Taskmaster Enterprises

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Enable people’s laziness – and profit!

2:59AM | Friday, 14 February

Today, like so many other days, your humble correspondent arrived and sat down at a desk in Taskmaster Towers.   On the desk was a post-it note. Scribbled in the secretary’s handwriting, it appeared to say someone had called the office asking for the contact details of a well-known industry figure, who we’ll refer to as Jane Doe.   As it turns out, many, many moons ago, a blog post was uploaded on to the Taskmaster Enterprises blog mentioning Jane Doe.   If only someone invented some type of engine – a “search engine” if you will – that would allow you to type in a person’s name and receive a list of related links to websites. This magical, mystical website could be given a name like “Google”, “Yahoo!” or “Bing”.   To make it extra easy for people, you could place the search field in the menu bar of just about every popular browser, including Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. Such a service could even be funded by placing paid advertisements based on the search words.   Then people could type in “Jane Doe” and find the official Jane Doe website, then click the link that says “Contact Jane Doe” where Jane Doe’s work number, email address and Twitter handle could all be conveniently listed.   Of course, even if such a magical, mystical service existed, some people would outsource the effort to someone else! And by somebody, I mean poor Old Taskmaster!   Blah! Humanoids! I swear, they annoy me some days!   Serenity now. Serenity now. Serenity now.   Still, the whole episode is a poignant reminder of a couple of key business lessons.   The first is the value of quality content as a marketing strategy. It really is the gift that keeps on giving! Seriously, if you haven’t updated your blog or your social media lately, do it now!   The second and more important lesson is that most humanoids are lazy. Exceedingly lazy. (Well, okay, often stupid as well, but mostly just lazy.)   The desire to do more with less effort has been one of the driving forces of human progress.   Why hunt or gather food when you can plant some seeds, enclose some animals and wait for them to be eaten? Why grow your own when you can go to the supermarket and buy it ready to cook? Why cook it when you can microwave it? Why microwave it when you can just get Maccas? Why get Maccas when the local pizza shop delivers? Why wait for a driver when a drone aircraft can deliver it quicker?   (Do you doubt that last one will happen within the next five years?)   If you’re looking for a business idea, you could do worse by thinking through the worthless chores that annoy you and devise products and services that can avoid them.   Because if your business plan enables your fellow human beings to that little more idle, you’ve got a potential consumer base.   Sloth is a vice, not a virtue. But it’s one you can exploit – for profit!   Get it done – today!

It’s time for an end-of-year motivational push

12:40AM | Wednesday, 11 December

Well, here we are, in the weeks before Christmas.

A franchisee’s biggest business regret

12:52AM | Tuesday, 3 December

As Taskmaster readers will know, earlier this week your humble correspondent went for a sales meeting at a busy suburban shopping centre.   After visiting one customer, Old Taskmaster trundled through the now narrow corridors to a second store. Slowly.   The once wide corridors have been narrowed down by a series of mobile phone store kiosks, meaning a single elderly gentleman with a walking stick and five-year-old granddaughter in tow can now single-handedly slow a whole row of shoppers to a crawl. Seriously, centre management, it might boost revenue per square metre, but it’s a practice that really annoys your shoppers!   Anyway, the second sales call was a franchisee of a national chain. During a discussion about the newest widget models from Taskmaster Enterprises, they revealed their biggest business regret.   Apparently, part of their franchise agreement states that they have an exclusive ‘territory’ in terms of the location of physical stores. Unfortunately for them, any revenues from sales through the chain’s website or its mobile app go to the franchisor, even if the customer is within the same suburb as an existing store.   So if a customer visits their local store on Sunday, looks at an item, and then goes home before ordering it online a couple of days later, the value of that sale goes entirely to the franchisor.   As you might imagine, this creates all manner of perverse incentives.   For example, the franchisee views the website as a competitor with the same merchandise rather than an asset for their business. Why encourage your loyal customers to purchase their goods from a competitor?   As a result, since the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are geared to get people to buy online rather than in store, what incentive is there for the sales staff to promote them?   As a result, Old Taskmaster was amused to note the sales staff consistently “forget” to ask the customers to follow the chain on Twitter and Facebook – even when the owner or manager is within earshot.   The franchisee’s big regret with all of this is to fail to ask the question of how online sales revenues (or profits) are distributed. After all, who wants a franchisor who feels like a rival rather than a partner?   Well, Old Taskmaster says this: If you’re looking to become a franchisee, make sure you ask about how online revenues are distributed. It’s always better to ask ahead of time than to find yourself in a business dispute.   As for franchisors, be aware that the way you treat your online sales and web presence can create perverse incentives for your franchisees. If a sale can be traced to near a physical franchisee’s store, consider some sort of profit sharing agreement with your franchisees.   Get it done – today.

