OK. So I have some news…

It’s out.  After a year or so in the writing, and about a decade in development, I’ve finally got some stuff out of my brain and into what I can only describe as a book.

It’s out.  After a year or so in the writing, and about a decade in development, I’ve finally got some stuff out of my brain and into what I can only describe as a book.

Though I started my career in technology, for a while now I’ve been leading and consulting with companies to help individuals and teams perform better.  You see technology can move really fast, but the limiting factor on how organisations can accelerate isn’t how much tech they can use, it’s how their people grow.  Get that wrong, and it all blows up in your face.  Yes, I am talking about you Uber, but I’m also talking about you my dear reader.

As the world gets faster, can you keep up?  I only can by careful thinking and flexible planning, but when I get those right, great things can happen.

For me, getting these materials I’ve shared personally with many of you into book form was one of those great achievements, but I’m not done yet.  In fact I’ve barely started.  Here comes the hard part – I would like to know whether the book’s any good!

And that’s where you come in.  If you are able to spare a little time to cast an eye over my work, I’d love to send you the book in PDF form and then have you share your thoughts with me.  You could do this via an amazon review (if they’re nice thoughts!) or directly on email (if they are more in the line of constructive feedback – so that I can improve it).

Please drop me a line on martin.campbell@vinetrees.net if you’re interested, and your PDF will be winging its way to you by return.

And if you do want to check out the real deal, here it is.

Stuck in a loop

I’ve just heard Daniel Priestley speak about his book that shows how you can use books as an opportunity to speak to prospects … now I have a headache …

Yesterday I got a headache.  A really bad one, and I missed the second half of a very interesting day with the guys from Dent.

What interested me about the day was that it addressed a concern that I have in common with many entrepreneurs and small business leaders – that of growth – in particular, the right kind of marketing that leads to sustainable and positive growth for a business.

In their “Key person of influence” programme, Daniel Priestley has pulled together a very interesting set of activities which many entrepreneurs will already be aware of (if not already doing) but does so within a framework where they become aligned with the growth of the business itself.

This is important because most entrepreneurs don’t just do one thing.  Even if you’re working on one project or company NOW, that’s not the only thing you’ll ever do, and so you want the successes that you achieve to count both for your company (so that you can sell it or otherwise exit saying “look what I’ve done”) but also count for you personally so that your CV clearly shows your successful track record in building success.

I really like Daniel’s approach to this which is outlined in his self-published-“Key Person of Influence” for the simple reason that it highlights how you can do this kind of profile raising in a way that benefits both your current business and your own future career.  By aligning these powerful motivations, Daniel shows how this kind of activity can deliver maximum bang per buck.

Now talking of bang, back to the headache…

Because what Daniel was talking about in the talk that I went to after reading his book, was how to make your business successful by writing a book and then offering other content like events which you can bring people to … at which point it’s no wonder that I got a headache.

Well worth a read!

Book Review: Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk

“Crush It” by Gary Vaynerchuk is both an instruction book and a great example of the importance of personal brand in the modern working environment. Part polemic and part instruction manual it looks at the ideas of branding through the lens of an entrepreneur – either someone starting and building a business, or someone working in an existing business and working to build their own brand in order to advance their career.

The main point:

Gary’s main point is that regardless of your role, your field, your interests, you need to start building up assets and activities around your own personal brand and connecting with a community of people who are relevant to the things you care about.

Gary then goes on to work through various case studies, all from his own life of how he’s achieved this and the sort of assets he’s built – blog content, a video channel and an online store, and does a great job of enthusing the reader. He also has a section in the back which breaks the process down into more of a to-do list so that the reader can work through it and give this a go.

What’s good about it?

Gary does a great job of showing how your personal brand can co-exist alongside your work persona (when you’re in a business and working on a side project that you ultimately want to grow) as well as when you want to build a personal brand _around_ your work persona.

The examples that he gives are good and solid, well described and supported by numbers, and he managed to persuade my rather sceptical brain to his way of thinking on several of his key points.

He acknowledges and does his best to work through the inherent contradictions which are present in branding: monetization vs authentic, family time vs work time etc.

What’s bad about it?

