Business cards for new start-ups

Business cards for new start-ups

In the interest of full transparency, today see’s a sponsored post from Leslie Harding who approached me a while ago to write about a topic I feel is important to you guys. When starting Optix Solutions, 13 years ago I quickly gained the nickname ‘business card’ with my peer group. At almost every opportunity I gave a card to anyone who would have one. It was a necessity back then to get the business off the ground. When Leslie sent me this post I was delighted as its a topic I’ve not written much about before. Enjoy…

Author Bio:
Leslie Harding an Events Management graduate from Leeds Metropolitan University who has a keen interest in entrepreneurship and business development.

Many people argue that business cards have become somewhat obsolete since the 1990’s. Are they a worthwhile investment for start-ups?

In the 18th and 19th centuries, they were used to signal the arrival of someone important to your home or town. Today they are used as a way of self-advertisement much as they were previously but nowadays it is a less grandiose gesture, and more of a common attribute in business meetings. Which is why it is important to understand why they are a solid investment for any new business start-up.

Business etiquette
Etiquette, seemingly an old and outdated formality can have a surprising effect on our modern lives and business. Business cards are very much about business etiquette.  It is very much part of the corporate custom to swap business cards with people you meets at trade shows, conferences and such like. It is the first point of call for anyone you meet on a professional level and offers an extended first impression of you and your business.
You should also consider having double sided cards printed if you plan on working or expanding into different countries. Make sure your business cards are suitable for the foreign market and have them printed with the language of the country on one side. If you personally hand someone a card make sure you hand them it with their spoken language upwards.

Up close and personal
It is suggested that business cards help to increase personal relationships in the business world. They are important for this reason. Business is arguably all about contacts, people buy from people and connections are important. Business cards help promote personal relationships in the working world. Your business card is an extension of you and the first impression you give, the two should go hand in hand. Make it personal and professional at the same time, many people suggest a photograph of you helps to enforce this idea and also helps people put a face to a name, literally.

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Business cards as mentioned are an extension of you. They are the second, “first” impression people are given of you. They should reflect you and what you do purely and simply. They are a way of self-promotion and advertisement and you should make sure you have more than enough when attending conferences and meetings with potential suppliers or business partners etc. Make them simple but effective.

Design
Your cards should express you and what you do. They should be eye catching and have relevant information on them only.  You should stick to the simple, “who, what, where, when and how to contact you” layout, your contact section should include your social media and website information. Keep your design clean and not too over the top, although a little personality won’t hurt covering your business cards in Hello Kitty is not relevant unless you’re running a fan club.

Cheap cost not cheap quality
You do not have to pay through the roof for marketing materials. Starting a new business is expensive and where possible you shouldn’t cut corners especially with your marketing materials as these are what your investors and customers see. This doesn’t mean you need to re-mortgage your house.  There are plenty of options out there it’s just about shopping around and finding the best deals, companies offer free online personalisation and often free sample bundles. This is a great way to test the water and a cheap but professional quality source. Business cards are still widely used and for new business start-ups they are a great way of selling your company to potential investors, partners and your clients and customers. They are by no means the only reason you will succeed but if forgotten about can reduce your impact in meetings, imagine going to an interview without having prepared or leaving your CV at home.

Using Social Media to Enhance Employability

I’m really excited as tomorrow I’m going to be spending the morning with students at Exeter University, talking about Social Media and how it can help their job prospects. We all know its a tough world out there right now and getting a job is a lot harder than when I left the same University, 12 years ago.

I’m excited because when I was there, I didn’t have any of the tools available to these guys to help my search for work. Those who want to give themselves a head start in life really do have a fantastic opportunity to do so.

So here are my top tips to any student looking to use Social Media to enhance their employability potential.

1). Without wanting to start on a negative note, the first place to start is understanding privacy settings and what employers these days use the web for – Googling your name. Have you Googled your name (that’s mine by the way) to see what turns up? Have you checked to see what information people can turn up on you on Facebook without being logged in, or through a profile that is not friends with yours? If not, I suggest you do, because rightly or wrongly prospective employers will be doing so.

