Saturday, 14 December 2019

Time to be creative

As business owners, we have our schedule.

Things to do - client meetings, prospect meetings, team meetings, tasks and projects, business lunches. It’s a merry-go-round with often little time left for reflecting and thinking.

But thinking and being creative can be what makes the difference. Developing that great new marketing idea, looking at a different and better way to complete a business process, exploring options to resolve a tricky employee or customer issue.

Many successful people make time and create an environment so that they can do their best thinking. Entrepreneur and author, Nigel Botterill does this every day. He works and thinks best in the morning so he sets aside 90 minutes or so at the start of each day and shuts himself away to think and create. He focuses on things that move his business forward - marketing ideas, developing a new product or service, a targeted email campaign, a video series or similar. Its worked for him as a serial entrepreneur with a number of multi-million £ businesses in his portfolio.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a great YouTube video from ex Monty Python comic John Cleese about creativity. It’s rather odd, with the great man standing at a lectern giving a presentation to a group of business people. The content is brilliant though. Cleese advocates making a set time for your creative work when you know you will not be disturbed. Also important is finding the right space where you feel comfortable. Before you start he says you should get all the clutter out of your head. Make that phone call, send that email, get that thing off your list. Then relax and be creative. In his case being creative was being funny and writing sketches. A great tip from Cleese is don’t settle for ‘good’. There’s a temptation when you have come up with your creative product to leave it there and move onto the next one. What he does is work a bit harder on it and try to move it from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Sometimes that can be painful and hard work but he believes it can make a real difference. 

Best-selling thriller writer Stephen King use discipline and routine to be creative. He writes every day, without fail, again in the mornings, in his writing den. Like Cleese he believes in revisiting and improving his creations after the first draft. In his case he puts a draft manuscript in a drawer and forgets about it for a while. He then comes back and looks at it with fresh eyes some days or even weeks later. Children’s author Roald Dahl followed a similar, disciplined routine, writing in an armchair in his garden shed, with extra blankets and a hot flask to keep warm in Winter.

My creative time is when I’m running or driving. Away from distractions (apart from watching the road, of course) my mind wanders and occasionally a new idea will pop up which can be developed further on the run or on the road trip.

Creative genius and business guru Andy Warhol put it best when he said, ‘Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art’

As business owners, we need this time to be creative I think. To create the best art in our businesses. They don’t teach it in business school and there is no rule book but creativity can make your business more distinctive, more exciting and of course, more profitable.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Knowledge is power

I like the TV programme where antique experts go on a road trip in a vintage car. They start off with a wad of cash and along the way they stop at antique shops and hunt out bargains. Their booty is sold at various auctions and the winner is the one with the biggest profit made on the trip. All proceeds to charity of course.

I really enjoy this, partly for adding to my limited knowledge of antiques, partly for the banter and mainly for the haggling. Yes, the haggling.

That, for me, is the essence of the show. Can the expert find a treasure and negotiate a price with the shop owner which leaves them with a healthy profit and the shop owner satisfied?

After watching a ridiculous number of episodes (I’m on repeats of repeats of repeats now) I’ve reached the conclusion that there are two main types of antique expert. 

There are the ones who have an uncanny knack for sniffing out the genuine treasures and noting with glee that they are under-priced. The shop owner has not realised they have a hidden gem in their cabinet and left it jumbled together with sundry bric a brac.

Then there are the less observant, or perhaps less able experts. They mooch around the shop for a good while and eventually settle on something shiny which catches their eye. Inevitably these items are fairly-priced, which makes turning a profit a little more challenging.

Then the negotiation starts.

Our savvy expert knows he has a bargain on his hands. He shares his thoughts with the camera and goes off to find the shop owner. Negotiation is simple and quick. ‘Is this the owner’s best price?’ or, ‘Can they knock a couple of quid off’ The deal is done and both the expert and the owner are happy. Both have achieved good value. The owner has achieved their target price (or thereabouts). The expert has achieved outstanding value - a result of their knowledge, acquired from years of obsession, research and experience.

Our less savvy expert takes his shiny object to discuss with the owner. He looks for flaws, “There’s a bit of a crack here’, ‘Did you pick this up for a song in a house clearance’ or, ‘Is this one you’ve had for a while’. He makes a ridiculously low offer. The owner is clearly not happy and is reluctant to drop. They eventually reach a grudging compromise. The owner’s body language shows disappointment. They accepted a lower price than they wanted to and have barely covered their costs. The expert has the chance of a small margin if all goes well at the auction. If not, they'll make a loss. It’s a functional and unsatisfactory deal with neither party terribly happy with the outcome.

My take-out from this is that the expert with the knowledge is the big winner in the profit stakes. Haggling skills alone are unlikely to result in a great outcome.

I think this has relevance beyond the world of antiques. 

Knowledge has value, particularly in professional service businesses.

If businesses can find ways of applying their knowledge to address customers’ needs and wants, at the right price, there lies the potential for healthy profits and satisfied customers.