Dust yourself down, get out and engage…

Last night I attended a Founderscard membership event in London.   I’ll be honest and say it’s the first time for a couple of months that I’ve been to an event where I’m representing myself.  Where the focus was not a client, a brand or a product but me…or actually in this case “them” because I used the occasion, once I had quickly dispensed with my own ‘elevator pitch’, to listen to what others were saying.

It was refreshing.   And a timely reminder that it’s imperative  that we tear ourselves away from the task at hand and cast a gaze around the wider room.   And when I say room, I mean room.  Not putting down a lap-top and picking up an iPad but some proper, professional interaction (friends don’t count either !).

It is enevitable that all of us get entreneched into the here-and-now of what we are doing, be it corporate or consultancy but to do right by these projects we need to lift our vision.  Constantly.   It helps gain new perspective and it certainly delivers solutions in the most unexpected manner.

Sometimes we use the excuse that we don’t have time but, quite simply, you can’t afford to not find the time.   You need to break out of your constant environment and learn from others in a new scenario.   And it needn’t cost you a penny.  Hop onto Eventbrite now and sign-up for something locally.   You’ll learn something, meet someone, solve a problem and raise your game all in a couple of hours.

Do it this week…it’s only Tuesday.

 

 

Six months on…

Six months have elapsed since I started my own business and, despite the fact it feels like six weeks, I thought I would reflect a little on the experience to date.  First and foremost it is extraordinary fun.    A complete absence of corporate frustration and an ability to ruthlessly focus on tasks and projects means that although I’m working harder than ever it doesn’t feel like it.     Combine that with regular exercise and a healthier diet for the first time in years and I’m finding more energy and more hours to realise more opportunities.

So what stands out – in no particular order ?

The Cloud – trust the cloud (although I always have one copy of the document on a hard drive or USB somewhere) and you will always have what you need whenever, wherever.  It’s keeping me organised and reducing a bad habit of printing out and carrying reams of paper.   Skydive (soon to be renamed by Microsoft) and Office 365 allow me to use any computer as if it was my own.

LinkedIn – I’ve always been a fan but now I use it more than ever.   I pay for a premium version but I’m the first to admit that, if they increased the subscription I would keep on paying.  It’s an incredible tool and rapidly becoming an information source which you can hone depending on your needs.

Time Zones – Time Zones are my friend.   If you have the stamina then every day has 24 hours – it’s energizing to be able to have three components to the working “day”.  For me those are Singapore, London and NYC in that order.

Skype – I’m a late comer to Skype but sometimes that means the enthusiasm is all the greater.   It’s free and it works.  On every device.

General Tech – tablets, superfast connectivity, apps that raise invoices, track expenses, serve up relevant content.   The costs and barriers to doing business have never been lower.  The secret is to do a “digital audit” and work out what you need.

Money spends differently – not being a PAYE employee and being responsible for all of my business expenses and investments is strangely liberating.   Attending conferences and seminars which you have personally paid for focuses attention like nothing else.

The daily routine – every day you have to (a) to work (b) identify new work (c) learn something (d) say something to your target group (e) stay on-top of admin.  EVERY DAY. The secret is to make some or all of those tasks pleasurable – then it doesn’t seem like a chore.   And, if you’ve picked a business which you enjoy (I have) it’s not difficult.clocks

An absence of meetings – within days I realised that how much of my previous corporate life had been taken up with meetings or preparing for meetings.   Now I have much more time to actually do.   It’s resulted in a strong focus on delivering.  For the client and for me.

Clients – nothing would be possible without clients.  Having been one for over 20 years I must admit I’m enjoying answering their needs.   They come in many guises but all share a passion and operate in a space I enjoy which makes it double the fun.   Some of their entrepreneurial traits are rubbing off on me so I expect I might well become a start-up client myself with something more tangible than the marketing and communications specialisation I offer at the moment.

The Hopper – keeping that hopper filled with business and potential business is key – maintaining relevancy and contacts is vital here.

