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?

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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By: Rob Pickering

Gratitude is Good

Gratitude and celebration are severely lacking in our lives and business, but it’s a choice - and you can change it.

When someone says “Well done!” or “Thank you so much!” do you think or say “It was nothing” or “I was just doing my job”? Worse, when your staff do something well do you think or say “they were just doing their job, it’s what I pay them for”? Think about it - what does it cost to say “Thank you”?

Business owners often ask me about linking bonuses and other financial rewards to employee performance, along with questions about how to get staff to do what’s important. Ask someone if they want more money and they’ll say “yes”. Ask someone what would motivate them and many will say “more money!”. But repeated studies have shown that beyond a level necessary to get the basics in life, more money does not actually provide much motivation. In fact it can leave people feeling confused and dissatisfied - they thought they wanted more money, they get it, but don’t feel happier. 

When it comes to rewarding staff I strongly recommend starting with “Thank you”. But as the old saying goes, it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. If you frequently say “thanks” and sound like you neither mean it nor care, you severely devalue your gratitude currency. I find a lot of people are extremely challenged by the idea that they should really give genuine praise for someone who is “just doing their job”. And typically those same people are even harder on themselves, refusing to recognise their own successes, ignoring the 90% successes and focusing instead on the 10% need for improvement.

When we show gratitude to others, and to ourselves, the game changes. When the gratitude is genuinely felt, and generously given, it’s far more valuable than money. And curiously when we give gratitude to others, we feel better ourselves, because the very act of recognising good in someone else has that effect. This may all seem a bit soft in relation to business, but while we use human beings to achieve our business goals it’s important to recognise that treating them like machines is unlikely to gain the best results.

So please allow me to pass along three suggestions:

1) Count how many times in a day you say a genuine “thank you” in some form to those around you. And keep count of the number of times you criticise or nitpick, whether in words or just a certain look that conveys your lack of approval. You might be shocked at how the latter outweighs the former. Aim to set the balance so that you’re grateful twice as often as critical. If you can do it, you’ll be surprised that the result is that you have less and less reason to be critical.

2) When you see a job done satisfactorily, even with some room for improvement, focus on highlighting the positive aspect and say nothing about the imperfection. There’s a time and a place to train people into improving, and when that time arrives, ask THEM what they think they could improve rather than you saying it. It achieves better results and doesn’t feel to the other person like you’re criticising.

3) When someone does something particularly poorly, you probably take them aside to say how disappointed you are and highlight what they did wrong. Be sure to do the opposite as well. Rather than just saying “thanks”, take them aside and highlight what they did well and tell them how pleased you are.

Let me know how it goes. I’ll be grateful to hear of your successes! 

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By: Rob Pickering

Who’s Stealing Your Time?

It’s not about having enough time, it’s about how you use the time you have. Most “time management” tips will tell you how to save some time. My view is different - when you know clearly what you should be doing and feel motivated by it... you’ll do it. Rather than trying to save time, focus on USING time in the most effective way and they greatly reduces the chances of you misusing minutes and hours on things. So here are my top 5 tips to use your time most effectively.

1. Have a plan Create a plan for the next five years, then for the coming year as part of it, and then for the next 90-days. If you don’t think you have time for this you should seriously question your commitment to running a successful business. This is a non-negotiable - you MUST have a plan. Everything else flows from the plan. 

2.  Schedule the goals for the next 90 days In your 90-day plan you need to identify a few goals that will be completed. For a sole-trader this might be one or two big goals and for a company with lots of staff it might be five or ten goals, but I recommend having one main theme per quarter (eg lead generation, training, sales, cost reduction, recruitment, or whatever). Allocate ownership of each goal to ONE person. Have that person create a calendarised plan containing a “what, when, who” breakdown of the tasks necessary to complete the goal. Agree milestones and review dates. Now here’s the most important point - put all the review dates and key actions into each person’s diary so that time to work on the projects is reserved ahead of time. Do this and you’ll be massively productive, fail to schedule the time and the goals will not be achieved and everyone will tell you “we didn’t have enough time”.

3. Follow-up and manage - top priority! As the business owner or manager, recognise that your most valuable time will be spent following-up with everyone assigned to achieve goals. Schedule meetings early in each goal and then part way through and before the end. A common mistake is to say “do this in a month’s time” and then leave them to it. After a month you find they haven’t started or they went down the wrong track! Don’t leave it so long that you catch them failing - it’s your job to ensure they succeed.

4. Productivity = Knowledge x Skill x Motivation Check that each of your assigned goal owners have the necessary knowledge. And also check that they’ve had the necessary practice and guidance to develop the right skills. Let me explain - you could read a book about brain surgery and work at understanding it, but the skill to actually perform it comes with guided practice. In the workplace, just because you’ve told someone what to do or even how to do it does not mean they will be able to do it! Then comes motivation. If someone is assigned a task that they lack motivation to complete, or lose their motivation, there’s little chance it will be completed to deadline or with quality. Check at the outset and continually check on the motivation of the team leader and team. If you think you’re not very good at motivation... a vital business skill... there’s a great goal for next quarter - get good at it! Give yourself the role of CMO (Chief Motivation Officer).

5. Show Gratitude Too many business owners and managers believe that their employees should be grateful that they have a job and almost never say thank you, let alone demonstrate gratitude in more imaginative ways. On the contrary - if they’re good team members you should consider yourself lucky to have them in your team and constantly show your gratitude. And if they’re not good team members - you either need to be better at recruiting or at training. Thank team members for arriving on time. Thank them for attending meetings on time. Thank them for completing projects even if they’re late (in which case you need to apologise for letting them down - no team will deliver late if you managed them well). When you show genuine gratitude, you’ll definitely have a lot more to be genuinely grateful for.

So who’s stealing your time? In case you hadn’t guessed, the uncomfortable answer to the question I posed at the start is that no one is stealing your time. The reality is that you’re giving it away. Focus on the important goals and let everything else be squeezed out.

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By: Rob Pickering

Train Your Team to Maximise Your Profit

After you’ve recruited a really good new team member, you need to ensure that they perform well and stay in your business. There are a few things that you should ensure are in place for every employee:

  • - A clear job description and list of responsibilities
  • - Performance measures
  • - Measurable goals for the quarter and year
  • - A Personal Development Plan (PDP)
  • - Regular appraisals - Annual review

A Clear job description and list of responsibilities Every employee needs to have a written job description and a list of things for which they’re responsible. I would also include in this, or provide separately, a list of expected attitudes and behaviours, such as an attitude of teamwork - cover for people when they’re absent, work in proactive cooperation, etc. It’s important that ‘obvious’ things like this are stated clearly in writing.

Performance measures It’s often surprising how few employees know what they need to do, in measurable ways, to be doing a good job. Ask your team members “what do you think you’d have to be doing, consistently, for me to say you were performing really well?”. Or you could ask “What would you have to do for me to WANT to give you a per rise?”. If anyone hesitates on either answer, they don’t know and are therefore not focused on performing well. Be specific on all their responsibilities. How quickly do you want the phone answered, how early do you want them in the office, how should they speak to customers, and so on. Make it clear and encourage them to perform well.

Measurable goals for the quarter and year Most jobs break down into things that have to be done on-going - like answering the phone perhaps - and things which are shorter term objectives - like “get ten new clients this month” or “reduce delivery errors to under 1% by year end”. Everyone should have about one to five specific objectives to work on in a quarter, in addition to their regular work. Set agreed goals with measures and dates to report progress and a completion date, then review completion afterwards. Everyone responds to this kind of clarity and it provides more job satisfaction than just doing the regular job.

A Personal Development Plan (PDP) Make it clear right from the start that you expect every team member to me working on developing their own knowledge and skills all the time. Be clear it’s their responsibility, although you will support them. Personally I wouldn’t even consider giving an annual pay rise to someone who can’t demonstrate any significant personal growth from year to year. Remember that it’s actually really difficult for a company to grow much faster than it’s team’s knowledge and ability. A PDP is a written document that usually identifies areas of improvement for a team member, lists actions to be taken and target dates, and records what development actually takes place.

