51 lessons learnt in year 1 as an entrepreneur

Being Smarter is a year old today. A year ago to the day, I sat at my desk with a blank canvas, a very small amount of money and a clock ticking. It’s been a fascinating journey – The 8.45 Club was born, I’ve met some great new people and learnt so much.
I wanted to share the (at least) 51 things I’ve learnt so that I can potentially help you as well as acknowledging the folks who’ve helped me…

  1. Get things right on paper before you go anywhere near a keyboard.
  2. Don’t work when your son’s making a giant snowball outside with another dad. Even if you have a deadline. You’ll regret it.
  3. Data is not data until it is backed up. Regularly.
  4. The Thirty Day Challenge is an inspiration.
  5. Visions and missions can only be developed when in transit – evolve yours over time by mainly doing as opposed to mainly thinking.
  6. Twitter is a serious business tool.
  7. Seth Godin is a genius. He writes in 8.45 Club style – short and to the point and that suits me (and 000’s of others) down to the ground.
  8. Have a testbed for software. Once it’s working, don’t fiddle with it. Ever.
  9. Networking is still one of the most important skills ever and should be taught at school. Without it, I wouldn’t have met the wonderful Lesley Everett.
  10. Choose who you work with (if you can). I’ve been blessed with great clients in the last 12 months. They’re great because they do what they say they are going to do and value me. Do yours?
  11. Know what your USP is and ensure it’s remarkable as Seth says.
  12. Learn when to switch the PC off – it will still be there in the morning.
  13. An A3 pad is a great asset when you are about to start a new project.
  14. I’ve been inspired working in subject areas I knew nothing about. You could be too. Thanks Graeme.
  15. WordPress is the answer, what’s the question.
  16. A green screen studio inc lights, cameras and mics can be bought for £1,500. And carried around the world. Want to see what you can do with a green screen?
  17. Personalised webpages (which can be produced in 15 seconds by a technophobe) with a prospect’s name in the URL get 100% click through. You can do this too now!
  18. Have a VERY understanding and supportive wife or partner. (Thanks Suz)
  19. David Meerman Scott and I have something in common – we both love practical examples to demonstrate concepts. The difference between us is that he’s on top of his game and I’m still working on it.
  20. I appear to have created 131,928 files in the last 12 months. Develop an electronic filing system that works and use it dilligently. Use a networked hard drive.
  21. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” (c) My Dad 1945 – current day.
  22. When was the last time you put a magazine/newspaper clipping in a real envelope and sent it to someone. They’ll remember you.
  23. Google Reader is an essential business tool. Learn how to use it.
  24. Appreciate it when clients actually look after you when on their patch. I’ve never been looked after like my new friends in New Jersey did / do.
  25. No one should start a business without an online component to it, or you are missing a trick.
  26. As the E-Myth states, focus on making your business scalable from day 1. I have an org chart with my name in every position which I’m slowly going to backfill. Do you?
  27. Learn how to find out what people are searching for in Google – it’s the single best market research tool on the planet. Ask me if you don’t know how.
  28. Don’t spend hours trying to save a few $£’s – it’s not efficient use of time.
  29. Don’t say “I can’t believe I can’t work today because it’s a Bank Holiday” out loud. Keep it to yourself – people will think you are nuts and won’t get it.
  30. It’s actually really good to stop and pick the kids up from school. But it’s also OK to be doing emails whilst cooking tea for 6 children. Fishfingers are pretty resilient.
  31. Figure out what buyer personas are.
  32. Go out of your way to THANK people. It seems to be unusual these days.
  33. Losing hours or days because you can’t solve a problem is OK. Bodging it is not OK. Giving up is not OK either.
  34. Seek advice actively from people you trust (here’s one). Create an advisory board of people around you. You DON’T have all the answers.
  35. Understand when to let go and when to get an expert involved.
  36. Write your eulogy in bulletpoints. Then live your business and personal life like you want to be remembered. This isn’t as wierd as it sounds.
  37. When you finally take a holiday don’t let your daughter get chickenpox or you’ll need another holiday straight afterwards.
  38. Don’t get so caught up in your endeavours you forget birthdays. Use Moonpig.com.
  39. The software you want is already built. You may have to tweak it but for goodness sake don’t reinvent the wheel.
  40. Learn new stuff. All the time. Or what’s the point?
  41. Nick Spooner you are right – ‘Tell stories and solve people’s problems’ is good advice.
  42. Be generous with your time and show people how to do items 1-51 on your list.
  43. Become a connector – figure out ways of introducing people.
  44. Only have 5 email folders. Inbox, Sent mail, Hold, Follow up and Archive. Gina Trapani is a legend.
  45. My prediction is that www.elance.com is going to be indispensible to me over the next 12 months. It could be to you.
  46. Tim Ferris has done it and got the t-shirt. I’m a living breathing case study who’s aiming to get there.
  47. It will always take longer than you think.
  48. In 2009, projects should take weeks and cost 00’s. If yours is going to take months and cost 000’s you may want to think again.
  49. Firefox every time. Bye bye Internet explorer.
  50. 10 minutes a day. After 8 months of testing – it resonates. Find something that resonates.
  51. And finally – drink beer from time to time with people who inspire. Andy Palmer – Thank you.

