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Category: Business

Myth of the Solo Entrepreneur

Myth of the Solo EntrepreneurThere is a prevalent myth in our society that an entrepreneur is a lone wolf who operates on his or her wits and doesn’t need a team to succeed.

Like all myths it’s very far from the truth.

Any entrepreneur who tries to do it all alone is likely to learn the hard way that regardless of how talented or clever you are, there are simply not enough hours in the day for you to succeed when you are working totally alone.

Like all myths the assumptions surrounding entrepreneurs are largely unspoken and so can lodge themselves in your subconscious, just waiting to trip you over. They include:

• ‘Real entrepreneurs’ just do it.
RESULT: If you can’t do it alone, you must be inadequate.

• ‘Real entrepreneurs’ instinctively know how to succeed
RESULT: You can’t ask for help without losing face.

• ‘Real entrepreneurs’ are supermen /superwomen.
RESULT: If you are an entrepreneur you must be the best at everything you do. This is particularly damaging for entrepreneurs who are also hands on parents, such as mumpreneurs – the pressure to be the best in both areas can be incredibly destructive.

• ‘Real entrepreneurs’ work alone 24/7 for years to succeed, and may fail many times before they succeed.
RESULT: Overworking and poverty are almost carried as a badge of honour, and it’s still seen as somehow suspect to not work at least 6 days a week and late into the evening.

• ‘Real entrepreneurs’ are always on their mobiles, wheeling and dealing, never missing a chance.
RESULT: You must always be available, on the end of the phone or email, day or night.

The reality is that everyone has particular strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others, and by working within a team you balance each other out to create a strong ‘whole’. Solos are inherently weak, and by working in a team you can also achieve a good work/life balance more easily, something that is essential not just for you, but for the health and wellbeing of the people around you.

Teamwork will also help you avoid burn out, one of the greatest (and unspoken) issues facing entrepreneurs. Burn out occurs when you push yourself too hard without adequate downtime, and can lead to a number of problems, including poor judgment, low productivity, and developing an aversion to your business, which is obviously very bad for you, your business AND your reputation.

So, the myths that entrepreneurs fly solo, overwork by inclination, and are ‘superbeings’ are very bad for your health and your longterm prosperity if you buy into them – you have been warned!

Written for The Coaching Academy, 2010

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Remote Working and the Big Freeze

Snow never stops anything, unless the electric goes down, for virtual offices – great for business; rubbish for sloping off to go sledging with the kids because you ‘can’t get to work’.

This last winter more and more companies are turning to remote-working technologies in a bid to keep productivity levels up during the cold snap, an IT communications firm has reported.

As temperatures plummeted to lows of -23°C and many people were left unable to go to work due to transport problems, there was a sharp increase in firms enquiring about online working, according to outsourcing group Outsourcery.  This has been supported by many VAs, many of whom report being ‘swamped’ by requests. In addition, more and more and more firms are turning to hosted IT solutions such as virtualisation or remote server technologies, which are great when they work – and frustrating when they don’t!

However, it is wise for businesses to be utilising the flexibility offered by technology since business groups have widely predicted that the cost of absenteeism as a result of the snow could cost the UK economy up to £2 billion, with The Federation of Small Businesses reporting that 10 per cent of the UK’s 30 million workforce was unable to get to work on the 6th January, at a cost of £600 million.

Piers Linney, joint chief executive of Outsourcery, said: “The disruption caused by the recent snow has created immense problems for thousands of small businesses across the UK with many employees not being able to make face-to-face meetings.

“With large numbers of workers having to work away from the office in the harsh weather conditions, businesses are finding that they need more effective ways to stay in touch with their colleagues and clients.”

Mr Linney added that the current weather conditions would only “further underline” the importance of remote technologies in the modern business age.

However, experts at independent IT consultancy specialist NCC Group plc have warned that businesses face a number of challenges before implementing remote working to bolster their business continuity strategies, and believe a lack of education is hampering the effective use of this technology.

Roger Rawlinson, managing director of Assurance Division at NCC Group, said: “The business case for remote working is undoubtedly strong. Remote access to data, video conferencing, IP telephony and collaboration software all offer viable options for staff to work from home and allow business operations to remain unaffected by adverse weather conditions.

“However, what many vendors are not publicising is the challenges businesses face in implementing remote working. In most cases, this requires a dramatic shift in business culture and working practices, which, across large, medium and small businesses alike can mean significant planning, and a period of education and training. Some companies with entrenched processes often find considerable resistance to this new technology.

