It could all go horribly wrong…

HorriblyWrongSetting out for Loughborough University (to guest speak at their entrepreneur’s ‘ThinkBig’ awards) I was reminded of the insight and wisdom of Patrick Awuah. Earlier in June I had listened to him talk at a GBSN conference in Tunisia.

To give you some context, Patrick left Ghana as a teenager to attend a US college. Qualifications gained, he then spent nearly a decade with Microsoft before exiting the commercial world to return to his home nation and establish Ashesi University. This institution’s bold mission is to ‘educate African leaders of exceptional integrity and professional ability’ and as this TED talk testifies, his work is gaining global renown.

What struck me about Patrick’s words in Tunis was the eloquence and clarity of his thinking as well as vision for education in Ghana. When discussing the need for entrepreneurial leadership he talked about the importance of creating a ‘framework of uncertainty’ within which students could learn. His words resonated with me completely and I was inspired by the purpose and scale of his challenge.

A framework of uncertainty

The world of work is a very unsure and unclear place. The traditional certainties and careers enjoyed by previous generations no longer exist. In this global economic malaise, preparing people for such uncertainty is vital but it is as much about how we teach as what we teach.

Writing for the Guardian (also in June 2013) about teaching methodology, Professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, Sugata Mitra, argues that we must seek “Questions that engage learners in a world of unknowns. Questions that will occupy their minds through their waking hours and sometimes their dreams.

“The ability to find things out quickly and accurately [will] become the predominant skill. The ability to discriminate between alternatives, then put facts together to solve problems [will] be critical. That’s a skill that future employers [will] admire immensely.”

Maverick to mainstream

Both Patrick and Sugata are educational entrepreneurs. In their view, empowering the curious mind so that it is ready to take on the challenges posed by work and societies today is absolutely critical; as opposed to rewarding people for their memory skills or ability to gain a top grade because they complied with the exact rigours of a particular course.

It’s well documented (by people such as Sugata Mitra and Sir Ken Robinson) that our education systems are rooted in the age of industrial revolution. Successive governments the world over have failed to modernise matters and it’s little wonder that young people are not being properly prepared for work. But economist Tim Harford would probably argue that it’s the maverick teachers who must be the catalyst for fundamental change. The challenge (if things are to really change) is to make today’s ‘maverick’ tomorrow’s ‘mainstream’.

Entrepreneurship empathy

The Loughborough students I met at the awards evening were all experiencing different levels of risk and uncertainty at the start of their entrepreneurial journey. However, with all whom I spoke I detected a zeal for fresh thinking and a hungry desire to seize new opportunities and create change.

My guest speaking ‘brief’ was to share some of my experience of starting and growing businesses. However, I felt that in order to empathise and hopefully connect with the audience I had to do more than simply offer a few stories. It was important for me to feel the uncertainty of their experience, speak from the heart and recall that ‘sensory cocktail’  of being excited and scared in the very same moment.

Whilst I thought through what I wanted to say, more time was spent considering a wider plan for the presentation in order to enhance the opportunity of identifying with the audience.  To show my appreciation for their chosen route in life (but aware it could all go horribly wrong) I decided to hitchhike the 100+ miles to the event.

HitchhikingOne mad-keen fisherman, a Welsh wagon driver and a woman who rescued me from a long wait on the M18 and I was at Junction 23 of the M1. With sufficient time to spare I even walked the remaining 2.5 miles into town. The hitch back to Yorkshire the following day was more straightforward.

Critically, the sense of achievement, overcoming of odds, meeting new people, being self reliant and operating within a framework of uncertainty will stay in my memory for decades. By contrast and example, the train journey from Aberdeen to York the previous week will soon be forgotten.

Firing the emotional neurons

For me, entrepreneurship is best considered not so much a subject but a suite of feelings surrounding a particular issue; and these feelings are typically generated when we are able to operate within Patrick Awuah’s framework of uncertainty. Critically, when this paradigm is allowed to thrive in an educational environment our emotions fire up (hope, wonder, surprise, confidence, frustration and disappointment etc.) and as a result we become far more stimulated and alert both as students and teachers.

So thank you to everyone at Loughborough University for organising and participating in a great celebration of entrepreneurial achievement. Offers for me to hitchhike to other events have already been received and I am eager to take up the challenges. However, please be aware that it could all go horribly wrong…

Key Learning Points: I need to follow the theme of this article and break away from the traditional, expected three-line ‘KLP’ structure that has been offered in all previous posts.

