Friday, September 5, 2014

Get your Weymouth or Portland business going with some free help

Christine Collins of WSX Enterprise, who runs the club
A club for people wanting to start their own business is launching in Weymouth and Portland. 
Because it's supported by European funding, membership of the club is free.
The New in Business Club provides a forum for people to explore the challenges and opportunities of starting a business. The Club is aimed at those with little or no experience of being self-employed but who are attracted to the idea of being their own boss. 
It also helps people in the early months of trading, like David and Mandy Hunter of Dorset Trade Skills. They are launching their new business in Weymouth this month. David  said: “Having worked for other people as a trainer in building trades, such as plumbing and bricklaying, I knew I had the experience and skills to plan and run my own courses. What we lacked was experience in running our own business. Christine’s knowledge and advice on the business side has been invaluable.”
The club meets monthly in Weymouth College  
The New in Business Club has been meeting since May this year. But from this month it is open to anyone in the Weymouth and Portland area who is new to business. Its next meeting is on 11 September 2014, in Weymouth College.
The Club is organised by Christine Collins, Enterprise Adviser for Weymouth and Portland, WSX Enterprise. Christine said: “It’s fantastic that for the first time, we have a programme of training and support focused solely on Weymouth and Portland. In the six months since it began I have worked with dozens of new clients looking to start a business. I’ve also been providing support to a number of established firms looking to grow.”
Local business owners are sharing their experience with the club
The New in Business Club meets monthly and its members have already heard from Amy-Kate Crane of Heavenly Bump, a maternity wear business based on the Granby, who shared her experiences of taking the first steps in running a business.
In the next meeting, on 11 September, club members will have the chance to quiz Andrew Knowles, of Writecombination, about  using social media to promote their business. 
To find out more about the meeting on 11 September, click here.
The Club has set up a Facebook Page, to make it easier to provide support and to reach other people who want to explore self-employment but are not quite sure where to start. Click here for the Facebook Page.

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

The online shop that's selling Dorset to the world

The Dorset Shop logo
When Chris Wilson visited Scotland, she was impressed by how easy it was to buy locally-produced foods and craft goods. She realised that the same could not be said for Dorset produce. Despite the county being well known for high quality food, drink, arts and crafts, there did not appear to be an easy way to access a variety of goods from Dorset producers.

Chris decided to address this by creating The Dorset Shop, an online retail outlet bringing together a mix of local artisans. The Dorset Shop first went live around 18 months ago, offering local producers a new channel through which to sell their wares.

The website operates on a subscription model for artisans, with each one paying a small fee to be listed. Many small producers struggle to find the time to market themselves, when they would rather be making. Having a listing on The Dorset Shop site helps to solve this problem by putting their products in front of a wider audience.

Chris takes responsibility for promoting the site through blogging, social media and networking. Sales through the site are handled by the producers themselves, meaning she does not need to carry a stock of all the items on offer.

At present, the producers listed on the site include jewellery, jams and pickles, cards, stationery and photography. Chris is hoping to add more in the near future as The Dorset Shop website becomes more established.

For more information about The Dorset Shop, visit the website or follow it on Twitter or Facebook.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Sainsbury's comes to Weymouth

Sainsburys shopping trollies

The opening of any shop is big news for those involved. The opening of Weymouth Sainsbury’s is big news not only for the 300 staff it’s just hired but also for the entire town.

A new supermarket brings more choice and also more competition. That’s good for consumers but what about existing local businesses, some of which may feel threatened by the arrival of another national brand.

 Bizoh spoke to Steve Jones, store manager to find out more.

 Let’s get some facts out of the way. The store opens on 16 October 2013. It’s 46,000 sq ft (if you can visualise what that looks like) with 520 car parking spaces and a café upstairs. The store is designed to be easy on the environment.

The filling station canopy will trap energy from the sun and use it to supply electricity. The store has over 70 rooflights to gain maximum natural illumination. All the internal lighting uses LEDs and a highly sensitive monitoring system turns these up or down depending on the amount of natural light available.

Sainsbury's and local business

This is manager Steve’s second new store and he’s familiar with the concerns of other local traders. In his previous store, he invited a worried local newsagent to sell some of their own products in the store foyer, and from this, a monthly community market developed.

Steve wants to “co-exist harmoniously” with his neighbours. He’s arranged for teams coming in to set up the store to stay in local guesthouses rather than the bigger hotels. Sainsbury’s have sponsored a local rugby team. He’s met with the organisers of Weymouth Foodbank and many other local groups. 

The Sainsbury’s team has performed makeovers at local venues and together chosen to support a local charity. They’ve certainly worked hard to win friends in the area. Steve says his door is always open to any local business wanting to discuss concerns or ideas.

