Beating the competition

 

 Beating the competition was the subject of my latest business development session.

 

There is always lots of competition but one of my main competitors is DIY probate.  I don’t blame people for wanting to do it themselves.  BUT

 

  • It doesn’t have to be expensive – shop around (to us for preference)
  • It can be a huge amount of hassle – have you tried having a meaningful exchange with a share registrar or financial services provider recently?
  • If it goes wrong it can be very expensive and a huge hassle to unpick

 

And this is not just self-serving spin, its true.  I only need to find ways of telling people in ways that they can hear.

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My new Passion

 

My new passion, which I tell anyone who stops for long enough to listen is an exercise class I am doing in Shepton Mallet OUTSIDE at 7am.  There is something amazing about being in a park in the dark doing strenuous exercise.  Though I often hate it at the time I’m back home for a hearty breakfast soon after 8 and feel brilliant, and also rather smug and pleased with myself.  I am in the office by 9.

 

Unfortunately on the days I do the class I am also finished by about 4 pm but it seems a price worth paying.  Get in touch if you want the details.

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Euphemisms about death

In my business we deal with the currency of death all the time.  I’m inclined to use the D word, but lots of people prefer “passed away” or – in the US – “passed”.  I struggled  to find the right words on the website and talked about “the person who has died” rather than “the deceased” which is so pompous sounding and somehow inhuman.

I was heartened that on Thought for the Day yesterday John from the Iona community, who  sounds very sensible spoke of his preference for talking about death in direct language.

Maybe I’m finely tuned to discussions about death but there seems to be a lot in the media about it at the moment – surely a good thing.

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The glass ceiling

 

The glass ceiling is real in many areas of life.  I was talking to the senior partner of an accountancy firm about why there are no women in his senior management team.  He is a decent guy who has struggled with this himself.  We talked about the frequent issue that women “do” and are not necessarily as good at selling.  He said that he tends to find that women feel they must know all the answers, whereas men are more comfortable “winging it” and finding out afterwards. This holds them back.

 

It is so true – many of us women are our own worst enemies.  We must learn courage: yes we can do it, even if we don’t know how yet, we have the ability to find out.

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Leaders have to make decision

Leaders have to make decisions: I was cycling with a group of friends last weekend.  There is often debate about which route to follow.  Some of us are prepared to risk saying “lets go this way” and others who will always follow.

The trouble with being the one to stick your neck out is it is then your fault if the route turns out to be rubbish, or you get hopelessly lost.  I think that’s why a lot of people prefer to go with the flow.  But if no-one takes the lead the group goes no-where.

There’s an analogy in there somewhere for running a business.

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Sales Tips

 

Sales tips abound – books have been written about them, but here are a few – none ground-breaking but a good reminder:

 

  • Do some sort of selling/marketing every day
  • When you see clients ask them to give you referrals
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff
  • Listen to clients – 2 ears, 1 mouth. They really aren’t interested in your life story
  • Tell stories
  • Don’t rush – it takes time
  • Turn off at night/over the weekend
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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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