eliminating obstacles to success…one at a time

I realised today, whilst strolling along deserted beaches to a beautiful lagoon in Tibau do Sul, Brazil, that I’ve written a lot recently about my travels and not quite so much about my business. Which probably leads most of you to think that all this “business” stuff is just my way of saying that I couldn’t hack it in the rat race and have decided to give myself the rest of my life off.

Nearly, but not quite.

If you remember, the idea wasn’t so much to drop off the grid entirely, it was more to set the grid to roaming. Seeing if it were possible to have a work/travel/bank balance.  Not spending more than 4 months at a time in the UK unless there was a very good reason (either I was incarcerated, or in traction, or my mum simply forbade me from flitting off again).  But getting some sort of business up and running to pay for the travels, so that I wasn’t burning through my cash.

Again.  Nearly, but not quite.  (Getting there.)

At the time I started all this, I hadn’t factored on The Mack getting in on the act.  With hindsight, it’s probably one of the reasons that we got together.  But I was so busy thinking that he’d Derren Brown-ed me into being his girlfriend that I wasn’t paying attention.  All that tappety-tap-tapping my shoulder and repeating seemingly innocuous words.  And leaving a trail of gingerbread men on my route to our first date.  I mean.  The Mack is ginger.  And he’s a man.  The fact that I didn’t see them because they’d been squashed by passing commuters didn’t stop their subliminal power.

Anyway, much as I would love to lay the blame for my lack of results squarely at The Mack’s door by saying that he’s diverted my focus, jumped on the start-up bandwagon, addled my brain with wantrepreneurial jargon… that would be (1) wrong, (2) wrong and (3) wrong.  Because, if the truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have got as far as I have if it weren’t for him.

Thanks to The Mack, I’ve identified the top 3 things that have been stopping me making progress on the business side of things and I’ve figured out a solution to each of them.

Issue #1:  Never Seeing Anything Through to the End

I am excellent at starting things.  And doing a nice design.  I am less successful when it comes to completing anything.  Or caring at all after about 2 weeks.  Or when someone distracts me with something shiny.

Apparently, this lack of motivation for really pushing through on my projects is down to my inherent pessimism.

You say pessimist, I say realist.  Let’s call the whole thing off…

Solution #1:  Learned Optimism

The Mack bought me a great book by a guy who made up the idea that you can learn to be more optimistic and that it will transform your life.  I was a little sceptical.  Oh wait…

I started reading it and my productivity levels went right up.

Unfortunately, I **accidentally** left it in the seat back of the plane to Buenos Aires.

What a downer.

Issue #2:  Contrasting Working Styles

I have discovered through this process that I’m quite difficult to work with.  I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why that is, but it seems to have something to do with the fact that I need to get my own way on everything because my way is the right way and everybody else is stupid and wrong.

I don’t know.  It might be that.  It probably isn’t though.  Probably it’s The Mack’s fault.  For being stupid and wrong.

Solution #2:  Working Space

I think that space is very important when you’re a couple working together.  Right now it’s about 4,500 miles and things seems to be going well.

Issue #3:  Hating the Game

I have a slight problem with the whole start up scene.  I think it’s the combination of self-congratulation and jaw-dropping naivety that sticks in my craw.  And when I say slight problem: what I mean is utter contempt.

I’m not even sure how I ended up working on start ups.  I think my plan was just to have my own business.  I don’t remember ever talking about wanting to build a start up.  Tappety-tap-tap….

Solution #3:  Hate the Player

Hell, this one’s easy.  Every time I catch The Mack reading one of Paul Graham’s essays or signing up to a General Assembly workshop, I openly despise him.

I think now that I’ve eliminated these issues, progress will come in leaps and bounds.  Stay tuned, people.

Lessons Learned in Buenos Aires

My friend Aimee is putting herself through a self-imposed tango bootcamp here in Buenos Aires.  Most of which involves her lying on the floor wearing 80s flashdance leggings and breathing deeply – she claims it’s incredibly taxing, but we’re yet to be convinced).

