Boastful, confident or diffident – which is best?

Yes, you’d think the answer’s a no brainer yet achieving the optimum mindset and behaviour is not a slam dunk.

Decades ago I learned when interviewing potential sales people for our department that most of the male applicants would be assertive (often verging on aggressive), “bigging up” the skills and abilities they already possessed, and their track record. The input from the majority of females on the other hand would be more along the lines of “I think I can do this job well with the right training”.

Since we invariably preferred to instill our own Thomson methods of training we were more interested in raw material potential than evidence of often bad sales techniques and habits that we’d have to train out to make way for what we wanted to train in… And we made it plain in our recruitment campaigns that experience was not necessary as full training would be given… Yet even so, the guys, by and large, exhibited what’s often referred to as the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” during the selection interviews.

Years later, when looking for interviewers for a substantial telephone marketing research campaign on behalf of a b2b client, determined not to be labelled as being descriminatory against either sex I interviewed guys and gals and came across exactly the same syndrome. I stressed that experience was not essential – a good , clear voice, pleasant personality and the ability to listen and make accurate notes was. I took on five of each yet by the end of two weeks had dispensed with the services of the guys: They just couldn’t get the interviews…


In my opinion this just doesn’t work. When I was going after a promotion to a management position many years ago one piece of advice was “Act like you already have the job” to which I responded: “I’ll act like I have the job once I get it – I’m not going about ordering my colleagues around in the meantime…”.

  • I was wrong and
  • The advice wasn’t specific enough

I believe what my well-meaning advisor actually meant was: “Think of the qualities displayed by those you admire who are already holding a similar position, and demonstrate that you, too, have those qualities (whether you get the job or not).” And I would have bought into that whole-heartedly.

Think about the examples here and see if they apply to you or any of your employees. Then see how you can help yourself or them to raise the game… :-)

My thanks to Lindy Asimus for starting me off on this train of thought… :-)

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What advice or skills should you expect to pay for?

Back in the early noughties I invested a lot of time creating a course on sales and marketing communications specifically for entrepreneurs and owners of micro (1 – 10 employees) businesses, primarily in the B2B arena, where the main “man” was still responsible for the sales and marketing activities.

It was a proper “how to” distance learning course (as they were still called back then) that led participants step by step through each activity, it had examples of of using the skills in different situation and industries, exercises and worksheets that they filled out and submitted to me. We’d have weekly one-one-one telephone or Skype session to chart progress and iron out any bumps that had cropped up in their learning, honing and application of skills and techniques.

Now I’m one of the best sales trainers I’ve ever come across when it comes to training those who dread coming across as pushy sales men or women are concerned. If they couldn’t face the idea of making a “cold” sales call I’d included alternatives that they could learn to use – market/ marketing research, for example. And those who took the course found their success as a result of taking my course sky rocketed. But it turned out there weren’t enough of them, and I wasn’t charging enough to make the living I expected to from it.

As a good businessman I later came across said to me: “Fabulous idea; amazing value; but wrong audience – they’ll never pay you what it’s worth…” And he was right.

It was slightly better when I reduced the course to straight sales and telephone sales training that bosses could purchase for their under-performing sales representatives: It was obviously more appealing to fund a subordinate to do the learning than pay and have to go through the learning process as well…

An eye opener then was, when I asked the employer how the employee was performing against job specification and targets, I discovered how few micro businesses even had job specs for their staff, but that’s another story…

So, back to the original question

What advice or skills should you expect to pay for?

These days so much information is available for free, delivered right to our inbox just for the “price” of sharing an email address and agreeing to receive downloads of MP3s, .pdfs, attend webinars, teleseminars, and so on. We can get a plethora of advice if we’re prepared to trade some time and hear/ read the back stories that seem to be an essential part of why we should take notice of this particular expert. The freebies, when looked at objectively, are very often “what to” do so it’s wise to be prepared for the inevitable sales pitch that promises us the “how to…” And then it’s wise to look at the price tag compared to what the expert is offering in terms of how it will enrich our lives: $27, $47 or $97 doesn’t to me somehow add up to a likely Eureka! experience. And very few training products – self/ business improvement/ development are effective without accountability measures being in place…

What we should never expect to get free or “on the cheap” is one on one tailored help: advice, guidance, mentoring or training. Those who are offering that level of help have invested heavily in themselves in terms of time, money and effort: Why on earth should that be given away?

