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The Smashing Business Blog

The Blog from Smashingbusiness.co.uk. We're all about helping you run a "Smashing Business." Whatever your niche, we hope you find some inspiration or help here. If you'd like us to feature a particular topic just email us at hello@smashingbusiness.co.uk

What do you charge for? Or do you give back to the community when you can?

Ben Lumley - Friday, December 11, 2009
What things do you charge for? What's your reaction when someone asks to do something a little bit different with your product or service? Are you receptive to something out of the ordinary or do you flatly refuse without a second thought?

We took our two daughters to see Santa this week at the local tourist attraction. Joining the queue I marvelled at all of the added extras that Santa was offering apart from having to pay for a 1 minute sitting with the big man himself. Not only did the man in red want me to pay for my daughters to see him but photos, rides on his sleigh, and drinks for parents were all added extras. Fair enough I get that. It was a local event run by local organisations so the pull of all that potential money must of been huge. I get that. I understand. I have no problem with paying for kids to see Santa and may even stretch to the odd added extra if I'm in a good mood.

My problem with today's little festive outing was that if I wanted to take a picture of my kids with the special man I couldn't, I had to let the (so called) professional photographer take the photo and then in order to take it away with me I had to pay for it. The reason given for this was child protection. By not allowing me to photograph my own children they were ensuring that my daughters were being protected. The real reason however wasn't protection but revenue generation. Someone from the organising committee had obviously twigged that it would be a nice little earner to charge for taking memories away from the event.

What has this got to do with running an online business? Well go back to the three questions I asked right at the start of this post. Do you charge for absolutely everything you can or are you more relaxed and give something away for free? If someone comes to you with a suggestion of how they could use your product or service a bit differently are you excited or do you flatly refuse?

Look at Twitter. They built a platform and then opened it up to the world of developers to allow them to create some amazing applications using the API. Rather than keeping things close to their chest they said "look we've got this great platform come and have a play and build something cool with it." Most importantly they did it for free.

Gone are days when you can run an effective business online, especially a small online business and not even consider giving something back to your community. If you charge for absolutely everything and give nothing back to the community that surrounds your products and services then your customers will find someone else who does.

So how can you do that?

1. Free trials
2. Discounts for renewing subscriptions
3. Seasonal offers and discounts
4. Offer free advice via a blog
5. Offer limited offers to email subscribers
6. Share relevant links via Twitter
7. Offer savings for bulk buys
8. Price match or price promise
9. Free gifts
10. Free consultation sessions
11. Freephone customer services number
12. 24/7 support

These are just some of things you can do to give back to your customers. Do you do any of these or do you see the benefit of charging for everything you can? Let us know in the comments

Be Brave Online

Ben Lumley - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sometimes when we approach something new and different, we can shy away from it; fearing to do too much too soon. The same came be true for people starting their first online business. They fear to put themselves out there in case they dilute their message or face crictism. 

 The Internet can be a daunting place, even for the most tech savvy of business people. There's a lot to learn about running a business online and it's a topic that you can never stop learning about. But still many small businesses shy away from engaging online with their customers or from promoting their latest product. They slip back into the 'If I build it they will come' mentality. Frankly, nothing could be worse. 

 You need to be brave online. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there, give things away for free, be controversial, do things differently or simply be open and honest online. The braver you are, the more your customers will respect you.

What Does Success Mean To You?

Ben Lumley - Monday, November 02, 2009

It’s often said that one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. When we look at the definition of success though we see that things are not black and white and that there are actually many subtle shades of grey.

 Success means different things to different people. Ask a young person what they understand of success and they’ll usually talk about money and fame because this is what they see in the media every day. They look at celebrities and want to be in the same position one day themselves. However if you ask the same question of someone who has been out in the world of work for a time what their idea of success is, they are less likely to talk about fame and financial reward but will bring up words like family, security and fulfilment.

Why is this? Well it’s really due to experience. When you are younger the idea of fame and fortune is very attractive but as you experience more of life you begin to realise that these things aren’t for everyone and that actually you crave other things. Some people do go on to achieve fame and insurmountable wealth but they don’t always bring happiness and as we all grow and mature many of us seek happiness.

Why it’s important to define success?

When you can define success into something that makes sense and is relevant to you, you have direction in which way to travel to achieve it, much like a map of a journey. Once you’ve defined your success you can move toward whatever you have to do to achieve it. It sets the goals and parameters by which you need to work.

