The Courtesy of Kings

Let’s start with my entry for the 2014 Least Surprising Statement of the Year Award…

I had a meeting last week.

Costa, York, 2pm. I arrive – with my apologies ready – at two minutes past. The person I’m meeting isn’t there. No matter, the ring road’s busy today (and there’s another entry for the LSSY Award…)

Ten past. He still hasn’t come. I check my phone for messages. Nothing. Quarter past, twenty past…

And I know at this point some of you are thinking, ‘What’s the problem, you’ve got your iPad. You could still do some work.’ Well, yes… In my view you can ‘work’ in Costa – in the same way that you can play a round of golf in your wellingtons.

I gave up at half past two: at least I’d be early for my next meeting. He phoned just as I got in the car. “Sorry, Ed. Held up. You still OK to wait? I can be there in twenty minutes…”

…Making him nearly an hour late. ‘Punctuality,’ I could hear my Dad saying. ‘Remember, Ed, it’s the courtesy of kings.’

No, I politely explained, I wasn’t OK to wait. I had another meeting. “No worries,” he said. “We’ll catch up later.”

Except we wouldn’t catch up later. This was the second time he’d kept me waiting. Neither time had he phoned to say he’d be late or apologised for wasting my time. I crossed him off my list of potential TAB members.

Everyone can be late for a meeting. We’ve all been held up by a sudden emergency or caught in traffic. But what everyone should do is ring and say, “I’m sorry: I’m going to be late…”

It’s difficult to write this post without it turning into a rant, but I find as I get older there are certain things that just irritate me (you know what I really want to say, don’t you?) And they irritate me to such a degree that they’re a real barrier to working with certain people.

Ah, damn it… I knew I shouldn’t have started down this road. Stand back. My other pet hates:

People who can only see the short term gain for themselves when they’d actually make far more money in the long run by building a mutually beneficial business relationship

People who talk about themselves incessantly and never express any interest in the person they’re talking to (and I’m sorry to say this is nearly always men…)

…And it’s compounded if they go on to try and sell me something without finding out or being interested in whether I might actually need it. We’ve all been there and we’ve all walked away thinking, ‘No. If you were the last widget salesman on the planet and my life depended on a widget the answer would still be ‘no.’’

I took a break there because – to be honest – I was worried it was just me. Had I developed early-onset Victor Meldrew Syndrome? I asked a couple of Board members. And I needn’t have worried. In fact I should have taken protective clothing…

“Liars,” one of my more gentle and rational Board members exploded. “Don’t tell me you’re going to do something when you know you’ve no chance and no intention of doing it. Tell me the truth. Not what you think I want to hear.”

I nodded my head. “Thanks for that. Hadn’t thought – ”

“And people that think they’re some sort of super-negotiator,” she carried on. “You agree a price, everyone’s happy, then they come back and start arguing about coppers. Or they ‘lose’ the cheque book. Or Doris in accounts is off sick and they can’t pay.”

I eventually calmed her down. Only to take both barrels from another Board member. “Mean people,” he said. “Not realising that if I bought the coffee and sandwiches this time, next time it’s their turn. If someone does that then I won’t deal with them.”

So let me throw it open to you: because there’s a serious business point in this. All of us might just recognise ourselves in some of the replies – and we might well be losing business. What are the character traits that really irritate you – to the extent that they’ll stop you working with someone?

I await your replies with interest. I’ll read them after I’ve bought a flak jacket…

The Black Dog

First of all thank you for all the comments on the blog last week. Of all the posts I’ve written ‘Risk’ probably attracted the most – and the most detailed – feedback, by the usual mix of direct comment, e-mails and Facebook. I really appreciate them all and if I haven’t replied yet – I’m getting round to it!

But now to matters darker.

The comparisons between being successful in sport and running your own business are often drawn. Will to win. Drive. Competitive instinct. Refusal to be beaten. Absolute focus on achieving your goals. And no self-respecting motivational speaker would even dream of getting to his feet without a word or ten from Vince Lombardi.

Recently though, we’ve seen the other side of sport. For the first time, very successful sportspeople have been prepared to talk about depression – how for some of them the pressure to succeed has just been too much and it’s spilled over into mental illness.

One of the most high profile examples was the footballer-turned-Talksport-pundit Stan Collymore, and the reaction he initially received was not untypical. ‘My manager said I was too successful to get depression and only women living on the 15th floor in Peckham got depressed.’

Since Collymore there have been other high profile cases, most noticeably in cricket (the sport that unfortunately has the highest suicide rate among ex-players).