Like Apple CEO Tim Cook, claim you’re number one – even if you have to stretch the truth a little

6:58AM | Tuesday, 11 June

Just imagine, for a moment, you’re Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook.   Here’s the situation. Apple’s share of the worldwide smartphone market has fallen to just 17.3% during the first quarter of 2013, with Google’s Android claiming 75% of the market. In Australia, Apple’s marketshare slumped from 30.6% a year ago to just 28.1%, while Android grew from 57.5% to 69.4%.   Android is also the smartphone market leader across five major EU economies (Germany, Great Britain, France and Spain) with 69.6% combined marketshare (Apple had 18.4%), while also leading in the US (51.7% to 41.4%) and China (69.4% to 25.1%). The only major market Android trails Apple in is Japan (44% to 51.7%).   Now, faced with those numbers, what would you say if you had to unveil a new version of your iOS mobile phone platform – iOS 7 – at your Worldwide Developer Conference?   “People are using our products substantially more than anyone else’s,” says Tim Cook, with “#1 [in] customer usage” emblazoned on the screen behind him.   So how does Cook justify these “#1 [in] customer usage” comments? He claims Apple’s iPad had a tablet marketshare of 82%, its users viewed more websites and quotes a hazy figure on customer satisfaction.   And sure, Apple does lead the tablet market – thus Cook’s choice to compare tablet marketshare rather than smartphone marketshare. But even there, figures from the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker for the first quarter of 2013 show Apple’s worldwide tablet marketshare slumped from 58.1% to 39.6% year-on-year during first quarter of 2013. Yes, Apple’s well ahead of second placed Samsung (17.9% marketshare), but it’s a long way from the 82% marketshare claimed by Cook.   As for claiming market leadership by the number of web browsers or customer satisfaction, they certainly are non-traditional ways to measure your market dominance. Some people would say slightly misleading, even.   Cook's customer satisfaction figure is particularly questionable. Sure, a recent Washington Post - ABC News poll 74% of US adults hold a favourable view of Apple – with 16% unfavourable – compared to 82% favourable for Google. But the great thing is that customer satisfaction is so slippery that it is easy to conduct a survey showing any figure you like, depending on how and when you survey your customers.   Well, Old Taskmaster says this is all pure genius. If the standard figures don’t show what you want – say market leadership being determined by marketshare – grab some figures that do. Of course, it’s not just a tactic that can be used by the likes of Apple – any business can do it.   That’s why 75% more customers say Taskmaster Enterprises widgets are filled with chocolatastic goodness. We’re now a market leader – and you can be one too!   Just pick some favourable figures and promote them heavily – just like Tim Cook!   Get it done – today!

Eating the competition’s lunch

5:09AM | Wednesday, 15 May

This article first appeared on October 10th, 2012.   Earlier today, I stumbled across an interesting new coffee shop.   Sure, the waitstaff move slower than the tax office, the décor is so dated it’s come back into style twice and there have been Soviet supermarkets with more appealing food choices.   But what makes this little cafe interesting is its location. It’s on the ground floor of the offices of our fiercest competitor, Snoqualmire’s Widgets.   As soon as I sat down for lunch yesterday, I couldn’t help but overhear a staff member practically screaming into their iPhone at a nearby table.   “We just can’t afford another product delay or cost overrun. Seriously, it’s getting to the point where it will be a miracle if our new product line is ready for Christmas next year, let alone this year,” says the oblivious member of our fiercest competitor’s staff.   “We can’t go on like this. The folks at Taskmaster Enterprises are eating our lunch!”   Not just eating their lunch – eating it at the very next table.   Isn’t it time to find out where your competitors go for lunch? You might be surprised at what's on the menu.   Get it done – today!

Make sure you sell the cable

5:54AM | Wednesday, 1 May

This article first appeared on October 3rd, 2012.   It saddens me to say this, but last week Taskmaster Enterprises lost perhaps its most experienced worker. A humble old soul who well and truly earned the nickname “old reliable”.

