I met Conrad Humphreys today

Conrad Humphreys is a round the world sailor from Exmouth. At 26 he became the youngest winner of the BT Global Challenge. He gave an inspiring talk on team work today at Exeter Uni, an event I also spoke at. Enjoy.

Generational Management 

Generational Management 

If you’re managing more than a few people, there’s a good chance they might cross generations and guess what, those guys have different needs. I believe strongly that its not up to them to change, its up to you as a leader to adapt and understand those needs so you can get the best from all of them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…generational management.

This week I attended a great talk at Exeter University’s Business Leaders Forum. Guest speaker was none other than successful investor and Dragon’s Den’s Deborah Meaden. Her topic of choice was ‘How business might look in twenty years time’ and her number one challenge; generational management. It certainly struck a chord with me.

We currently have three generations in the workplace:

Baby Boomers – Born from ’46 to ‘64
Gen X – ’65 – ‘77
Gen Y – ’78 onwards

The BB’s are and always have been driven by a competitive, work till you drop attitude – it was a thing of the times. Gen X are a little more cautious and strive for greater work-life balance. Then there is Gen Y – these guys like feedback, have a thirst for learning and are driven by technology.

You can bet that some of the BB’s think the younger gen are lazy and tech obsessed while the younger gen think their elders are stubborn and stuck in their ways. A challenge indeed when you want them to work as a team.

If you manage teams which transcend generations its critical you get them talking and understanding each other. The young guys should seek the wisdom and experience of their elders while the older members of the team must open their minds to the fresh new perspectives from their younger counterparts. Sounds easy doesn’t it 😉

Here’s are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Start measuring by results and not by the way people get there. As a leader you’ll need to adapt to the different styles and work methods of these generations. Your younger team members may be driven by working at certain times of the day, perhaps when they feel most productive. They may prefer new locations (yes that coffee shop down the road really can be a legitimate place to work). They are probably working at their desks less and less (this is the mobile generation). Have you adapted the routines and structure you once had? Do you trust your team if you can’t see them at their desk? These are the changes you’ll need to make if you want to succeed with a Gen Y workforce. Interestingly a lot of the time my guys are now working at our clients because we’re adapting not only to generational changes but industry ones too. Todays work climate is about collaboration and teamwork more so than ten years ago. We’ve taken notice and continue to adapt to our client’s and staff’s needs.

Communication is something that gets written about a lot, probably because it easy to empathise with. Gen X and BB’s preferring email and phone calls compared to the more instant messaging of the Gen Y’ers. One thing I did in my own business last year (being that we’re fairly heavily Y biased) is setup a couple of WhatsApp groups, one for the entire company and one for the sales team. The guys share stories, have banter and help each other out everyday and so far I’d say its been a great success. This is mixed with the more traditional email circulars to the business, regular team meetings and one to one reviews and catchups to ensure everyone is catered for.

Another thing I’ve learnt is the thirst for learning that Gen Yer’s have. We’ve subscribed to Lynda.com, an online video training site where you can find out about everything from how to read google analytics to improving your communication skills. We also have a budget set aside for conferences and training and encourage the team to seek out the ones they feel would provide most value and then make a case for being sent on them. How are you investing in your team’s development because if you don’t, you can be sure they will find someone who will?

One final point – make sure everyone has a voice. A leader needs to listen to their people and make strong decisions, calculating the risk and reward at all times. Your BB’s may have been there before and you should seek to use that experience. Your young guns might challenge the norm, help you innovate and take you to places you’ve not been before. Your job is to make the best of the amazing and culturally diverse world we live in so your business can flourish over the next twenty years.

Your Say

Have you had experiences of managing across generations? Positive or Negative, we’re keen to hear so we can all learn.

Using Social Media to Enhance Employability

I’m really excited as tomorrow I’m going to be spending the morning with students at Exeter University, talking about Social Media and how it can help their job prospects. We all know its a tough world out there right now and getting a job is a lot harder than when I left the same University, 12 years ago.

I’m excited because when I was there, I didn’t have any of the tools available to these guys to help my search for work. Those who want to give themselves a head start in life really do have a fantastic opportunity to do so.

