Wasting your free time?

We are never short of advice in our daily on-line lives. We are bombarded with newsletters, links to blogs and articles. Many of them tell us what we should be doing when we are not actually working.

Should we be told what we should do with our free time? Is it wrong to watch television as some say? If we do, should we only watch the news, current affairs programmes or documentaries? If we read, should it only be non-fiction, biographies of successful business people, books by present or past masters of marketing?

I think we need time to relax. We need to take our minds of work from time to time no matter how much we enjoy running our businesses. I think my best ideas come when I am not thinking about work, when I am out and about, and perhaps walking in the local countryside.

I read non-fiction, but I also enjoy novels, and particularly detective fiction. Recently I have been reading that old master of the genre, Raymond Chandler. His writing is wonderful; the way he almost paints pictures in words of his characters, of their surroundings, and the often seedy atmosphere. I wish I could write as well as he did. We can learn from the masters though, and I am sure for my part it can help when I am working to be aware that good writing is a great asset.

You may think it strange that I am saying that I do not agree with the advice of others in how to use our free time, and yet I appear to be giving advice with which many might not agree. My point is that we all need free time, but how we use it is personal to us. Our free time must not feel like work; doing something we have to do.

After all, we are all different. What do you think?

Making a meal of it

And so to last Sunday’s lunch… Booked for 1:30 we had ordered within ten minutes. So far so good. From there we waited half an hour for our “starters”. Three fine. Mine not so good.

An hour later our main course had not shown up. We were told our food was just being plated up. Another ten minutes and it arrived. Mine had actually been plated within the last couple of minutes, because my fish was just out of the pan, perfectly cooked and absolutely lovely. But it was so late.

We never had dessert because the two hours we had allowed for lunch were up and one of our party needed to be home.

I really enjoyed my fish, but clearly the kitchen cannot cope. I do not like to rush when eating out but we cannot risk having lunch at this restaurant again unless we are prepared to spend pretty much the rest of the day there.

The lesson? It is no good having a great product if you cannot deliver on time. People remember.

A clear business message?

The other day I had a connection request on LinkedIn. When I looked at the person’s profile, I was none the wiser as to what he did for a living. There were two paragraphs of jargon. I did not understand a word.

I did try some research and believe he might build websites or maybe write software for building environment systems, but I am not really sure. He probably thinks that a search on LinkedIn for his specific skills will have him found by a recruiter. However if I knew what he did I might remember when someone was looking for a person like him… if I knew what a person like him did.

Asking for help

I was having a chat the other day with the chairman of our local Chamber of Trade. He said that many businesses are struggling around our way. I guess he would be in a good position to know, albeit his business is a notable success.

It struck me that when we meet other local business owners socially or at networking meetings, few people admit to their difficulties. It is polite to ask “How’s business?” but apparently so many are actually ashamed to admit that maybe business is not so good.

There are cynics who believe that many networkers do not care about their fellow business owners. It is true that there are certain types who just wish to sell to you and if you do not want to buy they lose interest in you. We have a local guy just like that, but no names, no pack drill. Just the same, there are many who can help and it is there for the asking.

Often someone in your network may not know they can help you, but the help they could give might be of mutual benefit. You might have bought a load of widgets and do not know how to sell them now. They might have a market or a contact, and there could be profit in it for both of you.  You might be bogged down with a contract that will cost you too much time and money to do now. They might be able to take the work off you with a much lower base cost to do. Again passing on or subcontracting could leave profit for both of you. You do not know if you don’t talk. I subcontract some work permanently to others I met through networking. We all make money out of it; decent money too.

Sometimes we need help we should pay for, such as marketing of anything which involves the other party doing all the work. Just the same, our businesses can be improved considerably through mutual cooperation. Ask for help, and if the first people you ask cannot assist you, they may know someone who can.

Don’t be shy. Ask.

Self-belief in business

Now you can criticize...

It stands to reason that if we have our own business we need to believe in what we are doing. That means that we should believe sincerely in our product or service. If we are honest with ourselves we can be honest with our customers. Then we can sell with that sincerity.

The trouble is that self-doubt can always creep in. We are not all constantly confident. Many of us, although actually very good at what we do, cannot quite believe that we are as able as our peers and colleagues, let alone better than some. We fear we will be found out as imposters. Maybe this is a more common phenomenon in women but this was my problem for many years. I think the explanation for me lies here.

Late in my career and rather accidentally, I landed a job which was technically very difficult, and which really terrified me to start with. However, I not only found that I could do it, but that I was very good at it. That was when it came to me that I was not an imposter, but could give as good as anybody, and better than some too.

