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?