Peanuts, Monkeys and Frozen Custard


Let’s consider one of the major global economic indices. Not the FT-SE 100, the Dow Jones or the Chinese Purchasing Managers’ Index: let’s consider sales of McDonald’s burgers.

2014 was a disastrous year for McDonald’s: it was dogged by scandals and sales fell around the world. “The best thing about 2014 for McDonald’s is that it’s over,” said entrepreneur.com. But worse was to follow with the Wall Street Journal reporting that same-store sales were down 4% in February.

Meanwhile, consider Shake Shack. You may not have heard of Shake Shack. You will. It’s just had a ridiculously successful debut on Wall Street, valuing the chain of 63 outlets at over $1bn and raising more than $100m for future expansion. Two things struck me as I was reading about Shake Shack: first of all customers spend significantly more than the industry average and secondly, they’re committed to paying wages which are also well above the industry average. Could the two be related? Of course they could.

If you look at chains such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s in the US the emphasis is on speed and price. The average meal may cost as little as $5, with virtually all the food prepared off-site: workers then ‘assemble the ingredients.’ Recently this sector has been losing out – as McDonald’s sales testify – to the ‘fast casual’ chains, where the emphasis is on fresher food that is prepared on site: quality and sustainability are far more important than price.

This changed emphasis is crucial to the ‘millennials’ – the 80m strong consumer base that every marketer is desperate to reach. The change in emphasis also means that higher quality staff are required – and hence the higher wages paid by Shake Shack and another operation you’re going to hear about, the splendidly named Moo Cluck Moo.

Paying higher wages “is the right thing to do,” according to Bryan Parker, co-founder of Moo Cluck Moo. “It empowers our people, we don’t have to babysit our staff and we have low turnover as a result.”

Is there a lesson for us in this? Emphatically, yes.

You’re building your business. You can’t do it all alone – so you need to build a great team. And we’ve all been there. It is hugely tempting to look at the cost of wages at the end of every month and think you could save some money. Increasingly, I think that mindset will be positively damaging to your business.

If there’s one absolute fact I see as I deal with the members of TAB York and other clients it’s this: talented people are becoming increasingly hard to find. If you’ve got one – or better yet, if you have a team of them – then you need to do all you can to keep them, develop them and motivate them. And skimping on wages doesn’t achieve any of those three.

Bear something else in mind: talented people are not only hard to find, they’re expensive to replace. What’s it cost to recruit, train and ‘bed in’ a new person? My rough rule of thumb in industry used to be a year’s salary. And if you’re the owner of an SME the cost of your time may push it even higher than that.

Nope. Good, talented, hard-working and loyal staff are priceless. If you’re going to reach your goals, they’re the people that will be with you on the journey. Being afraid – or unwilling – to pay them what they’re worth is the falsest of false economies.

52% of fast food workers in the US earn wages that are below the poverty line. Shake Shack pays its staff in New York a starting salary of $10 an hour: a 25% increase on the State minimum wage. “We believe this enables us to attract a higher calibre employee and this translates directly to a better guest service,” the firm said when it floated. It translates to a better bottom line as well. It’s a lesson you can’t ignore.

…And I won’t be ignoring Shake Shack next time I’m in the States. A Smoke Shack burger, fries, Shackmeister beer – and obviously, frozen custard to finish it off!

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Always Deliver what your Brand Promises


Richard Branson may not be everyone’s cup of tea – but you can’t deny that he’s been successful. Employing 60,000 people doesn’t happen by accident.

Neither does building one of the most recognisable brands on the planet. From a record business started in the crypt of a church Virgin now ranks right up there with Coca Cola, Red Bull and McDonald’s

Whatever the size of your business – one man band or multi-national – we’ve all got a brand. And it very quickly will become one of your most important business assets. (If you’d like a short, almost ‘Dummies,’ guide to branding this article is useful.)

So what is your brand? Based on all the companies I’ve worked with and for I’d define it this way:

Your brand is a consistent set of values, standards, qualities and experiences that you deliver every time you’re in contact with a client or customer.

The key word I’d pick out is ‘consistent.’ A brand isn’t something you turn on and off: the customer needs to know what to expect and have it consistently delivered every time they interact with your business. You may not like McDonald’s – but you have to agree they deliver a consistent product and experience.

