Monday, 30 June 2008

'Remember, they came here for the coffee'

What is your view of Starbucks?

A brand that is passionate about coffee or a brand that has lost its way?
I like my espressos but I would rarely – if ever – go to Starbucks. It doesn’t say ‘passionate about coffee’ to me anymore.

But Starbucks is going back to basics. The Observer reported that Founder Howard Schultz has told shareholders the current economic environment is 'the weakest in our company's history' and they need to make changes:

'We somehow evolved from a culture of entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation to a culture of, in a way, mediocrity and bureaucracy,' he conceded recently. 'We have somehow lost our edge.'

By focusing too much on other stuff: whether selling sandwiches or setting up a record label, Starbucks has lost its way.

And a lesson here for ALL OF US.

Sure, as we grow our businesses we need to expand, diversify, grow. But make sure you remember why clients liked you in the first place.

Remember they came here for the coffee.

So remember what you’re good at, remember why people use you and don’t neglect the basics.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Soho Shorts Festival

The Rushes Soho Shorts Festival is in its 10th Year and champions emerging young talent across all genres of short film. I am delighted to say that 'Exclusive Leak' the short made by Simon Balch to promote my book 'Leap!' has been shortlisted for this year's Festival in the Broadcast Design Award....

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

My South Of France Office

This was my base last week for my writing project, Hotel Windsor in Nice.

Juggling Boardrooms & Babysitting

I don’t want to be one of those guys who bores everyone about how great his kids are. But Luke Johnson observed in his FT column today that the favourite talk among 21st century entrepreneurs is their family.

“This is the first generation of New Man executives, whose chief hobbies are not golf and drinking but their children. These business leaders can not only close a sale or raise venture capital but they can also change a nappy, baby-sit and talk knowledgably about schools and exams. The old-fashioned boss delegated all child-rearing to women: the wife or perhaps the nanny. He was too busy building a fortune and, in the evenings, socialising with work clients or bankers. But, nowadays, I'm not alone in regularly slipping out of the office early to be home in time for the children's bath and a bedtime story”

I am not sure how true his statement is that we’d all rather be spending time with our kids, than drink beer and play golf (many of us are aspiring to do all three – and why not?) but certainly I have always tried to juggle work and family so that all of us benefit from that flexibility. As Johnson says, that is easy for the generation of workers who have become Dads in their late 30s and 40s. If I was in my twenties, I think that lager after work might be more tempting than rushing home for kids’ bath-time. Now I try and do both (not literally)….

But whatever the practicalities of returning home for bath and bedtime, Johnson is right that becoming a father has 'a healthy and humanising impact, putting all the stress...into perspective'.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Street-Level Videos

I spent yesterday on the streets of London, talking to myself loudly whilst looking into the middle distance in an animated way, gesticulating wildly.

No, not just another Ian Sanders day in the city. I was radio-mic’d up, talking to camera, filming a new series of videos around East London and The City: in Hoxton, Shoreditch, Finsbury Square, Liverpool Street and Brick Lane. 'Leap Takeaways' is a series of 10 short videos with a simple common sense piece of business advice for those who have taken the leap to work for themselves. They will be released later in the summer.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Where’s your simple-but-cool button for your client/ customer?

When the team building were looking at website functionality for Online Check In they delivered the kind of smart touches you’d expect from a brand like BA. But they also offered such a simple-but-cool-button. When you view your boarding pass once you have checked-in you can do all the normal stuff like print your boarding pass or have it emailed to you. But also something less cutting edge. You can opt to fax it to anywhere. Perfect if you are away from your base, on wifi in a hotel and don’t have a printer. Just click on fax, and get it sent to reception.

So simple but nice touch!

Expedition Kit

As a kid I was fascinated by those photographs of a mountaineer’s kit you’d see in a Sunday magazine or a pull out poster; all the kit for an Everest expedition laid out. I was intrigued by the ‘tools of the trade’, the kit to climb that mountain or achieve that endeavour.

So as I was making piles of stuff to throw in my bag for my writing trip to Nice, I snapped a picture in homage.

These are my tools of the trade and whilst writing a book may not be the same as climbing a mountain, when you are trying to mentally prepare whilst doing 17 other things at the sane time, it can certainly feel like it.

So I had 3 days in Nice, focused on my second book ‘Juggle!’. 3 days of inspiration and stimulation away from my desk. Think of it as the literary equivalent of going to the countryside to write that ‘difficult second album’.

I returned last night, a notepad full of ideas and scribbles.

Writer, musician, mountaineer, astronaut, small business owner. It’s all the same. It’s about knowing what it’s going to take to achieve your goals, preparing for it and just doing it.

Monday, 16 June 2008

When Autonomy Goes Wrong: How A Cheap Hi-Fi On Top Of A Fridge Can Damage A Brand

For a brand with a large number of outlets it’s importance to balance brand homogeneity with the ability for individual managers and outlets to be distinctive and different. A coffee shop that is part of a global chain but acts ‘local’ and allows its management and staff to put their own distinctive and personal stamp on all they do is a good thing. A brand that tries to instil a one-size-fits-all approach to all its operations regardless of local market needs and cultures is too inflexible. But you have to ensure some standards prevail.

For a retail environment, brand homogeneity can be realised through in-store music. I have worked with a number of brands introducing and managing an in-store music service. In both cases, music and audio became an important part of the brand experience. For Gala Bingo, I launched their first cross-estate music service introducing a managed solution that was bespoke for their audience. Previously, their customers had got whatever music their local manager liked. Customers in Colchester got to listen to Oasis most of the day as that was the manager’s favourite; but that was at odds with both the brand positioning and the audience demographic. I also worked with Benetton, introducing a music service into their flagship London store, replacing a system where managers used to go out and buy CDs of their choice. Again this helped extend and enhance the brand experience, but autonomy was permitted. The Kensington store did not need to play the same music as Oxford Circus; in some stores it was up to the respective store manager. And that flexibility and trust worked well.

But autonomy gone wrong can lead to a bad brand experience. This morning I went in to a Superdrug store. It was very noisy. On top of a fridge unit was perched a hi-fi playing music at such a level it was distorting. This was not an in-store music system; this was a domestic hi-fi on the top of a drinks fridge! You might expect this in your local car mechanics, but not in a professionally branded retail environment. And worse, it was turned up too loud seemingly to entertain the staff at the risk of scaring off the customer. And in an instant - that cheap hi-fi on top of a fridge did a lot to undermine all the work that brand has done to create strong values.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Preparing for Change

Stefan Stern wrote a piece in Tuesday’s Financial Times on Change. On how organisations and management prepare for change. It compared the ‘change management spectaculars’ of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 project, and the relocation of Eurostar services to St.Pancras. Terminal 5 was a failed change project; Eurostar was a success. Stern attributes this success to one word: preparation.

Eurostar prepared employees for the huge changes (1,600 employees were affected) "not just in physical terms but in an emotional sense too. Business psychologists from the consultancy Kaisen were brought in to advise managers. A huge, two-way communication effort with staff was made. 'It’s not enough to ‘tell and sell’ ' says Eurostar’s Dan Dobson-Smith, one of the company’s senior change managers. 'We had to win everybody’s emotional engagement' ”. And that approach paid off.

But you can’t always plan and prepare for change, because you don’t know the nature of it. I worked on a huge project once. It was so multi-dimensional and pioneering with so many variables we had no other option than to wing it. Some tried to prepare for it as they had other projects. One researcher sat with her coloured pens and mapped everything out. But when it came to the event for which we were planning, I still had no sense of what was going to be thrown at me, all I could do was prepare for the unknown. And somehow, it happened and it was a success. Not through some great strategy and plan. It happened. We didn’t know what we wee managing and producing until it had happened.

And sometimes life and business is like that. You just need a clear head and an open mind, you cannot have a detailed plan.

Unless a world-class airline and thousands of passengers are at stake. Then you need to prepare, prepare, prepare.

Read Stern’s column here.

It's Never Too Late To Change

It’s never too late to change.
You hear some people who say ‘I always wanted to do something different but I am too old now’ or ‘I always wanted to change my job but it’s too late’.
But that’s rubbish. It’s never too late. That’s just a poor excuse.
Whether you’re 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 it’s never too late.
You just need the guts to make a change. And it’s not always easy.
A woman I’ve been working with just took the leap to go it alone, setting up her own PR company. She had a career working for big corporations but wanted a change. Another friend decided to ditch his job working in finance to get involved in a hotel venture. None of these decisions are easy but they offer a whole new set of opportunities.

You’re never too old to re-invent or change your worklife.
I advocate the constantly-changing model.
Evolve. Change. Review. And Repeat.

So don’t stick with the status quo too long.
But that doesn’t mean you re-invent for the sake of it; your values, distinctiveness and philosophies need to stay the same.
But the marketplace you serve, the parameters you operate under, the business model you operate, your personal brand, the niche you fill, your range of products and services: these are all up for review.

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Joy (And Challenges) Of Self Sufficiency

There are lots of things about running my own business that I take for granted.

One is my self sufficiency.
I have to do everything (no choice). Running projects, winning business, selling myself, writing reports, delivering business. It’s that classic case of winning the business AND doing the business.

I like that self-sufficiency but it’s also tough. Because regardless of however many people I bring in to support me on a project, regardless of the extent to which I can outsource tasks to suppliers and specialists – the big stuff is all about ME.

- No-one else is going to come up with visionary ideas for the future of me and my business.
- No-one else can formulate ideas for new series of videos I am producing.
- No-one else is going to write my next book (and come up with the big ideas for it).
- I can’t outsource my current project, because the client wants me, not anyone else, to run it.

I am sure there are elements of my working life I could outsource, maybe I do need a Tim Ferriss makeover for some of the small stuff, but ultimately the responsibility will not change. Because whilst you can delegate and outsource tasks and projects, you can’t outsource responsibility. That’s my job, it’s down to me and I am fine with that.

