Problem solver: The gift of knowing how to deal with charity donations
Q: I run a shop and have a constant stream of charities looking for donations. It can be very hard to refuse, as sometimes this may cause offence. Can you give me any advice.
A: Supporting charities and how to deal with this is always a challenge for businesses. On one hand, very often the person requesting the donation is a customer. On the other hand, I hear frequent examples of businesses which donate and are then frustrated as they never receive acknowledgement.
It's s a very personal matter. Some businesses prefer to make donations in private.
There are some interesting approaches worth looking at. Some firms now have a policy of only giving charities a voucher for their business - they will not give a physical spot prize. The logic is that the recipient has to come back into the business to redeem it and the probability is that they will spend some more money.
Other businesses now make one donation a year to a local charity which they advertise as their partner charity. This allows you to tell ongoing charity requests of your policy but also to invite them to make an application.
I always encouraged the Superquinn managers to help local charities with small prizes like boxes of chocolates, as I felt it helped us to stay more involved in the community. We did have to manage this process to ensure it didn't get out of hand but, by and large, the recipients were grateful and we felt it was the right thing to do. Your decision has to be very much a personal one.
Q: I have a constant battle trying to prevent underage drinkers using my off-licence. Have you any suggestions?
A: In a supermarket environment, it can sometimes be even exaggerated further as there are multiple decision-makers at the till point and you are reliant on their vigilance. In the earlier years we also managed to annoy customers in their early 20s, but who looked younger, by asking them for ID.
There was constant indecision about who to ask because in many cases, it is difficult to determine someone's age. We solved the problem when we created an in-house rule that we would only sell alcohol to 21-year-olds or over.
We changed all of our signage to say: "If you are lucky enough to look under 21, then we will need to ask for ID." The response was immediate. Our checkout operators became very confident and any indecision vanished. In a light-hearted way, they were now able to request ID and because we moved the threshold upwards, our customers didn't object to providing it. The operator then had the discretion to sell once the ID proved they were over 18. It certainly improved the situation for us dramatically and, most importantly, it put our staff back in control.
Q: How important is a website to an early-stage business? Would I not get away with only having Facebook?
A: Many early stage businesses now opt to build a strong Facebook platform as part of their phase one marketing. This is mainly due to budgetary reasons and usually they progress to developing a website over time. A lot depends on the type of business you have and how customers will view you.
As an example, if you are planning on going on your holidays and were checking out a hotel in another country and found they had no website, you might be slightly nervous about the business.
Don't forget there are many free-build websites which allow you to create your own site at low cost. While these sites may not be perfect, even if you put up a holding page with a short few lines about why your business is different and some good images that would be a great start.
I listened to a digital media expert recently who advised that you should view your digital platforms as 'signs in the road' which guide all of your customers and users back to the core information on your website. This is probably the vision that you need to be aiming for over time.
To answer your question simply, there is no need to have a website on day one, provided you have a good social media platform, but I would not leave it too long before you get one into place.