And the downsides ?  So far there is none (I’ve even got a great accountant so filing taxes is not going to be too much of a burden) but there are sure to be bumps along the journey but they will be the responsibility of me, no one else, and that’s a very liberating feeling.

Little Red and the big bad idea

Recently the inevitable Virgin / Richard Branson PR spin machine went into overdrive with another one of those cunning stunts which make a regular product seem “fun and different”…..but let me back up.

Following the British Airways purchase of the former BMI and subsequent selling of domestic slots and routes because of competition policy Richard Branson did the right thing. He launched a competitive service on the LHR – EDI (Edinburgh) route which would, at the same time, funnel in passengers into his long-haul service. It’s called “Little Red” (also flying to Manchester and Aberdeen – there are some awkward contradictions since Branson has been anti flights to Manchester to justify his train service but that’s another topic altogether !) and there was the usual rhetoric about it ending monopolies etc. But however you cut it, it’s a good thing. Competition is key in airline travel.

Now back to the stunt in question, Branson has announced that Little Red is to have live comedy and music acts on the one hour flight between Edinburgh and London. It’s excruciating even writing that last sentence. I would pay double to avoid this unless there was some ability to jettison said performer mid-air should a majority of the passengers put their thumbs down. It’s ridiculous. People read / chat / nap / read / listen / watch – all things under their control. The last thing you want is someone performing at you when you are strapped to a seat with nowhere to go.

A better idea for Virgin would be to make the last flight of the evening from LHR to JFK child free, strip out some seats, charge a premium, install another bar, some lounge seating and have a bit of an adult kick back environment. Now that would be a stunt worth talking about. Meanwhile leave the Edinburgh “shuttle” passengers be – fly efficiently, charge a reasonable fare and they will fill every seat.

What gets my goat….

Cities such as London and NYC have their plus and minus points. That’s inevitable. However there is one condition which is unique to London, and it’s a bad one. The utter lack of hospitality and flexibility in many restaurants.

It’s something I’m always aware of and usually bite my lip but Wednesday’s experience in The Grazing Goat is, almost 48 hours on, still able to raise my blood pressure.

What was the crime ? We turned up at 9.40pm and dared to suggest we would like to eat. The greeter (probably too strong a term) told us we would have to be quick as the kitchen would close at 10.00pm. The server who brought our menus told us the same thing. The other server who brought the dessert menus hurried us again. They rang the bell loudly for last orders at 10.45pm and the greeter came to tell us we had better hurry if we wanted another drink.

Hurry, hurry, hurry.

There are two issues here. (1) The utter lack of commercial nous to see the attraction of serving food later. (2) The inability to convey the sense of urgency in a light and customer centric way. You feel like you are doing them a favour just being there intruding on some sort of bizarre state owned enterprise which doesn’t actually need to look after customers.

The food was acceptable. The service was not and we informed them of the fact as we knocked the service charge off the check.

Handled a different way the restaurant could have easily doubled the check total. That’s what is beyond belief.

Sadly this restaurant is not alone. If London is to be a world class city it needs to look across the water.

Sleep(er)

Tonight, on what’s going to be probably the hottest night in London, I’m going to be nodding off in the air conditioned comfort of my sleeper compartment on the Night Riviera from London Paddington to Truro.

It’s not the first time I’ve travelled by sleeper (although I’m not including European overnights 8 to a compartment when Inter-Railing in the late 1980s) as I used to use the Edinburgh to London service a lot when I worked at the Scottish Office. Suffice to say I am a fan.

What’s not to love. You get a full day and evening in London. You board from 2230 and depart at 2345. Incidentally Paddington is two tube stops from my flat. I’m writing this in the lounge car before I retire to a clean and bijou cabin complete with VOD TV. I’ll get about 6 hours sleep to be wakened by the steward at the time I chose with coffee and a bacon sandwich before I alight at Truro just after 0700. I’ll be sitting down to work by 0800.

