Archive for June, 2010
The little old lady cancelled at the last minute. They do that. Little old ladies are rarely open-minded.
So there I was fifteen miles from home and wondering what to do with myself for an hour.
A small voice in the back of my head announced: “Find someone else to talk to.”
I drove on and came to a dry cleaners. That would do.
“Hello, is this your business,” I said brightly to the girl behind the counter. Clearly it wasn’t.
She said so. She said the owners were in Colchester. Then a man in his 60s came in with “Entrepreneur” written all over him. It turned out he was the owner – or at least he was until the end of the week. He’d sold the business. He was retiring.
“That’s great,” I said, changing horses in mid-stride. “Is your pension big enough for all the things you want to do or would you be open to looking at a way to increase it. It would take me five minutes to show you. Want to see it?”
He was not sure. He had a draw-down pension whatever that may be. You could see the internal struggle going on: The dignified sceptic versus the successful businessman always open to new ideas.
I was very proud of the way I stuck to my guns. If he wanted to know any more about it, I would have to show him and that would take five minutes.
It was quite fun to have him wheedling away, too proud to ask for a presentation but too curious to leave it alone. In the end he said: “All right come round” and I walked round to the back of the building and into a huge hanger of a place with industrial washing machines dotted about in a somewhat haphazard fashion appropriate to a business which was now someone else’s problem.
I balanced my presenter on to of a spin dryer the size of car. We were there for an hour.
I would like to be able to say he joined but that wasn’t what happened.
What did happen was that I walked out with the phone number for his brother. Apparently his brother is good at spotting opportunities – and if he’s good enough for the brother, it would be good enough for my new friend too.
So I’m looking forward to helping them both get started. Who said that little old ladies are a waste of time?
Before I became a company trainer, I asked why anyone would want to volunteer. After all the money’s not that great, it takes a good deal of time – surely this was going to be detrimental to my business?
The senior trainer looked at me with that sort of patient expression one reserves for the dimmest child in the class.
“Imagine,” he said, “that you were delivering a training every week. How good would you become?”
What a very good point.
And today I was delivering a business training in Milton Keynes and my co-trainer started talking about the way the economy was affecting small printing businesses – all the ink is oil-based… and look what’s happening to the price of oil.
Now there was no particular connection between that comment the man I phoned from the bar afterwards. He was jut a name on my list – someone who had looked at my business three years ago and I’d offered to keep in touch – and guess what, as soon as I said hello and told him who was calling it was as if the conversation had never been interrupted.
Of course, it may have been that he had no idea who I was and was just busking it, but he did a good job. Then it went on like this:
Me: “I thought I’d give you a ring and see how the budget was going to affect you.”
“I was just watching it – the VAT doesn’t look good.”
“Yes – and I was thinking: A lot of my business partners these days are printers. Tell me, would you be open to looking at opening up another profit centre in your business?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, look at it this way: If someone comes to you; they’re opening up a new business and want some business cards. You could say: ‘Have you thought of having an Freephone number. That would increase your advertising response by 40%. What do you think they would say?”
Two minutes later he was getting his head round the idea of being paid every time that customer paid their electricity bill – month after month…”
So now he’s looking at the website and we’re going to talk as I drive home.
There was water all over the bathroom floor. The basin was leaking. I just knew this would happen on a Saturday.
This is your basic nightmare when you do Bed and Breakfast. Normally our little sideline is completely trouble free – ever since we moved the guests into the garage, christened it “The Studio” and told them what fun it would be to get their own breakfast.
But when you have water all over the bathroom floor, something has to be done about it – and fast.
I started calling plumbers. Fortunately I have a long list of plumbers – all those who looked at my business and turned it down because they didn’t have enough time. Now I rang them again, leaving desperate messages one after another…
Now, in order to ensure that readers’ stress levels do not get out of hand, I must tell you that the first one I called rang back within ten minutes, came round the fixed the leak. But that’s not the point of the story.
The point of the story is that I then ended up talking to all those plumbers who had looked at the business years ago and who I had now phoned in a blind panic. To a man, they called back. The conversations went something like this: “Thanks for getting back to me but I’ve found someone now. Yes, you panic don’t you… I expect you get that a lot.
“Actually, come to think of it, the last time we talked, do you remember what it was about? It was about you making money in your spare time. Tell me, are you in the same situation financially or did you find a way to increase your income?”
