Friday, 12 September 2008

Time to Move On

This has been a very easy blog to learn on, to use and to build and I am a little sad to leave. I've decided to keep all the posts here for you to read - especially since you've taken the trouble to visit!

If you'd like to follow me to my new home, I'd be delighted to welcome you there too. There will be the same mix of news and tips, plus the occasional rant (you didn't really think I'd stop did you?) so I hope you'll pay a visit to the new blog which is at:

See you later ......

Thursday, 4 September 2008

A key question

This morning has been one without focus. As a result, I haven't got through half of what I wanted to! Some papers I needed weren't where I thought and I kept getting distracted by trivia. My mood wasn't good.

Then the phone rang (doesn't it always!). The caller quickly identified themselves and launched into what they wanted to say. I'm afraid I gave them rather short shrift! My mind was still on the missing papers and how far behind I was falling. While I wasn't rude (at least I hope not), I did actually utter those immortal words "Don't call me, I'll call you." (I can't quite believe I actually said that out loud).

How different things might have gone if the caller had asked me the one key question that I believe everyone should learn: "Do you have time to talk now?" and waited for the reply. I might have felt more kindly disposed if I had been given the option to hold the conversation at another more convenient time.

Oh well, enough of that... now, where ARE those papers?

Friday, 29 August 2008

Let's get refocused

It's nearly the end of the summer holidays and I can already see lots of invitations coming through for networking events, seminars and workshops. Business owners I've spoken to are starting to ramp up their marketing - and I'm no exception!

I've been kept busy over the summer both working with coaching clients and on new products. I'm consciously moving closer to my new business model - it's starting to get exciting now!

From next week I'm delighted to have several projects lined up with Southern Entrepreneurs, starting with leading a small Mastermind group and then, at the end of September, I've been asked to hold a Stress Management workshop.

Next week also sees the launch of a brand new joint venture that I'm really looking forward to and will announce here when it goes live!

As a result of all the preparation involved in these activities, blogging has rather slipped through the net lately! But, with the end of the holiday season, I know that all business owners will be refocusing on their targets for the rest of the year. I will resume more regular blogging and hope that the posts will continue to provide tips and inspiration for you!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Taking the plunge!

When I started my first business, as is so often the case, I didn’t have much money to spend on anything.  Coming from the big budgets of a global corporation, it was quite a challenge to learn how to get maximum impact for minimum outlay!  I still get great satisfaction from finding a ‘good bargain’.

However, this frugality has also backfired on me and held my business back.

You see, I believed it was wrong to spend much on training to learn more about business.  But the free or low-cost seminars and workshops just left me increasingly frustrated because they didn’t give me the whole story!

I’d been following several very successful business owners whom I admired, hearing them tell about the importance of investing in their personal development, and that they spent as much as they could afford (sometimes even more than was comfortable) on hiring a coach and training.

At some point a couple of years ago, it dawned on me that my belief was actually holding me back from success.  It wasn’t a case of waiting until I could comfortably afford to invest in training at all!  The training had to be done first, and then the business would be more successful.  Not really a light bulb moment, more of a ‘Duh, why didn’t I think of that before?’ moment!

All the time I was thinking small and penny pinching on my personal development, I was in effect saying that neither my business or I deserved more.

As soon as I took the plunge and started investing serious amounts of time and money in training and coaching for myself, that’s when I began attracting more business.  I was even able to get some of the training paid for under a government initiative!

Business is still growing, and I’m still investing in it!  Never again will I be a ‘cheap-skate’ because I now know that my business is worth the best.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Forward planning means you can act quickly

One of the many benefits of working for myself is that I can plan to do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it, pretty much most of the time.

During my corporate career, I was well-known for organising my workload so that deadlines were met.

It’s second nature for me to forward plan, although I know that isn’t the case for everyone.

Some of my business coaching clients have protested “Oh, I much prefer to be spontaneous, it’s more fun that way!” when I suggest they plan ahead. I shudder when I find out that some of these people don’t even have written business or marketing plans before they start working with me.

I find that having a very clear plan of what needs doing and by when, puts me firmly in control. It allows me to build in contingency time in case of any unexpected ‘surprises’ and that in turn reduces my stress levels.

Forward planning has enabled me to take on new projects while keeping on top of existing ones. I can see at a glance what needs doing and by when.

I’ve noticed that very successful business people use forward planning and organisation to help them take advantage of new opportunities. They may do this themselves or delegate it. The point is that by having their finger on the pulse of their business, they are able to act quickly when they need to and not jeopardise their current commitments.

If forward planning is good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!

What’s your best forward planning tip? I’d love to know.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Good manners cost nothing

I don’t know about you, but that saying was drummed into me from a very early age. As a result, I’ve always tried to treat people courteously, and remembered to say please and thank you, in all forms of communication. I don’t see why an email, phone call, or even a text message should be any different.

This week I’ve experienced two occasions when manners were missing or ignored. The first time was an email from an organisation for whom I’m giving a talk in October. The message read:

“Louise, Can you distribute the flyer to your own networks?”

That was all. No please, no thank you, just the words above. The message wasn’t even signed! Bearing in mind that I’m not being paid for speaking, I’m afraid the wording of this email has left me feeling disinclined to help out with marketing.

The second experience was a phone call that started OK and went downhill fast. The caller was someone I’d met over a year ago at a networking event. I keep in touch with him through my Ezine but he hasn’t contacted me since that first meeting.

The conversation started with him reminding me about his commercial finance business. He went on to give an example of someone he had recently helped and then offered me a percentage for introducing any of my contacts who resulted in business for him.

At that point, he apologised and said he had to take another call. After a few minutes he came back on the line, apologised again and we continued our conversation. Almost straight away, he took another call and left me holding on again. When he returned, I commented that he sounded busy. His reply that ‘if only they were business calls’ surprised me and I’m afraid any inclination to help out a fellow networker completely faded away when he took the third call – and left me holding, yet again. Our conversation finished soon after that.

Even though the interruptions were quite short, I feel quite strongly that they shouldn’t have happened at all. I don’t use the ‘Call Waiting’ service. When I’m speaking with someone, I honour their time by giving them my uninterrupted attention for the duration of the conversation. I suppose it depends what impression you want to give!

