Taking responsibility

I wrote back in January about owning our mistakes and there seems to be considerable avoidance of blame in our culture. We know where the buck stops if we are running a business, and it is on our desks and no one else’s. Also, if we have customers or clients and employees, we have responsibility to both groups, the first to provide a good quality of product or service, and to the second to pay properly, treat with respect and not risk their futures, though of course accidents happen.

I find The Apprentice difficult to watch, because the participants are constantly blaming each other for team failures. I would respect those who say “I am sorry, Sir Alan, it is my fault” (a rarity) but blaming others is no way to go about life. Some people do not have the need to be liked and will tread roughshod over all others in their path, and Sir Alan Sugar probably pays hardball most of the time, but he knows the value of his workforce and of his brand name, so he has to take into account what other people think to command any respect.

Amongst business people we often hear the lament that modern politicians have no experience in business, many having started straight from university into political research work for some other politician. There are few who have graduated through business now, and also few who have come through the ranks of trade unions, so most have no idea what it is to be responsible for others or to others. It is all about ego and climbing the ladder.

This brings me to the political situation in Britain, though I am not playing politics in this piece. The head of the service provider, the Prime Minister, is treating his customers with total disregard. HM Revenue & Customs refers to taxpayers as customers and we are all users of Government services so we must all be customers. In many ways we are shareholders. He does not seem to care that he does not have the support of the electorate and that they (we) have no confidence in sorting out the mess the economy is in. What is worse in some respects is that he is sacrificing his immediate staff such as Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears. I am no supporter of Ms Blears, but she has been a most loyal supporter of Gordon Brown and he hung her out to dry by describing her behavior in the MPs expenses row as unacceptable. She had done nothing illegal or fraudulent as some other MPs may have done, even if she pushed her luck a bit with her capital gains tax property-flipping.

Mr. Brown’s ego prevents him from seeing that his customers or shareholders have no confidence in him and he is not the right man for the job. He has failed, and even if he had not, if he had been in business and lost the confidence of all surrounding him, he would still have to go, even if his name was Sugar or Branson. It is purely ego that prevents Mr. Brown from going to see the Queen to hand in his resignation, and whilst he staggers on we are all suffering. We all know this, because we understand how business should be, and Government is big business.

Business, red tape, regulation, the Nanny State and the Land of the Free

As most of we small business owners already know, in UK from 1st April 2009 all workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday, which is 28 days for a worker on a five day week. Well, quite right too, you might say if you are not the business owner who has to grant all the employees this extra leave, with no compensation from the Government, so generous with all our money.

Now, please understand that I do acknowledge the value of having family time, and all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (and Jill a dull girl, I suppose). However, with this latest addition to paid leave and the prospect of even longer maternity and (probably) paternity leave the small business owner is bound to come under great pressure, given that we are in a recession, profits are under the hammer and cash flow is tight. Indeed the employee-leave element is very likely to be what breaks the camel’s back, though it is hardly a straw, but an additional heavy burden.

I have recently been in the United States. Now, the recession is biting hard and there is news daily about jobs lost or expected to be lost throughout the US, property foreclosures and the rest. Americans work very hard in that they have far less paid leave than their European counterparts. As I understand it there is no statutory minimum for paid leave in the US, and most employers give between 10 and 20 days, and no doubt this depends on their jobs market. I am certainly not saying that in Europe there should be no statutory minimum; I am just wondering how the British Government, in collusion with the EU, has managed to get up to 28 days; a terrible millstone around the necks of small business in general.

I freely admit I once had entitlement to 28 days paid leave. It came after 30 years of employment and was earned through seniority and value to my employer. I started as the office junior on three weeks leave, and my parents started on two (and they worked Saturdays). I was not even allowed paid leave to take professional exams, in which my employers saw no value.

Few small business owners are able to award themselves 28 working days leave, Monday to Friday. Most work many more hours, though this time is not always productive. Talk to me about that or buy Clare Evans’ book. No, I am not on commission.

