If your Customers take the time to leave feedback – positive or negative, do take time to read it and do act on it. Any steps that will improve your Business, including Constructive Criticism can only help.
Ryanair are famous (notorious?), for example for being quite explicit in their “you get what you pay for” operation. Don’t check in at home? You will have to pay through the nose for checking n at the airport, for example.
This allows them to run a very lean model and keep prices ultra low. If you don’t like it, take your Business elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want to fly somewhere, have only hand luggage, don’t care what seat you have and follow all check-in procedures to the letter, yes you really can fly to Europe for a fiver.
I’ve heard that if you have a complaint, their policy is to ignore the first one anyway. Lots of people give up at that point if they don’t hear back, so Ryanair only have to deal with those that persist with a follow-up. No staff time wasted on snowflakes.
That model works for them as any flax just bounces off them. As a small Business owner, that can be damaging, possibly even fatal. Please do reply to criticism, or at least amend your practises so that the issue is less likely to happen again. I have become more explicit in my quotes, my pre-course information sheets and my cancellation policies so that there is no scope for misinterpretation. My Clients know what they are getting, how / if they can cancel and the costs involved for instance. If they don’t like it, that’s a shame, but it does decrease my time spent dealing with queries.
Take time (or get a friend) to review your paperwork, your website, your Policies from the point of view of a Client. Do you understand costs, explicit and hidden and do you know what will happen if you need to cancel for instance? The more streamlined your Business, the more profitable it is.
If you want an independent review of your procedures, do get in touch with me as I can help you see your Business from a Client’s eye. See my Website at AndyCrowhurst.com for more information.
Finally, how not to do Customer Service. I’ve recently started to use InPost for my shipping as it’s convenient and cheap. I dropped them an email to say how good it was, along with a couple of suggestions:
Once upon an Era, Yellow Pages was king. That doorstopper of a Directory dropped on my parents’ doorstep once every few months, Trade vans prowled the streets with Find us in Yellow Pages’ on a bright yellow sticker on the back, semi obfuscated by ‘Watford for the cup’ and ‘Clean Me’ written into the grime.
Then a cat appeared on the scene. Thomson was his name, the cheeky upstart. The Virgin Atlantic to Yellow Pages’ British Airways. Always thinner, but somehow trendier and more useful.
Then Tim Berners-Lee gate-crashed the game. His Internetweb thingy seems to have caught on. ‘Google’ is now a recognised verb and no-one uses Yellow Pages any more.
Do they? Yellow Pages and Thomson are still around, but the tomes are thinner and – be honest – when did you last pick one up?
Update 2023 – I think they have almost given up and gone completely online, however I did receive a printed Yellow Pages Business Directory last week. Straight to recycling rather than cluttering the house.
Think – Do you ‘Yell’, ‘QXL’, ‘Bing’ or ‘Google’ something you are searching for. Go where the money is. Google is so dominant, any money paid elsewhere would need a phenomenal return to match the returns from Google.
I cannot see why they still have a team of Sales Consultants to sell advertising space. OK, so they both have websites to complement the Directory, but why not drop the Directories and Sales Staff? You have to move with the times and as many a bookshop has found out, mainstream printed media is declining as fast as Google’s Tax bill.
Drop the hard copy and concentrate on online advertising – even then, competing against the Google juggernaut is uphill. You’ve missed that window. If Yellow Pages or Thomson had realised the power of the Internet, they could have made a great impact before Google came along and spoilt the party. Too late now.
What should we do? Get someone in your Business to advertise on every site going – but only for the free ads. Some sites have their SEO sorted and appear in Google, others don’t, but with so many out there (the ‘long tail’) there is no point finessing it with paid listings. Google has, what is it, 80% of the Search market? Pay someone to get you results in Google and, if appropriate, use Adwords (but use an expert to prevent too much money being wasted).
Everything else paid for is just a waste of time. Don’t believe me? What happened to QXL, the British equivalent of eBay? The number 2 auction site. Type it in. www.qxl.co.uk. It’s now Danish. Would you try and sell anything on QXL? Would you try and advertise anywhere but Google? If you’re thinking ‘yes’, then turn it around. When did you deliberately go to a non-google search engine to look for something? For ‘you’, read ‘your customers’.
