Archive for March 2011

If content is king, who is responsible for the crown?

March 30, 2011

I have just returned from mentoring my latest client, a fast food shop with a wonderful local clientelle. And they have decided to join the 21st Century, looking to set up a website.

The reason is clear enough. Everybody is doing it; searching for ways to ramp up their unique virtual content or message in order to increase profits.

I recently tweeted the article by Sonia Simone: The Simple 5-Step Formula for Effective Online Content. The author asks a basic question – “What makes some content marketing succeed, while other writers work and work and never seem to get anywhere?”

And the answer is short and self-explanatory.

All of the “rules” of great content marketing come from one rule: put your audience first. It’s not about how much money you need to make with this launch, where you want to rank on Google, or what your cat had for breakfast this morning.

It’s about them — the readers, prospects, and customers — not you. (original emphasis)

Earlier this week I attended the latest event of the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum. Around a 100 people gathered to learn about the intricacies of social media from 5 experts in the field.

  • Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg – Using Testimonials to make your Website Visitors Buy.
  • Mike Mintz – Facebook Advertising That Gets Attention for Your Business.
  • Hillel Porath – Generating Business Leads Using LinkedIn
  • Debi Zylbermann – Bringing Traffic to your Website with Link Building.
  • Charlie Kalech – Defining a Keyword Search Strategy for Your Site

Read their blogs. Check them up on google. All really whiz people with many credits to their names. If they had one message, which they could echo together, it concerned the customer, the client, the one who is being searched for and targeted.

In other words, it is not just a case of plugging info that you find thrilling, If you want to find this person – a.k.a. a new source of revenue – via a web presence or Facebook or whatever, you have to understand what makes them tick and then write something on their terms.

The customer determines the size and colour of the crown jewels for the monarch.

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Failure itself or the fear of failure – what costs us more?

March 27, 2011

Many of us went through school petrified of getting things wrong. Just do something, anything. Make some clever mark, so it will look as if you have tried. Then they will ignore you and “pick” on another child.

As a business mentor, the more I mention this syndrome to clients, the more people that nod their heads back to me in agreement. Yup, “me too”, they are saying. Been there and done that.

And the relevance of all this several decades on? These same individuals have grown up and many have done well at university. They have opened a business. They can point to some form of success, socially and commercially. And they have all one other thing in common – they have “got stuck”.

Whatever the business, they are all stuck with the same thing. They find any excuse to move forward.  Some will come up all kinds of spin to explain away lack of progress, but it remains spin. Procrastination rules OK.

And the reason for the excess of hot air and the lower revenue levels is that they were taught not to make a mistake. It will be bad. You may get punished. You will get a low mark. Your contemporaries will not like you. Crawl into your shell or hide the problem.

The real problem is that these same teachers forgot to explain that you can also learn so much from your mistakes, and then move on to better things. It may sound strange but by getting things wrong, you can then begin to make more money.

It is the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review, which highlights all of these themes in detail. The magazine effectively gives”a stamp of approval to failure”.

Failure. We’re hypocrites about it. Go online, and you’ll find scores of pleasant aphorisms celebrating the inevitability of failure and the importance of learning from it. But in real life — and in real companies — failure is anathema. We’re afraid of it. We avoid it. We penalize it. It’s time for managers to get past platitudes and confront the F-word taboo

“Failure is inevitable and out of our control. But we can choose to understand it, to learn from it, and to recover from it.” Why did nobody talk to me like that when I was growing up.

The cost of poor time management to a small business

March 25, 2011

Managing your time – how many of us think we are pretty good at it? And how many of us are deceiving ourselves?

Three times this week, I met up with good educated people, offering quality services to clients. And each one was flunking on their own time management. Ask why, and the excuses came tumbling out:

  • Not important
  • Get by anyway
  • Too afraid to think about it
  • Etc

And as the business mentor, it was my job to “prick their cosy bubble”.

Let’s face it, many of us procrastinate. We are afraid of putting out price proposals in case we bid too low. We don’t call back prospective clients, just in case they say no. We delay completing tasks, because we are afraid of criticism. And sometimes, we are just down right lazy.

We all have that job at work (or at home) that we want to put off. So how do you get around all that twisted thinking?

I have started to introduce to my clients a very crude method. I get them to write out a very large sign with the word “MONEY” printed in bold letters. Why?

Whenever you do not get something done in time, you are giving up on an opportunity to increase your income. That money has the same value as a treat for your partner, a holiday with your kids, some home renovations, or whatever. 

And in a small business, if you blow that opportunity, there is rarely somebody else to pick up the slack. The income has gone, and you are left with finding silly excuses as to why you are not as successful as you could be.

If and when my clients flap around in the future, I assume that they will be looking at that sign and feeling the true cost of their nonsense.

Crusaders in 2012: What the West cares about in the Middle East

March 21, 2011

Let’s be frank. Colonel Ghaddafi is not a pleasant man. The NATO / UN / EU or whatever coalition is right not to trust him. Cameron et al have put themselves in front of the world media to say that they want to help Libyans decide their future for themselves, without fear of oppression.

