Straight From The Horse's Mouth – You’re Using LinkedIn Wrong

If you use LinkedIn, or even if you don’t and just have an account, you’ve almost certainly received invitations to connect from people you have never met or even heard of. Many users just accept this as part of the LinkedIn life, and deal with them as they come. But the longer you stay on the site and the more active you are, the more requests from strangers you will get. But the way many people handle these invitations is actually completely wrong. That’s not just our opinion either – LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman agrees. 

What Am I Doing Wrong?

While you might not think twice about ignoring a friend request from a total stranger on Facebook, when it comes to LinkedIn people behave a little differently. A common misconception is that you should accept every single connection that comes your way. Many people think that because it is a social network for professionals, the more connections the better. There are even those who won’t connect with people who have less than a certain number of connections, which only encourages this blind connecting. Often this results in a feed cluttered with information you don’t care about, hiding the connections you really do want to develop a relationship with. So you have to wade through all of that information to make the network work for you, and it’s this that often turns people off using this valuable tool.  Not only that, but there are individuals out there who strategically request connections in order to gain access to your network – never a good move. Hoffman warns this ‘accept all’ approach is not just damaging, but ‘all wrong’.

So What Should I Be Using It For?

LinkedIn has been getting a bad rap recently for becoming ‘too much like Facebook’, and to some extent that’s true, thanks to this mass connection culture. But for LinkedIn to truly shine, you should be making connections with people you already know in some way, or have a mutual connection who can introduce you confidently. It’s essentially networking in the digital world, and the power of those connections is much more than people give them credit for.

In an interview with Keith Ferazzi, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman explained the true value of LinkedIn:

"LinkedIn is a closed network, and for a very simple reason: For the network to have value as an introduction tool, the connections need to have meaning. It's up to you to vet each and every request so that if someone comes to you and says, 'Would you introduce me?' you're in a position to evaluate whether the connection would be of mutual benefit."

So if you receive an invitation to connect from someone you don’t know, or who you would feel awkward introducing to your network, you can decline without feeling guilty.

Hoffman goes into detail on this and more in his book ‘The Start-up Of You’, which you can get your hands on for a bargain price of £5.56 and is definitely worth a read.

Is all of this making your head hurt? Don’t worry, it can be a lot to take in, especially if you’re not really sure how to use LinkedIn properly. Luckily, we can help you. Our in-house Digital Marketing Team love teaching you everything there is to know about LinkedIn for business, from how to set up a profile to connecting with the right people and posting into groups. Even if you’re a complete novice, our experts will guide you gently through the maze that is LinkedIn and have you networking like a pro.

Our next workshop is on Thursday 27th July at our office in Goring, and we would love to see you there. To find out more, or to book your place, just click here!

 

How To Create Your Own Social Media Plan

Hands up if you really, truly enjoy planning your social media?…

Not many hands there. Ok, how about if you don’t enjoy doing it, but you do it begrudgingly because you know you need to?…

A few more hands there, that’s good. And how about those of you that don’t enjoy it, so it just doesn’t get done?…

Here we see the majority. It’s ok though, don’t panic! Most people end up in those last 2 categories. In fact, many people think that because social media is all about interaction and conversation, it doesn’t require any planning at all. And at the beginning, they might be right. But as business picks up and they get busy, all of that goes to the dogs. The truth is that social media requires careful planning and preparation, just like all of your other marketing. But if you’ve never touch social media before, how to you know where to start? Luckily, your social media superheros are here to help.

Find Yourself A Planning Too 

If you’re the super mega organised type of person we all dream we could be, first off congratulations, and secondly you might be able to just use your regular old calendar. But if, like us, you tend to forget things when life gets hectic, you’re definitely going to need a planning tool. There are plenty of free ones out there to choose from, and some that will cost you a pretty penny, depending on what type of system you like. And these help you map out what each month of your social media will look like on a calendar, schedule posts and keep track of it all. A few of our favourites include HootsuiteDivvy HQTrello, and Falcon. Have a look around, try and few and find something you like. 

Check Your Calendar Every Month

At the beginning of each month, set aside an hour or two to plan. Do this first by opening up your calendar and having a look at what’s happening this month. Is it coming up to Easter, gearing up for Christmas or is there a big local event coming up? Use these as a baseline. Next look at your industry calendar for any World Nonsense Day, marketing fodder events coming up that you can discuss. And finally, look at your own business calendar for exciting or interesting things – a conference, an expo or an event you could base a social conversation on. Once they’re in, you’re halfway there.

Have A Brainstorming Session

Now comes the slightly tricky bit – coming up with lots of ideas! Go through the month day by day and come up with some simply content pieces you could do based on what’s going on. You don’t have to go mad, just keep it simple for a really effective campaign. It could be as simple as posting a photo of the field outside your office window on the first day of spring, or commenting on a news headline with your thoughts.

Figure Out What You Need

Once you have a calendar mapped out and some ideas, figure out what you’re going to need to create this content and if you need any help. This will bring you back down to earth a bit as well – what ideas have you come up with that require a book to be written or the full-blown set of a Bake Off just for a picture? If you now that you will need a blog written by the 15th, go back and pen in some time to write it. This stage is all about working out what you need to do to make stuff happen.

Prepare To Be Flexible

Our last piece of advice it, don’t be too prepared! Thousands of things happen in the world every day, and you will come up with new, better ideas for posts with them. So while your plan should be a good guideline, be prepared to deviate from it a bit. And remember, you can always save the posts you don’t publish for another day.

Does that all sound a bit scary? Not to worry, your social media superheros are here to save the day! Our in-house Marketing Team work with business owners large and small to provide in-depth social media planning workshops and even a full management service, so you will be up to speed in no time. For more information, or to book onto our next social media workshop, click here!

Spreading a little Dissatisfaction

Do you ever stop and wonder "Is this it? Is this how I want to spend each day?".

For most people they only stop and ask this question at some point such as a health scare, funerals, being made redundant, after a bad annual appraisal, or slightly more positive times like while on holiday or in the Christmas to New Year break. But how about stopping and asking that question today. Or every day?

As human beings we need to feel listened to and understood, and we need to feel a sense of purpose and meaning. That what we do each day somehow matters and that people care. Without this, and without a strong sense of purpose and meaning, we tend to feel listless, demotivated, even depressed. And while external influences can help address this, really the motivation has to come from within.

Do you love your job, every day?

If you hate your job, you'll probably take action to change it. And the same goes for aspects of your life generally. The real danger is having a job that is just mildly bad or bad some of the time, because the dissatisfaction is too low to bother doing anything about it. Without wishing to appear arrogant, and with a purpose of genuinely wanting better for someone, one of the most cutting questions I ask is "Did you set out to live a life of mediocrity? Or did it merely occur gradually without you realising?". I wonder why it is that I'm often left feeling that I think people are better than they themselves think they are? They're smarter, more capable and way more deserving of a better job and better life than they are living every day.

I was speaking to a client a couple of days ago (thanks Jim) who said he wants to be able to pay all his staff "a fair going rate". And on the face of that it's a positive thing, and certainly better than saying he wants to pay less than the going rate! However, I said that I would prefer to say that I want to pay people better than the average "going rate", for doing better than average work. Frankly the idea of paying people who aspire to average does not fill me with excitement. Yes, I know that mathematically the average is the average, but I'm sure you know what I mean. I aspire to being and doing better, and I want to surround myself with people who have similar aspirations.

What gives you purpose and meaning?

Perhaps the thing that gives me most pleasure in life is seeing people being the best that they can be, usually even better than they believed was possible. That's why I work every day in a job as a Business Coach and Mentor where I get to achieve what I enjoy - what gives me meaning and purpose. If each day I can help people enjoy their days with purpose, and meaning - I get the same.

We're all different in what gives us purpose and meaning. I'd like to ask you a few questions in order that I might spread a little dissatisfaction - with the best intention. I'm not asking you to tell me your answers, merely to be aware of them for your own benefit.

  1. What is it gives you purpose and meaning in your work and life?
  2. What do you enjoy least each day?
  3. What do you enjoy most each day?


And now the big question: What actions would you need to take in order to reduce or eradicate the things you enjoy least each day; to increase the things you enjoy each day; in order to live every day in a way which gives you personal purpose and meaning?

Stop and ask yourself these questions each day, and take actions each day, even if they're small actions you'll get incrementally closer to the life and work that you deserve. May I suggest that this is the one thing on which you do not compromise?

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!  Don't forget to 'Like' our Facebook Business Page so that it's bookmarked and easy to find in future! Daily updates, quotes and useful articles to help grow your business!  

 

Don't fall behind your competitors by failing at Social Media

Slow but sure isn’t a phrase that sits well with many business sectors in 2017.

Customers and clients need answers quickly so if you’re not in a position to give them they will go elsewhere.

Here are some challenging figures from Sprout Social, the social media software people, who say …

  • 24% of customers expect brands to respond on social media within 30 minutes
  • 42% expect a response within 60 minutes
  • 57% expect responses during regular business hours, after hours and on weekends

If you don’t yet have a social media presence you already run the risk of falling behind to your competitors.

If you have set up business pages on Facebook, opened a Twitter account and have toyed with Instagram and Pinterest then well done -- but merely setting them up isn’t going to be enough.

You need to maintain your presence and respond to those who take the trouble to comment or ask questions.

If you’re thinking that all this is merely for big businesses with large budgets the daunting fact is that customers will not differentiate -- they expect the same level of service from everyone.

The good news is that there are two steps you can take now to put things right.

  • Commission an agency to monitor your social media platforms for you
  • Learn about programs that will help you give the appearance of being a 24/7 operation -- if that’s the impression you want to give

The third thing you should do is never underestimate the impact you make on a customer when they drop a question on your Facebook page and they receive some form of response next time they log on.

Showing you care counts for so much.

Here at ActionCOACH OxonBerks, we host regular ‘Social media for beginners’ workshops.

The next one is on Wednesday 26th April, 9-1pm and we’d love to see you there.  