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Can a salaried college Professor who’s never run a business teach students how to become successful entrepreneurs?

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

I posted the question in the title of this post on a LinkedIn group over two years ago:
“Can a salaried college Professor who’s never run a business teach students how to become successful entrepreneurs?”

The sub questions were

  • What do you think?
  • Yes or no?
  • And why?

And the responses were have been thought provoking, for example:

Being an entrepreneur requires a host of attributes- some laudable, others less so – however, one key success factor that I believes trumps them all is the ability to deal with life as it “is” as opposed to how it should be.

There was more from that individual (a successful businessman and entrepreneur himself, so worthwhile taking note of) and his response certainly made me think some more:

My initial thinking was that it would be darned hard (if not impossible) for someone to teach others how to set up and run a successful business if s/he had no personal experience of doing it.

And that was my first mistake

College profs teaching business courses don’t actually do that, do they? They don’t teach people to be successful entrepreneurs. They teach specific skills like how to write business plans, strategy, sales, marketing, networking, accountancy/ bookkeeping, and so on, that are needed in business.

Catch 22 or brilliant solutions?

I suspect the entrepreneurs are too busy ‘out there’ using their street smarts and doing deals to allocate much time to classroom learning what the profs have on offer.

The other interesting core of this clanger of mine in the original question, that the guy who first responded identified (without rubbing my nose in it!) was, I believe, “the essence of what it is to be an entrepreneur” and whether that is something that can be taught at school.

And this lead me on to ponder… There are all these psychometric tests to assess suitability for employment these days – are there any to identify potential entrepreneurs, I wonder? Or ‘natural’ franchisees? Agents? Big company employees? Small company employees? (Maybe by now, two years on, those tests do exist and provide reliable results – do you know of any? If so, please share in the comments…)

If they don’t exist there could be a market for someone smart enough to come up with good, reliable tests that could help steer people in the best direction for them. They could save an awful lot of tears, couldn’t they?

Here’s another response that should give you food for thought

I recently attended gathering at one of the local colleges for entrepreneurs. On display were “ideas” for different businesses created by the students. Some were truly amazing and with the right marketing etc, could really be a viable business opportunity…

I asked each (inventor) the same questions and got almost the same answer verbatim. I simply asked, “Are you going to pursue this after graduation as a business?” and my response was very sad: over 70 of our country’s best and brightest… and they all said NO. The reasons varied, but for the most part they all would be looking to enter the job market after graduation. So to answer your question above..the answer is NO. A college professor can NOT teach you how to be a business owner. They can put you on the path as to the logistics of owning a business. But that’s about it.

It takes internal drive and determination to be a entrepreneur, and not good grades in school.

This was intriguing…

I wondered whether these youngsters ALLOWED their creativity to take wing purely because to them it wasn’t really real – it was just a college project, they’d be getting ‘proper’ jobs so why not let their imagination get as wild and whacky as it wanted to?

So they allowed themselves to come up with a big picture ‘what’ that may have been truly unique to them, without being hampered in the early stages of the ‘how’ – something they wouldn’t normally let happen. And that‘s when the big ideas and possibilities came to them – when they weren’t limiting themselves… because it wasn’t much more than a game…

Another contribution

As a former entrepreneur now working in a teaching environment “reality” is powerful tool. Story telling is a tool I use because of the impact it has on the members in my group. I am in the business of peer to peer learning. The accumulation of the bruises on my backside is an advantage that an academic doesn’t have. I know of other former entrepreneurs in formal academic environments and I believe their students get a unique point of view.

There have been many additional comments from people who’ve taken part since… the latest, surprisingly to me, just the other day…

What are your thoughts on the subject?

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The Four WP Pillars and Foundation of YOUR Business

Four WP Pillars and Foundation of Your Business

No business stands still. It either grows or atrophies. Now, there can be loads of contributing factors to your business expanding or wasting away so let’s keep it simple for now and focus on four “pillars” that I’ve dubbed “WP” and that need to be ‘right’ as they underpin any successful business.

