Author Archives: leeinroyston

More than skin deep

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Nichola Macarthur is a perfectionist. This is a good thing for someone whose business is beauty – particularly as she trains people in different beauty therapies. When Nichola was completing her business plan – an excellent document by any standards – she wasn’t happy until all the minor grammatical errors had been corrected. All businesses should aspire to the highest standards and, although many fall short, The Shire Beauty Training Group – Nichola’s business – does not appear to be one of them.

Perfectionism of the level exemplified by Nichola is a common problem for start-up entrepreneurs who are also craftspeople – how to balance perfection and productivity, and the implications for pricing. Time is money and if people won’t pay for the hours on the job, then there’s no business, however high the quality of the work. Being able to ‘let go’ and accept ‘good enough’ is essential for anyone starting and growing their own business.

But, her own admission, Nichola has not always been so ‘perfect’. “At college I was quite naughty. I was the one standing outside the classroom, believe it or not.” She soon got over this wrinkle in her career. “I went straight from college into the beauty industry, starting my own business at 19, renting a room in a tanning shop and ending up taking over the business.” But that wasn’t to be the end of her stumbling. “I was really young, blew all my money on stupid things, and it all went down the pan.

A characteristic of a successful entrepreneur is their ability to learn from mistakes, to reflect, and bounce back after failure. Nichola returned to employment in different salons broadening her experience, while studying for a training qualification in beauty therapy. She started teaching in 2011 but it was the ‘conveyor-belt’ training environment that gave her the impetus to set up her own training academy that incorporated her own style of working.

That style and the expectation of the highest standards of herself and her staff seems to be working well.  Nichola is finding that her meticulous approach to running her new business is a real asset. Just over a year after launching in Hertfordshire – with over 300 students having taken classes and an impressive 70% return rate – the business has already stepped across the county boundary into Essex, and Nichola has long term plans for further expansion.

This initial success is not without a lot of hard work and the change from being employed to self-employed has made additional demands. “You’re in charge and responsible for everything. There’s no one to push you. You have to have a lot of passion and inner drive to get up in the morning and make things happen – everything is on your shoulders.”

Unlike other providers, The Shire Beauty Training Group operates seven days a week, including evenings, to cater for would-be students’ daytime working and parenting commitments. This is, in Nichola’s words a ‘unique selling point’ for her business but it puts considerable demand on her time with classes keeping her busy every day and most evenings.

The excessive hours seem to be paying off in terms of student success in getting employment. Nichola’s connections in the beauty industry mean that she has had great success in helping students through the recruitment process to find them placements with salons. Her industry connections have also resulted in commercial tie-ups with beauty brands that have, in turn, extended the breadth and depth of Nichola’s professional network, essential for business success.

Like many business start-ups, finding premises was a big headache before the business launched. Perhaps reflecting her perfectionism, Nichola says “I put a lot of time into looking for the right premises. I knew where I wanted to end up, so I had to accept high start-up costs. Looking back, it was worth the investment.”

Reflecting on her first year as a new business owner, Nichola has been surprised how much developments have diverged from her original business plan – something that was developed with support from The Prince’s Trust who all provided a start-up loan and a business mentor. As Nichola explains. “My business values have remained the same but, particularly on the financial side, things have turned out quite differently from what I expected. I was probably too optimistic.

A new development – part of the plan but something that has happened sooner than expected (in response to public demand) is the launch of an in-house salon run by four students of the academy. The salon is not only an additional source of income for the business, but it gives students practice and valuable work experience.

They say that ‘practice makes perfect’. Clearly Nichola is determined that her students should share the high standards she expects of herself. But, one year on, she admits she’s not yet ready ‘to let go’. “When people used to say ‘your business is your baby’ I didn’t believe them, but it’s true. It’s very personal and I rely on all my staff having high standard to keep clients coming back.”

To find out about The Shire Beauty Training Group, go to https://www.shirebeautytraining.com 

More information about the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business 

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Getting hands on

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Hannah Stobbs knows all about the stresses and strains we inflict on our bodies – she plays rugby and cricket. It was a back injury playing cricket aged 17 that first introduced her to the magic of massage that has now become the core of her business – Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health.

Putting elite athletes and overworked employees back together again is Hannah’s passion – developed through studies at Loughborough University and ‘hands on’ experience working on the bruised bodies of fellow sports enthusiasts – including friends who would go on to be World-Cup-winning cricketers.

For a job which seems to be essentially about physical manipulation, Hannah’s description of the traits of a skilled massage therapist is perhaps surprising. “They are people who can be fairly relaxed – who know how to switch off the parts of their brains that cause anxiety. You need to have a flexible mind; to be able to do your best work even if you don’t feel at your best.”  

As the name of her business suggests, Hannah’s approach is very much about getting a 360-degree understanding of her client’s situation – to look beyond the immediate injury at the bigger picture. As Hannah explains, “I aim to get a fairly extensive client history at the start. I also ask what they would like to get from the massage session and this can raise a host of other issues – often related to stress at work.”

For Hannah, the relationship between massage therapist and client is best when there’s a shared understanding of what lies behind the problems being presented. “I aim to build a rapport – to focus attention and treatment on the most pressing issues and explain what I’m planning before I begin. Most people want to know this – it’s what they’re paying for!”

It’s clear that Hannah’s approach works – she has an impressively high return rate and has built up a solid base of regular clients, with 95% first coming to her through referrals – word-of-mouth recommendations. This is the core strength of any business and one on which Hannah is keen to build. That said, she sees part of her role as educating her clients so they don’t need to return for further treatment as regularly as other therapists might advise.

Reflecting on the first eight years of a career putting broken bodies back together, Hannah sees it as a play in three acts. The first was to gain experience – for which she was well-placed at Loughborough University, renowned for its specialism in sports science.

The next act was moving from Loughborough for post-graduate study, working on sports massage alongside other jobs, and wondering whether it could ever become a fulltime occupation. This was a testing time, as Hannah explains “I’d come away from Loughborough where it was very easy to get clients. From 60 – 70 clients, I went down to three. It felt like a big step backwards, but it taught me how to re-build my client base – through networking. I’ve made great friends through playing rugby and cricket, so I never need to massage a stranger!”

It was the third stage when, with the support of The Prince’s Trust, Hannah decided to focus on developing her business as a massage therapist. She credits that support with helping her to make better use of her time – to think more entrepreneurially. “I’m now thinking more about how to reduce time-wasting – less driving and more massaging – and generally structuring my days better. It’s also about better use of the resources I already have – working on my strengths more than weaknesses. For me, that’s my networks for developing the business through word-of-mouth.

It’s interesting how often professionals don’t practice what they preach. Hannah admits that she has had to learn to look after herself better – through mentoring and acquiring the skills to achieve a better work-life balance. For Hannah, this is a combination of playing sport, making new friends at home and abroad, and never stopping learning – three passions that should take her far, both personally and professionally.

For further information about Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health, go to  https://www.hannahstobbssportsmassage.co.uk

Male and mature

At the end of the 1990s I took a job working in the Cambridgeshire Fens. I’d been told all sorts of horror stories about the people in that part of the world, all too shocking to repeat here and, as it happens, none of them true. But one observation from a local resident (not an ‘incomer’ as anyone who wasn’t born and bred there is known) was accurate.

I was three days into my new job and he said “Chris, you have the advantage of being male and mature.” At 45 years old, it was the first time I’d been described as mature (I took the identification as male as a given). I wasn’t quite sure what he meant with his comment until a while later when my work colleagues in similar roles would be reduced to tears by the behaviour of retired male councillors (at that time, many councillors in that part of rural Cambridgeshire were older and male…) My colleagues were female, often straight out of university, and those older men thought they had nothing to learn from a younger, female, generation of advisers.

I could only apologies for the behaviour of what I think are called ‘unreconstructed males’ – or male chauvinists as we used to call them – the type who still refer to women under 40 as ‘girls’ thinking (or probably not thinking!) it doesn’t sound derogatory or disrespectful – even though they wouldn’t describe men of the same age as ‘boys’?

So, if age and gender is an explanation for inexcusably bad behaviour at that upper end of the age range, can if explain (but not excuse) bad behaviour of men who may more accurately be described as boys – certainly in terms of their behaviour – being closer to 20 than 30?

