ready to part with “on the spot”.
Now for a big mail order catalogue, or a large chain of furniture stores (ahem!) the continuous offers and discounting is part of a major marketing plan, but if you’re a small business you don’t always have the luxury of bigger margins and a constant flow of orders. If you’re a smaller business you value every sale, and all of those that are not at full price just mean you have to work harder or sell more (or both!). You also then set a precedent that your prices are not “real” but “inflated” (yes I know those DFS sofas were on sale somewhere for a week at £1500 but no-one was buying them, right?).
So stick by your guns and don’t be on sale all the time. Think about value-added offers instead, or extras you can include. Once you lower your prices (which is effectively what you do when you’re always on sale) it’s really hard to push them back up again to the same customers. Then you’re left with either finding new customers, or accepting that you’ll only ever be able to sell for less.
And don’t even think about offering five years interest free credit if you’re a small business either! Money up front thank you very much.
As more and more businesses buy social media services from agencies and consultants, there remains some grey area around exactly what you can outsource, what you can’t – or shouldn’t, and how the whole relationship is supposed to work
I’m a provider of social media consultancy and training, but not so long ago I was in the other side of the agency fence, in the corporate camp. So with dual hats on, here’s my guide to buying social media services for business.
Whether you want a full-blown strategy, campaigns, specific training or ongoing coaching in social media, this is a partnership with your provider. A great agency will have to really get under the skin of your organisation and understand what you need to achieve before translating it into social media goals, tactics and measurements.
If part of social media is to do with engaging your target audience and sharing relevant messages (and of course, there are other uses), you’ll need to be very clear first of all about who that audience is and what your messages are. Before you can start engaging, are you clear about the ‘who’ and ‘what’? A good agency can work that through with you. Clear and consistent messages make your social media efforts impactful and relevant.
The ultimate aim of any agency worth its salt has to be to educate, equip and organise their client brilliantly in their social media endeavours, to the point that the client is empowered to manage at least a good chunk of their social media activity in-house. To be authentic, responsive and to seize the social media initiative, an organisation needs to be actively engaging first-hand with their audiences.
A good agency or consultant will ensure that those involved in social media activity know how to use a whole range of tools for engaging, sharing, listening and monitoring. But more than that, they’ll ensure that those people also understand the bigger picture and the context in which social technologies are used.
Assessing an organisation’s scope for using social media can be hard to do from the inside. Internal pressures, barriers and preconceptions can fog the vision and opportunities can be missed. Without a doubt, an external and objective view is valuable. An outside view should bring vision, ideas, creativity and inspiration, but also should apply these to your company’s reality (which could include lack of resource or buy-in) and provide creative solutions.
A key activity that’s well-worth engaging an agency for is monitoring and listening. We all do that to some extent in any case, in our everyday social media use, through RSS feeds, alerts and Twitter search streams. But agencies can add value by monitoring and listening against some very specific terms, themes and audiences. And the genuine value is when they can take that information, analyse it, and provide you with insightful stats, trends and recommendations as a result.
Another area where agencies can add value is in providing on-going coaching, to ensure that you have a good grasp of what’s working, what isn’t and where there are additional opportunities to be leveraged. They should be concerned with helping you develop as a socially-engaged business and as individual users of social media. If they are not actively offering that, demand it!
Go on, admit it, have you started thinking about your marketing plan for next year yet? Every December, I take a day or two out to write my marketing plan for the new year. Well to be honest, I do a little more than that, I write my business plan for the year.
Last year, my plan looked pretty exciting: launch our design and marketing agency, Flourish, grow the turnover and profit, and cement our position in the marketplace. And you know what? We’ve done it! All of it and then some…
For me, one of the key differentials has been getting Suzanne, our fabulous book-keeper to get involved in the financial plan from the outset. You don’t often think of a book-keeper as being someone that has much to do with a marketing plan – but surely the role of the marketing plan is to help you achieve your business goals? And if your goals are financial, well then you need to write down a proper model.