1 Why?

This is “Why did you set up (or buy or merge your company with) this particular business?”

If the answer is purely financial opportunity, don’t be surprised if you hit obstacles as at some point that may seem insurmountable and not worth the effort/ aggro, because there will be no real underlying Passion that provides an overriding raison d’être to carry on with it through tough times. The old newspaper barons, for example, passionately fought tooth and nail to establish then keep their publications going and retain ownership through thick and thin, though very few newspapers were profitable. Instead they opened doors to segments of society, conferred standing in the community, recognition, and often a legacy – in short the things that money alone can’t buy. yet that passion got diluted/ eroded down through the generations and you be hard pushed to find a family-owned publication of any note nowadays…

2 What?

This is: “What is the Purpose of your business?”

  • What does it do uniquely or better than anybody else/ any other company, for whom?
  • Why is it needed, and by whom?
  • Why is it valued, by whom?
  • What is it worth/ what is its value to your ideal target audience?

If you can’t succinctly answer these to someone who’s never heard of you/ your company before, it’s going to be an uphill struggle to believably position yourself as anything but a commodity. And being seen as a commodity is not an even acceptable, let alone good, place to be,in anything but the most buoyant of markets – which we’re obviously NOT in currently.

3 Way?

The way is your Process.

Actually there will be several processes – creative, planning, production, sales and marketing, distribution, accounts – are just some of the many that spring to mind. And it was W Edwards Deming (he who played a huge part in getting the Japanese production industry and therefore that country’s economy off the ground after World War II) who said that a poor process will scupper any great idea or product (I’m probably mangling the quote but you get the idea). And just because a process works well to begin with, it’s by no means a ‘done deal’: you need to keep running PDCA(Plan-Do-Check-Act) against each to see how well it holds up and where/ how it can be improved.

4 Who?

This part about People is potentially multi-faceted too, and obviously includes partners, employees and suppliers amongst many more but, again let’s keep it simple and look at just two big areas:

  • Your target audience
  • Your competition

A target audience and its needs mature and markets evolve – are your offerings keeping pace with or even anticipating and meeting those needs almost or even (ideally) actually before they’re expressed? Or are you sticking with what you’ve always offered and suffering customer churn – in your case not because of bad or faulty goods or service but just because your customers have ‘outgrown’ you?

For example, much has been made in recent years of the innovations from Steve Jobs and Apple. You couldn’t have got help from a focus group with many of Apple’s creations because folk couldn’t conceive of these products’ capabilities until they were job-done (sorry, awful pun!) and laid out before them.

On the competitor side: Maybe you didn’t have much in the way of competition when you set out, or the nature of it has gradually changed. Even well established corporations can get this horrendously wrong – look at Kodak – for many, many years a tremendously successful company but boy! did it misjudge the impact of digital technology on its business… Kodak could have become part of the new wave of photography but it was too set in the way it saw itself and suffered the ultimate consequence of sticking its head i n the sand…

Change is the only constant…

…So we might as well embrace it if we want to remain in the game, enjoy it, and go for win-win-wins whenever possible. Keeping an eagle eye on the four pillars of your business means that when change starts occurring that will (or even could) threaten the growth of your business you will be able to identify the weak pillar and focus on it. Meanwhile, with the other three still strong, because of your vigilance, you should have time to adapt.

Your thoughts?

PS: See my review of “the chocolate conversation” here – A book well worth any leader/business owner reading, in my opinion :-)

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We know where we want to go but not how to get there

I’ve taken the title of this post from “Abundance – the future is better than you think”, a book by Peter H Diamandis and Steven Kotler. In full this bit is:

“In many cases we know where we want to go but not how to get there. In others, we know how to get there but want to get there faster.”

It’s from a chapter on driving innovations and breakthroughs. And, to be brutally honest, any business that isn’t where it wants to go/ be needs innovation to help get it there.

