Why sharing your personal story will unlock greater success for you and your network marketing team

Network marketing tips

 

by Francis Newman.

As with most areas of life, people are attracted to people with similar values and outlook to themselves. And network marketers are no exception.

People looking for a network marketing opportunity are interested in joining a great team not a company. They’re looking for an inspiring team leader who will guide and mentor them to achieve their desired lifestyle.

Tom Schreiter (one of the world’s leading network marketing trainers who has travelled the world promoting his business) says ‘people want to know about the person presenting first.’ The company, product and compensation plan are secondary.

So that makes your personal story an important part of your marketing. How you present your story will make the difference between attracting like-minded people and having to search for them.

How to put together a credible network marketing story

 

Your story documents the experiences of your life’s journey. No one else has experienced what you’ve been through and that gives you a unique perspective. Sure, people have ‘similar’ experiences, but your insights will be exclusive to you. This is the basis of your story, so long as you keep this is in mind and stick to it.

Here are my guidelines for planning a credible story

1. Identify landmark events in your life. These are often opportunities disguised as turning points such as redundancy, divorce, marriage, new baby or a friend introducing you to a valuable contact.

2. Describe the circumstances around each event and put them into sequence. Include the personal and business challenges you faced such as being a single parent working part-time and building a business. Don’t dwell on negative experiences, but don’t leave them out either – nobody’s life is perfect.

3. Instil confidence in your prospect. They need to feel that with your help, they’ll achieve their desired lifestyle too and help others do the same.

4. Demonstrate your commitment to helping people. Offer to guide and mentor them through their own challenges. This is what being a true leader is about.

5. Be sincere and friendly and don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. Use your own words as much as possible and make a habit of creating more value.

6. Offer your best tips and guidelines for free.

7. Avoid superficial fill-in statements such as: “I wanted to earn extra income and spend more time with my family” “I was tired working for someone else and now I work for myself” “I’m earning full-time money on part-time hours working from home” “I wanted to be my own boss and work when I want to“

The above clichés may well be true, but due to repetition and misuse they lack credibility and sound like hyped sales pitches – result, people get bored, switch off and the opportunity is lost.

People want to hear your story

 

People learn and remember more through storytelling than lecturing. And everyone has a unique story waiting to be discovered and told. If you want to create educational stories for your team members to help them grow and prosper, but don’t have the time and resources to do it, then professional help is available. We’ll provide professional copywriting, marketing and graphic design services to help you transform your hidden assets into a credible story.

I’m looking for inspiring team leaders
who want to make a difference to their team.
Learn more, then get in touch.

 

Francis Newman I hope you’ve found this article of value.
Please share the link with anyone you think will benefit.

To learn more about Francis Newman’s work, visit Message Matters http://www.message-matters.com

© Copyright Francis Newman 2014. All rights reserved.

Build a marketing hub

 

by Leigh Wallinger.

The way your prospects want to buy has changed significantly over the last 5 years and there is no going back. Prospects now use the Internet to identify, research and evaluate possible suppliers. If your product/service can be purchased online, it is unlikely your prospect will even want direct contact with your staff. Everything will be done electronically.

If prospects do have to interact with suppliers’ staff as part of their buying process, they will use their Internet research activities to generate a shortlist of potential suppliers. Only those companies on this shortlist will be contacted.

You have to get your company on this shortlist

Aim to fully populate your website with the information your prospects will want to find. Help them to assess your credentials/expertise/relevant track record prior to them finalising their shortlist. You should include information that prospects will find of value and of interest during their shortlisting process.

Getting all this information published and ready to load onto your website is a substantial amount of work. You should look at ways to leverage your efforts as much as possible.

The best way to achieve this leverage is to turn your website into a marketing hub. Everything prospects will need to evaluate your company should be loaded onto a well-structured website (so the information can be readily found). Then all your marketing activities must be geared to persuading prospects to visit your website and access this wealth of information.

You are selling your prospects on the benefits of visiting your website, which is pretty straightforward. It is your website that move people who might be classified as having a “passing interest” to people who are “interested” and then to “actively evaluating” your products/services.

Years ago, this process was carried out by teams of sales and marketing staff through seminars, exhibitions and roadshows. Their job was to find people with a passing interest and hand them to salespeople who would move them to “actively evaluating” your products/services.

Now, your website can automate these early stages of the sales cycle. You will engage with prospects only when they have shortlisted your company. In sales management jargon, you engage with part-qualified prospects. When you meet with them, they are ready to engage. You avoid all the stalling and delaying tactics of prospects that have frustrated experienced (older) salespeople for many years.

As a result, sales situations will progress more smoothly and fewer prospects will withdraw from discussions. Your sales pipeline is full of better quality prospects and a larger proportion will eventually convert into clients.

The secret is for your marketing hub to allow those prospects with requirements that your products/services will struggle to meet, to decide you aren’t a suitable supplier. This can only be achieved by giving prospects all the information they need to make an informed decision for themselves.

This is why you must create and maintain a comprehensive website

Once your website (marketing hub) is up and running, all that is left for your marketing to achieve is to drive people to visit the website. This is relatively easy although it does take some time.

Your target audience will respond best if you communicate with them regularly using a variety of different techniques. Don’t simply send an email every month, mix things up. Mix up the frequency of emails. Intersperse regular emails with ad-hoc messages – all designed to help your prospect and encourage them to visit your website.

The best way to tempt prospects to visit your website is to send an email containing part of the information together with a “read-more” link to your website. Those who are interested in your email subject will link through.

Of course, if you are just starting up then you may not have email addresses for anyone in your target audience. In this case, you need to obtain them from anonymous visitors to your website. This is best done by having something that your prospects will find valuable available to download from your website.  Whatever it is, request an email address from the person wanting the information and then email the item to that email address. [This last step is important to avoid you being given the wrong email address].

You may speed up the process by purchasing email lists and running a short email marketing campaign asking people to visit your website and sign up for an eZine or to download a large report or for access to a video webcast.

Alternatively you can write articles and have these distributed as part of other people’s eZines, to their list of contacts.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business.  After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses.  Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2013. All rights reserved.

Target-focused marketing


by Leigh Wallinger.

Small business owners are often guilty of wasting both time and money on inappropriate marketing activities. They don’t do it deliberately but the consequences can be serious. Not only is the time and money gone forever, what’s worse is that these activities simply don’t generate any new prospects.

The worst “crime” of all is to channel some (or all) of your marketing towards people who will never want to buy what you are selling. If you target the wrong people your business will fail.

It is essential that your marketing message reaches the right people. There is no value in promoting your company to people who have no interest in what you sell.

As a small business owner, with only limited time and cash available, you should spend some time answering these two questions – the payback will be disproportionally beneficial.

Who exactly will buy my products or services?

Be a specific as possible. These are the people you want to be marketing and selling to. They represent your target market(s). All your marketing efforts must be directed to reaching them.

Try to define several relatively small niche target areas here. It is wise to have multiple niches to give you some resilience when one niche market suffers a reverse. Your answer to this question pinpoints exactly who you expect will buy from you. Understand as much as you can about them. Where do they go or look when buying what you sell?

Analyse each niche as thoroughly as possible taking particular notice of what your competitors are doing. Be especially careful when you find no evidence of activity from your main competitors. It might mean they have previously found this niche to be unrewarding.

Why will these people buy from me?

Prospects in your target niches could buy from you or any number of your competitors.  Understand why they will buy from you. What makes you better than your competitors? What problems exist for which you have a solution?  What impact do these problems currently have on the prospect’s business?

Focus your marketing on these problems and how you solve them. Provide evidence that you understand the prospects’ problems by describing how you have helped other companies facing similar problems. When you write your marketing materials, be sure to use the prospect’s terminology to make them feel more comfortable. Let your knowledge come across and use this to build some dialogue.

Write your marketing copy to focus on the challenges your target audience is facing.  Explain why you are the best supplier. Where possible introduce some testimonial quotes from your happy clients. The last step is to communicate this to your target audience.  Do your utmost to focus on your chosen niches.  Promoting wider than this is a waste of time and money.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. Firstly, assume you run a small company providing electrical services to domestic and small business consumers. You want your company to work locally, say within 15 miles of your base.

Your marketing must be oriented towards your local environment. You can run short articles in Local Council magazines or small (and cheap) adverts in church magazines. You might do a leaflet drop in the area in which you want to find clients or attend some local networking events.

You must do whatever you can to limit the geographic spread of your marketing.  If you work in town A, there is no value having people in towns B, C and D seeing your marketing material. Why pay extra to reach people who will never buy from you?

In the next example, imagine you run a small company providing a range of garden products, which you are happy to ship worldwide.  Of course, most of your business will come from your own country. In this situation, you need to find national or global platforms on which to publish your marketing copy. It is likely your business will revolve around an Internet-based e-commerce system allowing purchases to be made without direct contact with the company.

In this case, you should avoid small circulation local magazines and focus on national sources of opportunities. There will be opportunities for you to write articles for these publications. You should use social media websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook as these have a wide geographical reach. To get more focus, you might look at some of their special interest groups. The objective behind everything you do is to persuade people to visit your website.

Ensure your website contains enough material to persuade someone to revisit and eventually make a purchase.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business.  After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses.  Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2013. All rights reserved.

How to make marketing successful


by Leigh Wallinger.

For many small business owners, marketing is a source of great frustration. It seems that whatever they do, their marketing simply doesn’t produce the required results.

It is likely this failure is caused by them doing something wrong. All small businesses need more sales. This pressure causes small business owners to try and close deals too early, before their prospects are ready to buy. The result is a lost sale.

Owners need to back off, learn how to keep prospects interested and wait until each prospect is ready to buy. Trying to force the sale will result in failure.

The most effective role for marketing in small businesses is that of lead generator. If you can attract potential buyers of your product/service and nurture them until they are ready to buy, you will soon move away from the typical hand-to-mouth existence experienced by most small businesses.

To get your marketing back on track, follow the simple 3-step action plan given below. You really want to find more top-quality prospects – those whose requirements are a good fit to what you supply.

Most companies will have two sources of sales leads – one is through their marketing and the other is through referrals from their clients. Let’s look first at making your marketing work better.

Your first action step is to define what a top-quality prospect looks like for your business.  Once you have clarity of who you want to attract, your second action step is to define what these prospects want from their suppliers.

