Do you work without the aid of a safety net?…

Do you work without the aid of a safety net?

Have you ever had a knife pulled on you by a drug-dealer wanting to get past you into your night-club?

It was 1986 and I was working on the door of a dubious club in Leeds. My job was to let the pretty girls in and keep the undesirables out (of which there was plenty of both)

Being a 6’ 3”, 17 stone rugby league player, it was an easy ask, and one that never fazed me. That was until one night I found myself face to face with a guy off his head on drugs waving 6-inches of Sheffield steel under my nose. Funny how being faced with a guy who really wasn’t playing to any normal rules makes you feel!

I was 18 and thought I was invincible (like all 18 yr. olds do!) All of a sudden, I knew I wasn’t!  

In that moment, I wasn’t big or hard. I was flesh and blood and about to find out how the proverbial knife through butter felt.  Right there and then I would have done absolutely anything to give the geezer what he wanted. Welcome to the real world, young man!

Right there and then I had no safety net, no get out of jail free card. But what I did have was a decision to make. And boy did I have to make it!

Fast forward to today. Running your own business can be like walking on a tight-rope without the aid of a safety net. Or it should be!

Let me explain what I mean by safety net.

When you are employed (as I used to be) the safety net is the bubble-wrap that is lovingly wrapped around you. In my situation, my bubble-wrap was a company pension, sick pay, holiday pay, and an inflation-proofed salary. Whatever went wrong, I had my bubble-wrap to keep me safe. My safety net.

Then I go self-employed. My own business. Not a bubble-wrapper anymore. Welcome to the real world, young man!

I thought I was really taking a walk on the wild side!

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I still had a safety net. I lived with my partner who had a very good salary (certainly enough to pay all the bills) so deep down (although I wouldn’t admit it) I knew if I failed I’d still have a very nice roof over my head.

Did that safety net hold me back? Yes! Was it more like a drag-net pulling me into a sludge of excuses as to why my business wasn’t as successful as I thought it should be? Absolutely!

Here’s another safety net that is easy to get dragged into – you’re self-employed but have one major contractor that gives you the majority of your work. Nice safety net until they stop giving you it!

I now live on my own and the safety net is just me – does it sharpen the mind? Oh yes!

It is amazing how having that knife pulled on me sharpened my mind in 1986, and it feels the same now.

Brad Burton (MD of 4Networking) calls it flying without an ejector seat or a Plan B – and he’s right!

Imagine if someone pulled a knife on you now and said: Double your sales next week or I’ll be back for you!

I guarantee you would have a good go at achieving just that. You would certainly commit 100% to increasing your sales one way or another. Why?

Motivation – pure and simple!  

I can give you every sales tip ever thought of, but only the motivation and will to succeed will make you truly open the tool-kit and try them out.

So, what is your motivation? Do you know? Take a look in the mirror and be honest. Is the face looking back at you flying without the aid of a safety net, or is it the safety net that is really holding you back?

Only you know. And only I knew that night in 1986.

But this much is true – I’ll give you the skill if you have the will!

Just don’t let that safety net hold you back…

Would you give you 5 minutes of your time?…

Would you give you 5 minutes of your time?

A couple of instances this week got me thinking about how we approach our clients (either existing or potential) when we are trying to have a chat with them.

The first instance was while I was at a professional services forum where I was delivering a talk on consultative selling. Over lunch I was chatting with an accountant and he was telling me how difficult he finds asking his clients for 5 minutes of their time for a chat. I asked him why he wanted to talk to them.

“To let them know about the other services we offer,” he said.

The second instance was while I was sat at my desk replying to emails. My telephone rang and when I answered it I was confronted by someone wanting to review my broadband tariff. Before she had even finished her question I had said No, thanks and put the phone down.

And that, together with my chat with the accountant, got me thinking about how we approach our clients. His clients didn’t want to give him 5 minutes of their time and I didn’t want to give the broadband provider 5 minutes of my time. Was it because I didn’t like them or his clients didn’t like him? Of course not. Was it because we didn’t have the time? I don’t believe that (certainly in my case anyway) It was much more straight forward than that. There was no instant, obvious benefit on offer in exchange for giving up those 5 precious minutes.

Why did the accountant’s clients want to know about the other services he offered? Why did I want to have my broadband reviewed? They didn’t and I didn’t. Why? Because we simply couldn’t see the neon-lit, firework-display of a BENEFIT shining right in front of us. Why should we listen? Why should any of us give 5 minutes of our time to someone for no apparent benefit in return?

