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7 Tips for Accessing Public Procurement

Winning a public contract can be a huge boost to any business, particularly SMEs. The procurement process, however, is often criticised for being unnecessarily onerous and difficult to navigate for many businesses. Nonetheless, the potential benefits from a winning tender means that public procurement is something that a business cannot afford to ignore.

These are our top tips for accessing public procurement:

1. Register on eTenders

eTenders is a central Government website where all public sector contracting authorities advertise procurement opportunities and award notices. The site displays, on a daily basis, all Irish public sector procurement opportunities currently being advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), as well as other lower-value contracts uploaded to the site from awarding authorities. Businesses should register on eTenders to make sure they are kept up to date on any potential procurement opportunities.

2. Make yourself aware of current procurement practices

In recent months, the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) has made a number of changes to their procurement policy to make it more transparent, efficient and, importantly, to improve access for SMEs. However, recent research shows that many businesses are not aware of these changes and what is expected of contracting authorities when evaluating a tender. Keep up to date on current developments by checking the latest news on www.procurement.ie. One of the most recent guidance notes, Circular 10/14 is of particular relevance for SMEs.

3. Be aware of the requirements for each individual tender

Each individual tender will have a range of specific requirements. These can range from evidence of experience and organisational capacity to turnover requirements. Drafting a tender can be a long and time-consuming process, so make sure that your business meets all of the basic specified requirements before applying for a contract.

4. Be prepared to partner

Many SMEs have the ability and skills to undertake a contract but may lack the capacity to completely fulfil it. While some contracts might be divided into lots to facilitate smaller suppliers, SMEs may need to partner with other companies when bidding for a contract. Forming consortia of smaller businesses is an excellent way to pool expertise and resources to bid for larger contracts.

5. Make use of the supports available to SMEs

The Office of Government Procurement, Enterprise Ireland and InterTrade Ireland, amongst others, have a wide range of supports for SMEs looking to win public sector contracts. These include Meet the Buyer events, Go-2-Tender Workshops and more general information and advice. Make use of the expert knowledge and advice available to improve your tendering chances.

6. Use your size to your advantage

While many SMEs feel excluded from the procurement process, they have a number of advantages relative to larger firms that they can capitalise on. Contracting authorities are encouraged to accept new and innovative solutions, and SMEs developing new technologies can use procurement as an opportunity to demonstrate the merits of their product. Having a successful public contract with the Irish State can open doors internationally if and when the SME decides to expand overseas.

7. Make use of the new Tender Advisory Service

The Tender Advisory Service is a new service launched earlier this year, which allows suppliers (especially SMEs) to raise concerns about a particular live tender process with officials in the Office of Government Procurement. The service is free of charge and allows suppliers to raise any concerns or issues they have with an open tender. The service was developed with SMEs in mind and the OGP intends to analyse the issues raised during the ongoing reform of the public procurement process.

Public procurement in Ireland is a big business – one which SMEs must to be part of. Chambers Ireland continues to work with the Office of Government Procurement to support better access and consideration for SMEs in the public procurement process.

6 Tips When Using e-Commerce to Export

Irish SMEs have taken to e-commerce relatively more readily than those in most other EU countries, with 24% of Irish SMEs selling online and generating 37% of their sales from this source, according to the latest Eurostat survey. This is significantly above the average for the EU of 15%. In addition, 11% of Irish SMEs sell internationally; again this is well above the EU average of 8.8%.

An e-Commerce business model allows companies to be established anywhere there is a good internet connection and a computer-savvy population willing to buy off the internet. But selling internationally presents many potential pitfalls for the unwary.

The harsh reality is that, to build a good long-term online export business, a number of key matters must be addressed:
1.
As of 13th June 2014, customers are no longer bound by online contracts unless information on the goods, provider, pricing, delivery, method of payment, withdrawal period, complaints handling, after-sales services, duration of contract and functionality or interoperability (in the case of digital products) is provided in a clear and comprehensible manner.

