Why I’m running the London Marathon 2020

SPOILER ALERT: THIS ENDS WELL

We all have stories hidden away. Stories which define us. Stories which make us stronger. This is mine.

Buttocks & blood tests

One morning in July 1997, I woke up with a pain in my right buttock.

I was struggling to walk and had to get myself to the doctors to figure things out. This was made more complicated by the fact my girlfriend* and I had moved to Sydney four months earlier and being ‘male’, I of course hadn’t even considered registering with a doctor.

The last thing the company doctor said to me during my medical, before leaving the UK was, “You have medical insurance during your secondment – here’s your BUPA gold card – you won’t need it – but just in case.”

Four months into the secondment and two days after an initial visit to the doctor, I was sat in front of a specialist haemotologist. My white blood cell and platelet counts were at 10% of normal levels. I was seriously ill.

I asked him, “Am I going to die?”

“I don’t know,” he said, looking down at his desk.

His reply has never left me.

On 31 August 1997 (the same day Princess Diana died), I had doctors and nurses hugging me with delight in my hospital room. Despite being minus a spleen (a much over-rated organ), I was finally diagnosed with the incredibly rare Hairycell Leukaemia, which generally affects people over 50. I was 26.

They were hugging me, because the two other possibilities were much, much worse.

We were all so thankful it was ‘just’ Hairycell Leukaemia

I was treated initially in Sydney.

18 months later, the disease returned when we were back in the UK. I was treated again.

It then returned again in October 2003, a few weeks before my son was born. Really not part of the plan.

I was referred to the Royal Marsden hospital in London – a specialist cancer hospital, where I was put on a trial combination of chemotherapy and monoclonal antibodies. The hope was that 1+1 = 5. It turned out the hope was correct and this trial has since turned into one of the standard treatments for treating the disease long term.

In January 2004, it was announced that I was in complete remission for the first time.

Fast forward to February 2020 and I’m still clear of the disease, having been looked after by the amazing staff at the Royal Marsden ever since.

I visit twice a year for blood tests and consultations. I sit in the waiting room for an hour, counting my blessings and keeping my fingers crossed.

It’s as sobering as it gets.

It makes me thankful. It makes me so grateful for everything around me. I get to reaffirm my mantra, to live every day.

I’m going to be running the London Marathon in April

It’s time for me to help this amazing hospital in a small way.

My last marathon was in 2007. I’m now 13 years older (and you’d think wiser) and I’m going to run another.

I’m doing it as a personal challenge as well as to raise a ton of cash to help those in need … to help find cures … and to generate hope for those who need it most. I’m one of a team of about 35 and I’m slightly terrified.

How can you help?

CLICK TO SPONSOR MARK HERE

If I’ve ever helped you, worked with you, got drunk with you, paid you, laughed with you, delivered something for you, filmed you, interviewed you, measured your customer satisfaction, delivered a speech to you or referred you, I would be SO grateful if you’d consider sponsoring my endeavours with a few pounds / dollars / zen / euros / zloty.

With the lousy GBP exchange rate, your euros / dollars and zen will go a VERY long way to help those, who’ve helped me. If you’re here in the UK, your pounds still work very well.

Spare a thought too for everyone running, walking or crawling the 26.2 miles around London on 26th April 2020 and raising billions for the causes which mean so much to them.

This one means so much to me.

Thank you.

CLICK TO SPONSOR MARK HERE

*and now amazingly my wife of 20 years, despite everything I’ve put her through ❤

4 half marathons in a month:

The story of “giving back”.

A plan was hatched

And so it all began on the morning of 18th September 2011, when my wife and I sat and watched the Bupa Great North Run in our dressing gowns whilst having a relaxed Sunday morning.

Before the race started, as ever in true BBC style, wonderful tales of heroism, courage and support were told by everyday people, all running for their cause – all running for something they believed in passionately and all doing something positive to help that cause.

Listening to their stories and watching them run put me to shame that morning.

We’d just come back from a pretty special summer holiday. We live incredibly privileged lives and it hit me squarely between the eyes that it was time to take some action, raise some money and generally give something back to the charity that in an indirect way had saved my life 15 years’ ago.

That morning we hatched a plan for me to run four half marathons in a month. Not ground breaking by any stretch of the imagination – but challenging enough for me. What would make it even more special however would be to run it with a group of friends and persuade them to do the challenge too.

On 17th November 2011, after much research, thinking and fine tuning of my pitch, I assembled 10 “dad’s” in our local pub and waited till pint #3 before pitching the challenge.

So, how did we get on?

