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Friday, 18 May 2012

Strive Believe Achieve


A couple of weekends ago saw thousands of fund raisers, celebrities, bosses, employees, students, teachers and politicians run, jog, limp and trot their way through the streets of London.  

The London Marathon is a remarkable event, not only because of the sheer numbers involved but also because it brings people of all ages, abilities and beliefs together. Britain has been bitten by the athletics bug, and the Marathon heralded the beginning of a sporting season that will put the UK firmly in the international spotlight. With Wimbledon and, of course, the Olympics on the horizon, sportsmen and women are setting their sights on being the best of the best: shaving off another second, eking out that extra inch, honing their accuracy and building their strength.

With the cameras trained on the Olympic squad (one of the youngest and most promising yet), it is easy to take for granted the levels of organisation that are required to make it all happen. One of the most heartening things about the Marathon was the throng of people that lined the course from start to finish. From the teams that set up the cordons in the small hours, to the stewards manning the water stations, to the everyday Londoners who just turned out to cheer, the support for the athletes was overwhelming.

There have been worries this month that Heathrow isn’t ready for the sudden influx of thousands people coming to watch the games. The fear is that for many visitors from foreign shores, their first experience of the UK is going to be characterised by disorganisation and queuing. Some would argue that that’s the British way – but isn’t it time that we stopped being quite so down on Blighty? Self-deprecating humour might be a particularly British form of wit, but why do we have such a problem being proud of our country?

Unfortunately the term ‘national pride’ has somehow become synonymous with right-wing fanaticism, isolationism and cultural ignorance. In truth, we should be proud of our country, our home-grown athletes, our can-do attitude and our willingness to turn out and show support even in the driving rain. Lowering the expectations of those coming to watch the games by spouting about ‘inevitable travel chaos’ and organisational ineptitude not only takes away from the efforts of those who are working tirelessly to make it all happen, it also teaches aspiring young people that aiming for the top is a waste of time. If we don’t embrace the idea that there’s no shame in striving to be the best, in reaching for the heights of success, how will we ever move forward? The head coach of UK Athletics, Charles van Commenee, has a saying: 

You don’t get people to jump higher by lowering the bar.

In a week in which we’ve been told that we’re back in recession, we’re all in need of a bit of inspiration. It may seem counterintuitive, but raising the bar, expecting more of yourself and your business and having faith in your ability to achieve what you set out to is the best way of beating the slump. 

If you aim for the stars, then you might just land on the moon – or, you could find yourself taking the chances that no one else had the guts to and happening upon opportunities you had never thought would come your way. 

Ignore the naysayers, aim as high as you dare, believe in yourself, and you will achieve it.

If you want to know more about what Tim does with small business owners, click Nigel Botterill's Entrepreneur's Circle for a link to the Entrepreneur's Circle.  Tim teaches, supports, coaches and mentors small business owners to help them achieve super success in North Hampshire and South Berkshire.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Instagram: snap, crackle, and pop-shots

Only a few weeks ago I was waxing lyrical about Pinterest, the new kid on the social media block. And it was – for five minutes. Its popularity hasn't waned, far from it, but there is a new kid in town, and he’s already playing with the big boys…

The company is 551 days old, comprises 13 employees, doesn’t make a profit, and has just been snapped up by Facebook for the sum of $1billion and it's called Instagram.  Even if you don’t have a head for figures, you can appreciate quite how impressive that is… The app is pretty simple as well – you take a photo with your camera phone, add a filter to it, and then post it online. It’s a sort of image based twitter which, I suppose, works on the basis that a picture is worth about a $1bn more than 140 characters.

Not surprisingly, the business and technology airwaves and blogospheres have been crackling with comment and opinion pertaining to the deal and posting their conclusions all over the web – but not everyone is being complimentary about the deal.

The simplicity of the app seems to be riling those in the app development field – the reaction is redolent of that which many people have towards modern art, “Yeah, but I could have done that”. Others have been claiming that the Instagram proprietors, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, have ‘sold-out’ too early on and that in the long run they’ll be left with nothing (a difficult argument to swallow when they’re divvying up a huge pile of Mark Zuckerberg’s cash).  So why is the web community being quite so scathing about the phenomenal achievement of this young, entrepreneurial company?

The obvious answer (and one which is at least partially correct) is simple: jealousy. Times (as we are constantly reminded) are tough and, much as we would like to see the success of others as inspirational and worthy of praise, sometimes it’s a bitter pill to swallow. The Instagram gang had the bravery to sell when the price was right and be openly proud of their achievement. Two years of hard graft, developing and adjusting the app have paid off, and they are reaping the rewards. It should be inspiring to see evidence that hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit, and some good old-fashion gumption can get you somewhere these days.

