Wednesday, April 27, 2011

PayPod - A Possible Alternative To Cheques

In a couple of months' time, on 30 June 2011, the cheque guarantee scheme will end.

Your customers will still be able to pay you by cheque, but you'll no longer be able to take down their cheque guarantee card number to ensure payment.

We're can't remember the last time we saw someone using a cheque guarantee card, so we're not sure what difference this will make. But this minor landmark highlights the continuing decline of the cheque as a method of payment.

Cheque alternatives are beginning to appear, one of which is the PayPod. This is a small handheld terminal that businesses can use to take payment via credit or debit cards.

It doesn't appear to be available just yet, but you can register your interest on the slick PayPod website. Here you'll be able to watch a very short video explaining how PayPod works, narrated by a woman with a refreshingly English accent. We've become used to everyone online speaking with an American twang.

PayPod claims to be a much cheaper solution than that being offered by the major banks and will offer a Pay and Go option, implying that you'll only be charged as you use it. It's aimed at anyone who would previously have taken cash or cheque payments from customers, and particularly those who are mobile.

Cheques will continue to be processed by the banks until 2018, although the cheque guarantee scheme ends this year. So there's still plenty of time to see what other payment solutions make an appearance in the coming months.

If you're interested in finding a cost-effective way to take money via credit or debit cards in the near future, it may be worth looking into what PayPod has to offer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Android App Review - Virtual Swanage

A day trip to Swanage presented the ideal opportunity to test an Android we recently discovered - Virtual Swanage.

Destination guides are ideal apps for Android and Apple phones, putting local information literally at travellers' fingertips. Whether you're dropping in for a day or staying a fortnight, local guides can help you get much more from your visit.

We discovered 'Virtual Swanage' (also referred to as Swanage Mobile Guide) by searching the Android marketplace from a phone, using the term 'Dorset'. There's not a lot of competition for localised apps in this part of England.

The free app is produced by Brian Dorey, owner of Apexweb web design agency, which is, unsurprisingly, based in Swanage. That it's built by a designer is obvious - the interface is clear and clean, with gorgeous photos of the Dorset resort.

The most effective guides anticipate visitors' questions. Where can we park and how much will it cost? Which restaurants offer the best value for money? Are there any local events we shouldn't miss?

Virtual Swanage provides easy navigation for users seeking answers. Unfortunately, clicking on the icons soon demonstrates the limitations of this app. It's not really an app at all, more a series of links to the main Virtual Swanage website.

Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with this approach if it gives the user the information they want. Our first question was about parking costs, which the 'News' section told us had recently been updated. Even more usefully, the web page it took us to indicated that parking prices were correct as at 9th Jan 2011. So the £2 all day fee for parking on a weekday at Durleston Country Park seemed a reliable guide.

Unfortunately, on arrival we had to pay £4 for 4 hours parking, and more if we'd wanted to stay longer. It was no surprise that prices had increased at the start of the holiday season, but a guide needs to be up-to-date if it's to be trusted.

The other information linked to via the guide, such as where to stay, to eat, and local events, is really just a directory. There don't appear to be any recommendations or indications of venues offering best value. We wanted to know the best place for ice cream, but the guide didn't help with our decision making.

Despite its shortcomings, Virtual Swanage is a good indicator of what's possible in the new world of mobile applications. It promises more than it provides, but by pulling together local information for visitors into one place, it's a useful resource. We rated it 3 out of 5.

We look forward to seeing more Dorset businesses producing apps for Android and Apple phones. If your firm has one and you'd like us to review it, please get in touch.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Could Business Networking Provide Low Cost Staff Development?

If you don't offer training and development opportunities for your staff, you're increasing the chance of them moving on.

Yes, budgets are tight and training is always one of the first victims of cost-cutting. So here's an employee development idea for you to consider.

Why not send some of your key staff to business networking events? We're assuming that most of our readers are involved with, and perhaps own, SMEs. There are stacks of networking meetings around the UK aimed at those who keep the small business economy going.

Here are just some of the benefits your staff could get from networking:
  • Training in a wide range of subjects such as marketing, sales and social media.
  • Information updates on legislation changes in areas such as employment law or pensions.
  • Opportunities to share common business problems and potential solutions.
  • Inspiration and encouragement from others who run or work in SMEs.
  • Opening their eyes to opportunities or ideas they hadn't previously considered.
All of these can help your employees to add more value to your business, while increasing their own self-worth. For the price of an occasional breakfast and perhaps a membership fee, both you and they can benefit from hours of informal self-development every year.

There's a lot more we could say, but we want to keep this short and to the point, so we'll stop here.

