Wednesday, 28 May 2008

From Leigh-on-Sea to New Zealand In A Day (Via Kuala Lumpur, Greendale Wisconsin and Melbourne)

Google has given us some great (free) tools. Google Analytics gives me data about visits to my websites. I am fascinated to learn that yesterday Wednesday 27th May I had visits from Kuala Lumpur, from Melbourne, from Greendale, Wisconsin. And from Capitola, California (hey I have never even heard of Capitola). And in monitoring Google search engine results I also find that my book ‘Leap!’ is one of May’s Picks at Wellington Public Libraries in New Zealand. One or two clicks later and it tells me my book is on the first floor at Wellington’s Central Library (but it’s currently out on loan!).

Okay, this kind of data from the internet is nothing new but put it all together and analyse it and you can see trends and tell stories. And that stuff fascinates me.

'Sell' Is Not An Expletive

When I started work in my early 20s, I was so naïve that I didn't ‘do’ sales. I didn’t think it was something I needed to be bothered with. How wrong I was. When I got more responsibility and moved up the ranks, of course I saw that the essence of every single business is Sales. No exception.

Sell is not a dirty word; it’s what we all do and you’ll need to embrace it to be successful. Yet when I have worked on projects and ventures and we’ve been discussing sales needs, some team members have shied away from the S Word.

Too many think that being a good sales person is about wearing a smart suit and hawking a PowerPoint presentation round to visit targets. Or worse, cold-calling companies trying to get them interested in your product or service. It’s not. You’re actually selling yourself, your ideas, your product and your abilities.

Being a good salesperson is about being flexible in your approach; identifying and recognising what currency of communication will turn-on your target clients; and communicating that effectively. It’s hard work, rarely easy. Some of us are better than others at it but we all have to sell. Staring at a blank spreadsheet with no orders can be daunting but remember sales is about establishing relationships. If you are going to be an entrepreneur, you are going to be selling all the time.

Don’t jump in with a hard sell; learn to understand your target’s culture, objectives, challenges and needs. It takes time, patience – and often a lunch or two – but once you get to know your client it’s easy to understand what it will take for them to make that commitment to your ideas and your product.

People talk about the trick of closing a sale as one of the most difficult things in business. Well, don’t underestimate opening a sale, just starting the sales process. Undoubtedly this is one of the toughest things when you work for yourself.

Of course sometimes a client will approach you or respond to a piece of marketing which makes it an easier sell. The psychology of them wanting something from you will aid your ability to strike a good deal. But doing that deal, negotiating at the right price still takes skill and experience.

So put on your sales hat. Getting knock backs and rejections is never fun, but winning a bit of business - now that always feels good.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Forget ‘work/life balance’, it’s all about juggling.

There have been many column inches written on work/life balance. I still struggle with defining what work/life balance is about. For me, my life is my work, and that doesn’t mean I am a sad workaholic who has no life outside of his job or no time for his family. It just means my personal and professional portfolio of what I do is wrapped up in a single package. The professional identity I have carved out for myself is (mostly) a total reflection of who Ian Sanders is. That identity juggles writer, consultant, project manager, dad and husband in one seamless package. All these elements are interlinked; I juggle work and play seamlessly. It’s not untypical for me to start ‘work’ at 06:30; break for a run and breakfast with my family at 08:00 and then continue the bulk of my working day, maybe breaking around 18:00 to help with the kids’ bathtime before finishing off more work. That’s a familiar tale for many executives whether they work in corporations or for themselves. And the bulk of my working day is not always about sitting at a desk or having meetings; it’s about thinking up ideas, writing up ideas and talking to people and I can do that in coffee shops or out and about.

And in order to pull off this kind of lifestyle you need to be flexible, enterprising, prepared to work hard, but also prepared to make time for play. It can be challenging; last week I segued straight from conference call into babysitting; you have to switch in and out of modes, but if edited correctly, you can carve out a working life designed around your needs and aspirations. And that’s a good result.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Knowledge Workers: Stay At Home!

On his blog yesterday Seth Godin suggests a new standard for meeting and conferences. With rising fuel prices, flight times made longer by security delays and the time it takes to get to meetings or conferences, Godin suggests that those meetings and conferences really really need to be worth it to merit the trip. I have always felt that. Once when I was sitting in departures at JFK and the guy opposite me was boasting on his ‘phone that he was flying to San Francisco for a 30 minute meeting I didn’t think that was very smart – unless said meeting was SO critical (which it might have been).