Nominate a second-in-command

4:48AM | Wednesday, 24 April

This article first appeared on August 15, 2011.   I’ve noticed that a lot of young businesses that I come into contact with are very proud of their flat management structures.   There is a leader (usually the company founder) and then there are a group of employees who are a more or less on the very same level.   “It’s a great leadership team,” the entrepreneur in charge invariably tells me. “We’ve all got a say in how the company is run.”   It’s the same at Taskmaster Enterprises – everybody gets a say as long as they agree with Old Taskmaster.   Just kidding of course. But I do believe there can be some problems with a flat management structure that becomes too flat.   If the founder/leader is taken out of the picture for any reason – say, they are sick or on holidays or working on a big project – then management paralysis can set in.   Either everybody tries to make decision or – more commonly – everything is left until the boss comes back.   The solution is to anoint a second-in-command – a senior manager who has the authority to make decisions in your absence.   The promotion doesn’t have to be formal if you are worried about causing problem in your team, but it does need to be clear who is in charge so business keeps getting done.   Get it done – today!

Conduct a stress test

3:45AM | Monday, 25 March

This article first appeared on March 23rd, 2012.   Today I’ve decided I am going to pick at some scabs. I’m going to walk into Taskmaster Enterprises and instruct all my managers to go to all the direct reports and ask a simple question: What is stressing you out?   Actually, it’s not a simple question to ask. It’s quite confronting. Entrepreneurs and even managers don’t like to be made aware of new problems, because their lives are so busy sorting out existing ones. Ask people about their problems and you may well have to solve them.   But don’t be afraid. Finding out what is bugging people will make your business better.   You’ll find out where the bottle-necks and sticking points are in your processes.   You’ll get an idea of who is performing well and who isn’t.   You’ll be able to spot which areas of the business need resources and which don’t.   You will also find out that de-stressing people isn’t that hard. A lot of their problems will be relatively minor and easily fixed.   It won’t be fun, but it must be done.   Get it done – today!

Know what the cloud is – and ask the right questions

3:25AM | Wednesday, 13 March

Earlier today, an entrepreneur attempted to explain to the Taskmaster what “cloud computing” is.

Get the word out

3:47AM | Wednesday, 13 March

Old Taskmaster remembers back to the good 'ole days, sonny Jim Crockett, when classified rivers of gold used to flow to our big city newspapers.

Send your staff to the sales coalface

2:19PM | Thursday, 7 February

One of the toughest challenges in business is persuading potential customers to part with their cash. Make no mistake about it; sales can be a really tough job.

Thinking of launching an online retailer? Meet Gerry Harvey

3:20AM | Thursday, 14 March

Last night, I was back at the Taskmaster Ranch, lounging back in a recliner after a long day at work, flicking through the channels, brandy old-fashioned in hand.

Get around to it in 2013

12:08AM | Friday, 21 December

Well, here we are, knocking down the door of 2013.

A Taskmaster Christmas carol

12:42PM | Wednesday, 19 December

Back at the Taskmaster Ranch, Old Taskmaster is dozing off in the lounge chair in front of a warm fireplace.

The people who say “sorry I’m late…”

12:10AM | Wednesday, 5 December

It seems like it’s the law of the universe that some things are inevitable, no matter how much Old Taskmaster wishes otherwise. Death, taxes and John Farnham comeback concerts are just three examples.

Are you a Taskmaster or a McLuhanatic?

12:02AM | Tuesday, 4 December

The product designer was insistent, nearly pounding the desk while making the point.

Beware of the banker

12:24AM | Monday, 3 December

Earlier today, Old Taskmaster received an email purportedly from one of the big four banks:

Time to call your Techmaster

11:51AM | Wednesday, 21 November

Earlier today, I decided it was high time to have a chat with Taskmaster Enterprises’ resident Gen-Y Techmaster.

Do some small business window shopping

11:39AM | Monday, 19 November

Earlier today, I read that the number of private businesses for sale has reached a record level of 29,060 for the September quarter, according to the BizExchange Index for Private Business Values.

The empty office, postmodern-style

10:06AM | Thursday, 18 October

Finally, the first phase of the extensions to Taskmaster Towers is complete, but the complaints from the employees just keep coming.

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