Regular appraisals This is one of the greatest failures of managers - they don’t hold reliable regular appraisals with their team members. As a result everyone plods along doing ‘stuff’ but the company and the team progress in an uncoordinated way with unclear goals and the company profits suffer. Be sure to hold appraisals with each team member on a weekly basis. Initially it could take an hour each, but after a few months it should be possible to achieve everything necessary within 15-30 minutes and skipping a week every now and again is fine. The things to be discussed are all the list above: Attitude and behaviour, measurable performance, progress on goals, and personal development.

Annual review Every team member deserves a personal review once a year to let them know how they’re doing - ideally versus the goals they were set a year before - and to set new goals for the coming year. Most companies do an annual review and annual pay review at the same time. I recommend splitting these so that the appraisal is all about performance and goal setting. If a salary review is combined - all they want to hear is “how much”. By all means hold an annual pay review a month or two after and link it to performance, but keep them separate.

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By: Rob Pickering

Attract the best employees

I was recently asked “How can I ensure I build a great team?”. After a bit of thought I summed it up as the following: Recruit great people, train them well, set clear goals, motivate and lead them. A great team with great leadership will achieve great things. No company with a poor team of people will achieve as much as one with a high performance team. In the next article I’ll focus on how to maximise the performance of your team, but first let’s look at recruiting them in the first place. However, the two are very much linked - new employees look at what it’s like to work in your business. 

Your ideal employee should have a great attitude, be eager to learn, eager to impress, tenacious, and competent. They also need to be reasonably confident in themselves, so that they’re willing to stretch and learn and improve without having to be pushed. Read “Recruit Based on Attitude and Behaviour” for a more detailed description.

Now put yourselves in the mind of your ideal employee. Where are they, what do they want, why do they want it, and how can you reach them. I’d suggest that few of them will be unemployed because the best people don’t stay unemployed for long, but it’s possible. Chances are they’re employed and being paid rather well - because they’re good. So first of all it stands to reason that they’re not looking for a pay cut - if you offer a job that looks as if it pays a lower salary, you won’t hear from them and you’ll think no one’s out there. But money isn’t everything. A great employee probably wants to work for a great company. Does your job advert, website, twitter, facebook page and LinkedIn page look like a great company? If not, why would they consider even getting in contact if their current company is pretty good?

I’d suggest that your ideal employee will also want to be treated well, to have a decent set of benefits on offer, a nice work environment, interesting people in your team and an interesting charismatic leader. They might check LinkedIn and read about you, look at your company page, look at who else works for you, and see how motivated they appear to be. They’ll definitely look at your company website. Do you have a section about what a wonderful team you have, with pictures of everyone and profiles of the key players? If you looked at your website and LinkedIn and any other sources - would you want to work for your company? If not, start fixing the image (and the reality!).

Probably your ideal employee wants to work for a business that provides a good and meaningful service. They want to be part of a company that is growing and going places and talks about their successes and ambitions. Face it, no one leaves a decent job to join a company that looks boring, complacent, pointless or even desperate! Actually that’s not true - you’d attract the employees who are even more desperate! To attract the best people, you need to look like an exciting place to work with good career prospects, and that means growth ambition. It’s great if you have an ambitious five year plan, but it needs to be visible - prospective employees need to see some evidence. So as you’re advertising for your ideal employee, or better still using a great recruitment company to find them, be sure to make it clear why your ideal employee should want to work for you.

Time to Take Action:

Are your team fully committed to you and the business? With a great attitude?  These things of course, don't just happen, YOU have to create the right culture and build the best team possible. Join us at one of our next complimentary workshops and let us show you how: 
So if you employ a team of 5 or more staff or manage a team within an organisation - then this is for you.   Oh, and there is such a thing as a free lunch!


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By: Rob Pickering


Grow Your Team with Virtual Employees

One of the biggest hurdles in a start-up business is recruiting a team, especially the first team member. Often it starts with one person doing everything and responsible at the same time for generating all the income. Once their weeks are full, they need to build their capacity to handle the finance, marketing and perhaps sales. Once those foundations are in place, it’s time to add people who generate income for the business. 

Often it goes wrong with recruitment of the first team member, usually to handle admin. The Business owner knows they spend too much time on invoicing, chasing payments, placing orders, paying suppliers, doing marketing, handling enquiries and so on. But it’s hard to give up hard-earned cash to start paying someone, so they go cheap! They get someone who lacks experience or accuracy or motivation, and the owner ends up spending so much time managing that they might as well not have the employee. Added to that, frustration levels go sky high, as does the stress level, and sometimes that results in upset clients.

There are two other, better, alternatives. One is to employ someone who’s really good. Whatever the going rate for the job - look for someone who is earning at least 20% more and recruit them with 25% more, or the same money but a better opportunity. Think about why someone really good would work for you. If you offer minimum wage to work in a broom cupboard and motivation from the school of shouting loud... you won’t attract a good team. But economics do come into it, and if the best admin person can’t save enough of your time that you can pay their salary, it’s probably the wrong solution.

A good solution that is low-risk, low-cost, and can generate high results is to outsource or to use virtual employees. Just to be clear, what I mean by virtual employees is basically someone who can provide the skill and capability you need while working remotely as an occasional service. They aren’t on your payroll and they don’t need your office space, desk, computer, NI contribution, and so on. When you need a bit of what they do... you pay them to do just as much as you need. Sometimes as I’m telling someone this they now ask “Do such people exist?” - yes. And most of them are really good. Many are people who are top quality, but don’t want to work full-time in an office for one employer. They charge more per hour than they would get as an employee, but it’s still cheaper for you to pay for a few hours of someone brilliant than pay for all the hours of an employee that you don’t need full-time.

Whether your business is one person or a team of 20, you could probably benefit from using an external expert. We often employ the first virtual staff without even realising it. No start-up business needs a full-time accountant, so we appoint one who does an occasional hour’s work and a few hours at the end of the year. They’re a virtual accountant - they provide a valuable skill and they’re mostly available as and when we need them. It may be a little controversial, but I include bank managers in this same bracket - provided you have a good one. I often refer to them as the ‘extended team’, because they can help you best if they also know your common goal and buy in to your success.

As a Business Coach, I recommend you look at which important tasks you can outsource to a virtual team. Not only does it free-up your time to do what you are most valuable doing, it also stops you feeling dragged down by tasks you don’t enjoy or do poorly in comparison to an expert. The kind of things I’d look at outsourcing would be bookkeeping, marketing - especially social media, annual accounts, business development (eg telemarketing), IT support, and more obvious things like cleaning. Financially these should all be profitable decisions for all but the lowest value businesses. In the majority of cases you can earn more from selling the time you save than it costs to get an expert doing the job.

Even if you think you charge less per hour than a person you’d outsource to, you’ll very likely find that it takes them less time! When I outsourced most of my marketing to an excellent Virtual Assistant, I was thinking I was swapping an hour of my time for a paid hour of her time. But despite my years of marketing experience, she was actually considerably quicker than me - so what took me an hour of procrastination and fiddling only took her half an hour! Choose well, have very clear and measurable objectives and standards, then outsource whatever you can. Monitor the return on investment (ROI) and as long as it costs less or generates more than doing it personally or in-house - keep going! If it doesn’t give the right ROI, change to a better virtual provider. It’s a fast way to reduce inefficiency and grow your business. 

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By: Rob Pickering

Create a Leveraged Business Model

Create a Leveraged Business Model

Some businesses have a fundamental model that means they end up working hard all the time, often for relatively little money. This typically involves getting paid by the hour: No matter how hard they work, they can’t earn any more because they don’t have any more hours in the day.

The concept of leverage is about multiplying the effort you put in, to get a greater amount out. For example, if you spent a hundred hours writing an e-book and publishing it, the number of times you get paid for those hours could be many thousand. If you invent something and then keep selling it, again you get paid many times over for the original time and effort. But businesses can’t see how to leverage in that way, so the alternative is to create leverage through a team.

Many self-employed businesses grow by taking on more clients then increase their prices. They start out charging £20 per hour for their service and eventually they’re booked solid every month. So they put up their prices and lose some of the customers that aren’t prepared to pay the higher price, but quickly replace them with some who want the quality and reliability. So they increase their prices again and that cycle can continue successfully until the price is at a level where others offer the same quality for less, and growth stagnates.

