The Best Piece of Customer Service Advice

I’ll make this short. If you want a sound piece of advice in customer service this is it, no matter what you’ve done, what you’ve made or what you intend to do.

Never forget who you’re serving.

The minute you forget that, do something else as you just lost your heart to business.

Starting young at Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is described by dictionary.com as being;

a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, esp. a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.

I was 15 when I wrote my first mini business plan. It was before the big boom of internet cafes and well before fast broadband lines were plumbed in to houses up and down the country. My business plan was scribbled down on two sheets of A4 with an attached profit/loss and growth analysis sheet. I sat with my Dad on a sunny afternoon in Exeter whilst we were on a summer break, scribbling down an idea of setting up an internet cafe with the extension of it actually providing food to increase the turnover. I worked out roughly how much people would pay to use the service and on average how much they would spend on Food/Drink whilst they were there.

I also had the idea of setting up a roaming LAN Party company, where I would tour the country visiting major cities and bringing the PC Gaming community in to one large hall for a gaming competition. I looked in to the kind of sponsors to approach, how much it could cost to setup an event, how much to charge entrants, the likelihood of being able to sell food/drinks on site etc

It’s not usually normal for a 15 year old to write business plans, which showed when I told people about it and they’ve given me funny looks and said that I should have been out playing football or some other youthful past-time. Even though both ideas never came to fruition, I still felt that at the time they could have worked. I’ve always wanted to make money from a very young age, I’ve always had an interest in business and I’m not really sure where it came from. I do however believe that entrepreneurship is something that is instilled within our genes, just like being creative.

It’s not a bad thing…

If you look at a list of top entrepreneurs, the people involved generally started making their businesses and money well before they were 30. Most 30 year old people haven’t even achieved a management role with their companies at that age yet, young entrepreneurs who have created their idea in to a business have often started making serious cash.

The question is, why is it so wrong for young people to be entrepreneurs? Would it really be beneficial for them to have more of a ‘life’ and be more child-like by playing football/rugby on a Saturday instead of scheming away on their new business idea? Should adults hold back the thought process because they think it is wrong?

Making £2 per pathway

During the Christmas break, we saw about 12 inches of snow fall over a weeks period and our entire street came to an absolute standstill. Under the snow there lay at least an inch or so of solid ice which showed no signs of defrosting because of how cold it was. There was no movement from cars let alone anyone wishing to gamble on the ice covered pathways. One Sunday morning there was a knock at the door, living in a quiet street it’s usually odd for us to get visitors when we’re not expecting them. On opening the door there were two young guys, about 14/15 years old holding shovels and brushes.

They came up with the idea of helping everyone to get mobile by clearing the pathways of ice and were charging £2 a garden path. Genius! They must have cleared around 60 houses that day giving them £60 each for a few hours work. I couldn’t help but be impressed that they had used their own initiative to make some extra money from the bad weather.

Whilst this was a very small show of entrepreneurship, they still went out to make money from something that hadn’t been done in the estate at that time. Who knows if they have another idea of making money for something else but I certainly don’t think they should be restricted in their endeavors. Who knows whether a £2 pathway could turn in to a £2 million business in ten years time.

Never hold back…

I just wanted to say that you should never hold back if you think you have a great idea. Give it a whirl, if it doesn’t work out then you’ve just acquired one of the best things in life. Experience.

Bollocks to theory

broken_theoryTheory, it is as broad a subject as you could find. I’m talking about the kind of theory that takes place in this phrase;

“In theory, it would be a fantastic opportunity to do/make it…”

It’s bollocks.

A very one sided view from me but I believe that it is the right point of view. If you’re thinking about theories behind things that you’d like to do in the future, you have WAY too much time on your hands. The reason being that if in ‘theory’ you did want to do it, someone, somewhere on the planet is already well on his/her way to doing it.

Why can’t we just stick by our guns and aim for something and just do it? If it’s a gut instinct that something may work, just run with it and see where it takes you. Granted it may be on the verge of being a bit gung-ho but so what, sometimes you just have to trust your instinct and throw theory to the wind. If things don’t work out then you’ve just done a wonderful thing, you’ve learned a few lessons in messing things up. It’s not all bad though, in learning how to mess things up, you also learn how to make things better.

So the next time you’re thinking about theory and how to put something in to practice, stop yourself quickly and just get on with it. See what happens, if all turns out well, then that is fantastic. If it doesn’t, don’t blame me, just get on with working out how you’d do it differently next time and learn from your experience no matter what it was.

Bollocks to Theory, once youve got round to it, it’s already being done.

Why not collaborate?

collaborationResistance is futile! Honestly, it is. In the United Kingdom, especially in the North East where I am from we’re a very guarded group. Collaboration isn’t a well thought of thing in fear of losing some reputation or work to someone else. Unlike the US and other regions in the world where collaboration is a lot more key in growing your network and income.

There is almost a fear of losing something whilst collaborating. The necessity to keep lots of things close to your chest can sometimes cloud your judgment as to why you should try collaborating on projects.

I want the money!

Well yes, you probably do… On the other hand you can only be a master at a few things. If you try to specialise in far to many things, you will only be mediocre in them, you’ll never be top rate and you will never be able to charge top ‘dollar’ for it either. I know getting a big job with many things involved sounds fantastic, heck, I horde work like the best of them however I have learned over time that you can only do so much. There are so many other people out there that are fantastic at their own unique skill.

Ssshhhh!

Too many people think they can’t say anything to another professional in the same industry just in case something happens, whether it be client theft, theft of their own work or something else silent and deadly. It is all common sense really and using your own theory about ‘disposable information’, this is the information which you put in to a category of being something you can talk about openly. Not everything needs to be kept close to your chest.

Learn through being open

Whilst you collaborate on projects and do an overall better job because each individual team member is a specialist in their own right you can learn from each other and expand on your own knowledge. Granted you may not want to specialise in the things that you’re learning but you can definitely understand more about the work of your collaborative friends so you can work even more efficiently on the next project.
At the end of the day you could just give collaborating a go and see if it’s for you. You may find that it expands your own services and in turn increases your turnover.

Let me know what your thoughts are and how you get on.

Let’s Get Social

Let’s Get Social, it’s the phrase that I use for Social Marketing. I however dislike the word marketing as I find it to ‘in your face’. I believe in being nice and playing nice with the people that you want to connect with and the whuffie (social collateral) will follow. I talked a few months ago to a group of 20+ business owners about brand building using social media tools which went very well.

Today I talked about getting Social to 30ish businesses and how in doing so, they can build their businesses.

Check out the slides below;

I interview WooThemes

woothemeslogoWooThemes is pretty well known, they have delivered 44 wordpress themes in to the commercial theme market. I wanted to ask a few questions to the guys about where things were headed with business and personal life. Mark and Magnus were kind enough to answer some questions.

Just in case people don’t know, could you list the names and roles of persons involved within Woo?

WooThemes was started by Adriaan Pienaar in Cape Town, South Africa, Magnus Jepson in Stavenger, Norway and Mark Forrester in London, England – with the internet being the life blood of the company.

It’s quite evident that WooThemes has a very big voice amongst the web community and beyond, if you’re ahead of the rest, what is keeping you motivated to achieve great things everyday?

Mark: I think all 3 of us are quite competitive, both amongst ourselves and our competitors. We are always trying to knock each other off top spot for best selling theme, or studying our web traffic and blog posts were we are mentioned and planning how we can strengthen our position online with great themes, content and competitions. I think that definitely helps in achieving bigger things each month.

We also are lucky in the fact that we can collaborate with industry leading designers, so we get their personal styles infusing with ours to really create unique and trend-breaking designs.

Magnus: I think the advantage we have over “the competition”, is that we have a unique team composition, and that we all want to apply our ideas, to make Woo an inch better. Both Mark and Adii have also felt the heat, since my first themes proved to be the most popular 🙂

Adii has recently been involved in an interview stating that 90% of the marketing activities are down to him, would you say that your known more for quality themes or your marketing activities?

Mark: Definitely a combination of the two. Marketing poor quality themes wouldn’t exactly work in our favour especially with our rather viral Twitter profile. We pride ourselves on unique designs, built on a very stable theme framework boasting lots of useful functionality.

