A gift that costs you nothing but makes a huge difference

Today’s post is written with great sadness.  Today I heard the news that T. Sandeman Charles passed away as a result of having two incurable lung diseases.  T was an inspiration to everyone who knew her.  She shared her story at our Thrive conference in 2012 and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

T was not someone to take her disease lying down.  When she found out that she had a terminal illness, instead of accepting it and feeling sorry for herself, she decided to take action and used all her energy and resources to create Save 5.  Save 5’s whole purpose was to encourage people to become organ donors.  It’s about raising awareness of the importance of registering as an organ donor as T discovered that one organ donor can save 5 lives. T set a target that she wanted to help to add 10,000 donors to the organ donor list and she was absolutely tireless in working towards that goal.  In 2012 at the conference, we helped her to break the 5000 donor goal, and I’m pleased to say that she did achieve her target of 10,000 donors before she passed away.

Now, her husband Roy is continuing her cause and it would be great if you could support him and her in any way that you can. Share her story, share this post, sign up to be an organ donor yourself.  It’s such an important cause and message and needs all the support it can get.

I’m including the video in this post from the conference, so that you can hear her story in her own words.

You can find out more about Save 5 here and here is how you can register for organ donation in the UK.

1. Visit and register at www.organdonation.nhs.uk

2. Send a short email to save5@btinternet.com so that Save 5 can update their numbers and know that T’s cause continues.

You can watch an interview with T’s husband Roy on ITV yesterday 

Why I closed the WU Business Clubs

For the last few years I have believed whole heartedly in the premise that if you risk nothing you gain nothing. Putting stuff out there and asking other people to buy it can be hard. Very hard.  It’s exposing. It’s challenging. It’s scary as hell sometimes. But without taking that chance, without taking that step… you will never know whether something is going to work or even be worthwhile.  I’m sharing this part of our journey with you because I think it’s important to share the lessons as well as the successes.

I’m not afraid of failure. I realised early on in business, that not everything is going to be an awesome success and while I wasn’t thrilled about it, I knew it was part of the journey. But that doesn’t mean that dealing with failure is easy. And honestly, I don’t feel that the business clubs were a failure, because I know that there were loads of women who made amazing shifts in their businesses by coming along to the meetings. Connections were made that will last a lifetime. And great things have come about from applying the strategies and techniques that we shared in the members area and at the meetings.

St. Albans club
St. Albans Club

I think we did a lot of things right but I definitely made some mistakes along the way. I am incredibly grateful for all the wonderful support that I had along the way and the fantastic women who helped to create the clubs in their local area. I personally have built connections and relationships that I will cherish for a long time.

I want to share the story and the journey of the business clubs with you, as I know there will be some of you that are very curious about what happened, but also I think there are lots of lessons that might be of use to you; particularly for anyone that is struggling with the idea of closing something down or removing a product, you know that you are not alone.

So, here is my story and I hope you find the lessons useful –

The Women’s Business Clubs, a national networking group with over 70 clubs around the UK went into receivership in April 2013 and I was offered the opportunity to bid for the members list and email list for the network. And I had 18 hours to make the decision as the offers were going to closed bids at 12:00 noon the following day.

I had been running our business club meetings very successfully at the British Library for the previous 2 years and we regularly had 36-40 women attending every month.  But it was a big leap of faith to go from running one meeting by myself to taking on a group that had the potential to be a ready made network.

When I was first considering the idea, the thought of taking it on made me feel sick. I was practically hyperventilating every time I thought about it. But the thought of not doing it felt crazy. How could I possibly pass up such an incredible opportunity? Talk about taking me out of my comfort zone! Over the next 12 hours I fought with myself back and forth and eventually decided to put in the bid. The opportunity was too good to miss.

So I swallowed my fear and put in my bid. I knew there were others in the mix and it was a best and final offers scenario. So I just had to wait another 24 hours to hear the answer.

It was a no.

Another organisation had put in a higher bid and bought the members list and the email list. What surprised me was that rather than feeling relief; I felt deflated. I had made the mental leap to think much bigger, pushed through my fear, decided I wanted it and now I couldn’t put it back in the box. I couldn’t let go of this desire to build and create a national network of meetings for business women.

I felt the fear and swallowed it

So where to next? I quickly made the decision that we should create the Women Unlimited Business Clubs and launch around the country.

But there were challenges.

The meetings that I had been running at the library were very ‘how to’ focused. I did an hours training on a business topic like content marketing, twitter, how to use linked in and that was then followed by a mini-mastermind session, where we split the participants into groups of 4 and each person at the table would share a challenge and get feedback on their business or an idea.

It was an incredibly empowering format and the buzz in the room was fantastic.

I realise now, that part of the power of the model was that people showed up because they wanted to be there and to learn about the topic and they left feeling energised and wanting to come back because of the brainstorming. We had no problem filling the room, because the women who came along knew they would get great value in the training, but they also felt part of a community and connected with the other women in the room. Our repeat visitor levels were extremely high.

Translating the model from one to many

But the big question was, how do I translate that into a model that can be rolled out across the country where other people would be leading and facilitating the group… particularly when some of the training required specialist knowledge.

An organised meeting desk
An organised meeting desk from Claire Portis in Hampstead

So I decided to create an online training at the beginning of every month, which would provide the focus for each month’s session and create a worksheet and facilitation guide for our club leaders to use with their clubs. And rather than creating ‘how to trainings’ we would do marketing and strategy sessions.

I had a meeting with some fantastic friends and supporters and shared my vision and my plan. We ran a Discovery Day to recruit our club leaders, shared the vision with them and managed to attract over 20 fabulous women – we ended up launching 9 new clubs in September.

It was an incredible accomplishment.

Right from the beginning we had mixed results. Our pricing strategy was to be slightly premium to recognise the value of the training that was being offered but we would have a low entry point to membership as we wanted to encourage people to commit to the programme, as this is the way they are most likely to see results.

