Stop the Sabotage

Stop the Sabotage

I’m not sure why I find myself talking about hotels again is a disdainful manner, but that’s just the way it goes I guess. These are places which are supposed to hold the highest regard for customer service – it’s what much of their success is based upon.

So today I witnessed one of the worst cases of business sabotage I can ever imagine. It literally put shivers down my spine to think of my staff ever doing something similar (I know you wouldn’t by the way guys!!)

I’m standing at the reception of a well respected and fairly top end hotel in Exeter. There is a well-to-do lady talking to the man behind the reception desk. I’m not really a nosy person but I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. This is where the unimaginable happens.

The lady is asking the guy about hotel rates, she’s foreign by the way. The guy, seemingly uninterested responds ‘well it’s cheaper in the week than at the weekend’. The lady responds politely, ‘thats understandable, I’m enquiring for my daughter who would like to stay for quite some time’ – BINGO – Music to anyone’s ears surely…not this guy. He asks how long she’d be planning to stay and the lady responds ‘at least three weeks at first’. This is where it gets really silly. The guy then says to her: ‘Oh if its that long you better do it online as you might get a better deal there’!!!

Folks lets analyze this for a minute – you have a potential punter standing in front of you with their wallet open and ready to sign themselves up for a very long time – I’m guessing this is worth thousands of pounds to this hotel and what do they do, tell them to look online as it might be cheaper. Jeez – If it were me and it really were cheaper online (and by the way I doubt it very much) I’d walk them to the hotels computer and help them look myself. My guess is that it was too much work for this guy, perhaps he’d had a bad day or couldn’t be bothered with this one lady as it sounded like a bit too much work.

My guess is this woman (clearly in a foreign country) will not bother going online but will probably walk down the road to one of the many other great hotels in town. I know I would.

That guy has potentially cost his company thousands of pounds and doesn’t even care. As business owners, what can we do to make sure that our staff are not doing the same to us? Do they care about your business? Do they worry about losing money making opportunities as you do or is it just another job?

Watch out folks – I bet this hotel didn’t even realise that this was going on. Are you certain it’s not happening to you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Could I be going OTT because I’m naturally a sales person and can’t stand to see a sale lost?
  • What measures do you have in place to stop this complacency in your business?

Parabottle – An Amazing New Charity

Parabottle – An Amazing New Charity

I’m not going to tell you about a new business idea today, or a piece of online marketing advice, or a way that I’ve setup a process in my business. I’m going to tell you about a really exciting new charity Parabottle, that I’ve been asked to get involved in with the hope that I can raise awareness of their objectives and even better, that some of you reading this will feel you might just be able to help with a small donation or simply telling others about this post – that’s down to you though of course.

Nick Sprague is a very successful business man in Devon (UK). A client of mine for a number of years and more recently has become more of a friend. Nick came to me last year asking if I’d like to be involved in this new charity and when he explained the concept I was hooked – I hope you will be too.

Did you know that when the Haiti disaster struck, despite being as close as 2 hours from Miami, it was incredibly difficult to get aid to the people who needed it straight away. It is my understanding that more people have now died in the time after the earthquake than the actual quake itself!!! A horrific statistic.

It was on hearing this news on the Radio one day that Nick thought to himself there must be something he can do about this. An epic challenge for someone to take on I’m sure you’ll agree.

You may well have come across Shelter Box – A Cornish charity which are doing remarkable things in the world of aid. These boxes can keep whole families alive for a very long time but due to their size and requirement for transport they can’t always get to places of need quickly. This is where Nick’s idea for Parabottle fits in.

Nick drew up plans for a bottle which contains basic provisions for aid (water, foil blanket and matches at the very least). The lid would have a parachute designed into it and within the first 24-48 hrs of a disaster these bottles could be dropped from planes where conventional aid cannot reach.

As you can probably appreciate, getting something like this off the ground is no mean feat! The first challenge was getting it through the charity commission in order to become registered, something in fact the CEO and founder of Shelter Box, Tom Henderson kindly helped Nick with.

