Friday, 24 August 2007

Small Business Owners - take a break without guilt!

After the somewhat lengthy posts of the last couple of days, I'll try to make this one shorter. I'm not doing so well in breaking out of my routines - I've been varying the time I get up, doing non business stuff during the day - but it has still felt like a working week.

However, there have been some real benefits to the last few days. I've got those annoying jobs out of the way, a phone call yesterday has yielded some new business, and this evening I've been invited to give a talk to a new group of small business owners later in the year! I'm a happy bunny this evening.

What's been most interesting is the lack of guilt I've felt about doing various things - like spending some time updating my speaker profile, researching what competitors are up to, making contact with some new people in Ecademy and reading lots of interesting blogs.

Looking at those activities, they all look pretty genuine in terms of business development. Why would I feel guilty about doing them normally? Will have to think about that.

Anyway, to all small business owners out there - make the most of this Bank Holiday weekend (it's even supposed to be nice weather!). The world will not come to an end if you don't check your emails or if you switch off your mobile phone - honest!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Oops, I did it again!

Well, this is turning into an interesting week. You might remember my posting about the ‘fre*e’ preview calls? I had an email from someone who thinks they may be the subject of that post, not very happy. As indeed I wouldn’t be. However, as I know I tend to suffer from premature vocalisation, and to acknowledge that there are always two sides to every story, I’d like to post an update here.

Our UK based teleconference providers have us over a barrel – and it is so unfair because it is usually they who pocket most of the proceeds and give BT a bad name into the bargain (I didn’t think I’d ever be defending BT). I suppose if I hadn’t dialled into US teleconference numbers in the past for just 2ppm, I wouldn’t know that other, cheaper services do exist.

As I said before, I love learning through teleconferences – I can sit at home, in comfort and soak up some great information. Contrary to the tone of my original rant, I appreciate and acknowledge that teleclass hosts frequently do give away some great and useful nuggets. Indeed, it seems I missed a great event on this occasion. And it is unfair of me to cynically assume that there will be a hard sell, just because the class is a preview.

At this point, I would unreservedly apologise to the person concerned, whoever they might be, for the following assumptions I made and posted:

If someone goes to the trouble of giving away not just 1 or 2, but 5 preview teleclasses, it makes sound business sense that the ‘main event’ is not going to be cheap. I certainly wouldn’t expect it to be. However, I should not have assumed that it would automatically be expensive. (I still haven't got a clue how much it is!)

Accusing anyone of dishonesty is pretty heavy stuff – and I accept that my choice of words was inappropriate here – I have amended the previous posting title to read ‘Please don’t hide the full costs’ I know it’s a pain to have to explain everything to all the penny pinching tyre-kickers but there will probably always be pedants like me who want to know all the details before deciding. Perhaps all this could have been avoided with just the addition of a few words: “plus the cost of your phone call.”

I am informed that the recording of the call is available, totally free of charge, from the website, without having to dial up to those extortionate non-geographic numbers. I should have known that this is what “I will be able to access the recordings” meant.

Unfortunately, my previous blog comments have resulted in me being removed from this person’s list (I’ve never been removed before!). I say unfortunately because I actually admire what they have achieved in their business – indeed I have bought and enjoyed two excellent home study products from them over the last couple of years.

I suppose, in that wonderful state called hindsight, I would get the answers to more of my questions, before making assumptions and having an attack of ‘foot in mouth’ – my personal learning point from this experience.

The culprits remain the teleconference number providers – I’ll be watching my inbox for a response from them!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Thank goodness tomorrow is another day!

A client I've been working with for a couple of months has been an absolute gem. I wrote about her a few days ago - she does all her assignments and really takes to heart the changes she needs to make. As a result she's reaching the goals she set really quickly. I'll have mixed feelings when I finish working with her - pride that I've had a small part to play in her success and sadness that I probably won't work with her again for quite a while. She'll be flying solo and doing it very well. She's also referring people to me for business coaching, as she's so pleased with the quick results.

By contrast, I offered to help someone who was really struggling. I don't often take on pro-bono clients and I certainly won't do it again in a hurry after this experience. I've been working with this person on building their business on and off for over a year. She has been a bit of a nightmare with not wanting to work on assignments and keeping to appointments - which should have warned me. I've shared what I do in my business. In business coaching or any kind of coaching, the relationship is built on trust - which I believe works both ways.

