Charisma for Dummies…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This above all: to thine own self be true

And it must follow, as the night the day

Thou canst not then be false to any man

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

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

You Never Get a Second Chance – to Make a Bad Impression

As the old cliché goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But increasingly there’s an alternative ending for that saying: you never get a second chance to make a bad impression.

There’s many a morning that I find myself in York ridiculously early and – like everyone else these days – I’m soon carrying a cup of coffee. Also like everyone else, I’m a creature of habit – so I always go to the same place for my coffee. It’s near the car park and the latte’s not bad. Not great, you understand, but not bad.

And there’s the rub, as that well known management consultant Hamlet would put it. If you sell coffee, you are not short of competition. Move 50 yards to your right or left on any high street, or walk across the road, and there’s an alternative. In fact, any reasonably intelligent visitor from outer space who landed in our nation’s capital could only come to one logical conclusion: the entire economy of the UK is based on lattes, cappuccinos and whatever a double mocha grande is…

Back to the other morning. There I am in York buying my coffee; handing over my £2.10 – clearly I’ve lived in Yorkshire long enough now because there’s part of me that still can’t come to terms with paying more than two quid for a cup of coffee.

So it has to be good.

And it wasn’t.

I’m prepared to accept 6/10 at 7:30 in the morning. I’m not prepared to accept 3/10, which is what this particular latte was. And I could tell as they were making it: they simply didn’t pay attention.

Two days later I deserted. I was back in York, I bought another coffee. But I’d gone 50 yards up the road. I wasn’t prepared to risk another three.

I felt slightly bad about this seemingly trivial decision. But then I talked to a couple of friends and they said much the same. And it struck me that there was an important business lesson in the story.

I think we’re becoming an increasingly impatient society. I’m not saying that’s a good thing: but I am saying it’s a fact. Whatever we want, we want it now. Whatever we want to know, Google tells us.

And we’re becoming less tolerant of things that disappoint us. Even when we’re only spending a couple of quid, it has to be right. Exactly right.

The lesson for your business is clear: it doesn’t matter whether what you sell or the service you provide costs £2 or £2,000, it has to be right. And it has to be exactly right every time. You have to deliver what your customer or client expects and you have to deliver it remorselessly – because there’s always an alternative.

That’s why I’m such a passionate advocate of doing what only you do best. If you do that thing at which you are truly excellent then a) you’ll always be at the top of your game and b) your business will fun and profitable. And as my old ‘mentor’ Bob Townsend put it, ‘if you’re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing here?’

Decent cup of coffee in hand I’ll be back next week on Valentine’s Day. I repeat, Valentine’s Day. So maybe next time I’m in York I should be focusing on something other than the quality of my coffee…

Looking Back, Looking Forward

’Twas the night before Christmas…

Well, nearly. Just five sleeps to go as my children would say – and this year, Ed, try and remember the carrot for Rudolph…

I know you’re desperate to leave the office so I won’t keep you too long – but the last blog before Christmas is a good time to take a look back at 2013, and to see what 2014 has in store for TAB York and its members.

January seems a long time ago now – and the year did not start well. Business confidence was low and there were real fears of the UK slipping back into a triple-dip recession. Looking around the TAB boardroom table now – and speaking to people in and around York – exactly the reverse seems to be the case. Confidence among SMEs is gradually returning: slowly perhaps, but the glass is definitely half-full these days.

Plenty of TAB members have had tough decisions to make this year and I’m pleased to say that by and large they’ve got those decisions right. For a lot of you it’s been the year when the buck has well and truly stopped at your desk, and I know there have been a few sleepless nights over some of the choices you’ve had to make. Hopefully those decisions are now paying off.

In particular it’s always tempting when the economy is bumping along the bottom to change your relationship with customers and suppliers – to ‘buy’ business or accept second best from your suppliers. Don’t. Once you’ve done that it never goes back to the way it was when the economy finally improves. So an A* to everyone who stuck to their guns in 2013.

Of course, 2013 was also a special year for TAB York with Jackie and Julia joining the team. Or more precisely, turning a one man band into a team!

And the ‘growing up’ theme was continued at home: Dan has now started ‘big school’ – and all is well so far, thank goodness. My wife started a new job: and maybe this is the appropriate time to say thank you to Dav for all her support throughout the year – and to apologise for the times I’ve said, “Just give me a few minutes while I finish the blog…”

So what of 2014?

