Monday, 23 March 2009

Grow your own business Expo - The Good, The Bad & The Very, Very Ugly

I attended the Expo last Friday. It was actually a small subsection of a Franchising Expo which was being held at Olympia. There were a number of stands and a small theatre area which had a number of seminars throughout the day. I am usually a big fan of these sort of events. Accountants tend to ignore them as time consuming and unproductive. However I like them as they are a good way to see what information is being fed to clients.

As my last blog indicated the "someone told me" call is a common one, and one which usually creates more problems than it fixes. So attending these sort of events helps understand the current thinking. It takes us as Accountants out of the Ivory towers to the dirty cobbled streets below. That said, if I had staff I would be sending one of the more junior guys instead of me and have them give a presentation.

As the title of this blog suggests it was a mixed day. Some things were useful, some were less than useful and a lot seemed to be missing the point of the Expo.

The Franchise Expo took up more than two thirds of the floor space. Including a stall for McDonalds which surprised me. McD's have been closing sites in recent years. Maybe they see a growing business in a recession? There seemed to be a disproportionate number of car repair franchises. And some odd franchises (Vinegar store? Honey and jam reseller?). All seemed to be busy throughout the day. I guess that in an employment market that is falling every day people are attracted by buying into a brand name.

But what are you really getting. For example there was a greeting card company exhibiting. But it was not Clintons, Hallmark or another high street name. So with no brand name it appears all you are getting is a line to a supplier. Now admittedly I did not enquire as to the details of the franchise, but can anyone tell me I'm wrong?

The seminars were poor too. Unfortunately thanks to the London transport system I missed the first seminar. The second dealt with Franchising which was odd as the Franchise area had three theatres going all day.

The third seminar was "Maintaining and growing cash flow, sales and profitability". Unfortunately this was given by an accountant and turned into Accounting 101. Yes it is important to understand that profit does not equal cash, but that hardly helps build cashflow! It maybe that I am being unduly harsh (accounting jealousy!) but there seemed to be little here that was anything other than common sense. If businesses are not planning ahead it is unlikely they will succeed no matter what the economy is doing. I guess the main thing to be taken away from this seminar is that times are hard, keep trying until you find something that works!

The theatre was orientated so that the sun shone on the screen all the time. This meant that the PowerPoint slides, whilst I am sure they were useful, remained invisible.

The next seminar dealt with social marketing which is a whole blog on its own. Ultimately it felt like a 30 minute pitch for Ecadamy (which the speaker was associated with!) but had a few useful tips. I guess the most important was "first impressions count, don't blow it".

I tried to last until the next seminar. But the expo was so small that I think some of the people on stands thought I was stalking them as I had been past so many times. I gave up. It was 2pm on a Friday and I was too bored to stay. Looking at the floor plan there was a visitors area, which I thought was seating for a coffee bar! There really needed to be a business area where people could of sat to pick up messages, dealt with phone calls etc. The Expo only used about 3/4 of the total floor space (I went up to the gallery to see) so it would of been easy to have an open area with chairs for sitting and plenty of space for everyone to find a quiet area for a phone call.

The Dragons Den stand raised a chuckle, particularly as one time I walked past I overheard the trophy girlfriend (whatever image is in your mind right now is probably about 50% there!) of a young would be TV star beg for a mention in his pitch!

Ultimately the whole Expo seemed like a good idea wasted. Maybe companies were reluctant to attend due to cost. But the only IT company in attendance was Sony (Like the Vaio netbook btw). No software suppliers of any type. Surely one of the best ways to grow, or at least maintain profitability, is to upgrade IT to run the business as efficiently as possible?

On the walk home it really occurred to me that what should of been running was an Entrepreneurs Expo. The Franchisers would still be there but the focus would be much more on new or small businesses. That would be when Accounting 101 courses would be useful...

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