Improve your business by taking on board your own advice


In my last blog, I mentioned how a researcher had said 20% of all employees want to look for a new job in 2014. What he also said, was 1 in 10 employees want to work for themselves – so that got me thinking, what do you think is stopping them?

The fear of the unknown is one big obstacle, as well as doubts about regular income.

So, if you’re self-employed, what advice would you give someone who is thinking of venturing into the big world of being an owner/manager? Does your advice also include the following? –

  1. Make sure you know who your customers are going to be
  2. Make sure you know how you’re going to attract new customers
  3. Be clear on the results you can deliver for your customers

This is because these are the biggest hurdles all new businesses have to get over – and not just new businesses.

Even if you are already in business, it is always worth asking yourself the question “How successful am I at achieving these 3 big deliverables?”

Be honest, because honesty is the only thing that will help you build the bedrock of a successful business. And the bedrock must include the 3 points above, because without them, your business will fail – I guarantee it. Sounds harsh? Maybe. But I have seen too many new businesses eventually subside exactly for not been able to nail who their customers are going to be, how to successfully attract them, and being clear on the results they can deliver.

So, try this – take a blank piece of paper and write these 3 points down, and answer them honestly. If your answers come freely then the chances are you’re onto a winner. However, if your paper stays blank for more than a couple of minutes, then take the opportunity to work out the answers before it becomes too late for your business.   


Make 2014 the year of Appreciation!

I was driving back from work one day last week, when I heard a researcher on the radio talking about how more people than ever before searched for a new job on that day (it was the first Monday of the new year)

Apparently, 20% of all employees went to work that morning and decided they wanted a change in direction. Why was this? A new year and a new broom sweeping clean? Maybe.

Was it, wanting an increase in wages? Possibly.

According to the researcher though, the main reason people were looking for a new job wasn’t about money or the fact it’s the New Year – above all it was because they want to feel more wanted by their employer.

The majority of employees state that the biggest factor leading to them feeling dissatisfied at work, is down to a lack of appreciation from their bosses. Conversely, many bosses feel they don’t always appreciate the work their employees do because they too often take it for granted. Either way, it’s a recipe for disaster – because the cost of recruiting new staff is often far more expensive than simply retaining existing employees.

So, if you’re an employer, make one of your New Year Resolutions to tell your staff more often how much you appreciate them – even if you can’t afford to give them a pay rise, try something else. For instance, give them some unexpected time off as a thank you for their hard work.

If you’re not an employer but you are in business, you can still learn a lot from this research – for instance, it’s a fact that many customers look to change suppliers because (you guessed it) they don’t feel appreciated!

Therefore, whether you have people working for you, or you have customers (or both) ask yourself a question – what am I doing to ensure they feel wanted?

Make sure you have a good answer, because the cost of finding quality new staff and quality new customers is one you don’t want to swallow so early in 2014.


The Big 2014 Business Lift-Off! – Make sure you’ve got your invitation!

I really have been amazed how much positive focus has been put on the New Year this time round – it really does feel like a rocket is about to set off!

The world financial markets are tipped to soar in 2014, as is the housing market in the UK. And apparently, businesses are being granted more corporate loans than at any time in the last 5 years.

Nearer to home, my own peculiar insight into the uplift in the economy comes in the shape of unplanned early morning wake-up calls – from convoys of HGV’s rumbling past my bedroom window, full of materials from the nearby builders’ merchants. I promise you, only 2 years ago, I could sleep as sound as a log without any interruptions from any traffic!

Everything sounds as buoyant as a hot air balloon on a summer’s day – and, if like me, you truly believe the state of the nation is at last showing signs of recovery (let’s not jinx it though!) you’ll want to make sure your business doesn’t miss the boat.

It’s scary though, isn’t it? Everyone’s saying the economy is on the turn (and judging by the hordes of people flooding in and out of the electrical superstore I visited this morning, it’s hard to disagree!) and the opportunity of success in 2014 is looming in front of you like the highest mountain – yet you feel like you haven’t even got a decent pair of hiking boots!

Seriously, though – how certain are you that your business is fit and ready for what 2014 has to offer?

The biggest tip I can give you is this. You can start by making sure you are getting in front of your biggest and best customers, because they are the ones who will be part of the 2014 lift-off.

It’s the bigger fish who always start feeding first when the economy starts to turn round, so if your customers are the bigger fish, make sure you are there to deliver for them.