I had this revelation, but maybe you just have to realise that the feeling of being an imposter is only in your mind. I still have bad days sometimes, and maybe you do too. Just think of all the good things you have achieved in your career and in your business and build on your confidence. Go get ‘em.

Value, price and knocks

I lost a client recently. I wondered why. She said to me that my service had been great over the last eight years, and she could not have been happier. It was just that someone else was cheaper.

I had always had good feedback from this client. I visited her at her home at least once a year and spoke to her often. It is not as though she could have felt neglected. In effect she praised the value of what she had without ultimately appreciating it enough to stay with me.

There is no lesson to be learned here other than that we will get knocked now and again. We just have to move forward with confidence.

Brands, value and me

Photo by Jon Stow

Photo by Jon Stow

I would normally avoid medical matters in this blog, but it is relevant that I am allergic to pollen floating about from early spring to mid-summer. You see, I buy anti-allergy pills which I find very helpful.

I needed some more, so went to one of the local supermarkets. They only had the famous brand variety, at £5.99 a packet. I am used to paying £2.00 for the generic version, which is exactly the same. Yet people must buy the well-known brand at that higher price otherwise the pharma company would not bother to maintain it. Brand power is worth a lot to big business, but I have to see value, and as far as my antihistamine requirement was concerned I did not see the value.

I crossed the road to another shop and paid my £2 for a generic version. What would you have done?

If you build it, will they come?

I have mentioned before that my local village has largely become a collection of cafes and fast-food outlets. Within a couple of hundred yards we have two Indian takeaways, a Chinese takeaway, two pizza places and three cafes. One of the cafes is more upmarket and has an alcohol license, but I suspect they are popular because of their good coffee.

With all this competition I was surprised when I heard that one of the famous coffee shop franchises was opening up in the village. This was on two fronts. Firstly I thought they would struggle against the established probably cheaper establishments, and secondly I supposed that our village was not the kind of place that the typical coffee franchise customer might live.

Of course I was wrong. I think people are prepared to travel and pay more for a guaranteed good quality standard, once word gets around. The new place is doing OK as far as I can tell.

What about the other places serving coffee, other beverages and food? Well, I think they have their regulars, although the one not on the main drag is never packed with customers.  What they have to do is give outstanding quality and service to succeed against a well-known tried-and-tested formula as exhibited by the franchise. That does not mean they have to spend more to do it. Service and quality is about attention to detail. Then word-of-mouth will do the trick in terms of getting customers in.

I would wish all the café owners luck, but it is not about luck. It is about getting things exactly right to succeed.

Infectious cheerfulness at work

I think you would agree that we should always enjoy our work, whether we have our own business or we work for someone else. Otherwise, we really should find something else to do.

If we have a good time at work, this will rub off on our customers naturally when we talk to them. They should feel very comfortable dealing with us and it will increase the likelihood that they will stay as customers for the long term.

Yesterday my wife Gloria and I met someone who obviously did enjoy her work. She was on the checkout at our local supermarket. In our three or four minutes with her she chatted non-stop (OK, some miseries might have been irritated) but as far as we were concerned she made the end of our shopping experience really fun. She brightened up our day. She is a credit to her employer.

If we do our work cheerfully, we may make someone else’s day better. It is worth thinking about.

It’s worth the pain

iStock_000005618867XSmallMy aim for each client is to give them a valuable service, and I charge a fee to match that service; one that reflects that value and rewards me well for their use of my brain-power. As I normally charge a fixed fee agreed in advance I hope not to end up spending more time than budgeted for.

Sometimes life is not quite like that. A while back I had a client to whom I gave very detailed advice. I expected him to come back with questions. That is fair enough. I expanded on points where necessary. However, he seemed to want to pin me down in my opinions when I thought I had already been pretty clear and explicit. I was patient and polite but, to be honest, secretly irritated.

Although eventually the client declared himself satisfied and paid my bill after a few weeks, I thought he might be unhappy. I decided not to press him on this, although I felt disappointed that I had not come up to expectations, notwithstanding that actually I thought I had done really well. I put it out of my mind; onwards and upwards.

Just recently, I find that this client has given me a really great referral. I am delighted. Obviously my client was very happy after all and his gruff, questioning manner belied this.

My patience and effort has paid off. I shall remember that not all people express their satisfaction with our work in the same way, and that it is always worth going beyond expectations because our clients remember, and mention this to their friends.

Phew!