Challenge 100: are you up for it?

Challenge 100: are you up for it?

Challenge 100 was an original brainchild of mine when I first went looking for work after finishing my degree in marketing. I set myself the goal to collect 100 PFO letters, which loosely translates in ‘please find other’ (or some equal words to that effect of lesser printable nature) in other words letters of rejection. My dream job at the time was in management consultancy, so I wrote to every job ad in the Sunday Times, any company advertising through the university or any I could possibly find a HR name and address for. My thinking was that if I collected 100 rejections without any yes,then I would reconsider my career choice and guessed that it wasn’t for me. I had a dedicated file for all the letters and numbered them, so I would know how I was doing… as one does, no?

Well the fact that the target was 100, the whole attachment to the outcome was gone. I wanted a job for sure, but at the same time in my chosen career geting a foot in the door wasn’t easy. I did have a job, which would have been a stepping stone, but not quite what I wanted to do all the same, so I didnt have the financial pressure of having to find something in a hurry hanging over me either. What happened was that the company that held rejection letter 27, actually contacted me (after I received 35 letters) in a rush to have me starting on a project preferably the week after. So sometimes a no isn’t quite a no, because requirements can change so quickly. The company had won an international project and desperately needed people with languages and a business brain, so that’s how I got started.

If you are currently unemployed and looking for work, apply the same approach, although I do believe the days where they actually posted you a lovely ‘thank you for your application, you were unsuccessfull but we we will keep it on file’ is well and truly over. This means you may just need to keep track of all the applications you make in a particular sector and aim for 100 applications in a given career before moving onto another one. Oh, and hint hint to all of those companies hiring, if you want to make a lasting impression on applicants, do send them a nice printed letter (or a lovely e-mail should budget be too tight for letters, ink and a stamp), they won’t expect it, but they will tell other people, which is positive PR free of charge. (In this economy free PR is always helpful).

If you run a business or work in sales, I challenge you to contact 100 new people in 100 days or less to speak about your business or company you represent in order to gain new business. If you just want to have better quality of life, do 100 things to improve your life, starting today. I also think everyone should have a list of the 100 fun things to do this lifetime and 100 places to visit and people to meet, etc. etc. whatever rocks your boat really. But for the last few, the time frame isn’t nearly as important as for those that you want to have short term success with.

The time frame is of importance, 100 attempts over a lifetime may be very achievable but with large time gaps also rather inefficient. I tend to set the challenge for 100 days or less, and yes the overachievers reading this stuff you can do it all as quick as you can… just give it more than 3 weeks all the same… new habits do need nesting time. The minimum action is 1 thing every day, which is achievable in job searches, business contacts or life improvements. If you do nothing 1 day then double up the activity another day, especially in sales or business making good contacts at weekends may not be all that happening, even though they say a lot of business get’s done on the golf course, sailing boats, bars, etc…so be open for opportunity.

The focus of the challenge 100, is to hit 100. You may have a sub-goal whether it is more business, a job, lifestyle change or other target, but the primary one is 100. By focusing on the activity number, you take away the emotional attachment to one rejection on its own. By remaining detached from the outcome, the odds are that you will hit your sub-goal a lot sooner and often from rejections that you had already written off, which was the case with my first job.

If you hit 100 rejections, then I would challenge you to examine seriously what it is you want and set out in a new direction with a new strategy. If 100 people in a row tell you clearly they do not want your business, then maybe it just isn’t viable as it is, then maybe it is time for re-design of your service, product or exploring other options altogether and letting this one go. One thing is for sure when you keep track of your challeng 100 contacts or actions, you will also know that you have given it a good shot and if for whatever reason it didn’t work after 100 good shots, then maybe it’s just not meant to be.

There are two way to approach the challenge you can start by making a list of 100 people, companies, actions and tick them off as you go or as you make a new contact add it to a pre-numbered page. I typically choose the latter approach because new opportunities keep coming up and then when they really become dead leads I cross them out. Some of the items may remain on the list for a while and others will barely be added and then get crossed out, but as I said the aim is 100, so if 20 leads to nothing it is no big deal and who knows in time they may well change their mind.