What do you think? We'd like to hear your feedback, experience or questions. Please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spirit of the Sea Sponsorship Opportunities

Now's the chance to link the name of your business with an event that could attract up to 50,000 people, and secure association with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing venue.

The details of the 2011 sponsorship package have been announced, with the Title Sponsor position being open to negotiation. This is a unique opportunity to obtain headline billing across the nine days of Spirit of the Sea Events.

Weymouth and Portland's Spirit of the Sea was established several years ago as an Olympic legacy project. It ties together a number of exhibitions and activities into a single celebration of the region's maritime heritage.

Thousands of visitors come into Weymouth during the Spirit week and enjoy a wealth of entertainments, including the Dorset Seafood Festival, live music on the beach, and the Dorset Leisure and Watersports Show. Each event is held under the Spirit of the Sea banner, ensuring sponsors are highly visible.

In addition to the Title Sponsore, Spirit are also inviting Premier Partners (£5,000 plus VAT) and Partners (£1,500 plus VAT), along with Top 50 sponsors (£395 plus VAT). These are priced so as to allow organisations to choose a level that's appropriate to their budget.

For more information about these sponsorship opportunities, visit the Spirit of the Sea website.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Low Cost Business Exhibition Opportunity in South Dorset

If price has put you off taking a stand at a business exhibition, here's an opportunity you won't want to miss.

Winning Business, on 1 June in Weymouth, is offering you the chance to showcase your wares to other local firms for just £55.

This B2B event is being held at the Redlands Community Sports Hub and will feature up to 75 exhibitors. According to Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce around 40 firms have already expressed an interest, which is great news.

The exhibition is very reasonably priced, particularly when compared with other regional events such as Business South and Business South West. By taking a table you'll be able to experience what it's like to present your firm to potential customers in a show environment. It could also help you to determine whether there's a return to be had on a relatively small investment.

Even if you don't choose to take a table at Winning Business, you will probably find it valuable to drop in, even for a few minutes. Visitor entry is free and whatever industry you're in, there's sure to be someone there who offers services you need to buy. Even if you're not looking to change supplier, it's always worth being aware of the other options available.

Winning Business is being organised by the new South & West Dorset Open4Business CIC (Community Interest Company). If that sounds like a mouthful, don't worry. What's important is that the exhibition offers, and delivers, value to your business.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Member of Parliament Meets Entrepreneurial Dorset Plumber

Successful local firm A.P.Chant of Bridport has recently hosted a visit from their local MP, Oliver Letwin.

A.P.Chant is the biggest privately-owned plumbing, heating and electrical company in West Dorset, according to their website. It was begun by Ashley Chant who started working as a local plumber in 1992 and is now Managing Director of a business operating across Dorset, Somerset and Devon.

The visit was an opportunity for Ashley Chant to showcase his firm's work and to tell the MP about all the exciting developments for the company in the next twelve months, which includes the proposed Renewable Energy Centre building, located next to the A.P.Chant Head Office.

Ashley Chant, Lucy Chant and Oliver Letwin also discussed the government's proposed policies on renewal energy.

Following the visit, Ashley Chant said: “We were obviously delighted to welcome Mr Letwin to A.P.Chant, we are all very proud as to what we’ve achieved as a business despite the economic situation and the affects that that’s had on the building sector in the last few years. Mr Letwin was very interested in this new and exciting development in the business."

It's good to see a local firm getting attention from a senior local politician. Let's hope Oliver Letwin receives, and accepts, more invitations to visit Dorset businesses in the coming months.

Photo from A.P.Chant. From left to right: Lucy Chant, Oliver Chetwin, Ashley Chant.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Face the Bournemouth 'Dragons' to Win £500 Start-Up Grant

Bournemouth Council are encouraging new businesses to apply for a small grant which will be awarded in a 'Dragons' Den' style competition.

£15,000 of the Council's £1 million recession fund has been allocated to this, meaning up to 30 start-ups could benefit.

So if you're considering starting a new business and have the confidence to pitch for the money, why not apply? The closing date is 20 May 2011, so there's still plenty of time to think about it.

The money could be put to a huge range of uses. Maybe you're thinking of starting a cleaning company, meaning you need equipment and a marketing budget. Or perhaps you've got a brilliant idea for a new product or service and the extra cash would be a useful boost to your funding.

The £500 grant isn't going to finance all your start-up costs but it's a useful contribution. What could be more valuable is the PR gained from winning and being followed by the Dorset Echo for a year. That's effectively free advertising.