So here are my top tips to any student looking to use Social Media to enhance their employability potential.

1). Without wanting to start on a negative note, the first place to start is understanding privacy settings and what employers these days use the web for – Googling your name. Have you Googled your name (that’s mine by the way) to see what turns up? Have you checked to see what information people can turn up on you on Facebook without being logged in, or through a profile that is not friends with yours? If not, I suggest you do, because rightly or wrongly prospective employers will be doing so.

2). Right lets get positive now. If I could give one piece of advice to a prospective employee it would be to start blogging. How many CV’s do you think every job you go for is going to attract? How many of them link to a blog which shows off their knowledge, thoughts & personality? Not many I bet you. So here’s your number 1 chance to stand out. With tools like WordPress so easy to use (and free), you can start a blog today, while you’re at Uni and demonstrate to future employers 1000 times more about you, than you can on your CV.

3). Start listening & learning. Use tools like Twitter to start searches for people tweeting in the area you’re looking to get work. Build up a picture of who is about and begin to engage with them. Getting to know a prospective employer before you’ve even applied for a job could just give you the edge you need when it comes to interview time.

4). More Learning. Really?!? Yup ‘fraid so. The workplace is very different to Uni life. Find industry experts and influencers in your field of choice and follow them on sites like Twitter. Learn from them, create your own posts about the things they say on your newly formed blog. Find the thought leaders out there and start to build up real world knowledge of what business is really going to be like.

As an aside, if you’re into Business & Marketing here are a few great people/companies to start with:

Chris Brogan
, Seth Godin
, UnMarketing
Mashable & Econsultancy

5). Make LinkedIn your corporate network. In the business world many of us use LinkedIn as our corporate network. We keep personal stuff to Facebook so that’s not much use to connect with us on. Twitter is more difficult to build close connections on quickly, it takes time. Start to add people you meet at job fairs/events/shows/out networking and build your numbers. Know people in the local business community (family/friends etc)? Add them too. Numbers lead to leverage in LinkedIn and as you take your profile wherever you go in your working life, you should start to see this as one of your most valuable assets.

6). Be Proactive – When I’m looking to recruit, I want someone that stands out. I want someone that makes the effort to go the extra mile. I want someone that doesn’t just send me in a CV and hope for the best. Recruitment is expensive for us company owners. You can not only save us money but show you’re different by finding me on LinkedIn and sending me your details. Ensure to tell me not just about your skill set, but why you want to work for me, what you can bring to my company and why you’re different. You’ll be ahead of 95% of other candidates already and if you’ve done everything else I’ve said above I may not even bother seeing anyone else!

Guys, if I were looking for a job now I’d be really enthused by all the ways I can make myself stand out. The question is….are you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you got any more tips for the stars of the future?

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

A couple of months ago I moved house with my fiancé. Part of the ‘the deal‘ was that I had to clear out a load of old rubbish I’d been hoarding for many years, including items like school reports & projects, old clothes and bits of memorabilia that I’d kept along the years. I drew the line at throwing out the memorabilia but certainly couldn’t see a reason for keeping my exam papers for first year Fortran programming at Uni!

Much to my amazement, while sorting through great piles of paper, I found the document you see above, hidden away under years of dust and scraps of other less meaningful items. Take a close look and you’ll note that its the letter I received from UCAS in 1997 confirming that I’d not made the grade for Nottingham University . Heartbroken that my first choice Uni had turned me down, I did however succeed in getting a place at my second choice, Exeter (also shown in this letter).

I sat down and pondered this letter for a while. How much of an impact had this had on my life? If i’d not gone to Exeter, I wouldn’t have met the guys I started Optix Solutions with. If I’d not gone to Exeter I wouldn’t have met my beautiful fiancé, Lizz. If I’d not gone to Exeter I wouldn’t have been cheering the Chiefs on every other week in the premiership. How much had my life changed because of this one letter?

