Archive for December 2011

So you are networking without a USP, and……

December 23, 2011

This time last week, I started up a new mentoring contract with a small family manufacturing enterprise. The owner has a decade of experience, knows what he wants to do next, but is majorly lacking in sales. How can I help?

“So what do you do,” I asked. And his response can best be described as a confused silence. When I pushed for a reason why people should buy from him as opposed to anyone else, I realised that I was causing some real anguish.

A few days later, I was reminded about this episode at the latest meeting of the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum. Over 70 people gathered together for a frantic 2 hours of speed networking. To clarify, the participants were given two minutes to speak to each other / swop business cards and then to move on to the next person.

For some in the room, this was a natural act. For others, the first few dialogues were very difficult. How could they get across a simple message about who they are, what they are trying to do and what help they require?

This is where the USP phrase comes in. As Chris Markham describes in an excellent and clear summary:

A unique selling point is a unique aspect or unique combination of aspects of your business that appeals directly to your potential market………..Without a unique selling point (or proposition) your business is terminally ill.

Obvious? Maybe. but then you have to create that platform, which is a process in itself. And worse, you have make sure that it matches your vision for your business.

This is not just more 21st century newsspeak, clever marketing terminology that has no real meaning. When we look around ourselves at any successful operation – local retail outlet or large corporation – what drives is a comprehensive knowledge of what they have to offer.

Going back to the JBNF event: By way of follow up, several people have reported that the networking has led to clear commercial opportunities for them. And if there is a common link to these successful members, it is probably that they have a defined direction for their businesses.

Something there for our small family manufacturing business to consider.


Did the OECD get it right about Israel?

December 18, 2011

Less than two weeks ago, the OECD commented about the Israeli economy:

Israel’s economy passed through the 2008-09 global downturn in relatively good shape but is now suffering alongside others from the continuing effects of the renewed global crisis, and geopolitical tensions have increased. Annualised quarter-on-quarter real GDP growth was 4.7% in the first quarter but had slowed to 3.4% by the third quarter. Much of the slowdown came …. as world trade slowed significantly. The November 2011 OECD Economic Outlook 90 has real GDP growth at 4.7% in 2011 but less than 3% in 2012. 

Compared to most of the rest of the OECD, this is pretty good stuff. However, a downturn is a downturn. Even Australia will feel the germs of Europe’s financial flu.

Now let’s look at some of the positive things in the economy of the Holy Land. Two issues stand out. First, as noted by the OECD, the country has maintained a solid performance in fiscal governance. This will help the Governor of the Bank of Israel if and when he will need to fiddle with interest rates to promote recovery.

Second, Israel is about to become an exporter of energy, specifically gas. When this happens sometime in the next two years, Israel’s economy will begin to take on a very different set of growth stats.

So, what’s the gimmick? How does an economy of only 7.7 million people and surrounded by mega geopolitical problems constantly manage to reinvent itself?

I was reviewing a lecture on utube by Assaf Luxembourg of the Ministry Of Finance. Looking at Israel since the early 1990s, he made two excellent observations. 

  • It is not just that Israel has become a “start up nation”, where hightech plays a big role. Luxembourg’s analysis of Israel’s exports reveals how the country has successfully molded old and new industrial sectors. 
  • In parallel, Israel has done this while absorbing hundreds of thousands of new immigrants, particularly from the former Soviet Union. That means that the GDP per person has continued to move forward.

Bottom line: Israel may not be an economic elixir, but its financial mandarins are developing a model which many others may wish to emulate. And that is why the OECD has not reduced its predictions for Israel to levels associated with most leading European countries.

So we don’t like Israel because…….

December 17, 2011

The British Parliament never ceases to amaze me.

As the country sinks into a recession with gaping unemployment figures, its legislature continues to spend an inordinate amount of time on debates concerning Israel – usually in a derogatory manner. In the past few days alone, there has been condemnation of treatment of the Bedouins as well as the handling of violent Palestinian demonstrations.

For copycat tactics, hop over to the UN in New York. The American Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice recently described the treatment Israel receives in the assembly as “obsessive, ugly, bad for the United Nations and bad for peace.”

OK, so Israel and Israeli “stuff” are not politically correct these days. But why?

I have just received the Democracy Intelligence Index for 2011 from the “Economist Intelligent Unit”. (You need to register to log on).  This measures electoral process, civil liberties, participation, and more. Of  167 countries, Israel came in at 36. That is up one place from last year, but clearly implies there is room for improvement.

So, then I looked for other countries in the Middle East region. I know that I need to get my eyes tested, but the closest entry I found was Turkey… number 88  on the listing. Yes, Turkey, that same country whose President recently refused to take part in an international event because Israel’s Defence Minister was also present.