Often the kick start for the breakthrough will be something that is or is perceived as a disaster:

  • The loss of a major client/ customer
  • An important sale that all your hopes were riding on doesn’t happen
  • Your prime competitor comes up with a product or service that out-produces and undercuts yours…

photo credit: Alex Osterwalder via photopin cc

Add your own as, let’s face it, the list is potentially endless. So the key is going to be how you decide to approach and handle this setback, this time. If you run your own business that’s currently facing this situation and can come up with the right sort of innovation, you’ll do it yourself. The tricky bit can be seeing the wood from the trees and working out just what the right sort of innovation would be… :-(

The smart money is on take a few deep, calming breaths and thenget help, and get it fast because you’re probably up against it now! There are books, audios, seminars, workshops, webinars – in fact endless sources of easily accessible self help nowadays. But if your focus has been totally or almost completely in your business up until now and this self help area is new to you then you may find yourself picking your way through rather a lot of trees…

My advice?

The most direct route would be to get yourself a mentor. Who do you know who has built up a successful business – recently – because ways of doing business are changing rapidly and what worked ten years ago might not today, and what worked twenty years ago is probably even less likely to be effective now. Failing that, who do you know who is personally successful, who you could learn attitudes and approaches from? Getting any necessary additional skills are the easy bit, provided you’re prepared to put in the effort to learn and apply them until they become habit.

Do yourself a favour and check you’re still on the right course before you go haring off anywhere! :-)

2 Responses to “We know where we want to go but not how to get there”

  1. Perspective works wonders, doesn’t it, Sarah?

    It’s also sometimes the “success lies on the other side of failure” type thing, too, I guess…

  2. Sarah Arrow says:

    Yes, it’s the perception of disaster that makes you forge on (or become a victim). But when you look back, usually with nostalgia and hindsight, you’ll see that it wasn’t so bad after all.

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Your business success and your country: the link?

Would you run the management of your business the way your government runs your country?

I’m serious. Think about it even for just a few minutes.

I’ve been reading off and on today about the UK government’s Cabinet reshuffle. Reshuffle is definitely the right word for what’s been going on so far.

Here’s a snippet of the game of parliamentary musical chairs

  • Justine Greening, Transport Secretary: Don’t like what she’d doing there – she isn’t toeing the line – so we’ll move her to International Development, after all…
  • Andrew Mitchell has moved on from Secretary of State for International Development to Chief Whip…
  • Ousting Patrick Mcloughlin… who gets Justine’s job at Transport

Gosh: How very, very neat! 😉

But, and okay, this is just a small example, will this reshuffle actually achieve more than if the existing players had been left in the places to which they had been put at or shortly after election time? Or is it a purely cosmetic job? Wash the make up off and everything is exactly the same underneath?

Back to the management of your business…

Before you start saying “Ah, yes, Linda, but we have to remember that these guys and girls in the Cabinet are appointments made at the highest strategic level…”

Yes, ideally they are, yet may I say “Rubbish” to the proof of the pudding? I’ve heard probably most of the stories that such-and-such an entrepreneur/ millionaire/ billionaire… doesn’t personally build the buildings/ fly the planes/ print the publications…

Quite right: No – s/he doubtless doesn’t. Yet I’ll bet you that every single one of them has rolled their sleeves up, in the early days at least, and got dirty with the rest of the team.

They’ve been there during the sweaty, nerve racking, nail biting times as well as joining in to thoroughly enjoy the sweet smell of success when that came, too.

Can Dave’s Cabinet Ministers demonstrate that kind of track record?

  • What track records do they have?
  • What successes can they demonstrate?
  • Who can you corroborate this with?
  • How can their commercial experience be usefully applied to their government posts?
  • Why are they being given their jobs in the first place?

Would you employ any of them?

If “Yes” – why and on what basis?
If “No” – why not and how would you justify getting rid of them?

Musical chairs

If your company wasn’t performing to your standards would you then move your management team around:

  • Your Finance Director to Sales & Marketing
  • Human Resources to Finance
  • Sales & Marketing to Human Resources

Oh, and we could add Creative Development and Production to the mix for some more fun if you thought the first three a bit too predictable…

This started as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek thought for a post over on Birds on the Blog but, as sometimes happens, the more I think about an issue, the more I see the potential repercusions from a totally different perspective: In this case it’s us: the entrepreneurs and owners of small businesses.

