Using Social Media to Enhance Employability

I’m really excited as tomorrow I’m going to be spending the morning with students at Exeter University, talking about Social Media and how it can help their job prospects. We all know its a tough world out there right now and getting a job is a lot harder than when I left the same University, 12 years ago.

I’m excited because when I was there, I didn’t have any of the tools available to these guys to help my search for work. Those who want to give themselves a head start in life really do have a fantastic opportunity to do so.

So here are my top tips to any student looking to use Social Media to enhance their employability potential.

1). Without wanting to start on a negative note, the first place to start is understanding privacy settings and what employers these days use the web for – Googling your name. Have you Googled your name (that’s mine by the way) to see what turns up? Have you checked to see what information people can turn up on you on Facebook without being logged in, or through a profile that is not friends with yours? If not, I suggest you do, because rightly or wrongly prospective employers will be doing so.

2). Right lets get positive now. If I could give one piece of advice to a prospective employee it would be to start blogging. How many CV’s do you think every job you go for is going to attract? How many of them link to a blog which shows off their knowledge, thoughts & personality? Not many I bet you. So here’s your number 1 chance to stand out. With tools like WordPress so easy to use (and free), you can start a blog today, while you’re at Uni and demonstrate to future employers 1000 times more about you, than you can on your CV.

3). Start listening & learning. Use tools like Twitter to start searches for people tweeting in the area you’re looking to get work. Build up a picture of who is about and begin to engage with them. Getting to know a prospective employer before you’ve even applied for a job could just give you the edge you need when it comes to interview time.

4). More Learning. Really?!? Yup ‘fraid so. The workplace is very different to Uni life. Find industry experts and influencers in your field of choice and follow them on sites like Twitter. Learn from them, create your own posts about the things they say on your newly formed blog. Find the thought leaders out there and start to build up real world knowledge of what business is really going to be like.

As an aside, if you’re into Business & Marketing here are a few great people/companies to start with:

Chris Brogan
, Seth Godin
, UnMarketing
Mashable & Econsultancy

5). Make LinkedIn your corporate network. In the business world many of us use LinkedIn as our corporate network. We keep personal stuff to Facebook so that’s not much use to connect with us on. Twitter is more difficult to build close connections on quickly, it takes time. Start to add people you meet at job fairs/events/shows/out networking and build your numbers. Know people in the local business community (family/friends etc)? Add them too. Numbers lead to leverage in LinkedIn and as you take your profile wherever you go in your working life, you should start to see this as one of your most valuable assets.

6). Be Proactive – When I’m looking to recruit, I want someone that stands out. I want someone that makes the effort to go the extra mile. I want someone that doesn’t just send me in a CV and hope for the best. Recruitment is expensive for us company owners. You can not only save us money but show you’re different by finding me on LinkedIn and sending me your details. Ensure to tell me not just about your skill set, but why you want to work for me, what you can bring to my company and why you’re different. You’ll be ahead of 95% of other candidates already and if you’ve done everything else I’ve said above I may not even bother seeing anyone else!

Guys, if I were looking for a job now I’d be really enthused by all the ways I can make myself stand out. The question is….are you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you got any more tips for the stars of the future?

How I give ownership to my team

How I give ownership to my team

Have you ever wondered why a member of your team hasn’t done something you wanted, or perhaps they have, but you get the feeling that it’s been done with the least effort required to get the job done? I’m sure we’ve all been there. What I want to talk to you about today is how you can create an environment where people want to work for you and want take pride in their work. Its the ONLY way you can grow your business.

Over at Optix Solutions everyone we employ is awesome at their jobs. These are people who have studied the internet industry for many years (in some cases since it pretty much began). We have a group of guys and girls that are proud and passionate about what they do and how they can help their clients. These are people who don’t want to be told what to do, day in day out, with no input of their own. These are people who have a voice and a damn good one too. These are people who want to ‘own’ their work. And there lies the clue…


There is a huge difference between giving someone a task or project and asking them to tell you when it’s done and giving someone ownership or responsibility for that task or project. I’ve found this out the hard way over many years. Here’s the difference:

Straight forward delegation of task:
I’ll ask one of my team to complete a task/project and tell them I need it finished by X date. They’ll take it on, complete it and deliver it back again by that date. This is fine and gets the job done but it’s not half as good as….

Giving ownership:
I will delegate in exactly the same way but I might use slightly different wording along the lines of, ‘I’d really like you to own this project, you’ve got the authority to make decisions on how it’s done (within boundaries of course) and the responsibility of delivering on X date lies with you’

You see the difference? The impact of this is huge. Why? Because everyone wants to feel wanted, like they have a purpose and ownership of something, like they come to work for a reason. They will take pride in what they do, they will ‘own’ it. What you’ll get back from your team if you start with this approach will exceed your expectations and people will fly.

