Why Opting For Safety Can Be The Riskiest Strategy Of All

bamboo.png

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Many years ago, when I was around ten, we had an art class where we were introduced to Japanese painting.

We used a brush to make swift, sure strokes with dark, black ink on delicate, gossamer-thin rice paper.

Well – that was the idea, anyway.

My clumsy attempts to draw bamboo stalks would have won few prizes back then judging from my performance today in the picture above but it still serves to illustrate a point.

Would you rather have one leaf or many if you were a plant?

Do you ever wonder sometimes how you ended up where you are?

What choices led you to the precise place you now find yourself?

Perhaps you’re fortunate – you have all the things that society prizes.

Or perhaps you’re trapped, with all you want and nothing you need.

We often make decisions not to make the most of opportunities but to avoid risk.

And that makes sense because we’re hard-wired to dislike losing more than we like winning.

I remember reading somewhere that there’s no right way to look at this.

For example, the quote from Taleb derides an addiction to a monthly income.

That’s a bad thing – clearly.

Then again, recently I heard a wife talk about how her husband brought home a wage for forty years – and the stability and life that gave them.

You have stability – and the uncertainty that comes with it.

If you lose the one wage you lose a lot.

If you have lots of little streams of income coming in then you’re less reliant on any given one and if it stops flowing you still carry on.

The flip side to this is that if you don’t have enough then you’re always uncertain about where the next penny is going to come from.

It’s only an issue when you’re comparing bamboo, I suppose.

After all, there are things like cacti that seem to do very well with one very large equivalent of a leaf.

Is there a point to all this?

I suppose what it comes down to is that whether you have one leaf or several it’s nice to be in a position to make a choice about which one works for you.

And that choice is easier if you don’t depend on the leaves in the first place.

So, for example, if you have 12 months of living expenses stashed away you have more freedom than someone who needs next month’s pay packet to pay the bills.

Maybe it’s less to do with choosing safety or risk but being in a position where neither has an impact you can’t come back from.

Which I suppose starts with answering the question “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is The One True Way To Do Something?

fishing.png

Monday, 10.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Wealth is not about having a lot of money; it’s about having a lot of options. – Chris Rock

I’ve only been fishing once in my life.

It didn’t go well.

The good thing was that I didn’t catch anything – if I had I’m not entirely sure what I would have done as I don’t really like fish.

I also got stuck.

I was by myself, at the edge of a small pond. I cast my line and it hooked onto the bushes on the other side of the pond.

So there I was, with a borrowed rod in my hands, deep water in front of me and a stuck line.

I resigned myself to having to wait for a few hours till someone who know what they were doing came and rescued me.

Then, after a while, I figured out that I could just put my rod down, walk around the pond and get my line free.

So then I was back to the casting and the failing to catch anything.

So, I am not a reliable source of fishing knowledge.

But, the idea of fishing is interesting when it comes to what you do with your life.

And it boils down to having options.

If you’re sat at the edge of the water with a single line then you’ll catch the occasional fish.

If, on the other hand, you’re like the French anglers we come across on vacation – the ones who park their caravan at the edge of the canal and set out a dozen rods – you’re going to catch more than your fair share.

One of them came across to us once and gave us a dozen fish – he just had too many for his family to have.

And that’s a good model – to have many lines in the water.

If you’re marketing your business you need to use all the channels you can – from cold calling, direct mail, referrals, advertising – everything that you can economically and competently do.

If you’re trying to get promoted you need to try your hand at different tasks, multiple areas of need – because doing more than just the one thing you’re paid to do is what results in a lucky break.

The point is that there is never really one true way to do something.

There are a multitude of possibilities and the more you can explore the better your chances of finding the one that works for you.

You can also put up with a lot more when you have options – it makes it much easier to deal with demanding situations and bosses when you know there is something else you’re also working on.

It’s a simple picture really – having one line versus having several.

We’ve just got to make sure we get on with getting them set up.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is It You Really Want To Be To A Client?

