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This blog is a longer version of a talk I gave to my colleagues at Lewes Women In Business – an independent women’s networking group of which I am a co-founder. A couple of months ago I was sitting at my desk scrolling through my Facebook feed for the umpteenth time that day, trying to glean something positive from the largely negative posts that kept popping up. And then something snapped. I just couldn’t come back from one more post about the effect humankind is having on the environment, the increase in far-right politics across the globe, another story about knife/gun crime and the youth.Inwardly I collapsed and shut down. I did the only thing I knew how to do at that particular moment and I withdrew in order to protect myself. Maybe you have experienced something similar when things have become too overwhelming? Going inward and withdrawing are valid survival mechanisms when we cannot cope with the outside world. Sometimes we need to go small and in that moment I felt utterly powerless in the face of all the things I cannot change; the Trump administration, climate change, Brexit.

So I allowed myself for stay in that place for a day or so. But then something else happened. I got angry, really angry, and this set me on a different train of thought; instead of focusing on where I am powerless, what would it look like if I decided to focus on where I did have power and go with that?

I confess, I did have a little help in the form of Michelle Obama’s autobiography “Becoming”. I was inspired by many things she wrote about and her awareness of how she found her own power but I was especially struck by what her husband said to their daughters when Trump was elected:

"'Societies and cultures are really complicated … This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it's messy. And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding.

And you should anticipate that at any given moment there's going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn't stop … You don't get into a fetal position about it. You don't start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.'"

[From an interview with David Remmick in The New Yorker]

The truth is I had gone fetal, and while that allowed me to survive in that moment, it didn’t enable me to thrive. Going fetal is the antithesis of being creative. We cannot be expansive from this place. So I took his advice and started to look at the places I could move forward, focusing on where I had agency and who I needed to talk to in order to get things moving.

When people come to see me for business coaching, they often feel as if they have lost their power, or maybe misplaced it. Clients often tell me they have become overwhelmed with choices and feel paralysed and unable to make informed decisions. So they have done what we all do in those times and have fallen back on what they know, which may be old ways of thinking and old patterns of behaviour.

Going small is fine for a while but because we tend to go inward and think only of ourselves, it will ultimately have an impact on our businesses, and out lives.

So what does power mean and how do we use our power appropriately? Let’s start with a definition. Of ‘power’ the OED says:1. The ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way.2. The capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events
In a scientific sense power is the transfer of energy from one place to another, it is about movement and change, so another way of thinking about power is to focus on how we continue to move forward, rather than stay in a static place, unable to change.

Appropriate and inappropriate power 

A lot of the conversations we have around appropriate power are the same ones we might have around assertiveness (see my blog on assertiveness here). Using our power appropriately means that we ‘direct’ and ‘influence’ others, not manipulate, coerce, impose or ‘over’ power. This is akin to the idea of assertiveness where the best position is for us to take is, “I’m Okay, you’re okay”. Not “I’m okay, you’re not okay”.

Just like assertiveness using our power requires high levels of self-awareness, and a constant checking in with oneself as to how our behaviour affects others. When we are in our power and we allow others to be in theirs, we operate from a positive place and take responsibility for our actions. This is what all good leaders do.

Sadly in our world today and especially on the political stage (naming no names but I can think of one person in the American administration who is a good example of this), we are seeing glaring examples of poor, damaging leadership because of the way in which people are using their power inappropriately, often driven by high levels of fear and narcissism. When people feel inadequate, weak or are lacking in confidence, their sense of agency tips over in to control, intimidation and manipulation. They may have learned and seen evidence early on that this is the way to get things done.  This kind of power is fragile as it is constructed around their fears and insecurities and is operating exclusively from a, “I’m okay, you’re not okay” position.

Using your resources

A true, real sense of our own power comes from understanding who we are and what inner resources we have used to get to where we are today. Michelle Obama is a really good example of this. She was always a quiet, bookish type that avoided confrontation and chaos. She was the type of person who would sit back and let others speak up while she quietly observed situations and people.

It’s true that without her husband she would not have dreamed of being involved in politics in any way, it being so at odds with the kind of person she is. However, even before Barack got in to politics and their lives took them in the direction it did, she looked at the places she could push forward in order to help people in a way that worked for her. Early on in her career, and at each stage in her life, she used what influence she had to focus on her passion for social justice, education and social mobility. Happily for us, and many others, the influence she had and has grew and grew. She never chose to focus on what she couldn’t do she just kept asking what she could do.

Why Reluctant Michelle Obama Agreed to Let Barack Obama Run for President | Oprah’s Book Club | OWN - YouTube
 So if you feel you have misplaced your power and aren’t sure how to move forward, think about the following:

 

  1. Tell your own story and allow others to do the same – when we feel powerless we have a tendency to see our whole lives through that prism, and this can lead to inaction. Going back and looking at when we last felt brave, fearless and in our power can help us to access that energy again. It reminds us not to define our lives through how we might be feeling in this moment. When we feel in our power it enables us to be generous and look at how we can help others tell their stories, and help them see where their power lies.Look at your own story and what has brought you to this point. Yes you will have no doubt had some help and focus on where and when you felt powerful and used that power in a positive way.

  2. Use your networks – when we think of using our networks we often concentrate on our immediate networks- friends, family, colleagues but actually it is often their networks that are the most useful to us. They are larger than we can possibly imagine and are full of potentially like-minded, useful people whom we have never met. So use these networks and let people know what you do.It’s amazing what can happen when we have conversations. I’ve seen evidence of this in my life and work many, many times, so don’t be afraid to share your dreams and aspirations with the world. As the saying goes, “ We are all blind beggars sitting on a pile of gold.”Those networks may well uncover some hidden gold.