Last December, for the first year ever, I told Suzanne how much profit I wanted the business to generate, and she went away and created a realistic model for me. I know it sounds obvious, but to me it was a revelation! And it made such a difference. It has focused my mind and we’ve achieved our goals.
In the past, I’ve hoped that we might achieve a certain profit level, but I’ve always been a little unsure about exactly what we needed to do — month on month, to achieve that.
A couple of years ago my goals were very different — I was pregnant and I simply wanted to get the business to a “safe place” where we could continue to deliver the level of service we were known for, whilst I enjoyed five months of maternity leave following the birth of my son.
We all have goals for our businesses, and I find it really helps to sit down and focus on them. It doesn’t matter what your goals are: financial, personal, intellectual — but you do need to work out what they are.
My next job of planning my marketing is to re-examine the market, what our customers value about our offering, where our strengths lie and whether our niche is still as relevant today as it was last year. The launch of Flourish in February was all about putting a name and a brand to a service and an expertise we were already delivering, and it really has paid off. But markets change, companies grow and customer needs shift — is your offering today as compelling as it was last year? Last month?
Once you have a space in the market that you’re confident that you can deliver and that your clients want, you need to own that space. Build a marketing plan that communicates what you do, that helps you own your space. Mix up the low cost and no cost marketing activities with a few things that you’ll need to invest some more in, but will pay off.
Write yourself out a calendar of events — what are you doing when? I often write myself Macro Marketing Plans (xyz in February, abc in March etc) as well as Micro Marketing Plans with very detailed lists of jobs for each campaign. Sounds like hard work? It is, but it’ll pay off in the long run, I promise.
The face of small business will change dramatically over the next twelve months.
The small business and sole trader community will be closely watching what’s happening in the economy as we either move out of recession or we double-dip. Either way, we’ll be ready to change because we’ve had to already over the past two difficult years.
Firstly, we believe that there will be an increase in the size of the small business marketplace as there will be many new small businesses, consultants and sole trader start-ups coming through. This is because the large corporate and medium businesses won’t grow — they will plateau — and without a doubt they will shed employees. More businesses will go into administration. The public sector will also shrink — and again — shed employees. With the shortage of jobs for teenagers, young adults and graduates they will have no option but to start a small business or become a sole trader.
Career coaching will grow. People with redundancy funds will have to invest with small career coaching companies who run transition courses teaching how to start a small business. The small business creative economy will grow because small business marketing advisers and creatives will be in demand to create the new businesses and market them. The small business financial community will grow because small business independent financial and business advisers will be in demand, not the banks.
The new start-ups will increase the numbers of small business and sole traders in the UK. This may create a busier and more competitive marketplace but will also encourage businesses joining together to work on bigger client projects together.
Successful ways of marketing and selling services through face-to-face networking means that networking organisations such as Athena, The Best of and 4Networking will grow and new networks will be founded.
Secondly, innovation. Existing small businesses and sole traders will have an opportunity to grow by taking on more business.
This will take the shape of:
With the arrival of younger entrepreneurs in the small business marketplace, many more innovative products and services will come to market – and quicker
Traditional ways of purchasing traditional goods and services from the multiples will be challenged and changed by the hands of the small business community.
Small business and sole traders will continue to embrace the use of social media and blog sites to promote themselves. Promotion through social media optimisation (SMO) suits the speed of the small business marketplace. SMEs can deliver useful and regular new content into our potential customers’ smartphones and into the search engines at the drop of a hat.
Small firms can control multiple business communications with a preferred social media dashboard such as ping, tweetdeck or hootsuite and they will be demanding technological enhancements.
Any reliance on email will change as it is an increasingly slow and outdated mode of communication as opposed to Twitter and Facebook.
Customers will increasingly buy from small businesses because of their values and social responsibility. Small businesses will change to return the favour and buy small business products and services and also buy local too to support the local marketplace.