2. Be aware of the 30 day period for order completion. If you trade with customers within the EU, purchased products or services must be delivered within 30 days from the day after the placing of the order, unless otherwise agreed. If you are unable to uphold your end of the contract, you must inform the consumer who then must agree a revised date of delivery. If the contract is not fulfilled during this additional period of time, the customer will be entitled to terminate the contract. In reality, most on-line shoppers expect a same day service for perishable goods such as food stuffs and a three-five day delivery on other goods. Hence, it is essential to put in place an efficient logistics service system. DHL and An Post have good low cost services in place to support internet sales with delivery services across the EU and USA, as do a number of other international express delivery companies.

3. In the EU, customers have 14 working days within which to cancel or withdraw from a purchase without having to give any reason. When a customer exercises this right, traders have 14 days within which to refund the money. The only charge that may be made to the customer is the direct cost of returning the goods unless the trader has agreed to bear them or the trader failed to inform the consumer that the consumer has to bear them.

4. Contract terms should always be drafted in plain and intelligible language, and any ambiguities will be interpreted in favour of consumers. Protect your customers’ data and publish a privacy statement. As part of your long-term strategy for selling products and services, include steps to protect your customers’ data. As a trader, you are responsible for the type of data that you collect and the reason why.

5. Effective from 1st January 2015, all businesses that sell their electronic services online within the EU must charge VAT at the rate applicable in the consumer’s member state rather than the seller’s. The rules are introduced to stop companies that trade online – from multinationals like Amazon, Apple and Google to start-up businesses – from routing purchases through low-VAT countries such as Luxembourg. VAT on digital products such as e-books, music downloads and apps were previously charged in the country of the supplier. However, from 1st January 2015, VAT will be payable in the country where the digital product is bought. The EC ruling is that electronic services from here on will “always be taxed in the country where the customer belongs” – regardless of whether the customer is a business or consumer or whether the supplier is based in or outside the EU.

6. Be aware of fraudulent practices, as the risks arising from fictitious addresses or fraudulent use of credit cards are usually borne by the seller. If a card has been used fraudulently, the buyer’s liability cannot exceed €150 under EU Recommendation 97/489/EC. However, in Ireland, in practice the liability is generally lower. Remember your buyers are protected by the European Directive on consumer rights (Directive 2011/83/EU) – known as the Consumer Rights Directive – which aims to ensure that consumers can expect the same minimum level of protection no matter where a trader is based in the European Union (EU).

Rules for Great Customer Service

1. Commit to quality service.

Everyone in the company needs to be devoted to creating a positive experience for the customer. Always try to go above and beyond customer expectations.

2. Know your products and services.

Convey an articulate and in-depth knowledge of products and services to win customer trust and confidence.

3. Know your customers.

Try to anticipate the types of questions that customers will ask. Update and amend your online FAQ page frequently. Try to learn everything you can about your customers in order to tailor your service approach to their needs and buying habits. Talk to customers about their experience with your company, and listen to their complaints. In this way, you can get to the root of customer dissatisfaction.

4. Treat people with courtesy and respect.

Remember that every time you, your employees and your colleagues make contact with a customer – whether it’s by email, phone, written correspondence, or a face-to-face – the interaction leaves an impression with that customer. Use conciliatory phrases – “Sorry to keep you waiting,” “Thanks for your order,” “You’re welcome,” and “It’s been a pleasure helping you” – to demonstrate not only your commitment to customer satisfaction but your dedication to courtesy.

5. Never argue with a customer.

You know very well that the customer isn’t always right. However, it is important that you do not focus on the missteps of a particular situation; instead, concentrate on how to fix it. Research shows that seven out of 10 customers will do business with a company again if that business resolves a complaint in their favour.

6. Don’t leave customers in limbo.

Repairs, call backs, and emails need to be handled with a sense of urgency. Customers want immediate resolution, and if you can give it to them, you will probably win their repeat business.

7. Always provide what you promise.

Fail to do this and you’ll lose both credibility and customers. If you guarantee a quote within 24 hours, get the quote out in a day or less. If and when you neglect to make good on your promise, apologise to the customer and offer some type of compensation, such as a discount or free delivery. Overall, only make promises that you are confident you and your business can keep.

