Dickens’s dream by Robert William Buss
A beautiful image of one of the greatest storytellers of all time dreaming of his characters
Dickens’s dream by Robert William Buss
A beautiful image of one of the greatest storytellers of all time dreaming of his characters
So I allowed myself for stay in that place for a day or so. But then something else happened. I got angry, really angry, and this set me on a different train of thought; instead of focusing on where I am powerless, what would it look like if I decided to focus on where I did have power and go with that?
I confess, I did have a little help in the form of Michelle Obama’s autobiography “Becoming”. I was inspired by many things she wrote about and her awareness of how she found her own power but I was especially struck by what her husband said to their daughters when Trump was elected:
"'Societies and cultures are really complicated … This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it's messy. And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding.
And you should anticipate that at any given moment there's going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn't stop … You don't get into a fetal position about it. You don't start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.'"
[From an interview with David Remmick in The New Yorker]
The truth is I had gone fetal, and while that allowed me to survive in that moment, it didn’t enable me to thrive. Going fetal is the antithesis of being creative. We cannot be expansive from this place. So I took his advice and started to look at the places I could move forward, focusing on where I had agency and who I needed to talk to in order to get things moving.
When people come to see me for business coaching, they often feel as if they have lost their power, or maybe misplaced it. Clients often tell me they have become overwhelmed with choices and feel paralysed and unable to make informed decisions. So they have done what we all do in those times and have fallen back on what they know, which may be old ways of thinking and old patterns of behaviour.
Going small is fine for a while but because we tend to go inward and think only of ourselves, it will ultimately have an impact on our businesses, and out lives.
A lot of the conversations we have around appropriate power are the same ones we might have around assertiveness (see my blog on assertiveness here). Using our power appropriately means that we ‘direct’ and ‘influence’ others, not manipulate, coerce, impose or ‘over’ power. This is akin to the idea of assertiveness where the best position is for us to take is, “I’m Okay, you’re okay”. Not “I’m okay, you’re not okay”.
Just like assertiveness using our power requires high levels of self-awareness, and a constant checking in with oneself as to how our behaviour affects others. When we are in our power and we allow others to be in theirs, we operate from a positive place and take responsibility for our actions. This is what all good leaders do.
Sadly in our world today and especially on the political stage (naming no names but I can think of one person in the American administration who is a good example of this), we are seeing glaring examples of poor, damaging leadership because of the way in which people are using their power inappropriately, often driven by high levels of fear and narcissism. When people feel inadequate, weak or are lacking in confidence, their sense of agency tips over in to control, intimidation and manipulation. They may have learned and seen evidence early on that this is the way to get things done. This kind of power is fragile as it is constructed around their fears and insecurities and is operating exclusively from a, “I’m okay, you’re not okay” position.
A true, real sense of our own power comes from understanding who we are and what inner resources we have used to get to where we are today. Michelle Obama is a really good example of this. She was always a quiet, bookish type that avoided confrontation and chaos. She was the type of person who would sit back and let others speak up while she quietly observed situations and people.
It’s true that without her husband she would not have dreamed of being involved in politics in any way, it being so at odds with the kind of person she is. However, even before Barack got in to politics and their lives took them in the direction it did, she looked at the places she could push forward in order to help people in a way that worked for her. Early on in her career, and at each stage in her life, she used what influence she had to focus on her passion for social justice, education and social mobility. Happily for us, and many others, the influence she had and has grew and grew. She never chose to focus on what she couldn’t do she just kept asking what she could do.
You probably won’t be surprised to know that out of the all the workshops I run, my one on business planning (Called ‘Learn to love your business plan’) is by far the most popular. This is because most people who start an independent business don’t go out and get a qualification in business studies first so they often lack confidence in their business skills and approach business plans with some trepidation.
When I was conducting research for this workshop I came across a book (whose name I will not reveal) extolling the virtues of a business plan and what needs to go in one, but then on the very first page it said “If you run a small business there is no need to write a business plan”!
And therein lies the rub. If a business plan is seen purely as a route to investment (as it is by many people in the wider business world), or something that you need to have to show shareholders, then indeed for a small independent business it will be hard to see why you need to invest time in writing one, and what having one will do for you and your business.
So in this blog I will explain what a business plan really is, make a compelling case for why as a small business owner you need one, and break down what it really needs to contain.
In general I would say that the people that come to see me for one of the following reasons:
“I know what I want to achieve and have a clear vision, but I’m not sure how to get from where I am to where I want to be, and the steps along the way” (Strategy)
“I have been in business for a while, but now I find I’m confused about what to do next.” (Goals/Strategy)
“I’ve been in business for several years and want to diversify/break in to a new market. How do I find the time to do that and still continue to run my business?” (Product/service diversification/ Delegation/Market research)
“I’ve been in business for a while but the nature of what I do/deliver has changed and I feel confused about my brand identity”. (Branding)
“I’ve recently expanded, which is exciting but the current infrastructure hasn’t caught up with this growth so consequently I don’t have things in place and I’m working all the time!” (Strategy/Sustainability)
“I’m a start-up business and don’t have any experience in business, but I have a great idea and don’t know how to execute it.” (Business planning/Strategy/Market research)
“I’ve been in business for a long time but I’ve never felt like I earn enough money and recently I’ve noticed I’m not getting as much new business as I once was.” (Goals/Sustainability/Market research)
“I’ve got a potential investor that is interested in my business and they told me I need write a business plan.” (Investment/Strategy/Market research)
If you feel like any of these describe you, then you probably need a business plan, or need to update your existing one. A business plan is essentially a road map for your business and if you don’t have one then you might find yourself grappling with the same issues on a daily basis, and that can zap your energy and make you feel like you are wading through treacle.
