Wednesday, November 10, 2010

SME's are the future of the Irish Economy

The future of the Irish Economy is up for a lot of debate.  Many of the official policies of "Ireland Inc" as it is so called, focus on tapping into our great population of entrepreneurs and asking them to take all the risk, growing their businesses out of their comfort zone so that they can provide us with more jobs.

Ireland is the second highest country in Europe for business start-ups per capita - second only to our Polish cousins (GEM Report Ireland, 2008).  You may have already seen Ronan Lyons yesterday mentioning that Ireland is one of the least difficult places to set up a business - perhaps this has something to do with our entrepreneurial nation.  Another valid reason would be the infectious nature of business start-ups - if you know a self employed person, you are more likely to think of setting up a business yourself at some point in your life.  At the moment we have a lot of "necessity entrepreneurship" in Ireland - people starting up a business because they have to keep the wolf from the door.  At the same time, a lot of people are starting a business because they see a redundancy package as an opportunity.  They always wanted to be self-employed, and now they have been given a metaphorical kick in the arse to go and do so.  Before now, life (in the Celtic Tiger era) was just too damn comfy/easy to actually go out and Just Do It. 

A lot is written and spoken about at government level about the importance of helping Ireland's entrepreneurs grow as big as possible, for obvious reasons.  They want more jobs, more exports, more value for the Irish Economy.  And it's all they can shout about.  Increasing the pressure on our surviving businesses seems to me like a knee-jerk reaction to our current state of affairs rather than a well thought out one.  If we take a step back and think about this for a moment, and actually talk to the entrepreneurs themselves we might find ourselves with other options. Perhaps less risky, more cautious, reasonable options. 

Did you hear Stephen Pearce on The Last Word with Matt Cooper last Friday?  Listen back here - he spoke about the pressures he was under, trying to keep the business afloat back in 2007, 2008.  He got away from actually creating pottery - his true passion - but more importantly - his true skill set.  Stephen was under financial pressure to pay massive wage bills so was making decisions about what to "create" which were directly linked to his financial needs.  He mentioned having to make more of a particular product, not because he wanted to but because he had to.  He felt the numbers were driving the business, rather than creativity or craftsmanship - 2 reasons which inspired him to start up in the first place.  Stephen's business did extremely well - he came across grateful for the business he received from the fans of his pottery all over Ireland and beyond.  Yet at the same time he had to let his staff go and close his workshops 2 years ago, when the financial crisis hit. 

What is the lesson here?

Stephen was an entrepreneur but he had his limits.  Don't get me wrong, I know it's clear that he doesn't consider himself a businessman first and foremost, he is a potter and craftsman who runs a business, but he is an entrepreneur, and we have to be able to tap into all sorts of entrepreneurial types if we are to get ourselves out of this economic mess.  Stephen knows his own limitations now and he is going to start up his business again, grow it to a size he is happy with, and comfortable running.  If Stephen stays small, or even "Medium Sized" he will still be creating jobs, adding value to the economy and exporting (he spoke of British chains in Dundrum already signing him up for Christmas).  Surely it would be in our best interests as a country to look for more of these, less risky businesses, rather than pumping grant aid and financial assistance into businesses that might or might not work - why put our eggs into just a few small baskets, is what I'm asking?

Stephen's story is a public one, now that he has been on the national airwaves talking about it.  I have countless other examples that I simply cannot name for confidentiality reasons, but the underlying theme from all these entrepreneurs is that they do not want to take on the huge responsibility of so many people's wages.  They are real people, with real families, they understand the pressures of family life and it breaks their hearts to have to let people go in a downturn - or any time, for that matter.  Why should we put that on their shoulders, when they have the maturity and wisdom to know that they are not the best positioned person to lead such huge teams? 

I suppose what I'm trying to say here is that Less is More.  Surely if we had a substantial increase in the number of businesses with 10-20 employees rather than just one or two big success stories, we would be creating pockets of little economic stability all over the country?  Think of the spin offs. 

Ireland's entrepreneurs are great in number and in capability.  Let's trust their instincts.  Let's not force them bigger than they believe they have the capacity to be.  It will be more lucrative in the long run. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fun Irish Festive Business

Those fun guys at Funky Christmas Jumpers have just launched their 2010 range of silliness for the season that's coming over the snowcapped hilltop... 

Lots of fun over at - I got this one last year but you can even get CARDIS this time around!

This time I think I'll go for the elf costume!!!  Photo pinched from their own website...coz it's bril...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's Only Money, SOS

I was shocked to read another article today in the Irish Independent. It makes for very serious reading, I quote:

"The property industry is already reeling from the suicides of at least 29 developers which the Irish Property Council (IPC), an organisation that has campaigned for reform of Ireland's debt laws, says can be directly linked to the recession."  Article here.

