How to Have More Meaningful Conversations

In business and in pleasure, conversations are our roadmaps through the day. They are how we share information, feelings, and ideas, and the nature of our conversations dictates the all-important relationships between ourselves and those around us.

It’s no wonder that conversing can be pretty energy-consuming. And we can all be guilty of avoiding eye contact with others for fear of being drawn into a draining conversation from which we think we will take no value. Yet a conversation is never about one person: you get out of it what you put in, and a more important question to ask yourself before getting stuck in is not so much ‘what can I get from this conversation’ as ‘what can I bring?’

Making that conversation worthwhile for all involved begins with committing to it wholeheartedly. Putting your visual attention elsewhere – let’s face it, we’re talking about phones and computer screens here – literally diminishes your brain’s capacity to deal with the words that you hear. And that’s before we even get into the importance of demonstrating your respect for the person you’re talking with (or at least their right to be listened to!). Keep eye contact, repeat difficult concepts back to make sure you understand properly, and you will find the other person remains more engaged with you and your ideas, too.

After all, there is an important distinction between just hearing, and actually listening to someone. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to mute your inner voice while conversing, especially if it’s a heated chat and you have mental rebuttals just queuing up to be voiced. Deliberately process both the logic and the emotion behind what the other person is saying, though, and you should find a greater level of empathy arises between the two of you, improving the chances of a mutually agreeable outcome.

Watch out not just for what you say, but what you don’t say, to engender empathy. Giving unsolicited advice, for example, is likely to cause the other person to shut down on you – whether you’re offering it for their benefit or for your own! A better approach if you intuit that they could do with guidance or fresh ideas is to ask questions and get the situation out in the air, helping them to see the lay of the land more clearly and opening up opportunities to work towards successful resolutions.

Stories are another way to provide guidance or wisdom without coming across like a know-it-all. Folk remember stories far better than they can recall statistics – it’s just the way our brains are wired – and meaningful narrative will engage each of you on both an intellectual and an emotional level. A good story tends to revolve around conflict, and a good connection between the characters involved and the themes of the anecdote. Just remember one thing: always tell the short version.

Social topics can also help to open things up and create a bond between talkers. Too much work talk gets everyone down, while sharing or discovering something unexpected about each other’s outside interests and opinions is an excellent way to broaden a relationship and increase the options for future encounters and solutions. Be wary how much you talk about yourself, but if there’s a topic that you’re passionate about then that passion should come across even if you stray away from your own experiences and ask questions about the other person’s feelings on the subject.

Now you’ve figured out how to have deeper, more impactful conversations, just be wary of overdoing it. Not everyone is up for a deep conversation every time or all the time. People are busy both in their outward tasks and in their inner minds, and there’s nothing like a carefully judged silence to let people relax and process the events of the day. In particular, it’s been shown that an unfavourable balance between lots of small talk and less regular, deeper conversations can impact upon an individual’s reported levels of happiness.

This new infographic lays out the top principles for excellent conversations in a straightforward way, and it’s worth checking in on from time to time to tune-up your chit-chat game – making the experience of spending time with others more fulfilling for yourself and those around you.

John is a digital nomad specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth topics, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans.

Image: Unsplash

How to create your own small business in your spare time

A regular job in the industry you love is a great place to start a career, but it can take years of making the tea, making connections, and accumulating experience before you find that your daily work is truly satisfying your needs. If you find yourself regularly putting in forty hours per week and still getting home with energy and inspiration to burn, it can be both lucrative and educational to redirect that force towards building your own small business – even if you have no ambitions to conquer the world on your own. Indeed, running a small, personal business in your spare time can be a great way to put your true ambitions in perspective and to have a bit of fun on the side while your serious career develops.

And unlike most start-ups, your ‘hobby business’ really doesn’t require any financial investment to get off the ground. If you have a computer and a decent wi-fi connection, today it is relatively easy to find a product or service you can provide on-hand. This could involve using Skype to tutor students in the subject in which you’re qualified, or writing articles or even eBooks about the same.

There are tons of websites out there that are able to put you in contact with customers for a bit of freelance work that’s related to your industry: fiverr, peopleperhour, and upwork are three of the best-known, although you need to take care to get paid a decent rate for what you do. On the eBook front, if you don’t mind hacking away at the format of your document a few times it’s possible to get it out to a range of online merchants via SmashwordsKindle Direct Publishing is another option, and they also let you market your book as paperback to be issued by print-on-demand. Do note that you’ll need to put just as much effort into marketing your masterpiece as writing it, if you want it to reach further than family and friends!

You could take perhaps the more sensible option, and concentrate on making your hobby into a source of income – to give your mind a bit of rest from the pervading issues of your regular working week. If cooking is your thing (and you’re good at it) you can find freelance work preparing meals for special occasions as a chef-for-hire, via a website such as hireachef. This is a great way to meet new people, get a peek into how other people live, and get some totally new insights on life to put your main career in perspective. There might be the odd glass of wine in it, too.