The question for this blog is an obvious one: if success in sport and success in business are so often linked, is there also a business parallel with a case like Stan Collymore? Can you be successful in business and suffer from depression? Could someone turn round to you and say, ‘You can’t possibly be depressed, you’re too successful. It’s only people who’ve failed who are depressed.’

But that’s far from the truth. ‘The better the company did the more depressed I became’ isn’t as uncommon as you’d think. Despite it at first seeming like a ridiculous contradiction, the simple fact is that success can make you feel trapped, lonely and – ultimately – depressed.

As we’ve discussed many times, running your own business is a lonely place – and the trouble is that it’s only other business owners who understand how you feel. You can have the best husband/wife/partner in the world but if they’ve never had to sack someone, never worried about how they’re going to pay the wages and never seen the order they’ve been counting on suddenly evaporate, they simply cannot empathise with you.

For me, that’s where the TAB boardroom table comes in: seven or eight people who absolutely understand how you’re feeling and who absolutely understand your problems, frustrations and worries. In some ways it’s a sanctuary: somewhere you don’t need your body armour and protective persona – and somewhere you won’t be judged.

I’ve seen some raw emotion round a TAB table. An entrepreneur who doesn’t know which way to turn? Many times. Tears? Yes, several times. But I’ve also seen the other type of tears: when the advice of the other Board members has worked and when the weight has finally been lifted off someone’s shoulders.

Stan Collymore set up a charity – Friends in Need – to help people with depression. If you think you need help, get help now. But if you think you need the help of other entrepreneurs – the only people who can really share your feelings – then think about The Alternative Board.

One last point on depression: it can hit anyone. The list of famous people who have battled the illness is long and impressive – Winston Churchill referred to the ‘black dog’ that haunted him in even his most successful moments. If it’s haunting you, just remember – you don’t have to face it alone.

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…

Charisma for Dummies…

Think back to your time at school. There was a boy in your class; he wasn’t particularly good looking, he wasn’t outstandingly clever, his dad didn’t own Hampshire – and yet he always had a girlfriend. In fact Nige had a string of ’em.

While you spent six months building up your courage, turned bright red, stammered and stuttered only to be told, ‘No thanks, I’m washing my hair’ Nige calmly waltzed off with yet another girl – quite possibly the one who’d just been ‘washing her hair.’

Looking back you now realise the secret of Nigel’s success – and you can make yourself feel better about it. Why did he have more girlfriends than you? Well, sales lesson number one, he simply asked more girls out and – sales lesson number two – he wasn’t afraid of hearing ‘no.’

What Nigel did have though, was a spark of charisma. He smiled a lot, he was confident, he was good company.

And that’s the subject this week. Charisma – and a simple question: can charisma be taught? If you haven’t got charisma, can you learn how to get it? Because goodness me, charisma can certainly be lost. I bumped into Nigel on Facebook the other day. Overweight, middle-aged and bald…

As you know, my basic position is that so much can be taught but there’s an indefinable quality that can’t be. Back to your class at school again – and there was a boy who was simply funny. He just looked funny: something about his face, the way he walked, the way he moved his arms…

I saw Milton Jones last month. Absolute proof of an indefinable quality. I could deliver those jokes and raise barely a smile. Milton Jones could walk on stage, not say a word and still have people laughing.

And yet the psychologists insist. Charisma can be taught. So if you’re staring into the bathroom mirror and you’re a little perturbed by the grey person staring back at you, here’s the current thinking from Psychology Today. How to be charismatic in ten easy steps.

  1. Use metaphors – ‘we must change course’ – because they show how smart you are
  2. Tell stories and anecdotes
  3. Display moral conviction
  4. Stress collective sentiments
  5. Set high expectations for yourself and your team
  6. Communicate confidence
  7. Use rhetorical questions – ‘can we do this?’
  8. Make sure your body language is right
  9. …and your facial expressions
  10. Keep your tone of voice animated

(The article finishes with some sage advice: before you go out you might want to practice these skills in front of your loved ones. It was clearly written by someone who doesn’t have two near-teenage boys…)

But that doesn’t convince me that charisma can be taught. Most of those points are common sense – and come naturally to the members of TAB York. If there’s anyone round the Alternative Board table who doesn’t tick boxes 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10 I’d be astonished.

Nope – I think you can learn (or be coached) to give a good presentation. You can learn to be a good host. But I don’t think you can learn charisma: it’s not a quality that can be turned on and off.

Besides – why should you? As I’m writing the first draft of this post on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, let’s turn to Polonius for advice:

This above all: to thine own self be true

And it must follow, as the night the day

Thou canst not then be false to any man

Be yourself – and if you’re not blessed with charisma, let your other qualities shine through. After all, that’s what Nige did – while the rest of us pretended to be something we weren’t Nige was happy to be himself. And it paid off…

And now, until next week, Farewell, my blessing season this in thee…

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…

Your Two Minutes of Fame

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

We all know that quote from Andy Warhol. But sorry to disappoint you – you might not get 15 minutes. You might only get two. But it could be two minutes that makes a real difference to your business.

Like a lot of you, I use Dropbox. All my files, instantly accessible wherever I am. One of my friends introduced me to Dropbox and explained what it did and why it was a great idea. But you know how it is. I was driving the car: I was thinking about my next appointment. I didn’t really take it in.

That night I had a look at Dropbox – and I found an introductory video on the site. It was one of the first ones I’d seen, and – after a bit of hunting on the internet – here it is.

I thought the video was brilliant. It instantly explained the concept behind Dropbox. I got it. I signed up – and I’ve been using it ever since.

I also ‘signed up’ to the concept of the introductory video. That’s what I want to see when I go to a website I haven’t used before. Show me a short video; tell me how it works. Do it simply, concisely and with a sprinkling of humour – and do it in less than two minutes. And if you’d like another example, here’s the TAB one on YouTube. (Sorry about the bloke at the bottom of the page…)

Time was when you needed specialist help to produce an animated video: when you needed the services of young men surrounded by Macs, pizza boxes and Coke cans. Not any more. There are now a variety of sites that allow you to produce your own animated video, and very often to do it for free. Here you go:

I really recommend having a look at these sites. I know you’re busy: I know animation isn’t your strongest suit and I know you don’t have the time to write the script – but these days websites have to be more than just brochures. You really need to engage people – and animated video is increasingly becoming a very effective and engaging way to do precisely that.

Which brings me on to my next point…

Why stop at animation?

What better way to introduce your business and tell potential customers that you’re likable – that you’d be a good person to do business with – than a short video? Sit on the corner of your desk; look directly at the camera and chat about your business.

For something like this the average person will talk at around 140 words per minute, so you’ll need a script of roughly 280 words (to give you a comparison, this blog post is 620 words). You’ll also need someone competent behind the camera, and you’ll need to upload it onto your site – which shouldn’t take the average teenager more than two minutes.

Above all, learn your two minute speech – then you can deliver it naturally and confidently. It will bring your website alive, and it’s a great way of ‘meeting’ potential customers before you meet them – of establishing a connection.

Technology is giving us more and more ways to get our message across: increasingly it is costing very little to do it and ‘drag n’ drop’ gives us all the chance to appear competent at most things. So go ahead and give a two minute video a go: a) it’ll benefit your business and b) I’ve a bottle of red wine waiting for the best one I see.

Who knows? You might even impress your children. No, maybe not…

Stories, Simplicity and Parties

I am indebted to my wife for many things – this week, it’s the idea for the blog. Dav sent me a link to a speech by Michael Acton Smith – one of the rock star entrepreneurs of the web.

The speech was reported as ‘10 top killer tips for start-ups’ and they’ll take you less than a minute to read. But let me comment on three of the tips in a little more depth – because I think they apply to established businesses every bit as much as start-ups. What’s more, I absolutely guarantee that you’ll agree with the last one I’ve chosen!

Tell your story

We do business with people we know, like and trust. But increasingly, business and relationships are online. How do we like someone we’ve never met?

As I’ve said previously, tell your story. Whether it’s on your website, through social media or in your company brochure, don’t ever be afraid to open up and tell potential customers and clients why you do what you do and what drives you.

But don’t say ‘we’re passionate about widgets.’ Being ‘passionate’ about something is fast becoming the biggest cliché in business. Tell the story of how you got into the widget business; of how something you did made a real difference to a customer.

Human beings react to and relate to stories. For most of human history, stories were how we shared knowledge and taught our children. So don’t be afraid to tell yours: clients and customers want to hear it and – increasingly – so does the Google algorithm.

Keep it simple

This may seem like the most unoriginal advice I’ve ever put in this blog. We all learn KISS within about five seconds of getting our first job: but it still bears repeating. In fact, there seems to be an increasing trend towards simplification: simple websites with simple messages and – especially online – businesses opting to concentrate on their core range and products. My old pal, the fitness coach for pregnant women in Knightsbridge, is in his element.