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Sunday, 8.52pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it. – Wilson Mizner

The term “Trusted Advisor” has a thin, displeasingly metallic sound.

There’s nothing wrong with the term as such – it’s loved by professional services firms – and popularised by authors such as David H. Maister.

But you’d feel a little too self-promotional if you called yourelf one.

The idea behind it, however, is a good one and it does help you think about your business and how you want to come across to a client.

And Maister et.al have a model, adapted in the figure above, that is useful for this.

Think of the thing you’re good at – whether it’s boiler repair or software programming – you have built up expertise and can get a job done.

At that point, you’re available for hire.

You’re a consultant now. Even if you’re hired by a company full-time you’re still really a consultant to them.

But for any other firm you’re an expert that can come in and do a specific task for them.

From that point, the client needs to think not just about whether you can do the job but what else you’re bringing with you.

Do you work well with them? Can you collaborate? Do you get what they’re trying to do and how what you do fits in?

When you do, they’ll want to work with you on a regular basis.

You become a supplier – not just a consultant called in for one-off jobs.

Then what?

Do you put their interests ahead of your own?

Do you help them get what they need rather than what they say they want?

Do they see you as part of their team – on their side?

As the way you work with them moves from offering expertise to providing insight and as you go from getting a task done to collaborating with them you move from an expert for hire to an advisor they trust.

This model is nice because it shows you a pathway – what happens over time as you go from having your head down getting things done to looking up and doing the right things.

Then, I think, you may find yourself in a situation where you are trusted.

But I don’t think you should try and get trust – to try and force it or manipulate things so you appear trusted.

That’s false – and nothing ensures that trust is lost forever than a falsehood.

It may come down to this…

Start by doing things right.

Follow up by showing the client the right things to do.

Always do the right thing.

And trust, one day, will simply be there.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is The One Thing You Should Optimize For When Marketing A Message?

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Your network is your net worth – Porter Gale

It’s very easy to confuse outcomes and goals.

If you want to lose weight, for example, it’s easy to set a goal to lose 20 pounds when what you want as an outcome is to look good when you’re going out.

Or, if you run a business, to set a financial goal of increasing business by $500,000 when the outcome you want is a promotion.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re questioning those last two statements.

Surely the two are obviously linked – you can’t just separate them.

If you lose 20 pounds, you’ll look better and if you add $500,000 in earnings you’ll be promoted.

But here’s the thing.

Neither of those goals are really goals – they’re outcomes as well.

You lose 20 pounds by doing something and add $500,000 by doing other things.

So… what are those things and are they the goals to go after?

Why does any of this matter? Surely you just need to decide on a goal and get on with it and stop worrying about all this stuff?

Well, it matters because of what Buzzfeed found when they looked at how things spread.

Life is not linear – it doesn’t proceed in a step by step way.

The future is a distribution – a thicket of possibilities.

So, if you want to get your message out there what should you do?

Is it the quality of copy that matters?

Can you post something great on your website and expect the traffic to pour in?

No, it turns out. What matters is putting that content out to more networks.

Then, it spreads, from network to network and back again.

From Pinterest to Facebook, from email to Twitter and back and forth and maybe to a completely new platform.

That’s how things really spread and, if you want to get your message out, you’ve got to spend the time working on those different networks.

Which brings us back to weight and revenue.

You could lose weight just cutting out everything but protein.

But, to keep it off, you’ll need a mix – exercise, diet, sleep, water.

With your business, you need email, personal networks, referrals, social networks, media, advertising.

The message is important – It’s got to be a good one.

But it appears that the distribution is even more important.

Which is why after several months I might start sharing these posts on social media again.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What’s The Biggest Marketing Mistake You Can Make?

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I do uphill skiing; I don’t do downhill skiing. I think that’s for nerd amateurs. – Judah Friedlander

What is it that means some people struggle to sell their time at $10 an hour and others are fully booked at $10,000 an hour?

As you know platforms are the big thing now – you can get people from all over the word to bid for your work and get amazing results.

