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.

Work-life balance – A debate

Work-life balance – A debate

Today I have a day off.

But what does that mean for a business owner? Is it really a day off, where you completely stop thinking about work or is it a day off in disguise, where you pretend to do other things while secretly thinking about your next big work project or just check a few emails to make sure the office hasn’t burnt down?

My post today is less about tips or advice and more about stimulating the discussion around work-life balance and what it means for you. I’ll start and you feel free to dip in on the comments section below, I’m genuinely interested to get your points of view.

For about the first 5 years of my business I worked almost every weekend I could. I’d never leave the office before 7/8pm and put everything I had into it. Personally I think it’s difficult to get a business off the ground without that level of commitment, unless you’re incredibly lucky. I guess this instilled a work ethic in me which I find hard to shift now. I have other commitments now, a wife, a dog (as of last week!), a cat and I’m sure in time children will follow. I enjoy skiing and trips away with friends, all of which have been afforded to me because of the long hours I’ve put in over the years. If I’d opted for a career which allowed me more of the ‘life’ in ‘work-life’ would this have been possible? I guess I’ll never know but I do know a lot of people along the way have told me I work too hard and maybe they’re right…maybe they’re not.

The key I guess is that I love what I do. Granted, it’s not easy all of the time and when it’s tough, it’s really tough but I wouldn’t swap it. Do people tell you to slow down? Have you cracked running a business and living a life outside, completely switched off from it? Do you have secrets to share?

So let’s discuss, debate, play devil’s advocate with the topic of work-life balance and share thoughts on the way you work and play.

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/seeveeaar/

Express & Echo Entrepreneur and Employer of the Year Awards!

Yesterday I learnt that I’ve been shortlisted for the Entrepreneur of the year award at my local paper’s business awards, and my company, Optix Solutions has been shortlisted for the employer of the year award. A proud moment for both the company and me personally.

Now the personal award is in the lap of the judges but the other award is being put out to public vote and is being judged on number of tweets received in support.

It would mean a lot to me if you’d just take a minute to vote for Optix Solutions here: http://www.exeterbusinessawards.co.uk/shortlist/employer-of-the-year/

I try not to ask for much from you, so that when things like this do come up, you’ll consider reaching out and helping me :)

What would be even sweeter is if you’d consider sending a tweet to your followers asking them to vote aswell. I’ve even written something for you here:

“Please follow and vote for @optixsolutions in their local award for employer of the year. They really deserve it :) http://bit.ly/10T1zyH”

If you’re in any doubt, we’ve backed up our claim to glory with a blog post here

Thank you all. I promise I’ll be back with educational content again soon.

A case for failing

A case for failing

Today I have a guest post from a guy that I consider a close confidant to my business and me personally. I’ve worked with Andy for over two years now in the areas of sales and management. He’s delievered huge value to my business as a coach and trainer. Andy is, in my view, the sales and management guru in the South West. In this great post he talks about a particular favourite topic of mine, failing! Take it away Andy.

When was the last time you failed, didn’t complete an important project on schedule, fell short of achieving a meaningful goal or simply didn’t accomplish what you set out to do?

If you haven’t failed lately, that’s unfortunate.  Because accompanying every failing experience is an opportunity to learn and to grow.  People who never fail are, for the most part, people who never take chances.  They typically don’t set goals, or if they do, they are ones which are easily achieved or within their capabilities. Those people rarely suffer major disappointments but at the same time, they rarely accomplish anything great.

Life is richer and work more fulfilling when you set goals that take you out of your comfort zone – when you have something challenging to aim for each day.

But you can’t set goals, especially stretching goals unless you’re willing to risk failure.

Why?

Because you won’t succeed at everything you set out to accomplish, even after several attempts.  But don’t let that scare you – a valuable lesson will have been learnt.

If you’ve been afraid to take risks, afraid to fail….STOP.  Think about what you’d like to accomplish in life, what you’d like to be known for, where you’d like to go and the relationships you’d like to have.  Take time to let the idea of moving your life to another level sink in.

Identify the steps or tasks necessary to accomplish each of your goals.  This gives you a sense of control over the outcomes and allows you to work steadily towards success.

Challenging goals can make the difference between a mundane life and an exhilarating one…but only if you’re willing to risk failing.  Are you?

You can find out more about Andy here.

Photo by fireflythegreat

 

The Icarus Deception and Seth Godin

The Icarus Deception and Seth Godin

This week, Seth Godin made a rare appearance in the UK and I was lucky enough to bag myself a ticket. I’ve been a huge fan of Seth’s since reading his book ‘Purple Cow’ 4 or 5 years ago and applying many of the principles within it to my own business. Since then I’ve read a number of his books including Lynchpin and most recently, The Icarus Deception, the book this event was based on.