Here’s to the next 12 months.

Follow me on Twitter if you’d like to stay in touch.

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5 ways to recruit smarter

My wife is recruiting like crazy at the moment and I feel her pain… she works for a large corporate and the red tape around the recruitment process is a total nightmare. Of course it has to be done fairly and correctly, but it got me thinking that there must be a better way.

We’ve compiled a top 5 thoughts on how to recruit smarter. If you would like to add to the list – feel free below.

1) Is it time to ditch interviews?

How much can you really tell about someone in an hour’s interview? What if they interview badly and are plain nervous? What if they turn up 10 mins late because of a traffic jam, but interview really well? You then face a big dilemma.

As ever the marvellous Seth Goddin has some thoughts on this subject. I wholeheartedly agree with his approach, because I’ve done it!

2) Look online – but not the way you think

There are a number of fascinating stories around how people have been proactive online to secure their next dream role – so why not take advantage of the creativity which is out there and go search them out. Assuming you are looking for a dynamic, innovative, creative think outside of the box type of person, reach for the Google button. BUT whatever you do – don’t go near a jobsite. Instead use some of the keywords you associate with the job and see who crops up.

One of the fascinating stories we’ve found is Steve Chazin. He was made redundant from Apple, having spent nearly 10 years there. Instead of following the traditional path, Steve started a blog and wrote the e-book, Marketing Apple. He now does his dream consulting job, all because people found him as opposed to him finding them.

3) Generation Y – know your audience

Recruiting is a two way process – your candidate needs to actually like the look of your business and want to work there. Think about that as they sit across the table from you (assuming 1 doesn’t apply). Generation Y expects a lot. They want to know that your business is forward thinking. They want to know there’s opportunity. Most importantly they need to know they are going to like YOU. So sell yourself during the interview process. It’s like buying a house – ask yourself how gutted you would be if you lost that person to the competition.

The excellent folks at Tomorrow Today talk about this a lot. Here they talk about the war for talent.

4) Think about the cost of recruitment

Not something you necessarily think about, however if Microsoft can reduce their recruitment costs – you can too.

5) References

Be very sceptical of anyone who can’t provide a reference with a phone number. Where policy allows, ALWAYS call a reference before any offer of employment is made. It’s amazing the number of people who a) don’t bother and b) rely on written references. In 1 minute we’ve just found a dozen sites offering fake references, which we’re certainly not going to link to here!

Have a list of questions in advance and CALL at least one person. Doing that will be far more enlightening than requesting three written ones.


If you come across someone during the recruitment phase who clearly needs advice on how to come across at interview. Be a good citizen and point them at this Selling Yourself resource.

Happy recruiting.


Is your company outofdate like these five huge European businesses?

Everyone has pet hates don’t they? Well one of mine is to see websites and other marketing collateral showing copyright dates with anything other than the current year. This becomes even more tiresome when you’ve actually informed the owner (who you know!) and they still don’t change it! (The two companies I’ve talked to in the last month shall remain nameless).

It’s got me thinking – why does it bother me so much – and does it bother anyone else? It bothers me simply because of my expectations around the speed of information change online. If someone hasn’t posted on a blog for a month, you assume the site is out of business… if someone is quoted in an article with a date from more than six months ago – you start to assume that they couldn’t get anyone better… We are all starting to demand real-time information – anything more than a few hours old is simply not uptodate enough. Am I being fair?

So back to the copyright thing. If you discover a new site and are wondering whether it is authorative – look for the copyright notice – is it showing this year? If not – vote with your feet – the owner hasn’t bothered to update it – the information is probably out of date. I’ve just done my own (very random)  little survey (which took around 15 mins) and would suggest the following site owners take a look at the following:

  • BT Global Services: Flicking through their product portfolio and downloading the first 5 brochures I could find – not a single one said (c) 2009. They were all 2006, 2007 and 2008. They were of course produced in those years and therefore technically are correct – however my first thought as a user was whether the product still exists, or whether the brochure is technically accurate.
  • Ericsson’s UK site: Scanning the home page – I’m drawn to their events section – which proudly advertises an Ericsson Roadshow from 30/6 – 10/7. Today is 1/9. This is precious screen real estate and is being wasted, as well as showing Ericsson to be a sloppy company, which I know it isn’t.
  • Balfour Beatty: (Homepage) Do you really wanting to be talking about winning awards from 2006, 2007 and 2008. Does this mean you’ve not won anything in 2009 and are going downhill?
  • Marks and Spencer: A heinous crime – click on the ‘The Company’ link at the bottom of the home page… Page not found and it blames ME for using an outdated link! Worse than a copyright statement problem which shows 2008!! Come on M&S – you are better than that.
  • Severn Trent Water: Corporate social reponsibility seemed to stop in 2007 – that’s the last date mentioned on that page – despite the fact it has a page rank of 4 – ie many, many sites are linking to it. What does this say about you?!

All the above are top European companies, who almost certainly employee dozens of people to run their websites. How are you faring?

Stop getting distracted!

It’s so easy to become distracted from your working day with the browser constantly open and the Internet always available to you. Leaving your Outlook client on all day is another massive distraction too – which is another story. Turn that off straight away!

If you are looking for ways to be smarter when it comes to putting some focus on your day, Read it Later could be a handy little application for you to know about. In short, it stops you from becoming distracted from what you were doing, without losing a piece of useful information, which could just disappear into the ether.

Read it later is a simple, free application, which has just had its second birthday and comes in three flavo(u)rs – Firefox, Iphone, or any other browser. You are surfing away – trying hard to meet a deadline, and of course you become distracted by an unrelated blog post or other snippet of information that suddenly takes you completely away from what you were trying to achieve originally.

Get into the habit of clicking the Read it later button, which installs into your browser… stop being distracted! What will then happen is that Read it later will file away the URL you were just going to look at for easy access later. You can continue to focus on what you were doing – safe in the knowledge that during you allotted ‘follow up’ or ‘spare’ time even – you can go back and examine the link…

Reading your filed away URLS…

If using Firefox, you can click on the ReadItLater dropdown on the right of Firefox’s search box to expand the list of items you’ve added. ReadItLater conveniently sorts the links by oldest added (you can change this), so you see the stuff that’s been hanging out there the longest at the top. You can quickly filter the list by tag, page name, site, or URL, too.

One of the really cool features of ReadItLater is that it automatically saves links to your Firefox bookmarks in a folder you specify. So if you’re already syncing your bookmarks across computers, your reading list goes to other computers.

In addition – at Being Smarter, we send the list to an RSS feed, which we can then view in Google Reader when time allows.

This is an excellent recommendation for business people serious about putting more focus into the day. It’s a great habit to get into reaching for that Read it Later button…

Demo for you below if you like the sound of it… watch it and then go and be more focused… like its million other users!


Do social networking applications have ANY place in business?

We are pleased to announce our second guest blogger signing to the Being Smarter blog – from a CEO who’s company is all about helping businesses to become smarter. Aaron McCormack is the CEO BT Conferencing and will be joining us regularly with his thoughts on being smarter in business.

So who gives a @$£%@ about the Tweeting and Blogging and Facebook updates of anyone, when we all have jobs to get done? I was much quicker to adopt social networking tools in my personal life. Although many Facebook friends are now professional contacts and it is hard to tell the difference nowadays.

Even Twitter (the “domain of twits” I used to say) has recently become an entertaining place for me (@aaronirish) following the updates from all the various riders in the Tour de France (#tdf)

But do these tools have any role to play in helping us, or anyone else, get our work done?

There is a view that companies enabling social networks for internal use will simply end up helping their people spend more hours gossiping and sharing pictures online, rather than helping people get things delivered.

I tend to agree.

Many of my colleagues disagree. They think that corporate social networking tools (those we know, and some that are yet to be invented) will be the way that people do business going forward. People point to the way that these tools help folks build stronger relationships, find the right resources, enhance knowledge management and gain wider perspectives. Books like the Wisdom of Crowds tell us that if we can find a way of sourcing everyone’s input in a group, then the group makes better decisions.

Because you are here reading this blog, you are more likely to believe that social networking tools are useful. But would you bet your own money on it?

Let us know what you think…

Aaron McCormack is CEO of BT conferencing http://www.conferencing.bt.com/ a division of BT Group plc, one of the world’s leading providers of telecommunications services. For over 20 years, BT Conferencing has specialised in the delivery of robust, reliable and innovative conferencing solutions – backed up by high quality service and support.

How to really measure how profitable you are

We are delighted to announce today our very first guest blog post from Jake Willott, a smart business owner who wanted to contribute to the Being Smarter community… Take it away Jake.


Mark-up and Gross Margin are two different beasts

A clear understanding and application of the two within your pricing model will have a drastic impact on the bottom line.

Mark-up is the percentage difference between the actual cost and the selling price

£90 x 25% = £112.25

Gross margin (or gross margin) is the percentage difference between the selling price and the profit. Profit/Sales Price.

£22.50/£112.50 = 20%

These two definitions are extremely important because gross margin directly tells us how many of our £’s from sales are profit.

It is easy to make the mistake in thinking that if a product is marked up by 25%, the result will be a 25% gross margin on the income statement. However, a 25% mark-up rate produces a gross margin percentage of only 20%. By targeting the gross margin percentage vs the mark-up percentage, businesses in general can add an additional 5% profit to the bottom line.

A worked example:

If you increased the selling price of a product by 5% the figures then look like:

Buy at £90 sell at £120. £30 profit (or 25% gross margin)

Increase sale price by 5%. £120 x 1.05 = £126

The cost to us remains the same so the gross profit is now £36 and gross margin is 28.5%.

So the gross margin has gone up by 3.5%, which as a percentage of the starting 25% is an increase of 14%

So for a 5% increase on the selling price we’ve gained a 14% increase in gross margin.

Even better, let’s look at the cash profit. You were making £30 on the sale, now you’re making £36 – an extra £6. As a proportion of our initial £30, that’s a 20% increase.

A 20% increase in cash for a 5% increase in sale price.

The reason this happens (if you’re still here) is that any improvement in gross margin % is multiplied by the turnover.

In summary:

Figure out who your most profitable customers are, and we can only know that if we measure using the correct metrics.

And a small change in selling price has a large effect on increasing profit.

Jake Willott is the MD of Computer Medicine
The computer people who come to you

Personnel Today features The 8.45 Club

It’s always a good feeling when the industry trade press feature one of your innovations. Lesley Everett’s Walking Tall personal branding course has been featured today in PersonnelToday.com.

One of our esteemed partners and a true expert in her field, Lesley Everett commented…

“In the current climate, providing people the ability to access highly effective, but low cost training solutions has never been more important. Our personal branding modules launched on the 8.45 Club will show subscribers how to develop their personal brand in order to develop executive presence, confidence and marketability.

Lesley is one of a number of partners The 8.45 Club works with to develop courses for business audiences. If you are a true subject matter expert with a story to tell and an audience who wants to hear it – why not consider using this virtual presenter format as a way of reaching untapped audiences as well as generating an additional source of income… while you sleep.

Use the contact us link at the top of the page to request a call.

25 million meetings take place in the US per day. Make your one count.

If in doubt, call a meeting – that’s right isn’t it? Over 25 million meetings take place in corporate America daily. I suspect there is a proportional number in the UK too. Almost certainly half of that time is wasted.

According to a 2007 Microsoft survey, the average time a worker spends in meetings each week around the world is 5.6 hours and 69% claim these meetings are unproductive. Were you interviewed? because I bet you are in the same boat.

How many hours do you spend a week attending meetings? Is there a better way – would a phone call suffice? Would a quick chat over coffee get the job done? It’s always worth considering.

There are always times however, when it is absolutely necessary to have a meeting whether it’s to get a decision made or to review a business case. Want to know how to run a successful meeting? Then there’s some tips below and watch out for a post on ice-breakers coming soon.

1) Know when and when not to call one

  • Ask “Why are we meeting and what do we want to accomplish?”
  • Determine if a different activity could be resorted to other than a meeting.

If there are no clear-cut answers to this question, don’t hold it!

  • There can only be four reasons can’t there?
  • Brainstorming
  • Delivering information
  • Gathering information
  • Decision making

2) Get inspired before you start

3) Preparation is key

  • Identify the place of the meeting (obviously).
  • List participants and guests.
  • List the participants’ roles.
  • Define the objectives and desired outcomes.
  • Determine topics.
  • Determine the length of the meeting.
  • Plan books, speakers, or videos to make it creative.
  • Use a variety of tools and activities to make it fun – see our forthcoming ice breaker post
  • Create an agenda that is carefully scripted.

4) Focus on three areas beforehand:

  • Content. Focus meetings around key issues. Never lose sight of the “what” of your meeting.
  • Design. Figure out how you want to approach each agenda item, as well as how deeply or thoroughly you want to discuss each item.
  • Process. Make sure that one idea is discussed at a time, and that everyone is in agreement as to how decisions will be made.

5) Rules for chairing

  • Review the agenda and set priorities for the meeting at the start
  • Work through the agenda, addressing each point in turn
  • Ensure that all team members contribute and feel able to disagree
  • Remember – two of ‘these’ and one of ‘those’
  • When the group encounters a problem, confront it openly and attempt to find a solution
  • Use a flipchart – it helps express ideas
  • Ensure that all people are heard from
  • Let the people carry the content; make sure that the moderators just guide them through the process
  • Vary the pace: speed up, slow down, and take breaks
  • Keep the group aware of where they are in the process
  • Help the group reach consensus and reach conclusions

7) Don’t let these things happen

  • An argument starting about an established fact
  • Opinions being introduced as if they were facts
  • People intimidating others with real or imaginary ‘knowledge’
  • People overwhelming others with a proposal
  • People can becoming angry for no good reason
  • Promoting your own vision at the expense of all others
  • People demanding or offering (far) more information than needed

(8) Action points – the whole point of a meeting

  • For goodness sake make sure actions are agreed verbally at the meeting and then followed up!

Student Gems review

We first came across Studentgems.com courtesy of The Pitch – an excellent competition run by Sift Media in a Dragon’s Den style. Thanks to their comprehensive Twitter coverage we took a look at their site and what they had to offer – and it’s absolutely on the money as a broker between students, keen to learn and gain experience, and small and big business, keen to keep costs low and have a flexible labour force.

Win-win is always a good starting point for any business and they certainly achieve that alongside great PR coverage on The Guardian, BBC and Observer websites.

In a nutshell, if you are a business looking for specific local skills, you register on the site and advertise those skills. If you are a student with those skills, and have registered, the site will do the brokering – you search or people find you, negotiate a fee and the site takes a small subscription fee.

Joanna Ward is the founder of the site and can be followed here on Twitter.

Think flexible – think creative – do you really need another full time person, or would a relatively cheap flexible resource be a better approach? Studentgems may be the answer for you.

The debate on whether you give away information without registration continues

One of my favourite authors, David Meerman Scott set this debate up in his book The New Rules of Marketing and PR a couple of years ago – and it continues.

The internet marketing ‘guru’s’ – you know, the guys who earn the big bucks with the giant mailing lists make a living out of capturing email addresses, however there is a growing school of thought that in ‘normal’ businesses – particularly in the B2B space that it’s a bad thing to insist on capturing addresses.

There’s a great post today from Michele Linn backing up David’s theory with three ‘aha’ moments – a thing we like here at Being Smarter.

Check out her post and see what you think.