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!