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The importance of precision and how to use it

Precision is everything. When pitching in golf, aiming for the green is a good start – it’s better than hitting and hoping. However, aiming for that precise point on the green from which your ball will roll towards the pin ensures a far better chance of success. A business pitch aimed in the right direction is a good start, but a precision shot on target is always preferable.

There are plenty of good pitches; pitches which not only showcase a business and its features but also explain the benefits a product or service can bring. These are aimed at the green. Where they could be more precise though, is by directly addressing the benefits they offer to the specific needs the potential client has.

A golf hole is marked with a flag and that flag serves as an indicator of where to aim. Whoever is hearing your pitch may well have published a brief, which acts in the exact same way. Of course, if your pitch is delivered at the spur of the moment with no warning – a genuine elevator pitch – you’ll have to think on your feet and react, but in general you should be prepared to answer specific questions before they’re asked.

Unfortunately, success is often the cause of many people’s problems. They prepare something truly spectacular, something with real punch that uses the flag as an indicator and aims for the pin. It’s so good that they then replicate it. And replicate it. And so on…

Professional golfers have good fundamental skills, just as successful pitchers have good fundamental skills in listening and persuasive speaking. However, the golfers know that every course is different and every hole on that course is unique. The technique serves as a base but the shot has to be the perfect one for that place and time.

Your perfect pitch needs to be perfectly tailored for the moment you’re in. This can involve making some tough choices. You may have some key statistics or references which have bowled over audiences in the past. However, if they are not relevant to the people listening now, they need to be jettisoned.

It’s not easy leaving out killer material but, when you’re dealing with an audience whose attention span is likely to be between 20 to 45 seconds, relevance is the real wow factor. If you can demonstrate in that time that you can solve their problems, you’re on to a winner.

For absolute precision, you also need to consider the humans you are pitching to, not just the business they are representing. Do you know anything about them in advance – how good are you at reading them in the moment? If you are able to identify their PRISM profile, you can tailor your pitch specifically to their brain.

A pitch to a predominantly Gold individual should prioritise data and statistics. A predominantly Green individual will be more wowed by creativity and innovation. Pitching to a board will likely mean having to address a number of personality types and require you to cover many bases. For more information on PRISM and using neuroscience to pitch precisely, sign up for one of my monthly workshops.

Aiming for the target is good. Aiming for the bullseye is great. Aiming for the centre of the bullseye is precision. Work on developing sound technique that can be adapted to suit the situation, but remember to adapt! Each pitch will be to a unique person and connecting with that person on a level that will ensure you win business requires precision. Aim for the green, but aim for that perfect spot that gets you next to the pin or, better still, in the hole.

Posted in: Newsletter

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Facing your Fears

How do you feel about moving from surviving to prospering? This is a positive step, so it should feel good. However, this step also takes us out of our comfort zones and removes the safety net. Success increases responsibility and expectations – which can be a cause for fear.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” – Marianne Williamson

The fact that most new businesses fail is a sobering thought when starting out. Being one of the start-ups that has ‘made it’ can therefore be a source of comfort. Accepting the fact that you’re no longer just surviving, but prospering elevates you to a new league though.

You’re no longer the big fish in a small pond, you’re a prosperous business potentially in direct competition with other prosperous businesses. There is no ‘I’m only just starting out’ line to fall back on – you’ve passed through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and are now responsible.

Blending in with the crowd is easy. Standing out and emerging as a success puts a spotlight on you and, as well as handling the positives, it means dealing with rejection or failure rather than passing it off as ‘one of those things’ that happens to small businesses from time to time.

This may sound completely alien to you, but it often works subconsciously. Many people might not think they have a fear of success but have stacks of ideas they’ve never put into practice, objectives and goals from five or ten years ago that are still on their vision board and who talk about what they are going to do far more than they ever do it.

Often it is not fear of failure that stifles these plans – it is a fear of them working. Failure is a known. It is a step back to where we’ve come from and, though unpleasant, is familiar. Success is unknown, which can be scarier.

Imagine your business journey as a physical journey. Taking a wrong turn and having to retrace your steps through a mangrove swamp would be unpleasant, but nowhere near as daunting as stepping off the map into uncharted territory.

This feeling is tied into the bigger idea of a fear of change. To confront this you need to chart that territory. Consult with your mentor, read relevant books and (to push the journey metaphor a bit) speak with the locals to get a better picture of life beyond the map. With that information, work out what it is you really want and where you want to go and how you plan to get there.