This brings us to the here and now. The next step for this fledgling charity is to have the prototype designed and tested by Airborne Systems later this year.

Currently the new charity needs all the help it can get and is looking for people to get behind it and (hopefully) make this Devon’s answer to Cornwall’s amazing Shelter Box. More importantly, to make this a reality and start saving lives.

I’d ask you to do three things for me today if you can spare just 5 minutes:

1). Take a look at the website: http://www.parabottle.org.uk/

2). Make sure your sound is turned up full and watch the amazing video (on the homepage) which sums the concept up better than I probably have in this post.

3). Consider whether you might like to be involved personally (you can donate here: http://www.justgiving.com/parabottle/ or perhaps you’d consider making Parabottle your chosen charity).

If you are interested in getting involved then I know Nick and the team at Parabottle would be keen to hear from you – just email me your details and how you would like to help on alastair@iambanksy.co.uk

We already delighted that PWC got behind the project running a quiz in Bristol in aid of the charity and Michelmores kindly allowed Parabottle to say a few words at their recent business breakfast. A huge thank you to both those companies.

I don’t often use my blog as a platform for this kind of thing but this is something that is very important to me and if I can raise the profile of this new charity to help it off the ground then I think that’s ok in my book. You can expect my usual style post back again soon :)

How to be found in Google

How to be found in Google

When you type your name into Google what comes up?

Are you the 1st result? Are you 2nd? Please tell me you’re on the first page right? No? Really?

When I go for a meeting with anyone, when I listen to someone speak, the first thing I do is Google their name and if they don’t appear at least once on the first page that’s a report card on them I’m afraid. If your job is such that you need to keep out of the public eye then I’d understand but for those of you trying to build businesses and get yourself out there you’re going to need to get yourself out there. Let’s look at a few ways you can do this today.

1). Get yourself a blog. Don’t just add it to a free wordpress or blogger hosting account. Shell out a few pennies and have it hosted properly on its own domain. Consider buying a domain with your own name if it’s still available. If it’s not, then write a great biography page with your name mentioned in it.

2). Get active on Twitter and LinkedIn. These two sites are huge and very well respected by the likes of Google. When you signup try and choose a name which is something to do with you if possible. If not then make sure you at least give the network your full name where it asks for it. Create a biography page/section that describes you, your location (because people will use that to search too) and your interests if possible. Now get active on these channels. Engage with people on Twitter, link people to things of interest that you find and connect with people on LinkedIn – be proactive, don’t just wait to accept peoples invites and wonder what to do then.

3). Get listed on your company website – Does your company site have a team page you can be added to? Does it have a blog you could write for? Ask the powers that be how you can be featured more online and if you are the powers that be, make this happen :)

4). Write for your local paper or at least get them to write about you! Local papers are also well respected in search engines due to the amount of fresh content they are churning out and size of their sites. A few stories every now and again could see you getting listed in Google more often. If your story is good enough the paper will want it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get after all!

So there you have it, a few ways to start improving your ‘googleability’ (not sure if I just made that up or not). If you’re looking for the edge over your competitors this point should really be up near the top of your to do list.

Image courtesy of Molly Stevens

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you got any other suggestions for helping get listed in Google?
  • Have you used the search engine giant to do research yourself?

8 Simple Steps to Email Marketing Loveliness

8 Simple Steps to Email Marketing Loveliness

Some of you might be wondering why I’m writing about email marketing today – it’s old hat isn’t it? With all this new social media buzz, there is surely no place in the world for email marketing is there? Well I believe there is and I intend to tell you why and how you can use it to grow your client base today.

Let’s settle one thing quickly – if you’re reading this, thinking about buying a database from someone on a street corner (or even  a more reputable source) then this article probably isn’t for you. I’m focusing today on using your own valuable data, built up over years possibly.

I want to start with a story. About a year ago a guy approached Optix having met me 6 years ago at a networking event. I’d agreed with him to receive the Optix newsletter and we both went our separate ways. Optix kept in touch with him by way of our monthly newsletter and recently he became one of our largest clients. He’d watched the business grow and liked what he’d seen.

Here are a few sure fire ways to use email marketing to help your business grow:

1). All about the data – A good email marketing campaign revolves around good data. Make sure yours is clean or you’ll just be throwing money away.

2). Build your data – what can you give away to build a database of leads/contacts/prospects? This year we launched our free social media policy generator: http://www.optixsolutions.co.uk/free-social-media-policy-generator/ – A tool of real value which also helps us build leads – true ‘Inbound Marketing’.

3). Split Test your email subject lines – A good email marketing system will split test campaigns for you. It will take 50% of your database and send two different subject lines, content variants or from names and then track the most successful delivery rate, then send the winner to the other 50% – using this will give you better open and click through rates.

4). Spam & Client Testing – Emails show up differently in different email clients. Now email is consumed more and more on mobile devices you need to make sure your email is designed and developed for all these variants. This again is something a good system should be able to do for you. If not, make sure you ask your designers to consider this.

5). Deal with bounces – If an email bounces (doesn’t reach its destination) it can be for a couple of reasons. A soft bounce may infer a problem with the routing of an email to someones email box/server and is likely to be ok next time round. A hard bounce means that email doesn’t exist any longer and should be cleaned from the database – no point spending money on people that won’t ever answer!

6). Use Autoresponders – When you signup to something on a site have you ever received an email a few days later which follows it up…and then again a week or so after that? You’re part of an autoresponder system. Clever marketers know that it takes a few ‘touches’ to get to a sale but tracking and sending emails to everyone that signs up with your site manually would be far too inefficient to deal with so autoresponders help to do this for you. Used cleverly, these are extremely powerful tools

7). Segment your data – If you’re blasting everyone in your database in one go you’re probably not getting the most from it. Segment your data into interests/purchases made if you’re running an ecommerce shop or even simple things like male/female if this makes a difference to your customer. For example, I’m not hugely interested in the latest dresses from Reiss (a favourite shop of mine) but they don’t send me that because I’m segmented in their database.

8). Tie into your Social Profiles – If you have a fantastic Facebook page and a tremendous Twitter presence then make the most of them. Ask people to sign up for your updates – if you don’t ask you don’t get after all. Don’t bombard them but a few calls to action every now and again is fine.

It’s time to get clever with your email marketing – it’s still one of the most powerful tools in the online marketing toolbox.

Oh and if you’re looking for a provider, we have our own that you can find out more about over at http://www.envirosend.co.uk

Image courtesy Ramberg Media Images

Now Your Thoughts

  • What’s worked or not worked for you when you’ve marketed by email?
  • Got any tips for the other readers?

Here’s a Great Way to Lose Some Customers :)

Here’s a Great Way to Lose Some Customers :)

Never, ever, step outside your own rules/boundaries….

I don’t often blog negatively but we’re away in Cornwall this week, staying in an idyllic house in a place called Polzeath. The family come away every year to the same house which is near a well known hotel called The St Moritz. Today I witnessed a great way to lose customers and wanted to share it with you.

So here’s what happened. There is a party of 10 of us deciding whether to go for a swim over at the hotel. 4 of the girls are getting beauty treatments at the hotel tomorrow so a few of us pop over first and ask if the group can have a discount on the swimming today.

Officially the hotel offer people having treatments 50% discount on the swimming so we’re going to see if they’d be kind enough to extend that to the rest of us. The guy on the reception tells us that everyone can have the discount and so, very happy, we pop back to the house and round up the group. Everyone bounces over to the hotel happy as larry and the girl on reception tells us she’ll get the manager who we had originally spoken to.