But Godin has something much more significant to say when you apply this new standard to day to day working practices, backing up something I have felt for a long time.

If you're a knowledge worker, your boss shouldn't make you come to the (expensive) office every day unless there's something there that makes it worth your trip. She needs to provide you with resources or interactions or energy you can't find at home or at Starbucks. And if she does invite you in, don't bother showing up if you're just going to sit quietly.

I've worked in three companies that had lots of people and lots of cubes, and I spent the entire day walking around. I figured that was my job. The days where I sat down and did what looked like work were my least effective days. It's hard for me to see why you'd bother having someone come all the way to an office just to sit in a cube and type.

The new rule seems to be that if you're going to spend the time and the money to see someone face to face, be in their face. Interact or stay home!

Remember: work is what you do, not where you are.

Anyway, got to run for a train; I have a full day of interaction coming up!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Why Pressure Is A Good Thing

I dip into Roxanne Darling’s Beach Walks whenever I get a chance. Or more likely whenever I remember to. Her daily little videos of thoughts and inspiration from the beach at Hawaii are worth a view.

In one of her latest videos ‘
Turn Off The Pressure’, she talks about the musician John Mayer who had a tour planned to promote his new album. However there’s a problem. He hasn’t written the new album yet, it’s not done. But he’s doing the tour anyway. Rox was saying what a great story that was; after all he can’t conjure up his new album just like that, it takes time to nurture that creativity to write and it’s good to turn off the pressure.

Whilst Rox is right about the benefits of turning off the pressure, I also think pressure is really important in making sure you deliver creativity. Without it, where’s the focus, where’s the deadline, where’s the guarantee you’re going to get something done? I have just been commissioned to write my second book – I have three months to write it, the deadline is the end of August. But the themes for the book are still just scribbles in my Moleskine, the editorial proposition has not been fully formed or agreed. With my first book, I knew exactly what I was going to be writing about before I got the deal. Indeed, I’d even written 15,000 words. This time round, it’s different but it’s much more pressured. Not only do I have three months to write the book, I also have to come up with the big ideas too. I have a blank canvas and I have to fill that with 40,000 words of a book that’s going to wow its readers and be a great success. Full of fresh ideas to motivate, inspire and get people changing their lives. That’s quite a tall order. And a lot of pressure. Because I have that deadline, I have to get moving.

And that’s why having pressure is a good thing – without a delivery date, without a contract that lays out my obligations, what would happen to my latest book idea? It would probably stay an idea in my head. At least this way – through pressure – I get it done. No choice. No manuscript means no book is published means no advance means no royalties…

If you want to get results, you have to apply the pressure.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Brand Yourself

Amidst the doom and gloom of the economy, talk of job cuts and inevitable corporate restructuring, there’s never been a better time to look after Number One. Whether you work for a big corporation or are self-employed, it's all about You.

So you’ve got to be good at selling yourself. Not just at selling your company’s products and services, but at You; at selling ‘You Ltd’ or ‘You Inc’. Forget an aptitude for spreadsheets or a talent for speaking Mandarin; ‘Personal Branding’ is the latest must-have in any professional's toolkit. It doesn’t mean just having a well-designed business card or wearing a smart suit; it's about your whole business DNA - how you position yourself in the marketplace, about how you communicate your strengths and skills to people that count: clients, employers, targets you need to impress, and even the guy who signs off your expenses.

As the business guru
Tom Peters observed as early as 1997, wherever we work, we are all the CEOs of our own companies and workers can learn lessons in market positioning from the big brands. Peters' concept of ‘Brand You’ should be at the heart of everyone’s personal development strategy and increasingly so in a competitive market, where you have to stand out from the crowd. Personal branding is now a movement in its own right, with advocates making sure that from their Facebook profiles to their CVs and blogs, they are giving a good sell.

That communication of your values and philosophies is crucial if you work for yourself; clients have so many suppliers to choose from and you need to make sure your values are communicated in all you do, from proposal to invoice. I realised that fact early on in my career; whether office junior or board director I strove to ensure my own brand values were communicated to both internal and external markets, making sure I got noticed, that I put my signature on all I did. I never called it 'personal branding' back then; it was just an instinctive - and to me, rather obvious - guiding principle. That philosophy contributed to my early success in my career and became essential when I set up on my own in 2000. Personal branding was, and continues to be, at the heart of my business strategy. I ask myself in all I do, in writing my book, in delivering projects, in business communications - did I give 100% Ian Sanders? Make sure you do the same. From customer service to your business communications, it reflects what you’re about. I met a bloke once who presented me a business card with ‘Consutancy’ spelt wrongly. What does that say about his business? A supplier I was meeting turned up to late to meet me and also got my name wrong. Not a good brand experience. So consider what your brand equity is: what is your message you want to send out, what makes you special?

