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Saturday, 18 April 2015

What Politicians can teach you about business

With the General Election our politicians are working flat out to sell you their story and securing your vote. So what can you learn from them to make your business better and manage things better?

Handling Competition

Cameron claims "if you vote LibDems, you get Ed Miliband. If you vote UKIP, you get Ed Miliband" (The i, 31 March). What he does not say is what would happen if you vote Conservative: would we get Ed Milliband? Is this a way to treat the electorate?

Why is it our politicians keep telling us why we should not vote for the other parties, instead of why we should vote for them. Because they are fail to understand why people vote and are still selling themselves rather than attracting people.

If company A kept telling you, don't buy Company B's product because it does not work: what are you likely to believe? 

Companies like Apple, John Lewis Partnership and Innocent don't tell you why you should not buy from Dell, Debenhams or Tropicana; they tell you about themselves or they tell you the benefits to you of using their products or services.

You handle competition by having a first class understanding of your different customers segments, how they buy and what value you can offer them and doing it better than your competitors do it.

Customer VALUE

Our forefathers fought for our right to vote. So you should use that right responsibly for the politician or party you feel addresses your values. After all it seems a lot of politicians have lost their values, so we need to keep ours. You will vote according to the values you believe in, and the correlation between the plans of the party and its impact on your life. If you were a LibDem but voted Conservative to keep Miliband out, then you would end up with a Conservative Government rather than the one you prefer. 

That is the problem when consumers are faced with a monopoly. Our political system is not a monopoly, but for years it has not been far off it. Let's face it, both parties are responsible for creating the current situation due to their actions over the past 30 years. It is the Conservatives who freed up the banks and privatised our utilities. Labour let it go on and failed to control Immigration and both failed to produce a decent transportation policy or build enough houses. With Cameron's creative Capitalism and Labour's lack of real Labour policies perhaps we need another Coalition.

The increasing influence of The Green Party, UKIP and the "national" parties has made the political market more competitive and more of an oligopoly. Furthermore, with the LibDems and the Scottish Nationalist Party having been in government, Labour and Conservatives can no longer claim uniqueness in experience.

Our old companies like British Leyland, who once had a near monopoly, soon learned the lesson of treating consumers badly when new imports arrived. Treating your customers as idiots, or failing to understand their values and needs and you will soon lose out to your competitors or make it easier for new organisations to enter your market; as the case with UKIP.

So a company needs to focus on the values its customers have. It needs to have a first class understanding of what is important to them and ensure it matches up to them. Focussing on this is more likely to bring success than focussing on the competition. Trying to destroy them is more likely to lead to your own self destruction. You need to understand the difference between USP and Value Proposition.

Business Changes

Now if enough of us in vote LibDems, we will get Nick Clegg. If enough of us vote UKIP we will get Farage. It goes without saying that, if enough of us vote Conservative, then we will get Cameron and likewise with Miliband and Labour. Its more complicated for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but the point is still relevant.

In the last election, not enough people voted Conservative, so we had a coalition. Whilst Cameron and Clegg may argue who achieved what, the country made some progress which is clearly down to the Coalition Government. So why not have another one.

As Isabel Hardman wrote (The i, 31st March) "The fact remains that this Coalition has surprised us with its serenity from beginning to end."

There is a saying that if you always do what you always do, you will always get what you always got!. It applies to voting and it applies to your own business.

So, if you want more of the same as the last 30 years then vote Conservative or Labour! If you want change, vote for change: vote according to your belief and values, not the threats voiced by incumbents.

If you are not happy with some aspect of your business, then you need to stop doing what you are doing now and make changes.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Social Media is a waste of time

Over the past 2 years I have dabbled with all forms of social media. You name it, I have tried it.

Facebook * Twitter * Blogger * Google+ 
* Linkedin
 * Buffer * Feedly
 * Hootesuite * You Tube * Vimeo

I have read books, spent hours learning all the terms and techniques. I have followed blogs and experts. I have learned the 7 top tips for writing posts on LinkedIN, the 10 Big tips for blogging by Rutger's University.

I have learned about Search Engine Optimisation, Backlinks, Hashtags and Keywords.

Yes, I have had some successes 680 contacts on LinkedIN, 153 followers on Twitter. I have written 1300 tweets, 40 or so blog posts (2-3 a month). 

Now, experts will tell you this is probably not enough, that you need to do more.

My point is that if you are a small business or charity or social enterprise, social media is not free from cost. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to make any real progress.

Before you even open a social media account you need to:

1) Be clear who your target audience is.
2) Know what social media they prefer
3) Be clear exactly what you want to do with social media
4) Be prepared to put some time and effort into it or pay a professional.