Am I being old-fashioned and over-sensitive? I don’t know. But I do know that good manners buy quite a lot of goodwill and they still cost nothing!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Recharge your batteries, recharge your business

It’s the holiday season and, for a lot of people, the pace of life and business is slowing down a bit.

This is a good time to recharge your batteries, and recharge your business. Have you ever noticed how we tend to put ourselves at the bottom of the list when it comes to satisfying our wishes?

Unless you’re practicing to be a martyr, there really isn’t any point in doing this. Ask yourself “How would I treat myself if I were my best friend?”

You’ve all probably heard the advice given to parents travelling by air with small children. In the event of the oxygen masks dropping down, you put yours on first and then your child’s. It’s not selfish, it’s common sense. What use are you going to be to your child if you pass out? And what use are you going to be to others if you don’t take care of yourself first?

Your batteries of energy and love are going to be empty if you are constantly giving. I know, it goes against everything we’ve been conditioned to believe but it does make good sense. Just think how much nicer a person you will be when you look after you first. You won’t feel resentful because your needs aren’t being met, you’ll have more energy and love to give and more to spend on your business.

So how are you going to invest in yourself? What is going to recharge your batteries? Perhaps you want to enrol on a course at college to gain new skills. Or maybe you're thinking of making changes to your business that are going to involve extra hours spent working.

Such investments are going to affect everyone you share your life with and it’s important you have support so you’re not trying to do too much. Yes, your family may have to do more in the way of chores than before but they will benefit from a much happier and fulfilled you. Don’t wait until the ‘time is right’ – because it never will be.

Perhaps your investment is something smaller, but just as important to you. It could be taking a couple of hours pampering yourself in a bubble bath, or curling up with a good novel once a week, making a date with some friends for lunch, playing a round of golf or going to the gym.

You could set up a chart for every member of your household and each plan your own investments to get your individual needs met.

Investing in yourself doesn’t have to cost a lot in terms of money but the gains from recharging your batteries are beyond price.

© Louise Barnes-Johnston

Friday, 8 August 2008

I’ve started so I’ll finish …..

A client was telling me recently about how she had spent time sorting through the piles of paper in her office during the previous week.  She was able to throw away (or recycle) much of it, and was proud of her newly empty desk.  “I feel as though my mind has been de-cluttered as well”  she said “there’s room now to take on some new projects.”

It’s in the nature of business owners and entrepreneurs to love new ideas.  They relish doing the research, planning what (and who) needs to be involved and getting the project off the ground.  They also usually have quite a clear picture of what the finished product or service will ‘look’ like.

Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of great ideas falter.  You see, when people are great are starting new projects, they’re often not very good at finishing them!  Once the initial excitement and buzz of a new idea has faded, in their minds they’ve already done all the work and are ready to move on to the next new idea!

Other people have a lot of trouble getting started with a project but are great at working through the detail.   They get tremendous satisfaction from seeing the finished article and hate to leave any loose ends.

(Whether you’re a starter or a finisher, your projects could benefit from my special Summer Strategy meeting.)

In an ideal world, the ‘starters’ will have all the ideas and pass their projects over to ‘finishers’ to see through to completion.  Everyone would be very happy doing what they enjoy most.

But if you’re an ideas person who doesn’t happen to have anyone to do the finishing, you’re going to need to learn to de-clutter your half-finished projects so that you can make room for those new ideas you crave!

Not only that, you could be delaying earning money from them too! 

Louise Barnes-Johnston
'Trainee finisher

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Customer Service 101 – Don’t P*** off your loyal customers!

I recently responded to a special offer from British Gas to service my central heating boiler. Being a somewhat cynical soul, I checked out the website first and the offer appeared to be genuine.

Rather than book via the website I decided to call and, hopefully, speak to a ‘real person’ in case I had any questions.
My call was quickly directed to a customer service person (only one set of options to go through!) and I told the young lady in question that I wanted to book a date for one of their engineers to come and service my gas boiler for the special offer price.

I was asked if I was aware that by paying a very modest monthly sum, I could insure for parts replacement and labour. Saying ‘Thanks for the information, but no thanks’ politely, I repeated my request to book the special offer boiler service as advertised.

I was then asked how I wanted to pay. This came as a bit of a surprise to me and I naively said that I didn’t expect to have to pay until after my boiler had been serviced.
This apparently was not possible, despite my asking if being a loyal customer for nearly 30 years counted for nothing?

I decided against taking up the special offer.

There are 3 areas where I believe British Gas need to look at their customer service:

1. By all means upsell to another (higher price) product but please, not until after you’ve made the initial sale!

2. Asking for the money before even checking for a convenient appointment date is just being greedy!

3. Wanting the money upfront from new customers is understandable. Wanting it upfront from existing customers is an insult. If it isn’t possible for the engineers to take money, why not add it on to the next bill?

I realise I’m in danger of being labelled a ‘grumpy old woman’, but at a time when customers have so many supplier choices, it isn’t rocket science to realise that loyalty needs to be rewarded. Keeping existing customers happy is a lot cheaper than trying to find new ones. But then, perhaps that isn’t an issue for British Gas?

(Since writing this post Centrica, the owner of BG have announced profits of £1bn and BG tell us there is to be a price rise of 35% - I rest my case.)

Friday, 1 August 2008

Don't forget to pack your pen!

When you go on holiday, I really hope that you don’t take your laptop or business mobile phone with you.  ‘Getting away from it all’ should be exactly that.  The whole purpose is to have a rest from your business, enjoy time with the family and recharge your batteries.

Those of you who have followed my newsletter for the last few years will know that I feel very strongly about the importance of switching off and de-stressing.

And now I’m going to contradict myself – but only a little!

One of the side benefits of switching off from day to day business life and all that comes with it, is that you will often find answers to problems you’ve been wrestling with – and been too busy to give enough attention to until now. 

You may also find that, as you relax by the pool or walk in the countryside, ideas for your business pop into your head quite unexpectedly.

