Tag Archive thought leadership

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

Social Media Management for Professionals (4 of 4)

The final Q & A covering aspects of social media management for professionals

social-media-marketing-for-professional-services

Q1.      What do you do if staff have a personal twitter account, the content of which is at odds with the business or could bring it into disrepute?

A1. As covered in the previous Q&A your social media policy should cover such eventualities. If the account and its content is in clear conflict with your business you can request that it is deleted or amended to suit the firm. If they refuse check your social media policy – it should offer the firm the option of dismissing staff who breach the rules however allow time for the matter to be resolved before taking hasty action. Very often staff are not aware of the commercial sensitivities and competitive issues involved in running a business. If the reason for concern is raised in a reasonable manner and time granted for any suitable action to be taken you should resolve most matters quickly and easily.

Where the firm has acted reasonably, there is a clear conflict and yet the staff member has refused to co-operate you would be entitled to take appropriate action.

You will require an up to date social media policy and evidence that staff have been made aware of the rules and consequences of any breach. If in doubt consult an appropriately experienced employment lawyer before taken direct action.

2.      Is there a role for video within social media platforms and how can we make the most of it if there is?

A. Video is an excellent medium for promoting your business but in my experience too few are using it to best effect. We have moved on from the simple written word and hyperlinks to an increasing use of images as a form of visual branding. Video moves the message on a stage further where both the impact of moving images and sound can exponentially increase the reach of your message.

There is therefore a growing role for video as an effective mechanism to promote your company and social media platforms can significantly increase the audience reach of such content. The video may be beautifully produced, excellently articulated and worded to aim at your key customers but simply uploading to your website will not deliver the audience it deserves.

Examples of video best practice;

  • Prepare a clear plan or script, setting the scene, target audience, players, location, content and expected duration. This should also consider the platforms to which the video should be linked. Is it to be uploaded to YouTube, Vimeo or be a “live” broadcast on Periscope or Facebook?
  • Avoid talking heads – the subject talking directly to the camera but clearly reading a script. Seek engagement by using an interview scenario and vary the shots. It’s worth investing in a professional broadcaster to pose as interviewer or provide training for those most likely to be front of camera. Nothing worse than one of your senior and most accomplished practitioners looking shifty on camera due to nerves and poor preparation.
  • There are tools that can create video from presentation slides to create a webinar. If you must use this technique keep the video to a time frame between 5 and 10 minutes max. If you have more content than 10 minutes can handle consider breaking the project into a series of videos rather than one or two lengthy broadcasts. Also seek out a voice-over that is bright and impactful not dull and sleep inducing.
  • Don’t oversell the video. Viewers like to discover new content and be the one’s to share and inform their own networks. It is precisely this section of your audience that can turn a “nice project” into a “winning performance” gaining significant traction through online engagement and recognition. Be informative as to the content of the video but don’t get carried away in a narrative. If a viewer thinks they’ve discovered a gem of informative and entertainingly presented content they will only too quickly share. If they have been presented with an overtly self congratulatory introduction they will sit back and expect to be “wowed!”

Overall I would recommend experimenting with video but be careful not to damage the firm’s brand with an overly amateurish production. Smartphones are actually powerful enough to create good video footage but investing in sound enhancement equipment and editing software will be money well spent.

3.      Is there a role for paid-for promotions on platforms like LinkedIn?

Experiment, see how they work measure results and decide on future investment. I’ve used several and the best so far has been Facebook.  Facebook works for me because it provides access to a significant depth of demographic data which helps tailor campaigns. If you’re looking more to a B2B over a B2C campaign I would suggest LinkedIn but again tread very carefully before committing £££. I’ve had mixed results with LinkedIn and the jury is still most definitely out on whether it can deliver over time for a variety of prodct/ service offerings. Most LinkedIn users are acutely aware and wary of in platform advertising and promotions.

My advice is to treat any advertising expenditure on LinkedIn or other social platforms like that of TV, Radio or Press. You want a return on your investment you’re not simply investing in the channel hoping it might work.

On the upside I have found LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to be very supportive when issues have arisen. Now is a good time to experiment with this area of advertising as, (a) Not many are using the medium to advertise (b) The platforms are very keen for their ad propositions to work and ergo, happy to help and respond if it goes poorly.

4.     What can firms learn from social media analytics?

Typically it’s the last thing considered but it is so important in deciding the demand for future investment and resource. Twitters own in app package is actually very good, Hootsuite can produce tailored reports LinkedIn is useful when looking at the tracking of post activity and e-mail apps such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor also help. There’s the daddy of drilling into data,Google analytics but I’m not going to lie, it can be difficult to identify the specific data set that you need,

My advice, unless you have an analysis ninja to hand is to keep it simple and focus on the key metrics of engagement, brand profile, reviews, comments and ultimately client acquisition. Nothing simpler than asking a new client what brought them to you, where they heard of you and had they been aware of your social media accounts, if so which ones. Old fashioned? Yes Effective? Most definitely.

This concludes the four part Q&A social media management for professionals. If you have any questions not covered by this series of articles feel free to connect and ask me directly or comment below.

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

Smartphones – Are They Creating Stupid People?

I’m not the first to write on this topic nor the last but it’s the subject of today’s blog because I feel quite strongly about this growing phenomenon.

Smartphone chain

 

There are an estimated 1.8 billion of us using smartphones and this year alone will see a further 25% increase in ownership. By 2017 a third of the World’s population will be glued to their touch screen devices.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m someone with a long record of smartphone ownership from early HTC varieties through to iPhone but I’m not such a fan as I was.

Millions of us are struggling with an addiction to the smartphone.  The proliferation of these super slim, super smart devices gives us a look of that 24th Century imagined world of Gene Roddenberry.  How long before we’re moving from “hang outs” to “beam ups”?

