Thursday 9 December 2010

Recovering from snow – and it’s not just about grit and wellies!

Has your profit margin been as disrupted as your morning commute? I don’t know why, but the snow has surprised us again? Even after last winter’s arctic conditions, the early arrival of a foot or two of snow and sub-zero temperatures has paralysed many businesses. Industry experts estimate the cold snap could cost British business as much as £1.2bn a day.

The media has been full of stories of shops, pubs and restaurants who are feeling the pinch. Hundreds of Christmas parties have been cancelled and friends stay at home rather than struggle out on cold nights. The timing couldn’t be worse for high street retailers too, unless they’ve been sitting on a warehouse full of wellies and bobble hats. But it’s not just the consumer industries who have suffered. Many of my clients in the service and manufacturing sectors have been hard hit. Shorter hours, up to 40% absenteeism, inconsistent deliveries (even Royal Mail can’t guarantee a next day service at the minute), falling orders and cancelled sales meetings have wreaked havoc with the last three weeks of trading.

Some businesses have done nicely mind. Sales of soup, cooking salt and cat litter have risen by 80%, 500% and 55% respectively, and every corner shop has been doing a roaring trade in shovels and sledges.

Although no thaw is in sight, we’ve just about dug ourselves out and ventured onto the roads but now Christmas is just around the corner and everyone is winding down. So how can you salvage a little turnover before Christmas? Here are my top tips to survive the winter weather.

What to do this week:
  • Fulfil any pre-snow orders as quickly as possible in the next week or two. Now that the roads are clear, investing in a little overtime to get a backlog of work complete will mean invoices can be raised this week. January’s bank balance could look very meagre otherwise.
  • Communication – keep in touch with customers by phone, social media and email, keeping them up to date with progress or problems so they know when to expect their orders.
  • Don’t let cancelled meetings disappear into the vague wintery future –make a firm date, or dust off your webcam and do it by Skype.
  • Keep on top of cash flow by ensuring invoices are sent out immediately for completed work. Ask for extended credit well in advance if you see problems ahead.
  • Allow staff to work from home where possible – use the internet, Skype, email and social networks. This may prove to be a profitable experiment and boost team morale.
  • If you’re closed over Christmas, make sure the building has been fully insulated, heating systems are serviced and guttering is secure. You don’t want to return after a fortnight to find your business under a foot of water from burst pipes.
  • Check your insurance policies are up to date and cover you against weather related damage to your premises.

  • Online trading has seen huge growth recently. And it’s not hard to adapt it for most businesses. Investment in technology and your website could reap rewards in future, helping you make the most of the business available.  
  • Chase lapsed customers and leads you thought were dead – maybe their current suppliers are not servicing their needs as well as they’d hoped in these difficult days.
  • Trial working from home as a part of your business structure. See my last blog piece on the benefits and savings you can make.
  • Car sharing with those with 4wd now could be adopted as part of future travelling policy. It saves fuel costs for your employees and contributes to our greener future.
  • E-marketing and communications have never been more important. This is the time to look at how you promote your business and if your website isn’t working, call in the experts.

Planning ahead:
  • Business insurance can guard against weather related disruption. Get a quote!
  • Ask your bank for help, and request short term extended overdraft facilities to cover loss of cashflow, and keep them informed of what’s happening.
  • Use enforced down time to plan next year’s sales strategy. If you’ve lost orders, consider offering promotional deals to boost business next month.
  • Review your energy costs – the Carbon Trust has a free online Energy Analyser Tool to help you make the most of your gas and electricity.
  • Update your business continuity plan – what would you really do in the case of a disaster? If you don’t have a plan, it’s time to make one.
  • Contact a business consultant to discuss ways to diversify your business offer, reduce costs or incorporate online trading into your company. A free consultation could provide you with profitable ideas to help you ride out the rough times in future.

And finally – keep warm, keep your staff warm, and don’t panic! Spring will come, and you will make up for lost productivity in the warmer weather.

If you would like more advice on the financial, logistical or sales impact of severe weather, or help with service, marketing or communications strategies contact Blue Box Consultancy for a free business review.
Contact us at or phone us on 084 3289 3288

Friday 12 November 2010

Is home working the way of the future?