They take tango very seriously here.  Aimee is not allowed to breathe standing up until she has learned to breathe properly lying down.  And that could take weeks.  Apparently she needs to learn to soften her breastbone.  Since bones are notoriously tricky things to soften, I don’t rate her chances.

She has bought some very beautiful red suede tango shoes from a famous shop here in BsAs, called Comme il Faut.  If you have a foot fetish, then may I suggest this as a suitable place of worship.  In the upstairs room of a little row of boutique shops, women line the edges, feet naked as the day they were born, their eyes lit up with the feverish glow of the true believer.  There are almost no shoes on display.  In this shop, you simply tell the assistants your size and they bring you heaped boxes of jewel-coloured stilettos.  It is a reverent place, voices are not raised except for little squeals and moans of pleasure.

I feel they’re missing a trick with their business.  If it were mine, I would make all the mirrors one-way and create a space in the backroom for pedi-voyeurs.  Double the revenue, double the pleasure-giving.  Win, win, kerr-ching.

holiday vs work/travel

This trip for me is the first real stress-test of the new lifestyle.  The idea was that the money I’d save by not living in London would fund the trip, so I’d come away from a 2 month adventure cash neutral.  And since I’ll carry on working on business ideas whilst I’m travelling, I’m not losing any time on income-generating projects.

Like so many of my ideas, this one’s proving great at a conceptual level and about a million miles wide of the mark in real life…

Firstly, South America is not cheap.  If, like me, you are pretty rough round the edges when it comes to actual knowledge on anything political or socio-economical, then you probably think that poor old Argentina is still on the financial skids and you’ll be living like a king on a couple of pesos a day.

Not quite.  Great quality beef is cheap.  You can feast on a side of cow quite happily for £10 a meal.  But that’s where the gravy train ends.  Accommodation is expensive.  Drinks are around the same price as in London.  Flights are extortionate and the amazing long-distance bus service has significantly ramped up its prices in recent times.

If you’re used to travelling in India and South East Asia, then South America will feel like you’re taking a sledgehammer to your savings account.  I’m realising that city living = city living, no matter where you are.  Which makes it fine if your plan is to stay put in a city for a few months and live like a local (like these guys do: http://istanbul.for91days.com/).  Not so good if you’re seeing the sights a lot and eating out twice a day.

In other words, I’m 10 days in and I’ve rinsed through an awful lot of cash.

important lessons

I’ve learned some valuable lessons since I’ve been here:

– I’m probably not cut out to be a tango dancer, so that’s one potential source of revenue gone.  I tried to blame my malco-ordination on the fact I was wearing flat shoes, but in truth I just can’t pivot in any way that doesn’t remind me of that old advert with the dancing hippos.  And I’m tense.  Very tense.  All the time.

– I really should do a bit more research (than none) on the places I’m visiting.  At least to find out if I can vaguely afford to spend time in them and, if so, for how long.  I like to think I’m being spontaneous and carefree.  In reality, I’m just in denial and increasing debt.

– Being away is great for creating space and focus to get on with projects.  Everything feels less pressured here and it’s amazing how much more energy you’re willing to put into work when you have new places to explore.

The Mack arrives today, so it will be back to the regime of post-it notes and time-keeping.  I’m not feeling anywhere near as cross about it as I do when I’m in London.  But that could be because I now know my way around Buenos Aires, so if it gets too much, I can just go off grid and he’ll never, ever find me…

Burger King, Buenos Aires-style

Burger King, Buenos Aires-style

early adopters, where for art thou??

So I’ve spent the past few days leafleting for one of my business ideas in various parts of London.  I’m testing some basic assumptions about the concept – i.e. that anyone, however remotely, anywhere in the whole of London, gives a gnat’s toss about what I’m trying to set up.

oh lovely flyer!

oh lovely flyer!

Which is all about real friends and happy, safe neighbourhoods.  And the flyers are nice, bright colours with pretty pictures of cute little houses.  And I spent a lot of time designing them.  So you’d think that someone would give a damn.  You’d think that friendship and belonging were pretty basic tenets of civilisation and happiness. Apparently not.

Even the blatant bribery attempt (“fill in our 5 min survey at www.beneighbourly.com for a chance to win £50 Amazon voucher”) – which still stands, by the way, so get filling – hasn’t spurred many people on to bother.