I was putting together a blog post for the Optix blog recently about the team we have there and I asked everyone what they liked about working for the company. Here are a few choice comments I had back:

Nick – “Flexibility/freedom to use my initiative and be creative”

Kris – “we are all genuinely challenged to be the best we can be, and our Directors actively encourage us to be a part of the company”

Kris – “You’re not just allowed to have your say, you’re listened to. If something doesn’t work or could be done better for a client, you have the power to change it. When we do well we are rewarded and when we make mistakes we’re encouraged to learn from them”

Charlie – “You are encouraged to learn and grow outside of your specific role – this creates real job satisfaction”

Dan – “My input is taken on board and I am my own man”

Dan – “When working in other organisations it has been all too easy to blend into the background and not be a leader. Here at Optix I am encouraged to take control of my own destiny and make things happen. With that comes responsibility, but without great responsibility you cannot have great power! Even Spiderman knows that”

Rich – “We throw  a wicked xmas party!”

Ok, so maybe the last one has little to do with ownership but hey its true! :)

We understand at Optix that the company can only be successful if we have a team of people who are proud of who they work for, love coming to work and have ownership of the work they do.

How can you foster this environment with your team?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Do you give ownership to your staff? What has this brought you?
  • Do you have any further thoughts on how to get more from your team beyond this?

[Read more…]

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

One of the things its easy to forget when you’ve been blogging for a long time is all the great posts and content you’ve put together over the years. All that effort you put in, potentially lost in the mists of time.

Unless a user finds your posts by a search engine, its unlikely they’ll navigate back over years worth of content – lets face it, who has the time for that?

There is an easy solution to this though – A ’round up’ post. A collection of posts from your blog linked to from another post just like this. It could be your ‘favourite 5 articles’, ‘7 posts you’ve written on a  particular topic’, it could just be a random mixture you want to highlight for another reason.

So with that in mind, here is one from me.

I use a tool called Postrank (owned by Google) to help me work out which of my posts are well received and which flop. It scores on all sorts of metrics like comments/shares etc…

So here are my top 8 posts of all time according to my post rank stats – enjoy:

1). Here’s a great way to loose some customers – I got quite miffed one holiday in Cornwall a year or so ago and decided to rant a little on my blog. Right or wrong, this post topped the charts!

2). Do what you do best and delegate the rest – A post about my framework for delegation, essential as your company grows.

3). 7 Super useful resources for busy business owners – Gotta love a list of useful resources. It seems other people did too.

4). Facebook Places – Are you Aware – One of my most commented on posts so it clearly hit a nerve. A post about thinking before you ‘check-in’

5). If I were a solicitor… – Here’s a post for all solicitors thinking about how to use social media. Loads of great ideas, crowd-sourced from others as well.

6). The sale ain’t made ‘til the bill is paid! – Putting together a policy on money and collecting it is essential to any business, large or small. This post gives some hints and tips on this topic.

7). 5 traits successful business owners have – This one got a lot of traction. The title speaks for itself.

8). Cash Flow is King! Guide to setting up a cash flow forecast – My most visited post (and one of my oldest) by a long way. It proves that if you give a bit of value away you get search engine listings and lots of traffic in return.

Now Your Thoughts

  • If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog and have others you think I’ve missed out please do highlight them.
  • Have you thought about doing a round up post yourself? Its really quite fun to reminisce…

Photo courtesy of Fabio Marini under creative commons

p.s You can now add your email address to my ‘newsletter’ signup. I’ll be adding value to this group of people as often as possible – they will receive things from me that others don’t have access to, so please signup today.

p.p.s. If you like what you’ve read here then you should sign up to my RSS feed and every time I update this site the post will be sent to your reader automatically.

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?

Optix Solutions is Recruiting – Can you Help Me?

We have an exciting new role at Optix Solutions – Maybe it’s for you or you know someone who could fit the bill. Here is the Job Ad from our main website which I’ve copied below (I apologise for the copy and paste but I’m not sure I can add much more than this already says). I’d appreciate it if you could forward this on for me.

Are you….

  • Into business development?
  • Someone who listens before speaking?
  • Into solving others problems?
  • Up for helping others grow their businesses?

Then this role could be for you.

We’re looking for a business development star to join our already legendary team and help grow our client’s businesses online. Note how we didn’t say grow ‘our’ business – that’s important and if you don’t know why, you need not apply.

We’re looking for someone who can break-down client’s challenges in seconds and work out a solution for their needs using the tools we have at our fingertips.

Before we go any further here are some rules about applying:

  • No Sales BS please (ok so there is only really one rule but it’s pretty important)

In the first instance, please send your CV and cover letter to – We’d like you to put in the cover letter why you want to work for us. Impress us. Go on, you know you want to…

Good luck….

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 :) ?

