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?

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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.

Luck or Hard Work?

Luck or Hard Work?

A few days ago I was talking to a potential supplier for my wedding next year. Somehow conversation turned to their website and we got chatting about their overall, online presence. Conversation then turned to the challenges  they have (needing more traffic, spending too much on adwords, no way of emailing their database easily) I offered up a bit of free advice and naturally this lead on to what I did for a living (they didn’t know until this point). It transpired that they’d been wondering what to do about their site for some time now, so applying the ‘don’t ask, don’t get principal’ I asked if we could perhaps quote for their digital work. They said they’d be delighted for us to do so.

My partner and I have a bit of a running joke that I somehow manage to turn normal conversations with people in my personal life into work related ones, which in turn, often end up with opportunities for my business. She turned to me on this occasion as we got back into the car, and said ‘you really are so lucky‘.

Now I have a strong belief that this isn’t luck. Why? I believe that as a business owner/entrepreneur/salesperson/whatever you want to call yourself, you constantly have to have your antenna up, open to opportunities. If you’re doing this regularly enough then its merely a matter of time before one of these opportunities comes off. Some might even call it a game of numbers!

So the old adage, ‘you make your own luck’ is, in my opinion, a very true one.

New to business? In Sales? Consistently put yourself in situations where opportunities arise and when they do, grasp them with all you’ve got. I can promise you it works, I practice what I preach :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • Got any stories which felt a little bit like fate/right place-right time?

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This blog is now featured on Alltop

This blog is now featured on Alltop

Howdy folks, you may just have noticed this lovely badge to the right hand side of my blog. If you don’t know, Alltop aim to bring the best blogs to our attention in a number of different categories. I’m incredibly chuffed that they’ve added mine to the ‘startups’ section.

If you’ve not visited Alltop before then I encourage you to do so – there is soooo much great content to feast yourself on.

While you’re there you can create your own ‘MyAlltop’ page and add feeds (including mine hopefully) to your dashboard.

If you know of other blogs you think should be included then you can submit them here: http://alltop.com/submission/

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.

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.

2011 – 7 Things that changed my life….

2011 – 7 Things that changed my life….

Hey folks, firstly a very happy New Year to you all. I wish you the very best for 2012.

If you do one thing this year make it your objective to go out of your way to help others succeed with their goals and yours will follow on.

So in the now great tradition, here is my summary post of the last year and the things both in and out of work that changed my life for the better. Remember this isn’t just about me telling you how great 2011 was for me, it’s written because if just one of the things that had a huge impact on my life, could affect yours in the same way then it will have served its purpose.

By the way, if you’re interested – here were 2010 and 2009‘s lists.

1). Having made it onto the list two years on the trot but not made the top spot (there is no order in this list unless you’re my partner by the way) – its Lizz again. This year was very special for us as we recently got engaged. I finally started to feel that settling down and building a family was what I wanted to do and I can’t think of anyone better to do that with than Lizz. For risk of sounding corny, I do actually believe we were made for each other. We were both so overwhelmed by the support and congratulations we got back from everyone when they heard – it was my number one high point of the year.

2). Tilly Talking – My niece is now talking and turning into a proper little human being. There is something you can’t put into words about the feeling you get when a little person bounds up to you with a beaming smile and full of happiness. It’s a shame we lose some of this as adults – we need to do all we can to regain it – it’s going to be on my list for 2012.

As Will Ferrell in Elf says, “I just like to smile, smiling’s my favourite.” – let’s all try a bit more of that this year.

3). OK onto the less personal ones now. Having signed up for it a couple of years ago, I re-found Evernote and now it organises my life. Evernote is a fantastic program which has mobile, desktop & web versions and also sits on any device you might have. You can keep notes/files etc all categorised for easy recall and as it’s across devices you can be pretty much anywhere with all your stuff available to you. I use it for work and home. Here’s a great tip – as people tell you things they like/want through the year, make notes in evernote, take pictures if you can and email them in and then when it gets to Christmas/Birthdays you have a ready made list of things people actually want :)

4). Nudgemail – I have a pretty bad memory. Well in fact I don’t think that’s entirely true, I just have an awful lot to remember so some of it slips through. No more though! Nope, I use a fantastic tool called Nudgemail which simply emails me on the date I ask it to – either with a cc of an original email I sent it, or just a reminder. Anything I delegate now gets nudged so I can forget about it and move on. An awesome tool folks.

