Monthly Archives: February 2019

stone tower

How Lack of Persistence Fuels Failure

Businesses fail all the time.  How many fail through lack of persistence?

My father was self-employed as a sheet metal worker for about 30 years.  My goodness, he could have given up a thousand times over.  It was always difficult.  Not only did he have to find work (and that became progressively more difficult) but he also had to get his customers to pay.  The problem was everyone was waiting for the next person to pay.  As money entered the chain, it passed down the line.  There was no point in taking someone to court.  They would be made bankrupt and no-one would be paid.  The real problem was end-creditors such as the Inland Revenue. 

Neither Conservative nor Labour governments favoured small business owners.  My father, a life-long socialist, was the boss. When it came to disputes, he had no union to bat for him.

And yet he paid his way.  Brought up a family; I don’t remember wanting for anything.  He paid for my sister’s and my university education.  In the end ill-health defeated him.

What kept my father going?  He enjoyed his work and valued his independence.  He solved problems by creating solutions out of steel.


Once you decide what your business is, it is important to be consistent.  You may be bored, your family may be bored, your employees may bored, your customers may be bored – it doesn’t matter, keep on keeping on – that is until your accountant (if you have one) gets excited and tells you it isn’t working.

Marketing and sales is a slog.  It is a necessary slog.  Unless you are a very peculiar person, marketing and sales are nowhere near as exciting as delivering whatever you deliver.  But if you give up, you have nothing to deliver.

When you start you’re not ready.  When you’re ready, your market is not ready – it all takes ages to get right.  In the meantime, you see other business owners motoring past with loads of work.  Don’t think for a moment they don’t have their own problems! 


Most things don’t work.  Finding something that does work and provides a reliable income takes time. It’s frustrating and there are no guarantees.

Patience is a virtue.  Those who stick with it are more likely to succeed than those who do not.  Even the most successful entrepreneurs had their wilderness years. 

How do businesses keep going?  It isn’t for the money.  They keep going because they enjoy what they do, can see the benefits they bring to others, create a body of work.  Business is an opportunity to try out new stuff and create something new. 

Promises of Great Wealth

Don’t listen to the stories of undreamed of wealth.  Yes it works out that way for some.  For most successful businesses its skin of the teeth, bringing up a family and getting through university before everything stalls.

We can’t all be millionaires and that is why we should steer clear of the big promises.  Remember the Pareto principle?  It means 20% of the market holds 80% of the wealth.  Yeah, you could be in the top 20%, you have a 1 in 5 chance. 

But there is room in the middle to make a niche that generates the income you need.  High end clients are not difficult to find and if you do, your niche can be comfortable.

Many who make large sums find they are not satisfied, for satisfaction is in the work.  What balance between work and income works for you?  If you’re not happy, you will find the money does not compensate.  So hold out for what is of value.

If you do that, you position yourself in a niche that works for you, with customers who appreciate what you distinctly offer.

man speaking into tin can microphone

How to Improve Communication Online

Sarah has started to get comments on her blog posts and replies to her emails.  This is really encouraging and she prepares new material with renewed vigour.  But she wants to know what more she can do to improve communication and so nurture her keener followers.

Engage Feedback

The biggest challenge for Sarah is to work out where the people who comment on blog posts and reply to emails are in her sales funnel.  If she attempts a sale too soon, it could result in a breakdown of trust.  Too late and someone else might get the sale. 

Prospects may be in a funnel for some time before they are ready to buy.  When they become customers, they pass through a turning point where they become ready to buy.  Make an offer before the moment passes or they may find someone else. 

But how do you detect that moment?  If you meet someone face to face you might pick up visual cues.  Online this is harder.  Here are few things to look out for:

  1. They ask you for a meeting.  This is usually a good sign. 
  2. Increased frequency of comments may be a sign but sometimes people are just interested. 
  3. They are willing to recommend you to friends.
  4. Be aware of what they say, encourage deeper sharing and judge when it is time to meet and discuss next steps.

This last one shows how important it is to pay attention.

Always Acknowledge

One reason people don’t comment is so much of what we put online disappears into the ether.  So, make sure you acknowledge all well-intentioned comments you receive.  At least, thank them for their comment.

