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Small business chat updates – Jane Badger and Simon Forder

02 Nov

mugsToday we have updates from two more of my interviewees from my small business chats –  Jane Badger and Simon Forder ! These two have both found big challenges in today’s marketplace – as the recession continues to bite, and big businesses are able to dominate and make the situation difficult for other people, this is a common theme. They have responded by adjusting their strategy to take advantage of alternative opportunities. I try when I do a pair like this to match the interviewees – and these two, while in very different industries, have both learned something about cold, hard money this year – and they’ve both done something else, too! Read on to find out more …

Jane Badger

Jane was originally interviewed in August last year, and when asked where she wanted to be in a year’s time, replied, “A very good question. My current plan is to concentrate on high-end and harder to find stock, which should sit better with carrying on writing”. Let’s see how she’s ridden the ups and downs of the intervening year …

Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

When I made the decision to concentrate on better stock, I did it in order to lessen my work load and give myself time to take a good, hard look at the future of the bookselling business. I have now closed that business, which I suppose is where I thought I might well be. It was a very hard decision to give it up, as I do love working with books, but I need to make a decent profit. It’s very easy to so drown yourself with work that you lose sight of the bigger picture. I have always done some proofreading and editing as well as bookselling, and last year I took on more regular clients. Doing the quarterly accounts after I’d done this for a couple of months made the decision, as they say, a no-brainer. It was obvious where the huge expenses were, and where the major income was: not in the same place. There’s nothing like seeing figures to concentrate the mind.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I’ve sold off all my old stock. As so many people must remark, I must close down more often. I took 30% off all remaining stock and sold more than I’d sold in the previous 3 months, and then sold the rest off to a fellow dealer. The process did confirm to me that people are still very price sensitive, and that they’re inclined to go for convenience and cost rather than added value.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. I do think that I lost focus on bookselling because I was writing my book, though I don’t regret that for a moment. It has sold well, for a non-fiction title, and (thankfully) has been reviewed very well too [including by me!]

Any more hints and tips for people?

Don’t hang on to something for sentimental reasons, unless you’re happy doing it. I think quite a few booksellers do the job for love, and not for what it brings in. That’s fine if you want to do it, but I decided I did actually need to make a living wage. The other thing I’d advise is to look at what your accounts are telling you and do something about it.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I hope I’ll still be working for my regular proofreading clients, and that I’ll have acquired a few more! I’ve been asked to write another book (fiction this time) so I hope I might have finished it. Where was Jane in 2014?

Jane’s book on the history of pony books can be bought direct from her and via Amazon. If you would like to talk to her about pony books, her website is still going, and if you’re interested in her proofreading services, contact her via LinkedIn or her Facebook page.

Simon Forder

Simon Forder from telemarketing business RingHello was last interviewed in October 2012. How did he see the future at that point? “In 12 months’ time, I hope to be exactly where I hoped to be 12 months ago when you asked me – stable and secure”. Has he achieved that elusive goal?

Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

I am in a very different place to where I was a year ago.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I am still not where I would like to be in regard to security and stability; in fact, if anything, I would say business has moved the opposite direction, although I am more hopeful and positive about how the next 12 months will go. The cold calling market has continued to evolve and change, and it takes some fairly rapid adjustment to keep pace. Businesses are now at least starting to look at spending money on outbound efforts rather than relying on passive marketing such as SEO and online leads, which is good, and the telemarketing businesses who set themselves up hoping for a quick buck seem to have fizzled out, leaving their clients disenchanted with the industry. There are still a number of people out there who say “telemarketing doesn’t work”, and they use the examples of the non-experts as proof, but for the right clients, it always has, and always will work. It’s all about expectation and return on investment, and telemarketing isn’t – and never will be – a cheap “quick fix.” We’ve actually changed our position to deter people who think they can use telemarketing on a pay per lead basis. It’s just not good practice, and we don’t enjoy it. But for companies with long sales cycles and high ticket items/services, it’s worth the investment.

So the market has changed, and we have adapted with it. But I have also had a really positive change, which is on a totally different strand of work, and that’s with the publication of my first book and new branded website, “The Castle Guy”. The book is on local history, and is the first of several volumes, produced after 8 years’ work to date. It’s been a huge learning curve getting it published, and not always a comfortable process, but the first one is done, and I’m cracking on with the next, along with accompanying e-books. I’m hoping to gain recognition and historical writing commissions, such as brochures and souvenir guidebooks, as well as start on the local history lecture circuit.

In reality, everything and nothing has stayed the same apart from that. It’s still difficult to gain new clients who understand what it is we do and the value of it, and it’s still an issue getting people to pay on time, the devil for all small businesses, I guess. Yet with a change in the market and in my approach and the economy finally looking as if it might be growing again, stagnation may finally be behind us. I certainly hope so!

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I have learned something really important in the last couple of months, and that is to do with our bank. I am a sole trader, and as such my accounts don’t have to be audited full accounts by law. To get these is therefore unnecessary, and very expensive. I recently approached the bank I have been with for over 15 years, and asked about a loan. We are all led to believe that the banks are under pressure to lend to small businesses, to help the economy grow. However, my bank (RBS, if you’re allowed to print that [I don’t see why not – LB]) have a policy, and I have confirmed that it is a policy, that they will not lend any money to any sole trader, unless they can provide fully audited accounts. Since no sole trader is obliged to do this by law, and it’s expensive, I can’t see anyone having these. In effect, the bank have decided they will not lend money to sole traders. If I wanted to apply for a loan, I would have had to pay my accountant several hundred pounds to audit three years of accounts – and that was just to be considered, without any guarantee of the loan being agreed! I wish I had known this a year ago. It would have meant I could have started using another bank earlier, one that actually wants sole traders as customers…

Any more hints and tips for people?

I do have a couple of tips for your readers – before committing to any kind of large business expense, it’s best to find out what kind of return you will get on it. The only way to do that is a small-scale trial, seen through to the end. And it has to be done by people who are experts in what they say they do, not what you hope they can do. With the historical writing, I am an expert on castles and fortification. I wouldn’t be able to write an article on art history, or want to be judged by it if I wrote one! The same goes for telemarketing or any other kind of business. If you want to achieve something positive, don’t try to cut corners by saving money. If you’re committed to using somebody external, use an expert, and get the job done properly. And, make sure your bank is able to serve the needs of your type of business before you need them!

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I am hoping in a year’s time to have consolidated the position with regard to The Castle Guy, so that I can spend more time on this passion of mine, and to be more stable with my RingHello work, rather than be working on a month by month basis. Having new clients is always a nervy time, so as I continue to get results for them this should happen. Speak to you next year!

Simon can be found at ringhello.co.uk and you can find all his contact details here or call him on 01807 590 380. His book is available via his website and on Amazon.

So, two very different industries, two very similar experiences with cold, hard economic facts and writing books. You never know where those connections can be found, do you!

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my new book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on November 2, 2013 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

9 responses to “Small business chat updates – Jane Badger and Simon Forder

  1. Victoria Eveleigh

    November 4, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Really interesting blog – and some good (but hard to follow!) advice too. I (like you) love Heroines on Horseback and am looking forward to Jane Badger’s next book.

    Like

     
    • Liz at Libro

      November 4, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, I think this was a hard-hitting one and an excellent pair to put together. And I can’t wait, either!

      Like

       

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