The Christmas Present that started me on the entrepreneurial road

I only remember one occasion when I actually stated what I would like for Christmas. Every other year I simply said ‘I’d like a surprise’. I was generally quite happy with whatever I had at the time. Having only one TV channel and no toyshop catalogues meant that I wasn’t too aware of what else was out there. Most of my play was outdoors building forts, making things, cutting up the new lino (sorry Ma) and generally getting up to mischief. Don’t worry I’m not going to go into an Angela’s Ashes or Bill Cullen ‘we were so poor…’ kind of a tale.

I only remember a handful of the Christmas presents I received as a young boy (not too long ago :)). One of the surprise presents I received one Christmas morning when I was 14 was a Prince August Soldier Making Kit. There were four moulds in the kit. Two for infantry, one for cavalry and one for a cannon. To make the pieces you melted lead and poured into the rubber moulds which were clamped together.

It didn’t take me long to use up the lead that was supplied. Luckily at the time my Father had a roll of lead that would have been used in construction work. Having an endless free supply of raw material I decided to go into business for myself. I don’t know if it was my idea or if someone suggested it, but I began my first self employed venture.

I had the product. I set the price at 10p for infantry pieces, 15p for cavalry (you got a horse) and 20p for a cannon (the wheels worked). The place where I sold them was in the small sweet shop we had attached to the pub. The promotion was via a large A3 size poster I made saying ‘Create Your Own Battles, Recreate History’.

I was never really into playing with small toy soldiers myself, but I knew others who were. So it was worth a try. I sold the lead pieces unpainted. It was too time consuming to hand paint each individual piece. Anyway “who was I to choose the colour of your army? You’ll have much more fun painting them yourself”.

As is always the case, there were a couple of casual buyers and a couple of fervent collectors. Although I didn’t know what it was called at the time, Pareto’s Principle (the 80-20 rule) was certainly in place. I rewarded the big spenders by keeping the best unblemished pieces for them. Money given for sweets was being diverted into unique handmade collectibles and miniature armies were growing under beds in the village.

I was rolling in the dough, fast cars, loose women, exotic holidays……well, maybe not. I was ok at saving, helped in no small part by the fact I lived over a sweet shop! I’m not exactly sure why I stopped selling the soldiers. Maybe the buyers found some new craze. Maybe the moulds were on the verge of disintegrating from constant exposure to molten lead. Maybe I just got fed up of it and wanted something new. Probably a combination of all of the above. Anyhow a new opportunity presented itself.

A farmer who drank in our pub had some baby pigs (bonhams) for sale for £25.  The sow had a litter of around 10-12 bonhams. I did the maths. 10 bonhams at £25 each was equal to 2,500 lead soldiers at 10p each.

I was going to go into pig breeding!

But that’s a post for another day. I guess the idea of this post is to encourage the buying of gifts that encourage kids to create something, to make something, to build something, to bring out their imagination. Encourage them to start their own little micro enterprise. Let them learn, let them succeed, let them fail, just let them at it.

Have you any memories of presents that brought out the best in you or that taught you a lesson?

 

More bureaucratic bullshit

Last week I sought to register a new business name with the Companies Registration Office in Ireland to launch a new magazine, a sister magazine if you like to an existing one.

Today I received a letter from the CRO stating that I would have to resubmit the forms because “It appears that the business is located at your residential address. Given the nature of your business it would seem more appropriate that your business would be better located at a commercial premises

Extract from CRO letter
Extract from CRO letter

What the hell gives the CRO the right to tell me where the most suitable place to run my business is?

Do they even know what it entails to run my business?

I have run my business from an old kitchen table at the foot of my bed.

I have run my business from cafes with free wifi.

I have run my business from another country for God’s sake.

Why the hell should it matter where I run a business from so long as I at least try?

Why does some bureaucratic bullshit delay me in my attempts to start something new, maybe even create employment (heavens forbid) while someone with a clipboard offers me unasked for advice on where best to run a business from?

I despair, I fucking despair

Online PR with Damien Mulley

Way back in January I attended a course in Online PR run by Damien Mulley of Mulley Communications. The course was announced in ’09 and the first batch of people to leave their names on the Facebook Page for Online PR in Ireland got to attend. Thanks to my skills of observation and swiftness with a keyboard and mouse I was in (I know, I know, not so swift in writing this blog post though was I?).

