What can horses teach us about leadership?

What can horses teach us about leadership?

[I would like to dedicate this blog to Anni Townend with whose help I learned to be my best self and to Horace and Purdy, my four legged teachers.]

It’s funny how two seemingly unrelated aspects of our lives can sometimes converge in the most unexpected of ways. I have been a business leader in one way or another for the best part of twenty years, either running businesses for other people or for myself.

I have also been fascinated by horses since I can remember, but have only been able to explore this passion in recent years. I am now seeing how these two separate but related parts of my life are finally coming together.

I talk to business owners and CEOs about leadership all the time; what kinds of leaders they want to be, who their leadership role models are, how they can increase their self-awareness and therefore emotional intelligence. And time and again I find my thoughts drifting back to horses.

Let me explain.

 

Why horses?

As many people know, horses are incredibly intuitive animals. As a predated animal horses are typified as a ‘flight’ as opposed to a ‘fight’ animal. They do have a fight reflex which is why they will bite, kick or buck, but this really only happens once they have explored all their other ‘flight’ options, in other words, when they feel they have no other recourse. It will also happen if they have been badly treated.

The reason why their relationship with humans is so intriguing and so special is because to a horse, we are the ultimate predator. Lions kill horses by leaping on to their backs, so when we put a saddle on a horse and ride it we are tapping in to a very primal sensation for them. The horse has to put his/her total trust in us.

Their flight response also means that they are highly attuned to small physical and emotional cues from humans. If we are scared, sad, anxious they will know, often before we do.

This is why horses are used increasingly in leadership coaching and for team building. If you try to lead a horse from a place of fear or anger, it simply will not follow you. In order for the horse you trust you, you have to be calm and assertive.

Someone who does a lot of work with horses in this way said:

"Horses don’t care who you are, what your title is, how much money you make. They give you honest feedback"

Just like the shift that took place in the business community several years ago, the equestrian community is shifting from fear-based leadership (as in “breaking” a horse) to respect-based leadership. This is because horses react the same as humans do to intimidating leaders, which is to detach and disengage.

In order to lead a horse, you have to listen to the horse: be consistent and clear, and mean it. If you do not provide the leadership, the horse will, and it is likely to resent you for it.

 

So what can horses teach us about how to be better leaders?

Even if you run a business where you work on your own, you are a leader of your own business and you set the tone for how people interact with your business.

Many people I have worked with don’t set out to be a leader, but somehow end up in a leadership position by default. This can happen when you need a team of people to help you realize your vision but you have no idea how to manage them.

So whether you are leading your business as a sole trader, or whether you have a big team of people to manage, identifying what kind of leader you are or want to be can be really helpful.

 

Introvert Vs. Extrovert

Spending time with horses, and particularly observing herd behavior, has brought me to the natural horsemanship approach championed by Pat Parelli among others, known as the ‘horse whisperers’. The Parelli approach looks at horse ‘types’, and just like us, horses have a predisposition to be either more introvert or extrovert, or a right brain or left brain dominant type; so more emotionally driven, or more linear in their approach to the world and the problems it presents.

Here is a recent interview with another one of my horse whispering heroes, Buck Brannaman:

 
 

Knowing how we function, or what makes us tick, helps increase our self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and when that increases not only are we more aware of our own responses, but we are more highly attuned to the people around us and this helps us to be better leaders, as well as team players.

So I would like to share with you what horses have taught me about leadership, and how you can use these ideas when thinking about how you lead your business.

 

1. Trust

You don’t need me to tell you that the best relationships in life are built on trust. In both our personal and professional lives, we cannot grow positive relationships without mutual trust.

When we are in a relationship with someone we trust then we are able to be ourselves, which in turn engenders personal growth. So just like a lack of trust causes us to shut down and turn in on ourselves, a trusting relationship allows us to expand who are and feel safe and supported. We can build self-confidence and self-esteem from a place of trust and we can help others to do the same.

So ask yourself; do I trust the people I work with? Can they trust me?  How am I a trustworthy colleague/partner? How do I demonstrate trust to my clients? How do they trust my business?

 

2. Partnership

How are you in partnership with your colleagues? I have worked with many business partnerships that on the surface seemed to be working together but were actually working on their own. The left hand literally didn’t know what the right one was doing. They were not attuned to each other or their teams, leading to disengagement and resentment building up on both sides.

Not only does this often mean wasting huge amounts of resources over issues related to miscommunication, but in some cases I have seen perfectly good businesses folding due to an inability to be in partnership with others.

So think about how you partner with others in your business. You might not have a business partner or employees, but think about how you work along side others, not just your clients, but people in your general network, the people that help you move forward in your business. They might be your web designer, bookkeeper, a supplier, anyone that is somehow invested in your business. Is your communication with each other based on assertiveness? Is there room for feedback? How can you deepen your partnership?

 

3. Be assertive

You are the only person that knows what is right for you so knowing your boundaries is the first step to being assertive in your communication with others. Assertiveness is a big topic but essentially it is about being able to state your boundaries in a calm but firm way. Assertiveness is often misunderstood as aggression but it is in fact the antithesis of aggression.

If you are on the receiving end of someone being aggressive it is likely to make you feel defensive, as though you are being attacked, but truly assertive behaviour can never be misinterpreted. Assertiveness is stating your needs quietly but confidently. Like trust, assertiveness on both sides of a relationship makes for the best, most effective kind of communication.

So aim to be assertive in your communication and ensure that others know that you expect the same from them. Take responsibility for your actions and the way you communicate and others will follow your lead.

[For more on assertiveness, and Transactional Analysis click here]

 

And finally, stay positive and always end on a good note!

When Pat Parelli or Buck Brannaman are working with horses that has issues around trust, they always makes a point to keep on working until they have seen a positive change, regardless of how small.

Staying positive in your communication and acknowledging that sometimes we agree to disagree is a good place to end when there has been conflict. When you respect another person’s viewpoint, even if you don’t agree with it, it leaves the door open for further thinking and discussion. It’s another way of saying, “I might not agree with what you say, but I respect your right to say it.”

Being a leader in your business takes time and commitment but the rewards are huge. If you can stay positive and assertive in your communication, you will build trust in your team/colleagues and create strong and lasting partnerships.

Let me leave you with a quote from Pat Parelli:

“If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question, or asked the question wrong.”

If you want to find out more about leadership in your business, contact me for a 30 minute phone chat here

Top 100 Business Coaching Bloggers

Top 100 Business Coaching Bloggers

What ‘coaching’ really means and why it’s a better way to do business.

What ‘coaching’ really means and why it’s a better way to do business.

I get asked all the time what coaching actually means, and whether it can truly help people in business. Because coaching has become such a corporate buzzword, it is in danger of being misrepresented and dismissed.

So I’m going to take this opportunity to dispel those myths and describe what coaching really is, where it comes from and what self-coaching techniques you can use in your day-to-day life as a business owner.

The definition of coaching

According to the Collins English Dictionary, ‘coaching’ can be defined in three ways:


1Sport - the act of training a person or team of people in a particular sport

2. The act of training staff in business or office practice

3. The act of giving a person special teaching in a particular subject, esp in order to prepare him or her for an examination

Whilst this definition is helpful, it is only partially accurate. From early forms of transportation, i.e. stagecoach, or rail coach, the literal definition of ‘coaching’ is to move someone from one place to another.  Simply put, coaching is about creating movement or change. What a good coaching relationship should provide is the space for helping someone see opportunities for improvement.

Let’s delve a bit deeper (like all good coaching does!) and look at coaching’s origins.

 

The roots of coaching

As the Collins definition suggests, coaching has its roots in sport. In 1972, Harvard educationalist and tennis expert Tim Gallwey published his groundbreaking book The Inner Game of Tennis.