Our challenge is now over. 6 of us ran every race, one of us kayaked two half marathons and 10 others were involved in single races, which was no mean feat. Somehow I managed to run 4 personal bests in a row and am now fitter than I’ve been for a long time which was the icing on the cake really!

16th Sept – Great North Run

Red Arrows, 50,000 people, rain, Tony with the Fridge,Denise Lewis, My story featured on BBC1… 10 hour journey home.

We then had a week off

30th Sept Bristol 

10,000 people, went off way to fast, horrible small hills, great city atmosphere,

7th Oct Windsor 

The hardest – closest to us and arrived late, the hills hurt a lot, the children running the home straight with Paul was a real highlight

14th Oct – Henley 

I was somewhat surprised by us being joined by 7 of my school mates, stunning weather, gorgeous scenery, the hardest mile of the 52 in Henley Hill, a great celebration afterwards.

Wind forward to Friday 19th October 2012

We celebrated the end of our challenge by gathering runner and supporters at the Thames Riviera Hotel in Maidenhead. It was a great night to reflect on the last few months of training and the pain of racing 52 miles across that month. Everyone had their own stories to tell and everyone had a lot of special memories. Some of us were even sad it was over!

I did stand on a chair and make a speech I’d spent most of the day writing – it was predominately to say thank you to everyone, and to award some certificates – I’d even laminated myself…

I also wanted to announce a total (which is still going up)… across 242 individual donations, including gift aid, we had exceeded our target of raising £10,783.20. However, in addition, I was delighted to announce a matched donation from BP (thanks to Simon Hodgkinson – one of their employees was part of the team )of £2,783.

There were gasps from the audience…

But even better than that, Paul Johnson then stood up… he’d applied for a grant from the foundation of his company Allergan (Allergan International Foundation) and had been successful. He proudly handed over a cheque for £10,000, making our total raised so far £23,566.

Donations on the night took the total to £23,758– which we were all thrilled with.

And so what a journey it’s been. What a lot of fond memories and most importantly, what a lot of money raised.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Let the next adventure be as fun…

Mark.

Examples of simplicity in business

Simplicity is so hard.

I spend hours convincing clients that less is more.

Videos need to be shorter not longer.

Corporate messages need to be one sentence, not one paragraph.

It’s not about how much detail you can add, it’s about how much you can take away.

Thermomostats can be made simpler… who’d have thought it? Proves a point.

Blogs can be simple too – 37 Signals are the masters of clearing away clutter.

Even Sky, the giant corporate, have done a great job of keeping things simple on their ‘kit’ page.

We’ve worked hard at it too – our customer satisfaction survey web application, Customer Thermometer asks just one question.

As opposed to 20.

We’re constantly told, do one thing and do it well … keep things simple … walk before you can run

We so often ignore this advice, because it’s the easy way out to make things more complex.

Life has become very complicated. Too many choices and too much clutter.

How refreshing it is when a business does make things simple, removes that clutter.

As a result, you get drawn in, you become engaged. You’ve less to process.

It takes huge amount of effort to get good at it.

Some businesses manage it. Do you?

 

Why I say “It’s not a rehearsal”

I was invited to a conference in New York this coming weekend, which is a lovely thing – however just not practical for me at this moment…

The conference is the first of its kind dedicated to patients and doctors dealing with a disease I’m rather close to – something called Hairy Cell Leukaemia.

Because I was unable to attend, I offered to put together a video of my story – after all, it is what we do most days of the week, except for me, I’m normally the one asking the questions. Last week, I swapped roles and gave some answers.

A big public thank you to my colleague Richard Spindler for putting this together for me.

I thought it might be interesting to share:

How to set up a toll free number for your website

When it comes to technology – the answer to “Can you do this…?” is always yes – it’s simply a case of how long or how much.

It’s only Tuesday and I’ve had an amazing week when it comes to technology research. I will save some of my research for another day – but today I’ve cracked something I’m extremely proud of – and I appear to have come full circle.

Back in 1996, I worked for the UK’s largest telco – BT. It’s even possible some of you reading this will have worked with me back then! One of my roles was as an International voice networking specialist – working with our global division to provide sales support to the likes of Hertz (memories of Oklahoma City) and advising on the latest and greatest call centre technology to distribute calls around the world to different call centres.

100’s if not 1000’s of engineers were involved in running our global network and switching voice calls around the world back then, according to time of day or menu options was hard and complicated and BT charged a lot of money for it.

Reason #1278 to love the Internet: Yesterday, I set up the equivalent network in about an hour for $20/month.

I have two businesses and until recently, our web application, Customer Thermometer has email support only. We’ve had a number of ‘complaints’ we aren’t easy to get hold of – many of our US customers like to pick up the phone and talk to a real person (even if they’re British!) and one of our US colleagues decided it was time to implement a toll free ‘1800’ type number.