The conclusion I came to is that we don’t know what’s around the corner and life changing moments happen every day. I’m incredibly happy with my life and what I’ve achieved so far. There is a long journey ahead but those who keep thinking ‘what if’, carry a burden that holds them back. Don’t let that be you. You can’t change the past, you probably can’t change elements of the future. I say embrace what life throws at you. I say live for the moment and as my school motto stated: Carpe Diem – Seize the day.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you had a ‘UCAS Letter’ moment in your life?
  • Do you ever consider what might have been? I’m interested to hear your stories.

Calling All Exeter Based Recruitment Agents

Calling All Exeter Based Recruitment Agents

I’ve got an exciting new project to tell you about today. We’ve just launched a new project that’s been under wraps for the last 6-12 months – YourJobsBoard.co.uk

Over the last ten years we’ve worked closely with many recruitment companies in the South West and especially in Exeter where we are based. We’ve built lots of recruitment based websites and been involved in online marketing strategy for many more in that time. Many of them have become good friends of mine.

We recognise what makes a successful recruitment company work and what it’s challenges are. One of the biggest marketing challenges all recruitment companies have is accessing the best candidates and they quite often pay through the nose for this service. Traditionally job ads were placed in newspapers (which cost a fortune), now much of the searching is done online. On average an independent recruitment company in a town like Exeter will have to pay and access CV’s from at least two or three of the large job websites. These sites are (in our opinion) fairly faceless and also quite expensive but they are a necessity for our clients because they attract the candidates to the roles they need to fill.

Roll on YourJobsBoard.co.uk – We’re all about local at Optix and this has certainly been my focus for the last couple of years. We do a lot of work across the UK but as former graduates of the University in Exeter and having built our business here, we are very fond of the area and want to promote local growth in the economy where possible.

About a year ago I had the idea of building a local jobs board to take on the nationals (well sort of). I thought to myself, why don’t we build a jobs board for Exeter, purely aimed at Exeter recruitment agents (of which there are over 120!), Exeter companies and Exeter Candidates. I’m pleased to say that my fellow director James and the guys at Optix got behind me and created the fantastic new site at http://www.yourjobsboard.co.uk

Here are a couple of reasons behind my thinking:

1) It’s Niche – In the current economy it’s important to focus – working in a niche is more important that spreading yourself thinly – you are far more likely to get better results this way

2) Relevancy – If we can build a site that is so relevant to Exeter then it should be able to gain traction in the search engines and show the most relevant results to both candidates and companies alike, helping the local economy

The idea of YourJobsBoard.co.uk was born. Initially I went to our recruitment agent clients and sounded them out about the idea. They loved it and helped us hugely with new ideas and challenges to overcome. It felt like true collaboration and showed the power of building a product alongside your clients rather than for them without any input. Consider whether you could build any of your products and services with your clients?

What makes the concept unique?

There are a number of factors that make this unique – here are just a few:

  • A truly local jobs board for a local market
  • Integrated with Social Media – A candidate can link up their Twitter Feed/LinkedIn and Blog if they have them
  • Candidates can also use video to promote themselves
  • It’s completely free for recruiters to post jobs (over 10)
  • Recruiters can add tips and career advice for free
  • It’s linked up with the local University to promote their job schemes

How you can help?

Without the people of Exeter behind this it will be a far harder job to take on the nationals so please tell people wherever possible about this new and exciting jobs board. If you know people looking for work, make sure they register and if you have a placement then get it online – it’s free after all. If you know recruitment agencies please pass the message on that there’s a new Jobs Board in town.

The address is http://www.yourjobsboard.co.uk

If you have any feedback then as always I’d love to hear it.

Web Design Company in Exeter – Early Optix

A lot of people have asked me how Optix Solutions came to be, so I thought I’d write a quick post on how it happened.