In some areas we were able to launch with pretty full clubs of 16-18 people, but in others we only saw 2 -4 people join as members.

While we are pretty well known in the London area, we weren’t so well known further afield. So we were reliant on our new club leaders to promote the clubs in their areas. Our club leaders were fantastic and they all put in an incredible amount of effort to attract people but it was difficult for them if they didn’t have a large network in place already.

What we found was that in the beginning, all the members were very excited about the clubs and really enjoyed the learning and the brainstorming. Even the small ones. The members were getting great value and the club leaders were really happy with their groups. But over time, things started to change for some of the members.

So much learning

Here are some of the biggest learnings that I’ve taken away from the process and and I hope you find them insightful:

1. Our funnel wasn’t regular enough and consistent enough, so we weren’t getting regular growth. We didn’t have a clear plan, or the financial or people resources to build a network in each of our target areas. And we were spread too thinly to give each region the focus that it needed. Our sales team were our Club Leaders, but they all had their own businesses and it was difficult for them to market both at the same time.

2. Our target market wasn’t clear.  Our members were at very different stages of business. We had some extremely experienced business owners and some who were in the very early stages of business. Some of our members hadn’t made their first sale, where others were turning over £400,000. Obviously their needs were very different and it was difficult to cater to all of them. Also, in the brainstorming groups, some members were doing most of the giving but didn’t have the expertise in the room to get what they needed for their business.

3. The product we created wasn’t quite fit for purpose. Many of members didn’t watch the training beforehand, so didn’t come fully prepared to the meetings. This then built resentment in some of the other members. Also, it meant that some people weren’t seeing results. We realised very late into the process that actually lots of people don’t like to do training like this on a monthly basis. It felt like a drag. And, if they didn’t do the training, they also often felt a sense of guilt which meant that they didn’t want to come to the meeting. So, the meetings went from being a really positive experience (and for many did stay that way) to becoming something that was a chore and didn’t lift the members in the way that we had envisaged. We started to see big drop outs at our meetings. We would have a core group of people that attended every month, but lots of people that dropped in an out.

4. We didn’t do enough planning. Hands up, it is probably one of my weakest areas – and I genuinely believe that planning is one of the skills that will most increase your chances of success. A big personal lesson was learned here. Lack of planning meant that I was often struggling to get the content up in time, was making some decisions very last minute and it felt like we were chasing our tails a bit.

5. We were massively under-resourced. Financially, people wise, time wise. I hadn’t for-seen how much time it would take to manage the groups, the team, the technology. As a team we were stretched to capacity but the business model didn’t support additional people at that time.

6. We expanded too soon. In February we launched 5 more clubs before we had really sorted out our problems. Also the launches of those clubs were much less successful than the first round. It was getting harder to attract new people. Again, we had a team of absolutely fantastic club leaders but there was a smaller pool of people to choose from. Attracting the right club leaders was starting to be difficult.

7. We couldn’t get our audience to understand our point of difference.  We were a training and masterminding group and yet no matter how often we said it, people thought we were a networking group.  I’m not sure why our message wasn’t being heard but I think it was about people’s expectations and they didn’t hear what we were saying.  In the whole time we were running the meetings we never cracked this one.  Trying to build a market for a new service is tough.  Much easier to work with people’s existing memes.

8. Our business model wasn’t robust enough. It appeared financially sound and had a lot going for it but it required growth to be successful. The financial plans looked very positive and we were regularly attracting between 7 and 10 new members a month – but we were also starting to lose members.

Some of the members that weren’t getting the results or were still struggling with their businesses were starting to dropout. In an online club / membership the average length that people stay a member for is 3-4 months. We started to see people requesting to leave at about the 7-8 month mark. This obviously had an effect on the individual groups themselves and I started to worry about the long term future of the groups.

Over the last couple of years a few of the women’s business networks went under because they didn’t know when to quit. I didn’t want to be a part of that group.

9. I was stretched too thinly. Even with all of those challenges and problems, if the business club had been my only focus, we might have been able to turn it around, to pivot, to make adjustments. But I noticed the issues too late because I was focused on other things. As a typical creator, I was looking to the next project. At the point that we should have fixed the problem trying to launch a third round of clubs.

I was focused on recruitment and growth, when I should have been focused on retention.

10. Lastly, I realised that I had created a business that I didn’t want to run. This is probably the biggest learning of all. A lot of the joy and pleasure that I get out of running Women Unlimited had disappeared for me. It had turned into a chore rather than a pleasure. I’ve always felt so privileged to be able to do what I do and serve this amazing community. I love the interaction, I love running the workshops and events that we do, I love teaching and sharing best practice, I love bringing wonderful experts to you who can help you build and grow your business.

But the business that I had created put a layer between me and my community. I had built a business that was more about managing people and resources, meeting deadlines, chasing payments, being tech support and talking to a computer rather than doing the stuff that I love. And the stuff that I am good at!

Enfield Club
Enfield Club

The final stages

The one great sadness I have, is that we had to close down some of the clubs that had a really strong bond and community with each other. We had tried reducing the number of clubs that we were running to focus only on the successful ones, but when one of the larger clubs decided to close, the model became unviable. It would have cost us too much to continue, especially with no clear plan of action on how to recover to our former size without a lot more investment than I was able to give. Particularly given point 9 above.

Thankfully some of our Club Leaders are continuing to bring their members together in a more informal way and I’m happy that those little Women Unlimited communities are still continuing.

The decision to close the clubs was slow to come, because it was very difficult to make, the decision to finally let go. I was worried about letting people down, I was worried about the brand perception, but in the end the economic argument won.

Thankfully I have an absolutely incredible support network of women who were happy to be a sounding board as I went through the process. They helped me to understand what the next steps should be and gave me the support when I had to make some difficult decisions. So if you are reading this, you know who you are and I am truly grateful.