Having plans in place and being clear on your direction and destination helps to remove the fear that change (even positive change) can cause. There will still be surprises and unexpected developments, which is no bad thing – let’s not forget the amazing and liberating side to venturing into the unknown.

Moving from surviving to prospering is a positive step and should feel good. With the right goals identified, the right systems in place and the right people around you, it will.

Posted in: Managing Change

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Coping with growing pains

When you encounter a problem, reverting back to ‘normal’ isn’t always the answer – sometimes you have to find a new solution. As children grow up, they’re feet get bigger. This can present a problem because every so often you will discover that their shoes no longer fit.

One way to solve this is to adopt the feudal Chinese ‘Wild Swans’ style feet binding. The feet stop growing and the same shoes will fit indefinitely. The obvious problem here is the loss of circulation, blood poisoning and gangrene that the process can cause.

Better then to embrace the change for what it is, accept that growth is natural and positive and solve the problem by purchasing new shoes that do fit. When growing pains affect your business, it is tempting to make changes that will bring the situation back to what it was. Like the foot binding, this can have detrimental effects.

For example, growing pains are a time to keep your ego in check. At one point you were master of all aspects of your business, able to oversee everything. With growth this becomes more and more difficult.

By continually increasing your workload and working crazy hours you can remain in control, satisfy your ego and keep things ‘normal’. Normal at what price? Burning yourself out, negatively impacting your own health and opening the door to the mistakes and lapses in judgement that exhaustion brings is just as detrimental to your business as taking no action, working the same hours and slowly being overwhelmed by the work.

Time for new shoes? Accepting that growth is taking place and that growth is a good thing is an important step. Your business is not spiralling out of control – it is succeeding. Taking on new staff or delegating more tasks to others is the sensible choice – for your own health and the health or the business.

The ego is also in play when you look at the direction of growth. To thrash the foot metaphor even further – what if you think the feet aren’t growing correctly? Is it time for supports or insoles? Perhaps… but perhaps not. Do you consider yourself enough of an expert to make that judgement?

Business owners tend to think they and only they know the correct direction a business should be growing in but, more often than not, it is the customer who knows what direction to go in better than anyone else.

A business that has grown will look different to the way it used to. It is a fact that you need to get used to too. Accept that fact and ensure that it grows the right way. The right way may not be the way you originally envisaged, but it could be. Work closely with your mentor and listen to you customers and your business will grow in the right direction and be where it should be.

Posted in: Personal Development

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Enjoy the ride!

There is a lot of commentary available about the gamification of life and business. We are all encouraged to collect followers on twitter and likes on LinkedIn. These ‘rewards’ conferred on us by our peers often increase our visibility and status, and may bring us to the attention of potential clients but have no intrinsic value in themselves.

So is this trend a bad thing? That’s not really for me to say. There are plenty of debates currently going on between people with far more experience in this field than I, which you can look into if you’re interested. What I do find interesting is this: that there is an open-ended aspect to gamification which actually mirrors business quite well. Ask yourself – how many followers is ‘enough’?

The thing with games is that your reward is usually a harder challenge. Put the time and effort required into conquering a level and you are rewarded with a harder level. The opposition becomes tougher, the course trickier or (if you’re from my generation) the space invaders zig-zag faster.

Most people who’ve started their own business agree that it’s the most difficult thing they’ve ever done. The uncomfortable fact is that most new businesses fail. If yours still exists and is making a profit three years after launch day you are generally considered to have succeeded. What is the reward for this success? New challenges.

In my books and articles I refer to these challenges as Growing Pains and, if you have them, it means you’re doing something right.

Just when you thought you’d passed through the ‘tough times’, others businesses start responding to your success and the competitive pressure begins to grow. You may find that customers demand more of you, so there’s pressure on product development. You may have to learn or re-learn leadership, management and emotional intelligence skills as you take on staff.

This doesn’t mean that by starting your own business you’re embarking on a road of permanent misery, it means that new challenges will always be there and you will often be busy but always interested. There will be opportunities to rest on your laurels, but often people who have the drive to start their own business have the mind-set to actively want to keep striving.

The game lasts as long as you want it to and growing pains represent a positive type of pressure – evidence that you’re winning.

Posted in: Managing Change

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What do you want for yourself and your business?

Sometimes you need to think of yourself. Of the many motivators for setting up your own business, there are practical reasons and there are personal ones.

