Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Pressure and stress are not the same…


thanks to
This is going to be a short blog because I’m under pressure! The particular pressure I’m under is “good pressure” and is largely self-inflicted. As markets grow more difficult and opportunities for growth become harder to find in a shrinking or barely-growing economy, my response is to put myself under good pressure and it’s paying off now as it always has in the past.

Not settling for a comfortable workload is a key part of growing a business and an attitude which I advocate to clients all the time. It improves your attitude, makes you necessarily more efficient as careful time planning is vital and – BIG ADVANTAGE – it bolsters your image and gives you an aura of success which your down-in-the-mouth competitors lack! As you motor from one job to the next, it is virtually impossible to show the world dead eyes or to look as if you are out of the game.

 I see a lot of dead eyes these days in people who mistake “stress” for “good pressure”. Don’t pander to stress would be my advice. Don’t even name it - just get on with your business under the serene influence of “good pressure”. Once you’ve started you won’t look back…


 PS This blog took 30 minutes to conceive, tidy up and push out. The positive effects of the work will far outlast a paltry half hour, as I’m sure you can imagine.


Thursday, 4 October 2012

National Poetry Day 2012

For National Poetry Day 2012 – I have penned the following contribution:

What’s the good of poetry if you don’t read it or say it aloud?
It’s for posh people and arty types – not ordinary folk from the crowd

Actually – I disagree! The whole point of it is it’s specifically for you and me!
Don’t worry about rhyme – assonance is not a crime

Do it tongue in cheek – just be sure you have a good time!

Jeff Hardman

Thursday, 28 June 2012

“Original thinking is good for business”

I don’t know about you but I find writing original thoughts on a piece of blank paper (albeit electronic paper, so to speak) very challenging and yet very rewarding. Somewhere in that very simple thought are, I hope, the seeds for this blog…

At the end of my last piece I said I’d get back to you regarding this        idea which surely everyone in business has heard of – namely that
the arrangement of two ears and one mouth which we’re all blessed
with at birth is perfectly aligned to the ratio in which they should
be used in relationship building. It’s so appealing to me for a
number of reasons:

·         I love it because over the years it has helped me to build strong links with clients I have come to respect, befriend and learn from

·         It encourages proactive listening which is a device for mining intelligence that even the prospect may not know he or she possesses until encouraged to share by the respectful blanket  of listening he or she is gently wrapped in

·         The observance of the 2:1 rule gives you time to think so that when you do get your turn to contribute there is a far greater chance of saying something which is not only intelligent but also aligned with or mirroring the information you just received

·         It’s impossible to do this without a very good chance of enjoying the process of relationship building and your up-beat mood will be conveyed clearly to your considerable advantage by your body language

·         And finally the greatest attribute of all regarding this dictum is that it encourages mutual respect and fosters the ability to weigh all arguments fully before coming to a decision

So I think I’ve just found the link to the start of this blog – going into a conversation with both ears fully open is a bit like writing from scratch on a beautiful white sheet of paper. You don’t know where your thoughts are going to take you, you are prepared to sift, weigh and analyse before you commit to forming and expressing your own opinion. I recommend you try it – the blogging and the 2:1 thing. Very often we miss opportunities to learn from simply thinking, listening or reflecting and the answers coming from these types of sources are often far more valuable and offer much more insight than you might imagine.

Oh and don’t forget, you’ll be able to say it’s all your own work and the results will be there forever for you to enjoy and for all to see and share. Just for a change, don’t google it – think or consult, stand back and see what happens!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Stories, Relationships and Business

This blog’s about stories – simple, plain and unadorned stories. I read a lot about back-stories on the web these days – I’m not quite sure what they are but anyway the ones I’m going to talk about are just stories of the kind that most of us have listened to in childhood, told to friends and our own children in our younger years and now relate to others thus bringing the whole thing full circle.