In addition, if an organisation forces, sorry encourages, its employees to work from home but without having put in place proper support and home based equipment, the results can be highly stressful for staff. Reports coming out of West Berkshire Council at the moment, for example, suggest that they have effectively forced their Social Services and Education Offices to ‘move out’ but with a ban on paper – so no files or printing at home because they haven’t provided guaranteed safe storage; no expenses allowance – so no heating or electric allowance for home use as an office and won’t allow them to post letters and claim it back as an expenses but instead insist that everything is posted from the office base – an hour’s rigmarole when you take in to account the travel and all the hassles and expenses of being unable to park near the office as they don’t have a parking council permit – because they work from home now, obviously; no cabling for internet connections , so it’s all slow wifi;. Staff are said to be very unhappy and it is a perfect example of what happens when an organisation moves a department out without having planned it first or set it up, or when front line staff are left out of the loop.

Interesting West Berks council are reported to cite Vodafone as their inspiration for implementing remote working, but if that is the case they certainly didn’t investigate Vodafone’s much admired ‘Best Practices’ very closely, else they wouldn’t be in such a pickle. And as staff say, “it’s not that we don’t want to work from home, it’s just the way its been implemented without due consideration for our needs that is so appallingly bad – and while services are continuing as usual at the moment, that’s only because of the sheer dedication of the staff.”

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The Pursuit of Happiness and the Death of Superwoman

I recently wrote an article that was triggered in part by two threads in one of the online clubs I belong to.

Entitled How to avoid burn out it was a response to the conversations, and also born out of my own experiences in being Superwoman balancing the everyday work that pays the bills, the domestic and family responsibilities that come along with being a (solo) mum and the pursuit of a better place in the future ie happiness and success, perhaps best encapsulated by the dream of paying off a mortgage or finally arriving at the sunlit upper pastures of the four hour week.

The threads were written by two women, both of whom had been working excessively hard the last year or more to try bring their dreams to fruition, and both had recently achieved a level of success. However – and it’s a big however – in both cases the successes were less than what they had been hoping for and working towards, they were very tired, and inevitably they both hit a wall.

While I don’t want to get tangled up in a feminist discussion, I do think that there are distinct differences between men and women when it comes to entrepreneurialship, as well as in other areas. I haven’t analysed it in any great depth, so this is just my general view, but it does seem to have something to do with women not liking to ask for help, and wanting to be seen to be better or more competent than anyone else, and something to do with trying to be best in class in every area, whether that is he best mum, the best cook, the best dressed, and now, the best business women or entrepreneur. And this is particularly damaging in my view because few women seem to take the plunge until later in life when they are frequently trailing family responsibilities in a particularly hands on and domestic way that already means they are stretched thinly. And might just really want to be at home and see staring their own home business as a way to do that.

Because I have also noticed the disquietening rise ‘mumpreneur on a shoestring’ syndrome kicking in over recent years, and as many of you will be aware, I have written fairly extensively in Funky Angel and other places on how to keep work life balance, how to set up a business realistically, how to keep it going etc etc. While it is entirely possible to set up and start a business of a budget, it does bother me a little that some peeps seem to think that they can set up a thriving business on tuppence happenny and some goodwill, because although it is much much easier than ever before to set up a business, especially from home, equally it does take money and it does take effort and it does take time.

The broad problem is, I think, not so much a female problem but more a social one – the belief that all you need to succeed is determination and if you don’t then you are somehow lazy or inadequate, and just wanting ‘to be’ is somehow morally corrupt. I am sure it has its roots in our Puritanical period and the Protestant work ethic, but it really is a load of rubbish and extremely damaging for most people. All these stories of people making millions and achieving their dreams with a few pounds and a lot of hard work just aren’t realistic for most people and almost always lead to a deal of unhappiness and exhaustion and failed business that could have added so much to the economy.

There is nothing tougher, in my view, that working alone to achieve a dream, and I know this is a controversial statement, but doing it solo, especially with myriad responsibilities, is almost always doomed to fail, or perhaps ‘not succeed as well as it could’ would be better judgement. And this is not because of any lack of talent or industry or brilliant ideas on the part of the entrepreneur. No, not at all, as a business coach I am constantly amazed and humbled by the sheer quality and quantity of brilliant ideas, fabulous ability and breath-taking determination – this nation is still a nation of innovators and own business owners! No, the key points in achieving lasting success is to be realistic about how much you can accomplish in a day comfortably given your constitution and other responsibilities, that you can build yourself a team and recognise you are a human being who probably likes gardening or making cakes or reading and that time must be allocated for these things as well in order to achieve balance.