Business owners used to worry that a simple message and an equally simple product range might mean their business wasn’t viable. ‘Are there really enough people in York who want what I’m offering?’

But today your market doesn’t stop at York. It doesn’t even stop at New York. One of the most exciting trends for me this year has been the way so many Board members have started to develop their businesses internationally. The market out there is huge – which in turn means you can afford to keep it simple. To return to Make Good Art and the speech by Neil Gaiman – increasingly you can afford to concentrate on what it is that only you do best.

Say yes to parties

What more sensible advice could there be with December less than a weekend away? But the point that Michael Acton Smith makes is simple: you never meet anyone new sitting at your desk. By and large, your office is not the place where you’re exposed to new ideas or where your way of looking at the world is challenged.

So get out there and meet some new people. Expose yourself to the risk of someone saying, ‘Why not…’

It’s too easy to say, ‘there’s no point going because it’ll just be the same old people saying the same old things.’ Fifty percent of the time it will be: but the other fifty per cent of the time it won’t; there’ll be a potential new client, a new idea or a new business opportunity. The trouble is that you don’t know which fifty per cent it will be: the only way to find out is to go.

But hey – it’s December! If you can’t go to a party now, when can you go? And if that’s what you’re doing this weekend, have a brilliant time. And if you’re marching round Monks Cross instead with your children’s Christmas list in your pocket – that makes two of us…

Six Reasons Why I Like You

I make no apology this week for returning to a subject that I’ve written about before – the reasons why I like you so much.

And no, I haven’t come over all sentimental in my old age. I still have my business head on, but in an age where we’re increasingly ‘meeting’ each other virtually before we meet in person, first impressions – for me – are coming to count more and more.

Whether it’s your website, your blog or some other form of social media that introduces us, the question I want answering is simple. Would I like you? Would doing business with you be a good experience?

So what creates a good first impression with me? There are six boxes you can tick – but first of all, two that you can’t. Number one, don’t tell me how qualified you are. People are increasingly taking qualifications for granted. If you’re the senior partner of KPMG I’ll take it on trust that once upon a time you passed an accountancy exam. And don’t tell me how good you are: let other people do that – then let me form my own opinion.

So what are the six boxes? Here goes…

Hey, that’s a nice photo I have a good friend and client with a simple philosophy. ‘If I look too nice in my photo people will think I’m a soft touch.’ You won’t be surprised to hear that I disagree. I’ve just had my own photos re-done (and I’ll stick with them for the next twenty years, thanks) as I wanted to look more friendly and more approachable. I think the day of the man-in-suit head and shoulders photo is over: let me see you smile. Or let me see you working with your clients.

Your football team makes you suffer What I really mean by this one is that I want to see you have a sense of humour. So ‘proud supporter of the mighty Manchester United’ doesn’t work for me. ‘Proud supporter of the mighty York City’ does work for me. (You all know who I support. ‘Pain’ is an understatement.) Of course, it doesn’t have to be football, but show me somewhere that you’ll be good fun to deal with; that you have a life outside the office.

You’re self-deprecating As I get older I find I like my heroes in books and films to have flaws. Give me a character like Wallander every time. So I’m not worried if I read ‘plays golf, mainly from the rough’ or ‘devoted father, currently struggling with Year 9 Maths.’ What I’m looking for here is insight and humility: there’s nothing quite as off-putting as perfection.

You love your children Or your wife. Or both. My family is hugely important to me: it’s the rock on which my whole life is based. Am I going to be put off if something on your ‘About’ page suggests that you might ask to re-arrange an appointment as it clashes with the nativity play? Exactly the reverse. You’ll have a thousand business meetings in your life and half a dozen nativity plays. I want to deal with someone who really knows the meaning of a priority.

You care Not just about your family, but about the wider world as well. I find I’m increasingly giving a mental tick to companies where the website reflects a commitment to a charity. So out with ‘we’re committed to helping our community’ and in with ‘on July 6th and 7th three of our directors are cycling from coast to coast to raise funds for our local hospice.’

You talk like a human being In many ways this is a summary of the previous five points. I want to deal with someone I’ll like – so make sure your website/social media is well written and easy to read. According to my writer friends the best tip is to write it and then read it out loud. And if it doesn’t sound right then it isn’t right.

With that, have a great weekend and I’ll be back next week. And the best of luck to those of you that embraced Movember this morning. Put it on your website – another reason to like you…

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.