How do you do Blue Sky Thinking if it’s raining all the time? (notes from FutureScape ’16)

daily-grindI am sure you recognise the classic bind for a small business – daily grind. You’re always on the treadmill. You don’t have time to do any marketing because you are always busy. Because you don’t do any marketing, soon you don’t have any work; so you have plenty of time to do marketing. You rush round madly trying to drum up work, then it’s back to the grindstone. But if you could step back from the switchback – the yo-yo – what would you actually do?  And why is any of this important? “Why can’t I just bumble on as I have for the last few years?” I hear you say.

Here are a few reasons.

  1. Digital revolution. This sounds so obvious, but most people constantly underestimate not only the impact that this will have on our lives, but more importantly, the way it will have an impact. If you look at the way markets are disrupted by those who use technology to their advantage, it is generally because something starts off as marginal then moves mainstream. Either it starts too expensive and then the technology improves and the delivery cost comes down, or it starts off crap but cheap and the producer works out a way to improve the quality. Now, I’m not exactly sure how technology (particularly digital technology) will affect our market in the future. If I did know, clearly I wouldn’t be here writing this, I’d be on my yacht in the Bahamas. But it will be disruptive. Look at Uber, AirBNB for just a couple of examples.
  2. Austerity. This is here for a while. It doesn’t mean that the government isn’t going to spend, but that money spent on say HS2 or Heathrow won’t be there to spend on say parks, schools facilities or smaller, more localised infrastructure projects.
  3. The graph on the left shows how the number of households with older people has changed in the last 15 years. Households are getting older. The graph on the right shows overall spending per household. This is falling, partly because of austerity and partly because older people spend less.
    The graph on the left shows how the number of households with older people has changed in the last 15 years. Households are getting older. The graph on the right shows overall spending per household. This is falling, partly because of austerity and partly because older people spend less. Source www.ft.com

     

    This Gantt chart shows how spending falls with age. Note the sharp reduction after the age of 64 and further still after the age of 74.
    This Gantt chart shows how spending falls with age. Note the sharp reduction after the age of 64 and further still after the age of 74. Source www.ft.com

     

    Baby boomers. (The baby-boom years are approximately between the years 1946 and 1964. This includes people who are between 52 and 70 years old in 2016.) If you look at a graph of how and when people spend, typically disposable income rises through their thirties forties and fifties when it peaks. It declines slowly through their sixties and more sharply thereafter.  What is more, the population is ageing. Not only are we all living longer, but over the next ten years, the ‘Baby boomer’ generation will be entering retirement age.

  4. This graph shows the ratio of average house price to average earnings. The red is London and the green UK as a whole. Given that the average advance is around 3.5x earnings, the unaffordability of houses is obvious.
    This graph shows the ratio of average house price to average earnings. The red is London and the green UK as a whole. Given that the average advance is around 3.5x earnings, the unaffordability of houses is obvious.

    Millennials. (defined as those ages 18-34 in 2015; they currently make up about 25% of the UK population) This is a generation centred on experience rather than possession. Most can’t afford to buy a house on flat, certainly not one with any substantial outside space.

What are the nett effects of these factors going to be? Well from our point of view it is difficult to predict, but one thing is clear – only the best organised, most fleet-footed firms and practitioners will benefit. You know how some firms or individuals always seem to get the plum jobs? Why is that? In this changing world, who will work go to? Simple:

  • People you can trust.
  • Firms you’ve heard of.
This diagram (courtesy of Dent Corporation) shows what you need to address to become a ‘Key Person of Influence’ in any industry. There are essentially 5 components: Pitch, Publish, Product, Profile, Partnerships. This process applies particularly to Individuals – sole traders – but would be equally relevant to business leaders.
This diagram (courtesy of Dent Corporation) shows what you need to address to become a ‘Key Person of Influence’ in any industry. There are essentially 5 components: Pitch, Publish, Product, Profile, Partnerships. This process applies particularly to Individuals – sole traders – but would be equally relevant to business leaders. www.keypersonofinfluence.com

I went to a lecture recently by Daniel Priestly of the Dent Corporation (www.dent.global). He said that there were certain people in all industries who were ‘Key People of Influence’. These people tend to clean up on many of the opportunities available. Everybody wants to work with them, for them, get them to speak at events and so on. They can charge more and they can select which projects they take forward. He put forward 5 key activities which these people tend to capitalise on Pitching, Publishing, Partnering, Productising (i.e. presenting their services in a clear unique product that appeals to consumers) and Profile. you can read more about this on his website www.keypersonofinfluence.com.