Consider the last time you wanted 5 minutes of your client’s time for a chat. If you never have a problem getting them to agree then brilliant. But if you struggle then try this exercise –

  1. Read out what you are going to say to your client
  2. Then ask yourself “Would I give myself 5 minutes of my time to listen to that?”

If your answer is NO then you need to plug in an obvious benefit (as perceived through the eyes of your client) of them giving up their time right at the front-end of your opening question. Get the right benefit and your client will want to listen.

Don’t talk when you can listen…

Having coffee-meetings with people is an everyday part of my life – I often think I should have shares in Starbucks!

It is one of the ways I get to know people, and get to like and trust them. Sometimes these meetings lead to business, sometimes they lead to friendships – and sometimes they remind me of how much some people like the sound of their own voice!

When I’m having a coffee-meeting I like to give the other person air-space to tell me about their business. After all, I can only ever find out if I can help increase the sales of their business, if I first find out about their business.

I recently arranged to have a coffee-meeting with someone i had only just met. On this occasion neither of us knew too much about what we each did for a living, so I assumed we would both have some air-space to let the other know a bit more about ourselves.

How wrong was I?

The meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes, and after half an hour, my coffee-mate came up for air, and said: “Oh, sorry I haven’t asked what you do for a living!”

I just smiled and let him continue. “Anyway,” he said. “I’ll email you some information about what I’ve been talking about and give you a ring.”

DON’T BOTHER I felt like telling him. It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t interested in his services (because I might have been) it was because he had spent every minute of our meeting starting every sentence with the words WE and MY. Not once did he say YOU and YOUR, which means not once did he ask about me or my business. Not only was this rude, but how could he possibly really find out about how he could help me without first finding more out about me? In fact, finding anything out about me would have been a start. In my book I call this the Me Trap.

I can’t stress enough, guys the importance of silence (your silence!) when you are meeting potential clients. This will really help you.

Here are some basic rules –

  1. Ask a question about the other person
  2. Listen to the answer and don’t interrupt them
  3. Keep listening because if you don’t talk they keep on talking
  4. Smile, nod and make a note of their answers

 To help you avoid falling into the Me Trap, here’s a quick tip. Every time you speak in a meeting write down M for Me. Every time the other person speaks write down Y for You. If the number of M’s is more than Y’s then you are falling into the Me Trap and you should follow the above rules.

Give it a go and let me know how your meetings start to run – hopefully you’ll know far more about your potential client and how you can help them.

Increase your sales by waking up the neighbours…


I don’t mean walking around the streets with a big drum and a placard over your shoulders saying BUY HERE! Although it would definitely wake up your neighbours I doubt you would get that many sales (wouldn’t it be worth a try if it did though?)

What got me thinking about this was when I met up with a colleague the other day.

He had just moved into some new business premises, and had invited me along for a chat and a coffee. It was a unit in one of those purpose-built business centres that are ideal for small, young companies.

My colleague’s business is a video company, specialising in providing promotional shorts for web-sites and YouTube. He was telling me that he had just bought some new equipment for his new office, and was now looking to pay for it by winning some new clients!

I drank my coffee and asked him how he was settling in to his new office.  He shrugged and said it was fine – good location, modern facilities, easy to commute to etc.

I then asked him if he had bumped into any of the other business-owners in the centre yet.

He said he had seen a couple of them in the kitchen and they seemed friendly.

“Well, that’s your answer then!” I said.

“What is?”

“How many businesses are there in this centre?” I asked him.

“Looking at the list in the reception area, I would say about forty,” he said.

“Fantastic! And how many of those have got video clips promoting their business?”

My colleague shrugged. “I’m not sure. Not too many, I would imagine.”

“In that case, don’t you think it would be a good idea if you introduced yourself to your new neighbours?” I suggested.

Of course it was!

Think about your own location – if you are in a business centre then get along to all your neighbours and introduce yourself. Alternatively, look up all other prospective businesses within a one mile radius of where you are based, and go see them.

This is what you need to say. “As a business neighbour, I thought it would be a good idea if we grabbed a coffee and found out more about what we each do, to see if there’s any way we can help each other.” Don’t shorten it, don’t change it – just say it as it is.

As most small businesses are keen for the opportunity to tell people about what they do, it is likely that they will all jump at the chance to chat with you.

All you have to do then is drink your coffee, and listen for the results they are trying to achieve with their business. At this stage you are just building a new relationship, but if you think you can definitely help them achieve the results they’re looking for, then suggest you could help them if they were interested in having a further chat.

With any luck, this will result in a fruitful business relationship, where your new client gets the results they want and you win a new sale.

Everyone’s happy! Especially your neighbours, who you have just woken up to how you can help them!


