Why businesses are looking in the wrong places when it comes to problem solving + nine tips to help you look in the right places.

WB_332-300x212 If a business has a problem that needs solving, whatever it is, there tends to be a pattern as to where the business owner will look for a solution. Some will almost always look inward i.e. at the internal processes and systems, and other will almost always put their focus externally i.e. at the market and business environment.  While both have merits neither is sufficient on its own.

According to William Buist, CEO of Abelard and Founder of xTEN Club, successful businesses can see a problem from both the customer’s perspective (external) and the perspective of the business owner (internal).

We seek to get customers to remember us for all sorts of things but in reality, in any business, customers only remember you for one of two things: the problems you solve – or the problems you create.

So how can you improve your problem solving? Here are William Buist’s nine tips to help you get clarity and put your focus in the right place:

  1.  Clarify your marketplace. In order to solve your customers’ most meaningful, relevant problems, you need to know what problems they are facing – and see them from their perspective. For example, what motivates your target customer? Are they concerned about high-quality products, spotless customer service, or finding the most budget-friendly solution?
  1. Clarify where your customers want to go. Understand where your customers currently are, followed by where they want to go. This gap is, in essence, your customer’s problem. Now you can tailor a solution that bridges the gap and solves their problem.
  1. Clarify with questions. For example, are they frustrated with ad-hoc account management versus automation? Do they need additional capabilities? Is the software simply too confusing or difficult to learn? Asking the right questions is the key to understanding the problem so you can better sell your customer on the right solution.
  2. Clarify customer problems and proactively prevent them. What are the five most common customer complaints that products or services like yours currently receive across the market place? What are your customers saying about your competitors and about you?Clarity around these concerns – e.g. high cost of service, diminishing returns, faulty or buggy products – allows your business to proactively prevent problems from occurring in the first place.
  1. Don’t make the problem bigger. Sometimes what you think is a customer’s problem is actually quite different from the reality. It is critical to understand the actual problem that your customer is facing – or you risk making the problem bigger. By asking questions and taking the time to get to know your customers, you can help prevent “assumptions” from dictating your problem solving response.
  2. Is Your Product Clear? What Do You Really Sell? Many entrepreneurs misunderstand the most fundamental question of what they do – what are you in business for? (Hint: it’s not “making money”). There are plenty of ways to cut out the middle man if all you want is to make money. Entrepreneurs create a product.
  3. Are you clear about how to deliver the right experience? Many owners design of the business is wrapped around activities that don’t add value, aren’t needed and which customers don’t want. Focussing on the key activities, the ones that matter, and becoming exceptional at them is what drives a great experience.
  1. What are you measuring? Are you measuring the things that matter to your staff, suppliers, customers, distributors, or measuring the things that matter to you? Find ways to measure what the customer wants rather than what you want. That’s how entrepreneurs in competitive markets get ahead.
  1. Everything has a shelf life. Do you know when you will replace your product, when you will next revisit the processes that deliver it, when you will need to make it fresh again? Why not (internally if you wish) have a refresh date in your business plan for that product.

Businesses with clarity make profits when others struggle, they grow whilst others stagnate and they outperform the market consistently.

Clarity gives us certainty and with it it brings success not confusion, and enjoyment not frustration. Successful entrepreneurs know that, and that’s why they stop from time to time to take a hard look at their model, the products, activities, and markets.

William Buist is owner of Abelard Collaborative Consultancy, and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club– an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners. xTEN helps accelerate growth, harness opportunity, build your business and develop ideas. William is also author of two books: ‘At your fingertips’ and ‘The little book of mentoring’. See: http://Abelard-uk.com  / http://Williambuist.com  / http://Societal-Web.com

 

Five telecoms issues you must consider when moving office

If you’re planning to move offices then it is essential you consider your telecoms options early in the process. Far too often they get left to the last minute. At best this can lead to added stress, or at worst long delays and increased costs.

Dave Millett of Equinox has created a useful telecoms checklist for anyone considering moving premises.

1)    Don’t Leave It Until too Late

BT Openreach has a monopoly on all line installs regardless of who they are ordered through. This means there is a minimum wait of at around 10 working days – but it can vary from town to town. For example, in some areas of Surrey the lead time is currently six weeks.

The average time for larger business needing ISDN lines is 6-8 weeks, and larger data connections, such as EFM, can take 40 working days, with some leased lines taking over 60 days.

2)    Property Search

Most companies want fast broadband, and it is relatively easy to find out what is available in terms of speed and providers.   For example, a location that has fibre broadband will enable you to have very fast speeds without the need for expensive dedicated circuits.

However, there are plenty of places where there is a lack of availability. For example, one company moved into premises in September 2012 as the BT website said fibre would be available at the end of the month – they are still waiting.

3)    Your Existing Numbers

Companies often underestimate the costs of changing phone numbers: how many people have your current brochures and business cards; are there websites and blogs you don’t control that have your current number on them; you can tell current customers and suppliers but how do you let potential customers know?

Check to see whether your new offices are on the same BT exchange.  Crossing an exchange boundary can mean different telephone numbers and the loss of fibre broadband.

If you are moving to a different exchange there are ways around the potential problems, for example, moving numbers to virtual inbound – though this can be expensive and you bear the cost of incoming calls.  Alternatively you could consider installing SIP instead of, or as well as, ISDNs, which means you can take your numbers anywhere.  However in some parts of the country this can be very expensive, especially if you need to provide additional data connectivity.

4)    Move the System or Replace it?

Moving to cloud based (VOIP) solutions allow you to take a number anywhere.  However, if you have recently invested in a phone system then your accountant might not be happy to write that cost off.

Ask yourself; how old is the existing phone system?  Is there life or money left in it?  What is the cost of removal and reinstallation?

If you are thinking of going to SIP check whether your existing ‘phone system will support it.  You may be able to reuse the handsets, which often account for a third of the cost.

If you are considering VOIP this link highlights the questions you should ask any potential supplier  http://www.equinoxcomms.co.uk/things-to-consider-before-choosing-a-voip-supplier/.

5)    Watch out for Serviced Office Charges

Before you decide on serviced offices check whether you have flexibility to bring in your own phone and data solution, if not at the beginning, then later on.   Also can they add your existing numbers to their system? If they give you new numbers – will you be able to take them with you when you leave? Finally, what are the detailed charges? We often see mark ups of 200%.

In conclusion, it’s essential to start planning early; all too often telecoms and data get left until last and yet they are often the factor that determines the earliest moving date.   Leaving it too late means a lack of time to evaluate all the options and possibly ending up either in premises with no phones or, even worse, where the lack of broadband will have a long-term detrimental impact on the business.

 

Dave Millett has over 35 years’ experience in the Telecoms Industry.  He has worked in European Director roles for several global companies.  He now runs Equinox Communications, a leading independent brokerage and consultancy firm. He works with many companies, charities and other organisations and has helped them achieve savings of up to 80%.  He also regularly advises telecom suppliers on improving their products and propositions. www.equinoxcomms.co.uk

5 Ways Storytelling Can Empower Your Business

Claire TaylorStorytelling is a powerful communication tool.  The wisdom of the ages has been preserved because it was handed down the generations through myths legends, fables and parables.  If it can survive thousands of years, then imagine what it can, right now, for your business.

Neurologically we’re wired for narratives; it’s how our brains work.  Stories connect people to each other because of the resonance they create – we identify with stories and think ‘yes that sounds like me too’.

According to Claire Taylor, author of ‘The Tao of Storytelling’ there are five key areas where storytelling can work well to enhance the success of your business communications:

1. Every brand needs a lapel-grabbing narrative

There is a hunger for real stories that has been fuelled by a decade of news coverage showing that all is not what it seems.  There is a dearth of trust between consumers and the corporate enterprises that sell to them.   To close that trust gap businesses need to tell the real stories behind their brands.

