Clare Associates - Blog

Some businesses throw money at a problem; some businesses throw time at a problem. There is a third way…

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Quite often at Clare Associates we find ourselves picking up the pieces of previous attempts to solve business problems, especially with the company website. Usually these problems can be traced back to the decisions taken when this website was first developed.

The first type of business has money to spend, but no time. They say to their expensive web designer “We need a website. Here’s lots of money, go and make it happen.” The expensive web designer goes away and creates a fantastic looking website. It’s got everything – fancy effects, beautiful photography, even the buttons have that lovely rounded feel. For some reason, expensive web designers often come from an art and design background rather than an IT background, so they do what they know best.

The second type of business has rather more time than the first. They’ve done a little research and they don’t think they can afford an expensive web designer. But they can afford that son of a friend who knows how to “do websites” and who won’t be very expensive. And in any case, he’ll have the time to keep improving the site, adding more content and generally keeping it up to date.

To be honest, neither of these approaches is likely to get the business the website it needs. The first, expensive, website will look good, but it is going to be difficult to keep it up to date with new products and news about the company. It might not show up in search engines as well as it should. The second, cheap, website will be cheap, but it might look clunky and old-fashioned. And the company may still depend on this son of a friend to make occasional updates.

There is a third way. (more…)

Copyright and linking to copyright content: do you know the risks?

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I don’t know if this post is really really obvious or not at all obvious.  Maybe not at all obvious, from the sheer quantity of copyrighted images, music, books and video flying around the web in places where the copyright owner has not authorised them to be.

I’m leaving entirely aside the morality of, say, ripping film off DVD and putting it on Youtube, or using a pirated copy of your music as a background for your own home movie. I’m not  arguing on morality: we are in a position where the law is trying to catch up with technology and this inevitably creates odd and irritating situations.

I have many times had to explain to business owners that no, we can’t just take copies of photos off other people’s websites and use them on their commercial website, and that doing this affects other people’s livelihood – and is a risk.  Many people just do not realise that by using other people’s content, or linking to illegal material they are running a risk and potentially exposing their families to risk too. (more…)

We’re well into the 21st Century now. So why does so much marketing feel like we’re still in 1900?

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Marketing historians will sometimes tell you that marketing in anything resembling a modern sense began somewhere between the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th century. Since that time, marketing has supposedly become more scientific, more enlightened, more aware.

Looking around today at the approach taken by quite a few companies, I’m not so sure. (more…)

Entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs – don’t waste your time on gurus, just get out there and work!

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Many years ago, back in the first dotcom boom, I was working for one of the Big 4 accountancy firms. As the office “eCommerce Champion”, one of my jobs was to try to flog stuff to advise dotcom startups. Some senior partner had observed that “the best way to make money in a gold rush is to sell shovels”, so that’s what we were supposed to do. Even better than that, if we were to lend people the shovels / support at no cost to the plucky dotcom entrepreneur, we would make even more money out of them when they became massively successful and had their inevitable stock market IPO.

Of course, it didn’t work out like that. Very few of those dotcom startups actually got off the ground. The most common problem I encountered was that many of these entrepreneurs had no idea of their own limitations. And just like kids who watch X-Factor and think they’ll be a successful pop star when they grow up, these wannabe entrepreneurs had been to too many startup conferences, heard gurus spout buzzwords and motivational pep talks at them and hundreds of other wannabes, and come away thinking that they were going to be the next Martha Lane-Fox.


Forcing people to do things they don’t want to do is no way to build a team

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There was a fad a few years back for companies to send teams of employees (or maybe just managers) on a certain kind of ‘team-building’ activity. These would always be outdoors and would involve some strenuous (and often muddy) physical activity, maybe paintballing or even an army assault course.

