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

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

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

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

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

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

Do They Know What You Want?

Whether in personal or business life we rely on those around us to help achieve what we want, so it’s important to make it clear. Ask yourself if those around you actually know what you want? And when you’ve said “yes, of course” or “well it’s obvious” test your assumption by asking those people to tell you exactly what they think you want. There is of course an assumption here that YOU know what you want!

Whether in personal or business life we rely on those around us to help achieve what we want, so it’s important to make it clear. Ask yourself if those around you actually know what you want? And when you’ve said “yes, of course” or “well it’s obvious” test your assumption by asking those people to tell you exactly what they think you want.

There is of course an assumption here that YOU know what you want! If you don’t employ anyone directly, think people like your web designer, accountant, or other paid advisors instead for the following. The key to success, theirs and yours, is knowing exactly what would represent success, in clear measurable terms.

If you employ someone to do telemarketing, how many calls do you expect them to make in an hour or a day, and what results would you consider to be poor, acceptable, good or excellent? If you employ a cleaner what do you expect to be done and to what measurable standards on a daily, weekly and monthly basis? If you employ a salesperson, how much revenue or profit do you expect them to achieve, what balance between different types of products or services should they sell, and what mix between existing and new customers?

Most people get a positive feeling from achieving or exceeding goals. But without clear goals it can feel like a never ending chore. The motivation goes, teamwork erodes and job satisfaction plummets.

Imagine sending out two football teams on the pitch but with no goal posts. They could run around the pitch and pass the ball and tackle their opponents to a high or low standard but it doesn’t really make much difference. You need to be able to keep score - we all need to know how we’re doing, measurably. No score = no satisfaction. Make sure that you’re being clear with people about what you want in clear, measurable terms. Then give them positive feedback. If you believe that achieving a good standard of work is what you pay someone for and therefore it’s not worthy of comment, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll soon have a poor level of performance as a result! Earning the wage is not enough.

As the leader of manager in business or life, your role is to keep people motivated toward the goal. You’d be amazed how well people respond to being told “well done” and “thank you” even if they’re doing what you’re paying them to do. But you can only do this if you’ve set the measurable goals in the first place. Once you’ve got measurable goals in place on a short-term basis, and you’re recognising their achievement, you’ll find the positive effect starts wearing off after a while. It’s because once we know what we’re doing in the short-term, day to day, month to month, our mind starts to question “but what’s this all for?”. You need to set and measure progress toward long-term goals and it needs to be inspiring to you of course, and also to those helping you achieve it. Again, the fact you’re paying them to show up is not enough.

The more inspired people are by the goal, the more productively they’ll work - and enjoy doing it too! If I were to come in to your business and randomly pick members of your staff “What’s are the main business goals this quarter” and “What are the main business goals for this year?” - would they know? Would they be able to tell me? And would they be able to tell me exactly what they personally need to do as their part in achieving the goals? If you want everyone pulling together in the same direction - you need positive answers to all the above. But as motivating as it is for your team to know your goals and be playing a part in achieving them, they need more.

They need to know their own medium and long-term goals too. In quiet moments they’ll be wondering “Do I still want to be working here next year?”. Do you know what THEY want? Have you asked them, and have you helped them determine a positive path forward with you? Tell them what they would need to do in order to get that next promotion, pay rise, bonus, or even a huge “Well done” from you. When they know exactly what they have to do, there’s a chance they’ll do it. Until then, there’s no chance.  

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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

Develop Sales Skills to Increase Profit

Hands up everyone who’s involved in selling? Yes, it’s that old trick question. You and every person in a business are involved in selling. Anyone who isn’t clear about their role in selling is possibly sabotaging sales! Think about when you deal with someone in an organisation. When you visit an office and speak to the receptionist, a poor attitude will make you less likely to do business. A good attitude and an awareness of what they can do to make you WANT to do business makes a difference.