Go one step forward and add value to their comment.  Say so if they got you thinking and then show them what you thought!  This might result in a conversation. Others see you reply and that your replies are worth reading.

And replies are usually short and so easy to read on screen.

Going Deeper

It is worth reading my ancient posts about conversations, especially the generative conversation.  These conversations take into account the full context of the conversation and both parties are open to the possibility of discovering something new, neither had thought of before.

Can you hold this type of conversation in a short sequence of comments?  Maybe but this might be the moment to suggest a face to face meeting.

Sales and Coaching Conversations

Coaching conversations aim to be generative.  Often the coach is no expert on the topic at hand.  They aim to assist their customer’s thinking.  It is often an advantage not to be too knowledgeable.  You can ask stupid questions without appearing stupid and without being a threat. 

Does the same apply to sales conversations?  Maybe but remember, if you aim to make a sale, you must bring the conversation to the point of sale.  Between what has gone before and the promise of what is to come you build sufficient trust to make the sale possible. 

This is the aim of the bulk of online work, increasing trust.  So, getting your hub working properly is essential.  So, next time we look at how to increase web traffic.

Tug of war between computer screens

How Conflict Undermines Business and What to Do About It

Let’s start with Brexit!  Here is a rich source for understanding why most things don’t work.  Sometimes commentators talk about “groupthink”, although I haven’t heard it used of Brexit.  Groupthink is an unassailable shared truth no-one challenges.  It does not mean everyone agrees.  On the contrary, it generates divisions because the shared belief is false, there is no possibility of agreement.

There is no shortage of false beliefs in the Brexit debate.  But perhaps “the will of the people” is one particular.  Why so?  Well first, it is not the will of all the people.  If we accept the result of the referendum, it is the will of 52% of the people who voted.  17 million as opposed to 16 million, out of population of 60—70 million.  John Stuart Mill warned about the dictatorship of the majority.  It is always a hazard.

Worse is the practicalities of pinning down the will of the people.  Most people, myself included, are very bad at working out what we want about anything, let alone an issue as complex as Brexit.  We change our minds about stuff, all the time.   Representative democracies entrust decision making to informed politicians, accountable through voting.  It is decidedly not that people are stupid for voting the way they did. 

And actually we don’t know why people voted the way they did – on either side.  When people say the (small) majority all meant the same thing – there is no evidence they did.  And if they were such a coherent group of people, with a crystal clear understanding of all the issues and had the poll positions been reversed why should 16 million be less persuasive than 17?

The will of the people is a powerful debating tool, used to manipulate people on the other side of the debate.  Brexit repays study because conflict is one common reason businesses fail.  Perhaps freelancers don’t find this so much but even they can play a blinder from time to time.

How to Make Enemies

Come off it!  You are perfectly capable of making enemies without help from me.  Indeed there is a basic type of non-directive consultancy called a case.  A case is where someone triggers conflict and needs help to resolve it, so the whole community can move on.

Any community entrenched in dispute ties up energy.  Businesses are vulnerable and so are community groups, schools or churches.  Very often shared assumptions create division and it is a painstaking task to track back and work out what they are, let alone how to resolve them. 

Managing Other Peoples’ Conflict

People trained in mediation may be able to help.  But pity the poor manager, minister of religion or headteacher who enters a situation where there is entrenched conflict.  They might see where shared erroneous beliefs lie but what are they to do?

The worst thing they can do is plough on regardless.

Tasks and Issues

“Tasks and issues” is a useful tool.  To assess a situation, make two lists.

The first is a list of tasks, things that need to be done.  Start these with the word “To”: To

  • move the font to the left of the pulpit.
  • improve performance on phonics in Year 3.
  • start a Facebook advertising campaign.

So far so familiar.  The second list is for issues.  These begin with words such as “conflict between” or “disagreement between”:

  • Conflict between those who want to move the font and those who have to apply for a faculty, remembering what happened last time.
  • Disagreement between Year 3 staff about the best way to improve performance.
  • Conflict between staff who want to use social media for marketing and those who point to the proven success of traditional marketing methods.

These are examples from different organisations.  Your lists will be from a single organisation.  The key question is: do you have issues likely to prevent, delay or subvert your tasks?  If so, how serious are they? 

If possible, address the issue before the task.  Ploughing on with a task when there are powerful groups opposed is a recipe for failure.  On paper this may seem obvious.  But it isn’t obvious because if it were, people would do it!

We have seen this played out in the Brexit debate.  The closeness of the referendum debate matters.  And up to the time of writing it has been ignored.  My prediction is the nation cannot move forward until the issue is resolved.  You can’t ignore such a close result.

People are more likely to be interested in tasks than issues.  The temptation when facing opposition is to pack it in.  And that’s another reason for failure – lack of patience.

Figures emerge from laptops and shake hands.

How to Strengthen Relationships Using Email Marketing

Sarah understands to engage in online communication, she needs good content.  But what is good content?  She’s lucky her business is nutrition.  She produces content about foodstuffs, health, cooking, local suppliers and politics.  She could specialise in one of these areas and perhaps narrow them down further.  So far, so good but how can she use her message to strengthen relationships with her list?

High Quality Material Teaches and Entertains

With an email based strategy, Sarah has a number of issues to consider.

  1. Can she write subject lines that entice recipients to open the email?  This is arguably the biggest challenge of email marketing.  True, some people open the email because they see it is from Sarah.  But that didn’t happen so much when she started.  And new people join her list all the time.  They need to learn to open her emails.
  2. Can she say what she wants to say inside the email?  If she has a relevant, interesting theme, people might read 4 or 5 paragraphs.  Another option is to pursue the same topic over several emails.  If she tells a story, suspense might mean some readers look forward to and so open the next in the series.
  3. An alternative is to say enough in the email to get readers to follow a link.  This link connects to a webpage containing video, audio or a long sales letter. 

Storytelling is effective.  Well told, a story captures attention and holds it so that the reader responds to a call to action.

Stuff People Look Forward to

Compelling content informs and entertains.  I’ll open an email if I trust the author to tell a good story and provide useful information.  I receive emails from a couple of marketers, where I always start to read their emails.   I don’t always get to the end – they don’t always share stuff that interests me but usually they do.

Both these business-owners know how to write readable emails.  They usually start with a story that leads onto some helpful observation.  I use their stuff, even on the same day I read it!  One of them writes every day and his emails are always worth at least a scan.

The approach is sometimes called OVO – Opt-in, Value, Offer. When someone opts-in, send them value before you make an offer.

Giving Away Material

Most emails should not attempt to sell.  Informative and entertaining emails add value and are key to building a loyal following.  It is always better if a follower asks for support. 

So, focus on quality content.  If you have an event or new product to promote – drop hints.  Don’t refer to a landing page straight away – build anticipation.  Do this by opening a topic and promising more.  Tell them you’re going to make an announcement before you make it!

 Always Scope to Go Deeper

Sometimes people are anxious about giving too much away.  It is difficult to give away too much.  In a live workshop you cover much more ground.  Participants ask questions, contribute insights, discover new things. 

What you say in an email, is without context.  You explain how to do something but practitioners need help applying it to their business.  There’s always scope to go deeper.  Depth arises from communication – you need to work at a deeper level – find out next time how email marketing can help?

disused car with flowers in the engine

What You Do and Why You Do It

A few years ago, I started in business not at all clear about what I was going to do.  I was clear about why I wanted to be in business.  My business why has never changed, even though several people have told me it’s no good!  I’m convinced why you do business is crucial for success.

I looked back to my time as a development worker and realised something true for me and many other development workers.  Most of our projects no longer exist.  Some were successful at the time.  Now they are no more and the communities we sought to change are unchanged or worse off.

I concluded the reason for this was not quality of the work so much as funding.  Grant aid is not sustainable.  Thriving communities form around businesses that serve local residents.  My vision is of business as a means to local transformation.  I aim to coach in local marketing, businesses mindful of their impact on the lives of those around them.

I found when I spoke of this aim, audiences were always inspired.  My challenge was to turn this why into business activities.

In an earlier post, I suggested you need three aims for your business: your business, financial and lifestyle aims.  In this post I return to the first of these. 