Seth has inspired me for a number of years so I was keen to see him live. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Icarus Deception deals with the fact that we are living in a revolution and that most people are struggling to see it. We are moving from an Industrial Economy (think big brands, big spends, loud marketing noise) where everything revolves around greater efficiency, cheaper products and where people are pushed to be average, to what Seth terms the Connection Economy where the connections you make and the opportunities you take to create ‘Art’ will be the most important element to your success in the future. The problem is, not enough people create art.

So what is art? Art is something new. Art is being different. Art is something you made before others. Art is something you probably tried to create time and time again, not being afraid to fail along the way. Are you making art?

A particular theme that interested me is that as we grow up we’re taught not to make art. Schools are there to teach us to stand in straight lines, to conform, not to speak up but to go through the system – junior school, high school, university, job. When are we told its ok to make a ruckus? I certainly can’t remember being given that instruction. The title of the book, the Icarus Deception refers to the Greek myth about Icarus who was taught, while attempting to escape from Crete, not to fly too close to the sun or his wings would burn and he’d fall into the sea. Of lesser mention is the fact he was also taught not to fly to close to the sea or the mist from the water would make his wings too heavy and the same fate would occur. Where are we teaching future generations to fly? Higher than ever or within their comfort zones, where its nice and safe?

A fascinating story using the company Lego was used as means of an example. Allegedly they were suffering grave problems back in the 80’s/90’s, as they stuck to their belief that every product they made should be able to be used for at least two different things. We were told the company was almost bought to its knees until one of its team came up with the idea of selling lego model kits that children (and I’m sure a few adults) could put together themselves. The company was saved and why? Because kids want to follow instructions, to make something perfectly, NOT to make art, NOT to stand up with something new and different and say, “I made this”

So what does it take to make art then? It takes the willingness to fail, over and over again (something I wrote about here). It takes grit and determination. It takes the need to overcome your ‘lizard brain’ and when others say you can’t do it, to carry on. It takes the ability to dance with fear (a favourite phrase of mine) and be ok with ‘this might not work’.

The Icarus Deception is a fascinating book and one that I’m excited about sharing. I for one embrace the connection economy. Am I creating art? Maybe not enough, but I intend to challenge myself with this question on a regular basis.

Are you creating art? If so, please share it with us, after all, an important part of this economy is to be able to stand up and say, ‘I made this’, whatever others say.

[Read more...]

WordPress Themes that are great for Search Engine Optimisation

WordPress Themes that are great for Search Engine Optimisation

Last year I changed my blog over to the Generate Theme on the ‘Genesis framework’ offered by the guys at StudioPress. A number of people have asked me why I chose it, so today I thought I’d explain my reasons. Its also worth me saying that the links in this article are aff links because having had personal success with this combination, I signed up to help promote the StudioPress option to others. It’s important to say that I wouldn’t be doing this if I weren’t getting value from this myself.

Firstly, a wordpress theme actually sits on top of a framework and having done a lot of research into companies offering good solutions for both, I decided to take the recommendation of Chris Brogan who at the time, also used this combo. I believe he’s on a custom theme on top of Genesis now.

SEO: One of the main reasons I chose this framework was for its optimisation (SEO) value. Here’s an excerpt from the studiopress website explaining why it’s so good.

“State of the art code and smart design architecture make it easy for search engines to see what you’ve got. With automatic updates to the Genesis Framework, you never have to think about it again. Your code will always be up to date and fully optimized.”

And boy is it…Having added this article to my blog today, it was almost certainly appear in Google within a couple of days, sometimes I’ve seen it enter their index the same day.

Design: Once you run the Genesis framework you can use a number of what they call ‘child themes’ on top of it which means that I can have a different look for my blog without the need for a designer or developer at a touch of a button.

Support: If you need support then the guys over at StudioPress are second to none. That’s worth paying for in my opinion.

Security: In terms of security, they’ve employed security experts to help with locking down the insecurities that wordpress can suffer from. Obviously nothing is totally infallible but they’ve down what they can to make this the best they can.

There are also a plethora of other custimisation/widget options which I won’t bore you with today.

If you’re looking for framework to go with then I can definitely recommend genesis or any of the studiopress products. For more info on the themes they offer, make sure you check out their great theme chooser.

[Read more...]

6 things that changed my life in 2012

6 things that changed my life in 2012

Well hello there people. A very Happy New Year to you all.

As has become customary on this blog (see previous years: 2009, 2010 & 2011) its my time to have a little fun and go off script. So here we go, here are the top things that changed my life in 2012.

