Examples of simplicity in business

Simplicity is so hard.

I spend hours convincing clients that less is more.

Videos need to be shorter not longer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As opposed to 20.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some businesses manage it. Do you?


How to set up a toll free number for your website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too much to ask?

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

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

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

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

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

Once set up, there are then multiple options available:

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


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

Calls are fully itemised:


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



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

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

Main image credit.

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

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

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

And boy, has it paid off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to create product screenshots without Photoshop

The product screenshot you see in this post has been generated without Photoshop or any other form of image manipulation software. It was also produced in approximately 15 seconds!

In the video below, I show you how to do it, including how to take a screenshot from your iPhone or iPad, if you’ve always wondered how.

I honestly believe it’s one of the coolest shortcut techniques I’ve ever discovered.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get

How to ask good questions…

My dad has taught me from an early age that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Asking a client for the deal, asking a partner for a better deal or asking brave questions to a prospect normally yield interesting and unexpected results. 

Sadly most people start with the premise that someone’s going to say no. If you do, you’ll ask in the wrong way. 

Be confident. If your question is a good one offering a potential win-win for both sides, then there’s every chance you’ll be surprised with the answer

Here’s some great examples of people asking bold questions and getting great and unsurprising answers.

1) The case of the lost Lego


2) Giraffe Bread at Sainsburys Supermarket

One simple letter from a 3 year old…
Gave rise to 140,000 Likes in a Facebook campaign and this response from Sainsburys…

3) A man who likes his steak

Peter Shankman had had a long day travelling, realised he wouldn’t have time to make or buy dinner as his flight was getting in late. He was a regular with a steakhouse, which turns out to be 23.5 miles away from New York’s Newark airport, where he was heading.
Before he got on his flight – he sent this Tweet:
He was joking of course… and Morton’s restaurant knew he was joking – however to return to the title of this post – you know what happens next don’t you?
They met him at the airport, much to his total surprise.
An amazing example of customer service – yes – but let’s not forget what’s actually happened here – Peter dared to ask… and he got a great and unexpected result.
Learn how to ask good questions, dare to ask a question you wouldn’t normally ask – and see what happens.
Love to hear your examples below.

10 tips for awesome screen capture videos

A great way to get your message (and personality) across

Screen cams / screencaptures / screenflows are all around us. People are all too keen on YouTube to show us the latest and greatest software, however in far too many cases, where people just aren’t familiar with producing videos, they’re more likely to default to text or badly labelled PowerPoint slides, which is a pity. So often a quickly put together screencam could speed up your communications to many or in a 1:1 situation.

Having been a runner up in the 2011 TechSmith Screenchamp awards, I thought I’d offer some thoughts…

1.) Get it right on paper!

It’s so obvious, but I’m compelled to start with it – GET IT RIGHT ON PAPER. Work out what on earth you want to say first of all. Don’t just start waffling – have yourself a mindmap / cigarette packet / napkin / piece of beautifully labelled A3 – whatever your choice. If you plan it out in advance, it will take you minutes to produce a work of art as opposed to an hour to produce a mess. I have to say – one of my favourite tools is a piece of A3 paper.

2.) Keep it short

Make it as short as it can be. People hate waffle. Which brings me back to #1. Reduce the umms and arrrs by being clear in your thought process. Rehearse your ‘voiceover’ if you have to and don’t be afraid to re-record it if it just doesn’t flow. You’ll often find, recording it second time round it sounds and flows better.

3.) It’s all about the sound

Ensure you have a great microphone. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. People can handle average video – poor quality sound is a massive turn off. Whether you’re PC or Mac – I use this USB mic attached to this boom which works a treat. Crystal clear sound, plus I get to relive the olden days and feel like I’m a radio presenter all over again 😉

4.) Maybe there’s a better way?

Think about the format you’re going to create a screencapture in. Recently, I’ve come up with an interesting method for describing concepts, which involves turning a webcam upside down, a decent light, a piece of A3 paper and a big marker pen. With 6,000 views in a month – it seems to be resonating. Maybe, recording a screen isn’t the right answer? Maybe recording you standing in front of a whiteboard, talking is a better idea. Consider the best way to get your message across.

5.) Idea first, software second

If you are going to do a screen capture – you need the right software. Screenflow on a Mac is great. Camtasia (cheaper on Amazon than going direct!) on a PC is pretty good too. You can also check out the free services Jing. Accept that if you’ve not used a piece of software before, there’s going to be a learning curve. Don’t shout at it – it may not be the software’s fault – it could be ‘user error’. Like everything in life, the more you do, the easier it becomes.

6.) Tell a story

If you’re going to show how a piece of software works, put things into context – show a workflow… tell a story… paint a picture. Telling your audience that SHIFT-CONTROL-F10 enables the syntax error debugging code window in full screen mode helps no one – especially if they’re a novice, which leads me on to

7.) Consider your audience

Is your audience my dad? Or is your audience an 18 year old college kid who spends 21 hours a day in front of a screen? There’s a big difference in how you tell your story – make sure you speak to your audience

8.) Prepare your assets

When you’re putting your story together – you’ll almost certainly need external files – to upload an image / create a document etc – have them to hand so you don’t spend half of your screencam searching directories. While I’m on it – for goodness sake don’t show the world all your private, personal stuff – hide your browser bookmarks, ensure you don’t navigate personal folders… it will save you having to mask it all out further down the production

9.) File formats

Ensure you export your video file in a decent format. WMVs and FLVs are so 1980’s – the file type of choice for best streaming would be a .MP4 / .M4V – these are universally accessible, are converted by YouTube nicely and are the best quality vs filesize balance of all the file types.