Once a business owner is charging as much as they can for their own time, leverage starts by employing people. Often they employ someone to handle admin and free up more of their own hours to sell. (A Virtual Assistant is usually a better solution, but that’s another story!). There’s less profit because the employee is now an added overhead. Eventually they employ someone to do what they’re doing, but pay them less than clients are charged for the service - that’s the gross profit. If this stage is left too long, the business owner is already so busy servicing clients that they don’t have time to train and manage the employee(s) and the business performance is poor. Or more often they just haven’t developed the knowledge and practiced the skills of leading and managing staff, so much of their time and the employee’s time is wasted.

In a business where the leverage is about people, the profitability depends upon good leadership and management. Suddenly the self-employed person doing the work has taken on the role of leader and manager, but often fail to realise how different their role should now be. They feel frustrated with their staff and with the business they created. They need to get some training and support, in planning, leadership, delegation and general management.

The purpose is all about leveraging their own time through their employees: Training a team and then getting paid over and over again for the work that the team does. The successful business owner recognises that the way to grow is through their team. It’s about recruiting the right people, training them (and continuing to train them regularly), and putting in place the systems and structures.

They understand that if they have an hour to spare, it’s better to use that hour to motivate and manage an employee and send them off to generate ten hours of valuable work - not to do an hour’s work themselves. Leverage through a team means making that team better and better so that they continue to multiply the business owner’s input. As a business owner, the job should increasingly be about setting the direction, setting clear goals, hiring and training good people, and motivating them to achieve the goals. The more effectively this is done, the more successful and profitable the business.

In fact once this is working well enough it can actually work without the business owner having to be there. That’s when they’ve successfully created a leveraged business through a team. And that’s what a Business Coach guides a business owner to do.  

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By: Rob Pickering

The Danger of Being Reasonable

The danger of being reasonable

We’re brought up to have an understanding of what is or is not “reasonable”. Is it reasonable to expect someone to help you for no financial reward? Is it reasonable to ask someone to complete something in half the usual time? Is it reasonable to request loyalty from employees or even customers? All such questions are a matter of opinion. But is it really good to be reasonable? My point here is that ‘being reasonable’ is often the route to mediocrity. Little is ever accomplished or changed in this world by being reasonable. Perhaps what we consider to be reasonable is actually a measure of what we are prepared to accept without pushing the boundaries?

Years ago my wife and I signed up to attend a personal development course that involved attending an evening every two weeks in London.

We lived about 40 miles outside London and had three young children. So when we were asked if we would commit to being there on-time, every time, and no excuses... we said what any reasonable person would say - “We’ll certainly try!”. We were challenged on this and asked why we wouldn’t simply say “Yes.”? Our reason (and for ‘reason’ you can substitute the word ‘excuse’) was quite obvious - we live outside London and traffic is unpredictable and we might have trouble finding babysitters and they might be late and sometimes I might be needed at work late and... and... and... The course leader smiled politely and said something like “You certainly are good at finding excuses, but what I’m asking for is commitment - for you to be here on-time, every time, not merely to try.”.

This was probably the first time I experienced someone calling me out on true commitment and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to say, because what we were being asked seemed so completely unreasonable.

After some further probing in which we were asked things like “Do you have any family?” and “Do you have any friends?” we were working through a series of excuses based upon it being unreasonable to ask family and friends to go out of their way to help us, simply because we would ask! Then the killer question - “If you asked family, friends or neighbours in a way that designed to result in them saying ‘yes’, what would happen?”. And further “If you told them that attending this course for the next twelve weeks is really important to you and you’d really appreciate their help and support... what would they say?”.

We were forced to agree that, if we put it like that, just about all of them would say “yes”. Of course I still felt obliged to say “But that would be unreasonable!”. If you wonder what the outcome was, members of our family left work early and travelled an hour to our house to look after our kids on each occasion we couldn’t get a local babysitter, and they were fine about it. In fact they were delighted to have the chance to do something for us, and to spend time with our kids too. And yes, the course was worth it - for teaching me the dangers of being reasonable if nothing else! I’ve learnt to be unreasonable with myself and with others. To ask the unreasonable questions and to gain extraordinary results. In business when a client has achieved a respectable 10% year on year growth for several years, I’ll ask an unreasonable question “Why aren’t you achieving 25% year on year growth?”. Or if that’s not unreasonable enough, how about 200%? And when they’re the last people in the office at 9pm and all the staff went home at 5pm, I’ll ask why they aren’t asking their staff to be there late?

Next time you catch yourself being reasonable, stop, and ask the unreasonable, especially of yourself.

"Reasonable men adapt to the world around them; unreasonable men make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable men."- Edwin Louis Cole

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By: Rob Pickering


Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn

After hearing this from a client last week I’ve found myself repeating it to people all week. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn”. There are a lot of people and a lot of organisations that make the same mistakes over and over again. In fact many of the mistakes are repeated because no one that could change anything is even aware. And when they are aware, it’s put down to “just the way it is”. A great organisation embeds learning and continuous improvement at the heart of its business and its culture. But how would you do that? 

It starts with setting goals and creating a culture that expects continuous improvement. I have a conversations with staff that go something like this: “Whatever you are earning today, how much would you expect or want to be earning in one year’s time?”. Invariably they stare back blankly. Some might say “a bit more” and the pushy guy would say “double!”. I would then suggest that maybe they’d like to be earning 10% more next year? So then I ask “What do you think you would need to over the next year so that I would be saying “I want to give you a 10% pay rise because you’re worth at least that much more!”?

If your team know what they need to do to be genuinely worth more - they might try and do it. But if they don’t know, and if you don’t ask them, they probably won’t even be trying.

The key is to help them understand that we can all do our jobs better, and that in turn creates greater job satisfaction, and higher profitability. Applied well it can also create better products and services, and happier, loyal, customers.

How could you achieve all that? By continuously testing and measuring, recognising potential for improvement, creatively implementing better ways of working - innovating continuously. It’s all about learning and applying the learning to be better.

Anyone in the organisation that is perfectly happy with the status quo is at best going to keep the business steady, and at worst hold it back. If you recruit people like that, you won’t have a great business. And if you tolerate people like that - including yourself - you won’t have a great business. In case I gave the wrong message above mentioning 10% pay increases, it’s not about money, it’s about taking pride in doing and being better.

Steve Jobs was a great example, never settling for just emulating the competition. And then when he had a great product, he and his team would assume they could do better, and look for innovative ways to improve - even when no one was asking for improvement.

Along the way you don’t always win every time. The harder you try, the more you can expect to make some mistakes. But a winning team will pick themselves up, dust themselves down, look at what can be learnt, apply the lessons and give it another go with enthusiasm. Be that leader to your team. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and either way, you learn.  

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By: Rob Pickering

The 90-Day Planning cycle

Planning a full year ahead can be tortuous if you get too detailed. I remember when I worked in a large company in the 90’s and held responsibility for a lot of the planning. I dreaded the end of the financial year when it had to be done. It was so detailed that by the time everyone had their say, it was usually 6 weeks into the year that the plan covered! You’d think that after all that time and effort it would be a great plan. And generally it was... but about 4-6 months into the year we might, for example, have gained a couple of key customers, lost a major supplier, the market had changed in some way, and we knew the plan needed rewriting. 

As I started working across a number of different companies it was easier to spot patterns and see the bigger picture. I was fortunate to meet Verne Harnish when he presented at our annual conference and I read his book “The Rockefeller Habits”. This now forms the basis of how we work with all our clients in a cycle of 90-day plans, and it works!

So here’s the secret:
You need to know what you want to achieve in the longer term (3-5 years ideally, but 1 year will do), but planning a whole year in detail is a waste of time. Too much changes during a year, and it takes too long to plan a whole year in detail anyway. So armed with long-term goals, take one day each quarter to work on a plan for the next quarter.

In your planning day, remind yourself of the 12 month goals and think which parts you could work on in the coming quarter. Shortlist about ten possible goals, then narrow it down to five. When choosing five goals, ensure that at least half of the goals focus on making money. The goals like staff training or developing systems are necessary, but make sure every quarter you keep some focus on increasing profit! Once you have the five goals, make sure each one of them is SMART (basically - specific and measurable with definite time scales). Then break down each goal into a series of the steps that will be needed to implement them.

