Eddie and Jacob: the Unlikely Lads


Every day 300,000 people use Southern Rail: every day, a good proportion of those people are subject to overcrowded trains, delays or cancellations – or all three. Management blames the unions: the unions blame the management and now the owners of Southern Rail have been fined £13.4m – which has only increased the bitterness between the two sides.

But it’s not all doom and gloom at head office: Southern Rail have unwittingly discovered a social media star.

Meet Eddie…

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Eddie – sadly we do not know his second name – is 15 and was at Southern Rail on work experience. The decision was taken to put Eddie in charge of Southern Rail’s Twitter feed, which (as you might guess) is usually a seething hotbed of complaints, abuse and sarcasm. Showing that all the world’s ‘social media consultants’ are grossly overpaid, Eddie wasted no time in introducing himself:

Hi! Eddie here! Here on work experience and ready to answer your questions

Sensing that Eddie may not have the answer to why the 08:32 was delayed, overcrowded or cancelled, Southern Rail’s followers tried a different tack:

Hi Eddie! Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

A tough one: you suspect the traditional occupants of the customer service desk would have struggled. But Eddie was unfazed:

100 duck sized horses. A horse-sized duck would be pretty scary. You? Eddie

That’s a perfect response. In less than 140 characters Eddie answered the question, empathised with the customer and clearly identified himself. And after that he went from strength to strength…

Eddie – would you rather have rollerblades for feet or chopsticks for hands for the rest of your life?

Rollerblades for feet. I feel like I could get used to them pretty quickly and get places quicker.

Unlike Southern Rail someone darkly responded. But Eddie was on a roll, and by the end of his stint was even dishing out dietary advice.

Chicken fajitas or Thai green curry tonight? @Adam_W48 needed to know.

It has to be chicken fajitas Eddie replied with a wink.

For one day at least Southern Rail had given their customers something to smile about. But Eddie is not alone in being an unlikely star of the new media…

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Let me introduce you to an ever more surprising social media star – Jacob Rees-Mogg, or the MP for the 17th Century as he is frequently known. More correctly, the Eton and Oxford educated Mogg – the Moggster to his fans – is the Conservative MP for North Somerset. Unlike many of today’s politicians, Mogg doesn’t pretend to be something he is not. To many, he is what the New Statesman described as ‘a cartoonish toff.’ To others, he is a future Prime Minister – William Hill will offer you 16/1.

But Mogg also has 35,000 followers on Instagram (twice the number Theresa May has). He is not afraid to speak Latin and holds the record for the longest word ever used in the House of Commons (floccloccinaucinihilipilification – it means the habit of estimating something as worthless.) His sixth child was named Sixtus – the Guardian labelled him a ‘Tory sex machine’ – and he campaigns with his eldest son, both of them dressed in identical double-breasted suits.

You suspect that Eddie and Rees-Mogg could not be more different. But what they share is authenticity, and a willingness to answer a question. As Southern Rail casts around for excuses, as United Airlines tries to justify assaulting one of its own passengers and sundry corporate and government ‘spokesmen’ tell us what we all know is patently untrue, maybe business can learn a lesson from Eddie and the Right Honourable Member for the 17th Century. Customers are fed up with spin: more than ever they value the truth, openness, honesty and a willingness to engage.

If you have a problem, admit it. If you’re going to miss the delivery date, tell them. As the old saying goes, ‘The truth hurts, but it doesn’t kill. The lie pleases, but it doesn’t heal.’ I’d go further than that: all our businesses are about building long-term relationships. It is a central part of TAB’s message and beliefs.

The truth may hurt in the short-term, but in the long term it can strengthen a relationship. If you tell the truth when it clearly shows you in a bad light then you’re someone who can be trusted. Lies – or spin – may please in the short-term: you cannot build a long-term business on them.

…And I clearly cannot build a long term business as a sports psychologist. Time to eat humble pie: or humilem massae manducare as JRM would put it. You may have noticed a slightly triumphalist tone in the blog last week. A few words of advice for Joe Root, he scores 190 and England win the first test by 211 runs. Sadly, a week is a long time in the sports psychology business. The last time I checked (from behind the sofa) Joe Root’s off stump was lying flat on the ground and England were sliding to a massive 340 run defeat. No wonder the MCC didn’t pay my invoice…

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United we Fall


Even if you’ve been living in the proverbial cave at the bottom of the proverbial salt mine the news of United Airlines PR disaster-to-end-all-PR-disasters must have reached you by now.

I’ve covered disaster, catastrophe and the required corporate apology before. But that was something minor – just an oil spill and devastation of a coastline. In PR terms, hauling Dr David Dao up the aisle of the United flight to Kentucky was in an altogether different league.

