Monthly Archives: September 2016

Dare on Business is Needed

Don’t let pride get in your way: Bridge knowledge gaps. One of the biggest growth barriers that business owners face has nothing to do with weak sales, sloppy strategic planning or lacklustre personnel. It’s a psychological hurdle: knowing what you don’t know.

The ability to recognize holes in your knowledge — and find ways to plug them — propels your business. Otherwise, you might see yourself as a jack-of-all-trades and repeatedly take on duties for which you’re unqualified. Making decisions when you lack understanding or familiarity with the issues can lead to disastrous results. It sounds simple: Admit your weaknesses and address them. Yet when events unfold at breakneck speed, chief executives of young companies may feel that they lack the luxury of time to sit back, assess the situation, recognise their knowledge gaps and fill them.

Overcome the obstacles

What makes it so hard for founders to confront what they don’t know? For starters, they grow so accustomed to improvising that they assume they’ll learn whatever they need to know by doing. They assume part of running a growing business is rendering judgments without having all the answers.

Have you fallen into this trap? See if the following statements sound familiar:

  • I’ll never have all the information I’d ideally like to have, so I need to do my best with what I know
  • I don’t have anyone critiquing my performance every day. There’s no one around telling me, “You don’t know enough about this. Learn more before you plunge in”
  • Launching a business is a leap of faith. I’m busy drumming up excitement in our future. Obsessing over what I don’t know isn’t going to help us grow

What’s more, business owners cherish their independence. They may reject unsolicited input from others, especially if outsiders try to tell them what to do or how to do it. Unless entrepreneurs schedule periodic meetings with a mentor or advisory board, they may operate in a vacuum and lose perspective on their own strengths and weaknesses.

Self-confidence is a prerequisite for building a business. But too much confidence can convince you that you know what you’re doing when you really don’t, causing you to stray far from your field of expertise. Another obstacle is the temptation to assume you can muddle through on your own. Telling yourself, “I can get by for now” or “I can figure this out myself,” prompts you to accept your limitations without attempting to patch up knowledge holes. Even if you accept your knowledge gaps, you might not want to dwell on them because it makes you uneasy. Feelings ranging from misguided pride to flaring anxiety can lead you to forge onward rather than taking the time to confront unknowns.

Through the Lens of a Dedicated Follower

He’s only been in business for five years, but Evan Doherty has already gained a reputation as one of the most sought after photographers in Dublin. The 31-year-old from Bayside counts Dunnes Stores, Debenhams and Ryanair amongst his many commercial clients. What’s more, he regularly shoots fashion advertorials with the top models like Vogue Williams, Rozanna Purcell and Teodora Sutra.

“Most days I’m so busy that the phone is constantly ringing,” he says. “It’s hard work but I’m not complaining.” Although he has long had a love of photography and always showed an artistic flair, Evan studied Sound Engineering after school. He soon found it was not for him and left after a few months to take up a role as an assistant chef working on Irish Ferries. It was only when he was made redundant in 2011 that he decided to study photography.

A Change of Direction

“Taking pictures was always a hobby for me. It never occurred to me to try to make a living from it,” he says. “But when my friend’s mother suggested that I do a year-long course in photography at Marino College of Further Education, I decided to give it a go. After that, I did work experience with fashion photographer Barry McCall.”

Evan was then offered a place on a fine art photography course in Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. Although it was a four-year course, Evan found he was being offered work with top clients after just two years and decided to leave. He hasn’t looked back since.

 

Learning on the Job

“I threw myself into it head first,” he laughs. “And in many ways, I learnt on the job. It helped that it was around the time of the changeover to digital from analogue photography.”

However, he emphasises that it’s not just the ability to take a good photograph that makes a good photography business. “You have to have people skills too,” he says. “And be good at marketing yourself. Of course, there is all the admin to manage too. It may sound glamorous – and believe me, it is at times. I travel all the time, work with celebrities and shoot in exotic locations. But it is a lot of hard work and you’ve got to have a good work ethic.”

 

Getting the House in Order

That’s where AIB’s MyBusinessToolkit came into play. Evan discovered the service when he opened a business account with AIB last year and has found it an invaluable tool ever since. “My accountant used to laugh at my accounts,” he says. “Realistically, it’s hard to keep track of finances when you are working all day on the job and you’re tired in the evenings.”

“What’s more, in the first couple of years I had to spend money to update my equipment on a regular basis. I needed a good computer and hired a studio on George’s Street. I used to just spend without thinking about what money was coming into my account, and I used a personal account for business so I mixed the two.”

Descriptive Brand Names

It is important that brand owners be aware of the trademark registration process when choosing a new brand name. Not only should a brand name address the commercial needs of a company, it should also satisfy the legal requirements for registration. To qualify for registration, a trade mark needs to be distinctive so that consumers can easily identify the trade origin of products or services, say David Flynn and Mary Bleahene of FRKelly – Ireland’s leading Intellectual Property firm.

 

There are many types of brand names which do not qualify for trade mark registration and these include “descriptive” trademarks. A trade mark is considered descriptive if it has a meaning which will be immediately perceived by consumers as providing information about the goods and services on offer. For example, the mark DetergentOptimiser was refused registration for washing machines (laundry machines / dishwashing machines), the mark ELITEPAD was refused registration in respect of tablet computers and the mark Original Eau de Cologne was refused registration for cologne.