The managing director appeared 5 minutes later and in no uncertain words tells us that everyone pays full price and only the people paying for treatments get it half price. He says this without any consideration or thought for what sits in front of him (10 new customers for a start). In fact he goes on to say, ‘you can’t expect me to give the benefit to everyone – I’m afraid the person you spoke to didn’t have authority to say that, I’m the managing director and I say everyone not having treatments pays full price’

So lets dissect this in case you want to use this tactic to lose some of your customers.

  • We wanted to use a facility that sits there and costs money whether people are in it or not.
  • The whole time we were there we only saw about 10 other people (we were there for at least 2 hours).
  • He took about £100 off us instead of £50. I very much doubt we’ll be recommending the hotel or it’s facilities now.
  • We could have gone back there everyday this week for all he knew – at a fiver per person, per day that would have been some good business for him.
  • He was unwilling to budge from the rules he’d laid down.
  • In this social, sharing world, it was pretty easy for me to write this and share it to thousands of people

Now some of you might be saying – but what if others found out, would that cause him a problem? Maybe, and if that was really going to be an issue I think the way the situation was dealt with could have been better even if the outcome wasn’t the one we’d all wanted. Communication is everything in business – your customers are your new marketing.

If you’re wondering how I would have approached the situation – here’s how: I would have told us that the first guy had made a small mistake but that on this occasion I was willing to stick by it. I might have made a little joke about not telling anyone and I’d have had 10 happy customers without a bad taste in their mouths and returning every year.

Now Your Thoughts

  • What fantastic strategies have you found for losing customers?
  • Do you have a different view on this? Was the guy right for sticking to his own rules?

Delegate, don’t abdicate

A quick follow up on my last post about the art of delegating today. After a few conversations I had with people, spurred on from my last post, it struck me that I missed an absolutely vital point which many people don’t think of.

Young managers and people new to delegating often mix up delegation and abdication of responsibility – I’ve done it myself.

When delegating you must remember one very important point – you are merely passing something on to another and asking for them to look after it for you. You are passing the authority to them but not the responsibility – that should remain firmly on your shoulders. If something goes awry with your task, it will still be you taking responsibility so you need to make sure you have processes in place to keep track of the delegated tasks. Try not to micro-manage as that’s not helpful for anyone but you may need to know important pieces of information which you’ll have to make sure the person you’ve delegated to, understands you need.

Short post I know, but extremely important for all of you new to this topic…

Hope you’ve all enjoyed the many bank holidays we’ve just had (if you’re in the UK of course)

Now Your Thoughts

  • Did I forget anything else :) ?

Have a Break, Have a Creative Moment…or two..

Have a Break, Have a Creative Moment…or two..

I’ve just returned from a skiing holiday in France (client has a chalet there conveniently). It was a wonderful trip, one I look forward to every year as my Dad and I take his oldschool Porsche 911, stick the skis and board on the roof-rack and drive out to the Alps. It’s a great opportunity for us to spend some time together (very important in itself) and also for me to get away from work. This year was the first time in years that I put an autoresponder on my email and didn’t look at it until I got back to the UK. Bar a few calls to the office to check it was still there I almost managed to switch off completely!

Why am I telling you this? Because I realised just how important this was for me and I know that many of you will be in exactly the same position as I am.

It’s extremely easy to let your business consume you. You work all the hours under the sun and the days, weeks, months and even years pass by very quickly. You get caught up in the day to day fire-fighting, the challenges that arise which appear to be really important and ‘must’ get your attention immediately – of course, these can never wait ;)

Taking time out of the business has allowed the part of my brain which deals with these daily tasks to have a rest. Other parts of my brain then seem to have kicked in – especially the more creative ones. I reckon I came up with more new ideas in that short time away than I have in the whole of the last year. I have a notepad with lists of them and I really don’t believe they would have come to me if I hadn’t been ‘off duty’.

Do you take time off from your business? Do you feel you can’t? Do you have a team that can take the reigns while you’re away? Maybe you need to build one. I also recognised this year, that my business was in very safe hands while I was away. I am lucky to have a very good business partner anyway, but this year, I really felt that the team we have at Optix is absolutely top notch, all pulling together to wow and delight customers at every opportunity. A great bunch, I feel very proud to have working with me.