If these catty bloggers aren’t jealous of the success, then perhaps they simply resent that the new kid is getting all the attention. We live in an age of start-ups and small acorns – the opportunities which modern technology, innovation and development present a young business with are numerous and varied and the path to success isn’t as long as it was previously.  That said, it’s no less difficult to traverse. The public nature of the success or failure of start-ups means that certain ‘old hands’ think that they’re fair game and have a tendency to take pop-shots at them.

Whether it’s for the purposes of self-aggrandizement, or playground-bully satisfaction, the level of back-biting and sniping at which some business analysts operate is sickening. There is enough negativity eddying around at the moment, and frankly there should be far less.

Instead of listening to the nay-sayers, the declarations of “it’ll never work” and the constant hum of “oooh, you don’t want to do that…”, how about supporting each other?   Business is a highly competitive world, particularly the realm of small business, but there’s no need for it to be juvenile or mean. You never know, the one you decide to ‘poo-poo’ might be of great use to you in the future – the people you trample on what you believe is your way to the top may well ignore you at a later date should you cross their path.

Aim for the sky – absolutely - but remember that a can-do, supportive attitude will get you a long way as well.   It might gall you, but take the time to acknowledge your competitors’ success and, instead of being bitter, use that success to inspire and light a fire under your own projects.

Soon enough, you could be the ones worthy of applause…

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Prattling Politicians and Pasty Palava? Please…


There was a time when sensational headlines were the arena of the rich and bizarre – playboys spending millions on yachts and then sinking them, nutty pop-stars turning up to awards ceremonies wearing half the meat counter from the local shop – but these days they have serious competition. 

The political fallout post-budget was phenomenal - but it all started before then. The fact that George Osborne swanned off to America with Cameron just days before the budget was announced was cause for concern for journalists everywhere. Shouldn’t he have been finalising policy decisions and ensuring that he presented a water-tight budget, rather than piggy-backing on Cameron’s love-in with Obama?

Once the budget came out, it was clear that it was just a little leaky – the press fell upon it like an expert plumber on a dodgy U-bend.  In particular, the pasty tax caused outrage – although the idea that pasties are the sole foodstuff of ‘the working class’ was an inflammatory and condescending insinuation on the part of the press.   Osborne’s decision to up the VAT on one of Britain’s favourite foods was bizarre and to add fuel to the fire (to use what is either an apt, or inappropriate turn of phrase) the planned petrol strikes threatened to bring the UK to a standstill. In some forecourts, it very much did. Whether you were worrying about your lunchtime treat, or fretting about filling up the car in Hampshire or some other non London county, the men and women running the country did little of substance to try and reassure voters. 

In fact, it seemed that politicians were more interested in playing a game of juvenile one-up-manship and headline grabbing than actually governing or trying to get their message across clearly to the people who matter – you and me. And surely the message they should be trying to get across is that as a nation we are STILL having to borrow £180 billion a year to pay for excessive government spending - if the UK was a private company, the liquidators would have been called in long ago! We have to close the gap between spending and tax receipts - because it's you and me that's paying for the spending frenzy that the previous government went on.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to experience a management style which is all bluster and buzz words, all mouth and no trouser, then you’ll know what this feels like first-hand. It’s easy to dress up ignorance with fancy words and spin – but it’s a veneer that doesn’t stick, and won’t fool anyone for long. Clarity is underrated.

The same applies to when you start looking for a job - whether it's your first job or a new job.  Employers expect clean, clear, CVs from candidates – hyperbole and sensationalism don’t cut it, and often enough they’ll be covering up short-comings in other areas.  Instead of papering over the cracks, draw attention to your strengths. Likewise, trying to amaze or blind colleagues with superannuated jargon when you’re presenting them with what may be a difficult decision is lunacy. If it’s the right decision, then be bold, clear and confident when presenting it – even if it’s difficult to stomach, your colleagues will have far more respect for you than if you’d tried to disguise it as something else. 

Don’t fall into the same trap as politicians – engaging in a shouting match and playing to the gallery (which seems to be the order of the day for every PMQs at the moment) is the stuff of school boys and it doesn’t impress anyone in the long-run.

Politicians love the sound of their own voices - the fact that we can't hear what they think they are saying says a lot for the lack of respect they have for the people that elected them.  Don't fall into the same trap - apply the KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid!  Remember though that in this case the stupid is not the person you are talking to, it's to remind you not to be stupid and make things complicated - anyone listening out there in Westminster?

