Express & Echo Entrepreneur and Employer of the Year Awards!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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?

7 Things That Changed My Life This Year

7 Things That Changed My Life This Year

So it’s that time of year again folks – The snow has rolled in and rolled out again and a new year is round the corner. I can’t believe it was a year ago I wrote my round up post for 2009! For those of you who missed it, I write a summary post each year on the things that changed my life for the better. I hope that in amongst the points, there will be some that you can use to improve your own life for the better, after all this blog is about you guys, not me.

Here’s 2010 coming up.

1) Stephen Coveys Book - 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (aff link)
This book has been around for years and I’ve had it on my ‘to read’ list for some time now. I finally got around to reading it this month and I have to say, of all the business books I’ve read (and I read quite a lot), this one is awesome – a real ‘lightbulb moment’ read. In fact, I felt it was so important, that after reading it, I emailed my staff and offered to buy a copy personally for anyone who wanted to read it. I can’t possibly summarise the whole thing here, but if building your business and relationships is important to you then don’t question it, buy it today (It’s like £7 so don’t hang around) and let me know how you get on.

2). YourJobsBoard - http://www.yourjobsboard.co.uk/exeter/
As a bit of a serial entrepreneur I came up with a new business venture this year which aims to change the face of local recruitment. The search engines are going local – You’ll have probably noticed that Google Places is far more prominent (thats the map and pinpoints) and smart phones can geo-locate you (find out where you are) easily in an attempt to offer up content that’s relevant to your area. For this reason, we have built a truly local Jobsite for our town of Exeter. This aims to take on the faceless national jobsites and provide good quality content for the Exeter area. It focuses on the strong links we have with institutions in the area including Exeter University, Exeter Council, Connexions and all the local recruiters and companies looking to advertise their jobs cost effectively. If you’re based in Exeter then make sure you get your jobs on the site asap as it’s currently free for companies to post. Charities will always be able to post their jobs for free.

3). Sandler Training
There is always room to improve. The top athletes in the world have coaches so there should be no pride lost in business coaching of any kind. This year we made the jump and I enrolled on the Sandler Sales Management course. Having started my business at the age of 19 and 11 years on finding myself in charge of more than 10 staff, I’ll openly admit that management was not my strong point. I recognised that, so wanted to better myself. I’m now working with a guy called Andy McCreadie in Exeter on a monthly basis, specifically in sales training and sales management. I’ve learnt so much in the few months I’ve been working with Andy, most noticeably about finding the right clients, qualifying, saying no, shortening our sales cycle and understanding that behaviours drive targets, not the other way around. Sandler offer sales training and management courses all over the world. If you are starting a business yourself or even a few years down the line then I can thoroughly recommend the Sandler guys. If you’re in the Westcountry then let me know if you’re interested in meeting Andy and I’ll set it up for you.

4). My MacBook Pro
I can’t say much more than I’ll never go back to a non apple laptop. Nuff Said! Check out their online store for the latest products.

5). Inbound Marketing Practices
I started practicing true ‘Inbound Marketing’ properly this year, having been dabbling the year before. If you’re unfamiliar with the term it’s essentially where you give value away in return for peoples details (which become leads). You entice people to you by proving your credibility and authority. This year we launched two pieces of fantastic Inbound Marketing Collateral. The first was our social media survey. After 6 or so months of surveying businesses, we collated and crunched the data we had and spent quite a bit of money on producing a glossy 32 page booklet displaying the results which we have been giving away freely in both hard copy format to local businesses and online to anyone who wishes to view the information. We also produced a tool for creating a free social media policy you can give to your staff. We simply ask for details of people who download it in return for the document which we brand up with their logo and company details. Since launching this just a few weeks ago and without much marketing, we’ve had over 50 companies use the policy – all bona fide leads for my business. Think what you can give away today in order to build leads.

6). Travelling on Trains rather than Driving

I used to drive everywhere. I love driving. It’s my favourite. However, when I realised how much time I was spending in a car and not able to work, it frightened me. I now travel by train whenever possible and if its at a weekend then the 1st class upgrade is well worth it at anywhere between £5 and £20 extra a journey. This might sound obvious for the train crew already but Im sure there are other people out there with businesses not realising quite how much you can do if you turn to train travel.

7). Lizz
Ok so I included Lizz last year (my girlfriend for those of you who don’t know) but she is so important to my life that I need to include her again. All I’ll say this year, is that once again, I recognised on a few occasions how important it is to have a strong support network behind you when the chips are down. I had a great year in 2010 but we all have off days and sometimes it can get quite stressful. When that happens to me, Lizz is always there for me. Thank you Lizz x

Now Your Thoughts

  • So what changed your life this year?
  • Who and what made an impact on your 2010?

Secrets for Super Successful Business Owners – Nigel Botterill

Secrets for Super Successful Business Owners – Nigel Botterill

On Wednesday night I had the privilege of watching Nigel Botterill, UK Entrepreneur and CEO of thebestof Franchise group present to 100 businesses in my hometown of Exeter. The tour of the country is called “18 Secrets that Super Successful Business Owners Know and Do…” – you can follow the conversation about the tour on the hashtag we created with thebestofexeter at #18secrets.

I’ve met Nigel a couple of times now but this time I was lucky enough to get an hour with him before the big event, discussing ideas and thoughts on business. I’ve written before about how important it is to ditch the negative people in your life and surround yourself with positivity and success – When you chat to someone successful like Nigel you can’t help but be lifted and ideas immediately start to flow – I was at the venue at 5ish and didn’t leave until 9:30pm – it felt like about an hour!

Now i’m not going to simply copy and paste Nigel’s points – that wouldn’t be cricket. However, from the 18 secrets, I’m going to share my big 3 takeaways from the night.

1). “Making the jump from ordinary income to big income business means you need to make the jump from ‘doer’ of the business to ‘marketer’ of the business.” How true – if you’re stuck in the business doing the work on a daily basis, how can you be out promoting it and taking it to the next level? I’ve focused on this quite a lot in my own business in the last year and we’ve certainly reaped the rewards. I’ve built a great team around me who are able to deliver the product, while I market the business. A friend of mine (Richard Carpenter) uses the analogy of driving a car being like running a business: You start by driving the car yourself, taking it in whichever direction you want. The key is to move yourself from the front seat to the back seat and be driven around while you simply direct where you want to go. :) Although I’m being a bit sneaky by putting two tips into one, Nigel also pointed out that we should all concentrate on our marketing first thing in the morning (pref before anyone else gets into work) – a great piece of advice in my opinion and something I’m going to try and focus on over the next few months.

2). Your most valuable asset in business is your database! Your database is critical to your success if you’re going to make it big. Build it at every opportunity, get in contact with your customers regularly, send them something, make them an offer, give them a reason for coming over or for you to go and see them. There are loads of studies about how much easier it is to sell to your current client base than a new one yet many of us get caught in the trap of trying to pour more and more in the top of our funnels while not looking after the people who have already shown they trust us and are willing to spend their hard-earned with us! Absurd when you think about it! Your database makes it easy to keep in contact – go back and work out a plan for it today. (*If it’s email marketing then get in touch with my team at Optix because they offer an amazing service there – plug over*) I particularly loved this sentence from the presentation:

“It’s not your customer’s job to remember to do business with you….it’s your job to remind them”

3). Commit to learning. No successful businessperson got to where they are sitting on their backside watching TV. Many of these people are continually learning, all day everyday. They have huge libraries of business books, they are like sponges for information. Are you? Do you go home and put the TV on or do you read a business book and learn something new about your industry, competitors or other successful people? This last year I’ve spent time building my library of books, especially in the areas of business success and sales. Here are a few that I’ve read recently which I’d recommend hugely (affiliate links):

The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness

Think & Grow Rich

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

What Would Google Do?

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

Little Black Book of Connections: 6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relationships

And thanks to a friend Julian Summerhayes who kindly gave me the following book which I can’t wait to read this week:

The Go-giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea

By the way, here’s the great news for any of you who hate reading (I actually fall into that bracket myself believe it or not) – Check out http://www.audible.co.uk/ – A great site which you can subscribe to and download new audio books/mp3s to your ipod/iphone/mp3 player and catchup with all the great stuff above while on the move :)

So those were the three big take aways from my night at 18secrets – do you agree with these? Do you have some killer tips to share? Let’s discuss…

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Presenting – Pleasurable or Painful?

Presenting – Pleasurable or Painful?

As an entrepreneur or business owner you’re going to find yourself in positions where you are presenting – Fact. This could be for any number of reasons including raising finance, selling a service/product or simply marketing your business. At Optix Solutions, a large part of our marketing plan is devoted to giving seminars & talks where we aim to educate and give our audience value while not over selling our services. No one likes to be sold to, it’s important therefore that our presentation skills are good. I never stop learning this subject – there is always room for improvement.

Over the last 10 years I’ve provided countless seminars and presentations for pitches, so today I thought I’d share with you my ten strategies for a successful presentation.

1). Watch Others – I’ve learnt more from watching engaging speakers and noting down things they do, than from reading any written material on the subject. Find motivational speakers and absorb everything they do; how they move, what they say and how they interact with the audience. I strongly suggest looking up conferences that have good keynote speakers – Seth Godin (marketing guru) is as good a start as any. There are lots of videos of him on YouTube.

2). The Fear – You’re afraid right? Yeah, most people are but a bit of fear can go a long way (did I just make that saying up?). Seriously though, some nerves can be a good thing; they heighten your senses and pump adrenaline round your body, allowing you to work at an optimum level for the time you are presenting. Admittedly, if they are completely overwhelming it might be wise to work on them with a professional, especially if you’re going to be presenting a lot. There are loads of tactics for getting over nerves but the one I use is to keep reminding myself that the people I’m presenting to are only human – they got up that morning and pulled their socks on just like I did! It’s amazing how that Board Director or Chairman just suddenly got a lot cuddlier.

3). Prepare – The old faithful – “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin. I would never dream of rocking up to a seminar or presentation unprepared, it’s asking for trouble. Make sure you’ve rehearsed a few times and you know the length of time you’ll take. Obviously this should fit in nicely with the time slot you’ve been given. I also try and second guess some of the questions that could be coming at me if it’s a Q & S format so I’m as ready as I can be for them. Be careful however, not to ‘over prepare’, you don’t want to be reading parrot fashion off slides if you can help it and sometimes if you rehearse too much that’s what can happen. I usually run through a presentation twice before hitting the main event for real.

4). Turn up early – There is nothing more stressful than rocking up to something you’re speaking at late, not to mention how unprofessional it looks. Make sure you are there well in advance of the first attendees and ready to setup. You know it’s not going to be simple to connect your laptop to that projector, so why leave it till the last minute? Turning up early also allows you to work out the room: What the acoustics are like, how the seating is laid out, the lighting and anything else that could put you off or make you uncomfortable in your presentation.

5). Summarise your presentation early on – Telling your audience what you are going to talk about upfront is beneficial as it sets the scene and their expectations. Always begin with what you’re going to cover later and keep it simple as possible. If you’re making a short presentation then try and keep it to only a few points.

6). Aim your presentation at your audience, not yourself –
Although you could be an amazing keynote speaker that people would pay to come and watch, I’m guessing that like me, most of my readers will be using presentations to build their personal or company brands in one way or another. If this is the case then remember one thing – your audience want solutions to their problems and needs – they don’t want to hear you babble on about how amazing you are and how great your services could be for them – aim the material at their needs. Understand your audience before the presentation if possible.

7). Long Wordy Slides? No Way Jose! – Long slides with lots of boring text won’t be remembered. If you’ve prepared well, as I mentioned earlier, then you should be able to talk around the content of a slide. Less, in my opinion, is better. In fact, this last year I’ve watched many more presenters using single slides with just one graphic (we all know that visuals work well – picture/thousand words blah blah blah) and a one or two liner to bring home their points. These are fantastic and certainly a route that I intend to adopt on my quest for better presentation skills in the future.

8). Humour – Try, where possible, to inject humour into your presentation. This will break down the barriers with your audience and engage them more. Once your audience is laughing it will help no end with those nerves I mentioned earlier. People connect with humour, if you’re struggling, then why not get others to look over your work and see if they can see opportunities for the occasional jokey image or funny reference. A caveat here though – be careful with humour and public speaking – the last thing you want to do is offend your audience. Steer clear of taboo subjects for jokes.

9). Connect with your audience – No-one wants to listen to a boring, stiff, monotone presenter. The best speakers I’ve seen work the room – it’s an art I tell you. At the most simple level make sure you connect (eye line) with as many people as possible. Focusing on one individual will alienate the rest of the room. If you want to take that a step further and feel comfortable doing so, then engage with a few people one on one (and by name if poss). If you aim a question at one or two people you’d be amazed what that does to the rest of the audience – they soon start listening, thinking it could be them next! I always try and move about a little in order to inject a bit of life into my talks (I have a habit of pacing) – I also use hand gestures as much as possible to control the room (one very effective one is to put your own hand up when you want others to respond in the same way). If you are going to pace about, then it’s good that you got there early so you can test if your shoes will make a distracting noise on the floor – I kid you not, it’s one of the first things I look for. :)

10). Be unique – You want to be remembered don’t you? You didn’t just get up and spend all that time in front of that frightening audience for nothing did you? Do something unique if possible – give value away where you can (especially if it allows you to follow up after the event). If there’s a call to action for your audience, make sure they know what it is. Thank them for listening.

Although I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert, I’ve learnt a lot about presenting and public speaking in the last 10 years – I’m fascinated by the art of it and intend to continue honing my skills over the rest of my business life. I hope this article will help a few people with their own fears or questions about the subject. Good luck…

Recession – Cost Cutting Exercise or Opportunity to Make Your Mark?

Not a long post today but it’s about a topic that I’ve discussed a lot of over the past six months so I decided today to put pen to paper on it just in case it can help any small to medium sized business owners out there.

Recession or any kind of slack economy is, in my opinion, a real chance for clever businesses to really lever themselves into an industry leading position. This is of course as long as they can keep cash flowing themselves!

The main reason I believe this, is that many of your competitors are cost cutting, thinking that’s the answer to the dreaded ‘R’ word. So while they are less prominent, you need to step up and take advantage. You’ll almost certainly be able to get better deals on marketing opportunities at these times too so make use of them. Get your name out there more than they are, and get ready to clean up on the business that is still looking for your products/services.

Another reason it’s a great time to ramp everything up is because some of your competitors will almost certainly disappear completely so make sure you’re ready to pick up some customers from those businesses that found things too difficult when they are looking for a new supplier.

A quick word of warning – recessions mean more new start-ups as people who are made redundant take the opportunity to set up new businesses, so just make sure your business is lean and ready to take opposition from younger, hungry companies. Just work out what differentiates you and be ready to tell everyone from the roof tops.

A slow economy is an opportunity for us entrepreneurs – work out how you can take advantage now :)

Social Media in Business

Even by the internet’s rapid standards, the rise of Social Media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Stumbeupon has been nothing short of meteoric.

With hundreds of millions of people worldwide using social networks regularly (Facebook now has 200 million active users) and their popularity continuing to grow on a daily basis, they represent a massive marketing opportunity to switched-on business.

In Exeter, Social Media is taking off with a large group of users networking regularly together. Next month sees the first social media conference in Devon organised by my friend @scottgould. Optix Solutions are amongst the sponsors and are very excited about hearing and meeting @treypennington and @thebrandbuilder who are both flying over from America especially for the event. Tickets by the way can be bought here: http://alikeminds.org/

The big question for me, is still whether or not a brand can embrace Social Media as well as a person can. I believe there is room for both and there is no question that many high profile businesses have done extremely well from Social Media. Dell, Starbucks and Google all use Twitter well but is there a case for smaller SME’s to make it work for them?

My Opinion: YES! MOST DEFINATELY and I’ve experienced this with my own business. However, whether you run a business or a personal account there are certain ways to go about things and certain etiquette you need to get used to. Within Optix, we encourage our staff to have their own blogs/twitter accounts/social media pages and without a question of doubt this has lead to stronger relationships with our clients who are also using social media and to new work and relationships with people we would almost certainly never have come across without it.

Here are the twitter feeds of some of the guys in Optix (oh and Optix own one is @optixsolutions – we use this for info on our business, special offers, news and site launches):

My Own Twitter Account: @banksy6
Al Gleave (Bus Dev): @alpenwest
Kris Sousa (Sales/Support): @kristensousa
Nick Watson: (Developer) @nickizzle

There is so much I could say about Social Media and Twitter in particular but I’m aiming this at new business owners and entrepreneurs so lets just set you along the right path with some good solid advice on why you need to start thinking about Social Media in your business.

Here are Banksy’s top 5 tips for making social media work for you.

1). Allow people to share your business successes and stories with others – FOR FREE! You can do this by adding a tool to pages on your website that allow anyone surfing, to very quickly share your content with others. Popular tools include Share This and Add This both of which do the job more than adequately. If you’re not sure what I mean by this then take a look at the Devon Air Ambulance website that my company Optix Solutions have just launched and scroll right down to the bottom of the page. You will see a green icon with ‘share this’ written next to it. Click it and see how easy it is to share that website on Facebook/Twitter and many, many other websites out there. Think now of the power of just one or two users sharing that website with potentially hundreds or maybe even thousands of trusted contacts and friends that they have on their own networks. Its almost a no-brainer to have this added to your website these days. If you don’t know how to add it or need help then drop me a line :)

2). Build contacts, relationships and networks online – I’m sure if you’re starting a business, in your early years as a business or an entrepreneur of any kind, you are probably networking offline? Am I right? Well Twitter and other social networks allow you to find people with similar interests and values and then connect with them. The rest is up to you as it would be offline. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a short-term gain, its not. Invest in social media and you’ll reap the rewards later.

3). Leverage social media for your other forms of marketing – Social Media is a great way of generating traffic for your blog or website. Users may then go on and look around other services you have to offer on these websites. In fact, although this blog is starting to get a good reputation with the search engines, the largest referrer of traffic to it each time I post is Twitter. This is because I put the word out to my network each time I post and people visit….which is great:)!

4). Become known as a ‘thought leader’ – This is really about building authenticity in your brand – be it personal or business. It’s a brave/stupid person that tries to sell directly from social media – it just doesn’t work. You need to show others that your posts/tweets/content can be thought provoking and hopefully interesting  so they will engage with you if they feel it’s right to do so. Don’t push marketing material out to them too much or you’ll simply lose followers and contacts.

5). Even if you don’t believe in social media yourself, others do and they could be talking about you or asking for help. There are a myriad of tools out there which allow you to monitor mentions of phrases, including your own brand. I for example, have tools set up to monitor mentions of my company name as well as my own name. Our company monitors local tweets, and anything to do with people looking for web design work.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this is not meant to be, in anyway a full break down of social media and what it can do for you, its merely a teaser. I do hope in the future to focus on the individual networks and go into a bit more depth for you on how to get the best from each of these, however in the mean time I recommend reading the Chris Brogan’s blog post on social media here for some great tips:

http://www.chrisbrogan.com/50-ways-marketers-can-use-social-media-to-improve-their-marketing/

Consider today what you want to achieve from social media, consider your audience and which sites they might be using and then put together a plan for yourself and of course, if you need help – drop us a line. Good luck.

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 :)