Monday, 22 October 2012

Creating a compass for your business life

Some businesses are value-led: they have a strong sense of purpose, they have a mission or an ethos, they only work with certain types of clients. It can be easier making decisions in a value-led business - if the organisation gets lost or struggles with how to make a decision, they can check against their values. Those values become part of the operating manual for the business.

When I was on my trip to Barcelona at the beginning of October I found a delightful neighbourhood coffee shop - Cafe Cosmo, on Carrer d'Enric Granados. I felt instantly at home there and as I sat with my espresso I got out my notepad and without thinking, started a list. I headed it ‘My Charter’ and there and then, with no editing, quickly cranked out a list of twenty do’s and don’ts. I hadn’t planned doing it, but the vibe in Cafe Cosmo that morning gave me a sudden focus and clarity to articulate what matters most in my business life.

Until last Thursday that list was just between me and the pages of my Moleskine. But then I happened to have a coffee with David Hieatt, (ex-founder of howies clothing, founder of The Do Lectures, the entrepreneur behind Hiut Denim). We were talking about the values behind David’s restaurant venture The 25 Mile. And as we talked about the values at the heart of his business life, I remembered something that used to be on the walls of the howies shops he’d founded. It was a big list in the changing rooms of twenty seven lessons he’d learned, there for everyone to see.

As I remembered David’s list I realised something - my Barcelona list captured my values: this is my own compass to guide me when I get lost. For when I don’t know whether to take that meeting, to work with that client, how to take that decision: I can look at my charter. David’s story encouraged me to go further and post my list up on my own ‘shop wall’ - here it is below.

(thanks for helping to connect the dots David...)

Monday, 8 October 2012

A time to recharge, reframe and rethink

This was my view out of the window last Monday morning as I flew over the Pyrenees towards Barcelona. The guy sitting next to me asked if my trip was ‘business or pleasure’ and I struggled to give him a straight answer.

For anyone following me over the next few days, it may have looked like Ian was on holiday: sitting in cafes in the morning, a trip to the beach in the afternoon, meeting friends for dinner in the evening. But if they’d looked closer they would have noticed my trusty moleskine notepad by my side forever scribbling thoughts, answering questions. I was on my annual trip to recharge, reframe and rethink my business life (yes and I'd brought my beach towel).

We all get busy. Stuck in the same ways of doing things. Never stopping to press pause or stand back to look at things from a different angle. If you work in an organisation you might go on a company or team 'awayday', where you sit in a windowless hotel function room with a flip chart resetting goals and rethinking the business. If you’re like me and you work for yourself, you probably don’t have awaydays. Which is good news as you won’t have to sit in dull brainstorming sessions all day. But you could still benefit from posing those questions about the business, rethinking what you do and how you do it. So every year I try and take a trip away somewhere, accompanied by that beach towel and a list of questions to consider, ideas to generate and a strategy to map.

If you don’t have the time or budget to go away for a couple of days, try an afternoon trip out of town. For me a change of scenery and a journey someplace never fails to get me productive, scribbling ideas and solving problems that I would struggle to back home. I used to call these trips ‘inspiration jaunts’, prompted by how historically many artists embarked on trips to inspire their creativity.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you aren’t going to solve those business problems or generate ideas in the same environment. Inspiration out requires inspiration in; so go somewhere and get inspired....

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Join the mash-up revolution

The saying goes ‘write about what you know’ and I certainly know my subject when it comes to living the multi-dimensional work life. From my Saturday job as a teenager right through to today I’ve always enjoyed juggling more than one role; sometimes by default rather than design. In my last proper job at the back end of the ‘90s I ran so many disparate projects and businesses I invented my own job title ‘Special Projects Director’ to attempt to cover that breadth. Now, we’re more than a job title. Many of us have mash-up work lives, blending the day job with a side project, taking on more than one role at an organisation or just choosing to carve out a plural life that reflects our talents and desires.

I have packaged up all my experience and know-how into a brand new book ‘Mash-Up! How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier’ - out today (out in US next month). In writing the book with my co-author David Sloly I’ve spoken to a bunch of interesting people: IDEO’s Tom Hulme who told me not only did the organisation encourage employees to be plural, but they relied on it; Phill Jupitus who told us about the unifier that sits at the heart of all he does; and Kevin Roberts, the multidimensional CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi.‘Mash-up!’ is your guidebook to a successful multiple work life. It shows you how to start going plural with a side project, through to reinventing yourself to add new strings to your bow and most importantly finding your ‘unifier’ - the theme or idea that unites all you do.

Not much is certain in this unpredictable world of work and business; but one thing is clear - those who can offer more than one skill, those who can pivot or reinvent themselves to reflect a changing business landscape, those who are adept at being multidimensional will prove to be more of an asset.

Want to know more?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A 70s rock legend, an art gallery and how to make your ideas happen

Throughout my working life I’ve learnt a lot about what it takes to come up with ideas - whether for a book, a business, another project, or a marketing solution for a client - and I know what it takes to execute.

A couple of months back I met up with Marianne Cantwell, founder of Free Range Humans who shot a little video of me for her online course. This two minute extract below captures how I come up with creative ideas, what I learnt from music legend Wilko Johnson, my tips on idea execution and what on earth I’m doing working out of an art gallery!

Ian Sanders interview from Marianne Cantwell on Vimeo.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

From idea to reality: the story of a t-shirt start-up powered by ‘Zoom!’

One of the benefits of having a book published is the emails and tweets you get: people asking advice about their business idea and readers telling you how the book has inspired them to make their idea real. Hearing how my latest book ‘Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen’ has inspired businesses to happen is the best feedback me and my co-author David can get. The latest example - a little t-shirt startup in Milwaukee, US: Enough Said Company, that launched last month. Co-founder interior designer Aga Artka already had the idea - it was reading ‘Zoom!’ that helped make it happen. 

Here’s a quick Q&A on her entrepreneurial journey:

What role did Zoom play in your business idea coming to life?
I first read "Juggle! Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life". I found it very energizing and reassuring in my "solo-prenuer" career choice. Then, I picked up "Zoom". It motivated me to act. On something. Anything. I always have a million and a half ideas in my head, pertaining to my interior design business, my husband's web development business and countless new ventures. Enough Said Company was just shaping up at that time, and I believe reading "Zoom" at the beginning of 2012, motivated me to push it and make the t-shirt idea a reality.

Where did the idea come from?
My friend and I decided to print two t-shirts that said "Interior Designers Have More Fun" and wear them to NeoCon, The International Contract Furniture Show in Chicago last June. What started as a fun thing, turned into a business idea. Attendees of the show liked our shirts so much that we couldn’t walk a 100 feet without being asked where we got them from.

How long did it take to go from idea to reality?
The idea was born in June 2011; our website went live in June 2012. We now have 5 t-shirts designs available, and ship throughout the US. International sales will be coming soon.

How easy did you find the journey to make it happen?
If you let "Zoom!" guide you through the process, it's really easy. First, you need an idea. Then, you need to get super excited about it. If you are not passionate about it, no-one else will be. I find trial and error method the most effective. Prepare yourself to fail a few times, and be open to the ever-evolving process of business growth. Nothing is final, nothing is forever. Plan as much as you need to, but don't overplan. Best innovators build a bridge from here to there, and walk on it at the same time. This approach takes more risk than building a bridge ahead of time, and then securely strolling across it. What's the fun in that?!

Where there any tools in Zoom that you used to make the business happen? If so, which ones?
Definitely, the idea shaping exercise in Chapter 6 (Free download of chapter HERE). I think I have read and answered these questions a hundred times by now. Every answer was slightly different but it helped me realize the best one. I loved the concept of boxing the idea to make sure we have everything we need to bring it to market.

Loads of people having ideas for businesses; few do anything about them. What was it about your attitude that made it a reality?
I'm a big idea person. Often times I get caught up in the grand scheme of things. But I'm also a doer. I can't stand still for too long. Having been self-employed for almost 4 years, I also learned to take advantage of opportunities as they come along. I am responsible for my own future, which means I have no-one else to blame for inaction, innovation's worst enemy.

Congratulations Aga and Teresa! You can check out their business here

Monday, 18 June 2012

Are you living in the ‘now’?

I was thinking yesterday about how the obsession with planning our careers and small businesses means we’re always focused on the future. We’re so obsessed chasing that much-sought after *WHEN* - we’ll get that new project/ that promotion/ new client/ whatever - we don’t live in the now and we don’t appreciate what we’ve got currently got. 

Here’s my two minute video take on it:

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Making sure your side projects fit your unifier

I’ve blogged about the importance of side projects before. You might have identified a project you’d like to work on but it doesn't fit in your 9-5. Or perhaps you’re just not getting fulfilment in the day job, and you need to explore your curiosity on the side. So you develop a side project or two.

I have a number of active side projects right now; so active that they’re blended in to the 9-5, rather than be strictly after hours. But they’re still ‘on the side’. My key criterion for adding a side project is whether it fits my unifier. What’s a unifier? It’s the theme that unites all you do. When you do more than one thing in your professional life, it’s important to have a unifier so you can easily communicate all you do simply (there’ll be more on discovering your unifier in my new book ‘Mash Up!’). The unifier makes your plurality instantly gettable.

So my own unifier is that I communicate ideas in business. Okay, it might be pretty broad but it encompasses everything from client work to side projects such as being a contributor to Monocle radio’s ‘The Entrepreneurs’. Not only is the unifier handy to pull out when you meet someone at the pub who asks what you do, it’s also a good check for taking on new projects. Before you take a new project on, ask does it fit your unifier. If it doesn’t, you might want to question how it adds value.

Here’s an example of a side project that perfectly fits my unifier: I wrote an article for the Financial Times last week about the rise of ideas festivals and how they’re becoming an alternative to traditional conferences for professional development. Having attended TEDx, SXSW and The Do Lectures I had some great first-hand experience to bring to the piece. And all importantly, the piece was about communicating ideas. You can read it on here (log in may be required).

So have a think what your unifier is and use it to help you make choices about what you do, where you go and what your side projects are.