To help people learn about their entrepreneurial talent and enable them to contribute solutions to local, national and international problems we need to empathise with them and facilitate thinking. To do this we need to create the circumstances that allow enterprising minds to thrive. As Sir Ken Robinson says when quoting Abraham Lincoln’s speech from December 1862:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new so we must think anew and act anew.”

 

 

Death of a telephone salesman*

TelephoneMost people who try to sell to me over the phone are crap at their job. What’s worse is the fact you can tell in seconds that they’ve received some god-awful training which might as well be called ‘How to shaft the customer’.

For me, sales shouldn’t have such a bad name. But when you are repeatedly treated like a moron by people who seemingly don’t care about the customer, then the profession perhaps deserves its woeful status.

However, from my experience of working in the industry, some quality training and appreciation of the customer can transform the performance of any salesperson. But before highlighting my thoughts, here are three examples of recent bad experiences I’ve had of people selling to me over the phone.

Bad selling in practice

A car dealership (think German and 5 linked rings) rang in response to a car inquiry I made. When I took the call, the handset at the other end rattled noisily in my ear as it was picked up; Surprised by his apparent laziness I was then subjected to a barrage of warp-speed waffle. The opening was a disaster and it went quickly downhill as a further onslaught of non-requested technical jargon was hurled my way. No sale.

A claims company rang about an ‘accident’ I had apparently experienced. “And when was this?” I enquired, simultaneously counting my body parts just in case I had inadvertently suffered a health mishap as well as a dose of amnesia. “We don’t know, but we can help you claim,” he replied, lying through his teeth. I told him he was talking bollocks and the call ended. No one wants to deal with liars. No sale.

And finally, an investment company salesman called and used a fast-paced, arrogant tone and a script which screamed ‘control the customer’.

“Hello Mr Harrington, my name’s ‘BlahBlah Posh’ calling from ‘Flipperty’ Investments. How are you today? There’s nothing nice about this approach and certainly no question as to whether the timing of the call was convenient. So I ignored the inquiry after my welfare and asked why he was calling. Apparently he wanted to post a brochure about exciting new investment opportunities with nanotechnology. I suggested the information be emailed but I was told he had no email access. Really!?? So being busy and disinterested I said it wasn’t for me. But instead of listening he simply changed tack because that’s what the script said. Suffice to say that any kind of trust vanished up the phone wire; I wasn’t about to consider giving this complete stranger my hard-earned wonga. No sale.

Top 10 tips for telephone selling

In my opinion, the application of good sales practice can help any business flourish. Here are my thoughts on what you should do:

1                    Train and practice

Whilst the goal for all salespeople is to make sales, no one will ever buy from you if they don’t like you or don’t trust you. Since people only ever hear the words you use and your tone of voice, it’s vital you develop communication skills through good training and repeatedly practising the questions you want to ask and the statements you want to make (alongside someone who can offer objective feedback).

2                    Become a problem solver

People typically enjoy buying but they don’t like being sold to. As an effective salesperson you need to develop the ability to solve problems which necessarily means asking good questions first and listening before presenting solutions. Don’t be tempted into lengthy product descriptions just because it’s easier than asking questions of the customer. When you do solve a problem and thus meet or exceed expectations, people will be more inclined to like you and repeat purchase.

3                    Take your time

Slow down -don’t rush the sales process. Speaking quickly makes you sound nervous and unnerves the other person. Another point, pressuring people to make a decision when they really don’t want to either results in tension or people back off completely.

4                    Build relationships and trust over time

Relationships take time to build and so don’t seek big decisions too quickly. If you’re calling a potential customer for the first time, keep the call and any requests simple. To build trust make sure you are honest, fulfil any promises and then get back in touch at the agreed time. Always expect sales to take multiple calls – if they don’t, it’s a bonus.

5                    Take responsibility

Don’t expect the customer to work for you. If the person with whom you want to speak is not available then take responsibility for calling back and update your written records accordingly. Don’t leave messages asking to be called back.

6                    Be a great listener

Listening is perhaps the most important skill for a salesperson to master. Take notes when listening, never interrupt and let the other person finish their sentence before talking; these are all small skills that once combined, demonstrate that you value the customer. You can also ask ‘Confirm’ and ‘Clarify’ questions to check what you’ve heard. All of this helps to build rapport between the buyer and seller.

7                    Expect rejection

Expect to be rejected. No one sells every time even if your product is fantastic.  Rejection is not personal so keep it in context; if you’ve done your job professionally there should be an opportunity to ask to call back at a future date to see if circumstances have changed.

