Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

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?

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 :-)

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! :-)

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

Innovation? Forget Silicone Valley USA: Think Sheffield, UK!

Anyone who’s been in sales going back a number of years will be familiar with the oft used scenario of selling widgets in training videos. And we trainee sales people always thought: “How boring!”

Imagine then how intrigued I was to read recently about how a Yorkshire man’s widget has become a (somewhat sexy, even) global brand!

How it started

The man in question is Hugh Facey who, as the story goes, was a successful salesman for a wire company back in the 1980s. A farmer challenged him that surely there was a quicker and more efficient way to attach two bits of wire together than was currently practised – grappling around with a pair of pliers and knots? Now I haven’t spoken to the entrepreneur so I don’t know whether it was a genuine desire to solve a perennial and time consuming task that faced many of his customers that spurred him
on to invent the simple yet brilliant Gripple (the size of a matchbox), but by 1989 he’d come up with the idea and set up his own company to make it.

Now think a bit wider about the applications: Wine and fruit industries rely on trellises to hold up their crops and the Gripple offered a way to repair and even construct wire fencing in a fraction of the time, saving thousands of labour hours. Gripple won the Grand Prix du President (highest accolade of France’s design contest, the Concours Lepine), in 1990. And joined the elite ranks of inventions such as the contact lens, and the ballpoint pen… The Prince of Wales Award for Innovation came the following year.

Gripple Europe was established in 2000 and Gripple Inc the following year

And the (not-so-humble) widget was just the start!

Hugh realised there were so far untapped applications for the Gripple in the construction industry – and his systems of wires and Gripples are now used for lighting for example instead of beams for buildings in earthquake zones. Loadhog, a sister company has been established to provide better distribution solutions… And now, at a time when many business owners would love to be taking things a bit easier, Hugh’s company has expanded to three factories and he is insistent that at least a quarter of sales come from products less than four years old.

Innovation, innovation, innovation!

The company has won the Queen’s Award for Eneterprise in every category at least once.

There is an Ideas and Innovation Centre in the newest factory, and the company employs a dozen engineers to use their imagination and push the boundaries. They have twelve police forces looking at an new system for taking forensic moulds of footprints – it takes 5 minutes instead of half an hour and is more accurate…

Forget PC: Think Commonsense and Community!

No accountants run Mr F’s business and there is no personnel department. All staff currently have to buy at least a £1,000 of shares by the end of their first year of employment and the long term plan is to make the business employee-owned, limited by guarantee.

The company has managed to maximise its energy efficiency, decrease electricity use, reduce landfill/incinerated waste, increase recycling, conserve our use of raw materials, and minimise packaging.

Each year it donates a percentage of its profits to charity as well as dreaming up and participating in fundraising events. Take a look at their 2011 newsletter for inspiration, though I personally think the two jailbreak winners – who blagged their way from Sheffield to Marmaris in Turkey within 48 hours and without spending a bean get my vote!

This isn’t an advertisement for a company. It’s an inspirational story that shows an example of manufacturing that’s alive and well in a corner of Sheffield and can be profitable and sexy when approached with an open and enquiring mind and not attached to a “that’s the way it’s always been done” attitude!

What could you learn from this guy and how could you apply it to your thinking and your company?

The Gripple and Loadhog web sites
Robert Hardman’s great article in the Daily Mail

Is it really any tougher for women in business?

I hadn’t really thought much about challenges, issues or problems that might be specific to women setting up in business. I thought we were light years past all that “We’ll need your husband’s signature to guarantee your loan” malarky… yet a recent post on Birds made me ponder that well, maybe there are the odd things that we gels have to take into account and cope with that our male counterparts don’t…

I’ve already added some of my own points over there on a separate post that you can go and have a read of if you fancy, so I won’t repeat them here. Instead I’m just going to select and put my perspective on three of Ola’s 10 things ‘they’ didn’t tell you about being a woman in business…


No: Women aren’t always your best allies.

Maybe partly because I came from a commercial background as opposed to the public sector, I was perhaps more used to the “dog-eat-dog” attitude of some women in business – it isn’t nice (or necessary, in my opinion) but it certainly wasn’t the shock to me that it seems to have been to Ola… I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve come across enough not just single minded but hard bitten ladies from infant school onwards!

I think too nowadays maybe it’s less about long term formal partnerships and instead being on the lookout for and open to strategic and/ or tactical alliances that may be relatively brief yet nevertheless mutually beneficial and provide benefits for customers that would otherwise have been difficult (if not impossible) to achieve.

I think the issue here is more the importance of hanging out with the kind of people, male and female, who share similar values, ethics, interests and ideals.