2). Right lets get positive now. If I could give one piece of advice to a prospective employee it would be to start blogging. How many CV’s do you think every job you go for is going to attract? How many of them link to a blog which shows off their knowledge, thoughts & personality? Not many I bet you. So here’s your number 1 chance to stand out. With tools like WordPress so easy to use (and free), you can start a blog today, while you’re at Uni and demonstrate to future employers 1000 times more about you, than you can on your CV.

3). Start listening & learning. Use tools like Twitter to start searches for people tweeting in the area you’re looking to get work. Build up a picture of who is about and begin to engage with them. Getting to know a prospective employer before you’ve even applied for a job could just give you the edge you need when it comes to interview time.

4). More Learning. Really?!? Yup ‘fraid so. The workplace is very different to Uni life. Find industry experts and influencers in your field of choice and follow them on sites like Twitter. Learn from them, create your own posts about the things they say on your newly formed blog. Find the thought leaders out there and start to build up real world knowledge of what business is really going to be like.

As an aside, if you’re into Business & Marketing here are a few great people/companies to start with:

Chris Brogan
, Seth Godin
, UnMarketing
Mashable & Econsultancy

5). Make LinkedIn your corporate network. In the business world many of us use LinkedIn as our corporate network. We keep personal stuff to Facebook so that’s not much use to connect with us on. Twitter is more difficult to build close connections on quickly, it takes time. Start to add people you meet at job fairs/events/shows/out networking and build your numbers. Know people in the local business community (family/friends etc)? Add them too. Numbers lead to leverage in LinkedIn and as you take your profile wherever you go in your working life, you should start to see this as one of your most valuable assets.

6). Be Proactive – When I’m looking to recruit, I want someone that stands out. I want someone that makes the effort to go the extra mile. I want someone that doesn’t just send me in a CV and hope for the best. Recruitment is expensive for us company owners. You can not only save us money but show you’re different by finding me on LinkedIn and sending me your details. Ensure to tell me not just about your skill set, but why you want to work for me, what you can bring to my company and why you’re different. You’ll be ahead of 95% of other candidates already and if you’ve done everything else I’ve said above I may not even bother seeing anyone else!

Guys, if I were looking for a job now I’d be really enthused by all the ways I can make myself stand out. The question is….are you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you got any more tips for the stars of the future?

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

A couple of months ago I moved house with my fiancé. Part of the ‘the deal‘ was that I had to clear out a load of old rubbish I’d been hoarding for many years, including items like school reports & projects, old clothes and bits of memorabilia that I’d kept along the years. I drew the line at throwing out the memorabilia but certainly couldn’t see a reason for keeping my exam papers for first year Fortran programming at Uni!

Much to my amazement, while sorting through great piles of paper, I found the document you see above, hidden away under years of dust and scraps of other less meaningful items. Take a close look and you’ll note that its the letter I received from UCAS in 1997 confirming that I’d not made the grade for Nottingham University . Heartbroken that my first choice Uni had turned me down, I did however succeed in getting a place at my second choice, Exeter (also shown in this letter).

I sat down and pondered this letter for a while. How much of an impact had this had on my life? If i’d not gone to Exeter, I wouldn’t have met the guys I started Optix Solutions with. If I’d not gone to Exeter I wouldn’t have met my beautiful fiancé, Lizz. If I’d not gone to Exeter I wouldn’t have been cheering the Chiefs on every other week in the premiership. How much had my life changed because of this one letter?

The conclusion I came to is that we don’t know what’s around the corner and life changing moments happen every day. I’m incredibly happy with my life and what I’ve achieved so far. There is a long journey ahead but those who keep thinking ‘what if’, carry a burden that holds them back. Don’t let that be you. You can’t change the past, you probably can’t change elements of the future. I say embrace what life throws at you. I say live for the moment and as my school motto stated: Carpe Diem – Seize the day.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you had a ‘UCAS Letter’ moment in your life?
  • Do you ever consider what might have been? I’m interested to hear your stories.