Key Steps for Buying a Business

The following overview provides a high level insight into the approach which can be adopted in exploring a potential acquisition where no formal sales process exists i.e. where the target company has not been put “up for sale” but is the subject of an unsolicited approach. The steps involved in a formal sales process are broadly similar, with the principle differences being the early availability of comprehensive financial information, defined timelines and the presence of competitive bidders for the asset.

It is important to define the approach you plan to adopt in executing the transaction. The streams below warrant consideration, though the final approach will need to be tailored to the complexity of the business to be acquired.

Preparation

Selecting the most appropriate target can be time consuming; when faced with multiple potential options, it is important to be clear in defining the strategic motivation in pursuing an acquisition. Examples include:

  • A search for revenue and cost synergies
  • Ambition to scale-up
  • Margin enhancement
  • Geographic expansion
  • Growth in the customer base and sales channels
  • Removal of a competitor
  • Technical abilities / asset base / brand opportunities

The spectrum of targets may be large so, to facilitate an efficient search process, it is important to screen and shortlist potential targets against a set of pre-defined metrics. Commercial and financial considerations will comprise the core of these; one of the most important things to address at the outset is the achievable “bite size” in terms of how much you can afford to spend on the acquisitions as this will guide the size of targets to evaluate.

Additional key considerations to include in the screening and shortlisting process are:

  • Financial performance and balance sheet strength
  • Core products and their relative contribution
  • Customer base and concentration
  • Cost saving and potential synergies
  • Manufacturing facilities and estimated capex required for the future
  • The business’s reputation among customers and competitors
  • Strength of management and any key staff risks
  • Pension liabilities
  • Other potential undisclosed liabilities, such as tax, legal, and environmental.

This is not an exhaustive list as the criteria employed must be tailored to specifics of the business and the sector in which it operates.

Valuing a business is the next stage of preparation.  This process can be subjective, though a number of established approaches can be applied. Commonly used methodologies include:

Each methodology requires a detailed analysis of the companies under consideration in arriving at an indicative valuation. The various approaches can also be using in combination as a means of cross checking.

Prior to making any approach with an Indicative Offer, consideration needs to be given to how the purchase will be financed. The size of the acquisition and nature of its business will influence the range of financing available. Typical sources include:

  • Senior debt
  • Mezzanine debt
  • Private equity
  • Invoice discounting

There are merits associated with each of these sources of funding and it is important for companies to understand the typical conditions and requirements of each of these options to assess the impact on its existing business and future plans.

Indicative Offer

While unsolicited approaches are not uncommon, if not carefully orchestrated, the dialogue may not gain traction if the approach arouses suspicions as to the motivations of the purchaser. It is critical therefore that the manner in which the Indicative Offer is documented and communicated to the target demonstrates that the purchaser has serious intent and is not a competitor “kicking the tires”.

Due Diligence & Final Offer

A Confidentiality Agreement (CA) will be signed between the parties if discussions proceed beyond the Indicative Offer stage. Once the CA is signed, Due Diligence can commence; this is critical prior to making a Final Offer as it comprises a detailed examination of the target across all aspects of the business. It is important to prepare a list of all documents and information the purchaser requires from the target to undertake their due diligence. The objective of this phase in the transaction process is to ensure the purchaser is aware of all material information on the target prior to revising and finalising their valuation of the business.

At the end of Due Diligence, a Final Offer Letter is submitted. This will include the price the purchaser is offering for the business and how they propose to structure the payment. This may be a 100% “up-front payment” or as a partial payment e.g. where 60% is paid initially, with the balance subject to an “earn-out” payment over a specified number of years. This will have a series of financial milestones, which must be achieved by the target so as to trigger the payment of the earn-out component.

Negotiations & Closing

After a Final Offer is submitted, the closing of the transaction remains subject to final negotiations based on conditions outlined in the Final Offer Letter. A number of these will relate to the confirmatory due diligence, which must be completed prior to closing. However, a key point of discussion will be focusing on the Working Capital requirement of the business.