 

So what of this reference to making us stupid and why am I not such the fan that I once was?

It’s not that your smartphone contains anything other than a deep pool of wonderful treasures.  We have ready access to apps that can help with every single facet of our lives.  They keep us fit, healthy, on time, up to date with international, national, local and personal news and entertained with games, TV, radio and our favourite songs.

We can’t hold back progress with technology and let’s face it we’re pretty insatiable when it comes to the fast moving consumer gizmology but I do think we’re struggling to keep up.

As humans we are undeniably an adaptive species.  Evolving from hunter gatherers to hot shot gamers with each generation bringing their own unique code of knowledge and rules factoring the software into their lives so that it becomes intertwined with everyday living.

It’s this interdependence of human and technology that is starting to bother me.  It’s also a reason why primary schools are starting to build lessons into the curriculum to help explain how these instruments work.

Our recent trip to the USA was great save the occasions the location visited either A) didn’t supply wifi or B) did supply wifi but at such a poor level that it brought immediate frustrations.  I even went to the trouble of buying a portable wifi hotspot so we could retain connectivity whilst traveling up the coast from LA to San Francisco. It cost a few dollars but nothing compared to the potential costs if we’d relied on the local networks for our downloads.  We ALL had smartphones and we used them, pretty much constantly.

At work they can be a real boon, mobile access to e-mail, online searches on the move and that feeling that “you’re always in touch”.  Trouble is, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.  Here are a few of the issues I have with how we are currently using our smartphones;

  1. Work e-mails synced with the device, as boss or manager you’re now giving the “always on call” message and allowing others to expect instant responses to colleagues, suppliers and clients.  Client enquiries are of course important but so is managing expectations.  Offline time is essential and healthy.
  2. Due to 1. Many of us have become addicted to checking our inbox. Ask yourself this question, when do you first check and make a last look at your e-mails?  Typically the honest answer is before you get out of bed and when you get back into it.
  3. Social media apps – if you have them on your smartphone the chances are it’s the primary method of staying in touch on those channels. For social media issues read the e-mail problem in 2.) It’s addictive and the thought that you might be missing something compels you to check your accounts several times an hour.
  4. Conversations are punctuated by the constant reminder that someone far more important is trying to grab your attention. The ping of text, vibration of a tweet or whoosh of an e-mail. Gosh you’re popular…and very rude too.
  5. Eating out with a loved one, colleague, business associate or client. Being unable to eat a meal without posting each course to Instagram means you’re not alone, you’re sharing the experience with hundreds if not thousands of people, most of whom are looking to trump your effort with one of their own.
  6. Important information can be stored in your smartphone and there are great apps to help you be better organised. The device is not however a real person and the distraction of keeping one eye on the screen when someone’s talking to you means you won’t recall the detail, very likely you’ll not have a clue as to what’s being discussed.
  7. Time management – we all know from the early days of the internet and search engines that once we got the idea in our head we could literally search for anything…that’s exactly what we did…for hours and hours. We can lose ourselves in a time vacuum that sucks the productivity out of our day.  The trouble with smartphones is the size of text on screen and time taken to absorb anything of consequence.  Find another way, or better still ask yourself if this particular browsing session is really that important.
  8. Feeling constantly tired? Here’s the thing.  If you’re on your device at 10pm, 11pm or even midnight and later you’ll be getting messages through your eyes that it’s daylight.  The screens luminescence confuses our brain and when you dive under the duvet it won’t get the message to switch off.  Hence it takes considerably longer to get to sleep and its quality is adversely affected.  So of course you feel tired, you’re not getting enough sleep.  When you’re tired you function poorly and decision making can be harder with mistakes often made.  Worse still if you need to concentrate by driving to and from work or operating complex equipment.

Selfie time.  No please, don’t take another profile pic for Facebook, instead take a look at yourself properly.  When was the last time you truly studied how you’re running your life.  Heads up from the screen and take pen and paper to write a list of positive actions that can help you take back control.

Last year for the whole month of October I ran my #Offtober experiment.  I turned off my smartphone at 8pm each evening and didn’t switch it back on until 8am.

The result of this simple step was improved sleep it also had a positive impact on mood and overall well-being.  Like many of us I’ve since drifted back into bad habits but rather than wait for October to come around I’m going to set myself clear rules so I can get the benefits of the tech without the downside.

No doubt many smug readers, my wife included will nod sagely and say, I told you this ages ago.  Well yes, you probably did but I was face deep in technology at the time.

David Laud

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

Is Marketing Dead?

Headlines of a similar nature have been peppering business news feeds for a couple of years now.  It’s a dramatic supposition. A management function that has breathed its last, passed on, is no more, has ceased to be, expired and gone to meet its maker, stiff and bereft of life, it rests in peace.  Apologies I slipped into a Monty Python moment there.  Just holding with that “Dead Parrot” thought, it does at times feel as though traditional marketing methods and traditional practitioners have been nailed to their perch to give an impression of life where actually none exists.

Marketing Dead

What do I mean when I suggest Marketing may have “shuffled off its mortal coil”? 

Of course as a discipline it’s somewhat absurd to think that it no longer exists or matters but in my view and that of many marketers its traditional construct is no longer relevant in today’s world.

Lecturers and consultants have been surviving on a diet of “P’s” for a very long time to provide a Platform and Purpose to their approach to marketing.  In its day Product, Price, Place and Promotion were a big hit and can still be seen as the core thrust for setting a marketing strategy.  The trouble with a diet of “P’s” is that it can cause wind, and there’s lots of it around.  The classic 4 P’s are just not going to work.

Why?

