Category Archives: Business

Start up Business with Lisa Hughes

As a business coach with over two decades of experience and a mentor with the AIB Start-up Academy, Lisa Hughes knows what it takes to make a successful start-up.

We spoke to her to find out how finding your Unique Selling Proposition or USP can make a serious difference to your business.

Get an Outside Perspective

As an entrepreneur herself, Lisa cautions that it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of running your business and lose sight of what truly makes your product unique. “You can’t see a building in its entirety when you’re inside the building,” she explains. “And when you’re an entrepreneur, who’s living and breathing your business every day, you can easily lose perspective on it. What ends up happening is that the business owner is not looking at the product from their customers’ perspective. They’re looking at it from the inside out.”

“We are all here to serve our customers, to take people’s pain away or add value,” she continues. “Until we get that message baked into our thinking, then sometimes it’s going to feel like we’re pushing a rock up a hill because we’re selling something that perhaps we don’t necessarily want or need. Ultimately, your USP is what your customers value. Not what you value.”

Learn From Customer Behaviour

Know your customer is a familiar business mantra, but finding your USP can require a more wide-ranging approach than traditional market research. “Sometimes if you ask a customer what they like about your product, they will tell you things that they think you want to hear,” Lisa says. “But ultimately, it’s their buying behaviour that tells you what they really do value. Lynne Twist always says, “Look at your chequebook”. Where you send your money is what you really value.”

“If we take the example of Kiki Moon from this year’s Start-up Academy,” she explains. “Keelin had developed this beautiful baby blanket, but what happened is that people started asking if she had it in a bigger size. It completely changed her view from ‘this is a baby product’ into ‘this is a product that everyone can enjoy’. And all of a sudden she had all kinds of market segments opening up.”

While Lisa doesn’t discount the value of market research, she cautions that a holistic approach to examining customer behaviour can pay greater dividends. “Listening to your customers for unprompted things is probably going to give you greater insights,” she says. “If you’re asking your customers specific questions you already have an agenda. Whereas listening to the online conversation around your product can really help you to understand what people really want from it because they will discuss it more naturally.”


Things to Consider for the Perfect Business

Finding the right premises can be one of the most difficult tasks for any entrepreneur or business owner. But with some careful planning and preparation, you can take a lot of the stress out of the search. Read on for five things to consider when choosing your business premises.

Size Matters

When considering the size of your premises, it’s usually best to start small. Try to find somewhere that is adequate for your needs right now but that gives you the flexibility to expand depending on your business growth over the next few years. This is preferable to choosing rather larger premises which could prove unwieldy and expensive to run right now. One option to consider is a shared office space. An increasingly popular option for entrepreneurs and small businesses, this could entail you renting a space specifically designed for sharing or coming to an arrangement with another small business to split the costs of a property. Renting a hot desk is another great option when you’re starting out. There are plenty of hot desk spaces around Ireland – including the AIB-backed Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen and PorterShed in Galway.

Location, Location, Location

Your business’s location is important for many reasons and can vary greatly depending on the type of company you run. For example, if you’re a retail business then you’ll need a location with a high degree of customer footfall. But if you’re not customer-facing then you may be able to locate your business in a quieter and less expensive area. You’ll also need to consider your employees. An area that is too remote or lacks adequate transportation links will have difficulty attracting and retaining staff – which could have a long-term impact on your company’s potential for growth. Finally, image is another concern. Consider how the surrounding area will impact on your appeal to customers, clients and potential investors.

Undoubtedly the biggest concern when it comes to choosing your premises will be the financial costs. Firstly, you’ll need to decide whether to rent or buy. Renting is an attractive option if you’re just starting out, as it won’t require a heavy initial outlay. However, if you’re intending to stay in the same location for some time renting may not be the best choice over the long term. And don’t forget, your rent or mortgage will not be the only cost associated with the property – you’ll also need to consider your various overhead costs – including stamp duty, insurance, security and utilities. Before committing to a lease, make you’re completely happy with the terms on offer – including the length of term, statutory rights, and the presence of a break clause.

