My First 100 Days


It’s not often I compare myself to Donald Trump – well, not this side of the psychiatrist’s couch – but he’s famously completed 100 days in the White House and I’ve now completed 100 days in my new role as the MD of The Alternative Board in the UK.

I haven’t pulled out of any climate change agreements, sacked anyone or threatened wholesale renegotiation of every trade deal that’s ever been made. Instead I’ve worked with some brilliant people and generally had the privilege of running an organisation that changes people’s lives. So thank you once again to everyone who helped to make it happen, and to everyone who keeps making it happen on a daily basis.

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Quite obviously, I’ve had to get used to a few changes. I’m not driving round North Yorkshire anywhere near as much: I see a lot less of Costa Coffee at Clifton Moor…

I’m now in the office at Harrogate for 2½ days a week, working as part of a team of six. I didn’t realise I’d missed the office ‘buzz’ so much. That’s a bonus that I hadn’t anticipated.

…And I’ve discovered another, equally unexpected but far more important bonus. Every month Mags and I are in London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester.

We always go on the train – and it’s a brilliant place to work. (But why, he asked innocently, could I get a mobile signal under Hong Kong harbour ten years ago but still can’t get one on the train between Huddersfield and Stalybridge? I’ll vote for whoever has that in their manifesto…)

As I was saying, a brilliant place to work – and to pick up on a point from last week, it’s a great place to work on the business. By definition you can’t work in the business, so Mags and I have time to discuss strategy, make plans and generally do all the things phones, meetings and the need to pop out for a sandwich stop you doing.

I’ve always liked working on the train. I’ve written before that if you want to think differently you need to be in a different physical location and I get some of my best work done on trains and in cafés, ploughing through as much paperwork between York and King’s Cross as I would in a full day at my desk.

Why is that?

Why do so many of us enjoy working in locations like that, and why are we so productive? And yes, I have been known to play a ‘café soundtrack’ on YouTube when I’m working in the office.

Early studies suggested that it was what’s known as ‘the audience effect:’ that we work better when we have someone to work with and/or compete with – witness the peloton in the Tour de France.

But according to an article in New Scientist, what applies to Team Sky doesn’t – for once – apply to us. The answer, apparently, is that hard work is contagious.

A study was done which involved sitting people doing different tasks next to each other: neither could see what the other was working on. When A’s task was made more difficult B started to work harder as well, as he or she responded to subtle cues like body posture and breathing.

I’ve often talked to TAB members who say their number one criteria for hiring another member of their team is work ethic: now it looks like there’s real evidence to back up that good old gut feeling.

…Except, of course, the evidence also suggests that I shouldn’t be on the train or in the coffee shop. I should be where people are working really hard. So I may hold future meetings in the library at Leeds University – and if it’s still the same as in my undergraduate days, on the same floor as the law students…

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The Best Bargaining Chips


It’s now nine days since Theresa May formally triggered Brexit, beginning two years of long and complex negotiations with the remaining 27 members of the EU. Whichever way you voted last June there’ll be days when you’re elated and days when you despair. Right now, only one thing is certain – the word ‘negotiation’ is never going to be far from the headlines…

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It’s certainly played a central part in my life of late, with the lengthy negotiations to buy TAB UK – and what I suspect may be even lengthier negotiations as my sons go through their teenage years. So you’ll be in for ten? I was thinking more like midnight, Dad…

While I await the grey hair and the whispered ‘was that the front door?’ conversation with my wife, let’s take a look at some of the basic principles of negotiation – and then next week I’ll build on those principles by discussing the rather more thorny question of negotiating with a friend – exactly what I was doing when I bought TAB UK.

First things first: unless you’re in a Moroccan bazaar, negotiation is very rarely about the short term. It’s an area where you really need to think ‘win/win’ because nine times out ten you’re going to have an ongoing relationship with the person across the table. So don’t set out to ‘screw’ someone: in the long run that attitude is unlikely to be profitable.