So my message to you business owners is this – Can it wait? Can someone else do it for you? Honestly? I bet it/they can….and if so, take some time, re-group and relax and see what happens. I hope you’ll find the same that I did and I’ll look forward to hearing all about it from you.

Now Your Thoughts

  • What sort of importance do you place on time off?
  • Can you switch off completely or are you tied to your phone?

Stop Worrying and Start Living

Stop Worrying and Start Living

I was talking to some of my team yesterday and discussing how, in business, you simply have to face up to tough decisions and things you wouldn’t necessarily want to do given the choice. Last week I wrote about eating the frog which has struck a few chords it seems from comments and emails I’ve had. That technique is a great way of dealing with individual tricky situations but what about stress and hard times in general – how do you deal with that?

In my business over the years, I’ve had to take people through disciplinary procedures, I’ve fired people, dealt with horrendous computer system crashes, irate clients and many many other difficult situations. These have an impact on my general stress levels and work/life balance and over the years I’ve learnt ways of dealing with this. I’m sure you feel and suffer the same and please believe me this is not a post to get sympathy.

Dealing with difficult times is something you have to do if you want to progress in business and guess what, quite often it’s these times that teach us more than the good times so there is a positive spin on this already. In fact I remember someone saying to me once that the clients who moan the most are often your best as they point out the problems within your business. You should thank clients that moan at you – they are teaching you a lot.

I use a few visualisation/positive thought techniques to help me when the chips are down – I’d like to share a couple with you this morning.

What’s the worst that could happen?
In his book, ‘How to stop worrying and start living’ (aff link) Dale Carnegie’s first chapter focuses on thinking about what the worst thing that could happen to you is – Are you likely to goto jail? Are you likely to die? Will you lose your entire business? No? Well let’s start to put a scale of how bad this really is then. By working out what the worst that can happen to you is and dealing with that, you can start to deal with it and move on.

How did they do it?
My Grandfather was in World War 2. He landed in D-Day and was blown up and shipped back to England pretty quickly. He also served in the desert and received the military cross for bravery. I remember fondly as a child, he used to recount stories to me of his time during the war. I learnt some very valuable lessons from him. None more so than just getting on with it. He lived through some awful conditions but never once moaned about them or felt he’d be dealt a tough hand. He taught me to get on with things and face up to the fact that life isn’t always peachy. I miss him dearly now and thank him for some of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learnt.

What would others do?
Last year I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Floyd Woodrow – One of the SAS’s youngest recruits at 22 years of age. He now runs a ‘performance optimisation’ company working with business and sports leaders. He talked about leadership that day and one thing in particular stuck in my mind. When faced with a difficult situation he uses a number of techniques. One is to touch his ear which he has linked mentally to pleasant visions and ideas and the second is to consider what others would do in his situation. Faced with a tricky decision he quickly sums up what 4 or 5 other people he highly respects would do and then makes his mind up. Perhaps a useful tool for you to use? You can follow Floyd on Twitter.

I have to say folks, on reading this back to myself this post feels a little negative but it’s really not meant too and I don’t feel at all down today – I thought it would be a good follow up to eating the frog and hopefully give you some ideas for techniques to use when you’re next feeling like things are against you. After all, if you’re down, think of all the people around that you will also bring down with you.

Chin up and keep smiling :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • Do you have any techniques for keeping your chin up during adversity?
  • What keeps you going?

Thank You!

Thank You!

As I write this, at 8am on the morning of my birthday, I’ve already received numerous texts from people, tweets, linkedIn messages and facebook wall comments wishing me many happy returns. I’m actually quite overwhelmed by it. Thank you so much everyone. Many of the people on the social networks didn’t even know me a few years ago and they’ve taken the time to stop by and wish me the best – this is one of the reasons I love this medium – the ability to build relationships :)

Without wanting to get too nauseous I thought rather than a ‘list of things to do’ or a ‘top ways to….’ blog, I’d simply write about the things I’m grateful for, something I think everyone should do once in a while. It’s a positive thing to do, so even if you don’t publish it like I have, maybe do this for yourself in private – it might help put things in perspective.