Or can you?

I’ve not seen that really. I’ve had some competent work and some pretty shoddy work. But because it was cheap it wasn’t really worth worrying about.

And that’s the thing about how you think about what you do.

If you’re cheap people will take a punt because they haven’t got much to lose but you’ll still be under the same pressure to perform as you would be if you were paid ten times as much.

In most professions it doesn’t take you any less time to service a small account than a big one.

That means it’s almost always a good idea to raise prices – to charge more than you think the market will bear.

But then, you’re asking, why would anyone pay that?

Let’s say you charge $300 a day at the moment. Why would anyone pay you $900 a day?

What is it you do that justifies that level of pay when others are doing the same job for $300?

If you’re asking that – then you’re asking the wrong question.

The point is that the value in what you do is not in the job you do.

It’s in what happens after the job is done.

If you think about your time as worth a fixed amount that’s thinking about it all wrong.

Your time is actually worth a share of what happens when you’ve spent it.

If you spend your time digging a hole you end up with a hole.

The value of that hole depends on whether you’re now going to chuck some rubbish in or whether there’s a vein of gold in there somewhere.

Boiling this down what this means is you’re on commission and whatever you’re paid is a percentage of the value you create.

If what you do saves someone $30 an hour then they’ll pay you $10.

If you save them $30,000 then you’ll get your $10,000.

But this is where the marketing problem comes into play.

If you say to someone “Give me $10,0000, and I’ll do some work that will make you three times that”, their first reaction will be “How can I be sure of that?”

And this is where you can go in one of two ways.

You can make it hard for them to be sure – create a road filled with potholes of uncertainty.

Or you can remove all the risk they can have.

For example, you might be very clear that you do everything at your own cost and risk and only get paid if you’re successful.

What if you’re too successful?

Maybe you cap the amount. Give the person a chance to buy you out.

But whatever you do you have to make it easy for them to buy.

And that’s harder than it looks unless you are totally clear that the customer getting the benefit they’ve been promised comes first – ahead of anything you get.

It’s very easy to make things hard – but what you’ve got to make sure you do is go the other way.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Should You Pay To Get A Customer?

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What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. Lord Darlington in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan

How hard is to get new business?

Quite hard, I’m sure you agree.

It takes time and money to do research, send out cold emails, make cold calls and nurture relationships.

All those costs add up to quite a lot.

Many of us just see that as a fact of doing business.

Perhaps we hire salespeople and put marketing programs in place. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t – and we’re not entirely sure why.

Marketing can often feel like a bit of a punt – not a science or anything remotely predictable – despite what the experts say.

So it was interesting to learn about the idea of Customer Lifetime Value and follow the thread to see where it led.

In a nutshell Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) has to do with the profit you make from a customer over all the time they’re with you – and thinking this way means you might make different decisions about how you price and sell your product.

An early mention of CLV was in the book Database Marketing and the author, Professor Robert Shaw, castigates marketers for failing to learn key insights and, just not use maths very well.

Now, one of the things is that the maths is probably harder than it needs to be.

For example, A 1998 paper by Paul Berger and Nada Nasr shows you how to calculate CLV in a number of cases.

The definition of CLV is the discounted net profit you get per customer.

That should turn most people off at this point.

If it doesn’t the series formula that follows will.

But it’s not that hard actually.

Let’s say a customer spends $100 with you and is probably going to sign every year for the next three years you’re going to make $300 over those three years.

Now if you’re focused on just the first sale you make then you’ll see the customer as worth $100.

You’ll grudgingly give your salesperson a commission of 20%, pocketing $80.

And after you’ve paid salaries you probably won’t have much left.

If, on the other hand, you knew you were going to make three sales you could give your salesperson the entire profit on the first sale and still make money.

Even better, you could probably get better salespeople who will work just for commission because what they make is larger.

The CLV calculation changes the way you look at things – instead of having a single shot you realise that you can spend a lot more to get a customer as long as you keep them for long enough.