Working capital can be a point of contention with the potential seller as they will wish to minimise the amount that remains in the business. Assuming agreement is reached and a Final Price agreed, the legal documents are signed and the process of payment of the proceeds and transfer of ownership of the business commences. Depending on the nature of the acquisition, Competition Authority approval may be required and this may delay the actual transfer of funds/ownership between buyer and seller.


Further Information

If you are considering an acquisition or disposal of a business, AIB Corporate Finance has the depth of experience to guide and advise you throughout the process.

7 Ways to Hold Effective Meetings

Effective business meetings are an exercise in communication: we speak, we listen, we discuss, we decide. Meeting rules may vary from one situation to another, but holding effective meetings is essential to getting things done. If you want to learn how to conduct a meeting, here are nine simple ways to help you through the process.

1. Call only necessary meetings

Before you begin the whole process of calling and holding a business meeting, ask yourself if it is really necessary. Do certain people actually have to gather in the same room to accomplish your purpose, or could a series of phone calls or an email serve the same purpose? Develop a reputation for calling meetings only when necessary, and people will be more willing to devote their time to them.

2. Invite the right people

Invite people who have something to contribute or who need to be involved in the discussion. If you have to consult someone for information or authorisation about an agenda item and that person is not there, it’s frustrating for everyone. Consider inviting them just for a specific agenda item. On the other hand, don’t invite people just because they are at a certain level in the organisation. Busy people appreciate your consideration of their time.

3. Create an effective agenda and distribute it well before the meeting

An effective agenda is much more than a list of topics. It can function as a meeting announcement, as well as a tool to help the meeting organiser  control the discussion. Sending it out in advance lets people know what will be discussed and gives them an opportunity to gather information they will need and prepare their input. Effective meetings begin with effective agendas.

4. Start and finish on time

Don’t wait for latecomers – start on time without them. You should also avoid the temptation to bring latecomers up to date on what has taken place before they arrived, a practice that penalises those who came on time. People shouldn’t be rewarded for upsetting everyone else’s schedule. Allot time to each subject on the agenda and stick to it. Effective business meetings start and finish on time.

5. State the objective at the start of the meeting

State an objective that is results-oriented rather than discussion-based. e.g. “We are meeting this morning to approve the final budget for next quarter.” This is a measurable objective, toward which you can work during the discussion. Don’t say, “We are meeting to discuss…” After all, you could discuss for hours and technically you would have met your objective, but you could hardly describe it as an effective meeting.

6. Keep the meeting moving toward its objective

Don’t let people drag the discussion off track. Keep reminding them of the objective and redirect the discussion back when they stray. Your communication skills come to the fore as you lead a business meeting.

7. Don’t just sit there, say something!

But what if you are attending someone else’s meeting? Can you still contribute to making it an effective meeting? Yes, you can. Assuming you have received an agenda in advance, carefully consider what materials you should take with you and any information you have that would be important to the discussion. Make notes of any points you might make at the meeting. Having something to say and saying it is the best way to contribute to a successful meeting. Do your homework in advance and you will know what role you should play.

Tips to Mitigate Against and Handle Security Breaches

Risk assessment. Similar to any other risks that a business may face, when seeking to prevent cybersecurity breaches, the first step should include quantifying the risk. In the cybersecurity context, this will include identifying certain elements of a business’s system that are particularly exposed. This will range from the vulnerability of the company’s online web presence to the possibility of physical access (on-site) to a networked platform. Risk assessments should be carried out on a regular basis so that new threats can be identified and the business remains aware of current trends in cyber threats.

Software Security Measures. Having identified areas of risk, tailored security measures should be put in place to address these concerns. The company’s IT environment should include effective firewalls and antivirus software to deal with threats. It should also ensure that software used in the business is kept up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates.

On-Site Security Measures. The most effective software solutions will often be rendered useless where a breach of cybersecurity occurs through a breach of the company’s system from within. Sensitive computer systems should include effective access control restrictions, server rooms should be secured at all times and disposal of IT equipment should be handled securely by competent staff.

Service Providers. A cybersecurity breach in a third party, providing services to a business can be just as damaging as a breach in the business itself. Unfortunately, the business is likely to have even less control in this scenario; therefore, it is essential that all relevant contracts clearly delineate responsibility between the parties. On the occurrence of a cybersecurity breach, when time is critical, protracted negotiations on liability should always be avoided. Contracts with software providers should also be reviewed to ensure that maintenance services and bug patches apply to earlier versions of the software that may still be in use, and that any software updates are made available to the company on release.

