How To Carry Out Research To Understand Your Prospects And Their Backgrounds

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Sunday, 5.20am

Sheffield, U.K.

Journalism, as concerns collecting information, differs little if at all from intelligence work. In my judgement, a journalist’s job is very interesting. – Vladimir Putin

How can you start to understand how someone else thinks?

These days it’s easier than ever before, because people put so much of themselves out there on the Internet.

You just need to spend the time doing your research.

A good model for how to go about doing this is to think about how a journalist might do a profile for their publication.

So, what would that look like?

Preparation

The most powerful tools in a researcher’s toolbox are a notebook and pen.

Get a reporter’s notebook – one of those small four by six notepads, wire-bound at the top.

Get the cheapest one you can so you’re not worried about getting things perfect – this is a working notebook, a tool to help your process.

And grab a pen – and you’re ready to get started at take some notes.

What can you see

In this post we talked about how you could research where people spent their attention because of the tracking and information we get on the Internet.

This is always a good start – what does the data say?

For example, let’s say you’re interested in a particular field – process engineering.

If you type those words into LinkedIn you’ll get a number of results, including people who work in that industry.

If those people are the kind of people you want to talk to, then you can click on their profiles and look at the kinds of things they post and like.

Take notes on the kind of content they appreciate, the material they share and repost.

Now, imagine you were going to reach out to them.

The easiest thing to do is to simply send them a connection request, with no additional information.

You could add a note that is a generic connection message, something you cut and paste into every message.

Something like, “I’m trying to grow my connections and so I’m connecting with you” – something that says nothing.

Worse, you could follow up with a sales pitch as soon as you’re accepted.

Or, you could send a customised message that’s based on your research – where you point out the interests you have in common and ask if they would like to connect with you.

Then, instead of following up with a sales message, you can share the kind of content you know people like that are interested in, see if you can get them to like and engage with your material.

Which one of these approaches do you think has a higher chance of getting better engagement from the people you’re trying to reach?

What do they write?

Some of the people you want to reach will also put out material about themselves and their businesses.

Read what they write, study how they look at their world and explain their point of view.

The way someone writes can tell you a lot about the way they will respond to others.

It tells you whether they are open and warm, neutral and willing to reserve judgement or cool and reserved.

You can get a sense of whether someone will respond when you reach out or not.

What do they say?

Another very useful source of insight into people is to listen to interviews they’ve done or read the transcripts.

You can get a very good sense of an individual, their personal career journeys and the nature of their industry from interviews they’ve done.

They will talk about what excites them, what they see as the main problems and constraints they face, where the big opportunities are in their field.

That kind of information is hugely valuable for you when you try and construct a pitch or reach out.

If you know that a person cares about a particular topic and you are able to talk about how that topic is related to you and your interests – you’ll increase your chances of getting a positive response.

What do you know?

The last area, and possibly the most dangerous one, is to take notes on what you already know about your prospects.

What insights do you have into the way they think and what they want.

It’s important not to fool yourself, to make sure that what you know is based on facts and evidence – things that you can draw on to support your conclusions.

It shouldn’t be about what you think or believe is the case – you need to be careful not to create an idealized prospect who thinks the way you do about everything.

But, if you truly have an insight into their situation and perspective, draw on that, craft it into your messaging because you know it’s going to interest them.

Go forward based on research and evidence

When you first get started you need to ground yourself in research and evidence – you need to collect data.

This is where your reporter’s notebook has been an invaluable companion in the process, you should now have pages of notes and snippets of conversation that you can draw on.

Just that process of data collection will have been useful in itself.

But you can go further – process this data and really build up your understanding.

Before we do that, however, let’s see if we are in a position to build empathy with your prospect.

Let’s look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why You Need To Research How People Allocate Their Attention

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Friday, 5.16am

Sheffield, U.K.

The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it. – Elbert Hubbard

In my last post I talked about the importance of studying who you could help so that you could build empathy and understanding with them, which in turn helps you understand what kinds of products and services you can build for them.

Let’s start by studying the things they pay attention to.

Data is everywhere now

One characteristic that you will start to notice if you study what happens on the Internet is that there is a pattern that repeats all the time.

It’s called a power law, and tells you the difference between being number one and anything else.

Let’s say you run a YouTube channel and list out your videos with the number of views each one has had, it’s very likely that one will be the clear winner.

The next one will have half to two-thirds of the views.

The third one will have half to two-thirds of the second’s numbers.

And then you have all the others.

This applies almost everywhere, actually, but it’s most visible on the Internet because the statistics are easy to collect.

For example, the chart below shows the views on my blog for the last month showing the first, second and third page views and then the average views of the next seven pages.

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But, while there is usually a clear winner with this kind of situation, there are two observations you should take away.

The first thing is that you need first place to get attention.

But you will only get first place for one of your pieces of work – and the rest of your list, the backlist, still matters to build your credibility and conversion.

And while the winner brings people in through the door, it’s everything else that will get them to stay and convert them into paying customers.

