I don’t really believe in synchronicity but its extraordinary how often I have 2 or more clients with the same obscure legal problem at the same time.
A more positive example of synchronicity is that I have decided that I want to expand the number of clients I have in London. We are very good value for London clients as our overheads are a fraction of London solicitors.
I met a friend who runs an accountant’s business and was telling her this. She told me they are keen to do the same and have planned a London event at the Whitechapel Gallery. She asked if I want to join them. What a no – brainer. Thank you so much Jane, and any lucky London clients who are reading this will get a lovely invitation to lunch and a tour of the gallery for next April
Email etiquette is becoming old hat, but is still relevant because people still get it wrong. Cc-ing should be kept to a minimum. If I am cc’d an email it must be for a real reason. I must know what is in it, or there is something I have to do as a result of receiving it. Otherwise it is just another chore to read it, and is likely to stop me doing other things or reading more important emails. We are all overwhelmed by emails, so keep cc ing to an absolute minimum.
CC emails also carry risk – they may say something that you don’t want the recipient to see – particularly in email trails.
Second, always try to use positive language in emails. This is very simple. For example when given a list of dates for a meeting, don’t say “I can’t do xy and z” (the message being “I am terribly important and busy and it’s a bit of a nuisance fitting you in”), concentrate on the one you can do. If you can’t do any of the suggested dates, come up with an alternative.
Here is some advice on advice on taking on new staff. As I am in recruitment mode I have asked a number of people about pitfalls. The most common one is, however desperate you are choose carefully and wait for the right person.
I still find it incredibly hard to judge people when I’m interviewing. Other people are honest enough to agree. I try to ask some challenging questions, and keep them the same for all interviewees, however I know I’m like so many people, forming an instant judgement, then finding it hard to move on from it.
The other consistent piece of advice is to have a probation period, and use it. Cut your losses if it isn’t going to work. Tough advice, but correct.
I have spoken to a number of people recently who have commissioned a new website, the experience is nearly always painful. No wonder I hope I don’t have to do it again for a while. But at least I am not selling anything from my site. It’s when you have any sort of ecommerce site that things to get really tricky.
If you are getting an ecommerce site, ask your provider to show you examples of where they have done it before. You do not want them to be learning on you.
It sounds so obvious, but a surprising number of businesses fail to check. They like the supplier, they may be offering a good price, they are probably good at selling themselves and persuading you that they “get” and admire your business. None of these things is a good reason to employ them. Experience is.
Telephoning potential clients works. I recently looked for a Greek Villa on the site Owners Direct. I was really surprised when I was phoned by the owners rather than emailed. You establish a rapport and feel rather bad if you don’t book their Villa. I wonder if they have been told this is what they should do.
We are mainly a little bit shy about phoning people, but if they have already said they are interested in your product, what is stopping you? So much better to phone than email.
My neighbour in our small office complex is a book publisher called Wooden Books. He has been doing it for 20 years, to start with his covers were tasteful and subdued. His friends and people he showed them to admired them. But they didn’t sell.
He then developed a new look and feel – a brand – for all his books.
Suddenly they started to sell, though the titles and the content were the same. The covers are really beautiful etchings (I think). Have a look http://www.woodenbooks.com
Packaging really matters. Spend time on it, don’t trust your friends to tell the truth. The only truth is sales.
What is the Boss’s job?
A good friend of mine owns and runs a highly successful business employing 25 people. It has been going for more than 25 years. The business runs pretty successfully when she isn’t there, which makes her a superstar in my book.
Every time she is in the office she spends time talking to each employee. She says this is partly because she is nosy and really wants to know what is going on in their personal lives. I bet it is a big part of the reason she has a loyal stable team, and has been so successful for so long.
Even if you run a big business it is a really important part of what you do to get about, and talk to people. You won’t necessarily learn anything you want to use but the people you meet will feel valued, and that they have a relationship with you. Get out there!
One of the most important things you can do as a boss, and for friends generally is to be present when they talk to you. By this I mean, pay attention. Sometimes it’s hard – they are boring, they are complaining, they are wittering on. I know I’m not the greatest at it though I do try.
