Archive for Start-ups

#45: Top Tips for Start-Ups – Insurance Issues

Welcome to my final Start-Up Business expert article! It’s been a long road and a pleasure to have you long for the ride. I do hope you will refer back to my expert articles in the future, as well as the insights in my newsletter.

Over the past few articles I have been sharing my top tips with you for people, legal and information technology issues you may find having just launched your business. For my final article I want to look at something very important – insurance.

Insurance is an essential part of any business’ considerations, especially for start-up companies when it is important to ensure your cover is as wide as possible to give you the correct protection but also to ensure costs are competitive.

The ABI (Association of British Insurers) recently released statistics showing that only 23% of companies that suffer a major loss are still trading two years later. This could be because they were foolish enough to start trading without insurance but the most likely explanation is that the insurance did not respond adequately following the loss. This could be because the cover was inadequate or because the policyholder did not understand what was required of them in respect of the policy’s terms, conditions and warranties.

To consider this in context, it is important to understand the whole basis of insurance. It is, in simple terms, “risk transfer”. You are asking somebody else to bear the burden of some of the risks – mainly financial – that you would be unable to carry by yourself. For example, few businesses would be able to, say, replace their building or all of their stock if either were to be destroyed in a fire, storm or flood. Similarly it has to be recognised that as a society we are becoming more litigious and you should protect yourself against any potential liability you may incur for injury, property damage or financial loss.

The ABI also recently reported that of every pound paid out in claims by Insurers 83% related to legal costs, substantially inflating the costs of even a minor claim.

So where do you go for the best advice on the financial exposures you face and the insurance you need? Some insurance companies are set up to deal on a direct basis but can only offer you their own products, and are unable to advise you on products not within their policy range. In our opinion the best course of action is to talk with an insurance broker who will be able to offer you access to a wide range of insurers and specialist schemes, to ensure you get the widest cover at a competitive price. But not all brokers are the same and below are a number of handy tips you should consider in your selection process:

1. Selecting a recommended broker

Ask industry peers, friends and even family if they are able to positively recommend an Insurance Broker. Speak to two or three different firms for advice and then compare who is most responsive to your needs and instils you with confidence. Give weight to the broker that will offer to meet with you to discuss your business and help identify the risks you face and try to agree some service standard levels that meet your particular requirements. Ensure that they fully understand your business and ask them who will be providing on-going support and avoid telesales companies to whom you will just be a name on a screen.

Often the only time you find the true value of your insurance is in the event of a claim so ask the broker how they help you with claims and avoid any who passes you on directly to the Insurers.

It is possible to buy online but there can be pitfalls. Informed product face to face advice is very often the better option.

2. Make sure you get written quotations

Make sure you are supplied with full details of all Terms and Conditions that will apply, before giving instructions to go on cover. Read all documents carefully and ensure that you are able to comply in full. If you cannot you should let your broker know.

3. Work with the Broker to carefully assess your own risk

There is no benefit to over insuring and to under insure could leave you in serious financial difficulties, so make sure all of your sums insured are carefully calculated.

Similarly, make sure you have accurate estimates of your turnover and projected wages and estimated gross profits, etc.

4. Professional Risks

In addition to obvious business exposures such as asset protection, etc, it is important that you consider professional risks which could, amongst other things, include financial covers such as Directors & Offices insurance, Libel and Slander insurance, Fidelity insurance, Trustees Indemnity and the like.

5. Make sure you meet your legal requirements

You are required by law to have Employers Liability insurance. This is required by Statute and you will face penalties if you do not have the correct insurance.

Similarly if you operate cars, vans, lorries or other motorised equipment on a public highway you are required to arrange at least Third Party insurance under the requirements of the Road Traffic Act.

6. Make sure you are aware of contractual requirements

In addition to insurances which you must arrange by statute, you may also find yourself asked to have in place, or effect, certain covers as part of a contractual arrangement. These normally relate to Professional Indemnity which, in short, offers cover for financial loss arising out of errors or omissions in your advice.

Such contracts can also ask for Public Liability insurance and, if appropriate, Products Liability insurance.

It is worth noting that these covers are often basic requirements of contracts with local authorities and other public bodies.

7. Consider your Own Risk Profile and Manage Your Risk

Insurers will often allow discounts if you are agreeable to a deductible (or excess) to be applied to your policy. You may also select to self-insure some aspects of your risk and you should discuss the options available to you in depth with your selected broker in establishing your own risk profile.

Insurers will normally reward a well-run business with lower premiums as good housekeeping and good risk management will minimise their potential exposure to claims. Always try to follow your industry’s best practice standards and also ensure you comply with the requirements of Health and Safety legislation and guidance. Always do your best to discharge your duty of care to all Third Parties as well as your moral obligation for the safety and wellbeing of your staff.

8. Budget Yours Costs Correctly

Remember that expenditure in respect of insurance may not limited to the cost of the premium being asked to enable the risk transfer. You should also budget to include the following, as relevant to your particular trade:-

• Fire extinguishing appliances
• Good quality door locks and window locks
• Other physical security such as bars or grills
• Health & Safety consultancy and implementation
• An intruder alarm
• Staff training
• A fire alarm

9. Review Your Arrangements Regularly

When you have worked with your Broker to design a tailor made insurance programme that matches your needs and budget, do not consider that an end to the matter.

All businesses alter over a period of time maybe by changing their business focus or acquiring extra staff or vehicles. Newer businesses tend to change more frequently and you should therefore make sure your Broker is aware of all developments so that he may advise you accordingly.

10. Further Financial Advice

Make sure your Insurance Broker is able to offer other financial advice which would protect your business or find an Independent Financial Adviser who is skilled in the needs of a business. They should be able to advise you on for example, insuring important people in your business (Key Man Assurance) and protecting the shareholdings of investors in your business (Share Purchase Assurance). They should also be able to help you out with such things as Pensions and other Employee Benefits, typically Group Life Insurance, Group Private Medical Insurance, Health Insurance and the like.

Well, that’s it folks! Do refer back to my articles, whenever you wish, and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for regular insights and news. I wish you all the best for the future, and don’t forget you can contact me anytime if you feel you need any extra guidance.

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#44: Top Tips for Start-Ups – Information Technology Issues

Today I follow on from last week’s articles on top tips on people and legal issues, and move onto a very 21st century problem – information technology.

1. IT Budget

Budgeting and choosing the right equipment for the tasks that are required at the beginning, and that will be useful in the future for your business, is fundamental. Many small businesses do not realise the competitive advantages offered by technology, as they don’t have the resources or expertise to evaluate or implement the solutions available to them.

Another key problem is that many people try to spend as little as possible on technology and therefore disregard the potential cost savings that can be generated if they get it right.

Investment into IT systems is important and below are some key points relating to investment.

2. Creating an Internet Identity

Domain name and email addresses should be the first thing you think about, choose an unused domain name and register it with a professional organisation who can offer multiple email accounts and web/storage space.

Choose a domain name relevant to the name of the company or a name which directly relates to the company’s type of business; this will help later to self-promote your website on search engines.

From the chosen office location organise an internet connection; research the suppliers available to you at that location – e.g. BT, O2 or Virgin; there are deals and discounts available when you combine internet and telephone services through the same supplier.

3. Protecting your identity

If your business uses email, you’ll be targeted at some stage. The main problem is that such attacks are becoming more sophisticated. The malicious software used develops in your system and the threat of someone accessing valuable company information becomes more likely.

Fraudulent emails are increasingly authentic in appearance, purporting to originate from various sources, from banks to potential clients. The process is known as “Phishing”, and such emails will contain a link to a website on which you will be asked to re-confirm some details or confirm a password, with the aim of stealing your details and using them to access your account. Files coming into an organisation downloaded from the internet and transported on a flash drive or disc for example, can also be dangerous. These can contain malicious software, generally known as malware, that is sophisticated enough to hide itself from anti-virus software. Malware can log any key strokes that you make on the keyboard and send the information elsewhere when you connect to the web. This means that passwords and bank account details could be at risk, along with private company documents and emails.

It is recommended that you have a company policy to deal with such issues. Education and awareness for staff about the dangers out there is all important and for most organisations it is the first line of defence. It is as much the responsibility of the individual employee as it is for management to be aware of identity fraud and protect their own and the company’s interests. This could mean regulating the use of external hard drives, including iPods, flash keys and discs with dubious or uncertain origins in the workplace and, moreover, informing staff of the ways in which criminals might try to access their private information.

Data leakage is also an increasing problem. For businesses, corporate identity is as precious as their staff and preventing information from getting out could be down to something as simple as warning people not to share too much on social networking websites or not to send too much valuable company information across the internet.

4. Router and Firewall

Purchase a good brand wireless router – this may come free with the internet connection. Ensure that it has a built in firewall, as this will help to secure any equipment that will be connected to the internet. The router creates the connection automatically between your network and the internet via your ISP – Internet Service Provider.

A router, rather than just a modem, is used because it uses NAT – Network Address Translation – as part of its Firewall. This works by converting (translating) the internet address, TCPIP protocol, to a private address range on the inside of your network. Anyone trying to attack the external address will not be able to penetrate the firewall unless there are ports open to let traffic through.

5. Network

For a small network, the router that the ISP supplies will probably suffice, as it will usually come with four Ethernet Ports (normally 100MB).

In addition the router will normally be wireless enabled, which can be connected to a plethora of different devices – PC’s, Laptops, wireless printers, PDA’s, Phones and Games consoles.

If you require more than four hard wired devices then a small Gigabit network switch would be ideal, with 5 to 48 ports on a single switch, desk to switches 5 to 16 ports and rack mountable switches available from 16 to 48 ports. These switches are available in many price ranges and complex abilities, for larger organisations they may use PoE – Power over Ethernet.

Ethernet switches which can power IP telephones, wireless access points, cameras and many other PoE enabled devices.

 6. Server

For small and large networks it is important to have a server to centrally store the company’s data. For fast response and resilient availability, choose and design your server to cope with the company’s immediate needs. In the future storage can always be added on should it be required.

If the server is to run databases such as SQL or similar, make sure that the processor is well above the stated minimum specification for the application. Memory for servers is more expensive than for standard PC’s but it is very important to have enough for the server to comfortably run all of the systems it has to. If a server runs light on memory, it will slow down and use the hard disks to swap information that it is required and this will make the server slow to respond and will shorten the life of the hard drives.

7. Software

When installing Software onto a computer system you can never be too careful, especially if you keep important customer information stored there. Even if the software has come from a trusted source, complications can arise and it would be wise to take precautions beforehand. It’s always best, therefore, to make a back-up copy of important information before installing any new software.

You should try to scan all floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and DVD-ROMs with your anti-virus software before copying files from them or installing software that they contain. You never know if a nasty virus is lurking on a seemingly innocent disk.

Never install pirated software onto your computer. Illegal copies of software, such as those downloaded from hacker websites o sourced from file-sharing programs, may contain hidden viruses.

Before installing any software, be sure you know exactly what is being copied onto your system. Sometimes apparently innocuous software can contain viruses or ‘Trojans’ that might take control of your computer. This is a particular danger with file-sharing programs that allow you to trade music or videos.

8. Antivirus

Antivirus protection also plays an important role as it should safeguard you from the harmful Viruses, Spyware and those annoying spammed messages on your email. There are many free and paid for antivirus products available on the market but it is important to make sure that the one you chose is adequate for your needs and that you have it running up-to-date on all of you computers.

You should regularly check and scan your computers for Viruses and Spyware, as many infections are designed to steal your identity and passwords and can appear like Trojans at any time.

In addition, you should be careful when registering to anything online that it is provided by reputable company and that you are on a secure website. This is always indicated by the address starting with https:// or a locked padlock somewhere on your browser application. It is sometimes a good idea to use a temporary or online mail account when subscribing to an unknown source, so that your normal mail data is protected should the new source turn out to be bogus.

9. UPS

 Protecting your hardware from power spikes and disturbances is important. Laptops are usually alright as they predominately run on their own internal battery. PCs, servers, routers and other network components will require mains filtering and battery backup, as data corruption or loss can occur if the power is lost or spiked to your equipment.

UPS (Uninterruptable Power Suppliers) are available in all sizes and affordability but don’t scrimp on these. Ideally you would want it to stay running for at least 10 minutes, in order to give you a chance to save that important document that you have spent hours working on. Basic multiport units are available, which can maintain power for a few devices that would possibly loose data if the power was to fail.

Recommended devices to be protected would be PCs and servers; other devices such as printers network switches and routers do not require UPS protection but will require surge protection to protect them from spikes and mains interference.

10. Backup

A small network should have at least one form of data backup e.g. Tape, CD/DVD, External Hard Disk or Offsite Backup. It is not ideal to keep all your data in one place where it can be vulnerable to fire, theft or data corruption. It is always recommended that you keep a copy of your data in a physically different location to the work place, so that should the original data be lost, it can be replaced easily.

There are now many organisations and ISP’s who can supply you with off-site or internet based backups and most of these work very well, utilising your internet bandwidth at night when your requirement to use this is less. Always make sure that with whatever backup you choose that you regularly check the logs and periodically perform data restores from whatever source you have chosen, in order to verify that the backup is working and so that you understand how to do this in the event of actually needing the data back.

There are ten common mistakes made with technology in the work place:

  1. Assuming that IT can be easily deployed and managed without expert support
  2. Failing to test equipment thoroughly with real life scenarios
  3. Poor testing of security vulnerabilities
  4. Not setting out service requirements with IT providers at the outset
  5. Ineffectively aligning IT to business needs
  6. Focusing on short term cost gains due to time pressures and not the longer term productivity and revenue generating benefits of IT
  7. Choosing IT that cannot cope with rapid changes in business needs
  8. Not planning ahead so you can scale up your technology needs appropriately
  9. Having the wrong return on investment expectations of technology which impacts badly on the bottom line.
  10. Cutting IT budget or thinking managing IT in-house will be easier and more cost effective in hard times.

Choosing the right hardware and software is key to success when integrating IT into your new business.

My next article is on insurance, something you must never be without. It will also be the last in my Start-Up Business blog series, so make sure you don’t miss it!

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#43: Top Tips for Start-Ups – People and Legal Issues

So you have launched your business and are well any truly on your way to becoming a big success, congratulations! Over the next few articles I will be sharing my tops tips for start-ups, starting today with any people or legal issues that may come your way.

Let’s start with the legal issues:

1. Dealing with Lawyers

It is likely you will need to use a lawyer at some point in your start up phase. Make sure you understand what you are asking your lawyer to do, and what you will and won’t pay for, and push for a fixed fee.

Don’t be afraid to say if you think you’re not getting value for money. The best business lawyers can be a real asset to your growing business and become a trusted advisor.

Ask for a package deal that includes support on ad hoc queries over the first few months of trading (note that you may be able to access this kind of legal support service through membership of organisations like the IoD or your local Chamber of Commerce).

2. Business name

Is anyone else already trading with a similar name? Check the business name you want to use is available as a website domain and (if you are going to incorporate a company or LLP) at Companies House. Even if the exact one you want is available avoid names that could be confused with an existing business.

3. Data Protection

Register your new business with the Information Commissioner’s Office and make sure you understand the rules on handling personal data.

4. Business Plan

Does your business plan contain confidential or proprietary information about your products or services? Include an appropriate disclaimer and confidentiality statement on the first page, and in the footer “© [Name] Ltd, 2010. Confidential.” Consider whether you should ask recipients to sign a specific confidentiality agreement.

5. Founders’ Agreement

If your business has more than one founder, then whether you are a company, LLP or partnership you ought to have a properly drafted shareholders/partnership agreement. If not you will be bound by the default regime in the relevant legislation which may not be appropriate for your situation.

Think of it as a “pre-nup”: what to expect from your partners, how are you going to run the business on a day to day basis, and what will you do if you fall out?

6. Terms and Conditions

You will need properly prepared terms and conditions for dealing with your customers/clients. Make sure you understand what your obligations are in terms of the quality of your products or standard of service, delivery, and refunds. Always insist on trading with your customers on your own terms and conditions.

7. Distance Selling

If you are selling to consumers (B2C) over the internet or phone you will need to comply with distance selling regulations that specify what information you must give to customers, and an unconditional right to cancel and get a full refund in the first seven days.

8. Consumer Credit Licenses

If you are dealing with consumers (B2C) and either hiring goods for more than 3 months, or selling on hire purchase, or offering other credit terms you may need a Consumer Credit License.

9. Raising Money

If you are looking to raise money from investors you need to make sure you don’t fall foul of the rules on financial promotions – what you can say and to whom. If you get it wrong your investors can ask for their money back so this is one area where you should obtain specialist advice.

10. Intellectual Property

Keep your know-how and proprietary data safe and use a confidentiality agreement if you are going to disclose it. Is it important that you stop others copying your ideas, products or services? Applying for patents and trademarks is expensive and can take a long time and only effective if you are prepared to enforce (very expensive and time-consuming). You can use the ™ symbol without registering a trademark, although it has no legal significance in the UK.

Now that we have covered the legal issues, it’s time to turn our attention to people. Here are my top tips for people issues you might encounter:

1. Recruitment

You are bound to need people working with you in your new business. Recruiting the right individuals is important. A good place to start is using your network to identify known candidates.

You could also place adverts online – there are several cost effective job boards which can harvest lots of CVs. Bear in mind that if you get someone with 75% of the skills you need you are doing well. If you still don’t find someone then use a recruitment agency, but make sure that you negotiate a good fee rate upfront.

Always carry out thorough interviews and ensure that you draw up a list of competencies and skills that you want for the job.

2. Reference checks

Once you have identified the right person make sure you carry out independent reference checks before they join. Many people are not completely honest on their CVs. Do not accept previously written “To whom it may concern” references. Always contact previous employers.

You may wish to conduct a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check with the criminal records bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). These were previously known as CRB checks, but are now called DBS checks.

3. Pay

An important part of the business dynamic is how much to pay yourself and your team. Take advice from your accountants regarding tax because this will drive the pay structure. Make sure that you appoint someone competent to run your payroll and to manage issues like PAYEP60s and P45s. You can download the forms for PAYE here.

Pay is likely to be one of your largest overheads and so make sure that you do notoverpay staff. Try and be creative such as offering commission for increased sales so that your increased income can improve pay for some staff.

4. Employment contracts

If you employ staff make sure that you give them some form of employment contract. This should lay out key aspects of employment such as salary, notice period, holidays, benefits, disciplinary and grievance procedures.

There are several HR outsource businesses that can provide low cost help such as Right Hand HR (previously HR Advantage). The main aim of the contract is to avoid any misunderstandings later on.

5. Organisational Structure

Most small firms have a fairly flat reporting structure. However, as you employ more people it is important to be clear about who does what and who is responsible for what. A brief job description for each job including who the individual reports into will avoid problems later on. This will also help when you appraise performance.

6. Policies and procedures

It will be useful to have some basic people policies and procedures once you employ more than two or three staff. The main reason is to try and capture all the small employment issues before they arise. A staff handbook can outline how you will deal with issues such as maternity leave, disciplinary issues, compassionate leave, benefits and any restrictions post-employment. As the business grows you can add policies as appropriate.

7. Performance management

Most people want to know how they are performing at work. You should have some form of performance appraisal process. As a minimum formally appraise everyone at least once a year. Use company and individual objectives to ensure that everyone’s efforts are focussed in the same direction. Also take into account learning and development for your team. Improving skills will end up adding value to the business overall.

8. Dealing with disputes

When you employ people there will inevitably be disputes. Make sure that you always treat everyone fairly and be consistent when dealing with problems. Make sure that you follow due process if you have to discipline anyone – failure to do so can be regarded as unfair and claims can be made accordingly via an employment tribunal. The ACAS website is helpful in this regard.

9. Non-executive Directors

As the business grows it is worthwhile appointing non-executive directors. These are typically people who have expertise and can advise you on how to take the business forward. Initially they may be unpaid but in due course you should pay them a nominal fee.

10. Succession Planning 

In order to ensure business growth you should plan for changes of personnel. People leave firms for a range of unexpected reasons so it is worth thinking about who could replace key roles. Some entrepreneurs are always interviewing potential candidates in order to keep the people pipeline alive. It is also important to provide development opportunities where possible.

Next time I’ll share my top tips for information technology issues.

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#42: Delivery, monitoring and launching your business

We really covered this in my pervious articles under “Characteristics of a Successful Business” in the Reflection Phase. The key, if you recall, is to follow a process that enables you to have satisfied clients, who either buy from you again or refer other people to you.

Just remember, every time you are in contact with a client, your aim should be to ensure that it is a positive experience.


We now need to keep the business on track!

To use a medical drama analogy, what happens in a medical soap is that a nurse comes around to the patient’s bed, checks temperature, pulse, blood pressure etc., scribbles something on a chart, adds the time and her initials, and moves on. If she is worried she takes immediate action and calls for reinforcements.

You need the same for your business; you need to know if your business has lapsed into a coma without you noticing. KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – will help you to do that.

Now we can do the KPIs for your business. These tally with the numbers in the Profit and Loss Forecast and Cash Flow Forecast we created earlier in the blog series (if you missed these let me know!)

We have five KPIs:

  • Billable days
  • Corresponding revenue run rates
  • Cost control
  • Pipeline value
  • Liquidity ratio (this is what we have in the bank, plus what we are owed, against what we owe).

Let’s imagine for a moment we do a check at six months. This is what’s known as a ‘Flash Report’. Remember we wanted to be on a run rate by this stage of eight billable days a month at £250 per day. The bad news is we are only getting £200 per day but we are doing 12 days. So we are ahead of our first two KPIs.

Further good news – we have kept our costs to less than 20% of turnover; our pipeline is fractionally ahead of the next quarter, which is also good news.

And finally our liquidity ratio is very healthy. Remember what this means is that you look at what you have in the bank, add to that what you are owed, take off what you owe and hope that the ratio is better than 1:1, i.e. if the business stopped on that day you would be in a good position to pay all your liabilities as they fell due.

If it was the other way round, you would only be surviving with the goodwill of the bank and your creditors. We have checked, and you are not in a coma, so we can press ahead. If the KPIs and the Flash Report had shown something worrying, we could have taken immediate action.

Remember to keep these in mind and make sure you do a Flash Report every six months to make sure you are still on track. You don’t want to wake up one day only to find that your business is about to go under, no amount of coffee will make that day any better!

Flash Reports:

If you have followed all the steps, you should now be ready to take a deep breath and launch. As a last check before you “blast off” you may want to complete the self-diagnostic below, just in case you have inadvertently skipped something along the way.



Score (out of 10)


Have you chosen your preferred vehicle and sorted your bank account?  


Have you reviewed your infrastructure requirements?   


Have you worked out your pricing policy?  


Are you clear how many routes to market you have?  


Have you a networking plan?  


Have you established your marketing mix  


Have you explored early adopter possibilities?  


Have you created an operating plan for year 1?  


Have you established your Key Performance Indicators?   


Are you happy you can fund the business through year 1?




Score < 30 You may want to delay launch

Score < 60 You may want to opt for a soft launch while you complete your hard launch plans

Score > 60 You probably have enough momentum to proceed with a hard launch.

If your score is at the lower end of the range it’s worth getting things right now rather than trying to get then right later. If however your score gives you the confidence to start, then strap yourself in and prepare for the ride!

Good luck, and don’t hesitate to contact me for further advice or to ask any questions you have. I’m always happy to help so if something is playing on your mind, just ask!

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#41: Closing A Meeting – Part 2

Last time I went through various ways to close a business meeting, each one having a different result but all with the aim that you have won the clients business.

Another situation you may face is where they say they will think it over, which often is a polite way of saying no.

If someone says this to you, there is not much you can do, but what you can try is to say: “That’s fine. I understand you want to think it over because it is a big decision; just tell me before I go if there is any aspect of what I have told you that needs clarifying, so that you can think it over properly; I would hate you to be under any misapprehension, or worry”.

Sometimes they tell you, sometimes not. If they do tell you, this is an opportunity to get back on track and complete the sale. If you cannot close the sale, you will need to do further follow-up. Sometimes this will be successful, sometimes not! We use the “rule of seven” approach. If after six attempts to contact the prospect we have had no joy (i.e. calls/emails not returned) our seventh action is to close off the file.

We will write and state that we have tried without success to contact on a number of occasions with no success; we will add that we do not wish to irritate them, and appreciate that their priorities and needs may have changed; they know who we are, where we are, and what we do, and are welcome to contact us at any time. We stay in control.

Finally, there is the “Jim close”. I used to work with Jim in New York and he had the reputation of being one of the top software salesmen on the Eastern Seaboard. If anybody remembers the original Miami Vice, Jim was a dead ringer for Ricardo Tubbs; he dressed like him, walked like him and talked like him – he was very smooth!

We did some calls together. When Jim felt the meeting had lasted long enough he would steeple his fingers, lean forward, using body language to draw everyone in, and then lower his voice. He would then indicate that he felt that we had taken the discussion as far as we could and that there was just one thing he needed to know before he left – was there any reason other than price why they would not sign there and then?

A good question – not cheeky – but he left knowing that he either had to get the price right or overcome a roadblock, be it operational, technical or political.

Importantly, he was in control.

When somebody asks you for the price you have choices. Either give them the price quickly and confidently, then stay quiet, or, if it is complex, advise them you will get them a price within say 24 hours. Whatever you do, do not think aloud in front of them; any rambling or waffling will not help your cause!

Final tip – you can possibly solve two challenges with one tactic. The first challenge is winning your first clients; the second is obtaining positive references from them. I have seen a number of people use an “early adopter” strategy to good effect, e.g. “If I offer you an early adopter price, discounted from my full rate, would you be prepared, assuming you are satisfied with my product or service, to act as a reference site and allow me to put a testimonial on my website”?

This is always a good tactic to use if you are in need of references and want to win business at the same time. Why do two jobs when you can do one and get more out of it?

Next time we are moving on from sales and business meetings – it’s time to focus on your delivery!

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#40: Closing A Meeting – Part 1

Now that you have your sales pipeline sorted, the final part of the sales process is asking for the business.

Let’s start with the “alternative close”. If the meeting has gone well, you could use this. In my world a successful sale is typically when somebody agrees to do some kind of workshop, so I might say “would you like to do the workshop in October or November” – it’s not cheeky; it’s an open question and it does work!

The second option is the “summary close” and this is helpful if you have done more than one meeting and if there is more than one decision maker. I had one situation where there were five directors and three meetings with a different mix of directors at each meeting.

At the final meeting I said, “We have had three meetings, you have identified over those meetings half a dozen benefits, so for these six reasons would you like to agree a date to do this?” This time you are risking the answer “no”, but by reiterating the benefits message you are reminding them of all the different things that they have told themselves – remember they did not all attend all of the meetings.

The third option is the “assumptive close”, where you make the decision for them. The meeting has gone so well you make the decision.

I did one meeting on the south coast with a husband and wife team, who ran a very successful engineering company. I had persuaded them that they needed to do the workshop off-site and the husband and wife then had an interesting debate about which pub in the town they should use.

One had a romantic view; the other did good real ale. It was fairly obvious that they had already made their buying decision so I said, “why don’t we settle on the first Friday in December and you let me know which one of the pubs you have booked”, and then left them to it!

The “buy signals” were so strong. You can do that when it is clear they have made the decision; you just need to be brave and make the decision for them.

The fourth option is the “concession close”. This is particularly helpful if you are doing design or consultancy work where it’s clear you need to give something away to get the business – but trade time not money. If there is nothing tangible that you can throw in you are probably reduced down to some sort of trade and I would always trade time and not money.

To keep the maths simple, if somebody says to me “what is this going to cost?” and I say, “it looks like it is a day’s work so that is £1,000” they might respond: “I did not expect to pay that much”, so I might respond “Let’s have a look at the seven parts to this job; we could defer a couple of these to another day, one you could do yourself, so if we work hard on the other four parts we could get it done in a half day, so that would be £500”.

They might say they agree to that. I have not given it away; I have traded time for money.

The worst thing I could have done is say that I would do the whole day for £500 because that devalues me in their eyes. Try to find out if trading time for money works; it often does, particularly if you have pitched in a modular format where you can take components out of your solution.

The key to each of these ‘closes’ is planning. Do you research on who you are meeting with; do they have enough funds to actually pay you for what you do, or are you more likely have a concession close and trade time for money? If so, you’re going to have to do some sums before hand so that you don’t seem underprepared in the meeting.

In my next article we’ll continue on how to successfully close business meetings, looking at a further two ways that you may find useful in future. In the meantime, do contact me if you have any queries or simply want more advice.

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#39: Sales pipeline

Over the past few articles we have been looking at the key components of your sales process, from identifying what a Salesperson actually does, the difference between the features and benefits of your product and why it is important to know these during meetings, and your USP.

Another thing you also need to manage your sales pipeline. Take a look at the two tables below:


Source: Viridian Corporate Finance Limited


Stage Contract Size (est.)





























































1.        Prospect = 0%
2.        Contact established = 10%
3.        Positive meeting = 20%
4.        Tender submitted = 30%
5.        Negotiations/discussions = 50%
6.        Verbal o.k. or email = 75%
7.        Purchase order/contract = 100%


The first one is very useful in anticipating your future cash flow. The first column is the prospect. The second column is the stage the relationship has reached. The third column is the estimated absolute size of the contract. The fourth column is the discounted “value” of the contract, with the estimated size multiplied by the percentage likelihood that the business is won.

By way of example, prospect I is at stage three, so there is a 20% likelihood that you win the business. The business is estimated to be worth £250, so the discounted value is £50.


Source: Viridian Corporate Finance Limited


Contact Established Positive Meeting Tender Submitted Negotiations/ Discussions Verbal OK      or email Purchase order/ contract


A1 A2 A3 A4 A5



B1 B2 B3 B4 B5



C1 C2 C3 C4



D1 D2 D3 D4



E1 E2 E3



F1 F2 F3



G1 G2



H1 H2






























Another way of looking at your pipeline is the second table. It’s the same sort of data re-sorted. It shows you how many names you have at each stage in the sales process, so it’s useful to estimate what volume of business is coming towards you from a resourcing standpoint.

If overnight everything moved from column five to column six you might think “how I am going to deal with this?” as they have all said yes at the same time.

You can also pick up on things that are stalling; if something has been in column five for ages you might ask yourself why, and investigate.

The key is how many names can you add to the first column, and how fast can you move them to the far-right column.

Try putting a table like this together and start sorting through your contacts, you might be surprised how far you have come with some of them. It will also weed out the time wasters and free up your time for people that actually want to work with you.

Remember, you can always get in touch with me for more help on this or anything else in my expert articles.

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#38: Unique selling point

There are a lot of questions you’re inevitably going to get asked in business; “What is the aim of your business?”, “What are your key values and how do you meet them?”, “Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?”. Some of these you might find fairly easy to answer, maybe you have been asked them multiple times before, but some questions require a lot more thought.

One such question is when somebody says to you, “What is your USP”? It’s a horrible question to get, but sooner or later someone will ask you.

What makes you different? Why should I use you? USP in marketing terms is either unique selling point, or unique selling proposition. In today’s world I think that if somebody else is prepared to throw money or people at it, most USPs can almost certainly be replicated unless you have a secret formula.

I believe the definition of a USP is that it’s sustainable, defensible and genuinely unique, but if you look around today’s market there are not many products or services that hit those criteria. Nevertheless, if somebody says to you “What is your USP?” you need to have an answer. For most people the USP will be you, something about you and the way you transact business.

The next one is fielding the question: “How can you prove you can do what you say you are going to do?” This is a hard one to handle. Ways you can deal with this include:

  • Do you have relevant qualifications that are evidence that you can do what you say you can do?
  • Can you offer some sort of free trial which will make people comfortable?
  • Can you get testimonials and references from either satisfied clients or, to buy you time in the early days, business contacts from your previous employment?

That brings us on nicely to sales methodologies, the first of which is the Sales Qualification Process.

This is one used by a former client of mine in the storage business.
The key purposes for this company were:

a. To profile the customers they wanted
b. To weed out any potential bad debts
c. To weed out any potential time wasters

A few remarks on each of the components:

  • Source of lead or referral – where did the opportunity come from? Is it from a trusted source, who you know would only pass you a qualified opportunity, or is it a less trusted resource that may be passing you a problem?
  • Potential size of transaction – if it’s huge, don’t just rub your hands together with delight; think about whether you can actually deliver or whether you would embarrass yourself if you could not cope. If it’s tiny, don’t decline out of hand; think about whether you are being tested, and if you do a good job will you get something more substantial down the line.
  • Size of company – in days gone by the larger the company the more likely they would be there to pay you when you finish the work, but the current economic climate has indicated this is not necessarily the case. With smaller businesses you may want to check their ability to pay. There are credit checks you can do by using agencies that have access to the same databases that the banks have; they normally do debt recovery also! This is obviously for business to business.
  • Identification of decision maker – nothing is more frustrating than pitching to the wrong person. If you have identified the decision maker – great; if not can you positively influence the person who is representing your interests to give a good account of your proposition? Make sure you understand the decision-making process
  • Identification of budget – find out if your prospect has a budget. If the prospect has not allocated a budget, then how serious are they?
  • Clarity of requirement – are you clear in your mind what the client wants and whether you can deliver it?
  • Urgency of requirement – Is this mission critical for them or not? If it’s not, then if they get busy could it cease to be important?
  • Finally, why are they talking to you? What has prompted them to contact you? Are they serious about getting a quote or are you just there to make up the numbers? If that is the case, you do not want to waste your time if there is no chance to win the business.

If you have gone through the qualification process and are still talking, and neither of you has “deselected” the other, then your prospect is going to be surprised if you don’t ask for the business.

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#37: Sales – Part 2

Last week we looked at the first of two articles on sales, looking at how a ‘Salesperson’ is generally perceived and what I consider to be the three main attributes of a successful salesperson.

This week we are going to take a look at some of the things that can happen in sales meetings. Firstly, features and benefits.

You really need to appreciate the difference. A feature is what something does; a benefit is what it does for the client. The danger is that people tend to focus in client meetings about the features but not benefits, which reduces the number of sales they can get because it is the thing that is of least interest to the client but quite often the most interest to the seller.

If you have devised a funky piece of software, you want to tell everyone about it, but the client really does not care; they want to know what it does for them in their world.

When I did my sales training they had me selling a car. From memory I had to make the point that it was fitted with halogen headlamps (feature), which meant that it was safer to drive in the dark, (benefit).

Bearing in mind if it is a consumer sale the benefit does not have to be a financial one and, in this case, it was safety. I was paired up with the sales trainer who said he was an old man who did not drive at night; so I sold him a benefit that was completely irrelevant to him! But the point was made. If you then apply this to a business to business sale – you can begin to see how it works.

Imagine that you have just been appointed the UK head of sales for a company selling “hands-free” phone kits and you are calling on the manager of a big call centre. You demonstrate the hands-free kit and say that this means that the operatives in the call centre can work completely hands-free, and therefore complete more transactions per day, which means more money for the business. The key words are “which means” as they link the feature to the benefit.

They work every time. You have to talk about the features otherwise you can’t have a conversation, but you have to link why that is of benefit to the client. If you think about it, if you are not saying, “which means,” the client is thinking “so what”? It gets you from features to benefits. Trust it as a technique and it works.

Next time we will continue to look at sales, as lets face it they’re a big part of your business, but will concentrate on the Sales Pipeline. We have covered this before in a previous article, but I want to move back to this and go through it in more detail. It is very important!

Don’t forget you can always contact me if you would like any more advice or have any questions, I’m always happy to help.

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#36: Sales – Part 1

Over the past few weeks we have looked at why small business fail, potential problems with business partnerships, and networking. The next key component is sales.

When I run my workshops I do a little word association exercise; I say one word and ask the delegates to write down the first thing that comes into their head.

The one word is “Salesperson” – the responses I generally receive are predominately negative, including words such as:

  • Impolite
  • Shallow
  • Pushy
  • Smoothie
  • Aggressive
  • Shark
  • Bully
  • Suit
  • Sleazy
  • Scumbag

It is fair to say that most of the words volunteered are not words that you would feel happy being used about yourself!

So, ladies and gentlemen, we have a challenge; if we are going to eat then normally we have to sell and yet we associate selling with pushy, sleazy scumbags in suits! So how do we do sales without having to risk ourselves being perceived as one or more of the negative images conjured up? I have to try to demystify the sales process for you and make it slightly less scary.

My personal view is there are three attributes of a successful salesperson:

  1. The first attribute is the ability to be liked. If you consider your own experience, you are more likely to buy from somebody you like!
  1. The second attribute is the ability to listen. There is a famous saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth and we should use them in that proportion, and this is absolutely true. The good salesperson asks the right questions then shuts up, and if you have asked the right questions and remain silent the client will tell you all you need to know. Some of the best salespeople I have encountered are amongst the quietest people I know.
  1. The third one is to my mind the hardest one to handle, namely the ability to enter the client’s world, rather than try to drag the client into yours. That is where most people fall down.


When people get into the sales process and are in the thick of it, they get nervous and tense. When that happens, they revert to where they are comfortable, namely themselves and their business, and they stop talking about the client and his or her business.

What you are trying to do is solve their problem in their world. If you can master that, coupled with the other two attributes, then you have the main components of a good sales person. You still need a process to work with and some tools at your disposal, but in terms of a sound base, you will have it.

Next time we will continue to look at sales but concentrate on the features and benefits, both of which are very different. But we’ll get to that next time!

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