What happened next was a bit of a surprise to me. Closing the clubs has really made me re-evaluate myself, Women Unlimited, how I spend my time and what I am looking for out of my business. And I ended up grinding to a complete halt.

So I took a much needed sabbatical from everything. For 2 months I took a break from everything to do with the business and the clubs. I was completely burnt out. I had reached the end of my energetic tether and had absolutely nothing left. A very strange feeling indeed! It was a time to lick my wounds and heal, but also a time to refresh and figure out what’s next.

In business we get so caught up in the day to day running of the business we rarely stop and think about whether we are still on the right path. I am an A type personality that finds it difficult to slow down, but I had moved from productive to manic and it wasn’t healthy for me or my business.

Going into hibernation was deliberate and absolutely what I needed. When I decided to take the time out, I trusted that it wouldn’t be forever. And I’m really pleased to say that I am back now, and feel amazing. But there are changes.

1. I am more focused and clearer than I have ever been before. Lack of clarity is a business killer.

2. I have built in downtime into my week. I had completely lost touch with who I was outside of being a business woman and seemed to have lost the ability to do things just for fun, as my mind was always turning over the latest problem, idea, piece of work.

3. I am finally writing my book MicroEntrepreneur to go alongside our podcast that is relaunching next week. Writing the book is an incredible and amazing endeavour that I am loving – watch out for more news on that soon.

4. I am back to creating the business that I want to create rather than falling into the trap of building a business that I think I should create.

5. I have brought in focused resource to deal with very specific tasks in the business which has included bringing back Jayne Ryan into the fold as Women Unlimited Editor (yay!) And we will be starting up our newsletter and regular webinars again.

I am glad that we launched the business clubs and thrilled that we has such a great impact for those that had breakthroughs while they were members. There were lots of highs as well as lows and it was a fantastic experience.  I heard Catherine Watkin, the creator of the Selling from the Heart sales programme once say that becoming a business owner is the greatest personal development programme we will ever go on and this experience has certainly been that.

I am grateful for the lessons that I have learned as I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

I’m excited about what the future holds and look forward to sharing some wonderful things with you over the next few months.  So watch this space 🙂

Comic Relief: A social media case study for all the wrong reasons

The British public can be vicious and quick to act when they find out that someone has been pulling the wool over their eyes and today it is going to be Comic Relief’s turn. This morning we woke up to the news from the BBC that Comic Relief has been investing in Arms, Tobacco and Alcohol with £630,000 in shares in arms firm BAE Systems and more than £300,000 in alcohol manufacturer Diageo.

Apparently, when we donate money to this worthy charity, they allocate the funds to their selected charities over a period of time. In the meantime, they invest the rest of the money that we have given them into the stock market to support the costs of running the charity itself. So far so good. I don’t have a problem with this at all and think that it’s a great way to make sure that the money that is donated is going to the intended causes.

However, what we have discovered today, is that their social ethos does not carry through to the companies that they invest in. They have made the questionable decision NOT to invest only in ethical businesses but to invest in managed funds that put large amounts of their money into organisations that many of their contributors wouldn’t invest in themselves.

Wow… talk about an own goal.

What should they do now?

I have no doubt this will massively hit the bottom line of Comic Relief, but they can still come back from the brink. There is only one thing to do in a situation like this is and that is to ‘come clean’ and admit their mistakes. Before the damning Panorama show airs tonight they need to come out and talk to their customers – the people who donate with them.   A quick swift apology will diffuse the situation… continuing to say that they did nothing wrong will only incite the fury of the people who have chosen to give their hard earned money to support Comic Relief and their causes.

Will they do this? I don’t know. They are a big organisation that looks like they have lost their way at the moment. I suspect they are in deep discussion around their boardroom about what damage control they can put into place, but honestly, this is the only strategy that will work.

If they apologise, I believe that the British public will forgive them; anything else will result in a massive loss of donations and potentially the loss of one of the UK’s most loved and most effective charities.

I will watch to see how this plays out over the next few hours and days, but I sincerely hope that Comic Relief become a social media case study for all the right reasons, not the wrong ones.

UPDATE:

So it seems that I was right and Comic Relief has fallen at the first hurdle.  They have been badly advised and decided to hide behind their corporate facade, not admit any fault and put out a standard response.  Why oh why do these businesses just not get it?

Here is a copy of their only Tweet from yesterday along with the less than happy responses.

Comic Relief social media case study

Photo Credit: Chaotic good

Always running out of time? 14 ways to get more done

I’m constantly battling with time.  There is never enough of it.  I always have multiple activities competing for it.  And once it is gone, I can never get it back again.

These are my simple time management tips to help you be more productive in your day.

Work to your natural rhythms

Figure out when you are most productive and make sure that your schedule works to that.   Identify which activities fit best with your energy levels and build your schedule around that.   If you try and do hard stuff when your energy is low, life and your business will always feel like a struggle.  I call this the energy dance.  Work with your natural daily energy cycle and move and flow through  your day simply and easily.  If you are a lark, work hard in the morning.  If you are a night owl, sleep until 10 and work until late.  The great thing about being a micro business owner is that you get to choose!

Plan before you begin

Decide what you are going to do and when you are going to get it done by. Know what your critical path is (the activities that need to be completed first) and put those milestones into a simple plan.

Always work from a list.

When you feel yourself getting distracted, refer back to the list of activities that you need to achieve that day and that week. This will keep you focused.

Schedule everything

Have a diary that you use to schedule your activities for the day and when you are going to do them. Schedule in your downtime if you know you need it to manage your energy. Schedule in fun so that you can give yourself a mental break to be more creative. Whatever you do and need to do to ensure your success, schedule it. If it isn’t scheduled, it doesn’t get done.

