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Business Tips

  • 7 Magnificent Business Tips that have stood us in good stead

    7 Business Tips that have stood us in good stead

    Following the success of our businesses Blue Eyed Sun and Ivy Ellen, we recently had an article written on us in magazine and the journalist asked me for my top business tips at the end of the interview. I thought I'd share them with you today:

    1. Focus on your customer. Listen to what they tell. make sure they are happy and feel looked after. You need to ensure you have fantastic quality of design and production. You also need to work hard to offer great service.

    2. Listen to your staff. Hear what they say and, if it makes sense, act on it. I'm doing this more and more these days and find that it both empowers my team and takes the weight off my shoulders.

    3. Take action immediately if something is not quite right. Don't shy away thinking it will sort itself out. It won't. The harder things feel they are to deal with the more important it is that you get on and sort them quickly.

    4. Have fun. I used to take business far too seriously. Now I don't beat myself up if something doesn't quite go our way. I'm not suggesting a flippant attitude to your business. I'm talking about enjoying it. It's not just about the money. Enjoy the breeze or the rain that might hit your face rather than cursing it. Appreciate the present instead of clinging to the past or being lost in the future. There is no greater moment than right now.

    5. Have an outside interest. Business is great, but it isn't everything. Make time for your kids, make time for yourself. The business will benefit too. I like to run. Read my blog post on 15 ways marathon training has improved our business by clicking here.

    6. Accept that some years are better than others. Sometimes you can just walk straight through the 'rainy times', other times you need to 'huddle' for a while. Try to get good at knowing when to do which.

    7. Remember the importance of humility. I have made mistakes when I have said or done something that wasn't quite right. Be humble enough to own your mistakes and say you are sorry.

    Reading these business tips back to myself, I find it interesting to see that I've missed off some key aspects to running a good business like maintaining good cash flow, keeping up to date accounts, etc. I guess this list isn't exhaustive.

    These business tips are really about you as a person running your business and how you relate to the world around you. My overriding advice to anyone setting up in business is to remember to look after yourself and those around you as best you can when running it. Isn't that what life is all about?

    Click here to read the original magazine article in which these tips featured.

    Read more business tips on our blog by clicking here

  • 7 habits of highly effective retailers

    7 Habits of Highly Effective Retailers

    I'm a big fan of Stephen Covey's best selling 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As a tribute to his inspirational work, here are my thoughts on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Retailers:

    1. Be Proactive

    Highly effective retailers always take responsibility for their own lives. They recognise that how they respond to their business and the challenges it faces is their choice. The best retailers I have met over the years recognise that they are creators. As a result they are constantly working on their businesses. They avoid using reactive language like "I cant, I have to, if only" and focus on what they can control without reacting to what is beyond their control. The don't tend to blame others for their failures and they never let the weather dictate their feelings, because it's out of their circle of influence (as is the state of the economy).

    2. Begin With the End in Mind

    Understanding yourself and visualising your business working in line with your values and goals is key to fulfilling success. Great retailers know their mission. They have a clear idea of what their business is about and communicate it to their customers, staff and suppliers. This habit is even true on a day to day basis. For example, the best retailers always know what their goals are when they attend trade shows. They have a plan and their focus enables them to get the best out of their time.

    3. Put First Things First

    The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The best retailers recognise that it's okay to not do everything that comes along. They prioritise, plan and execute their tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Effective people recognise that they are in charge, visualise where they want to be by focussing on whats important to them and then put these plans into action by using the first two habits to dictate their third habit of making things happen in the right order of importance.

    4. Think Win-Win

    The most effective retailers I know recognise that the chain of supply from their suppliers to their customers must be win-win for everyone involved. They use this understanding to powerfully influence the relationships of all who they work with including their staff. This requires confidence and the ability to be sensitive and empathetic to those around them. Thinking about things from your customers, staff and suppliers' points of view is key to your success. As is having an abundant mentality where there is enough for everybody, rather than just focussing on your own success.

    5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

    Most of us filter what we hear through our own life experiences and, as such, don't necessarily truly listen to what others are telling us. We seek to be understood first and often miss out on the chance to influence the situation as a result. Effective retailers listen without using their own point of reference, but take careful consideration of what others are saying and ask questions to clarify their understanding. This creates trust and respect by those they communicate with, who in turn are more open to listening to their point of view and to working together.

    6. Synergize

    The best retailers recognise that two heads are better than one and that their team is essential to their success. They work towards creative co-operation with those involved in their business and often ask their staff, customers and suppliers for their advice on issues relating to their business. They value the differences in people and recognise that these are often key to finding solutions they are struggling o uncover on their own.

    7. Sharpen the Saw

    We have all been guilty at times of burning the candle at both ends and overworking ourselves. The effects of this can be damaging to ourselves, our loved ones and our businesses. Effective retailers take care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. They frequently take time out of their businesses to recharge and spend time on themselves and their families. They recognise that we work to live rather than live to work. They also know that this means they get better results when they return to work rejuvenated after their breaks.

    Stephen Covey followed his best selling book with a further title discussing the 8th Habit, which essentially is contributing or giving back. We do this by finding our own voice and encouraging others to find theirs too. Again we see this trait in some of our best retailers who return to speak to others and share the secrets of their success. This takes them beyond effectiveness to greatness.

    Stephen Covey's books have sold millions of copies worldwide and his business, Franklin Covey, has helped many of the world's best companies improve the way the operate.

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    Find out more about Stephen Covey here

  • 10 things to do in the next 10 days to grow your business

    Business Guru Robert Craven Speaking At The GA Members Day 2012

    This month I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Craven, one of my favourite British business experts. My businesses have benefitted greatly from using the advice in his no nonsense, down to earth books: Bright Marketing and Customer is King. Having seen him speak previously I was keen to invite him to talk at this years Giftware Association Members Day. To my delight he kindly accepted.

    Here are the highlights of his talk entitled: 10 things to do in the next 10 days.

    1. The number one thing holding you back in your business is YOU.

    In a survey of successful millionaire business people the most common thread found was that they held themselves accountable for their successes and failures. Those in the 'wannabe millionaires' club tend to blame everything and everyone else: "The banks won't lend, I don't have the time, my staff are rubbish, etc." Acknowledge that it is up to you to make things happen and do it.

    2. Increase your prices.

    Ditch the customers who come to you because of price and focus on your relationship with your loyal customers. Lowering your prices is insanity when your competitors can match them. There are various ways of increasing your prices that Robert goes into in his books along with the effects that need to be considered. A simple example given though is: Increase your price by 10% and (with a 30% gross margin) you can afford to lose 25% of your sales volume to make the same profit. Decrease your prices by 10% and (at 30% gross margin) you will need to sell another 50% in volume to make the same money. That means working Saturday and Sunday on top of your five day week to make the same profit.

    3. Decrease your Direct Costs

    If you cut your costs you'll increase your profits. This may sound obvious, but so many businesses forget to go back to their suppliers as they grow and ask them to sharpen their pencils for a better price. Build this into your annual routine and do it every year.

    4. Be remarkable

    The more remarkable you are the more people will make remarks about you and the more testimonials and referrals you will get. Interestingly around 74% of people don't trust advertising and 78% trust recommendations from friends and colleagues. Being remarkable means you can cut your direct advertising costs and boost sales by referrals!

    5. Sort your Proposition

    What is your offering to customers? What do you sell and why should they buy it from you? Make sure all of your staff know it too!

    6. Talk, Ask, Close

    Communicate with your customers, ask lots of questions, understand their needs. Close the sale. Robert currently challenges managing directors he works with to do 60 meetings in 6 weeks with customers to improve the offering and do more business. Those that take part in this have been reporting large increases in sales.

    7. More customers, buy more, buy more often

    There are only 3 ways to improve sales. Find more customers, get customers to buy more and get them to buy more often. Work on increasing each of these metrics by 5% and the compound effect on profits is substantial. The other thing to keep an eye on is stopping customers leaving you. Make sure customers don't leave you because they think you just don't care.

    8. Collect your Money Faster, Write Cheques Slower

    Cash is king and to avoid having cash flow issues you need to get the money in fast and have good credit terms with suppliers.

    9. Decide, disrupt. No DIY. Take Massive Action Now.

    Get on with it. Change your status quo. Get help from an expert to take yourself to the next level. Do it now.

    10. You fill this one in for yourself

    ....

    Remember, don't pick one thing from this list or do them one at a time. Do all of them together simultaneously and watch the effects they have on your business as you gather momentum.

    In summary, remember that we are often stand in our own way and are our own worst enemy for growing our profits. Make sure that you work ON and not IN your business. Charge sensible prices. Do it now with vision, leadership and focus.

    Robert Craven works with ambitious directors of fast-growing businesses who feel that they could be doing even better. If you'd like to know more about him click here to visit www.robertcraven.co.uk

    To find out more about future GA Events click here or to join the Giftware Association click here.

    To find out what's new from Blue Eyed Sun click here.

    Click here to watch Robert Craven speak on 10 things to do in the next 10 days or click play on the video below.

    NB: Robert's talk really gets going around 2 mins 20 into the video so do scroll forward to that time.

    Video streaming by Ustream

  • 10 ways retailers can appeal to their customers

    Retail Expert Henri Davis Speaking at The GA Members Day 2012

    This blog post is adapted from an excellent talk recently given by retail expert Henri Davis at The GA's Members Day in Birmingham. Here are the highlights of what she said:

    The current situation in retail is that consumers are governed by uncertainty. It's been this way since 2007 when Northern Rock's collapse triggered the current change in economic climate and could continue for some time yet. Customers are now cash and time poor and generally spending less (but more often) as a result. These days we are all re-evaluating what's important in our lives and making more discerning choices. We want things that are functional and useful, but are also drawn to the unique and remarkable.

    Because of this the current retail market is one of extremes with discount stores like Card Factory at one end and upmarket luxury shops like Paperchase at the other. Anyone in standing in the middle ground without a defined niche is in the danger zone (as was seen with Clintons retail chain going into administration). Also, now more than ever, retailers have to be relevant to their consumers offering good value and excellent customer service as standard, no matter where they sit in the marketplace.

    So how can retailers respond to this current climate? Well to start with businesses must have personality. Chains like Scribbler, for example, have been expanding during this period because their brand has personality, they sell cards that stand out from the mainstream and they offer a customer friendly experience. The personality of your brand must stay consistent across all your customer contact points from store fronts, staff and websites through to Twitter and Facebook. You must also know what your customers want from you now. To do this you have to engage with them. Most importantly, do not underestimate the power of 'new' for your business. New shows that your business is dynamic and forward thinking. It's also a great reason to engage your customers regularly. Typically Henri suggest retailers should introduce something new at least every 6-8 weeks.

    Here are Henri's Top 10 ways retailers (and suppliers) can appeal to their customers

    1. Notice what's going on around you.

    2. Take advantage of the opportunities presented to you

    3. Stand out from the crowd.

    4. Refresh your offer often.

    5. Communicate in ways appropriate to your customers.

    6. Update your communications regularly.

    7. Take calculated risks.

    8. Be clear about your offer.

    9. Be passionate about what you do.

    10. Give customers a reason to business with you.

    Henri Davis has 28 years retail experience having worked at Habitat, Next and WH Smiths before setting up on her own 10 years ago. If you are interested in learning more about her click here to visit www.henridavis.co.uk

    To find out more about future GA Events click here or to join the Giftware Association click here.

    To find out what's new from Blue Eyed Sun click here.

    Click here to watch Henri Davis speak on Understanding Your Customer at the GA Members Day or click play on the video below.

    NB: Henri only starts speaking 2 mins 30 into the video so do scroll forward to that time (the sound improves at that point too).

    Video streaming by Ustream

  • 15 Ways marathon training can help your business

    As a regular runner of marathons and long distance races I have found that running has benefited my approach to our businesses. Here are 15 ways I think that I think marathon training can improve your business.

    Time and space away from your business

    With all of my business and personal commitments life can feel pretty full at times and it's easy to forget to take time out for yourself. If you don't do this nobody will do it for you and you won't be at best for those that need you. Sometimes you can be too close to things to really make the best decisions and take the best actions. I find that training clears my head and gives me the space to refocus.

    Don't over do it

    Marathon training doesn't have actually have to be that fast or stressful on your body. In fact you tend to get better results and reduce injuries when you start slow and keep your long runs steady. There are thousands of people who train for marathons each year for the first time. Most of them start their journey by walking. I've found slowing down and taking the steady approach with my business by delegating more to my team and supporting them has had profound effects on our sales and productivity.

    Everything has its season

    Top athletes don't just grind out the same work week in week out all year round and either should businesses. Runners have seasons and train in different ways at different times of the year. Faster track work tends to be done in warmer months to avoid to risk of injury by overworking cold muscles during the winter. When you think about it, business has its seasons too. At the moment we are in a winter period and need to act accordingly before preparing ourselves for Spring again.

    Make it a 'Must' instead of a 'should'

    If you have a specific goal for a set date like a marathon then you know that you can't cram for it last minute like you might have done at school on certain tests. A marathon is a distance that cannot be taken lightly and requires regular training and focus. It's a lot easier to get out of bed and get on with your day when you have a goal that you are passionate about and can't back out of easily. I always race with friends at marathons and raise money for charity so that getting out of bed in the morning is a 'must' for me rather than a 'should'. You can do this with your business. For example, we create goals by booking a trade show which means that we have to create a new range to launch.

    Getting Going

    I get up at 06:30 most mornings to fit the training into my busy schedule and interestingly the running is never the hardest part of doing this (even when it's raining). The most difficult stage is getting from my bed to the outside of my front door. It's actually not that far and what's needed is momentum. You have to push against the part that is offering you the most resistance. To get most things moving, one requires a larger amount of focussed energy at the start. The easiest way to deal with this is to get to it without hesitating. Once you are out the door the running is easy.

    You are more than just your head

    Our bodies are more than just vehicles for their heads to move around on. We spend a lot of time in our heads. I find this especially true with our business. There's a lot to think about and I spend a lot of my time at desks and sitting down. We are meant to move. If we don't our muscles tighten and our backs ache with inactivity. When I started running I found I connected with a more complete version of myself, a physical and mental self. My relationship with nature and space completely changed. For example, when I run a beautiful cliff top run along the south coast of England I feel at one with the space in a way that I don't when I drive to the same spot and sit and look at it in my car. This sense of oneness with the world and the confidence I have with my fitter body brings a different sense of purpose and balance to my company. It's active, it's energetic and inspiring.

    Keep your base strong and healthy

    It's no good taking your business to a million turnover in sales if you are in too poor health to enjoy it. Once you start making changes to your diet and feel the combined benefits of training and good eating you never want to go back. I have more energy, my mind is sharper, I need less sleep than before and my business is able to reap the rewards. We all have a responsibility to look after our staff and our loved ones by keeping well ourselves. If you're strong and healthy physically it's easy to see how your company will benefit. Often staff will be inspired to take care of themselves in the same way and motivation increases as sick days reduce.

    The power of planning

    You cannot wing it with a marathon and a written plan created by someone who has been there and done it is an invaluable tool. There will still be plenty for you to do and completing the race will still be your own victory, but having a training schedule really helps you get the most out of your experience. Since I started running I have been drafting better schedules and plans for my business and the results are really starting to show. The schedules all relate to specific sales goals (the marathon time I'd like to achieve) and I pay close attention to different sessions that will help me meet my goal.

    Remembering to mix it up

    When training for a marathon you will mix different sessions to help with different aspects of your running. Long runs for instance will help you build endurance. Tempo runs will help raise your lactate threshold and determine how fast you can race. Interval sessions will help improve your VO2 max which affects how quickly your body can distribute large volumes of oxygenated blood around your body to keep your muscles going. These different sessions will be important for different distances and at different times in your training. You can quickly see how a variety of sessions can affect so many aspects of your marathon training. It's the same with your business when you mix a variety of 'sessions' into your working week. For instance, I created a schedule for myself at work and train on specific areas like marketing, finance, staff, sales, etc for specific chunks during the week rather than getting caught up overdoing the same thing.

