Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

Category: Business (Page 3 of 17)

Keeping Life and Work Apart

Cable Beach, Western Australia

Many of us recently had a short holiday to celebrate Easter. Regardless of how you feel about the religious significance, it’s important to embrace a well-deserved break once in a while.

I’ve written before about managing the tricky balance between work and life. It seems, however, from what I’ve been reading on Twitter and hearing from people, there were still plenty who worked over the Easter weekend.

Sure — some of us may have had strict deadlines to meet; still, it seems that many others enjoy playing the martyr, working the weekend because we’re possibly just badly organized.

A trick I learned a while ago is to have an occasional “time audit.” You may already use a sophisticated time-tracking system for your professional output; however, this is more an audit of how you spend your day every day. The idea here is to write up a table, with the columns denoting the next seven days, and the rows representing various broadly defined activities.

For an example, you may use activity headings such as:

travel to/from office
client meetings
project work
family dinner
web surfing

What I tend to do is write the activity headings in once I’ve actually done them — and remember to keep them broad.

At the end of a week-long trial (and remember, maintain your habits as you usually would spend them), add the rows up, and see where those 168 hours of your life went. Typically, most people still manage to shock themselves — with plenty thinking they work far less than they actually do.

Now, look at your activities, and see which ones really are less important to you, and see how you can change your weeks to incorporate more of the high payoff activities. These would include high profit work, exercise, family time, AND sleeping (very much a high priority).

Make this audit a habit to undertake every six or so months, and you’ll soon tame the time beast!

This post first appeared as part of Issue 442 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

Grow your own Sales

Many people I’ve spoken to recently have repeated the same words: new enquiries are down, because people are wary of starting new projects in the current climate. This is an excellent opportunity for you to increase your focus on sales, and there’s no better customer to sell to than an existing one.

Ask any successful salesperson and she’ll tell you — it’s cheaper and often easier to sell to an existing consumer, than to sell to a new one.

Think about it. With a new prospect, you need to build a relationship, gain their trust, explain the merits of your product or service, prove to them you have the skills and reputation, and that they stand to benefit from what you can offer. Then, you still need to procure that sale — a lengthy process indeed.

With an existing client, you’ve already achieved the above (I hope!). You can skip most of that, and jump straight to offering solutions to their requirements.

“But we only built their web site a year ago,” I hear you say. Start by looking at your current offerings, and see if there’s a service or product that you’ve developed since you last spoke to them that they may be interested in.

Then, consider what else they may need.

Perhaps they’ve created dozens of pages of bad content in the content management system (CMS) you installed for them. You could approach them and suggest you edit their copy. Maybe they’ve lost their way with search engine optimization, and you need to help tune their web site back to perfection.

Does the client have an email newsletter? You can design and develop a system for them to be able to send regular newsletters out. Maybe they started small on the Web, but now could be a time to speak to them about adding ecommerce or installing a CMS, so they can take care of maintenance themselves.

These may often seem small compared to your standard projects, however a handful of these jobs can easily fill gaps in your schedule, and help you touch base with a rejuvenated customer.

Let me know how you go. I’d be interested to see what products or services you create as additional extras.

This post first appeared as part of Issue 438 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

Interview with Chris Winchester

Gantheaume Point Broome

Two weeks ago, I made the journey to New Zealand to attend the well-known web conference, Webstock. On my first day there, I spotted a man wearing a bright yellow T-shirt which read: Remember me? I met you at Webstock looking for a job.

What a great idea! Here he is, wearing a T-shirt promoting himself in a fun way, looking for a web industry job in the perfect environment — a web conference. Little did I realize, until speaking with Chris, that there was more to the story.

You see, Chris heard about the conference only two weeks beforehand, and traveled from the other end of the globe — the UK — to spend a few days in Wellington looking for a job.

Here’s the story in Chris’s own words:

Hi Chris, thanks for speaking with me. Tell us some background as to your decision to quit your job and travel over 11,000 miles across the world to NZ.

My great-grandfather’s brother, Tom Garratt, who like me was from Liverpool, jumped ship in Wellington and set up a printing business in the 1930s — a business that, I believe, is still run by the Garratt family today. In his way he was a facilitator of mass communication and, I guess, so am I but in a 21st century context; so it feels like there’s a resonance there.

