Wednesday, 26 September 2007

No More Mrs Nice Guy

I don't know whether I was asking for trouble making my Entrepreneurial Profile Test free, or whether I have somehow passed through a window where I am now considered part of the entrepreneurial 'Royal Family' - but it does seem increasingly apparent that the whole world wants something from me, yet no one is prepared to pay for it.

In just the past week, I've received a highly detailed 10 page executive spec put together by a prefessional recruitment agency asking me to consider becoming the non-exec Chairman of a (not very high profile) Charity (minimum 3 days per month committment) for no fee; several requests to travel the length and breadth of the country to speak to various small 'non-profit making groups' about entrepreneurship - again no fee; not to mention the increasing number of emails every day and unsolicited packages through the post containing full 30 page Business Plans and product prototypes, requesting my opinion on their business idea. Oh, but no, they don't want to pay for the advice either.

Then, there are the bashed-out-in-60-seconds emails, usually sent from hotmail addresses, which go like this:

hi rachel
I have an idea for a web site but i havent got a clue what to do with it. where do i start. please could you give me some advice of where to go first. I know you are very busy but please could you give me a clue on the first steps.
kind regards

Now, maybe I have the word 'Mug' tattooed on my forehead, or maybe people genuinely think I sit here with enough time and inclination to wipe their entrepreneurial arses for them, but I would estimate that 90% of this mail I receive is from people who haven't got the first hope in hell of making it in business.


Because they are either:

- So busy looking for a 'tick in the Box' from some magic authority that their idea will be a success, that they forget to run it by the people whose opinion really is the only one that counts in business ie THE CUSTOMER
- So frantically looking at ways of 'making money' and getting 'freebies' that they forget that real success in business comes from GIVING rather than TAKING
- Too lazy to bother to even put together a few decent ideas on how they could make their business work, and want someone else to lay it out on a plate for them

Now, I really don't wish to sound ungrateful, and it is always nice to feel wanted and appreciated. And this is not to say that I am not happy to help - and indeed helping, inspiring and motivating entrepreneurs is now my business.

But if you want anything more than a quick line of advice or to be pointed in the right business direction, please respect the fact that I am not a registered Charity.

If you want me to take you seriously and you would genuinely like my input and advice, all the details are on my website - just pay me the courtesy and respect of offering at least something in return for my time.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Friday, 21 September 2007

Rudderless Ships

I was amused to receive the following feedback to my free Entrepreneurial Profile Test this morning:

"Dear Rachel,

I took your interesting test to see what kind of 'entrepreneur' I am and was labelled a 'Dadpreneur' (ouch!).

Although I'm not entirely sure whether this is perjorative, it is probably a fair reflection of my answers to the questions you posed. Clearly this is a very crude form of personality testing, or psychological profiling which is quite a good game but that is all it should be - harmless fun.

However, I sometimes feel that this type of profiling, like horoscopes, can be a self-fulfilling
prophecy. Sensitive types might actually believe that they are an 'ultrapreneur' just as they might believe what they read in the Sun newspaper daily horoscope. We are a race of believers. A lot of bullshit is talked about the 'choices' that people make in life dictating their circumstances. This is like the government banging on about that they want to provide 'choice' in schools, hospitals etc - it's pure baloney. There aren't any 'choices' in schools, hospital, government, job or any other thing you care to name.

It is mainly circumstance and luck that dictates how your life turns out. Most 'entrepreneurs' of all flavours take the only path that is immediately in front of them. Okay I grant you it is only those who have 'something about them' that succeed but that is true in all walks of life. There can only be one Pope, one David Beckham , one Alan Sugar. Speaking of Alan Sugar, from his words and attitudes on the Apprentice programme it seems to me that he is the most cautious, risk averse non-entrepreneurial person you could imagine.

I really don't think that we should be encouraging people to become 'entrepreneurs'. I am all for creating better businesses and better business people. More entrepreneurs does not mean a better economy or better businesses. Most businesses run by aspiring entrepreneurs (also known as crooks in my neck of the woods) are a total shambles!

Anyway, rant over!

Best wishes and good luck to you and all your entrepreneurial ventures.

