My philosophy of how I treat my clients

My philosophy of how I treat my clients

We’re all in business because of our clients – if it wasn’t for them we’d have no orders and therefore no business.

Client interaction has always fascinated me, its something I’ve studied since I started my web design & online marketing business over 10 years ago.

Originally there were three directors at Optix. We formed quite a nice triangle of skills – James had the design ability, Dave had the development background and I was ‘the mouth’ that went out shouting about how great ‘I thought’ we were :). So I have spent the majority of my career since then interacting and engaging with thousands of people, hundreds of which have become clients (and I thank them for that)

So how do you treat your clients? Here’s what I do:

1). I try my utmost to understand what their needs and challenges are from the beginning – thats far more important than telling them what we do.

2). I learn about their business. I want to understand where they’ve come from and where they are trying to get to.

3). I learn about them as a person. Where possible I try and find out about their family/friends and interests. This gives us more to talk about and more to build a relationship on.

4). I work out which of our services would help them get to where they are aiming to go (remember point 1? :)).

5). I never sell something I don’t truly believe will help them on their journey.

6). I’m always looking out for opportunities to refer in other people I know to them where I see that value can be added.

7). I’m also looking for opportunities for the client to connect with other people I know.

8). I see every client relationship as a long term partnership. I know that if they are successful then I will be successful – this drives everything I do.

9). I care deeply about every client – if they are unhappy, I am unhappy and will go to every length to make sure balance is restored.

10). I don’t do 9-5 – If someone needs me, they will get me.

11). If we mess up, I own up.

Oh and here’s one from Chris Brogan (A legend in the Social Media world):

Make your customers feel special – treat them with the ‘guest experience’ – I love this and am working hard on this in 2010

Without clients (partners), my business doesn’t exist and nor does yours. So how do you treat yours?

What’s your social footprint like?

What’s your social footprint like?

I consult a lot of small to medium sized businesses on ‘Social Media/Communications’. I’m not a self professed ‘social media guru’, it’s certainly not everything I do, but it does form a lot of the marketing/customer service/networking activity that I carry out for my own businesses. This post is about something I call ‘your social footprint’. The concept of the social footprint relates directly to Google and how I’ve witnessed huge changes in their SERPS (Search Engine Result Pages) over the last couple of years.

Let’s go back a few years to 2006/7. Companies would come to us fascinated by search engine optimisation (SEO) and how important they considered being on the front page of Google for a few keyphrases, in fact, let me re-phrase that, they still come to us fascinated by search engine optimisation and being on the front page of Google BUT, and here’s the important thing, Google is a very different place to how it was two or three years ago. We now find ourselves explaining to clients that although search engine optimisation is very important still, it’s no longer the be all and end all.

A couple of years ago, searching on any key phrase gave you 10 ‘natural results’ that had been indexed by Google’s spiders, as well as the paid advertising (PPC) – many of the large SM sites had not been going that long so were not indexed that well. If you do the same search now, you’ll find that a huge proportion of the front page results are now social media sites, meaning if you want to compete in the SERPS and do not have a social footprint, then you’re going to find it very hard. Here are a couple of examples to demonstrate my point:

Here is my name ‘Googled’ – Alastair Banks – Here are the results (at the time of writing of course). I’ve highlighted the results that contain an element of ‘social’

No1 & 2 – My Blog (Social Media)
No 3 & 4 – Websites relating to other people with my name (Non Social Media)
No 5 – My LinkedIn account (Social Media)
No 6 – My Twitter Account (Social Media)
No 7 – My Company – Optix Solutions Blog (Social Media)
No 8 – Another person’s Facebook profile (Social Media)
No 9 & 10 – Non Social Media sites

So on that search term, 60% of the results were SM sites – The fact is that if I wasn’t so active on these sites, there is a good chance someone else would have taken those spots – you gotta be in it to win it J

Let’s look at another example – A client of mine deals in Sony camera equipment. Here is a new piece of equipment from the Sony camp – A Sony HXR-NX5E – Let’s take a look at the SERPS for that phrase (again highlighting SM sites):

No1 – Shopping Results (You could argue these are social for the ability to review & rate)
No 2 & 3 – Sony’s own site – you’d kind of expect that
No 4 & 5 – Video from YouTube and Vimeo (Social Media)
No 6 – Sales Site
No 7 – A blog (Social Media)
No 8 – A community site for filmmakers (Social Media)
No 9 – A sales site
No 10 – Sony make it back in here again but with a blog J (Social Media)

So in this very real example, again 60% of the results are ‘social sites’ – This is why you’ll see my client becoming very active in the social world from this point onwards.