I’ve always tried to go into any negotiations with three positions: my optimum (sell the car for £20,000); desirable (happy with £19,000) and my essential, bottom line price (I can’t accept less than £17,500).

Your ‘opposition’ – I don’t like to use the word but you know what I mean – will have those three in the reverse order. They’d be very happy to buy your car for £16,500, prepared to pay £18,000 and the maximum they’d pay before walking away would be £19,000.

In the scenario above it’s likely that the car would be sold for around £18,000 – assuming both negotiators are equally skilled.

So what do I mean by a ‘skilled negotiator?’ Looking back over my time in business there are probably four principles I’ve seen that work effectively and consistently: in my view, anyone applying these principles is a skilled negotiator.

  • The first thing is to keep the big picture in mind – and leave your ego at the door. I’ve seen too many negotiations fail because people got bogged down in petty details or tried to score points. It’s not just about demanding, “What’s your bottom line?” It’s also about discovering the other person’s ODE – optimum, desirable, essential. If you can operate within those parameters then you have scope to build – or strengthen – a long term relationship.
  • Sooner or later we all have to negotiate with someone we don’t like: someone who changes his mind, can’t make a decision, can’t remember what decision he did make – or all three. The answer is simple: concentrate on the issues, not the personalities. Stick to what you want, and be patient. It may well happen – as happened to me two or three times – that you sigh, mentally prepare yourself for another frustrating day, sit down at the table – and find a new face opposite you. All the problems vanish and the negotiations are wrapped up in a couple of hours. ‘Keep the main thing the main thing’ applies just as much in negotiation as it does in building your business: and the ‘main thing’ is what you want, not the failings of the person opposite you.
  • And don’t get emotional. At least, not for real. Any emotion is fine as long as you are in control of it. But don’t let yourself get angry, frustrated or sarcastic. And don’t get bored: we’re not talking about smoke-filled committee rooms where the old style politicos turned up with flask and sandwiches and simply bored their opponents into submission – but sometimes you do need to settle in for the long haul.
  • Finally, if you’re talking money, think in real money. We all know the traditional approach of breaking it down into ‘silly money:’ Look, you’re going to have this car for three years. £1,000 is 91p a day: two trips to Starbucks a week. Are you going to let that stand between you and a four year old Fiat Punto in Canary Yellow? A £1,000 is £1,000 however you break it down – which brings me back to my original point about optimum/desirable/essential price points. There has to be a point at which you walk away. If you cannot accept less than £17,500 for your car then you cannot sell it for £17,499 – if nothing else determines that, your self-respect should.

With that have a lovely weekend in the (forecast) sunshine and I’ll be back next week with the more personal side of negotiation. And my apologies to anyone who does own a four year old Fiat Punto in Canary Yellow…

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


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

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

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

…And now a café has started charging for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Knowledge Economy


“What do you do?” I asked someone I’d just met.

“We’re in the knowledge business,” she said. “My company adds knowledge to knowledge.”

We’ve all asked the ‘what do you do’ question a thousand times. And we’ve heard every reply imaginable. But I’d never heard one as intriguing as ‘adding knowledge to knowledge.’ I couldn’t help but ask her to explain.

…And I couldn’t help thinking about it afterwards either. Because we’re all in the knowledge business now.

When I started in business – not that many years ago despite what my sons think – people had stock: they had inventories. The auditors would turn up and spend a week stocktaking. Now, I look round the offices of so many of the TAB York members and all I see are the serried ranks of Apple Macs. Yes, there are honourable exceptions, but they’re becoming increasingly rare: those of us writing blogs may soon need to find a replacement for the apocryphal widget maker.

So everything’s fine: we’re all knowledge workers and whether we vote to Remain or to Leave (see next week…) then the future for our businesses is rosy.

Perhaps. I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review recently: it certainly bears out what I see – and what various TAB York members tell me. A bank of Macs is not necessarily the answer to all your problems: in fact the modern office throws up almost as many challenges as its Rolodex and Kalamazoo counterpart…

Interruptions

There’s a great line in the HBR article: I think it’s safe to say that at least some of the work of your company requires sustained focus of longer than two minutes.