Do what you do best and delegate the rest

Do what you do best and delegate the rest

When you start your own business and it’s just you (or a partner perhaps) you do everything. You do the sales, the accounts, the admin, the mail, the work itself…… the list goes on. When you find that you’re in a position to grow and take on specialists you must take those chances as they’ll help take your business to the next level. This often isn’t easy though.

The first thing I employed someone for was the books. Within a year of starting we had a bookeeper that came in once a month. It was just enough to deal with the purchase ledger and VAT/Tax. We also had an accountant but that was a friend of the family helping me out so I guess I can’t count that.

I’m going to be honest with you – Over the years I have been pretty awful at delegating. It’s one of my weaknesses but I’m really working hard on it and want to share some of the things I’m learning with you. I like to have control, to know where everything is and like many other business owners, believe that I can do many things better than other people – This however is not the trait of a successful businessman I’m afraid. Businesses run by people like this can achieve a certain level of growth but if they keep on the same vane it holds them back. They must let go.

Having read the fantastic book ‘One Minute Manager’ (Aff Link) I’ve learnt that delegating is extremely important, but not just that, the process of ‘how to delegate’ is even more vital if you’re to get it right. I’m much better at giving things up now. In my Online Marketing agency, the two directors (of which I’m one) are building a team of fantastic individuals who we feel more than comfortable asking to carry out tasks, knowing they will be done and done with vigor. In your businesses you need to build similar teams around you – recognising where your skills don’t lie and filling these in around you.

I mentioned you need a process for delegating – a framework if you will. Well here’s mine – feel free to nab it.

My Frame work for Delegating

1). Define the task fully – When asking someone to do something, make sure the task is crystal clear. If you’re doing this by email or text, re-read it a couple of times if necessary to make sure you think there can be no room for error.

2). Define when you need the outcome to take place. If you’re asking for a report or something to come back to you then define that date/time clearly. I went wrong here a lot – I assumed by delegating that everyone else’s priorities would match mine then got upset when people didn’t deliver – it was my fault as I didn’t define my expectations on delivery clearly enough.

3). Define the expectations – Much like the time/date, if you have expectations of what you require, put them down as well. If you want someone to take something and make decisions on your behalf, tell them or it will probably end up back on your plate.

4). Set a follow up – When you agree the time/date, agree what the follow up looks like – is it a meeting, an email, a document on your desk.

5). Define success – Not always relevant with smaller and more mundane tasks but essential with larger, more important ones. Say what you ideally want the outcome to be so the person you’re asking has some indication of what they are working towards.

6). Remember what you’ve delegated – I really struggled with this before. Where do I keep a note of what I’ve delegated? I’ve tried lots of systems but I’ve ended up using a fantastic service called NudgeMail. You simply send Nudgemail an email with the date you want it to ‘nudge’ you (for example and it will do just that. I don’t remind myself of everything I delegate but I do with the larger task as sometimes a casual nudge to the person I’ve delegated to is required and I believe that showing you care and haven’t forgotten can also be important 😉

Now Your Thoughts

  • Are you a control freak or have you mastered the art of delegation?
  • Have you got any tips for us on this art?

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…

The No 1. Trait I want from my staff

Someone asked me today, “Alastair, what’s the number one trait you expect or want from your staff”. Hmm interesting – this made me think very hard. Some of the obvious ones sprang to mind immediately:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Skilled
  • Motivated
  • Hard Working

They all came close.

Do you know what I ended up answering and on reflection still consider up there at the top? (enough to write a post about it! at least!)

Someone who ‘Accepts Responsibility’

What do I mean by this?

This person never blames anyone else, they accept responsibility themselves in a positive way and offer a solution which they learn from and better themselves with. In sales especially this is very important and easy to explain using the following example:

Sales person A returns from a pitch, and say’s the following: “Boss we didn’t get it because the customer doesn’t have the money just now – times have been tight because of the recession and the chips are down – it’s hard out there right now.”

Sales person B returns from the same pitch and say’s, “Boss I didn’t get the pitch for these two reasons – I didn’t qualify the person hard enough, so hadn’t realised they didn’t have the right budget for our product and I didn’t build a good enough relationship with the decision maker. I tell you what though, I’m not going to make the same mistakes again and I’ll nail the next one Boss.”

Who accepted responsibility in that scenario? Who would you rather have working for you? Yes of course, the second guy right?

This doesn’t just apply in sales, it happens in all areas of business and I personally want to surround myself with people who have the ability to accept responsibility. If someone comes to me and says they made a mistake but they’ve learnt or they know how to fix it then that’s a HUGE tick in the box. If they come to me blaming someone else or some external factor then it has the opposite effect.

There is a great article on the Livestrong Blog which goes into far more detail about the topic and is well worth a read if you agree with my points above:

Now Your Thoughts

  • Don’t forget that when you employ people, you are looking for things like this from an early stage – what sort of questioning could you use to coax this kind of personality trait out of someone?
  • What would you say the No1 trait you look for in your staff is?