Fishing for exports? The world’s your lobster*

ImageForum_ArticleBuilding the SimVenture brand has involved little hitchhiking but much globe-trotting over the last 8 years. In this time exporting has become a key revenue stream. So what’s been learnt and how can you develop your own export expertise and thus build your business? Here are my top 10 tips…

1. Work with your national export agency

The UKTI provides an invaluable service that starts with the Passport to Export scheme. Over the last 7 years this agency has offered excellent & ongoing advice, information, training and leads abroad – virtually all for free. We have also benefited from several grants to support  trips overseas (up to 50% of costs) which has made it much easier to justify time and effort spent travelling. If you’re not based in the UK, find out which government department supports export and discover what help is available.

2. Pull is much easier than push

Not long after our website went live in 2006 we started to receive inquiries from around the world. People were downloading our software and requesting quotes months before a member of the team set foot on foreign soil. This ‘pull’ from abroad made it much easier to justify plans to export and the level of interest only increased when the first trip was made.

3. Book flights and accommodation direct

There are 2 key websites we use for booking hotels and flights. Not only do we get great rates but the direct booking systems provide a complete overview of the market as well as control over purchases. Skyscanner shows all flights and prices and you can take your pick in terms of airline and airport. Booking.com provides access to accommodation all over the world – all in a clear and easy to understand manner. Critically, if your plans change you have the option to cancel booked accommodation – at very late notice and at no charge.

4. Finding good agents and distributors is crucial

Whilst the ability to book hotels and flights direct is recommended, it’s almost essential that you work through local agents and distributors to build up leads and sales. Typically, these people work on commission and the better the % rate the more work you might expect from them. I could write a whole post about finding, working with and managing agents but my one piece of advice is to find people who are genuinely interested in your product and have the skills and background to work with customers in their respective territory. Those seeking a fast buck are almost always only with you for a short time.

5. Use time abroad wisely

Opportunities to market and sell abroad can be boundless. Working with UKTI you can find out about conferences and exhibitions for your market sector and these events may act as a trip hub with which to arrange other meetings. Having learnt from mistakes we only exhibit at events where a high proportion of visitors fit our customer profile. With regards to face-to-face meetings I aim to have at least 3 a day and these are all organised in advance by email. Use the advanced settings on LinkedIn to find people who you might want to meet. It is a very targeted, efficient and effective marketing channel.

6. Which airline?

If budgets are tight then use Skyscanner to find the cheapest available airline. But if you’re travelling long haul and like a bit of style then try an Airbus 380. Singapore Airlines (always recommended) and Emirates both have them in their fleet (online booking is straightforward) and the extra seat room, quietness and screen entertainment makes travel much easier. Business Class may be an indulgence but no one does it as well as Emirates. If you travel regularly with an airline then collect miles for free flights or upgrades later. Virgin Atlantic is one example of a company allowing you to accumulate miles through flying and with a credit card but read the terms and conditions carefully! Finally, I highly recommend Virgin Australia, Air Asia and Virgin America when flying within the respective countries. All easy to use, reliable and inexpensive if you book ahead.

7. Sound relationships take time

Trust is everything in business and it’s a rare thing to strike a deal at a first meeting. You have to put time and energy into relationships and this means return visits are almost essential. If agents and potential customers can see that you are committed to working together they will put more effort in too. Lead times for us are typically 12 months and more but once the process has started, all time and effort is a worthwhile investment.

8. Dealing with money

For me, a little currency and a healthy credit card go a long way when abroad especially if flights, hotels and airport taxis have been booked in advance. Buying currency at the Post Office rather than the airport gets you a better exchange rate but it will take longer to complete. We buy our currency at airports because time is often at a premium.

When it comes to billing clients abroad, all our invoices are in sterling. We also insist that bank charges must be met by the customer and thus add £12 to each bill. For international transactions to be completed, ensure your invoices include all the relevant information including: bank account details, Swift number, IBAN number and a BIC number.

9. Invaluable gadgets and accessories

Having a laptop and access to the internet is vital when travelling. When I book accommodation I always check to see that free wireless provision is available in the room. Likewise, power is essential and a multi-purpose plug like the ‘Swiss Gear‘ adaptor is an invaluable travelling companion. A bag padlock (for airline baggage) as well as lightweight quality headphones are always with me – the latter so I can escape the world especially in busy places (and don’t have to use crappy headsets supplied by airlines). Finally, take a bottle opener and a spare phone charger cable.