Legal Obligations

Before committing to any property, you’ll need to assess your legal obligations. This may include gaining planning permission to allow the premises to be used for your particular type of business, and ensuring your building or office complies with health and safety and fire regulations. If your business is open to the public, you will also need to take steps to make your facilities accessible to disabled people. And you’ll also need to consider noise restrictions – in certain areas deliveries or manufacturing activity may only be allowed between specific times – as well as making provision for adequate waste disposal.

Starting the Search

When you’ve decided on the characteristics of your ideal property or space it can be helpful to create a list that clearly outlines your requirements. When writing this specification document, make sure to distinguish between “need-to-haves” and “nice-to-haves” which will give you some flexibility in your search. You can then provide an estate agent acting on your behalf with the spec sheet, which will allow them to provide you with a list of properties that meet your needs. Make sure to check in with the local council or enterprise board too – there may be grants or incentive schemes available in certain areas that you can take advantage of.

The Irish Food and Drink Industry

In the fifteen months since the UK made the historic decision to chart its future outside the EU, much ink has been spilled on fathoming the political and economic implications for Ireland and the food and drink industry in particular.

The UK is by far our largest food and drink export market, worth over €4 billion in 2016, and while our trading relationship predates the EU and the Single European Market, it has flourished to an exceptional degree within the framework of both. This relationship is very much a two-way street: Ireland is also the UK’s most important food and drink export market, with imports from our nearest neighbour valued in the region of €4 billion last year.

While geographical proximity and a finely matched profile of supply and demand underpin this relationship, so too do shared cultural values and complementary worldviews: we are uniquely well suited to support and meet each other’s food needs. It is against this backdrop that Brexit, and particularly the variant that puts the UK not only outside the EU but also the European Economic Area and the Customs Union, presents itself as a deep and unparalleled challenge.

Bord Bia laid the preparatory groundwork for addressing the challenge of Brexit in advance of the June referendum and, notwithstanding the fact that, a year later, no greater clarity has emerged on the ultimate form departure will take, our response has evolved into a strategy and series of supports that takes into account likely short, medium and long-term impacts.

In early 2017, Bord Bia launched their Brexit Barometer, an analytic tool designed to help individual companies assess six specific risk areas associated with Brexit – routes to market, customs and tax, supply chain, trade, currency and human resources. An expression of our commitment to provide supports that are based on facts and data rather than speculation or anecdote, the barometer is designed to give individual, tailored feedback to companies with regard to their risks and vulnerabilities, and to flag those areas where pre-emptive action can and should be taken.

The development of the barometer is further underscored by recognition that, while Brexit remains, in a granular sense, a series of unknowns, there are many ways to prepare for its eventuality and to mitigate the risks that will come from its possible permutations.

Among these permutations, few raise more concern than the possibility of a hard Brexit, where punitive WTO tariffs could conceivably shut out our dairy and beef trade from our oldest and largest market. While no eventuality can yet be ruled out, there are several reasons why this ‘Doomsday scenario’ should not assume undue prominence in our preparations for what lies ahead. Firstly, to allow it to do so would feed into the incorrect, and highly counterproductive, assumption that planning for Brexit is simply a matter of awaiting and responding to a tariff and customs regime, whatever that might ultimately be. Secondly, it ignores the more fundamental question as to what alternative trade relationship could meaningfully supplant that which currently prevails between Ireland and the UK, as well as our peers in the EU. The UK is a country that proudly claims some of the highest retail and food safety standards in the world. To willingly expose itself to the massive operational and reputational risks that would come from routing entire supply chains outside the EU would be, to say the least, politically and economically unprecedented. It would test the concept of food security in a modern industrial nation to its limit.

