• Controlling Nerves

    Appearing confident and dealing with pre-stage nerves is critical to your performance. Breathing correctly helps you control your nerves.
  • Effective Networking

    Networking is a vital part of business. There are guidelines to help you prepare better and make the best of your networking opportunities.
  • Powerful PowerPoint

    The average corporate presentation lies somewhere between tedious and crushingly boring. Learn how to escape death by PowerPoint.
  • This text will be replaced

How’s YOUR Knowledge, Skill, Attitude and Behaviour (Issue 24, Vol 04)

Last week’s edition of CDCD suggested four attributes for success. They were

  • Knowledge
  • Skill
  • Attitude
  • Behaviour

Judging by the feedback, many of you agree with me. I’d like to use this week’s CDCD to look more closely at these four attributes and tease out some additional ‘grist to add to your mill’.

For sure, you have to know what you are doing, so we’ll take that as a given. My questions to you here are:
□ When did you last assess your knowledge of your chosen area?
□ How often do you do this?
□ How do you gauge your knowledge, (for example, by some independent benchmark, or by peer comparison).
Each market/specialisation will have its way of addressing this area. For example, many professions have formal ‘continuous professional development’ systems in place and to this extent traditional professions, such as law or accountancy are well served.

If you work in less formally regulated environments, such as coaching, consultancy, speaking, or writing, it’s much harder for you to measure your knowledge. Consequently you may be in danger of forgetting how vital a foundation this is to your continued success. I’d urge you to allocate a budget (time and money) for the purpose of measuring and increasing your knowledge. It’s a sensible, long-term investment in yourself and your business.

The application of knowledge for the benefit of your clients/customers requires skill. I believe is these people – your clients/customers – are best placed to assess your level of skill. Questions:
□ How often do you survey your customers, on this specific issue?
□ Do you have an independent, third party do this on your behalf?
Only by knowing this can you hope to improve and measure that improvement over time.

This is where the going can get tough. Having – and maintaining – the motivation to put your skill into practice can be easy one day and tough the next. While self-motivation is vital, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has enough of it to keep themselves going all the time. Everyone needs help from time to time – it’s part of the human condition. Asking for it can be tough though, as many people see it as a sign of weakness. Look at it another way – you’re just finding the quickest, most efficient solution to the problem. For example, let’s assume your car has just picked up a flat tyre and you’re stuck by the side of the road. Your choice (broadly speaking) is to change the wheel yourself, or have someone do it for you. If you have the knowledge, skill and materiel, you’ll do it yourself and carry on with your journey. If you’re truly ‘stuck’ for some reason, you’ll seek help.

Either solution is a good solution.
If you ask for help, the challenge is; who to ask? It’s this that is the trickiest part of being in business – who to trust – and I’m not sure that I’ve found the magic solution yet. What I will say is this:
□ Take your time
□ Trust is traded – don’t open yourself up to somebody who doesn’t reciprocate
□ Sound people out first through the opinions of others
□ Be prepared to move on if things don’t work out
□ You don’t a huge network of confidents – just a reliable one

If developing and maintaining the right attitude can be tough – then developing and maintaining the right behaviours can be doubly so.

Where to start?
With Albert Gray’s wonderful “Common Denominator of Success”, written in 1940 and as true now as it was then.
You can find the full text online quite easily, although some sites show edited versions and I much prefer the original. The version can be found here:


The basic premise is this:

“The common denominator of success – the secret of success of every person who has ever been successful – lies in the fact that he or she formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.”

I find this a hugely powerful and motivating message. It explains why so many New Year resolutions never get to see February, as Gray further explains,

“Any resolution or decision you make is simply a promise to yourself, which isn’t worth a thing unless you have formed the habit of making it and keeping it.”

Forming the habit of doing the stuff that makes you successful is the equivalent of the momentum built up in a huge flywheel. It’s not the rotation of the flywheel itself that’s impressive – it’s what that energy can do when attached to other machinery. So too with your success habits. It’s not the habits themselves – it’s what they allow you to achieve.

You get the picture, I’m sure. Being able to take on board the points raised in this issue rests on your understanding of how important Effective Communication skills are in the battle to win more business. Have you considered a Effective Communication course to help you improve these vital skills?