Again, this is a phenomenon you see all over the place.

In the publishing industry, for example, it’s the initial book sales that makes reputations – as the publicity and attention get people to notice you.

But it’s the sales over time that make you a fortune.

Given that situation, what do we need to look for?

Look for models of how getting attention is done well

As part of this Getting Started book project I’m running experiments that can help support some of the suggestions made in these posts.

For example, one project that you may be considering is whether you should start a YouTube channel.

How would you go about looking for models of how this is done well in your sector – what people have done to get attention from others?

I started by doing a search for a term on Google and comparing the results on the “All” results tab and the “Videos” tab.

You get around 6 million hits for the term on the All page and around 550,000 on the videos page.

This first term is fairly technical so I put in a non-technical but also fairly specific term.

That had 440 million hits on the All page and 2 million hits on videos.

What this tells you is that the more technical the subject the less competition there is.

The richer the content, in terms of adding images, audio and video to text, the less competition there is.

And the more detailed, useful and longer your content, the less competition there is.

When you do this you’ll end up with a much smaller universe of people who you might be in competition with – and then you have to look at what they do well.

And the chances are that they do the basics extremely well – they do the things that make life easier for their viewers and audience.

As you look at each one take notes of the elements that you think they do well, the things you notice.

I like doing this on index cards or slips of paper for the first five or so results, because you notice different things each time you look at a video or page.

If you have notes on separate cards, you can then spread them out and see what elements are common, what are the things these successful pages or videos do well?

And then you have to ask yourself whether this is a space in which you can compete.

If you think you can do something differently, combine your skills to create value in a way that isn’t being done already, then you may have discovered a niche.

If the field is dominated by a small number of very well-known people then you’re going to find it harder to get attention – but if you keep researching and digging you’ll probably eventually find a niche that has space for you.

And then you have to make that niche your own, so that the next time someone comes digging they take a look at what you’ve done and decided there is no point competing with you and go away to find their own niche.

And that’s when you become a model for others.

Why can’t you just make stuff and not bother with research?

I wouldn’t argue with that point of view – I’m in favour of creating without restrictions, without keeping an eye on the market, without looking for an outcome.

But that’s about you – about you doing what you enjoy and creating something that you would make anyway whether people bought it or not.

And the best projects have their inspiration in something you care about, something you like doing.

If you enjoy DIY or writing or technology, then the core of what you do is the work, the thing you do.

And the first element of getting started is just to do more of that thing you want to do.

But we’re talking here about developing a market for what you do – getting other people interested in buying it from you.

In getting them to first give you their attention and later their money in exchange for the things you make.

And that requires a different approach – it requires starting from how they see the world and the kinds of things they need.

Now that you can see the kinds of things they already pay attention to from the research process described in this post, it’s time to start thinking about why they pay that attention – what kind of person are they?

We need to develop empathy with them, so let’s try and do that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Do You Know Who Your Ideal Customer Is And What They Want?

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Tuesday 5.16am

Sheffield, U.K.

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. – Peter Drucker

I said that I would start looking at risks in my last post and perhaps a good one to start with is the risk of spending time and effort making something for which there isn’t a market.

In this post we’ll look at why you’re doing what you’re doing and if its time for a rethink.

Three big reasons to make a thing

Most of the business ideas that I have come across seem to fall into three categories.

First there are the people who build something for themselves – they “scratch their own itch.”

Then there are the people nwho know there is a market out there for what they’re creating – they just need to get in front of the right people.

And finally there are people who create for a market that they believe exists out there – and they construct an imaginary person, a persona or archetype to focus on.

There are pros and cons with each of these approaches so how do you work through where you are and increase your chances of success?

When you are your own customer

When you make something for yourself, the good thing is that you know there is at least a market of one.

Many great ideas start off this way – people creating products and services because they need those things in their lives.

The iconic example here is Apple.

Steve Jobs had a vision of the kind of portable computer he wanted and that eventually became the family of products which include the iPad and iPhone.

The great thing about this kind of approach to getting started is that you already know about yourself, you know how you see the world and what is missing there.

If something isn’t working, something could be better, something would make life simpler – that is something that you could work on as a project.

Eventually you’ll end up with something that works for you – and you might even end up creating something that works for many other people.

Something they want and are willing to pay for.

And find that you’ve created a viable business along the way.

Tapping a market you understand

The second way of getting started is to build for a market that you understand really well.

Rather than thinking of that group as a market – which brings up images of a place where transactions happen with no connection between buyer and seller, think of it as creating something for a community – people that are held together by things they have in common.

The key thing to have when you are creating for that community is empathy – you have to be able to see the world the way they see it.

The easist way to do this is if you are part of that community already, if you can see what’s needed and go about fixing it.

Inside a company, for example, this might be what you call an intrapreneurship role, where you create something new from inside the group.

If you aren’t part of the community they you need to learn about the way they see the world before you can really help.

