In through the outfield blog

21 posts from November 2008

29 November 2008

Wheelie cleaning up in business

Wheeliebinglobe When I show potential customers round the Business & IP Centre I like to give little demonstrations of some our key databases.

I often start with Cobra (Complete Business Reference Adviser) from Cobweb. This is an essential encyclopaedia of practical information for starting, running and managing a small business. And includes more than 4,000 fact sheets, plus local area profiles and guides to writing business and marketing plans.

In order to illustrate how wide their coverage is, I ask for suggestions for obscure small scale business ideas. When Wheelie Bin Cleaner was suggested I had to supress a laugh at the idea for this as a serious business. However on entering the terms into the search box, Cobra came straight back with BOP477, a four page report. Included, were such gems as:

“Anyone considering starting a wheelie bin cleaning service will need to be comfortable dealing with the sights and smells contained in both domestic and commercial wheelie bins. Some of these bins may not have been cleaned or disinfected in some time, and may have contained all manner of rubbish, including food and sanitary waste.”

So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when reading my local paper the Mid-Sussex Times this weekend to see a report headed “Paul’s cleaning up”. Apparently Crawley resident Paul Fraser cleans the dirty bins using a jet wash in the back of his white van, and charges £3 for a monthly wash.

If he had access to the Cobra report he might be considering joining the National Association of Wheeled Bin Washers. A membership association, which endeavours to promote high standards in the industry.


Business Start Up Show indicates increased interest

I spent the today on the Business & IP Centre stand at the Business Start Up Show at Olympia. This year they have moved into the larger hall and our stand was significantly busier than last year.

It seems that the recession is encouraging people to think about starting their own business, as predicted in one of my previous postings.

I met a City based lawyer who was positively relishing the prospect of being made redundant from her well paid, but boring job. She could wait to start investing her redundancy money into a business venture.

I was also rather suprised to see that Skype had a large stand at the show, but a company representative assured me that Skype are making a healthy profit. Although their computer to computer calls are free, they don’t cost Skype anything. For calls to landlines they share the profits with the local phone company.

27 November 2008

Celebrating books in the British Library

On Tuesday evening I decided to pop over to the Conference Centre to have a peek at the event being chaired by Sue MacGregor (who used to be a stalwart of the BBC radio Today programme).

The title of the event was ‘A source of inspiration’: conversations with British Library readers, and is a part of the programme to celebrate ten years since the St Pancras building first opened.

And what an impressive line up of readers the panel was:

The eminent historian Dr David Starkey, who spoke of his work as the Guest Curator of the Library’s forthcoming exhibition on Henry VIII opening next April.

Professor Martin Kemp spoke of using technology to make items understandable, citing examples of Leonardo da Vinci’s work, and challenging the audience to consider that digitisation should be about “digital exposition, not just digital storage.”

The award-winning architect M J Long was also on the panel. She has particularly close links with the Library; her firm Long and Kentish designed the Centre for Conservation, and with her husband, the late Sir Colin St John Wilson, was joint architect of the Library’s St Pancras building. It was interesting to hear her talk about how they imagined people studying in the variety of spaces they created, and to see how this had been successful in reality. Also the reward for using expensive, quality materials, wood and marble, which were standing the test of time well. I have to agree with her assessment. After ten years of heavy use, most of the building still appears new or nearly new. Even the heavy oak and leather chairs have plenty of life left in them after supporting thousands derrières.

Last, but by no means last - as far as I was concerned, was Tim Campbell, winner of The Apprentice television programme. He explained how the Business & IP Centre has provided him with crucial information for setting up The Bright Ideas Trust, a social initiative to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. He described the Library as a “a hidden gem”, and his own desire to publicise the business resources to young people who might not otherwise come in.


The evening ended with a heated debate between David and Tim about increasing access to the British Library. David was worried about damage to the unique items in the collection through over use. Tim wanted to see more people benefiting from making use of our content.

All parties agreed that although increasing access to rare material through digitisation was a good thing, it was not a substitute for the need for subject experts to explain and educate readers.


26 November 2008

Christmas sells - Christmas sales

During a spot of television watching the other evening I couldn’t help noticing how many times the word Christmas was used during the advert breaks. I know that Christmas starts earlier every year in the hope that business will reap the benefit. But this was almost as though the word was being thrown at the viewer as some kind of mantra. The irony is that almost all of these pleas to worship at the cult of Christmas commercial consumption ended with a hastily tacked on half price offer.

