Archives for November 2012

My thanks to Zig Ziglar

Zig Ziglar speaks at the Get Motivated Seminar...

Zig Ziglar speaks at the Get Motivated Seminar at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

Zig Ziglar died this week. He was described in a report in his local Dallas newspaper as a motivational speaker. Yes, he was that, but to most of us who have read his books he was the guy who taught us how to sell in a nice way.

Seth Godin  as always puts his message over succinctly and well. Of course I never met Zig and cannot remember how I stumbled upon him, but I keep a copy of his “Selling 101” (not an affiliate link) on my bedside table (or night stand to North Americans).

When I left employment, or it left me, I had little idea of sales technique. The every expression sounds clinical. I had been expected in my employment to sell money-saving schemes to potential clients. I had a strike rate of one-in-three or one-in-four, which wasn’t bad, but let us remember that the prospects had already been warmed by their introducers. I really didn’t know how to deal with objections.

When I became an independent business person I did an intensive sales course which was based on a hard sell to prospects who were found through cold-calling from specialist appointment makers. Many had probably agreed to an appointment to get rid of the caller. They felt no obligation to even be at their premises when we arrived, on at least one occasion I was greeted with two words, the second of which was “off”, and if we did get to have any sort of interview it was going through the motions with little prospect of business being done.

The course I had been on and another I drove a long way to do focused on practically grabbing the prospect by the throat at the end of a very structured interview (from our side) and saying “sign here”. Of course they didn’t, and I wouldn’t have in their position.

I thought I was a hopeless salesman, but then I found Zig and read “I’ll see you at the top”. He with his tales of selling demonstrated how to befriend the prospect, not in a dishonest way, but how to establish a rapport and find out what she or he really wanted. As Zig said, it is about being brief, warm, sincere and friendly. The last three seem obvious now, especially having only later read Dale Carnegie, but the “brief” bit was also important; knowing when to be quiet, but sharing just a little personal information to build the relationship. It all works for me.

No one buys what they don’t want, and I know now that selling can only be done through genuine relationships of mutual respect. I don’t doubt that Zig appreciated “How to Win Friends and Influence People (a volume also beside my bed) but he himself was a giant on the shoulders of giants.

Thank you, Zig.

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Content marketing versus selling, in the flesh or on-line


Buy from me!

Death of a Saleswoman

I was at a business show the other day and saw that a well known software company was running a presentation entitled “How to increase revenue into your practice”. Naively, I thought that this would be a useful exercise in sharing knowledge as many of the other sponsored presentations were. I found myself sitting in what would amount to a 45 minute sales pitch for the software from a no doubt well-meaning lady. It didn’t because I didn’t hang around.

I listened for a while, but about a third in to the presentation I left, and many had crept out before me in the first fifteen minutes. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be sold to, especially when I don’t think I am in the market to buy in the first place.

The road to nowhere

It is much the same sort of situation when you click on one of those links such as “How to get 100,000 followers on Twitter by next Tuesday afternoon”. Well, you know the sort of thing. You find yourself on one of those incredibly long web pages designed to sell. You keep scrolling down past large numbers of outrageous claims of success and testimonials from “satisfied customers” who you think are either invented or are paid stooges who have at the very least been given free access to whatever program or course the seller is offering.

You get to the end of this incredibly long web page where the “Buy Now” button is and you are no wiser as to what you would be buying or whether you would have as many as half a dozen extra followers even by next Tuesday fortnight. And you have learned nothing useful because someone has just wasted your time.

Why buy?

Now I don’t believe in buying Twitter followers, but I have bought marketing programs. Why did I buy them? Well, because the vendors showed their knowledge on their subject in useful articles on their website.

Who buys from me? Many of my clients are those who have found my articles useful and they appreciate that I know what I am talking about.

Many people and businesses make errors in believing

  • that giving away free knowledge means that no one will buy. Wrong!
  • that the hard sell is the only way to get new business. It is a pretty redundant method now.

Sharing the knowledge

Giving away valuable information convinces your prospective purchasers you know your stuff and they will buy from you. No one will become an expert from your web content and actually a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The knowledge you give away will boost your credentials though.

As for the hard sell, does anyone really think it is effective now? Purchasers have such a huge choice, and surely no one puts up with pushy salesmen any more?

I think it is clear enough that whether we are on-line or in person it is far more valuable to educate than to sell. What do you think?

