Monday, 30 July 2007

Why My Love Affair with Audi is Over

Following on from my last Post, Mr Badger pointed out to me that for the first time since he has known me I haven't had an Audi parked on the driveway.

And he is right - for over a decade I've been a dedicated fan of the Audi - and between us we've lovingly owned an A4 estate, A6 estate, A4 cabriolet, TT Quattro as well as the Q7.

But all that has now changed - in favour of a Mercedes SL roadster (our 'posh' executive car; Mr Badger's choice not mine), a VW Touran (a 7 seater big enough for all the kids, but small enough for the nanny to drive) and my new runabout Jeep.

Which got me thinking exactly what has turned me off Audi.

And I think the problem is that Audi, perhaps in its quest for technical excellence, has become oh so BORING.

Their showrooms are now acres of safe black and silver 'executive' cars with dark grey interiors - all based on the same A4 saloon chassis (the Q7 just looks like a jacked up version of an A6 estate). Even the TT and new R8 models are displayed in boring black and gunmetal grey.

It seems your engineers are so interested in what is beneath the bonnet that they've forgotten that driving should be FUN!!!

OK, on one hand you may say that Audi has identified its core market - executive level, AB category men, who want brilliantly engineered understated class. But I think they are missing a trick.

I lost count of the number of people who came up to me on the school run or dropping off at parties to ask my opinion on the Q7 and whether they should buy one - but these weren't women - they were all MEN looking for a second car for the family, of which their wife would be the predominant driver.

And judging by the number of used Q7s currently on sale in our area (that's why I had trouble selling mine), all were obviously bought 'off-plan' and cashed in with incredibly low mileage - which must tell you, Audi, that there is a huge gap in your market for a brilliant utilitarian (not sports) car, designed especially for executive wives.

The Q7 is just too big and bulky to fit this bill.

So, if you can design a car for me with:
- The chunky, sporty fun looks of a Terios/Vitara/3 door RAV4, combined with...
- The compact size and finish of a Mercedes A Class - with 5 doors and 5 seats - that is easy to drive and park, combined with...
- An interior colourway (natural, neutral, taupe... think Armani colours) which I would be happy to see in my living room (why are all car interiors grey or black?);
- A full length sunroof as standard - I want to let the sun shine in!
- Lots of compartments for everything female - handbags, coffee to go, change, rubbish, tissue boxes, kids stuff
- Some interesting exterior 'catwalk' colours alongside all the boring ones - midnight purple, 911 Carrera yellow, metallic honey beige, Caribbean sea turquoise blue/green, urban khaki
- Permanent 4x4 (for safety), minimum 1.6 engine, as well as being envrionmentally friendly...
- Oh, and you MUST do it in automatic! For about £25k with all extras...

...I promise you I will be the first in line to buy one.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

How To Sell To Women...

I finally managed to sell my Audi Q7 this week (too big, too thirsty, too environmentally unfriendly and - most of all - too difficult to park), and set off in my quest to buy a smaller local runabout car (long motorway trips are a thing of the past now I am 7 months pregnant, plus we have other cars to transport the kids en masse).

I had three key specifications: I wanted a small 4x4 or jeep, it had to be an automatic and I had to have something which was available fairly immediately.

Other than that I was very open and receptive to all suggestions, and set off, chequebook in hand believing (wrongly) that this would be easy...

First stop, Daihatsu, whose mini 4x4 Terios fitted all the criteria. Firstly it was unbelievably difficult to find a dealer; we finally got details of one in Sheffield but drove there to find the dealer had moved and after a further drive around found that they had changed to Skoda - and also were not open on a Sunday.

So, off to the Mansfield branch, who did have a black one but the interior was very plasticky and cheap.

In the absence of any other automatic models, the saleman proceeded to try to sell me a manual (Salesman: 'It's very difficult to find automatic jeeps you know.' Me: 'But I want an automatic!') then a Subaru Jeep (Salesman: 'They're a very reliable jeep' Me: 'But I don't want a big car!') and then a Subaru Saloon (Salesman: 'They're even safer than a 4x4 you know!' Me: 'But I want a 4x4!')

