Wednesday, 30 April 2008

"Goddag Denmark!"

I have just received data for the sales of my book 'Leap!' by international territory. Here is a chart of its sales around the world. No surprises that the UK and US are where it's selling more. Good to see that in the 'long tail' there are some less obvious territories.....
'Tak Danmark!'

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

A Fresh Perspective

I met Cheryl Goldenberg at the beginning of the year. Cheryl is an experienced life coach and we meet up every few weeks; we provide a valuable fresh perspective on each other's businesses, brainstorming a solution for a business challenge or helping each other with fresh direction or some new ideas. Part of my business offering is about providing a fresh perspective to clients, so it's good to have someone to give that fresh perspective on my own business. I have also been working with Cheryl on her marketing, helping to redefine her market positioning.

Cheryl takes her clients from 'perspiration to inspiration', helping them achieve their goals and aspirations. Check out her website

Monday, 28 April 2008

The Ideas-Rich & Time-Poor Generation

I was emailing a group of people today about a project we might collaborate on. I was keen to get involved in the new project but wanted to be realistic about the time it would take me if we went forward as I have so many other things on. I guess we get approached by so many people about collaborating on this or that; we need to be ruthless about what we choose to do.

So I said I remained keen, but I was ‘Ideas-rich and Time-poor’ so had to consider carefully what I work on. This resonated with one of my fellow collaborators and then I realised this is true for so many of us. I have no shortage of ideas for new products, ventures, projects. For books to write, intellectual properties to develop, projects to develop. But I have limited time.

And then it got me thinking (thanks for the prompt Trevor!). With this dilemma so common for many of us, we need to formulate strategies for choosing what ideas to pursue, and what to put on the back burner. I make those decisions every week.

My next book is for everyone who is ideas-rich and time-poor. Watch this space....!

The Importance Of Connections

There’s a piece in today’s ‘Guardian’ about the importance of connections. How friends and relations who may – on the face of it – ‘work in useless places’ may in fact, through the Six Degrees Of Separation, be really valuable when it comes to being introduced or connected to new clients or employers. As I have written in my book, my own business success has relied on the importance of such connections. Relationships that I have built with clients, friends, associates. Introductions that contacts have made. Business that I have won through friends, clients, contacts. And they all seem to be interlinked.

On Thursday I met with a guy who has a band that I happened to see in a bar I walked into last year. I have hired the band to play at my 40th birthday party next month. The guy’s day-job is a head-hunter. His departmental partner happens to be the son of one of my father’s oldest friends – they were at school together, and I hadn’t seen him for over 20 years. Unrelated to that connection, it transpires that this partner was himself at school with a friend of mine. The head-hunter emailed me with details of a role they are trying to fill for a client of theirs. I then passed it on to a contact of mine who has an interview lined up for next week: if my contact gets the job, that sure is a long, tenuous but well-connected route to getting it! This story is not remarkable. Indeed such connections seem to be very common; we often meet new people and find that they know friends of friends or that our paths have crossed ‘in a previous life’.

When you can maximise these connections for business benefit, even better; because it’s always easier trying to pitch you or your business to someone who you have some – however tenuous – connection with; rather than to someone who you don’t have any heritage with at all. And however much you try and contrive to create new business from brand new clients and contacts, it’s much more likely that new business will come from your existing network of contacts or a recommendation or a referral.

So stay connected!

A Good Giraffe

The marketing expert and author Seth Godin posted a story on his blog yesterday about customer service. About some bad experiences; about the difference between people genuinely caring and pretending to care about a customer predicament. We would rather people in the service industries cared about us, but at least if they pretend they do, that’s better than not making an effort at all.

I always think a waiter is a good example of experiencing customer service at its most basic. The waiter/waitress is about how good an experience you get from one person – often under pressure – acting as a brand ambassador for the restaurant where they work. And they are often overworked and underpaid and underappreciated.

Yesterday lunchtime at Giraffe in London’s Spitalfields, was a perfect example of a bloody good waiter. A guy (American as it happened) who built a relationship as soon as we sat down. He was funny, he was helpful, he made all of us welcome (especially my two sons) and he was memorable. I can see him now, entertaining my kids.

