Notices and Signages – More than meets the eye

A beautiful name board with logo on the façade of a store, a restaurant or even an office is the first to catch an eye and make an impression. The décor, the smiling staff comes next. They all go on to imprint a certain image about the business in one’s mind. But another rather undermined communication that does its bit not just in imparting information but in building the image of a quality conscious and customer-centric business is – Notices and Signages.

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Image Courtesy- Google Images

These are simple boards with directions, instructions and useful information. More often than not, we don’t take much note of these unassuming boards. However, if one were to give it a second thought one would realize that their presence actually makes a lot of things easier and convenient.

 

Think about the time when we want to find an address in the city. We end up asking the paanwala, rickshawwala, sometimes even the traffic police. Now albeit with the use of internet applications it is much easier to find places, our streets and chowks do not have sufficient direction boards to guide a tourist. But in developed countries every road, highway, airports and public places have prominently placed direction boards with clear symbols and words that makes it delightfully easy for a stranger to find the way!

Similarly, instructions in the business place makes life easy for a consumer/ visitor.

Such communication also takes the form of product manuals, Specials’ Board in restaurants or even the menu card! While designing any of these communications, one must keep in mind that it must be simple, polite and clear to understand by a lay person. A very common but effective example is that of “No Smoking”. We often find such notice – “Thank You For Not Smoking”, which makes it sound much more polite and compelling at the same time. Humour is often an effective way to convey short instructions as humour prevents it from sounding stern.

blog-1-pic-decThe handbook or Manual that comes with products, especially electronic or gadgets, is an important communication that helps the customer use and maintain the product effectively. Unfortunately, we usually ignore it and end up without using majority of the features.

Instructional and informational communication answers questions before they even arise in the customer’s mind and thus creates a positive impression in their mind.

It helps the consumer to use the product to its fullest and also take care of it. It also brings in complete transparency which goes on to reflect the integrity of business. All in all, notices, signages, manuals, menu cards and such communication serves a much wider purpose than just passing on information. It speaks a lot about your business and a wise, creative use of it augurs well for its sustained growth.

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Quality – Maintenance leads to sustenance

It is clear that consistency in quality is essential for sustainability in business. As competition becomes fierce, every enterprise has to roll up their sleeves and strive to stay in the fray. Good quality, customer focus and adaptability are the important factors that help a business for a long haul. To achieve this, it is important to keep all the resources running effectively and efficiently. Regular maintenance, mundane as it may sound, is an indispensable part of doing this.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

A consultant had to travel to Belgaum on business. He hired a car and driver and informed him about the day and time of travel. The car picked him up as scheduled. However, as they proceeded, the passenger realized that the seatbelt would not clasp and there was a lot of disturbance in the CD player. As the car traversed a mucky road in the rain, the driver had to drive very slowly because the tyres were worn down. He admitted that they had not been changed for a long time.  The customer was very dissatisfied with the whole experience. He conveyed it to the owner of the rental service but he did not take it seriously. A few months later when they casually met the latter was complaining about the business not running too well and the customer knew all too well why!

This is but one example. We all get these experiences several times. Think about the stained tablecloths in restaurants, broken faucets in hotel washrooms, broken down lifts in office complexes, out of order traffic signals and stores that have run out of products that they have advertised! Lack of regular stocking, maintenance, repair, cleaning, refilling, checking, all lead to a very disappointing product or service experience. Such lapses can be the cause of complete failure of businesses unless mended in time. There are also enterprises, who take efforts to rectify these lacunae and lay a lot of emphasis on maintenance and are able to bring back business on even keel.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

The interesting thing is that often an outwardly attractive thing ends up proving to be dysfunctional and sometimes an overtly dull and unassuming thing may actually surprise with quality deliverance.

Both inward and outward readiness matter in business. There must be congruence in ‘What Seems’ and ‘What Is’. The outward appearance is a promise that attracts customers. The actual experience is what gratifies the customer and keeps him bonded with the enterprise.

In short, quality is not a one-time thing. It is a constant and consistent process for which maintenance is the key. Maintenance of resources leads to sustenance in business.

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is the Director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

This article was originally written in the Marathi Magazine- Yashaswi Udyojak (August 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article.

