Friday, June 13, 2008

How to recession-proof your business in 13 steps (Part 2)

Bubble about to burst? Pic credit: Flickr CC FotoDawg

OK, here's part 2 of my thoughts about how, in these times of financial hardship, you can go some way towards making your business recession proof.

(If you missed part 1, go here to see it.)

8. Your product is your marketing. Too many companies come up with a product then think about how to sell it. That's the stupid way. You should have your market in mind when your potential product is still in R&D. Marketing isn't a bolt on service, it's an integral part of the whole enterprise. (Want ideas for products? See point 5 and listen to your customers!)

9. Stop advertising. Start RED marketing instead if possible. If you won't do that, just stop throwing same-old, same-old ads out there. They cost too much and the best you can hope for is 2% response. So 98% of people ignore you. There was a name for people at school who got ignored by 98% of the other kids - losers. Ads have a place in the marketing mix, but save your money where possible and throw it into the other ideas in this list.

10. Build relationships with suppliers. I mean real relationships. Get to know them. Understand their business model. Not only are they valuable sources of information about the market, they might even be able to help you in ways you haven't thought of. So take them out for lunch (yes, you pay!), pay invoices on time, play golf, ask about their families. Networking is key. Suppliers might traditionally be lower on the food chain but in this interconnected world that's BS that you should forget about.

11. Build relationships with your competitors. I mean real relationships. Whilst it may seem counter intuitive (less business = more fighting, not more cooperation, right?) it's definitely the way to go. More heads are better than 1 and even in a recession there should be enough business around for you and your competitors to thrive, as long as you have real relationships. Plus, you're going to be so busy rocking your new niche focus (see point 6) that you won't have to worry about your competitors soon enough. So it's all good networking.

12. Embrace the fear. Scarcity, strife and difficulty all lead to trouble, right? Wrong! They also lead to innovation, if you're smart! Let your superstars (point 3) and your customers (point 5) lead you down the wonderful path of innovation. Then you get to point 1.

13. Look around you once in a while. Plenty of organisations thrive in a recession. Plenty come out of it stronger than ever. Look at what other people are doing and copy it where you can. Recessions come and go, economies are cyclical. You can sit around whining about it or you can get down to business. (And if you've read this far, I reckon you're more likely to go with the latter, right?)

There's my 13 points. As I said in part 1, more intended as a starting point for a conversation than a complete 'how to' guide. What do you think though?

Am I completely off the mark? Am I on the right track? What have I missed? What would you ignore? What are you already doing? Is the whole recession thing a load of crap anyways? I'd love to hear answers to these questions and comments generally so shout up if you want to get involved. Comments or email, I love 'em both.

P.S. Like this post? Well you could sign up for more like it...

P.P.S. Like some of the ideas in this but no idea how to execute? Why not drop me a line and I'll be happy to help out. In case you don't know, I'm a freelance marketing guy (the non-evil type) and I love talking to people about ideas and strategies for their business. See my site for more info, or just give me a call (07732 083 548) or drop me an email (james at jamesparronline dot com)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sign up for updates - your options

I've sorted out my subscription options so you can now sign up for updates either via RSS or email. See the bar to the right for details; simply pick which option suits you best and click the relevant link.

Let me know if there are any problems, or if there's anything else you want/need when it comes to syndication of my content.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How to recession-proof your business in 13 steps (Part 1)

Pic credit: Flickr CC aturkus

More and more people I talk to seem to be increasingly worried about the potential impact of the credit crunch and the possibility of a recession. It seems pretty likely now I guess, so I can see where the worry is coming from.

It's had me thinking the last couple of days, and with all that financial doom and gloom in mind, I knocked up a list of positives to balance things out - 13 things you can do to make your business recession proof.

This isn't intended as a guide really, more as a talking point. I've broken it down into 2 parts, to save you reading a damn long post all at once. Part 2 will come later this week. I may flesh things out at a later date too, but for now, here are my thoughts...

1. Be Remarkable. Goes without saying really. If your business is remarkable (i.e. people will remark on it) then you stand a much better chance of succeeding (whether there's a recession on or not).

2. Cut your dead wood. Controversial one, but you should really get rid of all those people in your business who don't do any good. If they're not right for you, cut them. (If it makes you feel better, if they're not right for you then you're definitely not right for them.)

3. Pay the 'dead wood' money to your superstars. All that money you save by getting rid of those people you can do without should not just be squirreled away. If you do that the you're not going to get out of any ensuing slump. Your superstars will get you out of the slump though. This is where they really show what they're made of. Give them all a hike in pay, tell them what needs doing and watch your business sail through problems. (N.B. If you don't have any superstar employees, then you're in trouble. Now is definitely the time to invest in some.)

4. Build a permission asset. You need to have an ongoing relationship with potential clients pretty much all the time. In a recession though, it's even more important. the best way to do that is to build permission assets for your business, i.e. people who are willing to give you something (usually their email and name, possibly more as time goes on) with a view to you sending them useful, relevant, timely information. This is called leading people down the path to a sale and it is (almost) completely foolproof. (Read Seth Godin's book Permission Marketing for more on this.)

5. Listen to your customers. Follow that up by doing what they tell you to. It's not about how you sell to people in a recession, it's about why they buy. (Actually this is also true outside of a recession).

6. Quit things. Another Seth Godin inspired one (read his book The Dip too). You know the things that you do that don't make you very much money, but you still do them? Quit them. Now. (And see point 7...)

7. Embrace the 'long tail'. Specialise, focus, find a niche. You're far more likely to find people who want to buy from you than if you try to be a jack of all trades. The long tail is a far better place to be when times are tough, and leaves you with a potentially profitable niche to dominate when the economy starts to chill the hell out.

