Damn, Why Didn’t We Think Of That?

Winner of the UK Apprentice Michelle Dewberry said of her experience working with Alan Sugar :

It’s so intriguing and interesting to watch him because you’ll be in a meeting and maybe there’s a problem to solve or we need to decide on a direction and you can see his brain ticking. It’s so interesting to watch as you can see him literally working out a solution in his head. And he just comes up with something! And the thing he comes up with is generally quite genius and we’re all sitting round the table thinking “damn, why didn’t we think of that?”.

When looking at a project, making a major decision or trying to strike a deal, a great entrepreneur like Alan Sugar or Richard Branson looks at the available information, talks to the people involved and then somehow – seemingly without having to think too much – the answer comes to them. How do they do that?

Malcolm Gladwell in his excellent book ‘Blink’ talks of this ability and points out that in nearly every field of endeavour this insight is a recognised characteristic of the great people in that field. He sees this as unconscious processing behind a “locked door” in the brain, we don’t know it’s happening until we suddenly get the flash of insight:

In basketball, the player who can take in and comprehend all that is happening around him or her is said to have “court sense.” In the military, brilliant generals are said to possess “coup d’oeil”—which, translated from the French, means “power of the glance”: the ability to immediately see and make sense of the battlefield. Napoleon had coup d’oeil. So did Patton. The ornithologist David Sibley says that in Cape May, New Jersey, he once spotted a bird in flight from two hundred yards away and knew, instantly, that it was a ruff, a rare sandpiper. He had never seen a ruff in flight before; nor was the moment long enough for him to make a careful identification. But he was able to capture what bird-watchers call the bird’s “giss”—its essence—and that was enough.

The key thing to appreciate is that this ability is not a special talent, it’s something that you can develop. You probably already have it in several areas of expertise. If you’re a physiotherapist you might be able to see someone in the supermarket and know instantly they have a hamstring problem. Myself I’ve been swim coaching long enough that I can see someone take just two strokes and I already know 80% of what they need to do to improve their swimming.

Obviously having this ability in your business/entrepreneurial life would make a massive difference. My belief is that this ‘instant insight’ is so important it determines whether you will be successful at all.

So how do you develop it? The answer is pretty obvious – by getting out there and getting experience. Put yourself in situations where you encounter business problems and try and fix them. Read everything you can find on important subjects. Deliberately try things you know you’re bad at – for instance if you’re a poor copywriter then start writing regularly! No idea about finance? Try to convince someone to give you some!

Experience doesn’t just make you more experienced, it actually makes you much better at problem solving too. In a sense it actually makes you more intelligent. The great thing is that once you recognise how essential experience is, it actually takes the pressure off you. Sure you’ll try your best in every situation but you know you can’t expect to get everything right at first. This makes everything more fun and the tough times easier to deal with as you see them as part of the journey, not a reflection on your ultimate potential.

As I said in my last post Waiting For The Golden Ticket, the single worst thing you can do is sit there, do nothing and wait for the big opportunity. Life doesn’t hang on getting lucky or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it’s a series of opportunities, some big and some small that are all around you all the time. If you have no experience you will fluff them all, especially the big ones. It really is that simple, so do what you have to do: get started!



Waiting For The Golden Ticket?

When I was in corporate world I always dreamed of starting my own business and doing something I loved every day but I could never think of the perfect idea, the idea that would create a great lifestyle with almost guaranteed success. The golden ticket idea.

I would run through a lot of things in my mind: the service I’d offer, how much I’d charge and how people would find me. Some of my ideas were pretty hair-brained and all were untried and untested but I was sure if I arranged things right, things would click perfectly into place. Oh, and I spent hours trying to think of the perfect name for my imaginary business, like that was really important.

I was stuck in procrastination searching for that golden ticket.

I now know that’s not how it works. Great ideas and successful businesses don’t magically come out of the blue like that, they come from volunteering, starting projects, sharing with people, reaching out, trial and error and listening, really listening. The insights you gain, the connections you build and the skills you develop will lead you towards ideas that work and doors that open.

I’m going to post some more soon about my experience with being more generous as a personal (and business) strategy but I strongly believe that when you start doing so success becomes inevitable in the long term and will take you to places better than you ever imagined.

One word of caution: don’t delay but start in your spare time and be wary of giving up the day job at first as you don’t know how long things will take or how many twists and turns there will be along the way. I was forced to give up my corporate job due to illness and it took nearly 5 years to recover that lost income while Paul and I built Swim Smooth – but of course I’m now very pleased that happened.