 

Financial Succor to Nomadic Tribes

The Government of Maharashtra takes special efforts to extend support to the financially deprived classes of the society. The simple logic is, that the desire for prosperity has no regard to castes and social class and that anybody who nurtures the spirit of entrepreneurship deserves to be encouraged to start their own business. The Government has therefore established several organizations and designed financial schemes to reach aid to aspiring businessmen from these strata.

Vasantrao Naik Vimukt Jaati va Bhatkya Jamaati Mahamandal Maryadit is an organization that works for the benefit of nomadic tribes. The sole intention is to help the members of this class have permanent homes and economic stability. It aims to put a stop to their nomadic lifestyle by helping them generate self employment so that they have a stable means of livelihood, their children can go to school and the family can prosper.

The Mahamandal was established in 1984 and operates from Mumbai. It has local offices in all the districts in Maharashtra.  Under its first scheme, it extends seed capital up to Rs. 5 lacs with 75% being loan by the bank and 25% by the Mahamandal. The Mahamandal charges 4% annual interest rate.

Some of the important points are:

  • The beneficiary must repay the loan in five years.
  • Under another scheme the Mahamandal gives Rs. 25000 loan at 2% interest.
  • The beneficiary also gets technical training and guidance in the business he or she wants to starts.
  • The candidate must be a resident of Maharashtra and between 18 to 45 years of age.
  • The annual income must not exceed Rs. 54494/- if he or she lives in the urban area and Rs. 39308/- if from rural area.
  • Beneficiary must not have taken any other loan.
  • Only one person from a family can avail of this scheme.
  • The beneficiary must submit proof of caste and income, a statement of details of business, Ration Card, Photographs, certificate of technical qualification if any and other documents.
  • Beneficiary must utilize the money for the purpose mentioned in application

Author: Anil Pathak

The author is a Senior Mentor at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

This article was originally written in the Marathi Magazine- Yashaswi Udyojak (January 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article

 

The best service at the right price!

Consistent success relies on consistency in the quality of service. It’s not desirous but rather essential for a long haul in business. As mentioned earlier, it is to do with integrity and common sense which applies in personal life and extends to professional life. Just as one would expect another person to keep their word and be sincere in their actions, so would the customer expect a business to give good quality service and be courteous and thoughtful about the customer’s needs. Once this is understood perfectly, it becomes the ethos of business and stands in good stead forever through its future journey.

Quality is important not in one or some of the business practices but in every product, service and interaction with the customer. A shortfall or lacuna in even one could prove detrimental to the image of the business. Just as a school student’s exam score comes down because of bad performance in even one subject, so can a company’s business get affected because of negligence on any front.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

Remember, past glory never helps in erasing the flaw that shows at any given point in time. Even if a student scores well in 5th, 6th and 7th grade, if she fails in the 8th, her past years’ performance does not help her. Another example is that of a driver. Even if you are a very cautious and skilled driver, one single mistake can cause an accident and cost you heavily. Your previous record cannot negate the damage done.

Very often consumers do not mind spending a little more just because they are getting superior service. Nowadays people don’t just look at the product they buy but also the demeanor of the salesman, the welcome they get at the door, how quickly their billing gets done, how the item is packed and many other things. It is the overall experience that lingers long in the mind of the customer.

In today’s cut throat competition, the customer has several options to choose from which is why businesses vie to give them the best service. Companies who procure products from suppliers base their decisions on timely delivery, quality of the product, after sales maintenance, turnaround time if changes are asked for and many other factors.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

Customers don’t just look at the product they buy at the mall but even the delay in billing as they stand in a long queue can make them stop patronizing the mall and go to another shop instead!

Quality in service builds with time as customers experience the service. A new business must therefore enter the market with ‘lower than competitor’s’ prices. This will first attract customers. Later as they also experience the interaction, courtesy and quality of service, the brand gets a well-deserved lift. Reasonable prices and the best service therefore become a sure shot gateway to successful business.

Author: S.R. Joshi

The author is the Director at deAsra Foundation. deAsra Foundation is a Section 25 company, a not for profit association formed to contribute to social welfare by enabling entrepreneurship, which will create employment opportunities.

This article was originally written in the Marathi Magazine- Yashaswi Udyojak (January 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article

 

Cooking up a small food business? Read these tips to get a head start.