So, if you want to network in 2014, network with the big fish. Get appointments to see your best customers, and find out what their plans for 2014 are, and make sure you’re part of them – make sure they know how you can support their growth, and how you can help them reach their targets for the year. If your customers aren’t corporates, but are the general public, help them feel like they’re part of the upturn – make sure you’re talking about the economy in positive terms, and not in the “doom and gloom” mumbles of the last few years. People like to be associated with positivity and success, so become that for your customers.

Be part of it – the big lift-off. Don’t just talk about it, and expect it pick you up on its way past. Trust me, it won’t.

Any upturn in the economy in 2014 will be an exclusive club, and you will need to work hard and work smart to get an invite.

Start by grabbing a coffee with your big fish customers in January, and plan together how you can make 2014 soar!

Good luck and Happy New Business Year!

Margaret Thatcher – Was she really the devil in disguise?

Today, one of British politics’ most controversial figures passed away.

Margaret Thatcher was the longest serving Prime Minister in modern history. But today, following her death, you would have thought the Wicked Witch of the West, the Child-Catcher and Cruella Deville all wrapped into one had been laid to rest, and the whole world was dancing on the grave.

Now, don’t worry – this blog isn’t going to be about her politics or policies. To be honest, I don’t care much for politics and rarely do I vote.  So, I would be the last person to comment on the validity of her legacy (many others have done that today)

But I must admit, the level of vitriol, hatred, and down-right nastiness that spilled across the internet this afternoon following the announcement of her passing, has absolutely astonished me.

The many bullets of blame for all manor of the country’s ills, fired squarely at her still-warm corpse today reminded me of a meeting I had a while ago with an old business acquaintance of mine.

For the benefit of this blog we’ll call my friend Bill.

Bill left school in the 70s with no more qualifications than his Cycling Proficiency badge. Like most of his mates, he got a job as a miner (“A job for life,” his Dad told him) but within five years he found himself on the picket line and eventually out of work as the mines got shut down. This is where the story gets interesting. He never blamed Thatcher, he never blamed politics. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity.

An opportunity to get out of a job that it looked like he was destined to be stuck in all his working life.

Bill retrained as a driving instructor, and he set up in business teaching people how to drive. Along with many of his workmates.

So, that job failed as well. Did he blame the state of the economy? Did he blame the Prime Minister? Nope – he blamed himself. “Serves me right for diving into an already over-stocked pond,” he said.

What next for Bill. He set about getting a job as a door to door insurance man (which was where I first met him)

Many people told him that the job wasn’t what it used to be and that it was “much better back in the day”. But Bill just saw it for the future it offered him, not the past it used to be.

And as his new colleagues continued to tell him he would never make as much money as they had in the old days, he just worked hard and worked clever and earned far more than any of them had ever made.

After a while, he left the insurance company and set up as a broker. People thought he was crazy, because he was giving up a secure job. A decade later, he now has five broker’s shops – the latest of which he opened only two years ago: smack bang in the middle of our latest recession.

Which leads me to my recent meeting with Bill. I asked him if the economy had affected his business. He firmly said no. “The economy has nothing to do with my business,” he said.

Bill has always believed only he can make a success of his business. He has constantly looked to his competition as motivation to improve, not to any changes in political policy or the state of the economy.

Booms come and booms go, as do recessions and down-turns. But to blame your own situation on the decisions of politicians is like eating take-away food every day and blaming your metabolism for being overweight.

I’m not saying Margaret Thatcher didn’t have some effect on the lives of people who lived through the 70s and 80s. But I’m hoping those who are throwing the stones at her memory today don’t live in glass houses.

When I found out about her death today, I text Bill and asked him what he thought of Margaret Thatcher.

The text that came back said: “She gave me the chance to get out of that bloody pit, and stop being surrounded by people who thought the country owed them a living.”

I’m glad there is at least one positive word being said about the Iron Lady this evening.

Brad Burton – Brazen self-publicist or genius at building his own business brand?


I was asked the other day what I thought of Brad Burton.

If you own/run a small business then the chances are you already know the name. But if you don’t know who he is, Brad Burton is the author of business book Get Off Your Arse, and MD of UK-national business-networking company 4Networking.

The reason I was asked the question was because Brad is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact he is the modern equivalent of Marmite – you either love him or hate him.

The other reason I was asked was because I’ve been a member of 4Networking and I have met Brad.

I thought long and hard about the question, because I thought it was a really interesting one.

From what I know of Brad and his business, he is definitely a conundrum.

