Another Happy Customer!

There is a brilliant line in Fawlty Towers which always makes me smile – where Basil says “A happy customer – we should have him stuffed.”

I’m not advocating taxidermy on your customers, but it is nice to acknowledge when a client is happy, especially when they are happy to say so to others!  That’s why I am very grateful to Chris Branch, a very successful osteopath and a very inspirational guy, who recently sent this through:

“I have worked with James for five years now and I wouldn’t have had anywhere near the growth I have had in that time without him.

In writing this testimonial, I looked back at our first ever ‘goals board’ that we drew in our first meeting. We’ve smashed everything out the park! Life is entirely different from back then and I’m amazed at the change there’s been.

James has a very calm and logical approach which helps take away the fear in making big business decisions. He also has an uncanny ability of asking the right question at the right time, which helps to bring out answers you didn’t know were in you.

I would not hesitate in recommending him as a coach, I know he will accelerate your journey.”

If I had wanted to sum up the impact I have on clients, that penultimate paragraph would probably be it.  Thanks Chris!

If you want a bit of what Chris has experienced, call me now – the sooner we get started, the sooner you will feel the benefit!

60 Days to Change Your World

We now have about 60 days until the end of the year so now is the perfect time to be considering what you will do to finish 2018 in strong style and make the impact you want on your world.

Why does 60 days matter? Why is the end of the year important anyway? In some ways it isn’t. I could have picked 152 days or Valentine’s Day as the date that the period ended. The date isn’t the point. The existence of an ending is the point. A major influence on my productivity and time management thinking is Mark Forster, and he introduced me to the idea of “the end effect”.

In the week before you go on holiday, or before a major deadline, do you find that your productivity rockets – as you work hard to get so many tasks complete before that fixed deadline or a trip to the airport? How does that contrast to the first two weeks back from holiday, when it seems all your project deadlines are miles away, and progress seems slower?

I am constantly telling clients that the enemy of greatness is drift – the fact that so many projects can be done tomorrow, or next week – and so they get done much later than we might have hoped. Whether planning retirement, getting a business ready for sale or decorating the back bedroom, they all get left, because there was no deadline – and so no end effect.

Back to 60 days

For most of us the turn of the year is a noticeable event – festivities, mince pies, family, perhaps some time off work. At the very least, we have to learn to write 2019 every time we write a date! A perfect opportunity for setting up some end effects. And if we split those 60 days into manageable chunks, we have two clear 30 day challenges!

Now, the king of 30 day challenges is a reader of this blog, Chris. He is truly inspirational in taking up (or putting down) a range of activities – mental, physical and spiritual – for a period of 30 days to challenge his mind, his lifestyle and his physical limits. We can all learn from Chris. Thirty day challenges work.

What would your 60 day plan include? What could your 30 day challenges be? Don’t just pluck things out of thin air. Previous newsletters have encouraged you to think what you want from life – to have a bigger plan. I’ve also previously explained how that bigger plan can be broken into steps to get there.

So, your 30 day challenges can be to execute on some of those smaller steps to make your dream come true. And if you haven’t done the plan, or identified the chunks, there’s your first two 30 day challenges right there…

Other top tips for making a 60 day plan successful:

  • Write it down. On paper. This is far more powerful than it just being in your head, or on a phone/computer. Trust me.

  • Tell someone. Make yourself accountable. You can tell me if you wish. (I am good at keeping secrets.)

  • Keep focussed – don’t have 32 projects on the go. One or two themes will be far more productive.

  • Get started. Don’t fall into the trap of perfecting the plan and taking no action (a vice of mine). Do something today, and every day, that takes you forward.

  • Celebrate success, or redouble your efforts. As you make progress, notice the fact and enjoy it. If you fall behind, just keep going, don’t drop by the wayside.

Testimonial from a Perfect Client!