Yesterday was a particular delight.  I had trench foot by 3.30pm and not a single bloody response to my survey.  People of Cricklewood,  I two-finger salute you.

On the strength (um weakness) of feedback received so far, I think we’re going to have to pivot and start selling unicorns, ‘cos we’ve got about as much chance of making a go of it.

early adopters

One of the pillars of wisdom in startupville (which I imagine is a place where people are really friendly and create nice neigbourhoods and use the website www.beneighbourly.com to enhance their sense of community), is that for your product or service to succeed, it needs to appeal to early adopters.

“Early adopters” is a fancy term for people who like new, cool stuff.  They are the ones who actively get involved with new technology before the rest of us.  They are like Umbrian truffle pigs, always snuffling around in the dark, dank woods to unearth little nuggets that go on to be worth gazillions.  They are the lifeblood of start-up businesses.

Trouble is, most of these people live in California.  Or, at a push, New York.  The three that live in London are so exhausted by being the epicentre of all things new in business that they’ve barricaded themselves into a rec room at Google campus and are communicating only via an hourly twitter feed.

no thanks, we’re British

It’s tricky trying to start up a business in this country.  Particularly an online, networky type business.  Because we’re just not very networky type people.  And we’re not very good at cheerleading.  Or responding to surveys.

If you’ve ever worked with Americans, you’ll know that, on the whole, they’re incredibly perky, upbeat and enterprising.  Sure, statistically there must be a few really grumpy ones in each state, who just spend all their time on the couch, mithering about how unbearably cheery everyone else is.  But most that I know are optimistic and believe in that whole land-of-opportunity thing.

I think it could be because they have space.  A lot of space.  So they feel that there’s room for everyone to grow, and that one person’s growth isn’t going to leave less room for everyone else.  So it creates a culture of encouragement.  Whereas we Brits, on our very small island, are always worrying about someone encroaching on our personal space.  So we don’t really like it if someone has ambition to outgrow their little patch.  And we don’t go out of our way to boost one another.

You see it acted out daily, in a microcosm, on the tube.  I was on the victoria line yesterday evening.  I had my own space, next to the door, on that leany-ledge bit (which is the next best bit after an actual seat, as long as you’re on the opposite side to the opening doors – small wins, people).  This 20-something girl got on at Oxford Circus.  And stood into me – not next to me – into me.

And by that I mean that she pushed herself backwards so that her right shoulder was just touching the back of the leany-ledge and her left shoulder was in front of mine.  So she was at a slight diagonal.  But not for long.  Because, keeping her eyes averted at all times, and maintaining the unflinching posture of the self-righteous, she then just jimmied her sharp little shoulders until she’d crow-barred me out of my space.  At which point she became still.  For 2 stops.  And then she got off the tube.  Inwardly triumphant, no doubt.

And I’d like to thank that deeply discourteous girl.  Because I was starting to feel discouraged about beneighbourly.com.  But now I’m even more convinced that we need something like it.  So I think I’m going to build it and see what happens.  And if that means skinning my knuckles on a few more letterboxes, then so be it…

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I have included some incredibly subtle subliminal messaging in this week’s post.  Don’t worry if you didn’t pick up on it – that’s means it’s working (and thanks for completing the survey!).

trouble and strife – the reality of living and working together

I’m staying at The Mack’s this month, before we head off to South America.  We just about survived the moving in of my stuff.  Mainly thanks to The Mack getting rid of 95% of his possessions to make space for the 10% of mine that I carefully calculated I could hide about his place and get away with.  That and his vow of silence.

It’s been a week so far and, put it this way, I’m pretty sure that The Mack cannot wait for our 3 week trip, just the two of us.  On the strength of my performance so far, I think we can safely say I’m not in the running for Girlfriend of the Year 2013.

the taming of the shrew

Now some lesser men might have taken the view that, if you give houseroom to an unpredictable, highly-strung creature with a history of fiery outbursts, you should probably try to maintain a calm, stable home environment.  And avoid anything that is likely to rile the beast.