The day long course covered a range of topics such as the basics of online communications, developing a communications bible and a communications philosophy, working with blogs, Twitter, Forums etc. Finding tools – who is talking about you online and crisis communications.

I won’t go into explaining all about the above as that is expertly done by Damien himself (yes, that’s it, click on the links). An incredible amount of news stories are generated as a result of PR, over half at least, according to this research. So knowing and understanding the importance of PR is vital.

I guess the main thing I took from the day was the importance of reputation management. What kind of reputation do you want portrayed about your business. How to monitor what’s being said about you. Who in your organisation should be responsible for representing it online. And most importantly, how to respond when the shit hits the fan.

Darragh Doyle gave a great example on what happened the previous week with boards.ie and how they responded.

For some interesting media monitoring cases studies have a look at O Leary Analytics

The need for Online PR or reputation management is not just the preserve of large corporations or government bodies. It also applies to individuals. How many times have you heard about employers searching through a  prospective candidates Facebook/Bebo etc. account. Indeed in my latest recruiting quest I came across a CV of a potential candidate. Upon Googling the name the first result that appeared was a newspaper report of a court case involving the would be candidate and former employers. Not exactly the best first impression to create is it?

If you care anything about your online reputation, whether business or personal, it is most certainly worth your while clicking through to the links above to Damien’s posts and attending  one of his courses.

Print media starts to fight back

Magazines the power of print

For years lovers of the Internet and Social Media have predicted the death of print media. It is true that sales of magazines and newspapers have declined Worldwide along with the advertising revenue which accompanies them. I don’t accept for a minute however that print media will soon be extinguished anymore than ‘video killed the radio star‘. Yes, things will have to be done differently by magazine and newspaper publishers. Some will survive and thrive and others will just die, the same as they did before the Internet and in other industries.

Anyhow, this subjects warrants a much longer post than I currently have time to write, but I will come back to it. This post has been prompted by a campaign that has begun in the US by 5 leading magazine publishers who have teamed together promoting magazines and the power of print. Below is their ‘Good News’ celebration video. What do you think? Is print dead or does it have a future?

And if you want something else to Tweet about, here’s another video

Twenty Tweetable Truths about Magazines

Dromineer underused and missing the buckets and spades

Last weekend my family and I headed to Dromineer, on the shores of Lough Derg in Co. Tipperary. The Irish Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter was visiting for the day, organised by the local Lifeboat Station.

For anyone who’s never been to Dromineer it’s a beautiful spot. It has an ample beach, a jetty, marina, children’s playground, a pub, a shop, a hostel, a hotel, a yacht club (the oldest in the world), a sailing school, a castle ruins and of course a big lake. It’s got quiet a bit going for it.

It’s surprising therefore that it is so underused. We often pop over for a visit with the kids. But the visits are always brief as there’s never ‘anything’ going on. By ‘anything’, I mean no people around, the buzz you get when visiting other holiday touristy locations, the holiday atmosphere, the sights and sounds you would normally expect at any lakeside/beach resort.

There are lots of reasons why this could be. The hotel is closed for starters. However even when it was open it was still the same.If you Google ‘Dromineer Tipperary’ there are mentions of it on several other websites, but it doesn’t have it’s own site to promote itself. Maybe the locals prefer having no tourists around. As far as I can tell nobody seems to be trying to promote it as a recreational destination. I’ve never received a press release or news story to publish.

It was a hot day and we went for ice cream at the only shop in the village. The two photos below were taken from outside the shop. In the first one you can make out the childrens playground on the right with the edge of the marina beside it. The hotel and hostel is to the far right of the playground (not in photo)

View from shop in Dromineer

The second photo shows the car park in front of the shop and more of the marina with boats etc. The pub, The Whiskey Still is further over to the left. The shop is located in the centre of the ‘business district’ so to speak.

IMG_0493

This next photo shows the shop with my wife and children sitting on the steps eating ice cream.

Notice anything missing?

The shop in Dromineer

Where’s the table and chairs to sit at while enjoying your snacks?

The collection of beachballs, buckets and spades and other beach type paraphenalia?

A sign or two letting you know it was a shop wouldn’t go astray either.