Reflect a moment on this. Sit back and take a short break – make a mug of coffee or tea – go for walk in the garden, or along the beach. Let it all soak in. And when it has:

Do it.

This post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” (CDCD) Via the Active Presence website. You can also contact Active Presence Directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Four things you need to make your business successful (Issue 23, Vol 04)

There are four things you need to have in order to make a successful business – in fact, in order to make a success of your life. This are:

  • Knowledge
  • Skill
  • Attitude
  • Behaviour

Taken as a group, these four form a necessary and sufficient condition for success. Let’s have a look at them in more detail:

There is no way around the fact that you have to know what you are doing. Even the most mundane tasks can be brought to life and be given an infusion of effectiveness if you understand more of the ‘back story’. For example, we all know how important it is to clean our teeth and all of us have at least some rudimentary knowledge as to why it’s important.

Following the example about, knowing why we need to keep our teeth clean, is not enough. We actually need to be taught the skill of how to best care for our teeth. It’s interesting to see how this develops over time too. When I was a little boy, we were taught to clean our teeth straight after breakfast. The latest advice I was given a month or so ago (when I last saw the dental hygienist) was that cleaning one’s teeth straight after breakfast is probably not the best idea, as the acid in fruit juice (commonly taken in the early morning) softens the enamel. The hygienist when on to say that the advice given now is to clean your teeth when you get up, or half and hour after breakfast. An interesting illustration of how new knowledge can update an existing skill.

So far, so good. I understand why I need to keep my teeth clean and I’ve been taught how to keep them clean. This doesn’t mean that I’m actually going to clean my teeth though. I still have to want to keep my teeth clean – I need the motivation to put the skill into practice.

From time to time I’ve met very motivated people who still haven’t applied their skill. They might say that they’re motivated – and they genuinely believe themselves to be so – but the fact of the matter is that they don’t actually do want needs to be done. They don’t pick up their toothbrush and clean their teeth.

Nor do they don’t pick up the phone and call the prospect.

You get the picture.

Reflect a moment on this. Sit back and take a short break – make a mug of coffee or tea, or go for a walk in the garden. Score your knowledge, skill, attitude and behaviour each out of ten.

Now you know where to focus your effort.

This post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” (CDCD) Via the Active Presence website. You can also contact Active Presence Directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to get paid on time (Issue 22, Vol 04)

I appreciate that CDCD is read in many different countries across the world and some of the specifics of this issue may not apply where you live and work. That said, the concepts covered are applicable to all well-run businesses.
Here is the issue:

How do you avoid bad debt and get your invoices paid on time?
With many economies in fragile states, a good number of companies are extending their credit lines with suppliers – without necessarily asking first. They’re just keeping the money in their own bank accounts for a while longer than they used to.
The Forum of Private Business is a UK based membership organisation which champions the collective voice of the UK’s small businesses. They have approximately 18,000 members nationally. Established in 1977, the Forum is based on similar successful organisations established in the USA and Canada.

I interviewed Phil McCabe, the Forum’s Media and PR manager on my radio show, Competitive Edge, recently. He told listeners about the Forum’s new initiative regarding prompt payment. You can listen to the full interview here.
Regardless of where you are based, there are some reasonably straightforward steps you can take to improve the chances of you getting paid on time:

1) Check your terms and conditions
Having a good set of terms and conditions can help protect you from late or non-payment. Your T&C’s can also limit your liabilities and provide you with some security. Make sure your customer is aware of your terms & conditions before doing business with them and if possible get them to accept your terms & conditions in writing.

2) Use Companies House
If you’re based in the UK, use Companies House to do a background check on new customers.Companies House holds a wealth of information about companies registered in the UK. It’s well worth checking here before doing business with someone.

3) Run a credit check first
Run a credit check on potential customers. In addition to a credit check, see if there are any other judgements against them. (If you’re in the UK, access the Register of Judgements Orders and Fines).

4) Offer a prompt (early) payment discount
Although you may feel that you shouldn’t have to do this, if it helps get the money in then why not? You can work the discount so that the prompt payment revenue is close to the full revenue you were expecting anyway.

