Marks out of Ten


Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and sixpence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds, ought and six, result misery.

We’re all familiar with Mr Micawber’s quote – and while inflation may have changed the numbers, the essential truth of Charles Dickens’ words can never be challenged. Translate them into business and they’re the reason you monitor your cash flow, the reason you check your KPIs and the reason you keep a lid on the expenses.

Yes, you can get away with spending that extra shilling in the short term, but annual expenditure of twenty pounds, ought and sixpence catches up with you in the end. ‘The mills of the Gods grind exceeding slow,’ Sextus Empiricus pointed out in the 3rd Century, ‘But they grind exceeding fine.’

Make no mistake, the result of that extra shilling of expenditure is misery. There is nothing that drags you down – mentally and physically – like staring at the cash flow every night, realising it just doesn’t add up.

So make sure you don’t spend that extra shilling, and you can forget about Wilkins Micawber, and be happy for the rest of your business career.

Or maybe not…

…Because I think there are other areas of business life where the ‘Micawber deficit’ can have a significant impact on your happiness. It’s not just the cash flow.

Let me turn for a moment from Micawber to Maslow – and his hierarchy of needs. Right at the top of the pyramid is self-actualization: as Maslow put it, “what a man can be, he must be.”

Nowhere is this more true than in business. And it takes me right back to last week’s post and the decision to ‘move to the next level.’ If you feel you can do it, you have to do it. If you don’t, you’ll end up frustrated and disappointed – and ultimately, a danger to your business.

We’ve had a recent innovation at TAB York. Before the meeting starts I ask every member for a ‘mark out of ten.’ It’s not quite ‘life, the universe and everything,’ but it is an indication of how they’re feeling – about life and business.

Supposing I were to take that one stage further – and ask the board members to rate their own performance over the last month: to give themselves a mark out of ten?

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The actual mark wouldn’t matter: one man’s eight is another woman’s six. But in the context of this blog, one thing emphatically would matter. We all have minimum standards for ourselves. Whether that’s a six or an eight is immaterial. We all have a number that reflects the minimum level of performance that’s acceptable – that in Maslow’s terminology, confirms our self-actualisation.

To miss that number on a consistent basis – to regularly deliver less than your best – is a recipe for long-term unhappiness. As Mr Micawber might have said:

Monthly target eight, monthly average eight point one, result happiness. Monthly target eight, monthly average seven point nine, result misery.

There are few worse feelings than performing below the level you’re capable of: do that consistently, and it starts to eat into you. And suddenly ‘could have, should have, would have’ are rearing their ugly heads…

KPIs and the cash flow are crucial to the health of your business: but monitoring the KPI that’s your own performance is every bit as important.

Mention of KPIs takes me back to last week’s post: to cricket, a sport which is most emphatically measured in KPIs. Bluntly, I’m not sure whether to order a slice of humble pie or send an invoice…

You may recall that I was mildly critical of Joseph Edward Root. I wonder if he really wants to be one of the game’s greats or merely very, very good. Let’s see if he makes the decision [to move to the next level] over the next five days…

Joe Root – obviously having read the blog on the Friday morning – responded with 254 in the first innings and the highest aggregate runs ever scored by a batsman at Old Trafford.

So don’t ever tell me the blog doesn’t work! And if you’d like me to be mildly critical of your football team as the season approaches, simply send a large cheque to ‘Reid Sports Predictions.’ I’ll do the rest…

I’m now off on holiday for a week. The blog will be back, relaxed and refreshed on August 12th. And I’ll be back determined to deliver at least 8.1 to all my members through the rest of the year.

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The Next Level


I was watching the test match at the weekend. Specifically, I was watching Joe Root as – for the second time in the match – he got out playing a shot he emphatically shouldn’t have played.

Joe Root is one of the most naturally talented batsmen I’ve seen – probably the most talented if you only consider England players. And in his short career, he’s not been short of accolades. ‘Could be the best we’ve ever seen.’ ‘He’ll break every record there is.’

But I wonder…

Because as I watched Root casually swat a long hop from Rahat Ali into the grateful hands of Yasir Shah, I wondered if he really wanted to be one of the game’s greats. Or merely very, very good.