Health – Another year passes and I’m in good health which has to be up there as one of the most important things to be grateful for. I’ve joined the gym this year and intend to work on this part of my life even more in 2011. Fit body, fit mind after all.

Family – I’m incredibly grateful for having a supportive family. My parents are always behind everything I do and while they are not necessarily in my life everyday, they have a huge bearing on where I’ve come from and where I’m going. A special mention here goes to my brother and his partner who had my niece, Tilly, last year – the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen and someone that has made me think much more about work/life balance.

Friends – My friends and partner are unbelievable. A close nit group, spanning the country & lots more abroad. Intelligent, enthusiastic, gregarious people who I owe an awful lot of why I am ‘me’ too. People I can turn to in time of need and most importantly, people that I know will keep me smiling and laughing all day long.

The Optix Team – No one has had it easy over the last couple of years, business in general for the country has been tougher than it’s been in a very long time so I’m thankful and grateful for my business and my team – without whom, it wouldn’t be possible.

You – Finally I’d like to thank you. For reading this, for sharing it with friends, for commenting and spreading it. It makes it worthwhile.

You can put your sick buckets away now guys, normal service will resume next post. Just thought this might be a nice little break from the norm. :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • What are you most grateful for? It would be great to hear…

7 Super Useful Resources for Busy Business Owners

7 Super Useful Resources for Busy Business Owners

We’re all busy right? In the fast-paced life we lead, it’s great when a tool comes along that helps us run our business more efficiently – the trouble is there are a lot of them out there which have little or no benefit to users and in fact end up wasting us a lot of time.

Every now and again I come across websites that are really helpful and increase my efficiency dramatically. I want to share a few of these with you today. It would be great if you could share any gems you’ve found in the comments so this post becomes a really useful resource for others.

So here are some tools that you can start using immediately.

Nudge Mail – I love this tool and as I get to know more about it I use it more often. This clever system allows you to email it (without any kind of signup procedure) with a date or time that you want the email sent back (i.e. a nudge). The possibilities are endless. I think I might write a more detailed post about it in the future. If you practice GTD this is a great tool for you.

Evernote – There’s not much you can’t do with Evernote. Setup folders for documents, scans, emails, clips from webpages, images and pretty much everything else you might want to organise. If you need a central place for putting things in ‘the cloud’ this is as good as any.

Remember The Milk – Online to-do lists. I’ve set mine up in GTD style. You can email directly to this online system which means when it gets there you can categorise it. I use a tagging system that helps me pick tasks I want to do according to my mood (i.e. If I am in the mood for lots of sales calls – I have a tag for calls)

Adwords Keyword Tool - If you blog then you need to consider what people might be searching for in the likes of Google. This useful tool is great for finding out what people are ‘actually’ searching for, not just what you think they might be doing. Simply take your findings and make sure you craft your titles and articles around them.

Dropbox – Emailing large files can be a real pain. Email servers normally have a limit of about 10mb on them and quite often you might need to get larger files to other places. I recommend dropbox which is free for upto 2gb of storage.

Survey Monkey - Are you looking to run an online survey? Perhaps you want to get feedback from clients. Survey monkey is a great website which makes building a survey very simple and gives you fantastic feedback data and graphs the other side.

Eventbrite – Running a seminar or event and want to invite people? Want to charge but don’t have your own credit card facility? This website allows you to create an event and set a price (can also be free) and invite people to book online. It takes all the hard work out of it for you.

Have you found this post useful? This is the sort of thing I’ll be sharing more regularly with my friends who signup to my email list. It would be great to see you there – just pop your name and email addy in to the box on the homepage on the right hand side.

Now Your Thoughts

  • What tools do you use to increase efficiency? Let’s share and make this a useful resource in itself