8                    Be positive

Use a positive tone of voice but also be you. People don’t enjoy monotonic sludge but at the same time salespeople who are overly cheery can come across as insincere and thus untrustworthy.

9                    Deliver on promises

Always deal in the truth, do what you say you are going to do and when an order results ensure you thank the customer. This behaviour builds rapport, sustains the relationship and enhances your chances of future sales and referrals.

10                Reward and review

Schedule time for sales and when the target number of calls you want to make are done on any given day, reward yourself (chocolate is good) and reflect on your work. Don’t hide mistakes by pretending what went wrong didn’t happen. To improve, discuss all learning with someone who can offer an objective constructive viewpoint.

Key Learning Points: Telephone sales work is not easy. However, if you treat people as you would want to be treated, then here’s an inexpensive opportunity to build long-term sustainable relationships that will help your business grow. 

 

*With acknowledgement to the great American playwright, Arthur Miller.

 

Show off when the show’s on

Attention Bullhorn Megaphone Sends Warning MessageExhibiting at events and shows can be a highly effective way for small businesses to promote their products and services.

Just like the hitchhiker, you put yourself right in front of passing potential customers, waiting for someone to take interest and stop by.

Attending exhibitions is fun – and if you get it all right, it can also be highly profitable; over the past 25 years I’ve spent thousands of hours on stands around the world. But it’s not always a bag of laughs and just like all other promotional activities you have to accept you may not recoup your costs.

So if you want to exhibit what should you do to maximise the marketing opportunity, make best use of time and minimise the financial risk? Here are my top ten tips:

Top 10 Tips for exhibiting

1. Profile attendees

Before making the decision to exhibit anywhere find out about the audience being promised by the organiser. Ideally you need to know both the profile and volume of attendees, so request details. Then ask yourself what proportion of the delegates fit your target customer profile? In my experience, I’ve found small events (100 – 250 delegates) offering a high proportion of people who fit my market to be more effective than large events that offer a small proportion of the people I am targeting.

2. Cost the risk

As part of your preparation, work out the full event cost (include promotional materials, travel, accommodation, equipment hire and all stand costs). To calculate the ‘risk’, consider how many sales (at an average sales value) you need to make in order to breakeven. However, also bear in mind that there is typically a lead time for sales to be concluded so don’t plan for people to necessarily order at your stand. If your gut tells you the costs outweigh the benefits be cautious about committing.

3. One simple message works best

When creating stand promotional material, keep everything simple and easy for people passing the stand to understand. Whilst you should make your stand attractive, it’s a common mistake for exhibitors to overdress their space and fill every inch with information that conveys different messages. If people passing your stand are confused by what you offer, they will continue walking and no inquiries or sales will result.

4. Provide incentives for stand visitors

Give people an incentive to visit your stand. You can either provide an inexpensive ‘giveaway’ such as pens/sweets, a product trial or a free entry raffle draw and/or offer discount for orders placed during the show. By rewarding visitors with a special offer (exclusive to the event) you increase the goodwill between you and the customer and improve the chances of an order being placed there and then.

For reference, in my experience, the average order time can be several months after a show taking place yet all the costs have to be met in advance. Offers that lead to quick sales are great for cashflow.

5. Create movement and interaction

Stands that look dull and boring don’t attract visitors. But if you can create movement or include an activity that creates curiosity and interest, people are far more likely to stop by. And nothing pulls in people like a crowd. By way of example, the SimVenture team has exhibited at the annual IEEC event for a number of years and in 2012 the team felt an interactive element was needed to maintain interest levels.

Cards used for 'SimVenture Play your Cards Right'

Cards used for ‘SimVenture Play your Cards Right’

A game based on the theme of ‘Play Your Cards Right’ was created and throughout the event’s 3 days we were inundated with requests to participate. The show was a great success on all levels.

6. Build rapport with people

Treat people who pass or visit your stand as you would like to be treated. A common mistake (and a pet hate) is the exhibitor who asks one question of the innocent passer-by to get their attention and then spends the next 10 minutes telling them all about their wonderful gizmo. Give the poor souls who take interest in you a chance to talk about themselves by asking questions and listening to the answers. Building rapport with people through questioning and listening creates confidence and helps you understand how your product/service fits with the customer’s needs.

7. Gather contact information

Ensure you collect the contact details of everyone who takes an interest in your products and services at an event. Without the data you can’t follow the inquiry up at a later date or inform people of future offers. Record the information electronically or use a pad and pen – if you know your stand is going to be particularly busy create a simple system so stand visitors can record their contact details for you!