I’ve had family and friends in NZ all my life, and spent a year in Christchurch as a little kid, but I rediscovered the country for myself when my wife and I came over a few years ago on our honeymoon. It might sound a bit cheesy to say we fell in love with the place and the people — but we did, so I will!

Then a couple of years ago, after our daughter was born, we were looking at what we could do if we sold our two-bedroom flat in London. We considered buying a small three-bedroom house a bit further out of London, but then we realized we might be able to come over to NZ and have some real space.

It’s a long way to move — about as far as you can go (the moon’s yet to open for business) — but we thought if we let the opportunity slip by, we’d always wonder about what we missed.

So, you told me that you only heard about the conference two weeks ago — how did you prepare?

We’d been waiting in a queue with the NZ immigration service for quite a while, and knew that if one of us got a job offer over here that should speed things up. So we were just starting to research potential opportunities. My wife, Nikky was surfing around and said, “Ah, it’s a shame you missed that.” She’d found the Webstock site. I realized there were still two weeks to go and therefore it was possible to come over and meet everyone. So I threw together a bit of a personal marketing campaign.

I went straight online and ordered a bunch of T-shirts from that read, Remember me? I met you at Webstock looking for a job. As soon as they arrived a couple of days later, I went into my parent’s back garden (as we’d sold our flat!) to take photos of me in the shirts. I was balancing a camera on top of a snowman as I didn’t have a tripod; wish I had a picture of the snowman taking the picture of me! Ah well …

So, once I’d taken the pictures I fired up Photoshop and put together a set of business cards saying, Web monkey seeks job with my T-shirt photos and web address. Then I ordered a big pile of them through by special delivery. It was getting a bit tight for time by this stage, as I needed to be on a plane a couple of days later. I even had to order myself a new laptop bag and suitcase, as the ones I had were unsuitable for the flight. Fortunately everything arrived just in time.

I had to retrieve my passport from NZ House in London as it was with the immigration authorities and I was up in Liverpool. So I had a mate pick it up and I met him at Euston Station for a Cold War-style handover, on the way to Heathrow on the Friday morning before Webstock. I spent Valentine’s Day in the air and arrived in Wellington looking (and feeling) a bit bemused on Sunday afternoon.

Fantastic! So what inspired your T-shirt and business cards campaign?

I have absolutely no idea! It just popped into my head. The four colors of the cards were chosen because they were the only colors that Spreadshirt had in organic cotton for the T-shirts, and I was trying to be vaguely green.

Although, how I can say that and justify the carbon hit of flying halfway round the world I’m unsure — I’ll have to think that one over. I really wanted bamboo shirts as they’re so comfy, but the European Spreadshirt site has yet to produce them, which is a bit of a shame.

Come to think of it, icebreaker shirts would be the ultimate … maybe one day!

Once I knew I had four different colors I had a quick think about what I could do to tie the card set together. I had a copy of the Beatles’ Help! album with them doing semaphore flag signalling in the snow, and I thought maybe I could do that. I tried to copy their poses, but a friend tells me the cards actually spell “NUJD”, not “HELP” at all!

You’ve been in Wellington for a few days now — how do you feel you’ve been received?

Everyone’s been great! They are really welcoming and encouraging, apart from one lady who said, “I don’t think people are really doing business cards any more.” But hey, fair enough, each to their own. I’ve had a really warm reception, including the weather!

I’d like to say a really big thank-you to the local web community — it’s been a real pleasure to meet you all, and I hope we’ll be working together soon!

Thanks for your time, Chris, and I hope you’ll keep us up to date in your adventures towards landing that job.

This post first appeared as part of Issue 436 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

Reply to Your Emails!

Flowers at Bali Hai, Broome

I recently sent an email to about eight different companies looking for accommodation for a holiday I plan to take in a few months. They all have web sites, they all published email addresses, and you know how many replied within 24 hours? Two.

Using this very simple market research, 75% of these companies took longer than 24 hours to respond. Two more replied within the following 48 hours, and it took nearly a week for another to reply.

