Joe Gebbia of Airbnb


Joe Gebbia of Airbnb has given an interesting TED talk called “Designs for Trust”.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but Airbnb relies on the concept of trusting strangers – contrary to the general thrust of society, which is one of deep suspicion.  It’s a wonderful concept, and it clearly works.  Tons of thought went into the design of the website to help this along. For example, punters are put off by too much personal information, but want a bit.  So the examples given as guidance steer the seller and buyer to saying enough, but not too much;  the space available for comment isn’t so big that people can write a whole essay on their dysfunctional family, or whatever.

Gebbia used one phrase that really resonated with me.  It was that Airbnb is about connection beyond transaction. For me it sums up beautifully what most businesses seek to achieve.  Of course there is a transaction when one entity is selling and another is buying, but the connection beyond that is what is memorable and makes you want to go back for more. It is certainly how I want my business to work.

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The importance of an outside view


An outside view is very valuable. My American friend Keith has very interesting ideas about how we are taxed in the UK, because he has seen things done in a different way.  Things that I take for granted, he questions.

It made me think how important it is in business to have people working for you who see things differently, and don’t all come from the same mould.  I think that is how I have been able to succeed running a specialist law firm, even though I had not worked with in private practice (the name for law firms acting for individuals) for 20 years.  I see things rather differently.

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The Government wants to destroy us


Why does it feel that the Government is determined to destroy us?

Did you know that probate fees are about to increase massively – from £155 today to a sliding scale depending on the size of the estate, starting at £300 and increasing to £20,000 for estates over £2m!  This is a form of stealth tax as these people will also be paying large amounts of Inheritance Tax.

I feel personally attacked.  I have engaged in the consultation but if my past experience is anything to go by “consultation” just means going through the motions and ticking a box.  I look forward to being proved wrong.

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Recruiting Again – and it doesn’t get any easier


We are recruiting again. We advertised on Linked In.  I have had a few time wasters – people entirely unqualified for the advertised role.  Nothing concrete or worthwhile.

But then out of the blue I got an approach from someone who hadn’t even looked at Linked In, and isn’t quite what I was looking for but actually now realise will be very helpful indeed – and she has accepted!  It’s odd how things turn out.


We are looking forward to welcoming Marianne into the team – as there are so few of us we will all need to adjust and change, but I feel very positive about her imminent arrival.

I’m not sure what the lesson is here – except that I have never yet successfully recruited from an advertisement.  It is way better to reach out on a personal basis – either if you need someone or if you are looking for a job.

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Art Appreciation


I have recently joined an Art Appreciation class.  I am not artistic or observant, so it is all rather foreign to me.  Possibly it is something I felt I should do rather than something I really wanted to do.

But – why I am writing about it is that the teacher – Tim Stewart – is extraordinary.  He has clearly spent hours researching and preparing for the 2 hour session, which is only likely to be presented once.  His enthusiasm is fantastic.  The rest of the class think – rightly – that he is amazing.  They have mainly kept coming to his class since it began 2 or 3 years ago.

It is really quite humbling – I expect he is paid very little – the class is in a horrid room in our local secondary college.  But he is a shining example of putting massive effort into something, without expecting reward, for the pleasure of sharing and learning.  And I am sure we can all benefit from giving in that same altruistic way.

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Write in simple language


It is so important to write in simple language

It is easy to speak with your own voice, in person and in writing if you run your own business. It is much harder if you work for someone else and need to second guess what how they want you to present yourself.

Possibly that is why some of us – particularly lawyers – are inclined to add extra words when none are needed, and make things more formal than they need to be.

It’s odd – why do we default to using 4 words where 1 will do?  It appears to be almost as addictive for lawyers as using “I mean” and “I like” in the spoken word – it earns you a bit of time while you work out what you want to say.

I have one message, particularly for lawyers – go through what you have written and see if you can’t make it shorter.

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Marketing material – what it looks like counts

The appearance of marketing material really counts.

It is worth getting help with preparing marketing material of any type.  Few of us have the design flair to do it ourselves, and a professional look is invaluable.

You also need to choose your corporate look and feel, and stick with it on all marketing materials.

After a couple of years it is likely to look out of date, and tired, so you will have look at it all again.

I am proud of my website and get lots of nice comments about it – but it was agony to put 8together.  Its 2 years old now and I dread the day – won’t be more than a year off, I guess, when I will need to do it again.

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Local Advertising – keep at it

Local Advertising is useful but you must keep at it.

When you start a business you are likely to be approached by various companies selling advertising space.  I suspect they know new companies are vulnerable, don’t yet know what works, and will give things a try.  I have learnt that if the advertising is on special offer there is probably a good reason.  I feel quite sorry for people selling print advertising space.  I doubt it is often worthwhile for small businesses, taking modest spaces for short amounts of time.