A delivery driver with a bad customer attitude is creating a risk that the client will go elsewhere. Conversely a delivery driver that’s aware of his sales role will look for opportunities and report back to their organisation when they see one. I could continue with every role in a business. Everyone can help generate sales and retain customers longer - or they can do the opposite. Everyone is in a sales role whether they realise it or not. So I have three questions for you to ask yourself:

  1. Are you sure that everyone in your team is aware of their sales role, knows what to do, and is doing it?
  2. When was the last time you sent all of your staff on a sales training workshop, or got someone in to train them, or even bought them a book and suggested they read it?
  3. When was the last time you recognised a non-sales person (a role without “sales” in the job title) for their contribution to your sales?

A good response at this point is “Great ideas, I’ll get right on to it. What do you recommend we do?”. The responses I usually get fall into the categories of Blame, Excuses and Denial, including:

  • “Sales training is too expensive!” - Hold on... the point of sales training is so that staff are trained and will generate a higher level of sales. If your staff were trained, how much extra do you think you could gain over the course of 12 months? Is that greater than the cost of the training? If it is... the sales training is better than free! If you’re unsure - ask a sales trainer to give a guarantee!
  • “My staff don’t like selling” - I find it worrying when people don’t like selling, because this means your own staff don’t believe that people should buy your products or services! They don’t think they’re worth the money! If they honestly believe that a customer would be better off having your product or service than the amount of money it costs - they’d be eager to sell. Guess what? They need some sales training.
  • “They don’t have time to be selling” - then create time, even if that means recruiting more staff. Anyone that has or could have contact with customers is a valuable selling resource that you need to maximise. Often they don’t have to spend a lot of extra time, just do things in the appropriate way.
  • “There’s no point, they wouldn’t bother” - You’re right. Leave it to your competitors who will know how to motivate their staff.

Don’t forget the sales team Far too many organisations employ sales people and assume that they’ll automatically get better and do their jobs to the maximum by simply doing it every day. Last week I was told “John’s my best salesman, he’s got 12 years’ experience”. I asked whether that was 12 useful years of experience, or simply one day’s experience repeated 2880 times over 12 years? The point is, without time to reflect and learn a repeated experience does not necessarily lead to better performance. On the contrary, it often leads to sloppiness, boredom and poor results. Even high-performing sales people need motivation and training. Investing in sales training is one of the best returns on investment available. How much will you invest in sales training this year?    

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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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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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Use Sales Scripts

If I say “Sales script” it probably creates a negative emotion for most people. That’s because most of us have experienced a really poor cold-caller following a script to the letter and not listening to our responses: Caller: “Good morning, how are you today?” Customer: “Terrible, my dog died” Caller: “Excellent! Now the reason I’m calling today is....” Set aside any sales script related negativity, because you wouldn’t read from a script and use it badly - would you! However, scripts are vital to maximise sales and achieve consistency. 

Imagine you have three sales people selling exactly the same product to a list of prospects. One of them continually achieves twice the level of sales that the other two do, but why? It’s easy to say “he’s a better salesperson” and you’d probably be right. But it would be foolish to simply accept that, rather than examining the detailed reasons. If you were able to get the other two sales people doing exactly what the best one does... the total results would be significantly better! Are you doing that? Sit and watch the best salesperson. How do they initiate the greeting? What words do they use, what’s their attitude, what process are they naturally following? For starters they’re probably speaking confidently, enthusiastically, smiling, and being friendly. They’re probably asking questions and listening to the answers rather than just talking. How do they get the prospect interested, how do they judge the speed of progress, and importantly - they probably ask for the order. How do they end the call and what do they organise as the next step if the prospect was interested?

These are just examples of what to look at - sales calls are actually very complex processes that “good” sales people do naturally or learn to do naturally. And I’d argue that anyone can learn to do it, if they want to and have the opportunity. Set about observing your sales people - or yourself if it’s just you. Write a bullet point list of all the key steps you follow within a sales call. Especially list the key questions that you’d want to be asked on a call. When completed, consider this your sales script.

Each of your salespeople should be trained on this until they’re able to do it to an agreed standard. It’s no use just telling them or giving them a copy, they need practice to convert the knowledge into skill. In reality you’ll probably find that you need to create a number of different scripts for use in different circumstances. The steps and the questions are likely to be different between calling with a special offer to sell versus a regular account management relationship call, so use an appropriate script. When you introduce a new member of staff into your sales team, these scripts will form a significant part of the training process. Not only will you be able to get a new starter trained faster, they’ll also be more effective and more consistent with the existing team. But allow some scope for each person to modify what they say so that it sounds natural for them. Are you using sales scripts in your sales team?

