Category Archive confidence

Byadmin

Planning “Super”​ Growth for 2019?

6 Simple “Screen Test” Steps for Business Growth

The super organised and resourced amongst you will no doubt have neatly prepared and signed off plans for the new year and beyond. Even the smug amongst you will still have nagging doubts over what the next year may bring. A.I., blockchain, global trade & nationalist tendencies, cybercrime, economy and yes, we cannot forget Brexit.

Whilst there’s no shortage of negative news there are also positive aspects to living in the latter 2010’s heading into the 2020’s, but what of the planning process and where to start?

Here below is my film quote themed list, of 6 steps, that will hopefully help in your planning process.

Everyone who names the films these quotes were taken from will be entered into a prize draw to win a £25 Amazon voucher and each entry, no matter if correct or just funny, will be matched by a £2 donation to Children in Need.
So, either add your entry to the comments below or e-mail me direct via david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk – and good luck!

Now on with the planning…

1. “You can’t handle the truth” – The most important factor in creating a successful plan is to truly understand the current position. Seeing the present situation either through rose tinted glasses or negative pessimism will not help establish an accurate platform to work from. Why not gain an external perspective from a trusted third party? Also, whilst you’re at it, permit yourselves time to step back from the day to day stresses of running the company. This can prove invaluable in setting a realistic starting point from which to plan ahead. Tried and tested tools you’ll be familiar with include PEST (Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural & Technology) and SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities & Threats) to help with your situational analysis.

2. “To Infinity & Beyond” – We don’t quite need the Buzz Lightyear warp drive, but a vision of where the business would ideally be in three years rather than the end of 2019 will lift sights beyond the immediate horizon. This is helpful as it can permit broader thinking as to the business model, its market and essentially the “bigger picture”.

3. “Show Me the Money” – We’re not in business simply for the hell of it, so consider both the revenue, profit and thereby costs that this growth is going to create and map the money projections from year three back to year two and then the next 12 months.

4. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” – Once the thinking has started around where the business is heading consideration as to the resources needed to deliver is essential. There is little point setting plans that are going to be unrealistic unless the people, plant and systems are there to support its objectives.

5. “May the Force be with you” – Having set out ambitious plans for growth it’s now time to use your “laser” focus and powers of collective creativity to articulate a series of defined projects that will deliver your first 12 months goals. Each project should be accompanied by clear objectives.

6. “These go to eleven” – Keep your eyes, ears and hands on the controls. The best plans can all too frequently be delayed or derailed through the day to day pull of a busy business. This is the reason why ongoing measurement of project and planning progress is essential to your overall success. Make sure everyone knows who is responsible for each key action and what is expected of them by when.

If the above works for your business you can always produce a sequel for 2020.

Don’t forget to submit your film titles and remember every entry no matter if correct or just humorous will guarantee a donation to Children in Need.

If the above has sparked thoughts of growth planning, feel free to share your thoughts via David.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

NB. There are currently significant funding opportunities for SME’s to support business growth, leadership and management development activities.

Byadmin

Give Your Time an MOT

Do you run your day or does the day run you?

Scan through this simple list of symptoms and see which apply to you;

  • Do you find yourself easily distracted?
  • Do you take longer to complete relatively simple tasks?
  • At the end of the working day do you feel deflated as its mostly been unproductive?
  • Is your sleep pattern disturbed?
  • Are you tired more often than energised?
  • Do you get irritated by little things?
  • Are you checking your e-mails several times an hour?
  • Is your smartphone always on and close to you at all times?
Thought Leader

Thought Leader

If you answered yes to any of the above the chances are you’re suffering with a level of stress that is having a negative impact on your quality of life.  We actually need a certain level of stress in our lives otherwise we’d not get much done.  Positive stress, also called eustress, gets the deadline met, the presentation delivered and you on board the right train at the right time.  It delivers adrenalin, excitement tends to be short term but can improve our performance.

Negative stress is where the mind starts to introduce anxious irrational thoughts that appear to be beyond our ability to manage.  It makes us feel bad, it can be both short and long term, has a direct impact on performance and if left unchecked can lead to unwanted mental and physical symptoms.

There are very many causes of negative stress.  It can be a relationship breakdown, new boss, new neighbourhood, too much work, not enough work, starting a family, financial worries, illness or losing someone close to you.

The fact is we ALL face these bumps and hurdles in our lives and for most of us, most of the time we can deal with them without any difficulty.  Unfortunately, the statistics seem to suggest that an increasing number of us are not coping so well.  As many as 12 million adults in the UK will consult their GP about mental health issues each year.  Diagnosed with anxiety or depression typically caused by stress this results in 13.3 million working days lost each year. It’s a sizeable and growing problem.

Here’s the disclaimer…I’m no GP, psychologist, counsellor or psychotherapist but I, like many others have had my moments with this increasingly common problem.  First and foremost, I would suggest that if you are worried about stress and its effect on you make an appointment to see your GP.  If you can sense that there are one or two warning signs and you want to find a way to improve the way you feel I would strongly suggest taking back control of your life.

Of course “taking back control” can be easier said than done but often we fall into patterns of behaviour which help propagate feelings of negative stress.  The result is that we lose control of our time, others fill it all too quickly and with that loss of control comes added anxiety.  The answer is to evaluate those things we are doing that are causing angst and

My “self-help” route was helped enormously by an old friend who I’d overlooked for too many years. The “friend” is in the shape of a number of tried and tested time management principles that I had learnt as a young manager at Thomas Cook and carried with me or so I thought through my career.  What happens over time and new challenges is that we adapt and grow and learn but often let key nuggets of working practice slip through our minds.