Chris the Dadpreneur"

To which I have just replied:

"Hi Chris

Words which could only have been put together by a true 'Dadpreneur' I am afraid!

I agree some people float through life, rudderless, letting the tides take them wherever; others set our sails with direction and ambition, and despite stormy waters (provided we persevere) usually end up at our chosen destination.

That is why so few people actually end up making it - with everyone else looking on in envy, simply putting their success down to 'good luck'.

Your life, your choice!


Rachel "

I am actually quite glad there are so many people like Chris about - the 'I'll-never-be-successful-so-I-just-won't-bovver' brigade.

It so increases the chances of success for everyone who CAN be bothered to make the effort don't you think?

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Learnings from Northern Rock

It has been interesting to watch the developments at Northern Rock over the past few days, and to observe how quickly even the most established brand can be de-stabilised or even wiped out by bad news once it gets into the media.

Just hearing the customers talking on the news last night brought it home that actually most were acting quite irrationally - driven by fear of losing their life savings or their retirement money. And all the assurances in the world - even from the Bank of England and the Government - that their money was safe were having no effect.

It just brought it home to me how true the old marketing adage is that 'Customer perception is the only reality'. And it is a real double edged sword.

If customers believe that they are going to lose their money then that is the only reality that you can deal with. Facts are irrelevant.

On the other hand, if customers believe your product is the best thing they have ever experienced than that is a huge advantage in marketing - quite aside from the fact that there may be many other much better offerings out there.

Hence the power and value in investing your time with your business to build a really great brand.

Yes, it can still be wiped out by a major scandal virtually overnight. But those instances are extremely rare.

It's the one thing that will really help make you competitor proof while you build your business - and goes to demonstrate yet again that your customers really are your biggest marketing department.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Mummy Knows Best...

Last time I bumped into Sahar Hashemi (co-founder of Coffee Republic) she surprised me by saying how much she regretted selling Coffee Republic - simply because she couldn't go into one of their branches without getting annoyed about all the changes they had made to 'her' brand, and basic things they should be doing right but which they were doing wrong. (And this is despite cashing out for what I'm sure was a lot of dosh at the time.)

Well I have to say I had the same feeling when, out of curiosity, I sent for a Red Letter Days brochure last week, and it turned up in the post this morning (only a week on, but then 2nd class post IS a lot cheaper).

First strange thing is that I only ever received one mailshot from Red Letter Days post my departure - strange for a mail order company, especially as I had made many 'mystery shop' purchases under various aliases at various addresses over the years.

Someone in their marketing department being a little over-zealous with the data cleansing perhaps? Or, more likely, a bean counter swooning at the cost of each brochure mailshot -without realising that the annual brochure mailout was the engine room that ran the marketing of the business.

So the latest (flimsy, low-budget) brochure arrives this morning in a highly conspicuous bright red envelope.

Sensible choice of envelope you may think (being called Red Letter Days and all) - but not when you consider that over 70% of purchases are made by wife for husband (or vice versa), and the last thing you want when preparing a surprise gift for your nearest and dearest is something coming shouting and screaming through the letterbox.

Meanwhile, the iconic Red Letter Gift Box (created on commission by design guru and Channel 4 TV star Richard Seymour - at a cost of £100k - and consistently rated as the jewel in the crown of the company's branding collateral in all market research), barely receives a mention, let alone the honour of a photo in the brochure.

Perhaps the bean counter got rid of that too?

You can just imagine that happening at Tiffany's can't you? New FD arrives saying: 'Why do we need all these duck egg blue boxes, carrier bags and silk ribbon packaging anyway? Just think of the money we'll save...'

Then we have Peter and Theo's cheesy faces arrogantly grinning out of the intro page crowing how great they are, quite oblivious to the fact that to this day (over two years on) I STILL get emails quite out of the blue from various ex-RLD punters going on about 'how those two nicked your company' - and therefore that to a large proportion of the target customer base (white, middle England, fortysomething, female) this display of macho alpha-maleness is in marketing terms, actually a real turn-off.

And that's before we even get into the detail of the content - which rides roughshod over so many of the extensive learnings from all the market research conducted over the years it would be an absolute crying shame - if it were still my company of course.

