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Why Action Learning can help your business to grow

I first came across Action Learning as a tool for experiential learning, personal and professional growth, when I was the National Volunteer Manager for The Prince’s Trust back in, ooh, probably 1999-2000.

The National Centre for Volunteering Organisations were wanting to help charities grow their managers and leaders skills, so they put on a number of sessions to show how Action Learning could help individuals and the organisations grow. I was fortunate enough to have been allowed the “time off” (as it was seen in those days), to take part in the initial session. I remember loving it on that first day, and putting a business case together to the HR Director to allow me to be involved with a year long Action Learning set with other charity managers.

It was an amazing year of growth and development for all of us personally, and the areas we were responsible for in our organisations. My memory has faded, but I remember our group had managers (of all sorts of department areas), from RNIB, The National Trust, English Cricket Board, and a lovely charity which looked after a historic boat on the Thames.

Action learning is an approach to solving real problems that involves taking action and reflecting upon the results, which helps improve the problem-solving process, as well as the solutions developed by the team. The action learning process includes:

  1. a real problem that is important, critical, and usually complex,
  2. a diverse problem-solving team or “set”,
  3. a process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and reflection,
  4. a requirement that talk be converted into action and, ultimately, a solution, and
  5. a commitment to learning.

Wikipedia

I remember taking issues to this group which I couldn’t discuss internally at The Trust due to office politics, or I’d tried and I hadn’t been heard. The results we all achieved over that year were amazing. Not just personally, but for our organisations. It wasn’t just about being heard and allowed to share our concerns with interested people who wanted to help us as individuals, but it was about being able to get to the root of the issue, and either resolve it, or find a solution to the issue we’d raised with the action learning set.

How Action Learning can help your business grow

My next taste of action learning in action was when I took part in the LEAD programme, at UCLAN in 2010. The action learning part of the programme was one of the main draws for me as it had been so powerful earlier in my career. I knew I could take business issues to this group of small and medium sized business owners and I could work out my next steps.

It’s actually from this group, that the Bra Lady network was developed, and I know other business owners also had similar ‘epiphany’ moments in the action learning sets.

How does action learning help your business grow?

action learning helps your business growAs a business owner, when you grow, your business grows too. So anything you can do to help yourself grow personally will have a knock on effect on your business.

When you use action learning in a group, or set as they’re often known, you are committing to take action in front of that group. Part of the sign up to be part of the group is to take action. How many times have you been on training and said you were going to do something from that training, and actually not? Well, you’re committing to this small group, who’ve heard you talk passionately about this thing you want to crack in your business, and you’ll be reporting back to them next time. You’re going to take the action aren’t you?

Being part of an action learning set gives you a small group of people who want you to succeed, who have all sorts of knowledge and experience, and contacts. By taking your business issue to this group and asking them to help you explore the options available to you, you’ll be getting a wide range of views and opinions to consider. You don’t have to take any of them on board, if you don’t want to. No-one in the group is going to force you to do anything.

Simply the act of sharing and exploring your business issue, helps you really understand the issue, and the action you’re wanting to take. Even if that action is nothing. Sometimes that happens, and that’s fine. However, but exploring the issue with the action learning set, you’ve cleared the issue from your to do list, and your head, and you’ve got space for the next thing you want to deal with.

Using action learning in your business

There are ways you can use action learning in your business, which offer the opportunity for cross team action learning sets to explore issues together. A number of educational and NHS establishments continue to use action learning as way of delving deeper into issues across departments, and helping colleagues understand cross organisational issues.

For smaller teams, or a one person business, joining up with other business owners in an action learning set, often with a facilitator, at least to start with, can help you learn the skills you need to question yourself and your business to learn by itself, and implement different ways of doing business.

Confident Business Owner uses action learning

As part of our Confident business owner programme, we’re using action learning sets as part of the development of individual business owners to grow themselves and their businesses. If you’d like to learn more about this programme, or how you can access an action learning set local to you, get in touch.