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This is what my schedule currently looks like:

[6:00 – 7:00] Writing (I know it’s crazy, but this really is my most creative time)

[7:00 – 9:00] house time / me time / get kids to school time

[9:00 – 12:00] Work – only schedule meetings during this time once per week

[12:00– 1:00] Break time / Me time / home time / exercise time

[1:00 – 3:00] Work

[3:00 – 5:30 ] Kid time  – food and homework

[5:30 – 7:00 ] Work

[7:00 – 8:00] Kid time – bed time

[8:00 – 10:00] Husband and chillout time

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The Law of Three (a la Brian Tracy)

Write down a list of the activities that you need to accomplish in a week.  What are the most important things? What if you could only do three of those things? Ask yourself if those 3 activities will really move your business or your project forward.

Bin the stuff that doesn’t.

Chunk your time

Split your time into chunks. Decide how long you are going to spend on an activity and then work to that time. Turn off all distractions during this period so that the activity gets 100% of your attention.

Set deadlines (and stick to them)

The work will fill the amount of time that you give it. If you really want to achieve something fast, then give yourself a challenging deadline and put it out there. Tell other people that they can expect a result at a particular time and you are much more likely to deliver.

Create systems

If you have activities that you do over and over again, or need to have the same conversation with different people, then create systems that will make the work much simpler and easier. This will mean that you are not having to do the thinking each time. Systems can be as simple as having templates in place, scripts to work from or a simple mind map that lists out the key activities.

Keep track

Check in with yourself daily and weekly and track your progress. Did you do what you said you were going to do yesterday? Was it important? Does it need to be done today? How are you doing against your schedule? Are you staying on course or going off track. Learn from what you are doing and what you aren’t doing.

Create a dashboard

Set some simple daily and weekly targets that you want to achieve and monitor the numbers. Don’t be afraid of them as they are clues about where you are in your business. Without knowing how you are doing against a set of key criteria, you won’t know where you are in your business and what you need to spend more time doing.

Create visual clues

Put up a poster where you can tick of each goal accomplished. Give yourself large scale visual reminders about what you have decided to do in your business. A friend of mine, Joanna Penn has a big chart on her wall to remind her that her main goal every day is to write 1000 words. She gives herself a big tick each day that she achieves this goal. And leaves it blank when she doesn’t. This shows her that she is keeping on track against her book writing target.

Create space for you to work

It’s critical that you have a work space that feels comfortable for you to work in. I’m not going to tell you that you need to carve out a space in your house where none exists, but it’s really important that you have a place where you can work that is conducive to getting stuff done. Make sure that you have a place that you can put all your work stuff away at the end of the day so that you can truly relax.  It will free you up mentally to be more productive.

Take breaks regularly

Your brain and creativity will thank you. Working continuously without breaks is exhausting and your work will suffer. Go for a walk. Do some exercise. Meet a friend of a coffee. Make sure you time box it but build in down time.

Learn to say no

Say no at least 4 times a day. Decide that you are going to take control of your time and you decide your agenda, not others. It’s not selfishness, it’s self preservation.

Bonus tip

Set clear boundaries.

I got this from the webinar that we did with Wendy Kerr earlier this month – when 9:00am starts… stop doing laundry and the dishes and cleaning the house and doing the grocery shopping. Respect that your work takes priority during whatever work hours you set and don’t deviate.  I know it’s hard, and I know as a woman that you are good at multi-tasking but you would be surprised how much time those little things take up in your day and away from your business!

If you have other tips that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear them.  Please share them in the comments below.

What is your marketing talent?

Everyone has one – but there is a good chance that you are not using yours to your full potential.

To be a successful micro-entrepreneur you need to love marketing.  I mean really looooovvvvve marketing.  And sales.   If you’re not able to sell your product it’s going to be very difficult to grow your business.  However, it is one of the things that very few people think about when they’re setting up their new venture.

They (we) have a tendency to get so excited about their ideas and their products, that rarely do they think about how they are actually going to sell it!

Marketing the easy way … and the hard way

When I started my executive search business (bet you didn’t know I had run one of those!) back in January 2000, I had no idea how I was going to get new clients.  I had absolutely no sales experience, having come from an operational role, and no small business marketing experience.  What I discovered was that it was easier and harder than I had expected.

My first client was my old boss (easy).  My second client was a referral from my old boss (also easy) and my third client was off the back of a cold call (hard, hard, hard).  I knew that I had to sell to people that I didn’t know, but I didn’t realise that it was going to be quite as uncomfortable as it was.  Some people are natural sales people, they love the process of selling and talking to new prospects about their needs and wants and then finding the perfect solution for them.  I am not one of those people.  I searched and searched for the right sales course to learn this skill, spent loads of money on sales training and ended up not much better than when I had started (oh, how I wish I had known about Catherine Watkins Selling from the Heart course back then!).

Look for the 20% that generates the 80%

When I decided that I was going to start growing my web business after the birth of my daughter in 2007; I decided to be a lot smarter about it than I had been previously.  I looked at where my existing clients had come from so that I could figure out how to get new clients.  What I discovered was that 90% of my clients had come from people who knew me, or people who had been referred to me.  The massive advantage of this was that it meant that I was rarely in a competitive bid situation, as usually I was the only horse in the race – and I already had the trust factor.  So I needed to find more people who trusted me enough to hire me or refer me, which was when I discovered small business networking – definitely a wow moment for me!

Both of these businesses were professional services firms and relied on people trusting me to be able to deliver on my promises.   My marketing talent was encouraging and building on that trust.  I only spoke with people that had already been pre-qualified and were in the buying stage of the process, rather than selling to people who hadn’t already decided what they wanted.  This cut down on a lot of wasted meetings with the wrong people!

Marketing online

In Women Unlimited, things are a little bit different.  While I do know many of you personally, most of the people that buy our products only know me through blog posts, videos and email.  So the talent that I have had to cultivate, is my online marketing talent.  If I didn’t email people, Women Unlimited would not be in business today.  Without developing my skills in email marketing, I would have no channel to market and no way to access my customer base. So over the last 5 years, I’ve used my relationship building skills and communication skills to build trust and provide massive value  to the Women Unlimited community through email and our website, so that when we have a course or product to promote, you guys (hopefully) feel like you trust us enough to be able to deliver on our promise.