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What we can learn from big business and multi-nationals

Set aside the criticism

Multinational companies have been much in the news recently over their tax arrangements. This is not the place to discuss those, but as we have heard so much criticism of Amazon and Starbucks amongst others I think it is time to remember what we owe these companies in gratitude.

Days of OJ

I first bought books from in 1995. At the time I wanted to purchase publications which were not available in the UK about the trial of O J Simpson. I had watched the trial live on Sky News most nights until the early hours as I was recovering from major but successful surgery, and I was in too much pain to sleep. I made a complete recovery but also became fascinated by the detail and the “bloody glove”  and wanted to read the books from some of the main players.

The only way to get these books was to order them from Amazon in Seattle. They did not work out as too dear, and they were delivered within a week. Actually I made several purchases as the books were published and all arrived fairly quickly considering they came such a long way.

Now Amazon in Europe delivers very quickly even on Super Save / free delivery terms. They have not let me down.

Coffee houses and City business

English: This is a panorama of 3 segments take...

Leadenhall Market. “Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0”

When I first worked in the City of London, it was difficult to get a decent cup of coffee except for the cappuccinos in the Italian diners such as Obertelli’s in Leadenhall Market. This was ironic when remember that the City’s financial business originated in coffee houses; the Stock Exchange, the Baltic (shipping) Exchange and Lloyd’s, the insurance market. When Starbucks moved in, everyone upped their game and their model was copied by others. Suddenly you could get a very good coffee in many places and of course the coffee chains have spread all over the country and the world.

As with Amazon, we have become used to good service and reliable products such that we take them for granted.

Distant days

When I was a young lad we could not always rely on good service from businesses, large for small. I remember that my Mum was happy with the service in the local dress shop but the draper next door was “miserable” and presumably not committed to good service or refunding unhappy customers.

It was a large chain of stores in the UK, Marks and Spencer, who first offered almost no-question refunds on items customer took back. Now nearly all the stores do it. Customer service is a recognised culture.

What lessons can we take?

We in small business can build our reputations by not only offering the great reliable service that many of the large companies manage to deliver, but by putting our own personal stamp on the service. We can be available to the customer and often build a more personal relationship such that we will be recommended and not taken for granted as Starbucks are, though they deserve more.

We can be better than the best large company because we can be flexible and we have discretion, which an employee of a multi-national perhaps cannot always have. Obertelli’s is still in Leadenhall Market too as proof of how a successful small business (as it was) can compete strongly.

So thank you for the lessons, Amazon and Starbucks, and for teaching us customer service and showing us how we can be the best, and even better than you.

What do you think?

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Selling our knowledge as a small business service provider


So what’s it worth?

They can’t do what we can

Having knowledge, an expertise, is to have a highly valued asset. It is up to us to exploit it as well as we can. If we are service providers there are two ways of doing it. Either might be the right way for us, but it is up to us as to how we use our special knowledge.


The first way to profit from our knowledge is to sell a process. In one of my businesses the equivalent would be completing tax returns with basic accounts as necessary. This satisfies a need. A client would find the process too much or too incomprehensible to do, or at least to meet the deadline.

No one wants to worry about a fine, and at the same time they want their tax return to be correct. If they don’t have that confidence they pay someone else not only to take on the task, but to take away the worry of having a ghastly chore (as they see it) hanging over them. What they are really paying for is relief from stress.

Valuing the product

From the provider’s point of view, it is mainly a process. Hardly any Tax Returns are exactly the same of course, but the process is something the service provider is very used to doing. However, the sale price (our fee) is based on the length and complexity of the process. It is theoretically a process the client can shop around for, so while there has to be a degree of trust, there tends to be a perceived limit to the value. That is a psychological barrier which is hard to overcome for the provider, no matter how many bells and whistles we attach to make the client feel as happy and comfortable as we can. However, there is a value which we can sell in terms of giving the customers the feel-good factor.

Made to measure

Our second method of selling our knowledge is by providing bespoke consultancy. Accountants, solicitors, architects and all sorts of engineers might do this. People have a specific problem, unique to them, and they need a solution. The solution might be worth a great deal to them, whether (depending on the profession) it is the best way to buy another business, the most tax-efficient way to sell their rental properties, the design of the client’s perfect house or how to build a new bridge across the local river.

