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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Own Your Own Truth


How do keep your work/life balance well and truly balanced?

How do you make sure you build your business – but never miss the Nativity Play?

How do you make sure your business is working for you – and that it’s not the other way round?

Yep, we’ve dealt with a few minor questions over the last six years, but let’s turn to something fundamental this week…

What is Truth?

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Don’t worry: I’m not abandoning TAB York and heading back to the campus: but in the year of Brexit and Trump ‘what is truth?’ is a pertinent question. And it’s one that has important implications for all our businesses.

You may have seen recently that ‘post-truth’ is the Oxford English Dictionary’s ‘word of the year’ for 2016. It follows previous winners ‘emoji’ and ‘vape’ and beat off strong competition from ‘hygge,’ ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘adulting.’

What does ‘post-truth’ mean? It means that objective opinion has become less important in shaping public perceptions than opinions and emotional appeals.

The day after reading about ‘post-truth’ I was at a seminar, where one of the speakers made a simple statement: “you don’t own your own truth any more.”

His comments were largely directed at the hospitality industry. What he meant was that the truth about your hotel is no longer what you put in your brochure or on your website: the ‘truth’ is what someone says about you on Trip Advisor.

We’re now living in an age where comments and feedback no longer arrive in response to your carefully crafted e-mail or your solicitous feedback form. Instead, they’re 140 characters on Twitter, a photo on Instagram – or comments on sites like Trip Advisor over which you have absolutely no control.

It used to be said that ‘a lie can be half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’ That’s no longer the case: today, someone else’s version of the truth can be halfway round the world before your truth etc. etc.

I’ll be writing a post in the New Year about managing your reputation on social media: unfortunately, it requires rather more research than the usual pre-Christmas madness allows…

For now, some of my TAB York members are very well aware of both sides of the social media coin: others, less so. And while there may not be a Trip Advisor for widget manufacturers, that doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about you, your business or your product.

So what steps can you take in the short term to make sure that your version of the truth is pre-eminent? Here are five basic suggestions:

Keep your message simple. I wrote earlier this year about how many millennials now prefer to communicate using pictures: no wonder ‘emoji’ was the 2015 ‘word of the year.’ Your business message doesn’t need to be complicated: after all, there are few things simpler than an emoji. And whatever your feelings on Donald Trump, ‘Make America Great Again’ must have swayed a lot of votes.

Keep your message up to date: and keep it consistent. I’ve been writing this blog for over six years now. I hope some of what I write is useful, interesting and thoughtful. But in getting my message across, the delivery is every bit as important as the content. New clients know I’ll deliver, because they’ve seen the blog updated every Friday morning without fail.

Don’t make ridiculous claims. It’s now impossible to walk past any café without seeing a sign for their ‘award winning’ cakes. Every fish and chip shop in Yorkshire is ‘world famous.’ If your version of the truth contains patently ridiculous claims, don’t be surprised if people choose to believe rather more objective versions of the truth. So I’m sorry, reading this blog will not make you more attractive to women…

Force yourself to check. You may well think that Facebook is for teenagers who should be revising: you may see no point in Twitter as you’ve no interest in whether Stephen Fry has brushed his teeth. Unfortunately, that view is now in the minority: however much social media brings out the ‘bah humbug’ in you, force yourself to check occasionally…

…And if someone has mentioned your business, respond: gently, tactfully, with a touch of humour if you can, but above all respond. Otherwise you run the risk of ‘guilt through silence.’ The accused offered no defence on Twitter, m’lud…

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to offer the Chancellor confirmation of the productivity gap he complained about in the Autumn Statement. I can’t do any work today, Mr Hammond: I have to spend my day deleting ‘Black Friday’ e-mails…

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.

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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?

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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.

Tim Ferris and Tony Soprano


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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the first one:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are We All Artisans Now?


Here’s a simple experiment. You can do it at home.