Testing. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of a cybersecurity breach is to undergo testing, such as system penetration testing. Companies can avail of a range of tools from cybersecurity providers that will simulate an attempted system intrusion or a widespread DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.

Company Policies and Training. Putting in place effective policies to handle cybersecurity breaches is essential in mitigating the risk of a breach. This may include a specific cybersecurity policy, as part of a comprehensive IT policy. However, even the best policies are useless if staff are unaware of the content of policies or how they should operate in practice. Educating staff on potential threats and how to report them up the chain can be vital in the early detection and response to a cybersecurity breach.

Cyber Insurance. As the number of cybersecurity breaches has risen exponentially over recent years, a number of insurance products are now being made available to deal with the damage. Whilst the cybersecurity market is still relatively small, larger organisations are now beginning to take out such policies to mitigate risk. Cyber insurance policies often include a range of additional extras, such as access to technical experts that can assist a business in responding to a breach.

Handling Cybersecurity breaches

Where a cybersecurity breach has occurred, acting quickly (and efficiently) will be essential in minimising the damage.

Containment. One of the first responses on becoming aware of any cybersecurity breach is to contain the problem. Where it is possible that a third party has gained access to a system, such access should be blocked immediately. Where a breach involves the ongoing unauthorised disclosure of personal data, access to such data should be restricted. Whilst these actions will be obvious, it will be important to be aware of the disruptive effects this could have on the business. For example, shutting down core systems may also raise business continuity concerns. Therefore, it is important that backup systems are deployed where necessary to mitigate these effects. Finally, any immediate technical response, carried out by the business, should be comprehensively documented as it may need to be reported to the authorities at a later time.

 

Investigate. A full investigation should take place to assess the scale of the breach. In order to put in place appropriate remedial actions, it is important that the scale of any breach is not underestimated. It is also important that appropriate individuals are put in place to handle this investigation. In this respect, it is often beneficial to seek out external technical expertise, who may be more adept in identifying areas where the breach may have occurred. In parallel to any technical investigation, it is advisable that an external legal team carries out a similar investigation so that advice can be provided on the ramifications, whilst the business will still be protected under legal professional privilege, which may become relevant where future litigation may arise from the breach.

Notifications. Legal advisors will be able to advise on any reporting obligations that may come into effect on a cybersecurity breach. Where there has been unauthorised access to personal data, there may be notification requirements under data protection legislation. In Ireland, the Personal Data Security Breach Code of Practice would apply. Under this Code, the business, as a data controller, would be required to notify the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC). At all times throughout this process, the business should be in continuous contact with the ODPC, who is likely to request detailed reports on the breach. These will be informed by the company’s response to the incident and any remedial action that is being considered. The ODPC will also be able to provide guidance on how data subjects should be contacted (if necessary). Furthermore, there may be sector-specific reporting obligations or procedures that need to be assessed (e.g. telecommunications operators or financial institutions). Finally, the business should consider all other third parties that may need to be notified (if not done so already); this may include the police, banks and insurers.

 

Public Reputation. Depending on the type of business, a cybersecurity breach can destroy a company’s credibility and therefore it is important that reputational fallout is minimised. Certain public relations professionals will have experience in dealing with this type of crisis management. Where applicable, the company should try to keep the public fully informed about the extent of the breach and remedial actions being taken. Drafting appropriate press releases, taking customer calls and providing updates via social media should be considered, so as to avoid the impression that the company is trying to conceal information.

Post-Crisis Actions. Once the immediate aftermath of a cybersecurity breach has been dealt with, the company should carry out a formal review of the incident and response in order to identify any areas, processes or procedures which may need to be updated. Any particular technological vulnerabilities (whether discovered through the breach or a subsequent investigation) should be addressed. Any contributory role of third parties should also be assessed. A breach caused by third parties may amount to a breach of certain provisions of their contract and any potential claims should be submitted in due time.

