Thursday, 13 December 2018

Taking the terror out of your 60 seconds at networking meetings


If you go to business networking events, you have probably had the experience of being invited to speak for 60 seconds - an 'elevator pitch' about what you do and how you can help.

Is it something you relish or does it feel like a cruel form of torture designed to make you miserable?

So, WHY do so many networking groups think it's an important part of the meeting format?

A 60-second introduction is an opportunity to educate people in the room about what you do, how you help others and how THEY can help YOU. But you should bear in mind that you are not just targeting the people in that room on that day; you also want to reach the people and businesses they know. That means you are going to have to put some thought into making every word count so that your message is memorable, relevant and useful.

If you are new to this, I promise you that the more '60 seconds' you do the easier it gets – honestly.

There are two aspects to a 60-second introduction: one is what you say and the second is the way you say it.

Studies have shown that body language and tone of voice add up to a whopping 93% of the impact you have on your audience while the actual words you are saying is only 7%.

Now, in my personal opinion, when you have just 60 seconds to speak at a busy networking meeting, the impact of body language is probably going to be less than that percentage indicates. I often find that when I look round the room as I deliver a 60-second pitch, many people have their heads down writing and aren't looking at me. Hopefully, they are noting down something I am saying. If they are slow writers they might still be writing down what the person before me said and if I’m not holding their attention enough they may just be writing out a shopping list!

What I would say about body language is that you need to stand tall, avoid fidgeting and look confident. Fake that confidence, if necessary, until you make it. Be proud of your business and be proud of yourself. It’s OK to be nervous. It’s most important to be ‘you’. Networking is about developing relationships, so smile, be honest and be friendly.

My next tip is, relax. When you stand up to speak take a breath in and let your shoulders fall. If your head and neck are tense it will affect your voice and your delivery.

Varying the pitch and pace at which you speak can hold people's attention. Brace yourself and record your 60 seconds on your phone. Be honest with yourself; do you have a monotone voice? Can you inject more energy and animation into your pitch? Try a few different styles and record them and find something that sounds engaging but is still ‘you’. 

I think it’s absolutely fine to read your 60 seconds. As you grow in confidence – and when you have time to practice more – you can commit more of your words to memory and look around the room to make eye contact with people who ARE looking at you.

So, what about tips for writing out those words that you are going to speak?

You are trying to make people want to buy what you sell or introduce you to someone else who will, so you need to cover:
  •         What you do
  •         What makes you different
  •         Who you want to work with and how they will benefit from working with you.
A traditional structure would be:
  • Your name, company name, who you work with and what they buy from you.
  • Next comes the section that will hopefully make people sit up and take notice: It could be a quick story of how you helped a customer and the results for them or something topical in the news that relates to your business or some news about your business.
  • Tell people how they can help you. This is the call-to-action for people in the room. Is there someone that you would love to meet to offer them your help? Maybe someone in the room knows them.
  • Remind people of your name again and sign off with a tagline or slogan if you have one.
Write it down. Time it. Practice it. I have found that I need to write 150-160 words for a well-paced 60 seconds. If you try to cram in more than that you will probably end up gabbling, which makes it harder for your audience to follow what you are saying.

Don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong or you trip over your tongue. We all do it. The great thing is that practice really does get us closer to, if not perfection then at least a more relaxed and effective 60 seconds.

If you attend the same networking meeting regularly, then it’s good to vary what you say to stop people being bored or feeling that they don’t need to listen because they know you’ll always say roughly the same thing.

My final tip is, why not ask for feedback from some of the people at your networking meeting? Ask them if they are 100% clear on what you do and how you can help and if they have any suggestions on how you could improve or stories you could tell in future 60 seconds.

Monday, 29 October 2018

How to leverage the power of good content to boost your business


Canny businesses know that there is mileage in using good content to drive customer loyalty – that’s what content marketing is all about.

So let me ask you a quick question: What comes to your mind when I say ‘Michelin’?

Maybe you think of a tyre company, or perhaps you think of an award-winning restaurant.

Not everyone realises that the famous tyre company shares its name with the sought-after star rating of the world’s best restaurants because almost 120 years ago Michelin saw the potential of using useful, interesting content to grow its business.

Back in 1900 Michelin was known for bicycle tyres, but company founders and brothers Édouard and André Michelin saw an opportunity to grow their fledgling car tyre business by encouraging more people to drive cars and to venture further afield more often, wearing down their tyres in the process.