For those sitting in their offices at big corporations, you need to embrace the same principles. As companies merge, downsize or grow you’ll need to make sure you get noticed, and to survive you need to think of yourself as an entrepreneurial unit with all the attitude of a start-up. And it’s not just about having a smart-looking CV when you are seeking your next job; it’s about making sure that everything you do has your personal stamp on it: your style, your approach, your achievements.

So be different, be remarkable and be your own brand. You might lack the resources of a super-brand like Nike or Google, but even with a one-man personal brand, you still have the power to make a difference.

Survival of the fittest in work is about getting noticed so whatever you do: Go And Brand Yourself!

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Follow Your Gut

Go with your gut feeling.

You may want to consult before embarking on a new strategy or direction but always trust your instinct.

It’s like when you ask a friend of a dilemma or decision, ‘Should I?’ or ‘Shouldn’t I?’ when deep down, you truly know what to do before you even ask the question. Or when you have that moment of clarity on the tube or in the middle of the night. When you come up with that magic figure for your budget proposal. Getting the right answer is not always a science.

Instinct is such a valuable and under-rated tool in the entrepreneur’s tool kit. You don’t need advisors and mentors for every decision. Because – and especially for the big ones - you’ll know instinctively whether to take that risk on a project, invest in that new piece of software or lunch with that managing director.

Just as you instinctively knew whether to take the Leap! in the first place. So when you are struggling with decisions remember your emotional response once when you first had the dilemma. Nine times out of ten your final decision will reflect whatever you first felt regardless of the analysis, evaluation and consulting you might have in between.

So why not save time, take a risk and trust your instinct. It’s one of your most valuable tools, so use it.

Book #2

I am just inking the deal on my second book which is due to be out in January 2009. ‘Juggle’ will be published by Capstone/ Wiley and is my second book in an ongoing series. The proposition is still in development, watch this space for details….

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Business Lessons From One Man And His Ladder

There's loads of lessons on business and enterprise told by great management gurus and CEOs of big corporations but sometimes you can learn so much from ...literally... a bloke on the street.
The bloke on the street in question was a decorator, up a ladder painting the outside of our neighbour's house. He was there yesterday, an old guy who’d decorated all his life.. and loved it. I said hi to him. He said he’d noted that the guttering on one side of our house was full of earth and moss so he’d put his ladder up and removed it for us. ‘Wow’ I said, ‘Thanks’.

Then he said that when he did that he noticed that one of the valleys at the front of the roof had some cement missing. ‘Oh dear’ I said, ‘thanks for spotting it’. He smiled. ‘So I fixed that too, just put some new cement in the gaps for you’.

I was stunned. He was decorating my neighbour’s house but had taken the time and trouble to look at our roof and fix it. I told him how grateful I was. ‘it was nothing much’ he shrugged.

I went back out to see him later in the afternoon and he mentioned some of our old window frames were in need of attention so I booked him to do some work for us in July. I don’t think it was a sales-technique; this guy was genuine in his goodwill in helping us out; but on the other hand, what a perfect way to introduce his great service to new clients? Not only did this work with us but he said he’s also decorating the neighbouring house on the other side, as his next job.

I often have the same conversation with associates and contacts about the process of business development – how we don't want to 'give away too much for free' in pursuit of building relationships with clients. What the decorator proved is that you shouldn't be too mercenary. A genuine gesture of goodwill can get rewarded with the commissioning of a new project. Of course, we could have just taken his free work with no commitment to pay him for any work in the future, but on the other hand we were touched by his gesture and he proved he'd be a good safe pair of hands for any work he did in the future....

Saturday, 3 May 2008

This viral really is viral....

The success of my book's promotional video on YouTube has been outstanding.

In the first 24 hours it got 2,902 views and in the first 48 hours it has amassed over 8,100 views. That made it #7 in the Most Viewed category in the UK today plus #2 in Most Viewed, Comedy. In ‘Most Viewed, Comedy’ it’s been getting hits all over the world: #23 in Australia, #7 in Ireland, #20 in New Zealand, #67 in South Korea and #49 in Hong Kong.

Wow… this does make it a true viral.

Friday, 2 May 2008

A New Video Viral

My publishers have created a short video to promote my book.