This person has repaid me in the last few days by competing head to head with a workshop I'm running (coming in at a lower price and just a week before my published date). I still can't believe it, even some of the content description was obviously lifted from my web page. I cannot begin to describe how hurt I feel.

The reason I decided to share this experience is, firstly to show the contrast between how wonderful some clients can be, and secondly to call for some good business etiquette and manners! I have plenty of other competitors in my geographical area and we manage to avoid treading on each other's toes (most of the time!).

To finish the story, I emailed this ex-coaching client to express my hurt and disappointment and to terminate the coaching relationship. The reply I received was full of denial (different content, different location, about 20 miles away), it was obvious that she didn't accept that what she was doing was in direct competition. I chose not to reply.

This afternoon, I found a notice that this person is delivering a talk to a group of small business owners (that we both belong to). This talk has the same title and subject as one that I deliver and is being held just 5 miles down the road. If that isn't copy catting, I don't know what is.

Trust is a vital part of my business but sometimes it can leave you feeling a bit battered and bruised. Still, as Scarlett said : "I can't think about it now. I'll go crazy if I do. I'll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day!"

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Unfinished Business

If you've been following this blog, you'll know that I'm spending a couple of weeks trying to break out of long established habits - doing a bit of work and having some fun as well, before business gets serious again in September.

Yesterday I blogged that I had found it difficult to break away from some habits. Well, today I managed a bit better, but only a bit. I think I've found the reason why I'm not doing better at this. You see I have some outstanding work from last week, coaching client notes, forms to fill in, etc. It suddenly dawned on me this afternoon that my mind was worrying about this unfinished stuff and didn't want to let go of the 'office' routine until it was out of the way! Simple when you think about it.

So, I've cleared up most of this backlog and will finish the rest tomorrow. Also tomorrow, I'm going to stop being a hermit - even if the weather is still unseasonally cold - and go out.

When I write tomorrow, I'm going to tell you about two very different experiences of human nature that I've had this week.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Not a great start!

Well, I'm near the end of my first day of doing things differently. I guess some habits are quite deeply entrenched because I seem to have kept to quite a few today.

I'd had visions of taking a long walk by the sea - which is only 5 minutes from my office - but chickened out. I don't know if it's just me but, for August, it feels a bit chilly!

What I have done differently is to not buy a newspaper. I found that I was just skimming the headlines and I can do that on the internet. So far, I haven't missed the bad news that seems to dominate the papers - that's got to be a good thing.

I've enjoyed feeling free to take time out in the middle of the day to do stuff totally unrelated to business - I'll definitely be doing more of that. I guess that my main throughts about this first 'unstructured' day is that it seems very strange and I am missing the usual routines.

The local radio traffic news has just reminded me why I love working from home - the road onto the island is at a standstill - I'm so grateful I'm not stuck in it!

Friday, 17 August 2007

A change from the routine

It's one thing knowing what's good for you, but quite another to do it! My work with small business owners often involves talking about 'extreme self-care' or 'taking care of your #1 asset'. Taking time out to relax and recharge those batteries are what I tell my business coaching clients to do - all the time. Do I do it? I'm ashamed to say, not as often as I should.

That's why I'm so pleased about the next couple of weeks. It's been a bit scary but I've completely cleared my diary (had my last meeting today) until September! I haven't done that since I started in business nearly 10 years ago!

Now, I don't know about you but I tend to fall into the habit of doing certain things at the same time each day or in the same way - quite unconsciously. Before you know it, my days start to become rather routine and 'boring'. That's going to change over the next two weeks because I'm going to deliberately change both when I do things and what I do.

If you think your days are getting a bit 'samey' (or to put it another way, you're in a rut!) try doing things differently. Buy a different newspaper, magazines or books. Take a different route to the shops. Try some recipes or foods you haven't tasted before. What else can you think of to do differently?

Have fun - I'm going to!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Please don't hide the full costs

This makes me so mad!! I signed up for some fr*ee 'preview' phone calls earlier today. Basically these calls (5 in total) are previews of a quite expensive workshop and so, naturally, would contain quite a lot of advertising about the main event. I don't have a problem with that at all. The calls were called 'Masterclasses' which might be stretchng a point, but I could live with that too.

What really gets me is that, after I had signed up (out of curiosity for what the competition was up to!), the confirmation details revealed that I would have to dial an 0871 or 0870 number to access the calls (and the recording). In case you're not aware, these numbers are charged at a national rate of 8p per minute and the proceeds go to whoever has registered the number. So, phoning in for this 'Masterclass' would cost me about £5 an hour. Not a fortune you might say, and what's the woman complaining about but, multiply that by the number of people signing up, and by the number of calls (5 calls @ £25 per person) and someone's got a nice little earner!