Now, you simply have to capture those ideas and write them down while they’re fresh in your mind.  If you delay, it will be too late and the idea gone, possibly for ever.  I’m sure you’ve had flashes of inspiration before, perhaps in the middle of the night?  I bet that by the time morning came you struggled to remember it.

So I recommend that, when you’re packing your bucket and spade, you also pack a small notebook and pen that will fit easily into your pocket or handbag – just in case you get that great idea that’s going to make your fortune! 

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Why a 'Jack (or Jill) of All Trades' can damage your business

Many years ago, before I became self-employed, I worked for a large corporation.  They were going through a period of ‘streamlining’ and as a result weren’t replacing staff who left their employment. 

One day I overheard my then boss (the finance director) having a rather heated discussion with the personnel manager.  Personnel wanted to redeploy a member of the department.  This employee was an excellent Purchase Ledger clerk (looking after all the invoices from suppliers).  Personnel wanted to move them to Credit Control (where they would be chasing customers for payment) and couldn’t understand why there should be a problem!

In small businesses, the business owner is usually keen ('though a bit anxious) to take on their first member of staff and finally get some help.  This is such a big step for any small business and needs to be carefully thought out.

A client I worked with recently had employed someone to look after incoming phone calls and her team’s online diaries.  This employee, (we’ll call her Susan) was very efficient and the office was soon running like clockwork.  My client (we’ll call her Barbara) decided that Susan would be the ideal person to take on responsibility for making phone calls to get appointments for the sales manager.

Soon after that, the wheels started to come off the efficiently run office.  Barbara was puzzled and said to me “I don’t understand it, Susan’s always been so good at her job.”  I suggested to Barbara that while Susan was probably very happy to answer the phone to incoming calls, making outgoing calls was a very different matter.  The penny dropped.

As the owner of a small business, you need to work to your strengths and employ people to do the work that you’re either not very good at or don’t enjoy doing. 

When you employ someone especially for their particular skills, let them do what they’re good at and everything will be fine.  Just don’t expect them to be as capable (or willing) with tasks outside their skills and experience. 

Monday, 28 July 2008

Where do you get your best ideas?

Where do you find you get your best ideas?  I’ll bet it’s not when you’re looking for them! 

I was  working with a client the other day on his marketing plan for the next 12 months.  He said something that made me realise he hadn’t read the notes from our previous meeting. 

So I did what any good coach would and asked him a couple of questions to find out why.  For me, it was one of those ‘duh’ moments (not as good as an ‘a-ha’ but often just as illuminating!).  This client does not like reading, so my carefully written notes had passed right by him.

Without saying anything, I started to use a Mindmap to illustrate the strategy we were discussing.

The difference was quite amazing.  My client became quite animated, asking lots of questions and making some suggestions of his own.  It was a very productive meeting.

Afterwards, when I came to put together the notes from our meeting, I drew a mindmap to summarise (using software from 

With written reports it can be easy to ramble on with too many words.  Mindmapping helps you get straight to the point!

Monday, 21 July 2008

What do you have in common?

I had lunch with an old friend a few weeks back. We hadn’t seen each other for over 10 years and I was really looking forward to catching up.

When we used to work together, back in corporate world, we had been really good friends.
We knew the same people, watched the same TV shows, went out for drinks – nothing special, just the usual things that friends do. We shared a lot over the 5 years or so we worked for the same company.

After we’d done the polite bit
, you know ‘you haven’t changed a bit’, asked about respective families, and gossiped about mutual colleagues and where they were now, the conversation started to run dry ….. and we were still waiting for our meals to arrive!

I couldn’t believe how little we now had in common.
He didn’t seem to have moved on at all – it was as if he was stuck in a time warp (I swear he was even telling the same old jokes!). I know he won’t be reading this so can safely say that, unfortunately, I found his company really boring! Oh dear.

As business owners we have a lot to learn
and need to keep on learning and changing if we’re to succeed. Those around us must find it unnerving when we suddenly develop what seems like a completely new vocabulary.

It’s important to remember why you’re in business – who you’re working so hard for. Take care to keep communicating with the people that matter in your life. Involve them if they want to be involved. It won’t matter how successful you become if you lose precious relationships along the way.

For my birthday a couple of weeks back, I had two cards with computers on them – do you think they were trying to tell me something?

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Have I got Article Marketing all wrong?

To keep up to date with the best tips and tools to share with my colleagues and clients, I subscribe to lots of newsletters and use Google Alerts to tell me when my favourite bloggers have posted something new.
Now, I only discovered blogs just over a year ago (I know that’s very late!) and really love the wealth of information being shared by these generous people.  I do tend to be a bit of a book and blog worm (is there such a thing as a blog worm?) and read voraciously!
I also enjoy sharing what I’ve learned about growing a small business and write articles for my Ezine ‘Competitive Advantage’ that comes out every two weeks and shorter articles more often for this blog.
But I’ve noticed that I’m doing things a bit differently from most other bloggers.  They use the article in their Ezine, post it on their blog and submit it to several article directories and do all this more or less on the same day.  Because I didn’t realise things were done this way, I felt a bit short changed at first when I had subscribed to both their Ezine and their blog, as I’m getting the same articles twice – now I just unsubscribe to one (usually the newsletter as it cuts down my inbox).
My reasoning for writing different content is that I like my Ezine subscribers to be the first to read new articles – after all they have been good enough to sign up and many have been with me for years.  I don’t submit these articles to other sites for about a month, and often don’t post them on my blog at all.
This does mean quite a bit of extra writing and I’m often tempted to take short cuts.  But I want my loyal subscribers to benefit first and stay with me because I provide plenty of high value content.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be expecting them to sign up to both?
I’d really value your opinion on this.  What do you do and what do you expect?

Friday, 11 July 2008

That Friday Feeling

I love Fridays but I’m really not sure why!  It’s the one day of the week that is somehow different from the other six.  There’s a subdued feeling of excitement, the anticipation of possibilities still unexplored.  There’s a lightness of spirit – have you ever noticed that people smile more on Fridays?
When I was a child, Friday meant the end of a week of school, no homework for a couple of days, and no need to get up early.  Two whole days of play!