It’s not something I’d ever researched – yet I knew what I wanted – a number in the UK and a number in the US which would arrive at the same place – press ‘1’ for sales and ‘2’ for tech support… depending on which of the team were awake and on duty – the system should then route the call seamlessly… if no one was able to take a call – voicemail kicks in. I of course wanted to control all of that from some kind of web control panel and have complete flexibility.

Too much to ask?

What I wanted is wanted by hundreds of businesses around the world every day I would imagine – and I guess it sounds simple on paper – however when you stop to think about it – have you any idea how complicated that set up is!

It was time to Google: how to set up a toll free number.

Approximately an hour of research later, I hit the jackpot and want to recommend this company to you.

www.Tollfreeforwarding.com provide an online virtual control panel for setting up your toll free numbers.

You select a US toll free number and start your 1 month free trial. Inbound calls are then routed to your cell/mobile or chosen landline depending on how you set them up. You can then add in a UK toll free (or any other number for that matter).

Once set up, there are then multiple options available:

You can switch in a voice menu (which I recorded in my best voiceover voice – available on request) to distribute those calls, depending on the expertise around and available:

toll-free-interactive-voice-menu

Voicemail is amazing – if someone leaves a message – you can hit play in your control panel to hear it … PLUS it emails you the voicemail as a wav file.

Calls are fully itemised:

toll-free-call-itemisation

Calls can be routed, depending on time of day / day of week:

time-of-day-toll-free-routing

Pricing

You pay a line rental every month for the service and each toll free number of $20 (starter) and then pay for routed calls separately. To route a call from a US toll free to a UK mobile is just 10c/minute… very reasonable. All features etc are fully inclusive.

You should know – I’m not on commission – this isn’t an affiliate sale – I just like to promote what works, is great value and could well answer many consultant’s questions…

Main image credit.

17 things I’ve learnt between Christmas and Easter 2013

Since 7th January 2013 when I started back at work after Christmas, a LOT has happened. Not all of it good, but mostly. I’ve learnt, rediscovered and been reminded of a lot of things. 79 days is a very long time in business these days – at a guess I’d reckon it’s the equivalent of about 300 days in 1995. The pace of life and business is relentless and it’s not slowing any time soon.

I run two businesses – a video production business and a customer satisfaction application as well as blogging for fun here. The old adage of focusing on one thing has passed me by. Instead, I’ve actively chosen ‘variation’, which means I jump out of bed in the morning – for me the ultimate test of happiness. One day I’m driving clients around Milan, coming face to face with trams. Other days I’m working with programmers to add new functionality to Customer Thermometer. Other days I’m actively managing the cashflow.

I have two children, a house which needs constant attention and an amazing group of friends with an active social life. Life is not dull. I rarely spend time collapsed in a heap watching TV in the evening – there’s always something to do.

As a result of this madness, I’m exposed to a lot of situations and I find myself constantly learning, which I love. This post is pure self-indulgence. It’s a reminder to me of what’s happened in this last quarter and I’m going to tweak what I’m doing based on what I now know.

I hope you pick out a couple of things from it and I hope you disagree with some too.

1)    People buy from people, not ‘salespeople’.

2)    Having read WOMBAT selling (free download here), it was great to able to ratify that people cannot be sold to, nor ‘closed’. Prospects will move at their pace. All you can do is to help them to buy.

3)    One bad day or week doesn’t mean you don’t have a business and you should be throwing in the towel.

4)    I am constantly reminded of the effects of implementing Newton’s 3rd Law. If you take action, stuff happens. The great thing about life in business is that you don’t always know what the ‘stuff’ will turn out to be. If you sit around waiting for ‘stuff’ to happen, it won’t.

5)    It’s amazing to hear someone telling you how your web application has changed their business. Makes the late nights all worthwhile.

6)    Victory boards are cool… write down a list of week’s achievements at the end of the week, and consider what you’re going to be adding to it during the week. They give you focus.

7)    If you don’t have a plan, you’ve no idea where you are heading.

8)    Plans can be changed.

9)    If you’re in a services business, go beyond the call of duty for your clients. It pays off. ‘Over deliver and under promise’ is a cliché, but it’s one of the best ones out there.

10)   Writing a book is hard and I’m currently failing at it, because it’s not a priority. I’ll be back though.

11)   Patience can be a virtue, but know when to give up and know when someone is wasting your time, or is never going to deliver – stop kidding yourself.

12)   Celebrate success. Curry and Champagne on a Wednesday night is totally acceptable.

13)   ‘Networking’ isn’t something you do once a month with a warm glass of white wine in a room full of strangers. The ability to connect, communicate and introduce people I’m starting to think is a naturally occurring phenomenon. I’m not convinced it can be taught, but I’m sure some would disagree. Whatever your take, it’s an essential part of business and I strive to get better at it, daily.

14)   Never, ever, ever, ever, ever ignore a gut feeling. Act on it, or you’ll regret it.

15)   Trust your instincts.

16)   Always be testing.

17)   Be honest and say ‘no’ when the deal isn’t right. You’ll be thanked for your honesty and you’ll be remembered when the time is right.

It’s OK to stay small

Last week, I arranged a few drinks with some friends. In a brewery. Yes, we went to the absolute source of the beer and tasted it, whilst new batches were being fermented all around us. Of course, it was a great night – we learnt a huge amount about how to make beer, agreed and disagreed on the various tastes and all in all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, as you might expect.

What I hadn’t banked on however, was a lesson in business alongside the fun and frolics.

The Windsor and Eton brewery was set up 3 years ago. It’s one of over 1,000 microbreweries here in the UK now – and so it’s a competitive business. It was set up by 4 partners, and interestingly, one of them, Bob Morrison, is a marketing expert. It’s interesting – because, whilst of course you need to be able to brew great tasting beer, with competition all around, it’s how you differentiate, which gets you noticed and is one of the reasons they chose Windsor as its base – and leveraged its already amazing brand.

The Windsor and Eton brewery's beersThey set up their brewery from scratch in 7 weeks, without borrowings and their ambition is simple:

“to make Windsor famous again as a brewer of some of the finest and most talked about beers in the country.”

Note they use the word ‘ambition’ and there is no mention of growth by 10% year on year within that phrase.

I spent a while talking with Bob and became fascinated.

They’ve grown tremendously in the last 3 years – have doubled their brewing capacity and are bursting the seams of their backstreet warehouse, nestled amongst the terraced houses of Windsor. When we talked about their plans for the coming years, it was simple –

“we want to stay small”.

How refreshing.

How great to hear that a thriving business has an ambition to stay small, to keep niche, to retain quality, to excel at customer service, to not borrow and to stay true to their core values.

The conversation continued.

Staying small doesn’t mean you can’t grow of course. You can still grow (because, if you don’t grow, you die) – but in different ways, to keep their own personal interests high and to challenge them individually. In my world – it’s adding new features. In their world, they’d like to bottle their own beer and they’d like to move to kegs as well as barrels (oh yes – I know all the lingo now).

I related to this concept and it gave me great confidence. My video production business is going really well. I have a great team of people around me – but I made a conscious decision last year that I don’t want to walk into an office full of people (again) and feel the pressure of paying multiple salaries and mortgages. I want to stay small, but develop an amazing trusted virtual team who experience other projects, outside of my business, to keep them fully rounded and the pressure off all of us.

I want to say thanks to The Windsor and Eton brewery guys who have helped me to ratify my vision.

It really is OK to stay small, but please, be perfectly formed.

If you’re in the area – book on a tour will you?!

How I earned £300 cashback in 6 months (without trying)

[For UK readers only.]

I buy a lot of ‘stuff’ online, mainly because it’s a) cheaper and b) saves me time and c) why leave the house when I don’t have to?! I have huge sympathy for the UK High St, however, as I’m often told, business is business.

About a year ago I was told about the TopCashback site by a friend of mine. He runs his own IT business, buys IT equipment on behalf of his clients regularly, and had made thousands just by buying the ‘stuff’ via a cashback site.

Before you take a look – let me describe it.

1) You need to buy something online and either already know which website to buy from OR you’d like some help in finding somewhere.

2) You visit the TopCashback site.

3) Type in the name of the retailer or item you’re looking for. (Examples include Apple, Insurance, ISAs, Sky, Vodafone, Ebuyer, Dell, PC World…) It’s brilliant when you’re looking to change car / house insurance for example.

TopCashback search

4) It’ll list the retailer (they have 100’s) and make some recommendations too.

5) Next to each one, they’ll then list the amount of cashback you’ll receive if you click their link. PC World is currently at 7%, Vodafone currently offering £151 cashback on a 12 month contract. Legal and General – £60 cashback on home insurance.

TopCashback - Apple cashback

6) You’ll then be taken to that retailer to search and buy what you’re after

7) Days, weeks or sometimes months later – you will receive that %age back in cold, hard cash or topped up Amazon vouchers.

Hotels.com cashback

There are no catches, it truly is that simple and frankly, if you don’t use it when you buy online, you are losing money.

How does it work?

When things sound too good to be true, they often are – so let me explain their business model.