Conclusion

Through a raft of recent highly-publicised incidents, businesses are becoming more aware of the potential harm that can be caused by cybersecurity breaches. As discussed above, there are measures that a company can put in place to mitigate these risks. However, as the type of cybersecurity breaches can vary, it will be important that the company tailor accordingly any preparation for, or any response to, a cybersecurity breach.

7 Tips for Online Customer Service

1. Add an FAQ page

You already know which questions come up again and again. Answer them once and for all on your website by creating a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page. Update this page regularly to keep up with the latest developments and to answer timely questions.

2. Review your website navigation

Maybe you already have plenty of information on your site, but no one can find it. If you use a creative, nonstandard navigation scheme, take a look at your web analytics to see if that is preventing people from finding the information they need. Even if you use standard navigation, check your labels. Are they clear and accurate?

3. Add a video demonstration

If you’re spending a lot of time on the phone giving directions on how to use your product, a video demonstration could save time. And because nothing beats a visual demonstration, an online video will be more helpful to your customers than a phone conversation with you.

4. Offer Internet-only sales

Take a page from the airlines’ book, and offer lower prices for customers who purchase online. Or, offer online-only sales to encourage people to buy online rather than calling or visiting your store. Financially, this strategy makes sense because buying online does not use your staff resources they way an in-person or telephone sale does. And, a lower online rate helps defray the cost of shipping, which is one reason many customers prefer to shop in person.

5. Utilise your social channels

These days, people are very content to engage with a business on social media to get to the bottom of their issues. Instead of leaving an email or making a call, why not enquire on an open platform like Facebook or Twitter – you might even find your answer on a business’ profile already.

6. Display your security and encryption features prominently

Some people still prefer placing an order by telephone because of fears about online security. Help overcome this obstacle by highlighting the steps you take to safeguard their information, and make it clear that you won’t sell their information to third parties.

7. Offer email support

Display your email address more prominently than your phone number. Email is a real time-saver compared to a phone call. First, you don’t have to drop everything to answer an email. Second, you can take your time to find the answer to the questions, and you can get right to the point in your conversation with the customer.

7 Tips for Managing Your Time

 Providing both vision and leadership, entrepreneurs know that the success or failure of their businesses depends on them. As a result, many find themselves working a staggering number of hours. They say they will slow down after making it over the next hurdle. But another hurdle always appears. Running at such a fast clip may bring short-term results, but those gains can be lost quickly through ill health or divorce. Learning to use your time more efficiently not only helps you achieve a healthier balance between your business and personal lives but it can also save your business from missed deadlines, overtime wages, lost customers and more. Putting in more hours isn’t the key to success. Managing your time more effectively is. You’ll be more productive in fewer hours and live a happier, healthier life as a result.

1. Work towards larger life goals

The first step in effective time management is to determine where exactly you want to go. Without a clear picture of your destination, you’ll wind up someplace else. Think long-term: What do you want to achieve by the end of your life? Or even at the end of this decade? Write it down and be as specific as possible. Then determine what steps you must take to meet your goals. Write these down too.

Next, keep a time log of everything you do for at least a week, preferably a month. Note the number of hours or minutes you spend on each work project, meeting, phone call or other activity. Log activities as they occur; just doing it a few times a day results in missing important details.

2. Figure out where you are spending your time

Compare your time log to your life goals. The majority of your time should be spent on activities contributing to the realisation of your goals. Make a note of any activities not directed towards this end, and try to eliminate them. It might be better, for example, to discharge a difficult client whose projects stray from your company’s core business, and instead put more effort into marketing and finding new clients. Consider ways to streamline the tasks you are obliged to do: for instance, you can sometimes accomplish just as much with a teleconference as a lunch meeting. Say no to any new endeavours unless they somehow support your goals.

3. Delegate

Don’t hesitate, as many entrepreneurs do, to delegate some of your tasks. One print shop owner, who was putting in 90 hours a week, was so discouraged he was ready to close down his business. He couldn’t give additional responsibility to his employees, he said, because they were not experienced enough. Then a health crisis kept him out of the shop for several weeks. In his absence, those same employees performed extremely well.