So Daihatsu was abandoned and with a certain fondness for Fiat Pandas (that was my first car) I went to look at their 4x4 version.

First question to salesman: 'Does this come in automatic?' Salesman: 'Yes madam' - so we began to discuss availability and colour choices (I was ready to buy one on the spot), from which it transpired - after a 10 minute conversation - that actually the 4x4 version didn't come in automatic after all.

And so we were back to the 'Automatics-are-very-hard-to-find-why-don't-you-consider-a-manual?' conversation.

A brief trip to Toyota down the road revealed they no longer do the RAV4 in a small version, and my mind briefly turned to the idea of a Yellow Beetle Cabriolet (OK, this broke all the criteria, but I'm a woman OK - and that means I can have changes of heart - so long as it is at my whim and not that of a salesman...)

But a call to VW Chesterfield which revealed the same story: 'Automatic Beetles are like gold dust'; there were only 4 options on the entire VW network, all second-hand and none of them yellow.

I took this as a sign from the Universe that I was not destined to have a Beetle after all. Plus it wouldn't be very good in Bakewell in Winter...

A previous visit to Suzuki had discounted the Vitara (a little too big and limited colour choice) and the Jimny (not available in automatic) - but in desperation I decided to reconsider the Vitara option - and so sent for a brochure via the internet.

Amazingly, the brochure arrived by first class post next day; the separate Price List also revealed that the Jimny (perfect size and spec) WAS available in an automatic.

In excitement, I immediately called the Chesterfield dealer.

Yes madam, we have an automatic in our compound; Yes madam, you can have it immediately; Yes madam, I can have it here for you to look at it if you come in today. Oh and by the way, it's nearly end of the month so I can give it to you on special offer.

So, within 4 hours the car was viewed and purchased.

That was Thursday; and I go collect it today.

While we were doing the paperwork I noticed from the whiteboard on the office wall that my salesman (Mark) was leading salesman at Autoworld that month. No surprises there!

Which lead me to thinking about how incredibly easy it is to sell to women:

LISTEN - and then just give them what they want.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The 'Coulda-Shoulda' Club

I hear this morning that two Boston boys are planning to sue the founder of for 'stealing their idea'. They claim that their site was the original and the first.

It reminds me a little of the many emails I get from people asking for my [free] opinion on their latest new business idea, but expect me to sign a barrage of normally-not-worth-the-paper-it-is-written-on NDA documentation before they are prepared to 'open the kimono', worried I will somehow steal their idea.

The truth is that the world is full of great ideas and innovations, many of them hatched over a few pints down the pub or in flashes of inspiration after being frustrated with a product or service that doesn't meet their needs. Ideas are actually ten a penny.

But the key to bulding a successful business is probably 5% about the idea and 95% about the IMPLEMENTATION.

It took me about 60 seconds this morning (and that's a lot of time in terms of website attention span) trialling both sites, to see exactly why Facebook has worked and Connectu hasn't. Facebook is fast, simple and demands you to sign up before it reveals its content (which is a good strategy, given that you are dying to know whether you are featured on it) - whereas connectu forces you through a complex, slow search system complete with an irritating and probably unncessary popup (my computer doesn't do popups so I can't tell you what it was there for) which I actually kicked out of, it was taking so long.

The Devil is always in the detail in business - and it isn't easy to get it right. That's why the prize every time goes not to the person who came up with the idea, but to the person who is able to translate it into a customer experience which captures the imagination.

30 million users worldwide, mainly viral, is hugely impressive.

So in my view, the Boston boys should stop crying into their cornflakes and wasting time and money on pointless litigation - and spend their energy on creating a website which is quick easy fun - and actually works. Far more fulfilling I would have thought than spending the next few years in lawyers' offices.

Perhaps they could found - a site devoted to all those people who missed out on the big time - because they were too busy thinking about their great idea than actually doing anything about it.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Marketing Tips #37 - 'The Art of Flattery'

I lost my PA two weeks ago.

In your world this may have been a disaster, but I've found it quite refreshing to be back in control again - in particular of all the speculative emails I receive each day.

An efficient PA will see these as intrusions to be fended off in the politest possible way (or in the case of my last PA, irritations largely to be ignored). However, as my business is now 'Inspiring, Motivating and Helping Entrepreneurs Achieve Business Success', each one is at best a customer - and at worst a small piece of market research/feedback from which, at minimum, I can learn something.

99% of these emails are pretty positive - from people telling me about their business, sometimes asking for direct help or investment or simply sending me a few lines of positive words.

But yesterday I received the following from one

'losses of £4.7million and you give advice , are you sure'

In the media meltdown and hate fallout that followed the crash of Red Letter Days two years ago, I learned that the best way to deal with such messages is to use the Delete button. The cyber equivalent of a dollop of birdshit landing on the windscreen of life, these occasional 'hate mails' are almost always anonymous, sent from dodgy internet based email addresses senders and I suspect from people who have never got up off their butt to achieve anything in life - let alone experience how difficult it is to create a business from scratch and run it for 16 years.

[Alternatively it could have been Peter Jones, having a bit of fun... But I digress.]

And so the message languished in my Recycle Bin, until 40 minutes later I received the following:

Hi Rachel,

I've just been leafing through your website and I think you're a star just for taking the time to put together some useful tips for people like me to take a look at -- it's comforting to think that even hugely successful business giants like you have been through the same exhausting process as the rest of us in your climb to the top. And it's encouraging to know that we all have the potential to succeed, because sometimes, despite your very best efforts, you can start to wonder if you're really up to the task.

So thank you for your words of encouragement.

Best regards,

Marc Jardine==========================
Biznis Cards ::: Online Print Solutions

OK, it's a bit OTT - and I would hardly describe myself as a 'business giant' - but once my new PA is recruited, I know where I'll be getting her business cards from.

Enjoy your day!


Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Sell or Fail

New research by NatWest has revealed that Reality TV shows such as Dragons' Den and The Apprentice are inspiring millions of new business start ups. Apparantly 17 million have considered an idea to create a business, with 30% intending to make their dreams a reality.

That's 5.1 million new businesses coming your way soon!

While on the one hand it is brilliant that so many are now being inspired to go into business, without wishing to sound like a pariah of doom, the sad fact is that within 2 years around two thirds of those new businesses will have failed. That's c3.4 million people dealing with the fallout of business failure and all that goes with it - piles of unsold stock in the garage, boxes of unused brochures/leaflets/letterhead, and in the worst cases bankruptcy proceedings and even marriage breakdown.

I know, not just because I have been there myself, but also because I receive a lot of emails from people who are in that early stage 'Pit' - where all the initial enthusiasm has evaporated, all the money has gone, nothing is working - and they are desperate for help.

The problem with most of these businesses is that they simply have no SALES.

You can have the best business idea in the world; the smartest office; the best website; the flashiest brochures - but without SALES you do not have a business. Yet so many businesses fail to put Sales as their Number 1 daily priority above all else that may be going on - tinkering around the edges of their business instead of going out there and getting deals.

This is the big myth of business - write your business plan, raise capital, put your product or service into production, then go out there and the money will just start pouring in. Personally I think it should be done the other way round - create your product or service in the smallest most inexpensive prototype form; go out to the market and test the reaction (even if that is a last minute cheap stall at an exhibition or a couple of meetings with retail buyers), and SEE IF IT SELLS.

Even if it doesn't, the feedback you will have gained will be invaluable in honing your product. Too big? Too small? Too expensive? Too cheap? Wrong Colour? Too fast? Too slow? Too sweet? Too salt? Badly packaged?

Using realtime customer feedback as your market research is the best way to protect your business from failure - so keep nimble and keep testing until you hit the magic formula.

And only then launch your business in a big way.

Good Luck!