Make sure you pass the Tesco Test with your own business…


Unless you live in an igloo (and I’m sure plenty of Eskimos heard this too!) you will probably know that the Tesco supermarket group last week announced their results for over the Christmas period.

To everyone’s surprise, including the analysts and financial experts, the numbers they announced were disappointing. So much so, something like £4.5billion was knocked off their share price!

Now this blog isn’t about the state of supermarket profit-margins…but it is about how their public-face reacted to it.

On the morning of the announcement I dropped into my local Tesco to buy a newspaper.

As I was paying for my paper, I said to the sales assistant: “Bad news about your lot this morning.”

There was a reason why I did this – you could say I was conducting a little scientific experiment. To my admiration, it was an experiment that resulted in a very positive reaction.

The sales assistant, who was called Rory, answered me by saying: “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about. When the full year’s figures are announced everything will be back to normal.”

Full credit to him, he said this to me without even a hint of hesitation or awkwardness. The key for me was that I BELIEVED him. I genuinely believed that he believed in what he had just told me. It didn’t sound like a party-line that all the staff had been told to say. But even if it was, he believed in what he was saying, which was brilliant.

I took my newspaper and change, and said to him: “Well done!”

And I really meant that, because it would have been easy for him to join in with my hubble-bubble toil-and-trouble comment about your lot.

In this case your lot being the big corporate entity of Tesco. But he didn’t join in, because he saw himself as the public-face of your lot. In fact, he was as much part of your lot as the CEO or the cleaner.

Brilliant! We stand together regardless of the news!

The moral of this is to remember not to fall into the trap of failing this test with your own business. It’s easy to tell the world how well things are going when they are, but it’s harder to keep positive when things aren’t going so well.

This is when we all have to dig deep (I know I have had to recently) because no-one can help you as much as you can help yourself.

Of course you can ask for advice, read articles, and reappraise your business goals – but ultimately it’s down to you and only you to put things right.

Look at Tesco; they haven’t said their customers haven’t been buying enough. They have said they need to provide their customers with more of what they want.

And that is exactly what we all need to do with our businesses – because they are our businesses and no-one else’s!

Do you allow people to pick your brains for free?


I was recently made aware of this really interesting article from Adrienne Graham by Richard McCann (I’ve posted it below as it contains some great advice) and after reading it I thought about what I do in my own business.

I have chosen to give away lots of advice for free – this is what I believe to be the right approach to attract new clients.

I blog sales tips regularly, I have a book of sales tips that can be downloaded from Amazon for less than the price of a hotel coffee, and I often deliver talks at networking events.

In addition, I regularly find myself answering emails or getting involved in forums on sales matters.

I don’t get paid for any of this (except for the few pence I get from the book sales) and only get paid when I am contracted to give advice on how to increase sales in a specific business.

I get paid for giving advice. How valuable is that advice to my clients? That depends on the business and the person/people receiving the advice. I have a client who last year won a contract worth up to £250million after putting the advice I gave them into practice.

A friend of mine who is a business coach got told recently that his hourly rate was more than that of the divorce lawyer his client was using! I think that was missing the point, because it is not about hourly rates.

Advice is about potential. How much that potential is worth is up to the client, but my advice is always sound and workable.

If advice is wanted on a specific business issue, I think it is only fair that you should get paid a fair price for that advice, based on what that advice could potentially be worth to your client.

That said, I do give a lot away for free (hence this web-site) and will continue to do so because I believe in the BNI (world’s largest business networking organisation) maxim of givers gain. This means I believe that I will gain new clients from the free advice I give.

So, where do I stand on Adrienne’s article? I believe people need to know, like and trust you before they will become clients. Interacting with people and helping them without any immediate financial gain is part of achieving this.

But I do agree with Adrienne when she says people shouldn’t expect to be able to pick your brains for free. Therefore, my advice to you is if you are meeting someone for a coffee, give them one nugget of wisdom that will definitely help them for free, but no more. If they want more, because they can see how you can help them, then they should pay for that help.

This is easier said than done, because if you are a natural helper (like I am) you might find it difficult not to get carried away with your coffee advice. Also, people are very clever at digging for more freebies – they will sugar-coat these with compliments about your knowledge. But learn to see through these. Platitudes don’t pay the bills – cheques do!

Let me know what you think?

No, you can’t pick my brains…it costs too much! By Adrienne Graham

But your knowledge has value. You’ve invested time and money into learning your craft and it’s not fair for people to expect you to give it away for free. Even friends need to understand there are boundaries.

For example I will no longer advise my friends or family for free. (Wow, I just made some people mad….they’ll get over it!). I have businesses to run, employees to pay, mortgage to pay, office rent to pay, college tuition, etc, etc, etc.