The Secret to Great Customer Service

The Secret to Great Customer Service

Be where your customers are… Mind-blowing isn’t it. I hope I didn’t set your expectations too high with that title! :)

When I’m discussing social media communications with clients, one of the concerns they often have is that their customers may not be active in these spaces. It’s a valid point and one that is worth spending some time on. I was recently talking to a client of ours in the plant hire business. They weren’t sure if Twitter was going to be of use to them as a business. As we discussed this in their boardroom, a client of theirs pulled up outside in a van and walked into the hire showroom. This was clearly a ‘man and his van’ outfit. Lets call him Derek’s Diggers for the purpose of this post.

Derek and his small business are going through a tough time at the moment. Work is not easy to come by, there is an awful lot of competition and he needs as many ways of reaching his target audience as possible. You can bet he is probably networking, putting leaflets through doors, maybe cold calling and in this day and age if he isn’t active on sites like Twitter yet, you can bet he will be within a year or so. For the small to medium business without large marketing budgets, social media is seen as a relatively cost effective way of marketing. In the majority of cases these sites have free signup so Derek can start to build his following and create business opportunities in a tough market.

I asked my client if they had an email database of their clients? The answer was yes… I went onto explain that looking after clients in social media space provided another, excellent way of reaching out to these important people. By finding and following these companies/individuals on sites like Twitter, they could spend time understanding their prospects businesses, adding value to the relationship with them and ultimately build stronger and better relationships. The penny started to drop.

Your clients may or may not be on sites like Twitter and Facebook, Google + or LinkedIn, but before you discount any of them from your comms mix, make sure you spend time finding out. I truly believe its hard to put a value on retention of current clients, not to mention finding the new opportunities that lie within these exciting online platforms.

Why not spend some time today seeing who’s active locally on Twitter: https://twitter.com/search - Use the advanced options to play with your postcode settings. Try your clients names, both personal and company (I find searching for these in Google is often easier than Twitter itself). Once you’ve found your clients, put them into a list using a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite and keep a close eye on what they are saying, so you can be the first to congratulate/help/just say hi occasionally. Do the same on LinkedIn, Facebook and G+ and I assure you, you’ll reap the rewards over the long haul.

Now Your Thoughts

•    Where do you find the majority of your clients hang out? Is one platform better than another for you?
•    Do you have any other tips for client retention?

Luck or Hard Work?

Luck or Hard Work?

A few days ago I was talking to a potential supplier for my wedding next year. Somehow conversation turned to their website and we got chatting about their overall, online presence. Conversation then turned to the challenges  they have (needing more traffic, spending too much on adwords, no way of emailing their database easily) I offered up a bit of free advice and naturally this lead on to what I did for a living (they didn’t know until this point). It transpired that they’d been wondering what to do about their site for some time now, so applying the ‘don’t ask, don’t get principal’ I asked if we could perhaps quote for their digital work. They said they’d be delighted for us to do so.

My partner and I have a bit of a running joke that I somehow manage to turn normal conversations with people in my personal life into work related ones, which in turn, often end up with opportunities for my business. She turned to me on this occasion as we got back into the car, and said ‘you really are so lucky‘.

Now I have a strong belief that this isn’t luck. Why? I believe that as a business owner/entrepreneur/salesperson/whatever you want to call yourself, you constantly have to have your antenna up, open to opportunities. If you’re doing this regularly enough then its merely a matter of time before one of these opportunities comes off. Some might even call it a game of numbers!

So the old adage, ‘you make your own luck’ is, in my opinion, a very true one.

New to business? In Sales? Consistently put yourself in situations where opportunities arise and when they do, grasp them with all you’ve got. I can promise you it works, I practice what I preach :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • Got any stories which felt a little bit like fate/right place-right time?

