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 or via

© 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 or via

© 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 or via

© 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 or via

© 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 or via

© 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.

© Copyright Mark Forster 2012. All rights reserved.

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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.

© 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 ( 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.

© 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

The complete online marketing course

© 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

The complete online marketing course

© 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.

© 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

© Copyright Francis Newman 2012. All rights reserved.