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Our favourite drink driver

Most of us agree, it’s socially unacceptable for anyone to drink and drive. Quite rightly, this disregard for the law, provokes damnation from most of us. Had it been Jeremy Clarkson, Katie Hopkins, or worse still, most politicians or premier footballers, we’d be cursing them. Overpaid and underworked, any drink driver deserves the full punishment of the law. The problem is, he’s like  family.

This week, Ant McPartlin, from the duo ‘Ant and Dec’, very publicly crashed out of his TV career . With that bad decision to drive his car, he’s become the nations most-loved, drink driver. Although we knew he’d been in rehab and struggling with some issues, things have reached a new low for him.

There’s real confliction here. On the one hand we hate what he’s done. What if he’d killed or seriously injured someone, or knocked a child down? On the other hand, we want to protect him from the fallout that’s coming. Just as other public drunks before him, will his fall from grace become his legacy? Is he destined for a life of magazine front covers and  tabloid headlines? ‘Such a shame, he was such a lovely lad’

Amazingly, social media has turned on the the papers that have printed the story and photos of his crash, and is full of people protecting him.

‘People don’t understand what it’s like, the hard life he’s had, the pressure he’s under’.

He’s become our close family, we’ve eaten tea on a saturday night with him, camped out in the jungle to hear his and Dec’s magic. He’s someone who’ll we’ll excuse for bad behavior. Ok, so he likes a few drinks, who doesn’t? Ok, so he’s a drink driver…ok,…that’s awkward.

 

 

 

 

Two Little Mice

Two Little Mice

At last we got to watch it. Like most families no doubt, when we all get together, we have a stack of favourite films. On top of that, favourite actors, such as Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Leonardo Dicaprio, to name a few. So at last, I dusted off an old favourite which stars two out of three, ‘Catch me if you can’. However, the tale of  two little mice had never struck me as it did tonight.

Two Little Mice

Two Little Mice

‘Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse’

This is a story that Frank senior tells Frank junior. It’s his account of the struggle and supposed victory against forces that want to undermine and ruin his life as a business owner. He’s clearly proud that he see’s himself as someone who’s beaten the odds. Whilst in truth, he’s clearly fooling himself, it will strike a chord with anyone who’s worked their way out of a hole, when all seemed lost.

I’m one of these two little mice, maybe you are too. Skirting along the edge of a massive overdraft, just about meeting big loan payments, how do we end up in this position? Were we stupid to end up in the bucket of cream? Did we not have the skills to spot the bucket? Is there any way we can learn to spot the common traps that await us as a business owner?  Unexpected tax bills, unplanned capital expenditure and emergency replacement of anything can catch us out and drag us down to the point where, there’s simply too much cream, there is no escape.

The good news is that hard work will trump everything in business. It allows us to catch up, make up, and prepare for the days, weeks and months ahead. The ‘Hard work test’ should be the first test that any prospective business owners take. You know yourself if you’re cut out for a life without a wage. You must be honest about whether you want that struggle, that work.

As ex-forces people, how can we prepare our self for the early weeks, months and years in business? Can resettlement from the forces ever prepare us for life as a business owner?

 

 

 

Making tracks in the snow.

Steve Jobs did it. Elon Musk is doing it. Deliveroo were trying it this very weekend. Are you brave enough to be making tracks in the snow?

making tracks in the snow

Before venturing out, after a heavy snowfall, we’d be stupid not to check the roads first. Is it safe to drive? Are others driving on the roads? What are other people doing? Surely if they’re doing it, then we should be able to.

But are we be brave enough, or stupid enough to be first out in the snow? Are we brave enough to do something with our business that others aren’t doing?

For most of us, we’d rather follow the tracks of others, this makes perfect sense. It’s safer, we have the previous tyre tracks as a guide and we can see they’ve made it safely.  There are no wrecked cars, littering the hedgerows or side streets, we’re in safe mode, there’s little risk.