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Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Honesty is the best policy, Transparency is the key

Yesterday I was lucky enough to watch a presentation from a client and friend of Optix who has taken his business from a couple of million turnover to 30+ in just 6-7 years. Oh and the best bit – he only has around 40 staff. He talked about his meteoric growth and the lessons they learnt along the way. Some of the stories were gob smacking to say the least.

I live to learn from people like this. I think anyone who can’t sit and soak in that kind of information is missing such a trick. If you get the chance to talk to people who’ve ‘been there, done that’ take it with open arms, you’ll learn so much.

One thing that shone through from his presentation was the need to be transparent and honest in business. He particularly referenced his relationship with his bank manager which I thought was interesting. If anything goes financially wrong in his business he explains it straight away to their bank and similarly, he shares good news too. He feels strongly that this honest and transparent relationship means that when it comes to needing help then everyone knows the score and he’s more likely to get it. I can see his logic and while I have a great relationship with my bank manager, its probably not as solid as his is – something I’ve taken away to work on.
If you make a mistake, own up. Face it down and deal with it. Sticking your head in the sand or trying to hide something or worse hoping no one finds out will lead you down a dark path, one where you’re bound to be found out and everything will look worse on you if you choose that route.

If you’re starting in business make it your mantra, if you’ve been going a while, perhaps you need to revisit your thoughts on this and make sure your team(s) sing from the same sheet. My team at Optix know my feelings on being transparent and see-through. I believe in this digitally connected world, there is no place for business with dirty laundry.

photo courtesy of Urbanshoregirl

Now Your Thoughts

  • I’m very interested to hear if you have stories where you’ve owned up to a mistake and it’s paid off hugely.

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

One of the things its easy to forget when you’ve been blogging for a long time is all the great posts and content you’ve put together over the years. All that effort you put in, potentially lost in the mists of time.

Unless a user finds your posts by a search engine, its unlikely they’ll navigate back over years worth of content – lets face it, who has the time for that?

There is an easy solution to this though – A ’round up’ post. A collection of posts from your blog linked to from another post just like this. It could be your ‘favourite 5 articles’, ’7 posts you’ve written on a  particular topic’, it could just be a random mixture you want to highlight for another reason.

So with that in mind, here is one from me.

I use a tool called Postrank (owned by Google) to help me work out which of my posts are well received and which flop. It scores on all sorts of metrics like comments/shares etc…

So here are my top 8 posts of all time according to my post rank stats – enjoy:

1). Here’s a great way to loose some customers – I got quite miffed one holiday in Cornwall a year or so ago and decided to rant a little on my blog. Right or wrong, this post topped the charts!

2). Do what you do best and delegate the rest – A post about my framework for delegation, essential as your company grows.

3). 7 Super useful resources for busy business owners – Gotta love a list of useful resources. It seems other people did too.

4). Facebook Places – Are you Aware – One of my most commented on posts so it clearly hit a nerve. A post about thinking before you ‘check-in’

5). If I were a solicitor… – Here’s a post for all solicitors thinking about how to use social media. Loads of great ideas, crowd-sourced from others as well.

6). The sale ain’t made ‘til the bill is paid! – Putting together a policy on money and collecting it is essential to any business, large or small. This post gives some hints and tips on this topic.

7). 5 traits successful business owners have – This one got a lot of traction. The title speaks for itself.

8). Cash Flow is King! Guide to setting up a cash flow forecast - My most visited post (and one of my oldest) by a long way. It proves that if you give a bit of value away you get search engine listings and lots of traffic in return.

Now Your Thoughts

  • If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog and have others you think I’ve missed out please do highlight them.
  • Have you thought about doing a round up post yourself? Its really quite fun to reminisce…

Photo courtesy of Fabio Marini under creative commons

p.s You can now add your email address to my ‘newsletter’ signup. I’ll be adding value to this group of people as often as possible – they will receive things from me that others don’t have access to, so please signup today.



p.p.s. If you like what you’ve read here then you should sign up to my RSS feed and every time I update this site the post will be sent to your reader automatically.