Why versus What

It is worth reading Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why.  He explains why knowing the reason your business exists is important for success.  People buy why you do your business, not what you sell.

Look at it this way.  You offer something similar to many other businesses.  Even if you come up with something completely new, you will be copied.  Assume your competitors are as good as you are or even better!  What does this mean?

You could argue it’s best to hand your customers over to someone who is better than you because the public always chooses the best offer on the market.  You could compete on price – I may not be as good as the others but I charge less!

Let’s say you’re one of three people equally good at what you do.  Each is invited to pitch their business.  How will your audience choose?  Telling them what you do won’t help them decide. 

Telling them why you do it, offers them a choice.  They won’t all choose you.  Whatever turns one person on, switches someone else off.   But that’s OK, you’ve helped them decide. 

And who says the other business is better than yours?  When you help the people who choose you, they and you are happy.

Forgetting Why You Started

What you do is seductive.  You spend years honing your skills and you are proud of your achievements  You know you help people but somehow you can’t reach them.  They show no interest. 

You spend a lot of time designing better products and services.  This is productive, if part of routine housekeeping.  But don’t lose sight of your reason for being in business.  It should drive design of products and services and inform marketing. 

Don’t lose sight of why you started.  Maybe you need to persist with the packages you started with.  It is tempting to move on and abandon old ideas.  But if you chop and change, it makes it difficult for your market to remember you.  People need to hear your message many times before they take it on board.

Stay with your why.  Eventually people remember you and so turn to you. 

Failing Through Success

Which just about says it all except …

Success can undermine your why.  Most small businesses make a living from early adopters.   Their niche market makes enough money and they enjoy the work.

Some businesses make the breakthrough to the big time.  They grow into premises and staff and loads of customers.  It is possible to lose sight of your why when this happens. But remember it is still the reason people choose to become your customers.  If you lose track of your why, your customers will move on.

One business that has maintained clarity about its why is John Lewis.  Think of its Christmas commercials.  Do they lead to more customers?  There’s no way of knowing.  What they do is remind staff, customers and shareholders of their why.  They use their marketing to build their business.

It’s tempting is allow your what to overwhelm your why.  Many people don’t make the distinction, they don’t understand why your why is important.  In time, this means your why does not hold your business together and multiple whats polarise your stakeholders.  Conflict creates enormous problems and so it is the topic for next time.

Do you know why you are in business? How does it help you market and sell your products and services? Leave a comment below.

sofa possibly with teddies

How to Start Conversations Online

Sarah was puzzled by another thing.  She knows she produces high quality material.  Whenever she asks someone to comment on her writing, she receives a positive response.  When she speaks in public, she receives a warm response. 

Place the same material online and nothing happens.  Her analytics show people read stuff and yet few comment.  Why do so few engage?

Customer Conversations

Just like Sarah, most of her customers are busy people.  How do busy people read?  Online, they don’t read in detail, they scan.  They are pressured for time.  Many people prefer to read books or readers that are easier on the eye.  Online they usually seek something and used to most of what they see on screen being of little relevance.

Many people use audiobooks and online they are more likely view video or audio.  Audio is good for busy people because they listen while they do something else.  However, there is still room for text.  Here are a few thoughts.  Some of what follows works under more than one heading. 


Busy people scan and so they must see immediately what this page is about.  By inviting those interested to read on, you invite everyone else to move on!  Anyone who stays scans the rest of the page to ascertain whether it is worth reading in detail.

When someone scans the page they read headings and subheadings, captions, highlights, links.  Anything that stands out from the main body of text.  Make sure standout text conveys what the page is about in summary.

Text accompanying video or audio is likely to be read.  The reader wants to know whether it is worth hearing the recording.  A summary also reminds someone of its content, if they decide to listen again. 

Remember to include a call to action.  What do you want the reader to do next? 

Blog Posts

The same applies to blog posts although perhaps visitors expect more words.  It is possible to be too long.  Reading online is still tiring and time pressured.

Choose any call to action but most common to blog posts is the invitation to comment.  The big difference between commenting and replying to an email is comments are public.  It’s possible to discuss the post with other readers.  (You can do something similar on your website – however be sure to get a conversation going.  Somehow an empty comments section on a webpage seems more of a problem than a blog post without comments.)

How do you get people to comment?  It is not easy.  Ask questions.  Invite comments.  Always reply to comments. 

Social Media

Again the main way to respond is through comments.  You are likely to receive likes and shares (the names of these features vary with platforms). 

Generally, informative posts get fewer comments than posts that pose questions.  Controversial posts are also receive more comments.  Watch others in businesses similar to yours.  Which of their posts get comments?


Networking is a great way to build lists.  Give people your business card and offer to add them to your list.  Connect with them on a social media platform to keep in touch but joining them to something specifically yours is better.

Why should someone want to connect with you?  Engage their attention.  Be distinctive.  Try not to sound like everyone else!  If you have a stimulating conversation that really interests the contact, they may be minded to continue the conversation online but don’t forget to offer the possibility of a coffee – it’s still possible to converse in the old-fashioned way!

What About?

Indeed!  You can afford to be mysterious or challenging in real life.  You can gauge responses and modify your approach as you go.  Online you don’t even know when someone reads a page or post.  If they comment, you can reply but most readers move on, leaving no trace of their presence.

Many are simply not interested and possibly never would be.  But some may engage if they see the right thing.  Social media is a good way of finding those who hang around until they see the right thing.  Once they engage, invite them to join your list. 

Valuable content is important but it is hard to generalise.  Make sure headings or subject lines, are compelling to capture attention.  There are email marketers I always open and start to read, others I mostly ignore.  Those I ignore may be compelling reading for someone else. 

Generally, keep the message as short as possible.  Start with a story and then link the story to a single piece of teaching.  Finish with a call to action. 

Master this basic model for a successful email or post before you try anything else.  You can keep this underlying model and vary it in effectively infinite ways.  How you do that is a matter of practice. 

Remember to use every opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with clients and prospects.  We will look at this in more depth next time.

view of skyscraper from below

Your Worldview and Your Business Plan

In 1980, I packed in research science and elected for life as a development worker.  The biggest stumbling block to this new life was my worldview.  I was an extremely introverted young man and my new career depended on my ability to not only relate to people but take initiative.  Also, my general views about how things worked were hardly realistic.  I had a lot to learn. 

Community development is tough.  Over the years I saw many new workers crash and burn.  I have no idea how I survived.  Certainly, it took me well over fifteen years to understand what I was doing.  For one thing I had to stop blaming myself for failure.  It was sometimes my fault when something went wrong but well … most things don’t work. 

Most important I had to learn to trust other people and offer them space to make their own mistakes.  Funding regimes make terrible demands on people who are not being paid to manage projects and paid staff.  I slowly understood it is our worldviews that erect barriers to success.


It is worth starting with a word about personality.  We act out of the ways in which we perceive the world.  This is why people with similar views may respond in very different ways.  Knowing your own personality type helps you understand personal biases.  Once you know your type, read descriptions and watch out for those biases in the way you act. 

I favour The Enneagram, which is a system of 9 basic types that interact in various clearly defined ways.  You identify your type by observing your behaviour and comparing it with descriptions.  This is a slower but ultimately more reliable than using questionnaires.  You can find help from experienced practitioners and if you get the opportunity to meet with others of your type, you can check out whether you do comfortably fit in the same mould.

The point is you cannot change your type.  All have positive and negative characteristics.  They can all be healthy or unhealthy.  You become healthier by observation of your own behaviour and focusing on well-defined positive changes.

One reason most things don’t work is something devised by someone of one type may not function in the same way with someone of a different type.  You can adapt but if you are unaware of your own biases, it is unlikely you see the weaknesses in your own approach. 

Technical and Adaptive Solutions

Personality has a massive impact on worldview.  All nine personality types share all possible worldviews.  The reasons they hold the views vary.  For example, an Eight might support Remain in Europe because they believe the UK can best achieve its aims by throwing its weight around in Europe, whilst a Five might devise a detailed reasoned argument for the same cause.  And of course others of the same types might hold the opposite view. 