Yellow Pages Call Centre Staff. Move on. No-one pays for advertising in your catalogue any more. Why should they?
I get approached by Businesses purporting to have exclusive connections to categories of Businesses – Schools, for instance. “Sign up to us and we’ll guarantee you exclusivity in your area”. Exclusivity to your website maybe, not to the Schools – who are free to pick and choose their suppliers. Don’t fall for it, it’s about £500 a year at the basic level and you could spend that marketing yourself directly to many Schools.
Every now and again a niche Directory of Services appears on a Facebook Group page (Drone Photographers, Health and Safety Trainers etc.). Someone has spent ages crafting a website displaying a list of providers. Very noble, and if there is a free basic listing, go for it. It might just help with your Google presence. Speaking of Google, however, realistically anyone looking for your Services will use Google. Don’t waste your money on premium niche Directories unless there is a tangible benefit that Google does not provide.
Years ago, when I was in my first job, I supervised a sandwich student during his placement year. After he graduated he joined us full time. ‘Sharpy’ was quite a character. On the short side but made up for it with by throwing himself into everything – from work to the Maltesers reject carton when we toured the Mars factory in Slough.
He would also talk to anyone and everyone and I’m sure his Facebook page lists more friends than most. His LinkedIn profile is certainly comprehensive.
To cut a long story short, he moved to the States and he is now a VP at ARM, a high tech design and manufacturer of Computer chips. This no doubt is due to his hard work but also talking and Networking like mad.
They say that most good jobs are not advertised and it’s who you know, not what you know. By having a large ‘little black book’ of friends and associates, by being the first to buy a round or by bringing a wallflower into the conversation you will make friends and they will remember.
Be nice to everyone and make lots of friends at all levels from the cleaners to the Managers. Payback will come from unexpected directions.
When I had made a bit of money I decided to treat myself to a decent car. I don’t usually scrub up and the salesman at the BMW Showroom obviously decided I was a tyre kicker and I was in and out in 5 minutes. If he’d spent that 5 minutes getting to know me more rather than prejudging, I might have walked out with a Beamer rather than the Lotus Esprit that I eventually bought.
Going back to my first job, there was another Graduate who confidently informed us one day that one should always ignore waiters the first time they approach your table. We stared at him incredulously. Firstly because it’s terribly rude to anyone whatever their position in the world, secondly because by befriending him, you never know where it will lead (especially on return visits) and finally, everyone knows that one never criticises the service or food before it’s all been served.
No idea what has happened to him. Somehow I doubt if he’s a VP anywhere – unless Daddy’s sorted it for him. OK, so personally I’m not VP anywhere, but I do run my own show and talking to all and sundry has brought me many benefits over the years.
Next time: Make sure there’s a drink in it for everyone.
Mario Puzo’s book and Cinematic hit – The Godfather – dealt with a fictional member of the Mafia – Don Corleone – head of the Corleone Crime family.
Not a good start for a Business Principle, but bear with me.
Don ran a number of ‘businesses’ to bring in the Lire, namely protection, extortion, gambling and union racketeering. All of which are extreme versions of legal enterprises and made to work by the threat of, or actual use of violence, but I am concentrating on a side to him that you see at the beginning of the book and one of the guiding principles of his operation.
The book opens with a party at the Corleone Household. The Don is in his study, receiving visitors, all with one thing in common, they need something from him. It may be a loan or a favour or some help retrieving something of theirs (say, an outstanding debt from a third party). One at a time, the Don receives them, listens to their request and either accepts or declines.
If he accepts, the request is noted and he arranges for it to be carried out. In time, of course, he expects this debt (monetary or otherwise) to be repaid with interest. This could be in a month, a year or a decade. When the Don himself needs something doing, he will check his book and find the most appropriate debtor. There will be Senators, Businessmen and women and people in high office with influence, all of whom are in his debt and all of whom know that a refusal will offend.
