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How to win those important moments

There’s a moment, a fleeting split-second, when you’re tested and everything suddenly seems on the line. It sharpens your focus. It’s now or never. Pressure on!

Some people attempt sheer off the cuff bravado, roll the dice and get away with it (or not). Others stumble, nervously panic and whimper a little. Some seem to know what to do, what to say, and do it with aplomb as if shelling pees.

Whether it’s at a crucial point of a negotiation, a tough question put to you live on TV or a fast cricket ball hurtling towards your stumps, how you handle the next split second can make or break your month, your career or your team’s chances of winning the grand final.

Justin Langer, current coach of WA cricket team, and former Australian test batting legend, likes to remind his players that if they don’t put themselves under pressure in practice, how can they handle the pressure of a real game? Because being put under pressure in a game is exactly the situation they will be put under, and how they handle that moment, is important.

This reminds me of my last game of cricket, played about 10 years ago, coincidentally one in which the same Justin Langer played …

OK, a wicket has fallen, and my heart jumps as I realise I have to bat now. I’ve been padded up for a while, watching the bowling and now it’s going to be my turn. I start to walk out, practice a few off drives, blink up at the sun, skip to get my feet moving. I pass the outgoing batsman. Bad/Good luck we murmur to each other. Arriving at the middle, I look up at the umpire and ask for middle and leg. Marking my guard, I glance around the field, to see faces staring looking back at me disdainfully. 11 of them. Plus 2 umpires. I acknowledge my team mate at the other end. I twizzle the bat in my hands, look up at the bowler, who then starts his run up. The pitch looks lighter than I remember, and broader, and far away from the boundary edge from where I was just a minute ago. All eyes are on me. Concentrate! watch the ball, watch the ball.

There’s a split moment after he delivers the ball when I have to decide what to do. As the ball is in the air, I try to pick up it’s trajectory. Can I leave it alone? Please for my first ball, I just want to either leave it alone, confidently, or play a resolute defensive shot. Feel bat on ball. Get to the end of the over unscathed, or even better, tickle a single somewhere and get up the other end and off the dreaded nought.

The young strapping fast bowler delivers a thunderbolt, yorker length and I can’t react in time. I hear the clatter as my leg peg is knocked over. Golden duck!

I barely saw anything, and barely moved. I froze. I’d been playing cricket for 30 or more years, had scored a good share of runs in that time, but nothing saved me that day. Castled. First up. Good nut. Cue trudge back to the pavilion. As I walked off, I think I knew that my eyes had gone, my reflexes has gone, and golf was going to be the pastime from now on!

I now coach my son’s Under 13 team, and yesterday they lost to a very powerful, all conquering team of older lads. They tried as hard as they could, but for the team as a whole, the gulf was too wide. They’d not been close to being bowled out all year, but yesterday they were knocked over collectively for less than one of the players had scored individually in a recent game. They will be stronger for it the next time.

My last ignominious innings was preceded by 10+ years of no practice at all, so blaming my 40+ year old eyes and reflexes is a cop out. I play golf most weekends, but apart from the occasional 5 minute blast on the driving range and swinging of a few clubs a few minutes before my first drive, I don’t practice. No wonder it can take my game a few holes to warm up. And in any case, the driving range in no way resembles the pressures and situations you encounter on the golf course, among thick bushes in a bad sandy lie with swirling gusts of wind when you’ve already had 3 shots.

If you can going to win these micro moments of importance, in a negotiation, a sales call, a board room, live on TV or on stage or in sports, you need to practice, and put yourself under pressure during practice.

In my U-13 cricket team I know exactly who has practised well all season, and who has not. Those that have come on this year, have practised the most. Those that have not, have stood still.

People say to me (which is very nice of them) that I ‘own the stage’ or am a ‘natural speaker’ when I am doing a presentation or moderating a panel discussion. Believe me, at school, I would go bright red if the teacher so much as looked in my direction. I was a geeky, awkward and slightly overweight 12 and 13 year old, not very confident, a bit shy and hated any attention in class.

This other cricketing memory from that time, 40 years ago one English summer, pretty much sums it up…

My year’s cricket team was playing the nearby rival school across town, and we were in trouble. We had no chance of winning the game, so had to try and last out the day, batting for a noble draw. I was last man in, and in the last over, had to face a few balls to deliver us that result. I don’t remember the ball being delivered, but I do remember closing my eyes and lunging forward to try and play the most immaculate forward defensive shot ever played. By the time I’d opened my eyes (I swear this is a true memory) the opposition team was walking off in celebration. I looked back, and my stumps were intact. I remember the ball hitting my bat, quite well… but then it must have popped up for a catch, which was taken. I had not seen my calamitous shot or the catch being made. Eyes were closed in defiance. Game over, we had lost.  

And yet, within a few years, I had grown in confidence, become a useful batsman and played some serious club cricket in the UK and Singapore. I even made 7 appearances for the Singapore national team and have a page on the CricInfo website that proves it so.

In between there was lots of practice, lots of mistakes and lots of games. Even though I was not particularly gifted, I loved the game and worked at it.

As I grew in confidence as a teenager, I learned how to speak in public too. I practised. I still do. Every time I am going to speak on stage, I have spend hours honing the slide deck, the talking points, the words and stories I am about to say. If the event is video’d, I watch it back and criticise my performance.

It’s boring, but it’s also 100% true that performance is borne from practice. The right type of practice. Those that try to wing it on the night may fluke a few wins here and there, but more often that not they will be caught short and won’t reach their potential. Same for final year exams. Those that put in the effort, and importantly, practice like the real thing, putting themselves under pressure during practice (such as doing timed exam questions), will be more able to handle the slings and arrows and random things that are thrown at you when the chips are down and the thing is on, for real.

I am amazed at sales people who baulk at practising their craft, honing their phone technique or role playing their sales meetings. It’s critical. So much learning results. Similarly, startup founders who cannot articulate their obvious passion into a clear, sensible business case for potential investors. Or business leaders with hopeless presentation skills, droning on through boring bullet point laded powerpoint pages.

So, take it from Alfie. Put yourself in a game situation, under pressure as you practice. And when the actual moment comes, and when the next move you make, or words that come out of your mouth, determine whether you will win or lose, you’ll be much more likely to win.

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10 military strategies that work for business

I attended the graduation of the first cohort of WA Leaders the other night, and former military man and successful business owner Johnathan Huston (Croissant Express, Tint-a-Car) presented on the 10 most important principals of war.

He claimed that these 10 principles were the same for business, and in order of importance are…

1. What is the purpose?

An organisation must have a clear singularity of purpose. Keep it simple. Don’t spend lots of time with plans, they’re not read. Make the purpose clear to everyone. Allow people to make the decisions according to the purpose. People can make mistakes. As long as they were trying to get the purpose, celebrate!

2. Maintenance of morale

Make sure everyone is focussed on the job. This is far more important than having the best materials or equipment.

3. Offensive action

You cannot sit back and be defensive. Keep moving forward.

4. Concentration of effect

Make a big impact in a targeted manner. Don’t spread your marketing spend all over the year, have some strong attacking moments at key times of the year.

5. Economy of effort

There’s never enough resources, so efficiency and effectiveness  is key. Look how a few people hi-jacking planes made a huge impact on 9/11. The US ended up spending trillions of dollars over the next decade, and allowed the enemy to fight them on their own field, which was the aim.

6. Maintain momentum

Keep it up. Make sure you are pushing forward with sustainable, repeatable, cash flow positive projects.

7. Security and surprise

Ensure you have IP protection. Make your opponent box at shadows.

8. Flexibility and cooperation

Seek alliances and partnerships for mutual benefit.

9. Admin

Have great systems and processes. Make sure you can scale. Don’t be overly dependent on too few people. Have redundancy built in.

10. Maintain and reconstitute a reserve

Keep an ace in your pocket. Have a secure line of credit that you don’t use. So you can pounce when you need to. Be agile.

Looking at these, I probably have to agree. The purpose is the single most important factor. As Simon Sinek argues, find your ‘Why’. People buy your why. Everyone in the business has to know what the clear purpose is, and it should not have to be written on the wall to remind people. It should be built in.

Certainly,  motivation of staff, or rather, selected switched on self-motivated people, who will keep pushing and not give up, is also key, so this slides in at number 2, after the clear purpose.

I don’t think the 10 are necessarily always correct, nor in the right order definitively, depending on the type of business and industry. Business is not about conflict, it’s more about competition, and also cooperation. There are clear differences.

Military action is usually judged as either a win or a loss, with the ultimate goal being a win with the least effort (or casualties/cost). Judging a success, or a win, is sometimes harder in business. For some businesses, being around as an organisation may be reason to cheer, but in the military being around next year is not really the goal (because, if that was the case, don’t go to war at all).

The 10 do serve up some interesting points however, so are worthy of a look.

 ~~
Photo Credit: http://www.politico.com/news/women-in-the-military 
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Perth: 2 degrees of separation

If you’ve ever bumped into someone you’ve not met in ages, out of the blue, you may have got to thinking how many you may have just missed. The law of averages would seem to suggest that for everyone you suddenly run into, you must miss many more.

Last week, I skipped through our foyer not really noticing anyone in particular, when I heard a voice saying ‘Charlie Gunningham!’ I looked up and there was someone I’d not seen in 16 or 17 years (we figured it was the year 2000 or 2001). ‘Are you here now?‘ he asked. ‘Yes, I’m the CEO! Where are you now?‘. And so on. He hardly looked any different, and he said the same of me (obviously, our eyes were worse for wear).

This seems to happen to me all the time, almost everywhere I walk around this fair city. While it could be that everyone is linked by 6 degrees of separation, in Perth I reckon it could be 2.

Try this at your next business networking event. Go up to someone you do not know, and introduce yourself, asking them why they’re there. Once you start chatting, you will probably find that, unless they are totally new to Perth, you have a common acquaintance. It’s something I like about this place. While the population may have ticked over 2 million, it still has a ‘smallness’ about it. Almost everyone seems close.

Another important element to this is you simply cannot afford to burn any bridges. Ever. There’s no point (even if you never see them again) getting in a strop, or being rude, or getting flustered, with anyone, at anytime, no matter how unreasonable they are.

I’ve had people be extremely rude to me over the years, and have been subject to things in business that I would not wish on anyone, but it’s always better to raise your chin, let it run off you like water off a duck’s back. In the main, people are good, not greedy. People want to do the right thing. But there are exceptions. And I find it odd that they do not have the emotional intelligence or self awareness to understand what they are doing, and what others think of them.

Someone I’ve known for years thinks he’s God’s gift to business, and he’s had some success (to which he should be justifiably proud), yet the way he acts puts people off, even those who know him well. His reputation is poor, and people tend to steer clear, or do that eye roll thing when his name is mentioned. People who do not know I know him, tell me things about him. He has no idea people think of him this way.

Reputations are made very slowly, and can be ruined quickly.

Those that seek to take short cuts to grab a goal themselves will never get the long term prize. In Perth, or anywhere, it’s simply not worth behaving badly. Everyone knows someone who knows you. It’s 2 degrees. Tred carefully, do the right thing and more good things will be returned to you.

That guy I bumped into in the foyer? As it happens he was there to listen to a proposal from our sales team. How I behaved 16 or 17 years ago with him may just help get a deal over the line this month. What goes around, comes around.

Photo Credit: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1096820 

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It’s blockchain, stupid

dilbert-chain

7 years ago I visited a New York real estate technology conference, and one of the main themes was the emergence of the mobile economy, and how important smartphones were becoming. On returning, I wrote one of my first blog posts (‘It’s mobile, stoopid‘) on the Business2 website, the first comment of which still reads: “I don’t think so…”

3 years earlier, Apple’s iPhone had heralded the onset of the smartphone era, and business was never going to be the same again.

Wind on to today, the smartphone is everywhere. This device has changed how we communicate, receive information and news, take photos, and how elections, products and almost everything is determined. Half the world wide web traffic is now over a mobile device. We’ve got access to all the world’s information, anywhere, anytime.

Back in January 2010, we did not even have the iPad, Samsung or Android phones. Many of us were not yet on Twitter. Instagram (established in October that year) and Snapchat (2011) did not exist.

Snapchat went public last week, and by the end of its first day of trading, was valued at US$33 billion.

Just take a moment to think about that.

An app, mainly used by kids to send quick greetings and filtered photos of themselves to each other, with hundreds of millions of dollars of losses, is worth more than all but 8 of the 2,000 publicly listed companies on the Australian stock exchange.

Snapchat, who famously refused a US$3 billion offer from Facebook in late 2013, is worth more than Woodside, Woolworths, Macquarie Group, QBE, Coca Cola Amatil, the REA Group… way more.

Snapchat, something dreamed up around 5 years ago. And it only ‘exists’ on a smartphone. Such is the power of the mobile/smartphone platform.

And so we turn to 2017, and as we move inexorably to the end of the current decade (less than 3 years now til 2020!), what will be the next big thing?

Some are tipping the Blockchain.

A whole world of mystery surrounds the blockchain. It is not easy to describe, or explain, and even its inventor is a mysterious Japanese person (persons?), who was (were?) rumoured to be living near Esperance.

You may have heard of Bitcoin, the online currency built off the blockchain platform, itself something invented only recently, after the GFC in 2008. But the blockchain (like the world wide web itself) can spawn many applications beyond bitcoin.

Simply put, the blockchain is a secure online ledger, providing permanent asset transaction summaries. Each asset, and each transaction (buying or selling) has its own ‘block’ linked together in ‘chains’, hence the blockchain – a line or even matrix of blocks chained together.

The key point to remember is that each unique block (a time stamped record) cannot be altered, ever. This is because this record is sent out to all the millions of computers around the world that are linked to the blockchain. Once sent out, it cannot be altered. It’s a permanent record.

The implications of this are that any asset transaction (such as transferring money or property or a contract or a share) can be uniquely recorded, and be immutable, irrefutable, unchangeable. This process can also happen quicker, and cheaper, than using a traditional intermediary.

So, potentially whole rafts of intermediaries (such as banks, real estate agents, any middle person really) can be disrupted away by the blockchain. The blockchain gives confidence to those involved in transactions (buyers and sellers) in the same way any broker or middle person might have done so up to now.

The reason the blockchain is so strong, and unhackable, is that as it is made up of individual blocks, that exist on millions of computers, simultaneously. In many ways, it has characteristics of the world wide web itself. Interspersed, with no single person in control. Anyone trying to change anything would have to have control of all those computers with access to a blockchain, and all blocks, at any one time. This is deemed impossible, and gives the blockchain its inherent power.

Once people start to recognise the simplicity and strength of the blockchain concept, they will start to trust it, and use it, to transact. Once this happens, banking, real estate, contracts, voting, stock trading, car exchanging and almost every market which involves ‘assets changing hands’ (which is what markets essentially do) could be disrupted and changed forever.

So, the blockchain could be the next biggest invention since the world wide web itself.

For hundreds of years we’ve had intermediaries help us with most of our transactions, as it’s too hard to run around and meet everyone in the market, and do it all ourselves. If the blockchain can do this for you, who now needs these intermediaries?

Yes, this may seem far fetched, but then again an app that makes funny filters for kids is now worth US$33 billion, and counting. 10 years ago, the devices on which it sits did not exist.

Remember also that Apple, almost bankrupt 20 years ago when Steve Jobs returned to the helm in 1997, is today the most valuable company in the world, at US$617 billion. Google, which did not even exist in 1997, is worth US$532 billion, and is the second. Rounding off the top 3 is another tech giant, Microsoft, at US$483 billion.

All these companies, and millions more, rely on the world wide web for their existence, something that did not exist until 1990. With the blockchain now out in the cybersphere, what else will be changed in the next 10 and 20 years? Perhaps pretty much everything.

~~

If you want to know more about the Blockchain (I’d strongly advise it), watch this 18 minute TED Talk by Don Tapscott.

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Outlook for WA business in 2017: better!

sunny times in WA

In a talk I delivered to the Western Suburbs Business Association last week, I struck a cautiously optimistic tone in regards to the prospects for business in WA in 2017. Most of those attending seemed to agree that things had been picking up of late, and perhaps in 2017 we would all just get on with business, and not worry about post mining-construction doom and gloom.

Here are the slides from the talk.

As always, start with a story, so I began with one of my favourites about the motorcylist in June 1944, having to turn around a convoy of armoured vehicles and trucks on a rainy country road just north of Portsmouth, UK. To find out out he did it, read this post.

The 3 main lessons from this story are:

  1. If you’re going in the wrong direction, admit it! (most managers can’t)
  2. Think about what direction you should be heading in (hint: the trend is your friend)
  3. Make sure you stick to the new direction (no returning to old ways)

While Nokia and Kodak famously did not find a better path, Samsung and Apple most notably did.

There’s no doubt that 2016 was a difficult year (for most, but not all, in businesses in WA). Apart from all the celeb deaths (no more than usual, statistically), we had the Brexit and Trump election shocks, more senate issues for PM Malcolm, a sluggish local economy  and the media got smashed (SCOOP went under, and The Sunday Times was bought by The West with barely a whimper).

In fact, 2016 was a relatively good year for WA stocks, as shown by the ‘BN30’ index of 30 representative WA ASX-listed companies. Starting the year at a base of 100, the BN30 ended it 20% higher at 120.

There was some good news around in 2016:

  • the US economy grew, and markets hit new records
  • US CO2 emissions were the lowest since 1991
  • The Giant Panda is off the endangered wildlife list, as are Tigers
  • Poverty levels fell, to their lowest levels
  • The Colombian government signed a peace deal with FARC

But there’s no doubt, some sectors in WA did it tough in WA:

  • Mining services
  • Retail
  • Property
  • Recruitment
  • Business Services

Mainly because:

  • WA population growth has stalled
  • Mining construction boom ended
  • Digital disruption
  • Uncertainty about the future

…. all fed in to lower business confidence, lower investment, less new jobs created.

Despite all this, unemployment peaked at 6.1%, and GDP grew (for the 25th successive year.)

There were some bright spots in the local economy:

  • ICT, tech and digital businesses did well
  • Professional services did OK as activity continued
  • Annuity (SaaS) businesses were fine
  • Agribusiness
  • Some miners, especially iron ore, gold and lithium were hot

On that last point, it should be noted that the mining boom is not over, even though the construction boom may have over. Mining, as an industry, is three times the size it was 10 years ago. It’s just that they are not building as many mines as they were during 2004-2012.

FMG’s share price rose 250% in 2016. Atlas Iron, once the darling of the stock market, and then pronounced dead, saw its shares rise from a penny to 4.5c. Long way off its prime, but still alive. For many, this signalled all is not lost. Atlas started paying down debt. FMG could be debt free soon.

What has great potential in WA business?

  • Tourism
  • Education
  • Aqua/agriculture
  • Mining/bio/tech startups and software
  • Many other industries

So looking to 2017 and beyond, there is much to be thankful for, and positive about in business in WA.

Much of what happens is in the mind anyway. If we think it, it may very well happen. We can create our own future, and we can certainly determine the success of our businesses by the attitude we take.

Plus, we live in paradise, lest we not forget. The sun is shining. The beaches are gorgeous. As is the wine.

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Public Speaking? Start with a story

tell a story

There are 2 really bad ways to start a speech, and most of the time when I hear someone speak in public, one or other of them is used.

The most common way, and one that I have fallen into the trap of doing myself a few times, is to throw up a slide with the title of your speech on it, your name, position, perhaps your twitter handle. You say ‘hello’, or something like that, thank the person who introduced you, then repeat the title slide with your name, and flick to a second slide with the agenda for your talk on it: maybe 4 or 5 bullet points sunken into a nice visual background, repeating that also.

I suppose we do this because it is the natural order of things. We had to do a cover sheet for our assignments at school, and we did a contents page. When we got to talk about our assignments in class, we were encouraged to do a power point slide with the title of our talk on it, and then the agenda for our talk. This was how we began our public speaking career.

Part of the reason this is so bad is that the human brain can read your slides very fast. Very, very fast. By the time you have taken your first breath on stage, and the slide has been up there for 0.5 seconds, the audience has already read it.

SO WHY ARE YOU READING IT OUT TO THEM?!!!!!

OK, now this is not the very worst way of starting a speech, but it is the second worst. The worst is to shamble up to the podium, look around the room, glance at your watch, adjust your notes, cough a few times, drink some water, murmur ‘Ermmm… ummmm … good morning/afternoon/evening..’ and then follow this with an apology of sorts (as if to curry favour with your audience)…”Errr, sorry, I’m not very used to public speaking… errr, how long have I got? OK, well, here we are, ummmm, today I’d like to…”

Cue slumping of audience, flicking open of social media from the audience’s smartphones, and you’re off to the worse possible start. You’ve lost your audience, and you’re only 15 seconds in.

There is ONLY ONE good way of starting a speech.

Well, possibly two. The second best method is to start with a quirky, surprising statement that takes people by surprise and makes them think.

“More photos will be taken this year than in the entire history of the planet to this date.” That’s it, your first sentence. ‘OK’, think the audience, ‘we’re off to the races here’ and they sit up.

If I was speaking about digital disruption/transformation (my favourite subjects) then this might get me off and cracking.

But it’s not the best start. The best start is to start with a story. The adult equivalent of ‘Once upon a time’.

The best orators do it, every time. JFK, Martin Luther King, Obama.

Steve Job’s wonderful Stanford commencement address in 2005 is 15 minutes long and has 3 stories from his life. Wonderfully, simply told, with points made powerfully. (If you’ve not heard it, please do yourself a favour and watch it.)

It’s such an easy technique, I am amazed not everyone does it. We are all wired to listen to stories. It’s how our ancestors and their ancestors before them passed down their learnings, around the camp fire, from generation to generation over millennia. It’s how we as children learned our vocabulary, and bonded with our parents by our bed at night.

It does not matter if you have a 20 minute keynote at a business sundowner or an hour long keynote at a conference. Launch into a story. Straight away.

Have a visual on the slide (no words) if you like. But no bullet points. No elaborate diagram.

Choose a story that will transform your audience, take them with you and fire their imagination. You’ll have them (immediately) eating out of your hands. Take 5 minutes or so telling your story, in all its detail, using lots of layered description: the colour of the sky, the ebb and flow of the waves, the scream of the seagulls. Transport your audience. If you do this well enough, at a good pace, they will come with you. Practice it. Many times, until it is fantastic.

Once the story is over, make the point(s) count. The story is a device to grab your audience, and make the analogous links to what you want to get across. Your (few) bullet points or visuals can help ram it home.

I have a hand full of favourite stories I like to wield in public speeches: one is about the germination of the idea for my startup, which actually happened (true story) the same night my wife and I were dragged on stage to perform with Dame Edna.

Or I might talk about the ‘cup drop moment‘. Another relates to a young motorcyclist in June 1994 doing a U-turn, just before D-Day, of the convoy of trucks down a narrow country road, using a field and a gate. Yet another involves my Dad, who, unbeknownst to us had a growing tumour on his brain (thankfully benign) which, over 5 years,  grew to the size of a golf ball before anyone knew it was there.

I use these to grab the audience’s attention, draw them in, and make my points. They remember the story, and they remember the points. And perhaps, they remember me.

Next time you are delivering a speech, start with a good story, told well. Next time, and every time after that. Your audience will thank you for it, and as a means of communication, nothing beats it.

2

Advice on starting a blog

write something

5 years ago I made it a new year’s resolution to start a blog. I’d been telling many of my clients they should blog and thought I should practice what I preach. I’d guest blogged (posted on someone else’s blog) but not run my own. I owned charliegunningham.com (and a few other) domain names and were not using them, so off I went.

If you have not started a blog yet (let’s put aside the reason why you should, or perhaps should not, for a moment), it is very easy to do so.

A 3 step process really:

  1. Choose your blogging platform – for me it was either WordPress (which I chose) or Blogger (owned by Google). These days you can use SquareSpace, and a whole raft of others. But I went with WordPress as it was the largest (250,000 posts are uploaded through WordPress daily), and I wanted to learn it’s ‘back end’ (the system that powers it, all those clever little themes and plugins).   So off I went to WordPress.com and got myself a free account.
  2. Buy a domain name (optional) and hook it up to your blog. You don’t have to do this, and can happily run with the web address of ‘Yourname.wordpress.com’, but there’s something nicer in allowing someone go to Yourname.com address. If you do this, then you are up for 2 regular fees (but they are not large)…
    1. the cost of buying and renewing your domain name. I already owned charliegunningham.com so there was no extra cost here, but every year I pay about US$13 (~A$17) to renew it.  I buy and renew my ‘.com’ names from Aplus.net and my ‘.com.au’ names from NetRegistry.com.au.
    2. the cost of hooking this up to your wordpress blog, and allowing those entering yourname.com into their browser to seamlessly finding your site. Another US$13 (A$17) a year to do this.
    3. And that’s it – sum investment, apart from my time blogging away, is ~$35 a year. Hosting all included.
  3. Write regular posts. This is the time consuming bit, and I’ll talk more about this below. Mechanically, wordpress makes it easy – you click POSTS > ADD NEW and off you go – think of a title (which becomes part of the all-important web address of that post) and then write the main body of your post. When ready, hit PUBLISH and off it goes up to your website (and, once you get some subscribers, it will arrive instantaneously in their InBox).

So, getting going is easy. If you skip step 2, it can all be done inside a few minutes.

Like all new things, it can seem exciting at first, and then that initial feeling can wear off. What am I going to write? What if no one reads it, or comments on my posts? Does that matter? Why am I doing this anyway?

I’d have some good reasons for doing it before you begin. For me, it was to learn about the wordpress platform, so I could talk from experience when advising people. As time wore on, it became a weekly rhythm (and discipline) to write something interesting on topics that interested me, and I hoped others. Things I learned about my favourite subjects (digital, ebusiness, tech, strategy, leadership, occasionally politics or even cricket) I would pass on in 500-800 word articles. It helped order my own arguments.

Over time, I found it was good to talk about my blog, sending people there, so they could register for my posts. It was personal branding of a sort. By sharing my latest posts on Twitter, LinkedIN and Facebook, I could build an audience. I started to receive feedback in the form of comments on the blog, or within my social networks. Once LinkedIN opened up its own internal posting mechanism (a blog system within LinkedIN really) I would take some posts and repost them there, further promoting my own blog.

If you stick at it, you will also notice a few things happening. 5 years in, I have developed my own style. When I started, I was not yet working in the media. These past few years I have written over 150 articles for Business News, and learnt how real writers – journalists and sub editors – work and this, I think, has improved my own writing. I post at least once a week, without fail.

Another point is that I can categorically testify that blog posts are ‘cat nip’ for Google. Google loves nothing more than indexing fresh text. It’s what it does. And new posts are full of exactly that. Fresh text. Now that I’ve posted over 300 times on my own blog, every single post is indexed and searchable on Google, forever. New posts are found within minutes.

This means if you’d like to be found in a Google search, then make sure the title of your post (and many words within it) includes those key search words. Remember, the title is given high priority by Google, as are the keywords that appear regularly within the post itself.

I have chosen the title of this blog deliberately, with key words such as ‘advice’, ‘blog’, ‘starting’ appearing. Notice how the web address (URL) also contains these words.

Google “Calling it strategic does not make it important” and the 1st and 2nd results are my  original and LinkedIN posts from November 2015. Out of 369 million results.

Posts I have done only a few minutes earlier are being picked up on Google. It’ll be interesting to see how this post goes, and if I can get it up onto the first page of Google, or near it, within a few hours of me hitting the publish button.

Above all, make your posts full of relevant and meaningful content about your topic area, and others interested in those areas will be able to find you. In that way, you’ll become an influential expert.

If I was a small business owner, I would simply use a WordPress blog, buy a domain name, hook it up, and then write about my chosen expertise, the jobs I do, the pitfalls, advice … in fact, I did up a wordpress blog for a mate of mine who is a bathroom renovator. He works on his own, has done so for years, and never needs to advertise. What he now also does (and WordPress make this so easy) is to take some photos of the bathroom before he started work on it, then some progress and after shots, and posts these. He does this all from his iPhone, using the free WordPress app. His site already comes ‘mobile responsive’, meaning it looks fine on all devices.

$35 a year, including website name and hosting. Now that he’s been doing this for a few years and has published dozens of posts, when you enter “bathroom renovation doubleview” or “bathroom renovation wembley downs” into a Google search he’s up the top of the first page of organic (free) search results. These are highly competitive search terms, yet he’s there amid some major players. It costs him very little to do this, beyond spending $35 a year, and having the nous to take photos and post them onto his blog site, JSBaker.com.au. And, more importantly, hundreds of competing bathroom renovators are nowhere near that first page.

So, might blogging work for you? Yes it might. But it’s not for everyone. All I can say is that I have learnt a lot about the power of blogging these past 5 years, and am still learning.

~~

EPILOGUE:

As some of you more keenly aware folks may have noticed, I have made a slight tweak to the categories I will blog under. 5 years on from when I started, I am now more interested in the digital transformation of businesses, strategy around the digital disruption of various industries and how organisations and their people can best respond, plan and take advantages from the immense changes going on around us.

Hence, I will now post on these topics: digital, transformationstrategy and leadership. (Less venting about the English cricket team and politics I promise.) I invite you to stay around for the ride… the next few years are going to be critically important for the future of our local economy.

~~

POST SCRIPT:

blogI posted this on Australia Day, in mid afternoon.

By the following morning, the post was already on the first page of Google if you searched “Advice on starting a blog”, out of 23 million+ results…

 

0

You can complain, wait or do something

leader adjusts the sails

As the seasonal period of goodwill recedes, and people trudge back to work (only to grab another week off before the end of January while the kids are still on holidays), some of us are prone to ponder the state of the world, and how 2017 might run its course.

This time last year I was optimistic about the coming year, despite the slew of celebrity deaths that kicked it off. In some ways, this may have been the harbinger of things to come, a portent of the gloom that was 2016. I did not predict Brexit nor the Trump presidency. But neither did I predict that the Aussie stock market would rise 20%  …well, a selected group of WA ASX listed stocks anyway, as shown by the BN30 index, something my business posted daily from Jan 4th 2016. It started at 100 (index) and today sits above 120.

Like many, I knew there was disquiet in areas of the western populace, but did not think there was enough to herald the UK to leave the EU, or for the orange bullying buffoon to actually get elected to the most powerful position on the planet (is it though?)… even though he garnered nearly 3 million LESS votes than his opponent. Malcolm Turnbull’s (nail bitingly close) reelection seems amazing in hindsight, compared to the crazy results elsewhere.

Meanwhile the Aussie economy ticked along, with some high points in iron ore miners and gold, and varied other places. The global economy also improved, helped by a resurgent US (now raising its interest rates, not once, but twice) and an OK China, expanded global trade. The Indian, East Asian, Brazilian and other economies are now part of the global picture, and contribute to its future much more than its past. The European economy has less sway than before. The Aussie economy is now entering its 26th year without a recession, and there does not seem to be one on the horizon either.

However, back on the ground, things are tough for many in business in WA. Real estate sales are slow, as is advertising, print, retail, media and the whole raft of mining and professional services. IT & technology is a growth area, as is aged care services. There are deals being done, IPOs and reverse take overs being planned and executed, money being raised. Not on the grand scale of the mining expansion from 2004-2012 no, but it is there nonetheless. And it’s patchy.

So here we go 2017. Things could bump along for a while before lifting, but most people now think the worst is behind us. Whereas I got the Brexit and US election totally wrong, I am not going to predict elections in WA, Germany or France, but a change in government in all 3 is not out of the question. Plus sa change… as the French like to say…

We can complain about the wind, or just expect it to change. The leader, as John Maxwell once noted, is the one that adjusts the sails, tweaks the business, sees opportunities, and sails off in a new direction, plotting their own course. That is what we should do in 2017. Happy sailing!

4

Busking in Perth – memories from 25 years ago

Ruff n Ready

The first time I came to Perth, WA, was exactly 25 years ago, as a busker. Christmas 1991. We had a brilliant 10 days, and – incredibly – each made enough to cover our return airfares.

At the time, I was living and working in Singapore, where busking was prohibited. Something about it being against the law to have two or more people gather together in a public place; a law that had been brought in to help quell communism in the sixties. Singapore did quite a good job of quelling communism, but that’s a different story. The strange remnant of this law (since lifted) meant that 2 fellow band members who had travelled down to Perth the year before (‘where there’s a terrific street entertainment scene‘) said we should visit this Christmas and do some busking.

Yes, I had fellow band members. I had moved to Singapore the year earlier, and somehow inveigled my way into a fairly well known (in expat circles anyway) 6-piece rock n roll tribute band (the ‘Ruff n Ready Roadshow’) which was made up of teachers, mainly from the same school I was working at. Anyway, 4 of us agreed to do it, and so we cobbled together a skiffle set of rock n roll classics, interspersed with some silly jokes and improvisations.

Our first port of call was Council House to get the required $2 busking license. It showed some red dots on a CBD map of the city, which denoted where we could busk and off we trotted. We saw one small stage set up in one of the malls, and set to work. Everyone pretty much ignored us, and by the end of day 2, we had not much to show for it.

Oh well, we thought, at least we’ve given it a go. And we are hardly street performers anyway. We’d do 20 or so dinner dances in Singapore, but this live performing to Christmas shoppers malarky was a different ball game. One upshot of actually performing on the street was meeting other performers, many of whom do it for a living, and do very nicely thank you. They can sense when it’s a good time to do a show, know exactly how to build up a crowd and milk it for all it’s worth. People I met that week, I would meet a year later in Covent Garden in London, or in Edinburgh at festival time.

The person I was staying with said that by performing on a stage, Perth people might think we were paid by the council, so the next day we went and found a spot outside Myers’ main entrance in the central shopping mall. There was a steady throng of people there, who were happy to stop and listen. Suddenly the money started pouring in. People would sing along, laugh at our silliness (we looked a picture in our multi coloured teddy boy outfits and greased up hair – the photo above shows us in Fremantle that same week), and would generally get the idea that it was time to pay up when we ended each set with the Motown/Beatles standard ‘Money, (that’s what I want)’ .

On one occasion, the Salvation Army lady was standing near our audience getting donations for her tin, so we decided to donate a whole set’s worth to her. You should have seen her face.

Never change a winning formula, we thought, so we played there for most of the week pre Christmas, and a few days after. In between, we did a day in Fremantle (not so good tippers that lot), and also got booked to play on stage in Forrest Chase for the Carols by Candlelight and were entered into a busking competition (we came second!).

All the while I was struck by Perth’s beauty: the clean streets, stunning blue skies, bright sunshine, great coffee and beautiful beaches. The friendliness of the people and their genuine warmth (we were asked to play at so many parties & corporate gigs, but it was always the week after we’d left). ‘I’m going to live here one day‘, I thought. And so it would prove, about 5 years later. For 2017 denotes the 20th year that Lisa and I moved to Perth. We’re set here for life, and every year about this time, when I find myself walking through the mall or Forrest Place, I always remember the time, a quarter of a century ago, I first landed here, and strummed a tea chest base for 10 days and sampled my first (of many thousand) flat whites.

Merry Christmas Perth, and a Happy New Year. You’re beautiful.

1

Get out of your social media bubble, easily

popping-the-bubble

As a former teacher said to me once – There are those who do, and those who watch. I remember when social media burst upon the scene, well, not so much burst, as crept into our lives, only to now (almost) take over, there were those who scorned the Twitter, the LinkedIN, the Facebook and all those that have come since. And there were those who jumped in early, while others became hooked later on.

Those who decided to watch, chose not to start accounts, not to spend countless hours thumb-flicking through the ever lengthening news feeds, nor posting sunsets, their lunch or a selfie. And they felt strangely superior, in a strangely superior kinda way. They probably were ‘of a certain age’, or disposition or just felt busy enough as they were. Perhaps they were a bit conservative and a bit tech-unsavvy. Either way, they hung back.

The rest of us slowly warmed up to social media, and found new friends, re-engaged with former colleagues and school mates, and became amazed at the information that could be shared, instantly, within almost anyone, anytime. We were never bored again!

Slowly more and more of us were on it, for an hour here, and hour there, and then increasingly most of our spare waking moments. We found ways to use it in business, and we settled on an equilibrium of our favourite social media platforms, and ways of using it. We became annoyed at the self-promoting wannabees, who would clutter our newsfeed with their humble bragging or pushy salesy ways. Some of this would make us unfriend them or leave a group they were in.

All along, these social media sites were learning more and more about us: not only who our friends were, but what we clicked on, liked, commented on and pages we visited. Slowly, it began to give us information it had learned we liked. They knew how to drag us back, keep us engaged, clicking and liking. They sold this information to advertisers who could target us individually, and as a group.

In the meantime, something happened to our feed. It got personal. We all have a feed specific to us, specific to what we had done before. We were (literally) fed what we know we liked – be it news, sports, entertainment, whatever.

About 17% of your total feed is fed to you. The rest is invisible, unless you do something quite simple – tell your newsfeed to give you the ‘Most Recent’ news, not just what Facebook believes are the ‘Top Stories’. Remember, your feed is what you see, not what anyone else sees. You are (actually) in control.

fb-feedUnless you like this Facebook-decided feed bubble, switch to the ‘most recent’ news feed. At the top left of your Facebook HOME page (or news feed) is a simple pull down, ‘News Feed’. Click the pull down option triangle thing to the right and choose ‘Most Recent’. You’ll now get all the latest news from your friends and pages you’ve liked, not just what Facebook has decided. It will make your news feed look ‘more full’ as it will include everything in chronological order (which is what it originally was designed to do, and did.)

As you can see from the graphic above, there is also a little wheel graphic to the left. Click this and then ‘Edit your Preferences’ and you can tailor exactly what you see in your feed. You can decide to see only what your friends post (not friends of friends, or even the pages you’ve liked), unfollow friends who will still remain connected to you but you won’t see all their stuff in the feed, you can reconnect with people you’ve unfollowed and find some pages that might interest you.

Furthermore, go up to your privacy settings (top blue bar, the icon which looks like a padlock) and there is a whole array of things you can lock down or open up. Have you ever looked in this area?

Most people have no clue on how to tweak these settings, and are left with the default. Or they may have made a change years ago and forgotten it.

So what, I hear you scream?

Well, as Google started giving us customised search results years ago, and Facebook is also giving you a sample of your information, and both are eating the internet (swallowing up the lion’s share of viewing time and ad dollars), so we are being given a version of the world these 2 companies believe we want to see.

We’re actually living in our own bubble. We are discovering less and less new information. We are learning less. We are being (quite literally) dumbed down. Surprising new information is less common.

An excellent BBC ‘Seriously’ podcast analysed this recently (it’s well worth a listen). Is it partially to blame for the tribal politics we now live in? No one listens to the other side anymore, there is no debate, only point scoring and name calling. Even if the facts are on your side, we get Brexit and Trump. We are gathering facts we are already programmed to agree with. We don’t think beyond the headline. We are post facts. It’s all about feelings.

So, let’s break away from the same old same old. Update your newsfeed to ‘most recent’. Secure the privacy settings you want, not that which is given. Go out of your way to understand alternative view points. Become more rounded, not a greyed out facsimile of your good self.

With social media now becoming part of the traditional media landscape (it’s where most people get their news), then this is more important than ever. The role of the traditional media is to reach out and explain the issues, and delve into detail. Mobile and social media can be platform to distribute the more rounded view, to keep a sense of perspective, to pique intellectual curiosity, and to protect the citizens from making uncivilised decisions. Or is it too late?