Illness in the Office 

We have had a horrible time with illness in the office, I am really hoping we are over it now.  It’s been a frantically busy year, and when people are off sick it is a lot worse.

It dawned on me that as a result I have been focussing inwards, not outwards and that is not healthy.  What I’m best at is getting out talking to people, not doing the nitty gritty work.  So – just like last year – my resolution is to get more staff and get out more.

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My Save the Children weekend

My office was open throughout the weekend for a Save the Children  sale of beautiful pottery by my friends Elizabeth Raeburn and Rodney Lawrence and a super jewellery maker called Caroline Tetley.

I sent out email invites, as did Rod and Liz and the whole weekend we had a steady stream of visitors, all of them in the mood for spending.

It was in aid of Save the Children, and the local SCF committee came with home-made cakes, and served coffee and cakes for the whole weekend.  It was amazing – a real win-win.  My friend’s coffers have been nicely enhanced and SCF made £1,000.  I felt good about myself and hopefully it was excellent marketing for the business.  It was a bit like a cocktail party lasting the whole weekend with a non-stop stream of friends and clients calling.  I am so unused to standing and being nice for such a long time I was completely exhausted by the end.

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Don’t negotiate against yourself

 

 

“Don’t negotiate against yourself” – My brother came up with this expression.  I do it constantly.  Without asking I assume that clients will only stomach fees of a certain level.  The reality is they rarely negotiate, and if they do in my experience they tend to turn out to be clients we could do without.

 

My brother – who is far more financially successful than his 3 sisters would be infinitely better than me at charging the right amount, and not worrying about it.  Maybe I can learn.

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How much money is enough?

 

 

How much money is enough? I and many of my generation have a tendency to feel we need to make money for the sake of it.  It’s fabulously liberating to think, I don’t need any more.  So what if my business makes me way less than I used to earn, that is not the point – I am doing it for personal satisfaction, to give a good service and employ people in a decent environment, not make a fortune.

 

And in the end, who knows or cares what I do or don’t earn.  As long as I have enough to do what I want to do (which I can) what does it matter?

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Real People

 

We had friends to Sunday lunch recently – a rather rare occurrence for us these days.  Goodness it is a lot of work.  I used to knock Sunday lunches out.  Still, it was all worthwhile as it went really well and everyone enjoyed themselves and got on well.

 

Afterwards one of the guests wrote a thank you note saying how nice it was to meet “real people”.  Aren’t we all real?

 

I asked him what he meant, he said people true to themselves, in real jobs.  I hope all our friends are “real” but I suppose there is a perception of a dinner party set that performs when out, perhaps to go home and behave completely differently.  In this context the “real” jobs were businesses that make things.  Would my business rate as “real” in that context?  I hope so.

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Mrs Moneypenny

 

 

I loved Mrs Moneypenny’s article in Saturday’s FT.  Sadly she has stopped writing in the paper version of the magazine but you can subscribe and get a monthly online article.

 

She recently came and spoke at the Wells Literary Festival.  She was great, exactly as you might expect – fairly large, not glamorous, entirely herself – by which I mean comfortable in her own skin, and not appearing to put on a show, though she was very entertaining.

The subject of her talk was financial tips for women, though they could all have applied to men too.

 

She went through 9 tips, and her tenth was to make a Will!  Music to my ears.  For her it was born of a tragic situation with a close friend whose husband died in his 40s without a Will, which caused her all sorts of problems.

 

Listen to her advice!

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Obstacles and blockages in business

 

What is an obstacle or blockage in business? I attend an excellent management coaching group once a month, run by Graeme Crosbie of Level Up http://www.levelupsouthwest.co.uk.  Each month there is a different topic, this months was to look at the blockages in our businesses.  Nothing to do with plumbing.

Where to begin?  Easy to blame external forces such as HMRC or clients who don’t respond, but that wasn’t really the point.  What I have learnt is that most times the blockage is systemic or due to lack of direction from the top.  Don’t blame the staff!

In our case we do need to go back to logging our processes, then ensuring everything is done at the lowest possible level within the team. We are currently top heavy, without enough staff available to do lower level jobs.  And there is frequently a pull to do the lower level – often urgent – jobs because they are easy.

Currently we are all working rather frantically; it would be nice to have more people so that clients won’t be disappointed at having to wait for things.

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Long term vs short term marketing

 

 I wrote recently about going on the speaker’s panel for the WI.  I have been booked to speak as far ahead as Nov 2015.  Normally when I do a talk I will get at least one piece of work from it, though it could be a year or more later.

 

I would therefore hope to get some work from my talk, though it probably won’t be until 2016.  This is in stark contrast to Google Adwords where your ads appear minutes after you have paid for them, and the payback can be very quick.