8. Wifi

Since event attendance means you are out of the office it’s almost inevitable that you will need to access your website or email whilst away. If you rely on email or website access then check with the event organisers that they offer free Wifi as part of the package. If the organisers want to charge an exorbitant fee (and some do) consider investing in a mobile phone with Personal Hotspot access.

9. Follow-up

When the event finishes and everyone goes home, it’s time for you to go to work and follow-up all inquiries. It’s important not to be too pushy and certainly don’t pressure people into anything; but a short personal email to thank people for their interest is a good place to start.

10. Evaluate

Finally, wait two or three months to fully evaluate the success of any event. Whatever you do, don’t sign up to exhibit again until you have completed the review. Waiting a couple of months allows you to be completely objective and means you can properly assess the overall financial position of the show. It’s quite possible that your costs outweigh sales at first-time events so be careful not to judge matters purely on financial performance.

Key Learning Points Use exhibitions to promote your business and reach new customers. Plan and prepare carefully and think through the whole experience from the customer’s viewpoint in order to maximise your chances of event success.

Bringing a revolutionary idea to life

Birth2This month will see the launch of ground-breaking communication technology that will open up a whole new era of global possibilities for smart phone and tablet apps.

The functionality and quality of the product is jaw-droppingly impressive. And the market for this new technology is immense. But for me, this story is as much about the imagination and  perseverance of the people behind the product’s creation.

 

Inspiring

What is so inspiring and telling is the fact that a Yorkshire entrepreneurial duo came up with a highly innovative idea, developed it over 18 months and now stand on the edge of revolutionising how billions of people receive, interpret and share information.

Remarkably, neither of the two individuals has ever worked in a large corporation and only one possesses real technological expertise. And the idea for the product came about as a result of another conversation (read: Start now and value the journey) and throughout the R&D uncertainty and risk were constant companions.

Highs and lows

Over the last 18 months I’ve been fortunate enough to share some of the highs and lows of their enterprising journey. Concepts have been developed and ditched; trips to the extended development team in Hyderabad have been numerous but not always straightforward; securing investment was critical but far from easy; and persuading potential clients to view prototypes reinforced their belief in the product but absorbed immense amounts of time.

But when I met with the two entrepreneurs (James and Chris) in a quiet local pub earlier this month they showed me the first product that’s due for release by the end of May. My head was left spinning at the quality of their work and the implications for the technology’s use. I also quizzed them about market sectors and clients they could approach.

Creating demand

Over the next 5 minutes both James and Chris reeled off brand-leaders in the sport, media and tourism industries with whom they were already talking or actually about to work. Doors it seemed were being opened for them. Their technology was in high demand on a global scale before the product was launched.

So I asked James whether it was time now to sit back and let the orders pour in.

“I wish it was,” he replied with a nervous smile. “The hard work is going to continue for a long time before I buy my first Sunseeker. We have some amazing clients lined up – in lots of different sectors, but rapid scaling up of our business to handle our anticipated growth is part of the challenge – and the fun!”

Back to the future technology

So what is their revolutionary idea and why is it going to make such a big impact?

Real people (or characters) are placed in augmented reality presentations that educate, inform and entertain viewers. Using your smart phone or tablet, static images appear and then are suddenly brought to life. Critically, your device automatically recognises the environment you are in – thus making the image highly authentic and believable.

The opportunities for this technology across industries are far-reaching. For example: Adverts will jump to life off the page or billboard; Kids anywhere in the world will watch their favourite footballers perform tricks in their own home; Museums and tourism attractions will interact far more with visitors (at a fraction of the cost of using actors); And then there’s the construction, military and transport industries and of course, education!

And for home use just imagine the possibilities for sharing augmented reality pictures and video. Instead of being in a 2D photograph standing next to a poster of your favourite music celeb or sports star, you’re now in a short movie with your idol who’s showing off their skills; and you’ve captured this footage in your own bedroom and then posted it on-line or sent it to your friends. How cool will that be?!

Back to earth

The company’s first apps include the official Guide to the City of York, an award winning museum, Rangers FC and their own brand ZooMob, which brings real wild animals into the home, school or elsewhere – and lets you take photographs of your friends and family with lions, tigers and bears amongst other exotic creatures.

I asked the two entrepreneurs how they had come to think up and invent such a radically new concept and Chris replied; “By starting out and asking ourselves what people might want from smartphones and then working out how to make it happen. We didn’t know much about phone apps when we began but, as Albert Einstein observed: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’”.