Three of the original eight still have yet to reply three weeks later. Maybe they’re full during the time I was enquiring about, but I seriously doubt if they’ll ever reply, even if I were to change the dates.

Look at your own habits; when you’re busy or in the ideal situation of having a full schedule of projects, do you reply to enquiries or ignore them? Have you wondered whether the enquiry about a few hours work this week could be the catalyst for your largest project yet?

I’m continually amazed at businesses who advertise email as a way of making contact, only to fall short of reciprocating. We do our best in my business to always respond within 24 hours during the working week — and we’ve been known to reply on weekends. Even a polite “I’m sorry I’m unable to take this project on at the moment” is far nicer than just ignoring the enquirer. I know I’d book elsewhere before approaching again those who failed to return my enquiry the first time around.

Measure your own business email replies — do you respond in a timely manner?

This post first appeared as part of Issue 442 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

Seven Tips to Make Debtors Pay

Bindoon Tidy Town

Recently, we’ve been talking about increasing sales, reinforcing branding, reducing costs, and other ways to survive a rough economic year. Another very important strategy to keep the cash flowing is debt collection.

Debt collection can literally make or break your business. Failing to follow up with debtors regularly could make you end up with zero in the bank. It’s a fact that the older a debt becomes, the harder it is to collect.

It’s vital that you create a process for dealing with debtors and stick with it. The more you enforce this, the quicker clients learn to stay within your terms of trade.

Here are seven tips to avoid the debtor drama:

Tip 1: Accept plenty of payment methods
Five years ago, just about all of my clients paid by cheque. Now, cheques would account for just 5% of our receivables. The majority of our clients pay by direct bank transfer, which is better for us: the money is available quicker, and there’s less risk of a bounced cheque.

We also have some clients who pay by credit card. Sure, we take a small hit on the fees, yet we find many clients are keen to pay by credit cards to solve their own short-term cashflow issues. Speak to your bank or find a payment gateway for safe credit card transactions.

The more payment methods you offer debtors, the less excuses they have to neglect paying.

Tip 2: Ask for a deposit up-front
I’ve always asked for a minimum 40% of the project total as a deposit before starting work on a project, and rarely does a client complain. Asking for a deposit up-front means that you’re establishing the client is serious and can pay their bills. If they’re unable to pay the deposit, how will they pay for the rest of the project?

Tip 3: Spell out terms clearly and regularly
Be sure to include your payment terms within your proposals, and that the due date is clearly marked on all invoices. I know a person who even sends meeting requests as calendar reminders to their clients when they send the invoices.

Be very clear with due dates — make the date as large and as bold as the total on your invoice.

Tip 4: Follow up immediately
The day after your invoice was due is the best time to send a polite, yet firm, email enquiring when they expect to pay, and if there’s any issue. Include a copy of the invoice as an attachment, and let them know you’ll call in a few days time if you don’t hear from them.

Set the tone carefully though; you want to sound helpful and genuinely concerned they may have misplaced the invoice, rather than threatening or angry.

A week later, if the payment is still yet to be received, call and ask them when they expect to pay. This way, you’re forcing the client to declare a date, which they’ll be less likely to break. Follow up with an email, confirming the date you expect to receive the payment.

Tip 5: Increase the pressure
Close the cycle. As the debt becomes older, follow up more frequently. Become firmer with each communication, but never become angry or personal. If you host the web site, consider turning their site off until payment is made, or hold back on code or any deliverables that you still have.

Tip 6: Offer repayment schedules
If the client is having genuine trouble paying you, call and discuss a workable payment plan. Of course, it’s preferable to have the entire balance in your bank instead, but it’s still better than receiving none of it. Be sure to put the schedule in writing, and follow up on every payment to ensure it’s adhered to.

Tip 7: Find a good debt collector
If the worst happens, and two months later you’re still without payment, you may want to hand the matter to a debt collection agency. These agencies often take a small percentage of the overall debt if they can collect it, so at least you’ll receive the majority of the debt.

Good luck, and here’s hoping it’ll be unnecessary to resort to any of these tactics!

This post first appeared as part of Issue 440 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

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