There is a significant value in any of these which might involve cost-saving or fulfilling dreams, or simply as a practical solution to a difficult problem. Clients will also pay not just for peace of mind, but to save time, and simply to make their lives easier. When we sell on value here, we should pitch the price as to what it is worth to the client; not what it costs us to do at the time, because that is a totally false basis.

Value yourself

Like all providers, I know what my office costs are, but we who have the knowledge did not gain it overnight. We have been on so many courses, we once burned the midnight oil passing our exams, and we pay a lot to keep ourselves up-to-date with all the latest developments. We have worked hard to have that something others do not have, which is our knowledge; not only that actually in our heads, but the knowledge as to how to find out what we don’t know if you ask us right now.

Never under-value your knowledge. Ask yourself what the imparting of knowledge is worth to your client. Remind yourself how hard you have worked to know what you know. Convince your client of the value. They won’t buy what they don’t value and you don’t want to allow them to buy at a price that doesn’t value you enough.

Reward yourself and give your clients real value for money at a price they and you can afford.

Run too fast, fly too high

Janis Ian and me

Many successful people in business are prepared to take risks, which is why they get ahead of the game. I admire some who have take calculated risks to be a huge success. I guess Richard Branson would be one example of someone who stuck his neck out. Very often he has taken risks with finance and burrowing. Sometimes he has come to grief, but has had enough to fall back on. With the huge empire and brand he has, you have to admire his courage.

Sir Richard has always shown a certain prudence, though. He has never obviously put all his business interests at risk.

When I am out for my evening walks, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, I have to take added risks in crossing the roads because of the boy racers; those driving at excessive speeds over the limit. They don’t worry about the statistics.  The adrenalin takes control and they take risks. So many more come to grief in the age group 17 to 24 than in any other age profile.

There do seem to be people who are the equivalent of those drivers in running their businesses. They take excessive risks. They do not consider the consequences of their actions down the line. They try to expand too fast, and they borrow money in order to do so.

Nowadays the banks appear reluctant to lend too much, and are very risk averse, yet somehow they allow businesses to borrow through credit cards at very high rates interest, with APRs well over 20% when in the UK our bank base rate is still only one-half of one per cent. At a certain point the high interest takes its toll in terms of cash flow, or absurdly in some cases, they make a decent profit and borrow so much against their success that they cannot pay their tax. And so the walls of the business come tumbling down either because the banks / credit card companies or indeed the tax authorities want their money, but the business owners have spent it on more assets which are not readily convertible back into cash.

As usual it is all down to planning. If you fail to plan…

There is always a temptation to try to fulfil as many orders as possible no matter what. It is very easy to overstretch both in terms of resources and in terms of finance. If we have a resources problem only we can pull our horns in and manage what we are able to deliver. If we are over-committed on finance and borrowing we can lose everything by running too fast, and trying like Icarus to fly to high.

Do you know anyone who has flown too near the sun?

Here is a video with Janis Ian about running too fast.

Click here if you can’t see it.



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What the BBC can teach us about management and team work

BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place at the ...

BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place at the head of Regent Street, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Head Man (Director General) at the BBC, George Entwhistle, resigned not because he made an error of judgement but because his management or his employees did not keep him informed about a major mistake they had made. He then looked foolish because he had not seen what was reported through other media including both the press and Twitter. A man who seems not in control has to go. He might very well be able to take control, but he has lost the confidence of the customers and his staff.

These sorts of disasters can happen in small businesses too. It is so important if you are the person at the top that you are approachable. For that to be so, your employees have to feel part of a team and to belong. They have to know you and to like you. Then it will be easier for them to tell you what you need to know, which will include the bad things as well as the good things. They need to be able to tell you anything, without fear that you will be angry.

As long as there is communication between you and your workers, and as long as you keep them informed as well as they keep you informed, there should be no disasters and no problems that can’t be managed. Of course that requires mutual respect, and from your side that requires you to be fair and to listen to their feedback, critical and general.

Do you manage a successful team?

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An Innocent in Social Media Marketing Wonderland


English: The Mad Hatter, illustration by John ...

English: The Mad Hatter, illustration by John Tenniel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

`You might just as well say,’ added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, `that “I tweet when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I tweet”!’

