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…

You Can’t Do a Full Day’s Work in December

One of the recurring themes running through the blog this year has been the line from Rudyard Kipling’s If:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run

I’ve always tried to do that. And I’ve quoted my very first sales manager a few times as well: Just do a full day’s work every day, Ed, and you’ll be ahead of 95% of the people out there.

So you might think that Fridays occasionally drive me to distraction, as people don’t bother replying to e-mails and don’t return phone calls: as the slide to knocking off early starts around lunchtime and rapidly accelerates through the afternoon.

Yes, they do.

You might further assume that if Fridays drive me to distraction, December must have me reaching for the tranquilisers; after all, I sent someone a perfectly reasonable e-mail on December 2nd:

Thanks for getting in touch. Yes, could well be interested, but snowed under this week. Can I get back to you after Tuesday of next week?

His answer came back on December 3rd.

Hey, no problem! Let’s catch up in the New Year. I’ve put a date in my diary for the week commencing the 5th.

Delaying something until New Year on December 3rd? When there are still fourteen working days to go? That can’t be the way to do business. Fourteen working days is around 7% of the year. No wonder there’s a budget deficit – and cue irate letters to the editor all round.

Actually, no. I was fine with that. December is not a normal month – your priorities in December have to be different.

Today is December 12th – and one of my Board members is having her fourth Christmas lunch of the week (photo of her 3rd –  TAB board lunch with me – here). Followed by her office party this evening.

Whoever you’re involved with – your own business, trade associations, local organisations, charities – they’re all going to invite you to eat turkey. You probably can’t say ‘no’ and you definitely can’t go back to your office and be 100% efficient afterwards.

So you need to judge December differently. As I’ve said many times, no-one ever does 100% of what they want to get done – so if you only get 80% done, you need to make sure it’s the right 80%. And in December ‘the right 80%’ consists of reflection, having some fun, saying ‘thank you’ and making sure you’re fresh and ready to go on January 2nd or 5th – or whenever you come back from skiing. These are far more important priorities at this time of year than chasing every possible appointment.

When you get a moment between the dinners and lunches, take stock and ask yourself a few questions. I like these four:

  • What have we done right this year?
  • What have we done wrong or badly?
  • What have we realised we can do that we didn’t think we could do?
  • And what new markets have we stumbled across?

December is also a time to say ‘thank you’ and to reflect on the year’s highlights – and I’ll be back next week to do exactly that. In the meantime, have a great weekend.

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…

200 Not Out…

Good lunch, Blowers?

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

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

Malcolm? You’ll have all the figures…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

The Road Less Grizzled

Like a lot of you, I like business quotes. They’re inspirational, helpful, supportive and, just occasionally, there to remind you that however busy you are there are still more important things in life.

But by the time you get to my age – and thirty is not that far away now – you’ve heard them all before.

So this article was a breath of fresh air. Some really pertinent, worthwhile comments that I hadn’t come across before – still inspirational, helpful etc. etc. – but not the same old grizzled faces that pop up all the time.

You’ll all have your favourites – let me pick just four.

I’ll begin with this one, from Jason Cohen, the founder at WPEngine. You spend 99.9% of your working life on the path and 0.1% experiencing the euphoria of an exit or the disappointment of a final failure. If you’re not fulfilled by the journey, you’re wasting your life.

That for me goes right to the heart of TAB in general and TAB York in particular. 99.9% might be a slight exaggeration, but we’re all going to spend the vast majority of our working lives ‘on the journey.’ If you don’t enjoy the journey – if it doesn’t fire you with enthusiasm – then sooner or later one or more wheels will fall off the business.

But the journey can’t rule your life and that is hopefully where TAB comes in – making sure you’re successful without being consumed by your business: helping you keep your work and your life balanced.

On to number two, from Fred Perrotta at Tortuga Backpacks. You can’t figure out everything beforehand by reading about it. Just do it and make your own mistakes. Get back up, dust yourself off and do better next time.

Again, this is exactly what modern business is about. As I’ve said many times in this blog, Ready, Fire, Aim. For many businesses these days the price of starting – and the price of failure – is low. Don’t spend months (or years!) analysing the market and writing endless business plans: the best information is the information your customers give you. Get out there, give them a product, listen to what they say, revise your product and go again.

Next up, Francine Hardaway, founder of Stealthmode Partners. And this is very much a back-to-basics reminder, but a basic none of us running a business can ever ignore. Watch your cash. Running out of money can happen when your business is at its most successful.

Of all the KPIs you monitor, the ones dealing with cash flow are the ones which need watching the most closely – and as Francine says, running out of cash isn’t necessarily a sign that your business is failing. Running out of cash is just that: running out of cash. It’s easy to put off doing the cash flow forecast and chasing up the bills, but it simply has to be done – and it has to be done consistently.