OK, that's part 1, part 2 will follow later in the week. If you don't want to miss it you could sign up to my feed, so you're notified whenever I throw something new up on the blog. Also, what do you think of the 1st part? Making sense so far or all absolute rubbish? I'd love to hear from you whatever your opinion on it. Hit me up in the comments if you want to join in!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday fun

I was looking for something fun and interesting to link to today and found the following story on the Beeb website. It's not fun-crazy (like the video of the man smashing up his office - sort of nsfw) but rather fun-wonderful.

Today, June 6th 2008, is the birthday of an exceptional man - Henry Allingham. Amazingly, he is 112! Yes, one hundred and twelve years old. And still going strong!

Read the story and watch the video; he really is an inspiring man (and not because of his long life, but because of what he's done with it).

If you need some inspiration today, then I reckon you should be able to take it from him.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Still here

Despite the evidence to the contrary (my disappearance from twitter and this blog particularly) I am not dead.

No plan behind the sabbatical from all things social-networking related. I've been thinking hard about my business, blogging, the appetite in the UK for the brand of marketing that I espouse and many more things. All that thinking has led to more questions rather than more answers unfortunately. Such is life, as they say.

Going forward I'm going to try and get back into the swing of blogging regularly. I still believe that all this new social stuff is inherently good for people and good for business and am hoping that approaching it with renewed vigour will lead to my bank balance backing up that assertion at some point in the future. (The general costs associated with setting myself up to fly solo make a case to say that money is a very intangible thing, and easier to acquire when you're in possession of a rather large amount of it already...)

So I'm still here and will be for some time yet, all being well.

(Thanks as always if you're reading this y'all - the conversations rather seem to be the point, in and of themselves really, in my mind.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Eliminate the barriers to 'yes'

Just a quick one today, inspired by a text I just received. It brought to mind the title of this post, which I'm sure I've heard somewhere before but after a quick search can't find the source of.

The text is from my service provider, Orange. It reads as follows:

Hi from Orange. To donate £2.50 to UNICEF's Myanmar (Burma) Cyclone appeal, text DONATE to 864233. £2.50 will be added to your next bill. Thank you.

My thoughts? This is a brilliant idea.

A marketer's job is to eliminate the barriers to 'yes'. The less barriers, the more chance the person you're communicating with will do what you want them to do (i.e. say 'yes'). In this case Orange and UNICEF have teamed up to make it exceptionally easy to donate to the Burma appeal.

Personally, I probably wouldn't have donated at all if I hadn't got this text because I'm both busy and lazy - a terrible combination. However this approach has made me do it. One barrier to 'yes' (my laziness) is eliminated by this approach.

The other benefit is that because the money just goes straight on to my phone bill, it doesn't feel like a burden at all. If I were stopped in the street by a 'charity mugger' I may put my hand in my pocket for 50p or £1. I'd be pretty unlikely to cough up £2.50. Like buying things on the internet though, when you don't have to physically part with money, it doesn't seem as real. Another barrier to 'yes' eliminated.

My question today therefore is:

What barriers to 'yes' can you eliminate from your processes?

[Hint: Think about complicated sign-up forms, unnecessary login procedures, excessive post and packing costs, difficult to read brochures, poor customer service etc etc]

P.S. If you read the above and thought 'that doesn't apply to me because I'm not a marketer', then think again. Whether you're collecting for charity, selling your own product, signing up people to your latest seminar, managing a store, teaching primary school children, giving mortgage advice or arranging a conference, you're a marketer.

'Marketing' is part of being human, and learning that can make a heck of a lot of difference to your business and your life.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm in London today and tomorrow

I'm going to the Recruiters Network event, organised by uk:recruiter, in London tonight. So I'm getting the train at 1pm and should be in London by half 3. Staying in a hotel near the venue of the networking for convenience (it's on City Road, nearest tube is Old Street). If anyone is about therefore and wants to meet up, either later this afternoon or tomorrow morning (maybe near Euston before I get my train back) then let me know. Best to call me rather than email. My mobile is 07732 083 548.

P.S. If anyone wants to go to the networking thing, I'm pretty sure there are still places available. You can register here, or I'm sure Louise wouldn't mind you dropping her an email for details (visit her site here for the email address).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What social networking do you do?

Are you savvy when it comes to social networking? If not, you're missing out. If you're a social networking virgin then I'm happily volunteering here to be your first with some of the most popular services! See below for the 3 most prominent profiles of mine. Click through to link, friend and follow me...

My Linkedin profile (best for business)

My Facebook profile (best for friends)

My Twitter profile (best all round in my opinion)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Give it away

There's an interesting piece in the Guardian today on Chris Anderson's theories about the spread of 'freeconomics'. The idea that many products and services are on the way to 'free' definitely holds water. Well worth a read.

Get the article online here if you can't get hold of a copy of the paper (or just prefer web-print to news-print). The very fact that you can get it for free online rather than buying the publication highlights Chris' point nicely.

(Note: This story did the rounds in the blogosphere some weeks ago. Traditional media catches up eventually...)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Perfection requires commitment

Someone sent me the link to this video today. It's of a group of students with a bit too much time on their hands. Nevertheless, all credit to them; they've practised their asses off to get this good.

[IMPORTANT: Before you click the link below, be aware, the page it's on is definitely, 100%, totally and utterly Not Safe For Work. If you're at all offended by rude images, rude words and what is essentially pornographic content then please don't click. The video is safe, bar I think one swear word, but the site that hosts it isn't. Don't say I didn't warn you...]

Beer Pong - the most impressive video I've seen in a good while

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Who are your Champions League Final fans?

