The Professionals


Professionalism. Noun. The competence or skill expected of a professional. The practising of an activity, especially a sport, by professional rather than amateur players.

Hang on, just let me read that again. I can’t see any mention of fighting outside a nightclub at 2:30 in the morning. Or driving a lady home who’s not your wife and ending up accused of drink-driving. Or getting into a taxi which unfortunately whacks a lamppost, leaving you with a broken rib.

I refer, of course, to Messrs Stokes, Rooney and Aguero, all of whom might now be in a much happier – and potentially much less costly – place had they looked at their watches and said, “Goodness me, ten o’clock. I’ve an important game in two days; time I was tucked up in bed with a mug of cocoa.”

Ben Stokes and Wayne Rooney are leaders. Stokes is vice-captain of the England cricket team; Rooney, having re-joined Everton with the experience of captaining Manchester United behind him, must surely have been expected to show leadership; to set an example to the younger players in the dressing room.

What price that leadership now? What price their professionalism?

But this is a business blog – so how do I define professionalism in business?

First of all I think it’s about predictability: that’s not someone saying ‘Ed always says the same thing:’ it about people knowing that Ed will always deliver what he promised to deliver. No ifs, no buts, no excuses: professionalism is delivering what you promised to deliver, when you promised to deliver it.

It’s about preparation as well – and yes, I’m aware that I’m almost wandering down the army’s ‘Six P’s’ path here. Whether it is an interview, a client appointment or a speech, the preparation is as important as the performance: in fact the preparation determines the performance. I will tolerate many things, but one thing that used to really annoy me in my corporate days was the time wasted due to lack of proper preparation, even for supposedly ‘make or break’ meetings. For me it was just unforgivable.

And politeness, which includes punctuality. It may well be the courtesy of kings but it’s also fundamental to business: everyone’s time has value, not just yours.

Let me also define professionalism by what it isn’t. It’s not simply being serious: clearly there are professions where being serious is a requirement, but even then not at the expense of demonstrating empathy and personality.

It’s one of the great truisms of life that people buy from people they like. And that still holds good today, even in an age where we are increasingly dealing with people we may have never met. You can still get your personality across with your language and ‘tone of voice’ – even if that voice is only heard through an e-mail.

I remember an early sales manager telling me to watch Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan on TV. “They would have made great salesmen, Ed. A loss to the steel industry…”

But despite the instruction to watch Parky and Our Tel I probably didn’t smile enough in my early days. You might be doing a thoroughly professional job: but you’re still allowed to smile and laugh while you’re doing it. Let me hold my hand up and say I wasn’t brilliant at this. So thank you to Paul Dickinson, my predecessor as TAB MD, who gently pointed it out to me…

And yes, I’d like to think we’re seen as professional at TAB: not just in that we deliver results but that we’re fun to work with as well. As I’ve written many times, TAB is about enjoying the journey as well as reaching the destination, and I’m absolutely sure we help the members of the TAB family to do that.

LEWIS_COLLINS OBITUARY

One last question: this week’s title references a once-popular TV programme. Do any of you remember it? Just a quick test to see how old you are and if your fashion sense has moved on…

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365 Wasted Days


Hesitantly, the young graduate trainee approached the seen-it-all sales manager to proffer his excuse…

“I just don’t think it was the right time for them. Maybe next month…”

The sales manager sighed. The lad showed promise, but he needed to learn a basic truth. “You know what, Ed?” he said. “There’s never a right time.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well quite clearly no-one’s ever going to buy anything in January. Just recovering from Christmas and hiding from their credit card bills. February it’s too damn cold. March and April it’s Easter and they’re all doing DIY or out in the garden. May they’re thinking about summer holidays. June there’s always the World Cup or the Olympics. July and August they’ve gone on holiday; September they’re recovering from the holiday. October it gets dark. Everyone’s always depressed in November and December’s written off because of Christmas.”

“So…”

“So there’s never a right time. Go back and see them, Ed. Explain that there is a right time and the right time is now.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation and over the last 20 years I’ve quoted it word for word to several potential customers. I was reminded of it last week when the news broke that Theresa May would be demanding our attendance at the polling stations on June 8th.

Yes, the election – and Brexit – is going to happen. Clearly Theresa May wants her own mandate and equally clearly she doesn’t want to be bound by David Cameron’s election pledges.

Sir Martin Sorrell was being interviewed on TV and failing to hide his irritation. The election, he said, was “another excuse” for people in business to stop making decisions. The run-up to the election would see an inevitable slowdown in the economy: “another 50 wasted days” as Sorrell termed it.