At their best, business plans are living, breathing things that provide a repository for everything you need to know about your business on every level.
They provide answers to the ongoing questions that you have about your business, and what problem it solves for whom. They also:
Provide a template for the copy you will use in your marketing
Provide the copy for what you say about yourself and your business on your website – your brand story (and your elevator pitch)
Clarify who your competitors are and what distinguishes your business from theirs
Clarify your USP (Unique Selling Point)
Give you a logistical and strategic plan
Hone and refine your brand values
Not only this, but they also provide the opportunity to set goals around income and profit, as well as providing the information a potential investor needs, if you are looking for one.
When you have a plan for your business, you are much less likely to waste time and resources as you are clear about your strategy and what you activities you need to focus on day-to-day. And all it will cost you is an up front investment your time.
Years ago I had a client who ran a creative business. He loved what he did, but he didn’t feel like he was earning enough money, and wanted to raise his profile so he could find an agent to help him take things to the next level.
At the end of the first session, after we had spent some time getting to know each other and finding out what was important to him, I said I was going to send him some questions from my bespoke business plan template to start to answer some of the questions he had about his business, to which he replied “I f***ing hate business plans”! Now while this could have been disastrous for our coaching relationship, it was actually great place to start the process.
When we re-frame writing a business plan as purely a way of telling our business story and providing a narrative for the community of people we wish to help then it starts to take on a new meaning. We can see it not only as a process we can enjoy to help us achieve the things we want, but also as a way of saving precious time and money so we avoid trying to take on running every aspect of our business with no strategy in place.
So if you agree that that sounds pretty good, then what are the next steps and how do you begin the process? What does a good business plan really need to contain?
If you Google “business plan” you will bring up innumerable templates and advice about how to fill them in, and to be perfectly honest, a lot of them do look pretty dull. They tend to focus mainly on the finances, which while being extremely important are not the whole picture of your business and do not bring out any of the storytelling element of the business, which is so important for brand storytelling and how we decide to market ourselves.
It is for this reason that over many years in business I have developed my own template of what I feel a business plan needs to contain to answer the questions that the owner of the business has and what they need to know to move forward.
What exactly does it need to contain?
1) Describe your product or service – this section is about your customer and the describing the journey they go on when they start thinking about using your business. (Avoid jargon!)
2) Describe who your target market are and provide evidence that there is a need for your business.
3) Research the competition – look at who they are and how what you offer is different to their offering.
4) Marketing and promotion – what activities are you going to undertake to reach your audience and how are you going to monitor that activity?
5) Pricing and costing – How have you arrived at your selling price and does it allow you to make a profit once your overheads have been paid?
6) Operations and logistics – How will the service be delivered, by whom and for how many hours a week?
7) Sales and cash flow forecast – How have you reached your forecasted sales figures? How are you going to monitor cash flow? (This will also require a spreadsheet)
8) Admin, legal requirements, insurance, taxation – Show that you understand what your legal responsibilities are and what taxation you will be liable for.
Lastly, a few words about what is called the Executive Summary. This is usually the first section of your business plan, where you set the scene for your audience, but it should be the last thing you write once you have worked through all the other sections and have a deeper understanding of your business.
So that’s it in a nutshell. But before you roll up your sleeves and get started, remember 3 things:
It is going to take time so don’t rush it. If you do you may wish a vital learning opportunity.
A business plan is not linear so don’t worry about jumping between sections.
Tackle it in small chunks rather than trying to fill it all in at once.
The best business plans aren’t long or complex with loads of jargon. They are punchy and concise and contain precisely what you need to know. And they are never a waste of time.
The ethics, values and integrity of our business, starts with us, and how we conduct ourselves has a huge impact on how people regard our business.
It is absolutely vital for business leaders to live a lifestyle of honesty, integrity and high ethical standards because what we do as leaders and how we behave can harm the reputation of the business or organization.
This is especially true of small independent businesses that may be operating within small, local communities, where people know each other. As a small business owner for twenty years, I know how true this is and how demonstrating integrity positively influences how people regard your business.
At the other end of business spectrum, the technology and security corporation Tyco knows only too well the pitfalls of a lack of integrity when two of their former executives unwittingly became the poster children for failed ethical leadership. Both were sentenced up to 25 years in prison after stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the company.
It goes without saying that this generated negative press for Tyco affecting not only the company’s value and profitability, but exposing its poor ethics and values, something that is impossible to reverse.
When you become a business owner and leader, you have a responsibility to maintain a high moral standard, and treat your customers and stakeholders as you would wish to be treated.
Regular followers will know that I do a lot of work around branding and brand identity for small and independent business owners. One of the things I talk about in my workshops and in my one to one coaching sessions is how to demonstrate integrity by following through on your brand promise to your customer. In other words, when people see and identify with your brand, ensure that the product or service they receive is congruent with that and their expectation of it.
Let me give you the example I give in my workshop; a few years ago I bought a craft activity box for my daughter at the start of the summer holidays. The boxes had been advertised in a magazine for parents and the brand looked beautiful. However, when the product arrived the contents were very disappointing. The materials were cheap and flimsy; the book was well below my daughters reading ability, and the activity was over in five minutes!
Not only that, but we then received another one two weeks later as it was actually a subscription, which had not been made clear when I bought it. When I made a complaint about the product and lack of clarity about the subscription, the company never even bothered to respond, let alone, offer a refund.
For me, this company did not commit to their brand promise, not only because the product itself was not congruent with their marketing and branding, but also because they did not follow through on customer service in any way, so I was left feeling angry and abandoned.
