Saturday, 30 June 2007
Friday, 29 June 2007
Trevor Price is one of my favorite artists although he would describe himself as "an artist/printmaker not just an artist"
We have two of his early prints on the wall at home and as a result are on his mailing list.
On three or four occasions now I have been invited to studio previews and exhibitions and on every occasion I have been unable for one reason or another to attend. Which is a frustration since Trevor is the only artist/printmaker from whom I have ever received such an invitation since friends degree shows back in the 90s.
So as I sadly am unable to attend Trevor's Studio exhibition this weekend I am pleased to mention his work here.
Tuesday, 26 June 2007
Seth Godin wrote about his tactics at E Bay live in his post Trade Show Tactics last week.
We weren't giving away T shirts at the BBC Good Food Summer Festival but we did give away 2500 sample products and sold £3600 of goods at Special Offer prices. Most of this for products selling as low as £1 a pack.
The mission: to get Sarah Smith branded textiles into hands and homes, drive some retail sales and maybe a little traffic to the web sites. Create a bit of buzz. Spread the word etc.
As part of this we bundled in branded re-usable 100% Cotton shopping bags like the one shown below.
This had the added benefit of the purchaser then spending the rest of the day advertising our brand around the show, and we hope elsewhere if they continue to use the bag.
Outcomes so far. Web traffic is tracking up nicely both at Sarah Smith and the other brand sites in the family.
Too soon to tell with retail sales given the amount of product we put into people's hands. It will probably take 2-3 months to see the impact pull through to retail.
You can be sure I will report back in due course.
Monday, 25 June 2007
Earlier this month I quoted the Met office Summer Forecast in my post I'm Only Happy When It Rains (Again).
2007 looks to be not so hot. Higher than average rainfall in Northern Europe.
Higher than average. They were not joking. The picture is of my home town last Tuesday evening on the cusp of the Summer solstice!
By good fortune I missed it being in Stratford at the time for King Lear and living on a hillside above the town we were unaffected.
Visibility outside my window as I write is about a metre.
Thursday, 21 June 2007
Dennis Howlett recently asked me for my view of Free Agent Central the new financial management tool for freelancers in which he is involved.
My views on the importance of cash management for small businesses are well documented here at Positive Churn. If good cash control, and visibility is important for the Severn Deltas of this world (fyi. an SME in the £5-£10m T/O bracket with <50 employees) it is vital for VSBs, sole traders and freelancers. It is very often the thing that kills an otherwise promising business when neglected.
Too often I have come across small owner run ventures that have no idea of their cash position and no idea whether they are in the black or red until their accountant comes in at the end of the quarter (or even less frequently in some instances).
Similarly with TAX. If you lose sight of the likely liability you cannot plan and run the risk of having a large and unpalatable surprise from HMRC.
Free Agent Central offers a simple, versatile, and user friendly tool for Freelancers, Sole Traders and Small Limited companies that makes financial visibility something easily achieved and managed.
A cornerstone of the web 2.0 age is control. The ability to put yourself in the driving seat with a clear view of the road and the instruments and information that you need in your hands and at your fingertips.
This is a good example.
It is good to see small ventures being taken seriously as a potential customer base and provided with a simple, useful and usable application that will aid good financial management.
I have recommended the beta to all the Freelancers who work for us at Severn Delta.
Saw Arctic Monkeys in Cardiff last night and was witness to something that does not come by everyday. Something quite remarkable. Something thrilling to see.
1. A genuine word of mouth phenomenon.
2. A young band utterly utterly in tune with their audience.
And when I say audience I do not count myself and the older % of the audience who go to gigs these days to hear the music rather than to live the experience.
There was a buzz in the air. A bounce. Every 16-25 yr old in the audience connected to and sharing every word of every song with these young guys from Sheffield.
Every word repeated from every mouth.
They feel the lippy cynicism espoused in the songs.
They hear themselves in these songs in a way that I have not seen in an audience since the Smiths gigs in the 80's. (Although on that occasion I also counted myself a spectator rather than participator)
There is a generation coming up on our heels that are cynical, savvy and switched on and it shows.
They are confident and uncompromising. They know what they want. But don't bother them, they will let you know if you are required. Thank you.
At Severn Delta with the likes of Sarah Smith we are largely dealing with a 30+ customer with a different world view to the one I saw last night.
There were no fist fights at the NEC last week. Plenty last night. Ah, the scrappy Brits with beer on board! This audience had rough edges even if the core had plenty of the middle class masses and Cardiff confidence.
But if the world changes one person at a time it is making some formidable progress!
I wonder what the world will look like once these guys get a little bit older and a lot more political?
Wednesday, 20 June 2007
As requested by Dennis. From a previous occasion and as published in several newspapers. I am on the left. Martyn on the right and Simon Howes from the SWMAS centre stage.