Last week I had the pleasure of spending the morning with Tracey and Sarah from Thewlis Graham Associates (I have their permission to name them).  In many ways, they were ideal clients – they were prepared, engaged, have an interesting business, and they brought biscuits…

They added to their perfection by volunteering to provide a testimonial – so that I can try and attract other perfect clients just like them.  If you know anyone…

Here’s what Sarah had to say:

We spent half a day with James to take a strategic look at the business and to think about positioning it going forward. James supported us beforehand by getting us to prepare thoroughly in terms of data collection and analysis. The actual session with him was hugely beneficial; he has a style and approach that makes you think and test out assumptions, but in a very supportive non-confrontational environment.  The outcome was that we gained clarity and vision that we can now build on.”

Sarah Thewlis, Thewlis Graham and Associates

At a networking event this morning, we had the discussion of whether planning was sexy – I was a firm advocate of the “Yes” vote!  But you can’t plan without the vision beforehand – and it was a pleasure to work with Sarah and Tracey on clarifying their vision last week.  More clients like that would be perfect!

Thinking Outside The Box

Who moved my cheese?

Recently I met a client in a local pub restaurant for a coaching session over lunch. The pub has a good reputation and is usually busy with the usual mix of business groups and silver surfers spending their final salary pensions. Being lunchtime the menu was a little shorter than for an evening, but there was still a nice choice. That was until the waitress advised us that three items on the menu were unavailable, because they contained cheddar and the delivery hadn’t arrived.

As this was explained to us, my client (a very successful local entrepreneur) and I glanced around the restaurant to see three or four waitresses stood with nothing to do (we were in early). Simultaneously we both thought through the situation. No cheddar. Spare staff. An enormous Sainsbury’s less than five minutes away. Surely this problem could be solved?

A few years ago I was with a group of clients dining at a restaurant in Victoria, central London. One of our group ordered a gin and tonic, only to be told they had sold out of tonic. Again, a handful of business owners collectively remembered the Tesco Express across the street as we came in. Surely this problem could be solved?

Blinkered Thinking

In both cases the issue probably wasn’t that the staff were particularly dim and that we had amazing insight. More likely, their group thinking was just blinkered and channelled into “the cheese/tonic comes from the supplier and so if they don’t deliver customers can’t have it”. There was a process for buying cheese and if that failed, the only thing to do was scrap a segment of the menu.

Similarly, the staff’s thinking was blinkered to be just that of the restaurant, not that of the customer. The restaurant knew that they had other menu options, or other drinks, available so where’s the problem? But the customer came in that day to have their needs fulfilled. And if that was for macaroni cheese, their experience (and therefore their total spend, gratuity, likelihood to return, Google Review and future referrals) was diminished. For the sake of a ten minute trip to Sainsbury’s, the customer, and thus ultimately the restaurant, loses out.

Perhaps the staff deserve greater credit – perhaps they considered it and thought that the cost of wholesale cheddar versus retail cheddar meant it was too expensive. They could be right. But it is still blinkered thinking. What profitability was lost by having disappointed customers? More than that lost by a day’s supply of cheddar? No one took off the blinkers and saw the bigger picture.

My own blinkered thinking leads me to make assumptions about the culture in the team running the pub. It would appear there was no lateral thinking – none of the waiting staff, each time they repeated the news of the cheddar shortage, thought outside the box and suggested to the landlord/chef that they nipped down the road. Without that sort of thinking, what sort of innovation and creativity are they missing out on?

What’s the equivalent of the missing cheddar for you? Where are you disappointing customers because you’re stuck in a process? Where is your thinking blinkered? How would you know?

And if you do know, how can you address it?

Taking The Blinkers Off

How might you encourage more lateral or innovative thinking in your business or life? My suggestions:

  • Continuously expose your thinking to new influences and challenge your orthodoxies. Read books, watch films, listen to podcasts or talk to people with ideas or views different to your own. Try to understand their viewpoint, not change it. Shake your brain cells a little bit!

  • Visit new places or see new cultures to get a different perspective on how things could be done. That could be different industries, different segments in your market or different geographies (there is quite a variation in the UK, you don’t have to go to the jungles of Laos to see difference).