Well, the Reid family will be taking to the ski slopes in February. Borovets in Bulgaria may never be the same again. And of course, the Tour de France comes to Yorkshire – which is a tremendous coup for the region. Sadly it may give several middle-aged men who should know better the chance to slip into a pair of cycling shorts, but in terms of publicity and the ‘feelgood’ factor it’s absolutely brilliant.

It’s going to be an exciting year for TAB York as well. The plan is to reach 50 members, which would put us in the premier league of TAB ‘global.’ I won’t put a date on it, but that’s the first target.

And there are some ambitious targets among the TAB York members as well – which I’m really pleased to see. Several Board members have weathered the storms of the last few years and now find themselves positioned for serious success – and I’m delighted for them.

So despite 2013 starting off on a low key note it’s ending with a general feeling of optimism (unless you’re one of my sons, in which case it’s almost uncontrollable optimism at the moment. But no, we have not bought everything on your list…)

2014 promises to be exciting, challenging and full of opportunities – and I am seriously looking forward to seeing and sharing the success of my TAB members. You’ve worked hard; you deserve it.

And now all that’s left is to thank you for reading the blog throughout the year and to wish you and those close to you a very happy Christmas: and may 2014 be a truly special year for you.

Drones, PESTs and the Future

The difficult we do at once: the impossible just takes a little longer.

We’ve all seen that message on someone’s website, or tacked up on the wall as we wait in reception.

And we smile to ourselves and think, ‘Yeah, yeah. Cliché alert. Impossible is impossible and let’s not pretend otherwise. Certain things can’t be done and they’re never going to be done.’

And yet here I am carrying my entire music collection in my pocket. Every book in our house wouldn’t even fill a quarter of my Kindle. And I’m just going to have a face to face conversation over a mobile phone…

What was science fiction when I was a child is now part of everyday life. And so are plenty of things that didn’t even make it into the imagination of the science fiction writers.

So I watched this video with some interest. And I showed it to someone else who said, ‘Don’t be stupid, that’s never going to happen.’

If you haven’t time to click the link – and I really suggest you do – it’s from Amazon. And it shows a drone delivering the book you ordered around 30 minutes ago.

Now you might say it’s a remarkably clever marketing ploy by Amazon to release the video on Cyber Monday – the day when we’re all apparently ordering online as if our lives depended on it and last year we Brits spent £10,000 a second.

I’ve been reading a lot about Amazon lately. They’ve received a good deal of negative press over the past few weeks and it was hard not to be swayed as I read this article in the Observer at the weekend – especially as it included one particularly chilling stat from the US.

According to research from the ILSR, shops employ 47 people for every $10m in sales. That figure rises to 52 if you only look at independent retailers. Amazon employs only 14 for every $10m of sales. So, argues the ILSR, Amazon doesn’t create jobs, it destroys them.

But is that really Amazon’s fault? I think they’ve captured a need brilliantly. Let me say here and now that I find the idea of ordering a book and watching it touch down on my patio half an hour later remarkably attractive. I don’t see that as destroying the high street: I see it as consumers’ needs changing. There’s still a place for the high street. But customers now want great products, superb customer service and a willingness to change and adapt.

That’s what I admire in the Amazon/drones story. Someone has looked at the way they deliver products to people, looked at the technological advances and thought, “Why not?”

From time to time I encourage my clients to forsake SWOT and do a PEST analysis instead. If you’ve never come across it, PEST stands for Political – Economic – Social – Technological. In short they’re the changes that might impact on your business – and if I have one message for 2014 it’s ignore PEST at your peril.

I’ve often written that if Amazon does what you do you’re in trouble. Well, if there’s a possibility that Amazon could do what you do, then you’re also in trouble. EBay and the internet meant a boom time for courier companies and the distribution sector. 20 years from now drones could well have wiped them out.

So more than ever in 2014 be aware of the world and the way it’s changing. For once, the cliché is right – these days, the impossible does just take a little longer. And if you don’t do the impossible, your competitors will.

Robert Kennedy wasn’t talking about running an SME in North Yorkshire, but in 2014 we’ll all need to remember his words:

There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why… I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?

The Holidays Are Coming. Are We Pleased?