As I grew up, Friday meant getting ready to enjoy the evening out with friends (is Friday still the best night for going out?).  It didn’t matter that I had to get up early for my Saturday job – I never seemed to need much sleep back then!

During my corporate career, Friday meant looking forward to a lie-in for the next couple of mornings and a chance to recharge batteries.  Friday evenings with my (then) husband were no longer spent on the dance floor; instead a meal out or a take-away was the weekly treat because it meant no cooking!

Now that I have my own business, Friday no longer means the end of the working week.  I often find myself checking emails at the weekend, networking on facebook, and catching up with reading blog posts and newsletters that I didn’t get time for during the week.

So Fridays have always been a bit special to me.  Then I started thinking that it would be great to feel like that every day of the week.  And it’s absolutely possible!  Using some simple NLP (neuro linguistic programming), you can recall a pleasurable experience from your past and apply all the feelings associated with it whenever you want.

But I think I prefer to leave Friday as a special day and enjoy that ‘Friday Feeling’ – just like today! 

What do you think?  Do you love Fridays too, or do you have a different favourite day of the week?

© Louise Barnes-Johnston

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

How do you think?

Recently I’ve taken on several new projects that need to be created almost from scratch. Also, because the deadlines are either at least a couple of months away or not even specified, I’m having to be disciplined and set some imaginary completion dates.

I’ve always considered myself to be a good planner of projects, to be logical, pay attention to detail and, indeed, I’ve prided myself on completing ahead of time on many occasions. This was very useful during my corporate career.

Those experiences and skills have also served me well in my own small business, except in one rather important area.

When it came to creating a new product, my old ‘linear’ way of thinking didn’t seem to work too well. I found that my paper lists became very messy as I thought of new points to add in, and that logic wasn’t terribly helpful for new products that didn’t exist yet (except in my head!).

It was obvious that a new way of thinking was called for. Mindmapping, devised by Tony Buzan, has been a real revelation. It enables you to let your brain take a more circuitous route and capture more and different thoughts than if you were simply writing a list. One of my local networking contacts, Andrew Wilcox of Cabre, is using Mind Manager software in very innovative and effective ways in businesses.

Now, whenever I start a new project, I plan it out as a mindmap first. The lists come afterwards. More creative – and even more new ideas!

How do you think?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Who's on your side?

It can be a lonely life as a business owner. If you came from an employed background you were probably used to chatting to people while having a coffee or across the office. When you work from home who is there to share the trials & tribulations, or to celebrate getting the order? Your disinterested cat - if you're lucky!

It's so important to have a supportive network in place when you work for yourself. Family and friends will usually try hard to understand - be sure to keep them in the picture if you know you can rely on them. There's nothing worse than pouring your heart out and hearing "If it's so hard, why don't you get a proper job?" I know - that's happened to me.

Networking with your peers can be an invaluable source of support but make sure you steer clear of the 'doom and gloom' crowd! They will suck all the enthusiasm out of you and leave you feeling like packing everything in. Misery loves company - but it isn't a club you have to join.

Search out people who will be your cheer leaders, who will encourage you to 'go for it' and motivate you when the going gets tough.

One of the biggest compliments I hear from my coaching clients (and one of the reasons I so love what I do) is that they leave our meetings feeling totally motivated and ready to take on the world!

Life, and business, are tough enough - but with the right support, the challenges are easier to deal with. Make sure yours is in place - ready to cheer you on to to success!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Routines can get too comfortable

Talking to a client yesterday, she suddenly said:
"I want to find a different way of doing this! I don't want to be the same as everyone else!"
She got me thinking about how we tend to search for a tried and tested way, rather than striking out on our own. There are both pros and cons with this.

Since that conversation, I've been having a look at how I work in my business.

I try to spend a little time each day learning something new. It's one of my routines. Just like checking emails at certain times, replying to client queries within 24 hours, writing the newsletter twice a month. Routines are needed to make sure nothing important is forgotten. But some routines can also stifle change, and often they're only there because they're comfortable.

To be absolutely honest - some of my business routines are really only there because I've been too lazy to change them. No longer! I'm going to look at each routine closely and assess if it needs to be changed to benefit the business.

What routines do you have in your business that are in need of an overhaul?

Monday, 23 June 2008

Will rising fuel costs affect business networking?

Over the last couple of months, I've been spending more and more time developing my networking skills online - with Facebook, LinkedIn, Ecademy, Plaxo, and Twitter. The series of blogs earlier this month looked at similarities and differences between online and offline networking.

As someone whose clients have come primarily from offline networking, I am a strong believer in the power of building relationships and networking has always been an incredibly cost-effective marketing tactic.

However, it is also time-consuming (depending on how many events you attend). And now, there's another factor to consider. With rising fuel costs, people are thinking twice before getting into their cars. They want to cut down the number of journeys they make so as to reduce the number of visits to the petrol pumps.

As I work from home, I don't have to go out every day. I'm now choosing to use my car less often and blocking together appointments whenever possible. While this has always been a good time management tool, it's now become a tool for financial control as well!

How are the rising fuel costs affecting how you do business? Please feel free to comment.

Friday, 13 June 2008

In case you missed these

I'd like to make it a regular feature on this blog to share websites and other blogs that may be of interest to fellow business owners. It's impossible to find time to read through all the newsletters and alerts out there, I know I've become very selective these days. Time is precious with every minute accounted for! So, without further ado, here are this week's offerings:

Rachel Cave MiniCards

MiniCards £9.99
Buy this on Some unusual mini cards, postcards, notes, stickers, etc. at reasonable prices for small quantities. The standard designs are good, or you can customise them. I'm thinking of putting something together for a product launch in a couple of weeks.

Caroline Middlebrook has written a very comprehensive guide on using Twitter which is great for beginners and for business owners wanting to use this tool for marketing. Some useful pointers on 'Twitetiquette' - there's a whole new language awaiting you with Twitter! (If you want to 'follow me' I'm at )

Emyr Williams of Bytestart is one of the stalwarts of small business information. The site contains literally hundreds of articles for start-ups and growing businesses alike. There's a newsletter too, that I've been getting for some years, as it provides updates on changes in company law and other regulations.

