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Archive for the ‘Building Businesses’ Category

Oops – broken process

Posted by Mark Harrison on May 19, 2008

The following is a true story, but before I tell it, I should make clear that I’ve already written to the customer apologising for what I’m about to relate (and, obviously, I’m not going to say who it is.)

However, I think the story below demonstrates something very important about small businesses – namely that processes are important, and that while it’s relatively easy to rely on “employing good people”, that even with the best people in the world, there’s a need for some basic processes that need to be followed (and checked.)

Let’s roll back the clock a few years. In 2004, I put together a CD set called “The UK Property Millionaire” for / with Nightingale Conant. The first 3 CDs are “timeless stuff” about property investment – the fourth was a “for the now”, and the idea was/is that it would be updated every 2-3 years.

In addition to Nightingale Conant offering them, I can buy them at cost and sell them directly (which I do.)

Sure enough, come 2006, I recorded a new version of the final CD, which meant selling off the old stock, and releasing the new version. At the time, I added a page with a “buy now” button to my website.

What this does is takes the customer to PayPal, where they can, obviously, pay. PayPal charge fees for doing this, but handle things like the credit card processing, and generally make it easy.

When PayPal take the money, they send me an email to let me know they’ve done so. One of us then checks the email, sees whether any physical product needs to be shipped (most of our sales are ebooks which our site ships automatically), and all is well.

Then, once a month, we take the PayPal summaries, and update our own accounts with them… sorting out the VAT on the way.

What used to happen was that we would have an additional step … which was at about 2pm each day, we would double-check PayPal to make sure that there weren’t any unshipped orders. To be brutally honest, this didn’t happen every day, but certainly happened 3-4 times each week.

You can guess what happened – we moved to just working off the emails, and on the 3rd of May, I missed one 😦

Even worse, on the 11th, the customer emailed to chase the order… and sent the email to the address PayPal had registered for order queries on that particular product… problem is, since our email server upgrade last year, this address hasn’t worked, and we hadn’t even noticed! We only get queries on about 5% of orders, and it seems that most people hit “reply” to the mail THEY get from PayPal… which sends off stuff to a different address (which does work.)

Anyway, on the 18th (Sunday), the customer tried THAT address… by this time, of course, he has been waiting over 2 weeks, AND has been waiting a week for a reply to the initial email query…. so the demand is for a refund.

Obviously, we had to do several things:

  • Give the refund
  • Give the customer a full apology
  • Offer the customer the product at half price in the unlikely event they still want to go ahead 😦
  • Work out how things had gone so badly wrong 😦

And, having just completed the fourth step, I am kicking myself – a chain of errors, a process that was 95% efficient coupled with a complaints procedure that was only 90% efficient leads to a “double-whammy” and a broken customer experience for one person who, even if they go ahead with the discounted purchase, is unlikely to ever become a “fan” (ie – someone who will recommend us to their friends.)

So, as of today, we’re back to daily Paypal checks of ordered goods as a supplement to relying on the email-based process…

… and I’m reminded of the need to set processes that work, and check that they are still being followed.


Posted in Building Businesses | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Actually, you can get back a customer!

Posted by Mark Harrison on December 29, 2007

Back in February, I wrote this post about what I perceived as a poor experience with Gieves and Hawkes, the Savile Row tailors.

It would appear that things have improved, since over Christmas I got an email from their Marketing Director that started:

I was recently made aware of the blog you wrote in February of this year regarding Gieves & Hawkes response to your email of the same month that pointed out the spelling mistake on our website.

[… ]While some time may have passed and the ‘horse could be said to have bolted’ I certainly believe it is never too late to make amends or in this case clarify a miscommunication.

The email went on to thank me for taking the time to point out the initial error (long-since fixed), and explain the chain of events that led up to my being unhappy. It would appear that there was miscommunication on both sides.

While, obviously, there is a far greater burden of responsibility on a supplier to communicate effectively with a customer than there is on a customer to communicate with a supplier, I must concede several things.

  • I was harsh on Gieves for doing this
  • Their Marketing Director has clearly (once he was aware of the issue) taken steps to try to get me back as a customer

The happy ending is that I am looking forward to getting over to them and seeing what they have in the sales.

Posted in Building Businesses, Companies I Like, Web Marketing | Leave a Comment »

Club Entrepreneur is really motoring

Posted by Mark Harrison on December 13, 2007

Billy Schwer (right) and Mark Harrison

Some months ago, I went to the first meeting of London’s Club Entrepreneur, and had quite a fun time. However, I’m trying to schlep into London less and less as I get older, so I’d not been.

