Seth Godin and the Time Machine

British author H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Tim...

British author H. G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine is an early example of time travel in modern fiction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seth Godin said recently that we need the drive to want more and to be better. Our businesses and indeed our lives would be no fun if we knew we had achieved all we could, and that there was nothing more.

The will to win, the excitement of the game, and the reward of getting things done are what give me satisfaction, and I guess you feel the same.

What if we thought that we had achieved all we could? It would be so depressing having to have to sit on our hands, having no new ideas. That would be the decline and fall of our businesses, and if everyone caught the mood, the end of the world as we know it.

Have you read The Time Machine, published by H G Wells way back in 1895? In his story, in the far distant future everyone felt that they and technology had got as far as was possible, and there was no more incentive to be creative. Civilisation was apparently in terminal decline.

The moral is that fulfilment is in our work, or if you prefer, the game. It is not about achieving some ultimate goal, but in our journey getting there.

 

Running your own business down

So often I meet earnest business people who work hard and are not making money. So often it is because they undervalue themselves and what they do. They offer a great service, and if you asked their customers they would say that the businesses really stand out in terms of service quality.

This is one of my favourite themes. You need to value yourself and your own business, and know that your extras and special care for your customers and clients warrant higher charges, and your clientele will not complain. You must not join the race to the bottom.

And if you don’t believe me, see that that Master of Marketing, Jim Connolly, thinks. Do you believe me now?

You are judged by your appearance

Now you can criticize...

Now you can criticize…

About a month ago, one of my clients asked for a special consultation. She wanted to discuss how her plans for the future and change of lifestyle would affect her tax position. I knew that she would also need some financial advice, which I am not qualified or allowed to give.

I printed off details from their websites of two very nice financial advisers whom I know well, and took them with me to my client. When she saw these and I spoke about both advisers, my client was immediately drawn to the lady who had obviously had her on-line photo taken professionally. It is a good photo, my friend looks sympathetic, which she is, and she obviously had her nose in front of the “other guy”.

The “other guy” I had thought of is as easy to talk to as is the lady, but did not have a photo. I said to my client that I wanted it to be a fair competition as to whom she chose, so I would find a photo of the male financial adviser. When I got back to the office I did manage to find a portrait, but it was self-evidently a “selfie” taken in the office, there was no smile and he looked rather stiff and self-conscious. I could find no better photos of him.

As promised, I emailed my client the photo of the guy, but really, I knew it was “no contest” as my client was bound to choose the lady with the nice smile in the smart business suit, as opposed to the stiff chap with the open-neck shirt and the braces (= suspenders in the USA).

Now I admit that my non-business Google+ photo is a selfie, but that is non-business and I am smiling. My business portraits are professionally-taken and up-to-date. Without plastic surgery I cannot improve my look any more.

It really is not difficult too appear professional, smart and business-like on your website by using a good photo. People do choose based on appearance and if you look untidy or uncomfortably posed you fall at the first hurdle in getting a new client, and you will not even know!

This is one of those posts where we think about people who live in glass houses, but I am risking it anyway.

Do you think your photo costs you business and money?

Burying the bad news

iStock_000005618867XSmallGoogle is being required by the European Court to allow individuals to request that certain personal information about them will; not be found in a search. This does not mean that if you already know the web address where such information is to be found you cannot see it. It is just that Google cannot lead you there.

This is rather worrying and one wonders exactly whose rights are being protected here. This article states: “the BBC learned that more than half of the requests sent to Google from UK individuals involved convicted criminals.” Well, if I want to know whether my potential client has a criminal conviction, or to make a quick judgement as to whether I should see the person in the first place, I think I have the right to be forewarned.

On a non-business level, surely we should have the right to find out whether our new love is a criminal or dangerous? Fortunately I am not in the dating market, and we are very happy, thank you.

This brings us to consider how much information about ourselves we should share on the good old world wide web. I am very active on various social networking sites, particularly Twitter. I have a moderate number of friends on Facebook; not thousands, you understand. This is because I do like to have some idea who everyone is. Most of the hundreds I have met, and if not then either my friends I have met know these others, or they are quite famous bloggers who have allowed me the honour of being their friend.

Also on Facebook, I do not believe in sharing every personal detail as some do. Some things are private, although there is really nothing in my private life I am ashamed of (honest, guv).