Rather than focusing players exclusively on technical ability Gallwey used the word ‘inner’ to indicate that the player’s internal state, was as important as what was happening on the court.

He asserted that if the coach were able to help a player remove or reduce internal obstacles to their performance, their natural game would flow without much technical input from the coach. He said:

 

 "The opponent within one’s own head is more formidable that the one on the other side of the net."
 

What Gallwey’s book did was to identify the essence of coaching; to unlock a person’s potential to maximize their own performance; helping them to learn, rather than teaching them.

Check out this little animated video of Tim's book.

The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance

Up to this point sport and business had been much more authoritarian, but Tim Gallwey was the first to shift the emphasis to a learning model, rather than a teaching one; listening rather than telling. His approach suggested that we are not just empty vessels waiting to be filled, but are more like an acorn that already contains everything it needs to be a beautiful oak tree. We need nurturing and encouragement and to know where the light is, but the ‘oaktreeness’ is already within us.

At this stage you might be asking, “Okay Marisa, so this is all very interesting, but what does it mean for my business?”

 

Why coaching for business?

I don’t know about you, but when business/life throws me a curveball I can quickly lose confidence and become overwhelmed, not sure of what to do next. Looking at Gallwey’s concepts of coaching, it’s not hard to see how they can be applied to your business.

There will always be external barriers to achieving what we want to achieve in our businesses, factors beyond our control, but it is our internal barriers or ideas of self that determine how we deal with our business challenges.

Let me put it another way; it isn’t what happens to us, it’s how we deal with it. Coaching is about raising our self-awareness and taking responsibility. There is no mystique around coaching. It is not difficult to learn, but it requires practice, discipline and a willingness to learn and change.

 

The GROW technique and self-coaching

Having been in and around coaching for a long time, what I have come to realize is that coaching is not just something you do; it is an attitude to life, a mental flexibility that comes with a lot of practice. Part of my role as a coach is to help people develop their own mental agility when they are faced with problems so that rather than resorting to old patterns and ways of thinking, that they can develop a new attitude to problem-solving. Become their own coaches, if you like.

One of my coaching heroes, John Whitmore, developed the GROW technique.  It is a coaching standard and one I use all the time to get to the root of an issue. GROW stands for:

G – Goal – Set goals for the short and long-term

R – Reality – Check reality and really explore the current situation

O – Options – What are the options and alternative strategies or courses of action?

W – What is do be done, When, by Whom and the Will to do it.

Whilst it helpful to work through these questions with a coach, it is perfectly possible to use them on your own or with colleagues if you have a particularly knotty issue that needs attention.

Self-coaching is wonderful for developing new ideas, increasing your confidence and self-awareness.

 

Here are my top 6 self-coaching tips that you can apply to your business or in any situation:

1. If you need answers, ask positive, open-ended questions – Asking the right kinds of questions forces your brain to make new connections so ask questions like: If I had nothing to lose, what would I do right now to solve this issue? What one thing could I do to get me started in the direction of the solution? How can I look at this problem another way?

2. Be open to new ideas – We can all be guilty of resisting the new. We become comfortable in old patterns of thinking and behavior, even if they don’t serve us any more. Be willing to embrace new ideas and new ways of thinking.

3. Start with one step – “Even the journey of 1000 miles start with a single step.” By their very nature entrepreneurs are ideas people who are probably used to having lots of projects on the go at any one time, but if you want to achieve something big, you have to break it down in to small tasks. Or another way to put it is start with end in mind. From here you can work backwards and figure out what you need to do in what order.

4. Take responsibility – With compassion for yourself ensure you are taking responsibility for your actions and are neither in victim nor perpetrator mode. From this position it is much easier to make decisions and take action.

5. Write it down – Intention is a powerful thing. If there is something you really want to achieve then get it down on paper; write it, type it, or draw it, but get it down. Committing to paper gets the creative juices flowing leading to new ideas and solutions.

6. Celebrate! – In the same way that you wouldn’t attribute your success to fate or someone else, don’t wait for someone else to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements. Owning and celebrating what you have achieved builds self-esteem and confidence. Rushing from one project to another without stopping to acknowledge what you have achieved robs you of the opportunity to delight in your own success and fulfillment. So take time to feel proud.

To sum up I’ll leave you with a quote from John Whitmore's book "Coaching for performance":

“Self-esteem is not met by prestige and privilege…..It is built when someone is seen to be worthy of making choices, in other words by genuine empowerment and by having the opportunity to express potential. This is the very stuff of coaching.”

Happy coaching!

If after all that self-coaching you are still feeling like you would like some more help book a 30 minute phone chat here

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coaching Bloggers

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coaching Bloggers

"Do one thing well" Part 2

"Do one thing well" Part 2

My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest……there is no substitute for thorough-going, ardent, and sincere earnestness. Never to put one hand to anything, on which I could throw my whole self; and never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever it was; I find, now, to have been my golden rules.
— David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

In the second part of my blog “Do one thing well”, I thought I would pull out all the stops and start with a quote from one of my favorite authors Charles Dickens.

I wanted to share it because it encapsulates one of the main issues I work with in my coaching practice; that is, doing too many things and having too many projects, and/or, what I touched upon in Part One of this blog, trying to be all things to all people.

Regular readers of my blog may already know that I started my consulting career working with budding social enterprises. They were incredibly passionate about how their business idea could tackle some kind of social issue, but sometimes their enthusiasm and passion got in the way of how to ensure their venture was financially viable.

In other words, they were clear about how they could address a problem in society, but they hadn’t found a way of making their core business sustainable so it wasn’t able to support the social enterprise arm of their venture.

I see many businesses moving on to new projects and new strands of their business before they have really consolidated their core business and so are not working from a sustainable base.

Not only does this not make for great business strategy, but it’s also a one-way ticket to burnout, which again is not sustainable for the business owner, or for their clients.

Why is this so common in businesses? And what can we do about it?

Creativity and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. Highly creative individuals tend to have high energy levels and are used to, and moreover enjoy, getting out of their comfort zone in some way. They are often brimming with ideas, and don’t have enough the hours in the day to execute them. So far these all sound like excellent emotional traits to have for business owners.

However, the problem is that being an entrepreneur and running your own business, also requires huge amounts of self-discipline and self-reflection (Interestingly, one of the main tenets of Emotional Intelligence.) and this can be an issue for people who might also have a low boredom threshold, and the apparent inability to say no. Is this sounding at all familiar?

Saying ‘no’ is a tough one. As all self-employed people know, income can be erratic, so the desire to take on every piece of work you are offered, can be tempting, but without looking at the bigger picture, or having the infrastructure and systems to support the work that is coming in, it can often be detrimental to the business.

So how do we move our businesses forward in a sustainable way?

Take these three steps:

  1. Strategize

  2. Consolidate

  3. Deliver and review

Step one: Strategize

Business owners often come to see me at a point where their business is ready to grow, but they don’t have a strategy in place to support that growth so they end up firefighting. If you have been in this position, you will know how exhausting firefighting is, not to mention boring as it takes you away from creativity and the things you are good at.

Having a strategy that allows you to see the bigger picture is the way to avoid getting in to the firefighting cycle. Your strategy underpins all the decisions that you need to make on a day-to-day basis for your business and therefore takes the anxiety out of taking your business to the next level.

Strategies are the steps you take in manifesting the vision you have for your business. Like any plan your strategy needs to be flexible and change according to the needs of your business, so when you business changes, make sure you re-assess your strategy.

Once you have a clear strategy for your business and are clear about your main objectives, you can start to…….

Step two: Consolidate

Before you start to diversify and develop new projects, you need to ensure that you are working from a firm foundation. This means establishing what your main business is and communicating that clearly to clients and prospects. You also need to ensure that you are delivering your product/service to the highest standard, and have feedback mechanisms in place with your clients in order to continually improve their buying experience.