Or perhaps you like to take photographs, to paint, or to make furniture. Instead of clogging up your hard drive or your garage with the things you make, you are sure to find a respectable customer base for your handmade crafts using Shutterstock, Etsy or eBay. Put your digital marketing knowledge into action, and you should at least find yourself earning enough on Saturday afternoons to fund your Saturday nights.

For some people, the idea of working on the weekends is a nightmare, but for those who are only relaxed when they have a serious project at hand, and only take a project seriously when the results are quantifiable, the appeal of the side-hustle will be strong. The key thing is to choose the right angle to work – and for a few more ideas on how to put a domestic twist on your business expertise you can check out this new infographic from Quick Quid.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Image: Pexels

How to win an argument every time (according to science)

Ever feel you’re fighting a losing battle at work?

Compromise and empathy are valuable assets, but sometimes you need to outright get your point across if progress is to be made. Laboring on under a false understanding can just create more trouble down the line – and nobody learns anything if their misconceptions are never challenged.

Sometimes, however, even if you do make a stand for the truth – be it a better technique, a business insight, or an interpersonal issue – you can walk away from the encounter feeling crushed and defeated. Losing an argument when you know that you’re right feels even worse than not speaking up at all.

So how can you make sure that your voice is heard, your points are understood, and your case is won? Well, like so many aspects of workplace life, you can go by instinct – or you can learn some proven techniques.

There are three stages to winning an argument the smart way:

  1. engagement,
  2. expression, and
  3. agreement.

You need to engage your opponent, because coming at them in an all-out attack will just raise their defenses before you’ve even made your point. Don’t frame the argument as an conflict, but rather a discussion. Quite aside from the fact that you might actually be wrong and/or learn something from listening, asking your opponent to explain their side first can foster a rapport, so they are more likely to trust you when it’s time to make your own points. Instead of countering their arguments, begin by asking open questions – especially if you spot a loose thread in their logic. Often their argument will fall apart in their own hands.

Back up this period of listening by repeating back what you’ve understood. This proves you weren’t just pretending to listen – and can also help loosen those threads a little further. And maintain friendly eye contact, but don’t force a smile. False smiles betray themselves, jeopardizing the trust you’ve built.

So now you’re leading the discussion on your terms, it’s time to express your side of things. But first, let’s skip back in time for a moment: you need to make sure you’ve researched your argument! Just as you can easily expose the flaws in your opponent’s poorly-thought-out logic, it is likely that you think you know your own logic better than you do (this is known as ‘illusion of explanatory depth’). Everybody is right until they are proved wrong.

Illustrate your points with visuals and back them up with evidence and supporting arguments from other people – particularly those who are noted in the relevant field. Unless your opponent is a troll or a contrarian, this will strengthen your argument by demonstrating that your mutual peers agree with you. Speak quietly, and soften potential aggression by using ‘could it be’ and ‘might we say’-type phrases, and little cues for agreement such as ‘isn’t it?’ and ‘wouldn’t you say…’. This reduces the impression that you are an opponent to be defeated, and instead promotes an atmosphere of doubt, discussion, and rational progress.

Just as you flattered your opponent into engaging with you, you can finish them off – er, secure their agreement, that is – by working with their point of view rather than getting hung up on your own case. One way to do this is to find a particularly silly area of their logic and to develop it to an absurd extreme. This is a great strategy when your opponent is clearly trapped in their own logic, and hasn’t considered the real world implications of their claims. You probably already know this technique: when your kindergarten teacher asked you, ‘if Billy told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that, too?’, your ‘Billy told me to snap the pencil’ argument dissolved in an instant.

And if total destruction of your opponent is not your over-arching intention, you can swing them over to your way of thinking by entertaining the common ground between your arguments. In a business scenario, chances are you want the same results – but are divided over the best way of getting there. Highlighting the elements that you are agreed upon can help pave the way from their high castle to yours.

Indisputable victory in an argument is not always the healthiest way forward, but if you want to sway things in your favor or to correct dangerous misconceptions, it can help to have a few debating tools on hand to do so. Check out this infographic for some additional tips – and don’t be afraid to be wrong, because it’s only by acknowledging our flaws that we can move past them.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans. 

Image: Pexels

What a Business Financial Statement Can Tell You About the Health of Your Business

When you run your own small business, it can be difficult to keep an objective distance from what you do.

Bills come in, sales go out, you have your day-to-day goals and you watch the curvy line of profit and loss make its inexorable progress throughout the financial year. You have your big one-year and five-year plans, and it takes a serious upheaval for you to reconsider them.

Even if things take a surprising turn – a rough patch or an unexpected boom period – it is human nature to swallow these changes and rationalize the impossibility of them changing the business plan on which you worked so hard. Maybe you assure yourself that things will work out anyway, or that this is no time to take a risk by deviating from your roadmap.

If you alone are responsible for this business plan and for keeping your company afloat, there might not be anyone else around to challenge your views. This is just one reason why maintaining your company’s financial statement is wise business practice. It also means you have a document ready to present to potential investors or collaborators, and that you’ll only need to give it a tune up when the time comes to approach your bank for a loan to take your business to the next level.