Experienced considerable structural change over the past decade

Previous research identified that there is a positive relationship between communication effectiveness and job satisfaction. This means if there is good communication between the manager and employee, the employee is more satisfied with their job leading to improved performance. Staff should know what is going on and what is expected of them, and feel that their ideas are valued and their good performance praised. Communication is essential to creating a strong working relationship and open communication is crucial for a dairy farm business to be productive. It helps set expectations and co-ordinate actions; builds trust; enables people to act on facts not assumptions; and provides feedback on performance.

Communication with employees starts with a clear, well thought out job description. A job description sets out the duties and responsibilities required of the new recruit and also infrequent tasks that the person may need to carry out from time to time. A detailed job description can help eliminate individuals who would not perform well on the job before the hiring process begins. It should be used to communicate with the employee what is expected before starting employment, so if any problem arises over work responsibilities the farmer can quickly refer to the job description.

Communication can occur formally or informally. An example of informal verbal communication that occurs daily would be going through the “to-do” list for the day and assigning people to do different jobs if there is more than one person working on the farm. Information regarding production performance (milking performance, grass covers etc), relevant work or material needed can be informally communicated using WhatsApp group messaging, diaries, books or notice boards. This can be a very effective method of ensuring that everybody working on the farm is up-to-date with critical information, e.g. date of cow treatment with antibiotics or date of fertilizer application.

A simple way of communicating to all employees when the routine jobs such as TB testing, vaccinations etc will be occurring is to use a yearly wall planner – simply a yearly calendar. This can be used as a planning tool to plan for jobs that are clearly known in advance, allowing for clarity about what needs to be done and when. Employees can also record when they are taking holidays in advance. The planner should be placed in a common area where it can be viewed, discussed and modified.

Body language is an important part of communication which can constitute 50% or more of what is communicated. Noticing the signals that people send out with their body language and being able to effectively read those cues is therefore a very useful skill. Excellent communicators are aware that their body language is equally as important as verbal communication in conveying a message to others.

The energy market and had the infrastructure in place in every major city

Before electric lamps lit up virtually every city across the globe, people were employed to manually light gas lamps on the streets. In the 19th century, this laborious trade was the dominant form of street lighting in Europe and were provisioned by small group of firms who sprung up to cope with the seemingly insatiable demand for such lamps.

However, it wasn’t the inevitable emergence of the electric lamp some half a century later that ultimately extinguished those businesses, but an unwillingness to embrace change. ‘Lampers’ understood the energy market and had the infrastructure in place in every major city.

Nevertheless, as electricity seized bigger and bigger shares of the market, these firms simply stood idly by and watched while their business faded away — undone by a lack of foresight.

Innovations which initially feel disruptive eventually become fundamental to basic business functions. While Lamplighters had time to see the shadows looming over their industry, nowadays change can come in an instant — just ask 9 out of 10 startups who fail.

Regulation Liberation

In December 1998, Eircom (eir for younger folks) was the only Irish telecoms provider, by the start of 2001 — there was 77. Following telecoms deregulation in the US & EU, the Irish Government followed suit, allowing for full competition in the telecommunications industry.

The global-change signalled the impending digital export and telecoms revolution. After years of simple “local” aspirations, Ireland was finally positioned to enter the global stage.

Two decades later, Irish business and communication has transformed. With the rise of smartphones (2.1 billion shipped by 2021) and the shift towards the ubiquitous cloud — the progress and has been relentless and the opportunities for growth, endless. Even long-time hardware giant, Cisco — who in 2016, successfully transitioned into a software model, restored 6% of their stock offering in three months.

Gas lamps lit up cities for the first time before being usurped by a more effective solution. The next stage in communications technology is already facilitating a more dynamic approach to business.

The Mobilised Business Model

Irrespective of the product, service being provided or period in time, business has always had two underlying actions; communicating and collaborating. One of the greatest assets of any firm is the combined knowledge and experience of its employees. However, it’s also a challenging resource to adequately harness.

In a highly-competitive marketplace, the most informed decision-makers thrive.

Ideas and insight need to be transmitted and put to good use effectively throughout the organisation. Efficient communication is the key to perfecting this process.