Here are some ideas if you’re struggling to think about what success means to you.

  • Do you want to build something?
  • Do you want to be part of a team?
  • Do you want to win something?
  • Do you want to do something remarkable?
  • Do you want to do something less than remarkable but do it exceptionally well?
  • Do you want to be in position to be able to do anything you want?
  • Do you want to be able to provide for your family?
  • Do you want acknowledgment from your peers?
Once you’ve defined what success means to you, you can begin to move towards it.

Resources over Resourcefulness

Ben Lumley - Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We often make excuses for failures we experience in life, whether it be at home or at work and we try to proportion blame on to someone or something else. We often do this, not because we are low, callous individuals who constantly seek to hurt others, but because as a society we generally slip into the easy option of shifting responsibility away from ourselves. It takes a special person to fess up to their failures 100% of the time, right? Well no not really, it just means that you have to look on things in a different way.

Resources

In today’s fast paced, modern, online society we have a whole bank of resources at our disposal that we can use to creative truly amazing things. Gone are the days when people work outside their cave sharpening stones all day long, now we can achieve almost anything we put our minds to.

Time:

Now we live in a world where we have more time than ever, not due to increasing the amount of hours in the day but from the respect that people can work and create things at anytime of the day or night and in any place. That is something previous generation never had.

Money:

We have more money at our disposal than ever before as well with people earning more money in their own jobs, their companies earning bigger contracts and receiving greater amounts of funding. All of this leads to an increase in resources to get the job done.  

Technology:

There is now an abundance of technology that can allow us to create bigger, better, faster, more efficient products and services that can make billions on pounds and truly make a different in people’s lives.

Contacts:

People are able to network, create contacts and maintain those contacts like never before. You can now connect with someone on the other side of the world without ever meeting them and be able to keep up to date with what they are doing and where they are.

Experience:

With the ability to be able to do all of these amazing things comes experience. As a generation we are able to experience so much more that previous generations and can therefore learn more and at a faster rate.

But what do all these things have to do with running an online business? They can also be used as excuses when we fail to achieve something. Why? Because it’s easy. It’s easy to complain that the reason you couldn’t achieve is because you didn’t have the time. It’s easy to not start off a great idea because you just didn’t have the money, either personally or commercially to kick it off. How many times have you would to do something with your business and complained when you couldn’t because you didn’t have the technology or the experience? Probably more than you care to admit.

It’s easy to blame these resources when we fail to achieve because other people can sympathise as they’ve most likely been in a similar position themselves, in the past.

Resourcefulness

5 years ago in the traditional corporate world, it was more acceptable to make excuses about resources and be able to get away with it without it affecting your job or your business. However, in the online world that can’t happen. The moment people (customers) see that you repeatedly making excuses for not providing or achieving something, they’ll go somewhere else. The Internet is now full of people who offer the same or similar products or services as you and you can bet your yearly turnover on the fact that they’ll do it right if you don’t.

In order to succeed in anything, your business, your personal life, a music instrument or even playing cards; you need to be resourceful. Resourceful people always succeed no matter what they are trying to achieve because when you’re resourceful you never run out of resources and therefore you can’t ever find an excuse to fail.

Determination:

When you’re resourceful you have determination to succeed. You’re driven constantly to achieve and will let nothing stand in your way.

Creativity:

When you are resourceful you’re creative. It doesn’t matter if you’ve not got the money or the time, you find a way. If you are creative enough and playful enough you can get your idea or your business across to anyone, however uninterested they may seem initially.

Curiosity:

If you’re resourceful you have curiosity. You are interested and intrigued by want you what to achieve. You want to play with it, tinker with it, break it down and build it up again to see how it works. You want to know everything about it and you want to know about anything else that might add to it to help you achieve.

Passion:

When you are resourceful you have passion. You live and breathe what you do. You wake up in the morning and you instantly want to engage with your passion and what you want to achieve. Passion is a tough thing in people’s mind to find and you hear people all the time saying “I don’t know what my passion is.” Well to me it’s easy. Your passion is the thing that you’d do for free if you had to. Your passion is the thing you’re immersed in the all time.

Resolve:

When you have all these things you also develop resolve. You make a definite decision on what you’re going to achieve and you set your motive for action.

