Monday, July 27, 2009


As the novice, albeit reluctant gardener, I often find myself comparing what is happening in my garden with running a business.

Take my lavender. Last year we planted some lavender and I loved it – it grew well, its beautiful aroma filled the summer nights and it had that wild, country look that fitted a farm garden. This year, it is dead, gone, not even one branch has come through. Yet my mint, no matter what I do, is tenacious – it survives, grows, and spreads itself throughout the garden.

In business, you can have a hot item that every one wants but come the end of the season – it’s no longer up there. It’s had its moment in the sun – so to speak – and it is time to give it a rest and find something else or repackage it.

Hopefully every business has its base product or service that continues to bring in the money on a regular basis – a bit like the mint. Although unlike the mint, you do want to control it or it could end up controlling you. But there is this maverick quality to mint in that it spreads and lands where you least expect it. A bit like promoting your business on the Internet, with its global audience, you never know where your “mint” could land and it could end up bringing you in business from far afield.

Talking of the unexpected, there’s also the beautiful flower that survives and blossoms in a bed of weeds, catching you by surprise. All of which goes to say that like the gardener, you have to stay flexible. You never know what will be the “flower” of the year, but you want to be ready so you can take home the prize, and cut your losses when the petals drop and the interest wanes.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Press One for Service

For weeks now I have been trying to get our dishwasher fixed. One of the “joys” of living in the country, is contrary to popular belief, you’re not alone. Invariably you are sharing your homestead with the critters around you. In our case – a family of mice, who have not only set up home at the bottom of our dishwasher, but chewed their way through the pipes. Needless to say, the dishwasher isn’t working, and hasn’t for some time now.

I discovered the culprits when the service man came – back in early June. He had to order a part and I was to phone in and book a service appointment. Sounds simple.
But no. Every time I phone and do the press 1 for English, press 1 again for service, I get advised that my call is important to them, but I am number 8 in the queue. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to be on hold while I wait not so patiently to move up to #1. So I hang up, try again later – same thing.

Frustrated with this, and tired of washing dishes, I thought I would email them. Wrong. It bounced back. So then I thought I would send a fax. The number doesn’t work. Meantime, I am still without a functioning dishwasher and who knows another family could have set up house by the time the service guy gets back to put in the new part.

What ever happened to customer service? We have around eight products that are manufactured by Miele – heaven help if any of those go wrong. No, I want to press one and get service.

But I don’t have time to vent … got some dishes to wash.

Monday, July 13, 2009


With hours to kill waiting for my plane at Manchester airport, I bought a few books, one of which was Common Sense Rules: What you really need to know about business by Deborah Meaden. Now Meaden is the UK’s version of Arlene Dickinson on their Dragon’s Den, and from reading her book, I would conclude she is one smart, tough cookie, who has earned a reputation for her straight-talking, no-nonsense approach.

She also raises some important points on making the pitch and getting investors onboard. Just as the title of her book conveys, much of it is common sense. Yet we seem to forget that in our passion to market our business idea.

She observes that entrepreneurs rarely give would-be investors enough information to persuade them to part with their hard-earned money. As she says “today, more than ever, an entrepreneur has to present some pretty compelling reasons for an investor to part with cash, which means presenting a rock-solid pitch as well as some convincing numbers.”

She encourages entrepreneurs to think carefully about how they contact potential investors and what they send by way of introduction. Do your homework and find out who actually makes the investment decisions at a company, she suggests.

Rarely do people get their business plans right, she shares. They either do not include enough information or they don’t include the right information, or it becomes a lengthy document sharing minutia that is of no interest to an investor.

Before ever approaching a potential investor, the business plan needs to be in place. It should be a simple, step-by-step document outlining timescales and milestones, what has to be done in the run up to the launch and what it is all going to cost. What investors, like Meaden, are looking for is something that “outlines in a punchy way what the business is all about, where it is going and what it needs to get there.”

As Meaden concludes, having a business plan is not just for raising money, it keeps you on track and makes you think through all the different aspects of running your business – competition, marketing, financial, etc…

Do you have one? Even if you have been in business for several years, it is not too late to start. You might be surprised at how the process makes you focus and gives you the tools and confidence to succeed.

(You can find business plan templates at

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Feeling mellow after a week away from the office - no phone, no email, no people… I am not quite ready to settle back down to work. Somehow I want to extend the break from the old routine. So I have decided to declutter my office.

Now this is a major task. We have bets on in the office as to just how long this will take me – but I have allowed a week. While we may be trying to save the trees – I think a forest landed in my office. Where did all this paper come from?

The challenge too is that it has to get worse, before it can get better – so right now you can barely see the floor as I spread out my stuff trying to make some order out of chaos.

Now is not the time to pop in for a visit, although I might be glad of the excuse to have a break. No – I have to keep ploughing on, set up some systems that I might stick to and get myself free.

And it is freeing to get rid of stuff. I remember last year we got a dumpster delivered and I filled it – full. Full of files and papers from committees and boards I’d sat on – but long since left; reports I had written and keeping just in case.

So I have come a long way, but I guess there’s always room for improvement. Must go – the recycling bin is calling.