Something different for Christmas

I have to admire people who turn their hand to different writing activities and Michael Bland is one such person… in fact his talent for writing short stories has completely surprised me.

But not just any short stories – he has specifically written stories that can be distributed instead of a traditional Christmas card. The stories are amusing and suitable for all ages – what’s more they are instanty accessible online.

So if you’ve forgotten to get a Christmas card for someone; or have just realised that you should have written and posted your cards and they are never going to get there in time (especially if the threatened Post Office strike goes ahead on Friday) then check out this online alternative with a difference.

Take a look at The Brightest Star by Michael Bland (click the graphic in the right panel on his website to see a sample of the contents).

~ Carol Bentley

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Planning ahead – your 2009 strategy

As we head towards the end of the year are you looking back on a brilliant year or one that you feel you wouldn’t want to go through again? Thinking back to this time last year – and the plans you made then – how successful were you?

It’s a time of year when many of us reflect on what’s happened and, perhaps, reconsider strategies with the intention of improving the following year. Especially if it also happens to coincide with our Financial Year End.

So I thought it might be useful to point you towards a previous post that explores reflection and planning.

If you’ve got a copy of my book Beat The Recession: Proven Marketing Tactics check out pages 169-174 and the insights from Rich Schefren on pages 358-366.

If not, read the post ‘Next Year and Beyond’ – because the content still applies… perhaps more so… today.

~ Carol Bentley

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Plan to sell your business – expert advice

Whatever reason you had for starting your business there’s a good possiblity that eventually you’d like to see a good return on your investment of time and money.

One way you may be thinking of achieving that is by selling your business. That takes preparation; making sure your business can run without you and making sure it’s profitable with future growth potential for the prospective buyer.

But that’s not all you need to take into account.

So, if you plan to sell your business – whether that’s soon or a long time in the future – getting expert advice to smooth the path is worthwhile. And the earlier you get that help, the better.

I have two publications I’d recommend you take a look at.

    The first is “How to Prepare Your Business for Sale

    This is a 21-step short course primer written by David Mattocks.

    David has a wealth of experience, both as a professional business broker and a business owner/seller in his own right. The book is a very quick read – but don’t be fooled by its lightweight appearance – following the insights it contains can make your business a more attractive proposition to would-be buyers and could result in a better outcome for you.

    The book sells for £4.99 at “www.HowtoPrepareYourBusinessForSale.com


    The second publication I’d advise you to get is “How to Find Your Ideal Commercial Solicitors” from NA Commercial Solicitors.

    This free, 26-tips guide reveals

  • 11 questions to ask when choosing your commercial solicitors
  • Advice on preparing legal documents
  • How to handle your assets – such as stock
  • Financial aspects you should consider and
  • Nine case studies of business sales

Now I have to be honest and declare an interest here – I helped NA Commercial Solicitors develop the guide they offer.

The reason I agreed to take them on as a client, and enjoyed working with them, was because they break the traditional solicitors mould.

For example Tip 4 in the guide is:

Request a fixed fee. Traditionally solicitors charge an hourly rate for the time spent on your business transfer.

Where solicitors do not use the latest technology, for example relying on dictating, typing and sending letters by post to complete necessary searches and communicate with your buyer’s solicitor, the hours can soon mount up. And the resultant fees can be shocking.

Agreeing a fixed fee for the legal work you require allows you to budget and avoid any unpleasant surprises”

Add to that their accessibility – with real people answering the phone 24/7 – and you can see why I rate the service they offer.

To get your free copy of the guide, send an email to simon at nacommercial.co.uk (replace the at with the @ symbol) and mention this blog post.

And good luck with building and preparing your business so you realise the best return on your investment.

~ Carol Bentley

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Book review – Presenting Phenomenally

Getting through a recession takes all the marketing and selling skills we have. And one skill that may be even more important than ever before is the ability to ‘speak in public’.

Whether it is formally presenting a sales proposal to win business, or a motivational talk to boost staff moral, a well received presentation reaps its own rewards.

But – the big but – is the thought of public speaking terrifies many people.

So any insights that offer to take away the fear, or at least control it, must be very welcome.

I’ve just finished reading an advanced copy of Derek Arden’s book ‘Presenting Phenomenally, in which he shares expert tips on how to succeed at presenting. The book cover promises to show you

  • How to WOW the audience
  • How to avoid costly mistakes
  • How to avoid nerves

Derek’s approach works for anyone who has to give a speech, but his tips are particularly applicable to anyone in a business presentation – especially in a selling or negotiating situation (Derek is an expert negotiator).

And his golden rule is preparation. Taking time to prepare beforehand is key to controlling speaking nerves.

And he takes you through every aspect of that preparation – even to important tips on preparing and using a PowerPoint presentation so you avoid the ‘death by powerpoint’ syndrome.

I think another important point he makes is when you concentrate on the audience; concentrate on making it an enjoyable experience for them… then you forget to concentrate on yourself and how nervous you are feeling.

The book is very easy to read – it is written in the conversational style I prefer – and has a great Tip Top Tips summary at the end of each section, which is a brilliant aide memoir whenever you need it.

This is the description from the back of the book:

“According to a popular psychological survey, public speaking is the number one fear of people today. Ironically death is number two.

Yet speaking, presenting and influencing are some of the most important skills of leaders, managers, supervisors and anyone in a position of responsibility.

Experts say, it boils down to fear of failure and this fear is often made worse by lack of preparation and organisation.

Yet such obstacles can be easily overcome and the skill learnt to a high level of expertise.”

Tips For All

I’m a very experienced speaker – I’ve been ‘on my feet’ giving talks, presentations and training sessions for over 30 years – but there were some nuggets of gold for me in this book, so I reckon it gives value to experienced presenters as well as helping anyone who dreads public speaking and wants some practical advice.

You can order Derek’s book at Presenting Phenomenally  [this is not an affiliate link].

~ Carol Bentley

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Business lessons to learn

This year we have seen some large businesses fail globally. And recently – in the UK – a high-street stalwart has demised. Why? What’s the lesson we can learn from this to help us avoid the same outcome?

My good friend, Chris Croft, has a very interesting take on what happened and what we might yet see. Here are his views shared with his permission. . .

Woolworths and MFI

So these two historic British (or are they?) institutions are going bust. Do we feel sorry for them? And is there anything we can learn from it as the gathering storm approaches our various worlds?

I must admit that my first reaction was that although the ordinary people who work there probably don’t deserve it, the institutions (and the top managers) do deserve it. They have been lame ducks for years, in fact it’s amazing they’ve lasted this long.

Woolworths has been a bizarre and pointless mixture of random items for years (though it is good for stick-on soles and garden hose attachments). Would you go in there on the off chance that they will have what you want?

These days we don’t have time. Unless your customers clearly know what you do, and you are clearly the best at it, don’t bother.

Who is their target market when they stock CDs (clearly a dying market), sweets, toys, sewing kits, garden stuff, random clothes, and cooking stuff?

Maybe it used to be “the whole family” but we don’t shop like that any more, perhaps unfortunately, but that’s how it is. So it’s important to know your customer and their habits.

At least MFI were known for selling one thing – furniture – and targeting the lower end of the market in a very clear way. Also they were selling much higher value items. So what was their mistake?

I think it might be a number of things. Firstly, when Habitat and then IKEA arrived on the scene MFI didn’t respond with design style, they just kept selling the same old stuff. Complacency about competitors. (Though not as boring as Courts who also went bust recently).

Secondly they were going for the cheaper end of the market where there are lower profit margins – never an easy strategy; look at BMW’s success, and how Skoda are moving upmarket to where the money is.

Thirdly it was an utterly depressing experience going in there (as was Woolworths) and I think they should have invested more in employing better staff and then in training them.

I am currently predicting the demise of Dixons for the same reason – either you are cheap (and you can’t beat the internet, even Dixons can’t do that) or you must give good expert advice (er, also not Dixons). Shops will have to survive on the latter since the internet has taken the former.

And finally, I think MFI may have improved, when it was too late. They should have changed their name – they could never shake off the reputation otherwise. Halfords is like this – their bike section is really quite good now, but my son won’t even go in there. They need to change their image somehow.

But just going back to the depressing experience, should the staff in MFI and Woolworths made more of an effort to save the companies that paid their wages? Probably they didn’t know about the problems, or even if they did, they didn’t know what they could do to help. I expect management didn’t galvanise the staff into a “save the company” campaign. Perhaps management feared that admitting they were near the edge would cause everyone to give up. Where’s the Dunkirk spirit? I think you have to tell people the truth, otherwise they won’t be able to help.