On one hand, his book (GOFYA) does show interesting insights into the vulnerability and humility of his character (he admits how he used to dick around when he first set up in business on his own and kid himself and his wife he was working)

To be honest I really enjoyed his book. The every-man approach to his and his co-writer’s style really struck a chord with me, and I have recommended it as essential reading to many small business owners.

His business-networking company (4Networking) follows the zeitgeist of business owners/employees meeting together on a regular basis, discussing business issues and basically buying and selling each other’s services amongst themselves and other businesses they know. This trend of networking businesses isn’t new but it has definitely surged upwards in the last 5 years of economic down-turn, where businesses are being a little choosier about who they spend their money with. And who better to spend it with than someone who you meet at a networking meeting every week!

There are literally hundreds of networking groups, the elder statesmen being the likes of The Chamber of Commerce, but the amongst the biggest players in this arena are BNI. However, make no mistake, 4Networking are up there with BNI, snapping at the heel of their air-brushed, tooth-paste American image like an enthusiastic, mongrel puppy.

4Networking perceive themselves to be everything that BNI isn’t – and I’m guessing Brad Burton wouldn’t want it any other way. For instance, if you think BNI is stuffy, then 4Networking is a breath of fresh air. If you think BNI is too regimented, then 4Networking is loose enough to fit around your working patterns. And if you think BNI is just too much like some secret masonic sect, then 4Networking is like being a member of the friendly local working men’s club!

Don’t get me wrong, 4Networking isn’t to the taste of everyone. I know of fellow business-owners who find the whole approach more akin with C4’s The Big Breakfast (anarchic morning breakfast show from the 90s) as opposed to the more refined BBC Breakfast from the 80s.

Without doubt, it’s big, it’s brash, and it’s in your face. Just like Brad Burton. He is 4Networking, and 4Networking is him. If Brad Burton is the public face of 4N, then if ever a business reflected its public face like a hand in glove, then it is this one.

Which leads me back to Brad Burton – big, brash, and in your face? Oh yes.

His approach is not dissimilar to the Howard Stern school of hard shocks – love him or hate him, you sure as Hell can’t ignore him. And again, I’m guessing Brad Burton wouldn’t want it any other way.

He is a shameless exponent of Twitter, he re-tweets everything that moves, and especially anything that remotely associates itself with him or his business. You would never accuse Brad Burton of being modest (I would imagine the word doesn’t exist in his vocabulary – but then again when did anyone get anywhere be being modest, right?)

The interesting thing here is that he is not adverse to re-tweeting comments that criticise him (although not 4N, it would seem)

So, he would appear to embrace all publicity about Brad Burton, because the more people that are talking about him, the more people will want to know what others are saying. None of us ever want to think we are missing out on something, and Brad makes sure he makes us think we are missing out on him.

He has nearly 11k followers on Twitter, and if the majority of those are small business owners then he is definitely reaching out to the little cogs of the economy at a time when certainly the UK Government isn’t.

So, does all this make Brad Burton look like the antidote to the antiseptic, tie-wearing corporate hair-cuts that spout Government economic policy, and convince us that austerity is good for us?

It sure does. Brad’s own corporate uniform couldn’t be further from what we see on BBC’s News-night. In fact, if he could, I’m sure he would trademark jeans, trainers and tattoo T-shirts as Brad Burton copy-write.

He’s fast-talking, hard-hitting and never stands still. A moving target? Certainly for his competition.

However, peer beyond the shaven-headed, wild-eyed enforcer of the little business, and you will spot a carefully collected inner-circle of advisers and 4N directors. Arthur’s round-table, as it were.

Everything goes through them, and nothing gets decided about the future of 4N without their seal of approval. And guess what their business-wear is – that’s right, pin-stripe suits and sharp shoes.

Does that mean Brad Burton is a puppet set up to dupe us all into thinking the future is a hard and fast six-shooter, firing straight to the heart of bureaucracy and red-tape?

Maybe. Or maybe Brad Burton really is a genius by realising he needed to surround himself with the right skills to take his business forward.

So, I go back to the question I was asked. What do I think of Brad Burton?

Well, I’m not sure I could ever totally endorse anyone who takes a photograph of himself in the mirror at his gym and uses it as his Twitter profile pic (maybe that really is another sneak insight into his vulnerability and what makes the real Brad Burton tick) but I can’t ignore the way he has bludgeoned an image on the small business and networking fraternity that is akin to a Panzer tank rolling up the high-street!