As it happened, though, I had a meeting in Baker Street yesterday afternoon, so call Tamkin Riaz to see whether he had an event running. Tamkin told me that the Club’s London meeting was that evening, and told me that the keynote speaker was Billy Schwer. Billy won the IBO light-welterweight belt in 2001. That much I knew.

What I’d not really appreciated until last night was that Billy is an entrepreneur as well as a sportsman, and that the discipline, determination and desire required to get to the number one in the world in a sport are very similar to the attributes requrired for growing a business. The last time I heard a professional sportsman give a talk was about 15 years ago (and it was Will Carling!) Billy seems, shall we say, more of a businessman than Will, and despite the fact that I’ve always had more interest in Rugby than Boxing, found him a far more interesting speaker!

Tamkin Riaz and Billy Schwer Anyway, photos of Billy and me, and of Billy and Tamkin attached (click through to get higher-resolution versions of Flickr.) It’s fairly obvious, even if you’d never seen any of us before, which one is the real boxer, and which wouldn’t actually last 5 seconds 🙂

If you’re interested in joining Club Entrepreneur, then I’d say do – The initial level of membership is free (giving access to various business-building resources, and deeply discounted tickets to their events.) There’s another level of membership that gives free tickets to all events, but I’ve never felt under any pressure to “upgrade from free.”

Click here for more information about the Club

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Yes, I read a lot…

Posted by Mark Harrison on August 6, 2007

A couple of years ago, Daniel Wagner interviewed me for “Property Habits”, and one of the questions he asked was how many books on “business and investment” I had.

At the time, I counted, and the answer was a bit over 100.

It turns out I missed a bookcase –  sorry about that, Daniel.

Anyway, as the number of books I own increased, I was running into the problem where I’d buy something that looked interesting, only to find that I’d already got a copy – so I had to start cataloguing.

My fiction, I just catalogued in a spreadsheet, but for the non-fiction, I was recommended an Internet-based tool called Gurulib.

The big advantage of Gurulib is that I can just type in the ISBN number, and it will look up the title, author and publisher for me – in many cases, even providing the cover art.

So, I can safely report that I now have (at least) 409 books in the “Business and Investment” section of my library…

… and you can see them here at gurulib 

Posted in Book Review, Building Businesses, Investment, Investor Psychology | Leave a Comment »

“The Secret” – on DVD

Posted by Mark Harrison on June 14, 2007

I don’t think that I’ve ever blogged about an advert before, but the trailer for “The Secret” is amazing.

I was emailed by my friends at Nightingale Conant (who also publish my CD set – the UK property millionaire) with the news that they’ve just been appointed European Master Distributor for “The Secret”, the wealth-building DVD sensation that has swept the States over the last couple of weeks.

I’m used to reading adverts for this kind of thing, and I’ve seen promotional videos before (like this one we did with Entrepreneur TV for my programme), but “The Secret” is in an entirely different league when it comes to production quality.

Click here to watch the trailer.

Posted in Building Businesses, Investor Psychology | 2 Comments »

Mini Book Review – Wikinomics (Tapscott and Williams)

Posted by Mark Harrison on May 1, 2007

If, like me, you’re in the UK, you are going to have trouble getting hold of this book, since the hardback wasn’t released over here, and the paperback won’t be until July.

However, I’d heard good things about this, so I found a copy (on eBay Canada!) and got the vendor to fly it over 🙂

The fundamental premise of “Wikinomics” is that the value gained by sharing “information” with “the community” is often greater that the value that is given away by so doing.

An example: Office software

Apologies for picking an example from the IT industry – but it’s what I know, and there aren’t that many great examples from the property investment community 🙂 vs. Microsoft Office.  Microsoft Office costs about £300. If you buy a copy, you have the right to use it on a single PC, and use it “as is”. OpenOffice (primarily made by Sun – another US software company with a billionaire founder) costs £0. If you download a copy, you have the right to install it on multiple PCs, and make changes to it…  If you want to share those changes with other people, you submit them back to Sun, and if they like them, they will be included in the next release of the product. You won’t get paid for this (other than in reputation, which is as important in the IT community as the rest of the business world), but everyone will get a better product.