For each step assign one person who will be responsible and a completion date. The goals should be for the whole organisation to work on during the coming quarter, not just what the senior team focus on. So you’ll need to roll them out to all levels of management/staff. Cascade the goals and their achievement down the organisation. And if that organisation is one person... this process still works, but the cascading process is pretty simple! Be sure that the whole company is focused on the 90 day goals.

Repeat this process - setting aside a day to plan prior to the start of a quarter - and by the end of one year doing that you’ll see that your business has gone further and faster than ever before! Failing to set aside a full day is where most businesses go wrong before they even start. If they plan at all, they cram it into a couple of hours or avoid involving everyone that needs to be there. This is why every 90 days we run a workshop.

We get about 50+ business owners and senior staff in a room then lock the door and don’t let them out until they have a 90-day plan! (I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea). Put YOUR full day of planning in your calendar now and get into the quarterly habit. To book your place at our next 90 day GrowthCLUB session - click here!  

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By: Rob Pickering


Six keys to a Winning team

As a business owner you have to wear many hats in the course of running a successful business: Sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, ...and so on. But particularly in smaller businesses the most important one gets forgotten - you have to be a leader. It’s not just about what you do, it’s not just about logical steps, it’s about the person you choose to BE from moment to moment and day to day. Are you the kind of leader that YOU would be inspired to follow? To help you get into good leadership habits, follow the six keys to a winning team. 

  1. Strong Leadership
  2. Common Goal
  3. Rules of The Game
  4. Action Plan
  5. Support Risk-Taking
  6. 100% Involvement and Inclusion

1. Strong Leadership
Definitions of strong leadership are many and varied, but I’d start by asking a question: Would people follow you if you weren’t paying them? In fact, would people pay to follow you as their leader? Maybe not, but it’s an interesting test. As a strong leader you need to know where you’re going, be able to articulate it clearly and with a passion so that others are enrolled into the idea and inspired. You need to be seen to have confidence and determination and to hold firm to strong principles even when the going gets tough.

2. Common Goal
You can’t lead people anywhere unless you know where you’re going. There needs to be a clear goal or vision that everyone knows. If they have to go and look it up in the company handbook - it may as well not exist. Everyone has to relate to it, to know how it will benefit them? Imagine everyone is hearing you tell them the goal and silently asking “What’s In It For Me?”. And everyone needs to know what their role is - their contribution - in achieving the common goal. If I came into your office and asked everyone to tell me the common goal, and to each tell me what they are responsible for doing toward it - would they all be able to tell me without hesitation?

3. Rules of The Game
In any organisation there needs to be a widely understood set of rules and they need to be in writing so that there’s no scope for misunderstandings. I recommend these exist in every business, not necessarily as a poster on the walls (though it can be), but neither should it be buried in a 50-page employee handbook that no one’s opened since it was handed to them. Perhaps 10-30 rules that every employee agrees to abide by. It could include the attitudes to customers and other staff, a promise to be on time, and perhaps a commitment to the common goal.

4. Action Plan
As the saying goes “Positive thought without positive ACTION leads to positively nothing!”. There needs to be a series of cohesive plans that cover the long-term (3-5 years), the current year, the current quarter, and the current week. At the detailed individual level it’s good for people to now what the plan is for today! Needless to say - today’s plan might be very brief and expressed verbally while the long-term plan must be in writing.

5. Support Risk-Taking
It can be tough to let people take risks, but the alternative where you micro-manage every decision and every action is a far worse alternative. It’s important to encourage and support your team in taking considered risks. And when something goes wrong - and it will - you need to say well done for trying! Yes, I know that can be hard. Ensure that the lesson is learnt and that next time the right actions will be taken. But if you want to move quickly and grow, there are going to be a few mistakes along the way. 100% Involvement and Inclusion

6. 100% Involvement and Inclusion
Involving people on a ‘need to know’ basis doesn't work. You can’t keep people continuously inspired and motivated by telling them the minimum. Let everyone know WHY things need to be done, and what the benefits are, not just WHAT. Get everyone feeling involved and ensure that there’s a culture where they feel valued, feel listened to, and feel they can make a difference.  

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By: Rob Pickering

Are You Easy To Do Business With?

Have you ever thought about how easy it is to do business with you? Are you driving people to your website, only to drive them away again? Are you sending existing customers to your competitors by annoying them? And would you know if you were? Sometimes I visit a website that leaves me feeling so confused or frustrated that after a while I just click the close button. If you get 100 people interested enough to make contact by viewing your website, phoning, emailing or speaking face to face, how many buy? It’s unlikely to be 100%, but is it even close? Let me give you some examples. 

I recently wanted to book a restaurant for lunch in an hour’s time. I searched for their website and there was no obvious online system to check availability or book online. So I phoned the number and it rang and went to voicemail. I didn’t want to leave a message and stand around waiting, hoping they’d call me back. I left it five minutes and called again, got voicemail again, so hung up and booked at a different restaurant.

I understand that staff at a restaurant will be busy at lunchtime, but there are alternatives. A simple message on the site saying “we have vacancies for lunch today” would have been enough for me to risk going. A twitter message saying “5 tables left for lunch today” gives a clue.

I frequently run events and book conference rooms. One of my favourites recently imposed a rule of a £150 deposit 30 days prior to the event, and a surcharge for any change to the attendee numbers in the final 7 days. I explained this wasn’t convenient, and wasn’t necessary since I’d spent a lot with them over the past two years and always paid fully on-time. They told me it was clearly stated in the terms and conditions. Woah! If you want to annoy customers, just mention terms and conditions!

I turn into an unpleasant customer in a situation like this and said that either they ignore those rules or I simply won’t go there again. It was only when I told a friend about this, who happened to know the venue manager, that we got a phone call saying sorry and those rules won’t apply. Great, I’ll be making lots more bookings throughout the year. Do you have rules that you’re enforcing to drive customers away? I know people sometimes let you down and behave badly, but if you treat every prospect as if they’re a criminal waiting to rip you off... don’t expect to have many repeat customers. Your customers need to feel that you are there for them, not that they are lucky to do business with you and have to fit in with your convenience. Your attitude in person and in writing on all your communications needs to be friendly, welcoming and accommodating. If you need to be firm - about payment terms for example - be firm in a friendly way. The words we use have an effect on people in a subliminal way, beyond any logic.

For example, you could reasonably state “Bookings MUST be confirmed in writing 14 days prior.”. That’s a hassle for the customer and entirely for the supplier’s convenience. And I for one don’t like being told what I MUST do. How about phoning the customer and saying you’d just like to make a final confirmation so that the customer (not you), can be confident of the firm booking. Then send an email or postal confirmation of the conversation and firm booking. If that’s not sufficient, you’re saying you don’t trust the customer.

Most customers will go along with whatever crazy barriers you create, but you’re demonstrating zero trust and in the back of their mind... they know! We do business with people that we know, like and trust. Trust is a two-way concept. Beware when you design your business such that customers won’t like and trust you. This destroys any loyalty that might have existed and if a competitor happens to reach them, they’ll switch in the blink of an eye. When you create a high level of both, not only will they return, they’ll probably recommend you to others.

Action: Write a list of things that might currently reduce the amount that new and existing customers like and trust you and your company. Prioritise and identify ways to reduce these issues. Make another list of strategies you could introduce or do more consistently to increase how much customers like and trust you - so much so that they will want to go and tell everyone how brilliant you are should buy from you. Then introduce one of those ideas each month, and enjoy the results.

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By: Rob Pickering


You Get What You Tolerate

At times we all slip into Blame, Excuses and Denial. But in reality we can change just about anything if we start by taking Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility. WE GET WHAT WE TOLERATE, in business and in life generally. If that thought doesn’t make you uncomfortable enough, here’s another one: YOU”VE GOT THE BUSINESS THAT YOU DESERVE. Or if you’re an employee, you’ve got the job you deserve. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t change it and deserve something better. What it means is that our business is a reflection of our own attitude and behaviour. If we want different results, we need to take ownership and take some different actions.