The answer will depend on your product line and industry but value-for-money, low risk, reliable products, hand-holding of new clients and a responsive support service might well figure in your answer. These points all need to be highlighted in your marketing – in your emails, in your marketing and on your website.

Your third action step is to define what makes you different to your competitors. This is often a stumbling block, especially for those companies selling services. It is essential that you can point to things which make you different in ways your prospects will value and appreciate.

Your marketing needs to convey this information specifically to those people who could buy your products or services. Your marketing messages should be in front of these people regularly. A single email or advert won’t give you the required results.Persistence and consistency will pay the greatest dividends. Get noticed and offer value to your prospects. They will eventually engage.

The second source of sales leads is your client list. Unfortunately, few of your clients will simply give you a referral. You will need to prime the pumps. There are three prerequisites to clients giving up one or more referrals.

The first is that your clients must be completely happy with your company’s performance in fulfilling their purchase. This means the results of their purchase must have been consistent with your promises. A good test of this is whether or not the client would agree to being the subject of a “success story” about their purchase.

The second prerequisite is that your client’s purchase has not given them a competitive edge over their competition. They are unlikely to want to help you sell to another company by giving you a referral. Similar restrictions apply to industries where secrecy is critical – such as applications in defence, national security, counter-terrorism etc.

Lastly, you still have to ask for a referral. The request has to be very specific otherwise your client will not come up with a name.

Many small businesses survive mostly on word-of-mouth referrals rather than on marketing to attract prospects. If you are going down this route it is essential you have a process in place to ensure all your clients remain happy and are asked for referrals. You might package this into something like a Client Retention Programme so you can ensure it is consistently applied to every client.

Not every client you secure will fit your ideal profile, this is to be expected. Small business owners should assess which clients require considerably more support than normal. It is easy for these high-maintenance clients to consume all the profits you make from their purchase(s). Sometimes it will be costing you money to have them as clients.

It’s worth considering what you should do with these clients. There is a compelling case to drop all clients who cost you money and use the time you save to give an even better service to your remaining clients and attract additional (profitable) clients. An annual exercise to flush out all loss making clients will help you maintain profitability levels.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business. After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses. Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2013. All rights reserved.

How to make it easier for people to buy your services


by Leigh Wallinger.

It is widely accepted that selling services is generally more difficult than selling products. With a service, there is nothing for the prospect to see or touch to give reassurance that it will do what the seller claims.

Your prospects don’t believe any of the claims you make about your services until one of your existing clients confirms, either directly or indirectly, that those claims are accurate.  In many ways, your existing clients represent a more potent sales team than you could ever employ. Only a few service providers make sufficient use of their existing clients when chasing prospects. The rest are missing out.

Your second problem when selling services is this. It can be difficult to demonstrate to prospects exactly what they are buying. The best you can do is to find an existing client whose requirements are similar to your prospect’s and show how the client benefitted. For big-ticket sales, you could arrange for your prospect to visit the client to “see” your service in action.

Selling is so much easier with a physical product. Your prospects can look at it and handle it. It’s clear what they will be buying.

Reflect on the steps involved in demonstrating and selling a product (for example, a laser printer) and those relating to a service (for example, month-end accounting services). Most people would agree that selling the laser printer is easier. Let’s look at things from the buyer’s perspective.

As a buyer of services, you would hear (and read) about the seller’s service and all the benefits the seller claims would arise following your purchase. You probably wouldn’t commit to buy the service without verifying these claims were accurate. You would research the experiences of previous purchasers before making your own decision.

However much research you do, buying services boils down to you trusting the seller’s description of their service and their promises of how you will gain from your purchase. If you were buying these services on behalf of your company, you probably have these four key questions in mind:

1. How well will the services mesh in with our existing operations?
2. How well will the services meet our business requirements?
3. How disruptive will the transition period be?
4. What will happen if these new services fail to deliver the expected results?

When you are selling services, keep these questions in mind as your prospects often won’t ask them explicitly. They remain under the surface and the answers you give in response to their other questions all contribute to the buyer’s judgement regarding these four unasked questions.

If you sell a product, the process of answering these four questions is much simpler. The product can be seen, measured, demonstrated, handled and, if appropriate, operated on a trial basis. In the earlier example of selling a laser printer, potential buyers can easily obtain the answers they need and confidence in the proposed purchase would rise.

Services don’t lend themselves to being seen, measured, demonstrated, handled or trialled. The best you could do if selling a service is to highlight the experiences that your other clients have enjoyed and the benefits they have gained from using your services.

Your existing clients provide the most persuasive case for buying your services. Their descriptions of how good your services have been for them will be hard for prospects to ignore.

It is your job to explain how clients that were once in the same situation as your prospect have gained by using your services. Then you must find ways for your clients to validate these claims by describing how their situations have been improved by your services.

This can be done directly, with prospects and clients engaging with each other, or indirectly through a series of “success stories” you produce in conjunction with your clients.

Success stories are usually produced in printed or pdf format and, once written, can be used in many ways for little cost. The best success stories are those which contain client quotes throughout.

To succeed in selling your services you need to:

1. Be trusted by your prospects and clients alike
2. Use success stories to show how others benefit from your services
3. Minimise presentations where you tell people how good your services are
4. Provide answers to the 4 key questions above
5. Incentivise your clients to give you referrals

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business. After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses. Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

How to sell services via your website

by Leigh Wallinger.

Most, if not all, owners of small service companies would like more sales leads and more clients. By concentrating on their company website and how they (and their sales team) spend their selling time, they can achieve more.

Your website is a powerful asset and it must be fully exploited. Turn it into the hub of your marketing activity and make it full of information that your prospects will value.  When designing and producing content for your website, keep in mind the old saying “telling isn’t selling.” Back up all the claims you make about your service with solid evidence that it is true – your prospects are wary of unsubstantiated claims.

The best way to do this is to use the experiences of your current clients. Show how others who were in a similar position to your prospects have used your services to achieve their objectives. Find ways for these clients to describe their successes and achievements in their own words.

For higher value services, the best vehicles to achieve this are success stories and testimonial statements. You want testimonials to be positive and specific so they can be used to substantiate any claims you make to prospects regarding your services.

Naturally, only those clients who are happy with your services and who feel they have received good value for money, will be prepared to help you out with success stories and testimonial statements. Your website will highlight the experiences of your happy, positive clients. This positions your small service company in the best possible light.

For lower-value services, more emphasis should be placed on client feedback pages on your website. Clients will write comments directly as this represents the most cost-effective and appropriate way to capture their feedback on your services.

Before the Internet era, it was quite easy to keep your unhappy and disgruntled clients out of sight and away from your prospects. Now, it is impossible to hide unhappy clients, they can be found by your prospects through social media sites and online message boards. More than ever, it is essential that small service providers keep all their clients happy and minimise the level of negative sentiments about their services appearing online.

This has implications for those who are selling your services. They should be concentrating solely on prospects with requirements that can be fully met by your services, and with a high probability of success. We’ll term these high-quality prospects. Your company’s selling time should be spent exclusively with high-quality prospects.

By avoiding lower-quality prospects you will avoid collecting high-maintenance, potentially unhappy clients. Equally important, you will free up some time which can be directed towards making it easier for high-quality prospects to find your website.

This will entail a range of activities from writing and publishing articles to becoming active on the social media sites likely to be popular with your prospects. Depending on the nature of your services, it may be possible to produce a regular (monthly) eZine and send it to interested prospects and clients.

There will be some Search Engine Optimisation work needed on your website – this is probably best done by an external consultant with plenty of knowledge of how Google works.

Here are seven steps to making your website work for you:

1. Structure your website to be informative to high-quality prospects
2. Develop success stories and collect testimonial statements from clients
3. Set up (and keep to) a schedule for writing articles and eZines
4. Make your website Google-friendly
5. Spread the word about your services and website
6. Encourage prospects to contact you and qualify them carefully
7. Only spend time with high-quality prospects

There is one final word of warning for those who plan to adopt these suggestions to make their businesses more attractive to Internet-surfing prospects. Do not, under any circumstances, ignore your existing clients or take their business for granted. They are essential in persuading others that your services are as good as you say. Devote time to making sure they remain happy to be using your services.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business.  After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses.  Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

Selling services as a solution


by Leigh Wallinger.

Prospects will only buy your services if they solve a problem that is costing them more than your services would cost. You might save them money, save them time or improve their efficiency and productivity.  In reality, your company isin the problem-solving business.

This is not the same as “solution selling” from the past – where suppliers defined solutions and then sent their sales team out looking for relevant problems to solve. Having off-the-shelf solutionsavailable, each waiting for a problem to appear,is no guarantee that you will grow a successful business.

On the contrary, offering flexible services that can be moulded to fit a prospect’s real day-to-day challenges will be attractive to them. If you can solve some of their current problems, you have a long-term client who will talk positively about your company and who may buy more and more services from you.

A collection of happy clients gives you a solid foundation on which to grow your company. They will be well-disposed towards you, will expand their use of your services and, directly or indirectly, will convince other prospects to sign up to your services

For this strategy to work, small business owners need to ensure that everyone involved in selling to both prospects and clients:

1. Has a detailed understanding of the company’s services and what can and cannot be flexed to meet a specific requirement.

2. Has a good understanding of the common challenges being faced by prospects that your services could address.

3. Has a thorough understanding of how your services are used by clients and what problems/challenges have been solved.

4. Is armed with 20 – 25 thought provoking questions to ask in sales meetings that will help establish confidence and credibility as well as identify possible problem areas to be investigated further.

You will frequently encounter prospects who believe their requirements are unique, even if they might appear to be familiarto you.  This belief might have its roots back in the time when salespeople were selling off-the-shelf solutions.  Buyers soon learnt that having non-standard problemsmeant buying non-standard solutions.  Thisgave them a way to avoid “solution salespeople” andbeing manipulated into buying something inappropriate for their business.

Whenever a prospect suggests their requirements are unique, you should agree and share some stories of how your services are used by other clients to meet their particularly unique requirements.  It can be beneficial to present your services as a series of separate elements that can be combined in many different ways to match the specific and unique needs of prospects.  You have to become expert at telling stories and painting verbal pictures to show how your service elements can be combined to work for each prospect.

