Inspiration, ideas and opportunities for your business!

Business Opportunities And Ideas

Sweat Those Assets

on November 10th, 2010

How many of us:

  • Use a Smart-phone and still maintain a paper diary?

  • Use a Smart-phone and enter contact information manually when we could easily synchronise information from an email client?

  • Have boxes full of business cards collected whilst networking and yet do not have a contact database?

Competitive Advantage

In 1972, Southwest Airlines made a business move that has turned into a business legend. Their financial position was perilous. So they took another look at the business plan. The Southwest revelation was to see that time spent loading and unloading aeroplanes was money lost. Making a profit meant keeping aeroplanes in the air. To put the company back on its feet, Southwest developed the famous "Ten-Minute Turn." The Southwest solution was not based on acquiring new systems or equipment. Instead, the company focused on maximising one of its existing assets: the skill of flight and ground crews – in order to maximise the productivity of their most expensive capital assets – the aeroplanes. Southwest "sweated its assets": it made more effective use of the expertise of its people. It also maximised the revenue earning time (as opposed to down-time) of its most costly capital assets – its aeroplanes.

One definition of sweating the assets (and the path chosen by Southwest) is to get as much as possible from what is already present.

Automate

  • At a personal level – connect your Smart-phone to your computer and synchronise information. It also makes it easier to protect the information you keep on the ‘phone. Make sure that, as a minimum, your calendar and contacts are synchronised.

  • Throughout your business – where you have time consuming manual processes, look at the cost of automation – it may surprise you how little it may cost to eliminate error-prone mundane manual tasks.

Collate

  • Look at the data you have collected in your business – and turn it into information.

  • Business cards – create a system for capturing the relevant data and making it work for you.

  • Customer data – but make sure you are not violating either:

    • The data protection act

    • Good practice and customer courtesy

Exploit

  • Look for parts of your business that are costing you money and not adding customer value. Either make these more efficient, or eliminate them. Southwest reduced the turn-round time of its aeroplanes on the ground. At the same time, they created one of the fundamentals of all budget airlines today – keep it moving.

This was a guest post by Paul Fileman of Results-Zone. Results-Zone bring extensive knowledge and experience gained in Blue Chip organisations to businesses like yours. They ensure that your business is fully exploiting a well thought through operating plan. They work alongside you and your team – as business results managers. They ensure that your team and your business are elevated to the results-zone. They bring you “hands-on” experience – similar to employing high quality management skills without the risk or costs in recruiting full time employees.

One Man Business Ideas

on November 3rd, 2010

A reader asks:

Can you suggest any business ideas that would suit one man working alone?

Quite a few of the business ideas that I’ve written about could be started and run by one man (or woman) on their own. For example, consider the following ideas:

and there are many more, check out the lists of Small Business Ideas, Home Business Ideas and Internet Business Ideas in particular.

However a word of warning. Starting and running a business on your own can be lonely. It’s much better to have someone to talk things through with, to bounce ideas off or just to pick you up when things aren’t going well. They don’t have to be a business partner as such, a husband/wife, girlfriend/boyfriend, sibling or parent will do too. Failing that find (network with) other small local businesses and share ideas with them.

Asking John:
Do you have a business question you would like me to answer? If so you can Ask John or or you can ask on the forums where you’ll get both my input and that of your fellow entrepreneurs.

Become A Driving Instructor

on October 28th, 2010

Over the years that I’ve been running my own businesses I’ve learned a lot. In particular I’ve learned that there are a lot of aspects of running a small business that I dislike, for example: I dislike giving credit – I’d rather run a cash business, than spend my time chasing payments; I’d rather sell hot dogs than bespoke software – everyone knows what they are getting when they buy a hot dog, whereas few people understand what they are buying when it comes to bespoke software; and I’d rather sell something that people need to buy, than something they want to buy, especially if it’s something they need to buy regularly.

Sadly there are few businesses that satisfy all of my criteria but becoming a driving instructor comes very close. It’s a cash business, everyone knows what one/two-hour driving lesson is and in this day and age nearly everyone ‘needs’ to be able to drive.

