business tips

23 things we’ve learnt from 23 years in business……

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23 tips for running a business, sales, marketing as well as learning and development to make your business last 23 years....

This month our business celebrates 23 years since we officially incorporated.  Ok, that first month we weren’t really an official business. In fact for the first year we both continued to work in our TV industry jobs whilst setting up our own production company and generating enough clients and income to make the transition to that full time.

But for the 22 years following that first year we’ve made it work; there have been ups and downs as with all businesses! But we are still here! When it was our 20th birthday I wrote ’20 things I have learnt from 20 years in business’! So, I thought I would look back at that and update it (as a lot happens in 3 years, and opinions change, learnings get deeper and perspectives wider).

So whether you are in your first 3 months, 3 years or 23 years of business like us, then I hope you find this useful and let me know which you relate to most!……

1/ It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

My good friend and first business mentor and coach, Will Kintish taught me this and it’s as true today as 23 years ago when he taught me that first golden lesson! So with that in mind, be nice, be kind and be generous. It pays more dividends than anything else!

And with that, it pays to be part of networks and groups of like-minded people; not only for generating clients, but for support and friendship. That’s why I have been a part of Manchester Business Breakfast Club for over 20 years!

2/ Think about what you do in terms of ‘helping people’ rather than selling to people.

We are all in business to trade something that we can provide, that will help someone, that will help solve a problem and provide something that will makes someone’s life better, easier, less painful, more pleasurable, more efficient, more comfortable – whatever – it is solving a problem and it is helping someone. Once you start seeing what you are selling as just ‘helping people’ it makes a whole difference to your mindset in selling.

3/ Do WHAT you say you will do, WHEN you say you will do it…

This has been a value we have lived and breathed throughout our business. Come hell or highwater we will be reliable and do WHAT we say we will do, WHEN we have said we will do it; because you get remembered for being reliable or for the reverse; not so. And being reliable is something I notice (or not!) in others too!

4/ Listen more than you talk…..

I am part of a business book club group (we read books on business and discuss!) and this month appropriately, the book is the Dale Carnegie ‘How to win friends and influence people’; and in that book there are a couple of great quotes that resonate here –

 “We are interested in others when they are interested in us”

“And so I had him thinking of me as a good conversationalist when, in reality, I had been merely a good listener and had encouraged him to talk.”

I learnt this pretty quickly in business; partly because I naturally am interested in people and like to ask questions anyway. And I learnt quickly in running our business that you are more likely to get the sale if you listen more than you talk.

This value is not only true in sales; it’s good to remember this rule with colleagues, staff, and with customers on social media (ask lots of questions and you get more engagement). Which is one of the reasons that we now specialise in helping businesses use chat marketing; with interactive WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram chat channels allowing them to ask more questions and have more genuine conversations with customers; resulting in them feeling listened to.

5/ Do what you’re good at…delegate the rest and automate as much as possible!

We all only have so much time and if we’re not careful we can waste so much time dithering on the things we are not very good at. So concentrate on what you are good at and find good people who can help you do the other stuff, usually in much less time! And when you can use automation tools even better!

6/ Understand the process, even if you are delegating (or automating!)

Following point 5, even if you are delegating, understand the process. Just as bad as doing everything yourself is delegating but not understand what is being achieved by them and how they are doing it. Make sure you understand the process they are doing and how they are doing it (in an overview at least) as otherwise you leave yourself very vulnerable to people who might con you out of money, time or into services you don’t need; or make themselves so indispensable to your company that you are over a barrel. So always seek to understand the theory, strategy and the why behind something!

7/ Be authentic

One of the positive shifts of the last few years has definitely been a greater authenticity in how people do business, work in business and have interactions with customers.

Going through Covid with people having meetings from their kitchen table with their houses, kids and dogs on show, means that we are more used to seeing real people in our business.

This allows us to know people in a more genuine way, develop more trust and this feels good. We trust people more when we feel we know them more and so we have a better relationship.

We should never try to be someone we are not as it always comes back to bite us! We’ve all met people who have proclaimed to have 50 staff and 5 international offices, and when you realise they are actually working from their kitchen table with a team of freelancers you lose trust and credibility for them. But if they had told you the truth from the start you would have just thought them smart and efficient! So celebrate who you are and how you work.  It actually doesn’t matter what other people think as long as the product / service you are delivering is good and you are actually genuine in what you do.