Try to do it all alone you and you will have to learn the hard way exactly what constitutes life/work balance and how it works in practice ie push yourself too hard and too obsessively and you will crash and burn – and it could take ages for you to recover and if there is no one else but you who is servicing your clients, running your marketing campaign and dealing with the admin? And if the answer to that is an “er…” then where does that leave your business?

People are not machines. People thrive on variety else they get stale and bored – they need routinue yes, but variety within that structure. People can handle change so long as they are ready for it. People get stuck when they don’t have other people to bounce off and interact with. Doing the same thing over and over again in the hope that this time it will work and will make you happy is sure recipe for failure.

Later last week I was talking to a client of mine, Jo Geraghty, who is very busy running two businesses – Beyond the Ladder Coaching and London Sightseeing Runs. Her approach to it is very different to the two entrepreneurs mentioned above – she has support and assistance, and her second business compliments her first in so much as it is a very active and relaxed whereas her main one is quite static, and so she can balance the smart, work based intense side of her life with something completely different. Another of our Agency client’s, The PR Network, is run by two business women and PR professionals with young children and they are extremely disciplined about days they work and very good at outsourcing all the bits of their business that they don’t want to or can’t do, and so have built themselves a truly hollow company in the process –and a highly respected and successful one to boot.

My work life is currently extremely busy but totally unstressful and very rewarding because I have excellent support and I am very organised and I understand when I need regular breaks and self care in order to keep on functioning at a high level. Two or three days a week I travel to London to work inhouse with Cision UK with my trusty netbook (AKA ‘home office on the move’) helping me cut down on the impact of commuting in lost hours and saving my shoulder from dying from a laptop’s weight! The rest of the time I work from home – business as usual.  I am in touch with The Funky Agency Team via Skype, email, mobile social media, at regular intervals, and the domestic side of things either face to face if I am home (there’s a novelty!) or via text, mobile and social media, so when I have down time with friends, family and the children I can concentrate on BEING with them because technology in all its glory has made it so much easier to juggle the various demands and to do so gracefully.

The upshot is that I can therefore concentrate on being happy, putting myself first, enjoying my work and my closest best beloveds, and feeling balanced rather than desperately chasing my tail and trying to be Superwoman.

Superwoman? Pah, I’d rather just be happy…

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What Can Social Media do for Your Business?

We’ve all heard about Social Media, heck seems like the whole world is suddenly talking about it in confident – or less than confident – tones, or claiming to be an expert suddenly.

Yet despite the pain of the recession and the realization, albeit slow, of the huge benefits that can be gathered from Social Media involvement for brands, the vast majority of companies still seem confused about how best to leverage Social Media for business, and of the ones who have been brave enough to jump in, most are still only dipping their toes in the Social Media water

Firstly then, for the technophobes amongst us, here’s a quick gallop through the current Social Media landscape, by which we don’t just mean Facebook or Twitter.

The big four in the West are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Blogs play a huge part in raising company profiles online, in fact it is fairly difficult to coordinate a Social Media marketing campaign without one, and in addition there are thousands of smaller and/or more niche sites across the Internet.

Add to that the bookmarking sites – Digg, Stumbled, Delicious – and then all the other myriad forums and special interest sites where you can chat, connect and interact with…er… other human beings, who would like to know about you and what you do, need what you are doing or producing, already know and like what you like.

The biggest rises in social media usage and participation over the last 18 months has been amongst the 35+ professionals and these are likely to be your customers (or potential customers). So how many people are we talking here?

Twitter – 23 million unique visitors per day; 3 million tweets per day

YouTube – 85 million video views per day

Facebook – 300 million active users; 122 million visits per day

LinkedIn – 43 million members; 13 million daily average visits

Blogs – 133 million currently indexed by Technorati

To put that in to concepts you can grasp easily – if Facebook was a country, measured by population it would be almost the size of the USA according to Facebook‟s stats in 2009. On the 16th September it was announced that Facebook‟s online community had crossed the 300 million threshold; according to US census bureaux there are currently 307 million people living in the US. Which means that Facebook really is fairly large, and the fastest-growing group on Facebook are women aged 40+. Desirable consumers in fact.

So why aren’t more businesses using it?

Many of the company owners I have been talking to this year have given me a range of reasons from the old chestnut “You can’t make money on the internet”, to “Twitter and Facebook are just for kids and students with too much time on their hands”, “My colleague/partner/associate says it doesn’t work”, “No one wants to talk about boring Project Management on Twitter”, to that perennial favourite, which is actually the most valid of the lot, “I don’t have time.”