5). Business Away Days – We all know how easy it is to get caught up in the day to day goings on in a business but it can be crippling for you if you don’t take time out to think, plan, innovate and consult others. I do this quarterly for a whole day, with two of my best friends (and local business owners) and monthly for a meal where we work on goal setting and holding each other accountable to these targets. The latter is in more of a  bitesize format (3 small goals a month) where as the former is much bigger picture. If you don’t have a group like this already, I heartily recommend it for 2012.

6). Cooking – Sunday is now MY cooking day and I love it. I regularly spend the afternoon considering what crazy concoction I can dream up, then going out to buy the ingredients and finally preparing and cooking it for Lizz and I. Running a business can be quite stressful, afterall you have to be a boss, a friend, a colleague an advisor, an inspirer and you have to make sure that at the end of the month, you have enough work coming in to meet the outgoings (and hopefully a bit more for some profit!) – oh and all that happens every single month. All these challenges can take their toll on you, however successful your business is. It’s extremely hard to turn off (many would say you never do). I’ve found that cooking is something that helps me to relax, unwind and put aside the challenges of the moment. It’s got to be one of the most therapeutic things you can do.

7). Envirosend Email Marketing – We launched our email marketing product, Envirosend, this year and it’s flying. We have loads of clients using it very effectively to reach out to their prospects and clients on a regular basis. All businesses should have some sort of email marketing system in place. It is a very low cost, very effective medium for marketing. If you’re not talking to your database regularly, perhaps today is as good a day as any to start. The guys at Optix can help you with a demo if you’re interested in seeing this product.

So there you have it, just a few of the things that changed my life this year for the better. I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into 2012 – lets make it a cracking year folks.

Now Your Thoughts

  • So what changed your life this year?
  • Who and what made an impact on your 2011?

Do you look for Opportunities or Obstacles?

Do you look for Opportunities or Obstacles?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I took the www.Kolbe.com personality test a few weeks ago and it showed that I have an extremely high level of what’s called ‘quick start‘ in their system. I love new ideas, vision, creation of new concepts, problem solving and thinking outside the box. On the flip side, I’m pretty awful at ‘follow through‘ which means I need people around me who can take on these new ideas and make them fly.

One of the things I know I do is to look for and see opportunity in everything around me, so this got me wondering if other entrepreneurs and business owners are wired in a similar way.

Since thinking about this I’ve analyzed a lot of the conversations I’ve had with other people to see what I might have done or said in their position and I noticed something very interesting. A select few people seem to walk around looking for opportunity. Any conversation, problem or challenge presents a chance to do something different. In my game it might be to sell something new to a client for example. Others seem to see obstacles – they start their sentences with things like, “We probably can’t do that because…”, “I’m not sure they’d want that”, “I don’t think that’s a good idea”.

Is one way right and one wrong? I’m sure theres a place for both and sometimes I know I need grounding so it’s probably no bad thing to be challenged every now and again. I do however truly believe that entrepreneurs look for opportunity in everything. Safe doesn’t work for them. They don’t need the comfort of knowing what’s round the corner or doing the same thing day in day out.

Earlier in the year I attended LikeMinds in Exeter and saw Luke Johnson (Channel 4, FT Columnist, Pizza Express, Strada, The Ivy…) speak about what makes an Entrepreneur. It was absolutely fascinating and resonated with me completely. Here are some of the words Luke used to explain the psyche of this type of person:

Grit, determination, discipline, optimism, hard working, going against trend, desire gain rather than fear loss and relentless.

He then used a phrase I loved: “The future belongs to the optimist” – How true.