In today’s socially enabled World building a marketing strategy almost exclusively on a “Push” approach of promoting your product or service, is not going to cut it.

Today when customers wish to engage with a supplier to purchase goods or services they have a variety of sources to choose from before they make a decision:-

Personal social networks, peers and opinion formers or as Malcolm Gladwell refers to them, connectors or mavens in his book Tipping Point.  These are the new, trusted salesforce that businesses need to engage with as their reach and influence can prove invaluable to building brand profile and loyalty. These individuals are actively responding to questions raised within LinkedIn Groups, Facebook forums, Twitter or a picture of the proposed purchase on Snapchat, Pinterest or Instagram seeking feedback from followers.

Search – yes of course internet search remains a key element of the process. Customers will “Google” a term appropriate to their need but typically, for more complex or high value items they will in the first instance consult with their own networks.

Consumers are becoming increasingly tired of TV advertising hence the introduction of “red button” Shazam and interactive ads that seek to offer a greater experience and hopefully generate a community conversation that increases brand profile.

Case Example – Socially Grown Brands

The emergence of Aldi and Lidl as major supermarkets in the UK is largely down to good old “word of mouth”.  Whilst the ads are clever, they are but a supporting act to the real promotional drivers who are converted shoppers demonstrating their prowess in managing the family budget.  The previous snobbery surrounding a visit to a budget supermarket has been superseded by a need to save in recessionary times, an issue that still faces very many households.  Once the stigma is removed newbie shoppers who were prepared to “try it out” became evangelical in their praise for the shop that cut their weekly spend without a loss of quality.

Aldi have neatly tapped into this growing number of customers by introducing social media campaigns encouraging them to share their stories such as #AldiChallenge.  Lidl launched a TV campaign in 2014 that also played on the kudos of knowing something your neighbour doesn’t with #LidlSurprises .

Whatever spend these two supermarkets put into their advertising it is clear that the biggest single factor in their success has been the conversations between friends, families and trusted members of social networks.

The Envero Brand Trust Index 2014 – extract from www.envero.co.uk

 

Envero’s 2014 Brand Trust Index surveyed over 30,000 consumers covering over 2,500 brands in 20+ countries.

 

The Index measures people’s willingness to positively recommend brands (advocate) but also to recommend against them (detract), and the underlying drivers of this recommendation behaviour.

 

Richard Evans, Envero managing partner says:  “Aldi has seen by far the biggest increase in net recommendation, which measures advocates minus detractors, of any brand in the survey since 2010, when it didn’t even make the top 100. Now it’s number 21 and if it continues to increase its advocates at this rate it will soon be in the UK top 10 ahead of any other UK supermarket.”

 

The Future

Whatever we call it and let’s face it marketers love to give things a name, we won’t entirely lose the “Marketing” moniker but we should certainly look at what is being done in its name.

Traditional thinking is dead and any marketer who is not fully conversant with social technologies and considering community engagement strategies might want to think about an alternative career.  The World has changed and it’s not going back, we are living in an exciting and scary time of global connectivity.  You can equally grow or destroy a brand in hours with the right or wrong communication.  This is why it’s important to understand the new media channels and essentially those who use them.

New marketing is a conversation, connection and an interest in communities linked virtually via distinct networks.  CEO’s and business owners should be challenging their marketing departments to show how they are proposing to take the company forward in light of these seismic changes.

As far as I know there isn’t a definitive guide to navigate these new waters – most likely this is due to the pace of change, which has been such it would be out of date by the time it was published.  At such times, like the Wild West, snake oil salesman proliferate with their cure all solutions.  Be it SEO, Social or straightforward customer acquisition there are no simple answers.   When looking to grow your business you should back your instincts and look to trusted resources to achieve the objectives.  Look for recommendations, testimonials, talk to others who have similar issues and don’t make hasty decisions.

Traditional thinking is now akin to driving whilst only ever looking in the rear view mirror.  This “brave new World” is throwing up quite a few twists and turns requiring innovative, entrepreneurial thinking and eyes that are firmly on the road ahead.

Suggested To Do List :-

  1. Challenge the status quo – review current activities, plans their impact/return
  2. Review resources/in-house and outsourced
  3. Conduct thorough evaluation of proposed resources/seek out trusted recommendations
  4. Create a plan to deliver social engagement in target areas
  5. Factor in a mechanism to continually update the plan based upon emerging technologies/ trends
  6. Set realistic parameters for success ie increase profit, Klout score, brand awareness, network size and relevance
  7. Share the plan internally
  8. Measure results regularly and hold resources to account

 

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

Putting Theory Into Practice – Can Social Media Generate Business?

Consultants, coaches, business advisers and circuit speakers can frequently fall into a trap when handing out advice as they touch on subjects that they’ve lost touch with.  In the current cauldron of technological innovation and digital dependence that’s not all too surprising because they rarely have time to stop and revisit their thinking or more importantly put their theory into practice.

Ballet Icon on Computer KeyboardJust because advice sounds plausible, logical and possible doesn’t make it a cast iron sure bet to work.   My view is that we must accept we can’t possibly stay at the sharp end, understanding latest trends, tips, wrinkles and methodologies, without being self-aware and putting those golden nuggets of advice to the test to establish their true value.  Instead of sticking with ideas that are possibly past their “sell by date” or untested put yourself in the position of a client.  Rather than act as an adviser seek to prove those ideas, strategies and actions by applying them to a real situation.

 

How to generate new business is one of the most regular questions posed by clients and for obvious reasons.  Winning new customers is essential to growth and sustainability and over time owners, directors and managers can become complacent, lose focus and need a guiding hand to put the company back onto a positive footing.

 

Luckily for me I’ve recently had an ideal opportunity, which was literally very close to home, to test the theory of business generation in a very contemporary field of marketing, social media.