I have a theory.  Actually I have lots of theories but this one is relevant to our 21st Century dilemma.  Once upon a time, long ago in the 90’s, talk of computers, online business and e-mail suggested we would have more leisure time. Thanks to the advent of this fabulous technological era we would all be “chilled to the max” reclining on Ikea furniture and enjoying our newly won down time supping on Sunny D or Sprite.

Fast forward to today and that pipe dream of a technological Nirvana is about as far away as anyone could possibly have imagined.  Smartphones, social media, the Internet of Things and now robotics, VR, AR and AI…are you keeping up?  All these new wonderful innovations are not going to create time for us they’re going to squeeze into whatever time we have, competing with the multitude of tasks expected of us.  As life moved faster so did expectations.  News used to arrive via a broadsheet paper stuffed through the letterbox by a schoolboy on a Raleigh 5 speed. Now it’s instantly delivered in our hands via Twitter and we know about a Japanese tsunami before the BBC news team can brief Hugh Edwards.

So with steely determination I attacked the bookshelf in my office, being self-aware enough to know “Googling” the subject would result in momentary success followed by a likely hour of distraction.  I found notes in an old Filofax, yes do you remember those?  I also found a previous blog on the subject and arrived at the following list.

 

  1. Limit screen time – deliberately my first rule. Just see how productive you can be if you step away from the screen, PC, MAC or Smartphone.  Browsing Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or even your e-mail inbox can drain your productivity, step away and see the benefit.  One final point – turn the smartphone/ tablet off at night several hours before you go to bed, you’ll sleep better.
  2. Allow yourself to do fewer tasks. Give yourself a break, the trick is to focus on the things that are important so work out what they are and stick to dealing with them.
  3. Let prioritising and self-analysis of productivity become a habit
  4. Exercise and have a healthy diet. When we’re time starved we cut corners and often that can result in too many fast food meals which can leave us feeling sluggish and demotivated.  Drink can also be used as a self-medication for stress but conversely it can add to feelings of depression and hinder a restful night’s sleep.
  5. Get organised. Being tidy with a system for filing important information can help enormously with your efficiency and taking control of your environment.  It’s true that a cluttered office can lead to cluttered thinking.
  6. When something just has to be done allow yourself scope to lock yourself away to concentrate on the job in hand.
  7. Don’t be phased by a long “to do” list break the tasks down into absolutely must do’s down to non-priorities. Take them out one at a time.
  8. Don’t always start with the biggest task or greatest priority. We all perform better at different times of the day. If you’re an early bird and sharp first thing but fade after 4pm make sure you keep those taking tasks to the morning.  If you’re otherwise inclined reverse it.
  9. Set time limits for certain tasks. You may have a job that’s going to take days possibly weeks.  Set aside a proportion of time to take it on and work though it systematically.  Break it down into sub tasks and monitor your progress.
  10. Reacquaint yourself with the word “No” be polite but assertive if you don’t have the time to take on a particular project don’t be afraid to say so – often things that seem urgent to others are not as pressing as they seem.

If you’ve experienced problems with stress and/or or time management drop us a line today.

David Laud

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Byadmin

The Power of Influence – Knowing Your Social Media Score

Prior to all things going digital and smartphones embedding themselves in our lives, we had a simpler more straightforward life.  In the past your number of friends could be counted in birthday or Christmas cards or the entries in the address book you kept in the draw of the table in the hall, the one your phone sat on, plugged in to the wall.

The number of business relationships were similarly measured in cards that you bothered to retain, small enough to fit in a wallet or a specially designed holder that you could flick through.

 

The Power of Influence - David Laud i2i

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we all know the number of true friends or meaningful commercial contacts you have does not equate to how effective you are in business.  Similarly with social media our effectiveness in this medium is not due to how friendly we are but how much value we offer those we’re connected to.

Due to terms such as “friends” on Facebook many are still confused as to the type of relationships they are developing online but there is a very clear distinction.  To prove the point there’s a physical limit to how many people we, as humans, can maintain valuable inter-personal relationships with. At the risk of getting all anthropological with you, there’s real sound research supporting this view.

The science behind this is a calculation known as Dunbar’s number. It’s the limit to the number of people who we can keep regular social relationships with and the range has been static for thousands of years.  Professor Robin Dunbar has determined that the number of inter-personal relationships we can maintain falls between 100 and 230.  It’s therefore a fallacy to think you can realistically build a network of close contacts that count much more than 200 in total.

For those of us looking to social media for a return on business investment we need to look beyond simply acquiring followers.  The true power of the medium is not how many individuals are following, connecting or friending us but the influence of those in our network relative to our own interests.  It is the members reach and collective power applied across multiple networks that offer the greatest opportunity.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” makes frequent references to how ideas and products catch on by this use of social group dynamics and the manner in which information transmits throughout a group driven by those who have influence such as connectors and mavens.

As a simple example look at the way in which profile pictures quickly adapt to respond to a topical cause, or event. 26 million Facebook profiles used a rainbow filter in honour of Pride and support of the LGBT community.  But be careful when you see a bandwagon approaching, such profile changes can backfire as David Cameron can testify with his recent photo-shopped poppy.

The challenge is to create receptive networks built on mutual understanding and respect in which you can establish a position as a thought leader, originator, sharer and supporter of fellow members.

Great! You may say, but how do I know if I’m moving in the right direction if I can’t count the number of contacts as a measure?

Social influence measurement tools

The answer is to use a measurement tool.  One of the leaders in this influence measurement field is Klout, launched in 2008 it delivers its services via a website and app that use social media analytics to rank users according to online social influence.  They analyse activity across multiple sites that include Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Google+. The “Klout Score”, is represented by a numerical value between 1 and 100.

In preparing this article I spoke to Eddie McGraw Director of Communications at Lithium Technologies, owners of Klout, this is what he had to say on the topic of influence.