8/ Show up, even when you don’t feel like it

We all have days when we just want to crawl back into bed! And sometimes those days turn into weeks! But we need to keep going, keep showing up and keep going even when we don’t feel like it. Often it’s when we most feel like giving up that we are about to make the biggest break through. So many people do give up that by pushing on through you are much more likely to come out the other side smiling. Not always. Business is hard and there are times that are really, really hard, but if you accept that it won’t always be sunny then it’s easier to deal with the down times.  And if you remind yourself that there is always someone who is worse off (generally!!) then it can help pout troubles into perspective.

My long- time friend and business colleague Paul Smith and I have had saying that we’ve been saying since we first met in business 20 years ago “it could be worse, we could be working in a call centre”  (no offence to anyone who works in or runs call centres of course! It’s just not what we would want to do)

9/ Be nice to your suppliers…and pay them on time

I’ve never understood the mentality of treating suppliers like crap!  Paying late, not communicating, screwing them for price! Surely your supplier helps you deliver the best product / service to your customer. And without them you would struggle. And we are all  suppliers to other companies and want to be treated well and paid on time. So just like our mums told us when we were kids; treat others as you would like to be treated yourself”!

10/ Carry a notebook around with you….even in today’s digital world!

I don’t go anywhere without my physical notebook. I know its old school, but I literally find the act of writing down ideas, plans, lists, and reviewing them in a book so much more effective than scrolling through apps, screens or digital lists. So much of my life in on my screen, coming off the screen for when I need to be creative, coming up with ideas, prioritising lists or making notes, makes my brain work better – simples! Plus my notebook never runs out of battery and never interrupts me with a notification telling me something irrelevant that I didn’t want to know at that moment!

11/ Walk and talk!

We are always the most creative when we walk! So we do all our internal meetings, planning meetings and business development meetings this way! And not only is it more productive, it’s more fun and more healthy!

12/ Under promise….over deliver

It goes without saying really doesn’t it? But how often do you feel let down by a business by under delivering on their promise? And how thrilled are you when you get a delivery plus one (as we call it here!!) you remember the company who does that for sure – especially in a world where there is a lot of under delivery! 

13/ Prioritise time off

If I’m honest, it was only when I had my kids that I really realised the critical nature of time off! In the first 10 years of business I could work non-stop, pull all-nighters, go to 10 networking meetings a day and still close 3 sales and have drinks with the team (well maybe a slight exaggeration but you get the picture!) With the kids now it’s a different juggle, and I will still work evenings and weekends if necessary but that’s usually because I’ve chosen to do something with the kids in the day. I love the fact that school holidays can be flexible and I can choose to take the kids out in the day and catch up later. And I am not restricted to a certain number of days off. Otherwise what are we doing this all for? As much as work is fun and I love it; we all know what all work and no play makes us………and no one wants to be dull or even physically and mentally unwell, which is the other thing that all work makes us!! So let’s keep our body, mind and families healthy and enjoy guilt free time off!!! It makes for a better business too!

14/ Always be learning

I have a confession. I am a bit of a course ‘junkie’!! And I definitely suffer from shiny object syndrome! If I get recommended a new fantastic course, book, podcast or programme that will teach me X,Y,Z then I’m generally in! I’m a personal development marketers dream!! (please that is not the cue to all sell to me!!!) and I love a business training book, podcast or professional conference! However, there is a point where you have to stop learning and take action! But I honestly believe you have to keep learning in life; my husband calls me a sponge and I love to be that!

(check out a recent post here with my fav business books. And please do send me recommendations to your best business books and podcasts!!! )

15/ Be honest when you don’t know something

I don’t have a problem with saying “I don’t know”. Because there is so much to know in the world how could we ever know anything? I find it odd when people are uncomfortable to admit they don’t know something. I think people are more likely to trust you if you are honest and say you don’t know but that you will find out. It also often opens up a more useful conversation than pretending you know something that you don’t really! And you always get caught out!!

16/ Anticipate what’s going on in your marketplace and ‘move your cheese’

I remember reading years ago a piece by Tony Robbins where he talked about the key to success being ‘anticipation’. If you can anticipate what is happening in your sector, to be able to better help your customers and your market then you can be one of the first to it and you can change and adapt before your competitors, making you ahead in your game.  

This is exactly what we are doing at the moment with the chat marketing revolution and using interactive automated chats for our clients to have better conversations with customers and increase sales and nurture opportunities.

Over the years we have changed, adapted, evolved and improved our offering along with what our clients want and need and I would say that is one of the key factors that has sustained our business.

‘Who moved my cheese’ is a great little book about embracing change and moving forward.

17/ Have faith

Over the years we’ve had our peaks and troughs, ups and downs. In the early years every time there was a slow time it would be a worry. If you were in a sales dip you’d be thinking it was the end! It was harder to keep the faith because you didn’t have the experience of something turning up! But as the years have gone on, I’ve found that generally something does turn up, something happens or things shift in a way that means it is generally ok. You just have to keep the faith. It might not be in the way you expected. Or the way you ideally wanted. But often it’s meant to happen in that way and you have to have faith in that. And I know that’s quite a woowoo approach to take in business; but it’s worked for me for 23 years so I’m not going to change it now!

18/ JFDI  (Just F***ing Do It!)

In all honesty I think I’ve always lived by this mantra. We had some business mentors in our first year of business who were provided to us through Salford University and their philosophy was always ‘just do it now’ so if we discussed an idea or an introduction to someone that could help they would spin round in their chair to their computer and do it now!  I think that less thinking about doing and more ‘doing’ is a really useful to get stuff done and moving quickly is a really important benefit of running a small business. You don’t have to mess around and ask a hundred committees you can J.F.D.I.!!!

19/ Ask for help

The great Steven Covey talks about ‘interdependence’ and the fact that it is much more powerful to be interdependent than independent. This means you are working with others and using the power of those around you, leaning on others and using the knowledge and power of others to help yourself. As humans we are meant to be connected to others, we are meant to work together and help each other. Life and business shouldn’t be a solo endeavour. And people love to help and be asked to help! There are so many people who have help me over the years both formally and informally with coaching, advise, support, ideas. Just a handful of those include….

20/ Good communication is everything

Good communication (and bad!) affects every area of life and business. If you are a good communicator then chances are you will get ahead and have more success.  That’s what we have helped people do over the years and why we have built a successful business; because people and businesses always need good communication. And it not only stands true for communicating with customers but for communicating with people in all areas of your life. Going back to number 4 and Dale Carnegie’s ‘how to win friends and influence people’ this is all about communication; non-verbal, verbal, physical. And communication is muh more than what you say to people. One of my favourite quotes from Maya Angelou is ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

And good communication is all about how you make people feel.

21/ Believe in yourself

As Henry Ford famously said “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right”

Belief in ourselves is critical and the words and thoughts we have with ourselves are fundamental in how we ultimately feel about ourselves and subsequently show up in our life and business.

22/ A good idea becomes a great idea when you let it out….

I love ideas and see myself as a kind of marketing alchemist; coming up with ideas, exploring ideas, trying out ideas and mostly seeing ideas through to successful fruition! Ideas are a lifeblood of any business; but they are no good in heads, on paper or in notebooks. They have to be spoken, explored, tried out and failed. That’s the only way the best ideas will be allowed to success. If you want help coming up with ideas for your digital marketing then I’d love to have a chat and come up with some ideas for you!   

23/ Business is just a game to be played, so have fun!

Some people take game playing very seriously (we’ve all played against those competitors at Christmas that we vow to never to play with again!) But games don’t have to be all serious. You can still have fun with them and win! And it’s the same with business. It doesn’t necessarily make better business to be serious. Do you make more money or get taken more seriously or have a better life if you are serious about it all the time? I don’t think so, in fact I think to the contrary! I think if we remember to look around us at the world and put things into perspective then we realise that business doesn’t have to be that serious. In fact, its best treated like a game; not only are we more likely to enjoy it if we do that we are more likely to win!!

Why are we doing all this if we are not having fun. It’s a cliché but life isn’t a dress rehearsal. We are here once people!  Let’s make it count and let’s enjoy the journey – because actually as much as there are hills along the way it’s a pretty good journey we have ourselves on here…..

 Hope my 23 musings has been of interest; I’d love to hear what key things you have learnt from your years in business…….

Helen Nurse Capture 1

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