A great business gift

April 18, 2013 at 6:15 am | Posted in Business | 9 Comments
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Welcome home!

Welcome home!

One xmas, my wife Fonnie* gave me an amazing gift: the beautiful, rust-proof aluminium name plate you see above.

I loved it the moment I unwrapped it.

This plate has since proven its worth beyond anything we imagined.

Here’s how.


Within days of the plate going up, our postie (mail delivery officer) accosted me from his bike.

He said he’d had several letters addressed to Empire House, and that he’d toured the suburb hunting for the ten-storey edifice our head office name implies.

He was glad of the confirmation.


Traffic is busy in our one-way street.

Visiting clients have remarked that seeing the plate on their first drive-by assured them they were in the right spot.

This freed them to concentrate on parking.


My renting neighbours change fast enough to constitute a minor marketing demographic.

I always try to be welcoming.

When I tell newcomers how to prevent their car windows being smashed by thieves, they invariably ask me to explain the plate.

This has twice generated business leads.


Registering a business in Victoria requires you to ‘hang your shingle’ outside your premises. I’d been meaning to do this for eight years.

Now it’s sorted – in style!


The plate cost $198 (including GST). Fonnie also gave me the receipt. I claimed my own xmas present as a tax deduction against Empire income.

How cool was that?!


Every time I see the plate, I feel pride that I have a thriving business and satisfaction that I work from home. It’s a great mindset with which to enter my office and start the day.

So, if you need a gift idea for a business owner,

throw this against the wall

and see if it



* With extensive artistic and technical input from Adam Finlay.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

The blue boat

April 17, 2013 at 8:09 am | Posted in Business | 7 Comments
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Business marketing

Toot toot!

When I worked for advertising agencies, I heard of a client-wrangling device called ‘the blue boat’.

Though I never saw it in action, this wicked concept delighted my dark side.

Here’s how it went:

  1. If a studio thought a client was going to be tricky and picky, the creative director worked a blue boat into the campaign concept artwork.
  2. When presented with this artwork, the client invariably demanded the boat’s removal.
  3. In so doing, the client exercised power over the creative staff and felt ownership of the concept.
  4. Having showcased their expertise and stamped their authority, the client seldom felt the need to meddle with the creative process again.
  5. The campaign then proceeded smoothly.

Though guiltily attracted to this diabolical strategy, part of me thought it could be unethical and condescending.

Then again, I’ve seen ‘nightmare’ clients kill great ideas, disrespect hard working staff and otherwise throw their weight around for the sheer joy of it.

Bereft of evidence, I’d sadly concluded that blue boats must be apocryphal. Then Seth Godin wrote a post called Add some {brackets} .

Perhaps blue boats exist after all!

I’m now extremely keen to know the following:

  • As a service provider, have you ever deployed a blue boat?
  • As a client, have you ever spotted and sunk one?
  • As a reader, do you think blue boats are legitimate?
  • Are there better ways to deal with clients who display too much attitude?

Our discussion needn’t be confined to creative campaigns. It can cover pitches, tenders, letters, chats with the boss about pay rises – anything you like.

You can comment anonymously; we won’t blow your cover.

Let’s see what secrets we can raise from

the deep!


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Jokers on me

April 16, 2013 at 8:26 am | Posted in Business | 4 Comments
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More fool me.

More fool me.

I thought I’d take a break from all this blog-based learning and have a play in eBay. Blow me down if there wasn’t a lesson there for me too!

A lesson in listening.

I’d advertised my childhood collection of playing card jokers. My ad featured a panoramic photo of all 177 permutations.

Certain of a bidding war between rabid collectors, I refused a prospective buyer’s request to flip the cards over. He even suggested I scan my cards in groups of eight!

I couldn’t see the point of laying all the cards out again to photograph their mangy backs – let alone processing them in tiny batches.

Then a second prospective customer made a similar request.

Before I could knock her back, she explained that the joker fraternity was a lunatic fringe of the much larger swap card sorority. If clearly shown the backs of my cards, the ‘swappies’ would likely far outbid the ‘jokies’.

I’d owned these jolly cards for 35 years, yet never turned them over to see the fascinating pictures on their backs.