Is that not appalling?

My God I feel awful about this.  Yes, we the public are upset with the economic situation. Yes, we the public are upset with the way these things were handled by banks and by the government and by property developers: the greed, the profiteering, the one-up man ship, the desire to keep up with the Joneses next door. 

But for goodness sake people, it's only money.  Let the banks sing for it, they took the gamble.  Let developers declare bankruptcy and survive on a lot less per day. Families will still love, friends - most of them - will still play golf.  This is a dark time in the economy but it's not worth a life.  Yes some people should be imprisoned but we as a nation cannot make life so bad for the culprits that we drive them to suicide.  We just cannot. 

And so soon after National Suicide Prevention Week.  Click here for more info on SOS.  Suicide or Survive. 

God bless the families of the 29 men who saw no other option. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Small Rant about Banks, Mortgages and The Code

Did you see this today?   Article from the Irish Independent about how the banks are making a proposal to the Financial Regulator about the existing Mortgage Code.  The code is there to protect mortgage owners, and in the bank's opinion, it protects them too much!!  I'm so mad right now. 

Basically, the banks want to propose a new code, which wouldn't allow mortgage holders to play the system as much as they might at the moment.  They suspect that people who can afford to make their repayments are defaulting in order to (a) hold onto their tracker mortgage, and/or (b) not get their house repossessed.  Does that make sense to you?  Surely if you are worried about getting your house repossessed you cannot afford to make your repayments?  I'm confused, lads. 

If you sign up for a mortgage, you are taking a gamble. Should you fix? What if the rate goes down and you miss the opportunity to pay less?  If it goes up you're singing.  I call that a gamble.  You're second guessing what could happen in the future.   If you go for a variable, you take a gamble that it might go down an interest rates along with corresponding repayment amount fluctuations will go in your favour.  But like any gamble, it might not - it might go up, you might be screwed. 

A tracker is no different.  You pay over the odds, agree a rate to pay your bank over and above the standard ECB rate, and you track the ECB rate for the duration of your mortgage: happy out.  If the ECB goes up, you're in a spot of bother, if it goes down, you're OK.  If it stays the same - as it is rumoured to do, until at least the end of 2011 - you're OK.  If you can make the repayments and haven't lost your job/received a massive pay cut, that is. 

What the banks are proposing, is that the protection that the Mortgage Code affords mortgage holders, be diluted.  Right now, if you are in arrears and make a deal with a bank to give a different repayment scheme a go, you are protected (for a year) from the bank approaching you for repossession.  The banks are concerned that people are going to take advantage of this rule and continue breaking each new agreement after 51 weeks or so, and continue to protect themselves for a further year.

What the frick is wrong with that???  I ask you!!  The banks have taken advantage of every rule they possibly can in order to stay afloat, over the last 2 years especially. They have been doing it in fact for years.  Big companies play the system & get away with it, and when a small company tries to do it they get screwed.  We own the banks now for fcuk sake, they cannot possibly get away with trying to screw us some more.  We are their saviours for Christ's sake!

In my humble opinion, just because the tracker rates are not in their favour right now does not mean they can go and reverse the binding agreement they have with us.  Tough shit lads, you're long overdue a right rollicking.  If the tables were reversed you can bet your butt they wouldn't be off chasing us going "Oh I'm terribly sorry, we seem to be making an unfairly large amount of money off you at the moment, please have some back with our compliments." You bet your sweet ass they wouldn't.  Tough shit lads, stop trying to screw the people who are already fcuking bailing you out, from every conceivable angle.  Fcuk the lot of you.  BANKERS. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How to Find a Distributor

Heard about a great new service today specifically for food businesses.  Finding a good distributor for food businesses is extremely challenging, it all depends on the perishable nature of your food product - what's the shelf life, does it need to be refrigerated - all sorts of things.

Bord Bia have put some fab information online for food producers - information for distributing products all over Ireland and into the UK - great stuff.

Take a look over here.

Thank you Bord Bia for more excellent supports...alsmost as good as the Vantage website!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pro Bono Work, the pros and cons

I've been thinking about this one for a while.  A good friend of a close family member asked me for some help recently.  They are just looking to focus their strategy, consolidate what they've got going for them and increase good quality sales.  It's a simple, straightforward local service business, nothing too mad or fancy about it.

