Archive for January, 2010
And then she hugged me. It was all rather weird.
There I was on the M25 going nowhere and, I suppose, rather inattentive while I fiddled with CDs. Anyway I must have taken my foot off the brake because the next thing I knew, there was a gentle bump and I had rolled into the car in front.
Now this was so gentle it could not possibly have caused any damage but I did the decent thing and got out (snarling up all the traffic for ten miles behind me). In the driver’s seat of the car in front a woman sat motionless. Was this suppressed road rage? Was she counting to ten to prevent herself from leaping out and attacking me with the jack-handle?
In the end she got out very calmly, walked over to me and put her arm round my waist.
This has never happened to me before – well not as a result of a bump on the M25.
Wondering what the queue of drivers behind us might think, I suggested she move her car forward a bit so we could look at the damage. It turned out to be a mildly cracked number plate on her car and nothing on mine. I offered to buy her a new numberplate if she wanted one. Obvioiusly I would need to give her my name and phone number and I just so happen to keep a little container of business cards stuck to the side of the Mini.
Clearly so pleased with this, she now put both arms round me and gave me a big hug, standing there beside the growing traffic jam. If you have attended Big Al’s Colours Seminar you will have realised by now that my new friend is a a “yellow”.
“Look I’ve got just the thing for you,” I told her, pulling out a DVD from the door pocket. “Have a look at this. We’re a really happy, smiley bunch. You’d fit right in…”
“Oo, that sounds fun,” she said.
And with that we got back into our cars.
I wonder if she’ll ring me – and whether it will be about a new number plate or the business opportunity… or whether she’ll want another hug.
One way and another, I shall never think of the M25 in quite the same way again.
What a terrible shock it is to make a new discovery about yourself. For instance the note on my desk from my wife simply said “Richard” and the name of the newsagent’s shop. So what was my immediate thought? “I haven’t paid the paper bill again.” So what do I do? I put it in the “to do” pile (which of course never gets done.)
Would I have been more keen to do something if the note had said: “This person called round to sign up as a distributor”.
Because that’s what the note meant.
The note also taught another valuable lesson: The “no for now” rule.
Let’s wind back at least a year. Neither Richard nor I am quite sure how long it is since I went in to pay the paper bill (I do sometimes) and handed him a card saying something like “Have a look at this, it’s about money” – and a couple of days later, he rang and we sat down to look at the business and he didn’t join. “I haven’t got the time” was his excuse.
Of course I told him we we all had the same amount of time – him, me, Richard Branson and the man who lives in the cardboard box outside the shoe shop. Finding more time, I pontificated, was simply a matter of making better choices about how to spend the time we do have…
But he knew his own mind and in this business we’re only looking for volunteers.
As I say that was at least a year ago. Then suddenly here he is sitting in my room saying: “Now I’ve got masses of time. In fact I’m getting bored and I thought – now that’s something I could do.”
And he joined – and hardly was he out of the door, his fast-start pack under his arm to go back to work and ask if he could have a day off for his training than I picked up my messages and one said: “My neighbour Bob – I forget his surname – says I should call you about saving money on my energy bills.”
Now that is the kind of message I can understand…
I love trains. OK I’m not so keen on trains at the weekends – especially on the East Coast line where they like to dig up the rails on Sunday and put all the passengers on a bus between Whitham and Colchester. But generally the best thing about trains is all the people sitting there feeling bored.
We were on our way up to London taking our 12-year-old to the Cirque du Soleil for his birthday treat and once I judged the carriages were as full as they were going to get, I slipped out of my seat and headed for the last carriage. Then I turned round and simply walked from one end to the other handing out the piggies: “Here, have something to read… this will keep you awake… have a pink pig… this is for you…”
I shifted 50 in ten minutes – and these were not ordinary piggies. These were my new ones with “The best part-time job in the world” and the 0208 955 5678 information line on them. the way I looked at it, all the passengerss would have their mobile phone with them and be able to ring up and listen straight away. Secretly I imagined getting back to my seat and the phone ringing straight away – even being able to seek out the caller there and then and do a quick martini and sign them up before we reached Liverpool Street.
But it didn’t happen. In fact I got no calls at all. But never mind, when we got home in the evening there was one from a woman who said: “I’ve had your card for months. You gave it to me in the street in Ipswich ages ago and I’ve been meaning to ring and ask what it’s all about…”
“Who’s is that car!”
