In through the outfield blog

Neil Infield on business and intellectual property

31 October 2012

24 October 2012

Computing in the Clouds for Small Business

Many thanks to business and technology writer Carlo Pandian for contributing this post:

Everyone uses cloud computing services and many of us have been doing for some time – even if we weren’t entirely aware of it!  From Hotmail to Facebook, cloud computing has been a helpful tool for millions of people the world over to manage their personal lives and communicate with friends across the globe.  Cloud computing solutions for small businesses have however, been taken up more slowly, despite offering huge benefits.  Small firms in particular have most to gain from “the cloud”   So what is cloud computing and how can you benefit?


A typical cloud server

What is Cloud Computing?
Hotmail is a good example; it offers online access to your email account and allows you to access emails from any computer with an internet connection.  Unlike a desktop email software package all the data and any updates are dealt with remotely.  This is cloud computing in a very small nutshell.  New services, deliverable via the cloud, have been developing rapidly in the last couple of years or so.  Now, most software that you can install on your own computer can be found in cloud form.  From online accounting software, to media applications, the range is growing every day.  This has, in large part, been thanks to the rapid improvements in broadband capability in the last ten years and also to the explosion in popularity for mobile computing.   These days, if it can’t be done on the go, then it’s probably not worth doing!

File Share and Back Up
Data back up and online document storage is essential tools for most businesses and is now available in cloud form.  In the old days, data back-up meant a memory stick, or even (the horror, the horror) a floppy disk.  This type of storage was extremely vulnerable to loss, theft or damage.  Remote back up via an online platform removes these risks at one simple stroke.   There are an increasing number of providers who can offer online document storage and sharing options; Google Docs is one well known and well trusted brand, but there are other choices.  Check out Carbonite for a low cost and flexible option or Dropbox, which has been established for a number of years and is a firm favourite with many users.

Money Managing
Online accounting software offers incredible flexibility to small firms and the services on offer from Intuit are worth looking into.  Intuit is a world leader in providing small business solutions and the company’s range of accounting software is available in the old fashioned desktop variety and in the cloud version.  The latter allows small firms to keep records up to date and produce invoices on the go.  Most small business owners will immediately see the advantage of secure, online storage for their accounts along with the huge benefit in terms of time saving that cloud computing offers for those whose business keeps them out and about.

Small Screen Solutions
Online video conferencing facilities have been with us for some time now and there are a number of different providers.  SKYPE is well known and established in the field, although it has been designed specifically with the personal market in mind.  GoToMeeting is a good example of a more business focussed product in the cloud conferencing world.  There’s a free trial on the system and a range of different options to fit the needs of small, medium or larger businesses.  The basics package allows you to work effectively with colleagues or clients across the globe, while additional packages include one specifically designed to deliver training online, live and interactive.

The majority of cloud software available online comes with a free trial period which will allow you the chance to assess the usability of each system.  For many small businesses using cloud computing solutions will free up not only space on your hard drive but the most essential asset you have – time. From online accounting software to video conferencing the world of cloud computing frees up time for small businesses to grow.

Author Bio
Carlo_PandianCarlo Pandian is a business and technology writer and blogs on entrepreneurialism and latest technologies covering everything from user manuals on QuickBooks Online accounting software to tech driven organisational change. In his free time he likes cooking Asian and Italian food and inviting his friends for dinner.

23 October 2012

The future of motorbikes is electric

Kawasaki KR1-SI normally leave the coverage of all things patent related in the capable hands of my colleague Steve van Dulken and his Patent Search Blog.

However, Steve is not the keen biker I am (nor the owner of the best motorbike ever created). So he is unlikely to have come across this story in the latest issue of Bike Magazine.

It is about a patent for an electric motorbike from Honda in Japan. And I have to admit I struggled to read all 19 pages of the patent application. But my understanding of the innovation, is the use of smaller electric motors located near the rear axle. This avoids the need for a traditional chain to provide motive power from the engine to the rear wheel.

The point of this story is that you can use patents as a form of market research. It is unlikely Honda would go to the trouble of protecting this idea if they weren’t planning to launch an electric motorbike in the near future.

You can read more at the Espacenet website. US Patent: US8028785  (B2) ― 2011-10-04 ELECTRIC MOTORCYCLE or European Patent: EP2168858  (B1) ― 2012-06-06



This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 at 12:08 am and is

16 October 2012

SSSHHH! (The Best-Read Office in the World) – featuring PomeGreat

Last night on Radio 4 Robin Hunt – Reader 170890 gave his very personal take on his ‘office’ The British Library. It was a lovely little programme which gave a real insight into how our readers, or customers as I prefer to call them, feel about my place of work.

Needless to say the producers of the show couldn’t resist using the oldest and lamest library cliché in the world in their title SSSHHH! (The Best-Read Office in the World).

PomeGreat_PurePlus_logo_MINII was pleased to hear that Robin managed to make it across the (academic) divide from Humanities to Sciences and included an interview with one our earliest Success Stories in the Business & IP Centre. Adam Pritchard spent six months researching his PomeGreat business which  first made an appearance on the shelves in 2003, and since then has expanded rapidly.

“Foremost in the minds of its creators was the obsession with creating a great tasting drink, which sounds obvious now, but so many others have made the mistake of assuming people will drink anything if they believe it’s doing them good!

In order to get the taste we wanted, we had to become experts in pomegranates, where to find and harvest them at their best, how to press them to preserve all the goodness in the juice, and how to blend them to create the PomeGreat drinks that so many buy today!

Being able to include PurePlus across our range is just another step in bringing the very finest products to you.”

