Category Archives: Business

Looking to the Future

Across the year, they grow about three different varieties of pumpkin. But the Harvest Moon variety, with its bright orange colour and large round shape, is a firm Irish favourite. Noel explains, “We sow very little of the other ones. It’s the main seller for its shape and size.” Perhaps it’s because it lends itself so well to being carved which tends to be how we use them. “The Irish mainly use the pumpkin purely for cosmetic reasons,” he notes.

Carving a Niche

The tradition of making a jack-o’-lantern at Halloween is believed to have its origins in 19th century Ireland. It’s said that faces were carved into turnips and lit from within using a candle as part of the Halloween festivities. When Irish settlers arrived in America, the pumpkin took the place of the turnip for its easy to carve qualities. “As far as I’m aware Irish people don’t really use them much for cooking or making pies or anything,” Noel says. “We don’t have the same relationship with a pumpkin as Americans do. Nobody wants to see or hear tell of a pumpkin really after Halloween.”

When pumpkins aren’t in season, Noel farms other vegetables ranging from potatoes to the humble carrot. In fact, as one of Irelands largest producers of carrots, chances are his produce has ended up on your plate.

 

Expanding the Business

Over the years, Noel has expanded the farm to include a washing and packing facility. He explains, “Often farming practices are not that profitable, so I met with some other people and we decided to set up a packing company. And it grew from there.” It certainly did as the facility now washes and packs an average of 40 tonnes of carrots a day. It was a case of spotting an opportunity to add value and running with it. Noel thinks that a good relationship with the bank is key. “It’s very important to have a good relationship with your bank. It’s the mainstay of any business. We have a good relationship with our local bank, although we don’t have any borrowings at the moment.”

 

The Farming Landscape

Noel acknowledges that it’s a tough time for the farming community, “Farming in general is in a depressed state at the moment. Grain, livestock and milk are under wicked pressure,” he says. The uncertainty of Brexit is also a concern. He said: “Nobody seems to be able to give a straight answer as to what kind of an effect Brexit will have. Everyone has different thoughts.”

But despite the pressures, Noel is still passionate about his profession. “Farming was something I always wanted to do from a young age. It’s a nice way of life really. You’re out in the fresh air, you’re dealing with land and you’re dealing with nature.”

 

Looking to the Future

As for the future of his farm, Noel is planning on sticking to his current formula and hopes to expand his reach. “Hopefully we’ll gain a bit more in the marketplace with regards to selling vegetables. We’ll just keep it to the carrot and potatoes.”

Noel carves a couple of pumpkins each year to decorate the pillars on his gate – a tradition he’ll continue this year. We couldn’t let him go without getting his top carving tips. For him it’s simple. “You get stickers in the shops and place that over and trace it out.” he laughs.

Finding Her Business Style

Sitting on a stool in one of the changing rooms – our makeshift interview room for the day – Mairead takes a rare pause, looks around and reflects: “You know, when we viewed the property, we sat in this very changing room. And I said to myself, ‘I could really give this a go.’” Since that decision, she hasn’t looked back.

Finding Her Business Style

For Mairead, owning her own boutique was a natural progression from her successful personal styling business. “I’m a personal stylist and shopper, and I decided that maybe I could actually provide the clothes for the people I go personal shopping with instead of having to go elsewhere,” she explains. “That’s how Smock Boutique started.”

Her years working as a personal stylist and shopper have provided Mairead with an invaluable insight into her target customer’s needs. This heavily influences the clothes she chooses for Smock. “I’m in the wardrobe of my target market at least once a week. I feel that I have a certain advantage when I’m going to buy my collections because I feel 100% confident that I know what is needed,” she notes. “We’re not filling the wardrobe with pieces that don’t suit your lifestyle, we’re providing a working wardrobe within budget for that person. That’s absolutely at the forefront of my mind. That’s my USP.”

 

Building the Boutique

Setting up a business on your own comes with many challenges and there’ll always be a few learning curves. Although Mairead was absolutely certain in her vision for the boutique, she was conscious that the admin side of things also had to be perfect. She heard about MyBusinessToolkit from her local AIB branch and thought it would be useful to help get the business off the ground. The Toolkit offers access to a suite of leading business tools, from Sage Accounting and Payroll to the bOnline website builder. MyBusinessToolkit is free for 3 months when you open a Start-up Business Current Account before the 31st of Dec 2016. She explains how MyBusinessToolkit has helped her get her business off the ground: “You have so much paperwork, and because it’s a seasonal business it all comes at the one time,” she says. “If you don’t keep up to speed with what and when you need to pay, you’ll quickly fall behind and your front of house suffers. I don’t want that to happen.”