Whatever sport you watch, there are people with incredible natural talent. But talent doesn’t always translate into the record books. And everyone reading this blog has watched a sporting event and thought, ‘Why is this person not playing/competing at a higher level?’

Not for the first time, I was struck by the ever-present parallels between sport and business. There are some incredibly talented entrepreneurs out there: some of them right at the top of the tree – but some of them working ‘a long way below their pay grade.’

There are others who may not have been the sharpest tool in the box. But they’ve kept pushing themselves, kept learning, kept setting new targets.

I’ve written many times that the progression of a business is never a straight line. It’s never a graph going inexorably upwards. More often than not it’s a series of plateaus. Reach a level, consolidate, take the next step, reach a new level, consolidate…

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The more time I spend working with entrepreneurs, the more I think it’s the same for them. Reach a certain level – quite possibly the level that was the original goal – there’s a period of consolidation, and then one morning the light bulb goes on again: ‘I’m capable of more than this. I can go to the next level.’

Not for one minute am I saying that you must move to the next level. Goodness knows, no-one has written the phrase work/life balance more than me. But equally, you don’t want to watch the sun go down one day thinking, “If only…”

And my experience of working with entrepreneurs tells me that once the light bulb has gone on, you have to act. Otherwise frustration and boredom set in – and as I’ve written previously, they are few more dangerous forces than a bored entrepreneur…

Moving to the next level is one of the key areas where TAB can help. Yes, we’ll always make sure that your work/life balance stays well and truly balanced. But once you’ve decided to make that move, the support of your peers becomes invaluable – both consciously and subconsciously.

Clearly your fellow board members can help: there’s almost certain to be someone around the table who’s made the same decision: who’s asked themselves the same questions you’re now asking.

And rest assured I’ll do everything in my power to help. There’ll come a day when I’m watching the sun go down: rest assured that I have no intention of letting my mind drift back to any TAB York members and thinking ‘if only…’

But it’s the subconscious side that fascinates me…

I’ve seen this happen several times.

Someone around the TAB table makes a major announcement. They’ve clearly moved to a different level.

Across the table an expression changes. There’s a momentary raising of the eyebrows. Then the eyes narrow. The focus intensifies. The lightbulb goes on. ‘Good’ is no longer good enough. An entrepreneur has made the decision to move to the next level.

Let’s see if an England batsman makes the same decision over the next five days…

The Only Certainty is Uncertainty


From the Daily Mail: 24th June 2017

“What on earth were we worried about?” That was the triumphant cry from Prime Minister Michael Gove yesterday as he celebrated ‘Independence Day’ – the first anniversary of the UK’s historic decision to leave the European Union. “What do we see now?” he asked to loud cheers on the Conservative benches. “The pound riding high, the stock market at a record level, small firms liberated from the shackles of Brussels’ red tape and free to recruit. Foreign firms rushing to invest in ‘the Switzerland of Northern Europe.’ The motion to make June 23rd a national holiday was passed by a majority of 378, with only the SNP and the handful of Labour MPs remaining after last month’s general election voting against. Celebrating with a pint of Late Knights’ Worm Catcher, Lord Farage said it was “a wonderful day for ordinary British people.”

From the Guardian: 24th June 2017

“I propose these measures to the House with a heavy heart,” said Chancellor of the Exchequer Nicola Sturgeon as she announced more tax rises and further austerity measures in her second emergency Budget of the year. “Exactly twelve months has passed, Mr Speaker, since we took the ridiculous and xenophobic decision to leave the EU. We now see the pound approaching parity with the dollar, the stock market plunging and unemployment rocketing.” Prime Minster Dan Jarvis – who seems to have aged ten years in the six months since the SNP/Labour coalition came to power – looked on with a pained expression. He is back in Brussels tomorrow as he tries to negotiate Britain’s re-entry to the EU, but must know that Angela Merkel and the German bankers will make the UK pay a heavy price.

Two scenarios, each equally unlikely.

