Monday, 28 July 2014

See things for what they are - tips for startung a business

Ever wondered why some people get on and others don't? Last night I was listening to BBC London and there was an interview with Mike Oldfield. Mike had a massive hit album in the 1970's with tubular bells. Mike spoke about how he owed Richard Branson a massive debt of gratitude for his faith and support. Richard Bransons Virgin label released Tubular bells, which was what we may consider a slighty niche album. I was rather amused to hear Oldfields comments. Tubular Bells was the first album released on Virgin and for a few years was the only major hit. Many people in the music business at the time used to have a little dig at Virgin as a "One Hit Wonder" label. As it transpired the label was the launching pad for the Branson Virgin Empire. Had Oldfield not had the hit, would we ever have had the other Virgin products, the planes, trains and wedding planners?

Listening to Oldfield I was struck by his humbleness and his ability to see the world as it really is. In some ways I believe this is also the reason for the success of Branson and his fellow self made entrepreneurs. I believe that the best and most successful people like Branson see things for what they are and spot where there is something missing. Bransons Virgin Label was a rather odd label. It's fist hit was the intrumental Tubular bells, its next major claim to fame was "Never Mind the Bollocks" by the Sex Pistols, who no one else would touch at the time. Branson also set up  Frontline Records, to champion Jamaican Reggae music. Branson figured that if he liked something, then there must be some kind of market for it, with the right backing. The genius of Virgin is to make their products seem special and different (the ads for the airline with the air crew is a great example).

The reason most of us don't succeed, I believe is down to the fact that we allow ourselves to be distracted by all of the things which don't matter, to the extent that we don't see the things that do. Take my home town Mill Hill. The area has a great demographic for those willing to take a risk with a business idea and provide great product and service. We have a few examples of such businesses. The El Vaquero restaurant is one such example. Opened in the height of the recession, it is packed all the time. Another example is Mill Hill Wines, which is a superb specialist supplier. Whilst many chain off licenses have gone to the wall, Mill Hill Wines has moved up market and done even better. Recently I went  in to get some wines and wanted a four pack of carlsberg to go with it. Laurence, the proprieter told me they'd stopped doing cheap lager as they didn't see themselves in the same marketplace as the cheap convenience stores. They just wanted to do wine well.

Due to the economic situation, more and more people are starting their own businesses. Often people get a redundancy payoff and use this as seed money to fulfill a lifelong dream and run their own business. My dream business, Mill Hill Music Complex has been running for 35 years. I've always based my business on what I would like to find at a local studio, rather than worrying how everyone else runs their business. We don't always get it right but we always try and learn. We've grown to be North West Londons largest independent studio. We have some absolutely superb artists using us and the story keeps getting better. We  try and make everyone feel welcome and we try and support the other businesses in and around our neck of the woods. We use our studio twitter to promote other Mill Hill businesses and events.

In the time I've been running the studio I've seen all manner of competitors come and go. What is interesting is that the ones that fail usually make the same mistake and those that succeed tend to have figured out the same things as us. The key is to try and understand your particular market. We find that people who like our package are less keen on the way our competition do business. We also find that some people prefer our competitions business model and only visit us when they can't get in elsewhere. We gave up being all things to all men years ago and so if a customer says "We usually go to ****** studios, why don't you do this the same as they do" we weigh up what they have suggested against the way our model operates. Sometimes you miss the obvious, so if it improves the way we do business, then we take it on board. Often though, it would not suit the majority of our customers. Being able to see which suggestions work for us and which ones don't is the most difficult thing.

We've brought in many things which our competition copy. You have to take it on the chin that if you do something right, sooner or later the competition catch up. Then you have to spot other ways. I set a date in my diary every six months to look at the competitions web marketing. Are we missing a trick in our offering. It is interesting to note that the best studios clearly do the same, as we notice that innovations will be picked up as soon as we introduce them.