Back to getting what we tolerate - take a few moments to think about something or someone that you continually complain about. The complaining could be when talking to other people or it could be in your own head - eg “I wish they wouldn’t keep doing that!”. This is a sure sign that you’re tolerating something. Tolerating undesirable behaviour is bad for business, and it’s bad for us on a personal level. The first time we see undesirable behaviour is ideally the time to address it. You ask someone to arrive at 8:50am. They turn up at 9:05am saying traffic was bad and you think “they should have set off earlier, but it’s not worth the hassle to make a big deal out of it”, so you leave it. A few days later they arrive at 9:06am and this time the car wouldn’t start or there had been an accident - not their fault so not worth a confrontation.

A few months down the line and you’ve lost control. Trying to fix this unreliable person is now an annoyance that crosses your mind on a daily basis, but never quite serious enough that it’s worth dealing with today. What happened in the above scenario? If you choose Blame, Excuses and Denial - this person has poor self-discipline, they should be able to organise themselves and it’s not your job to chase them (that’s all three: blame, excuse and denial in case you didn’t notice). And I could agree with that analysis. The trouble is... it isn’t very useful, it doesn’t achieve anything other than a feeling of self-righteousness. But it is what I would class as the ‘normal’ response. If instead you’re prepared to look at things in a different way, as a business coach I might ask if you have trained this person to be unreliable? If you had addressed the issue - in the right way - on the first occasion, would it have developed into an ongoing problem? Is addressing something like this an area where you lack the training and skill and need to develop personally? After all, that would be understandable if you’ve never had any training - how could you expect to know? Yet most business owners or managers have this nagging thought in the back of their minds that they ought to be able to manage staff effectively.

Actually like the vast majority of business skills they need to be learnt and practiced. If you run your business on the basis that everyone and everything around you should be perfect, you’re going to be disappointed and frustrated. You’ll end up tolerating bad behaviour and get the results that naturally follow. Instead, my suggestion to you is to stop tolerating unacceptable attitudes and behaviours and take ownership. Be very clear about the attitudes and behaviours you expect. State it verbally and state it in writing if and when it helps. But congratulate in public and criticise in private - don’t make casual remarks - deal with people confidently, head-on. State what is unacceptable and what you require. State consequences, but in a suitably pleasant manner. “In order to work here I require staff to arrive no later than 8:50am” is better than saying “If you arrive after 8:50am I’m going to fire you!”. State the behaviours and attitudes you want, and do everything possible to reinforce them. Don’t let it slip, discuss issues in private and straight away. You’ll soon discover that an environment where everyone knows what is expected of them and nothing else is tolerated is a good one. It creates success - for you and for your team.

What are you tolerating that you shouldn’t be? What action do you need to take? And what skills do you need to develop to take responsibility and be the best leader and manager that your team has ever worked for? Would this be an area that a Business Coach could help?

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By: Rob Pickering

Authentic Sales & Marketing

So much of what is taught about sales and marketing is manipulation. Yet ask any prospective purchaser if they would choose to buy from someone who they think is deliberately manipulating them and I’m sure the answer would be “no”. As buyers become increasingly aware if the trickery that passes as sales and marketing, there’s a danger of being ‘found out’. I steer clear of get rich quick methods like bombarding people with emails filled with ‘click here to buy’ and ‘this isn’t for everyone’. The ‘half price sale’ that never ends is a way to destroy trust and make it harder for customers to believe what they’re told. Do these manipulations work? Yes, sometimes, but they’re very short-term.

A stable and valuable business will always have customer loyalty and repeat business at its core. For a business and a customer to continue in a long-term relationship there needs to exist a level of trust and a fair basis of trade: An exchange of goods or services at a fair price for BOTH parties. Charge too much and customers will go elsewhere, charge too little and the business suffers and can’t provide the right level of service and innovation. Sometimes customers are their own worst enemy - they drive down the prices in a market so far that the suppliers can’t offer a decent service - and that in turn backfires on the customers. This tends to happen in commodity markets when one supplier appears to break ranks and lower prices, but in most cases they’re cutting something. Usually that something is what customers do need in the long-term - like the business still to exist when they make a warranty claim! So what can you do in business to offer and maintain a fair trade and retain loyal customers for repeat business?

  • Be a step ahead of knowing what customers want and provide it
  • Establish trust, value loyalty, demonstrate that you care
  • Communicate with honesty and authenticity
  • Operate consistently with the company values
  • Recruit, train and retain staff that live your values and love your customers
  • Provide goods and services at a fair price

You probably agree with this list, but do you actually have strategies in place to achieve and maintain them? Are these true in your business today? If not, what specific actions do you need to take to achieve them? And if they are true today, what do you need to do to ensure they are maintained for many years ahead? One strategy to embed these into your business is to have a quarterly focus on one or more of them so that you revisit them all regularly - it doesn’t need to be daily or weekly. Find ways to involve staff and customers - BUT be aware that they don’t necessarily know the answers - you have to interpret their needs and wants to plot the course for your business and maintain the balance. Don’t get caught up in short-term schemes and manipulative offers - focus on your customers and deal with them with honesty and authenticity.

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By: Rob Pickering

Ask 3 Questions Before You Spend

So here’s one of those great questions to stop ask yourself just before you spend time or money on something:

  • “If I do this, will we make more profit?
  • “If I don’t do this, will we make less profit?”
  • “Should I do this because it fits with my values - even if I lose money as a result?”

By asking yourself these three questions each time you’re about to spend time or money on something in your business, you can greatly increase your profitability and the acceleration of growth. All too often I find people doing things that just aren’t going to make any measurable difference! 

What we’re really looking at here is the difference between costs and investments. A cost is something on which you spend time or money with little or no chance of getting anything useful back in return. An investment is when you use your limited resources of time or available cash with the aim of getting back more than you put in. Spending time and money is how many business owners manage to work really hard and make no money. And the difference between a slow or fast growth business depends upon how well they choose their investments. If you invest £1000 in an advert that return £1,100 of profit it’s probably going to take a very long time to grow the business. So you might want to add a supplemental question “is this the best way I can invest my time and money?” because there are always options if you look (see my earlier blog about having the best ideas). Sometimes you have to invest defensively, hence the second question was about whether you need to invest some time or money to keep what you’ve got.

A prime example is spending on existing customers. Too many businesses take their loyal customers for granted, enjoying regular orders and assuming that if they just keep delivering, they’ll keep getting the business. But I’d suggest that every now and again you need to look after those customers and, if you truly value them, you’ll want to demonstrate it by doing something for them above and beyond what’s expected. In this situation you might not see an increase in sales from your investment (though often you will), but if you don’t make the investment... you’ll regret it when they stop buying. It often amazes me when I see businesses spending 100% of their budget on gaining new customers, and 0% on retaining the ones they already have. But that’s a topic for another day.

Finally, the third question I recommend asking is about you values - doing what’s right. When I suggest to business owners that they should write their business values they’re sometimes unsure what to include. One test I ask them to apply is “If voluntarily upholding one of your values cost you money, would you still do it?”. For example, if you state that honesty is one of your values, then if a supplier accidentally over-delivered to you (you order 5 items, they deliver 6, but the delivery note and invoice show 5) – would you tell them? If you wouldn’t - don’t fool yourself into thinking that honesty is one of your core values. A core value is something that matters more than money. So you get the idea, sometimes you might choose to spend your time or money even though it’s not going to give you a financial return. If you’ve asked yourself those three questions and can’t give a firm “yes”, you just recognised one of those opportunities that you should say “no” to – even if you’re under pressure to go ahead, even if you’ve always done this before, even if it seems interesting. To save yourself even more time you can teach these questions – or your version of them –  to your team.

Over the years when I worked in larger companies and had what seemed like an endless queue of people at my door, offering me inventive ways to waste time and money, I would avoid giving them an answer. Instead they’d get the three questions and they’d need to think about the answers. After a while I’d train staff to ask themselves the questions and only come to me if they firmly believed “yes” was the answer. In which case I’d aim to go with their decision, and state it clearly that we were going with THEIR decision – encouraging them to take responsibility. If it did turn out well, I’d make a point of saying “well done on that decision” in one way or another. If it didn’t go well... you might think I’d criticise them. Actually it would mean I’d made a bad decision in allowing them to proceed, so I’d take responsibility but seek to understand and help them understand what went wrong. Once you’re clear on your own process for making decision – whether it’s using the three questions presented here or your own versions – you can teach it to your team and gradually they’ll be making the same decisions that you would. Isn’t that what you ultimately want?