Now let’s move this to a somewhat more legitimate business (as well as personal life). Whilst we do do things in expectation of an immediate-ish return (all businesses, profit making or otherwise do), sometimes we do someone a favour, not expecting a return. Holding a door open, baking a cake for a poorly neighbour, giving up your seat and so on. We don’t expect reward, it’s just something that we do. Occasionally, however, this act leads on to a reciprocation some time down the line. Do enough and the chances are high that something good will happen to you at a random point later (in the forelife, not the promised, but not provable afterlife, that is)
People remember things and if you help someone in a fix, or go the extra mile without expectation you will be pleasantly surprised one day.
About a year ago, I was working in my Day Job. A Company that I was working alongside were in a fix. They had a final deadline that day and looked like blowing it, so incurring cost overruns, loss of face with their customer etc. I knew what needed to be done and for the price of a bit of food to keep me going, sorted them out with a couple of hours work. I gave them my number in case there were problems the next day but they never rang.
Until last week, when I got a call out of the blue.
They were in a fix again, had remembered me and still had my number. I was booked, this time on a commercial basis and sorted them out. It should also lead to more work – they were over the moon with what I did and are already talking about passing regular leads on to me.
In my previous blogette, I mentioned Ryanair and its approach to Customer Service. Can you imagine anyone ever rocking up to Ryanair’s check-in and saying “A friend of mine told me that you helped her out when she had a problem and she’s eternally grateful. She suggested I try you”. Me neither.
It doesn’t always work, of course. Even Don Corleone knew that some of his ‘favours’ would never be repaid – the antagonist might die, move on or just not achieve anything worthy of repayment. That was the chance he took. Those that did repay, paid him aplenty. A good friend of mine has recently been ‘stuffed’ by someone she considered (past tense) a friend. She mentored him for months, getting him started with a business idea (coming up with the idea in the first place) creating material, pushing him and generally trying to get him running his own business. He has done, but in the process has cut her off like a displeased Downton Matriarch. No ‘thanks’, no appreciation for the work put in, no invite to the launch and certainly no financial contribution towards the hundreds of hours spent. She wasn’t expecting much, if anything, in return but common courtesy would indicate an acknowledgement at the very least (Don’s recipients were very grateful, of that you can be sure). Perhaps, down the line he could have fed her some new clients for her Training Company as a ‘Thank You’ and perhaps she could have fed him some clients the other way.
It’s not going to happen. That’s life and she’ll move on. She won’t stop doing people favours without any expectations of a reciprocation. Well, maybe just one person might be exempt. We have to live with that. You can be sure that he will not be as successful with that approach than he could have been if he had acknowledged the debt he owes her (and, in all likeliness, others).
The Water Babies? Well, two of the fairies in the book by Charles Kingsley were Miss Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Miss Bedonebyasyoudid.
Be nice and do people favours, sometimes even helping out competitors at times. Trust me, you will be better off than if you didn’t.
Everyone has an opinion on how to run a business, from Michael O’Learey’s “Hook ’em with a low lead-in price, then charge breathtaking amounts for absolutely everything over and above the bare seat whilst not spending one unnecessary Euro” to James Dyson’s and Steve Job’s “Get the design right and the rest will follow” to John Timpson’s “Upside Down Management – If you treat people well, it is blindingly obvious that they will do a good job” style where his hands-off approach devolves power and financial responsibility to local shop Managers.
In the same way, as customers of businesses, whether it’s the local paper shop, a car showroom or even your local pub, we also all have our own opinions and we all know good and bad service when we encounter it. Phrases such as “Well, I’m never going back there, again” and “He was chatting to his colleague all the time whilst serving me” abound, as do “You’ve got to try this new place, the service was amazing” and “The Manager apologised for it being out of stock and brought a replacement round personally, the next day”.
I’m no exception and following (in later Blogs) are a few of the principles that I abide to.
If anyone else wants to comment on any of my principles or add any of their own, then I’d love to hear from you.
I will never travel on Ryanair simply because of its attitude to its customers
I am now on my second Dyson after believing for years that Vax was the way to go
‘Apple creep’ is happening in the household and, although I baulk at the prices charged, I love the IPad.
I have not had the need to visit my local Timpson’s since I read John Timpson’s Management book, but have a watch for repair just waiting for me to remember to take it in and get it assessed. If the service matches the principles of the book, I will be a very happy bunny.
So, onwards and downwards. Principle I – The Godfather Principle.