5) Ask for part-payment in advance
An alternative to asking for part-payment in advance is to have the funds held by an independent party (e.g. a bank) until the work is carried out or the products supplied.

6) Alter your terms based on experience
This is an application of the well known saying, “once bitten, twice shy”. There are one or two customers of mine that I will only do business with now if they pay me 100% in advance. This is based purely on my experience of their (in)ability to pay previous invoices on time.

7) Chase late payments promptly
Don’t let things slide – as soon as a payment is late, chase it. Politely at first, but chase it nonetheless.

Don’t forget, the Forum of Private Business can help you with some of these services, (credit checking , for example).

This post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” (CDCD) Via the Active Presence website. You can also contact Active Presence Directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Are your Presentations Losing you sales (Issue 21, Vol 04)

Last week’s edition of CDCD seemed to hit a nerve, as it triggered quite a few emails from you. Great – it’s nice to know my work is being read and it’s even nicer to know that it’s appreciated.

Earlier on this week, I presented to a mixed group of senior managers all of whom were responsible for creating and/or presenting information on a reasonably frequent basis. I gave them my normal view – which is that the vast majority of business-oriented presentations are boring, irrelevant, and completely forgetful.

They agreed with me.

I find this remarkably sad

We shouldn’t have to put up with this. Time and time again I’ve come across businesses that have fallen at the last hurdle in terms of attracting new projects – projects that they were perfectly capable of doing, yet were unable to convince their customer to proceed.

How so come? Because they did a really bad job of presenting their case. It’s as bald, bad and (sadly) believable as that.

One of the e-mails in response to last week’s CDCD was from a reader who told me about a recent experience of his. In summary, he was telling me how he managed to deliver an excellent presentation with very little notice – and certainly no time to produce any PowerPoint slides – by just standing in front of a whiteboard and speaking (admittedly on a topic that he knew intimately, and in which the audience had a high degree of interest).

The essence of his e-mail was that he felt a bit surprised that he had somehow “got away with it”. The fact of the matter is, that from a presentation perspective, he did exactly the right thing:

 He illustrated his spoken message with diagrams (graphs, etc, not words)

 He drew the diagrams in synchronisation with his speech

This is how all the best presentations should be done – and it is perfectly possible to use PowerPoint in this way if you make use of the Custom Animation feature. In fact I’d go so far as to say that if you are not going to use PowerPoint’s Custom Animation feature you ought not to be using the product at all.

The businesses I referred to earlier that are failing to close projects they really ought to be closing are inevitably delivering sales presentations that are full to the brim with bullet-point lists. These absolutely work against the notion of helping people remember your message, and here’s why:

If you present a bullet-point list you are asking the audience to do two things at once – to both read (the words on the screen) and listen (to what you are saying). The brain cannot do this. The result is very little gets remembered.

The reader who drew and spoke at the same time was doing exactly the right thing.

I feel very strongly about this and to that extent I’m creating a series of videos that explain these concepts further. These videos will revolutionise the way you present information and the first one is available on this link. Others in the series will be coming along in the near future and keep you posted as to when they are available.

In the meantime, make sure you watch the first video and take the first step to Improve your presentation skills now

This post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” (CDCD) Via the Active Presence website. You can also contact Active Presence Directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Is Technology Blocking Your Message? (Issue 20, Vol 04)

I’m writing this edition of CDCD on board an aeroplane, heading to a foreign country, where I have several meetings to attend.

The business pages of today’s paper claim the airlines are facing a squeeze, with the whole industry expected to make a net profit of $4 billion this year – less than half of their previous forecast issued a mere four months ago.

This rising fuel costs are blamed, along with a lower volume of price-sensitive, leisure passengers. The volume of high-margin, forward cabin passengers continues to grow (albeit at a lower rate).

So what?

Well something is getting business passengers back into aeroplanes – me included – so what is it? Why in these days of reliable, high capacity, high-performance networks, supporting simultaneous e-mail, phone calls, online chat, video conferencing and streaming would we bother with something as old-fashioned, quaint and expensive as face-to-face meetings?

This is the answer is: because they work. And what’s more, they do so much better than the alternatives.

