Do You Fail More Than You Succeed?

Small daily improvements create long-term results

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

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

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

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

The problem can be a combination of:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By: Rob Pickering

Mind Your Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By: Rob Pickering

Do You Ask for Help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Avoid Killer Clients

Ideal Customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By: Rob Pickering

Are You Smart Enough to Succeed?

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

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

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

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

So what should you do?

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

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

Create a Personal Learning Log

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

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

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

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

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

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By: Rob Pickering

Dealing With Problem People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By: Rob Pickering

Do You Have Results or Excuses?

Do you have all the results you want? Or are you substituting results with excuses?

The problem with excuses - or ‘reasons why not’ - is that they prevent us from taking exactly the action that would be needed to achieve the results.

Think about some aspect of your business that you would like to have better results with. It could be having more customers or more leads or more profit for example. First of all, what exactly is the result you want and when? Lack of specific goals is the first barrier - you have to have or invent a specific goal before you can find a solution for it. “More profit” sounds like a goal, but it isn’t, it’s just a vague wish. A goal would be a specific number by a specific date. Ideally such a goal would be one that you’d be happy with, not one you’d settle for.

Once you have the specific goal clear, think of the excuses you have for why it isn’t possible or why it isn’t happening and write them down. Write at least 10. You’ll probably find it hard to get past three or four, but keep going.

Now for each one, write down three or more reasons why it’s not actually true, and what you could do to counteract it. For example you might have as excuse that there’s an economic downturn and customers aren’t buying. So in response to that you could ask yourself why that’s not true and what you can do to counteract it? Actually are there some customers buying, but just not as many or not from you?

What are they buying and from whom? What could you do to get more of them buying and from you? The whole point is to challenge the excuses. There is always something you can do - usually lots of things - but you only really start to see them when you challenge the limiting beliefs and ask instead “what could we do?”. If you still find you’re stuck, or if you’re so fixed in believing your own excuses, you need to enlist the help of an unreasonable person who won’t accept your excuses. We all know someone like that, any kind of Coach makes it their focus to ask challenging and unreasonable things of people.

As you go through the process it’s OK to identify further excuses why something won’t work or isn’t possible - but then you have to work on those new ones too - “What could we do to counteract it?”. Once you’ve made some progress and have some ideas of what you could do, write them down as a series of potential actions. You’ve then got the beginnings of a plan. Then go through each action and ask “if we do this, is it likely to achieve the result we want?”. You then either change it so that the answer becomes yes, or dump it and move on to the next. The aim is to have enough actions that you can step back and honestly say that taking all those actions is likely to achieve the specific goal.

Keep challenging the barriers until you have that. When you create this attitude as your normal way of being, and create it as a culture in your business, you’ll find that you can overcome any hurdle. Don’t accept excuses. 

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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

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

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

Blogger’s Block - Regular Blogging

Many of my colleagues and readers of my weekly blogs ask me how on earth I manage to write something every week? If you have a blog and struggle to write regularly, or haven’t even started for fear of not keeping it up... this one’s for you! Top Tips

  • Only write when you feel inspired - you are in control of your mood
  • Have a list of potential topics, choose one that inspires you
  • Remove distractions, sit somewhere nice, get started
  • Start by writing an outline - bullet points of what you’ll include
  • If it isn’t going well, break the pattern. Change topic, call someone, …
  • At the end, leave it half an hour then re-read it, make small improvements
  • You’re done, focus on how much you’ve enjoyed it!

My first tip to anyone doing regular writing is to understand yourself, your moods and your motivation. If you have to force yourself to sit down and write, and then you struggle and feel bad... you are training yourself that writing is something you hate. What are the chances you’ll want to do something you hate? So only write when you are in the right mood to enjoy it. What if you’re never in the right mood? 

You’re in control This may come as a surprise to you, and you may not even want to accept it, but you are in control of your own mood. Get a pen and paper ready and then ask yourself this question: “What are 20 things that put me in a good mood?” and start writing them down. Among them you might include listening to uplifting music, watching a movie, sitting on the beach on holiday, and so on. Actually it’s not just experiencing those things that will put you in a good mood - it’s also thinking about them. Putting yourself in a good mood and feeling inspired is potentially the most valuable lesson you can learn to achieve more and enjoy life more. But for blogging, here are a few ‘inspiration’ tips that you might put on your list:

  • Find other blogs that you like, agree with, and find inspiring. Read them when you need inspiration
  • Create a playlist of uplifting music without words (words distract more)
  • If you have customer testimonials or LinkedIn recommendations, read a few
  • Surround yourself with awards and trophies you’ve received
  • Sit somewhere you feel inspired - walk to the top of a hill if that’s what it takes
  • Remove distractions, turn off the phone, have an empty desk
  • Call someone who inspires you, then start writing immediately after

Inspiring topics
When we’re genuinely interested and feel passionate about a topic, we tend to write far more easily, enjoy it more, and create a better result. It’s therefore key to pick a topic that we find inspiring at the moment we sit down to write. I recommend developing a list of potential subjects to blog about. You can trawl through your own website and websites of similar interests but, to be honest, such lists tend to leave me a bit cold and I rarely feel inspired by them. What works for me is to write about something that I felt inspired by during each week. When someone asks me “How do I motivate my team?” or “Should I get a new website?” or whatever it is, I end up having a discussion. Somehow the same topics seem to appear several times in a week. If I found the conversation particularly interesting - and the other people I spoke to liked what I had to say - I write it down as a potential topic. At the end of a week when I sit down to write a blog I look down the list and usually feel inspired to write about it. Naturally, that’s where this topic came from. When you realise that you’re being asked for advice on the same topic over and over again, whatever your area of interest/expertise, you can be pretty certain that your target readers are going to be interested in the blog when you’ve written it!

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By: Rob Pickering

Time to Play Big

If you run a small business with just one or two staff you might be wondering how to get to the next level of growth? The vast majority never make it to another level and get caught in the trap of owning a job instead of owning a business. It’s a trap because you’re probably already so busy that you don’t feel you have time to grow the business and can’t handle more than you already do. Your job as a business owner is not to grow a successful business. If you try to do that you’ll end up feeling burnt out. Actually your job is to recruit the people that will grow your business. Then you need to provide leadership, set goals, train and motivate. 

Often when I ask a business owner what their goal is for five years or even one year they don’t have a clear answer. Do you know the answer? Can you articulate it clearly to an employee or someone that could help you achieve it? Do you have it written down? Few small businesses have a business plan or even a marketing plan. The reason I’m often told is that it’s not necessary, especially when there are no staff, “why would I write a plan just to read myself, I already know it”. I don’t mean to be unkind but that’s just an excuse and one that will definitely hold back the business! So here’s my advice that, if you follow it, will set you free on the path to growth:

  • Set yourself a big goal for 3-5 years that scares you and at the same time excites you!

Don’t play small. Don’t forecast where you think you’ll be in 3-5 years if you keep doing what you’re doing and everything continues as it as. That’s not a plan, it’s a forecast and frankly it’s boring. Did you take a risk and start your own business just to be bored and to get by? Probably not, otherwise you’d have stuck with the safe route of being an employee, letting the business owner take all the risks... and all the rewards! What goal for your business, if you achieved it in 3-5 years, would make you smile and feel really proud? £1 Million turnover? £10 Million? 25 good employees? A thousand delighted customers? Four long holidays per year (and the business still there when you got back!)? Contributing significantly to a charity that matters to you? Winning a prestigious industry award? An award given in your name? What life do you want to lead, what legacy will you leave? These might seem like very lofty goals, but those are the ones that are inspiring and make running a business feel worthwhile - why would you aim lower? One more thing to consider when it comes to employing great people - Why would a really great employee work for you? Assuming they can take their pick of companies to work for, is your goal inspiring enough that they want to help achieve it? Great employees don’t work for companies that forecast based on ‘all things being even’, they choose companies and leaders that inspire them. That’s who you need to be. If this all sounds interesting but you can’t get started - give me a call and we’ll get you moving and achieving the goal too!

