United we Fall


Even if you’ve been living in the proverbial cave at the bottom of the proverbial salt mine the news of United Airlines PR disaster-to-end-all-PR-disasters must have reached you by now.

I’ve covered disaster, catastrophe and the required corporate apology before. But that was something minor – just an oil spill and devastation of a coastline. In PR terms, hauling Dr David Dao up the aisle of the United flight to Kentucky was in an altogether different league.

Why? It’s simple. Devastating a coastline is tragic: of course it’s a disaster. But it’s a news item.

What United did to Dr Dao was personal. There isn’t one of us who – next time he flies – won’t sit in his seat, fasten his safety belt and then glance at the aisle of the aeroplane and think, ‘It could have been me…’

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Was United’s action legal? Sadly, yes. It’s right there in the terms and conditions, in 8pt print at the bottom of page 23. Airlines routinely sell tickets to more people than a plane can seat, counting on several people not to arrive. When there are not enough ‘no-shows’ – that is, when passengers are so inconsiderate that they turn up for the flight they booked – then the airlines first try to persuade, reward or bribe passengers to change their flight. Then…

And the figures are small – almost insignificant. In 2016, United Airlines denied boarding to 3,765 of its 86 million passengers: an additional 62,895 passengers voluntarily gave up their seats. In very round figures, that gives you a 1 in 1,000 chance of being ‘bumped,’ voluntarily or involuntarily.

But none of this matters: because we’ll all look at the aisle of the plane and wonder…

Not surprisingly, United took a savage beating on social media: ‘New United Airlines Mottos’ rapidly became one of Twitter’s most popular hashtags…

We put the hospital in hospitality!

Fight or flight

If you can’t seat ’em, beat ’em

…And several others which have no place in a family blog on a Friday morning.

The stock market was equally quick to react with more than $1 billion wiped off United’s stock market valuation.

United’s response to all this was ‘apology by committee.’ You could see the eventual statement had gone round the company several times, with every department head making sure his own base was covered. CEO Oscar Munoz even tried to deflect the blame on to David Dao, saying that he had been “disruptive and belligerent.”

What would I have done? Four things:

  • Have one person immediately issue a genuine and sincere apology to Dr Dao and the other passengers on the flight, without worrying about any hurt feelings at United HQ
  • Settle Dr Dao’s lawsuit immediately, whatever the cost. United cannot have people constantly reminded of this incident
  • Sack the security team, sack the CEO and sack anyone else who didn’t have the courage and the common sense to say, “Stop. This is wrong.”
  • Announce an immediate end to the overbooking of flights. United – and all other airlines come to that – need to give an absolute guarantee that you cannot pay for a flight and then be ‘bounced.’

But all those moves are simply locking the stable door long, long after the horse has bolted. What they needed – what every company needs – is a culture where incidents like that simply cannot occur in the first place. No-one can legislate for one individual’s erratic behaviour, but in United’s debacle everyone screwed up – and it was indicative of a deeper malaise at the company.

Thankfully as I meet more and more Alternative Board members up and down the UK I see the same commitment to clients and customers, and the same determination to build and empower great teams, that was so evident in York. Dr Dao would be safe with any member of the Alternative Board. (United’s HQ is in Chicago: maybe it’s not too late for Oscar Munoz to sign up…)

That’s it for this week – and yes, before you ask, I have noticed that there’s going to be a General Election. I’ll tackle it next week…

Own Your Own Truth


How do keep your work/life balance well and truly balanced?

How do you make sure you build your business – but never miss the Nativity Play?

How do you make sure your business is working for you – and that it’s not the other way round?

Yep, we’ve dealt with a few minor questions over the last six years, but let’s turn to something fundamental this week…

What is Truth?

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Don’t worry: I’m not abandoning TAB York and heading back to the campus: but in the year of Brexit and Trump ‘what is truth?’ is a pertinent question. And it’s one that has important implications for all our businesses.

