Are your ears and eyes always open?

Are your ears and eyes always open?

A few years ago, at a time when I was still able to drive around in an impractical car (before the requirement for a 5-seater family car), I faced a dilemma one morning when I managed to lock myself out of said motor.

Luckily, my neighbour happened to be the owner of Lockfix24 (a local locksmith’s in Exeter), and after a quick search on Google for his emergency number – he quickly came to my rescue.

Kenny was a complete life saver that day, turning up within the hour and “breaking” me back into my car without leaving a mark. He was reliable, quick and efficient, and I cannot thank him enough for helping me out at such short notice. The thing I didn’t realise at the time was that one day Kenny would be knocking on the Optix Solutions door, asking for our help with his website and digital marketing – something he saw as vital to the success of his business. Kenny is now a happy client at Optix, and drops in on a regular basis to catch up with the team (he usually brings in a treat or two which the team are always delighted about!).

This scenario reminded me that you never know when a chance meeting with someone can end in a business opportunity and that wherever you go, and whoever you talk to you are always representing your business, as are your employees.  I encourage my staff to take a positive approach with everything they do, whether they are talking about Optix outside work, tweeting about something online, or chatting to someone in the street as you just never know.

My wife jokes about how many times I’ve turned a seemingly chance meeting into business for our company but I guess that’s just down to the way I approach every conversation.

If you have your opportunity antenna up and are prepared to talk business at all times then you’ll generate leads. Maybe that’s not important for you. But hey its one of the key reasons my business is now celebrating its 15th year and one I thought I’d share with you all today.

Why I love the Ryder Cup so much

Why I love the Ryder Cup so much

Lets face it the Ryder Cup is a sensational event for any sports lover.

Apart from the fact its so different to its standard format of the game and pits the best players from either side of the Atlantic against each other for three days, its neither of these reasons I want to focus on.

The main reason I love the Ryder Cup and especially the European effort is because of the passion and camaraderie that is clearly evident in their team. There is a lesson for us all to take from the way that team work and support each other over the weekend. 

‘Teamwork’ is an often overused term in business, I do it myself no doubt. That said, even if I use it too much and recreate just a small percentage of the togetherness that the Europeans displayed this weekend, I’ll be a very happy man.

Its important to remember that the Ryder Cup players have no monetary incentive to win this coveted trophy. This is all about pride and playing for the team and before any of you tell me anyone would do the same, I’d call in to question the England football team! #coughcough

The European team comes together from all backgrounds and nationalities. You’ve got players in their early 20’s with some almost double their age. You’ve got big personalities and shrinking violets. Paul McGinley I salute you for what you’ve achieved in getting these guys to work so closely together. You’ve built a family!

Just take a look at the camaraderie around the course. The fist pumping when holes are won. The kissing and man-love between Donaldson and Mcginley when the trophy was theirs. The fact the players who’ve finished their rounds always follow the others round to support them on those final holes.

Possibly the most poignant moments for me are those where you see an older member of the team take a younger member under their wing. This weekend, for me, most noticeably were the efforts of G-Mac and Dubuisson and of course Lee Westwood and Donaldson. True team spirit and respect for each others experience.

So its less of an educational post today and more of a hat-tip to the fine captaincy from McGinley. I’m sure we could all learn some very valuable lessons from you when building our teams. I’ll be looking out for any tips over the next few weeks on how you did such a fine job.

Well done team Europe. An inspiration to me and millions of others across the continent.

#rydercupglory
#bringthenoise

Photo courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottishgovernment/

How to use LinkedIn to generate Sales Leads

How to use LinkedIn to generate Sales Leads

In the last 3-4 months I’ve generated more than 50k’s worth of direct business from my personal LinkedIn account. I spend around 2-3 hours a week on the website and I have a set process for how to get the most from it. At Optix, we spend a fair bit of time training our clients on the effective use of this tool. I recently headed to London to help a 12 man sales team optimise their usage of it so I thought I’d share a few of the key points from that session with you today.

