Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Anything for an easy life?

I know it’s an annual thing, but a bit like Christmas my insurance renewal seems to sneak up on me every year.  So with less than a week until my current policy expired I decided it was time to stop procrastinating and shop around for a new quote.  I had been informed by my current insurer that they no longer offer the product that I had last year and so it was with a sigh of foreboding that I started trawling insurance websites looking for what I needed at a good price.

One website that I visited asked me a few straightforward questions before returning a reasonable quote.  To be honest, this particular site was a welcome relief to their competitors, some of whom asked incomprehensible questions, some of whom had websites which took so long to load that they “timed out due to inactivity” and one even required a phone call to a call centre where I was very helpfully informed that “the computer says no”.  I don’t think I need to tell you which policy I bought!!
So how easy do you make it for your customers?  Is it easy to buy from your business, or are there unnecessary hurdles to overcome?  Now don’t get me wrong, there are businesses that need some hurdles to ensure that customers are being sold the right product for them or for the protection of both parties.  After all, I would feel a little suspicious of an insurance provider who didn’t ask any questions at all.  But even when the sales process isn’t straightforward, is there anything you could do to make it easier for your potential customers?
Another thing to consider is whether it is just the complexity of your sales process that prevents people from buying from you?  I would say not, even with the most customer friendly sales process no business will achieve a 100% conversion rate of enquiries into customers.  But if someone has taken the time to enquire about your business, walk into your shop or check out your website, they must have an interest in the product or service you sell.
Increasing this conversion rate is a great way of increasing the number of customers and growing your business.  Of course, some of the reasons potential customers don’t buy will be out of your control but if you can identify as many objections as you can, find sensible solutions and communicate these effectively to potential customers you may well see an increase in your conversion rate and real growth in your business.
So try walking through the process yourself and seeing what frustrations you find, it may even be a good question to ask on social media to get a conversation started with those who have previously enquired but not purchased – and maybe even convert them!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

How well is your business represented?

I was really quite annoyed earlier this week when, while shopping with my 2 year old, a van pulled into the last parent and child parking space at our local supermarket.  Of course, that would have been fine had there been a child in the van, but there was not.  This wasn’t just any van though, it was branded with the name of a local coffee shop (see my blog from a few weeks ago).

I am aware that many people are guilty of taking advantage of the proximity of these spaces to the shops, but most people are protected from consequences by their anonymity – unless of course a very harassed parent is up for a fight on a carpark (one should never entirely discount this possibility).
Now, most business owners I know are keen to present themselves well when put in front of potential customers.  After all, people buy from people or, more specifically, people buy from people they like, all other things being equal.
But when are you representing your business and when is it OK to behave in a less professional manner?  I am a member of various networking groups where everyone is on their best behaviour, but would I find people equally as courteous and professional if I ran into them in the pub after a tough day?  The truth is that you are always representing your business.  Even if no-one in the vicinity is ever likely to purchase your product or service, they may know someone else who is.  Or they may be a keen Facebook contributor whose friends are potential customers – I’m not sure that bad publicity is worse than no publicity at all. 
For every interaction you have, you have no idea where it will end up.  The number of times I have come across people in the course of my business who I have had a previous, completely unrelated, connection to is amazing.  It truly is a small world.  But the impression you made first time around still counts, and will influence a potential customer’s decision to buy from you.  This may be worth remembering next time someone cuts you up while driving – what image do you want to portray?
So it’s important to remember that you are always representing your business – in every photo on Facebook, while driving your car, in every social setting.  Make sure you represent your business well.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Always check the small print

I am a reader and I like to read everything that is put in front of me.  I’m a nightmare for reading notices and labels, but also an advertisers dream because if there are words written, I am drawn to them. 
So while out shopping recently I saw a sign on a shop and was amused at what it said.
If you’re wondering which bit caught my eye, it was the qualification on the price match guarantee.  A qualification which, in my view, makes it no guarantee at all.
Now in all fairness to this particular establishment, they are at least prepared to put their small print on the front of their shop for all to see, as opposed to hiding it at the back of a sales agreement in writing so small that requires a magnifying glass and which often can result in a customer buying a product very different from the product they believe they are purchasing. 
A number of banks have employed such practices in the past resulting in recent significant costs in the form of compensation for missold payment protection insurance.  But it’s not just the banks, have you ever approached your insurance provider hoping to make a claim, only to find that you weren’t as comprehensively covered as you had perhaps believed?
While working for an international conglomerate, I did some work with the Japanese arm of the company and was amazed at the levels of trust upon which business operates in Japan.  I found it fantastic that a gentleman’s word was his bond and that a handshake agreed the terms of a deal without any need for long legal processes.  But more that, the management of the Japanese business would not contemplate reneging on an agreement they had made as it would significantly impede their ability to work in their market in the future.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to just believe what people say, to be confident that you weren’t going to be ripped off and to know that the society in which you operate frowned upon misselling to the point where those guilty of it would be rejected by the market place?
So what about your customers?  Would they describe you as a stand up guy, someone who can be relied upon to deliver their promises?  Or is your inclination to look for a get out clause when things get difficult?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Christmas comes but once a year

I started my Christmas shopping last week, in October!! Only just in October, I grant you, but nonetheless in October.  Now this may be no big deal to some people, in fact I know one (smug) person who has already finished (and wrapped) her Christmas shopping, but I am usually panic buying the week before Christmas for those of my loved ones who are, at best, difficult to buy for (at worst, downright awkward) and for whom I have procrastinated the gift buying process until it can be put off no longer.
Now we all know that Christmas is on 25th December.  It has always been on 25th December and I have known that it was coming up on the 25th December this year since before 25th December last year.  So why is it always a last minute rush to get organised?  The truth is that with better planning, not only could I reduce my stress levels, but also quite possibly reduce my Christmas spending – after all, with the whole realm of internet shopping available I would be less likely to plump for an extravagant gift just so that I could go home, or at least be able to shop around for a better price on said extravagant gift.
The 31st January is the deadline for filing your tax return and paying any outstanding tax due.  It is the same deadline every year and yet, as an accountant, I can give testament to the fact that this deadline seems to come as a surprise to some people every year.
There is, in fact, nothing to be gained from leaving your tax return until the last minute – even if you submit your return in May, the tax due will not need to be paid any earlier, but by being well organised and having your books and records in order you can ensure that you claim all of the expenses and allowances available with plenty of time to peruse the HRMC website and watch their YouTube videos (which I can recommend) for any help needed thus saving accountancy fees. 
Those who leave it until the last minute, however, will often miss some expenses where unrecorded receipts have gone astray, may miss out on allowances without the time to properly investigate what is available to them and may even struggle to find an accountant to help them as many firms struggle to hit the deadlines for their existing last minute clients without adding to their already heavy workload with new ones.  Of course if you don’t manage to hit the deadline, there are late filing fees to pay which is just the start of the interest and penalties that HMRC can levy.
So when's the best time to do your tax return?  Well how about now, after all who wants to be doing their tax return over the festive period or adding to the hangover of January?  And just a note for your diary - next year's tax return deadline will also be 31st January.