I felt a little downhearted returning to the over-taxed UK from the still free independent US where I saw no speed cameras and where everyone is carrying on regardless without too much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I know which economy will bounce back first, and it won’t be the over-taxed, over-regulated, social network monitoring (and probably steaming open our letters), paranoid Nanny-State UK.

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Being lucky!

As I have been telling everyone, notably on Twitter, I have had a lot of problems with IT over the last three weeks. I am pretty dependent on the technology working to keep my business running smoothly. I use many on-line services, paid-for and otherwise. In fact, the way I work as a quite small business would not have been possible fifteen years ago, and not too easy a decade ago. I started seven years ago as a fairly early adopter originally being on-line with 24-7 dial-up before broadband reached our area. Without the technology I would be a lone voice crying in the wilderness and never heard, and whilst the recent problems bring headaches, I have to be thankful that when the technology works (which is usually) it is magic. I am genuinely lucky that my business is facilitated (made easier – but the thesaurus isn’t that helpful) this way as a while back I would have been one of the unemployed with little prospect of getting work in a downturn.

Lots of people have similarly been unshackled by the technology and have genuinely a much greater chance of getting businesses off the ground to earn some money in hard times. I am not talking about dodgy MLM and “network marketing”; I mean real B2B and B2C business. Of course there may be a difficult market but there are opportunities to make a difference, to help struggling businesses and to be innovative too. For those who are computer-literate and can be flexible there should be a viable business (even if only providing a subsidiary income) using their talents or exploiting their knowledge in a hobby to go in a different direction. If you have experience in a market as a buyer, you can probably be a seller.

Today we have through technology the potential to gain knowledge my parents could never have dreamt of, and a much greater insight into what is going on in the world. Political and economics intelligence is available to us all and at little or no cost, so in a way there is no excuse for ignorance, though we should never be afraid to ask for help where it is needed.

I could get into trouble for this kind of article because many do not like the optimistic perceived coach-type pieces we see published so often. Some of my best friends are coaches. Chuck what you wish in terms of virtual brickbats. We ARE lucky in that we do not have to do as we are told and can go our own way, and all because of technology.

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Jam tomorrow?

A problem we get quite often in business, and which matters more to small businesses is when we see a prospect, or potential customer or client who makes a promise to you without actually signing a contract. He or she may say “yes, we will definitely need you in the Spring” or “I just need to get this rubber stamped by my co-director / wife / husband and we’ll start in a couple of months”. This creates a problem for us, and especially in trading in a weak economy. Do we plan to be ready for the work, do we look at getting any extra resources needed, and what about our marketing? If we got another major piece of business in addition to that promised, could we cope, or would we struggle in terms of resources?

The answer is, if we sit down and think about it, that it is no use preparing to work for a prospect if you have not got a contract in writing. The work may not come, the person may want to take you on but may be in such financial straits that he or she can’t, or it may not be solely that person’s decision. The client may never sign up; it might be always jam tomorrow, but never jam today.

Do not plan for work you do not have beyond knowing that you could do it, and never stop marketing to make space for work you do not have yet; in fact, never stop marketing. When you get more clients who have signed on the dotted line, then you can resource the work. Otherwise you will end up as Lewis Carroll envisaged in “Through the looking Glass”, waiting for something you will never get when you could be getting yourself something else.

‘I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!’ the Queen said. ‘Twopence a week, and jam every other day.’
Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said, ‘I don’t want you to hire ME – and I don’t care for jam.’
‘It’s very good jam,’ said the Queen.
‘Well, I don’t want any TO-DAY, at any rate.’
‘You couldn’t have it if you DID want it,’ the Queen said. ‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.’
‘It MUST come sometimes to “jam to-day,”‘ Alice objected.
‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’
‘I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing!’

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Dispatches from the front – age discrimination

Some of you may have seen a Channel 4 Dispatches episode this week about age discrimination, mainly not in the workplace (which is covered by Government legislation) but discrimination preventing more mature workers from being taken on in the first place. The whole thing was pretty educational, but the first few minutes concentrated on a qualified accountant in his fifties and his trainee accountant daughter. They both applied to specialist recruitment agencies. Despite the chap in his fifties having vast experience the agencies just tended to lose his records and CV, and did not bother to interview him whilst his daughter was invited in for meetings and had emails from agencies with which she had not even registered. In putting older candidates off, they are told that the role is “dynamic”, that they would be bored because they have too much experience, or they would not be suitable for such a junior role.

None of this surprises me in the slightest, of course, as it reflects my experience, though I am now very happy to work for myself and have my own business. I was turned down for HMRC’s tax legislation re-write project a while back because I did not have a university degree. I was surprised as I would have been ideal. As an eleven year old I won a free place at a “posh” school where learning the strict rules of English Grammar was considered essential and I also have an ‘O’ Level in Latin to remind me of the importance of grammar and the origin and structure of our language. This may be a surprise to those of you who think I write in a quite casual way but I would have been an ideal candidate given my technical background too. I realise that this was only one of a number of possible excuses for not putting forward such a mature candidate.

However, I will mention that when I started work for the first time a good while ago I was eighteen. Most new recruits joined banks, insurance companies and accountants straight from school between thirty and forty years ago; some even joined their employers in these sectors at sixteen. That was the “baby boomer” way and to require a university degree is a pretty good age filter for those whose parents could not afford to put them through university. Not having a degree from thirty-five years ago is hardly an indication of unsuitability, especially with a long and respectable track record in between.

In these hard times it will be easier for employers to discriminate and use younger trainees in accountancy etc. to provide cheaper labour than that perhaps thought to be expected by more experienced job candidates. The tragedy is that the trainees will get older, qualify and have a few good years. Then their careers will founder on the “Rock of Ages” in the same way.

For the present, there will be more older candidates seeking positions due to the economic downturn and the huge losses to their pensions pots, and they will have to compete against much younger qualified people who have also lost their jobs.

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Bankers, untimely schadenfreude, and how to avoid their fate

I felt a little sorry for the ex-banking chiefs being quizzed by the Treasury Select Committee yesterday. They are genuinely bemused by the state in which their former employers, the banks, find themselves. We are talking specifically about the two Scottish banks, RBS and HBOS though others took risks and have made considerable write-downs of assets.

The reason I feel a small amount of sympathy is that they are akin to drivers who have been careless in the maintenance of their vehicles. There have been annoying rattles, and maybe the car has not been serviced. If there is a major failure in an important component (and in this case the wheels came off) then one should not be surprised that there is a nasty crash. Just the same, the actual event is shocking to the drivers and these guys are not over the smash, which has been very traumatic.

While it is easy to be wise after the event and we as spectators might have indulged in a little schadenfreude had we not been so badly hurt as passengers in the car, it is a lesson to everyone to make sure that we know every part of our business, and what is working well and what isn’t. The bankers took their eye off the ball. Northern Rock was by no means the first bank to fail. We had the grisly spectacle in 1995 of an old traditional bank, Barings, being brought down by the reckless actions of one man, Nick Leeson, the famous rogue trader.

The recent banking debacle was more of a cultural accident in that they were doing what everyone else was doing in the sub-prime market in the US. At the same time no one apparently thought of the risk, or what would happen if the US economy had a downturn and the domino effect on the market. Those of us in small business knew months before the initial crash in 2007 that the UK economy was struggling too, and we commented on it.

Anyway, we should all look at what we are doing in our own businesses; what works and what doesn’t, and what we should change now because it is going to stop working very soon and need to be replaced. I have stopped using Yellow Pages and Thomson’s because directories do not work for me. They work for other people but not for my businesses. Don’t do things just because other people do them. I am constantly reviewing my marketing, and need to think about whether other people getting on their bikes in the light of the large job losses which actually give my business more competition.

What about you? Do you take a step back and look at your business? Are there areas of risk you should try to eliminate? Is your marketing for purpose in the current climate?

I am taking my own advice anyway. If you need another perspective on your business ask an outsider; even ask me!

Workplace tribalism

In the week that we learn from the CBI that 38% of small businesses have laid off staff in the last quarter of 2008. Workplace tribalism many of us will feel uncomfortable over the strikes at the oil terminals and elsewhere over the employment of foreign labour. At times when the economy is weak and there are job losses, workers of larger organisations tend to blame the foreigners for their problems, whether or not the local labour force is qualified to do it; indeed as we know in more recent and prosperous times foreigners have been doing low paid jobs that resident workers (not just British workers) have not been prepared to do because the pay was not good enough. At the Lincolnshire oil refinery where the recent wave of strikes started the workers brought in are from an Italian contractor. I suppose it is pointless to mention that these workers have freedom of movement within the EU and British citizens are entitled to work in Italy if they wish. There would be arguments over the effect on family life but no doubt these issues have already been addressed by the Italian families providing the contractors at the Lindsey plant.

I do not want to get into the issue of prejudice. That is a touchy subject and one on which I am hardly an expert, though I was once shouted at in racist terms (no, twice, come to think of it) and it is pretty unpleasant to be on the receiving end.

What the whole business of apparent xenophobia in the workplace does bring into focus is the tribalistic “we are all in it together attitude”. In a large business the workplace camaraderie is often a great asset in ensuring that all workers pull in the right direction. In the same way that the print industry skiving which existed up to the seventies was proliferated by its own culture, it is also true to say that such sticking together can make for better and greater productivity and less shirking on the basis that the lazy let everyone down. At the same time an unsatisfactory work culture can lead to a lowering of morale and lower productivity due to a loss of respect and loyalty for management. I have seem both ends of this spectrum when an employee.

Anyway, a workforce that sticks together is admirable, but because employees become used to a stable environment, when something goes wrong there is a need to apportion blame. I have written recently about those in charge taking responsibility. We in our own businesses know that we are largely responsible for our success and avoiding failure. However, sometimes accidents happen; at least events over which we have no control even if we think Governments or regulatory bodies ought to have had. I do not think we could quite have imagined in 2005 or 2006 (2007 perhaps) that a steel producer providing material for ships, cars and particularly construction would suddenly find itself short of orders. It is no good blaming the company or its orders. They had a niche in the economy producing materials that were needed and they were hostages to fortune. It is not their fault if they have to lay off workers any more than it is the car manufacturers fault if they have to close for months because no one is buying new cars. In as much as these companies and their workers can be, they are victims of an accident. It is human nature to blame those closest but if there are culprits they are further away.

The point is that as employees we are paid weekly or monthly. We know that the money will appear and while we might do our work diligently we only have responsibility to ourselves and our comrades. The fear over the potential or actual loss of a job is terrifying. How can we survive? You need someone to blame close at hand. I know, I have been there, but lashing out and soft targets is not the way.

Small business owners are making hard decisions over job cuts and have to face the music and their workers. Some businesses could not be viable with less than a certain number of workers if the work is hands-on. I saw an example on television this morning of a small bakery down to a core of five staff. For many there is just a minimum number of workers without whose output the business cannot pay the rent and make any money. It is even harder for small business owners to make tough decisions because they are close enough to their workers to be part of the “tribe”. However when out of a job you are out of the tribe which is a terrible shock, and an owner letting an employee go is at risk of being out of the tribe or family too depending how the other employees take the loss of their comrade.

Despite my comments about taking responsibility, I am not going to say that laid off workers should all start their own small businesses. That would be absurd, especially given the current economic climate. Some may and I wish them all the best. Doing something for yourself rebuilds self-esteem which is the biggest loss when you lose your job. Nor is this a “be positive” pep-talk though It does help to be happy with what we have. As a population we will not be as badly off ever as in the only two Third World countries I have visited where the level of poverty and especially poor sanitary conditions was shocking for me even though I thought I was prepared. No, we have to stick it out, help families who have no incomes through taxation of our own and future incomes as we can. This is not a sermon, so I will not say we should be thankful; just remember that we are better off than many, no matter how long the recovery takes.