 

My wife decided last year that it was time, following years of looking after the family, to take up the challenge of running her own ballet school.   Being the true professional that she is, my wife ensured that she was fully up to date with syllabi and best practice according to the Royal Academy of Dance.  Whilst I had every confidence in my wife’s capability as a teacher I could see as a potential hurdle with her previous steadfast view that she did not “do social media”.  No personal Facebook page, no twitter and certainly nothing as exotic as Instagram or Pinterest.

 

Here was an excellent opportunity for me to not only help my wife achieve her ambition of running a successful school but to also put those many theories to win business through digital channels to the test.

 

It’s often said that it can be a dangerous, potentially painful process working with your other half but in our experience it proved pretty much straightforward.  I know nothing at all about dance let alone ballet and she knew very little of social media and marketing matters.

 

My first concern was to have a website and to ensure that it was given the right treatment to appear in search terms, to also provide the essential link to sites such as Netmums and Yell.com but also as its essential when creating social media accounts.  The website also needed to be fully responsive, smartphone and tablet friendly.

 

The key target audience for the ballet school is mothers of children aged from two and a half to teenage so my first piece of advice was to establish a solid Facebook page.  Starting from scratch it was also going to be important to get matters moving quickly and create a steady flow of enquiries.  As with many businesses the primary customer activity when looking for this service/ activity was to go online.  A google search for “ballet school” on google would automatically bring up schools that were registered and verified with the search site.  To do this the school needed to have a Google account and for the best chance of high profile recognition an active Google+ account.

 

It was essential that the school became verified and that the map engine within Google had Mrs L’s business linked to the address.  That way the school would show up listed with other verified schools and the closer to the target location the higher the ranking.  Simple but so many businesses miss his very important step.

 

After Google+ and Facebook we created twitter, Instagram and Pinterest sites to add breadth and visual impact to the school’s brand.

 

I suggested that my wife needed to create a regular dialogue with our local community and that was through a localised, gender and age specific “like” campaign for Facebook and a daily news feed of curated stories relating to the art form on twitter simply called “Ballet News”.  The latter news update has been a huge success.  Why such a success?  Mrs L’s attention to detail and regular posts have created an expectation of consistency, entertainment and information which her community greatly appreciate.   In response to my prompt on the importance of engagement on Facebook Mrs L launched a regular ballet related picture post and specifically once a week “Tutu Tuesday” featuring a new outfit each week.  I take only a very small piece of credit, the genius of the creative idea and execution was entirely down to the proprietor…not me.  That signified a watershed moment, the owner of the business owned their media and understood it enough to capitalise on its power.

 

And what of the results of this test of social media guidance and marital relationship?

 

Well no divorce…quite the contrary.  A thriving business that since launch in April has grown to over 40 regular students and 3 to 4 new enquiries each week 90% either via the website, fed by twitter and Instagram accounts or directly from the Facebook page.

 

Of course it helps that my wife is a talented teacher and has great rapport with students and parents alike but for me it proved the power of social media.  Mrs L has commented that she doesn’t know how she could possibly have managed without Facebook or her website.  Interestingly we experimented with more traditional marketing – the results were mixed.  The local paper proved the most expensive investment and produced nothing whilst a magazine targeting primary schools more than covers its costs.  By far and away the most successful medium for promoting the school is Facebook and the website, searched for on Google.

 

All of the above and the ongoing success of the school proves that there are advantages in having a strong, well-articulated digital presence aligned to a good product.

 

Key Social Media Steps for a Start Up

  • Research your market and grasp the key actions taken when purchasing/ researching your product/ service.
  • In line with the above data create a website and keep the content fresh and optimised for search engines.
  • Create social media accounts that are relevant to your target market
  • Build a network for each account reflecting that audience, eg other associated interests
  • Build content that is fresh, interesting and relevant to your network
  • Don’t bombard your audience with sales messages and endless promotions, share useful posts and engage
  • Respond – download the social media apps and e-mail accounts to your smartphone and be prepared to react as and when enquiries arrive
  • Don’t panic – it won’t happen overnight, it’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint
  • If you’re stuck seek advice but be sure to not to simply outsource your activity – that will not work for you in the long term
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself but watch out for cross platform links and potential duplication, best to keep things simple to start with.
  • Try new platforms but test the results, if it’s not working ask why – keep up with developments
  • If operating multiple social media accounts consider using tools such as Hootsuite to manage your time and posts and measure results.

 

I’m not ready to don the tights and show you my arabesque but I’m very happy to help you grow your organisation be it in education, retail, manufacturing or the service sector if fact any business that thrives on generating new customers.

Drop me a line via the contact form below.

David Laud @davidlaud

 

Byadmin

Marketing in a Mad World

Preparing for a presentation I found myself reflecting on the seismic global events of the recent weeks.

Once untouchable monoliths of the corporate World, the oil corporations were running scared, BP setting aside £1bn just to cover their restructuring costs.  Others pulling back from investing in new fields as the costs would not be covered by the sub $50 a barrel price point.

Then there’s the supermarkets, another fall from a significant height for Tescos as the new CEO serves up the trimmings, 43 store closures, 2000 job losses and that’s just for starters.  Morrisons are also re-thinking their store strategy and withdrawing from projects that now look to be wholly unprofitable.

crisis-cufflinks-300x181

It’s funny, an election in full swing and of course the incumbent leadership is talking up an economic recovery the opposition shouting this down as hugely overplaying the dire position we’re all in.  The reality is, as always, somewhere between the two but one thing is for sure….unlike the Aldi bear, we’re not quite out of the woods.

