The Rise of the Internet Gourmets

Gourmet meal on smartphoneAmong this year’s murmur of New Year’s resolution classics, I discovered a surprising newcomer.

Many people, including yours truly, find the turn of the calendar year to be a comforting reminder of new beginnings and second chances. This inspires us to re-visit our objectives, draft fresh plans and – hopefully – learn from past mistakes. Whatever our ambition, the start of a new year offers a rare opportunity to make a mental break with the past and focus on the blank canvas of time that lies ahead.

This year, apart from the typical health-related resolutions of going to the gym, cycling to work, losing ten pounds etc, many people in my network were talking about how they resolve to spend their time in 2015.

Time is recognised as a precious commodity, yet most of us are guilty of spending it ways that are less than ideal. We want to spend more time with our family and loved ones, we want to dedicate time to doing the things that enrich us and we want to work fewer hours or perhaps improve our output rate so we feel less stressed.

“So what?”, you may think.
“What is so new about this?”

Well, the basic desire to spend more time enjoying life is in itself nothing new. However, one aspect of our lifestyles which is becoming exposed as a major time thief, is the smartphone.

Where once TV used to be recognised as the big culprit in absorbing our time, smartphones have now surpassed it and become the biggest device for consuming media at an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes in 2014 according to Businessweek.com.

The big difference here is that although a time thief, TV can still be enjoyed with other people – whereas smartphones are all about the individual. Your mobile device is a window which nobody else is looking through, only you. This means that as a smartphone user, you can be sitting in the same room as ten other people, but nobody else will be sharing your media experience. The device is not only absorbing your time – it is absorbing other people’s time with you. (Did you ever try to have a conversation with someone who’s playing Candy Crush Saga?)

As a result of the distractional effect that smartphones are having on our modern lives, many people are now resolving to spend less “dead” time on their devices. The discerning smartphone user will choose to not pick up the phone and check Facebook every time they are bored, but instead approach their online experience the way they would a gourmet restaurant. They know their “funds” are limited, so they will carefully consider how they wish to spend them.

If sparking up Facebook every fifteen minutes is the tech equivalent to eating your daily meals at McDonald’s, then the gourmet may choose to replace this with a more nourishing experience such as a TED talk, in-depth article or language course a couple of times a day. The user would not necessarily spend less time on their device, but they would pay more attention to when they use it, how often and what the defined purpose is.

This of course has bearings on the marketing landscape.

It means we as marketers need to pay closer attention to the behavioural patterns of the user, as well as help them achieve the rich, nourishing experience they desire through delivering quality content, responsive and clear messaging in a format which is respectful of the user’s time.

Now – that’s enough talk about resolutions.
Let’s go create some plans to make them happen!

 

Who owns your brand?

labelLet’s be honest…

You only own a very small share of your brand presence. The part that you own is what you tell the world. The rest is down to what the world says about you.

When your target audience wants to know more about your business, it has access to a wealth of information across a wide range of channels – many of which you have little or no control over.

Market initiated channels

  • Social Mediascreenshot
    For many, LinkedIn and Twitter are now the first ports of call for learning about businesses and products. Although you can of course control what is being said on your own official social media channels, you cannot restrict what other people are saying about you. Stay aware of what is being discussed and respond to genuine queries in an official manner – but avoid the trap of defending yourself in every instance or you will simply appear arrogant and deprecating, like this restaurateur for example.
  • Glassdoor
    Employee reviews are becoming more prevalent through channels such as Glassdoor, where people can give anonymous comments and feedback on their experience working in a particular business. And this is no longer just a jobseeker’s resource – we now see prospects and customers looking at vendors’ profiles on Glassdoor to gauge internal efficiency and optimism levels amongst staff, which then reflects on their views of the business.So what do you do if you have bad reviews? Well, the best way to manage this is to read them, raise them internally and make tangible plans to resolve them. Don’t be afraid to ask staff to use these types of sites – it can be the best driver for improvement you’ll ever have.
  • User forums
    Whether or not you are aware of it, it is likely that there are independent forums online for customers discussing your products. Some may be public, such as general DIY websites or money saving forums for example, while others could be private and more product or brand specific. Again, you may want to monitor what is being said – where possible – and then aim to incorporate any complaints areas or suggested improvements into your roadmap.