Persuading prospects, convinced their requirements are unique, that your services will improve their situation requires patience.  It is made easier if you canrefer to the experiences of other clients.  What you, the seller, claim about your services usually carries less impact than the same claim made by one of your clients.

As a result, you should look to produce a series of success stories and testimonials confirming what benefits your services have produced for each of your clients.  Consider producing one or more success story per client and ensure each contains a selection of testimonial statements from named sources from your client’s senior management team.

In some situations, it may be appropriate to arrange for prospects to talk to or meet with one or more of your clients.  Again, arranged correctly, these can prove to be very persuasive and move your prospect closer to buying from you.

Buying services can be a scary proposition for inexperienced buyers.  It’s impossible to see exactly what you are about to buy.  You are really buying into the promises made by the seller.  Fear of buying from the wrong supplier grows and this causes uncertainty and procrastination.

If the seller’s promises are backed up by other purchasers confirming they have achieved the promised benefits, some of this fear subsides.

For small business owners, this means you have to develop strategies to both reassure prospects you represent a safe pair of hands and demonstrate how you will minimise the risks associated with buying your services.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business.  After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses.  Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

Differentiation with experts


by Leigh Wallinger.

Most small business owners seem to find it hard to differentiate their company from their main competitors. Those providing services (rather than products) seem to struggle the most. If you own and run a small service provider, the lack of any differentiator is a huge risk to your future survival.

Owners who attempt to create points of difference can quickly become disillusioned, especially when their advantages are repeatedly neutralised by competitors. Differentiation becomes too much hassle for owners, desperately striving to keep their businesses alive. As a result, all suppliers of a particular service will look the same.  In this situation, prospects use the cost of the service as the prime differentiator and the lowest cost provider wins the sale.

Experienced buyers will engage with several competitors and cycle round obtaining more and more discounts. After several cycles some suppliers will pull out, unable to cut their prices further. The “winner”secures a new client with little or no chance of generating a profit. Larger companies could cope with this but the impact on small service providers is more serious. Small business owners need to avoid this form of price-war.

It is essential, therefore, that you find ways to differentiate your services from those provided by your competitors. When you start thinking about this there are two criteria to have in mind:

1. Your points of difference must be difficult to copy. You want to establish points of difference that will remain unchallenged for months or years. There is little point striving to offer fastest delivery, longest guarantee, quickest problem resolution or lowest price. All of these are transient differentiators that can be readily matched or beaten by your competitors. This means your advantage will only last a matter of days or weeks.

2. Your points of difference must be seen as important by your prospects. They should attach a value to having these extras as an integral part of your service.

When you differentiate yourself in this way, your competitors will find it hard to succeed against you in competitive sales situations. You win more clients and you can charge at levels which generate a good profit margin.

It will probably be hard to create this sort of differentiation within your service itself. The most unique aspect of every service company is represented by the knowledge and skills of its people. Therefore differentiation based on a combination of your service and key individuals will create something that is impossible for competitors to match. This works equally wellforsole-trader service providers, with the owner alsobeing the key individual.

The best way to make this form of differentiation work in your favour is to combine your services with an individual who is widely recognised as an industry expert. The blend of an industry expert and your proven services is very difficult to compete against and it can give you an edge over your competitors for a long time.

This leaves you with two questions:

1. Who will become your industry expert?
2. How will they gain and maintain their expert status?

The person you select must have the right personality and attitude to carry off the role of industry expert. It is quite often one of the company founders who will take this role. They usually have the greatest overall knowledge of the company’s services and how they are used by clients. Sometimes the founder is the only employee, in which case the choice is easy.

The steps involved in becoming a recognised expert are straightforward but the process does take time. It cannot be rushed. Persistence and consistency pays dividends as your expert tackles these 5 activities:

1. Reading. Learning everything there is to learn about your niche markets, its trends, political and commercial influences. Learning about the issues and problems companies in each niche are encountering and how your services can help.

2. Listening. Attending conferences to keep up to date with industry developments and networking with key contacts, policy makers and trade bodies.

3. Writing. Producing books and articles to gain wide visibility and demonstrating depth of knowledge.

4. Speaking. Find speaking engagements to present to an audience which includes your prospects and other key contacts.

5. Networking. Engaging with prospects using online networking systems and at networking meetings.

There is one final word of warning and that is you must retain your industry expert and not let them be head-hunted into one of your competitors. If this happens, not only do you lose your competitive advantage but your whole marketing strategy would need overhauling. This would be a huge inconvenience. Prevent it by putting in place ways to keep your expert happy and committed to being part of your business.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business. After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses. Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

Seven key aspects of selling a service


by Leigh Wallinger.

For many small business owners, lack of sales is the limiting factor constraining both growth and profitability. Selling services is challenging. The intangible nature of services means there is no equivalent to a product demonstration. There is nothing for prospects to see or to touch.

Although there is no magic formula that will guarantee sales success, there are seven key aspects to selling services that owners of small service providers need to remember.

If you focus on these seven aspects, your chances of winning more clients and retaining those clients are greatly improved. Of course, you will still face many obstacles that will block your path and delay your progress. Deal with them as they arise and never be tempted to look for short-cuts to a sale. There are no short-cuts. Patience and persistence pays dividends.

The seven aspects of service selling you should concentrate on are:

1. Know your target audience.
This means more than simply defining your niche market(s). It means you must know as much as possible about these markets – trends, threats and opportunities. It means you should know what issues, problems, challenges and opportunities your prospects are facing before you meet with them.

2. You are a problem solver not a solution provider.
Avoid developing the mindset that your role is sellingstandard solutions to prospects.  Your prospects won’t want your “off-the-shelf” standard solution to meet what they consider to be their unique business requirements. Your prospects want to buy services that are designed to meet their specific requirements. Position your services as highly flexible individual components that can be moulded to meet a prospect’s unique requirements. Engage prospects in the moulding process.

3. Your prospects are fearful of buying the wrong service.
It is hard to buy services and prospects are fearful of making the wrong choice. The closer the service is to the prospect’s core business operation, the bigger the worry. Devise ways in which you reassure prospects that you represent a safe pair of hands and work with them to reduce the real and perceived risks associated with your services.

4. Sell through (true) stories.
This is the key to successfully selling services. Stories about how your existing clients have gained by using your services will build confidence and provide reassurance to prospects.  As well as telling stories, ensure you have some success stories available in printed form.  These can be handed to prospects or emailed to them. Success stories are far more powerful and persuasive if they contain testimonial statements from each client’s senior management team. When selling services, what you claim carries little weight until prospects see or hear similar claims from your clients. Where it is appropriate, putting your prospects in direct contact with one (or more) of your happy clients builds confidence that your services deliver what you claim.

5. Be different but not weird.
Differentiation is very important for service providers. It is all too easy to blend in with your main competitors. With all other things being equal, your prospects will always buy the cheapest. You can win clients this way but why bother when it results in little or no profit? If you are different from your competitors in ways that your prospects find attractive, not only can you resist the pressures to discount your prices but you will also win more clients. Be careful not to take differentiation too far and come across as weird.  Prospects aren’t interested in backing a company that comes over as a bit odd.

6. Prospects buy from people they trust.
This saying goes back decades but it remains true today. You have to build a reputation, both individually and as a company, of being totally trustworthy. You must do everything you promise, on time and without causing your prospects and clients any disruption or inconvenience. When prospects talk to your clients, they will ask about your ability to deliver.

7. Look after all your clients.
This is more than just common sense, it is critical to your future success. Prospects will want to communicate with your clients as part of reassuring themselves your services are as good as you claim. You will certainly be able to control which clients you introduce to prospects. However, independently of you, your prospects will be using the Internet and coming across some of your other clients – on social media sites or messaging sites. You do not want prospects to find anything negative about your service from these sites. Nor do you want them to engage with any clients (or ex-clients) who may criticise your service or your performance as a supplier. The only way to prevent this is to avoid having unhappy clients.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business. After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses. Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

Two types of initial prospect meetings


by Leigh Wallinger.

In many businesses, the first step towards making a sale is to meet with a prospect for the first time. Initial meetings arranged by telephone cold-calls are very different to those set up using alternative prospecting techniques – ones which allow prospects to determine if and when the meeting should be held.

Meetings that are arranged through cold-calls are far more challenging for small business owners as they carry a greater risk of failure and rejection.

Comparing the two types of initial prospect meetings, there are significantly different dynamics in play. These dynamics ultimately determine how successful you are in growing your small business.

If you set up the meeting with a cold-call, it is unlikely that you will make the call at exactly the time when your prospect had decided to purchase a product/service similar to yours.  The more likely scenario is that your call is made at a time before your prospect had finally decided to buy something. Any meeting you arranged was due to one of two factors.  Either your prospect wanted to engage with your company at an early stage or you were very persuasive or manipulative during your cold-call.

When you do meet, the prospect’s requirements are not firm. The purchasing timetable remains vague and it is unlikely a specific budget has been allocated for the purchase.  Although the prospect has some interest in your products/services, there is no forward momentum towards a sale because the prospect’s buying cycle has yet to start.

Your initial meeting will focus on the broad elements of the possible purchase. It is likely to conclude with your prospect agreeing to consider your products/services once the buying cycle begins. From this point, all you can do is to keep your company name in the prospect’s mind – most likely through email marketing activities – until the buying cycle begins.

Unless you are very lucky, the best outcome of the initial meeting set up via a telephone cold call will be some form of “keep in touch” activity. It is arguable if you will gain any advantage over your competitors as a result of such activities. Therefore, was there any real value from holding the initial meeting?

It need not be like this

Imagine the scenario where prospects actually contact you. They do so after assessing via the Internet your products/services, your capabilities and track record. Contact is made when prospects have commenced their buying cycles and are ready to engage with suppliers in meaningful conversations.

Naturally, at this stage, each prospect’s requirements are much better defined, their buying process and timetable are also defined and a budget is allocated. When you meet, the prospect is keen to engage and answer the questions you have regarding the proposed purchase. It means you can quicklyassess your likelihood of winning the sale.

Your initial meetings are always successful, even if you find out your products/services are not a good fit for the prospect’s requirements. You can walk away at an early stage and focus on other better sales opportunities.

If you can meet the prospect’s requirements, your job is simply to match your sales cycle to the prospect’s buying cycle. By doing so, it’s easy to obtain the prospect’s agreement to move to the next step – it’s in their interests to maintain the momentum of their buying cycle.

For you, the small business owner, it means every initial sales meeting is with a prospect looking to buy. You get far less outright rejection. There is no need for exploratory meetings with prospects before they are ready to buy and no need to spend time on “keep in touch” marketing. Even if you have fewer meetings, the prospects you do meet will be of better quality. They are all looking to buy. It should result to a much better return on your sales efforts.

How do you get prospects to come to you?

  • Have a comprehensive, informative and well-structured website.
  • Add new material to your website regularly.
  • Highlight how you are different to (and better than) your competitors.
  • Find ways to give website visitors items of value – downloads, offers etc.
  • Be visible on other website where your prospects will see you, with articles, postings and, if appropriate, videos.
  • Become active on those social media sites your prospects visit.
  • Develop success stories showing how other clients benefit after buying your products/services.
  • Offer to put prospects in direct contact with your existing clients.
  • Demonstrate the ways you minimise the risks to buyers of your products/services.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business. After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses. Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

Buyers control your sales pipeline

 

by Leigh Wallinger.

There has been a paradigm shift over the last decade in the way people want to buy. So much so, small business owners are no longer in full control of their sales pipelines.

Historically, small business owners used the sales pipeline to measure the effectiveness of their sales processes in areas such as lead generation and prospect nurturing. The idea is you add every new prospect to one end of the pipeline then gradually move them along, using clever sales techniques, until they reached the end if the pipeline, when they became clients. [Some people use the concept of a sales funnel instead of a pipeline, but the ideas are identical].

It was believed that the seller controlled the speed at which things happened. It was important that sellers maintained forward momentum towards securing an order. If progress stalled, it was difficult to rescue the situation. For example, at the end of a sales meeting, the seller would get the prospect’s commitment to the next meeting, by scheduling a date and time.

This is no longer the case. Think back to some of your recent sales successes. Were you really controlling the process and the speed at which the prospect moved from being interested in your product to buying it?

Have a defined market

It remains important for small business owners to focus their companies onto well-defined niche markets. Despite the apparent benefits of believing everyone is a potential prospect for your company, successfully growing revenues and profits from a general market will be difficult. It takes significant funds to market your products/services to such a broad range of potential purchasers.

Buyers (your prospects) are now firmly in control. They decide when your sales cycle will start. You can try to start the process before they are ready, but you will ultimately fail to gain any momentum. Buyers also decide how fast the sale will progress. When you try to speed things up, all that happens is you create a mismatch between the selling cycle and the buying cycle. Often, as a direct result, the sale collapses.

Small business owners must concentrate on keeping the buying cycle and the selling cycle in step. Forget about forcing the sale along – leave that to your competitors.

Concentrate on doing what your prospect wants, at the right time and in the right way. Show prospects you respect them and are there to help them make the best decision for their business. Build your sales momentum from the prospect’s desire to buy. If you do this, the whole sales process is far more enjoyable and much less a battle of wills.

The buying cycle starts when your prospect decides to purchase a product/service and your company is one of several shortlisted suppliers to be considered. The buyer will announce his readiness to buy by contacting you directly. From this point you must be attentive and responsive, remember everyone wants things done instantly. It’s the nature of life in the 21st century.

Few prospects will engage before they have completed their research of possible suppliers.  Much of this research will be undertaken using the Internet. Consequently, it is essential you have plenty of relevant material on your website.

What else should small business owners do to maximize their chances of being added to the prospect’s shortlist?

  1. Be clear about which niche markets you are concentrating on.
  2. Demonstrate your knowledge of these markets and the issues your prospects are dealing with.
  3. Show how you have helped other companies operating in the same niche as your prospects.
  4. Communicate what makes you different (and better) to similar suppliers, your main competitors.
  5. Highlight how you minimise the risks associated with buying your products/services.
  6. Promote all the ways you look after purchasers with guarantees, warranties, hand-holding, repairs and support (as appropriate).

There a many different activities you can undertake to successfully deliver these six objectives. All of them will build your reputation as a credible supplier and increase your prospect’s confidence that you represent a “safe pair of hands” as a supplier.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business.  After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses.  Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

Be different to your competitors

by Leigh Wallinger.

Wherever you look, there are companies who all appear to be the same.  The danger for all small businesses which look similar to their competitor(s) is that prospects will immediately use price as the differentiator.  If all else is identical, people will buy from the cheapest supplier.

However, being the cheapest puts you in a vulnerable position.  Your prices can be undercut and prospects will quickly switch to your now cheaper competitor.  To maintain your revenues, you have to reduce your prices further – and your profitability suffers badly.

Put yourself in your prospect’s position.  When you are looking to make a purchase it’s easy to check on the Internet which suppliers are providing the best value for money.  Even if you have a preferred supplier in mind, it’s always worth checking if there is an alternativesupplier offering better value.

If you look the same as other suppliers, the best you can achieve is a sale at the lowest price.It is insane forso many small business owners toposition their companies as a “me-too” supplier.

By pointing to the differences between you and your competitors, it becomes much harder for prospects to draw you into a damaging price-war.  Therefore, it is essential that small business owners find the time to design and establish some differentiators that are meaningful to their prospects.

Doing this will represent a good investment of your time because you will end up with demonstrable reasons to resist any price pressures.Whenever prospects ask you to match the price of a cheaper competitor you cansimply point to your differentiators and hold your prices firm.  You justify the prices you are charging and show prospects why they are not comparing like with like.

You could say something like “The reason we charge what we do is because we provide x and y.  We are the only company to do this and consequently our prices are a little higher”.  Not every prospect will want your extra value (the “x” and “y”).  In these cases, your cheaper competitors will win the business and you should review how you qualifyyour prospects.

This shows why it is important to find differentiators that your prospects find of value and will want included in their purchase.

Naturally, when they become aware of your prospect-attracting differentiators, your competitors will begin working on ways to neutralise your advantage – especially if they start losing sales because of their shortcomings.  It makes sense, therefore, to develop differentiators that are hard for your competitors to imitate.

This is why using differentiators such as a low price or an extended guarantee don’t offer any real,long-term advantage.  A competitor can quickly match your price or the terms of your guarantee and neutralise your advantage.  You want to establish differentiation in areas where competitors will be disadvantaged for several months – until they work out how to match what you are offering.

The most difficult differentiators for your competitors to match are those built around the experience and expertise of your employees.

Even if you are a one-man company, it is possible to be unique in your chosen markets.  Let’s say your company specialises in renovating Jaguar cars from the 1950s.  This is a passion of yours and you’ve been renovating Jaguars for the past 20 years.  You know the issues, the problems, who to turn to for spare parts and where to go for the best respray paint job.

Your focus, knowledge, contacts and expertise is something that your competitors can’t match.  They may be bigger, deliver faster and may even cost less than you.  What they can’t offer is the peace of mind and reassurance that comes from dealing with an expert in Jaguar renovations.

Here are five action points that will help you develop meaningful points of difference.

  1. Become known as an expert in your field.  This takes time and writing is the best way to achieve this.
  2. If you have other employees, develop those who could become recognised experts in their own right.
  3. Ask your clients why they chose to buy from you, what did they like about you and how can you improve?
  4. Find out what they like best about your product /service and what they least like.
  5. Ask your clients what they like best about your competitors’ products / services.  Don’t spend too much time on this point as you don’t want them thinking too much about your competitors!

Use what you learn to be different and better than your competitors.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business.  After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses.  Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

Be visible and likeable


by Leigh Wallinger.

The new sales paradigm is one in which buyers are in control. They decide when your sales cycle starts – it starts when their buying cycle starts. They decide how fast they move through their buying cycle. They choose who can compete for their business by producing a shortlist of selected suppliers (usually through Internet research).

As a small business owner, it is your job to ensure your company is on that shortlist because unless you do, there is no way of securing an order for your company.

One of the main reasons for the lower success rates of your telephone cold-calls is because you telephone at the wrong times. Only when the buyer is ready to start their buying cycle will your cold-call be well received. At all other times, you will encounter resistance and rejection.

Getting the timing right isn’t your only cold-callingchallenge. Your cold-call will come out of the blue, most likely when your prospect is busy. Your call, if you can negotiate your way past all the gatekeepers, will interrupt your prospect’s thought processes and disrupt his work. How pleased do you think your prospect will be to hear from you?

Politeness may soften the reaction you receive but, in reality, your chances of engaging positively with this prospect are pretty low.

There is a better way

You can never know exactly when your prospect is going to begin looking for and researching possible suppliers or when their buying cycle will start. The best solution is to be visible, at all times, in all the places your prospect is likely to look. Remember, you must get on their shortlist.

Luckily, this is relatively easy. Your prospect will use the Internet to research potential suppliers.

Your website is central to your online visibility. However, you must also be present in the modern equivalent of trade catalogues – online databases that can be searched for companies matching specified criteria. In all your entries in these “catalogues” you should provide links to your website to encourage researchers to link through.

Apart from the obvious information, your website should also contain some mechanism to capture your prospect’s email address. At present, the most popularways are to tempt them to sign up for a regular newsletter (or eZine) and gain access to a downloadable book (an eBook).

As soon as you have an email address it becomes much easier to remain visible to the prospect. You can send emails periodically, which can highlight some positive news about your company, perhaps with a link to your website for the full story. This is better than having all the information in your email as it means the prospect visits your website again to read the full story and may look at other webpages while there.

Being visible is only half the challenge facing small business owners. In addition to being seen by your prospects you must also seem a credible and trustworthy supplier.

Again, your website will play an important role in persuading prospects to take you seriously, even if you are a one-man company. Credibility is built the quickest by you stepping out of the limelight and allowing your existing clients to talk about their positive experiences of you and your products/services.

Success stories should be produced to explain how your clients have seen benefits having bought from you. From these, your prospects will get a good understanding of what you are like as a supplier. If you add a sprinkling of quotes from your clients that are positive and describe something specific about their experience, your credibility grows even faster.

When you utilise client quotes, avoid the generic ones. Something like “a smooth installation with no problems” doesn’t really make an impact with prospects. An alternative such as “we were grateful that your installers were thorough – they protected our carpets and furniture and left no mess whatsoever”.

Quotes are more believable if they attributed to a named individual together with their company name (if you are selling to companies).