If we stopped every other form of marketing other than email, Women Unlimited would still thrive and survive.  So in Women Unlimited, email marketing is my marketing talent.   The other marketing activities that we do are secondary and only go to support our email activities.  In Springmedia, it was networking.  If I didn’t go out and meet new people and build relationships, we didn’t get the referrals that we needed to be able to get more clients.  In the executive search firm, it was cultivating existing relationships for both candidates and clients.

Where should you spend your marketing time?

As a micro-business owner, one of the challenges that you face, is trying to decide where you should focus your marketing time.  Your time is limited and there is a very good chance that you are spending too much of it focusing on things that are not going to generate you the results that you are looking for.  If you focus on the ONE thing that you are exceptional at and that you have used very effectively to bring in new business, it is likely that you will increase your results exponentially.

Potential time-wasters might include talking to the wrong people on social media, wondering if you should be blogging, possibly doing email marketing, spending your lunchtimes and evenings networking with the wrong people, exhibiting at conferences, maybe speaking and cold calling new business.  Each time you start up a new activity, you dilute your time and your chances of marketing success.

How to find your marketing talent

What I’d like to suggest is that you take a deep breath, grab yourself a cup of tea / coffee and take a long hard look at the activities that you are doing to market your business and ask yourself honestly whether they are doing your business and your time justice.

Here are three simple exercises to help you get started

Get to know your customer

  1. Identify your top 10 most profitable clients
  2. Find out where they first heard about you from
  3. Identify where you can find more people like that
  4. Ask them why they bought your product / service
  5. Note how you communicate with them
  6. Identify why they are profitable

Learn from your successes

  1. Where do 80% of your clients come from?
  2. When do they buy from you?
  3. What activities can you duplicate to repeat that success
  4. Where can you go to get more clients like that

Stop doing what isn’t working

  1. Track the time that you spend on marketing activities
  2. Identify how successful each of those activities have been for your business in the last 6 months
  3. Only spend 10 – 20% of your time on the activities that are not generating a large return

Build on the marketing that is working

  1. Identify how you like to communicate best with your customers (ie online, face to face, email, direct mail, advertising)
  2. Dedicate yourself to the stuff that you are already excellent at
  3. Learn how to improve your skills in this area
  4. Spend at least 50% of your time on the activities that are generating profitable results
  5. Only spend time on high value activities and outsource the stuff that doesn’t need you

This last point is really important.  If I outsourced our email marketing, then there is a good chance that our sales would drop but there is no reason that I need to be the person that formats the email, uploads the email and sends the email.

Focus on the activities that create massive value

Focus on the activities that bring massive value to your business, that only you can do and you should find that you’ll start getting better results than you have before.

If you enjoy marketing your business, know how to reach your customers and are good at it, then you will be successful.  If it feels like a struggle, then it is going to be very difficult for you to build and grow your business.  Every micro-entrepreneur needs a strong marketing foundation to build their business on, so it’s important to go out and find your marketing talent.

Photo credit:  Thanks to MichaelB for this fab photo

How are you getting in your own way?

About 5 years ago I remember standing up to ask a question at an open mic at a conference and my hands and voice were shaking so much that I looked and sounded like a tuning fork that had just been hit.  For those who have this problem, I wish I could tell you there was a magic formula to get over it and I’m sure there are some great courses that will help, but for me, the only answer answer was to do it again and again and again. Until the shaking stopped. Until I could trust that the right words would come when I needed them. And I embraced PowerPoint. Thank God for PowerPoint!

Today, I’m a fairly confident speaker – or more specifically a fairly confident trainer. Recently I decided that I have a message that I want to share with the world but was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do the message justice. While I can teach people how to market their business and use social media, what made me think that I could stand up and inspire people to do something different?

I also wanted to move away from relying on slides to take me through a presentation. I wanted to learn how to put together a presentation and talk without relying on bullet points to get my point across. I wanted to be able to inspire people by talking to them directly.  But didn’t know how.

The teacher will appear when the student is ready

And then I received an email from Sarah Lloyd Hughes, telling me about her upcoming Speak like a TED Talker course.  Perfect!

When the time came, I entered the training room not really sure what to expect, but very hopeful that Sarah would give me the magic formula to being an awesome and inspiring speaker.  That she would be my saviour.  And it turned out she was, but not in quite the way that I expected.

Humbled

The 18 other people that I was in the room with were some of the most inspiring people I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with. Each and every one of them moved me with their passion and their stories in different ways. Emotionally it was one of the most raw weekends I have ever experienced. I wish I could do the stories justice here, but all I can do is give you a flavour … Natasha was one of the first stories of the weekend. She had come from an abusive home, her brother/companion/best friend died when he was in his late teens, she developed leukaemia in her early 20’s and almost died, is now raising three children as a single mum and has launched a charity for people who need someone to talk to when they are suffering from a potentially terminal illness. Her gentleness, pureness and generosity of spirit are unbelievable. I learned from Natasha that we all have a choice about how we want to live our lives in spite of what life throws at us.

Sarah is a firecracker. She is gregarious, outgoing, full of fun and energy. She shared with us that she had never experienced joy before her mid twenties. Her world was flat and everything else (most of life) existed below the line for her. It wasn’t until she was given medication for the first time for depression that her eyes were opened up to how wonderful life could be. She is now finding her way, and talked about her depression in a way that really helped people to understand the pain, and what it’s like to live life without joy. I feel so privileged to have heard her story and felt an understanding of depression in a way that I never had before.

Everyone has a story.  Everyone’s story is powerful.  But you must own it.