You have to talk to them, participate in their world and you will then start to build a model of what you think they see.

And if what you see matches what they see then what you make has a chance of being what they need and are willing to pay for.

Building for an imaginary person

Now, most people will argue that they’re creating something for one of the first two reasons – for themselves or for a defined market.

But it’s easy to fool yourself sometimes.

For example, a big part of marketing is segmentation and targeting.

This is all about working out your ideal customer – creating an archetype and persona and listing out demographic attributes, psychographic attributes.

Or, more simply, just saying something like, “Everyone is going to want this.”

I think this leads to two kinds of errors.

The first is to create a glossy, glamour magazine style picture of your consumer.

This is inevitably shallow and biased – based on the media and images that tend to dominate what we see.

The second is to pull together a bunch of factors that make sense in isolation but don’t work so well when you put them together.

A sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a customer.

You might think that this is an exception, but it’s often the first thing many people do.

They create things that they think people will want.

And crucial word is “think” – you can spend a lot of money on something you think is needed before you realise that you were wrong.

Know, don’t think

The way to improve your chances of succeeding is to move from thinking something needs to existing to knowing it does.

If you’re building for yourself, then it’s relatively easy – you can make it, use it, see if it makes your life better.

As long as you don’t fall in love with the idea and can stay somewhat objective you’ll end up with something that might have a future.

If you’re building for a market that you either already know well, or take the time to get to know well, then you’re going to be able to make something useful for them.

The final category is the dangerous one – the one where you spend time because you think or believe that something should exist.

This is the tragedy of the inventor who makes something that no one wants or needs, right now anyway.

And the key to changing this is developing empathy, seeing the world the way someone else sees it.

When you see the world the way that your prospective customer sees it, then you’ll be able to build something that fits into their world – something they want and are willing to pay for.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Click here for the video behind the post

Why You Really Need To Understand Who Is Your Customer’s Customer

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Sunday, 5.57am

Sheffield, U.K.

When you’re thinking about your next product or current product and wondering how to make it different so you don’t have competition, understand the job the customer needs to get done. – Clayton M. Christensen

In my last post I looked at the basic business system of leads, first sales and operations, which lead to repeat business and ended by saying I’d look at how you can supercharge your sales conversion.

You do this by answering one simple question.

We’ll look at that in a minute, but first…

What do most people think selling is all about?

The image we have in our minds when it comes to selling is one of pushy sales people pressuring us to buy something.

We’re often suspicious, we doubt what they say, and we’re right to do that – because there are so many industries that create selling systems that incentivise that kind of behaviour.

Sales is seen as a role for people who haven’t got technical or academic skills but who are good at reading people and guiding them down a certain path.

This kind of thinking, when it comes down to it, sees customers as not very intelligent creatures, the kind of beings that can be directed into a maze that you control and be led down a path that you want them to take.

Just think of the movies where this kind of manipulative, master salesperson is portrayed, Michael Douglas in Wall Street, with the line, “Greed is good” and Leonardo di Caprio in the Wolf of Wall Street.

But the reality is that the smooth-talking, shiny-suited sales person of those days was probably a myth then and is less and less relevant now.

It only worked when they had an information advantage – they knew things the customer didn’t know.

In a world where information is everywhere, you need to operate differently.

Rather than trying to get the customer to see your point of view, you have to put yourself in their shoes – see what they are trying to do and show how you can help them.

This usually starts by looking at how your product or service can cut costs for them.

We can reduce your costs – it’s a no brainer.

As a reminder, these posts are aimed at business to business companies on the whole – and that is where this particular question is especially important if you want to get your sales conversion up.

No business wants to add to its costs.

Every decision they make has to be justified by a return somewhere, maybe not right now, but that has to happen over time.

The biggest mistake most people make is coming up with a product and offering it to a customer without first looking at the impact across the whole piece.

This is especially the case with technology solutions.

Let’s say you come up with a machine that cuts production costs in half for your customer.

Now that this invention is in the world, if your customer buys from you they’ll save loads of money.

Right?

And if they save loads of money, they’ll have higher profits.

Right?

Well, no. Not really.

What happens is that those reduced costs flow through to the customer in the form of reduced prices.

This is obvious when you take a second to think about it.

If and your competitor have access to a technology that cuts your costs in half, then if they want to take business from you, the easiest way is to drop their prices.

If you keep your prices high, eventually your business will move to your competitor.

And so you drop your prices, they drop theirs – and eventually the prices you charge fall to the point where you cover your costs.

The profit in that situation evaporates, passed along as a lower price.

That’s economics in action for you.

It works – overall, the system is better off.

But you are no better off with the new technology than you were with the old.

In fact, it makes sense to let other people go first, spend the money to try it out, see the results and then go with an option that you know is going to work.

This is why, when you sell on a cost-reduction pitch you get so much resistance to your “no-brainer” model.

It’s because your customer knows intuitively, even if they aren’t aware of the theory, that these no-brainers rarely work out.