Very kindly they offered to pay me for my services but I wouldn't hear of it.  When the close family member I know them through was having a tough time a few years ago, this person was there for them.  More than some other family members in fact.  I would love to be able to help her out now without having to worry her purse strings.  I believe that good things should come back to you. 

The freebie help was met with an interesting response.  I think I can understand why: she probably thinks that if there's nothing in it for me, then I won't put much effort into the project.  If I were to have some vested interest, I would drive more power into my efforts, perhaps.

I regret telling her I wouldn't take anything for the work now, not because I'm broke (which I am, GOD I'm so stupid), but because giving the goods away for free is going to devalue the work that I do.


You see? This is why I haven't started up full time.  I NEVER TAKE MY OWN ADVICE. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Trust Fund

I just heard about this, although the news is 10 days old...sorry about that! 

An exciting opportunity for existing and budding entrepreneurs based in the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown area of our fair city.  From an article in the Indo, it looks like interest free loans are becoming available through a couple of the county's quango's! 

A trust fund has been set up by Atlantic Philanthropies, the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Enterprise Board and the Southside Partnership.  It will charge no interest (just an admin fee) over 1, 2 or 3 years and the amounts can be small like €500 or medium, like €5,000 - or anything in between.  The trust has been set up to specifically aid those who want to start a business but cannot raise capital (working or otherwise) elsewhere.  It is especially relevant for those who are unemployed or suffer a disability. 

It sounds like you still need a business plan to apply - along with the obligatory application form - but there is no security required on these babies so all it's going to take is your time.  What's more there are tons of advisors out there willing to give you a helping hand with the application form and business planning process - I'm sure DLR CEB would be able to point you in the right direction on that when you are making your enquiry.

More information is available through the DLR County Enterprise Board's website, here.  Fair play to philanthropists the world over...the enterprise world needs more please!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Richard Branson's People Factor

Richard Branson tweeted earlier today about an article available online which outlines what his top five tips are for success in business - specifically for entrepreneurs. 

In sum, they are:
  1. Find good people
  2. Realise that the employees are the business
  3. Look for the best in your people - lavish praise, never criticise
  4. Don't take yourself too seriously
  5. Just do it
To read the entire article, pop over to TODAYonline...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Banks and Lending

It's about time!

Minister for Enterprise going into the banks with his steelie-toed booties on to get them to start getting money moving in the SME sector again.

Go on ye good thing.  I hope your boots are strong and heavy. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Quality of New Businesses

This recession has brought some excellent business ideas out of the rafters. I'm friends with a lot of people who work in the area of small business - advisors, mentors, bankers, credit union staff, people who train and work with entrepreneurs every other day. They are all having similar experiences lately - businesses are coming out of the woodwork, and they're good.

I shouldn't sound so surprised, but let's think about it. Recession hits, many lose their jobs, people panic and think "I'll create myself a job." I was concerned that many would start businesses to keep the wolf from the door, without experience or know-how and end up risking what savings their family had left.

It is inspiring to see so many excellent businesses beginning. People are realising that they have had an idea niggling at the back of their mind for so long but never done anything about it because "they never got around to it." Substitute the words "lazy" and "too comfortable" as you see fit.

Now that we have more time on our hands because we cannot afford as many holidays, gym memberships, nights out and costly activities; now that the we know the wolf is prowling around out there but we have a choice as to whether we invite him in, we are thinking.

Innovation is a big push at government level - anyone who watched last Monday's Aftershock on RTÉ1 will have seen and heard a lot of talk around this, and the knowledge economy, or the smart economy. There's tons of it about. More importantly, start-up's are more cautious. Previously thrown to the wind when credit flowed freely, now entrepreneurs are starting to listen to their guts and 6th senses to make sure they don't risk the redundancy package on something that just won't work.

Cleverer, sharper, less reckless, more efficient and more cost effective start-up businesses are sprouting up all over Ireland. Quesions like "who will buy this? what will they pay for it?" are getting answered before investment takes place - previously there was an attitude of If You Build It They Will Come.

This is partly to do with the fact that investment itself is scarce. Delighted to see that Simply Zesty got €500k investment today, on their 1st birthday no less. That's some present! Imagine the competition for that cash. Fair play to them.

Business Angels have never been busier - or more in demand. When margins are tight, what little profits we generate don't need to shoot off into the bank accounts of venture capitalists. Angels are where the demand is...

Moral of the post... Green shoots of hope springing up all over the place.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Show me the Money - Credit Review

There has been talk on the ground for some time about how the banks HAVE TO lend to the SME sector to try and survive the recession and all the gloom it brings.

Banks involved in NAMA are going to have to play ball with SME's, and Enterprise Ireland have set up a website full of information about making the system work for you.