While acknowledging contradictory pressures, I was left with the impression that I have to “do both” – for example – make sure that I spend a good amount of time with my family “quote” AND put in hours after dark month after month, year after year, before results come along. I think this kind of expectation is pretty off-putting and I was certainly left thinking that “I wouldn’t do it like that”

Gary’s examples are almost all repetitions of a few key things in his own life. I would have liked to hear more about the other folks that he mentions in passing or that he says he talks to in his various social channels. I was left thinking that this was more of a “how I did it” than a “how to do it” kind of book.

The tools and techniques that he names in the book are very dated indeed – some have ceased to exist, others that you would expect to see aren’t there at all. Linkedin, for example, is not covered, which is a massive oversight in a book covering professional brand – definitely time for an update.

Finally the style. Gary is very enthusiastic. Whilst his editor has done a good job with making his prose readable in the written edition, the audio edition of this – narrated by the author – frequently goes off script and riffs on a particular idea. Sometimes this fills in a useful omission (like Linkedin, for example) but more often it just repeats what has already been said in a less coherent way).

Should you read it?

Yes. If a very American “in your face” style is off-putting, check it out before you buy it, but if you can get over that, it’s worth it. It’s short enough to grit your teeth and push through, and there are some very good insights to be had by the reader, not least as a practical example of how to do the thing that you’re evangelising about.

Life’s a Pitch

This week I’m thinking a lot about pitching style. Yesterday I pitched in the finals of the disruptive pitch series in which founders pitch their businesses Dragons’ Den-style to a group of industry experts.

Having made it to the final, I spent the morning with Neil, the judge who selected me for the final and got some great feedback on our pitch and what I need to do to take it forward.

All of this reminded me just how important your pitching style is, not just for competitions like this, and not just for business, but for everyday life. It also made me realise just how difficult it is to make a really great pitch, and how a different kind of thinking is needed.

It was when Neil was briefing me on the art of pitching that I realised that whenever I meet someone, whether it’s in business, socially, at the dentist or in the gym, to some extent I need to pitch them. I don’t mean that I need to sell them something of course, but I need to make a connection with them, to find out why they should be interested in me and what we should do next.

It was only when I broke down the whole concept of the pitch to these very simple steps that I realised that these are essential for any conversation. You need to get the person you’re speaking to interested, you need to communicate whatever it is that is the subject of the communication – from a business transaction to a football score – and you need a clear next step.

What first struck me about this was how I’m often not clear myself, when I communicate with someone, what exactly it is I want to achieve in that conversation. It’s often clear enough at a big picture level: I’m “building a relationship”, “engaging about a future project” or “finding out if they’re interested in working with us”. But at a precise conversation level, am I clear enough about why they should talk to me, what we’re talking about and what the outcome should be?

Three key elements to a good pitching style

So from my coaching session, I picked out three key elements of the pitch which I need to make sure are there in every interaction.

  1. The hook – a way to get the listener interested within the vital first few seconds when a first impression is formed
  2. The content – the key information they need to understand whether this is something that’s interesting to them
  3. The call to action – the clear next thing that the listener must do in order to engage with the speaker

It sounds a bit “business bore” to think of framing every conversation that I have in these terms, and that’s certainly not how I greet my family when I walk in the door! But when I thought of how to pitch the idea of doing some maths homework with me on Saturday to my nine-year-old, I found that framing it in these terms was incredibly useful – mainly because it forced me to think about the whole thing that I was pitching from her point of view, not mine.

The hook isn’t the thing that gets me interested, it’s the thing that gets her interested – in this case “hey mum, said you wanted to see if you could get faster at your fractions so that you can have more fun in maths lessons, is that right?” It went far better than I thought, and I now have a daughter who can’t wait for the next fractions session – so I’m frantically reading up to stay ahead of her…

Be careful what you pitch for…

 

How to avoid problem customers

We’ve all had them.  The customer that promises to deliver a significant boost to business; to lead to better things; to open doors.  But sometimes it doesn’t turn out like that.  Sometimes our customers throw their weight around, fail to keep their promises and do much more harm than good.

As a small business, though, getting a big customer is always good news – or is it?  Not if that customer changes the rules on you, ignores your contract and messes you around.  So how can you tell how your customers are going to behave BEFORE you invest your own business’ reputation in dealing with them?

