What do you do? And how do you tell people?

When you go to networking meetings and someone asks “What do you do?” can you answer succinctly, in a way that leaves people wanting to know more? Can you get your message across in one minute – or less – in a way that everyone can understand? Or do you leave people confused, bored or even put off by what you say?

Courtesy of the great Mike Harris, who set up companies like Egg and First Direct, I’d like to share with you a process I’ve learnt recently. We tried it out at an LGL lunch in Oxford at the end of September and it went down really well. Here’s the process:

  1. What’s the big idea? What do you actually do, or want to do? You need to be able to say it in one line, without using any jargon or ‘weird’ language. At this stage you don’t need to say how you do what you do. I used to say “I’m a marketing consultant” and have realised that the word ‘marketing’ puts many people off; and some people just don’t understand it. So now I say “I work with coaches, consultants and trainers who are too busy to find new clients.” Simple, clear and succinct.
  2. Why should I listen to you? This is where you tell your audience why they should carry on listening to you. Give them your credentials. If you’re the only person who does what you do, say so; if you invented what you do, or have won awards doing it, then say so. For me, I tell people that I’ve got 16 years of experience helping other companies to find new clients. I also say that 11 of those years have been spent running my own successful consultancy, finding new clients for coaches and consultants.
  3. What’s the problem? So you’ve got all this experience, but what problem do you actual solve for your clients? What have you noticed people struggling with? As an example, I’ve noticed how a lot of consultants either have too much work (and no time for life or doing any marketing) or they don’t have enough work (and therefore no money for life or doing any marketing.) They spend their time going up and down a rollercoaster, going from feast to famine and back again. And they want to get off the rollercoaster!
  4. Sell the solution. Once you’ve got the audience’s attention by showing you understand their problems, you can tell them about the solutions you provide. Tell them how you can help them. At Appletree, we help coaches, consultants and trainers to get off the feast and famine rollercoaster, by doing lots of marketing for them. We keep the marketing ticking over in the background, while they get on doing what they’re good at – and what they’re paid to do. With regular marketing, we help them get a regular flow of the right sort of clients, to keep them busy and earning the sort of fees they deserve.
  5. Put your heart into it. You can go through the first four stages of this process and still leave people uninterested in what you say, if you don’t put your heart into it. You need to show your audience why you care about what you do and how passionate you are about it. I hate seeing coaches and consultants struggle with their businesses, especially when I know there is something that can be done about it. It’s my mission to put an end to the struggle of running a coaching, consulting or training business. I want to inspire people to succeed by following their passions.

So think about how you can explain what you do, without confusing people with jargon from the outset and by being really clear on what you do and why. Put some heart into it and the next time someone asks you what you do, try out this clever process and see what happens. If you’ve been used to seeing people’s eyes glaze over, or have people drift away from you before you’ve finished answering, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Let me know how you get on?!

And if you want to try this out with a group of like-minded people, join me at the Ladies & Gentlemen That Lunch north Oxfordshire/south Warwickshire meeting in Farnborough on 5 October, when we’ll be running a mini workshop during lunch.


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.”

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.”

How do your customers find you?


I have a good friend whose new business is doing particularly well. She opened her new shop nearly two years ago, and already she is overwhelmed and thinking of expansion!

I asked her what she thought contributed to her success.

First, she has encouraged repeat business, a good following and excellent referral status by providing small discretionary discounts where she deemed it appropriate.

This did not undermine her prices, because the discounts were placed while the customer was already in situ. They had already come to her for an appointment, so adding on other services on top, mostly via the customer’s request, but sometimes from her suggestions, offering a discount didn’t compromise on her time or resources. Not only did this promote what other services she could provide, this also put her in a good light as far as the customer’s finances were concerned, making them far more likely to return.

Second, she participated greatly on social media. Being young and dynamic, using Facebook was natural to her, so she used her already amassed following as a referral base. I remember her opening night party was like sardines due to her publicity tactics on Facebook.

She has a well populated Facebook Page for her business, to which she regularly contributes with new ideas and products, special offers, answering questions, general observations, pictures of past successes, and testimonials from ecstatic customers only too happy to show off what she has done for them.  She gets her staff to check it daily, and regularly keeps up-to-date with her responses, so the content is always fresh and new.

Also she maintains her website’s number 1 slot on Google through the same tactics. It is regularly updated, sometimes every day, with material from her Facebook Page, but obviously adapted for a more professional slant. Here she promotes new services and products, discounts and competitions, and provides a personal insight about a particular product or service every month.

When she questions her new customers how they found about her, they nearly always say they came because of her website. I’m sure this isn’t due to expensive PPC strategies or worrying about in vogue keyword usage, it’s purely down to regular updating. She knows what her customers want, sources the solutions for them, and promotes her products and services in a friendly, accessible and professional manner.

This continuous new material aimed purposely for her customers’ benefit, without a hint of blathering on how wonderful she is (she doesn’t need to say that!), is what hits the spot and, along with her welcoming message, environment and premises, new custom is encouraged to visit and try her wares. Once sampled, they’re hooked, and are very likely to remain as regular customers, thus building up her client base even further.

Why boring adverts don’t work


Advertising is having a difficult time at the moment, as there is a ‘rumour’ going about that it doesn’t work. Well, that is true if your advert is rubbish, and believe me, there are plenty of rubbish adverts out there!