And really – that’s entirely in your control.

Getting them in the first place is hard and painful – they don’t know you, trust you or think they need you.

But if, once you’ve shown them what you do, they still leave then you need to get better at delivery.

But that’s something you can sort out.

There are two things here…

First, understanding CLV properly gives you new ways in which to buy customers because the prize is bigger.

And second, the price you pay will be repaid based on the value you give.

As the saying goes, price is what you pay and value is what you get.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Do You Get So Good At Something That You Can’t Be Ignored?

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Friday, 8.49pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. – Babe Ruth

An acquaintance mentioned the other day that he had been out climbing roofs.

Roofs? Like house roofs? Who does that and why?

Not many people, it turns out. He’d been talking about cave roofs – where you climb and then hang from the roof.

Absolute madness, in my view, requiring more abs than I’ve seen in a long time.

Sheffield apparently has some of the best climbing rocks in the world. And this is the sort of thing people get good at.

And people get really good at things like climbing and sports and music – things where you can win or show how good you are.

Researchers studying such people worked out that they had something in common – they spent years and practised their skill in a way that has come to be called deliberate practice.

The way you get good is by doing practice deliberately.

As the saying goes, you don’t just go out for a walk and find yourself on top of Mount Everest.

If you practice something for long enough you’ll get good. And then you’ll hit a ceiling and really not make much more progress.

In fact, in many professions, you spend a lot of time getting to a certain standard and then stop trying – and the only way then is down.

As I read somewhere recently, you don’t rise to the level of your training. You sink to it.

So what does it mean to practice deliberately and how can you do it?

Ericsson et al tell you how in a long paper – but it boils down to three things.

  1. You need to build on existing knowledge.
  2. You need to get immediate feedback on your performance
  3. You need to put the time into trying again and again.

Seems simple – but is it easy?

If you’re on track to be an elite athlete or musician then you already know what to do.

What about the rest of us?

What if you’re trying to become a better programmer or writer or marketer or entrepreneur?

The starting point here is to realise that you’ll do better building on what you know than what you don’t.

If you never used a computer don’t expect to become a whiz at C# overnight. Or, if you’ve written an essay at school, expect to publish your best selling novel next year.

But… you can do those things as long as you climb the rungs in between on the way.

Then there is feedback.

When you watch your kids’ sports teachers do you notice that they have a game where you need to catch a ball and if you drop it you have to leave the game?

How inane is that? The kids that need to spend the most time with the ball learning how to catch it are asked to sit out while the ones who are good get to stay in and practice some more.

What you need is time – time to repeat and try again and again.

As a writer, for example, you’re advised to throw away your first million words.

Those are your learning words.

Now, I’ve not been writing that long – 445 posts, 250,000 words plus another 150,000 in warm up text. That’s 400,000 words over the last couple of years and I still feel like I’m just learning every time I start a new piece.

And I’m prepared to keep feeling that way for the next ten years because I enjoy writing and the only way to get better is to keep trying.

But you also need feedback and that’s where a coach comes in or, if you don’t have a coach, getting tools to help you coach yourself.

That’s easier in some fields. A programmer, for example, gets feedback all the time when a program doesn’t run.

But what about things like business where there are complex things you do that aren’t easily measurable?

But I suppose the point about deliberate practice is that it has nothing to do with the results of your business.

It has to do with your results.

It’s a way to work on yourself to get good at something – something that matters to you and that you care about.

And when you do that you just can’t help getting better every day.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Avoid Having To Do Real Work

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Monday, 9.50pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you have any trouble sounding condescending, find a Unix user to show you how it’s done. – Scott Adams

Sometimes I feel like much of what I write is too theoretical.

It’s all very well exploring ideas but what are you actually doing?

As Jay Abraham writes, people don’t need strategies. They need solutions.

The world is full of solutions – some of them very complex and many of them solve problems that have been solved before.

Take a simple thing – managing a database.

A database, in its simplest form is like a box of index cards.

Each card is a record and you write stuff on it.