Not The Mack.  His view is that if he is kind enough to give houseroom to said creature, then it gives him free rein to wind it up. stand back – taser in hand – and watch it run itself into exhaustion.

I’m starting to suspect that he’s using this as some sort of social experiment.  He knows I know I’ve got nowhere else to go…

I hate you so much right now

Two things I really don’t like.  The whole start-up over-exuberance and slavish adherence to made-up methodologies.  And anyone checking up on me.

So The Mack has kindly decided to combine both of these in what has proven to be a foolproof system of destruction of will.

There are too many things that make me mad to list them all here, but I’ll give you the highlights (and don’t worry, I’ve got the others safely filed away in my brain under “things to bring up in our next big public argument”):

– his enthusiasm for our business ideas and general upbeat attitude vs my rightly-held belief that everything we’re doing is a pile of crap and an utterly pointless big fat waste of time.Post its

– making me write tasks on post-its, which we stick on the wall for each of our projects.  Colour-coded for the different types of tasks (concept/content, technical, marketing).  Ranked in order of priority.  Allocated to one of us to action.  “Action”.  Oh dear lord.

– his insistence on having “team” meetings every morning where we update one another on progress.  It’s an interrogation, people.  The man is never satisfied with my answers.  And I’m realising I’m quite a defensive person.

– scheduling our time each day “cos it’s the only way things get done”.  2 hours on my project, 1 on his, 30 minutes on planning our trip, 1 hour off for lunch where we watch either an episode of Girls or Modern Family (there are no other options, soldier).

– using an egg-timer app to make sure we stick to the schedule.

– endlessly using the phrases “engaging the pre-frontal cortex”, “synapses”, “gamification” and “what’s for lunch, babe?”.

work-life balance

I know, I know, you’re wondering how it is that I’ve managed not to crack under this inhumane regime.  Well, I’ve developed a few strategies for dealing with this toxic environment.  They include:

– crying.

– talking in a really shrill, harpy-like voice.

– sulking.

– cursing (both like a navvy and like a witch-doctor).

– taking myself off for a late night walk through dodgy estates in South London (there’s nothing like fear of personal attack to make you want to come back “home”).

– watching Rambo I and II.

The worst bit about it all is that I know that The Mack has a point.  We need to start making some money fast, and getting on with our projects is the only way that’s going to happen.

Doesn’t stop me wanting to stab him repeatedly with a fork every time we break for lunch though…

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PS:  I’d be really grateful if my UK readers could take 5 mins to fill out an online survey for a new business venture I’m working on to do with friends and communities.  Please go to www.beneighbourly.com.  Thank you!!

what’s the tweeting point?

I’ve noticed a trend recently.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in various pubs.  Ahhh, I hear you think.  No job.  Slippery slope.  I saw this coming. Tragic waste.

Um, that’s not the trend I’m talking about, but thanks for your concern.

That said, I do now understand where Cheers was coming from. When your only company most days is the real housewives of [insert place with readily available plastic surgery], you find solace where you can.  And now that cafes are called “coffee shops” and are overrun with speccy beardie types brooding oh so creatively over their macbook airs, it’s no wonder I need something stronger…

But I digress.

So what I’ve noticed is how many pubs (and cafés and bars and local shops and hairdressers and and and…) now have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Firstly, what I love is how there’s still no other way to advertise your adoption of that most modern of marketing media than by putting up crappy posters around the place.  Delicious irony.

Secondly, I love that the language of Facebook and Twitter makes insecure schoolgirls of us all. Like me. Follow me. Why don’t you like me? Why won’t you follow me? You like Zara but you don’t like me? Am I not pretty enough?  **sob**  Terribly damaging stuff.  I’m sure there’s a PhD thesis in there somewhere.

But mainly I’m wondering what the tweeting point of it is?

Sure, I can see merit in having a Facebook page instead of a website. It’s cheap, quick and you can get your minimum-wage student bar staff to update it, since they’re probably spending most of their working time on Facebook anyway.  I get that it provides a way to let punters know about the Wednesday pub quiz or Friday night’s covers band.  I get that you can offer discounts and exclusives for Likers.