But this time last week anyone predicting a lame-duck Prime Minister, an even lamer Leader of the Opposition and thirty shadow cabinet resignations in one day would have been advised to increase their medication.

Given the outcome of the Referendum – and the consequent fall-out – we can say goodbye to any hint of certainty for the next few weeks, and possibly for a good deal longer.

…Which is going to make running your SME extremely difficult. Big companies will be reluctant to commit to orders, fuel costs will increase as the pound falls against the dollar and – I suspect – some banks are going to be unwilling to lend as they watch their own share prices drift south.

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My question last week was, ‘Does Brexit Really Matter?’ I stand by my thesis that five or ten years from now it will not be the most significant factor in the success of your business or your personal life. But in the short term there will be some very difficult questions for owners of SMEs to deal with.

Confidence, costs and the availability of capital will certainly be three of them – but there’s a fourth, highlighted by this article on the BBC website. Will the pool of talent dry up? When you need to hire someone outstanding to drive your business forward, will there be anyone left in the UK? And if there is, will a small business in North Yorkshire be able to compete?

I was talking to a friend of mine on Monday. “My son’s graduated on Friday,” he said. “Stellar degree from a top university. And now he tells me that he’s far more likely to work abroad.”

I suspect that conversation is being repeated up and down the country. And for the owner of a SME it’s a double whammy. Not only might your top talent move abroad, there might not be anyone around to replace them.

Hopefully you’ve now received (and read, obviously!) TAB’s ‘top tips in the light of the Brexit vote.’ One of those tips is simple: reassure your team, especially if you have EU nationals among them. Over the next 12 months the people you work with are going to be more valuable than ever – and more coveted by your competitors.

As everyone knows, I voted Remain. But living and voting in a democracy means you don’t always get the result you want. Now we have to get on with it. I hope – and believe – that there’ll be goodwill on both sides and that the sensible politicians in the UK and the EU will hold sway. But in the short term, the waters will be choppy. One captain may have resigned: those of us running SMEs don’t have that option. We’ll get through it – but a key part of that will be protecting, nurturing and retaining our teams.

5 Business Lessons from your Fitbit


I don’t – yet – have a Fitbit. But I’ve about a dozen friends, colleagues and clients currently sporting the blue/orange/black (and now pink) wristbands. Without exception, they’re fans. And in a few cases they’re more than fans: the light of religious conviction burns in their eyes.

It’s phenomenal, Ed. The wife gave me one for Christmas. Thought I could never do 10,000 steps a day. Now, I can’t stop. I got my 500 mile badge the other day. 500 miles! Since Christmas! That’s like walking from York to John o’Groats. And I’ve climbed enough flights of stairs to reach the cruising altitude of a jumbo jet…

As I said, the light of religious conviction: and the enthusiasm that goes with it…

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But are there any business lessons in having a Fitbit? Yes, if it helps you lose weight that’s brilliant. If you’re physically fit then your performance at work is going to improve: you’ll have more energy and more focus. But does the Fitbit have any specific business messages? The more I talk to friends and colleagues, the more I think it does…

Daily Targets Work – and they build into successful weeks and months

You’re supposed to do 10,000 steps a day. At first I didn’t see how I could do it. Then I realised I’d done 6,000 without even trying. A few changes, a walk at lunchtime and I was there. Now I’m doing my 10,000 a day – and suddenly I’m walking 35 miles a week…

This is fundamental isn’t it? Successful years don’t just happen. They’re made up of successful months, weeks and days. And hitting your targets every single day means that success in the long term is inevitable.

Marginal gains work as well

So I parked my car at the far end of the car park. Made a little detour as I walked to work. Twenty minutes walking at lunchtime instead of staring at a screen… Suddenly I’m easily doing 10,000 steps a day.

I’ve written about marginal gains several times on the blog. Having a Fitbit illustrates that concept perfectly. Everyone I know who manages their 10,000 steps a day has done the same thing – they’ve made a series of small changes which taken together have produced remarkable benefits. Exactly the same principle applies in business. Small savings on your costs, a small increase in your sales calls, a small decrease in the time it takes customers to pay you: none of them hugely significant in isolation – but taken together they’ll make a real difference to your bottom line.

