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Category: Business Startup

A blizzard of snowflakes? bullying? or poor management?

…Raab “exercised his executive judgement” and was claimed to have “acted in a way which was intimidating” by being “unreasonably and persistently aggressive” during a meeting…

As justice secretary, Tolley said, Raab had “acted in a manner which was intimidating” by going further than appropriate in “delivering critical feedback”, and insulting officials by making “unconstructive critical comments” about their work.

I get it (I don’t condone it) – you’re stressed, time is short, resources are scarce, and you’re relying on work from your team in order to progress important developments in a project. The pressure is on and others are awaiting your update or presentation or advice or whatever it might be.

But in the final stages, you’re let down when the contribution you were expecting from your team is not to the required standard. Faced with this, it’s hard to remain perfectly composed and to not reveal obvious expressions of disappointment. Your tone of voice changes, facial expressions manifest uncontrollably, micro-aggressions are perceived by others…

Is Raab a bully? Some are saying that Raab is not the problem and that actually this is the snow-flake generation’s lack of resilience. Others are saying that he should have followed correct business management practices. But what are correct management practices?

Is there is a way for managers to avoid the frustration and the feeling that the only remedy is to give someone a ‘piece of your mind’? Yes – there are acceptable responses (as opposed to an ill-thought reaction). And the response should be in the context of the management/employee structures already put in place.

Already put in place? err… what management structures are they then?

Ok – listen… it’s very rare that someone deliberately does a bad job – the chances are, if the work is not as the boss expects then the boss needs to look at themselves, the organisation and how the task was set in the first place: did the member of staff know what was expected of them? Were they provided with the correct guidance? Were they trained correctly? Are they even doing the job they originally joined the organisation to do? And how can you quantify a member of staff’s performance? Is it the boss’ word against theirs?

If there is one key lesson to take away then it’s this: set objective standards!

This is written with the small business owner in mind, perhaps a sole-trader taking on their first employee – but the advice could apply to all levels. The following steps might seem like a lot of work but I assure you that it’s well worth doing – not only does it help with managing staff but also promotes standards, consistency, fairness and contributes to creating autonomous systems that can function in your absence.

STOP – read this: this blog is not about how to write contracts or to discuss employment law, or appraisal systems per se, or QMS etc. We can look at those another day. This post is about how to make your life (as an employer/manager/leader) easier in the long run using basic administration. As ever, meaningful and good quality processes are rarely convenient and easy to put in place. But little incremental improvements soon build up. So…

1) Setup an employee contract which lays out the terms of employment, dress code, ethical codes, details of holiday, sick leave, pay etc. The list is too long to detail here but there is an easy-ish solution for this: become a member of the Federation of Small Businesses which will give you access to plenty of model forms, documents and advice. The ACAS website is also a great resource.

2) Detail the job description – this builds on the employee contract. It might be part of the contract in some way, perhaps as an annexe. But don’t be afraid to list the day-to-day tasks. This could be quite easy for a role that is very prescriptive – such as a machine operator on a production line. However the role of a manager, advisor or researcher might be harder to define. It might take some thinking about – my tip is to think about the outcomes that are required. So a line in a job description might be:

the role requires the individual to research specific areas of potential new policy and then provide written reports (in the company reporting format) to the managing director that allow her/him to understand the salient points of the subject and they also need to be provided with concise and logically ordered reference documents to allow for their further reading if required (sample briefs and further guidance are provided in the company procedures manual).”

Have a suite of management documents to support your staff

3) Articulate and publish your company policies and guide. This might take several forms depending on the type of business and how much reference material your staff might need. You might have industry codes of practice to follow or key H&S Manuals or perhaps technical manuals for equipment. And you may simply have lots of best practice to follow – for example, letters to clients outlining key facts and essential information etc. The list can be endless. A good way to manage this is to create an over-arching management document that is the umbrella document for all the other references – and where necessary, simply reference the other documents.

4) Lay down specific instructions for staff to follow – eg, the fire assembly point, or car park arrangements, or specific telephone manner, or agenda for the weekly meeting, or the policy for consultations held off-site etc. My solution for this is a collection of SOPs – ‘Standard Office Procedures’ – I have over 100 of these for my small business and they are invaluable – each SOP lays down the details and expectation for any given segment of work activity – SOP 1 is how to open the office, who holds keys and alarm codes and even talks about opening and closing the blinds at the start and end of the day. SOP 121 is some details about handling client money in the context of our accounting system. And everything in between. They’re a great resource – especially, when training and inducting new staff.

