Category Archives: credit crunch

The Key Trends for 2012 from Cate Trotter – Insider Trends

logo_insider_trendsI have been covering sessions from  founder and Head of Trends at Insider Trends Cate Trotter for a while now: Insider Trends – The Future of Online Marketing, The growing grey market in the UK and How to become a cutting-edge retailer.

As previously, Cate showed an impressive grasp of the trends that new and existing businesses need to know about, to keep ahead of the competitive curve.

Tonight’s topic proved even more popular than before, requiring a move to a larger room, and an overflow event last-night.

Here are my notes from the event:

Cate started the evening by identifying three headline trends for 2012 of Doom and Gloom, Ubiquitous Digital and Humanness.

Doom and Gloom (aka – the economic recession is killing business opportunities – or is it?)

  • If you only read the papers or watched TV you would think the end is nigh.
  • Unemployment is at a 17 year high in the UK, with over 1 million young people out of work.
  • The UK economy is predicted to grow by 0.2% in 2012 (i.e. no growth to speak of).
  • But…
  • Interest in entrepreneurship is at an all-time high, and barriers to entry are at an all-time low, thanks to technology and the internet, with the likes of Facebook, PayPal and on-demand printing.
  • Slowly we are shifting to become a nation of entrepreneurs.
  • There are plenty of opportunities for person-to-person (P2P) businesses thanks to the likes of Kickstarter and SellAnApp. Or how about MinuteBox which allows you sell your expertise by the minute.
  • Opportunities also exist in the off-line world too, such as ‘cheap and cheerful’ offices for start-ups like The Ugli Campus, or how about opening the first cafe for entrepreneurs.
  • Too many business websites use ‘me too’ branding with stock photography and unclear messages – Cate gave the example of BubbleWebs  as one that ‘shows what it does on the tin’.

BubbleWebs_home_page

Ubiquitous digital (it really is everywhere now)

  • 65% of adult internet users now use a social networking site of some kind.
  • By the summer of 2012 over 50% of Brits will be using a smartphone.
  • So:
  • Cate’s tip no.1 – Mark your location on Google Places to boost traffic to your website.
  • Cate’s tip no.2 – Make sure you website is mobile friendly using 11 Excellent Solutions for Making Your Website Mobile Friendly.
  • Need to think beyond using social media just for marketing and PR – add customer support roles (e.g. Hippo Munchies in India using twitter prompts from customers to re-fill their vending machines).
  • Companies will develop intelligent and selective strategies for social media channels. No more scatter-gun approach to digital marketing.
  • Digital data will give commercial insights. E.g Klout score to measure your online influence.
  • A/B test your website your website using Optimizely to maximise visitors.

Humanness (the importance of trust in a digital commercial world)

  • Ask yourself how is your digital strategy enhancing the lives of your customers?
  • More targeted communications and email lists – less scatter-gun.
  • Google is starting to highlight more human related content, so you need to have people talking about your business in social media.
  • Which means you have to do stuff that people think is worth talking about.
  • Results in a move away from novelty campaigns to real customer value. E.g. Zappos.com have a 24 hour staffed phone line, and up to a year to return products.

Zappos_logo

  • Inspirational brands talk about why they do what they do, not what they do, or how they do it – read Start with why by Simon Sinek or watch him speak at TED.
  • The need to stay human, once you grow beyond a single person business, think of your brand as a personality or celebrity.

2012 is all about being connected – individuals, networks and businesses
Use customer value to cut through the ubiquitous social media noise. Connections through honest communication is key.

Cate ended her talk by encouraging us to go away and start experimenting with some of the ideas covered. We now had 11 months lead on our competitors.

She really wants to hear from us how we a get on, so please get in touch with her at cate@insider-trends.com

Breakfast with the Lord Mayor of London

Thanks to my friend Chris Seow, who is currently Chairman City of London Branch of CMI, I was lucky enough to attend a breakfast talk on Tuesday morning, by the Rt Hon the Lord Mayor, Alderman Nick Anstee. The event was held in the heart of the City of London at Stationer’s Hall, belonging to The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers.

The talk was entitled What now for the City, and gave a helicopter view of the City and how it is regarded around the world. He also talked about how the City is regenerating itself and what is over the horizon. Just to avoid any confusion, you should be aware that the Lord Mayor of London is not the same as the Mayor of London (currently Boris Johnson).