Humbled yet again, even at play, I admitted my ignorance, conveyed my appreciation and did what I was asked.

At once, the number of eBayers watching my ad rocketed. Though bidding didn’t reach my frenzied fantasy (I made about $140) I’m richer for this experience.

I’ve learned that even with something modest and small, that I’ve dealt with for decades, I can’t afford to ignore customers, take them for granted or think I know best.

This time, therefore,

the jokers are on



Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

How to put the SUPER in your superannuation

April 13, 2013 at 8:09 am | Posted in Business | 40 Comments
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Your future is largely up to you.

Your future is largely up to you.

Superannuation may sound boring, but it sure beats eating cold beans under a bridge in the rain.

With families fragmenting and our population aging, more people will need to look after themselves in later years. And doing that in any kind of style takes serious cash.

A bit of super planning now could save you from very grim times down the track.

The problem is, sorting out super can be bewildering.

Fortunately, I have some pointers for you.

Get advice

Many people are reluctant to pay for professional financial advice. Yet a good financial planner can save you from making terrible decisions (or failing to make the most important ones).

If their advice means you end up with $150,000 more in 30 years, it’s surely worth a few hundred bucks now.

Happily, a recent financial services sector shake-up means planners now charge directly for their services, rather than live off commissions.

This means they can advise you without the distraction of incentives.

So don’t just rely on my advice; speak to a money expert!

Compare funds

There’s an astonishing variety of super funds out there. But if you’ve watched TV in the last few years, you may have noticed the rise of ‘industry’ funds.

These funds are designed to help their members. To this end, they have lower fees – which can really make a difference to your payout.

‘Commercial’ super funds, on the other hand, are designed to make a profit while serving their members. This could be seen as having ‘two masters’, with a resulting dilution of focus.

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by choice, see if there’s an industry fund for your line of work. It could serve as a very handy benchmark, and it may even be your best option.

Future proof

One interesting trend is the rise of ‘ethical’ super funds.

While formerly the domain of tree huggers, there are now very sound reasons to check these out.

Not only do you get a warm fuzzy from putting your money where it won’t hurt people, animals or the planet, ethical investments can be very in tune with global trends.

For instance, a fund that’s skewed towards medical technology, renewable energy and recycling may be a far better long-term bet than one heavily weighted with coal, tobacco and iron-ore investments.

So, when thinking about your future, factor in the future.

Your turn

What’s your super scheme like?

Is it going to look after you in years to come?

Have you found a scheme that offers everything we’ve discussed and more?

I’d love to hear your stories (good and bad) so we can take this vital discussion further.


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Learning leadership

April 12, 2013 at 9:03 am | Posted in Business | 3 Comments
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Look around you.

Look around you.

It’s been said that if you walk with two people, you should be able to teach one and learn from the other.

This dual talent is the hallmark of a leader. But not everyone ‘gets’ the second part.

Seeking help when you need it is smart, mature and practical. It benefits everyone involved (and hence your organisation).

Help is all around. It’s also above and below.

Just ask.



If you’re replacing a manager who’s gone to better things (including retirement), they can be a mine of advice and information. Time spent with them is an excellent investment.

  • Burning issues.
  • Top performers.
  • Political considerations.
  • Economic realities.
  • Painful lessons.
  • The list is long.

Forewarned is forearmed, and their field intelligence can add great power to your management campaign.


If you have a colleague (in your unit or even another organisation) you can team with them. By sharing what you learn, you double your input. You’ll also have someone to call when you’re unsure what to do.

Buddy relationships can last for decades. And as you both advance, you’ll help each other in ever more significant ways.

So try to orbit a few fellow stars.



Everyone wants to impress the boss. But it cuts both ways. It’s their responsibility to give you what you need to succeed. Yet with today’s self-directed careers, you must ensure they do.

  • If it’s your first staff termination, get your manager to do a role play with you.
  • If you’re a bit shaky on budgets, ask to watch them do theirs.

Learning from your leader has another big advantage. When they’re away, you can hold the fort.

And when they move on, you’re the logical successor.

Mentor / Coach

Depending on your level, you may be assigned a formal mentor. In some organisations, a ‘coach’ may offer informal support when you arrive.

