Nov 2007
Data Privacy fiasco
No doubt you have followed the recent Governmental cock-up in IT with a mixture of disbelief, interest and anger. HMIRCE burning the records of 25 million individuals onto CD's and then sending it unprotected in an insecure mail system.
If a business were to do this, they would be rightly chastised, and the officers of the company facing huge fines and possible prison sentences. The Teflon Government, whilst getting a hard time about the issue are blaming it on a 'junior' - how convenient!
Data Protection and privacy are key elements to building and maintaining customer trust. Unlike other areas of legal compliance, there is only to be a single company (www.privacy-audit.co.uk) that offers audits of a company's privacy procedures.
Don't get caught out like HM Inland Revenue Customs Excise. Make sure that your database is safe, your security procedures solid and your privacy policies are understandable and relevant to your customers.
Privacy Audit provides an objective and impartial approach to auditing your data security procedures, providing you with a snapshot of your data privacy operations, and your database marketing, as opposed the technical IT elements. At the end of the process you will get a quality mark proving your compliance with the audit criteria, and therefore with the Data Protection legislation.
In this age where identity fraud is rife, and information easier than ever to compile, surely it is time for companies that value their customers to engage in ensuring adequate (or better still, more than adequate) data security procedures, and to be able to prove it to all stakeholders within the company?
What does this do for your business? By proving that you take privacy seriously, you will
build trust amongst your customers and partners, which in turn will strengthen your relationships with them. So what does your company look like in terms of data privacy - could you be the next HMIRCE, or can you prove to your customers that you take your relationship with them, and their privacy serious? Can you afford to be another HMIRCE? If not, contact Privacy Audit today.
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Taking unethical businesses to court
As readers of this blog know, I have been forced to take a former client to court over unpaid invoices. Almost 9 months on, and I am still awaiting for payment, with the former client having lost a county court judgment without contesting the judgment in court, and waiting until the 11th hour before contesting the result.
This is, of course, something they are free to do - but due to the unethical nature of the blocked payments, this is just drawing out the conclusion of this sorry situtation.
I have, until now, resisted the call to name and shame the unethical client. The recent moves have led me to reverse this decision, and I am now prepared to name the company, and lay out the evidence against them.
The London School of Business and Finance, or LSBF are a private school run by a Russian family. They offer qualifications for professional courses, and run Masters degree courses for other institutions. Unfortunately for them, they are highly reliant on a very small number of lecturers who they generally treat very poorly. Their website lists a large number of lecturers, including myself, who have no links with the company, or, no longer have links.
I developed a Masters degree for the school, and until their failure to pay, was due to manage the programme. The problem for the school is that they do not have the Intellecual rights to run this programme as this was never signed over to them - just part of the illegal activities the company undertakes. Their contempt of the British judicial and legal system in general is astounding - with documented abuses of Health & Safety, VAT and employment legislation.
My advice is for everyone to avoid doing business with the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF), and the officers of the company.
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iPhone hype
So the iPhone has finally been launched! The 'geeks' were sleeping on the pavements of London in anticipation of the launch - to the amusement of 'normal' shoppers. But why the hype?
iphone_homeApple has consistently been a major innovator in the field of electronic gadgetry, and their following has grown from the loyal computing community to which I belong. The iPod has become an iconic fashion item, undergoing three revamps since its launch. But will the iPhone cannibalise the iPod market? The iPhone does include a touch-screen iTunes players (iTunes is the computer-based player for the iPod), so the owner can listen to their music, browse the Internet and phone and text friends.
So far so good. So why is it hype? The iPhone uses an old technology for the mobile internet - namely GPRS - the telecoms industry is now focused on 3G (GPRS is 2.5G), so connections are not as fast as they could be - this will mean that downloading music and movies will take longer, therefore costing the user more.
The interface, whilst used on the new touch-screen iPod, is relatively untested, and could be subject to some teething problems. Touch screens also appear to have problems when they age, though it is interesting that the iPhone makes use of 'finger' power, rather than the PDA stylus - the sharp point on the stylus being a major contributor to the scratching of the screen. I don't know how useful 'finger' power is in cases such as mine, where I have fat fingers! Some keyboards cause my fingers problems!
So, will I be buying an iPhone? Not yet. I have just upgraded my phone to the new XDA - a smaller PDA, as I found that for 'normal use', the old XDAII was too large and cumbersome - it has a similar footprint to the iPhone! Whilst I am an Apple fanatic, I will be waiting until the release of the iPhone2. A tried and tested interface and 3G connectivity will provide the features I will be looking for. My iPod will probably need updating/replacing by then, and I am not the sort of person who needs the newest gadget - just the best!
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South Downs National Park