  • A project management technique is to view your project, process or service from afar and ask “in what ways could this go wrong” – look for the gaps, vulnerabilities or holes in the project. This helps you strengthen the process, but also trains you (and your team’s) collective brains to think laterally.

  • Be a customer. Experience your service as a customer. Or experience a competitor’s service and see how it feels to be a customer. Unless you’re Dignitas , every business can benefit from having staff know what it feels like to be the buyer.

  • Have your customer journey assessed independently, so that you get direct feedback that challenges your blinkered thinking. If you’re in hospitality particularly, or any service business I highly recommend this (and recommend you talk to Janet at The Silent Customer).

  • Have an external coach who can bring perspective, ask challenging questions and deliberately test your assumptions, in an objective, unemotional and supportive way. As it happens, that’s what I do… Call me.

Trimming the Bramble Patch

I’ve had a few reminders of this metaphor in recent days, including actual cutting back the blackberry bushes on my allotment.

Every year I get a great crop from these bushes. And every year a minority of the bush branches become a problem. They grow rapidly, have vicious thorns, block the paths and bear no fruit whatsoever.

 

A bit like some people. They expend a lot of energy, sometimes with good intentions, but they are at best unproductive and at worst harmful.

What’s the solution? For the blackberry bushes the only solution is prompt, decisive action. If you delay they destroy the bramble patch in no time. If you only partially tackle the issue they come back more vigorously, more destructively and detract from the bountiful crop.

[Anyone sniggering about trimming bushes, keep it to yourself.  I’m aware of the innuendo…] 

On Saturday I was part of a team taking part in the Regatta for the Disabled (an annual event that I thoroughly recommend for families.  Even if you don’t “race” the event field has loads of attractions and it is for a great cause.  See http://www.regattaforthedisabled.org/).

One of our team members was very enthusiastic and expended huge amounts of effort in his attempt to power us to victory.  Sadly, his paddle technique needed work, and all he achieved was to enthusiastically scoop water into the boat, drenching the two people behind him.  Like an errant bramble, he needed some intensive training and coaching before the next race – otherwise he’d have been cut off at the stem!

This is not our team – I couldn’t be in the boat and photograph it at the same time…

 

I’d hazard a guess that in your work, your team or your business you have someone or something that reminds you of those problem brambles. How will you tackle them this week?

 

Business Relationships – a Marriage Made in Heaven?

Last month I had the pleasure of giving a brief talk to the Henley Business Partnership networking meeting in the gorgeous setting of Phyllis Court in Henley. The talk came just days after the long-suffering Mrs B and I had celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary, so I used the topic of long-lasting relationships as the theme. I thought I would share the ideas with you in this newsletter. In a ten minute talk, I focussed on three key lessons that businesses could take from a marriage that lasts:

It’s about BEING married, not GETTING married

In 1994, when Mrs B arrived (late, I feel compelled to mention) at the front of the church, weddings were much simpler. In 2018 it seems a major logistical exercise to organise invites, locations, outfits, favours, seating plans, first dances, speeches, hen and stag dos, rehearsals, foreign weddings, hotel venues, fancy lighting and so much more. A huge amount of planning, attention and money is invested in the big day. And then it seems people just expect the marriage to happen, with no work at all. Bev and I had a far simpler wedding to get married, and then focussed more attention on being married.

In business, we can invest a huge amount of resource in starting relationships – marketing campaigns, prospecting activity, special promotions, sales commissions and much more – but then those businesses seem to forget to focus on serving those clients – they’ve moved onto the next sale, rather than making the most of this one.

I have a client who has trebled their business in about five years. They have worked hard to win new business, but the core of their growth has been retaining 98% of their customers year-on-year, way above the industry average. Knowing that new customers this year will be customers for many years to come, if they serve those customers right, has given my client a winning formula. But customers don’t show loyalty without some work on my client’s part. They make sure they lead the market in customer service and provide the little extras that make the difference. That client trebled in size in five years, by placing emphasis on being with customers, not just getting customers. And by hiring a brilliant business coach, of course…

Remember your vows – for better or worse

In a long term relationship it is a question of when you hit a rough patch, not if. You can do all sorts of things to reduce the risk, but the likelihood is that there will be some “worse”, as well as some “better”. At times like that you need, as a couple, to put the current turbulence into the context of the overall relationship and do what is needed to stabilise the ship. Both parties have to bend and bow at different times to flex with their spouse’s needs. We’ve had better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness and health, and we’ve made sure we support each other until the calmer waters come back.