Why? It’s simple. Devastating a coastline is tragic: of course it’s a disaster. But it’s a news item.

What United did to Dr Dao was personal. There isn’t one of us who – next time he flies – won’t sit in his seat, fasten his safety belt and then glance at the aisle of the aeroplane and think, ‘It could have been me…’

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Was United’s action legal? Sadly, yes. It’s right there in the terms and conditions, in 8pt print at the bottom of page 23. Airlines routinely sell tickets to more people than a plane can seat, counting on several people not to arrive. When there are not enough ‘no-shows’ – that is, when passengers are so inconsiderate that they turn up for the flight they booked – then the airlines first try to persuade, reward or bribe passengers to change their flight. Then…

And the figures are small – almost insignificant. In 2016, United Airlines denied boarding to 3,765 of its 86 million passengers: an additional 62,895 passengers voluntarily gave up their seats. In very round figures, that gives you a 1 in 1,000 chance of being ‘bumped,’ voluntarily or involuntarily.

But none of this matters: because we’ll all look at the aisle of the plane and wonder…

Not surprisingly, United took a savage beating on social media: ‘New United Airlines Mottos’ rapidly became one of Twitter’s most popular hashtags…

We put the hospital in hospitality!

Fight or flight

If you can’t seat ’em, beat ’em

…And several others which have no place in a family blog on a Friday morning.

The stock market was equally quick to react with more than $1 billion wiped off United’s stock market valuation.

United’s response to all this was ‘apology by committee.’ You could see the eventual statement had gone round the company several times, with every department head making sure his own base was covered. CEO Oscar Munoz even tried to deflect the blame on to David Dao, saying that he had been “disruptive and belligerent.”

What would I have done? Four things:

  • Have one person immediately issue a genuine and sincere apology to Dr Dao and the other passengers on the flight, without worrying about any hurt feelings at United HQ
  • Settle Dr Dao’s lawsuit immediately, whatever the cost. United cannot have people constantly reminded of this incident
  • Sack the security team, sack the CEO and sack anyone else who didn’t have the courage and the common sense to say, “Stop. This is wrong.”
  • Announce an immediate end to the overbooking of flights. United – and all other airlines come to that – need to give an absolute guarantee that you cannot pay for a flight and then be ‘bounced.’

But all those moves are simply locking the stable door long, long after the horse has bolted. What they needed – what every company needs – is a culture where incidents like that simply cannot occur in the first place. No-one can legislate for one individual’s erratic behaviour, but in United’s debacle everyone screwed up – and it was indicative of a deeper malaise at the company.

Thankfully as I meet more and more Alternative Board members up and down the UK I see the same commitment to clients and customers, and the same determination to build and empower great teams, that was so evident in York. Dr Dao would be safe with any member of the Alternative Board. (United’s HQ is in Chicago: maybe it’s not too late for Oscar Munoz to sign up…)

That’s it for this week – and yes, before you ask, I have noticed that there’s going to be a General Election. I’ll tackle it next week…

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.

Social Media is a Waste of Time. Or is it?


Social media’s here, and it’s here to stay. Whatever platform you use – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and/or any of the others – social media is playing an increasingly influential part in our lives.

But does it work for business? Does social media really generate worthwhile business leads and create customers?

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It’s no surprise that a lot of people are sceptical. After all, look at the headline graph in this article in Entrepreneur. Facebook and Twitter come way below organic search and e-mail for customer acquisition.

But if you read on, you’ll find that most people are using social media in the wrong way. Too many marketers – in both big and small businesses – are using it in the same way they once used an ad in the paper.

The optician: Pop in and see our new luxury Paris fashion frames from Maison Chloe

The hotel: Everyone deserves a little bit of luxury. Treat yourself!

The insurance broker: How badly will your business be hit by a cyber-attack?

Whatever platform you’re on, you have to engage with it. It’s now approaching the status of a well-worn cliché, but social media is a conversation – it’s not a megaphone.

Social media has one huge advantage over traditional forms of marketing. It’s free. It doesn’t cost you anything to tweet, to post on Facebook, or to write a blog.

Unless you value your time of course. That’s why it’s crucial to use social media properly.

In addition to time there’s another charge that’s often laid against social media: you can’t measure the ROI. And I can understand that – the accounts department wants to measure the return on investment, not the return on intuition. But let me quote from the most knowledgeable person I know on the subject:

People tend to look for simple solutions when they’re measuring the ROI – or trying to measure the ROI. But it’s much more complex. First of all, you’re very often investing time, not money. Secondly you need to look at the return on social media in two ways – analytically and anecdotally. You’re going to gain customers or clients – but you’re also going to gain reputation and authority. You can measure the first one analytically: the second though, is much more anecdotal.

