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Fuel Poverty.

Hello, it’s been a while. We’re both really busy finalising other projects we are working on, so it may be  some time before we get back to this fully again. However, I saw this tonight ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-15416260 ) and it really bothered me. The question I find myself asking is

“How does adding a customer to a finite, and more and more expensive, fuel source get you out of fuel poverty?”

OK, it may lower the customer’s costs initially but it can’t be THE answer; really?

 

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Environmental, News

 

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Business Theory, but not much

Just when you think you’re starting to learn something, something just around the corner that takes you down a peg or two.  Business management theory is the humbling topic this week and if truth be told, most of it isn’t worth the paper or brain cells they’re printed on.  But it just so happens that I have just had the pleasure of writing a bit of research in the form of a literature review on business framworks, so I thought I should explain some of the jargon.

First off, a business framework is something that describes an over-arching structure, comprised of models and strategies that piece together a complete picture of how a business is managed- how it competes, delivers its products or services and organises its workforce.  I am very skeptical about the existence of these, as it seems many organisations refer to their ‘business framework’, whereas none physically exist.  “Sorry that does not work well with our business framework” is a bit like a bald chap saying “Sorry, I’ll be washing my hair, maybe some other time.”   If you’re interested in more tangible frameworks, with an IT twist, have a look at Enterprise Architectures or Technology Roadmapping, which can help to organise your company, and even assist some decision making processes. These can be as detailed as you like, but particularly to larger, complex organsiations.

Business policy = the ‘whats’ of running your company.

Business strategy = the ‘hows’ of running your company

Briefly, the former is a personal approach to your business and the latter the method for carrying out the goals.

Business models are ways in which policy and strategy can be realised, visualised, implemented.

And that’s it, they are illustrated using pretty diagrams that represent their purpose, often to do with reflecting on process, improving quality or delivering customer satisfaction. Common examples are SWOT analysis, PDSA cycle and Porter’s Five Forces. (ten Have, ten Have and Stevens’ ‘Key Managemement Models‘ is a great book for an overview on this lot.)

You may be glad to hear that a business plan remains to be the most important document a startup must produce, as it aims to arrange you goals and outline your market, most commonly for the purposes of raising finances.  However, like a good cover letter for a job application, these should be tailored for your intended audience.  Luckily there is also help at hand for advice on writing a good BP. We were well advised to use HSBC’s BP template, Business Link also have a version, and ‘the Business Plan Workbook‘ by Barrow, Barrow and Brown is well worth a read on the matter.

As I said, this is a brief overview of an ongoing, steep learning curve.  A lot of this ‘theory’ (especially business models) seems like common sense and unnecessary for small and startup businesses.  Moreover, a large amount of models or frameworks are commercial products themselves, often produced as software.  However, if you’re ever stuck in a rut and need to get your business idea across, its highly likely that someone out there has the model or clipart equivalent for you to help get the idea across!

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2011 in General Info

 

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Business Link sheds its skin

This has no relation to the post, but isn't it great?

If you live in the UK, its highly likely that you’ve heard of Business Link.  If you are setting up a Business you may also be slightly weary of being directed to their website, instead of being given actual advice by the people you have asked for help (apologies Lord Sugar, but I really hoped for more from you).

It is in fact, very useful.  After setting up a profile and account you can search through a database of advisers, organisations and sources of funding or grants.  In the relatively small market that we hope to operate in, a quick search produced 96 results, and we are now the proud owners of a document that contains 44 potential contacts who could aid us in our endeavours, many of whom are specific to the North East.  Doubtless, a chat with a Business Link employee could narrow it down further.  Setting up a profile here was quite appealing, ‘officialising’ your business startup with some links to Companies house for registering the business.

But here’s the catch- Business Link will soon be shelved.  Oh.  News and details are a bit sketchy but lets see if we can clear things up a bit:

  • Business Link is (was) part of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs).
  • These have been shelved, but some kind of joint government/ private web advice/ networking service will emerge with…
  • Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), in our case ‘North Eastern’.

Why?  ‘”The regional Business Links have spent too much time signposting and not enough time actually advising”‘ and ‘To replace the current Business Link service, Mark Prisk proposes a two-pronged approach, led by a state-funded online service and the private sector.’ (Prisk is the Business and Enterprise minister, by the way).  See the full story at Real Business here.