According to statistics, 9 out of 10 start-ups fall by the wayside. This figure may paint a grim picture, but rather than getting discouraged, budding entrepreneurs should take heart, because 1 start-up out of every 10 does manage to tick all the right boxes, and that start-up can be you. In this article, the business mentors at deAsra have put together a few challenges commonly faced by small-scale food businesses, along with tips to help you sail over these speed bumps smoothly.

But first, what qualifies as a micro/small-scale business?

A mess service, a home-made ladoo business, or even a food packaging and reselling outlet can fall under the category of a small business, as long as the capital investment in machinery does not exceed 5 crores, (for businesses in the manufacturing sector) and is up to 2 crores (for businesses in the service industry) If your investment in machinery is up to 25 lakhs (manufacturing sector) and up to 10 lakhs (service sector), your business will be classified as a micro enterprise. In this case, revenue generated does not bear much weight – For example, a vada-pav vendor could be selling 1000+ vada pavs a day from his cart, yet, his business is still classified as a small business.

Partnership, Proprietorship, or Private Limited? Depends on the need.
Another question often raised deals with registrations – what kind of company registration should start-up founders and co-founders opt for? According to deAsra mentors, it depends on the need. For example, when you’re at the cusp of transforming your chakli-making hobby into a full-fledged business, you may start off with a proprietorship registration, and later, as the business scales, convert it into a private limited, in order to run it in more professional way.as well as to take advantage of tax benefits.

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Source: Google Images

Get your licenses right before anything else.

Before you get your business in place, it is essential to get your licenses in order. Miss this step, and fines or penalties could be staring you in the face.

For any business, however small, FSSAI registration and the Shop Act registration are compulsory. Manufacturers, distributors, retail traders and stockists also need to get licenses if their business turnover exceeds 12 lakhs.
A variety of legal formalities too are applicable on the different kinds of company registration. For example, partnership businesses call for partnership deeds and registration thereof, and private limited companies need to get registered at the Registrar of Companies (ROC).

Funding is more accessible than most people think.

Since Pune (and the surrounding region up to a radius of 40 kms) is classified as a developed zone, certain government subsidies do not apply to businesses here. However, to give women entrepreneurs a leg-up, the government has launched many organisations, like the Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal, which offers loans at beneficial interest rates.

The big F word in the start-up scene – funding – is not out of reach anymore – especially if your business is commercially viable, enjoys a continuous stream of revenue and you can raise up to 25% of the margin demand by the bank. And even if that margin is beyond your scope, organisations like deAsra connect you to banks and financial institutions who can give your business some amount of runway.

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Image Courtesy: Quora

Research before you figure out your pricing sweet spot.

“How should I price my products/services?” is one of the foremost challenges every entrepreneur faces. Low prices can undercut competition, but can also make your business unviable, while high prices will put you out of the running completely.

 

To tackle pricing, deAsra mentors help the business owners undertake a thorough audit where they assess the financial viability of a business, and estimate various fixed and variable costs, including raw materials, equipments, electricity, packing material, etc.
They also encourage entrepreneurs to carry out extensive competitor studies, observe the rates in the surrounding localities for the same product/service, and then work on the pricing model.
The USP of your business and its competitive edge can also affect pricing.

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Source: Google Images

Marketing matters.

A preference for a brand can only be born when there is awareness of that brand’s existence. To get customers beating a path to your shop, deAsra mentors recommend converting your current brand champions into marketers for your business, since referrals, according to them, work the best. Roping in relatives and friends who swear by your delicacies and spreading the news through them is a good way to get one foot in the door.
A few other marketing tactics which can get you off to a good start include distributing food samples and leaflets in your area of operation, distributing products through retail outlets and offering incentives/discounts, especially to referred customers.
Keeping in touch with customers through Whatsapp and email marketing channels; and closely monitoring people’s preferences is also crucial. For example, people are becoming increasingly health-conscious, so incorporating that aspect into your product (think ‘diet chiwda’) could help boost sales.
For a vada pav seller, a simple change in the presentation of his product – and a switch from a wooden cart to a swanky mobile van – did wonders for his business.

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Source: Google Images

Watch out for these hurdles.

As an entrepreneur, it’s ok to make mistakes; in fact mistakes are the stepping stones to success. But learning from those mistakes, and more importantly, learning from other people’s mistakes, can take you a long way ahead in the entrepreneurial journey.