Keep track of your KPIs

Last week I took 74,346 steps: I walked 34.14 miles, climbed 271 floors and burned 19,536 calories.

What are those apart from fitness KPIs? Instantly you know what you’ve done in the week, you know how you compared with last week and you know that if you took in more than 19,536 calories there’s only going to be one result when you step on the scales. Again – it’s an exact parallel with business. Every successful business owner I know measures results: they do it consistently and if they’re off course they take action quickly. But you can’t do that if you don’t know the figures.

Your Fitbit doesn’t accept excuses

It’s merciless, Ed. My Fitbit doesn’t care if it’s raining, snowing, freezing cold, whether I’ve had a hard day or whether York’s been invaded by aliens. If you don’t reach your goal you don’t get one of those little stars and that’s that.

See above: every successful business owner I know measures results – and every unsuccessful business owner makes excuses. It’s like your Physics teacher used to say: “There’s no point cheating. You’re only fooling yourself.” If you’ve missed your targets, you’ve missed your targets. Do that consistently and your business is only going in one direction.

Success is addictive

I cannot conceive of not doing my 10,000 steps a day. Between you and me I’d had a tough day last week. I went to bed at around 9,000 steps. Five minutes later I got out of bed, got dressed and walked to the corner shop. My day’s not complete until my left wrist starts vibrating.

…But hit your targets consistently – achieve the business equivalent of your 10,000 steps a day – and again, your business can only go in one direction. You cannot do anything but succeed.

As I say, I don’t yet own a Fitbit. But some of my friends and board members have achieved spectacular results thanks to the fitness band on their wrist. Hopefully they’ll heed these five lessons – and see it as the business coach on their wrist as well…

Why You Need a Longer To-Do List


We’re into April – and the Blog is approaching its sixth birthday. That’s something close to 300 posts and nearly 200,000 words.

Which three word combination has appeared most frequently? I’ve no way of telling, but I sincerely hope it’s ‘work/life balance.’ But there are three more little words that won’t be far behind: the ones that haunt all of us. Yep, I’m talking about the ‘to-do list.’

However you keep it – on your phone, in Evernote or on a pleasantly retro piece of paper – the to-do list dominates our lives.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the trap we all occasionally fall into – scoring a few quick wins at the bottom while the most important thing on it remains ominously un-ticked. Let’s also ignore the need to prioritise the damn thing and to make sure that ‘life’ is every bit as well represented as ‘work.’

Let’s just look at one thing: the sheer length of your to-do list. And let me now make the vast majority of you splutter on your cornflakes or hurl your coffee at the screen in annoyance.

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Because I’m going to suggest that your to-do list should be longer.

And that if it was, you’d be even more productive…

Let me use a simple example: ‘plan next year.’ Another three little words that will have appeared on all our to-do lists at some point in the not-too-distant past.

But what does ‘plan next year’ really mean…

Once you go to work you realise that ‘plan next year’ contains a series of questions:

  • What do we want to achieve next year?
  • So what are the quarterly targets we need to reach to do this?
  • What does this mean for staffing levels?
  • Do we need to cut costs? Or raise more investment?
  • What advertising and marketing do we need to do?
  • And how are all these plans going to impact on the cash flow?

All these points clearly impact on your to-do list: but suddenly one big task – made even more difficult because it is so vague – can be broken down into a series of small, precise, achievable steps:

  • Decide key targets/goals for next year
  • Determine necessary quarterly targets
  • Review staffing levels in light of targets
  • Plan advertising & marketing strategy for next year
  • Prepare business plan and cash flow forecast
  • Make appointment with bank

There are days when the to-do list fills everyone with dread: but the dread comes not from the length of the list, but from filling it with things we have no chance of achieving. If ‘plan next year’ is on the list with a host of client work and ‘Nativity Play at 2:30’ then you haven’t a hope of doing it. You won’t even start it.

You do have a hope of determining your key goals for next year. Or working backwards to your quarterly targets. What you’ll do by breaking your to-do list down into smaller segments is achieve something – instead of being overwhelmed by the enormity of what’s in front of you.