Vendor initiated channels

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys
    This is the company or service provider’s chance to proactively collect the sentiments of their customers to get a full and impartial view of what is done well and not so well. Apart from the fact that a positive NPS carries a substantial weight when it comes to credibility and market confidence, the qualitative feedback from customers can also provide extremely valuable input into how to better serve them. A company should always share their score with their customer base, accompanied by an executive summary outlining which actions the business will be taking as a result of the input.
  • PR
    Public Relations, in all its many guises, is where a company could spend a great deal of funds on creating the image which they want the public to subscribe to. And although this can go a long way to rectify a negative market view or reclaim customer confidence, the general public is becoming increasingly shrewd to identifying PR as a strategy – and will seek to complement the PR messaging with more nuanced, unbiased peer review.
  • Analyst reports
    The analyst community aims to support vendors in their market positioning, while maintaining a balanced messaging environment based on a true representation of market perception. However, as with PR, customers are aware that there is an element of bias in the sense that the analyst is influenced by the amount of face time with the vendor and by how the vendor conducts themselves in the analyst relationship.
  • Content syndication
    The purpose of syndication is to make marketing content available in locations where customers go to research information to base purchasing decisions on. The majority of the buyer journey currently takes place before they even speak to the vendor, so content syndication is an important channel for organisations to be discovered and researched. This is why it makes sense to create collateral that informs and influences rather than purely sells – as the customer doesn’t want to be sold to at this stage. They just want to learn.

Conclusion

Amidst this wealth of content, the most trusted source of advice for many customers is that of professional peers. We all look at what other, similar businesses are doing and what their views are. We then collate comparisons between products and weigh this against any purchased or vendor-driven media. This is why a business can spend thousands on content marketing and still see limited sales impact.

You may think your brand is yours, but it’s not!

The world’s best sales letter

Picture of a sales letterOK, so I haven’t read all the sales letters in the world. But I’m daily at the receiving end of a significant amount of sales emails, out of which the vast majority get deleted before they even get to make their main point. So from the perspective of a professional receiver of sales pitches, here’s my five cents on how to avoid mindless deletion.

The Intro

I recently received an email from an organisation I was unfamiliar with. The email didn’t start off with a snappy, catchy subject line. There was no all-guns-blazing corporate introduction with pictures and links and interactive social media buttons. It just said my name, followed by “Invitation to connect”. That simple.

The text body then started out by clearly saying who was writing the email, which organisation she represents and 15 words on what they are all about. Nothing remarkable about that.

BUT – it’s what came next that really blew me away.

The proposition

Of course, I wanted to know why this person was emailing me. But with the following sentence, she instantly grabbed my attention. And what’s more  – I was smiling when reading it.

“I doubt very much whether you are currently looking to review your PR arrangements (if I had that kind of luck I would be emailing you from somewhere much more exotic than Kingston-Upon-Thames!), but I was wondering whether you might be willing to meet me for a chat in order to make an introduction?”

This is where things got interesting. The email continued:

“If I were you, at this point I would be asking myself ‘what’s in it for me?’. Well, the answer(s) to that question is…”

This then continued into three bullet points highlighting the benefits of meeting with the lady in question. Not only was I invited to a lunch at a venue of my choice (with the only caveat being “please don’t pick The Ivy as they won’t let me in with my Yorkshire accent and I reckon it would be quite embarrassing trying to hold a meeting through the window”). I was also in brief terms made aware of some very relevant ways in which this business could help me.

The reaction

The best thing about receiving this email was the fact that it made me smile. The second best thing was that I was actually reading it.

The unconventional format and the very “human” voice used made me feel a connection – one real person to another. It wasn’t just another faceless, personality-free corporate pitch. It was genuine. And at the wrap-up line of “What do you say? Next week perhaps?” I was poised and ready to be reeled in.

So – was it perfect?

No, by no means was this email flawless. The automated salutation line was unable to process the Swedish letter in my first name, making it a nonsensical “sa” instead of “Åsa”. This happens from time to time and it’s an instant put-off. So the fact that I decided to continue reading says a lot about how much I liked this format.

Conclusion

I can’t help but wish all sales emails looked like this. I do realise there are situations where a different level of professionalism is needed. But I am a great believer in the power of “being a human being” and showing your own style, humour and personality – even when representing a business.

It could turn out to be your company’s strongest asset.

……………………………………………………………

[If you’re curious, the email was sent by Paula Fifield at EML Wildfire.]

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!

 

Recruiters say the darndest things

Fancy a job?If you’re a recruiter and find yourself playing any of the following roles – please stop. Now.

These examples are all ones I have personally experienced over the last few years, sometimes when actively looking for work, sometimes not. And they are the reasons why I resent the entire job application process.

