The Future’s Attacking!

I had a conversation with some friends in between Christmas and New Year where we mused about how lovely it is to tune out the world of work and its responsibilities for a few days. We agreed that it is important to slow down and truly enjoy the moment. However, we discovered that we all found this remarkably difficult to do. We all struggled to do the complete switch-off.

We realised that we had all experienced one particular feeling at some point throughout the festive week. future-attackWe named it “The Future-Attack”. This is the sense of worry you feel when you suddenly remember an upcoming event or situation, where the fear of the future takes away some of the joy of the present.

The most obvious future-attack among us was the thought of the first day back at work. It was the idea of the relaxed and indulgent festive season coming to an end. Although the intensity of the future-attack would vary, depending on the level of overall job and life satisfaction, we all recognised that feeling much too well. I have myself spent many a Christmas break with a knot in my stomach and a whirlwind of worries in my mind at the thought of it all coming to an end on that first Monday back.

But this year, for the first time, it was different.

My future-attack lasted for about two seconds, before I suddenly remembered that I absolutely love my job! Unlike previous years, where the thought of work would provide an underlying sense of stress and inadequacy, I now felt a jolt of joy. I would be returning to do the things I love, for the clients I have chosen, earning the money I deserve.

I take great pride in being my own boss and the master of my own happiness – but I also wish more people could experience that same happiness at the thought of going back to work on a Monday morning. This year, why not take some time out to discover what would truly make you happy and passionate about your work?

Check out these top tips from Inc.com on how to be happy in your current job. And remember – if you can’t find meaning in your existing job, perhaps it’s time to look further along the horizon to find something new and better.

What the Proms taught me about leadership

I was watching the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday, enjoying the essence of this wonderfully British tradition in all its glory. Old and new, sophisticated and playful – all blended wonderfully into a rich representation of modern classical music. And although I expected a beautiful performance, what I didn’t expect was to get a lesson in business management.

promsThe stage was bursting with talented musicians and soloists. However, my eyes were inevitably drawn to the conductor, Marin Alsop. With magnetic, mesmerising strokes through the air, she enticed the most amazingly complex music from the orchestra and its chorus. Her eyes, hands, baton – all were completely focussed on the musicians in front of her as she was watching, listening, feeling her way through the notes.

A friend and I got talking about how this is a fantastic visual of how business leadership works – or at least how it should work. The conductor, much like the manager of a business, does not get involved in the detail of any individual instrument during a concert. Even though she is most likely able to perform one or several instruments very well, she doesn’t do it. She allows each person to be the expert, and concentrates on getting the best out of each performer – despite the fact that they may play their instrument slightly differently to how she herself would play it. As long as she gets the sound she wants from the entire orchestra – together – she is satisfied.

A leader’s job is to ensure that harmony is created through collaboration. A good leader communicates clearly, while also listening intently to their team. And just as in the orchestra everyone is included and gets heard, everyone should be made to feel like an important part of the business team. The conductor doesn’t hide behind anyone, but gives credit where it’s due. She allows her musicians to shine.

But as we all know, a successful performance is the result of months and months of hard work, rehearsals and preparation. Just as a good conductor will recognise when the orchestra is ready for the task ahead and wouldn’t place anyone on stage who doesn’t have the skills required, a good leader knows how to pick a team that will excel in delivering the chosen product or service, under attentive and determined guidance from the front.

Let’s all face the music and help each other become better leaders and collaborators!

(Did you miss the performance? Check it out HERE).

Image credit: BBC 2015

4 ways to build “Brand YOU”

hello-my-name-is-uniqueWhether you are an entrepreneur, business professional or service provider in some capacity, chances are a large portion of your time and effort is spent helping others look good. By working to improve profitability, solve problems, save time or improve image – you are making others more successful, just by being good at what you do.

But what about YOU? How do you make sure you also work on building your own brand – and get more business, more job offers or better compensation?

Now, I’m not talking about self-promotion here. Selling yourself through shamelessly waving your qualifications in other people’s faces is not how you build a strong brand. The only way you will gain true respect and confidence in your industry is by having a solid track record of performance and collecting a string of very satisfied customers and partners along the way. They are your true assets.

