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.

 

One of the best questions to ask your clients

I love working with smart people. It’s inspiring.

I’m working with someone at the moment who gets selling. He gets how to get inside buyers’ heads and he gets the concept of talking a buyer’s language and really – I mean – really figuring out what they are looking for in a service.

Adrian Evans is an author, headhunter and career coach and we’re in the middle of building something rather awesome for one of his clients. I know it’s awesome, because it’s going to be solving their problems and is really giving them something which they don’t have today which will move them forwards as a business.

How do I know all of this? Because he has asked just the right question before we even started.

“How will you judge this?”

So simple, yet genius.

He has got his client to lay out to him their success criteria, how they will feel when it’s right, how their senior management will react to something and what they’re expecting from a deliverable in one simple question.

I love it and I will be using it myself in the days and weeks to come.

The screenshot by the way is taken from the ‘thing’ we’re developing (logo blurred). That studio isn’t real by the way – it’s all done using the magic of greenscreen. You’ll find out more here.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get – part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It contained a bunch of different examples of some surprising cases of people asking, and much to their surprise, getting what they asked for.

I thought it was time to start practicing what I was preaching.

My principle business, 8:45TV is a video production business. Once in a while, I have to get stuck in to an edit, despite having fabulous and far more talented people around me. It was time for an upgrade a couple of weeks ago. I’d had Adobe’s Premiere 5.5 for a couple of years and wanted to treat myself to the upgrade to v6. It seemed to be worth the money.

So – having done my research, I bought the upgrade from the Adobe website.

I own Adobe Premiere Pro 5.5 – therefore an upgrade here in the UK to v6 costs £112.00

Having downloaded the product, I’m prompted to enter the previous serial number, which I do, however it refuses to let me activate the software.

I get on the chat helpdesk, which is pretty good, and after I described the situation, I realised I own the Adobe Production Suite 5.5 (which contains Premiere Pro and is rather an expensive piece of software) however, there is no allowable upgrade path for just one of the products within it.

Really?

Is this licensing gone mad?

Here I am, giving Adobe £112 for a piece of software (incremental revenue with no costs to them) and yet due to a technicality, they won’t license it. The operator said I’d be entitled to a refund and explained how I should go about it.

I was cross.

And so fell back on the “If you don’t ask, you don’t get post“, and decided to test out not only that concept, but Adobe’s responsiveness to customer service – as let’s be honest, most corporates fail dismally.

Adobe does not.

I Tweeted the following…

Within 48 minutes, a very nice lady named Beverley had been in touch. She asked me for the order details and followed up with an email.

Within 15 hours, Adobe had bent their own rules for me. They’d seen sense, and someone somewhere had been empowered to make a customer happy, and importantly, both sides won.

I’m writing this post to firstly thank the nice Adobe people (who do get a bad press around licensing) and to show the proof of my own hypothesis – around the whole asking and getting thing.

The moral of the story is… Don’t get mad – try asking the right question, and you just never know…

Go on – give it a go.

Do one thing, and do it well

Last Wednesday night was pretty special. My wife and I headed up to London, on a school night, children kindly looked after, to attend a rather emotional awards ceremony.

After the ceremony, to say we needed food would be an understatement and we were fortunate enough to stumble across a very nice looking restaurant, just round from Farringdon station in Central London. It’s called Byron Hamburgers.

Until that point, we’d never heard of it, yet it turns out to be a rather successful chain of restaurants, and from what I can see is only available in rather well to do (Kings Road, Oxford, Putney) places. And why not – I think it’s to do with knowing your market.

I absolutely loved this place. It looked stunning, the staff were great and the food was excellent. It also turned out to be their very first night of opening – 2 nights before their official opening night on the Friday. We lucked out in a big way – we were presented the bill and the food was free. That was a surprise – and I’d hereby love to thank the Byron team for that unexpected and rather wonderful surprise, but that’s not the reason I’m writing this post.

photo(1)

The reason I’m writing it is because of the final reason I loved the place.

The marketing.

Like all the best things in life – it was simple and straightforward:

“Do one thing and do it well.”

Possibly my single biggest challenge in life.

If they had said, “Put your eggs in multiple baskets and spread yourself so thin it hurts”, I wouldn’t have written this post, instead I would have smiled and barely noticed it – because it would have been a little too close to the truth for comfort.

Instead, it resonated somewhat.

Byron Hamburgers have grown from zero to 29 restaurants in 5 years.

How have they done it? By focusing on one thing, and doing it well.

I’m going to start taking a leaf out of their book. It won’t be easy – but I have a plan.

Do you?

PS Their video is rather awesome too – check it out below.

Byron_film from Byron Hamburgers on Vimeo.

10 apps and websites to increase productivity in 2013

I’ve learnt over the last few years to get more than most people out of their day, and no, not just by working 15 hour days – by being organised, by using the right technology and by being disciplined in my use of it.

Software is just software at the end of the day. The key to success is about how you use each piece available to you and how you weave it into your workflow to best effect. Tinkering with a new tool and not properly adopting it, is just a distraction. Trialing a new tool and then figuring out how it can help you in the long run, is smart.

Some of my personal recommendations and thoughts on how to increase productivity in 2013 are listed below. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

1.) www.xobni.com

Xobni

Inbox spelt backwards and is the greatest plugin ever made for Outlook which will save you hours… honestly. There is a free version I’ve been using for the last 2 years – and an upgrade path for enhanced functionality. You won’t regret downloading it.

2.) www.horsesmouth.co.uk

Horses MouthNo one can work in complete isolation – yes even you, the lone consultant or coach – you need a team around you – a mentor, peers, industry groups and people to bounce ideas off. Get mentoring advice from people who’ve been there and bought the t-shirt.

3.) www.firefox.com

Firefox

Hands up if you still use Internet Explorer? Shame on you. Get hold of Mozilla’s Firefox. And take advantage of the amazing ‘Awesome Bar’… find URL’s you’d completely forgotten about and take advantage of add ins to enhance your workflow, such as managing Amazon S3 files or snipping images.

4.) Catch.com

Catch

Share to do lists with your colleagues and family – because productivity doesn’t stop at work. My wife and I use this. She sends me jobs, I add to shopping lists. And no, it’s not always that sterotypical in our family – I can assure you!

5.) www.stress.org.uk

Stress

You can’t work to your full potential when you’re stressed. Whilst the number of days lost through stress (in the UK at least) have fallen in the last decade, you are an individual and you need to recognise when to get professional help.

6.) www.walkjogrun.net

WalkJogRun

A fit body, leads to a fit mind – you probably know that already – but are you doing something about it? Are you exercising regularly? Are you challenging your self? This is a great Google Maps style resource for planning training routes around the office. Schedule in time to run – because what’s more important to productivity than your health?

7.) www.icloud.com

iCloud

Synchronising files, calendars, contacts etc isn’t always the most straightforward things to do initially, however once you’re set, have learned to get round the various hurdles, you’ll never look back. There’s nothing more satisfying than accessing files and data from wherever you are, with any device.

8.) www.rememberthemilk.com

RTM

Remember The Milk has become one of the industry standards for to do lists. It was pretty much the original online application and has developed over the last 9 years into a free App
too. If you like ‘electronic’ to do lists – this is the one to try.

9.) www.evernote.com

Evernote

If ever there was an app or website I couldn’t personally do without, it’s this one. I’d be surprised if you’d not heard of it – but are you using it as part of your workflow and are you getting the most from it? Evernote pretty much runs my business and personal life – it stops me from becoming distracted, provides an ongoing flow of ideas and inspiration when I need it and

10.) www.bubbletimer.com

Bubble Timer2013-01-29_09h55_38

You need to be brave to use this app… use it to track how you spend your time in front of your computer… what are you really doing? I tried this last year and the results can be quite scary if you’re not careful. It helps you to focus on what’s actually really important and get more done.

11) www.screenpresso.com

Screenpresso

A bonus website / application for you. How often do you need to grab a screenshot? If you’re anything like me – then the answer is, a LOT. I’ve tried a dozen screenshot tools over the last couple of years. This is the one I’ve settled on. It can screenshot to a network drive, can annotate quickly and can share in a heartbeat. It works and it works fast. Just what I need.

Image courtesy of Desktopped

7 things to do when you can’t concentrate

No one can work to their full potential all the time.

Depending on what’s happening in your business or personal life, you will perform at different levels. Sometimes you’ll be working away, but just can’t concentrate – and you’re just not getting anything done, or not doing it well enough. It might just be time to do something different and face the fact you’re not working to your full potential.

The list below reflects my personal experiences. Number 7 is very dear to my heart.

1) Tackle a different task

Chances are if you’re floundering at one type of task – perhaps writing a proposal, then if you move onto what I’d call ‘light duties’ and tackle simpler to do items on the list, you might well find yourself gathering momentum again. It’s OK to have to be ‘in the mood’ for writing… If you’re not – there’s little point in continuing.

2) Walk around

Anywhere will do. Walk around your office or get outside – take time to walk around the block or jump in the car and treat yourself to a Skinnylattecappucinofrappe at your overpriced cafe round the corner – a change of environment is a good thing. Try looking for something positive you have never seen. Let your mind wander. Life is going on in the world around you. You just need to notice it.

3) Set an alarm

Work on just one thing for a period of time. Maybe it’s just 5, 10 or 20 minutes. Maybe it’s two minutes. But at the end of the time, you will notice what’s it’s like to experience real focus. And if you complete the task, you’ll feel good about yourself. I do this when ‘supervising’ my son doing his homework. Set the iPhone timer and let him here it ringing…

4) Open a business book

Flick open a dusty one from your shelves to a random page and read for five minutes. Let your mind apply whatever you’re reading to whatever you are working on. Randomness is a great thing and inspiration comes in many ways.

5) Plan something fun

Sometimes, just knowing you’ve got something to look forward to in a week or a month can be a real driver. Pick up the phone, make a reservation for dinner at somewhere you can’t afford. Then look at your day differently – you need to sell, you need to deliver, you need to achieve.

6) Figure out if you’re being distracted

Look at your office environment. Is this lack of concentration happening a lot? Maybe it’s time to revisit how you work. Are you working form one 12″ laptop screen with no mouse? because that’s not condusive to being productive! Is your office cluttered? Do you have alerts coming in from all angles and children running around you? All bad.

I’ve talked about my ideal consultant office setup here.

7) Revisit the plan

Sometimes when you can’t concentrate on a task there’s an underlying lack of motivation lurking behind the scenes. Close down what you’re doing and get the plan out. The 2 year plan – the one which ties your business to your personal dreams and take a look at it. Does it need revising? Is what you’re struggling to work on fitting in with it, or does the plan need to change.

If you find the plan is still good, then maybe the task you’re stuggling with isn’t helping with your goals?

What? You don’t have a plan? We need to talk…

Image courtesy of massdistraction

Alternatives to PowerPoint

Before I start, I’ve nothing against the software, nor the producer of it. The issue I have is how it’s used, and how it’s taken over our lives.

I’ve spent the last 10 years helping people deliver their messages to internal and external audiences – so I guess you could say I’ve seen and experienced a lot of seminars and presentations. I’ve helped CEO’s of FTSE 100 companies deliver their messages and I’ve worked with dozens of salesforces, consultants and marketing departments create and deliver messages to persuade, ‘cajole’ (good word) and win business.

Ban PowerPoint for a day

In short, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to presenting.

Despite the length of time I’ve been doing this. I’m now more fascinated in the subject than ever. Why?

I’m surrounded by friends and colleagues in the corporate space and I’m hearing more than ever the phrases:

“I need to work late to finish my slides”
“They need the slides 24 hours before the meeting”
“Can you help me with my slides”
“I need to get my slides out”

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH

Everywhere I look there are slides being produced and emailed to hundreds of people. Slides which have hours put into them. Slides which have to win over an argument, persuade, educate and rarely do.

Why?

Because 90% of the time, sending a set of slides is not the answer.

  • Slides are something to hide behind when presenting an argument
  • Slides are typically part of a ‘read along with me’ session
  • Slides should more often than not be a report or document
  • Slides do not contain your personality
  • Slides alone do not persuade, sell or cajole
  • Slides don’t get read or understood, they get flicked through
  • Slides rarely add to your argument
  • Slides make you work late and rarely give you a return on your time
  • Slides come second. You story comes first. Most people work the other way round.

Believe it or not, last year in Switzerland, Mattias Poehm founded a political party dedicated to the eradication of Powerpoint. Awesome. I might just join.

You probably don’t need to be quite so radical, but what’s my answer?

Here are 10 alternatives for getting your message across.

  1. Still need to get visual? Master Prezi. It will make your audiences sit up and listen
  2. Read Pitch Anything! By Oren Claff to understand how to construct your story.
  3. Use Camtasia (great price here) / Screenflow for MAC to produce a narrated demo to bring your story alive
  4. Read Resonate to understand how to construct the visuals for your story. (I’m reading it now and it’s brilliant)
  5. Refuse a projector. Be brave, stand up and just talk. Use notes and make sure you’ve prepared your story.
  6. Don’t use a single bullet point. Use images only. Images are memorable. Spend a few dollars on some images – what return might you get?
  7. Do something different. If you’re given an hour, figure out how to take 10 mins to deliver the same message. Give you audience the gift of time. Hook them in enough to want more and create conversations afterwards.
  8. Use a whiteboard or a flipchar, learn to draw, develop a story. Make it personal.
  9. When someone asks for ‘slides’ ask why. Ask them whether a narrated screencam might be better. Narrate 10 mins over some slides and send them the video. This way you don’t need to have the presentation after all. I do this a LOT and have had tremendous results. Then, when you then actually get to meet someone, they know what the message is you’re looking to deliver, because they’ve heard and seen it in advance. You can then use the time together constructively.
  10. If there’s nothing on screen, you are the focus. Your words get listened to. Choose your technique based on your message and your audience.

Try something. If you work as part of a large team, join me in banning PowerPoint in your business for a day and see what happens.

The perfect consultant’s office setup

Everything becomes so much easier when you’re organised.

I’ve always loved my office – because, well… it’s mine. I can have it set up however I want – no one can tell me what I can and cannot do and like all the best things in life, it’s evolved over time.

Part of the evolution I have to attribute to an episode from Freedom Ocean – the excellent podcast with Timbo Reid and James Schramko. Thank you guys.

So – in the video below, I talk through what I think is the perfect office set up.

Details of some of the kit I mention:
USB mic http://amzn.to/vOT7vS
Boom: http://amzn.to/uC6h7F
Webcam: http://amzn.to/owLB0W

(FREE) Software – two pcs, one keyboard and mouse: http://synergy-foss.org/

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.

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.