It’s not easy to ‘pretend to care’ under pressure of a busy restaurant on a Sunday lunchtime, this waiter gave me the impression he really cared about us (and if he was pretending, he was probably very good actor. And come to think of it, a waiter in London probably IS an actor between jobs…)

Friday, 25 April 2008

The Earth Is Project-Shaped

For all you project obsessives out there, there is a fascinating podcast from BBC Radio's 'Global Business' programme about how working in organisations is changing radically. Professor Lynda Gratton from the London Business School observes how increasingly we're not doing one job, but working on fixed limited-time projects beyond the parameters of our day jobs. Whether in proper jobs or in my self-employed business, my whole career has been about PROJECTS and I love 'em. Whether it's a one-day project or a 12-month project, they all have a middle, a beginning and an end. They all have a client and – hopefully – someone to invoice at the end. Professor Gratton says that whilst a project culture has always been part of such companies as McKinsey, organisations are changing and the culture in for example, the Royal Bank of Scotland is that everything is now a 30, 60 or 90 day project. Gratton talks about the benefits of large project teams collaborating across-discipline and across-countries.

I too work in cross-discipline project teams. On a current project I am part of a team that includes members in the US, Europe, South Africa and The Middle East. And most of those people I have not even met face to face – it is very much a virtual team, as are many of my projects. The programme talks about the success of such teams when Nokia wanted to develop a new 'phone for the Chinese market, they formed a cross-cultural, cross-gender, cross-nation team. And the more diverse the team, the more effective at innovation. In Nokia's case it was a success.

I agree with diversity in teams but 'small is beautiful' in my experience. Keep the team small and everyone can make a contribution, everyone stands a chance of making a difference. If a team gets too big then it can become an unwieldy group with group emails, conference calls and all the baggage! So keep it project-shaped always but keep it focused and keep it small. You can achieve more that way, be more entrepreneurial, more innovative and ultimately more effective. Because a project that is not implemented is not a project, it's just an idea.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Tom Peters Factor

I was chuffed to be voted on to The Tom Peters Blog roll by the good people at so welcome to new readers who have entered The Scrambled Up World Of Work through Tom's site.

Management Gurus tend to be a love 'em or hate 'em breed; I never had much time for the evangelical school of 'This Will Change Your Life' type, it's just not my style but every time I have read Tom or seen him talk, he has really spoken to me directly – most of what he says resonates with my experiences and my business. Having been introduced to Tom's work at University in the late 80s; as an executive in the 90s his books were essential reading to keep me fired up and inspired. But the 00's is when Tom became even more valuable. Once I took the leap to go it alone, I had to reinvent my business so many times and Tom was my trusty guide. I discovered Tom's Project 50 series on a trip to Palo Alto (didn't realise the relevance of Palo Alto & Tom at the time). I love those little books and have re-read them again and again. It spoke directly to me and was the catalyst for taking my business in a new direction, re-branded as a venture that reflected my personality and values.

And to complete the Tom Peters story I was delighted when my publishers told me that Chris Nel, a partner in the Tom Peters Company had read the proofs of my own book and penned a very nice testimonial that sits on the back cover.

Welcome to those of you who are members of the TP Community.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A Bad Brand Experience

We have all had painful customer service experiences.
Yesterday I had a very painful one.
A case study in a retailer over-complicating something.

Too many organisations are guilty of over-complicating procedures. My experience yesterday – buying a new laptop in PC World - should have been a simple process, but the retailer put so many obstacles between Enquiry and Fulfilment, it’s a miracle I stayed.

A culture of unwieldy systems and a lack of urgency turned what should have been a simple transaction into a painful one.

It should have gone like this:

Me: I would like a laptop please – the Eee PC. Do you have any?
Sales Assistant: Yes sir, I will get you one right away.
Me: Thank you.
Sales Assistant: Here you Go Sir.
Me: Good bye.

6 minutes max, not 60 minutes.

Instead I wasted nearly an hour dealing with the Business Centre which promised to offer a ‘better service’ than the shopfloor (I only dealt with them in the first place because there was no shopfloor staff available).