Anyway, I hope I am not starting to sound like a bitter old witch - but I can't help identifying with Sahar over this.

Women don't create companies, they give birth to them.

And no matter how hard you try, and no matter how long after they have flown the nest, they will always in some way still be your baby.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Tribute to Anita

I was in shock when I just heard the news over the radio that Anita Roddick died earlier tonight of a brain haemorrhage.

Put simply, she was the most iconic female entrepreneur Britain has ever seen. She inspired a whole generation of women - back in the days when I was a young City career girl in the 1980's - and despite all the progress women in business have made since, no female entrepreneur has even come close to achieving the same status.

She managed to be successful without compromising her femininity, and she was one of the first entrepreneurs to base her business on her passion for her product rather than the ruthless pursuit of money. Her passion for ethical, environmentally friendly trading was decades ahead of its time - in an era where the 'greed is good' alpha male mantra pervaded business at all levels.

She had great positive energy and determination, and in her later years used her fame and fortune for hugely positive ends to fight for human rights causes.

She was a brilliant role model, not just for women but for new age entrepreneurs everywhere, and she will be sadly missed.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

I Can Make You Rich

I don't often buy a newspaper on a Saturday, but couldn't resist today's The Times as it carried the promotional headline 'How to Get Rich - Free CD inside'.

Not, of course because I am poor you understand :-) I am simply interested in all things entrepreneurial. And most of the 'Get Rich Quick' books and guides which are popping up at the moment seem to be riding on the wave of interest generated by the new wave of cult business shows - like The Apprentice and Dragons' Den.

Yes, these guides do often help someone get rich - and that is usually the author.

So I was a bit disappointed when I opened the paper that my free CD was in fact called 'Overcome Emotional Spending' by Paul McKenna. Yes, my husband will certainly vouch for the fact we would be an awful lot better off if my spending could in someway be psychologically curbed, but logically, spending less is not really a way to get rich - as its effect is of course limited to what you earn in the first place.

The only way to truly get rich is to earn (or find ways to generate) a shedload of cash.

Not spending it helps you get there faster of course - but then, if you're going to go down that route, why bother going to all that effort to earn it in the first place?

Anyway, I stuck with it and read the accompanying 'How to Get Rich' article, where McKenna points out that real riches really have nothing to do with money and that most of the things that give people true joy are actually available to all of us and are also completely free (spending time with the kids, love & sex, walks in the countryside etc. etc.). So what Paul is really encouraging us to do is identify the things that we believe would truly make us happy, and then to use NLP techniques to try to 'live' the feeling we believe those things will bring us, until they actually manifest in our lives.

Visualisation techniques are of course nothing new, and everyone from Napoleon Hill in his iconic 1937 book 'Think and Grow Rich' to the cult DVD 'The Secret' has talked about harnessing the power of the mind and using the 'Law of Attraction' to manifest everything you desire.

I am actually a great believer in all this - having also had experience of the negative side! Six months after my company Red Letter Days crashed into administration I was going through old papers in my study and found a 'life plan' I had written about a year earlier stating that, by 2006, I wanted to 'Get rid of Red Letter Days; spend more time with my family, with time to be creative, to write and to be myself.'

All of which came to pass in the most dramatic and unintended way (the Universe usually dishes up its solutions in the quickest most effective way). But I have to admit the Crash - as stressful as it was - did bring about my move to Bakewell in the Peak District, which is the most beautiful, inspirational place to live; the start of a new business which is based from my home, which brings me far more happiness than running Red Letter Days ever did and which is is much more 'me' - plus a publishing deal to write my first book, on entrepreneurship.

Personally, I think McKenna is absolutely right. Far too many of us chase money thinking it is the be all and end all of happiness. Far better to focus on the things that will truly make you happy - and then simply allow the Universe to find fabulously creative ways to allow those things to manifest in your life.

True riches are actually much more about giving rather than taking anyway - which is why some of the most successful, happiest and by the way most materially wealthy entrepreneurs I have met founded their businesses on things they had a real love or passion for, which they wanted to share with others.

And most people who are truly 'rich' in this way ultimately find that they have no use for the trappings of money anyway.

So relax, and enjoy your Sunday!