A different way to use PowerPoint

Used properly, PowerPoint can be a really effective way of enhancing presentations. Used badly, it can do harm to your reputation. I’d like to share some tips I received on a birthday card, for an alternative way to use PowerPoint.

Taking your ideas for a ride – or why I can’t write a book (Part 2)

On 20 September I blogged about my client and riding instructor, Debbie, who thought I was joking when I suggested that she write a book. (Click here to read Part 1.) I knew it would be a great way to promote her services and to share her knowledge with some of the thousands of horse owners in the country.

Well, after Debbie stopped laughing, she agreed to spend half a day with me and Sarah Williams, The Book Consultant. Sarah has published many books herself and now helps business owners to write and publish their own books. She’s working on a clever process that will allow even more people to get the ideas out of their head and onto paper. Unsurprisingly, she’s writing a book about it and when it’s out, I’ll let you know. Without giving away too much at this stage, Sarah is developing a specialised thinking and planning process. She avoids putting too much structure into ideas too early on, keeping the structure as loose and provisional as possible, for as long as possible. The way she did this with Debbie was to start by asking her what riding is all about. The negatives and positives all went onto a flip chart – all carefully colour coded. Then she asked Debbie about the process she goes through with new clients (riders) and again the answers went onto the flip chart. All this took a couple of hours and really gave us time to explore the ideas and issues in plenty of detail.

Then we took a break for lunch (and a glass of wine – very important for the creative process!) After lunch we went back to the flip charts and suddenly things started dropping into place. From all the ideas and the loose structure, we could see chapters and sections of the book start to emerge. At the start of the day, if we’d asked Debbie what she wanted to write about, I don’t think she’d have known. But when Sarah asked her now, she could see quite clearly the important aspects that she wanted to write about. Out of the colours and words on the flip charts – out of the provisional structure – came a plan and a process for the writing. How clever is that!

Many people who want to write a book just don’t know where to start. 95% of the people who think about writing a book don’t ever do it. If you really want to write a book – to promote what you do and build your reputation or just to share your ideas – then don’t be one of that number. Get in touch and Sarah and I will see what we can do to help you get the book written and then promoted to the world.

How do you create a consistent brand? Try Electric Hair!

What does having electric hair have to do with creating a consistent brand for your business?

Electric Hair was set up by Mark Woolley, whose aim is for the business to become known as the best hair dressing brand in the UK. With salons in London, Brighton and Reading, the Oxford salon was opened earlier this year. As with all the other salons, the building has been bought by the business, which means it can be done up in a similar way to the other salons. When you walk in, you recognise the slick, modern decor of the other salons.

The team at Oxford have been handpicked and is lead by Louise, who used to work at the Reading salon; she lives and breathes the essence of Electric. Under her guidance, her staff are welcoming – you get a drink on arrival and a consultation, to discuss what you need. Like Mark, Louise is keen to develop her staff and help them achieve their goals. Her goal was to run a salon and with Mark’s support, she’s now doing it. If any of her team wants the same, she’ll inspire them to get there.

Does it matter if your hair is washed the same way each time to go to the hairdresser? Maybe not to everyone, but it is nice to know what you’re going to get. With Electric you know that you’ll get a great haircut (that looks better for longer than your previous hairdresser managed!) You know that you won’t get silly ideas about hair styles that don’t suit you, or outrageous colours you don’t like. You know that you’ll be treated as an individual and given the time you need, with personal care and interest in you. You’ll get the same treatment if you walk into any of the salons.

Creating a consistent brand is not about putting your logo on everything. It’s much bigger than that. It’s about treating your customers the way they want to be treated and about always treating them the same way, so that they know what they will get from you, each time they have any contact with them.

What can you do to create a consistent brand and give your clients the best experience you can?

I can’t write a book – what would I write about?

Did you know that 95% of people who think about writing a book never get around to it? That’s a lot of unfulfilled dreams and ideas.

But did you know that writing a book is just about giving? This means that a book is about sharing your ideas and your advice; it’s about writing about what you know about.

