Enjoy yourself

Reflections

Isn’t it great to be happy? We cannot be happy all the time. Life can be difficult. We have family pressures and worries. We have business pressures too. No one has ever run a business where everything went right.

This past week I have been thinking how important it is to be happy in work. In my days as an employee I have had several periods when I was very happy. I felt liberated early on in my working career even as an office junior, because for the first time I was treated as a real person and not an irrelevance as I had been during my mostly rather unhappy education. It was great.

Later I had a magical few years working close to the London insurance market, and then again during my first job as a manager. Finally as an employee I has a very brief but enjoyable period working with someone who has this week fallen from grace in a rather shocking way. Although we did not part on good terms, I am truly sorry and at the same time grateful that I was allowed a time to know how good I was at what I did; even if it did turn out to be the last time I was able to have a job before passing the age barrier to getting another.

Bike time

The rest is history of course, because I got on my bike to start a business. I have had a lot of fun and still do. I could not work for anyone else now. Times were very hard at the beginning, and there have been ups and downs since, but we are still standing and the economy does seem to be better.

Relaxation

I have learned it is important to relax. I need to get out of the office, and I enjoy walking around our local countryside and across along the river. When I am outside, I get my best business ideas, my best ideas for articles and blog posts, and get to sort out solutions to difficult problems to do with business or otherwise. I don’t have to make an effort to think. In fact I do not dwell on sticky issues when I am out. I take in the scenery and surroundings and the useful thoughts just pop into my head, because I am enjoying myself.

My wife and I do take holidays as often as is practical, which is at least annually and sometimes twice a year. We are sometimes self-indulgent, but we only get one go at our lives.

It’s later than you think

An elderly couple to whom I used to speak sometimes on one of my local country walks no longer seem to be living at home. I don’t know what happened to them. Maybe they couldn’t cope any more. Perhaps one has died or maybe both. I know the old gentleman had run his own business, though mostly we talked about cameras and photography. I just hope he and his wife had fun.

Business should be fun. If it is, we run it better because we have enthusiasm. If business isn’t fun we need to sort ourselves out or run a different business which is fun.

My old biology teacher used to say “Are you happy in your work?”. Well, are you?

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Jealousy will get you nowhere

English: envy- 7 deadly sins

Envy- 7 deadly sins (Photo credit: Wikipedia by Alm25)

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Unfortunately it seems to drive much of our modern culture. It is damaging and it detracts from objectivity.

In business, envy has no place. Some suppose many whom they see as their competitors being more successful than they, and waste their energy with jealousy. That is a very negative emotion and certainly will not help their profits.

If your rival down the road is doing better than you, there must be a lesson to be learned. Have a look to see what they are doing better. How do they market their business? How do they source their products if they are in retail? How do they manage their overheads? All these questions are likely to be quite easily answered with a bit of research. Perhaps you can ask the business owners.

I have a different philosophy towards others in my business. I do not see them as rivals. With small businesses there is generally plenty of the cake for everyone just as long as we know the routes to our customers.

Treat your “competitors” as friends. Most will be willing to help if you are struggling. After all, unless your premises are next door to each other you hardly have to fight for footfall.

Listen to others and see what you can learn. I am sure you do. It is a shame for those who complain about others but never change their ways. We can be our worst enemies, especially when we let jealousy get in the way of our objectivity.

Do you know any green-eyed monsters in your business sector?

 

 

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All we have in business are our client relationships

A view for a valued client

Most of my clients are with me a long time. We get to know each other quite well, at least as far as professional relationships are concerned. That is why I have been very sad that three of my older clients have died this year. Two had been in poor health, and the other seemed hale and hearty when he visited me only a short time before he died rather suddenly.

It is always a shock to lose people we know, even if they are not close friends or relations. The deaths of my clients, all of whom I liked very much and got on with very well, have been a stark reminder that in business as in life, it is people that matter far more than money or material things. Of course good clients help us to have what we need to live a decent life, but business would be miserable without the friendship that it brings.

So I will miss my older lady client, and the two older gentlemen, for that is what they were; and one with such an adventurous life I never knew about until hearing a eulogy at his funeral. And I will remember them.

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The trouble with referral networking

Where do I start?

A colder climate

Given that there are so many groups, not just the breakfast meetings, referral networking is hard work. As we said, there is a lot of dilution with people being torn several ways.