As head of the City of London Corporation, which provides business and local government services to the City, the Lord Mayor of London’s principal role is ambassador for all UK-based financial and professional services. This building of  trade relationships and partnerships around the world, is something the Lord Mayor takes very seriously, and by the end of this year he will have visited 23 countries and 43 cities.

The issue of public confidence in the City was addressed at the outset of the talk, and he wanted the focus of the City of London Corporation to be restoring the trust between the City and wider society. But he felt that politicians had avoided their responsibility in this area, often scapegoating the City, and risking driving away the economic prosperity it provides to the UK economy of 8.3% of GDP and £61.4 billion in tax revenue.

However, he also recognised that the impact of the City must be socially useful as well as economically significant. Although the City retains its position as the worlds’ leading financial centre, despite the economic crisis, it needs to communicate its’ value to the public. To help this process they have created TheCityUK, an independent membership body, promoting the UK financial and related professional services industries.

After the short speech, there were some interesting questions from the audience:

Please comment on current press speculation about regulation of the finance sector,  is the City obliged to educate the public.
We have to engage and inform the public, but also recognise that financial institutions need to do their part. We are looking at challenging the ethics and code of conduct of staff. We are also investigating possible changes to recruitment policies for City institutions. A conference is planned for 7 July covering this area.

Please comment on the rising mortgage default rate in the US. Are we not out of the woods yet?
There is a risk. The US economy is moving out the recession at a reasonable rate. But concerns about regulation may be leading US banks to hoard cash. That cash needs to be freed up in order to stimulate the economy, e.g. invest in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises.

Stationers Hall in the City of London

In conversation with Lord Sugar

Lord SugarTonight was definitely one of the highlights of Global Entrepreneurship Week for me. Our event in the British Library conference centre In conversation with Lord Sugar was full to bursting.

As time is short and it is now after midnight, I am going to post my notes of his gems and leave it at that.

Is now a good time to be setting up a new business?
Lord Sugar’s route into business was by learning business skills by working in a company and then applying these to his new business.

He is concerned that people wake up one day and decide to start a business, but don’t have the relevant skills or experience to make a go of it.

Opportunities currently exist in the property market if you have the money, but the banks will not be interested in lending.

His move into computers was a natural development of his business selling transistor radios, rather than a revolutionary move.

What is the best piece of business advice he has ever taken?
He used his bank as a barometer in his early days in the 1960’s to find out how fast he could and should develop. This is in contrast to more recent times when the banks give too easily and freely.

He encourages youngsters to start small with their own money and grow from there.

I have not been very successful in investing in the property market. I took all the money I earned from technology and put it into safe and boring properties. There was no rocket science in what I did.

What do you think about MBA’s in entrepreneurship
You can’t train entrepreneurs, you either have the spirit or you don’t. Business training is important but not a substitute for an entrepreneurial spirit.

Has reading business books been useful?
No, not really, I last used one for a wobbly table.

How important is a business plan?
The key point is the business idea any good. For instance if it is a service it is all about the quality of the person providing the service. No excel spreadsheet is magically going to make it work.

There is no point of any business support unless the idea is any good.

How important are work teams?
The team found Lord Sugar rather than vice versa.

Tell us about challenging periods and mistakes made.
Over 40 years in business made less mistakes than good decisions. You learn by your mistakes. He encourages young business to do a weekly health check. What has gone right this week and what has gone wrong?

How do you use sweat equity?
I’m a thick bloke from Hackney, so keep it simple. I don’t understand what you are talking about.

Advice on partnerships
When you need to add a level of expertise to your business you can either add a partner or find a suitable employee.

Can government employees give help to small business when they read them from a computer screen?
Business Links centres have the tools to take some of the burden away from business people with practical advice on employment law, tax regulations etc. They are not giving business advice, but practical help.

Common attributes for entrepreneurial spirit?
(Exasperated) I wish someone would give me an answer to this one.

Have you had a mentor?
Yes. In my business career my mentors were people I aspired to. In my family there was only my uncle. Later on my supplier of electrical equipment became my mentor. Grew beyond them on to the likes of Lord Weinstock at GEC and Rupert Murdoch. Looked, listened and tried to replicate what they were doing.