Looking at it from the point of view of this blog, that’s exactly right. Has the blog brought new clients? Yes. Has it boosted my reputation? Yes. And somewhere in the middle are those new clients for whom the blog was part of the marketing effort. To paraphrase the old saying. I know the blogs works: I just don’t know how much.

But I know you’re an analytical lot: let’s turn to something that can be measured – and ask a very relevant question. If you’re going to use social media, which platform (or platforms) should you use? There is some seriously useful research here: The Key Demographics of Social Networking Platforms from the Pew Research Center.

I’d recommend reading the article – it won’t take long. But if you don’t have time, here are some snippets. 71% of ‘online adults’ in the US (that’s 58% of all adults) use Facebook – and as you might expect, the average age of a FB user is steadily increasing. 23% of online adults use Twitter: 26% use Instagram – and 28% of them use Pinterest.

The highest earners are on LinkedIn: no surprise there. But there’s also a bias towards higher incomes on Pinterest, a platform that is very popular with women. If your business lends itself to pictures and images – and women are your key customers or decision-makers – then the data suggests you should be using Pinterest.

For all of us running a business, it comes down to time in the end. But I watch Dan and Rory’s increasing use of social media and know that the next generation of consumers will use little else. There are an ever increasing number of social media platforms – and you can’t be on all of them. But you do need to be on some of them – and you need to be talking to your audience, not shouting at them.

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.

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…

200 Not Out…


Good lunch, Blowers?

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

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

Malcolm? You’ll have all the figures…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving It All Away


Virtually everyone reading this blog will have heard the term ‘content marketing.’ Put simply, it’s attracting and retaining customers or clients by creating and/or curating valuable and useful content.

It’s giving your customers something of value – letting them know that you care and that you’re thinking of them. You can do this through your website, your blog and/or any amount of social media channels – from the sober and serious LinkedIn to 140 characters on Twitter.

Content marketing is the way the world is moving: it’s effective, it’s efficient and best of all, it’s very often free. Unless you take your time into account that is…

This blog is a form of content marketing – and yes, it’s time consuming. But I like to think that it’s useful and I am absolutely certain that over the nearly-four years I’ve been writing, the blog has both attracted new clients and developed and strengthened my relationship with existing ones.

As with any form of content marketing, the blog gives away a lot of information. I can’t think of a subject relevant to business that I haven’t covered in the four years and in total there are well over 100,000 words – plus all the insights and extra information from your comments…

All that has been for free. But this is Yorkshire. Should I have given away that much information? After all: if ivver tha does owt fer nowt, allus do it fer thissen.

Sadly, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and Gmail the old Yorkshire adage no longer applies…

I am more convinced than ever that creating, curating and distributing free content is one of the fundamental building blocks of a business and of good relationships with your clients and potential clients. Here are just a few reasons:

  • Free content attracts your target audience. Anyone creating content should have a picture in their mind of the exact target audience they’re aiming for. I won’t embarrass them, but when I write this blog there are a dozen TAB members – and now one potential member – that I keep in mind.
  • Free content gets your ideas and views shared. That’s what you want. If people share your content, re-tweet it, send the link to their friends, that’s exactly what you want. The more people who see what you’ve written the better – and that will happen with good content. As I said last week, you never know who’s there, you never who’s listening – and you never know who’s reading either.
  • Free content establishes your authority. I’ve constantly been astonished by the number of people who’ve said, ‘Oh yes, I read your blog.’ This is one of those instances where you have to rely on the anecdotal evidence, not the analytical. You can’t measure authority, but you do know when you’ve established it.
  • Consistent content proves that you can deliver. For me, this is one of the huge advantages of blogging on a regular basis. If someone says, ‘I’ve read your blog every week for two years’ I don’t need to convince them that I’ll deliver consistently. They’ve already seen the proof.
  • They also know (hopefully!) that I’m a nice guy. That’s another advantage of content – you can use it to establish your personality. You can also use it to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

So back to the earlier question. Do I give away too much content? Is that something you should worry about if you’re currently creating content, or planning to start?

No, it isn’t.

People appreciate free content. But they will always pay for the content and information that is specific to them – that answers the questions they want answering. Free content will establish your authority, help you connect with an audience and prove you’d be a good person to deal with – but don’t worry, you’ll still get paid for the nitty-gritty.

To hark back to blog no. 99, Make Good Art – use free content to show people what it is that only you do best: and then they’ll pay you for doing it.