Stories have existed since long before formal literature came on the scene. People have always wanted to hear and tell stories and of course the oral tradition of storytelling around the hearth in the home was able to flourish without the tiresome problem of having to read and write. But the real beauty of stories is that they are open to all – you don’t need a degree to tell a good story and in fact it’s probably better if you haven’t because that might just get in the way of forming that vital bond with the people who are listening.

All well and good, but can storytelling serve a greater purpose than just entertainment or a pleasurable diversion? In my opinion yes! Stories can and often do make an appearance in the world of business and ignoring their power is to miss a very considerable trick! There’s a very trite dictum in business that goes something along the lines of “make friends first and plans second” and to my mind making friends (business contacts), storytelling and relationships are and should be inextricably linked. I know this because the use of storytelling has been one of the main building blocks of my business practice for years and I'm glad to say that the concept hasn’t let me down yet.

Finally, I’ll let you into a secret – I’m not a very good storyteller because I tend to forget the detail and sometimes even lose the thread or forget the “punch line”. Luckily for us all, telling the story proficiently is not the main thing – the main thing is sharing the story. You can do this without being word perfect, clued-up or as witty as a top comedian. In fact, making mistakes and losing the plot occasionally simply makes your story more endearing, engaging and therefore memorable. The mistakes reveal that you are human and perhaps in need of some empathy like most other people in the world. If your listener shows empathy, shares your discomfort and supports your stumbling efforts you can both enjoy the ending of the story together in a shared experience. Without any real pain and often with the pleasure of a shared moment, a relationship has been built and its chances of survival from this very early beginning are good because the storyteller and the listener have both revealed something of themselves, found common ground and put in the first of what hopefully will be a very strong foundation for a lasting and mutually beneficial business relationship.
I’ve just realised I haven’t talked about the possibilities here for getting the ratio of listening to speaking in the right proportion with all the implications that offers in terms of learning vital facts about your future customer and friend – next blog I think…

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Amman, Algiers and Amsterdam

You’re probably wondering what sort of blog this is going to be with a strange title like this. Apart from starting with the letter “A” – what do these three capital cities have in common and why have they been singled out? Well, in fact they represent three phases in my export career which began in 1977 and shows no sign of petering out even today in 2012. Amman was one of the places where I learnt the basics of export trade, working on large deals involving many thousands of tonnes of titanium dioxide for the huge and then still burgeoning Jordanian paint manufacturing industry. Jordan was a fascinating and exciting country but not a particularly easy market to get to grips with for someone in their early 20’s, fresh out of university, inexperienced in business and struggling to build a career. So much was unfamiliar, unstructured, and risky and how on earth was I going to forge a business relationship with these people about whom I know so little? Of course I persisted, did my homework, consulted with more experienced colleagues and generally “got stuck in”.

My second port of call was Algiers – here the business involved was altogether much more significant due to the buying power of the wealth generated for Algeria by her natural resources of oil and gas. This represented a great opportunity for me but equally of course it represented a significantly bigger challenge as literally every supplier in the world was now chasing the same business I was after. Again, whilst it was fascinating to explore the market - “la ville blanche”of Algiers with its colonial French architecture, Berber souks and spicy lamb tagine cuisine, Algeria was a difficult market to do business with because of its sprawling and yet intricate web of state-run bureaucracy. It was no easy matter to locate the correct contacts, make effective presentations and ultimately nigh on impossible to win the hearts and minds of a purchasing committee that often involved 20 or more people all talking at once and ignoring or seeming to ignore what was put before them. However, I persisted (this time I am working in the construction industry where project selling for a turnkey job could often span many years from design to construction and handover) and was duly rewarded for use of my weapons of choice in this battle - patience and tenacity.
Following that experience I was bitten so badly by the overseas bug that I took on a contract involving 4 years spent living and working in Riyadh before finally returning to the UK in the late 1980’s to resume exporting but from a UK base. I spent a number of years working for British companies in various European and North American cities before setting up Barnhill Marketing in 1999.