  3. See the bigger picture – if you feel you have gone small think about what your higher purpose is. What I say to my clients is think about what you want your legacy to be. Think about why you have chosen to do what you do. I don’t mean money, which is a consequence of what we choose to do, but about what you were put here to do. When you are clear about why you do something, it enables people to make an emotional connection with what you do and in turn inspires, influences and motivates them.When you work out what your why is, use that as your starting point.  Be expansive and remember that power is about movement and change.

  

Remember real power is built on strong emotional foundations. People who feel in their power display high levels of humility and do not feel the need to brag . I’ll leave you with some words from Michelle Obama:
“It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.”
— Becoming - Michelle Obama If you would like to find out how business coaching and mentoring can help you and your business, then book a 30-minute phone call here. Let’s talk!
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How do you feel when you hear the words ‘business plan’? Do you feel bored at the prospect of writing one? Guilty because you feel you should have one or just downright terrified at the prospect of starting one? Or like me do you see it as an exciting opportunity to deepen your understanding of your business, your clients and your USP? No?! That’s just me then….But seriously, business plans have a really bad reputation in the small and independent business community, whereas the large corporate entities just treat them as part of their culture. So what is going on here?

You probably won’t be surprised to know that out of the all the workshops I run, my one on business planning (Called ‘Learn to love your business plan’) is by far the most popular. This is because most people who start an independent business don’t go out and get a qualification in business studies first so they often lack confidence in their business skills and approach business plans with some trepidation.

When I was conducting research for this workshop I came across a book (whose name I will not reveal) extolling the virtues of a business plan and what needs to go in one, but then on the very first page it said “If you run a small business there is no need to write a business plan”!

And therein lies the rub. If a business plan is seen purely as a route to investment (as it is by many people in the wider business world), or something that you need to have to show shareholders, then indeed for a small independent business it will be hard to see why you need to invest time in writing one, and what having one will do for you and your business.

So in this blog I will explain what a business plan really is, make a compelling case for why as a small business owner you need one, and break down what it really needs to contain.

What is a business plan? And why do you need one?

In general I would say that the people that come to see me for one of the following reasons: 

  • “I know what I want to achieve and have a clear vision, but I’m not sure how to get from where I am to where I want to be, and the steps along the way”  (Strategy)

  • “I have been in business for a while, but now I find I’m confused about what to do next.” (Goals/Strategy)

  • “I’ve been in business for several years and want to diversify/break in to a new market.  How do I find the time to do that and still continue to run my business?” (Product/service diversification/ Delegation/Market research) 

  • “I’ve been in business for a while but the nature of what I do/deliver has changed and I feel confused about my brand identity”. (Branding)

  • “I’ve recently expanded, which is exciting but the current infrastructure hasn’t caught up with this growth so consequently I don’t have things in place and I’m working all the time!” (Strategy/Sustainability)

  • “I’m a start-up business and don’t have any experience in business, but I have a great idea and don’t know how to execute it.” (Business planning/Strategy/Market research)

  • “I’ve been in business for a long time but I’ve never felt like I earn enough money and recently I’ve noticed I’m not getting as much new business as I once was.” (Goals/Sustainability/Market research) 

  • “I’ve got a potential investor that is interested in my business and they told me I need write a business plan.” (Investment/Strategy/Market research)

If you feel like any of these describe you, then you probably need a business plan, or need to update your existing one. A business plan is essentially a road map for your business and if you don’t have one then you might find yourself grappling with the same issues on a daily basis, and that can zap your energy and make you feel like you are wading through treacle.

At their best, business plans are living, breathing things that provide a repository for everything you need to know about your business on every level.

They provide answers to the ongoing questions that you have about your business, and what problem it solves for whom. They also:

  • Provide a template for the copy you will use in your marketing

  • Provide the copy for what you say about yourself and your business on your website – your brand story (and your elevator pitch)

  • Clarify who your competitors are and what distinguishes your business from theirs

  • Clarify your USP (Unique Selling Point)

  • Give you a logistical and strategic plan

  • Hone and refine your brand values

Not only this, but they also provide the opportunity to set goals around income and profit, as well as providing the information a potential investor needs, if you are looking for one.

When you have a plan for your business, you are much less likely to waste time and resources as you are clear about your strategy and what you activities you need to focus on day-to-day. And all it will cost you is an up front investment your time.

“Thanks Marisa for a positive approach to business plans - much more interesting to view it as an opportunity for strategic planning - I like that.”
“Thanks so much for this mornings workshop Marisa. It has totally changed my perception of what I thought a business plan had to be.”
— Business Plan Workshop Participants Storytelling

Years ago I had a client who ran a creative business. He loved what he did, but he didn’t feel like he was earning enough money, and wanted to raise his profile so he could find an agent to help him take things to the next level.

At the end of the first session, after we had spent some time getting to know each other and finding out what was important to him, I said I was going to send him some questions from my bespoke business plan template to start to answer some of the questions he had about his business, to which he replied “I f***ing hate business plans”! Now while this could have been disastrous for our coaching relationship, it was actually great place to start the process.

Business plans come with a lot of baggage for all the reasons I have already mentioned, but they are in fact nothing more than a way of telling our story to the people that need to hear it, in a compelling and concise way.

When we re-frame writing a business plan as purely a way of telling our business story and providing a narrative for the community of people we wish to help then it starts to take on a new meaning. We can see it not only as a process we can enjoy to help us achieve the things we want, but also as a way of saving precious time and money so we avoid trying to take on running every aspect of our business with no strategy in place.