Currently I have a challenge 100 going for myself and I am on number 20 since this morning, but may still hit 22 before I go to sleep all the same…damn the overachiever in me always has to do this…:-) …
So now I ask you, are you up for the challenge 100????

Be like water

Be like water

I came across the saying  ‘Be like Water’ a few months ago at a marketing seminar and James Schramko put up this quote as part of his presentation, which is originally an ancient chinese saying, but he also made the point that when water hits a stumbling block it goes over it, around it or under it. It doesn’t get frustrated, it doesn’t kick it, it doesn’t stop because of it, it just finds a way over, under or around it. The statement has remained with me ever since, because so often I do get frustrated and annoyed at stumbling blocks and I can safely say whilst I do my best to ‘be like water’ I sure haven’t mastered that art, yet.

The last number of months, actually 26 to be exact about it, have been challenging to the extreme at times and I have often felt that something was out to break my spirit whether it was conscious or not, intended or not, self-inflicted or not, I am not judging it, all I can say is that it hasn’t been easy. To stick with the water analogy it’s as if I got swept away by a river and at times hit the swirly bits where everything is in overdrive and moving all around you and you don’t know which direction you are heading in anymore.

In the past 2 weeks, things have defintely gone into change overdrive again, but maybe from a good point of view… maybe it’s the waterfall that leads to a gentler part of the river. I am not sure yet where it is leading, but everything is changing all around me and for once I am no longer fighting it.

Actually on a funny note, sometimes the waterfall seems to find it’s way out through my eyes a lot lately and as a friend pointed out to me tears are a promise of a better tomorrow. I sure hope that is right, this time. Tears are a relief and anyone that claims that you shouldn’t, may want to try it some time and see if they feel better after, mostly they are an energy release of some kind.One day last week I was out walking at sunrise and I am naturally drawn to water and rivers, it was so peaceful and serene. Little duck families were out swimming and I thought how often are we like the ducks looking serene and in control above the water to the face of the public that is or isn’t watching, but if they only knew the legs were working like hell under water to stay going. So often have I looked in full flow and control to the outside world and felt the complete and utter opposite below the water.

Those days I tend to reflect either that it was a challenge and one that I managed to overcome happily or the odd time I wasn’t fully happy with the performance or outcome, but it was the best available at the time. So I guess whether we paddle like hell or not, in the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. One thing is for sure though you rarely see ducks paddling against the current and maybe that is the lessons for the paddlers amongst us.The weather has been beautiful over here, when I can I spend time in nature, so I took an afternoon and I spent a good bit of time just enjoying the sunshine, reflecting. letting thoughts flow by and writing or doodling a bit whilst sitting on the river bank.

The next thing this seal swims by, enjoying himself and just going with the flow of the river tide swimming at leisure and then twirling around onto his back and letting the flow take him wherever the river is going. An amazing sight! It looked as if he hadn’t a care in the world and really loved going with the flow, doing his thing, minding his own business, not caring about all the people on the riverbank trying to take pictures of him or not. Although I did get the impression he was playing the viewing public a little bit, but maybe that was just my imagination giving the character a bit of meaning.

Again, nature has a gentle way of giving us lessons, if we care to notice them and to take them on board. To go with the flow is a good one for me, as I have a rather impetuous nature that wants to create flow and totally get’s in the way of myself or any flow for that matter. The other observation I took out of the seal behaviour is that whilst I mostly do my thing, I would often care what other people think and sometimes even too much. In the end of the day it doesn’t matter as long as what you do is enjoyable and doesn’t harm anyone or anything around you or yourself of course.

Those two images stuck with me for the last number of days and I have been doing my best to let the chaos around me unfold itself without trying to control it or me for that matter. I have to admit some of the insights that have come as a result are interesting and even some decisions that I didn’t think were ever within ball park range have come around. I have reflected back and forwards on so many things from work to family to friends to places to live to travel, etc. etc.

I did adopt the be like water approach to let thoughts just pass through, not assigning meaning to them, but just letting them flow like water. The ones that resonate kept flowing with stronger currents and are receiving some attention, but some have just drifted off. It will be interesting to flow towards the ones that hold the solutions or are the key changes, but only time will fill in the details. For now, the motto is ‘gentle on me’ and that effectively means going with the flow of the water wherever it leads to.