The recession has brought more difficulties into the referral networking arena, because there are lots of people who have started new businesses having come out of employment. That is absolutely brilliant is some ways, or should I say admirable? It was what I did ten years ago. However, ten years ago there were not crowds of people suddenly in the market and looking to sell their skills.

As a new business, if you are really struggling to get work, you have no track record. That means you have few or no recommendations and I don’t know whether you are any good. It also means I would be wary of referring you because when I refer anyone, I am putting my own reputation at stake. I may know other businesses who do the same thing you do, and because they are established I know whether they are worthy of recommendation.

With a little help from your friends…

Someone who has had no business yet has to rely on longer term friends to get work, be able to give a reference from a former employer, or has to take a punt with advertising. I cannot recommend an accountant I don’t know to be good, or a printer or a plumber or an HR specialist. I may meet a web designer when out networking, but I know lots of those and I already know good ones because their work is out there for all to see..

Much more than it was ten years ago, the future of networking is more distinctly on-line, or it seems to be. In some ways it is easier to build relationships there. Quite often one “sees” people more often there. I have referred people on Twitter and have been referred, leading to some decent business.

Has the world changed?

Local referral networking seems too hit-and -miss now, by which I mean that there are more worried people without business bouncing between one networking group and another, and who don’t understand how you have to give first in order to receive. Referral networking works through genuine relationships. There are too many networking butterflies.

Do you get business through networking? Is it through on-line social media or is it though old-fashioned meetings? Is it a mixture of the two?

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The trouble with breakfast networking

An English breakfast

An English breakfast (Photo credit: Riggwelter via Wikipedia). Hold the beans, please!

Sleepy time

A few days ago I went to breakfast networking meeting. It is several months since I last went to one and I wondered how I used to get up every week at such an unearthly hour to get to my breakfast networking group. I now seem to have a job staying awake if I have to get up at crack of dawn or even before.

Just the same I have a long history of breakfast networking. Nearly a decade ago when I first started out with my own business I joined BNI. There were very few breakfast networking groups then.

Halcyon days

I enjoyed BNI and although in my sort of business I didn’t get dozens of referrals unlike the florist who benefited from the “desperation referrals”, I did pick up some useful business, and most importantly one great referral which kept my wife and me out of the poor house.

BNI was good for me. Most of the members were fairly new business owners, but one of the important rules was that we were supposed to refer a particular type of business to a member of BNI rather than a business owner we knew elsewhere. We were not supposed to belong to any “rival” group. There was also some quality control via the membership committee in that they followed up on referrals and made sure that if we got business we delivered the best service we could. I am sure we did in the group, being mindful of our own reputations.

Being a member of BNI was not cheap in terms of upfront outlay. With joining fees, annual membership and the meeting costs including breakfasts we paid out about £1,400 (S2,200 in today’s money) or so in our first year and £1,000 annually thereafter. It was worth it though in terms of business.

Falling from grace

I enjoyed BNI while it lasted for me. However even an easy-going chap like me ultimately fell out with the franchise owner. Never mind.

In more recent years I enjoyed other breakfast groups. I have been a serial (not cereal) breakfast networker. I even ran a group for a while, but nowadays there are so many groups meeting at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning. Unlike the group I ran, most are not run on the BNI principle of exclusivity where there is only one of each type of business in the same group.

There are also many “free” groups which do not even have formal membership. This means that people tend to belong to a number of groups and are torn between members of different ones when it comes to referrals. Maybe they are so confused they never give any and forget the important tenet of networking, which is helping others.

In my most recent breakfast networking I did not find it very profitable. I met some nice people, but because of the sheer number of groups and divided loyalties, I think the age of profitable breakfast networking is over. Except maybe for those who swallow hard and stump up for BNI.

I would love to know what your experience is as a current or former breakfast networker? Does it still work for you?

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Losing sight of the sale

Eyeing the prospective customer

I went to the local optician a couple of weeks ago. I had the usual eye test and photos taken of my retinas, and all was fine, except I needed to have my prescription changed. That would be the expensive bit.

Eye tests are cheap and cannot be profitable for an optician given the time they take. The value is selling the glasses or spectacles, and / or the contact lenses.

The local optician is a friendly place. We are greeted pleasantly, offered tea or coffee etc. and made to feel really welcome. I had my eye test and was ready to buy.