Authentic brand stories need not only to tell the truth they must also adhere to the spirit of the truth.  Consumers are inspired to hear stories such as the company’s passion for their brands, their concern for consumers’ wellbeing, their sustainability and social responsibility initiatives.

2. Effective teams comprise individuals with integrated stories

Teams are made up of individuals each with their unique set of stories. At the extremes teams can be cacophonous or harmonious and neither is ideal. The art of storytelling can be used to identify sources of discontent and then to create a new empowering team story that aligns people. That in turn builds the energy, motivation and determination that ultimately fuels success.

3. Company culture reflects the harvest of stories on its grapevine

Large scale mergers, de-mergers or other changes to business structures are commonplace.  When these occur it isn’t enough simply to integrate business systems, the people also need to be integrated.  We are storytelling creatures and everyone has a story about every situation that they are in.

People’s stories are windows into their belief systems.  In any organisation there are as many stories about what’s going on as there are people.  When there is an aligned culture within the organisation the stories that people inside the organisation believe and tell are coherent and that creates a powerful synergy to catapult the business forward.

4. Storytelling is the torch that illuminates a leader’s vision

Studies have shown that a well-told story, with a traditional narrative arc, takes people on a journey, stimulates their emotions, causes the release of neurotransmitters in their brain and makes it more likely that they will take action.

The story or stories that are told might be true personal stories, anecdotes from industry or markets, traditional myths or legends that extol the message, or a myth that you craft yourself to engage and stimulate your audience.

5. Personal stories resonate universally

The most powerful use of storytelling by far, is to tell a personal tale with a moral or a learning that communicates your message.  The phenomenal popularity of the brand TED is a testament to the power of personal storytelling to spread ideas.

The more personal a story you tell the more it is likely to resonate universally.  That’s because our personal stories usually tap into fundamental life themes.  So while you might balk at the idea of sharing a story from your personal life it may enable you to connect with your audience and communicate in a deep and memorable way.

Every business problem has at its heart a communication conundrum.  Well used, storytelling is mind-bogglingly powerful at bringing clarity to every area of business communications whether they are customer-facing, such as in branding and corporate communications, or internal such as in leadership, cultural change, team dynamics and innovation.

Tao of Storytelling

Claire Taylor is a Writer, Storyteller, Business Consultant and co-founder of The Story Mill, an innovative organisation that encourages businesses to engage in real conversations using the art of storytelling.  Claire has worked as a Senior Executive for some of the largest brands in healthcare including Novartis, Abbott/Abbvie, Pharmacia/Pfizer, Takeda and Lundbeck.  Claire is author of ‘The Tao of Storytelling – 30 Ways to create empowering stories to live by’. http://www.thestorymill.co.uk/ and http://www.the-tao-of-storytelling.com/

Finding the best location and layout for your exhibition stand

If you’re planning to book at a stand at an exhibition – what’s the best location and layout? Richard Edwards of Quatreus has booked dozens and designed 100s of stands and here are his top five tips for choosing the best location and layout for your stand:

Tip #1: Get a floor plan before you start

It is essential to get a floor plan of the exhibition centre before you start planning anything else to do with your stand. Your stand has to fit the location, not the other way around.

If possible, it is also good idea to gather any previous years’ floor plans for the exhibition. You can then identify any patterns, such as certain industries grouping together, or recurring refreshment areas that will help to guarantee heavy footfall.

Tip #2: Choosing side, corner or island

Most exhibition venues will give you an option of placing your stand at the side, on a corner or on an island in the middle part of the venue. Each of these locations has benefits and drawbacks:

–          Side – Most stands at an exhibition are at the sides, making it easy to design a reusable stand for this space. However, this position can make it more difficult to get noticed as other stands will inevitably block the view.

–          Corner – Corner spaces can help deliver a greater footfall to your exhibition stand, because people tend to walk along a side and pause when going around a corner, leading most of the visitors directly to your stand. However, once the exhibition gets busy, corner stands can get forgotten about.