Unlike some of the other villages along the shores of Lough Derg which are small and compact, Dromineer is spread out over a larger area. The shop is pretty much in the centre of the village once you leave the shoreline. It should be the focus of attention. It should create that holiday atmosphere. It could easily do it. If there was a table and chairs outside the shop we would happily have stayed there longer and bought more goodies. A few buckets and spades and beachballs on display would give that beach feeling. It doesn’t matter a damn if they never sold one. I know this works.

Years and years ago we had a little shop (very little) added into the corner of the family pub in Borrisoleigh. We sold only sweets and essentials like bread and milk. We had the first ice cream cone machine in the town. We hung buckets and spades outside the window. People called it the beach shop and bought loads of ice cream. Several commented how they loved it, as it reminded them of holidays etc. That good feeling they got transformed into increased sales. We never sold any buckets or spades. We weren’t trying to.

Maybe transforming that shop into another ‘beach’ shop wouldn’t bring 1000’s of visitors to the village. It certainly wouldn’t turn them away. It just might help create that bit of buzz that Dromineer is so badly lacking. And it just might make it a bit more enjoyable to buy ice cream from.

A coherent marketing plan is essential for any business to thrive. And all parts of the business should work in tandem to ensure success. Like any machine, if some nut and bolts are missing, it won’t work properly. In the case of Dromineer, while the buckets and spades are missing, it won’t work properly either.

Bad times can lead to Good things

Very often it is in times of crisis when we are at our most creative. We can’t afford the luxury of sitting back and allowing things to happen around us. Necessity is the mother of invention as they say. A number of new initiatives have caught my attention in recent times. Three of which I mention here.

The Greenhouse Incubator in Limerick was set up in February by Evert Bopp in response to the closure of the Dell factory. It offers an innovative opportunity for new start ups to get off the ground without getting bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy.

From the site; -“The GreenHouse has been started up now to combat the ongoing economic downturn. While there are a number of admirable government initiatives going on, the only real way for the economy to recover is by an increase of private sector activity. The recent and future redundancies by large, small & medium sized companies create a huge pool of talent. With the right guidance & support a percentage of these people are perfect candidates for developing their own ventures.

TalentTank.ie is an exciting initiative linking employers and employees in a new and different way that can only be of benefit to everyone. I’ll allow them explain:– “Talent Tank is a website that provides Individuals and Employers the platform on which to have a direct influence on the speed in which we recover from the recession. The concept is simple, talented Individuals offer their skills and experience for free, for a couple of hours or days and Employers avail of this free skills offer.” You can read the press release here.

As we have recently embarked on a new publication and can do with all the help we can get I registered on the site and posted my details. I received a reply fairly quickly from John Jennings who offered to produce a video advert for us. A couple of emails were sent over and back, with good suggestions from John (as I didn’t really have any plan as to what I wanted) the finished product is below. It won’t have the same viral effect as Susan Boyle’s now famous video but I do quiet like it and found John great to work with.


Swop-o-nomics.com offers the chance to barter for products and services. Personally I love this way of doing business and have been known to swap advertising for a TV, photography sessions, IT support, general labour, diving gear and other things I can’t think of right now. I think it makes great sense as the cost of supplying a product or service is less than what someone would pay to buy it from you. Both parties forgo the profit on the transaction and the only cost is your time or the wholesale value of the goods. Although the market value of the goods should be used as the ‘exchange rate’. We all need different goods and services over time and it’s great to see this site up and running. You can read their press release here.

Press releases and DIY PR

I decided to write up a Press Release to promote our new magazine Life and Fitness, and  announce that it will now be available in Northern Ireland as well.

For ideas and guidance I consulted Adrian Weckler’s post and Emily Tully’s ‘5 things you should know when sending out a Press Release’.

When complete I uploaded it to some press release distribution sites. One I had been using regularly for sourcing articles, IrishPressReleases.ie which as the name suggests is specifically for Ireland and the others I found through Google. I have used the links to my press release rather than to the home page of the various sites to allow you to see how each one looks across the various sites. I’m sure there are loads more out there and a professional PR would most likely know about them. They all had free uploads, but with www.1888pressrelease.com, maybe due to a better sales cycle, I opted for the platinum package of $25 which offered better promotion of the release than the free option. A quick look at site stats first thing this morning showed this one actually had send the most traffic through to the site (which will hopefully be looking a lot better very soon). So maybe it was worth the extra expense.