Now, you can get very excited about big, complex databases but in the Unix world a text file can be a database where you use a line for each record.

Interestingly, I strugged to find any applications that would let me create a simple personal database that I could use – for example to maintain a contact database or customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

Odd, I thought.

Back when I was young, my dad let me help him create a database for a medical conference. I can remember showing the visiting doctors their data on the screen and checking if it was right.

This was on an old IBM PC/XT using some version of dBase, I imagine.

Anyway… you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find something that lets you manage a text file as a simple database – that lets you do the basic operations: create, read, update and delete on the files.

Now, of course you can just open the file and edit away, but that’s no fun.

So today’s diversion was to create a small crm. That’s a bit like taking time off from chopping down a tree to work on sharpening the axe.

If you’re being generous, that is.

On the other hand, it’s possibly a complete waste of time, implementing something widely available in a way no one else might ever use.

But here’s the thing.

I’ve found the Internet and the stuff other people have put out there immensely useful in all the work I do.

So, maybe sharing this bit of code, unfinished as it is, may be useful to you as well. Apologies for the formatting – tired of struggling with WordPress!

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

 

#!/bin/bash
# Script to manage a simple crm
# It's going to be as terse as ed

crmfile=$1

# Setup file
if [ ! -f $crmfile ]; then
echo "Name:Company:Phone:Email:Next Action" > $crmfile
fi
while [ "$command" != "q" ]
do
read command
case $command in
q)
exit 0
;;

h)
echo "Commands"
echo "q: exit"
echo "a: add record"
echo "r: show records"
echo "e: edit record"
echo "d: delete record"
;;

a)
echo "Full name:"
read fullname
echo "Company:"
read company
echo "Phone:"
read phone
echo "email:"
read email
echo "Next action:"
read nextaction
echo "Write to file? (y/n)"
read confirm
if [ "$confirm" = y ]; then
echo $fullname":"$company":"$phone":"$email":"$nextaction >> $crmfile
fi
;;

r)
cat $crmfile | column -s":" -t | less -NS
;;

d)
echo "Line to delete?"
read line
sed -i -e $line"d" $crmfile
;;

e)
echo "Line to edit?"
read line
sed -n -e 1,$line"p" $crmfile | column -s":" -t
str=$(sed -n -e $line"p" $crmfile)
IFS=":" read -r -a NAMES <<< "$str"
fullname=${NAMES[0]}
company=${NAMES[1]}
phone=${NAMES[2]}
email=${NAMES[3]}
nextaction=${NAMES[4]}
#echo $fullname $company $phone $email $nextaction
echo "Press enter to keep existing values"
echo "Full name:"
read value
if [ "$value" != "" ]; then
fullname="$value"
fi
echo "Company:"
read value
if [ "$value" != "" ]; then
company=$value
fi
echo "Phone:"
read value
if [ "$value" != "" ]; then
phone=$value
fi
echo "email:"
read value
if [ "$value" != "" ]; then
email=$value
fi
echo "Next action:"
read value
if [ "$value" != "" ]; then
nextaction=$value
fi
echo "Write to file? (y/n)"
read confirm
string=$fullname":"$company":"$phone":"$email":"$nextaction
echo "Current entry"
if [ "$confirm" = y ]; then
ed - $crmfile <<EOF
$line
c
$string
.
w
q
EOF
fi
echo "Record changed. Press r to show"

;;
esac
done

What You Need To Do To Be Understood

windows.png

Thursday 9.00pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood. – Regina Spektor

If you could look out of two windows, one dirty and one clean, which would you choose?

Communicating is hard. Even the word “communicating” is long and multi-syllabic and doesn’t really catch the essence of what we’re trying to do.

We’re trying to pour our thoughts into someone else’s mind and we spill quite a lot as we try.

Chris Anderson, the curator at TED talks, says one of the reasons they work so well is that human beings have evolved to listen to storytellers.

That person who tells you stories as you huddle around a fire, your grandmother who tells you stories as you snuggle up together, that’s what you grew up with and what your genes have learned is the way to learn.