Social Media for Beginners Workshop

When: Wednesday 26th April
Timings: 09:30 - 13:00  (9.00 arrival for coffee and networking) 
Venue: First Floor, 1 Thames Court, Goring-On-Thames, South Oxfordshire RG8 9AQ

BOOK NOW

Don’t know where to start with social media? Confused by Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? Not sure how you can use them to help your business?   Maybe you’re feeling like you’re not getting any return from the time you spend online?

Our Social Media for Beginners workshop is the perfect place to start!

Call us to find out more on 01491 877 533 or book your place by clicking here. 

 

If not now, then when?

Have you ever heard the saying “If you lose money, you can earn some more - but if you lose time, it’s gone and you can’t get it back!”?

I continually encounter people who want to change their life or business… but now is a really bad time - a few weeks or 6 months feels like a much easier time. “I’m snowed under, call me again in a couple of weeks because I really want to work with you, but just not right now”. It could be seen as a simple put-off to get rid of an annoying salesman, but actually I believe it. The person saying it is honest in their intentions.

Unfortunately in two weeks - or even six months - guess what? Things are just the same. The lack of a clear plan, the lack of prioritisation and the ‘busy-ness’ that created that feeling of overwhelm is still there, so the situation repeats. Time passes quickly when you’re busy. The good intentions are genuine, but week after week passed by and before you know it, years have gone and the situation isn’t much different.

The only time this changes is when you change it. You first have to recognise that what feels like progress is merely continual repetition or continual change - but not progress, not really. It’s only when you stop fooling yourself that continuing to work the same way will get you a different result that you can change course.

Sadly a change only comes when it’s enforced - business failure, redundancy, or serious illness. It takes a virtual poke in the ribs - STOP! - make a change happen, and make it happen today. It never feels like today is the best time to take action, but in fact it is. There is no better time.

Whatever it is you’ve been putting off and putting off for weeks or years, do yourself a big favour and take action today. Change your life for the better, today. You can’t change anything tomorrow - tomorrow never comes - you can only change things now.

If you’ve been telling yourself you’ll lose weight and yet it doesn’t happen - start today.
If you’ve been promising you’ll get fit, call the local gym and book an assessment and start today.
If you’ve been thinking you should take a holiday, but haven’t taken one for ages, book one now.
If you’ve been putting up with a problem customer, politely refer them elsewhere today.
If you’ve been putting off an awkward conversation, have it today.
And if you’ve been promising yourself you’ll make your business better - give us a call now.

Do you know what my job as a Business Coach is? It’s to help you make your impossible become possible. Whatever change you want - more time to enjoy, more money to enjoy it, a great team to run the business, or an exit strategy - give us a call today so you can start enjoying tomorrow even more.

If not today, then when?

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!  Don't forget to 'Like' our Facebook Business Page so that it's bookmarked and easy to find in future! Daily updates, quotes and useful articles to help grow your business!  

Important vs Urgent: Using a Default Diary

Default Diary Template and Example from ActionCOACH Rob Pickering

One of the most effective ways to improve your time management is to create and use a “Default Diary”. The majority of us struggle to make the best use of our time. We all have the same amount, yet some achieve a lot more than others. Our days are busy, yet surprisingly few significant goals are achieved! Where does the time go? Well, it’s a symptom of things that appear urgent taking over and dominating our day. So what’s the alternative? 

If you consider the things that make the really significant impact on our long-term progress, they tend to be the things that are rarely ever urgent. For example, creating a business plan is never urgent, but it is very important. Other examples might include regular 1-to-1 meetings with our staff, checking progress on long-term projects, updating the website, and more. All these things actually tend to have a big impact on our success in the long-term, but there’s rarely any given day when one of them is drop-dead urgent! So consequently these things get deferred… and deferred… So how can we make sure we get these things done regularly? The answer is to identify these important activities and reserve time in our diary to deliberately work on them.A “Default Diary” is a plan of specific times in a week or month that are dedicated to important activities. It’s not your main diary, it’s a plan of what you will do by default or, to put it another way, what you would ideally do when your week goes according to plan. Do this however works best for you, but what I do is to have a printed sheet on the wall next to my desk showing my default dairy for a typical week. On a Friday, as I finish the week and plan next week, I plan as many of the default diary activities into my main (electronic) diary. Sure, I don’t always get to fit them all in, but mostly I do. And just by having it on the wall I know it all off by heart. If it’s Tuesday at 2pm it’s time to call a past client and just check how everything’s going. Ten minutes is all it takes, and you’d be surprised what I get out of it (and them too!). It’s the kind of thing that’s never urgent but makes all the difference. What’s in that category for you? What are the activities that, if you spent time on them regularly - even though they aren’t urgent - you and your business would progress much better? Some ideas include:

A “Default Diary” is a plan of specific times in a week or month that are dedicated to important activities. It’s not your main diary, it’s a plan of what you will do by default or, to put it another way, what you would ideally do when your week goes according to plan. Do this in whichever way works best for you, but what I do is to have a printed sheet on the wall next to my desk showing my default dairy for a typical week. On a Friday, as I finish the week and plan next week, I plan as many of the default diary activities into my main (electronic) diary. Sure, I don’t always get to fit them all in, but mostly I do. And just by having it on the wall I know it all off by heart. If it’s Tuesday at 2pm it’s time to call a past client and just check how everything’s going. Ten minutes is all it takes, and you’d be surprised what I get out of it (and them too!). It’s the kind of thing that’s never urgent but makes all the difference. What’s in that category for you? What are the activities that, if you spent time on them regularly - even though they aren’t urgent - you and your business would progress much better? Some ideas include:

  • Create/update your business plan
  • Create/update your marketing plan
  • Review the standard info on your website
  • Write a staff newsletter email
  • Write an update email to your key suppliers
  • Have lunch with an employee/supplier/customer
  • Review your own personal training plan
  • Learn a new skill
  • Read a trade/industry journal
  • Look at what your competitors are doing and learn from it

If any of the activities are very specific, use a more general description and each week do something different under that broader heading. To get you started, you might like to download a template that I’ve shared at Default Diary

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here! Don't forget to 'Like' our Facebook Business Page so that it's bookmarked and easy to find in future! Daily updates, quotes and useful articles to help grow your business!  

Prepared for Promotion?

Have you ever heard the saying that most people are promoted to their level of incompetence? It’s harsh, but true.

It happens in large companies, but is even more normal in small businesses. Someone does their job well, so they get promoted to a management position, managing one or more team members. It seems logical, and often both the manager and the person being promoted think it’s a fantastic move. But in reality it spells danger and can actually turn out to be quite cruel. Being good at doing a job is absolutely not qualification for managing a team.

What should ideally happen is that team members who show promise as future managers are provided some training and given appropriate insights into what will be involved; What does it take to be a good manager? What knowledge and skills are required? Only after someone has been trained should they be given the management role.

OK, in the real world, surprises happen and a manager leaves or the business grows faster than expected and someone gets promoted without prior training. But when this happens - it’s important for that promoted manager to be given training as soon as possible - starting days or weeks into the job, not years.

When I visit companies I find a common pattern. I ask a senior manager “Have your managers been given the training they need to do their current jobs as well as they and you expect them to?”. The answer is often “No”. Sometimes the answer is “They’re OK” - meaning “No, but I can’t bear to admit it”. When I speak to the managers in question and ask if they feel adequately trained to perform their role, the answers are mixed. Saying “No” effectively means admitting they can’t do their job very well, and it’s a brave manager who admits that. If I ask specific questions, for example, “Approximately how many hours of training have you received on delegation, and when?” then they’ll admit “None”.

During 2015 there were a series of reports from Government bodies in the UK stating that productivity of the workforce is shockingly low when compared with the majority of other countries. Further comments in these reports expressed surprise and bewilderment as to why this should be? For example:

"The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said output per hour was 20 percentage points below the G7 average.” – BBC News

Just my opinion, but I think it’s because we fail generally to provide adequate training and motivation for our workforce. Not only that, I don’t think that business owners really see the benefit or believe in the Return On Investment - why else would we so consistently fail to provide training? And it starts with many of the business owners and managers - many have never received training themselves and think they do a good job, so there’s no problem. And so the cycle continues.

I meet a significant number of owners of small businesses who have themselves come from a large corporate and received significant training during their career. But ask if they provide training for the employees in the business they now run and the answers are varied and long, but rarely consist of “yes”. Take your pick whether they have “reasons” or “excuses”. Either way, the results are lower productivity, lower job satisfaction, lower motivation and lower profits. We need to change this to make UK Plc more competitive. Not only that, our working population work some of the lowest hours in the world while being less productive! We need to provide better training to reduce the crazy hours most people are now working.

I’m old enough to have been around in the 1980’s when the BBC broadcast an excellent TV program in the Horizon Series called “Now the chips are down”. It predicted the quite incredible idea that one day we would all have a computer in every home. And to cut a long story short, businesses would be so automated that the problem we would face is what to do with all our free time. It’s an amazing TV program, worth watching for context (it may not be viewable outside the UK). Unfortunately in reality we’re working longer hours, not shorter. As the cliche 

A very quick shortcut to management training is to read a few books. The old standard “The One Minute Manager” is a good place to start. But for most people, a series of training courses and follow-up support are necessary to really establish the knowledge and develop the skills.

If you’ve been promoted without adequate training - my advice is to ask for training, or find ways of gaining it independently. And if you run a business or manage a team - make life and business easier by investing in good training.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

6 Tips For Building A LinkedIn Profile That Sells You

When it comes to social selling, LinkedIn is somewhat of a sleeping giant. It’s chock full of potential and just teeming with prospective clients and employers, yet a lot of businesses still aren’t using it to it’s full potential. Do you have a profile set up, but aren’t quite sure if it’s working for you? Do you find yourself longing for profile views, and wondering what you’re doing wrong? Or maybe you’re just starting out, and want to make sure your profile arrives with a bang. To preface our LinkedIn for Business workshops, we let you in on our top 6 tips for creating a LinkedIn profile that not only lets you sell, but sells you too.