If you are thinking of starting a business, aim to be the best. If there is someone down the road doing the job better than you can, then you will fail, unless you can differentiate and get a unique feature (I hate the term USP "Unique Selling Point"). Realise that yur customers are all individuals. You won't satisfy all of them. It is better to be a Master of your trade than a jack of all trades. As an example, think of your favourite band. You love them but I'm sure you know someone who hates them. There are many bands who you find unlistenable, but who have their own Niche following and make a tidy living. That is why Mill Hill Wines thrive, even though Marks and Spencers are down the road, who do a fine range themselves. Mill Hill Wines know that there are people who wil always want something better and more special than the Marks range could ever hope to match. In factM&S probably helps Mill Hill Wines, because they draw the right demographic to Mill Hill.

Many people who haven't studied biology thing that Darwinian Evolution means "The Strongest survive". This couldn't be more misleading. In actual fact it is the most adaptable. The same is true of businesses. When things are going well, the strongest do thrive, but when times get hard, being the biggest and perhaps a little slower to turn around is not an advantage.

I'd caution everyone planning to run a business to realise that it can take over your life. I am lucky in as much as I'm married so I have a partner who I trust, who runs the show day to day. We discuss the business every day and it is a huge commitment. We are also lucky to have a great workforce, who we've built up over many years. Don't expect it to fall into place at once. The general rule is that it takes three years to know if your business is going to make it.

The most difficult thing to take is the fact that the Government and the council often seems hell bent on shafting those of us mad enough to start our own business. Recently in Barnet, the council has had a very anti business parking policy, imposed bang in the middle of a recession, The previous Labour Government banned smoking ip pubs, which has lead to decimation of the pub trade. These are just two instances of adminstrations not being sensitive to the people who pay taxes.

It must be galling to have a great business ruined by the stroke of a bureacrats pen. I've read many rather ignorant comments from commentators who don't really understand what it's like to run businesses, criticising those that have the guts to put their money where there mouths are. It is all part of job, but if I had a pound for everyone who has told me how I could make millions from my business by doing things I tried years ago, I'd be a rich man. It is always worth listening to your customers when they are asking for something you aren't doing, which you could do easily. Ultimately though, when I invest I do it based on how much money we can afford to spend. We then make a list of everything we could spend it on and try and work out which of the options will most improve the service we deliver. Let me give you an example. If we have £1,000 to spend and we have the choice between repainting the studio toilets or stocking a new brand of guitar strings, we have to weigh up the two very carefully. Whilst the £1,000 spent on new stock could deliver £5-6,000 profit over the year and is tangible, if our toilets are not clean and we start losing regular customers, that could cost us ten times that. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool and the best way to destroy your business. In recent months we've picked up a huge swathe of female artists. The reason? One of our competetors have stopped cleaning their loos properly and ours are kept pretty spotless. Not something you see on any marketing literature.

So see things for what they are. It is often the hidden, less obvious things like the toilets in your establishment that are making or breaking you and you don't even realise.

10 Questions to unravel the conundrum that is One Barnet

The truth about just how badly the people of the London Borough of Barnet have been let down by our local politicians is exposed by Mr Reasonable in this very revealing blog - http://reasonablenewbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/so-how-much-is-this-capita-contract.html - Please read it if you care about our Borough.

There are many questions thrown up by the whole process. The Barnet bloggers sent a whole stack of joint emails to the Councillors as the process was going through. All were ignored. A Tory Councillor recently said to me "Oh, it's ok for you, speaking with perfect hindsight" I asked if they'd read the emails we'd sent them. "No". Well maybe you damn well should have.

The main question I have is for the councillors on both parties who simply let this happen. I have five questions for the councillors of each party. I will donate £20 to a charity of their choice for every Barnet Councillor who responds to the 5 questions for their party and allows their answers to be published.

For the Conservative Party.