Just hopping back into the international events of 2015.  Just when you thought bankers were back in their box, up pops the Swiss with an unexpected decision to drop the Euro cap.  No it doesn’t mean that their international footballers have failed to qualify for the European Championship finals.   Just a small matter of the bankers deciding that the Euro currency was no longer a safe bet and they’d be better off taking their chances letting their friend Franc free to find his own rate.  And find his rate he did…settling about 15% higher than the Euro which had immediate and for many devastating consequences.   Don’t be rushing to buy your great Aunt that original Swiss made cuckoo clock, it will now cost you 15% more, as will army knives and of course heartbreakingly… Swiss chocolate.

The financial markets took the Swiss roll (sorry!) and then went into round two, following the Greek election results and the success of the anti-austerity party Syriza.  A good deal of uncertainty surrounds the Euro and the future of the Eurozone especially as the answer to recent difficulties appeared to be Mario Draghi’s 60bn a month bond buying programme, a variety of quantitative easing.

Before you start throwing your Euro coins in my direction in despair there was of course good news from certain fruity businesses.  Well…one in particular.

Apple’s record $18bn profit for a quarter was nothing short of staggering and a clear indication of the World’s obsession with smartphone technology.  It also demonstrated the power of the brand and lack of concern over the pricing of the new IPhone 6.  This result was swiftly followed by news of the corporations’ reserves – some $143bn,  a figure so staggeringly huge it could fund the R&D and delivery of a manned trip to Mars or buy Lithuania 3 times over.  Unbelievable!

All of this massive news and yet it’s happened within just a few weeks of 2015 emerging into the light.  If anyone thought the pace of change was slowing or we were returning to a more stable economic climate these first few weeks of the year have proved if anything things are heating up.

But what’s that got to do with marketing?

Pretty much everything in my view.

When there is so much negativity, uncertainty, financial pressure and posting of big success we can become disorientated within our own business.  What does the future hold?  Should we invest or just stick as we are?  Can we afford to hire new staff, move premises or give bonuses?

In addition to the worries there’s the added concern of planning to grow the business through proactive marketing.  In my experience the greatest success of a business often coincides with a flush of confidence, borne from belief in the team, products and/or service offering.  With so much going on we can hardly find time to catch breath let alone plan the next 12 months.  But that is exactly what you should be doing.

Look at where you want to be, hold on to the vision and harness the resources of your business to a set of clear objectives that take you towards your long term goals.  Don’t be swayed by politics, rhetoric, negativity of other business leaders and those who would rather head for the bunker.

Now is a time for cool heads and clear thinking and as a leader in your business you need to show how it’s done.  If all else fails quote a little Kipling to ease the furrowed brows and inspire others to rise above the negativity.

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” If by Rudyard Kipling

If you are looking for help in planning the growth of your business please drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

David  – follow me on twitter @davidlaud

Byadmin

9 Tips to Help Manage Your Biggest Assets

It’s surprising how many times we can make assumptions of others in the workplace and often underestimate the workload and stresses those in senior roles deal with. As a junior and middle manager I too fell into the trap of thinking the “boss” was not always engaged with the important stuff and didn’t understand what it was like at the coalface. Of course the chances were that not only was the boss aware of the issues they too were under enormous pressure and keeping many plates spinning on may poles, your universe of interest being just one.

 

It's getting harder to keep things from falling down - Multi Channel Marketing Challenge

“The life of a typical business owner is becoming ever more stressful –  keeping many plates spinning on many poles”

The need is as great now as it’s ever been for business owners, directors and senior managers to understand how they can best inspire, motivate and manage the human resources around them.
The “boss” today has to look at markets that are increasingly competitive. There are very real pressures on expenditure and real need to maximise returns whilst customers are expecting “more for less” and the opportunities for growth harder to define and find.

Having recently worked with a number of clients with similar issues I thought it timely to look at some ideas to help better manage the essential asset of most businesses, their people.

 

Time Management
How many times do you find your blood pressure rising when a member of staff saunters in at 9.15 a.m.? The fact is, strict times for starting and finishing a job may apply to specific jobs that require production schedules or the presence of those offering direct customer engagement. For many others, especially those in technical or creative roles, a 9 to 5 doesn’t really apply. What we should look at is not the hours spent sat at a desk but what was produced in the time they were at work. You could have the most punctual person in the world working for you but that doesn’t automatically make them better than someone who might arrive a little later. To overcome stresses and possible squabbles amongst staff offer a flexible working schedule and consider working from home as a genuine option. Remember to measure and manage what’s produced in that flexi time.

 
Match roles and tasks to those best suited
Square pegs and round holes, yes it’s a very real problem for many businesses. Here’s a “for instance” – Derek’s worked in sales administration for years but is actually far better suited to working in IT and training others on how to get the most out of the software used in the company. How do you work this out? Talk to staff, make an appraisal a proper appraisal and assess real strengths and weaknesses and personal aspirations and likes. Quite often a secret interest or passion can become incredibly useful to a business. It helps to know what those special interests and skills are and to keep an ongoing dialogue with staff as things rarely remain static.

 

Bright stars should work on the biggest opportunities
The high flyers in a business need sufficient air space to demonstrate their skills and offer the greatest return for your organisation. Too often talent is held back or restricted through traditional hierarchical structures and/or short sighted managers. The outcome? The talent leaves for a job where they can truly realise their ambitions. If you want to keep the best and get the most from them allow a little latitude, remove the shackles and allow them to take responsibility for their own projects. Building experience in such a way is invaluable and often rewarded by increased loyalty and performance.
Set stretching but achievable goals

No one should suggest that we avoid measuring performance, quite the contrary but at the same time we shouldn’t become overzealous with our expectation and demands. Realistic, stretching but manageable objectives shared and understood by the team will provide the motivation to reach for the target. Too tough and it quickly becomes a disincentive to try and too soft and staff may believe they’re on easy street and get distracted with other non-essential matters.