Let’s break this down in to three simple elements:

1. Clarity – Are you clients and customers really clear about what you offer and how you differ from your competitors? Have a look at Part One of this blog here and think about whether you are communicating your USP in a clear, succinct way, speaking to customer about the problem they have and how your business solves it.

2. Systems – Before you start thinking about new projects, be really sure that you have all the appropriate systems in place to deal with your current business and workload. One of the ways small businesses in particular come unstuck is in launching before they are ready, or growing really quickly and not having the infrastructure to support that growth.

This can then have a disastrous affect on customer experience, stock control, cash flow, and ultimately whether the business will survive and thrive long term.

A simple way of monitoring your current systems is to put yourself in your client’s shoes from the moment they are starting to look at your product, all the way through to the final transaction and ask yourself at every step if all the systems are in place to support that process.

If they aren’t, and you are struggling to manage all of those elements on your own, you might need to……

3. Delegate – Right now I want you to make a list of everything that needs to be done in order to run your business. Once you have written it, look at each task and see how much time it takes each week/month, and whether you need to be doing it, or whether it could be delegated to someone else with the appropriate skill set.

If you think it can be delegated, then work out how much this would cost. I meet many business owners (and I have been guilty of this myself in the past) that spend more time than they need on certain elements of running their businesses. Bookkeeping and credit control are the classic examples.

It is really important, and indeed a legal requirement of running your business, that you keep good financial records, but unless you are already a bookkeeper or accountant, or really like working with figures, are you making the best use of your time doing your own books and VAT returns? Likewise, if you are spending a lot of time chasing debtors (people who owe you money), is this really an efficient way of running your business?

You may be surprised how little it costs you to hire a good bookkeeper each month, giving you the time to focus on other elements of your business that only you can do.

Or alternatively look at whether there is an app out there that you save you time.

And lastly…..

Step three: Deliver and review

Now you have systems in place and are working to a clear strategy, you can concentrate on the fun stuff delivering your product/service. Let the strategy run for a couple of months and take the time to review it and see if it is still working for you, your business and your customers.

Because you understand your business better, and have the overview of how all the different elements of your business fit together, you are clear about what you need to do each day. You have confidence in your business and brand because you are focusing on doing ‘one thing well’.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by choices and lost sight of the bigger picture, find out how business coaching can help you. Book a 30 minute phone chat here

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“Do one thing well” Part 1

“Do one thing well” Part 1

I love it when I find companies whose philosophy of business resonates with my own. Recently I happened upon Hiut Denim, whose strap line “Do one thing well” completely gels with my own approach to business, and ever since I found them I can’t stop name checking them to everyone I meet.

You could say they have inspired this blog.

Why? One look at the Hiut web site and you can see that they are a textbook example of what a gorgeous brand looks like. They tick all the boxes; beautiful bespoke images, minimal but relevant copy, good functionality, simple logo, I could go on….

Hiut Denim Home Page

Hiut Denim Home Page

But the other thing that strikes me is that I immediately understand what they do and what they stand for (read, what their USP is). They make good quality, ethical jeans. That’s it. Nothing else. No gimmicks, no extras, just simple great quality products.

This got me thinking what it means to small business owners to “Do one thing well.” So I decided to tackle this knotty issue in two parts; in this blog, we will be looking at identifying your unique selling point (USP); Part 2 will explore how to stay focused on the big picture and therefore strengthen your core business before moving on to new projects.

“I/We” Vs “You”

I recently gave a bite-sized presentation to local businesses about finding your USP. When I was talking to people afterwards, what struck me was their confusion about what their USP is, how to identify it and communicate it to their customers.

I noticed that businesses tend to get stuck right from the first word when you ask them what they identify their USP to be. They start by saying:

“I am passionate about…”,

“We are the leading service provider for…..”,

“I can help with…..”,

“I am a fully qualified/accredited….”

In other words, they start off by saying what they offer and why they are so great at what they do, an “I/We” statement. And I’m sure they are great at what they do, but in truth the client doesn’t care how passionate they are, or whether they have the greatest market share, or even whether they are fully accredited.

The customer/client has a problem, and they want to know how this business can solve it for them. That’s it.

If you think this sounds a little over simplistic, take a moment now to ask yourself what problem you really help your customers to solve.

“What’s in it for me?”

Let’s take some examples from businesses I know; in healthcare, practitioners and therapists are forever telling people about where they trained and what conditions they can help with, but in reality what they are selling is comfort, the ability to help someone change, to be free of pain, in the mind or body. Yes clients will want to know that their therapist is qualified and has some experience in the issue they are struggling with, but the first thing they want to know is how that particular intervention is going to help them.

How about a coffee shop? On the surface, you just want great tasting coffee, and good service without breaking the bank. But what a good coffee shop really does is to create community; community through a shared love of good coffee, but also somewhere to feel part of something; a meeting place where you can relax and feel taken care of, even for ten minutes.

Or we could use architecture as an example; if you look at most architect’s web sites, the first thing you will see is a photo gallery of their portfolio, which is perfectly reasonable, but when you go to the ‘about’ page instead of a mission statement, outlining their approach to design and how they can help their clients execute their vision for their home/business, there is often a long list of achievements and qualifications.

As with the therapists, this is important. You definitely want to know that your architect is qualified! But it doesn’t help you decide how to choose one architect over another, why one architect is different from another, and what their values are.

I could go on, as there are so many kinds of small businesses, but the principle is the same. When thinking about your USP think first about whom you are pitching to, what current problem they have and how your business is going to solve it.

By all means be clear about who you are and what you bring to your business, but this is secondary. First, it’s important to listen to your clients when they say “what’s in it for me?”

[Top tip: Keep it free of jargon. If a client doesn’t understand the words/phrases you are using because they are too technical, they will immediately switch off.]

Watch this video about leadership, and why we choose certain companies over others:

 

How about Hiut Denim? They are on a mission to make good quality ethical jeans for people that care about where their clothes come from and support UK businesses.  From their web site:

“Our town is going to make jeans again - Cardigan is a small town of 4,000 good people. 400 of them used to make jeans. They made 35,000 pairs a week. For three decades.
Then one day the factory closed. It left town. But all that skill and knowhow remained. Without any way of showing the world what they could do.
That’s why we have started The Hiut Denim Company. To bring manufacturing back home. To use all that skill on our doorstep. And to breathe new life into our town.
As one of the Grand Masters said to me when I was interviewing: “This is what I know how to do. This is what I do best.” I just sat there thinking I have to make this work.
So yes, our town is going to make jeans again.
Here goes. “

 

Three steps to identifying your USP

Identifying your USP is not that hard when you begin to focus on your client’s needs. The problem is when you attempt to be known for everything, you don’t become known for anything, so keep it simple and focus on doing one thing well in three easy steps:

1.     Put yourself in your client’s shoes – You will already have many assumptions about why your customers buy from you. In order to really understand your USP you need to challenge those assumptions. Keep asking yourself – “what problem does my business solve, and how?”

2.     Ask your customers why they buy from you – What do they identify with about your business? This is less about the traditional customer demographics and more about understanding the emotional connection people are making with your business – what values do you have in common with each other that they identify with? 

3.     Uncover the real reason customers buy your product as oppose to a competitors – again, focus on your values and how that sets you apart from other people in your field – what is your particular focus and why?

In order to have a unique selling proposition, you can’t attempt to be known for everything. You have to make a stand for something.

So what will your business will stand for? Part 2 to follow.....

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If you would like help building confidence in your brand and identifying your USP find out how coaching book a 30 minute phone call here

How do you keep moving forward when things look uncertain?

How do you keep moving forward when things look uncertain?

However you are feeling about the world at the moment, there is no question that we are in a time of huge change, socially, politically, and for our businesses, potentially, financially. There is a lot of rhetoric, positive and negative in the media about the impact that Brexit is going to have on business in the UK. With so many conflicting opinions, it is hard to know what it will really mean for business and the economy.