Pic credit: Flickr CC - edwin.11

(This post is about sport; football in particular. I try not to do that so often because sport is a pretty divisive topic. I promise this one has relevance to your business though, so I hope it’s not a turn-off for too many people. As a bit of background for the non-football fans out there, the Champions League competition that I talk about below is the premier European club football competition. It sees the best teams in Europe compete to reach the final, which this year is held in May, in Moscow. For the first time ever, two English teams have reached the final – Chelsea and Manchester United. For anyone who is completely sport-phobic, football is a game where two teams of eleven men chase a spherical ball around a grass covered pitch. It’s only marginally less ridiculous than it sounds.)

The end of the football season is upon us, with all the inherent agony and ecstasy that brings. For me, as a Liverpool fan, the knowledge that my team won't be lining up in Moscow to compete for the biggest trophy in the club game is quite frankly gutting (Liverpool were knocked out at the semi-final stage by Chelsea). Whether you’re a fellow fan, or just one of those lucky folks who don't care a jot about football though, there are lessons to be learned from the coming final in May.

The word on the street (and the 6 o'clock news) is that supporters of Manchester Utd and Chelsea will need to divvy up in excess of £2000 to go and watch their team in the final game of the season. Additionally, a combination of factors (visa issues, shortage of flights and hotels in Moscow etc) mean that it’s also going to be exceptionally difficult to get there. Yet still somewhere in the region of 40-50,000 English fans are expected to make the journey to support their team in person.

So here's the question for you with that exceptional situation in mind: would any of your fans (i.e. customers and clients) do anything even similar for you?

  • Let's say you’re a regular speaker at a variety of events and corporate functions but you’re going to take a break for at least a year. Would people pay far more than the going rate just to be at that big event?
  • Or if you were ending a product line, would people do whatever they could (and pay whatever they could) to get hold of the last few items you had for sale?
  • What about something smaller: if technical problems with your website meant that to make a purchase customers had to log in several times to complete the transaction, would they persevere or give up?

Clearly it's unlikely that you'll engender the kind of passion that a football team does no matter what line of business you're in, so don't worry if the answer to all of those questions was no. I’m definitely not suggesting that it’s necessary to have your customers worship you like the average football fan worships their team. However, I think there are two important takeaway lessons from the example of the Champions League final.

Number one: if you have a chance of your customers having for you even 10% of the passion that a football fan has for their club, do everything you can to nurture it. A ‘fan’ of your product or service will not only pay your efforts back directly but will act as your best ambassador and salesperson. True fans, loyal customers who believe in what you do, are worth it.

Number two: if your customers aren’t going to be as loyal and fervent as the average football fan, then you must commit to making things as easy and satisfying as possible for them. Die-hard Man Utd and Chelsea fans may be happy to spend their savings, travel thousands of miles and sleep on a railway platform in Russia to ‘make a purchase’; your customers won’t put up with a bad website, over-inflated prices, poor customer service or anything else negative to make a purchase from you.

[Bonus lesson: most people don’t really choose their football team, it chooses them. How about your business? I’d bet most people have a choice about ‘supporting’ you or not…]

Whatever you do, be it football, plumbing, consultancy or recruitment, your fans/customers are your biggest asset. Without them you’re in trouble, so do what you can to nurture them and help them support you. To use one last football metaphor, in business it really does matter to your fans how your team performs on the pitch.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What do you do? (a game)

Pic credit: Flickr CC, Altemark

Right, first let's get something out the way. Linking to the same person twice in two days is not a bad thing. In fact I think it's a good thing. It shows consistency. Not a lack of imagination/slight obsession with that person's blog.

So bearing that in mind, Sonia Simone inspired the following post today. That's not fair on Naomi from IttyBiz though, because it was her original post that inspired Sonia's post, that inspired me.

Too complicated. Let's start again...

A couple of days ago I read a post by Naomi (click here for it). It was an idea for a game where you answer 5 questions about yourself and what you do, both for your own satisfaction and to inform any potential customers. I totally intended to do it and write something the other day, but got completely distracted and kind of forgot.

Then I read Sonia's answers on her blog (click here for them) and liked them so much that I decided to get my ass in gear and do it myself. Here (in convoluted fashion) is my part of the conversation:

What’s your game? What do you do?
I’m a freelance marketing guy (the non-evil type). I help small businesses get the best return from their marketing efforts as possible. The people I work with generally don’t have a marketing team and their budgets are on the small side so it’s about kicking ass by being innovative, rather than just splashing the cash on useless adverts.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?
Little bit from column A and a little bit from column B. I used to do marketing for a recruitment company, which was cool if a little unfulfilling. I’ve got the knack for writing good copy etc and coming up with cool (and effective) marketing strategies, but often my stuff is pretty counter-intuitive. I wanted to get more hands-on, with more people, so I could teach them about my non-evil ways.

I’m oddly (for a marketer) passionate about people doing the ‘right thing’; not screwing customers, marketing ethically, engaging in conversations, working with competitors and so on.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?
All the boys and girls who want their small business to succeed but don’t know where to start with the marketing stuff.

What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?
I’m really cool, so even just hanging around with me will make your business cool. Plus, although it might be scary at first, I guarantee what I come up with for you will be remarkable.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?
I want to fix marketing because it’s an industry that is undoubtedly broken. I’ve started with Manchester but I’ll be disappointed if my stuff hasn’t spread throughout the UK by the end of the year, even if it’s not me doing it. In fact I’d love the marketing that I bang on about all the time to be really prevalent in the not too distant.

I think my main goal is basically to change the world. Which after all is why everybody is in business really, isn’t it?