The question is, maybe twofold:

  1. How do we feel about idadequate representatives in government potentially taking the country down a route and batch of (primarily Eu?) legislation that consistently seems designed to hinder our entrepreneurial/ business prospects/ growth and, if that
  2. bugs us enough
  3. And what should we do about it?

photo credit: Chris Devers via photo pin cc

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Is your networking not working?

Or maybe it’s not working as consistently well as you’d like? Well you could be in luck because I’ve discovered there’s now a networking University course on offer!

I didn’t register when I first visited a couple of weeks or so ago because the site seemed to me to want a lot of information from me, the potential “student”, without divulging much at all of what’s on offer… other than the name of a handful of modules, nothing about what cost and effort would be involved… and zilch information about who’s behind it and what their credentials are.

Returning to the site yesterday to research some more for us all I see that it’s changed out of all recognition, in look and feel anyway. The course “modules” that were headlined there then that I could see without registering have moved here and I see that the course appears to be of six modules, each one of 4 weeks duration. But I still can see nothing of any substance (sorry guys, nameless photographs and national flags don’t account to much) about who’s running it or their credentials. And still no upfront mention of cost…

Sharp End Training is the company offering this course. From its main site, appears to specialise in online training for small businesses – from building a website, using WordPress, writing a book… to individuals in employment – writing a CV, interview skills… And they’re currently using the main site to promote networking as their flagship course… I suspect because it’s likely to be the highest ticket one. Well, that’s enough free promotion for them!

So, what do I think?

With the varied results – from useless to reasonable to spectacular – that different people get frome their networking activities it would seem that some could do with a bit of help…

But is this online “university” (?) course over a 24-week period the best answer? I’ve no idea from the limited information that’s currently openly published on their site (and no price anywhere)

I need to confess something here so you can decide whether or not this me doing a bit of “Bah! Humbug!” I rarely do it here but this has prodded me into action and it’s time for my own bit of promotion…

I created an ebook on networking a few years ago: Opening Doors. And I drafted in expertise from business people whose skills I respect to add extra value. Gratifyingly, with hardly any promotion, it sold moderately well and continues to with hardly any atention from me until such times as I see other offerings that make me relook at my own. This was such a case for me and I wouldn’t mind betting that many of you have several “moments” too! :-)

Back to my book: Apart from some of the online and offline networks I refer to, some of which have changed, most of the content is not time sensitive and, at £24.95 (approx $US39.42 according to an online exchange calculation and conversion today), it’s exceptionally good value, even if I do say so myself! 😉 but it’s probably more useful for you to hear from somebody else:

Andy Lopata – Business Networking and Referrals Strategist says:

“This book is the perfect guide to ‘how to network’. Not simply the skills of working the room, but the approach, preparation and planning that need to go into networking effectively. Linda explains with beautiful clarity just what networking is, banishing many misconceptions in the process, and how important it is to the modern business. Opening Doors is immensely practical and written with good humour and common sense.”

So here’s an early snippet from the book


Some reasons why you might network

Is it any or all of:

  • Part of your overall marketing ‘mix’ to attract more business
  • An alternative way to cold calling to get business
  • To access and tap into the support of a group
  • To better get to know the needs of other businesses in your community
  • To collaborate or find potential new business partner(s) to promote your business
  • To raise your company’s visibility
  • To raise your own visibility and look for job/ career progression
  • To find potential employees for your company

Or is it any one of a number of other or additional ways you believe that networking will open doors for you and commercially propel you forwards and upwards? Maybe you’re a sole trader who just wants to meet, mix and socialize with other business people. Each and every reason is valid.

The point of this session is that, once we’re absolutely clear about what we want our networking activities to help us achieve, we stand a far better chance of getting the best results…

Bottom line

If your networking isn’t working as well as you want and need it to – get out there and do something about it! :-)

What help do you need or what advice could you give? Why not share here!
photo credit: JodiWomack via photo pin cc
photo credit: Executives International via photo pin cc

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"I was very impressed by Linda's determination to help and the constructive, but persistent, manner in which she identified issues and then tried to resolve them. After recent progress I was again reaching a stage where I seemed to be spinning my wheels, and she has given me fresh impetus to start moving forward again."