The South Downs National Park covers one of the most beautiful areas in South East England, stretching from Hampshire to the East Sussex coast, along the historic ridge of the South Downs. The debate has been raging for years now, and the most recent development has excluded the Western Weald that includes a Greensand ridge north of Midhurst. The area they are excluding contains a large number of areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), that will be lost to the greed of developers if excluded from the park. The old boundary proposal is available at the DEFRA website.
Most of the area that is proposed to lie outside the park is in the Chichester District Council area, and this council has been very vocal in its opposition to the park - they will, of course lose much of their power of the area. For the north of the district, however, the people have long felt second-class citizens and a dumping ground of problems for the council, and the though of having a national park between the councillors and the towns and villages in the north is worrying the inhabitants.
Once a national park has been set up, it appears that AONB status will be removed from surrounding areas - because of the additional protection the park offers nearby. But I would argue that the Downs are nothing without the Weald, and it is the differentiation of the landscapes that make the Downs so beautiful. The views from the Downs escarpment, north over the Weald are spectacular, and much of this will be endangered when the park is established. I feel that it is vital that we keep at least some of the Weald, especially where it has already been designated an AONB, to provide this contrast, and maintain the important ecosystem of highland/lowland margins. We cannot have an island of highland Downs, surrounded by the millions of houses the Government wants to build in the South East.
The Government has now reopened the inquiry on the South Downs National Park, to revisit the issue of the Western Weald. I would implore you to sign up on the petition to get the area included in the park again - the website for the petition is:
http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/western-weald
An action group has been set up and their website is available at
www.southdownscampaign.org.uk
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Play It By Trust - finally published
Play It By Trust - a guide to ethical digital marketing. Thom's book has finally been published to help marketers and business leaders understand the new media landscape, and to remove the stigma of unethical and illegal activities that dominate this lawless media.
In addition to the book, Thom has also set up a website, with a blog to discuss issues of ethics and trust in the marketplace. You can find the website at -
www.play-it-by-trust.com.
The book is currently available at the
publisher's website as a download or as a hardback version, and will soon be available on store websites such as Amazon - look out for it.
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Business start-ups
I was speaking to a colleague over the weekend, discussing a mutual friend who is starting up a new business. It worries me that there are so many entrepreneurs out there who really do not understand marketing. As a marketer, I am sure that you would expect me to big-up the role of marketing, but I can assure you that marketing is a vital component of any business.
Let's take a quick look at what marketing does for a business, and hopefully you will agree with my view. Marketing starts with an evaluation of the marketplace - finding the customers who will be paying you for the products or services you offer. But it is not goo enough just to identify the marketplace - this may be too big for you to tackle, so marketers also segment the market into easily targeted, profitable groups. This allows your efforts to be more successful and targeted - reducing waste.
Once you know the market, you can develop or fine tune your offer to the customers. This makes use of the research you undertake, and the extrapolations you make, including reviewing the state of the competition - you do not want to launch into a highly competitive marketplace where your promotion could be lost.
When you have your product/service right, you need to promote it correctly. I have always said that one of the aims of marketing is to provide sales people with ammunition - the right product at the right price, promoted correctly, properly distributed, etc. So all press releases, adverts, brochures, etc, should promote the product/service to the prospective customers.
OK - so the customers have seen the ads, read the press releases and bought the product - that's the end for marketing isn't it? No - not really, selling something as a one-off is relatively easy to a section of the public - what we call the innovators. The way to make money is to generate repeat business, and build advocacy amongst your customers. This reduces the promotional costs, and spreads the brand to a greater population. We do this by providing customers with great support - 95% of all UK customers leave without ever having complained, so feedback is not often forthcoming, therefore, you need to ensure that the customer support is ready and effective from the start.
You cannot rely on a single product for too long either - your products will die at sometime, and you need t o have some replacements for those products. So marketers can help here too, restarting the process all over again, to develop new and/or replacement products. This will keep your company going, with a decent cashflow.
There are marketing courses for small businesses, but many of them are courses for a qualification, and run for a number of weeks. Colleges should start to address the need for half- or one-day courses for entrepreneurs - not to teach them every aspect of marketing (or any other business skill, for that matter), but to give them an appreciation of the skills and allow them to manage a professional consultant brought in to manage a particular aspect of the business process.
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Lead generation
Businesses thrive on generating new business - in fact, a Harvard study claims that we lose half our clients in 5 years. I actually think the situation is worse than that, especially for small businesses, and my experience is that with few exceptions, the turnover is approximately every year.