But as a business start-up, we have no choice whether or to be first out. When you take your first call from a customer, when you meet them in person. When you write out your first invoice and when you agree to do the thing you simply don’t know how to do, then you’re first out in the snow. You can read about how to do it, you can plan how you’re going to do it, but eventually, to get anywhere you haven’t been, you have to just set off, making tracks in the snow.

Leaving the forces and starting a business gives us a unique chance to do this. To start something great and to make a difference with the skills we have. The question is, while you’re making plans for your future, are you going to making tracks in the snow?

 

Make a difference to a customer

After yesterdays failure, today was affirmation we’re truly able to make a difference to a customer. If you’re thinking about starting up, or wondering why anyone would want a business, for me, this is the reason.

Today, after a week of family sickness, missed meetings, delayed plans and frustration, it was enough just to matter to one customer. Our customer phoned us and I knew she was at her wits end. Her son, who had a challenging illness, had lost his car keys, amongst other things. She was completely out of her depth. Unfortuantely, parenthood doesn’t prepare you for everything, and she didn’t know who to turn to.

She’d gone directly to the main agent, who asked her lots of things she didn’t understand. However what she really wanted to be asked was..

“How can we make your problem go away?”

“In a perfect world, when do you need this problem fixing by?”

“what can we do to make your life better”

These are the questions, we all want to hear, in any disaster. It may be that, just like the main dealer told her, she does have a complicated problem. But the fact we asked what she needed, and listened, meant we got the chance to explain the problems and the challenges she faced. It showed we were listening, that we cared. She understood that we were on her side. So we fixed her problem, we made her life better.

We’re clearly not in the car keys business. Nor even are we in the car key programming business. We’re in the problem solving business, the listening business and of course, how to make a difference to a customer business.

This is why I love being self-employed. We get the chance, to make a difference.

 

It’s all my fault

I didn’t do anything wrong. I had no part in the thing I got told off for this morning. In fact no-one from our company had any contact with the person that gave me a tongue lashing this morning. But still all it’s all my fault.

“If you’re the company that promised to come out but didn’t turn up, you should be ashamed, leaving my wife stranded…”

As the business owner, sometimes things happen that don’t seem fair. Take todays example. Last night, early evening, we were sent two messages from our call handling company. This is a company we pay every month to answer the phone,  when we can’t get to it. We use it instead of using an answering machine. After leaving at work at half five, we divert the phone to them. This is so people in need of a friendly voice, feel they’ve talked to someone. Afterall, answer machine suck.

So last night we were sent two messages. The prospective customer was calling from two hundred miles away because his wife was stranded. She’d lost her keys fairly locally to us. It was cold, and raining and she needed help. We’d never have driven out that late to take this job on, however we would normally call back.  We’d normally give our apologies and then they would’ve known we couldn’t help. However, last night I came home feeling exhausted. I’d been up all night before with an illness, and struggled through the day, waiting for the day to end so I could get into my bed. I should have checked my messages but I was asleep.

So when I saw the messages this morning I called as soon as I could, but was torn off a strip. My initial thoughts were that the call handling service promised we’d attend the night before,  so I called them asking for the transcripts of the call. Would I like what I heard?

Well, it turned out that they didn’t ever agree for anyone to come out, the customer had asked for that, but all they said was, “we’d call them”. Our crime had grown in the customers memory so much in the night, that by the next morning, we’d promised to come, and then stood them up. They were so upset that I was sworn at.

Unfair?

Nevertheless, it’s all my fault. Afterall, I hired the call answering service. I advertised our company as a call-out service and I am the boss. Whether we did anything wrong or not, as far as the customer is concerned, they needed someone to blame, and its all my fault.

Follow us on Instagram

We’re at the point in our lives where we visit London every month. I love these visits, especially as we get to see my eldest, however I’m pleased to be leaving at the end of the day.

This trip came with some quality book shop action. As I grow older, the bookshop attracts me more and more. This particular shop is vast, with an impressive business section and a coffee shop. Unfortunately it’s less than welcoming.

The cafe is cold, due to heavy footfall and resembles a basement that’s been quickly cleared of junk. This I can bear, seeing as I spend most of the time in a new book. However, the staff are as cold, vacant and impersonal, as if drafted from something they loved at short notice.

What really catches my eye is the noticeboard plea to ‘follow us on Instagram’. Why? I look at the page, and there’s coffee and books, and sometimes coffee and books. The 1960’s foam ceiling tiles, along with the vacant expressions, are missing. This tells me the following

We can project whatever we want onto Instagram. This observation isn’t new, but to experience this first hand is a wake-up call . The difference between the Instagram filters and reality, is the most marked I’ve experienced, and I don’t recognise this cafe on social media. Is there a between the creator and the staff ? have they seen the page? Does the page creator visit anymore?

What does my business page say about me, untouched for months. does that mean I no longer care?

 

LLoyds Bank splashing out on complaints…

I’m British, I’ll happily wait in a queue and I hate to complain. I suspect that most people are the same as me, as is my wife, however Lloyds bank, with your extra L, you have messed up. Let me explain.

We were snowed off, just last week. My wife was sent home from school, my lads senior school was closed and I, as the boss, decided to close. We, the family, took a fun trip down to the shops. My son and I threw snowballs, (us two were happy), my wife took photos and video for Facebook (she was happy) and then we all ended up in our local Tesco buying anything that had a very high chocolate content (we were all happy). In fact we were as happy as, a middle aged, suburban family can be.

So loaded up, and heading back to our warm house with a plan to Google, watch films and eat, we stopped off at Lloyds bank to order a new pin number for my son. Simple.

The bank was open but empty, perfect. As my wife and son waited at the counter, they couldn’t hear a sound, or see anyone, so she cheerily called out ‘Hellooo, anyone there?’ It was one of those moments where we expected the person to answer..’Oh sorry, I was busy getting ready to shut, they’re sending us home, how can I help?’. We didn’t get that response unfortunately.

It turns out, she was the other end of the counter, the correct end, beavering away no doubt. She hadn’t seen or heard us up to that point. Fair enough, we’re all still happy, well most of us.

At this point Lloyds bank, with your extra L, I would have hoped your counter assistant, with no-one in the queue and no prospect of anyone forming a queue, would have looked up and asked us ‘please can you pop down to this end of the counter?’ The correct end. (there are three windows at our bank and we were at the wrong end). But alas, no, this isn’t what she said.

My wife, still smiling and happy. ‘Hello, are you serving?’

‘Yes, I’ll serve you if you come down to the correct counter…..’

Oh dear. My wife turned fifty a while back. She’s not taking it anymore and seeing as our 15 year old son was with us, she wanted to let him know, there is a way that customers should be spoken to, and that wasn’t it.

‘Excuse me, there’s no need for that…we don’t know which of your counters is open (or something like that). I can’t believe you’re so rude, how dare you speak to me like that’.

No apology. Come on Mrs Lloyds bank lady, do the right thing, admit you’re pissed off because everyone else is slipping off home early and you’re not. Now I understand we all can choose to feel like this, maybe you’re worried about how you’re getting home. Maybe your boiler packed up and maybe you’re having a bad day. But there are rules, and you broke them.

Nothing.

So I step in, take her name and then take my family home to resume the chocolate eating and film watching and even throw a few snowballs ‘accidently’ at my wife.

Then I complain by email and get a letter. A standard letter. It clearly doesn’t refer to the actual event because it’s probably an automated response to a complaint email. Yes Lloyds with your extra L, we also use CRM and email automations. It’s not impressive. There’s no reference to the name of the branch, the day of the incident, the member of staff. There’s no invite to attend the branch and get an apology and there’s no name for a point of contact at the bank. No doubt this is because they don’t have enough staff at that branch, afterall it’s a miracle it’s still open.

This is the icing on the cake from Lloyds and it’s extra L. After getting patronising, uneducated advice, following a scam text message, we then resolved to leave you. Do you think the £25 credit to our account following this latest event is appropriate?

The irony is that, lets face it, poorly behaved counter staff have their days numbered. When we got home, we went on-line and ordered the pin in a few minutes. Rude Mrs Barclays counter Lady, the robots are coming and you need to get prepared. Unless you’re providing something remarkeable to the bank, like customer service ( the thing you’re paid for) you’re on shaky ground over the next few years.