Given further maturity of the main social sites over the next few years, I believe we’ll start seeing 60-70% of the top 10 results in Google displaying SM based websites regularly. If you add a powerful brand you’re trying to sell in there, (like Sony in the example above) that’s another position gone, so there are far fewer positions to fight over and why agencies which used to simply carry out SEO or PPC for clients are now having to adapt into the social world for their clients. If you’re new to business or starting up, don’t get too carried away with just SEO, it’s vital you consider your strategy for social media sites as well.

Is your social footprint good enough or do you need to work on it? Do these changes to the SERPs worry you or do you think it’s a good thing that Google is becoming more socially aware?

The Rule of the First and the Last

The Rule of the First and the Last

What do you do when you turn up to a networking event or a meeting? Do you turn up after everyone else? Do you leave before other people have? Well here’s a quick tip for you this week – thousands and thousands of pounds have been won through the rule of the first and the last. What do I mean by this? I mean that you’d be surprised what work comes the way of the eager beaver (the person that arrives earlier than everyone else) and the last man standing (the guy/girl that’s there ’til the bitter end!).

Why is this? I think there are a few reasons personally. If you want work, people will appreciate your efforts, they will see how comitted you are, the fact that you’re not just a jobsworth who only does the absolute minimum or just comes for the free food and drink. You’ll also get the chance to talk to far more people than your competitors having been there so early and leaving so late. This tactic also gives you more time to target who you really want to meet.

Something interesting also happens when you’re one of the last at a meeting or in a room after an event – there is an air of relaxation – the actual event is over and most people have gone home. The remaining people have done what they need to do and can relax, meaning the environment for doing business is less stressed. Watch out for this next time and see if you get the same feeling, let me know if you do.

I appreciate this is a short post this week but I can’t stress just how important this has been to my business. In the early days of my web design company, I went to every networking group out there, I got there early, scanned the list of people going, made sure I got to speak to those that I wanted too and then didn’t leave until everyone else did. There is a fine line and you need to make sure you don’t overstay your welcome (i.e. leave when the person putting on the event leaves and see if you can help them clear up but don’t keep them from getting home or you won’t be popular :))

So do you get there early and stay late or are you just there for the ‘bit in the middle’ – Has anyone made a pretty penny being one of the above? I’m keen, as always to hear from you.

5 traits successful business people have – do you have these?

5 traits successful business people have – do you have these?

Missed a week due to travel folks so firstly apologies for that – clearly my first trait should be the inability to keep an appointment with ones blog :)

OK so there are probably hundreds of things you need to be successful in business but I’ve been day dreaming this last week and working out my top 5 – I love a top 5 as you know :)

So here they are in no particular order

1). Passion – In bucketfuls. I spend an awful lot of my time with other businessmen and women. In my working life, networking constitutes at least half my time. It’s one of the key ways we build our brand and get our company noticed. From there, when people want a job done, we’re at least in with a chance. One trait of seriously successful businessmen and women I’ve met over the years is passion for what they do. Passion is catching; you know when you’ve met someone who is passionate about their business – you come away feeling good about yourself. Without this trait you’re going to start off on the back foot. If can’t get passionate about your business is it the right business for you? Think on that for a while.

2). Sales skills – Every start-up business needs to bring in sales. If you’re on your own then that’s you pal :) If you’re not and you don’t like selling you better hope you’re in partnership with someone that does. You could have the best product or service in the country but if no-one knows about it then you may as well give up now. Sale’s doesn’t need to be cheesy, it doesn’t need to be immoral, it doesn’t need to feel dirty! Much of good quality sales is about building relationships and making the customer want to buy (not be sold). I strongly suggest reading the book below (affiliate link) which will, without a doubt, help with your sales process. In fact, even if you’re not in sales or running a business, read it anyway because its awesome.

The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness – You can buy it from Amazon here.

3). A good product or service – Not technically a trait, but the ability to either come up with or be involved in selling a good product or service is a trait that I see all the time in successful people. You make your own luck, you earn it. These people have a sixth sense for getting involved with projects that do well. They fail a lot as well but the difference is the ones that work, really work. I know there are an awful lot of people out there selling sub standard products and services in their business – forget that – it’s a short-term attitude if you ask me. It won’t be long before you’re found out and the churn rate on customers will be huge meaning you never build relationships with people, you continually need new prospects poured in the top of your sales funnel. If you ask me, without a good product or service that you truly believe in, just don’t bother. You need to believe that your customer is truly better off by choosing you over your competitors.