P.S. This isn't a meme, it's a conversation (according to Naomi, which is cool because I don't really like memes, which is a deeply un-blogger thing to say, but there we go). So whilst I don't want to 'tag' anybody to spread the virus etc, I would be really interested to hear other people's answers. Louise for example, Pete Gold, Matt Alder, Dan McGuire (Broadbean Dan) and so on. So if any of you fancy it, answer the questions on your blog and let me know!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I think advertising sucks (and I work in marketing)

Sonia Simone wrote a cracking guest post over at Copyblogger. Click here to read about the 'new media' way to find customers.

I'm going to blog about this in the next few days in the context of marketing for small businesses (which after all, is my business).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

5 things you need to go freelance (plus the website is live)

It's been a while coming but finally my website is live! Click here for

Despite the stresses involved in getting it sorted (anyone who reads my Twitter feed has heard all about it! BTW, if you're not a Twitterer yet, click here to follow me), I'm really pleased with how it's turned out. I spent a lot of time worrying that it wouldn't look right but the guys have done a good job I reckon. Any comments or thoughts, as ever, much appreciated!

So now that's up and running (and the business cards are ordered) I figure I can officially call myself a freelance consultant (I have been doing a little work in this vein up until now, but the website going up was always going to be my proper start date).

This post therefore is for anyone interested in going freelance themselves, or just curious about what goes into the process. I'm talking from my own experience obviously, so other people's mileage could vary, but from what I've read and heard anecdotally I think my experience was pretty standard.

Here are the top 5 things you need to become a freelancer:

1. Patience

It’s number one for a lot of reasons but mainly because it's been two and a half months since I left my previous company and although that may not seem like a long time, I naively thought I’d be motoring along by now. I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for all manner of things to drop into place.

The website has been the main delay (and those guys worked quickly, believe me) but there's other stuff too. I had problems with my emails, my computer, the blog and my bank, all of which tested my ability not to completely lose my rag and run off to join the circus.

2. Belief

Nearly as important as patience, it’s belief in both yourself and what you're looking to achieve. Despite having thoroughly thought this decision through over and over, there have been days where I decided it was completely crazy. In a job you get a pay check every month, someone else worries about the little details and if it all goes wrong then the worst that can happen is you have to find something else. None of that’s true as a freelancer. Worst that can happen? It doesn't even bear thinking about.

I'm very fortunate though, in that I have an exceptionally supportive girlfriend and some very successful friends and associates, who've been in similar positions and believe in me even when I don't. It’s that sort of thing that keeps you going.

3. Cash.

It’s another biggy. You don't need to be Monty Burns, but you do need enough cash to get by for a while. I haven't made any proper money since I left my last job but I’ve spent plenty (a new laptop, the website, business cards, even new clothes so I look the part). I've been fairly frugal where possible but the bank balance has still been steadily decreasing. Without the redundancy package I simply couldn't have done this.

4. Inspiration.

It's massively important to keep a perspective on things and realise that there are a lot of people going through exactly what you're going through. This means sometimes looking for inspiration in the form of successful peers and approachable experts. I get my daily dose of inspiration from the blogosphere mainly but I also read books and magazine articles about my field.

Luckily there’s so much good free stuff out there you need never go short of inspiration. Click any of the following for sage advice, funny stories, tips on how (and how not) to do pretty much anything and all round inspiration: Naomi @ IttyBiz, Seth, Hugh, Penelope @ Brazen Careerist, Pam @ Escape from Cubicle Nation, Alex the Chief Happiness Officer, Sonia @ Remarkable Communication, Maki @ doshdosh and Rowan @ Fortify Your Oasis.

(Top Tip: Read those guys, then read the people they tell you to and you'll never be short of inspiration again)

5. An idea

Finally (or at least finally in this list, there's a lot more you need other than this to become a freelancer but I'm going for brevity over comprehensiveness) – it’s the strength of your idea. Whether you’e going to become a freelance IT guy or a self-employed plumber there's a very good chance that whatever you're offering is already out there in one form or another. In fact it's pretty likely that people right now are setting up in exactly the same space as you (this is definitiely true for me; the word 'marketing' in a Google Blog Search returns 98 million items!) Your idea therefore needs to be well thought out, easy enough to explain and something that you genuinely believe in (a good idea helps with point 2 in this list).

That's what I've tried to achieve with the concept of RED marketing (click here to find out what the heck that is). I knew what I wanted to achieve with my business, but it wasn't until I sat down and fleshed out an actual concept (a workable, defined one) that I felt I had an idea I could go to people with. People need that idea if they're going to buy from you, so make the best of it that you can.

Whether what you do is consultative or practical, service or product, you should be able to define your business in terms of your idea. Work on that and it’ll pay you back big time.

That in a nutshell is what it’s taken to get me to this point. I’ve purposefully not mentioned the various practicalities of setting up as a freelancer (taxes, legal status etc) because there are so many good books and articles out there that do a much better job of explaining that side than I could. If you’re considering it and want some more information then feel free to get in touch (either in the comments, or email me directly – james at jamesparronline dot com) and I’ll happily have a chat with you about the ins and outs. I can say that I highly recommend it and that’s even before my business has really taken off. Just the different perspective it gives you can be invaluable in my opinion. Even if I end up eventually going back to work for someone else, I think I’ll be a better employee for my time doing this.

P.S. Just one thing though, if you were thinking about becoming a freelance marketing consultant, maybe have a bit of a rethink; I hear there’s really not much room in that area anymore…

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A review of Recruitment Juice - training for recruiters

About 3 weeks ago Louise introduced me to a chap called Matt Trott. Matt is Director of a very interesting outfit called Recruitment Juice, whose goal in the world seems to be making recruitment training more fun. I had a brief chat with Matt about the product he and business partner Roy Ripper offer and was intrigued. Matt described it as part ‘The Office’, part training DVD, which sounded to me like a bloody horrendous combination to be honest; fist-in-mouth, cringe-worthiness delivered by money-driven, robotic, recruitment-sales folk right?