Pointy Helps You Find it Locally

Do you ever need something but have no clue where to find it? Enter Pointy, a new technology that works for both retailers and consumers.

Mark Cummins, the man behind Pointy, spoke on The Capital B this week. Not his first foray into the world of tech (he previously sold a company to Google), Pointy aims to help get local stores online as well as help consumers find the products they need fast.

So what exactly does it do? Pointy is a device that attaches to the barcode scanner in each shop and automatically lists the products to a website, Mark explained where the concept came from;

“It really simplifies making a website for a local shop, quite a lot of local retailers have websites but they’re not getting anything out of it. Consumers are looking for products and that product information is not available online so all the local shops are invisible. When people are doing these searches on Google they’re getting redirected, so local stores are not picking up the business that by rights they should be”

“It’s like a location service, most of the time people just want to go in and pick up the product in person, you’d be absolutely amazed by what people search for.”

Pointy also has some big name investors behind it, international rugby star Jamie Heaslip is involved, who Mark says has a huge interest in tech.

“He’s actually very tech savvy, it’s an interest of his, he likes that we have a local Irish angle”.

Also on The Capital B this week, we’re chatting to the Commercial Director of Lidl Ireland, the founder of Popertee delivers a lesson on how to find the perfect retail space for your store and Freshii’s Dave O’Donoghue on why talk is big but execution is everything.

a qualified aromatherapist

As a grandmother of four and a qualified aromatherapist, Ocean Bloom founder Cheryl Cleminson has always been interested in skincare. But it wasn’t until a member of her family was personally affected that she discovered the power of seaweed. “When my grandson Alfie was younger and suffering from baby eczema, we tried all the products on the market, even the natural ones, and he didn’t get ease from any of them,” she explains.

By chance, she got chatting to an elderly lady in the community, who mentioned in her day they would take the children down to the sea and bathe them. This was just the spark of inspiration that Cheryl needed. “I started thinking about it and I collected some seaweed and made a baby seaweed bath for him and his skin started healing,” she says.

She began experimenting by blending the seaweed with oils and created products for family and friends. They were a hit, and someone suggested she should make a business from it.  She subsequently enrolled in a business course with her Local Enterprise Office and began an in-depth study into growing seaweed and its health-giving properties.  It’s been a whirlwind adventure ever since.


Launching the Business

Cheryl confides that getting the business up off the ground was one of the bravest things she’s ever done.  She’s bootstrapped it from the beginning, handling everything from product development to filling the containers.  She notes: “To start a business, usually people save up or they have all these processes in place, I didn’t have anything in place. I would lie in bed and feel a bit panicky and think, ‘I’m too old for this’.”  But hearing how her products work made it incredibly rewarding. “I think people coming up to me and telling me that the products have made a difference to their skin is the biggest highlight,” she says. “If I can carry on making a difference to even a few people, that’s the best reward.”


The Importance of Good Advice

For anyone interested in starting their own business, Cheryl offers the following advice: “I think it’s important to have a bank who knows you and has a good insight into your business.  You can have a magnificent business plan but if you haven’t got a bank who believes in it, then it won’t work.  I believe going to your local branch, to people who know you, is so important.”

It was the staff at her local branch who first told Cheryl about MyBusinessToolkit, a package offering access to a suite of five leading business tools, from Sage Accounting and Payroll to the bOnline website builder.

Past Farm Investment Experiences

One of the last periods of significant on-farm investment occurred from 2006 to 2008, supported by the grant aid provided under the Farm Waste Management Scheme. It is estimated that gross on-farm investment was over €4.5 billion in that period, peaking at €2 billion in 2008. In addition to the investment undertaken from cash flow and farmers’ own resources, lending to the sector reached record levels at this time.

The difficulty for many farmers who invested at that time was that this period of significant investment was quickly followed by a relatively short period of depressed commodity prices, poor weather and a somewhat lengthier period of high costs. This led to a dramatic reduction in farm profitability in 2009 (farm incomes fell by 41% between 2007 and 2009) and many farmers experienced a very difficult period with cash flow stress common on many farms.