I’m all for technology, after all I worked in high-tech industries for more than 20 years. However, we can let ourselves get carried away by technical solutions to what are, essentially, human issues.

Our need to communicate is one of the basics, back there with food and shelter. As interpersonal communication has developed over the years it’s been helped along by many inventions, for example, the printing press, camera, typewriter and word processor, to name but a few.

Each of these technical innovations simultaneously propelled the ability to communicate forwards while knocking the quality of communication backwards into the Stone Age. For example, carousel projectors gave speakers the ability to illustrate their otherwise dry, boring lectures with real colour images (hooray); but the bulbs were so feeble they had to be used in near blackout conditions, with the result that we all went to sleep anyway. Carousel projectors didn’t fix the problem of dry, boring lecturers.

The same thing happened with word processors. Suddenly everybody had a typewriter on their desk. Great. Shame that the secretaries were sacked, as not only were they the only people who knew how to use the new machines, but they were the only people who knew the rules of grammar, how to lay out a letter and how to spell. The number of documents in circulation increased while their overall quality decreased.

So too with relatively newfangled technology, such as videoconferencing. Once the purview of executive boardrooms the capability now sits on everyone’s desk. As with word processors of the mid-1980s, volume has gone up and quality of communication has gone down. Can you honestly say that you’ve attended a really excellent, inspiring videoconference?

No, me neither.
The reason is because people have forgotten what makes a good communication. It isn’t space age technology. It is:

□ Having a useful, relevant message

□ Illustrating it with an engaging story

□ Delivering it with good eye contact and appropriate vocal inflection

You would think that videoconferencing would “work”, so far as eye contact is concerned – but the reality is far from that. People look at the screen image of the person they are talking to – not into the camera. The audience perceives that the speaker isn’t looking at them, and so switches off. Just as we had to relearn the rules of grammar, and how to lay out a letter, so it is the will have to relearn the essentials of good face-to-face communication.

which ever method you choose having Effective Communication skills when it comes to dealing with customers is essential.

And that’s why I’m writing this on an aeroplane.

This post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” (CDCD) Via the Active Presence website. You can also contact Active Presence directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Are YOU selling YOUR competitor’s product by mistake? (Issue 19, Vol 04)

Doubtless you put a lot of effort into selling your services (or products), just like everyone else out there. You’re no stranger to the concept of having a “unique selling proposition” and you’ve probably presented yours at many networking events, in the form of some sort of “elevator pitch”.

These are all concepts with which you and I are very familiar.

And there’s the problem – perhaps a little too familiar.

I was fortunate enough to exchange last week’s changeable British spring weather for the warmth (well, ‘heat’ actually) of Dubai. I was working with a client, examining their selling process, including the content and delivery of their sales messages.

The examination produced lots of interesting material, some of which I’ll come back to in future editions of CDCD. The big issue I’d like to focus on this week is:
“Why doesn’t your customer buy from you?”
And in case you’re wondering this is a subtly different question to:
“Why do you fail to sell?”

There are two reasons your customer might not buy from you:
1) Because he or she doesn’t have a need for what you’re selling (or you’ve failed to develop it – see later)
2) Because he or she is going to buy from your competition

So what?
Well, the “so what” is that I see many sales messages that do a great job of selling the service or product at a conceptual level, but too few of them go on to explain why the customer ought to buy the service or product from that particular supplier.

So what has the sales rep done?
The sales rep has done a great job in educating the customer as to why he or she needs “xyz product”, but has failed to convincingly explain why their company is the one to supply the solution.
So what’s the result?

The newly educated customer roams the market for what he or she perceives as the best deal.
How does this affect you?

If you’re a well known brand with lots of ‘traction’, like Virgin, Coca Cola, or Tesco, then the impact probably won’t be that great, as your brand will supply the ‘pulling power’ that leads to the customer eventually buying.
If you’re not a well known brand then (a) you have to work harder at getting people to trust you and (b) you actually have to sell YOURSELF as THE one and only supplier in town.