1. The Smooth Talker

I was once represented by a particularly suave recruitment agent who would happily go the extra mile to stroke his candidates’ egos. In my case, it wasn’t really needed. When I at one point said that the client would be “very lucky to have me”, he responded by saying “yes, they would indeed be lucky to have an attractive, tall, blonde Swedish lady on their team.”
It took me several hours to calm down enough to write a response, highlighting the inappropriateness of his comment. The main point I made was that I face enough sexist obstacles as it is, working in a male-dominated industry. I don’t need more rubbish from the people who are supposed to support me and recognise my professional abilities. Am I right?

2. The Gap Filler

Sometimes I have come across roles where I am not a great match to the job profile – a view also shared by the recruiter. However, they would still encourage me to apply “just in case”, which is essentially a waste of my time. Recruiters: We know what you’re doing. You obviously have a star candidate that you want to hard sell to the client by placing them next to sub-spec ones. It gives us a false sense of hope. Don’t do that.

3. The Empty Promiser

Don’t say you will call the next day when you have absolutely no intention of calling the next day. Or the next. Or the one after that. It’s called lying – and it’s not a good look.

4. The Silent Type

Apply for the role. Have the phone briefing. Attend the first interview. Seems positive. Report back to the agent. Plan around a vague date for second interview. Wait. And wait. Vague date passes. Call the agent. No update. Wait. Wait. And wait. Then a call out of the blue: “A second interview tomorrow, can you make it?” Attend the second interview. Seems positive. Report back to the agent. Wait. Wait. Wait. Then an email: “Sorry, you were unsuccessful on this occasion”. No detail, no reason, no feedback. Nothing. (Well – I may have been unsuccessful in my application, but you were unsuccessful in  making me ever want to apply for a role through you again.) Hot tip: If you want candidates to invest their time in the application process, be a decent person and keep them posted on progress and – most importantly – if they fail, let them know why it didn’t work out.

5. The Straw Grasper

There is always that recruiter who mines CVs looking for keywords, such as experience of a particular piece of software, and thinks it’s a good idea to spam the candidate with suggested roles that hinge entirely on that one area. As a marketing manager, I frequently get suggested roles as Salesforce API programmer, Java developer, product engineer and other random stuff – from people who should know better. An agent who gives no consideration to my genuine profile deserves exactly what they get: a fast-track to my email black list.

6. The Mole

We all know this type. Popping up out of nowhere, completely unexpected, some recruiters send contact requests on LinkedIn without an introduction and without any contacts in common. Surely, there must be more effective ways to grow your network than sending random contact requests using the generic LinkedIn message? For me, and for many people like me, this approach generates a swift click on the “Ignore” button.

Now – I’m not a recruiter. Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job. However, being at the receiving end of recruitment efforts over the last few years, I like to think I may have gained be an insight or two that might be useful. You should be aware that every time you make any of the above mistakes, you will end up with one more candidate who a) will never actively choose to work with you again and b) is likely to warn friends and colleagues about engaging with you.

In your own words: Better luck next time!

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!

 

What’s in a name?

definemeLead management is an essential business process – typically owned by Marketing, but impacting the entire organisation.

One thing which strikes me as I speak to sales and marketing superstars across various organisations, is the wide variety of terms and definitions used to describe sales prospects and the stages which they move through as they are qualified. “SQLs”, “suspects”, “prospects”, “opportunities”, “responses”, “conversions” – these terms can all mean different things in different organisations and different CRM systems.

Now – the following baseline is pretty clear:

  • We can’t achieve return on our Marketing investment unless we manage leads effectively.
  • We can’t manage leads effectively unless we have clear definitions.
  • We can’t have clear definitions unless we understand the sales engagement.

“Sales engagement? But – I’m in marketing!”

Let’s face it, we all know we rely on each other, but we often fail at being aligned. If you’re a marketer, when was the last time you listened in to a sales call or a prospect meeting? If you’re in sales, when was the last time you invited your marketing manager to join you at such a meeting? If we follow the musty tradition of ostracising sales and marketing, we are missing a vital trick and one which may well cost us more than revenue dollars (or euros, whatever floats your business boat).

One thing which often strikes me is how frequently Sales and Marketing use the corporate definitions differently. We often have clear guidelines for qualifying a sales lead by using the BANT criteria (Budget, Authority, Need & Timescale) – but what about the stages before that?

See the person behind the lead

Working in marketing, lead management can easily become all about the numbers. We may chase leads through the funnel without necessarily understanding the journey from one stage to another. What is the customer experience of being a ”Stage 1 Lead”, or a ”Prospect” or a ”Highly Qualified Sales Lead”? Does the prospect feel hassled when they’re on an email drip program, for example? Do they get too many sales calls when they’re at a certain stage – and not enough when they’re at another?

Successful lead management requires both sales and marketing to have clarity of the definitions used and provide constant input into the evolution of lead management.

