Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Your operating warned!

Many people may be aware that Windows XP will not be supported as an operating system by Microsoft but they may not be aware of the implications.

It is not just that any problems with the software will not be fixed but also that any security issues that may arise will go unaddressed and this could make your computer vulnerable. In addition, you will find that your contract with your anti-virus supplier is likely to be affected as many of them are saying that they will not support this edition of the Windows operating system either because they rely on Microsoft doing their part about vulnerabilities.

So we are faced with the situation that the hackers are actually helping Microsoft to sell you software. How ironic is that!!!

Written by Keith Powell, Colbea Business Advisor.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

My brain's a blank!

Now is there anyone on my list who could do with a battery operated sock warmer?  No?  How about that furry pig draft excluder then?!

I don’t know about you, but every year I find buying Christmas presents more and more difficult.  It’s not that there are a lack of lovely things to buy, it’s just that I can’t seem to dredge up original ideas. Not every present is difficult of course.  Children are fun to buy for and I can always find something to put a smile on the face of my female friends and relatives, but joint presents for couples are pretty tricky and as for you men out there….well…..!

Coming up with new ideas in a society of consumerism and excess is nigh on impossible.  From time to time we’ll see a new product that is such a great idea we wonder why no one had thought of it before.  But how many of those have you seen lately? 

In general, marketing is about ideas.  Of course, it’s about putting those ideas into practice and a lot more besides, but today’s marketer needs to be inventive to be noticed.  There are many ways in which to generate new ideas.  Brain-storming, challenging assumptions, making new and unexpected connections, or going out there and getting an external perspective are just a few.  But I’d suggest the starting point isn’t the idea…it’s the purpose.  As with everything in marketing – and business too – we should be asking ourselves ‘why?’.  How can we generate innovative ideas if we’re not sure what we’re trying to achieve?

Back in the 90’s there was a lot of hoo-hah about company visions and mission statements.  Almost always, the businesses that were creating these missives were established ones.  I’m not knocking them.  It’s always refreshing to revitalise and communicate your purpose.  The thing is, I’ve never met a brand new business owner who has thrust his or her mission statement into my hand.  Why not?!  Surely, the new business needs to know what it wants to be when it grows up!

So perhaps before we start on the meditation, team expression or in-depth soul searching that’s essential in the labour ward of idea creation, we make sure we know where we want to end up.  If a new business starts life with a strong and clear vision it will have a framework for ideas, it will know what values it needs to communicate and, above all, it will have a target against which to measure progress.

Happy head-scratching!

Friday, 4 October 2013

What is going on with borrowing?

I have written in the past about the various attempts being made by this government to encourage lending to small businesses.  My original contention was that this was only helping home buyers with cheaper mortgages and not small businesses.

My views are reinforced by the fact that mortgage lending in August is recorded as 28% higher than in the same month last year.  Looking behind the figures this actually seems to be that people are in fact extending their homes and then re-mortgaging instead of moving.  This only goes to prove that home-owners are getting as financially aware as small business owners.

In the same way as micro business owners are vowing never to again be in thrall to the major banks who can call in a loan or overdraft at a moment’s notice and risk ruining their business, so now home owners are saying, OK you want to lend us money at much cheaper rates, we will borrow but we will no longer do it in a way which puts us at the risk of re-possession.  We will borrow because we have to but we will get the cheapest rate possible and switch if we get a better deal.  The government tells us to do so with the energy companies, so don’t be surprised if we do it with the mortgage lenders.

There is however one further statistic that worries me and also doesn’t help my argument – credit card debt continues to escalate.  Is this people who don’t have their own homes or businesses?

Written by Keith Powell, Colbea Business Advisor.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

About turn

I expect you’ve all been deeply shocked by the gas attacks in Syria.  But if we were to take a poll I doubt we’d all agree about what we, as a country, should do in response.

Parliament’s defeat of the vote for military action has caused some repercussions.  Commentators seem fixated on the question of whether David Cameron/the conservative party/the country/the ‘special relationship’ has been damaged by this apparent back track.

All of which started me thinking about what makes for strong leadership and whether a change of mind is a sign of strength or weakness.

Running your own business or managing a company needs leadership AND management skills.  The two are quite different.  Good managers are not always good leaders and vice versa.  So what makes for strong leadership and how come it’s such a rare commodity?

Please don’t think I’m claiming to be a strong leader myself.  I am old enough and wise enough to know that leadership is not my forte!   However, I’ve worked with a few impressive leaders and have watched how they operate.  The best are visionaries.  They tend to be single minded when it comes to achieving objectives and although they are aware of challenges, they have a ‘terrier’ trait that keeps them hanging on.  So does that mean they never waver or have a change of heart?

In my experience, true leaders share some characteristic ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. 