But while it’s always pleasant to look at a sheet of healthy, blossoming figures, even when business is booming the actual process of putting your financial statement together can be intimidating. If you started your company because there was a service you were keen to provide, or an idea for a product you were excited to build and sell, then sitting in front of Excel trying to make the numbers add up probably seems difficult – and definitely not a lot of fun.

When you break the document down into its three component parts, however, it starts to seem more straightforward. And once you’ve created your first one, you’ve done most of the hard work – and all that remains is to update it every quarter, or when you are faced with an investment opportunity.

So what are those three components all about?

The first section is your balance sheet, which gives a birds-eye view of your company’s position. The left hand side of this sheet should show your assets – the cash value of the stock and property owned by the company. This is broken down into ‘current’ assets, meaning those that are likely to be converted to cash within the next twelve months, and ‘non-current’ assets, indicating those you’ll hang on to for longer, such as office furniture or vehicles. The right hand side of the balance sheet is your liabilities – the debts you need to pay. Again these are divided into current liabilities (such as a small loan that you will repay within a year) and non-current ones (your mortgage, for example.)

The balance of this section (your assets minus your liabilities) is represented as the ‘shareholder’s equity’ – what you would be left with if you sold off your assets and settled your debts right now.

The remaining two sections provide different ways to look at the current profitability of your business. Section two, your Income Statement, pits your revenues and gains (including sales, service charges, and any interest you might be earning on your business account) against all expenses and losses (equipment, salaries, rent etc.) for a given period, most commonly the past quarter. This gives an indication of the general health and profitability of your business as it stands.

The final section, your cash-flow statement, is a more specific version of the same thing. Here, your profits and losses should only refer to the cash that’s come in or gone out over the same period. It is a more tangible picture of the current state of your business, not taking into account non-cash elements such as depreciation.

To give you a clearer look of just how it functions, you may be interested to take a look at this handy new visual guide – a kind of dissection of the business financial statement. Get your first statement out of the way, and you’ll find you have a much clearer perspective on the current health of your business – and what you need to do to make the next great leap.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Image: Pexels

How to build your emotional intelligence and look out for those around you

There are few responsibilities we have at work that won’t be handed over to computers and automatons in the decades to come, but one skill that will never be fully devolved to the robots is emotional intelligence.

Every encounter you have at work is defined by the emotional intelligence of those involved. Even when you work by yourself, the way you respond to challenges and set-backs is defined by your so-called ‘EQ’.

So while Silicon Valley boffins work away at ‘affective computing’, a form of artificial intelligence that will augment our own use of empathy, insight, and self-control. Ultimately, you remain responsible for your own interpersonal relationships and how you manage your emotions.

If it’s an area of your game – and, indeed, your very existence – that you’ve neglected, it could be time to pay a little closer attention to your emotional intelligence. Maintaining high levels of EQ can help make your workplace a more pleasant, creative, productive place to be, as well as reducing your personal stress levels and enabling you to identify, work towards, and achieve your fundamental ambitions.

Get to know your own emotional universe a little better, and you will come to understand how those around you function, too. Hold regular meetings with yourself, and take good minutes. Ask yourself not how you’ve performed today, but how you’ve felt, and how you’ve reacted to issues that have arisen. If your instinct has been to hide from, shout at, or bury problems as they’ve emerged, you can probably consider yourself in need of a thorough emotional overhaul.

Find a quiet moment and a pencil and paper and try to trace back your flawed reactions to their basic underlying causes. Did you hide because you feel inadequate? Shout because you felt out of control? Bury a task because you felt swamped by your workload? The good news is: these are symptoms of underlying problems that can be addressed in positive ways.

Feelings of inadequacy cause some of the worst reactions in human beings. We lash out or hide away because we’re afraid of being found out. But these are not solutions that will help next time those feelings rear their ugly head.

Instead, use feelings of inadequacy as an opportunity to address potential areas of improvement. Turn a task that frightens you into a learning experience, or into a chance to collaborate with a like-minded soul. Figure out how you can turn mistakes or weaknesses into strengths – for example, by using gaps in your understanding as a prompt to ask ‘childlike’ questions about the way that things are done, and to expose potential areas of improvement.

When you know yourself better, and feel more confident dealing with your emotions, you will be better equipped to understand and facilitate the emotions of others. When you deal with a colleague or customer who responds in a way you didn’t expect, try to put yourself in their shoes. What have they already been through today? How has your part in the interaction derailed their expectations? Are they acting in a way that suggests they could be feeling stressed, out of their depth, betrayed?

When this is the case, it is time to look both ways. Help your colleague along with similar EQ tools to those that you’ve been developing. If your employee feels inadequate, turn their tough task into a training opportunity. If they’re red in the face and ready to explode, suggest everyone takes a deep breath and counts to ten. And look at yourself: have you said something aggressive or defensive to provoke them because of your own emotional state?