I believe that these world leaders are sincere. I am sure they are repulsed by the stories of previous torture emerging from Benghazi or wherever. But, let us be clear, just what do our twenty first century knights in shining technology armour really want to achieve?

Are they looking to end terror of local groups or ethnic minorities? 

That would be nice. But, Ghaddafi has been torturing opponents for years, and nobody said a word. Libya was even chair of the UN committee for human rights last year. So, it is not just about trying export the Geneva Convention to new countries.

Let’s take this argument one stage further. President Mubarak was no saint, but the West loved him and Obama revealed one of his most famous speeches at Cairo University. Mubarak maintained the peace treaty with Israel and kept the Muslim Brotherhood at bay. When Obama finally turned his back on the Sphinx, these planks of stability were crashing to the bottom of the Mediterannean.

Elsewhere, William Hague, Britain’s Foriegn Minister, has called on leaders in Bahrain, Oman and Yemen to show restraint against demonstrators. You must be joking! They have not done so in the past  – where were you then Mr H? – and they are hardly likely to learn this new art in 2011.

And as for creating a new order at the UN, words fail me. Iran has just become a panel member of the committee to support women’s rights. Hypocrisy? Chutzpah? Stupidity? I will let my readers choose, and then ask why this is allowed to happen without protest.

It is the “Damascus conundrum”, which fully exposes the malaise and emptiness of Western thinking. Syria is a police state that arrests and kills opponents in quantity. It has spurned a peace opportunity with Israel in 1999. It is a proxy of Iran. So surely if the violent demonstrations lead to a toppling of the Assad dynasty, that will be good news for Europeans?

Not necessarily so. Who knows who could replace the current regime. Many of the demonstrators see Assad as a traitor and are demanding a more Islamic republic……………just like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Back to square one?

Fortunately, there is one thing that everything all sides can agree on. Israel is in the wrong. The world blames repression in Gaza on Israel, and ignores continuous reports of Hamas aggression against locals. When five so-called settlers are murdered in their sleep, world media downplays the story. When reporting back to the British Parliament from a recent tour of the Middle East, and as riots continued all over the region, David Cameron made a fairly large swish of his verbal sword in the direction of Israel’s policies. 

Amazingly, it is one of Israel’s fiercest critics, the Guardian newspaper, that noted just how pathetic and outmoded this diplomacy has become.

Our absurd obsession with Israel is laid bare. 

The Middle East meant only Israel to many. Now the lives of millions of Arabs have been brought to Europe’s attention.

The European Union, which did so much to export democracy and the rule of law to former communist dictatorships of eastern Europe, has played a miserable role in the Middle East. It pours in aid but never demands democratisation or restrictions on police powers in return. That will have to change if the promise of the past month is to be realised.

Israel fails the earthquake test

March 20, 2011

Earthquakes occur in the Holy land roughly every hundred years. The last major disaster occurred in 1927. So, by the law of stats, something big is round the corner.

This month’s tragedy in Japan has only served again just how unprepared Israel is for the next (inevitable?) earth shattering event in the region. Despite reports from the ombudsman, debates in the Kenesset and appeals from academics, the state’s fund for dealing with damages from an earthquake, a fund which exists and operates in countries like Japan and is supposed to supply solutions for the immediate economic needs – is empty.”

But as Japan was facing meltdown, the government of Israel had to deal with two more immediate disasters.

Late Friday night of the 11th of March, two terrorists broke into the town of Itamar on the West Bank and murdered 5 people in their sleep. One of the slain included a three month old toddler.

CNN did not consider it a terror incident at first. The BBC downplayed the act. Sky ignored the story entirely.

As for the government in Jerusalem, it failed to realise that it had to compete for media airspace with the horrors in Japan or with images of the civilians trying to combat Colonel Ghaddafi. Graphic pictures of the victims were released far too late. The mini humanitarian debacle, and its implications for the fragile peace process, was missed by the world.

Then, a few days later, Israeli commandos boarded a ship, the Victoria, which had sailed from Turkey and was destined for Egypt. Intelligence reports indicated that it was bearing Iranian weapons for Hamas . Bingo! The top brass in Tel Aviv had got it right, and a big photo op was arranged for the next day.

BUT, somebody had forgotten to explain to the Mossad how to host international journalists and cameramen. After keeping the visitors hanging around in the heat for 2 hours and with few briefings available in English, 200 frustrated media people departed the scene…with no story.

So, the world will never know how hundreds of tons of weapons were prevented from reaching the hands of terrorists in Gaza. And what would Hamas have done with these arms of destruction? As reported by the BBC,

Civilian areas in southern Israel were heavily shelled by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza on Saturday morning (19.3.11), when more than 50 mortars were fired at the regional councils of Sha’ar Hanegev, Eshkol and Sdot Hanegev.

These are stories are real interest. Large numbers are being placed in danger or slaughtered by those who value life of others to the same degree as the Colonel in Libya. The world ignores. In parallel, many of the official Israeli spokespeople are so incompetent that they are frequently unable to make a difference.