There are some lessons which we can learn from this period, which may be useful for farmers considering future farm investment.

Don’t Base Decisions on One Good or Bad Year

Many farmers undertook investment supported by strong average farm incomes in 2007 and the availability of grant assistance. Decisions to invest in the farm should never be made based only on a good year or on high performance expectations but rather on the longer term likely performance and actual capability of the farm. Our advice to customers is to take a multi-annual view and examine the performance of the farm over the previous three to five years taking account of variations in the actual outcome and profitability.

Fully Cost Any Investment

Farm investments often take longer to complete and cost more than originally planned. This was the case in 2007 and 2008 when the cost of steel and concrete increased considerably and added to on-farm development costs. Before undertaking any farm development, it is important to cost the investment fully and it is prudent to include a contingency cost of around 10-20% in all plans. To get a realistic idea of the potential cost involved, and to learn from the experiences of others, it is good advice to take the time to visit similar projects and get quotations from a number of reputable suppliers.

Understand Impact on Cash Flow

During periods of capital investment, good cash flow management is key. While many farm investments will contribute to increased profitability in the longer term, they can place immediate pressure on the farm current account. This is particularly the case where some of the investment is funded from cash flow. Where farm investment is carried out from cash flow, it can compromise the ability of the farm to withstand a cyclical or unexpected downturn in the sector and a period of low margin income. Many of the difficulties in 2009 were compounded by the fact that savings on many farms had been depleted to support farm development in the previous years. Before undertaking any farm investment, it is desirable to complete a cash flow forecast to understand the effect of the investment on the cash flow of the farm.

Structure Loans Correctly

Ideally, a loan should be structured to match the useful life of the asset being financed. It is important not to put undue pressure on farm cash flow by seeking to repay a loan in an unrealistic timeframe which comes from trying to finance capital expenditure items over too short a period. The shorter the loan period, the higher will be the immediate repayment requirements.

Build a Buffer Fund

Volatility has become a feature of the sector in recent years and it is important that farms can rebound quickly from periods of low returns. During periods of higher returns, farmers should seek to build a buffer which can be utilised during periods of cash flow pressure and low income returns. This buffer can take different forms, e.g. building a cash reserve, reducing creditors, improving soil fertility and / or forward purchasing of inputs. Those farmers who undertake significant investment tend to be more exposed to the effects of volatility as savings may be depleted and bank repayments tend to be higher. In 2009, a period of low market returns and higher costs coincided with higher bank repayments on many farms.

Strategies for Your New Business

Got a new business, or simple looking to increase your brand? Making your mark from the start can be tough, but in terms of marketing your business, your product or your services, there are some simple steps to follow.


Start with the logo

A logo helps distinguish your business from all the others out there that sell similar products and services. The pictorial nature of a logo – even if it’s just words printed in a stylized way – helps customers remember you and helps them think of your company as a reputable small business. Include an image that is in some way associated with your industry. Unless you are an artist or are very proficient in graphic arts, it’s best to have your logo professionally designed for you. Once you have a logo, be sure to include it on everything associated with your business. It should be on your website, social media pages, business card, letterhead, envelopes, fliers, giveaways and print advertising.


Create a slogan

Slogans (also called taglines) are very short phrases that express what your business is about and – more importantly – a beneficial result your customers derive from the business or product. When you create a slogan it helps to distinguish your business from others and make it more memorable. M & M’s slogan, “Melts in your mouth, not your hand,” is one example.


Get ready to hustle

Brand awareness is simply marketing and although social media and other forms of digital marketing have added new options, nothing has changed. The people who hustle the most will find the most success. Don’t look to technology to be your hustler. It’s all up to you. Online marketing is only one channel among all of your networking and offline strategy. Door to door and cold calling are not dead.


Get others involved

You don’t have to be the only one that hustles. You need some super fans hustling for you. In modern advertising speak these are, “brand advocates.” Maybe they had such an awesome experience that they talk about it online to their large social following. Leverage those people. Offer free product or a referral fee for anybody they send to you.