They don’t
-  jump to conclusions
-  threaten or bully
-  sway between allegiances or causes
-  either over-simplify or over-complicate their message
-  get bogged down with irrelevancies

They do:
-  their homework
-  enlist champions, who believe in their cause and act as advocates
-  communicate their vision to everyone involved, and I mean everyone!
-  motivate their people and trust them to get on with the job
-  have their finger on the pulse.

And perhaps that last point is the most pertinent.  True leaders know what’s going on.  What may have been right six days/weeks/months ago may not be now.  Sometimes environment changes mean that objectives need to change too.  That’s what flexibility and responsiveness is all about.  Sticking to a goal that has been superseded or has become outdated is nothing more than dogma. 

Surely a strong leader is one with the strength of character to stand up and say “we need to do this differently” rather than plough on regardless of the fallout. 

Have you worked with someone who had leadership qualities?  Why not share your thoughts here about what made them so influential?

Monday, 29 July 2013 least they keep trying!

They keep on trying, but it's a pity they will never succeed with these plans.

There has been much talk in the Enterprise Agency community about the right mess that the Government has made of supporting startup and micro businesses but there has always been the feeling that this could be seen as sour grapes along the lines of “…they would say that anyway as funding has been taken away from them.”

Now that sort of criticism is being made by other organisations interested in helping this important sector, if anything in a less temperate tone than adopted by us.

Judge for yourself by going to:

Comment on the blog if you agree.

Keith Powell – Colbea Business Adviser

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Latest assessment of Funding For Lending

The Funding for Lending Scheme is again back in the news, maybe because Syscap are launching a new Short Term Loan Scheme, but I was prompted to have a look at the current situation to see if there was still grounds for my pessimism.

There are continuing grounds for pessimism in that lending to small and micro businesses is not increasing, in fact it continues to decline.  Is this really a cause for concern with the health of small and micro businesses? Despite the decline in lending from conventional institutions like the main clearing banks, in conversations with business managers in several of the clearing banks they tell me that they are lending money, sometimes significant sums. OK, the rates are not exactly attractive and the terms are stringent but there is money to be had.

So, there might be another reason for the decline, perhaps we are at the stage of “once bitten, twice shy”. There are businesses that have borrowed money in the past that suddenly, when things with the lending institutions got tough, found themselves facing demands to pay back, re-finance or else.  This was not a happy time and caused some businesses to fold and many to look carefully at their financial situation and make savings.  Therefore, because of this, we may have businesses that are more financially self-sufficient and certainly more prudent - to use a much maligned term.

I hope that this is the case and therefore micro businesses are in effect saying, thank you for offering but we won’t be caught out again!!

Keith Powell
Colbea Business Advisor

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

What inspires you?

“Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration”. 

It’s hard to argue with Edison.  He knew that success comes from commitment and hard work, or as he put it, perspiration.  Everyone who runs a business would agree.  But perspiration has a nasty habit of becoming yawningly dull and stale unless it’s peppered with a little inspiration.

Someone once said to me that people are driven by one of two motives – money or power.  I readily admit to being a little cynical but I like to think that I’ve still got some faith in human nature.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to build up your business to be a successful and respected business leader.  There’s nothing wrong with making money – money gives you choices and helps you influence other people’s lives…hopefully for the better.  But I think there’s a third motive that is just as important to many and that is, “to be the best that I can be”.  That might not mean that we’re challenging ourselves to climb Mount Everest or abseil down the Shard but just to do a job really well, to go beyond our customer’s expectations and to feel proud.  (No….don’t panic, I’m not about to burst into a ‘Miranda’ style rendition of Heather Small’s song!)

Money?  Power? Self-esteem?  They all require motivation.  And the food of motivation is inspiration.

So how can we find inspiration? 

Some people seem to be in a state of perpetual inspiration.  Marvellous.  Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.  I have to work at my inspiration or I’d never get up in the morning!  Here are the tips that have helped me.  Perhaps they’ll be useful for you too.

-           Seek out people who inspire you and keep in contact with them.
-           Open yourself up to wider thinking and challenging ideas, maybe through training courses or professional seminars.
-           Be curious – about the world around you, about how things work, about how others achieved success, about what makes people tick.
-           Don’t stop learning – your inspiration can come from discovering your own capacity for knowledge as well as from external sources.
-           Remember that we are what we eat!  If we feed ourselves with negative friends, negative media, negative commentaries, etc., we’re unlikely to find ourselves in a particularly inspirational frame of mind.  You could argue that it’s a social duty to be informed about the bad as well as the good in the world, but my point is that we’re more likely to be able to do something positive to help if we’re fired up….otherwise we’ll just crawl back under the duvet in despair.

If you’ve got an inspirational story or tips on how to feed your motivation, why not share them here?