The first Michelin guide was produced that year in France. At the time there were only 3,000 cars in the whole of France. In an impressive and ambitious leap of faith, Michelin printed 35,000 copies of its guide and gave them away free. The guide included maps, advice for repairing and replacing damaged tyres, details of lovely restaurants you could visit and where to buy petrol.

New, updated guides were produced each year and over time versions were published for countries including Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Italy and many more. Adverts selling products to motorists were also included.

In 1920 it is said that André Michelin visited a garage where he saw a pile of the free Michelin guides propping up a workbench. This may have played a part in the decision to start charging for the guide. Other changes included removing adverts.

The brothers saw there was growing interest in the restaurant listings, so they began to enhance them by organising them into categories and then recruiting a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants anonymously.

In 1926, the guide began to award a star for what it considered to be the best restaurants. Later the rating system expanded to offer one, two or three stars. Each restaurant’s star rating was reviewed every year and could be either upgraded or downgraded depending on what the inspector found. Today the top three-star Michelin rating is still a HUGE deal to restaurants.

Down the decades the guide has moved with the times and now appears online as well as in print and there is an app as well.

So what can we, as business owners in 2018, take away from the content marketing success story of the Michelin guides?

  1. Keep an eye on online analytics measuring the reach and engagement for content you create and share. Seek out and listen to feedback from customers and react and adapt your approach accordingly. Do more of what’s popular and less of what’s not. When the Michelins realised that the restaurant listings were particularly popular they came up with ideas to make this section even bigger and better to draw in more readers. 
  2. ‘No-one likes to be sold to’ - how often have you heard that? Well, it’s true. The Michelins focused on providing valuable information to readers. The guides gave the company huge visibility, brand awareness and established them as experts in their field. They did it by being useful and relevant, not by broadcasting a ‘Buy, buy, buy’ message. 
  3. The Michelin guides were popular and well-read because the content was relevant and interesting to a clearly defined target audience. The content was accurate and kept up-to-date. The writers and editors were thorough and painstaking in their work. If you are producing content for your business, make sure you take the same trouble to think through what your customers (and potential customers) will find useful and interesting and invest in the best content you can provide. 
  4. There have been many other travel guides down the years; some have thrived and some have died. I think one reason for the Michelin success story was that the guides never compromised quality by rushing to do too much, too soon. Similarly, you should have a clear strategy for the content you create and share and make sure that quality always outranks quantity.
Images by Quentin Kemmel on Unsplash and Jay Wennington on Unsplash 

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Reasons why a storytelling strategy can be good for business


One of the things that makes us human is the way that our brains are hardwired to react to stories.

Maybe it evolved as a way of keeping us safe? If you paid attention to the tribe elders around the camp fire, as they told you terrible stories about the dangerous sabre-toothed tigers, you might stay alive a bit longer.

We respond to stories that tap into our own hopes and fears. Some of us love to be scared by ghost stories and horror tales while others want to escape into romantic fantasy and stirring adventures.

We can also be moved to action by powerful stories told in documentaries and on TV charity telethons such as Children In Need and Stand Up To Cancer. Often it's because we can imagine how we would feel if we were in the shoes of those featured and we want to help them succeed in their journeys.

Good stories, told well, make us stop in our tracks and they demand our attention. They might strike a chord with our own aspirations and personal memories. They stir up our emotions and inspire us; they can excite us and keep us entertained.

What are the essential components of a good story?


Any good story needs a hero, a villain, a journey and a transformation or resolution – told with passion.

In business storytelling, that passion comes from the things you know your customers will care about, and your own enthusiasm for what you do and how you make a difference. 

The hero of your story could be a customer, a partner you work with or an employee.

The villain could be the problem that your business solves. What do you do that makes life better or easier for your customers?

Twists and turns in a story can keep us hooked so when you are telling a story remember to add the details that your audience might not be expecting. The surprise element can make your story stand out in the memory of your audience.

Your story could end with a transformation or a resolution. How is life different now for your hero because of your business?

One of my favourite examples of a brand using storytelling is the Dove Real Women campaign, launched in the UK in 2004. 

It was probably the first time that a major cosmetics or toiletries advertising campaign had featured women of all shapes, sizes and skin tones together. These were women that consumers could identify with instead of the traditional professional models who perpetuate air-brushed images of unattainable physical perfection.

Everyone was talking about the Dove campaign and it led to a 700% rise in sales of Dove in the first half of that year.

But there was also a perception that this was more than a gimmick - there was an authentic and genuine desire for change behind the campaign. This was emphasised when Dove launched a self-esteem project aimed at helping under-17s to feel happy and confident about the way they look.