4). A head for numbers and in particular cashflow – Since I started this blog almost exactly a year ago I know for a fact the most blogged about topic has been cashflow. There is a good reason for this – because it’s so damn important :) Without cashflow you have no business. I’m not going to go over old ground again on this. I wrote quite a lengthy post about cashflow here and even gave a step by step guide on how to write a cash flow forecast – you have no excuse :)

5). The ability to accept help and support – Business is a lonely place sometimes, help and support is essential but how often have I seen business owners that think they know it all and therefore are not prepared to accept it fail – Too many is the answer!!! Friends and family without their own business may not understand quite what it takes to run a business and unless they ever do it themselves they may never understand. This doesn’t mean you don’t listen to these people or dismiss their input – it can be just as valuable. It’s important to build a network of support around you that you can bounce ideas off. I’m lucky to have a great business partner at Optix Solutions who I bounce ideas off and chat with about strategy regularly. We also have a couple of mentor figures who consult us on the business regularly and keep us on track. We also have supportive families and friends – all of which make the days when it’s not so fun, easier to deal with. The successful businessman or woman doesn’t know it all and is willing to listen to others…do you?

So what are your top 5? Maybe you just want to add in a couple? I’m keen to hear from you

Bringing Social Media to the Masses in 2010

Bringing Social Media to the Masses in 2010

2009 saw an explosion in the social media world here in the UK. Yes, some early adopters were on a lot earlier than that but the majority of people that were still ahead of the curve, found their feet last year. Personally I found it very easy to get involved in everything going on and each new piece of technology, so much so that sometimes I think many of us (myself included) forgot about the masses of businesses out there looking in, on the social media world and wondering what it could do for them. A lot of these businesses were/are major sceptics and see social media as something only young people or ‘geeks’ take part in. I’ve decided to take stock in 2010 and remind myself of what I’m good at; coaching small, medium and large businesses on how to get the best out of these tools in their everyday business lives. I’m looking forward to talking to everyone from taxi companies in our local town to large nationals about social media and how they can use it to gain exposure and extra business.

I was asked to speak at a Best Of (Exeter) networking event about this topic last night. The audience ranged from people who didn’t know what Twitter was, to advocates of social media and its use in business. I decided to take them on a journey of tips which it made sense to share with you today. If you know SME’s that are aiming to get into social media then please pass on this post….I make no bones about this being basic, but let’s not get caught up in ourselves – the huge majority of people out there still need help from the very beginning.

What follows are Banksy’s 8 top tips for social media success:

1.  Learn about the subject – Don’t stick your head in the sand and hope it will go away – it won’t, social media is not a fad. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we think about marketing and will become part of the main marketing mix for many businesses this year. Find yourself a local course to go on in order to learn the difference between Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you’re reading this in Exeter then my good friend Dave Thomas at Bluegrass IT runs an excellent social media course which will get you upto speed.
Once you’ve done a course…..

2.  Create a strategy – Don’t just fall into the trap of setting up a Twitter account/Facebook page and hoping for the best – It’s important to create a strategy that outlines what your goals are, who your audience is and how you’re going to measure results – only then start using the sites we all hear so much about. Oh and by the way strategy creation and implementation are something Optix can help you with (shameless plug J)
OK, so you’ve gone on a course and put together your strategy now…..

3.  Download tools to help you manage your accounts – Possibly the number one question I get is – How do you have time to do this all? Well it’s about being clever with your time. There are numerous tools available to savvy social media users – one of the best being Tweetdeck – This allows me to post to Twitter/Facebook and LinkedIn at the same time. There is an iPhone app which allows me to post on the train, in the car waiting for meetings and sometimes even walking along :) It really doesn’t take that much time from your day, don’t use that as an excuse!

Right, you’ve got your tools downloaded and ready to go – now you need to build a following/fans…

4.  Network Locally – Setup local searches on Tweetdeck for the town you live in – I’ve met more people in the last year through social media than through any other method. Exeter (my town) has a vibrant community of 500+ members. If you start to follow people tweeting about your town and talking to these guys and adding value to them, just watch your number of followers and fans rise (don’t get too caught up in the numbers game – its far more about quality than quantity)

Now you’ve got a following – what can you do with it? Here is one tip…

5.  Use it for Research – People get caught up in the sales side of social media a lot – ‘Is it bringing in business?’ Well one of the main benefits in my opinion is the power of research. I needed a Hotel Booking System last year and tweeted about this to my following – within a few minutes I had 4 or 5 good quality recommendations for companies to use and people to speak to. Go back to the olden days (2008 and before :)) and I would have asked a search engine, got a lot of results I didn’t know anything about and hoped for the best. A change in the way we search is coming….