I bought an 0870 telephone number several years ago, before I was aware of the facts (incidentally, I was not the recipient of the proceeds, the company I signed up with were!). Once I found out the facts, I did two things. The first was to stop using the 0870 number and use my normal geographic number; the second was to register the 0870 number with a website that is opposed to exactly the sort of practice I'm ranting about!

They are at and you can find the geographic number 'behind' the 0870, 0871 etc. number (if it's been registered). If you have a special package with your telephone provider, you'll find that non-geographic numbers (including 0845 and 0844) aren't covered so you have to pay the full rate for any calls made.

I emailed the provider of these 'Masterclasses' and asked for the geographic number, to be told that there 'wasn't an alternative number' but that I could dial in for the recording. I am not impressed. I do a lot of my learning through teleclasses (they don't interfere with my working day and there is no travel!) and most of these are run on US bridge lines that you can dial into for around 1-2p per minute (if you use a provider like One-Tel and dial a prefix before the international number) - even UK companies are using these US lines to keep costs down for their clients. I call an hour's teleclass for under £2 good value and I'm happy to pay it.

You may have gathered that I feel strongly about these seemingly small extra charges. What I object to is not the charge itself (tell me it's going to cost £5 and I can decide if I want to pay). What I do object to is the 'stealthy' way that I am being charged and someone else is profiting. This is not the first time I've come across this practice.

Needless to say, I will not be dialling in to these so-called fre*e Masterclasses. With regard to this rant, thank you for reading to the end! Normal blogging service will be resumed when I have stopped fuming, which will probably be just after the next glass of wine.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

It's what you do that makes the difference

Yesterday I worked with two very contrasting business coaching clients. The first has been an absolute joy from our very first session. She has taken action with gusto and commitment. The great results she is seeing are tangible proof that what she’s doing is working. This in turn is spurring her on to even greater things and she is singing my praises far and wide!

The second client isn’t making the same progress at all. When we meet (twice so far) there are excuses why actions haven’t been taken (he calls them reasons, I call them excuses). Coaching has been a bit of a disappointment for this client because, despite the pre-coaching briefing, I think he was expecting me to do all the work for him.

I don’t expect this client will continue for much longer and to be honest, I prefer not to work with people who aren’t prepared to put in the effort.

Coaching alone can’t make your business a success. It’s what you do as a result of the coaching that will make your business a success.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Do you or don't you?

The looks I get from some of my business coaching clients or when I'm giving a talk to groups of small business owners are so expressive! They usually say "You have got to be joking!"

You see, what I suggest to them is that they plan their marketing activities in advance, that they write down what needs doing so that it doesn't get forgotten while they're busy fire-fighting. You'd think I was asking them to do something bordering on illegal!

What I've found over the last few years is that there are some small business owners who are very disciplined and organised. Then there are those who love the freedom that running their own business gives them and don't want to be constrained in any way. The remainder fall somewhere between the two extremes.

Now I'm really not trying to be a killjoy. I've personally experienced both the effects of planning vs. not planning and I know which is most effective for my business. Without a written down plan I just drifted through the days doing a bit of networking here, writing an article there. But, once I started to really focus on my marketing and planning what I was going to do each month, things really started to happen. I got more business coaching clients because I was actively marketing for them. My workshops started to fill up because I had a plan to follow.

Business success is very rarely accidental, it is usually the result of planning and action - exactly as I've been trying to tell my clients!

Friday, 10 August 2007

Why are the things you really want just out of reach?

I've been lucky enough to work with literally hundreds of business coaching clients over the last few years. And there's a recurring theme with nearly all of them.

The business owners who know what they want from their business face a really tough choice. You see, just about all the 'good stuff' - the extra sales, the increased revenue and profit that they want - is just out of reach. Just outside their comfort zone. Their choice is whether or not they go for it.

Whether they pick up the phone to speak to prospective clients, whether they arrange to meet these same scary people, and whether they ask for the business!!

I struggled for a long time to reach outside my own comfort zone and do the things I knew I needed to do to grow my business. The best moment for me was what happened when I finally did find the courage. I got more clients! Nobody was nasty to me, and it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd built it up to be.