Do you look for Opportunities or Obstacles?

Do you look for Opportunities or Obstacles?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I took the www.Kolbe.com personality test a few weeks ago and it showed that I have an extremely high level of what’s called ‘quick start‘ in their system. I love new ideas, vision, creation of new concepts, problem solving and thinking outside the box. On the flip side, I’m pretty awful at ‘follow through‘ which means I need people around me who can take on these new ideas and make them fly.

One of the things I know I do is to look for and see opportunity in everything around me, so this got me wondering if other entrepreneurs and business owners are wired in a similar way.

Since thinking about this I’ve analyzed a lot of the conversations I’ve had with other people to see what I might have done or said in their position and I noticed something very interesting. A select few people seem to walk around looking for opportunity. Any conversation, problem or challenge presents a chance to do something different. In my game it might be to sell something new to a client for example. Others seem to see obstacles – they start their sentences with things like, “We probably can’t do that because…”, “I’m not sure they’d want that”, “I don’t think that’s a good idea”.

Is one way right and one wrong? I’m sure theres a place for both and sometimes I know I need grounding so it’s probably no bad thing to be challenged every now and again. I do however truly believe that entrepreneurs look for opportunity in everything. Safe doesn’t work for them. They don’t need the comfort of knowing what’s round the corner or doing the same thing day in day out.

Earlier in the year I attended LikeMinds in Exeter and saw Luke Johnson (Channel 4, FT Columnist, Pizza Express, Strada, The Ivy…) speak about what makes an Entrepreneur. It was absolutely fascinating and resonated with me completely. Here are some of the words Luke used to explain the psyche of this type of person:

Grit, determination, discipline, optimism, hard working, going against trend, desire gain rather than fear loss and relentless.

He then used a phrase I loved: “The future belongs to the optimist” – How true.

When asked how he has been so successful, he simply said he has always been alive to the opportunities and that it’s often random interactions that open doors. A mantra I certainly live my life by.

This was proved to me once again this week, when after a very long day at work, the last thing I felt like doing was attending an evening do but I knew I needed to make the effort and within 5 mins of walking through the door, two huge work opportunities presented themselves out of no-where. If I’d not gone that night, I would have lost both.

I enjoy looking for opportunities where others can’t see them, it gives me a buzz. How about you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Which camp do you fall into?
  • Do you agree with me that entrepreneurs look for opportunity?

When I grow Up…

When I grow Up…

When I was growing up there were a number of people in my life that I looked up to – family members, inspirational teachers, sports stars and family friends all featured. When I consider the person I am today – my morals, my feelings towards others, my views on business and so much more I can see elements of these people in me.

Without realising it, I have become a product of my environment. As I’ve grown up I’ve continued to seek out new role models and people that I aspire to be like or learn something from. I’m sure a few of you probably put names like Branson, Steve Jobs, maybe even Lord Sugar in your role model lists but sometimes it’s the people that are on your door step that have the most to offer.

My Dad plays a huge part in my business life – I bounce ideas off him regularly, he chairs one of my companies boards as a non-exec. He is there for me when I need that experience and I’ve often said that if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I can never thank him enough for that.

I’m lucky that my job takes me into hundreds of businesses as a consultant and trusted advisor. I get to meet more people running businesses around the country than I ever dreamed I would have done. Every person I meet is an opportunity to learn. Every now and then I meet someone I know I can learn a lot from and I make it my business to do so. I ask questions, I show interest, I forget my path for that moment and concentrate on others. I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same.

There are a few people I’d like to pay special tribute to (business wise). Maybe you could consider doing the same today.

Ken Rudge – A good friend and businessman who lives and works in Devon. A very sensible head on him and doesn’t pull any punches.

James Trebble – Never have I met anyone who is so positive. Whatever life throws at this serial entrepreneur, he gets up, dusts down and gets on with it. An absolute delight to spend time with, everyone needs a JT in their life.