But just as important is the fact that the storyteller and you are near each other. She can look at you and tell by how you react whether you are hearing her or not.

Writing, on the other hand, is a relatively new invention. And even if you use audio or video it’s not the same as getting feedback from wide open eyes staring at you.

So, it’s not surprising that most of what we see and read is not easy to understand.

In fact, it’s easy to misunderstand.

And it’s even easier to ignore.

Then again, it’s naive to think that you’ll get it clear the first time you try and express yourself.

Clarity is iterative. It emerges over time, like polishing a diamond.

You start with a lump and end with a sparkling gemstone.

So, how can you get better at being clear?

The first thing is to remember that using big words doesn’t mean you are having big thoughts.

Winston Churchill said shorts words are best and the old ones, when short, are best of all.

You can say a lot with small words and you will almost certainly be better understood.

Being clear is important when you want to explain what you’re thinking to someone else.

But it’s just as important that you’re clear with yourself.

It’s easy to fool yourself about what’s important, what you should focus on and what you should do next.

But the more effort you put into making it clear to yourself about what matters to you and what is the best use of your time, the more likely it is that you’ll be happy at the end of each day.

So, what should you do if you want to be understood?

Try and be clear in everything you say, write and do.

William Zinsser, the author of On Writing Well said that the secret was to get rid of clutter.

Strip every sentence of every word that has no use, that is long when it could be short or passive instead of active.

And that skill comes with practice so the time to start being clear about everything is now.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Should You Absolutely Do Before Approaching A Prospect?

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Wednesday, 10.08pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script. – Alfred Hitchcock

The media is everything these days, isn’t it?

Everyone’s a rock star on YouTube, minting it with podcasts and making loads of money just talking into a microphone or to a camera.

Or are they?

Harvard Business School has a page called Working Knowledge aimed at Business Leaders where you will find a short article about John H. Patterson and the National Cash Register company.

Cash registers changed modern retail and the N.C.R led that change and its salespeople were guided by a little booklet called the N.C.R primer.

This document grew as the 1800s waned, reaching 200 pages and then shrinking to a quarter of that again and it created the foundation for a selling approach based on scripts.

The point of the script was to make it easier for salespeople to carry a conversation from an approach to a close.

A hundred or so years later the script is the hidden structure behind much of what we see.

Every radio program, every TV show, every professionally produced piece of entertainment has a script behind it.

And if you’re trying to work out how to talk to someone about what you have to offer a script is something that will probably help you too.

Jay Abraman, a well known direct response marketer, has some interesting views about the kind of attitude you need to have.

First, you need to value what you have to offer.

That’s sort of the starting point – you have something of value and you need to know that, and believe in that before you try and approach anyone.

Then, when you do approach someone, you need to assume that they will respond to you. Eventually, you will talk to everyone you need to talk to.

When that happens what will you do?

Will you simply “wing it”?

When that conversation starts and the prospect approaches you are you just going to say the first thing that comes to mind?

Well, at first probably yes.

But then you’ll learn.

And what I’ve learned is that having some points that you plan to talk around helps.

If you’re going to have talking points, you could do worse, than writing out a script.

We remember speeches from great leaders but we rarely remember that those leaders rarely wrote their own speeches. The words that came out were drafted by others and they helped change futures.

If you’ve watched The Wolf of Wall Street you’ll remember Jordan Belfort and his scripts.

In his book, he’s quite blunt about it:

“…young men and women who possess the collective social graces of a herd of sex-crazed water buffalo and have an intelligence quotient in the range of Forrest Gump on three hits of acid, can be taught to sound like Wall Street wizards, as long as you write every last word down for them and then keep drilling it into their heads again and again—every day, twice a day—for a year straight.”

And if they can do it, we all can.

Movie makers and actors get it.

A good script is essential if you want to make a good movie.

Perhaps that insight is the same for sales.

Or for life.

Cheers.

Karthik Suresh