Well, by the time you read this there’ll only be 41 more days to waste – but he may have underestimated the problem. My old sales manager would have understand it perfectly…

‘You’re right, Ed. First and foremost no-one can possibly take a decision before Macron is confirmed as the youngest leader of France since Napoleon. Then there’s our election. But by then we’re into the summer holidays. And as soon we’re back from summer there’s the German election to worry about: if Angela Merkel is defeated it’ll be chaos. Then there’s Philip Hammond’s first Autumn Budget (assuming he’s still Chancellor). I mean seriously, given the hints there have been about tax rises it’s safer to wait and see. Then it’s Christmas and staggering back to work in January. And by February/March we’ll have had six months of serious Brexit negotiations with the new German government. It makes sense to wait and see how those are playing out. And then it’s Easter again on April 1st 2018. You’ve nailed it: no-one can possibly make any decisions for at least a year…’

50 wasted days? More like 365.

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As we all know, there are always reasons not to take decisions. They might be macro – political, economic – or micro, such as staff problems and cash flow, but they’ll always be there.

But making decisions is our job. It’s what we signed up for when we sat in the motorway services, pushed our breakfast round the plate and decided there had to be a better way. Business is about making decisions – and as that as that well-known pioneer of the waste management industry, Anthony Soprano Snr., put it, “A wrong decision is better than indecision.”

He’s right: you can correct a wrong decision. Indecision eats away at you and your business until it does far more damage than a wrong decision.

But making decisions isn’t easy. It’s not meant to be easy. Tony Soprano again: “Every decision you make affects every facet of every other thing. It’s too much to deal with almost. And in the end you’re completely alone with it all.”

Unless, of course, you’re a member of the Alternative Board, and have seven other people to offer their input and their experience and – nine times out of ten – help you make the right decision.

But having last week recommended that the boss of United Airlines joins TAB, perhaps I’ll just stop short of suggesting a new member for TAB New Jersey…

Whose Boat are you Trying to Float?


According to data from the US marketing agency Deep Focus, four out of every ten millennials would rather engage with pictures than read.

What? They’re suggesting that the most educated generation in history would rather look at the pictures you’ve just texted to them than read what you’ve written? That they’re more interested in an emoji than your carefully crafted prose?

Apparently so.

But let’s just take a step backwards. Because I’m willing to bet that a great many people read that first paragraph and thought, Hang on. What’s a millennial? It’s someone young isn’t it? Definitely younger than a baby boomer…

So before we go any further, here’s Ed Reid’s cut-out-and-keep guide to millennials, boomers and every other group that might be important to your business:

Maturists were born before 1945: they’re the generation of rationing, rock n’ roll and defined gender roles – particularly for women

Baby Boomers – 1945/1960: the Cold War, the Swinging Sixties, moon landings – and now very much family oriented

Generation X: born between 1961 and 1980, they’re marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall, Thatcher, Reagan and Gorbachev, early mobile technology – and the divorce rate rises

Millennials/Generation Y – 1981-1995: 9/11, social media, the invasion of Iraq – and the generation that has produced many of our digital entrepreneurs

And finally, Generation Z: born after 1995 they’ve been brought up with global warming, the economic downturn, cloud computing and WikiLeaks.

These terms are largely American, but the marketing message they bring with them is every bit as relevant in the UK. The infographic I used for the research is fascinating: the difference in attitudes to previous generations is startling – and marketing messages will need to reflect that.

But let me change tack for a minute, and reference another article I read on the same day as the infographic. This one featured the Kiss Navy. I’ve quoted the business acumen of Gene Simmons previously on the blog, and now Kiss have added an annual cruise round the Caribbean with 2,300 of their fans.

As the headline suggests, there’s an ‘unstoppable growth’ in the market for themed cruises. You can cruise down the Danube with the National Rifle Association, or spend your days afloat dressed as a Star Wars Stormtrooper. Want to book? Here’s the link.

What struck me as I looked at the infographic and contemplated cruising round the Caribbean listening to Detroit Rock City was how they meshed together to deliver one message. And how important that message was for all our businesses.

niche-market

Knowing your customer has always been important, but today it is more important than ever. You can reach a far wider geographical audience – and you can also target a specific niche much more precisely: the analysis and market segmentation that’s almost instantly available now (and which is very often free on social media) is something you have to use.

You also have to communicate with that audience in the right way – which brings us full circle to four in ten Millennials preferring pictures to words. You have to know your audience, and you have to know the story they want to hear.

Why? Because yes, modern technology means you can reach a much wider audience: but it also means that far more competitors can reach your customer base. The days of putting your product out there and hoping someone wants it are gone and they’re never coming back. Sadly, five minutes walking down most high streets will confirm that.