The gift that Sarah Lloyd Hughes gave us that weekend was the ability to trust ourselves and trust our voice. Trust that each and everyone of us had a gift to share with the world. And she taught us how to let go and use techniques to store our words in our environment and our bodies, so that we no longer needed crutches to speak.

Exposing the inner demons

On the second day of the course, Sarah ran a session to help us find our inner demons and boy did I find mine. When we were asked to describe how the session had made us feel, I burst into tears and had to leave the room. When the group did the part that was supposed to help us recover, I didn’t recover. I was an open wound. All I wanted to do was leave the course and never come back again.

And I was angry

How dare she! How dare Sarah open up a wound that couldn’t be closed. How dare she make me weaker than I was before I started. How dare she strip down the barriers that I had built up over the last forty years. That day I lost my protective shell and I would never be able to get it back again.

Stripping back the layers

Thankfully, Sarah had two wonderful, warm and talented coaches on hand as part of her course, Nicky Moran and Rona Steinberg. Nicky followed me out of the room and helped me work through what I was feeling and pulled me through to the other side. And magically I also discovered what was holding me back from really achieving the things that I have always felt I should be capable of.

A deep seated belief that I was not good enough. So deep I didn’t know it existed. So deep that I didn’t even know the part of me where it sat in my body existed. My own personal Pandora’s box.

10 days later I feel softer inside. The protective shell is gone and I’m  feel freer than I have been in years. Now I can move forward without fear and trepidation. Without feeling like I need to hide.

Coaching really works!  Who knew

I share this story in the hope that you can start to find the thing that is holding you back. Historically I’ve not been a big fan of coaching, but my experiences working with Nicky at this event, plus working with a friend of mine, Teresa Mitrovic on some other aspects like goal planning and strategy have really changed my mind.

If there is something inside you, that is holding you back, please explore what that might be.

Save yourself first

When an airplane gets into trouble you are advised to give yourself oxygen first. Before you save anyone else. This rule applies in life as well. If you look after yourself first, you will be more capable and able to help the people you want to help and do the things that you have been put on this earth to do.

The most important gift you can give yourself is to nurture and nourish yourself and for me, one of the best ways to learn how to do that is through books.  Love yourself like your life depends on it  and pick up the book with the same title by Kamal Ravikant. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable and buy the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. And Choose Yourself by James Altucher to start your daily practice and decide that you are not going to settle any more.

Photo Credit:  This gorgeous photo reflected for me the open path between the massive barriers that we put in place before us. It is a creative commons photo from Pfly

Are you the mentor I’m looking for?

When I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, one of the areas that most stuck out for me was her discussion around mentoring. She talks in detail how important mentoring is and how challenging it is for many women to find mentors. Interestingly, one of the things that she is most criticised for in her book is how elitist she is because she had a mentor who was also the head of one of the colleges at Harvard when she attended, but clearly she has mastered the art of finding great mentors (yet another reason to read this book!).

So here’s the bad news… true (and free) mentorship usually comes out of an existing relationship. It’s very difficult for someone to decide to mentor you if they don’t know you or see potential in you.

After I started out on my journey as a micro-entrepreneur, I was very lucky to have the support of my old MD. He became a mentor, sponsor, advocate and supporter and I will always be grateful for his advice and help during what was a challenging time. Today I get mentoring and advice from lots of people around me, some of it is paid for and some of it is free. But regardless of whether I have paid for it not, I really value all of it.

I think finding decent mentors is incredibly important when you are running a business, because they give you fresh insight and ideas, support during challenging times and hopefully a helicopter view around your business.

But what do you do if you don’t have people in your life that fit the bill?

What is a mentor?

Firstly let’s look at what mentoring is. In simple terms, a mentor is an advisor. Someone who can discuss your business with you and who will use their resources, contacts and ideas to help you grow. A mentor is not a coach. They are not there to make you feel better about yourself or take you through a process where you become enlightened about an internal problem. For me, they tend to be more strategic, bringing their experience to bear and giving advice and support to help me move forward in my business.

Stop looking for a rescuer

While traditional mentoring is important, it is not the only answer. There are lots of ways that you can get support and ideas in your business.

Peer group mentoring. I’m a big fan of peer group mentoring as this can often give you what you are looking for quickly and easily. Peer group mentoring is where you connect with other people who support you and your business, are willing to listen and offer advice and help where they can.

This is the principle that we have built our Business Clubs around. When you start a business you don’t start as a brand new person, all your history and experience come into play. We offer the Business Clubs to give people the opportunity to share that experience and support others. I’ve been amazed at the calibre of women that come along and know that I have personally benefited from their advice and perspectives.

One to one mentoring. This is a more formal relationship where you arrange a regular time to meet and discuss your business challenges with someone you respect and whose advice can help move you forward. It doesn’t have to be face to face, in fact I usually do it via Skype. This type of mentoring is an ongoing relationship, and it is worth thinking about formal goals and outcomes otherwise it runs the risk of becoming a ‘nice chat’.

Paid for mentoring. I use this a lot. I have worked with Kerrie Dorman at the UK’s Affordable Mentors and found the process invaluable. This is even more formal than one to one mentoring, because as you can imagine, if you’re paying for something you tend to take it even more seriously. I’m a fan of this kind of mentoring as long as you know what you are looking for; otherwise it can become a big waste of money and a frustrating experience.

Now, I find that I will also ‘buy the time’ of people who I have met or whose advice I seek when a specific issue comes up. I  may purchase an hour of time from a personal branding specialist or more recently I got in contact with an advisor that I worked with as part of the British Library’s Growth Programme, for some additional support over a business strategy that I’m currently developing. I like the simplicity and clarity of this type of exchange and it also means that I’m respecting the value of the time of the people that I work with.

Finding a mentor

There are some organisations that offer free mentor match-making services and there are organisations that you can contact to pay for mentoring. If you want to find a mentor without paying, you may find yourself on a longer journey – particularly if you are looking for a formal mentoring relationship.