Continuing this theme let’s look at service after the sale.
If you know your marketing, then you might have heard of the 5 stages of the buying cycle. This is the emotional and logical process customers go through when they are buying a product or service. They are:
1. Awareness : The customer identifies a need or problem that they have and they think your business can meet that need or solve their problem
2. Consideration : The customer evaluates how your offering meets this need, including the evaluation of offerings from other businesses; I.e. your competitors
3. Preference/Intent : The customer uses a combination logic and emotion creating bias towards one solution or another, ultimately leading to a purchasing decision
4. Purchase : The decision is made to buy from your business.
5. Repurchase: The emotional and logical process that (hopefully) leads to a repeat purchase
All though this process, which can be applied for every transaction customers make, your ethics and integrity are being scrutinized. However, how you interact and deal with your customer after they have made a purchase is critical as this is when they are at their most anxious and vulnerable.
Unfortunately a lot of businesses don’t take this stage seriously as they only focus on getting the sale, but how you deal with a customer once they have made their purchase says a lot about your ethics, and influences how they feel about your brand and business, whether they will buy from you again and whether they will recommend you to others.
So ensure that you follow up with an email and make it clear that you are there to answer any questions or concerns they might have. Remember great customer service should be the cornerstone of your business.
It seems obvious to say that what you deliver, be it products or services, should be of the highest possible quality and that you need to have integrity about what claims you make for your product or service.
However it still surprises me how many businesses overstate what they product or service can do. Let me go back to the craft box example; the marketing claimed that the activities and books would keep your child entertained for hours, and would improve their making and crafting skills. Let’s not forget that they even had different kinds of boxes for different ages, but their claims just did not stand up so my daughter and I were very disappointed.
As part of your business and brand integrity, it is vital that you are honest about what your product/service can and, importantly, cannot do. People will appreciate your honesty, especially if you can signpost them to another product or service that could help them. So be clear about what you offer and don’t try and be all things to all people!
The best kinds of relationships are those based on mutual trust and respect.
Having integrity when dealing with staff, collaborators and customers also involves assertiveness and self-awareness. In my previous blog on assertiveness I wrote:
“Assertiveness starts with self-awareness of who one is and how our behaviour impacts on others (self-responsibility). While aggression leads to either defensiveness or more aggression, assertiveness leads to clear communication and often, resolution. Assertive people possess good self-awareness, good self-respect and respect for others. They also take responsibility for their actions.”
It is not possible to run a business where you treat customers really well, but your treatment of your staff and collaborators is lousy. It isn’t congruent with your brand values, and just like with the Tyco executives, bad news travels fast and people will get to hear about it. There is a bit of a prevailing corporate culture around this, but as independent business owners we can positively influence that culture and show them how it should be done.
My husband and I have been running a well-established health business for 20 years and are well known in the local area. For us it is important that our values of promoting wellbeing extend to all our staff so we would never insist that they come in if they are unwell, and often pay for treatments if they have a particular issue that needs resolving; physically or emotionally. So we demonstrate our integrity through good pastoral care.
Not only does this make us feel good about what we do, it is good for business as we have a really happy team. How they are treated reflects well on us as business owners and makes them good advocates for the type of business we are running.
So in this blog, we’re going to explore what resilience is, and what we can do on a daily basis to ensure that our businesses are resilient enough to move through the difficult times that they will no doubt face.
First of all, let’s be clear about what resilience isn’t. Being resilient does not mean an overinflated sense of optimism, where you go around with a big grin on your face and laugh off all misfortune. Resilience is about authenticity (one of my other favourite words to apply to businesses), it’s about acknowledging that while things might be hard, life (and business!) is about ups and downs, and that that’s okay.
Resilience is also about being able to draw on your own resources, and see failure as an inevitable part of life. It’s not about being tough and going through life with a gritty determination that nothing is going to get the better of you. The interesting thing is that we are not born with resilience; we learn how to be resilient in childhood just like assertiveness (see my blog on assertiveness here), and just life assertiveness, the good news is that with time and with practice we can develop resilience.
Why is it that some people seem to bounce back from traumas with relative ease, or even thrive after negative events, while others might fall apart?
The answers are compelling. In his best-selling book, The Resiliency Advantage the late Al Siebert, writes that, “highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in constant change. Most important, they expect to bounce back and feel confident that they will. They have a knack for creating good luck out of circumstances that many others see as bad luck.”
A long-term study of 99 Harvard graduates showed that the way people view negative life events (either as fixed and unchangeable or as temporary and subject to influence) predicted their physical health 5, and up to 35 years later.
But a boost to physical health isn’t this mindset’s only upside. Resilience refers to our capacity to deal with discomfort and adversity, but it’s not just a reactive skill set. The same characteristics that make us resilient are traits that enrich our lives. And of course they will enrich our businesses too.
Like anything worth doing, it’s going to take time, but follow these steps and you will be well on your way to increasing your resilience:
Nurture relationships and get support. No one ever achieved anything on their own, so why should you? Being surrounded by positive, resilient people is inspiring and feeds our sense of self. Having a good network on a personal and a professional level helps us be our best selves and gives us a place to share our challenges and difficulties, as well as our triumphs and achievements.
Nurture yourself – how do you take care of yourself? Good health, and a regular routine of healthy habits, are the foundation of both mental and emotional resilience. But our physical resilience also depends heavily on our baseline mental and emotional well-being. And one of the best ways to nurture that, says Carol Orsborn,, author of The Art of Resilience: 100 Paths to Wisdom and Strength in an Uncertain World is to take regular mental breaks: “It could be something as formal as a regular meditation practice,” she says, “or it could simply be letting yourself daydream.” (See my previous blog on why entrepreneurs need downtime!)
Don’t be afraid of change and to change. When we have a fixed idea of how things are going to go and how they “should” be, it can be harder to feel positive when things go a different way so don’t set yourself up to fail. As they say, “if you keep doing the same things and expect different results, that way madness lies” so be flexible
Develop self-control. If you are someone who gets easily emotional or angry, then it might be that your chariot of sensitivity and resilience has got a wheel missing! Before you react, take a moment to think if your behaviour is going to enhance or diminish your resilience.
Look for the lesson in everything. If you see challenges as opportunities to learn, change and grow, then you are more likely to build resilience.
Have a plan to do more of what you love. Nearly 20 years ago I discovered a fantastic book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self. One of the exercises is to make a list of things you do that make you happy and keep you in the moment. It could be anything from flower arranging to paragliding or walking in the woods. Whatever it is for you, if it makes you happy and keeps you in the moment, make sure you are doing it on a regular basis.
Perform random acts of kindness. When we are kind to someone else even in a very small way, our brain rewards us with a boost of serotonin, the hormone that relaxes us and makes us feel good. When we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to view adversity as a challenge rather than a disaster.
Be grateful for what you have. We all know someone who, no matter what their life is like, or how successful they are never seems to be happy with what they have. Practicing gratitude for the things we take for granted in life helps us see the positives in life.
Make a conscious decision to be happy. It’s amazing how many people think their happiness relies on external factors, and therefore don’t take responsibility for their own happiness but rather put it on to finding the perfect relationship, having the biggest house/car, or earning X to make them happy. Of course many things can make us unhappy, but truly it is up to us to develop a sense of happiness and contentment within ourselves.
Have a sense of humour! If you are anything like me your sense of humour can be the first thing to go when things get tough. But being able to laugh is good for so many reasons; it releases tension and gets us to connect with others, but laughter is also empowering as it puts things in to perspective, so something that seems overwhelming at first, becomes more manageable when we can laugh at it.
When we are happy internally then we can bounce back from anything and move on, which has got to be good for us, our businesses and our customers and clients.
You won’t be surprised to hear that around 90% of the business owners I work with either haven’t had a proper holiday in several years, or routinely take their work on holiday with them. And what I hear all the time is the same; “I can’t afford to take a holiday”, to which I say, “actually, you can’t afford not to”.
Our working landscape is changing all the time and more people are starting new businesses. According to research from the accounting software company Xero, 20 is the age that young business owners (18-34) decided they would like to set up shop compared to those aged over 45 who had the same lightbulb moment at 35. In fact, almost seven in 10 (69%) new businesses set up in the past five years have been started by those aged between 18-34.
When we start a new business, it is easy to be inspired and passionate as you turn a vision in to reality. However, passion will only get you so far, and those businesses with sound plans, good processes and a clear strategy, have a far better chance of survival than those who don’t put these systems in place.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to work with a group of storytellers on bringing their projects to fruition. We were talking about content strategy and blogging. I told them that one of the things I do is to sit down every quarter (or thereabouts) to plan my blog content and plan my weekly schedule up to six months in advance. I have to tell you, they were horrified! At first… But when I explained how this liberated me mentally, and that the plan gave me a sense of security, and allowed me to factor in downtime, it started to make sense to them.
Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that you plan each day to the last detail, only that you have set days for set tasks. But likewise it is important to plan when you are going to take downtime.
Of course when you start an enterprise, you can expect to be working longer hours as you get everything up and running, but if you don’t have a plan in place to take time off from your business, you may come unstuck further down the line as you get burnt out and exhausted. Not only that, but in order to be inspiring and creative, you need to feel inspired, and it’s hard to generate new ideas when you have nothing left to give. Holidays and downtime are vital to the lifeblood of our businesses, as they allow new ideas to bubble to the surface, and keep us in a creative mindset.
Now we have established the importance of taking time out, let’s look at the practicalities
If you know Christmas is a busy time for your business, then you will probably not be looking to take time off between September and December. But you could plan to take time off in January.
For my business, I know that January and September are really busy times for me, but August and December, not so much, so that means I nearly always take time off around May and in August as that works for the flow of my business.
Think carefully about this one. I have had some business owners who will swear that they are 100% busy literally all year, but when we have analyzed the figures, we have been able to find much quieter times and look at when would be good to take a break.
Let me share some more stats with you; research by the Institute of Leadership and Management shows that over 65% of employees check their emails while they are on holiday. This rises to over 80% for senior managers, so it’s not hard to imagine that for business owners that is nearer to 100%!
We are all so connected nowadays that it can be tempting to keep working through holidays and downtime, which may defeat the purpose, and make you unpopular with family and friends!
Again, you have to do what works for you. Some people need to switch off completely so do not want to check emails and notifications while they are away. For other people, they are happy to have a set day to respond to emails because they find that less stressful than coming home to a full in-tray.
And some people, like me, are somewhere in the middle. So for example during August, I did check my emails from time to time, and I let my clients know that with my handy out of office message:
This message also has the advantage of letting people know about all the other things I do, like my blog and twitter chat, as well as reassuring them that their message has been received, so win-win!
When I work with clients who have lost their purpose or are confused about which direction to take with their business I often ask them “What is your higher purpose?” It may sound corny, but remembering what motivated you to start your business in the first place really connects you to what you are trying to achieve.
You might say that you started your business as a vehicle to earn money, but still, you chose this way, this business, when you could have chosen another one, so what was behind your decision?
Part of your responsibility as a business owner is to serve the community you have identified as needing your help. Remembering why you chose this way to help them, reminds you that part of your responsibility to them is to take time out.
“Sustainability” is a word I use a lot to remind business owners that they their business needs to be sustainable not only financially, but also physically and emotionally. If you become burnt out due to overwork, you cannot be there for your clients.
To explain what I mean, I like to use the story Stephen Covey tells in his book, ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’. The story is 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.
So remember that time out sharpens your saw when it stops being so effective. If you just keep going until you collapse that tree won’t get cut down any quicker and no one will thank you for it.
I also want to show the world how great small enterprises are, and why they are so important to the economy.
It’s simple, but these three qualities are a solid foundation on which to build your micro business, or any business!
To demonstrate what I mean I want to introduce you to micro business owner David Hunt of DCR Wheels. David runs a fantastic small enterprise that specialises in building bespoke bicycle wheels.
I knew I wanted to speak to David after a chat I had with my lovely friend Chloe. Chloe is one of David’s wheel builders and was telling me how much she looks forward to going to work because everyone is so friendly and helpful, and how valued she feels. She said David had even invested in a coffee machine for the staff just because he thought it would make them happy!
This sounded like all the qualities of a great micro business so I went down to meet David and the team and find out more:
No. 1. “Do One Thing Well”
Marisa: So why “hand-built” wheels, for people that don’t know the difference.
David: Well, they are specific to the person’s needs in a way that shop-bought wheels may not be. Because we just hold the component parts of a wheel we can provide many different combinations, and we don’t need to hold a lot of stock.
M: So it’s a good business model then?
D: Yes definitely. We only need to stock the components that make up the different combinations.
M: I saw that you put a lifetime warranty on your wheels. That’s pretty amazing customer service. How does such a small business manage to do that?
D: Yes that’s for the build and the spokes. We can always service every wheel we have ever made because of the relationship we have with our suppliers and the quality of their components.
M: Fantastic. What I like about your company is that you are specialising in one part of the bike, so you are complete experts in just one thing.
D: Absolutely. Our major investment over the years has been the specialist tools and machines we have that are essential to building high quality bike wheels, and that’s it.
No. 2. Authentic branding
M: It’s obvious that people really like what you do. What is it about the brand that people connect with?
D: I think our brand is quite low-key and funnily enough the logo was designed by a company who liked us, so we did a skills exchange.
M: How brilliant! It’s a really effective logo.
D: Thanks. I like the fact that it’s quite playful. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and the branding really reflects that. But we’ve also been very much focused on service and knowledge being the cornerstone of the business rather than flashy branding. So for example we have our own branded products but we don’t plaster them with our logo so it’s quite understated and allows the products to speak for themselves.
M: And I think that is especially important because you are in such a heavily branded industry.
D: That’s right, and actually there is now quite a backlash against that.
M: Yes, I see quite a lot of style over substance in the cycling industry.
D: We don’t want people to be a walking advertisement for what we do. We would prefer that they like us because of the quality of work we do and the service we provide.
M: So I guess what you’re saying is that your brand is consistent with a quiet confidence about what you do.
D: I like to think so.
No. 3. Putting people first
M: So Dave the reason I am here is because of a conversation with Chloe about how valued she feels as part of the team at DCR. You have obviously created a really positive work environment. What do you think is the secret to creating a happy work force?
[At this point, while Dave was considering his answer, Chloe dropped in to the workshop and started telling me how she felt about her experience of working at DCR]
Chloe: I think it’s the little things that make a big difference. Because I like coffee it’s nice to know I can come to work and have a nice coffee – it’s a small thing, but it makes a difference to my working day.
Also Dave really understands that we all have our own lives, which he sees as a good thing, rather than a burden, unlike other places I have worked. As a working mum I’m not made to feel guilty if my son isn’t well and I have to leave early or something like that.
M: So David it seems your work is done as your workforce are speaking for you!
D: I guess the way I see it is that when I’ve worked elsewhere, what I earned varied, but my job satisfaction didn’t come from the money. I used to feel frustrated because I felt the employer could have done a lot more for my well-being which didn’t have a cost attached, and even if they had of doubled my salary, I wouldn’t have felt more job satisfaction.
As a small business I can’t afford to double someone’s salary, but for example I can ensure that Chloe has the flexibility to leave early if she needs to.
M: So your approach is based on mutual respect.
D: Absolutely. So if someone has a need we try and find a solution together. Listening is really important.
C: I was going to say that you do really listen. You know, the things we bring up might be quite simple and you will implement them quite quickly in a way that another company would let things linger on. It’s just done and it isn’t a problem.
M: And in fact David the cost to your business is less because you haven’t got a high turnover of staff.
D: Exactly. So for me where wellbeing is high, productivity is high as well. Also, I can’t have all the ideas. I need these guys to tell me if there is something we can improve on. So I feel like companies that ignore the observations of their staff are unlikely to do as well as they could for their workforce or indeed their customers.
M: Well, they clearly have a lot to learn from you. Thanks for your time David and Chloe.
In order to define what assertiveness is, let’s first look at what it isn’t. Have you ever noticed how some people seem to find it easy to ask for things and state their needs in a way that nobody loses face? Whereas other people might get what they want, but in a way where they seem to be imposing their will on others? That is the difference between assertiveness and non-assertiveness.
Like Emotional Intelligence (see my previous blog here), assertiveness starts with self-awareness of who one is and how our behavior impacts on others (self-responsibility). While aggression leads to either defensiveness or more aggression, assertiveness leads to clear communication and often, resolution. Assertive people possess good self-awareness, good self-respect and respect for others. They also take responsibility for their actions.
At the heart of assertiveness lies the theory of transactional analysis (TA), developed by Psychiatrist Eric Berne, and in particular the concept of “life positions”. Berne’s philosophy of TA and life positions posits that all people are born “OK” and that in childhood people make decisions based about themselves based on how they are regarded and treated by significant others such a parents, family, teachers and so on. For many, they make a decision that they are “not OK” and therefore this becomes their “life position”, so they may unconsciously say, "I'm OK, You're not OK" (bullying behaviour) or "You're OK, I'm not OK" (victim, passive position) neither of which leads to assertiveness.
Fortunately, Berne believed that whatever our life position, given time and with the right support we might choose to make new decisions about our self-beliefs, and therefore our beliefs about others. We can choose to adopt an assertive life position where we can be our authentic assertive selves, and allow others to do the same.
Assertiveness is naturally tied up with self-esteem. When our self-esteem is low and we are being held back by negative thoughts about ourselves ("I'm no good at X", "I always mess things up", "I'm such a failure" etc) we can often slip in to treating others badly, reflecting our feelings about ourselves.
In Dr Nathaniel Branden's wonderful book "The Seven Pillars of Self-Esteem" he states that throughout life we attract people with a similar level of self-esteem to us because it makes us feel comfortable. And that's fine as long as we feel good about ourselves, but if we don't then it's easy to see what a slippery emotional slope this can be. When we develop our self-awareness and therefore our emotional intelligence, we are more likely to catch ourselves falling in to this self-esteem 'trap'. Dr Branden's solution to this is to ask yourself every day "Are my actions supporting or sabotaging my self-esteem? Am I treating myself and others with the care and respect they deserve?"
I am not suggesting it is easy to develop this approach to assertiveness and it won’t happen overnight, but I know from the work I have done with my clients, and my own journey with assertiveness that it is possible.
So let’s look at what else holds us back from being our authentic, assertive selves
Just like aggressive communication, passive-aggressive communication is apposite to assertiveness. When someone is passive-aggressive they avoid being directly aggressive and instead engage in indirect, or passive aggression. Typically people who operate from a passive-aggressive place may deliberately procrastinate, avoid certain people or situations that they do not like, say they are ok, when actually they are seething with anger. [Dr Scott Wetzler calls it “Sugar-coated hostility.”] They may also shutdown and refuse to discuss the issue at hand, making progress of any kind impossible.
At work this kind of behaviour may exhibit itself as not doing a task they have been charged with, putting something off until the very last minute, or completing it late in order to punish the person who asked them to do it.
While I would love to see assertiveness adopted as the norm for how human beings treat each other, realistically it is unlikely to happen. However, there is much we can do to change our own behaviour to positively influence those around us, particularly at work.
It is easy to assume that if people think well of us and treat us accordingly then we will naturally feel good about ourselves. However, the truth is that, like any shift in consciousness, the change has to come from us. This is where self-esteem comes in. The reason Dr Branden’s book was so revelatory for me, is that it was the first time I had made the connection with treating myself well and having good self-esteem. For all this time I had been waiting to find people who treated me with respect when in actual fact I didn’t value myself, or feel comfortable with positive feedback and recognition.
It might sound simple, but I really hadn’t made that connection before, so I was always in a passive or victim position, rather than in an assertive, creative position.
Always, always acknowledge people’s feelings, and don’t belittle or talk down to them. If they sound angry, then acknowledge their anger or frustration for what it is. Equally acknowledge your own feelings and emotions, and be aware of how they impact on others.
Here’s an exercise to try out the next time someone gives you some positive feedback or praises you for something; instead of dismissing it or diminishing it, just thank them and tell them you appreciate their feedback. If you already find this easy and like receiving praise then you are probably already using assertive communication in your life. But if you find it difficult to hear or are quick to say something like, “it was no big deal”, or “oh you don’t need to say that”, then just check in with yourself and see how it feels when you do something different. Simply say “thank you” and smile!
Equally, try and hear some difficult feedback and see how that feels. This of course might be much harder but as assertiveness is also wrapped up with emotional intelligence and taking responsibility for your actions, you also need to learn to hear negative feedback from a position of assertiveness.
Remember, people rarely criticize us for who we inherently are. They criticize us for how we acted and how our behavior affected them. Once you can listen to some feedback about how your behavior affected someone else, without taking it personally, then you are on the road to using assertive communication.
As a business coach, I spend a fair amount of time asking people what motivates them. In fact before the first session with a client I ask them to fill in a questionnaire that asks, “What motivates you and what are you passionate about?” Understanding someone’s motivation tells you a lot about who they are and what they fall back on when the going gets tough.
So we’re going to explore:
What motivation is
What motivates you
How developing your emotional intelligence can increase your motivation
And, what to do if you find yourself losing motivation
Let’s start by defining what motivation really is. According to the dictionary motivation is defined as:
“A reason or reasons for acting in a particular way; desire or willingness to do something.”
Motivation is what drives us to achieve our goals; the internal, or external factors that stimulate our desire to stay committed to a task or project in order to achieve a particular goal.
Daniel Goleman, father of Emotional Intelligence and best-selling author of several books on the subject, identified four elements that make up motivation:
A lot of Goleman’s work on motivation is around leadership, how leaders motivate themselves and, crucially, inspire others to have a high level of self-motivation. In his research, Goleman found that the one trait that that all effective leaders had in common was a high level of motivation. They were able to consistently mobilise their positive emotions to drive them toward their goals. They were driven to achieve beyond their own and everyone else’s expectations.
