Author Archive | Mark Byrne

Hot dogs with pulled pork and a red onion relish | Tesco Real Food

Serve up these crowd-pleasing hot dogs at your next barbecue blowout

How often and how consistently do you notice and capitalise on current trends, fashions and fads and then make them work for you business?

Here in the UK, where I am based, it seems that you can’t go to any food outlet, fast food restaurant or event without being offered a dish that has Pulled Pork in it.

It seems to have crept up on the national conscience, slowly pervading every aspect of the culinary scene.  now I’m quite partial to it and there are some nice and easy recipes that you can choose from, such as this one from one of the UK’s largest grocery chains.

Most business sectors have similar situations from time to time.  Some industries are very stable and innovations come around slowly, construction for example; while others are constantly innovating and running fast just to stand still is the norm – consumer electronics anyone?

Whatever speed of change you experience in your own business life, are you alive to the possibilities of new discoveries and products?  Being ahead of the game can often be extremely profitable but it can also be risky so balancing the potential rewards with any hazards is down to your judgement which you should be constantly refining.

You may have seen graphs showing a ‘product adoption curve’ or ‘innovation/adoption lifecycle’.  Both mean the same thing and shows the way new products or innovations are taken up or enter mainstream consumer conscience.

The progression is; Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards(!).  In terms of their power in the market, they account for 2.5%, 13.5%, 34%, 34%, 16% respectively.

If your attitude to risk is quite conservative, you would tread cautiously in the early, ‘up-curve’ phase but you could really leverage your returns by entering the market at the Early Majority stage.

Whatever your attitude, being aware of trends and innovations can make a real difference to your bottom line.

Source: Hot dogs with pulled pork and a red onion relish | Tesco Real Food

Peace

After the terrible events in Tunisia, Kuwait and France which have left so many people killed and injured, I wish the World could learn to live in peace with itself.

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What is worse: greedy corporations or lazy consumers?

How often do we pay for things we don’t need because we don’t think to question our long-standing outgoings?

Big companies, especially utilities, telecoms etc rely on consumer and business inertia to generate huge profits. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s simply the fact that for many people, once they have signed on the dotted line, it is easier to just keep making the monthly payments (especially if they are done via direct debit from their bank account) rather than go through the process of checking for better deals and switching to another service provider.

Even now, when there are numerous websites that will do all the comparisons for you and even handle the process of switching and managing the change to payment details, a lot of people will simply just not do it.

This is one reason why many companies are prepared to offer very generous terms to new customers to get them to sign up for contracts, as they know that customers will often keep on paying the same rate even though, over time, it has become a poor deal. The longer the initial term of the deal, the more likely that customers will stick and not switch

Every regular payment should be scrutinised in the same way that you would check your small change in the local shop.

I’ve just recently reviewed my domain name holdings and online hosting plan and saved my business a significant amount of money which previously trickled out almost unnoticed in a steady stream of outgoings spread over the year.

There are other ways that corporations boost their profits by capitalising on consumer inaction.

Gift-Card

Did you know that gift certificates/cards/tokens purchased from popular outlets for friends and family can boost profits for retailers due to often hidden terms that see the gift cards expire after 12 months? This renders the money spent on them pure profit.

In 2006 it was estimated that the value of unredeemed gift cards was almost US$8 billion. Many people are unaware of this and savvy/unscrupulous (your choice) businesses take advantage of it. Some states in North America (e.g. California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Washington) have enacted laws to eliminate non-use fees or expirations.

Maybe there is an opportunity here to differentiate your business from theirs by advertising gift cards that don’t expire. I’m sure your accountant/CPA will brand that advice as reckless or irresponsible(!) but in practice it won’t make much difference to the percentage of your gift cards that are actually redeemed. If you are not currently offering any form of gift/delayed redemption card they can be very profitable in almost all sectors and you might like to give it some thought.

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Turn and face the strange

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Change is inevitable, do you embrace it?

A few notable dates:

1990 – Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web
1993 – The Mosaic web browser was published allowing graphics and text to mix on a page for the first time
1995 – eBay launched
1998 – PayPal first appeared
2007 – 1st iPhone released

In a little over 20 years, less than a generation, the way the World does business – and I do mean the World, has completely changed. In many ways the real change has taken place in less than 10 years – since smartphones and tablets have become widely adopted.

In many ways, the changes have been so significant, so fundamental that it is difficult to look back and remember what it was like before the dawning of the Digital Revolution.