Target Audience

You need to have a clear customer profile, different audiences use different media. 

Know your Social Media

This infographic was produced by Leverage (new age media).com and shows some useful characteristics to help you decide which platforms best suit your organisation.

Know what you want to do 

First thing to ask yourself is why. Why do you want to engage with social media?

Are you trying to drive people to your website or want to engage with them to build relationships? Tools like Twitter may be all you need to get people to visit your website. If your product/ service is more personal or involved then you might want to look a relational sites like Facebook, LinkedIN or Google+.

The important thing is you need to build useful content, you have to have something worthwhile to say. Digital marketing company Marketo say the "posting for the sake of posting can actually hurt your chances of being seen".  

If your product/service benefits from being seen then video might be a good way of doing this and so You Tube might be a better option.

DIY or Pay?

Even if yo have a lot of ideas for content you still need to get a good understanding of the technicalities especially Search Engine Optimisation.  There are excellent sites like SEO BOOK where you can learn all about it.

The thing most people do not appreciate is the point that it is easy enough to create an internet presence but hard to get people to see it.

A colleague of mine wanted to launch some management training and came up with a powerful title, but when I typed in his words we had 36 million results! After some lengthy discussions he agreed with me the best option was not to create a website but just set up an account in LinkedIN.


Social Media can be a big waste of time if you do not do it properly. Don't assume you have to go social, traditional marketing may well be the best for you. If you think it could help then:

1) Appreciate the points above
2) Play with one platform at a time.
3) Be prepared to put time or money into it.
4) Watch this short 2min video, you will understand the things a bit better.

Best Wishes

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Friday, 21 November 2014

Do you know the difference between USP and VP?

USP has been around since the 1970's, if not before and when I asked some students to identify some, this is what they came up with:

  • "One of the unique aspects of this business in comparison to other sandwich shops is that it will deliver."
  • "Using a unique selling point of premium, yet affordable menswear, something that few of the competitors can provide"
  • £+"Deliver a superior customer experience in baby product retailing at a lower price" 
Now apart from none of these being really "unique" propositions, the common theme is all are around what the company does for the customer.

The "Value Proposition" approach is about what value the client gets from dealing with you.


So, where do you begin. 

Firstly you need to be clear who your customers are. It is not sufficient to say "Businesses" or "House Owners" or Senior Citizens. You need to go in deeper and be clear which segments you are interested in. 

Small businesses within 50 miles of your office
High income house Owners
Active Senior Citizens under 80 years of age

For each segment you need to know what their needs are. Apart from the basic ones of food, shelter, clothing, warmth etc. you need to understand:
  • What tasks can you help them with. 
  • What social needs they may have (image, power, status). 
  • What emotional issues they may have (security, love, stress).
 As mentioned in the Simon Sinek video, in an earlier post , "people do not buy for rational reasons" they buy because it feels right: so ignore these more in depth psychological issues at your peril.

Now the real value start to shine. Having established your customer's  needs you then have to identify what difficulties they may have in getting these needs satisfied (pains), and what benefits they would expect (gains).


For a more detailed prompter on these issues download our handout by following the instructions on our Online Course Management Forum Topic

Finally, you then have to look at how you can relieve these pains and create extra gains.


For a more detailed prompter on what your Pain Relievers and Gain Creators should do, download our handout by following the instructions on our Online Course Management Forum Topic

So, you should now have a good idea how your product or services may provide value to your customers and be clear on what your offer is and how it is unique or better than what is offered elsewhere.

Best Wishes

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Friday, 26 September 2014

StartUP or Growth Crisis: How to create Competitive Advantage

Startup's struggle and even mature businesses can get to a crisis point at around year 2 or 3 when it cannot seem to grow as hoped. Research suggests it can also happen further down the line after a business feels it has matured, but market changes start causing a decline. 

I know of two companies, both around 10 years old, in this situation. Both are "Services" companies, both have seen their customer base decline due to changes in the market place.

So, whether your starting a new business or looking to grow an exiting one then this post will be of interest. We will be looking at:

  • The Business Model Canvas
  • Partners, Activities and Resources
  • Conclusions
  • What is next?

Business Canvas Model 

In our last post (What a Great Idea) we discussed the need to have a Business Model to ensure we can create a Competitive Advantage and clarifying your brand. The Business Model Canvas is a great practical way to do this. You can download the actual canvas shown below from our Forum here

This 2 minute Introduction video will help   

On the canvas you will find 9 sections:

  1. Key Partners
  2. Key Activities
  3. Key Resources
  4. Value Proposition
  5. Customer Relationships
  6. Channels
  7. Customer Segments
  8. Cost Structure
  9. Revenue Streams
In this post we will look at the first three to get you going on creating your own canvas.