What should I expect now following treatment like this? No doubt they’ve tried to call, but we’ve probably missed the call. Maybe, a personalised letter? I’m sure you’re very busy people. More worrying is how many other people went into the bank that day, and got the same treatment?

With 5.3 bn profit this year, I’m hoping that profit will cover the complaint letters with a bit to spare…

 

 

 

 

Lincoln’s gone upmarket

For anyone that’s lived in Lincoln for a while, it’s obvious there have been big changes. Once a small, historic city, traditionally run by the church, we’re now in the teenage phase as we aspire to be a branded metropolis. Cosy Club, Flying Tiger, Wildwood and Everyman cinema are all signs that Lincoln’s gone upmarket.

Talk to the locals and opinion is divided. Our city’s changing at such a rate, some say it’s becoming obese. It’s as if we’ve arrived at an all inclusive holiday, consuming every possible dish, or brand, we can. Our outer shell still has the historic Roman features in place, tucked away in the quiet upper quater. However down below, Lincoln’s belly is expanding beyond recognition.  We’re being fed these new brands, many we’ve never even heard of.

There are losers.

It may be a small, down market shop that sells cheap outfits, but Bon Marche has to move. The news tells us, it’s making way for the new brands. Of course,  I never go into Bon March, it holds no appeal for me. But it’s a popular cut price shop and the word on the ground is it simply doesn’t fit in with it’s posh new neighbours. Now that Lincoln’s gone upmarket, let’s hope the good times roll on and we all have money to feed the posh new development. When the the next recession comes, in the next 2-3 years, Bon Marche, just like Primark,  will still be selling cut price outfits, But will we really need random plastic tat from Copenhagen, or overpriced, faceless pizza?

Let’s wait and see.

 

 

International Womens Day Marketing

I’m full of respect for so many women and think International Womens day is a great idea. My wife is amazing, she packs so much into one day and keeps everything in the house going. I really admire several local female entrepreneurs that juggle business with the pressures of running a home. I also know that many of the figures helping me grow my business are women. These are accountants, company reps and marketers.

But I can’t believe how many emails, tweets and Facebook posts I’ve seen, by companies that are using today as an excuse to send out a 30% percent discount voucher. Or maybe a ‘one day only 2 for 1′ on womens products.

Come on, this is a least overkill, at best just embarrasing. Do we really need to hijack today in order to try and increase sales? I’ve noted whos’ sent me the tacky emails, please, don’t do it again. If we want to celebrate this day, fantastic. use a company page to praise the leaders in the company. Or, if your a business, Use your page to celebrate local women who’ve made a difference locally. But please don’t use it to send me an Etsy discount voucher, honouring gullable shoppers all around the world….

YouTube, what’s keeping you?

So we have this YouTube channel I started eighteen months ago. The original idea was to make helpful videos with links that can be clicked on. We help viewers, then they buy our stuff. However it didn’t really work.

YouTube

Another one of my classic business mistakes! I believed that by selling batteries on-line I could make some money, but let’s think about this. The postage and packing alone is nearly £1-00, then there were the transaction fees through Paypal and finally tax. It wasn’t worth it, some times we’d make a loss and after 15 years in business, I’m embarrased to admit this.

However, the beauty of not having a boss is that I can do just that, start a project and try it and no-one can stop me. In fact I’ve started so many of these now, I’m not sure what I’d do without them. Every now and then, we make some money!

Starting a YouTube channel was an excellent idea. I love making the videos, I’m getting questions and emails from all over the world and it’s opened up a whole new world for me. The only thing missing now is my email that I’m waiting for.

Ten weeks ago I decided to monetise the site, to make money from adverts. I wasn’t sure about it, but decided that people need the info and any money we earn from it may help me with new projects.  So I applied to join the YouTube Partner programme. They accepted me, but they’re still reviewing the channel to see if I can had adverts, and it’s killing me! We’re due to hear at the end of January……