The Business Centre explained that I had to register for a business account. This was tedious and took far too long. The system wasn't working properly. ‘Phonecalls were made to head office. I'll just pay credit card I suggested, I don't need an account.The salesman went off to find my laptop for me which took an age; he had to find a manager to let him in to the warehouse. He came back with the box. He couldn’t break the seal. I lent him my car key to break it. Even with me paying by credit card he still had to put it through a business account. He spelt my company name wrong. He had to 'phone up again to get the account number to put it through the system. He was friendly enough and tried his best, admitting it was the first time he used the system. He was polite and apologetic. But the brand experience was zero. One of those times when you think this has taken me half an hour but if I walk out now I really have wasted my time, at least if I walk out of here with what I want, then I have a result.

The culture of the organisation needs re-engineering. It needs to be a case of 'back to basics'. Like this:

PC World sells boxes.
Customers want to buy boxes.
A customer walks in and asks for a box.
PC World fetch him the box and sell it to him.
Customer hands over his credit card.

End Of Story.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Lose The Gimmicks

I saw a piece in the local paper about a new neighbourhood restaurant opening. Apparently it had a talented chef, great food and the owner boasted that a magician would entertain diners at their tables.

Magicians-at-tables sounds a bit passé to me.

But I think the restaurant is making a mistake for a different reason. Sure - compete on great food, good value, and a bloody good atmosphere. But compete by having a magician entertain you? Like a lot of small businesses, too many fail to keep the proposition simple and over-engineer their offering, ending up with gimmicks or worse – diluting their core competence, by trying to do too much and forgetting the basics.

So if you are a small business, focus on the business equivalent of being a bloody good restaurant. Make sure you offer: Great Product. Excellent Service. Value For Money. And make sure them come back for more.

And that means keep it simple (so you’ve got to ditch the magician).

Friday, 18 April 2008

Communicating To Fix It

Tom Peters has some valuable things to say on the subject of communication. In a post on his blog yesterday he suggested the following action:

“Play back the last 24 or 48 hours. Is there an instance where you have failed to fully Inform a client, or other stakeholder, of a delay or glitch.?

If your answer is ‘nope, all is well’:
Fix it.

Make the call.”

Too many people hide behind emails when it comes to business communication; but picking up the ‘phone to a client to flag up a problem, to check they are happy or just get some feedback is critical. Like communication in any relationship, there is nothing worse than silence. When something goes wrong, but you don’t know what’s going on and there is zero communication.

As a consumer, I had some problems late last year with a fashion brand. I’d bought one of their t-shirts and the dye had stained my body and given me headaches. I emailed the CEO but apart from a replacement item they weren’t keen to take responsibility. They investigated the matter, tested the item but didn’t acknowledge that it had given me headaches. They considered the matter was closed. Then months passed and the other week I got a letter from one of their Directors, saying he was sorry the incident had caused distress and making a small offer to me. But I still wasn’t happy as I felt there were some important principles here and that the brand had breached its trust with the consumer, it had failed in its brand promise. Emails went back and forth, but we were going around in circles. Then yesterday evening the Director took the trouble to pick up the ‘phone to me and we spoke candidly about my concerns. I accepted his offer and closed the file on all this. And not because of his offer. But because he took the initiative to telephone me, because he sounded a decent bloke, because he accepted I’d had a very poor experience and because he wanted to restore my faith in his brand. He has now done that.

“He Fixed It”.

Too many corporations and brands become faceless in their dealings with the consumer. Good Old Fashioned Communication can make all the difference.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Reader Feedback

My book is not for everyone.
You have to ‘get it’, and not everyone gets it.

It’s not a traditional business book, it’s not full of management theories, it’s not a how-to guide, there are no To-Do exercises at the end of each chapter. It’s just about a mindset, an attitude.

But it’s great when my style and message resonates with an audience. I have had some good feedback from readers. One reader emailed me at 02:45am, his head buzzing with ideas after having read the book. He only bought it – on impulse – that afternoon. He found the book spoke to him directly, but also questioned (rightly) that being filed in a bookstore under ‘Small Business’ might not the best place for it. He wrote,

“The essence of the book for me is about managing a catalysed change in mindset, the 'something has changed in my outlook, but I'm not quite sure what to do about it, I could sure do with some help’ ".