5) Layout your disciplinary and remedial procedure. This final point circles back round to the 1st recommendation and could be included in the contract: If you’ve put in place points 1 to 4, you will have a comprehensive and layered system for providing employees with the guidance, standards and expectations required. Thus any deviation by staff from the required standards can be referenced against the contract, the job description, the management book, the best practice guides and the company procedures.

It’s worth repeating this point:

It’s very rare that someone deliberately does a bad job…

…the chances are, if their work is not as the boss expects then the boss needs to look at themselves first. But the remedial system should provide a mechanism for further training, one-to-one guidance and also, if really necessary an evidence and audit system for dismissal etc.

So, the correct management procedure is not to get angry and frustrated… the correct procedures are to provide detailed, comprehensive and objective requirements to form the foundation for the employee’s role and then refer back to those as and when required – they will provide the objective resource and reasoning behind feedback, critique, guidance and praise – which could (or should) be part of an ongoing appraisal and career development process.

Final point… you could also stop looking for the things that go wrong and instead concentrate on the things that go right. See here: Stop looking for what went wrong – and look for the things that go right. Part 1 (Introduction)

Are you a business owner and feel like you can’t get “good people”? These recommendations do require some effort to implement but they make the difference between running an ‘ok’ business compared to an excellent business where people can thrive and grow their careers. If you require specific advice then please contact me. I’ve experience of design and development of training and management systems, QMS, SMS, private business support via app and CRM systems. I’m happy to help you create solutions for your small business.

Advertising – set a budget

Ultimately, people need to know about your business – so you probably need to spend!

But otherwise I don’t know where to start this. For me, advertising has probably been the most mystical part of running a business. And every business is different with different goals and geographical reach etc. And there are different ways of advertising. And often it’s not easy to tell whether advertising is working or not. And to be honest – I’m not an expert! We were lucky in that a lot of clients for Proudhouse Property Management have come from word of mouth and referrals.

However, what I can write about is some of the lessons learned. Proudhouse started trading in 2013 and at that time newspaper advertising was still strong. As were flyer drops etc. However, it was expensive and there was no proper tracking of the performance of your advert. And you had to deal with the advertising agent at the local rag who would always try and inflate how great it was… “your advert has been printed 100,000 times and delivered all across South Somerset this week”. Ok – but how many people actually looked at my advert?…

Of course – internet advertising does provide useful metrics, eg, the number of people who ‘click through’ your advert – or how long people watch a video for – or the demographics of viewers etc. As soon as we discovered internet advertising, we never looked back and advertising in local newspapers was dead.

So – some bullets:

  • Define your goal – what is your USP or feature product and focus on this
  • Don’t do copy-cat advertising. Just because your competitor is doing something doesn’t mean it’s effective. It’s far nicer to lead the way and then watch the competition follow you!
  • Set an advertising budget and strategy and stick to it.
  • Be careful when receiving cold-calls from people claiming to be working for Google or working on behalf of a charity or the local fire-brigade etc. It’s usually boll*cks and they’re actually 3rd party agents trying to suck you into a quasi-scam.
  • Online advertising trends change – as do the format and dimensions etc for different platforms, eg Instagram, Facebook etc. Watch some recent YouTube explainers for the latest advice. And on this subject – watch several different YouTubers and get a consensus and feel for what you think is right for your business. Don’t just do follow what one person says – your business might not be their target audience.
  • Is advertising even right for your business? Actually, money spent on networking, conferences or even hosting your open-days/forums might be more effective lead generation
  • Not all advertising has to be obvious and direct. Sponsoring local events can be a great way of building brand awareness.
  • Often the people who might be most aware of your business, is other businesses. So creating mutually beneficial relationships can be great.
  • And finally, as the last few points have alluded to – word-of-mouth advertising is probably the most effective method. Can you leverage your existing client-book? perhaps an incentive for existing clients who can refer new clients to you.

That’s about it – it can feel like trial and error. And not only can advertising be expensive, there are also additional costs for graphic design, printing etc. It’s something to think carefully about. But have a plan, strategy and budget – don’t take a random ‘willy nilly’ approach!

In 2023, we’re moving into video advertising on Instagram – we created this advert (below) ourselves relatively easily with a video editor. Licencing for the imagery and music is vital – but fairly easy to acquire. And actually, if you have someone in your business who can create the content then it can become quite good fun!

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


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.

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’.

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’

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:

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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