The "Credit Review Office" as it is called was launched this month, without too much fanfare I'm sorry to say.

Essentially it's there as a support service for those who have been refused credit by banks involved in NAMA.

Some text from their site:
"The Credit Review Office has been established to conduct this review process and will accept applications from SMEs, sole traders and small and medium-sized farm enterprises that have had their application for credit refused or reduced or have had credit facilities withdrawn, and feel that the bank’s decision is unjustified. The Credit Review Office will, on application from the borrower, carry out an independent and impartial review of the bank’s decision."

Best of luck to anyone who needs this service and anyone who gives it a go. Let us know how it works out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Making money from Blogging

Excellent post here at the blog on how they make money over there. Aisling and Kirstie are always open and honest about revenue generating devices but it seems that in light of their Grand Prix win at this year's blog awards, they needed to stand over their business side of things a little more.

Way to go ladies, you are both an inspiration to other business start-ups and ecommerce sites out there. Congrats!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ireland Inc

There was something else bothering me that I wanted to flag here. The attitude of a small number of people who are not pulling together to try and help companies become more efficient so they can compete in global markets.

Think of this - it has happened twice in the last month - 2 different people asking me if I know anyone in two different foreign markets who might be able to help them find a supplier or two of raw materials. Totally different businesses, totally different requirements - similar request - "can you put me in touch with someone" - which is, let's face it, what business is all about.

I personally don't have a problem with helping international business flourish. The stuff they need can't be sourced here; they're having to buy it in from the UK and elsewhere. I'm an advocate of the ThinkIrish campaign, so if they can't get it here then it's ok by me that we look elsewhere.

Makes sense, right? We all do it, it works, no harm no foul.

Apparently not. When I called Enterprise Ireland (have contacts there from previous employment & some recent research I was doing) I was met with very helpful people who all seemed to point me in the right directions. Then I called the International offices for some detail on how to go about this sort of thing. BRICK WALL. They don't feel "comfortable" assisting these guys in any way. Their role is to assist Irish companies in exporting, not the other way around.

Yes, I realise that, thank you, I'm not entirely stupid. All I'm looking for is a name - like the Exporters Association for the 2 different regions I'm researching. Do you happen to know anyone there? I thought we were all about pulling together for the sake of our poor little broke nation? It always helps to have a specific name in these situations, I can use Google myself.

And that's what they suggested I do. Use Google. Tell the people who were asking me for help, to use Google.

Can you believe that?

So I wrote a stinky email to a few people back in EI that I know, telling them about my experiences and lo & behold - a message came back so fast with names and direct lines that that I had to laugh.

They helped me, I passed on that good information, and away we go, Ireland Inc working hard once again to try and survive this quagmire of economic disaster.


It's long overdue, this post. Apols for that. Personal stuff getting in the way of blogging I'm afraid.

So! The funding situation in Ireland is getting beyond pants. For those trying to run and/or start up a new business, the avenues to take are closing up and becoming more congested.

What can we do to help?

The banks are very limited in what they can do. 2 contrasting voices from the same bank have told me recently that -
1) They are only taking applications from existing customers who have a kick-ass business plan
2) They are taking applications from just about anyone but they have to have a kick-ass business plan which is more financial projections than words.

So that's all very helpful isn't it?

Anyone talking to me lately has difficulty with just that - financial projections. They're all very pie-in-the-sky aren't they? They have their place but how accurate can they be in this day & age when each and every market is so volatile at the moment? It's just so hard for people to get funding from anywhere!

And then to take the County Enterprise Boards - who are advertising like Billio at the moment - and discover that yes, they have new grants which are all very exciting but lo - the budgets have been slashed for 2010 and they don't know if they're going to be around in 2011! What good is that to the small business community, who cannot get funding from banks or building societies, have been let go from their jobs and have no rich uncle to act as their angel?

More and more faces are recognisable on Dragon's Den. RTÉ was inundated with applications for this year's programme, why? Because nobody has a choice. The avenues have dried up; the obstacles in the way on the remaining avenues are next to impassable.

This post didn't start out with the futile tone that is has grown into. There have to be options out there for people. There has to be an answer for all of this, more than just hopping on a plane to Canada or Oz, if you are lucky enough to be an expert in a field that they need & want.

The funding pie in Ireland is getting smaller, and the number of slices required is getting higher by the day. Someone close to me said recently - the cream will float to the top and Ireland Inc will be left with some great companies in a few years time.

