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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Of or off?

I think that the confusion people make between of and off is a simple typing or sound one, as most people understand the difference between these two prepositions.

Of expresses a relationship between a part and a whole, “half of the pie”; a scale/measure and a value, “2 metres of fabric”; an association between two things, usually of belonging, “the sister of the man involved”; a direction and a point of reference, “East of the clock tower”; any other relationship, e.g. “half of you come from Outer Mongolia”, “you, the people of Outer Mongolia”, “Of all the countries in that area, Outer Mongolia is the largest”, “the dress is made of Outer Mongolian fabric”.

Off is used as an adverb or preposition and implies the opposite of a relationship – a separation: away from the place in question “off-site data storage”; so as to be removed or separated from, “the top of the bottle comes off for easy storage”; starting a journey or race, “they’re off!”; moving away and often down from, “she got off the horse”; removed or separated from, “he is now off the Mongolia project”; having a temporary dislike of, “I’ve gone off yoghurt again”; bad or spoiled, “this meat is off”.

So they’re quite different, and it’s just important to watch your typing when you’re using one or the other.

Interesting points 1 – it is incorrect to use of instead of have in constructions such as “I should have asked him the way to Ulan Bator” – see my post on would have or would of for why this happens.

Interesting points 2 – it is also incorrect to use off of instead of of – “I picked him up off of the floor and dumped him in a taxi” – but this was used in Shakespearean English and is found in American English usages (usually not formal written English, though).

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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Al Hunter

Welcome to Saturday Business chat. Today we’re talking to Al Hunter, a fellow 4N member, who runs Auto Evolution, part of parent company, Motor-Stream Ltd. They undertake car repairs, including both small (“SMART”) repairs and doing clever things with the electronic and computer side of things (ECU remapping). I don’t know much about cars (obviously) but Al has good points to make about market research and marketing. As I was saying in my blog post about goals during the week, I agree that it’s vitally important to love what you do and what you’re aiming to do, otherwise the tricky points outweigh the good ones. And Al makes a very good suggestion for those who don’t end up running a business in an area in which they already have experience: get some work experience and inside knowledge of the industry in question before you launch.

I really appreciate the honesty with which my interviewees answer the questions: this is something that I’m sure will help other small businesses and entrepreneurs as they launch and begin (do let me know if any of these interviews have helped you and your business!)

Let’s say hello to Al …

What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

Our brand name is Auto Evolution, although our company is called Motor-Stream Ltd. These names were chosen very deliberately. Throughout the winter of 2010 we surveyed both existing and potential clients on what they thought our brand name should encapsulate. In the main, the survey responses said our brand name should be instantly related to cars and not tied to one particular product or service. As such, because the automotive industry is constantly evolving, we came up with the brand name Auto Evolution.

Auto Evolution was launched on April 1st 2011.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

The decision to set up my own business was down to the fact that no one would provide me with the job I wanted in the finance world. For 10 years I was pigeon-holed into being a financial adviser: a job I neither enjoyed or wanted to do. As such, I thought, “If no one will give me the job I want, I will create the job for myself!”

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

I’ve always had two passions: investments and cars. As the sector I wanted to work within in the finance world didn’t open up for me, I thought I’d follow my other passion in the automotive world, which is to play with cars! Obviously, when a business performs well, it becomes its own investment, and so all my energies are now going into turning Auto Evolution into a successful business.

Had you run your own business before?

No, I had not. Although I worked as a Business Financial Adviser, there is a huge difference between understanding the financial shortfalls and implications for a business and actually running a company itself. As such, I’m much wiser now than I was when I originally started Motor-Stream and launched Auto Evolution as our brand. Given the time again, there are a number of things I would have done very differently!

How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?

The business was launched full time. This has created a tremendous amount of joy but also of financial stress, particularly as the automotive industry is struggling heavily at the moment.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

The importance of promotion. Originally, we started our business as providing just SMART repairs. The research I performed led me to believe that the market was a dynamic one: a market where someone with passion and talent could succeed. However, this is not true. With so many SMART repair operators in the market, many of which provide cheap repairs at cheap prices, making a profit in this sector is not easy at all. As such, promotion is very important if your company and brand is to stand a chance in people’s memory retention when they’re looking for the services you provide.

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

Before you take the leap in starting your new business, aside from the typical research of looking at the numbers provided by the industry, go out and have some work experience in the industry you are thinking of working in. This is because, as we have found, the reality is very different to the image the industry portrays.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

I wish we’d got our marketing strategy more succinct from the get go. This is what has truly let us down. Not understanding the importance of the internet, networking and advertising in general has made growing our brand very difficult. The most simple way to understand what we’d not done properly is to consider a new brand and company as an infant. The infant that cries the loudest gets heard. We launched our brand with a too mature and quiet approach which, in hindsight, is a harsh error to learn.