But storytelling is not just a strategy for major consumer-facing companies with huge advertising and marketing budgets; it can work just as well for small businesses too.

How can we tell stories that make us memorable in business?


The starting point of creating a memorable story for your business is to think about your audience. Who are you trying to reach and influence? Understanding your audience is essential if you are going to tell the stories that they want to hear. The stories you want to tell as a business are not always the same as the ones your audience wants to hear.

Time spent getting to know your audience - their hopes, their fears their dreams, their interests - is never wasted. This is why many businesses now value social media. When you stop using it as a broadcasting medium and use it to really LISTEN to your customers and potential customers you gain valuable insights and build relationships.

Secondly, what do you want your audience to do after the story ends? What action do you want them to take? How do you want them to feel? If you are in tune with your audience, and you have told them a story they wanted to hear in a compelling way, they are more likely to pick up the phone, send an email, make a purchase and ultimately become a loyal customer and a valuable ambassador for your business. Happy customers talk to other people about how great you are.

Rather than talking about you, your business or your brand all the time, most of your stories should be about your customers, partners or employees. You want your audience to see themselves in the shoes of the hero in your stories, as women did with the Dove campaign, and relate to them and understand their journey.

If you want to tell customer stories you could make a start by seeking out the customers that you already have a good relationship with because they have left glowing reviews online or sent in thank you letters. Interview them to capture stories you can tell. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Procrastinators Anonymous

This week I was invited to speak to a business group where we discussed procrastination, analysis paralysis, lack of skills and confidence – all things that stop people getting on with tasks that could drive their business forward.

I focused on tips and advice to help people who were putting off writing content about their business but we also looked at productivity generally. So here are my top six tips to be more productive and then another six to help you get over writer's block.

Six tips to help you be more productive

1. It's not all about the famous 'to do' list. I love a good list. In fact, I've been known to add things I've just done to a list so I can immediately cross them off. Sometimes you need a 'don't do' list when you are getting sidetracked by distractions that aren't helping you, such as that video of dogs being baffled by the owners disappearing behind blankets and curtains.
2. Keep an eye on how accurate you are at estimating how long tasks will take when you plan out a day of work. If your diary includes a meeting out of the office remember to allow time to travel, park and walk to the venue. 
3. Try working in 45-minute blocks of time with your phone on silent and turned face down. When you've done your 45 minutes you can stretch your legs, check social media (BRIEFLY!) and make a cuppa. 
4. Multitasking is not a badge of honour. Practice the discipline of working on one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. Close your emails on your laptop, PC or device so that you don't flit off and deal with a 'quick' reply. It will take longer to get back into what you were doing before.
5. Keep your work area tidy and well-organised. You may try and convince yourself that 'filing' papers and pages in piles on the floor works well for you, but you will feel much better if you find them a proper home (or shred them if you don't need them any more).
6. No-one can be great at everything. Why waste time doing stuff you hate and that you aren't very good at when you could delegate it to someone who wants to do that work and is far better at it than you will ever be?


Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

Six tips to beat writer's block

1. Just write. Don't over-think it.  Just start writing and accept that you can improve it later on. No-one needs to see your first draft so lose your inhibitions and don't be self-conscious.
2. Forget the introduction, or opening sentence, if that's what's holding you up. You could write the ending or your call-to-action first and then work backwards. 
3. (This is one of my favourites and it's the best way of achieving tips 1. and 2.) Write as fast as you can for 10 minutes without stopping!! You could be surprised at how much useful and good stuff you'll have written that you can then edit and re-organise.
4. Tell the critical voice in your head to 'Shut up!' (You have one too, don't you? It's not just me, is it?)
5. If you're feeling stuck, try a change of scenery; move to a different place to write, perhaps a different room in your house, office or studio or head outside. Many people recommend movement to overcome writer's block. Go for a walk or a jog. Hop on a bus or a train if you have time. Fresh air and the beauty of nature can be a real inspiration.
6. Rehearse the story you want to tell by imagining yourself saying it out loud..... or better still DO say it out loud. If you have a pet they can make a receptive audience. In my experience dogs show marginally more interest in your stories than cats, but it's a close thing.

So, do you know someone who should be a member of Procrastinators Anonymous (if they could ever get round to organising a meeting)? Have you seen a website where the most recent news item or blog post is dated 2017 or earlier? Perhaps you can share this blog post with them and help them transform into a productivity ninja?

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Seven ways to get involved in Small Business Saturday 2018

It was back in March 2013 that I heard the words ‘Small Business Saturday’ for the first time.