Can you imagine what it would be like not to be able to order almost anything online and have it delivered to your door the next day, maybe even the same day?

Can you imagine not being able to access your bank account from anywhere in the world, at any time of day?

Can you remember a time before smartphones were everywhere and even primary/elementary school age children not only knew how to use them but had their own?

Can you remember the time when people asked you a question and you either didn’t know the answer or decided to go to a library to find out rather than saying: “Hold on a moment, I’ll just Google that?”

Can you remember the time when people went out and talked to each other rather than stared at their phone?! – Sorry, that last one just slipped in and makes me sound really old!

How has your business changed in the last 10 or 20 years? Many businesses see themselves as immune from change and indeed can survive without embracing any revolutionary change but there are few that could not either increase their turnover, profit or efficiency though looking at their operations through the eyes of one of those smartphone wielding youngsters.

Some examples serve (sorry) to prove a point. Fast food delivery services such as GrubHub, Eat24Hours and Seamless in the US and JustEat, Hungry House and Deliveroo in the UK show how traditionally moribund industries can embrace entrepreneurial change to deliver (no pun intended) business growth.

The use of crowd funding sites like Kickstarter and Crowdcube allows innovators to circumvent traditional sources of funding; banks and venture capitalists and gets committed, enthusiastic investors who can then turn out to be vocal advocates of the finished product after launch.

Some businesses have complete eschewed the traditional market place and exist purely online. For those businesses that are successful, this is an attractive model due to the extremely low operating costs compared to the more traditional business, especially delivering a digital product where the costs involved with ‘inventory’ are close to zero.

Many traditional businesses are not left out in the cold and display noteworthy innovation. Some of the more successful companies embrace the physical and the virtual marketplace with a store/shop/depot backed up with an online presence either a bespoke corporate website or possibly an eBay store for a smaller venture.

Many have found that the greater freedom of the online space gives them the opportunity to improve their quality of life by freeing themselves from slavish opening hours through taking orders from a much wider client base, possibly including international customers and shipping them via courier services. Their working days have gone down from 16 hours to just enough to service their daily orders.

When was the last time you took a critical look at your business and evaluated just how much you could ring the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes to increase your margins and decrease your working day?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it

David Bowie – Changes

Greece is the word

Greece debt crisis: Get in depth coverage of the Syriza-led goverment’s debt-relief demands , from FT.com (subscription required).

One rule for ‘us’ and another, entirely different rule for ‘them’. In this case, it’s not just another rule, it’s an entirely different game. I am, of course, referring to the complete fiasco that is the Greek debt crisis.

Now clearly, the rules for personal and national debt management (and recovery) are going to be very different, but it would seem reasonable to expect countries to follow similar principals that we, as citizens and business people are often reminded of: live within your means, pay your bills, honour your debts.

What the Greek issue is clearly demonstrating is that these principles do not hold when there is a political dimension to the financial scenario, and even more so when the crisis threatens, not just a political issue but an issue of ideology.

Some say that the European Union (EU) has changed from its original aims of creating a ‘common market’ for nations of Europe to trade peacefully with a shared aim of close cooperation and a means to prevent the kind of global conflict that twice started in Europe before spilling over to engulf the World. Others contend that the EU has always had an ambition of creating ever-closer political ties leading inevitably to a United States of Europe.

What is clear is that the Eurozone model, with countries tied to a single currency but without a political union, would seem to be undone when political and economic factors are so completely misaligned. Economists and political analysts point to the disparities between the relatively economically stable countries of northern Europe and some of the countries of southern Europe that have fundamental economic problems. This is encapsulated in Greece that has little in the form of manufacturing industry and not much to sell on the international markets except a rich history and a lively tourist industry.

How then were they allowed to anchor themselves to the Euro (which supposedly demands a strict monetary policy and economic discipline) when they have little resilience in the event of economic hardship? They simply do not have the means to drag themselves out of the hole and unfortunately, their profligacy in easier times has led directly to the problems they are now facing.

The facts seem absurd and do not give any confidence that the Greek Government has any real chance of reversing the decline of this wonderful country and the birthplace of democracy. For example Greece, with a population of 11 million, spends 30% more on pensions than Britain, which has a population of 60 million.

When the Greek debt crisis started, the Greek government pledged to raise around €50bn from the privatisation of state assets. Not long after, the target was progressively reduced to €30bn and then €20bn. So far, the government has raised less than €3bn. Let’s not forget this is 5 years on from the start of their recovery plan.

