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.

Thank You!

Thank You!

As I write this, at 8am on the morning of my birthday, I’ve already received numerous texts from people, tweets, linkedIn messages and facebook wall comments wishing me many happy returns. I’m actually quite overwhelmed by it. Thank you so much everyone. Many of the people on the social networks didn’t even know me a few years ago and they’ve taken the time to stop by and wish me the best – this is one of the reasons I love this medium – the ability to build relationships :)

Without wanting to get too nauseous I thought rather than a ‘list of things to do’ or a ‘top ways to….’ blog, I’d simply write about the things I’m grateful for, something I think everyone should do once in a while. It’s a positive thing to do, so even if you don’t publish it like I have, maybe do this for yourself in private – it might help put things in perspective.

Health – Another year passes and I’m in good health which has to be up there as one of the most important things to be grateful for. I’ve joined the gym this year and intend to work on this part of my life even more in 2011. Fit body, fit mind after all.

Family – I’m incredibly grateful for having a supportive family. My parents are always behind everything I do and while they are not necessarily in my life everyday, they have a huge bearing on where I’ve come from and where I’m going. A special mention here goes to my brother and his partner who had my niece, Tilly, last year – the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen and someone that has made me think much more about work/life balance.

Friends – My friends and partner are unbelievable. A close nit group, spanning the country & lots more abroad. Intelligent, enthusiastic, gregarious people who I owe an awful lot of why I am ‘me’ too. People I can turn to in time of need and most importantly, people that I know will keep me smiling and laughing all day long.

The Optix Team – No one has had it easy over the last couple of years, business in general for the country has been tougher than it’s been in a very long time so I’m thankful and grateful for my business and my team – without whom, it wouldn’t be possible.

You – Finally I’d like to thank you. For reading this, for sharing it with friends, for commenting and spreading it. It makes it worthwhile.

You can put your sick buckets away now guys, normal service will resume next post. Just thought this might be a nice little break from the norm. :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • What are you most grateful for? It would be great to hear…

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 :)

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.

Interview with Banksy and James

This post was done last year for our ninth birthday at Optix. As we turn ten next Monday I thought I’d revisit the interview for those that missed it.

Interview with James Dawkins and Alastair Banks of Optix Solutions:
It’s hard to believe that Alastair and James were merely 20 years old when they joined forces to start Optix Solutions in 1999. Since then, their strong business acumen and un-reserved commitment to exceeding customer expectations has helped develop Optix Solutions into a professional Web Design and Internet Services Company with a dedicated team of Business Development Managers, Web Designers, Web Developers and Search Engine Optimisation Consultants – working with some of the UK’s leading organisations!

In this interview we look back at how together, Alastair and James, have achieved their success.

Q. What inspired you to start Optix Solutions?

James: Quite simply – not wanting to work for someone else!

Alastair: I’d agree with James here – we felt there was a gap in the market and didn’t want to work for anyone else after finishing University.

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of running Optix?

Alastair: There are so many! I still get a massive buzz from developing relationships and helping clients – but seeing a team develop around James and me is also very rewarding.

James: Seeing all of the hard work we devote to our clients pay off! Like winning the award for Best Franchise Website Design with Urban Planters last year was fantastic, and being nominated for the Business Enterprise Award by the Federation of Small Business this year demonstrates recognition for our continuous progression as a company.

Q. What has been the most significant change on the web since Optix was founded in 1999?

Alastair: Firstly we went through the ‘Dot Com Bubble’ in 1999/2000; we saw e-Commerce start to take off through the early noughties and now Social Media is off the scale… It’s quite amazing! Have I mentioned TravellersConnected.com? (TravellersConnected.com is a Social Networking site dedicated to helping Travellers find a Travel Companion and all other Travel related advice and information. Both Alastair and James are founding members of the site which was established in 2004 and is today recognised as one of the 100 Best Travel Sites by the Times Online!)

Q. How have you been able to succeed in such a competitive market?

James: Selecting a hard-working team, trying to stay ahead of the game and looking after our clients as best as possible!

Alastair: As James said, developing a great team, looking after our clients and regularly consulting with an experienced Business Adviser have definitely helped us succeed.