 

Put your trust in the team and let them know you trust them
Without a fundamental level of trust between business owners and staff, conflict, stress and aggravation often follows. People like to know that they are valued. Demonstrating trust through allowing self-control of their tasks, time management, resources required and engagement with goal setting can prove immensely motivational.

 

When things go wrong don’t seek out someone to hang it on

Things will and often do go wrong. The way in which you handle the failures marks out the culture of the business. By way of comparison our own true character is often shown in adversity. It’s all too easy to find and single out the cause if it’s an individual, they may well admit to their part in the process. Remember Alan Sugar is playing a role in a TV show on the Apprentice and it bears very little relevance to the day to day running of a company. Be positive in the analysis and just ensure that the team understands where things went wrong to avoid the same mistakes happening again. In the same regard don’t desperately hang on to a failing project, be brave, assess the prospects and if the expected outcome looks unlikely to materialise, provide a positive review and close it down. It’s pretty de-motivating working on a project that just isn’t delivering, better to re-focus efforts on more positive opportunities.

 
You’re the boss but you don’t have to have all the answers
All too often I meet with business owners who shoulder an enormous level of responsibility and in their minds the expectations of the workforce. Often they themselves apply the added pressure assuming staff are looking to the owners for the answers to every strategic and operational issue. This again reflects the culture of an organisation and if a “control freak” management style permeates the business, employees will sit back and expect that controller to manage them and make any major or even minor decision. That weight of expectation can be lifted by getting staff to think for themselves, make their own decisions and participate in planning.
• Give staff credit for successes
Don’t forget we all like to receive positive feedback and know we’re good at our jobs. Recognition and rewards are a very important factor in building and maintaining positive team spirit and momentum.

 
Managing Change
In my experience the vast majority of employees can cope with and manage changes in their working patterns very well. A lack of communication however can seriously jeopardise the chances of capitalising on a change in business direction or move to new markets/ products. The more you involve staff at the earliest juncture and keep them updated the better the chances of success. Change can be worrying for some, so avoid big surprises by communicating as outlined above and cut off any negative rumours or grapevine that left unchecked may undermine your best efforts.

It’s true to say that managing people is one of the toughest aspects of running a business. Get it right and it not only has the prospect of providing a turbo boost to hit targets but also make the owners lives far less lonely and stressful.

David Laud – follow me on twitter @davidlaud

Byadmin

We all want to be Norm – 10 Tips to Build Stronger Customer Relationships

Back in the early 1980’s a US sit com hit our screens and almost immediately became a hit. Centred on a small bar in Boston the show introduced us to a series of characters who were the regulars and staff of “Cheers”. The theme song was catchy and used the phrase “Where everyone knows your name”. One character personified this tagline more than any other. A large chap with ill-fitting suits, tie almost always askew and mop of curly hair, his name was Norm Peterson an *accountant played by the wonderful actor George Wendt. *In later episodes Norm becomes a house painter.

Each time Wendt’s burly frame stepped down the stairs and came into view he was met with a chorus of welcoming voices “Norm!”

That friendly welcome became one of the most popular aspects of this hugely successful show which ran continuously from 1982 to 1993 and produced a number of spin offs including Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier”.

But rather than offer up a history of popular US sit coms I’m highlighting this specific element as an example of how we should be looking after customers.

We all want to be Norm (pic by Jordan Wilson)

We all want to be Norm (pic by Jordan Wilson)

Business owners and managers in the hospitality sector appreciate all too well the importance of knowing the customer and making a personal connection. Restaurants, bars, hotels, clubs they all rely very heavily on the power of personal recommendation and with the advent and growth of TripAdvisor they know they cannot afford to let standards slip.

Just for a moment put yourself in the role of a customer looking to use your business to buy or enquire about a product or service. If you’re a first time customer it’s highly unlikely that the communication is going to be as warm and familiar as that enjoyed by Norm but the objective should be to get to that level. Who wouldn’t want to feel that they’re recognised, remembered and ultimately valued by the establishments they frequent?

At a time when business is becoming ever more competitive and the winning of new customers more complex and costly, it’s logical to invest time to understand their experience, their needs and without being too intrusive more about them as individuals.

Starbucks are a great example of a business that invests in exactly that element of their marketing. You can buy a decent coffee in any one of a number of nationally branded and local establishments in most towns and cities. Why would you choose one shop over another? Some may genuinely prefer the taste of Costa coffee but the vast majority of us weigh up the overall experience.

The simple task of taking your name for the cup makes you feel as though the staff are taking a personal interest in you, yes it has a functional purpose but I suspect it was introduced for more reasons than you may think. Trying to remember hundreds of regular daily customers by face for the average person is quite a task but if you take their names you are adding a neat memory aiding process to the task and chances are they’ll not need to ask after one or two visits. Then how good do you feel when your name is remembered? Would you want to return to such a store? Of course you would.

Keeping with Starbucks their attention to customer’s behaviours extends to the queues waiting to place their orders. Ever noticed what most of us do when we’re waiting to be served? We reach for our smartphones, check our social media accounts, e-mail and then when we’re ready to place that order we scrabble for a wallet or purse. Noting this behaviour Starbucks developed a function of their smartphone App which enables customers to not only earn rewards and get free food and drinks but essentially pay using those phones they already have in their hand. Just look around at your average Starbucks and count the Apple Macs and smartphone usage, they understand their market and how best to engage with them. What I like about the Starbucks example is that they took the time to consider the customer experience and find a way to improve it. I also like the fact that it’s a great combination of offline and online but at the heart is the desire to make that trip to buy your coffee and snack that much easier. Of course it doesn’t hurt Starbucks to have an app that requires your personal details to register and use it but by now you’ve built a level of trust having been a “regular” and happy to share a little personal data.