Influence can be a somewhat hazy term, but how we define it is the ability to drive action. That’s something we can actually quantify – how much your social activity is able to drive subsequent activity. It’s very important for both people and brands to have some gauge of who is and is not influential, so they can determine who the right people are that they should be engaging with.

 

Also, just as important as overarching influence would be subject matter influence – or what we call Topic Expertise. Kim Kardashian has 31 million followers, but that doesn’t mean people should look to her for advice on whether to invest in Apple or Google. One of the things we’ve just introduced is a way of looking not just at someone’s overall Klout Score, but at their level of expertise on a specific topic. This way you can find subject matter experts on the topics you most care about.

 

As Eddie states it’s not all about the numbers of followers or connections, the key is in establishing your clear area of expertise and thereby your range of influence.  Understanding where you are with regard to influence can help you better understand the effectiveness of your time posting content, improving the return for your efforts.  To put a number on it, the average Klout score is around 40.  To establish where you or your firm sits versus competitors you can search twitter accounts via the Klout website.

 

Increasingly brands and industry experts are becoming aware of the importance of social influence.  Leaving social media content creation to inexperienced, untrained or poorly managed individuals is now seen as far too risky for firms wishing to establish a consistent and respected brand.  In professional services, networks will look for and respond more favourably to a tone of voice combining intellect, empathy and personality with a dash of appropriate humour.  The trend is for owners of the business to start engaging more directly as they have the knowledge and gravitas to attract greater numbers of key target followers for their network.  By way of contrast, posting grammatically poor tweets about minutiae or blatant and repeated promotions, will have your network unfollowing in numbers.

Outsourcing the responsibility of social media posting to an agency, no matter how attractive, is also not advisable, as the risks far outweigh the benefits.  In professional service marketing above many other sectors, your credibility can be very quickly undermined if the voice of your chosen channels lacks authenticity.  Better to invest in qualified support and training for your own team and remain in control.

As a marketer one of my regular requests is to help clients build strong networks and then assist them to deliver fresh, interesting content in a manner that helps improve engagement.  By taking structured consistent steps and increasing the profile and social influence of partners, managing partners and specialists, the firm is better placed to demonstrate their capabilities and attract greater levels of interest.

Whilst I would stress that these tools are not 100% perfect, they do offer an essential insight to establish where your profile stands by way of influence and by regular monitoring keep track of your progress.

Suggested social influence measuring tools –   Klout, Kred/ Sprout Social, Peerindex (Brandwatch)

David Laud

Partner i2i Marketing Management

Byadmin

Networking Events Notworking? 7 Tips to Make Better Use of Your Time

It’s a damp Wednesday morning and you’ve been asked to attend a “networking” event and presentation at the other side of town. It’s with a group of business people you’ve not met before.  The thought doesn’t exactly fill you with dread but you do have a resigned feeling of déjà vu.

Networking Notworking

Networking Notworking

The sat nav takes you to a 3 star hotel and reception direct you down the hall to a small conference room set out with a large screen, small table with perched laptop, spaghetti wiring a plenty, trestle table with coffee jugs, cups and a dozen round tables with brochures sprayed on them like confetti at a giants wedding.

The rhubarb, rhubarb murmuring of human interaction bounces around the room. Suits liberally scattered throughout with some sat at tables talking intently to an obvious work colleague asking when it might be “ok to leave”.  Others are trying to look important by holding their phone up to their ear and nodding along with saying “yes but don’t go a pound under 50,000….” You suspect there’s no one on the other end of that call.

At the far end of the room, furthest from the stage you have the cynically subscribed.  This is the group, like you, who have been told to attend but in all honesty would rather staple a post it note to their forehead with the word “bored” written on it in black ink.  They look for fellow cynics and poke fun at the small turnout, quality of bacon bun and when it starts whatever the presenter says.

You survey this scene and eyes fall upon someone who is actually watching you.  Before you can break eye contact they walk over and introduce themselves…too late you’re networking or are you?

Ok so I paint a rather dystopian view of a networking event but I guess we’ve all been there at some time, others more often than most.  So what can be done about the obligatory networking opportunity and how can you make the time work for you?

The first point is possibly the hardest, especially if you’re not the boss and have been asked to attend.  Be brave.  Ask the obvious question before you access Google maps for the location.   Ask why?  Why this event?

This might be viewed as insubordination by insecure or controlling bosses or just the question you should be asking by the more enlightened.  If it has been thought through as to why your company time should be spent at this particular gathering then you are about to be educated.  On the other hand if it has not been considered it might be a weak attempt at ticking that “marketing” action on a personal development list.  Maybe it was put forward as “one your competitors would be at” and “worth keeping an eye on” during the business development meeting you missed.  Any way around there’s a chance you’ve drawn the short straw.

Why? is such an excellent question and we just don’t use it enough.  We blindly go along with the flow not prepared to disturb the status quo or fear for our job if we dare to question an instruction.  By simply accepting an instruction without question I would argue that we run the risk of wasting not only our own time but that of the business.  If it is indeed an opportunity what is it and how can it be best maximised?

Quite often an event might look dull and lifeless but within it lies a key nugget; and no that’s not the chap who turned his back on the audience to read his PowerPoint word for word.  It is the connection, piece of information, intelligence that can be gathered.

A little research before an event can prove invaluable.  Who’s attending?  Which companies? What level? Who are the speakers? What’s the key message they’re conveying?  Once you have this data you can begin to build a picture and determine if it is an event that you should attend, only then do you have the “why?” answered.

It could be as simple as a key client will be presenting and you want to show them that you are interested in what they have to say and keep up to date with their thinking.  If that’s the case let them know you’re there, ask a question but make it a positive and memorable one.  Talk to them after the presentation and make sure they know who you are and where you’re from.

