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. 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.


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.


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.

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”


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.


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

(FREE) Software – two pcs, one keyboard and mouse:

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.

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…

It’s OK to change direction

As I say to my children, “Go with what you DON’T know”

So many people start a business and continue with the same proposition, despite changes in the market and what their customers are telling them.

As the old adage says, there are two things which are certain in life. Death and Taxes. I’d like to add a third and that is Change.

Change is all around us and it’s a good thing. If your consulting business doesn’t adapt and change it won’t grow. If your consulting business doesn’t grow, it’s dead. That’s a proven fact.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as one of my businesses, The 8.45 Club turns 3 in September and it’s come a long way since the outset and the original concept.

It was always going to be about video and then initially training. The original idea was a course on 100 video lessons to change your business. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less.

I then listened to feedback and decided that it was too bigger production task… I hadn’t tested the market and that smaller courses would be a better way to start. So that’s what I did.

I then listened to feedback and decided that getting traffic to those courses was going to be hard. I sold a few – but testing and gut instinct told me there was a better way.

So I started to partner with subject matter experts who already had audiences. They needed content and production skills and we were gaining those – but they already had an audience, so a partner programme began.

The 8.45 Club

The 8.45 Club – our first website and proposition

I then listened to feedback and decided that the techniques we were getting good at with green screen video production could apply in many different ways and so the focus of the marketing site and proposition wasn’t about selling training courses, but instead providing online video production services.

I then listened to feedback and decided that if we were to stand out from the crowd, to brand ourselves as a ‘bog-standard’ video production agency wouldn’t be the way to go, so we continued with the brand and adapted it, identifying 6 key propositions which our audiences can relate to. We changed the strap from “Learn from the experts… in 10 mins” to

“Bite-sized online video from experts”

…and I hope you get the double meaning there.

Things look and feel quite different now.

The 8.45 Club today

The 8.45 Club today – green screen video and training video production

Our core ideas – bite sized chunks of video (because no one has time any more) and high production values (because people need to be engaged) have remained throughout. Our proposition to the market has grown and changed dramatically. And do you know what? Google UK gave us a pilot Business TV programme last week – so it must be working…

Are you changing your business? Let us know what you think below.

Four ways to take the initiative

When I first started work 17 years ago (gulp), I had a great first boss in a very large corporate and to this day, I remember in my first week, he gave me a particular task to do – which took a couple of days. Once I’d completed it I presented it back to him and asked him what I should do next…

He looked puzzled. He then explained to me that was up to me… I knew what my role was – I had an idea of what needed to be done – so I should go and figure it out. That was literally on day 3 of my business career and if I’m honest, it’s shaped what I do today.

This last few weeks have been an amazing time in many ways and there have been so many examples of where I’ve had to take the initiative with a client, for a client or for a project and not once has anyone said – “you shouldn’t have done that!” because I’d like to think I’ve done it in the right way.

[box type=”info”]Ask for forgiveness rather than permission.[/box]

This is a phrase I thoroughly believe in and with a few years of working under my belt, I now feel confident enough to act on it. I appreciate in the early days of a career it’s not so easy and in a large corporate environment, it’s a scary thing to do – but if you can, then you should, as early as possible in your career – because it will get you noticed.

What happens when you take the initiative is that you start thinking and acting as if you were the client. Over time, the client starts to rely on you, you start to become part of their virtual team and what happens in the long run? They keep asking you back AND they recommend you to others.

[box type=”info”]Don’t wait to be asked – just do it.[/box]

Often by the time you’ve waited for the response, it’s too late to do what you knew what was needed. So much in life is about timing. Take calculated risks – ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen. You’ll be amazed by the response you’ll get. If 1 in 100 times you get reprimanded in some way – has it been worth the risk? Of course!

Bearing this all in mind – there are four phrases you might want to try with your clients. They work either written of verbal.

  • I though it made sense to [put X into action] – I hope this is OK with you – if not, then let me know and I’ll [switch it off.]
  • I wanted to seize the initiative and get [X on board]. If I don’t hear back from you in [the next 24 hours] – I’ll go ahead with that plan and make it happen for you.
  • As time is so critical on this project – I needed to [do something in particular] which I know may not have been ideal – but it was the best way of ensuring [we continue to deliver]. Hope that’s OK with you.
  • I wanted to make a suggestion – I thought would really help [generate more sales] and so we’ve mocked up an example we thought you might like to see – if you like it, we can have it up and running in [an hour/day/week/month].

Describing a concept leaves many people cold, and so that last example is brilliant – clients and targets so often DO NOT like clean sheets of paper. If you can explain something visually for little effort then do it, and put it in front of them.

Now, stop reading and go and take the initiative!