For those of you now complaining that you don’t have “Star-bucks” to throw at such projects (see what I did there) don’t worry it doesn’t need to be expensive.

The best marketing and customer service solutions are often simple, common sense and can be implemented without breaking the bank. The essential part of this process is to initiate direct action and start taking a greater interest in that over used phrase the “customer experience”.

Here are 10 suggested steps to get things underway

1. Take time to stand back and become a customer of your own company, be honest and objective.
2. Look at what you’re delivering, break down the elements into stages.
3. How are customers responding?
4. Become more familiar with competitor approaches but avoid following their lead.
5. Build on the positives of the current offering.
6. Address the negatives.
7. Adapt to take advantage of the intelligence gained from the exercise.
8. Train staff to become more aware and develop empathy with the customer.
9. Introduce communication channels to keep feedback flowing.
10. Review and refresh regularly.

If this is an area that interests you or you would like more information please feel free to drop me a line.
David Laud

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Why You Should Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Last week proved to be an example of what life can deliver if you just say “yes” rather than look at the diary and excuse yourself. Like many I have a busy schedule but as you know “busy” doesn’t always translate to productive or necessarily interesting. So why do we stick with the mundane routine? It’s safe, familiar and something we’re comfortable with but are we denying ourselves experiences that may not only help us but also the business to grow?

Bob Laud - Fashion Show

Bob Laud – Fashion Show

This image is my son who bravely donned a pair of high heels in a school fashion show, literally stepping out of his comfort zone. Thanks Bob for letting me use this perfect example.

What happens when the boss asks you to prepare a presentation for a forthcoming meeting or you’re sent on a residential training course by HR? Or if you are the boss and you get an opportunity to attend an engagement that requires a little extra preparation, above and beyond your usual workload?

You might be aware of the often quoted, bizarre but apparently true statistic. We actually fear public speaking over our own deaths? Yes, I know hard to believe but for many the thought of giving a presentation can genuinely put them under so much stress that no other single meaningful act can be achieved until the event passes. It demonstrates how much we can worry about such things and for that read most “new” experiences either within your job or socially.

The question we should be asking ourselves is this. What is the worst that can happen if I do this? What are the likely benefits and potential pitfalls? Noting those worrisome factors work on eliminating them through gaining a better understanding of what you’re going to be doing, those who will be there and if presenting rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. A polished performance comes from practice and the confidence in your own ability as a result of putting in sufficient preparation time. Even if it’s simply being somewhere to attend a meeting, dinner or networking event try and gather as much intelligence as you can beforehand.

Of course sometimes an opportunity presents itself that doesn’t afford the luxury of hours of preparation. In those circumstances it’s important that your decision factors in the likely outcomes and a polite “no” may well prove to be the right response, after all you may be asked as an after-thought, late replacement (something that has happened to me). However, being a 2nd or 3rd choice shouldn’t be a dent to the ego but a potential challenge to prove that you should’ve been their natural first on the list. [NB] It’s still important to retain a clear objective and thoughts on its likely achievement given the short notice period.

Just by taking simple steps and allowing yourself to be in unfamiliar territory you become an explorer and collector of experiences that broaden your horizons.

Last week I presented at a national forum for law firm leaders. Despite having presented more times than I can care to remember I still experience the adrenalin and anxiety of making that public appearance. That critical moment all eyes fall on you and they expect to be entertained and learn something at the same time can be quite nerve wracking even for the most experienced presenters. That very same week I also made a successful application to be in the audience of BBC Question Time, again taking myself out of the usual comfort of watching the show on the sofa and instead taking part in the programme.

What did I do to make the experience more rewarding?

At the leadership forum I primarily went to learn and connect with others who are leaders in a sector I have a great interest in. I made copious notes and really gained a better insight into factors that impact my business. For my presentation I requested, in advance, a list of the attendees from the organisers and spent an hour googling various names to see who would be in the room with me. This creates familiarity. One of the great benefits of our “connected” World is that it can be relatively easy to find useful facts and information on senior business figures, some perhaps share a little too much but that’s for another blog.

With BBC Question Time I made an even greater effort to track the week’s political news and also researched the panel – sending a tweet of introduction a couple of days before the show. I was prepared with my question, rehearsed it several times but as luck would have it we ran out of time for me to pose my query.

These are 2 examples of events both of which required a decision, personal commitment a step outside of a comfort zone and break from the routine. They also required an investment in time to gain a tangible benefit. OK the BBC show was more pleasure for me than a business opportunity but having met so many very interesting people at the venue I wouldn’t hesitate in going again if the opportunity arose.

I appreciate many readers will have examples of their own no doubt far more entertaining and interesting but the point I’m hoping to make is that the simple step to participate is one we should take more often. Escape the routine and find a challenge that will stretch or stimulate.

Our lives can become too full of tasks, others problems and “stuff” that makes us weary and unable to commit to extra curricula activities. In my experience the simple act of participating in “out of the norm” activities provides the spark and stimulation to re-invigorate our lives back at the coalface.

Meeting new people in new surroundings and entering into these situations with an open and challenging mind is a way to bring real value back to what you do during a “normal” day. Perhaps we just shouldn’t have standard days, ideally we should engineer something unique. If not each day certainly once a week challenge yourself to be somewhere new and make connections.

So the next time you receive an invitation or have a fleeting thought of attending a show or event that interests you don’t let it escape, step outside the comfort zone and say yes, you never know where it might lead.

David Laud

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Growth Accelerator – A Practical Approach to Improved Performance

We all need a virtual or actual boost in our businesses now and again.  It’s too easy to become complacent, comfortable or afraid of making any changes that might make things “different”.