But I find it bizarre that loads of little businesses now seem to think that they need to have an all-singing-all-dancing fully integrated social media marketing campaign.   Why oh why oh why??

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Facebook and Twitter are a humungous waste of time for most small businesses.

I mean, what on earth are you going to tweet about?  That you’ve just changed the barrel on the Erdinger?  That most of your female clients are going Hollywood over Brazilian this season, so you’d better get strimming?  I have visions of pub landlords and artisan bakers having sleepless nights as they desperately try to think of enticing status updates and witty tweets about buns and baps.

I’d hazard a guess that most of us are happy just to turn up to the pub and see what’s occurring.  And most of us stick to local pubs, so we already know what’s going on. Because we go there. And they have it written down on boards with brightly coloured chalk.

The truth about Twitter (as in life) is that the followed are few and the followers are many.  So unless you already have a loyal bunch of customers who just happen to also be very widely followed on Twitter, you’re unlikely to pick up any new business that way.  It’s like the old philosophical conundrum:  if a business tweets in a forest but no-one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound??

Facebook and Twitter can work well for big businesses.  That’s because they have lots of money to create marketing content that they can then spread via social media.  For those companies, it’s not radically different from the advertising model of the 80s.  They spend money and they get customer eyeballs.  We’ve just swapped TV for Facebook.  Same audience, same spiel.  No-one’s doing anything particularly cool or innovative.  There’s a formula to it, just like with any other type of marketing.  And those which are most successful at it are those who already have a strong brand presence and have the money to do it properly.

But if you’re a small business, I’d say don’t bother.  The pickings are slim and the maintenance is tedious.  I would do a leaflet-drop over a twitter campaign any day – it’s targeted, relevant and proactive.  Leave the F-ing and T-ing to the big boys.  They’ve convinced themselves that it’s an essential part of their marketing strategy.  And maybe it is, just like TV advertising was in the 80s….

crowdfunding – money for nothing?

In the olden days, if you wanted to start up a business or launch a new product, you either had to have lots of your own money or find an investor willing to part with theirs.  For most budding entrepreneurs, it meant having a whip-round amongst friends and family to raise seed capital.  Which, inevitably, meant that those same friends and family then felt that they had acquired the right to tell you exactly where you were going wrong with your idea…

Then came Dragons Den.  Which taught us all that the boy scout motto applies equally to investment pitches and convinced the entire nation that an idea without a patent is utterly worthless.  It also provided a valuable insight into human beings’ capacity for self-deception (remember the guy who wanted £100k for his amazing device for helping drivers drive safely abroad??  It turned out to be a single glove that you wear on your right hand when travelling abroad, to remind you which side of the road you should be on…).

All very enlightening, but, ultimately, it was hard to take the show seriously when one of the dragons clearly thought that a retail high street stationery business was a good idea.

I’m out.

crowdfunding

Now there’s a new way to get investment.  It’s very trendy and inclusive and gives people a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

It’s called crowdfunding and it involves getting lots of people to invest a small amount of money in your business or product.

When I first heard about it, I was skeptical. I mistakenly thought that each person who invested would get a teensy piece of equity in the business, so you’d have lots of little shareholders.  I assumed that it was a bit like taking your company public, but without people being able to then buy and sell their shares.  I thought that it sounded interesting, but I wondered what would happen if you wanted to sell your company on?… hmmm.

Turns out I was right to be skeptical, but way off the mark in terms of how crowdfunding works…

kickstarter

There are a ton of crowdfunding platforms out there now, but Kickstarter is the biggest for the US and UK markets.  The Mack was looking to use it for one of his business projects and explained how it worked.  We were in a Vietnamese restaurant at the time.  I almost spat my pho out at him.  I definitely remember telling him that he was immoral and that I wouldn’t be any part of it.

Overreaction?  Maybe a tad, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

So the premise of crowdfunding is that it allows individuals to invest small amounts in businesses or projects that they like the look of and it allows companies to raise money without having to give away any equity.  Typically, individuals can invest upwards of $5 in a project.  In return, they get some sort of reward or recognition.  Whether that’s a name-check on the art film project or an advance copy of the role-play game they’ve invested in.