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Create A Sales Process

Businesses of all sizes need to create a sales process. This should be a written series of numbered steps covering initially sales leads all the way through to an eventual sale. The majority of businesses I meet have operated for years with no documented process. Predictably the results are varied and it’s hard to know what is working and what isn’t. It’s also difficult to train new staff because there’s no process to train them on. 

Use the following as a guide, but add or remove steps as appropriate for your business. I find that once someone sees an example, they can soon create a version for themselves.

Step 1: Greeting: Use a consistent greeting, eg when answering the phone say “Good morning XYZ Electronics, John speaking, how may I help you?”. Have versions for calling out, visiting clients, using at a trade show, etc. Consistently do it the best way.

Step 2: Permission: It’s rude to suddenly start asking questions, and your prospect will react poorly if you do. So ask permission first, eg “Would it be OK if I ask you a few questions so that I can better serve your need?”.

Step 3: Understand the prospect’s need: What would be your initial three questions to ask every prospect to pre-qualify that they might want your product or service? Then what are the follow-up questions? Enter these directly on your database system or have pre-printed sheets for recording leads.

Step 4: What’s your solution?: Now that you know enough about the customer’s need, you can start talking about the appropriate product or service that you have to offer, referring back to how it meets their needs.

Step 5: Agreement: Check that the prospect agrees that you’ve understood their needs, and that your solution sounds relevant. If you determine the person has no immediate need for your product or service, determine if they EVER might, and if so, ask if you can add them to your newsletter mailing list and note a follow-up date, even if it’s a year or more ahead!

Step 6: Arrange a meeting: If your product is low-cost and simple you might be able to close a sale on an initial call. But in many cases all you’ve done so far is to identify a qualified prospect. We’ll assume it’s a larger sale and you want a meeting. Suggest dates and agree the time and place.

Step 7: Send Confirmation pack: You might use email or post, but send your prospect a confirmation of the time and place agreed for the meeting. What else could you send them to enhance the chances that they will eventually buy? If you don’t have anything to send, create something.

Step 8: Confirm Receipt: Allow appropriate time then call to check they’ve received your confirmation pack and they’re ready for the planned meeting. Show enthusiasm for the forthcoming meeting!

Step 9: Prepare: It’s surprising that people invest a lot of valuable time and money visiting a prospect without actually preparing. What information might you need, what documents, eg a contract to sign.

Step 10: Meet and sell: Once at the meeting, check where they stand. If they’re about ready to buy, do only what’s necessary! But otherwise go back over determining their needs, offering your solutions, and checking agreement, before closing the sale. And obviously I can’t cover the necessary skills here to achieve that! When you implement a sales process in your business you will increase your sales success rate and decrease the time it takes from interest to sale. Train existing staff to follow the process, and use it as part of the induction process for new staff. And if you have no staff at all... do still create and use a sales process. There’s much more to say about all the sales process steps that will increase your sales. Go ahead and ask any questions you have. Or book a meeting with me to review your process - send me an email

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Outsource: Maximise your hourly earnings

What is your time worth per hour? Unless you’re in a business charging per hour, this might seem hard to know or even irrelevant. But even if you do charge an hourly rate, chances are that not all your hours are billable. If you focus on using more of your time to earning a higher rate per hour, your business will be more profitable - or you’ll be able to work less hours - whichever is more important to you. income = hourly rate x billed hours  

Most business owners are busy running the business and don’t bill per hour, and don’t consider how much their time is worth per hour. You should! If you like being the person who opens the mail, just be aware that you’re doing a job that should probably pay minimum wage and you’re reducing your profits by doing that. So what kind of things could you do that are most valuable? If you went looking for and found a new top-ten customer, how much will they be worth over the next few years? How many hours of work would that take and how much per hour does that work out to be? You could also look at the value of time recruiting a new member of staff, training staff to be as good (and valuable) as you, working on better marketing, and so on. Most business owners I encounter agree that these are all incredibly high-value activities... but then tell me they don’t have time to do them!

