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!