That's very true, and I look forward to that time, but between now and then - what happens to all the other people who are fire fighting to keep their businesses afloat and families warm and dry?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Serious funding situation

I'm brewing a lengthy one for this blog around the topic of funding. It's not going to be groundbreaking, more along the lines of exasperation. I don't know where to start right now so I won't. Until I'm ready.

There are a lot of points to consider. I don't want to rock all the boats in the shipyard but something has to be done about the cash situation for small businesses in Ireland.

Too frequently do we hear of micro enterprise being the forgotten group of commercial entities when it comes to this "government" of ours. Truth be told they're not governing at all. They're not working to keep big business here, they're not working any more diligently to intice more multinational business here. They're all talk about creating jobs and that's just it. It's just talk.

Let me stew on this some more. There must be a solution out there. Has to be.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

David McWilliams

He's telling it like it really is, over here on his blog. I haven't always agreed with David and the way he explains things - being a jaron-creator, for example - but his words today are clear and well thought out. I think more people need to read it. Go!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I should start taking my own.

Had the coolest idea for a blogpost at the weekend, and had no pen/notebook with me to jot down my ideas. Which is something I'm always suggesting that people should have with them - especially if they're working on being innovative in their business. You just never know when a good idea will hit!

Maybe I should have Tweeted the reminder to myself and favourited it from Tweetie or something. Sigh.

So here I am, idea-less on a Tuesday. Sorry about that...

Have a Happy Pancake Day anyway :)

Friday, February 12, 2010

WorldVision, Hugh Jackman & Haiti

WorldVision is one of my favourite charities. If you haven't had a chance to donate to a Haiti fund yet, perhaps you could consider theirs. They are located all over the world and their Irish offices happily take donations online here. They don't just do Child Sponsorship (yes, they're THAT charity from the ads on telly) - you can just make a single donation, no problem at all.

Farmville as an Enterprise Learning Tool

Don't laugh, think about it.

How many thousands of online simulation games are there, lots of which surround the idea of running a business or a city or a lifestyle and staying afloat while you do it?

The thought crossed my mind as I was on Facebook recently; a lot of my friends play Farmville so I thought I'd give it a whirl. It's not too taxing on the brain, gets boring after a while yes but it's still a bit of fun.

Whatever about the money making motivations of the developers, I think the application has its merits. It teaches young would-be entrepreneurs about buying and selling, tending a project to make sure it doesn't wither, working a few areas at once to ensure maximum return as quickly as possible... Game Points are ranked on 2 levels - Experience and Coins. There's cash too, but that's more for the developers as it takes real-life cash to get some Farmville cash. Which is a pain because there's no return on the real investment, so we won't go there.

Different crops have different XP (experience) ratings. They will take different times to grow and cost different amounts of money. The user takes the few coins they have and tries to make them into more coins. Simple, right? Just like in business... Start small and grow.

The player competes with their friends to see what level they can get to - the higher the XP the higher the level. It also shows the user about working together - if you give your friends/neighbours a little something, they will give a little something back which will make your farming life easier and maybe even more efficient - e.g. they might give you some fuel for the tractor you just saved up to buy. Which makes ploughing quicker and more efficient.

This is a very simple game and concept for teaching people what it's like to juggle a few areas at once. It's obviously nowhere near as sophisticated as the bike shops, airline games and other retail outlet simulators I've played in the past but there are definite similarities. I think Farmville has the potential to tap into a kid's entrepreneurial spirit which could be further encouraged by fully developed simulators like Mike's Bikes and the Small Business Game.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

From Cobwebs, a Phoenix

I can't really believe that it's been so long since I posted some news here. It has been a hectic few months - there is usually a lull around the festive season when it comes to business advice and helping people figure out their business plans, but this year is different.

Even when we were snowed in I had a pile of business plans on the desk for reading and marking and delivering feedback. The great thing about my job is that I can read, think and make phonecalls from just about anywhere.

The great thing I can say about all the people I have helped is that they are focussed, dedicated and like sponges are absorbing all of the advice I can give them, going away and doing something about the hurdles they face. I'm so proud of the businesses that are fighting back and rising out of the flames of this recession. So proud.

Businesses are getting cleverer - those that will survive are having to. Cutting out costs wherever they can, delivering extra services for their clients, remembering to - and enjoying - the strengthening of relationships they have with loyal customers. Remembering to reward that loyalty - back to Fergal Quinn's days of "crowning" the customer. It all sounds so simple.

It can be. Just take a moment to look at your business and put yourself in the shoes of your customer - what would they want? What are they really interested in? Stop thinking about what you can do (in terms of fantastical capabilities) and start thinking about what you can do for them.

It is that simple. Good luck!