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By: Rob Pickering

Are you a Business owner or just Self-Employed?

Many people who believe they own a business are in reality self-employed. Now, if you’re self-employed by choice it’s fine by me. However, make sure you fully realise the risks and negatives:

  • It’s hard to take holidays and days off
  • Your business has no value - no one will buy your ‘job’
  • You need to make sure you’re fully insured against being too ill to work
  • Be sure you have an exit strategy and strong pension/investments
  • Keep cash in reserve - you need to be able to weather a storm
  • Beware - if you aren’t working, you aren’t getting paid!

If you have all the above covered and choose to stay self-employed that’s great! It’s good to be doing exactly what you want to with a secure future.

But if you’re working alone and don’t have all the above covered, you might want to build a business. Our definition of a Business is a profitable commercial enterprise that can work without you.

If you’ve set up a limited company and call yourself a Business Owner, just consider whether you really own a business or you’re actually self-employed with a business name. The vast majority of ‘businesses’ consist of one person and don’t meet our definition, don’t have all the above points covered, and the owner runs in circles trying to do everything. Many tell me confidently that they don’t ever want employees. The reason they don’t want employees is because either they can’t afford them yet, or they don’t want the responsibility. Isn’t that interesting? If you employed someone and, as a result, the business made less additional profit than was being spent on the employee... it would be a bad choice of employee! Let me be clear - the reason you employ staff is so that the business makes more money.

Say you spend £25,000 per year on a new employee, you’re going to want to see the business generating £50,000 or more additional profit per year as a result. This might seem obvious, but I continually speak to people who haven’t got their head around this and think that an employee is a cost they can’t afford. In terms of employees being an extra responsibility or hassle, I understand, but it’s often a feeling or a fear that comes out of a bad experience or misunderstanding. Someone recently commented “I’m not sure I could generate enough extra business to cover the cost of one employee, let alone a team!”. My question in response was “would they be working for you, or would you be working for them?”. I admit there are plenty of bad employees around who will sit and do nothing unless you’re hassling them. But if that describes someone who works for you - why did you employ them and why do you continue to? Deal with it, you get what you tolerate. When you think of employing someone, consider whether there is potentially enough business out there that your company can gain to more than cover their cost?

Next, consider who’s going to get that extra business. Do you need to prioritise employing a salesperson or marketing person to get more business before or at the same time as an employee that will generate more work or handle more admin? Then, when you’re interviewing and certainly when you recruit someone, make certain that among other goals they know exactly what they need to be generating to keep their job and maybe to achieve a pay rise or promotion. If you have work that isn't yet or never will require a full-time employee, consider the alternatives.

You could employ someone part-time, or you could use a Virtual Assistant (VA). Using a good VA can be an excellent solution because you can contract as little as an hour at a time as needed, and get the specific skills you need at the time. What takes you three hours might take a good VA only an hour, so the saving potential is excellent. The necessary skills to manage employees are relatively easily learnt - there are hundreds or probably thousands of books on the subject and endless training courses. But first you need to start with a clear understanding and belief that you employ people to generate more profit for the company and that you don’t do the work for them. If someone has to work late... it’s the staff. If someone needs to get more money in to pay the bills... the staff need to do it. Your job is to set the direction, employ the team, make sure they know what they have to achieve, then make sure they’re constantly motivated and achieving the goals.  

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By: Rob Pickering

Know your numbers

Running a business well and securely requires that you know your numbers! You have to be able to plan for cashflow and avoid the unexpected. It’s also about forecasting the numbers so that you can plan for growth. 

Anyone who’s had the experience of working as a senior manager in a company of 50+ staff will probably have had exposure to “Management Accounts” and to good financial practices. It doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to operate them, but at least you have an idea of what’s involved. But a huge number of business owners lack this experience and accounts are a bit of a mystery. Whatever the past experience, the majority of business owners are not on top of their business financially. Many think it’s just them and everyone else must have a clear understanding. It’s a cause of embarrassment and sometimes fear - the accounts and indeed accountants are to be avoided in case of difficult questions that could expose a lack of knowledge. If this is describing you... it’s time to grasp the nettle and know your numbers.

80% of businesses cease trading within the first five years... and it’s often down to poor financial management. But it’s not as mysterious or difficult as you think, and once you’ve mastered it, your business can perform much better. Let’s get one thing clear first: the purpose of annual accounts. The Government requires every business to submit annual accounts reporting on profit. Guess why? It’s so that the Government can collect taxes. Your annual accounts have little to do with telling the business owners what they need to know to run the business... it’s all about paying tax! So if you look at your annual accounts and wonder “but what does it really mean to the business?” you’re barking up the wrong tree. What every business owner needs is generally known as “management accounts”. This is a collection of information that helps management understand what has been happening in the business and what it means going forward so that good decisions can be made now. There’s no point waiting until your accountant tells you months after the end of the financial year that you made a profit or a loss! There’s no absolute definition of what should be in management accounts. It’s whatever is key to your particular business. But typically it’s going to be broken down under headings, for example, with fixed costs, variable costs, cost of sale, income (revenue) and the resulting Gross Profit. This should enable you to see on at least a monthly basis an estimate of your profit, and allowing you to see clearly how you achieved it. Your external accountant might be able to provide you with monthly management accounts, but it’s additional to doing your annual accounts for tax purposes and they will want to charge you extra. I would put the task of manual accounts with your bookkeeper, whether that’s internal or external to your business.

How to create management accounts If this is new to you, or in need of improvement, approach your trusted adviser. Call me or email me if you’re in doubt. But basically I recommend by starting with a spreadsheet broken down into the sections as described above as row headings. Each column should be a month, starting with the first month of your financial year and continuing for a full year, with totals for the year. Near the bottom will be a calculation of Gross Profit - your sales revenue minus your cost of sales. And right at the bottom will be an estimate of the net profit - all the revenue less all of the costs. What you want to see is how much profit you’re making each month. You should start with estimates in every section as a forecast of what you expect, then replace with actual numbers as you know them each month to see the reality. (Or keep forecast and actual so that you can see the difference!). I always aim to have completed management accounts for a month by about 5-10 days into the following month. So after each month is complete you can see whether you achieved what you set out to, and if not, where it was different. This is the key point - by knowing this you make management decisions. Without it, you’re running blind - potentially off a cliff. Know your numbers so that your business is safe and so that you can make the right decisions to maximise the profit.

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What’s Your Personal Best?

A great way to drive ever better performance is to know and monitor your personal best performance as one or more measures. For example you might focus on a number of sales in a month, a number of calls in a day, the number of products manufactured, number of orders shipped, and so on. 

When we focus on something that we want to improve, and measure it, then monitor it regularly, we can improve it. Break it down into the steps that create the achievement and look at what you can do to make small improvements here and there. I remember that years ago in a start-up software company I not only did programming, I packed boxes too! If I had a stack of boxes to pack I would naturally start to time how long it took to make and pack each one and try to make each one more quickly than the previous one. I’d get into production line ways of thinking - what order did I need the components laid out in, which way round did each need to be placed... anything to shave a second here and there. In sales I would be testing and measuring - what were the words I could say to get through to the person I needed to speak to? What was the best way to describe what I was offering to get the best conversion rate in the shortest time? How many calls... and how many successful calls... could I make per hour?

So if you look at your own performance in business, what measure would represent your most important personal best performance? If you find you think of one and shy away from it because it feels too difficult - that’s probably the one to choose!

Create a measure so that you can express your Personal Best (PB) as a number, or two or three numbers if that’s what it takes. Write that number large and put it on the wall in front of you, or on a sticky note on the corner of your screen, or wherever else you’re going to see it frequently. Underneath it put a target of what you want to achieve as your new PB, and a deadline such as by the end of the day, week or month. Many people need someone to hold them accountable. We find it too easy to set goals and then sweep them under the carpet when we don’t feel like working on them. In which case a coach would help - that’s one reason why athletes and successful business leaders work with a coach, to keep them focused on the goals they’ve chosen. Your coach could be a business partner, friend or partner. Tell them your PB, your goal, and your own deadline. If they say anything along the lines of “no way you’ll do that!” go find yourself a new coach, you need someone who tells you that you can do it and will be supportive. Someone to ask difficult questions and push you into action when you don’t feel like it and to cheer from the sidelines when you do.