How to become a driving instructor

To become a driving instructor you’ll need to contact the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) and apply to become registered as a Potential Driving Instructor (PDI). Once you’ve done that you’ll need to take three parts of a qualifying exam, if you pass you’ll become an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) and can they either start looking for some driving instructor jobs or better yet start your own business as a driving instructor.

Becoming a qualified driving instructor is just the first step though. Having qualified you’ll need acquire a suitable car for instructing in and arrange suitable insurance for both the car and you as a driving instructor. If you need more guidance on these topics you’ll find them covered in a number of driving instructor training courses.

Next find yourself a car. Think carefully about what car you get, there are a number of reasons for this:

  • It’s your place of work, you’re going to spend most of your day sat in it – make sure you like it and are comfortable in the passenger seat.
  • Your car is going to be one of the most important parts of your marketing, some people will be put off by a car that is too flashy, too girlie or too big. You’ll also benefit from a car in a colour and style that will be easy for sign-writers to brand for you.
  • Your car is also going to be your main cost, whether you purchases it outright or lease it the more expense the car the higher your costs. Equally you’re going to be using a lot of petrol/diesel so the more efficient the car and the cheaper it is to service the lower your running costs are going to be.

Marketing yourself as a driving instructor

Once you’re qualified and whilst you’re waiting for your car to be ready (you’ll probably have to buy a new car and have it converted to dual-controls) it’s time to begin marketing your new driving instruction business.

Firstly get some branding lined up for your car, keep the message simple i.e. name and phone number (and L plates etc as required by law). Make sure they are big enough to be seen from a distance.

Once you’ve done that make a start on the following list of marketing ideas:

  • Get some business cards made up to hand out / leave in strategic places.
  • Make some referral cards for students to give out to their friends – perhaps offer a free lesson for every friend they introduce.
  • Get a simple website made and get it listed on Google Local and be sure to SEO it for local driving instructor related keywords.
  • Ask for referrals from other businesses, friends and family.

And when you’ve done those check out my list of free marketing ideas for more inspiration.

Useful books

Goal Setting For Business

on October 26th, 2010

Whenever we set out on a journey, the only way we have of knowing we are on the right road is by tracking our progress on a map. We can only do this if we know the start point, the destination and the route. Business is a journey, as is life. Our goals define the destination. Our plans and daily tasks are all about the journey. If we have not defined a destination, how can we ever know if we are going in the right direction?

Goal setting provides long-term vision and short-term motivation. It focuses knowledge acquisition and helps in planning resources. By setting clearly defined goals you can measure and take pride in the achievement of those goals. You can see forward progress in what might previously have seemed a long pointless grind.

Unless someone is critical to helping you achieve your goals, avoid sharing your goals with others. The negative attitude from friends, family and neighbours can drag you down quickly. The thoughts in your head must be positive. The following broad guidelines apply to setting effective goals.

Positive Statement

Express your goals positively: ‘Become a more effective people manager’ is a much better goal than ‘do not upset staff’.

Be Precise

If you set a precise goal, putting in dates, times and amounts so that achievement can be measured, then you know the exact goal to be achieved, and can take complete satisfaction from having completely achieved it. For example, if your goal is to growing your business, visualise exactly what that larger business looks like in terms of premises, numbers of customers, number of employees, key numbers. This gives you a basis for overcoming the common human weakness: “Dreaming vaguely, dreading precisely”.

Develop Goals in 6 Areas of Life

  • Home

  • Financial/ Business

  • Spiritual

  • Physical / Health

  • Social / Cultural

  • Mental / Educational

Set Priorities

Where you have several goals, give each a priority. This helps you to avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many goals, and helps to direct your attention to the most important ones. Write goals down to avoid confusion and give them more force.

Keep Operational Goals Small

Keep the goals you are working towards immediately small and achievable. If a goal is too large, then it can seem that you are not making progress towards it. Keeping goals small and incremental gives more opportunities for reward. Today’s goals should be derived from larger goals.

Think Goals Through

When you are thinking about how to achieve goals, asking the following questions can help you to focus on the sub-goals that lead to their achievement:

  • What skills do I need to achieve this?