No photographic evidence is available from the show although I do have two witness statements!
Monday, 18 June 2007
As I have written below we were at the BBC Good Food Summer Festival from last Tuesday to Sunday promoting our Sarah Smith brand.
I was not there personally on Saturday due to a conflicting event in the form of the Portishead town Carnival, and I had previously offered my services to my daughter's school to assist in the design and construction of their entry - which won the prize for Best School and included a 10 metre long tiger!
Post carnival I took a call from Martyn who was at the Good Food event wearing a pink apron in the spirit of promoting Sarah Smith. We are both veterans of this sort of thing!
Now I have been in marketing for nearly fifteen years and I can honestly say that this was the first time that a Financial Director, or any professional Accountant for that matter, has called me to enthuse about brand positioning!
I hope that writing about it will not get him banned from any professional organisations!
Martyn had been meeting our public face to face and was seeing first hand the positive effect of a product that exceeds performance expectations.
People buy Sarah Smith products the first time because of the aesthetics.
They come back because the products perform.
This was confirmed dozens of times over the course of the last week as people stopped by simply to tell us that they loved the product!
This was the outcome we were looking for when we created the brand.
It is encouraging to see the theory working in practise.
Friday, 15 June 2007
A guest post from my business partner and FD: Martyn Shiner:
While doing my morning trawl around the sites that I regularly visit I came across the following two stories on AccountingWeb. They highlight the ridiculous situation we are in with Government policy on IT and how it sees SMEs.
1. The government makes a complete mess (AGAIN) of a major IT investment as reported here:
2. Thinks it should tell SMEs how to run their IT! (see here)
As a small businessman I shake my head in disbelief at both these stories. Yes we need efficient government and yes IT is an enabler.... but £8.5 billion on a system that seems to frustrate most of the people who interface with it?
And then the British Chambers of Commerce and Microsoft of all people think the government should centralise IT support services... to tell start-ups how to make their first IT purchase and provide an accreditation scheme. I think a Google search would be a more cost effective solution for most SMEs.
I could rant on for ages about both these topics, but this is Clive's blog so..... read the stories and draw your own conclusions.
Thursday, 14 June 2007
A night off back home after three days at the NEC. The show runs on until Sunday. I'll be back at the NEC for the final day.
A very busy day today. Non stop people traffic from 9.30 and at a steady pace all day.
Consistently two types of visitor to the Sarah Smith stand:
Type one: Zero brand recognition. Never heard of it. Never seen it. Even if they shop in stores where one of the Sarah Smith products are sold.
Type two: Brand evangelists who love Sarah Smith products. Stop by to tell us they love our Sarah Smith products and then (without prompting) happily tell Type one visitors WHY they love Sarah Smith products.
So they come in a ration of 100:1 ? No matter. We are building.
We launched this brand on a shoe string two years ago and now have products available in around 800 stores around the UK and of course via the much improved web site.
Around 90% of the people I met this week were encountering the brand for the first time. All went away with at least a free sample Kitchen Cloth .
If they purchase in due course as a result it will have been time well spent.
Tuesday, 12 June 2007
In tune with our "Go where the people meet and talk to them" philosophy I will be at the NEC for most of the rest of this week with our Sarah Smith brand. Promoting the 2007 Collection and road testing some new products.
Posts for rest of the week may be limited to Jaiku updates in the panel to the right of here via SMS...
Anyone who comes to the stand with a print of this screen will get a free Cherry Blossom Shopping bag!
Saturday, 9 June 2007
As I've said here before a significant % of our revenue comes from a product with a rainy sales trigger.
When it rains sales go up.
When the sun shines sales go down.
So yes I am happy when it rains.
Hard to sell to your wife when it pours throughout your all too infrequent holidays but a hard fact of business life at Severn Delta.
So of course I find myself reading the met office summer report for 2007.
2006 was in the words of the Met Office:
"the warmest on the long standing Central England Temperature (CET) record.The record that dates back to 1659 is the longest instrumental temperature record in the world and May to September 2006 has been warmer than any equivalent period since then."
2003 is high in the chart as well. Given that we completed our MBO in March a long hot, dry summer was not what we needed, but it was what we got.
2007 looks to be not so hot. Higher than average rainfall in Northern Europe.
So when you are cursing the thunder storms this summer, you know I for one will be smiling.
There are factors that will routinely affect your business that are simply beyond your control.
That does not mean you can ignore them.
Information is at your fingertips on just about every subject under the sun.
So look it up.
Even if you cannot influence or change it. You can make sure you are informed.
I worked in a plc that went on a spending spree that ran counter to the global climate. They ignored the implications of WTO agreements that would turn their industry on its head. They couldn't influence the outcome of those talks but they had years of warnings which they ignored. Unsurprisingly turnover collapsed. They were unable to service the huge debts piled up in pursuing the ill conceived acquisition spree and thus no longer exist.
So whatever the rogue factor that lies beyond your control but influences your revenue. Make sure you know what it is, where it is and make sure you are at least informed.
Forewarned is forearmed after all.
So I know the Met Office may be wrong. But I am watching. And if they are not I will be Happy When It Rains again this summer.
Posted by Clive Birnie at 08:09
Friday, 8 June 2007
Read this post by Marc Andreessen (via SmallBizPod one of the feeds in my Google desktop) this afternoon as the subject is very much front of mind.
Last year we hired a completely new Operations Team. The results have been stunning. Earlier this year we beefed up Technical R&D with similarly positive results.
The commercial team needs a refit. So I am looking for what I'll term a "Commercial Director". And I mean Director.
A tough task. The more senior the role the bigger the risk of getting it wrong and the higher the cost of recruiting (if you opt for the professional recruiter route , which I will only do as a last resort).
Marc describes a Key attribute of the person I need. They need drive. If they are going to sit round the table with the other 4 directors of Severn Delta they are going to need it!
I need someone who is at ease negotiating with blue chip mega-ships. We punch above our weight and put on 26% last year. I need someone who can take that and repeat it year after year for the next five years.
A bit of FMCG background would help but is not essential. We can fill the gaps.
Some brand affinity is very useful. Anyone who thinks Marketing is bullshit: do not apply. Similarly anyone who spouts Marketing BS should not apply.
A "web 2.0" state of mind would help.
An exceptional head for numbers. An ability to get to grips with the small print. Profit very often lies in getting the detail right, and I do not have the patience to hold hands.
Oh and two other points that should not be missed:
1. We manufacture. They need to understand that. I find there are two sorts of people. The numbskulls that say "gosh really, I thought that was all done in China", and the rest of us.
2. We are based just off J24 of the M5 in Somerset in the South West of England.
The flag is up. We are on the hunt. All suggestions, connections, and recommendations are welcome.
Wednesday, 6 June 2007
This has been a theme that keeps cropping up this week:
1. Here in an old post by Guy Kawasaki which I stumbled across thanks to Alex's tip on SmallBizPod
2. This morning the phrase was used endlessly by the dull HSBC speaker at the event mentioned in my post below.
3. Here again at SmallBizPod and in the post Alex points to at Business Pundit
My views on cash are well covered here.
But that didn't stop me from adding more here.
Went to a good seminar hosted by Smith & Williamson this morning at the rather palatial Leigh Court nr Bristol.
Solomon Hare who advised us (David Roper to be exact) on our MBO in 2003 merged with Smith & Williamson about two years ago, and our lawyer Richard Tall of TLT was speaking.
Funding growth via debt or equity was the debate and private equity vs public equity. The first part of the morning featured good presentations from Nick Reeve of Smith & Williamson, Mr Tall and Jon Bartman MD of Money Debt & Credit about raising capital via AIM.
The second part featured a very dry presentation by a chap from HSBC whose name eludes me and a more interesting pitch in favour of Private Equity by a chap from ISIS.
Given that we are currently debating our onward growth trajectory this was a very useful session and gave me the opportunity to put a couple of questions to people who have been through e.g. an AIM flotations.
Food for thought. More on this in due course.
Monday, 4 June 2007
We pick our fights. Most of the time anyway. Obviously if someone else wants to start a fight with us we punch back.
I described this today as meaning that sometimes we pick a fight with ourselves.
Picture the scene from Fight Club near the end when it is revealed that Tyler Durden is the protagonist's alter ego and we see Ed Norton beating himself up.
Sometimes we pick a fight with ourselves to attract attention to the potential for a fight. If others gather round and join in all to the good.
If they don't then we are quite happy to slug away on our own.
We do of course go into battle against our enemies, but our pockets are finite so we pick and choose.
When I was first involved with the old company the guy in charge of the part that became Severn Delta managed to halve turnover during a three year incumbency.
His approach was to charge into the forest firing his machine gun wildly in all directions yelling loudly that he would take 'em all on...
But when the firing stopped, and the smoke settled, he had hit nothing but wood, and had alerted his enemies to his position. So in they came and took him out.
Much better to fire only once. Hit your target and have bullets left for another day.
We cannot fight on every possible front. Our resources don't stretch that far.
So we pick you fights and don't get in the ring unless we know we will win, even when that means a long, slow and patient fight.
Reminded of my appreciation of Anthony Gormley's work by a post by Mark Earls.
Having spent large parts of my life living close to the sea I am fascinated by this image (from The Guardian) and so add it to the sculpture referenced here.