Find influencers

Do you know how Uber rose to power? The company looked for the big name social media influencers and offered free rides. Local and regional bloggers with a huge following will work too.



You’ve seen infographics—those illustrations filled with facts and other valuable information. If your business is in the consulting sector or some other professional or semi-professional niche, leverage your status as an expert and create a shareable infographic full of facts and figures that your potential customer would want to know. Don’t skimp on this, though. Make it really good. Hire an expert to design it.

Moran on this Year’s Dairy Summer Tour

The Irish Grassland Association Dairy Summer Tour is a firm fixture on the farming calendar, attracting hundreds of farmers from around Ireland as they share their knowledge, network and socialise. Ahead of this year’s event, we caught up with Cathal Moran who is hosting one of the tours on his Kilkenny farm on the 25th July.

Lessons in Leasing

Each year, the event explores a topical theme and 2017 is no exception. Cathal explains: “The theme is Farming on Leased Land. I know the other host farmer, Jamie Kealy, farms on 100% leased land and ours is north of 60%.”

On the day, Cathal will be sharing the practical knowledge on leasing that he’s built up in his 28-year farming career. For example, when it comes to leasing, one of the most important factors is the relationship between the land owner and leaser. He explains: “It’s crucial. Every relationship is built on trust, and when leasing, the land owners become one of your key stakeholders. You have to look after them in a proper fashion. They have to know their land is being looked after and they have to trust that – and vice versa. So be totally open. It’s not a game of cards. There has to be full transparency in both directions.”

Another key stakeholder, Cathal explains, is the bank – particularly when it comes to cashflow. He notes: “They’d be a key stakeholder too and you have to get on well with them or you’re fooling yourself. What is banking or lending about? It’s about relationships and relationship building. There’s an old thing that used to be said, You lend to the person not to the business. AIB have been nothing but supportive over the years.”

Down to Earth

The authenticity of the Grasslands tour appeals to Cathal and he tries to attend any year he can. He explains: “I think because there’s no trade involved in it, there’s no vested interest in it. It’s basically farmers telling their story as they see it. The people behind it – the Grassland Association – they’re 70-75 years at it. They’re a voluntary organisation with nothing but the best interests of dairy farmers at heart. It’s a practical occasion where people tell it as they see it.”

Talking Sustainability

With 2017 designated as the Year of Sustainable Grassland, the host farmers will also be sharing their tips on sustainable grass production. Cathal notes: “You can be paying money for leased land and it’s not achieving its maximum benefit. It’s not just about growing grass, it’s about sustainability. I’ve seen in the news lately that the most carbon efficient farms tend to be the most profitable and sustainable in terms of how they produce grass.”

Soil fertility plays a key role in sustainable farming. Cathal explains: “Soil fertility isn’t just about pH or P or K or sulphur. It’s about all of them and getting them up to the optimum. At that point, all you have to do is put in what you take out and you’re growing the maximum amount of grass in conjunction with good grass varieties. But why have a weak link? Why put a pile of nitrogen on to something that the pH is the limiting factor to? It’s a question of getting it all right and knowing what’s going on, sometimes learning the hard way.”

A Positive Outlook

One of the things Cathal enjoys about the tour is being surrounded by positivity. “I think usually the type of people you see are positive people and that kind of reinforces what they’re doing and where they’re going. There’s usually a lesson or two, good and bad, to be learnt from it. And a bit of adrenaline floats around. The feel-good factor is afloat,” He says.

As for dairy farming in Ireland, Cathal is optimistic about the future and acknowledges that the removal of milk quotas has had a massive impact on Irish dairy farming. He notes: “It’s probably the most optimistic period we’ve ever had. Once quotas went, all the doors opened up. Even going back to when it was announced in ‘07/’08, there was a fundamental mind-change in people. It’s great because suddenly you have new entrants, and you need that. You need new blood to keep any industry thriving. It’s a vibrant and optimistic time.”