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Absolutely: and yet we seem to go out of our way to encourage interruptions to our work. An e-mail flashes up: there’s an alert on your phone: your computer starts cheering – someone’s scored a goal in the Euros. (Yes, yes, I plead guilty to the last one.)

But if the knowledge economy demands anything, it demands concentration. All the studies show that your work takes longer if you’re constantly interrupted, and that you produce lower quality work. There are plenty of techniques for keeping you focused – from the Pomodoro upwards – but they all depend on you turning off interruptions. (And recognising that it really doesn’t matter if Croatia take the lead against the Czech Republic…)

The Design of the Office

Hand in hand with the banks of Macs have come open plan offices. As Maura Thomas describes in the HBR, they’re a double-edged sword. Yes, open plan offices bring increased collaboration, sharing of ideas and a more social working environment. But they also bring distractions, noise and a loss of privacy.

I’m in two minds on this one: I can see the economic argument in favour of open plan offices – but sometimes adding knowledge to knowledge needs silence, focus and being unsocial. In my experience those offices that work best are the ones combining the best of both: where there’s a shared purpose, where you can collaborate – but where can also disappear when that report simply has to be finished by 5pm.

Absent Friends

As I wrote last week, my eldest son has just turned 14. With 8 or 9 years to go until Dan enters the workplace, I wonder if he’ll ever work in a traditional office? It’s much more likely that he’ll spend a large amount of his time working remotely – keeping in touch with colleagues via whatever’s replaced e-mail, WhatsApp and Basecamp by 2025.

But we don’t have to wait until 2025: remote working is a trend that’s already well established. I do wonder, though, if the vast majority of businesses are getting the most out of the team members that aren’t in the office. If it’s not ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ all too often it’s ‘out of sight, out of the loop.’ Success comes from keeping everyone involved and taking all your team on the journey – wherever they are.

…And with that, my thoughts turn back to the Brexit debate. By the time you read next week’s post we’ll have voted. The polls will be closed and if we don’t know the result, we’ll have a very good idea. But next week I’m going to ask a simple question. Leave or Remain: will it make any difference to your business?

The Below Zero Business Pitch


How can I put this delicately? Have you been to a networking lunch lately? Did you not have a slight feeling of deja-vu?

What we need, ladies and gentlemen, is a trip to Oulu. It’s in Finland. 65 degrees north – a mere 107 miles from the Arctic Circle. And the place where you can present the coolest business pitch in the world. Literally.

Chamber of Commerce, Institute of Directors, people sitting comfortably round a table in a nice, warm hotel, please take note.

In Oulu they do things differently.

Go there in February and you’re welcome to speak about your company for as long as you like. Just as long as you remain standing in a hole in the ice.

I suspect that might concentrate your mind. If you’re in freezing water, “We really care about our customers and we’re different to all the firms out there so we’d be really grateful if you’d give us a try” probably isn’t a sensible way to start your pitch. By the time you’ve wasted those 26 words the hypothermia will be setting in. As you can see…

But back in the nice, warm hotel people are doing precisely that. They’re wasting far more than 26 words, taking a minute to say nothing at all, talking about their business in a way that’s unrehearsed, that lacks conviction and does nothing to persuade the other people round the table that they’d be worth talking to.

(In fairness, the problem isn’t confined to networking lunches. I’m constantly amazed at the people who go on Dragons’ Den and casually ask for £75,000 without researching the Dragons or rehearsing their pitch.)

But let me ask you a question. If you had to make your pitch in a hole in the ice, in water that could kill you, what would you do?

  • You’d rehearse
  • You’d get straight to the point
  • And you’d make sure you delivered the very best pitch you could

I can’t see how those fundamentals change simply because you’re in the Marriott on Tadcaster Road.

At various times in all our business lives we’re face to face with a potential client or customer. You’ve been introduced and suddenly you realise that this guy could well contribute to your bottom line. And then he says, “So what do you do exactly?”