As I explained this to my client and encouraged him to see a business plan as a process rather than being about the end product, it took on a new meaning for him and made it something that was much more fun and enjoyable than he had anticipated. It provided answers to the ongoing questions that he had about his business, and what problem it solved for whom.

So if you agree that that sounds pretty good, then what are the next steps and how do you begin the process? What does a good business plan really need to contain?

How do you write a business plan?

If you Google “business plan” you will bring up innumerable templates and advice about how to fill them in, and to be perfectly honest, a lot of them do look pretty dull. They tend to focus mainly on the finances, which while being extremely important are not the whole picture of your business and do not bring out any of the storytelling element of the business, which is so important for brand storytelling and how we decide to market ourselves.

It is for this reason that over many years in business I have developed my own template of what I feel a business plan needs to contain to answer the questions that the owner of the business has and what they need to know to move forward.

   

What exactly does it need to contain? 

1)   Describe your product or service – this section is about your customer and the describing the journey they go on when they start thinking about using your business. (Avoid jargon!)

2)   Describe who your target market are and provide evidence that there is a need for your business.

3)   Research the competition – look at who they are and how what you offer is different to their offering.

4)   Marketing and promotion – what activities are you going to undertake to reach your audience and how are you going to monitor that activity?

5)   Pricing and costing – How have you arrived at your selling price and does it allow you to make a profit once your overheads have been paid?

6)   Operations and logistics – How will the service be delivered, by whom and for how many hours a week?

7)   Sales and cash flow forecast – How have you reached your forecasted sales figures? How are you going to monitor cash flow? (This will also require a spreadsheet)

8)   Admin, legal requirements, insurance, taxation – Show that you understand what your legal responsibilities are and what taxation you will be liable for.

 

Business Plan Headings Infographic

 

Lastly, a few words about what is called the Executive Summary. This is usually the first section of your business plan, where you set the scene for your audience, but it should be the last thing you write once you have worked through all the other sections and have a deeper understanding of your business.


So that’s it in a nutshell. But before you roll up your sleeves and get started, remember 3 things:

  1. It is going to take time so don’t rush it. If you do you may wish a vital learning opportunity.

  2. A business plan is not linear so don’t worry about jumping between sections.

  3. Tackle it in small chunks rather than trying to fill it all in at once.



The best business plans aren’t long or complex with loads of jargon. They are punchy and concise and contain precisely what you need to know. And they are never a waste of time.

If you feel like you would like some help with a business plan using my own tried and tested template then click here to book a 30 minute phone consultation and find out how coaching can help.
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How does your business and brand convey integrity to your customers and clients? From the Latin for “wholeness” or “completeness”, Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, or moral uprightness. It is a personal choice to hold one's self to consistent standards.The culture and values of a business rests upon the standards to which it holds itself and this affects every part of the organization from the staff, to the customers and all the business operations. In this blog, we are going to explore what integrity is and what it means to us personally and professionally; we’ll look at what 5 things you can do to build more integrity in to your brand that adds value to everything you do.


1. “Walk the walk and talk the talk” - Personal Integrity

The ethics, values and integrity of our business, starts with us, and how we conduct ourselves has a huge impact on how people regard our business.

 It is absolutely vital for business leaders to live a lifestyle of honesty, integrity and high ethical standards because what we do as leaders and how we behave can harm the reputation of the business or organization.

This is especially true of small independent businesses that may be operating within small, local communities, where people know each other. As a small business owner for twenty years, I know how true this is and how demonstrating integrity positively influences how people regard your business.

At the other end of business spectrum, the technology and security corporation Tyco knows only too well the pitfalls of a lack of integrity when two of their former executives unwittingly became the poster children for failed ethical leadership. Both were sentenced up to 25 years in prison after stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the company.

 

Tyco Executive Scandal 2001

 

It goes without saying that this generated negative press for Tyco affecting not only the company’s value and profitability, but exposing its poor ethics and values, something that is impossible to reverse.

 When you become a business owner and leader, you have a responsibility to maintain a high moral standard, and treat your customers and stakeholders as you would wish to be treated.


2. Commit to your brand promise

Regular followers will know that I do a lot of work around branding and brand identity for small and independent business owners. One of the things I talk about in my workshops and in my one to one coaching sessions is how to demonstrate integrity by following through on your brand promise to your customer. In other words, when people see and identify with your brand, ensure that the product or service they receive is congruent with that and their expectation of it.

Let me give you the example I give in my workshop; a few years ago I bought a craft activity box for my daughter at the start of the summer holidays. The boxes had been advertised in a magazine for parents and the brand looked beautiful. However, when the product arrived the contents were very disappointing. The materials were cheap and flimsy; the book was well below my daughters reading ability, and the activity was over in five minutes!

Not only that, but we then received another one two weeks later as it was actually a subscription, which had not been made clear when I bought it. When I made a complaint about the product and lack of clarity about the subscription, the company never even bothered to respond, let alone, offer a refund.

 For me, this company did not commit to their brand promise, not only because the product itself was not congruent with their marketing and branding, but also because they did not follow through on customer service in any way, so I was left feeling angry and abandoned.

 Continuing this theme let’s look at service after the sale.

3. Service after the salewhy it’s important to follow up with customers.

If you know your marketing, then you might have heard of the 5 stages of the buying cycle. This is the emotional and logical process customers go through when they are buying a product or service. They are:

1.  Awareness : The customer identifies a need or problem that they have and they think your business can meet that need or solve their problem

2.  Consideration : The customer evaluates how your offering meets this need, including the evaluation of offerings from other businesses; I.e. your competitors

3.  Preference/Intent : The customer uses a combination logic and emotion creating bias towards one solution or another, ultimately leading to a purchasing decision

 4. Purchase : The decision is made to buy from your business.

 5. Repurchase: The emotional and logical process that (hopefully) leads to a repeat purchase

All though this process, which can be applied for every transaction customers make, your ethics and integrity are being scrutinized. However, how you interact and deal with your customer after they have made a purchase is critical as this is when they are at their most anxious and vulnerable.