Craft The Perfect Headline

The headline you choose isn’t just a job title. It’s arguably the most important 120 characters of your LinkedIn page, so it needs to be strong and catchy. Take some time to craft exactly what you want people to think when they first view your profile. Clearly state your role within your business, the value that you bring to that business, and what kinds of client you serve.  Getting all of that information into 120 characters can be tricky, and making sure it’s not an overcrowded mess is crucial. The more eye-catching, descriptive and intriguing your headline, the more clicks through to your profile you will see, so get creative!

Show Off Your Best Side

Since humans first walked the earth, we have become experts at reading faces. It’s the first thing we look at when we meet new people, and it’s the thing our eyes are drawn to on a LinkedIn profile and where we look the longest, because it’s the most visual element. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t just use the default grey avatar on LinkedIn, but equally that photo of you partying in Vegas isn’t going to go down that well either. Instead, choose a professional headshot that says ‘I know my stuff’. If you don’t have a headshot, get one done professionally (we can recommend a couple of great photographers so just ask!). Just make sure its good quality and professional, with a confident smile.

Choose Your Keywords Well

If you’ve crafted your headline well and got a decent profile photo, the next thing people are going to see is your summary. You have 2000 words to play with here, so you can be a bit more creative. Choose a few different key words that you want to be found for, and work your summary around those points. Take this opportunity to tell people about you as a person – you have plenty of time to talk about your professional skills in your job roles section.

Demonstrate Transferable Skills

The ‘experience’ section is the closest you get to a traditional CV on LinkedIn, so this is where you should focus your business skills. Fill in your previous jobs and go into detail about the skills you learnt during each, and what skills you brought to the table. Show off what you can do for your clients, or your new employer, and don’t be shy!

Collect Recommendations

The recommendations you receive on LinkedIn are what sets you apart from others like you on the network. This is a chance for other people to sing your praises, and tell potential customers what great work you’ve done for them. Don’t be shy about asking for recommendations, but do make sure you send a recommendation back to those who give you one! Bonus tip: LinkedIn says your profile is complete with 3 recommendations, but I would suggest between 10-15, and never stop asking for new ones to add to the collection!

Still Not Sure? Try Our LinkedIn For Business Workshop

If all of that has left you feeling a little confused, or you just want to know where to go next, then our LinkedIn for Business workshop is perfect for you. A half day workshop at our offices in scenic Goring-on-Thames will take you through the basics of setting up and optimising your profile, all the way to developing your LinkedIn marketing strategy. Our LinkedIn training course is all about teaching you how to make the most of this social selling platform, and maximise the time you spend online to see real results. For more information, or to book your place today, just click here.

The Dangerous Comfort Zone

Your comfort zone is the boundary in which you operate on a daily basis, doing things you know how to do and have typically done before. Outside that zone lie all the unfamiliar and perhaps scary experiences - the things you avoid because you can’t do them.
 
Imagine your own comfort zone as a circular area; Everything inside it is familiar and comfortable, everything outside it is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. The reason it’s unfamiliar is because you don’t go there! As an example, where would your comfort zone boundary lie in terms of standing up and presenting in front of a group of people? Are you comfortable in front of 5 people? How about a room full of 30 people?
 
Picture the scene - the hall is filled with 500 people and they’re here to see you. You step up onto the stage and they all go quiet and await your words. From the stage you look out across the sea of faces and prepare to say that opening sentence. If your heart rate has risen at the thought of this then, like the majority of people, this is outside your comfort zone. Perhaps a long way outside! It’s been said that the fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of death itself to many people - which is pretty strange when you think about it.
 
The thing about your comfort zone is that it’s as big as you choose to make it. As soon as you have the courage to do something outside your comfort zone, your comfort zone grows that little bit bigger. If the biggest audience you’ve spoken in front of is 20 people and you speak in front of 5 for 10 minutes, chances are you’ll then be comfortable to do that again. For some it may take two or three occurrences before you feel truly comfortable, but you get there.
 
One of the greatest joys in life comes with expanding our comfort zone. It’s a lot about confronting and conquering our fears. For most people their first driving lesson is a scary experience - or at least the thinking about it beforehand and getting in the car feels scary. By the end of that first lesson, and certainly after passing the driving test, your comfort zone expands and the fear goes away - replaced by a sense of freedom and accomplishment. And actually increased confidence also.
 
In many ways the emotion of fear and the emotion of excitement are one and the same, it’s just our thinking that accompanies them. When you recognise that you feel fear in relation to your comfort zone, you can choose to experience it instead as excitement. This may seem an odd concept to some, but give it a try. If you decide to do your first parachute jump, focus not on how scary it is - which usually means thinking about what could go wrong! Think about the exhilaration, the freedom, the amazing views… and how, when you touch safely and lightly on the ground, you’ll inevitably say “Can I do it again?”.
 
Living within your comfort zone makes for a very dull life. The true feeling of living life to the full and achieving the most will come about by continually expanding your comfort zone. But it has to be a personal choice, and it’s sensible to take things one step at a time - expand in comfortably uncomfortable steps - if that makes sense? One of my favourite sayings is that “Everything you ever wanted is right there waiting for you - it’s sitting right there, waiting for you - just outside your comfort zone.”.
 
I make a habit of continually expanding my comfort zone. The fears that keep us inside are unreal, they evaporate as soon as you take the risk and step outside. Yes, there may be some small consequences, but they’re often better than the alternative. If you go for that big promotion or apply for a new job you might get rejected, but you might not! The only thing worse than being rejected is not to even try. As Susan Jeffers famously said in her book “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.
 
I highly recommend that you think about your comfort zone, or rather the places outside of it, and nail them one by one. Take that course that you don’t think you can complete. Start that new hobby. Apply for that promotion. Learn that new skill. Take that scary/exciting trip of a lifetime. Make a list and tick them off. In a word, “live”.


If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

 

I made a mistake

Have you ever found yourself continuing to argue a point long after you stopped believing it yourself? One of the most useful phrases we can benefit from using is “I changed my mind”. Yet how rarely people seem to say it, and it doesn’t come easily for most.

To easily say “You know, I see things differently now, so I’ve changed my mind” is incredibly liberating for all concerned. Somehow changing one’s mind has gained negative associations in leadership but especially in the world of politics, and especially in the UK. Margaret Thatcher famously said “You turn if you want to. The Lady’s not for turning.”. It was seen as a sign of strength and determination. There’s nothing wrong with determination, but continuing to defend a point when we realise it’s wrong is just plain stubborn! The real sign of strength is to admit the error and show that we’re prepared to. Learn to say “I changed my mind” as a sign of strength.

An even better phrase to use and to practice saying sooner rather than later is “I made a mistake”. It doesn’t always have to be accompanied by “sorry”. If you never make mistakes, you’re probably moving too slowly that little ever gets done! So if you rarely say “I made a mistake” you’re probably either hiding your mistakes or playing too safe. Celebrate mistakes as a sign of progress. Learn from mistakes and share the learning. And remember - you can only make a mistake once - if it happens a second time, it was a choice!

“What if I’m wrong?” is an excellent question to ask ourselves on a regular basis. Not as a form of self-doubt, but as a humble and genuine form of self-enquiry based upon the certainty of not being perfect, and of a desire to be open to alternatives.

Imagine what it would be like to live or work with someone who readily changes their mind when it becomes appropriate, admits mistakes, and is open to questioning if their beliefs are reality. It would be very easy to work with and to trust someone like that. It may not seem easy to do, especially if we have built our beliefs around never making mistakes and sticking to the first thing we said. But wouldn’t it be a great environment in which to work.

I often hear business owners asking the rhetorical question of team members “why won’t they just admit it” when someone makes a mistake. Well, usually it’s because the team have learned from their leader. If you criticise people too much when they admit a mistake, don’t be surprised when they hide their mistakes or waste your time and theirs on blame, excuses and denial. Far better to respond to a mistake with “Well done for trying, and what have you learnt so that you don’t need to see it happen again?”. And instead of criticising yourself for making mistakes, practice asking yourself that same question and life and business will be a lot easier.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Seek First To Understand

It was Stephen Covey who said "Seek first to understand, then to be understood" in his excellent book "The seven habits of highly effective people". The reason it's such valuable advice is that it's counter-intuitive and so don't naturally do it.

The trap we usually fall into when trying to get someone to understand us, to see things from our point of view, is to keep talking. "Let me explain...", "What you need to understand is..." and so on. We get so desperate to make the other person understand that we stop listening to them altogether and just keep trying harder and harder by talking at them.

The key to having someone listen and hence understand us is to start by shutting up! Stop talking, listen, ask brief qualifying questions. Dig deeper, asking how or when or who or what until the other person has finished. When they are finished, you'll see and hear a calmness that indicates they feel you have listened.

The key is to restrain the natural tendency to dive in early and start giving your point of view or opinion on what the other person is saying. Keep in your mind "am I listening to understand, or listening to respond?". If you feel you're just waiting for a split-second pause to get in and say your piece... you've fallen into listening to respond. Relax, listen, don't interrupt, ask only questions that seek further understanding.

Ideally you should paraphrase what they have said and check that you understand them: "So let me see if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is...". You might need to go around this once or twice but eventually the response you want is "Yes! That's it!" And now the other person truly feels understood. It's one of our deepest needs to feel understood and once someone truly feels that you understand them, the relationship moves on to a higher level.

Only when someone feels understood will they relax and listen to what YOU have to say. At this point you'll be given the opportunity to talk and be heard. You'll find the other person much more receptive and the communication is much easier.

The listening process described here is broadly described as empathic listening - listening with understanding and empathy. It has applications in selling, resolving disputes, staff 1-1s, team building, networking - many aspects of business and personal life. Empathic listening skills are very valuable - google it for further reading and start practicing. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Words Trigger Emotions

Words trigger emotions whether we choose for them to or not.

As human beings we are ‘meaning-making machines’. The instant we see or hear something, we make it mean something. This makes us naturally good at identifying patterns and solving problems, but it also causes us to attribute meaning incorrectly or where there was none. Indeed - there is no meaning, except that which we attribute to something.