That’s why they ask for things like a 2-year payback, because they know that those longer-term projections rarely pan out and at a minimum they want their money back.

This is why you need to really understand what they are trying to do with their customers, to see if your product or service adds value or not.

Who is your customer’s customer?

Which brings us to the point of this post – try and understand who is your customer’s customer.

Let’s take a video production firm as an example.

I’ve used this before to talk about how become better at audio and visual content creation is going to be essential for everyone.

And as I watch friends and connections building their businesses I can see clear trends emerging.

Early videos that people put out are often advertising – they follow a case study model and do some showing and telling.

But this is usually expensive, a full shoot takes time and resources and so you can only do it so many times before you can’t afford it any more.

So people then shift to self-generated content, using phones and webcams and putting stuff out there which is a talking head, and they learn how to add subtitles and transitions and make it look good.

If your pitch, as the video production company, is all about how you have all these resources and can get an amazing video done for much less than the customer can do themselves, you’ll get some interest.

But what if you looked a little further, to what your customer is trying to do in the first place.

You’d see that the purpose of the video is not to showcase your customer, just talk about how brilliant they are, but it’s part of a move towards communicating more, putting out more stuff that helps your customer get in front of their customer enough times.

As Marshall McLuhan puts it – the first view someone has of something is cog-nition – they first become aware it exists.

Then, when they see it again is re-cog-nition, a replay.

And what your customer wants their customer to do is recognise them – re-cognise them, when they’re in a situation where they are looking for a supplier for that thing they want.

In that sales situation, you could go in with your generic pitch about costs and times and case studies.

Or you could do some research into your customer’s customers, see how the competition currently target that sector, and the methods and tactics they use.

You could assess where your prospect is right now, in terms of how well they use video.

You could go in with a pitch that shows how they’re faring against their competitors right now, show them how you could get them started with some more expensive but high end videos, and then sell them the kit to do the videos themselves, if they wanted to, or put in a package where they record content and you put it together.

You have a conversation around what they’re facing, what their customers want, what they’re trying to do.

And you will find a way to help – a place where you can fit in and add value.

When that happens the only things that remain to be settled have to do with whether the customer has a budget for what you do.

And they will be more comfortable about doing this because you’ve both figured out how you can add value rather than you pitching how you can cut costs.

Now, there’s an entire book in the art of having that conversation, but really, it comes down to listening, asking questions and empathising with your prospect.

But to close that sale it’s not enough to do all this.

You also have to figure out how to remove risk for your customer.

We’ll look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

p.s. If you want to listen to a discussion of this post I’m starting an experiment in reading and critiquing the content straight after I’m done.

You can find the first of these on YouTube here.

I’m not sure where this will go, and whether you’d rather listen to a 17 minute video or read a 1,300 word piece.

After all, if you’re really busy the entire message is in the picture.

The rest is all commentary.

Why You Need To Understand The Nature Of Demand And If You Can Control It

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Wednesday, 6.29pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I, myself, only want one advantage and, if you will give it to me, I will (when it comes to selling burgers) whip the pants off all of you!” “What advantage do you want?” they ask. A Starving Crowd!” – Gary Halbert

I want to spend some time discussing demand – making sense of demand and how it works.

The goal for this section is to help you figure out why someone will be interested in what you have to offer.

The difference between supply and demand

When most people hear the words “supply” and “demand” they think of it as terms that people who understand economics use.

You have supply and demand curves and price is set by where they intersect, for example.

But this kind of dry formulation misses much of the nuance that exists in the real world – and we’re going to try and uncover that here.

First of all, what is supply?

Supply has to do with anything you have that you can give someone else.

Sometimes they are real things – like oil and grapes and chocolate teapots.

Sometimes they’re less real, like ideas and opinions and analysis.

Supply has to be something you can give away.

For example, you have experience, but you can’t just give that to someone else.

You have to put it in a container that the other person can take – like a book or a course.

Or you can use that experience to do something that the other person wants doing.

As a copywriter, for example, you use your experience to create the words and the product is the document you email to your client.

But, just because you can do it or make it or teach it – it doesn’t mean that someone wants it.

That depends on demand – on someone else and what they want or need.

It’s all too easy to think that supply is what’s important – what can you do, what can you make?

But what’s worth doing or worth making depends on demand – especially if your project is supposed to operate as a business rather than as a hobby.

The two main types of demand

The academic and consultant John Seddon came up the idea that there are different types of demand.

But before we dig into that we need to back up and look at what “work” means to us.

Look at your to-do list – the tasks you’ve got to do.

These tasks are your work – they’re the actionable elements of your day-to-day practice.

But why are those tasks on your list – how did they come into existence in the first place?

The chances are that they’ve been created for one of two reasons – and Seddon calls these value demand and failure demand.

Understanding value demand

The way to make sense of value demand is to think of it as something you or someone else wants doing.

Create a brochure, paint a wall, design an extension.