Unfortunately a lot of businesses don’t take this stage seriously as they only focus on getting the sale, but how you deal with a customer once they have made their purchase says a lot about your ethics, and influences how they feel about your brand and business, whether they will buy from you again and whether they will recommend you to others.

So ensure that you follow up with an email and make it clear that you are there to answer any questions or concerns they might have. Remember great customer service should be the cornerstone of your business.


4. Product/service integrityDon’t be all things to all people!

It seems obvious to say that what you deliver, be it products or services, should be of the highest possible quality and that you need to have integrity about what claims you make for your product or service.

However it still surprises me how many businesses overstate what they product or service can do. Let me go back to the craft box example; the marketing claimed that the activities and books would keep your child entertained for hours, and would improve their making and crafting skills. Let’s not forget that they even had different kinds of boxes for different ages, but their claims just did not stand up so my daughter and I were very disappointed.

As part of your business and brand integrity, it is vital that you are honest about what your product/service can and, importantly, cannot do. People will appreciate your honesty, especially if you can signpost them to another product or service that could help them. So be clear about what you offer and don’t try and be all things to all people!


5. Demonstrate integrity when dealing with staff and all stakeholders.  

 The best kinds of relationships are those based on mutual trust and respect.

 Having integrity when dealing with staff, collaborators and customers also involves assertiveness and self-awareness. In my previous blog on assertiveness I wrote:

“Assertiveness starts with self-awareness of who one is and how our behaviour impacts on others (self-responsibility). While aggression leads to either defensiveness or more aggression, assertiveness leads to clear communication and often, resolution. Assertive people possess good self-awareness, good self-respect and respect for others. They also take responsibility for their actions.”

It is not possible to run a business where you treat customers really well, but your treatment of your staff and collaborators is lousy. It isn’t congruent with your brand values, and just like with the Tyco executives, bad news travels fast and people will get to hear about it. There is a bit of a prevailing corporate culture around this, but as independent business owners we can positively influence that culture and show them how it should be done.

 My husband and I have been running a well-established health business for 20 years and are well known in the local area. For us it is important that our values of promoting wellbeing extend to all our staff so we would never insist that they come in if they are unwell, and often pay for treatments if they have a particular issue that needs resolving; physically or emotionally. So we demonstrate our integrity through good pastoral care.

 Not only does this make us feel good about what we do, it is good for business as we have a really happy team. How they are treated reflects well on us as business owners and makes them good advocates for the type of business we are running.


Having high ethical and moral standards gives us a sense of pride in what we do. It reinforces our brand values and influences the public’s perception of our business. So ensure you make integrity part of your brand identity and culture in everything you do.


If you would like helping building more integrity in to your brand and communicating what you do more effectively, book a 30 minute phone consultation here to find out how business coaching and mentoring can help.
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I was recently talking to a friend about their experience of being on an intensive meditation retreat. The teacher was talking about the importance of sensitivity and intuition, and that in order to develop those qualities it was also vital to cultivate resilience. They described the two wheels of a chariot; one wheel was sensitivity, and the other wheel was resilience. If you have all of one, and none of the other, then the chariot cannot go forward and you get stuck.On the surface, you might think that this has nothing to do with running a business, but, I believe that emotional resilience, and to what degree we posses that inner quality that can enable one person to bounce back from failure, and another to spiral down into defeat and burnout, or to take every misfortune personally. When we think of great leaders or people that have achieved incredible things in the face of huge adversity, resilience plays a big part in their story.

So in this blog, we’re going to explore what resilience is, and what we can do on a daily basis to ensure that our businesses are resilient enough to move through the difficult times that they will no doubt face. 

First of all, let’s be clear about what resilience isn’t. Being resilient does not mean an overinflated sense of optimism, where you go around with a big grin on your face and laugh off all misfortune. Resilience is about authenticity (one of my other favourite words to apply to businesses), it’s about acknowledging that while things might be hard, life (and business!) is about ups and downs, and that that’s okay.

Resilience is also about being able to draw on your own resources, and see failure as an inevitable part of life. It’s not about being tough and going through life with a gritty determination that nothing is going to get the better of you. The interesting thing is that we are not born with resilience; we learn how to be resilient in childhood just like assertiveness (see my blog on assertiveness here), and just life assertiveness, the good news is that with time and with practice we can develop resilience.

So how resilient are you?

Why is it that some people seem to bounce back from traumas with relative ease, or even thrive after negative events, while others might fall apart?

The answers are compelling. In his best-selling book, The Resiliency Advantage the late Al Siebert, writes that, “highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in constant change. Most important, they expect to bounce back and feel confident that they will. They have a knack for creating good luck out of circumstances that many others see as bad luck.”

 
Overcoming adversity by building resilience | Carol Taylor | TEDxYearlingRoad - YouTube
 

A long-term study of 99 Harvard graduates showed that the way people view negative life events (either as fixed and unchangeable or as temporary and subject to influence) predicted their physical health 5, and up to 35 years later.

But a boost to physical health isn’t this mindset’s only upside. Resilience refers to our capacity to deal with discomfort and adversity, but it’s not just a reactive skill set. The same characteristics that make us resilient are traits that enrich our lives. And of course they will enrich our businesses too.