What you DO need to do, is to make sure that you leverage those assets in the most efficient way. So how do you do this?

Make yourself aware of what you’re good at

This may sound obvious, but there are two elements to this.

  1. Take time to actually evaluate yourself and bring your strengths and qualities to your conscious mind. By mapping them out in writing, you can make yourself aware of all the things you have to be proud of. But don’t stop there!
  2. The second step should be to speak to the people you serve. Your clients, co-workers, business partners – they all have an opinion on you. Ask them what they enjoy about working with you, how you have helped them and what benefits they have seen. Chances are they will point out things which surprise you, or at least things that you didn’t think mattered very much.

Work on your presence

Are you one of those people that tend to fade into the crowd at gatherings? Are you afraid of becoming the centre of attention, or do you play yourself down so as not to come across as one of those obnoxious horn-tooters that nobody likes? Well – having a humble personality doesn’t need to stop you from building your brand. There are many ways you can establish yourself as an authority in your field without coming across as cocky.

  1. Take genuine interest in people. It may sound counter-intuitive, but by focusing on the other person you are actually shining your own brand light over them. You are offering your ears – as well as your advice, if possible – which establishes a sense of reliability and confidence.
  2. Offer specific examples. Prepare a few anecdotes that you can quickly reel off when a suitable topic comes up, which really showcase your core strengths and abilities. Practice a few times and make sure you feel comfortable talking about yourself, but use the leverage of the client or partner perspective. Hone in on what benefits they saw from working with you or why they chose you instead of the competition.

Find your channels

Not everyone likes to write blogs or schmooze at networking events, but everyone can find platforms for brand-building where they are comfortable. Have a look at the channels you have access to, and identify the ones you like best – then think about how you can amplify them. For example, if you like to comment in an industry group on LinkedIn, you may want to consider also setting up a group of your own and create a schedule for sharing informative content and curating others’ articles. If instead you feel happier behind the podium at a conference, then perhaps you could build a global audience through sharing your knowledge in online webinars.

Keep getting better at what you do

Do you want to be seen as a superior provider, an industry expert or the go-to-person for a particular product? Then telling your story is not enough. You need to make sure you are constantly striving to be the best you can be. You are only ever as good as your delivery, so focus first and foremost on making your stakeholders happy. All the best brands show a consistent, proven quality over time. Without it, you are just an empty rattle.

Do you have other tips on how to build Brand YOU? Feel free to leave a comment!

3 ways to beat Marketing Impostor Syndrome

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Sunday Times on the topic of Impostor Syndrome and its crippling effect on many professionals. I had a very rewarding conversation with Carly Chynoweth around various coping strategies for gaining a sense of validation and self-acceptance. It is a topic which sits close to my heart, having battled my fair share of demons when it comes to professional confidence. 

People with masks onAfter the interview, it struck me that the strategies which I had gained over the years, to help me overcome my sense of inferiority as an individual, could also translate into the wider scope of the marketing department. After all, don’t we often mark ourselves down, compared to the efforts of other businesses? Aren’t we often feeling as if we lag behind, as if everyone else is latching on to the latest trends and the coolest new tactics, doing “real” marketing? And so we try to keep up and convince ourselves that we’re just as good, although we secretly feel like we are nothing like what we portray ourselves to be.

This certainly rings true for me.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

People who experience this challenge often have a constant grinding wheel of questions churning in their mind, asking themselves if they are good enough, clever enough or confident enough. They have the sensation that everyone around them is “Real”, whereas they are “Fake” and that they only ended up being successful by pure luck or chance. Remarkably, this is experienced by many top performers who – to the outside observer – seem to possess shatterproof confidence. Examples include elite athletes, senior executives, powerful leaders and influencers.

Strategy #1: Be comfortable with your uniqueness.

I once worked in a marketing organisation where a “messaging workshop” for a new product consisted of visiting a range of competitors’ websites, pulling out key phrases and descriptions from their product pages and mixing them all into a new constellation, attributing it to us. It’s safe to say that the exercise drained all creativity from the room!

This is an extreme example of what happens when a marketing team lacks the integrity of being a unique creature. By wanting to appear to be at pace with the other players, we were not comfortable breaking away from the pack. This approach stifles marketing innovation and may contribute to a continued sense of being a fake compared to others. The same thing also happens to many people on a personal level every single day – we hold back our unique selves for fear of being ostracised.

Strategy #2: Do something terrifying.

Growing up, I was convinced I was destined to be shy, quiet and timid. Throughout my personal journey, I found that the best way to prove myself wrong was to do the very things that scared me the most. It led me to take on one challenge after the next, culminating in a series of stand-up comedy performances which scared the proverbial socks off me. At the time, I’d have happily jumped out of a helicopter before standing up in front of a crowd of people – let alone try to make them laugh! But once I did it, I unlocked a whole new level of confidence.

When managing a marketing organisation, the same fear can apply when faced with the opportunity to change. We imagine all the horrible things that can go wrong, the embarrassment of potential failure – even though we may have several very successful projects in the backpack. This fear won’t let go of us until we let go of it, trust ourselves and trust our teams to deliver the excellence we strive for.

Strategy #3: Ditch perfect. Be awesome.

Both as marketers and individuals, we can be crippled by perfectionism. In many organisations, I dare say it is one of the biggest threats to progress. We fail to value the art of being quick and adaptive, over the concept of absolute exactness. Mature organisations can learn a lot from the entrepreneurial mindset of “Ready, Fire, Aim” – determining the detailed direction as you go along – borrowing guidance from the Agile framework and its interpretation for the marketing specialism. The more time we spend perfecting our campaigns, the more pressure we put on ourselves and the wider the gap grows between us and our more nimble competitors.

Won’t we make mistakes? Sure we will. Plenty of them. But we’ll have momentum, learning as we go along and gaining the confidence of someone who dares to be “good enough”. The war between VHS and Betamax springs to mind – where Betamax was arguably the better product but lost market dominance to VHS due to a sluggish (albeit not entirely self-inflicted) approach to the marketplace.

I have learnt that both as an individual and a marketer, I have strengths and weaknesses which make me who I am. I am unique, terrified and far from perfect; but for those very reasons I will continue to strive for success and will bring success to others along the way.

Top 5 Reasons Why Marketers Need to Master Public Speaking

Many marketing professionals spend a majority of their careers perfecting the art of communicating to stakeholders via written or visual media – using product collateral, e-campaigns, infographics, video and other deliverables. We tend to make it our role to enable others to be heard while ourselves standing in the shadows. But while bringing other people into the spotlight, there are still a number of reasons why marketers need to be as comfortable at the podium as well as behind the scenes.

1. Build “Brand Me”

We are all constantly reminded that the concept of career development is more than having a well-structured CV. We now need to consider things like our online social media profiles, our personal USPs, perfecting elevator pitches and building our personal brand. And if we want to convey the message that we are worth listening to, the best way is to show that others are listening to us. Having regular speaking engagements or video blogs to underpin that message is extremely useful to establish our relevance. As you rise through the ranks and gain more senior positions, there will be an increased requirement for you to be comfortable speaking to groups of people, so start getting that experience as early in your career as possible.

2. Be prepared for the unexpected

We’ve all been there. That event or meeting where you suddenly get put on the spot. Someone asks you a question which requires a response in front of the entire audience. Or you get tasked with introducing a speaker – perhaps unexpectedly, having to improvise. Or worse, you get thrown into the deep end and have to step in for a speaker who was unable to make it. These are all situations which can make us shiver in our boots and cause intense fear. However, if we make it our mission to practise public speaking, these situations will gradually become more bearable as our confidence grows.

3. Communicate consciously

Speaking in front of a physical gathering of people is an entirely different thing to sending them a newsletter or a barrage of tweets. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn how the audience responds to your message. You get to use yourself as a vehicle for sharing information with a very personal touch. Your voice, your body language, your eye contact – these are all unique things to you, which people will connect with. And by connecting with them, you will learn a great deal about them which you will be able to use when you craft your marketing content.

4. Be a business ambassador

Business is people. Your company consists of human beings who all relate to other human beings, establishing relationships, gathering information and facilitating transactions. We often talk about the importance of promoting real people in our marketing strategies in that we build personas, we promote thought leaders, we use pictures of real people on our websites and  collateral. But don’t forget that you, as the marketer, are an important voice in building the business brand. See yourself as the shop window of your company wherever you go. You are a representative, an ambassadeur, a very powerful weapon in the company’s arsenal. This of course requires you to live and breathe the core values and mission of the business, but it also requires the courage – and the initiative – to speak up.