Lottie and I burst into the scout hut like a whirlwind. It was a conscious decision to cause a stir but the excitement was real – and at nine yers old, Lottie is quite good at excitement.
We had pulled into the car park to collect her little brother from Beavers and there, already parked with a convenient space next to it was a gleaming new white BMW Mini covered in pink pigs and stickers saying “Save 25% on your houseold bills!”
I haven’t got that on my Mini. All I’ve got is boring stuff about “Guaranteed cheaper than BT”. Anyone can guarantee to be cheaper than BT…
Of course I knew who’s car it was: Kirstie had been waiting to collect it ever since the snow arrived. She turned round, beaming, from the throng of parents waiting to pick up their sons: “Isn’t it great!”
And as we enthused about just how great the new white ones looked (mine is yellow) we were the centre of attention. All other conversation stopped dead. Suddenly the only thing anybody wanted to know was why Kirstie had a brand new Mini.
What was good about this is that every week Kirstie and I go to pick up our sons. Every week we wear our badges saying “Save Money – Make Money. Ask Me How” and every week everyone studiously ignores them.
It doesn’t matter because we wear them all the time anyway and enough total strangers say “All right, how?”
As for our friends, they know what we do already.
It’s just the acquaintances who are stuck in the middle. They would like to know but probably they just don’t want to give us the satisfaction of asking – or else they think we’re going to pin them to the wall and sell something to them – or whatever…
But suddenly there was no other topic of conversation: “I’ve seen those about”… “What do you mean a ‘free car’?… “What club is that?”
And a man in a blue ski jacket asjed: “It that what Jo used to do?”
“That’s right,” I said brightly. “Are you in the club too?”
“No,” he said firmly. Clearly Jo had asked him if he wanted to join. Clearly he thought the idea of saving money by joining her club was beneath him. But already someone else was saying that Jo had a Mini too.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s in Africa now.”
“Africa? What’s it doing there?”
“Well, when Jo took your residual income and went off to Kenya, she had the Mini crated up and shipped out.”
“You mean it’s her car – to take where she wants.”
“Oh yes, they’re not company cars. They belong to us.”
The blue ski jacket said: “You mean they give you one? What do you need, so many sales or something?”
“Well something like that. You just show a certain number of people how they can save 30% on their household bills. Why, would you like to save 30%?”
And then he said it. He couldn’t say anything else really. He said “Yes” and Kirstie, bless her, whipped out her card.
I turned to the woman standing next to me: “Would you like to save 30% too?”
“No,” she said as if I’d offered her a dirty postcard. I gave her a beaming smile. Just wait until we have three Minis in the car park…
The phone call came at 9.30 in the morning – an t request to substitute for a snowbound trainer. It rather mucked up the day – but it’s remarkable how things turn out if you look for alternatives.
By the time I found the venue and tottered across the ice rink of a car park carrying all the training materials, I was ten minutes late. Yet everybody else made it and we ended up fussing around bringing in extra tables. In fact it wasn’t until after six in the evening that I realised I hadn’t given out a single DVD, not one piggy card…
It was too late by then, of course. With 34 distributors in the place, all the staff would have been approached so many times they must be sick of us.
But not so. “Do you know why we’re all here?” I asked the barmaid. She had no idea – and nor, come to that, had the receptionist. So they each got a DVD.
There didn’t seem to be any other staff about the place and by the time we’d finished the evening meeting and I set off home, I had resigned to having to make up the deficit the next day.
But then, stopping for petrol on the way home, the guy behind the till suddenly stared and said: “What’s that all about then?”
“What’s what all about?”
Isn’t it odd how you forget about the badge. It becomes invisible after a while – except to everyone else. So he got a DVD too.
Don’t you just love computers. I wanted to start today’s blog with a quotation about the written word – I’ll tell you why in a minute. But just at the moment I’m astonished at the power of Google.
When I started on newspapers at the age of 20, if you couldn’t think of a quotation, you would shout out to the newsroom in general: “Anyone know a good quotation about the written word?”
(Except, of course, as a new cub reporter it would be years before you dared to do that).
Then, in the late 80′s along came computers and you could send a message to everyone on the editorial staff from the Editor on down. Suggestions would come from people you’d never heard of. But you were still limited to the people in the office.
Now I ask Google and instantly it comes back with a lovely Japanese proverb: “One written word is worth a thousand pieces of gold”.