6.  A specific tip for LinkedIn – You can use LinkedIn to find people (This breaks down the barrier of the gatekeeper) It tells you if anyone in your network knows this person and gives you a way of asking to be introduced via your contact. The more savvy sales people among you will see this as a fantastic resource. I was reading about a local company that had gained investment the other day and as an entrepreneurial type, I figured that had potential for Optix – Invest means a change of website/online strategy I hoped. I typed the company name into LinkedIn and BAM – MD/FD/MarketingD profiles and one of them knew someone I knew! I asked for the connection and we are now speaking….that all took me about 5 mins by the way. Would you rather be cold calling or being clever with social media tools?

7.  Monitor – Even if you’re not convinced social media is for you, it’s happening out there – I monitor my name/my business name/my staff and terms including the services we provide. It may produce opportunities for me or at least tell me where I’m being discussed in a conversation and if I need to be involved.

8.  Create a staff policy – If your staff are out there on the Social Media platforms you need a policy to help them understand how you expect them to engage with others and how they can help your business. A cohesive team effort by staff on social networks such as Twitter works wonders and helps re-enforce your brand. At Optix we have about 6 of our staff all working together to promote each other and the business on the networks, we link to this from our company team page here: http://www.optixsolutions.co.uk/team-optix/

So that concluded my own tips but hey, this is social media so I wanted to do a little experiment to show the group that people were out there and ready to help. So last week I tweeted the following:

“Hi All, I’m running a talk on Social Media for SME’s this week and have had the idea of crowd sourcing  some advice. If you could give one tip for a company looking to get into Social Media, what would it be.”

All the post’s below show people from as far away as America taking their time to help me with this talk in Exeter – This was social media at work:

  • If small business: start with a commitment to listen and seek understanding above all else. No crass self-promotion. – Trey Pennington – Greenville in the states
  • Manage your time on it explicitly. It can be addictive! :)Martin Howitt (DCC)
  • Be yourself, communicate back and embrace – Matt Young – Heart FM
  • Social Media doesn’t exist in isolation. Make sure it’s consistent (tone / message) with your other communications – Jon Alder – Alder and Alder
  • Research & appreciate the difference between each SM channel b4 you jump in, consider your strategy for each. Be yourself. – Sarah Knight – Sarah West Recruitment
  • Do your research: Can SM help you to achieve your business objectives, is your audience using it, and if so, where are they – Gemma Went – Red Cube Marketing
  • Strategy & policies are very important. Be authentic. Ask your customers what THEY want from you :)Kristen Sousa – Optix Solutions
  • Don’t just imitate – lift restrictions for *your* audience, without overestimating participation levels – Scott Gould – Aaron & Gould
  • Keep it real and have a believable personality, it’s ‘social’ media at the end of the day, not just about business. – Mark Cotton – SW Head of Big Lottery Fund
  • My advice – understand how/why others use it, but do what feels right for you – Patrick Smith – Joshua PR

Although basic advice for many of you reading this I’m hoping to bring social media to the masses in 2010. If you’re someone looking for help in this area then please contact Optix to see what they can do for you – see you on Twitter :)

Who do you surround yourself with? Oh and p.s. Happy New Year!

Who do you surround yourself with? Oh and p.s. Happy New Year!

Who do you surround yourself with? Have a think about it for a while – in business and your personal life…never underestimate the power of the connections you have both in and out of work and how these have a huge impact on your own life.

The people you interact with on a daily basis will change your perspective on the world, if they are negative people they could bring you down with them, if they are positive they will no doubt bring you up. Think of someone you know who is really positive and the feeling you get when around them – pretty good hey?

How are your relationships with others – what impact do you have on the people around you? Do you leave them with a happy feeling?

I’ll give you a secret, if you want to succeed or at the very least have a good life then surround yourself with successful and fun people and don’t spend your time with negative people who constantly try and bring you down. Now obviously this is not the easiest thing to do when so many of our relationships are carved out for us through work and life. For example, you probably can’t just get rid of that tricky client who always seems to be moaning, whatever you do or move away from the person you’re sat next to in the office because you don’t get on with them. However, there are some things you can do to help these situations, because ultimately, if you let them get you down then it will affect your work and life outlook and that’s not a good a thing.

Here are a few quick suggestions for how you can move towards a more fulfilling and successful career/life by surrounding yourself with positive people.

1). At Networking events don’t get stuck with people who simply spend their time selling ‘at you’. Politely move on and find people who are interested in your business and who have interesting businesses themselves. Spend your time cultivating these relationships.