10. Prepare your paperwork

Prior to departure ensure you have relevant insurance, printed e-tickets for all pre-booked trains, flights and accommodation, a passport (not within 6 months of expiry) as well as necessary business visa documents to enter the countries you intend to visit. Most countries simply require you to fill out a visa card (free) on the flight but places like the US (see ESTA) and Australia require pre-registration and authorisation on-line. If you plan to travel on business to places such as India and Nigeria purchasing a visa can take a few months; so plan well ahead and consider using a professional and trustworthy agency to help with your application.

Key learning points: We live in a global market and opportunities to export abound. However, executing a successful export strategy takes time as well as money so plan ahead and consider all details. Business travel is a great way to see the world. 

 

*No oysters, lobsters or any other shellfish were harmed in the writing of this post. Article title inspired by the wonderful word-smith and long-time friend, Kay Wright. 

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.

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.

Top 10 websites for entrepreneurs

ToptenFor the past 2 months I’ve conducted some basic research to establish the best websites that help people start and stay in business in the UK. Over 500 individuals (who work in an advisory and business support capacity in academia, public as well as the private sector as well as people running businesses) were asked to provide feedback on the single question ‘What are the really good websites you recommend people use?’.

The purpose of the exercise was to start work to clear the fog of information. There are hundreds if not thousands of websites claiming to provide support, information and advice to entrepreneurs. Such duplication and fragmentation is confusing and only undermines what is really credible. So what did the research uncover?

Findings summary

In total, respondents recommended nearly 100 different sites. No single site stood out completely from the crowd but the final count provided a conclusive top 10.

Whilst no locally or regionally focussed website received a high enough number of votes to make the top slots, two universities that serve thousands of students (Birmingham & Bristol) were recommended as popular portals since they provide high quality information and signpost students to external websites that add value.

One example of an external website that serves the needs of thousands of users  is run by the Northern Ireland Business Enterprise Agency ‘Advantage NI‘. From ‘Business Profiling’ and ‘Bootcamps’ through to ‘Market Synopsis’ and ‘Export Support’, this site looks comprehensive, highly applicable to a wider audience and well worth a visit.

Also of note is a new website co-founded by Peter Bailey and David Friel, both from Loughborough University. Entrepreneurhandbook is a comprehensive portal of the main UK websites that support ‘startups’ and budding entrepreneurs. A key selling point for the site is the way it references other information sources in an easy-to access manner.

Making the Top 10

Respondents noted favourites for different reasons. As you will see, the top 10 includes a mix of the creative and inspiring as well as some that simply focus on robust factual data. Of note is the fact bank websites received little more than a sniff of appreciation from respondents, although HSBC and Lloyds were complemented for their ‘Start-Up’ Guides.

Equally noteworthy was the sparsity of interest in ‘crowdsourcing’ sites and specifically ones that help people raise funds when starting in business. Seedrs for example is dedicated to helping people raise start-up capital as well as signposting investors to new businesses. The site is doing great things. Will sites like this become future favourites?

Interestingly, whilst the research asked for recommended websites, many respondents were also keen to suggest social media content and great YouTube videos. Since I received so much data on this subject I’m going to publish a separate Blog Post in a couple of weeks highlighting the great material that’s out there.

But for now, here are the top 10 sites in order of popularity. Please note this is only a top-line survey and more robust research is needed on a regular basis to help provide the definitive list; however, I hope this post kick-starts thinking and helps you to find, recommend and use credible and valuable information more quickly.

1. Startups.co.uk

Definitive website providing an array of relevant information all presented in an easy to access and digest manner. From ‘what business to start’ and an on-line forum to advice on IT purchases and franchise creation, it seems this detailed site has data on everything the entrepreneur needs to get going.

2. Entrepreneur.com

Whilst some of the information on this US portal may not be UK relevant, the interactive nature of the site combined with its powerful blog and commitment to answering ‘How to..?’ questions gets it to the No.2 slot.

3. www.gov.uk

Whether it’s information about a specific type of business to start or advice on trademarks, copyright and IP , this is the place for the facts. Don’t expect stunning graphics but the navigation is straightforward. You’ll also find links to all other relevant government sites.

4. HMRC

Surprised me that two government sites should make the top four, but clearly good things are being done to make every detail about tax (PAYE, VAT, Corporation Tax, NI, Self Assessment etc.) and finance easily available. You can even register as a user on this site.

5. Smarta

Use the site to get advice, see films of successful entrepreneurs talking about their journey and/or access the organisation’s ‘Business Builder’ (chargeable); this site combines information with highly innovative and valuable services for the entrepreneur.

6. StartupDonut

Comprehensive portal of information, advice, guidance and ideas on everything linked to business creation and management. The availability of free document templates and provision of an event diary makes this site a must for any budding entrepreneur.

7. Shell LiveWire

Linked to the Oil Giant, this site is highly credible. Annual awards event and 4 * £1,000 monthly prizes marks Shell Livewire out from others. I was a beneficiary of this organisation 20 years ago, so can only endorse all their work to date.

