Don’t Stop

I love this image. I look at it each time the figures on the economy come out as they invariably generate negative headlines in the press and with the naysayers.

Consolidated averages hide excellence, an average is the sum total of all the parts and I know that there are some fantastic businesses and sectors growing like crazy, right here, right now.

We had this graphic made for one of our press ads,(it’s copyrighted) I think it says it all, stay positive, don’t allow yourself to be stopped and it’s green lights all the way.

Kids these days…..

Ask a cross section of adults about kids these days and you’ll get a multitude of responses including everything from “they want everything on a plate for them, they don’t know the value of money to, the lost generation.”

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills released a report yesterday highlighting the challenge that school leavers have in obtaining jobs now, particularly 16-17 year olds. The national media picked it up and focused the story around Saturday jobs.  I was asked to go on BBC News to talk about what influence the Saturday jobs I had on my pathway to running a large company.

A Quick History of My First Job(s) 

I started out helping my step-father, who was a milk-man, from as young as around ten from memory. Getting up early and running the milk to the steps, you wouldn’t be allowed to do it in today’s day and age. From there I went to collecting golf balls on a local municipal golf range, which was one of the plum jobs in the area – £1.00 a bucket.

I also held down a paper round, so by the time I’d reached sixteen, I’d already had three jobs. From there, I got my first proper employed job stacking shelves in Waitrose, Bracknell. I had total responsibility for the biscuit aisle and I can honestly say they were two very happy years as I made it my personal mission to ensure that the shelves were correctly filled, faced and stock rotated at all times.

I eventually left Waitrose and went to work for arch rival Sainsburys in the warehouse as they paid more, whilst I continued my college studies. On leaving college, I went straight into a new job. Twenty-seven years later, I’ve never been out of work. I look back and absolutely credit that work ethic with the encouragement to get out and earn my own money, even prior to the legal age of work. From my Saturday jobs I learned at least ten key things: -

  1. Punctuality
  2. Responsibility
  3. Customer service
  4. Communication
  5. Team-working
  6. The value of money
  7. Working for a manager
  8. How large companies work
  9. Prioritising work
  10. Stock management principles

In my view, having a Saturday job gave me grounding in the principle of working for the things you want. I saved up my earnings religiously for a Technics separates system for over a year, with the occasional part for my BMX bike.

A Perfect Storm

Things aren’t the same today in the job market for 16-21 year olds, for a number of key reasons: -

  1. We have 3M more people in the UK population in 2012, than in 2002. Lots of factors including economic immigration.
  2. There are 500,000 more graduates in the economy in 2011,than there were in 2001. Due to the lack of overall jobs, “credentialism” is taking place. That is, graduates are taking jobs which they are over-qualified for.
  3. There are less what’s called “elementary” jobs in the market. Elementary jobs are things like retail sales assistants, waitresses and bar people. With the demise of the high street, lower numbers of these types of businesses exist. 
  4. The shift of employers has moved more to SME’s than large businesses. SME’s tend to take on more experienced staff as they may have less resources (time/training money) to invest in young staff. You can see the decline in the number of elementary jobs by looking at the data for the number of students who work whilst studying. The percentage has dropped from 40% to 20% since 2001.

 Other Influencing Factors

  1. 41% of businesses don’t have a requirement for 16-17 year olds in their business.
  2. 27% of roles that get filled come solely via word of mouth. For 16-17 year olds, this rises to 38%.
  3. Parents are highly influential in finding first time jobs for young people.
  4. Employers cite the following as some key reasons they don’t take on 16-17 year olds. Poor attitude/lack of motivation (18%), Lack of Experience (23%), Lack of Common Sense (6%), Lack of Skills (10%). Interestingly the poor attitude lack of motivation drops to 5% for higher education leavers.
  5. The longer you stay in education, the stronger your network of contacts becomes and the higher the probability of achieving a job by word of mouth.
  6. The report doesn’t focus on social issues so much, but clearly they will be of influence.

Recommendations for Employers

  1. Ensure that the vacancies you have are made available at the the Job Centre. 
  2. Be Positive towards youth and develop a pro-youth policy, particularly relating to work experience.
  3. If you are one of the 41% of employers that don’t have a requirement for young people in the business, contribute in other ways. In particular, get involved in ways to engage school children in enterprise through charities such as UK Youth or enterprises run by young people such as The Skill! Programme.

If a teenager at school participates in at least four of the activities below before they leave school, they are five times less likely to be a NEET (young person categorised as “not in education, employment or training”).