For example, many food businesses end up buying wholesale quantities and building unwanted inventory, which leads to revenue drain. Also, home-grown businesses borrow money from chit funds or micro-finance institutions, which lands them with higher rates of interest. Instead, opt for banks and reputed financial institutions, suggest deAsra mentors. For food businesses, maintaining consistency in quality and taste is also a major problem area. This can be solved by strictly adhering to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Raw materials need to be tested too, which is not widely practised in India. For example, there are more than 20 kinds of potatoes produced in our country, so a vada pav seller has to test all varieties and find out which works best for his vadas.
Keeping tabs on the shelf life of products is equally crucial; maintaining a batch-wise record of products can prove to be helpful in this case. Apart from this, maintaining a proper book of records is essential and comes in handy when you need to recover pending payment dues.

The food business is beset with labour problems – how does one handle that?

According to deAsra mentors, most business owners forget that their labourers too, at the end of the day, are customers, and should be treated with dignity and respect. At deAsra, business owners are introduced to HR management techniques, which help bridge the gap of discord between labourers and owners, while building loyalty and reducing attrition.

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Source: Google Images

Finally, don’t give up too soon, and don’t pass up expert help.

Any food business generally takes a year to pick up pace, and that’s if the quality is top-notch and the right marketing strategies and SOPs are followed to a T. What’s the advice of deAsra mentors to budding entrepreneurs? ‘Don’t give up on your business too soon, but more importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for expert help. Help can move you forward, fast.’

deAsra partners with mentors, business experts and other complementary organisations and financial institutions to help entrepreneurs build a successful food business from the ground-up. Need help with your food business? Give us a call at +91 20 65365300 / 11.

To know how we helped other food businesses take off, read our impact stories here.

 

deAsra Foundation- Gaining Momentum

To us, every entrepreneur who joins the deAsra family is special. But, of course, our group of 53 ‘enabled’ entrepreneurs is extra special! These are the entrepreneurs who, to date, deAsra has helped set up business. They are mainly first generation entrepreneurs, and are, by and large, salaried professionals. All the more reason to salute their decision and celebrate their ‘businesspeople’ status.

deAsra Foundation is happy to announce that, in less than 16 months of its launch, we have successfully helped enable 53 entrepreneurs. This is a success worth celebrating, simply because these entrepreneurs are going to be tomorrow’s employers and contribute to the economy of our country.

These 53 enabled entrepreneurs have started businesses in categories ranging from baking and travel to beauty salons, spice making and more. This diversity amply demonstrates deAsra’s preparedness to guide varied kinds of businesses. Guidance in every aspect of the business was provided to entrepreneurs, whether it was finance or marketing or licences. What’s more, deAsra doesn’t just provide planning or executional help, but also the confidence building and morale boosting that every budding entrepreneur needs. Our motivation builds the entrepreneur’s confidence to achieve great heights.

What is creditable on the part of these entrepreneurs is the willingness to take the plunge, go for calculated risks and march ahead to achieve a dream. Today, the deAsra Foundation team is busy and working hard to help more such entrepreneurs to launch, set up, start, run and grow their businesses. We help not only budding entrepreneurs, but also existing business owners who wish to diversify or grow their business. It’s been a great partnership so far – one that has great strategies, plans, understanding, patience, empathy, attitude and a lot of action.

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Team deAsra- Guiding Entrepreneurs

Our Mission is to help enable 25,000 entrepreneurs by Year 2020. We have no doubts that we will achieve our target.

If you have a business idea, do drop us a mail on team@deasra.co.in or call us on 020 65365300/11

7 Life Skills an Entrepreneur Should Learn

It takes more than just technical and business proficiency for an entrepreneur to succeed- it takes particular life skills.  These are abilities that extend farther than the normal primary layer of expertise and are critical in order to maintain proper business relations and function.  Success in the business world goes beyond intellect and embraces emotional qualities and other life skills.

Let’s look at what these are:

  1. Keeping Calm and Braving the Storm
  2. It’s More than Just Please, Thank You, and Sorry
  3. Negotiation- and why it’s Non-Negotiable
  4. Ask – Don’t be shy
  5. Courtesy and politeness
  6. Maintaining a Positive attitude
  7. Playing to Your Teams Strenghts
  1. Keeping Calm and Braving the Storm

This area is generally the most volatile.  Most people can agree that they have trouble keeping calm and sometimes lose their temper in times of crisis.  Crisis is known to bring out the devil in us.