At least that is what the Dormouse might have said nearly a century and a half on. I don’t know about you, but while I am very interested in social media, and indeed social media marketing, I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about either, but I do my best with the marketing bit and I try to learn from others. I buy in some help, mainly in the area of on-line learning. I also belong to various Facebook and LinkedIn groups, and follow the most interesting marketers on Twitter.

Many of the lovely people who run the various groups or whose pages I “like” send me marketing messages from time to time. I always like to know about new content. Who doesn’t? The content for so many is what sells their paid stuff. It is the same for me in that it is content which convinces people that I and my business are the right people to help them.

However it is a well known rule of Twitter that you do not sell, but you offer valuable content, with just the occasional “infomercial”. Otherwise you end up annoying people and being unfollowed, which is unfortunate if you hope that now and again a follower will buy from you.

So why is it that some nice people with huge Twitter followings and successful blogs in terms of visits seem to achieve this while sending out automated marketing emails and Tweets to their blogs morning, noon and night? It is not even as though most of it is new stuff. Some email me daily or overnight every night with the same content, over and over again.

I am inclined to unfollow / unsubscribe, and in some cases I have. However, I would like to know whether relentless pushing of the same stuff is effective in selling, and whether the mantra about not selling on Twitter is valid in social media marketing best practice?

I would love to know what you think because I am as confused as Alice was at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

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Keeping your business safe – Part 2

English: Thomas Boylston to Thomas Jefferson, ...

English: Thomas Boylston to Thomas Jefferson, May 1786, Maritime Insurance Premiums (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Keeping your cover

You are the boss. It is your business. But suppose you were not there for a week, or a month, or many months, or couldn’t work ever again. How would you manage?

I believe in insurance and I believe in common sense. Not everyone does believe in insurance. I know people who have been robbed, and people who have lost their possessions in a fire and they were not insured because they “didn’t believe in it”. For a small annual outlay they could have replaced what they had lost; of course not personal or family items of sentimental value, but at least stuff to help them get on with their lives.

So it is with business. Paid for insurance should cover:

  • Compensation when we are not able to work due to illness or accident.
  • Perhaps paying someone experienced to work in our place
  • Indemnity insurance in case our business is sued. We may have done nothing wrong at all but we might still have to pay lawyers fees.
  • Accident insurance in case anyone visiting us or working with us has a serious mishap.

Being sensible

Then there is the common sense insurance:

  • Have someone nominated who can step into our shoes if we are not there, and make sure they would be able to do so by briefing them “just in case”.
  • Keep as fit as we reasonably can. Go for a walk every day, go to the gym, eat sensibly. Take precautions.
  • Have a ‘flu jab every year.

There will be people who disagree with me because they still don’t “believe” in insurance or they have “heard” that people can get bad reactions to ‘flu jabs. Of course we cannot argue with those who won’t listen. Some would rather risk being broke when their business collapses because they were not insured. There are those who would rather risk being ill in bed for two or three weeks than have a ‘flu jab.

I am risk averse and not ashamed of it. I pay my insurance premiums. I have my ‘flu jabs. I would not want put at risk my clients and my colleagues by not being insured, and I would not want to give the ‘flu to my colleagues or to my elderly relatives who are most at risk.

Do you feel assured that you are insured?

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Keeping your business safe – Part 1

The high wire

Most small businesses rely heavily on the boss. That’s you and I. We may have great managers upon whom we can rely when we are away, but sooner or later, we have to be available to make decisions about the big issues.

However, accidents will happen, and therefore we need insurance, whether it is the sort for which we pay premiums, or our insurance is a common sense approach.

Safety nets

One of the hazards of running a small business (or should I say “challenges”) is when we are offered a really good project which is far too large or complex for us to do. It is beyond our current capabilities. We need to assess the risk to our business in taking that source of business on:

  • Can we do it comfortably by engaging another business as a partner, assuming that is acceptable to the client?
  • Is our insurance cover enough if the project goes wrong or if the client thinks it has? (We need to be covered for wrongful claims too).
  • Can we cope with the stress?

If we can say “yes”” to all those questions, then go for it, because it will be an exciting development and something to talk about in pushing our business forward.

If our answer is “no” to any one of those questions, then we can decline politely and respectfully, and still have the opportunity to make a great referral to a bigger business who may reward us then or later.

It is wonderful to get an exciting new client, but it is honourable and sensible to decline when we know we just cannot meet client expectations.

Have you ever bitten off more than you could chew?

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