I tweet a lot. It is mainly business-related content, though not salesy stuff. I do let slip some geeky and technology related material, but that is me. I do not usually tell anyone what is going on at home – not even what we are having for dinner.

I have several websites, all of which have some information about me, mainly business. The exception is the health issues I have blogged, and that is because I believe people, and especially men, need to be conscious that they are not invulnerable to becoming ill.

You will have gathered that if you type “Jon Stow” into Google or any other search engine, there will be a lot about me; more than about all the other Jon Stows. I have a high profile, and nearly everything you will find on the first few search engine pages will be fairly recent and probably no more than two or three years old. You will get tired after that. There is nothing I have to hide anyway, going back however far you wish.

Some people have had embarrassments in business though, or even worse. Someone I have worked with quite a few years ago is not at all active on-line. He has one business website and as far as I know is not at all active in social media. Consequently one frightful business mess which did not reflect well on him always comes up on a name search. This financial scandal, in which my ex-colleague may in reality have done nothing wrong, took place fifteen years ago. Because his name is not very common and because even that long ago newspapers and trade magazines published on-line, the stories will be on page one of any search.

I think it would be in the interest of this guy to be very active on social networking sites, at least for a year or so. The search engines like newer stuff. The old embarrassing stuff can be buried further down, and perhaps not come to light on a cursory search for this individual’s name.

I enjoy the positive benefits of my higher on-line profile, because they lift me up the scale of being noticed. It just occurs to me that negative stuff can be buried with a bit of work, while avoiding restricting our rights to know what we should about people, and without restricting our personal freedom.

What say you?

 

Is working in your business just a chore?

Look around!

Look around!

This morning I went out for a walk in the woods, as I often do. It has been a lovely day today. The birds were singing and the woods are lush and green. There were plenty of squirrels, babies and adults, going about their business. There were thrushes and spectacularly smart, colourful jays.

A woman came walking the other way, with her dog. She was oblivious to her surroundings. She had her earphones plugged in, listening to her music. She stared straight ahead. She did not look at her dog. She did not look at me. She did not see the wood or the trees or the wildlife, and certainly she did not hear it.

We do not have a dog now, but I was brought up in a house in which we always had dogs. The reason to have a dog is for the companionship and for the pleasure of taking it out for a walk. I know this.

Yet to this person, walking her dog was clearly boring; a chore. She took no pleasure in exercising the animal which probably thinks much more of her than she of it. What is the point of her having a dog?

I wonder about people who see running their businesses as a chore. If they are getting no pleasure from it, what is the point of allowing it to occupy their lives?

You might say that the point is that they need the money. My point is that if running the business is such a chore, they cannot be doing it right.

Are they working all hours? They need to cut down.

Could they be more efficient in delivery, thereby cutting the hours worked, cutting the cost of delivery and increasing their profits that way? They have to consider whether they are not charging enough for their product or service, or maybe it is the wrong product or service.

Perhaps they should change what they provide. Perhaps they should change everything because it is no good living a life of drudgery. It is no good seeing work as just a chore.

 

Avoiding taking the rough with the smooth in your business

iStock_000020557146LargeI started writing On Our Bikes to help others who, like me, found themselves with no work and had to go out and find it as an independent business person. I had no experience of running my own business and had not expected to have to do so.

It was for me a really tough position to be in, especially when like many, I expected that someone was bound to want my services. Of course I did not understand that clients have to be convinced that they need us, and understand our value to them.

Someone I have known for quite a few years through social media and face-to-face networking is Rory Murray. He has written a great Kindle book, The Saw-Tooth Dilemma (this is not an affiliate link) on getting work as a consultant and how to avoid the “feast-and-famine” scenario so unfortunately familiar to independent service providers and consultants.

Here is my review of his book on Amazon:

“Rory has written a roller-coaster account of his feast and famine experiences in work opportunities, and most importantly he tells us how to avoid them. This is a very personal account which would help anyone who is unemployed, who is a contractor or a consultant without a guaranteed stream of work. You will learn how to apply your social skills to gain work and how to use the on-line networking sites to best effect.

I cannot recommend this book more highly.”

Other reviews are here.

This book gave me a lot of food for thought, and I have run my own businesses for a dozen years now. We are all learning all the time, or we should be.

Do buy the book and download it onto your Kindle, PC, Mac or whatever device you choose. As I said, I am not on commission for this. I must really mean it, don’t you think?

Come back and tell me what you think of it.