Say No to 0870 is an excellent resource (I've used it twice this week). If you're like me and don't like paying up to 10p per minute for calls to UK non-geographic numbers, go to this site. Type in the 0870 number and you'll find out if there is a geographic alternative number listed, that is cheaper to dial. You can also contribute by sharing any alternative numbers you know of. This site also covers 0845, 0844, 0871 - as well as 0800 and 0808 numbers that can be costly for mobile users.

I hope this is helpful.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

7 Ways Business Owners Sabotage Their Success

As a business owner or entrepreneur, I’ll bet you’re really busy all the time and there never seem to be enough hours in the day.

Some of your everyday activities are habits, like brushing your teeth; taking a shower; or filling the car with petrol. You wouldn’t dream of not doing them. In your business you have habits as well, such as opening the post; reading emails and checking your diary. You do them without thinking.

But what about the activities you need to do to bring in more business? Like marketing for new clients; following up with existing contacts; planning and goal setting to grow your business? When do you do them?

If you’ve ever spent your day responding to emails, helping other people, working on making your marketing brochure or website absolutely ‘perfect’; doing paperwork or tidying your office – you already know that these are comfort activities, and they will keep you stuck just maintaining your business. By filling your days with these tasks, you are effectively avoiding doing the sometimes less comfortable activities that will really move your business forward.

Your ‘busy’ work will create the illusion that you’re working hard, simply because you feel busy and fill up the day. You will do anything rather than face the activities that would dramatically accelerate your business success. You get to the end of the day and say to yourself “It’s OK, I was really busy today, I’ll do that tomorrow.” Or “I just couldn’t find the time today to make those follow-up calls.”

You know, if you’re waiting to find time, it will never happen! There will always be other busy work to fill your available time. Your business building activities need to become a habit too if your business is to thrive and profits are to increase.

Do you identify with any of the following?

The Top 7 Ways Business Owners Sabotage Their Success
  1. It’s got to be perfect – this tactic affects so many of us. It often stops us from starting a project or activity and gets in the way of goal achievement. Most tasks don’t have to be perfect, they just need to be good enough. Give yourself permission to be human!
  2. Nobody else can do it – this is when you believe that only you can do a job because no-one else can match your standards or do it the way you want it done. You need to devote your time to the important business building that truly can only be done by you. Let go of routine tasks by delegating or outsourcing.
  3. “Last time I tried that, it didn’t work” – so you don’t do it again. I’ll agree that it’s a good idea to stop doing what doesn’t work but only after checking if it might have been your approach that didn’t work, not the activity itself.
  4. Not being accountable – when you conveniently ‘forget’ to do something you know you need to do but would rather not. If it’s an important activity, write it down so you remember it. Even better, ask someone (like a coach!) to hold you accountable for doing it. Remember, no excuses!
  5. Failing to plan – and allowing all the ‘busy’ work to fill your day. Anything that is important to your business success needs to be planned into your diary so that it gets done before the less important stuff. Write it down.
  6. Not setting a deadline – means you can put things off if you don’t feel like doing them. This is often why ‘to-do’ lists don’t work. Every time you write down a task you need to do, give it a realistic deadline and be accountable for meeting it (see #4).
  7. Easily distracted – by interruptions like the ‘phone, incoming emails, other people, or new ideas. Using this tactic will mean you have lots of unfinished jobs on your ‘to-do’ list and feel you are overwhelmed. Stay focused on the important task you are currently working on and only allow yourself to be diverted by real emergencies.
No more excuses! The time for self-sabotage is over.

© Louise Barnes-Johnston, 2008

Louise Barnes-Johnston is “The Business Accelerator”. She provides business coaching and mentoring for entrepreneurs and owners of small businesses. Get a copy of her FREE report “10 Ways to Boost Your Business” at

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The wandering apostrophe (a mini-rant)

If you’ve read ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ by Lynne Truss, you’ll know that the misuse of the apostrophe has been going on for quite some time!

Lately I seem to be constantly visually assaulted by haphazardly placed apostrophes on web pages, blogs and even in newspapers - and it’s really getting to me!!

It would appear that the current thinking is - if in doubt, use an apostrophe. Who cares whether it’s right or wrong – it has a 50/50 chance.

The word that is annoying me the most – at the time of writing – is the word LOTS. I keep seeing LOT’S (as in "... and Lot's more!") with a misplaced apostrophe and what I want to know is, what belongs to LOT? Does the writer think it looks better with an apostrophe than without? Is it somehow under-dressed without?

I know that my own use of English grammar isn’t wonderful and I do get confused with other punctuation marks and when to use them (colons and semi-colons have always been a bit of a mystery – and I’ll admit to overusing the comma, and the exclamation mark, at times!!), but I do like to think I know how to use the misunderstood apostrophe properly.

First impressions mean a lot when people visit your web page or read your brochure, and it’s vital to get the spelling and punctuation right. It can be difficult to spot your own typos so getting someone else to proof read your copy is always a good idea, as is reading it backwards.

Could it be that with the increase of ‘text speak’ and reliance on spell checks, people are forgetting how to use apostrophes correctly? What’s been your experience?

Louise Barnes-Johnston
Pedantic punctuator

Monday, 9 June 2008

It's all about you!

Recently I’ve been writing sales letters and other web copy, both for myself and for clients. Following on from my post last month Writing for the Web, another couple of important points occurred to me, so I thought I'd share them with you here.

We often get so carried away with how great our product or service is, that we forget the purpose of what we’re writing, be it for website or printed brochure. We want people to be interested enough to buy!

They’re not going to buy unless THEY see a compelling reason.
So, the copy we write has to be all about them. It has to contain the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ as often as possible. Keep ‘I’ and ‘we’ to a minimum.

You’ve probably been taught in workshops that it’s the benefits that sell. Very true, but you need to take that a step further in your written copy. Tell your reader what end result they can expect. Or, if your product/service will deliver them from a nasty experience, use the emotion of that.

So, instead of:

“Our product will bring instant relief from unwanted pests”, try

“You will never have to suffer from those unwanted pests again”

You want your reader to say ‘That’s for me!' And for them to feel the emotions associated with the problem you will be solving for them.