Well, the good news is that there is a way.  We hear a lot about company “culture” – it’s something that runs right through a company and impacts everything that they do and everyone that works there.  So if there’s something consistently wrong in one part of the business, then it is a fair assumption that there’s either a culture where that’s OK or that the company itself doesn’t know that there’s something wrong.  Either of these is a HUGE warning sign.

unilever

Unilever was in the news this week when Tesco pulled all of its products from the shelves in response to a price rise caused by the falling pound.  Was Tesco’s reaction very aggressive?  Absolutely.  Was it a surprise?  Absolutely not.  A quick look at Tesco PLC (company number 00445790) on credithq.co.uk will tell you two things.  Firstly they aren’t particularly good at paying their bills on time (according to Dun and Bradstreet and Experian).  Second, they have been taken to court a lot and lost.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-40-20

And if Tesco behaves this way towards a major multinational, what do you think it will do when it engages with your small business?

So it doesn’t matter if you’re deciding who to have as a customer, a supplier, or an employer, check out who they are and what their culture is before you make the jump.  And avoid those nasty surprises.

PS, if you’re thinking Unilever comes out of this looking like the innocent victim, better check them too!

Real Integrity?

Leadership and integrity seem to be the business buzzwords of the moment, with no self-respecting businessperson claiming anything less. But look closely at most businesses – especially those under stress – and it’s often the case that leadership has fallen short of the mark and integrity hasn’t picked up the slack. Recent examples from the popular press would include banks putting profits ahead of customers’ livelihoods, or energy companies capitalising on a captive market, but it would be misleading to think that it’s only in these extreme examples where the behaviour of individual team members gets out of whack with the organisation’s values and objectives.

In my own experience, I’ve found communicating the values of the company to be among the hardest parts of growing a business. When taking on team members it’s often easy to focus on the nuts and bolts “job to get done” and skip over the true values of the company and the culture of how it’s appropriate to act towards colleagues, trading partners and customers. A few years ago I joined a company which had a particularly poor reputation in its sector. It was seen as a badly-behaved big business that took advantage of its customers with high prices and long contracts. My team had the job of turning around the reputation of the company – a company whose leadership had a genuine care for its customers and wanted to reconnect with them at a fundamental level.

In taking one partner out for lunch, I was told in no uncertain terms that: “I’m fed up with the person in your chair promising that things are going be equitable, only to find out later that I’m being set up to take the hit.” After working hard with that partner for more than six months and delivering a real improvement in the relationship, my counterpart told me: “It all started that first lunch when you paid the bill. No-one I’d met before from your company would have picked up the tab, they’d have expected me to do it.” By extending the basic courtesy and good manners that are essential in any relationship, I’d been true to the headline on our relationship – “partner”, and when I had to justify the expense, it was easy to do among colleagues who each understood that the company’s approach needed to reflect our objectives.

So what can you do to ensure that each team member is empowered to act in a way that’s consistent with where your company is headed?

  • Identify your values. Mission statements are a bit old hat, but being clear about your brand and your values is essential to the success of any business. Find all the ways you can bring those alive in how you run the company and act with colleagues.
  • Set out clear objectives. Knowing what you need to get done in a given quarter/month/week helps you decide what you can’t do – and that’s essential. Knowing what you can’t do means you won’t be over-confident and can pay your bills on time.
  • Keep your word. Tracking what you’ve committed to – in public and in private, in the big things and the small is the only way to build trust. Don’t let being disorganised be your excuse – systems like GTD (Getting Things Done) are your friend.
  • Pay your bills on time. Small businesses suffer at the hands of big companies who don’t pay their bills – so lead from the front and ensure that you pay your bills on time. Not only is it the right thing to do, but your credit rating will improve and you’ll benefit as a result.
  • Say sorry when you get things wrong. Ask for forgiveness and help getting things right next time.
  • Finally, be honest with yourself – and with others – about what you see in the world around you.  This week as the people of Europe and Greece struggle with a situation that many argue should never have arisen, there’s the ideal opportunity to go back to values and think long and hard about the right thing to do.  Whilst I’m not a politician and don’t have a solution to propose, I can also see very clearly that pretending everything’s going to be OK is not a route that will work, because it lacks integrity.

(from a guest post on SME Insider)