Not only that, but it seemed that their positivity rubbed off on those around them. They were motivated by a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement, and those around them were inspired to do the same. It was the intrinsic, as opposed to extrinsic motivation, that enabled them to keep going. [I’ll come on to the two types of motivation in a minute…]
And achievement was not the only benefit of self-motivation; Goleman found that people who are self-motivated tend to be more organized, have better time management skills, and more confidence and self-esteem, which sounds pretty good! [For more information on self-esteem, read Nathaniel Branden’s wonderful book “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem”]
Fundamental to self-motivation is what motivates you to do things, not your parents or siblings, or your partner, or your best friend, you.
Let’s go back to ‘instrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation. Simply put, they can be described as:
In other words:
Intrinsic motivation involves in engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward; like playing a sport because you enjoy it. Intrinsic motivators include having fun and being interested.
Extrinsic motivation means being motivated to perform a behaviour or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment. The reward could be money, power, or good marks at school.
Most of us are motivated by different things at different times of our lives, and we may switch between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In fact the same task may have a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators at the same time.
Let’s take a simple example:
Holly works to pay off a big mortgage. She gets very little satisfaction from her job, and it is not going to lead to anything else, like a promotion. Holly’s motivators are purely extrinsic.
Samuel loves his job and gets a huge amount of job satisfaction and self-fulfillment. He could do something that earns him more money, but he is happy with his choices. Samuel’s motivators are purely intrinsic.
Holly and Samuel are clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to motivation, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We have to work to earn money, but we value getting satisfaction and fulfillment from our jobs.
Take a moment to think about what is important to you right now in this moment, and whether your main motivators in life are extrinsic, or intrinsic.
Here are a few more suggestions to help you work out what is motivating you:
So now we have explored what motivation is, let’s find out how it is linked to emotional intelligence. Having followed Daniel Goleman’s work for many years, it seems to me that motivation and emotional intelligence go hand in hand. Simply put, emotional intelligence is about recognizing and managing your emotions and the emotions of other people, both individually and in groups. It is about being self-aware of your own emotional responses. This in turn leads to a greater understanding of other people’s emotions, and how to respond to them.
For me emotional intelligence is linked to self-responsibility as the healthiest, most dynamic relationships with one’s self and with others relies on being able to take responsibility for our own emotions.
So when you have a high level of self-awareness, it is easier to be honest with yourself about what really motivates you. As I alluded to at the beginning of this article, we can often take on someone else’s definition of what is important in life. I have worked with countless entrepreneurs who were unconsciously working to someone else’s definition of success (most commonly a parent, sibling, or partner) and so had no idea what was important to them. This made it hard for them to stay motivated as their heart literally wasn’t in it.
So before you commit to your project or start your business, get honest with yourself and ensure that this is your passion, your goal, not someone else’s
Once you have gotten clear about what is really important to you and how you are going to achieve your goals you will probably find it much easier to stay motivated, but if you do find yourself flagging, follow these 6 steps:
Take a break – It’s hard to be creative or learn something new when you are exhausted, so taking time out to replenish your energy levels is essential to staying motivated.
Check in with your goals – are they still real for you? It is fine for goals to change so don’t feel you have to stick rigidly to a goal just for the sake of it. As your emotional intelligence increases you will discover more quickly what is really important to you. So if a goal that was once important to you no longer is, then modify or change it, and move on, BUT……
……be aware of self-sabotage. In my previous blog, ‘Six ways to beat Imposter Syndrome” I wrote about the pitfalls of self-sabotage
If your goals change, ensure it is because they don’t fit your big vision any more, not because you are afraid of achieving them. Let emotional intelligence will be your guide.
Get inspired by others – Inspiration and enthusiasm is infectious. Share your journey with others who inspire you and whose values fit with yours. They should be those people who are your biggest advocates, who have got your back every step of the way.
Celebrate your achievements every step of the way – even the smallest ones before you move on to the next goal. Acknowledging and sharing your achievements with others is great for intrinsic motivation so don’t hold back!
Be your own best friend – we all have a tendency to be harsh self-critics, so remember to have some empathy for yourself and go at the pace that suits you. We all have different energy levels, so if do what works for you, not for someone else, you are more likely to achieve your goals.
"[I would] wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud," Kate Winslet.
‘I think the most creative people veer between ambition and anxiety, self-doubt and confidence. I definitely can relate to that. We all go through that: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Is this what I’m meant to be doing?”‘ Daniel Radcliffe
Liz Bingham, managing partner at accountants Ernst & Young, also remembers thinking to herself: "What are you doing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to be found out."
The novelist Maya Angelou admitted "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'"
[Angelou was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and won five Grammys for her spoken recordings, plus a myriad other awards.]
According to a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Science by Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander 70% of people feel this way. Not only is that a huge percentage of the population but the authors go on to say that if Imposter Syndrome is prolonged without intervention it can lead to clinical levels of depression and anxiety.
In the last hundred years, and especially the last couple of decades, the world has changed beyond any recognition of what it was before. Our lives and working landscapes have been utterly transformed by technology at a pace that shows no signs of slowing down.
Therefore no matter how skilled we are at our work, technology is growing so fast that most of us are learning something new on almost a daily basis. And that can make you feel like you don’t have the expertise you should.
Meanwhile, other people’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages make it seem like they’ve got it all together, or that they are more successful than you because they have more followers. But there’s a big chance that your perception isn’t in line with reality.
Individuals who experience Imposter Syndrome may be highly successful but unable to internalise their success, or as I describe it, unable to ‘own your achievements”. So sadly for impostors, success does not equal happiness.
As the old Hollywood saying goes, “You’re only as good as your last film” so instead of being able to enjoy their achievements, impostors nervously lurch from one high point to another, constantly looking for reassurance from others. When they don’t get that constant reassurance, which is impossible to maintain in any profession or walk of life, they fall in to despair, anxiety, guilt, shame, burnout and emotional exhaustion.