If travelling in numbers to an event have a plan.  Decide who is doing what.  One takes notes of the presentation, another is charged with connecting with the key decision makers but don’t stick together for mutual comfort, it will achieve far less.  What can be beneficial is an introduction if your colleague is best suited to a connection made at the event, make sure they get to see them for themselves.

By undertaking research, planning and setting out key objectives your mind set for the event is clear.  It’s amazing how an individual with this behind them can appear so much more purposeful and confident and ironically find themselves attracting others who wish to connect.  Remember to keep the key objectives in mind, do not be distracted by time-wasters or the cynically subscribed.

7 Top Tips for Networking Events

  1. Ask Why? – Question the purpose of any directive to attend an event and gather enough information to set an objective.
  2. If you are deciding on the action to take – be protective of your time and commit to events only once you have fully assessed their worth to you and your business – see below.
  3. Research – Find out as much as you can about the event. Don’t be afraid to ask the organisers
    • Location
    • Speakers
    • Audience
    • Sponsors
    • Key messages
  4. Identify colleagues/ contacts who may also benefit from attending, brief them.
  5. Plan a co-ordinated approach to your time at the event
    • Note taking
    • Contact acquiring
    • Question asking
    • Competitor analysis
    • Social media interaction
  6. Follow up actions – de-brief internally for those who need to be aware, share notes and take actions as required.
  7. Review – were the objectives met? Learn from the experience and avoid the mistakes of the past and build on successes.

There are a variety of networking events.  The broadly social with a hint of business “pub quiz” invite from your friendly accountant to the more commercially focussed and structured “we all know why we’re here” weekly gathering.  All can have merit but none should be blindly accepted.  A little time thinking, researching and planning can save you a fortune in wasted energy.

Byadmin

Business Development – Why You Need to be Thinking LinkedIn

There are no shortage of “top tip” type posts extolling the virtues of marketing you or your business on social media platforms.  Many offer useful practical advice and are indeed helpful whilst others appear to offer nothing other than the basic, obvious and on occasion not all together accurate nuggets.

In this latest post I’m sharing my advice for busy professionals who are already on LinkedIn but have yet to enjoy positive engagement or would like to improve on the current level of activity.

Before I begin there is the all-important question, why bother with LinkedIn?  I’m not going to assume that you’re already a fan of the platform and just raring to go.  You might be rather cynical and need to be convinced of LinkedIn’s worth or have adopted a more passive relationship with the site.   Alternatively you might be super keen but as yet just not “cracked the code” and finding a lack of solid engagement frustrating.

In the current connected world we live in it is becoming increasingly difficult to find time and space to develop new business opportunities, make new contacts and re-introduce yourself to old acquaintances.  We need to make use of tools that help organise our lives and for me there are few better than LinkedIn. It provides a five star Rolodex, virtual environment connecting you to a world of opportunity.  The beauty of LinkedIn is that it is very likely those companies and decision makers you want to stay in touch with are already using the site.

OK, you get it, everyone’s gathered in this global networking thing and you should get more involved…but how?  You’ve connected with people you work with, clients, university chums and a few professional contacts you picked out of your e-mail address book.  You’ve liked a couple of posts and updated your profile, even changed the picture.  What you’re struggling with is the “next step”.  You see a number of regular contributors and they seem to spend a great deal of time pushing theirs and others content, but you don’t know if it’s generating anything for them other than the obvious recognition they get.

The truth is there is no set rule or winning formula to create a stream of new business opportunities.  If anyone suggests this they’re over promising and very likely you’ll quickly become frustrated at the results…or lack of them.

For me the key is in identifying the business development methods that work for your organisation offline and adopting a similar approach online.  For example if you work in professional services it’s unlikely that bombarding prospective clients with sales messages will do it for you.  Delivering useful information via seminars and following up on enquiries generated as a result would be one example more suited to the sector.  In this example you can use LinkedIn to post content reflecting your particular expertise and encourage engagement through comments to start a conversation.

I would also strongly encourage you to have a plan for your online activities and set a target for creating new business opportunities.  This will help to retain a focus on why you would invest time online and avoid time stealing distractions that don’t move you toward your goals.

Before posting any content it’s worth reviewing your profile and making sure that it accurately reflects how you wish to be seen.  Often we focus on job titles and our internal corporate terminology to describe a role but it might not be clear to others exactly what you do.  Create your own elevator pitch that clearly explains who you are and what makes you somebody that others would want to connect with.  There’s no harm in checking out other profiles and adapting elements you like into your own if it’s an aspect that you’ve previously struggled with.

When you started on LinkedIn you probably, like me, got terribly excited and started joining dozens of groups.  The fact is we don’t always have the time to give to all the groups and over time you’ve realised they’re also not very active.  Give your groups a refresh, be ruthless and stick to those where you feel you’ll have the best possibility of engaging with potential new clients/ customers or those who’ll refer you to others.

Groups offer an opportunity to join a conversation on topical issues that affect a sector or service you have an interest in.  Try and avoid joining groups that you feel comfortable in because they’re populated by others who are in a very similar line to you.  Ask the question “What will this group bring to my business?”  If there isn’t a clear answer don’t join.

We all have connections in our network who are prolific bloggers, some offering very useful and reliable quality content, but it is hard to keep to this standard if you set out to post every day.  You should consider posting your own content but keep it to topics that are relevant to your area of expertise and provide helpful insights for your network.  It could be once a week, twice a month or once a quarter but if frequency is low, step up the conversations you participate in with your target groups.

Posting from LinkedIn, rather than placing a link to external content offers your best opportunity for engagement. It is easy to draft your copy in an external document, proof read it and then copy and paste into LinkedIn.  To access this function you need to be in the “Home” section of LinkedIn and click on the “Publish a Post” option.  There are also options here to “upload a picture” and “share an update” the latter typically involves content from other sources such as your own website or news channels.

