Category Archives: Business

USP for your Start up Business with Lisa Hughes

As a business coach with over two decades of experience and a mentor with the AIB Start-up Academy, Lisa Hughes knows what it takes to make a successful start-up.

We spoke to her to find out how finding your Unique Selling Proposition or USP can make a serious difference to your business.

Get an Outside Perspective

As an entrepreneur herself, Lisa cautions that it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of running your business and lose sight of what truly makes your product unique. “You can’t see a building in its entirety when you’re inside the building,” she explains. “And when you’re an entrepreneur, who’s living and breathing your business every day, you can easily lose perspective on it. What ends up happening is that the business owner is not looking at the product from their customers’ perspective. They’re looking at it from the inside out.”

“We are all here to serve our customers, to take people’s pain away or add value,” she continues. “Until we get that message baked into our thinking, then sometimes it’s going to feel like we’re pushing a rock up a hill because we’re selling something that perhaps we don’t necessarily want or need. Ultimately, your USP is what your customers value. Not what you value.”

Learn From Customer Behaviour

Know your customer is a familiar business mantra, but finding your USP can require a more wide-ranging approach than traditional market research. “Sometimes if you ask a customer what they like about your product, they will tell you things that they think you want to hear,” Lisa says. “But ultimately, it’s their buying behaviour that tells you what they really do value. Lynne Twist always says, “Look at your chequebook”. Where you send your money is what you really value.”

“If we take the example of Kiki Moon from this year’s Start-up Academy,” she explains. “Keelin had developed this beautiful baby blanket, but what happened is that people started asking if she had it in a bigger size. It completely changed her view from ‘this is a baby product’ into ‘this is a product that everyone can enjoy’. And all of a sudden she had all kinds of market segments opening up.”

While Lisa doesn’t discount the value of market research, she cautions that a holistic approach to examining customer behaviour can pay greater dividends. “Listening to your customers for unprompted things is probably going to give you greater insights,” she says. “If you’re asking your customers specific questions you already have an agenda. Whereas listening to the online conversation around your product can really help you to understand what people really want from it because they will discuss it more naturally.”

Dress to Impress in the Workplace

“If you’re too casual in your dress sense, you’re going to be casual in your job.” That’s the advice of tailor Louis Copeland, and there’s no shortage of places to get fitted in Dublin these days either.

Copeland has described how Conor McGregor single-handedly breathed new life into his business, and that the UFC superstar’s influence has altered men’s fashion in Ireland.

The 28-year-old from Crumlin has built up an association with the Louis Copeland tailoring business since his earliest days in mixed martial arts, and the man behind the Dublin business told Nick Webb on The Capital B about working with one of the biggest names on the planet.

It all started with an appearance on The Late Late Show.

“The first suit we gave him, he went on The Late Late Show and Ryan Tubridy told him he was looking great. Conor said, “Louis Copelando!” revealed Copeland.

“He’s been great for us because he’s given us a younger image, and people now realise we cater for everybody. The everyman on the street is our regular customer.”

McGregor continues to visit Copeland in his flagship Capel Street store, one of six owned by the Copeland family as well as its online business.

“The Conor McGregor look has been the best thing that’s happened to us. It’s been brilliant because he’s brought style to younger people. When did you ever see 16 or 17-year-olds dressing up in suits, bow ties, pocket squares and nice shoes? It really has made a big difference in the fashion industry.

“You’ve got to go out there and hit them between the two eyes, but now he’s beginning to tone it down a bit but he still wears nice clothes. He’s made people aware of how to dress up.”

Copeland also spoke about the constant evolution in men’s fashion in this country, and the reason why Irish men prefer darker suits to those worn by people on the continent.

“Everyone’s wearing blue suits, light brown shoes, etc. Things are changing all the time. The light brown shoes are going darker, they look a bit more subtle,” he told Webb.

“The thing about Irish people is their complexion. Irish people haven’t got the complexion that Italian or French counterparts have. They look better in darker colours – if you put light colours on a fella who’s a bit pale, he looks like a milk bottle. It’s important you match the colours to the complexion.”