Of course, like every other traditional business, they were feeling the effects of the recession. So I was able to say: “We’ve got an open evening in Ipswich on Monday, how do you fancy coming? Things have changed a lot since you last looked at it. For instance now we’re in partnership with Sainsbury’s and Boots and B&Q and Mothercare.”
The last time I did this, there was a silence on the other end of the line. Then: “What do you mean a partnership.”
So I did my three minute thing. I told him how we had 200 people in the club whose discounts were more than their bills so they paid nothing at all. I told him how most people now saved between 20% and 30%.
He was mesmerised – you can tell when someone is mesmerised. As it turns out he has a function to go to at his daughters’s school on Monday night. But he wanted me to send him something to look at .
Now I don’t know whether the plumber is going to join. But looking at my notes, I discover that he knows the company of old. He’s been a plumber for eight years and hates chasing the money. Moreover, he wants to spend more time playing golf and retire early…
Do you think it was fortuitous that the basin leaked?
What I’m wondering now is whether it would be ethical to invent a completely fictitious emergency with the fuse box and ring all the electricians who are still thinking about it… or a computer crash and ring IT specialists…
The possibilities are limitiless!
The Olympic athlete could have talked for Britain.
But then, that’s why we were there: To talk.
This was the annual schools learning project (what else would they have in a school?). It happens once a year: My friend the head of the English department gets about thirty children – year eight and nine pupils -together with ten grown ups who have lived “extraordinary lives” to see what the younger generation can learn from the older generation.
We had a best-selling author, a ground-breaking medical researcher, a holocaust survivor…
We also had me (and I sometimes wonder what I’m doing there) and we had the olympic athlete – and as I say, he could have talked for all of us.
I sat down with him at lunchtime (an excellent buffet which accounts for most of the funding) and he started telling me about his life – and did so at the same record-breaking speed which almost won him the gold medal.
And I sat there mesmerised. I’m 62 and I like to think I’ve been fairly busy but this guy seemed to have been in achievement overdrive. For instance how easy can it have been to be a black soldier in the British army in the 1970′s – and can you imagine what he must have gone through to rise to Regimental Sergeant Major?
We talked about goal-setting. We talked about “living life on purpose”… the appalling waste when people allow circumstances to dictate their future.
Oh, this was serious stuff over the sausage rolls.
And what was he doing now?
“I’m the student support manager at the High School,” he told me.
“You’re a teacher!” I said, unable to keep the exictement out of my voice – you can see where my mind was drifting: Here we had a high-achiever who was a world-class communicator and now worked as a teacher.
I couldn’t help myself: “Would you be open to looking at a way of making a second income alongside what you do already?”
It just came out. I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t supposed to be there in recruiting mode but, heck, this might benefit him. He asked me what I had in mind so I had to give him the one-minute presentation. That was only polite.
For a moment – probably for the first time – he was silent. Then he said: “Well I reckon I need to find £300,000 by 2020 if I’m going to be able to retire.”
So he’s got the DVD and he’s coming to our open evening in Ipswich on Monday.
And I’m sure he’ll be there: For one thing, this is someone who has made it a life’s work to do what he says he’s going to do.
Secondly, as I went round saying my goodbyes, he crushed my hand and winked: “See you on Monday.”
It was only a quick dash into town to get some bread while the children were at their after-school maths class. But it wasn’t going to take any longer if I gave out some cards on the way. I had shifted about 30 (only one person said “No thank you”) when I found myself walking next to a window cleaner – well, he had a step ladder and one of those king-size bum bags hanging off one side.
“Are you a window-cleaner?” I asked foolishly.
Actually it was very foolish because he said: “No I’m an intruder alarm fitter.”
“Ah well, never mind. Have a pink pig.”
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s about money. Are you interested in money?”
“Always interested in money.”
What happened next just goes to show that you never can tell: It transpired that he was about to take a course in how to trade the stock market. He and his friend had got fed up with waiting for their investments to earn them some money and decided they might as well gamble it. Do you think I had something that might interest him?
Then, just as I was about to pick up the children, Sue called. Sue is someone I last spoke to in January who wanted to leave it six months while she got her cleaning business started. I had left a message in the morning when I walked the dog, asking how things were going.
And do you know, she seemed really pleased I had taken an interest. She still wasn’t ready to start, of course: Her mother has been taken seriously ill and her daughter was doing her A levels. But she wants another call on August 1st. You never know how patient you’ll have to be in this business…
And so I went in to pick up the children and the Maths teacher looked at my badge: “I love the club”, it says – with a big red heart for “love”.