Mentoring of this type will usually start with a relationship and often will be triggered by the mentor rather than the mentee. The mentor will see something in you that they want to support and will reach out with their advice. You can ask someone to be your mentor, but be quite careful about this, particularly if you don’t know the person you are asking very well, as it can be awkward and put the other person on the spot, which may make them feel uncomfortable.

Relationship first

You must build a relationship first, so that they are inspired to help you. Also, this type of mentoring will often be ad-hoc. Advice given over a coffee or during a meeting. They may offer to support you or introduce you to someone out of their own generosity rather than personal gain. What’s in it for the mentor?  I think the pleasure of knowing that we have supported someone else in their journey. Personal impact is one of life’s great motivators, and this is an easy way to give it.

You may find that you are being mentored already but just don’t realise it! Many mentors won’t call themselves mentors, but that doesn’t stop them from being one.

What to look for in a mentor

This is my checklist, but you will have your own criteria and different mentors will serve you in different ways.

Experienced: I like to work with people who have been there before in some way, so they can advise on the best way forward

Character: They need to be someone that I trust and is ethical in what they do

Connected: Have relevant contacts and connections (though you can’t assume that these will be made accessible to you)

Honest:  I want them to tell it like it is – no dancing around the issues

Interested in my success: I want them to want me to be successful and feel like they want to be a part of that

No ego attached to advice: A mentor is an advisor, you don’t have to take their advice and I want a mentor that is happy to advise me, but recognise that this is my journey and I may not choose to act on it.

Formal Mentoring Organisations

These are some UK mentoring organsiations, please feel free to share others in the UK and abroad in the comments below (I will update the list here too)

UK

SFEDI

Horsesmouth

UK’s Affordable Mentors

Rockstar Group

 

 

Does your business need a compass?

Sometimes when we are running a micro business we don’t realise that creating a strong strategy is just as important for us as it is for big business.  Businesses grow and develop in many different ways.  Some business owners are super organised and spend 3 months planning their business, producing a 25 page business plan plus executive summary, 15 page marketing plan and 10 pages of financial documents; others launch their business without really thinking about where the money is going to come from or how they are going to get new clients… or you might find that you are somewhere in between.

But no matter how you started, it’s always worth revisiting your strategy and figuring out whether you are on the right track and whether the assumptions you made still hold true.

When you approach your business strategy there are a number of key elements that you need to bring together and I will be covering these over the coming weeks.  The first thing though that I think you must have, is actually one that many people don’t even think about and that is defining your values.

Your business values need to inspire you

The values that you focus on are the foundation of your business.  They are the place that you come from when you are making decisions around branding, products/services, suppliers, partnerships and focus.  For me they are a point of reference against which I can measure what we are doing,  what we put out in the world and how we do it.  However, they are not static.

These values make my heart sink...
These values make my heart sink…

The values that you had when you started out, may not necessarily be the values that are most relevant to you today and it is always worth revisiting them at least once a year.

When big business choose values they might go for words like these ones on the right.  DON’T DO THIS! Your values need to inspire you every day to build a business that is going to set the world alight – at least a little bit.  They should  reflect your uniqueness and will be your guide for your business strategy, your recruitment strategy and your product strategy.  It can be difficult to know where to start with something like this, so I have put together a simple exercise to help you work through it.

Exercise: How to figure out what your values are

There are two parts to this exercise.  The first you do alone and the second part you do with someone else such as a team members, trusted friend or business mentor.   There are no right or wrong answers to selecting your business values as they going to be very personal to you.

What you’ll need.

A notepad.  It is worth finding a notepad that you love.  I use the moleskin plain paper cahier journals because I love the simplicity and size of them and can doodle and draw pictures as well as words.  Because they are plain paper rather than lined I feel like they allow me more freedom to be creative.  This keeps everything in one place and makes it easy to review.  Note: You can use a computer / ipad but I have found that writing it down makes me feel more connected to what I am writing.

Pen / Pencil.  Find a writing tool that you love writing with.  I use a mechanical pencil that I bought in Canada that writes really smoothly and looks great. I know it’s weird, but I’ve found it makes a difference.

Quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.  If possible, find a place that inspires you or makes you feel great as this will help the ideas flow.

Step 1: Which companies do you admire?

Write down a list of at least 5 companies that you really admire.  They don’t need to be in your industry or related to what you do at all but they should be companies that you feel are really getting it right.  After each company, write down at least 3 values that they embody for you.

When I did this exercise the companies that I chose were:

Disney: Customer at the heart of what they do, Experience, Wonder

John Lewis:  Trust, Fresh, Aspirational, Customer Focus

Apple: Beautiful design, Quality, Excellence, Aspirational

Cirque du Soleil: Wow, Creativity, Excellence

Cath Kidston: Stylish, Fresh, Feminine, Excellence

Danbury Motorcaravans: Fun, Excellence, Creative, Smart

Obviously these are not the values that they would describe, but they are the things that I take away from them.  There are definitely some themes that are common across the brands that I felt that I wanted within the Women Unlimited brand values.

Step 2: Start writing your list

Your still on your own for this one.  Write down a long list of words that you would like to reflect your brand and your business.  Quite often you’ll find that you are writing down words that are personal to you – that’s ok. Don’t filter at this point.  Just write down everything that comes to mind.  Use your companies that you admire as inspiration.  What do they have that you’d like to incorporate into your business?  What are some of the values that you have picked up along the way in your pre-business days?  What do you want others to take away when they think about your brand, your product or service?  What personal values are important to you?

These questions all help to make up your priorities but if you are anything like me, you’ll find that your list is enormous.   It’s worth at this point looking through your list and seeing if there are words in there, that you don’t consider to be ‘core’ to your business. The word ‘core’ here means integral, central and essential.