These are both welcome resources. If neither appears, you should seek out your own.

People who become ‘masters’ in their field often wish to pass on their expertise. If they decant their wisdom into you, you’ll gain a life of lessons without learning the hard way.

Masters are also like a living encyclopaedia. If you hit a tricky task or situation, you just look them up for the answer.


Reverse Mentor

Wisdom is no longer the domain of the old.

Technology is moving too fast for anyone to keep pace. From social media to iPhones to cloud computing, you’ll need to tap specialists from time to time.

As these enthusiasts are often younger than those they help, they’re called ‘reverse mentors’. Using them saves time, money and tears.

In return for their technical advice, you can impart knowledge they’ve not had the time or opportunity to learn.

Team Member

Every office has its foibles, from the colour printer to the Kris Kringle policy. Staff who’ve spent years there know the ropes.

Ask and learn from your team. They’ll appreciate your humility (and the chance to demonstrate their expertise).

You’ll get a close look at their talents and team spirit (while avoiding embarrassing errors).


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

How to demonstrate perfect competition by bending ice-cream vans to your will

April 11, 2013 at 6:24 am | Posted in Business | Leave a comment
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Whip it good!

Whip it good!

This true story teaches the theory and practice of cutting yourself a better deal in just about any purchase you can imagine.

Price comparison is much easier than you think.

And it’s fun!

Read on to see if you agree.

Cold cash

Bored mates Bob and Rob* sat outside the Victorian Arts Centre on a bleak winter’s day.

Before them were parked two almost-identical ice-cream vans.

Economics student Bob asked Rob if he’d like to see a demonstration of ‘perfect competition’.

Rob asked what that was.

Bob explained that perfect competition involves:

  • A homogenous (i.e. very similar) product.
  • Full information on prices.
  • Equal access to suppliers.

Bob said the two ice-cream vans offered precisely these conditions.

He then predicted that by using perfect competition, he could get two ice creams at 20% off.

Rob grinned with disbelief, then told Bob to knock himself out.

Ice ice baby!

Bob approached the first van.

He told the first ice-cream man he’d buy two chop-dips with nut sprinkles if he offered a 20% discount over his competitor (mere metres away).

The man refused.

So Bob went to the second van and repeated his offer.

The second ice-cream man was uncertain.

Bob pointed out that, as there were precious few customers on this cold day, it was very much in the man’s interest to give the discount.

If he didn’t, he’d miss the sale.

Instead, it’d go to his rival.

And he’d have to ditch his stock at the end of the day.

The second ice-cream man thought about this, then agreed.

Bob returned triumphant.

Rob was amazed.

And the ice creams were delicious.

Take-away food for thought

This simple tale holds essential truths:

  1. Comparing suppliers is every customer’s right.
  2. It’s not hard to do; just ask. You could save an (ice-cream) truckload!
  3. Harsh economic conditions (like now) are the best time to compare.
  4. Rather than shaft all suppliers, comparison rewards flexible ones with business.
  5. You’ll therefore do us all a favour by having a go.

Play time

Today’s trading conditions and technological advances are moving us ever closer to perfect competition.

What happened with those ice creams applies to a fast-growing number of purchases.

All the way up to the biggest buys of your life – like cars and homes.

So get out there and scoop yourself a cool deal.

You’ll find success tastes very



* I changed the names, but this story is true.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

First published on Finder.com.au.

Impersonal banking

April 10, 2013 at 4:43 am | Posted in Business | Leave a comment
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Mmm buzz click.

Mmmm. Buzz click …

Bank bashing is easy, unproductive and old hat. Therefore, let me say this: if I lent hundreds of thousands of dollars to a virtual stranger so he could buy a home, run a business and do up his kitchen, I’d certainly expect to hold the whip hand.

Though it concerns banking, this post is about promises.

Many years ago, I left one big bank to protest bad service. The new big bank was better. When I got my line of credit, I was told I had a Personal Banker.

To prove it, I was sent a card with the name and contact details of a live human being.

I was highly sceptical. But once I started dealing with Sally*, my faith was renewed.