I’d like to say I was chatting to a friend of mine the other day. But I wasn’t. I was on the receiving end of a Rant. And yes, it was a Rant with a capital ‘R.’

The holidays are coming tra-la-la-la-la. Well as far as I’m concerned, Ed, they’re not coming until I’ve waded through six more weeks of &*%! in the NHS. Damn Christmas adverts before I’ve even picked up all the fireworks in the garden and the kids being driven ballistic and all this ‘how many sleeps until he comes’ nonsense well I can tell you if I ever come across anyone who wants to see a Christmas advert in November or even thinks about Christmas in November I’ve a good mind to…

At this point, I confessed it was my round and beat a hasty retreat to the bar. Because I was that person. In my previous life it was my job to think about Christmas in March and April.

As most of you know, I spent a lot of time with Diageo and Nestle – booze and chocolates, two items which are fairly high on the shopping list come December. At both companies sales in December were crucial: I won’t say they determined the success or failure of the whole year, but they weren’t far off. So we did a lot of planning and we started that planning early. I was thinking about one Christmas almost as soon as the last one had finished.

As a result, I’m almost expecting to see Christmas ads in November. Show them in September and I might mutter ‘bah, humbug’ – but early November is perfectly fine with me. Besides, I’ve two boys who do manage to drop the occasional hint that Christmas is on its way…

But I realise that I’m in an ever-decreasing minority. I realise that there’s a general feeling that the Christmas ads are appearing on our screens long before we want to see them.

…And the business coach in me wonders, ‘Are the Christmas ads now counter-productive?’ Are the companies that are really winning the Christmas war the ones that are simply carrying on as normal in November?

I just had a look at the Amazon site – which is, after all, where a great many of us will do our Christmas shopping. There’s a discreet message in the top right hand corner: Early Bird Christmas Offers. That’s it; the site is definitely not dripping in tinsel and fairy lights.

More pertinently, does all this have a marketing lesson for our businesses? Do we risk alienating our clients and customers by telling them what they already know?

Does [insert name of your preferred supermarket] really need to spend millions showing me yet another happy couple whose festive season – and possibly marriage – has only been saved by rushing out for some prawn vol-au-vents?

Does my local solicitor need to remind me that I’ll die and therefore need to make a will? Does my accountant need to spend money to tell people that they’ll pay tax?

I’m beginning to wonder if this type of advertising does boost sales – or whether it actually turns people off your brand? As the trend moves from traditional forms of ‘outbound’ marketing to engagement and ‘inbound’ marketing, should we risk telling people what they already know – but don’t want to be reminded of?

My answer is simple: I don’t know. More than ever, I’d be really interested to know what you think – because I’m beginning to wonder if my friend’s rant was indicative of a trend that has marketing implications for all of us…

Why it’s Best to be David

Let’s consider one of the most famous mano a mano fights of all time. Not Ali vs. Frazier. Not even Vinny Jones vs. Paul Gascoigne. We need to go a little bit further back – to what was billed as the most lopsided contest of them all: David vs. Goliath.

You all know the story – and you all know the result.

The question is, what can David and his slingshot teach you about business in North Yorkshire? Or anywhere else come to that…

According to a new book by Malcolm Gladwell (of Outliers fame) the result of David vs. Goliath was a forgone conclusion. David was a certainty – quick, nimble, deadly accurate with his slingshot: Goliath never stood a chance. It was, according to Gladwell, the equivalent of someone with a sword coming up against someone with a Colt 45.

Where’s the business lesson? Right there. I spend a good deal of my time convincing Davids (TAB members) that they can compete – and win – against the Goliaths in their industry. And with every day that passes I become more convinced that not only can they win, they should win. Why? They’re more agile, they think better, they give better value and better service: above all, they care.

I would always choose a smaller, local supplier over one of the national household names. So why do I spend so much time convincing TAB members to go for it? Persuading them that they can win the contract?

The main reason is confidence – or lack of it. People simply don’t believe that they can beat the giants of whatever industry they’re in. ‘Why will they deal with a small company in a village outside York when they can deal with one of the industry leaders firmly based in the centre of London?’

I repeat: because you’re quicker, sharper, think more clearly, give outstanding service and you care. I would put that last point much more strongly, but this is a family blog.