If it’s raining, most people will say “it’s a miserable day”. Is rain miserable? Is a day miserable? Of course not, it’s just the meaning which we may or may not choose to attribute. “So what?” I hear you asking?
The words you use in an email, in opening a conversation, and elsewhere will trigger emotions in the listener. Imagine receiving an email from your biggest customer entitled “Urgent problem!”. Immediately your pulse rate quickens and adrenaline starts pumping as you click to open the email with a sense of dread. You open it and discover their urgent problem is that they need to double their order and you just smashed your sales target as a result. Maybe on seeing that title you avoided opening it - fearing the worst - and left it until last?

So how often do you choose your words carefully in order to gain the reaction you do want, and to avoid inadvertently generating a reaction you wouldn’t want? If you work in marketing and write headlines, you’re probably a master at this. But for the rest of us, it can pay to raise our consciousness of the effect our words are likely to have.

Context also influences the meaning we create. For example, if in the UK you pick up your post and see a brown envelope bearing the logo for HMRC it might fill you with dread - a tax demand or tax return or other bad news could be inside. Of course it could be a refund, but few of us quickly opens the envelope to find out how much!

These days, as much as it pains me to admit this, a politician only has to open their mouths and we’re wondering what their angle is and what they’re trying to cover up. Who’d want to be a politician if that’s how everyone thinks? This expectation about people is another example of meaning we create rather than reality.

Do you have someone in your life who, as they approach and before they even open their mouths, you have an expectation of what they’re going to say? Are they going to bring you a new problem? Are they always full of criticism or praise? These expectations we put on those around us - or even complete strangers - influence our thinking and our actions.

I used to work in a computer software company and was working on an exhibition stand. One of my team came over and whispered that someone had been by and would be coming back to see me, but they’d do me a favour and say I was busy. “Why?” I asked. “Just some scruffy bloke, I couldn’t even tell what he was talking about.”. Sure enough he returned but I agreed to speak to him. He had very scruffy hair, scruffy beard, scruffy clothes. But what he showed me was a groundbreaking product he’d been developing. I set up a meeting for the week after. He turned up in a pin-stripe suit and looking very smart. He explained that he was a qualified psychologist and as he touted his idea around the exhibition he wanted to ensure that his future business partner was the kind of company he’d like to deal with, not superficial. It became a very successful product for us - good job judged the product and the person!

In all walks of business and life generally, be consciously aware of the words you use and the perception you create. Because deliberate or not, you influence the person you’re dealing with. Then turn it around and see through the meaning you’re attributing to the people and events around you. See things for what they are, or what they can be.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

LinkedIn is Pure Gold

LinkedIn has brought me significant income, great contacts, excellent employees, and quite a number of friends into the bargain over the last decade. Yet I frequently meet people who aren’t on LinkedIn at all, or confidently tell me it’s a waste of time! So here’s how it could work for you too.

Start by knowing WHY you want to connect to people on LinkedIn. To illustrate, my reasons are:

Connections who:

  1. can potentially help my clients
  2. I am likely to be able to help
  3. might at some stage be able to help me
  4. appear interesting!

What would be your reasons?

Whatever you want from LinkedIn, the ease with which you’ll achieve it is mostly down to one thing:

How many good quality connections do you have?

It’s really no use connecting to a handful of friends and business colleagues. The chances of you helping them or them helping you by connecting on LinkedIn are close to zero! You’ve heard the phase “it’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know”. But these days it’s about who knows you, and who is able to find you. The potential number of people who you can find and who can find you is limited by the number your connections, their connections, and their connections.

Connections are definitely not just about quantity, it’s about quality. I’d suggest that ‘quality’ in this context is about connecting to people who

a) have a large number of good connections
b) are relevant - e.g. industry, geography, job role
c) are collectively diverse - one good connection in ten companies rather than ten connections in one company

The most leveraged connections
You can think about this another way by asking yourself “how many connections do I have who are connected to the people I want to talk to?”. For example, if you offer accountancy services to small businesses you can have a hundred connections to owners of small businesses and thereby have 100 potential customers. But if instead you connect to the person who runs the local Chamber of Commerce, your one connection probably gets you hundreds of potential clients. So think “Who knows a lot of the people I’d like to talk to?”. Even better if you can connect to someone who your prospects also trust. An introduction from a ‘trusted advisor’ is infinitely more valuable than being found from a google search listing. Think about it - if someone wants an accountant, will they use a google search or ask someone they trust? In reality - probably both, but the trusted introduction is more likely to work out.

Just because someone is a desirable connection for you, doesn’t mean that it’s obvious how you’ll be a desirable connection to them. The least effective approach is to connect with the standard LinkedIn invitation message. A better approach is to briefly say why you’d like to connect, and how YOU might be able to help THEM. Using our same example, if you’re a small business accountant connecting to the local Chamber of Commerce, you’d better be ready to join, and how about offering to introduce all your clients as potential Chamber members? Now you’re an interesting connection and offering a win:win opportunity.

As mentioned in the list of four reasons I connect, I’m primarily looking for people who can help my clients. I'll want to speak to them, probably meet with them and understand how they operate, and their values. After all, I'm not about to risk my own reputation by referring strangers to my valued clients! I want two or three providers of each kind of service and I want them to be absolutely outstanding! I want my clients to thank me for the introduction, not ask why I introduced that complete idiot who didn’t return calls, overcharged and provided poor service!

How can I help?
Like most people in my profession, I’m cursed with wanting to help people (said with a smile, of course). So if I stumble upon someone I think I can help - and I don’t mean for money - then I’ll do it. I don’t stop to ask “what’s in it for me?”, I’m not helping because they will owe me a favour. Like many people, I help simply because I can. Naturally a lot of people are looking for hidden financial motives. So many manipulative marketing strategies help make people cynical. It reminds me about a message I received - not even a connection request - a few months ago; It basically said “I saw your profile and think it’s great what you’re doing to help businesses grow - keep up that good work!”. That was it. I told a few people and ALL of them asked “what’s the catch, what are they trying to sell you?”. I explained they weren’t selling anything and not to be so suspicious! I messaged the guy back and thanked him for his kind words. As many of you will have guessed, the reply I then got said “Great. I offer websites, have you considered getting yours re-designed…”. But forgive me if I continue to see the best in others and avoid being cynical, even in the face of contrary evidence. I immediately found three people to send “well done!” messages to, with absolutely no hidden agenda, just to redress the balance in the universe:-)

Who can help me?
Fortunately there are a lot of people who like to help. A well-recognised strategy in sales and marketing is to use the four magic words “I need your help” or some variation. If you start a cold call with “I wonder if you can help me?” it’s been proven that you’ll get a better response than just diving in with “The reason I’m calling you today…”. So if I connect to someone who I think might be able to help me, I’m honest and tell them why I’m connecting. I’ll mention how I might be able to help in return, but I don’t always. Sometimes people appreciate the straightforward honest approach. I also follow the rule taught to me many years ago - “Ask for everything you need or want, and be happy with the answer”. So if they don’t want to help, that’s absolutely fine. As ‘Nev from The Call Centre” would say - SWSWSWN (Some Will, Some Won’t, So What, Next…).

Are you interesting?
The fourth of my reasons for connecting to people is that they appear interesting. In fact I generally find people fascinating. My general state of mind is ‘fascinated’ so I’m always listening, watching and learning. If someone has started and run a business for ten years, they’ve made it to where only 4% of businesses get, so I automatically think they deserve respect and I’d like to meet them. If someone has climbed Everest, rowed the Atlantic, run 100Km across the English Pennines, won an olympic medal… I think they’re fascinating and I’d like to meet them. No agenda, and the coffee’s on me. I never fail to learn from everyone I meet, even if they thought the meeting was to learn from me.

For me, LinkedIn is a fascinating goldmine of interesting people. Business resulting from it is an excellent by-product!

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Stop Nagging and Start Inspiring

It can feel really frustrating when someone isn’t doing what they ought to, yet nagging them to do it just seems to make it worse. No one likes being nagged!

Nagging will usually come across as a form of verbal attack. Phrases like “Why haven’t you?”, or even just “When will you…?” are likely to feel like an attack from the other person’s point of view. Think about what happens when someone is attacked. Imagine they’re being attacked with a big stick, just to make the point! How will they react? It would provoke the ‘fight or flight’ response and they’d either fight back or run away. It also creates chemical changes in our body that reduce our ability to think clearly and focuses all our resources on fighting or running - adrenaline flows, the pulse rate rises.

A verbal attack will often create similar responses, but they tend to occur without us realising. You ask someone, in your most reasonable tone, “when can I expect that report to be completed?” and you get an aggressive response along the lines of “How can you expect me to get that done when I’ve got all this other stuff? Do you realise how much I have to do?”. This is the ‘fight’ response.

Alternatively you might get someone defending with blame, excuses and denial. People rarely run away from a verbal attack, but the defence response is pretty common. The way you phrase things can increase the chances that you’ll get a defensive response. If you ask “Why?” then you’re inviting them to give you some excuses. If you ask “Who?” then you’re inviting them to blame someone or deny responsibility.

I see “nagging” as this kind of blunt questioning, often on a repeated basis. The more you nag, the better the other person gets at finding plausible excuses. Nagging very rarely gets a job done, and even more rarely does it get a job done well. So what’s the alternative?

In most cases people do want to get their tasks completed. So why aren’t they doing it? Consider some common and likely possibilities:

  • Don’t know how
  • Don’t know where to start
  • Feel the need to concentrate for a longer period than available
  • Don’t like doing it
  • Know that if they don’t do it, you’ll do it for them!

Most of these translate into finding it hard to make a start. If instead of nagging you can inspire someone to make a start, they’ll probably thank you.

A good way to start is to sow seeds to get them thinking about the task. For example, “What would be the first thing you’d need to do to get started on that task?”. As soon as you ask that question, in a positive tone, they start thinking about what they’d need to do first. If they respond with barriers, then confront that positively too: “What could you do to work around that?”.