The person who wants this doing – the prospective customer – is going to get something they want if you do your job right – if you satisfy their value demands.

Now, this is where you have to be careful that you don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you can supply something you’re meeting someone’s value demands.

Sometimes people just don’t want your peanut powered mousetrap.

In fact, they don’t want mousetraps at all – they want a humane way of getting rid of their pest problem.

People change, and that means what they want also changes.

Value demand is not a fixed, unchanging thing – you understand it by understanding what your customers want.

Understanding failure demand

There’s another kind of work that needs doing which results from things going wrong.

Copy being grammatically incorrect, the paint not quite applied right, a wall in the wrong place in your extension.

This is failure demand – fixing things that have gone wrong in the process.

It looks like work but it’s not value adding work – it adds costs for everyone.

The supplier is spending more fixing the problem and the customer is spending more sorting out the problem.

Now what happens if you build a business around failure demand?

It might be a cost recovery service – going after people for things that have gone wrong.

Being an amulance chaser, for example.

Failure demand can be a lucrative business – as long as you aren’t the one creating the failures in the first place.

In that case it can be an expensive mistake.

What you want to do is design your own business to reduce failure demand.

Don’t add controls and checks if things go wrong – fix the things that made them go wrong in the first place.

That frees you up to do more work that meets value demand – what customers wanted all along.

The importance of positioning in controlling demand

What’s clear is that you can build a business around value demand or failure demand – as long as you’re delivering value or fixing someone else’s failures.

Either way, however, what matters is that you can come across the demand in the first place.

And you can only do that if you’re positioned at the place where demand makes itself visible.

We’ll look at that positioning in some more detail in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Define Your Circle Of Competence

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Monday, 8.12pm

Sheffield, U.K.

People judge you really quickly, at first just on your facial features. There are two dimensions – warmth and competence. You can think of them as trustworthiness and strength. They’re first judging you on warmth; evaluating whether or not you are trustworthy. That’s much more important to them than whether or not you’re competent. – Amy Cuddy

In the last section we looked at value and how to create it.

In this section we’ll dig a little deeper into the components of value and see how they fit with your own circumstances.

There are a number of things you might look to do when you start a project.

Some of these you’ll be good at, and not so good at others.

When you look at your list you’ll also see that some are essential, core to achieving the outcome you’ve set for yourself, while others are non-core and don’t help you move in the direction you want to go in.

You need different strategies to deal with the resulting combinations of tasks and a good way to focus is to get clear on your circle of competence – helped by the 2×2 matrix in the image above.

Master your core tasks

Peter Drucker once talked about how the two main tasks in any business were marketing and innovation.

And that’s true – these are two core elements that you have to master.

Mastery, in this case, is not just about technical mastery – for example a command of the mechanics of placing an ad in a magazine or creating online ads.

Those are techniques of marketing and while important, they’re not the things that really matter here.

What you have to master is the strategy you’re going to use – the key ideas that you have about how you’re going to innovate and market your business.

For example, if you plan to start a commodity business selling things online then your strategy has to be one where you master the art of selling on the Internet.

Which, in a nutshell, comes down to making sure you give people all the information they need to make a decision when they come across your product.

On the other hand, if you sell a complex consultancy service your marketing needs to be structured around setting up quality conversations with prospects.

It comes down to listening and understand what people need.

In the same manner, innovation with online sales is about making sure that the algorithms favour your content by using the best practices possible.

Innovation with offline sales is about being able to empathise with your prospect – see through their eyes and create what they need.

You shouldn’t ask someone else to take on the job of working out the right strategy to do marketing or innovation in your business.

It’s too important to be delegated – and it must sit with you.

You can get help thinking through the strategy, and help implementing it from technology experts – but you have to take responsibility for the direction of travel, for the strategy itself.

And that means putting aside enough time to work on the task until you master it.

So, the next thing is to work out where you can free up your time.

Automate non-core tasks

There are lots of things you might be capable of doing, even good at doing.

But they aren’t things that are core to your business.

These are tasks like administration, filing, invoicing.

They are hugely important, if you don’t send out invoices you’re not going to get paid.

So, they have to be done – but do they have to be done by you?

The starting point here for most people is to ask whether what they want to do can be automated.

There are lots of online services that help with this particular problem – especially when it comes to sending out invoices.

But, if you’re any good with spreadsheets you can build most of the same functionality for yourself.

In fact, it’s probably a good idea to get good enough at spreadsheets so you can automate most of this kind of work.

You might not be the kind of person that likes to use a spreadsheet – but it’s often a lot easier than having to deal with hiring and managing an individual.

The traditional answer to this kind of space – the stuff you can do but that’s non-core – is to get someone else to do it.

Hire someone, get a contractor.

These days, however, the first thing you should do is figure out whether it can be done by a program.

If it’s not worth you doing, then maybe it’s not worth anyone else doing either.

These costs are overhead costs – they are non-value adding.

That means you spend money to get them done but they don’t make you any more money as a result.