–          Island – Stands that sit somewhere in the middle of an exhibition venue can prove very effective in delivering footfall. But, make sure you anticipate the main entry point so that you can angle your branding and other stand features to greet new visitors.

Tip #3: Choose your neighbours carefully

The stands featured nearby your own can have a great effect on the success of your stand.

–          Industry ‘swamp’ – If all of your neighbours are from the same industry then they might detract away from your stand and overwhelm visitors.

–          Industry leaders – Placing your stand near an industry leader will attract people to visit your stand as well – proximity has a subtle psychological effect of making the two companies seem linked.

–          Complimentary neighbours – Placing your exhibition stand near a complementary stand can also have some great benefits since you can both refer visitors to each other’s stands.

Tip #4: Spread your arms

If you have multiple arms to your business then it may be worth allocating each their own exhibition space in different areas of the exhibition. There are two benefits to this:

–          Greater brand awareness – With two or three different stands all connected to the same company, your brand awareness at the exhibition will be much higher

–          Improved targeting – By separating out the different arms of your business you can position each in locations that will attract the most relevant footfall.

Tip #5: Making the most of what you have

It is essential that prior to the design phase, you discover any exhibitor limitations on your stand, for example power supply, height and floor space. The only way to stand out is to get creative within these limitations – not to limit your creativity.

 

For example, BT needed an exhibition stand to fit within a very tight floor space with limited power supply. So Quatreus looked at the aspects it could use in the design; height, and soft light. They designed and built a canopy of stretched material, which refracted low-wattage lighting to create a spectacular result visible all the way from the exhibition entrance. 

Key Takeaway

The key is to plan your stand in advance. Don’t book a space without thinking about what you want to achieve at the exhibition and who you want to attract. Design around any limitations – don’t give in to them!. Whatever space you have to play with there are endless creative things you can do to attract attention – the key is in solid planning and great design.

About the Author

Richard Edwards, Director, Quatreus Ltd. Quatreus specialises in creating face to face experiences that strengthen relationships and improve communication – for both internal and external audiences. Activities include customer facing events and activities, exhibitions, trade-shows, road-shows and interactive experience centres, as well as conferences, AGMs, and staff and stakeholder engagement programmes. For more information see: www.quatreus.com

The three types of business video and how to decide what will work best for you

As technology evolves, so do our marketing methods; and right now we’re in the golden age of video.  90% of global consumers now watch videos online and according to Forrester Research, having a video on your site increases your chance of getting a page one listing on Google by 53 times.

However, a good quality promotional video is still a large investment for most companies – so it’s tempting to try to make do with a single ‘one size fits all’ promotional video. But according to Richard Edwards of Quatreus, this approach will actually inhibit your return on investment – not increase it!

There are three keys types of business video, each fulfills a very different role and therefore needs a very different approach. By determining which of these videos your business needs you can be sure to create a video, or series of videos, that will give you a good return on investment.

1)    Online promotional videos

Promotional videos are generally used on your own website, as a YouTube advert, on social media and sometimes within online trade magazines.

So what makes online promotional videos different from other video formats?

Length – Because online promotional videos are disruptive to viewers’ browsing experience they should generally be quite short, around thirty seconds or less. They need to capture the attention of your audience immediately and convey your message quickly and concisely.

Sound – People watching your online video are likely to have their speakers attached and the volume turned up. This provides an opportunity to add music and a voiceover, which can convey far more information than text alone.

Key focus – Since the viewers of online videos are going to be mainly end-users, your key focus should be on them and how they will benefit from your product. As such your messaging should be benefits led and personal..

In the Apple video http://www.youtube.com/embed/Zr1s_B0zqX0  we see lots of shots of people actually using the products while the voiceover tells us the benefits and USPs of the brand. By activating the imagination of your target audience, you can create a desire to buy

2)    Video for presentations

Video can help to transform a boring slideshow into an interesting, engaging and professional presentation.

So what are the unique elements of a presentation video?

Length – As these videos are designed to give more in-depth inforatmtion that are often between three and ten minutes. However, it is still important to keep it concise and avoid waffle, otherwise it will become boring and viewers will switch off.