You may have seen recently that ‘post-truth’ is the Oxford English Dictionary’s ‘word of the year’ for 2016. It follows previous winners ‘emoji’ and ‘vape’ and beat off strong competition from ‘hygge,’ ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘adulting.’

What does ‘post-truth’ mean? It means that objective opinion has become less important in shaping public perceptions than opinions and emotional appeals.

The day after reading about ‘post-truth’ I was at a seminar, where one of the speakers made a simple statement: “you don’t own your own truth any more.”

His comments were largely directed at the hospitality industry. What he meant was that the truth about your hotel is no longer what you put in your brochure or on your website: the ‘truth’ is what someone says about you on Trip Advisor.

We’re now living in an age where comments and feedback no longer arrive in response to your carefully crafted e-mail or your solicitous feedback form. Instead, they’re 140 characters on Twitter, a photo on Instagram – or comments on sites like Trip Advisor over which you have absolutely no control.

It used to be said that ‘a lie can be half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’ That’s no longer the case: today, someone else’s version of the truth can be halfway round the world before your truth etc. etc.

I’ll be writing a post in the New Year about managing your reputation on social media: unfortunately, it requires rather more research than the usual pre-Christmas madness allows…

For now, some of my TAB York members are very well aware of both sides of the social media coin: others, less so. And while there may not be a Trip Advisor for widget manufacturers, that doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about you, your business or your product.

So what steps can you take in the short term to make sure that your version of the truth is pre-eminent? Here are five basic suggestions:

Keep your message simple. I wrote earlier this year about how many millennials now prefer to communicate using pictures: no wonder ‘emoji’ was the 2015 ‘word of the year.’ Your business message doesn’t need to be complicated: after all, there are few things simpler than an emoji. And whatever your feelings on Donald Trump, ‘Make America Great Again’ must have swayed a lot of votes.

Keep your message up to date: and keep it consistent. I’ve been writing this blog for over six years now. I hope some of what I write is useful, interesting and thoughtful. But in getting my message across, the delivery is every bit as important as the content. New clients know I’ll deliver, because they’ve seen the blog updated every Friday morning without fail.

Don’t make ridiculous claims. It’s now impossible to walk past any café without seeing a sign for their ‘award winning’ cakes. Every fish and chip shop in Yorkshire is ‘world famous.’ If your version of the truth contains patently ridiculous claims, don’t be surprised if people choose to believe rather more objective versions of the truth. So I’m sorry, reading this blog will not make you more attractive to women…

Force yourself to check. You may well think that Facebook is for teenagers who should be revising: you may see no point in Twitter as you’ve no interest in whether Stephen Fry has brushed his teeth. Unfortunately, that view is now in the minority: however much social media brings out the ‘bah humbug’ in you, force yourself to check occasionally…

…And if someone has mentioned your business, respond: gently, tactfully, with a touch of humour if you can, but above all respond. Otherwise you run the risk of ‘guilt through silence.’ The accused offered no defence on Twitter, m’lud…

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to offer the Chancellor confirmation of the productivity gap he complained about in the Autumn Statement. I can’t do any work today, Mr Hammond: I have to spend my day deleting ‘Black Friday’ e-mails…

The 6p Café – and the question You Should Really Ask


Just a note before I start this week: I’ve written more than 300 posts on this blog, but last week’s was much the most personal. I’d like to say thank you for all the comments and replies: some of them were touching, some heartfelt and some even more personal than the original post. One in particular buoyed me for the whole weekend: so thank you again.

Anyway – on to business. And a simple question: how much did you pay for your last latte? I’d guess anywhere from £2.40 to £2.90: that’s the going rate and it is, of course, completely ridiculous. Invest not-all-that-much in the right equipment and you can stay in your kitchen and make a coffee that’s equally good for a fraction of the price.

But that’s not the point is it? Because as we all know, Nero, Starbucks and your local coffee n’ cake shop don’t sell coffee. They sell something else entirely.

…And now a café has started charging for it.

Let me introduce you to Ziferblat, a café in Manchester that charges 6p a minute. That’s right, 6p a minute. Stay as long as you want; eat and drink as much as you want and use the Wi-Fi. 30 minutes costs £1.80 and an hour is £3.60.

