Category Archives: On Management

Client contact

We live in the era of connectivity. The entire world, from CEOs to world leaders, is only a button click (or several) away; people are closer to one another than they have ever been.

Which is all very well – I am as keen as the next man to get in touch with the POTUS – but for the everyday businessman, what has really changed is the way in which we can communicate with our clients.

In this article, we will look at the best in class methodologies in a modern-day businessman’s armoury.

Gotomeeting – your computer screen is your business hub, and with Gotomeeting you can show your clients what’s what. Whether it’s a slideshow or product demonstration, it’s like being in the same room

Skype – only the fool pays airline ticket prices these days, with Skype you can be in the same room as your clients with nothing but an internet connection. Plus sometimes it will freeze and they’ll be pulling silly faces

gChat – it’s instant, it’s immediate and it’s just right there. Longform is dead, long live gChat

Whatsapp – see gChat, plus excellent photo-sharing capabilities, because clients love to see your snaps on the go

Twitter – because #businessneedsmorehashtags

Snapchat – best for those illicit conversations off the record. If you’re trading inside, Snapchat is the place to be

Tinder – on second thoughts maybe not

Email – the ‘90’s called, they want their mode of communication back

Telephone – what?

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The Business Alphabet

Always Be Closing

Don’t Entertain Failure

Generate Huge Innovation

Just Kill Laziness

Make Numerous Opportunities

Produce Qualified Recommendations

Synergy Triumphs Unilaterally

Value Wins Xtra



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Business travel is glamorous

I often read reports from my fellow business people on the travails of business travel, bemoaning that it is “not as glamorous as it used to be”.

I, for one, could not disagree more. Traveling for business is one of the ultimate joys for the modern businessperson, and anyone who disagrees is doing it wrong.

Let me start, if I may, on a Sunday evening. The weekend has dragged on long enough, and you are chomping at the bit for the workweek ahead. What better way to end a Sunday, than by leaving your loved ones and boarding the Heathrow Express? The world is still napping, but you are on the move.

The airport greets you like a familiar friend, your well-worn BA card breezing you through security to the Lounge, no check-in required because it’s hand-luggage all the way. A lukewarm chicken curry greets you for dinner – what bliss! You didn’t want a delicious home-cooked meal anyway.

But not for long, because you only arrived in the very nick of time – you are a business traveler, after all. It is time to board the sterile tube, alongside fellow business nomads, to you’re not even sure where. All you know is that you have an excellent series of miniature drinks to look forward to, accompanied by many tiny pretzel snacks. Make it a double G&T, easy on the T, because you’re having such a great time.

On arrival, what better way to spend one’s time than in miscellaneous airport queues? What is the purpose of your visit sir, business or pleasure? You know it’s hard to tell sometimes, what with all the fun you’re having, but business I suppose.

You know the word for taxi in a thousand languages, which is less impressive given that it’s ‘taxi’ in most of them. You climb into the back of one, indicate the address on your work Blackberry, and roll towards the hotel. Accumulated currencies of all denominations spill out of your wallet, throw a thousand Nudges at the taxi driver and hope that that will do. Just get the receipt though, or it’ll never get through expenses.

The hotel could be anywhere, but it feels like nowhere, red carpets and faux marble bestride the world. It’s so nice to fall asleep in the comfort of a bed you’ve never stayed in before. Woken by the dulcet tones of the receptionist, this is your 7am wake-up call. I defy you to find a better way to start the day.

And you’re off, filled to the brim with continental breakfast, to a nondescript conference room, where the only thing worse than the coffee is the wi-fi. The agenda seems like gibberish, but you plough on ahead, language barriers be-damned. The hours under fluorescent lamps do wonders for your skin, let alone your frame of mind.

Then you stumble out, and hail a taxi, or taksi, or teksi or taxi, and it’s back to the airport. Back to the BA lounge. Lather, rinse, and repeat, until the week is out.

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Plant fewer seeds

The life-cycle of a startup has never been more complex. Where previously ambitious twenty-somethings would bootstrap their way to legitimacy, new businesses now have a fundraising maze to navigate, from angel investments and seed money, to rounds one through “n” to IPO.

