The bells, the bells!

You know starting a new hobby can give you a much needed boost after the winter months. For quite a long time I have been loosely thinking about taking up church bell ringing – or campanology if you want the proper term.

Wells is a wonderful place for hearing the bells pealing out and, of course, bells ringing out is often a sign that a special event, such as a wedding or Christmas, is happening. So I have always loved hearing them ring.

As often happens it took someone else to prod me into actually doing something about it, and in this case it was my son Simon.

I have only been to 5 sessions so far but I am loving it. The others in the band are lovely people and we always end up in the pub after practise! I have to say it is much harder than I had ever thought. There is so much to think about from sorting out the right strength to pull the ropes, to managing the ropes themselves, to trying to keep up with everyone else.But it is great to be learning something new that is complex and needs all my concentration to do even vaguely competently. Bell ringing is also a great mix of exercise (even before we start it is 72 steps up to the ringing chamber) and music.

It occurs to me that, as with many things, there is a great similarity between bell ringing and running a business. Both require a lot of skill to do successfully. Even the basics can be tricky to master and it takes quite a while before things are proceding like clockwork. Even if you have a good degree of skill things can still go off track occasionally.

Also both rely on teamwork. Although each bell ringer is in charge of just one bell, they must be very aware of what everyone else is doing to ensure that the peal is rung correctly. Of course it is the same in business. Even if you work on your own you will still have a team of others around you who are key to your business success.

So if you are feellng that you are stuck in a bit of a rut how about starting something new – maybe even bell ringing like me?

Incidentally the picture above is actually 2. On the left are the proper bell ringers and on the right is the complete beginner hoping that it doesn’t all go Pete Tong!

Fiona 🙂

Wonderful Websites

It’s amazing how developing new marketing aids, such as websites, can clarify your view of your business.The process of instructing someone else to produce something which encapsulates your business means that you have to have a very clear view of your business values and goals.

I am very lucky because the person who has the job of representing my business to the wider world is one of the people who knows me best – my hubby Jeff. He has been responsible for the look and feel of my business pretty much since I started out over 10 years ago and its been a gradual development over the years.

When I look at my website and other marketing bits from 10 years ago they seem very dated now, so I am glad that I have made the effort to keep things fresh.

I come across many businesses that have never changed their image since they started out – sometimes many years ago – and their current marketing collateral seems tired because of it.

I don’t think it’s necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water though. There may be a particular theme or image which your are particularly attached to and you don’t need to throw that away. But I do think that the way our businesses are portrayed on our website, and our other marketing, should be regularly revamped (at least every few years) so it keeps pace with the changes in our businesses.

I don’t know about your business but mine has changed quite considerably over the years and is continuing to change as my own goals and ambitions are molded by circumstance and family need.I am much more confident about what I want to achieve and know so much more about the environment my business operates in than I did when I started out.

I think having websites (I have a couple for the different sides of the business) which clearly demonstrate this confidence are a great asset.

So if it has been a while since you looked at your marketing aids perhaps it’s time to give them a refresh – the process can also refresh your view of your business!

Fiona 🙂

A time to review

As 2017 draws to a close its a good time to reflect on the year and what we have learned.

2017 has very much been a mixed year for me and I have been taking the opportunity, with the end of the year looming, to reflect on my 50th year. Unlike 2016, which was a bonkers year on the national and international front, 2017 was more challenging personally.

The beginning of the year started with the death of my father and all the stresses and strains the loss of a parent brings. I had already reduced my workload when he was in hospital, so I could support both him and my mother, so at least I had some time to mourn.

This time was also useful in giving me space to review my business and seize the opportunity to move into a new direction, which I would probably have missed otherwise.

In previous newsletters I have written about the new series of books and workshops I have developed for CIMA accountants who want to be successful in self employment.

Having written 2 books and run 6 workshops, and taken on several mentoring clients, I am now at the point where I am considering how this side of my business might develop in 2018.

I have really enjoyed taking the workshops ‘on the road’ and so far have been to Stirling, Scotland and London, as well as running the first two pilot days in Bristol.

I am thrilled with the lovely feedback I have had from the guys who have taken part in the day workshops so I am happy that the material ‘hits the spot’.

However, I have been well outside my comfort zone publicising the events and getting people I have never met signed up. I haven’t had to do this type of marketing and sales activity before so it has all been new to me.

That said, I think we all need a shake up periodically. Not only does it give us the opportunity to test ourselves, but also gives us more energy to do those tasks which have become run of the mill.