10 steps to developing resilience permanently

Like anything worth doing, it’s going to take time, but follow these steps and you will be well on your way to increasing your resilience:

  1. Nurture relationships and get support. No one ever achieved anything on their own, so why should you? Being surrounded by positive, resilient people is inspiring and feeds our sense of self. Having a good network on a personal and a professional level helps us be our best selves and gives us a place to share our challenges and difficulties, as well as our triumphs and achievements.

  2. Nurture yourself – how do you take care of yourself? Good health, and a regular routine of healthy habits, are the foundation of both mental and emotional resilience. But our physical resilience also depends heavily on our baseline mental and emotional well-being. And one of the best ways to nurture that, says Carol Orsborn,, author of The Art of Resilience: 100 Paths to Wisdom and Strength in an Uncertain World is to take regular mental breaks: “It could be something as formal as a regular meditation practice,” she says, “or it could simply be letting yourself daydream.” (See my previous blog on why entrepreneurs need downtime!)

  3. Don’t be afraid of change and to change. When we have a fixed idea of how things are going to go and how they “should” be, it can be harder to feel positive when things go a different way so don’t set yourself up to fail. As they say, “if you keep doing the same things and expect different results, that way madness lies” so be flexible

  4. Develop self-control. If you are someone who gets easily emotional or angry, then it might be that your chariot of sensitivity and resilience has got a wheel missing! Before you react, take a moment to think if your behaviour is going to enhance or diminish your resilience.

  5. Look for the lesson in everything. If you see challenges as opportunities to learn, change and grow, then you are more likely to build resilience.  

  6. Have a plan to do more of what you love. Nearly 20 years ago I discovered a fantastic book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self. One of the exercises is to make a list of things you do that make you happy and keep you in the moment. It could be anything from flower arranging to paragliding or walking in the woods. Whatever it is for you, if it makes you happy and keeps you in the moment, make sure you are doing it on a regular basis.

  7. Perform random acts of kindness. When we are kind to someone else even in a very small way, our brain rewards us with a boost of serotonin, the hormone that relaxes us and makes us feel good. When we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to view adversity as a challenge rather than a disaster. 

  8. Be grateful for what you have. We all know someone who, no matter what their life is like, or how successful they are never seems to be happy with what they have. Practicing gratitude for the things we take for granted in life helps us see the positives in life.

  9. Make a conscious decision to be happy. It’s amazing how many people think their happiness relies on external factors, and therefore don’t take responsibility for their own happiness but rather put it on to finding the perfect relationship, having the biggest house/car, or earning X to make them happy. Of course many things can make us unhappy, but truly it is up to us to develop a sense of happiness and contentment within ourselves.

  10. Have a sense of humour! If you are anything like me your sense of humour can be the first thing to go when things get tough. But being able to laugh is good for so many reasons; it releases tension and gets us to connect with others, but laughter is also empowering as it puts things in to perspective, so something that seems overwhelming at first, becomes more manageable when we can laugh at it.

When we are happy internally then we can bounce back from anything and move on, which has got to be good for us, our businesses and our customers and clients. 

If you would like to find out how coaching can help you build resilience in yourself and your business book a 30 minute phone call here  
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After a summer of a little work and virtually no social media, I have come back to work with a renewed sense of purpose and a new attitude to how I manage my schedule, the “life/work balance”. It’s really made me appreciate how important it is for business owners to take a break and find a new perspective.How we manage our time in life and in business is something that is debated the world over, but especially in the west where, thanks to technology and the way we work, time always seems to be in short supply. So when we all perceive ourselves to be time poor how do we find the time to take a break? And why is it so important?

You won’t be surprised to hear that around 90% of the business owners I work with either haven’t had a proper holiday in several years, or routinely take their work on holiday with them. And what I hear all the time is the same; “I can’t afford to take a holiday”, to which I say, “actually, you can’t afford not to”.

Our working landscape is changing all the time and more people are starting new businesses. According to research from the accounting software company Xero, 20 is the age that young business owners (18-34) decided they would like to set up shop compared to those aged over 45 who had the same lightbulb moment at 35. In fact, almost seven in 10 (69%) new businesses set up in the past five years have been started by those aged between 18-34.

It starts with a plan

When we start a new business, it is easy to be inspired and passionate as you turn a vision in to reality. However, passion will only get you so far, and those businesses with sound plans, good processes and a clear strategy, have a far better chance of survival than those who don’t put these systems in place.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to work with a group of storytellers on bringing their projects to fruition. We were talking about content strategy and blogging. I told them that one of the things I do is to sit down every quarter (or thereabouts) to plan my blog content and plan my weekly schedule up to six months in advance. I have to tell you, they were horrified! At first… But when I explained how this liberated me mentally, and that the plan gave me a sense of security, and allowed me to factor in downtime, it started to make sense to them.

Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that you plan each day to the last detail, only that you have set days for set tasks. But likewise it is important to plan when you are going to take downtime.

Of course when you start an enterprise, you can expect to be working longer hours as you get everything up and running, but if you don’t have a plan in place to take time off from your business, you may come unstuck further down the line as you get burnt out and exhausted. Not only that, but in order to be inspiring and creative, you need to feel inspired, and it’s hard to generate new ideas when you have nothing left to give. Holidays and downtime are vital to the lifeblood of our businesses, as they allow new ideas to bubble to the surface, and keep us in a creative mindset.

So how can you run a business and still take time off?

Now we have established the importance of taking time out, let’s look at the practicalities

Plan for downtime in your quiet times

If you know Christmas is a busy time for your business, then you will probably not be looking to take time off between September and December. But you could plan to take time off in January.

For my business, I know that January and September are really busy times for me, but August and December, not so much, so that means I nearly always take time off around May and in August as that works for the flow of my business.

Think carefully about this one. I have had some business owners who will swear that they are 100% busy literally all year, but when we have analyzed the figures, we have been able to find much quieter times and look at when would be good to take a break.

To check, or not to check, that is the question….

Let me share some more stats with you; research by the Institute of Leadership and Management shows that over 65% of employees check their emails while they are on holiday. This rises to over 80% for senior managers, so it’s not hard to imagine that for business owners that is nearer to 100%!

We are all so connected nowadays that it can be tempting to keep working through holidays and downtime, which may defeat the purpose, and make you unpopular with family and friends!

Again, you have to do what works for you. Some people need to switch off completely so do not want to check emails and notifications while they are away. For other people, they are happy to have a set day to respond to emails because they find that less stressful than coming home to a full in-tray.

And some people, like me, are somewhere in the middle. So for example during August, I did check my emails from time to time, and I let my clients know that with my handy out of office message:

“Hi there,

Thanks for getting in touch. I’m taking some much-needed downtime during August so I’ll only be checking my emails on Mondays, but I will ensure that I get back to you.

In the mean time find out why I was voted one of the Top 100 Business Coach Bloggers in the world and sign up to my blog here


You can also find me on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/businesscoachingsussex/

And Twitter:
https://twitter.com/bizcoachsussex

I also run a Twitter chat for Micro Business owners chat every Tuesday from 7-8pm. Go to:
https://twitter.com/MicroBiz_Hour and use #MicroBiz_Hour to join the conversation

For further information on business coaching, please go to businesscoachingsussex.co.uk
”

This message also has the advantage of letting people know about all the other things I do, like my blog and twitter chat, as well as reassuring them that their message has been received, so win-win!

Remember the big vision

When I work with clients who have lost their purpose or are confused about which direction to take with their business I often ask them “What is your higher purpose?” It may sound corny, but remembering what motivated you to start your business in the first place really connects you to what you are trying to achieve.

You might say that you started your business as a vehicle to earn money, but still, you chose this way, this business, when you could have chosen another one, so what was behind your decision?

Part of your responsibility as a business owner is to serve the community you have identified as needing your help. Remembering why you chose this way to help them, reminds you that part of your responsibility to them is to take time out. 

“Sustainability” is a word I use a lot to remind business owners that they their business needs to be sustainable not only financially, but also physically and emotionally. If you become burnt out due to overwork, you cannot be there for your clients.

To explain what I mean, I like to use the story Stephen Covey tells in his book, ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’. The story is about a woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt, but he still keeps cutting down trees. If he were to stop sawing, sharpen the blade and go back to his tree cutting with a sharper saw, he would save himself time and effort.

So remember that time out sharpens your saw when it stops being so effective. If you just keep going until you collapse that tree won’t get cut down any quicker and no one will thank you for it.

 And finally…. If you need some help figuring out how to take time out get in touch here, and find out exactly how business coaching can benefit you and your business.
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Are you a small business or a micro business? And why does it really matter? According to the Office of National Statistics and the EU, the definition of a micro business is one with 0-9 employees with a turnover of less than £2 million, so when we talk about small business, we are in fact mostly talking about micro businesses. Amazingly 76% of UK businesses fit in to this category and make the greatest contribution to the economy.While this sounds great, the problem is that micro business currently has no voice and is often cut out of funding streams, training and support and tax breaks which are only available to small businesses (10-20 employees; turnover of up to £10 million) and larger enterprises so growing a sustainable micro business can be hard.I’m on a mission to address these issues at policy level and have set up a weekly Twitter chat @MicroBiz_Hour every Tuesday 7-8pm to bring micro business owners together to talk about the changes that would make their lives easier, and to meet the influencers that could make that happen. (To join the conversation use #MicroBiz_Hour)

I also want to show the world how great small enterprises are, and why they are so important to the economy.

For me there are 3 things that make a micro business great:
  1. “Do One Thing Well” – micro businesses are brilliant at finding solutions to problems faced by a particular group and solving that problem by being an expert in what they do, rather than trying to be all things to all people.
  2. Building an authentic brand that tells customers how you solve that problem for them - a good effective brand builds an emotional connection with your customer that makes it easy for them to make informed decisions about what products and services work best for them. [Here's a blog I wrote about branding]
  3. People before profit – Good micro businesses always put customers, employees (if they have any) and collaborators first. Profit is important, but people should be at the heart of your business.

It’s simple, but these three qualities are a solid foundation on which to build your micro business, or any business!

To demonstrate what I mean I want to introduce you to micro business owner David Hunt of DCR Wheels. David runs a fantastic small enterprise that specialises in building bespoke bicycle wheels.

I knew I wanted to speak to David after a chat I had with my lovely friend Chloe.  Chloe is one of David’s wheel builders and was telling me how much she looks forward to going to work because everyone is so friendly and helpful, and how valued she feels. She said David had even invested in a coffee machine for the staff just because he thought it would make them happy!

This sounded like all the qualities of a great micro business so I went down to meet David and the team and find out more:

The DCR Wheels team

No. 1. “Do One Thing Well”

Marisa: So why “hand-built” wheels, for people that don’t know the difference.

David: Well, they are specific to the person’s needs in a way that shop-bought wheels may not be. Because we just hold the component parts of a wheel we can provide many different combinations, and we don’t need to hold a lot of stock.

M: So it’s a good business model then?

D: Yes definitely. We only need to stock the components that make up the different combinations.

