Approaching 40 part 3: The day I turned 40

I’ve been wanting to write this story for a long time. I turned 40 2 days’ ago and it seemed like the right time to do it. If you’re having a bad day, I hope it raises your spirits. If you’re having a bad time generally, I hope it helps you to put things into perspective. If you’re having a good time, I hope it helps you be thankful for what you have.

This is the last part of the story. There has been a lot to say. Part 1 was here and part 2 here.

It’s not a rehearsal

I go back every six months currently – to the Royal Marsden hospital for a blood test. I get nervous before, but have been skipping out of the hospital for 8 years. It’s the most sobering experience sitting in the waiting room and explains why I get so cross when I see the ‘yoof of today’ smashing the place up on the news with no regards for themselves or society.

It’s not a rehearsal I say.

And I like to think most days that I live that ethos. When I remember back to these times, when I see sad stories on the news, when I watch the Great North Run and hear the stories behind the runners, when I see a Leukaemia Research collection box, it hurts me more than most – however it’s one of the few scars I have from the experiences.

Has the experience changed me?

Ask those around me. Especially Suzanne.

Not really I don’t think. I’ve always tried to live a very full life and took great solace from that fact. I’m incredibly driven, I take on too much, I get frustrated when those around me don’t move as fast, I rarely sit and relax, I run with the ball too much, when I should pass (metaphorically speaking) and I can’t watch the sad films on Comic Relief or Children in Need. All said and done, I don’t think that’s so bad, considering.

So what to the future? I was 40 two days ago. What will I take forward with me for the next few years, 13 years after the spectre of Leukaemia reared its very ugly head? In no particular order – I will use these statements as a guide… I’d love to know whether you agree.

  • Change is inevitable – go with it, embrace it or fall behind the pack.
  • Having children changes you. For the better. Enjoy them while they’re young – and don’t pay lipservice to that statement, or you’ll regret it.
  • The pause button once in a while isn’t such a bad thing.
  • Running your own business is a privelige. It’s tough out there, but having a process and following your vision is key to success.
  • It is OK to say no once in a while. In fact, it’s quite good.
  • If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  • You are the luckiest person alive if work is a hobby.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell people the truth, even if it hurts.
  • Time is the most previous thing we have – use it wisely.
  • Life is all about choices – you can actively choose how to live every day. Every decision, every reaction is down to you. Don’t blame others for your choices – just make better ones.
  • And the biggest learning point of all from this whole experience – which will be enscribed on my tombstone – “It’s not a rehearsal”. I genuinely subscribe to this. Grab chances while you can. It maybe too late tomorrow.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series – it’s been therapeutic writing it. Thanks to everyone for their emails and comments etc – the private response has been overwhelming. I hope you take whatever you can from it and use it.

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Have you seen what I’m doing for our charity challenge later in 2012?

CLICK HERE to find out and please DONATE something small if you can.
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Approaching 40 part 2: The day I found out I had Leukaemia

I’ve been wanting to write this story for a long time. I turn 40 in 3 days’ time and it seemed like the right time to do it. If you’re having a bad day, I hope it raises your spirits. If you’re having a bad time generally, I hope it helps you to put things into perspective. If you’re having a good time, I hope it helps you be thankful for what you have. 

The story is a three parter. There’s a lot to say. Part 1 was here.

It was the not too bad one.

I had Hairycell Leukaemia. And yes, that was the not too bad one. It affects mainly men over 60 and is one of the rarest Leukaemias. Leukaemia is also pretty rare in itself. I was pronounced a freak of nature right there and then.

I still remember how happy the nurses were – there was palpable relief from all the medical staff. Everyone was over the moon that I had Hairycell Leukaemia.

No, really they were.

So we were, because they knew how to deal with it and the prognosis was good.

Later in the day (bearing in mind the time difference in Australia) the nurses came to tell us that Princess Diana had broken her arm in a car crash and we then heard the whole event unfold – something most people in the UK weren’t awake to hear.