 

Here’s not looking at you

Even walking down the street, there are people with whom we have a connection. We exchange glances and we smile. We smile about the weather, their child, our dog, the shop window we peer through. We recognise those we pass as individuals and we even form a vague impression as to what sort of people they are, even if we cannot know.

Then there are other people with whom we cannot have a connection. They avoid our smile and look away. They may have headphones plugged into their ears. They may be looking at their phones, so risk bumping into us or the nearest lamppost or road sign. They hardly know we are there. They do not acknowledge our existence, even fleetingly, to avoid bumping into us.

Small business owners must realise that our clients and prospects are a bit like that. To me, clients are far more valuable if they engage with us and see us as welcome allies to be valued. We do not need to work for those who do not extend us a welcome or common courtesy. Have you ever visited a customer or prospect who does not even switch off the TV, or even mute the sound? I have, and I do not want that sort of client who is rude, does not know any better, does not see me as an individual and does not think of his guest.

Clients who engage with us and are prepared to have a proper business relationship are the clients I want. I will make sure my business does the very best for them, for they are our referrers and advocates, and therefore our unpaid marketers. If we like our clients that much, we will recommend them to others too.

You cannot beat having genuine relationships in the course of business, can you?

Do keep up!

Has your business changed in the past few years? Mine has. In fact, since I first started working in my profession as a young lad, the entire nature of what people like me do has changed beyond recognition.

My first proper job involved using a pen all day. On my first day I was given a pile of dividend counterfoils relating to the income of a recently deceased gentleman, shown the format in which I had to list his dividends for the year, and left alone to get on with it. This chap had had maybe a hundred shareholdings. It actually took me more than a day to write them out and to do some of the sheets again because I had not got it quite right. When the dividend schedules were finished, they were copy-typed.

Nowadays, if I had dealt with a client last year, his dividend list this year would be automatically generated by my software, and my only task would be to check for changes in shareholdings. Except of course that in modern times, far fewer investor-taxpayers have large portfolios of shares, loan stock or gilts. How I miss “3½% War Stock 1952 or after”!

The point is that we have to invest in new technology and we have to give our market what it wants – or rather something that they want, as our market consists of people. In my case the value is still there for my clients and the costs are in the software and in my knowledge and training rather than in handwriting schedules to be typed out.

We have to adapt constantly and I take no pleasure from a business failing because it makes a product no one wants any more.

Very few people have milk deliveries these days, no one buys meat for their cats from a street seller as they did before the First World War, and sadly no one buys sheepskin coats, cosy as they were.

If we cannot adapt our businesses we must invest in new ones before the old ones fail. I try to keep my eye on the ball. Do you?

No time-wasters?

Blog pix 21 March 11 001I do not like having my time wasted. However time-wasters are hard to avoid when they telephone to try to elicit free information or professional advice, even though they should know that free advice is not worth the paper it is written on, as Sam Goldwyn might have said, but didn’t.

I well understand the sentiment of wishing to avoid such people who just want to use us, but quite often I see small ads selling an item or a product, with that “No time-wasters” prominent in the entry.

It just gives a bad impression of a grumpy person or business owner. The average would-be purchaser would want to avoid dealing with an angry seller, and time-wasters would be too thick-skinned to care and would turn up anyway.

If you are selling a product or a service and are writing any sort of copy, you want it to be attractive and to sound inviting, and more genuine than someone else’s offering in the same market. That is why you need to explain what your offering will do to make the buyer feel better.

Comfort is what most people want. They do not wish to be scared away by someone’s list of qualifications which most of us have, because they think such a list sounds pompous and expensive. They do not wish to read about a business’s prestigious premises on the High Street because that sounds expensive as well.

Customers want to feel welcome and hope to get that nice warm feeling inside, and we all need to remember that when presenting ourselves and our businesses. Don’t you agree?

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Picking good clients is like appreciating fine wine

This image shows a red wine glass.

(Photo credit: André Karwath via Wikipedia)

As you know, I do like to be appreciated by my clients and do not like being seen as a commodity.

I am not a wine snob. I do not know all that much about wine. However I do appreciate a decent claret. That is why I would rather give a good bottle of wine to someone who would savour it and appreciate the drinking of it, as opposed to someone who saw a bottle of wine as a means to an end; to get tipsy or worse.

So it is that I would rather have clients who appreciate my business services and with whom I can have that friendly relationship. Small business needs to be personal and should be enjoyed by both business owner and client, don’t you think?

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