2). I mentioned tricky clients and co-workers earlier in this post. Now some people just can’t be changed but quite often it’s simply a clash of personalities that drives a divide between people. Just for once, put pride aside and carry out a random act of kindness for the ‘tricky’ person in your life – buy them something – a good book or something else they’ve perhaps shown an interest in before. They won’t be expecting this and if this doesn’t change the relationship to a more positive one, maybe its time to consider leaving them be.

3). Pin point successful people as connections you want to make and work out how you can do so. Spending time with people that have already made it in business is one of the very best ways of learning – act like a sponge when you get these opportunities, soak in everything they tell you and try and use the time with them to learn as much as possible. I may well have built a couple of businesses from nothing in the last 10 years and be writing this blog from my experiences but when I recognise someone I could learn from, I’m quite literally, all ears.

4). Start a Master Mind group – I’m part of a couple of business groups which are essentially mastermind groups. The idea of these groups is different to networking – they work on the premise that more heads are better than one – if you sit down with other successful people and talk about your businesses you will learn more from what other people think about your business than you realise – It’s amazing what fresh set of eyes will see. I strongly recommend getting involved in a group like this and if you don’t know where to find one, start one (I did!).

5). Start a lunch/diner club with your best friends. The feeling you have when you’re out with your best friends is one of the best you can get so why not do it more often. As I’ve got older, my friends have all grown up, moved in with spouses/had kids and moved away. We have a group which meets up every quarter (generally in London) for a lunch/dinner at one of the best restaurants in town. It might not sound like anything special but its all in the setup – everyone has to pay in a set amount of money each month on DD and if they miss the event, the money stays in the fund. This eradicates most excuses believe me. We have one that flies back from Malta and one will soon be coming back from New York for this amazing day out. I hope that at least one person reading this blog sets a similar thing up – I promise you its worth it.

That’s just a few suggestions for living a more positive life through better connections and relationships. If you have some suggestions yourself that I’ve not listed then please do let me have them as I’m always keen to learn :)

8 things that changed my life this year

With the end of the year in touching distance, I thought I’d give you a run down of 8 things that happened to me in 2009 that have changed my life positively. The reason for writing this list is that almost all of it is open to you to get involved with too. If I’ve benefited so much from these things, I hope that at least one person reading this takes action to investigate one or two items on the list and see’s their own life positively impacted. (Admittedly a few are a little jokey but that’s just the way I roll) :)

So lets get on – here are 8 things that have positively changed my life in 2009 (in no particular order :)):

1) iPhone – So I’ve gone on quite a bit about this recently and I do understand it splits opinion with Android lovers so I’m just going to tell you a few quick reasons why this has had such a profound affect on my life/business. First of all, it’s not possible to deny this is a sexy piece of kit and pretty much everything on it has been well thought out from a usability point of view. The phone has made a huge difference to the way I interact with email outside the office as well as social media. A huge amount of the buzz surrounding iPhones is the gimmicky apps that you download and hardly ever use, but if you look carefully you can find ones that really do make your life easier and more efficient. I now do at least 75% of my social media work from my phone, on the move, using dead time that I wouldn’t have used before. Here are a couple of examples of apps that have made a differences to me – Tube Deluxe helped me around London recently giving me more time to catch up on other bits of work. The National Rail app tracks GPS on the trains themselves meaning you can see where the train is at any time on the line – genius. TV Guide gets rid of the need for paper based guides. Natwest now have an app that lets me track my money on the move at anytime. Skype lets me phone other Skype users for free and AroundMe has helped me find cabs/hotels and garages a number of times on the move. CoPilot is better than the inbuilt Sat Nav I have in my own car and Google Maps has walked me to a few places I would have got lost trying to find ‘pre-iPhone’. Remember the Milk helps me with GTD (see later)….I could go on and I know I’ve only touched the surface! If you’re in the market for a new phone and think the iPhone is expensive then (compared to other phones) I would agree, but its so much more than a phone and I know its been worth every penny and much much more. This, for me, is an absolute must have gadget.

2) Jeffrey Gitomer – Sales/Positivity Guru. I was lucky enough to be invited to see Jeffrey earlier this year by owner of TheBestOf – Nigel Botterill. I didn’t know who Jeffrey was at the time but trusted Nigel’s opinion and boy am I glad I did. ANYONE in sales or marketing (yes that means you business owners) MUST go and see Jeffrey if possible. He really is a sales legend. I wrote more about him in this post I wrote earlier in the year. I can honestly say that Jeffrey’s one seminar has made a profound difference to the way I treat the sales process now and the way I teach my sales team to treat it too. His Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude book is also a kick up the backside in the way we view our lives and other people. New staff members in my team will now be given one of these books and asked to read it during their first few months with us. I’ve bought every single one of his books now and strongly suggest you consider doing so too. A complete list of Gitomer books can be found on Amazon by clicking the link in this sentence.