For the record, Palestine came in at lucky 99.

Just an irrelevant academic exercise? I think not. I have quoted Tom Gross before in my blog, an independent journalist with deep Middle East experience. His most recent posting refers to the 73 beheadings in Saudi Arabia this year. And previously this month he has cited the persecution of Christians in the region. (See

In fact the list of persecutions is extensive, but it is often Israel that is singled out.

Why? I am no shrink. If you follow “Israel 21C”, which has spent a decade reporting on Israel beyond the conflict, you will find a very different country than is often seen on the international media. (See Only this week, you can learn: –

  • Why Apple’s first r&d centre outside Americ is to be opened in Israel.
  • About Israel’s latest aid efforts in Kenya and southern Sudan
  • How the Bedouin are being empowered
  • etc, etc, etc.

36 is not the greatest of positions. There again, a mere 5 places higher is Italy. I don’t see the BBC or the New York Times leading a crusade against Roman culture. Let us hope and pray that 2012 brings a more realistic and honest approach to how the world, and Israel in particular, is reported.

Facebook and small businesses – a practical approach

December 11, 2011

You see them all the time – plenty of articles stating “5 ways Facebook can help your biz”. Zuckerberg himself is very big these days on getting his idea into commercial and advertising space.

The only problem is that these so-called help blogs are either technical or time-consuming and only work if you implement them fully. For your average small-time company owner, who barely has time for the monthly accounts on an old computer, he barely reads the first paragraph before he moves on.

Let’s ask a simple question: Can Facebook be good for a small business? The answer maybe “yes”, especially if the enterprise is offering a product or service that can be valued at a social or community level. One such example is a local restaurant.

If yes, then the next question is “how” or “why”? For three reasons.

  • It is free
  • You can readily control the set up by yourself
  • The famous “like” symbol.
  • Yup – the thumbs up sign is often the key to all this. In fact, Facebook experts are so keen to explain the wow things that can be done today on the site – not just date of birth or where you studied – that they forget to dwell on this brilliant concept. So to recap……

    If I press “like” on what you have posted, then all my friends will have the opportunity to see the same text. And if one of them also presses, so all their friends can read the original site. And so on. In other words, one clever set of words can go viral, rapidly, and for the cost of 60 seconds of thought.

    Does it work?

    I have a client in Jerusalem, providing a familiar service but in an original format. We have been talking about his website for several months now. The content is more or less finalised, but he is waiting for somebody to complete the set up.

    Meanwhile, he opened a Facebook account in a few moments, has been uplifting pictures and ensures that there are several new postings every week. He is well past the hundred mark in friends, of whom over half are genuine customers.

    Is it a professional site? No. Any advertising? A long way off for now. Could it look so much better? You bet. However……….

    However, this same client now has a business. He has begun to build his own small customer base. He is deriving income.

    Now that is a practical example for other new and small firms to follow.

    So you procrastinate, do you?

    December 9, 2011

    Procrastination! It sounds like some stomach complaint that you can pop a couple of relaxants for.

    In some light comical way, there is a connection. People who put things off usually come up with a series of verbal excuses to justify their altered course of action. However, everybody knows – speaker and listener – that excuses they remain. And these excuses end up causing pain for their creator.

    So what’s it all about? Especially in a work environment, why do people procrastinate even when it will cost them time, money and effort? As a business moderator, I come up against this issue frequently. Just recently, I was faced with a champion “putter-offer”.

    Our heroine, call her Miriam, runs her own small company in the service sector. She is well-educated and understands the world of commerce. And yet she has been struggling to take on new clients. She has not even been initiating, going out of her way to find other things to do instead of selling her skills. Can I help?

    I met with Miriam several times. Will she do this or that? No. Why? Just won’t. Does she realise that she is forgoing income and thus not doing the things she wants to do. Yes? Will she change? Not really.

    And then something interesting happened. Rather than waiting for me to start off the discussion, Miriam turned up to a meeting with a conundrum. Should she take on two new clients? In other words, she had received a double bonus from heaven, but was considering turning it down!

    We spent a good deal of time discussing the pitfalls of the situation. What if this and what if that happened? We looked at some personal considerations, which may have been clouding Miriam’s judgements. “Yes, I appreciate that, but this will not make my hesitations go away”, she responded.

    And at that point, I realised that Miriam was about to reach “the eureka moment”. I opened the trap door.