I recently suggested to one of my clients that she should write a book. After she’d stopped laughing, she said, “What on earth would I write about and who would want to read it anyway?”

The client in question, Debbie, is a riding instructor who works with people and their own horses, helping them to develop better relationships. It’s not about teaching people to ride, but about helping her clients to train themselves and their horses to the next level of fitness and performance. It’s a bit like a sportsman having a coach who helps him with the next competition; or the business coach who helps her clients achieve greater success – whatever that might look like. A great deal of Debbie’s work is also based around the psychology of riding and how the way riders think affects the way they ride.

So to answer the first question – what do I write about? My suggestion to Debbie was that she writes about some of her clients and the training they’ve been through. She works with a huge range of people and horses, so I suggested a series of case studies to highlight different issues and the different – all successful – results they’ve achieved. Debbie actually enjoys writing, so that won’t be a problem; for people who don’t like writing, a series of case studies can easily be produced by interviewing people and transcribing the interviews.

And question two – who will want to read it? I asked Debbie how many happy clients she has, who would like to know more about training themselves and their horses. She has dozens and all of them would buy her book – especially if they’re signed! In addition, the number of horses in the UK is huge. (According to the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) survey of 2066 there were 1.35 million in the UK.) Take off of few for the people who own more than one horse; remove a few professional riders who have written their own books and you’re left with a vast number of ordinary people who love their horses, ride for fun and would love a book that can, practically, help them improve their riding and develop a better relationship with their horse – without spending a fortune on an expensive course or ‘horse whisperer’.

The good news is that having answered Debbie’s two concerns, she’s giving it a go and is going to write the book! We’re starting with a half day planning session at the end of September and once we’ve done that, I’ll write another blog to update you on progress. If you’re a horse rider who would like to read Debbie’s book, let me know! Once we have the outline, we’ll put details of the book onto her website at www.Gain-field.co.uk with details of how to order a pre-launch copy.

Is there a book in you? Do you know what you could write about and the ideas and advice that you could share? Even if you don’t have the answers to the questions, if you’d like to write a book, get in touch by leaving a comment and ask about our new Book Consultancy service.

15 Ways to Give your Business an Unfair Advantage – Part Three

Here are some great tips I read recently in Real Business Magazine. Click here to read parts one and two!

11. Write a not-to-do list

“How many people have a to-do list? Forget that, you should have a not-to-do list for your business,” advises Richard Harpin, the founder of Homeserve. Understand your own strengths and weaknesses and then concentrate on what you’re good at, rather than trying to do everything. But it does mean you can’t dream big. “My goal is for us to offer the best man-in-a-van service delivery – we’ll never do car repairs.” This single-minded focus has helped Homeserve sign up 68 million households in six countries.

12. Don’t ever be satisfied

“Live in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction,” says Damelin at Wonga.  This forces your business to constantly improve its service, he explains: “Within six months of launching our same-day lending service, we launched a same-hour service. Today we offer loans within 15 minutes of receiving a valid application. And now I’m working on getting it down to a second.” Have unreasonable expectations and your team will surpass itself.

13. Don’t be a copycat

“When looking to disrupt a market, look where customers are getting a raw deal,” says Wonga’s Damelin. “its harder work, but it’s better than having a copycat business.” Being an innovative business in a stale market is what made Wonga successful, he adds. “There were already companies out there disrupting other markets, but not in short-term borrowing – that’s our space.”

14. Respect your partners

“We ask all of our partners to sign up to a ‘Partnership Charter’, where they commit to open, honest, two-way communication. We don’t want any foot-stamping, it’s about treating each other with respect,” says Dame Mary Perkins, Founder of Specsavers. The Charter outlines rules to prevent any tension and disagreements. “And it’s important for me, too. I’ve been known to lose my rag!”

15. Test, test, test – then think big!

“You must test, test, and test again, “says Homeserve’s Richard Harpin. “Only once you’ve really made a product or service work should you begin to think big. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket until you’re 100% convinced.” And don’t fret about the competition, he adds: “If you’ve tested your products correctly, you’re sure to stay ahead. Just make sure you remain close to your customers.”