So you could look at it as a platform which gives rein to the ultimate free market principles.  Power to the people.  A chance for consumers to influence the latest products and support the arts.  A way for small companies to forward-sell innovative products.

Or, like me, you could just look at it as absolutely barmy and ripe for scamming.

money for nothing?

Because it’s not even money for old rope.  It’s basically free money.  It’s the equivalent of the friends and family whip-round of old, but with 10 million mates all chipping in a couple of quid.

It flies in the face of all conventional business wisdom on bootstrapping and angel investment and careful financial husbandry.  You don’t need a business plan.  You don’t even need a company.  You don’t need to show anyone your finances.  Or tell investors how you plan to spend the money they’re investing.

All you need is a project, a snazzy marketing video and enough people who are happy to part with the cost of a latte, and bingo!  Instant success.

Because not only do you raise the money that you need, but you also get massive exposure to your target audience and, if your fundraising exceeds all expectations (the largest amount raised was $10m; over 10,000% of the target), the media will pick up on it too, so further free advertising and even more potential customers.

The most successful projects seem to be those involving funky technology products (smart watches, games consoles), computer games or arty stuff.  That would seem logical – the people who like those things tend to be early adopters anyway, so of course they’d jump at an opportunity to say that they helped make that product a reality.

The Mack and I think it’s only a matter of time before crowdfunding is taken over by organised crime.  Gullible punters willing to part with cash in return for nothing?  It’s the ultimate investor-endorsed Ponzi scheme.

Maybe because of this, Kickstarter has closed its platform to all but “creative” projects.  Don’t be put off.  It seems as though “creative” stretches a long way.  Just take a look at some of the projects that have been funded recently and you’ll get an idea of what flies and if it could work for your project.

And even if Kickstarter is a non-starter, there are many more crowdfunding platforms out there.  Country-specific platforms, sector-specific platforms, even worthy causes platforms.  If you’re looking to attract crowdfunding, then you need to think seriously about the amount of money you need to raise and which platforms get enough of the right eyeballs to make that likely.  As with all of these things, with popularity comes fragmentation and if there are too many platforms, then it becomes harder to attract enough mugs, sorry, investors, to your project.

So my advice…  Get in there now if you’ve got an idea but no cash.  In a troubled economy, it seems there is no shortage of people willing to throw money at new “stuff”.  And they expect almost nothing in return.

Jeez, I bet Madoff wishes he’d thought of this…

hey, what’s the big idea??

I’m going to come clean.  I don’t have a big idea.  I don’t even have a medium sized one.  There are probably a few small ones scattered about somewhere in my brain (the mental equivalent of lost coins down the back of the sofa).  But I can definitely say, hand on heart, I do not have anything vaguely approaching a big idea.

It’s interesting, there’s a definite assumption that if you’ve quit your well-paid job to start your own business, it must be because you’ve got this amazing idea.  I’ve noticed that people are really uncomfortable with the concept that you might just be mooching along seeing what comes your way.  In a social or networking context it goes a little something like this:

group shot 1

group shot 2

So without being in the slightest bit defensive, I thought it only right that I debunk a few unhelpful myths: 

the next-big-thing-myth

The next big thing is only the next big thing when it becomes the next big thing.  Got that?  Ok, let’s move on.

the we-planned-this-from-the start myth

Take a look at any of the internet big guns: they all started out as something pretty different from how they look now.

Pay-pal grew from a digital wallet solution.  Facebook started life as “Facemash”, a “hot or not” ratings site for Harvard students.  Amazon, if you remember, started off just selling books.  Google and You Tube spent years in the financial wilderness before finding a revenue model that turned a profit.

So don’t feel that in order to create a worthwhile business, you have to have figured out the path to global success from the very beginning.  Chances are you are going to have to radically change your concept, business model or both along the way, so your best approach is to be mindful of this from the outset and welcome the process.

the ability-to-predict-the-future myth

I’ve yet to meet someone who is in possession of the double-whammy combo of a crystal ball and hindsight.  Instead, we’re all members of the coulda, woulda, shoulda club.