Key Learning Points: Technology offers widespread opportunities and there’s probably never been a better time ever to bring ideas to life. The powerful combination of imagination, talent, commitment and hard-work can have stunning results.

Get the free York tourism hologram app here:  https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/city-of-york-hologram-tour/id664615960?mt=8

Unsung heroes of enterprise & entrepreneurship

iStock_000005877478XSmallOver the past 2 years, 49 articles connecting hitchhiking and entrepreneurship have been posted on this Blog.

Subjects and angles have been wide as well as varied. But no single post has ever focused on the people who helped make my journey possible. Yet, if it had not been for the kindness of spirit, generosity of time and ability to help me reach my next destination, I would not have travelled far. And then I would have given up…

In these challenging economic times vast numbers of people (be they mentors, lawyers, business advisors, coaches, teachers, accountants etc.) work tirelessly and often for free to help entrepreneurs start and continue their journey. But critical support work often goes unnoticed (or hidden altogether) because it’s become the norm or simply happens away from public gaze. As a result, people are not necessarily recognised for the great work they do.

Let’s recognise the unsung heroes

So with your help let’s celebrate the unsung heroes of enterprise and entrepreneurship. Let’s list 50 (or possibly more!) deserving people on this site so we can better recognise those who are making a real difference and helping others on their journey.

In no more than 50 words, tell me about the hero (or heroes) you know. Send details (including their name* and why they deserve the recognition) to peter@simventure.co.uk

Everything will be referenced below.

50 Unsung Heroes 

1. Matthew Draycott - “Matthew cares passionately about people and how they grow through life experiences to reach their potential. Challenged but undaunted by the legacy paradigms of hierarchical and bureaucratic systems he chooses to use his considerable expert knowledge and belief to continue to redesign how education is delivered, from the outside in!” 

2. “One of the attributes entrepreneurship students most often cite as being influential in their studies is the enthusiasm of their tutor or tutors. But who enthuses these enthusiastic tutors? Dr Colin Jones (University of Tasmania), that’s who.”

3. “The road of the entrepreneurship educator can be a lonely one. Sometimes it is difficult to gain support and legitimacy for our practice. One man, Professor Harry Matlay, has assisted countless entrepreneurship educators gain just recognition of their practice through supporting their scholarship as editor of various academic journals.”

4. Charles Cracknell works tirelessly supporting young people in Hull and the East Riding with their business ideas.  Enterprising, innovative and passionate Charles has supported and helped established business start ups, city wide initiatives, events and an enterprise culture. An inspiration to us all to keep going and changing lives through enterprise.”

5. “There is only one policy guru in enterprise education and its Matt Smith, he has infiltrated every political party, got to know every policy officer in the sector with the single aim of ensuring they know more about student led entrepreneurship.”

6. Stephen Logan’s commitment to help young people within the school sector to set up in business is second to none at his school and outside he is committed to help them and signpost them well outside work hours; more important it’s all about the kids for him not how it looks on his CV, as impressive it is.

7. Mike Chitty is a true unsung hero of the enterprise movement who works tirelessly to empower people to reach their full potential. He is an enormously gifted and wise mentor who shares his knowledge and experience freely… and patiently! But most of all he is a critical voice who always challenges us to question and develop our practice.

8. Alan Donegan established the @PopUpBusiness school and has shown how practical, informative and fun sharing and cultivating new business ideas can be. He is a great speaker, engages the audience from the outset and has a really positive and infectious approach to his work and life.

 

*If you are not sure whether your nominee wants to be publicly recognised, please check with them first before submitting details!

 

 

 

 

Great ways to sharpen your writing

Pencils2Several years ago I co-wrote and published an on-line book.

Entitled ‘Dexter Bentley: My first million’ the story follows the entrepreneurial journey of a young man whose academic failures prove to be the catalyst for his business success.

The first draft was completed in a matter of months. But it was only when I asked a literary specialist and friend (David Harris) to review my efforts that I discovered the hard work had only just begun.

Working diligently through each page, Dave repeatedly demonstrated that by following some key writing principles I could improve the impact of the text and the whole story.

The experience taught me much about the power of the written word. Importantly, the principles I acquired also had a strong influence on the way I wrote for business.

Principles for effective business writing

1. Search and strip

Time is precious. Readers (be they customers, suppliers and/or staff) are increasingly impatient and want you (the writer) to get to the point quickly.

Much like a chef reduces a sauce to create a richer flavour, the writer should strive to remove all unnecessary words that add nothing to or mask the message.