5. Establish your own knowledge

There is tremendous value in sharing information with other people. We all have knowledge and experience which the world wants to hear about and every time you share it, you become empowered in that knowledge. As you develop your speaking skills, it will gradually become easier to tap into that pool of insight whenever people come to you for guidance. This will also contribute to you becoming a role model for other people and perhaps inspire a new generation of marketers. Don’t shy away from teaching others because you’re not a “leader” or a “teacher type”. You may not see it yourself, but by wanting to share your knowledge you are already a leader and an influencer. Make the most of it!

For tips on where to get vital training to become a skilled speaker, contact me – I’m happy to recommend courses!

 

Follow the butterflies


Do you ever dream of doing more than just the nine-to-five? Do you find yourself curious to discover if you could be an innovator, a leader, an inspiration?

Good news! You can discover something new today.

butterfliesWhen participating at seminars and workshops over the last few years, I discovered something. There is an overwhelming number of people around me who have aspirations to turn their passion into a viable business. Many of them are women. Tired of being bossed around and not getting the opportunities they want, hungry for more responsibility and success, they start dreaming of dropping the shackles of employment or – at the very least – doing something they love.

However, many of them experience one major challenge to follow their dream; and it’s one which really surprised me:

Despite not being happy in their current job or life situation, many people find it extremely difficult to figure out what it is they want to do instead.

It’s not necessarily due to a lack of passions or ideas – often it’s having too many ideas and not being able to choose which one to pursue.

I wanted to figure out a way in which I could help people identify viable projects or business ideas which they could channel all their amazing and valuable talents into, so I developed a concept which I call “Follow the butterflies” and which I would like to share with you.

[Disclaimer: This is just a fun activity for finding some initial direction. Always do your research and identify any roadblocks which you may need to resolve in order to safely launch a business.]

The building blocks

Start with five sheets of paper. Label each one according to the below categories and populate the sheets with words as they pop into your mind. Try not to write the same thing on one sheet as on another.

  • Sheet 1: Your strengths
    Start writing down words, spread out across the sheet, in no particular order. Write things you know you are good at – i.e. skills you get complimented for, natural talents, areas where you have acquired excellence through experience etc.
  • Sheet 2: Your joy
    Write down activities which make you happy. Are there any aspects of your current job that make you tingle with excitement? Some activity which, when you do it, creates a sense of fulfilment and joy? One which – if the opportunity was given – you’d be happy to spend more, if not all, of your working hours doing?
  • Sheet 3: Your passions
    Write down problems or issues that make you angry, frustrated, excited or engaged. They can be small or big, relate to personal development or be areas of business or culture or environment. Think about practical, hands-on issues which you would love to solve if you only had the time or the resource.
  • Sheet 4: Tangible business needs
    No passion or strength will translate into a successful business unless people are willing to pay for it. Write down examples of what people around you are investing in today. What types of services are individuals and businesses spending money on? Write down examples which you are interested in or curious about – but it doesn’t have to be only things which you yourself already know very much about.
  • Sheet 5: The important stuff
    List the things which you consider to be important in your life and career, or things which you would like to have more of. (Be honest!) Things like money, more family time, visiting a particular country, having a specific job title or perhaps a team of minions working for you – whatever floats your boat, put it on the sheet. Don’t hold back – be greedy!
Making butterflies

Get 5 containers or bowls, one for each category. Now, take a scissor to the sheets of paper and cut each item into a separate piece. Each piece is then folded up twice and twisted once, to make it look like a little butterfly (OK – maybe not exactly like a butterfly. You have to use your imagination here!) Put all the items from sheet one into the first bowl, then the same with the other sheets and bowls.

Now you’re all set. Time to do the really fun stuff!

Get a blank sheet of paper. Then take one butterfly from each bowl and unfold them in front of you. Focus on the combination of the items. What does this constellation of things tell you? If the items joined together described a particular job, project or business, what would it be?

If you get stuck, use the power of association to think of other items which are closely linked to those in front of you and see if it triggers any ideas.

