Writing stuff down

So this happened to me today.

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Usually, when I read Dilbert, I give a wry smile and thank God that I don’t have to work in corporate America.

Today, though, corporate America caught up with me.  In fact, it’s a disease that’s been slowly infecting all walks of life – you’ll have seen it too.  Not the lack of accountability, that’s something that has been with us for a while.  But the idea that accountability is something that other people have to get a grip on so that we don’t have to.

You see, if I’m responsible for getting something done and I ask someone else to help me out, it doesn’t mean that I’m off the hook, that I can just sit there and wait for them to do it.  They may be massively well organised, and I never have to ask for a thing twice, but no-one’s like that all the time, so if I want to get something done, I have to keep track of it and check in with them.

It’s that simple, I write it down on a list of things that that person is handling, and then when I next see them, I can simply check that list and ask “how’s it going”.

A simple cure for a paralysing disease, plus it keeps me accountable for everything that I have decided is important.

“Writing things down”.  Try it, it’s the new “handing things off to someone.”

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.

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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!

Storytelling for startups

As you might have spotted from the gap between posts – or from the content of my last post, recent weeks have taken me on the road much more than at any time in previous weeks.

I often find that there’s useful downtime to be had when travelling away from home, and when perhaps unexpected delays open up some time with nothing obvious to fill it.

It was in one of these gaps that I got to thinking about storytelling and how important it becomes to businesses very quickly.  Over recent months, my own small startup has come out from behind closed doors and launched new features and new sites into three different countries.  The upshot of all this is that our team have been on the road a lot more and so good communication is key to keeping everyone pointed in the right direction.

With this in mind, as a team we’ve scheduled a couple of days this week to get together away from the office and take a look at where we are at the mid-year point and make sure that we’re all clear on where our overall strategy is heading and the course corrections that we’ve made so far this year.  I’ve struggled to work out how to convey complexity and depth of what we’re doing in a way that’s easy to share across out team, but found some help by looking at how brands use storytelling to weave together a compelling narrative out of a complex topic in a way that helps us to make sense of it.  I’m really pleased with how this has turned out so wanted to share it here now that my team have taken a look – the idea here was to recap with the team on the key highlights of the last few months and at the same time to convey the feeling of what it’s been like.

On the road

Today I’ve arrived in Amsterdam for the first day of The Next Web.

Today was the first time that I’ve really taken the business that I’ve been working on for more than a year now out in public to show what it can do and start to get some feedback.  Launching something is always an exhilarating experience, so whatever knocks come along the way, it’s great to celebrate getting something shipped – out the door – and in the hands of customers.

Today’s a big day for me, so I put together a video.  I hope you enjoy it!

What happens when an AI runs your finance function?

HalAs a small business – in fact as any kind of business – we get used to more computerisation and more automation.  But computers are now starting to interact directly with our customers and suppliers on our behalf, and whether we like it or not this forces us to think hard about how we embed the brand and the values of our business into the rules that drive the systems that run parts of the business day to day.

In my work with my team at Ormsby Street, I’ve seen how analysis of data can lead to better decision-making about one-area – cash flow, and I’m very much hoping to have the chance to reveal the first iteration of how that looks at TheNextWeb conference in Amsterdam on 23rd April.  But in the meantime, whilst the programmers at Google figure out how to let cars make decisions about where to drive – and how safely to do it – let’s get used to thinking about that question as it applies to the jobs we do and the businesses we work in.