1. Why did you never insist on proper scrutiny of the costs of One Barnet?
2. Why did you never raise questions about the way the process was administered in committees?
3. Did you read the emails from bloggers asking about the process and if you did, why didn't you act accordingly?
4. If you care about good value for taxpayers money, why did you not insist the leadership did a public sector comparator as recommend by APSE?
5. Who do you ythink was driving the One Barnet project and why were they so keen to see it go through with no public debate?


For the Labour Party.

1. Why has Barnet Labour never once directly opposed the One Barnet contracts or said they would seek to terminate the contracts?
2. Why has Alison Moore, the Labour Leader never once said that she opposes outsourcing of public services?
3. Why has Labour cooperated fully with all outsourcing in Barnet and even said "there is no alternative" when it is clear the process has failed, such as in Your Choice Barnet, which required a multi million taxpayers baleout.
4. Why did Alison Moore walk at the front of all the BAPS organised marches opposing One Barnet, yet fail to ever once say Labour would stop/reverse the policy.
5. Why do you think anyone should vote Labour if you provide no credible alternative to the Conservatives, signing off the same budget cuts and agreeing with outsourcing?

I suspect my wallet will remain firmly closed.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Tweets of the Week in Barnet 26/7/2014

Without further ado


1. A blog you MUST read. Mr Reasonable exposes the lie that is One Barnet and how the taxpayer is being taken to the cleaners


So how much is the Capita contract costing us in Barnet & are they in for a windfall "gainshare" payment?


2. Got kids? This tweet may be of some help to you

Stuck for something to do this Summer holiday? Find exciting activities for children and young people in Barnet at:


3. Another sad sign of the times

Oh dear. Barnet Law Centre has closed. And that is a borough one might think to be in need of legal advice.


4. Something big is happening in Hendon

Looks like a massive setup at Hendon Police Training Centre for Avengers 2:

5. Luke Robinson admiring a Finchley Landmark

East Finchley's 'The Archer' looking awesome in the morning sun. It points towards the tube tunnel!











Embedded image permalink 
 6. Joey Flores wonders what will be done to mark 90 years of Burnt Oak tube station. Quite a lot I hope!


- my local Station will celebrate 90 years this 27th October 2014, any planned events to commemorate this milestone?


7. Andrew Dismore reports that major Tory donor Lord Ashcroft syas Tories will lose Hendon

Major Tory Donor says Labour will win Hendon at next year’s election


8. A racing tip from Leader of Barnet Lib Dems Jack Cohen. 



Saturday, 26 July 2014

HCPT group 560 - A week of making a difference


Yesterday I got back from a week in France. Once a year I go away as a carer as part of HCPT group 560. We stay at Hosanna House in Bartres in France. The group this year consisted of 30 people, some who require assistance to get around and some you require higher levels of help. For some of the group, it will be their only holiday this year. As you can see from the beautiful vista behind the group, that it is a fabulous setting. Hosanna House is a purpose built hostel for handicapped people. HCPT has the ethos that people with disability are part of the group and we do everything together as a group. Bartres is  a town 3km from the Lourdes, a large religous shrine, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The group is open to anyone who wants to come, regardless of religious persuasion and our group is usually at least 50% non Catholic (no one asks each other or cares much). Whilst there is a religious focus, this is primarily on personal development, and it is my view that most people get a huge amount from the trip.

I started volunteering with thr group in 2001, as I wanted to put something back into the community. When I first went, I really had no idea of the challenges the disabled have on a daily basis. For many years I took my mum, who had suffered a stroke in 2000. She was a dedicated Roman Catholic and her last few holidays were on the trip. More recently I've taken my cousin Tessie, who has Downs Syndrome. Tessie couldn't make it this year due to a family wedding. This year two of my children came along, my son who is 14 and my daughter who is 17. They've both been several times before and came by choice. My wife didn't, she's not been. My children, who have to generally be dragged to church, both made a positive decision to go. My daughter, who went for the first time as a helper, being 17, shared a room with the fabulous actress Jo Eastwood. Jo is one of the leading actresses with Downs Syndrome. She lives independently and so for my daughter it was an easy week. My son being 14, wasn't officially a carer. He had teaboy duties and also arranged much of the merriment, culminating with the "Hosanna House Got Talent" contest on the final night, which was a hoot. He was quite pleased that I came last!