When you have come up with an idea for a project or business, write it down on your sheet of paper and put the used butterflies to one side. Then pick another one from each bowl and repeat the exercise.

Find anything interesting?

No doubt, this exercise will leave you with a number of ideas which don’t quite fit with your long-term vision of what you want to do with your life. However, it will help you identify new business ideas which you may not have explored before, but which are aligned with your strengths, passions and which meet actual commercial needs.

You can always put your butterflies back in the bowls and do this exercise again to find new ideas.

Happy fluttering!

 

5 lessons in happiness from a cat

In ancient Egypt, cats were worshipped as gods, Chilled out catwhich is something they have never forgotten.

Dear reader, I’ll be the first one to admit that I am a bit of a crazy cat lady. I
have had cats in my life for as long as I can remember. Scrawny farm cats, fluffy half-breeds, half-blind invalids and flamboyant pedigrees… I’ve loved them all and – more importantly – learned from them.

Cats have taught me 5 very important lessons about how to achieve happiness in life. And I’d like to share those lessons with you.

Lesson 1: It’s OK to change your mind.

Anyone who’s ever tried to let a cat out through the door will know that a typical scenario is: the cat hesitates for a long time in front of the open door, thinking about its decision. It then goes out, sits outside for a few moments. It then scratches the door again, wanting to come back inside. This sequence of events is often repeated a few times before the cat finally decides that one particular side of the door is where it wants to stay.

Interpretation: Sometimes you don’t know if a decision is the right one until you try it. And if you don’t like it, there’s no shame in going back to where you were before.

Lesson 2: Forget about decorum.

The average cat owner will through the cat’s lifetime spend more than £100 on cat beds, blankets, cushions and baskets, only to discover that the cat will spend 99% of its time squashed into cardboard boxes, cupboards, suitcases and on top of freshly folded piles of laundry. Why? Because it wants to, that’s why. For some reason, cats don’t do what is expected of them. They won’t sit on the cat bed and complain about how uncomfortable it is. If they prefer sitting on an old jumper, they will go sit on an old jumper.

Interpretation: Do what you’re comfortable with and don’t worry too much about what others expect of you. If you’re comfortable, you’ll be much more fun to be around anyway.

Lesson 3: Everything is a toy.

My friend once made this wonderful comment:

“Dogs love it when you put your shoes on, because it means you’re going outside.
Cats love it when you put your shoes on because hey – shoelaces!”

No matter what age a cat is, it wants to play. In fact, it needs to play. It’s part of the vital stimulation to keep a cat happy and well adjusted. And the cat does not lack in imagination. A wriggly piece of string is a deadly snake. A ball of yarn is a fluffy, evil monster. And your fingers on the computer keyboard are just… irresistible.

Interpretation: Life gets so much more enjoyable when we make time to play. And who says we have to stop playing just because we grow up?

Lesson 4: You are surrounded by idiots.

This may be a tough pill to swallow for some people, but when a cat looks at you – it doesn’t see a superior species. It just sees a two-legged, hairless cat with whom it can’t communicate. As a human, you are never truly the owner of a cat. You are merely the housekeeper and the supplier of cat biscuits. But nevertheless, the cat does not judge you. It will continue to speak to you and try to make you understand what it means, using all its vocabulary and body language to do so. It will even give you affection, although you probably didn’t do very much to deserve it.

Interpretation: Nobody will ever understand you the way you understand yourself. So don’t expect everyone around you to know what you’re going through. Take time to show them, try to communicate. If they still don’t get it, walk away with your tail held high.

Lesson 5: Stand your ground.

Last summer I witnessed an amazing display of courage. My cat Bobo, an adult tom cat, was sitting in the bushes at the bottom of the garden, when the neighbour’s dog, a fully grown Rhodesian ridgeback, snuck through the fence and into our garden. There she proceeded to do her business – of the number one variety. I watched Bobo watching the dog, and suddenly he darted out from the bushes with his back and tail arched in full attack mode. He ran up to the dog, who was ten times bigger than him, swiped at her face. She just yelped in fear. She did make a feeble attempt at biting back but soon ran out from the garden and has never come near it since. I was bursting with pride of my cat’s courage, defending his turf. It was as if he could tolerate a visitor, but when they started taking liberties, he showed them who’s boss.