It’s at this point that you need to give a simple, persuasive and – ideally – slightly intriguing answer.

But all too often it’s something like this: “Well, I’m a web designer. Mostly, that is. There’s a house I’m doing up – when I get round to it. And I teach guitar a couple of nights a week. But what I’m really thinking of…”

Here’s how my conversation goes:

  • So what do you do exactly?
  • I help business owners achieve their potential
  • How do you do that then?
  • I bring together business owners from non-competing sectors in a group setting – similar to a board of directors – and we help each other to identify opportunities and solve challenges we each face in our own companies. Make sense? I’m adding to my boards and I’m looking for business owners that would be a good fit.

The first answer is 7 words long: the second is 56, which I deliver in 20-30 seconds.

Did I write those answers down? Did I work on them with the help of other people? Have I practised them in the bathroom? Yes to all three. And I’m not ashamed of that.

I think in those 56 words I offer the solution to a problem, sell the potential benefits and give the person I’m speaking to the chance to empathise.

Yes, of course it could be shorter – We sell blankets that instantly warm people up when they get out of freezing water – but everyone will listen for 20-30 seconds.

So two questions:

  • Do you have an answer to the ‘what do you do’ question that solves a problem, sell the benefits and invites empathy?
  • And you must have asked a hundred people what they do: what’s the best answer you’ve ever received?

Anyway, that’s enough from me for this week. I’ve an important presentation on Tuesday. I need to practise. Dan and Rory are just filling the bath with ice…

Live on Stage… The Entrepreneur


“No, of course you don’t feel like it every night. Sometimes you just want to be at home with your kids. And bluntly, I hate touring. I hate the hotel rooms, I hate the travelling, I hate the unpacking. I hate it all. But then I go on stage. There’s me, the mic, the audience. And everything else melts away…”

“I can still remember the feeling. You’d pull up outside someone’s house – a ‘real prospect’ your sales manager had said. Invariably you were late due to them saying ‘take the second right’ when actually it was the fourth right and then left at the pub. It was raining, you wanted to be at home and you just didn’t feel like going in there and delivering your pitch. But you did. And somehow the disillusioned guy in the car always morphed into a charismatic salesman half-way up the garden path.”

Two views – ostensibly from completely different perspectives but both reaching the same conclusion. The first is my recollection of a remarkably well-known performer speaking when he wasn’t that well-known (and who certainly wouldn’t admit to ‘I hate touring’ any more). The second is a TAB member talking about an unhappy year he spent in very direct sales.

And the conclusion? I’m sure we can all recognise it. You’re fed up, you’ve done this presentation a thousand times before, the client won’t appreciate it anyway – but somehow something happens, a switch flicks at the crucial moment, and you’re fine. And it happens every time.

I’ve been taking some time off to be with Dan and Rory this week. As they’re happier with the Xbox as a companion I found myself reading about the well-documented problems in the F1 industry. This week’s GP is in America – land of the free and home of the salesman. The consensus there seems to be that F1 needs to connect with more potential fans – be more ‘personality led.’

If you’re running an SME then the words ‘personality led’ will be familiar to you – because that’s exactly what your business is. Despite the internet, Facebook, LinkedIn and a gazillion tweets a day, when it comes down to it people always have and always will buy from people. That means there’s no hiding place for the owner of an SME – which brings us back to the man waiting to go on stage; to someone sitting in his car outside a prospect’s house.

That’s you. You’re the one that needs to flip the switch. You’re the one who’s on stage every day. You may well be desperate for a day off from performing. But I’m sorry, your audience is stamping its feet, demanding the main act

And it’s me as well. I’m lucky that I’ve always enjoyed the ‘pressure of the presentation.’ Nestle used to wheel me out when there were difficult presentations to give to sceptical clients – and I revelled in the challenge. Why? Because I believed in the product – I genuinely believed that we had a great plan which would help the clients (and help us).

But I must have done thousands of sales presentations in my life. Surely I must be getting jaded by now?