Pop the words Yorkshire Artisan into Google. What do you expect to see? Bread? Cheese? Jams, pickles and chutneys? After all, it’s impossible to wander round Malton Food Market without being assailed on all sides by artisans…

And Google doesn’t disappoint. There they all are. Artisan Fireplace Design. Artisan Loft Conversions. Artisan Home Improvements.

Hang on, you say, that’s wrong. You can’t have ‘artisan loft conversions.’ It’s just… well, it’s just not right.

And in one sense, I agree with you. Say the word ‘artisan’ and I immediately think of bread. Then my thoughts turn very quickly to cheese and chutney. (Quite possibly to a glass of red wine as well: clearly Christmas is coming…)

My thoughts emphatically don’t turn to fireplaces, lofts or home improvements of any kind. So maybe I should here and now nominate ‘artisan’ as the most overused word of 2016.

Except that ‘artisan’ may be exactly the right word – and a very important word for your business as we enter the New Year. Let me turn to the Oxford English Dictionary:

Artisan: a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand

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The implication – for me – is that an artisan is someone who really cares: who’ll invest not only his talent, but his time. Someone who won’t go home until his customer is completely happy. So I make absolutely no apology for once again using a link to this beautiful video – the making of a carpenter’s axe, a video that defines investing your talent and your time.

But most people reading this blog don’t make axes. They work in a nice, warm office. First thing in the morning they fire up the Apple Mac, not the forge. Does the word artisan have any relevance to them? Can an accountant be an artisan? A PR company?

I was reading an article in Social Media Examiner. Various industry experts making ‘bold predictions’ for 2016. Apparently we’ll all be so tied up shooting videos for our websites/social channels that we’ll be too busy to see any clients: but one prediction did stand out. It was from acknowledged whiz Neal Schaffer:

I see [companies] looking at ways to become more human, authentic and transparent with their engagement within social media communities.

What?

Let me go back to a post I wrote at the beginning of April: Business Lessons from a $10,000 Bag. I think it’s one of the most important posts of this year. And in the conclusion I made exactly that point:

In an increasingly impersonal world personal is more important than ever.

(Just send me the cheque for five grand, the first class plane tickets and I’ll see you at SxSW.)

In 2016 ‘personal’ will be more important than it’s ever been. Increasingly, it’s not going to be B2B or B2C – it will be H2H. Human to human.

So, yes, we should all be claiming to be artisans next year. A skilled worker: someone that makes things – or makes things happen. Someone that invests his talent and his time – and who doesn’t go home until his customers or clients are completely happy.

A-B-M: Always be Marketing


I was at a sales and marketing event. More years ago than I care to remember. Some nondescript hotel off an equally nondescript motorway junction. Entirely forgettable.

Except for one conversation which has always stayed with me.

There’d just been a presentation on ‘the sales cycle.’ As we queued for coffee and wondered how old the biscuits were I started talking to the man next to me. It turned out he was responsible for a direct sales team in the life assurance industry.

“So how’s ‘the sales cycle’ go with your guys?” I asked.

“Remarkably simple,” he said. “Virtually every one of my team has a four stage sales cycle.”

“What’s that?”

“You want to know? It goes like this. Prospect – prospect – prospect – prospect: close – close – close – close: spend it – spend it – spend it – spend it. Sod it. Prospect – prospect – prospect…”

I couldn’t help laughing – and I’ve remembered the conversation every time I’ve opened the paper and seen the financial services industry beset by another mis-selling scandal. But it isn’t just ‘commission hungry salesmen’ who get trapped in that four stage sales cycle. I’ve seen it any number of times in any number of industries. And I was thinking about it the other day as I drove home from the annual TAB conference.

I love the two days of the TAB conference: as I wrote the other week it re-energises me and re-focuses me. And it’s a great reminder of the basics – not just of my business, but of any business. I drove away this year with two clear thoughts: I was doing the right things, but maybe I needed to do more of them – and I was proud of my commitment to this blog.