When asked how he has been so successful, he simply said he has always been alive to the opportunities and that it’s often random interactions that open doors. A mantra I certainly live my life by.

This was proved to me once again this week, when after a very long day at work, the last thing I felt like doing was attending an evening do but I knew I needed to make the effort and within 5 mins of walking through the door, two huge work opportunities presented themselves out of no-where. If I’d not gone that night, I would have lost both.

I enjoy looking for opportunities where others can’t see them, it gives me a buzz. How about you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Which camp do you fall into?
  • Do you agree with me that entrepreneurs look for opportunity?

Feeling Festive

So I’ve woken up this morning and I’m feeling quite festive. The tree went up yesterday and as I opened our sitting room door, that wonderful smell of pine needles flooded out. You just can’t beat that.

Some of you might know that I have a brand called Envirosend, which is awesome email marketing software. You can find out more here: http://www.envirosend.co.uk

For this week only I’m going to offer the complete upfront costs off this system for 3 people who write to me at alastair@iambanksy.co.uk with the reason they should have the system in their business and how they plan to use it to build their business. I’ll draw the names out of a hat if I get an influx of people who are interested.

That’s a saving of just under £600 and includes: Setup/Training (phone) and 1 designed template.

There are just two stipulations:

1). You must agree to pay the £50 we normally give to Devon Wildlife Trust. We don’t want them missing out so this will be your only upfront cost.
2). Let us know how much data you have (must have given you permission to send to them – we don’t do spam at Envirosend)

I look forward to hearing your suggestions and hopefully getting to work with you soon,

Alastair

When I grow Up…

When I grow Up…

When I was growing up there were a number of people in my life that I looked up to – family members, inspirational teachers, sports stars and family friends all featured. When I consider the person I am today – my morals, my feelings towards others, my views on business and so much more I can see elements of these people in me.

Without realising it, I have become a product of my environment. As I’ve grown up I’ve continued to seek out new role models and people that I aspire to be like or learn something from. I’m sure a few of you probably put names like Branson, Steve Jobs, maybe even Lord Sugar in your role model lists but sometimes it’s the people that are on your door step that have the most to offer.

My Dad plays a huge part in my business life – I bounce ideas off him regularly, he chairs one of my companies boards as a non-exec. He is there for me when I need that experience and I’ve often said that if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I can never thank him enough for that.

I’m lucky that my job takes me into hundreds of businesses as a consultant and trusted advisor. I get to meet more people running businesses around the country than I ever dreamed I would have done. Every person I meet is an opportunity to learn. Every now and then I meet someone I know I can learn a lot from and I make it my business to do so. I ask questions, I show interest, I forget my path for that moment and concentrate on others. I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same.

There are a few people I’d like to pay special tribute to (business wise). Maybe you could consider doing the same today.

Ken Rudge – A good friend and businessman who lives and works in Devon. A very sensible head on him and doesn’t pull any punches.

James Trebble – Never have I met anyone who is so positive. Whatever life throws at this serial entrepreneur, he gets up, dusts down and gets on with it. An absolute delight to spend time with, everyone needs a JT in their life.

*Worth noting here that myself, James and Ken take a day a quarter out of our businesses to get together and talk about challenges, set goals and think about the next big thing for our companies – this is absolute gold dust.

James Dawkins – My business partner for 12 years. We might bicker every now and then but we’ve never fallen out and in 12 years I think that’s pretty impressive. He’s the ying to my yang (soppy I know!).

Nick Sprague – Ultra successful businessman and philanthropist. I think it’s important to have business goals in life and and mine are based on what this man has achieved. Not only does he have a number of successful businesses but he enjoys life, helps charities (even setup his own: http://www.parabottle.co.uk) and has a wonderful home life. If I’m where Nick is in a few years, I’ll be a very happy man.

My list could easily go on…

In my opinion its vital to surround yourself with successful and positive people. Role models are so important to have. If you’ve not done it already, seek yours out and make them a part of what you do.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Who inspires you? Give them a shout out on this blog. They deserve the recognition right?
  • How much of an impact did your childhood role models have on you?