  • What information and knowledge do I need?

  • What help, assistance, or collaboration do I need?

  • What resources do I need?

  • What can block progress?

  • Am I making any assumptions?

  • Is there a better way of doing things?

Make an Appointment to Review

Schedule a regular time and date (daily is best) in your diary to review progress against your goals and to translate them into tasks and plans that move you step-wise closer to success.

For some other views of goal setting, check out John’s articles on Setting SMART Goals and Setting DUMB Goals.

This was a guest post by Paul Fileman of Results-Zone. Results-Zone bring extensive knowledge and experience gained in Blue Chip organisations to businesses like yours. They ensure that your business is fully exploiting a well thought through operating plan. They work alongside you and your team – as business results managers. They ensure that your team and your business are elevated to the results-zone. They bring you “hands-on” experience – similar to employing high quality management skills without the risk or costs in recruiting full time employees.

Starting A Bouncy Castle Business

on October 19th, 2010

Throughout the summer months it’s rare to get through a weekend without seeing kids jumping up and down on a bouncy castle somewhere. And every time I do, I think to myself what a great business idea it is.

So why is it such a good business idea? Well it’s relatively cheap to start and if you decide it’s not the business for you, then most of the equipment can be sold on, allowing you to recover a good portion of your initial investment – in other words the downside is limited. It’s also an easy business to start part-time around an existing job as most bookings will be for the weekends. Finally it’s a relatively easy service to sell.

So if you like kids and would like to spend your summer weekends working outdoors then starting a bouncy castle business could be the perfect part-time business idea for you.

How to start a bouncy castle business

Before starting I suggest you check out the local competition. See what they offer, what they charge, how many of them there are and how busy they are. You’re looking for two things:

  1. Is there a gap in the market – which you can fill?
  2. Is there enough demand to support another business?

If you believe there is a gap in the market for you and that the market is big enough to support your business then it’s time to start buying the equipment and insurance that you’ll need.

You’ll need to buy at least one bouncy castle, a compressor (for each bouncy castle), repair kit, a vehicle to transport the castle(s) (if you don’t already have one) and suitable public liability insurance. You should also budget a good amount for marketing.

How much will it cost to start a bouncy castle business?

The exact start-up costs for a bouncy castle hire business will vary. If you already have a suitable vehicle and are able to source good second hand equipment you might be able to start for around £1,000 at the other extreme you could spend £15,000 or more on a new vehicle and several new castles plus supporting equipment. Personally, I would suggest you start small and scale as you gain experience.

Marketing a bouncy castle business

When it comes to marketing your bouncy castle business I would suggest you consider all of the following:

  • Yellow pages
  • Local directories
  • Creating a website
  • SEO
  • SEM
  • Local press coverage
  • leaflets drops (kids parties)
  • business card in other local businesses

Once you’ve done all that check out my list of free marketing ideas and use as many of them as you can.

Have you got experience setting up a bouncy castle business? If so please add any suggestions you have in the comments below.

What Kind of Networker are You?

on October 13th, 2010

Networking is a powerful business and life tool, used in an appropriate and consistent manner it really can build your business (and your life).

Here are the categories that I see out and about. When you plan your networking, which description best fits you? What does your networking behaviour say about you and your business?

Tart

Do you love to attend events, meetings? Do you always say yes to meeting up for coffee or lunch? Are you the person who constantly invites colleagues and friends to join them at a myriad of Networking events? Do you hop from network to network, never attending any one meeting consistently enough to build strong, mutually beneficial relationships? You might just be a networking tart – always out and about but not adding any value to your own business, or to anybody else’s.

Hard Sales Merchant

Are you always busy? With plenty of business-coming your way? Are you rushing around from one network to the next collecting business cards and making quick ‘friends’? Are you guilty of not giving people a chance to talk or catch their breath before you have pitched your special offer for the month and tried connecting them with some random stranger that unbelievably will bring business to their front door?

If this is you, be careful not to appear overbearing, pushy and out for yourself. This may not be the case; sadly it is how some other networkers might perceive you. Try slowing down and remember not everyone works at your pace. Some networkers need to slowly build relationships.