The year was 1999 and myself, James and two friends were all studying computer science at Exeter University. The course didn’t actually include web design although one of our lectures did look at web technologies and  of course we used the net for much of our research. Now bear in mind these were pre-google days! I know, hard to imagine isn’t it! I think Google may have been invented but it was all about AltaVista in those days. Its funny because QXL seemed bigger in the auction world than Ebay then as well. How times have changed! :)

I find it hard to remember back to how the conversations about starting a business began but with a father who is a business mentor/coach by trade I wouldn’t mind betting that I had something to do with the idea! Originally four of us discussed the idea of starting a web design business but we were in our second year at the time and I think the fact we had exams and lectures to worry about meant that one of the guys wasn’t really ever going to committ. The three of us that did take it more seriously did everything we could to tap up family and friends for business and started to build a portfolio. We owe so much to these clients who gave us a chance and allowed us to build a reputation in order that we could go out and start showing other businesses what we could do. As we progressed through our 3rd year we had some big decisions to make. As IT graduates, 20k+ starting salaries in London and other places around the UK called and by this time we had realised just how hard this ‘business malarky’ was going to be. When we started out, it was around the time of the dot com bubble and we all thought we could make a lot of money out of web design. Very naively we hadn’t quite taken into account just how hard a business is to run.

Why Exeter? I’m originally from Chelmsford in Essex, James is from the Isle of White and our third director hailed from Oxford so there was no particular place to go back and start up and so we decided to stay in Exeter. By this time we were also being supported by Exeter University and in particular the business division in the Innovation Centre on the main campus. They were really behind us and again we owe a lot to their support.

Pretty much the day after we graduated and all our friends were still celebrating their degree results we started Optix proper. The three of us managed to rent a largish house in central Exeter near the Imperial with four bedrooms  – one each and one that we setup as an office. We had three desks in triangle shape with a printer in the middle perched on a set of drawers. There was barely enough room to get to each of the desks to sit down! Now this was the days of dial-up and as we had no money we could only afford to get one phoneline in which meant we had to share this between the phone (used for incoming and outgoing sales calls), the fax (yes they were used quite a bit in those days) and the dialup for all three of our computers! As a web design company this was really quite tricky :) I remember constant battles for the line as someone wanted to upload a a new design, another needed to research something and I wanted to make calls to try and get some business in. It all seems quite comical now but I remember just how stressful it could get.

We stayed at that house for about 6 months and were then forced to move. We went into the serviced offices in Exeter Queensgate House – The South West Business Centre. I remember that day fondly as Mike Purton took a punt on us and gave us the office in the attick (about 4 floors up). I don’t think Mike and his team really thought we were going to be there long but we ended up being there (in two different offices) for about 8 years :) As a startup business with very little money it’s hard to comitt to long leases so look for these kind of serviced offices in your town (you just pay one bill every month to include your rent/rates/electricity/water etc) It’s also a case of ‘easy in/easy out’ where you only have to give 30 days notice if you need to move – a must for cash strapped businesses.

So thats the story of ‘early Optix days’ folks. I hope that if you’re reading this at University or school and thinking about starting your own business it gives you the inspiration to give it a go and of course if I can help you in any way please drop me a line.

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!

My first blog post – The purpose of this all

So what is the purpose of this blog then? And before some of you say its to inflate my ego, i can assure you thats only part of the reason.. 😉

While thinking about our (Optix) 10th birthday this July, i had one of those ‘moments of realisation’. People have always said how well we’ve done and seem to be amazed by the fact that i started Optix at University, without working for anyone else. I’m now 30, Optix is soon to turn 10 and has 12 staff members and a turn over of 400K+.

Lets get one thing clear first, i am not a millionaire and its probably going to be sometime before i get there so I’m not able to explain to you how to achieve a ridiculous state of wealth, nor do i claim that my life is perfect in every possible way. However, I do feel that at a very young age i have done pretty well, starting two companies and being a partner in another. If i can pass on any of the things Ive learnt along the way to budding entrepreneurs then i will be very happy. If I can inspire others to go out and build businesses in the way i have then it can only be a good thing. Being a director of a company can be an incredibly lonely place so in this blog i hope to offer a place to come and realise that you’re not alone.

Can i ask that if you know anyone starting a business, any students of business, any other entrepreneurs or anyone you feel might find it useful or interesting, that you will pass this blog address onto them. Please also share this via your social networks – Facebooks/MySpaces/Twitters etc and help me get my stories out to others…

Just so you know, I wont be blogging every single day as im really quite busy but do intend to keep it as regular as possible within reason…

Oh yes, i almost forgot – Here are the links to some of my businesses and interests: