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Change it.

One thing a lot of business owners talk to me about is the desire for a clean sheet.

“If only I could start again without these particular clients / staff / problems / debts / unpaid invoices / services I shouldn’t have started selling / software I shouldn’t have started using…”

It’s like wanting to live in a computer game. Your character dies, so you start again with all your lives in tact, but you retain the knowledge from your previous mistakes. Conscious reincarnation, if you like.

And while there are always ways to start again in real-life, it’s never quite as clean and easy as a floating ghost of a cartoon character drifting off the screen to some descending music (I admit my computer game experience is not particularly current).

The obvious question is: if you regret a decision, what can you do about it? And perhaps more importantly, what’s holding you back from making a change?

Why won’t you change?
If you’ve introduced a new service or product to your business, a new member of staff or way of working and it’s not going so well, is there a genuine reason why you can’t change it?

Or do you just not want to admit that you got something wrong?

People will go to extraordinary lengths to justify a previous decision (or opinion) in spite of overwhelming contradictory evidence. You can choose between being miserable for months or years or being a bit embarrassed for probably a couple of days (don’t forget that nobody remembers your mistakes as clearly as you do).

Understanding sunk costs
Your decisions shouldn’t be based on unrecoverable money or time: you can’t change the past, you can only change how you react to your current situation.

If you’ve invested money in, say, a project to set-up a new project management system and it’s very clearly not going to work, the answer is not to throw more money at it, but to work out whether you can live with what you have, abandon it completely or start again.

Take the benefits
Every time something goes wrong you’ll learn from it. Use your experience from the last staff hire to get the next one right.

Whilst failure isn’t something to be celebrated, it can be turned into a positive experience. In life you do get to start over, much more than you think you do. And you’re always a more experienced, more knowledgeable person for it.

Act
If something isn’t right, change it. Why wouldn’t you?

Best wishes,

Tom

Circles of influence

I love the replies I get to these emails. Additional snippets of information, tales of success or failure, occasional confessions and new ideas.

One came through last week in the midst of a particularly hectic few days about ‘circles of influence’. An expansion on the wish for ‘serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference’ – but focused more on people.

In this case it was based on numbers of people at each ‘level’, and is a way of reminding yourself how many people fall into each group, and what attention you should pay them. For example:

  • Immediate family
  • Parents, siblings, near family
  • Employees
  • Clients
  • Close friends
  • Local community
  • Rest of the world

The difficulty perhaps comes where priorities collide. You might, for example, value time with your closest friend more than your most-difficult client…

But it helps to focus on what’s important to you. Where you should pay attention and – crucially – where you shouldn’t.

Interestingly, when you start to really narrow it down the numbers of people who are truly, genuinely important to you aren’t that high. Next time you hear something on the news that angers you (i.e. next time you listen to the news), consider what you’ll achieve by reacting to it.

Then consider what you’ll achieve by sending a quick message of hello how are you to that good friend you’ve been a bit too busy to contact this last few weeks.

Best wishes,

Tom

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