The Basics
For those that don’t know, LinkedIn is a social media platform which started back in 2003. Boasting 300+ million members worldwide (of which 60+ million are in Europe), there are 15+ million users in the UK and roughly 187 monthly unique visits.

Getting Set Up
The more time and effort you put into your profile, the better the results, and if you want to generate the best return then you have to actively engage. If you treat it as a giant Rolodex of contacts then nothing is going to happen.

Populate your profile with relevant information but don’t just create a CV about yourself – no one wants to read that. Tell me how you can solve my problems. Connect with people that you know and observe how they interact with others. You definitely need a profile picture, so choose one where you look suitably professional.

Etiquette
Recognise that connections are currency but you need strong ones. You absolutely cannot try the hard sell on LinkedIn; use it simply as a tool for establishing and nurturing genuine business relationships. LinkedIn is not a place to pick up friends (like Facebook or Twitter); it’s your boardroom of connections. Be interested in others, rather than bombarding them with information about you. When you add connections it’s a good idea to send them a polite message reminding them where you’ve met rather than leaving that terrible message that the site writes for you.

Maintenance
Maintaining your profile is an important job and must be prioritised if you want to generate sales. It’s the first thing that people are going to look at when you’ve reached out to them. Put together a daily/weekly/monthly plan and diarise this so it doesn’t get forgotten. LinkedIn is a long-term investment; you are building your personal brand and you’ll carry this with you for life – so make it count.

Results
There are lots of short-term wins (a favourite of mine is to message people who’ve taken the time to look at my profile) and longer term wins (such as establishing yourself as an authority in your field by authoring posts). The key to it all is proactivity. Are you asking for introductions to key prospects? Have you set-up saved searches to send you weekly emails of targets? What’s your process when you get that email saying one of your connections has moved jobs?

The groups section offers you the chance to position yourself as a thought leader but consider hanging out where your prospects are, not just in that industry group you joined in those first few months on the site (don’t worry we all did it ;).

LinkedIn can’t create sales itself but it can help you create opportunities for conversations and that’s all good sales people need. Once you have those opportunities its up to you to convert. Once you’ve been active for a while (this probably took years for me rather than months) you’ll find that you start getting referrals from current customers who point their connections at your profile.

While I’ve covered a few of the main points here, there is far more to be said about this website so read up about it, make it part of your prospecting activity and be consistent.

So where did my 50k come from? Two well crafted status updates and sending a contact that had moved a quick message of congratulations. Ten years ago none of this existed, it was hard graft, knocking on doors and cold calling. Any savvy sales person should now be thanking the stars for tools like this.

I don’t write these posts to sell but if you are interested in us hosting a training session for your organisation then drop me a line and I’ll send you some details.

Good luck and let me know the minute you make that first sale.

—-

Got any LinkedIn sales tips you want to share? Pop them in the comments below.

Photo courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sheilascarborough/

Failure For the Win!

In a world that shouts about success, it’s a natural human trait to regard failure as a negative thing. People often cover up their mistakes and find them hard to admit to. In my business I’m a huge believer in and encourage my team to shout from the roof tops about their failures (ok sometimes its best to do that behind closed doors of course) so they can learn from them. I try and encourage an environment where they aren’t afraid to come forward and admit mistakes, after all if they don’t take responsibility for things, then no one benefits.

I believe that my mistakes spur me on just as much as my successes do. As the great Albert Einstein said, ‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.’ In business there’s no right and wrong, and no clear path ahead. You simply have to try your best with the tools and resources available to you.

No successful business got to where they are today without taking measured risks. Some of these risks will have paid off, and others won’t have. But to take bold steps forward in business (and in life in general!) you have to take a risk once in a while. As long as these are calculated, measured and reviewed, then whether they succeed or fail doesn’t matter that much. Along with your successes, your failures go towards creating a richer tapestry of life, just remember that next time something doesn’t go your way.