I’ve saved my favourite for the end. It’s from Scott Meyer of 9 Clouds. Show up and give your best effort every time. You never know who’s listening.

Absolutely right. You never know who’s listening, who’s in the audience, who you’re going to meet. But show up and give it 100%, whether you’re delivering a once-in-a-lifetime speech or whether you’re at yet-another-networking-breakfast. I am prepared to wager that every person reading this blog owes one of their major clients or one of their biggest opportunities (or maybe even their wife!) to a time when they very nearly didn’t go – but finally decided to make the effort.

Let me leave the rest of the quotations and advice from the article with you. You’re bound to disagree with my choices and you’re bound to have your own old and new favourites. As always I’d be delighted if you’d share them.

Have a great weekend and I’ll be back next week. That’s April – the first quarter of 2014 gone already. But I’m absolutely confident you’re all on target for a great year…

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…

Andy Murray? He’s Just Like You…

We all know the stat by now. The first British winner of the men’s singles since Fred Perry in 1936. (If you really want to impress them, the score was 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 and Perry defeated Gottfried von Cramm.)

Congratulations to Andy Murray and, according to all the papers, he can now go on and become undisputed World number one, before winning more and more grand slams and surpassing Djokovic, Becker and – yes, they can be serious – maybe even McEnroe.

So before long Andy Murray will stand supreme. Right at the top of his game. Out on his own. Alone at the pinnacle.

Apart from the dozen or so other people at the pinnacle with him…

One of the great clichés of sport – and business – is that ‘there’s no “I” in team.’ Very true. However, in both sport and business there is very definitely a team behind a successful “I.”

Consider Andy Murray’s supporting cast:

Judy Murray – Mum, mentor, first coach
Ivan Lendl – winner of eight grand slams and current coach
Jez Green & Matt Little – fitness trainers
Andy Ireland & Johan de Beer – physios
Daniel Vallveran – hitting partner & tactical analyst

Plus assorted nutritionists, dieticians, accountants, lawyers, PR people, the website manager and last but by no means least Kim Sears, Andy Murray’s girlfriend.

And for Andy Murray read Rory McIlroy, Sebastian Vettel and any other top sportsman you can think of in an ‘individual’ sport.

But as an entrepreneur in North Yorkshire you surely don’t need an entourage like that to be successful? Surely you just need to ‘suit up’ and go to work?

Not any more. The longer I’m in business, the more I think that a good support team is vital. I’m not talking here about your ability to network and your ability to make connections – we looked at that in a previous post – I’m talking about what’s necessary to get the most out of you as an individual. What’s needed for you to work at your optimum for as long as possible.

So yes, I do think entrepreneurs should eat sensibly. I do think they should exercise regularly – and getting your work/life balance right is vital for your optimum performance at work.

And a coach? Well, I would say that wouldn’t I?

People selling coaching services often parrot the line, ‘All the top sportsmen have a coach so you need one as well.’ That’s far too simplistic – it’s the nature of the coaching that’s important. So how does Ivan Lendl coach Andy Murray? Let me quote from Owen Gibson’s article in the Guardian.

Lendl has brought a shift in the mindset of the ‘Murray project…’ Lendl, by his very presence and a few well chosen words, has brought his experience to bear. When Lendl talks, Murray listens.

I couldn’t agree more – especially with the phrase, ‘a few well-chosen words.’ In business, it isn’t the job of a coach to be talking all the time. A good coach is a watcher and a listener as much as a talker. He doesn’t need to say much: what he does say needs to matter.

Very often the best coaches don’t give advice either: they ask questions. ‘Why don’t you…’ ‘What do you need to do…’ ‘What difference would it make if…’ No two ways about it: discovering something for yourself is always a far more powerful motivator than being spoon-fed the answer.

And I think that’s very much the strength of the Alternative Board. All your fellow Board members are watching and listening. But the key point is that they’re watching and listening from different viewpoints, different perspectives. They all run their own businesses, with different challenges: so they all see your business from a different angle – and they’ll ask slightly different questions.

My job is to pull all that input, advice and experience together: to make sure the Board gels and that everyone benefits. And occasionally to offer my own six penn’orth of course…

The Invisible Man

2012 was a great year for me: building and developing my relationship with existing clients and welcoming some outstanding new members of TAB. When I sat down to review the year I was more than pleased – so I was a little perturbed a couple of days later when someone said to me, “Oh, hi Ed. Haven’t seen you for a while. Thought you must have gone out of business.”

I’ve been reflecting on that conversation for a while – and last week at Venturefest brought it sharply back into focus for me.