So, on 31st August 1997, I learnt I had a relatively treatable Leukaemia and the world lost Princess Diana. It was a day I’ve not forgotten.

The next few months I went back to work, apart from on Monday mornings where I put my feet up, had the most wonderful view and sat with a drip in my arm for my weekly dose of chemotherapy. Cladribine was a drug I came to know a lot about. I got a bit tired but other than that, there were no side effects – not what you come to expect when you hear about chemotherapy.

My blood counts hit rock bottom as the not so smart chemicals attacked the bad guys as well as the good guys in my blood. I then had the delight of injecting myself on a fairly frequent basis to keep those white blood counts up, to prevent infection. Suzanne and I tried to keep doing the things we wanted to do. I’ll never forget driving to Broken Hill and back over a long weekend (Australians will know that’s an utterly ridiculous thing to do) and keeping the injection pack in bar fridges around the outback.

As December approached, my blood counts had returned to something resembling normal again – it really was a minor miracle. By all accounts I shouldn’t still have been standing up in July – I should have caught an infection and been wiped out, as I had nothing to fight it. Yet here I was, fighting fit again and carrying on with my Pilots License and working around Asia-Pacific. I was a seriously lucky boy.

After a load more tests towards the end of my treatment, I was told that they hadn’t managed to eliminate all the Hairycells (technical term for bad guys). There were still a tiny proportion in my bone marrow and it was possible the disease would return.

It did in fact. Around a year after we returned home.

October 1999

I was treated again – this time in the UK at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, where I was now under the care of a wonderful consultant, Dr Claire Dearden who to this day ranks in one of my top ten favourite people of all time. She’s an academic consultant who when I met her for the first time told me I have “her favourite disease.” Phrases like that you never forget.

I had the same treatment, but this time over a week instead of over months. It was an enforced holiday in an isolation ward with just me and some computer games and the beginnings of the Internet via a 56k modem. Apologies to the NHS if I ran up a phone bill.

More bone marrow tests were requested. I requested to be knocked out for these from now on – there’s only so much a bloke can take.

Once again, I went into remission, but there was doubt about the long term chances of the disease staying away.

My son Matthew was born in November 2003. A month before he was born, the letter I was dreading after a routine test came through the door. We had moved by then to Windsor, UK. Good enough for the Queen, good enough for us. I say this for a reason – the UK’s health postcode lottery.

Dr Dearden had tried and failed to get me on a medical trial of a drug she knew was going to help me long term when I lived in Oxford. She tried again and this time our new local authority said yes – they had the budget. Shocking, butI wasn’t complaining

And so I was one of the first couple of people in the world to have a combination of Monoclonal Antibodies and Pentostatin chemotherapy to treat Hairycell Leukaemia. There was a hope that 1+1=3 with this combination. If it worked, I’d be written up in medical journals and everything.

I had to go to the Royal Marsden hospital overnight for my first treatment, “just in case it didn’t agree with me” … great… As I sat on my bed and the drip went in I couldn’t help noticing the 10 doctors with clipboards and a tray of needles – “just in case”.

One by one they went away and after a few more weeks of treatment and tests, I went back to see some very happy faces shortly after Matthew was born.

I went into complete remission in January 2004 and have been totally clear to this day. As Matthew turns 8 soon – so will my period of complete health.

The final part of the story will appear on Wednesday next week. (Part 3 is now live – here!)

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Have you seen what I’m doing for our charity challenge later in 2012?

CLICK HERE to find out and please DONATE something small if you can.
[/box]

Approaching 40 part 1: The day my life changed forever

I’ve been wanting to write this story for a long time. I turn 40 in 6 days’ time and it seemed like the right time to do it. If you’re having a bad day, I hope it raises your spirits. If you’re having a bad time generally, I hope it helps you to put things into perspective. If you’re having a good time, I hope it helps you be thankful for what you have. 