It is vital that you get watertight documents for your Business – for your clients, freelancers, employees and so on.
There are Organisations that provide this as a custom service. You can purchase customisable templates as well.
I use a mixture of both. Because employing someone requires a lot of bases to cover I use a personal service, but for one-off Contracts I use Law Depot for documents. Check out their website. Hundreds of documents, waivers and contracts, drawn up by professionals such as:
Affiliate schemes are definitely NOT Multi Level Marketing (MLM) or Pyramid schemes. MLM and/or Pyramid schemes allow you to sell a product, usually cheap and cheerful at a large mark-up, but your main income supposedly comes from you recruiting others to sell for you and you taking a commission from each of their sales….and anyone below them that they recruit. Or so they say. There is plenty written online but it’s all negative from anyone not involved. In order to hit targets, you have to hit on friends and relatives to buy or to become resellers. Pretty soon your friends / relatives get tired of you and drift away or refuse to return calls. In turn you are being pressured from above as they have targets (and commission from your sales), too. Think what the cost of the product to make is, if lots of layers of people are taking a cut from the sale. Avoid.
An Affiliate scheme is a method of you getting commission on product or Service sales without actually having to hold stock, create services or deal with sales and returns.
Quite simply, you place an advert for a product or service on your website (e.g. a First Aid Kit). A special link, if clicked takes you to the retailer’s website and if it results in a sale, you get a commission. That’s it. Once your total commission reaches a certain threshold you get paid directly.
There are nuances, such as dealing with returned products (you get your commission paid after a delay, otherwise it would be too easy to defraud by buying and returning something, then pocketing the commission) and you need to sell a lot of First Aid kits (or a few high ticket items) to build up meaningful commission, but otherwise, once the links are set up, you have no involvement in the sale. Zero effort.
How it works
You work through an intermediary – an Affiliate provider. They sign up retail Organisations and also Organisations with websites that could hold adverts (“Publishers”). They sit in the middle and make sure everyone plays fairly (for a small commission, obv. That’s how they are funded. It is not many layers of organisations, each taking their cut however)
You apply to an Advertiser and, if they approve your website you can then place a lump of code on your website and it’s Live. Some Advertisers will approve websites automatically, some go through a manual process to make sure you fit in with their Brand and ethos.
Suggested Affiliate Schemes with Retailers that might be relevant to a First Aid Training website. There are many out there, some big, small niche, general purpose. Here are ones that I have used at some point.
Virtual College, Learning 24/7, EdPlace – all offer online Health, Safety and First Aid courses with decent commission
Vivomed – sports physiotherapy supply company (inc. First Aid kits)
Commission Junction (now CJ) – Large, American bias to it and the advertisers. Quite a strict approval process and you do need to be earning regularly to stay a member
Health based supplies, Medifast, MediTac Kits
Law Depot – sell lots of legal document templates, covering all aspects of Business Law. See this page for examples
ProTrainings – A Trade body that, if you use for certifying your courses, also has a system for you to advertise online First Aid and H&S courses on your website. Generous commission rates.
Hints and tips
Don’t go too mad. Setting up takes a while so make sure that it works for you. The advertisers list can be difficult to find sometimes but if you can find it, take a look for appropriate advertisers before Applying.
Some Affiliate Schemes charge to process your Application. Not huge amounts and I guess it greatly reduces the ones that just sign up for the sake of it.
If you don’t sell reasonably regularly you may get booted off a scheme. They (obviously) like active publishers. See first point
You need regular visitors to your website or a way of promoting them to your learners / those that Booked you. It’s all about traffic. See first point again
You get out what you put in. Yes you can make a lot but only by regular promotion, such as Newsletters, SM updates etc.
When you are setting out as a First Aid Trainer, one question that you should ask is what format should I trade under. Whilst it is possible to swap between different types, they are often different legal entities and therefore Bank Accounts and insurance policies will need to change. Anyone that has changed Bank Accounts will know how much of a hassle this is.
If you have Registered with a Business and complete a ‘New Supplier’ form then you will have to do that all over again. Better to consider all the possibilities before you start.
None of this is to be construed as Financial advice, obviously. If you want help drawing up Legal Forms, Law Depot do a good line in Business documents and Contracts.