What we did on our holidays !
For me the most important part of the week is enabling everyone to have a special week. Some of the helpers have to get up several times in the night to turn people, or help them to the toilet. We are pretty much all outside our comfort zone at times. We have a qualified nurse and a doctor as part of the group, for advice and guidance when needed. That said, we also have a lot of fun. Trips into Lourdes usually end at our favourite Bar "La Terrace", on the banks of the river Gave. It is a lovely spot and serves a fine range of beers, coffies and rather tasty deserts, you can see a few of my friends enjoying this in the picture.


The main thing I have learned over the years is just how tough it is for the disabled and their carers. I am exhausted after a week, I cannot imagine what the likes of our guest blogger John Sullivan feel like after 50 years. Our group gives other family members a bit of respite. One of the most inspirational members of the group is Helen, she'd the lovely lady in the wheelchair at the left hand side of the picture. When we arrived Helen gave a speech for the new arrivals, telling them her story, how she first came with the group and how much it means to her. In conversation with Helen, she tells me how most people think the disabled want to do basket weaving and are shoved in the corner. She comes with our group as she is a central part of the team. Helen lives independently with carers, in her own flat. With adaptions and care, anyone can live independently and should be able to if they chose.

Every year we have several challenges. The worst one this year was getting some of the people in wheelchairs on and off the plane. Going out, the airport started letting passengers board before we'd transferred all of the people in wheelchairs onto the plane. Let me explain how you get someone in an electric wheelchair on and off a plane. Some of the people are well over 13 stone. They have to be physically lifted by several people onto  a "flight chair" from their wheelchair in the flight dock. A flight chair is a specia wheelchair thin enough to pass down the aisle. When they are on this rather uncomfortable contraption, they are then wheeled to the appropirate seat. Modern airplanes have some aisle seats where the armrests come up. This is lifted and then several people lift and drag the person from the flight chair onto the seat. As you can imagine, lifting a large person is hard enough, but when you have to do this around the seats of the plane, it is a high risk operation. It is not nice for the disabled person. Imagine trying to do that whilst people are barging past trying to find the best seats. We had to aske several people to move, as they'd taken seats in the rows where armrests lift. All in all it was rather stressfull. The operation is repeated in reverse on landing, however we let all the passengers leave.

The whole thing is inherently risky and rather humiliating. I believe airports and airlines should be legally obliged to up their game in respect of disabled passengers. There are many small things which could be done to make the process easier and safer.

Another issue for our group this year was CRB forms. If you speak to anyone who has anything to do with charities or caring on a voluntary basis, this is a nightmare. Many of our helpers have several CRB forms. This year, a nurse could not attend as the forms were not processed in time, even though she works in a hospital and has several. There should be a single CRB check that charities can simply access. That should be the end of it.

It is also interesting talking to the disabled about the effects of the cuts. These are having a horrible effect on the every day lives. I find it disgusting that millionaires  have tax cuts whilst the disabled have service cuts. Does no one in government realise how awful and cruel these changes are? We can find money for guns and bombs, we can find money for tax cuts for billionaires. Why can't we fund day centres for the disabled and all the other things which make life bearable.

Another issue which cropped up in conversation was the legislation about the right to end life. Putting the moral arguments to one side, it is clear to me that many disabled feel very threatened by this legislation. They are worried that it will place them in the category of "burdensome" and they are scared.

It always takes me a few days to get my head back into "normal life" when I return. The week is challenging and hugely rewarding.  I would recommend volunteering with  a disabled group to anyone. It is one of the best things in my life. I've made lots of great friends and learned so much. What more could your want from a weeks holiday?