The written word I’m talking about is the one on the Business Development Plan. I had written down that yesterday I was going to hand out 50 piggy cards and there I was at 4.00 p.m. on an errand to buy fruit juice, already late, freezing cold and I had given out about just five. Everything else had been done: Add two prospects to list, make three telephone calls from list, do two Martini presentations…
It was just the piggies that were left and the thought crossed my mind that the piggies could wait.
However, the Business Development Plan is a written document and in the space for the number of piggy cards I would distributre, I had written 50 – which meant that if I did decide to leave them until tomorrow (and then give out 100) I would have to face the personal ignominy of writing “0″ in the space where it says “achieved”.
So this had nothing to do with willpower. This was fear that made me that made me hold out a card to the woman walking down the pavement towards me. And suddenly it was very important that she take it.
So I suppose you could say that without thinking, I stepped up my game. There was a time when I would have said: “Have one of these.”
Then I found it was better to say: “Have you had one of these?”
But now, suddenly, I found myself saying: “Have you had a pink pig?”
The effect was electric: “Oo, I don’t think so. Thank you!”
In the next 15 minutes I gave out the remaining 45. Not a single person refused one and almost everyone said “Thank you”.
I’m going to say that every time from now on.
And I’m going to make sure that everything I plan to do is written down. After all why are we in this business if not for “pieces of gold”.
Deep and crisp and even, the snow covered the public tennis courts. It must have been the only untouched bit of snow left in town after the children had had their week off school – and Jon stood at the net with huge piece of plywood nailed to a broom handle ready to start clearing it.
Jon is an entrepreneurial young man – a tennis coach who has built himself a brilliant little business by block-booking the courts and giving tennis lessons to dozens of children at a time. He has taught all of mine at one time or another and at the moment Hugo, aged seven, is his keenest pupil.
But there had been no tennis for a week and clearly Jon was set on changing all that.
I passed him as I walked the dog: “You’ve got your work cut out!” I said.
He grinned ruefully and we chatted for a few moments about the prospect of the courts re-freezing every night – and as always tends to happen, I assessed him as a p0ssible customer or distributor. In fact he had been one of the first people I offered the business when I started. The way I saw it, he had an endless source of prospects – think of all those parents…
But it hadn’t been for him.
And that got me thinking. Back in those days they taught us to drop an absurd question into the conversation – at least, I always thought it absurd. We were supposed to say – quite suddenly and a propos of nothing: “How much is your phone bill?”
The first time I did it I felt an idiot. Of course I stopped feeling and idiot when the person I asked became a customer and has paid me ever time anyone in his house has lifted the phone ever since…
But this time, no sooner, had I thought of it than I blurted it out: “By the way, do you ever shop at Sainsburys?”
“Sometimes,” he said – as if it was the most natural thing that anyone might ask.
“Well I reckon I could get you free electricity.”
“Really,” he said. “How’s that?”
“Well, do you remember my discount club? We can do that now. If you like, I could pop round and show you – takes about ten minutes.”
And so that’s what we agreed I would do.
I walked on, musing about how strange life can be – had we come full circle? Was I back to asking daft questions? But I had to admit there was something captivating about free electricity: Only on Friday I’d been in the doctor’s surgery having a check-up and the new business manual was on my knee (better reading, I reasoned than his old copies of the National Geographic). His eye fell on the piggy logo and I said: “You take our electricity don’t you? Tell me, would you like to get it for free?”
“Yes, not have to pay for it at all. With your lifestyle, I reckon I could get that for you.”
So now we have an appointment for the 27th.
So when, later in the afternoon the computer went “bong” and an email came in from the lady in the noodle bar, the phrase “quick as a flash” came to mind.
You’ll remember the lady in the noodle bar from last week. We have an appointment. But now she emailed saying she had looked at the website and, as she put it: ” I am sure that if one can introduce enough people to the cause, then it could be quite lucrative, but this is not for me.”
Quick as a flash, as I say, I rang her back and explained that she didn’t have to do that. But I could probably offer her free electricity … or at the very least, maybe a free phone bill?
How did that work, she wanted to know – nobody gets something for nothing…
“Well I can’t explain it over the phone but I promise you 200 members paid nothing at all for any of their services last month. I’m certain we can do something for you. All I ask is that you let me show you. It will take ten minutes – or maybe 15 if you make me a cup of tea…”
And our appointment is back on – and do you know what? The daft question doesn’t seem so daft any more…
Very convivial, the noodle bar – you share a table with whoever happens to be sitting there already. And the two ladies at my table were in a chatty mood.