Partners, Activities and Resources

Key Partners
are those people or organisations you need to work with for your business to be a success. If you are a T-Shirt printer one of your key partners is the T-shirt supplier and of course the place you are getting your inks or printing materials from will be included here.

It is important to work closely with them to ensure you get good quality supplies and at the best cost. They may also provide advice and assistance in other ways. With good partnerships you can lower the risk of outsourcing and, if you are a good customer they will want to keep you happy.

Other Key Partnerships will be Strategic Alliances you have with non-competitors and even some you may have with competitors. Perhaps you have a Joint-Venture to help you. This was quite common in the car industry. 

Key Activities
What are the key activities that keep your business going. In the T-Shirt case it will be things like Managing Stock, Sales, Selecting T-shirt collection, Brand Management.

These activities will obviously be different for each type of business. Consultants will be involved in Problem Solving and software companies in Software Development and manufacturers will have Production Management.

Finally, if your business is dependent on an Internet Platform (Ebay, Amazon, ONline Store etc), then this will be a major activity.

Key Resources
Can be physical (CNC machinery), financial (cash in the bank, financial guarantees, lines of credit)  intellectual (patents, copyright etc) or human (skilled staff).

Some organisations are reliant on significant physical resources be they a warehouse, fleet of lorries, or major computer installation. Others have strong brands, knowledge, patents and copyrights. Creative industries are highly reliant on human resources and highly skilled and talented ones. 

One of our earlier Case Studies Excel Metal Spinners is reliant on highly skilled spinners who are few and far between because of the lack of engineering apprenticeships and training.

Although the Directors are skilled men themselves, they need to spend their time running the business and need staff to fulfil the orders.


The three areas covered above may appear to you as being quite obvious and you may be wondering what this is all about and is it worth the effort.

Putting all this down one your canvas, right in front of you in black and white (you can use coloured pens if you want, some even use Post-it notes) will help you see the wood from the trees and get your mind much clearer.

Although these three are obvious to you, what you may not appreciate is there impact on everything else. They all impact on your brand, value proposition, risk, customer relationships etc. It will become more obvious as you go through the model.

What is Next?

In the next post we will look at Value Proposition, Customer Relationships and Channels. IN the meantime start you canvas now. 

See out latest Monthly Newsletter here and subscribe to ensure you do not miss the next post in this series.

Best Wishes

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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Say Yes Scotland just to get away from our politicians!

According to an article in today's "i newspaper" (Andrew Grice, Sept. 17th) our own politicians are blaming each other for the Scottish people being given this opportunity.

In fine amateurish style our politicians point the finger at each other, they not only seem to thrive, but deliberately go out to create a blame culture. Perhaps this is why the Civil Service and Local Government seem to inherit it too.

Labour blame Mrs Thatcher for ruining Scottish Industry. Conservatives blame Mr. Blair for letting Scotland have its own Parliament.

What comes to mind is that powerful metaphor of the pointing hand.

Most fingers point back to the pointer!

Before you blame others, look at your own performance.

If your only comment is to blame others, it won't take long for them to blame you for something. The act of blaming does nothing to solve the problem.

The Scottish Independence vote is for the Scottish people to make.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Why you should kiss Pareto?

A friend, and potential contributor to the Sage Saffron blog, came round for coffee and a chat on how blogging could promote his skills and services. He ended up, not so much teaching but reminding me of three key management skills that I had failed to draw on in setting up my web based business.

Pareto's Law
Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923)
Courtesy of Wikipedia

  • KISS
  • WHY
The "Keep It Simple Stupid" rule sounds comical, but in real life we often make things far more difficult than it needs be.

Along similar lines Pareto Law proposed that 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. 

WHY, in this case is from Simon Sinek's "Golden Circle". 

Now all this applies to the development of my own business but could be a timely reminder for you.

My friend was very impressed with quality of the site and pages but when he went to the home page, he did not really understand what I was trying to do. I had made it too complicated and tried to provide too much information. We looked at each other and there was a stereophonic response as both muttered "keep it simple, stupid".

We then discussed who I was targeting and of course I was trying to be all things to all people and he reminded me of Pareto. Although this is clearly a marketing segmentation issue, I recall one Sales Manager of a Manufacturing company deliberately dropping the 80% of his clients that only produced 20% of his sales and profits. The business grew even faster because he was able to focus more on the 20% that produced the 80% of his income.   

Finally he inquired "Why are you doing this?". You have had a successful career, have no money problems and should be spending more time off sailing in your boat. I am sure part of this was self motivated so he could do more sailing with me! 