What are you glad you did?

It’s important to recognise what you’ve done well in business, and despite our severe lack of marketing, we have generated a trusted network of clients and have had some glowing testimonials. Customer service is key to growing brand value, and we always pride ourselves on doing the best we can for our clients.

What’s your top business tip?

Love what you do. If you love what you do, then you’ll be prepared to do what is necessary to turn your dream into a reality. You’ll also be prepared to accept the challenges that are thrown in your direction that you’d have otherwise run away from.

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
We have rapidly learned just how weather-dependent SMART repairs actually are, to the extent that it’s unrealistic without any premises, such as a body shop, to expect this business to be profitable throughout winter. As such, we’ve diversified into ECU remapping, the more grown-up version of Chip Tuning. We’ve created two brand to do with this service, our EcoMap service that will reduce a car’s fuel consumption, thereby make motoring for our consumers more affordable, and our ProMap service which will improve the outright performance of our clients’ cars.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

Auto Evolution’s primary service will be the ECU remapping services. With fuel costs seemingly rising on a day-by-day basis, we see our EcoMap service as becoming increasingly popular, as clients want the benefit of reduced fuel costs without the associated costs of buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Additionally, remapping a car’s ECU is not weather dependent like your typical SMART repair service such as repairing alloy wheels or a bumper scuff. We will continue to provide our SMART repair services, as we are skilled in these and want our clients to have the option of a quality SMART repair service through us. However, until we can afford our own in-house repair facility, which will remove the complications associated with completing a car body repair outside, we will focus the bulk of our energies on promoting our ECU remapping services through our EcoMap and ProMap brands. So in a year’s time, we’d like to see ourselves in the position where we can afford a unit large enough for our ECU remapping services as well as our SMART repair services.

An honest assessment of how the company has got where it is today, and a more refined version of where it needs to go – good luck to Al and Auto Evolution over the next year!

Auto Evolution are based at 5 Longfields, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB6 3DN. Their website is at www.auto-evolution.co.uk and you can contact the company via email, on Facebook or on Twitter, or call them on 08000 515 415.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more freelancer chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Business, New skills, Small Business Chat

 

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Blog or blog post?

This is a quick and easy one, but it’s been bothering me slightly recently that the two are getting mixed up when they are distinct things.

A blog is a whole entity, like Libroediting or Libro Full Time (why not plug my own two!) or, now I come to think of it, my book review blog (I’m just shameless, aren’t I!). It’s a collection of blog posts, or articles, like a book is a collection of chapters or a magazine or newspaper is a collection of articles. The container, if you like.

A blog post is one of those individual articles or chapters. It’s a piece of content that’s contained in the container of the blog. This is a blog post, and part of a blog.

I’m not sure where the confusion has crept in, but it has … so people say “I’ve written a new blog today” or “I’m writing one blog a week this week”, when of course they don’t mean that they’re starting up a whole new set of articles, a new container; they mean they’re writing a blog post. I thought for a while that it was all about getting things written in as short a space as possible – Twitter syndrome – but “I  have written a post about discrete vs. discreet” takes up the same room as “I have written a blog about discrete vs. discreet”, so it can’t  be that.

The act of writing and publishing blog posts is, of course, blogging. But you’re still writing blog posts in particular, or a blog in general.

Thank you for your attention to this matter! You’ll have to excuse me the odd, small rant: just trying to keep things accurate and descriptive and doing my bit to preserve the finer grain of our language.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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Setting goals in life and business

Why set goals?

I’m going to talk today about setting goals, primarily in business, but of course this can be used in the rest of your life, too. Why set goals? It gives us something to aim for, and, if done properly, should give us a way of measuring our progress towards our goal, too.  Goals and the progress towards them can help you make big life changes; it was through measuring my progress against a specific set of goals that I was able to leave my part-time job and start running Libro full time (I’ll write about exactly how I did that on the Libro Full Time blog soon), and I’m not the only person to achieve a big life change like that.

Setting sensible goals

There’s lots of talk, especially in a business context, of setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). But actually, I think you can get away with just setting sensible goals.