Is Brad Burton a business genius or a brazen self-publicist?

I know what I think, but I would rather you decide for yourself. Check out his book (Get Off Your Arse) or if you get chance, check him out speaking at one of the 4N events.

Will you like you? I’m not sure. Will you hate him? I’m also not sure.

But I guarantee you won’t be able to ignore him. Watching the antics of Brad Burton might just become your very own car-crash TV.


A to Z of Simple Sales Tips: O – Opportunities to help your customers at every turn

How would you like to be thought of by your customers – as someone who simply sold to them, or as someone who helped them?

Forget being in business or sales for a second. Most people I meet quite like to think they’ve helped someone, and most people like to think they’ve been helped. It’s down to the fact that we are pack animals and not loners by nature. Therefore, we have a predisposition to help and be helped – so we can tap into human nature when we are trying to increase our sales.

I’ve talked before about how, in sales, we should be helping our customers get the results they want from our service/product. That way we should never feel like we are selling, but in fact helping our customers.

And giving help shouldn’t just be limited to what you can offer yourself, but how you can help your customer with other people/services you know of.

For instance, if you are talking to your customer, and they mention that they are looking for a new accountant, don’t close your mind to the opportunity of helping them. Of course you’re not an accountant, but you might know one who you think could do a good job for them – so pass on their details. Even better than that, why don’t you sort out for them to call each other?

Ok, so you’ve just set up a business opportunity for someone else, but how do you think your customer will be viewing you? As someone who helps, and not sells.

And what do you think your customer will do the next time they are in the market for your services? They will definitely buy from you, and won’t look elsewhere.

So the next time you are in contact with your customer, even in there is no immediate sale for you, make sure you keep looking at opportunities to help them get the results they are looking for. You will be rewarded more than you will ever think.

Watch out for the next Simple Sales Tip: P – Prepare for rain, even when the sun is shining…


A to Z of Simple Sales Tips: N – NO can mean NOT YET


An old sales manager of mine would often say to me “For every customer who says NO to you, you are getting nearer to your next YES.”

Which is one way of saying selling is just a numbers game, where the more you ask the more you will ultimately get. Although, there is an element of truth in this theory – certainly, if you ask no-one, the chances are you will get no sales – I believe you can use your NO’s a little more strategically than that.

The reason I say this is because we need to always remember we are not selling to robots – indeed the person doing the selling isn’t a robot either. We are all human, and as such we have good days and bad days. How often have you woken up on a Monday morning and thought: “I don’t feel in the mood for selling today” I know I certainly have!

Well, unfortunately, your customers also wake up some days – and although they probably won’t consciously think “I don’t feel in the mood for buying today” – for a stack of reasons they are unlikely to say YES to you.

They may have just fallen out with their partner. They may have just received an unexpected bill. They may have been stuck in traffic.

Whatever the reason, the answer will be NO.

Because we’re not robots. We’re human.

So if you get a NO – don’t get down, don’t get despondent. Don’t throw in the towel.

Re-programme your brain to not hear the word NO, but to hear the words NOT YET.

Because if you have faith in your product/service, and you know your customer will definitely benefit from your product/service, then they will almost certainly buy from you one day. The trick is to make sure you are asking them on the day they are going to say YES.

And to do this you need to make sure you keep on their radar. So when they say NO, ask if it’s ok for you to call on them again in one/two/three month’s time. You’ll be amazed how many will say YES to this and if they do, what they are really saying to you isn’t NO to what you are selling, but NOT YET.

Watch out for the next Simple Sales Tip: O – Opportunities at every turn…


Are you really “here to help?”


To follow in a similar vein to my last blog, I was in a well-known Swedish furniture store the other week with my Better Half, looking to buy some book-cases.

After piling our trolley with what we needed, at the check-out we were greeted by a girl wearing a name-badge containing the slogan “Here to help…”

As I made to pay, she asked “Have you got one of our family loyalty cards?”

“No,” I said – and that was that.

So she proceeded to wait for me to key in my PIN number.

But my Better Half decided to offer her an olive branch – otherwise known as a gilt-edged buying signal – in the shape of a question. “What is a family card?”

Without even looking at us, she said: “It gives you discounts on purchases and life insurance on what you buy.”

And that was it! That was the full extent of her sales pitch to us about the family loyalty card. After that she simply handed me my receipt and waited for the next customer to push their trolley up to her.

I took one last glance at her “Here to help…” badge, and made for the exit.