Sexism isn’t dead!

Well there’s a surprise, yet I don’t believe I’m conscious of any more or less sexism as a female entrepreneur than as a female employee. Prior to the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act virtually all telesales staff in classified advertising were females and virtually all the reps were males. I suspect that the act probably didn’t so much wipe out the practice of sex discrimination so much as nudge it underground and force it to be less blatant.

Many years later when I was seeking to put together a team to carry out telephone marketing research for a client I was determined to be an equal opportunities employer. I recruited five men and five women to work part time. By the end of 2 weeks I’d sacked the guys and the women worked full time. Because they were better at getting that particular job done.

There are pluses and minuses regarding the looks department (none helped by that rather peculiar lady who made a name for herself recently in the UK press purely from having such a high opinion of her own looks…) and yes, I suppose there always will be the odd Neanderthal bloke who’ll behave like a pillock in the presence of a good looking woman. But if we’re going to bleat every time we come up against something that “isn’t fair” maybe we need to learn that’s just part of life…

Trying to be a man doesn’t work

Yes, it’s time to question the (mainly male-designed) business model that’s been followed by and large in the west for so long. But at the same time I believe we need to take care that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the opposite direction.

I am in entire agreement that there’s not only room but a need for both masculine and feminine qualities in business – from both men and women: it’s about balance more than anything else.

In my opinion there are way too many “bleeding hearts” who want to do good yet are hardly making enough money to survive – what good does that do the world? As I understand it, Mother Teresa wasn’t independently wealthy… yet do we really think she hadn’t got herself into a position of power and influence to drum up whatever backing she needed for her projects? And, whether or not you or I am a fan of hers, I wonder how many people were helped by her making the most of herself?

I don’t think there’s a nobility about choosing to be touchy-feely to the detriment of making a profit in business – to me that’s no better than its polar opposite: the old style entrepreneur-turned-corporate who’d use you and fleece you as soon as look at you!

I’ve always found the way around all three of these issues is to provide value that would be hard to match and well nigh impossible to beat! 😉

What are your views?

What drives YOU?

I don’t know about you, but I feel as though the personal development brigade have hijacked the word passion – so much so that it’s become overused and, I don’t know, somehow demeaned. It’s got to the stage where I often feel you can’t use it without people either silently groaning and rolling their eyes or saying, knowingly, “woo-woo” behind their hands :-(

So I’m going for the word “drive” – you substitute it with whatever works for you but, whatever you call it, this is a worthwhile exercise doing not just once but every now and again – especially when you feel deflated, low and lacking vim or vigour, your mojo’s deserted you – see, I’m even steering clear of un-motivated and un-inspired 😉

Your business in context

Your business isn’t your life (at least, I hope it isn’t!) but it should be contributing to the best life you can envision for yourself, after all, as far as we know this isn’t a rehearsal, is it? Because, whatever your beliefs about life, death, reincarnation and eternity, we only get one chance at this life.

In a small business – whether it’s just you or you have a team of employees supporting you, you by and large are the business so, if you’re not out there in front being and projecting the business you want it to be, it will suffer

… I’m not saying it’s always easy because we all have good days and bad, days where the world seems to be our oyster and days where nothing goes right. But if we behave as though we don’t see the point in our business why should anybody else give two hoots?

How many times for example have we been to a networking meeting where at least half of those there:

  • Aren’t even mildly enthusiastic about what they do
  • Can’t easily and adequately explain the purpose of their business
  • Can’t differentiate their business in a way that makes us want to engage with them?

How does this sound?

If you want to be treated as more than just a commodity – how can you continuously ensure that you are more than a commodity to your clients/ customers?

What do you do for your clients or customers that they’d find it really difficult to get elsewhere?

To give you a laugh on me, when I was much more into the sales training focus of helping small businesses, one of my very good clients once told me he could get that aspect from any one of several different places and delivery routes. He already had a business coach and yet, get this: he would struggle to figure out where he could get the kind of help I provided… excuse me while I go and slap my hand against my forehead… :-(

In many ways I was his external human potential consultant: I made him stop and think when I believed he was about to louse up relationships with employees and suppliers. I told him to go home – I know, bossy boots 😉 – and see his young kids before his long suffering wife gave up yet again on them seeing their Dad… I told him off when what he was instructing the employee he’s hired me to train on sales to do something that got in the way of I was helping them achieve…

What I’m saying here is not how wonderful I am, it’s:

  • How does our inner compelling drive feed into our perceived value to others and
  • What/ where is our real value?

Because once we know the answers to those two questions, surely we can build on that precious information, can’t we?

Your thoughts?

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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."