The biggest obstacle that many busy professionals face is time or rather a lack of it.  To make LinkedIn work for you it’s a good idea to set yourself a plan of checking in with the site twice a day and having e-mail notifications set to let you know of your group or post activity.  Set yourself a target of post frequency and keep an eye out for inspiration from news items, articles and events.  Overall it’s better if you can get into a routine of using social media sites to support rather than interfere with your working day.  By being organised and structured in your approach you will be more discriminating in the content that you consume and create.

Key Points – Quick recap

  • Review your profile and view it as if you are a potential client/ customer. Take time to look at a variety of profiles and adopt ideas that would work for you.
  • Consider the précis “elevator pitch” for your profile.
  • How do you generate new business offline? Consider how you would adapt this approach on-line and set a plan and target in generating interactions and new business opportunities.  Include in this plan the time that you will invest and frequency of posting your own original content.
  • Review your groups and concentrate on those that offer opportunities to engage with prospective customers.
  • Keep a journal of interesting news, articles and items that will provide the inspiration for your posts.
  • “Publish a Post” of your own original content on LinkedIn rather than uploading hyper-links from external websites. Remember this is distinct from the “share an update” option which will often involve posting external links and is a great way to bring your connections to your website or share the content of others in your network.
  • Remember to carefully proof read your post before publishing, a second pair of eyes can be invaluable.

The above is obviously not a definitive guide to using LinkedIn but provides guidance that should help improve your engagement and ideally grow your confidence in using the world’s largest professional networking site.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment below or e-mail me david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk

Byadmin

8 Top Tips to Help You Get Organised

Sunday is traditionally known as the day of rest, the day we stay away from thoughts of work and revert our attention to more leisurely pursuits.  The need for rest and relaxation and diversion away from stresses and strains of our busy working lives make Sunday a perfect day but….

That’s not quite how my Sunday worked out for me.

Getting Organised

This Sunday I spent the best part of the day harvesting dead wood from my office, organising myself and planning.  It had been a little while since I’d last re-organised but I’m now determined to stay on top of all things real (paper) and virtual (e-mails and digital files).

It is quite amazing how much “stuff” we accumulate and what we regard as important one week but happily consign to the bin the next.

Staying organised takes discipline and the ability to make effective decisions.  My biggest problem is fighting the inner hoarder in me – time to be more ruthless.

Of course the process and determination of what “truly organised” is will vary from person to person.  They key is to feel on top of things and confident that matters won’t get overlooked and opportunities or deadlines missed.

There is a level of science and tangible evidence of the psychological benefits of having a tidy up in the office.  So if you’re in need of a little more order in your life here’s a few tips to get things started:

 

  1. Work out what being organised will look like for you.  Don’t be side tracked by other views of what you should or shouldn’t do, make your own determination and picture your life in an organised vision of the future.
  2. Scope out the task and set out the specific actions that you’ll need to take.  If this attack on chaos at home or work impacts on others it’s only polite to share your thoughts.
  3. Know yourself…we all have little foibles that can often get in the way of progress. Procrastination or as my wife so delicately puts it “faffing about” can be one weakness if there’s a particularly knotty matter to handle.  My response to this is to deal with it first, get it out of the way and have the more enjoyable tasks lined up as the carrot to motivate me through the less palatable parts of the project.  Others may be stimulated by having their favourite tunes firing them into action in a “get to it” playlist….some may need both.
  4. You are in control so be your own boss but don’t be easy on yourself.  Set deadlines and meet them.  Just make sure they’re realistically achievable.  Don’t set yourself too big a task in one go.  There’s nothing worse than half completing the job and being tired out too. It will just end up being a de-motivating and totally counterproductive experience.  If you have a very large job to do to get yourself organised, break it down to manageable chunks.
  5. Don’t just shuffle the pack.  Clutter and disorganisation will only be temporarily alleviated by shifting “stuff” from one area to another.  Be decisive and ruthless.  Get rid, shred and recycle as appropriate.
  6. Many hands make light work – a phrase that can come in very handy if you’ve willing helpers.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  If you’ve shared as in (2.) above they may well volunteer their services willingly.
  7. Adapt as you go.  If the original plan needs a tweak because you’re finding a better way to index files or make use of a particular cabinet, go with the flow.
  8. Treat yourself.  We all like to feel a tangible benefit to working hard so why not promise yourself a nice lunch or trip out with the family as a reward for getting organised.

Once you’ve finished remember you actually haven’t…being organised is an ongoing process.  Keep on top of matters to avoid falling back into the bad habits of old.

The greatest advantage, once the job is done is the feeling of control and confidence you get from knowing exactly where things are.  You can save a great deal of time and avoid the frustration of duplicating effort by clearing out the clutter and in so doing retain the knowledge of what you have.

For me a cluttered office results in cluttered thinking and working practices.  A clean and ordered environment certainly improves my outlook and ability to cope with the ever increasing demands of the modern multi-tasking world in which we live.  My weekend might feel a little shorter but the week ahead will prove far more productive as a result.

David Laud  – Click Here to follow me on Twitter

 

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Is the Marketing Plan a Dead Doc?

I sense that the traditional marketing planning process has taken something of a back seat in recent years.  I don’t have definitive proof just anecdotal comment from fellow marketers and business owners but I suspect there’s a trend developing.

Putting a Plan Together

Putting a Plan Together

The main reasons for our failure to plan appear to be time, or rather the lack of it.  When I’ve pressed on the subject many get defensive and point to a myriad of additional excuses such as;

  • Lack of resource to help with the process
  • Nothing wrong with the plan we have just need to update it
  • Too many day to day distractions
  • Other areas of the business are a priority

Plus the rather worrying comment I overheard recently “It won’t make any difference if we plan or not, it’s just a piece of paper and no one ever looks at it”

You might be surprised to hear that I have enormous sympathy for those making these comments.  I agree that you need the resources, time and a clear focus as to what the planning process is going to deliver for you.