Customer in plain sight

I saw the lady who does the spectacle fitting and helps customers choose their frames. I knew I would have to shell out quite a lot of money with the list they had shown me. However, I will tell you a secret, though it may not be such a revelation if we have met. Anyway, here it is: I have quite a large head, which means I wear quite large sizes in hats and therefore in spectacle frame widths.

The lady could not find a frame in my size that I liked. In fact she had hardly any frames in my size. Now I would have thought that I could choose the style and she could order the frame and have the lenses fitted, but apparently not. She let me go without ordering and said she would check the other two shops they have for something suitable.

After ten days or so I popped back in the shop to see whether any suitable frames had been found. The lady knew roughly the style I had liked; that is inasmuch as one ever likes a new pair of specs. None had been found. I do not know if she had looked, but why not? After all I was a customer waiting to be reeled in for the sale.

Lack of vision

You will not be surprised to hear that rather than waste any more time I took my prescription to one of the larger chains of opticians and selected frames for them to fit with my new lenses. And do you know what? They cost 40% less than I had been prepared to pay at the local optician.

I often say that we need to make our clients and our potential customers feel wanted; to give them that warm feeling inside. I had that at my local optician, but they were not geared up to make the sale. It was not just a question of not being able to offer what I wanted and was willing to buy. They didn’t have what I actually needed.

How an earth can anyone run a business which takes great trouble identifying a need but then cannot deliver what the customer requires?

All small businesses need to deliver what they purport to offer, otherwise they will get a reputation as unreliable. The service needs to be seamless otherwise there will be tears and lost sales.

Does your business live up to your marketing promises? Does it do what it says on the tin?

How not to run a business

 

English: NHS logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Patience is a virtue?

This week I have witnessed some very poor business management, or more to the point, no management at all. As it was in a hospital I have also come to understand how the word “patient” has become the word used for those “customers” who are in hospital, because you have to be exceedingly patient when you are in there.

This is not a piece bashing the UK National Health Service. The NHS is great when you have an acute problem. Emergencies are usually dealt with very well. Our local plaster room has always seemed very efficient, but the key there is that the staff in there take responsibility for their own work. They are skilled and they move things along.

A good start

We had to go to a surgical assessment unit. We were told that the patient would be there five or six hours while she was being assessed and the tests were done. She was checked in quickly and efficiently. They took blood fairly early on and the patient was examined a couple of times soon after arrival in the morning.

All downhill

The ward was not especially busy. In the afternoon several patients were taken down for X-rays. Our patient was left to her own devices, and it was just as well she had a good book to read. However at around 7 in the evening when clearly nothing had happened for hours, she asked to be collected as she thought they must have finished with her and she had been told she was fit to go home.

Comedy time

When I arrived, the patient told me she was now supposed to be going to have an X-ray. A porter duly arrived and wheeled her off. Fifteen minutes later they were back. The lady had been rejected by the X-ray department because she was still in her day clothes. She offered to put on one of their gown there and then, but was told she would have to return to the ward to get one.

Now be-gowned she was wheeled off again. Fortunately the porter managed to keep her place in the queue from the previous visit, which was the only initiative shown by anyone all day.

Breaking out

We escaped from the hospital at 9 in the evening. I was starving and while I had been waiting I had sought food in the canteens and hospital coffee shops, all of which had closed. The patient had been fed a rather disgusting shepherds pie in the hospital.

Blaming the management

I found the hospital nursing staff and admin people to whom I spoke very pleasant. I am sure they are good people. It was no good complaining anyway. Clearly there was no organization or management. Many of them were sitting or standing around most of the time, and it did seem that they were over-resourced when we hear so often that the NHS suffers from staff shortages.

It seemed to me that the staff were in the wrong places. Also, in the absence of hands-on management and being told what to do at each stage (often not a good idea as it damages self-esteem), workers do need to be allowed to use their initiative and take responsibility as in the plaster room. Empowerment of the workers to think for themselves within certain constraints leads to greater efficiency and, very importantly, they will be happier and more confident.

Empowerment

I have always believed in largely hands-off management but not in no management at all. Managers should be friendly with their charges because that encourages loyalty, which again promotes good work. You really can’t beat giving your employees responsibility for their own domain in an atmosphere which encourages them to report problems without any fear of criticism. Then you have a really efficient productivity model.