Growth Accelerator

What many successful businesses do is harness a culture of continual evolution never settling for the status quo.  This can be massively helped by recruiting staff who don’t fear change and have their own streak of entrepreneurism.  If this is harnessed to a leadership team with clear goals and a strategy to enable attainment of the objectives the future will look bright.

Unfortunately certain sectors contain more than their fair share of risk averse personalities and they can in turn keep a business locked into a mode that ensures it fails to capitalise on new trends and seek out opportunities.

Smaller organisations can rely on the owners far too much and expect them to feed the company through their efforts to win new customers.  For a large number of proprietors the challenge of running a business alone is enough to fully occupy them and the additional responsibility of bringing in revenue gets consigned to a “to do” list that rarely gets actioned.

So what can be done for these many ambitious but largely stagnant businesses?  How can they rekindle the pioneering, energetic and challenging spirit that formed them?

There are any number of resources available to the average business – but this in itself can prove to be an inhibitor as too many options can prove confusing and ultimately fail to deliver the desired result.

The same may be said of certain third party agencies who approach business owners direct and feed their anxieties.  They make promises to provide the solutions sought but end up costing the company an expensive fee and wasted time in pursuing false hopes.

On a more positive note I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with the Growth Accelerator programme.  The phrase “Growth Accelerator” for some seems to conjure up rather dubious pills that might be promoted via spam e-mail but I can assure you it is no quack solution. This is a well organised and effective initiative for commercial enterprises covering three core areas:

  • Business Development
  • Innovation
  • Leadership and Management Development

Growth Accelerator provides access to finance to assist the companies in achieving their agreed goals.

What is reassuring about this programme is the assessment and selection of coaches and clear focus on quality service and the ultimate delivery for the businesses taking part.

Growth Accelerator is available to businesses registered in the UK who have fewer than 250 staff and a turnover less than £40m.  Essentially they must be looking to grow their business by 20% – turnover or profit.

The Growth Accelerator process uses template guides that are introduced by experienced coaches offering a highly visible and effective tool to help the business see their future growth over a 3 year period.

It’s certainly not the only option but it is currently one of the most popular initiatives sought out by businesses wishing to grow but to do so in a manner that is both practical and sustainable.

If this is something you would like to explore further please feel free to drop me a line and we will put you in touch with your regional Growth Manager.

David Laud

 

Byadmin

Excellent Customer Service – Have You Got it Covered?

Having just returned from a trip to California I’m inspired to write about customer service.  Not that we encountered the very best at every turn, yes it was mostly very good but my TripAdvisor reviews did include the odd horror.

cafe los feliz

Cafe Los Feliz – Good Food Great Service

Yes, even the great land of “awesomeness” and “super excitement” didn’t get it right all the time.  Anyone who’s visited the USA will know that the policy of tipping can be delivered in a variety of ways depending on who, where and sometimes when you’re visiting.  What you quickly realise is that “service” is very often included and if not added automatically you’re strongly encouraged by guideline % figures.

But if you don’t feel the service matches the promise it can get very interesting, almost as if the business refuses to accept they could get anything wrong.

On the downside we found attitudes were at times curt and clippy in certain establishments. The approach to customers tired and cynical.  Service in a couple of restaurants started well but quickly fell away as other patrons arrived and their well of goodwill and friendliness quickly dried up as visible stress levels increased.  One hotel in particular responded so poorly to my observations of their hotel on Trip Advisor that it will only serve to generate poor review number two.  If a customer is not happy don’t poke them with a sharp stick.  I was rather astonished at the arrogant dismissive response.  If you’re running a business you need to take all feedback on board and respond in a balanced sensible way, even if you do think their experience somewhat far away from reality.  The fact is it was their reality and their shoes you need to stand in.

On the upside we encountered many excellent examples of good service.  The Café Los Feliz lived up to their Instagram presentation with the delivery of an outstanding breakfast.  The Arch Rock restaurant in Santa Barbara who’s superb food was only matched by the excellent chat we had with the waiter and the Italian Seafood restaurant in San Francisco – Cioppinos so good we went back for more on another day.  Their promise of finding a table for us in 20 minutes evaporated to 5 when the maitre d came to us whilst we were ordering drinks at their bar to say she’d loved the way we’d been so happy and polite and offered to jump us forward to the next available table.

So the US are not, in my view, the custodians of all that is “excellent” in customer service.  Of course they’re still very good in so many areas but to my surprise there are a number who are clearly not as good as they should be.  Not a perfect piece of research, we were on holiday after all and not handing out questionnaires or interrogating staff and fellow customers.  Our perception however is real and nevertheless valid.  Perhaps the recession has had its impact and service levels have as a result been adversely affected as profits became harder to find.

We did all love our Californian excursion a truly memorable experience but it’s clear you don’t have to travel so far to see excellence in customer service.  This weekend we took our dog to the nearby beach at Saltburn.  We stopped off for a cuppa and a bite to eat at a small café near the beach and noticed the many purple blankets at each table.  The owners had considered the experience of their clientele, the UK climate and possibility of children and adults who’d taken a recent dip shivering as others decide to have a pit stop before heading home.

The blankets were a small but very important touch, showing that the Café understood its customers and cared enough to keep them comfortable whilst sipping tea and eating scones or ice cream. When it comes to customer service Camfields Espresso Bar in Saltburn have got it well and truly covered.

Camfields in Saltburn - They've Got it Covered

Camfields in Saltburn – They’ve Got it Covered

It’s the little touches that can make such a big difference and that’s true of any business.  The result you want is a happy customer and for them to spread the word like warm butter on those Yorkshire scones.