But let me back-track slightly…

When I started my business I networked like a… Well, let’s just say that I worked very hard at making contacts and meeting people. As many of you know, if you’re starting a new business – especially in the service sector – then you have to do it. But inevitably, as I became more involved with clients and my workload increased, I had less time for the networking events – and some time in the middle of 2012, I stopped going altogether.

And then, at the end of the year, I finally found the time to go to an event in York. At which point: “Hi Ed. Haven’t seen you for a long time. Thought you must have…”

As you know, Venturefest was last week. It was the third one that I’ve attended and every year it gets better and better. It’s simply the best opportunity to re-connect with people and to make new business contacts in the York area. Fortunately I didn’t have any ‘thought you must have…’ conversations – but I’m sure that some people did. And as I drove away from the Racecourse, I had two thoughts in mind.

Number one – however successful your business is, don’t become the Invisible Man. Meeting people and staying visible is every bit as essential to your business as a regular flow of new clients and keeping a constant check on your numbers. However tempting it is to think, ‘We’re doing well. Business is good. I don’t need to go to this breakfast in York,’ the answer is that you do. Not religiously, not week after week – but often enough to make sure that you and your business keep appearing on the area’s business radar. Even in the age of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogging, ‘out of sight out of mind’ can – and does – still apply.

My second thought was even simpler. You can talk all you like abut social media and about the three hugely successful websites I’ve just mentioned – but nothing will ever be as powerful as meeting someone face-to-face. No, you can’t ignore the way the world is moving and Twitter & Co all have their place in building a business. But you cannot neglect the most fundamental social interaction of them all: meeting other people and getting them to know you, like you and trust you.

That’s why my business will remain resolutely old-fashioned in one fundamental respect. We can e-mail, Facebook and Skype each other – but TAB meetings will stay firmly seated round the Boardroom table. Six or seven people giving their undivided attention – not only listening to what someone is saying, but feeling the ‘vibe’ that they’re giving off as they say it.

So I’ll be back at Venturefest next year and for a great many years to come. But along the way I’ll be making sure that I’m seen eating breakfast as well, making sure that I’m using the most valuable resource my business has – people.

I make no apology for preaching a very simple message this week: see the people – and let the people see you. However sophisticated business becomes, for most of us those words will still be at the heart of it. And if you’ve an even simpler message – or a fundamental truth that you always return to – then I’d love to hear it.

The Shy Entrepreneur

We’re all aware of the traditional image of the entrepreneur – brash, self confident, not an ounce of introspection, high dominance on the DISC profile (see me for more details!), doesn’t know the meaning of ‘self-doubt…’

But supposing you’re not like that?

Supposing you’re an introvert? A little bit shy? One of those people who could say, “I feel physically frightened before a networking event.” (And yes, that’s a direct quote.)

Does that mean you’re disqualified from running your own business – that however good your ideas, you’re destined to be a second-in-command while someone else basks in the glory? And the lion’s share of the cash…

Not necessarily. Which is good news – because I have plenty of Board members, potential members and good friends who absolutely do not match the traditional ‘entrepreneur profile.’

Some of them are running – or could be running – outstanding businesses.

I’ve just read a really interesting blog post on how introverts can get the career, pay and credit they deserve.

The article – by Tahl Raz – led me on to an interview he’d done with communications coach Nancy Ancowitz who gave three tips for introverts; ways in which they could make themselves heard “in a world where everybody is talking.”

So, for the benefit of anyone who counts themselves among this group (which apparently accounts for a third of us) and who’d cheerfully eat their thumb rather than go to another networking event, here are Nancy’s three tips:

1. Write – many introverts are naturally good writers, and if you struggle to make a case for yourself when it’s ‘sixty seconds round the table’ then write it down. Use your skills to make sure that the quality of the written work your business produces is outstanding. And people will take notice.

2. Don’t try and wing it. Let’s take a business lunch as an example – again, everyone speaks for 60 seconds. If you’re naturally shy, don’t try and make it up as you go along. Write your ‘speech,’ learn it – and then deliver it as naturally as you can. Chances are, the confidence you gain from knowing it, will allow you to deliver a stellar performance. If you’re an introvert, preparation and detail are likely to be among your strengths: play to them.

3. According to Ancowitz, “video-tape is an introvert’s best friend.” She recommends having a friend or mentor video you in a social setting. That way, she says, you can easily identify (and correct) behaviour that may cause others to see you as aloof and anti-social.

Now I can see that having someone follow you round 4Networking with a video camera might make some of you feel slightly uncomfortable! So here’s an alternative suggestion. More and more websites are now including video: if you’re someone who shies away from large social groups, make your pitch on video and put it on your website. Link to it on Twitter and next time you’re forcing yourself to eat a disappointing bacon sandwich in the company of extrovert strangers, there’s a chance that they’ll already have ‘met’ you. They might even ask for your advice…