Networking – Do we still need face-to-face?

Nowadays, we have many different ways of getting in touch with each other and meeting new people. The social media takeover means we can keep up with what our peers are doing at the touch of a button but face-to-face networking is a valuable skill, and not many people still have it. Networking and marketing go hand in hand, and it’s all about tailoring it to your business. You need to choose events that work for you. Here are some quick tips about improving your face-to-face networking.

1.       To eat, or not to eat?

Many people don’t think about this, but eating poses more of a problem than you’d guess. Can you hold a flowing conversation whilst eating? Maybe you find it distracting. Different meetings have different catering – some are canapés and others are three course meals! Bear this in mind. Go for valued networking and connect with the most people, not for a meal.

2.       Formal or Informal?

There’s a wide range of formality in networking. Some are so informal there’s little structure at all, it’s up to you to talk to people and start conversation. Formal meetings often have seating plans and timetabled 30 second introductions from the attendees. If you’re a people person, and can start conversations easily, maybe there’s less need for formal networking. Go where you’re comfortable.

3.       Industry Specific?

It’s always worth being strategic with your networking. You’ll get more out of it if you go to a meeting relevant to you. If you work with businesses within a specific market sector, then go out – be proactive! Find out where they network and join them. Chartered institutes or associations are great places to start. If your clients are across a range of sectors, find out what they have in common. Is it business size, or target market? Find out where they network, and see them. There’s no downside to getting to know your client’s industry a bit better.

15 Ways to Give your Business an Unfair Advantage – Part one

 Here are some great tips I read recently in Real Business Magazine. Parts two and three to follow soon!

1. Keep your customers happy – at all cost

“Start with the customer. What makes your proposition better than anyone else’s?” asks Simon Calver, chief executive of LoveFilm. He says LoveFilm’s brand is built around three core principles – range, value and convenience – which is hard-wired into every LoveFilm employee’s brain. It seems to work: today the movie rental firm has 1.6 million subscribers across the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. “Make your customers love you by offering them the best customer service you possibly can. The customer is always king.”

2. Go into partnership

Sometimes being an entrepreneur isn’t about doing it all yourself – it’s about finding the right partners to grow your business. Take Specsavers, which has a 42 per cent market share in the UK. The company operates a franchise model, where the stores are split in a 50/50 joint venture basis between Specsavers and the individual optician: “All of our optometrists have a guaranteed salary and the loans they put into the business are usually paid back by the company within three years. “ explains founder Dame May Perkins. “The structure of these partnerships hasn’t changed in the past 27 years.” Share the profits, share the risk.

3. Measure everything

“There’s always talk about how entrepreneurs are big risk takers. But, in fact, when you’re running your own business, you make sure the way you roll the dice is in your favour,” explains LoveFilm’s Calver. “Every move is calculated. Entrepreneurs are actually far more analytical and focussed than many big corporates.” For example, with more than 500 marketing campaigns on at any moment, LoveFilm measures “absolutely everything” it can, to keep on top of its spend.

4. Encourage reviews and recommendations

“Reviews are becoming huge – 73 per cent of all shoppers check with other consumers or friends before purchasing from an unknown brand,” says Andy Phillipps, Reevoo’s chairman. “Business owners consistently underestimate just how willing consumers are to write reviews. If asked, 15% will review products and services without any incentive at all.” Just look at LoveFilm: its customers have generated 80 million film ratings and written 843,000 member reviews, helping LoveFilm to promote the most relevant titles.

5. Make your idea actually happen

“Too many people walk away from a good idea and blame it on something like the recession. But to be successful, you have to stay really determined,” says Richard Harpin, the boss of  insurance and maintenance giant  Homeserve. “When people come to you and ask whether you’ve thought of ‘this’ or ‘that’, don’t get distracted. Have a single-minded focus.” He adds that while you can work on developing other parts of the business simultaneously, you have to keep true to your original goals – and never give up. “Develop other products, channels and markets but keep it true to your vision. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t just walk away when things don’t go as planned.”