In my business a large percentage of our work is for local people, and it makes sense to advertise in parish magazines.  They are read – even the adverts, particularly if there aren’t too many of them.  And in contrast to the special offers from other magazines, there is generally a waiting list for advertising in parish magazines.  Once you get your advert in you keep it there, and don’t give up the space.

And the good news is that it pays off.  Probably not immediately, but we now get a steady stream of good quality work from our parish magazine adverts. I believe that our particular demographic likes to see an advertisement several times before taking the plunge.

If you are starting a business where local advertising is relevant I recommend you spend an afternoon finding out about the local magazines, booking a slot and preparing a decent quarter page ad.

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On my last blog I mentioned Jess’s Waitrose tips.  Another good one is to smile, even when you are talking to someone on the phone.

It feels terribly odd, but it does work.  Your voice comes over as more positive.

We all have clients we struggle with.  As soon as we know they are on the phone we brace ourselves.  However the tip of smiling when you are talking to them really does work.  I am quite sure it comes over in the way I speak, and it has the effect of relaxing me and therefore being and sounding less defensive.

Try it!

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What to do when we make mistakes


Anyone who does anything will make the odd mistake.  The supremely self-confident make huge mistakes, but keep ploughing on.  The eponymous film Steve Jobs shows he had some corking failures before he hit the big time, but didn’t lose faith in himself.

For more normal mortals, it’s how you turn your mistakes round that counts.

Jess, a paralegal at Purely Probate used to work at Waitrose. She gave us some customer care training based on her training there. It was all good stuff.  Obvious once you are told it but very useful to be reminded.  For example, a disappointed customer who is turned round by a really good response to their complaint becomes far more likely to recommend you to others than a customer who didn’t have any issues in the first place.

So it always worth taking time, trouble and possibly a financial hit to re-engage with the disaffected customer.

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How to stop worrying


If you own a business you should if possible learn how to stop worrying.

I wish I knew how.  I am quite good at not worrying about some things, but others do keep me awake at night.  I am particularly prone to worry if we have made a mistake, or a client is cross with me or the firm.  Both things are bound to happen from time to time.  If you run a big business there will be so many issue that you probably can’t hold them all in your head, so stop worrying.  Maybe, anyway.  Some people worry so much that they are paralysed, and can’t make decisions.  Those people really should not run businesses.

I WISH I had the mental strength to put issues aside and stop worrying all together, but I guess that isn’t realistically going to happen.  The only consolation is that most of the worries that seem so huge at the time simply get forgotten once they have been resolved.  I have no idea what business worries kept me awake at night 6 months ago, let alone in previous years.  So none of it can have been all that bad.

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Lessons from Mary Peters 

Mary Peters won an Olympic gold medal for the pentathlon in 1972. She lived (and lives) in Northern Ireland.  I recently heard her interviewed on the radio by one of my heroines, Clare Balding.

What Mary said that she wasn’t terribly athletic, but was very competitive and hard working.  She was determined to do as well as her elder brother.

I have known so many people who were brilliant as children, and passed all their exams with ease.  I wasn’t one of them.  Strangely none of them have done as well as I expected, whereas I (and I find this very hard to say) have probably exceeded expectations, through hard work and determination.  Even at tennis age nearly 60 I now play in the A team, something I could never have dreamed of as a child.

Not being brilliant may turn out to be a good thing.

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DIY probate – why do people do it?

 My main business is dealing with Probate.

HMRC encourages people to DIY probate.  There is help on their website.  I am a little suspicious about it.  I have now dealt with quite a lot of people who, though ignorance, pay a lot more inheritance tax than they need to.  Could HMRC have a cunning plan?

It’s very odd that people will willingly pay many thousands of pounds on a funeral but are then reluctant to pay an amount (which is often less than the cost of the funeral) for someone to liberate them from months of strain and agony dealing with a variety of non-responsive organisations reading from scripts they don’t understand, in order to realise and distribute what can be very significant amounts of money.

Good luck to them…

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The Art of Being Brilliant 


I have just read an enjoyable book called the Art of Being Brilliant by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker.  It’s quick and easy to read and written in a chatty style that could be annoying, but somehow didn’t annoy me.

It is as much about attitude to life as to business.  What I have taken from it is that it is better all round (for you, for people around you and for your business) if you are upbeat and cheerful.  Not in a pretend way, because people will see through that; and of course S happens, and we would be extremely odd if it didn’t sometimes get us down.  But an upbeat person will recover faster.

The authors also talk about mood hoovers – don’t we all know them?  People who are invariably gloomy and see the downside in everything.  Extremely boring, if nothing else.

So I am trying to be positive, saying yes more than no and tackling those difficult problems with gusto.

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Teamwork is so brilliant.  Doing a difficult job with someone else frequently more that halves it.

For example – yesterday I had a particularly difficult HMRC form to complete – I hate those things, and this one had involved several efforts.  But going through the forms with my colleague Leonie meant that we both understood the issues and together we could work our way through them.  Not only did we get the job done but I enjoyed the time with her, and hopefully she did with me. Job done with team building on the side.

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