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Friday Joke - 25/7/2014

The funniest thing I've read all week was this comment on my blog just now

"Not left by Coleman you dingbat.
But do keep assailing him, it'l be fun to see you arraigned for stalking him.

Your wife divorced you for unreasonable behaviour, I see you're returning to type."
It was funny, I thought she'd just nipped down to the Good Earth to pick up a Chinese takeaway for the kids. I didn't know that they did quickie divorces as well. It seems that some pathetic morons think it's clever to spread lies. Last time I looked I'd been married for 18 years.


If nothing else Brian and his friends have given us all a good laugh

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Why the Barnet Rotary Club should ask Brian Coleman to step down as President

I thought I'd leave it a while before writing this blog. I thought I'd see what happened and whether the Barnet Rotary Club would actually do anything following the furore surrounding Brian Colemans comments to me about my cancer issue. I thought I'd try and explain in a calm way to Barnet Rotary why they should quietly ask Brian to consider his position.

I actually happen to have (until now) had a high opinion of Rotary. My father was a member for many years and would extoll the virtues of the organisation. He felt businessmen with talent and a biyt of spare cash should work for the benefit of the community. He believed that those of us who are better off have a moral duty to help those at the other end of the scale. He was proud of his membership and believed that his fellow rotaraians were an example how things can be achieved when talented people work together for good causes.

Locally in Mill Hill, the rotary claub have for many years used a retired milk float at Xmas to collect money for charity, dressing the float as Thomas the Tank engine to delight small children. For a few years our family allowed them free parking of the float at our site.

So I have hitherto only had good things to say about Rotary. When they appointed Mr Coleman, I was shocked. I heard about it through twitter. Mr Coleman was convicted of assaulting Helen Michael last year. Not only that, but despite pleading guilty, he has gone on to make statements in the press which show no remorse at all for a violent attack on a small woman. This story made national and local news, so it is clear Rotary knew of the conviction. I believe everyone deserves a second chance in life, but only once they have faced up to what they've done and shown some remorse. Coleman has shown none. By appointing him, Rotary are in effect saying that attacking women is OK.

When I posted my disgust on Twitter, Coleman spat back an insult trying to use the cancer in my body against me. This is not behaviour I associate with the Rotary Club or in line with their own standards and ethics.  The role of president is one which sets the tone of the organisation. The President is the figurehead and should provide an inspiration to members. What message does this send. If Coleman had responded to my tweet by saying "I am sorry and I am trying to make amends by working for Charity", then that would have been the end of the matter. Sadly he said


with your constant attacks on the Mayor and me and others it must be the hate in you rather than the cancer which is eating you


Which shows no remorse at all and shows no compassion at all. Colemans twitter profile says 
"Political Consultant and Commentator. Local Government Expert, Some time Politician , Rotarian, Methodist and True Conservative."

His comments cast shame on the Rotary Club. Whilst it pains me to criticise an organisation that does great good, I cannot in all conscience say nothing. By condoning his actions and giving him such a role, Rotary are making themselves a rather toxic organisation. If Coleman really cared about Rotary, he'd have resigned by now. Clearly it is still all about Brian

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Carry On At The Council - Hugh Rayner must stay

There has been a concerted campaign against Hale Ward Councillor Hugh Rayner. The Labour Party has been vocierously calling for his resignation as both Mayor of Barnet and as a HAle ward Councillor. The Barnet Eye is disgusted with this partisan behaviour by the local Labour Party, which everyone knows has nothing at all to do with the behaviour of Hugh Rayner and everything to do with trying to force a by-election in the marginal Hale Ward where they stuffed up their campaign in May. There is no earthly reason why Hugh Rayner should stand down, when he exemplifies all of the qualities and talents of the local Conservative Party. None of the rest of them are going to stand down for behaviour far worse than Mr Rayner, so why should Labour pick on him?

The local Barnet Tories did not kick out Brian Coleman when he committed numerous standards breaches, becoming the only Mayor to have a standards complaint upheld against him when in office.