I’m sure you’re aware of the concept of affiliate marketing. If you click on a banner or link which eventually leads you to make a purchase from that advertiser, the person hosting that banner or link gets a %age payment. This cashback site is an affiliate and has affiliate relationships with 100’s of retailers. Here’s the clever bit. Rather than collecting the affiliate revenue themselves, they pass it back to the ‘clicker’ – ie you. They make their money through the advertising on their site. They are currently Alexa ranked 9,166 and so get thousands of visitors/day – making their business model viable.

So – it’s a no brainer isn’t it?

Go take a look. It has genuinely made me £300 in Amazon vouchers in the last few months – simply by remembering to click their bookmark first AND it’s also given me some great retailers I wouldn’t have visited without their help.

It’s good to be transparent – and so if you do visit the site, sign up and make your first purchase through them – I will be ‘thanked’ by them and £10 will be added to my account. It’s called viral marketing – and you could do the same with your friends.

Hopefully if you like what I’ve been up to on this site over the last few years – you’ll be happy to see me earning 3.21 tall,skinny, decaf mochaccinos.

 

Philippe Dubost interview – how to get 1 million web visits in 8 days

Chances are you’ve possibly heard of Philippe Dubost. A couple of weeks ago, he was taking the Internet by storm, pretty much from nowhere.

Philippe was looking for a job, was sick of having to fire off his CV and be another ‘number’ on someone’s desk, and so he decided to go about things differently… got a little creative… thought outside the box.

And boy, has it paid off.

I’m personally fascinated by the concept of things going viral. A colleague of mine, David Meerman Scott, got me hooked on the concept a few years ago, thanks to his (now free) book, World Wide Rave – well worth a read.

When I heard about Philippe’s achievements, I got in touch and asked him for an interview and he was all too happy to give me some time.

I asked Philippe about his situation late last year,  what drove him to coming up with this idea, the sequence of events on how it went viral, about some of the incredible metrics over the course of the mad couple of weeks… and, of course, the question on everyone’s mind – has he got himself a new role yet?

Click here to see his online CV which has turned him into an overnight star. It’s simplicity personified – which for me, is why it has worked so well for him.

Get the full Philippe Dubost interview in the video below. He was a delight to talk to and gives some great insight.

When you’ve seen it – why not take a moment to figure out how you might think a little differently to get noticed by your next client?

Stop worrying about what other people might think

A colleague of mine, Ian Brodie, writes a good email story. I’d thoroughly recommend checking him out. He sent an email out late last week telling a story which really hit home.

I care passionately about what people think about me and the things I’m associated with, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. However, I think you can worry too much – which is Ian’s story:

So, about 20 minutes or so into a webinar I was running for Momentum Club members yesterday on “How To Win High End Clients” and our doorbell rings…

It’s my parents. They’ve been visiting and have just come back from a vist to the shops. The doorbell rings again. The kids are supposed to answer the door but they don’t. Probably up in the loft on the Xbox. The doorbell rings again. I can’t leave my parents out in the cold so I have to apologise to the webinar attendees and head off to let them in.

A rather quiet 10 seconds later and I’m back on the webinar feeling rather embarrassed.

The idea that you could be perceived as ever so slightly unprofessional, don’t have a butler to answer the door on your behalf or hadn’t arranged for your parents to be more organised would have hurt me too. But guess what, you’re human…So, how did Ian respond?

I quickly realised that nothing bad actually happened. I’m pretty certain that no one on the webinar suddenly started thinking “well, Ian was talking sense about winning high end clients. But now he’s answered the door he doesn’t seem quite so credible”.

Like most people, I worry rather too much about my “image”.  About looking professional. Not having any hiccups. Sometimes caring about our image holds us back. We never finish that great article about a topic we think is important because we’re worried what other people might think.

Ian closes his email with some sage advice.

The truth is that if people like you, you have useful insights to share, and you do your very best to help them; then they won’t really care if you have the odd hiccup. In fact it kind of adds to your appeal. You’re fallible like them. Don’t let wanting to “look professional” hold you back.

My take?

Your Personal Brand is everything – how people perceive you, how they describe you when you’re not there will eventually determine your success as a coach or consultant. However, you can take this to extremes. Being human, is also important. No one likes to work with a robot.

It’s actually OK to tell people, “no – I’m picking my children up from school then”… or “no – I’m afraid I don’t work weekends” or “no – I can’t fit that in (you should have been more organised) I’ve other clients ahead in the queue…” Chances are they will respect you more for being human and for being honest.

It’s good to remind yourself once in a while that you can’t and shouldn’t be looking to please everyone all the time.

Thanks for that reminder Ian.