The story is a three parter. There’s a lot to say.

13th February 1997

My girlfriend (now wife) and I packed our bags, left our jobs, jumped on a plane and moved in together, 11,500 miles away from everything we owned and knew. Living in Sydney, Australia had been a dream for ages and we’d spent over a year making the dream come alive. I’d even flown out there the year before, looking for a job. The plan had worked. We were over the moon.

I had a medical through my sponsoring company – BT (British Telecom) a couple of days before we left the country. The HR dept weren’t overly organised, which in a funny way worked to my advantage. If they had have been, we would never have even left the country.

We landed and set up base in a hotel until we found our feet. A couple of days into the trip I received a fax (remember them?) asking me to call the doctor who’d carried out my medical. I called and he told me, “it’s probably a mistake, but your blood counts are a bit low, you should probably get them checked out…”

I put the phone down and did exactly what any perfectly healthy 27 year old who’d just landed in Sydney would do.

Ignore him completely.

There was no urgency attached to the conversation and I felt I had more important things to worry about at the time.

Fast forward to July 1997

I woke up one morning with a pain in my buttock. No sniggering… I was struggling to walk which was pretty odd, not to mention uncomfortable. This then forced me to register with a local doctor (I had to remind myself what the inside of a surgery looked like) and asked her to take a look. After much prodding from not one, but two doctors, I was about to be sent away with some anti-inflammatory pills. Before I left though, the wise doctor suggested she took some blood from me, just to be on the safe side. I then remembered the BT doctor’s phone call.

A couple of days later the pain had gone, but I went back to the surgery anyway as she’d asked me to report back that all was well.

I walked in smiling and she told me to sit down.

It turns out all wasn’t well.

It was around midday and anyone who had an appointment after me was going to be kept waiting for a while.

In the space of 30 seconds, my life turned on a sixpence.

It turns out the pain in the buttock was an infection. The reason it was unusual was because my blood should have been capable of fighting such things with ease. It seems my BT doctor should have made a little more of a fuss about the blood test I had back in February.

She proceeded to say sentences with words in that no one wants to hear in a doctor’s surgery which involved  “10% of normal levels”…. “blood transfusion”… “haematologist and “leukaemia”….

My girlfriend was called from work.

I had tunnel vision and my life flashed before me. The invincible, 27 year old, healthy, fit, Asia-Pac travelling, young man, was no longer invincible.

Considering it was 13 years ago, I remember the next few weeks vividly.

I was with a specialist haematologist within about 2 hours.

He and I sat stony faced across his desk and after some initial introductions, I asked the very simple question anyone reading this would have asked, because it’s the only thing that matters at that time.

“Am I going to die?”

“I don’t know”, was the reply. “We need to do some tests to find out what’s wrong.”

Later that afternoon, I had dozens of viles of blood taken, a bone marrow scrape (which is the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever had happen to me) and various other scans over the space of 2 hours.

Our walk back through the station at Town Hall in Sydney I remember so clearly – it was like one of those sequences in the movies – where they put a mist round you and everyone else is slightly blurred out… “Why me?” is all I remember asking time and time again.

We then went home to call our respective mum and dads. Not the call they were expecting. Not easy calls to make.

For the next two weeks I had lots more tests scheduled in. The doctors and nurses were incredible and the private health insurance I was given 24 hours before I left the country was a godsend. For those two weeks I had no idea if I was going to have my life shortened to just 27 years or whether I would be OK, or something in between.

I drove a lot, for some reason. I remember heading out into the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney and sitting and looking at the view. I also remember taking great comfort from knowing that I had lived my life to the max. I wouldn’t have changed anything. I have to say that was very comforting. The biggest battle in my head was coming to terms with not being with Suzanne any more – that was hurting me in a big way and there was nothing I could do about it.