 

So, what is the most valuable thing in your business? Could someone buy it, assuming you wanted to sell?
Is it –

  • A brand?
  • Culture?
  • IP? Ideas, copyrights, etc.?
  • Your website?
  • A relationship?
  • A product or products?
  • You? – Your experience, qualifications, knowledge? (If so, see the 5 ‘P’s above!)

For most of us, it is probably a combination of several of these.

Let’s look at most of what we ‘do’ every day or week and sort it into columns. Now I don’t mean here ‘designing gardens’, ‘cutting grass’ or ‘building walls’. I am talking about generic tasks that are applicable to all businesses. We’ve been working with some business consultants recently (Contexis.com) and they helped us sort day to day activities into three groups.

First, there are the things that are necessary to run your business or add to your productivity, but don’t contribute directly to your turnover. Many of these will appear as costs or overheads on your profit and loss sheet, but that doesn’t mean that they are not important.
Examples would be:  I.T., Finance, Legal, Premises, H.R., Compliance, and Administration

Secondly, there are the things that add immediately to sales – to your turnover. So these are effectively better ways of delivering your product or service to the market, better channels, if you like. Examples would be:  Sales, Marketing (short term / tactical), Programming and Project Planning, Design, Site works, Client loyalty.

Lastly, there are the things that add to long term value. These are the interesting ones, the more ‘nebulous’ ones:  Culture (includes Intent and Values), Vision, Joint Ventures, Client Base Management, Channels, Brand Architecture & Positioning, New product / service development.

culturewordle
Is this the culture in your business? What words would staff and clients come up with if asked?

Let’s look a culture, vision and values first. If you think about it, there is probably a culture which defines your business (regular readers will remember me writing about this before in this blog). This should be something that you could ask anyone in the business about and you would get pretty much the same answer. It doesn’t happen by accident though, and needs nurturing. There is a lot of overlap between this and values. The latter is like a distillation of culture. At B&W, we narrow our values down to three words – Excellence, Creativity and Trust. These values underpin everything we do at the business both externally and internally. It should be evident to clients when they deal with you and when they look at any of your marketing material.

Developing a BrandNext Brand. Branding is more than a fancy logo, website or snappy slogan; effective branding captures the essence and values of a company. Tactical marketing generates sales; strategic branding generates loyalty. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are you trying to sell to?
  • Are you correctly positioned in the market?
  • Is it immediately clear to potential clients:
    • What you are selling?
    • How they will benefit?

go_to_market_large_sq-300x300Finally, let’s look at the market and how to get to it. One key thing to think about is to try and analyse why your clients buy from you, and no, I don’t just mean ‘because you are good’! For example, what problems are your customers trying to solve when they buy from you? Is it that they need a lower maintenance garden, or maybe they want to add something – a vegetable garden or a swimming pool? Perhaps there are complementary services or products that come before or after they join you – furniture? A glass house? also, think about what situation your clients are in just before they buy from you – what events are they likely to visit for example? Are they developing property – new extension or house, commercial building etc. Have their financial circumstances changed – got funding, sold a business, inherited? Or maybe they are going through some lifestyle changes – having children, kids leaving home, retirement, etc.

Where's all the time gone?One question you’re probably asking yourself right now is ‘But how can I find the time to do all this?’ The short answer of course is because you need to. Try to set aside a particular time each week to think about ‘conceptual stuff’. Perhaps arrange some time away from the business. I know that my best ideas often come while I am doing something else, often when I am away for a few days. A more practical tip is to use the time spent and lessons learnt from pitches to change the way you present the business. To take advantages of these opportunities (and because you never know when you might get a spare timeslot!), make sure you always have the right data and materials to hand – keep data on enquiries; photograph your work, preferably professionally; get testimonials.

But above all – have fun!