In addition to the above statements I also get the impression that the increased emphasis on social media activity has created a challenge for many marketers, to “keep up”, innovate and manage the relatively new medium.  This creates a dilemma for the marketing manager/director or business owner.  As soon as you set out what you intend to do in your carefully prepared plan some new development, platform or nuance emerges that overrides the plan and requires either a re-write or more likely just enough reason to ignore the original plan.

Given the pace of change and pressures the obvious question would be, is the traditional marketing plan redundant, defunct and a “dead doc”?

My answer is yes and no.  Yes the traditional method of planning out a year’s worth of activity, by product, service or person by location with expected outcomes, in fine detail with budgeted expenditure and suppliers, has a diminished value.  It can still be worth undertaking as a broad guide to budget and activity and shape thinking but not as a firm “set in stone” plan.

If plans are going to have any real influence and ongoing relevance on the direction and success of the business they need to be dynamic and almost entirely built around a full and detailed understanding of the customer.  That’s nothing new…I can hear you cry and I would agree.  Many marketers already create their own flexible planning processes incorporating new technologies that are adaptive to customer behavioural changes.  The opportunity is in migrating businesses to this approach so that the thought of planning remains key and is not considered a waste of time.

How do you do this?  Well there are no easy “off the shelf” answers.  I know there are hundreds of marketing plan templates, just “Google” the words and you’re spoilt for choice.  The problem is that they are generic or too specific and invariably don’t relate to YOUR business.

 

The best advice is to follow a simple process…and for me it involves breaking down the overall plan into manageable projects.  Here’s how……

 

  1. Talk to the business owners about the process and intention to set out a new plan
  2. Avoid making assumptions – obtain current intelligence across the business (examples)
    1. Financial performance
    2. Customer data (including satisfaction surveys)
    3. Website Google analytics
    4. Social media stats
    5. Advertising performance
    6. Competitor analysis
    7. Market research
    8. Factor in any political, economic, legal influences
    9. Skills audit of marketing staff – identify training need

 

  1. Review overall company objectives and assess relevance and need to update
  2. Map out financial targets by product/ service/ office/ individuals
  3. Create marketing project plans for specific segments of the business and include
    1. The objectives
    2. Owners of the project
    3. Team members and roles
    4. Suppliers i.e. web designer, SEO agency, printers
    5. Platforms i.e. press, social media channel, radio station
    6. Timeline of activity including regular review points
    7. Costs
    8. Results and analysis (this should be factored in as an ongoing aspect of the project)
    9. Overarching schedule of the projects providing simple helicopter view of the marketing team’s actions to ensure that it is planned, not overly ambitious and achievable within the timescales suggested.

Today’s marketing professional needs to be an accomplished project manager, not necessarily an expert in any one particular field but capable of co-ordinating resources with the help of a straightforward plan.

Creating a method for the business owners to view and engage with the project plans as they develop would also help maintain “buy-in” and might be possible through a form of shared software platform or intranet.  This can also be used by the project team to monitor their progress and avoid “lag” by identifying issues such as a specific element that has failed to deliver.

As you might have gathered I’m a huge fan of project planning and management.  It’s obviously not a new concept but it lends itself perfectly to a dynamic fast paced environment which most of us find ourselves in.  Not so much re-inventing a wheel but adapting it to move faster, have greater grip and flexibility.

If this is a topic you have experience of or would like to contribute toward please feel free to comment or tweet me @davidlaud

David Laud

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Law Firm Management – Survival of the Fittest

Charles Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution.  If I can cast my mind back to my human biology lessons, the term coined by the great naturalist was “Natural Selection”.  It took a little while for this radical theory to be accepted by the mainstream scientific community but now it is universally seen as the reason we, as humans, exist in the form we do today.  Of course not just humans, we can trace the origins of all living creatures through this process.

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive...

Crisis? Perhaps you need to adapt to survive…

If Darwin were alive today he would no doubt be fascinated by our individual and organisational development.  He might also see how his theory can as easily be applied to businesses as it can to individuals.

A sector currently experiencing a significant series of evolutionary events, shaping their structure, relationships and existence is the legal profession.

Just last week we heard of yet one more familiar north east name going into administration.  The loss of 50 jobs and a history of 250 years, gone.  They are not the first in this recent wave of firm closures and they most certainly won’t be the last.

Why are we hearing of so many failures?  The answer, as in any scientific evaluation, is not straightforward.  The truth is that the myriad of challenges that have conspired to arrive at the door of law firms in the UK are individually manageable with care but when they arrive in rapid succession, they create a chain of events that leave only the very fittest and dynamic of practices standing.

The Law Society reported toward the end of 2013 that over 400 law firms had closed in the preceding 12 month period.  Last week the same organisation revealed that more than 4,500 solicitors had simply not arranged to renew their practicing certificates.  Without it they are unable to carry their work.

The events that have brought about the closure of so many firms include;

  • The recession resulting in SME’s looking to save cost by avoiding lawyers’ fees – (Law Society Gazette May 2013), larger corporations driving down fees and personal clients unable to get divorced as they can’t afford to put their affairs in order. The property market is also only just waking from its lengthy hibernation.
  • Personal Injury and Medical Negligence solicitors impacted by the Jackson Reforms seeing an immediate drop in fee income, volume of instructions and the departure of claims management companies from the market.
  • The Government removing legal aid for divorce and failure of mediation to replace the lost fee income.
  • Introduction of the Legal Services Act and “Alternative Business Structures” enabling non solicitors to offer legal services and large corporations such as Co-op, Direct Line, DAS, BT entering the market.
  • Professional Indemnity insurance cover proving increasingly difficult to obtain, suppliers in the market cherry picking only the very best risks and others facing excessively high premiums.
  • Solicitors Regulatory Authority introducing burdensome and expensive measures such as Compliance Officers for legal practice and finance.