Inactive

These are the people that in the past have thought ‘I really should’. They often think networking is a waste of time, or they are fearful people will reject them or they are just way too busy to network. To move out of this category all you need to do is one thing… NETWORK.

Card Collector

Have you got thousands of names in your database? Names of people you have met once, exchanged pleasantries with (possibly added to your newsletter list) and then never spoken to again? Do you find networking a frustrating round of conversations that keep getting in the way of the conversation you would like to be having with the good looking person on the other side of the room?

Proactive

Proactive networkers are well connected to others and have strong relationships. They work at their networking (rather than just participate) and connect people with people for a common purpose that will benefit both parties. Proactive networkers see opportunities and will follow up. They telephone and arrange a time to meet and discuss opportunities and get things going. Proactive networkers are the really effective people who know where the customers are and how to service them. You can learn a lot from this type of networker. They can be great advocates and are good relationship managers. They often operate with a ‘what you see is what you get’ attitude – however they will pull no punches if they think you are wasting their time.

Suggestions:

  • Have a networking strategy
  • Be diligent and organised
  • Select networks that are right for your business
  • Attend consistently
  • Listen and be aware of other people
  • Network – don’t sell
  • Follow up
  • Be patient – it can take months for some businesses to gain from their networking

The best networkers slowly build relationships into trust.

This was a guest post by Paul Fileman of Results-Zone. Results-Zone bring extensive knowledge and experience gained in Blue Chip organisations to businesses like yours. They ensure that your business is fully exploiting a well thought through operating plan. They work alongside you and your team – as business results managers. They ensure that your team and your business are elevated to the results-zone. They bring you “hands-on” experience – similar to employing high quality management skills without the risk or costs in recruiting full time employees.

Start A Taxi Cab Business

on October 12th, 2010

Over the years I’ve noticed at lot of the successful small business owners that I’ve met have at one stage or another started and run their own taxi cab company.

I’m not sure why that is. But it makes starting a taxi cab company an interesting business idea, so lets take a look at how you would go about starting a taxi cab service.

How to start a taxi cab business

Anyone looking for a innovative or creating business idea should leave now – starting a taxi cab service isn’t rocket science. However most good business ideas aren’t new. Instead they’re focused around providing an everyday service that has a good level of demand. And with the poor state of public transport and the increasing cost of owning and running your own car there is a good, strong, growing demand for taxi and private-hire services.

According to one source I found 33% of the UK population uses a taxi at least once per month, so that’s in excess of 20 Million taxi rides per month.

In the UK there are two types of ‘taxi’ firm:

  • Hackney Carriages – these can pickup fares anywhere.
  • Minicabs or private hire vehicles – which can only take pre-booked customers (bookings being made over the phone or in person at the minicab offices).

To get started as a taxi service you’ll firstly need to decide which type of business you wish to operate. It makes sense to me to provide both services (i.e. register your vehicles as Hackney Carriages and provide an additional minicab service) rather than limit your services to private hire. The decision will however have to reflect your location – there will be less demand for hackney carriages in rural areas.

Once you’ve decided you’ll need to source suitable cars and possible an office and radio equipment. You’ll also need to sort out the relevant driving licenses and radio licenses. Then you will need to speak to your local council to get the licenses you require to operate as either type of ‘taxi’ business. You’ll also need insurance for both the car and the business.

All in all the equipment could easily set you back £10,000 or more, however you might be able to reduce the initial cash flow by sourcing a vehicle on lease.

Once you’ve take care of all that it’s time to find some customers – so get marketing your taxi firm!

How to market a taxi cab business

Marketing a taxi firm is relatively straightforward, do as much of the following as you can afford to (and are allowed to):

  • Advertising on the car
  • Leaflet distribution to nearby properties
  • Flyers/Business cards in local takeaways/pubs etc
  • Give a business card to every customer
  • Create a loyalty scheme to encourage repeat business
  • When without a fair, head to the nearest customer hot spot (usually a taxi rank).

You’ll find other marketing ideas in the post 171 free marketing ideas.

