Category Archives: Small Business Management

Women’s only groups?

A while ago a few entrepreneurial women and I decided to start a monthly Meetup for like minded ladies.

Over the months, the Meetup has become fairly successful, drawing an array of fascinating and very successful women out of the woodwork, with the promise of worts and all stories about ourselves, by ourselves.

The question has been raised time and time again: Why do we limit the group to females only?

As a general rule, Im not a big personal fan of segregating genders. I’d never send my kids to single sex schools, Im not necessarily a fan of quotas and the only reason I went to the women only gym at Les Mills is because it was the only place with spare treadmills. But in this case, we thought it was worth a try.

Why (I think) we did it.

The first reason was based around the fact that we’d all been to a bunch of big tech events and conferences and noticed the distinct lack of female presenters. My initial theory was that women were somehow more shy or less primed for presenting (major projection happening there). Providing a safe place to practice speaking to a crowd and building confidence, to me, seemed the greatest benefit of starting a female only group. Maybe if we acted as a breeding ground for female speakers, we’d be all over the show and that would solve an issue we all felt existed.

Secondly, Ive been in enough female dominated social situations, where, with varying degrees of subtlety, the men involved conveyed their lack of interest in the ‘nattering’ and ‘gossip’. As a general rule, we DO socialise differently. There are a ton of places women can go and socialise in the tech sector, it’s just that they are dominated by men. I genuinely don’t know if that has a big impact on the way things are done at those events, but I do know I save my blatant venting and full disclosure of anxieties and issues for my female friends.

Maybe we should just jump right on in and start those conversations in the existing places, but the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t happening enough for any of us.

So we decide we may not be right, but trying something new had to be better than wishing and hoping for a greater representation of female tech founders.

What we’ve found so far

The group’s format is very loose on format (a round of intros, 1-2 speakers, then requests and success/failures), but very strict on openness. We don’t want your sales pitch, we want your trials and tribulations and how you managed to get through them.

I was wrong about a fear of public speaking, thats just me. What I think we’ve found though is that the what we speak about is quite different from anything Ive heard in a more traditional techie meetup, we can evolve from ‘how to get through the day to day grind’ to ‘how to survive an emotional breakdown to ‘is it ok to breastfeed while at a meeting?’ in the space of 10 minutes. People ask questions and others answer with brutal insight. And I find it very helpful.

One thing I’ve very much found, is that life is way easier when you see people who look and act like you, doing things you are scared of. It also puts a lot more pressure on because it ups the standard of what you expect for yourself and removes the excuses that are all too easy to find. So maybe it’s not even about the absense of men, but the presence of so many other women that makes a difference.

Any conclusions?

Nope. Im still personally torn, and hate to think separation equals success. I still wonder if it’s just the culture we created and think if we could hold onto that and let everyone and their dog in, we’d be equally successful. The way the group has grown, and attracted so many people that I literally wouldn’t have known existed, does make me think its successful. We’re a small community overall, where have all these women been hiding? I suppose the more important question is why? And how does a female only group change that?

Who knows?

I HATE (company) Tax

I’m normally a great proponent of tax. It’s an important part of a functioning society with a decent health system and support available for those who need it.

But when I get hit with a massive tax bill (which I was kind of waiting for) it does get me thinking.

After my accountant had me sit down so as he could deliver the tax blow, and after I stopped gasping for air, he explained that EVERY TIME you get paid $1, put HALF of it aside for tax.

That’s a lot of money.

I’m going to split my rant in 2. I think that personal tax is pretty much at a state where everyone hates it equally (which is probably the best you can hope for).

But profit tax is where I have my issue.

The profits that Decisive Flow makes are not taken out of the business. They are left in the business to enable us to have some cashflow, some ability to work on other projects (i.e powerkiwi). This money is not lining any of our pockets, it’s going towards getting some other cool things started and will eventually go towards trips to the US to build on the export revenue we are already bringing into the country. This money is being used not just to help me, but in it’s own little way, boosting our economy.

We are tiny. The profit we make is probably what a lot of government departments spend on stuff like corporate lunches. And it hurts when so much of it leaves our account.

I’m really appreciative to have been given a grant by NZTE but it did strike me as a little odd today that the money I got from them is far less than the tax I paid, money I WOULD have spend on the same stuff anyway.

I know I’m not the only one who suffers from my tax bill, and I would hate to be the guy who has to figure it all out. However, it does seem to me that especially now there would be some benefit in significantly reducing company tax or removing it altogether until it is removed from the company by means of dividends or anything that doesn’t go towards growing it.

And I am only talking about small businesses. We could limit it to the first $50-$100,000 in profits or something and everything above that is taxed as per normal.

Is that totally selfish?