    • Michael: So, you are concerned that you will not be able to do the work nor do so with the quality that you demand of yourself?
    • Miriam: Correct
    • Michael: That is a devastating worry – too big to handle?
    • Miriam: That’s it
    • Michael: Don’t you see. Your search for excellence is not just a weakness. It is also your strength.
    • Miriam: Look of non-plussed – as known as the look of  ‘I will be embarassd if you catch me out’.
    • Michael: It will push you to achieve the result you want to provide. After that, if your client achieves (or not) what they want to do, it will be dependent on themselves and not you.
    • Silence. Embarassment. Relief.

    In other words, Miriam’s high standards were a double-edged sword, but she had been trained to see only the negative side of the story.

    That is why she procrastinated about handling the new customer base. Unplaced fear had blinded her from her strengths and thus from reality.

    The problem for all of us is how to ensure that we surrund ourselves with “help tools” that will allow us to see through the darkness.

    Fish ‘n chips and the Tour de France meet in Jerusalem

    December 7, 2011

    Jerusalem is known for all sorts of things – the centre of three great religions, geopolitical conflicts, the host of ancient civilisations and more.

    This past few months have seen some additional titles enter the list.

    Take Alberto Contador, who is known as a great champion cyclist, having won the Tour De France three times. Yesterday, he sped to triumph in the annual race around the Old City of Jerusalem, a few dense square miles which compactly includes the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Rarely can walls of the city, erected by the Turks hundreds of years back, have witnessed such an event.

    And where did these guests stay? Well in a city not noted even by its residents for providing great service, two Jerusalem hotels have just been voted in the top ten of Middle East hotels. That is a great compliment for the Inbal (Laromme) and David Citadel establishments.

    Personally, having suffered the traffic jams resulting from the bike race, I went to look for a place to eat with my wife. The old fruit and veg market, Machane Yehuda, has become a hotspot for boutique restaurants. As I had recently heard that a fish and chip cafe had opened up and as an ex-pat Brit, who still drinks his tea with milk, I had to investigate.

    Now this place is something special. It is down a back alley. Poorly signposted. It looks like a hole in the wall. And it was great fun.

    Not only was the batter made with beer – so rare to find these days. They did not even bother to give you cutlery. Yup old technology, also known as fingers and thumbs, was called upon. It was even well priced. Really yummy.

    Here’s the irony. The owners displayed no signs of a cockney or a Yorkshire accent. Their roots are in deepest Morocco, and they served a great home made bean soup to prove it.

    Jerusalem has been going for over 5,000 years. Tomorrow, the Sha’are Zedek hospital, the largest medical facility in the centre of the capital, celebrates its 110th anniversary with a gala concert. The hospital is run by and serves all the various ethnic groups in the city. It has several outreach programmes to Palestinians.

    When you put together all the above anecdotes, you understand why the city should be around for many more years to come.

    What’s going on in Jerusalem?

    December 2, 2011

    Type “Jerusalem” into google and you will end up with a million and one news items, which together seem to indicate that the holy city is burning all over; ultra-orthodox Jews bashing up each other, a new light rail system that has suffered delays and strikes, and the usual geopolitical turmoil.

    Walk down 99% of the streets throughout the city and you will find a very different Jerusalem, one riddled with culture, multiple religious backgrounds, peoples from 200 countries and much more. How to explain this “split personality” to an outsider?

    Eric Silver’s posthumous book, “Dateline Jerusalem“, neatly encapsulates the conundrum. Silver was a wonderful journalist, staunchly Zionist but never afraid to criticise Israeli governments. His wife has just released a compendium of his writings on Jerusalem that read like a version of “war and peace”, where he describes the beauty of what is for many but mixed with the pain of what often happens on the political stage.

    And what is that beauty today?

    Take the latest event, “Hamshoushalayim“, which is a corruption of the Hebrew words for Thursday, Friday and Jerusalem. Running every weekend during the month of December, the festival combines food and culture, dance and science, churches and synagogues. All reports from last year were positive.

    This is no one-off piece of spin. The second annual Jerusalem Design Week is about to open in a grand building, designed in  biblical theme by a German architect after the First World War. Jewish artists, Moslem musicians and overseas guests will all feature.

    Earlier this week, I attended an event to honour new immigrants to Jerusalem. The mayor, Nir Barkat, gave the key address. He recalled that tourism to Jerusalem has close to doubled to nearly 4 million visitors over the past three or so years. His vision is for 10 million.

    Realistic? Well the annual Marathon, scheduled for March 2012 is set to capitalise on last year’s success and thus should help to boost the numbers. And so I can go on.

    So what’s happening in Jerusalem? As my daughter would say, plenty of “good stuff” for all. Shame that the international media cannot see fit to feature it.