New column: Feargal Quinn answers the questions affecting small businesses
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
What must I do to get good publicity for my company?
Q Some businesses seem to get lots of publicity while my company never gets any. What am I doing wrong?
It may not be the case that you are doing something wrong, but rather that others are making themselves more PR friendly. There are a few simple things that you can do in order to capitalise more on the area of free publicity.
Start by writing down the 12 months of the year and highlight where your business has an opportunity to communicate something unique.
This topic might tie in with a season, e.g. I remember in Superquinn getting lots of publicity surrounding the amount of pancakes we produce on Pancake Tuesday, when we discovered we were producing over one million pancakes in the lead-up to the day itself.
Every company has something interesting to say and you need to use your calendar to flush it out, and then make sure you have some interesting facts to accompany it.
You will also find that both radio stations and regional newspapers are always looking for new and exciting material, so if you are in the shoe business and you have just returned from a trade show in Milan, then I am sure a local newspaper or radio station would be more than interested if you offered to do a piece for them on the latest trends on colour and fashion.
Finally, within your own sector, you need to make sure that you know the relevant journalists by looking through all the publications.
Don't forget, of course, that having your own professionally taken photographs, which you can submit with your news release/information, is always an advantage if a newspaper is deciding whether to publish a story or not.
Q I suspect that one of my employees is stealing from me, what can I do?
This is always a sensitive and difficult area. I recall, in the first few years of business, becoming distressed when one of the managers came to me and explained that one of the check-out operators had been caught taking cash.
I was so concerned that, together with the manager, we met the operator to try and establish why she would have done this.
While there were some other factors, it simply boiled down to the fact that we had made the temptation too great and didn't have the correct processes and procedures in place to prevent such a thing happening. First and foremost, if someone is stealing from you, you have contributed somewhat to the problem yourself!
The broad answer to your question is get professional expertise to guide you, but you really have two choices:
- Gather all the evidence and develop a watertight case so that you can confront the person.
- Introduce some new procedures to stop theft and gather all staff together and make them aware of the new procedures.
I recall meeting a retailer several years ago who had solved the problem in a slightly different way. He had a member of staff stealing from him but could not gather sufficient evidence to take action, so instead he called this person aside and asked for their help.
He told them that he was aware there was theft going on from that particular area of the store and asked this employee if they could monitor the situation and report back to him if they saw any unusual activity. The problem stopped instantly and the employee left two months later.
Finally, you have to use common sense and while many business people don't want to accept it, sometimes there can be extraordinary personal circumstances that cause people to do silly things and you may find yourself dealing with these as part of the process.
Q What was your biggest business mistake?
I have always held the view that unless you are making mistakes you are not trying enough new things. In order to succeed, you must have some failures.
While I was very good in Superquinn at running customer-listening groups, it wasn't until the latter years that I suddenly realised we were not paying enough attention to "non-customers".
I really should have paid more attention to those customers who had chosen not to shop with us. With lots of the businesses I meet in more recent years, I also see errors, which I probably made in my own earlier days also.
Poorly researched business ideas are a huge problem and if I was to single out one critical area for early stage businesses, it is this.
Another often-seen flaw in more established businesses is the lack of proper structures to support the business.
By that I mean ensuring the owner is sitting back once a week to review the business, that sales targets are in place to drive the business and that significant time is spent training and retraining employees.
I was never passionate about the financial aspect of my business; however, I recognised it would be critical in determining our success or failure.
I see many businesses with the same lack of passion in the financial area but who have not recognised that the business needs to employ someone who will drive this end of the business in a very strong way and would be strong enough to stand up to the business owner on certain business critical issues.
But the message is: "Someone needs to be watching the numbers all of the time."