Do you have any copywriting tips to share?

Friday, 6 June 2008

Traditional vs Online Networking - Part V

It's been an interesting week, revisiting mini-articles from my Ezine 'Competitive Advantage'.

Today I heard about a networking group that has closed because attendance numbers were too low. I'm sure there will be others who struggle to survive. Some groups are all about referrals, some are supportive and others are more social in their approach. It isn't feasible to belong to them all so decide which are best for you and your business and give them your loyalty.

Attend them regularly and really get to know your fellow members. If networking is to continue to be as powerful a marketing technique as it has become in recent years, then each group will have to be nurtured by its members.

I belong to several groups on Facebook. Some of them bombard me with messages, some try to 'upsell' me to buy a paid service and others are as quiet as the grave. I know it's difficult to please everyone, but a regular update at reasonable intervals will keep members interested.

This is the last part of my look at
whether 'traditional' networking techniques also work with the latest online or social networking media. I believe that, for the most part, they do. Whether face to face networking between small business owners will ever beat online - and result in more sales more quickly - I don't think so.

While it may be possible to meet many more people online and in a much shorter time period, the key to successful sales will always be to build relationships - and that takes time and effort.

I hope you've enjoyed this week's posts - and would really love to hear your comments.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Networking - Offline vs Online - Part IV

Once again, I found an article from a back-issue of my Ezine to include on this topic.

If you network regularly and visit the same groups, you’ll probably see the same people quite often. Not only is this a good opportunity to build on relationships, but you can expand on your original introduction. Talking about success stories or projects you’re currently involved in may bring to mind people they know who could be facing similar challenges.

If you go to ‘Speed Networking’ events, you often get 2 or 3 minutes to talk about your business, so it’s worth having a few case studies to reinforce your message.

But, as I’ve said many times, these conversations aren’t just about you. Encourage the people you speak with to tell you more about what they do. Have some questions prepared – ask them how they’ve been getting on since you last met and think about who you know who may be a good contact for them.

While it’s nice to speak to people you’ve met before, don’t forget to make time to introduce yourself to new contacts too!

Networking online involves joining groups too and, because of common interests, you get to know the members quite well. I do enjoy being able to meet so many new people, with such diverse talents, although I've been quite taken aback by the amount of blatant advertising in posts by people I've only just met!

There are many similarities for both online and offline networking here.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Networking - Part III

Here's another extract about offline networking from my Ezine.

Do you ever listen to people’s 60 second pitches and feel a bit confused by the time they stop talking? The reason is that they are trying to give you too much information. They do it because they feel they have to cram in absolutely everything they do in that very short space of time. The result is that there is no clear message. We can’t take in information as fast as it can be said.

On the other hand, if the speaker focuses on just one message, we will understand and remember it better.

So when you have the opportunity to stand up in front of a group and say what you do, keep the message simple. If you offer several different products or services, then pick just one of them to talk about if you want to get your message across. You can always supplement what you say with a handout or brochure to be read at leisure.

When you look at some profiles online, it isn't always easy to work out what people do. Being a Jack or Jill of many trades can be a turnoff too. I'd much rather consult a specialist with a problem!

Another offline networking technique that passes the online test!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Networking Online & Offline - Part II

This is the second part of my investigation as to whether offline networking techniques will also work for online social networking. For this exercise I'm looking at some mini-articles I originally wrote about networking for my ezine 'Competitive Advantage'.

Choosing which networking events to go to can be tricky – and trying to get to them all would take you away from your business for too long, especially once you factor in preparation and travelling time.

Look through your invitations carefully. Are the events where your potential clients are likely to be found? Do you believe you could meet useful contacts there? Be selective. Once you’ve identified networks that meet the criteria, put future meeting dates in your diary so that your business gets lots of exposure by showing up regularly and you build long term, mutually beneficial relationships.

With online networking, it's just as important to know where you're going to find the contacts you most want to meet. While you don't have travel time to consider, it can be all too easy to spend more time than you can really spare on social networking sites!

I think this works offline and online - what do you think?

Monday, 2 June 2008

Networking - do offline techniques work online?

This week I've been asked to give a talk on effective networking at a Southern Entrepreneurs event in Havant on Wednesday evening. I'd love to see you there if you're in the area!

I started holding workshops to help small business owners network more effectively back in 2004. With so much emphasis now on online networking (via Facebook, Twitter, Ecademy, LinkedIn, etc), I thought that this week I'd take a look at some of the offline techniques I teach and see if they apply online as well.

At one my workshops, we discussed how to come up with an attention-grabbing opening statement, in answer to the question “What do you do”?.
Speaking to a delegate after the workshop, she asked me why I recommended to focus first on the problem and not on the solution.

It’s all a matter of thinking about what motivates people. Some people are motivated towards pleasure or reward but even more are motivated away from pain or discomfort so that’s where you need to start.

The response you want is for someone to say “That sounds interesting, tell me more.” Or “How do you do that?”. Then you move on to talk about the solution you can provide (not the process).

You can use these motivators in your one-minute pitches too.
First highlight the problem your typical clients have and then tell them how wonderful things will be with your solution. This is a really strong combination of motivators that will resonate with people who are in the market for what you offer.

I think this one passes the 'offline and online' test - what do you think?

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Get out of the 'Stress Habit'

I came across this list while preparing for teleclass on the subject of Overwhelm. I don't know the origins but thought they were good to share with all you busy business owners!

1. Cut down on caffeinated drinks - have more water.

2. Build in contingency time to projects - they're bound to need it.

3. Leave at least 10 minutes early to get to meetings - allow for traffic or parking problems.

4. Switch off your phones at the end of the day - or arrange for someone else to deal with the calls.

5. Take a 5 minute break from your desk or computer once every hour - at least.

6. Try arranging meetings only in the morning - that will give you a chance to catch up when you get back to the office.

If you have any tips that you find useful to kick your own 'Stress Habit', your comments would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Writing for the Web

This week, I've had my head down preparing for a couple of speaking engagements next week and writing sales letters and web pages. And, with the holiday on Monday, I lost track of time and forgot to post on this blog!