I was talking to one of my newer colleagues over a drink – and no, this time it wasn’t hotel coffee and stale biscuits…

“I’m really busy, Ed,” he said. “In fact I’m so busy that I don’t really have time to do any marketing at the moment.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years – irrespective of the industry I’ve been in or the sales teams I’ve managed – it’s this: marketing cannot be turned on and off like a tap. It’s an essential part of your business: making sure your marketing is running smoothly and that you’re doing it consistently is every bit as important as an appointment with a potential client.

This blog was started on 29th June 2010 as part of my marketing. At the time TAB York had just a handful of members and – not surprisingly – the blog had very few readers. Before I started I spoke to someone who knew a lot about blogs. “You have to do one thing, Ed,” he said. “You have to publish consistently. It’s exactly like a newspaper. And it’s called the Sunday Times. Not the When-I-Can-Be-Bothered Times.”

I rapidly came to understand how difficult it is to publish every week. And with not many readers it would have been easy to give up. But I gradually realised what my expert had meant. Marketing today is more difficult than it used to be, especially if social media is an integral part of it. If you’re blogging or using Twitter it doesn’t cost you anything – except time and commitment.

But if you do put the commitment in – and you do it regularly and consistently – then you will not only generate a regular flow of potential clients, you’ll generate a flow of potential clients who already know that you’ll deliver, because they’ve seen it every week.

“You don’t know me,” a voice on the phone said, “But I’ve been reading your blog every week for a year. I think it’s time to talk.”

That conversation led to a great TAB member. At the time I had absolutely no idea he was reading the blog – and that’s increasingly true of a lot of our marketing. We cast it adrift on social media and we have no idea who might be reading it – or when we might get that phone call.

But make sure your marketing is consistent – whatever form it takes – and I guarantee that someone will read it and act on it. We live in a wholly different world to the old sales approach. Your clients expect you to deliver consistently: make sure your marketing proves that you do.

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?

Sixteen Weeks and Counting…


As I mentioned last week, there were 17 weeks to go until the end of the year. Inevitably, that’s now 16 weeks and – as Rudyard Kipling would have said – we need to fill them with 90 days worth of distance run.

…And we all need to make sure we hit the ground running on Monday January 5th. You have two choices on that morning. You can go into your office knowing exactly what you need to do and what you’re aiming for in 2015. Or you can sit at your desk trying to remember what you do for a living. The choice you make will define – at the very least – the first three months of the year.

So as promised last week, here are five key strategies to follow between now and the end of the year that will help you finish 2014 in a blaze of glory and start 2015 in exactly the way you’d want to start the year.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, remember the mantra of Stephen Covey. ‘Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.’ What’s the One Big Thing you really need to do before the end of the year? What’s the OBT that would make all the difference to your business? Keep that front and centre of your agenda in the next sixteen weeks: share it with your fellow Board members. Don’t worry: they’ll make sure you keep it front and centre…

And yes – if the One Big Thing is simply ‘get all the nasty stuff done’ so you can really start 2015 focusing on exactly what you want to focus on, that’s fine. But the key word there is all. If you’re going to clear the decks, do it thoroughly. Write down everything that needs to be done and out of the way by the end of the year – and sit down to your Christmas dinner with it all done.

Go Away. I absolutely mean it. The Northumberland coast is wonderful in the Autumn. Take yourself off for a couple of days, walk on the beach, come back to wherever you’re staying and sit and think. What do I really want from my business? What could we really achieve if we put our mind to it? And most importantly, is my work/life balance as balanced as I’d really like it to be?

Spend a morning with excel as well – and you need to prepare two cash flow forecasts: the best of times and the worst of times (sorry, I’m still hooked on my Dickens quotes…) Prepare a worst case scenario cash flow forecast: don’t gloss over expenses, assume you’ll lose a major client and assume you’ll hit 80% of your targets. And then dare to dream. What would your business, your bank balance and your life look like if you hit all your targets? Even the ones that you think are well out of reach.

Get your tech up to date. Do you have a social media plan? Can you edit word documents on your iPad? How out of date is your website, Facebook page and Twitter profile? Take the time to do a proper audit of the tech and digital changes you need to make to help you achieve your goals – and I guarantee you’ll be able to find a lot of the answers simply by asking Google and investing some time.

