Business
Recruitment
Having recently lost a large contract, and having to pay the mortgage, I have started the unenviable task of looking for work. With 25 years business experience in international blue-chips, trailblazing in particular sectors, I thought it would be straight forward - not easy, mind you - but straight forward.

That was until I encountered the recruitment consultant!

I have recruited people in the past, and yes - the requirements should often read 'Dear Santa' at the top. It is a wishlist, and if I encountered someone who could do it all I would bite their arm off - at the neck!

It appears that in this highly mechanised age of online recruitment and communications, the 'art' of recruitment has disappeared. The job descriptions leave a lot to be desired, and the agents claim to be so inundated by applications that they cannot do the courteously of responding to all but the successful candidates.

If someone takes the time to respond (unless they are quite obviously timewasters - an unfortunate by product of making things easier online), it should be the norm to respond to them. An automated message saying 'thanks but no thanks' is all that it takes!

Mail merges, autoresponders, etc, mean that this can be automated! Yes it is impersonal, but at least it is professional and courteous!

The Interview



If you get a response to take you to an interview, the agents appear, in some cases to be reluctant to provide any background information. If they are screening candidates with an interview, I have found they refuse to divulge the company name until near the end - causing a waste of my time recently as I had already been interviewed by the company, who despite ticking all their boxes, refused to provide any feedback - this is not a rant, so don't get me started!

It is in the interests of the recruitment agents to get someone into a job, but with so many people chasing each job, it seems as though they don't actually care. Much in the way the estate agents did in the boom years - but, heed the warning - look at the fate of the estate agent in the last 2-3 years!

So - to the point of this post. This is directed at recruitment agents and their 'employers' the recruiting companies. If you want professionals who treat you and your staff/clients with respect, you should treat them with equal respect and professionality from the outset.

My father always told me that I should never burn any bridges as I would never know if our paths would cross again. If I don't get the job after numerous interviews, or don't get a response/feedback, etc. Be warned - if our paths cross, it may taint my opinion of you and your company!

What do you think of this - have you had experience of poor treatment by recruitment agents, or the opposite - should I start getting worried that it is just me?
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Economic Depression
We are now in a recession - officially. Infact, it appears to be so deep, some people are calling it a depression! Gordon Brown's Government are borrowing to try to relieve the crisis, printing more money and praising themselves for their economic prowess.
The financial and economic experts didn't see any of this coming, the banks lost trust in each other, and changed their lending criteria almost overnight. The banking system is not allowed to collapse, but the industry has not faired well. The US banking system, where the financial crisis is said to have started, did almost collapse with the big names of Lehman Brothers, Beare Stern and the mortgage giants - Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The short selling of stock and hedge fund fraud further decayed the market.
In the UK, Northern Rock, who had been lending irresponsibly hit the buffers and were nationalised. Many of the bosses who created the problem, got bonuses and golden handshakes
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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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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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Bureaucracy
I have just been compiling an application for a grant for a community project. It is unbelievable that we need to jump through so many hoops nowadays.

OK, I understand it for large financial grants, but we also see such barriers when we try to sign up to anything. I heard recently of a 16 year old child who tried to open a bank account. He was told that the only way he could open a current account was to bring a pay slip in - no possible as a child! So as an alternative, details of his previous bank account - this was his first account, etc, etc. Have you ever tried changing a bank account? I did that about two years ago - and it was not a pleasant experience!

So back to the application I am doing at the moment. I suppose it is far more complex thanks to the fact that I am completing it for 4 sports clubs as a single entity. We do, however, have to complete forms using the same information packaged in a number of different ways. This is all time consuming and liable to lead to confusing, especially if I am not careful enough with the transcribing.

But this is not limited to banks and public funding bodies! In business, I have often had to complete business cases, feasibility studies, risk assessments and white papers for product development that repeat information, one-to-one, or summarised, refocused, etc.

Why is it that no one stands up to this tidal wave of paperwork. We are told that a typical arrest in the 1950 took a policeman off the streets for approximately 30-40 minutes, whist today's paperwork will keep them off the street for anything up to 6 hours! Teachers are also spending more and more time on paperwork, as opposed preparing lessons and marking work. No wonder these two professions are struggling to recruit and retain people.