Well, the computers have got it easy compared to us. But actually, a few mindfulness techniques and a concerted effort to take the time to improve your levels of empathy and self-knowledge, can put you in control sooner than you’d think. Check out this new visual guide for some great ideas on how to do so.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Image: Pexels

How to give negative feedback to your employees

Positivity has become something of a cult the past few years. Like political correctness and the ‘#gratitude’ craze, it comes from a good place – but is meaningless if performed by rote, rather than discovered through respect and mindfulness.

Negativity is by no means a healthy attitude, but point-by-point identifying of negative trends within an atmosphere of constructive support can help to identify means of improvement that might be overlooked by those wary to dwell on failure or mistakes. If you have an employee who is underperforming or plain out of line, restricting yourself to positive discourse can severely limit your ability to address and rectify the problem. But how can you deliver negative feedback without overstepping the mark?

You can take some of the burden off your shoulders by opening a feedback session with a period of self-review. Giving your employee a voice will make them less likely to feel victimized by the remainder of the session. They may already be aware of the issue you want to confront, or they may unearth the issue or the reasons behind it when given free reign to talk about their performance. Heck, they might even confess to something you hadn’t picked up on!

It’s likely their self-review will not be in sync with your own opinion, but listen to their side of the story, and use questions rather than statements to try to get a better understanding where they’re coming from. Be prepared to change your opinion or your plan of action in response to what you learn. Hopefully, your air of dignified humility will rub off on your troubled colleague.

That said, you should enter the room with a plan – even if it might end up changing. Have specific examples of their mistakes available, and relate them to concrete work issues and statistics rather than on personality traits. Don’t fall back on the classic positive-negative-positive pattern unless you really have something positive to say. The idea of sandwiching negative feedback between positive comments is well-known today, and you will lose trust if you are not completely sincere in all your points.

Finish up your feedback with some direct modes of action. Targets, behaviors and techniques are all more powerful – and trackable – than “be better” or “work harder”. And before you go, ask for feedback on your feedback. Make sure that the reasons for your criticism have been understood, that your employee knows the path forward, and that they think you’ve been fair. This way you can leave them feeling empowered, make sure you’re not missing anything, and build on your feedback technique for next time.

These approaches are all most effective in a workplace that has a healthy feedback culture. Holding regular review sessions is a great way to check in with your staff and keep the dialogue open. If they understand that negative – but constructive – feedback is part and parcel of the workplace, and they are accustomed to giving and receiving it, the process will be much smoother when a serious problem arises.

Your first such meeting can be dedicated to sharing the art of feedback. In a healthy company, not only is nobody afraid to speak up, but each employee recognizes the value of their ideas and opinions on everyone else and the business as a whole. It can take a while for this atmosphere to flourish, so don’t rush it – start slowly, and build the process over the first few weeks. Hopefully your crew will come to value the empowerment that comes with shared responsibility, and to feel accountable to the team and not just the boss. Let them know the rules and make sure it’s a safe place for people to be honest about negative trends or incidents from which the group can learn. Arguments might occur, especially at first, but these can be healthy too – rather than stamping them out, try instead to arbitrate and help your colleagues to figure things out between them. This can truly strengthen your squad.

This new guide provides clear steps to establishing that culture of feedback, and ideas on how to handle those difficult moments when backhanded compliments are no longer cutting it and negative feedback is called for. Learn these ideas well, and your experience of negative feedback is likely to produce positive results.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Image: Pexels

How to achieve your goals by improving your self-discipline

Breakfast is not just the most important meal of the day, but also the most important meeting you’ll have: a chance to check in with yourself, remember what it’s all about, and strengthen your resolve to succeed. Success in business means not just managing your assets, your network, and your office, but above all: managing yourself. Ambition and hard work are a good start, but without rhythm and regularity it is easy to lose your flow, and wind up stranded from your original vision.

Simply put, in business there is no sustainability without self-discipline. If you are concerned that your dwindling energy levels are compromising your ability to fulfill your potential, that you are hiding from responsibilities that require regular attention, or that you’re giving in too frequently to distractions, it is time to take a serious look at your levels of self-control.

Fortunately, there are a number of techniques for doing so, many of which have been suggested or verified by experts. These can be as simple as hiding temptation from your sight or avoiding distractions. If you find yourself reaching for your smart phone every two minutes when you know you should be concentrating on your spreadsheets, hide it. Put it in a drawer or, better still, out back in your locker. Tests have shown this works with kids and candy – and what is that smart phone if not candy for your bored eyes?

Then there are more grown-up, professional methods you can try. We all become jaded with our ambitions from time to time. We forget why we got into the game in the first place, or are dragged down by the sensation that our competitors are achieving more with less. Giving in to these feelings will just make things worse. Instead, highlight the positive values that drive your daily work. Make a list of the reasons it’s important for you to stay strong and fulfill your responsibilities. And visualize the end results: not just how they will affect you, but the benefits they will have for other people. These techniques have been shown to strengthen the user’s willpower.