Now, I write as an user – frankly, I don’t find it (overall) as good as MS Office. However, it’s got one feature I love and use all the time – it can convert a file into Adobe “PDF” format. SMS Office can’t do that – you need to buy additional software such as Acrobat  Standard at an extra £150. (Adobe aren’t dumb – the reader is £0, but the writer is £150.) Hence, while MSO is better, it’s not worth an extra £450 to me, so I stay with

Tapscott and Williams make the point that no-one could, realistically, compete with Microsoft in producing a competitor to MS Office, if they had to do all the development themselves, but by opening up the “code” to its competitors, Sun is producing a product that is close. However, they can’t make money selling the product directly, but they can sell services. Hence there’s a “cost per seat” version of the product, called Star Office, which they do sell as a direct competitor to MSO – and that product also includes the community improvements. Works well for everyone except Microsoft shareholders.

It’s not just about IT

These concepts are familiar within the IT industry, but Wikinomics introduces the concept of “community product development” to a wider, business, audience.

The key message I need to get over in this review is that the concepts are beginning to be used heavily outside of the IT industry, and the book introduces examples from, say, the mining industry as an area where things that used to be regarded as company secrets, are now actively in the public domain… because sometimes customers, commentators, or just interested people can improve upon them, and those improvements can be fed back on a “share and share alike” basis.

I’m a convert to the concept, by the way – I posted a few weeks ago about the fact that anyone was welcome to take any of my articles, either from this blog, or from the newsletter, and re-write them (provided they included a link back to me.) What I get is improved material (and hopefully extra readers of the newsletter.) The hope for me is that doing this is twofold – firstly I might sell extra copies of my paid-for products because more people know about them… but secondly, I get back ideas about how to tweak my own investment strategy, and do things better, because people take what I’ve written, and improve upon it.

 So, what’s the book like?

It’s good – well worth a read. It’s well-written, and not too evangelistic. One of the problems with much that’s written about these concepts is that the writing is done by “evangelists”, or people who tell you that you should use Linux because of the (sic) moral argument.

Tapscott and Williams freely admit that the “Wikinomics” model isn’t the only one, or always the best, and pull out comparisons with other companies who have taken completely the opposite approach. For example, Sony have a complete “lockdown” policy on their products, so that “community improvements” made to, say, their consoles, stop working the next time they get an official update from Sony.

The arguments they make don’t claim to be “moral”, but are economic – and they don’t make conclusions about which is better – they do, however, do an excellent job of presenting the arguments for the “community collaboration” model of product- and service- development.

Is it worth importing? Probably not 🙂

Should you get it in July – yup!

Posted in Book Review, Building Businesses, Open Source, Productivity | 5 Comments »

Free to good home?

Posted by Mark Harrison on April 23, 2007

There are several reasons why it would be nice to be French – good wine and great cheese spring to mind… but one of the big advantages of having French as a mother tongue is that there is a difference in the words “libre” and “gratuit”, both of which translate into English as the word “free”, but which mean completely different things.

  • “Gratuit” means “free” in the sense of at zero price – as in “buy one, get one free”
  • “Libre” means “free” in the sense of unrestricted, unconstrained – as in “Nelson Mandela is now free”

What on earth has this got to do with Web Marketing?

OK – let’s re-cap the complete basics of web marketing. To build a business you:

  1. Attract people to your site
  2. Offer them something “free” in exchange for getting their contact details and permission to email them
  3. Make the “free” thing of such good value that you build up (over time) a reputation as a trustworthy source
  4. Once you have that reputation, explain what you can offer that would cost them money
  5. Track the whole process so that you understand what percentage of visitors to the website hand over their details, and what percentage of people getting the “free thing” go on to become paying customers – then use this information to gradually refine all aspects of your business so that those percentages improve over time.

This is exactly the model I use on two of my sites:

The vast majority of people who get the free stuff are perfectly happy with it – I regularly get emails of thanks attributing specific figures that people have made using some of the tips in the mini course – and this is absolutely fine. However, a small number of people go on to buy either my ebook on Property Negotiation, or even attend my one-day training course. (95% of the material in the two is the same – it’s really a question of whether people learn better by coming on an instructor-led course, whether the emotional commitment of coming to a course spurs them to action, and whether they want the confidence boost of meeting a bunch of like-minded people who are accomplishing similar things.) And let me be honest, this isn’t a huge money-maker for me – I run training courses because I enjoy it, and like meeting interesting people, rather than because it’s the most financially efficient use of my time!