Just look past the tribal culture and be tolerant. Almost the whole world is in this economic mire and we will not solve anything by using our valuable workplace tribal culture to bash foreigners. If we have to let people go, handle the matter as kindly as possible and if we do know of any niches with our friends, businesses, see if we can facilitate a move through our network.

© Jon Stow 2009

Owning our mistakes–not an earnest business blog

We all make mistakes. We try not to, but admitting to failure is a way of helping us to do better. Fortunately for most of us, the errors we make will be relatively minor in our work activities, but a big blooper can be a source of considerable worry. I remember getting something badly wrong when a junior manager back in the eighties. I was terribly upset, and it took me months to put it right, though I did without any damage in the end. It was coming up with the solution that took a lot of thinking. I learned from it, firstly to be more careful, and secondly to give myself more time with testing issues. With hindsight, I had too much work put on me because of the resignation of a colleague at the time and the long term sickness of another. There was a lesson there too in that one needs to know the pressures on staff, which my senior manager and bosses were unconcerned about. Those mitigating circumstances were not enough to let me off the hook in my view. The actual mistake was mine.

I can also think of mistakes I have made either in making career moves or not making them at one time or another. It is however no good thinking “if only I had done this” because if I had done something else at any point I would not be where I am, which is quite happy even if not a billionaire (yet). In business for myself, I have made mistakes, mainly in persisting with the wrong sort of advertising way after it should have been clear it wasn’t working.

Someone whom I knew and alas is no longer with us was a man full of bright ideas; indeed he was a very clever man. He was good at inventing new processes and was an excellent engineer. Something he was not very good at was business, exploiting his ideas or indeed being able to understand whether there was a market long term for the concepts he came up with. He would have been better working with and trusting someone who had a better business brain than he but because of his considerable ego he always knew best; he thought anyone who doubted his abilities to turn his ideas into money-makers was obviously wrong, and consequently his companies would go bust. Ultimately he was risking not only his reputation and means to carry on future projects, but also the security of his loyal family who ultimately had to pay a considerable price because he thought he was always right.

This brings me to the British Government. We have a major economic “downturn” as they call it, but it is clear that we have a serious recession perhaps even comparable with the crash of the early thirties. The Prime Minister blames events in America, and of course they have had a huge impact on all of us, and I am not going to bore you by going through that which you already know. Nevertheless, we (in UK) are much less able to ride the storm than our compatriots in other Northern European countries, largely due to the level of borrowing the Government already has, and the even higher level it is facing in an attempt to buy its way out of the slump with building projects etc. to create jobs. These splurges of our money are described as investments, but we all know that investments have to be in viable long term projects that will return a decent amount in the future. There really is no way of calming a storm once you are in it. You have to ride it out. The expenditure announced by the Government is enormous compared to the likely return even if these expensive jobs which are being purchased are viable long term. Of course the savings to income ratio in Britain is amongst the lowest in Europe, and of course not encouraged by Gordon Brown’s pensions grab, his first act when becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997. The same move also hit small income investors in British business, who were denied the privilege of reclaiming the tax credits on dividends as had the pension funds. Therefore people have not rushed out to take advantage of the ill-judged and expensive cut in VAT. Few have any cash to spare until the storm blows out.

Coupled with all these mistakes is the failure of the regulatory bodies to do their job, partly because of the splitting of responsibilities. We had the Equitable Life failure over seven years ago, which should have woken up the FSA (whose faceless members later failed to spot the dangers of the US sub-prime market and the practices of the lenders). The FSA, the Bank of England and the Treasury needed to take swift action over the Northern Rock affair which was the first serious breakage, but dithered. The “independent” Bank of England’ was obsessed with the housing market (not translated into wondering where the mortgage money was coming from) at the expense of business, and it was apparent in early to mid-2007 that interest rates were actually far too high. I discussed this with colleagues at the time and found the other day an email on the subject.

The Government is complaining that somehow it is not its fault that the economy’s wheels came off along with those of some other nations, but they did not spot the wheels were loose and tell other nations about their loose wheels. Now we have crashed and we are more badly hurt than many. The consequences for the UK and (which I will talk about soon) the knock on effects for Third World nations who depend on us to a greater or lesser degree are frightening. Somehow the Government and its ministers are not taking responsibility for their blunders, and surely they cannot do so unless they acknowledge them like the rest of us. Their egos are their weakness, but that is why they are politicians. They are no different from my engineer with the bright ideas and no inkling as to how to harness them. They may understand that they are wrong but won’t own up.

Sky News has been trailing their new programmes fronted by Jeff Randall, former BBC business Editor latterly with the Telegraph. Jeff says in the clip “If I were Prime Minister I would resign”. So would I, but that would amount to taking responsibility, wouldn’t it?

© Jon Stow 2009

Referral networking and serendipity

Once upon a time, well in 1985, Dr. Ivan Misner, my fellow Ecademy BlackStar more or less invented referral networking, at least in the formalised way we see it today. Following my accreditation course to a well-known network of business advisers, or management consultants as they were more likely known twenty or thirty years ago, I was assigned a coach. I had weekly telephone meetings with him to assess my progress in getting work and to help me with my marketing. Remember, this was still in the Dark Ages of 2003.

One day, Coach said to me “You should think about joining BNI or BRE”.
“What are they? I asked.
“I don’t know” said Coach “but they are on the list of marketing tips I am supposed to mention”.

Well, even though it was the Dark Ages they had invented search engines and I would have used Yahoo in those days. I tracked down the local BNI franchise and after a false start try-out with a bunch (or a Chapter) which had totally lost direction I joined a pre-launch core group which was to become a full blown BNI chapter with whom I had breakfast every week (and attendance is essential unless you can send someone to stand in for you).

The big advantages of referral networking are that you learn to get on your feet and sell your business in (usually) one minute and, because it is expected of you, you learn to sell not just your own business but that of the other members all the time you are out seeing your clients. It is a huge confidence booster especially when you are feeling your way in business, and it is great to feel you have the support of other members.

I have to say, though, that BNI was not a great success for me in terms of promoting the business adviser – management consultancy type business, which is ironic given that Ivan was a management consultant when he came up with the idea of BNI. The members of our Chapter were all rather small businesses themselves and not my ideal customer. That was in itself fine, because the aim in BNI and clones of it is that the other members sell your services by passing your business card to their clients or customers, recommending you and promising that you will call. No, the problem for me was that the other members of the Chapter were B2C businesses whereas for me it would have been much better if they had been B2B offering office cleaning, industrial electrical contracting, office furniture fitters or something akin to that, meeting owners of larger businesses with a number of employees. I had similar issues with another referral networking group I joined subsequently.

Still, I was nearly three years in BNI, and stayed mainly because I enjoyed the atmosphere and liked most of the members. I was Membership Coordinator (VP) twice and in my second time ran the meeting for four months after the Chapter Director (President) upped sticks and left. I enjoyed that immensely, which is amazing for someone who was nervous of doing his sixty seconds, let alone a 10 minute presentation when he first started out. Towards the end of my tenure the Chapter’s printer cane up to me at the end of the formal part of the meeting and told me it had been the best run in his three years in BNI. I must have been doing something right! It still did not help me get any business and eventually I decided to leave because of the huge time and investment which was no longer paying off.

Why “no longer paying off”? Didn’t I say that I got very little business advisory work? Well, that’s true. However, this was where the serendipity factor came in. When I joined the core group there was already an accountant filling the relevant category which included the area of my particular expertise, which is direct taxation. He and I became good mates and as tax was not his forte I provided a sounding board for him. My friend was in the process of taking a step up from his small local firm (just him) to joining a firm of accountants in London. They had inherited a major tax investigation into the affairs of one of their clients and when my friend joined they had no one of sufficient experience to deal with HM Revenue & Customs (as they now are) in such matters. I was called it to work solely on this one client, for whom I obtained a very good settlement.

Anyway, I earned for myself over a period of nearly four years some tens of thousands of pounds from this work, which was not related directly to what I was marketing in BNI. The point is to get out there because you just never know.

While I was not a great success in marketing the business helping-hand work I had diversified into, I learned a great deal from BNI though the philosophy of “Givers Gain” which is basically the art of giving in order to get. It is a hard thing to get used to for some, but in fact one can get great pleasure from helping others; I always have, but in case you think I am building myself up here, I have to say that giving is fun. My Grandfather used to say that giving was selfish because one really did it to please oneself. Combine that with giving in order to receive and that is doubly selfish, but it is a great way to go about business. Knowing that one has referred many thousands of pounds of business is in itself very satisfying too.

Give BNI, BRX as BRE has become, or a similar organization a go, especially if you are B2C and dealing directly with the public. Remember you have to be at the meetings, not just because the rules say so, but because you need to gain trust and be seen as reliable and reachable in case there is any slight problem with a referred customer of client. Know that your BNI or other colleagues will work hard and do their best for the referred client or friend because otherwise they will let you down too. Give out as much business as you can and if you receive a fraction of that you will be happy and prosper. And there’s always serendipity. You just never know.

© Jon Stow 2009

Surviving the recession blues

These are strange times. There is constant news of job losses in the UK and of course in the US, and no doubt in may countries around the world. We hear of “rescue” packages launched by Governments, the most recent being that announced in Germany this morning. I wonder about all these stimulus measures taken by central government. One cannot create large numbers of jobs in sectors where products or services are not in demand, and throwing taxpayers’ money at something is in the end not in the interests of the greater population who have to pay for it.

Let us not get too depressed though, because the real answers will be found by business itself, and by those who may be condemned as short-term opportunists, but whose business acumen in spotting those opportunities will be what pulls our economy and the world’s economy round, Only this morning, Tesco has said it will create a further ten thousand jobs. That’s quite a lot even for a supermarket chain that is by a street the largest in the UK, and was at the last count I saw the second largest in Europe behind Carrefour.

There will be other large companies who will move quickly. Fast feet are useful to have in a changing and difficult market and where there is a possibility of filling in gaps left by failed businesses who were less adaptable. That is where the new jobs will come from, and where the root of the recovery will be.

In the meantime there are a lot of people who find themselves without a job, and many of those are finance professionals who worked for banks, in insurance, and in accountancy etc. I myself worked for various firms of accountants, small and large over the years. There is an irony that many firms of accountants, especially larger ones, call themselves “business advisers” and yet many of those who have been laid off from that sector will not have a clue what to do. It is a big leap from being employed with a monthly salary you count upon having to having no job and not knowing how to start making money again in a weak job market.

I have written elsewhere that when I found myself in the position the newly redundant in our sector are now in; seven years ago I did not want to be without a job and indeed thought I was a pretty good performer. It was all a complete surprise. It took me the best part of a year to reconcile myself to running my own business. Now of course I would not want to do anything else, but it required a complete change of mindset in order to start a business in the area which I knew most about. I had no choice in many ways as it was a question of survival at a time when prospective employers could enjoy window shopping for employees and wasting everyone’s time, whilst discounting those more mature candidates who might know more than them and show them up. You would think they could look beyond that to the valuable experience they could draw into the business, but that is human nature.

My concern for many financial professionals is that their particular skill will not adapt well to a small business environment. One cannot easily set up a bank on one’s own, and corporate finance or even corporate tax on their own are not areas for very small business. This type of work has to be part of a package with other services. I was lucky in that I could adapt much of what I already knew, though it has been a long march. Adaptability is key though, and the sooner our newly redundant can change their mindset the better. After all, being redundant is not to be taken personally. It is nearly always an accident as mine was, and it is important after initially licking one’s wounds to reestablish one’s self esteem. We always have skills someone else will need.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (I can always rely on him) said “We do not live an equal life, but one of contrasts and patchwork; now a little joy, then a sorrow, now a sin, then a generous or brave action.”

The brave action is what is needed and in future pieces I shall discuss the generous element required when talking about my networking experiences, starting with referral networking six years ago.

Jon Stow