Go on, admit it, you’ve been dying to ask. What exactly is a ‘business plumber’? Do I come and fix the sink in the canteen when Mabel’s blocked it up with old tealeaves again? Do I discreetly sidle into the gents to deal with a faulty cistern? Do I, perhaps, check out the water supply in the boss’s office because his upmarket coffee machine is on the fritz?
Well, basically – no, no, and no.
So – you may reasonably ask – what’s all this stuff about plumbing, then?
Well… let me tell you a tale…
Business Plumber – the origin story
Origin story? You may be thinking radioactive spiders (or not). But as it happens the only radiation on that particular night came from my brow. Because I had a presentation to write. About my business. And I could not, for the very life of me, think how to describe it in a way people would understand.
Let me explain.
I can’t say that I ‘increase efficiency’. Because that makes it sound as if I deal with ‘people problems’. And clients start coming back with all the wrong questions. ‘Do my staff need more training? Do they need coaching? Do they need performance management? (For which read ‘very severe coaching’?) Do they need incentives, perhaps…?’
Well – possibly none of the above. Or some. But that’s not the point. Because I’m less worried about who is doing the work (and why) than how they are doing it, and with what.
The fact is, I’m all about the ‘how’. In other words, all about the process.
Which is tricky in a world where people who otherwise seem perfectly sensible can tell you to ‘just do it’ and actually expect something to happen.
And that was when I had a stroke of inspiration.
(Water) travels with my aunt
When I was young I liked to visit my aunt, who lived in a rather older house than ours. And I couldn’t help noticing that when – as I often did – I tried to run hot water for the washing up it seemed to take an eternity to get to a useful temperature.
Probably because her plumbing was only slightly less complicated than the map of the London Underground. (Making the whole operation rather like a game of Mornington Crescent…)
It was the perfect analogy. Because no special measures would have the slightest effect on the hot water tank. No amount of coaching was going to make that journey from tank to sink any faster. And no incentive of any kind would persuade the tangle of pipes between them to rearrange themselves more sensibly. In fact the only way to make things better was to rip out the plumbing and put back something a bit less reminiscent of Spaghetti Junction…
And that’s what I do with businesses. Because my focus isn’t on the people so much as on the processes they’re working with – the workflow. Or, if you like, the ‘business pipework’. And if that, too, is reminiscent of Spaghetti Junction then even the most motivated, determined, well-coached and super-efficient team won’t get it working any better than it does already.
Enter – the Business Plumber. Ready to disentangle the pipework in your operation. So if that sounds like something that would help you, just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email. Your first hour is free.
…but gaming can be a very profitable business. And so can the gentle art of ‘gamifying’ – turning the experience for someone visiting your blog, your website or your social media page into a game.
No wonder game designers are having a field day!
‘Gamifying’ something makes it fun, but can also make it a valuable learning experience. Consider the plight of a mother with a young asthmatic child. That child needs an inhaler – but is unlikely to use it properly. An app called MySpira is pretty much guaranteed to help. It makes the whole thing into a fun interactive game. Which will also ensure the inhaler is used correctly, and to maximum effect.
For the record, that app was built by a teenager, and taken to market by a company just down the road from me, Orbital Media.
What game designers do…
Game designers understand how people’s minds work. What entertains them. What enthralls them. But also what can trick them. Mislead them. Take them ‘down a rabbit hole’ to accept an alternative reality. And because games increasingly operate in the real world, for instance with AR (augmented reality) they understand just how easy that can be. Of course you aren’t likely to accept there’s a dinosaur in your living room. Even so, there are other ways to lead you gently but inexorably astray. And conspiracy theories like QAnon could be described not as ‘games for people to play’, but as ‘games that play people’.
At least, that’s the view of one professional game designer.
His perspective is unusual. That’s because he spends his life creating games that draw people into alternate worlds, where different rules apply. And his job is to make that experience engaging, entertaining and addictive. QAnon offers precisely that to its devotees. And like fantasy role-playing games, it delivers something that masquerades as reality – though it is nothing of the kind. Read his article here…
And the lesson for business owners?
Think about your user experience. Think about what happens from the time a client first learns about your business to the moment they complete a purchase. How comfortable is that process? How easy is it to navigate? Are there bumps in the road? Could it be quicker, or easier? Could it even become… addictive?
That’s not a question you will find easy to answer. After all, to you it’s all second nature. So if you’d like a little help, just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email. Your first hour is free.
Communication – good communication – has never been more important in business than it is now.
The Covid pandemic has shut down many of the communication channels we’re used to. Smoke-filled rooms have long been out of fashion, but under lockdown crowded rooms of any description are a no-no. And so, inevitably, more and more of us find ourselves confined to Muppet-gallery screen boxes in online meetings. ‘You’re on mute!’ was the callsign of 2020, and (apparently) it’s not going away any time soon.
Which could be a very good thing – depending, of course, on how you look at it.
Yes, Zoom sessions can be tiring (and occasionally frustrating). Yes, you’re at the mercy of the technology – and/or your broadband connection. And yes, it’s not the same as a face to face meeting with the chance for an impromptu conversation that could spark a new connection or a new idea.