Monday, 19 March 2012

Big Fish, Little Fish, Cardboard Boss?


The recent focus in the news on ‘tax avoidance’ and ‘excessive bonuses’ for company directors, in addition to the sense that what profit is being made is being wasted by a select few, are contributing to a palpable nervousness and unease. 

Words like ‘business’, ‘profit’, ‘growth’ and ‘expansion’ have recently been wantonly thrown around by the media like a dog with a toy rabbit - like said rabbit, these terms are looking a little grubby and have lost their true form...

There has been a great deal of focus on big businesses recently, in particular on their figureheads, the big bosses who are being demonised (some of them rightly so) and consequently drawing a lot of negative attention to the company as a whole. But, that’s a good thing, right? Calling out the baddies and making them account for their actions? 

Of course, highlighting misconduct and drawing attention to the difference between good and bad management of funds, personnel and business-to-business relationships is vital to setting a standard for good practice. The downside of these exposés, many of them sensationalised and exaggerated in the name of selling newspapers, is that they have the result of confusing ambition and entrepreneurship with dirty dealing and greed.

It’s a potentially difficult situation for smaller businesses and start ups. Faith in the very word ‘business’ is waning. It might sound simplistic, but investors need to have faith, be brave and feed the smaller fish. The bigger, more brutish looking fish might be at the top of the food chain, but without all those smaller, finned friends the whole system would fall apart. 

And how can smaller businesses help themselves? Ditch the cardboard boss also known as magnolia man or woman!  Personality, points of difference and stand-out characteristics of company directors, business plans and proposals are vital to inspiring investors, workers and industry competitors alike.

Dare to be different – you can be creative and ambitious while still maintaining an excellent public image. Be proud of being a small fish – you can get into tighter niches than the big ‘uns. And to all those would be investors, size isn’t everything – with the right attitude (just keep swimming...) those smaller fish can really fly.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Networking - a dog's life?

Even on a beautiful, sunny day walking Jemma, the faithful hound, on the village green, my fellow walkers refused to make eye-contact with me. When one chap’s glance flitted into the path of mine I smiled the ‘nice day, isn’t it’ smile, hoping for nothing but a flicker at the edge of his mouth in response. He not only looked away but stuffed his hands in his pockets and quickened his pace so that we might be out of range faster. It’s a curious thing, having a friendly greeting rejected outright by a complete stranger. As my four legged friend was ensconced in a bush, and I was a little puzzled, this old dog decided to take a load off his feet and sit down on the strategically placed bench donated by the last person who died in the village!

Ten minutes later I had been sniffed, snuffled and investigated by almost a dozen dogs of all shapes and sizes. It was like a reverse Crufts – I felt I should have been poised on a felt covered podium, such was the rigor of these inspections. Most of the curious hounds trotted off as quickly as they arrived, clearly called to an important meeting between nose and unidentified smell; evidently, I wasn’t that important to them. Some lingered for a while, checking me, my surroundings and my bag for undiscovered nasal delights; alas, I had nothing they seemed to want. Apparently, I was wholly unappealing to humans and dogs alike.

Then, just when I was about to lope off home, a perky little Dachshund, previously unsighted to me behind a hulking mastiff and an attention-seeking Spaniel, decided to stop and stay. What did he want that the others didn’t? What did he like that had caused the others, quite literally, to turn tail and flee? After the brusque treatment of the other brutally judgemental pooches, I was a little nervous at the attention. Maybe he was a biter? Maybe this was his bench and I was about to marked as part of his territory in the only way a dog knows how? Or maybe, just maybe, it was a case of the right place and the right time equalling a good match?

Striking out on your own, whether you’re going for a walk, looking for a job or setting up a business, can be an extremely stressful experience. The speed with which prospective employers, clients and networking opportunities seem to pass you off can set you in a complete spin and leave you feeling like it will never happen. But I learnt a few things from my jaunt in the park...

Old dogs can teach you new tricks: While I was being inspected, Jemma – fearless, even in her wobbly, later years – was actively inspecting other dogs. She had no compunction getting out there, seeing and being seen. Brush offs didn’t faze her – she just kept at it, unperturbed. An attitude to be admired, I think.

Anytime, Anyplace: Having a fixed idea of where, how and when you’ll make  connections in life and business is an easy way to be disappointed – keep your eyes and ears  (and even your nostrils) open all the times.

Don’t discount the Dachshund: The best connection might not with the big-hitting, hulking great mastiff of a company – the small, tenacious, can-do organisations of this world have a lot to offer too.

