Chris Chambers

Business | Property | Leadership | Aviation

Learn to use a computer!

I enjoy going to France most years – we have a house in the Correze (sadly a little underused but it’s there waiting for us). Every summer when I’m there, I kick myself for not having made time to learn more of the language – I can get by – of course we can eat, drink, travel etc – but it would all be so much easier if I was conversant with the people, the signs, the posters in windows, books, magazines, the websites, the tourist information etc. Luckily, there is the internet and a world of help. But if I ever planned to live in France then I would have to learn the language properly.

Knowing how to use a computer for business, is very similar to knowing a language for the country you live in. One’s success and experience is greatly enhanced and often fully dependent on knowing how to progress communication. Many people think they know how to use a computer – but they don’t really. Trust me when I say – learn to use a computer – you don’t want to be spending your money on a web designer or IT Geek to help you setup your email account or purchase a web domain name, or put together a basic web-page for you, or all manner of other basic tasks for which there are a million videos to assist you on YouTube!

If you think that being able to use Microsoft Office means you’re all set then you’re not really much beyond using an old typewriter

When I interview prospective employees, I put them through a basic computer test as part of their interview process. I’m fully aware that this can put people under pressure so I think I’m very fair: I don’t give them much of a time limit, I don’t look over their shoulder and if they freeze up then I simply talk to them and ask what their logic is for achieving a particular task. None of the tasks I set relate to using apps (see examples below in the ‘easy’ column). It’s all about understanding fundamentals. It’s very revealing – often, sadly, it’s the older generations who confidently state they are computer “literate”, only to stumble on the most basic of testing. They are often surprised when their lack of understanding is revealed – I feel this is a tell-tale sign that they’re not even really aware of the scope of what computers can be used for and the breadth of experience required. Well, fair enough – these are people who are applying to be employees and not business owners. But I see the same thing through my wife’s graphic and web design business – she works with many people, often older women who want to take the plunge and build a small business – and so often, my wife becomes embroiled in her clients IT issues that arise through their ignorance and ineptitude.

I don’t wish to sound unkind – everyone can’t be experts in everything – but it goes back to that language analogy; you wouldn’t start a business in a country where you didn’t know the language that your clients speak! It’s the same with computers – they are the underlying foundation of communication in the business world.

I’m not a coder or IT Consultant etc. I am a ‘power user’

power userLearn to pronouncenounCOMPUTINGnoun: power user; plural noun: power users; noun: poweruser; plural noun: powerusers
a user of a computer system or program whose skills and expertise are more advanced than most other users, especially a person in an organization who is assigned additional administrative rights and responsibilities for that system or program.

I’ve created a sample of some computer tasks which I would advise any business owner to be able to do for themselves – they may take some time to learn, but all of these can be learned from the forums, sites and videos available on the internet.

– the more you know, the less you fear!

Completely Basic

Setup your PC and peripherals, turn on your device, use apps/Office, change print settings, setup email signature, use email, save/use templates, change print cartridges, connect to a wifi router

Easy

Setup a directory and file structure, print to PDF, understand file types, know what a PDF is and why it is used, understand file sizes, setup a new printer, have a basic understanding of IP addresses, change wifi settings (eg password) on your router, edit an image/photo on an image app, setup your calendar on your phone/tablet, setup a Zoom (or equivalent) meeting, create a basic office/home network.

Start learning soon

Register a domain (website) name, purchase website hosting, understand G-Suite or MS Teams services and what they do for you, setup your accounting software including your branded invoices, and stock/inventory/service items, setup Pop3/IMAP email, setup a static IP address for hardware devices, point your DNS servers to your website domain, setup wordpress on your domain(or learn another website building service).

Know this in time

Build your own apps, spreadsheets or databases for specific tasks in your business, edit your website to refresh content, automate some recurring processes eg, recurring invoices in your accounting software,

Summary – learn to use a computer – the more you know, the less you fear! And the quicker things will progress. I’ll add to the above lists as I think of things – I’ll also try and create links from the items to helpful sites on the internet.

Why I think military leadership is dull and why commercial leadership is the place to be.

Friday 9th January 1998: it’s a dark, wet, rainy night in The South Hams, Devon. I’m in the first week of my year long Officer Training at BRNC Dartmouth. Along with my Division of new recruits, I’m standing in a dark field and about to commence a map-reading night navigation exercise wearing my newly issued DPM combats, beret and boots. To be honest, the exercise was pretty easy and not that different to the stuff youngsters might do in the Scouts or Cadets. It was only a ‘starter-for ten’. However, it was my first training exercise in military leadership as a paid, professional trainee Officer. The thing I remember most was my Divisional Officer, a Royal Marine Major, stating that “leadership is not about handing out sweets when it’s your turn to lead the map reading exercise!”… (I made a mental note to keep the sweets I had to myself!) I don’t remember what he did define leadership as.