 

I feel very fortunate to run a business where I have the luxury of being able to take the long view.

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Public Speaking

 

 

Tips on how to be a good public speaker

Tips on how to be a good public speaker

I went to a great talk about public speaking, and have been trying to put what I learnt into practice.  The main learning for me is to slow down.  Wait for everyone to be quiet before starting, and don’t try to pack too much in.  It makes a huge difference; ever since I have been doing this I have had a much improved reception.

 

Other tips – obvious really, are: be natural, mean what is said, accept the situation and respond to that (in other words adjust to the audience) respect the intelligence of the audience and prepare (it’s a pet hate of mine when speakers haven’t prepared – it is so disrespectful and frankly arrogant)

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Who wants to be an apprentice in Glastonbury?

Who wants to be an apprentice in Glastonbury?

Aghh- my new apprentice has given in her notice, 6 weeks in.  Learning from previous experience I gave her lots of my time, was very nice to her (honest) and paid up front the £2k college fees – non-refundable but which can be set against fees for a new apprentice.

Irritating but I thought it would be quite easy to find another apprentice.  However no-one has come forward.  Apparently there are more jobs than candidates in Somerset at the moment and youngsters prefer to work in WH Smith on minimum wage than take the apprenticeship qualification – all be it on sub subsistence wage, but an investment for their future while they continue to live at home.

Anyone who knows a bright young thing who might fit the bill and lives close to Glastonbury please send them my way.  They will learn lots and be highly employable at the end, even possibly by me.

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My new handbook – “After I Have Gone”

 

It’s been a fun project writing a handbook, “After I Have Gone” for clients to complete to make their executor’s job easier when they shuffle off this mortal coil.  In typical form I have stuck with practical things – what sort of funeral would you like, where do you keep your useful information, who should your executors contact and so on.  There’s actually a lot in it.  I hope it will be of real value.

 

One thing the handbook doesn’t say is – get rid of things you don’t want your executors to find.  You can all imagine what they might be.  I just hope people have enough common sense, but we all need to remember that we don’t know when we will die.

 

I will give the handbook to Will clients but if you would like to buy one let me know by emailing info@purelyprobate.co.uk.  Cost £4.99 plus P & P

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Show Personality

 

Many lawyers feel they must be “proper” and neutral at all times.  But actually what most clients/employees and other people we deal with want is a bit of personality.

 

I heard someone described recently as having no personality.  What could be worse?  I hope I don’t hide behind a professional mask – I don’t think I do, but I hope I will be told in no uncertain terms if I do.  My message to anyone is “just be yourself” and show a bit of enthusiasm for things.

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Giving unwelcome messages

 

 

Giving unwelcome messages is tough. In my business I am always banging on about the importance of how you give bad news.  Over the years I have seen massive fall out from unwelcome messages being given clumsily.  This is often because the giver is embarrassed, uncomfortable or just doesn’t think how the recipient will take the message.

 

The legal profession has a lot to answer for in this area.  We advise people they must be very careful what they say – to the extent that they may even give people scripts to read from so they don’t inadvertently say the wrong thing.  But think how it feels to have a painful message given in this way?  How much better it must always be to be honest, and if necessary uncomfortable.  The trouble is that once the damage is done the fall out can be wide and very long lasting.

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Being an entrepreneur

 

Being an entrepreneur isn’t plain sailing.  There was a report on the radio about an article in the Times to the effect that entrepreneurs – other than the tiny minority who are mega successful – work horrendously long hours and generally earn very little.

Well yes there may be some truth to that.  But I have learnt 2 things.  Money isn’t everything, it all depends what your financial ambitions are.  And there is a great deal of satisfaction in having a good business, employing people and providing a good service. However a business which doesn’t eventually make money isn’t a business at all.

 

And as for working horrendous hours – my ambition is to get to the point where I can employ people to do all the things I don’t like or am not very good at so I just do the bits where I truly add value and get fun out of.  I’m getting there.

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Franchising small businesses

 

Franchising small businesses seems like a good idea.

In small businesses spare capacity is thin on the ground. In any business however good the service or product sold there will be no sales unless people know what you are doing.

Most people fall into the category of either sales people or “doers” – the people, very often highly skilled who deliver the service.  But it is a tall order to ask them to find the time and inclination to sell as well deliver the service.

Many small business owners (including me) have thought it’s a great idea to get more leverage from their systems/insurance/brand awareness by franchising it.  However it’s a challenge for the potential franchisee – who may be a highly skilled technician – if he also has to do the selling bit.  So in my view unless the franchise owner can hand work to the franchisee or the franchisee can afford people to sell as well as do it is unlikely the model can work.

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