Just ask yourself – “Am I a cow?”

A strange question I know. And I expect if you’re reading this, the answer is most likely to be no (cows with Internet access are rare).

Good.

Then ask yourself if you’ve got and are you using all the tools and techniques your competitors are?

Then ask yourself the cow question again.

Cows follow each other.

They usually all end up in the same place.

It’s not a happy end.

Cows are gentle and docile. They tend to be followers, not leaders.

You can and should change the game, change the rules and change your direction.

It is usually, quicker, less costly and a good deal more effective to think differently about your approach to sales and marketing.

Here’s an insider tip: Your customers would be delighted if you brought them innovation

And another: Your competitors don’t know how to.

One more: Your customers don’t want you to ask them what keeps them awake at night – it really annoys them and doesn’t help them to tell you.

Oh go on then, just one more: Your competitors don’t know that…so they keep on asking that question….just like everyone else.

Re-think your customers likely problem for them. Re-design your approach to helping them address it, so that only you can deliver the solution.

…I’ve said too much already.

No point in telling the cows…..

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Lipstick on your pig sir?

Be careful. There are no end of “Porcine beauticians” out there who will happily take your money and your hope and expectations and in return, provide you with a stunning looking, responsive website, an elegant “brand execution” and product and service literature which will doubtless position you as the “global leader” in your chosen field.

These organisations have no real interest in whether you can actually do what you say you can do. They’re not stupid though, far from it. They simply know that if it looks great, you’ll love it.

You know what they call this in the design and creative world?  Rolling a Poo in Glitter. 

So what’s wrong with that?   What if it’s all cobblers?

There’s a vast difference between “entrepreneurial flare” and outright BS.

The former will get you noticed. The latter will put you out of business.

Caveat Emptor and all that!

Bon weekend!

Getting Away with it – ness

There’s a lot of it about.

Look around you, in your industry, your competitors and perhaps in your company or even your office or department too.

There will be people who have largely “got away with it” for years. Decades even.

A few years ago no one noticed. That was because they could hide. Usually hiding meant doing the bit you were tasked with doing, only. So it didn’t matter if the marketing campaign didn’t actually make any money…they had “delivered it” and that bit was their job.

It didn’t matter if the customer service issue was actually and properly resolved, they’d passed on the message.

And from sales, it didn’t matter if in reaching their target they’d left a trail of carnage behind them, the cleaning up of which wiped out all margin and good will….because they’d hit their number.

Look out for these people. Point them out in public. It is your duty to do so. They are killing your business and jeopardizing your future.

If you are a sufferer. Wake up. The world can see you now….

Striving for SH**T!

You’ve really got to wonder what sort of company claims that it looks for the SHIT in people as a measure of their customer service!

I wonder if you happened to see Alex Polizzi’s The Fixer on BBC2 yesterday evening.

In brief, Polizzi the famous and successful hotelier visits small family run businesses in need of some “common sense” and home-truth style mentoring in a bid to turn them around.

It’s pretty entertaining and refreshingly short on the sort of schadenfreude which so often accompanies these kind of programmes.

Last night focused on a small family run garage in Manchester http://www.guidebridgemot.co.uk/. Much like many others in the same boat, Guide Bridge MOT were struggling to win and retain new customers. Their revenues came from part “Retail” and part “Fleet” contract work.  Clearly the Fleet element, being under contract, was the most readily addressable.

As luck would have it (!) Polizzi just happened to be there when the fleet contracting company’s inspector was doing his regular quality and standards check on the garage and the operation. Polizzi clearly spots the (only real) opportunity for a quick win solution to the garage’s woes (other than the more obvious one of laying off /reverting to zero hour contracts for the family workforce currently at less than 33% ulitilisation!) and asks what it would take for the garage to get more fleet work.

The inspector tells us it’s all about standards. Standards of quality, service, cleanliness etc. He then goes onto explain that in order to recognise and identify this in people he looks for the “Shit in them” (sic). Yes, really.

He does go on to qualify that by this he means: Sincerity, Honesty, Integrity and Trust.

I’m no psychologist or NLP expert , but I can’t imagine that at any point in his training the company he works for would be drilling into him that we “strive for SHIT”.

In my company I think I’d struggle to get across what I really wanted from people if I told them I wanted to see a lot more SHIT from them, that when it comes to customers they should first think “SHIT”.

And equally having achieved the requisite level of SHIT, I’m not sure how I would feel about it.

Polizzi went on to help them smarten up their act, get the laziest one working, get the finances in order and revitalize a previous idea and USP about focusing on women. Well done all (seriously – and good luck to you all).

The real cliff hanger was whether or not Guide Bridge MOT was to receive the seal of approval from the Fleet contractor which meant they qualified for more work.

They did and Polizzi revealed the certificate to prove it. Excellent.

We didn’t get to see what it said on the certificate but the standard they had reached was “Classic” . So pride of place on their wall now must be certification that they have demonstrated the right level of Classic SHIT. That must look great and they must be very proud.

Great News!

No Seriously…

Isn’t it about time we started to see some positives? I have to admit I’ve been a doom monger for at least the last 4 years. That’s because I’ve been trying to get people/organisations to see that the world is changing and they needed to change too.

So I won’t say I told you so. Instead, here’s an uplifting and erudite article from the FT – If they say it, it must be true.  A guide to shaking off the doom and gloom – FT.com – Management http://on.ft.com/vstVyh

Don’t say I never you give you anything!

Bon Chance Mes Amis!

 

 

2012 New Year, Brave New World, New Thinking Part 1.

Part 1

For me January 2012 is much more than just the start of another new year. It’s the beginning of an entirely new world and a completely new business culture and a time (and licence) for everyone to think very differently indeed about what we do and how we do it.

It’s OK – this is good news…I just need to set the scene!

It’s been coming for some time. I saw things really starting to hit in 2008 with the impact of the credit crunch. It knocked the automotive industry for example, for six. The “cost of money” meant that the big buyers of fleets, like hire companies, simply didn’t renew their fleet. So what? Well manufacturers didn’t stop making cars. So that meant cars where being shipped across the globe to sit on huge airfields with no customer in sight and were depreciating daily. I remember sitting with the commercial Director of a big automotive operator. He showed me a spreadsheet of the assets (his cars) and their daily depreciation. He then directed my attention to the enormous “car park” that was the airfield behind his office.

It wasn’t just the car industry of course, it meant that companies of all sizes simply couldn’t afford to borrow in the way they used to and a lack of liquidity in the market knocked all sorts of businesses out.

Since then it’s been a slow and painful death with 2010 seeing the first of the real impacts, 2o11 following suit and I’m sorry to say that post the Olympics I don’t hold out much hope for growth once the “Olympic economic bubble” has burst either in 2012.

Doom over onto the positive bit..

So that’s the economic reality and few of us have any option but to live and work with it and through it. What can and should we be doing differently then? Where are the benefits and what are the opportunities that this era of economic gloom provides?

Let’s be clear, I am very far from being an economist. I am however an optimist and I do spend each and every day talking with and working with businesses of all sizes in a wide range of industries.  So here are some of the things I see happening and changing and that might be useful for you:

1. Anything and Anyone is “possible” – In times of riches people follow form. When things are going well, it’s hard to get people to accept new ideas, new companies and new approaches. Right now, all bets are off. Companies know that what they did previously is either no longer effective or in some cases no longer affordable. And that means that it is perfectly reasonable to expect a very large organisation to be interested in working with a tiny start-up ( I know, I do it every day). That means you can be “daring” and audacious in your thinking and your ambitions. A tiny bit of research will confirm that some of the world’s leading brands were born out of recession, for this very reason. So whether you’re starting a new company, a new career, or pitching a new idea to a new audience, be bold and you will be surprised how “open” people are to change. (That doesn’t mean that can afford it so….)

2. “Budget” is not where the money is – If there are budgets in organisations they are considerably smaller and a good deal more “controlled” than they have been for decades. The level of sign-off and discretionary spend is tiny. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t money to spend it just means getting at it is harder. Of course there are other ways to get what you need. Even big businesses are willing to discuss trades, so spread invoices across 12 months rather than a lump sum (it comes out of different budgets!), for example. Sometimes by breaking your invoices into smaller amounts means you come in under discretionary spend and therefore 5 x £5K for example will get through more easily and a big bill for £25K. If you’re really smart, you’ll avoid “budgets” all together and look for those with P&L authority. Why? People with budgets are surrounded by people who want to get at them. People with budgets are also prone to having their budgets cut. So, if your competitors are running after the department or decision maker with a budget….let them get on with it…look instead for the people and departments that budget holder serves. They don’t have budget…but they do have money – if you can’t work it out call me/drop me a line and I’ll fill in the blanks!

In part 2 we’ll look at the “new economy” – getting what you want and need with little or no money. New ways of working (Neardesk) and why they’re going to change the world and some other ideas for thriving in this brave new world.

Bon weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

Start Up? Are you sure you know what you’re in for?

Did you know that in the UK we start-up more businesses a year than they do in the USA?

That might surprise the cynical among us.

What’s less surprising (perhaps this is the cynical in me) is that the failure rate of new businesses in the UK is considerably higher than it is in the USA.

Why do you think that might be?

Peter Cochrane OBE told me that one of main differences between UK and US start-ups is that in the UK we tend to start businesses with the ambition of paying off the mortgage. In the US they tend to start a business with full and certain knowledge they can go global!