It occurred to me while writing that some very different rules apply when you're writing for the web. In the long distant past I worked for a company who's main customer was the government. The language used in written communication was hard to understand and very formal and correct. My English teacher at school would have been proud of us!

Writing copy for this blog and for my website is almost like speaking a foreign language by comparison! Here are 5 ways that I've learned to make writing for the internet more effective:

There are 2 Kinds of Reader.
Some people just like to skim down the page and pick up the
important points without (or before) getting into the detail. To keep them reading, use sub-headings and bold font. Other people like the detail so give them plenty of interesting content to keep them reading.

The Heading is more important than the Content.
I know I just said to make the content
interesting! The heading has the crucial job of making you read further. Unless the heading pulls you in, even the best content in the world won't get read. There’s a great tool that will analyse your headlines at Advanced Marketing Institute.

Write as You Speak.
When you've been used to writing formal letters and reports, this can be a hard concept to get your head around. The best advice I was given when I started my first
newsletters about 5 years ago, was to write as if I was just having a conversation.

Write for Your Target Audience.
There's a lot of pressure, when writing copy for the
internet, to remember to include lots of keywords to rank well in the search engines. I agree, but not at the expense of turning off the people you hope will become clients! Google isn't going to buy from you.

Give Value in Your Content.
I'm often told that I give too much free stuff away! But the
truth is that there's so much excellent stuff out there - in the form of blogs, teleclasses, e-books, etc. and it's very often free. To keep people interested and coming back for more until they're in the right space to buy, you must give value in your content.

© Louise Barnes-Johnston, 2008

What tips do you have when writing for the web? Please do let me know by leaving a comment.

Friday, 23 May 2008

It's great to put another tick in the box!

Like most small business owners, I struggle sometimes to get focused and make headway with projects. Even though I know all the tricks and techniques, sometimes they don’t work for me!

I’m ashamed to admit that I used to give in and do something easier or more pleasurable – like phone a friend for a chat, or even take the rest of the day off! What has really changed for me is working with a coach who doesn’t stand any nonsense! My clients will rejoice in hearing that I’m getting a taste of my own medicine!

The benefits of having a coach are many. There’s a desire to work harder, to achieve more in the knowledge that someone else is going to celebrate your successes. There can also be an element of discomfort if you have to report that things didn’t get done.

What I’m finding interesting is that I’m setting bigger targets for myself than before, and I’m really striving to reach or even exceed them! My motivation levels have never been higher and I am getting through an amazing amount of work.

Even though I already knew that coaching produces great results, it’s nice to have my recent experiences continue to confirm it!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Do you remember?

A couple of days ago, I spent ages trying to get the links to work between Twitter and Facebook, and Twitter and this Blog. Yesterday I spent more time trying to do the same. Today I tried again but gave up sooner.

Do you remember being told that modern technology (computers and the internet etc.) would save us time? I'm sure I do. But it doesn't always. At the risk of showing my age, I remember a time before computers, when typing involved an electric or even a manual typewriter.

My earliest memory of computers was the word processing package. This really did make life easier with wonders like spell checking and formatting. Correcting a typo no longer involved messy correction fluid!

When PCs first put in an appearance in my workplace, directors and managers suddenly wanted to type their own correspondence (something to do with new toys perhaps?) which transformed the working lives of their secretaries and PAs.

Today, I look back and remember those days with fondness. Technology in the workplace has moved on at such a fast pace that it's getting harder and harder to find the time to keep up. The internet is so powerful and has transformed the way a lot of us work. Whole businesses can be set up and run just using the internet and a computer. Even the products for sale don't have to be physical products any more.

Yes computers, the internet, and new technology in general, have made it possible to reach wider audiences quickly an more easily. Learning about how the new packages and applications work is becoming increasingly time-consuming and stressful - in my opinion!

What do you think? Please feel free to post a comment.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Do you stand out from the flock?

Have you ever noticed that small business owners behave a bit like sheep? They flock together, going to the same networks with the same people. They have a look to see how other business owners are promoting themselves, and then do something very similar.

It’s not so surprising. There’s a certain amount of comfort to be taken from knowing that they’re not being left behind.

The crazy – sheep-like - part is that the flocking is done without first finding out if what they’re about to copy actually works!

When I first became a business coach I spent ages looking at the websites of other business coaches and planning my own site to be very similar. Now, I’m more discerning! I only look at the sites of very successful coaches and business owners. They’re the people I want to model.

With more and more small businesses starting up, the need to stand out from the crowd is becoming increasingly critical to success.

Instead of trying to be part of the flock, business owners need to work out how they can be different to catch the client’s attention. It can be an uncomfortable process but the rewards will make it all worthwhile.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Please - Just Tell Me!

I haven't had a rant for a while, so thought I'd treat myself! It's related to my previous post ("Marketing Messages - Too Time Consuming?")

I have 4 audio and video messages/teleseminars in my email inbox waiting for me to listen to or watch them. There are occasions where I have some time between appointments or tasks when I quite like to have a coffee and relax a bit - and I like to make best use of that time by learning something. I know, I'll listen to that audio message.

The problem I find is that so often there is no indication of how long the recording is - that's my pet peeve for today! I've already mentioned that, in my opinion, a lot of the messages are overlong so when I have no idea if the recording will be 15, 30, 45 minutes or over an hour, I'm more likely to hit the delete key.

It's not that I won't listen to longer messages if I think they'll be interesting, it's just that I'd appreciate some shorter messages that could be fitted in during the time it takes me to drink my coffee. Or at least to know how long the recording will last so I can decide the best time to listen to or view it.

OK, rant over. What do you think?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Marketing Messages - Too Time Consuming?

I've just been trying to watch a series of training videos, the content of which is supposed to help me make a lot of money in my business. I got annoyed when they kept stopping and starting and then playing out of order (could that have been due to my frantic clicking?). Anyway, at that point I gave up and starting writing this post!

Only a few months ago, free audio and video downloads on the internet were far less commonplace than they are now. Advances in technology mean that just about anyone with a webcam and internet connection can make and upload videos (audios are even easier). These are an incredibly powerful marketing tool for small businesses – if they’re done right.