However, this is only “free” in the sense of “gratuit” – I don’t charge for the newsletter or mini-course.

What about “libre” – what “freedom” comes with these items?

Under UK (and International) copyright law – the contents of the course and newsletter are mine – and the only “rights” a subscriber has is the right to read that newsletter / course item. They don’t have the right to forward them to friends, nor the right to reproduce them in their own newsletters.

The traditional view of “intellectual property” says that it would be sensible for me to enforce these rights – to try to clamp down on anyone “ripping off my material” by passing it on.

However, there’s another view – if the point of my giving this stuff away “gratuit” is to spread my reputation as a credible authority (in my case, on property negotiation specifically, and property investment in general), then what’s in my best interest?

  • To lock down and restrict the material so that only people who have given over their contact details get it?
  • To make sure that it only ever appears in exactly the format I’d intended, without modification


  • To open it up, and let as many people as possible get at it
  • To allow other people to use vast chunks of it, with their own angle, or improvement
  • (providing the new readers know where it came from originally)

The second model is exactly the one that that the “free software” community uses. The software licences like the so-called “GPL” are specifically written to give people a bunch of rights not just to use software, but to modify it, and redistribute it. Both of the elements are key – the “redistribution” right means that software like Ubuntu Linux now has millions of users world-wide. And the “modify” right means that the product is far, far, better than if only the small team (who work for a company called Canonical) who produced the original Ubuntu CDs could change things. Canonical make their money be providing support and installation services – though you are welcome to use their products whether you buy their add-on services or not. Indeed, their products are, in turn, modifications and improvements of other products issued under similar terms.

My view is that I’m far better off trying to get the newsletter stuff out to as wide an audience as possible, and not worry too much whether I have the email address of every reader on my database!

So, what does this mean to my material?

As of today, there’s a “new deal” available on the newsletter:

  • If you run a website or newsletter yourself, you are welcome to take any article from the website, and re-distribute it to your readers provided that you include the line “Copyright <year> – reproduced with permission” on the article.
  • There is no obligation on you to let me know you’ve done this (though it would be nice)
  • Obviously, you’ll need to replace the text <year> with the year the article was actually written.
  • If you allow other people to use articles from your stuff, you need to make sure that they know they have to include that message as well!

Right, that covers the “redistribution” side, what about the “modification” side?

  • If you run a website or newsletter yourself, you are welcome to take any article from the website, and use parts of it, added in with your own text, and re-distribute it to your readers provided that you include the line “Parts of this article are Copyright <year> – reproduced with permission” on your version.
  • There is no obligation on you to let me know you’ve done this (though it would be nice)
  • Obviously, you’ll need to replace the text <year> with the year the article was actually written.
  • If you allow other people to use articles from your stuff, you need to make sure that they know they have to include that message as well!

At this point, the traditional “list-builder” marketeers will be reeling in shock! The traditional approach is that you have to capture every name, and that the key metric to success is the “size of your list”, because they are the people you can sell other stuff to more effectively.

My point is that making all this stuff available for free (libre and gratuit) is, I believe, a better way to grow that list quickly – since many people who’ve read my material elsewhere will ultimately choose to come to the source and subscribe directly… and that providing material to other people will only increase the brand awareness of the name “Mark Harrison” in property investment circles.

Posted in Blog marketing, Building Businesses, Open Source, Web Marketing, Wikinomics | Leave a Comment »

Business Networking – like you’ve never seen it

Posted by Mark Harrison on April 13, 2007

If you’re anything like me, then a lot of your business opportunities will come your way through personal networking.

However, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll find that a lot of “business networks” have some limitations.

In Property, we seem particularly well served, with Property Networking Club providing regular “pure networking” meetings, and Come2Invest providing speaker-led events with ample networking time.

However, in my non-property businesses, I’ve never quite found a business network that “clicks” for me.

… until I bumped into Ayshe Kadir at (ironically) a networking event in London the week before last. As you probably know, Ayshe runs Invest in the States, and seems to spend a lot of her time commuting between her offices in London and Florida. I’ve talked about Invest in the States before here.

We got talking about business networking, and how such meetings always seem to end up with an evening spent meeting a very small number of people, despite the fact that there were a hundred in the room. She mentioned to me a networking concept that she’d trialled in the States a while ago, and had thought might work in the UK.

You don’t get to be an entrepreneur by letting these conversations grow cold – so Ayshe and I talked by phone, and then set up a meeting which also included our mutual friend Tamkin Riaz.