This before you even look at the chaos and corruption in their tax system which seems almost too broke to fix. Just their VAT system opens up a huge opportunity for fraud and tax dodging. They have 6 different VAT rates and the Greek Islands enjoy a reduced rate of VAT to encourage people to live there and to help their vital tourist industry. How then can a recent surge of tourism to Mykonos result in lower payments of VAT to the Government?

Perhaps it’s time for Greece to be allowed to fail; to default on its loans and obligations. Maybe, an exit from the Euro and the rebirth of the drachma, traumatic though that would be would allow Greece to restructure on its own terms, to put its own house in order even though this freedom would almost certainly lead to incredible hardship for the poor, suffering population of this beautiful, proud country. Just don’t tell Vladimir Putin.

Unmasked: An Analysis of 10 Million Passwords

How strong are your passwords? Here’s an analysis of 10 million via @wpengine

Source: Unmasked: An Analysis of 10 Million Passwords

This is a good, albeit slightly nerdy, read.  It explains just how weak many pa$$word5 are, even when we think they’re not. From a business continuity point of view, how would your enterprise survive an online attack? Think about the number of sites you logon to on a regular basis: your WordPress site that powers your blog, an online retail site which hosts your e-tail provider, eBay, Amazon. How about PayPal and your online banking – what if they were taken down?!

Like many others, I use the services of an password manager, my weapon of choice is LastPass (https://lastpass.com/) which you can use for free. This provides incredibly secure passwords for all my logins and, as I use the premium version – a snip at only $12 per year, I can use it on all my devices as can all of my family. This takes all the hassle out of worrying about remembering individual secure passwords for all your logins.  All you have to remember is one safe master password and LastPass does the rest [other password managers are available].  This is an example of an 18 character password that I just asked LastPass to generate for me: U~ff!Tu%S4Inq^%g9p. That last one is the full stop at the end of the sentence by the way!  Checking the strength of that password reveals that it would take a ‘massive cracking array scenario with an assumption of one hundred trillion guesses per second’ (which sounds impressive) – 1.28 trillion centuries to crack.  In my book, that’s quite a long time.

Long story short – get a password manager!

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When only the right pen will do

Unless I am completely alone, there are some times when only a favourite pen will do – especially if I’m trying to be creative. What then if your favourite pen is on its last legs? I stumbled across this site: www.cultpens.com on just such an occasion and just 24 hours after placing my order, the refills were delivered and the price was much lower than I expected. On a business level, the unexpected free gift was a nice touch introducing a complementary range which would no doubt convince shoppers to buy additional products in the future. Highly recommended.

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BBC News – Taxman targets profits from online trading sites

An old (2012) article from the BBC about recovery of taxes from those trading on online sites.  It raises an interesting question: At what point did you switch from selling surplus items to actively trading?  The key event seems to be when you actively purchased items to sell at a profit.

Have you declared this to your local tax authority?  You are probably aware of how much power the ‘taxman’ has and you would be wise to make sure that you have covered a tax liability and declared your activities.

BBC News – Taxman targets profits from online trading sites.

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How to increase your profit

“For most small businesses, the easiest way to increase profitability is to reduce costs. Reducing direct costs can dramatically increase the profit on each sale, and eliminating unnecessary business overheads can have an immediate pleasing impact on your bottom line.

The best way to improve profitability is to increase turnover as there is no limit to sales but there is a limit on reducing your costs.”

The National Australia Bank Group’s advice to it’s business customers.  What would you do first; reduce costs or increase profitability?  Do you have a choice?  In austere times you might well have already pared your costs to the bone and you are likely to be taking on more tasks yourself, jobs that in the past you would have outsourced or employed someone to do.  Can you put your prices up to increase profits?  Is it likely that you can raise prices in such challenging times?

Business finds itself at the mercy of many challenges and a lot of us have been hanging on for grim death waiting for a turnaround in our market’s fortunes.  Is it time to be more innovative, to look to diversify and consider new challenges; maybe enter new markets where we can use our resources and skills to great effect?

Many farmers have seen their gate prices tumble under massive pressure from huge retail operations and many have given up the ghost.  Some have looked to new markets such as the rise in popularity of artisan foods and started producing new niche products such as speciality cheeses, yoghurts or meat products.  Some farmers have used their land to cater for leisure activities such as hunting, off-road driving or camping.

So what are you going to do if your costs are rising, your resources are crumbling and your margins disappearing?  Do you give up or look for new opportunities?  I’d love to hear your story.

via How to increase your profit.

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