Spotting ‘Scalability’ – And How to Avoid The Elephant Trap of A Lifestyle Business

Spotting ‘Scalability’ – And How to Avoid The Elephant Trap of A Lifestyle Business

If you’ve watched the TV programme ‘Dragons’ Den’, you’ll know that scalability is an important factor when it comes to investing in a business.   Scalability is all about having a business that delivers future rewards exponentially as a result of the time and money invested. Without it, a business is going nowhere – and yet, many would-be entrepreneurs don’t stop to think how many years may be wasted in chasing a dream that will always be just that. So, can scalability be achieved against all the odds? Or does there have to be an almost pre-ordained likelihood that it’s there from the start? And if scalability can be achieved when a fledgling business doesn’t appear to ‘have it’, what are the tools an entrepreneur can use? The tired aphorism (and back-handed compliment) that Britain is ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ must stem in part from the realisation that so many people who achieve their dream of being self-employed are, in reality, setting up a ‘lifestyle business’. Some would say that these aren’t ‘real’ businesses. If you can’t employ a dozen or so people in the first couple of years, you’ve probably got a lifestyle business on your hands that will never grow to the heights you dreamed of when you first set out on your glorious venture. Dream On  What are the pointers to look out for when you’re first starting out? Or when you may be tempted to go into partnership with someone? Or even become a business investor, Dragons’ Den-style?! We’ve all heard of ‘economies of scale’. Applying the concept in real life does in fact have some... Read more...

Debt – The Silent Assassin

  “History is splattered with the broken dreams of debtors.  Debt kills hope, invites despair, anxiety and ongoing hardship.  Silently.”    The Victorians punished debt.  Today, debt is a way of life for millions.  It’s well hidden – but scratch the surface and see what you get… Debt isn’t always about greed, or naïveté – or even crass stupidity.  It can be about misfortune, ill health, bad luck, bad timing – call them ‘hard luck stories’ if you will. Debt shatters lives.  In the old days, harsh punishments were meted out, in part to humiliate, but also to deter others who may have had the temerity to dice with the dangers of LSD (pound, shillings and pence, that is). Debt Is Punishing Anyone who’s been in serious debt will know that the anxieties and animosities it generates are punishment enough in themselves.  In today’s world, loan sharks take no prisoners; payday loan companies (until the Financial Conduct Authority stepped in recently) added insult to injury by compounding the interest on small debts to unmanageable levels; whilst credit card companies and their ilk have an awesome array of legal options to make a ‘pinned-out rat’ of anyone who transgresses. In the old days, people like Oscar Wilde were thrown into debtors’ prison.  Others, for a variety of reasons, ended up in the workhouse, grim Victorian institutions that gave fulsome meaning to having to ‘sing for your supper’. Members of today’s ‘Benefit Street’ underclass don’t know they’re born.  State beneficence – misguided or not – ensures that the original ‘safety net’ of the ‘cradle-to-grave’ Welfare State and the post-war Bevan era... Read more...
Financial Copywriter Wanted – Experience Preferred

Financial Copywriter Wanted – Experience Preferred

Copywriters are called upon to write about many things.  For the most part, their political and socio-economic views are of no consequence.  Products and services don’t usually come with a health or wealth warning.  For copywriters with more acute sensibilities, however, there are certain ‘no-go’ areas where ethics enter the fray.  Think: cigarettes, alcohol, defence products and, yes, political parties (to name just a few). An area which may appear unexpectedly on the list of certain copywriters would be financial products and services.  In case this surprises, maybe we should revert to the demise of Lehman Brothers, the run on Northern Rock, the PPI scandal, and manipulation of the ‘Inter-bank Rate’ (AKA ‘Libor’).  Forget, if you will, the scourge of ‘Payday Loans’, the controversy surrounding the Co-Op Bank, or even the continuing trend for bankers’ bonuses to exceed most people’s ‘norms’. If you’re a copywriter who’s been briefed to come up with the goods for a website (let’s say), for a brochure, press or TV ad – how far will the influences of the outside world colour what you write?  Copywriters, of course, are expected to be impartial, but financial matters are so much part of the warp and weft of our Capitalist society, it’s difficult to be totally objective.  Somewhere along the line, even a diehard copywriter runs the risk of being influenced by their own political, economic and social leanings! A Human, Financial Face Despite what some people may think, copywriters are only human.  OK, they set out to persuade targeted consumers to behave outrageously when it comes to spending their money, but that can be explained... Read more...
The UK Is Still A Bloated Credit Junkie