Fortunately, there’s never been anything in my business career that I’ve believed in as much as TAB. Does that mean every presentation and every meeting is a piece of cake? Far from it: if I’m driving to a meeting with a potential member and I know that TAB would be perfect for her and she’d be perfect for TAB then it’s fine.

But there are plenty of other meetings with potential members that I do have to motivate myself for. Just as I know there are sales presentations and meetings that you have to motivate yourselves for – even though you believe passionately in your business.

So that’s the question for this week. How do you motivate yourself when you’re sitting in the car or waiting in the hotel lobby? What is it that flicks the switch and guarantees your absolute best presentation, every single time?

Short, Sharp – and Successful?


‘Medical experts’ have just announced that short, sharp bursts are the answer. As you get older it’s not long spells of exercise you need: it’s short bursts of concentrated, maximum effort. That’s the key to staying healthy and getting the most out of life.

…And according to an article I’ve just been reading by American entrepreneur Chris Winfield, the same is true in business. If you want to get more done – or the same amount done in half the time – the answer isn’t to work slowly and methodically down your to-do list. It’s to blitz it with short, concentrated bursts of effort where you’re 100% focused on your work: no internet, no making a coffee, no re-arranging every pencil on your desk.

This was the article I alluded to in last week’s post – and thank you for all the feedback to that one. I’ll be collating all the tips and tricks in a future post (and obviously leaving out a couple of the too-easily-distracted confessions).

To business for this week – and the idea Chris Winfield is using is the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late eighties (and as the seasoned travellers among you will know, named after the Italian word for tomato).

It’s an incredibly simple technique and works on the principle that frequent breaks can improve mental agility and make you more – not less – productive.

If you haven’t come across it before you break your work down into intervals known as ‘pomodori.’ Traditionally these intervals are 25 minutes long, and are followed by a five minute break. That said, I know someone who uses 15 minute intervals and someone else (obviously a three Weetabix man) who uses a 45 minute interval. Whatever works for you.

During your 25 minutes the idea is that you work on one task, without distraction, and then – after four pomodori – you take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

I like this technique, and in some ways it reminds me of the traditional advice steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was dispensing over a hundred years ago: work on your most important task until it’s done – and then move on to number two…

Where Chris Winfield’s adaptation of the Pomodoro Technique varies is in the way he chooses the tasks for his concentrated bursts:

The reality is that I’m a human being, living in a world full of other humans. I have emotions I don’t control and I often get tired. Some tasks I simply don’t feel like doing, even though I know they’re important and possibly urgent. To make this work long term I had to learn to accept these things, working with rather than against them.

He also moved from a five day working week to a seven day week, accepting that not everything could – or should – be done between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. The net result? Winfield claimed to have cut his working week to 16.7 hours whilst achieving just as much as he had done previously – and to feeling a lot less stressed.

The Pomodoro Technique might not work for everyone – but it’s worth trying. The two Board members I mentioned above absolutely swear by it. And as the old saying goes, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. That holds good for your to-do list and your personal organisation as much as it does for your sales techniques and your stock control.

Next week is the last week before I go on holiday – when I come back we’ll be more than half way through August and the end of the year will be in sight. So I’ll be looking at what you (and I) still need to do in the remaining four months of the year – and considering what’s the best period of time for business planning. A week? A month? A year? Or do we go really long term and look at three to five years…

Lunch is NOT for Wimps


We all know the quotation. It’s from Wall Street. Gordon Gekko is on the phone: Bud Fox stands nervously waiting to meet him. “Lunch?” Gekko is saying. “Aw, you gotta be kidding me. Lunch is for wimps.”

Later in the same film Gekko says, ‘The most valuable commodity I know of … is information.’ Not in my business. The most valuable commodity I know of is other people. To paraphrase Tony Blair my top priority in building my business was, is and always will be, other people, other people, other people.

And that’s why lunch is important.

When I left university in 1995 and realised I now had to work for a living the traditional business lunch was still very much on the agenda – not quite on the scale of The Wolf of Wall Street – but liquid certainly played its part. Nearly twenty years on I am now utterly baffled as to how anyone can drink two pints of beer and then do any remotely useful work in the afternoon.