So whatever happened to the paperless office? Surely, form filling should be automated now, we also have voice recognition software that has improved considerably. In his book - Business at the Speed of Thought - Bill Gates states that he removed many layers of bureaucratic paperwork from Microsoft, simply by asking for each paper report, and questioning why it was needed. Why is it that he can do this, and no one else can challenge the bureaucrats? Just think of the wasted time, trees and nerves caused by this practice!

I live in France for a time, and I know that for anything official, the French State is the most bureaucratic (though I believe the Italian system also takes some beating!), whether it be for a rental property, car registration, or to start working. Having said that, the French identity card seems to cut a number of corners, and yet there is a reluctance to accept ID cards in the UK - possibly because of the cost more than the loss of 'privacy'. Unfortunately, applications for these ID cards will presumably involve even more bureaucracy. So long as we only have to complete the forms once, and not provide the same information in addition to producing the ID card - we all have precious little time to waste on this.
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Football Fever
Well, the World Cup is almost upon us. If you think like my wife, you will not be looking forward to it (though the fever will spread if the matches are entertaining, and England do well). Being an out-and-out football nut, I am already planning my evenings in front of each game.

I have to say that I feel that business has been somewhat slow in backing this global event up. This could be partly due to the legal protection offered to the 'official' sponsors, or maybe the football overload in the media. But companies are starting to wake up!

My company - Jack Marketing Solutions has been ready for a number of months, unrolling our traditional forecasting spreadsheet. This Excel document has surprised us for every tournament, predicting the winners with uncanny accuracy. It is just a series of calculations, but it overrides my gut feelings about the winners. If is also good fun, so why not take a look at it - www.jack-marketing.com/about/sport.htm.

Obviously businesses such as Pubs, Clubs and drinks vendors will be doing a roaring trade this summer, but as a committee member for the local football club, I can see smaller clubs at the grass levels of the sport benefiting from this interest. Most clubs, including many semi-professional teams rely on bar sales to bring sufficient funds in to run the clubs. Showing the World Cup games could benefit them financially through the bar takings alone (licensing issues do, however, apply).

But this interest can also be tapped for next season. Business owners who see the increased interest in football will start looking at the smaller clubs, sponsoring shirts, facilities and players. At Fernhurst Sports FC we have developed a Media Pack to introduce the club to the local business leaders, and inviting them to sponsor the team in its centenary year. Take up has begun, but it is slow - but come the World Cup, I would expect interest to grow considerably.

There are many different options companies can take, on- and offline, but you now need to be quick, the tournament starts on the 9th June. I was talking to someone recently who had a great product idea, and invested a large amount of time and money into developing this idea. The only problem was that the timing was way out. The bigger the idea, the longer the lead time, generally. My spreadsheet took about a week to develop and test (having already developed it previously).
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Doing Business
Over the last few weeks I have been battling with two customers who, for different reasons, refuse to pay. This is always a dilemma - do you threaten them, do you take them straight to court, do you ride it out?

Cashflow is of course the most important factor in any business, and if customers are taking the mickey, they are endangering your own business. No-one should have to provide credit facilities to other companies. I have a general problem at the moment with companies constantly pushing for the cheapest deal, or getting advice or services for free - whatever happened to fair-play. Unless I compete with your company or product, there should be a mutual benefit to encouraging business - after-all, the greater the number of businesses, the more money should be flowing around the system.

One of the companies causing me problems is overseas, and they are trying to wriggle out of a fixed price contract, for which the service has already been provided. Given their location, and their unethical, unbusinesslike and illegal approach, I have no problems now with taking them to court - after-all - I do not want to do business with companies like that. The company does, however, have much more to lose - their business is dependent on being seen as trustworthy and ethical. If during a court case, they are proven to be anything but - they are likely to lose a lot more than a simple court case.

I suppose my rant is - why do companies do this? If I employ someone to do something, I expect to be charged for it, and I will pay for it within the agreed time. I will also ensure that I get the product or service I want and will be paying for.

Any comments on this - have you had similar experiences? Please let me know.
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