An embarrassing business venture which taught me an important lesson

In my younger years I did catalog sales to supplement my income. I’d just become a Dad and cash was really tight so it seemed like a great way to earn more money in a flexible way. I was young and eager and feeling the weight of providing.  At this point in my life I wanted to make some extra money and tried a few things to see what worked.

In the usual fashion any ‘home based business’ is part of an MLM network. If you sign people up to sell products via catalog you can earn more money. We focused primarily on selling products through the catalog and we were not really interested in signing other people up. I think partially because  I was a bit embarrassed to tell friends I was delivering catalogs in my spare time.

I was connected ‘up-line’ to a very excitable couple who were making thousands every month and passionate about getting us to sign up more catalog sellers. I was very cynical of the MLM part. I saw the couples house and car so I know their portrayed lifestyle was legitimate. They didn’t hide the fact that the vast majority of their income was commission from other people selling ‘down-line’.

Inside catalogs there was good products many of which you would see on a shopping channel today. There was a lot of products including Carrot peelers, Tupperware, and extendable garden hoses. Many of products were good but once purchased we would play with a few times and consign to the rarely used kitchen cupboard.

Part of being in the team, we were invited to monthly network meetings. These meetings were designed to keep everyone motivated and limit the drop out rate. Despite the mental picture I am probably presenting the people we met were all lovely and genuine. At nearly every meeting lead couple would always say ‘just get your books out’. When they said this they mean’t deliver your catalogs and collect them in, turn them around as fast as you can. If you have 200 catalogs put them out 3 times a week, not just once.

Their philosophy was to play a numbers game, the more people saw the catalog the more likely you were to make a sale. Make the most of the catalogs you had. Using the same catalogs three times in a week to triple your potential for orders. In business we’d call it sweating the asset. What was surprising is that they did practice what the preach, they delivered and collected 600 catalogs per week. They did their catalogs with finesses with their BMW 5 series estate and a branded trolley compared to my battered Renault Clio and a messenger bag.

There little saying has stuck with me. It’s become one of my personal mottoes. To me ‘get your books out’ means don’t just dream about it. Do it. Take action. Do as much as you can with what you have got. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect just ‘get your books’ out.

Circumstances will never be perfect. There will always be a reason to delay, postpone or do it next month, but we all have to act if we want achieve and succeed. In the catalog world a rainy day can be incredibly demotivating, but, if you want to get orders, come rain or shine those books have to go out.

I eventually decided to hang up my catalogs but we did make some semi decent money at the time. If you enjoyed walking, delivering and collecting catalogs each day, you could earn a modest income. The most profitable part of delivering catalogs, which has made me hundreds of thousands of pounds over the last ten years, was the day I heard the couple say “get your books out”.

Time for something new

For the nearly 3 years I have been working full-time for a global TV broadcaster. It was a fantastic role, in a great organisation and had the honour of working with some amazing people. Whilst being excited for the future, I know I will miss the people I worked with.

So it is time for something new! In my new role, I’ll be working with companies who want to grow their business, bringing the latest marketing and media tools to bear to generate leads, enquiries and importantly sales!

For the last ten years I have worked in a variety of projects which have been about generating sales, orders or engagement. This new role is right up my street. With a number of projects and clients lined up, it’s going to be exciting to be working in a variety of different sectors, including education, legal and leisure.

One thing I find common across all sectors is the sales and marketing funnel. Every organisation needs a funnel, starting with brand awareness filtering down to a physical sale. In some sectors ‘sale’ is probably a crude term, but in all honesty everyone needs to make sales. The process of where a client agrees to pay a sum of money for a product or service is what makes the world go around.

What is surprising is that many organisations don’t understand their funnel. Perhaps they have been fortunate to have the right connections or a great sales person. For the rest of us, if we don’t know the buying process and rely heavily on methods which are familiar, we could be waste a lot of time and money.

Sales and marketing funnels generally look something like this…

marketing-funnel-content

All our marketing efforts should be spent building and working a funnel. How do we find people who have interest and take them on a journey to becoming a customer. This is the core element of sales and marketing.

In times past this process has included networking, direct marketing, advertising and prospecting. All of these are still valid tools and if you have a really good marketing and sales strategy you’ll know which ones work and which ones don’t. Every business wants to find more people who have a need and interest in their product or service. Nowadays we can also work more intelligently to ‘target’ our prospective customers which can help lower the acquisition cost of a new customer.

These ‘new’ tools are reliant on a good understanding of the prospect. Mapping out buying behaviours and profiling your prospective customers can help you use resources more efficiently.  In the cut throat world we live, mapping out the funnel is key to knowing how to use your marketing budget to get the maximum return for the lowest cost.

So my job starting this month is to show clients how to get the maximum return for their marketing budget. If you are looking to develop your sales and want some help, drop me a line.

Move with change or get run over by it.

At the weekend I was discussing with our neighbors about the way we consume media and how the growth of on demand has created a whole ‘binge viewing’ culture and the change of viewing habits, such as  catch-up TV. I don’t know about you, but the majority of my TV viewing is now on-demand or through catch-up. There is no doubt the big screen in our living room’s is here to stay but the big question is, who will provide what we watch on it?