If the good stuff - what you really want - is just out of reach so you have to stretch to get to it, and move outside your comfort zone, two things are absolutely certain. One, you will have to really, really want it in order to make the effort and put yourself through the discomfort to reach it. And two, you are definitely going to appreciate the fruits of your labours!

Go for it - and celebrate your achievements. What have you got by going beyond your comfort zone?

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The Good Things about August

August can be a rather frustrating month when you're a small business owner. Often the people you want to talk to are away on holiday - or rushed off their feet if their business relies on seasonal sales. So, you can't get hold of anyone - but you can relax about following up, just for a little while.

On the other hand, August is often a time when people take stock of their business and their lives and decide to make changes. In previous years I've gained several new business coaching clients because of this.

Many networking groups take a break during August, giving us all a chance to recover from our Networking 'Fatigue' (see previous posts). And in the case of networking breakfasts, we don't have to get up in the middle of the night to be there.

For the most part, rush hour traffic is blessedly light in August, making driving almost the pleasure it used to be in the days before there were so many cars on the road (do you remember them?). There's always an exception however. I live on the South Coast and have to battle with tourists and caravans (locally known as 'grockles', haven't got a clue why!) at this time of year. It's a case of go out before 'they're' up and about or stay off the roads as much as possible!

This is one of only two months of the year (the other being December) that I can indulge guilt-free in my love of writing! Whether it's this blog, new information products, new workshops, new marketing literature - I can scribble or tap away to my heart's content without worrying that I should be out and about. There's little point, there's hardly anyone 'out there'!

Friday, 3 August 2007

Information Overwhelm – or how you can have too much of a good thing!

Over the last few months, I’ve encountered an increasing number of overwhelmed small business owners. Next time you’re at a networking event, see if you can spot one. A dead cert give away sign is the overflowing organiser or folio/bag. This contains all the literature they’ve picked up (just in case), all the notes they’ve taken, or been given, at the multitude of seminars and workshops attended (usually the free ones), yet more handwritten or scribbled notes, this time from the various meetings they’ve had with the numerous specialists who offer free initial consultations (as I do myself!).

Other obvious signs to look out for are the furrowed brow and slightly cross-eyed, glazed expression. These physical manifestations are the result of being given too much advice and information.

At a lot of events, these small business owners are given the opportunity to talk about their business challenges (commonly called ‘wicked issues’ – and avoided by seasoned networkers). Everyone around the table pipes up sharing their experiences and solutions – more information, more advice, more overwhelm.

At first glance, all this information and advice seems very helpful. The problem is that you can have too much of a good thing and end up in the condition known as ‘analysis paralysis’.

This can be avoided if all the information that has been obtained is processed (for relevance), understood and then – most importantly – acted upon. What generally happens, however, is that most of the notes and scraps of information don’t make it into any sort of system, let alone get translated into action. One of the main reasons clients come to me for business coaching is because they want to find clarity and focus to move their business forward.

The overwhelmed business owner can be seen frantically gathering yet more information and arranging still further introductory meetings, in the hope that the next piece of advice will provide the elusive answer and make sense of everything else they’ve been told. And so the cycle continues.

Next time you spot an overwhelmed business owner, do them a favour, by all means buy them a coffee – just don’t give them any extra information!

© Louise Barnes-Johnston, 2005-2007

Thursday, 2 August 2007

A Bit of (Late) Spring Cleaning

It happens to me at this time of year, every year. I decide to overhaul the business and set new goals for the next 12 months. The trouble is that often my goals get a bit too big to be practical! Now, as a life and business coach, I always encourage people to make big goals, but - they do need to pass the reality test!

Anyway, this year I think that my goals for the coming year are big, bold, exciting - and realistic.

To make room for the new stuff I need to do some 'spring cleaning'. That's going to mean letting go of some well-loved, old friends. I've been running some of my workshops for a few years now and, while the content is still great and just as useful as it ever was, I feel they're in need of a good dust and polish. To me that means pulling the whole thing apart and starting again from scratch.

To paraphrase a well-known saying, the main difference between where you are now and in a few years' time is the people you've met and the books you've read. Well, since I originally developed and wrote what have proved to be very popular workshops, I've met lots of very interesting people and read piles or great books! Once I learn new techniques and try them out, I like to share them with the small business owners who are my main clients, as soon as possible. Hence the spring cleaning and rewriting.

Watch out for some really bright, shiny, and new workshops coming to a venue near you, very soon!! In the meantime (shameless plug!) don't miss the last Win More Sales workshop on 18th September.