She credits MyBusinessToolkit, and in particular Sage, with helping her keep tabs on the admin side of things. “Sage really helps me define what my cash flow looks like, who my suppliers are and it’s great for categorising everything and keeping me organised. I almost leave them running in the background. I trust them fully and I trust they’ll work. And my accountant can log on to Sage as well and check everything is ok. It was like having an uncle in the background that you knew you could rely on. That’s a strange analogy I know!” she laughs.

The bOnline website builder provided in the toolkit was also a huge help in getting her online presence up and running. She explains: “MyBusinessToolkit has helped me get my business off the ground by allowing me to have an almost free website. That cost would have been a huge undertaking for me at the beginning. It just made it so easy.”

 

Secret to Success

It turns out the secret to Mairead’s success is something learned from her years as a personal stylist – follow your gut. “My advice to anybody starting out is to really and truly follow your gut instinct,” she explains. “Listen to yourself and try and block out all the negatives. And there will be negatives. It’s like anything, if you have confidence in your idea then nobody can take it away from you.”

Mairead is currently focused on building up her online presence and growing her customer database, but she’s definitely staying local at heart. “I love Enniskerry,” she says. “I want to stay here, and I’d love to expand Smock Boutique within itself.”

Fancy a fashion fix? Smock Boutique is open Monday to Saturday from 10am – 6pm.

Need help getting your business off the ground?

Call into your local branch to find out more about how MyBusinessToolkit can help your business.

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The Inspirational Story of Ocean Bloom

images-57By 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. MyBusinessToolkit is free for 3 months when you open a Start-up Business Current Account before the 31st of Dec 2016.

Having access to MyBusinessToolkit through AIB and in particular Sage has helped Cheryl to keep everything organised. She explains, “Since using Sage in MyBusinessToolkit, I can actually see how much I have in my account and how much I’ve spent on products and that gives me an idea of where my account is at.” The software is also a huge timesaver. “At the moment my time is so taken up with the business and Sage just frees me up.” Knowing that she won’t have to move to new software when the business grows is also a huge plus. “I know that Sage will grow with my business,” she says.  “Some of the other packages can only cope with a small amount of money going through it, but with Sage there’s no limit so I can just carry it with me as I grow.” Being able to pick up the phone and speak to a dedicated customer support person from BCSG is also a huge plus.

Skincare for Everyone

Since launching in March 2015, the brand has gone from strength to strength. Within a year, Ocean Bloom was an award winning skincare brand, with their Seaweed Serum Pouches being shortlisted for Natural Beauty Skincare Product of the Year 2015.  Cheryl’s products have since earned a cult following in the beauty industry, with famous names like Triona McCarthy and Rosanna Davidson counting themselves as fans.

Sourcing the very best of everything is important to Cheryl.  As it turns out, her hometown of Castletownbere on the Beara peninsula has some seriously superior seaweed. “We have some of the cleanest waters in the world,” she explains. “They’re classed as Grade A waters, which means they’re crystal clear and there’s no pollution.”

The Advantage of Phone System

Customer support or service interactions have the potential for a wide variety of outcomes – both good and bad. Customers contact your support team when they have an issue. Understanding this and making the interaction as efficient and effective as possible should be your goal. If you deal with the issue well you’ll have a happy customer, and potentially positive recommendations. Worst case scenario, you could be losing business.

How you use your phone system can be a key determinant of how your customers perceive your support service and their experience with your organisation. The option for the customer to speak to someone in the business over the phone is a communication method commonly offered in customer service. However if your employees are picking up the phone to someone who has already been transferred two or three times, you’ve already given your customer a bad experience.

Identifying ways to improve the experience your customers have with your support function, or company as a whole, can be tricky. One place to start at is when your customer makes the call. Here are four ways which your phone system can improve your customer support experience, before and during each call:

1. Use interactive voice response with time of day settings

Interactive voice response (IVR), otherwise known as virtual receptionists are used to direct those calling your business to the appropriate person by providing a menu of options which the customer can select. The longer your customer spends on hold or being transferred from department to department the more you are failing in providing them with an efficient and effective interaction.

Everyone has had poor experiences being left on hold waiting to be transferred. Use an IVR and avoid subjecting your customers to this. When constructing your menu, ideally have an option for each of your main customer facing departments. You should also finish with something similar to ‘for all other queries press 0’. This means even if your customers are unsure, they still have an option to press.