But if you get it right – if you discover your niche and tell the right story – then the rewards can be spectacular.

Not So Mad Men


Think of Mad Men on TV and what’s your first thought? Almost certainly it’s Don Draper: liquid lunch, chasing tail and unbridled cynicism…

What you call love was invented by guys like me … to sell nylons.

People want to be told what to do so badly that they’ll listen to anyone.

I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one.

Except, of course, that there is a tomorrow. And tomorrow morning those of us running businesses will still need to market our products – and ourselves.

But let’s not waste time worrying about it. We’ve got Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, a few more new apps that I still haven’t come across but which are undoubtedly valued in the billions, good ol’ LinkedIn, and – of course – our blogs.

So Mad Men is purely there for entertainment. There’s nothing we can learn from it. The ‘Golden Age of Advertising?’ It’s about as relevant today as the ‘Golden Age of Steam.’

And yet…

Maybe I’m finally getting older, but I seem to pay more and more attention to some fundamental truths. Advertising has been with us a long time – commercial messages and political campaign slogans have been found in the ruins of Pompeii – and whatever’s happening on your iPhone this week, I suspect some of its core messages will be with us as long as people buy and sell goods and services.

There’s a great blog post from Hubspot which develops that argument in much more detail – but there are three points from it which are particularly relevant to all our businesses in North Yorkshire.

 

“Word of mouth is the best medium of all.”

Whatever medium you use for your advertising – whether it’s a traditional newspaper ad or the very latest inbound marketing platform – nothing will ever beat word of mouth. As I’ve said many times on this blog, it doesn’t matter whether you’re B2B or B2C: ultimately we’re all P2P. And nothing will ever beat a person-to-person recommendation, especially in a relatively small business community like North Yorkshire.

 

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

I sometimes think we’re in danger of drifting away from this simple fact. Ultimately your advertising, your customer relations, everything you do has to be directed at selling your product. Yes, go out of your way to give information, to entertain and engage. That’s exactly what I’m doing every week with the blog. But I never forget that the blog has two fundamental aims:

  • It’s there to build and strengthen my relationship with my existing clients
  • And it’s there to convince potential clients that I’d be a good person to work with

 

“It’s not the ink, it’s the think.”

When Charles Saatchi was still in short trousers, David Ogilvy – ‘the father of advertising’ – was founding Ogilvy & Mather, for many years the top agency in the world. Ogilvy built his business on research and data. He believed that the function of advertising is to sell, and that successful advertising for any product is based on information about its consumer.

 

Take the word ‘advertising’ out of that last sentence, substitute ‘your business’ and it still makes perfect sense. And that to me is a fundamental truth: who is your customer? Where is he? What does he want? How can we supply that?

don-draper-best-quotes-paf4758n

Here’s Don Draper’s answer:

Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.

With respect, Don… I know we can go further than that with TAB. I want everyone I work with to be a lot more than ‘okay.’ That’s what I work towards every day – and those fundamental truths play a key part.

Do People Still Buy From People?


‘People buy from people.’ It’s one of the fundamental business truths. It’s drummed into you on your first day in the office.

“People buy you, Ed.”

“People buy from someone they know, like and trust.”

As I say, fundamental truths.

Or are they?

After all, I don’t know Jeff Bezos. No-one I know knows him. And given what Amazon has done to the high street – and not done for UK tax receipts – there are plenty of people that don’t like him. But Amazon is phenomenally successful.

As are a myriad of other online businesses.

And as I look round the TAB York boardroom tables I see more and more business being done online.

So is ‘people buy from people’ fast becoming a myth? Do we actually prefer not to deal face-to-face? Is the ideal business model now to give people all the information they want and then leave them to it?

I was pondering these questions at the weekend when I bought a t-shirt. From time to time I treat myself and buy a t-shirt from Howies. They’re not the cheapest, but they’re great quality, the designs are a little bit different – and I like the story.

In fact for me the two most important words on the website are ‘read story.’ That and the latest happenings from West Wales. The fact that Howies are in a small town in West Wales – Carmarthen – adds to the authenticity and the story. I’m actually more inclined to deal with them than if they were in say, Cardiff.

Back to the story. Here’s what it says on the website:

And one thing you can be sure of when you buy one of our printed organic t-shirts, is that it was screen printed by hand in our own little printshop, here in Cardigan Bay.

Using an old-fashioned carousel, silk mesh screens and a bit of elbow grease, Tomos prints each and every one of them with the same level of skill, craftsmanship and respect for the end product as they deserve.