I’ve told this to friends who have promptly replied, “Me too, you know I don’t have much money”. SO WHAT. That means you either have to delay your plans or come up with the money to fund your dreams. Period. Giving away information is the quickest way to end up evicted or foreclosed on. Put that in proper perspective for a moment.

If you’re having problem drawing the line in the sand, here are some rules of thumb you should follow:

  • Believe that what you know is valuable. If it wasn’t then why are they coming to you? You’re their chance to solve a problem or find a solution. That has value. Charge for it.
  • Create a fee schedule. Whenever someone wants to pick your brain, make sure you have your fee schedule in front of you. Give them a quote for how much it will cost them. They’ll either pay it or move on. If they move on, good riddance. They weren’t interested in paying you anyway. Let them figure it out on their own.
  • Decline lunch/coffee invitations unless they are strictly non-business. If the conversation swings around to business, quickly and politely tell them you’re off the clock. If they are interested in a consult they can book an appointment and let them know what the charge is for that.
  • Keep it light. Some of you will probably cave and throw a few nuggets out there. If you do (I hope you don’t), keep it general. Give the why and what but never the how. Anything beyond the why and what comes with a charge. And don’t even point them in the direction to obtain the how. That’s short changing yourself.
  • Prominently post that there are no freebies. OK not in those words. But if you have a blog or website, and even on your social media profiles, make sure you mention that consultations are available at a fee.
  • Exchange for equal value. This puts you in an advantageous bargaining position. If someone requests free information or help, you must feel comfortable in asking for an in kind value service. Assess what they have that can be of equal benefit for you. If they are genuine, they should have no problem in an even exchange of knowledge. Only you will know if what they have is equal to what you’re giving.
  • Refer them to your “free” resources. If you write a blog, have published articles, have archived videos or podcasts or have a show in which you dispense advice, refer them to that information. Explain that those are the only free information sources you offer. Anything specific or beyond what’s readily available has a cost.
  • Don’t be afraid to send them to Google. You can recommend they go to Google, or any other search engine or to sites that have articles or information about what they need advice on. You can also recommend a book or magazine that might be helpful. Let them expend that energy they would have used in meeting you at Starbucks and hit the search engines to find their answers. Problem is, they’ll be overwhelmed with varying degrees of information. Not fun for them, but when they’re ready to put it in proper perspective and implement, they can come to you…for a consult…a paid consult.
  • Ask them for a paying referral. If they truly want your expertise, they have to be willing to help you out too. It’s kind of like the Equal Exchange point I made above crossed with paying it forward. Before you dispense any advice, ask them to provide you with referrals to others who most certainly need (and can afford) your service.
  • Don’t back down. I know it’s hard to say “no” sometimes. But you can’t back down. People will know how far they can bend or push you. Stand firm, set your boundaries and guard your treasures (your brain and the know how in it). The minute you compromise you devalue yourself and your expertise.

Most people are afraid to draw the hard lines in the sand for fear of angering a friend or losing a potential client or opportunity. Trust me, if they will walk away because they cannot get a freebie, they weren’t meant to be a client and there was no real opportunity in it for you.

Many in the marketing circles will tell you the freebie give away is vital. But it doesn’t always lead to a sale. Likewise giving away what you would do in a given situation during an interview will not necessarily lead to you being hired. It’s up to you to determine what you’re willing to give away and how much of it. Know your worth, understand your value. Stop being taken advantage of. No more freebies.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham
No, you can’t pick my brain!

Don’t give something up, take something up in 2012…


Happy New Year to you all. This may seem a little belated but as most of the world didn’t go back to work until Tuesday 3rd Jan I thought I would delay this post until you have shaken off your cobwebs and realised just how difficult it is to keep to all those resolutions you came up with.

It is hard, isn’t it? But then again anything worth achieving often is. However, don’t be too hard on yourself – don’t set your expectations too high. After all, it is better to keep one resolution than fail at five!

Also, it occurred to me that every year, our resolutions are often about what we are going to give up or reduce – smoking, drinking, eating etc.

However, it is far more positive have a resolution to take something up in 2012.

In other words, what are you going to DO, rather than not do?

This can be in your personal or business life. For example, if it’s personal, you could have a resolution to take up running three times a week.

Work-wise, I have come up with a resolution to get in touch with three old business contacts every week to see how they are getting on. This is so I can offer help if and when it is required.

I have put a reminder in my diary to do that every Friday morning.

So focus more on doing something, rather than not doing something.

Hope you have a positive first few days of 2012 and hit the ground running.