These kinds of costs have a nasty habit of creeping up unless you’re very careful.

An investment in automation is expensive in time up front but it saves you a lot of headaches later on.

Hire in support only when you absolutely have to do it.

But, when it comes to experts – get the best you can find.

Get help when you need it from specialists

If you have settled on a strategy that works for you and made sure that you have the time to work on it by automating the other work you have to do, it’s time to think about your support team.

If you focus on making sure customers can find you through excellent marketing and master the art of innovation – understanding what products and services they really really need – then you will know exactly what work needs to be done.

And if it’s not something you’re the best at doing, get in someone who is.

For example, if you’ve worked out a business development strategy for your consultancy client – then when it comes to implementation make sure you have a great copywriter, graphic designer and online marketing specialist on your team – if those are things you aren’t good at.

You don’t need to have them on your payroll, but make it easy for them to work with you – and pay them well.

You’re better off paying someone a higher rate than they ask for, and insisting on their best work delivered as fast as possible than you are going for the cheapest bid.

You want to partner with people that have integrity, people you can trust.

When you do that you can rely on the job getting done.

And you have to do one last thing to sleep easy at night.

Stop doing everything else

You have to stop doing the things that don’t need to be done – the things that you’re not good at and that aren’t core to your business.

In the beginning you might try lots of things, give yourself lots of tasks.

Say “Yes!” to everything.

But over time you’ll start to get a feel for the things that help you make progress and the things that don’t.

You should never feel guilty about abandoning something that doesn’t work.

If this book isn’t useful stop reading now.

If a marketing approach isn’t working – stop doing it.

Abandoning something is not a sign of failure – it’s a pragmatic assessment of whether something is worth doing or not.

You can always pick up the book later if you find it’s useful.

The key is designing something that works for you

The essential idea of the circle of competence is knowing where it is – where the boundary lies between what you’re good at and what you’re not.

But, when you run a business it’s not as simple as that.

You can’t just lock yourself away and do what you’re good at.

You have to also do what’s good for the business – but you don’t have to do it all yourself.

You can leverage the power of technology and the power of partnerships to expand your circle of competence.

But you still need to know where to stop – the boundary between doing things that are useful and things are not.

The boundary that separates value creating activity from value destroying activity.

Another way of looking at this is through the idea of value demand and failure demand, a concept created by John Seddon.

We’ll look at a template for assessing that tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Analyse The Way You Interact With Others

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Thursday, 7.39pm

Sheffield. U.K.

This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play. – Alan Watts

The last post and the one before that were about introspective models – approaches to see who you really are with fresh eyes.

There are a few more of those approaches to look at, but it’s worth looking now at where your edge is – where do you end?

And, if you think about it, you end where someone else begins, and it’s hard to always tell where the boundary lies.

It’s like having your bubble – the bubble that contains you, your thoughts, your feelings – and having it come into contact with someone else’s bubble.

A huge amount depends on what happens when those two bubbles bump into each other – when that overlap and interaction take place between two people.

Think about it for a minute.

If you send out a cold marketing email your success depends on what happens at the interface, when your message comes to the attention of the recipient – if it’s not filtered out first.

The first meeting you have with someone, the subsequent meetings to talk about a project – all those interactions that take place time after time and which decide the success or failure of your business and career, or at least that particular project that you’re working on right then.

So, how do you get this right, what do you need to do to make this interaction work well?

A good way to understand this is to look at how children communicate – what they need to do in order to get on with each other.

In order to play nicely with each other.

If you look at child psychology textbooks, they will tell you that there are three things children have to be able to do to be able to play together.

Swapping information

The first is that they have to be able to swap information.

Partly, this has to do with language but, as you will know if you have ever taken children to a foreign country, kids can communicate quite well even if they don’t know each other’s language.

It has to do with what each person wants to do and trying to communicate that – swap information about each other’s likes and dislikes.

Finding something in common

The next thing children have to be able to do is decide on a common activity, something they’re both willing to do.

This creates the conditions for joint play, where they can both do something together that they’re both interested in.

Dealing with and resolving conflicts

The third key element that children have to be able to do is sort out the conflicts that inevitably arise.

If they can’t and it ends in tears then they’ll either walk away or be separated by grown-ups.

If they can sort it out themselves that will mean a longer period of play and perhaps the start of a friendship.

Applying these elements to your business

Now, if you think about it, the interactions you have in your business are really all about these same things.

Your marketing copy and advertising material are designed to give information to others.

At the same time the people who need what you’re providing have to make themselves findable.

So a lot of your initial work is all about figuring out what kind of person is interested in what you provide and swapping information with them.

Then, you have to find out if you have something in common – does your product fit their needs.

If it does then you have to resolve the questions and objections they have.

You’re not looking for someone like you

If you watch children playing conflict arises when two of them want the same thing – the same toy, the same role, the same reward.

The key to getting along is having a common interest and complementary capabilities – be able to work together and each bring something to the effort.