The role of PR
Differentiates the role of business PR and personal PR. Editorial on a product or service is worth more than advertising. Has a lot to do with connections with media. PR companies who don’t specialise are not as successful as the ones that don’t.

Selling and the art of closing a deal
I the person running the business is not a good sales person then why are they in business. This is another art that can’t really be taught. If you can’t do it, employ someone who is.

How do you like people to communicate in Business?
Very openly in my place, everybody shares the story and knows what is going on.

I admire people who have reached contentment with their lives and know how to enjoy themselves.

How challenging have you found this new Business Champion role?
This is not a challenge, I’m not looking for a headache. I won’t don’t it if I didn’t enjoy it. I wanted to give something back to young people

Do you invest outside of the UK?
We have in the past with electronics. I don’t have any at the moment. There are problems with investing in Africa. It is a difficult market. It needs some African entrepreneurs to create the new markets and some business traffic.

What is the main cause of the 95% of business start-up failures.
Should do a weekly health check. Immediately you know where you business is going. Do not lose track of the basics. Do the simple maths every week.

How do we encourage an enterprise culture in the UK? Rachel Elnaugh – ex Dragons Den
Programmes like Dragons Den and The Apprentice have provided a great service to this country to spread the message that there are no free gifts or free lunches. That you actually have to do it yourself. There is too much of a culture that expects to be spoon fed.

If someone could invent a positive journalist then this would encourage people. Get away from this blame culture.

I don’t like the way we have changed to a knocking culture in recent years.

What could schools do to improve things for business?
We need to make plumbing cool again.

Do you set yourself goals?
Right at the beginning it was just to earn more money than in the job I had just left. If by Wednesday I had achieve £60 of net profit then I had achieved my goal.

I never had a five year plan. In the electronics business this is bullshit. You can’t see that far ahead.

Ideas have to be endorsed by a third party, it is no good getting your friends and family to say how great it is. You need a wake call.

You make people believe in your potential by your past successes.

Karan Bilimoria and the story of Cobra Beer

Cobra_Beer_bottleAnother late night for me last Thursday night. This time to attend the Chartered Management Institute 2009 Sir Kenneth Cork lecture. It was organised by my friend Chris Seow from the University of East London who is the current chair of the City of London Branch of the CMI.

I have to admit I was reluctant to spend another evening in London and went along to support Chris. However, I am glad I made the effort as the talk by Karan Billimoria was absolutely fascinating.

Even while waiting for Lord Bilimoria to start I heard an amazing story from Darren Way the founder of Streets of Growth.

Streets of Growth is a dynamic community leadership organisation founded in 2001 and led by local people in Bromley by Bow East London. Committed community adult and young people work together to offer real solutions and practical approaches to tackling the issues that people face in their local community and so develop sustainable and healthier communities in the East End.

karan-bilimoriaAlthough I had not been following the Cobra beer story closely, I was aware (along with everyone else in the audience) that they had gone bust in May of this year and had been rescued by the giant Canadian brewery firm Molson Coors.

I was wondering if Lord Bilimoria would mention what seemed to be an unfortunate end to what had been an amazing success story up till that time. His first slide gave an indication that he would not be skirting around the painful aspects of his fascinating twenty year story to bring a new beer brand into mass consumption. The title of the slide was ‘Adapt or Die’. He immediately began to explain how quickly the
credit crunch had impacted high growth business such as his, who were dependent on external finance for expansion. As he pointed out, prior to the crash, cash had been king, but then it became an emperor.

Fortunately, he then went back to the beginning of his story, and spent an hour giving an absolutely riveting speech which concluded with the painful details of the collapse and eventual revival of the business.

As with so many entrepreneurs Lord Bilimoria went against his parents wishes with his plans to start his own business. Although his father as head of the 350,000 strong Indian Army did not want Karan to follow him into the military, he felt a career in the City of London would be a more appropriate use of his Cambridge University education. He was told ‘you should get a real job like a banker’.

But, he had developed a love for beer and recognised there was a significant gap in the market between traditional British bitter beer, and the sharp and gassy lager beers available at that time. There was nothing that was a suitable accompaniment to curry meals in Indian restaurants.