David won because he saw the situation more clearly. He didn’t see the giant Goliath. He saw someone who was slow. Who could be attacked from distance. As Malcolm Gladwell points out, Goliath’s only hope of winning was to get his hands on David – and that was never going to happen.

David didn’t see a sword fight either. Sure, it had always been a sword fight in the past: but it didn’t have to be a sword fight in the future. If you were up against Goliath, a sling was just fine. In fact, a sling – accurate over a hundred yards – was far better than a sword.

And once David had seen the situation clearly, he was confident he could win. That’s how it is with my TAB members: very often it isn’t about their ability or the product they deliver, it’s about their confidence and their ability to see what really matters.

So if you find yourself cast as David against Goliath, what you should you do? I’ll look at exactly how to plan your campaign in a future blog, but for now…

• Go for it. If the business is worth going for then don’t let anything put you off
• Play to your strengths. You’ll have plenty of them – not just the ones listed above
• And play to Goliath’s weaknesses. What are the areas where you can deliver and a big company can’t?

Have a brilliant weekend: I’m convinced the business climate is moving more and more in favour of smaller companies and I’d be absolutely delighted to hear about your David vs. Goliath successes…

Why? How? What?

Consider these two marketing messages.

We make great computers. They’re simple to use. Beautifully designed and really user-friendly. Wanna buy one?

In everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo. We do this by making products that are simple to use, beautifully designed and user-friendly. We just happen to make computers. Are you ready to buy one?

Much as I’d like to, I can’t claim the credit for that. I’ve taken it from Simon Sinek’s TED talk in 2009 – ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action.’

In the talk Sinek discusses what he calls ‘the golden circle.’ The ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘what’ of business. His point is simple: all businesses and entrepreneurs know what they do. Most know how they do it. But very few know why they do it. And it’s the ‘why’ that distinguishes the truly great businesses. As you may have guessed, Sinek was using Apple under Steve Jobs as the example for the marketing messages above.

What does Simon Sinek mean by ‘why?’ Well, what he doesn’t mean is profit: in his view, profit is simply the result of doing what you do. ‘Why’ is the core belief that underpins your business: it’s the reason you get up in the morning: it’s the reason why you care – and the reason why anyone else cares about your business.

As Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Do I agree with this? Yes. Absolutely. A hundred per cent. And so on.

Every time I see someone build a really successful business, there’s a compelling ‘why’ that underpins their journey. It can be anything from a deeply personal story to a simple belief that there has to be a better way. Or as one business owner said to me, “This is what makes me truly happy. This is what makes me sing and dance. This is what I was meant to do.”

The ‘why’ – the core belief – is almost never money. In my whole business career, only twice has an entrepreneur said to me, “I’m doing this because it will make me thousands and thousands of pounds.” The overwhelming majority of the time it’s as Sinek says: if the underlying ‘why’ is there, then material rewards are simply the by-product of doing what you do. (If you want to read more about Simon Sinek’s ideas, here’s the link to his book, Start With Why.)

That’s why the marketing messages I quoted at the beginning of this post are so important. I’ve talked many times in this blog about communicating with clients and potential clients, especially through your website. And my view has always been the same: you should write what your clients want to read, not what you want to write.

And what clients want to read is why you care and whether or not you’d be good to deal with – not how well qualified you are.

In Simon Sinek’s terms too many businesses communicate from the outside in: this is what we do and this is how we do it. We’re great solicitors, we’re really well qualified and we work from these superb offices.

What they should be doing is working from the inside out – this is why we do what we do. We believe that everyone has the right to an outstanding legal service: that’s why we pass exams and keep our knowledge up to date…

Just try that on your business. Spend ten or fifteen minutes working from the inside out – from ‘why’ to ‘what.’ A great place to start is with a blank sheet of paper and the words, ‘We believe.’

Give it a try. You might be surprised where it takes you…

It’s a Fine Line

On Saturday April 27th Marcello Trotta stepped up to take a penalty. It was the third minute of injury time. Brentford 0-0 Doncaster. If he scored, Brentford would be promoted to the Championship. Trotta took a deep breath and started his run-up…

He hit the bar. Doncaster broke away and scored at the other end. They were promoted and Brentford faced the play-offs. But three weeks later they lost 2-1 to Yeovil and were condemned to another season in League One.