I am sure on a professional network such as Linkedin, very few will have succumbed to ‘binge’ viewing.  I’ve found a ‘binge’ viewing session can be quite therapeutic. I am sure I am not alone and there will be many who have had 3 hour marathon watching House of Cards, 24, Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad.

The question all media producers are trying to answer is how will we receive media for consumption in the future. Just look at the recent news of Amazon relaunching the famous BBC series, Top Gear. 10 years ago Amazon delivering media content would have been a bit of a joke given our habits where very different back then. Diversity of viewing now presents a real problem. How do you know which one is future proof?  I don’t believe anybody honestly knows how we will consume media in the future.

Just like all those big media companies, going through the process of change can be quite a painful experience. Being creatures of comfort we like things to stay the same, we like certainty. Change brings uncertainty and forces us to improve ourselves and adapt to a world which is constantly changing. Change brings pain.

What’s happening in TV is happening everyday. Today there will be numerous inventors and entrepreneurs working and thinking of ways to bring innovation to the way we live our lives. Think about it, 30 years ago, mobile phones where available to a select group, the internet was non-existent and in the UK you could watch 4 TV channels. For all those who were the wrong side of innovation, change was lethal.

Change is never easy, for the instigators or the recipients. Instigators have to battle against the status-quo and the recipients of change are forced to adapt which is not always convenient. It can be brutally uncomfortable, but what is certain, is that if you try to resist change, you tend to get run over by it. Those that do well, embrace change and adapt to the new world it creates.

Some of the casualties of change such as MySpace, Nokia, HD-DVD and Woolworth’s all had great USP’s but as times changed their offering didn’t seem to matter anymore. The same thing that killed those famous brands is a massive threat on the horizon for Apple, Google and Amazon.

The warning to us all is that, just like MySpace, if we are not keep up in our fields, we can quickly fall behind the changing environment in which we live and work.

When you feel like giving up do this…

 

We’ve all had those moments when you just want to throw in the towel. Lots of work with very little results or worse, you realise you don’t know why you are doing something anymore. Sometimes you get work overload and feel like you are drowning in all the things that need to be done or worse, the work you have to do doesn’t challenge you.

These are the moments when we feel like giving up…

Feeling this way isn’t wrong, it’s your emotions, mind and body reacting to your situation. The trouble is when you feel one way, it jades the way you view the world. You cannot process your situation objectively.

Has your idea not worked out as expected?

Has your career taken a turn for the worse?

Do you feel overloaded by the workload your dealing with?

Did the world once seem a place of endless opportunities but now seems full of obstacles?

Thomas Edison once said “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” That is certainly true for him, as he suffered many setbacks as an inventor. Eventually after countless setbacks and disappointments, he mastered the electric light bulb.

What many will not know though is that Edison invented a lot of things which didn’t work and struggled with the growth of his business. He was at his best in a small lab testing and inventing things. After several successful inventions his business grew to a large organisation. He struggled to adapt from being a quirky, unstructured inventor, to the head of a large company. He stepped outside of his skill set.

Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be a good challenge, but stepping outside of your skill set can be dangerous. You can make unwise decisions, overwhelm yourself and worse not understand the risks you are taking.

Coming back to Edison, he had an understanding of giving up far better than we do. If he had given up on the light bulb, we would probably not even know his name. However, Edison also turned down a lot of options to pursue his light bulb dream.

Here are some of my thoughts on giving up:

Giving up should not be an emotional decision.

Emotions tell lies, twist the truth and serve only themselves. As humans it’s impossible to make decisions without the involvement of emotions. Keep your emotions under control and make decisions when you feel you are a clear head. Make sure you provide evidence for both sides of the argument and make a decision based on what you see.

Giving up should not be a financial decision.

There is a lot of evidence of great achievers  going broke or risking everything to pursue their passion. At the time they faced criticism and looked like idiots. They eventually made it, but had to pursue it through painful situations which to anyone who understands accounting, would not make sense. Richard Branson started a business from a payphone, he got into financial difficulties and nearly didn’t make it. EasyJet for many years was seen as a business that could not work, now it’s one of the larger and more successful airlines.

If you decide to give up or not, you should not just consider the financial implications, there are lots of other things to consider, such as quality of life, your life goals and your health. BUT and it is a big but, you must make the decision to give up or not understanding the financial implications.

Giving up should not be a short term decision.

Setbacks happen to us all, if you have had a bad week and feel like giving up, you need to grow some more willpower. Life is complicated and stuff happens. Make sure you take a longer term view than this week, this month. Start looking for this year, the next year and the next ten years.

Giving up should be a strategic decision.

Does giving up help you progress and follow your goals. Will it help you move forward? Enough said.

Giving up should be a move forward.

If you are giving up because of something, it’s probably the wrong decisions. If you are giving up for something, then it may make sense. That wasn’t just a play on words. Are you running from something or running to something?

Don’t give up by default.

It’s really easy to not make a decision on giving up and give up by default. This is the worst kind of giving up because you surrender control to your environment. You let things happen.

Giving up can be good if there are good reasons, but you have to work out if you have good reasons. You can’t be held hostage to emotions or circumstances. Nobody can give you the answer, you have to research it for yourself. You can make a good decision to give up and a good decision to not give up if you weigh the situation properly.

What about you?