Having been so driven and goal oriented all of my life, this really feels strangely alien to me but at the same time it feels right and the right thing to do for now. One surprising idea that has come out is that a change of location may be on the cards and when I started playing with what it would look like and some of the must haves of this new destination, the first thing that popped into my mind was that it needs to be near water!!! I have to say the whole water analogy has grabbed my attention for sure… but yes, I have always found water a really comforting and healing presence… so I guess that is really no surprise.

As for the other changes and decisions, there are a few, but I guess only the inner circle of my friends know these and the rest of you will just have to stay tuned to find out what they are…

For now, go find a river or water near you and see if it has any lessons or messages in it for you, if nothing else stay in flow and go with it!

You wouldn’t expect professional service to be free, but yet coaching often is?

You wouldn’t expect professional service to be free, but yet coaching often is?

Imagine ringing up your accountant or solicitor and requesting professional advice nearly daily often after hours and on any given social opportunity. I wonder how many actual accountants and solicitors would entertain this for any length of time before saying that it is time to come in for an appointment with a fee attached. Yet, when it comes to coaching the lines seem a lot more blurred and I am sure I am not the only coach that has been caught in this dilemma of where does friendly support stop and professional time start.

Maybe the training of most coaches is something to have a look at, because most diploma and degree courses in life and business coaching tend to include a pro bono element, where you have to coach a number of hours free of charge in order to gain your qualification. Isn’t that inherently setting graduates up to under-value the service they provide?

The second question is whether most coaches would have given the advice free in any case even if they had never studied to be a coach? Is this one of the reasons why so often clients expect it free especially when they come out of your circle of friends or regular business contact or even clients that have become social friends too? I wonder is it the industry itself that devalues itself more than any other in the professional service sector?

Even after 9 years in business, I sometimes fall in the trap of having given freely of my time and advice trusting that the perceived value I was offering would return in other ways, yet it doesn’t always. A recent event along these lines where I gave freely of my time, advice and encouragement over years completely left me devalued.

Actually with over 12 years of valuable experience in change management consulting around Europe, a successful and award winning business in the coaching industry, Tv-experience, published articles and e-books, an honours degree graduate and holder of an MBA and fluency in 4 languages, I felt worth very little. It was as if all I did for this person was have chats that helped him, which so not felt like he valued any of my skills.

I truly believe that coaching just like accounting or law is not for everyone and is an acquired skill and expertise is fine-tuned over time and with experience. Hence these questions…

The question of perceived value is an interesting one, I did a survey not so long ago of what my clients valued the most about my service as a business coach. The responses varied from having an objective and non-judgemental sounding board, to a trusted motivator that always believed in their ability, to even someone that kept their sanity in a difficult time. In actual fact for most clients the experience and value was different and maybe that is the hardest thing to communicate when you are selling coaching as a professional service, whereas accounting or law may be a lot more clear cut in this regard.

As a coach I would love no more than see all my clients successful and I really love hearing their success stories. When they call at strange hours to report progress and success, I often take the call, but I wonder is that making me too available and not valuing my time or is that being there for a client? I have experienced one scenario where these impromptu feedback sessions were just a decoy for free coaching and I have called a halt to it, which lead to quite a stunned response by the client, who did eventually come around to respecting my value and time. I often wonder if I was a psychotherapist would the same behaviour occur?

As a relatively new industry our value is not always understood and I believe we have a bit of a way to go in order to be fully up on the same level as some of the longer established professional services. So I guess each practitioner has a responsibility to the industry to charge a fair and reasonable price for their service, even the Bible states we were given talents for value purposes if I recall correctly.

With talking, questioning and common reframing as some of the key tools in coaching, it can often be very similar to a close friend listening and supporting you through a tough period. However what I know about some of my clients, they wouldn’t tell their best friends or partners because they have a vested interest in one outcome or other or purely because of the potential embarrassment factor. So I guess the differentiator is the value of neutrality, safety to not lose face and confidentiality, what is that worth to the client?

The recent incident really puzzled me and made me question the whole approach and I guess I also questioned what value I did offer above and beyond being a friend. So next time clients ring out of hours and looking for free advice i will be more cautious and aware and may just not take the call without a paid appointment. Considering most of my clients come from the professional services industry, they would just do the same to me if the situation was reversed.

When I deal with clients that are genuinely not able to work with me due to their financial situation, we have always come to some value trade solution. Actually my fancy mountain bike is one of these brilliant trades, that I am still grateful for even years after the trade, it brings me everywhere.

So if you are a coach, I challenge you to put value on neutrality, protection and confidentiality. If you are one of those chancers that want to share success stories as a decoy… hmmm from now on book an appointment and I will be delighted to listen, encourage, support and question.

What can a business coach do for you in a recession and some figures to back it up?

What can a business coach do for you in a recession and some figures to back it up?

Before I start this blog post I have to admit that I dislike blowing my own trumpet, hence it is only because I found some very interesting statistical data that I have decided to post this information all the same. As a business coach in practice for close to 10 years, I have seen ups and downs in both my business as well as that of my clients and most pertinent of all the change in the economy here in Ireland as well as globally. What I find fascinating that in a time of economic downturn, services like training, coaching, marketing, advertising etc, become some of the first to be cut, usually I hate to say it on advice from the accountants in this world. Now I don’t for one minute want to tell you that you shouldn’t look at your cost base, because when I coach small businesses it is also on the agenda, but often it involves looking at production processes, staff productivity and similar internal issues first before touching lead generating and business development related functions.

One thing a recession does is force businesses to look at themselves critically and they have to become more successful and competitive from the inside out. I remember an interesting conversation I had with a fellow entrepreneur in the boom times in Ireland and he maintained that anybody could run a business in a booming economy, but only competitive and well-structured businesses would survive a recession. I have to say at the rate that small and medium sized businesses are closing down, this statement came up in my mind and I tend to agree that survival of the fittest will once again prevail all the way from the animal world into business.

Research suggests that by using a business coach you can on average increase your profit margin by 46%, but close to 50% of businesses will never look for that external sounding board for their business. Often the business coach will assist the owner in looking at alternative courses of action for increasing the business and navigating through the pitfalls of a falling economy.

The international coach federation (ICF) surveyed 210 coaching clients about the values and use of coaching, below are some of the key findings of the study, which fascinated me and just compelled me to share them. Participants found
62.4% better goal-setting
60.5% more work/life balance
57.1% decrease in stress levels
52.4% increase in self-confidence
43.3% improvement in general quality of life
25.7% more income
33.8% better health and fitness
33.3% improved family relationships
25.7% stopped a bad habit
My clients tell me about their success stories all of the time and we do have a great track record in our business with clients, but when it is confirmed by an independent study I just wonder what will the business owners amongst you have to say the next time your accountant questions business coaching expenditure. I have employed a number of coaches over the course of my business life and continue to do so and I can happily concur with some of these findings from personal experience.

So the real question is, what are you doing to navigate through this recession?
Where is your support team?
What benchmarks and yardsticks do you use to stop the panic decisions?

If someone gave you between a 25% and 46% chance of increasing your income, by having a business coach, would it actually persuade you to have one or would you just muddle on regardless?

I have to say I have had some very interesting conversations with potential clients in the last number of months and the willingness to invest money in development of the owner and their team is often left to the last minute and I will admit I very subjectively with a vested interest question this! Business coahcing is not a quick fix or a panic solution and really works best when implemented sooner rather than later. Ironically all our clients that have continued coaching despite the economic climate change are hitting fantastic results accross the spectrum, but then I would say that I am their coach.

For good health the doctor recommends a minimum of 5-portions a day of fruit and vegetables, well I challenge you to a 5 a day business development actions for your business every single working day and if you work in sales this will work for you too. What 5 things are you doing every day to generate new income, new leads, new clients? What have you done today?

I also very strongly suggest whether you are a business owner, manager or employee in need of more income, better goals, less stress and increased quality of life and work/life balance, to bite the bullet and hire a coach. Oh, and don’t just take my biaised word for it, the ICF found these statistics. In any case, we are open for business and ready to take on more clients, are you?