The second slide of the talk consisted of just three words, ‘Aspiration, Inspiration, Perspiration’. He reinforced my experience of dealings with entrepreneurs that the business idea is the easy part. Bringing it to production and then to the market is the hard bit, and may take many years.

Lord Bilimoria went to give many instances when his business nearly died. Often from causes which could never have been predicted. For example, a one year boycott of his product by Indian restaurants (his primary customers), after an article criticising the professionalism of the restaurant owners in a trade magazine which Karan had founded, but no longer had links to. In each of these ‘near-death’ experiences it was always flexibility and a creative approach that led to a solution.

It was good to hear his quite confidence about the new opportunities the partnership with Molson Coors would lead to. He said they were moving from a David vs Goliath situation to one where David and Goliath were working together. He had been impressed by the family culture that was still present despite the global size of the company, and how they had been true to their initial agreement despite the financial turmoil of the period when Cobra was forced into a Company Voluntary Arrangement.

He concluded by listing the Molson Coors definition of what makes a remarkable brand:
1.    A compelling story
2.    Refusing to compromise
3.    An instantly recognisable look
4.    A unique, relevant and consistent product
5.    To inspire brand champions from customers
6.    To deliver enduring profits

Desk Space Genie for vacant desk space in London

Desk Space genie logoA common request from visitors to the Business & IP Centre is for us to recommend cheap local office space.

Thanks to Desk Space Genie, a new website that advertises vacant desk space, we can now help people find space right down to an individual desk.

According to Springwise:

The service helps businesses make a bit of money from their unused office space and enables cash-strapped freelancers or other small businesses to become more established.

Desk Space Genie lets space-seeking ‘deskers’ search for a space by postal code or town, contacting the advertisers directly. The site lists vacancies in most major cities around the UK, covering ‘all inclusive’ desk packages with wifi and other utilities, or more basic ‘pay for what you use’ services.

desk-space-genie1

Sources of funding for small businesses

The biggest cause of concern for entrepreneurs I meet is finding a source of finding now that banks are so reluctant to lend.

Here in the Business & IP Centre we have access to the subscription part of GRANTnet (6,000 grants, loans, awards and other assistance). GRANTfinder gives access to detailed information required to make an application.

GRANTnet logo

However BusinessZone.co.uk have also created a Grant Watch service which acts a  guide to small business funding. Definitely worth checking out.

BusinessZone.co.uk

Looking for new business finance? There’s lots of free money out there! A range of small business grant schemes, awards and other initiatives are available to entrepreneurs. Read our latest guide to what’s on offer.

  • time4change is offering Train 2 Gain funding for leadership and management training to business owners based in London, with a workforce of between 9 and 250 employees, volunteers or associates. Train 2 Gain will provide funding where the first £500 is 100% reclaimable. Thereafter, you can spend up to another £1,000 and reclaim £500. More details.
  • Innovative London-based small businesses are being offered R&D grants of up to £10,000 as part of the London Development Agency’s Knowledge Connect scheme. The initiative aims to put SMEs in touch with universities, further education colleges and private sector specialists to develop new business opportunities. More details.
  • To stay up-to-date with the latest from Grant Watch, follow us on Twitter.
  • Striding Out is offering entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 30 who are at the pre-start or early stages of running a company £500 and training from business experts in its Big Leap competition. 10 finalists will take part in an Apprentice-style business boot camp in April and compete for the overall prize. Deadline: 06/03/2009. More details.
  • Barclays is offering cash prizes totalling £17,500 to the UK’s most enterprising family businessses in its Family Affair competition. Eight regional winners will win £1,500 and the chance to compete for the overall prize of £5,500. Deadline: 31/03/2009. More details.
  • The Crisis Changing Lives Awards is offering grants of up to £2500 for single homeless people or for those who have experienced homelessness in the past five years to find a work-related course or fund tools or equipment to carry out a job or become self-employed. Deadline: 13/03/2009. More details.
  • Make Your Mark in the Markets is giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to turn their buisness ideas into reality and start trading at a local market for free. The winner of the competition will receive prizes including £1,500, six months free market trading and free business mentoring, marketing and advertising. Deadline: 20/03/2009. More details.
  • Lancaster City Council is offering local businesses grants towards the cost of renting premises. Finance to cover 50% of the first year’s basic rent can be claimed. The maximum grant is normally £2,500 but this may increase to £5,000 if rapid expansion and significant jobs growth is projected, requiring larger scale premises. Deadline: 31/03/2009. More details.
  • The Welsh Assemby has created a new £4.5m fund to help sub post offices in Wales to improve and diversify during the economic crisis. The money can be used for areas including business and marketing advice, advertising, training, improved security and upgrading computer equipment. Applications can be up to £20,000 capital funding and £15,000 in revenue costs. Deadline: 30/04/2009. More details.
  • Dell is seeking entries for its 2009 Small Business Excellence Award. Entrants have the chance to win £25,000 in Dell solutions and a meeting with company founder Michael Dell. The UK winner will receive £15,000 in Dell products and services; a day of best-practice sharing with Dell executives, including Michael Dell, and a 10 year membership to an Accredited Chamber of Commerce. Deadline: 03/04/2009. More details.
  • Winweb is offering £10,000 to new and existing entrepreneurs in its Business ’09 competition. Deadline: 01/10/2009. More details.
  • The ultimate feel good movie for depressing times