  • The end target should be something you actually want, whether it’s working at your business full time, growing your hair for your wedding or running a marathon.  This will probably be inspired by what motivates you, something that I’m going to be talking about in a later blog post. In my case, I wanted to work full time because I wanted the flexibility to run my life how I wanted to, and the free time to spend reading and spending time with my friends. These motivators meant I really wanted to do it. You can’t set goals half-heartedly, because you will not work towards them if you do. And they can’t be other people’s goals, either. Think how much more fun and easier it is to learn a language so you can order a beer on holiday, rather than toiling away for a GCSE at school.
  • The method to achieve this target should involve a specific set of activities that are measurable along the way. For me, I had to be earning a certain amount per month in order to be able to support myself. If you’re training for a marathon, you need to be able to run a certain distance by a certain time. If you want a particular wedding hairstyle, you need to go to the hairdresser for a trim to keep it looking good and know how long your hair needs to be for the special style.
  • Ideally, you should be able to chart how you’re doing and measure it against how you should be doing. So you might take photographs of your hair, I had spreadsheets and graphs to tell me how I was doing against my financial targets, and a runner will tick off training sessions and achievements as they go.

Measuring your progress

It is vital to measure your progress as you go along.  In my case, last year I knew how much I needed to be earning per month to support myself. I keep a list of incoming and outgoing money, so I copied my income over onto a new sheet of my spreadsheet, so I knew what had come in that month. I then compared that to what I needed to be earning per month to support myself. At first, I compared it to how much money I needed to replace the money lost by going part time, so I had a set of columns and a graph – a graph does a good job of showing you where you stand – that told me where I was against a monthly target and also a cumulative target (that meant that if I earned less one month and more the next, they averaged out and meant I was still hitting my annual target).

Although it sounds complicated, it was easy to do in practice, and it showed me that I hit the targets for replacing my lost income quite quickly, and began to hit and beat the target income for supporting myself. That’s when I knew it was time to leave and strike out on my own.

Set challenging targets

I like to have an easy, middling and hard target. I’ll always achieve something, but I strongly believe that having something challenging to go for has meant that I have achieved more. Last year I measured my income against replacing my lost income from 2 and 3 days a week and against the lowest amount I needed to support myself. Building up through the year, I only missed that top target by £100 – and I really wasn’t expecting that. So this year I have that as my lowest target, my old full-time wages as my middling one, and an amount I haven’t earned since I lived in London as my hard target. Don’t get excited: it’s not a fortune and I’m not going to turn into a millionaire. But by setting that high target, I’m giving myself something to aim for.

Affirmations and speaking out loud

Apart from the hard target that pushed me forward, I am convinced that what helped me achieve was vocalising and affirming. Otherwise known as telling people what I was doing. Part way through 2011 – and remembering that I didn’t actually decide to leave my part-time job until November – I started telling people, “I am aiming to go full time with the business some time in early 2012.”, or “by a year from now I will be full time with Libro.” These weren’t affirmations in the traditional, chanting in front of the mirror or writing them on a bit of paper sense, but speaking my targets out loud did help me to achieve them.

I hope this has been helpful. I try to talk about specific examples of what I’ve done, to show that it is possible – no high-faluting promises of millions! Maybe you’d like to share the goals you’ve set and how you set them. What helped you – or is helping you – to achieve them? And do let me know if this has inspired you to set some sensible goals yourself. That’s the first step to speaking it out loud!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Business

 

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Either or neither?

Either or neither: a pair that many people seem to be confused about. So let’s sort this one out.

The main rule for this is quite simple, and there are some stylistic points, too.

The basic idea is that either is followed by or, and neither is followed by nor.

So, “Either we’ll go to the cafe or we’ll go to the pub”, “They went to neither the cafe nor the pub, but had a walk in the park, instead.”

It is incorrect to write: “They didn’t go to either the cafe nor the pub”, or “They went to neither the cafe or the pub”.  Quite simple: either … or and neither … nor.

Stylistically, both kinds of sentence need to be balanced: so you wouldn’t say “either we’ll go to the cafe or the pub” or “He neither saw himself as farmer or politician”.

Confusion also sometimes arises with the use of or/nor with no and any. “No people or pets were harmed during the filming”; “we did not harm any people or pets”, not “No people nor pets”; “any people nor pets”.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
 

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Charles Davis

Welcome to Saturday business chat. This weekend’s chat is with Charles Davis of Professional Photography.  I met Charles at a local networking event and he is generous at introducing people to each other if he thinks they can help each other at such events, which is very encouraging to new people. He’s also happy to share tips and encouragement with other people about their photography and is generous with re-tweets, etc., in social media circles. Charles has brought his wealth of business and communication experience into his career as a photographer: as well as being good with the camera, a successful photographer must be able to engage with people. Like me, he’s not missing the politics and conflicting priorities that often arise as part of working for a large corporation, instead enjoying being his own boss! And giving back through voluntary work is also important to Charles: in his case this has resulted in new opportunities, too.

Let’s meet Charles and find out about his interesting background and widening portfolio …

What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
My business is Professional Photography, and although I have produced professional quality photography for friends and family all my life, it was formally set up in 2010.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

After successfully growing both responsibilities, my Post as Fundraising & Communications Director for a large Charity was split into two roles for Fundraising & Communications.  I therefore decided to take the redundancy package offered instead of taking one of either of the roles. However, as I felt I had successfully completed my work with the organization and I’m always looking for opportunities, I saw this as a perfect time to start my own business and do something I love.