The local Barnet Tories did not kick out Brian Coleman when he was arrested and charged with assaulting Helen Michael outside her business in September 2012 (the National Party eventually stepped in to spare their blushes).

The local Barnet Tories did not kick out Tom Davey for putting numerous obnoxious messages on facebook belittling the disabled and people on benefits.

The local Barnet Tories did not kick out Brian Gordon for blacking up in a highly patronising attempt to impersonate Nelson Mandela.

The local Barnet Tories did not kick out Mike Freer for gambling with Council funds in Icelandic banks, despite credit ageny warnings. They actually made him an MP as reward.

The local Barnet Tories did not kick out Leader Richard Cornelius for signing a contract with Capita worth a billion pounds and not even reading it.

The local Barnet Tories did not kick out Matthew Offord for mismanaging the Aerodrome Road Bridge project to such an extent that an  £12 million budget overspent by another £11 million.  He was also made an MP.

The local Barnet Tories did not kick out Rueben Thompstone for misleading the people of Barnet about the finances of Mapledown Special School in comments to the press, pretending they had huge reserves that could be spent on after school schemes.

The local Barnet Tories did not kick out John Hart for racially mimicing a local woman of Sri Lankan heritage whilst chairing the Hendon & District residents forum.

We could go on, but we think you get the idea. The Tories all voted to waive the need for Hugh Rayner to declare financial interests when voting on matters concerning housing issues at the Council, so they clearly all think his behaviour is absolutely fine.

So the Barnet Eye thinks that the Labour Party is totally wrong to pick on Hugh, when all he is doing is simply displaying the values to which all his colleagues subscribe. I want him to carry on as Mayor so that between now and the Election, he can remind us exactly what sort of a character you need to be a successful politician if you are a Barnet Tory. We say Carry On Hugh..... We need you to keep reminding us. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Barnet Homes Performance - Spin and deception

Barnet Council have released a report detailing how well Barnet Homes are doing. 

2.16 The average length of time spent by households in short-term accommodation continued to increase. This indicator has been dropped for 2014/15 because
a) all ETA used is self-contained and provides appropriate accommodation suitable for the needs of those placed there;
b) the more recent placements are at a higher cost to the Council reflecting the current London housing market; and,
c) efforts are focused on preventing people going into high cost ETA as a priority and on securing additional suitable private sector longer-term lettings which are more affordable for the Council. This indicator has therefore been replaced in 2014/15 by the total number of Private Rented Sector lettings achieved which better measures the performance of Barnet Homes in addressing the pressures of rising demand for homeless accommodation. In the first two months of 14/15 Barnet Homes achieved 66 private lets, which is above target. 

Says it all really, doesn't it. If the numbers look bad, invent a new set of numbers

Monday, 21 July 2014

Some great arial shots of Mill Hill Music Complex

A friend of mine has just bought a drone and used it to take a few pictures of Mill Hill Music Complex for me. I find such pictures fascinating. As you can see, we are based in the most glamourous part of Mill Hill. The picture was taken shortly before the World Cup final kicked off. You may notice the M1 is quieter than usual ! Our reception is the nice blue building. Boys and their toys !!! In my day you'd fly a kite with your kids.


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Guest Blog - Observance of Gods Laws by Fr Kevin O'Shea

We do not usually consider law as a source of wonder. Laws are regarded as boundaries we ought not transgress rather than as thresholds of wonder. However, for the people of Israel, the word 'Law' (Torah) did not have the narrow legalistic meaning that it has for us. In fact the first five books of the Bible were know as the Torah, because they reveal the story of God's loving plans for his people and what he expects of them. So 'Torah' means instruction, something that shows us the way, reveals God's will; not so much as a code of rules to be observed but as a way of life to be followed.
The psalmist knows that we can observe God's law with all our heart only if we understand its spirit, that is, the principles underpinning it.

Fr. Kevin O'Shea, C.M. (From Sunday Notes by Fr Kevin O'Shea at http://shmi.info/ )