8. Cobweb

Cobweb researches, publishes and continually updates a range of practical publications and information services for small and micro business owners, business advisers and enterprise practitioners and small business funders.

9. StartupBritain

Organisation that seeks to unite entrepreneurs behind a single cause. Information about local events and provision of supplier offers tailored to the entrepreneur’s point on the journey makes this portal stand out and thus achieve top 10 status.

10. Stanford Technology Ventures Program

Perhaps the best global source of on-line information for educators. The ‘Entrepreneur’s Corner’ provides archive content from the STVP which includes a vast array of film content on just about every subject linked to entrepreneurship.

 

Final thoughts… 

Hopefully you can ‘hitchhike’ virtually around the recommended sites and use as well as share new-found information with the people with whom you work and support.

Thank you to everyone who took part in this simple survey; if the resultant information has brightened your day or made your life a little easier, then please let me know or leave a post below!

As I suggested earlier in the article, since there are so many websites providing information in this field, it’s really important to continually work to cut through the fog so the best stuff can be discovered and shared. So may be this is an annual task…

Meeting the world’s greatest entrepreneur

It all started with a cold call.

“I’m sorry but Nick never gives interviews” I was informed. The PA on the other end of the line was pleasant but firm. “But please give me your details. Someone in PR will be in touch I’m sure.”

Two days later the phone rang. To my complete astonishment I learnt my wish had been granted. Even though he had a hectic schedule, the world’s greatest entrepreneur wanted to meet me in person; and he had even insisted on making all my travel arrangements.

The overnight flight was a bit of a blur but on arrival at his private office I had his undivided attention for 2 hours. And the secrets of how to build a global empire of unparalleled scale from humble beginnings were shared with a cheery smile and hearty laughter.

How to build a global business

“It’s no good thinking about what you want” he said. “You have to focus on the market and provide products that people seek. But that’s only one small piece of the jigsaw. Everything we make is always packaged so it looks attractive, interesting and creates real desire.”

Pausing for thought, he looked over at the large open fire burning away in the corner of the room. “You see” his words had softened, “the packaging adds so much to the product because it creates that all important ‘dream’. Even the most mundane of things can be completely transformed by the wrapper. We don’t give people products, we give them dreams. You can write that down!”

Hanging on each word I marvelled at his commitment to every detail of service and the ‘just-in time’ delivery processes his organisation used. In terms of  international product distribution the sky it seemed was the limit. But how did he open, maintain and grow so many channels that allowed him to operate on both a local and worldwide scale?

Secret Agents

“Over the years” he explained, slowly stroking his beard, “we’ve managed almost like magic to build up a network of agents in every single corner of the globe. But to be honest, the real secret to our success is the unspoken bond of trust between our organisation and the agents with whom we work. The operation is so good now, it’s become seamless.

“Every single person who delivers goods in our name believes one hundred percent in what we do. This relationship ensures our distribution methods are highly efficient and effective; which I have to say has really helped me to manage my own stress levels!” As he finished his sentence so laughter filled the room once more.

Throughout our meeting various people came  in and out of the office and each one was treated with the same level of courtesy and respect. This tycoon was a real people person.

Love what you do

Looking through my notes I fixed on a question I was really keen to ask. What advice would he offer entrepreneurs that were just starting out?

“Find out what makes you sing, and follow it!” He replied without hesitation. “I didn’t set out to become famous, but over the years things worked out for me I because I just love this job.

“I’d also advise people starting out to find time to give without expecting anything in return. People really like givers and over the course of time they will give back – sometimes far more. Reciprocation develops huge amounts of trust. The truth is, that’s our organisation in a nutshell.

“Our passion for what we do,” he continued “and the goodwill we generate has also helped to keep us in the media especially at this time of year. Free publicity is a key energy source for this operation. I don’t know what we would do without it.

“It used to be the people in print media who wrote stories and features about us. But once Hollywood started making films it all went crazy. And since that Interweb thing came along,” he said with a chuckle, “well that just sent everything into orbit.”

I had my story. The focus, commitment, values and absolute consistency of this man’s approach to work was inspiring. His last words had provided the perfect conclusion to my interview; it was the ‘icing on the cake’.

We said our goodbyes and I left the meeting knowing two hours of my life had seldom been so well spent. At the reception I collected my return travel documents before leaving the building. Snow was falling heavily but the doorman who I first met on arrival greeted me with another warm smile and asked where I was headed.

“Yorkshire,” I replied. He  immediately waved his hand in the air and clicked his fingers. As if by magic the bells that had accompanied my journey over once more filled the air.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas…

Peter