“leadership is not about handing out sweets when it’s your turn to lead the map reading exercise!”

And that was the start of a constant stream of leadership training that ended in 2014 when I left the RN. Every training course throughout flying training had a ‘character and leadership’ assessment that ran alongside all the flying assessments. Every annual report ever, assessed my leadership ability and therefore my suitability for leadership roles and promotion. At suitable points throughout an officer’s career, he or she will likely attend a major leadership, command and staff course at The Royal Military Academy, Shrivenham which will be several weeks long or even a year for the senior officers.

And it’s not just the officers – all the non-commissioned officers and junior ratings also receive leadership training throughout their training and career.

So, with all this training, you’d expect all Officers in the Royal Navy to be excellent leaders. In fact, with the resources, technology and access to information that we have, you might expect the military to be a centre of excellence for leadership, development, innovation and progression.

So, with all this training, you’d expect all Officers in the Royal Navy to be excellent leaders

That would be a fair assessment to make I suppose. In which case, why were all of the senior officers that I worked for so convincingly unremarkable? Squadron Commanding Officers, Ships’ Captains, The Base Commanders and Heads of the Fleet Air Arm? I cannot think of a single noteworthy example of leadership from any of these Military Officers. For that matter, I can’t really think of any household names of military leaders since, um, about 1996 perhaps.

Now, people reading this with their own experiences might immediately accuse me of writing total nonsense and counter with many examples of military leadership in combat scenarios etc. These are very real and of course commendable and have my utmost respect – but where are the modern-day Admiral Nelsons, Captain Scotts, Wing Cdr Gibsons, Field Marshall Montgomerys, General De Labillieres and General Jacksons? Where are the new leaders that should be filling the history books? Where is the inspiration for school boys and girls with tales of strategy, adventure and discovery?

I’m not saying today’s Senior officers are bad leaders – just simply that there is no need to really lead anyone… they are custodians of their role. By this, I mean their role, duties and responsibilities are pre-defined and the officer is appointed into the role – they fulfill the role and then move on to their next post after a couple of years thus making way for the next incumbent. Furthermore, they are also not given the scope to be genuinely innovative and creative, and nor do they foster these attributes in the men and women for whom they are in charge of. And in many respects, they’re not incentivised to! They merely need to fulfill the role within their posting in order to tick the box for the CV – which is usually is enough for an often preordained promotion to the next rank…

Leadership is needed when things change

And here’s the thing: stable, unchanging conditions do not require leadership! And, in the context of war and death, this is a good thing. Stability is good.

Leadership is needed when things change, for example:

  • The location is changing – eg an expedition
  • The geo-political situation is changing (or change is the threat) eg resulting in dispute, conflict and war
  • Ambition is driving a change – eg, technology needs to change and advance in order to meet new needs and desires
  • The commercial market is changing
  • Death Rates are changing (increasing) due to disease/pandemic

Ultimately, a leader needs an understanding of ‘the change’

What is leadership and its attributes? Ultimately, a leader needs an understanding of ‘the change’ – then the leader needs to do the following:

  • Create a vision of the final/desired outcome
  • Create a solution(s)/plan (using all effective available resources).
  • Create/select methods to convey to your team (and delegate as required) the necessary logistics, actions and incentives to reach that vision.
  • Monitor progress

Note my use of the word “create” – creativity, lateral thinking and pragmatism are key to a leadership team. An effective organisation needs space and utilities for creative thinking – merely hoping to use pre-determined SOPs or previously used routines are unlikely to create bespoke, innovative solutions to progress (or retard) change. Leadership without creativity is really just ‘management’.

This is where leadership in the business and commercial world is so exciting. In the 20th century the Government (and Government funded organisations) pioneered new technology and innovation through military equipment, the cold war and the space race all supported by healthy public funds. But governments are no longer the custodians and vanguards of new technology.

Ultimately, we are all trying to solve problems with solutions. The problems are the root cause of the change. If there is no problem, then there is no need for a solution – and if there is no need for a solution, then there is no need for a change which means there is no need for leadership. Any entrepreneur is usually looking for a problem to resolve:

  • How can a task be done quicker?
  • How can a task be done cheaper?
  • How can a task be done more reliably?
  • How can a client have a better experience?
  • How do we reduce greenhouse gases?
  • How do we create enough food?
  • How can we reduce transport requirements?
  • How can we streamline our supply chain?
  • Where will humans live when planet earth becomes uninhabitable?

There are, very definitely, many more problems to solve in the commercial and civilian world than in the military world. And many large organisations are spending huge sums of money on technology, innovation and creative output. The opportunities are endless and, for many organisations, there seems to be an endless supply of money. Small businesses can be in the party as well: software, apps, automation, 3D printing, collaborative systems, virtual-reality and simulation are all bringing really cool solutions right into the workplace. We’re living in exciting times. Our modern day leaders and household names are global: Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, James Dyson, the late Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos.

Summary

In business, you need to lead – you need to lead your staff when your business develops, grows and changes. You need to lead your clients when they are in the process of using your services – they are seeking your services, probably because something is changing in their life: a house move or a job change or a change in financial circumstances or children are growing up or their physical or mental health is changing, or a desire to change (eg, get fit, lose weight, learn and instrument) etc. This is when the business owner, or employee needs to lead.

  • In your business do you have a system for logging and developing new ideas?
  • If you’re a business owner, are you keeping up with technology in your industry?
  • Does your business embrace change and new developments to overcome problems?
  • As a business owner, do you revise and envisage where you want your business to be in 1, 2, 5, 10 years time?
  • Do you have a team, business partner or even just a trusted adviser with whom you can create ideas and lay down the path that your business needs to follow?

Remember, leadership is not about handing out ‘sweets’. You might give your staff benefits, a generous salary and bonuses and they might all really like you. Its doesn’t make you a great leader. But that’s not to say staff rewards, incentives and treats are not allowed. But’s another article.

Fee Systems

Imagine taking time off from your business to go on holiday and during that time, you and your business keep earning and receiving fees from subscriptions, commissions and repeat orders?

Or what if you only need 2 or 3 clients a month paying high value fees for your specialist/niche service?

Or perhaps you have a systemised manufacturing process that, when operating, requires little further input other than basic monitoring from a small number of staff?

Business trading, in its simplest form, is the exchange of an item or service for money. If you’re a heating engineer, then you might sell a boiler service for, say, £90 – that’s great but you need to keep doing boiler servicing, maintenance, call-outs and installations to earn money. If you don’t go out to work, then you don’t get paid.

What if the boiler engineer sells a warranty service after he/she’s provided a service? Let’s say £15/month in exchange for a free call out and 1st hour of labour? This might be quite a nice idea for some clients. Now the engineer is earning money when he/she is not working.

Ok – I admit this is a simple example, and the sums need to add up to be viable. But you get my point.

The holy grail for many entreprenurs is subscription payments or/and advertising revenue derived from online content. So perhaps the heating engineer can create online content with self-help videos for common problems – if the client can’t resolve their problem via a self-help video then they complete an internet support for diagnosis, pay a fixed fee for repair/call out and the heating engineer then sub-contracts the ‘easy fixes’ to a mutual competitor whilst making a profit from the fee. If the repair looks difficult then perhaps he tackles it her/himself. Individual losses may be encountered but when all losses and gains are aggregated together, an overall profit is made.

Ok – that’s enough of the heating engineer analagy. I’ll finish with a few final thoughts: what’s better – a million items sold for a £1? Or 1 item sold £1million? The profit might be the same, but what was involved in terms of workload, logisitics and effort? And which has the best future and liklihood of repeat/return customers?

What’s better – a million items sold for a £1? Or 1 item sold £1million?

It’s a deliberately open question without parameters – have a think about this idea for your business idea – will you be able to build scale into your business as you grow and develop? Will you be able to create monetised aspects of your business that take advantage of different fee systems. An entrepreneur with a “constrained business” might reach max headroom before they reach the scale required to make their business viable… not good when that realisation comes after 2 or 3 years of effort.

Spend money on the systems or processes that help achieve scale and monetisation

What does this have to do with ‘spend or save’?

Spend money on the systems or processes that help achieve scale and monetisation, but you need to calculate the cost versus benefits. Perhaps spending is needed for a production/manufacturing method or it might be an app/software to undertake computer tasks that would be otherwise time-consuming. And when you employ staff, are you doing it simply to reduce your/staff workload? How do you know that the workload is not the result of inefficiency that could be resolved with a technological/software solution? Perhaps, frankly, your lack of skills with a computer is creating inefficiency and unnecessary costs?

Next article ‘Time Rich – learn to use a computer’.