Learning from your mistakes is a vital business skill to acquire. Rather than brushing your losses under the carpet, it’s crucial that you review them and understand what went wrong. Giving a bad decision a post mortem may be an uncomfortable task, but the lessons that you’ll learn will strengthen you and ultimately push you one step closer to success. Consider a top sportsperson/team – they’ll be using video methods to analyse not only their opponents before a game but how they played after it, always looking for the edge.

Take any successful person, look a little closer, and you’ll see that before their big wins there’ll be plenty of ventures behind them that just didn’t work. But successful people like this guy have resilience and an ability to self-reflect in common. They are able to acknowledge their mistakes, learn from them and move on. They value their mistakes just as much as they do their successes. These people inspire me.

 So it’s time to stop seeing your failures as disasters. They are simply indicators of what you need to do next. Let them be the encouragement that you need to stride forwards.

Not all clients are right for you

Not all clients are right for you

What, people who pay me money aren’t necessarily right for me? Surely not.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learnt over the years is that our business doesn’t suit everyone and everyone doesn’t suit our business. The problem I have is that as someone who has a fairly high need for approval (I like to be liked), I’m first to jump into situations I feel need saving and while good at this, its not always the right thing to do. 

Customers, clients, people who aren’t right for your business cost you money, time, stress and the opportunity cost of doing better business. The question is can you recognise when to lay your hand down? Can you work out when someone elses pair just made a set on the flop to your pair of Aces? 

So why wouldn’t someone be right for your business? Ultimately it comes down to mis-aligned expectations. Usually these revolve around money, service and process in the business to business world. For example a client who wants everything for nothing is not a good match for us. A client that doesn’t want to work in partnership but wants to dictate the relationship isn’t a good match for us either. Recognising these traits early can save thousands of pounds. 

When you know the attributes of your ‘on-profile’ client type you can seek these people out and attract them to you. For more about Inbound Marketing Persona’s and Inbound Marketing check out this video I did a few months ago. 

In summary then, I’d strongly suggest spending some time thinking about what makes your perfect client and building your inbound personas. If difficult situations arise and you need to make tough calls for your business you’ll be armed with facts on whether someone is worth fighting for or not. 

While its hard to turn away business and especially hard to put business down that’s already been won, when it turns sour, sometimes its the right thing to do for all parties. 

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you been in a position where you’ve said no to business or where you’ve stopped working with someone who wasn’t right for you? 
  • Have you worked on your Inbound Marketing Personas? Do you know who your ideal client is? 

Image courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/julierohloff/ 

Digital Marketing Tips for 2014

Digital Marketing Tips for 2014

Afternoon all. I trust you all had a fantastic start to the year? I’m sure, being driven people, that your goals are set, you know what you want to achieve in 2014 and now its just a case of making it happen.

As the owner of a digital agency in Exeter I want to cover a few ideas for things you should look to implement within your digital strategy this year. If you take on board just a couple of these you’ll be ahead of the majority of the crowd. I know you guys are always looking for the edge, so please enjoy.

Explore the world of Conversion Optimisation (CRO/Split Testing)
Offering up different versions of the same page on your website in order to see which converts the most is an extremely valuable technique to master. Even if you don’t sell online (where huge returns on investment can be seen), you should split test any enquiry forms on your site. Get your agency to do this for you and work with them on the results.

Start practicing Inbound Marketing
Another big trend for the year will see the tracking of customers through your websites, taking a look at what they are downloading, where they spend time and mashing that all up with their social profiles and historic browsing history so you can personalise their journey. Check out industry leaders like Hubspot and Pardot.

Ramp up your Content Marketing..but make it worthwhile
Content marketing is still an important part of your digital strategy and should fuel your Inbound Marketing funnel but it needs to be good. Theres too much content in this world so make sure what you create is better than everyone else in your market. Aim for things that are shareable through social media. Video, best practice guides and content which anticipates and answers your prospects questions should all feature highly.

