A B C, it’s as easy as 1 2 3…

In my last blog I invited you to create your vision of what is perfect for you – what you want in life. I dared you to dream.

In this one, I am going to work on the assumption that you’re not there already – that you have some things you want to work on: some gaps you want to close.

can then be your present situation (your current reality)

B can then be the perfect state you are heading to (your desired outcome)

C can then be the steps in between (your actions and projects)

We have A, B and C, now it’s as easy as 1 2 3…

If you are finding it difficult to flesh out your ABC:

  • If you need help articulating your perfect vision, re-read the last blog and answer the questions there. For example, it might be that you want to retire in 2025.
  • If you need help describing your current state, compare your situation with your statements in A – and roughly quantify how close you are to having your perfect state. In our retirement example you might have:
    • I do not know how much income I would like/need in 2025
    • I do not know how much money I need to sustain that income
    • My current “retirement pot” is £200,000 in investments
    • I do not know how to invest for my retirement
  • If you need help identifying the actions and steps needed to make your perfect state come true, you could look at what waymarks might indicate progress (eg I need to be able to run 5K before I feel able to run a 10K), or what steps will get you started on the way, even if you don’t know how you will arrive. In our example, that could look like:
    • I will calculate what retirement income I would like, based on what life I want
    • I will research how to predict what retirement pot I could need to sustain that
    • I will save £1000 a month whilst I am researching what I need
    • I will educate myself about investing for retirement by:
      • Reading the financial pages of my weekend paper for a change
      • Meeting with an independent financial advisor, and understanding what they say
      • Asking James for recommended reading as a good book on investing

So, write down your A, your B and finally your C – which should be a list of steps or actions.

Now do them….

It’s as easy as 1 2 3. Really. And you can hum the Jacksons song whilst you are doing it.

If you are still not sure how to come up with the steps you need to take, it may be that some 1-2-1 coaching will help you unpick things. It has certainly helped me over the years. Call me, and we will see if I can help.

Close to Perfection

With a title like that, you could be forgiven for thinking I wanted to write about the training regime that has sculpted this amazing, athletic body I possess. Fear not, I neither intend to share such a thing, nor am I under such a misapprehension that my body is sculpted, amazing or athletic. Instead I am going to give you an insight into my recent talks entitled “What if you could do all you want?” and how that relates to perfect, or at least something close to it.

As I pulled together material for this talk – possibly the talk I have most looked forward to in several years, a talk that incorporated so much of what I have learnt and come to believe in the last 15 years – I came to realise that before one can answer the question “what if you could do all you want?” you first have to answer the question “what is it that I actually do want?”

With so many distractions, so many tasks to perform and so many demands on our attention, so few of us now stop and ponder what we actually do want – whether from work, a project, life itself or a relationship. Instead we keep busy, frantically climbing a ladder. How often do we check the ladder is leaning against the right wall?

Ten years ago I was working a bit in Budpaest, and so regularly flew back and forth from Heathrow. In an era before smartphones, I found myself with the time to ponder what I did want, and put pen to paper. For the ten years since, I have regularly, if not religiously, read that sheet of paper. It has had at least five revisions as I have been buffeted by the waves of life – significant events at home and work have caused changes in course, but I have always had that document as my compass.

What do you have to guide you?

As I have used that document to map my route through life I have come to realise that it is not just about getting to that ‘perfect’ scenario (though if I did that would be, well, perfect), the point is about getting closer to that perfection. As long as I know I am heading in that direction, I know I’m making progress.

What’s close to perfect for you?

  • Carve out some time to step back from the hurly burly of life and ask some searching questions.
    • Who do you want to be?
    • How do you want to be in this world?
    • What things do you want to do, or be doing?
    • What would you need to have for that perfect life?
  • Write your answers down and/or type them up on your computer (if you do create them electronically, I do recommend physically writing them out first. It seems to make a difference).
  • Read this description of ‘perfect’ regularly – so that you can correct course and ensure you’re gradually getting closer.
  • As life passes, and priorities change, make sure you question your answers now and then. Has your definition of perfect changed?

Now do what’s needed to take the first step to perfection.