If you have a team of people working for you, get them focusing on their PBs. Make it all about their personal achievement, not about doing it for you. Allow them to pick a PB that interests and inspires them. Now imagine how much better the whole company results will be when everyone is beating their own personal best performance.

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Whose Inspiration Are You?

Who do you like being around? Who makes you smile when they walk in the room? Who says things that make you stop and think? Who is it that makes your life richer and more enjoyable when they’re around? And who - when asked this question - will name you? When you walk into a room do people smile and feel pleased that you’re there? Think carefully about this, you might take actions that change your life and those around you for the better. 

The good news is that anyone can become this kind of person. It starts with a recognition of who we are being, and that it’s a choice, or more accurately a continual series of choices. Next comes a thought of who we want to be, then a decision that we will be that person. Someone who inspires and brightens the lives of others. Consider the alternative for a moment: Who do you know that is constantly complaining, finding what’s wrong in things and people, living a life based on blame, excuses and denial? How much do you enjoy being around them? Probably not much. It’s hard when it’s someone we’re likely to be around through work or social life. Sometimes we’re not even conscious of it and the negative effect on our own motivation. We all have a choice about who we are BEING.

We can choose to smile, to make kind remarks, to demonstrate small kindnesses, to be generous of spirit. We can choose to take ownership of our own lives, to be responsible for our actions and to be accountable to ourselves. Whether at work or at home, we have an impact on those around us, and we can choose what impact we want to have. Know yourself and the impact you have, and choose to be the inspiration that those around you will appreciate. It’s about pausing long enough before acting to decide what you want to achieve, and then choosing your appropriate response.

It was Victor Frankl who said that “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”.

This is what sets us apart from animals. An animal will respond instantly to a stimulus - poke an animal with a stick and it will probably immediately turn and attack. As human beings we often follow the same stimulus and immediate response, but alternatively we can use that “space” as Frankl called it, to pause, even for a fraction of a second and choose whatever response will achieve our purpose. When you are aware of this space and start using it, with practice it becomes easier and more natural by the day. Each time you get out of bed, or walk into a room, or respond in a conversation - use that ‘space’ to choose the effect that you want to have on people, and act accordingly. Even in a heated argument you can learn to create the space and bring about a result you want. Be the person you want to be, the inspiration that those around you will appreciate.  

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Operate a Sales Pipeline

Sales pipeline management is about keeping track of your prospects all the way from interest to sale, and managing them efficiently from one step to the next. Work out how much each lead costs you, on average, to generate. For example, take your entire spend on marketing for the year (staff/time and spend on advertising, website, etc) and divide it by 12 to get your monthly marketing spend. Now look at how many leads you get per month (if you don’t know... estimate). Now divide your monthly average spend by the average number of monthly leads. This is how much you paid to buy each lead. Often this shocks people the first time they do it, and they insist it can’t be right. It is. Now that you know how much those leads are worth, you’ll want to make sure that you’re looking after every one of them.

I often find that half the leads a company gets are just frittered away. They’re left ignored for long enough for them to go cold and then put in a pile or left in a list and never seen again. Even more common and more of a delusion is the situation where a lead is followed-up, but then no next action defined. Consequently they fall into a black hole. If you take away only one point from this, it should be:

  • Every lead should have a date for the next action in your diary

It’s easy to think at the time of speaking to a prospect that you’ll give them a call tomorrow or next week or next month, and honestly believe it. But believe me when I say again - unless you set an actual date for the next action - ideally in your diary with a reminder - it won’t happen. Most leads are squandered this way. The key to all of this, especially in a business with more than one person handling leads, is to operate a formal sales pipeline. This will probably need to be in a database of some kind, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, or a spreadsheet at the very least. But even though you’re likely to need a CRM system, I think that it’s good to start with a simple spreadsheet. This allows you to create column headings, ie the information you will keep about each lead, in a very flexible way. Once you’ve got that working for a few months, then move it into a CRM system. These start as cheap as free and then the sky’s the limit. Some of the information you need to keep is obvious:

  • prospect name
  • prospect company name
  • prospect email address
  • prospect phone number
  • prospect address (probably)

Then come the pieces of information specific to the current buying interest and the current situation:

  • Product/service of interest
  • Likely timeframe (eg do they need it today or are they thinking about next year)

Then you need to know some information about the progress with this lead right now:

  • Status (eg initial enquiry, arranging demo, organising finance, etc)
  • Date of most recent contact (eg date of enquiry or most recent call)
  • Comments (Key points of discussion - briefly)

And finally the most important points:

  • Next action (eg call)
  • Next action date (eg tomorrow, next week, etc)
  • Who’s responsible

Now I usually recommend that the first column in your pipeline spreadsheet, or the main sorting order in your CRM system, is the NEXT ACTION DATE. Basically you don’t need to do anything until this date. The whole point of operating a pipeline is to look at it and know which leads you need to follow-up on today, and do it. If you create and operate a sales pipeline including the above information, you’ll maximise your sales, and perhaps just as importantly, your prospects will be looked after and feel that you care and are efficient. Hopefully at least some of you have noticed a very important piece of information missing from the above? OK, I was testing you. What do you think is missing? You need to track the source of every lead, eg where they heard about you. You need this vital information so that you know which marketing is working and what to do more of and what to stop. What else would you need to record in the sales pipeline for your business?

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Train to be the best you can be!

“Never wish your job were easier, wish you were better” - Jim Rohn I like that quote, but I don’t consider ‘wishing’ to be a viable strategy! You have to work at being better. Gaining knowledge and practicing skills will make you more productive, and that means more profitable. Learning and training (assisted learning) make an enormous difference in a business. In larger well-run corporates, training is recognised as important and staff expect to be provided with regular opportunities to improve their skills. Yet in smaller businesses where staff have to be far more multi-skilled it’s common to find zero training. 

Audit your past 12 months - out of 365 days, you had

  • 104 weekend days
  • 8 Public holidays (in the UK)
  • 20 days holiday (maybe more)
  • = 233 working days

How many days of informal learning did you do? And how many formal days learning or attending training? When I look into most businesses of under 50 staff the answer for the owner and many of the employees is none! And they’re often surprised when they realise.

If you were not thinking about your own business where it’s easy to get caught up in excuses, but looking at someone else’s business, with 132 days of holidays and 233 working days, what would you say would be a reasonable number of days to spend training? As a percentage, 10% learning how to do the work better and learn new things sounds entirely reasonable, but express it as 23 days and most business owners laugh. Last year I spent 43 days learning and in training. I don’t suggest you do that much, but what would you consider reasonable - 5 days, 10 days? If you were going to spend 10 days on education over the next 12 months, what would be your priorities? Is it marketing? Sales skills? Planning? Recruitment? Appraisals? Finance? I recommend that you create a Personal Development Plan (PDP).

Your staff should all have one too. It would highlight the areas in which someone needs training either to be better at their current role, or prepare to expand or change their role. Once you know the skill gaps, you can work at identifying the relevant training. Often business owners tell me their staff are not very good. I ask about their recruitment methods and they assure me that they’re good at recruiting - they only employ good people. Yet here they are complaining their staff are not achieving the standards they require. So what happened in between? Nothing - and that’s the trouble.

If you employ good people and then just put them to work and expect them to learn on the job, they lack any external input and their opportunity to learn is severely limited. The thing about training is that it’s never urgent. It’s easy to have good intentions and find reasons to defer. But over a period of time it becomes a serious problem that limits the business profitability, slows or stops growth, and leaves people lacking motivation and enjoyment in their work. Here’s an interesting question for business owners. Imagine you are owner and chairman of your business, looking at the return that your Managing Director is delivering from your business. Would you fire yourself and get someone better? Maybe you’d tell yourself to get booked on some training courses and get up to standard.