I went back to the consultant for the diagnosis a couple of weeks later. By now it was the middle of August and a beautiful Sydney winter. The sky was so blue as we went in to the consulting rooms – I remember looking up at it before I went in, unsure of how I would be feeling like when I came out. As moments go in life – this was a moment.

Narrowing it down

They’d narrowed it down to three possible causes – one very bad, one bad and one not too bad. In order to complete the diagnosis, I had to have my spleen removed. It was three times the size it should have been, as it had been filtering pretty rubbish blood for who knows how many months or years. Removing it would help with treating me, as well as helping to absolutely diagnose the problem.

We left and called my parents. It was news… it wasn’t great news, but it could have been worse. There was hope and things were starting to happen. Everything is so much easier when things start to happen. It’s probably one of the reasons for me being obsessed with taking action today. Sometimes pausing is a better solution.

A week or so later I went into hospital to say goodbye to my spleen. My days as a sixpack model were numbered, and trips to Malarial countries were now out the window, however it was a small price to pay.

The operation was on 28th August 1997.

Three days later on 31st August 1997, as I was recovering from the operation and the morphine had been taken away 🙁 the doctor came to see me. My spleen had been whisked off to the lab and chopped into tiny pieces and put under a microscope. They could finally see what had been going on over the last few months and probably years.

They had narrowed it down to one of the three possibilities on a day where history was being made for all the wrong reasons back in the UK.

I’ll publish part 2 on Friday. (Part 2 is now live – here!)

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Have you seen what I’m doing for our charity challenge later in 2012?

CLICK HERE to find out and please DONATE something small if you can.
[/box]

A review of Putler – the best Paypal app ever

If you use Paypal for your online transactions, and chances are you do, then you’re going to thank yourself for reading this review.

For years people selling services online have used Paypal, but have struggled with their website. It’s slow, it’s clunky and it’s NOT intuitive at all. Processing refunds and analysing data are a nightmare and it should be a dream.

It now is.

With this revolutionary new Adobe Air desktop app for Mac or PC, the Putler team have created an interface into your Paypal account. It has dashboards, it is fast, it provides automatic analysis on how your business is doing.

In short, it is totally awesome and life changing if you deal with Paypal every day.

You can download Putler right here for FREE to get you going.

Enjoy.

Personalized URL marketing really works

For the last 8 years I’ve been using a technique inside my businesses to get noticed and win new business from both completely cold approaches as well as with referrals. In the last week my success rate has been amazing and I thought it was worth sharing.

Personalized URL marketing works when selling B2B services, software, high value physical goods, consulting services – pretty much anything in fact.

I start from the premise of:

        • Most marketers and people who compete in the areas I work in are lazy and so with a bit of thought, you can easily stand out from the crowd
        • Email marketing in the B2B world is all but dead. When people get excited about a 3% open rate, you’ve got to worry
        • The word “boilerplate” should be removed from the Oxford English Dictionary. Serious business people can spot cut and paste a mile off
        • No one has time any more.

Mix that lot together and you can cross off cold calling, spammy email marketing and direct mail as sensible techniques to win business in today’s day and age.

This technique works like this.

      • Research your target – find out something you can create a rapport with
      • Write a very short conversational email
      • Generate a personal URL such as http://845tv.com/vip/richard-fox/ and include that link in the email (that’s a real live landing page example)
      • Sit back and wait for them to click

Let’s look at this in more detail.

1) Research your target.

Stand out from the crowd by knowing something about the person you’re about to approach. If you were at a party and you saw someone across a room you wanted to talk to – you’d possibly have done your research first. If not, you’d open the conversation by finding something out about them wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t just jump in shouting, “Buy this!”.

2) Write a short conversational email

I’ve found over the years people respond well to these. A few lines. Make the URL you’re about to add stand out – put space around it. Make sure you link the research to the email… “I noticed your presentation at XYZ seminar last week and really enjoyed it…” That’s a good starting point – you’ve hooked them in. Get the subject line right too – “Introduction” is a good one – it has a double meaning and tends to get opened because of that.