And so, to the Amsterdam phase. This refers to a period when I was fortunate enough to start working as a consultant and was given the opportunity to pass on some of the export knowledge and skill I had acquired over the years. My first major client was a pet food manufacturer where we managed to grow the business via international trade which originally was done only on an accidental basis. By exhibiting in key overseas markets, the main one of which was the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association in Amsterdam, we were together able to expand, diversify and ultimately transform the company into the successful and fast-growing organisation it is today with links into many countries around the world being a cornerstone of its sustainability. This consultancy phase meant I was able to cast my net wider than before and found myself helping exporters all over Wales via the Welsh Government’s International Trade Development business support programme which ran non-stop for approximately 5 years. Today I am delighted to be able to keep this work going through a variety of means such as my Chairmanship of the North East Wales Export Forum, my own private sector export clients and funded programme coaching such as Leadership and Management or BIS Coaching for Growth.

And finally I can conclude this blog by simply saying that all of the positive outcomes mentioned above have come about for two main reasons:
·         An instinctive and intuitive love of all things overseas ignited by a passion for languages
·         A desire to take the harder route in the first place and ignore the softer option
By going to Amman and Algiers I was giving myself a considerable challenge - made even harder by the fact that I was offered a post in Paris at the same time which really tested my resolve! I was determined to follow the more challenging path then and I’m still determined to do the same today. I’m trying to challenge myself every day and in my opinion it’s not a bad way of ensuring your business stays fresh, ahead of the game and, in the last analysis, fit for survival. In these times of real economic hardship I would suggest that my “export” strategy could profitably be adopted in many areas of business, management and leadership. The parallels with other areas of life are also legion but perhaps most appropriately in the world of sport which gives us a short mantra to end the blog with which I think is particularly apt for our purposes and also has the added advantage of being very easy to remember when it’s needed:
“No pain – no gain”

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Why I hate experts and gurus

If I were a business guru this blog would probably contain lashings of easily forgettable jargon, a slick exposition of incredibly weak arguments and a mind-numbingly facile set of conclusions laced with impenetrable or deliberately obscure terminology!

Luckily for you, dear reader, I’m not and never will be a self-styled business guru or even an expert. I’ve got some good reasons for this and I’d like to share them with you now. They are conclusions that I’ve arrived at over years of hard-fought experience with a good percentage of mistakes and cock-ups made along the way. Learning by mistakes has reinforced my intuitive feeling that modesty and humility in business is, even today or perhaps even especially today, a good idea.

There are three main reasons for my thinking and I’ve numbered them below in what I believe is the correct order of importance. I’ve also included a few simple notes for each point to try and show that for me these things really matter. I believe they should be fundamental to all of us if we’re serious about the contribution our own business success can make to the national economic recovery. Attitude of mind is rightly often seen as a major contributor to a successful businessperson’s make-up – if you’ve got your attitude right wouldn’t it be a good idea to make a genuine attempt to help others fix theirs?

  • Experts and gurus can be intimidating and how on earth can you build up rapport – the single most important part of a sound business relationship – if you frighten your potential audience? The person you are addressing probably has problems, a lack of confidence and needs to learn but if you are trying hard to preserve your “expert” status can you really understand what it’s like to be in your customer’s shoes? Can you show you really understand their problems and show the empathy needed to win hearts and minds?
  • Experts and gurus can be confusing because they deliberately use language that’s difficult to understand. They make themselves inaccessible at the very time when their “customer” needs light shining on a problem not a further hurdle to overcome before that damned problem is solved! Long and complicated words or expressions are used, often with a bit of foreign language chucked in for good measure, to make the banal sound impressive, scientific and more powerful as an argument. Sadly the reverse is the case – vanity is being served and the argument remains unwon and everyone loses!
  • Experts and gurus can be wrong-headed, simply seeking to raise their own value and possibly further their own careers by using you as a test case or case study to demonstrate their own genius.
In summary, I would say there is a world of difference between being an expert and calling yourself an expert. Of course it’s essential that you know what you’re talking about (or as an “expert” might say – demonstrate full engagement with SME) but why not let others judge if you’re an expert or not and you simply get on with striving to be and do the best.