    mammamiateaserposterI was amazed to see from the latest edition of 10 things you didn’t know last week, that we Brits have spent £69 million so far on tickets to see Mamma Mia!

    This film version of the musical based on Abba music is now Britain’s biggest ever grossing film, overtaking the previous holder Titanic. To add to this impressive feat, over 1 million copies of the DVD were purchased on its release day, another UK record.

    Having reluctantly watched said DVD on Christmas day, I have to agree that it has a remarkable feel-good factor. A combination of those annoyingly catchy Abba songs and a cheesy love story for young and old alike. The smile factor wasn’t even badly dented by Pierce Brosnan’s shouted version of SOS and a couple of other songs.

    So this could be the next big market for those in creative world for our recessionary times.

    Trendwatching’s six trends for 2009

    trendwatching_logo1From the same people who produce Springwise the marvellous source of entrepreneurial ideas which I frequently blog about, comes Trendwatching‘s predictions of consumer trends for 2009.

    As always, they have invented an intriguing set of ‘new’ words to cover their predictions for the year ahead.

    1. Nichetributes, which is about the power of making products and services relevant by incorporating ‘attributes’ and features that cater to distinct (if not niche) consumer lifestyles and situations.*

    2. Luxyoury: On to every brand professional’s favorite topic (or so it seems at times): The Future of Luxury. How will luxury brands fare this year? What will define luxury over the next few years? The answer to a large degree is, ‘luxury will be whatever you want it to be’. After all, what constitutes luxury is closely related to what constitutes scarcity. And while scarcity in traditional consumer societies was for decades defined by the biggest, the best, and the most expensive ‘items’, the ‘2009 consumer arena’ shows a bewildering number of ‘scarcities’, some of them invented purely to overcome the abundance now found in traditional sectors. More than ever, scarcity is in the eye of the beholder, especially those beholders who are desperately trying to be unique.

    3. Feeeback 3.0: Which major consumer trend will continue to give (or take?) in novel ways in the next 12 months? Try TRANSPARENCY TYRANNY. Big in 2007, bigger in 2008, and even bigger this year. To get a feel for all transparency sub-trends, get your hands on our 2009 Trend Report (not free), but for now, let’s focus on FEEDBACK 3.0, which is one of the trends-within-a-trend that is starting to make waves. Basically:

    * FEEDBACK 1.0 (one of those early web phenomena) saw outraged individuals posting scathing reviews, feedback and complaints, often to the delight of other netizens. Brands remained unaware or chose not to listen, dismissing these outbursts the way they’d dismissed any kind of customer dissatisfaction for decades.
    * FEEDBACK 2.0 (which we’re in right now) is about these rants—and some raves—having gone ‘mass’(no, make that MASS!). The long-predicted conversation is finally taking place, albeit amongst consumers and not, as intended, between corporations and consumers. Companies have started to take note, but to a large degree still choose to listen, not talk back, trying to ‘learn’ from the for-all-to-see review revolution. Which is surprising, to say the least, since a quick and honest reply or solution can defuse even the most damaging complaint.
    * FEEDBACK 3.0 (which is building as we speak) will be all about companies joining the conversation, if only to get their side of the story in front of the mass audience that now scans reviews. Expect smart companies to be increasingly able (and to increasingly demand) to post their apologies and solutions, preferably directly alongside reviews from unhappy customers. Expect the same for candid rebuttals by companies who feel (and can prove) that a particular review is unfair or inaccurate, and want to share their side of the story.