It’s certainly true that in the UK and in between “booms”, being a start-up doesn’t have much cache, people don’t look at you like you could be the next Zuckerberg or Gates and saying that you aim to be is likely to get you laughed out of the boardroom.  Of course, retrospectively people always refer (somewhat jealously) to the” gutsy start-up” that ends up selling out for £ Billions but at the time, in the beginning, being at ground zero, with a good idea, lots of energy and not much cash can be a very tough, lonely and scary place to be.

Good.

It needs to be, it’s getting through the tough bits, the pits of despair and doom, the worry about mortgage payments and the constant challenge of selling the first few deals. It’s that  “thin-lipped” “positive” smile that all your friends and family give you that which says “you’re either a brave genius or a complete idiot and I’m pretty sure which!”  and the new levels of multi-tasking you can’t believe you can achieve and the hours in the day you didn’t know existed. It’s the sleepless nights (for good and bad reasons) the “if only I had ten grand” constant need for the next bit of IT or design or copy or expertise and the feeling that this stage will never, ever end that makes the start-ups that succeed, succeed.

There’s no pretending it’s a pretty, glamorous or always a terribly happy ride….but every obstacle you overcome, every knock-back you move on from and every new skill you struggle to learn feels like an Olympic achievement. And it is.

That’s why those of us who have done it (and continue to do it) get on such a high about it and end up loving and eventually even enjoying the roller coaster ride that it always is.

And so for those taking the first step or wondering if they could…here are a few things which might just take a few of hurdles out of your way…

1. It WILL take longer than you expect it to. Even if you see early success, once you’re past the first flush of “wins” you WILL move in to a phase of reality where you need more than luck and passion and your last employer to buy from you.  So plan for the first 12 months not the first 12 weeks.

2. You WILL find lots of “Jam tomorrow” deals. There will be plenty of people who will want you to work for nothing and will pay you later. Remember Jam tomorrow is fine…but you need “Bread/Dough” today.

* Possibly the most useful lesson to remember here is: Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but CASH is KING!

3. You WON’T believe how many “woodland folk” come out of the mists once they spot you’ve got a great idea. They will be all sorts of useless, dangerous, “predators”, who will offer their services for a share of your business or your IP. Don’t fall for it. If they look like they need a new suit it’s because they can’t afford one. Guard your business and your IP with your life. Better to pay for advice than to give away your family silver to an idiot who will bleed you dry and leave you high and dry too. If you get approached, ask around. You’ll soon hear the truth.

* As a successful entrepreneur and a good friend of mine once advised – “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt” – live by that.

4. You SHOULD spend more time on understanding your customers and the proposition you’re taking to them than anything else. If you can’t differentiate and stay differentiated it’s only a matter of time before you’re priced out of the market.

5. You CAN get good, free advice from professionals whiling to give the first meeting for free. I am one of them and I know of an accountant and least one designer who are others. Finding out your options in terms of LTD, LLP etc and the likely costs and timeframes is invaluable. Seek out good solid advice . Don’t be afraid to ask. For my first business, I traded a Pint of Guinness and a Fish Finger sandwich for an hour’s time with a chartered accountant. It was money well “invested”. He’s now FD on all my businesses.

6. You DON’T Need flash offices, you do need well written and well presented collateral, material or branded..things. You can find good designers who’ll do you a deal on spreading the costs and there a plenty of on-line packages. Don’t skimp here. In 2012, no one cares if you don’t have a posh office and 250 staff. They do care if you can’t spell, they can’t understand what you’re proposing or if it looks like you slung your website together with a book and a CD package you bought at car boot sale.

7. USE technology. Skype is great. It means free phone calls and conference calls. Use Twitter and WordPress and other online free and easy to use tools.

8. DON’T plan your business based on today. Plan for what you want it to be tomorrow. That means be careful. It’s very easy to end up with a mill-stone that sees you working harder than you ever have before, for less money than you could earn in a job and taking more risk that you ever planned for. I recommend E-Myth revisited “Why most small businesses don’t work” by Michael Gerber for making sure you avoid this pitfall on day one!

9. DON’T expect the bank to loan you any money unless you’re prepared to put your house up. It’s not that they don’t want to lend they just don’t have the processes to loan to anyone other than those who don’t need it.

10. DON’T aim low. There’s only one way to go from there. Take a leaf out of the book of the USA. Think bigger than you dare and go for it.

I’ll be writing a lot more about start-ups and my experiences both of owning them and working with them. If you’d like to hear more then please subscribe.

It won’t surprise you that I’m happy to discuss how I can help you with your idea too. So if you’re interested drop me a line.

All the best

Owen