And that’s a good way of looking at it. Yesterday I heard from Lydia in Seattle. Lydia is a talented photographer who'd picked up my book in her local Borders. She has been considering taking the Leap to become a freelance photographer but was struggling with last minute doubts. She emailed me about that inevitable courage required to go it alone:

“This has been the scariest thing I have ever done; it's been hard to drone out the negative voice in my head saying "what if you fail?"But in the past week I feel that there has been a shift in my attitude and I am gaining more clarity as to where the hell I'm going and what the F I'm doing. I just felt the urge to write and say that I'm very grateful you wrote this book, I love the way it's written, it has been my saving from my self and that nagging voice in my head. I just feel more empowered with this knowledge”

And whatever the commercial return for the book, whatever the royalties I receive, this kind of feedback is the best reward I could get.

Check out Lydia’s website here.

The Importance Of Switching Off

My train ride to London is about 50 minutes. Because of how I work, I always use that time for a lot of task-related stuff. Podcasts to listen to. Documents to draft. Cuttings to read. Notes to make. Meetings to prep for. Often, really focused tasks. Without (too much) distraction I get my head down and get on with stuff. It’s a packed 50 minutes.

But yesterday I changed my rules. I read a book on the train. Not a work book, a memoir I have been reading. I almost felt guilty not doing something work related but it was a complete breath of fresh air, agenda-less for the journey.

And it’s important because we all need space to breathe and in this BlackBerry culture, we rarely switch off. But if you don’t switch off, you most likely won’t have the space to get inspired.

On Monday evening I went to see members of the Cuban band, The Buena Vista Social Club in concert. It was a great night but it was also two hours to completely switch off. And when you switch off, your mind is freed up. So I walked out of that concert hall with a stack of ideas that quickly got scribbled in my Moleskine. Ideas that just came to me as I was lost in the music.

So if you are looking for inspiration or a solution to a problem, get out of the office, change your routine. Free up your mind by reading a book or going to some live music and then sit back and watch the ideas flow…

Friday, 11 April 2008

London's Best Espresso...

...has to be from the Monmouth Coffee Company at Borough Market. A Perfect Espresso for just £1.

As they served it up in a cup and saucer I changed my mind and asked for a takeout, expecting them to give me a paper cup to pour it into. But the guy poured me a new one instead. 10/10!
* in the interests of authenticity, my photograph above is actually of Puglia's Best Espresso at Bar Fod, Cisternino, Italy.

Another Signature Project

Chris Gould runs All In Media, an innovative technology company that provides consultancy services and products to the radio industry, specialising in data broadcast opportunities for interactive services.

Chris approached OHM with some challenges. The business was young, 18 months old with an enviable client list and market success, with an expansion into the Australian market. But it had growing pains. It needed to grow to the next stage, to increase market perception and exploit new market opportunities. The market positioning of the business needed addressing - its audience of technical managers and engineering roles was preaching to the converted; it needed to reach a broader market and speak to senior management, sales and operational personnel. The proposition had great potential for re-positioning and it needed a rebrand.

We've just completed the first phase of our work for All In Media. We've rebranded them as AIM, produced a fresh brand identity and a new language to talk to a new target audience.

It's a great example of one of our signature projects - an assignment to EXPLOIT THE MARKET POTENTIAL of our client. A strategy and a bunch of deliverables to refresh a client, to totally re-engineer their market presence from top to bottom. We also needed to capture and communicate their brand essence, their personality, their point of differentiation. A global but boutique business with innovative products, intimate service and technological know-how.

The result = AIM: 'The Great Little Technology Company'

A new direction and a spirit that reflects their brand personality and takes the business to the next stage. An example of a how a small project can make a big difference for a client.

As I post this, Chris is flying to The NAB Show in Las Vegas to network the business, to do the sell, to showcase the new brand. AIM - a company that is literally going places....