It is a shame when good people are not allowed to be at their best in the workplace. It is a terrible waste of their abilities and a dreadful waste of money.

We wouldn’t run a business like that would we?

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Wasting our most valuable resource – time

Am I wasting my time?

Neighbourhood watch

One of our neighbours – and I hope he doesn’t read this – spends hours of his time and quite possible six to eight hours a week cleaning and polishing his car. He seems to get a new car every year. I am sure anyone would find it satisfying to have a lovely shiny new car outside the house, but why spend all that time? No one will notice from any distance the odd speck or two. He won’t preserve the value any better. It seems a terrible waste of time.

Of course, it is not for me to say what he should do with the extra six to eight hours, but that is practically a working day a week. He could make something if he were good with his hands. He could do voluntary work. He could make some money with an eBay business. He would still have a nice shiny car and achieve something valuable for himself or for someone else.

Hot breakfasts

Our neighbour is not the only one to waste time. Many of us do it. I have been wasting time going to weekly breakfast networking meetings until the last year or so. They were not always a waste of time, but the environment for referral networking has changed. My business has changed too, so that the value of the meetings has become much less.

For me the weekly local breakfast meetings stopped working for me. I carried on too long because I enjoyed them, but in business terms that is not enough. We are in business to make money for our families. I gave a lot in terms of time, even ultimately running a networking group, and a lot in terms of referrals but with dwindling returns.

There was a point when the meetings ceased to be of much value at all. I think they do help new business owners starting out if only in overcoming shyness, as they helped me when I started a decade ago. I have stopped going to any morning meetings except the occasional local authority ones, which do at least provide an insight into local planning as it affects businesses.

Spreading our wings

My clients are now not just spread around the country, but also around the world, though rather scattered. The service my business provides is not just something which needs to be done locally. I do not need to meet every new client. We have Skype to talk, and we have Dropbox (I like Dropbox) or Google Drive or other cloud resources to exchange large documents where email does not quite suffice, and my web-based content marketing attracts the work. In addition on-line networking and social media provide opportunities for me to refer my friends and clients as well as receive referrals.

Although I have cut down local networking it does not mean I have no local business. I value my local clients and my main source of local new business is referrals from them and from the old-fashioned medium of paper advertising. I have one ad that works, and one only. The secret is that it appears in a monthly publication every single month, so that if potential clients have thrown away the last edition, they know they can find my business in the next one.

Bringing home the bacon

Not going to breakfast meetings saves me twelve or fourteen hours a month, which I use for paid value-sold work and in on-line marketing. I could use some time saved to clean my car, but not that many hours a month.

I think we all need to watch out for work time slipping into a black hole of waste. How can we make our businesses more efficient? What isn’t working for us?

How have you saved time in your business?

Content marketing and specialist articles

 

Content in my niche

Free stuff?

I read in various places that content marketing doesn’t work for specialist businesses. I beg to differ.

I run a specialist business, which advises on tax.  In fact I have a niche within the tax business. I have a particular interest in property; that is real property.

I am told by others in my business and closely allied businesses types such as accountants that if we write articles giving away our knowledge for free then no one will come to us and pay for good advice. Yet, think about it. Don’t we all trawl the web for information on almost anything? The internet is the greatest tool for research that has ever existed. And yes, many people will take our stuff and try to use it. But they won’t use it in quite the right way without experience or with so much confidence as we would have.

Mind the traffic

Like every other business using content marketing I look at my web traffic pretty much daily. I notice how many hits I have on each article. That gives me an idea what is hot news and popular among the visitors.

I try to be very informative. Do you know what? I get business from writing my articles. For the time invested it is very well worth it, even though technical stuff takes a while to write because it has to be accurate. The same article or article theme brings business over and over again. That is because we gain trust by writing since potential clients can see we know what we are talking about.

Plenty for us

Never mind the visitors who come and take a little away from us. There is plenty to go round and no one can be an expert just by reading but without actual hands-on experience. Others will be happy to pay us for solid gold knowledge

If you need to know more about the power of content marketing, Heidi Cohen can tell you, and if you want to see a content marketing specialist in action, see The Sales Lion (not affiliate links).

I will just keep on dishing out the tips on my websites. What about you?

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