My daughter (gap year) has been working in a shoe shop, and most of the others there spend their time avoiding customers, in order to do the minimum work. I would have thought that if you’ve got to be there anyway why not work as hard as you can, to get a sense of achievement from your day? Apparently there is no incentive to do so, either financial or in terms of recognition, and most of them have given up bothering.

Where is management in all this? Maybe they have given up as well. So many of the high street shops are boring and contain staff who don’t care, I expect there will be many more casualties.

Somehow, to survive, companies (and not just shops) will have to have motivated staff who care, and provide great customer service, good communication about what’s happening in the company, a product or service that’s the best in the sector, clear understanding of who the customers are and what they want, communicated to the customers: “this is what we do and what we stand for”.

This can be done! Look at Apple, or Innocent Smoothies, or BMW. Or even Homebase or Waitrose.

So there we are, lots of controversial stuff, sorry if I’ve upset anyone (staff, managers, employees of MFI or Woolies, of whom of course there are good ones, etc) but someone somewhere has failed to save these companies and it’s led to a lot of job losses. The recession is starting to shake out the weakest companies, the ones that have perhaps been weak for a while, but maybe we can learn something from each one and apply it to where WE work.

Onwards and upwards

Chris

I think the crucial point here – as I’ve mentioned on this blog before – is to make sure we have a clear idea of our target audience; be certain we understand what they want – not what we think they want and deliver it in a customer focused way.

~ Carol Bentley

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Take a look at this

What do David Ogilvy, Drayton Bird and I – Carol Bentley – have in common? Apart from being professional copywriters?

If you attended the seminar in London last Friday, where Drayton gave a very entertaining and information packed presentation, then you already know the answer to this question.

(By the way, it was great meeting some of you and putting faces to names)

Our common thread is the reading we recommend; reading the classics such as Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples and How To Write A Good Advertisement by Victor O. Schwab, amongst others, gives you a great foundation to build your copywriting and marketing knowledge on.

Have you read Scientific Advertising by Claude C. Hopkins? You should because, although written 82 years ago, the marketing and advertising ‘common sense’ it contains stands true even now… because human nature doesn’t change.

David Ogilvy said reading it changed his life, and “nobody should serve in any advertising function until they have read this book 5 times”.

Drayton Bird goes one step further and offers a free download of the book on his website. You do have to register an account to get your copy… but for this classic book it’s worth taking the time.

A Free Copy of Scientific Advertising For You

Get your copy at Drayton’s Book Offer which takes you to his Best Marketing Books page.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the download link. You are asked to register and your login details are emailed to you.

Or you can start the registration process by going direct to: Account Registration

Once you’ve got your account details you can log in. Get back to the download via the Best Marketing Books link in the left panel.

Even if you’ve got the book on your shelf, as I have, a digital copy you can search or dip into on your desktop is rather handy.

~ Carol Bentley

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Have you had any problems

In my 3 September post I wrote about the new ‘Net Effect’ Stompernet magazine, which started with a sample issue and DVDs for postage only.

Did you take a look? If not… you can ignore this post; otherwise you might find it interesting…

Stompernet had problems with getting the initial offer product shipped and, although no-one has contacted me directly to complain, I want to be sure that you received your free Issue 1 and DVDs if you took up the offer.

If you didn’t get what you expected, please drop me an email to carol@carolbentley-dot-com and I’ll take it up with them for you.

In the meantime you can read more about what they’ve done to put it right and what other people think about the situation at
http://www.clicknewz.com/1756/inside-the-stompernet-war-room/ where Lynn Terry describes her high-voltage meeting with the Stompernet guys.

Of course – if you did order – you may be one of the luckier souls who got their goodies in good time.

I sure hope so, because it is worth reading.

On a lighter note… I’m in London today – relaxing in the company of a well-known UK copywriter and marketing expert, Drayton Bird. Of course there will be a lot of other folks enjyoing his presentation too.

It will be interesting to see what he pulls out of the recesses of my mind for dusting off and sharing with you.

Have a good weekend, catch up soon.

~ Carol Bentley

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