My best boss was fantastic at it. He had lots of roles, and most of the people he had to spend time with were chief executives (he was Chairman of several companies) but when he was with me he really paid attention. Thank you Roger.
I am in a networking group and suggested we all say what are the best and worst bits of owning a business.
What was really interesting was that for the majority of us the best bit was being useful, the buzz we get from helping people. Money was very secondary.
What people disliked was the paperwork, customers who don’t pay, moany people, lack of people to delegate to and customers who let you down: eg book a table in a restaurant and don’t show up. Many of the participants are one man bands.
I also asked about people’s bliss – what makes them happy. A common theme was being on your own doing something quite wholesome (reading a book, walking the dog). But there was one eye opener for me. 2 members of the group said the best ever experience is to be at the 6 nations in Cardiff. Apparently the atmosphere is amazing, and supporters of contesting teams muck in together. I must give it a try!
There is a walk round London called the Capital Ring. It’s about 78 miles long. My husband, sons and I decided to do it by bike over 2 days. It almost killed us older members of the party. What we hadn’t factored in is that going by bike you keep missing the signs (some of which are missing anyway) and it is a walk – therefore, surprise surprise it is often through woods and parks. Cycling over hilly, stony tracks, feeling very guilty if there is a no cycling sign, is exhausting.
However, we survived and there were some really interesting parts to the walk/cycle. The bits round the Thames were fab, it was amazing to see how many thriving parks there are in the suburbs, often with excellent cafes. And some of the parks are huge.
So what are the lessons for business? Research better, prepare, but once you have started keep going. You can do it!
Lawyers are pessimists
Generally in business you need to be an optimist. An exception is lawyers – we have to think about what might go wrong. It’s desperately depressing, and possibly the reason I am happier running a business, not doing too much law. I usually think that everything will work out fine.
I also realise that I always look for the compromise. I’m proud to say that in my time as Company Secretary of Clarks I was able to negotiate many a sensible compromise, and only litigated when there really was no other option.
Sometimes I am involved on the periphery of contested probate cases. There too I can usually see both sides of the story – it’s never entirely black and white. I would always aim to meet the other side, and work out a civilised solution. However the typical litigator could not be more different. They posture, they grandstand, they don’t concede anything and they want a fight. I have to say I think it is often absurd, and gives the legal profession a bad name.
Grab good people when they approach you – don’t wait
I was recently approached by a really nice, competent lawyer who would have fitted in well here. I said I really liked her and would contact her if/when there was a vacancy. A month or so later I needed someone and got in touch, and (guess what) she had been offered another job, which she had just accepted. Being the honourable person she is she has not let down the new firm, but I know she would have liked to come here.
What a shame I didn’t grab her, and what a lesson for the future. Don’t let the good ones get away.
These days your sales should be about helping people to solve their problems. You can only know what these are by listening to them, giving them time to articulate their concerns, and finding out what they are looking for. There can be no greater turn off than the cold selling call, starting with “How are you today?”.
To all people in the business of selling (and let’s face it that is every small business owner) make sure you listen well. Be helpful. If you can’t help say so. You will reap rewards in the long run as those potential customers are highly likely to come back later when they do need you.
I have sadly lost a member of my team. Because of who I am I regard it as a personal failure, but it is inevitable and healthy that people move on. What we are is not going to suit everyone. We (including me here) are not perfect.
The individual leaving has left a space for someone else, and I’m thrilled that my former apprentice is coming back into the fold. She spent the last 18 months or so at Waitrose where she will have learnt masses, and will be able to share her knowledge with us. She may also appreciate not having to wear a uniform, work horrible shifts and have to cover endlessly for staff. Her technical skills will be a real bonus and hopefully she will soon help me to bring some new life into this blog.
So losing staff creates opportunity, while also being a loss.
Being an Oldpreneur doesn’t make me old.
I’ve noticed that when we get older we might say “I am now middle aged” and so on but mainly we don’t really believe it is true.
So, I describe myself as an Oldpreneur but I don’t think of myself as old at all. The fact that I am 20 years older than the next oldest member of my team is rather odd, that’s all. I have my tongue in my cheek when I say Oldpreneur and if you are one too I expect you to do the same.
Inside every old person is a young person who can’t quite understand what happened.