The truth is, we never know what is around the corner, but it is all question of perception, of how stable we feel things are, not necessarily the reality.  [Watch this TED talk about our perception of safety and the reality]

This kind of thinking ultimately takes us in to the future – a good thing for planning ahead, but not so good for our anxiety levels!

It would be easy to take a passive position and just wait and see, but instead I want to look at proactive, practical things you can do for your business if you are unsure how to move forward, for any reason; tools that you can use at any time of uncertainty (either because of external or internal factors) that will have a positive impact on your business and also keep you focused on why you do what you do.

 

Go back to the beginning

As intelligent human beings, business owners like to overcomplicate things. Our thought processes work at such lightening speed that we can often get bogged down in the details and lose sight of what inspired us to start a business in the first place. 

Many clients come to see me because their reasons for starting a business have gotten lost in the day-to-day practicalities. It has been buried under all that essential admin that accompanies the running of any small business. Or they have ideas for several different projects and are finding it hard to stay focused on one.

In order to simplify things, you need to reconnect with your higher purpose. That might sound a bit deep, but all it means is answering the question: “Why do you do what you do?” Of course we all need to earn money, but why have you chosen this particular way to do it?

Another question I ask all new clients is “what would you like your legacy to be?” Most of the big questions people have about strategy, marketing, branding, how to get new clients and so on can be distilled down in to the answers to these questions so keep asking them and writing down the answers.

This leads me on to the next tool.

 

Update your profile

 One of the things that excites me about working with small business owners and why I love the coaching process, is that we are all changing as individuals all the time. And of course this means that our businesses are changing all the time as well.

Your higher purpose may stay the same, (and it is important to clearly communicate what that is) but the way you choose to express it will change. Your job as a business owner is to communicate how you are changing to your customers.

You might have decided that you want to reach a different audience, or you may have added services/products to your existing ones, or you might have done a training course which has brought a different emphasis to your work; whatever the change may be, you need to let people know by updating your business profile on whatever platforms you engage with – your web site, LinkedIn, Facebook etc.

LinkedIn for business

LinkedIn for business

Keeping your profile up to date is an essential part of strengthening your brand because it ensures consistency throughout all your communications with customers.  It also shows customers that you are a professional who is attentive to detail.

And, apart from a little bit of time, it doesn’t cost you anything, and may deliver surprising results. It may also help you answer the question……

 

“Who do I want to work with?”

Spending some time getting to know your customers (otherwise known as market research….) is never a waste of time and you can never do too much of it. Market research informs and underpins everything you do. Obviously big businesses can, and do, devote huge resources to doing extensive market research, but you don’t need to do that in order to find out what you need to know.

Here is a super quick guide to market research:

  1. Primary research – that is research you do yourself – talking to customers, surveys, interviews, researching your competition
  2. Secondary research – existing research that has come from secondary sources – trade associations, government information – The Office of National Statistics, local council web sites and so on.
  3. Survey toolsSurvey monkey, Google consumer surveys

If you are uncertain about how to move forward with your business, conducting even a little bit of market research is a really good way to spend your time and is always a good investment for your business. Getting to know existing and potential customers better, and finding out more about what the competition is up to is ultimately going to give you valuable insights in to your own business, and that can only be a win-win!

It will also help you decide how you should invest in your business, which brings me to the next section.

 

How should you prioritise spending money?

This is a tough question to answer, particularly in uncertain times but let’s try.

A lot of small business owners say they would prefer to hang on to their cash if they are feeling unsure of what is around the corner, that they don’t want to tie up their cash if things go quiet. On the one hand, this is probably quite sensible, but the down side is that it may mean that you miss certain opportunities that would have enabled you to move your business forward.  

By all means, be careful and ensure sure you have good systems in place (see the next section!) for monitoring cash flow, and income and expenditure. But it is also important to remember that you need to be continually investing in your business in order to develop it, so it stays fresh and does not stagnate.

Let’s look at it another way; A good coaching tool for making any decisions is to start with this simple question; does this decision expand or diminish me? Or in business terms, does this decision expand or diminish my business?

What you need to think about is whether your potential investment is something you would be able to sell on, if it is a piece of equipment or materials, or if you are deciding to do a particular kind of training, if the skills you are learning are transferable to another industry if things don’t work out?

Whatever investment you make, keep it manageable, but don’t keep things so small it that compromises your vision for your business. Of course there is a risk that things won’t go as planned, but there is always a risk in running a business. 

And if you are so befuddled by the finances of running your business, then it might be time to……

 

….review your systems

Systems are the things you need in place to ensure that every aspect of your business is being properly monitored; finance and cash flow, invoicing, stocktaking, web traffic and SEO, marketing, HR, payroll etc. The list is endless and different for every business, depending on what kind of business you run and whether you produce products, or provide a service, or both.

So, first of all, do you have any systems?! If you feel like you are snowed under by admin all the time, and feel like you a reinventing the wheel every time you finish a project and need to invoice a client, or every time you go to place a stock order, then you probably could do with some good systems in place.

The other benefit of reviewing your systems is to look at what you can delegate to another professional. I’ll give you an example from my working life.

For several years I have been doing the bookkeeping for one of my businesses. Now I’m a decent bookkeeper, but its not my strong point and as I have been trying to develop this particular business, using skills I have accumulated over many years, I asked myself whether doing the books was really the best use of my time.

It turns out it really wasn’t. So I delegated this to a professional bookkeeper, someone who is really much better at it than me, freeing me up to do the stuff I’m good at and have been trained to do. Yes there is a cost attached to that, but because it was taking me so much longer than it takes someone who is actually qualified, and has all the proper software (rather than several Excel spreadsheets!), it was a false economy because it was taking my attention from what I needed to do to upscale the business.

When reviewing your systems ask yourself:

  1. If you have proper systems in place for each aspect of your business?
  2. If your systems are working for you and your business? I.e., are they saving you time and money?
  3. What could you delegate?
  4. If you need some new technology?
  5. If there is an app out there that could make your life easier?

Even if you do one thing that streamlines your business and frees you up so you can more of what you enjoy, it will be worth it.

 

Find inspiration

Even when you are running the business you want to run, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut and feel like you are on a hamster wheel going round and round.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook will have heard me talk about sustainability and how it relates to your business. It basically means if you want to keep continually creating something new and inspire others, you yourself have to be inspired. I call it ‘filling the well’; you can’t draw water from an empty well, and you can’t inspire others if you are lacking in inspiration.

Inspiration is:

The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative
— The OED

So one of the questions I always ask clients is ‘what inspires you?’ or ‘what do you do to find inspiration?’ If you want to inspire others, you need to be inspired by ideas and by doing new things.

I can hear you saying, ‘this all sounds great Marisa, but how am I going to fit anything new in to my working week when I am so busy with my business and with life?!

And of course you are right. It is hard to find the time, but it doesn’t have to be big, in fact, it is more sustainable to look at small ways you can find inspiration within your working week. Going for a walk, being in nature, reading, listening to podcasts or music, going to a gallery in your lunch hour (or for 10 minutes!); It really doesn’t matter what it is, but find small ways each week to be inspired

Here are a few things that have inspired me:

  • TED talks – way way too numerous to mention specific ones here but with literally thousands available you will definitely find something that inspires you. Here are the top 20 most popular TED talks:

 

  • “An astronauts guide to life on earth” by Chris Hadfield. If you don’t know Chris Hadfield, he is otherwise known as the singing astronaut because of this
  • “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman and “Working with Emotional Intelligence” – How to communicate as a person and as a leader with clarity, assertiveness, and authenticity.
  • “Quiet” by Susan Cain – If you suspect you are an introvert at heart then read this. It is a great book for anyone who feels they should be ‘selling’ themselves more, but just doesn’t feel comfortable with that way of being.
  • My mentor! You will be pleased to know that I practice what I preach and check in with my mentor every few months. Together we look at ways that I can improve my work and be my best self. For more info at how mentoring can help you and your business go to this page of my web site.