“This is your club,” she said. Needless to say I had told her about it years ago but her husband was always too busy. Now she said: “It’s growing then, this club? I keep hearing about it from other people.”
“Oh yes, it’s growing all right.”
“Well you must call my husband again. I’ll tell him to talk to you. We should be in this club.”
If the key had fitted this would never have happened.
But it didn’t. In fact all six of the new front door keys which the shoe repair man cut for me yesterday completely failed too open the lock. So that was the only reason I went back into town today – and since I was there, I thought I might as well add another couple of people to the list.
This really is so easy to do. My company gives away a brand new BMW Mini in a free draw so all I had to do was hang around the corner of the car park where everyone walks, look for a likely prospect and say: “Hi there. I’ve got a prize draw going on. D’you want to have a go? You could win a car!”
I filled in two forms. On the first one I see I wrote: “Call July 20th (back from abroad) to set up appointment. Wife possible distributor?”.
On the second I wrote simply: “Call anytime.”
I did call anytime. In fact I called three hours later and have now added a note underneath: “Appointment Thursday June 10th 1.00p.m.”
Was that easy or what?
Here’s a postscript. Remember “What would the successful distributor do?” back on May 31st? The potential customer who wasn’t there for the appointment?
Well I had left a card but he never rang me. I phoned a couple of times and left a message but he never called back. I had all but decided that here we had one of those time-wasters who can’t even be bothered to cancel the appointment. But then I rang him one more time: “I think we must have got our appointments mixed up,” I said magnanamously. “I was just ringing to fix up another time.”
And blow me down – he agreed. This morning I went to see him. He took took five services (one of them three times over) and then decided he would like to be a distributor too. Immediately we rolled into our first training session and I set him to write his list of names – and he filled the page.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Was I the energy manager? Now there was a question. Think of the endless possibilities: What might an energy manager do? Lie on the sofa all day dictating how many laps of the garden the children should run before tea? Catalogue the hours the teenager spends horizontal?
No. Apparently “the system” was showing that the energy contract for my company was about to expire and the lady on the other end of the line could offer me substantial savings.
Now, for one reason and another – and you’ll appreciate the reason if you know my business – this had to be a load of baloney. It would be amusing to humour her: “I’m sorry,” I said. “Can you tell me which energy company I’m with?”
She paused then. This didn’t seem to be on the script. There was some scuffling and a muttering about “accessing the information”.
But I took pity on her. Besides, it was clear she had an awful cold.
So instead of talking about my energy requirements, we talked about her cold – not so good when you have to talk on the phone all day. I sympathised. I said I thought she was really good at it.
And then, as if the thought had suddenly struck me: “Tell me, where are you speaking from.”
She was speaking from Manchester.
“Good Lord. That’s amazing. I’m just expanding my business in the Manchester area. Tell me, would you be open to looking at a way of making an extra income outside what you do in your regular job?”
“What, you mean like a part-time job?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“Funny you should say that,” she said. “I had been looking for something to do part time. What do you do?”
“Well,” I said. “Let me put it like this. If I sign up to one of your energy contracts, do you get a bonus?”
“And then do you get paid every time I turn on a light – every day – for years to come?”
“Would you like to?”
And now she’s looking at the website. The last thing she said to me was: “Isn’t that funny, you looking for someone part-time and me looking for part-time work?”
Yes, isn’t it!
You know you’re a network marketer when you start stalking prospects.
I don’t mean crawling on your belly through the heather with a spyglass and a rifle. I mean that you just listen to them in a different way – always waiting for the right moment.
I waited all afternoon for it yesterday- but then I had all afternoon to wait: Mike and I were shut in the kitchen together – or rather “the galley”, this being the yacht club. Mike is the chef and I was volunteered for the afternoon while three of my children charged up and down the river in sailing dinghies before joining the other 70 young sailors in launching themselves en masse at my display of cakes and buns.
But before that there was the period of calm during which Mike and I methodically filled tray after tray with tuna and mayonnaise, egg and mayonnaise, thai chicken, ham and tomato, sponge cake, fruit cake, coffee and walnut and so on.
Dabbing a pinch of cress onto my umpteenth egg mayonnaise roll, I asked: “What do you do the rest of the time? Is this a catering business for you?”
And he was off: How this was it. How he had been in the Army Catering Corps so he had his army pension and how his wife worked part-time in M&S. They were both part-timers. They didn’t make a fortunute but it did mean they got to see more of each other.
At that moment there were two honks on the hooter in the crow’s nest above hour heads.