Saturday, 14 July 2007

Tough at the Top

Despite all the criticism, I was fascinated to watch the televised highlights of the Alastair Campbell Diaries this week.

The struggle to implement the 'Big Vision' when dealing with people who can't see much beyond the end of their own nose, let alone anywhere past tomorrow; the emotional highs and lows of the journey; the determination is takes to keep going in the face of huge adversity; the unfairness and bias of the media, and the constant juggle between career ambition and family demands.

All in all, a bit like building a big business really.

The most amazing part was how Tony Blair managed to put on such a charming and persuasive front throughout, when much of the time his blood must have been boiling.

Although I am a dyed in the wool Tory - and a big Cameron fan - I still have a great respect for Tony Blair. He transformed Labour at a time when they were totally unelectable; yes Iraq was probably a mistake, but it's easy to criticise the decision in hindsight. If Saddam had continued in power and committed a few atrocities we would all be complaining why no one took a stand when they had the chance.

In the way of all great leaders, like Thatcher before him, the faceless talentless ones always eventually turn and kill the goose that laid their golden egg. Does anyone seriously think that Brown would have won the election back in 1997? It was Blair who made it possible for him to take power today.

In politics (as in business) momentum, once created, is a great asset - but it's only possible for the free ride to last for so long. It will be interesting to see how long Brown can ride the wave that Blair created for him.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

The London Bombings - and other acts of Terrorism

Yesterday was 7 July, and as well as being the 2nd anniversary of the atrocities in London, was also a poignant reminder for me of the day that one of the last nails was driven into the coffin of Red Letter Days - the company I originally founded which went into administration in August 2005...

Earlier that year we had been diverted off course from other re-financing options, by a rescue deal offered by a major company within in our sector - accompanied by all the usual 'you can trust us' assurances.

We had 'opened the kimono' on Day 1 regarding all aspects of the Company, its financials, its problems, its contingent liabilities etc., and yet, despite having got to absolute 11th hour - with all the legals completed and ready to sign - the other side suddenly pulled out.

The CEO of said company (who I have since found out is something of a laughing stock within his industry, and I also think fancied himself as something of a reincarnation of Marcus Aurelius/Julius Caesar) initially placed the blame on a pot of 'Rachel's Organic Forbidden Fruit' yoghurt which his wife had placed in the fridge that week, which he took to be an omen of doom (yes, really).

When we tried to get the deal back on track (on vastly revised terms - of course! - why else does anyone pull out at the last minute if not to take the piss regarding deal structure and price?), 7 July unfolded.

If the pot of yoghurt had a de-stabilising effect, you can imagine what the unfolding scenes of carnage in London did for the deal.

(Didn't stop them coming back a few weeks later to suggest mounting a 'pre-pack' deal to buy the company out of administration for peanuts, but it would be cynical of me to suggest that was the real reason for reneging at the 11th hour.)

If the administration had unfolded during the week (when said company would have been contactable), and not at the weekend, he may well have got it too. Given Red Letter Days' recently filed first year post administration trading loss of £7.1million, that would have truly served the old codger right.

It's naive for anyone to think they can gain value in a highly branded business by pushing a company through an administration process to wipe the debt before acquiring it. It simply causes too much damage to the brand. But I digress...

So, back to 7 July, and all in all it was a most terrible day on all fronts, which will always remain lodged in my memory.

Here we are, 2 years on, and life is very different in so many ways, but in other respects old patterns still continue to emerge.

If you've ever been through an administration you will know that the DTI goes through an investigation process. This was particularly the case with us given that Red Letter Days had been such a high profile crash.

In fact, the Insolvency Service at the DTI put a full time solicitor on the project - who spent 18 months trying to mount a prosecution to disqualify the directors - before finally giving up and admitting there was no case.

The thing that massively counted in our favour (apart from the fact that we were innocent of course!), was getting a top legal firm acting on our behalf.

In a Director's disqualification proceedings, while each prosecution is served on the directors as individuals, typically if one is found guilty, all are guilty - there are just different levels of culpability which affect your period of disqualification.