I was sitting in the auditorium at Curve, Leicester, attending my first-ever Federation of Small Businesses conference. On stage was Chuka Umunna, then Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who began to explain how he’d seen Small Business Saturday work in the United States and wanted to bring it here.

It was such a great idea that I’m delighted to say it won cross-party support and the first-ever Small Business Saturday took place in the UK on December 7, 2013. Each year since it has grown in size and influence, but if you’ve still not heard of it, let me tell you a bit more. It’s a grassroots, not-for-profit campaign supported by ALL the major political parties plus a number of major big businesses including American Express, which was responsible for launching the campaign in America in 2010.

It’s a year-round drive to showcase independent, small businesses and encourage more people to support them. The annual highlight in the UK is the first Saturday in December, which is called Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday 2017 saw an estimated £748 million spent on the day with 56% of customers saying they spent more than usual on the day. More than 115,000 tweets were published about the event, with #SmallBizSatUK UK trending at number one in the UK.

Backing from local authorities was up from 80% in 2016 to 87% in 2017 with active support for the campaign.

This year, the sixth annual Small Business Saturday falls on Saturday, December

How you can get involved with Small Business Saturday 


1. Go to smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com and sign-up for a free account. You can then register yourself on the FREE Small Business Finder online. Once your entry is approved, you can log in and update your profile whenever you want; add hyperlinks, offers and events.

The Small Business Finder of the Small Business Saturday website

2.  Apply to be in this year’s #SmallBiz100. From 2013 onwards, 100 companies have been chosen each year to represent the UK’s five million plus small businesses. Each year they are highlighted across online and print media, one a day for the 100 days leading up to Small Business Saturday. For the last five years, the 100 have not only received exposure on Small Business Saturday's social media channels and in the local and national press, but also joined the Small Business Saturday team in London at receptions in both Downing Street and The Treasury Drum with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was fortunate enough to be chosen in 2015 and it made a massive difference to my business and its profile locally, regionally and nationally. Applications this year will be open just for the month of June. 

3. The more you throw yourself into the spirit of Small Business Saturday the more you will get out of it. Make sure you are shouting about the small businesses that are your customers, your suppliers and your associates on social media. I’m sure that you do that anyway, but make a special effort to talk about what makes them special and how they go the extra mile. Engage with the Small Business Saturday team on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Share and reply to their posts and tag them in when you’re talking about small business initiatives. Whether you are a family business, a local shop, an online business, a wholesaler, a business-to-business service or a small manufacturer, Small Business Saturday wants to support you.

4. Create a promotion or special offer that your business can run to celebrate Small Business Saturday. If you own a shop there will be posters and logos you can download from the Small Business Saturday website later in the year to display in your windows and show your support. You might want to offer a special discount on the day – or offer free mince pies and hot drinks to customers. If you are a business services company maybe you can also offer a discount for clients for orders placed in the week (or two) around Small Business Saturday. Perhaps you could team up with other like-minded companies to create some free advice sheets that you circulate to other local businesses. In Burton we held a ‘flash conga’ in December 2015 to show the fun side of small businesses and we got local businesses to sponsor cloth bags that we gave out (it was the year when charges came in for plastic bags). 

The Small Business Conga in 2015. Picture by Joanne Cooper Photography.

5. You could do a tour of your favourite local, small businesses and share content about them on your blog or on social media. You could do short video clips of you talking to them about their story or just film your own video testimonial explaining why working with them is a positive experience and how they add value. This could be on the day itself, or perhaps focus on one business a day for the week leading up to Small Business Saturday. It could be your own personal #SmallBizSeven! Consumers are drawn to businesses that are generous in their support of others. Associating yourself with like-minded, quality businesses can only be a positive thing.

6. Remember Small Business Saturday is a celebration – so don’t be afraid to do something a bit different that will make you memorable. After our flash conga, we did a tour of Burton town businesses with a giant blue puppet in 2017. #BuckieLovesSmallBiz was the brainchild of Tilley Bancroft, one of the 2017 #SmallBiz100. 

Buckie with Helen of Helen's Bakehouse and Tearooms, December 2017

7. Look out for details of the 2018 Small Business Saturday bus tour, which will be announced later this year. In recent years the bus has visited towns and cities around the UK to promote the campaign and celebrate local businesses. It has played host to activities, workshops and small businesses stands. It’s a great opportunity to go along on the day and network with other businesses and get more content that you can post on your own social media to show your support for the campaign and for other small businesses.

Small businesses are a phenomenal force for good in their local communities. Many organise and support events and activities that raise funds for local charities and good causes. If you are a small business hero give yourself a huge pat on the back – and then start planning how you can get involved with the UK’s biggest small business campaign this year.