Sally answered my calls, replied to my emails, explained things clearly and strove to make good things happen fast.

As I wrote in her Christmas card [!] ‘You have single-handedly restored my faith in banks.’

When Sally was promoted to a bigger branch, I had my accounts transferred to be near her. Through the trials of recession and renovation, she was there: calming, helping, advising.

Then she got headhunted by a smaller bank.

Devastated, I tracked her down to see if I could switch banks. Alas, she’d also changed division and role.

That night, the concrete path to Empire House inexplicably cracked^.

My bank assigned me to a new Personal Banker, who promptly broke several limbs playing football and never regained focus.

My next Personal Banker moved overseas before we could meet.

My next Personal Banker changed branches, but wasn’t worth following.

My next Personal Banker was literally impossible to contact. I had to appeal his poor performance via online banking.

His replacement (my next Personal Banker) spoke to me twice before handballing me to her assistant for ‘personal reasons’.

In one of these exchanges, she advised that my request for a lower interest rate had been turned down by ‘the bank’.

I managed to get her email address, as I wished to posit that for my purposes, she was ‘the bank’. She hasn’t replied.

Finally, I asked her underling if it’d help to transfer my accounts to head office, just in case it was ‘the bank’.

He said no.

How I wish my bank had never put the idea of ‘personal banking’ into my head.

Because of this promise, I now suffer the sting of betrayal.

Would that I could regain the mistrust which once cocooned me from constant disappointment.

Come to think of it,

I’m almost there.


* Not her real name.

^ Not really; the neighbour’s tree fell on it during pruning.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Teabags, toilet paper & tax

April 9, 2013 at 6:00 am | Posted in Business | 2 Comments
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One deduction or two?

One deduction or two?

Over the years, I’ve peppered my accountant with (mostly outrageous) questions about what I can legally claim against my business income to minimise my tax.

My learnings are summarised below.

With any luck, you’ll spot something you haven’t considered.

Even better, you’ll table things I’ve missed.

If we all contribute, we’ll create a comprehensive list of deductibles to make everyone’s New Year happier!

My favourite deduction category is Staff Amenities, which includes:

  • Milk.
  • Tea.
  • Coffee.
  • Jarrah Chocolatté rich creamy triple-choc fudge explosion (reserved for executive managers).
  • Sugar.
  • Biscuits (for visiting clients).
  • Toilet paper.
  • Soap.
  • Tissues (for crying over bad debts).
  • Cleaning products (including fabric softener, for washing tea towels).
  • First aid supplies (e.g. disinfectant and bandaids, for nasty paper cuts).

As Fonnie and I are the only staff based at Empire House, I’m very careful to make reasonable, proportional claims.

I operate as if a Tax Officer is peering over my shoulder. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time!

My second favourite category is Utilities (water, gas, electricity, rates and telephone). One of the few benefits of working in a 4 x 22 m cottage is that I can claim a third of these expenses, rather than the usual fifth or sixth.

If you’re based in a flat, you may be able to do likewise.

Claiming part of these bills reduces the sting of paying them. I was even able to claim a third of my new hot water service.

The same would’ve applied had I installed a solar power system this financial year. What a shame the government torpedoed that initiative!

Claiming items bought solely for your office is also fun. If you’re going to spend 8-14 hours of every day in one room, you might as well make it nice.

Claiming makes it less daunting to buy attractive, high quality items like rugs and ergonomic desks and chairs. Lesser office items include lamps, globes, power boards and wastepaper baskets.

When I had my front door rehung due to the drought, some of the cost was claimable (as it formed part of my client reception area).

The same applied to my new doormat and sensor light. I was even able to claim my Eckhart Tolle ticket, as it partly inspired one of my blog posts.

All you need is a keen eye, a rabid desire to maximise your tax return and a very patient accountant.

I fully believe in paying tax to fund the government infrastructure and services I enjoy.

I simply don’t want to pay more than I must.

So, what ideas can YOU contribute to

line our pockets and

make us



Brought to you by The Feisty Empire

Kitchen bitchin’

April 3, 2013 at 5:30 am | Posted in Business | Leave a comment
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The impossibility of communal hygiene.