3) Social Media – I don’t really know where to start with this. I was dabbling without knowing it for the last couple of years with sites like Facebook/YouTube and LinkedIn but then in Jan of 09 I found Twitter and my life changed (as well as that of our businesses). The clever integration of Social Media has lead to many new services from Optix Solutions, ending up in new work, new joint ventures and alliances, new friends and a very good ROI (yes we’ve been monitoring it). As anyone who knows me personally knows, I love Social Media – I love the connections I’ve made with people all over the world and the new exciting possibilities it brings to businesses willing to get started with it. Much like the buzz of ecommerce when I started out with my web business back in 1999, Social Media has given me a new lust for the Internet and what’s possible for clever, forward thinking businesses. If you’d like further information of Social Media or would like to contract my services in this area, please drop me an email or connect with me on Twitter (@banksy6)

4) White Tea – Alright so maybe this is a bit of a jokey one but I was getting really hacked off with other teas and my friend David Thomas suggested I got involved with White Tea! I didn’t even know this existed! Now a morning doesn’t start properly without a refreshing cup of this amazing drink! (p.s. don’t boil it for more than 1 minute – it ruins it :))

5) GTD – Getting Things Done is a global phenomenon and I never knew about it – until this year. I hold my hands up to the fact that in the past I have struggled hugely to keep all the balls in the air. As a multi-business owner, at any one point I have literally hundreds of things on my to-do list and I’d tried just about every time scheduling/work practice known to man – all to no avail. I had the messiest desk in the office (a source of constant banter for my employees). I never understood how anyone could have a clean desk if they were busy – it escaped me. Then in early 2009 two people I have a lot of respect for in Exeter – Scott Gould and Adam Stone recommended I read Getting Things Done by David Allen. Wow – what a fantastic book/system. It’s given me the tools to operate (most of the time at max efficiency and with a ‘mind like water’ – so I’m at my most creative) This is a very important thing to master as a business owner or you get dragged down in the minutiae of everyday life. I now have a clean (ish) desk and a system that allows me to keep on top of the hundreds of things I have on my plate at any one time. Every business owner should buy this book now.

6) Lizz – Lizz is my girlfriend and one of the points in this list which I hope you won’t be able to take advantage of :) I was a proper bachelor, living the high life for the last 10 years, since leaving university. While busy building a business, I had a lot of fun outside work with friends and family. A couple of years ago my present girlfriend Lizz came along and this year we moved into our first house together. I’ll admit, I was quite apprehensive about losing my independence but moving in with the love of my life (get your puke buckets ready) was the single best thing I did this year. Having a strong support network around you in life when you run a business is one of the most important things you can build. Someone you can share the hard and good times with…find yourself a Lizz if you haven’t already.

7) Apple Mac Shop – This year I got involved in the Apple brand for the first time. I bought an iPhone, we got a Mac Book Pro at work and through this I started to spend some time in the Apple shop in Exeter. I love the place so much so I wrote an article about the experience I had in another blog post.

8 ) Beacon Breakthrough – This one applies to those of you starting up/setup in the South West in the UK. This year, James my business partner and I found out about a new scheme for businesses aiming at becoming Beacon companies for the SW, the turnover threshold of which is £1.5million. For more information on the Beacon scheme check out their website. The Beacon breakthrough forums are aimed at companies that wish to take that next step and learn how already successful companies operate in every area from board setup to marketing to goal setting and planning. It’s a fantastic course and offers amazing value to participant companies. If you’re based in the SW, I would strongly suggest that you put yourself on this course next year as the differences it’s made to my web business are nothing short of phenomenal.

That concludes my line up for 2009. If there is one thing I’m going to be concentrating on next year it’s acting on things (minimising procrastination). I’ve learnt a huge amount this last year and changed my business in many ways because of the things I’ve learnt, books I’ve read and courses I’ve been on – I’d urge you to look down the list again and see if there is anything you can get involved in yourself and please let me know if you do and of course, how it worked for you :)

See you in 2010

Banish the Bland

What are you doing to make yourself stand out? Nothing? Really? You’re making it very tough on yourself in what is probably the most important time to try and differentiate – a slow economy.

In my main web design business we’ve spent a lot of time this year working out how we can differentiate ourselves both personally and in the business. As businesses take longer to change the way they do things and you may not personally be able to change your business personality if you’re not the owner, I wanted to share three things that are worth changing yourself…today – I hope they help.