It is easy to continue doing the same type of things we always have done in business. If people like what we do we often don’t see any point in changing. However, a shake up brings challenges and challenges usually lead to a more exciting and fulfilling business life.

Do you show business confidence?

A business’s confidence is key to its success.

A confident business does not have to apologise for its existence – it can just get on with providing a great product or service.

In an owner/managed business the level of business confidence conveyed is directly related to the confidence you as the owner have in yourself and your business proposition. Even a business which offers great service and is well respected by its customers can be undermined, if you continually doubt yourself.

So how do you keep your confidence levels boosted?

Firstly, make sure you have a great product/service, which you can easily describe to third parties. If you sell a service, productising elements of your service can make it easier for potential customers to understand what you do.

Talk to your customers so you are clear why they buy from you. Although this might be hard at first, it will enable you to talk confidently to prospective clients about the effectiveness of what you do.

Whilst you are talking to your customers, ask them for testimonials. Not only can you use them in your marketing, they will also boost your confidence.

If you know where you want your business to go, you can confidently decide what you need to do to get you there. So, have a robust, regularly updated business plan. Alongside this, try to build a great business skills base. There are many facets to even small businesses, so the more you know about each of them the more effective, and confident, you will be.

Be part of a strong business network. Business networks are a fundamental part of raising the profile of your business and finding support locally. Regular contact with other business owners, many of whom face similar problems to yours, will help make running your business less lonely too.

Finally, think about how you are presenting yourself. If you are well prepared, wear the right clothes for the right occasion, and think about your body language, you will be best able to express yourself confidently.

If you want a little more help with your business confidence download my free guide to confidence on my website

Which cat are you?

Some of you will have seen my post on LinkedIn talking about a great meeting I had with Trevor Lever of TLC.

Trevor has been a great supporter of my business over the years and is a terrific sales effectiveness coach. Although Trevor is now looking to take a bit of a back seat these days he has been kind enough to share his brilliance with me.

I am very pleased to say that he has given me care of his cats as he doesn’t have as much use for them as he did! I am sure he won’t mind me sharing them with you.

There are four sales cat types: trader cat, poacher cat, farmer cat and hunter cat. As business owners we will often have an affinity for one particular cat but need to be able to ‘play’ at being any cat.

Trader cats are the classic networkers who work hard to develop advocates they can trade referrals with. Reciprocation is the name of their game.

Farmer cats spend most of their time working with existing clients to increase the value of goods and services they can ‘sell’ to them – they concentrate on cultivation.

Poacher cats stalk businesses with the types of clients they want and their clients away. They will use differentiation to make themselves appealing to customers.

Hunter cats are excited by finding new opportunities and new customers who have never used their type of service before. Hunters use education to help new clients understand what they have to offer.

I have to say that of all these types of cat I myself have been least comfortable with being a hunter – and I expect most accountants would feel the same way.

However, I have had to become much more brave in approaching brand new customers since I have started my new venture providing workshops and mentoring for members in practice.

I have had to become more of a “hunter”. It really has not been enough to stay in my corner of the forest waiting for people to come to me!

Although it has been a challenge I am becoming braver by the day!

Fiona 🙂

Let’s get inspired!

It’s interesting how large sporting occasions can inspire us. How many of us runners find ourselves with more of a spring in our step having watched the World Athletics Championships or the Olympics? Just seeing world class athletes such as Mo Farah achieve fantastic results can leave an imprint on us.

And I think we can all do with inspiration. When times are tough it is very easy to start focussing on the negative and to get bogged down with what things are not going to plan.

A far more positive approach is to move past those obstacles and focus on what you can do to move forward. Concentrate on those things you can change rather than on those things you can’t.

At the end of the day we live in a pretty prosperous country and have terrific opportunities residents of the developing world could only dream of.

Someone I find really inspiring is the para-athlete Mark Ormrod. He spoke at the CIMA Members in Practice conference a couple of years ago and got a rare, but well deserved, standing ovation.

Despite losing 3 limbs in Afghanistan Mark has fought all adversity to build an exceptional life for himself and his family. In fact he has just competed in the Invictus games where he won four medals and got an exceptional performance award from Prince Harry.

People do extraordinary things. These people are usually extraordinary individuals but if we can take inspiration from their example we can become, if not extraordinary ourselves, certainly more positive and motivated.

Fiona 🙂

It’s good to talk

The end of June saw the annual CIMA Member in Practice Conference. You may not have any idea what that is but suffice to say it involves lots of accountants getting together for a two day shindig.

Your next thought may well be “Nightmare!”