In his superb book ‘Perfect Pitch’ Jon Steel uses Picasso’s love of sculpture to demonstrate the importance of only saying what needs to be said. Picasso, Steel tells us, declares to a studio visitor that he will “Sculpt a lion from a piece of rock”. When asked how, Picasso replies “I will remove every bit of stone that is not lion.” For more on this point, read Paul Graham’s ‘Writing Briefly’.

By applying this principle, written materials perform better. The trick is to ‘write for the reader’ so people receive relevant information quickly and in a manner that is easy to digest and act upon.

Hitchhiking provides an excellent example of this principle at work. The following sign communicates a message to the passing driver.

Hitchingsign1

 

 

 

 

 

The second sign demonstrates how the same message can be conveyed with greater clarity and impact.

Hitchingsign2

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Simple and clear

Simplifying the message through removal of unnecessary text is crucial. But there are other ways to keep writing simple.

Unlike academic essays, there is no need to use flowery language and/or complex terms. Short, punchy sentences are typically more user-friendly and the reader is also attracted to bulleted lists rather than lengthy paragraphs.

Headlines and sub-headlines also break up the text and make it easier for the reader to scan and digest what is important to them. Easy-to-read fonts (point 11 and above) such as Ariel are also kinder on the eye.

3. Think about your language

It’s easy as a writer to fall into the trap of writing for yourself. And when the reader picks up on this (consciously and/or subconsciously) your work has less influence and impact.

For example, if you repeatedly start sentences with the words ‘I’ or ‘We’ then the reader senses the communication is about you rather than them. Far better to turn sentences around so they start with words like ‘You’ or ‘Your’; this way the reader is made to feel important.

Words at the end of a sentence are also well remembered; so wherever possible say something here that resonates with the reader. You’ll have probably guessed that the stuff about yourself goes to the middle of the sentence. This is called the 1.3.2 rule and here is an example of rewriting a sentence so that it has greatest impact on the reader:

“We thought you would like to know about our groundbreaking product that we have launched this week…”

Is better presented as…

“You’ll be pleased to hear that this week we launched our latest groundbreaking product…”

4. Unpacking

Another important issue is the manner in which a written message is conveyed to the reader. It’s not uncommon for people writing about their own products or services to lose their focus during the task. So always ask yourself, what is the objective of the piece you are writing and what do you want people to do as a result? Then stay focused.

If you’re creating marketing materials it’s critical to make the benefits of what you are offering very clear. For people to be persuaded by your writing they have to grasp quickly what is in it for them.

On that note, it’s important not to confuse features with benefits. Features simply highlight aspects of a product or service. Benefits communicate what a service or product does for the person reading the information.

5. Keep it personal

Finally, when writing, imagine the person that will read your work.

By writing for the individual (rather than a mass market) the text is able to convey greater empathy and understanding of the reader’s needs. Writing convincingly may require market research, but if you do your background work properly you are more likely to be able to write with authority and confidence.

A good example of personal writing that fully resonates with the reader is the postcard. The text which is typically written for one person is succinct, unstuffy and personal; most importantly perhaps, the reader enjoys receiving the information.

Key Learning Points: Entrepreneurs who are able to communicate effectively using the written word are more able to persuade and influence others. Use the tips presented in this post to advance your own writing.

How not to gamble on the horses

TruthSupermarket ‘thoroughbred’ Tesco had a nightmare over the horsemeat scandal.

Matters lurched south in January 2013 when the company took out full-page national ads apologising for its home-brand burger containing a reported 30% horsemeat. Then the public had to stomach the notion that consuming a ‘Spaghetti Western’ didn’t necessarily involve watching horses on the telly. And when Tesco thought the PR couldn’t get any worse, well it did.

On February 18th last year a Tesco delivery driver ran over and killed a horse in Warwickshire.

Why the stew?

Making Tesco the single mule for the hippophagy (horse-eating) mess is unfair. Organisations such as Findus and Birds Eye were implicated too; and according to BBC’s Panorama, less well-known distribution and food production companies spread right across Europe were entangled in what may have ultimately turned out to be a real health scare, and possibly worse.

But whilst eating horsemeat is taboo in the UK, it is an accepted part of the diet in many cultures. Britain’s ‘pedigree chums’, the French seemingly have more of an appetite for a ‘stable’ diet. Food historian Dr Annie Gray, who lived in France for 3 years, says for her it was completely natural to eat horsemeat since it was sold by her local butcher.