Developing iPhone Applications

on October 7th, 2010

If you’re a techie, especially one with a love of iPhones then developing applications (usually referred to as apps) for the Apple iPhone, iTouch and iPad and other iPhone OS powered devices might be the perfect tech based business idea for you.

What investment is required to start developing iPhone apps?

In order to develop and sell apps for Apples iPhone OS you will need a bare minimum of:

  • an Apple computer for development;
  • an iPhone(or IPod Touch)/iPad or both depending on your target platform.
  • A subscription to the Apple developer programme.

All of which can be obtained for around £1,400. You will also need to allow a basic marketing budget of at least £600.

What are the potential earnings?

Most apps sell for around $1 and Apple takes 30% commission on all apps sold through the Apple iStore. Your potential earnings will thus largely be determined by how popular your app is. The better you are at marketing and promoting your app and the more viral it is, the better you will do. Current app developers make anywhere from a few tens of dollars to several million dollars per year. Ultimately the earnings you make will reflect your creativity, marketing ability and the effort you put into the business.

Who would this business idea suit?

You will need to be relatively competent with Apple’s hardware platforms and you will either need to know how to program in Objective-C or be willing to learn. Alternately if you’re creative, but not at all technical you could partner with or hire a programmer. You will also need a basic understanding of marketing and public relations in order to promote and market your app.

What are the pros of developing iPhone apps?

  • Low start-up costs, especially as you’re likely to already own some or all of the hardware.
  • Can be run from home (or anywhere using a laptop).
  • Can be started part-time so you can initially run it alongside a day job.
  • Short time to market. Depending on the complexity of the application, iPhone app development times can range from a few days to a couple of months.

What are the cons of developing iPhone apps?

  • It is a crowded, hit driven marketplace with new apps being developed and released on a daily basis. Standing out from the crowd can therefore be a challenge.
  • The price for which you can sell is largely fixed as very few apps retail for more than $0.99 and many are free. Although it is still possible to make money from free apps.

How to start an iPhone applications development business:

If you plan to do the programming yourself and you don’t already have the hardware or required technical skills you’ll need to acquire both. If you’re planning to use a partner or freelance programmer then you’ll need to find one you can work with. At this stage be sure to join the iPhone developer program.

Once you have the software development covered, your priority will be to come up with an idea for an app. Next you’ll need to develop it. Doing so may involve hiring others to create, graphics, sound or music (particularly if the app is a game).

Once development is complete, you submit your app to Apple. Then once it is approved by Apple the app will appear in their store. Then sit back and wait for the money to roll in, if only! No at this stage you’ll need to begin pro-actively marketing your app. To do so send out press releases to blogs and news sites that your potential customers are likely to read. Tell everyone you know, both in person and on Social Media websites. Try to get the app reviewed by popular bloggers in the relevant niche.

You could also try creating a free demo, a strategy that worked well for the creator of iShoot who saw sales soar, reaching $21,000 per day after he released a free demo that advertised the paid for version. Other developers have offered their app for free to members of the jailbreak community in order to create a set of fans before the official release.

As an alternate to selling your app you can offer your app for free and make your money by selling advertising embedded in the app. This has the advantage of making it easier to “sell” your app to end users as it costs them nothing.

If the hit and miss nature of publishing your own apps doesn’t appeal then you could focus the business on developing apps for clients. Typically such clients will be marketing companies and new media agencies using the apps as part of a marketing campaign.

Useful Resources:

Related Business Ideas:

  • Developing apps for Google Android.
  • Developing apps for Symbian based mobile phones.
  • Developing mobile phone software.
  • Developing games for mobile phone platforms.
  • Developing software for Internet tablets.

Aim High (Enough)

on October 5th, 2010

Watching an exchange on Twitter earlier this week made me think about the distinction between businesses at the bottom of the market and equivalent businesses in the same industry at the top of the market. Some say that the income of a small business owner is the average of the people that he or she spends most time with. This presents a challenge if we want to:

  • Grow our businesses

  • Create and maintain a quality image that matches our aspiration

  • Have the confidence to charge the rates we feel we deserve

  • Have the courage to break-away from unsustainable business models

Average Is Not Enough

If we perpetually measure our business against the wrong competitors, we will either:

  • Set our standards of service and product too low to give us the success our hard work justifies.