I have recently been contacted by a number of companies offering lead generation services. This is a valuable service for many larger companies with commodity products, but smaller businesses will either become overwhelmed by leads that they cannot fulfil or under utilise the lead generation company (but it is unlikely that there will be a reduction in price!).

Many B2B businesses will find that most of their leads come from recommendations or networking - this is certainly my experience. As such, it is important for business owners to network effectively, both on- and offline. There are a number of online networking organisations - I belong to eCademy and LinkedIn to name but two.

There are a larger number of offline networking clubs and associations - Chambers of Commerce are the most famous. Many of the clubs I have come across insist on highly regimented attendance in closed groups. As a result, they end up as no more than glorified clubs with little to no real business and commercial value.

Business briefings and presentations, such as are organised by professional business associations and institutes are also a good source of contacts, but if you work say in marketing, do not expect to pick up marketing business from a meeting organised for and by marketers. You can, however, find alliances in those networks, and for small businesses, alliances are the best way that we can compete against the larger competitors.

If you are interested in joining in an alliance with any of my businesses, please go to the relevant website (see the useful links page) and make contact.
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Ethical business
Back after a long layoff, I have been busy building my businesses and publishing my book - more of that shortly.

I would like to address the unethical business practices of an increasing number of companies - normally operated by foreign businessmen. My latest tangle came from a client that I was forced to sack. The CEO, a Russian, always felt that he could do a deal in EVERY transaction, nailing suppliers down almost to bankruptcy. He attempted to do so with Jack Marketing Solutions, something that I resisted.

The outcome of this altercation was that, without a contract (he consistently refused to sign a contract), I sacked the client without providing any notice (there would have been a notice period in the contract), and had to take the client to the County Court to reclaim the outstanding invoices. He refused to acknowledge even the official court orders and now has a CCJ against his company and the bailiffs are moving in to get my money in the next week or so.

There was never any need for this to escalate to this proportion, but the guy is consistently opposing legal and moral standards in the way he operates his business - at the expense of his employers and suppliers. Since leaving the client, many of his employees have informed me of illegality in his business practices - so whilst the loss of the client hurt my cashflow during a very poor summer, I am pleased to have stayed clear of such a bad customer.

A few years ago I had a similar experience with an Irish company, who employed me to deliver a training course that they pre-approved. I had the expense of going to Dublin to undertake the training, but they then claimed that the delegates got the wrong level of training and refused to pay the invoice. In my opinion, this was wholly unethical, but because to the complexities of international law, I had to write the invoice off. But, for the £1,000 I was owed, the company lost approximately £160,000 in recommended business that I redirected. This was not a vindictive act, but if I cannot trust a supplier (and unethical activities relate to untrustworthy actions), I will not pass a recommendation onto others. In the meantime, I have set up a successful rival to the Irish business, seriously undercutting their prices and adding a great deal of credibility to the business area.

Now, why is ethical behaviour important? Ethics drive trustworthiness, which in turn, drives credibility. If you trust me, and I make a recommendation of a product or service, you will find the recommendation more relevant and trustworthy. You should also find that the product or service fulfils your requirements more fully. Trust is a major driver in modern business, though few companies actually pay it more than lip service. This is why I wrote my long awaited book -
Play It By Trust - available now at the publishers website, and in a few weeks at Amazon and other online bookstores. Alternatively, you can visit the website of the book at www.play-it-by-trust.com.
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