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

A Maverick Who ‘Was Never Dull, Ordinary Or Safe'

I wasn’t familiar with Paul Arden’s legendary work in advertising when I first bought his books “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be” and “Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite”. But his books stood up on their own: quirky, punchy little books which inspired the reader and got you thinking about things in a different way. They were really effective with their punchy copy and use of photographs and images. And you could read them in an hour. I particularly loved “Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite” and bought copies for clients and friends one Christmas.

Paul died earlier this month and there is an excellent tribute from Dave Trott in Monday’s Independent newspaper.

Trott describes a man who had no fears, no obstacles to moving through his professional life.

When Paul wanted to quit his job as a creative director at one agency to be an art director at Saatchi, it didn't look like a smart move to me. (But) in his first year at Saatchi, he won a prestigious D&AD award. He became creative director, and was behind Saatchi's best decade ever. When he said he was going to leave Saatchi to direct commercials, I said, "Paul, you're mad. Don't do it."
In his first year as a director, his production company won the Palm d'Or at Cannes. Then came his debilitating breathing problems.
And so he said he really fancied being a best-selling author. And I said, "You know, advertising books have a very limited market. It probably won't sell outside of London."
Paul's son, Christian, told me last week that Paul's first book has sold another 100,000 copies just in the first three months of this year, and it's already in its fourth year of printing. Wherever I've been in the world, I've seen copies of it in German, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Japanese... whatever is the local language. In New York, CEOs buy it by the crate to give a copy to everyone in their company.

Here’s to a maverick who ‘was never dull, ordinary or safe'...

Monday, 7 April 2008

My Back-Of-The-Napkin-Portfolio

Dan Roam used to run a marketing company in Russia. The only problem was - he didn’t speak Russian. So he used drawings to communicate. Then, even when he’d learnt Russian, he still drew pictures as a means of communication.

Dan is now back in the US as a consultant and lecturer and he’s written a book, ‘The Back Of The Napkin, Solving Problems And Selling Ideas With Pictures’.

I have always been a fan of scribbling doodles, thoughts and ideas on a notepad, on a beermat or on the back of a napkin. As readers of my book will know, it’s where many of my ideas started. Dan takes this one stage further using pictures to plot strategy or communicate change. He believes any problem can be solved with a picture:

“Used properly, a humble napkin is more powerful than Excel or Powerpoint. It can help you crystallize your ideas, think outside the box, and communicate more powerfully than any traditional business presentation”

In homage to ‘Back Of The Napkin’ I doodled my current portfolio on the back of a napkin on the train last week. Click on the image above to view My Back-Of-The-Napkin-Portfolio.

Friday, 4 April 2008

'What do you do again?'

As those who have read my book will know, I hate being defined by my job title - partly because I don’t have a simple answer for what I do (and I don’t have a single job title – I have a few). This dislike for that inevitable dinner party question might be because I strive for a polymath-life, I don’t have a single-discipline that I can shout about and I revel in variety.

If I was an investment banker, it would be so much easier (or perhaps not!).

My philosophy is shared by Tim Ferris, a polymath if ever there was one. In his book ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ he explains his response to the ‘what do you do?’ question:

Assuming you can find me (hard to do), and depending on when you ask me (I’d prefer you didn’t), I could be racing motorcycles in Europe, scuba diving off a private island in Panama, resting under a palm tree between kickboxing sessions in Thailand, or dancing tango in Buenos Aires.

…I never enjoyed answering this cocktail question because it reflects an epidemic I was long part of: job descriptions as self-descriptions. If someone asks me now and is anything but absolutely sincere, I explain my lifestyle of mysterious means simply.

“I’m a drug dealer.” Pretty much a conversation ender. It’s only half true, besides. The whole truth would take too long. How can I possibly explain that what I do with my time and what I do for money are completely different things?

Music to my ears.

So how do you define yourself in the absence of a single-discipline role? Communicate your personal brand equity.

What’s your brand equity? - How do you add value in life? What stimulates you? What makes you different?

My brand equity = ‘I help clients exploit their market potential (And I do loads of other stuff too)’ but that sums it up. Not wholly original but that’s where I hang my hat.