Magnus: We have all found the parts that we enjoy the most in Woo, and Adii has a knack for marketing, as I have a knack for doing support, so people sometimes only think Adii is running Woo, as his voice is so prominent 😉

WooThemes_Homepage

Woo2 was hyped to the max, has your marketing since the Woo2 launch increased your hits/turnover?

Mark: Definitely. Woo2 launched with a much more competitive pricing structure for the club membership, that coupled with a far more sexy and usable company website has definitely done wonders for our traffic and sales.

Magnus: Yeah again I think the marketing we did through ads, twitter and other interactive marketing was spot on, and it’s really helped take us to the next level.

What would you say are the reasons why you have such a good reputation in the industry?

Mark: We were lucky enough to have got in early to the commercial theme market,  that said it was not all down to luck, we identified a big gap in the market and pounced on it. We were therefore mentioned quite a bit online amongst the early WordPress adopters.

We are also extremely vocal as to our plans, we love engaging with our community and getting their feedback on our next moves. This is directly related to our reputation. We adapt and mature quickly, but always do so to offer something better for our loyal users.

Magnus: I think the advantage we had at being early in the game, and having a great team has made us get a good reputation. I also believe that our designs, both self produced and those done by top designers, have elevated our themes above the rest.

antisocial

44 Themes and more on their way, where do you see theme design going?

Mark: We are exploring so many different types of themes at the moment – business, multimedia, magazine/news, and personal themes so there is definitely not one direction we are moving in. That said more and more businesses are turning to WordPress for an affordable and very usable content management system so with every theme we try produce something breaking the traditional blog format of WordPress themes.

Magnus: What amazes me is how good the first few themes like Fresh News and Gazette are still doing. These themes have become the building blocks for us, and I think our main focus will still be around magazine, business and multimedia themes, but I’d like us to explore more niche themes as we keep growing. I think our customers crave updated designs, but with similar functionality, so that allows us to reinvent our older theme designs, while not reinventing the functionality behind them.

The Magento themes seem to be on the back-burner, what are the reasons for that happening?

Mark: We at WooThemes are big on ideas and quick on communicating them to our users. Sometimes probably a little too quickly. We’ve certainly learnt to take things one step at a time, developing 44 WordPress themes and now entering the Drupal market is a huge amount of work. Now that the platform has been built with Woo2 to support the sales of different CMS themes we can focus our attention to Drupal and Magento, with Drupal being the guinea pig.

Magnus: We like to think big, and it all sounded so good when we discussed it, but in retrospect I think we should have focused on taking one CMS at a time, and not promise to evolve to 3 other CMS off the bat. Hopefully we’ll get there in the end though.

On a personal level, how much time do each of you spend on Woo work, as most of you have your own little businesses behind the scenes?

Mark: All three of us are very entrepreneurial, but WooThemes is our day job and passion. Being internet based we have the flexibility of working the hours we want. Usually we work far too many, but we try to take it easy on a friday, and of course always find time for an XBOX session 🙂

Magnus: I actually find myself working way more now than when I had a 8-4 job. It’s just so much more motivating to spend time working than sitting in front of a TV. I probably spend anywhere from 6-12 hours a day working on Woo.

dailyedition

What are the three top goals for Woo over the next 12 months, considering you’re already reaching 1 million page views per month!?

Mark: 5 million page views per month. No, on a serious note we are not only drived by traffic and sales figures. We want to cement ourselves in the web design industry as the leading theme development company, but all the while having fun, doing what we enjoy, and to keep impressing our awesome community of users.

Magnus: I’m always eager to see growth and stability, as I hope to be working on Woo for years to come. Page views isn’t a goal in itself, but I think that is a result of our hard work with continuously pumping out quality themes. I’d like to continue on that path… Why change a winning formula?

Thank You

Thanks go to Mark and Magnus for answering the interview questions on behalf of WooThemes.

Understanding the use of Social Media

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak to a group of approximately 30+ local businesses about building a brand with Social Media. The seminar raised lots of interesting questions, I even received more questions a few days later. I’ve no problem whatsoever answering any questions about my work and asked the person who emailed me whether it would be ok to answer the queries in a blog post rather than email so everyone could benefit.Thanks for the seminar on Tuesday – it came over as a very professional presentation – and an interesting development potential for business.