It can also be a question of lifestyle. Poor sleep invariably leads to poor self-discipline. This is not just a matter of fatigue-induced laziness: sleep deprivation actually affects the way your prefrontal cortex operates. That’s the part of the brain responsible for self-regulation, so it’s worth making sure it’s in top working order when it’s online! Another lifestyle factor is the company you keep. You need two kinds of friends (and hopefully they overlap a bit). The first kind is the type that exercise their own self-control in an exemplary manner. Hanging out with well-disciplined people makes you better disciplined. (Probably your mother told you that when you were hanging out with wrong’uns as a child!) The second type of buddy you need is someone who’s prepared to look out for you. Having friends or family members that give you regular reminders to stick to your good intentions can be really effective.

All the same, it’s important to make sure that you’re not chasing somebody else’s dream. It has been shown in studies that our willpower soon runs low if we’re trying to please others instead of focusing on our own desires. If you’re not sure whether this is you, return to our first method: make that list of personal values. If they don’t match the goal for which you’re aiming, maybe you’re honing your discipline towards the wrong goal.

Now that you have a pretty good idea on how to pursue your self-discipline workout regime, one last tip: start with a bang. Don’t try to segue softly into your new mode of operation, but choose instead a specific start point and call it Day Zero. Research has shown that setting a date to start your new regimen can actually make you more likely to see it through.

For a step-by-step plan on how to integrate these ideas and more into your self-discipline campaign, have a run through this new visual guide. Self-discipline is not just a trait you are born with or without: it is a skill you can build on and practice on your rise to the top.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Image: Flickr

One Cow Describes Eight Business Models

Business models have diversified and evolved in unpredictable ways over the past couple of decades. Those businesses that have thrived have been the ones who were best able to not only take advantage of the new possibilities offered by the world wide web, but to predict the ways that the internet would change the way that consumers think and behave – both online and offline.

Online business economics do not exist in a vacuum: they have grown out of and exploited previously proven ways of doing things. It is quite simple to get a basic understanding of the names for new and existing business models by analogizing them to one of the oldest trades of all: the milk market!

Let’s take a look at eight of today’s most common business models:

Direct Sales Model. If you have one cow and you sell the milk it produces directly from door to door, then congratulations – you have a direct sales model. The classic modern example of this is Avon, who until recently dispatched their salespeople with suitcases full of make-up supplies to knock on doors and try to make a deal. Today, online direct sales marketing is more likely to take the shape of a bit of online networking and organizing, followed by a ‘shopping party’ hosted by the salesperson in their home. Think Origami Owl, Mary Kay etc.

The Freemium Model. You have one cow, and you give away the milk for free – but customers have to pay for a carton to hold the milk. Emerging from the more utopian ideals of ‘shareware’ in the programming community of the 1980s, Freemium is a combination of free stuff (a service such as Dropbox) with added services for which you pay a premium (added storage, for example). LinkedIn and even The New York Times (with its soft paywall) are contemporary online examples.

The Subscription Model. You sell your cow’s milk for $3 per carton – and offer your customers 20 cartons per month for $40. The idea with the subscription model is to keep your customers in a long-term contract and thus ensure recurring revenue. Netflix and eHarmony are among the subscription websites that have made a success of this model.

The Franchise Model. You buy a license from a farm to use its equipment to package your cow’s milk. The farm’s brand name goes on the packaging. It works because you already have a ‘sure thing’ in the good reputation of the franchise’s brand. You don’t have so much freedom as you would with your own business, but you have a bit more security behind you. McDonalds do this in the meatspace; Digital Altitude do it online.

The Loss Leader Model. You sell your cow’s milk for 50 cents, making a slight loss on each carton – but the low price attracts customers to your dairy, where you also sell fancy yoghurts and cheeses. Supermarkets undercut each other all the time with the loss leader model. Just think of Google – they give away a ton of services for free, but turn the multitude of clicks into dollars by selling advertising space.

The On-demand Model. You have one cow. You build an app so that customers can order milk whenever they need it, and charge for quick delivery. It works very well if you offer some form of convenience that customers can turn to when they’re in a tricky position – whether you’re downloading a film to answer that craving, or ordering an Uber to get you to the airport on time.

The Ziferblat Model. People don’t pay for your milk. They pay for the time they spend sitting in your café, drinking your milk. Ziferblat is a Russian ‘pay as you go’ café service that is opening eyes across the business (and coffee-drinking) world.

The Crowdsourcing Model. You don’t yet have a cow. But you suggest to people that they contribute to your campaign to buy a cow – and in return, you offer them their first 10 homemade cartons of organic milk for free. Independent business people are starting this way on Kickstarter and Indiegogo every day.

So which model best fits your big business idea? For an at-a-glance reminder of what that prize cow has to say about each model, check out this new infographic from The Business Backer. It’s inspiring stuff!

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Image: Pexels

Using Facebook Ads to make your brand part of everyday life

If you’ve been turning your nose up at the idea of advertising on Facebook, you’re missing out on a fantastic opportunity. It may not exactly be ‘old school’ – even by internet standards – but Facebook Ads have a way of integrating themselves into your customer’s daily lives in an unobtrusive way that puts them just a click away from buying or signing up to your service.

Facebook is now used by 1.59 billion people across the world: if you can’t find your audience here, they likely don’t exist. What’s more Facebook Ads are easier to create than pretty much any other form of advertising. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to put a great deal of thought into the preparation process – the usual questions about the who, the how and the why of your campaign – but it does mean that if you run a small business, it’s something you can handle by yourself.

Ready to take the plunge? Log in to your Facebook account, click on the little arrow in the top right hand corner of the screen, select Create Ads, and you’re ready to go.

Facebook will now confront you with a range of marketing objectives to choose from, such as ‘Brand awareness’ or ‘Product catalogue sales’. You’ve already decided why you’re running this campaign, so this is where you let Facebook help you choose the best template to adapt to your needs.

Let them know where you are, the currency you work in, and your time zone, and everything you need will be tailored to your situation. All of which sets you up for the interesting part: defining your target audience.

The more specific you can be, the better. Facebook lets you narrow things down by age, gender, and location, but of course the real power comes with the ‘demographics, interests, or behaviours’ – because, of course, Facebook knows all of this about everyone! Think of other brands, products and services that are like yours, and pastimes for which your product might be needed. For example, if you’re selling custom-made bicycles, you could target people who ‘Like’ Ruff Cycles and cycling as an interest, and probably narrow the area down to just your town, county or country – depending how far you are willing to send your product.

Next, you make your budget decisions. Facebook ads can start at a dollar a day, and it’s worth starting with a few dollars at a time for your first couple of campaigns while you figure out how to get the best results from your settings. You can choose a target daily spend, or an overall budget that will be spent customer by customer until it runs out.

Designing the ad itself is quite straightforward. You need an image or a video to base it around, so it is ideal if you have some professionally captured footage of your product or service. However, if you just want to get things done quickly and simply, you can instead use one of Facebook’s stock images. Add a headline to grab users’ attention and a line of text describing what you’re offering. Facebook will help you with the final touch: a ‘call to action’ button that clicks through to your website, shop, or mailing list.

That’s it – you’re ready to launch! Facebook Ad Reports are a simple way of tracking the success of your first advertisement, so you know what to tinker with the second time around. You should see results in no time. In the meantime, here’s a simple 5-step guide to getting your first ad up and running – it is a lot easier, and a lot more effective, than you think.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Image: Pexels

How to stay productive when facing a deadline

Most of us work pretty hard to ensure an even schedule throughout the working week: five or more days of calm, measured – if industrious – productivity. Yet most people will also recognize the simple truth that, from time to time, work tends to get bunched up together. Whether it’s a fast-approaching deadline, a backlog of tasks, or an upturn in the market, everyone has to face up to striving onwards in the face of fatigue every once in a while.

It’s a common characteristic of the way we work, so it makes sense to be prepared for these tiring periods in advance. That way, when it’s two hours past your normal leaving time and there’s still no sign of getting home for the evening, you’ll be able to power through without producing substandard work. And the best way you can maintain your energy over days like this is to make sure you’re looking out for yourself from minute one.

This is achieved by creating a prioritized schedule. List down each task and sub-task that you need to complete, and figure out an order than enables you to get the most urgent and most difficult stuff done first – before your brain starts to slow down! Beginning with smaller tasks (if they happen to be important ones) can also be useful if you are a natural procrastinator: that way, the first leap is much easier to take.

Your schedule should allow for regular breaks. It can be a tough discipline, on a busy day, to force yourself to rest. That’s why it is very helpful to use an app such as Break Timer to remind you when each hour comes around. Taking even a 30 second break can improve your productivity by 13% – so it is worth doing, even if your logical mind reckons that working straight through will get more done.

These breaks should not be seen as an opportunity to catch up with your online life. Emails are a legitimate part of work, but they can take over the rest of your day if you allow them. Instead, mark a specific part of your schedule for dealing with messages, switch your notifications off, and keep your phone hidden from view as even the sight of this temptation can be distracting.

Instead, consider using your break to do some stretches. Stretching can boost the flow of oxygen to your brain, and keep your limbs supple – ideal when you’re working a long, mind- and derriere-numbing day at the office. If you’re short of room, there are plenty of exercises you can do without leaving your desk. A good one is to lean forward and pull each of your legs up and back towards your chest for around 30 seconds at a time.

If coffee is your fuel, you might be interested to hear about Dave Asprey’s so-called ‘bulletproof coffee’. The self-styled biohacker reckons that adding two tablespoons of unsalted butter to your cup of Joe can help to achieve mental clarity when you’re up against it. At the very least, it provides a curious alternative on a long day at work when the kettle is your only friend!

If that sounds a bit hardcore, you can at least use your coffee break as an excuse for a change of scene. Instead of returning to your trusty kettle, try moving your operation to a nearby coffee shop for an hour or so. A fresh environment can improve your creativity and concentration: it could be just what you need when your willpower is diminishing.

Drink nothing but coffee all day, however, and you’ll soon find yourself dehydrated and underperforming. If coffee is a useful tool, plain old water is a vital ingredient for success. Allow yourself to dehydrate, and you’ll feel a lot more tired a lot more quickly. Keep track of how much water you’re drinking all day long, and that way you can pre-empt disaster by topping yourself up before you start to get low.

There are plenty of less intuitive tricks you can try to help keep your energy up when you’ve been at it all day. Working while standing up can put you in a better mood and boost your brain power, according to experts. Listening to new music can keep your environment feeling fresh and your brain active – just don’t play it too loud! And working near a window can help you absorb daylight and fresh air, which should keep you feeling more awake than being sequestered away in a dusky corner.

Finally, don’t neglect the power of peppermint. A splash of this essential oil on your wrists, or kept open on your desk, can be great for your levels of awareness. And it’s probably a heck of a lot healthier than coffee and butter!

So keep these tips in mind ahead of your next deadline push or all-nighter. If you work together with your mind and your body, it is amazing what you can achieve. These tips have been gathered into a handy new infographic so you can refer back to them whenever you need that extra boost – because sometimes, our schedule is boss and we have to find a way to get things done.

G. John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Image: Pexels

It’s time to spring clean your social media customer care strategy

Most young entrepreneurs have a pretty good handle on social media. The same business people most likely have a healthy understanding of customer care. However, put the two together, and the results are not always intuitive. Dealing with complaints and enquiries via social media is a game with its own rules – neither as informal as your personal Facebook presence, nor as mannered as an IRL customer service department. In fact, social media customer care may be more closely affiliated with your marketing strategy than any other part of your business.

So how much thought and research have you put into this fundamental element of your 21st century business? If you’re up and running already, it’s worth returning to the basics so as not to make any daft mistakes. If you’re new to dealing with angry Tweets and snarky Facebook comments, it’s time to take a deep breath. Make sure you approach them calmly and with one eye on the crowd.

In the first place, the most important principle is to not ignore such complaints. When somebody makes a rude or hot-headed comment, it can seem sensible to think you shouldn’t rise to it. Well, indeed you should not be provoked – but if this is a customer rather than an out-and-out troll, you need to take control of the situation. Even if you don’t have time to address the issue fully right away, it is important that you acknowledge the complaint and give some indication of when you will be able to deal with it. Otherwise, the customer is likely to become further frustrated, Tweeting and commenting more bad publicity in your direction.

When you do respond, keep it friendly but informal. Use first names (both yours and theirs) if possible, but don’t forget that this isn’t your Facebook friend – it’s a paying customer, and others are watching. Use humor with caution.

Try to take the discussion out of the public eye as soon as possible, but don’t be too pushy. Suggest you switch to private messaging, or see if they have a number you can call. A human voice can be more sympathetic than the glowing black text of the tweet. If you’ve ever read the comments on a YouTube video, you’ll know that people soon forget that they’re talking to another human while online.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Social media actually gives you lots of opportunities to turn bad feelings into good publicity. Resolve a complaint politely and with humility, and others will see yours is a well-meaning business and you are able to own your mistakes. Be sure to share positive outcomes to tricky situations with your followers.

Another advantage of social media is that you can stay ahead of the issue. These days, when customers gossip among themselves, you can tune in by searching your business name and finding where people are tweeting about you. If you stumble on a problem, address it. If you find praise for your service, consider sharing it.

This new infographic provides a complete rundown on how to spring-clean your customer service approach online. Keep it handy, and make tending to your social media presence a part of the daily routine of your business, for a better shot at keeping your customers happy.

John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

2010s or 1920s – In the World of Work, the Only Constant is Change

How are you dealing with the 21st century? Those who’ve been in the work market for a couple of decades or more have witnessed a hastening evolution of how things are done and what you need to do just to get by – let alone to excel.

Even millennials can find themselves somewhat adrift when new skills become outdated and employers experiment with workplace environments that are wildly different to what you were prepared for in school.

However, we’re lucky enough to live in an age of apparently infinite resources for self-improvement, career development and entrepreneurship. The online world is full of advice, training courses (many for free), and forums filled with like-minded individuals and more experienced professionals who are eager to share their knowledge.

Look back ninety years or more and the picture is quite different. The forerunner of that same communication network, the phone system, was made to function not by codes and algorithms but by real live “Hello Girls” whose job was to connect caller to call-taker by plugging and unplugging jacks and cables at the telephone exchange. Imagine if the same process happened every time you typed a different URL into your browser!

Even getting up to go to work in the morning was a more difficult process. Today, aside from the few lucky people who can reliably depend on their ‘internal clock’ to wake them in the morning, even the most ambitious among us need our iPhone or old school alarm clock to stir us from slumber. In those days, you might make more money as one of the few professional ‘knocker uppers’ – human alarm clocks – than the factory workers who relied on them. Which would you have been: the knocker upper, banging on windows before the sun rose, or the factory worker with a job for life but no real sense of self-determination?

But professionals in the 1920s had to deal with changing times and technological progress just like the rest of us. For example, in 1927, movies started to be released with synchronised sound, which meant that many of the legendary stars who’d been admired in the silents were now heard speaking for the first time. If an actor’s voice was not as luscious as his or her looks, or they just couldn’t act to the standards now required, they would soon become yesterday’s news – and end up joining the rest of us in the queue to become a salesman, a laborer or a telephone operator. Those knocker-uppers were replaced by radio alarms and smart phones, and robots are still in the process of taking over the factories.

To see where you might have ended up in the 1920s, and what your financial prospects might have been, have a look at this new infographic from OnStride Financial. It might make your feel a little more empowered over your 21st century career!

John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

(Image Source: OnStride Financial)

How to turn down work without compromising your position

When was the last time you said ‘no’ at work? There’s no shame in being the guy who says ‘yes’: taking on work indiscriminately is the sign of a healthy work ethic – but whether it’s a productive work ethic or not is another matter. And, unfortunately, the willingness to take on every task you’re assigned can sometimes be caught up in other, less positive attributes: fear of losing out, pride in handling everything that’s thrown at you, or simply the inability to assess and manage your own schedule.

If you take on tasks that you don’t have time to complete, or that will impact negatively on the rest of your workload, you are not just letting yourself in for a hard time – you are compromising the level of what you can achieve for your business, your boss and/or your client. If you decide to turn a project down, saying ‘no’ can be the most difficult part. If you fear the wrath of the person to whom you’re declining, try to remain confident in the knowledge that ultimately it’s the best solution for everyone.

Therefore, transparency is the best way to proceed. Take some time to clarify for yourself the reasons that you can’t take the work on, and potential solutions. Be bold and honest, and you will retain their understanding and respect. This isn’t the moment for excuses, but for reason. Meet them in person (rather than sending an email) – you can ensure you’ve been understood properly and it will be easier to make your point.

If you’re working as part of a team or community, you may know someone who is better suited to take the work on. Again, this may be what throws you in a quandary about whether to turn the work down: perhaps you’re concerned that redirecting work on one occasion may see you overlooked next time around. It’s a legitimate fear, but ask yourself: is it better to suck it up and submit inferior work, or to offer a better solution that keeps everyone happy? Pass along a tasty assignment, and you should be remembered positively by client and colleague alike: you will position yourself as a helpful and resourceful part of the ecosystem. It all comes back around eventually.

On the other hand, if you’re passing on a less savory task and you’re concerned your boss will think you’re shirking, face up to the music and ask for help. Arrange a meeting to discuss your schedule. Use the opportunity to discuss the implications of overwork and to try to solve the issue together: maybe you need more overtime, more workable deadlines, or perhaps some help prioritizing and scheduling. Approached with honesty and maturity, hopefully your boss should see sense.

If transparency is the foundation of this approach, gratitude is an element not to overlook. Whether you’re saying no to an appealing bit of business, or asserting yourself regarding your employer’s unrealistic expectations, these are the people that pay your salary. Expressing thanks at having been considered for the task is a valuable way of maintaining relations even as you’re forced to turn it down. A client should be thanked for the potential business and asked to remember you next time; a boss can be thanked for considering your talents to be suitable to the job at hand – and for having confidence in you to complete such a heavy workload! So finally, when you’ve met with the person, explained your position and offered alternatives, remember to say thank you. After all, having too much work can be a privilege that others would love to have.

These ideas and more are collected in a new infographic from The Business Backer. Be sure to read and digest them next time you’re unsure how to deal with a request too far.

This is a guest post from John Cole. John is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

(Image Source: The Business Backer)

How to make yourself work when you’re not feeling it

This is a guest post from John Cole.

Being boss doesn’t mean you get to demand results – it means creating the conditions for those results to be achieved. If you’re running your own business and are responsible for a team, you’ve probably cast a judgmental eye over some of the trendy quirks and gimmicks that your contemporaries in some of the better-known start-ups have applied to their workspaces. Yet, these environments became famous because the businesses are successful. The management at Google, Vimeo et al. recognize that staff motivation is a complex beast. No matter how devoted your employees might be, there are certain mental and physical limits that affect us all.

At this time of year, when serotonin is scarce, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your team’s work environment is conducive to sustained motivation. Perhaps you already have some reward system in place for when projects are completed, but have you considered the idea of daily rewards – before work is begun? A morning morale-booster, be it a box of donuts, a shared video or song can actually provide a dopamine hit for your staff, so that they plunge into work all the more motivated.

When you’re done with the donut solution, you can also attack from the other direction: exercise! If you have team members who like to hit the gym in the morning, do what you can to facilitate it: allow them a bit of extra time to get to work, or even consider making a deal with the local gym to get memberships as a job perk. It’s not because you want a team of buff jocks, but because exercise in the morning can actually improve motivation to work. As long as they don’t overdo things, getting the blood pumping is a good idea. This is also why you should ensure your team have regular breaks, and do what you can to help them be active on these breaks. We’re back in quirky work environment territory here: think about making a small, private space for quick bursts of activity, for example with a ping-pong table or exercise bikes.

Getting results from your team requires the use of your imagination, but it also requires engaging with the basics of how we work as human beings. Check out this infographic which covers some great motivation tricks for individuals – they’ll work for you, and with some of that innovative thinking that got you where you are today, you can use them to motivate the whole office.

John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.