Identify and express your personal brand equity; whether you are in a proper job, run your own business or do your own thing, it’s an important part of making sure you stand out from the crowd.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Put Your Signature On All You Do (well, not literally)

Today, I stickered the inside of some of my books with a signed post-it sticky note. A smart little idea. But not an original idea from me. An idea from The Author Blog, a blog for business authors.

See the video of a very simple, yet effective, idea here.
And a reminder: to always look to personalise our business offering, to put our signature (not always literally) on what we do, on all we do, and to make it distinctive.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Now that’s what I call eclectic.

The Wiktionary defines ‘eclectic’ as ‘Crossing a range or mixture of specialties’ and that’s what the scrambled up world of work is all about.

Eclectic is a sometimes over-used word, we often use it to describe broad musical tastes. When I was a pioneering teenage radio presenter in 1987, ‘eclectic’ would certainly have described the playlist on ‘Revolver’ the weekly show on BBC Essex I co-hosted. It was certainly scrambled-up. The Bhundu Boys, Nanci Griffith, Half Man Half Biscuit, The Famous Potatoes, Phranc, Fairport Convention, New Order. World, Country, Folk, Indie, Skiffle. It was a radio show with no rules.

I have always liked ‘getting away’ with such a mix. When I was Managing Director of Unique Facilities, a broadcast radio studio, I loved the diversity of our clients: from a sole trader voice-over artist paying £50 for a single hour hire, to a radio station from Washington DC doing their breakfast show for a week. In my book, a client is a client.

That philosophy has been at the heart of my business OHM. We have an eclectic client mix. Because we can (I like the variety), and because we need to (a broad client base makes for a more stable business).

As we start another financial year in the life of OHM, time to reflect with a roll call of our clients to date.

Global Brands and Corporations: MTV Networks, TRS Staffing Solutions, Rogers Media Inc, Benetton, Wiley.

Small Business/ Start-Ups: Bluw Creative, Front Door Property, quidity, Speak, Sorrell, Watercress Media.

Medium Size Enterprises: Classic FM, Deluxe Digital London, Metro Broadcast, Oneword Radio, Clantex, UBC Media Group plc.

Not For Profit Sector: The Leigh Art Trail, The Conservative Group For Europe, The London Trainee Solicitors Group.

Individuals: Katie Houlbrook, Lord Fraser Of Carmyllie QC, Noel Edmonds.

Now that’s what I call eclectic. Thanks to all our clients, whatever their size, whatever their business.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Business Tip #538: Be Good At Self Promotion (And if you don’t like the idea of that, get over it).

Whether you like it or not, self promotion should be an essential tool in your business box of tricks. Some people might be uncomfortable with the notion of ‘blowing your own trumpet’, but it’s a competitive market out there and if you aren’t blowing your trumpet, unless you have a publicist working for you, no-one else will do it for you (and worse, all your competitors will be doing it for themselves). So get over it!

As Dan Schawbel and other Personal Branding exponents have argued, you need a strategy in place to manage and communicate your professional identities to your target audiences. You may not call it a ‘Personal Branding Strategy’ but inevitably you’ll have a website and/or blog, you’ll have a business card, you’ll have a Facebook or LinkedIn profile, and I bet you’ve emailed your contacts with what you have been up to from time to time. Managing all that is about Personal Branding.

So shout about what you’ve done and what your business is all about; BUT do keep it relevant and do keep it focused.

Tim Ferris, author of ‘The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich’ is a serial self-publicist. His commitment to promotion has made his book an international bestseller. 12 months ago no-one had heard of Tim, now he’s everywhere. He’s in London tomorrow and 100 people he doesn’t even know are turning up for a drink with him (I even said I would turn up). That's the power of self promotion. have just voted Tim the greatest self-promoter in the world. And as Wired said in their announcement to him,

“… it's clear that you've done your self-promotion work so well that you no longer have to do it yourself. You've got legions of fans tooting your horn for you, and that -- more than recognition on the pages of -- is the most valuable prize a self-promoter could hope to win”.

In the meantime, the rest of us are going to have to do this self-promotion stuff ourselves.