Q My brother and I ran an independent printing business in our own town for the last 20 years. My brother always managed the business and I worked more on the production side. Sadly, he passed away last year and now I find myself running a business I really know very little about. I am really struggling.
Answer: I am so sorry to hear about your brother. Your situation is not unusual and I have encountered it with a number of family businesses before.
Start by getting yourself some help with someone to talk with, who can bring commercial expertise with them. Your local Enterprise Board will have a host of specialist mentors who should be able to help on that front.
Next, you need to make a list of all the possible options open to you. Could you sell the business as a going concern? Could you afford to pay a manager with expertise in the print sector?
Is there benefit in joining one of the international franchise type models where they would bring the marketing expertise, etc, to you as part of the package? Is there any of your current team within the business whom you could develop?
The other interesting option to explore could be for you to take on the sales and commercial role.
Selling is largely about people dealing with people and you could be very surprised at the results if you get out into the market place.
I would suggest you clear your diary for three or four days and head out and meet all your existing customers, reassure them that the business is continuing and find out what their needs are.
You may well find the solution is in your own hands. Do get in touch in a month's time and let me know how things are going.
Question: We have tried to win several tenders lately with public sector and private sector clients. Every tender has failed. What should I do to increase my chances?
Answer: First and foremost, it is too late to be trying to increase your chances of winning a tender once that tender is published.
By its nature, the company or agency seeking the tender is prohibited from engaging in any sort of dialogue with you other than formal queries through the tender process.
So the best piece of advice I can give you is to ensure that you engage with all of those people you are likely to be tendering for work with, well in advance of any tenders being issued.
Schedule a meeting with them to understand their needs. Find out from them what are the biggest issues they are facing and get a general sense of what they are seeking.
That will position you in a better place when any tender is issued, as you will already understand what they are looking for.
Many companies tendering for business tell me that following exactly the tender format greatly increases your chances of succeeding. The amount of tender responses that are disallowed or that lose marks because of procedural issues is enormous.
So if the information is requested in a specific way and there are specific things that must accompany your tender, then ensure that you lay out your tender in the format requested, following sequentially what has been requested.
It would be a shame if you had a very good proposal that lost marks simply because you missed some of the small print or you didn't follow the required format.
Enterprise Ireland is a dedicated public procurement unit that is focused on working with client companies and Irish public sector buyers to facilitate and maximise the contract opportunities available to small and medium-sized enterprises. I suggest you go to the Enterprise Ireland website and search "selling to the public sector in Ireland and internationally" to get further help.
Finally, the price/cost can be a significant part of the scoring of any tender so you do need to ensure that your cost base isn't out of line with some of your competitors. Best of luck with the next tender!
Question: I have been running a small supermarket for the past 10 years and we have done reasonably well. Recently, I saw in the local newspaper that Aldi has applied for planning permission just a few hundred yards from us. What shall I do?
Answer: Personally, I would celebrate. I meet so many retailers now who tell me that when a large competitor moved into their area, their business actually went up – even though they had perceived a dramatic drop in sales.
But there are certain things you need to do before this competitor arrives.
Go and visit a number of their shops and talk to other retailers surrounding them to see what their experiences were.
The discount retailer's format has its limitations. By its nature, they can only stock certain products and while these products are very cheap, they do not cater for a wide selection.
Next, if you can identify certain categories where they are weak or where you can offer a superior range, then that allows you to offer your customers a different proposition. For example, discount retailers generally do not have fresh food counters so if you feel there is a market in your area for a traditional butchery shop or an international delicatessen, then these could be two areas to focus upon.
I can recall over 20 years ago, the manager from Superquinn Finglas rang me to say he had just heard that a new discount competitor, Crazy Prices, was going to be opening nearby.
Initially we all feared the worst, but when we studied their offering and looked at our own strengths, we were able to identify areas where we were completely different.
We had a really strong bakery that produced hot, fresh bread every day – whereas in some cases the bread they sold was older, in packages, etc.
We started to remind customers of the unique offerings we had and, while we did take a little bit of a knock when our new competitor opened, we gradually regained business and had our sales back up to their previous level within six months of our competitor opening.
I would definitely say there may be some product ranges you are selling that you simply might not be able to compete on and reluctantly you might consider exiting these categories.
Think of it as repositioning your shop rather than a bad news story.
You may also want to look at the whole area of customer service and see where you can truly excel in this area, perhaps by offering a home delivery service, a party service from your delicatessen counter and cookery tips from your butchers.
The reality is that your competitor will not be able to do any of these. You are small enough and nimble enough to be able to outsmart a big, international retailer machine. Good luck with the challenge!