Those twenty years have seen the increasing – and seemingly unstoppable – movement towards eating at your desk. As innumerable surveys confirm, the lunch hour is now a lunch half-hour, if you’re lucky. What we all do is sit at our desks, eat a healthy mixed leaf salad and read something useful, informative and life-enhancing on the internet.

In theory.

What we all actually do is eat the same damn sandwich we ate yesterday, wonder how there can be a gazillion new pages of web copy since the last time we opened Google and every single one of them boring – and think, ‘I’ve really got to stop this and get some exercise.’

So in the interests of your health, your sanity and the success of your business, may I now paraphrase Gordon Gekko as well as Tony Blair?

‘Lunch? Great idea. Let me check my diary – and I’ve got some really interesting things to talk to you about…’

I have lunch with friends, clients or potential clients maybe two or three times a week. I see it as an integral part of my working week. It breaks up the day and makes me more – not less – productive in the afternoon. And if I don’t come away from the lunch with one new idea or piece of information I’m surprised and disappointed.

Having lunch builds and strengthens my relationships with the raw material of my business – other people. But it only does that because I make having lunch work for me. I was surprised when I wrote these down, but I seem to have ‘rules’ for a successful lunchtime meeting:

  1. I walk there. Wherever I’m having lunch, I try and leave my car somewhere else. If sitting is the new smoking, then I want to give myself chance to walk during the day
  2. I have an ‘agenda’ – but only in inverted commas. I’m not going to have lunch with you and work my way steadily down a sheet of A4 – but I have spent five minutes thinking about the subjects I’d like to cover and what we can both gain from our meeting
  3. Lunch is great for getting people to think differently. If I meet someone across their desk I know they’re going to think about a problem or an opportunity in the same way they’ve always thought about it. If I take them to lunch – and make it special – then I’m almost guaranteed that they’ll be open to new ideas and a fresh way of looking at things
  4. I want to finish lunch with some progress – we’ve agreed to meet again, we’ve decided how we’re going to move forward, you’ve (incredibly wisely) agreed to join The Alternative Board.
  5. Finally, the meeting has to finish at a defined time. Yes, having lunch with you is enjoyable, but it’s part of the working day for both of us – and because it’s part of the working day the meeting needs to finish at an agreed time.

So lunch really works for me: it’s another key part of developing my relationships with existing and potential Board members. Next week I’ve a couple of meetings with Board members at the David Lloyd club in York – I recommend it to you: although maybe not the Quinoa Salad, which was a veggie step too far for me…

The Digital Nomad


Tie? You must be joking, mate.

Socks? Not where I’m going.

Take my PC? No thanks. This is the week I joined the legion of Mac fans. An ultra-lightweight one at that…

In fact let’s just cut straight to the chase. Why are you wasting your time in North Yorkshire? Surely you can run your business from a laptop by now? What are you doing in Selby when you could be in Santorini? Malton or Monterrey? Pocklington or Pattaya? Sounds tempting, doesn’t it…

Maybe I’m being flippant, but it’s a serious point. If all your business needs is a laptop and an internet connection, well, there are plenty of places with more sunshine than our corner of the world and where you can live far more cheaply.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while – yes, we’re in Ireland next week but I promise we’re coming back – as the ‘digital nomad’ seems to be getting an ever-higher profile.

I read an interesting article on the BBC website recently about PR boss, Chris Ward, who hasn’t worked in an office for ten years, choosing instead to base himself in coffee shops and assorted McDonald’s throughout Europe. Chris has written a book about his thoughts, appropriately called Out of Office.

His basic premise is simple:

The great thing about the internet is that it’s freed people from the office. We don’t have to be tied to our desks any more. We can work where and when we like.

He goes on to argue that creative people would be far more fulfilled – and far more productive – if they were out and about, believing that the ‘noise and buzz’ of a coffee shop stimulates the imagination.