Back to Sir Richard, and I was reading an article in the Guardian that inspired this post. ‘Never do anything that discredits your brand’ was the headline.

I couldn’t agree more. Your brand is exactly like trust: it takes a lifetime to build and you can destroy it – or do it serious damage – in a few seconds. Want evidence? The absolute avalanche of negative publicity DHL have managed to accrue with their ridiculous ‘like our Facebook page so you can send a get well message to Jules Bianchi.’

One of my favourite quotes about branding is from Jeff Bezos of Amazon: Your brand is formed primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but by what your company does. Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

DHL made a serious, tasteless mistake. A quick visit to Twitter will be telling their senior executives exactly what people are saying about them when they’re not in the room. FedEx must be rubbing their hands together. But as Richard Branson points out in the article, having a brand doesn’t mean you can’t take risks and make mistakes.

People in the UK love a trier – we’ve a long tradition of supporting the underdog and so much of the Virgin story is based around that: the small company trying to give the better service the big boys are denying you.

So yes, you can take a risk with your brand. But it’s like life: it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. If you do make a mistake – if you’re trying to cross the Atlantic and you sink 100 miles offshore – be open about it. Pick yourself up and go again. As Branson says, “If we’d succeeded the first time, people might have said ‘so what?’”

In many ways a bigger challenge for the owner of an SME is getting your team to buy into your brand. How do you get them – as we said at Guinness – to ‘bleed black?’ You won’t be surprised to hear that communication is the key, and I’ll look at that in a future post. Just as everyone is part of the marketing department, so everyone is part of the brand.

I’ll finish with the one more key message on branding: as Jeff Bezos put it, on your brand being what your company does.

Amazon has had its fair share of negative publicity lately, but I continue to buy books and a lot of other things from them. Why? Because they always deliver. It’s why my wife buys clothes from Next. Because if you order on Tuesday, they’re there on Wednesday. Consistently and remorselessly – and when a company delivers like that, it’s almost impossible to go somewhere else.

200 Not Out…


Good lunch, Blowers?

My dear old thing. Absolutely splendid! And it will be Kulasekera to start us off, bowling from the Kirkstall Lane end. Reid prods the pitch, has a look round the field, takes guard. In he comes. Up to the wicket… And there it is! Another one to his total, taking him to 200 not out…

A great knock, Blowers. Really consistent blogging. But it’s been a while coming. How long’s it taken him exactly?

Malcolm? You’ll have all the figures…

He started on Friday June 29th, 2010. So a little under four years. Three years and fifty one weeks to be precise.

So he’s got them all in singles? One blog a week?

One blog every week. Except for the drinks breaks in August and at Christmas.

Sorry, a little bit of artistic licence – inspired by the fact that I’m at Headingley today to watch the test match. But here we are: blog no. 200 – something which I find frankly astonishing.

As ‘Malcolm’ confirmed, I started the blog in June 2010. At the time I had no real idea how long it was going to run for – but had you said to me, ‘You’ll need to write 200 of these’ I’d have said there was no chance. Fifty seemed a highly optimistic estimate.

What have I learned along the way? Not just about blogging, but about business – lessons that can be applied to the blog and to business in general. There are probably five key points:

Consistency and persistency pay. The internet is littered with abandoned blogs – the last post 18 months ago, tumbleweed blowing gently across the website. So being able to demonstrate a track record stretching back four years is impressive. It says to a potential client, ‘Look no further: here’s the evidence. If I say I’m going to deliver I will deliver.’

One bite at a time may be a cliché, but it’s true. As I’ve said above, if you’d told me at the beginning I’d have written over 130,000 words – well over the length of the average paperback – I’d have shaken my head and worried about your medication. But here we are – and publishing by nine o’clock every Friday morning is now as much a part of me as brushing my teeth every morning. It’s just something I do.

‘Creatives’ are awesome. We’ve all done it at some time or other – looked at the creative sector and thought, ‘it’s not real work.’ May I here and now offer an apology to any web designer, coder, copywriter, photographer or any other member of the creative sector reading this blog? Writing the blog every week is hard work. As the old saying goes: Writing is easy. You just stare at a blank sheet of paper until your forehead starts to bleed.