Matt very kindly offered to send me a review copy with the proviso that if I had something interesting to say about the product (good or bad) I blog about it here for all to see. Never one to turn down a freebie, I agreed!

First up – here’s the website. Perhaps go check it out before you read my review of the DVD. I’m not going to go into tonnes of detail about what actually happens in the videos so it may help for you to be a little familiar with the material (plus the website is actually really good fun).

OK, back? Seen the site? Good.

First impressions

The DVDs come in a snazzy box along with some instructions, a workbook and a survey (conducted by the guys at Recruitment Juice) on ‘perceptions of the recruitment industry’. The survey is great; really detailed and well-thought out. It confirms pretty much all self-aware recruitment folk’s worst fears – 70% on average have a PSL in place, only 1% response rate to unsolicited mails, a laundry list of ‘annoying’ recruiter attributes and so on.

The workbook looks good too, although I didn’t go through it myself when watching the DVDs (the idea is to watch 1 DVD a week with a group of people and all complete a variety of complementary thought exercises after each session to aid learning)

The DVDs

There are 6 of them and they probably last slightly over 2 hours in total. I watched a couple of episodes each week and found the pace and volume of information to be more than manageable. Matt’s mention of ‘The Office’ was pretty spot on actually as the series is filmed in a very similar style.

The ‘action’ takes place in a fictional recruitment company, Sunshine Recruitment, and centres around 2 of the staff. Wayne is a useless, self-indulgent, arrogant pillock of a recruitment consultant (an exaggeration one would hope, although I fear Matt, Roy and the rest at Recruitment Juice probably based the character on a few individuals they know pretty well). Charlotte meanwhile is the lovely new girl; all innocence, honesty and enthusiasm.

As with ‘The Office’ a camera crew is following the fortunes of the business. The voiceover chap interacts with the staff (particularly the aforementioned Wayne and Charlotte) to discuss recruitment issues.

The experts

The learning element comes from a number of ‘talking heads’; industry experts whose advice is sought to help Charlotte on her journey from newbie to super-recruiter. The experts are all pretty good and their input is generally both interesting and succinct (rare for recruitment!) A couple of them particularly are great, Angela Ashwell and Helen Curry (Ashwell Forbes and The Spencer Group respectively) standing out. Occasionally some of them slip into full-on ‘recruitment consultant’ mode and remind you of the sorts you get stuck talking to at a networking do with no escape route in sight bar the nearest window, but overall they err on the side of charming, if a little money-obsessed.

The content

So, with a good format, good cast, good experts and good execution the onus is really on the content not to let the side down. Fortunately it does no such thing and delivers in spades. The focus is winning new business this time but I really hope the guys plan on developing this into a series for different areas of recruitment because it could really work. The level of detail is spot on; it would benefit both new starters and seasoned recruitment pros alike.

The pacing of the content is good too, meaning each point can be delivered and absorbed comfortably, even if you’re slightly distracted (I watched one whilst trying to wrap my girlfriend’s birthday presents and despite the intense concentration required to scrunch the paper into a ball, sellotape it to the floor by accident, then my leg, then finally stick it down only to realise I hadn’t cut enough paper off, I still managed to get the main points from the DVD).

The topics covered take you through your attitude to winning new business, the preparation required, how to open calls, questions and communication tips, objections and closing and strategies outside of cold calling. This is pretty much all you’ll need to know if you want to become proficient at winning new business. Delivering that level of information in just over 2 hours is no mean feat.

So is it worth it?

Cold calling has never been my idea of fun but it is a vital part of the successful recruiters armoury. Winning new business can be a nightmare, but it’s not rocket science and this training solution shows that nicely and adds some fun to the mix too. It borders on being cheesy at times but manages mostly to avoid the clich├ęs and empty sales rhetoric that I’ve seen in other offerings.

At £700 it may sound expensive but to be honest it's not really. A half-day training course covering similar material would cost at least £500 per person whilst other DVD based offerings generally cost between £300 and £1500 depending on the calibre of the trainer associated with the product. This offering is totally different to any other production you'll see and the training seems to be easy enough to implement. I'd seriously consider it if I ran my own firm.

I’m pleased I spoke to Matt as I think he and Roy are people to pay attention to in the future. I’d love to see what they come up with next; my suggestion – the candidate side of the procedure could always do with a spruce up and the characters you could create would be a hoot!

Matt also very kindly put me on their affiliate programme, so if you’re interested in buying the DVDs you can do so at a reduced cost by entering the code PARR when you order. (To be clear – as that’s affiliated as well as the discount for you, I get a fee if you sign up using my code.)

Anyway, I’m off to practice handling objections from potential clients, so I’ll leave you to have a proper snoop round the Recruitment Juice site. Any thoughts or feedback, as ever, welcome via email or in the comments.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hugh MacLeod's gapingvoid lands a book deal

Pic credit: Probably my favourite gapingvoid cartoon

Worthy of note because Hugh's gapingvoid was the first blog I ever read. I've said before how I owe Seth Godin for the 'be remarkable' stuff; well I owe Hugh MacLeod for igniting the blogging spark in me at all.

Now I get to read him in a book. All good. Congrats Hugh.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

10 Top Tips to get on the PSL - a post for recruiters

Pic credit: flickr CC from rachelvoorhees. Follow the link for more of her wonderful photos

A little while back Louise from uk:recruiter posted an introduction to Emma, an in-house recruiter for Sky. Mentioned in the post was a forum discussion about the merits and demerits of PSLs (Preferred Supplier Lists to the uninitiated). You can see the details here. Emma was surprised that so many people suggested PSLs were a waste of time and that HR were a hindrance to the recruitment process.

Although not surprised myself (I’ve encountered a fair amount of vitriol from recruiters about in-house teams, outsourcing companies, HR etc) it stuck with me and for a while I’ve been thinking about how best to address the subject on the blog. I’ve decided (wisely I think) not to open the can of worms again by presenting an opinion piece on the subject, but rather to answer the original question in the forum discussion – what should you do if you call a company and they tell you there’s a PSL in place and they’re not reviewing?

Here are my 10 top tips:

  1. Don’t argue with them. The plan is to develop a relationship, so even if you’re frustrated and this is the 5th time this has happened to you today, don’t piss them off.
  2. Try and get a few details about the PSL. Ask how it works, how many agencies are on it, how they got there and what the likelihood of a review is. Again, remember point 1; don’t be stroppy, just ask polite, interested questions. Most HR or outsource folk won’t mind answering them.
  3. Ask for their email address. Ensure them that you absolutely, positively will not spam them and that you won’t send over endless, unsolicited CVs. Explain that you’d like to put them on your mailing list for salary surveys, industry info, fun Friday contests etc (yes, you now have a mailing list to whom you send those types of things – trust me, it will pay back the minimal effort it takes to set up).
  4. Leave the conversation on a positive note. Ideally get their permission to send them the above and possibly some standard, corporate company info (although bear in mind, that stuff always goes straight in the bin/deleted folder).
  5. Do your homework. If you’ve got their details you need to start thinking about how best to use them. Think about what relevant, useful information you can send them to ingratiate yourself.
  6. Be cool. It’s tempting to call them/email them the very next day (then every day after that until you get bored). This is what stalkers do. Nobody thinks they’re cool.
  7. Send them the relevant, useful, informative things you thought of in point 5. Salary surveys are great for example (they’re easy to create for you, but exceptionally useful for potential clients). If that’s beyond you how about a newsletter covering recruiting topics for their industry? Still too much? Send interesting highlights from your blog, or something more informal (competitions and games on a Friday are popular).
  8. Send content regularly, but not excessively. If it’s really juicy, relevant stuff then once a week is fine. Otherwise fortnightly. (Never daily; I guarantee you’re not that interesting.)
  9. Gain their trust and ongoing permission. By agreeing for you to send them stuff they give you a level of permission. That will only go so far so don’t abuse it. After a while though, it’s ok to ask for more permission. Ask them about their business, their preferences, the people they hire and so on, maybe in a short survey. Make sure you have their explicit permission to do so though.
  10. Finally, ask in one of your emails if there’s a good time to call and discuss the PSL. If they trust you, they won’t mind your asking. They may still say no, but it’s as good a chance as you’ll have. Also, if they agree, you’ll now have much more information about them so you’ll be in a better position to make your pitch.

I know the above sounds like hard work compared to just spamming as many people as you can with ‘fake’ CVs. I also know that some recruiters will think it’s all BS. The sales ‘experts’ particularly may see this as wishy-washy marketing crap that doesn’t fit with their mantra of ‘ABC’ (Always Be Closing). You know what that means though? All the more room for you enlightened folk to start doing this and reaping the rewards!

Working for a recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) company I’ve been on both sides of the recruitment-sales fence, both pitching for business and taking pitches from potential suppliers. I’ve taken thousands of sales calls and rarely given away business on the strength of one. I’ve managed PSLs for a variety of organisations, from Blue Chip to small biz, and every agency on those PSLs got there because of performance, not because they managed to ‘get round’ HR and speak to the recruiting manager directly.

(Quick note to those who think that’s a good tactic – you think you can get onside with line managers by taking them to lunch etc? So does the rest of the industry! They’re not loyal to you, they just like going to restaurants! The number of managers I’ve heard say “I don’t like agency X, in fact they’re assholes, but they do know some good places to eat in North London!”...)

The best bet in this saturated market is to differentiate yourself from the dozen other agencies who are busy picking up the phone to your prospect that morning. (Be remarkable, remember?) People buy people, and the right types of relationships matter. PSLs are exceptionally easy to get on, if you do a few simple (honest, decent) things.

I’ll post on another occasion about how best to approach the pitch stage, particularly presentations to potential clients (I’ve seen tonnes of presentations by agencies but never a good one I’m sad to say). For now though, why not give this a try and see how you do?

Anyone with any experience of this subject, anecdotal or otherwise, in favour of or against my suggestions, please feel free to share with the group in the comments.

[Bonus link: I mentioned setting up a mailing list in point 3. Microsoft Outlook can essentially do this for you, or you web host might offer a service so ask IT. If you need something else though, I've just started using a service called YourMailingListProvider. It's cheap and user friendly, with plenty of features. I've no affiliation to the company, just one chaps opinion etc]

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Why praise is the most important skill a manager or leader can develop

Just a link post today, but it's a damn good one from Wally Bock:

In praise of praise

Devour it if there's even a possibility you'll manage people.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What's really in a name?

Here's a bit of frivolous fun from the BBC that might help you find out:

Apparently, I'm Mr Successful...

My site

Things are moving at pace with my planned consulting website. The domain is all signed and sealed and the new site will definitely be living at (my preferred location,, was already taken unfortunately - if you don't own 'yourname'.com then go buy it immediately before someone else does). Hosting is sorted too, I'm using LaughingSquid.

So things should be up and running within the next week and I'll post about it here when I launch officially. When it's all sorted it will also free up my time to blog a bit more hopefully.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

If you're interested in blogging, read this...

There's a blog that I haven't flagged up before and that's bad form, because I devour every word written there. It's called Dosh Dosh and it's written by Maki (that link is to his Twitter profile).

His blog is so good because he really puts the hours in (seriously; hours and hours) to write damn good stuff. Thousands of subscribers, mucho respect in the blogosphere, tonnes of link love and general worship are the prizes that land at his feet pretty much daily. If that's what you aspire to, you should have a read. If not, it's still worth a look...

Click here for the wonderful Dosh Dosh

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Delete everything and reboot your brain

Too much information can be really bad for you so delete it all and start again. A blank canvas to work on is worth the pain of giving up your precious information streams. In short, freedom rocks.

I’ve just got back online at home. As mentioned previously, having moved flats I had problems with a new ISP and the phone company. I went to my girlfriend’s to steal her wifi regularly. I went to the library and wifi enabled coffee shops too, but I couldn’t keep up. My email was overflowing, my feed reader was jammed and the blog went quiet. It was getting pretty stressful and I was relieved to get everything sorted today.

First thing I did? I opened 2 tabs for my email accounts and another for my blog feeds. 36 emails in one account. 42 emails in the other. 1500+ new items from the 100 or so feeds I follow. Gulp!

Had I read everything it would have taken me days to get through. All the time new items would have piled up too. I was even more stressed than when I didn’t have the internet! So I deleted it all. I declared email and feed bankruptcy and now I’m starting again with a blank canvas.

[Note: The emails were mostly subscriptions I have, not personal emails. Anyone who emailed me personally knew I was having web trouble and so spoke to me about important stuff directly]

It was a scary thing to do I’ll admit. I love information and feel down if I go a couple of days without learning something new or reading something interesting. I’m addicted to blogs for that reason; tonnes of content delivered to me fresh everyday. But it’s debilitating too. Sometimes I can’t get a new idea of my own going for all the good stuff out there. And I often give up on a half-formed idea because I read someone else’s work on a similar topic.

Now though, I’m free. I’m now thinking about ideas for my marketing consultancy business rather than reading the (doubtless interesting and entertaining) thoughts of Seth Godin. I’ve even got time to write this post.

I’m not worried about what I missed, because the blogosphere is such a damn wonderful place I reckon any interesting stuff will crop up again anyway. And I’m not worried about the conversations I missed either because I’m planning to be around for a while, so I’ll get the chance to join in another time.

If anyone reading this is in the same position I was, delete, reboot and start again. I know you won’t regret it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How to keep quiet

I'm not usually good at being quiet. In fact some people (my girlfriend, friends, family etc) might go as far as to say I'm actually totally crap at keeping quiet. I'm one of those people who talks a lot, about a lot of things. I've got opinions on most topics and can fake an opinion on any topics I'm not familiar with. Verbosity is my friend.

And yet here I am, keeping quiet with no effort at all on the blog!

I feel like all I do at the moment is apologise for not posting regularly enough and you guys must be getting bored of it by now because I sure am. I still don't have the internet at home, although I do now have a fully operational phone line. I've been promised the internet should be up and running next weekend. I live in hope.

If that doesn't happen I'll have to think of a new excuse or just admit to myself that I'm incapable of doing many things at once (i.e. setting up the new business, visiting the library to use the internet, consuming blogs, writing posts, maintaining my sanity etc). It's kind of ok to admit that though, because of the common notion that men can't multi-task (how on earth did we convince women of that one guys? What a 'get out of jail free' card, eh?)

I hope to get noisy again as soon as possible everybody. You'll be thankful of this quiet period if I manage it...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Some thoughts about estate agents

(I found and saved this image a while back, but lost the credit info. If it's yours and you'd like credit, or want me to remove it, then just let me know. Thanks)

I've just moved house so got to thinking about estate agents and the housing market in general. I rent a flat in South Manchester (Didsbury) and have done for the last 3 years nearly. Prior to that I rented in the city centre. In that time I've encountered a heck of a lot of estate agents. I've viewed dozens of places, been to a variety of agencies and rented from several of them. This experience has led me to the following conclusion...

Estate agencies are broken.

This seems counter-intuitive because they've been doing really well in recent years obviously, but I think it's fair to put 90+% of this success down to the unrelenting growth of the housing market, not their ability. Harsh I know, but I can genuinely say that I have never encountered what I'd regard as a 'good' estate agent. In fact it's rare to find even a competent one. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest I'm not alone in my thinking.

This poor showing by agencies is surprising given their long history and traditions. What baffles me more though, is that not one agency (that I’ve heard of) takes advantage of the situation by acting differently, thereby building a stronghold in the market.

Maybe all that's needed is a spark to light the creative fires though, so should an estate agent be reading this and be ready to make some changes, here’s my 7 tips for future success.

1. Now that the housing boom seems to be tapering off you need to get back to focusing on people, predominantly your clients (and to some degree your employees – see point 4). From tomorrow morning, 9am, every person that walks through the door or phones you up is seriously important, because as things get worse, it’s going to start happening less and less. Consider everything from first impressions (hint – tidy up), to how you answer the phone to the comfort level of the chairs.

2. You used to create a lot of stress (convincing people to move house, one of the most stressful life events alongside divorce and bereavement). Now you should seek to minimise it, by ensuring their sale or move is painless. People are worried about the market and worried about the deal they’re making/getting. Be useful, be reassuring and most of all be honest and you'll have calm clients, ready to work with you.

3. Smarten up your act. It’s not okay to have a property list or pictures in your window that are weeks out of date. It’s not okay to promise a certain number of viewings and fail to deliver. You need to show your business in the most professional light possible because the gold rush is over and the people that still want to move house want to do so with someone they trust, not just the first agency they come to on the high street.

4. Get your people to smarten up their act too and give them the incentives to do so. I‘ve never been shown round by an agent who knew what council tax band a property was in. I’ve met some agents who didn’t even know what the rent was or when the place was likely to be available. From now on, this is unacceptable.

Make it worth their while to change their attitudes and habits. Bonuses could be paid on good feedback (see point six), or other benefits given (e.g. days off) if cash isn’t an option. Houses have sold themselves for the last few years, now your people need to learn to sell houses. Make up a ‘cheat sheet’ for each property on your books, with obvious information like rent and council tax and not so obvious stuff like good local bars, restaurants, schools etc. Encourage your people to learn this stuff but if they have to take the sheets everywhere and read them verbatim it’s still better than the standard blank stare they usually deliver when someone asks a question.

5. Change your tone of voice. Take a look at your sales and marketing copy. If it’s aggressive, outdated, or contains any jargon, then change it (or pay someone to change it). From now on you’re all about trust, transparency and expertise. Your copy should say “We know times are tough but we’re all in this together”. Reassuring clients is a priority.

6. If you don't know what it is that will reassure your clients, because you don't know what they want, then start asking them! Get permission to survey your clients before, during and after their move (particularly after; it baffles me that estate agents don’t contact people a couple of weeks after the move to see how things are going). Importantly, if you decide to ask for information from people and the feedback says changes are needed, then you’ve got to make those changes, even if they seem scary.

7. Be remarkable. This one is a winner no matter what business you’re in, but I think estate agents particularly could benefit from some good word of mouth. If you’re the only agency in town that focuses on people (because the rest of them are focused on what people carry in their wallets) then trust me, people will talk about you. Those people, the talkative ones, will be your salvation. Watch as they drive their friends, family and colleagues (all potential buyers and sellers) to your agency and then start the whole process again, recruiting these new folks to your word of mouth army with more fantastic performance.

If the market folds then it will be a scary time for estate agents, no doubt. I picture bands of them, roaming the streets, desperate for a house to sell, going feral due to lack of business. But remember, it’s an even scarier time for buyers and sellers too, which means it’s an exciting time for estate agents.

People still need estate agents (everyone I know who doesn’t own a place still wants to buy, despite the predicted problems), they’re just going to be far more picky about who they do business with. The opportunities are there for agents going forward, but only those agents who embrace the changes in the market. If you're one those agents with a worried eye on the future and the above helps get your thinking on the right track, then I’m a happy camper renter.

[UPDATE: A few hours after posting this I was going through my feed reader (not done that for way too long, 1400+ new items, ouch!) and found this from Seth, with his advice for the US real estate market. Good advice and well worth a read.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What am I doing?

What am I doing? is a question I ask myself with some frequency (virtually every day in fact). Usually that's because I've got a terrible attention span and find it's a good idea to remind myself exactly what should be getting my limited attention-allowance.

I'm finding recently though, that other people have started to ask me what I'm doing too. And they don't mean specifically at that moment in time. No, they mean what am I doing with my life.

This is a perfectly reasonable question really, given recent developments and although I've promised repeatedly to give everyone I know a heads up, I still haven't got round to it. So I decided to answer the question on the blog, ergo saving myself some time. Now when someone asks, I'll just send them here (although when my mum asks for the umpteenth time I'll have to first explain to her what a blog is, meaning time savings for that particular interaction will be negligible at best).

As I've hinted previously, I intend to pursue a new direction now that my time at Omni has come to a close. To be more specific, I'm currently setting up as a freelance consultant and will soon (as of next week, when my period of gardening leave finishes) be able to offer my services to interested parties.

The work won't be a complete departure from what I did previously as I'll be operating essentially as a marketing consultant. My focus will be on new marketing, branding and communications (fortuitously things that are both my passions and my areas of expertise).

I won't go into too much more detail than that on the blog, save to say that if you read some of my previous posts you'll get the gist of the direction I'll be taking with my consultative advice (communities, transparency, honesty, happiness etc all watchwords).

I intend to have a website dedicated to my new venture up shortly (details of which I'll post here). The blog, although obviously inextricably linked to my adventures, will hopefully remain somewhat separate. In essence, I'd like to talk about all the things that interest me here, have conversations with people and generally rant and vent as appropriate, whilst saving the more business-type stuff for the website.

I'm sure there will be some crossover, but basically what I'm saying is that I don't intend to start pimping myself out on the blog! I'll still be talking about things that are completely unrelated to my new business (or at least may seem it to people) and I'll still be looking to poke my nose into various conversations with my usual limited grasp of the facts and unlimited enthusiasm for a good ding dong. I think it's important therefore to have some demarcation of territory, if only so I don't get confused and start calling out my clients for a ruck and fawning obsequiously over my blog readers. (This is a joke, I will ruck and fawn in equal measure with my clients and my readers).

Right now, things are moving along, albeit a little slower than I would like. Pace should pick up soon I hope though. I need an accountant, a finished website and some other bits and bobs (including a bloody internet connection, which is proving problematic in the new place). Once I have those things the rest should fall into place fairly easily (or at the least I'll feel better about things so the other stuff won't matter as much).

I'm excited about this new venture because it's allowing me the freedom to focus on the things that are most important to me. I'm under no illusions about the amount of hard work that will be involved, but I'm sure someone famous once said something about the work you love being no work at all.

Thanks again for all your patience with things guys. I'll be back with another post as soon as I can get online again. Although if the internet people don't sort it out in the next couple of days you may see me on the 24 hour news channel before you see me back here, accompanied by the scrolling announcement 'Manchester man reeks bloody revenge on ISP'...