  • Aim our standards (and prices) at a level which we cannot justify – leading to an inevitable reduction in profit.

Choose the Right Competitors

When planning for the future, it always pays to conduct a reasoned competitor analysis – to make sure that we are not being left behind by more creative competitors with better business models. In doing this work, it is essential that we choose the right competitors to benchmark against our own business. Choose a competitor in the “cheap and cheerful, I hope it works” category and that is where we might drive our own businesses. Choose a competitor that is way out of our league and we run the risk of attempting to emulate a business model that we cannot ever hope to create with the money, skills and people available.

By choosing the right competitor – ideally businesses that are one or two divisions above than our own, we can be more confident that we will start to drive the right kinds of improvement work in our own business.

Areas to Consider

  • Value model – The combination of products and services together with how they are delivered and charged for.

  • Sales process

  • Pricing structure

  • Portfolio

  • Products

  • Services

  • Affiliates and associates – People you refer to and people you rely on to complete your offer; Suppliers; Complementary businesses; Additional services

  • Those little extras

This was a guest post by Paul Fileman of Results-Zone. Results-Zone bring extensive knowledge and experience gained in Blue Chip organisations to businesses like yours. They ensure that your business is fully exploiting a well thought through operating plan. They work alongside you and your team – as business results managers. They ensure that your team and your business are elevated to the results-zone. They bring you “hands-on” experience – similar to employing high quality management skills without the risk or costs in recruiting full time employees.

Dial 1 for Sales, 3 For Accounts Or 4 To Be Ignored

in: Sales
on September 22nd, 2010

Most of us detest the automated call handling machines which take us through a series of menu options before we are allowed to speak to a human. Having just telephoned a UK Building Society’s main enquiry number, I had to get through 4 stages before I could speak to a human. Some car service businesses process all the service bookings through a large call centre which covers many dealerships and multiple car makes. Their inability to understand my car and its foibles – or to connect me to the local service manager means that I now deal with their smaller competitors.

And then there are the companies who expect you to understand their organisation and its internal terminology before they will connect you.

Advantage SME

This is where small businesses have a major advantage. The simplest business, of just one person (for example) only has one telephone number (plus a mobile) and one person to speak to. If you call the owner, any reasonable query can be resolved in one simple step. As your business grows, it will be tempting to make use of technology to route calls and to save the administrative overhead of using a receptionist to direct incoming calls to the right people. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as the implementation is done from the customers’ perspective – and you make it easy for people.

One local Intruder Alarm maintenance business has an auto-attendant. Their letters say “Ring us on 0XXX 123 4567 and select option 2 to book a service visit” – I do not need to listen to the prompt or to understand their business – because they use the technology but they also think about me (the customer) and my inability to patiently listen to a long prompt.

Customers First

The ideal call centre is populated with sufficient people to handle every enquiry without a queue building up, all highly skilled in every business aspect and with access to all the business systems. Sadly, for most businesses this ideal is not affordable – which leads to compromises.

As your business grows and you start to make compromises in call handling – make sure you think about things from the customer perspective. Try to avoid automated call processing unless you plan it properly and can make sure that customers find life easier with the automation than without it.

Worst Case

If you get these things wrong, there are three possibilities:

  • Customers go to competitors;

  • Customers stay with you but press any key to get to a person and then your precious sales resource has to route calls to other parts of the business;

  • Customers stay with you, but resent your lack of care – so they defect when they get a chance.

Best Case

Your systems and people work together properly to ensure that your customers and prospects get the kind of service that will keep them loyal to your business. And they go on to tell other people about how responsive your business is.

This was a guest post by Paul Fileman of Results-Zone. Results-Zone bring extensive knowledge and experience gained in Blue Chip organisations to businesses like yours. They ensure that your business is fully exploiting a well thought through operating plan. They work alongside you and your team – as business results managers. They ensure that your team and your business are elevated to the results-zone. They bring you “hands-on” experience – similar to employing high quality management skills without the risk or costs in recruiting full time employees.