1)      Your answer phone message – How many people do you know who have the same old boring, ‘Sorry I’m either out or away from my desk, blah blah blah’ (I had it before) – Ditch it now. If someone phones you, they want to talk to you – if they can’t get hold of you, they don’t want to wait and listen to your boring message. Think creatively and get an answer phone message that rocks…. Your AIM – to get someone telling another person to call your answer phone just to listen to it, after all, you never know that person could be your next client.

2)      Change your ‘Out of Office’ – Again, you probably have the same out of office setup and use it every time you’re away from the office/in meetings all day – ‘I’m away on annual leave…etc etc’ – BORING!  Try something creative with the aim that the person who receives it will forward it on to someone else. If successful it could lead to a buzz and potentially work!

3)      Change your business cards – Ok, so I’m currently working on this one as well but sometime in the new year I will have new cards that people love. The aim here is that when you give someone your card, they make some sort of complimentary comment about it – even better to get a ‘WOW, cool card’ – that’s what I’ll be looking for. The card is such an important part of business – we all give them out at networking meetings/lunches/dinners (even events outside work), why would you want to have a card that ends up in a pile with everyone else’s?

Hopefully that’s given you some food for thought – it’s pretty easy to make changes personally. If you’re content with being the same as everyone else then fine, but if you want to make a difference then you probably need to re-think a few things.

There is a famous quote that says “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” (Anthony Robbins)

Think about it for a while…then act on it.

Scott Gould vs Alastair Banks – A Case Study

Ok – back to me again! I have to warn you I’m feeling a bit mischievous today, hence the title!

I realise that this blog will be read by people that don’t know either Scott or I so before I go on, I just want to give you a quick heads-up on who Scott is. He runs a relatively new (2008) ‘Experience Marketing Company’ in Exeter called Aaron & Gould. You don’t need to know us either – what underlies is an important message for new business owners or people trying to make a name for themselves.  That’s probably all you need to know. Let’s move on….

Did you know that most business owners (SMES) are more often than not, sales people? They have to be in order for their businesses to succeed. They normally can’t afford to pay someone to go out and sell for them so they have to sell themselves (this is why some of my networking/sales posts are so critical if you’re starting up). There is nothing wrong with this – it’s how I started and it forms the basis for my post – you see times have changed in business and it wasn’t until I met my new pal Scott Gould that I realised quite how much (Well I realised but this really brought it home).

When I started Optix Solutions I shamelessly gave out my business card to everyone I met – The way I saw it, the more people that knew about Optix the better. In certain circles I was known as the networking king – visiting every meeting I could, wherever it might be and giving away more and more business cards. In fact this got to the point where even my best friends, who didn’t know me through work circles, lovingly gave me the nickname of ‘business card’ :) Happy Days! To be honest, I still live by this mantra – you never know who someone might know, so what are you waiting for, exchange contact details and see where it goes. In fact, only last week I sat on the buffet service on the train back from London and met a senior partner from Deloitte, a guy from Reuters and a product designer. The guy from Deloitte asked for my card and the chap from Reuters and I exchanged details – all over a meal and a two hour train journey from London to Exeter – The point is, that might not go anywhere – but equally I may well have my biggest sale next month from it. If I hadn’t exchanged cards, it certainly wouldn’t have given me any chance at all.

Back in 1999, Social Media certainly wasn’t around – in fact, Google wasn’t even around (well, only just). Man, I’m starting to worry that I sound old writing this now. :) I should mention at this point that it took me years to become well known – even in a small town like Exeter. I would guess that it was a good 5 years before I was trusted on the networking circuit.

Now roll on 10 years and I meet this chap, Scott, through our mutual love of Social Media and especially Twitter – I think I’m right in saying that from one of my first tweets about Exeter he popped up with a friendly ‘hello’ and said if I needed any help that I could contact him’ – What a gent! We’ve since become friends and Scott and I have done some work together. Optix also sponsored the fantastic event that he put on a month or so ago – Like Minds.

I’m pretty sure that by his own admittance he would say that at the start of this year, his name was not very well known in Exeter. He was a true start-up, had a few clients and was looking around for work. Through use of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter he was able to connect with quite literally hundreds of people in the Exeter area in a very short space of time. I watched this process for months with great interest. He was essentially doing what I did when I started, but using new technologies and platforms to achieve it – and doing very well at it. For the first part of the year very few people had actually met Scott but many new his name – they’d connected on Twitter and other platforms, but slowly and surely people soon started to meet him at tweet ups and events and then of course he blew everyone away by organising Like Minds entirely using social media (read my article on that here). Now he’s known all over the town – in fact some might say it’s the Scott Gould show at the mo ;) (He will love that one!)

Scott has successfully used modern tools to network the area, gain trust and reputation and he now stands in a great place to capitalise on that and take Exeter, Devon and possibly the World by storm – All in less than a year. I take my hat off to him, I really do. What took me years to achieve, Scott has done in a far shorter period of time. I wish him well.

So to summarise, in case anyone missed the point of this post – Use social media to build your networks locally, gain trust and reputation. Make sure you network online and offline and as much as possible and you’ll reap the rewards in business. To help you along the way I’ve picked out a few of the tactics Scott would have used to achieve what he has – you too can use these, starting today:

  • Follow your local town/city name – Setup a search for the town/city in any of the major tools such as tweetdeck and actively engage with people mentioning the name  – There are also directories like twellow that you can use to find people and now twitter has its ‘lists’ feature, many people have setup local lists which make it really easy to find local ‘tweeps’ – For those of you in Exeter – Here is the search for Exeter on Twitter done for you already.
  • Use social media as an ‘Enabler and Extender’ – Try and take your contact through the following process – tweet/email/call/meetup – You may be lucky enough to do business as a direct result of SM but its more likely that you’ll need to meet up, so use the tools to gently take people more quickly through this processes which might have taken months or years in ‘olden days’ – circa <2007 ;)
  • Have a clear result – Who do you want to attract/connect with?  Have a strategy, even if  its as basic as ‘I want to talk to business leaders/influencers in my town’ – Filter out what you’re not interested in and have a strategy in place.

Scott and I have recently co-founded TAGS Tweetup in Exeter with Dave Thomas – If you’re interested in finding out more then please take a look at our new Tags blog for information about the next event.

Now go and put a brew on and come back ready to use your new found tactics to build your network and of course, as always, please let me know about your success.

It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you!

It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you!

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited by thebestof to attend a seminar by legendary American sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer in London. Not really sure what to expect, I booked my place purely on Nigel Botterill’s (CEO of thebestof) account of him. I have a great deal of respect for Nigel as a businessman so knew it couldn’t really go wrong. It was a full day and I came away with pages and pages of notes and action points, all of which I’ve written up today, while still fresh in my mind.

If you’re interested, Nigel also posted on his blog about the event entitled, ‘Are you a Winner or a Whiner?’. Well worth a read.

Now I’m not going to try and break down a whole day into one post, so I thought I’d pick up a few of the key points for you, especially if you’re in sales yourself or are starting/just started a business.

People buy people – we know that right? Well I guess most do but I’m sure sometimes we forget. Jeffrey pointed out on MANY occasions that ‘sales’ is quite simply about being friendly – to EVERYONE!

It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you!

If you make yourself an industry leader in your sector, so indispensible that people want to buy from you, then the time spent doing that will be far better used than making sales calls and giving people your brochure (Jeffrey refers to this as puking on people lol – he also has a fantastic New Jersey accent which I really wish I could convey in this article). So the main premise of the day was to stop thinking about how to sell to someone and starting thinking about how to make them buy. I’m afraid though that this isn’t easy, it takes hard work, something many sales people simply aren’t willing to put in. Do you think just because it’s a Saturday it means I’m not going to blog about work! If you have that mentality, this probably isn’t for you – and neither is a career in sales!

A few top tips from the day that I’ll certainly be actioning myself in the coming weeks:

>> Get creative – Your business card should be a talking point – If the person you give it to doesn’t say ‘wow – cool card’ rip it up and start again!

>> Get video testimonials from clients – This is 100 times more powerful than saying how great you are yourself. If you can walk into your prospects and show them other happy clients waxing lyrical about you you’re on a winner.

>> Talk to your customer’s as if they were your Grandma – I personally love this one. He literally says, add ‘, grandma’ onto the end of any line you’re about to say to a customer and if it doesn’t sound right, don’t say it!

>> Use Social Media – It ain’t going away – THANK YOU JEFFREY – ‘nuff said! J

>> Become your client’s friend – if you make a sale, you make a commission, if you make a friend you’ll earn a fortune. A nugget of gold.

If you get the chance to see Jeffrey then don’t question the money – you’ll make it back 100 fold. You can see and get more information about him on his website here: http://www.gitomer.com or follow him on twitter here: http://twitter.com/gitomer or become a fan on facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/JeffreyGitomer

I have already (before the event) purchased a number of Jeffrey’s books and would whole heartedly recommend you consider buying them.


The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness – You can buy it from Amazon here.

Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude: How to Find, Build and Keep a Yes! Attitude for a Lifetime of Success

I’m now off to buy these other books in his range (I didn’t even know these ones existed until yesterday!):