At the other end of the scale the front runners, such as Dell and Starbucks, who are deeply and broadly engaged in Social Media, are reaping the benefits of increased profits, expanded customer base, enhanced brand recognition and reputation. OK, quite a chasm, but exactly what benefits and to what extent are we talking about?

In June 2009, Dell announced they’d earnt $3 million in revenue from Twitter. Which is pretty impressive by anyone’s standards. So how did they do it? Dell reported they were able to use Twitter to post coupons, announce new products and drive traffic to their Outlet Store.

Obviously this didn’t happen overnight, and in fact it took 18 months for Dell to sell their first  $1 million from Twitter, and although the $3 million is a drop in the bucket given Dell’s $12.3 billion in revenue during the first quarter of 2009, it has bolstered Twitter’s case that it can “change businesses‟.

The key to a successful Social Media campaign is to keep it small – small, frequent and focused. Huge creative ideas that make a short massive splash are doomed to fail in this medium, which is the very opposite of traditional advertising, PR and marketing. With a Social Media campaign you need to identify the right platforms to reach the right people, say the right things in the right way, keep the message consistent and frequent, and link everything together to make a cohesive and integrated whole. Here, small is good.

The bad news is that you have to be consistent over a period (from three to 18 months is standard before you get measurable and tangible results) and that means every day, every day, every day, sending a consistent message out that people will like.

That means tracking down the people who want what you are selling and taking it to them – the sheer volume of noise communications on Social Media means you can’t rely on people coming and finding you and then buying from you.

Like, I said, it isn’t traditional media – Social Media is crowd driven and everyone here is equal, so you have to go out and:

• Find your potential purchasers i.e. Your Tribe

• Work out what they need and want

• Tailor what you are selling to fill that need

• Take it to them – which may require changing how you are selling it

• Wash and repeat.

So, simple, yes. Easy, no. But the good news is that:

• You don’t actually have to make time or learn new tricks, there are people who can do it all for you.

• You don‟t have to spend huge amounts of money; a successful Social Media (SM) campaign can be very cost effective and still give an excellent ROI.

• And it certainly isn’t just for the Big Boys – in fact the modest inherit this particular earth a whole heap quicker than the boastful – just watch followers and fans fall away if you bang your own drum too much.

Interestingly, the incorporation of Social Media into the business toolkit has resulted in the playing field being effectively and literally evened because Social Media is about people having conversations about stuff that interests them, baffles them, inspires them, helps them, intrigues them and downright annoys them. And your brand and your services and products will fit right along in there, whatever your size, so long as you remember this is a conversation not a lecture. Engagement is all.

This article is an excerpt from ‘WTF Can Social Media do for Your Business’, published 2009, and this extract was first published in Wikizine, the online magazine of Wikidivorce.
© Claire Burdett 2009.

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Marketing Demystified

Marketing is not mysterious, but the way of getting people ready and wanting to buy what you are selling

Marketing is not mysterious, but the way of getting people ready and wanting to buy what you are selling

Promoting, selling, marketing the product, even if, or maybe, especially if, it is just YOU and what you do, may be daunting. However, neglecting it does not lead to security, only to a lack of clients! And in a recession, if you are the only voice making that effort, then yours will be the only one your potential clients will hear – or buy from!

If you are selling online, then your website, your profile, your pitch, your brand is the first time people meet you. The first time you get a chance to say hello – or in the case of most websites, goodbye. The average time a visitor stays on an unfamiliar web page is 20 seconds or so, and that brief skim is maybe the only chance you will get to say or sell anything to that potential client.

Why?
Well, forget corporate and ad-land speak for a moment, and remember that people are people and companies are families of people.

Your brand and website are your business’s face. In raw terms that means your brand is your smile, your hand shake, the way you walk, your tone of voice, and the way you present yourself. In business terms, that means it’s the way you do business, your promise, and the fulfillment of that promise.

And since the decision about whether you like someone or not is made in the first micro-seconds of the first meeting (back to that 20 second average), it’s obvious that getting your company’s brand, the ‘virtual’ you, right the very first time is essential. And every first time after that.

Wanna be in my gang?
Because if you like someone, you want to play with them, don’t you? You want to talk to them and spend time with them, have some fun, share some good times, have a laugh. And if not, you just won’t, right? Just like at school.