I looked at my Better Half and she looked at me. “So, do you know what a family loyalty card is?”

“Not really,” she said. “Which is a shame really, because I might have got one if I had.”

Now, I have no idea if the girl on the check-out was on any commission for getting customers signed up for the store loyalty card. In a way, I almost hoped she wasn’t because that could be the only reason why she showed so little interest in trying to get us on board.

For a company that spends so much money on marketing their image, they should probably spend a little bit on training their staff in recognising buying signals. Especially when they insist on their staff wearing badges that say “Here to help…”

Here to help? I’m not so sure.

So, make sure you or your staff don’t fall foul of thinking you’re selling, when really all you are doing is blandly trotting out a few basic features of your product.


“I’d really like to help you, but its company policy…”


“I’d really like to help you, but its company policy…”

How often have you heard that line before?

I was in a local supermarket the other day, and a guy was stood at the customer services counter, and all I heard as I passed by was the assistant saying the immortal words: “I’d like to help you, sir but its company policy.”

I almost turned around and laughed. Why?

Because too many people, who represent their business, use it as a standard “Get out of jail” card when faced with a situation where a customer is calling into question the service they are getting.

They might as well say – “Don’t blame me… it’s not my fault…I don’t believe in them…I only work for them…”

Then whose fault is it? The man in the moon’s fault?

I don’t expect people to fall on their swords for the company they work for, but let us take a little responsibility here. If you are the public face of your company – if that is the job you have chosen to do or have been employed to do – then stand up for the decisions your company have taken.

When communicating with your customers use words like WE and I when explaining decisions – don’t ever use a words like THEY or THEM. And don’t ever blame it on “Company policy” because that is the biggest cop-out anyone can ever use. Have courage in your convictions – if it is your decision then explain why YOU have made that decision. If it is your company’s decision, then seek to understand why that decision was made, so you can better explain to your customer why the situation is what it is (your customers will have far more respect for you)

The reason why this is so important is because, regardless of whether you want the weight of this responsibility on your shoulders , at that exact moment in time, when your customer is asking you to make or explain a decision – THEY ARE YOUR CUSTOMER AND YOU ARE THE FACE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

When I’m buying a coffee from Emma in Starbucks, at that exact second Emma IS Starbucks – for that interaction, in my world Starbucks isn’t some US corporate entity, Starbucks IS Emma, whether she likes it or not.

Don’t shirk the responsibility of being the public face of your business – because you are in every interaction you have with your customers.

In future, make it YOUR company policy to explain every decision to your customer like it was made by YOU – in your customer’s eyes they will think they are talking to someone who is as important as they are, and this will help resolve the situation quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction.

Until next time… (hopefully it won’t be so long)


It might only be a teabag to you…


…But to them it’s their whole business – and so I found out the other day.

For the last year I’ve been posting blogs about all things selling and service, and a good chunk of those postings have been observations around when sales and service goes wrong. Despite how it might seem, I much prefer writing about good news stories, like the one you’re about to read…

My better half has recently developed a liking for Red Bush tea, and so she regularly buys Tetley’s Red Bush from our local supermarket. However, the last couple of times she has bought it, she has got home only to discover she has in fact bought the Vanilla version of the tea rather than the original brand of Red Bush she prefers.

So why the mistake? Well, the boxes are almost identical, certainly in colour, and it was really easy to get them confused.

When she told me about this I suggested she email the Tetley’s customer service department to give them this feedback, and to my amazement she did. But even more to my amazement, was what happened next!

Within only a couple of hours of sending the email, she received a telephone call from no other than Susan Tetley herself, wanting to apologise for the misleading packaging, and talking about how they are already looking into redesigning the boxes. To add the cherry on top, she even said she would send some free vouchers in the post to her by means of making good her inconvenience.  

Now, in fairness to my better half, she never expected anything like that to happen. To be honest, we both thought she might get an email reply at best, thanking her for her feedback. Yet to receive a telephone call from one of the Tetley family was way and above our realistic expectations.

But why should it have been? Have we been brow-beaten so much by indifferent service over the years that we expect the worse?

What Susan Tetley was getting was the best ever customer survey money can buy – a real-life customer with real-life feedback on their product, which is priceless to any provider of goods and services.

So, don’t ever be afraid of feedback from a customer – feedback isn’t what will break your business down, it’s what will build it for a sustainable future.

Make sure you are constantly seeking feedback from the people in the best position to give you it – your buying customers!