You have to start somewhere

No one goes to great overnight.

Even those who appear to have risen to success quickly has had a long, possibly hidden journey.

I live in Bray, Berkshire – about 100 metres from the home of Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant.

I just stumbled across this description of how he got started and wanted to share it.

In 1995, after more than two years of searching, Heston bought a 450-year-old pub in Bray. Small, with an impossibly cramped kitchen, only one door, no view, an outside toilet and a reputation as the hotspot for every drinker banned from other pubs in the area, it was hardly the ideal choice for a restaurant, but it was all he could afford.

At this stage, there was no thought of Michelin stars. With its beams sandblasted and a U-shaped copper bar installed, The Fat Duck opened as a simple bistro serving French classics such as petit salé of duck, steak and chips, sauce à la moelle and tarte tatin.  On the second day the oven exploded and Heston spent the rest of service with a bag of frozen peas strapped to his head. Inexperience and limited funds meant he was spending twenty hours a day in the kitchen, occasionally snatching fifteen minutes’ sleep curled up on a pile of dirty tea towels.

In 2004 it became only the third restaurant in the UK to hold 3 Michelin stars and in 2005 was voted the Best Restaurant in the World.

An amazing journey in a relatively short period of time.

If you’re beginning your journey as a consultant, freelancer or coach and are currently wondering how to put food on your family’s table. Have faith. Have a vision. Be good at what you do. Spend over 50% of your time finding ways to promote your business and you won’t go too far wrong.

Heston set out with a vision. You can too.

10 alternatives to selling on price

“If you sell on price, you don’t have a sustainable business”

 

This is a topic drilled into small businesses from an early age, that you can’t sell on price. Some choose to ignore it – at their peril I’d say.

Here are 10 things I think you should be selling on instead.

  1. You – as a business owner – you are a differentiator and a personality.
  2. Ongoing support- can you persuade people you’re a safe pair of hands and will look after them ongoing. My dad would buy on that when it comes to IT services, that’s for sure.
  3. Your geographical location – being close to someone can be a distinct advantage.
  4. A unique benefit -benefits are only unique to an individual. What floats one buyer’s boat, won’t necessarily float another’s. There is rarely such a thing as a USP – drop that from your vocabulary.
  5. A genuine USP – yes, I know what I just wrote… however, if you’re Apple you have one. You may have one too – just be really careful it is unique if you’re planning to sell on it.
  6. Speed – can you deliver faster? People will buy from you because of it and guess what, they’ll pay a premium too.
  7. Recommendation – people buy on recommendation and referral every day of the week – make sure you are set up to do this on an ongoing basis
  8. Timing – being in the right place at the right time is key. You should spend a good proportion of your selling hours increasing your chances of this
  9. Desire – creating longing amongst buyers and appealing to our primate ‘Croc Brain’ is one of the best ways to sell. Painting a picture of the outcome of buying your service will create desire.
  10. Brand – it worked for IBM… (for a while)

Rarely of course does it boil down to just one thing off this list. Normally there’s a combination of factors involved however focusing on a subset of these 10 means you will remove the price discussion from the sales cycle, assuming you’ve done the budget qualification in the first instance.

I want to leave you with the inspiration for this post… undeniable proof that you don’t have to sell on price.

The world’s most desirable PET HOTEL. (yes really – and there’s a video to prove it, I’m afraid).

If you stand still, your small business won’t survive

“If you’re looking out the window enjoying the view, you’re doing something wrong”

In 1998, I was fortunate enough to earn my Private Pilots License whilst I was living in Australia. It was a life long dream and after a couple of months of having the license, we returned to the UK and I’ve never flown since!

A lot of people have said to me – what was the point of all of that expense and effort if you don’t fly now? My answer to that is simple – firstly, it was a dream, which I fulfilled and loved every second of the experience. Secondly – I truly believe the experience taught me so much more than just learning to fly a plane.

Flying is perhaps 80% “what if”. The majority of your training is to help you to react in an emergency and my instructor always said to me that if you’re looking out the window enjoying the view – you’re definitely doing something wrong. I’m thinking that’s a pretty good analogy for the small business. It’s far too easy to ride a wave when things are going well, however that’s the time you should be more worried about your pipeline than any other time.

Are you listening to trends in the marketplace? Are you getting first mover advantage? Are you listening to your customers?

You need to keep adapting and changing, because if you stand still, you won’t survive.

37 Signals never stand still. I found this timelapse video of how their website has changed over the years – and I think there’s a message in there for all of us. The thing I take out is that the changes you make don’t need to be big. Small and often is the way to go for best results.

Evolution of a homepage from 37signals on Vimeo.

What happens if you publish content and react in real time

The results of a fascinating experiment

 

I’ve been publishing content online for 3 years now – regularly. This blog is starting to prove popular, but I guess a lot of my publishing has been through training video production for and on behalf of other clients. It’s more recently I’ve started to produce video for my own purposes, based on the knowledge I’ve picked up over this time.

Last Thursday (5 days ago) I spent 20 minutes putting a video together, shortly after I’d implemented a technique for myself and I couldn’t help but think, for the ‘man in the street’ who isn’t overly technically literate, this might be a confusing and tricky thing to do.

That ‘thing’ was syncing Outlook with iCloud.

iCloud and iOS5 was released on Wednesday 12th October 2011. I produced the video the following day. If I’m honest with myself, it was a bit rushed, however I knew I had to ‘ship’ so out it went – it was a lot more than was out there at the time. I worked out a new technique for explaining a concept, to save me time (slides would have taken longer) and I wrote the post and published the video on YouTube.

Stats as of 10pm on 18th October

[UPDATE: 8 November 2012 – 100,000+ views now!]

Before I produced the video I did something I don’t always do – and will do from now on. I did a search for various phrases around the subject and found nothing. Hardly surprising – iCloud had been out for less than 24 hours. It suddenly occurred to me that being first at something might be a good idea – so it’ would be worth investing the time in producing this. As it turned out, 20 minutes wasn’t much of an investment! That said, when you produce videos as often as I do you’d expect to do them quickly.

Within a couple of hours – I was amazed. The searches hitting the site (as opposed to being from an email promotion for example, where you’d expect a barrage of traffic) were extraordinary… visitors to the site shot up and within 4 days – through search alone, the video stat looked like this:

A couple of other by products occurred – I was suddenly seen as the global expert in syncing Outlook with iCloud (despite the fact that I’m certainly not!) I’ve had emails from the far corner of the earth asking me questions… not perhaps what I wanted, but nice to be asked nonetheless. In addition, visitors to this site and as a result affiliate clicks and revenue have shot right up and show no signs of falling – the searches are consistent in both hitting this site and YouTubedirectly.

So – the moral of the story – if you want to get known in your niche, publish great content whilst reacting to real time events.

What you should you, the lone consultant be doing about this?

I’m not an IT consultant, however, if you are, you should be kicking yourself. IT consultants across the land should have been producing content on the day iCloud and iOS5 was released. Remember this, publish early. It’s called first mover’s advantage. Get known for being an expert.

If you’re a finance consultant or a small accounting firm – find out what new legislation and rules are coming online in your country / state and become expert. Publish your thoughts, show people what to do. Be seen as an expert and people will call you up and ask you to work with them. It’s just a fact of life.

If you’re an HR consultant, legislation changes seemingly hourly here in the UK. I suspect it does throughout the rest of the world. If there’s a big change coming, build up to it, write about it, explain what effect it will have on your potential customers. The press will pick up on you, interview and before you know it, your phone will ring.

[UPDATE: Thanks to @newyork0605 – legislation changes in the UK have standardised – 1 October and 1 April – so get planning for next year!]

I could go on, but I know you know what I’m saying. Are you doing it though?

Further reading

If you’d like further reading – one of my favourite authors, David Meerman Scott has devoted a whole book to real time marketing which is a great read. There’s a stack of examples inside of this technique working as well as a discussion on why it’s such an important concept.

How to sync Outlook with iCloud

Making your life easier…

So much about being a lone consultant is about having your life made easier by technology. More often than not, it transpires against you to make life harder.

With iOS5 launching yesterday, I’ve been keen to find out how iCloud is going to help sync our lives – how helpful would it be to have all contacts and appointments etc on all devices? In addition – I wanted to see how iCloud interact would with Outlook and PC users.

It turns out it’s pretty darn good… oh and it’s all completely free for the first 5GB anyway.

There’s a short demo below – what it actually is… how to set it up… and watch it in action.

Just start. And then iterate.

Keep it simple…

I wrote about Newton’s 3rd Law a while back – and I still subscribe to it – pretty much every day. To paraphrase Isaac himself:

For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

A friend of mine taught me this a long time ago and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s the way things get done. It’s the way fortunes are made and it’s the way great things are created.

The inch thick business plan doesn’t have a place in 2011 or in fact in any year going forwards. Having a one page plan… a direction… a vision even, is a very good thing, but then, just start. Try something. Put your toe in the water. Make a noise. Go outside your comfort zone. Anything.

And see what happens.

And then, iterate.

Change something. Try something else. Do something different. Talk to customers. If you don’t have any, find out what your prospects might want. Tweak your offer. Produce something in red instead of blue.

And see what happens.

And then, iterate.

Want to see this process in action from a company that started with nothing and now has multiple websites in the Top 1,000 most viewed? Here’s Collis Ta-eed, founder of Envato speaking more sense in 5 minutes than most of us do in an hour.

Does your website have a personality, like these ones?

People buy from people

Clients don’t buy ‘companies’, they buy people and as a rule, clients don’t buy dull, boring people.

In the first instance, a new client will always buy into a company website first – who doesn’t check someone out first before interacting with them? So, why is it that companies big and small insist on being dull, corporate, out of date, uninspiring and in the case of the lone consultant often don’t do their own personality justice.

Have you ever considered how many people have visited your website to check out what you do and have disappeared into the ether straight away, as they’re put off by your company personality? It’s the equivalent of the “I really must go and get myself a drink” moment at a party, when you’re talking to someone… except online, you have no idea who’s walking away.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late and come up with some screenshots I hope will inspire you – in both a good way.

So – here we go – 10 screenshots from websites that I hope will make you go and check out your site to see whether it has the personality you know it deserves.

1) Useful

If you need a company logo, what do you do? Go to their site and right click to download. Akismet has pre-empted that very nicely – look what pops up when you right click their logo… How useful is that?

www.akismet.com

2) Honest

I’ve admired these guys from afar for a couple of years. They make the awesome Market Samurai software. Have you ever seen such an honest about us page? Sometimes it’s just as important to say what you don’t do.

See the full page here:
http://www.alliancesoftware.com.au/about/strengths-and-weaknesses

3) Geeky

A 404 page not found page… which normally says “Page not found” or something dull. These guys are geeks – but THEY HAVE A PERSONALITY!

www.css-tricks.com/qwerty

4) Cheeky

I left the Dilbert email list the other day… and you know what, they almost won me back – because they had a personality. How many unsubscribe pages say “UNSUBSCRIBE REQUEST COMPLETE. – CODE as8987e02” or something similar. What does yours say?

5) Uncorporate

I will take the First Direct bank with me to my grave. Why? Because they know how to relate to humans. Even their FOOTER conveys their personality. That’s pretty special.

www.firstdirect.com

6) Clever

Did you know if it’s your birthday according to your Google Profile, they’ll display you a Happy Birthday graphic. Google has oodles of personality. That’s one of the reasons they are where they are.

7) Playful

The Digital Telepathy team are superb designers. You’d expect them to have personality – and they do. It runs through their products too.

www.hellobar.com

8.) As you would expect

I’d be surprised if you don’t know the Innocent Smoothie brand. Their navigation header wobbles. I’ve never seen that before. It just works – because it once again conveys their personality. Am I getting through here?

www.innocentdrinks.co.uk

9) Makes you smile

Another geeky 404 page not found page with real thought. Remember those dark, distant Internet Explorer days? Here, they reminisce.

 

10) Helping you to buy

I’m reliably imformed that wherever you are in the world, the header changes to reveal whether the Threadless folks ship to your country. It really doesn’t get more helpful than that… immediately, they put you in the buying frame of mind.

www.threadless.com/

Go on then – what are you waiting for…. go and get your website a personality!

Think small if you want big results

Having time off to think over the summer meant I came back to my desk on 6th September with more ideas than I could possible handle in two years and the Mark of old would have attempted to tackle them all at the same time. It is a terrible trait of mine – have idea, abandon everything else and just do it.

Well I’m better than that now – I’ve been around too long to know that’s a bad thing to do. There’s a lot of people who’ve been saying the same thing to me recently. Ed Dale brought it to my attention at the beginning of the year at the Going Pro conference (you can watch his speech here for free) If you want to change, move, grow, whatever… then you have to take small steps.

Small steps can lead to big change.

Step change without these small steps, rarely works.

You only have to look at the diet industry to know how true that is. But the same applies in the small business world too.

So having had all this time to think, I filed the big ideas, broke them up into small chunks and then started to tweak how I work. There’s a summary below.

  • I’ve been using Evernote for 3 years, but haven’t been using it well. It’s now on every PC. I’ve changed the folder structure to fit with where I am now (not 3 years ago) and I now use it everyday to file away ideas when I’m ready for them.
  • I had heard about a great way to manage multiple websites about 9 months ago and Tweeted it in fact, however had never tried it out. I’ve now got ManageWP up and running and am writing this post through it now. It’s a massive timesaver. I can now update plugins, WordPress core and deal with comments on 20 websites in single clicks. Nice.
  • I bought another whiteboard – one that I could wipe clean and is reserved for ideas – I’ve a separate one for targets and goals. I used it 3 times alone yesterday to mindmap scripts. It means you have to get up from your chair, and it gets you being creative. Great advice from James Schramko in this podcast.
  • I bought a mic boom for my voiceover work. It now takes me back to my radio days – I feel more professional (and I’ve been told I sound it too).
  • I now review Targets and Objectives monthly – it used to be quarterly – but things can drift. They’re written clearly on the (other) white board and there’s a countdown of the number of days left before the end of the month too.
  • Sales targets are updated weekly. I track progress and print it and stick it next to me so it’s in my line of vision all week. That’s a much more effective eyeline than Tweetdeck (which it used to be).
  • I’ve a blog post calendar. I know what I’m going to write and when over the next few weeks. As new ideas come in, I file them away ready for writing.
  • I’m saying ‘no’ more regularly, which actually isn’t a small thing. But it is really.
  • I’m pausing more. Rather than rushing in.

What are you doing small?

To sum things up, one of the most successful online companies on the planet does things in small steps too – so I thought this backs up today’s post rather nicely…

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.
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