The alternatives would be the last flight of the day and a hotel or the first flight of the day which wouldn’t get me to where I need to be until about 10am. And let’s not forget that would involve taxi, train, security, plane and probably a 530am wake up.

My journey alone to Gatwick costs about £25 between taxi and train. The sleeper is costing £108.

But more than anything it’s the gentle lulling to sleep knowing that as you rest you are getting a little bit closer to tomorrow’s destination. I’m sure I’ve said the same thing in relation to flying across the Atlantic after a weekend in NYC, it’s the efficient double use of time that’s the clincher.

Britain is not really built for long distance overnight train travel apart from this route to Penzance and the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston to Fort William. Other countries such as the US are if they got the product right – think Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint’s night together on the 20th Century Limited from NYC to Chicago – now that would be an exceptional product and marketing challenge but if you could pull it off that’s what dreams are made of….z….z….z….z

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Lord Peter Fraser of Carmylie – A reflection

Towards the end of June the untimely passing of Lord Peter Fraser of Carmylie was announced, and on Friday I’m travelling to Dundee to attend his memorial service and pay tribute to a man who, during his 68 years of living, contributed a great deal to Scottish life and British politics.

I was lucky to know Peter since my early days in Scottish Conservative & Unionist politics and was privileged to also work with him briefly as Special Adviser at The Scottish Office when he was Minister of State and again when we helped spearhead the ‘Think Twice’ referendum campaign which argued against a Scottish Parliament.

Peter had an uncanny ability to be the brightest person in the room (always) without a trace of arrogance, moreover he used humour to diffuse difficult decisions in a way which then resulted in solutions being found.   You hear the phrase “encyclopedic knowledge” all the time but in Peter’s case it was true.  You were not allowed to have a superficial discussion about a topic, it had to be explored and this inevitably resulted in a much better perspective.

Copyright PA

Copyright PA

One of the most memorable times I spent with him at the Scottish Office was one Monday doing a series of political engagements (so no civil servants or ministerial car).  I collected him from his home in Angus and we as we drove south to the outskirts of Glasgow and then across into Argyll as we completed a couple of coffee meetings, a lunch and some media interviews, before we were due to catch the ferry from Dunoon and then to Glasgow and the last flight of the evening to London for the week in Westminster.    Everything was on schedule when he suggested we stop for a ‘cup of tea’ with old friends of his.   The ‘old friends’ ended up being the Duke & Duchess of Argyll.   Never have I been more conscious of the car I was driving as we drove up the driveway of Inverary Castle.

Peter was the master of his political brief – whatever was in his ministerial box, observing the way he dealt with health matters made it easy to forget that he was trained in the law not in medicine.   His public service is an example to all.

Thankfully Peter did suffer fools gladly.  When I got things wrong the rebuke was always short and recovery swift – and I learnt some lessons that have stood me in good stead ever since.

The last time I saw Peter was a couple of years ago when we had lunch at the House of Lords – beginning where we left off it was a very jolly couple of hours.  And that is how I will always remember him.  Someone who had time for everyone.

Emotions are always mixed at times like this but when you stop and reflect it’s hard not to smile.

BA – better aircraft

BA TOUCHDOWN

It is safe to say that this blog would not be in existence if it was not for the Transatlantic “bus” service as provided by British Airways.    Continuing the bus metaphor, yesterday was like waiting for a bus for a long time when suddenly two come along once.   The buses were in the shape of their first A380 which touched down at London Heathrow yesterday to join the airline’s first B787 Dreamliner.  

I think (and happy to be proved wrong) British Airways is the first airline to introduce BOTH of these aircraft into their fleet at the same time and it’s a testament to their $5 billion investment in a new long-haul fleet. The last couple of years has not been easy for any of the “legacy” carriers and whilst the mechanical durability of the BA 747 fleet was above reproach (honoured to share my birth year 1969 with the first test flight of this incredible plane) the interiors and especially the inflight entertainment systems have been creaking along. With a stroke British Airways is re-establishing itself as the preeminent global airline – it just needs someone with guts to expand its home airport !