Are you being stupid?

I recently received the following article from an acquaintance – it was topical as his organisation were undergoing a seemingly bizarre restructuring process which, to employees on the ‘shop floor’, seemed to be arriving at some odd conclusions in the context of their operational output:

https://psyche.co/ideas/why-some-of-the-smartest-people-can-be-so-very-stupid

The main point of the article is that smart people can be stupid when they lack the correct ‘conceptual tools’ as a result of culture, ethos or specific pressures within their organisational group.

However, is the article fair? It’s a bit like accident investigation: no one consciously decides to do a bad job; no one consciously wants to cock it all up; actually, people/teams make a decision(s) that makes sense to them at the time, and which factors in the pressures, aims and objectives in their immediate world – it’s not possible to select new conceptual tools when you think you already have the right conceptual tools.

it’s not possible to select new conceptual tools when you think you already have the right conceptual tools.

Which is why good leadership should also be humble and garner opinion, thoughts and advice from a wide variety of areas. And it’s why people on the outside-looking-in should be forthcoming and, in a constructive way, question and query ‘stupidity’ when it arises.  

  • If you’re a business owner, do you consult with your team with a genuine desire to get ideas and fresh inspiration for business development?
  • Does your business/organisation have a genuine and real forum for allowing constructive criticism?
  • If you’re a lower/middle-manager, do you have the confidence to constructively comment and advise your senior management on business processes?

And it’s why people on the outside-looking-in should be forthcoming and, in a constructive way, question and query ‘stupidity’ when it arises.  

You can be stupid – just allow other people to tell you when you are! And if they do, then take heed.

Starting a business? Then get a job!

That might seem like odd advice…

Everyone’s business plan is different – and different businesses will have different start-up costs. However, there are a few golden rules that I think apply to anyone:

  • Don’t spend your life savings
  • Don’t risk the home you own and live in.
  • Avoid borrowing/debt, if you can.

Unfortunately, viewers of Dragon’s Den would be forgiven for thinking that setting up a business requires many thousands of pounds. And all the banks are all too keen to lend money. I bet there is a business banking rep in the networking group that you recently joined? Yep – people starting a business are vulnerable to tempting, but possibly unnecessary offers.

I bet there is a business banking rep in the networking group that you recently joined? Yep – people starting a business are vulnerable to tempting, but possibly unnecessary offers.

But many businesses can be started with a very low initial outlay.

My big tip is to get a job! A part-time, regular, paid job to help support yourself in the early days of running your business. Or alterntively perhaps you’re wanting to leave your regular career job – if that’s the case, then try and start and run your business part-time concurrent with the last few months in your regular job. That might be difficult but, whatever, try and create a consistent source of income to suport yourself and your family in the early days. But you MUST also create a payment model for yourself, from your business, as soon you can.

It’s hard – I was lucky, when I left the Navy I had already spent a couple of years getting my business idea primed and ready – then, when I left, I was able to work in my old job as a part-time reservist. Which meant I didn’t have to dip into the gratuity payout sat in my bank account (I invested that in property but I’ll talk about that another time).

Don’t spend or pay yourself from your savings!! Savings take a long time to accumulate – and a big lump of money is useful for a big investment (like a house) or an urgent unforeseen need etc (what if your boiler breaksdown at home? or your roof gets damaged?). Your early business costs will probably be intangible and/or be spent on items that depreciate to nil value in very little time – eg, office furniture or PC equipment etc. Don’t convert a really useful lump of money into useless office tat!

Don’t convert a really useful lump of money into useless office tat!

Get a job… pay for the basics and essentials… and reinvest any profits into developing and growing your business. Borrow only for what you really need.  

Next article: ‘Fee Systems’

Spend or Save?

I never ceased to be amazed by how keen people are to spend money when they start a business! You hear people say crazy things like: ‘You’ve got to spend money to earn money’ or ‘it’s ok, it’s all included in my business plan projections’ or ‘it’s a business expense and I’ll write it off against tax’… or even ‘I’m expecting to make a loss in my first year’ ?!? That expensive iPad tablet… the really nice ‘company’ car… the high end website and expensive graphic design… these are all eroding your profits and you need money for the really important stuff or unforeseen problems. Think carefully about what you spend money on – and, if you’re smart and willing to learn a few extra skills, there are lots of things you can do yourself instead of outsourcing – when you first start, you are time-rich! Use the time well.

and, if you’re smart and willing to learn a few extra skills, there are lots of things you can do yourself .