By getting a dialogue going around starting the task, and then next steps involved in it - they get interested and will typically want to get started. You can provide further encouragement by suggesting, for example, “If you spent just ten minutes now on getting it started, you’d probably feel good about having made progress”. At this point you’ve moved to the next stage - building their vision and helping them get a sense of how much better they’ll feel to have completed it. Depending upon how receptive the person is, you could move fully into that position by asking “How would it feel if you could get started now and by the end of the week have it all completed?”.

If you get someone who’s really stuck, or really negative, they might give you an endless stream of excuses and reasons why they can’t progress. It can feel really frustrating and it’s easy to lose your cool and end the conversation. Instead, be sure to end on a positive and something that makes the task feel achievable and enjoyable. You can acknowledge that the task seems hard or unpleasant - but rather than saying “I know this is a horrible task”, change your language subtly to “I know this seems like a horrible task…” because you avoid subconsciously defining it as a horrible task! “Seems like” or “Feels like” instead implies that it isn’t actually a horrible task, it’s just a temporary feeling. And that helps. Focus on the outcome - how they will feel to get it done.

This kind of inspirational and motivational conversation can take time and practice to feel natural and for it to work effectively. You may not find it works so well the first few times, but keep practicing and after a while you’ll find that by inspiring others… you inspire yourself.

What would be a good way to start having a go at this? How about trying it today? You’ll be amazed how well it works!

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Business Loans for Growth

While growing organically - funding the business from its own profits - can appear admirable, it's not always the best route.

Someone once told me "Unless a business is borrowing the maximum it can, it won’t be growing to its full potential". I've never endorsed that kind of maximum borrowing strategy - which says more about my own attitude than the truth of the statement - it's interesting to see the reaction it gets from most business owners when I say it.

Most people borrow money only when they feel they absolutely have to. They treat a business loan almost like a failure - "I couldn't finance the business from profit, so I had to borrow some money". Instead, I recommend seeing it as one of many tools available to a business owner.

A business needs available cash to stay afloat. And cash flow is even more important to the growth of a business! If you had £50,000 of available cash, how would you use it to grow your business? Employ a salesperson? Invest in some excellent marketing? Develop a new product? Chances are, whichever you choose, the return you’d generate on that money would probably be a multiple rather than a fraction. So why wouldn’t you get hold of that cash?

If you can borrow money at, say, 10% interest per year (and that should definitely be possible) and you can generate 100% return with that money, surely you’d be crazy not to raise that cash and invest it? Sometimes I encounter business owners who do have spare cash and they’re taking it out of the business and putting it in property. Now, property is a good investment - you can double your money every ten years if you take the long-term stand. But often you can double your money on ONE year if instead of trusting the property market you trust yourself and invest in your own business!

So how can you lay your hands on a nice big pile of cash? Traditionally you’d go to a bank. But these days many banks can be difficult to borrow from. After the banking crisis they’re over-regulated, over-cautious, and they’ve mostly disconnected from small and medium-sized businesses, but that’s a whole other topic. If you’re fortunate enough to have a good bank Relationship Manager, by all means approach them with a sound plan.

Crowdfunding
You might have heard of Crowdfunding? It’s where typically tens of small investors lend a small amount of money to create a larger pot with diversified risk to each lender. A couple of business clients have successfully used Funding Circle and just 8 days from posting their request they had money in their bank. Several other crowdfunding businesses are vying for the top position in this new market, I just don’t have experience with the others.

Crowdfunding is growing so quickly that I suspect it’s going to bite the traditional banks on their behind and catch them napping. Banks are big organisations that take a long time to react. Time will tell whether they react quickly enough to avoid losing much of their reason for existence.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Business Planning is Underrated

It amazes me how many businesses operate without a plan. It’s very rare that I speak to the owner of a business with less than 25 staff and find that they do have a plan. Interestingly most will tell me that they want to have a plan, but list all the excuses as to why they currently haven’t - as if they were just about to do it.

But there are also a lot of business owners who will argue against having a plan. Usually their main argument is that “my industry changes too fast!”, so what’s the point having a plan when things change before the plan’s finished?

Looking at both cases one thing is clear: the benefit of business planning is underrated: Afterall, if it weren’t, everyone would have a plan.

In larger businesses there is almost always a plan. Whether it’s a good plan and whether it’s followed are different matters, but they always have a plan. By the time there are 25 staff, things just become chaos without a plan, and usually by this point someone has pointed out the need and got on with planning!

So why don’t small businesses plan? Here are some of the reasons I’m usually given:

  • We don’t have time for planning
  • Things change too fast
  • I have a plan, it’s in my head
  • Having a plan is too restrictive, we like to be opportunistic

I suspect there are other reasons too, but just a bit too embarrassing to admit:

  • Many small business owners have never been taught how to plan
  • Planning feels like hard work and there’s always something more interesting
  • Until they’ve had a good plan, they don’t know what they’re missing

When I persuade a business owner and their team to create a plan, it is without any doubt the single biggest factor in driving them forward with accelerated growth. They often say how liberating it feels to have a plan. The change in them and the business is often dramatic and exciting!

When you have a plan, you gain clarity about where you’re going and what’s important to get there. Often the daily ‘fog’ of endless things to do clears because now it’s clear which things are important and which are not. It becomes possible to look at each task and each request and ask “If I do this, will it take me closer to my goal, or further away?”. That alone is a significant help in managing time and priorities.

With a plan on paper, the whole team can share the same common goals. When only verbalised, goals tend to be what’s in each person’s head, and each is a variation on a theme, not the same thing.

So what does a good plan look like?
There are many variants, but as some very brief advice I would say “Keep it simple, and keep a summary on the wall”. Using graphs, Gantt charts and short lists are good ways of sharing key priorities and timescales. By putting it on the wall it constantly reminds everyone of the key parts and keeps everyone focused and aligned.

Bottom line - if you want to make life easier and achieve more quickly - make creating a plan your biggest priority.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Do You Fail More Than You Succeed?

Small daily improvements create long-term results

Do you focus on failure? Or on success? Are you unintentionally planning to fail?

Often I find people being unhappy about all the things at which they’re failing. They’re asking for my advice and help about how to turn the situation around. And knowing how reluctant most people are to ask for help, you can imagine how long they’ve been trying on their own!

Last week someone said “I know you’re a business coach, so this probably isn’t your thing, but I just can’t seem to maintain the discipline to exercise every day!”. I asked how often they do exercise? They said “Not every day…”. So I asked again, “Understood, so on average how many days per week on average do you exercise?”. Their answer was quite complicated, as is often the case. But if I can summarise it like this: Most weeks would start well, and she’d exercise each day, until life got in the way of she just didn’t feel like it, and then she would probably not exercise again or just once, then the next week would start over.

This is a familiar pattern, not just with exercise, but with many things in life and business. I regularly see the same things in the workplace. Someone makes a list of what to accomplish in the month or the week, get a few days in, and then something gets in the way and they miss a deadline, followed quickly by another and another until they pretty much give up on the plan until the next “fresh start”. Maybe it’s a pattern that’s familiar to you? Do it enough and soon you stop making plans or making commitments because it feels too miserable when you fail.

The problem can be a combination of:

  1. Setting a goal that requires too much change too quickly, from 0-60 in 1 second
  2. Setting a goal that’s hard to exceed
  3. Being too hard on ourselves, and our resulting ‘feelings’

There are those who say it’s all a matter of discipline. And for those who can just set a big goal and stick to it, good luck and well done, but don’t assume everyone is the same.

Motivation is definitely a factor too. “If you want the result enough, you’ll do whatever it takes”. But sometimes we want the result, but not at the expense of everything it will take to achieve instant results. By all means focus on the result and make sure you are fully imagining and wanting the end result. It just still isn’t enough for everyone.

Instead, imagine your goal is like winning a 1 mile race. The world record is 3:43.13 so if your goal is to set a new world record, you’ll need to be exceptional. But if you’re in a race with some pretty average competitors, as we often are in business, and they’re doing the equivalent of running a mile in 5 minutes… then you only need to run it in 4:59 to be the best in the business! If you mistakenly set your goal as beating 3:43.13 then you’re going to be pretty disappointed.

Our ability to perform well is very much related to how we feel. If we feel like a failure, we’re most likely to keep failing. But if we feel like we’re winning, we’re most likely to perform better and enjoy it more too.

If you set a goal to do something EVERY day, how are you going to exceed your goal? In any one week you have seven opportunities to fail, one opportunity to succeed, and absolutely no chance of exceeding your goal. This is what I’d describe as setting yourself up to fail and feel miserably. With a goal to do something every day, you have 365 opportunities to fail in a year and only one chance to succeed. How likely is it that you’ll feel good? In real life, the vast majority of people will not do what they set out to do every single day, and hence continually feel they are failing and continually give up and then hit the mental reset button and try again.

So here’s a thought: The best way to achieve success is to learn to have a great attitude towards failure”. You can choose your own attitude, but mine is this: Failing is a sign that you’re trying, and it’s a good thing! Someone who never fails is someone who isn’t trying very hard. Obviously if you fail in the same way multiple times, it’s a sign that maybe you need to improve your skills or get some help. 

Obviously failure due to inappropriate planning, eg none, is foolish. Catastrophic failure due to poor planning and preparation is even more foolish! But in day to day life, the quickest route to success is to set small goals, plan and prepare, and have a go. When you’re consistently successful, increase the goal and try again. Each small failure along the way is cause for celebration.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

What's your time worth?

For every person in every business, they perform a mixture of tasks; Some tasks are worth very little and some tasks are worth a very high value. I often ask a business owner “How much is your time worth per hour to the company when you are doing the most valuable work?”. Almost no one ever knows the answer.

Often, as we grow and develop a business and our own capabilities we tend to hold on to a bunch of things that we have always done, because… well… because we’ve always done them! Maybe no one else knows how, or maybe we even enjoy those tasks, but the harsh reality is that we should no longer be doing those things.