M: I saw that you put a lifetime warranty on your wheels. That’s pretty amazing customer service. How does such a small business manage to do that?

D: Yes that’s for the build and the spokes. We can always service every wheel we have ever made because of the relationship we have with our suppliers and the quality of their components.

M: Fantastic. What I like about your company is that you are specialising in one part of the bike, so you are complete experts in just one thing.

D: Absolutely. Our major investment over the years has been the specialist tools and machines we have that are essential to building high quality bike wheels, and that’s it.

DCR Wheels branding and logo

No. 2. Authentic branding

M: It’s obvious that people really like what you do. What is it about the brand that people connect with?

D: I think our brand is quite low-key and funnily enough the logo was designed by a company who liked us, so we did a skills exchange.

M: How brilliant! It’s a really effective logo.

D: Thanks. I like the fact that it’s quite playful. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and the branding really reflects that. But we’ve also been very much focused on service and knowledge being the cornerstone of the business rather than flashy branding. So for example we have our own branded products but we don’t plaster them with our logo so it’s quite understated and allows the products to speak for themselves.

M: And I think that is especially important because you are in such a heavily branded industry.

D: That’s right, and actually there is now quite a backlash against that.

M: Yes, I see quite a lot of style over substance in the cycling industry.

D: We don’t want people to be a walking advertisement for what we do. We would prefer that they like us because of the quality of work we do and the service we provide.

M: So I guess what you’re saying is that your brand is consistent with a quiet confidence about what you do.

D: I like to think so.

 

No. 3. Putting people first

M: So Dave the reason I am here is because of a conversation with Chloe about how valued she feels as part of the team at DCR. You have obviously created a really positive work environment. What do you think is the secret to creating a happy work force?

[At this point, while Dave was considering his answer, Chloe dropped in to the workshop and started telling me how she felt about her experience of working at DCR]

Chloe: I think it’s the little things that make a big difference. Because I like coffee it’s nice to know I can come to work and have a nice coffee – it’s a small thing, but it makes a difference to my working day.

Also Dave really understands that we all have our own lives, which he sees as a good thing, rather than a burden, unlike other places I have worked. As a working mum I’m not made to feel guilty if my son isn’t well and I have to leave early or something like that.

M: So David it seems your work is done as your workforce are speaking for you!

D: I guess the way I see it is that when I’ve worked elsewhere, what I earned varied, but my job satisfaction didn’t come from the money. I used to feel frustrated because I felt the employer could have done a lot more for my well-being which didn’t have a cost attached, and even if they had of doubled my salary, I wouldn’t have felt more job satisfaction.

As a small business I can’t afford to double someone’s salary, but for example I can ensure that Chloe has the flexibility to leave early if she needs to.

M: So your approach is based on mutual respect.

D: Absolutely. So if someone has a need we try and find a solution together. Listening is really important.

C: I was going to say that you do really listen. You know, the things we bring up might be quite simple and you will implement them quite quickly in a way that another company would let things linger on. It’s just done and it isn’t a problem.

M: And in fact David the cost to your business is less because you haven’t got a high turnover of staff.

D: Exactly. So for me where wellbeing is high, productivity is high as well. Also, I can’t have all the ideas. I need these guys to tell me if there is something we can improve on. So I feel like companies that ignore the observations of their staff are unlikely to do as well as they could for their workforce or indeed their customers.

M: Well, they clearly have a lot to learn from you. Thanks for your time David and Chloe.

So there you have it. Follow these 3 steps and you will be well on your way to becoming a great micro business.If you would like some support with your business, micro, small or any size then book a 30 minute phone call here and find out how coaching and mentoring can help you and your business.

Marisa Guthrie Top 100 Business Coach Blog 2017

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Inspiration for my blogs can come from anywhere. This time, inspiration came unexpectedly from my eight-year old daughter. A few weeks ago we had been discussing a situation in the playground that had not gone so well for her and I said that it was really important to be assertive; to ask for what you want with respect for the other person and for yourself, or words to that effect; so when I asked my family what I should write my next blog about, my daughter instantly said “Why don’t you write about being assertive?” So here we are!Assertiveness is the cornerstone of positive, healthy communication, where everyone gets to state their needs, have positive self-esteem, and have respect for themselves and for other people. Sounds good doesn’t it? The problem is, for various reasons we don’t always find it that easy to ask for what we want and so may be defensive, passive-aggressive (more on this later) or just plain aggressive, paving the way for resentment and negative confrontation.So in this blog we are going to:
  • Define what assertiveness means,
  • Explore why passive-aggressive behaviour holds us back from being assertive,
  • Look at ways to develop your own assertiveness and foster a culture of assertiveness at work
I’m also going to share my own journey to assertiveness.

 

“I’m OK, You’re OK”

In order to define what assertiveness is, let’s first look at what it isn’t. Have you ever noticed how some people seem to find it easy to ask for things and state their needs in a way that nobody loses face? Whereas other people might get what they want, but in a way where they seem to be imposing their will on others? That is the difference between assertiveness and non-assertiveness.

Like Emotional Intelligence (see my previous blog here), assertiveness starts with self-awareness of who one is and how our behavior impacts on others (self-responsibility). While aggression leads to either defensiveness or more aggression, assertiveness leads to clear communication and often, resolution. Assertive people possess good self-awareness, good self-respect and respect for others. They also take responsibility for their actions.

At the heart of assertiveness lies the theory of transactional analysis (TA), developed by Psychiatrist Eric Berne, and in particular the concept of “life positions”.  Berne’s philosophy of TA and life positions posits that all people are born “OK” and that in childhood people make decisions based about themselves based on how they are regarded and treated by significant others such a parents, family, teachers and so on. For many, they make a decision that they are “not OK” and therefore this becomes their “life position”.