Training is one of the best ways to invest your time and money. Invest wisely and you’ll get a huge return on that investment. Create a PDP and decide how many days per year you need to dedicate to your improvement and that of your staff. Do it today.  

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Test & Measure

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

It always astonishes me how business owners will spend money on an advert and never actually know if it’s generating more profit than the advert is costing. I saw a great recruitment advert last year seeking a Marketing Manager. Written by the business owner, the advert read “Job description : For every £1 I give you, you’ll generate at least £2 of profit.”. That was literally the whole job spec! The reason I love it is because that encapsulates the financial purpose of successful marketing - you invest and expect a higher return. 

It’s common in marketing and business generally to speak of R.O.I (Return On Investment). If you spend £100 on marketing and it generates £200 of profit from the resulting sales, that’s an ROI ratio of 2:1 or 200%. As long as your ROI is greater than 1:1 you’re on the right track. Do you know the ROI on all your marketing investments? You must! Whenever you start a marketing activity, put in place a procedure to measure the results. Let’s say decide to try a small advert in your local paper and it costs £100. Ensure that you and anyone else answering your phone, checking emails or otherwise serving customers asks the question “Where did you hear about us?”. And at the same time, keep track of how much the customer spends. Assuming your advert resulted in 10 sales of £20 each, you got £200 of sales for your £100 investment. But before you celebrate too quickly, what’s your profit margin?

If it’s 50% you spent £100 to make £100. You wouldn’t want to keep doing that! So next week change the advert - a better headline, better call to action, and place the improved advert. The second week with your improved advert you get 20 sales so you’re winning with £200 profit for £100 spent. Now you can celebrate. You tested an advert, measured the result, tested a possible improvement, measured again, and saw better results. That’s usually how it goes… but not always. If the results had been worse the second week, you’d know that what you tried was a bad idea and the next week try something different. Keep testing and measuring to see what works and keep improving your results. I often see business owners just doing the same old thing, over and over, never knowing if it’s working OR if it’s the best ROI. Use test & measure to try different advert designs, different offers. But also use it to test between different advertising media - different newspapers of course, but also internet advertising, social media, LinkedIn, Google Adwords, and so on.

Stop spending on marketing that isn’t working. Test and Measure all the time and ensure that your marketing investment is delivering the best possible return.  

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Finish today by planning tomorrow...

At the end of every day make it a habit to plan tomorrow. Most people don’t plan their time at all and many of those that do, start the day by writing their “to-do” list. It’s actually much better to do it at the end of the day when it’s all still fresh in your mind, so it takes less time to think of what has to be done tomorrow. Ideally keep a list during the day so that tomorrow’s list is mostly done anyway. Do you ever find it hard to ‘switch off’ from thinking about work when you get home in the evenings? It’s very common. We worry about things and think “must remember, must remember” and it turns into a worry! By reserving fifteen minutes at the end of the day to plan tomorrow, you get it all written and off your conscious mind. Those things that otherwise become a nagging worry that you daren’t forget about suddenly become OK - it’s already written down. 

Another thing that happens is that your subconscious mind automatically gets to work on the tasks you’ve written down for tomorrow. This may sound a little odd if you’re new to the study of the subconscious! But just give it a go. When you start work the next day, everything just feels a bit easier and ideas spring to mind more readily. There’s a certain motivational feeling that’s created by sitting down at your desk and already knowing what you need to do for the day. Sure, the plan may need to change during the day, we all know that ‘shift happens’ and we need to accommodate. But at least you’re just dealing with changes, the plan as a whole is there. If you manage a team of people, make it standard practice that no one leaves without first writing their plan for tomorrow. Have them leave it on top of the desk so that you, and everyone else, can see that everyone is organised. Don’t believe this is possible? I know offices where it happens, and it works. The staff there consider it entirely normal and don’t have to be forced - they know the advantages and like the culture it creates. Go and create a great culture in your company today.  

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The Four Stages of Delegation

Why don’t we delegate more? The reasons I often hear are:

  • “I tried it, and it didn’t work…”
  • “It takes longer to delegate than to just do it myself…”
  • “They just don’t listen so they do it the wrong way…”
  • “If I want something doing, I’m better off doing it myself…”

…and so on. The good news is that delegation is quite straightforward and ef fective if you understand that it’s all about a process and developing trust. Yes, it takes time, but the time invested will pay you back many times over and you’ll develop a great team too. 

Stage 1: Do this task, this way, and show me before you issue it

Stage 2: Here’s the task, tell me your recommendation, do it, show me afterwards

Stage 3: Here’s the objective, work out the best way to do it, tell me when it’s done

Stage 4: When you see an issue, deal with it as you think best, report routinely

At stage 1 you have no confidence that the person you’re going to delegate to understands the task or knows how you’d want it done, so you need to be very prescriptive. You explain the task and say how it should be done, and ask to see the finished result before it’s implemented. If the result at the end of a stage 1 delegation is how you want it, and you’re confident they can do it again, you’re ready to move to stage 2. But until then you’re going to continue being very prescriptive and leaving very little room for error, and you’ll catch any errors before they really matter.

At Stage 2 you’re checking that they will go and do the task the way you want it done. “The task is this… what are the steps you would go through to complete this task?”. If they confidently get it right, they’ve learnt, so demonstrate some trust and let them go and do it and show you after it’s completed. And say that if they feel unsure, come and ask for guidance. But if they keep coming back, tell them you really want them to achieve this without checking and get them to have a go. It’s important to build their confidence.

At stage 3 you hand over an objective (the outcome you want, which might entail several smaller tasks) and ask them to work out how best to achieve it and tell you when it’s done. Again, encourage them initially to seek further guidance if they feel unsure of what you’d want. When they consistently do things the way you want several times, tell them clearly that you’re confident you’re doing things the way you want (well done!) and they’re ready for the final stage.

Stage 4 is where you stand back and watch things happen, stepping in only if the situation changes, or if you see problems occurring. Only step back to stage 3 if you really need to. If you follow the process, you WILL reach stage 4 with most people. Never take back a task once delegated! Unless, that is, you want to forever do all the work for the staff you’re paying! Yes, mistakes will sometimes happen! When they do, it’s probably because you failed to describe the task sufficiently well, or failed to mention something about how you like it done. Or maybe you tried to jump past one or more steps - don’t. Delegation is the key to your business running efficiently. Start working toward Stage 4 today!  

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Create a Business that can work without you

A principle we often discuss with owners is getting your business so well organised that it will work without you. I’m sometimes asked if this is really possible? It is! By creating the necessary systems and processes, accompanied by the staff training and motivation. But how to achieve it is not the topic here… When talking to an ex-business partner and friend of mine about his business working without him, he responded “but I don’t want my business to run without me! I love what I do – why would I stop?” It’s not the first time I’ve been confronted with this response, so I promised to think about it; here are my thoughts… 

Some owners feel that their business is tiresome, or even torture! They’d like nothing better than to stop doing it – provided that they kept getting paid. But there are also people out there who really love what they do, and would continue doing it even if they didn’t have to. And maybe now is a good time to say this includes me!

Some people just love the work they do, so why would they want to stop? The point is, although we talk about getting the business to the stage where it will work without you, we’re not saying that’s what everyone should do. If your ideal is to get a little more freedom, that’s OK. But before you set your sights on that, I’d like you to think about the alternative.

Think beyond your company needing you. Imagine your business is running without you, either because you’ve got it organised or because you’ve got a great manager in there? You’d be free to ‘work’ as and when you choose. If your business were carpentry, for example, and you could think of nothing better than making wood-shavings all day, how would it be if you suddenly had the time and resources to make anything that you want to, not just what customers are willing to pay for. Or maybe you like passing on your skills, so imagine if you could now take the time to train an enthusiastic apprentice.

This brings to mind my brief career as an author, being paid to write. I like writing, but let me tell you – when I have to write something the way someone else wants it, to their deadline, and I’m trying to force words onto paper when there’s no inspiration, I absolutely hate writing! Yet here I am now, writing for the pure pleasure. Maybe you feel the same way I do – taking off the pressure can allow us to create our best ‘work’ and to enjoy it more too. Then it doesn’t feel like work. But to get to that point… you really need to have the business at a stage where it CAN run without you. It’s not about stopping work, it’s about freedom.

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