From a business perspective, all types will be drawn to congenial technical solutions.  Faced with a problem, people seek a solution and they most likely choose something where they feel comfortable.  So, the Eight may feel happy cold calling prospects whilst the Five is unlikely to feel comfortable doing so.

However, nine different takes on cold calling prospects does not tell us whether cold calling is a good business method.  Granted those who feel most at ease with the method are likely to use it more effectively.  But what if it is the best method?  Does that mean everyone must use it, whatever their predisposition?

Any proven method is worth consideration.  Personality is one factor to consider.  However, there are many ways to solve the same problem.  Choosing the right technical solution is an important skill, resisting biase from your personality and worldview. 

Seek an adaptive solution to the problem.  This allows you to construct a tailored response, something new that works for you in this context.  

Coaching Helps You See Things Differently

This is why working with a coach help.  Especially so if the coach does not share your personality type.  The coach can challenge you to think outside of your habitual worldview.    They suggest other ways of looking at the problem and point out where you act out of your prejudices. 

The aim in the coaching relationship is to engage in a dialogue.  There is no reason the coach is likely to be less biased than you are – they see from their perspective.  However, you as client can challenge the coach too.  You can say why you don’t think their suggestion will work. Together you seek a solution that works.

But none of this can work until you have clarity about why you are in business in the first place.

old fashioned telephone

How to Generate Phone Calls with Emails

Sarah prides herself on not being pushy.  She firmly believes, from her own experience, that people are put off by the overt sales pitch.  She certainly refuses to read advertising copy.  And she is sure her market is similar.

Her problem is no-one responds to her emails.  She shares good content and when she meets people on her list – they tell her they enjoy reading her emails.  But no-one ever replies or comments – let alone expresses interest in her business. 

The Call to Action

Sarah needs calls to action.  To respond people need several things.  They need to know

  • a response is required
  • why they need to respond
  • how to respond.

To put it bluntly, you need to tell people exactly what you want them to do.  This does not have to be “Buy my stuff!”  For example: “What do you think?  Hit reply and let me know …”  

This way you start conversations and so deepen relationships with the people who reply.  It also gets them into the habit of responding to you.

You may think you don’t need to tell people how to respond to an email.  It may need clarifying if the email arrives via an email service such as MailChimp but mostly the aim is to encourage a response.

There are many ways to respond and responses have different meanings in different contexts.  Replying to an email is private, whilst commenting on a post is public.  There may be more than one possibility.

For example, you could encourage readers to call you. 

Emergency Calls

The easiest is the emergency call.  If you are a plumber or electrician – you have little problem encouraging people to use the phone.  The challenge is how to get them to call you and not a competitor. 

Even if their call is not an emergency, it is something people generally find straightforward.  They need work doing and call to ask for a quote.  This is standard practice and both of you know the script.

Why Would They Call You?

But for many businesses, receiving phone calls is not so easy.  The problem is, if you offer a one-off singular service, a call implies interest in you.  Your competitors are not able to offer a comparable quote. 

If they call you they are likely to already be in or close to a buying state.  It is worth asking what steps they would pass through to be motivated enough to call you.  If someone makes the call, what is the immediate thing that prompted them to do so? 

What stages do they pass through to arrive at the point where they call you?

Should You Call Them?

Yes!  However, there are a few things you need. 

First and most obvious is their phone number.  Email marketing can help.  If you have a sign up form on your website, include their phone number.  If they leave it, presumably they are happy to hear from you.  You could include it as optional or required.  The big advantage of making it a requirement is it shows they are willing to play ball.  If someone is put off by a request for a phone number, the chances are they are not a serious prospect.

You need a plan.  What is the objective of the call?  It is possible to sell over the phone or an alternative might be to arrange a one-to-one meeting.  There is no limit to what you can sell over the phone but it is worth considering your options.

If you have something like a place on a workshop, a call to people you expect to sign up might be a reminder and does not really require a face-to-face meeting.  If you are selling long-term coaching a face-to-face meeting may be more appropriate.  A lot depends on what you want from the meeting and your level of experience or confidence. 

Email marketing helps you move to a point where a telephone call is the obvious next step.  You do this through online conversations.