    Rest is part of the training

    You cannot develop as an athlete without resting your body after training. This means getting a good night's sleep and not burning the candle at both ends. It means minimising stress and looking after yourself. It's easy to work all the hours god sends, but resting and taking breaks away are absolutely vital to business success.

    Measuring your progress

    When you have a marathon schedule it's very satisfying ticking off your sessons as you go along. When I started training I bought a GPS watch and heart rate monitor so that I could watch my progress. It's profoundly motivating seeing yourself cover longer distances in the same time as shorter ones or seeing your heart rate running lower on runs that really tested your stamina previously. If you don't record them, they memory of them will often pass and you won't reap the free added benefits of all your hard work. As I have become more interested in my running data this has flowed into my business and the numbers have really opened my eyes to so much more opportunity that we had been leaving on the table because we weren't following our progress.

    Focus

    The focus on the specific goal, with a plan that is monitored and assessed going forward sounds so obvious when you say this is how a business should be run, but the reality for most of us business owners is that we are so busy working in our businesses that these simple practices can often be missed. Running has reminded me to get back to these simple basics. Because I can see what kind of improvements I can make as I plan for a marathon each year, it has inspired me to reach for specific business goals each year plan strategies for achieving them by a specific date (usually my year end).

    You don't grow as fast on your own

    When I first started training I worked with a fantastic personal trainer called Richard Husseiny. These days I work out with Brighton & Hove Athletics and often take part in my local 5K Parkrun on Saturdays. I have several friends who have taken up running and we swap books, tips and often race together. This makes the whole experience more fun and I've definitely improved as a result. You really feel part of something special when you line up with thousands of runners at the start of a marathon knowing you are in a group who have focussed and trained for months, often in the cold and dark of winter. It's inspiring to be around, just as I find it inspiring to be around other business people. Knowing this has helped me to make an effort to network, share and learn with other entrepreneurs.

    Celebrating your goals

    How often do you finish your list or reach a goal and turn to see what's next without stopping to celebrate? I do this all the time myself. Since I've taken up marathon running I've really learnt to savour my achievements and celebrate them. In fact, these days I pat myself on the back just for reaching the start line of a big race. At the end of a marathon you have a medal, a tee shirt and often a photo to remind you of what you have achieved. I usually try and spend time with the charity I run for, family and friends after a race to celebrate together. Nowadays I try to do the same with my business. Often I will treat my family or friends to a meal to celebrate a milestone reached with our company. When we completed one of our projects two years ago I bought myself a nice watch to remind me of the great job we did. It's really important to stop, acknowledge and celebrate in your business.

    Have fun

    I took up running about five years ago because I wanted to do something I really enjoyed as a child. Being so absorbed in my business and other aspects of my life I felt like I'd lost touch with who I really was. I alway loved the feeling of my body running as a boy. Feeling the strength of my muscles, the wind in my hair and especially the rush of running really fast. When I was young I just ran for the sheer joy of it. So as I began training I had absolutely no intention of ever running a marathon, I just wanted to do something that got me active and that I enjoyed. Something I could have for myself. I found a trainer to make sure I kept my motivation going and worked my way from one exhausting 1 mile lap of my local park up to the marathon distance 26.2 miles over a three year period. This journey has led to me training in all sorts of weather and, at times, pushing my body to it's limits and beyond. My guiding light through all of this has been to enjoy myself. That doesn't mean it's not hard work at times, but I always make sure that that youngster inside of me is still having fun. This insight in my marathon training has led me to bring this into my work life too. I used to be really caught up in the detail of work and get angry about all sorts of things not working right within my business. Through running I have learnt to relax and enjoy the ride. It has made for a better working environment for our team and I now find it easier to take everything in my stride at work. Nothing seems as much trouble as it used to feel to me.

    I hope that you've enjoyed this blog post and found it insightful for your business. I'd be hugely grateful if you'd take the time to click on the banner or link below to help me raise money for UNICEF who help thousands of children worldwide each year.

    To support Jeremy's Berlin Marathon fundraising please this year click here

    Read Looking back from Perfect - How to achieve your Goals

    Read How to get things done when you don't feel like it

     

     

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