I often take out a pen and draw a simple graph with £ per hour on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis. Then I ask for some examples of some tasks that the business owner does, how long they take, and how much that work is really worth per hour? They still do invoicing, it takes a few hours each month, but the ‘going rate’ to have someone else do that is perhaps £25 per hour. So we draw a little red cross on the graph low down and to the right (not worth much and takes a few hours).

We get a few more examples - they still like to open the mail, they like to answer the phone when it rings, they ‘have to’ wash-up at the end of the day because no one else will! You get the idea, lots of red crosses - low-value work.

We draw some blue crosses for things like staff appraisals, meeting key customers, and all those other things that are valuable enough that it commands a relatively high value. These are tasks that seem like a better use of a business owner’s time. But it’s still not where they should focus.

I ask “Who’s your largest customer and, if you work it out, how many hours of work did it take to get them and how much will they be worth over the whole time they buy from you?”. The answer is usually quite interesting - imagine the answer is that it was a long process over three months but the actual number of hours invested was 50 hours and the customer will probably spend £500,000 over the next five years. That means those 50 hours invested were worth £10,000 per hour. I’m told I often ask quite annoying questions, so I’ll follow this up with “are you sure you still want to spend your time opening the mail?”.

Business owners, when they spend their time most appropriately, can be worth a huge amount of money per hour. Actually almost anyone at almost any position in a business can usually be worth a lot more, provided they gain awareness of true value of what they do and what they could do, then select wisely.

Often it’s necessary to first free the time to be more selective, but that’s a whole other story about Outsourcing, Delegation, or applying The 3D rule which you can read about elsewhere on our blog.

Take the necessary action and focus your time to be most productive and earn more while working less. 

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Do You Set Yourself Personal Goals?

Most people understand that having a clear and measurable goal will greatly increase the chances of achieving it. And most people know they should have clear business goals, even if they haven’t actually got a finished plan. But I’m amazed how few people have clear personal goals!

What ten things would you like to achieve in the next ten years?

Imagine that your list will be made up from any combination of things that you want to Be, Do, and Have. What would you absolutely insist upon including if you could only have ten? You can start with more – start with a hundred if you wish, but what would be in the top ten?

Few people give much thought to this and end up ten more years through their life and realise that they didn’t actually achieve a single one of the top ten. It’s because we need to be very deliberate about this – have a plan and attach a timescale.

It’s easy to end up living day to day. In ways that are completely contrary to our goals, maybe even our values. The day to day and year to year pass by unnoticed if you let them.

Perhaps your top ten would include things like:

  • Climb a mountain
  • Go on safari
  • Find that significant other
  • Teach your children a life skill
  • Buy a new house
  • Learn a language
  • Start your own business
  • … or whatever matters to you.

Make that list, do it now, before another day goes by.

Now, which one from that list will you turn into reality THIS year? If you’ve identified ten things to be, do, and have in the next ten years, you need to make one happen every year on average. It’s easy to think of them all being at some unspecified future date, but seriously, which one will you make happen this year?

Break it into steps

The chances are that for a goal to make it on to your top ten list it’s probably going to be significant – more than something you can do in ten minutes on the spur of the moment. So start by breaking it down into separate steps. If it’s something that will be costly, start by finding out the actual price. Once you know the price, work out how much you’d need to save or to earn per month to afford it. In twelve months.

What price?

Top ten goals rarely come easily. What are you willing to do or to give up to achieve one of your top ten life goals? It may involve additional work, sacrificing short-term treats, or personal comfort. Maybe it would involve stepping out of your comfort zone? And if you’re not willing to pay the price, don’t fool yourself that it’s a top ten goal.

Who will hold you accountable?

A good way to ensure you achieve a goal is to have someone hold you accountable. I’m not saying you’ll enjoy being held to account, merely that for most people it’s a necessity! Choose a friend, family member, or go public. Feel free to add a comment here and say publicly what you’ll achieve by when!

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Mind Your Language

What makes a piece of writing really compelling for you? How can you write something compelling for your customers or prospects? Have you noticed that sometimes you’re hooked immediately and other times you’re bored and click away to another website or turn the page of a magazine? Follow the steps here and be compelling!

Imagine we’re looking at your website home page and you want prospects to read it and feel compelled to take further action.

1) Who are you talking to? As you write, imagine you’re having a face to face conversation with your ideal prospect. First of all, be sure you know who your ideal prospect is! Know what interests them. Know why they are likely to have landed on your website. Know their type of business and typical challenges facing them. It’s important that first of all you build rapid rapport so they know they are in the right place and that you understand them. If your ideal prospect is a company with 50 employees who needs to train their staff on Microsoft software products, you might say “If you need to increase your staff proficiency with Microsoft Office, you’re in the right place. Whether you need tutor-led training or online self-paced video training, we’ve got the solution.”. If you understand your target audience and what they’re looking for - chances are they’ll stay on your site. This form of wording is more effective than purely a headline like “Training for Microsoft Office”, but you could use both.

2) It’s all about them Ensure you don’t bore them with how great your company is and how lovely your office is and how fantastic your team is. There’s a time and a place for all these topics, but initially you need to focus on THEM. For those of you who do business networking, you’ll know the rule - don’t start by talking about yourself. If paragraphs you write tend to start with “We always try to…”, “Our team like to…”, “Our company speciality is…” and so on, then you’re talking about yourself! There’s a place for this - it’s on the “About Us” page. Ensure you focus on them and their challenges and needs. “You probably find that…”, “If you need help with…”, “You might like assistance with…”, “One of your challenges might be…”, etc. This continues to build empathy with the reader, showing that you understand them. Few of us writing websites are trained and experienced writers, so this might all feel like a lot to think about. But by just following a few of these guidelines you’ll soon be writing like an expert and keeping your prospects hooked. (That was me building empathy with you, in case you didn’t realise).

3) How can you help them? Having established that you understand their needs, now you can suggest some ways that you can help them. “If you’d like your team to have instructor-led courses to learn Microsoft Office, you can book your team members onto our regular open courses. And if your needs are more specific - training to use specific in-house templates for example - we can run a bespoke course for just your staff.”.

4) So what should they do next? Don’t just leave your prospects hanging, lead them by the hand. Don’t even assume that they would now look at your price list or click a contact page. You’ll help them far more - and increase the number of sales you generate - by telling them what to do next. Make your language very directive. “If at this point you’re ready to speak to us, call us on 01234 56789 or use the contact form. And if you need information on Tutor-led courses or online training, just click the corresponding menu item at the top of the screen. And if you’d like to hear what other customers like you have said about the help our training provided, click on the testimonials page.".

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Who is your Ideal Customer?

It’s important to think about your target market before you dive in and start work on marketing. Think about who would be your ideal client and target them specifically. If you get caught up in thinking that your target market is “anyone”, don’t be fooled, there are always criteria that help you better define who you want to attract.

If you create very generalised messages to appeal to “anyone”, you end up appealing to no one. There are two main things you need to know about your target customer:

1) Who are they?
2) What would interest them about your product or service?

1) Who are your target customers?
• Companies or individuals?
• Company size / income level
• Where are they located?
• What market sectors are they in?
• What makes them unique or at least sets them apart?

Knowing who your target customers are will allow you to aim at the right places to reach them. Often you’ll have more than one target market or kind of customer, in which case it’s far better to segment them and target them differently. Start with one go deep, then move on to a second later.

For example, If you were an accountant that targets sole traders and small businesses, you could see this as a single category and target startups and businesses with under 5 employees. However, you can segment that further and target building trades or consultants or veterinary practices or whatever niche you prefer. Pick a category in which you’ve already been successful and think about how you found existing clients and how you’d find similar ones.

2) What would interest them?
Thinking specifically about the product or service that you offer, what is it that your ideal customer would find really interesting? It’s important to get at emotion - what would they really care about enough to take action and contact you or buy?

• What is their problem you offer to solve, or the desire you fulfil?
• What would they be seeking to solve their problem?
• What kind of things would they particularly like?
• What kind of things would they dislike?

As with the previous point, segment your target markets. Think about existing customer types who love your products or services and who you love dealing with. What exactly is it that they like about your products or services? Because when you know that… chances are you know that others prospects in the same niche will appreciate the same things - so that’s what you must include in your marketing message to them.

If you make a list of the features and benefits of what you offer, it will be quite a generic list. Some will matter more or less than others to different people, and it’s hard to appeal to people with a mix including things they don’t really care about. That’s why it’s important to segment and target each niche with just the specific points that are important to them, using their language and referring to their specific interests. The response rates to targeted segmented marketing will be much higher than to generic advertising aimed at anyone and everyone. And more of the leads will convert to customers. It costs you less, takes less time to convert to customers, and they’ll stay longer.

It’s amazing how many people don’t segment their marketing!

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Do You Ask for Help?

Are you someone who finds it easy to ask others for help? Or are you part of the majority that hit barriers and just keep pushing harder and trying to figure it out on your own?

There’s a lot of truth in the jokes about men driving around lost and refusing to stop and ask for directions. Logically it makes little sense, but I know from my own experience whether driving or otherwise that there’s some sort of satisfaction in finding the solution myself. I noticed recently that as my wife and I walked into a large retail outlet, looking for a specific item as a present, my wife’s first aim was to find an assistant to ask. My reaction on the other hand was that even if it took all day, I was going to find it on my own! After ten minutes up and down the aisles my wife insisted on asking the assistant, only to be told that they don’t sell that product. I realised this is almost always what I do in shops, and it’s not very sensible!

If you hadn’t guessed yet - I’m drawing parallels with the work environment. My working days as a Business Coach are split between helping existing clients with whatever aspect of their business needs attention and the other half is talking to business owners who are “absolutely fine on my own, thanks” and busy working it out for themselves. The fact is that only a tiny minority of business owners look for help - or even accept it when it’s offered!

A very wise colleague of mine explained many years ago that we spend our formative years in an education system that discourages what is called “cheating”. In class we would have it drummed into us “better to make your own best effort than to cheat and get someone else to help you”. Copying someone else’s homework or asking a classmate what the answers became morally unacceptable and punishable offences. “It’s not about winning, it’s about taking part” - a worthy-sounding endeavour, but one which sets us up poorly for a competitive work environment. My colleague’s assertion was that we’ve all been programmed from an early age not to ask for help - that it’s better to try and try until we work out the answer ourselves.