I was supposed to go to a talk last month given by some important people in tech circles (Google, Groupon) on tech trends for 2013.  I couldn’t make it, but heard that it was interesting enough.  Conspicuously lacking in any substance though.  Mainly a rehash of what’s already out there with a bit of wishful thinking (Google+ anyone?  Anyone at all??).

I mean, between them, these guys have quite a lot invested in trying to work out what’s next for the tech juggernaut.  But they still don’t know for sure.  There were a lot of bets hedged.  So if they can’t predict the future, I’m sure as hell not going to try to.

the must-be-original myth

Sometimes, the best ideas are the ones that are derived from something that’s already out there.  I’m not advocating stealing anyone’s intellectual property.  I am saying there’s no point reinventing the wheel (unless you are in fact inventing a better wheel).  If you can improve on an existing product or service then that is just as legitimate a business as creating something totally new.

Look for the gaps in functionality, application, quality, service, cost, target markets.  There may well be a business hiding in between.

the gotta-change-the-world myth

Between them, Bono and Bob Geldof haven’t really managed to change even part of the world.  And they’ve got a heap of money and publicity behind them and they’ve been banging on about it for years.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second.  How many of us really believe that the iphone has actually changed the world?  Or Google?  Or Facebook?  They may have changed the way that we communicate, or obtain information, or interact, but they have not fundamentally changed the world.

If the strap line for the new iphone 6 is that it has brokered peace in the Middle East, then that’s a different story, but until then, we all need to get a bit of perspective.  (I actually think that unless Apple sorts out its woeful maps, the next iphone is more likely to incite violent land-grab insurgency, but I may be unduly pessimistic…).

the if-it’s-not-big-it’s-not-worthwhile myth

This one is the most damaging in my opinion.  I have no problem with people aiming high, if that is what inspires and encourages them.  But more often than not, this sense of having to have a big idea in order for your business to be valid, does nothing except cause paralysis.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to create a business that is just big enough for you.  If you look around you, that’s exactly what most businesses are.  Small.

If your goal is to create an empire, then by all means, sharpen your sabres and round up your troops.  But I view that brand of business colonialism as outdated and slightly distasteful.  To me it smacks of sitting in a leather swivel-chair with the obligatory white fluffy cat.

I think it’s ok to dabble, to start small and see what happens.  Without the pressure of a big idea, there is more room to grab the small but perfectly formed ones.  I see it in terms of the Crystal Maze.  Those teams in the Crystal Dome who aimed high ended up jumping around with arms flailing trying to catch the gold tokens being blown all over the place.  They lost.  The smart ones aimed lower and were able to gather up the already fallen tokens from the floor.  They won.

So that’s where you’ll find me, scrabbling around on the floor, picking up the overlooked ideas…

girl on girl action… networking for fierce women

Look away now if you are of a sensitive disposition, but I consider myself a feminist.  Brought up in an all-female, intelligent, self-sufficient household, this was only going one way.  It’s something I’m proud of.

But here’s the rub.  I have always instinctively shied away from any women-for-women type groups.  I think that it’s because I’ve never personally encountered any barriers to career progression or missed out on opportunities just because I’m a woman.  Or it’s because I can’t stand Loose Women.  One of the two.

That’s not to say that I can’t score a full house in City-boy chauvinist bingo.  Been eyed up when I’ve walked into a meeting room full of guys?  Yep.  Been bought champagne and inappropriate presents by clients when my male colleagues got diddly squat?  Yep.  Been complimented on my outfit/shoes, whilst they have a good gawp at my arse/legs.  Yep.  Been the only girl in meetings with male investment bankers taking turns to peacock (deliberate emphasis) and talking about strippers?  Bingo.

In spite of all that nonsense, I’ve always preferred to work with men.  I’ve found the dynamic more straight-forward, less loaded, less-mercurial.  I’ve felt freer to say what I think and to challenge decisions.  And my own experience has been that I’ve been encouraged, my abilities trusted and my contribution hugely recognised.