3) Generate a personalized URL

This is the real secret to snaring a target. Personalized URL marketing relies on the fact that people are naturally curious / vain / intrigued. www.acmewidgetcompany.com is boring. It’s for anyone. www.acmewidgetcompanyshowcase.com/richard-fox is for me… they’ve done something specifically for me. They’ve taken the time to prepare something? They’ve bothered to find out something about me? I’ll click the link. We use a custom system to generate this link, landing page and reporting.

4) Sit back and wait

Our targets then click the links we prepare – it’s not some scammy redirect for tracking purposes – they see a unique landing page, with the same look and feel as the main product / service. There’s a greeting to them “Hi Richard” (in big font to capture attention), a short, personalized piece of text (can you see there’s theme there?) and then a video. A short video – either one we’ve prepared earlier OR a unique voiced-over screencam (a video proposal in fact – and more on that in another post).

Recent results

  • I work with Ed Dale, the founder of The Challenge. We produce Internet marketing courses together. Our relationship started with me using this process with him. I got noticed. Ed loved the link and the video and called me 24 hours after I sent it.
  • Yesterday, I sent a personalized URL landing page to a target in San Fransisco. I lucked out here – it’s a world record for me. He clicked the link and emailed me back (using the word ‘Awesome”) inside 6 minutes. He is now a prospect.
  • Earlier this week I sent another personal link to a company about a subscription service we run. They’d clicked the link AND signed up to the service within… drum roll… 3 minutes.

And finally

Not everyone clicks. And I take that personally! I keep refining the process and when an email style or subject line works, I keep using it.

However the click through rate for me personally over the last 3 years is over 70%. My job going forwards is to use the system more.

As ever with Newton’s 3rd law – if you take action, you get a reaction. People who have become clients (or have been targeted) loved the concept so much, we delivered their own branded system which we now call Targets to Prospects and we now sell it as a service. We have a reseller scheme too so that video companies and consultants can bundle it with their services. Click the links if you’d like to find out more.

A final point – you need a sales process. It needs to be consistent. Personalized URL marketing works for my businesses. What works for yours?

 

Did you know the Outlook 2010 screenshot tool existed?!

A handy hint for you today – and something I’ve only just discovered which I wanted to share.

If you use Outlook 2010, it’s easy to assume everything is just the same as Outlook 2007 and before. It’s human nature not to dig too deep and find out what’s new.

Well this feature is new and it’s a real timesaver if you’re always scratching around looking for a screenshot tool.

It turns out that Outlook 2010 has it’s own embedded screenshot tool and it’s pretty darn good.

Take a look at the very short video below to save yourself plenty of time in the future.

You can be creative. With ANYTHING

In honour of the awesome six weeks ahead of us, with the first match of the Rugby World Cup starting at the time this post was published, I thought it would be a good moment to dig out this video – which you may have seen before.

Safety videos on airplanes have always fascinated me. No one watches them, everyone knows how to put on a seatbelt and a lifejacket, yet the law dictates they have to be shown.

So – airlines have a problem – how do they engage passengers who’ve seen these things a hundred times?

If you’re British Airways – you go totally bog standard and dull.

If you’re Virgin – you introduce cartoons with cool looking characters and moments to make you smile, whilst still conveying a serious message.

If you’re Qantas, you employ the services of the well known pilot John Travolta to grab your attention (yes he really does introduce their safety video in a pilot’s uniform).

If you’re Air New Zealand – you go for all out awesomeness and use the one thing which unites all New Zealanders and ranks as more important than friends, family, wealth and health – and that’s the All Black rugby team.

There’s a serious point here – using just the right amount of humour really works to teach and communicate and audience. The reason for that is simple – the audience is totally engaged with what they’re watching. It’s also not what they’re expecting – another reason why they become engaged – they’re intrigued and want to watch the story to the end.