You are no longer limited by geography – you can hook up with anyone, anywhere in the country (or the world) with an internet connection. Join any group that will admit you. Connect with anyone in that group who will give you the time of day. And you can do all that without leaving your desk. Without spending silly amounts of money – and time – on travel, accommodation and food for the journey.
These things have always been possible, but it takes something radical – like a pandemic – to get them accepted as ‘normal’. (Is it part of the ‘new normal’ we hear so much about…?)
That may be bad news for industries that depend on mass movement, but it’s probably good for the planet. (It’s certainly a radical solution to overcrowded roads and over-stressed transport systems.)
It’s also a huge opportunity – especially for micro-businesses. Because the internet is awash with networking groups that could, potentially, connect you with resources you never knew existed.
Have you claimed every grant you are entitled to? Are you aware of the potential support available from colleges and universities? Do you know about every local initiative to support and develop businesses like yours? Probably not – few of us do. But it’s never been easier to make the right connections, and find out!
Need a little help with making those connections – perhaps with some advice on networking? Then please do give me a call on 01359 240717 or drop me an email! The first hour is free, so there’s no catch. And I do a lot of networking…
Mental health in business has always been an important issue, but it’s taken a pandemic to deliver the focus it deserves.
Not surprising, really.
A few months in lockdown with your nearest and dearest can test the strength of even the best relationship. Add the extra pressure of compulsory home working (even if you like it). Sautee with an elegant mix of frustrated children (and the need to home school them), rampant pets, and a frazzled partner. Then bring to the boil with a relentless torrent of bad news. Result – the perfect recipe for a nervous breakdown!
Quite possibly. And quite certainly in some cases. So, what can you – as a business – do about it?
Thinking about that I was reminded of the blog post that Mary contributed back in August 2016.
She was writing about the specific problems a depressive can face with running a business. But the fact is that many of us are now trying to work under intense mental pressure. And with many of the same symptoms.
It may help to think about what’s ‘going wrong’ for people in this situation – the impact on what they perceive as ‘normal’. Regular routines haven’t been disrupted so much as shattered. Much that they’ve quite reasonably taken for granted is now unavailable at worst, or problematic at best. And any kind of planning has to face a haze of uncertainty.
For some that can be challenging. Even exciting. For others it can be simply terrifying, a complete loss of control that leaves them rudderless in a stormy ocean. And with no idea of how long that storm will last. Which is the classic recipe for suicidal thoughts.
Structure – a path to improving mental health.
When everything is unpredictable, the predictable becomes very attractive. Structure. Routine. Something that can be planned, scheduled and delivered.
Which means, of course, that we’re talking about a process.
But it does need to be the right kind of process. Something that offers support and encouragement rather than strictures and penalties. That makes allowances for the realities of working from home. And that is almost certainly different from the process that would be used in a physical workplace.
If that sounds like a bit of a challenge, it might help to discuss your specific needs. Just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email. Your first hour is free, and right now you don’t even need to buy me a coffee…
Christmas – ever wondered how we got to where we are with it?
Like most other things that are even a little worthwhile, it’s the result of a long and complex process. Which goes something like this…
- It’s the middle of winter, and our (very) distant ancestors are feeling cold, hungry, and depressed. But at least the cold has preserved the meat from their most recent hunt. So they decide it’s time to thaw it out and eat it…
- Some less distant ancestors notice that fir trees stay green right the way through the winter. Clearly they are powerful…
- Christian missionaries appear in Iron Age Europe. They find there’s a pagan feast at Midwinter involving the worship of a tree. It’s a bit like the Roman feast of Saturnalia, which they’ve already grabbed and converted to a celebration of the birth of Christ. So they do the same up north…
- But try to eradicate the tree-worship bit…
- Martin Luther (so we are told) is out walking one day and is captivated by the sight of stars twinkling among the branches of a fir tree. He cuts it down, takes it home, brings it into the house, and decorates it with candles.
- Thus inadvertently recreating a pagan festival.
- Which is just a tad ironic for a man who thinks the Catholic Church isn’t godly enough…
- Germans take the tradition further, decorating their trees with Christmas-themed food items.
- They also use silver wire for decoration.
- Yup, real silver….
- Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha – better known as Queen Victoria’s husband – decides that Windsor Castle needs its own Christmas tree.
- In 1846 a sketch showing the royal family gathered around their Christmas tree is widely distributed
- Suddenly everyone wants a Christmas tree.
- Thus demonstrating the power of social media.
- In 1895 Ralph Morris, an American telephone engineer, replaces Luther’s candles with electric lights.
- He gets a commendation from his Health and Safety advisor. (Or would have done, if they’d had them in 1895…)
- In December 2020 Aunty Pru is feeling cold, hungry and depressed because it’s the middle of winter. She’s also self-isolating, meaning no one else has been in the house since March. There’s a blizzard outside, and her helpers can’t get to the shops. But at least there’s a pile of stuff in the freezer.
- So she decides it’s time to thaw it out and eat it…
Looks as though the whole process is starting all over again…