The poster-child for this changing landscape is the seed round, which has grown significantly in size and popularity:

Peeling back Silicon Valley tech deal activity since 2009 reveals that seed investments have seen a massive increase over time. In fact, seed deal share in Silicon Valley has jumped from 7% in 2009 to 29% in 2013 year-to-date – CB Insights

Presented by this new and in-vogue opportunity to take on capital, it is hard for businesses to know quite what to do, and in particular when to say no. When would you ever turn down a big fat cheque?

The answer is clear, in the eyes of this seasoned venture capitalist – small businesses need to spend less money on seeds and focus more on their core business.

Since when did so many startups have a side-interest in horticulture? I am as green-fingered as the next man, but I don’t necessarily see the benefit of raising a fund to keep you well-stocked with sunflower seeds, however good they are for your cholesterol. And don’t even talk to me about your home grown kale, as I almost certainly don’t want to hear it.

Now that is not to say that your home-grown green beans aren’t delicious, and your pumpkins do look fantastic, just in time for Halloween. But as much as I appreciate the desire for vertical integration, there is no need to plant your own. Weed out the seed rounds, and watch your business grow.

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Reducing Burn-out

Employee burn-out is a constant worry for the modern day manager. Distracted by the day to day business of sales and profitability growth, it is all too easy to forget about the human costs of doing so. But how does one avoid employee burn-out?

The most important thing is to understand the risk factors that contribute, and where you sit on the spectrum. When you look around your office, how many open fires can you see? If the answer is more than one, then maybe you should reconsider, as our research indicates that the number of fireplaces in an office block is directly proportional to the number of employees who catch on fire. Open fires increase burn-out. It reads like a truism, but it is amazing how many modern day offices operate multiple hearths in the open plan.

However that is not all you can do. Many offices don’t even have a single open fire, yet experience regular employee burn-out. This is because of hidden risk factors that may exist. I know that pile of kindling will be really useful for the next company retreat, but do you remember when it started that electrical fire? (RIP Frank). And as much as I understand the importance of the barrel of diesel (I know it saved Barry a trip to the petrol station a couple of weeks ago), it’s not only pretty flammable but is stinking the place out. These are easy wins that can reduce the number of employee fires that happen every year.

But what if the worst happens, and burn-out starts happening in a busy city office? This is where burn-out protection comes in. Everyone in the office should have a personal fire extinguisher, and should know how to use. Using espresso cups to throw water when Jamie’s coat caught on fire was as successful as you might expect, so do attend your quarterly extinguisher training course.

As a closing note, what is most important is constant diligence, as this is not just a quick fix. If you see an employee playing with matches in the office, suggest that they do it at home instead. If a colleague is spotted purchasing an office blowtorch for the break room, indicate that a Nintendo Wii might be better. By working together, and following these basic steps, your employees will be happy, and most importantly fire free.

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Coffee and Negotiation

In business, a common misconception is that negotiation is a discrete occurrence, materializing only occasionally. While it is certainly true that there are times when negotiation is very much the focus, such as discussions around sales terms or promotions, every business day is peppered with smaller negotiations.

Similarly everything you do influences the way you go about those negotiations, from your appearance to the coffee you drink. How does your Starbucks order impact your negotiation style?

Filter Coffee – you are a straight shooter, and just want to get it done. And also you just want caffeine now, thanks very much.

Espresso – you are intense, to the point, and people often mispronounce your name. You might be short in stature, but you pack a mean punch.

Frapuccino – you are not well respected as a serious negotiator, but secretly everyone loves you, and will get you what you want when nobody is looking.

Iced Skinny Flavoured Soy Latte – you want all the bells and whistles, but you would like them to be ethically sourced. You have no problem broadcasting your many talents and selling yourself, nor making your companions wait while the barista carefully drops organic ice cubes into your drink.

Hazelnut Macchiato – you are what you are, and you’re not afraid to show it. Not everyone will agree with you all the time, and some might wonder why you’re calling it a coffee at all, but you normally get what you want.

Flat White – you didn’t want to win this negotiation particularly, but you heard everyone else wants to, so you thought you would too.  You don’t really know what it entails, but it sort of tastes nice.

Double Espresso – you are a madman with no regard for human life.

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Macaroni and strategy

And now for something slightly different.

It’s midnight, the witching hour.  The world and his wife are asleep, but you are up, working on your start-up. This hard graft is what separates the men from the boys. How many users have you got right now? What on earth are you going to about that VC meeting in the morning? Your to-do list is longer than your arm and you’re a fully grown orangutan.

And there’s obviously a bigger question, too. The big question, for a new business.  Not just what you’re going to do next week, what are you going to do next year? What is your strategy? And as easy as it might be to put that on the back-burner, you should put it front and center.  Because it’s all too easy to get distracted.

Because I know what you’re thinking, it’s only natural. It’s absolutely delicious.  Cheesy and delicious.  Warm comfort food. But as attractive as it might seem now, it’s not what your modern day business needs.  Stop confusing Macaroni and Cheese with strategy.

That seems obvious, right?  But all too often I have seen entrepreneurs neglecting their business goals in favor of a steaming bowl of Mac and Cheese. It’s not just the carbohydrates (don’t get me started on the carbohydrates), it’s just not the right way to take your business from a half-baked idea to a fully-baked macaroni and cheese.

Metaphorically speaking, that is.  A metaphorical Mac and Cheese. I certainly don’t want one, I’m focused on business, and strategic thinking.  Customer acquisition! Competitor benchmarking!  Not a guilty bite of dairy delight.  By no means that, not that at all. I cannot think of anything worse.

You need to buckle down though, son.  Get to it on that Mac of yours, and I don’t mean macaroni. How are you going to convince that VC that you’re legit if you stink of Stilton? I know, of course, that Stilton is a delicious cheese, one of the best.  But I let alliteration get the better of me.  I’m sorry about that.

Would I like bacon on top, I hear you ask? Of course I would like bacon.  On my Excel model, that is. Not on a tasty and filling pasta-based treat. I only ever analyze user KPIs in Excel with some tasty bacon sprinkled on top.  My IT guy won’t thank me, but it helps me do business for some reason. It’s nothing at all to do with all the empty food cartons all over the floor.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.

What do you mean, Mac and Cheese problem? I am a serious business man.  Just talk to my many business associates.  I go to meetings on a regular basis, and do more email than you’ve had hot dinners. Just because a man enjoys an occasional takeaway doesn’t mean he is not fit for the business world. How dare you make that accusation, on this, Mac and Cheese Monday! It’s like this day means nothing to you at all.

You impudent brat, coming in here, talking Mac and Cheese like you own the place. No. I have been eating Mac and Cheese since before you were born. You walk in here like you’re made of cheddar, when you’re not.  You’re a poxy entrepreneur and I am the big cheese. I am a Big Mac.

Ok, ok.  You were right the first time.  I know it, you know it.  You didn’t even mention Mac and Cheese earlier, that was all me. You don’t know man, back in the 90’s. Everyone was doing Mac and Cheese.  It was like a drug, just so delicious.

Please leave me, I can’t bear it.  I can’t help you with your business, I’m a wreck. All hyped up on dairy and carbs.

But don’t take the Mac and cheese, though. Please. I’m going to get me some of that.

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Not a hint of blue sky

The last five years has seen a transformation in the way in which individuals, organizations and companies store their information. Where previously people relied on immediately out-of-date server rooms, now more and more information is being stored in the “cloud”, outsourcing a non-core headache to the professionals.

While the emergence of cloud computing has made life more dynamic and flexible for millions of people, there is one small corner of the business world that is less than impressed. Rick Richmond is a 45-year old ‘business guru’, who has seen his specialist area of blue-sky-thinking dwindle into nothingness.

“Before the arrival of cloud computing, life was a breeze,” he explains to HBR, “but the growth of the cloud has made things much more difficult. How am I supposed to generate disruptive business insights if I don’t have any blue sky to work with? I need a bit of sunshine, but now everything is overcast.”

His frustration is shared by other blue sky thinkers, who liken their plight to that of the record player. “We’re the old guard, doing business the way it’s meant to be, just saying wacky stuff that we think might be true” says Larry Wilkinson, a management consultant from New York. “Now they’ve taken away our blue sky, and on top of that big data is making us rely on ‘facts’ and ‘analysis’, instead of just crazy disruptive ideas. Life is tough right now.”

Meanwhile cloud computing advocates are unapologetic. “A business storm is coming,” says Cloud Evangelist Phil Sims. “And we will not rest until the entire internet is covered in cumulonimbus. The days of the blue sky thinkers are numbered”

What of other traditional business disciplines? Envelope pushers are long since extinct, driven out with by the growth of email and the concurrent death of the post. But one group of business thinkers have been resilient in the face of new technologies. “People thought that there wouldd come a time when thinking outside the box wasn’t enough,” says marketing manager and outside-the-box thinker Sally Brady. “But as soon as everyone thinks they’re outside the box, then being outside the box is suddenly the accepted wisdom. Which means you are back inside another, larger box. So outside the box thinking is here to stay.”

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Business is War: Over the top

As previously discussed, the Hardly Business Review is a strong proponent of war as a metaphor for the business world. In this post, our resident historian brings learnings from the First World War to your modern-day business

The First World War was a human calamity of epic proportions, claiming almost ten million lives from 1914 to 1918, with trench warfare the best remembered mode of combat.

The definitive war of attrition, with two well-equipped combatants grinding each other down over time, trench warfare could in some ways be compared to today’s smartphone clash of the titans, or the daily battle for the consumer in supermarket aisles.

The trenches demanded the attention of the finest military minds of a generation, as both sides inched to get the upper hand, so it goes without saying that the modern business leader has a lot to learn from his military forebears.

The first change you can apply to your business is structural. If Field Marshall Haig didn’t need to be near the frontlines, then why on earth should you be anywhere near your workforce? Leadership from afar was a great success in World War I, inspiring great team loyalty, and it will likely benefit your business too. Move the CEO’s office to the Bahamas, and you’ll see a huge boost in morale.

You can also learn a lot from the hiring model adopted in the First World War.  The British Army instituted a “conscription” system in 1916, and saw an instant boost in employee numbers. If your business applies the same system to new hires, you will see significant sales growth, assuming constant revenue per employee. Don’t waste time trying to attract good applicants, just put in place a system where they are obliged by law and national duty to work for you and you’ll have no problems.

There are similar lessons to be learned for your HR department, once your veritable army of employees has been hired.  Today’s workforce is cosseted, with everyone bemoaning their work-life balance. The trenches, by contrast, were rife with disease, where the balance of interest was in terms of life and death. Today’s economy barely wobbled through the recession, while the men in the trenches went at it tooth and nail for five years.  The implication is clear: if you want a tireless workforce, worry less about personal development, and more about spreading cholera and dysentery.

What about implementing your strategy? Field Marshal Haig et al can also help you here too. While it may appear that speed of execution is crucial, the Generals of the Great War actually favoured a slow approach when going “over the top”, approaching oncoming fire in a measured and orderly fashion.  And while this tactic admittedly led to huge loss of life, the Allies did win the war (in the end). So stop worrying about first movers advantage, and adopt a snail’s pace. If it’s good enough for military men of yore, it’s good enough for you.

The final aspect of business strategy where the trenches can reassure you is innovation. In the land of technology, innovation is king, but what if none of your projects get off the ground?  What if all your new ideas fail? The key is not to worry, and to just try the same thing over again. Field Marshal Haig steadfastly believed, no matter how many times it failed, that  walking his soldiers slowly over the top would topple the German fortifications, and he was right (in the end). If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it’s just bad luck! If one advertising campaign fails, just run it again. If a new brand falls flat, give it another go.  It will surely work this time round.

So it is organisational change and strategic reassurance we receive, from these great military men. Heed this advice, and after four years and significant loss of life, your business will achieve its potential.

Hat-tip: Blackadder

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Where is your actual business?

In my work as a Venture Capitalist, I come across a lot of startups, across a wide range of sectors. While the businesses I see are incredibly variable, the meetings I have with them are often almost exactly the same, opening with a bit of preamble, followed by much discussion about the company’s business model.

This is a pet peeve of mine. In all my years in the industry, I have never worked out why so much time is spent on models of businesses, instead of working on the actual thing.  What are these models good for, and why do we keep creating them when there is a business to be run?  In the very wise words of Derek Zoolander, why are we building tiny businesses for ants?

That is not to say that the business world is the first sphere of human endeavour to make this mistake.  Just look at biology, where people have wasted years of research on evolution, despite the fact that it’s only a theory. I could sit here making up theories all day! Yet scientists continue to beaver away on the basis of some historical figure’s half-baked idea, proving that some habits are hard to break.

So how can you avoid this business model mistake? The only way is to go out and do it! Don’t tinker in the toy shop – build your business to scale, and do it straight away. If investors ask about your business model, point them to your business actual. They will have no choice but to be convinced.

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