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By: Rob Pickering

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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What’s Your Referral Strategy?

When you look at the sales leads you’re generating, chances are the best leads come from referrals. Yet when I ask business owners what their referral strategy is I’m often met with a blank stare. Let me be clear: A referral strategy does not include “If I wait long enough and stare at the phone, someone will eventually refer a prospect to me”. But what do we mean by 'good quality' leads anyway?

The quality of leads can be measured in three ways:

  1. What percentage convert into sales?
  2. How long do they take to convert?
  3. How profitable are they when they do convert?

Leads generated by someone clicking a website and being forced to enter their contact details are typically very low quality ‘cold’ leads. They’re usually a long way from being someone ready to purchase. It’s good to have this kind of activity going on in the background, but generating business today or next month is better achieved with higher quality leads. At the other end of the scale comes referrals from trusted partners. A prospect who’s referred to you is most likely to be genuinely interested and be ready to buy from you the soonest. But are you getting as many referrals as you could? A poor strategy is to wait for someone to spontaneously refer a prospect to you! As the Chinese proverb says: “Man stand long time in field with mouth open, waiting for fried duck to fly in”. In other words... get off your seat and do something to make it happen!

  • Create a referral strategy and ask existing/past clients for a referral
  • Create strategic alliances and generate referrals for each other
  • Join a local business networking group
  • Make it clear to your suppliers that you’ll make the most of leads they pass you
  • Get to know the best-connected people in your industry/community

Existing customers should be the first place you should look to for referrals. They know what you do and they know first hand how well you do it and why someone should be your customer. But they’re not consciously thinking about who they know that would be your next good customer. Yes, you actually need to ask them. When did you last ask your best customers for a referral? Typically you find that happy customers would be delighted to refer people to you, they just need prompting - regularly.

Strategic alliances are the next great way to generate high quality referrals. In your industry, what kind of business has the same or similar customer base but doesn’t compete with you? These are people you could initiate a strategic alliance with and introduce each other to your customers. If you do it loosely you’ll probably get results, but if you do it in a planned way you can get regular good referrals (and give them too of course).

Business networking groups are another excellent way to give and to get referrals. Google your local area to find business networking groups and visit one new one each month and you’ll find a few that suit you. There are people in groups I attend who get more than 80% of all their business via referrals from the group! If you’re not in such a group - perhaps you’re only experiencing 20% of the business you could be getting. One point of advice - you’ll get as much as you give.

Suppliers are often overlooked when it comes to sources of good referrals. They probably have people asking them where they should buy, and they’re probably recommending someone - make sure it’s you! Guess what their biggest frustration is? Having been in this position several times I can say confidently that the biggest frustration is knowing that the company I recommend is going to serve the referred prospect in a really professional manner. Assure your supplier that you’ll look after any referrals well. Make it easy for all of your referral partners by giving them more than just your name and phone number. And I don’t mean just a business card... but a pile of those would be a good start. Create something that would work well for a partner to hand to a potential prospect, or better still, an introductory voucher that has some genuine value. Feedback counts - for every referral someone gives you, start by saying thank you, and give them feedback updates so that they know you looked after the person you referred. That way they’ll refer again. Creating a referral strategy that works for your business is an incredibly effective way to generate high quality leads regularly.

Many of the things you need to do that make all the difference are not obvious. If you’d like me to analyse your current strategies and help get you on the right track, call me now and ask for a 2-hour business diagnostic.

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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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How to Have the Best Ideas

I’m going to share with you one of the biggest secrets to success! Actually it’s one of the few things I learnt at school that’s been of significant value in business. You can apply this principle in many areas, but I’ll discuss it here in terms of marketing.