“I am far more concerned with where the food is from. I would far rather eat ethically sourced, well-cared for horse, than battery chicken, for example,” she says.

The source is critical

Dr Gray’s point demonstrates why the scandal’s impact was so widespread. It’s not that people are eating horse, it’s the fact suppliers misled consumers about the ingredients and their origins. As a consequence, the fundamental issue of trust took a whipping and people said ‘nay’ to meat.

According to a February 2013 poll of 2,200 adults (conducted by Consumer Intelligence research company), the presence of horse (sold as beef) led British consumers to buy less meat. Products were pulled from supermarket shelves as one in five adults said they were changing their shopping habits. Over 65% of respondents said they trusted food labels less.

From field to fork

In our highly connected world people have far greater access to information and are able to make much more informed purchasing decisions. Food retail is now about both low price and high quality and I’m informed by an industry specialist that there is no headroom in a competitive market to trade off one against the other. Critically, the customer wants both.

To build reputation food retailers have focused more on the issue of provenance to generate confidence and trust between buyer and seller. Provenance gives the retailer better quality control with individual products traceable from field to fork; among other things the customer gets a nice photo of the smiling farmer on the packaging.

But whether it’s economic pressure, plain greed or both, deceitful food producers have managed to hide unwelcome ingredients within processed foods. And once disguised in a branded wrapper oozing trust, food of dubious origin smuggles its way onto our supermarket shelves.

Digesting the lessons

This scandal still has a distance to go and it would not surprise me if we didn’t see more well-known food labels fall from grace, or even further.

However, this event whilst having greatest impact on large organisations, relays several important messages to people starting out in or running a small business.

Trust & Openness

It takes time, money and effort to create a trusted sustainable brand. But the horsemeat saga demonstrates brilliantly how trust can be lost in no time at all. All that hard work goes to the wall. For more on this issue I recommend Stephen Covey’s ‘Speed of Trust’ – page 237 also summarises the key issues underpinning organisational trust.

Being open with customers as well as suppliers fosters a culture of trust. Increasingly consumers expect and enjoy being more involved with an organisation. One example of this is the restaurant chain ‘Leon’ where customers are encouraged to actively participate with the business. The food is great too – wholeheartedly recommend their ‘Porridge of the Gods’.

Values verses cash

Every business experiences problems with cashflow and the issue is typically most acute in the early years. When financial pressures arise there can be a temptation to cut corners with the service or product delivery in order to protect or save money.

However, as the horsemeat scandal has demonstrated, the consequences of prioritising money over core values can lead you quickly down to the knackers yard. This short audio story featuring entrepreneurial guru Seth Godin highlights the importance of being true to yourself and the fact that ‘what you stand for is more important than the month’s revenue’.

Adversity brings opportunity

As this post hopefully demonstrates, horsemeat is not bad. However, the public reaction and outcry has revealed much about the British psyche and as the research demonstrated, has changed buying behaviour too.

Where there is new information and when people change habits, there are opportunities for clever entrepreneurial minds.  Just like the hitchhiker, headway is often made when you’re prepared to think differently and tackle rather than run from adversity.

And speaking publicly today (the first time since the crisis took hold) Tesco CEO Philip Clarke, said his supermarket is now looking to source more locally and work closely with farmers and in greater partnership with suppliers. I bet other supermarkets will follow suit. And if you want to supply this market, this may be the right time to back yourself.

Key Learning Points: Learn from the mistakes of organisations embroiled in the horsemeat scandal and work closely with suppliers and foster relationships with customers. People want to work with suppliers that are truthful and honest.     

Digging for fire will spark your thinking

Fire_TreasureLast month’s blog post entitled ‘Top 10 websites for entrepreneurs’ highlighted the most popular sites being recommended to people starting in business.

But when looking more deeply at the sites and social media sources that didn’t make top ten status, it became clear that something that lacks popularity may still have game-changing value. Much like the globally renowned Edinburgh Festival, you must visit its ‘Fringe event’ if you want to unmask the future diamonds of entertainment.

So intrigued was I by the ‘entrepreneurial fringe data’ (supplied to me by research respondents), that I found myself losing hours reviewing recommended social media sites, blogs, YouTube videos, books as well as web applications and tools. The content is spectacular. But the really interesting discovery is the thinking patterns and connections which reveal where the future of entrepreneurial learning and application is headed.

Top 10 fringe websites 

So what are the wonderful other websites (‘WoWs’) deserving of your attention?