I was thinking about Trotta as Kevin Phillips took his penalty for Crystal Palace on Monday. Score and Palace would almost certainly win the ‘£120m game’ and promotion to the Premiership. Miss it and… well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. (For the non-football fans among you, he scored.)

The margins between success and failure in sport are very fine – we all know that. Your ball hits the lip of the bunker, rolls towards the hole and finishes stone dead: two inches further and you’d have been plugged in wet sand. And the margins are unforgiving as well. Who finished second to Mo Farah in the Olympic 10,000 metres? Who finished second to Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France? Winners – by however narrow a margin – have their names engraved on the trophy: runners-up try and persuade their sponsors to stick with them for another year.

Then they try to cope with the despair, and try not to notice the wild celebrations on the other side of the stadium.

Thank goodness it’s not like that in business.

Except that sometimes, it is…

Right now, I know that three or four of my TAB members have big, big deals in the pipeline. Deals that will change the face of their business. If you like, deals which will push them up a division.

And win or lose that will bring problems for those Board members.

Supposing they don’t get the deals? Then there’ll be an inevitable sense of deflation. Their team – just like a sports team – will need picking up to ‘go again’ and pitch for the next big deal. That’s when the owner of an SME faces a tough task – dealing with their own feelings whilst being part motivator and part psychologist; reminding everyone that they were ‘good enough to get to the final.’ And yes, for now it’s back to the normal day to day stuff: but there’ll be another final – another big deal – round the corner.

So is everything in the garden automatically rosy if you do get the big deal? If you suddenly find yourself playing with the big boys? Not necessarily.

First of all some of your team may not want to move up a league. Others might be right at home from day one. There are plenty of examples of that in sport. Has a player ever taken to test cricket more readily than Joe Root? Has any player ever looked more tortured that Nick Compton did as he scratched out those seven runs on Sunday night?

So some people won’t relish the challenge. Others will go too far in the opposite direction. Your job then is to rein them back without killing their enthusiasm; to make sure – as the Greeks used to point out – that hubris doesn’t lead to nemesis.

And how do you deal with the penalty taker? The person whose job it is to land the big deal? However much it’s a team effort, at some point someone has to ask the age-old question: ‘would you like it in red or blue?’ In many SMEs that will be the owner: in others it will be the sales director – as many managers have found out, balancing the contrasting needs of the galacticos and the water-carriers can be a very difficult task.

So a couple of questions to finish this week. If you clinched the big deal and ‘got promoted’ how did your team react? And what unexpected challenges did it pose? If you missed out, how did you pick your team up and motivate them to go again? Above all, what positives did you manage to take from it?

As always, have a great weekend.

What you can learn from a Cleaning Company

When I’m looking for inspiration for this blog I sometimes cruise around the internet. Sometimes it’s a waste of time: sometimes I find a gem. This week it was the latter.

Here’s the link to the article I found and here’s the company’s current website. But first, here’s the story.

It’s about a cleaning company in New York. Now in the age of Facebook and Twitter and iPhones and apps a cleaning company is about as unsexy as it gets. The CEO was a former derivatives salesman – what on earth was he doing starting a cleaning company? Especially one where – as the article freely relates – one of the main ways of getting business in the early days was pounding the streets and knocking on doors.

What I liked about the article was its openness about how hard it was in the beginning. The business idea was simple – a website that allowed residential and corporate clients in New York to book a cleaner online. But there were problems: the founders of the company were all non-technical – so the website and its maintenance had to be outsourced – and there was no money. It was a bootstrap business.

They made mistakes as well – originally they outsourced the cleaning to third party cleaning agencies. Disaster: “all of our 1* reviews are from those days.”

But eventually they got it right, and in less than three years from September 2010 to April 2013 monthly revenue grew from $15,000 to $300,000 – with expectations of turnover reaching $4m for the full twelve months. By anyone’s standards those numbers are hugely impressive.

So what did do right? And what lessons can you learn that will help in your business? Here are four that I picked out from the article:

• First of all MyClean saw a gap in the market and went for it – clearly, they’d tried to find a cleaner in New York and found out that it wasn’t easy
• They knew their figures: 7% of visitors to the website converted into customers – I know I’m always talking about your KPIs, but those are the sort of figures you absolutely need to know
• When the tech didn’t work, they didn’t give up. I dare say there are a few people reading this blog who’ve knocked on doors in their time. How many of us would be prepared to do it now?
• And above all, they got the one key basic of their business right. Whatever else went wrong, they made sure that the cleaning was right. That was the product they were supplying and it had to be perfect.