You can’t measure everything. ‘Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely.’ And, of course, ‘if you can measure it, you can manage it.’ But one thing the blog has taught me is that something you can’t always measure can still be a very effective business tool. So I use a mixture of analytical and anecdotal evidence when I judge the success of my blog – and increasingly, I think that’s the way it will be with all our social media marketing efforts. Yes, I know how many clients I have as a direct result of the blog. But the blog has also given me authority, credibility and – as above – convinced people that I can and do deliver. How much has that been worth? Strictly speaking, I’ll never know – but I can’t now imagine my business without the blog.

…Because it’s all about engagement. Put simply, you can never have too much of it. Not all my blog interaction is on the website; I get texts, emails, phone calls and have conversations every week about what I’ve published – which is exactly as it should be with social media. If the blog triggers a conversation that I wouldn’t otherwise have had – well, that’s the MasterCard moment: priceless.

It looks like he’s determined to carry on, Blowers.

It certainly looks that way. So there’ll be another one along next week.

We might as well have a slice of this cake while we wait.

My dear old thing! I thought you’d never ask…

Passion Changes Everything


Pas-sion [pash-un]

Noun

  1. Any powerful or compelling feeling, such as love or hate
  2. Strong amorous feeling of love
  3. Strong sexual desire. A person to whom one feels strong love or sexual desire.

(Calm down, ladies and gentlemen. It’s 8 o’clock on Friday morning. You’ll have to keep a lid on number three for a while. Besides, there’s another noun to consider…)

Groundhog Day

Noun

  • (in North America) 2nd February, when the groundhog is said to come out of its hole at the end of hibernation. If the animal sees its shadow – if the weather is sunny – it goes back into its hole, which portends six more weeks of winter weather.
  • A situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way

On the face of it, passion and Groundhog Day have nothing in common. We all know both feelings – and they couldn’t be more different. But to me they’re two concepts that sum up exactly what running your own business is all about.

LinkedIn recently sent me a ‘must-read.’ Like most people ‘must read’ for me means ‘would quite like to read it but don’t have time so I’ll try and come back to it later but I know I never will.’ This one was different though – the title was ‘Do What You Love’ is Horrible Advice. As that’s the diametric opposite of what I believe I simply had to click through – and came to this article.

Its basic premise is simple: people will rarely pay you for what you’re passionate about. Starting a business based on a passion, “has probably resulted in more failed businesses than all the recessions combined.” What you have to do is find a business – or a career – that is commercially viable. You work at that business/job and as you build competence and ultimately expertise then the passion will eventually come.

“Passion,” it said, “Is not something that you follow; passion is something that will follow you as you put in the hard work.”

That’s the basic premise – and to that basic premise, I say…

Well, I can’t say, because a guiding principle of this blog is that I don’t swear and I try not to be offensive.

But it’s nonsense. Absolute nonsense.

One of the things I love about what I do is spending my days with people who are absolutely passionate about what they do. They’re passionate about their businesses, they’re passionate about delivering on their promises and they’re passionate about excellence. How can I not love what I do?

(For the living embodiment of those three qualities may I commend Supervet on Channel 4 to you? If you want to see someone whose every working moment is underscored by passion, look no further than Noel Fitzpatrick.)

One thing I will absolutely guarantee: if you go into business purely to make money – if you’re not passionate about what you do and you’re not passionate about making a difference for your clients or customers – then you will not succeed. Because make no mistake, we all have Groundhog Days. We all roll out of bed some mornings and think, ‘Oh no, another damn meeting with X today.’ Passion is what pulls you through Groundhog Day. Passion is what makes the ‘jam tomorrow’ principle I wrote about last week possible.

Start a business or a career without passion and what happens? You end up echoing the words of Thoreau: “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” You end up sitting in a traffic jam on the ring road thinking, ‘there has to be something better than this.’

Well there is. It’s running your own business. And it’s your passion that will make your business succeed.

Promises, Promises…


…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.

I’ll pick you up from school. We’ll get something to eat then we’ll go swimming.

We’ll have it done by Friday. I’ll e-mail you the link then I’ll give you a ring and we can chat through it.

A promise to your spouse: a promise to your child and a promise to a client. Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t see any difference between the three of them.

I’ve often quoted from the late Stephen Covey in this blog. Here’s one that I keep coming back to time after time: ‘Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.’

In the old days a man’s word was his bond. John D Rockefeller gave us the archetypal quotation: ‘I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond, that character – not wealth or power or position – is of supreme worth.’

Well goodness me, didn’t that become an unfashionable notion? ‘Greed is good’ as Gordon Gekko cheerfully reminded us, and if breaking your promise was what you do had to do, well… it was the other guy’s stupid fault for thinking he could rely on a handshake. No contract? No non-disclosure agreement? Whadda they teach ’em in business school these days?

As I say, call me old-fashioned…

Two weeks ago I was at a networking lunch – which was fine, except that I felt dreadful. A summer cold, add in a liberal sprinkling of hay fever and Ed wasn’t a happy boy. Should I go to the lunch? I really did feel awful; I didn’t want to pass my germs on to other people and I didn’t want other people there studiously avoiding me and muttering ‘why doesn’t he stay at home instead of infecting everyone else?’

Except that I had been specifically invited by a good friend of mine. She’d absolutely have understood if I’d phoned and said I was ill, but I couldn’t do that. No, I hadn’t said, ‘I promise to be there.’ But I had said, ‘Thanks, that would be great. I’ll look forward to it.’

So I had a moral obligation to a friend and I wasn’t going to break it.

One of the first – and most important – business lessons I learned was from Frank, my manager at Diageo. “It’s simple, Ed,” he said. “Do what you say you’re going to do. That’s how you build trust.”

It’s a lesson that’s stuck with me. Doing what you say you’re going to do differentiates the people that are in it for the long haul. So I’ll regularly start e-mails with ‘as promised’ or ‘as we discussed’ because I committed to doing something (however small) at a 1-2-1 meeting or when I met someone. I want to make the point that I’m delivering on my promise – that if I say I’ll do something then it will get done.

A key part of this is saying ‘no’ – something we’ve covered in previous editions of the blog. You simply cannot do everything people ask you to do. Over the past couple of years I’ve turned down some really attractive opportunities. Why? Because I couldn’t do them and keep all my existing commitments and promises – not least to my wife and children.

Keeping your word and delivering what you say you’ll deliver costs you nothing. If you want to look at it in purely business terms keeping promises is one of the best investments you can ever make. For me it runs deeper than that – doing what I say I’ll do is just part of who I am, whether I’m with my wife, my children or the members of a Board.

…And I’m certain that every Board member reading this blog would say the same: working with people like that on a daily basis is a large part of what makes my job so rewarding.

But I must end with an apology. If you were at a networking lunch a couple of weeks ago and now have an evil summer cold, yes, you probably did catch it from me. I’m sorry – but as you’ve seen, I simply had to be there…

Five Lessons from the Cutting Room


Flashback a few weeks to a conversation I dismissed at the time, largely because it was about haircuts. And haircuts have nothing to teach us about business. Sit down, wait your turn, pick up FHM and realise you’re getting old…

Anyway, one of my friends was talking and I’m ashamed to say I was only half listening…

So I’ve been going to Lauren’s for nearly twenty years. Ever since I first had to take Tom. And over the years I watch her build a really good business. Effectively she’s the only barber in town. And she’s bright, she’s cheerful, everyone likes her. The business goes from strength to strength. She even opens another shop. And of course, Lauren’s the only one that I let cut my hair.

But I’m getting busier – I’ve barely time to get my hair cut. I go to one shop, Lauren’s not there. I go to the other, she’s gone home. Then I’m in London on business. Thirty minutes spare. I feel like I’m being unfaithful but I nip into some Greek place. Three times the price but you know what? A lot better than Lauren’s. Another thing, suddenly she’s not the only barber in town. There’s a trendy new one in the high street. A Turkish barbers two hundred yards from Lauren’s front door…

And then I need to take Ben, my youngest. I text Lauren – she’s at the main shop. But when we turn up she’s not there. Two rent-a-chairs with the personality of fridge magnets. One of them cuts Ben’s hair in silence. I decide I can wait – maybe until I go to London again. Or maybe I’ll try that new one…

As I say, I didn’t pay too much attention at the time. I dimly registered it was about hair and it wasn’t relevant to me because I always went to the same place. Carlo’s a friend of mine, Megan cuts my hair every time, she does Dan and Rory as well and that’s the natural order of things.

And then chaos. Moral dilemma! Megan leaves. She sets up on her own. What do I do? I really like Carlo. I’ve gone there for years. There’s loyalty. But there’s also only one person I want to cut my hair.

Now it’s my turn to feel unfaithful. After much soul searching – and looking into the mirror picturing a different haircut – I follow Megan.

It’s at this point that the previous conversation comes back to me. Because there are some really important business lessons here.

  • No matter how long you’ve been established or how long they’ve been customers you can never take them for granted. Even after 15 years you still have to give your very best. Lauren’s standards have slipped, and suddenly previously-loyal customers are voting with their feet.
  • For a business based on a personal service, goodwill – and the value of your business – is based almost solely on the owner. What do you sell when you sell a business like Lauren’s? Goodwill. Not much else. So to retain loyalty, the customers must see you.
  • If the business is based to some extent on your personality then your personality always has to be on show – and that’s tough. If you’re a barber with your own business you’re on show and performing – and on your feet – eight hours a day.
  • Just because you’re the only barber in town this week it doesn’t mean you’ll always be the only barber in town. If you’re successful – whatever business you’re in – you’ll attract competition.
  • Last lesson – look after the future customers. Is my pal’s son going back to Lauren’s when he’s not driven there by his Dad? Even at 15, he’s old enough to tell the difference between good customer service and bad. It’s the same in business – the purchasing manager won’t always be the purchasing manager. Take the time to strengthen the relationship between your business and your customers by knowing more people than the ones you need to deal with right now.

Anyway, time to pop into the butcher’s to get the meat. And to give the conversation my full attention…

Giving It All Away


Virtually everyone reading this blog will have heard the term ‘content marketing.’ Put simply, it’s attracting and retaining customers or clients by creating and/or curating valuable and useful content.

It’s giving your customers something of value – letting them know that you care and that you’re thinking of them. You can do this through your website, your blog and/or any amount of social media channels – from the sober and serious LinkedIn to 140 characters on Twitter.

Content marketing is the way the world is moving: it’s effective, it’s efficient and best of all, it’s very often free. Unless you take your time into account that is…

This blog is a form of content marketing – and yes, it’s time consuming. But I like to think that it’s useful and I am absolutely certain that over the nearly-four years I’ve been writing, the blog has both attracted new clients and developed and strengthened my relationship with existing ones.

As with any form of content marketing, the blog gives away a lot of information. I can’t think of a subject relevant to business that I haven’t covered in the four years and in total there are well over 100,000 words – plus all the insights and extra information from your comments…

All that has been for free. But this is Yorkshire. Should I have given away that much information? After all: if ivver tha does owt fer nowt, allus do it fer thissen.

Sadly, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and Gmail the old Yorkshire adage no longer applies…

I am more convinced than ever that creating, curating and distributing free content is one of the fundamental building blocks of a business and of good relationships with your clients and potential clients. Here are just a few reasons:

  • Free content attracts your target audience. Anyone creating content should have a picture in their mind of the exact target audience they’re aiming for. I won’t embarrass them, but when I write this blog there are a dozen TAB members – and now one potential member – that I keep in mind.
  • Free content gets your ideas and views shared. That’s what you want. If people share your content, re-tweet it, send the link to their friends, that’s exactly what you want. The more people who see what you’ve written the better – and that will happen with good content. As I said last week, you never know who’s there, you never who’s listening – and you never know who’s reading either.
  • Free content establishes your authority. I’ve constantly been astonished by the number of people who’ve said, ‘Oh yes, I read your blog.’ This is one of those instances where you have to rely on the anecdotal evidence, not the analytical. You can’t measure authority, but you do know when you’ve established it.
  • Consistent content proves that you can deliver. For me, this is one of the huge advantages of blogging on a regular basis. If someone says, ‘I’ve read your blog every week for two years’ I don’t need to convince them that I’ll deliver consistently. They’ve already seen the proof.
  • They also know (hopefully!) that I’m a nice guy. That’s another advantage of content – you can use it to establish your personality. You can also use it to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

So back to the earlier question. Do I give away too much content? Is that something you should worry about if you’re currently creating content, or planning to start?

No, it isn’t.

People appreciate free content. But they will always pay for the content and information that is specific to them – that answers the questions they want answering. Free content will establish your authority, help you connect with an audience and prove you’d be a good person to deal with – but don’t worry, you’ll still get paid for the nitty-gritty.

To hark back to blog no. 99, Make Good Art – use free content to show people what it is that only you do best: and then they’ll pay you for doing it.

You Never Get a Second Chance – to Make a Bad Impression


As the old cliché goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But increasingly there’s an alternative ending for that saying: you never get a second chance to make a bad impression.

There’s many a morning that I find myself in York ridiculously early and – like everyone else these days – I’m soon carrying a cup of coffee. Also like everyone else, I’m a creature of habit – so I always go to the same place for my coffee. It’s near the car park and the latte’s not bad. Not great, you understand, but not bad.

And there’s the rub, as that well known management consultant Hamlet would put it. If you sell coffee, you are not short of competition. Move 50 yards to your right or left on any high street, or walk across the road, and there’s an alternative. In fact, any reasonably intelligent visitor from outer space who landed in our nation’s capital could only come to one logical conclusion: the entire economy of the UK is based on lattes, cappuccinos and whatever a double mocha grande is…

Back to the other morning. There I am in York buying my coffee; handing over my £2.10 – clearly I’ve lived in Yorkshire long enough now because there’s part of me that still can’t come to terms with paying more than two quid for a cup of coffee.

So it has to be good.

And it wasn’t.

I’m prepared to accept 6/10 at 7:30 in the morning. I’m not prepared to accept 3/10, which is what this particular latte was. And I could tell as they were making it: they simply didn’t pay attention.

Two days later I deserted. I was back in York, I bought another coffee. But I’d gone 50 yards up the road. I wasn’t prepared to risk another three.

I felt slightly bad about this seemingly trivial decision. But then I talked to a couple of friends and they said much the same. And it struck me that there was an important business lesson in the story.

I think we’re becoming an increasingly impatient society. I’m not saying that’s a good thing: but I am saying it’s a fact. Whatever we want, we want it now. Whatever we want to know, Google tells us.

And we’re becoming less tolerant of things that disappoint us. Even when we’re only spending a couple of quid, it has to be right. Exactly right.

The lesson for your business is clear: it doesn’t matter whether what you sell or the service you provide costs £2 or £2,000, it has to be right. And it has to be exactly right every time. You have to deliver what your customer or client expects and you have to deliver it remorselessly – because there’s always an alternative.

That’s why I’m such a passionate advocate of doing what only you do best. If you do that thing at which you are truly excellent then a) you’ll always be at the top of your game and b) your business will fun and profitable. And as my old ‘mentor’ Bob Townsend put it, ‘if you’re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing here?’

Decent cup of coffee in hand I’ll be back next week on Valentine’s Day. I repeat, Valentine’s Day. So maybe next time I’m in York I should be focusing on something other than the quality of my coffee…

Drones, PESTs and the Future


The difficult we do at once: the impossible just takes a little longer.

We’ve all seen that message on someone’s website, or tacked up on the wall as we wait in reception.

And we smile to ourselves and think, ‘Yeah, yeah. Cliché alert. Impossible is impossible and let’s not pretend otherwise. Certain things can’t be done and they’re never going to be done.’

And yet here I am carrying my entire music collection in my pocket. Every book in our house wouldn’t even fill a quarter of my Kindle. And I’m just going to have a face to face conversation over a mobile phone…

What was science fiction when I was a child is now part of everyday life. And so are plenty of things that didn’t even make it into the imagination of the science fiction writers.

So I watched this video with some interest. And I showed it to someone else who said, ‘Don’t be stupid, that’s never going to happen.’

If you haven’t time to click the link – and I really suggest you do – it’s from Amazon. And it shows a drone delivering the book you ordered around 30 minutes ago.

Now you might say it’s a remarkably clever marketing ploy by Amazon to release the video on Cyber Monday – the day when we’re all apparently ordering online as if our lives depended on it and last year we Brits spent £10,000 a second.

I’ve been reading a lot about Amazon lately. They’ve received a good deal of negative press over the past few weeks and it was hard not to be swayed as I read this article in the Observer at the weekend – especially as it included one particularly chilling stat from the US.

According to research from the ILSR, shops employ 47 people for every $10m in sales. That figure rises to 52 if you only look at independent retailers. Amazon employs only 14 for every $10m of sales. So, argues the ILSR, Amazon doesn’t create jobs, it destroys them.

But is that really Amazon’s fault? I think they’ve captured a need brilliantly. Let me say here and now that I find the idea of ordering a book and watching it touch down on my patio half an hour later remarkably attractive. I don’t see that as destroying the high street: I see it as consumers’ needs changing. There’s still a place for the high street. But customers now want great products, superb customer service and a willingness to change and adapt.

That’s what I admire in the Amazon/drones story. Someone has looked at the way they deliver products to people, looked at the technological advances and thought, “Why not?”

From time to time I encourage my clients to forsake SWOT and do a PEST analysis instead. If you’ve never come across it, PEST stands for Political – Economic – Social – Technological. In short they’re the changes that might impact on your business – and if I have one message for 2014 it’s ignore PEST at your peril.

I’ve often written that if Amazon does what you do you’re in trouble. Well, if there’s a possibility that Amazon could do what you do, then you’re also in trouble. EBay and the internet meant a boom time for courier companies and the distribution sector. 20 years from now drones could well have wiped them out.

So more than ever in 2014 be aware of the world and the way it’s changing. For once, the cliché is right – these days, the impossible does just take a little longer. And if you don’t do the impossible, your competitors will.

Robert Kennedy wasn’t talking about running an SME in North Yorkshire, but in 2014 we’ll all need to remember his words:

There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why… I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?

Do Manners Maketh Money?


“There’s no need to hold the door open for me, Ed,” she said. “I don’t need a man to do that.” 45, brisk, efficient, successful, own business. No, she didn’t need a man to hold the door open for her. No, she didn’t need a man to do anything for her.

But I held the door open anyway, because that’s what I do.

Before you accuse me of being a sexist pig, let me say that I hold the door open for men as well. It seems to be one of the little courtesies that move life along; that help us all to have a slightly better day.

So manners have been much on my mind of late. Then again, when you have two boys, they’re never far from your mind.

“Sit up straight, Ed. Don’t put your elbows on the table.” “Stand up straight, Ed. And speak nicely. This is a good friend of mine.”

I can still hear my father’s voice. We’re a shade more relaxed with Dan and Rory – especially re the elbows on the table (where I might be a little guilty myself…) But mobile phones at mealtimes? Dipping out of a family meal to watch something on the TV? Not now: not ever.

And obviously, I hope the boys will learn from my example – and hold the door open for a lady.

So that’s my splendidly old-fashioned introduction. The question is, does it matter in the business world? In the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world of modern business, do good manners matter any more? Or do they just get in the way? After all, if you hold the door open for a lady she’ll get there before you…

I won’t even bother putting two sides of the argument as you can guess exactly where I stand. Yes, manners matter at work – and increasingly studies are showing that polite companies are profitable companies. As veteran management guru Peter Drucker puts it, “Good manners are the lubricant of an organisation.”

And yet stories and stats about bad manners in the workplace are everywhere. The city of Anaheim in California – the home of Disney no less – is laying on courses for cabbies, hotel staff and service workers. And closer to home we can all point to companies that have lost our business simply because one of their staff was just plain rude.

We’re becoming a more casual society and this seems to be reflected in workplace behaviour. In particular, Drucker identifies young, highly intelligent people as being lacking in social skills. Anyone who’s ever been on the end of a teenager’s raised eyebrows and the word ‘duh’ will know what he means.

As Drucker points out, many managers and business owners fail to grasp how crucial civility is in achieving the best results from this highly talented group. “Bright people – especially young, bright people – often do not understand it,” Drucker wrote. “If analysis shows that someone’s brilliant work fails again and again as soon as cooperation from others is required, it probably indicates a lack of courtesy – a lack of manners.”

As I’ve written many times, you can have the most brilliant person in the world working for you, but if he can’t get on with the people around him then in the long run he’ll be a negative influence.

So how do you improve courtesy in your business? The simple answer is by example. Yes, it’s difficult running a business and yes there’s more than enough stress and pressure. But you’re aiming for ‘grace under pressure’ as Hemingway defined it.

And next week I’ll look at that subject – ways to perform at your optimum when you’re under maximum pressure. But in the meantime there’s only one way to finish this week – by saying thank you for reading the blog, and wishing you a perfect weekend.