And finally……

 

Look after yourself  

Clients are sometimes surprised when I ask them how they look after themselves, but it is as important as any other aspect of running a small business. Again, it is all about sustainability; in order for your business to be sustainable so you can keep moving forward, you have to look after yourself in a sustainable way. If you overcommit and are running on empty all the time, can you really be there for your clients and customers?

How we look after ourselves means different things for different people but this is what it means for me; to cultivate healthy mental habits, and healthy work habits, limit screen time and time spent on social media, (my daily cut off time is 6pm but do what works for you) get outside, find some form of exercise you enjoy and do it a couple of times a week; do whatever else makes you happy and keeps you in the moment, spend time with people that understand you and inspire you and don’t drain you.

And lastly, watch this talk by Arianna Huffington, businesswoman and editor in chief of the Huffington Post, all about just how important it is to get a good nights sleep.

 

We can never know for sure what lies ahead, but by keeping things simple and staying in the moment, we can make better decisions free from anxiety and fear, and that has to be good for us, and our businesses.

If you are feeling uncertain about how to move forward with your business and want to find out how business coaching can help, click here to book a 30 minute phone call.

What is a brand? And can a small business ever be a brand?

What is a brand? And can a small business ever be a brand?

Branding. It certainly is one of the buzzwords of the decade. But what on earth is it and what does mean to small businesses?

There was a time when I seemed to talk to clients a lot about ‘marketing’ and ‘PR’. But since the digital age really took hold, and especially since the advent of social media, and how businesses use it, I now spend an inordinate amount of time with clients talking about branding.

Simply put, branding is how you visually and emotionally communicate your message to your market (the people that buy your stuff/service). You could see it as your promise to your customer. Your brand falls out of who you are, who you want to be, and who people perceive you to be.

For the corporates, branding is just part of their working landscape, and they have huge amounts of resources they can devote to branding. But for some reason small business owners are much more ambivalent and less confident about how to approach branding, or even whether they should think about it at all!

So let’s look at why branding is relevant to small businesses and how you can build a brand when you don’t necessarily have big resources.

One of the mantras I hear all the time in my practice is, “I’m not good at selling myself”, or “I can write copy about another business/person, but when it comes to me I don’t know where to start.” Among the small business community, there is a perception that branding is all about selling yourself. So while that might be good for people who are good at selling, or naturally gifted networkers, that approach doesn’t really work for the rest of us.

So the first myth I would like to dispel is that branding is always about self-promotion. It's not. It is in fact about:

  • Congruency
  • Consistency
  • Establishing credibility
  • Sharing common values

So when you are putting your brand together, ask yourself if it possesses theses qualities. If it doesn’t, start again.

What makes a good brand?

 A good brand is:

  • Unique
  • Memorable
  • Easy to recognize
  • Authentic to the business (i.e. the business owner)
  • Conveys your message and values

For me the worst kinds of brands are the ones where you can tell it is all for show – meaningless mission statements, overly hip, corporate images or flashy logos, but no substance when you drill down in to the ethics and values of the business.

It is for this reason that I often tell clients that their logo is the last thing they should look at after all the other elements of their business have been communicated with clarity.

You can’t start with a great logo and fit everything around it. If you are going to communicate with integrity you have to lay the foundations first and that means understanding your business and your customers.

Let me give you an example from my local high street, as I am lucky enough to have a fantastic brand right on my doorstep! Popsicle is an independent shop selling beautiful fun things for the home and for children.

Popsicle shop Lewes

Popsicle shop Lewes

Popsicle Gift Tag/Business Card

Popsicle Gift Tag/Business Card

Popsicle have a retail outlet, run workshops, and also sell online.

Popsicle Web Site. Courtesy of Popsicle and Studio MakGill studiomakgill.com

Popsicle Web Site. Courtesy of Popsicle and Studio MakGill studiomakgill.com

As well as being eye-catching and unique, what makes Popsicle’s brand so effective is its authenticity; it matches the values of the business and its owner Sharon. This is a brand that says fun, happy, design; it is very colourful and stylish, as well as being affordable. This is a business that understands itself and its customers. The business delivers what the brand conveys.

Don’t let others fill in the gaps

A strong brand is about filling in the gaps. I’ll explain what I mean. If you don’t have a brand, or your brand is inconsistent with your business, it will be harder for people to understand the uniqueness of what you do. I am always talking to small business owners about how to be authentic in their work – not to try to ‘do it like everyone else’.

Here’s an example; you might be a web designer. There are plenty of web designers around, but what makes your business different is you; your experience, your values, your particular philosophy about what makes a web site great, in essence, how you see the world.

If you don’t have a brand that at least attempts to reflect that, then your potential customers will fill in the gaps. They will make assumptions about you, and those assumptions may well be incorrect, so make it easy for them.

What do I need to brand my small business?

Arguably you could spend an awful lot of time and money on developing a brand, but the truth is you probably don’t need to. However, if you want to be as professional as you can be without spending huge amounts of money, you really need the following:

1. A high quality, professional headshot - This communicates a lot about not only who you are, but about your kind of business. To me a professional headshot shows that you are professional. Taking a quick selfie (even a good one, if that is possible!) shows laziness.

2. A professional web site - For the majority of business owners, whether you provide a service or make a product, your web site will probably be the first port of call for your customers. If it looks good and works well, you are on your way to securing a sale. [Also see my previous blog on “What makes a web site beautiful.”]

3. A business card with the same design and copy as your web site - Even if you do not do a lot of face-to-face business or networking, being able to give a potential client a card just might give you the edge over your competitor. It shows you are prepared and professional, in the way that a number or web site scribbled on a post-it note just doesn’t.

[Top Tip: Always carry your business cards with you. I have handed mine out at the most unexpected of times and places – at the cinema/shops/school run/train station!]

4. A good FB or Twitter page, or both (and don’t forget LinkedIn!) - Nowadays, most people expect you to have some kind of presence on social media. Business owners are either happy or unhappy about this to varying degrees depending on how much they use/like social media themselves, but it is just a reality.

5. Social media is here to stay and you need to engage with it. Why? Because social media is brilliant at reinforcing your brand in a way that marketing and PR cannot match and all it costs is your time.

For most small businesses, just using one or two platforms is probably plenty, and once it is set up it shouldn’t take up much time in your working week.

[For more info, here is a short blog I wrote about social media]

Emotional connection

Who you are as an individual, your personality, your aims and particularly your values, should be reflected in your brand. You might not realize it but when you buy in to a brand, you are making some kind of emotional connection with it.

That might sound a bit far fetched, so another way of saying it is that in large part you buy from particular brands because of what they make you feel. [Advertising executives have spent years identifying the ‘X’ factor that attracts people to certain brands]. They might make you feel, happy, or comforted, or carefree, or attractive, they might make you feel safe (‘I can trust this brand’) or they might remind you of things from your childhood. This is emotional connection.

“A brand is nothing more than a mental representation of a product in the consumer’s mind. If the representation consists only of the product’s attributes, features, and other information, there are no emotional links to influence consumer preference and action. The richer the emotional content of a brand’s mental representation, the more likely the consumer will be a loyal user.”

“Inside the Consumer Mind” by Peter Noel Murray Ph.D

[Link to full article here]

So as a business owner, your job is to figure out what this emotional connection might be and use this as your starting point.

 So how do I begin to build a brand?

A wise person once told me a great saying about business that I quote to clients all the time; “All businesses should be an inch wide and a mile deep”.