He’s also keen to see Irish men start to ‘dress up’ for work, as he believes a casual look in the workplace leads to a casual attitude.

“If you’re too casual in your dress sense, you’re going to be casual in your job. You don’t see a guard or an army officer wearing a t-shirt. If you put a good suit on you, it’s like a suit of armour. You feel good, your head goes back, your shoulders go back and you just feel better.”

Big business in Ireland

In this edition of The Capital B, Seamus O’Hara of The Carlow Brewery Company lifts the lid on the busy craft beer business and sheds a light on whether any brewery can truly stand the test of time.

The O’Hara brewery was set up over 20 years ago and it all started with a grá for beer. After experiencing the vast array of small breweries in the UK, Seamus saw a gap in the market, in other words, he wanted the good stuff and Irish beer just wasn’t cutting it.

At the time, craft beer was a mere glint in the eyes of out of work actors across the nation, but the O’Hara crew had stumbled upon something with substance and sustainability, and they wanted to see it through.

Using the old style of BES Investment the O’Hara team drummed up support from family and friends, and starting slow they began the long process of cracking into the competitive market of distilling.

One of the major forces affecting any start-up brewery is cash flow,  it’s highly capital intensive and according to Seamus; it can cost up to a quarter of a million euro to just get things going.

Starting on a customer by customer basis they gradually developed a loyal following and began looking to export. With some bumps along the road the brewery has gone from strength to strength, and the future is looking bright in this busy sector.

Also on this week’s episode, pub aficionado Noel Anderson discusses the surge in late bars and decline of nightclubs, plus a deep dive into newly modernised Jameson Whiskey.

The Health and Safety Authority

Unfortunately, between January and June this year we have already seen twelve farm fatalities. In the last ten years, excluding 2017 incidents, almost 200 families have suffered the loss of a loved one because of an accident on an Irish farm – that’s almost one every three weeks.

Farm Safety is About Real People

These aren’t just statistics – they are real people, real farming families – and the scary thing is that they don’t even account for the 2,500 plus farm families impacted by serious farm accidents each year. The fact that there are very few of us who don’t know of someone impacted by farm accidents shows us the scale of the challenge. It also shows that they occur all over the country, across all sectors, and that neither young nor old are immune to the potential dangers – over 45% of farm fatalities in the last ten years have involved children or older farmers.

“It Won’t Happen to Me”

The blurring of the farm as a giant playground and place of residence, the diverse workload (often completed alone and under time pressure) and the fact that few farmers ever really retire, explain in part why the rate of agricultural-related fatalities is far higher than any other economic sector. But does it really get to the heart of the issue? Does it justify why the level of farm accidents is so reluctant to decline or why similar accidents occur year after year on Irish farms?

The simple answer is no, and to improve requires collective effort and acceptance by us all that a farm accident can happen on any farm. All too often, myself included, we think it won’t happen to us: “I know every inch of the farm, I was born here and have worked here every day since. I know where the dangers are and can avoid them”.

Don’t Take Chances

Chances are often taken as a result. And whether it’s getting into the pen with a freshly calved cow, not turning off the PTO when dealing with a blockage or making sure the handbrake is on and all brakes/lights working, the outcome can be fatal. I’m not in any way trying to paint a picture of negligence on the part of the farmer. Instead, I’m hoping to point out that sometimes familiarity leads to complacency and because we are so familiar with our surroundings, and our activities, we fail to see the wood from the trees.

And it’s not just the obvious things that we need to be conscious of. It’s the smaller or more trivial things where in hindsight we’d say, ‘I should have fixed that weeks ago’ or ‘What was I thinking of going so fast on the quad?’. Speaking to anyone about farm accidents, very often the bull or the uncovered PTO shaft spring to mind. But combined, they account for less than 5% of farm fatalities in the last 10 years. Nearly three times more have died from falls on Irish farms and five times more after being crushed by farm machinery.

Small Changes Make a Huge Difference

Ultimately, managing safety on our farms is our own personal responsibility, and should be a constant in our daily farm plans and activities. Not just for our own safety, but that of our families, employees and visitors to our farm.

The good news is that small changes to farm facilities and practices can make huge differences and there are a range of supports available. For example, The Health and Safety Authority have a range of practical guides and safety tips on their website to help identify and control potential challenges across a range of farm activities.

The different ways of complaining

  • Face to face
  • By phone
  • By email
  • By letter

Let’s first take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each before concluding which is the most effective.

Picture this scenario: you have bought a faulty item from a shop and you take it back to complain. You go directly to the shop assistant and tell them your problem. They say they cannot help you, which makes you angrier, to the point perhaps where you start insulting the poor shop assistant. RESULT: This will do you no favours, like getting any compensation, or even a refund. If you go directly to the first person you see within the organisation you are complaining about, you may be wasting your time as they may be powerless to take any action or provide you with a solution. So the important lesson to be learnt is to make sure firstly that you are speaking to the relevant person, the one who has the authority to make decisions.

Perhaps you don’t have time to actually go and see the relevant authority in person so you decide to make a phone call. The problem with complaining by phone is that you may be passed around from department to department, making you more and more angry until you finally give up. Either that or the phone is hung up on you, which leaves you fuming even more. Furthermore, any contact can be denied.

The same applies to emails too, which can additionally be deleted, or even manipulated.

This leaves us with the traditional letter. When we first make a complaint the usual response is a request to write a letter:  “Can you put that down in writing please?”

The advantages of writing a letter of complaint are that:

  • Written records are still very important, e.g. in legal matters as opposed to a fax or email.
  • You have complete control over what is being said, and you can present evidence.
  • You can be prepared, and plan your letter carefully.
  • You are able to keep copies of anything sent in writing.
  • You have time to reflect and/or consult as opposed to complaining on the spot.

So here are some useful points to consider when writing your letter:

  • State what went wrong exactly. You need to provide concrete evidence, with documentation, for example a receipt, where possible. Make sure you keep copies of all correspondence, including relevant documentation. You also need to state where, when, who was involved, what was said or done. Photographic or video evidence boosts your case.
  • What do you expect from your complaint?  If you are complaining about a situation at work, focus on taking action to improve situations rather than spending your time complaining.
  • State a time limit for when you expect a reply.
  • Be assertive, and stay calm.
  • Make sure you address the complaint to the relevant person.

Are you a blogger too

Only a few years ago, a “web log” was a little-known way of keeping an online diary.  At that time, it seemed like “blogs” (as they quickly became known) were only for serious computer geeks or obsessives.

This didn’t last long, though, and within a very short period of time, blogs exploded – blogs were everywhere, and it seemed that almost everyone read blogs, or was a blogger.

The blogging craze of a couple of years ago (when it was estimated that ten new blogs were started somewhere in the world every minute) now seems to have died down a bit – yet thousands of blogs (probably the better ones) remain.  Blogs are no now longer seen as the exclusive possession of geeks and obsessives, and are now seen as important and influential sources of news and opinion.  So many people read blogs now, that it has even been suggested that some blogs may have been powerful enough to influence the result of the recent US election.

Blogs are very easy to set up – all you need is a computer, an internet connection and the desire to write something.  The difference between a blog and a traditional internet site is that a blog is one page consisting mostly of text (with perhaps a few pictures), and – importantly – space for people to respond to what you write.  The best blogs are similar to online discussions, where people write in responses to what the blogger has written.  Blogs are regularly updated – busy blogs are updated every day, or even every few hours.

Not all blogs are about politics, however.  There are blogs about music, film, sport, books – any subject you can imagine has its enthusiasts typing away and giving their opinions to fellow enthusiasts or anyone else who cares to read their opinions.

So many people read blogs now that the world of blog writers and blog readers has its own name – the “blogosphere”.

But how influential, or important, is this blogosphere really?  One problem with blogs is that many people who read and write them seem only to communicate with each other.  When people talk about the influence of the blogosphere, they do not take into account the millions of people around the world who are not bloggers, never read blogs, and don’t even have access to a computer, let alone a good internet connection.

Sometimes, it seems that the blogosphere exists only to influence itself, or that its influence is limited to what is actually quite a small community.  Blogs seem to promise a virtual democracy – in which anyone can say anything they like, and have their opinions heard – but who is actually listening to these opinions?  There is still little hard evidence that blogs have influenced people in the way that traditional mass media (television and newspapers) have the ability to do.

The Different of Business and ethics

Set up in the 1920s by James Carston, a Manchester tailor, the company has remained in the family and is now run by James’s grandson, Paul Carston.  Employing fewer than 50 people, the company has a reputation for producing high-quality men’s shirts, which it sells by mail order, and has a loyal customer base.  As Paul Carston says, ‘Once someone has tried our shirts, they tend to come back for more.  Our customers appreciate the attention to detail and the high-quality fabric we use.’  And it’s the fabric they now use that makes the company almost unique in the world of men’s shirt manufacturers. When Paul Carston took over running the company in 1999, he inherited a business that prided itself on using local well-paid machinists rather than sweatshop labour, and looked upon its employees as members of an extended family.  Paul, a committed environmentalist, felt that the company fitted in well with his values.  The shirts were made from 100 per cent cotton, and as Paul says, ‘It’s a completely natural fibre, so you would think it was environmentally sound’.  Then Paul read a magazine article about Fair Trade and cotton producers.  He was devastated to read that the cotton industry is a major source of pollution, and that the synthetic fertilisers used to produce cotton are finding their way into the food chain.

Paul takes up the story.  ‘I investigated our suppliers, and sure enough found that they were producing cotton on an industrial scale using massive amounts of chemicals.  Then I looked into organic cotton suppliers, and found an organisation of Indian farmers who worked together to produce organic cotton on a Fair Trade basis.  Organic cotton is considerably more expensive than conventionally produced cotton, so I did the sums. I discovered that if we were prepared to take a cut in profits, we would only need to add a couple of pounds to the price of each shirt to cover the extra costs.  The big risk, of course, was whether our customers would pay extra for organic cotton.’ Paul did some research into the ethical clothing market and discovered that although there were several companies producing casual clothing such as T-shirts in organic cotton, there was a gap in the market for smart men’s shirts.

He decided to take the plunge and switch entirely to organic cotton.  He wrote to all his customers explaining the reasons for the change, and at the same time the company set up a website so they could sell the shirts on the internet.  The response was encouraging.  Although they lost some of their regular customers, they gained a whole customer base looking for formal shirts made from organic cotton, and the company is going from strength to strength.

Important to have contact with your customers

As a small business, it’s important to have contact with your customers. But some phone calls could easily be handled by your website and other digital channels — saving time for you and your customers. Here are some ideas for how to tweak your website to handle some routine calls.

1. Add an FAQ page

You already know which questions come up again and again. Answer them once and for all on your website by creating a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page. Update this page regularly to keep up with the latest developments and to answer timely questions.

2. Review your website navigation

Maybe you already have plenty of information on your site, but no one can find it. If you use a creative, nonstandard navigation scheme, take a look at your web analytics to see if that is preventing people from finding the information they need. Even if you use standard navigation, check your labels. Are they clear and accurate?

3. Add a video demonstration

If you’re spending a lot of time on the phone giving directions on how to use your product, a video demonstration could save time. And because nothing beats a visual demonstration, an online video will be more helpful to your customers than a phone conversation with you.

4. Offer Internet-only sales

Take a page from the airlines’ book, and offer lower prices for customers who purchase online. Or, offer online-only sales to encourage people to buy online rather than calling or visiting your store. Financially, this strategy makes sense because buying online does not use your staff resources they way an in-person or telephone sale does. And, a lower online rate helps defray the cost of shipping, which is one reason many customers prefer to shop in person.

5. Utilise your social channels

These days, people are very content to engage with a business on social media to get to the bottom of their issues. Instead of leaving an email or making a call, why not enquire on an open platform like Facebook or Twitter – you might even find your answer on a business’ profile already.

6. Display your security and encryption features prominently

Some people still prefer placing an order by telephone because of fears about online security. Help overcome this obstacle by highlighting the steps you take to safeguard their information, and make it clear that you won’t sell their information to third parties.

7. Offer email support

Display your email address more prominently than your phone number. Email is a real time-saver compared to a phone call. First, you don’t have to drop everything to answer an email. Second, you can take your time to find the answer to the questions, and you can get right to the point in your conversation with the customer.

8. Automate quotes, reservations and other functions online

If build an automated system to handle quotes, reservations, bookings or other critical functions, you can free up considerable resources for more mission-critical activities.

9. Include your business hours on your Contact Us page

If you own a retail shop or restaurant, you probably get tons of calls asking what time you open and close. Make sure your hours are displayed on your website and directory listings to help reduce these calls.

Identifying your target market

Identifying your target market is one of the most crucial steps you need to take when you’re starting a business or launching new products and services. When you have a good handle on who your target customer is, you can not only create a product that suits their needs, you can also produce advertising and promotional copy to capture their interest and get them to buy. But how do you identify that target market?

Start with the problem

A good way to determine who is likely to become your customer is to clarify the problem that your product or service addresses. For example, you run a housecleaning service. The problem that you solve is doing cleaning for people who cannot or do not want to do these jobs themselves. Upper income families, families where both parents work, and older people who no longer have the ability to do their own housekeeping, are all potential customers for your services.

Define your customer’s characteristics

Listing out the characteristics of your typical customer is another good step towards identifying your target audience. These characteristics need not be personal ones; they can pertain to lifestyle, income, geographical location, hobbies, and many other things. For example, for a gardening service, one type of target customer are people who live in neighborhoods with well-manicured lawns, attractive plantings and colorful flowers around their homes.

The business could also target corporate clients who want their office surroundings landscaped. For a business that specialises in home security, the ideal customers may be in a residential area that has a high crime rate and in high-income residential areas. Women living alone who worry about safety may be another potential target for sales. Listing out these characteristics allows you to zero in on your target audience accurately.

What is your primary market?

Many products and services address the needs of a variety of people but they still have a primary audience. These are the people who:

  • Gain the most benefits
  • Have the greatest need for these services/products
  • Have the ability to pay for them
  • Buy the biggest quantity of them on a regular basis.

Knowing who makes up this primary audience should be your goal when you are trying to identify your target market. For example, for a bakery, the local consumer may be a recurring source of business, but the icing on the cake (forgive the pun) may be local restaurants who buy breads and desserts in quantity to serve to their customers.

If you’re starting out in business, be sure to check out our business start-up package for tips, tools and more.

How to managing farm Cash Flow

Getting to grips with cash flow management is integral to farming success. But with farmers facing a variety of challenging factors from the weather, to volatile output prices, to Brexit, it can often feel like navigating a minefield.

To get an overview of some of the options available to farmers, we spoke to AIB Agri Advisor Patrick O’Meara about the current landscape and its effects on cash flow. He also provided us with some useful methods for cash flow planning and dealing with common cash flow concerns. Read on to find out more.

The Current Landscape

For all farmers, the outlook for 2017 depends on the specific sector you are working in. “Pig and dairy sectors are going through a positive period at the moment in terms of increases in market prices,” Patrick notes. “Both those sectors have come through a difficult period so it’s encouraging to see. In the beef and tillage sectors, there’s some frustration at farmer-level with prices and also concern around Brexit.”

Brexit will continue to throw up challenges for farmers and add a level of uncertainty, but there are some aspects of the changing economic climate you can plan for. “It’s difficult to know exactly what the effects of Brexit might be,” Patrick explains. “But in the short-term, you’ll need to consider the impact of exchange rates on output prices when planning.” In the medium term, he says, legislative changes will come into play: “You’re looking at the potential impact of CAP reform and you’re also considering tariffs and trade agreements that may be developed between the UK and Europe.”

While there are many uncertainties that are outside of the control of farmers, it is important to control what is inside the farm gate. “Improving on-farm efficiency and competitiveness is essential to managing risk and sustaining your business through any future potential challenges” according to Patrick.