In business, mistakes happen. In long client relationships it is probable that someone will miss paying an invoice, or a supplier will mess up an order. If you’re the “wronged” party do you go off the deep end and demand all sorts of compensation, or do you realise an honest issue and work with the other party to resolve things sensibly? If you’ve screwed up, how do you make things better?

Another client reviews quality constantly, and their intent is to meet every order right first time, on time. But when they fall short, they see an opportunity to really impress a customer – by the way they work to put it right. The MD often says that an initially disappointed customer can become their best advocate. Is that true in your business? What do you need to change to make it so?

Have a vision for your future, together

Mrs B and I were early in our careers when we got married (in fact, I was still unemployed as it was a week after graduating!) and since then we have forged careers, changed careers, bought, renovated and sold homes, made decisions about having a family, planned lots of travelling and more recently really focussed on our forthcoming early retirement. Throughout our 24 years we have evolved our plan, but we’ve always had a plan – a reason to stay together and be excited about the future.

Do you have a shared vision with your colleagues in your business? Do you discuss with them what their aspirations and dreams are, and align them with your vision for the business? One client of mine saw a young staff member as a future leader of the business and had very high hopes for them. But they never discussed it with the individual, and the young staff member left to pursue other opportunities. Would they have stayed if the shared vision had been explained to them? We’ll never know. If you have key people you want to retain, develop and promote, talk to them about their future and have a vision together – give them a reason to stay. Don’t wake up one day and find a Dear John letter because you were inattentive…

In the discussion after my talk, a few of us indentified a further key ingredient in making a relationship (personal or business) work: luck. I accept that is a very important factor (Mrs B is SO lucky to have landed me…), but that is not really in your control. The three factors above are – and will help you make the most of any luck you do have.

My own reflections

As I reflect on my 24-year marriage I realise that the recipe for success is like so much in my life:

  • have a vision, translated into a plan

  • take daily actions to make the plan come true

  • leave the dish to simmer for a couple of decades

  • enjoy the rewards!

My coaching helps clients get similar things in place (and it doesn’t usually take decades) for their business, their relationships, their money or their life generally. I have a couple of vacancies for new clients at the moment, so if you’d like some of that recipe in your life, get in touch soon.

Money, Money, Money, In A Rich Man’s World

My last blog post, which I shall trust you read word for word, considered the value in giving ourselves choices in life and business, and I hope you have been more conscious of the choices you have open to you as a result of reading it. Of course, our choices are wider if we are better able to follow through on more options – if we have the resources to choose alternative paths.

As a child I learnt that without reserves of resources (usually money), one’s choices were much more limited. In adult life, and in business, I realised that it was also important to have reserves of the other two critical resources (time and energy/attention). So much more is possible when you have a reserve in place.

Imagine jumping in your car and contemplating a day trip. The more petrol you have in the tank (your reserve), the more choices you will have for your adventure. The most resilient individuals, teams and businesses tend to be those with more reserve. Time and energy may be topics for future newsletters but this month I want to focus on money, money, money. (Thanks Abba…)

The most fundamental way to build a reserve is to spend less than you earn, as much of the time as possible. As a country, a company or a household, living within your means creates more reserve, and thus more choices. It would seem obvious to know whether you are spending more than you earn, but I meet many people who don’t. They either resist finding out because they hate numbers, because they prefer to spend their time and energy elsewhere, or because they’d rather just hide from the bad news.

Do you know what you earn, and what you are spending? Do you know the current and predicted future size of your reserve? Do you make decisions based on clear facts about your finances or subjective emotions such as fear or confidence?

As someone who is advanced on the path to financial independence and retiring early, it seems obvious to me that one would know what one expects to need in retirement, and how close one is to building a pot to generate that income. Yet the vast majority of us seem not to. Those I know who have taken the time to work it out seem to be the ones who are nearer to achieving the retirement they want. Hmm…

So, whether in your personal or business life, do you know the various choices open to you? What are the financial consequences of each of those choices? What cash will you need up front and what are the ongoing costs? What is the predicted return?

If you don’t know, how will you know if you have enough reserve? How will you make the choice?

In recent months I have invited you to consider your perfect life, and the steps you will need to take to get there, and the choices involved. Now I invite you to truly understand what reserve you have, and what reserve you will need. Then you can plan to get there.

I’m not a financial adviser, nor an accountant, but in recent months I have increasingly found myself coaching clients on these money issues. My practical, logical line of questioning and an appreciation of the consequences of various options has helped several clients make better choices. Happy to do the same for others, if you or someone you know would benefit.

Choose Your Future, Choose Life

If you have read the last few blogs (see below if you haven’t) you will hopefully have been inspired to think through your version of a perfect life; considered the steps you need to take to get there and identified the daily actions (and the streaks of consecutive actions) that will realise your dreams.

Of course, this assumes that you are able to choose that path – that you are not constrained by lack of resources or by commitments and constraints that hem you in. For 30 years I have been moving towards being better able to make those choices, and for at least 15 years I have had the explicit awareness that life is better if we are “at choice”.

For me, that has meant building the financial resources to be able to choose a range of directions in life, but also passing on commitments to free up options. What would enable you to be “at choice”?

You may need to have certain things – for many this is having reserves (often money) that give you greater flexibility. If your petrol tank is full, you have far more options for a day out than if it is running on fumes. If you have cash in the bank, in life or business, you can take bigger risks, make investments or opt out of relationships more easily. You may also need other sorts of resources – training, staff, business processes, emotional or physical security, or simply the road map to show the way forward. What do you need to create choice?

You may need NOT to have certain things – there may be commitments, contracts, physical items or relationships that tie you to your current situation and hamper your ability to move forwards. Choosing not to have children freed me of some major issues in this area! If your plan to achieve the perfect life is a long-term vision, you can dismantle these walls brick by brick by pulling out of contracts graciously, dealing with relationships that hem you in and by letting go of physical items that hold you to the wrong place. I have an inspirational friend who is currently volunteering in the Philippines. To make that happen, she needed NOT to have a regular job, and she needed NOT to be attached to many of the home comforts of Berkshire. Being free of things like that has allowed her to choose to follow her dream. What do you NOT need to create choice?

You may need greater awareness about your choices – knowing what impacts your desires and choices – what influences you react to, what your emotional hot buttons are – helps you make more intelligent choices. If you come to realise that your desire for fast cars and even faster women is driven by your idolisation of George Best, you might reflect that you’re not a 1970s football icon, and choose something less consumptive for yourself. If you come to realise that providing for your family is a core value of yours, you might prioritise your business or working life as you build a career that affords you the lifestyle you and they want. What influences your choices, for good and bad?

You may need to reflect on the choices you are making – so many of us have arrived where we are in life by accident. We had no plan, no map, not even a clear idea of a destination. We don’t take time to stop and reflect on the choices we want to make, and whether we are making them. Far too many cat videos on Facebook to watch instead… The alternative route is to deliberately create time, individually, as a team or as a business to ask and answer the hard questions – why are we here, what do we want to achieve, what choices will take us there? When will you create that time for yourself?

We may not always make wise choices (the eighth pint at the weekend, for example), but we can be better by at least giving ourselves the ability to choose.

Please do not underestimate the significance of being “at choice”. Like many aspirations in life it can seem unattainable, but by knowing where you are heading and taking daily actions to build your reserves, shed the ties that bind and develop your awareness of the why and how you are making choices, you can get there. I can help if you want to choose that path.

Who leads the dance – the supplier or the customer?

Throughout my working life I have come to believe that, in any sort of service sector, that a successful enterprise reacts to the needs of the market. That is the essential underpinning of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” – the market invisibly works to match supply and demand.

Except in France. You have to admire the French economy’s commitment to workers’ rights and to a certain lifestyle. After a week here on holiday, I am still adjusting to an economy that closes for two hours in the middle of the day. Supermarkets are still all closed on a Sunday. Are the French horrified or delighted when they come to the UK and see shop workers arranging their lunch breaks so the retail outlet can stay open, or the hordes of eager customers queuing at Tescos or IKEA on a Sunday?

Today, a Sunday, I have visited the beautiful village of Riquewhir in Alsace – officially one of France’s most beautiful villages and a tourist Mecca. It is a popular stop for the European bus tours – I saw eight coaches at any one time, with constant change overs all day. Today there is a small festival with live music and extra tourists from France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, us from the UK and I am sure others. The main street is thronged with visitors, on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon.

And the tourist office is steadfastly shut. It is open tomorrow at 9.30, when I suspect the tourist numbers will be 10% of what they are today. So, should the office open when the “customers” are present, or when it suits the workforce? As I heartily enjoyed the tarte flambée and the smoky porter (Black Page no4) brewed on-site at the Brasserie Du Vignobles, I pondered why the retail outlets and restaurants can open on a Sunday, but the Office du Tourisme (ODT) was firmly locked.

Surely it is too simplistic to say that the ODT is government run, or is it? Many French shops close for lunch, and not just owner-managed independents. As a business coach it all seems to be missing an opportunity, yet I am sure France is statistically more productive than the UK, so have they got it right?

Luckily, the family running the vineyard where I am staying have a more commercial outlook, and I have enjoyed a tasting and have bought some lovely Alsatian Riesling to enjoy as I ponder this further…

A very welcome, cooling beer!

Lots of tourists, no tourist info..

Why We Need More Streakers

To a young lad growing up in rural Norfolk in 1982, Erika Roe made quite an impression. Running topless onto the Twickenham pitch before being escorted off with a policeman’s helmet containing half of what she wanted to show the world, she achieved infamy. And thirty five years later, her example to us all inspires this blog.

I’m not advocating running topless as a strategy to achieve more in life, don’t worry, but I am a massive fan of streaking.  In the modern world of addictive mobile phone games and gamification of the work place, building and maintaining streaks is an important way to build commitment, momentum and progress. Let me give some examples that do not involve removing clothing:

  • I use a free app called Duolingo (highly recommend it) to help me learn French. I do it almost every day – and it tells me how many consecutive days I have managed to build. As the number grows, I become more and more motivated to ensure I do my daily practice, so that I don’t “lose” my streak.
  • Many factories and workplaces have signs up, counting the number of days accident free, as a way to promote a health and safety culture. A former client had something similar on their wall, pertaining to the number of days without messing up client work. Their word for messing started with F, but they had small rewards as the number built up, and clients had mess-up free work.
  • My email newsletter (and latterly this blog) is a great example of a streak. I sent the first one in August 2002, and have written one every month since. That is 188 months. Imagine the pressure I put on myself not to lose THAT streak – and so I always ensure I get it out on time.

I decided to make streaks the focus of this post because of conversations I have been having with a number of clients about converting long term plans (see last two blogs…) into daily actions, and momentum towards them. Whatever your goal, there is probably a regular action you could take that would build streaks and take you towards your target:

  • How many days can you make one sales call a day?
  • How many weeks can you have 3 days of exercise, to help you get fit?
  • How many visits to London can you take without buying a coffee-shop coffee, saving the money towards your wealth-building goal?
  • How many games can you go without losing, or conceding a goal, to help you build towards a sporting achievement?
  • How many months can you hit or exceed your profit target?
  • How many days can you engage in meaningful conversation with colleagues, to build your team and properly manage your people?
  • How many months can you turn my newsletter into an identifiable action you will take to achieve your goals?
  • How many years can you remember your spouse’s birthday, or your anniversary?

Whatever is important to you, there is probably a streak that will help you get there. Start today, and keep going. Do share them with me! Please, no topless pictures.