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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Man vs Machine? Not really!

Modern business has undergone a paradigm shift with the advent of automation. Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times poignantly portrays the transition where machines started replacing human hands, to increase speed and volume of production, as also to eliminate human error. In recent years, digital technology and robotics have further automated processes. In fact terms like timers, sensors, programs and fuzzy logic have become familiar in day to day living.

The Japanese brought in some breakthrough concepts in automation as every human error in the manufacturing process could aggregate into huge losses to the enterprise. These concepts and methods were accepted and applied in industrialized countries across the world to maximize production and profits.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

Having said that, ‘people’ still remain the soul of any business and no amount of automation can substitute the ‘persona’ of a business enterprise, people are still the most important asset of any business and are only followed by machines and other infrastructure.

The magazine Fortune 500 once published, along with their list of Fortune 500 companies, a report on the ‘Best Companies to Work for’. Interestingly several companies were common to both lists, which means that the companies which were good employers performed well in figures too. Happy employees performed better, thus making the company do well.

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

Whether it is a blue chip company, a medium size corporate or even a small business, the people in the organization project the nature of its working. A gentleman was asked for his cellphone at the security gate, before entering the premises of a top automobile company. When the visitor frowned at the request, the security officer politely asked him to step inside his cabin and explained to him how a cellphone can be used to disguise a weapon! The visitor saw the point and was happy to abide by the company rules. It was the security officer’s courteous demeanor and his efforts to allay the former’s doubts that made a very positive impression.

We find such courtesy and meticulousness in smaller businesses too whether it’s a restaurant or even greengrocers. The cleanliness in the restaurant kitchen, the clothes and body language of the staff, the ambience, all go on to reflect quality of the entire experience the place offers!

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

But if the people in the organization are inefficient, uninterested in their jobs, have no standard work processes, no amount of infrastructure and automation can help the enterprise sustain.

So, when we are talking about Man v/s Machine, let us remember that while the machine may ensure standard quality in the product, the quality of the organization as a whole is judged by the people inside!

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 (July 2016). This post is the translated abridged version of the same article.

 

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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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.

 

Treading from Customer Satisfaction to Customer Delight!

We have always been hearing the phrase ‘Consumer is King’, but have started experiencing it only in recent years. Before liberalization in 1991, the consumer was at the mercy of the producer and supplier and had to be satisfied with whatever was available on offer.

However, 1991 onwards, as the Indian markets were thrown open to global players, competition turned fierce. Now manufacturers and suppliers had to woo customers to capture bigger market share. They realized they had to walk that extra mile to please the consumer by understanding their needs and fulfilling them to the T.

In the last 25 years of liberalization, we have seen a significant change in the scenario. More professionalism, better service and distinct consumer orientation are a part of the trend that has started taking roots.

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Manufacturers and service providers have now started taking proactive steps to understand customers’ expectations and their preferences. The objective has now gone beyond customer satisfaction to customer delight which meant giving them an experience that would make them come back to the manufacturer/ service provider again and again. Let us take some examples.

A family booked a room in a hotel. The hotel asked them about their arrival, further itinerary and their food preferences. Incidentally, the family was fasting on one of the days during their stay. To acknowledge this, the hotel management enquired if they would like a ‘fasting’ menu. The entire staff was courteous and warm. On the day of their departure, the manager himself asked if their stay had been comfortable and if they had any suggestions to help them give better service. Overall, the guests got a very pleasant experience, were made to feel very special and they felt an immediate bonding towards the hotel. Professional enterprises believe in creating better customer relationships, more than the increase in the number of customers.

A friend booked a cab to go from Pune to Thane. The owner of the cab service asked for all the details of the customer’s destination and timings. He texted the driver’s name, contact number and car number well in advance to the customer. The next day the driver called a few minutes before the scheduled time. The car was clean, filled with enough petrol and ready on time. The driver helped the passenger load the bags into the boot. He asked him the exact destination and entered the details into the GPS system. He was wearing clean clothes, refrained from picking up his mobile while driving and was very polite in his mannerisms. The owner of the cab service also called to ask if everything was going as per schedule. The whole experience of the trip was very safe, comfortable and enjoyable. So much so that the customer later contacted the owner to give him a very positive feedback!

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

The long and short of it is, that modern business must go that extra mile to make the customer happy. We must admit that a lot of our systems have improved significantly. We can order a gas cylinder on phone and it is delivered in time. Railways are improving their hygiene and safety standards. Things are getting better and will continue to do so in the future because the customer is now the centre of the market universe!