It’s this second point that’s commonly missed, particularly (in my experience) by “hot shot” sales people moving from sales positions with the “big brands” to positions with lesser known rivals. They continue to do an excellent job of selling the concept, but lacking the pulling power of a strong brand behind them, they fail to close the deal (and there’s every chance the customer buys elsewhere). Their sales (loss?) report says something along the lines of, “…customer not ready to buy”.
Nonsense. The customer was absolutely ready to buy. And the sales rep succeeded in selling the idea – but failed in selling his or her company as the best supplier.

You’re not a charity working on your competitor’s behalf. Leave them to sell themselves and you get on with the job of selling the company you know best.

Being able to take on board the points raised in this issue rests on your understanding of how important Effective Communication skills are in the battle to win more business. Have you considered a Effective Communication course to help you improve these vital skills?

This post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” (CDCD) Via the Active Presence website.

You can also contact Active Presence Directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Four Golden Rules for YOUR Public Relations (Issue 18, Vol 04)

Public Relations used to conjure up images of ‘bright young things’, driving flash cars, smoking cigars and sipping champagne. Quite suddenly though, I see a shift in that perception and here’re the reasons underpinning this:

The generally ‘soft’ economic climate has forced many companies to drastically cut their costs and budgets for anything not directly linked to serving customers have taken a battering – and this includes PR, of course.

Companies large and small are waking up to the importance of social media.

So what? Here’s my view:

The widespread use of social media has given the vast majority of people their own broadcast media of print (blogs), TV (YouTube), and high function notice boards (Facebook and Twitter). The latter two sites have become increasingly important in terms of their influence. According to a leading brand survey from November 2010, Twitter is the 10th most influential brand in the UK, with Facebook occupying the number 5 slot.

Together these social media can zap messages around the world quicker than the formal news outlets can update their headlines. The messages can be good or bad – and a company will only know what’s going on if they have their ear to the ground, so to speak. The trouble is that many don’t, because they’ve just slashed their PR budget drastically. Companies can easily end up being wrong footed, simply because they’re not in tune with their audience. (Photographs of BP’s (then) chief executive on his boat in the Solent at the time of the Deepwater Horizon accident come to mind).

You’ll notice that I used the word ‘audience’ in the previous paragraph, instead of ‘customers’ – a very deliberate choice of words. How much better do you think you’d be received in the market, if you set out to entertain your customers? I believe you’d achieve far greater levels of engagement.

On last week’s Competitive Edge radio show I interviewed Justine McGuiness of Kazoo, a London based PR agency. Justine specialises in reputation and issue management and told the listeners her four Golden Rules for effective PR.

Rule 1: Keep it honest

Changing your story half-way through is a wonderful way to damage your credibility.

Rule 2: Preparation is all

Check, re-check and check again all those facts you want to quote. Are you 100% sure they’re right. Give some thought to what might actually go wrong and tell the truth when it does.

Rule 3: Be proud of your story

If you fail to believe in yourself, why should anyone else?

Rule 4: Follow-up

I thought this was a really useful suggestion from Justine – if a journalist does a really nice write up on you, why not drop them a short note of thanks? You can be sure you’ll be among the few that do and it’ll help your name be top of mind when that journalist is next in need of some specialist commentary.

This post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” (CDCD) Via the Active Presence website.

You can also contact Active Presence Directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Simple Sells More – Why YOUR brand needs to be SIMPLE (Issue 17, Vol 04)

Judging by the number of e-mails I received from last week’s edition of Competitive Difference, it would seem that I really got you going and stirred up a lot of reaction.

If you missed last week’s edition, here’s a brief outline. The British union flag is more complex than it might appear at first sight. Although it looks symmetrical, in fact it isn’t – so it’s quite possible to fly the flag upside down. There are not many people who recognise this (and it seems to me that there are fewer who even care). The recent Royal wedding has of course seen many more union flags being flown than would normally be the case. I saw some flags being flown upside down by one of my local shops. I pointed out the error to the shop owner, and to my amazement she responded by saying that she didn’t care. At that point I elected to take my business elsewhere and she lost the sale. And now back to this week’s edition:

Your response

As I mentioned in the opening, I received a lot of e-mails from you, all of which fell into one of two categories. The first group comprised people wanting to know more about the British union flag and exactly how to fly it correctly (i.e. not upside down). The second group were all people supporting my action in taking my business elsewhere.