Sniff around, and prepare to be sniffed: The most important thing is to put yourself out there, however scary it might seem. Networking isn’t easy and it can feel like a war of attrition – but, if you keep at it, it pays off. 

Networking is a lot like a dog’s life but, take it from me, that’s no bad thing.

Be confident: Second guessing yourself, or shying away from something because you think it’s too good to be true, or over your head will find you sitting on that bench alone. 

Know what you have to offer, believe in it, and yourself and you'll find that persistent "sniffing" and checking up on people and indeed just talking to people will work.  People buy from people they like - so just be friendly!  Be prepared for some people to not like your smell but hey who cares - your smell will work for others and there's plenty out there.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Can you afford to ignore the new Pin-Up in town...?

With Apple launching the new iPad next week, Samsung and ASUS following closely with new Tablets and Sony, HTC and LG all announcing their 2012 flagship Smartphone’s, you might feel like a darkened room is preferable to investigating a relatively new social media app. But before you run back to cave and put your ‘Do Not Disturb, Luddite at work’ sign on the door, read on. Because Pinterest is, well, veeery P-interesting...

Remember when a Sunday afternoon could be frittered away with scissors, magazines, and a glob of BluTac? Making mood boards for that crucial redecoration of the living room? Snipping out inspirational photos and sayings to divert you away from the biscuit cupboard? Plastering your student digs with witty quotations and denim clad movie stars? It can’t have just been me. Well, cast aside your faded, dog-eared cut-outs – there’s a shiny new Pin-Up in town, and it’s a tool you can’t afford to ignore.

Pinterest enables you to pin images (either uploaded, or found on the internet) to your own personal ‘board’ which is as visible, or invisible as you like to your online audience. It’s a fantastic tool for an individual or a small company – instead of a lengthy, wordy ‘About Me’ page describing who you are, and what you do, it delivers an immediate visual impact. It’s an illustrative smorgasbord of who you are and what you’re all about. For creatives it’s a gift, an interactive portfolio of sorts. But it is also an opportunity for entrepreneurs and employers in all sectors.

Think about what an image of, say, the moon landing, an iconic moment of success and triumph, will say about your ability to push the limits, succeed and be the very best. What is more, having a company Pinterest board could draw your employees’ idle hands away from Facebook and give them an productive outlet for their inevitable internet trawling – a weekly motivation board (as amusing, in-joke ridden and creative as possible), created by the people for the people is much more use than endless pictures of cats chasing laser pointers... 

Technology and business are inextricably linked these days, and Pinterest looks like becoming the next ‘cut-out-and-keep’... 

Can you afford to ignore the new Pin-Up in town...?

With Apple launching the new iPad next week, Samsung and ASUS following closely with new Tablets and Sony, HTC and LG all announcing their 2012 flagship Smartphone’s, you might feel like a darkened room is preferable to investigating a relatively new social media app. But before you run back to cave and put your ‘Do Not Disturb, Luddite at work’ sign on the door, read on. Because Pinterest is, well, veeery P-interesting...

Remember when a Sunday afternoon could be frittered away with scissors, magazines, and a glob of BluTac? Making mood boards for that crucial redecoration of the living room? Snipping out inspirational photos and sayings to divert you away from the biscuit cupboard? Plastering your student digs with witty quotations and denim clad movie stars? It can’t have just been me. Well, cast aside your faded, dog-eared cut-outs – there’s a shiny new Pin-Up in town, and it’s a tool you can’t afford to ignore.

Pinterest enables you to pin images (either uploaded, or found on the internet) to your own personal ‘board’ which is as visible, or invisible as you like to your online audience. It’s a fantastic tool for an individual or a small company – instead of a lengthy, wordy ‘About Me’ page describing who you are, and what you do, it delivers an immediate visual impact. It’s an illustrative smorgasbord of who you are and what you’re all about. For creatives it’s a gift, an interactive portfolio of sorts. But it is also an opportunity for entrepreneurs and employers in all sectors.

Think about what an image of, say, the moon landing, an iconic moment of success and triumph, will say about your ability to push the limits, succeed and be the very best. What is more, having a company Pinterest board could draw your employees’ idle hands away from Facebook and give them an productive outlet for their inevitable internet trawling – a weekly motivation board (as amusing, in-joke ridden and creative as possible), created by the people for the people is much more use than endless pictures of cats chasing laser pointers... 

Technology and business are inextricably linked these days, and Pinterest looks like becoming the next ‘cut-out-and-keep’...