What’s your experience of action learning? Have you used it in your business? Was it beneficial?

 

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Are you ready for massive action your business?

No, I mean REALLY ready? I can’t sleep, and it’s all because I’M really ready to take massive action and work with 6 business owners who are ready too. You don’t even need to know why you’re ready, or what you’re ready for, you just need to feel that you are. That’s all you need to be part of this.

I can’t believe how excited I am!

I’ve been talking to existing clients about how they take action, and I’ve set up an online Business Action Group. This is for business owners, anywhere, who are fed up with listening to and learning from others. You’ve got all the tools in your toolkit now, and are ready to take those actions you’ve written in your book, or on your to do list for the past few months.

Actions speak louder than words

Ready to take massive action?We all know that actions speak louder than words. It’s something that we’re brought up being told, and sometimes we just get on and do it, other times, well, we just sit back and let the world keep turning whilst we take a rest.

And that’s exactly why I can’t sleep. I’m not ready to rest! Everything about me is ready to take action, and I know that you are too. You can’t wait either! You’ve never been more ready. You’re just not too sure what you’re ready for!

That’s OK. That’s what we’re going to work out and take action on together.

I’ve spent a long time, over my years as a business owner, thinking, planning and mulling things over. I’ve spent lots of time talking to others about my ideas. No really, I have. Lots of time bouncing things around with friends, family, and business friends. I’ve shared ideas at networking groups and people have said, “that’s fantastic! When are you doing that?”. And yep, you’ve guessed it. Those ideas have fallen by the wayside. Why? Because I didn’t take the action. I didn’t do that final step. I didn’t do those things I’ve always encouraged others to do.

So, I know exactly where you are right now. You just need someone to be right by your side and be that person whispering in your ear, “I’m going to do this right now”. There’s no need to not do those things you’ve been thinking about, or planning. Finally, they’ve got to the top of your list. Yay! I’m so excited for you 🙂

Take massive action now

And how are we going to do this together?

We’re going to work closely together for the next 6 months. It’s not just you and me, there’s a small group of us, all taking massive action in our businesses. We’ve got big ideas, and now we’re just going to get on and do it.

What are we going to do?

You’ll become part of the online Business Action Group. Weekly motivation with other business owners to take action, and the place for you to commit to your action and ask for help to achieve it. It’s not a failure to ask for support in your business. We’re not experts, or comfortable with all aspects of our business.

You’ll have access to Tracey-Jane via the VIP hotline if you’re having a little wobble and just need that bit of encouragement, and no-one’s around in the online group to give you that.

December – Find your Why, or, if you’re very clear about your Why, we’ll have that time getting really really clear about your hows and whats. We’ll be spending half a day together.

January – Finding and getting clear on your hows and whats (or, if we’ve done this, writing a strategy for one of your whats). Another half day session together will get us through this.

February – We’ll be meeting as a group and using each other’s skills and knowledge in an Action Learning Set. This will be in Preston, and we’ll be together for 6 hours.

March – One to one coaching, focusing on whatever you need to take action on your next step

April – Another Action Learning Set as a group – I know you’ll love these as much as I do. They’re fantastic at really getting you committed to taking action.

May – our final coaching session, getting you ready to keep taking action after we’ve finished the programme.

We’re going to have fun together over the next 6 months, and you’re going to love taking action every week. Some weeks that action will be “rest and have a holiday”, so don’t worry that it’s all going to be work, work, work!

How much is taking action going to cost?

OK, well, here’s the immediate action part. The part where you need to commit to investing in yourself to take action. This whole 6 month programme will cost £1800 in 2018. T-J charges £600 a day for training, so even with that you can see it’s a bargain.

But as I’ve woken up in the middle of the night so excited, and my husband can’t talk me out of it, I’m going to offer this to you, (and only you), for £997. Sound bonkers? Well, if we’re going to work together, you need to know that upfront.