By chance, on the same day I read about a character who has well and truly bought into the ‘Christmas spirit’, by celebrating Christmas day every day since 1994. His name is Andy Park (aka Mr Christmas) and he estimates to have consumed 117,600 brussel sprouts, 5,110 bottles of Champagne, and opened more than 230,000 Christmas cards. He has also worn out 37 electric ovens, and 23 video recorders by watching the Queen’s Speech every day.

However, this year the electrician from Melksham, Wiltshire, is being having to cut back due to the credit crisis.

Divorced Mr Park said that this year the postage is so dear he is having to deliver his cards to himself by himself, instead of relying on the Royal Mail. Also he is being forced to downsize his turkey from 14lb to 9lb.


24 November 2008

10 million hits per hour for the new European Library

New_look_for_europeana_launch_1 The new European digital library Europeana proved to be so popular with 10 million hits per hour that it crashed within 24 hours of going live, according to the BBC report.

According to their home page, they hope to be back by mid-December.

In the meantime you can get a sneak preview from here.

I find it ironic that in the midst of news stories about the closure of both school and public libraries in the UK there is still a great deal of demand for library material from potential customers.

Make a Wave Awards - closing date 12 December

unltd_logoThe second round of the Make a Wave Awards 2008-2009 from Ogunte and UnLtd

(The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs) closes on 12 December Open to Women!

ogunteSo if you are a woman with  “bold, fresh and ground-breaking ideas to help solve issues emerging in the communities of their choice, in the UK”, why not apply for an award of up to £1,000?

They are made to women in the UK who can show that a very small amount of money, paired up with a resourceful brain, can be used to make a difference.

“We are looking for ideas that fit with the values of UnLtd’s mission to reach out and unleash the energies of people who can transform the world in which they live. UnLtd call these people social entrepreneurs.

Your ideas need to be aligned with Oguntê’s Women in Social Leadership vision: inspiration, entrepreneurship, networking, confidence, and sustainability.”

DOWNLOAD SPECS Make A Wave Award - (Word Doc


21 November 2008

Birmingham and the PATLIB network

Yesterday I visited the intellectual property collection at Birmingham Public Library, one of the PATLIB centres.

PATLIB consists of libraries in the UK which provide help in searching for patents, trade marks and designs, and which also help in other ways related to intellectual property rights. There are lots of databases out there on the Web but it's difficult for novices to know how to get the best out of them, or how to interpret the results. 

Matthew Jelfs, one of their librarians, explained to me about the extensive effort that they make in providing seminars and making visits. They do not restrict what they do to the West Midlands, either. Over 130 people have attended their seminars in the past 12 months. They have private cubicles with a PC in them, so that inventors can explain their ideas in private to a librarian and watch a search being carried out for them. There is also an extensive and active business library up the staircase.

Like the other PATLIB libraries, much of what they do is free of charge. The British Library is also a member of the system. Contact details of all the libraries are available on the Web, and it is always best to telephone to ask if an appointment is necessary, as visitors are likely to get a lot more out of it then.

The reason I was in Birmingham was that some of us were attending the World of Learning Awards 2008. Sadly, we didn't win our category, E-learning Solution of the Year. This was the free intellectual property courses we provide which people can work through on the Internet, a collaboration with Nelson Croom. Quite a few people have signed up but there's room for plenty more on the web site.

I spent the rest of yesterday exploring some of Birmingham's rich industrial heritage of canals, factories and warehouses.

The Wattson goes global

Wattson It was great to hear from Richard Woods (one of the co-founders of DIY Kyoto) last night at our Going Global event on the continuing success of the Wattson energy monitor. I first mentioned their product back in February of this year, soon after it had beaten the iPod nano into 10th place in the Stuff Magazine cool gadgets of the year awards.

They are now moving into the global market place with the help of ethically manufactured Wattsons from China. This has enabled them to reduce the price to a very attractive £99.95, which means they now have a three week waiting list.

It was interesting to hear how some of their customers have become addicted to the product with a couple of weeks, and become devoted to getting a blue glow (indicating a less than average use of electricity). Some use it to check to see if they have left any unnecessary appliances switched on as they leave the house.

One surprising change they had to introduce to their marketing was to include a light bulb in their photos for scale. It seems some some customers wanted to order a Wattson to replace their coffee table. Perhaps this could be a niche expansion of their product line.

Although Richard explained that the key to their success was to design a product that would be so desirable people would want to buy it, and then find out what it would be used for (the Apple iPod approach), I like the way they have very simply spelt out what this new product has to offer for the customer.

* I can save you up to 25% on your electricity bill
* I’m good for the environment
* I’m quick and easy to install
* I measure electricity in the whole house
* I can go anywhere in the home
* I use up to four watts and cost £4 a year to run