Interpretation: Don’t let anyone pee in your garden. Respect other people, but remember to protect what’s your own territory and keep it safe.

And there you have it – the five lessons in happiness my cats have taught me.

I hope this post leaves you feline good about yourself. Nobody’s purr-fect, but if I can help you be a bit more paw-sitive, then my work here is done.

I should just stop right meow.

The Gift of Failure

“I am such a failure.”

If you are anything like me, there have been times when you have said those words to yourself. Maybe not in public, maybe not out loud, but in your mind’s voice.

You didn’t get that promotion. You forgot that important meeting. You managed to burn the family’s Christmas turkey. Failure comes in many shapes and sizes. And sometimes your failure isn’t even obvious to other people – just to yourself.

I want to share some thoughts on how we are shaped to think around failure and how that thinking can actually stop us from accepting the gift it can be. Secondly, I’ll be revealing how failure can actually turn into a success when we least expect it.

  1. So – what does it mean to fail?
    Society today is so focussed on success and achievement, that failing at a task can make us feel like a failure as a person. We forget that behind what we call success there is very often hard work and a long series of failed attempts at succeeding. We forget that all those little stumbles we make on the path towards achievement hold the opportunity to grow and learn and better ourselves and try harder, work smarter, try new things, grow as a person.When we’re afraid of failing, we can sometimes be tricked into not even trying. Because if we don’t try, at least we can’t fail – right?

    Fear of failure can be crippling. It can prevent us from realising our own potential. Imagine, for example, that Lisa and Tony both dream of climbing Mount Everest. Lisa decides to make an attempt, but Tony is afraid of not being able to do it, so he stays home. Lisa starts the climb, but only two days in she sprains her wrist and is forced to leave the expedition. She feels incredibly disappointed in having to go home without achieving your goal. But something’s happened. Something has changed in her. The experience has made her braver – AND more likely to succeed next time. Because now she knows exactly what the climate is like, what the pitfalls are, how to prepare. The threshold has been lowered. But for Tony, the fear is still there, because he hasn’t seen it. He doesn’t know what it’s like. So instead of taking his first few baby steps, he stays where he is.

    It’s like the old Chinese proverb: If you don’t climb mountain, mountain climbs you. (Actually, that’s not a real Chinese proverb. I made it up. But it helps get the message across).

  2. Now to my second point: The potential of failure.
    How many of you have heard of a gentleman called Spencer Silver? He was an engineer who worked at 3M in 1968, trying to develop super strong adhesives for use in the aerospace industry. But he didn’t do very well. In fact – instead of a super strong adhesive, he accidentally managed to create an incredibly weak and pressure sensitive glue, which went on to become the glue component of the famous Post-It Note.This is possibly one of the best examples of how one failed innovation can spark another, very useful, one. In fact, it turned out to become one of the most successful innovations in modern stationery. It’s today used by millions of people on a daily basis. What does that tell you about failure?Another person, with maybe a more familiar name, is Dale Carnegie. He was one of the most successful business lecturers of the last century. One of his most famous quotes is “Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”What he’s saying is that failure is not just something random that will come and go; he’s saying that failure is an essential part of becoming successful.

    In summary: Failure is something that we should welcome with open arms. We should embrace the opportunity to learn how NOT to do something – because it means that we improve the success rate when we try again.

For example – think of a 10 month old baby. A cute, clumsy, curious baby. How many times every day does it try to do something, and fails completely? It drops things, it falls, it hits people by mistake. A baby’s failure rate is astonishingly high. But – how quickly does a baby develop? How much progress does it make in a year, six months, even just one month? What does that tell you? It should tell you that failure is good – it means you are testing your boundaries, stretching your abilities. Growing and growing.

If you’re battling feelings of being a failure, I have three suggestions for you.

  • Focus on gratitude. Look at what you do have, look at your strengths, appreciate yourself and be grateful for what you have achieved so far.
  • See every attempt as a building block of success. Sometimes to build a strong foundation, you need lay down plenty of blocks to build on.
  • Keep smiling. You can’t win if you’re a victim. Don’t let failure get you down, but use it as a motivator. Keep trying.

You are not a failure.