When prospects start looking for possible suppliers they will find you through your online presence. Success stories will demonstrate your competence and your client quotes will be more persuasive than anything you can say or write.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business. After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses. Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

Why persist with telephone cold calling?

by Leigh Wallinger.

If you had set up a new business twenty-five years ago, the most popular wayto identify sales opportunities would have beenby telephonecold-calling.  You worked through a list of names and telephone numbers, arranging initial sales meetings with prospects.  It was probably the default lead generation method for small businesses at that time.  It was cost-effective and worked well.  Cold-calling has helped thousands, perhaps millions, of small companies to grow and become established in their chosen markets.

Twenty-five years on and much has changed.  Technology has changed everything – the way we run our lives, the way we find suppliers and the level of expectations we all have.  We now live in an instant-gratification world.  Prospecting and lead generation techniques have also evolved.

The way people want to buy has changed radically.  Company buyers will now investigate and research possible suppliers using the Internet.  They want to engage with a small(ish) number of possible suppliers, having first generated a shortlist based on the results of their Internet-based research.

Only when they are ready to engage with shortlisted companies will they want to schedule meetings with them.  Until then, they have no interest in meetings with suppliers.

As a result, it is a challenge to ensure your telephone cold call is made at the exact time when prospects are likely to be receptive to what you have to say.  If you telephone at any other time, your prospect isn’t ready to engage.  The result is a less successful outcome to your telephone call.

Even if you do manage to get through the various gatekeepers (receptionist, departmental secretary, personal secretary and voicemail system) and speak with your prospect, your call is unlikely to be warmly welcomed.

Why do entrepreneurs setting up new businesses today still persist in using telephone cold calling as a key lead generation strategy?I think there are 5 reasons why:

  1. It is easy to start prospecting.  Get a list of names and telephone numbers and start work.  There are no barriers to getting started, there is no lengthy preparatory work and productivity is scalable.  If you need to make more calls, bring in more people.
  2. Acquiring a list is no longer a barrier it once was.  A few hours working on the Internet will usually be enough to construct an initial list.  Of course, for those small businesses with funds there is still the option to save time and purchase lists at modest cost.
  3. Cold-calling satisfies the typical entrepreneur who wants visible evidence his staff are “pushing for business”.  The minimal start up time is also very attractive to entrepreneurs who are looking for “quick wins”.  They want to start calling potential clients as soon as possible to win the easiest sales.  [Of course, it is very likely their competitors have been there first, unless they operate in a niche with no established competitors – unlikely and risky].
  4. With telephone calls, you get instant feedback from your target market.  Your proposition and offer can be tweaked in response to what you learn during calls.  You evolve your approach to attract less resistance.
  5. It still works.  However, it is less effective than it was twenty-five years ago.  It takes more dials to reach a prospect.  There are many barriers in the way.  The most common and most effective are company voicemail systems.  These allow prospects to efficiently filter incoming calls.

There are a couple of issues to bear in mind before launching a telephone cold-calling campaign.

  1. The true cost of finding a prospect is somehow disguised.  Many small business owners focus on the number of prospect meetings rather than onthe sales achieved.  With long sales cycles this can be tricky to measure.  It is a complete waste of time meeting prospects who aren’t seriously considering the purchase of your product / service within a realistic timeframe.
  2. Most cold-calling activities play lip-service to prospect qualification.  Linked closely to the last point, small business owners should be asking questions to assess the likelihood of winning an order.  You must focus on serious prospects and avoid the time-wasters.

Remember, the prospect will only want to engage if you telephone at exactly the right time.  Your chances of getting that timing correct are very small indeed.

As a small business owner, you should be implementing prospecting methods which allow you to meet exclusively with prospects who are active in their buying cycle.  By doing this, more time will be spent selling to people who are ready to buy.  The result will be better conversion rates, more sales and, if your pricing model is correct, increased profits.

 

Leigh Wallinger knows the problems that every small business owner encounters when trying to establish and grow a small business.  After 30+ years’ experience he now helps small business owners to grow their businesses.  Contact him by email (enquiries at salesmadeeasy.co.uk) or via www.salesmadeeasy.co.uk

© Arteka Limited 2012. All rights reserved.

Goalless living?

 

by Mark Forster.

One of the questions I have been asking myself recently is “What happens if we deliberately live without any goals?”

All the books I’ve written in the past and just about every other self-help book assumes that goals are essential to success. But is this true?

We tend to think that living without goals would result in lying on a couch in front of the tv all day with a six-pack of beer (or whatever your own particular form of goofing off is!) But I suspect that this is actually the result of negative goals, rather than no goals at all. A negative goal would be something like “I don’t want to do the housework”, “I don’t want to write that report”, or “I don’t want to do any work”.

The reason I have been asking that question is that I am conscious that many major positive changes in my life have come about without my having formed any definite goals about the changes. It’s been far more a case of acting on opportunity out of a deeper feeling that I am taking the right action for me. I’ve written before about how it’s sometimes only possible to see what is important to you by looking back to see where your past actions have been leading you.

So if you genuinely live without goals, positive or negative, what are you going to be doing? I think a fair amount of the time you would be doing the things which you enjoy doing, simply because you enjoy doing them.

If you enjoy doing something, you are far more likely to do it well in my experience.

I’m not quite sure where this is leading me, but I am sure it will be interesting to find out!

 

Mark Forster is the author of three books about time management and personal organisation. The most recent, Do It Tomorrow, was published by Hodder in 2006.
http://www.markforster.net

© Copyright Mark Forster 2012. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do you really want out of life?


by Mark Forster.

A very good way of getting your mind to go deeper than usual into a problem or question is to keep coming back to it regularly over a period of time. I made extensive use of this in my book “How to Make Your Dreams Come True” (sadly now out of print). The distinguished psychologist Nathaniel Branden also used it in his Sentence Completion Programs. He recommends completing a sentence like “To me, self-responsibility means…” every day for a week with six to ten answers, without consulting what was written on previous days. At the end of the week, the answers for each day are reviewed. Usually the answers at the end of the week differ quite considerably from the answers at the beginning of the week.

We can use a similar technique to tackle the problem of goals. The problem of goals? I thought that we were always being told that we should have clear goals – goals are definitely seen as a good thing in the self-improvement world.

Yet goals can be a problem. For a start, a lot of goals are externally imposed, whether it’s by our boss or our friends or our loved ones. Mind you, they aren’t anything like as bad as the ones which we impose on ourselves. Only too often, people give themselves “exciting goals” and then give up after a burst of enthusiasm because the goal has become a burden rather than a joy. If you give yourself a goal like earning £1,000,000, it can wreak havoc in your life – especially if you haven’t really thought out why you want to earn £1,000,000.

Here’s the exercise. Start by writing out ten completions to the sentence “Something I really want out of life is…” Don’t censor yourself, and go for the full ten and no more. The next day, without looking at your previous list, do the exercise again. Repeat this for a full week and then look at the results. Is each day’s list much the same, or are they different? How much does the last day overlap with the first? Can you identify any progression in your thoughts?

You might want to keep this exercise going for longer than a week. It’s good to keep doing it until the answers settle down. Then switch to repeating the exercise once a week. That way you can keep in touch with what you really do want out of life.

 

Mark Forster is the author of three books about time management and personal organisation. The most recent, Do It Tomorrow, was published by Hodder in 2006.
http://www.markforster.net

© Copyright Mark Forster 2012. All rights reserved.

How to get any project up and running


by Mark Forster.

Do you have lots of great ideas for projects but never get round to starting them?

Do you have a host of old projects that you got so far with and then ran out of steam?

Or do you find yourself saying things like “I really must do some more marketing, but I can never find the time”? (Translation: “I’m not doing the really important work because the less important work is more important!”)

I’m going to tell you a method now which will enable you to give any project your best shot. I can’t of course guarantee that your project will succeed, but at least if you use this method you won’t fail because you have let yourself down.

But be warned: you can only use it on one project at a time!

The basic idea is simplicity itself. You can keep any project moving powerfully forward if you take some action on it first thing every day.

Let’s analyse that a bit further. There are three elements:

1) Take some action

2) First thing

3) Every day

Let’s deal with each of those in more detail.

1) Take some action

You need to take some action, not just think about taking some action! It doesn’t matter how small the action is. The important thing is to get started. I’ve written before about how a simple phrase like “I’ll just get the file out” can be the trigger for getting into a difficult or daunting task.

How much action do you need to take? It doesn’t matter. Just as long as you take some action, it will keep the project alive. When people come to me with writer’s block, I usually set them the the target of writing for at least 10 minutes every day. Al Secunda in his book “The 15-second Principle” makes it even less — he says a minimum of 15 seconds work a day on any project will bring it to fruition.

Of course Al is not telling you to work for only 15 seconds. He is telling you to work for at least 15 seconds. Once you have succeeded in getting started, most days you will go on and do some significant work on the project. But even if you don’t do more than the minimum, you will have kept the project alive in your mind and you will find that you naturally get into the swing of it in the next day or so.

2) First thing

In my book “Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play” I give an exercise in which you are asked to select one task that you are going to do the next day. If you succeed, you then select a slightly more difficult task for the next day. If you fail, you select an easier one.

This sounds an incredibly easy exercise, but the truth is that most people find it almost impossible to keep it going for more than a few days. Yes, it’s rather a horrifying thought — most people are incapable of selecting just one new task a day and doing it without fail!

Your project is going to get lost in the same way unless you make sure that you do it first thing before doing anything else. You know exactly what will happen if you don’t do it first thing. You will find yourself late in the day saying: “It’s nearly time to stop work and I haven’t done a thing about that project yet. It’s not worth doing anything now. I’ll give it a really good go tomorrow.” Guess what happens tomorrow!

I have learnt the hard way that if I want to carry out some particular task every day over an extended period — such as writing, going for a run, whatever it may be — it has to be got under way before I have my breakfast, before I make a cup of tea, before I look at the newspaper. If you work in an office, then the task needs to be started before you check your e-mail, before you talk to your colleagues, before you listen to your voicemail. The second that you say “I must get started on that project, but I’ll just check whether there’s anything new in my in-box” you’ve lost the battle!

Once you’ve got going, you will find that most days there is a natural tendency to keep going. And if some days there isn’t, so what? As long as you’ve done something, you will find it is easier to do more the next day. And that brings me on to my next point.

3) Every day

When someone tells me that they are stuck on a project, the first question which I ask them is “When did you last do some work on it?” Invariably it turns out to have been weeks ago.

Once you stop working on something, it will start to die. Think of your projects as house plants which need watering daily. They don’t need a lot of water, but they do need some. If you forget to water them for one day it won’t be fatal, but forget to water them for several days in a row and they will start to wither. Yet sometimes even the most dead-looking plant will revive if you resume the daily watering. And so it is with projects. If you have a project in your life which is really stuck, try doing some work on it first thing every day and you will be amazed to see how it starts to move forward.

When I say “every day” I mean every working day. For some personal projects you may want to do seven days a week, but for most work projects five days a week is fine. There may be days during the week when you know you are not going to be able to do any work on the project. You might for instance be away at a business conference. The important thing is to identify these days in advance. And what’s the first thing you do when you get back into your office after your conference? Yes, you’ve got it!

On days which you haven’t identified in advance don’t accept any excuses from yourself. The most common justification that I hear is that an “emergency” came up. I’m not saying there aren’t occasional unforeseeable life-or-death situations in which you have to take immediate action to avoid a catastrophe. But be honest with yourself: how often does that really happen? Most of our so-called “emergencies” aren’t emergencies at all. They are simply situations which we have neglected so long that they have come back to bite us.

**********************************************************************

So there you are: that’s it. Follow the principle of taking some action on your project first thing every day, and you will be amazed to see how the project comes to life and progresses almost like magic. But remember what I said at the beginning: you can only do this with one project at a time!

So how do you decide which project you are going to use this method on? Ask yourself some questions, such as:

What’s the project that I have been putting off longest?

What am I most stuck at?

What would make the greatest difference to my life and work?

What would really take my life or business forward if I took action on it?

Concentrating on one project at a time is a very good time management principle. You may remember that old music-hall turn, the Chinese spinning plates. The performer has a huge number of bamboo rods and the aim is to get a plate spinning on the end of each rod. A good performer can get thirty or more plates spinning at the same time. The way it is done is to get one plate spinning properly, then to move on to the next plate, then to the next. Go back to an earlier plate only when it starts to wobble.

It’s exactly the same in your life or business. Get one project up and running properly before you take on the next. That is far the best way to move forward.

**********************************************************************

Reading this article won’t make the slightest bit of difference to your life unless you do something about it. What you need to do now is to decide on one project which you are going to do first thing tomorrow and every day thereafter until it is fully up and running. If you want to reinforce your decision, feel free to e-mail me (mf@markforster.net) to tell me what it is, and I will e-mail you in two weeks time to ask how you got on!

 

Mark Forster is the author of three books about time management and personal organisation. The most recent, Do It Tomorrow, was published by Hodder in 2006.

http://www.markforster.net

© Copyright Mark Forster 2012. All rights reserved.

How the online and social media explosion is reshaping business and marketing

 

by Paul Sheals.

I was recently watching a great video about Linear Thinking and how this has shaped business for years but has been blown apart by the Digital and Social Media explosion.  It started to make me think of a glacier for some reason and how the ice age shaped or landscape and left us with hills and valleys and swept everything in its path including the most stubborn and previously thought immovable objects.  I think a lot of traditional business and indeed business men have and are struggling to grasp the true impact the Social Media revolution is having and will continue to have on their business and the wider community and client base around them.

I worked with and watched some very big and experienced companies either ignore what is happening hoping it is just a fad and then once they realised this is here to stay fumble from one random idea to another without any clear strategy or joined up thinking. I some times wonder if it is the enormity of the change that has to take place, arrogance, the language used in this new world or just a complete lack of understanding.

I think small business owners are often quicker to react but are sometimes like Magpies (birds that collect anything shinny for their nest – for overseas readers!) constantly being attracted by something shinny and new.  Given the issues in the economy today many small business owner seem to be looking for the killer application, or quick fix and often abandon perfectly good strategies and marketing principles in search of the silver bullet.

If we look at historic business thinking and marketing strategy we would create or buy in a product, work out how to manage it, service the clients and deal with any dissatisfaction and then advertise the hell out of it with the guy that had the deepest pockets often coming out on top.

You would identify the best demographic profile usually with the old antiquated A1, B2, C1 type classification and then identify where the most eyeball’s from those demographics would be.  Order of preference would be Television, National Newspaper Advertising, Radio, Local Newspaper Advertising and so on.  If you were a really serious player you could spread your message across all these platforms and throw in some PR for good measure.

The big thing was you controlled the message and a select few controlled the delivery platforms – easy (if you had money of course).

The idea that You Tube for example has more videos (or watchable media) uploaded every 60 days than the three major US networks produced in 60 years!! is absolutely mind blowing to many business owners.  The fact that we, people like me produce content, video images etc that people watch, read and enjoy from a massive variety of sources and from all over the World frightens many business owners.

If you had big pockets you could hire a top respected celebrity to endorse your product via the Television and we would all sit there and take it in.  We now take our recommendations from Stan or Doreen or Juan real people who very often we do not know or have never met but have used your product or service and reviewed it Online.

This is also open to abuse with companies offering up false positive reviews for their own products and false negative reviews for their competitors and so we have to learn to monitor and react quickly to both praise and criticism.

The fact that a young 21 year old single mother struggling to find work could build a multi million pound empire from her bedroom via YouTube by showing people how to put various types of make up on their face demonstrates the power of what is available if you accept and harness it.

The fact that I can write, design and publish a book all from my office without the aid of a safety net or indeed a publishing house and sell them online is a complete new way of thinking and interacting with a potential audience.

That fact that you can communicate directly with thousands of your customers and or potential customers instantly at little or no cost – promoting offers, conveying good news, dealing with bad news means you need to reshape your thinking when it comes to marketing – deep pockets doesn’t necessarily win the day now.

The Social Media Glacier is moving it is picking up pace and it is reshaping all in it’s path and for any company who thinks they can ignore it or hold it back you should think again and think again fast.  It is a brave and wonderful new world filled with incredible opportunities if you are prepared to embrace it and jump in!

 

Paul Sheals
http://www.paulsheals.co.uk/

The complete online marketing course
http://www.thesalesfunnel.biz/ebooks/

© Copyright Paul Sheals 2012. All rights reserved.

Performing under pressure as a small business owner

 

by Paul Sheals.

I had been considering writing an article looking at the parallels I have found with regards to handling pressure both as a top level athlete and as a small business owner. As with sport and athletes small business owners go through different stages of development and are armed with different levels of skill to cope with each stage. I was particularly interested in the decision making process and how this is effected by pressure and stress.

Driving back from a particularly good meeting yesterday I had the radio going in the car but felt relaxed and had a steady flow of ideas, strategies and plans that were coming into my thoughts regarding the meeting I had just had. The chat show on the radio changed and became a discussion about pressure in the sporting arena and was looking at everything from Cricket to the recent Rugby World Cup but with a view to reaching conclusions around how the british Team can best prepare for the upcoming Olympic Games in 2012. I immediately tuned into the discussion which was fascinating and had guests like Andrew Strauss (Current England Cricket Captain), Michael Vaughan (previous England Cricket Captain) a couple of sports psychologists (one who had been involved with the rugby World Cup and one who had been involved with professional Football and was currently involved with Olympic Athletes).

I myself competed at Judo for the British Judo Team for over 16 years and managed to win Gold medal at the Commonwealt Games along with medals in the World and European Championships plus numerous other International & National Tournaments. I retired some 20 plus years ago and what struck me was the stark difference between the preparation of athletes then and now, and how ill prepared I was psychologically to deal with the pressure and stress involved with competing at the highest level.  But it also highlighted to me how ill prepared I was and indeed many small business owners are to deal with the pressure and stress involved with creating, building and keeping afloat a small business particularly in these turbulent economic times.

If I relate to my time as an athlete my preparation to compete on a physical level was tremendous – I think nowadays there is a lot more science involved in terms of peeking for the right tournaments at the right time and ensuring athletes do not over train but on the whole my training was real quality. I was incredibly fit, as strong as I needed to be and my skill levels with regards to the technicality of our sport was as good as anyone in the World. This skill level came from a core amount of natural ability but mainly from hours upon hours of drills and skill sessions along with thousands of hours fighting different opponents at different levels, weights, strengths, speed, nationality so that when it came to competing if my body tired as it always did with our sport instinct kicked in to get you through the fight.  They say to become very good at something you need to invest 5000 hours to become exceptional this needs to be something like 10,000 and I had paid my due’s plus some!!

In all this time however I never once trained for the pressure and stress involved with competition and the impact that would have on performance. If I could have simply translated what I did in training into the competition arena I would have been World and Olympic Champion many times over – however this is the same for every athlete at that level and I believe the athlete who is more successful at this is the one who wins all the major tournaments and the athlete that isn’t wins sporadically and never truly fulfills their potential.

Some examples of how pressure can effect performance in my sport would have been:

  • Adrenaline – when you are training you feel relaxed and can try different things and so adrenaline never really kicks in – during a tournament this can speed up what you do which in turn effects timing and in a technical sport this can be crucial – also you feel tired (even if you are not) more quickly which can cause you to reserve energy and therefore not exert pressure in the way you would during training
  • Decision Making – in a contest there are many times when you feel pressure, exhausted, you might be losing etc. and all these factors can make you try things you wouldn’t when you are thinking clearly without stress
  • Missing a warm up or an enforced change to a routine can add pressure and change your decision making

The programme explored all of these factors and I believe given my own experience and what the guest speakers were saying two big things that came out of it:

  • Routine – the more you can create routines for different situations the better so for example Golfers practice routines before every shot. It is particularly important to sports like Golf because they have a lot of time to think between shots and so one bad shot can easily spoil a whole tournament so this is why you here cliches like “play one shot at a time” or in Football “one game at a time” however these cliches are absolutely true. In Golf they practice the same routines before every shot in training so that in a competition when the pressure is on the routine itself (if practiced enough) becomes the trigger to calm down, to behave as you would in training etc. If you watch the great kickers in Rugby – during training they envisage the posts to be huge and the difference between the posts to be huge but they aim for a tiny spec or dot in the middle of the posts. However it is the routine leading up to it, how they hold their arms, how they breathe, the amount of steps backwards and to the side that they take that becomes the trigger and calming effect to simulate training.
  • Stepping Back – often in a pressure situation you feel consumed with the situation and the problem and you make poor decisions or worse decisions you wouldn’t ever normally make if you were in a relaxed mode. Athletes often talk about this pressure being like a big blanket coming over them and consuming them and restricting their movement and thinking. The key here is to have the ability to step out of the situation – when you feel you are being consumed in this way take a second to stop, step away from the issue or problem and look at it from the outside in and deal with it as you would in training

So how does this relate to business? It would be difficult in one article to discuss all the ways in which parallels can be drawn between running a small business and sport but having outlined the issues and some potential solutions I would hope many of you that are reading this could draw your own comparisons and play around with your own methods of dealing with it.

I would like to discuss one common situation I see though as an example. I deal with a lot of small business owners and in particular deal with their Online Marketing. We all know that building a small business is tough and it is even tougher in todays difficult economic climate. What I often see is that small business owners make a perfectly good decision regarding the future of their Online Marketing Activity and agree a plan, agree which partners they want to work with and specify outcomes and goals. I then see due to the pressure of the economy, need for cash, desire for quick wins that they begin to second guess themselves. Because of the nature of Online Marketing there is always something new being promoted – every day there is a new product, service, company, method of delivery and so when a small business owner feels the pressure they try something new, when that doesn’t deliver, they try something new and so and so on.  When all they really needed to do is back themselves and their original decision – if it wasn’t quite working quickly enough stick with it, make tweaks but “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”.

I often liken this to school football teams – if you have ever watched kids playing football the whole team follows the ball all around the pitch. As a coach you train them every week to stay in position, find space, look for their team mates, pass the ball and NEVER follow the ball as a team. The moment the pressure of a game comes on they all run after the ball and no amount of screaming from the sidelines from parents and coaches will change their thinking when they are under pressure in this way.

I feel all to often Small Business Owners chase after the ball when what they should be doing is finding space, taking their time and backing their original decision – it was usually the right one!!

 

Paul Sheals
http://www.paulsheals.co.uk/

The complete online marketing course
http://www.thesalesfunnel.biz/ebooks/

© Copyright Paul Sheals 2012. All rights reserved.

Urgency: the natural way to prioritise?


by Mark Forster.

Ever since Charles Hummel wrote his classic 1967 essay The Tyranny of the Urgent, urgency has had a bad press in the time management world. Received time management wisdom has long been that prioritising should be by importance, with urgency as a side-show at best. We’re all by now familiar with Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrants, which gives Important two of the “good” quadrants while Urgent is only allowed one “good” quadrant and then only because it shares it with Important.

The questions I have are “Does Prioritising by Urgency deserve its bad reputation?” and its corollary “Is Prioritising by Importance all that it’s cracked up to be?”

If you construct a To-Do list in which all the tasks relate to your commitments (and every to-do list should be constructed on that basis), then everything on that list ultimately has to be done. You have, in other words, to have the intention to meet the specifications that go with each of your commitments. If you don’t have that intention, it’s not a commitment. And if it’s not a commitment it shouldn’t be on your to-do list.

Having accepted that everything on your to-do list has to be done, then the easiest and most direct way of getting through the list would be a simple First In First Out method. You do the list in the order in which tasks get written on the list. Importance makes no difference to the order, because if everything has to be done everything is equally important.

Of course we all know that this FIFO method wouldn’t work, and the reason it wouldn’t work is because tasks have different degrees of urgency. Urgency is what makes it necessary for us to do one particular task before another regardless of where it’s written on the list.

Urgency is in fact the natural way to prioritise. We do things first because they need to be done first. The farmer sows the seed and later the crop appears. At one time sowing becomes urgent and at another reaping. There is no possible way of saying that sowing is more important than reaping or vice versa.

Why then does prioritising by urgency have such a bad press? I think there are two reasons:

The first is that people tend to think of the degree of urgency a task has in terms of when the task needs to be finished, when in fact the urgency relates to when the task needs to be started. This misconception is one reason why Prioritising by Urgency is so often equated with deadline-chasing.

The second is that in the complications of modern life people very rarely do actually prioritise by urgency. They only start to prioritise by urgency when their other methods, or lack of them, have failed. The result is the same as in the first reason: deadline-chasing.

 

Mark Forster

Mark Forster is the author of three books about time management and personal organisation. The most recent, Do It Tomorrow, was published by Hodder in 2006.
http://www.markforster.net

© Copyright Mark Forster 2012. All rights reserved.

“I don’t go to the same networking events because I always meet the same people”

by Francis Newman.

I often hear this statement from people I haven’t seen at networking events for a while. They want to meet new people, but won’t spend the time nurturing their existing relationships. So they perpetuate the problem of always having to find new people. Nothing wrong in meeting new people as long as you’re building relationships with the people you already know.

Networking events provide good opportunities to stay in touch with people you already know and learn more about them and their work.

Networking – the power of reputation by word of mouth

I realised the power of word of mouth when I acquired a new client via someone I didn’t know. They recommended me on the basis of what they heard from one of their clients. This roundabout referral led to quite a bit of business and taught me the power of indirect recommendations.

I learned that if I had enough people speaking favourably about my work, then I’d have a powerful referral tool that cost only my time.

 

Tips to improve your networking

 

Sincerity – the foundation of credibility

How many times have people said to you, ‘let me know if I can help you.’ When you contact them and ask for their help you don’t get a reply or they don’t return your call. How many times have you offered help and really meant it? I recently connected with a guy on LinkedIn who went out of his way to say he ‘really’ expected me to take him up on his offer of help.

Think again before you offer help. Ask yourself, do I really mean it?

If not, then don’t offer it. Throw-away niceties might sound good at networking events, but they’ll eventually damage your credibility.

Why not find out how you can help them by getting to know them. Invite them out for coffee.

Networking – opportunities to learn not sell

How many times did you go to a networking event to buy a service or product? If you didn’t go to buy then why would you expect others to buy from you? Stop trying to sell and start learning about other people’s businesses. Ask questions, find out what they need in terms of contacts, information, exhibitions and events. Follow up with coffee meetings every 4-6 weeks.

You don’t have to talk shop

People sometimes feel they’re wasting their time if they’re not talking business or promoting their services, but there’s much to be gained by listening to people’s concerns whether business or personal.

Describe results of your work rather than activities

If you’re a business coach, then describe how you’ve helped people improve their business rather than saying you run NLP workshops and offer one-to-one coaching sessions tailored to their needs.

Smile 🙂

Smiling shouldn’t be underestimated, but it must be a ‘real’ smile. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a smile is worth a thousand pictures.

Be a giver not a taker

Investing in people is probably the best investment you’re likely to make. Meet regularly with people in your network.

Keep a library of useful ebooks, articles and websites that might help them. You don’t have to make a big thing about it. I frequently send relevant information to people and always get positive feedback.

Sure, you will attract networking vampires who’ll try to suck your energy and generosity, but you’ll soon spot them coming and quickly avoid them.

There’s a wonderful book you can buy on Amazon for about £6 called the Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. I recommend you read it and put the ideas into practice.

Things to avoid doing:

  • Don’t automatically add people to your newsletter mailing list.
    This is very irritating and can work against you.
    Always ask first. Send them an email and invite them to subscribe to your newsletter. Many newsletters are just glorified sale letters.
  • Don’t mail people about your life-changing workshops unless they’ve expressed an interest or asked for details.
  • Don’t shove business cards into people’s hands asking them to call you if they need help. Chances are, they’ll bin your card and won’t call you. Offer your card if the chemistry is right and you both decide to stay in touch or meet again for coffee.

Finding the right people

To a large extent, you’ll discover you naturally attract people who are right for you. Forget about trying to profile prospective clients and identifying the right networking events as though they were a mailing list.

Instead, listen to feedback from experienced networkers and try out new events. Look for people you like who are well-connected.

People who enjoy business and meet plenty of people are more likely to think of you or refer you to people they meet.

Remember it won’t happen unless you make the effort to stay in touch.

Meeting for coffee is a great way to do this

Kick-start your networking now

So when you’re next invited to a networking event, think again about the power of meeting the same people. You’ll discover the more you do this the more people will associate you with your service – and as a valued friend.

Francis ran the Pitstop riverside networking club in Chiswick for over three years.

 

Francis Newman

To learn more about Francis Newman’s work, visit Message Matters
http://www.message-matters.com

© Copyright Francis Newman 2012. All rights reserved.

Seven ways to improve your marketing message and stand out from your rivals


by Francis Newman.

Whether it’s a video, website or brochure, you’ll want to get your knowledge and skills across in a way that sounds credible and convincing.

People won’t listen if they’ve heard it before. So be new and tap into your own experience. It’s where your true USP (unique selling proposition) lies.

Discovering your hidden gems and expressing them in a convincing and credible way is the key to successful messaging.

Here are 7 tips to help you:

Discovering and explaining your hidden gems

1.  Avoid using generic descriptions and jargon used by other people in your area. You want to stand out – not blend in. Some technical terms are unavoidable, so be sure to explain them. Don’t assume people will know.

2.  Your experience is unique to you and your team. The best way to be original is to tap into your hard-earned knowledge. Start keeping a record of your achievements and what you learned on each project. You’ll be amazed at what you know – and previously overlooked.

3.  Be original and avoid quoting experts and their opinions. You’re promoting your business and not someone else’s. Use your own experience and demonstrate your ideas using practical examples.

4.  When you put together your capability document based on your own experience, you won’t be recycling industry information and relying on clichés and jargon.

Building confidence and trust

5.  Be clear about your promises. Don’t exaggerate benefits and always deliver more than you promised. Keep doing this and you’ll be remembered for integrity.

6.  Be the voice of a friend. Offer advice and help whenever you can. FAQ pages (frequently asked questions) work best in the first person, especially with a photo of the manager.

7.  Be straight and sincere about handing complaints. Polite and helpful instructions can often turnaround departing customers. Be clear about your policy on delays, refunds and returns. Always give a name and use 0800 or 0845 numbers.

So, in summary, getting your sales message right is a combination of reflection, clarity and integrity. It’s all too easy to use ‘me too’ language. You are different, so sell that difference.

Until next time

Francis Newman

 

To learn more about Francis Newman’s work, visit Message Matters
http://www.message-matters.com

© Copyright Francis Newman 2012. All rights reserved.