All The World’s a Stage

Late last year the long-suffering Mrs Butler accompanied me on a weekend away in the historic town of Warwick.  Whilst there, we took the opportunity to sample a few of the local pubs.  Isn’t it fascinating that business essentially doing the exact same thing can be so different – the staff, the background music, the menu selections and the décor all add up to totally different experiences.  One pub in particular sparked this thought – the quirky Old Post Office on West Street in Warwick.  Whilst the beer was excellent, the décor was reminiscent of a man cave or shed – an overwhelming array of bric-a-brac that only a man would consider suitable home furnishings (I was reminded of the wagon wheel table scene in Harry Met Sally).  I wondered who had chosen each of the elements that made up the ambience – and why.

Whilst your business might not be a local pub, you still create a stage, upon which you team are merely players, when you conduct business with customers.  Whether in a premises, via a delivery van, or on an e-commerce site, you get to choose, if you want to, a large part of what determines your customer’s experience.  What should you consider?

Be deliberate – make conscious choices about every element of the customer experience – leave nothing to chance.  Be sure of the experience you want to create, and consider every element that will create it.  What message does your décor send?  What reaction will people have to your uniform colour, or the words on your website?

Write the script – whether it is words on your website, or language you want customer-facing staff to use when working with clients, direct the conversation to support your brand.  Total scripting may not be appropriate (I am not a fan), but you might like to at least channel any ad-libbing in the right direction.

Consciously choose the stage setting and the props – one of my former clients had a brand that was all about being positive and forward looking (they even had Positive in their business name).  Yet their coffee table in reception carried the Daily Mail every day – a newspaper widely accepted as carrying scaremongering headlines and promoting division.  Small details set the scene – be sure to attend to them.

Engage the audience – the stage setting can draw in your target audience (to be fair to The Old Post Office, in many ways the décor was perfect for their apparent target market).  What do your target customers like, love and trust?  Do you have different segments of customers, and do they expect different things?  How can you ask your customers what stage they want, what actors they prefer and what script would work for them?

Evolve the production – As You Like It has been performed for 400 years.  Obviously the cast has changed, directors have reviewed the setting, sometimes contemporised the language and producers have sought new channels to market (movies, radio plays, podcasts).  How quickly does your marketplace evolve?  Are the settings and players of five years ago still right for your customers?

The joy of running your own business is that you get to create everything how you wish.  That can be the greatest burden too.  More commonly, it is just something that is not managed with intention – it is left to chance what experience the customer has.  My belief is that such lack of a staged setting weakens your brand, and thus your business.  What do you need to do to get it as you like it?…


If I have piqued your interest in The Old Post Office, some photos are online here.  If you ever choose to visit, be sure to walk just up the street to the Lord Leycester Hospital – a home for former armed forces personnel that is largely unchanged since 1450.  A beautiful and historic ancient building, still providing a home for ex-military personnel.

And please do share any feedback on how you have reviewed the stage you are setting for customers!

One Small Step for Man…

As Elon Musk’s Starman makes his way off into outer space, I was reminded of Neil Armstrong’s famous words about small steps and giant leaps, as he stepped onto the surface of the moon.

Last autumn I had the privilege of being involved in an amazing charity project, which was the culmination of years of planning, hours of hard work by a dedicated band of volunteers and a substantial amount of fundraising.  When the idea of bringing 18 South African teachers to the UK to learn teaching methods, gain insights and to share their culture with schoolchildren in Oxfordshire, many said it was a giant leap, possibly unachievable.

But, by taking that grand vision and breaking it down into manageable chunks, the members of the group were able to take one step at a time and slowly but surely bring their dream to reality.  A large, complex task was just built of lots of smaller steps, which once executed in the right order, at the right time and in the right way, all added up to a successful outcome.

Of course, things didn’t always go to plan.  There were major stumbling blocks placed in the way – fundraising was hard, visa applications a LOT more stringent than in the past, and finding places for 18 Africans to stay for a week was not without challenges.  But small steps managed to work round, through or over even these barriers, like an unstoppable force.

[Whilst on the subject of unstoppable forces, I should note that this was not a small step for man, but a small step for woman – every one of the committee was female, so apologies to them for the masculinity of Armstrong’s quote]

In life and business, the same is true – almost any dream, goal or giant leap can be broken down into small steps – which can be taken each day or week and over time, especially with compounding, can add up to sizable impacts.  So, whatever your own version of walking on the moon is, you probably can achieve it.

  • Break the goal down into smaller tasks, or interim milestones, that will inexorably lead to success
  • Take action – do those tasks each and every day to move forward step by step
  • When barriers present themselves, take initiative and walk round, through or over them – step by step

What is the giant leap you want to take?

What are the first five to ten steps you can take to get going?