Time of day settings allow you to provide different instructions or menus depending on when a customer calls. For example, if a customer calls outside of office hours you can play a message which tells them your office is closed, what time it will be open at and provide an alternative contact method such as your customer service email address or a specific out of hours number. Accurately setting the expectations of your customer in terms of response or resolution time is critical for good customer service experience.

2. Use ring groups

A ring group is a feature which allows a number of phones to ring when one number is dialled. For example, when a customer selects the menu option for support on your IVR, it is possible to have every team member’s phone ring. If each team member’s phone is calling the chances of the call will only be missed or not answerable immediately if the whole team is already busy.

Using a cloud phone system it is also possible to add extra steps if the ring group goes unanswered by the whole team. After a certain amount of time, you could redirect the call to the department manager before eventually to a voicemail box. A common mistake that businesses make is not having a voicemail box as the end point for every possible path a call can take. After waiting on hold to speak to someone and being transferred around the sound of a disconnected line is disheartening to say the least.

Adding a voicemail box will allow you to set a voicemail greeting which can explain that all employees are busy for the moment and once again offer an alternative means of contact.

3. Everyone in your organisation needs an internal transfer number accessible via a centralised document

From time to time a customer with an issue is going to call the number for a different department or pick the wrong menu item. In this case, the first step is to get them talking to someone who can help with their problem. This means call transfer.

With a cloud phone system, setting up internal transfer numbers such as 102 or 2007 for each employee can be accomplished with ease. Make sure that each member of your organisation, with a priority on those which are customer facing, have an internal transfer number set up.

An updated and detailed list should be kept centrally via a resource such as Google Drive or Office 365 with each person’s transfer number. Using this, whoever takes a call should be able to easily transfer the customer to the right place. It certainly beats asking your customer to call the organisation’s main number again and dial 3 for support.

The Most of National Digital

As part of our ongoing commitment to the digital sector in Ireland, AIB are the lead sponsor of Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub, Ireland’s first rural Digital Hub. The Hub offers local businesses world-class fibre-optic broadband in a state of the art 10,000 sq ft facility that rivals anything in Silicon Valley. AIB has also sponsored National Digital Week since its inception last year, and we’ve got big plans this year with a fantastic line-up of speakers on the AIB Brave Stage all week. Read on for our insider’s guide to the best talks, workshops, and entertainment at this year’s National Digital Week.

 Who to Catch

Kick off the festival on an inspiring note at the AIB Brave Stage, with some uplifting stories from our Digital Champions – including Trendster’s Harry McCann, Lord David Puttnam, and Dr. Seamus Davis from Cornell University. Or dig deep into the future of farming, with talks and demonstrations on tech, innovation and food science, from luminaries like Drone Expo Ireland’s Ian Kiely, THRIVE AgTech’s John Hartnett, and our own head of Agri Business, Tadhg Buckley – all on the Google Stage. We’ll be shining the spotlight on female leadership on Friday, with FM104’s Margaret Nelson, Geraldine Karlsson from DoneDeal, and Ericsson Ireland MD Zelia Madigan taking the temperature of women in digital. On Saturday, we’ll be talking all things Internet of Things, with Leonard Donnelly from ARTOFUS, Donal Sullivan of Johnson Controls Ireland, and Debbie Power from Vodafone. And if you’re a business owner, make sure to stop by the Google Digital Garage all day Friday and Saturday, where Google’s experts will be offering free one to one sessions for all festival attendees to give you a crash course in all the skills to take your company to the next level online.

Where to Go

The bulk of the action during National Digital Week will take place at the West Cork Hotel in the centre of Skibbereen. You won’t be able to miss the AIB Brave stage. We’re right beside the registration area as you enter the hotel – and adjacent to the Food Hall if you’re feeling peckish. Still feeling lost? You can check out the event map here. The National Digital Week website also has you covered for accommodation, with info on some of Skibbereen’s best hotels and B&Bs.

What to do After Hours

You won’t be short of things to do once the talks end and the real networking begins in the pubs and restaurants of Skibbereen. On Thursday night, NDW attendees can take a tour of some of the town’s best bars with entertainment including a trad session from local legends, Brendan McCarthy and Derry Moynihan, an old-school storytelling session in Annie May’s pub, and a special performance from folk duo Alchemy in The Corner Bar to round off the night. If you want to sample some local cuisine in spectacular surroundings, The Church restaurant is housed in a 19th century Methodist church which retains its original stained glass windows and has a crowd-pleasing menu to provide some serious festival fuel. On Saturday, rabble-rousing festival favourites the Booka Brass Band will finish the week off in a style with a gig at the Google Stage, before DJ Ian Richards takes the party into the early hours with a party-starting mix of funk, soul, and rock & roll.