So what?  Exactly, but it will obviously affect the allocation of funding and grants.  Details of these quantities are as rare as rocking horse-sh#t: rare and wobbly!  hence, the only thing for it is to make note of the new website and contacts when one becomes the other, as it seems they are just exchanging one service for another.  Or am I missing something?  Either way, this will be very familiar to many setting up a business- there is a lot of re-directing rather than actual direction.  Useful all the same and prepares you for the fact that if you want something done- like setting up your own business, for instance- there are plenty of organisations out there who offer you advice etc, but if you want anything tangible- you really are going to have do it yourself!

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2011 in General Info, Startup

 

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Wind turbines taking a hammering

…And it’s not just due to the blustery weather that’s battering the island.  Yet again, it seems that its back in fashion to dislike the blighters and I can’t help but feel a little sorry for them!

Wind power, particularly the big farm kind, have always had their doubters, but mainly due to their aesthetic displeasure.  Over the last few weeks we’ve been hearing about the Scottish wind farms that have been paid (handsomely) to shut them down for producing power at the wrong time; plans for more offshore farms have been heaved overboard; and a  Sunday Times article by Sylvia Plath (the former poet laureate Ted Hughes’ daughter) having a good rant about them.  But is it just me or is this abuse and skepticism is now getting a bit tiresome?  Some years ago when this technology was in its infancy (and I’m not thinking of the middle ages and windmills here) there was many concerns about their appearance and practicalities.  We have all hoped that something better, cheaper and more consistent would have come along by now, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.  In some ways, I think public attitudes are beginning to homogenise – we realise that things need to be done fast, but expect a one-size-fits-all solution.  So how come all our power plants aren’t all the same?  Any one particular solution was deemed most suitable, for that time, that location and in those circumstances. Similarly, why don’t all 2.4 families drive that type of car, while every male yuppie drives one of those?  For exactly the same reason as above, but with an extra side of personal taste thrown in for good measure!  Or is it because the Ford Focus was slightly cheaper?  Or that tax was less over its lifetime?

As with most renewable technologies, it is all a matter simply of good specification – the right kit for the correct location.  The former article in question takes on their abysmal inefficiencies and quite rightly concludes that if this were a car then nobody would buy it.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but efficiency is generally calculated by comparing the input versus the output and are different to any engine, process or whatever else it is measuring – like benchmarking.  So comparing a car’s efficiency to a wind turbine’s is just a silly and pointless journalists’ trick.  But more to the point, I would like to know who actually believes they can use weather forecasts to predict what efficiencies might be possible – this is the engineering equivalent of guessing the outcome of the Eurovision song contest based on musical ability!

Disregarding the massive issue of their visual impact, if these machines overcame their embodied energy and actually produce some ‘free’ energy, isn’t this enough? Should we not be happy that we are creating something from (almost) nothing?  And if time is a major concern, we do already know how to put them together…

So a problem seems to be the variety of people’s expectations from renewables, but more worryingly, the amount of ill-advised schemes that have cropped up over the last few years that take advantage of some poor governmental policies eg FITs.  My personal view is that their application is not quite right.  After all, we never seem to get generous blowing gales that coincide with advert breaks during Coronation Street do we?  Hence, we need combinations for this to work, aside from resorting to masses of batteries. Water tanks, usually associated with the Australian Outback, for instance, use wind turbines to drive a pump to keep a tank of water full in order to keep a fairly steady supply of water pressure for other uses.  Or a hybrid gas-wind turbine that can go on producing power.

On the other, greener side of the argument, it is heartbreaking to see many people opting for renewables in order to reduce their environmental footprint.  They may make a bit of money along the way, but I’ll bet my last rolo that the local power station won’t be turning down their output a single notch, based on Mr and Mrs Green’s wind turbine, or indeed if 100 or 10000 such houses did the same.  At present, power stations base their consumption on estimating demand and even taking into account such additional, generated power put into the grid; it cannot be relied upon due to the unreliability of climates.  And still, our overall ‘consumption’ is increasing every day.  It’s quite a well-known fact that power companies look through radio times to predict peak times, so how about last fortnight, when a certain European crooning contest goes on air and all those people who said they would not be watching, did, in fact, watch?