 

All of these trademarks provide immediate information about the goods being sold. The rationale behind forbidding registration of descriptive trademarks is that purely descriptive terms should be left available for all traders to use. However, it should be noted that trademarks which are merely suggestive of the goods or services are generally protectable.

 

Trade marks which attribute quality or excellence to the products or services on offer are also unregistrable because they are considered descriptive in a laudatory sense. Examples of laudatory terms include “Finest”, “Prime” and “Deluxe”. The reluctance to permit registration of laudatory trademarks is based on the belief that the customer will view the mark as a promotional or advertising term which describes positive aspects of the goods, rather than as a trade mark denoting trade source.

 

If a brand owner is concerned that its trade mark could be refused registration because it is descriptive / laudatory, the crucial question is whether the mark provides immediate information about the goods or services of interest.

How to Handle Security Breaches

In the last 12 months, the number of cybersecurity attacks has grown significantly. The potential ramifications of a cybersecurity breach to a business can be devastating, such as loss of customer confidence, damage to company reputation, theft of assets and extensive administrative costs in dealing with all affected stakeholders. However, there are a number of actions a business can take to reduce the likelihood of a cybersecurity breach and deal with the consequences where the company suffers an attack, writes Barry Connolly of Flynn O’Driscoll.

Risk assessment. Similar to any other risks that a business may face, when seeking to prevent cybersecurity breaches, the first step should include quantifying the risk. In the cybersecurity context, this will include identifying certain elements of a business’s system that are particularly exposed. This will range from the vulnerability of the company’s online web presence to the possibility of physical access (on-site) to a networked platform. Risk assessments should be carried out on a regular basis so that new threats can be identified and the business remains aware of current trends in cyber threats.

 

Software Security Measures. Having identified areas of risk, tailored security measures should be put in place to address these concerns. The company’s IT environment should include effective firewalls and antivirus software to deal with threats. It should also ensure that software used in the business is kept up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates.

On-Site Security Measures. The most effective software solutions will often be rendered useless where a breach of cybersecurity occurs through a breach of the company’s system from within. Sensitive computer systems should include effective access control restrictions, server rooms should be secured at all times and disposal of IT equipment should be handled securely by competent staff.

 

Service Providers. A cybersecurity breach in a third party, providing services to a business can be just as damaging as a breach in the business itself. Unfortunately, the business is likely to have even less control in this scenario; therefore, it is essential that all relevant contracts clearly delineate responsibility between the parties. On the occurrence of a cybersecurity breach, when time is critical, protracted negotiations on liability should always be avoided. Contracts with software providers should also be reviewed to ensure that maintenance services and bug patches apply to earlier versions of the software that may still be in use, and that any software updates are made available to the company on release.

Testing. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of a cybersecurity breach is to undergo testing, such as system penetration testing. Companies can avail of a range of tools from cybersecurity providers that will simulate an attempted system intrusion or a widespread DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.

 

Company Policies and Training. Putting in place effective policies to handle cybersecurity breaches is essential in mitigating the risk of a breach. This may include a specific cybersecurity policy, as part of a comprehensive IT policy. However, even the best policies are useless if staff are unaware of the content of policies or how they should operate in practice. Educating staff on potential threats and how to report them up the chain can be vital in the early detection and response to a cybersecurity breach.

Brussels sprouts are the ultimate Christmas vegetable

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying Brussels sprouts are the ultimate Christmas vegetable. In fact, each Christmas, we munch our way through around 100 million sprouts, and a good chunk of that number is supplied by Anthony and Enda Weldon from their farm in North Dublin. Much like Santa’s elves, December means serious overtime for the Weldons –  as they aim to ensure a serving of sprouts makes it onto dinner plates around Ireland. Read on to find out how they do it.

When it comes to sprouts, the Weldon brothers have a lot of pedigree. They’ve been growing them for decades. “The farm has been in the family for around four generations,” Anthony says. “It was traditionally vegetable and cereal growing, but it’s only in the last few decades we decided to concentrate on sprouts specifically.”

“They’re obviously originally from Brussels, but sprouts would have been grown in Ireland from the early part of the last century,” he explains. “My grandfather grew them and he was a young man in the 1916 Rising.”

Brussels sprouts will certainly be making an appearance in the Weldons’ Christmas spread. “I would eat them three times a week,” Anthony says. “The traditional way is to cook the sprouts in the same way as bacon and cabbage, with the sprouts done in the bacon water.”

And younger generations are finding new ways to spice up the sprout with creative cookery. “Just yesterday, my nephew made up a sprout salad with maple syrup and beetroot and it was absolutely delicious,” Enda explains. “Everyone was filling their plates.”

Along with daring new recipes, modern growing techniques and varieties have contributed to a serious uptake in the humble sprout’s reputation. “We plant them a lot earlier than we did traditionally, and we grow them now on a slower regime,” Enda explains. “That way, they use all the natural trace elements that are in the ground.”

“The varieties we have now are a lot sweeter,” Anthony says. “I think that’s what put people off them years ago. They were used as a threat, ‘We’ll give you sprouts if you don’t behave yourself!’ but I think that’s changing now. Thankfully for us,” he laughs.