By the way, I gather SME in the context I’ve used it above means Subject Matter Expertise not Small and Medium Enterprise – glad I could clear that one up for you!

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Ideas are everywhere!

To my way of thinking, “ideas are everywhere” is a brilliant little catchphrase. Like all good ideas, it’s extremely simple, easy to remember and yet very powerful in the potential it contains. At first glance it might seem obvious that ideas are everywhere – at least until you need some… I heard the phrase recently at a Winning Pitch High Growth Foundation master-class from keynote speaker Alexis Giles, New Business Development Principal at Google Inc. California. It was one of her ten top tips which you can see here in full at Winning Pitch MD John Leach’s blog: I’m very grateful to Alexis for bringing this key little phrase into sharp focus for me and whenever I need new ideas now I always think of this expression.  By doing this I ensure that I consult far and wide, ask for as many opinions as I can find and make a conscious effort to include even the “silliest” ideas before arriving at the stage of narrowing down my options to enable me to take a key business decision.

It seems to me that heeding the phrase “ideas are everywhere” can make your decision-making process inclusive, far-reaching and even, dare I say it, more fun as it throws up all sorts of wacky ideas for your consideration! By consulting people you would not normally consider “ideas potential” for your business you are thereby naturally making the whole process more random. You are increasing your chances of coming up with something which is left field, innovative and bold enough to make an impression on the market – all things which a good many of us either find difficult to do, can’t do or pay someone else exorbitant sums of money to do for us!
So, why does the simple phrase “ideas are everywhere” work so well both as a memory-jogger and as a kind of mini-mantra? Well, there’s a lot of precedent if you think about it, the most famous probably being “veni, vidi, vinci.” When it comes to oratory, Cicero apparently knew a thing or two and he reckoned doing things in threes was definitely the way to create impact. I would agree with him based on my findings over the years in all things business related. That goes for whether it’s a phrase like “yes you can” (whispered to your self before an important meeting to summon confidence and alter the mind-set appropriately to induce the correct brain programming to take over) or whether it’s a concept based around three elements as for example in design, a sales pitch or a pleasingly balanced approach to displaying your business capability over the internet. Here’s a link to the website of a High Growth client that I worked with last summer: Look how strikingly they use graphics and text in groups of three – check this out and I think you’ll agree it’s very appealing visually and makes a very compelling case for the internet visitor to enjoy and absorb.

By the way, I’m sure you will all have noticed how I’m practicing what I preach in this blog post – I tried to make it interesting, entertaining and informative in three paragraphs – let’s hope I succeeded!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Another Place

A few years ago Antony Gormley persuaded Sefton Council to let him place 100 cast-iron figures along the foreshore at Crosby. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about providing inspiration for business people when he did that. But that’s certainly what he did for me when I took my family to visit Another Place this Christmas. What’s more, I think his statues give us a brilliant example of what value visiting “another place” can give. Indeed if you are someone battling to succeed in business then simply being in “another place” can be the key that unlocks your creativity, reveals a new angle or allows you to put an old problem into perspective…

As I see it there are at least 5 major benefits you can enjoy if you take the trouble to visit any major sculpture in such a natural and often dramatic setting. You’ll probably have different ones and maybe even more but see what you think of mine. I hope my experience can help you to find your “other place”.
Here are my top 5 points:

·         Inspiration comes from just seeing things done very differently and in a remarkably bold way

·         Sculptures like these often provide more questions than answers and thus encourage you to keep faith in a business process which often does the same and where answers are similarly hard to find

·         Personal interpretation is challenging and fosters original thought, steering you well away from the familiar patterns and ruts of everyday business thinking

·         Community and family values are enjoyed and reinforced in a shared experience which is novel, memorable and therefore of lasting value

·         A vigorous walk along a wind and rain swept coastline provides an excellent chance to live by the motto “a healthy mind in a healthy body”
I just hope when you visit Another Place that the wind is blowing a little less vigorously since we managed to visit on the windiest day of the year and consequently enjoyed a sand-blasting experience too which will also not be forgotten easily!