But I am here to tell you we have the BEST fun and our speakers give us terrific feedback about how they find us as an audience!

For me it is a great opportunity to spend two days just thinking about my own business and not those of my clients. I come away with a shed load of new ideas and more new friends and contacts than I can shake a stick at.

In the past I have presented in break out rooms to a smaller subset of the total audience. This has meant a workshop style of presentation is possible – and fairly low stress if you prepare well.

This conference though I was down to do a main stage slot, for an hour, to pretty much everyone! I even had a couple of the key note speakers (proper professionals on the speaker circuit) sitting in. So no pressure!

Talking on the main stage is a completely different ball game than presenting a workshop and requires a different way of preparing.

For one thing it is less interactive meaning you are less guided by audience questions and have to be more prepared to take the gamble that you are covering all the information the audience may want or need.

You also need to put more effort into producing slides (I don’t usually do slides as death by powerpoint is the death of many presentations) which were engaging.

Thankfully everything went off well and I had some great feedback from MiPs afterwards – I even sold some copies of a book I had written on the theme of my talk.

It was a great experience and one I would be glad to do again – getting out of your comfort zone is generally a good thing. If you can, give it a try!

Fiona 🙂

Welcome to 2017!

dancerAfter a fairly turmultuous 2016, a year which was surprising and sometimes shocking, what will the new year bring? If 2016 has taught us anything it is that it pays to expect the unexpected!

In the next couple of years we will see some big changes – perhaps – in the environment in which we do business – or not! We just don’t know.

But whatever happens it is likely that any changes will be difficult to predict and to plan for robustly. This is because many of the decisions our suppliers, customers and staff will be making are likely to be based on their gut feelings rather than facts. Surely the EU Referendum has shown us that!

So what can we do to make sure we ride any storm?

Well, of course, this time of year is the time when many of us make New Year’s Resolutions and promises about what we are going to change in the coming year. Some of us want to be fitter and/or more flexible so our bodies are better able to meet our needs as we get older (I myself have a big birthday this year – 21 is a great age!!). Some of us want to lose the excess weight that seems to have crept onto our bodies over the years without us particularly noticing.

And some of us want to take control of our finances and to strip out unnecessary spend so we are better able to afford the things that are most important to us.

All of these goals are ones we can apply to making our businesses better able to cope with the change which is coming.

Make your business fitter and more flexible by reviewing how you and your team work. Ensure everyone is motivated to work effectively as part of a well oiled machine.

Strip out any surplus fat. Businesses which has been around for any length of time are likely to have areas which need to be slimmed down or stripped out altogether.

Take control of your finances. Look at what you spend your money on and make sure in the future you don’t waste your hard earned cash. A great place to start is to look at your bills to see where easy money can be saved – in particular utilities, rates, insurances, and IT costs.

And, of course, have a clear contingency plan detailing how you will reduce the risks in your business model. Although you may not know how the business environment will change in 2017 you can fortify your business against failure.

Fiona 🙂

And the spectacle continues!

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-15-10-40I know I have gone on a bit (or a lot) about the events in Rio but I have just been blown away by the team GB success.

I promise this article is the last time I will mention the Olympics – well at least for another four years – but I have been just so inspired by them.

I loved watching the different sports and was stunned when we came 2nd and beat China in the medals table.

The Paralympics has been even better!

Who could fail to be moved by the armless Egyptian table tennis player who held the paddle between his teeth and threw the ball up with his feet?

The tenacity of such athletes who are taking part in sports on a global stage is incredible. In the case of the table tennis player he had no expectation that he would medal – it was enough for him to take part.

Whether they were born with their disability or became disabled later in life due to illness or accident, every athlete’s story was truly inspirational.

So is there anything the Paralympics can teach business people which might help us to thrive?

Firstly, I think we can learn to be more positive. We all have bad days and times when it seems the world is against us. But let’s face it we don’t have to face the problems and prejudice a lot of disabled people have to put up with on a daily basis. If they can flourish with all that is stacked against them – I am sure we can!

Secondly, I think we can learn to be more focussed on our goals. We often don’t achieve what we want because we simply aren’t focussed enough. We allow ourselves to be sidetracked by less important things.

Finally, following the lead of Chumbawumba, I think we can learn to get back up again when we get knocked down. Many paralympians have been knocked down pretty hard (sometimes literally) but have had the mental strength to not only get back up again but to thrive.

Business is challenging and we will all suffer setbacks. The key to getting over these setbacks is to be positive, focussed and to pick ourselves up each time we are knocked down.