Sound – This will depend on whether you are using the video to accompany a live presenter or the video is supplementing the presenter.

Key focus – The focus of this type of video is to explain your product or service so as well as detailing the key benefits, you might also want to include technical specification, markup potential, sales so far, design and production process, quality assurance, customer service and history of success. Again, it’s crucial to remember that these always need to be brought back to how the viewer will benefit.

Overall, presentation videos should demonstrate the connection between your business and the end-customer. This connection will help convince investors and other business professionals of the opportunity your company offers them.

3)    Exhibition and trade show promotional videos

 At exhibitions a video can providing a rolling demonstration of the key features and benefits of your product. Exhibition videos also have their own particular requirements:

1)    Length – Your visitors will not stand around for a long period of time staring up at your video screen. As such you will want to keep your videos concise and around one minute in duration.

2)    Sound – At most exhibitions there will be a lot of background noise, so make sure your video does it job without the need for sound.

3)    Key focus – The video needs to convey detailed information of your product features and benefits, as well as giving a good impression of your brand – all through text and graphics.

The video must also be aligned with both your exhibition stand design and your product marketing. This is more important than in other promotional video formats since the video will be using mostly graphics and text to convey information.

So before you go rushing into a large-scale production of just one video, ask yourself: can I really use this video in all necessary settings? Perhaps with some tweaks you can shoot one longer video and then edit it for each required format, or perhaps you could use the same locations, actors and production crew for each video, reducing overall cost.

Whatever approach you decide, a well-planned and executed promotional video will help set you apart from your competition.

About the author

Richard Edwards webRichard Edwards is a Director of Quatreus LtdQuatreus specialises in creating face to face experiences that strengthen relationships and improve communication – for both internal and external audiences. Activities include customer facing events and activities, exhibitions, trade-shows, road-shows and interactive experience centres, as well as conferences, AGMs, and staff and stakeholder engagement programmes. For more information see: www.quatreus.com

Are Your Employees Believers Of Your Brand?

When it comes to your business, it is great to having everyone fully on board. Every employee is an important cog in the organisation, whether they are an intern or a senior manager. The sad reality is that small problems can manifest into bigger ones, which could potentially be damaging for your company’s reputation. That is why keeping your workforce at one with each other, and the company itself, it highly important for your current and future success.

So if you want to ensure that your employees are true believers, followers, and endorsers of your brand, here is what you can do:

Offer discounts and deals

If you sell a service or product to customers, could you offer the same things to your staff for a reduced price? It is common for supermarkets and shops to give their employees cards for 15 per cent discount, or even more during sale periods; you could use the same idea for the place you work. Whether it is insurance products or plumbing services, your staff will surely find your discounts helpful at one point or another.

Run team building workshops

A good way to get everyone reading from the same hymn sheet is to organise a brilliant team building workshop. There are so many places where you could all go to step outside of your comfort zone. There are high ropes courses that will encourage employees to support each other, and there are boot camp days that will get teams working together to become the champions of the company. The idea of these days is that everyone lets their hair down a bit, whilst still being inspired to perform better as a team.

Give them access to social media accounts

Are there certain employees who have brilliant insights into the work you do? Perhaps you could reward them by giving them access to social media accounts. It could be their responsibility to keep these accounts (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) up to date with snippets of information about your business and what you are working on at the moment. Not only will your staff feel more involved, but you will be putting out a message of ‘togetherness’ to the rest of the world.

Hold special awards and recognitions

Deploying a brand engagement strategy for your employees can end up being quite rewarding for all involved, especially when hardworking team members get rewarded for their efforts. It could be a really nice gesture to hold an awards ceremony every quarter to highlight the employees who have made a really difference over the previous months. This should help people to work harder day-to-day, and will also make people feel like stars when they are picked for an award. However it is important to spread recognition across the whole team, rather than senior managers and this can often breed discontent. Ask key stakeholders in the business to keep an eye out for people who are going the extra mile to get things done, and then ask their team members why that person is invaluable to the company.