It’s easy to make excuses when you fail. It’s human nature seemingly to blame others when we don’t achieve. But the difference between people who fail and people who succeed is that successful people don’t see failures as failures; they see them as challenges and opportunities to overcome. Why? Because they are resourceful.

Follow me on Twitter @benlumley6

12 Characteristics of Successful Internet Entrepreneurs by Focus

Ben Lumley - Monday, October 26, 2009
Focus, a site for business makers and IT professionals, recently posted an article that any budding online enterprenuer should read entitled "12 Characteristics of Successful Internet Entrepreneurs". Its a really interesting and inspiring read for anyone who has dreams of making their living online.

The article covers the 12 main characteristics that make Internet Entrepreneurs successful, citing some well known online greats to offer as some examples.

The 12 characteristics include:

  1. Determination
  2. Innovation
  3. Frugality
  4. Experimentation
  5. Eccentricity
  6. Simplicity
  7. Consumer-focused
  8. Iconoclastic
  9. Ambition
  10. Focus
  11. Opportunism
  12. Flexibility

Jump over to the article 12 Characteristics of Successful Entreprenuers and have a read. It's a good one and it'll be well worth it.

Gary Vaynerchuk - do the stuff you love!

Ben Lumley - Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Known for Wine Library TV, Gary Vaynerchuk crushes it daily. A passionate believer in the internet and doing what you love rather than stick out your boring 9-5, Gary's ideas on new media are what we at Smashingbusiness.co.uk also hold to. An awesome speaker, this video is a real thought provoker. (contains strong lanuage from the outset)


Gary Vaynerchuk @ Big Omaha 2009 from Big Omaha on Vimeo.

How to be more productive and reap the benefits

Ben Lumley - Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Running a successful business, whether online or offline is all about being productive. The more productive you can be with what you have to do, the more or less you will have to do depending on how you look at it. For example, if like me you love to work and really enjoy getting stuck in to a project then if you can be more productive you can actually create yourself free time that can be used for more work. Alternatively if you want to be able to work a few hours a day and then kick back and enjoy life then working productively can allow you the freedom you crave.

That’s easily said though, isn’t it? Think about the last time you sat down at your desk on a Monday morning and said to yourself “I’m going to get loads done today/this week”, only to find yourself on Friday afternoon despairing because you didn’t manage to complete anything that you said you would. Being productive takes discipline and hard work but is at the same time completely achievable. Here are my top tips for being and staying productive.

1.       Have a Todo list

Todo lists are the bedrock of any great Productivity system and when used properly they can make you more productive all on their own.

The human brain just does not have the ability, in the way that we use it, to remember everything you need to do and how you need to do it. It definitely doesn’t have the capacity to remember something that you need to do and then stop thinking about it until the required time. A great example of this is those times when you’re laid in bed and out of nowhere you think “I so need to do xyz in the morning” so you make a little mental note only to completely forget about it in the morning. Help your brain out a bit and start writing out a todo list and you’ll never forget anything again.

Todo lists don’t have to be fancy and can be as simple as a piece of paper; the important thing is that you make one, no matter you put it on. My personal set up is as follows (this might sound really bizarre but it really works for me).

·         I use a variety capture devices while I’m out and about (a capture device is anything that you can store information on to act as a reminder) which I then use to write down create my todo. These devices including my phone’s note and tasks functions, my voice recorder on my phone (I use this when I driving) as well as my Moleskine notepad brought from loveyourstuff.co.uk

·         I then transfer anything I’ve captured on to my two main todo lists. My first todo list is the awesome task function from Google which integrates with my Gmail as well as my Google Calendar. My second list is on my whiteboard above my desk and is an exact copy of my Google todo list which breaks down all of tasks into today, this week, this monththis year. and

The best way to create a list when you’re working at your desk all day is to write it down the day before. By creating tomorrow’s todo list at the end of today you can save a great deal of time and effort that you’d usually spend at the beginning of the day racking your brains trying to remember all the things you need to do. Makes sense right?

However you create your todo list it’ll be the cornerstone of your productivity if you use it right. I’ll write more soon about how to use a todo list effective – so stay tuned.

2.       Work when it’s the best time to work

Do you ever find that throughout the day your energy levels ebb and flow? Do you find that you work better in the mornings than any other times of the day? If you have the freedom with your work routine to work around these up and downs then I implore you to, you’ll get so much more work done in a lot less time.