The more we talked about it, the more excited we got – a new format for business networking events that will (if the US experience is anything to go by) transform the number of genuinely useful leads and contacts people leave the meetings with.

What we’ve done is put together a basic website, and booked a room at the Selfridges Hotel, for the 2nd May. The first event happens then.

If you either run your own business, or are responsible for developing business for your employer, then you need to book your tickets for the launch event:

… the website is

Posted in Building Businesses, Business Networking, Property Networking | Leave a Comment »

Mini Book Review – Getting Things Done (Allen)

Posted by Mark Harrison on April 2, 2007

A couple of months ago, I reviewed “A Perfect Mess”, which I highly recommended. The authors were relatively critical of the excesses of the “planning industry”, and gave a number of examples of planning consultants and authors. One author they particularly commented on was David Allen.The name rang a bell, because my friend Nik Butler had suggested a couple of David’s techniques to me a while ago, which I’d found useful on a particular project.

Anyway, armed with a book I’d like, being critical of another book, I did the only decent thing, and bought it anyway – however, I’ve deliberately left it 8 weeks to write this review, because I wanted not just just read the book, but try out some of the techniques.

Mr. Allen has an interesting view of life, and I’m beginning to come round to his viewpoint now – he contends that most of us keep a big jumble of “things to do” in our heads, and accordingly suffer from two problems:

  • We can’t find out the detail for the stuff we want to do now
  • We keep getting mentally interrupted by our brains reminding us of all the things that we were meant to do as well

He then goes on to suggest that, at the simplest level, it is worth making up some lists of things that need doing, in a coherent manner, so that both of these problems are solved. I could understand why making lists would fix the first problem, but wasn’t convinced that having the info on paper would stop my mind jumping things on me… but I thought I’d give it a go.

Now, the “process” paperwork in my life is well-organised. I wrote quite a long article called “Administration, Administration, Administration” back in July 05 for my newsletter subscribers. The article is available here at

However, the “project” paperwork had never been that carefully organised. I had ended up with about 6 filing trays, marked things like “to do”, and “Dona to chase me”, and never really found a satisfactory answer.

Starting on page 173 of Getting Things Done, there are several pages of description (and diagram) of something called a “tickler file”. This is a fairly complex set up involving 43 suspension files, and therefore a new really useful company crate to hold them in. (Back in December, I wrote about how good those crates are – though for this requirement I had to go up to 64 litres away from the 35 litre crates I normally get.)

The tickler file was, frankly, a faff to set up, and it took about an hour to get the files labelled, and everything piled round my desk sorted into the appropriate files for future action…

… but I’ve been using it as my prime organisation tool for about six weeks now…

… and let me tell you, it’s fantastic! I have, genuinely, got more projects pushed forward in those six weeks than the previous twelve, and quite often now, by about 2pm, I’ve done “everything I needed to” and can push forward one of the long term projects (like the next book.)

Now, I could spend the next thousand words describing the tickler file, and how to use it, but I suspect it’s one of those tools that works much better if you understand the “why” as well as the “how.” So on that basis, I’m definitely recommending you get the book…

… note that this doesn’t mean that I’ve abandoned the “Perfect Mess” view that there are some big advantages to having SOME disorganisation in my life… but in those items where I’ve decided I want some discipline, it seemed to make sense to use the best tools!

Buy “Getting Things Done” from

Posted in Book Review, Building Businesses, Productivity | 3 Comments »

Woo-Hoo, Bye Bye Standby was on GMTV this morning

Posted by Mark Harrison on March 6, 2007

This morning, I went to the press launch of Bye Bye Standby. The launch was great – with Tommy Walsh (GroundForce) coming along (free of charge) to make a speech about how important this kind of energy-saving is to the planet. Good guy!

This is an energy-saving product from Domia (fomerly called Idomus ltd.) of which, until the end of the year, I was a Director (now, it’s a more passive investment for me.)

Darryl, the Chairman came in pretty much as I was turning up… except in his case it was from GMTV, where they’d just done a feature on how a £29.99 product can save £38 / year and reduce carbon emissions – woo hoo!

I’ve told you that I’m an investor, so obviously it’s self-serving for me to post a link to the product – but of course I have to…

… and yes, I did have my photo taken with Tommy Walsh (albeit with the rest of the Domia team in it as well)

Posted in Building Businesses | Leave a Comment »