Individual (Sole Trader)
You trade as yourself. You can give yourself a Trading name e.g. Andy Crowhurst t/a (trading as) ‘ACrow Training Services’ but you and the Business are the same. You file your income and Profit on your Annual Self-Assessment form, pay any Tax and National Insurance that is due and keep the balance. This is the simplest way of trading.
It is cheap to set up
It is simple to stop trading – you can literally just stop once you have settled all bills etc.
You are liable. As you and the Business are the same, any claims made against the Business are also against you. The worst-case scenario is that you could lose everything.
Not so many tax breaks as a Limited Company
You need to be diligent in separating personal and Business income and expenditure.
It can be seen as riskier by a prospective Supplier or Client
It won’t work if there is more than one of you.
Partnership (with one or more others)
You trade with one or more other people, splitting the Business as you agree. It is vital to take advice and make sure Contracts are drawn up that cover the Partnership and what happens should someone wish to (or be forced to) leave.
Cheaper than a Limited Company to set up and less onerous
More tax efficient than a Sole Trader
Business information is more private than a Limited Company
You are jointly and severally liable. This means that you are all on the hook for everyone’s debts and if one Partner does a bunk, the Creditors can come after you and your home.
Raising finance is a team effort as the Partnership does not exist on its own.
Even if you leave, you could still be liable further down the line
Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)
A LLP is a legal entity in its own right and the liabilities of the partners are (unsurprisingly) limited. It is a halfway hours between a Partnership and a Limited Company
Partners’ liabilities are limited
More flexible than a limited Company
More onerous reporting than a Partnership (e.g. Accounts must be filed at Companies House)
A Limited Company is a Legal entity owned by one or more shareholders. It has more onerous reporting requirements than any of the above, but also has advantages
Separate legal entity. Shareholders’ liabilities are literally limited to the amount that they paid for the shares (which could be £1) and, unless they are negligent, Directors have limited liability if the Business runs into problems
Generous tax breaks and allowances compared to other entities
More respected when it comes to signing up new suppliers and clients
Easier to raise money
More onerous reporting requirements
More complicated to close
There are other formats such as Community Interest Companies, Charities, different versions of Limited Companies and so on…
You need to decide what is best for you and do seek Professional advice if you are not sure. Mistakes at this stage can be costly down the line.
The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes
Mr Pareto and Mr Juran
Many businesses overextend themselves by either taking on too much or by spreading their skills too thinly. They end up being run ragged and nobody ends up happy. Here are my top 5 guidelines to running a successful Business
Stick to what you know
It is OK to say ‘no’
It is OK to withdraw gracefully from a sector
It is OK to let a Client go
You can charge more than you think you can
Stick to what you know
Sure, every Business needs to expand over time and there are plenty of examples of successful Businesses going into radically different sectors – the Virgin Group is a good example.
If anyone has read any of Richard Branson’s books, however, you can see that it has not always been successful – he has been close to bankruptcy at times – and not always plain sailing. For every Richard Branson, there are plenty of others that have tried – and failed. Survivor bias means that you only get to hear of the successes. Those that didn’t make it tend not to write about it.
I recommend that you start with a core offering and, once that is established, look at what you can add on. Take First Aid Training for example. From a core workplace (BLS, EFAW, FAW) you can move to Paediatric, then Outdoor as a route. From there you could look at Pet First Aid.
All these are easily achievable with your core skills plus a bolt-on course and a few more training items.
If you then choose to deliver Mental Health First Aid or First Aid for Children or even take the logical step across to providing Event First Aid cover then you are suddenly looking at a big step up in training and a new range of equipment. Setting all that up and getting qualified & equipped will take your mind off the core ball.
Alan Sugar bought Tottenham Hotspur as he had an interest in football. Whilst he did eventually sell it at a profit, it took a lot of his time in turning it around and merely running it, enough that Amstrad missed out on the tech boom that was happening at the time.
“The way I see it” – Alan Sugar
It is OK to say ‘no’
When you are starting up, it is easy to say ‘yes’ to each and every First Aid training request that comes along, never quite sure when the next one will be along. Better to deliver a marginally profitable, or even a loss-making course than have nothing on that day.