In contrast, I (and many of my friends) have had difficult working relationships with other women.  I’ve encountered pettiness, barbed put-downs and being undermined in front of colleagues and clients.  Friends have been held back from long-overdue promotions, been wickedly out-manoeuvred by colleagues they thought of as friends, and been given career-stunting appraisals from female bosses threatened by their talent.  It’s pure, childish playground ganging-up and the few rare times that I have cried at work have been because one of the other girls has been mean to me.

So every time I read something that says that we need more women on boards of companies or that it’s a disgrace that the pay gap still hasn’t shrunk, I whole-heartedly agree.  But I also know that we cannot lay the blame any more on the old boys’ network.  Because at least the boys, in the main, are promoting one another.

mean girls

What makes me sad (and it really does upset me), is that women are still holding other women back.  All the bloody time.  And it’s got to stop, ladies.  Because if we’re not helping one another, encouraging one another to succeed and supporting one another, then we sure as hell can’t whinge when the guys don’t do it for us.

I don’t get it.  It’s hard enough as it is, with the potent nature and nurture cocktail that women get of self-doubt, perfectionism, self-sacrifice and that feeling that we’re doing a terrible job of even pretending that we’re holding it together.  Why do we make it harder for one another?  Why do we make it so competitive, so unpleasant, so destructive?

My sister blames the Daily Mail.  It spews a constant stream of sanctimonious bile and judgment against women – at least any woman over a size 6. Denouncing single mothers as the root of all evil, working mothers as the cause of society’s demise, and voluntarily childless women as selfish freaks of nature.  And it has Liz Jones as its female figurehead.  A woman who has single-handedly done more to erode the advancement of womankind than any other person in my lifetime.  Thank you Daily Hell.  For nothing.

I don’t want it to be like this.  I don’t want to feel that in order to succeed I need to show that I have bigger balls than the guys.  I don’t want to perpetuate the sort of macho bullshit posturing that so many people (men and women) seem to think is ok in business.

I want to run a business surrounded by people I respect and who (hopefully) respect me.  I want to work with people who are smarter than me, because a wise man once told me that the only way your business gets better is if you hire people who are more talented than you.  I want to stay a normal human being and be nice and kind to people.  Because that’s how I am in the rest of my life, so why should I be any different at work?

bizzie birds

So… because I get that the only way to bring about change is to stop mithering and do something about it, I have decided, against my instincts, to join some women-focused business groups.  And I’ll admit to finding it difficult.  The Mack calls it my “bizzie birds” stuff.  It makes me want to punch him in the face.

I have contributed an article to a website called Women Unlimited which provides advice and support to female small business owners.  I had to check myself when I noticed that I was dumbing it down, in case the little women couldn’t understand the message.  Please take a look at their website, it is really accessible and encouraging

I went to a networking event hosted by The Next Women magazine.  It was a pitch evening for female co-founders to present their businesses to a panel of angel investors.  The keynote speakers were brilliant.  The investors were the real deal.  The ideas pitched were pretty much the same as at every other event I’ve been to recently, which made me quietly despair.  But the biggest revelation for me was that I realised I felt much more uncomfortable networking in a roomful of women than if it had been a mixed group or mostly guys.  I couldn’t help myself comparing shoes…

Shame on me.

Clearly, I still have some way to go.  I met a couple of great people and we have agreed to be cheerleaders for one another.  I’m going to stick with it, because I find it hilarious that even though women have an evolutionary advantage when it comes to making connections and being supportive, we are hideously bad at networking in business.

I think part of it is a feeling that we shouldn’t be asking for anyone’s help if we can’t offer something in return.  Men don’t have this insecurity.  I’ll give you an example.  The Mack went to a work thing recently where Chris Boardman (Olympic cyclist) was giving a speech.  The Mack thought nothing of collaring Chris afterwards and chewing his ear off.  The result, they’ve swapped contact details and I know that The Mack won’t hesitate to contact Chris in the future if he needs advice on the best bicycle clips.

I think we girls just need more practice.  Because the more that we all share our expertise and contacts and experience and wealth, the easier it will become for all of us.  And if it means that we have to be fierce (in a nice, Beyonce sort of way) and fearless about it, then fine – just give me a minute to get my best shoes on, and I’ll be right with you, sisters.

Just don’t make me watch Loose Women.