Is communal hygiene impossible?

I believe it’s beyond the power of humans to maintain communal kitchens.

In every workplace and share house I’ve occupied, visited or heard about, there have been tea room or kitchen dramas:

  • One poor, abused soul does all the cleaning.
  • Emails fly about brown, furry things in the fridge.
  • People tip half-full mugs in the just-run dishwasher.
  • The cutlery draw is empty; everyone has private utensils.
  • No-one does any cleaning, so all use foam cups and paper plates.
  • Disembowelled food platters are abandoned (for discovery by VIPs).
  • Posters invoking health, family, decency and community are torn down overnight.

I’ve seen every plea, order, threat, prayer, ultimatum and roster.

All have failed.

I’ve therefore summoned the power of poetry.

I hope that by printing and posting my poems in your trouble spot, you’ll make a difference.

Here they are, in your choice of rhyming couplet or haiku:

Tea Room Poem

When holding a wet teaspoon,

Prithee, stop and think:

‘Shall I wash and dry the bastard,

Or chuck it in the sink?’


Imagine all your workmates

Gathered at your side;

Fondling their bread knives

As you try to decide.


Picture sixteen Staysharps,

Keen and cold and true,

Dicing you to dog food

And you’ll know what to do.

#1 Teaspoon

I am the teaspoon.

Many use me, few wash me.

I reside in filth.

#2 Teaspoons

We drown inverted,

The blue mug our common grave.

A cradle of germs.

#3 The Zen of Teaspoons

If a teaspoon falls

In the sink and no one sees

Will it wash itself?


#4 Idle Spoons

Clean and dry at last!

Not for us the kitchen drawer.

On the sink we laze.


#5 Thoughtless Acts

Like Yin in our Yang,

Sugar flecked with coffee lumps

Flaws each perfect tea.


Knock yourself out, send a photo of these poems at work and let us know if they do the trick!

While we’re waiting, what’s the most hideous tea room tale you can tell?

Alternatively, excoriate my dismal theory by tabling your shining example of a functional communal kitchen.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire

Look, Dad; no job!

March 30, 2013 at 6:16 am | Posted in Business | 2 Comments
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Get real.

Get real?!

Contrary to TV nirvana, family affairs can be vexed. And when children choose different paths to their parents’, the relative thickness of blood doesn’t stint its flow.

This has been a big issue for my small business. I’m keen to know if you think I’m a spoilt brat or part of a statistically relevant pack.

My decision to ditch a career that was killing me body and soul was greeted with stony family silence. There followed a salvo of pointed questions that left me doubtless as to the unpopularity of my choice.

Pressing on regardless was a major breach of domestic protocol.

As I built my business over several years, the advice to go back to ‘the workforce’ was regular dinner fare.

Finally, when I proudly announced that I’d doubled my former salary, the advice shifted from fiscal to spiritual. In summary:

Phase 1

How’s business?

A bit slow…

Hmm. Maybe you should give it away and get a real job.

Phase 2

How’s business?


Hmm. Hope you’re not burning yourself out.

What I perceived as lack of support was described as devil’s advocacy and parental concern. Yet it consistently left me frustrated, deflated and angry.

These feelings compounded when I learned (third hand) that my business success had been lauded (at length) to family and friends (in my absence).

I went crying to my mates, who had markedly different takes on the matter.

One reported that his dad had pooh-poohed everything he’d ever done. When he finally earned a company car, he was chided that it was an SL, not an SLX.

Another said that when a man has taught his son to hunt buffalo, it doesn’t do anyone any good (except the buffalo) for the son to be always looking back for approval.

I later watched an interview with a famous Australian chef. When his mother saw him showcased on Japanese TV, she thought he’d been arrested.

She nearly had a heart attack, having no idea what he did, or how gifted he was.

Last week, after spending over a decade in Phases 1 and 2, I tried a bold, new tack:

Phase 3

How’s business?

Perfect! I have just the right amount of work coming in at exactly the right rate.

Hmm. Very good.

End of story. Praise at last! All I had to do was lie.

I’ve since quizzed my Twitter followers on this topic.

Results have been mixed,

so I’d very much like your view.


Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

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