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At first glance that seems remarkably cheap: why do you need to pay rent on an office? An eight hour day at Ziferblat costs £28.80 with no need to go out for a sandwich at lunchtime. Well, they make a profit and the chain is expanding. But it’s not their balance sheet I want to discuss; it’s their willingness to look at an established concept in a wholly new way.

I have plenty of my meetings in various Costas, Starbucks and Neros around North Yorkshire. Am I paying for the coffee? No. That’s the last thing on my mind. I’m paying for convenience, for somewhere to meet, for thirty minutes with a friend, Board member or potential client.

I’m buying the coffee in order to rent a convenient meeting space for thirty minutes. The owners of Ziferblat have recognised this: as one of them says in the video, “Everything is free, except the time that you spend.”

Some of you may remember a post I wrote early in 2014: it was about American restaurants charging different prices for their food depending on when you ate. Re-reading the original piece – and thinking about ‘the 6p café’ – that still seems entirely logical to me.

The reason I make these points is simple. We’re now well into ‘making plans for next year’ season and there’s a fundamental question to ask yourself: what do I really sell?

Do you sell coffee? Or do you sell the convenience, the surroundings and the meeting place?

Quite rightly, you’re now turning the question round and asking, ‘Fair enough, Ed. What do you really sell?’

Let me answer that, because it illustrates the point exactly.

Do I really sell 1 to 1 meetings and peer-to-peer coaching? No, of course I don’t. So let’s look at the reasons entrepreneurs ‘buy’ TAB York:

  • They want to solve a problem and/or address some pain
  • They don’t want to feel isolated/lonely any more
  • They want a fresh perspective on their business
  • They’re stuck in a rut
  • They know they’re ready to ‘take the next steps.’ But they don’t know how to do it, and may not even know what the next steps are

So TAB York sells solutions to specific problems, an end to loneliness, a new way of looking at problems and opportunities, motivation and – as I wrote two weeks – a glimpse of what life and business could be like: ‘permission to dream’ as I termed it.

Clearly, TAB York sells different things to different people – and that doesn’t change even after someone becomes a member. The reasons why entrepreneurs continue as Board members can be very different to the reasons why they joined:

  • The Board meetings are an insurance policy against things going wrong
  • The routine of the monthly meetings forces members to work ‘on the business’ not ‘in the business’
  • It’s the only place they can really talk about their business with people who absolutely understand…
  • Who’ll give absolutely impartial advice…
  • And who care about your success and the success of your business

So in no way am I selling the monthly meetings: I’m selling reassurance, a framework, and the experience, objectivity and commitment of the other Board members. And ‘commitment’ is the right word: members of TAB York have an emotional investment in each other’s businesses.

All the above points have come from Board members over the years – and yes, when entrepreneurs ‘buy’ for so many reasons it makes it difficult to define what my colleagues and I ‘sell.’

The same may very well be true for you and your business. But take your time to define exactly what you do sell – and don’t be afraid to emulate ‘The 6p Café’ and think a long way outside the box. It’s a really worthwhile exercise and the answer may well surprise you – and have a significant impact on next year.

In fact it’s something we could cover at a 1 to 1: maybe over a meal. I’ll drop an e-mail to the Star Inn the City and offer them 6p a minute…

Why is Starbucks so Successful?


Last week the blog made a simple claim – you don’t need to be outstanding to be successful – and I used the Howard Schultz/Starbucks story for much of the background.

So is Starbucks outstanding? If you use coffee as your yardstick, then the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ I doubt that more than five people reading this blog would name Starbucks as their favourite place to grab a coffee. Give me thirty seconds and I can list half a dozen places where the coffee/cake/ambience/service – or all four – are better.

But those half dozen places are all one-offs. They’re successful – but on a small scale. There are not 23,043 of them around the world, up from 21,366 last year and 19,767 in 2014. In 2015 842 of those Starbucks outlets were in the UK, split more or less evenly between company-operated and licenced stores. Revenue and profits continue to grow strongly.

