6 things that changed my life in 2014

6 things that changed my life in 2014
Yes folks its that time of year again. While I’ve been a little light on posts in 2014 there is one that must be written. This one.

2014 has been an interesting year, one which has seen a lot of change in both my personal life and business dealings. In a year that saw Optix Solutions turn 15 and new ventures being started by my business partner and I (hopefully more on those in years to come) we may just have tried to do a little too much. As you probably know I’m a huge fan of change and believe it completely necessary for success however sometimes it can feel like you’re biting off too much and its important in those moments to take stock, remember what you’ve achieved and maybe even take some time out. So in this post I’m taking a moment to look at what happened this year and how it affected my life.

Don’t forget that if you’re interested in my posts from the last few years, you can find them here: ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12, ’13:

So let’s do the run down then…

1). Baby Banks on the way – Well this absolutely has to be at the top doesn’t it :)

I’ll be a father for the first time in Feb this year (well maybe a little earlier if you look at the size of Lizz!). I’m excited and apprehensive at the same time which is an unusual feeling. With everything in business, things are generally within my control. I can make decisions and live by them but here we’re talking about another life, one which I can only hope to guide without pushing too hard. I’m pretty sure I’ll be a good Dad but there are a few moments when I question if I have the skills and knowledge for what’s going to be the biggest change to my life so far.  I’m sure there will be more about fatherhood on this blog throughout the year so watch this space.

2). Re-Focusing is important however big the decisions

Three years ago our business was split about 75% design and build to 25% digital marketing. Now its almost flipped and that’s been a conscious decision based on goals and a vision we set out a few years ago. Steering a company with 15 people in it is not like a startup where decisions can be made quickly. If you get them wrong in the early days its fairly easy to claw back, with a larger company it takes time and effort and you have to get everyone on board taking into account their own individual drivers (which of course may not be totally aligned with your own vision). This year we’ve pushed harder than ever to adapt to the industry and its been an exciting journey which we are starting to reap the rewards for.

3). Ben Corbally

I hope adding Ben in here means he doesn’t get too much stick from the rest of the team. They aren’t those kind of people so I’m sure they won’t give him too much :) So why did Ben make this list? Ben is a young gun who joined Optix in late 2013 in our Digital Marketing team. He now works alongside me in the client facing part of the business and helps build the digital strategy for some of our newer clients. The reason that he makes the list is that he’s pushed me to think differently this year, to take a new perspective on things which I’ve made fundamental business decisions with. We’ve bought in new services (which has attracted new clients) and pushed ourselves more than I think we would have done without him. Ben you’ve been a delight to work with and I look forward to doing more along side you over the next few years. Exciting times ahead.
You can find Ben over on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bencorbally 

4). Vision for 2020

We re-wrote our vision story for Optix this year and delivered it to the team in September. The statement is our second of this type, the last one being done in 2012 and running out in September of 2015. Its written in the format of a story (from a clients perspective of Optix) and outlines some of the goals that James and I have set for the business. This new vision features everything from turnover figures hitting a million to owning our own building. Better get working then!

5). Finally bringing Project Management to Optix

OK so this is an area I’ll put my hands up and say we hung around too long to sort out. This year we’ve recruited Mr James Cassap, a heavyweight recruit for the business from Cambridge University Press who brings 10 years of project management skills to the business. One well known friend of the company has described the change as likely to look like Optix on steroids. I’m looking forward to seeing that next year. :)

6). Bellroy

Ok so a bit of a light-hearted one to throw in here but hey you need to have a bit of fun don’t you. A man’s wallet is a key item to have around his person. The problem with wallets is they are bulky things. They can affect the shape of nice suits and weigh you down. Bellroy know this too well and have invented a set of wallets which solve this problem. I bought one this year and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that everytime I use it, its an absolute pleasure and puts a smile on my face.

So there were six of my year-changers. I’m looking forward to 2015 for personal and business reasons and I’ve got a feeling that next years post will have some pretty special points in it.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and a prosperous and healthy 2015

Now Your Thoughts
 
  • So what changed your life this year?
  • Who and what made an impact on your 2014?

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.

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/ 

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.

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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.

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