SEOs are saturating the internet and self-inflicting an own goal because their hunger for revenue conflicts with and obscures their primary purpose – how will social media be controlled?

My personal opinion is that ‘Social Media’ is simply a buzz word around understanding how you understand and market to a community. Social Media is a tool which you can use to market correctly, you don’t make money from Social Media, you make money from your ‘product’ by using Social Media.

Keeping the Social Marketing world moderated is a different kettle of fish entirely, however I do believe it will be down to the people. The end user will know whether they’ve been marketed to correctly. A client of a ‘social media/marketing consultant’ should do their research first and foremost. It’s the same as anything else, you wouldn’t use a joiner who had a reputation of doing bad work. Research correctly and find some testimonials, don’t pay peanuts as you’ll get monkeys.

I can see that social media will work for unique products, but what about services?

Think of it like this. You have Haagen Dazs Ice Cream and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, both are high quality ice creams and both of which have people who like the ice cream. Some people like one, the other or both. They’re both still ice cream in the same way as a joiner is a joiner and a web designer is a web designer. There is more than one design agency, there is more than one electrical services company however different people will like a different service. Some people will become clients because of cost and some will become clients because of quality services. I and we (the rest of the industry) should be there to build the community around your product/service to provide you with constant work and engaging with your customer base so they’re happy with you and your services which in turn enables them to pass your name on.

Anyone who says ignore the competition in my industry doesn’t understand that our clients initially select on PRICE (they usually don’t know enough until we advise about the legislation)

If that is the case then your potential clients need educating through your current client base about why your services are priced as they are. Think of it more long term than immediate, building a community through education can reap rewards long term. Do you want to be here and make £10’000 a month or in 5 years do you want to be making £10’000 a day (monies are used as an example).

We usually retain our clients once they understand the quality of our services and what we stand for – how can social media help get that message over without advertising?

As mentioned above it goes beyond advertising and is in fact education, a recent client knew his customer base weren’t exactly pro’s at using Twitter but they knew exactly how to use Facebook and wanted to know how to get them using Twitter. I said that we’d teach them how to use Twitter through Facebook. People in general are becoming so switched on to forced advertising that it’s effects are dampening down. Engage, communicate and build your brand. If people love you then they’ll stay around and spend money without even thinking about it.

As you said, building a community is the target, but how can I get started on this?

There are lots of ways to build a community around a service or product. The ‘brand’ could even be a person and the best way to start is identify why your current clients love you, find out who your clients are on a personal level and market towards other people like them. All online and offline marketing techniques are individual to businesses, none are the same.

Data Protection and confidentiality are prerequisites – how is this managed and protected?

The shortest way to explain is by using your common sense, if you think something is wrong with what you’re doing then it probably is. You’re not using direct personal data to socially market your business. Confidentiality should be kept as is, there should be no reason for you to get in trouble over DP and Confidentiality if you do things correctly.

My business has full accreditation with the necessary approval bodies – how do I get that message over?

Communicate, we (as people) forget about people. It’s amazing what people realise when they just start communicating with potential clients. Let people know that you’re fully accredited and what it exactly means.

Risk to reputation – I have no intention of slagging off my competition (vast majority are NOT accredited)- so how to achieve a balanced view without getting a brick through the windows?

There is no reason for you to start slagging off the competition. In the first instance it’s highly un-professional. Let those kinds of companies get on with what they’re doing. All you can do is carry on marketing your business to your ideal client base and educating them why you are so good. Whether that be an awesome service, an awesome price of both.

Providing free advice is, I think, one of our main differentiators – any ideas on how to do that?

Again, it’s all down to communication. Don’t try to bore people, your clients are not you. If you provide them with simple facts that they understand they’ll pick up what you’re saying ten times as quick. There are a lot of different ways to communicate to your clients about why you’re such an awesome company to work with.

You will notice that a lot of the above involve forms of communication, direct to the point communication. People honestly want some trust and a good sense of communication can build that very very quickly.