Interesting point

Not one person wrote me an e-mail suggesting that I overreacted, or that I was in some way focusing on a level of detail that wasn’t relevant.

So what?

The “so what” to me is that, generally speaking, people tend to respect each other’s values and positions. Some people wanted to know more about my particular position (i.e. the British flag), while others were quite willing to accept my position at face value.

There is a further point to make which relates to the British flag itself. There is a quite reasonable theoretical argument to be made suggesting that the flag is in fact overly complex. If it were redrawn so that it was symmetrical, then the whole confusion as to whether it was possible to fly it upside down would simply disappear. Now we know that this isn’t going to happen any time soon. The union flag will, I’m sure, remain the union flag for a long time after I am dead and buried.

Key point: There is a direct parallel to be made between the union flag and the messages (brand) that you put into the marketplace.

If your message, or your brand is capable of being misinterpreted (i.e. flown upside down) then you can be absolutely 100% sure that this is exactly what will happen. The simpler the message the easier it will be remembered. Witness:

BMW: The ultimate driving machine

Access credit card: Access your flexible friend

American Express: Don’t leave home without it

Anadin: Nothing acts faster than Anadin

BT: It’s good to talk

Carlsberg: Probably the best lager in the world

DHL: We keep your promises

Abbey National: Because life’s complicated enough

While I accept that these are more marketing slogans than they are fully developed messages, the fact of the matter is that they are all simple – you can’t really ‘fly’ any of these ‘upside down’.

Homework for this week? Review the messages you are putting into the marketplace about what it is you do for your customers. Do all those messages support each other, or are some of them in conflict? How easy are they to understand? Ask friends and colleagues for their views of what your messages mean to them. Do they all agree, or are some ‘upside down’?

Let me know how you get on.

This post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” (CDCD) Via the Active Presence website.You can also contact Active Presence Directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Why YOU should care about what YOUR customer cares about (Issue 16, Vol 04)

As I dictate this week’s edition of CDCD, the United Kingdom is gripped by ‘Royal wedding’ fever. On first examination, this fever would seem to present itself as a heightened degree of patriotism, jocularity, and bonhomie.

Sadly, I have also detected a scurrilous and mean commercial undercurrent.

Imagine the political recriminations if, for example, President Obama were to visit the United Kingdom and en route to Buckingham Palace, or 10 Downing Street, he were to observe the USA flag flown upside down. He would quite rightly – and at a minimum – be taken aback, if not downright insulted. Heads would doubtless roll. It would constitute be a good beginning to any serious political meeting.

So too with any meeting that you might have with your customers. If they feel and care for something deeply, then so should you. And you should do so genuinely, and not just because you think it’ll help you make a quick buck.

And so we return to Royal wedding fever and the UK. As I’m sure foreign readers can imagine there have been record sales of British ‘Union Flags’ in recent weeks (sometimes referred to incorrectly as the ‘Union Jack’).

I don’t necessarily agree with everything that my country stands for and nor do I necessarily agree with all the decisions that the British government make on my behalf and in my name. Putting all that one side though, I am English and the British flag is my flag.

Therefore, and for no other reason than displaying due respect, I like it to be flown the correct way up (that is to say, not upside down).

It comes as something of an education to many (British) people that it is in fact possible to fly the British union flag upside down. Many people believe it to be a symmetric flag that can be flown either way, like for example the English or Scottish flags (both of which are contained within the design of the union flag). It is absolutely possible to fly the union flag upside down. And what’s more to the point – it something about which I care deeply.

And so I went to the shops this morning and called in at the brightly decorated delicatessen in the sleepy little seaside town in which I live. Like many shops in the area, they too were bedecked by additional union flags and fully in the grip of Royal wedding fever. Sadly, some of their flags were upside down – a fact I pointed out to the owner. In response, she said,

“I don’t care.”

“Well I do”, I said. And with that, I left the shop and she lost the sale.

The point that she missed was that I’m simply not interested in whether she cares that the flag is upside down or not. What I care about is; that I do care about whether the flag is upside down or not – and if I’m the customer, then I expect her to care as well. And by caring – to the same extent that I care – she would have been demonstrating respect for me, my beliefs, my values, my position, etc.