There are two other reasons for breaking the list down. If you go home at the end of the day and ‘plan next year’ is still on your list it’s going to cause you pain. And it’s going to cause you more pain when you see it again the next morning. But if you go home with your key targets identified and crossed off the list… That’s an entirely different feeling.

Secondly, your to-do list isn’t a wish list: it is – or should be – something that reflects your overall plan for the year or the quarter. And that plan requires specific actions – ‘decide key targets’ – not vague pipedreams like ‘plan next year.’

None of this advice is revolutionary. You’ve almost certainly heard or read it before. After all, it’s only eating the elephant one bite at a time. But we all slip back into bad habits and trust me, this works. It may be counter-intuitive but making your to-do list longer means you’ll ultimately get big things done faster and achieve more. And that’s what we all want…

Looking into Your Future


Here’s a question I sometimes ask myself: am I helping? Or am I changing someone’s life?

Make no mistake, I love helping. I love using my experience and solving problems. I love being able to say, “OK. I understand. Another client had a really similar problem and this worked for her.”

And I love it when someone comes to me and says, “Thanks, Ed. That worked. Problem solved.”

But it goes a long way beyond ‘loving it’ when someone says: “Thank you, Ed. Working with you has made a fundamental difference to my business and my life.”

That doesn’t happen often, but when it does it makes me sing and dance. I’m a little too old to skip down the street, but it conveys the emotion. Outside my wife and my children, it’s the best feeling there is.

And when it happens, I realise something important: solving problems is work that’s rooted in the present. Transforming someone’s life or business is very firmly rooted in the future. It doesn’t come from answering the question: ‘what’s the problem?’ It comes from much deeper questions: ‘What sort of person do you want to be?’ ‘What direction do you want to take your business in?’

As I read recently, it’s the difference between running on a treadmill and running to a destination.

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We all have things that we want to be – or that we want to achieve – in the future. Achieving those goals is going to make a fundamental difference to how we see ourselves five, ten, twenty years down the line.

These goals may or may not be business related: that doesn’t matter to me, because TAB is about getting what you want from your business and your life. What does matter to me is that you make a start on achieving those goals. Right now.

Yes, I know that your to-do list is thirty items long and getting longer. I know you have immediate problems that you need to solve.

But the simple fact is that your to-do list will always have thirty jobs on it. There’ll always be things you need to do right now.

I also know that it’s ridiculous to spend time on something that’s five years away – something on which there’s no immediate return – when you could be working productively on something that’s important today. But if you don’t make a start on those things now, you’ll never make a start.

We all know how fast time goes – and that it goes faster as you get older. My eldest son is nearly 14. It’s around three weeks since I held his hand and took him to nursery. In another couple of weeks he’ll be graduating from university.

So if you don’t make a start on what you want to achieve in 2021 it will be here. And ‘significantly improve my photography,’ ‘write a novel,’ or ‘get myself seriously fit again’ will still be nothing more than entries on your mental bucket list.

That’s my key point: if you want to be truly productive in the long term, you need to spend some time being unproductive in the short term.

Your future self needs to be selfish.

You need to sign up to that photography course, start writing, or take advantage of the light nights and get on your bike. And yes, doing those things may feel totally unproductive now – but in five years’ time they’ll be among the best decisions you ever made.

Tim Ferris and Tony Soprano


Most people reading this blog will have heard of Tim Ferris. Best-selling author of the 4 Hour Work Week, The 4 Hour Chef and The 4 Hour Body. Angel investor in and/or adviser to a host of companies including Facebook, Uber, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Evernote and others…

Ferris has been described by New Yorker Magazine as ‘this generation’s self-help guru’ and as ‘today’s equivalent of Napoleon Hill.’ (Remember him? The author of the first self-help book any of us ever read.)

But Ferris is also accused of manipulating his 5* reviews on Amazon, he’s Wired Magazine’s ‘Greatest Self-Promoter of All Time’ and The 4 Hour Work Week has been described by one reviewer as “A disquieting insight into the world of the 21st Century snake-oil salesman.”

But whatever your view on Tim Ferris, one thing is undeniable. He is hugely quotable. Like anyone who’s quoted extensively, there are plenty of clichés in the collection – but there are also some seriously valid points.

I’ve picked out four (an appropriate number!) which both underline the perennial themes running through this blog, and which are highly relevant as we finally get Christmas out of our systems and focus on our goals for 2016.

Here’s the first one:

For all the most important things, the timing always sucks. The stars will never align and the traffic lights will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.

How many times have I written that – or words to that effect? There’s never a perfect time to get married, have children, quit your job or start your own business. Neither is there a perfect time to expand your business or – ultimately – sell your business. As Ferris says, ‘Just do it and correct course along the way.’

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He’s backed up by that other great business guru of our age – Tony Soprano. “A wrong decision is better than indecision.” Spot on, boss. A wrong decision can be acted upon and corrected. But as Ferris says, indecision takes you and your dreams to your grave.

What we fear most is usually what we most need to do.

A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he’s willing to have.

OK, I’ve cheated slightly by treating these two as one quote: I’ve allowed myself some leeway as they’re so similar.

How many times have you come into the office, looked at your to-do list and seen one job screaming at you? One job that’s metaphorically in 72pt font bold? That’s the job you absolutely need to do – and yes, it may very well involve an uncomfortable conversation.

What’s your to-do list look like two hours later? Fantastic. Loads of jobs crossed out. Except for the one in 72pt bold – the one that would really make a difference to your day/week/month/year. And what was Mr Soprano reading last time I re-watched an old episode? Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.

I often think back to my ‘first big sale.’ “Yes you can, Ed,” my sales manager said to me. ‘No, I can’t,’ I thought. This was a serious client: I’d only been in the job six months. It would be a two hour grilling. Complex, technical questions that I’d struggle to answer.

You know what happened. My competitors were no better than I was. He asked less difficult questions than almost any other client I’d met. I was in and out in no time. “Will you deliver?” “Yes.” “Will you look after me?” “Yes.” We shook hands.

‘Bigger’ never means more difficult or more complex or ‘you’re not worthy.’ It just means ‘bigger.’

Remember – boredom is the enemy, not some abstract ‘failure.’

Over the years I’ve seen so many people running businesses make mistakes because they were bored. Tim Ferris is absolutely right: boredom is the enemy. Now, more than ever, you can’t stand still in business. As the world swirls around you your business has to change and move forward – and you need to be constantly challenged. Beware the temptation to stand still; to think, ‘we’re in a good place, let’s consolidate.’ Boredom will inevitably follow – as will mistakes, both personal and professional.

Fortunately, there’s an antidote. I refer, of course, to your colleagues round the TAB boardroom table. A group of people that will most certainly challenge you, and who’ll give you courage – to do what you fear most, and to go through a few lights that may not be green.

Looking Back at 2015


I see that I opened the last post of 2014 with a link to a Slade video. I’m sorry. Let me make amends. And maybe the abusive e-mails could stop now?

2015-2016

2016 Calender on the red cubes

Last year saw me draw on the shining examples of David Moyes – whoops – and Dave Brailsford, whilst counselling you against listening to Gordon Gekko.

This year I seem to have gone a stage further. I’ve suggested you make your business pitch standing in a hole in the ice; been inspired by the business lessons of a $10,000 bag and a bacon sandwich – and wondered if the world’s leading business guru might be the Pope.

I’ve also – as I wrote two weeks ago – zipped over to Australia for the weekend, for my sister’s 40th birthday party.

That’s a memory I’ll keep for the rest of my life. But the trip was important from a business point of view as well. Not only was it tangible proof that I’d made the right decision when I started TAB York six years ago:

…it was absolute confirmation that running your own business can lead not just to material rewards, but also to something far more precious: the freedom to spend time with the people you love.

That’s the one message I’ll never tire of repeating: running your business isn’t about your business, it’s about your life. And rest assured that I’ll do everything in my power to help you in the coming year – to run a successful business, and to make sure your work/life balance stays well and truly balanced.

At the end of 2014 I wrote that 2015 might be a challenging year:

there are worrying signs for the global economy and the UK isn’t immune to what’s happening in the rest of the world.

Snap. And you don’t have to go far to see the evidence. What is it to Redcar? Fifty miles? A town where the slowdown in the global economy will see a lot of families having a very different Christmas to the one they had last year.

But then, it will always be challenging. Whether it’s the economic uncertainty in China, the uncertainty in Syria or the uncertainty over a possible exit from the EU, there’ll always be challenges. Add in the pace of technological change and you could be forgiven for never making a decision again.

Decisions, though, have to be made. Hopefully your colleagues around the TAB boardroom table will ensure that the vast majority of those you make in the coming year will be the correct ones.

Let me finish – as I always do at this time of year – with some thanks. The team at TAB head office have, as ever, been wonderfully supportive, efficient and hard-working. Neither I nor my TAB colleagues could be anywhere near as successful without them.

The same goes for Tom, Julian, Dave, Nick, Dougie, Graeme, David and all the other TAB franchisees. You’re a group of people who never fail to inspire me. If only you could up your level of banter a little in the coming year…

Closer to home, my thanks to Dan and Rory who have a) kept me thoroughly grounded and b) kept me fit by sending me to the corner shop for cereal on a regular basis. Someone did once tell me how much teenage boys can eat: I didn’t believe it at the time.

As ever, my love and thanks to Davnet, my wife. No one could do what I do without the support of someone special: I count myself very lucky.

Finally, the members of TAB York. Virtually every day I get out of bed knowing that I’m going to spend time with an intelligent, motivated, ambitious entrepreneur – or several of them. Like my colleagues, the team at head office and my family, they all have two things in common. They’re enormous fun to work with – and I continue to learn from them.

As Anthony D’Angelo said, “Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.”

Thank you to everyone who has helped me to grow this year. Have a wonderful Christmas and may 2016 bring everything you would wish for. The blog will be back on Friday January 8th.

So Here It Is…


Merry Christmas.

But before you all burst into a rousing chorus of Slade, let’s try and finish the business for 2014…

As I wrote last week, December isn’t a normal month: it’s a month for taking stock, having some fun and saying ‘thank you.’

And with six days to go – yep, I miss the days when my boys used to count down to Christmas in ‘sleeps’ – it’s time for the last of those three.

It seems a long time ago – certainly a lot longer than 11 months – when I started the year by encouraging you to ‘think the unthinkable’ and get rid of a significant number of your clients or customers: the unprofitable ones. Here’s what I wrote:

I think 2014 represents a major opportunity for all of us. There are clear signs that the economy is recovering and the evidence – both analytical and anecdotal – points to a year where significant growth is possible. But you can’t do that if you’re wasting a lot of your time dealing with unprofitable clients – or profitable clients who simply suck the life out of you.

Hmmm… I’m not so sure about the first part of that paragraph now: there are worrying signs for the global economy and the UK isn’t immune to what’s happening in the rest of the world. But damn it, there have always been worrying signs for some part of the global economy. Whatever winds are blowing, if you’ve planned and prepared properly, if you know what you want to achieve and you’re absolutely focused then you’ll succeed in the coming year.

Over the 47 weekly posts since then I’ve drawn on the management lessons of David Moyes, the incremental gains of Dave Brailsford and encouraged you to ignore the advice of Gordon Gekko. As well as reaching the significant milestone of blog post number 200. I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read and I hope at least some of it has been useful, encouraging or entertaining.

So thank you for reading the blog every week – and in particular, thank you for all the comments, whether they’ve been on the blog itself, by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or a casual aside in the pub. Anyone who writes a blog will tell you that it’s a slightly lonely business, so the comments mean a lot.

…And it goes without saying, thank you to the Board members of TAB York and to everyone at TAB head office in Harrogate. There are not many people who can say they roll out of bed every morning looking forward to their day. I’m one of them and I’m blessed to work with so many intelligent, inspiring, amusing, challenging, ambitious and – to use a simple but accurate word – good people.

Two particularly good people are my colleagues in TAB York, Jackie and Julia – who have emphatically added a new dimension to the business throughout the year. It’s been a pleasure to work with you: thank you for your support, energy and expertise.

Let me also say a word to my TAB colleagues in the UK. All the adjectives above apply – and maybe a few more… Thank you ladies and gentlemen: you have given me a memorable year. Thanks too for the exceptional welcome I receive from everyone at TAB in the States: the visits are always a highlight of my year.

Closer to home, a word to my boys, Dan and Rory – thanks for keeping me grounded and for reminding me what’s really important: Rugby World Cup on the Xbox. Make as many tackles as you like, guys. The Master will show you how it’s done over Christmas…

But my biggest thanks are reserved for my wife, Dav. Being the partner/husband/wife of an entrepreneur is not easy: there are long hours, occasional mood swings and times when you’re there but not there. No-one succeeds in business without an amazing person at their side – and I’ll say the rest somewhere other than the blog!

That’s it for 2014. The blog will return, refreshed and rarin’ to go on Friday January 9th. In the meantime have a truly lovely Christmas, and may the New Year bring everything you would wish for.

The Office? The Hotel? Or Iceland…


‘I’ll have the terrine, I think, and then the lamb. And the Cabernet Sauvignon, please.’

An expensive dinner for one. But you’ve earned it. Up at six. Fifty lengths in the pool. Shower. An hour’s work. Breakfast. A serious morning’s planning. An hour’s walk in the hotel gardens – and more planning in the afternoon.

The same again tomorrow and all your plans for 2015 will be done. You’ll know exactly what you want to achieve, what steps you need to take and when you need to take them. Possibly your most profitable two days of the year…

‘What?’

‘That client’s on the phone.’

‘Which client?’

‘ … ’

‘Oh. That client. He might just work out the connection between an invoice and a cheque before he rings. Again.’

‘I’m sorry. He’s really insistent.’

And for the fifth time that day you push your planning for next year to one side and deal with an interruption. Maybe tomorrow will be different. Or next week. Or next year…

As you know, I’m a huge advocate of taking some time out in 2014 to make your plans for 2015: to really think through where your business is going and what you want to achieve. As the old Michael Gerber saying has it, two days when you’re working on your business, not in your business.

When should you do it? November looks like a good time to me. December is simply too full of Christmas and the last minute rush to get things done before your suppliers and/or customers have the now-mandatory three week shutdown.

The big question for me is where? Do you set a couple of days aside and try and do the planning in your office – or do you take yourself away so you’re not disturbed? Make no mistake, this is an important two days’ work – maybe as important as any two days you have in the year.

Hang on, you cry. Two days out of the office? In a hotel? That’s going to cost at least £200. Yes, it is. But I’m not even going to try and present a balanced case – for me, being out of the office wins hands down. The key things are time, space and peace and quiet. And somewhere that takes you out of the normal run of the mill. It’s much easier to think outside the box if you are outside the box.

A quick search on www.laterooms.com throws up two nights at The Durham Ox in Crayke for £240. My favourite hotel if I want some ‘me’ time is Rudding Park – and it’s absolutely ideal for a couple of days’ serious work. (No, I couldn’t resist going on the website and seeing what’s available for next week…)

I don’t want to turn this into a travel blog and I’m by no means suggesting the Ox and Rudding Park as the only worthwhile destinations in North Yorkshire. But I am making the point that you don’t have to be far away to be far enough away.

Then again, some people do want to be far away: “Yes, I’m working hard,” one of my clients said to me, “But it’s my reward to myself as well.” I can see her point: I’m developing a fascination with Iceland and the Northern Lights…

How to do the planning once you’re in the hotel is a subject for another post, but let me tell you how I start. I ask myself a very simple question: if I were sitting here one year today, what would need to have happened – personally and professionally – for me to be totally happy? And thereafter it’s simple – everything flows backwards. There’s another important point in that question: it’s personally and professionally, not the other way round.

Anyway, I’ll be doing my own planning over the next couple of weeks. 2015 promises to be an exciting – and potentially challenging – year. But whatever politics and the economy throw at you, two days of planning will put you in a far better position to meet those challenges – and will make a difference to your whole year.