10.) Showcase and promote your work

There’s not much point in producing beautiful work if no one sees it. Enter it into competitions, embed it on your blog – get people to talk about what you’re doing and if you get really good at it – why not build a few, and turn them into a course. Don’t forget to give a couple of modules away for free though…

If you’ve found any great screencammers out there – add them into the comments below.


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.

How to conduct an interview like a pro

Testimonials are an essential part of your sales strategy


This week I’ve conducted interviews on behalf of one of my clients with three of their customers in Stuttgart, Brussels and Barcelona. Today I do an interview in Colorado and next week I will conducting around 25 different interviews on a temporary green screen studio we set up in London.

I don’t watch TV in the traditional way any more, I spend all my time looking at how TV is made. Camera angles, questioning techniques, interview style and set layout are all I see now. I have to rewatch things to hear the content!

It’s fair to say I’m obsessed with how to get good at having conversations, which are being recorded.

I thought it was time to share what I’ve learnt about getting the best interview possible. Do note, this is not about interviewing candidates for a job, but how to create testimonials and case studies for your business and your customers’. There is no better method of delivering social proof on your website or collateral than real live customers extolling your virtues. This is how to do get it right.

The approach

It’s been said that the best time to ask for referrals and testimonials is as soon as someone signs up to your product or service. Grab ’em while they’re hot. I sort of agree with that concept, however I’d taper it a little. We’ve had situations where a customer has signed up and as part of the deal, we’ve asked for a testimonial interview in say a month’s time. This commits the customer, yet at the same time lets them get used to the service, experience what you can do for them and in short, give them more to talk about! There’s no point in asking for an interview, when the really juicy stuff might take them a couple of months to uncover. Be sensitive to this.

When you do approach a customer, it’s nice to ask on the back of something else, so it doesn’t sound so threatening. Maybe they’ve asked a question, submitted a support request or even are reporting a problem of some kind… solve their problem and ask them whether you could talk to them later in the month – you’d love to find out how they’re feeling about the service and whether they’d consider allowing you to record the interview.

Give them some options for times (being sensitive to time zones) or ask them for when suits. Confirm it in writing and be crystal clear on how long it will last, and most importantly, what your intention is to do with it once published. State that up front, so that there are no surprises later.

The method

Offer your customer a video interview first (that’s definitely the way to go)… if they’re not happy with that, then audio is second best. If they are close by, go and see them. Grab your PC or Mac, plug in a microphone and off you go. If they are further afield, then Skype is an amazing alternative. Skype recording has become part of my life.

For Skype video, if you’re on a PC, by far and away (and I’ve tested them all), Vodburner is the way to go. It’s a video recorder for Skype, requires a reasonable amount of processing power (well it is recording live video) and includes an editor within it, which automatically cuts between you and your subject and works a treat. Make sure you use a powerful, cleanish PC for best results.

If you’re using audio only, then www.voipcallrecording.com offers a completely free, and most excellent Skype recorder. You can learn a lot from the huge volume of podcast interviews around. One of my favourites is here. Listen to the natural conversation between Timbo and James – that’s one of the reason it works so well. Timbo is also a good ‘framer’ – he puts things into context a lot and is a natural guide, summariser and host.


Have you seen Frost Nixon, the movie? You should watch it if you’re going to do this regularly. The meticulous detail they put in around the questions was quite extraordinary.

Think about how you’re going to introduce your interviewee – what’s the context, their job title, company name etc…? Script it out if you have to, and it’s great to memorise your first 10-15 seconds, so you can get the first few words out confidently. Accept you’re going to be nervous – if you don’t do this often, (and even if you do) if you’re excited about who you’re about to talk to, you will have some nerves. These nerves will be magnified if you don’t prepare well. I was nervous for this interview, because my subject was a long time hero of mine (and still is!).

Have your questions ready. Write them down in front of you. Think about all of the different permutations of things you could ask. Phrase open questions – how, why, who, when, where. Know your subject, research them, surprise them with what you know – it’s OK, it’s not stalking – it shows you care. It will also help to engage with them if you show you’ve done your homework. Don’t be afraid to write down questions which are more personal to them – expose their personality – that’s interesting to listen to.

On the day

If you planned well, the interview generally will go well.

Greet your interviewee, whether online or face to face. Brief them. Tell them exactly what to expect and what will happen – guide them through the process. They will be nervous unless they do this all the time. They are even more nervous with three cameras, mics, a cameraman, a green screen, an autocue and a set of lights. Your job is to put them at ease. I like to say we’re just here for a chat, and avoid the ‘interview’ word… that helps.

Record nothing to start with. Rehearse the interview through. Run through the questions with them and get them to give you a couple of fullish answers. Help them get over any nerves by rehearsing.

Here’s the next really important bit… ASK THEM if they’d like to add any questions to the ones you’ve rehearsed. Typically, they’d like to say something you might not have thought of – give them the option of adding something – it could be a real gem you’ve not thought of!

It’s then time to hit the record button, whether on camera or on microphone.

Get your opening words out correctly and aim to do this right first time. 2nd takes are invariably worse than first takes in my experience. Everything’s ‘fresher’ first time round. If there is a stumble on a question or answer, pause and redo that part, but keep things rolling… you can edit it out later. Get the good stuff down on ‘tape’ first. Act as the host. Guide and prompt your interviewee. Don’t be afraid to ask additional/different questions to the ones written down. Your planning will allow you to do this.

LISTEN to their answers! React to them – don’t just ask the next question blindly – turn it into a conversation. That’s what your audience will enjoy.

When the conversation comes to a natural end, keep things rolling and ask your subject how they felt it went, whether they’d like to redo any of their answers, and whether you missed anything – and then keep going until you’re BOTH happy it’s worked. Make sure it has a rounding off statement (pre-prepared). It could be a call to action… “Take a look further down the page at more examples…” “sign up using the button just below…” etc etc. Think about that in advance!

Rounding off

Thank your subject – sorry to state the obvious – but it’s sometimes forgotten. Explain how long it will take you to complete the edit and explain they’ll be able to see / hear it before anyone else, to check they’re happy with it… OR ask whether they would like to. Most people don’t – if they’re happy with their performance, they won’t need to.

Publish, promote, rinse and repeat…

Love to hear about your experiences below.

10 things I learnt by watching a top comedian at work

Up close and personal with Dara O’Briain

Recently, I was fortunate enough to see a work in progress and I learnt a lot. Myself, my wife and 58 others crammed into the most gorgeous, tiny theatre on Monday evening to watch a work in progress – it was a warm up gig for one of the UK and Ireland’s top comedians. Being up so close and personal, I learnt a lot. Dara O’Briain, is host of the BBC’s Mock the Week and Stargazing Live, amongst many other things and is about to embark on another sell-out UK tour from January.

Here’s what I learnt:

  1. Even if you’re on top of your game, you’re never too good to test your customer / audience reaction.
  2. Even when you’ve established yourself with a new market, unless you have something interesting to say, you will not engage your audience. Jerry Seinfeld once said he has three minutes where he can rely on his brand and the audience will listen to whatever he has to say. After that, he has to be as funny/engaging as any other comedian. Dara was in the same boat.
  3. You’re only as good as your last gig /communication.
  4. Honesty and transparency will win through every time – Dara explained from the outset that some things may not work. (Most things did).
  5. Practice, practice, practice whatever you do. The 10,000 hours rule applies to so many walks of life. I bet Dara’s done his 10,000 hours – and it shows.
  6. It’s OK to be nervous – it shows you care and are passionate about what you do. It was noticeable he was more nervous at the less tried and tested parts.
  7. I stood up in front of two audiences last week and presented what I do. I stood up and talked for 30 minutes. 20 minutes is the accepted length of time to hold an audience’s attention. Dara stood there for an hour and a half with 60 people hanging on his every word. That’s really tough. Next time you do a business presentation, I don’t recommend you try it.
  8. Stories he told about himself and every day life resonated most. Stories win every time. Audiences love stories. Especially ones that show challenge in the face of adversity and ones that people can relate to.
  9. Audiences / clients generally want you to succeed when you stand up in front of them – start with that mindset and you won’t go far wrong.
  10. Whilst this clearly wasn’t a business event, it amazes me the number of people who don’t get that communications in business can be entertaining too. When you are trying to deliver a message, if you do it with humour and energy, you’ll get a better response every time – because it’ll be memorable.

And for you Dara if you read this – make more the of corporate mockery – it’ll resonate across the country… your Dutch accent sounded French until I prompted you… the Call of Duty stuff was great and do more with the Dad’s late night telly – it makes us squirm and that’s funny.

I now have a new found respect for stand up comedians – you’re very alone on that stage and 90 minutes of saying original, interesting, funny, entertaining stuff with nothing but a mic to hold onto is tough.

Is your marketing as bad as this?

Don’t make Ryanair’s mistake!

I’m constantly on the lookout for examples of good and bad marketing campaigns alike. I get inspiration from walking down the street, on Tube trains, online – wherever I roam really. My brain has been naturally tuned over the years to notice messages, process them, dump the bad ideas and to somehow harness the good ones.

The example below is about as bad as it gets.

In Ryanair’s rush to make money (from anything), someone somewhere thought it would make an excellent idea to make a couple of cents per click at most, by displaying links to their competitors, possibly offering better prices or at least the ability to compare their offer, in a matter of seconds.

Examples of bad marketing

Who in their right mind would allow such ridiculousness? “I know – let’s make a couple of cents, and hijack our core business by advertising our competitors next to our buy now page.” – you can just imagine the months of meetings that went into this strategy.

DON’T make their mistake – THINK through what you are doing before executing.