My interpretation of the shop owner’s response – and indeed of her motives for flying the flags in the first place – is that she had more interest in the additional commercial gain they might represent, as opposed to their inherent meaning. Whether my interpretation is correct or not, is again not the point. It is my reality and therefore my truth. And it doesn’t stack up well on the ‘respect’ scale.

having Effective Communication skills when it comes to dealing with customers is essential.

Before Prince William and Kate Middleton fell in love and decided to marry they developed a deep respect for each other.

Respect is the foundation of all relationships – whether personal or professional.

Make sure you demonstrate it.

This post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” (CDCD) Via the Active Presence website. You can also contact Active Presence directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Five questions for assessing Your Business plan (Issue 12, Vol 04)

When it comes to running your business, you need to know what you’re going to do next – where “next” might mean by the end of the month, the end of the quarter, or the end of the year. Whatever the time period being measured, you need to have some goal and a plan to achieve it. Sometimes these plans are referred to as ‘strategies’, mostly because the author believes it makes him or her sound more important and a step closer to Richard Branson. Get real, I say, just tell me how you’re going to make your first million, never mind the next three or four.

I believe any (micro) business needs three plans:

A marketing plan, which tells you about who it is that is going to give you money, where you’re going to find them and how you intend getting your message in front of them.

A product development plan, which tells you what it is you are going to create and sell to the people identified in your marketing plan.

A personal development plan, which gives you the necessary personal fitness, mental focus, moral courage and overall skills to make all this lot a reality.

In my experience, the difficulty with strategic planning is that a lot of the output is little better than waffle. It is simply not grounded in reality. I have seen far too many “strategic plans” produced by corporate marketing departments that start at completely the wrong end of the problem – and not surprisingly end up with the wrong answer.

The most common mistake is to place faith in ‘top down’ planning and this is normally how such an approach works and why it ends up being wildly wrong. The planners assess the overall size of the market – which normally ends up being some huge number. They then say something along the lines of, “…if we could only get 2% of this market in 5 years, we’ll make XX amount…”. While the pure logic of their mathematics might be true, the people who write such documents give little thought as to how the wealth is going to be accumulated. They simply pass this down the line as a noose that ends up round the neck of some poor divisional director. (I know, I used to be one. This is how the game is played).

The only way to write a sensible strategic plan for your own business is to deal with what you can actually achieve. In other words the plan has to be built from bottom up and not from the top down. There is a finite amount of resource (time and money) you can bring to the table and your plans have to recognise this

Once written you really need to be able to assess whether your plan is any good or not – and thankfully there is a fairly simple way of achieving this (which those people in corporate planning used to keep well hidden, in case we found out and embarrassed them).

Ask yourself the following questions:

What choice does this plan force me to make?
If your plan doesn’t force you to make a choice, then it’s a poor plan. Re-write it. Get off the fence and make a decision.

How does this plan focus effort?
Does your plan inform you as to what you’re doing with your time and – equally as important – where you’re not going to focus any effort. (Reference the English saying, “Jack of all trades and master of none”).

How does this plan balance continuity with change?
Doing too much new stuff at once is dangerous – for you and your clients. There needs to be a link with what you’re already known for doing well, otherwise you’ll find your credibility being stretched extremely thin.

How does this plan convert big issues into actions?
The biggest mistake of ‘corporate’ strategies – they never told you what actually had to happen. Anyone reading your plan should be left knowing the big issues you are wrestling with and what you’re doing about them.  In terms of actions, there are only two that you need worry about: those that reduce cost and those that and value. If you find yourself making a decision that is neither adding value to your business nor taking cost out of it then why are you even bothering with such trivia?

How does this strategy integrate the organisation around a common objective?
If you employ staff your plan ought to clearly state how they are going to be engaged with the plan’s objectives.

This Post was first published as one of Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” emails. You can subscribe to Chris Davidson’s “Competitive Difference” Via the Active Presence website. You can also contact Active Presence directly.

Posted in CDCD Archive, CDCD Vol 04 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment