Don't wait til the shit hits the fan


I’ve had a great time this week working with a group of 12 start-up businesses. It’s always a joy to listen to people talk about their ideas, hopes and dreams for their fledgeling businesses. There’s something about the newness of it all.

Whenever I do this kind of workshop, there are always certain themes that crop up time and time again, and I thought I’d write a post this week about revisiting some basics.

1. Clarity on what you’re trying to achieve and ‘mission statements’

The first thing we did on our start-up workshop was to invite the participants to succinctly describe their business to everyone else in the room. The phrase ‘mission statement’ cropped up. Whenever I hear the words ‘mission statement’ I know I’m about to fall into a narcoleptic trance. It should mean declaring who you are, what you do and the benefits you deliver to your customers. But they end up being dreary and brain-crushingly awful.

E.g. “Our ambition is to deliver meaningful benefits to all our customers. We listen carefully and align our activities to their needs. We aim to improve their overall quality of life, and to be a trustworthy and reliable partner in their well-being.”

….snore! Why can’t they just say something like…

"We ease the suffering of the sick and injured by developing powerful, safe, pain-relieving medicines."

So take a look at your elevator pitch, mission statement - it doesn’t matter what you call it.

  • Keep it short and easy to remember

  • Focus on the benefits you offer

  • If appropriate, state your higher purpose (or the reason why you are doing what you do).

  • Communicate the results you can deliver

My favourite example is: 

"Hello, we're innocent, and we're here to make it easy for people to do themselves some good (while making it taste nice too). We make smoothies, coconut water, juice and kids' stuff, in our quest to make natural, delicious, healthy drinks that help people live well and die old."

If you want to see some real horrors, check out this article.

2. When was the last time you looked at your terms of conditions?

I’m assuming that you’ve got some proper terms and conditions of trading in place. And by ‘proper’ I mean ones that have been created for you by a lawyer, not something you’ve cobbled together yourself, or some that you’ve copied and pasted from someone else’s website (yes, you know who you are). If you haven’t, PLEEEEEZE get some - it will cost your anywhere between £250 - £350, and it will be money well spent.

If you do have some and they were done some time ago (which is my situation), get then out and make sure they are still relevant to the way you do business. At the start-up workshop yesterday a very nice lawyer came and did a talk to my group and highlighted some examples of where people can leave themselves wide open to all kinds of problems should something go wrong.  E.g. not getting paid, or people disputing the quality of your goods and services, or in extreme situations, people blaming you for something that went wrong and suing you.

If the shit hits the fan and you’ve got nothing in writing to protect yourself or your business, you could find yourself in some very hot water.

2. Copyright, design rights and trademarks

Another big discussion point with my start up group was the issue of copyright, design rights and trademarks. This opened up a massive can of worms, and it highlighted just how little most of us really know about this stuff. For example, most people don’t realise that if you pay a professional photographer to take some pictures of you, or your products, that the photographer owns the rights to those pictures forever and that essentially, you are only purchasing a license to use the pictures. 

Interestingly, I had someone in the group who worked for a local charity who got ‘done’ for nicking pictures from Google and using them for a blog. They received a legal letter asking for $10,000 for copyright infringement - they negotiated a settlement, but they did have to pay.

There are so many places where you can get great free stuff - but if you’re not sure where to go, I refer you to a post I did last year that lists tons of places to find excellent quality visual material. Click here.

So if you’re not sure how to use the © symbol, or what you can and can’t trademark, I recommend brushing up on this stuff at the government intellectual property office - there is some excellent information there.

That’s all for this week.
Until next time...

jackie harris