And now four lessons that MyClean themselves take from the last 2½ years:

• Pick a big market – they put the home cleaning market at $65bn a year. If you choose a market like that you only need a small slice to have a serious business: and as MyClean say, it leaves a lot of margin for error. It’s far easier to fail in a new or unproven market
• Turn what’s hard into what’s easy. Dav and I have a cleaner. Is finding a good one easy? Absolutely not: it should be, but it isn’t
• Focus on your strengths. No, the founders of MyClean weren’t technical – so they focused on what they were good at (sales and operations) and got someone else to do the techie jobs
• Focus on what is profitable: not on what is sexy. You couldn’t find a less sexy market than cleaning homes and offices – but it will always need doing and doing well. Is it profitable? Clearly – and as MyClean point out, there are now plenty of hugely well-funded start-ups trying to break into their market.

I think it’s a really interesting business story: a basic need and a very basic business. Yes, it was tackled in a new way, but that new way simply emphasised one of the key points I always try and stress through TAB – the fundamental facts of business will always, always apply.

PS Had my ex-boss from Diageo round for lunch on Saturday. What’s he doing now? Running a rapidly expanding cleaning company in North Yorkshire! So when you sell It’s Clean for a couple of million, remember who gave you the idea, won’t you…

Don’t Hide your Light…

Last week I looked at the ability to stand outside yourself: to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and look at your business from a totally different point of view.

A lot of us find that difficult. But from talking to clients, potential clients and friends there’s something that us shy, retiring Brits find even more difficult – and that’s promoting ourselves and our businesses.

A friend of mine is in the running for an award at the moment. Out of 4,000 nominations he’s through to the final five – and he’d like to win. To do that he has to get the most votes. Simple. Or is it? You know what, Ed? I just hate asking people to vote for me. It makes me feel really uncomfortable. If they like what I do then, great, vote for me. But asking for votes makes me feel seriously uneasy.

I suspect a lot of us can empathise with that. Blowing your own trumpet (what a gloriously old fashioned phrase) isn’t something that comes naturally to many of us.

The problem is that whether it comes naturally or not, it needs to be done. You are not just CEO, MD, Accounts Department, Credit Control, Stock Controller, Purchasing Manager and – occasionally – tea boy. You are also Chief Cheerleader.

No-one else will ever care about your business like you do, and if you don’t spread the word, then who will?

As my first sales manager used to say, “They’re out there, Ed. But none of them are going to come and knock on your office door and ask to buy something.” And as that other icon of the sales industry put it, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel, Edward.” Thanks, Granny.

I wrote a post some time ago called The Shy Entrepreneur. I made the point that social media – through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging – makes it very easy to tell your story. The problem is that they make it almost too easy – so there’s a temptation to stay in your nice, cosy office thinking that posting an update or a link is enough. As we saw last week, it isn’t.

So what can you do to have the confidence to promote your business – without turning into the bloke everyone dreads: the one who pins you in the corner and drones on incessantly about his widget company.

I think the answer is very simple, and when I see a friend or a client ‘get’ this it’s one of the most rewarding moments in my business life.

The answer is to believe. To believe that your product or service is genuinely outstanding – that it offers your clients the very best that is available. Because let me tell you, from what I know of Board members and the other people that read this blog, it is.

We all have moments of doubt – and I include myself in that. There were times when I’d just set up the business and I was running round desperately seeing people and even more desperately trying to put the first Board together when I wouldn’t have been human if I didn’t have doubts.

But do I now believe that TAB York offers an outstanding service? Emphatically. And yes, you can go out there and you can find cheaper peer support groups: if you look hard enough, you can find a cheaper anything. But can you find a peer support group with the commitment to excellence, the consistent delivery and outstanding fellow Board members? No, you can’t. And I’m proud of that.

We all know the famous saying: successful people do the things unsuccessful people don’t like doing. That’s absolutely correct – and of those key things is promoting themselves and their business. It has to be done, ladies and gentlemen – and quietly, confidently and consistently, you’re the person to do it.