I can see his point: I know that if I’m working in say, a Costa, I have to concentrate that little bit harder; interestingly though, that extra concentration does produce some great – and often unexpected – results.

But at this point I’m just going to hide behind the sofa for a while – because I know this blog is read by a lot of people who simply cannot leave the office. I appreciate that those of you in manufacturing, the law, accountancy (not to mention any doctors out there) simply cannot slope off to the nearest beach with the latest MacBook Air.

Not every day, anyway.

‘If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ Yes, it’s a cliché, but like a lot of business clichés it contains a large slice of the truth. We go into the office, we sit at our desks, we go for a sandwich at roughly the same time every day and we have roughly the same sandwich. That’s not a pattern of behaviour that encourages creative thinking – and whatever your business, you’re an entrepreneur and you need to be creative.

So here’s my challenge for August. For one day, take your laptop/Mac/iPad/pencil and paper and work somewhere completely new. Different place, different sandwich at lunchtime – and hopefully a different way of working on your business. And then report back at the end of the month – let me know how it went.

In the meantime we’re off to Galway for the week. The blog will return – refreshed, invigorated and written in a coffee shop – on Friday August 16th. If you’re going on holiday in the next few weeks, have a brilliant time – and I’ll talk to you all soon.

Asking Questions: Expecting Answers


Last week – which for some reason seems a remarkably long time ago – I was writing about the Awards which members of TAB York had won. I just want to repeat this quote from Rachel Goddard of Intandem Communications from last week’s post:

The other members of my board were great. That is, they asked me the questions I didn’t want asking but knew I had to answer. I remember one question in particular: it pinpointed the exact problem I had to solve.

I’ve been thinking about those three sentences a lot this week, and it seems to me that they go right to the heart of what a TAB Board is all about.

As we’ve discussed many times on this blog, successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t want to do. Part and parcel of that is asking questions when you know that you won’t like the answers.

We’re all guilty of avoiding things when they’re going to be difficult – even though we know that they’d benefit our business. Hands up everyone who’s had a job on the to-do list for three months or more? Six months, anyone…

Bringing a problem to your fellow Board members specifically eliminates that problem. Because once you’ve asked your fellow Board members the question you’ve been putting off asking yourself, there’s no going back. You’re committed.

Even after nearly four years of TAB that moment in a meeting still enthrals me. The dynamics around the table are something special.

“OK. Claire, it’s your turn.”

“Thanks, Ed. (Pause) Question for this month. (Pause) I should really have brought this one three months ago. (Pause) The thing is this. (Pause)”

Then finally the question. And the other Board members immediately know it’s important. So they don’t leap in with an answer: they pause as well. Then they’ll ask for some clarification. Finally someone says, “And if you did that, what difference would it make to your business?”

This time Claire doesn’t pause. This time the dam breaks and we realise just how important solving the problem is.

Then the members make their suggestions and – most importantly of all – Claire commits to action.

Fast forward a month. Claire is reporting back to her fellow board members. She hasn’t done as much as she committed to doing. Which is understandable: it’s hard to go from doing nothing about a problem – however pressing – to working on it flat out.

This is when TAB really shines. Because the other members ask a simple question. “Why? Why haven’t you done the things that you know would benefit your business?”

Being held accountable by your peers makes all the difference. There’s no hiding place and bluntly, the only option over the next three or four months is solving the problem. And you can guess the conversation when that happens.

That’s why I was so pleased for Rachel – she went through exactly the process I’ve outlined above and it was painful. But in the end she achieved what she wanted to achieve and her business took a significant step forward. Sooner or later everyone who’s a TAB member is going to find themselves in Rachel’s position – with a decision which is damn difficult but which just has to be made.

And these decisions are the pivotal moments on a TAB board. When I started the business those moments were theory – yes, I’d seen them replicated in business, but never with the personal nature of the TAB discussions. When I see a ‘Rachel moment’ – and even more when I see the successful outcome – I know that nothing in the corporate world could give me more satisfaction. Or produce better results for Rachel – and Claire.