Expand your ideas the easy way


by Mark Forster.

A very powerful way of developing ideas is by continuous revision. You can start with a single vague sentence and then by a process of revising it over and over again develop it until it is a fully fledged concept.

What I am going to do now is to give you an example of how a simple thought can be expanded over a period of days. I’ll show where I get to each day, but of course when doing it for real you don’t need to keep a record of each day. I’m showing the days separately only in order to illustrate how the process works.

So all I need is an idea to develop. Hmmmm … . what would be a good one?  Ummm….. er….. um…..

Day One

I can’t think of any ideas!

Day Two

I can’t think of any ideas, but there are many ways in which one can get ideas flowing, such as using a Wish List, random words, thinking about completely unrelated situations, continuous revision, sitting down with a pad of paper for an hour (or whatever). I forgot about sentence completion. The thing is there are lots of these methods around. I could research them on the internet.

Day Three

When I get stuck for ideas there are many ways in which I can get ideas flowing. I could use a wish list, random words, thinking about completely unrelated situations and then forcing connections, continuous revision, sitting down with a pad of paper for a specified period of time, and sentence completion.

A good way of keeping track of an idea is to schedule it as a task in Outlook, and use the text box as the place for continuous revision. I can also use the text box as a place to store any relevant links to documents, e-mails, web pages, etc. With Outlook I can then schedule the idea to be placed on my task list daily or whatever other interval I prefer. Other programs provide similar facilities.

Day Four

When I get stuck for ideas there are many ways in which I can get ideas flowing. These include:

a wish list
Writing down as many wishes as possible about an issue is a good way to expand my thinking, e.g. “I wish I had thousands of ideas”, “I wish I was more original”, “I wish I could keep the ideas I have”, “I wish I had a genie who would make my every wish come true”, etc. etc.

random words
De Bono recommends taking a random word out of a dictionary and then forcing connections with the problem or issue.

thinking about completely unrelated situations and then forcing connections
for instance I could imagine a story, write down some keywords about it, and then force connections with my issue

continuous revision
This is an example!

sitting down with a pad of paper for a specified period of time
One of my favourite methods. Sit quietly and write down any ideas that come without trying to force them. Earl Nightingale used to recommend doing this for an hour a day. I’m not sure I can afford the time to do that. But perhaps the truth is that I can’t afford not to find the time.

sentence completion
Nathaniel Branden uses this a lot. Start with a sentence stem, e.g. “If I take full responsibility for my choices and actions …”, then fill in as many endings to the sentence as I can.

A good way of keeping track of ideas is to schedule them as a task in Outlook. Each task has a text box which can be used as the place for continuous revision. The text box can also store relevant links to documents, e-mails, web pages, etc. Outlook also gives the facility to schedule the idea to be brought forward daily or at whatever other interval I prefer. Other programs provide similar facilities.

And so on …

As I revise the idea daily, so the concept becomes clearer in my mind and more practical and detailed.

Ok, I’ll admit I cheated with the above example. I didn’t write it over a period of four days. All I did was copy and paste each “day” as I finished it and immediately revised and expanded it. However this was much easier than trying to write the idea out in full from beginning to end. And I really didn’t have any ideas when I started!

It doesn’t matter what the interval is between revisions. The method will work with any interval (or none) as long as the revisions are regular enough to keep your mind engaged on the subject.

 

Mark Forster

Mark Forster is the author of three books about time management and personal organisation. The most recent, Do It Tomorrow, was published by Hodder in 2006.
http://www.markforster.net

© Copyright Mark Forster 2012. All rights reserved.

Wholehearted living


by Mark Forster.

I can’t remember who it was — but a year or two ago someone wrote on one of the email lists to which I belong that she had learned never to say “yes” unless she could say it wholeheartedly. Whoever it was, I owe her a debt of thanks because it is one of the best lessons that I have ever learned.

The context was how easy it is for our lives to fill up with responsibilities that we have taken on more or less reluctantly. When someone asks us to do something, it is often difficult to say “no.” So we end up saying “yes” against our better judgement. And one of the reasons why it is so easy to say “yes” against our better judgement is because we often don’t have a clear and easy way to tell what our better judgement is. The other person will often come up with highly persuasive reasons which make us feel that we will be uncaring or ungrateful or illogical or mean or reckless or whatever if we don’t agree with them. And since we don’t want to feel any of these things we say “yes” reluctantly — and regret it later!

By having a clear rule that we only say “yes” when we can say it wholeheartedly we can cut through all the guilt and manipulation and find the only thing that really matters — our own knowledge of what is right for us.

I have used this method a lot over the last year and more, and found it invaluable. So for instance the other day someone rang me up and asked me if I wanted to join a local group that met every month. I really didn’t want to but had the feeling that I ought to do it and that I’d be letting the other person down if I didn’t. As I wavered on the brink of accepting (and regretting it) I suddenly found myself saying “I have a rule that I never commit myself to anything unless I can commit myself wholeheartedly, and I don’t feel I can do so with this.” To my surprise the other person, though obviously disappointed, accepted my reason like a lamb!

I have also learned to extend the principle further than the original context. Now when faced with any decision, I always ask myself “Could I do this wholeheartedly?” And if the answer is “no”, I don’t do it. Faced with a decision between two or more alternatives I ask myself “Which of these could I do wholeheartedly?” and if the answer is “neither”, I then ask myself “OK then, what could I do wholeheartedly?” and start looking for further alternatives.

Another very valuable use that I’ve found for the principle is to use it to evaluate my daily actions. So I ask myself “What could I do wholeheartedly right now?” This is very effective because I’ve discovered that it is very difficult to do anything wholeheartedly when I know I should be doing something else. So the question acts as a very good way of filtering out busy work, displacement activities and general wheel-spinning. And it greatly increases the commitment that I bring to my real work actions and the enjoyment that I get from my leisure and personal activities.

 

Mark Forster

Mark Forster is the author of three books about time management and personal organisation. The most recent, Do It Tomorrow, was published by Hodder in 2006.
http://www.markforster.net

© Copyright Mark Forster 2012. All rights reserved.

Dealing with projects that don’t have a deadline


by Mark Forster.

If we look at projects from the point of view of deadlines, we can identify three types:

1.Projects that have deadlines. These are the normal projects that we deal with day-by-day. We need to get them finished by a certain time, either because we have been given a deadline, or because the task needs to be completed to fit into a wider picture, or because there are certain expectations associated with the task, e.g. people expect us to reply to emails within 24-hours or so.

2. Projects that go on for ever. These projects don’t need deadlines because we intend to continue carrying them out for a long period of time. I am thinking here of things like learning a language, learning a musical instrument, getting fit. Of course there may be intermediate exams at certain points but basically the effort is continuous.

3. Projects that don’t have any deadline. These are the projects about which we say things like: “I really must get the outside wall repainted sometime” or “I’ve been meaning to update the fire regulations but I haven’t had the time” or “I really need to run a publicity campaign, but I just haven’t been able to get round to it.” They are necessary, indeed possibly crucial, but because they don’t have a definite date by which they have to be done they tend to get pushed aside by more urgent things.

Most people have a problem with dealing with Type 3 Projects – the ones that don’t have a deadline. Sometimes they try to get them done by pretending that they are Type 1 Projects, in other words by giving them an artificial deadline. This can work – but often, because the mind knows that the deadline isn’t a “real” deadline, it gets ignored in favour of the projects which really do have to be done by a certain date.

Most of us have got a huge number of things which we want or need to get around to “sometime.” How can we deal with them?

Here’s my four stage process for getting these projects done:

Stage One: Draw Up a List

The first thing to do is to make a list of all the projects you ought to do, should do, would like to do, have been meaning to do or haven’t been able to get round to doing. Don’t hold back when you make this list. Don’t worry if some of the items are contradictory, or you’re not sure about them. Include everything. If you’ve done the exercise properly, the list should be quite an impressive size.

Stage Two: Edit the List

Ok, you’re really going to get these projects done now. So first you need to edit the list to make sure that you really do want to do them. Remove the ones you’re not sure about (you can always put them back later), the ones that would get in the way of other ones, and the ones which it’s not feasible to do now.

Stage Three: Order the List

Now take the items on the list and decide what order you are going to do them in. No, you’re not going to attempt to do them all at once. You’re going to do them one at a time (see below). So what order should you do them in? This is for you to decide, and there may be all sorts of things which you need to take into account. One important consideration is that projects which would make the other projects easier to complete should be done early on (for example sorting out your office procedures might make it quicker and easier to expand your customer base). Don’t get too hung-up on getting exactly the right order – you’re going to do the lot anyway!

Stage Four: Action the Items One by One

This is the secret to getting this type of project done – do them one at a time. This is far the quickest way of doing them, not just because it’s easier to focus on one at a time but for mathematical reasons as well.

To illustrate this, imagine that we have three projects to complete each of which will take a week and we have three weeks to complete them in. All other things being equal, is it quicker to do them all together, or to do them one at a time?

The answer is that it is quicker to do them one at a time. Why?

If you do them all at the same time, all three projects will be completed at the end of the third week.

If you do them one at a time, the first project will be completed at the end of the first week, the second at the end of the second week, and the third at the end of the third week. You will have gained two weeks on the first project, one week on the second project and the third project will finish at the same time as before. If these projects earn money as soon as they come on-line, you will have gained three project/weeks income by doing them one at a time.

If you want to refine this further, there are another two things you can do with the list before you start actioning it:

Stage 3B. Estimate how long each project will take

It’s a good idea to estimate in working days how long each item on your list will take. Don’t just leave it at that though – when you complete an item, write down how long it actually did take and compare it with your estimate. That way you will continue to get better at estimating – a very useful skill.

Stage 3C. Put an estimated completion date for each project

Since you’ve already worked out an estimate for how long each project will take, it’s easy to put a completion date for each item on the list. If you do that, you will arrive at a completion date for the whole list. That’s right – instead of having loads of projects hanging around with no idea how you are going to fit them in, you now have a date on which you expect to have them all done. That in itself will give you a real psychological lift. Try it

 

Mark Forster

Mark Forster is the author of three books about time management and personal organisation. The most recent, Do It Tomorrow, was published by Hodder in 2006.
http://www.markforster.net

© Copyright Mark Forster 2012. All rights reserved.