There is a strong argument that home working is better for business. The sums do add up in terms of property costs, carbon footprint and utility expenses, to name a few. When I worked in a call centre, particularly on those dark, windy late night shifts when tiredness would attack my eyelids forcing them clamp shut like a steel trap, I used to dream of working from home. Oh that magical euphemism for a duvet day on the sofa, with half an eye on the inbox on the laptop, and a couple of calls on the mobile while waiting for the kettle to boil. The joy of conducting business in a dressing gown; replying to emails from your softest armchair and nobody to tap their watch if you take another half an hour to linger over lunchtime tea and biscuits.

And it seems that those notions are shared by many, including employers. CCI magazine reports this month that some decision makers of small and medium-sized enterprises don't allow their workforce to work from home. Indeed only 23% of senior managers in SMEs allow their staff to work from home all the time, according to research carried out online by YouGov, on behalf of NewVoiceMedia. The majority of respondents in the survey simply stated they needed their staff to be physically on site, 12% didn’t have the technology to enable home working, while 11% honestly said they didn’t trust their staff to do a full day’s work at home.

So now I have my own business, and very often work from home. I can set the record straight about the duvets and daytime telly at last. My hazy dreams were indeed entirely misguided. I turn my computer on by 8.00 while feeding the cats, and within minutes I am absorbed in my work. There is no office banter around the coffee machine, no dawdling around the department in quiet times, no set lunch breaks or chit chat to distract me; it’s complete concentration. If I’m lucky I remember to make a bit of toast sometime around 3pm, eaten while typing with one hand. And perhaps because there’s no commuting, the working day doesn’t end at five o’clock. So I think that employers’ fears may be unfounded. I work longer, harder and with greater concentration at home than I ever could in a busy office or call centre.

New technology has made it possible for businesses of all sizes to introduce flexible telephony solutions that allow staff to work from home, and remain accountable. Cloud-based telephony is perfect for SMEs as there is no need for onsite equipment or ongoing maintenance costs. Managers can effectively monitor staff regardless of their location and have the flexibility to add or remove users as the business demands.

In the survey mentioned above, those who are in favour of allowing staff to work from home believed it increased productivity (60 per cent), motivated staff (60 per cent) and allowed for better relationships with their employees (58 per cent).

Sensée (, the UK’s leading home working specialist, started its first home working agent hub in the North East last month. They are currently recruiting for inbound customer services for a major UK retailer, offering full time positions for home based agents. All that is required is a suitable workspace, PC, landline and broadband access.

If you think working from home could appeal to you, contact Blue Box Recruitment for more information. or call 084 3289 3288

Wednesday 6 October 2010

There are some things that you need professional help with....

OK, if you were unfortunate enough to suffer from a heart attack, would you want to be treated by a well-meaning amateur who would probably do a reasonable job? Or would you want the very best heart specialist that was available?  I am guessing that you would want a specialist (if you answered that you would want a well meaning amateur, then stop reading this blog now!).
Why would you treat your business any differently?  However, many Managing Directors and Business Owners do exactly that - they trust business critical actions to well meaning amateurs who are unlikley to be able to move their business forward.
It is a tough decisoin to employ outside help into your business - but if it were a case of life or death (in business terms) is the investment not worth while?
Many business people offer the following objections;
1.  I will wait and see what happens - this is good.  Nobody wants to rush into a decision that you will regret.  Be mindful, that inactivity is not an activity in itself.  Every day that passes without you doing something is a day wasted.
2.  I dont want to pay an expert for what I caould do myself - again, this is another good point.  I am sure that if I put my mind to it, I could change the oil in my car - I have never done it, and it would probably take a great deal longer than a professional would take, but the consequences of my getting it wrong far outweigh any benefits that I may get financially.  Plus, whilst I was changing the oil in my car, what would I NOT be doing (and what is the cost of me not doing that).  Managing Directors and Owners of businesses are all experts in their own field and every moment that is spent outside their field of expertise has a cost associated to it.
The upshot is; You get what you pay for (in life as in business).  Dont think that you can do everything yourself.  Dont be afraid to get in external help for jobs that you cant (or wont) do.