First of all we had to establish that we all had enough room and what the seafood and crispy noodles might be like…
For them it was a break in the middle of the January sales. For me it was also a chance to catch up on my piggy cards … and thinking of that: “Here, I always give one of these to people I meet. There’s one for each of you…”
“Oo, what’s this? Save Money, Make Money. I could do with some money.”
“Really, well take a look when you get home.” (the waiter was hovering).
But afterwards when I had tweaked up the last noodle with my chopsticks, she went on: “Go on then, tell us about all this money.”
So I did – and now we have an appointment for next Tuesday. It just shows what can happen if you tell everyone.
So I went on telling everyone: When I paid for my new clothes in Debenhams, I said to the salesman: “Do you take the exclusive cashback card? I’m sure you do, it gets me an extra discount … come to think of it, you probably buy things in Debenhams too – I expect you get a staff discount. Would you like an extra discount?”
And he would. So he’s got a piggy.
But because he didn’t have trousers in my size, I ended up a few doors down the road in M&S.
“Is it a good day for you?” I asked the woman at the cashdesk.
“Good and bad. It’s my last. My temporary contract finishes today.”
“Really! What are you going to do next?”
Her face clouded over: “I don’t know. Go back to my caring I suppose.” She didn’t sound enthusiastic about it.
So what else could I say? “That’s the problem with jobs. Somebody else decides when you can work, they decide what you can do and how much you get paid. But if you work for yourself, you make those decisions – and if you want to get paid more, you just work harder. That’s what I do. Do you think that might interest you?”
She said it would and she has a DVD.
And it didn’t take any more than a couple of minutes out of my shopping time.
You don’t work when you’re on holiday, do you – I mean that’s the whole point of a holiday, isn’t it?
But when you’re paying the hotel bill at Gatwick just as the taxi arrives and you find a piggy card in your wallet next to the credit card, does it count as work when you hand it to the receptionist and say: “Have a look at this, it’s about money”?
And is it work or just a holiday conversation when he says: “I’m very interested in money. I invest on the stock market. Is this an investment opportunity?”
But this was the point when the holiday took over. My family were already in the taxi: “Just have a look and give me a ring. It’s great.”
And that was rather the way our Christmas skiing holiday went: At the check-in there was a young man organising the queue with all the confidence of a primary school teacher on the first day of term.
So I told him: “Look, you seem a confident person. You could make some very good money. Have one of these.”
And then we got on the plane and I turned off my phone and shut up shop. No work for a week. The sun was shining, the snow was deep… and there were 25 people in the chalet all saying to each other: “… and what do you do?”
Tamsin was sitting next to me. I could feel the tension.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea if I answer that one.”
“Don’t ask him,” said Tamsin. ” You’ll be here all night.”
“Yes, absolutely, ” I continued. “It’s very exciting but I do tend to go on a bit. Tell you what – at breakfast on the last morning all will be revealed. That way you won’t all be bored to the back teeth with it by the end of the week.”
And this worked brilliantly. Throughout the week there was a sort of guessing game going on about what I did. The favourite was that I was a banker (so it was hardly surprising that I was keeping quiet).
And then, on the last morning, I just went round the chalet and gave everyone a DVD. And they all said – every one of them said – “Thank you very much”.
We had a mixed week by the way – a bit of illness, a bit of blizzard but a great time none the less.
And back at the hotel the taxi driver (with a bigger taxi, thank you very much) told me all about his regular business ferrying contractors to the airport and so he got a DVD too.
But the best part of it all was that it gave me an idea. Airports are very crowded places. So on my way back from the kick-off seminar in Berkshire, I popped into Heathrow (actually nobody “pops in” to Heathrow. It takes an hour to get in and out) and for 50 minutes I gave out cards to people in the queues.
Airports are full of queues, full of people who are bored to tears and I’d just had some piggy cards done with our 020 8955 5678 information line. So I was able to say: “This is great if you get bored”
Guess how many cards I shifted in 50 minutes?
Three hundred and fifty!
I reckon that’s a record.
Of course some of the people who got them may not live in this country. Some of them may not even speak English. But maybe they know someone who does…
What does it matter? As they say, just get the information out there – the rest is inevitable…