By any standards, that’s a success story. If ever there was a company that knew where it was going and paid attention to its KPIs, it’s Starbucks. Remember, we’re not taking about apps, iPhones or technology here: we’re talking about cups of coffee.

But why is Starbucks so successful? Ask Google and the search engine returns 12.4m results, so I’m not the first person to wonder.

Howard-Shultz-Starbucks-Billionaire-CEO

…And there are plenty of articles as well, many of them extolling exemplary qualities. Start small, expand carefully. Leadership, be efficient, training… But those are simply good management in any business. Based on my own career – hundreds of meetings in hundreds of coffee shops – here are three Starbucks qualities that really stand out for me.

Remorseless attention to detail. Howard Schultz is famous for this – and if you want to read a case-study in getting the little things right, read this book by journalist Taylor Clark. Let me pick up on just one example: the tables are round. Why?

So that if you’re on your own, you don’t feel awkward. Someone has to arrive first for the meeting – and even a 1:1 needs a table for four. But sitting at a rectangular table with three empty chairs feels downright awkward. You can’t put your finger on why you didn’t have the meeting in the other coffee shop; Starbucks just felt more comfortable.

This attention to detail extends to the pictures, the length of the counter, the height of the window seats. If genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains, then there’s a lot of genius in the layout of a Starbucks.

Secondly, consider the cups: short, tall, grande, venti and trenta. Starbucks doesn’t do regular, it doesn’t do medium. Supposedly three out of the five cup sizes are in a foreign language to cater to the ‘collegiate’ needs of Starbucks’ clientele. Howard Shultz wanted to foster a feeling of belonging, of exclusivity. He wanted Starbucks to be an experience, in the same way that Disney was an experience.

Lastly, Starbucks innovates. Use of first names when you’re ordering your coffee; among the first to adopt mobile payments and Starbucks has worked with PayPal to create its own mobile payment app.

So small wonder that there are more than 23,000 outlets around the world: the coffee may not be better in Starbucks, but the relentless attention to detail, appreciation of their customers and willingness to innovate has produced one of the world’s best known and most valuable brands, with a market capitalisation of $85bn.

If it works for Starbucks, it can work for you: damn it, all they do is sell coffee and cake…

You Don’t Need to be Outstanding


…Or ground-breaking. Or develop a wonder-drug. Or an app that no-one’s ever dreamed of before.

If you want to be successful in business, you don’t need to do any of those things.

You just need to be 10% better than your competitors.

And now let’s travel back in time. The year is 1985. The place is Seattle. A husband and wife are having a conversation…

Wife: This is madness. I’m pregnant with our first child and you want to throw in a good job and start a business based on a trip to Italy!

Husband: Yes

Wife: And how much do you need?

Husband: $400,000

Wife: Do we have $400,000?

Husband: You know we don’t

Wife: So you’re going to borrow the money. You’re going to risk everything – including the future of our child – because you want to open a coffee shop. Like the world needs another coffee shop. For God’s sake, Howard, you have a good job with Starbucks…

If you haven’t guessed, the husband was Howard Schultz – then just about to sink $400,000 of borrowed money into Il Giornale, a coffee shop based on a trip to Italy – where they sold excellent expressos, where coffee shops acted as meeting places and where there were 200,000 of them. Two years later the original Starbucks management decided to focus on Peet’s Coffee and Tea and sold its Starbucks retail units to Schultz and Il Giornale for $3.8m. The rest, as they say…

But in many ways, Mrs Schultz was right. The world didn’t need another coffee shop.

The world didn’t need another operating system either. Windows? IBM, Atari – about half a dozen companies already had operating systems.

Neither did it need another social network. It already had Friendster and My Space.

And with seven search engines already operating, the world most certainly didn’t need Google…

But Howard Schultz – along with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin – knew he could do it better.

And that’s true of 99% of the business successes I’ve seen. For every one ‘why has nobody thought of that before’ idea, there are 99 businesses that have succeeded by simply doing it better.

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Unless you’re a creative genius, the very-high-chances are that the business idea you’ve just had has already been thought of. In fact, as soon as you’ve had the idea you’ll find that everyone is doing it.

That is not the time to be discouraged. Exactly the opposite: all you’ve done is proved that there’s a demand for your idea. Now, you simply need to go out there and consistently deliver a better product or service.

Starbucks isn’t significantly better than its rivals. But – as I’ll describe next week – the remorseless attention to detail that Howard Schultz ingrained in the company’s DNA means it is that crucial 10% better in several key areas.

Let me finish by returning to that conversation between Mr and Mrs Schultz. The numbers and the business may be different, but I’ll wager heavily that a lot of people reading this blog had exactly that conversation.

And no – the world didn’t need your business. But like Howard Schultz, you had the drive and the vision to believe that you could be 10% better: the 10% that makes all the difference.

The world didn’t need another peer-to-peer business coaching company either. After all, anyone can get together with a few friends and create a mastermind group. Just make sure the group is a good fit, commit to meeting each month, find someone to coach you and you’re away…

Except it’s not quite that easy.

Like Starbucks, Google and Facebook, I absolutely believe TAB does it that crucial 10% better. It’s what makes our business model so successful – and if you’re not a member of TAB York, it’s what could add the vital 10% that would make all the difference to your business.

Whose Boat are you Trying to Float?


According to data from the US marketing agency Deep Focus, four out of every ten millennials would rather engage with pictures than read.

What? They’re suggesting that the most educated generation in history would rather look at the pictures you’ve just texted to them than read what you’ve written? That they’re more interested in an emoji than your carefully crafted prose?

Apparently so.

But let’s just take a step backwards. Because I’m willing to bet that a great many people read that first paragraph and thought, Hang on. What’s a millennial? It’s someone young isn’t it? Definitely younger than a baby boomer…

So before we go any further, here’s Ed Reid’s cut-out-and-keep guide to millennials, boomers and every other group that might be important to your business:

Maturists were born before 1945: they’re the generation of rationing, rock n’ roll and defined gender roles – particularly for women

Baby Boomers – 1945/1960: the Cold War, the Swinging Sixties, moon landings – and now very much family oriented

Generation X: born between 1961 and 1980, they’re marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall, Thatcher, Reagan and Gorbachev, early mobile technology – and the divorce rate rises

Millennials/Generation Y – 1981-1995: 9/11, social media, the invasion of Iraq – and the generation that has produced many of our digital entrepreneurs

And finally, Generation Z: born after 1995 they’ve been brought up with global warming, the economic downturn, cloud computing and WikiLeaks.

These terms are largely American, but the marketing message they bring with them is every bit as relevant in the UK. The infographic I used for the research is fascinating: the difference in attitudes to previous generations is startling – and marketing messages will need to reflect that.

But let me change tack for a minute, and reference another article I read on the same day as the infographic. This one featured the Kiss Navy. I’ve quoted the business acumen of Gene Simmons previously on the blog, and now Kiss have added an annual cruise round the Caribbean with 2,300 of their fans.

As the headline suggests, there’s an ‘unstoppable growth’ in the market for themed cruises. You can cruise down the Danube with the National Rifle Association, or spend your days afloat dressed as a Star Wars Stormtrooper. Want to book? Here’s the link.

What struck me as I looked at the infographic and contemplated cruising round the Caribbean listening to Detroit Rock City was how they meshed together to deliver one message. And how important that message was for all our businesses.

niche-market

Knowing your customer has always been important, but today it is more important than ever. You can reach a far wider geographical audience – and you can also target a specific niche much more precisely: the analysis and market segmentation that’s almost instantly available now (and which is very often free on social media) is something you have to use.

You also have to communicate with that audience in the right way – which brings us full circle to four in ten Millennials preferring pictures to words. You have to know your audience, and you have to know the story they want to hear.

Why? Because yes, modern technology means you can reach a much wider audience: but it also means that far more competitors can reach your customer base. The days of putting your product out there and hoping someone wants it are gone and they’re never coming back. Sadly, five minutes walking down most high streets will confirm that.

But if you get it right – if you discover your niche and tell the right story – then the rewards can be spectacular.

Not So Mad Men


Think of Mad Men on TV and what’s your first thought? Almost certainly it’s Don Draper: liquid lunch, chasing tail and unbridled cynicism…

What you call love was invented by guys like me … to sell nylons.

People want to be told what to do so badly that they’ll listen to anyone.

I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one.

Except, of course, that there is a tomorrow. And tomorrow morning those of us running businesses will still need to market our products – and ourselves.

But let’s not waste time worrying about it. We’ve got Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, a few more new apps that I still haven’t come across but which are undoubtedly valued in the billions, good ol’ LinkedIn, and – of course – our blogs.

So Mad Men is purely there for entertainment. There’s nothing we can learn from it. The ‘Golden Age of Advertising?’ It’s about as relevant today as the ‘Golden Age of Steam.’

And yet…

Maybe I’m finally getting older, but I seem to pay more and more attention to some fundamental truths. Advertising has been with us a long time – commercial messages and political campaign slogans have been found in the ruins of Pompeii – and whatever’s happening on your iPhone this week, I suspect some of its core messages will be with us as long as people buy and sell goods and services.

There’s a great blog post from Hubspot which develops that argument in much more detail – but there are three points from it which are particularly relevant to all our businesses in North Yorkshire.

 

“Word of mouth is the best medium of all.”

Whatever medium you use for your advertising – whether it’s a traditional newspaper ad or the very latest inbound marketing platform – nothing will ever beat word of mouth. As I’ve said many times on this blog, it doesn’t matter whether you’re B2B or B2C: ultimately we’re all P2P. And nothing will ever beat a person-to-person recommendation, especially in a relatively small business community like North Yorkshire.

 

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

I sometimes think we’re in danger of drifting away from this simple fact. Ultimately your advertising, your customer relations, everything you do has to be directed at selling your product. Yes, go out of your way to give information, to entertain and engage. That’s exactly what I’m doing every week with the blog. But I never forget that the blog has two fundamental aims:

  • It’s there to build and strengthen my relationship with my existing clients
  • And it’s there to convince potential clients that I’d be a good person to work with

 

“It’s not the ink, it’s the think.”

When Charles Saatchi was still in short trousers, David Ogilvy – ‘the father of advertising’ – was founding Ogilvy & Mather, for many years the top agency in the world. Ogilvy built his business on research and data. He believed that the function of advertising is to sell, and that successful advertising for any product is based on information about its consumer.

 

Take the word ‘advertising’ out of that last sentence, substitute ‘your business’ and it still makes perfect sense. And that to me is a fundamental truth: who is your customer? Where is he? What does he want? How can we supply that?

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Here’s Don Draper’s answer:

Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.

With respect, Don… I know we can go further than that with TAB. I want everyone I work with to be a lot more than ‘okay.’ That’s what I work towards every day – and those fundamental truths play a key part.

Are We All Artisans Now?


Here’s a simple experiment. You can do it at home.

Pop the words Yorkshire Artisan into Google. What do you expect to see? Bread? Cheese? Jams, pickles and chutneys? After all, it’s impossible to wander round Malton Food Market without being assailed on all sides by artisans…

And Google doesn’t disappoint. There they all are. Artisan Fireplace Design. Artisan Loft Conversions. Artisan Home Improvements.

Hang on, you say, that’s wrong. You can’t have ‘artisan loft conversions.’ It’s just… well, it’s just not right.

And in one sense, I agree with you. Say the word ‘artisan’ and I immediately think of bread. Then my thoughts turn very quickly to cheese and chutney. (Quite possibly to a glass of red wine as well: clearly Christmas is coming…)

My thoughts emphatically don’t turn to fireplaces, lofts or home improvements of any kind. So maybe I should here and now nominate ‘artisan’ as the most overused word of 2016.

Except that ‘artisan’ may be exactly the right word – and a very important word for your business as we enter the New Year. Let me turn to the Oxford English Dictionary:

Artisan: a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand

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The implication – for me – is that an artisan is someone who really cares: who’ll invest not only his talent, but his time. Someone who won’t go home until his customer is completely happy. So I make absolutely no apology for once again using a link to this beautiful video – the making of a carpenter’s axe, a video that defines investing your talent and your time.

But most people reading this blog don’t make axes. They work in a nice, warm office. First thing in the morning they fire up the Apple Mac, not the forge. Does the word artisan have any relevance to them? Can an accountant be an artisan? A PR company?

I was reading an article in Social Media Examiner. Various industry experts making ‘bold predictions’ for 2016. Apparently we’ll all be so tied up shooting videos for our websites/social channels that we’ll be too busy to see any clients: but one prediction did stand out. It was from acknowledged whiz Neal Schaffer:

I see [companies] looking at ways to become more human, authentic and transparent with their engagement within social media communities.

What?

Let me go back to a post I wrote at the beginning of April: Business Lessons from a $10,000 Bag. I think it’s one of the most important posts of this year. And in the conclusion I made exactly that point:

In an increasingly impersonal world personal is more important than ever.

(Just send me the cheque for five grand, the first class plane tickets and I’ll see you at SxSW.)

In 2016 ‘personal’ will be more important than it’s ever been. Increasingly, it’s not going to be B2B or B2C – it will be H2H. Human to human.

So, yes, we should all be claiming to be artisans next year. A skilled worker: someone that makes things – or makes things happen. Someone that invests his talent and his time – and who doesn’t go home until his customers or clients are completely happy.

Hitting the Right Note


Well, well. The pundits and the pollsters had it completely wrong and here’s David Cameron with a workable majority. What’s more, the new business secretary is hanging a picture of Margaret Thatcher in his office. Stand by for five years of a low tax/high enterprise economy.

But let’s not get carried away. What Harold Macmillan called ‘events, dear boy, events’ will inevitably come along. And as George Osborne has said on many occasions, the UK cannot be immune to what’s going on in Europe and the rest of the world. So when you factor in the slowdown in the Eurozone, the worrying figures from China, the uncertainty of the European Referendum and the noises from North of the Border there’ll be plenty to keep the Prime Minster and the journalists busy. Most importantly though, it looks like we’ll be able to get on with our businesses without our hands being tied by any more red tape. As Francisco says at the opening of Hamlet, ‘For this relief much thanks.’

Enough of politics: I’m sure you can wait until 2020 to watch the next Leaders’ Debate. Let’s turn our attention to something rather more restful: music.

I was at an Institute of Directors meeting at York University the other week. It was the usual stuff – and then someone made a comment which really made me sit up and take notice: ‘music undergraduates make some of the best entrepreneurs.’

The speaker’s rationale was that music undergrads do a wide variety of jobs to fund their degrees – and hence they’re exposed to a lot of businesses. But I thought it must go further than that – especially as I remembered writing this post about the lessons we could learn from the rapper, record producer and hugely successful entrepreneur Jay-Z.

Was Jay-Z a one-off? Or does musical ability go hand in hand with entrepreneurial ability? It certainly seemed to as the next day the papers were full of stories about Gene Simmons – ‘the financial powerhouse behind Kiss’ – and his net worth of $300m.

A study from Michigan State University suggested that successful entrepreneurs were far more likely to have had music lessons as children – but that might simply be because their parents could afford music lessons. I did some more research and gradually four key characteristics emerged that are common to both musicians and entrepreneurs:

  • You cannot become a successful musician unless you’re prepared to listen – to your own work, to constructive criticism and, above all, to feedback from fans
  • You’ve got to experiment – and you’ll almost certainly need to overcome repeated failure
  • You’ll need to collaborate with other people
  • And finally – as Gene Simmons graphically illustrates – you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors

No entrepreneur can succeed without ticking those four boxes – but let me pick up on the last two points in more detail.

Firstly, musicians – and entrepreneurs – need to collaborate. Well, if anyone reading this blog has ever played in a band (or even the school orchestra…) you’ll know that once the collaboration goes, so does the band. The ability to collaborate successfully is going to become an increasingly important skill for the entrepreneur. Over the next five years we’re going to see more and more people starting their own business – we’re all going to be working with freelancers more, and in many cases those freelancers are going to be people we’ve never met. Skype may become the business equivalent of practising in the garage, as successful collaboration increasingly becomes key to building a business.

Secondly, brand – or identity, or USP. Call it what you will. Every successful musician has a recognisable brand – and they know their target market. Whether it’s Jay-Z, Kiss or One Direction (sorry) they all know their market and the brand is tailored to it. Let me give you a simple example. Why does a band need a logo if it’s not a brand? And some of those logos (AC/DC, the Stones, the Who – off the top of my head) are among the most instantly recognisable logos anywhere.

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So maybe the traditional MBA course needs a module on music appreciation as well as supply and demand curves? Maybe there needs to be less emphasis on left brain logic, and more on right brain creativity? Let me know your thoughts. I’ll be in the garage, looking for my old guitar…

Do People Still Buy From People?


‘People buy from people.’ It’s one of the fundamental business truths. It’s drummed into you on your first day in the office.

“People buy you, Ed.”

“People buy from someone they know, like and trust.”

As I say, fundamental truths.

Or are they?

After all, I don’t know Jeff Bezos. No-one I know knows him. And given what Amazon has done to the high street – and not done for UK tax receipts – there are plenty of people that don’t like him. But Amazon is phenomenally successful.

As are a myriad of other online businesses.

And as I look round the TAB York boardroom tables I see more and more business being done online.

So is ‘people buy from people’ fast becoming a myth? Do we actually prefer not to deal face-to-face? Is the ideal business model now to give people all the information they want and then leave them to it?

I was pondering these questions at the weekend when I bought a t-shirt. From time to time I treat myself and buy a t-shirt from Howies. They’re not the cheapest, but they’re great quality, the designs are a little bit different – and I like the story.

In fact for me the two most important words on the website are ‘read story.’ That and the latest happenings from West Wales. The fact that Howies are in a small town in West Wales – Carmarthen – adds to the authenticity and the story. I’m actually more inclined to deal with them than if they were in say, Cardiff.

Back to the story. Here’s what it says on the website:

And one thing you can be sure of when you buy one of our printed organic t-shirts, is that it was screen printed by hand in our own little printshop, here in Cardigan Bay.

Using an old-fashioned carousel, silk mesh screens and a bit of elbow grease, Tomos prints each and every one of them with the same level of skill, craftsmanship and respect for the end product as they deserve.

That ticks every box for me. Local, hand-made, and I even know the name of the person making my t-shirt. In fact, Howies go one step further. When I order a t-shirt I get an e-mail telling me when Tomos will be printing it. So I’m kept in touch, and I’m made to feel that I’m important to the company – and to Tomos. I’m a very happy customer.

But what about a slightly larger scale? We’ve all heard of Boden. One of the things I remember from the early Boden catalogues was the little bit of irreverent description on every page. Maybe it was about the clothes, maybe it was about the model. But it made me feel I was being spoken to directly, that I wasn’t dealing with a faceless, distant organisation.

Did it work? Well, according to Wiki Johnnie Boden, who founded the company in 1991, is now worth £300m. So I think that’s a ‘yes.’

More and more of your business is going to be done online. Whether you like it or not your online presence – and the way you interact with people online – will become increasingly important. But if you’re going to be successful, you’ll need to make it – and keep it – personal. Use your ‘About’ page to tell your story: not to list how wonderful you are. And if you’re not in the centre of York, Leeds or some other major city it doesn’t matter – as the Howies site shows, you can turn it into a positive advantage.

People still want to buy from people they know, like and trust. But these days, ‘know’ may appear in inverted commas: use your online presence to make sure that people like and trust you and you can build a significant business.