After he had gone,  I took another look at Simon Sinek's  5 minute TED video that got me thinking and may get you thinking too.

I also read through his book again recalling two key phrases

"Knowing your WHY is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility"

"My [Sinek] WHY is to inspire people to do things that inspire them...."

I realised, my WHY was to help people help themselves. I still had a passion and enjoyed helping them manage themselves better, feeling more comfortable in managing people and confident in managing their or their employees organisation or business.

So, I set about revamping my websites and business strategy and felt a better sense of where I was going and what I needed to do. If you have seen my site before then appreciate your thoughts on the new look. 

So to summarise:

  1. By all means learn new ideas, but don't forget the tried and tested older ones
  2. If in doubt on an issues think "WHY I should Kiss Pareto"
  3. If you have not read Sinek's book get it now, you will see how important "why" is, not just in your management life but for your personal development and that of your organisation. 

We will be covering more on this in future posts so don't miss out, sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Best Wishes

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Friday, 11 July 2014

What a great idea because now...

You need to see if it works
In the previous post in this How to Startup a Business series, Death by Startup and how to avoid it, we discussed the main causes of business failure and having the right funding can be critical. In the Bank research we mentioned 79% suggested the cause of failure was “starting with too little money.”

However, some businesses do not even get to the end of their first year because the idea is not viable.

Apparently it is a myth that 90% of restaurants fail in the first year ( Business Week )

Nevertheless,  restaurants often fail quickly because they think it is the menu and recipes that are the key to success.

A restaurant concept is not a menu and a set of recipes. Rather, it encompasses a location, a marketing plan, a service scheme, design, atmosphere, price point, a defined position in relationship to the competition, and almost as important as the food itself, a long-term strategy”.

Christine Letchinger, Associate Professor, School of Hospitality, Kendall Collge, USA
Follow link for full 2013 article TheAnatomy of Restaurant Failure: Dead Man Walking 

Letchinger believes there are two basic strategic choices:

1.       Be the first one to come up with an idea
2.      Take an idea and execute it better.

and she makes the point that McDonald’s and Apple were not the first companies in their markets but there is no doubt about their success and they did it by being different and doing it better.

She concludes that “A winning concept should be distilled to its very essence and defined in a simple, clearconcise, and highly communicable sentence”.

So, when you try to tell someone what your business is about, can you tell them in ONE SIMPLE SENTENCE and what expression do they see on their face.

Other research suggests,  to check if your idea can become an “opportunity” by considering the following:
The idea needs to be attractive to the customer and this means in terms of convenience, price and visual/comfort attributes.

You may not have considered whether your idea is timely but even really good ideas may not appeal to today’s market.

With the current market the idea of a C5 might be appealing but in the 1980’s it was a complete failure.

Lastly durability is the ideal thing but not perhaps a necessity. Durability is about will it last and some business ideas can be very profitable and successful but not designed to last. As an example, a musical festival, some product for a specific celebration such as World Cup.  Durability may exist in the format or management techniques of the event, which could be applied to another event.

Certainly to be durable your business needs to develop what is known as “Competitive Advantage”. Something that makes you different from your competitors and attracts people to you. Michael Porter, a leading authority on competitive strategy identified three key routes:

  •  Cost Leadership – the emphasis is on your being the cheapest (ASDA)
  •  Differentiation – is where you try to make yourself different through branding, design, service, quality and new product development. This strategy can apply even with low cost companies (IKEA) or where design is the factor (Audi).
  • Focus – Is the more likely option for a new enterprise. It is where you specialize either in terms of some aspect of the market. You could be a specialist in terms of geography (your local bakery) or product/service.

Deakins and Freel (2012) indicate that this is the “the most important section of the business plan” and that by creating a business model “the development of a competitive strategy will be a natural outcome”
So now some practical ways of developing this model and testing your idea.

Alexander Osterwalder did some considerable research on business models and this resulted in the Business Model canvas. This brilliant model lets you lay out on the table all the aspects of your business you need to consider. 

Take a look at this 2 minute video to see how works.  

Now you can go onto our "How to Start a Business Course" Forum by following this link and download a Preview of their book which explains the idea in more detail. You can also buy the full book from our Amazon Store of Knowledge. Also available there is the book mentioned earlier (Deakins and Freel, 2012, Entrepreneurship and small firms)

Try using the model on your business idea and, via the Forum we can respond to any questions you have or provide more help.

Our next post in the series will look at how you start to move this business model forward.

Best Wishes
Adding Wisdom and Spice to Business and Personal Development

Tell us what your thoughts are by leaving a comment below or connect with us at :

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