In any group of children you’ll find a mix of characters – and that’s what makes the dynamics of play work.

Once again, it’s the same with your business.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to do everything yourself or needs to have absolute control over the way things are done – you’ll find that only certain kinds of people will work with you.

If you’re loose and unstructured you’ll attract different kinds of people.

What you’re looking for is interpersonal fit

You need to understand how you work with others – how you play nicely – so that you can develop your project and grow your business.

You need to understand where you fit in, what your niche is and how that works with others in the same space.

When you understand that you’ll start to see the strategy and approach that’s going to work for you and the business you’re trying to build.

That’s what we’ll look at tomorrow.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Are The Main Things You Shouldn’t Lose Track Of In A Crisis?

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Saturday, 7.25am

Sheffield, U.K.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. – Stephen Covey

As we continue to experience the Covid 19 lockdown in various places in various ways – there are some things that seem to have changed for the better.

Remote working, especially – many places are finding that they can get quite a lot done by letting their people work from home.

That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Well, maybe not, depending on the particular situation you’re in right now.

Particularly if you can do everything from home.

Because if you can, why can’t anyone?

Especially someone who is willing to work harder and longer for less – maybe someone in a different state or country?

Even before we had to do what we’re doing now there were comments from people who were willing to be paid less if they could have more flexible work.

That may become a reality for many faster than you think – as companies that see demand drop make savings cuts of their own – which often comes down to headcount and salaries.

If that happens, are you ready?

To answer that question there are four areas you should look at critically.

Start with your projects – the things you are working on.

Are they easy or hard, are they essential or not?

Are you working on something that someone really needs done or is it a discretionary thing, something that takes up time but perhaps could be put to one side for a while.

Which projects do you think will be shelved first?

Now, clearly the projects you do are the projects that you have the resources and capability to do.

Your capability travels with you, it’s what you have in your head and muscle memory.

But what about your resources?

If you need a multi-million pound studio to do your work, or very expensive software – how will you carry out your projects if you don’t have access to them through work?

A lot of people only have their work equipment – they haven’t invested in their own kit because they believe that it’s something that they should be provided with as part of their job.

That may be a little short-sighted.

If you want to carry on doing projects, it might be worth thinking what you can do with the resources you personally own or what it will cost you to get set up.

If you can reduce the resource costs of working with you, then you make it more attractive for someone to hire you as well.

Then there’s your network – the group of people who are peers and champions and supporters.

Have you taken the time to develop a network – can you reach out to them and ask for help when you need it?

And lastly, there’s your market – again make up of people.

Markets and networks are not abstract, conceptual things – you measure them in the numbers of people you can reach out to that will respond.

And again, it’s easy to be short-sighted – to think that the market you have will not change.

But if those people you know move on, will you be able to have a connection with the new ones, especially if their job is to cut costs?

These four areas are common to all of us, whether you’re just starting your career or you’ve been in it for a while – and it works at the level of an entire business as well.

It’s very easy to focus on one of the areas and neglect the others.

Think about how you spend time learning how to do something and then spend all your time on projects – but perhaps not ones where you learn anything new.

You don’t tend your network or keep developing your market.

Your mix of projects is static and things change around you.

The point is that change is always going to happen.

And it might not be change that’s good for you.

You are, after all, at the centre of all this – and you have to look out for you.

When change happens, you have to be prepared – and these four areas are the main ones – the ones that make the difference.

And it might be necessary to stand back, take a look at where you are right now, and then take action to move the dial to a happier place.

And then you’ll be ready.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Must You Do When You Decide That It’s Time To Do Your Own Thing?

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Wednesday, 9.09pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The idea of copyright did not exist in ancient times, when authors frequently copied other authors at length in works of non-fiction. This practice was useful, and is the only way many authors’ works have survived even in part. – Richard Stallman

We all learn by copying – we start by looking at what other people do and trying to do it ourselves.

We start jobs that way, progress in careers, make choices about what to study and which relationships to be in.

Learning from others is a fundamental part of what it means to be human.

For example I find that teaching children using the content put out by schools is quite hard.

Perhaps it’s the environment, the social urge to conform, that means children will do things in a classroom of their peers that they won’t do with their parents.

It’s easier to say no if they don’t want to do it.

Which means that if you want to get them to do something, a good way is to start with something they do want to do.

Throw away the English worksheets, for example, and start by reading Harry Potter aloud and stop and talk about interesting things you see about the way J.K Rowling uses language.

As you grow up a few things happen.

The first is that, at some point, you finish school, and the expectation to keep studying starts to ease.

Perhaps you go to university, or start a job – but eventually the book learning stops and the job learning starts.

And then forty years go by and that stops as well.

There’s something wrong with this picture – something deeply wrong about what’s happened over the last few hundred years.

And a bit part of it, I’m starting to suspect, has to do with ownership.

Somewhere along the way someone in power decided that it was in the interests of people with power to keep that power.

And, of course, knowledge is power.