These facts and more point to a series of tremors in the legal world that have built to form a seismic event.  The consequence of these factors is when the dust settles the clients, both personal and business will have far less choice.  On the upside, of those firms remaining we can be assured that they are resilient and very likely to be focussed on the needs and value they can bring to the client.

The conclusion we can draw using Darwin’s theory is that having survived the natural selection process those still standing will be fitter and more prepared for the future.  The advantage existing firms have at this time is their opportunity to still act, adapt and ensure their survival and avoiding a Dodo dilemma.

David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP

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The Best of Times or the Worst of Times? – Surviving and Growing in an Unpredictable Period

I’m fed up with hearing that we’re living in “interesting times” we’re not.  We’re actually living in the times outlined by Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities.  I’m sure you all know the opening chapter of the book word for word but just to remind us……

business navigatorIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – [Extract from chapter I, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

 

 

Anyone else feel the contemporary connection with these words?

2014 has presented as a year where we are seeing economic recovery, employment levels rising and an all over feeling of optimism, well so certain politicians would wish us to think.  I’m not against a healthy bit of optimism, by nature I’m drinking from the half full cup most of the time but in reality there is still an awfully long and hard journey ahead for many businesses and thoughts of instant solutions are really not helpful.

 

If a business is going to survive and thrive it needs to have a strong realistic vision of its future, a plan for managed growth and control over its costs.  Leaders of these businesses need to retain and recruit the staff that share a passion for making that organisation the best in its particular sector/ sphere of operation.  It’s not easy, it takes time.  Things go wrong, deals don’t come off, recruits fail to live up to expectation and customers can change their preferences at the least expected moment. What you shouldn’t do is panic.  Retain the belief in the business and acknowledge that the World is partly mad and partly sane, you cannot predict everything nor expect to be continually on the back foot.

 

Even though we’re in what still feels to me like a futuristic date, 2014, the words of Charles Dickens in the opening of the classic Tale seem as appropriate today as when they were first penned some 150 years earlier.

 

Whether you do face the best or the worst of times I see it as a period for calm heads and a return to the principles of good solid business practice with, of course, the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and originality that will deliver sustainable success.

 

David Laud FCIM, Chartered Marketer

 

follow me on Twitter @davidlaud

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Marketing – It’s a Dirty Word

I still encounter those who see marketing as at best a necessary evil and at worst a practice of smoke and mirrors with no substance.

iStock_000028922460_Small

This unwarranted prejudice is borne out of a lack of understanding of the core principles of marketing.  Sceptics who poke sticks at marketers often suggest that the acquiring of customers is not difficult.  Winning new business is not connected to marketing activity.  They believe that by producing a quality product or service customers will return and promote to others.  That method of gaining customers can often be effective but the marketing element should already be interwoven with production and customer experience and not simply be seen as a blunt instrument of advertising or PR before or after the fact.  Ironically sceptics often employ marketing techniques, unaware of their natural ability to develop the business.  MD’s don’t always connect their activity to marketing which they see as a separate collection of basic promotional actions.

If you were to survey 100 non marketers and ask them for a definition of marketing the chances are over 50% would reference advertising within their response.  The truth is marketing, certainly for me is “The Business of Business” a little more than creating and placing an advert.  To be an effective marketer you must understand all you can about your customers, the financial model that produces the product, where the margins kick in, the mechanisms involved in delivering the product and the experience of customers once purchased.  The entire scope of the company, its infrastructure, inner workings and technical elements must be understood to contextualise a successful approach to develop the brand and thereby grow the business.

All too often when recruiting or appointing a marketing resource business owners go into the process with a narrow pre-determined idea of what the person will add to the mix.  They focus on PR or advertising.  They might also worry about the need for a better online presence rather than consider an opportunity to involve the marketer in helping with business planning and setting a strategy.

Typical Marketing Professionals Skill Set

  • Account Management
  • Administration
  • Advertising
  • Analytical
  • Brand Marketing & Management
  • Business Development
  • Client Relationship/ Customer Care
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Content Marketing
  • Contract Negotiation
  • CRM/ Database Management
  • Creative
  • Direct Marketing
  • Displays
  • Event Planning
  • E-mail marketing
  • Financial
  • Interpersonal
  • Leadership
  • List Management
  • Market Analysis & Research
  • Market Strategy
  • Merchandising
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Order Processing
  • Planning & Project Management
  • PPC
  • Presentations
  • Product Research
  • Problem Resolution
  • Product Management
  • Product Promotion
  • Professional
  • Public Relations
  • Purchasing Inventory
  • Quality Control
  • Reporting
  • Sales Tracking
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Supplier Management
  • Teaching/ Training
  • Team Player
  • Time Management
  • Troubleshooting

An added challenge for many is the “hobby” marketer boss who believes they can play “the marketing game”.  We all consume so many marketing messages each day it’s not surprising that a boss or client might suggest they have the answer to a new advertising campaign, website or sponsorship deal.  Don’t for one minute think I’m against business owners or bosses getting engaged with the marketing activity.  I’ve spent far too long in my career trying to encourage such interest to fight it; but it can be difficult for junior, less experienced marketers to put a counter view forward when the ultimate decision maker insists on having their way.

Where experienced and effective marketers set themselves apart is in their ability to distinguish “good ideas” from the ego driven project.  They need an ability to swiftly reflect and analyse any newly presented opportunity, establish the potential impact and make recommendations in plain jargon free English.  That particular skill can save organisations a large chunk of their marketing budget.