Setup Email Autoresponders
Its a simple, yet quick win. By linking your website up to a decent email marketing system (MailChimp, OptixMail, Constant Contact etc) you can set a series of automated emails to go out when someone fills out an enquiry form. These are called autoresponders and go out at pre-defined time periods. Obviously you don’t want to spam people but a casual thank you email followed by a top tips email a week later might go down well and make you look switched on.

Get your social policies and strategy in place.
If you don’t want to fall into the same trap as the University Professor who tweeted about Obese doctors last year then make sure your team know what’s expected of them when interacting online. Social provides huge opportunities for your business but its your responsibility to make sure your team know the boundaries.

Fire up your digital presence, enjoy your 2014 and let me know when you get some significant wins.

Oh and Happy Easter :)

Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/jefthomas/ 

Breathe for Jo

Dear Friends,

Its not often that I’d ask you to support something or give your time to a cause that you might not have any link to but I’d appreciate just 5 minutes of your time to read this and the article it links to.

My good friend Jo Smith has two terminal illnesses, pulmonary hypertension and lymphatic cancer. She is thought to be the only person in the world to have both and sadly one stops her from being treated for the other.

A possible breakthrough treatment has been found in Thailand but 30k is needed to send her there. A campaign has been launched by her friend Lacey and the local newspaper in Exeter. You can read the full story in more detail than I could go into here: http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Campaign-launched-save-Exeter-mum-Jo-suffering/story-20935307-detail/story.html

Jo is a loving mother of her 3 year old Rudey and has been a close friend of mine since our early twenties. She is a kind person who doesn’t deserve the cards life has dealt her.

I hope this article reaches out to people, raises awareness and possibly even aids the financial support she needs.

Her just giving page can be found here: https://www.justgiving.com/yimby/breatheforjocampaign

Thank you for your time.

Alastair.

—– Please ignore the p.s.’s below this line, they are part of this theme —–

What is Inbound Marketing?

What is Inbound Marketing?

–Update to Post Mar 2014–

For many years us marketeers have focused on outbound marketing. A one-way message, attempting to buy people’s attention. Think Radio, Think Advertising, Think TV Adverts. With Inbound Marketing the focus switches to ‘earnt’ attention. By providing your prospects with something of value they give you permission to keep marketing to them. For example, giving away tips in a blog article/whitepaper, which your prospect finds via Google is a good form of Inbound Marketing. They like your content, it sounds like you know what you’re talking about, so they subscribe to your blog feed and in turn give you permission to market to them in the future. A powerful way of creating a relationship with someone who was a stranger only minutes before. You’ve ‘earnt’ their attention.

This is the first step.

True inbound companies work on converting these people into customers, taking them on a journey down a sales/marketing funnel (still providing value all the way). This is called lead nurturing. This can consist of email auto-responders; automated emails which keep giving you more information/help/advice, conversion optimisation; different formats for the same pages on a website, tested constantly for the best results and even dynamic content; if I know you’ve downloaded a document before from my site and you’ve given me your name, I might put a personal message for you on my site the next time you return.

The first step to becoming an inbound organisation is to work out your customer personas. You may have two or three for your business depending on audience types/number of products etc. In my business, one of our personas is Bob. Bob is the managing director of a successful business turning over more than a million pounds a year. He has built the business from scratch and is fascinated by marketing. He’s a true salesman and sells his business better than anyone else. Bob is interested in marketing because he recognises that it’s the route to take his business to the next level. He’s an enthusiastic chap who knows what he wants and looks to employ the best people for the job. He doesn’t try and drive people down on price because he appreciates quality. He calls his suppliers partners.

Now when we create marketing material we think of Bob. Would this blog article be of interest to him, would this letter we’re sending out get through his PA? Is this whitepaper going to be something he prints out and takes home to read at night? Your focus on marketing becomes more defined and less time is wasted trying to appeal to all.

As clichéd as it might sound, sharing is caring in this world. Create remarkable content that people want to talk about and tell their friends to check out. This is the way of an inbound organisation, is it the way of your organisation?

If you’re practising Inbound marketing I’d love to hear your stories in the comments. How is it working for you?

p.s. Hat-tip to Hubspot who are the masters of this world and coined the term back in 05/06. Love your work guys.

7 things that changed my life in 2013

7 things that changed my life in 2013
So it’s that time of year again where I look back and reflect on the year just gone. The intention? To reflect, to learn and to take some positivity into 2014.


I’m hoping that these points may help/raise some questions/give you ideas too. Ok, so you won’t be getting married to my wife (or at least I hope not) but you might pick up a few take-aways from the list below or at least add a few of your own in the comments that follow.

If you’re interested in my posts from the last few years, you can find them here: ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12 (can’t believe this is my 4th year doing this!) – here comes the list:

1). Getting Married!

Lizz and I had the best wedding we could have asked for. For those of you who’ve been through this, you’ll know just how stressful it can on the run up to your big day. For me it was about making sure it was perfect and that everyone had a great time. We got married at the Two Bridges on Dartmoor, a beautiful venue, worth checking out if you’re in the region. We had sun, we had outdoor games, we had beautiful flowers, we had each other and it rocked. They say its should be the best day of your life; unless West Ham get a good cup run and win a final, it’s definitely going to be up there (joke Lizz ;). So here’s to many happy years of marriage. Any secrets or top tips from those of you who’ve remained successfully married for many years are welcome in the comments!

Check out some of our photos here if you’re interested.

2). Losing my friend Pete 
This happened very recently so it’s still quite raw. I don’t feel I can sum up my feelings to this any better than I did recently here. I’ll let you check out that post in your own time.

Happy New Year Pete, I know you’re watching down pal.

3). Moving Office
One of the main points we had in our vision statement last year (which I referenced in 2012’s post) was to move office. We desperately needed to do this for a number of reasons. We had staff sitting on each others laps, our office wasn’t reflective of the Optix brand any longer and we’d run out of meeting rooms! Having hunted down the perfect office, we set to work moving and finally changed over in May this year, just a month after my wedding! We spent the second half of the year working on making it an awesome place to work. We have great artwork, plants, an astroturf meeting room, a training suite and of course our purple pool table – a particular favourite of the Optix team. James and I have seen morale increase in the new office and there is a real sense of family about the place. We’re attracting the best people for roles, who do the best work, meaning we attract the best clients. A major change for team Optix and one we look forward to building on over the coming years.

4). Creating a Sales Process
Having built Optix from the ground up and being its sole salesman for many years I didn’t quite realise the impact this had on building a sales team around me. I do things my way. I have my own processes (many of which are in my head). I make sales because I own the company and people like dealing with me. None of the above are conducive to being in a team, especially not heading one up. So I’ve had to learn a lot this year and change my attitude. I’ve had to step back from things where I would have stepped in before. I’ve let the reigns go a little and my team have built us a sales process which we all now follow. This has lead to a strong team with a great attitude, one which I have the utmost pleasure in leading and learning from. The second half of the year saw that team win 6 out of 6 tenders in a row – unheard of for us. Its hard to let go, its hard to re-learn what you know you’re good at but its worthwhile in the longrun. Special mentions here go to Olly Harrison, Kris Sousa and Charlie Martin, you guys rock.

 

5). Freeskiing
I’ve got to have some fun ones right? I bleedin’ love skiing, if I could move to the snow and ski everyday I would. Skiing has been through a bit of a resurgance in the ‘cool stakes’ due to freeskiing, which was born out of new ski designs with two curved ends (called twintips). I purchased a pair in 2013. Basically these allow you to ski switch (backwards) and do tricks that you can’t pull off on normal skis. I’ve finally hung up my snowboard and committed myself to skiing for the remainder of my days. By the way if you’ve not seen this type of skiing check this guy out – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTUQ66TOyHs

Oh and watch out for the freestyle skiing in Sochi too – we even have a medal hope in James Woods: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAOvzz5-MjA