So the codification of knowledge started to have walls put around it – because knowing stuff made the difference between having power and not having power.

And this leads to a situation now where you are almost certain to infringe copyright if you do work that does not start with a blank sheet of paper.

If you look at anything else first then that could count as infringement, because what you are making is derived from that original work.

And that leads to some interesting points for creators.

At some point you will decide that you need to grow up.

You’ve spent years learning from the world, from keeping your eyes open and looking out to see whatever is out there.

You’ve sucked in that knowledge, greedily absorbing it and learning from it and adapting it and shaping it and, in the process, finding out more about who you really are.

Now, you have to close the windows, shut the door and face the empty page on your own.

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

No more research, no more reading, no more checking what’s out there first?

And yet, it may be as long as we do a few things.

The first thing is to be careful about what we let into our world – we want ideas but not the expressions of those ideas.

Ideas can’t be copyrighted, but once they’re put down in some way then you start to hit those protection issues.

A simple way of doing this is not going on the Internet with a javascript enabled browser – vast tracts of the web will now be closed to you.

Clearly, the safest course of action is to let nothing in.

Or, in any case, old stuff.

Read the classics, read histories, read the stuff from a long time ago.

That’s out of copyright now and so you’re ok.

And then if you’re still looking for knowledge, read the stuff that’s released under a copyleft licence, something that encourages you to share and borrow and use.

It’s worked brilliantly for software, and maybe it will work for knowledge as well.

I guess something like Wikimedia commons is a starting point.

I think the sad thing about this kind of thinking is that knowledge should set you free – but instead it’s used to chain and bind people.

And the only way to get away from that is to refuse to play that game.

But few people have the courage to do that.

Stallman, for example, set out to develop a “clean room” version of Unix, locking himself away and writing the components he needed and it’s because of that work that we have a free software ecosystem and the alternatives we use now.

The editor I’m writing this in is emacs – Stallman’s emacs.

I’m going to try and experiment for a few weeks.

I’m going to see if I can write these posts without research, without references – only creating original work starting with a blank sheet of paper.

I don’t know if that’s even possible.

Shall we find out?

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

p.s. I’ve now set up a dedicated Twitter account at @HndcrftdInsight for this project and to collect ideas that might help with future posts.

The Three Kinds Of Habits You Need To Develop

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Tuesday, 10.12pm

Sheffield, U.K.

When one begins to live by habit and by quotation, one has begun to stop living. – James Baldwin

If you really want to learn what people think you should go and read the reviews people leave on Amazon.

Says Jay Abraham – the marketing guru – so I thought I would do just that.

You’ve probably heard about James Clear and his book Atomic habits – and I wondered what people thought of that kind of material.

You see, the problem is that most of the business books we’ve heard of are written by people who don’t always know the theory that underpins their ideas.

Many books are repackaged common sense and what mother would say.

It’s nice, uplifting material that makes you feel good and motivates you to do something – anything.

But is it going to work for you in your circumstances?

At the other end you have academic papers that are detailed studies of a very specific situation – so specific that you learn that something works – but only under those conditions.

How is that going to work for you if your conditions are different.

So, between these extremes, common sense and old wise sayings, and new, cutting edge research – you have to find a set of ideas that you’re happy to cling to.

Now the approach you need to take to find your way in this treacherous swamp of ideas is to get better at critical thinking – at looking at ideas and figuring out what to take and try and adapt so that you make it yours.

For example, the first comment that came up for me on Clear’s book was by Timothy Corwen who talks about how Clear doesn’t make it quite clear what kind of habits he’s talking about.

And this is something that’s easy to confuse – are all habits equal?

Corwen points out that they’re not – and there are at least three that you need to get your head around.

The first are habits that you do in order to make life easier for yourself.

The fictional writer Hank Moody, in the TV series Californication only has black t-shirts and blue jeans.

That makes choosing your outfit easy.

Or you only drink tea – coffee or any other kind of beverage is a no-go area.

These kinds of habits are about doing the same thing to reduce the number of decisions you need to make, saving your energy for the big stuff.

The second kind of habit is about removing friction for the things you want to do because they’re good for you.

Exercise, for example.

If you lay your clothes out the previous night or join a routine at the same time every day, like the nation is doing with PE in the morning in lockdown, you’re making it easy to perform that task.

These first two types of habits make it easy to do easy things and easy to do hard things.

When you’ve got those two nailed you can now focus on making it easy to do the important things.

Like climbing your mountain.

Your mountain might be your career, writing a book, doing your art, creating your music.

It’s your body of work, your life’s purpose, the asset you build, the legacy you leave.

And too many of us spend our lives so busy choosing the next outfit and watching TV on the sofa that we never have the time to look out and see which way our mountain might be.

So, when you look at your routines today – the habits you’re trying to develop – keep this model in mind.

They’ve got to help you address those three problematic areas in your life – the easy problems, the hard problems and the important problems.

And if you get this right you might be on your way to becoming healthy, wealthy and wise.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh