10 Business Lessons you can learn from a Professional Cycling Team

 Cycling is booming in the UK, road cycling particularly following the success of Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France in 2012.  The roads are busy with new bikes and men in lycra!  I write a popular road cycling blog after getting into the sport in 2008 and have been learning about it ever since.

One common misconception I initially had about professional cycle racing is that they all set off at the same time and race as individuals, with the strongest cyclist going over the line and winning the race.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Professional road cycling is a team sport.  Here’s a short post with some simple observations about how it all works with some business lessons thrown in: -

  1. They back a winner.  Bradley Wiggins was the nominated Team Sky rider to win the Tour de France before they had even turned a pedal. The entire race had been planned around him, training camps, team selection and race strategy.  What/who are the products/people in your business that you should over-invest in and build a team around?
  2. Every rider has a clear role/function.  Each brings something different to the party.  You can’t win the Tour de France without being backed by mountain specialists, riders with big engines to take the wind, and good all rounders.  Appreciate every member of your team if you want to get over the line and build teams with differing skills and attributes.
  3. Air resistance is key.  Cyclists hate wind, unless it is a tailwind!  All their technology from clothing, bike position and equipment is designed to reduce drag.  What are you doing to reduce drag in  your business?  When did you last overhaul how and why you do what you do to speed up?  A cycling team would be re-assessing/re-inventing pre, during and after race season.
  4. The only time a rider races as an individual is on a Time Trial.  This is the so called race of truth when there are no other riders to ride behind or ride with in a group.  This involves riding at a controlled heart rate, often high up in your heart rate zones to deliver power smoothly and in a measured way across a set distance.  This means that although are part of the team, you also need to deliver a good result when the spotlight turns on you individually.  Although you may have a brilliant team, you also need to ensure that you encourage specialism for those moments when you need individuals to perform against specific outcomes/tasks/projects.
  5. A road captain keeps his eye on changing tactics on the ground.  Although the team will have already planned their race, they need to adapt their tactics as the race unfolds.  The road captain will be keeping an eye on his own team mates aswell as feeding back intelligence to the team car and race directors about how other riders are performing. Like a market, conditions change rapidly and you have to be ready to adapt.  Make sure you have feedback mechanisms to get ‘real time’ feedback into the business which can be acted upon.  Who are your road captains in the market?
  6. The lighter and stronger you are, the faster you go up hills.  Successful climbers are normally very low in weight, but incredibly strong.  Their appearance can be deceiving.  Technology will take you so far, however your body weight and strength are key.  Consider whether you are carrying any excess weight in terms of process overhead, you need to be lean in conjunction with the right technology to compete in the market.
  7. Riding in groups is key.  Cyclists ride in large groups (pelotons) wherever possible.  By doing this, it can reduce effort needed by around 25%, with the wind rushing over the group as it breaks through the wind.  This takes incredible trust as they are riding inches away from each other at considerable pace as competitors.  If one rider makes a mistake, the whole group risks crashing.  An important lesson in trust here and putting your faith in others plus the importance of collaboration to achieve your end state.
  8. Every bike is set-up “inch-perfect” for the rider.  Everyone is different in terms of their shape and riding style, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’.  Like an organisation, if you use a ‘one size fits all’  approach with people or customers, you’ll quickly become unstuck.  Modify communications methodologies to suit your market/audience.
  9. Marginal Gains.  Team Sky particulalry work on a methodology called “marginal gains” which aggregates tiny 1% improvements in everything, to add up into larger benefts when consolidated.  An example of this is shipping mattresses and pillows for each specific rider so they get a good nights sleep every night.  Great lesson here in excellence and continuous improvement.  The pillows is recognising that an off-bike improvment can dramatically affect on-bike performance.  What are the surrounding processes to primary functions in your organisation which could do with improving?
  10. Prize Money is Shared.  Given one rider is given such significant resources to be the person on the podium, it would be pretty gut wrenching to see him take all the benefits.  Prize money is generally shared out amongst the teams, including the back room staff to motivate/encourage a team ethic.  In a business, a salesperson is normally the equivalent person on the podium, make sure you search out all the backstage contributors and reward them too.

Lead Yourself into the Light – 10 Tips

Over the years, I’ve read a huge quantity of books around leadership from biographies to methodologies.  It’s easy to copy a successful formula if you are trying to develop your leadership capabilities however you may end up not being the true and authentic version of you.

As I rose up within my own business, it started to dawn on me that I got far more done when I spent more time just being me, not trying to be a Jack Welch clone.  People responded to me far more when I stopped trying to be something/someone I wasn’t.  From that point my career rocketed, on to lead the UK organisation from humble beginnings as a fax salesman.

To this day, I could kick myself for the “work mask” that I had developed in my early years.  Only when I began to work with business psychologists in 2000, did I realise the error of my ways.  Over the following years, my leadership style has simply been focused on being the best possible version of me – that’s it.  Let me share with you 10 simple things that I have learned about leadership as a framework which may work for you: -

  1. Being truthful with yourself.
  2. Being truthful with others.
  3. Respecting everyone regardless of where they sit.
  4. Pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL on your past and living in the now.
  5. Letting your true personality come through not what you think other people want to see.
  6. Being compassionate when making tough decisions.
  7. Always giving space for others to give a view.
  8. Being fair.
  9. Admitting your shortcomings and mistakes.
  10. Seeing everyone and everything as a potential for learning.

Back to my opening paragraph, this is not about creating an army of “me’s”.  These are just some of the things that allowed myself to be the best possible version of me, when heading up a large organisation.  I’ve found that the topic of leadership is more about respect.  Respect for self, others and your wider environment, however you define it. When you practice that, it drifts you more towards the familiar descriptions of what “leadership looks like” in a book but with your personality stamped all over it.

 

Raising Dough (From Investors)

When your business starts to grow, it may need investment from a third party.  Wherever you look, whether it be government backed initiative, private equity or an angel investor, there are some things you should box off to give yourself the best possible opportunity of succeeding.

Here’s 10 tips to help get you on track.  It’s not exhaustive as there are other things, but you should be able to demonstrate that all these areas are covered before attempting to engage or you could waste a lot of time and credibility  (if anyone would like to add anything, readers I’m sure would really appreciate any further comments): -

 

  1. Properly define how much you need and when. (Put together an integrated financial forecast combining cashflow, P+L and balance sheet).
  2. Define what the investment is to be used for. (cashflow, capital investment, stock, sales and marketing?).
  3. Outline with intellectual property you have and how you have protected it. (this is absolutely key if you are developing your own products.
  4. Be open with everything your information (under non-disclosure). (due diligence processes will wring out all the detail, so don’t hide anything upfront it just wastes time).
  5. Define your market, your customers, the opportunity and your assumptions (People get this wrong all the time by not being clear about their strategy or size of potential market).
  6. Tell your story as to why you are the person that can make this happen. (A lot of investments are made by backing quality people, what experience do you have that will make an investor feel you are credible?  Chemistry is important for new investors).
  7. Have three plans.   A) Achievable B) Big with more investment C) Contingency if A doesn’t work.  Investors see a lot of dreamers who have concocted a flight of fantasy sales plan.  Give comfort by thinking through the options to drive credibility and clearly show countermeasures in advance.
  8. Define the exit period, to whom and how for the investment.  You invest this, you get this back by this date.  If the business is to be sold to who?  What sort of multiples have been used in that sector thus far?
  9. Keep communications regular, consistent and honest with your potential investment partner.  Deals invariably go through lots of highs/low, stops/starts and tension.  Work through every bump, problem by problem and keep communicating honestly and openly.
  10. Choose the right partner.  There is money out there in various channels, including angels.  If someone offers you money, it’s likely you have a good plan.  Take time to ensure the investor fit is right, adding value to your business rather than just being a funding source focused on the exit.  Most importantly, always take legal advice!

And here’s a bonus one – Keep your emotions in check.  If it’s your business and you’ve grown it from an idea to a trading business, it’s very easy to become emotionally involved in negotiations or the due diligence process.  Investors have specific tools/techniques to value things, critique things and test your assumptions.  Don’t take it personally, step back, detach and keep your eye on the end result.

10 Tips for Entering Awards

Everyone loves a gong.  It’s the ultimate feelgood factor for recognition of a job well done.  A new product, a staff initiative a successful initiative.

Over the years, I’ve been on many a judging panel and been surprised and shocked at the variance in entries from hopeful participants.  So, here are ten things you should take care of: -

  1. Ensure that you have answered all the questions that the judging panel are asking for.  I see this so often, entries which do not meet the criteria.  Create a checklist and ensure everything is covered.
  2. Don’t just copy and paste text from your website into your award entry.  Each entry, should be crafted for relevance, text that is copy and pasted sends a message that you can’t really be bothered.
  3. Keep it brief.  It’s not a competition as to how long your entry is, it’s about it’s quality.  Think like a judge.  Judges have to sometimes read hundreds of entries and a really long submission will elicit a heavy sigh, particularly if it begins to ramble.
  4. Don’t bend the truth.  Keep it factual.  It’s surprising what judges know about, particularly if it’s for an industry award.  They will tend to be experts and can spot a rat a mile off.  A whiff of a mistruth and you’ll be discarded.
  5. Drive out your USP (unique selling point).  Ask yourselves what really sets us apart?  What one message do we want to leave this judge with that will stick in their head relevant to the category?
  6. Don’t state the obvious.  If you’re entering a green award, resist saying things like “we take our environmental responsibility really seriously (yawn).  Doesn’t everybody?  Think, what things will everyone be submitting and how do we do it differently?
  7. Get a fresh set of eyes to read the submission.  Quite often the same person(s) is in charge of the end to end process of completing the award entry.  When they think it has been done, ensure it gets passed to someone else to do a fresh look/edit of the whole thing, particularly for spelling mistakes.
  8. Meet the deadline.  People still miss deadlines and expect their entry to stand.  An awards deadline is there for a reason, work to it.  If you miss it, expect not to be judged.
  9. Don’t add loads of attachments.  Tempting as it might be, don’t just upload big powerpoint files.  Make your written entry stand out.  Only add attachments in support (such as an image/advert example) if you are submitting on-line and you can’t include the information in the entry form.
  10. Use bullet points.  Entries normally go through a pre-judging stage.  Use bullet points in your submission as much as possible to allow a judge to scan it and make a mental ticknote in their mind.  If they get the headlines, they are more likely to delve into the detail.

10 tips for managing the Media in a Crisis

On Wednesday 17th August, I got the news that the Paralympic cyclist we support – Simin Richardson MBE – had been airlifted to hospital in an horrific hit and run road accident.  Simon, whose condition was critical, fought back from a similar accident in 2001 to go on and win three medals at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics (2 Gold and I Silver, aswell as breaking two world records).  You can read more about him and why we sponsored him here.  Media interest in the story was very high, as Simon was preparing for London 2012 in the hope of catching the selectors eye, this was a standard road training session for him.

Simon doesn't have an agent so I stepped in to assist the family with the media relations.  I heard of the accident at 2.30pm, by 9.45pm I was on Radio Five Live, the following day I was recording TV intereviews for BBC, ITV and Radio 4 whilst in London on a business trip aswell as fielding multiple calls from national media – The Guardian, The Independent aswell as Cycling and Regional Press.  I've been media trained, so here's my Top 10 tips to apply in the the middle of a media crisis: -

  1. Quickly establish a central point of information.  One number or place to call for media enquiries, ensure that the people on the end of it are fully briefed at all times.
  2. Have all potential media contact points refer media enquiries back to this point (family, relevant organisations, employees, hosptial etc).  Not always possible, but do what you can.
  3. Only deal in facts, dates, times etc – don't speculate or embellish facts, say them as they are.  The media will do the speculating for you.
  4. Check stories that have been written to ensure that they are factually correct.  If necessary, call the journalist back up.
  5. Keep dates, names and times of which journalists you talk to and what you said.  I carried a notebook with me, that way you can refer back.
  6. Update regularly.  I used Twitter and my cycling blog to issue news as and when we had it.  One source of information, factually correct.  You can read the updates and timeline here.
  7. Wherever possible keep interested organisations pro-actively checked in.  Business partners, sponsors, stakeholders – ensure that they learn things in real time.
  8. Have a call to action set up.  I could quickly direct people to my blog or Twitter feed, so when asked "Where should people go to?" I could quickly respond.
  9. Utilise social media where it can assist you.  We used Twitter to launch a hashtag called #SIMONSTRONG where concerned cyclists could send their messages of support for Simon.  This quickly morphed into a dedicated bike with all the Twitter follower names on.  Read more about that here.  Subsquently we launched a "Ride for Simon" campaign which went live over the weekend. 
  10. Stay calm and rational.  Float yourself above the situation and see it through another persons eyes. It will allow you to be more constructive in your help.

If you can, employ a media professional to do this for you.  Not all businesses are of the size that they can afford to, but depending on what the crisis is, it may pay in the long run, particularly if it's a product or brand reputation issue. 

As for Simon, he's still critical (10 days on) but getting better and making steps in the right direction.  By positively managing the media, we've allowed his family to be at his bedside, protected them from interruption and managed the overwhelming support he has received from all areas of the cycling community. 

10 tips to Understanding your Competition

Understanding your competition is an important component of being in business. 

Yes, you’re important.  Your products, people and services.  However, when did you last benchmark yourself against your most important competitor?

What are they up to?  When did you last have a good look?  It’s easily overlooked in the hubbub 0f everyday.  Smart businesses take time out to understand the wider competitive landscape.

Here’s some simple tips for you to get started: -

  1. Download their last company accounts from companies house.  They normally cost £1.00 a set.  You can have a look at whether they’re growing, their cost structure, their profit, stocks, gross margins and cash situation. 
  2. Is one of their executives speaking anywhere?  Go listen to them. Hear what the culture is, how they motivate employees, how they see the market.
  3. Are they advertising?  What are their key products?  How do they compare against yours?  What products do you have  that you could position against them?  What media are they using?
  4. See what keywords they may be bidding in on google adwords.  What keywords might people be searching for in response to their ad that you might be able to hijack in google either through pay per click or organic search.  Get a blog going quickly to bag some easy clicks or implement a PPC campaign.  Seek advice if needs be.
  5. Get on their mailing list.  Always good to hear what things they are saying.  What tone are they using?  What calls to action?  What offers?  Are you missing any tricks?
  6. Ask your customers.  It’s surprising what they know.  They may have been to a recent launch, had a titbit off of a sales rep or spoken to the CEO by phone.  People will share quite readily if asked.
  7. Prepare a SPOT chart.  A rectangle split into four.  In each box write one of these words. Strengths, Opportunities, Problems, Threats then detail all of yours down under these headings.  Then pretend to be your competitor and do the same thing and compare.
  8. Visit their website.  Look at their news sections, special offers, announcements.  What messages are they sending?  To which markets and customer profiles?  What product is on the homepage?  Does this mean they might lose focus on some secondary products which might be your primary product offer?
  9. Follow them on social media.  Check out this post I wrote on “The CIA in Social Media“.
  10. Allocate time to this.  The clearer you understand where they are going, the easier it is for you to adjust your own strategy.

10 Softwares/Cloud Apps I couldn’t do without….

Was thinking earlier about when I first started out in sales.  Just had a mobile phone and an address book.  Laptop came after the 3 month trial!  Comparing that to now, there is just a huge amount of tools we can use to optimise our working life.  Here are the ones that I use most regularly: -

1.  MS Excel (the daddy of all things spreadsheety).

2.  MS Powerpoint (always been there , still unstable, slowly going to Keynote).

3.  MS Outlook (e-mail still the #1 communication tool).

4.  Twitter (fast catching up e-mail for instantaneous).

5.  Tweetdeck (best app for Twitter).

6.  Blogger (hosts my cycling blog).

7. WordPress (hosts this blog).

8.  Google (still the best search engine by far).

9.  Basecamp (Great cloud based project management tool).

10.  Adobe PDF (still the best at minimising documents for sending).

What are yours?

Top 10 Tips – Speaking in Public

Speaking at an event I did in London yesterday, I was approached by one of the audience members at the coffee break to ask for some tips they could use for an upcoming and important presentation they were doing.  Speaking in public isn’t difficult, it all depends on how much work you put in to make it an enjoyable/stimulating experience for your audience.  Let me share some of the tips with you.

  1. Really think of your message and take out, build the entire talk around this.
  2. Never read from bullet points.
  3. Use images to support your words.
  4. Stand still, except when moving to another fixed positon.
  5. Speak with your mouth and use your hands to exaggerate.  Vary your voice.
  6. You will either gain or lose your audiene in the first minute, think about what you can do/say to really gain their attention.
  7. Be yourself.  Authenticity matters.  Share stories that show you are human.
  8. Prepare.  Your audience can spot an unprepared speaker from a mile off.
  9. Engage with as many people as you can when you talk.  Look for the “nod”.  What this means is, look into a particular audience members eyes and speak at them until they nod at you, then move on to someone else.
  10. Be engaging and interesting.  Nearly all subjects – bar the obvious – can be made more interesting if you really think about it.  The more interesting, the more engaged your audience will be.

Top 10 Tips for New Bloggers

I’ve been blogging for over a year now. Seems if you get over the 90 day hump then you’ll stick with it. About 90% of people don’t, they give up because they run out of ideas, time or energy. Blogging is excellent for personal reputation, organic search, business leads or just sharing the things you know. I’m not an expert, however my blog that you’re reading now has readership in over 50 countries across the world, so something seems to be going right. Here’s what I’ve learned so far: -

1. Keep it short. People are time strapped and have poor attention levels. Short and snappy is best.
2. Decide your genre. Don’t get too random. Specialise in something.
3. Convey a core idea in each of your posts. Simplify your message. Make it stand out.
4. Add pictures. It breaks up a boring layout and sharpens the point.
5. Don’t go overboard with bells and whistles. Clear, plain and simple works best. Loads of flashing adverts will distract your readers and they may not come back. Remember, people scan read in an “F” shape.
6. Ask questions in your blog. Stimulate your reader. Give them something to go away and think about (and a reason to return).
7. Blog regularly. Once a month is too little. Find a frequency that you are comfortable with, once a week is ideal. I blog every couple of days.
8. Add hyperlinks. The more you hyperlink, the better the quality of the blog (in googles eyes). But don’t go overboard. Also, try and encourage people to bookmark your blog, put it into an RSS feed or follow it, it puts you front of mind.
9. Install a blog tracking software so that you can see how visits are going. I use http://www.icerocket.com/ (it’s totally free) or you could use google analytics.
10. Put your blog URL on your business card and your e-mail footer. Promote it wherever you can. Trade links with others, it all helps to increase your visitors.
Search engine optimisation is an art in itself. These tips are just to get you started. If you want to turn pro or use blogging as part of a bigger or wider social media strategy, then get some help.

10 Tips for Linkedin Beginners…

On Thursday this week I delivered a workshop around social networking for business. One of the focus areas was around Linkedin. Here are the Top 10 Tips for a Linkedin beginner to get the most out of the platform.

  1. Fill out your full profile. Remember to upload a picture. Populate as much of your career history as you can, it will help when asking people to connect .
    2. Check your existing contacts first, look them up and connect. You’ll be surprised who you know.
    3. When you connect with someone, see who else you have in common by looking at their list of contacts. Court warm introductions/referrals.
    4. Update your status profile every week. Your network will get an automatic update sent to their e-mail inbox.
    5. Join groups. It increases your visibility and will accelerate the number of contacts you communicate with.
    6. Contribute. Answer questions posed by others. It will increase your credibility.
    7. When you meet someone new in person or on-line, ask if they’re on Linkedin and hook up (do it the next day). Wherever they work, you’ll always be able to reach them.
    8. Got a new appointment, check out someone’s profile in advance and use the facts uncovered as a conversation opener. It’s an amazing way to start a meeting.
    9. Regularly check your Linkedin profile. Refresh the information. Give people a reason to keep tracking back to you.
    10. Be selective. Remember, it’s quality, not quantity.

Networking is about adding value.Remember, networking on-line is no different to networking in real life. Don’t be too pushy. Take your time and develop your network carefully. Building a successful and trusted network is about giving and establishing credibility over time.