A few account updates

After YET ANOTHER disappointment with National Bank last week (Finding out I was paying about double the account fees I should have been), I have decided to re-look at all our suppliers. In about 2 hours of work, i reckon I can save me/the business about $50+ per month just by changing to new suppliers and new accounts.

Which makes me think a 6monthly review is worth it!!!

Bank

Unfortunately updating bank account details will be a nightmare for automatic payments, this is for personal banking only
Old:
National bank – Was charging per transaction = $12 per month OR a $5 fixed rate

New
Kiwibank Free up account – $0 monthly fees

TOTAL SAVINGS = $5 – $12

Landline + internet

Old:
Telecom for landline – Average price = $75 per month
World Exchange for internet – Average price = $65

New
Orcon – Price = $99.95 per month.

TOTAL SAVINGS = $40

Cellphone

Old:
Vodafone – some convoluted plan = $110 average a month

New
????

Power

Old:
Genesis and Meridian – vastly fluctuates

New
Genesis and Powershop – Still fluctuates but is cheaper per unit

TOTAL SAVINGS = Not sure yet :)

Any ideas of cell phone providers much appreciated!

Work hours are work hours

I am bogged down at work.

I also have a wedding in the family in two weeks.

One thing that has become increasingly obvious is my inability to sit down for a full work day and get stuff done without 1-2 hours taken up with people popping in, asking quick favours etc etc for non work-related tasks.

So last week I had to start being tough with myself, no more quickly ringing around 10 people, or researching something or setting something up or even answering questions. Work hours are for work only.

I have quickly come to realise how bad I am at this because I notice just how much stuff I do that doesn’t lead to work getting done.

So:

1. If I seem somewhat more rude and less able to do stuff for you in the near future, it’s not for any reason other than I’m too busy
2. I have to get better at saying ‘no’!

Getting help from NZTE

I just applied for funding from NZTE for the first time ever.

We are trying to get financial assistance for our upcoming work with Alan to get our strategies straight and documented (and making sense!) for the next few years of growth.

So, one day when I had a spare minute, I started trawling the NZTE site and came across funding applications for the exact stuff we are working on.

I have always sort of thought that we were too small for NZTE to pay attention to, or that the amount of money they gave out was too much (I know that sounds weird) for what we needed. However, they have a bunch of funds available from $3,000 -$6,000 for business development and capability building. The EXACT size of funding a business like ours has the time to apply for and the requirement to use.

After several quick runs across to visit Ruth Mc Davitt at Grow Wellington and ensure I had it all right, I submitted my application. Julie at NZTE looked at it immediately (Literally, we heard from her about 2 hours after she must have received it).

We now have a short wait for the funding process to happen, but it just struck me that a lot of small businesses probably don’t know that sort of support is out there. And this is the kind of stuff that gives us the breathing space to take that time out of the business and work on it. Super cool.

How to host a hens night

I have spent the past few months organising my sister’s Hens night.

But because I am me and not a normal person, I changed it into more of a Hens Weekend.

When you have 11 people on limited budgets and want to get them all to the Wairarapa to a luxury cottage and wine tour, you end up with many more ‘challenges’ than the typical night. Throw into the mix a bride who I PROMISED to give the best hens night to and the differing ages of the participants (no strippers allowed!), and all the secrets and surprises and in the end, it was quite the nightmare to organise.

Anyway, after a lot of drama, we FINALLY got to Friday night. And while everyone else was at Webstock, we charged into the NZ Post building and kidnapped my unsuspecting sister (with bubbly and embarrassing costume in tow).

And this is where my shock sunk in.

I may be a wine DRINKER, but I am no connoisseur and therefore am unqualified in organising a wine tour. However, I stumbled across Wairarapa Coach Lines, who do the best in job in the world at using their website to HIDE how amazing their service is.

We paid for a shuttle bus and driver and GOT a full tour… Complete with booked spots at vineyards, a bar, a restaurant and an olive grove. All we had to do was drink, eat and be merry from the moment we arrived at Wellington train station on Friday to the moment they dropped us back on Saturday. At each place, they had organised for us to be met by a very welcoming character who filled us in on key information about wine, while merrily pouring waaay too much into our glasses. At every stop, we got something unexpected and ALL of us had a blast because none of us had to worry about anything.

I have honestly never been so shocked at the quality of a service provider. They totally undersell themselves and clearly care deeply about great service and the service they are selling.

If you have an event coming up. Don’t hesitate, just call them.

People matter now more than ever.

The other day, I heard about a guy who works for a company who yell at him for caring too much about customers. Apparently it detracts too much from the bottom line and he is actively DISCOURAGED from providing exceptional service.

These days, we all hear about companies cutting costs through mass redundancies. I’ve heard of several people who have spent weeks or even months waiting anxiously to find out whether their job will still exist tomorrow. Others arrive at a meeting one day to find it’s simply gone.

It occured to me that these are not the type of stories we should be hearing at the moment.

I’m not sure what kind of bubble people have been living in. It was less than 30 years ago that NZ faced these sort of woes and yet, in the past few years people have been acting like the economy is infallible. Now the money is drying up, they are making dumb, short term decisions in a desperate attempt to save money.

Yes there is a recession on and yes, we’ve all been stupid with our money in the past few years. But people who panic now are forgetting that all a business is at the end of the day is the people who work in it and the people who buy from it.

If you don’t have customers, you don’t have revenue. It’s as simple as that. Far from trying to stop your employees make your customers super happy, you should be encouraging it!

At the same time, if you don’t treat your staff like they are valued members of the company, and involve them in the cost cutting techniques (i.e reducing hours and therefore redundancies), then you can’t expect them to go the extra mile for you while things are tough.

I may be proven wrong, but I still believe that the companies who are struggling the most at the moment, are those who have lost touch with their markets and employees, and the good times enabled them to cover it up. Yes it’s time for cost cutting, but you should be addressing the fundamentals of your business rather than freaking out.

Team bonding. It works.

Last week I dragged the team along to meet with Alan (business coach extrodinare) for a team strategy meeting. The others are used to my weird ideas and I believe they were a tad hesitant to believe that spending an afternoon away from Photoshop would be, in any way helpful.

I think Alan converted them.

Outside of all remarks as to how wonderful and nice he was in response to our (well probably ‘my’) stupid questions, the process of sitting down around a big table and figuring out what we are all about was hugely eye opening and really beneficial.

Out of the 2 hour meetup, we came away with some stuff that we have blatantly been just plain stupid about, some stuff that we realised about each other, and some easy, quick ways to restructure the whole business to sort them out:

  1. Have daily team meetings. Yup we are a small business, we thought we were too small to need them. But there is a difference between yelling at each other across the room (or skyping each other) and moving away from our keyboards, facing each other and plotting our day’s plan for world domination. The latter is much more effective for resolving issues, staying on track and knowing where each other is at.
  2. Setting daily goals. Why think big, when you can think small? I think we’ve probably knocked out 25% more work today than any other day in the past few months. Knowing what’s on your plate and setting aside time to fully explain it to each other prior to kickoff is saving us huge amounts of valuable time.
  3. Time tracking. It’s not the time tracking that really matters (although it’s a helpful tool to aid in understanding pricing levels and profitability). It’s the way you automatically re-structure your day into more productive blocks when you manage you time. Gone is my 5 second attention plan. Now I focus on one thing for at least 15 minutes and set aside TIME TO DO SMALL TASKS in a block. Which means NO MORE DISTRACTIONS.
  4. Work with people you like. I rave about my co-workers daily. I enjoy going to the office because I KNOW I get to catch up with some interesting people and work on cool projects with talented designers. I also like how we share the same philosophies on sleep, money and ethics. It means we are on the same page and we have a clear idea of who will and will not be working with us in the future. We may even get together a list of interview questions for the next hire!

Every time I go to meet with Alan, I convince myself I have 900 more important things on my plate at that exact second. Every time I leave, I’m convinced that there was nothing more important.

Censorship in the age of the blog.

Following the Mumbai attacks late last year, there was apparently scathing criticism of the news reporting.

One blogger has been sued for claiming a TV station used ‘shoddy journalism’ and has unpublished his post and issues a retraction statement.

The result?

Fairly obvious really. The entire blogosphere erupts, people re-publish the post on their websites and the overall publicity for the news station is hugely negative.

What can they do now? Sue thousands of bloggers?

One thing I love about blogging is the mass movement for freedom of speech and opinion. I agree that slanderous comments and those based on nothing but a desire to cause harm should carry repercussions, but the right to express a well-reasoned opinion is something we’ve all finally stood up to defend.

And there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. Natural justice will ensure that the unfounded rumors eventually die an undignified death, but that bullying can no longer be used as a tactic to ensure only the good stuff gets published.

At the risk of also being sued, I would have to say that was a stupid move from the TV station :)

(Thanks Jack for the link)

The End of MYOB?

I was never a fan of MYOB – living in a world of web 2.0 didn’t gel so nicely with an offline accounting package that took ages to get hooked into and a manual to learn how to use.

MYOB was probably ahead pf its time when it launched, but they didn’t appear to keep up with technology improvements which makes it no surprise that they have now scaled down operations and de-listed from the stock market.

The question has been asked if the management team just gave up rather than try to convert all their old tools to new technology and delivery methods… Or if enough money was coming through that they didn’t feel the need to innovate.

Either way, the lessons that shine through for me are:

  • It doesn’t matter how ahead of the game you are initially, you NEED to constantly improve on what you’ve got.
  • The ‘general public’ is starting to catch on to web 2.0 – big players that seemed indestructible now need to react
  • Investing in Xero WAS a good idea :)