1). Pinterest – I’ll admit, it took me a while to get going with Pinterest. For some months I just couldn’t get my head around it, either personally or for business. The last few months of the year have seen a huge change in my view – here’s what I’ve been upto over there. Here are just a few of the reasons I use it. Remembering things I want to buy at some point (I have a hopeless memory), sharing a board with my partner Lizz (we keep things that we both need/want) and we collaborate on ideas for the house, garden and wedding. Possibly my most important use for it is to keep pictures which represent my goals. These are a visual stimulant for me. If your goals aren’t in front of you regularly you’re far less likely to achieve them. I use Pinterest to give me the kick I need. I love it and feel its going to be around for  long time. If you’ve not done so already, you should take a look around.

2). OptixMail – After a very successful year in 2011 with Envirosend, our email marketing product, we decided that ‘email marketing’ could work as a business itself. We re-branded & recruited in Olly Harrison to run the business for us and boy has it taken off. Olly has landed some great new clients and its looking to be even bigger this year. Many said we were crazy to create a new business in an economic downturn. My feeling is its these kind of moves which define whether you’ve got the kahunnas to grow, even in times of adversity .

3). Lizz – Yes, she makes this list again and this year its because we’ve had a lot of fun organising our wedding together (which I’m sure will feature next year)! A tough year for her personally, she always bounces back and is the rock I need away from work.

4). Buying our first house – Lizz and I rented for years so we finally made the move to buy in 2012. Back in March we moved into our first home just outside Exeter and are currently working hard to give it that ‘Lizz and Al touch’. There is something very special about sitting on your sofa, looking around your house, knowing that you can do whatever you want to it. I can heartily recommend it to anyone considering making the jump.

5). Our team at Optix – Ok so not exactly a specific point in time but I honestly feel that we have the best team we’ve ever had (see what some of the guys had to say about working for Optix earlier this year). People are pulling together & working for each other. Some of the guys that have been in the business for a long time are maturing into great managers and adding value to the business in more ways than just through the skills they joined for originally. Optix grew over 20% last year and looks set to do the same again this coming year. Office moves and new staff are all on the cards early in Jan. An exciting year ahead no doubt.

6). Creating our Vision Statement – I know, I know, it’s embarrassing that we’ve been motoring along without one for so long (well we did have some fag packet stuff but it’s not quite the same). This year James and I sat down and wrote our vision statement in the form of a story set in 2015. After reading it out at one of our team meetings I’ve already noticed more solidarity in the business and have had the story quoted back at me a number of times. I’m looking forward to working this vision out with the amazing team I mentioned above. We all have a place to point towards and decisions can be made with this in mind. Creating a vision statement/story is something I’d recommend you do if you don’t have one for your business already.

So there we go again, another year passes and we look to 2013 for even bigger and better things. I hope you enjoyed my bit of fun, it would be good to hear yours now.

Now Your Thoughts

  • So what changed your life this year?
  • Who and what made an impact on your 2012?

[Read more...]

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?

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

A couple of months ago I moved house with my fiancé. Part of the ‘the deal‘ was that I had to clear out a load of old rubbish I’d been hoarding for many years, including items like school reports & projects, old clothes and bits of memorabilia that I’d kept along the years. I drew the line at throwing out the memorabilia but certainly couldn’t see a reason for keeping my exam papers for first year Fortran programming at Uni!

Much to my amazement, while sorting through great piles of paper, I found the document you see above, hidden away under years of dust and scraps of other less meaningful items. Take a close look and you’ll note that its the letter I received from UCAS in 1997 confirming that I’d not made the grade for Nottingham University . Heartbroken that my first choice Uni had turned me down, I did however succeed in getting a place at my second choice, Exeter (also shown in this letter).

I sat down and pondered this letter for a while. How much of an impact had this had on my life? If i’d not gone to Exeter, I wouldn’t have met the guys I started Optix Solutions with. If I’d not gone to Exeter I wouldn’t have met my beautiful fiancé, Lizz. If I’d not gone to Exeter I wouldn’t have been cheering the Chiefs on every other week in the premiership. How much had my life changed because of this one letter?

The conclusion I came to is that we don’t know what’s around the corner and life changing moments happen every day. I’m incredibly happy with my life and what I’ve achieved so far. There is a long journey ahead but those who keep thinking ‘what if’, carry a burden that holds them back. Don’t let that be you. You can’t change the past, you probably can’t change elements of the future. I say embrace what life throws at you. I say live for the moment and as my school motto stated: Carpe Diem – Seize the day.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you had a ‘UCAS Letter’ moment in your life?
  • Do you ever consider what might have been? I’m interested to hear your stories.