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 (February 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

 

5 TIPS TO MAKE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS CLICK!

According to London photographer David Locke, photography is not just about being a good photographer. In this dog-eat-dog world, where Instagram has made photographers out of everyone, (including your neighbour’s great aunt), professional photographers need to have a steady head for business, along with a steady hand for shooting. To help point your business in the right direction, here are a few basic tenets followed by photographers who have made the cut in this fiercely competitive field.

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Source: Google Images

Photography is not a hobby, it’s a business.

Even though photography may have been your hobby first, it is now your business, and you need to make sure other people see it in the same light. In a bid to score more clients and build an impressive portfolio, many rookie photographers offer their services free of charge, especially to friends and families. Soon, they are established as a ‘by-the-by photographer’ in the eyes of the world. If you indiscriminately offer free services, your business will soon be staring down the barrel of a gun. Choose clients wisely in the beginning, and offer free services only when you think a project can significantly up your marketing quotient. Also, instead of offering free services, carry out free photography sessions, but offer prints and digital images at a discounted rate.

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Since photography is a business, make it pay.

One of the chief conundrums creative people find themselves in is how much to charge for their services. Compounding this problem is the fact that most creative folk are constantly racked by ‘artistic guilt’, wondering whether they ‘deserve’ to get paid well for their services. The good news is – you definitely do. The tough part is convincing yourself of your worth, and being bold enough to ask for more. Says photographer Rosh Sillars, “Every time I raise my rates, I lose clients who take too much of my time and don’t want to pay for it. I find new clients who believe quality photographers charge more and are willing to pay the price for the best. I like these clients, you will too.”

Bottom-line: There is no ‘right or wrong price’. Ask for what you believe you are worth and stick to that. In fact, what is wrong is underselling yourself.

Be a purple cow – do not follow the herd.

When you have just hung out your shingle, you may give every photography project the nod, for that ‘extra bit of money and experience.’ While that may see you through in the beginning, it will not help you carve a niche for yourself. Like Seth Godin has put it, you will get eyeballs only if you are a purple cow in a field full of ordinary cows.
So observe your strengths and weaknesses, think hard about what kind of photography you really like to do, and build on that. Take the case of Anne Geddes, the iconic photographer, who started photographing babies because she found them to be deeply inspiring. Jeff Cable, another world-famous photographer has said, “I’ll shoot stuff that most people wouldn’t shoot in ways that most people wouldn’t shoot it. I’ll lay on the ground, I’ll go up high, I’ll even dance sometimes with the kids while I’m shooting them.” (source: PicturePerfect:)

Find out what makes you a purple cow, and then hone in on it.

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Source: Google Images

Give your business maximum exposure.

‘My business doesn’t need a marketing plan’, said nobody ever. Every photographer, however brilliant, has had to market his/her skills. However, the crux lies in efficient marketing; and not just a ‘spray and pray’ technique. So how do you stand out from your competitors? The secret lies in not marketing yourself, but in marketing how your client wins by choosing you. Make your website, your social media page, every piece of communication all about what the customer will get and how they will get it, rather than about how great you are. Remember to delve deep into the distinctive benefits of your service, or your unique skills. So if you are a portrait photographer, avoid making blanket statements like – We bring out your best.  Nobody ever hires a portrait photographer to bring out their worst, so an obvious statement like this is no help for your business.

The next step is to identify exactly what kind of clients you will be targeting (brides, pregnant mothers, performance artists?) and then formulate a plan that knocks specifically on their doors.

Most seasoned photographers swear by the efficiency of email marketing as a means of establishing personal, meaningful ties with clients, while blogs and social media channels help create general awareness about their work.

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Source: Google Images

Network: When not behind the lens, take the spotlight

For most start-ups, business comes through referrals from happy customers. But how do you get customers in the first place? That is where networking and people skills come into play. When not behind the camera, try networking with a wide variety of people through different channels. Join forums, clubs, participate in start-up meets, hold workshops on photography, attend workshops on photography, even befriend your competitors. You never know where the next project may come from.

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Source: Google Images

As photographer Lauren Lim puts it, photography is a people’s business. The more effort you put into connecting with people, the more success you get.

 What has helped you grow your photography business? Chip in with your advice in the comment section below and let us know.

deAsra Foundation offers end-to- end support and counselling to emerging entrepreneurs in the small-mid scale sector. To date, we have helped 52 entrepreneurs grow and nurture their ideas into successful businesses. Thinking of starting out as an entrepreneur? Reach out to us at 020 – 65365300/11 for personalised guidance and help.

 

 

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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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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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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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.