Chantal gave me one to comment on yesterday, which was particularly bad. For starters it was jam-packed full of words in a tiny font. Why do companies have the urge to stuff practically everything in to the ads that they think is important? After all, that’s what websites are for, and your advert should direct interested parties to a well-written landing page that is relevant to that particular advert.

Adverts should concentrate on a specific area of your business that you think your customers need or want the most. Do some research to find out what the biggest problem your clients have, and then tailor one of your solutions so it is ‘ad-worthy’, and base your ad-copy around that. The idea is to relate to your customers’ pain by empathising with them, provide a solution to attract their attention, and incentivise them take action to go to your landing webpage and make contact to find out more.

If you’re worried about not promoting the rest of the things your company does, that doesn’t matter. Once you’ve got the customer across your threshhold, both virtually or physically, then you can practice your sales patter to direct their attention to what else you have to offer.

As well as the tiny boring text within this advert, there were these unpromising aspects:

  • a particularly uninspiring headline – why not pose a question or statement that is attractive to a potential customers based around their problem?
  • unrelenting large blocks of writing – alleviate this by breaking the text up with bullet points for more emphasis; it can also aid those that quickly scan adverts as it highlights the most important elements.
  • don’t conform with a picture of a smiling lady, that is so passé it almost has the opposite effect it is intended for; that concept went out with the last century – good layout is better than inappropriate imagery.
  • stuffing a tiny unnoticeable version of your logo at the bottom – the position good, but make it larger and combine it with an equally large URL of your landing page with the incentivised call to action; giving your customers something to do as well as read all your advert will ensure a much larger response rate.

Need some inspiration? Create a new vision for your business!


Running a business takes up a lot of time and energy. There’s a lot to do and a lot to think about. Sometimes you might find that you start to lose energy or enthusiasm for what you do. So how do you find your focus? How do you inject some inspiration into what you do, to help you keep driving your business forward?

The answer could be to create a new vision and mission for your business. A vision is what your business is really about – a sentence that says exactly what you do and who you do it for. It’s a statement that everyone in your business buys into and believes in; it’s a statement that is developed by everyone in your business. Your mission is how you do what you do – another line or two that explains to everyone both inside and outside your business, exactly how you achieve your vision.

At Appletree we recently spent half a day with Joolz Lewis, the Corporate Hippy, creating a new vision and mission for the business. We first talked about what inspires us all about working at Appletree. We all shared our thoughts on why we love coming into work every day. Then we got creative! Joolz gave us a pile of magazines, lots of coloured paper and pens, some lovely things to cut out stick down and some scissors and glue for cutting out and sticking down! She asked us all to create a ‘picture’ of how we saw the business in 5 years time. The results were all very different and surprising – we have some very talented artists at Appletree! Some of the results are shown here.


Next, one at a time, we talked through our creations to the rest of the team. As we did, Joolz wrote down the key messages that appeared. There were a number of themes that came up across the whole team – which shows that we are all already pulling in the same direction. From those key words and ideas, she helped us to create our new vision and mission. And here they are.

Our Vision – Appletree supports and drives growth for service-based companies that are committed to building their businesses

Our Mission – We do this by being trusted advisers, delivering creative, integrated marketing solutions that achieve our clients’ objectives

Two simple lines that explain what we do, who we do it for and how we achieve it – simple! And to us, it’s really inspiring! It’s given us focus, because we now have three strategic priorities for this year, which came out of the process. They are:

  • To build a strong reputation for providing innovative and dynamic marketing solutions (so that we can add those two words to our mission by the end of this 2011)
  • To increase our average client size (so we can deliver each client a wider mix of marketing solutions, all integrated and working together)
  • To identify and develop strategic partnerships (so that we can deliver innovative, dynamic and integrated marketing solutions to those larger clients)

It’s going to be a busy year, but at least we know where we’re going and what we can to achieve during the year. Watch this space for news and developments!

When you have both a vision and a mission for your business, you will find your focus. You’ll be able to inject masses of inspiration into your business and fill it with energy and enthusiasm.

Do you have a vision and a mission for your business this year?

How customer loyalty is preferred over satisfaction


If you make your customers happy, then they are satisfied; but that is not the same as loyalty. Loyalty requires working on these satisfied customers, giving them excellent, high quality service, forming a relationship with them to find out exactly want they want, how it can be delivered to them in the best possible manner, and consistently providing your service that exceeds their needs.

It’s a bit like marketing and sales. Sales will make your customers (and business) immediately happy, and therefore satisfied; marketing works on a higher level, and helps maintain that satisfaction to transform it into loyalty, a long-term process that assesses how to provide added value, nurturing customer relationships to supply an excellent experience, pre-empting their needs and desires in advance or making the solutions to their problems available whenever required.

Of course it’s much easier to maintain loyal customers than to get new, satisfied ones. It’s that 80/20 rule, 80% of your business will come from 20% of your customer base, the loyal ones. Provide 80% of your business to everyone, but retain the most valuable 20% for your most loyal customers, to make them feel special and to engage with them on their particular level.

Work with that top notch customer criteria, satisfy them to the utmost level, and they will transform even higher to become raving fans. Then you know you’ve cracked it, as they will become your branding ambassadors, spreading the word about your business and what it provides to an even wider audience.

So what does your business provide for your loyal customers? What added extras do you deliver to maintain a relationship with your most valued customers to keep them in tip-top condition and consistently returning for more?  What’s the best possible customer experience you can offer that sets you apart from your competitors, goes way over the top in delivering that experience, and treats them like royalty in return for their loyalty?