4. Use an organisational system

Organise the information you use most frequently, such as appointment dates, telephone numbers, action lists, mileage and so on. There are many fine organisational systems available. If you are a procrastinator, make a concerted effort to cure yourself. Consider whether your tendency to procrastinate is caused by a lack of enthusiasm for your projects. If this is the case, it may be that they do not support your life goals. If you’re a slow starter or consistently underestimate how long a project will take, schedule frequent project reviews to hold yourself accountable or set false deadlines so you are not frantic when the actual deadline arrives.

5. Commit to better time management

Each week, set aside time for personal planning. Review your goals as well as your schedule for the coming week to make sure they are mutually supportive. Remember, the most important thing is to make a strong commitment to managing your time. If you don’t, time will control you.

6. Clean off your desk.

Use folders to contain all documents relating to the same project and keep all work-in-progress folders in one place. Toss aging industry journals or create a corporate library. Don’t leave a cluttered desk at night.

7. Group similar tasks

Time is often wasted changing from one task to another. Do all of your writing, emailing and telephoning at one time. Take this step further: group similar types of email. All good email programmes have filtering functions so that all email with the words “Project: Destroy Them” can be grouped, and all email from a particular address can be coloured in blue, and so on. In other words, let technology make less work for you.

7 Tips for Starting out in Farming

 The agri sector needs young, well-educated people to provide vibrancy and fresh thinking to aid industry progression, but entry isn’t always easy, particularly for those who don’t inherit a farm.

In the latest edition of AIB Agri Matters two young progressive farmers offer advice to aspiring young farmers in setting up a new farm enterprise or starting out in farming:

1.      Know exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing – if you don’t it’s hard for anybody else to know. Explore the options and pick the one that suits you best. Seek advice from others to see what worked for them.

2.      Establish a good track record when you’re young – in work, in college and with the Bank – it gives others more comfort you have the credentials to deliver on your plans.

3.      Put your best foot forward when meeting the bank – prepare well in advance. Don’t sell yourself short – Have your costing’s and have your research done. Show you understand your business and its profitability and most importantly ensure your lender understands it.

4.      Treat the farm as a business – if you don’t look after the business, financial management is useless. The opposite is also true. Costs and cash flow must be controlled and monitored to ensure the business remains profitable and bills can be paid, when they fall.

5.      Have a simple system – more easily expanded, and helps ensure consistency and accuracy – especially important where additional labour is employed.

6.      Ask for help – you don’t know everything and it won’t all be plain sailing. Build up a goodsupport network and use them.

7.      Take a break – it’s important to maintain an appropriate work life balance.

How to Identify Your Target Market

 Start with the problem

A good way to determine who is likely to become your customer is to clarify the problem that your product or service addresses. For example, you run a housecleaning service. The problem that you solve is doing cleaning for people who cannot or do not want to do these jobs themselves. Upper income families, families where both parents work, and older people who no longer have the ability to do their own housekeeping, are all potential customers for your services.

Define your customer’s characteristics

Listing out the characteristics of your typical customer is another good step towards identifying your target audience. These characteristics need not be personal ones; they can pertain to lifestyle, income, geographical location, hobbies, and many other things. For example, for a gardening service, one type of target customer are people who live in neighborhoods with well-manicured lawns, attractive plantings and colorful flowers around their homes.

The business could also target corporate clients who want their office surroundings landscaped. For a business that specialises in home security, the ideal customers may be in a residential area that has a high crime rate and in high-income residential areas. Women living alone who worry about safety may be another potential target for sales. Listing out these characteristics allows you to zero in on your target audience accurately.

What is your primary market?

Many products and services address the needs of a variety of people but they still have a primary audience. These are the people who:

  • Gain the most benefits
  • Have the greatest need for these services/products
  • Have the ability to pay for them
  • Buy the biggest quantity of them on a regular basis.

Knowing who makes up this primary audience should be your goal when you are trying to identify your target market. For example, for a bakery, the local consumer may be a recurring source of business, but the icing on the cake (forgive the pun) may be local restaurants who buy breads and desserts in quantity to serve to their customers.