I was thinking about this recently when talking to a female colleague about my experience of working with young women in comparison with young men. I advise young would-be entrepreneurs wanting to set up their own businesses and, almost without exception, age-for-age the women progress further and faster than the men.

My colleague, admitting to being something of an amateur psychologist, said that it’s recognised that in general women’s brain’s do mature earlier than men’s, with the male brain maturing on average at around 25 years. She used the example of F1 racing drivers to make her point; and I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to show that most shunts in motor racing involve younger, less mature, drivers.

I know I’m making gross generalisations here and, as the reconstructed father of a 27-year-old daughter I’m probably biased, but I’m not about to take up F1 grand prix racing just to prove my point.

 

Swimming against the tide

Our local leisure centre is running a special offer – 5 days free use of their facilities. I won’t be making use of the gym – I’m more a running-outdoors-from-my-front-door sort of a person – but I’m using the swimming pool.

I’ve been in the pool before (and I once won 10 free swims in a local recycling competition – don’t ask) but otherwise I don’t swim there very often because it’s peak rate charges when I want to go and, to be honest, I find swimming up and down the pool a bit boring. Another reason I don’t swim there much is that I don’t fit into either of the groups of pool users that predominate first thing on weekday mornings.

There are the lane swimmers who plough up and down in their budgie smugglers (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up) and the female equivalent, with their power drinks lined up on the end of the pool. I’ve never worked out why they need to rehydrate – swimming can exhaust me, but I’d never describe it as ‘thirsty work’. The other main group are the social swimmers – people who have reached a certain age and stage in their lives when standing in the shallow end of a swimming pool to chat with other early risers seems like a good idea.

I’m not knocking it – swimming pools are great places for socialising as well as exercise – but it does make me feel as though my swimming up and down is intruding on some not-very-private conversations. If looks could kill – they feel like daggers (or maybe in this context it should be ‘torpedoes’?) – I’d have sunk without trace without making it beyond 10 lengths.

Then there’s weekends and another group where I don’t fit in – young swimmers – with most of the pool taken up by young learners on one side and family fun on the other. Adult swimmers are squeezed into one lane in the middle so I accidentally ended up breast-stroking another swimmer while she stroked my back, also presumably by accident. I’ve just identified a fourth reason not to swim in a pool on a regular basis – there simply isn’t enough space.

And ploughing a lonely furrow is, er… lonely. It’s obviously more comfortable to go with the flow, but my upbringing tends to point me in the other direction – standing up for what I believe – even when this risks resistance and courts criticism.

My grandfather was a liberal MP so I know all about being in a minority. And while my Quaker upbringing has never resulted in discrimination of any kind, in my youth I was perhaps regarded as a bit unusual (as might anyone from a religious minority).

For the past 20 years I’ve also been inspired to plough my own furrow by a great friend whom I met at a very low and uncertain time in my life. He took me under his wing and, as the brilliant networker and connector he is, he found me a job and helped take my career in a new and exciting direction for which I’ll always be grateful.

In the context of this blog post, for the past two decades I’ve seen this friend swimming against the tide – agitating and campaigning – to further his sincerely held beliefs about ways to change the world and make it a better place. It’s been frustrating to see the brick walls and brush offs, but I’ve always admired him as the grain of the sand in the oyster; the grit that creates a pearl. He’s like a terrier that won’t let go – it that’s not using too many metaphors in a couple of sentences.

I hope I’ll still be as tenacious as my friend in 20 years’ time – he’s 80. For now, I’ll keep swimming up and down the pool – at least metaphorically – risking upsetting people in the pursuit of greater causes.

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2018/05/you-cant-please-everyone.html

 

A word in your ear about keeping connected

Last week, in the run up to the new GDPR Data Regulations coming into force on 25 May, I was sent 18 invitations to confirm my interest in receiving future mailings from a range of sources – mainly not-for-profit organisations.

It’s an opportunity for me to stem the flow of items dropping into my inbox (you should try it – it’s liberating). I’m sure there will be lots more invitations (not to mention some reminders from those same organisations to whom I haven’t responded).

As someone with a 40-year career in marketing, I thought I’d also take the opportunity to look at the different techniques, primarily the words, that those 18 organisations have chosen to try to keep me on their circulation lists. My assessment is, of course, neither objective nor scientific, but then nor is the basis for my decision about which mailings I opt-in to, and which I let go.

The headline in the subject box…

Right now, I would imagine that most hearts sink when they see those four letters – GDPR. So, should you include them in your subject box? Only four of the 18 organisations thought so, and who knows how many people stopped reading at that point (at best filing it away for ‘reading later’).

Personally, I appreciate the use of humour in communications although, of course, what’s funny is very subjective. A couple of organisations chose to mention ‘privacy policy’ in their headlines – which is almost certainly a turn-off – but one softened the blow with humour – ‘Update to Our Privacy Policy (yawn)’ – it made me want to read more. The communication signed off in a similarly lighthearted way, saying “That is all. You can go back to your own life now.”

Most communications were variations on the ‘don’t miss out on future communications’ theme. ‘Let’s keep in touch… we’d love to keep talking to you’Keep updated’ ‘Don’t let GDPR end our relationship’ ‘Stay part of … action required’ ‘Don’t miss out – we know it’s boring but…’  ‘we’d like to keep in touch.’

The organisation sending the communication…

It helps if I personally know the people behind the invitation – I’ll give people I know and like the benefit of the doubt, keeping reading for longer. Part of my response is even more subjective – what’s my gut reaction when I see their communications drop into my inbox? Eventually I become more rational – have they provided useful, interesting and important information over the last 12 months – would I miss it?

The wording…

Once into the body of the communication, I assess whether I’m drawn in by the message including the style of writing. Whether it’s personalised in any way – Dear first name/ Mr surname / member/ subscriber/ service user – which applied to a third of the 18 organisations – is not so important to me, although on balance I think some sort of salutation – even just ‘hello’ – is better than none at all.

I tend to dislike anything ‘shouty’ – using CAPITAL LETTERS, text highlighted in red or underlined, and too many exclamation marks!!! Ironically the worst offender in this respect was an organisation promoting peace (it certainly didn’t come across as a gentle invitation).

I’ve already mentioned humour, and who says Privacy Policies have to be discussed too seriously? The most humorous communication on this subject said…

We’ll show you ours if you show us yours

To make sure you know what [we’re] doing with your private bits (data, of course) we need to show you our new Privacy Statement.

And to make sure we know exactly what you’d like from us, we’d love you to reveal your innermost…preferences.

This came from a campaign against male suicide – so they clearly think a lighthearted approach to a serious subject is the way to connect. And what they also did cleverly (as did three other organisations) was to use the GDPR opportunity to do a bit of market research for future mailings – encouraging me to update my preferences.

Building trust…

Our personal data and mis-use of it is, of course, high on the international agenda so the introduction of the new regulations is timely. Most effective marketing is about developing long term relationships and, particularly in the current climate, building trust is an important part of doing that successfully.

So I ask myself, do I believe what they say in those e-mails – are they serious about keeping my details secure, or are they just saying that because of the new regulations?

Four communications used reassuring phrases and, strangely perhaps, the more casual the assurance the more I believed them! Try this ‘The new privacy law has given me the opportunity to clean up my mailing list and ensure the E-Newsletter only goes to those who find it useful… The mailing list is managed only by me and the emails stored are never shared with anyone.’ Honest, simply said, sounds sincere – great.

One way that correspondents can show they mean business is to say how my support (and the information I share with them) will be used for my benefit – the trade-off. Surprisingly perhaps, only five of the 18 organisations took time to tell me what I’d get if I said ‘yes’ to their invitation. One organisation probably went into greater detail than necessary about their future plans – but it was great to know what I was going to be signing up to receive.

Surprising few (five organisations) thanked me for my time. One went overboard offering me the possibility of winning a box of doughnuts if I responded by a certain date (many gave 25 May as their cut-off date). Which brings me to my last consideration…

The call to action…

If you expect a response to a communication you not only need to make it clear what you want the respondent to do, but you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do it. A simple, clearly marked button to click for opt-in and a polite ‘thank you’ when I did was the most painless experience. I make an allowance for additional tick boxes to refine my preferences but that’s about it. Anything more than half a dozen clicks and I lose heart.

The twist in the tail of this exercise is that the majority of organisations inviting me to opt-in to their mailings under the new data protection regulations probably didn’t need to renew my permission in the first place!

Some myth-busting about GDPR consent from the Information Commissioner’s Office https://iconewsblog.org.uk/2018/05/09/raising-the-bar-consent-under-the-gdpr

If you need a few resources to get to grips with GDPR, go to  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/free-lunch-business-support

Trade secrets – most sales people give up too soon

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

People in businesses make far too many assumptions about how publicity materials are received by would-be customers. They think that communicating once is enough and then believe no response means no interest.

In reality, the message probably hasn’t even reached the intended recipient – real life and 101 other obstacles can get in the way of clear communication. Also, timing is everything – we don’t read estate agents’ publicity until we need to buy or sell a house.

A friend used to give his most potentially important customers seven opportunities to ignore publicity about his latest product before giving up (admittedly each one was worth about £50,000). My rule of thumb is to assume it takes three communications for people to register a product, service, event etc exists, and five for them to do anything about it.

So don’t give up too soon. This doesn’t mean pestering potential customers, it means some gentle reminders through different communication channels over a decent period.

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets

Juggling with buses

I have a great fondness for the number 73 London bus (or the ‘dear old 73’ as my mum might have described it). In my 20 years studying and working in the capital I lived on the 73 route at three different locations – Oxford Street, Islington and Stoke Newington – so I had lots of opportunity to ride on it at all times of the day and night. Those journeys bring back a variety of memories – associated with the state of the roads, the state of me (the amount I’d drunk), other passengers, and things going on in my life at those three locations (being a student – swatting, being employed – sweating, being married – swooning).

I was thinking about no 73 buses recently when discussing business advice with a recently retired consultant. She said she was enjoying her ‘new life’ because she no longer had to deal with small businesses that would “like London buses, come along in threes”.

Since I’m also involved with advising would-be business owners it got me thinking about whether I have had the same experience – demand coming in peaks and not a lot in between (actors know the problem…) I think this may be partly our mind playing tricks – we remember the busiest and slackest periods and the more manageable flow of enquiries goes by unremarkably. But I do have peaks and it’s of my own making.

I send out a fortnightly business support bulletin – Free Lunch – to my contacts* and I often get a mini flood of communications in the days after it goes out. And that’s the point – in nearly 20 years of advice-giving I’ve learnt that a short regular bulletin is a good way to remind people I’m around (as well as, hopefully, sending them some useful and interesting hand-picked information). It’s easier than a phone call, although I admit it’s also easier to ignore, so it’s not the only way I nudge people to do what we agreed they would do.

I’d like to say I deal with the rush of enquiries through an organised system of triage. I decide which communications are urgent and important, or one or the other, and aim to send at least a holding response within 12 hours and clear the whole thing off my desk, ‘touching the paper’ (metaphorically speaking in these digital days) only once, within 48 hours. I’d like to say that’s what happens… but it doesn’t. My response is much less consistent and systematic – but it largely works.

First, if it’s an e-mail I look at the sender and the subject line – but often that’s simply the same subject line as my bulletin mailing so that doesn’t always help – although it proves my particular nudge technique works! Next, I look at the nature of the enquiry – is it clear what the person is asking for (not a given), is the request polite and reasonable. Finally, how long will it take me to respond? And after that it depends on what else I’m working on – the importance and interest relative to the incoming enquiry.

But how do I build my responses into a wider consideration of what needs to be done and when? There’s some really useful advice from Stephen Covey in the form of his now-famous Time Management Matrix – it’s worth sharing here.

Covey argues that we get too distracted by things which are urgent but unimportant (quarter lll in the matrix) – they get more of our attention than they deserve simply because they are urgent. He also says that we tend to spend too little time in quadrant ll – areas of work which can enrich our working lives and keep us healthier by not having to rush from deadline to deadline. In reality of course, we spend too much time in the lower righthand corner – because it’s the line of least resistance and it can be more fun!

The new twist in the tail for my work-flow system is that new data controls (the GDPR – General Data Processing Regulations) mean I need to ask the current recipients of my fortnightly Free Lunch bulletin to opt-in to receive it after the end of May. This will probably decrease the circulation list to single figures and I’ll then be delighted if one bus comes along each fortnight, let alone worry about three at once!

*If you want to see the sorts of free business support items I share, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/free-lunch-business-support