That ticks every box for me. Local, hand-made, and I even know the name of the person making my t-shirt. In fact, Howies go one step further. When I order a t-shirt I get an e-mail telling me when Tomos will be printing it. So I’m kept in touch, and I’m made to feel that I’m important to the company – and to Tomos. I’m a very happy customer.

But what about a slightly larger scale? We’ve all heard of Boden. One of the things I remember from the early Boden catalogues was the little bit of irreverent description on every page. Maybe it was about the clothes, maybe it was about the model. But it made me feel I was being spoken to directly, that I wasn’t dealing with a faceless, distant organisation.

Did it work? Well, according to Wiki Johnnie Boden, who founded the company in 1991, is now worth £300m. So I think that’s a ‘yes.’

More and more of your business is going to be done online. Whether you like it or not your online presence – and the way you interact with people online – will become increasingly important. But if you’re going to be successful, you’ll need to make it – and keep it – personal. Use your ‘About’ page to tell your story: not to list how wonderful you are. And if you’re not in the centre of York, Leeds or some other major city it doesn’t matter – as the Howies site shows, you can turn it into a positive advantage.

People still want to buy from people they know, like and trust. But these days, ‘know’ may appear in inverted commas: use your online presence to make sure that people like and trust you and you can build a significant business.

Business Lessons from a $10,000 Bag


I’d like you to treat yourself over Easter. Take 16 minutes, somewhere comfortable, no interruptions, maybe a glass of wine – and watch two videos.

The first one is the making of an axe: the second another craftsman, this time making kitchen knives. Both of them are things of absolute beauty – and I was reminded of them last week when I read this story about a $10,000 bag.

No-one needs a $10,000 bag as hand luggage. A couple of weeks after Children in Need you might well argue that paying $10,000 for a bag is simply immoral.

Then again, there are plenty of people who’ll pay that much for a hand-made, everything-sourced-in-America, unique piece of luggage. Is making those bags a viable business model? Absolutely.

But I think it goes deeper than a simple argument about whether anyone should pay that much for a bag – or whether the Chicago entrepreneur behind the bags is going to make his fortune.

We live in a global economy. If I’m setting up a new business I can hop on to Fiverr and hire a web designer in India, a copywriter in the Philippines and an SEO expert in Russia. And yet if there’s one word that gives a client or a customer confidence, then increasingly I think that word is ‘local.’

As you might expect, over the course of my business career I’ve spent a few nights in hotels. Name a chain, I’ve stayed in it – quite possibly twenty or thirty times. Some of the experiences have been excellent: some really well-managed hotels that catered for everything the business traveller could want. So why do I now go out of my way to avoid hotel chains? It’s because I want a personal, local experience – and so do millions of other people. Just look at the success of a site like airbnb. I want to stay somewhere I can talk to the owner and where I know ‘all our food sourced locally’ doesn’t mean a weekly drive to the cash and carry.

Let me give you another example: supermarkets. About a year ago I watched the white foam ooze out of the bacon I was grilling and thought, ‘no more.’ Ever since, I’ve bought our meat from the local butcher – and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. Yes, it costs a little more, but I can look at the blackboard hanging up in the shop and see exactly where my meat is from and when it was slaughtered.

And yet the nation’s supermarkets insist on competing on price. Live better for less. Every little helps. Did they ever think that just once an ad saying, No, they’re not the cheapest. But they’re 100% pure beef might work? I refer you to McDonald’s vs. Shake Shack, ladies and gentlemen.

But ‘local’ and ‘handmade’ are all very well if you’re a B&B or a butcher – and I’m fairly certain that no members of TAB York have a sideline making axes or kitchen knives. So what do I mean – and how can you benefit – if you’re a PR company or an accountant or a corporate lawyer? There are three main points:

  • In an increasingly impersonal world personal is more important than ever. For me ‘local’ means personal. People still want to buy from people and, if possible, they’d like to talk to the boss at some point. As the old cliché goes, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • The beliefs and values of your company are increasingly crucial. What shines through with the axe, the knives and the $10,000 bag is the absolute passion of the people involved. It’s not a business, it’s a calling. So make sure that clients and customers know your company stands for something: make sure they know the story of why you believe.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid: if you’re providing a premium service or making a premium product, don’t be afraid to charge a premium price. It’s easy to think ‘the market in North Yorkshire won’t stand it.’ You’ll be surprised – and there’s a whole world beyond North Yorkshire that’s been waiting for you…

With that, I’m off to enjoy Easter. Make sure you do the same: have a brilliant weekend and the blog will be back on Friday 10th.

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?