Yep, for £997, we’re going to work together for 6 months. You’ll have 9 hours one to one coaching, and 12 hours group coaching through action learning, PLUS the action group AND direct access to Tracey-Jane for support.

READY? I am! 🙂

So, as there’s only a few places, get in touch RIGHT NOW & let’s chat and see if we’re a good fit to work together.

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[Research] What is stopping your business growing?

Now you may think, hold on, there’s loads of things stopping my business from growing. OK, we understand that, and it’s likely they all interlink too!

whats keeping you awake at night that's stopping your business growingIf you’ve not got enough time as you’re a staff member short, you can’t effectively do the promotion you want, which means you’re struggling to get customers through the door. You’re focusing on customer service, (well done, as this is one of the biggest things customers are wanting now, and set you apart from your competitors), but that’s taking you away from placing that order you need to do for more stock. It seems to be a vicious circle doesn’t it?

There is so much business growth support available, that it’s often hard to identify what it is your business needs for that next step. Or, maybe you’re thinking that you can’t grow until that ‘thing’ is sorted, so you’re not exploring business growth options just at the moment. Well, don’t wait, please. There’s never a perfect time for anything and I don’t want you leaving things too late to jump in and get the business support you need to get your business growing again.

We need your help please

We’re in the final stages of writing a course, for business owners called “How to do all those things in your business without losing sleep“. It will cover areas which are currently stopping your business growing. We want to make sure we don’t leave anything out, so will you let us know your biggest question about that thing in your business which is causing you to lose sleep, or worry, right now? It could be absolutely anything. You may think it’s silly. All you need to do is type your question in the box below and click submit.

In exchange, we’ll give you free access to the workshop, happening on 14th December 2pm. We’ll send you the details nearer the time.

The course will sell for £97 in the near future, but you’ll get special access to experience the course through the workshop when you let us know your number 1 question.

Thank you so much. We’re looking forward to helping more business owners grow their businesses, whilst sleeping easier at night

What’s stopping your business growing?

 


 

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Are you kind to yourself?

be kind to yourself before being kind to othersToday is World Kindness Day. A day for being extra kind to others. We’re encouraged to carry out random acts of kindness as a reminder that this kindness will make our world a happier place to live. It’s a day for paying it forward and showing kindness to others in all we do.

We love helping others. Individuals in our organisation offer support to others through volunteering, supporting and encouraging in different ways, both to other individuals and organisations. Sometimes we’ll just offer some time to someone who’s struggling with something to give them a bit of encouragement and support. Other times, kindness is more planned, through volunteering opportunities.

However, we often see business owners doing things for others, but not being kind to themselves.

Are you kind to yourself?

By being kind to yourself, we mean, looking after yourself. Ensuring your needs are met before you help others. This is often hard for parents who are business owners, as they juggle to look after children, as well as the business needs. Often the parent / business owner’s needs seem to come last and this can lead to exhaustion, or not enjoying life.

  • When you set your goals for the week, as a business owner, do you ensure your personal and family needs are on that list too?
  • Have you assigned time in your diary for your walks or the activities you want to do for your mental and physical health and fitness?
  • Have you specified at least one day off (or two half days) in the week?
  • What are you doing for fun this week that will make you laugh?
  • When are you catching up with friends?
  • Have you got a date night fixed in the week?

However you assign your tasks for the week, ensure that your whole life is considered. If you’re not kind to yourself, how can you be kind to others? You may have heard the expression, “fill yourself up first”? Well, we believe that you really must be kind to yourself so you are healthy, enjoying life, and then you can give to others.

We’ve learnt from some of our life challenges that however much you want to help others, it’s kinder to them to help yourself first.

Do you make a point of being kind to others? What do you do? Let us know below.

If you need some time to help you reflect on how to prioritise things in your business and life, then let’s talk. We understand where you’re at, and we’re here to help you manage those things in your life and business.

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Why I can help you with your website development

T-J Hughes

T-J Hughes

You may be wondering why I’ve suddenly started helping others to manage those things they can’t, won’t, or don’t want to do themselves, including website development. Well, as usual, there’s a very good reason behind this business. There’s probably a hundred reasons, if I’m honest, but I’ll just share one for now.

My website nightmares

In 2004, six months after my second son was born, I set up a business, called bras4mums. It does what is says – sells bras to pregnant and breastfeeding women. Very specific, and it’s still going 12 years on.

Back in those days, internet shopping was only just starting out. I set up my own website, using a templated system, and it worked really well as the business grew. However, like all things, they get old, and outdated, and the coding was starting to get a little crumbly. There’s lots of personal stuff going on around this time, apart from my children growing up, and the business growing exponentially, and us moving the business out of home, into premises. All scary, but exciting times.

The website, whilst working OK, was starting to not function properly, and it was limited, and not ideal for coping with the complexity of bra sizing. Now, please don’t feel sorry for me, but my Mum died in May 2009, aged 65, and I’d spent a lot of my time travelling the country to be with her during her last few months. We were lucky to have that priviledge of knowing her illness was terminal. However, I’d obviously taken time out of the business to be with her and Dad. More ‘little things’ were going wrong on the website, and it was increasingly frustrating.

My Dad very kindly offered to pay for a new website to be created, from scratch, to help me with the next phase. We discussed how an improved website structure, and back end system would help the bras4mums staff team, with efficiency, and improve the customer experience. I’d met some people I liked and trusted, and was ready to go with a new shiny website.

There’s lots of details which aren’t important here, but, hopefully, you can understand that as I’d created my own website, and learnt a little bit of basic coding, I knew what I was after in my new website. I’d done a little shopping around for a website creator, and decided to go with an agency who had a wealth of experience in marketing and branding as well as the web design side. I felt they understood the complexity of lingerie, and how to get it across online.

The web design agency came up with a proposal using a templated site, so it wasn’t written for me, but they could customise to my specifications. I questioned it at the time, but they seemed convinced that this was the right way to go. So, we went ahead. I created a very specific timetable and list of instructions, including the web team adding the products and attributes to the site, within the project fee. I remember a conversation whilst away spending time with the family, after we’d scattered Mum’s ashes in a favourite place, that started to make me nervous about their knowledge and skills to get my project right.

The team were 2 weeks late going live, and my staff team had had to spend 100+ hours on product input as the web team couldn’t get it right. I should have pulled out then, shouldn’t I? I was so focused, and believed in the people I was working with, and if I’m honest, during this period of grief, I wanted something sparkling new to look forward to, and move the business forward again. 2009 you’ll remember was the start of the deep recession.

Even at the going live stage there were issues. For those of you who are technical, the DNS wasn’t pointing in the right place. As I was keeping control of the domain in my own account, (and I’m so pleased I’ve always insisted on this), and the web team were hosting the site on a new server capable of the new fancy site they were creating, they hadn’t transferred files over from the development server correctly, and hadn’t asked me to change my nameservers, etc, etc. More signs of things to come?

Oh yes, the story doesn’t end there! The brief wasn’t complete, and there were functions I’d asked for, which were in the design document, and in the payment schedule which seemed to be causing an issue for the web developers. As I got to know the web developers more, as I’d started working directly with them, rather than the account manager who hadn’t a clue about the techincal side of web development, I started to understand that the template wasn’t working for my products. Well, fancy that! My exact question right at the start! So, the account managers had ‘sold’ me a ‘solution’ that didn’t match my needs. It would have cost less to have had a site coded from scratch, that would actually work. Yes, I was getting increasingly frustrated.

I’d paid for some very expensive PR agency to work alongside the website launch, as some of the features were totally unique to bras4mums and the service we offered. I wasn’t getting the whole benefit as some of the promised features weren’t yet working properly. So, I was, in essence, throwing money away.

A few months after the live date, my final payment for the site was due. I hadn’t had enough sales to cover this payment, (I’d spent Dad’s investment on stock for a retail show at Earls Court), as I’d expected the websales to start kicking in now, with all the PR we’d paid for. I also believed that the web agency would shut my site down if I didn’t make the payment, even though there were outstanding issues not yet fixed on the site. Yes, I can hear you all shouting at me. I borrowed the money from some friends, and made the final payment. The web developers were even more illusive after this. You can see why I learnt so much can’t you?

So, January came and went, and little tweaks were still happening, but we still hadn’t got to the end product I’d originally briefed the web design company. I’d got another retail show in February, and wanted everything fixed for then. “Yes, of course, no problem. We think we’ve found a way of doing it”, the web developers told me. We were making progress, and web sales were picking up again, and we had high hopes we were over the worst of the issues.

How wrong could I be? On the Saturday of the retail show, customers told us our website wasn’t working. It was offline. Being a weekend, the web team don’t normally work, but as I’d been working so closely with them, I’d got contact details clients wouldn’t normally have. So, I spoke to the team leader to be told that yes, the server had caught fire and they were doing their best to restore the site. The only problem was, that when they restored a back up, it was a month old! All those tweaks they’d made, and all the stock I’d sold weren’t there – we were literally a month behind….again.

I still can’t believe this really happened. The excitement of the new site, even though it wasn’t perfect, was a much better one than the one I’d created. And then to have the crushing feeling of seeing everything my team and I had worked hard for, for the past 8 months to just disappear, through no fault of my own, was devastating.

I spent days just looking at my website, and refreshing the page to see if they could get it back. They couldn’t and didn’t. There seemed to be no-one taking responsibility for the issues caused between web host and development team. Contractually it was messy, as the agency I’d employed, had sub-contracted work, including the hosting to other companies. As I’d paid out the whole fee, even though the site wasn’t complete, what leverage did I have?

Over the next few months I kept trying to put things right. I paid out more money to the web developers directly to try and fix the issues which were still outstanding. I had lots of screaming matches, (and that really isn’t my style, but I got so frustrated that all my hard work, and all my Dad’s money was going to waste). I then asked a solicitor for advice, and with all the evidence I had kept, I had a strong case to pursue for the losses, and lost business I’d incurred. However, without insurance to cover my business contracts, I took on the risk of this myself, in the belief that “good will always win over evil” – well, it works in the movies doesn’t it? I employed more ‘specialist web developers’ who worked specifically on this templated software, to fix the issues.

Eventually, after another year of trying to fix something that was never right, I set up my own site, using another shopping template, so I could finally rid myself of the awful nightmare I’d been living in. That in itself wasn’t easy, as I lost the specialist features I’d created, but I hadn’t the money to do anything else.

My legal case went on and on, and I eventually ended up with my money back. I’d lost so much by this time, and lost faith in the legal system as well, that it’s a part of my business history I’ve not really talked about.

What I’ve learnt about websites

  • As a business owner, you understand the outcome and customer process much better than a web developer, or account manager. You need to find someone who ‘gets it’, and pursues your end goal, not theirs
  • You can do a lot, yourself, for free. Yes, you need to buy space on a server, (and there’s different qualities of these too!), unless you have your own on which to store your website, but then after that, you can do pretty much everything else for free, and come up with some amazing results
  • Know, and understand where your domain names are, and check that they are registered to you, and your registered address
  • Backup, backup and backup. Know how your server is backed up, and either keep backups yourself, in your dropbox account, or on a hard drive, or ensure someone you trust is doing this for you
  • Be clear at the start of your website development what your end goal is, even if it’s a phased process. Understand the phases of development, and how this will impact the development of your website
  • If your website development team aren’t meeting their targets, find someone else
  • Have a clear contract of engagement, with pull out times if targets, or specifications aren’t met
  • Having a beautiful website doesn’t mean people will find it easily

How I can help you with your website development and management

With over 12 years of business experience, and this lovely awful experience in the middle of it, I have a lot to offer others. I’ve been advising friends, and local business owners on website development for a number of year, as well as creating my own sites for blogging, promoting and selling for my different businesses.

I’m now in a position, through Manage Those Things, to help more of you to:

  1. Map out your website plans to take to web development teams
  2. Help you source the right web development team for you and your project, goals, and budget
  3. Project manage your website development on your behalf with the web team you’ve selected
  4. Create a simple wordpress website for you and/or with you, which doesn’t cost a fortune
  5. Guide, advise, and support your ongoing website health and security
  6. Help you get your website visible

Are you ready for some help? Contact me now, and don’t suffer like I did.

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Getting organised Tips

When we’re trying to juggle lots of things, the most important thing to ensure we get things done, is to get organised.

Many of us use online organisers and notebook systems, like Evernote, or google calendar, (yes, we’re an android/google house here) to manage reminders of tasks, meetings, and capture information for using in the future.

Getting organised tips

I’m personally a fan of writing things down. It helps me remember things I need to do, and process those things into pockets of time, or slots in my head and then my diary. My friend recently bought me a “List Book” with sticky notes, and list pages which has been perfect for the way I work.

We’ll look at CRM systems, (Customer relationship management), in the future. Today is just about the basics.

 

Getting organised tips

Whilst this isn’t an exhaustive list, it should help you work out a system for you, and your team, to get organised and get the tasks completed on time:

  • Have a diary which is accessible to your team and/or family and ALL use it. If you use a hard copy and an online calendar, make sure they are the same at least once a week.
  • Have one, yes one, To Do list. The master copy if you like. Ideally break this down into smaller tasks, and have headings for each part of the business or family life it affects e.g. Finances, Website, Customer service, Shopping.
  • From the To Do list, prioritise one thing each week from each heading.
  • Create a weekly activity planner and add your priorities into this planner. Ensure the planner has all your meetings, time out, children’s activities and dentist appointments in it, so you have slots of time to schedule your tasks into.
  • If you manage a team of people, assign tasks from the priority lists with the day and time they need completing. Set reminders on your phone/calendar to follow up the work has been completed.
  • If you use an online task planner, at the end of each day, update it.
  • Using a paper planner, cross things off as you do them.
  • If a task hasn’t been completed, ensure you write it on another day’s planner to complete, or assign to a team member with the deadline for completion
  • Don’t beat yourself up if the tasks don’t get done because of an unexpected emergency. Simply reschedule & update customers, if it may affect them. Customers are humans too, and whilst we do our best to complete work on time, life does sometimes get in the way. They usually understand if they’re made aware at the earliest point in time

What are your getting organised tips to make this work around the house and in your business?

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Small tasks are often big asks

It’s those niggly small tasks that often hold us back, isn’t it? That thing that others tell us, “oh, that’s easy. It’ll only take you 5 minutes”.

You never find those 5 minutes though, do you?

Small tasks are often big asks?

  • 2016-06-01 15.23.16The smaller the task, the longer it sits on your to do list
  • The task is small because it’s simple to do, right?
  • Small tasks are often the things you’ve never seen done, because they are so small
  • These tasks niggle away and are often the cause of your mind monkeys keeping you awake at night
  • You’re scared of small tasks as you “might break your website”, or “I’ll do it wrong”

So, what’s stopping you complete these tasks?

  • Time – well, we think we’ve got 5 minutes somewhere, but actually, your colleague’s 5 minutes is 2 hours for you isn’t it?
  • Knowledge – we all learn about things in different ways, and some things just aren’t interesting to us. Not everyone wants to know how to check webmaster tools and set up google+ accounts
  • Confidence – we may have been shown how to do something, but, “when the website has cost me £x and Y time, I really don’t want to break it do I?”

Hand over your To Do list to those who do have time, knowledge and confidence

Manage Those Things can take on tasks big and small. However, it’s often the small tasks which make the biggest difference to our clients business. Small tasks often aid the big ones to get done.

One off small tasks are charged hourly, with a minimum £29 for any task.

Get in touch now & let us clear those niggly small tasks off your To Do list.

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