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Everything matters…?

Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. In the same way, content – or, as it used to be called, ‘news’ – fills to expand the time available for its consumption.

Like a magic porridge pot of curated anxiety, it will churn through your life and churn through your stomach until you can take no more.

One of the biggest lies that rolling news and social media have sold us is that Everything Matters.

It doesn’t.

There’s too much news. There’s too much information. Too many opinions you’re expected to have. This week, with Bernie Sanders announced he’s running for president, the new Independent political group arrived, Gove announced tariffs on food imports, Derek Hatton has re-joined, and now re-left, the Labour party. And so much more.

Part of the problem is we should pay attention to the world around us. It’s important to know what’s going on to a certain extent, but it’s impossible to keep-up. Most of us already filter our news, perhaps by picking specific publications which align politically, or niche information sources about hobbies or work, or on a geographical basis. But part of the problem is also knowing when to stop.

One option is to eliminate everything, take a week or two away from it all and then gradually reintroduce to your life what’s important to you. Unfollow (as opposed unfriend) everyone on Facebook; mute every Twitter account, stop visiting news sites. Then, slowly: what do you miss? Who do you want to hear from? Allow it back into your life, but make a specific choice to.

I think we all suffer from the equivalent of ‘feature creep‘: things become gradually more complicated over time to an overwhelming degree. It’s almost spring – have a bit of a clean.

Best wishes,

Tom

A dose of reality

Most people are worse at life than you expect.

I spent most of my childhood thinking that adults were fundamentally competent and together (and consider myself lucky to have been in a position to form that view). It was something of a shock to discover the extent to which people are winging it, and an even bigger one to find that I had to do the same: the magic moment where I suddenly understood everything somehow never arrived.

So too with business: it’s tempting to assume every other business is being run better than yours but, believe me, they’re not. Even outwardly successful firms are often an internal amalgamation of chaos.

But! There’s a lot we can all do to make things better, and that’s what we’re going to look at, on-and-off, over the next few days and possibly weeks. Too often we’re sold an unattainable image of perfection and it’s time to close the gap, firstly by accepting that others aren’t as competent as you perceive, and secondly to realise that you are better than you think.

Is this something you’re guilty of? Comment below.

Best wishes,

Tom

A day in the life

I bought my fiancé a fridge for Valentine’s – you should have seen her face light-up when she opened it.

Any form of national event, whether it’s Valentine’s, the appalling Black Friday – literally no more than a day of abject consumerism and baseline behaviour, and even issues such as mental health awareness days are quickly hijacked by businesses wanting to push a bit more product.

Even beyond that – ‘Blue Monday’, the third Monday in January and allegedly the most depressing day of the year, was entirely invented as a marketing stunt by a travel company back in 2005.

Whilst it may well work as a strategy, I’d advise caution – if nothing else your message is likely to get lost amongst the others. And you may end up irritating people like me, if that’s important to you.

The other alternative is to absolutely embrace the concept of national days but make it so absurd it’s obviously not serious and actually becomes part of the ‘personality’ of your company. It’s a brave step but could work well with the right copy and approach. Let me know if you fancy trying it and want a hand.

Monday is National Battery Day, a day to appreciate the convenience batteries provide to our everyday lives – and presumably how pretty they look in landfill.

What’s your favourite day? Comment below.

Best wishes,

Tom

How long is the British coastline?

How long is the British coastline?

The old ‘trick’ in this question is that it depends how you choose to measure it… units of single miles make it far shorter than units of single millimetres.

But how else might you measure it? And more importantly, why do you want to?

If you wanted to build a wall around Britain, you’d probably need to know down to the metre to order enough concrete.

If you were walking the coastline then miles might be useful: but some way of measuring in miles relative to gradient might be better. Having lived in Cornwall (steep), Cambridge (flat) and the Cotswolds (somewhere in-between) I can firmly assure you that the time it takes to walk ten miles can vary greatly.

And afterwards, you might choose to measure number of steps taken, number of friends made, calories burned, stiles climbed or pubs visited, depending on what you define as success.

So too with life. How successful you are depends on your unit of measurement. Is it money, health, days without crying, number of children, distance from the nearest McDonald’s (a high number for some, low for others)? Arguably not measuring your life for success could be seen as the ultimate achievement.

What’s your measurement? Comment below.

Best wishes,

Tom

The unwelcome

A lot of businesses focus relentlessly on their target market. Planning, almost to the exact eye colour, the profiles of who is going to buy from them.

But how often do you consider who you don’t want to work with?

We’ve all had problem customers. People we just can’t get along with, who will never be satisfied. People who don’t understand your business, or your reason for being.

Ditch them, if there’s even a hint you can afford to. And if you can’t afford to, work out what you need to do to be able to.

Even better is to build a marketing plan that puts such people off in the first place. People who read these emails, for example, are obviously intelligent, inquisitive and fascinating. That’s a good start. And as each morning involves me dumping a part of my personality into your inbox, the odds are that if you are happy reading them then we’ll probably get along OK in real life.

It’s why bland photography and boring words cause so many problems. Apart from not attracting new business in the first place, it gives people no idea of what it will be like to work with you.

Celebrate who you are!

Best wishes,

Tom

Learning to ignore people

A good sign I’m busy is the length of time it takes me to finish a book, and it’s been a long time since I changed the ‘currently reading’ link above. A couple of train journeys this week should help with that.

Linked to the aforementioned busyness, I’m going to leave you in the capable hands of a good friend, Dan Frost, this morning and something he wrote last year that, having just reread it, was probably lodged somewhere in my mind when I wrote about dangerous advice last week.

It’s well worth reading:

On Advice: The ugly parts and learning to ignore people >

We’re both well aware of the various ironies around writing advice about advice. But somebody’s got to do it.

