Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Monday, 20 February 2012
When I was growing up, one of the phrases I remember quite clearly was: “hmmm, petrol situation’s getting a bit dodgy…”, always said by my Dad, usually on a long journey, and often said whilst travelling down a motorway. On the upside, it at least gave the journey a bit of thrill factor - let’s spurn those overpriced motorway service stations, let’s see if we can squeeze out a few more drops and make it to a nice, off the beaten track (AKA “cheaper”) petrol station. More entertaining than playing I Spy, real edge-of-the-seat stuff!
You see, my Dad is ‘careful’ with money and I think - no, I know - it’s a trait I’ve picked up and run with the older I get. When I was still living at home, I would sometimes request that the heating be turned up a bit - “it’s up at 64 degrees already!”, my Dad would exclaim. “If it was a summer’s day and 64 degrees outside, you’d be walking around in a t-shirt!”. It’s a bit tricky to argue your way out of that one - especially when you’re 9.
I remember when, as a family, we would go to get our collective hair cut (by a nice lady called Jane who ‘did you’ in her kitchen - much cheaper than going to the hairdressers, plus if we all went together it saved on the aforementioned petrol). Whilst Jane was sorting out my Dad’s mop of hair he asked her to clear up an argument that he and my Mum had recently had: namely, is washing up liquid basically the same as shampoo? I think you see where this was going… (Just for the record, Jane confirmed that it wouldn’t do his hair any harm if he wanted to wash it in the cheapest brand of bright green washing up liquid available. Apparently, it’s the conditioner that counts…)
Our house was regularly “lit up like bloody Blackpool”, and paying for a car park space was something only idiots did. Even if it did mean a bit of a walk… Creosote for your fence was a waste of money when you had a bucket of old engine oil to hand (result: lovely smart black fence, but no naked flames to be used within a 500 yard radius please). Dad’s taste in wine is legendary in our family - his philosophy is if he can get it for under £2.50 and it doesn’t make him sick, it’s a winner. When we moved house once he had the phone installed in the kitchen, on the wall - to prevent people from getting too comfortable and thereby talking longer. Phone calls, of course, must always be made after 6pm. Oh, and a sachet of any kind (sugar, ketchup, vinegar, salad cream) made available for customers in that coffee shop? Well, that was just begging to be snaffled...
Of course, these days it’s easy to wrap up all this scrimping as being “eco friendly”. Don’t use the tumble drier, turn the heating down (or preferably off all together), reduce, re-use, recycle, etc. My Mum had the lid of a Nescafe coffee jar as the handle for her oven for quite some time - see, maybe my Dad was actually just ahead of his time!
The thing is though, I appear to be exactly the same. Let’s not put the heating on, let’s just buy a hot water bottle instead. (Preferably in Poundland). See a penny, pick it up, and all day long - you’ll be a penny richer than you were yesterday, result! And if you’re ever out and about, and find yourself in need of a sachet of pepper or a nice lemony-fresh wipe (from KFC, c1998, probably a bit dried out now), then just let me know. I’ve got a handbag full of them.
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
What should you do to make your business successful for you - and a great experience for your customers?
I’ve been thinking about the way that I run PhotoFairytales recently, analysing what I do and why, and what things I need to look at changing. I know why I started the business originally (wanting to get back into work after having a baby, the need to do something creative - oh, and the need for an income of course!) - but what was keeping me going? I love what I do - I think about it every day and I’m always planning new designs, new products, new ideas. So here’s what I think helps to make my business right for me, and my customers (who seem to like what I do!):
- Be honest
I'm always clear and honest in the things I do, both in work and out of it. I think this is important in business too. We can all pretend to be wheeler dealers, or JR Ewing - wanting to make the money, not really caring. But, honestly, how much of a success would my business really be (given I don’t have an oil well like JR) if I dealt with my customers this way? I am honest in my dealings with customers, I'm honest in knowing what I like and don’t like (although sometimes it takes a while before I work it out!), and I try very hard to be true to myself and my beliefs.
- Have your own voice
When you start out in business it can be very easy to emulate what other people do and how they do it. Go with the crowd, that’s what they all do so it must be safe/how it’s done. But if the voice you use isn't truly yours its impossible to keep it up long term. Of course, you need to adapt to different situations - we speak differently to a potential boss during an interview compared to the way we speak to our friends - but it needs to be different versions of YOU, not someone else. It has to be authentic. And being who you really are will give your business heart and honesty, and individuality.
- Don’t undervalue yourself
You do your research, find out what the “going rate” is for something, and that’s roughly what you charge. And that’s fine if you are selling a specific commodity that has a recognized value, but when you work in a creative business it’s harder to put a price on something. The basic fear is: don’t make it too expensive, people won’t want to buy it - but don’t make it too cheap, because people will think its not very good. It’s very tricky to put your prices, and value, in the right spot. As well as all the usual things you would account for such as materials, postage, fees and overheads, etc, think about what you are worth. No doubt you are pretty damn good at what you do - a bit of an expert in fact! You've got years of experience and you know what you’re doing. Your customers are in safe hands. So bear those things in mind too. (I need to pay attention to this one a bit more myself, it’s one I struggle with constantly!)
- Take time out
It’s so easy to throw yourself heart and soul into your business, making every working minute productive. But taking time out is important too, not only for your health and peace of mind, but because taking a step back sometimes helps you to see where you need to go next. Take a breather and it will give you a chance to see things differently, come up with new ideas, be inspired by the things you see around you. Your business will thank you for it. (I also need to lecture myself on this one a bit more!) If you’re having a bad day, try writing a list of all the strong, positive sides of you and your business and look back at the list in times when sales slow down a bit and you need a bit of reassurance. If you work alone it can be isolating, so its important to have contacts and support (my lovely mate Nicole is mine - she runs a business too, and knows exactly what I’m going through!).
- Be open to ideas - and determined in your pursuit of them!
If you’re not a huge business with pots of money to throw at things, you need to be creative in how you promote your business and, well, think around corners I guess! I think its important to not give up at the first hurdle or feel too dispirited when results don’t come quickly - know that things will take time and you will be prepared. You’re building an empire, not running the 100m dash. If things take a while maybe that’s a good thing - it will give you a chance to grow in your experience and get better at what you do. So when those customers do come flooding to your door you’re equipped and ready for them!
- Organisation = less stress (trust me!)
The chances are, you have to juggle your business with home life and 100 other things too. Time is always short, there are never enough hours in the day and so managing and using each minute effectively and resourcefully will help. Identify the things that drain your time (being a clickaholic doesn’t help!), file things away and keep your workspace tidy so that you don’t feel swamped. I only have a certain number of hours in the day when I can get a clear, uninterrupted run at work - I make sure I don’t get distracted with doing household chores (the peril of working from home!), I do everything at the start of the day and the end, and not in the middle. OK, it means I have to get up at 6am every morning to achieve it but at least I can sit at my desk with a clear head!
- When inspiration hits, grab it!
Whether its an idea for a blog post, or a new creation or design - when the idea hits, drop what you’re doing. You may not have the time to see it through to the end there and then, but grab a bit of paper (or the palm of your hand!), and right it down so that you don’t forget. Even if you don’t have the time or ability to put it into action now, when you do have the time or need for something new it will be there waiting for you, like a little jewel!
- Put your face on!
OK, this might seem as if I’m contradicting point No2, but what I actually mean is basically present your good side at all times. Don’t let standards slip and remember that everything you do - whether its writing on your blog, updating your website, social networking - is an opportunity for people to see you. Put your virtual lippy on, and not your virtual baggy leggings!
I’m sure you’ve got some ideas and thoughts of your own too, so do feel free to leave a comment as I’d love to hear from you. So, now all I need to do is make sure I listen to my own advice!