I was going to write a single post on money and what not to do in the early days of starting your business. Then, as I thought it through, I realised that this could become many posts and I’ve even created a new post category ‘Spend or save’.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to money and budgets etc – if you’ve designed a physical thing that requires manufacturing then you need machining, production, packaging, storage etc and all their associated costs. And to be honest, my background is in services and property investment. So these posts really are aimed at people who are providing services. The next few posts will cover the following topics

  • Starting a business? Then get a job…
  • Fee systems – what systems do you want and need
  • Time rich, cash poor – Learn to use a computer
  • Website, graphics, logos, social media
  • Advertising and marketing costs – set a budget
  • Accreditation and Trade/Industry trust
  • Accounting systems
  • CRM, Database management systems

Next article – ‘Starting a business? then get a job’

Have you got what it takes?

Do you have the qualities for running a business?

Why do people want to start a business? Typically, the answer will be one or some of the following:

  • I’ve got a great idea that will make money
  • I want to manage my own time and have freedom
  • I don’t want to be an employee anymore
  • I think I can do a better job than the current provider

Do you ever hear people give the following reasons?:

  • I want to be a leader
  • I want to be an employer
  • I want to solve awkward problems most days
  • I want to support the economy

That second set of answers is the reality. It really is the reality – you may make money and, in time, you may get your freedom and I will discuss this in future blog posts. But ultimately, if your business is successful then you will definitely need to be a leader! Even if you’re a sole trader you will need to lead and guide your clients. If you become an employer then you will need to expend deliberate and conscious effort just setting an example everyday, in addition to all the employer responsibilities and headaches such as training, auditing, staff absences, sick leave, disciplinary proceedings etc!

If you cut corners then eventually standards will slip and the correct examples will not be set to others – your business will go bad!

And to be a leader and an employer, you will need integrity. If you don’t have integrity then eventually you’ll come unstuck because your product, services, employees and clients require consistent and persistent professional standards all the time! If you cut corners then eventually standards will slip and the correct examples will not be set to others – your business will go bad!

A businesspersons without integrity are the Del-Boys, rogues and back street wheeler-dealers. You won’t be able to bluff your way through for very long.

Here is a great example of what integrity is:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/supermarket-trolley-etiquette-could-test-your-tony-furniss/

Constrained or Unconstrained?

What type of business do you want? Products or services? Online or High Street? etc. You may already have your awesome business idea but think about this:

I think of business as either being ‘constrained’ or ‘unconstrained’. By this I mean their inherent capcity for growth. When I started my business, I didn’t want constraints – I wanted to grow and have unlimited opportunities. But, an open-ended business that sells bespoke and flexible services can become fatiguing – there is a sense that you never get “on top” of things because ideas, services and clients’ needs are ever changing and developing. What is your personaility type? If you like things to be controlled, ordered, sequenced and to fit into a ‘pigeon-hole’ then do you want to be selling, for example, graphic design services via the internet? If you crave variety and wish to create innovative solutions for a range of client types then do you really want a business selling mass-produced widgets in a small commercial factory?

Here are examples of businesses local to me that I really admire:

Surestart Autos (Product = repaired cars): a car garage providing servicing, repairs and MOTs. This is a constrained by its location. The clients’ visit the premises, the staff all work at the premises, all deliveries come to the premises and it’s all neatly contained. It’s also constrained by time – ie, there are only a finite number of cars that can be serviced in one day.

Tamburino Italian Restaurant (Product = eat-in meals): this place is always busy – it’s a constrained business and there is a finite amount of time and space for providing meals.

All Green (Product = recycling materials): this is a wholesale provider of recycling materials – eg food waste bags. It’s constrained by its premises – eg, there is a finite amount of space for stock but their products are sold online via Amazon – the client-base is potentially every household in the country; that’s unconstrained.

Guitar Tuition Somerset (services): This is a tutor providng 1-to-1 guitar lessons – it is constrained by time because there are only a fixed number of slots available in the week.

Proudhouse Property Management (management services): Lettings and Property Management – this is mostly unconstrained because the number of potential clients, locally and regional, is very high (there are 5 million rental properties in the UK).

When you’re starting a business, think about what you really want and where your awesome business idea fits in.

When you’re starting a business, think about what you really want and where your awesome business idea fits in. Sure, any business can develop – the restaurant owner can open a second restaurant; the guitar tutor can create online video content, the wholesaler can obtain larger premises etc – but the inherent constraints of your business idea should be considered carefully before committing your savings, business loan etc. Make sure the inherent constraints of your business idea fit with your goals, ambition and personality type.

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