Monday, 23 April 2018

Here for the jobs you hate

If you work for yourself or are the founder of a business, then you were (hopefully) driven by your passion for the product or service at the core of your enterprise.

Maybe you run a restaurant or a farm shop. Perhaps you are a beautician or a landscape gardener. Whatever the nature of your business, you probably didn’t go into it because you just LOVE paperwork, administration, IT or sales. OK....if you are an accountant, a Virtual Assistant, a tech wizard or a sales consultant you will be in love with one of those areas of work, but probably not the other three.

When you become your own boss you suddenly find that EVERYTHING becomes your responsibility. It’s a thrill the first time you get that business card in your hand that describes you as Managing Director or Owner. But it could also list a host of other job titles too. You are now also: Transport and Fleet Manager; HR Director; Sales Director; IT Director; Marketing Manager and even the office dogsbody.

Perhaps you are able to employ full-time staff to carry out some of these essential roles for you – but if you are the boss the buck stops with you and you need to understand enough about what they are doing to be confident that they are doing a good job.

If your finances don’t allow you to expand your payroll in the early days, then your option is to outsource tasks to freelancers and other small businesses. This frees you up to focus on the stuff you are best at – and what you really want to do. It also means that when you delegate work to someone who is an expert in that field they can do it more quickly and to a better standard than you could yourself.
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash
Recently I practised what I preach by engaging expert proofreader Lindsay Corten, of Corten Editorial, to proofread some new and updated policies I had written for my website on privacy and terms and conditions. I enjoy writing most things but having completed these documents from legal templates I have access to through my membership of the Federation of Small Businesses, I didn’t want to spend any more time on them than was strictly necessary.

Helping other businesses and organisations with news articles, features, website copy, blogs and social media strategies is what I love to do. To me that’s far more interesting and exciting than the worthy policies I needed to write for my OWN website. So, having drafted up the documents, off they went to Lindsay who is superb at spotting the little inconsistencies that can sneak into multiple, formal documents and policies. She ironed out some punctuation and grammar issues that had come over with the original legal templates. My goodness, that woman is a stickler for detail and when she has proofread your work you can be sure it’s been proofread!


In the same way, I enjoy helping business owners who haven’t got the time or the inclination to write their own content for print and online channels. As an ex-journalist, I love finding out the stories behind businesses and what makes them tick. It’s great to get under the skin of a business and be able to ‘ghost’ write for CEOs and MDs when they have an opportunity to submit articles or columns to the trade press or local media. It’s such a buzz when they read what I’ve written and say ‘That sounds just like me’.

If you would rather retain control of the content produced by and about your business, I can also run training courses and one-off workshops to support employees and managers and help them to write for different audiences and purposes.

Writing a press release is a different discipline to writing a LinkedIn article, a chatty blog post or website copy. I can help people to hone the skills of structuring, writing and editing different types of content and developing the confidence to do it with the minimum of fuss.

So if writing and editing is a task you hate, give me a call and see how I could take some of the stress out of your to-do list.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Are you ready to quit social media?

Pub chain JD Wetherspoon made the news this week when it announced it was quitting all its social media channels.

Various reasons were given including:

  • It wasn't helping the business make money
  • It was distracting its 900 pub teams from the core job of serving customers
  • The chain didn't like the trolling on social media and the way people's data was being used.

In my experience, when people say social media is doing nothing for their business, it's more likely that the problem lies with them rather than the channels. Many business owners still don't really 'get' social media and they are not using it to its full potential. They expect overnight success and aren't prepared to put in the consistent effort that is required to build an audience and then hold their attention.

Photo by Jacob Ufkes on Unsplash

Unless you have a clear strategy linked to outcomes that you can measure, and a good understanding of your sector and your core audience, you can be a busy fool burning up hours throwing out sales messages.

For me, it all comes back to putting the 'social' at the forefront of your social media campaigns. You can push out posts about your latest special offers and hope that some of them stick, or you can invest time in finding out as much as you can about your customers, what they want and need and how you can them entertained, informed and make them loyal fans of your brand.

Success also depends on your offering - the products, services or hospitality that you offer have to be right. You need to offer value and great customer service. Social media can't make up for shortcomings in your business. It's a great tool to research and communicate, to tell stories that engage your customers, but it's not a miracle cure if your business is already struggling to deliver.

I've also written about The JD Wetherspoon story on LinkedIn. Please join the conversation there or leave me a comment here. Are you reviewing your use of social media? What are the biggest issues your business is facing online at the moment?