Why not start now? Or at least when you have finished reading this!

Pumpkins and Pareto

One of life’s frustrations is that the volume of business books is far greater than my capacity to read them, there are so many inspiring books out there (and then there is mine…!).  It helps, therefore to have a book recommended, so thanks to Chris for both the suggestion of, and actual gift of, The  Pumpkin Plan, by Mike Michalowicz.  The book draws upon the Pareto Principle  (that many distributions are on an 80/20 split – in this case 80% of business comes from 20% of customers, and 80% of hassle comes from a different 20% of customers).

Michalowicz then cleverly uses the metaphor of growing record-breaking pumpkins (enough to feed an army of Americans at Thanksgiving) to show how one should react to the Pareto Principle to create a successful business. In essence, one culls the unproductive plants, clears the weeds and then intentionally nurtures the prize pumpkin plant.

In business, this effectively means culling customers who don’t make us money but do drain our resources.  Often these are smaller customers, but not always.  Once we’ve reduced our client list down to the prize ones, we need to strip out unnecessary costs, processes and other “weeds” to allow us to focus on serving those key customers.

With that done, we need to consider how we nurture that prize pumpkin/customer – what resources will help it really grow, and how do we bring all we can to bear to achieve that outcome?

My three-paragraph summary doesn’t do justice to the book, which has some useful tools and exercises to help you through the process, so if your interest is piqued please do buy/download the book (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0064VPS24/).  If you want a coach to help you through it, call me and we can discuss whether you could be one of my pumpkins…

In the meantime, what are the broad steps to consider?

  1. Rank your clients by a relevant measure (arguably by profit generated, but often revenue per year is the easier indicator to use)
  2. Allow yourself to adjust that mechanical ranking on more subjective issues – how close to perfect that customer is. Do they pay on time?  Do they draw a lot on your after-sales service?  Are they fun to work with?  Is the work the sort of work you want to do?
  3. Look at the revised ranking and see where the 80/20 rule applies. If you dropped 80% of customers from the bottom of the list, what would happen?  Decide where the bar rests, so that those above survive to be champion pumpkins, and those below would not.
  4. Find alternatives for those who will be culled – either refer out to other solutions, or provide them with a solution yourself, subject to them changing whatever moved them below the line (for example an admin fee or a minimum order value).
  5. Grasp the nettle, and implement the changes – withdraw services that don’t work for you, price yourself out of undesirable work, or inform customers you no longer provide the service (as LoveFilm By Post did to me this month)
  6. Focus on those champion pumpkins, and watch them grow.

Over the years I have worked with a number of clients as they have culled customers and upgraded the quality of their clients – they have done it with grace, with manners and with compassion and I cannot recall an occasion when it hasn’t meant better focus, better margins and increased business.  Maybe your pumpkins need it too?

Puns and Quotes #7

“A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams”

Yiddish proverb

“If life is about the journey not the destination, we should celebrate all the steps, not just the last one.”

James Butler

I’ve recently developed a phobia of lifts, but it is OK – I am taking steps to avoid them.

I met my wife when she was playing football.  I could see straight away she was a keeper.

I have a step-ladder I really love. I never knew my real ladder.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

This autumn I spent three weeks on holiday in the Pacific North West (Alaska and Canada).  Not only does it rank as one of the most memorable holidays (in a very strong field), it has probably provided sufficient inspiration for a year of blogs!  The trip was planned round a few “bucket list” items Bev (my wife) and I wanted to do:

  • Visit a friend who lives in British Columbia, who we haven’t seen for ten years, and never in her own home
  • See orcas in the wild
  • See glaciers calving into the sea
  • See grizzly bears catching salmon in the river

The last one had particular interest in a business sense, because I have used the bears-catching-salmon metaphor in coaching and training for many years.  The grizzly is at the top of the food chain and can eat almost anything, but it knows that if it goes to the river in September, the salmon will almost literally jump down their throat.  It is a great metaphor in terms of sales focus.

Bev had done a lot of research to find the top place to see this natural phenomena – and we invested money and nervous energy to catch a succession of smaller and smaller planes to get to a remote eco lodge where, we told people beforehand, seeing the bears eating salmon was “guaranteed”.

Except we don’t always get what we want, as the Stones taught us.  We were there, on a viewing platform just feet from a huge grizzly bear, a perfect spot to see her eating salmon.  Sadly, the salmon weren’t there.  On a river that can expect a peak of a million fish, in exactly the week we were there, just 5,000 were milling about down river – and none of them were jumping.