So it is vitally important that the Directors act collectively, rather than splintering off, blaming one another and generally trying to cover their own arses.

But despite trying to coralle my co-directors, do you think this was possible? No - because no one wanted to commit to the legal cost of fighting the case. And of course, my inept co-Director who was in charge of the company's insurance policies, had not thought to ensure we had adequate Directors' Liability insurance in place to cover us for the running off period, which would have covered the legal bill.

So, while the other directors either ignored the DTI letters altogether or sent back a flimsy 2 page response (or in the case of a certain Finance Director a response which absolved himself totally while stabbing me in the back for all that had gone on), muggins here took it all a lot more seriously (I obviously had more at stake given my profile) and brought in the brilliant insolvency lawyers Ian Grier and Nicholas Hughes at SGH to fight her corner.

Luckily I had had the foresight to retrieve 18 archive boxes full of all my copies of every Board Meeting, consultant's report, management accounts and cashflow forecasts the company had produced during the period the troubles unfolded (it is strange how things 'disappear' once the company goes into administration and you are no longer allowed access to the building - after all it is hardly in the new owners' interests for you to come out of any of it looking squeaky clean).

All of which meant that my legal team was able to put together a several hundred page response to the DTI, which covered in detail every event of the 2 1/2 year period - every supporting document, right down to copy emails, showing (in absolute excruciating detail) the lengths we (or should I say I?) went to, to try to save the business.

At a personal cost to me of something like £20k in legal fees.

And the contribution from my co-directors? A measy four hundred quid.

I learned a lesson that day, which was once again resurrected for me this week (not just through the 7 July anniversary, but via a series of other events).

When you are running a successful business, or indeed, if you have the 'tag' of being a high profile entrepreneur, everyone wants to hitch their wagon to your star. They love the status of being a 'director', they love connecting themselves to your name, but more than anything they love the thought of 'getting rich quick'.

Yet the sad fact of business is that - whoever you are, from Branson to Sugar - business is tough, there is no 'magic formula', no 'Midas touch', no 'guarantee' of success. The people who are eventually successful get there through putting in an unmitigated amount of effort, focus, committment (both in terms of time, as well as personal cash) and sheer bloody hard work.

Anyone can be a director of a business that is spinning along nicely.

It's when the sh*t starts hitting the fan that you can usually see the true colours of the spineless, penniless ones unfolding - refusing to commit time, effort or hard cash to the cause, running for the hills and leaving you to carry the can.

My advice from all this (and I promise I will get to the point of this Post very soon!) is be very careful of who you allow to hitch their wagon to your star in the first place.

The world is full of lazy passengers looking to make a fast buck, and very few people have really got what it takes to be a real success in business. Choose the wrong business partners and they will dramatically slow you down. So, unless there are very, very good reasons for you to go into business with others - or unless you find a magic person who is the exact complement to your own skills, and is as committed as you are in all respects - you will almost always find it much easier to achieve success by 'going it alone'.

And with that off my chest, I will sign off and enjoy the rest of my Sunday!

Best wishes,


Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The Blog is Working...

Just as Steve Clayton Steve Clayton: Geek In Disguise promised (see first post 'Blog Virgin' below), the Blog seems to be starting to work...

Scott Barlow at UKpreneur thinks I am hot, wonders whether I have a husband (since when did that bother most men?) and has asked me for a date, while John Crickett at eCademy has taken exception to my Blog about Peter Jones' new 'Tycoon' show, posing the question 'Jones vs Elnaugh: Who Do You Think is the Better Entrepreneur?'

That last one is an interesting one John, and tells me instantly that you are an 'Alphapreneur' - one of those ghastly males that is always comparing dick size and wanting to know who is 'the best'. Take my free entrepreneurial profiling test at my own website and tell me if I am right!

But it's an interesting question though - who IS the best?

How do you measure?

Is Tesco a 'better' supermarket than Waitrose?

Is The Sun a 'better' newspaper than The Big Issue?

Is Easyjet a 'better' airline than Cathay Pacific?

All comments are welcome.