Whoa. Take a step back. Have a think. “Will this course actually progress the Business”? If it won’t, then should you really be doing it?
Here’s an example. You get asked to run a First Aid taster to a local Club or Organisation. “Just a couple of hours one evening. We can’t pay much but you can help yourself to the Pot Luck supper and we’ll get you a drink or two”. Great, free food and a cushy evening making new contacts as well as giving something back to the community. Apart from that last item, which is not unreasonable and very worthwhile, the rest will not help you develop your Business. It is pretty unlikely that any meaningful work will come of it, you will spend half a day on it (preparation, travel x2, post-course cleaning and repacking) and either it will come hot on the heels of another course that day (so you will be tired) or you have sacrificed a day’s income to fit it in.
Learning to say ‘no’ gracefully is a big Business skill to learn, but developing and expanding your Business is as much about saying ‘no’ as it is saying ‘yes’.
It is OK to withdraw gracefully from a sector
Cutting and running is always an option. Not everything works out, but at least you tried. Hopefully when you go into something you have prepared, run a SWOT analysis, trialled it etc, but many factors outside of your control can affect what happens. I tried Pet First Aid, got the qualifications, bought all the kit, advertised it and had a go. Despite us being a Nation of pet lovers there just weren’t the numbers to support it. Perhaps I hadn’t researched enough, or pushed it enough but I did work out that it was distracting from my core Business. When my pet First Aid teaching qualification came up for renewal, that was the trigger to get out, sell the kit and move on (or in my case, back to my core).
Sometimes external events come from left field
Tanks of fish nibbling at feet was all the rage not so long ago – eating dead skin cells and generally providing a form of beauty therapy. I saw a fish pedicure Business set up in my local Shopping Centre. Within two weeks of it opening, a report came out stating that people having the treatment were in line for a bacterial infection from the fish via the smallest of cuts. This killed the whole Business overnight. Rough, but that can happen. The Business had no option but to close. To do otherwise would have been ruinous.
It’s OK to let a client go
This comes down to the Pareto Principle mentioned at the beginning. We’ve all had that ‘client from hell’. The one with the impossible deadlines at short notice. They are picky, late payers and always wanting this or that. You will find:
80% of your Business comes from 20% of your Clients
80% of your problems come from 20% of your Clients
If you are spending a lot of time dealing with awkward clients, stop. Drop them, move on. Replace them with a client that could be in that first list instead. Over time you will improve your Client base, reduce your admin time and increase your cashflow. Your Mental Health will improve as you are no longer getting late night “last minute” requests for courses, or having to chase every single invoice every single time, or bundling in freebies just to keep them sweet. Just (nicely) let them go.
You can charge more than you think you can
Most start-ups want to undercut competitors to get going – and undercut by a long way, thinking they need to do this to get the Business. Whilst there is a cost element to some decisions (purchasing commodities such as printer paper or baked beans), a lot of Business is won, lost and retained for non-financial reasons.
If you are running a First Aid course for a dozen employees, that day is costing the Business (say) £8-900 in salaries, £100 in room rental, opportunity cost with having the employees unavailable, PAYE, NI and other extras anyway. Let’s say £1500 as a minimum. Will they really care whether you are charging £300, £400 or £500? Probably not in the grand scheme. Will they care that the Booking and Certification process was hassle-free and that the employees thought it a worthwhile day? Absolutely, and they will come back to you next time.
On the other hand if you charged £300 last time and now you are getting realistic with a bump up to £500 for the course will they care, will they notice? Almost certainly. That’s the problem with going in too low to start with.
You can also price yourself too low as well. If you were looking to Book a Hotel and you found one for £15 a night where other similar ones were charging £40-50 would you not stop to wonder what was wrong with that Hotel? There must be a reason why it is that cheap – and it’s probably not good news.
Go for it. Be bold with your pricing. Your skills are worth it. Would you rather work 3 days a week at £500 a day or 5 days a week at £300 a day?
People are buying a Service from you. You do not need to charge less because you have fewer overheads than a large Corporation. If they get the result that they want, they will be happy to pay £xxx for that and won’t care that less of it is swallowed up with admin than your big competitor.
PE – a colleague’s advice to me when I set up my first Business