For us, a long-held dream was shattered.  For the bears, this could mean the difference between life and death this winter – the salmon are their key calorie source as they fatten for winter.  We had a clear plan, devised over years and carefully executed.  The bears had a plan, based on hundreds of years of learned behaviour across many generations.  But the salmon hadn’t read the plan…

The military have a saying that “the map is not the territory” – in this context I think this tells us that whatever we may have in our business plan, strategy or our life plan, that map is a statement of intention, it is not reality.  In life and business, we can encounter any number of versions of the salmon not turning up.

So, how should we react to this reality, as successful human beings and managers?  For Bev and I, we needed to redefine what success looked like – within the realms of what we could control.  So, we did have amazing bear sightings, we did see them eating mussels and barnacles and small fish, and we were in an amazing landscape and wilderness.  Hard not to see that as success…  For the bears, they needed a plan B.  They won’t survive by slapping their head and saying “Boo hoo, poor me”.  They need to eat something else, as much as possible, and get ready to hibernate.

  • When it comes to your life and business goals, do you have a plan?
  • To the degree that it is in your control, are you assiduously working that plan to give it the best chance of success?
  • If you face unexpected uncontrollable outcomes, now or in the future, what’s your Plan B?
  • If this article has made you think about something in your life, what can you do today to change things for the better?

We don’t always get what we want.  But we increase the chances if we actually know what we want, and have a plan to get it.  I humbly hope my bear story helps inspire you to plan on getting more of what YOU want.

Milestones and Anniversaries – when’s yours?


This year, I passed the 15th anniversary of me handing in my notice from my corporate job at Biffa and setting off on my own.   Sometimes I cannot believe all that has happened in those 15 years – the colleagues, clients and contacts I have worked with, the interesting projects and the successful businesses I have been part of.  It is a real privilege helping people realise dreams: for several that has meant becoming millionaires, for others success has been defined differently but has been sweet nonetheless.

When are your milestones?  What anniversaries are coming up for you?  How can you use those anniversaries to inspire more success?  There are three key ways milestones can be used:

Pause and reflect

  • You can look back on the years and notice the ups and downs, the triumphs and the tribulations, and how you reacted
  • You can identify and work on areas for improvement – so that you are better in the future
  • You can celebrate your successes and reward the successful contributions of others
  • As with walking up a mountain, be sure to look down and draw strength from your progress, don’t just look up at the task remaining.

Plan the future

  • You can set the next milestone – either a point in time, or a point in the project
  • You can break down the gap between now and the next milestone, to give mini-milestones to work towards
  • You can set goals for your next milestone and the mini-milestones on the way (this is effectively what the business planning cycle in my book creates – by giving you a one page plan for the next six to twelve months. You can buy the book here, or contact me to chat about what you need specifically).
  • You can balance your expectations, so that you have stretching goals by the next milestone, but not too many, or too ambitious.

Work in promotions or offers

  • Of course, any promotion needs to be driven by your marketing plan, not just a spur-of-the-moment idea
  • Any offer should look to engage your audience, not just be grasping for business
  • Your offer should be genuinely time limited (unlike the DFS sale, which seems to end every Monday…)
  • Remember the five-finger model for a marketing message – identify a problem, propose a solution, present proof your solution works, make an irresistible offer and set a deadline.

So, what are your forthcoming milestones?  What dates or points in a project resonate for you?

What do you want to have achieved by the time of those milestones?

What steps will you take to start getting there?

After reflecting on fifteen years of coaching owners and managers there is one major lesson I would wish to share with you.  We are capable of much, much more than we realise – provided we consistently take small steps in the right direction, guided by a long-term plan.  Please set your own milestones for the future, and start heading towards them.

Enjoy the journey.

Scott Adams – comedy genius

I am a huge fan of the Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams – his ability to cut through the realities of working life is incredible.

I like him so much I subscribe to the Daily Dilbert – an emailed cartoon every day, which is one of the things that makes me smile each day.

As I celebrate 15 years of self-employment, today’s strip seemed especially relevant!



Puns and Quotes #6

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection”

Mark Twain (according to the internet, though I have my doubts)

“Make every detail perfect, and limit the number of details to perfect”

Jack Dorsey

Do you know what I find odd?  Numbers that are not divisible by two.

Did you hear about the Spanish magician?  He counted “Unos, dos” and then <poof> he disappeared without a trés.