My ideal, when working from home, is to start working around 6-7am through to around lunchtime when I start getting hungry. In this 6 hour period I usually try to crack on with the big important tasks that I need to cross off my todo list for the day and leave the littler tasks till later. I do this simply because in the morning I like to work at my desk and have loads of energy, so can focus on the task at hand in more formal surrounds. After a bit of food I usually chill out and kick back. Depending on how I’m feeling I might work on some smaller little fun tasks on my list or if I’m not in the mood I might just put on a DVD or have a nap or just mess about online for an hour or two.

I get my second burst of daily energy around 5pm so usually bring my laptop into the living room and work away while the kids play and my lovely wife cooks up something tasty for dinner. This second wind can last through to midnight if I’m really on it but my workflow is usually a lot more relaxed than my morning’s effort as the TV is always on or there’s a film playing. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t always get a lot done in the evenings but it’s a hell of a lot more than I would get done if I worked in the afternoons.

To add to your existing productivity work when you’re body and mind wants to work. Work with your natural energy levels and the amount of stuff you can get done will soar.

3.       Reduce distractions

Nothing saps your productivity more than a million distractions from all around you. Whether they are self imposed distractions like checking your emails or reading your Facebook newsfeed for the hundredth time or if they are distractions imposed by others like phone calls, other work colleagues coming to see you, family members being around or from that building work from next door’s apartment. Distractions can be not only unproductive but frustrating especially when you’re trying to hit that big deadline.

To completely remove all distraction is just not going to happen and even if you managed it you’d find something else to distract you. The best you can do is minimise the distractions and work with the rest. Here are my top tips for reducing distractions.

·         Change where you work. If you work from home in a busy family room you’ll never get any work done, so see if there is anywhere that you can relocate your working space to. You don’t need a massive space just somewhere quiet and away from others where you can concentrate.

·         Use noise reducing headphones. Sometimes where ever you work you won’t able to avoid noise from others so you have to find ways to shut that distraction out. Noise reducing headphones are great. Put the radio on or some music that you can just ignore and have as background noise and you’re away. Be careful not to make it too loud of distracting or it’ll only add to the things sucking your attention away.  (If you don’t like to listen to music while you work then just wear the headphone anyway because they’ll still cut out noise from around you.)

·         Shut the internet off. Often when we work we creating our own distractions. If you’re working on a computer then this is easily done. Turn it off! If you can simply close down your browser and that is enough to stop you going online great, do that. If you more easily tempted that turn your wireless adapter off, unplug that cable or even turn your router off until you’ve struck a few things off your todo list or you’ve completed that big task that needed to be finished today. Actually while you’re at it turn the phone off too.

4.       Keep your environment effective

“A tidy desk makes for a tidy mind.” A tidy desk also leads to lots productivity. That’s because you can’t be productive when you’re hunting out the one important file under a mass of junk that you haven’t cleared for over a month. Think about it...how much time do you waste each day searching for the file or datasheet or DVD or post-it note under all those papers you scatter across your desk? 10 minutes, 20 minutes? That’s just a big waste.

Take a Monday morning and get that desk in order. Only keep on there what you actually need and anything you don’t need get rid of or file for future reference. Make sure you leave some things to motivate you as well, don’t just have a sterile work area. Try adding a photo of your family, an inspiring quote, a quirky holiday gift, or even a geeky gadget. What you want to do is aim to have a space that is functional and enables you to be productive while remaining personal.

5.       Keep it simple

If you’re anything like me, you’ll start something new or find a new way of doing something and you completely immerse yourself in it, finding out everything you can. I got in GTD a while ago, a system I still use daily, but instead of finding out what I need to know so that I could implement the system and start getting something out of it, I went off and completely immerse myself in everything I could find about GTD. I watched youtube videos, read blogs, and followed people on twitter. You name it, I did it. The problem was that I spent so much time finding out about GTD that I actually wasted time rather than saving it.

With anything like this, where you try to find a new way of working, there is no point spending hours and hours finding out how to be more productive or manage your workflow better if you’re not allowing yourself the time to apply it. Find a system that works for you, either using a pre-existing system to the full or by hacking one so it works better for you and then start using it, tweaking it as you go.

You’re in business for a reason, to offer products and services that will benefit a whole heap of people. You can’t do that if you’re spending all of your time finding out about productive. Keep it simple and reap the benefits.

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Or me @benlumley6


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