When you look at it logically, it’s easy to believe that we’ll get much faster results by asking for help from someone who’s ‘been there and done that’ and can give us the shortcut. The very word “shortcut” can imply “cheating” and people avoid it. Seriously, I see it all the time, people in business being paid by the hour to work out answers to things that many thousands have already done before. It’s not a recipe for success.

So if you want to succeed to a greater level and much faster, how about asking for some help from those who know the answers? It could be your accountant, your bank manager, a solicitor, an HR advisor, or maybe it’s a virtual PA or bookkeeper to actually do some of the things for you that you’d take ten times as long to do yourself. Business can feel tough enough without turning every step into a personal challenge, so reach out and ask for some help - today!

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

It's all about emotion

As we go through life and business, we tend to look at logic and operate in a transactional manner. Our paradigm - the way we view the world - is typically based upon logic. It’s how we explain things, it’s rational. For example, pay someone to do a job and they’ll do it. Offer what people want at a reasonable price and they’ll buy it. But the trouble is that actually we tend to be dealing with other human beings, and human beings are not based on logic, we’re based on emotion.

Motivation is much more about emotion than about logic. People only do things when they’re motivated. So if you want someone to work for you and do things the way you want them done, at the time you want them done, you’d better make sure they’re motivated correctly. And if you want people to buy from you and keep buying, you’d better make sure they’re motivated that way. If you want people to trust you, help you, like you… you need to make sure they’re appropriately motivated.

The key to all this involves knowing, and liking, people. By ‘knowing’ I don’t just mean you know they exist, I mean you really get to know what matters to them. When you know what matters to people, you can start to understand them. And when you understand people, you can find ways to help them. Business - when we get down to the root of it - is about helping people. In more logical terms it’s about delivering a product or service that people need or want, in a way that they like.

Businesses often fail - either completely (they cease trading) or partially (they’re less profitable than they could be) - because they lose sight of the fundamental point, ie helping people. They get too caught up in their own internal needs and wants, or they fail to understand what matters to their customers. And when this happens, customers buy less or stop buying altogether.

The key to your success in business is understanding people: Understand your employees, your suppliers and your customers and what really matters to each of them, and find a way of meeting all their needs simultaneously. It’s always a balance. Ask yourself, do you know what really matters to each of these groups and individuals? If not, find out, then act upon it. That should be at the core of all your plans and actions, but guided, of course, by what matters to you.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

What's really stopping you?

Often when I start working with a business owner, they tell me what they need to improve so that their business will be much better. What would that key thing be in your business? Better cashflow? Better marketing? Better staff? Better sales skills? Better time management?

If something just popped into your head, it might genuinely be that key thing holding back your business. But most often than not, I find that the first thing, and even the second and third, are the comfortable 'excuses' that can sound valid, but which really are not the true issue. They might be a significant symptom, but they're not the cause.

Now forgive me, I'm a Business Coach, so I need to be brutally honest in order to help. Don't shoot the messenger! The cause... is you... the business owner. That concept probably doesn't sit comfortably, and why would it? Most business owners seem to think they should be infallible, know all the answers, and never make mistakes. It's an unachievable level of performance, but few openly admit it to themselves, even if they admit it to others. Few business owners ask for help - they equate asking for help with failing, so they just resolve to try harder.

If your cashflow is poor, it's up to you to fix it. If you don't know how, ask someone that will know. Perhaps your accountant or bookkeeper. Perhaps you need to outsource the cash collection if you hate chasing people for money. But if you leave it as it is, then its poor state is down to you. Even if you've got someone doing it for you, if the results are poor, the corrective action is in your hands - it's down to you.

If your marketing or sales skills in the business are poor - it's down to you. Ask a marketing or sales expert for some advice on what to do. Or read some books or get some training. But if you allow poor results to continue - it's down to you.

If you feel your staff are the weakness in your business, why did you recruit poor staff? You need to ensure they're trained and motivated, or replaced. The solution is in your hands. If you don't know how, then seek some help. Ask an HR expert or perhaps even ask your staff.

Sorry if that all seems rather harsh. It's often said that it's lonely at the top, and it can be. The buck stops with the business owner. But just because you own a business doesn't mean you suddenly gain magical powers and know all the business skills! The skills are all around you in books and in other people. The only skills you really need to have to run a successful business are those of identifying the key problems and asking the right people for help. You might not like asking for help, but trust me, it's a lot better than struggling on alone and accepting poor results.

What's truly holding back your business and who do you need to ask for help? Ask today.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Network to Grow Your Business

You probably want more customers so that you can grow your business? There are quite a few ways to achieve it, but the most effective ways typically involve getting out of your office. By all means take a look under the desk, behind the filing cabinet, in the cupboards… but I doubt you find find any new customers in your office! No, the harsh reality is that all your new customers are out there waiting for you to find them. It’s time to go looking.

It’s fair to say that very few business owners relish the opportunity to go to a networking event and walk up to complete stranger and start a conversation. The mere thought of it will give most people a feeling of cold fear. Apart from those people we all know who are those strange people called extroverts. You know the ones - always sounding confident, happy to walk up to complete strangers and start a conversation. You walk down the road with them and they stop three times to talk to complete strangers. It’s OK for them… but that’s not us. So the rest of us will place adverts, send emails, and in an occasional brave moment - make a phone call.

My advice is to get out there and make a start. Go and meet some people, even if you don’t think they’ll include your target customer audience. You might be anywhere on the scale from scared to death to mildly bored by the idea, but just do it! Google “Business Networking” and your local town name and you’ll soon see some of the opportunities. Don’t hesitate, don’t dwell on all the reasons why it might not work, just do it. Make contact immediately and get yourself invited along to see what the group is like. Visit several different groups and see which ones you like. And yes, you do have to go there to know.

I never used to even know that local businesses got together. It was all a complete revelation - finding out there are literally thousands of groups of businesses networking worldwide. They’re getting to know each other, and trust each other. They understanding what they do and passing work to each other. But only to the businesses who are actually there! I now know business owners who regularly attend networking meetings who have gained more than 50% of their clients through networking - some have gained more than 80%! So imagine if you’re one of the business owners who is NOT there… the business you have might be only the 20%... the other 80% of your business that you felt sure you ought to have is there waiting for you at your local networking groups!

Often people tell me that it’s unlikely that anyone there would be their target customer, so what’s the point going? Well you’d be surprised to know that people who network are well connected. Usually they aren’t when they first attend… that’s the point… the more you attend, the better connected you become. If there are just 20 people at a meeting, chances are they all know upward of 100 other businesses - their own customers, their suppliers, ex-colleagues, family members, school friends, members of clubs… it’s probably more like 500-1000 each! So when you visit a few times and have told each of 20 members what you do… you can reach 10,000+ people. The cost is minimal, the time is reasonable, and the results are usually excellent when you make the effort. And although it may not seem like it from the safety of your desk… it’s actually really enjoyable getting out and meeting like-minded business people. Give it a try this week!

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Smile if You Want Repeat Business

Repeat Business advice from Rob Pickering

Winning new customers is always harder and more expensive than selling to existing customers. There are many ways in which you can keep customers and sell to them time and time again. But there are also things you can inadvertently do that drive your customers away. Could you be driving customers away without realising it?

My wife and I recently visited an old favourite historic site and went for lunch at the restaurant. The staff appeared to ignore us as we entered. We waited ten minutes for them to take our order and at one minute past three in the afternoon they told us that there was no hot food now because they stop serving at 3pm. We never saw one of them smile. They clearly weren’t happy to be there, and so we didn’t enjoy being there either. When we left we agreed that it would be a long time before we returned.

The way that you and your team act toward customers is hugely influential on your long-term profitability. Imagine a customer spends £50 in an interaction and that they buy three times per year, so a customer is worth £150 per year. If your team were so welcoming and friendly and helpful that they came back one extra time per year, you increase revenue 33%! And if you train your team to ask the right questions and identify something extra that the customer wants to buy, you could increase it even further.

Often when I work with a business owner to increase their average sale value or average number of transactions they are resistant. Although they would like extra profit, they hate the idea of pushy selling and trying to squeeze extra sales out of their customers. So I take them to buy a sandwich for lunch and then review the experience so that they can reverse roles and be reminded of how it is to be a customer.

I recently went to the excellent sandwich shop with clients. When I say ‘excellent’ I mean from the point of view of food quality and choice, but I suspect their profitability is less excellent! Four of us queued to order our sandwiches that were made exactly to order. At no stage did anyone recommend any extra fillings, a different bread roll, nor did they smile and have a laugh. Sure, they were busy, it was lunch time. At the checkout we were told the price. Then someone remembered maybe we should buy some cold drinks. We hurriedly decided what we wanted with no suggestions from them. As we left I realised they had a large coffee machine but never mentioned the possibility of us having one.

When we’re on the receiving end it’s easy to see the difference between good service versus bad service or excellent service. But when we’re dealing with customers it’s very easy to forget all the basics. Don’t look at it as extracting more money, think of it as helping customers to buy what they might not realise they want. Smile, compliment them, make suggestions of what they might like. Set a goal that every customer walks away smiling. They will come back more often, and not only will they spend more money, more often, but they’ll be happy to do so. And they’ll recommend other customers to you as well.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Avoid Killer Clients

Ideal Customers

Do you ever dread answering the phone and discovering it’s one of those clients that’s always getting you down? Complaining or demanding more for less with unrealistic expectations? Asking you to do work you hate doing, at times you don’t want to, for prices that are too low? Then it’s time to fire the dud clients and hire the ideal ones!

I really like all my clients. I look forward to spending time with them on the phone or in person, and I really want them to do well. And I’d like to think think the feeling is mutual. I’m careful to work only with clients who I believe I can help, and with whom I feel aligned.

Many business owners I meet tell me that some of their clients are great, but others are a complete nightmare! It’s easy to understand that in any business there’s a pressure to find more customers. This leads people to literally work with anyone that can pay.