Unfortunately the cash is only available to businesses which have not begun trading. This penalises the entrepreneurs who are already getting with the job of creating wealth through their own efforts.

Finally, don't be put off by the dates on the application form, which still refer to the 2010 grant scheme. If you believe those, you've already missed the deadline. We'll be contacting Bournemouth Council to let them know.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dorset Businesses Encouraged to Claim Research and Development Grants and Tax Relief

If your business operates in engineering, science or technology, including IT, it could be missing out on R&D grants or tax relief.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that to qualify for R&D benefits you need to employ a bunch of white-coated boffins who spends weeks exploring seemingly madcap notions in the hope of discovering something entirely new to mankind.

For a while I worked for a small software company that regularly claimed, and was given, tax credits for R&D. They weren't engaged in anything particularly unusual - just writing custom web applications for an assortment of clients.

By a careful reading of the HMRC's guidelines for Research and Development (R&D) Relief for Corporation Tax, and an equally careful assessment of the work they were doing, they were able to claim thousands of pounds a year.

Members of the Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce were reminded of this relief by Richard Bugler of Albert Goodman earlier this week, at the monthly networking breakfast.

If you're engaged in any scientific or technology development work, it's worth talking to your accountant to see whether you could quality.

Grants for Research and Development

In a further bid to promote R&D within SMEs, from this month, the government is offering firms the chance to apply for grants.

A new scheme by the Technology Strategy Board is offering funds for projects in science, technology and engineering which could lead to new products. Established companies, start-ups or pre-start-ups are encouraged to apply.

Grants can cover work to prove the market, prove the concept and develop prototypes.

Dorset is full of small and medium sized businesses engaged in many activities, including information technology, engineering and scientific development. If yours is one of them, I recommend that you consider whether you could benefit from R&D tax relief and grants.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Business Networking at Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce

The first Tuesday of every month means it's the WPCC networking breakfast at the Rendezvous, Weymouth.

I'm a newcomer to both Weymouth and business networking. This was my sixth visit to the WPCC event and each one has been, from my point of view, a success.

Some are sceptical of networking events, and I can see why. If the main reason for doing it is to win business, that requires selling, and most of us don't like that. What we like even less is lots of people trying to sell to us.

I won't deny that one of my motives for networking is to find new customers. But I don't do it by selling. At every meeting I look for people I don't know and I ask them what they do. I want to know what business they're in and what motivates them to do it.

It's not that I'm looking for an angle to promote my wares. Having worked in various organisations over the years I am genuinely interested in how business works. For a while I interviewed and profiled a series of entrepreneurs on this blog, because I was keen to hear their stories.

Inevitably, conversations lead to business. I hear it happening around me and I do it myself. It's all conducted informally over bacon, eggs and coffee, overlooking the Weymouth harbour. Relationship building leads to relationship selling - the low pressure kind that we non-salesy people prefer.

Yesterday's WPCC meeting was packed. Capacity is around 75 and I think we were one short of that.

The Chamber of Commerce breakfasts have recently become hugely popular with local businesses. But don't let that discourage you from getting involved in this type of relaxed networking.

If you're not in Weymouth, there are plenty of other business networking opportunities in Dorset. And if you're reluctant to go alone, try to find a contact who's already involved with a networking group. Should that fail, you could always get in contact with me and come as my guest!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why Objections to a Sale are a Good Sign

If you sell to other people you probably dread them raising objections. Particularly if sales is not your strength.

Learning how to overcome objections is a key part of sales training. But what's not always taught is that the objections themselves are a good sign.

Of course people in sales would prefer their prospect not to have any objections because it would make the sale much easier. But in the real world people do put up reasons why they shouldn't buy a particular product.

However, the presence of an objection should be seen as an opportunity, not a problem. That's not just management-speak. If a customer says: "But it can't do this" or "It can't do that", they're asking for a response. That's an open door for addressing their concerns, and it might be a way of finding out more about the customer's real issues or their understanding of the product.

What the customer really wants to hear is assurance that their issue will be addressed by the product. If they really didn't want it they wouldn't even waste time talking to you. That they're willing to invest in the engagement implies that they have a genuine interest, but also a genuine concern.

It may be that they're right and the product doesn't do what they want, and it's not appropriate for them. Perhaps a different (more expensive?) product would suit them better. Or maybe you've established that it's time for the conversation to end. Sometimes that happens.

Either way, try to look at objections as being positives rather than negatives. Think about the sort of questions you'd ask if someone was trying to sell to you. You don't raise objections just to be difficult; you do it to get clarification and to help you make the right decision.

Looking at objections in this way might just help you to approach your next selling engagement with more confidence.