So self-sufficiency feels good; it’s always rewarding that I got myself here. That I took a bunch of ideas and turned them into projects; that in producing ideas I created something from nothing. But the reverse of that is that you need the balls, resilience and passion to meet the challenges of self-sufficiency.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Brand It!

Since I first saw them in a shop in London 10 years back, I have always been a fan of the Moleskine notebook.

Whatever the merits of laptops, PDAs and electronic devices there’s something special about capturing thoughts and notes with pen and notepad.

Joe Mansfield is a designer with a great concept: have your Moleskine custom engraved. The result is where Joe offers off the shelf designs to customise the cover and spine of your Moleskine as well as the opportunity to upload your own artwork and create your own design. A fantastic idea. I just ordered a couple of ones using my own photographs and they look great. You can see some examples of custom designs on Flickr.

I’m all for customising things to make them more individual, to make us stand out, to put our personality on stuff. As kids we used to customise notepads and journals with stickers, sketches and doodles. This enables both people and brands the opportunity to make their notepads just a little bit more special.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Book A Trip Away

Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week is an advocate of mini-retirements, taking mini breaks. Read an interview with Tim on the subject on his blog.

I love this principle of the mini-breaks. For me, I take short breaks to inspire a project or an idea, rather than for 'time off'. So they are not so much retirements, but more my 'oxygen' for fuelling my next idea (if that's not mixing metaphors). For instance, I always find journeys SO productive for ideas generation, not in a formalised way but in a chilling out with a drink and my notepad sort of way. That first beer on the take off on a flight or the first coffee on a train trip gets me fired up.

So here I am about to start writing my second book. And I don't happen to have any journeys in the next few weeks to help stimulate me; I don't have a break scheduled until July. So what I’m doing is creating a mini-trip to the South Of France. Just two nights, but the journey, the focus, the isolation, the buzz, the different environment, away from emails and distractions will really fire me up! I might be sitting with my feet up, but it's an investment in my intellectual capital, in my next big idea, and that investment should never be underestimated.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Bloody Obvious Management #2

Bloody Obvious Management is also about being both visible and personable. And when you have your head down and/or your head in the sand, that’s the kind of obvious stuff you might miss.

In my late 20s, I ran a lot of projects and I was given another one to run. Another project on an already busy workload. So I saw it as an irritant not an opportunity. And I didn't manage it well. I focused on the P&L, I focused on meeting targets, on what I would report to the CEO each Monday morning. And I forgot the obvious stuff - the P E O P L E bit. So much so, I wasn’t visible enough, I wasn’t hands on and I didn't even go and say hello to my new team for weeks! So my old-school technique did not result in wow results, just okay results, and that team wondered who or what I was.

But I learnt quickly. And by the time the next project came around I knew about the merits of Management By Walking Around. So much so, some co-workers quipped 'what does Ian Sanders actually DO?' as I was famous for being the guy walking around the building, trademark red file under my arm, talking to people, rather than 'doing stuff' (but of course, I WAS doing stuff). I talked to team members; I talked to everyone even people that in those corporate rules I had little business to talk to (like people who I had no day to day involvement with). But I persevered and learnt that lesson about making personal connections. I walked the floors, sometimes with an agenda, sometimes just to say hi.

And people may have still asked 'what is that guy doing walking around with his red file?' but I was visible and I made connections.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Bloody Obvious Management #1

My first business challenge as a young manager was an under performing business unit that was given to me to evaluate and manage. The Verdict? Why are we using so many hired-in freelancers on jobs when staff are sitting around doing nothing?


And it often is. But my predecessor had done nothing about it. Here’s another. A sales manager in a culture that was so obsessed with systems and structures and reporting initiatives that she never actually did any selling herself. Four people in her team and she sat there like a spare part, doing nothing apart from printing off sales reports and acting as their report line.

Think of the result if she’d liberated herself from the paperwork and just got on and SOLD! Diagnosis: dump the over-bureaucratic systems and structures (this was a small business, not IBM). The results will speak for themselves, without the paperwork and reporting systems.

Coming up with solutions to your and your client’s business are often so very easy. And it's not always a matter of some amazing theory, some business-school mastery. Sometimes - not always - it can be a very simple solution, doing something very obvious. But you can get so lost in a project, a task or a challenge, you don't 'do' obvious (look at every episode of The Apprentice). So here's some advice:


Don’t over complicate things when you’re diagnosing what’s wrong. Business is rarely black or white, but sometimes it’s as simple as something being right or wrong.

You’ll be surprised at how often the obvious stuff gets overlooked by everyone else. Just make sure you don’t make the same mistake .....

Design For Cake

Ricky, the guy who designed my book cover is a talented bloke.

But the designers who turned the book cover into my surprise 40th birthday cake are really special.

Forget print. Forget new media. Cake is the new medium everyone’s talking about (or rather, eating).