Let’s relate that to business, then, because however grown up we feel, we aren’t really that grown up, especially in the way we interact with each other, so just like when choosing who to play with, people prefer to buy from people they like. People they know and trust, people they judge are ‘like them’ ie people who are in their gang. And if you are to have a successful business, paying attention to your niche, that is, the people you are trying to sell to, and working out how to communicate with them effectively means they are more likely to choose YOU rather than anyone else.

And that’s the essence of good marketing, which means that marketing as a concept is really pretty basic and can be broken down into a simple list (I was going to say formula, but that sounded scientific and scary! We’ll stick with list…).

1. Know your niche – who are they, where do they gather, who are their friends, what do they like and dislike, what is their particular pain (so you can solve it).

2. Service that niche – give them what they want in the way they want to receive it. Do not assume!

3. Pay attention to your brand – more precisely, how it is perceived by your niche because no one else really matters so ignore them

4. Join it all together – ie create a plan that most effectively spreads the word, idea and concept of your brand to the people who would benefit from it ie your niche.

5. Wash and repeat.

Pretty simple, yes, but also time consuming, hard work and challenging at times, However, it’s ultimately very rewarding because if you get it right then that’s the first step to gaining more clients and so increasing the chance of making more sales. And that really is the key to ultimate success.

© Claire Burdett. Please only reproduce this article with permission, in its entirety and with a hyperlink to www.claireburdett.com. Thank you.

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Top Tips for Business Mums

Tips for business womenYou need the extra money and want to work, but you can’t find a ‘proper’ job in this economic climate and anyway, you really want to be at home for the kids. You have the skills and the contacts. You even have the technical know how to set up an website and do your own marketing and sales.

But still the question remains, is working from home really workable?

The answer is yes, as the huge amounts of work at home mums and home businesses in the UK at the moment testify. Yet many people still worry that they won’t be able to work at the same time as raising or caring for the children. And to be sure, some people can’t manage it, and much prefer to leave the house and escape to the relative calmness and structure of a 9-5 office.

For others, however, being the Director of Everything is perfect. And it is especially perfect for the ones who love taking responsibility and being in charge, whose families are all on side, who are dab hands at drawing boundaries, being flexible, going with the flow, and that dreaded word, multitasking.

Being flexible
If you want to start work at 9, have an hour for lunch at 12.30 and finish at 5.30, this is not the job for you. Working from home means you need to be be prepared to catch the moment and do a shedload of work when you get a chance and then be able to back pedal and take some time out when the family need you or there are other demands.

Drawing boundaries
Be assertive and firm about applying the boundaries – see our companion article Your Family and Other Animals for more on this.

Be organsied
Being on top of the home and work admin is a real bonus when you work from home – it can be like having an extra pair of hands for the amount of time and energy it saves when you need to find something.

Key points here are to keep it simple, file promptly and be consistent. No point looking for the dog insurance renewal in the pet file if you’ve gone and filed it in the insurance file, for example.

Back up all your contact numbers and business files, especially invoices. Keep a big family calender where everyone can see it and be religious about filling it in – back it up with a portable diary that has time slots marked in it. This is especially important as the children hit those tweenie years and start to get a social life that involves you being the taxi service that is bound to clash with that phone call you have to make or take.

Keep on top of the admin, especially your accounts, and if you need extra support, then look at hiring a part time virtual assistant – see our section on Virtual Assistants.

Be realistic
Once upon a time it was just you, a job and perhaps your own flat or a shared house. Now it’s you, the entourage (kids, pets, partner), the house, the car, the job, the business (some people have both), school (almost as demanding as a second job sometimes), the list of life laundry can be exhausting and seemingly endless. So being realistic about what you can achieve and by when is crucial. Case in point – it took me five months longer than I originally planned to relaunch the revamped Funky Angel site in 2008 because of illness, house repairs, school holidays, and work commitments. I used to beat myself up about things like this; now I just accept it  takes as long as it takes. That doesn’t mean I don’t set myself goals, it’s just they are now realistic goals!

Going with the flow
If you have children your hours are likely to follow their schedule – around naps in the early years, then playgroup and then school times. Evenings become work time instead of afternoons, and Sunday morning is often the favourite time for home business networking – online of course!

Have good support
Family support is essential in the success of your work-at-home venture and you need to get them onside and keep them there. See www.funkyangel.co.uk for further information.

© Claire Burdett. Please only reproduce this article with permission, in its entirety and with a hyperlink to www.claireburdett.com. Thank you.

First published on www.funkyangel.co.uk, the ultimate lifestyle website for WAHMs and Home Businesses.

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