I’ve seen a few of these in my time and enjoyed some. I’ve also occasionally managed to be “too busy” or have holiday “already booked” for ones that I really didn’t fancy. One department I used to work in did actually have a real army assault course as a team building activity. That was one of the ones I managed to be “too busy” for. Of course I heard the stories the following week. Apparently the worst bit was a pipe submerged in muddy water that you had to hold your breath and crawl through. Now that doesn’t sound very pleasant to me, and not surprisingly, some people flat out refused to do it. Other (less senior or less strong-willed) people didn’t want to do it but did it either because of peer pressure or because they felt they were expected to do it by the enthusiastic senior people in the department. (The unenthusiastic senior people were the ones like me who stayed away.) (more…)

If your people are your “most important business resource”, why don’t you ask them what they think?

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Here’s a good business cliché, the sort that David Brent would use:

“Your people are your most important business resource.”

But if you look at how many businesses are run, you might assume that people are only a useful business resource because they are cheaper than robots. Work for a big company, and you might occasionally be asked to take part in an employee satisfaction survey which, after much paperwork and editing of spreadsheets will lead to insights such as “10% of junior employees don’t trust their boss, up from 8% two years ago”. Work for a smaller company, and you might see an old-fashioned suggestion box neglected in a corner of the office or factory (with a three-year-old piece of paper folded up inside asking for a better kettle for the kitchen).

Isn’t that a waste?

Don’t you think that maybe, just maybe, your people think about what they are doing and how they could do it better? Even better, maybe your people think about what you are doing and how you could do it better. Best of all, maybe your people think about what your organisation is doing and how it could do it better. (more…)

Do you need all those levels of management? Do you really need that extra manager?

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If you read cartoons like Dilbert, one common theme you’ll come across is that of the poor downtrodden worker who knows more about his job than his boss. In Dilbert’s case, he’s a hardworking and brilliant engineer. His ‘pointy-haired boss’ is pretty clueless about Dilbert’s work and, well pretty much everything really. Above the pointy-haired boss are a number of vice presidents and executives who are better paid than the pointy-haired boss but seem equally clueless.

I wonder how many medium and large businesses have structures like this. Well, one of the things that being an external auditor for many years taught me is that the answer is probably “too many”. Too many firms have a level of management in between the people at the top who get to make the really big, really important decisions and the people who actually do the work or run the departments. (more…)

Important Economics Concepts Every Businessman Should Know, Number 3: Elasticity

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In my last Clare Associates blog post, I looked at aggregate demand curves and aggregate supply curves. We know that for a given product, demand is higher if the price is lower and supply is higher if the price is higher, and how in a competitive market, the market price will tend to the intersection of the two curves.

Now if we know that demand is higher if the price is lower, the next question to ask is this:

How much will demand increase in response to a price decrease?

The answer is all about elasticity.


Important Economics Concepts Every Businessman Should Know, Number 2: Supply and Demand

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For many years now, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in local school sixth forms (helping to run this). One thing that surprises me about schools today is how few of them teach economics. While it’s true that you don’t need an economics degree to run a business, some of the theory will help you.

Supply and demand is one of those things that even people without an economics background can grasp quite easily, and if they think about for a bit, can probably work out. But if you understand supply and demand in the way that economists do, you’ll be able to understand slightly more advanced concepts like elasticity, which will be directly relevant to your business. More on elasticity in ‘Important Economics Concepts Every Businessman Should Know, Number 3: Elasticity



Important Economics Concepts Every Businessman Should Know, Number 2: Supply and Demand (more…)

My favourite accountancy joke

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A man starts work as financial controller at a big company.

It’s a good job. The pay is good, his boss (the Finance Director) likes him and the people who work for him do their jobs well.

A few years later, it’s time for the FD to retire. The financial controller applies for the FD’s job, and gets it. He’s very happy.

At the old FD’s retirement party, the financial controller asks his old boss if he has any advice for him in his new role. The old FD says “I thought you’d ask me that. Take these two envelopes. If ever the excrement hits the fan and the walls come down, open the first envelope. It will tell you what to do. If after that, something else happens, well then you open the second envelope.” (more…)