Guest Post in association with Cirrus Connect

London Calling: Should You Move To The Capital For Your Career?

There are a lot of important decisions to make in life, and your career is a big one. Your initial choice can end up affecting what you do in five, 10 or even 30 years down the line. That is why plenty of thinking and planning can be essential; that way you can avoid making the wrong choice.

One major consideration to take into account is where you actually want your career to be based. It is possible to get certain jobs in small towns, but others will find bigger and better opportunities in the major cities. That is why London is so popular for jobseekers, and it could prove to be an ideal choice for you too. So what makes London worth thinking about?

Many industries

The biggest draw of London is the number of different industries that choose to operate from the capital, or at the very least have a local presence. There is everything from finance to retail, so there really is something for everyone. You only need to look on retailchoice.com to see opportunities from retail recruitment agencies in London; there are so many choices even within one sector! It is a common sight on these websites to see most of the opportunities listed as taking place in London, so by moving there you could have a better chance of getting the type of job you want. This time next year you could be working in one of the amazing skyscrapers that makes the skyline so unique in the capital.

Continued education

Once you have got settled into a job in the capital, you can still make use of the city for the benefit of your career. That is because London often plays host to certain exhibitions, conferences and seminars, which are all excellent places to attend to learn more about the changes in your field. You will become accustomed to visiting Earls Court and Olympia, and you will likely end up making some helpful business connections on your days out of the office.

Lifestyle

Career aside, some people just want to head to London for the lifestyle, and the job is simply a bonus. It all comes down to personality and wanting to seek a different experience to the one they had growing up, so you may fall into this category. Teenagers in a small town may find they are bored most of the time, but a city can provide activities and entertainment seven days a week. There are more local fitness activities, theatres, bars and restaurants – which of course can seem a bit more appealing than a chippy down at the precinct.

Of course, with all of the opportunities there is something else to think about: the cost. You may find that jobs pay higher salaries in the capital, but living expenses will also be higher. Yet if this is something you are passionate about doing, you will find a way to make your finances work, but just be prepared to do a lot of planning before you take the plunge.

Guest post in association with Retailchoice

Press Release: SEN Books for Parents by Antonia Chitty and Victoria Dawson

The Journey Through Assessment / Food and Your Special Needs Child

Written by two experienced voices on the subject , and addressing some of the major areas of stress for parents of children with special educational needs, these two helpful guides are full of clear explanations and practical advice for tackling this often difficult terrain.


The Journey Through Assessment will help you through the period of uncertainty when you have to negotiate healthcare and education services. Compiled after extensive research and interviews with parents, it will help you navigate the processes necessary to gain access to the care that your child needs. Discover what might happen during the process, and get practical tips from experts, plus read what has worked for other parents in similar situations so you feel less stressed, less isolated and are more able to help your child on the journey through assessment.


Food and Your Special Needs Child is a practical guide for parents living with the additional issues involving food often found in children with special needs. In typically developing children, eating problems are relatively common, affecting 20-40% of children. In children with special educational needs and disabilities, eating problems can be even more common; often severe and taking many different forms. Aimed at tackling issues in children aged between two and nineteen, use this book to discover the origins of how we eat, get practical tips from experts, and read what has worked for other parents in similar situations.

The Authors

Victoria Dawson is an experienced special educational needs teacher.  She has worked with children with a range of issues both in a school environment and in her own private practice. She writes in the national press about issues relating to special educational needs and has also authored a number of books on the subject.

Antonia Chitty is the author of many health and parenting books, with a focus on special needs and disability. She is an experienced health journalist and writes on a range of medical issues.

 

 

New books on their way: Journey Through Assesment and Food and SEN Children

New Special Needs Books I just got an exciting package through the post today: it’s the advance copies for my new books which come out at the end of the month. Find out more about each book here if you’re feeling impatient – it looks like Amazon has the first one in stock already.
The Journey Through Assessment: Help for Parents with a Special Needs Child

Food and Your Special Needs Child