Lastly, find your perfect client. There’s a client or customer out there that you really want to work with in 2015. We’ve all got one, and I’m no exception. So what makes them tick? What do they really want from their business? And why are you the perfect person to supply it? Start the charm offensive now – and you may be pleasantly surprised. They may become a customer or client well before 2015.

Of course, if that happened the killjoys round the Alternative Board table would simply demand that you chose another perfect client, but that’s the price of progress!

Oh – there’s one more thing you need to do well before the end of the year. You know it and I know it. None of what we do or achieve would be possible without the support and understanding of our wives/husbands/partners and families. So don’t leave the Christmas shopping until December 24th. Get it done, cross it off your list and give them the Christmas they deserve…

The World is Big Enough


Last week I wrote about passion – and my absolute belief that your passion is what will ultimately make your business successful.

And that’s fine, assuming your passion is working with owners of SMEs, building websites or manufacturing car seats for small children – there are plenty of customers out there, just as there are for a million other businesses.

But supposing your passion is a real niche business? Is passion enough then – or do you have to accept that however much you care, there simply aren’t enough people that care as much as you do to make it a viable business?

I was having a drink in the pub the other Friday night when I was introduced to a young woman, probably in her mid-thirties. She told me that she ran her own business…

“What do you do?” was the obvious question.

“I make cloth dolls,” she said.

I was dimly aware of what a cloth doll was – but only just. “Right,” I said. “I’ve two boys. I don’t know much about cloth dolls…”

“You wouldn’t have come across mine,” she said. “I specialise in Goths and Steampunk. But I don’t know,” she added, “The market just doesn’t seem to be there…”

We were interrupted at that point – luckily for me before I made a fool of myself trying to hold a conversation about Steampunk.

But I kept coming back to the conversation and I ended up doing ten minutes’ research with those two indispensable members of everyone’s team, Google and Wiki. I learned about Steampunk and I saw how many people went to Whitby for the Goth Weekend.

And I started thinking about passion again – and niche businesses.

Because no, there are nowhere near enough potential customers for the lady I met in the pub if she limits her horizons to South Milford – or even Leeds. But Yorkshire? The UK? The rest of the world? Now we’re talking.

She makes Steampunk and Goth cloth dolls. She sells them for anything up to £200. Number of people needing one in South Milford in a year? One if she’s lucky. In Leeds and the surrounding area? Maybe ten. But in the world? Enough to have a very successful small business.

Just imagine Dav and I are thirty again – and at the weekend we’re Goths. But all that is about to change. Dav is pregnant and weekends in Whitby will shortly give way to the mother and toddler group. But I want to give Dav a present – something absolutely unique: something to remind her of our time as young, carefree Goths…

What better than a cloth doll of Dav the Goth? How utterly brilliant would that be? Would £200 be too much for a custom-made, absolutely unique memento? No, it wouldn’t.

(I have to tell you that my wife peered over my shoulder at that point and read what I’d been writing. I may have some explaining to do…)

But I’m making a serious point. If your passion directs you to a niche business, so be it. Today the internet – and the worldwide market it offers – makes all sorts of businesses possible, from Steampunk cloth dolls upwards. But there are three crucial points you need to bear in mind which will ultimately contribute to your success:

  • You have to be brave: many of us came face to face with some quizzical looks and some indrawn breath when we announced that we were going to start our businesses. If it’s Steampunk cloth dolls then the heads are going to be shaking even more vigorously. There’ll be plenty of days when you doubt your decision – but as I wrote last week, your passion will carry you through.
  • You have to be committed. That means being committed to your niche and being prepared to turn some customers away. You all know my old pal the fitness coach for pregnant women in Knightsbridge. You have to be prepared to say, “I’m very sorry, you’re in Islington…”
  • Lastly, you emphatically must not be afraid to charge what you’re worth. If you’re one of only three people in the country who do what you do that potential customer has not just rung to haggle over the price. And we’re not talking about the price someone would pay in South Milford either: pitch your prices in SW1X and go from there…