A boost to the Weymouth and Portland economy

The arrival of Sainsbury’s is already delivering some benefits to Weymouth. Almost all of the 300 staff have been recruited from nearby, including 18 of the 20 team leaders. There’s scope for others to join them once the store opens and the home delivery network builds up.

 Local young people could find themselves a job for life at Sainsbury’s. Steve himself joined as a trainee butcher at 18 and he’s now managing his seventh store.

 Local firms always worry when competitors, particularly big hitters like Sainsbury’s, turn up in town. But competition and change are part of business. The biggest beneficiary of the new store’s arrival will be, we trust, the local economy of Weymouth and Portland.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why you need to know about inbound marketing

Inbound marketing: it sounds like being on the receiving end of a particularly nasty piece of pressure selling. But while it’s definitely the sort of business jargon that you’d cross the street to avoid, inbound marketing is something you need to know about if you’re promoting a business.

Many of us think of marketing and advertising as being the same thing. That advert on the side of the bus, in the cinema or on the edge of your Facebook page is the product of an organisation’s marketing team.

But marketing teams should do more than just create adverts. They should be interested in every point of connection between the organisation and its customers. That’s because these are the places where the reputation of the business can be enhanced or tarnished. Good marketing is more subtle than simply promoting ‘buy us’ messages.

Inbound marketing is about attraction not offers

If you put your advert in front of enough people, some of them will take notice. That’s the been principle behind a lot of marketing over the years. Unfortunately, advertising this way can be expensive and the majority of people who see your advert won’t be interested in your product.

The people who do notice your advert are often already considering purchasing what you’re offering, or are open to being nudged in that direction.

Inbound marketing is about creating material aimed at people already interested in the products you sell. It could take the form of a blog post giving advice or news, a video that explains how to solve a problem or an infographic that sets out important facts in a visually interesting manner.

Having created these materials, the challenge for the inbound marketer is to find a way of getting them in front of the people who’d be interested in reading them.

An example of inbound marketing

Here’s how inbound marketing might work for a florist. Rather than pay for an advert in the local paper, they work with a graphic design agency to create an interesting and amusing infographic around the subject of men giving flowers as gifts.

Related: Power up your marketing with an infographic

They put the infographic on their website and share links to it through social media and their email newsletter. Because it’s informative and attractive, people share it with their contacts, who are more likely to take a look because it comes from someone they trust.

One infographic, like one advertisement, is unlikely to boost customer numbers. But sustained campaigns of inbound marketing activities are proving to be very effective for many businesses. It also sets you apart from your competitors who are still publishing adverts in the paper.

You might not like the term ‘inbound marketing’ but you should decide whether it’s an approach that could work for your business.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Paula and Brian drive business down a new road

Paula Thompson
Every time the government changes the rules, it can also create a new niche into which businesses can take root. This is what happened when firms were made increasingly responsible for ensuring the safety of their staff on the road.

Paula and Brian Thompson of Poole have just launched a new business aimed at helping small firms with the process of managing both a small fleet of vehicles and their drivers. The company, Uneedus Business Solutions, is providing advice and practical support to firms keen to comply with the new legislation around business motoring.

Experience counts for a lot

This isn’t Paula’s first start-up. She’s previously run her own businesses in hospitality and, more recently, in recruitment. In 2012 Brian looked to join his wife in running their own business, bringing with him almost 30 years’ experience of advanced driver training and fleet management.

It seemed logical they should blend their skills into a new venture, resulting in Uneedus.

The business supports small local firms both with recruitment advice and a fleet management system which does more than help keep vehicle running costs down. It also makes it easier to monitor and educate drivers, whether they’re on the road every day or just get behind the wheel for business on an occasional basis. 

Putting the pieces together 

Starting a business can be something of a puzzle. Achieving the desired outcome - a profitable and sustainable operation - requires piecing together the right skills, finance and resources, and having a product that others want to buy.

Like so many small firms, Paula and Brian have begun by working from home, although they expect that to change when growth comes. Finance has come in part from their previous business. They’ve also been working with a business coach provided by Business West.

“Having a coach gave us the focus we needed,” said Paula. “She helped to set targets and provide accountability.”

When it comes to advice for others thinking of setting up their own firm, Paula has some strong advice: “Don’t believe the hype; it’s hard work. It’s not as easy as you think.”

To find out more about UNeedUs visit their website.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Guide to using listening skills in your business

Listening is harder than you might think. Every day we’re on the receiving end of verbal messages from staff, customers and suppliers, but while we might hear the words, we often fail to spot the significance of what’s being said.