It took a Palestinian journalist to pin point the dichotomy. Khaled Abu Toameh, discussing the complexities of Palestinian spin, concluded:

It is disgraceful that while Israel admits Palestinian patients to its hospitals, Arab hospitals are denying them medical treatment for various reasons, including money. But then one is reminded that Arab dictators do not care about their own people, so why should they pay attention to an 11-year-old boy who is dying at the entrance to a hospital because his father didn’t have $1,500 handy? But as the death took place in an Arab country – and as the victim is an Arab – why should anyone care about him? Where is the outcry against Arab apartheid?

Where has the West been until now? Why does Israel not shout out more about this hypocrisy? And who will remember that Israel once again is one of the first countries to send a medical team to help earthquake victims, this time in Japan?

What is a realistic expectation in business?

March 16, 2011

Two clients – two case studies – two bagfuls of pain

Wearing my hat as business mentor, I listened to a client explain how she had been delighted to be employed by a large American set up. Just the right job for an enthusiastic college graduate. And after all, they would train her, hold her hand at the beginning in important meetings, and develop a career path together.

Was it naivety, or just a fear to verify the facts in advance? Because at it happened, she came to realise that she had been employed as a stop-gap measure. She lasted barely a year in the place.

But here’s the catch. Until recently, she continued to blame herself for not making it work out.

Situation number two is more delicate. It is a tale of two sides who really want to broker a deal together. No doubt – the will is in place. However,one or the other assumes that the second person will act in a manner that, in reality, is not going to happen. The result? Numerous e-mail and or phone calls via third parties just to stay in the same place. All very agonising for both sides.

Why? These are classic cases of missed expectations. If people were to ask a couple of direct, pertinent questions – firmly not rudely – then life would be much simpler.

The latest posting by Dr Robert Brooks relates to this issue: It is advisable to spend 5 minutes and real the whole blog. In brief, Brooks observes how many of us are fooled into false expectations, both privately and in commerce. The antidote is often an extra bit of “self-compassion”, which many parents and teachers are not familiar with!

Brooks concludes:

…….you might wish to keep in mind the words of the late Willie Stargell, a Hall of Fame baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I have quoted his words in previous writings. When asked after his retirement what he thought baseball had taught him, he replied:

Baseball taught me what I need to survive in the world. The game has given the patience to learn and succeed. As much as I was known for my homers, I was also known for my strikeouts. The strikeout is the ultimate failure. I struck out 1,936 times. But I’m proud of my strikeouts, for a feel that to succeed one must first fail; the more you fail the more you learn about succeeding. The person who has never tried and failed will never succeed. Each time I walked away from the plate after a strikeout, I learned something, whether it was about my swing, not seeing the ball, the pitcher, or the weather conditions, I learned something. My success is the product of the knowledge extracted from my failures.

Stargell certainly possessed a healthy, self-compassionate attitude towards mistakes (strikeouts). When he came to bat he expected to do well, but also realized that when he did not, he would avoid a self-defeating, harsh assessment. Instead, his plan was to learn from the setback so that his next at bat might prove more successful. Although it is difficult to change negative scripts, to not do so is to continue to lead a life of disappointment, anxiety, and unhappiness rather than one filled with optimism and resilience.

Is your start up a “category winner”?

March 15, 2011

I have spent the past 2 months encouraging a client of mine to see “Social Network”, a fascinating product of Holywood, which portrays the rise to fame of Facebook.

Clearly, I am in good company. Niklas Zennstrom, a co-founder of Skype, has written an excellent critique of the film. He correctly ignores parts where the director may have possibly assumed facts for the sake of the box office.

Instead Zennstrom observes that start ups strive to be “category winners”, and the entrepreneur is often desperate for success at almost any price.

There are implications here not only for start-ups, but also for the venture-capital firms that back them. Indeed, we founded Atomico, our firm, to address precisely these kinds of issues, seeing that new technology would disrupt not just consumer markets, but the venture-capital industry itself. For example, traditional financing rounds, when companies seek fresh capital at different stages of development, start to blur when start-ups grow so fast, and potentially require more capital at short notice.

This can create a situation where venture capital firms, not just entrepreneurs, struggle to keep up. Both need to think ahead if they want to create category winners, and understand that it’s essential to aim for this goal.

Back to my client, and I am seeking a way to urge them to realise that what they have is unique. Getting it to the market will have to be a fast process, ensuring that the competition is left with no choice but to give up. But unlike Zuckerberg – and the film’s creators – they don’t get it.

In comparison, I want to praise a lovely lady, Sonya Davidson. Now Sonya has discovered an amazing technology to create electricity out of hydrogen. With around US$50,000, she has put together a prototype and got herself in front of a key investors audience in New York – all within a year.

What next for Sonya? Simple: get the job done, and do so quickly – understanding all the time what is core value and what is not. As I said to her this morning, the final product would (unfortunately) have been a winner in Japan this week.