A popular choice centred around the research completed by Sara Sarasvathy. Her robust studies identified (and subsequently modelled) how entrepreneurial minds think and how and where fundamental differences exist compared to the mind of the corporate employee. Her research has serious implications for teachers and trainers.

Wow1: Read more about Sara’s work and watch her explain her theories too.

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Linked to, but independent of Sara’s research, is compelling work completed by key people including Alex Osterwalder, Eric Ries and Steve Blank. The traditional business plan may still have a place in teaching as well as supporting people into start-up but the thinking expressed by these experts exposes the flaws of how plans are developed and then used.

“A start-up is a temporary organisation designed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model” explains Steve Blank who is both a serial entrepreneur and academic. Several websites were recommended where Steve Blank shares his thinking and highlights fundamental implications for teachers, trainers and of course entrepreneurs themselves.

Wow2. Watch Steve Blank explain his groundbreaking theories at IEEC 2012.

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In his book ‘The Lean Startup’, Eric Ries emphasises the need for people to be able to build, share and test new ideas quickly and efficiently, rather than working slowly on concepts, plans and policies that date faster than the ink dries.

An excellent and practical web application that makes real sense of the Business Canvas and Eric Ries’ thinking is the ‘Lean Launch Lab’. For me, this site conveys a complex issue in a pragmatic manner. The visual nature of the Lean Launch Lab makes it a powerful resource to use.

Wow3. See the Lean Launch Lab in action

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Steve Johnson is an author and speaker I’ve referred to in previous blog posts on this site. His book ‘Where good ideas come from’ is a highly recommended read for any entrepreneur seeking to make sense of their own innovative thoughts and direction. His 4 minute stop-animation film summarises some of his great thinking and backs up Sara Sarasvathy’s, Steve Blank’s and Alex Osterwalder’s research.

Wow4. Be reassured and inspired by Steve Johnson

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Numerous web tools were also recommended within the research. Two that really stood out for me included ‘Quora’ and ‘Popcorn’. Quora is a database connecting tens of thousands of people who are seeking advice and supplying answers on a range of topics including business and entrepreneurship. Popcorn on the other hand is an on-line resource that makes it easy to enhance, remix and share web video. So if like the SimVenture Team you want to use eye-catching film to help promote your work, visit their site.

Wow5. Make worldwide connections with Quora and stand out with Popcorn.

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So many respondents fed back great YouTube sites that support entrepreneurial learning and teaching. YouTube has an unlimited supply of relevant and insightful films and you only have to type in the names of people mentioned in this post to start discovering treasures that will both accelerate and focus your own thinking.

Wow6. YouTube has it all and below are four of my favourites:

What it takes to be a successful entrepreneur

Inspiring the entrepreneur inside you to act & change the world

Not in the research but a personal favourite that fires my mind

How one idea sparks further thinking (you may wet yourself laughing too)

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Another feature of the research was the list of people cited as highly inspirational and entrepreneurial. Neither Richard Branson nor Alan Sugar made the shortlist but one person who received multiple votes was Paul Graham. Programmer, writer, serial entrepreneur and investor, Paul’s published articles received 17 million views in 2011. His startup incubator has also funded over 450 startups, including Dropbox, Stripe & Reddit.

Wow7. Does Paul Graham run the best Startup Programme in the World?

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If you’ve visited Paul Graham’s site you’ll have noticed his platform is based around a simple blog site. Blogs are so easy to create and as long as you have something valuable to say, people will visit and then help promote your work. A key blog site that was recommended to me several times concerns the work of best-selling author Seth Godin who is encouraging us all to make something happen with our lives.

Wow8. Seth Godin inspires the creative entrepreneur in all of us

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Smack in the middle of this research project, I received an email from those clever people at the ‘big river’. Their subject headline: ‘View the top ten books about entrepreneurship’. How could I not pass on this simple and obvious website recommendation to you?

Wow9. Amazon does Entrepreneurship in books and Kindle

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And finally, if you’re not already involved, join the on-line parties at LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. For me, the available information through these social media sites is invaluable and the work and referrals I’ve received through these sources continues unabated. Other people said exactly the same.

Wow10. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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Well, that’s about it on the subject of researching & reviewing websites and social media for now. As ever, please feedback thoughts or leave a post below. A tonne of other ideas waiting to be transformed into the written word await me and I look forward to getting back into the creative hitchhiking groove very soon.

Special thanks…

Before closing, I must thank again everyone who contributed to the research, and especially Matthew Draycott, Simon Brown and Nigel Adams who shared so much recommended material for this post. Cheers chaps.