In order to build an authentic brand that is congruent with who you are, or who you want to be in business, you need to start with a deep understanding of yourself and why you are in business. This is where the personal and professional cross over so begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are my core values?
  • What motivates me?
  • What makes me happy and fulfilled?
  • What are my interests and passions?
  • What do I want my legacy to be?

As you answer these questions, think of it as telling a story about yourself to someone who has never met you. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool in conveying your branding message to others, so try to explain with clarity what is important to you and what it is that has brought you to this point.

I’ll give you an example from my own branding story. For me, business is all about people. You are the person you bring to work every day so business should be about bringing our best selves to our work. I also see business as a route to positive social change. If people run good businesses, and create a positive, fulfilling working environment, with happy workers then that has a positive effect on society. Everything I do in my business comes down to this.

So the point is that you won’t know this about me when you see my marketing materials or land on my web site, but you will get a sense of who I am and what I am bringing to my work – what my values are. And if my values, fit with your values then you are more likely to decide to get in contact.

Remember this is an exercise for you so don’t worry about what it looks like or sounds like, but it will hopefully start to form the basis of how you market yourself. It should also help you identify the values inherent to your brand, and what your brand will look like.

 

If my values match yours and you want help building confidence in your brand then book a 30 minute phone call here

How can Maslow’s Hirearchy of Needs help you and your business?

How can Maslow’s Hirearchy of Needs help you and your business?

As my regular followers will know, I am a big fan of TED talks. [For a selection of my favourites go to my Facebook page]

I was recently listening to one about feeling secure, which had a section on Maslow’s Hirearchy of Needs. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Maslow, he was a psychologist in the 50’s. In his 1954 book ‘Motivation and Personality’ Maslow developed a five-step pyramid of human needs in which personality development progresses from one step to the next.

The needs of the lower levels, physiological needs like hunger, thirst, shelter, must be satisfied before the next level can be achieved and so on.

The next step, the need for safety, security and order, are essential for dealing with the world. If these needs are met, the individual can progress to the next step, love – the ability to love and be loved. The next step, esteem, requires approval, recognition and acceptance. With these elements in place, the individual can develop high self-esteem and self-respect

Self-actualization

The final step, self- actualization, is the utilization of one’s creative potential for self-fulfillment, and for Maslow, is the ultimate goal for human beings.

Self-actualization is really about personal growth and discovery, ‘being all you can be’. But rather than being a fixed state, it is an evolving one as we are permanently on a journey of ‘becoming’.

Maslow measured the extent to which an individual is self-actualized, by their capacity to experience and enjoy peak experiences. This is when we experience the world with wonder, awe and joy.

For each person, the motivation for self-actualization leads them in different directions and could be achieved any number of ways. Some of the characteristics of self-actualized people are:

  1. Good objective judgement, rather than subjective
  2. Seeing problems in terms of challenges requiring solutions
  3. A healthy need for privacy, comfortable being alone
  4. Reliant on own experiences and judgement
  5. Not generally susceptible to social pressures - non-conformist

 

Filling your creative well

When you look at all these characteristics and the steps to self-actualization, it is not hard to see how Maslow’s work can be applied to you and your business. Starting and developing a business is one of the many ways we can experience self-actualization as we express our inner creativity.  It can also bring us joy and a deep sense of self-fulfillment.

However, it is crucial is that in expressing your creative potential, that you do not let your other needs slip.  I like to call this ‘filling the well’. It’s a simple analogy; you can’t keep drawing from a well that is empty, and you can’t keep being creative, or move forward with your business (or life!) if you are struggling to meet your fundamental needs or have lost sight of what inspires you.

It can be easy to fall in to this trap of ‘running on empty’ when we are so passionate about what we do, and when we have seemingly never-ending workloads.

But if we don’t recognise the signs of burnout, and take some time out, then we not only risk compromising our own health and well-being, but we may also find ourselves letting down our clients and customers; the very people we have worked so hard to find.

 

Timing is everything

I recently ran some workshops on business planning and bumped in to someone who was thinking about coming along. He said that he thought it would really benefit his business, but perhaps now was not the right time as he had a big project on and was moving house, so would not be able to give it his full attention.

Now this person could probably have found the time to do the workshop, and it might even have helped him and his business, but he was thinking about his basic physical and emotional needs and acknowledging that the timing just wasn’t right for him. In our 24/7 world and with our ever present devices, there will also be something to ‘do’ but it’s important that the time is right.

 

Meeting your needs and dealing with the world

So if you are finding it hard to:

  • Access your creativity
  • Find new sources of inspiration
  • Make objective decisions
  • Manage your workload comfortably
  • Switch off and find time for yourself

Or if you are getting overly stressed by the day-to-day challenges you face in your business it might be time to review if you are meeting your basic needs for rest, good food, leisure time and time with family/friends, or whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

Use Maslow’s pyramid as your guide, and address which level might need some work before you can get back to being self-actualized and doing what you love.

If you would like some help prioritizing your workload then contact me for a free 30 minute consultation.

What makes a web site beautiful? And why should you care?

What makes a web site beautiful? And why should you care?

I spend a fair amount of time with clients looking at and advising on their web sites. Generally they fall in to three camps; most of my clients have built their sites themselves; some have employed a friend or family member who ‘does web sites’; a few have employed a professional to build their sites for them.

 

However they got their web site, most people who come to see me are often less than satisfied with them.  It might be because they feel that they are out of date with current design, or there might be too much copy. Worse still for some people their site remains unfinished because they are so busy running their business that they don’t have time to finish it, so links don’t work, blogs pages remain empty of content, or products/services are out of date.

 

What is your web site for and why does it have to be beautiful?

Your web site is your online business card. People might hear about you via word of mouth or through some other channel, but the first thing they will do is look for you online and it is almost scary how quickly people will make a decision to work with you based on your web site.

As soon as potential customers land on your web site, they are already making assumptions about your business based on the copy on your home page and the images you have chosen. Given that potentially you have very little time to impress them, can you risk your web site being anything less than beautiful?

Unfortunately the idea of a beautiful web site is not my own, but one I pinched from my fabulous web designer Katie VanDyck of 100designs.co.uk

Katie and I have worked on several web sites, and as well as being a great web designer Katie is also a brilliant photographer. 

 

What I have learned- Authenticity!

Katie is the first photographer I have met who only uses natural light. She does this because she feels it brings an authenticity to het subjects that can be lost with studio lighting.

I think the same principle applies to businesses and their web sites. The best kind of web sites are those where we get a real feeling for the person/people running the business and their story; where you feel that the site reflects the values of the founder. This is what makes a web site stand out.

Beautiful web sites matter because:

 

  1. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation, or how you improve the way you are found on the web, specifically Google) responds well to beautiful, relevant images and succinct copy
  2. Images really do speak a thousand words – the images you put on your site evoke feelings in the people who look at them, and give them more of a feel for your business, than your words ever can.
  3. Functionality should always be beautiful too. There is no point having lovely images and design if your web site is not user-friendly, or doesn’t direct people to your ‘call to action’.

 

But by far the most important lesson I learned from Katie, is that the PROCESS of building the web site was as valuable for me as the end result. I learned so much about my business from the questions that Katie asked me that it helped shape HOW I promote my business. This is what a good web designer should do.

‘But Marisa, what about the money?!’ I hear you cry!  Web sites are expensive, and designers’ abilities vary. This is a fact, but looking at it a different way, you have to think about how much of your time you are going to invest building a web site. Unless you LOVE building web sites, or learning this skill is going to enhance your business in some way, it is going to cost you a huge amount of time and when you are running your own business, time really is money.