“That wasn’t two hoots, was it?” said Mike, suddenly alert. “That’s the signal for a shortened course… and we’re not nearly ready!”
The next hour flew by in a blur young red faces at the hatch, rolls, cakes and fizzy drinks – and all the while I was thinking about Mike and his wife and their modest income and what I could do for them.
Of course the next time things quietened down, it was his turn to ask me: “So what do you do?”
So I told him what I used to do – and how I retired too early – and how that turned out to be a mistake. And that gave me the chance to say: “Mind you, it turned out to be a blessing in the end. Because if I hadn’t been out of work, I’d never have started what I do now – which is brilliant because: Get this. I get a pay rise every month.”
He paused for the first time. He was actually motionless, his knife poised over a Victoria sandwich the size of Wales. It occurred to me it was the first time I’d seen him stop.
“Pay rise every month?” he said.
“How does that work, then?”
It would have been a great moment if it hadn’t been for a nine year old in an oversized lifejacket suddenly wanting an ice cream that whistled. In fact, as the afternoon wore on, I realised that I was always going to be sabotaged by these young sailors.
But actually it worked out rather well. Because the great danger is in telling people too much. Do that and they can make a decision before they’ve seen the full picture presented to them proplerly. As it was he got little tasters in dribs and drabs: “So how do they save money? So every month you’ve got more poeple paying you? And it’s a sort of pyramid?”
I’ve grown to love that one: “Absolutely. It just grows and grows and you’ve no idea where it’s going to go. I’ve got people in Scotland and the West country – all over the place: All telling their friends about it and I don’t even know most of them!”
So when we had loaded the diswasher for the fiftieth time and stacked the trays and wiped the surfaces, it was not so very hard for me to say: “Tell you what. Doing what you do, talking to people, you could earn a pay rise every month too. Now I’m not saying it would suit you. It might be for you and it might not. But do you like to keep your business options open? Would you like me to give you something to look at?”
And he said he would. So then I asked him for his surname and his mobile number and once I had them written down, I carefully drew out one of our company DVDs and handed it to him with some ceremony.
I just managed it before a 12 year old appeared at the door complaining that all his dry clothes were locked in my car…
There are some people who should not be behind a checkout.
I mean, they’re brilliant behind a checkout – they’re cheerful, they’re efficient… they make an extra effort to help. One way and another they’re a round peg in a round hole. It’s just that they’re wasted there. They’re worth so much more…
So it was with the man who sold me the batteries. For one thing he was far too old to be working behind a checkout – or at least, far too dignified. But he threw himself into the role as if he had got up in the morning with the sole purpose of demonstrating the dignity of work. Some people might consider it beneath them – you know the type: Talking to their friend at the next till, chewing gum and rolling their eyes when you fumble for change…
There was probably a time when this gentleman would have considered it beneath him. After all he had spent years climbing the corporate ladder. He had been a high-flyer. But now, in retirement things were different and I had no doubt that his “line manager” was someone no older than his grandchildren.
Yet there was no trace of resentment in the way he counted out my change – nothing but pride as he painstakingly peeled off my carrier bag. Clearly if he was going to work behind a checkout, then he was going to make darned sure it was the best-run checkout he could make it.
So when I proffered my card and asked: “Do you take the exclusive Cashback card?” he gave it his full attention.
Which meant I was able to go on: “It’s brilliant. It’s saved us well over £900 so far.”
Naturally, he had to know how that worked – everybody does. And the next thing you know, I was writing down his phone number.
I phoned him in the evening and told him a bit about our club. It transpires that all his groceries come from Sainsburys – which just happens to be our major Cashback partner. He could save a fortune even without changing his shopping habits. I told him so.
So now I’m going to see him next week. But what was more interesting was the way the conversation developed from there: It turned out that he had worked all his life in the retail industry. When he retired he had been the area manager for a major chain of electrical stores. Yet here he was working as the lowest of the low one day a week - or two when they were short-staffed.
It was a serious temptation to ask him there and then whether he liked to keep his business options open… whether he would consider looking at a way of developing another income stream….
But something warned me that telling someone that you have a better way for them to make a living – especially when they are clearly so proud of the one they’ve got at the moment… well maybe it might be the wrong tack to take.
So I’m looking forward to our appointment. Already I can feel that little thrill you when your prospect arrives at the obvious conclusion before you’ve even mentioned it … when their gaze clouds over and they’re thinking: “I could do this…”
I’ll let you know how it goes.