    4. Econcierge: No, there will be no ‘eco fatigue’ in 2009, mainly because it’s hard to ignore or to dismiss the mind-boggling fortunes (and the accompanying power shifts and reductions in pollution) that are in store for those who figure out how to get the world off its addiction to oil and coal. Which means a steady stream of eco sub-trends. While we hope the likes of ECO-EMBEDDED and ECO-ICONIC are now firmly on your radar, here’s one more to start the new year with fresh, green brainstorming inspiration:

    ECONCIERGES are firms and services dedicated to helping households go green in any possible way. And while any advice that reduces a household’s (harmful) consumption is beneficial enough, the fact that such advice leads to savings makes this a very 2009 development. In the coming 12 months, count on cash-strapped consumers to embrace sustainability with a vengeance, but first and foremost for monetary reasons. Next? How about helping consumers to make money by being green, by for example letting them generate and sell excess power to the ‘grid’?

    5. Mapmania: Will this year be the year in which all things ‘contextual’, ‘app’, ‘local’, ‘urban’, ‘tags’, ‘lidar’, ‘smartphone’, ‘convenience’, ‘Cell ID’, ‘spontaneity’, ‘infolust’, and ‘GPS’ finally come together in one orgasmic celebration of map-based tracking, finding, knowing and connecting? Embraced by eager consumer masses who will flock to anything from friend-finders to lowest-gas-price-locators? Aided by services that already know which street users are on?

    6. Happyending: The umbrella trend for the next 12 months? HAPPY ENDING!
    2009 is an excellent year for those businesses keen on showing consumers that they really care. Much more on ‘caring’ in our upcoming February 2009 Trend Briefing, which will focus on GENERATION G, but for now: offering respect and relevance (NICHETRIBUTES), listening to real-time needs and wants (FEEDBACK 3.0), helping people to save money while being green (ECONCIERGE): all of this will not be forgotten by consumers that are currently feeling the heat.

    img_happy

    Business Start Up Show indicates increased interest

    I spent the today on the Business & IP Centre stand at the Business Start Up Show at Olympia. This year they have moved into the larger hall and our stand was significantly busier than last year.

    It seems that the recession is encouraging people to think about starting their own business, as predicted in one of my previous postings.

    I met a City based lawyer who was positively relishing the prospect of being made redundant from her well paid, but boring job. She could wait to start investing her redundancy money into a business venture.

    I was also rather suprised to see that Skype had a large stand at the show, but a company representative assured me that Skype are making a healthy profit. Although their computer to computer calls are free, they don’t cost Skype anything. For calls to landlines they share the profits with the local phone company.

    Christmas sells – Christmas sales

    During a spot of television watching the other evening I couldn’t help noticing how many times the word Christmas was used during the advert breaks. I know that Christmas starts earlier every year in the hope that business will reap the benefit. But this was almost as though the word was being thrown at the viewer as some kind of mantra. The irony is that almost all of these pleas to worship at the cult of Christmas commercial consumption ended with a hastily tacked on half price offer.

    By chance, on the same day I read about a character who has well and truly bought into the ‘Christmas spirit’, by celebrating Christmas day every day since 1994. His name is Andy Park (aka Mr Christmas) and he estimates to have consumed 117,600 brussel sprouts, 5,110 bottles of Champagne, and opened more than 230,000 Christmas cards. He has also worn out 37 electric ovens, and 23 video recorders by watching the Queen’s Speech every day.

    However, this year the electrician from Melksham, Wiltshire, is being having to cut back due to the credit crisis.

    Divorced Mr Park said that this year the postage is so dear he is having to deliver his cards to himself by himself, instead of relying on the Royal Mail. Also he is being forced to downsize his turkey from 14lb to 9lb.

    andy-park