The internet marketing 'gurus' teach that you have to give away something that has high value when you want to promote your product or service. I certainly agree with that. Unfortunately there are many people who have a different idea of what constitutes high value.

It’s true that these preview audios and videos are getting longer (at least an hour). But what I’ve noticed is that the value of the content is shrinking and the amount of verbose ‘filler’ is expanding to fill the gap! At this point I should say that there are still some excellent and very generous providers of free information – but unfortunately they are becoming outnumbered by the poor content providers.

The problem is, for those of us looking to get an idea which provider’s program or product to invest in via these previews, we simply don’t have the time to watch or listen to all of them! Even if we wanted to!

Just as we have become increasingly selective in the newsletters we subscribe to, I believe we need to do the same with these latest marketing messages. The marketers who will succeed in attracting our attention are those who take the time and trouble to form a strong relationship with us - which they will only achieve by delivering consistently high value information.

What's your experience? And your opinion? Feel free to post your comments!

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Bits and pieces

Sometimes it's hard to know what to blog about. Writing articles and issuing a newsletter can be challenging too. Here's a really useful guide from Alice Seba, an excellent internet marketer whose blog I follow: 24 Ideas for Endless Email Topics. It's completely free!

Today I've been engaged by a new client for business coaching. I just love the variety of my work! Already my mind is buzzing with ways to increase his business. Also, I am able to take a more objective view because, let's face it, we tend to get almost too close to our own businesses and become blinkered as to how to move forward. I'm really looking forward to working with him.

Next week I've been asked to give a short talk about the Dangers and Remedies of Stress so I'm working on some slides (they seem to love Powerpoint!).

Friday, 2 May 2008

Are you relying on luck?

Do you buy lottery tickets or enjoy the odd flutter on the dogs or horses? Perhaps you play a bit of roulette or blackjack? What about your business? Are you gambling that it will succeed too?

If that’s your strategy, then the odds are stacked against you and you’re likely to end up out of pocket and looking for a job.

And yet this is just what I see so many business owners doing. They don’t know how they’re going to get their clients or make sales. And they’re very busy being busy but they don’t know whether what they do works because they don’t monitor anything.

If you don’t have a proper business plan AND a marketing plan, you are relying too much on luck to carry you through.
Here are some of the other results of not planning:
  • You don’t know if your cashflow is enough to keep you going through a lean patch
  • Budgeting doesn’t exist – you just spend as you need to
  • You don’t like opening letters from the bank or credit card companies
“Successful people plan on paper” – I can’t remember who said that, but it’s so true!

Do you think people like Bill Gates or Richard Branson achieved their success without planning on paper? Sure, maybe in the very early days they winged it. But as soon as their businesses started getting serious, you can bet they started writing down their plans (or they got someone to help them).

Perhaps you believe you’re too busy to take time out and write your plan. So you wait until you’re less busy…. with less clients on your books, and less money coming in….. Or maybe you don’t like making plans or targets because then you might just have to do the work it takes to reach those targets.

Running your own business should be a combination of fun and work. To get that balance you need to rely less on luck and more on planning. You need to add a healthy dose of self-discipline as well.

One of the problems I’ve found through working with entrepreneurs is that they often aren’t sure what they need to plan (and they don’t like to ask for help because they think they should know). The guidelines given by banks and some other agencies can be so wordy and vague that they just add to the confusion. They also seem to call for very long (and boring) plans. In my experience, the more pages in the plan, the less likely it is to be looked at regularly.

It is possible to have simpler plans – as long as they include the essentials. What are you selling? To whom? How many? and How much? Then think about HOW you’re going to achieve this, what marketing tactics will you use? Pick just a few to start with and measure their effectiveness.

Make your plans, write them down and review them at least once a month, ideally look at them every day – this will keep you on track and working harder to reach and exceed those targets.
Don’t let your business go to the dogs – get planning and increase your odds for success!

© Louise Barnes-Johnston, 2008

Louise Barnes-Johnston is “The Business Accelerator”. She provides business coaching and mentoring for entrepreneurs and owners of small businesses. Get a copy of her FREE report “10 Ways to Boost Your Business” at

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

If you're wondering what Twitter is all about

As I mentioned last week, I've been trying out some online networking recently. One that is still a bit of a mystery to me is Twitter, so I was really pleased to learn about a video tutorial that explains it. Remarkablogger has a whole series planned so, if you want to find out how to use Twitter, take a look.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Social networking is an acquired taste

Last week I spent a lot of time growing my list of friends on Facebook and learning about them as individuals. I've been quite selective, looking for like-minded business owners and/or coaches. The majority of people I've added to my list are in the US and I'm really enjoying seeing what they're all up to.

What's fascinating is that they are so busy taking action!! They're preparing new products, launching them, writing books, starting up groups. They are also very positive - they know they're going to succeed. I'm finding it really inspiring to be mixing, albeit virtually, with such positive people. Combined with the work I'm doing with my coach, I find that I'm really raising the bar on my own business.

I realised a while ago that networking with people who are negative about everything was dragging me down and stopped going to a lot of events. The Facebook world is a real revelation!

Today, (even though I still have reservations) I signed up to Twitter. I'm really not sure what I should be doing with it but I've started 'following' people I admire - just to see what happens.

So, if you feel like befriending me on Facebook -

or following me on Twitter (as LouiseBJ) -

we can make this journey of exploration together!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Being Productive AND Effective

I talk a lot in my workshops about the difference between busy work and effective work. I'm sure you know what I mean. Those days when you feel as if you haven't stopped - but you haven't got anything to show for it! On other days you get everything on your list done. I think we all experience both types of day.

When you have your own business, your most precious asset (apart from yourself!) is your time. You cannot afford to have unproductive or ineffective days.

If you're familiar with Stephen Covey's books, you'll know about the Four Quadrants and Urgent vs. Important work. There will always be the Urgent stuff that you have to deal with every day.

After that, you have a choice. Do you do some 'busy' work that eats up your time double quick? Or do you spend your precious time working 'on your business' and growing it?

Here's a useful question to ask yourself : "Is what I'm doing right now taking me closer to achieving my goals?" If the answer is no, stop it immediately!