I’m forever having people ask me “What do you think of this idea?”. For example, “I’m planning to send a mailshot to 5000 names on a mailing list - what do you think?”. My rather sarcastic answer is usually “This is by far the best idea you’ve told me in the past five minutes”. The point is - having ideas is easy. Having good ideas is harder. But all I’m interested in is the BEST ideas. How on earth can you know if something is the best idea if you only look at one idea?

If you just take away one thing from reading this, here it is: Always create a minimum of three alternatives, compare the pros and cons, and choose the best one. I can guarantee that whatever you do will be much more successful when you pick the best of three. 

Often in a business there is more than one product or service available for sale. As you start planning some marketing, start by determining which product or service you aim to focus on selling. Ideally this is going to be one that represents the best all-round opportunity for the business, for example - good profit margin, low hassle, easy to sell, short sales cycle, available now. Often people dive in, randomly pick a product or service, and start working on marketing it. It could be that the marketing is successful and sales are made, but how much more profit could have been made by working on selling the item that’s twice as profitable? Think strategically. Consider different products and services and think about the pros and cons of focusing on increasing the sales of each one. Not just in the short term, but in the long-term. Which one, if sold in bigger volumes this month, is going to lead to even greater sales if it or of something else later? If you focus on selling more razors, will it automatically lead to selling more razor blades for the coming year? If you sell more printers this month, will it lead to sales of more ink and paper in the coming year? If you offer free mobile phones this month, will it lead to increased airtime sales in the coming year? But again, choose three good alternatives and pick the best of three, not just the first one that springs to mind. At school and college I studied design technology - basically how to identify a problem and design the best solution to it. The method I was taught was as follows:

  1. Think of one way to solve the problem and work through a design for how that solution would work.
  2. Set aside the first idea and start all over again! This second solution must use a completely different approach to the first.
  3. Set aside the second idea and start all over again. This time, the solution can be completely new again or can include good aspects of the first and second combined with new thinking.

The third solution was always much better than the first. But you know, once I’d worked on that first one, I was convinced it was a great idea and didn’t want to set it aside and start again! The discipline to create and review three alternatives is critical. Only when you look from different angles do you see the flaws in the first. Once you’ve decided which product or service to focus on marketing, next create three alternatives for how you’re going to market it. Look at the pros and cons of each one, ultimately calculating the ROI (Return On Investment) for each one. Only then should you go with the method that is calculated to be the best one. So next time someone comes to you with an idea and asks “What do you think, is this a good idea?”. Ask the killer question - “What are the alternatives and what makes this the best one?”.

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Create Your Own Success Mindset

The level of your achievement will be heavily dependent upon the people you surround yourself with. If you hang out with people who are negative about you or your ambitions, the chances of success are minimal. But if you surround yourself with positive, encouraging and supporting people - success is much more likely.

Don’t get me wrong - you still have to put in the hours, learn and improve your knowledge and skills and do the work, but then the possibilities are endless. Go ahead and dream - set yourself goals that are inspiring to you personally. If you’re going to dream, you may as well dream big! And if you’re going to set goals, set big goals! Tell people your goals and focus your time with the people who think your goals are fantastic, who make good suggestions and encourage you to move forward.

Learn to know yourself. Recognise times when you are motivated and when you are not. What creates those different feelings? Create self-awareness so that you know if you start feeling less enthusiastic and take action to get back on track. There are lots of things you can do to generate a positive feeling, here are a few ideas, try some and pick the ones that work for you:

  • Read positive and practical books that are relevant
  • Read blogs by successful and motivating people
  • Join local business groups that will help motivate and educate you
  • Mentor someone who is at an earlier stage of learning than you
  • Write your own blog to pass on what you’re learning
  • Take regular exercise - whatever you enjoy
  • Find ‘buddies’ to provide mutual help and encouragement
  • Make and keep a list of all the things you’re grateful for
  • Focus on only the things you can make a difference to
  • Create a “dream board” with pictures representing what you want to be, do and have in your life
  • Create a “bucket list” of 100 things you want to be, do and have. Plan to achieve one per quarter. Each time you tick one off, add a new one
  • Listen to audio books from wise people - Jim Rohn, Stephen Covey, etc
  • Set about learning something new every month so that you’re continually getting better at planning, executing, communicating and improving
  • Plan where you want to be in 5 years time, then plan what you need to do to start over the next 90 days

The list could go on. Now think: How many of these things do you regularly and consistently do at present? If the answer is “not many”, are you ready to make a change in your life? Whatever you’ve achieved so far in your life is not an indicator of what you can achieve in the future - the future is entirely down to what you make it, starting 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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Work harder on yourself...

“Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”-  Jim Rohn INCREASE YOUR CAPABILITY & YOUR VALUE Do you work hard at your job? Most people do. A lot of people work incredibly hard and long hours. However, working hard in a job is being like the little hamster running round in its wheel, working hard but getting nowhere at all by any real measure. Early in my career I was fortunate to have a wise manager ask me “How good do you want to be in business?”. My answer was “Good”. OK, I wasn’t great with words back then! He pointed out to me that to be better than average I would need to work at my own learning and development. Which is what I’ve done ever since. 

If someone works a thirty-five hour week that’s 1,645 hours each year. But if they pay little attention to personal development then they could end up at the same level, worth only the same pay, as the previous year. Some companies push training on their employees which will help some of them, but as a business owner you have to take care of yourself. Just 10% of the time learning would be 164 hours a year, or about half an hour a day. These days as a Business Coach I invest a day every week on my own development; it’s an investment. Occasionally it will be a whole day but usually it’s a series of planned hours. On average I read a business book every week. It’s easy to find excuses not to do this. “I don’t have the time!”. OK, get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later and gain 7 extra hours per week. It’s all about discipline. FEEL MOTIVATED The more you do, the more you feel like doing. You recognise that you’re making progress and look at things differently, with more drive and enthusiasm. Push yourself - the hardest step is the first one. BE COMMITTED It’s important to set yourself goals. I hear many people talk without commitment, with vague intentions that I know won’t happen unless they get a push. My clients know I’ll stop them in their tracks if they use the language of non-commitment. The banned words “try”, “hope”, “want”, “wish”… all indicate lip-service rather than true commitment. “I’m going to try and find a training course sometime this year” is a typical example. What I hear is “going to” means a vague intention; “try” means have a go at it, but maybe it won’t happen; “sometime this year” again means deferring any action. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it and fool yourself. Make real commitments. “I’m going to identify a training course today and book it to attend before the end of next month”. No get-outs, no ‘try”, no “hope to”… just do it. Now! Make a commitment to spend some time every week on your own personal development. If this seems hard in your schedule, start with finding just one hour per week. It’s a start and will make a difference. But I recommend daily or every other day so that the progress is more noticeable and consequently you’ll feel more motivated. If you struggle, think about when you feel most motivated - a walk, listening to music, whatever it takes - put yourself in the right frame of mind and do it. WHAT SHOULD I DO? There are many things you can do, so do what works for you and motivates you. If you don’t like reading books, try audio books on an iPod, especially if you have long journeys. If you can’t get to seminars then try ‘webinars’ where you can attend online. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Read Books or listen to audio books
  • Think where you’d like to be in 5 year, and what it would take
  • Attend a seminar or workshop - there are good free ones available
  • Join a relevant trade association
  • Read magazines/journals related to your business
  • Contact like-minded professionals and suggest a meeting
  • Get out of your comfort zone: Identify an opportunity to present or teach
  • Surround yourself with positive influences
  • You-tube is an increasingly good resource - search a topic of interest
  • Search the web in your field of interest and follow key people - or publish yourself!

What are you doing for your personal development, or to develop your staff? Leave a comment and let me and other readers know.  

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