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Source: Google Images

This is why you, as an entrepreneur, should practice keeping calm and braving the storm, rather than letting the crisis (and your temper) get the best of you.  Easier said than done, right?  Meditation is an advisable technique that comes highly recommended by many entrepreneurs.  Remember, when walking the path of an entrepreneur, you are bound to encounter a few storms along the way.  For example, Maggi Noodles have forever been a consumer giant and fan favourite- but did encounter some dangerous storms and scandals.  However, the Maggi Corporation braved the storm and are once again favourite!

 

  1. It’s More than Just Please, Thank You, and Sorry

There are words that work wonders on you, the other party and the situation and these words go beyond the usual and default ‘Please’, ‘Thank You’ and ‘Sorry’. As is the case, many people and cultures shy away from using even these, but these are a must. And so are the others. Such as, giving positive strokes and appreciating things that you genuinely like about others and their work – may it be your team, partners or competitors even. In emails, try to be courteous and always use a salutation.  Do not forget to say ‘Hi’ ‘Hello’, ‘Dear’. Check who you are talking to and accordingly customize your salutation. Not using a salutation is a strict no-no. Your tone of voice speaks mountains, so always use a polite and courteous tone whether you are talking on the phone or writing an email or message. And yes, avoid texting-lingo in formal communication.  Keep your LOL and TTYL out of the message, even if it takes extra time to type the message.

  1. Negotiation- and why it’s Non-Negotiable

As an entrepreneur, Negotiation is a skill you need to master. It is not a difficult skill to master. When negotiating it is important to keep an open attitude and to remain alert. The situation is often dynamic and you may have to make quick decisions that you would not regret later. Negotiation merits patience, stamina and a calm mind. Do not show you are desperate-show you are keen on the deal. Although you may go wrong initially, you later will know how to do it correctly. A good tip is to be well rested, well fed and in a pleasant mood when you head for crucial negotiations. However, if you do not have adequate time to prepare, you can still try deep breathing, visualizing good outcomes, and calming your mind before beginning negotiations. Additionally, your travel/commute time can be used to prepare yourself.

  1. Ask – Don’t be Shy!

Don’t ever feel shy or hesitate to ask something that you don’t know, want to know more about, or are not clear about. Ask as many times as you need to until you understand. Ask until you know and understand. Sometimes, asking solves everything and not just gives you answers, but also lightens your troubles and worries. It’s good to ask! It’s excellent to ask your customer things – has he liked your product? What are his buying plans? Maybe ask him to visit your site, ask him to write to you- Ask

Recently, a professional who worked for a start-up was looking for space partners (free space) for an event, with whom they would co-brand. She thought, why would anyone give space for free? But she decided to ask-and the first space partner agreed. If she hadn’t asked, she wouldn’t have known that there are people willing to give free space.

  1. Courtesy and politeness

It is always good to practice courtesy and politeness in every situation. Unfortunately, these virtues are things that we typically forget when we are in panic mode or caught in a situation or crisis. However, we should never stop being courteous.

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Source: Google Images

Being polite and courteous are signs of good leadership and great entrepreneurs.  Moreover, practice this also in non-verbal and written communication. It’s an excellent habit to cultivate. As we know, good habits are built in 21 days.

  1. Maintaining a Positive attitude

This is one asset that every entrepreneur should have. An entrepreneurial journey is strewn with challenges, obstacles, setbacks, and people who pull you down. If you can face all these and maintain a positive attitude, then you are well on your way to success and happiness. A positive attitude means accepting setbacks and picking yourself up again with a smile, zest, and a new found optimism. If you do not succeed in one project, do not worry. Find out what went wrong, and try and correct it the next time. Steve Jobs, the CEO and Founder of tech giant Apple, was asked by his company’s board to leave the company.  He remained unfazed and worked his way back up after proving his worth. If he had he given up and let himself sink, we would never have been able to see such amazing products come out of the Apple company.

  1. Playing to Your Teams Strengths

Successful entrepreneurs are only as strong as their team. Pool your teams strengths together instead of focusing on their weaknesses in order to go far ahead in your business and life. For example, someone may be a good at organizing but may not be good at generating ideas. Another one may be disheveled and bad at organizing but may be very good at generating ideas. If you pair the two together, you will have twice the productivity and twice the success!.

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Source: Google images

Try building one life skill every three weeks, and experience the transformation within.