For more information about Blue Box Management Consultants, go to

Friday 24 September 2010

Receptionist and Call Centre Agent - the two most important people in your business

Why is it that businesses who know nothing always put their most junior and most inexperienced  members of staff on either the reception desk or at the end of the telephone?  Logic would tell you that it is very likely (in fact, I would bet my ever decreasing pension on it) that your current customers, your future customers and your competition are going to visit you or call you up.  Surely any sane minded person would want their very best staff to be the ones who speak to your customers?  And yet, all too often, you are faced with staff who do not live your brand, who know too little about your products and services, and care even less - is this really the image that you want your customers to see?  I would think (and hope) not!
So, what should you do?  I would recommend that, as a first step, you put yourself in the shoes of your customer - visit your offices and ring your call centre to see what it is like to be a customer of yours.  Ask yourself these questions:  How long did I wait to be attended to?  How was I greeted when I got through to someone?  Did the member of staff know the answers to my questions?  At any time did I feel like putting the phone down/walking out in frustration?  If you felt like this, the chances are that your customers have felt like that too (I doubt very much if your call or visit would have been unique - although you might want to kid yourself that is the case!)
Secondly, you should review your recruitment strategy.  If you hire people because they are cheap, then you will always (and I do mean ALWAYS) get what you pay for.  Hire for attitude and train for aptitude (because, lets face it, you can NEVER change someones attitude, and if that does not match your company ethos.......well, the rest is history!)
Thirdly, give staff the right tools to do the job - whether this is training or systems, make sure that staff have everything they need to be able to serve your customers right.
And finally, encourage staff to think of customer facing jobs as careers - promote them within these roles rather than out of them.  Promoting people within a role gives staff the belief that YOU believe in excellent customer service.
Oh, and it wouldnt hurt to occasionally tell staff when they have done a good job - a word of thanks goes a long way.
read more about improving customer service within your organisation at

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Accountants are like hairdressers

It occurred to me the other day that as we are intrinsically British we have a loathing to change - particularly if that change is likely to disrupt our lives and our businesses.  From an outsiders point of view, this could be viewed as lazy, or worse, that we are not bothered.  I do not believe this to be the case - I think that the reason we do not review the providers of professional services (such as banks, accountants and solicitors) is that we believe that one will be equally as bad as another (and the pain of making the change will outweigh any benefits that we realise in making the change).  This ultimately is a self fulfilling prophecy in that we accept a poor service from our professional service providers (in my case, my accountant) and so, as luck would have it, the service becomes even worse (and yet we still convince ourselves that it is 'better the devil you know'.
So, my advice today is - stop putting up with less than favourable service from professional service providers.  Demand the service that you deserve (and if you dont get it, go to someone who will value you as a client).  As my dear old dad used to say; the differenece between a good haircut and a bad haircut is only a fortnight!!
Learn about how to get the most from our professional relationships at

Saturday 18 September 2010

Using Management Consultants

First of all I should admit straight away that I am a management consultant - there you are, it is now out in the open!
I went to see a potential customer the other day - he made the appointment with me and when I arrived he told me that he hates management consultants and that he will not pay for advice that he could find for himself on the internet.  Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but, my opinion is that those people who are willing to invest in outside help are those people who are most likely to achieve their goals and to succeed in their business.
My potential customer wanted to break into a new market (and has wanted to do for some time) so my challenge to this managing director is:  if you think that you can do it on your own (and have wanted to do it for some time) why have you not succeeded?  the answer is, of course, that although this managing director was a specialist in his own field, he was not a specialist in developing new markets.  This is why he needs external help.  I am sure that, if he had the time and inclination, my potential client ould have found a whole ream of information on breaking into new markets by browsing the internet, but could he put it into practice - the answer is probably not.
So, come on guys, no one can be an expert in everything - play to your strengths and admit your weaknesses - and bring in a professional to do the things that you cant do yourself.  When all is said and done, it will cost you less in time and stress to do so (and you will ultimately reach your business goals).
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