If you operate a retail business it can be hard to choose your customers, but they don’t tend to hang around long either. The real issue is in a business where you’re dealing personally with the same client over and over. These are typically service businesses such as accountants, financial advisors, lawyers, coaches, and many others. To enjoy our work we need to like the people we’re helping. Merely tolerating them or worse, loathing them, is no good and makes for a miserable working life.

I was lucky to have a colleague recommend a book called “Book Yourself Solid” by author Michael Port (Google it and download a few chapters free). The part that really struck me was what he called his “Red Velvet Rope Policy”. It’s like when you go to an event and there’s an entrance with a red velvet rope stretched across the door - only selected people are allowed through. Michael Port says we should all have a red velvet rope policy for the clients we work with. Further, they should be people who “inspire and energise” you. It’s some of the best advice I’ve had in my business and it means I enjoy what I do, every day.

What would be your “red velvet rope policy” for your business? What would be the attributes of your ideal customers? Probably they would appreciate what you do, value the service and not quibble about price, pay on time, show up on time, make reasonable requests and refer you to lots of other great clients. You might include attributes about the size and type of their business, their location, and more. Think about this carefully and get really clear on your ideal customer - then go looking for them and target your sales and marketing efforts toward them.

Remember that there’s not necessarily anything wrong with customers that don’t fit your ideal; Chances are they’re ideal for someone else’s business, but not yours. Be gracious and helpful and rather than just turning them away, be honest that “We’re not the best choice for you to work with” and consider recommending they try someone else who they would be better suited to.

The more you work with ideal clients, the more you’ll enjoy your work and the better the business will perform. In turn it will lead to you attracting more of the right clients.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Are You Smart Enough to Succeed?

In everyday life we need knowledge in order to do what we need to do. Many of the basics like how to cook, how to drive, DIY, cleaning, washing, organising the household bills - they all require us to put in some time and effort to gain the necessary knowledge. And if we don’t have the appropriate knowledge, or don’t want to do it, then we have to pay someone else. They gained the knowledge, so we pay them for the value that they can provide.

To succeed in business you also need to invest the time and effort to gain appropriate knowledge. Exactly what’s appropriate will depend upon your areas of need. Running a small business is more demanding than running a large one in many ways because you need to have a very wide range of skills; You need at least a basic knowledge of finance, marketing, sales, plus knowledge about the products or services you’re offering.

As a business grows and you employ staff you need to focus more on leadership, delegation, planning, communication skills, HR and people skills. Then as the company becomes even larger the Leadership and communication become even more important, while things like sales and marketing and finance are handed off to specialists in those areas.

The speed at which a business can grow is very often limited by the speed at which the business owner learns and gains skills in the various areas and changing the focus over time. In this situation it’s easy to get busy, buried in the day to day work and neglecting the learning and skills required to move the business to the next level.

So what should you do?

“You must either modify your dreams or magnify your skills.” - Jim Rohn

Identify your knowledge and skills gaps. Avoid focusing on the areas you’re already comfortable in, select the areas you really are NOT comfortable in because they’re likely to be the ones where you’ll benefit from learning! If you’ve never written a marketing plan you probably need to learn some marketing. If you’ve never created or studied your management accounts (or know what they are), you need to improve your financial knowledge.

Create a Personal Learning Log

A learning log is just a simple list. Keep it in a spreadsheet or written in the back page of your diary - whatever works for you. Make a list of topics you and your business would benefit from you learning about. Ask for recommendations of specific books and of training courses that would help you progress in each area. Then get specific about which books you’ll read and courses you’ll attend, and attach some dates.

Each time you complete a learning task - finish a book, attend a course, watch a training video… write the date, title, and key thing you gained into your learning log. You might want to add an estimate of the time you invested. Each year it’s good to invest 10-20% of your working hours in learning, so about 10-25 days per year. Some professional associations require their members to undertake a specific number of days of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) every year.

Think about it: if you were about to go for major surgery, would you rather be operated on by the surgeon who learnt enough back in medical school ten years ago, or the one who spends twenty days every year attending courses and reading journals to learn the latest theories and techniques? Would your clients prefer to have your business as their provider, or one that invests in continuing professional development? If you’re not gaining new knowledge, your existing knowledge is getting stale and dated. And if your suppliers aren’t investing this way, you might want to consider changing supplier! Ask them the question.

When you have employees, ensure that they maintain and show you a learning log. Set them goals for the areas they could improve to benefit themselves and your business. It’s not all about going on courses, employees can learn a lot from reading books, from each other and from you. The key is to identify those areas of need - the knowledge and skills gaps - and work on them.

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.” - Jim Rohn

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

Dealing With Problem People

A key to success is to surround yourself with people who are excellent - positive, supportive, intelligent, motivated, diligent - helping you achieve success. With these type of people it’s still a challenge to run a successful business, but without them it’s really tough.

So why is it that whenever I meet a business owner and ask about the people around them, they’re quick to talk about the ‘problem people’? The phase that often springs to mind is “Better the devil you know… than the devil you don’t know!”, meaning that this person’s bad, but a replacement could be even worse! Stop! With thinking like that, you’re destined to be surrounded by walking disasters.

In other blogs I’ve discussed two related topics - “You get what you tolerate” - highlighting that you really mustn’t tolerate bad behaviour or you’ll get more of it. And “Do your team really know what you want?” - stressing the need to give absolute clarity about what you want from your team, in terms of both actions and attitudes. If you’ve arrived here for advice on dealing with problem people, I suggest you read those two first. They’re all about taking responsibility and understanding if maybe part of the problem is actually you and your management?

If you can’t change your team, you’ll need to change your team! Confused? The starting point with problem people should always be an attempt to retrain them to think and act the way you need them to. I honestly believe that anyone can change IF they want to, and if you’re willing to invest the time, energy and money. But unless the answer to both of those is a clear “yes”, then you need to go the other route to change them… meaning replace them with someone who does have the right attitude and behaviour.

I regularly see job descriptions that describe a team member’s responsibilities and even the required standards of work, but rarely do they include requirements about behaviour. I highly recommend including points such as:

"You will have a positive and supportive attitude toward the company, staff, customers and suppliers at all times"

Hold staff to this, don’t tolerate anything less. If someone has a bad attitude, take them aside and ask them what their job description says about attitude? If they don’t know, give them another copy and ask them to read the sentence. Ask them what that would mean in practice? Ask them if they feel they’ve been demonstrating this? Keep asking questions, getting into specific examples if necessary, and ultimately make it clear that this IS the requirement to work in your business.

After a clear discussion like that, they should be in no doubt about what’s expected. If they walk away muttering and go and tell their co-workers what an idiot you are, take them aside again and address their attitude once again and, this time, you need to go down the disciplinary route. Yes, seriously, you need to ensure team members have the right attitude and if they can’t or won’t adapt, they need to go. Keep them and the bad attitude will spread, morale will be low, performance will be lower than it should be, your profits will be low, and you’ll probably hate going to work! The costs of tolerating poor attitude are high.

You do of course need to operate fairly and within the bounds of employment law. If you don’t have a qualified HR person to guide you, I highly recommend using an outsourced HR expert on a monthly retainer. They can help you get documentation in place. However, ensure that the wording is friendly, helpful, and includes attitude - not just legalistic jargon. Ensure there are “Rules of the game” for all the team members and put them on the wall.

If you can’t change your team, change your team.

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering

How To Have Great Testimonials

No matter how good we are at telling people about our products and services, it’s always heard with a degree of scepticism; After all, we would say we’re good, wouldn’t we! But if your current and past customers say you’re good... it’s a lot more believable. What I most often see businesses using are unattributable one-liners: “Excellent service at a great price! - Mrs. Smith of nowhere”. These kind of things could be made up, and often are. They have little if any value. Far better to proactively create some great testimonials and case studies.

A testimonial basically says you’re good, and can be anything from a few lines to a page. A case study is designed to help potential customers understand some examples of things you did for happy customers, so that they can understand how you could help them too. I’ll cover both here as if they’re the same... but keep the difference in mind when you come to create them. Let’s overview this in two parts, content and creation. Content:

  • What content would appeal to your target audience?
  • Which product or service do you want to highlight (be specific)
  • Ensure it’s representative of what you do, and believable
  • Don’t scare prospects away! Include points to encourage them
  • What would they be afraid of? Make points to reduce their fears
  • Include good images, especially pictures of customers

Creation:

  • Write a list of questions to get answers matching the content you need
  • Don’t send a list of questions and ask customers to write their answers
  • Get a professional to interview clients and make it a fun, positive experience
  • Edit so it reads well, but don’t fundamentally change what they say
  • Ensure it also makes you customer look good too
  • Send the draft to them, then call to go through any edits they require
  • Omit anything that dates it, so you can use it for a long period
  • Have printed versions, not just online

If you follow the above guidelines you’ll have some excellent testimonials or case studies that significantly help your marketing effort to gain more good customers. But let me highlight a few places people often go wrong!

Don’t get lazy and send your customer a document with some boring questions and ask them to complete it themselves. A few things happen when you do. Firstly, few of them complete it, or they hate doing it and what they write comes across with zero enthusiasm. And when they write “It was mostly OK on the whole” you’ll be on thin ice if you edit it to sound better, but you really don’t want that kind of phrase in your testimonial. You need to speak to the customer over the phone or in person, then write the resulting document well. If that’s beyond your skills - pay someone who will do it well and ensure they do!

Recommendations on LinkedIn can also be great, but this is a situation where it’s up to your customer to write it. You get the opportunity to publish or not, and you can (and should) ask for changes if necessary. If you ask for a referral you can guide the response by saying “it’s up to you, but it would be great if you could highlight your experience over xyz and why you’d recommend others to use us”. The great thing about LinkedIn referrals is that they link to the person recommending you, so readers know they’re true. Ask for one per month!

If you’d like to see some examples or get some help, pick up the phone or send me a message, but either way... take action! 

If you’ve found this blog useful, why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for more – click here!

By: Rob Pickering