*Worth noting here that myself, James and Ken take a day a quarter out of our businesses to get together and talk about challenges, set goals and think about the next big thing for our companies – this is absolute gold dust.

James Dawkins – My business partner for 12 years. We might bicker every now and then but we’ve never fallen out and in 12 years I think that’s pretty impressive. He’s the ying to my yang (soppy I know!).

Nick Sprague – Ultra successful businessman and philanthropist. I think it’s important to have business goals in life and and mine are based on what this man has achieved. Not only does he have a number of successful businesses but he enjoys life, helps charities (even setup his own: http://www.parabottle.co.uk) and has a wonderful home life. If I’m where Nick is in a few years, I’ll be a very happy man.

My list could easily go on…

In my opinion its vital to surround yourself with successful and positive people. Role models are so important to have. If you’ve not done it already, seek yours out and make them a part of what you do.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Who inspires you? Give them a shout out on this blog. They deserve the recognition right?
  • How much of an impact did your childhood role models have on you?

Parabottle – An Amazing New Charity

Parabottle – An Amazing New Charity

I’m not going to tell you about a new business idea today, or a piece of online marketing advice, or a way that I’ve setup a process in my business. I’m going to tell you about a really exciting new charity Parabottle, that I’ve been asked to get involved in with the hope that I can raise awareness of their objectives and even better, that some of you reading this will feel you might just be able to help with a small donation or simply telling others about this post – that’s down to you though of course.

Nick Sprague is a very successful business man in Devon (UK). A client of mine for a number of years and more recently has become more of a friend. Nick came to me last year asking if I’d like to be involved in this new charity and when he explained the concept I was hooked – I hope you will be too.

Did you know that when the Haiti disaster struck, despite being as close as 2 hours from Miami, it was incredibly difficult to get aid to the people who needed it straight away. It is my understanding that more people have now died in the time after the earthquake than the actual quake itself!!! A horrific statistic.

It was on hearing this news on the Radio one day that Nick thought to himself there must be something he can do about this. An epic challenge for someone to take on I’m sure you’ll agree.

You may well have come across Shelter Box – A Cornish charity which are doing remarkable things in the world of aid. These boxes can keep whole families alive for a very long time but due to their size and requirement for transport they can’t always get to places of need quickly. This is where Nick’s idea for Parabottle fits in.

Nick drew up plans for a bottle which contains basic provisions for aid (water, foil blanket and matches at the very least). The lid would have a parachute designed into it and within the first 24-48 hrs of a disaster these bottles could be dropped from planes where conventional aid cannot reach.

As you can probably appreciate, getting something like this off the ground is no mean feat! The first challenge was getting it through the charity commission in order to become registered, something in fact the CEO and founder of Shelter Box, Tom Henderson kindly helped Nick with.

This brings us to the here and now. The next step for this fledgling charity is to have the prototype designed and tested by Airborne Systems later this year.

Currently the new charity needs all the help it can get and is looking for people to get behind it and (hopefully) make this Devon’s answer to Cornwall’s amazing Shelter Box. More importantly, to make this a reality and start saving lives.

I’d ask you to do three things for me today if you can spare just 5 minutes:

1). Take a look at the website: http://www.parabottle.org.uk/

2). Make sure your sound is turned up full and watch the amazing video (on the homepage) which sums the concept up better than I probably have in this post.

3). Consider whether you might like to be involved personally (you can donate here: http://www.justgiving.com/parabottle/ or perhaps you’d consider making Parabottle your chosen charity).

If you are interested in getting involved then I know Nick and the team at Parabottle would be keen to hear from you – just email me your details and how you would like to help on alastair@iambanksy.co.uk

We already delighted that PWC got behind the project running a quiz in Bristol in aid of the charity and Michelmores kindly allowed Parabottle to say a few words at their recent business breakfast. A huge thank you to both those companies.

I don’t often use my blog as a platform for this kind of thing but this is something that is very important to me and if I can raise the profile of this new charity to help it off the ground then I think that’s ok in my book. You can expect my usual style post back again soon :)