Drawing the line

Drawing the line

Making decisions is not always easy and clear cut, but sometimes it really is just a case of drawing a line and stepping over it to move forward or even drawing a line for others to know that they have reached the boundary of your toleration or patience. My coach tells me sometimes that when you reach a point of dissatisfaction in whatever scenario in life or business that this is an ideal point to examine the boundaries and maybe look at whether they need to be reset and adapted.

In the last couple of weeks I have had to make a few important decisions, which definitely stretched my comfort zone in terms of boundaries. So whether you have business decisions, personal choices or even staffing questions to answer, this may well be relevant to you and useful processing or questioning.

In this economy a lot of small business owners are facing important decisions regarding staff, investments etc. What was acceptable behaviour or at the most tolerated from staff in a boom economy, now has become obvious as non-constructive or even unhelpful. Because there is more management time for observation and analysis, clarity is coming forward often like a blinding flash of light. More and more frequently these days, I have conversations with clients regarding toleration levels and at what point to draw the line.

Here is a good yardstick: we assume you are unhappy with a situation…

Ask yourself, what effect is this having on me, on my business, on my clients, on my time, on my health, etc.

Then establish your boundary line or the point at which you say ‘I have had enough’.

When you know at what point the line is reached, all you need to work out is how to deal with the changes that inevitably will have to be made. From the line forward you need a plan of action, whether this is parting company, giving up a business, a client, a supplier or letting go of a staff member. Once you know your options, the best course of action often jumps out very clearly in your research process. On rare occasions inaction is the correct approach.

I find that a lot of clients and friends are blaming the economy for not making decisions, because the impact it may have on other people, but they forget they are only ever neglecting their own boundaries. Crisis can lead to indecision and sometimes time and distance will lead to perspective. But let’s face it, the recession is going to be around for some time and it is very much a case of let’s draw the line of moaning about it and stepping over it and designing a plan of action for yourself as to what you will do from here on in.

Energy wasted on what-if scenario’s isn’t always helpful and if you are born with the analysis gene, be aware you could be affected by analysis paralysis just as easily. In actual fact the time for lining up ducks and crossing t’s is not a time of crisis, where really only decisive action is the way forwards.

It does mean gathering the courage to hold difficult conversations with people that have really stepped over the boundary for long enough and have gotten away with it for far too long. It also means sometimes embarking on scary new actions, when your confidence may be screaming out for the opposite to action. It may mean becoming a portfolio worker with more than one job or string to your bow. It may even mean moving to a different location, job, etc.

Only you can decide when you need to draw that line and enforce the boundary. Tolerating people pushing the boundary consistently is ultimately bad for you, your sanity and definitely long-term also your good health. It is perfectly justified to explain to someone that enough has been reached, just say it with calm diplomacy and a smile, even if in your heart you feel like punching or screaming their head off. It takes a bit of practice, but even I master calm diplomacy on occasion even when my blunt and direct approach is edging to come out. In my mind I try to see it from their point of view, which on occasion is hard to do.

When you are going through a particularly difficult time, you may find a lot of people come along who will offer advice willingly and with positive intentions or if like me you have quite a few coaching acquaintances you may find yourself in a full-blown coaching interrogation without an invite on your part. Drawing the line in this kind of scenario is vital. If you invite the advice, then take it for what it is worth, but never forget to process it under your own value filter. Trust your own ability to make decisions you will know what is right by you in the end of the day.

The fear of upsetting other people in the process of enforcing your boundaries is far outweighed by the freedom and sense of relief you experience once you actually go ahead with those difficult communications. Honesty may not always be the most comfortable approach, but it is way more liberating and healthy than tolerating things that shouldn’t be tolerated.

So for all of those caught in economic crisis one way or another, I dare you to draw the line and step over it. Accept it will be around for another while, accept that some bad things may have happened to you as a result, also accept that dwelling on them is not helpful forever, do your best to learn the lessons, but above all draw the line and focus on actions that will lead to a happier future.

A close friend of mine recently put it absolutely accurately ‘I don’t want to know the past shit, we are in the present now.’

I dare you to draw that line and claim your power back.