There’s a message there somewhere!

If you’ve not seen this before – watch it and marvel. When you’ve finished watching it – figure out how you could be more creative in your consulting business to help you get noticed, to engage your customers and to make them smile.

Who says business has to be boring?!

Oh and C’mon England…!

I found out the hard way – how to avoid a costly WordPress hack

Whilst away on my mini-retirement over the summer, one of my business websites got hacked and hacked in a bad way. The site is a web based application which has hundreds of customers and is becoming business critical for some of them.

Fortunately while I was away, I have an amazing business partner and developer who battled for pretty much most the day to get the problem fixed. Believe it or not, our customers weren’t too happy about being shown a Russian hack site when they visited their homepage.

It makes you feel sick to your stomach when you see it with you own eyes and you realise that’s what your customers are looking at.

So – why did it happen, and what was the lesson learned, and what can YOU do to protect your businesses?

The TimThumb vulnerability

Back in July, it was announced that the piece of code contained on many sites for automatically resizing images had a flaw in it. It was possible to FTP into it and then manipulate the visible files within the public_html folder.

You hear about these sorts of things all the time, and I don’t know about you – but I’ve become complacent towards them – “It’ll never happen to me” etc etc.

Turns out it did happen to me.

While I was on holiday, it became big news in the WordPress security community. It also turns out there were a lot of people being hacked. Even Yoast – who is one of the prominent developers in the WordPress community was hacked as late as three days ago. So the threat is very much still out there as of 8th September 2011.

If you’ve not got rid of this problem – you will get hacked eventually. It cost us £300 in developer time and we lost customers and new business that day. Dozens of files had malicious code inserted and it took quite some time to unravel the mess. Don’t let it happen to you.

How to fix the problem

If you are running an awesome WooTheme – update the framework and you’ll find an automatic script will update and remove the TimThumb problem for that specific site. Big credit to WooThemes for providing a fix early in the day.

For other themes, install this TimThumb Vulnerability Scanner from the WordPress repository immediately to scan and remove the threat.

How to ensure it doesn’t happen again

I’m about to show you a piece of magic, you’ll thank me for and wonder how on earth you managed without it.

The reason most people get hacked is because (like me) they don’t upgrade their core, themes and plugins regularly. If you have one site, it’s a pain. If you have dozens, it’s a massive chore.

Are you ready for this?

ManageWP. Remember that site…

Imagine if you had 100 sites and you could access them on one screen – and update them like this:

ManageWP review

ManageWP in action

You’d say that’s magic wouldn’t you?

Well it is – but it’s also real.

Take a look at managewp.com – it’s the place where you can manage multiple blogs at the same time. For free (as of 8 Sept 2011). I’m writing this post on the Being Smarter site from within it at the moment. You set your sites up once and then all you then need forever, is one password to access them all, post to them all and UPDATE them all. With one click.

Awesome.

Do it. Do it today – and don’t make the mistake I made. It can happen to you.

It’s time to get personal with your marketing

I have to say – and I’ve been saying it for a while, the days of mass marketing, mass email, impersonal communications, lazy database segmentation and time consuming communications are over.

There’s two very clear trends emerging:

1) No one has time any more.
2) If you want to get noticed, you’ve got to be personal.

People need quick, simple communications, applications, services and products which are uncomplicated, which can be clicked once, which are streamlined and which are easy to use. If your email asks someone to do two or more things, it’ll be ignored – people are lazy and easily distracted. If your consultant website is confusing and doesn’t have a compelling action on each page, people will not click where you want them to.

If you expect to sell your consulting services to a senior employee of a large multinational by sending them boilerplate – you are wasting your time.

Keep it simple, create personalised communications and make it easier for your targets and customers to do business with you.

If you don’t believe me, believe Gary Vaynerchuck, talking about the next couple of years in Social Media and how people and companies should and will be interacting with one another.

Hat tip to @davidjenyns and @preneur for this video.