BUT, if you really are short on funds and want to do a good job yourself, here are my golden rules:

  • Make sure you invest in professional photographs. Google hates duplication so stock images are bad for SEO, and they do not look authentic, therefore they cheapen your brand.
  • Ditto head shots. Whatever you do DO NOT USE SELFIES! Aesthetically they do not look good and make it look as though you couldn’t be bothered to do anything else. Make sure you get a good professional head shot.
  • Be careful and succinct with copy. Make sure it is relevant and not all about you! People want to know that you are good at what you do, but remember that they are seeking your product/service because they have a problem they want solving so figure out what that is, and how you can help them.
  • Keep your site up to date! It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many businesses set up a great web site and never do anything with it. Out of date products and services are really off putting to your customers, so check it weekly at least.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your web site shouldn’t be either! There are many online courses that tell you that you can build a web site in a day or two, but I think this misses the point about what your web site is for.

Your web site is your shop front – a vital component of your business. If it were a real shop front, you wouldn’t dream of putting it together in a day. The process of building your web site teaches you about your business and challenges your assumptions about your customers. If you rush it, you miss a vital learning opportunity. 

 

So take your time and think carefully before you embark on designing a web site – it might end up costing you and your business more than you think.

 

If you would like some help with your web site and how you market yourself, book a 30 minute free consultation here.

More work is making us less productive

More work is making us less productive

The phrase ‘Work smarter not harder’ was coined back in the 1930’s. In those days, before the advent of computers, the internet and Facebook notifications on our iPhones, most people would have worked on a 9 to 5 basis. When they left the factory or the office and went home, they knew they were probably not going to be working again until the next day.

Nowadays for most people there is no absolute cut off point, as the potential to carry on working is always a possibility. You can keep checking emails any time, anywhere, but is this really sensible or productive?

In his book, ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, Stephen Covey tells a story about a woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt, but he still keeps cutting down trees. If he were to stop sawing, sharpen the blade and go back to his tree cutting with a sharper saw, he would save himself time and effort.

It isn’t hard to see why this analogy is especially important for modern working practices. With a constant flow of information from technology and therefore the potential for constant interruption, it has become much harder to keep focused on one task before moving on to another one. So how can you be more productive and make more time for yourself?

Here are my own 7 habits for using your time more productively:

1. Prioritise

Do you have a strategy for your business and are you clear about what needs to done each day? Do you have goals that are SMART? (I.e.; Specific, Measureable, Achieveable, Realistic, Timed). Do you have clear objectives for your business?  If the answer is no, then you need to invest some time figuring out what your priorities are.

Without a plan for your business, it is hard to figure out what to do each day. You might find yourself overwhelmed by choices and feeling confused about how best to spend your time.

Investing some time up front writing a strategic plan, or a business plan, should save you heaps of time in the mid to long run. You might even need to invest some time working with a business coach! Click here to find out how business planning can help you and your business.

Once you know what your priorities are……

2. ….work out when you are at your most productive for certain tasks. Early bird or night owl?

I am definitely an early bird. If I want to write a blog, or prepare for a talk or a workshop, I have to do it first thing in the morning. I have never been at my best in the evening, but some people, the night owls, come alive in the evening and are therefore much more productive at this time. We are all as different as the businesses we are running so figure out what works for you.

Another trick I find useful is to give difficult tasks an allotted time. As I do a lot of writing, I am bound to have times when I get writers block. When this happens I still make myself sit at my desk for the prior allotted time, and I won’t let myself get up until that time is up. See if this works for you. (Also see No. 5 below…)

3. Spend some time putting good systems in place

Now you have a strategy for your business, take advantage of technology and find out how it can help you save time. Nowadays there is no shortage of clever time saving apps for business owners. For every issue business owners face, there is someone who will say, “there’s an app for that”!

Using an app for all my business invoicing for my two businesses has not only saved me huge amounts of time, but it also means that I can manage my cash flow much more efficiently.

So if you seem to be spending more time on the admin of your business, than doing the fun creative stuff, then you either need an app to help you or you need to delegate. [For more about how to delegate, go to my blog “Do one thing well” Part 2]

4. Create a time for answering emails/phone calls

Many people who run small business feel they should be available to their clients all day, every day. That if they don’t answer all their emails and phone calls immediately somehow they are letting their clients down.

But how realistic is that, and could you manage their expectations in a different way? Unless you are running a large scale operation where there is always someone to answer the phone, you can’t always be available to your clients, but what you can do is let them know from the start exactly when you are free on a daily basis to take their calls, and respond to their emails.

If finding the time to even do this is proving a step too far, then you might need to find a virtual PA or admin assistant. Another benefit of current technology is that almost everyone is able to work virtually. There are plenty of highly effective, professional PAs out there and you never even have to meet.

5. Be ruthlessly disciplined!

I love reading and I’m really interested in the whole process of creative writing. If you listen to writers talking about the process of writing, most of them will say it is a thankless task requiring huge amounts of self-discipline.

Think of Ian Fleming who used to spend two months a year in Jamaica in a darkened room writing his next Bond novel, or Roald Dahl who used to spend all day writing in his studio, only emerging to listen to the lunchtime news.

If you want to achieve your goals, there may be times when you need to withdraw from the world entirely, even for twenty minutes, so you can focus on the task ahead. This might seem impossible at times, but sometimes it just has to be done. Again, if you have spent some time thinking about what you really want to achieve and already have your strategy in place, it is easier to keep focused. And if you are still finding it hard to keep going……

 

6. Ask yourself this – “what do I want my legacy to be?”

This is something I always ask my clients when they first come to see me. For some it is relatively easy to answer, but for many business owners it is something they have never thought of. Without being too morbid, think of what you want to leave behind; what mark your work will have left on the world and work back from that.

Write it down on post-it notes, or do a mood board, something visual to hand so that when the going gets tough (which it will!) you can quickly remind yourself why you are doing this; what the pay-off is for this monastic self-discipline.

7. Take a break

And finally, remember to sharpen your saw when it stops being so effective. Don’t just keep going until you collapse. That tree won’t get cut down any quicker.

Top 100 business coach blogs image

Being an entrepreneur is hard work so take little breaks in your working week, but also build some time in your year to take longer breaks when you can.

You probably can’t work any harder, but you can definitely figure out ways to work smarter.

Click here to book a 30 minute phone call and find out how you can work even smarter.

Sustainability – you and your business

Sustainability – you and your business

So you have several great ideas for your business. Without a real plan, but with a lot of enthusiasm you get started on one of them, but then something else comes along, so you run with that for a while, and then things start happening with the original idea you started on, so you go back to that for a bit.

Meanwhile, something else has grabbed your attention, and you realize that your web site doesn’t say anything about any of these new ideas, so that really needs updating, or maybe a new web site entirely….? But then you really need to figure out where that fits in with your business as a whole….? And who your target market is….? And what your key messages are…..?

Then you get up one morning and realize you have no idea what to do next to further any of these projects, and you waste time looking at Facebook and feel exhausted at the prospect of doing anything. Does this sound at all familiar?!

It is usually at this point that I get a phone call or email from a client or prospective client because they need to figure out what to do next and they are, frankly, burnt out.

If you look up ‘sustainable’ in the Thesaurus, it’s associated with all kinds of wonderful words like ‘unending’, ‘worthwhile’ and ‘continual’. For me it means not only that your business model needs to be sustainable, but also, very importantly, that your workload needs to be sustainable too. If you get burnt out because you are overcommitted that is no good for you, your clients, or your business.

Here is my sustainability checklist:

  1. Prioritise – Stop and take some time to figure out what you really want to do with your business, and what your long-term goals are.
  2. Have a SMART plan – once you have set your goals, make sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed.
  3. Take time out – as a small business leader you are probably your businesses most precious resource. Make sure you are doing all you can to take care of yourself on a regular basis.

Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, take these small steps and you will find that you are well on the way to creating something sustainable.

If you, or your business, need a sustainability check, click here to book a free 30 minute consultation.

How does fear hold you back?

How does fear hold you back?

“What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done? And why did you do it?”