It takes a while to really get the connection - the higher the value of the work that the business owner does, the more profitable the company. I know it can appear difficult to find time for high-value activities that don’t have someone pressuring you to do them. So here’s a good approach I’ve found very successful. Look at what you regularly spend time on each week or month and make a list, for example:

  • Answering the phone
  • Doing quotes
  • Making sales calls
  • Bookkeeping
  • Marketing
  • Staff issues
  • Purchasing
  • Shipping
  • Customer support...etc

Next to each activity, write what you think would be the hourly rate of pay for someone who could do that work. Now here’s the interesting part: If the hourly rate is less than you can be worth when doing your most valuable work... employ someone to do the lower-paid work. “But I can’t afford to employ someone” I hear you saying. This is the point, and this is what keeps most business owners struggling. If you choose to do work that’s worth minimum wage, that’s the wage you’re choosing for yourself. You have to pay someone else to do the lower value work so that you can do the more valuable work and earn more money for the business. Please, don’t look at all the reasons why this is “not possible”. Instead, focus on just one question: What would we need to do to make this work? It’s surprising how many hours you can gain even without taking on an employee. Modern technology has made it easier to outsource. You can outsource your bookkeeping easily. If you don’t want to lose control, use one of the cloud-based accounting software packages so that you and your bookkeeper continually can see and work with your accounts. There are lots of brilliant Virtual PAs around who can often do things more efficiently than you’re doing them!

Take action. Make a list today, identify one thing that you can outsource and ask your coach or other trusted advisor to recommend someone to give the work to. Don’t do work with a lower hourly rate than you could be doing.

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Recruit based on Attitude and Behaviour

Have you ever noticed that most recruitment is based upon skills and experience, but that people are fired due to poor attitude and behaviour? Think about really great employees that have worked for you… and then consider whether you’re reflecting on their level of skill, experience, knowledge, even intelligence? Or is it more about their attitude? In most cases you’ll find it’s very much the latter. I would suggest that the things that make a great employee include: 

  • Positive attitude
  • Eager to understand and learn, and fast learners
  • Accept new challenges readily
  • Willing to do whatever is asked of them
  • Reliable - do what they say, when they say
  • Trustworthy
  • Tenacious, don’t give up easily
  • Proactive - recognise what needs doing and do it

Now consider typical job adverts and interviews. They’re full of “Must have…” requirements for specific skills and “Minimum three years experience of…”. Having observed the process managers go through when writing a job recruitment spec, they sit and think really hard about these skills and amounts of experience and create a shopping list. It’s way too formulaic.

Experience is always a criteria that I find somewhat questionable. By all means take it into account, especially as evidence that someone can actually do a particular job and will stick at it. But just remember that experience means they know exactly how to do things, without even having to think about it… someone else’s ‘right way’. Chances are that you’re going to spend months getting them to un-learn old habits (“We always did it THIS way at me previous company”). And also remember that ten years of experience might in reality be one year that they repeated ten times without ever getting better or learning anything new!

So what’s the alternative? Identify what are the absolute minimum you could accept in terms of knowledge, skills and experience. Yes, there’s usually going to be a minimum or they can’t actually do the job on day one or even day twenty-one. But be honest, the minimum is often not that much unless you’re hiring into truly professional roles.

Focus on good behaviours and attitude. The most important one is an eagerness to learn - if someone is eager to learn and proactive about it, they’re going to progress rapidly. Make sure they can and will follow instructions (or you’ll regret it when they’re working for you!). The way to attitudes is to ask good open-ended questions and then listen to what they say AND what they mean. When prompted with the right questions, will they complain about their old boss, about their co-workers, about how their company didn’t do this or that… When they list hobbies and interests, ask about those “so what was the most recent book you read?”, “When did you last play that sport”, “Your creative writing sounds interesting, where can I look at some examples?”. You’ll soon see a picture of the real person emerge. That’s the person you could have in your organisation - will you be thinking in years to come how lucky you are to have them in your business? Or regretting the day you hired just on skills and experience?  

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