As always happens in business, success breeds competition, in this case from the supermarket own brands. So Adam has recently re-branded PomeGreat moving it up market and using some creative television advertising.

Adam Pritchard

02 October 2012

Soul Trader – Putting the heart back into your business

Rasheed_OgunlaruRasheed Ogunlaru, life and business coach has been a Business & IP Centre partner since our earliest days. In addition to running the Your life, your business workshop once a month in the Centre and mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs with TieUK, he singlehandedly converted me to the benefits of life coaching.

I have to admit that perhaps due to a scientific background, or perhaps just plain old cynicism, I had always been wary of life coaching. I decided the only way to address this prejudice was to attend Rasheed’s workshop five years ago. After three hours I was entirely convinced by his eminently practical approach, to putting your heart and soul into your business.
So it is great to see his practical philosophy translated from workshop to published book in the form of Soul Trader published by Kogan Page. And having read it through this week,  I would put it at the top of my list of recommended reading for everyone starting (or growing) a business. I am still a big fan of Starting Your Own Business: The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected by David Lester, but Rasheed has addressed the key issue of what you really want to get from starting a business, and to make sure you end up running it, instead of it running you and your life.

Soul_Trader_coverHis introduction sums it up nicely:

Most people do not go into business solely to make money. They want to make a living, make an impact, make a contribution, make a statement, make something of real worth and value. They want to enjoy what they do, and make themselves happy and their families secure and proud. They want to make a break from the humdrum, and express their skill and abilities. But sooner or later many business owners fall into the same old trap, lose sight of what’s important and struggle with life balance.

The book consists of eight C’s made up of seven chapters and a ‘plus’ which focusses on insights to help anticipate and embrace Change.

  1. Clarity: Know your mission, talents and values.
  2. Customers: See life through customers’ eyes to win their custom and loyalty.
  3. Courage:  Unleash your inspiration / wisdom and adopt an athlete’s attitude.
  4. Co-operation: Punch over your weight; collaborate. Use / build your network.
  5. Conversations: Learn the art to connect, converse, create and convert leads.
  6. Creativity: Know when to work, rest and be at your best, (re)gain life balance.
  7. Compassion: Connect from the heart – be transformational not transactional.

Early on Rasheed gets the you to conduct a personal SWOT analysis. Which is an excellent way of discovering what you do well, and what you need to work on or get help with.

heart_and_chairThe book is peppered with examples from his hundreds of clients over the years, and covers a problem I have encountered many times, which he calls the ‘blindness of the visionary’. People become so (understandably) obsessed by their business idea or invention, they completely forget about their customers. This leads to a very expensive and risky approach to market research, where you bring your product or service to the market and then find out if anyone will buy it. Much better to find out as you develop your idea and tailor it to what you customers say they want.

Once again Rasheed gives a practical solution to this problem by showing how to map out your customers. He also explains how to develop a set of customer ‘scenarios’, to help understand the psychology of your customers. He doesn’t shy away from the realities of doing business in the real world as a soul trader. Without sufficient income (and avoiding the number one cause of failure – cash-flow) your business will not survive. Even social enterprises have to generate enough money to pay their staff and to invest in growth if they are to succeed. These are the hard questions that so many avoid tackling in their business plans:

  1. How much money to you need to live on, and to break even in business?
  2. How much money do you seek to make this year, next year and the year after in turnover – before costs and tax – and in your personal profit after cost and tax?
  3. On average how many sales or customer does that equate to per month and year?
  4. What specific action are needed to reach those goals, and what are the challenges?
  5. What evidence, research and assumptions are those figures based on?
  6. Looking again at those figures, what are a) realistic, b) optimistic and c) pessimistic sales figures for the next 12 months, and what would they mean to you and your business?
  7. What are your main products and services? How are they priced? What are all the costs involved? Which are the most lucrative? Which incur the most costs? Which involve the most hard work? Which are most dear to your heart and to your customers?

I have been talking to lots of makers recently such as jewellers, and many haven’t properly come to terms with the issue of wanting to make everything by hand themselves, but also selling enough items to make a living.

Rachel_ElnaughCourage is term one doesn’t  come across often in business books, but Rasheed rightly recognises that this is an essential ingredient in business, and gives practical tips on how you can develop it. I am constantly in awe of the people I meet who are at the beginning of a journey that would terrify me. The book contains an example from ex-Dragon and Business & IP Centre supporter Rachel Elnaugh. Rasheed asked one simple question during an advice session, and at a stroke gave her an insight which revolutionised her life. “I can honestly say that session with Rasheed was like walking through a doorway that has led me into a completely new and completely fulfilling life where success, money and love are all now flowering.”

Cooperation is an undervalued aspect of business, with many people I meet worrying about their competition before they have even started trading. The book talks about the importance of developing business partnerships through cooperation. And again Rasheed gives practical advice on how to grow and then utilize your support networks.

Conversations, which convert contacts into customers replace the ‘hard sell’ for soul traders. After all, no-one wants to be sold to, but everyone wants their opinion to be listened to. This chapter also includes how conversations work via social media channels and what precautions you need to take them online. There a lots of practical examples here, including how to deal with complaints by using, Acknowledge – Reflect back – Say what you can do.

Towards the end of the book Rasheed introduces his two-page business plan. As he says, ‘Business plans are written for two purposes and for two audiences: 1) for you to identify who and where you are, where you’re going and how you’ll get there; and 2) for investors or funders for the same purpose. If you’re seeking funding from others then you’ll need a longer, more detailed business plan…”

To sum up, I found Soul Trader to be clear and simple, friendly and supportive, passionate and soulful – just like Rasheed himself.