Pragmatic individuals starting up on their own need to remember that the world, the economy and the market may all change and your business may get tossed around in uncertainty. However, if you’re setting up on your own because it’s the idea of working for yourself and the lifestyle that goes with it that makes you happy – that happiness is likely to endure.

Last year the Office for National Statistics published a report showing that self-employment in the UK was higher than it has been in the last 40 years. The survey showed a dramatic rise in self-employment since 2009, a clear response to the financial crash of 2008.

This rise has not been overly due to more people making the leap, but to more people sticking at it. I mentioned more than once how tough life can be as a sole trader or start-up (especially in the early days) but with fewer employment opportunities out there, more people have been willing to stick it out.

With the situation changing and more jobs becoming available, this trend in rising self-employment may not necessarily continue. There aren’t many guarantees when it comes to setting up on your own. You might strike it rich, change the game or disrupt the market but you might not. If your motivations are money, power and influence you might be disappointed and, if the economic climate improves, we may see more such people drift back to employed work.

Things are different however if you’re looking for more of a life change. A survey was conducted by Microsoft on the benefits of working from home and Forbes published a list of the top ten:

  1. Work/home balance (60%)
  2. Save gas (55%)
  3. Avoid traffic (47%)
  4. More productive (45%)
  5. Less distractions (44%)
  6. Eliminate long commute (44%)
  7. Quieter atmosphere (43%)
  8. Less stressful environment (38%)
  9. More time with family (29%)
  10. Environmentally friendly (23%)

Many of the benefits listed here are more personal and have less to do with external factors. If you can see things that motivate you listed here then you have every reason to stay the course. Self-employed people are generally happier and the main reason for this comes in at number one in the list. Though we often work longer hours we have the control to choose when those hours are.

If a key motivator of yours is to increase your happiness and the results on this list are the sort of things that might just do that then these benefits are likely to hold true regardless of the turning wheel of fortune around you. The tough days can be endured because the real rewards are there for the taking.

Posted in: Life Skills

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What are you really worth?

One of the common motivators for starting up your own business is financial control. It goes without saying that this is a double-edged sword as you’re not only getting the reward; you’re also responsible for taking the risk.

That paragraph doesn’t really do the situation justice. Being your own paymaster is a huge incentive for people who feel they are not currently being paid what they feel their skills are worth or earning enough to justify the crazy hours working for a large corporation can require.

The risk is also a big deal. Anyone taking on financial control of a business should be aware that the top three reasons new businesses fail are lack of cash, lack of cash and lack of cash.

So is the answer simply to adopt a bit of modesty and humility and not to pay yourself too much? Well, not exactly. Conscious of the cash flow issue, many people seriously underpay themselves in order to ‘get by’. This is understandable in the early days and we have talked about survival budgets in the past, but you will have to start paying yourself an appropriate salary eventually.

Without allowing yourself a salary/dividend based on your worth your financial assessment of your business could become skewed. Adjusting your earnings to prop up the company for too long does your business a disservice.

When you’re in a position to pay yourself a set amount you have a clear, objective view of how your start-up is faring. This is also of great importance to anyone else viewing your business. Look at the situation from a potential investor’s point of view. If the seemingly healthy company they are looking at only appears successful because the owner isn’t paying themselves (or not paying themselves the appropriate, comparable reward for the job they perform) then the company is something of a mirage. Equally, an investor would be reluctant to support financially the growth of your business if he or she thought that you were funding an extravagant lifestyle and not contributing yourself to the growth, so finessing the balance between these two extremes becomes critical.

Yes, survival budgets – real bare minimum survival budgets – are a reality for many, but you need to try to remove yourself from that situation as soon as possible; as alluded to above it’s not a move to wasting or spending money flamboyantly, but in order to move forward and grow – if you’re paying yourself well below market rate then it will be difficult to attract any staff (who will probably have less “upside” than you, by way of compensation) when the time comes to expand.

Hopefully your initial investigating will have informed you what others working in your sector are earning. Whatever approximate figure that is (which needn’t be at the higher end of the scale) should really fit into your financial estimates as viable. If not, you may need to revisit your business plan and in particular your financial model.

Paying yourself appropriately also reminds us of the other side to this coin and where I began this article. You deserve a reward. Starting a business is one of the most stressful and difficult things you can choose to do with your life. If you’re paying yourself to relax or even eat enough then the strain only increases. Reward yourself and rest yourself. You will benefit and so will your business.

Posted in: Business Tips

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Learning To Let Go

Most business owners love their babies. When a person sets up their own business they tend to do everything. Though they may receive external support and advice in setting up IT systems, accounting and legal matters, they alone comprise every department in the company.

The business is their baby and it’s hard to step back and let go.

Even someone starting a business with a team of their own to begin with will likely have a finger in every operational pie and be in direct control of all proceedings. It’s a fear of losing this control which makes the issue of letting go so difficult.

However, ‘letting go’ isn’t just a piece of advice owners hear, intended to help them increase profits or efficiency. It’s a practical reality that has to be faced up to. This can occur for a number of reasons.

The first and most obvious is growth. If your business is growing there will come a point where you can’t directly control everything anymore. To try to persevere alone with an increasing number of clients and workload leads in the unhappy direction of substandard service and personal burnout.

The second need to let go arises if you are building a value business you intend to sell at some point. If it is obvious that you and you alone are the lynchpin holding everything together, it will be harder to find buyers.

The third reason may be slightly rarer but, from time to time, individuals do succumb to a bit of humility. Staff you have taken on to perform a certain role (under your direct control, of course) can turn out to be really, really good at their job. To pursue success and increase profits you cannot choose to ignore talent or hamstring people who are capable of doing a better job than you.

Often this third reason doesn’t occur on its own. It can be a realisation that happens after grudgingly letting go in one of the first two. However, if you reach this conclusion on your own you can save yourself a serious amount of time and worry.

Fear of handing over control to other people also shouldn’t be so overwhelming if you keep in mind the fact that you recruited them. If your recruitment process is thorough and your judgement sound you have, to an extent, kept a form of control by ensuring suitable people are inheriting responsibility.

There is a significant difference between a start-up company and a growing business. If you can accept that butterflies look very different to caterpillars, you have to accept that a growing business will look different to one just starting out.

Trying to succeed, grow and potentially sell without being able to let go is like a caterpillar trying to fly. It can still be daunting to make this physical change to a business structure, but once you realise it’s not optional you have great motivation. Let the drive to succeed overtake the fear.

Posted in: Personal Development

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What’s your driver?

There are many different reasons for starting your own business. No two individuals are going to be driven by precisely the same combination of factors. Of the many motivators out there, I believe that some are more positive and certainly more achievable than others.

If your primary motivation for starting up your own business is to make more money, stop and think for a while. The idea that you can generate a larger income for yourself by being self-employed is not a total myth or an outright lie, but it is not a certainty either.

Most people underestimate their start-up costs. This can lead to personal financial sacrifice and even debt. To surpass what you earned whilst working for someone else will likely take time, effort and accomplished money-management skills. Most small businesses fail in their infancy and most because they run out of cash. If financial success is your main motivator, be prepared to play a long game.

That said, for those that do pass through the baptism of fire, the sky can be the limit. You are no longer limited by a predetermined wage scale and your earnings will be directly tied to your efforts. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on your work ethic, but it goes to show that the opportunity is there.

Improving your financial situation is possible, but is never going to be a given, which is why I believe that personal motivators are far more important. These are many, varied and interconnected but largely revolve around being in control of your own destiny.

Starting your own business puts you in control of your own fate. You are no longer tied to pleasing your boss but running the business as you see fit. As with the correlation between finances and effort, this can be a double-edged sword – you are now responsible for all the aspects of management that your boss would previously have dealt with. However, unlike financial gain, this freedom is a certainty.

With this freedom comes flexibility and an opportunity to improve your quality of life. To be able to dictate when you take time off and, as in my case, ensure that you’re working mostly in the UK is something that you can’t put a price on.

Another great motivator is a desire to do what you want and what you’re good at. Unless you’re in a completely mismatched job role – doing work you detest that you’ve no aptitude for – you probably find that you spend some of your time working in areas that you enjoy, have a particular gift for, or both.

Being in control allows you to actively build your work life around these areas. Instead of experiencing the occasional positive feeling when your role, skills and interests align, you have the opportunity to create a job role for yourself centred around what you’re best at and what you enjoy doing. It’s a powerful reason for starting your own business and sits at the very heart of self-employment.

A few people start their own businesses and get rich. Fewer may even get rich quick. It does happen, but if worldly riches are your primary motivator for working for yourself you may be disappointed. If you are motivated by a desire for a more flexible life, a chance to utilise your skills and experiences in a specific role and to be in control of your own destiny you are much more likely to find satisfaction and the potential financial rewards could be a nice little bonus.