Hope your 2013 has been great so far! :)



What It Means To Go Pro

If you’re a keen amateur golfer you will hit a few of your shots extremely well during a round, perhaps as well as Tiger Woods in the same situation. A friend of mine tells me that once or twice in a tennis match she smashes a forearm down the line just as well as Serena Williams. And I know quite a few age group triathletes who would come out of the water with Chrissie Wellington.

In whatever field you would like to make your living you’re probably already very good in one or two areas. Perhaps you know exactly how to treat an Achilles injury or understand how to deal with gluten intolerance. As a swim coach you can correct a crossover in someone’s stroke or in the kitchen you cook an amazing roast.

But given any swimmer, any injury, any ingredients, any event, any illness, any bunker lie – would you do a great job every single time? A true pro does.

Steven Pressfield wrote in his excellent book Turning Pro how the amateur clings to what they know and considers that knowledge makes them an expert. The professional looks beyond their knowledge towards their capability to do a great job for any person any time.

Yes, experience helps broaden your skills but this is as much about a mindset as anything. Pride in your ability to do a great job for people 100% of the time – and being painfully aware of any holes in that ability – are at the very core of what it means to be a pro.



Don’t Avoid Competition, Embrace It

When I’m back in my home town I often pop in the local Co-Op to pick up some groceries:

I’ve been doing that for years, it’s a nice little friendly store and always busy.

But then about six months ago something bad happened. Tescos (the largest retailer in the UK) announced they were building one of their express stores right opposite the Co-Op. You could see the anxiety in the staff’s eyes, how would they cope with the competition? Would anyone still go to the Co-Op? Would they go out of business?

It took a few months but finally the day came and the new Tescos opened:

What happened? Well over the following months, the Co-Op actually got busier! More people came to the parade drawn by the choice of shops and both stores became very busy. It turns out Co-Op’s customers stayed with them and many new people stopped by and experienced what they had to offer.

Embrace Competition, Don’t Fear It

I know competition is a major concern of many people entering business. Perhaps there’s already a physio in your village or a swim squad or two in your town and this puts you off. Please don’t let such competition deter you, in fact I encourage you to see it as a good thing. It shows you the market definitely exists and all you have to do is offer a better product or service than your competitors and over time you will dominate.

This is a much better situation to be in than entering a market where nobody knows what you do and you having to explain the service and convince people they need it. That would be very hard work and slow going.

In the UK there’s lots of video analysis services for swimmers and so lots of promotion for the idea that video analysis is good for someone’s swimming. There’s now large numbers of swimmers thinking “I’m struggling here and I don’t know how to improve, I need video analysis”. Naturally, the next question they ask is: “OK, who offers the best service?”. If you have that reputation, you win.

Another benefit of competition is that it provides a comparison. For instance, we know that our Swim Smooth certified coaches offer the most professional, insightful video analysis out there and they also use the best stroke correction methods in the world. But most swimmers do not have enough experience of coaching to appreciate this difference initially. However, if they have experienced or heard about a lesser service then they can see the distinction and appreciate our offering much more clearly. Plus they have something important to tell their friends: “definitely see Jane not Bob, she’s so much better”.

The truth is that most of your competitors out there are offering an OK product or service and with a little effort on your part it’s easy to offer something much better. Do that and communicate the difference clearly (also critical) and you have everything to gain and very little to lose from competition.



What Lance Armstrong Can Teach Us About Business

Despite the truth finally coming out about Lance Armstrong, it’s amazing how many people you can still find who support him. In fact as I write this, a poll on the tritalk forum has 31% of posters declaring they are still fans of Lance. Astounding when you consider he’s been shown to be a serial cheat, liar and drug pusher who bullied team-mates into doping, drove clean riders out of the sport and labelled a former female employee a prostitute after she dared to stand up to him..

How can this support for him continue? I have met and count as friends many of the people on that forum and they’re all apparently rational, intelligent people with strong moral values. I know for a fact that if someone was caught cheating in a race they were competing in (e.g. they pushed a fellow competitor into a ditch) they would absolutely livid.

This is quite an extreme (and emotionally laden) example but I think what we’re seeing here is something that is very fundamental to the human condition: Once we have a belief about something or someone we are very very reluctant to change our minds even when presented with clear facts to the contrary. On some basic level it’s very painful for us to do so.

Lessons For Business

I think underestimating how hard it is to change someone’s mind is one of the biggest mistakes people make as they enter business. If your new service or product involves converting people’s thinking from something they currently believe in to your own idea, it’s going to be very heavy going indeed. But if you’ve identified a group of people just waiting for a product that supports their beliefs then you’re going to have some very passionate new customers queueing up to buy from you!

At Swim Smooth, we believe in an individual approach to stroke correction, considering each person as an individual with no single ideal stroke technique in mind. That’s an approach that’s born out of a vast coaching experience and is consistent with all the facts but we appreciated early on that even though the facts were on our side, that wasn’t going to be enough to convert people away from the tradition that everyone should aspire to swim with a single ideal stroke style and should be working on the same things.

Instead, we designed outstanding products (many of them free) that helped any swimmer improve their swimming. At the same time we educated those that were open minded and looking for answers about a better coaching philosophy, and pointed out where others were going wrong. We didn’t waste our limited time, money and emotional energy arguing on internet forums with people who disagreed with us, although I must admit it was tempting.

Conversion Takes Years And Years

So is it impossible to convert people from one belief to another? No, not impossible, but unless people are on the absolute cusp of making that change anyway you don’t have the time or money to do it – you’ll go bust before you ever manage it.

The only force strong enough to convert one person after another is the persuasive power of the other people in the market place itself. This will take a lot of time, probably at least a decade, which is much too slow to depend on to grow your business but you can be the beneficial recipient of these movements over time.

As an example, here’s a market place of age group triathletes who believe they need a high percentage of carbohydrate in their diets to fuel themselves through their training:

Let’s say that you believe in the Paleo diet as a better alternative, offering superior nutrition, appetite regulation and faster recovery. Ignoring the carb loving masses, you focus your products and communication on those who are open and interested in your ideas:

Gradually this group of athletes grows as they tell their friends who trust and respect them about the benefits of the diet. Over time they convert more and more people to the cause and if the benefits are obvious and strong enough, they will eventually convert a large portion or all of the market:

Notice that I said if the benefits are strong enough to convert the market… you don’t get to decide that (and I have no idea whether the Paleo diet will succeed in this or remain a minority existence). You can offer up leadership to help inspire the movement but ultimately you don’t get to decide, no matter how strong your conviction. You are at the mercy of the market.

So pick your products and design your marketing carefully, and never expect to change anyone’s mind.



Timing Your Messages

We send out Swim Smooth’s main swimming blog on a Friday lunch time (UK time). Why? We can see one reason if we look at a month’s web traffic to our website by the hour of the day (UK time) :

Note that this is just European visitors, where the majority of our sales occur. There’s two clear peaks there, from 11-1am and 7-9pm showing that these are classic times when people are actively looking at our site.

Obviously you want to reach as many people as you can with your materials so the idea is to send out your emails, blog, tweets, facebook posts etc just before viewing peak time. That way they will be higher up in people’s inbox’s or feeds. We normally aim for 12 noon with the blog (but actually looking at the data now I think 11am might be slightly better).

Why Friday? If you look at our visitors by the day of the week it’s obvious why we don’t aim for Saturday or Sunday:

We chose Friday because even though figures are slightly down on Wednesday, we’ve noticed our sales were always that bit higher on a Friday before the blog existed. Plus, I know from my own years in a corporate environment that the weekend wind-down starts at Friday lunchtime and there’s a bit of a feel-good-factor around most offices then. So if we repeatedly arrive in people inbox’s at that time then some of that might unconsciously rub off on us, Pavlov’s dog style. This seems to work as Swim Smooth followers often mention to us that when they receive our blog it starts to feel like the weekend!

One additional thought: Sunday evening is an interesting time when people seem to be catching up on email from the weekend, we do often see a little rush of sales around then. Well worth an experiment with and if you’re running a club or squad newsletter, that could be the perfect time to catch your membership and outline their training week ahead.

Web Analytics

If you don’t yet have statistics like this for your own website then you can probably use ours as a guide good – it won’t vary much from site to site especially if you’re in the health/fitness/sport/social sectors. Where do we get the data? We use good old Google Analytics – if you’re not up on web coding yourself, your web designer can easily install it for you and it’s free.



Who Are You Talking To Darling?

After you’ve written an email to your customers, a blog post or something for your website, try reading it out loud to yourself as if you are speaking to an audience. This is a powerful way to experience the clarity, the flow and the nuances of what you’ve written.

In the web and social media world the ability to write well is not just important for authors or journalists, it’s now an important skill for all of us to have. More people will read your materials if they are well written and forward them on to their friends, building you an audience interested in what you have to say. You also stand a far far greater chance of being invited to write in magazines and prominent blogs, and you might even be offered a book deal one day.

Just make sure you are alone when you do the read-aloud bit.



Quick Google Images Tip

Finding the right images for your materials is so important and I’ll be talking more about that soon. In the meantime Google Images has introduced a nice feature, removing a lifelong frustration of mine. If you have a small image that you want at higher resolution, go here and click on the small camera icon next to the entry box.

Then upload or link small image you have… Bingo, google will show you everywhere you can find that image on the web (and similar ones) at different resolutions.

As a bit of a web-geek I think that’s pretty cool…



Your Small Business Is A Vehicle To The Life You Are Looking For

dream job

What does your dream job look like?
(this is Emma at activeblu!)

In the developing world, the dream job of most of the population is a mid-level government bureaucrat. The job is secure, stress is low, you get a good pension and the office is nicely air conditioned. Here in the western world, my generation was brought up to value a career in accounting, middle management, engineering (my background) or medicine. Safe respectable jobs with decent pay.

And then the world changed. We found out about all the fun and fulfilling things to do at the weekends such as climbing, running and open water swimming. We discovered things around them we were passionate about such as coaching, bike design, physiotherapy, sports psychology and running events. The corporate world got tougher and targets and workload got stupid. Suddenly driving to work in the rain just to do your bosses’ bidding wasn’t so much fun any more.

The big question is this: Why let all your hard work, creativity and emotional energy be wasted by conforming to a poorly performing organisation? Shouldn’t you be passionate about what you do every day?

The Thing You’re Missing

I’m going to be bold and make a prediction: I think the thing that’s stopping you giving up the desk job and achieving your dream professional life is your lack of small-business skills and insight.

This might sound a bit dull (and perhaps like the corporate world you’re trying to escape!) but really it isn’t. Owning and running your own small-business is thrilling and very rewarding, and can bring you the lifestyle changes you are looking for. It is hard work and can be a real emotional roller-coaster at times but as someone who previously worked for 15 years at a corporation’s desk, I can tell you it’s well worth it.

The best way to think of your business is as a vehicle to give you the life you are looking for. It should help you reach the people you want to help, give you the time and facilities to do a fantastic job for them and allow you to charge appropriately for your skill level. A great small business gives you the opportunity to make a real difference in the world in something you care about. You just need the skills – and confidence in them – to make it happen.

Coming Up On This Blog

office cubicle

Your dream job? Not mine!

Over the coming weeks and months I’m going to cover:

Creating the right image for your business

Improving the effectiveness of your website

Turning casual visitors into paying customers

How people make purchase decisions

The important mindset differences in a small business versus the corporate world

How retailing your own stuff works in practise

Capturing people’s passing interest in what you do

Getting higher up in google

Overcoming your fear and pressing the go-button

If you haven’t done so already, please subscribe using the box on the right of the blog and you’ll receive my posts direct to your email inbox. I’ll only send you this blog as it’s written and you can unsubscribe at any time.




We’re All On Team GB

Here in the UK there’s a big debate raging about how to carry on Team GB’s great success at London 2012 to future games. The performance of our athletes has been truly phenomenal, winning 29 gold medals and providing so many great memories and inspirational moments.

As a sports lover, I too hope these games will inspire a generation into competitive sport but for me, focusing the impact of these games on sporty children at school is far too narrow. We should all be inspired by them.

We all have talents and abilities that are special, all of us have the potential to do amazing things with those talents that others cannot. And now in the western world, we no longer have any real excuse: barriers of class, education, race, age and gender are mostly gone.

What’s more, the digital revolution means that you don’t have to be picked by a celebrity or a governing body or a TV channel for your best work to improve the lives of hundreds, or even millions, of other people.

Reaching Our True Potential

Every Olympian had to believe in themselves, push through their fears, overcome self doubt, avoid procrastination, take on the tough challenges, make difficult decisions and work hard every day. They put themselves out there and left their performances open to criticism by others. Whatever anyone else thought of them, or the seemingly insurmountable odds to reach the top of their sport, they believed in themselves every day.

We may not have the athletic talent of Michael, Usain, Mohammed or Alistair, but we should all be inspired by our athletes to overcome our own fears and maximise our talents just as they have done. The end result might not involve posing in front of the cameras with a circle shaped piece of metal but the effects could be even greater, giving you a work-life you love and recognition for your achievements.

The fulfillment that brings will last a lifetime.