Monday, April 14, 2014

Tall Ship Pelican does the business on the high seas

TS Pelican in Weymouth harbour
If you’re looking for an unusual day out for your business, either as team building or just for fun, how about a day of sailing off the Jurassic Coast in Dorset?

The Tall Ship Pelican, based in Weymouth, operated by the charity Adventure Under Sail, provides sailing experiences for people of all ages. When it’s not sailing off to warmer climes or taking part in Tall Ships races, the Pelican is available for hire, both by private parties and small groups joining a scheduled day sail.

What’s involved in a day of sailing on the Pelican?

I was invited to join the first day sail of the season for 2014, on the first weekend in April. Unfortunately, the forecast wasn’t too promising, with rain expected from around 9am to 5pm, exactly the times of the trip. But I was determined that the weather would not dampen my first experience of tall ship sailing.

Teamwork gets the job done
After a warm welcome aboard by Captain Paul and his crew, the day began with the inevitable safety briefing. Alas, one of my ambitions was immediately thwarted, as day sailors are not permitted to climb the rigging.

Pulling on ropes is allowed, even encouraged, and there’s plenty of opportunity for that as sails are raised, lowered and adjusted. Some of us were given the chance to steer the ship, using the huge wheel at the stern. We were encouraged to ask lots of questions of the crew, a mix of permanent staff and volunteers.

Working on a sailing ship gives you an appetite and we were fortified by mid-morning bacon sandwiches and a wonderful lunch served from the busy galley.

Networking and knot working
Spending several hours in close proximity with others who share a common interest, in this case doing business in Weymouth and Portland, inevitably leads to interesting conversations and the exchange of contact details.

Lots of rope on a sailing ship
For those uncomfortable with a pure networking environment, or who simply wanted to use the day to escape from the office entirely, being aboard ship presented plenty of diversions. Among them was the vivid reminder that the variety of knots we associate with sailing ships exist for a reason, as we saw them in use and could even have a go at tying some ourselves.

No trip on the water is complete without a discussion of seasickness and there was plenty of sharing of extreme past experiences. Fortunately, while some of us may have had moments of discomfort (particularly when spending time inside) there was no sign of anyone having a real problem.

As for the weather during our day sail - the rain held off until after lunch and we had a few moments where the sun almost broke through. Our glimpses, through the murky mists, of Weymouth, Portland and the Jurassic Coast, were enough to show us that on a sunny day, sailing on the Pelican would be a very different experience.

For more information about the Tall Ship Pelican and Adventure Under Sail, visit their website. You can also follow them on Twitter and 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 cafĂ© 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

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.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

How to build your business with renewed confidence

Do your legs turn to jelly and your stomach tie itself in knots when you stand up to address an audience?

Despite being skilled in our chosen line of work, many of us lack the confidence to speak in public, even to a very small group. Part of this is down to nerves, but our reluctance can also spring from a sense of low self-esteem.

Unfortunately, this shortage of self-confidence can also feed through to other aspects of our lives. It can hold us, or our staff, back from achieving our full potential. The good news is that self-confidence can be built, or if it’s been knocked down in the past, re-built, with the right training.

Toastmasters provides a low cost training option

Around 100 years ago, people like Dale Carnegie realised that the ability to speak in public could open the door to better self-confidence. One organisation that grew in order to help people develop these skills was Toastmasters, a set of local clubs that has spread to become a worldwide non-profit operation.

Toastmasters International gives its members a safe, friendly environment in which to practice and refine the art of public speaking. At every meeting, everyone has an opportunity to give a short presentation, even if it’s just a few seconds long.

Through a process of supportive and constructive feedback, speakers can learn what others perceive to be their strengths and weaknesses, giving them the opportunity to work on improvement.
Toastmasters offers both a speaking and leadership development programme that has made a real difference in the lives of thousands of members, and it’s all available for a modest fee and time commitment.

More businesses should make use of Toastmasters

With training budgets squeezed, often out of existence, Toastmasters offers an inexpensive leadership and confidence-boosting training programme that organisations of any kind can choose to get involved with.

It can also help sole traders and other small business owners to overcome their fears of networking and giving presentations. These are barriers which, if not overcome, can hold back growth and lead to missed opportunities.

Today, four Toastmasters clubs operate in Dorset: in Dorchester, Ferndown and two in Bournemouth. Many of their current members can testify to how the speaking and leadership coaching they have received through their peers has made a real difference to their professional and personal lives.

To find out more about Toastmasters in Dorset, visit www.toastmasters.org  or for the Dorchester branch, visit www.casterbridgespeakers.org.uk.