Step 3: Share and discuss

Now I’d like you to share your values with a trusted business friend, mentor or team member. The act of discussing them helps you to really define what the words mean to you and will give you the opportunity to explore them in more detail.

Step 4: Consolidate

Consolidate your business values into the ones that are fundamental… I suggest that you be quite strict with yourself and select only 5.  This will really help you to figure out what is really important to you versus what is nice to have.  Usually this also requires combining words into a single value.

Step 5: Definition

Explain to your trusted business friend what each of your values means to you.  Explain it in detail and why it’s important.  And write your definition down.   Does it make sense?  Does it feel right?  Are you inspired by what you have written?  If the answer to any of these is no, then revisit your words until the answer is yes across the board. Now do a quick sense check – is anything missing? You’ll know you’ve got it right when you feel excited by what the words say to you about your business, your brand and the way that you work.  Odds are there will be one or two words that are not where you are now, but more where you want to be.  That’s ok.  Your values should feel like a bit of a stretch and should be aspirational.  They are a starting point from where you can move your business forward in a really positive direction.

Examples of business values

I love Zappos … they are an American brand launched by Tony Hsieh (read the book Delivering Happiness if you’d like to find out more about this phenomenal brand) and they have created their own take on their values.  They really live by these values and they have helped to grow Zappos into the company that it is today. 

Here are Zappos’ 10 Core Values

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

SEO Moz are a website that writes about all things SEO.  They kindly share their core values here, which they call their guiding principles. I love this!

  • Transparency & Generosity
    • We share what we know and what we do publicly and honestly
    • We weigh transparency against respect for privacy in cases where it may harm individuals or organizations (internally or externally)
    • We encourage and reward sharing in other individuals and organizations
    • We democratize knowledge of how search engines work and how to optimize Internet marketing campaigns of all kinds
  • Empathy & Respect
    • Identifying with the feelings, desires, ideas, and actions of everyone we work with – employees, partners, customers and community members – and using that knowledge to improve the ways in which we work with them
    • Treating everyone we encounter with respect for their personal and professional lives
  • Quality
    • We create tools, content, and services that provide the greatest value to SEO Moz
    • We build superb usefulness and user experience into everything we produce
    • Our products make our members & readers better search marketers
  • Authenticity
    • Incorporating our personal & company values in all our business dealings
    • Represent those values honestly with
      • rational, realistic behavior
      • intuitive, creative, independent thinking
      • flexibility and the ability to manage change
      • accountability – willingness to accept responsibility and correct our mistakes

Hopefully that gives you a good sense of where to go in creating your core values.  We’d love to hear how you get on and feel free to share any of your values below (or share companies that you think are doing an amazing job on this front!)

Photo credit:  ecatoncheires

How to fool your brain into thinking you’ve already won

Last week I shared my thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In… and one of the key issues that many women have is lack of confidence.  As Sheryl says, they don’t put themselves forward, preferring to wait until they feel confident enough for whatever the task requires.

In this video Amy Cuddy, shows both incredible vulnerability and honesty around when she didn’t feel like she was good enough (note she is now an Associate Professor at Harvard Business School) and some fantastic advice that she was given by one of her professors.  I’m not going to share the advice with you – you need to watch the video for that.  But what I will say is that she provides some fantastic tools for helping you to feel more confident in ANY situation.

Watch it and you will never look at Wonder Woman the same again.

Maggie Semple: Dancer, Teacher, Inspiration

When I arranged to interview Maggie Semple, I had no idea what a force of nature she was.  She is frequently described as formidable, but I also found her style to be extremely gentle and gracious.  There is no way that she could have achieved all that she has without being formidable, but I love that she has not lost her feminine energy along the way.

Maggie SempleMaggie and her sister grew up as two black girls in London in the 60’s and were very much in the minority. But she had a really strong home-life with very supportive parents who raised Maggie and her sister to believe “the world is there for you to grasp”.

She did very well at school and became head girl at her school before going on to university. Her professional career began as a teacher in Dance and English, whilst she also pursued her passion for contemporary dance. After spending a few years teaching, she was asked by the government to spend a two-year period on an education task force; quickly followed by stints on higher education, adult education and life long learning task forces.

During this time she was still teaching and built a reputation as an amazing teacher. People from around the world came to her school to see how she taught. From there she was asked to speak at conferences and was given many platforms to spread her message. Maggie rapidly became known for speaking about teaching and learning and was in high demand.

When I asked Maggie what was the secret of her success, she advised that if you want to do something, you’ve got to think about what you’ve done prior to it. It’s worth doing all sorts of things instead of being linear in your approach. Take unique opportunities that come along because you never know where they will lead. Keep yourself relevant and keep your game up, in a way that allows you to get invited back again.

In the 90’s Maggie also took on her dream job as the Director of Education and Training for the Arts Council. In this role she went from managing a budget of £110,000 when she joined, to ultimately deciding on how the Arts Council should spend £100,000,000 when she became responsible for setting the policy on the lottery fund allocation.

She then left the Arts Council and became the Director of Learning Experience at the Millennium Dome where she was managing a budget of about £80m . The Dome was hard work for everyone, but it was also a great opportunity to build her network with large corporates. Working at the Millennium Dome gave her great coverage in the media and shortly after her time there, she was awarded her OBE for her services to learning. Maggie is now the CEO of the Experience Corps and runs a programme funded by the government to put 250,000 people into work experience.

She works as a trusted advisor to many businesses and has launched her own fashion business which can be found at www.maggiesemple.com .

behind the scenesMaggie has produced a book called Semple Women Fashion Stories and has developed an interesting business product called Behind the Seams, creating beautifully crafted books that are built around a woman’s favourite fashion item. Each book has personalised illustrations of the item and the wearer, and includes information about the fabric, the designer and personal stories.

I loved speaking with Maggie and found her incredibly inspiring and am thrilled that she agreed to share her story with us. She has achieved so much, all through her own hard work, amazing relationship building skills and passion for the Arts.