Are you listening?

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re not being heard? It happened to me last week in a meeting with a potential supplier. I was discussing my needs but only being heard on a very superficial level, if at all. As a result what I was being offered was not what I needed and at times I felt talked down to. The problem was that my contact was not really listening.

Last night Ruth Whiteley was fired from The Apprentice largely because she talked too much. She didn’t sell because she was too busy talking and didn’t give her prospects chance to think or act. There’s a pattern here. The sad thing is that Ruth Whiteley is a sales trainer and my conversation was with a coach. Both should know that listening effectively is the most vital skill.

Listening is a vital component of selling

We learn when we listen

These days we’re all too busy trying to get our message out there. All too often we’re broadcasting rather than communicating. Be different. Stop and listen. Listen to the words as well as the music. Listen to what is being said, what is being withheld and what the speaker can’t find the words for. Ask questions to help the speaker to communicate with clarity, use encouraging body language and above all stop talking!

Effective listening leads to understanding, helps us to spot opportunities and creates empathy. Next time you’re having a conversation or in a meeting just be mindful of how much information you are really taking in. Are you fully engaged in listening or too busy thinking what to have for dinner, how to respond or making a judgment? I could go on but I want to hear what you think. Do you ever find yourself speaking because silence is uncomfortable? Have you been frustrated at not being heard?


Are you working on the right things?

The Apprentice is back, cue yelling at the TV screen!

The Apprentice is back, cue yelling at the TV screen!

The Apprentice is back and it’s time to start shouting at our televisions again as the teams make some basic mistakes in business. So far this group looks pretty unimpressive but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t already some lessons for owners of small businesses.

In the first episode we saw the teams challenged to make as much money as possible from selling 10 very different items, the team that made the most profit would win. The items they had to sell included plain white t-shirts, cleaning materials, sacks of potatoes, sausages, coffee, flowers and more.  Both teams quickly realised that there were some items to which they could add value in order to maximise their profit. So far so good.

It didn’t take long for things to fall apart! Whilst both teams had identified where they could maximise their profit they did not prioritise their workloads to make it happen. We found ourselves yelling at the TV, ‘Go and get the t-shirts!’…

Could we be making the same mistakes?

I wonder if a TV crew filmed our daily activities whether we would find ourselves yelling at the TV screen as we see our own mistakes? Would our ‘to do’ lists be prioritised to work on the things that would make us more profit? Would we be spending our quality time on those priorities or would we be working on the urgent rather than the important? Would we see ourselves responding to other peoples’ needs rather than focusing on our own? Would we observe ourselves doing the things we are comfortable with rather than meeting the challenges that could lead to greater profits? I know I have days, even weeks, where I don’t get to work on any areas of business development, I suspect you will be the same.

Is it time for a rethink?

Meeting the needs of the customers we do have is important but so is developing our businesses. We need to find a way to do both, not easy in a small business but we have to try. So how could you create some time for business development? Here are some ideas:

  • Use a Power Hour (or even 20 minutes), for more information see this article
  • Could you reduce your trading hours a little without undermining your profits?
  • Hire a virtual PA or a junior member of staff to release you from routine tasks for a few hours
  • Find a coach, mentor or consultant whose expertise could move you forward faster. This doesn’t always need to be costly, look for government funded schemes, free mentoring services or consider a skills swap.
  • Do what Bill Gates apparently does and take a week off to think and plan away from the phone, emails and computer. OK so you don’t have Bill Gates’ resources so perhaps you can’t manage a week but even a half day can make a difference.
  • Use your network to find another business owner who could cover you for a period of time and then return the favour.
  • Spend the first or last day of your holiday working on your business development plan, (perhaps you could add an extra day to your holiday without anyone noticing!)

Your challenge should you choose to accept

Take a dispassionate look at your day and your business as if you were filming it for TV. What do you see? Are you prioritising the things that will make you the most profit? Are you planning for the future and then taking the appropriate action? Are you yelling at the TV as you spot the mistakes?

Do you need to make some changes? If so plot some time into your diary now and keep the appointment. Do you need someone to hold you accountable? If so complete the contact form and I’ll get back to you.

Now it’s time for me to practice what I preach!

Are you open to opportunities?

I’ve just spent a fabulous 10 days on the Canal du Midi in the South of France, I was not alone! Given that the schools were back after the summer holidays we were surprised at how busy the canal was. We shouldn’t have been! Early September is a great time for those without responsibility for school age children to take their holidays and the canal was full of people from all over the globe doing just that.

The Canal du Midi provides business owners with a captive market should they choose to access it.

The Canal du Midi provides business owners with a captive market should they choose to access it.

There must have been at least 10 boats starting their holidays at the same time and from the same place as us, probably more. We had a crew of 6, many of the boats had more, that’s a lot of people looking for food and drink. Pass any boat from about lunchtime onwards and the beer and wine were much in evidence, however restocking wasn’t easy.

One of the things we commented upon was how the shops and restaurants were closed just when we needed them. What a lost opportunity. Holidaymakers are often willing to spend much more money than locals and their needs are fairly easy to anticipate.

Are you open when your services are most needed?

Now I know that every business owner needs a break and few want, or need, to trade 24/7 but when we are considering our opening hours we should think about when our services will be most needed. In this case the bulk of boats will be hired out from Saturday afternoon until the following Saturday morning, they have few choices about where they go and their speed is controlled by the limits of the canal so their daily destinations are fairly easy to anticipate and the majority of boats will be looking for restaurants and shops at a given time or day. When restaurants, bakers and convenience stores are not open at those times they are losing potential trade.

It is not just traders along the Canal du Midi who may be losing out, I see the same problems locally as retailers open traditional hours from early morning until 5.30p.m. when their commuting prospects are not back home until 6.30 or 7.00p.m. Are they losing out too?

Have you re-visited your trading hours recently? Have you considered the opportunities that other businesses might be creating for you? Are you sure that you’re maximising your selling opportunities?

Networking works!

Over the years I’ve encountered a number of people who say networking doesn’t work. Rubbish! Today I’m going to prove that networking works on a number of different levels.

Selling my services

Press coverage

Gaining media coverage can be helped when the editor is in your network!

My diary is currently full of exciting projects. I have just completed a marketing campaign for a baker celebrating a centenary in business. The news release I sent out was picked up within the hour by one journalist who knows me through networking.

I’m working on marketing plans for a variety of businesses from business support organisations to restaurants, coaches and health and well being consultants. I’m about to launch a campaign for a client’s new coaching academy and am working with another organisation to offer some training of my own. I have completed a number of speaking engagements and have more in the pipeline, All of this work has come through my network.

Are these people I met yesterday? No most of them are not! Most are people I have built a relationship with over a number of years. Those whom I have met recently were recommended to me by clients or people who have known me for a number of years. That’s the point. Networking is rarely a quick win. It takes time to build relationships, to earn peoples’ trust and for them to need our services. The people who say networking doesn’t work usually expect to go to an event and sell their services instantly.

Helping my clients

I have a lovely new client who is looking to open a shop and online retail business. Retail is my first love so this is a really exciting project but in retail location is everything and she is planning to open in an area I know very little about. However, I do know a man who is an expert in her area. I asked him for help and I have just come back from an incredibly useful meeting with him and my client.

My clients frequently ask if I can recommend an accountant, a graphic designer, a printer and various other services. I almost always can because of my network. I may never become a client of some of these businesses but that doesn’t mean I can’t put work their way. My network can help me to deliver a better service to my clients.

Finding service providers

After almost 23 years living in our home we have a number of renovations that we want to do including replacing a shower room. My network has provided me with recommendations for four plumbers capable of doing the work. One of those plumbers has recommended a plasterer and an electrician for some of the other work we need doing. Those people will do a good job because they will want to work with the plumber on other projects.

I am a bit achy today because my personal trainer who I met at a networking event found some under used muscles in my workout yesterday! By working with him and my diet coach who I also met networking I am slowly getting into the shape I want to be and fit and ready for my holiday.

I am close to being ready to book another holiday through a travel expert in my network. I no longer buy named brands of skincare because I have suppliers in my network who have better products that are great value. Yet another contact will be repairing and redesigning some jewellery for me.

So if you thought networking doesn’t work please think again. If you work at it, give before you expect to receive and allow the time it takes for relationships to develop I’m sure you will find it works for you too.

Can we learn a business lesson from England’s World Cup defeat?

So England are out of the World Cup in the group stages for the first time since 1958. They didn’t play well enough to go further but I do feel a bit sorry for them.

Before they had even left for Brazil many pundits were predicting that they wouldn’t get beyond the group, it’s almost like they were being set up to fail. I watched them play Italy and thought they were the better, more committed side. However they couldn’t score enough goals and goals are what wins matches so they got even more criticism.

When they came out to play Uruguay they looked anxious and almost beaten before they’d kicked a ball. I suspect that they had been very self-critical after the Italy match and that, together with the expectations from home, placed a heavy burden.

Dealing with criticism

Critical voice

Don’t beat yourself up for mistakes. Learn the lesson and move on.

I read something recently that says it takes us three days to get over criticism including self criticism. I suspect that there was an element of this in the England dressing room and I know that there is more than a little of this with most small business owners. We beat ourselves up over complaints and criticisms and whenever we think we could have done better. If we’re not careful we allow those thoughts to dominate everything and that leads to a spiral of decline.

Instead of beating ourselves up we need to turn the criticism into a more positive thought. We need to take a leaf out of Thomas Edison’s book ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.’ We need to concentrate on the lesson learned, focus on what we can change and imagine a positive outcome.

So the next time something goes wrong or someone complains or criticises don’t take it personally. Thank your complainant for helping you to understand how you can do better and then take the positive action. Ask the person who criticises for suggestions of what you could do differently. Learn the lesson and move on.

And England will be so much better in the next European Championship because they will have learned lessons in defeat. Ever the optimist!

Is procrastinating costing you business?

On Friday I challenged attendees at a networking group to identify the biggest obstacle to progress in developing their businesses, I wasn’t really surprised that procrastination ranked highly.

What are you putting off?

What are you putting off?

My dictionary defines to procrastinate as ‘to put off (an action) until later, delay’ from the Latin procrastinare ‘to postpone until tomorrow’. Tomorrow never comes so sometimes we never do the things that we need to do for our businesses to thrive!

So why do we procrastinate?

We are all different and we procrastinate about different things for different reasons but some of those we admitted to include, calling prospects and customers, invoicing and administration, making decisions, exercising, dieting, marketing, trying out social media and more…

“If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.” ~Olin Miller

Reasons for procrastinating included fear of rejection, boredom, fear of making a fool of ourselves, the unknown, fear of loss, fear of making the wrong choice, uncertainty, questioning our self worth, having more exciting things to do and more. Sometimes we don’t even recognise why we are procrastinating. We procrastinate even when we know that it amounts to self-sabotage! There’s an interesting article about why we procrastinate here

What do we have to gain from procrastination?

We might tell ourselves that procrastinating will lead to better decisions, that we work better under pressure and that ideas will come if we give them time. Aren’t we just kidding ourselves? True, from time to time inspiration may strike when we’ve given it time or something we’ve been putting off may no longer be necessary but most of the time we will have wasted time or opportunities.

What do we have to lose from procrastination?

Procrastination leads to lost opportunities and increased stress. Tasks take on increased proportions the longer we put them off. We can lose sleep worrying about what we haven’t done and our relationships with our customers, colleagues and nearest and dearest can be adversely affected. Procrastination can cost us business so how we can avoid it?

“Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.” ~Victor Kiam

So how can we avoid procrastinating?

 “Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up,”  Dr. Joesph Ferrari.

As an expert procrastinator I don’t have all the answers here but here are some of the things that work for me:

  • making a commitment to someone I care about to get the job done
  • making the dreaded task the first one of the day and setting a time to do it in
  • finding someone to help me with a task I’ve been dreading or not liking
  • breaking the task down into small parts and making a start on one that seems more appealing
  • rewarding myself at pre-determined points for example 20 minutes reading when I’ve done an hour on the task, a glass of wine when it is complete!

Take action now!

So if this article has resonated with you because of that task you’ve been putting off let me challenge you to take some action now. Pick up that phone, get on that computer, put away that biscuit, find your trainers, make that decision! No excuses!

I know that today is a Bank Holiday here in the UK and that the kids are off for half term so if you genuinely can’t take action today make a commitment to taking it on your next working day. Write it in your diary. Pin a post it note to the fridge, the computer and the front door. Make a commitment here.

I know that whenever I take the action I’ve been putting off the relief is palpable. The task was never as big or as onerous as I thought and the sense of achievement when it’s done is well worth celebrating.

I’m off to to tidy my office and then to do some administration. I’m taking my own advice today! Good luck with doing that task that you’ve been putting off but if you need some help why not book a free 30 minute telephone consultation and let’s unblock those obstacles. Book here.



Are you afflicted by small scale thinking?

Over the years I’ve worked with many small business owners and start ups and I have realised that they fall in to one of two categories. There are those that have big, hairy audacious goals who will do almost anything to achieve those goals. Then there are those who are risk averse who tend to think smaller and more short term. There is a third group who I would call the day dreamers, they spend forever talking about starting a business but never quite get round to doing it so they never start up or become small business owners. Which category do you fall in to?

Dream big

What will light your fire?

Now if you choose to be a small scale thinker that’s OK but this kind of thinking will limit the size of your business. Are you happy with that? Perhaps you are thinking small because you are juggling family and other commitments. Perhaps you are thinking small because you lack the inspiration to see a bigger picture. Perhaps you are thinking small because it’s just too scary to think big! There is a Zig Ziglar quote that it’s your attitude that will determine your altitude and it’s so true.

It has taken me too long to accept that one woman or one man bands will always have limitations. We need help. Whether that is practical help to produce our products or services, administration or marketing support to free us up to deliver, domestic support to allow us more time for our businesses or coaching and mentoring support to bolster our self belief and let our ideas fly. Help will allow us to focus on the important things.

Would your business benefit from some bigger thinking? What kind of help would unleash greater possibilities? Why not start with a free half hour telephone conversation and see where it might lead. Book yours here.