The technology trap

Add then into the mix the various temperaments of The Marketing Automation System. If you have such a system in place, you know that it – or the people who run it – will occasionally fail and produce leads with the wrong definition. This is why it’s fundamentally important that all teams understand the logic and the ethos behind the definitions, so as to not rely on technology to place everything on the right shelf.

So, in summary: Whether you have 15 stages of lead development or just three, make sure that the definitions of those stages are crystal clear to all sales and marketing teams.

Oh – and if you get it wrong from time to time, don’t worry about it.
After all, you’re just like your leads: A human being.

 

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.

What’s this PASSION thing and where do I get it?

This post is – really – about passion.
But I would like to anchor that topic in the term SUCCESS.

So – what is success? Well, many experts agree that success is based on two things: Your passion and your driving force.

  • Passion is about finding something you truly love in life, something you get really fired up about, and then striving to achieve excellence in that field.
  • The driving force is what motivates you to do this. For some, the driving force is about the money. For others, it’s recognition, or maybe family and relationships. Could be religion. It could even be a combination of all these things.

When it comes to passion, some of us will know from a very early age what our passion is, and work through the years to become successful at that. For others, it may change over time. And that doesn’t mean you abandon one passion for another – it just means you’re exploring new things. And sometimes those passions from your early life come back to you when you’re older.

I would like to share with you some stories from my own life, to highlight my journey and how I’ve discovered and re-discovered myself through life.

My story starts at the tender age of five. Imagine this: A little girl, hungry for attention and praise from her parents, grandparents, teachers, from the world. Doing all sorts of outrageous things to make people notice her. Dressing up, drawing on the wallpaper, climbing trees. You name it, I was doing it. But – then there is the older brother. Two years older, to be precise. So he starts school at seven, and quickly starts learning to read. And to write. And my whole world’s spotlight is turned to him. He gets praise, he gets attention. Everyone wants him to read the roadsigns and the newspaper headlines, and there I am in the background, quietly fuming and boiling with jealousy.
None of my pranks are outrageous enough any more. Reading and writing, that’s the thing now.

So what do I do? Well, this is a story my mother has told me so many times over the years, and I still think it’s hilarious. I took one of my brother’s books about the alphabet and hid myself away in my room, studying this book. Every now and then I would emerge, asking my Mum, ”what’s that letter?” and she’d say ”That’s a T.” and I’d go back to my room, come back out again after a few minutes and ask about the next letter. ”what’s that?” ”That’s a K.” and this would carry on for some time, until one day my Mum gets a phone call from the child minder, saying ”well done on teaching your daughter to read and write”. And my Mum was stunned. She hadn’t taught me. I had literally taught myself to read – Driven by the sheer energy of my own jealousy.
And boom – I was back in the spotlight. Loving it!

That was my earliest clue to both my passion and my driving force. As soon as I could form words on paper, I was writing stories. Usually accompanied by drawings and sketches. I was dreaming of becoming a writer, illustrating my own books. To me, as a child, that would be the dream job.

As I got older, the dream of becoming a writer was still there, but it started giving way to other career dreams and ambitions. I started nurturing the dream of becoming a missionary. I ended up travelling across the former Soviet union – the Kola peninsula, Belarus, St Petersburg. It was an exciting time in my life, I felt as if I had a true purpose.

But again, as I got older, my life priorities were changing. I started dreaming of a normal career, a real job. And I discovered marketing – although I didn’t quite know that it was called marketing then. I just wanted to work with communication in different ways. I slowly learnt the trade and became a qualified marketing professional, and I have now been active in marketing for over a decade.

But it wasn’t until a year ago that I felt that the last piece of the puzzle really fell into place. I was in what I can only describe as a dead end job. I was stressed, frustrated, unhappy and unappreciated. And I remember coming home one night, completely drained. And I suddenly had this urge to create something. And I remembered I’d bought this canvas board in the pound shop, and it had just ended up in a cupboard with a box of acrylic paint. So I set it up, I started painting and all of a sudden, time and space was gone. It was just me and the painting. And I painted through until after midnight, and had created something I didn’t know I could do. I hadn’t painted for many many years, but now I realised that I was actually re-connecting with a very deeply rooted passion in me. And the joy I got from creating this little piece and sharing it with friends and family was just priceless.

So – for me, it’s only now I am starting to feel truly successful. Because I have something that extends outside of the day job into a creative fantasy world where I get to work with colours and shapes, to go alongside the text and the content I work with 9-5.

But what I would like to do – to finish off here – is to I encourage YOU to explore what passions and driving forces there might be inside you, try to recreate those childhood moments that once excited you. And to boldly ask yourself the question: Am I living a successful life?

Good luck on your journey!