It is easy to see how all these factors contribute to make the perfect storm for Imposter Syndrome to develop and take over, leading to overwork and exhaustion in what Sakulku and Alexander describe as the Imposter Cycle.
We’ve all met that Uber-confident type of person, the “Don Draper” types who seem to have it all together and do not appear to be fazed by anything. But appearances can de deceiving. These might be people who are just as qualified or experienced as us, but are more adept at selling themselves – ‘walking the walk and talking the talk’.
It’s true that some people are more impervious to outside perceptions or criticism, but scratch the surface and you’ll probably discover that even the most confident of individuals are not bulletproof and experience self-doubt and a lack of confidence at least sometimes. [By the way, watch Mad Men, if you haven’t already. It’s a real lesson in how not to do business!]
One of the ways in which you can limit the impact of imposter syndrome is by ensuring that you are setting achievable goals for yourself and your business. Now I’m all for getting people to challenge themselves and getting them of their comfort zones, but coaching is about setting realistic goals and going at a pace that works for you. It is not about setting such huge, unachievable goals that you never reach them and so the carrot of ‘success’ is always just out of reach (More about success later).
If you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you will not be surprised when you don’t achieve them and this in turn will add to your underlying fear of being an imposter. This is otherwise known as self-sabotage, or setting yourself up to fail.
Let me tell you a story to explain what I mean.
I recently met with a coaching colleague who told me about a client of theirs who was a published author. Although the client had had some success, he never quite felt as if he were really writing to his true potential, and felt very dissatisfied with his work. Now to the outside world he probably seemed quite successful and accomplished, but inside he knew he was capable of being more creative, and being the writer he really wanted to be.
After a couple of sessions and exploring this issue further, the coachee realised that he was unconsciously playing out a familiar scenario as his mother had been a journalist, but had never worked with the newspapers she really wanted to, and had ended up being very frustrated and unfulfilled.
He had unconsciously created a scenario where his lack of success enabled him to identify and stay close to his mother, even though it made him unhappy. He had chosen to stay stuck in his frustration, rather than take responsibility for being the creative writer he knew he really could be.
We don’t often think of it this way, but success comes with responsibility. And sometimes the fear of achieving this success, what it might mean to others around us and therefore the responsibility that goes with success can be overwhelming, so people unconsciously choose the path of least resistance and side-step their goals, meaning that you never actually achieve that success, or step in to who you really want to be.
I always ask new clients how they define success. This is partly to help establish the goals they want to achieve, but it is mostly because I want to ensure that person is bringing their authentic self to their business. What do I mean by ‘authentic’? From childhood onwards, our notion of what it means to be successful is driven by many factors; parents and family, how society defines success, peers, teachers and so on.
What our parents did, (or crucially were not able to do in their lives), often sets the tone for our own notions of what it means to be successful, which is then reinforced throughout life by society and so on. So, just like in the story above, sometimes when people try and define success for themselves, they are so mired in their family’s/society’s version of success, that they haven’t even realised who they are and what is important to them.
Society has a lot to answer for when it comes to universally agreed ideas of success because it is such a narrow definition; earn a lot of money; buy a big expensive house and a fancy car; find the man/woman of your dreams; have a family; retire at 45 etc.
In fact increasingly, the people I see in my coaching practice are mostly aiming to simplify their lives and the phrase I hear almost on a daily basis is to ‘get back a work/life balance’. Yes they want to be comfortable and have a business that is financially sustainable, but they also want to spend time with partners or family, and be able to take a nice holiday once in a while.
So be sure that you get some clarity about what success means to you. It may take some time, but once you know what success means to you, you are much more likely to achieve it and be able to bring that sense of authenticity to everything you do.
The more intense your sense of Imposter Syndrome is, the more likely you are to attribute your success to luck, rather than your own merit. Certainly in my coaching work I have witnessed many people who never take credit for what they have achieved and always attribute their success to external rather than internal factors.
This compounds their sense of certainty that they are a fraud, and often drives them to overworking.
Self-awareness and acceptance is key. Once you fully accept that you sometimes feel like a fraud, and feel out of your depth, you are well on your way to breaking patterns of thought that might be holding you back.
1. Share experiences with others. If 70% of the population have experienced Imposter Syndrome then you are bound to know someone who feels like you. Finding soul mates and allies, discovering that you’re not alone can be very reassuring.
2. Celebrate your achievements and who you are. Equally, learn to take praise and internalise it – don’t discount it. If someone praises your work, just smile and say “thank you”!
3. And it should be remembered that everyone’s entitled to make mistakes from time to time – so instead of beating yourself up, decide to learn from them and move on.
4. The same goes for failure. If you don’t fail then you cannot learn.
5. Learn to take criticism seriously, not personally.
6. And finally let go of perfectionism! If you attempt perfection you are going to fall short, which in turn leads to self-sabotage. Remember, Being ‘good enough’ is good enough!
And finally if you feel like you need more support in breaking the pattern of Imposter Syndrome then find out more about how business coaching can help. Click here to book a phone call.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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]
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.”
According to the Collins English Dictionary, ‘coaching’ can be defined in three ways:
1. Sport - 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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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:
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…….
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.
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
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 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.
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?”
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. “
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:
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.
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.
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.
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……
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:
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.
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……
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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 have a retail outlet, run workshops, and also sell online.
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]
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:
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
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
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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……
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…)
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]
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.
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……
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.
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.
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.
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:
If you, or your business, need a sustainability check, click here to book a free 30 minute consultation.