The other sites I uploaded to were PressReleasePoint.com (They have a list of options for you to bookmark on all the popular sites) and PR-Inside.com (who nicely display whatever picture you supply beside the release)

As yet, I haven’t sent to any journalists, newspapers, magazines, TV or radio stations. That’s next on my list. Again a professional PR should have all these contacts. Some would argue that you are better off doing your own PR

Like anything you take upon yourself to do, it is time consuming. But I like a challenge and learning something new. At least now I have the registration part with the various sites out of the way. It has also made me more aware of the need to have something newsworthy to write about, and if I don’t, to go and find something and make it newsworthy.

While writing this I came across these blog posts which have more information on the whole PR thing:-

Eoin Kennedy

Piaras Kelly PR

Whether the press release makes the mainstream news or gets published in any medium remains to be seen. But please do let me know if you see it in your local or daily favourite.

And if you have other ideas on DIY PR please leave a comment

Twitter business opportunity that anyone can do

Twitter, the micro blogging platform as it’s known, is fast becoming the source for breaking news stories. It is also a way for people to follow what’s happening in sporting fixtures, for example by following the hashtag (#) for a particular event. These give you an update on the highlights but aren’t really ‘commentary’ as such. To date I have not seen any actual live sports commentary on Twitter.

A post by Kevin Dunne had me think about this some time back and recently a comment by him on my blog prompted me to write this.

As Niall Harbison has pointed out before most entrepreneurs have several business ideas each day and see opportunities all around them.

So this is my offering to anyone who fancies making a few quid. I don’t think you’d get rich however and there is a bit of work involved in doing it and it is seasonal and out of office hours. So it may suit students during the evenings, weekends or holidays better. It can be replicated in any town in Ireland or indeed anywhere I’m sure.

What is it?

Basically it’s live tweeting of local matches or other sporting occasions. The ones that aren’t on TV or radio. Suppose your local team, or any local team for that matter, is playing a match somewhere. You go to the match and tweet the action as it happens. You don’t need to know the names of the players, people will be shouting them out for you. Some knowledge of the sport may be useful however….

How do you make money from it?

That’s an interesting question, I’m glad you asked. There are a number of ways to monetise your activities, but it does involve a bit of selling.

You could approach 1 or 2 of the pubs in each town to pay for the service. You or a friend would most likely have to set up a laptop connected to the TV with a broadband connection so the punters in the pub could follow the action. Most of the clientele or publicans won’t have a clue about Twitter so the whole novelty value here would be a crowd puller. It may not be a huge crowd but it would be better than an empty pub for the publican. They could also get some free publicity in the local media for being so innovative.

You could also sell advertising to various businesses in the towns which you could display through Twitpic. Using the Power Twitter add on to Firefox the pictures are displayed without having to click on the link. You can of course put up team photos, action shots and crowd photos to liven things up a bit as well. Lets face it, reading the match commentary does not make for riveting entertainment. But it does give the pub back to the customers who can talk away while keeping up to date with what’s happening. Although some clever tweeting could build up the suspense.

You’d have to decide which platform to use displaying the tweets, the web interface would need regular refreshing but as mentioned photos would be viewable. Twission could also be used if you set up a hashtag and if there were pubs in the rival towns the punters comments of each pub could also be displayed to each other adding to the overall fun.

How much to charge for advertising or using the service would of course be a major consideration. Most die hard sporting fans will be at the match so it will depend on how much extra business the publican is likely to receive. But as already mentioned if they contact their local radio/newspaper/magazine etc. and let them know what is happening, they could get several hundred euros worth of free publicity. Adrian Weckler tells you how to write a competent press release here

It could be a hard thing to sell though as you would most likely have to explain Twitter as well.

That’s just a local example of one opportunity with a limited market. Maybe you can come up with your own model that would appeal to a national or worldwide audience. Remember if you have a lot of people buying from you at a low price, it all adds up.

Not a get rich quick scheme, but it could help earn some extra cash for college, teach you how to sell, be a challenge and possibly be a springboard for even greater things. And maybe someone with a knowledge of building applications or better ways of doing this kind of thing can create the best way of doing it.

Don’t forget Setanta Sports started out beaming live GAA matches into pubs in the US and Australia.