Poor listening skills can lead to incorrect assumptions and bad decisions - mistakes that can cost your business time and money and which sometimes damage relationships, leading to longer term issues.
Here are some tips to improve your listening skills and boost your ability to understand the messages coming your way.

1. Avoid making assumptions

We find it very easy to hear what we expect, rather than listening carefully to the message contained in the words coming our way. The danger of assuming that we know where a conversation is going is that we give the wrong response.

Faced with customers regularly asking similar questions, it’s easy to develop a set of stock answers. However, if you think you know what someone is asking without listening too closely, you could fail to spot their real need, meaning your response is less effective than it might be. The result could be a dissatisfied customer who might never come back.

2. Effective listening means focusing on the speaker

Listening as carefully as possible means giving your full attention to the speaker. Avoid distractions and make a conscious effort to listen.

Your body language will tell the speaker whether you’re taking in what they are saying. Let them know they have your attention by looking at them and giving small visual clues of your interest, such as an occasional nod.

Take care not to glance away at a computer screen or your mobile phone. Even if you’re still listening, these actions send negative messages to the speaker, implying that you’re not interested in what they have to say.

3. Avoid predicting what’s coming

Because time is precious, it’s too easy to jump ahead of the speaker, particularly if they’re not sure how to articulate the message they’re trying to get across. It’s tempting to finish their sentences for them, or give answers before they’ve finished.

While you think you’re being helpful, these actions can unsettle or annoy the speaker, resulting in poor quality of communication and possibly damaging customer relations.

4. Summarise what you’ve heard

We all think and speak in a slightly different way, meaning that the message you receive from the speaker might not be quite what they really meant. An effective technique for ensuring that you have heard the message clearly is to repeat back what you think was said.

This is particularly useful where a customer is trying to explain a complex requirement or problem. Repeating back what you think they said gives them the opportunity to correct or clarify the message.

5. Effective listening means asking questions

Another technique for seeking clarification is by using questions. Don’t be put off by thinking that you’re meant to understand everything that’s being said to you - it’s safer to ask questions rather than make assumptions that lead to a misunderstanding of the message.

If you’re not entirely sure what a customer is telling you, ask a question about a specific issue they’ve mentioned. Don’t be embarrassed if they have to repeat a point they think they’ve already explained.

This, and the other effective listening tips above, could lead to your conversations becoming a little longer. But they can also save you time by avoiding the misunderstandings that lead to mistakes and dissatisfaction.

Show your customers and others who engage with your business that you care, by taking the time to listen carefully to what they have to say.

Other articles that could interest you: 

Seven website mistakes that will kill your business

Power up your marketing with an infographic

Photo credit: niclindh from Flickr

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Selling Weymouth harbour until the boats come in

Every year, thousands of people pause to enjoy the maritime ambience of Weymouth’s often busy but always good looking harbour.

Very few, if any, of both visitors and locals, realise that the harbour is a small business, operating under similar pressures to the local restaurants, fishing boats and tourist attractions that line the quaysides.

The head of this £2m a year operation is Harbour Master Keith Howorth, who recently took over following a long career in the Royal Navy. Keith, and his team of up to 15 people, ensure that both the inner and outer harbour remain fit for purpose and generate the revenue needed to cover the substantial running costs.

Keith and his team work for Weymouth & Portland Borough Council.

In the business of berthing

Just a few years ago, the marina business, a primary source of revenue for the harbour, was booming nationally. But the recent recession, combined with rising fuel prices, have driven boat owners out of the water. Along the entire south coast, one out of every five berths now stands empty.

Weymouth has three marinas - two operated by the Harbour Master and one in private ownership. These two marinas have capacity for 450 boats. The harbour can also provide temporary berths for 200 visiting craft, along with housing Weymouth’s 80 commercial vessels.

Filling these berths, and managing the administration of collecting payments and offering advice, is a 7 day a week job for the Harbour Master’s team. They are also responsible for the operation of the town’s lifting bridge.

Attracting income to pay for infrastructure

The recent reconstruction of the quayside for Condor Ferries has highlighted the Harbour Master’s biggest headache - maintenance of the port’s infrastructure. New walls, pontoons and walkways don’t come cheap, but they’re vital to the successful and safe operation of the business.

This hardware is also essential for drawing in more boats, short and long-term. This in turn attracts visitors, both from the water and the quayside tourists, who admire the nautical scene while perhaps aspiring to a boat of their own one day.

It’s with this in mind that Keith, the Harbour Master, is considering how to improve the marketing of the business he operates on behalf of the town. By selling the attractions of Weymouth  harbour to south coast sailors, he’s also raising the profile of Weymouth itself, which should in turn benefit local businesses who depend on a steady stream of visitors with money to spend.

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