As you can tell, I’m in two minds about many renewables, but particularly those that take advantage of the wind.  On one hand, they provide free ongoing energy.  I admire their grace and gadgetry.  On the other, they are the modern embodiment of a money tree, paid for by ill-informed, ill-advised wannabe do-gooders that are spoiling it for everyone else!

 
 

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The Name Game

Image courtesy of Businesspundit.com

So this business of naming your, ahem, business is turning out to be a damn difficult one…  We came up with a business name quite a while back as a bit of a stop-gap, but the result has since really grown on us.  Regardless, any startup ultimately reaches a milestone when a name needs to be set in concrete, facing tasks like registering the business, finalising a Business Plan and purchasing of domain names.  Sure, things can be changed later, but we would quite like to get this right, first time.  Hence, we’ve gone back to the drawing board over the last few days (just to make sure!) and resorted to some of that external-cube-thought-process.  Frustratingly, it seems others have had a much easier path- plenty of tales of that ‘Eureka’ moment.  (Have a look here for business name etymologies).

Somewhere out there are specialists who can do this for you, but aside from say Richard Branson’s prodigal son, there aren’t many startups with the cash to spend £20K plus on a superfluous service.  Ok so it may be money well spent, but this seems as personal a choice as naming a child, thus we’re not that keen on passing the proverbial buck.

Research on this is about as clear as mud.  There is some useful advice on this, but we found that a lot of fundamental questions go unanswered- should a business name make it obvious of what the product/ service is?  Or can you rely on a tagline, even in this day and age?  Should a name be more ‘descriptive‘ (think ‘Wok this Way’)?  Or noun-y/ nonsense (or ‘Wagamama’)?  We’ve come up with a nifty logo thats quite explanatory- can this be relied on to get the message across?  What exactly is the purpose of the business’ name? (identification, distinguish or convey a message?)  With these questions rattling around in the back or our minds, some snippets of wisdom helped:

  1. write a list of words that you want people to think of when they hear the name (eg. ‘fresh’, ‘unique’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘trustworthy’).
  2. write a list of words you like (my personal favourites- ‘gazebo’, ‘crafty’, ‘plonker’, ‘lemons’).
  3. have a brief glance at other business names you like in (a) your area and (b) all industries.
  4. Brainstorm, or mess about with all of the above, like putting scrabble tiles in a blender!

There are many tried and tested solutions- architects, engineers and law firms like to display a sense of trust, authority (and erm, vanity?) using a combo of second names or abbreviations.  Another thing to point out is that luckily, securing ‘yourname.com’ domain is no longer a huge issue, as much of your traffic will come via a search engine or direct link.  (The issue of .com, .co.uk, .org, .eu is a different- watch this space for when we cross that particular bridge).  If you have the inclination, one method I was swaying towards was setting up a Facebook group containing a description of your business and the lists mentioned above, inviting some of your friends for some help?

You’ll be aware that there is an unbearable amount of jargon and strange marketing rhetoric in every industry, so if you can find a name that can stand out from the others and give at least a little hint of what you so is sure to be a good combo.  That way- you’ll like it, investors will notice it and customers/ clients will respond to it.

So as it turns out, we’ve decided to stick to our guns and keep our ‘conceptual’ name, unless I can convince Allan that ‘Crafty Lemons, Inc’ is a real winner.

Update: here’s another interesting site with some useful advice.

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2011 in General Info, Startup

 

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Radio 4 tunes into green energy devices

Just a short post to let you know of a Radio 4 program that has been running since yesterday on the ‘You and Yours’ program at midday-ish…  The ‘Energy Series’ will feature two more programs and has been well worth a listen so far.  Wed’s show featured Photovoltaics and dispelled some myths about both their economic benefits and environmental credentials.

Follow this link for Wednesday’s program or the BBC Radio 4 You and Your’s pages for repeats of their shows.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in General Info, News

 

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EPCs and behaviour!

Hello there,

Just a quickie from me and I’m cheating. However, I’ve just read this excellent post regarding EPCs and the realities that a lot of people seem to be finding.

http://greenlivingblog.org.uk/2011/04/27/epcs-a-long-road-ahead/

Enjoy, Allan

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in Business, Environmental, Legislation

 

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