Posted in: Entrepreneurship

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How Cultural Evolution Eases Growing Pains

Darwin deduced that organisms evolve over time. The same is true of your business. This change might feel strange at first – worrying, even. What if an evolutionary step in the wrong direction puts you on the path to extinction?  

Well, here’s some good news: We’re built to change and grow. In fact, it’s the secret of our success as a species.

People have been trying to apply Darwin’s theory to business since the time of Darwin. It’s never fitted very well – some fit businesses fail and other seemingly weak ones last far longer than anyone expected. But then his theory has never fitted too well with humans in general. We’re weak, slow, soft, squishy and vulnerable yet not only do we survive, we thrive.

Once we developed a suitable brain, our cultural evolution has contributed to our success more than our biological evolution. Human dominance is built on our ability to co-operate as large scale groups. We are able to do this to achieve tangible objectives, like hunting for food; but also for abstract concepts, such as a political ideal or the success of a company.

We’re not ants or bees – we can’t operate as a hive mind – but using small teams working as part of a larger group we can achieve incredible things. Wolves and monkeys can operate in groups but reach a limit where they lose co-ordination and the group size becomes unwieldy and unmanageable. The same would happen to us were it not for our aptitude for teamwork.

Apologies to all your hundreds of Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts, but we can only really hold together a bond with a maximum of 120 people at a time. We can only retain the relevant personal information to operate familiarly with this number. However, groups of this size can co-operate and work together as a block of around 600 to 1000. These larger groups can be co-ordinated together too, and so on. Even the basic social group of 120 is subdivided into groups of roughly 30 who form a closer team and then around 10 core relationships.

Darwin’s theory fits uneasily with humans because we are not as selfish as the majority of the animal kingdom. But, other theories have arisen which help to fill in the picture. Multi-level selection theory explains how we excel at small group co-operation and Gene-culture co-evolution how we bring these groups together to create larger societies (for an explanation of how these work, I highly recommend reading Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind).

All of this should be heartening for the business owner. A growing business, with a strong vision and mission can evolve and grow successfully. New people can join, new teams can take shape and the organisation can expand and still function efficiently because that’s what we’re culturally evolved to do – to work together.

Posted in: Newsletter

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Riding the financial rollercoaster

The grass seems very green over there…

If you’re working for a large company, you may read stories in the press about teenage whizz kids and young entrepreneurs who set up their own businesses through crowd funding, achieve rapid success and sell their businesses for a crazy amount of money.

Having read about them making more than they need to comfortably retire by their mid-twenties, you then think about what you could achieve, how much you could make and how much easier it would be for you – given your experience and contacts.

If that’s you, don’t be surprised if you discover entrepreneurs and sole practitioners looking back in your direction, envious of your position within a large organisation. They see a regular paycheque, regular working hours, paid leave, gym memberships and all the other perks that come with working for an institution.

Of course, neither scenario is entirely accurate or usual. The grass is always greener on the other side. Life within a large company can be tough, with many people working a 70-hour week as opposed to the 40-hour week they’re paid for. Add to that the lack of control and the daily game of company politics and it’s anything but an easy life.

Working for yourself is no guaranteed picnic either – especially to begin with. If you’re setting up your own business you have to ask yourself the question ‘am I prepared to give up a regular, predictable salary and live off a survival budget until business takes off?’

If you are, then you have to figure out what a real survival budget looks like. We’re supposed to live to a budget at all times but a real survival budget is a seriously bare bones affair – with no spending (or savings for that matter) except on what will keep you and your family alive.

No car, no phone contract, no credit cards, no TV package, no new purchases (save food – which is now economy packs of rice and pasta). You might not imagine things being so severe and hopefully they wouldn’t be but the point is: are you prepared to live this way if that’s what it’s going to take?

It’s a useful exercise for anyone to do. Working out your bare bones survival budget doesn’t necessarily mean you have to adjust straight into it. Once you’ve worked out what your minimum expenditure is, it gives you an indication of how long you can survive for without any income. Useful even if you decide against starting your own business, but if financial disaster was to come at you from some other angle.

We all know the grass isn’t as green as it looks. Imagining that the whole area is a wasteland devoid of any grass is not an attempt to depress you, it is an exercise to prepare you. Backs-to-the-wall survival may not materialise, but if you’re not prepared for the toughest of journeys it may not be wise to set out. If you’re mentally prepared to make grass grow in the most arid of deserts then it may be time to step over the fence.

Posted in: Entrepreneurship

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