Q. How do you hope Optix will develop over the next 9 years?

Alastair: We’d both like to see another office and perhaps more spin-offs like TravellersConnected.com to get our teeth into. I think when you’re entrepreneurial you’re always looking for the next opportunity.

James: An Optix sponsored race car!

Q. What do you look forward to most at the start of a work day?

James: The truth is no day is ever the same, but it’s always great hearing from our clients – so I guess we look forward to embracing the unknown and pushing the boundaries.

Alastair: Definitely, couldn’t have said it better myself James.  I knew there was a reason I went into business with you.

Q. Any last words?

Both: Watch this space!

Start by Selling Yourself

Well once again I find myself apologising for the time taken to write this post – At least I’m now settled in my new pad and have a computer at home so no excuses anymore :)

If you’re starting a business then I’m sure that like me, you’ll probably be selling something – either a product or a service. The majority of start-up owners have to be sales people (whether they like it or not) purely because they are often the only people in the business.

Now let’s put aside this theory that you are selling a product or a service – you’re not, you’re selling yourself!!! *Queue dramatic music*

‘People buy People’ – It maybe an over-used saying but it’s very true. So my advice is this, think about who you are and how you present yourself both physically and through your personality. You may need to do some soul searching for this. Consider how people perceive you, maybe even ask for feedback from clients and be ready to take the constructive criticism. If you’re willing to invest in this process selling will become easier.

There are many types of sales people – from those who are in more direct hard sales, to the other end of the scale who are slightly more fluffy – Some organisations may class these as ‘Hunters and Farmers’. A hunter typically drives for sale after sale, moving on after each one while a farmer, ‘farms’ their relationship with people for long term gain. My own personality is quite fluffy and I’m definitely a farmer (I even have a flat cap now but that’s another story!) but I do try where possible to match my personality to whomever I’m speaking to.

So, if people buy people then what does this mean to you? What can you do to give yourself a better chance of making a sale and more importantly getting repeat business? Here are Banksy’s top 5 tips:

1). Emanate positivity- Lets be honest things are not always great in business. There will be days when you feel like you should of just stayed in bed. When starting up, its even harder because you have all the pressures of money as well; ‘where will the next lot of money come from to pay that bill’ etc… Unless you get really lucky, this is something we all go through. My point here, is that HOWEVER you feel, you need to emanate positivity when out and about, talking to someone on the phone, networking and at meetings etc…basically anywhere you’re interacting with people not directly involved in your business. If you turn up to a networking meeting and I come to speak to you and the you start telling me that business is slow and you’re not very happy and blah blah blah, two things are going to happen – 1). You’re going to depress me and probably everyone else you talk to that day and 2). This is highly unlikely to make me want to give you my business. If you take one thing from this post please let it be this: BE POSITIVE in public. There is one guy, who I see around Exeter regularly and every time I ask him how he is, his standard response (and its been the same for about 8 years now) is “Fantastic” – said with a huge smile. I’m certain that in those 8 years there must have been a few times when it wasn’t fantastic but he certainly knows the benefits of acting positively in public. On the same note there are people who moan about everything each time I see them out. These people don’t tend to stay in business very long or certainly don’t do very well from it.

2). Dress like the person you’re meeting/doing business with. This sounds strange and possibly a bit obvious but you’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes. If you’re meeting with an Accountant/Solicitor then make sure you’re wearing a suit and look smart and clean. If you’re meeting a plumber then a suit is probably a little OTT, maybe smart jeans and shirt are more sensible. Clearly if your business means you must wear certain threads (like a uniform) then this may not be applicable.

3). Mimic Body Language – One of the most interesting things I’ve learnt in my time in business is the importance of body language in sales. If you mimic the person you’re talking too (and I don’t mean repeat what they say or anything silly) then you’ll be surprised how much easier a meeting will run. I’m not a body language expert but I can tell you this puts people at ease and will help the sales process. I quite often find myself mirroring the person I’m talking to at business meetings instinctively, especially if  I’m getting on well with them.

4). Consider your audience – This goes for all types of sales but when selling yourself, you need to consider the person you’re selling to and adapt your persona to theirs. This might mean trying to pick up on elements of their personality, language or dress as mentioned above. To give you a really obvious example, would you act the same around a workman on a building site as you would with a solicitor or accountant? I consider it a real skill to morph yourself so that whomever approaches you, you can very quickly determine what type of person you’re dealing with and then change various aspects of yourself to suit them.

5). Build a relationship (will deal with more in future posts). A relationship will yield far better results in the long run. People will warm to you more if you spend time getting to know them and their business before telling them what you can do for them. I mentioned this in my networking post as well as I truly believe it to differentiate good sales people from poor ones. Concentrate on building relationships with everyone you know and mark my words (oh dear I sound like an old teacher), it will help you sell yourself.

I really hope this has been helpful – much of it is common sense but if you’re new to business then next time you’re due to go out to a networking event or meeting, just skim over this post first and try and implement some of it and see what results you get – I’d be keen to hear your feedback :)

Business Mentoring and its Importance

Apologies for the time its taken me to write this post. Moving house has been my priority this last couple of weeks and left me very little time to sit down and think about this important subject.

This post deals with the role business mentoring plays in successful businesses. It can be lonely at the top! :) OK so maybe that’s a bit dramatic but in all honesty when you are at the top of your business there is often no one to turn to, no one to ask whether you’re doing the right thing and if like me, you’ve not worked for anyone else (I started my business at University and am still running it 10 years later), no precedent has been set for most of the situations you come across. The learning curve is unbelievably steep, especially at the beginning and a big factor for why something like four out of five start-ups fail. This, in my opinion is why its so important to find yourself a business coach/mentor.

In Optix (my web design business), I’m lucky that I have my business partner James to bounce off. I’m sure that many of you reading this will not have anyone else because you’re running things yourself. If you’re in that position then I’d suggest a mentor is probably even more important for you.

James and I are extremely lucky that my father Jamie doubles up as our business mentor. Having run businesses with more that 150+ staff and now running his own consultancy in Essex, he is perfectly placed to offer advice to James and I as and when we need it. I’m big enough (well actually if you know me you’ll know I’m quite small!) to say that without Jamie’s help I don’t think James and I would be here today.

So what do you need to look to a mentor to help you with and why? When you find someone you get on with, trust and respect (this is critical), the sort of things you might want to talk to them about include:

  • Regularly looking at cash flow (the lifeblood of any business)
  • Profit and loss
  • Contracts (both ones you’ve been asked to sign and ones you need to draft for other companies)
  • Personnel issues
  • Financial decisions
  • Company strategy and Goal Planning

We have a regular monthly board meeting with Jamie and stick to a structured agenda with many of the points shown above discussed as a matter of course, even if there is nothing to note that month. It’s great practice to get into this routine so you always have a grasp on where the business is at that moment in time and where its going. It’s also a good time to report back to the board on issues that only you have been dealing with.

One thing I see a lot of is people who act as business coaches. Business coaching is a different kettle fish. Many coaches have developed their own models which can help you focus on your business goals and not get sidetracked by the day to day runnings of your business.

So if you’re reading this and saying to yourself, ‘yes but I don’t need a mentor/coach because I know my business and am successful in it’ then let me make a quick parallel for you:

Just think about sport at the top level – If you’re a premiership football club at the top of your game you have coaches, similarly if you’re a top ATP tennis player you will have a coach. Sportsmen and women all over the world have coaches and I believe in the business world its sensible to do the same.

Quite often as a director you’ll find yourself too ‘inside your business’. By this I mean you’re blinkered by the day to day goings on. Someone with experience of business outside can often break things down for you and help you make the best decisions for your business. A good mentor/coach in my opinion doesn’t make decisions for you, they merely pose the right questions that help you get to the right conclusions. You may find that these ‘answers’ often seem obvious but it’s this kind of mentoring which is fantastic for any business which wants to grow and go places.

I’ve met a lot of directors that have said they don’t need mentors/coaches and in my opinion some of these have let thier egos get in the way of good solid business sense.

If you’re wondering now how you can find a mentor, I’d suggest networking your local area and asking around – make sure you get recommendations for the person you’re thinking of getting in and of course, it goes without saying that if you’d like to talk to my father Jamie about what he can offer your business (anywhere in the UK), please contact me and I will happily put you in touch. I can put my hand on my heart and say that he is one of the biggest reasons that Optix is still around now, ten years after our incorporation and doing so well. :) Thanks Jamie!

Its Networking, not Netsitting or Neteating….

So this is the first ‘REAL’ post then and hopefully the clue is the title….

I wanted to cover the one area of business I consider the lifeblood of any small company trying to build their business – Networking.

Networking is the process of getting out and meeting other business people at breakfasts, lunches dinners and other functions…..true networking in my opinion is an art form. The most important thing to remember about it (and where I feel that so many go wrong) is that it’s not a short term solution to getting business, it’s about building relationships over time. Being seen at the same events regularly will help build trust in you as a person (your personal brand) and the company you work for. In some cases I’ve only started getting leads from people that have known me for 3+ years, purely because it’s taken them that long to see that my business is one that it wishes to work with. You must work at networking….

There are loads of opportunities in life to network. In fact if you wanted to, you could network every day of the week…and then at the weekend too, in fact I’m regularly told that I never stop networking :) When in start-up phase you need to put yourself about (quite literally) – get out there as much as possible, invite yourself to everything you can and ask others where they network. DON’T BE SHY. If you want to find networking groups in your locality then Google it. If you’re in Exeter and reading this then here is a list of local networking groups for you to try: networking groups in exeter

Ok, so now you’ve found your groups lets go networking….

It can be a pretty scary prospect going to a networking group – a room full of people you don’t know can seem quite intimidating. Thoughts like ‘who do i speak to first’ and ‘how to do I interrupt them to start a conversation’ all spring into your mind. This is especially true when you’re starting up and don’t know anyone – these feelings are entirely natural and are probably being felt by many other people in the room. Don’t worry though, it gets easier….

To help in your quest I’ve put together Banksy’s top five tips for networking:

Tip 1 – Quite simply, get there early!!! It’s not hard when you think about it, if you get there early, the room isn’t full and it will be the other people that have to come in and worry about who to speak to and how.

Tip 2 - Have a plan before you go. If you can, try and get a list of who is going to be there. Make a target list of who you want to speak to and remember that you can always ask the organisers to introduce you to someone if you don’t know what they look like.

Tip 3 - You’re not there for the food and drink, you’re there to do business (hence the title of this post)…Don’t just sit there and eat your food and drink your drink in the corner…get out there and NETWORK. The quality of the lunch or breakfast should come a distant second to whether you can make some good contacts.

Tip 4 – Listen. This is probably one of my most important tips. No one likes a person who turns up and talks at them…me me me….it’s quite a turn off. Try asking the person you’re speaking to about themselves and their business and only talk about your business when they ask (they will get round to it…unless they are completely egocentric :) ). Try some of the following posers – and please, please, please sound like you’re interested:

>> So what business are you in?
>> How long have you been going?
>> Is business good at the moment?

When I’m networking and asking these questions I’m always thinking about my own business and how I can create an angle on what I do when I’m finally asked about it. Then, if clever, I can relate my own business to theirs and suddenly the selling process becomes much easier. (As an example: If I find that I’m talking to an estate agent and business is not great at the moment, when I get asked about Optix I can tell them that I look after other estate agents in other parts of the country and what has worked well to bring them new business through the web – immediately they are interested and you can move to the follow up…)

Tip 5 - Follow Up – If you go to an event with people where you collect business cards then make sure you follow up. Send a quick email saying how nice to meet them it was. If you’ve told anyone you’ll call them then make sure you do (and within a couple of days so it’s still fresh in their minds).

Networking can be one of the most powerful ways of bringing in new business. Optix went from 2 to 8 staff on the strength of networking alone. I made sure that I was at every event I could be in the early days, now I try and make sure all my staff are doing the same.

For some groups that I have personal experience of check out:

•    BNI (worldwide) – My Local chapter in Exeter has its own website here: BNI Chapter in Exeter
•    Business Network (South West)
•    Chamber of Commerce (check your local area – Here is Exeter Chamber of Commerce) Optix also design and maintain Barking and Dagenham Chamber of Commerce Website
•    TBX (Devon)
•    Best Of (Exeter)
•    XYBC – Exeter Young Business Club

Quick Update to Post: Check out All Networking in a couple of weeks time here – Over 750 people now registered: www.allnetworking.co.uk

So now that you are armed with my top tips, get out there – don’t be shy and network until you’re blue in the face – I KNOW it will work for you. Let me know how you get on…