The UK Is Still A Bloated Credit Junkie

I’m fascinated by debt – or ‘credit’ as it’s known in polite circles. The UK has an eye-watering National Debt of almost £1.5 TRILLION (and rising). To mere mortals, ‘debt’ is a four-letter word – something to be eschewed on pain of the workhouse or some equally grizzly fate. There’s a whole industry in the UK that focuses on debt collection – lawyers, bailiffs and professional debt collectors who go by a number of rather fanciful ‘noms de guerre’. At odds with this is the reality that, in business (and in the governmental fiscal arena), it’s debt that makes the world go round. Providing you have the means to service your dirty little secret – or assets you can use as ‘security’ – no-one will bat an eye-lid. After all, financing corporate and personal debt is a nice little earner for those in the money business. Just look at the financial ‘products’ they have at their disposal – leasing, asset and invoice finance, second mortgages… the list is endless. When the most recent credit bubble burst in 2007-8, everyone blamed everyone else and the global financial village for the crisis. The reality is, however, we’re all hooked on credit (or debt). So is it only a matter of time before new crises raise their heads? Playing Politics In the UK, consumer debt is currently being fueled by cheap mortgages – courtesy of government vote-winning schemes and supported by low interest rates, courtesy of the Bank of England. Employment is being bought by government investment in white elephant capital projects such as the HS2 rail folly. And business continues to... Read more...

A Brief History of the Co-Op – Good With Food, Not-So-Good With Money

It’s been 20 years since I worked for the Co-Op.  Or, to be more precise, the Co-Operative Wholesale Society (CWS).  It was gratifying over those years to see the metamorphosis of the business from being a rather quaint, historic organisation that championed ‘caring, sharing’ co-operative values into a dynamic multi-faceted force on the High Street.   It grieves me now to see how far the Group has fallen in the past few years as what can only be described as a ‘casualty of recession’.  The catalyst for this must surely have been its venture into so-called ‘casino banking’ activities.  Until recently, the Co-Operative Bank was a beacon of ‘ethical’ values – and, my goodness, didn’t the banking industry need those! The Co-Operative’s retailing arm appeared to be doing well in the competitive supermarket snake-pit.  Its slogan, ‘Good With Food’, seemed to be glowingly appropriate.  This was all undone by the apparent lack of management control at the heart of its corporate governance, as evidenced by the media exposure of its former Chairman, the Reverend Paul Flowers.     Winning Days…  My involvement with the Co-Op was as a freelance copywriter who worked on various projects in the 1990s.  Memorable among these was a commission to write the CWS entry for a prestigious national food industry challenge where all the big High Street supermarket names were in the frame.  To my pleasant surprise – at a black-tie dinner at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel and hosted by TV personality Sue Lawley – the Co-Op’s entry won second place. Preparing their written submission involved me being shown round the various parts of the Group’s... Read more...

Wannabe A Great Financial Copywriter?

This has to be the hypothetical question of the year – and it’s still only January as I write! Can you name even ONE ‘big’ financial copywriter? Even more to the point – most people would struggle to come up with more than a couple of copywriters who are specialists in the financial field. Financial copywriting is a fairly esoteric pastime. To be esteemed by your peers would give you little more than a footnote in the copywriters’ history of the 21st century. You’d be akin to a 12th century monk, transcribing the ancient gospels for posterity. And yet financial affairs rule the world – and they probably always did. The difference is that today we have ‘financial services’. And these have to be marketed, the better to make a fat profit. In that respect, financial copywriting is no different to any other present-day commercial activity. It is of course an essential link in the selling process. On a global scale, that means there are plenty of people involved in writing financial copy for financial gain. So why shouldn’t there be some kind of hierarchy in this obscure skill? Is it because ‘financial copywriting’ is an umbrella term that takes in the whole gamut of marketing tools from websites to sales letters to social media and advertising? The circle is particularly hard to square because the financial world is like no other. It requires a certain ‘insider knowledge’ of economics, the mechanics of business and how money makes the world go round. Try to compare finance with any other sector – retail, automotive, recruitment, property and so on –... Read more...