If you follow my Facebook page you’ll know that one of my absolute heroes is Commander Chris Hadfield, the so-called ‘Singing astronaut’ and sometime Commander of the International Space Station.

In his recent TED talk on fear, this was the opening question he asked the audience. Chris Hadfield should know a thing or two about fear. He went blind while on a space walk to make repairs to the International Space Station, after some of the anti-fog chemicals on the visor on his space suit got in his eyes and made them shut down. Luckily he recovered as soon as he got back inside the space station and took his suit off.

His talk was about how we can change our response to fear, while still taking risks, and this got me thinking about some of the conversations I have with clients. Running a business can be a risky venture, and can make people fearful, about what would happen if things went wrong.

Unfortunately fear, can motivate us to make all kinds of bad decisions, and keeps our thinking small. Big thinking and vision do not come from fear. Fear and anxiety take us out of the present, in to the future and this is when we spiral in to that negative, worrying kind of thinking; the 2am kind of thinking that no good can come out of.

Next time you feel fearful, anxious or worried about your business, think about Chris Hadfield blinded out in the darkness of space. What kept him calm was remembering the procedures that he had practiced many times before; it was the voices of his colleagues talking him through what to do, and it was the fact that he was clear about why he was doing something so dangerous, and why that was so important, to him and to humanity.

So when things do go wrong, which they will, make sure you have good systems and procedures in place for your business, take wise counsel from those you trust, and remember what motivated you to start a business in the first place, but don’t let fear motivate you.

 

If you have a big vision you would like to turn in to a business, click here to make an appointment for a free 30 minute consultation.

Your business and the six core values

Your business and the six core values

Have you ever thought about what your values are? One of my coaching heroes, Frederic Hudson studied the biographies of several hundred successful people over a twenty-year period, searching for the things in life that gave them meaning, and guided them toward realizing their own greatness.

 

They found that those people who described themselves as successful measured their lives with one or more of the six basic core values, often in combination. They are:

  1. Personal Power – Self-esteem, confidence, identity
  2. Achievement – Proving yourself, reaching goals, being purposeful
  3. Intimacy – Sharing yourself, caring, making relationships work
  4. Play and creativity – Expressing yourself, being imaginative, re-creative
  5. Searching for meaning – Finding wholeness, peace, inner wisdom
  6. Contribution – Giving yourself, improving, helping, reforming, social and environmental caring

 

Checking in with your values from time to time can help you understand what is most important to you in life and therefore in your business too. We all go through transitions in life, and the choice of values we make at this time generates immense energy and sense of purpose, preparing us to evolve and move on successfully to the creation of new visions and plans.

 

If we keep evaluating our priorities, we can be sure that at any time in our lives we are marching to our own drumbeats, empowered by the values we honor at any given time. Not only is this extremely valuable for us as individuals, but it is a vital part of the business planning process.

 

Keep asking yourself:

 

What is my sense of purpose? How will I measure my success? How much is enough? What is my legacy? How am I creative? What learning would deepen my creativity? What do I feel called to do with my life? What contribution do I want to make?

 

If you would like more help identifying your core values and making plans for your business, click here to book a free 30 minute consultation.

The problem with business jargon

The problem with business jargon

When one social group wants to exclude another social group, they often use slang words or jargon. It’s what teenagers do all the time so we have no idea what they are talking to their friends about! It is also what ‘experts’ do so you know that they know their stuff, and they can justify their fees.

 

I have recently been holding a series of workshops for entrepreneurs about how having a business plan can benefit your business. They were really well received but what one of the things that kept coming up was how the language of business, or business jargon, can put off people in small business.

 

I have sometimes noticed a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality; ‘us’ being the small business entrepreneurs, and ‘them’ being the big business corporate world. The perception seems to be that the corporate world speaks the language of business and this excludes small businesses, making them feel less business-like or professional.

 

In my work as a business coach exclusively with small businesses I have seen how limiting and disempowering this can be, so I work with clients to de-mystify the language of business. Let’s take back ownership of the business jargon and use it our advantage, after all, it really isn’t rocket science; they just want you to think it is…!

 

Here are the top 5 business terms and what they mean:

 

  1. Target market – the group of people who are most likely to buy your product/service.
  2. Marketing mix – the different activities you undertake to get customers (think advertising, social media etc)
  3. USP – Unique Selling Point. The thing that makes you different from your competitors.
  4. Growth potential – how your business is likely to grow. It might be through increasing your product range or offering your services to a yet untapped group.
  5. A) Direct Competitors – those selling the same or similar products/service (i.e., if you are a florist, other florists selling bespoke bouquets)

B) Indirect Competitors – those selling alternative products/services (i.e., if you are a florist then other places selling flowers/ready made bouquets)

If you need some help with business planning and want to find a way through the jargon click here to book a 30 minute free consultation.

 

Social Media and The Marketing Mix

Twitter, Facebook, Linked in photograph on Marisa Guthrie's Business Coaching Sussex website by 100Designs

One of the questions I seemed to get asked a lot by all my clients irrespective of what they do is “Do I need a Facebook page?” or “Should I set up a Twitter/Instagram/Pintrest account?”

Social Media Icons

Social media has indeed become a baffling minefield.  Many people in small business feel it is something they should be doing, something they should know about but are either just not that interested in, or are even intimidated by and frankly just don’t know where to start.

Before thinking about what you should know/do, you need to ask yourself some important questions about your business and your target audience. This will inform your ‘marketing mix’; put simply, the activities you undertake in order to get customers. Social media is only going to help you get business if the people you are selling to actually use social media in the first place. 

Before you decide what social media to use for your business, or whether you should bother at all, take these 3 simple steps:

  1. You need to know, if you don’t already, how customers and potential customers hear about you. It is good business practice to ask this of everyone who contacts you.
  2. Once you know that, ask them what social media they use, and what kinds of businesses they follow.
  3. Remember that good social media should enhance your customer’s experience of using your business, not just be another selling platform; think carefully about what posts would be of interest to the types of people who are interested in your product or service. 

Top Tip: Always post an image with copy, never just copy on its own.

Use it well, and social media can become a vital part of your marketing mix, not something you are doing for the sake of it.

If you need some help with the marketing mix and social media, click here to book a free 30 minute consultation.

 

A bargain at twice the price?

Fruit and veg in silver bowls on Business Coaching Sussex website by 100Designs

For something that at first glance seems to straightforward, pricing can be unbelievably tricky. You want your price to reflect the quality of your service or product, because if it is too low, people might assume you are not that good, but if it is too high you won’t attract customers and they will go elsewhere, but if it is too low and you do get customers then you won’t make a profit, but if it is too high, you won’t get any customers anyway… and so on and so forth. 

Phew, it’s a minefield! Getting pricing right is crucial to your business model, but it needn’t be that hard.

Let’s start with the basics: 

Check out the competition

1. First of all you do need to look at what you competition is charging and exactly what their customers are getting for their money. Find out what their USP, or Unique Selling Point, is, or in other words, the added value that customers get from buying their product or service. Compare it with yours. [N.B. If you haven’t worked out what your USP is yet, you might need to go back to your business plan – you do have a business plan don’t you…? Ok well that’s a whole other blog!] 

How much do your customers want to pay?

2. Find out as much as you can about your potential/existing customers and what they are willing to pay for a service like yours. They might be paying a certain amount for a service like yours, but with the added value of X, they might be willing to pay more.  

What are your own costs?

3. Scrutinize your overheads. You need to be sure your price takes in to account each stage of the production/service delivery process. It is very easy to forget that answering phone calls, emails, having meetings and travelling to and from those meetings, costs you time and therefore money. 

Pricing is one of the most important elements of your business so take your time to get it right. You’ll be so glad you did.

If you need some help with pricing and don't know where to start, click here to book a free 30 minute consultation.