6). My Stag Do
Don’t worry I’ll save you the sordid details. Actually there weren’t that many. What this is really about is friends. When my best man asked me what I wanted to do for my stag a year or so ago I replied I wanted to go skiing. I was half joking. He said why not, its a once in a lifetime event, do what makes you happy. I concurred but given the cost I thought numbers would be limited to 4 or 5. In total, 11 of my best friends joined me in Feb this year to Les Arcs. It was quite literally the best few days I can remember and certainly my favourite holiday of all time. I realised how lucky I am to have such a close knit group of friends, ones that stick by me through thick and thin. You can never underestimate your support networks but I’d guess that most of us don’t spend enough time with them, getting cuaght up in the day to day of everyday life. Perhaps a resolution for 2014 could be to reach out more and spend time with those that make you laugh?

 

7). Freddie
When I was a kid my grandparents had a black lab called Sam. I loved that dog and made it one of my life goals to own one. This year that goal was realised. Lizz and I bought Freddie a couple of months ago and although our life has changed due to the new ties, it is definatley for the better. We both love him dearly, he’s part of our family. A word of caution to anyone thinking about buying a puppy – think carefully, its a lot of hard work. If you can put in the time and effort though, its extremely rewarding.

 

So there you have it, just a few of the things that changed my life this year. Unlike previous years and with the inclusion of my point about Pete, its not all positive but I’m determined to make something good of that tragic event.

 

To end on a more positive note and remind you how important it is to write things down, do remember that goals that aren’t written down are just wishes.

Now Your Thoughts

  • So what changed your life this year?
  • Who and what made an impact on your 2013?

When the chips are down…

When the chips are down…

Yesterday I said my final goodbyes to one of my closest friends, Pete Pope. Pete was only 38 and was taken from us far too early. He was an inspirational guy and one that we can all learn from. If his short life can inspire just one or two people to take action and change the way they perceive life when the chips are down then he would be very happy.

Pete had a horrendous medical history.

Among many other ailments, he suffered from Cancer twice and in his early 20’s had a stroke which almost left him completely paralysed. He lost the ability to use one arm.

He then went on to suffer Kidney failure, which got worse and worse as he struggled to find a donor. At one point I remember him saying his body was only able to use around 5% of that of a healthy human’s kidneys.

Earlier this year he was on dialysis 4-5 times a week for hours and hours at a time. It really got him down. After a couple of false starts with potential donors, they finally found one later in the year and the opp to put it in was successful. He was happier than I’d ever seen him. Then, just three weeks ago the kidney rejected so he had to go back into hospital. That was the day that he didn’t turn up and was found on his own at his house, having had a severe brain haemorrhage. He later passed away with his friends by his bed – Although tragic I was lucky enough to be one of those friends.

Pete was a warm hearted person who often turned up at my wife and I’s house for a cup of tea. He always had time to talk through the challenges we faced and offer his advice. He was genuinely concerned when we had a few health issues ourselves earlier this year, helping us wherever he could. He never once belittled our shared problems, so admirable considering what he was going through himself. I never heard him complain about the cards life had dealt him. He never looked for sympathy, he just got on with it.

Pete loved golf. He made the England disabled team last year and was looking forward to playing much more next year. He didn’t let the fact he only had one arm hold him back. He learnt to play with his disability and he was bloody good – out drove me most of the time!!!

I tell you this story, partly because it helps me to journal it, but also because I’m hoping we can all take something from this tragic situation. We need to learn that our day to day gripes, our moans about something or someone in the office, perhaps even our own health problems are so insignificant when compared to what this amazing man battled through. Next time I find myself down, I’ll remember Pete and have a quiet little word with myself.

I’m sure that some of you will have a Pete in your life – I hope you do. I’d recommend you reflect on their outlook to life and ask if there is anything you can adopt in your own approach to the daily grind. If we all did this, the world would be a better place.

You were an inspiration to me Pete. Rest in peace my friend.