Best wishes,

Tom

Faith and inspiration

You don’t have to look hard online to find photos, videos or chunks of text which will either “restore your faith in humanity” or be “inspirational” in some way.

I can’t help but wonder… if you need a Facebook post about someone handing a wallet into the police station to restore your faith in humanity, perhaps you need to re-evaluate your view of humanity. And re-evaluate your sources of news and entertainment.

There are many, many great people doing wonderful things everywhere, all the time, and it takes almost no effort to find out about them, and only a little more to get involved yourself.

And the next time you suggest something is “inspirational” … what actually has it inspired you to do? What change did you make? Or is it just another thing to say?

This is really about how you use words, which I’ve talked about before, and will no doubt do again.

When you say something is restoring your faith, what you’re really saying is that you think the world is terrible.

When you say something is inspirational, what you’re really doing is giving yourself a tiny little rush of positivity – just enough to then not need to worry doing anything about it.

What’s inspiring your faith in humanity at the moment? Comment below.

Have a great weekend.

Tom

Good business

I once told someone their website was inadequate (although I’m reasonably sure I was gentle) only to discover his daughter had proudly built it.

Of course, learning that fact didn’t suddenly make the website good. And I was right to point out the flaws, because that was my job. But I didn’t get any work from it, the website didn’t get fixed and nobody ended-up better-off. If I’d lied and said the website was perfect, then it wouldn’t get fixed and nobody would end-up better-off. A lose-lose situation because the wrong person was selected for the job in the first place.

On the other hand: the daughter perhaps started to learn a new skill, felt a sense of accomplishment (at least until I blundered in) and perhaps the shared activity brought parent and child closer together. So who’s the loser now, sitting smug but unpaid with an idealist notion of the perfect website?

One of the things I enjoy about marketing – about marketing done right, at least – is that it can benefit everyone involved. I get paid for my services, the client increases their sales and the end customer gets a better product that, hopefully, improves their life in some way, or at least solves some kind

That might be a little rose-tinted optimism in this idea, and arguably a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance. And it’s tough for all businesses to actively do good at least in an Instagrammable way. But I love finding a client who treats their staff well, their – and the – environment well, pays fairly, celebrates success and learns from failure. Their products or services help solve a problem, and people’s lives are a tiny bit better as a result.

There are many good businesses, and business people, out there. People who understand that everyone wins when everyone wins. I watch in despair at people who treat business, and life, like a battle, like a war which must be won.

It’s not always like that, and the “is this doing good?” idea is something that I’ve fought with over the years. But it’s also such an arbitrary concept. Some people would argue that a burger from McDonalds is good; some might suggest the opposite. It’s probably an unsovable problem: even an organic, fairtrade fruit importer could be faced with accusations of unnecessary food miles and carbon footprints.

We can’t be perfect, but we can probably all try to be better.

What makes a good business? What makes a business good? Comment below.

Best wishes

Tom

Dangerous advice

Something that’s been floating around my mind of late is how easy it is to dispense with advice without thinking about the full range of effects it might have. This is linked to the well-documented pressures of social media – ‘advice’ doesn’t always come in the form of preaching, but also publicly ‘prooving’ how successful you are.

I was initially thinking about it very simply, in the context of time: it’s very easy for me to preach about the style of writing you should adopt, or how your website should be perfect in every way, but there are time and budget implications for that.

Then this series of tweets from yesterday took it further:

“Saying “just quit, just go for adventure, just do it do it do it” is not only privileged, it’s willfully, intentionally ignorant.”

A lot of advice is given – and taken – not with the view of genuinely making a change, but creating a warm, fuzzy feeling of pre-achievement. It makes you feel good about what you might do, which for most people is enough.

The self-help world thrives on this feeling, and it’s like a drug. Once exposed to it, people will take as much as you can give them – actually, as much as you can sell them.

It’s wonderful to live the life you want to live, and if the existential dice have rolled you a double-six then absolutely embrace it. But that on its own doesn’t give you the right to preach to those who haven’t had the same luck. There’s very little empathy in self-help, rather there’s a lot of cod-psychology disguised as empathy.

James Dyson built 5,000 prototypes of his vacuum cleaner in a shed over five years … but with investments and loans that would never have been available to many other people. That’s not to take away from his obvious grit and determination, but when you put someone on a pedastal, remember they may well have had a significant step-up to get there in the first place.

For every Dyson who succeeds there are many who fail, who drag their family down with them, bankrupt themselves, leave unpaid suppliers to pick-up the bills, and cause untold problems to all around. And you tend not to hear about them, because nobody gives them an advance for their book (and that’s because you – and I – probably wouldn’t buy it).

Let’s not romanticise it.

What do you think? Comment below.

Best wishes

Tom

Before / after

What’s the before / after that your business provides?

For some this might seem obvious. A restaurant before: empty stomach; after: full stomach. But it’s not really that simple.

Why do people go out for meals?

  • To satisfy hunger
  • For a special occasion / celebration
  • Can’t be bothered to cook
  • Can’t be bothered to wash-up
  • Nowhere near a kitchen of their own
  • Can’t cook
  • Social – spend time with friends
  • To take photos for Instagram love

And so on. Each of these might have a different ‘after’ picture. But to complicate things further, that could be negative.

Before: I can’t be bothered to cook & wash-up tonight, can you?

After: Wow, we really shouldn’t have spent that money just to avoid washing-up

The variety, and absurdity, of human emotion and thought processes make any form of marketing inevitably complex and often experimental.

Good marketing is a series of befores and afters. You succeed when you identify the before, find people who are experiencing it, explain to them you understand how they feel and demonstrate firstly that you you will get them to the after, and secondly how they will feel when you’re done.

What are yours?

Best wishes

Tom