A very good example of the scale of the challenge for today’s marketer is their need to stay on top of the terabytes of information related to digital marketing.  Without necessarily being an expert the modern marketer must understand the principles of SEO, (search engine optimisation) PPC (pay per click advertising) Social Media, Mobile Technologies, Online Advertising and CRM (Customer Relationship Management).  Interpreting Google Analytics and having the confidence to reject or accept digital agency proposals are also essential attributes of those holding the responsibility for marketing in any organisation.

Yes it’s complicated out there but life is these days.  We can either keep up or give in and outsource management to the wave upon wave of niche agency suppliers promising to deliver success.  Without the confidence borne out of our own knowledge of specific marketing processes we’re left with fingers crossed just hoping that the agency knows what they’re doing with their sizeable budget.  Personally I don’t see it as an option.  We owe it to ourselves, clients and employers to provide the very best level of expertise and professionalism and demonstrate that more than ever we have the knowledge and the spark to drive businesses forward.

Far from being a dirty word marketing is the discipline that business owners need to embrace wholeheartedly.  They need to seek out the very best qualified practitioners to work with, provide resource and trust them to deliver.  David Laud – FCIM Chartered Marketer, consultant.

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Is It All Good With You? – Leadership & Self Confidence

Have you ever faced the dilemma of thinking how best to phrase the opening line of an e-mail? The trend appears to be for the “hope all’s good with you” or “hope this finds you well”.  Nothing wrong with this, it’s polite and shows an interest in the well-being of the person you’re engaging with.  But on the receiving end of such an e-mail are we ever tempted to tell it how it really is?

Self ConfidenceImagine the shock if your reply started, “Thanks for your e-mail, in answer to your question I’m extremely anxious, not sleeping well and very concerned about the future of my business.”

That would be rather “awkward” and put the recipient in an uncomfortable spot as to how to answer such a statement.  But in one way this answer to the original e-mail is refreshing as it’s truly honest.

The difficulty of course is that no one wants to admit to fragility or weakness, stress or worries suggest failure.  The reality is at some time or another we all suffer from varying degrees of stress and have genuine doubts over either a business or personal direction and our own capabilities; especially when we’re up against it and under pressure.

The media regularly reports on the trend of business confidence sourced from trade and sector specific surveys.  I’ve always suspected that they are very heavily skewed, with a positive spin put on the answers.  Respondents will want to talk up their own position and only express genuine concern when it is a globally recognised issue such as the height of the recent recession.  After so much gloom we’re desperate for good news and we don’t want to disappoint.  But it’s easier to consider business buoyancy over the rather more personal and potentially painful analysis of our own self-confidence.

So is our level of personal confidence that important?

The answer is clearly “yes” – A leader’s self-confidence is at the heart of business success and growth.  Through the recessionary period many tens of thousands of business owners have faced tough decisions and trading conditions which impact on their personal outlook and mood.  With shoots of recovery appearing there’s an expectation that these entrepreneurs and owners will simply click back into overdrive and quickly return to their super confident persona.

The truth is it is not that easy to turn on confidence, it relies on a number of factors and will differ for each person depending on their own leadership skills, life experience, measure of success and management capability.

Optimism and confidence are crucial attributes for business leaders as those who work for them look to the signals from the boss to determine their own feelings of security.  It’s not hard to see that a forward looking buoyant and confident business owner will engender a positive atmosphere throughout their organisation.  Not that it’s entirely all down to the one individual but if they’re not confident and positive in their communications it will send an uncertain message to others and lead to discontent and discomfort amongst the workforce.

Ironically for certain senior executives their outward view is often believed to be positive whilst the reality is far from that perception.  Body language and tone of voice might seem minor elements compared to the content of any communication but we know that as humans we take in a wide range of signals and are naturally very adept at translating them.

If not sure how you’re perceived ask a few trusted colleagues for their unbiased appraisal, it might be quite an eye opener.

Without a clearly understood vision for the future, business owners will be likely to react to situations as and when they arise leading to “knee jerk” responses.  This will not breed confidence amongst the workforce no matter how well a leader presents their decisions.  A lack of management consistency often creates feelings of uncertainty amongst staff heightened in times of trading difficulties and increased competitive pressures.

At the heart of the corporate confidence issue is the conviction of a clearly articulated and implemented strategy to take the organisation forward.  Whilst insecurities and concern still exists in many sectors those who’ll survive will have calm, assured captains steering the business on a course to deliver a strong and sustainable future.  With plans in place and everyone understanding their role all who share the journey can themselves grow in confidence and far more readily contribute to the success of the business.

Below are 5 suggested tips to assist leaders develop a stronger feeling of self-confidence.

5 Tips to Build Self Confidence

1. Pragmatism over Perfection.  Don’t get hung up on the felling that every decision and act you make must be perfect and borne out of your instinctive powers as a leader.  Making the right decisions can often prove difficult but remember there are frequently situations in business where there is no right or wrong response.  Be logical and gather the data you need to make an informed decision.

2. Commit to your Decisions — Communicate with conviction and provide details of the outputs from the decision.

3. Failure is an Option – Mistakes will happen and that’s life but make sure that lessons are learnt from any failure and not repeated.  The best leaders freely admit to shortcomings and can identify how success was often borne out of projects that didn’t initially deliver.

4. Body Language — We all have moments of fear and trepidation in our lives but if others are looking to you for direction you need to show courage and calmness especially when under pressure.

5. Enjoy the Moment and your WorkWe can spend a great deal of time at work especially if you’re the owner or senior manager of a business.  There will be good and bad moments but make sure you celebrate the successes with your team and be there to pick everyone up when a deal fails to materialise.

David Laud  david.laud@i2isolutions.co.uk    Twitter @davidlaud