  1. Career counselling.
  2. Work Experience.
  3. Enterprise initiatives.
  4. Visits to local businesses.
  5. CV writing workshops.
  6. Visits to universities or further education colleges.
  7. Mock interviews.
  8. Mentoring.
  9. Hearing a talk from a business leader in school.

Predictions are that things are going to get tougher unless there is a step change in the way we support our young people. It’s for us, Generation X, to show the way through our actions.

We’ve got to open up some opportunities, get our hands dirty and give some inspiration or stand by as we see them become the lost generation. I for one won’t be a bystander. I see excellence, opportunity and a generation presented with different challenges, I’ll continue to spend some of my time helping how I can by contributing to the activities highlighted to increase chances of employment for young people.

I sat on a dragons den style panel for secondary school children last week and was inspired by the energy and ideas from the young people participating. It goes to show that the idea works, we encourage them and they step up, so don’t stare up the steps, step up the stairs and do something

Great Expectations

Expectations are shifting like sand.  What once was acceptable, may no longer be.

The standard you do things by may not be the standard that your customer is expecting given all of the other things they can compare you to in life.  One click purchasing on Amazon, timed delivery slots from Tesco, paying by Paypal, free delivery, being heard on social media are all examples of how a customers expectations are changing.  They are the same customers, with the same money.

Last night I stayed in a hotel and I was thinking about the basics that I now expect before choosing to stay somewhere.  Location, wireless network, cost of parking, access to leisure facilities are just some of the add ons that come along with a comfortable room and bed.  The hotel industry has had to shift it’s proposition.

Last night, a perfectly comfortable hotel went into my black book of places never to go back to.  I had a brilliant nights sleep, bed was super comfortable, room very contemporary, all the mod cons.  However, I couldn’t connect to the wireless network, the car park for the hotel was a full five minutes walk away and fifteen minutes to drive due to a one-way system and my mobile phone had no signal, despite being in a major city centre.  My expectations weren’t met, despite having lovely accomodation (the key proposition) the wrap around elements (related to the key proposition) diluted the key proposition so significantly, I became a one-off customer, rather than a repeat customer.

It was a reminder to me, not to just think about your core business proposition but the associated things that wrap around it.  The add-ons, the after service, the details that make up a buying interaction.  Using the above example, what is the wireless network equivalent in your proposition?  It’s not your core but your customer may want more.  They may have greater expectations, so stay close, keep listening and keep refining.

A mini buffet of business

Today I spoke at an event in Chester and galloped through a metaphorical buffet table of ideas, trends and insights to an audience of business hungry SME’s.  Just a small portion of the things I touched on were: -

Liquid Fear.  Fear is everywhere right now, at a structural and personal level. Don’t let it trigger fight or flight thinking in you or your innovation may suffer.

Averages.  Even though the economy is struggling to grow at a pace, if all you ever do is consider that “flat” is what everyone is doing to judge your performance – you’re wrong.  An average is made of superstars and under performers.  Be a shining star in the game of average.

CTRL+ALT+DEL – It’s an amazing time for the world and we’re in it, right here, right now as all this structural change takes place in the way we run our lives.  Someone set the reset button and it’s important we all update our software to run today’s programmes.

Plural Working.  People are much more open to earning income from multiple sources.  The concept of being wedded to one company is “so yesterday.”  This may have a big impact on staff working practice, location and cost.

Make your competition irrelevant.  Do things they can’t do.  Understand that if they are big, they make lack agility.  Introduce new initiatives to stay one step ahead of them.

Be authentic.  As a person, as a business.  Stay true to what you’re all about, don’t dilute, be yourself.

Have the courage of a lion.  Tough times require tough decisions.  Back yourself, call the big shots, be bold.

Counting it all up, I covered about fifty points in rapid succession today, covering everything from innovation, trends,  leadership and change.  It was enjoyable to cover a lot of different things, a little taster of a lot of things as opposed to a “big meal.”

It seemed to work.  What struck me most was how there is so much to talk about, so much change, so many new things, new challenges and we have to constantly stay up to date with all of these things, aswell as do the day job.

It’s all there for the taking.  Tough times see some of the business ideas launched, you have to look for the opportunity, put in some hard yards thinking and get implementing!

High Five

A tip for you.  Never discount in chunks divisble by five.

Think about it.  Most time you talk about discounts you go up in chunks of five per cent.  Five per cent, ten per cent, fifteen per cent – it’s just the way people tend to think.    If you knew the true impact that discounting has on your bottom line, you’d fight for every one per cent. When you take into account the fixed cost structures your business has, hanging onto an additional one per cent can have a transformational effect on your bottom line.

Here’s five tips for you when someone asks for a discount: -

1).  When someone asks for discount, ask for something back.  For example – faster payment, a referral letter or a top-up of the order which makes it more efficient to handle logistically.  Consider it a trade-off, you want something from me, so what are you offering in exchange?

2).  Distract discounting discussions by trying to remove something from your offer.  ” You want an additional five per cent, sure we can achieve that by replacing X with Y or removing X from the deal”.

3).  Probe, probe, probe your buyer.  If you have something that you know is a good fit for a specific reason for their requirement, hang on in there.  Keep re-questioning their key reason for the purchase, in particular re-capping what they want from a potential supplier – this could be your saving grace on defending your pricing position.

4) Discount in blocks of one per cent.  It gives a far greater impression that you’ve got your pricing in tune, from the start and that you need profits for the long term, to support the customer.

5)  Have things that are of low value to you, but perceived high value to the customer up your sleeve.  This again comes back to questioning.  It’s amazing what small things sometimes swing deals, because it is of perceived high value to the customer.  Perhaps it’s throwing something in for a consumer or a priority line into your customer support centre.  Remember, people are time and attention poor, what can you do to help.



Agencies. To Beat the rest. Stop beating your chest!

In March, I’ll be attending one of those marketing director forums.  Business model goes like this.  Lay a load of good speakers on; invite a load of high level marketing Directors who’ll want to hear them speak, get suppliers to pay to attend and cover all the costs of the speakers and the attendees, in order to reach the high level decision makers.

Attendees (marketing directors) have to agree to have some meetings with suppliers to attend for free, in order that there is a win for all.  Organiser walks away with lots of happy people – hopefully.   

Now, said suppliers then have to lay out their wares to the attendees, pitching for the meeting time that they have available.  Said Marketing Directors are hugely busy people, inundated with new business calls and e-mails all day long.

What a golden opportunity to cut through.  Yet, many continue to get it so wrong, writing page after page of chest beating copy that means nothing.  We’ve won this, we’ve won that.  And?

Here’s what would grab my attention. 

If you agree to a meeting with us, we will do a pre-audit or ideas session on any business problem you care to throw our way.   A current campaign that’s not working.   A new campaign that needs some thought.

We’ll come prepared with our thoughts on how we would do it differently.  Just agree to meet and we’ll get our best people on your problem.  Our ideas will do our talking, you judge whether we can cut it.”


“Let us know of a forthcoming networking event where you may be present and we’ll arrange for our “enter title of senior agency person” here to be there, just to meet informally”

OK.  You have my attention.  An opportunity for a quick bit of benchmarking.  Said agency can make a real impact, get real with a real problem, guaranteed engagement from the Marketing Director.  It’s not that hard, loads of room for follow up or development if they do the business by producing some great answers.   B2B is all about grabbing time and attention, plus trust.

New Year, New You

January 1st. That time of year, when we turn over a new sheet, put yesterday behind us.  Treat today, like it is a fresh star of the rest of our lives.  It’s funny how we like to think chronologically, how we wait and wait and wait until the 1st of January to do something.

What’s to stop you starting your diet or your new objectives on October the fourteenth or May the ninth? Are you using it as an excuse to put off something, to not change a behaviour, have that chat with someone or continue to have puddings with every meal?Most successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople are not driven by dates, they don’t decide to start a new company on Jan 1st because it’s New Year, they see an opportunity and go for it, regardless of time.

Similarly, in your own life, you can do new things at any hour of the day, on any day of the week, in any month of the year. Why don’t you tear up your resolutions today and instead get down some proper objectives, short mid and long term. Mind, body and soul. Business and Personal. Make them SMART and make them happen. Add to them, when it is appropriate for you, not appropriate for the rest of the world.

If you’ve not yet had a read of my Predictions for 2011 blogpost, you’ll see that there is so much opportunity out there.   If you tune your mind to the idea of opportunity engineering, then – as Del Boy used to say in Only Fools and Horses – “The World is Your Lobster.”

Welcome to 2011 everyone, I hope it is brilliant for you.

The Value of Time

The world is moving at a hundred miles an hour.  Days blur into months, months blur into years.  However, if – from time to time – we press pause, suck it all in a bit and watch the world race past, time becomes relevant again.  When did you last sit alone, with no TV, magazines or distractions, in total silence, with just you and your thoughts?  It’s getting harder!
So, to mark time on the year just passed, here is a short piece on time.  Enjoy.
  • To realise the value of ten years; ask a newly divorced couple.
  • To realise the value of four years; ask a graduate.
  • To realise the value of one year; ask a student who has failed a final exam.
  • To realise the value of nine months; ask a mother who gave birth to a still born.
  • To realise the value of one month; ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
  • To realise the value of one week; ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.
  • To realise the value of one hour; ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
  • To realise the value of one minute; ask a person who has missed the train, bus or plane.
  • To realise the value of one-second; ask a person who has survived an accident…
  • To realise the value of one millisecond; ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics.
  • To realise the value of a friend; lose one.
  • Time waits for no one. Treasure every moment you have. You will treasure it even more when you can share it with someone special.

Never assume you have time on your side.  Act now, do something and never leave anything important until tomorrow, it may never come.

Overheard this conversation in a cafe on Thursday.  Man A – “How’s the Christmas present shopping going?”  Man B – “I’m screwed.”  Man A – “Why?”  Man B – Because I’ve left it all to the last minute, thinking i’ll just get it on the web, and nobody can bloody deliver it to me.”

And there lies the problem of a bit of white powder.  Step forward retailers of the world, fill your shelves, staff your stores and prepare for the rush.  Most retailers will tell you that they’ve had a miserable run in to Christmas so far.  Snow has meant people have stayed indoors.  The planners of the world have already done their shopping on the web, had it delivered, despite the snow and the backlogs and are sitting pretty, all prepared.  The last are panicing now.

It’s a stark reminder that the world does need multiple channels for us to buy our goods and services.  On-line or off-line, high street or local, this seasons snow drop has caused a big shift in where consumers have been spending their money.  And don’t the big box players know it.  Sales have started early, footfall counters have been quiet and there’s a lot of praying going on that the next couple of days is going to be superbusy with buying any old gift set as long as it’s in a nice box (you’ll always be able to get Brut or Anais Anais if things get really bad).

Weather extremes rock retailers.  Sunny means BBQ’s and no shoppers, snow means stay indoors and no shoppers.  Rain is best, makes people miserable sitting indoors and they head straight for their local indoor shopping centre for a change of scenery.  It will be interesting to see the retail sales stats when they come out, clothes – as usual – will do well.  Electrials, mmm we’ll see. 

What will be interesting is when you open Santa’s stocking on Christmas day, you’ll quickly establish whether you’re nearest and dearest have been in a blind panic running round shops.   Tell tale signs are multi-tools or Top Gear annuals for the men or perfume gift sets/Trinny and Susanna book for the ladies.  Drop me a note if you get either :-)


Should I be at Harvard?  In the car this morning, I got to thinking about the importance of this latest Wikileak exposure of all the diplomatic material and how this is a gamechanging moment in transparency.  Next thing I know, Harvard Business Review posts an article up on the same subject, like minds eh.

Now I don’t think for a minute I’m Harvard material, however my thought process was not about the specific contents of this leak, but more about the idea, that things that you thought were secret, being outed and exposed in a public forum.  I though there were some important leadership lesson there.

Think about it for a minute.  What if every e-mail and internal communication you wrote or produced for the last five years were exposed on the internet.  Anything in your cupboard that you might feel embarrassed about?  Any phone calls you need to make to smooth over any cracks with people you might have been a little two faced with?  Anything you would have considered “top secret?”

That’s a worrying thought, however you have – in the last few days – seen evidence of how this could happen on a grand scale.  Transparency rules.  There’s the first lesson, be consistent with others and be prepared to back your opinions in public.

One of the Guardian journalists made a good point on Radio 4 when she said that a disclosure of this size, takes an incredible amount of analysis by experts.  Things need to be given context.  There’s only so much a database and algorithms can do.  At some point, an expert needs to make sense of it.  There’s the second lesson.  Computers can’t rule everything, human analysis is vital, opinion matters.

The third lesson is about the overwhelming amount of data that has been posted.  So much, it’s a fog.  The media partners involved have had to digest, sort and filter it all, to get to the key stories.  The money moment.  Information overload is a factor in everyone’s lives nowadays .  The key word is “filtering” and if you don’t filter out the things that really matter when communicating to others, then you will simply be noise.

Big leaks like the recent Wikileak will become more commonplace.  If it can happen to the US government, it can happen to anyone.  Being consistent, transparent and honest internally reduces your risk of something happening externally.  Granted, politics is a completely different stage, however, the lessons are there to be learned.