Transactional Analysis 1: ego states & basic transactions - YouTube

Fortunately, Berne believed that whatever our life position, given time and with the right support we might choose to make new decisions about our self-beliefs, and therefore our beliefs about others. We can choose to adopt an assertive life position where we can be our authentic assertive selves, and allow others to do the same. I am not suggesting it is easy to develop this approach to assertiveness and it won’t happen overnight, but I know from personal experience that it is possible.

 

My journey to assertiveness

I didn’t always feel so great about myself. From a young age, I learned that other people’s needs often came before mine. Because I didn’t see other people being assertive around me, I didn’t know any different so I learned either that I wouldn’t get what I needed (I wouldn’t be heard), or I learned to manipulate, be aggressive or adopt ‘passive/aggressive’ behavior to “get my way”. The turning point came much later in life after a failed relationship when someone suggested I read Nathaniel Branden’s wonderful book “The Seven Pillars of Self-Esteem”.

Assertiveness is naturally tied up with self-esteem, so once I had figured out what negative thoughts behaviours were holding me back, I realized that in order for people to treat me how I wanted to be treated, I had to treat them well in turn, and I had to state my needs, without aggression.

I have been on that journey ever since. I don’t always find it easy to be assertive, and sometimes I find it downright near impossible, but now I know how much better or honest I feel when I communicate in that way, I can’t really consider any other option, or modus operandi for behaving, not just professionally, but on a personal level too.

So let’s look at what holds us back from being our authentic, assertive selves

 

Why passive-aggressive behavior kills assertiveness

Just like aggressive communication, passive-aggressive communication is apposite to assertiveness. When someone is passive-aggressive they avoid being directly aggressive and instead engage in indirect, or passive aggression. Typically people who operate from a passive-aggressive place may deliberately procrastinate, avoid certain people or situations that they do not like, say they are ok, when actually they are seething with anger. [Dr Scott Wetzler calls it “Sugar-coated hostility.”] They may also shutdown and refuse to discuss the issue at hand, making progress of any kind impossible.

At work this kind of behaviour may exhibit itself as not doing a task they have been charged with, putting something off until the very last minute, or completing it late in order to punish the person who asked them to do it.

If it is so negative and potentially destructive, then why is this kind of behavior so common?Early life experiences: As Berne says our upbringing has a powerful effect on how we see ourselves in relation to the world and others. For many people direct expressions of emotion were discouraged or not allowed. Therefore many people learn that it is too scary to express their real feelings openly so they find passive ways to process their anger and frustration instead.Fear: Being assertive takes courage and is not always easy, so sometimes we all find it easier to deal with anger and frustration in covert ways, and this is fine. None of will manage to be assertive all of the time.Settings and situations: Even if you did grow up in a household where you could freely express emotion, you might have found that at school, and later at work, that this was frowned upon so you adapted your behavior accordingly depending on the situation and the setting. 

While I would love to see assertiveness adopted as the norm for how human beings treat each other, realistically it is unlikely to happen. However, there is much we can do to change our own behaviour to positively influence those around us, particularly at work.

 

So how do we develop a culture of assertiveness in ourselves and at work?
“The fastest and most effective way of developing and maintaining an I’m OK: You’re OK life position is through giving, receiving, and asking for positive recognition. People who feel positive about themselves appreciate and value others; they are able to give and receive positive recognition. Positive recognition inspires and motivates people”
— Assertiveness and Diversity by Anni Townend: Palgrave Macmillan 2007

It is easy to assume that if people think well of us and treat us accordingly then we will naturally feel good about ourselves. However, the truth is that, like any shift in consciousness, the change has to come from us. This is where self-esteem comes in. The reason Dr Branden’s book was so revelatory for me, is that it was the first time I had made the connection with treating myself well and having good self-esteem. For all this time I had been waiting to find people who treated me with respect when in actual fact I didn’t value myself, or feel comfortable with positive feedback and recognition.

It might sound simple, but I really hadn’t made that connection before, so I was always in a passive or victim position, rather than in an assertive, creative position.

 

3 steps to adopting an “I’m OK, You’re OK” life position1. Develop emotional intelligence through self-awareness:

Always, always acknowledge people’s feelings, and don’t belittle or talk down to them. If they sound angry, then acknowledge their anger or frustration for what it is. Equally acknowledge your own feelings and emotions, and be aware of how they impact on others.

2. Accept praise and positive feedback

Here’s an exercise to try out the next time someone gives you some positive feedback or praises you for something; instead of dismissing it or diminishing it, just thank them and tell them you appreciate their feedback. If you already find this easy and like receiving praise then you are probably already using assertive communication in your life. But if you find it difficult to hear or are quick to say something like, “it was no big deal”, or “oh you don’t need to say that”, then just check in with yourself and see how it feels when you do something different. Simply say “thank you” and smile!

3. Listen to some negative feedback without taking it personally:

Equally, try and hear some difficult feedback and see how that feels. This of course might be much harder but as assertiveness is also wrapped up with emotional intelligence and taking responsibility for your actions, you also need to learn to hear negative feedback from a position of assertiveness.

Remember, people rarely criticize us for who we inherently are. They criticize us for how we acted and how our behavior affected them. Once you can listen to some feedback about how your behavior affected someone else, without taking it personally, then you are on the road to using assertive communication.

If you would like to find out how business coaching and mentoring can help you be more assertive, then book a 30-minute phone call here. Let’s talk![For further reading on the subject of assertiveness go to Anni Townend, Scott Wetzler, Eric Berne]
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