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

My father ensured I had a camera in my hands at a very early age and since then I’ve never stopped trying to improve my skills as a photographer.  This, together with my love of beautiful images and state-of-the-art technology, makes for an exciting combination as a 21st century photographer.

Had you run your own business before?

My first career was in the Police Service, where I specialised in the protection of Royalty and VIPs as part of the Special Escort Group, and I further went on to become a Tactical Advisor & Team Leader in Firearms Operations, although the only thing I shoot nowadays is a camera!  Yes, I’ve run a number of different operations, training and consultancy, advanced motorcycling and testing, a national association plus multi-million pound fundraising and communications teams for two high profile charities.

How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?

Full-time.  The decision had to be full-time to be able to give the commitment, time and effort to give the business a good chance of succeeding.  Building a client base is a slow but sure process and, as they say in sales, “you’re only as good as your last sale.”  Well, in photography you’re only as good as your last few shoots.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

My previous experience prepared me for many challenges in business although I was surprised how many prospect clients are prepared to put up with a low quality or average quality of service from their existing provider and sometimes appear to be too lazy to want to make the effort to change to a new supplier.  Essentially you need to make it as quick and simple for them as possible to make the change, whilst of course providing excellent images.

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

“I should have done this years ago!”  It’s the truth: I’m totally enjoying myself, doing something that I love with no one pulling you in different directions in terms of objectives, and essentially I don’t have to play the politics that are so often there in large organizations.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

The success of our new website, launched in October 2011, has exceeded my expectations, and looking back, when I started the business in 2010, I should have built a much better website from the start.

What are you glad you did?

Made the decision to do something I love and for myself!  The satisfaction and lovely, lovely comments you receive from clients on completion of an assignment are a great reward as photographer.  It’s not often in life you get to do something you love!

What’s your top business tip?

Network, Network, Network!  As a big fan of social media and face-to-face networking groups, it’s essential to get you and your business out there!  Time-consuming, I would agree, but with relatively no costs but your time, you need to meet new people on a regular basis and have state-of-the-art joined-up social networks.

Also try to give something back: it doesn’t have immediate benefits but long-term you will be surprised at the opportunities that arise.  I’m part of a number of membership based associations, and in particular MIPAA, the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association.  When I started my business, I also put myself forward to join the Operating Committee of MIPAA and its Executive Team.  Since that time, numerous opportunities have arisen from my voluntary work.  This also applies to local charities and new start-up businesses, where I offer to do the occasional photo-shoot to help them with an event or to get their marketing campaigns started.

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
My portfolio of work is broad, and strategically so.  I’m just as happy shooting a Cherish the Dress, Wedding or fashion shoot as I am on a commercial shoot for a product.  Producing the best images possible, with a little editing, can really exceed a client’s expectations, and is so, so rewarding.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

I’ve recently been lucky enough to pick up interest from a number of up-and-coming fashion designers and been asked to become their official photographer, which is flattering to say the least.  Whether reportage, still life, or traditional, using a variety of photographic styles is still key for me when telling the story. My photographic work  offers a visual representation of my unique perspective, exploring the depths of beauty and style, whilst hopefully still portraying elements of the classical. I feel my work retains relevance to 21st century client, and I plan to keep it that way!

It’s amazing that you can meet someone a number of times, have in-depth conversations with them, and never know they have guarded royalty and VIPs! I wish Charles the best of luck with his new and expanding work areas, and look forward to hearing how he gets on over the next year.

Find Charles at his website www.professionalphotography.me.uk, email him, or phone him on 07824 444 487.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please click here for more freelancer chat, or here for information on how you can have your business featured.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2012 in Business, New skills, Small Business Chat

 

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Definite or definitive?

Definite and definitive obviously come from the same root, but they do have separate, differentiated meanings and I don’t think they should be allowed to blur into one another or swap meanings. We have these different words for a reason, and that reason is clarity. There’s getting to be a theme here, as I said a similar thing about refute and rebut, didn’t I!

Definite means clearly stated, decided – not doubtful or vague. It means clearly true or real, and as well as these more intangible meanings, it also means having exact and discernible physical limits. The definite article is “The”. “There is definite evidence that this pipe was not sealed properly”.

When something is definitive, it is done or reached with authority and decisively – and in extension, it refers to the most authoritative of its kind: usually a document or book. “We have found the definitive answer to the meaning of life”, “This is the definitive edition of Ms Broomfield’s great work”.

Oddly, a definitive stamp is one for general use, not commemorative or special. I did not know that.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
 

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