The Six F’s of Happiness

The Six F’s of Happiness to focus on in 2015 (& forever really) are:

1. Family
2. Friends
3. Fun
4. Freedom
5. Fitness
6. Fulfilment

I haven’t been spending enough time or effort on all six lately & my life is poorer as a result.

It’s time to change so wish me luck (& happiness)!

A-Level Results – What next for young people in Britain?

As A-Level students across Britain contemplate their future, I wonder whether they are being given the best advice by parents, teachers and the media about what to do next?

With a current shortage of university places and jobs for graduates, high dropout rates from students that probably weren’t cut out for academia in the first place, and the BBC reporting that average student debt may reach £53,000 (yikes!) is going to university still the best option for our young people?
 
When I took my A Levels in 1995 I distinctly recall being told that going to university and getting a degree was the only way I could guarantee a bright future, or risk being left behind on the scrapheap. I wasn’t even sure that university was something I wanted to do but when I voiced these concerns to my dear parents I was told in no uncertain terms that ‘dropping out’ wasn’t an option.
 
Like most students I worked hard at university – ending up with a 2:1 in Geography BSc (Hons) at The University of Leeds, and had a fantastic time living away from home and enjoying myself to the full. I managed to maintain the right balance between having fun and putting the work in and I am proud of my degree and the experiences I had.
 
HOWEVER, my Geography degree has been of very little benefit to my career which has mostly been in IT/web/marketing (with a brief sojourn into the music business as a DJ / producer / promoter / record label owner).
 
For example;
 
Sage – no degree needed
 
Upon graduation in 1998, I travelled the length and breadth of the country in search of the ‘holy grail’ – a graduate recruitment scheme with a top employer, only to have my hopes and dreams dashed again and again by what seemed like endless interviews, assessment days and psychometric tests – until I eventually found employment with Sage, a local hero up here in the North East providing tech support to users of their Sage Payroll software.

I spent 2yrs at Sage and the customer service training they provided was first rate and still benefits me to this day. However, when I joined Sage it was slightly demoralising to find that you didn’t actually need a degree to get a job there, and very few of my colleagues seemed to have set foot in a university – although they were all extremely intelligent, quick thinking and with excellent customer service skills, groomed and honed on the job by regular training and tests.
 
British Airways – degree needed
 
After a while, I grew tired of ‘working on the phones’ at Sage and after teaching myself web design in my spare time, was lucky enough to be taken on by British Airways as a graduate trainee web developer / web editor in their Newcastle upon Tyne office.

There’s no doubt I wouldn’t have been taken on as part of a ‘graduate training scheme’ without my degree, but my previous 2yrs work experience and the web design skills I had taught myself in my spare time were ultimately more important and useful to the job. The degree just helped me get through the initial sift of applicants. Sadly, although this was an excellent job, I was one of many staff made redundant by BA as a direct result of the 9/11 attacks which meant the airline was haemorrhaging money and needed to cut costs quickly (staff are always the first to go).
 
An unintended ‘year out’

The next 12 months were spent in and out of employment as I worked intermittently on short term IT contracts, signing on the dole and trying to break into the music business as a DJ / producer getting the first of my records signed to a local independent label, until eventually…

BT Broadband – no degree needed

After realising that I did actually need some money to support my ‘superstar DJ lifestyle’ which hadn’t yet resulted in a huge pay-off, I got a job again in tech support for BT Broadband. This was probably the most depressing period as I hated the job, was only doing it for bit of extra cash until the DJing / music, and again found out that a degree was of no real value or worth to my new employers. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around long before applying for, and getting a job with music development agency Generator…

Generator – no degree needed

On paper, this should have been my dream job. Working in an organisation that helped grass roots musicians (like myself) make it into the music industry whilst I spent my evenings and weekends as a DJ / producer / promoter / label owner. There’s no doubt there was a definite ‘cool factor’ to this job and I learnt a lot during my time, particularly by working alongside legendary North East promoter Jim Mawdsley. There were also lots of highlights, including getting to see Maximo Park and Field Music when they were still unknown outside of Newcastle/Sunderland and (possibly) playing a small part in getting them signed by telling the A&R scouts that travelled up to Generator-sponsored events that they needed to see these bands!

Like many creative industry jobs, the money at Generator was just too low for me and after getting increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t being paid or valued enough for someone with my background, skills, experience (and degree) I left to join local enterprise agency PNE Group where I’ve now been for the past 5yrs (since 2005).

PNE Group / Shell LiveWIRE – degree needed? Maybe…

Although I’m not actually sure if the degree got me the job, I’m 100% certain that it’s all the experience, skills and knowledge I have accumulated along the way since leaving university that has been of most value to PNE in my previous roles working on the voluntaryskills.com website and now as Web Development Executive for Shell LiveWIRE (run by PNE on behalf of Shell).

It’s easy for me to criticise universities when I’ve already got a degree, but that’s not really my point. In recent years I’ve just been increasingly thinking that academia isn’t right for everyone. Yes, education is important but you can learn on the job (incl. apprenticeships) and do evening classes or home study through people like the Open University or for professional qualifications with bodies like The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). Also, instead of saddling yourself with huge debts when you leave university, you be earning money by working for someone else (building up your savings to go towards a home in the future) or even starting your own little enterprise, with free help and funding from organisations like Shell LiveWIRE.

Many people go on about the invaluable experience of going to university which they see as more important than the qualification. However, I’d argue that for much less than £53,000 you can have even more amazing experiences travelling the world, working for yourself, doing charitable work in another country – the list is endless – and at the end of it be an even more interesting and employable person than ‘a.n.other graduate’. Something to think about at least.

Above all, my advice it to keep your options open and to ‘Stay Curious’, living your life in ‘Permanent Beta‘.

What Does Success Look Like?

Before you embark on any new project or business venture, you need to ask yourself the question ‘What does success look like?’

Without an end goal in mind (and preferably written down somewhere), how will you know you’ve achieved what you set out to do? Having a goal (or many) will help you focus on the work that’s genuinely important and worth pursuing, rather than just being a distraction.

The problem many people encounter (including myself sometimes), is that they are so keen to get started and ‘make stuff happen’ that the busy work (Email, Facebook, Twitter, unproductive meetings) is often confused with meaningful work, which is the only kind that truly matters.

Success means different things to different people and in my line of work it’s mostly measured using bespoke software and tools like Google Analytics to set statistical goals for the websites I manage. Unfortunately, having all this data at your fingertips can be overwhelming so it’s important to focus on the stuff that counts and which you can act upon. Always striving for more website Visits and Unique Visitors, Faceboook ‘Fans’ or Twitter ‘Followers’ can be dangerous as you can never, ever have enough. When it comes to digital, there’s always more you can do and therefore no end to the workload if you’re not careful. For this reason, it’s important to set yourself realistic, achievable goals and milestones for a specific time frame, remembering to congratulate yourself if you reach them, and not to beat yourself up if you don’t! You can try benchmarking and comparing yourself to others, but there can only be one you so it’s much better to compete with and set challenges for yourself. The important thing is to work and try with purpose.

In my opinion, the most important things in business are sales and happy customers, so if you’re creating both then you should consider yourself a genuine success. Your own happiness and personal fulfilment are very important too. If you don’t feel good about the work you are doing then it’s unlikely that your customers or clients will either. If that’s the case you need to stop what you’re doing and change your direction. If you go out of your way to provide the best possible service then you will not only please others but make yourself feel fantastic too.

In addition to the small scale stuff, you need to set yourself some ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that having a grand vision and shared goals with your colleagues (if you have some) are powerful ways to motivate a team to great heights. The most successful businesses and inspirational leaders understand this and often talk in abstract terms which inspire others to dream and follow their footsteps (listen to some of the best on Nancy Duarte’s website). Once the ‘big idea’ has been defined, it becomes much easier to gauge whether your day to day activities are contributing to the overall success of the mission, or if they can be jettisoned to free up more of your time to work on what does. Keep your aims broad, loose and ambitious and this will give you the freedom to experiment and feel inspired to create your very best work.

Another thing to remember is that work, just as in life, is a journey not a destination. When you achieve one goal there is always another, bigger one up ahead that requires you to ‘Level Up’. As Lord William Armstrong, one of the great British pioneers of the industrial age once said; “However high we climb in the pursuit of knowledge, we shall still see heights above us and the more we extend our view, the more conscious we shall be of the immensity which lies beyond”. Or as the posters which adorn the walls of Facebook offices say, “This journey is 1% finished” to remind employees that the company has only begun to fulfil its ‘mission to make the world more open and connected’.

Start setting some goals for yourself today. Try writing them down on paper and sticking them up on the walls of your office, cubicle or home to remind you what you are trying to achieve. I believe that anything is possible with hard work and determination but you need a plan and some focus to help you get there. This is the very first step in becoming the person you want to be.

Why tech start-ups (and giants) should leave London (and move to Newcastle)

I think tech start-ups (and giants) should leave London and move to other parts of the UK. I also think the UK Government should stop putting all their eggs in one basket (i.e. Tech City / Silicon Roundabout) and give greater support (media attention, funding and financial incentives) to other tech clusters around the country to help spread the economic and social benefits more evenly.

Geographical location really shouldn’t matter if you’re a UK tech start-up. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you are greatly reducing your chances of survival as a start-up if you base yourself in London. Yes, I know that’s where all the money and investors are, but the rents and living expenses down there are too high, competition for resources, attention and talent is intense (not to mention expensive) and you’ll burn through what little money you do have much faster than if you run your operation from elsewhere.

Living and working in Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne (in the North East of England for those that don’t know) for Shell LiveWIRE (one of the UK’s biggest and longest running youth enterprise schemes), means I can speak with some authority when I say that you don’t need to be based in London to run a successful national operation. Our overheads and staff salaries are much lower than if we were based in London so the money goes much further – providing better value for money to our sponsor (Shell) and allowing us to give away more start-up funding to the young entrepreneurs that we serve (48 x £1,000 start-up awards throughout the year and a further £10,000 in November). Furthermore, with a wife who once worked in London and many other friends who are still down there (or who have ‘escaped’ back home) I can tell you that unless you are making a ton of money in London, the quality of life up here is much higher with shorter commutes into work, bigger houses than you could afford in the capital, all the shops, bars, restaurants and cultural activities you need, plus all the beautiful beaches and countryside on our doorstep.

Running a national enterprise scheme means we do need to be in London a lot as that’s where many of the key decision-makers, events and meetings are but we are primarily an online service with clients/website users/award winners from across the UK which means we could really be based anywhere in the country. However, an office in the North East means that we’re well-placed to attend regional events across the UK and are able to understand and empathise with start-ups, wherever they are based and aren’t at all biased towards London. Many of our partner organisations also seem to like the fact that we’re not based in London too. If you’re a tech start-up founder, I see no reason why your office, developers and core team can’t be based somewhere like Newcastle (or anywhere other than London really), with you spending time in London only when you really need to be there for meetings and networking.

Transport infrastructure

When it comes to transport, Newcastle has great bus, Metro and train networks. London is just a 3hr train ride away so you can feasibly be there and back in a day (I can be sat working at TechHub, Google Campus or Central in around 31/2hrs door to door) although I tend to make an overnight stay and plan my meetings across the two days when I’m there. Living on a small island like Britain means people often have a distorted sense of distance (especially Londoners) which is silly really when you talk to people from the US who regularly commute 5-6hrs from one side of the county to the other.

Being on the East Coast Mainline means that it’s easy to get to large parts of the country (main destinations include London, Peterborough, Doncaster, Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow with various stops in-between. Meanwhile, the Transpennine Express has regular departures to the West of the country calling at major cities Manchester and Liverpool. Road links in all directions are pretty good too (although could the main roads into Scotland could still be improved), Newcastle International Airport has direct routes throughout Europe, Egypt and Tunisia and connecting flights to London Heathrow and Gatwick. The nearby, award-winning Port of Tyne is also one of the UK’s busiest handling a huge amount of imports and exports not to mention regular cruises and ferries to Scandinavia, Netherlands, Germany and France.

City living

Ok, but what’s it actually like to live in Newcastle? Well, I’d describe it as a ‘big, small city’. Large enough to keep you interested and discovering new things all the time but small enough that you can walk around it and feel like it’s somewhere you can really belong and make a difference. There’s something to suit most tastes and interests with all the major high street brands, high-end fashion outlets and local independent fashion retailers. There’s also a vibrant nightlife of pubs, bars and clubs, great arts and culture scene and some of the British Isles’ most beautiful wildlife, countryside and beaches just a short drive away, not to mention the abundance of castles and cathedrals and Roman-built Hadrian’s Wall (a World Heritage Site don’t you know)! The Geordies (and nearby Mackems of Sunderland) are renowned for their friendly, hospitable nature and if you’re into your football you won’t find anywhere more passionate than the North East which is home to 3 hugely supported clubs Newcastle United, Sunderland AFC and Middlebrough FC.

Local tech community

There’s a thriving grass-roots community of tech start-up founders, developers and designers all working together to support each other and build great things in the region. It’s very easy to get involved through weekly, after-work get togethers like the PHPNE, Ruby North East, Design Interest and Javascript North East events that occur at the PostOffice (opposite Central Station) every Tuesday night and numerous others in Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. In fact, the block of buildings on Pink Lane in which the PostOffice is housed is owned by local enterprise agency PNE Group (formerly known as Project North East) who have won European awards for their low-cost incubator workspace for start-ups since the early 80s, and was one of the first places in the country that offered high-speed internet access, earning it the nickname ‘Silicon Alley’.

Over the years, this part of town and PNE has attracted and supported 100s of first-class digital and creative start-ups, precisely because of these lower rents, higher internet speeds and clustering effect of similar like-minded businesses. Current tenants include innovative m-commerce app MobiCart and exciting new private sharing app Cupple. Just around the corner, on the other side of the block is PNE’s Adamson House where ignite100, ‘Europe’s first £1m tech accelerator programme’ is based (current crop of fantastic cohorts = Blooie, Usable, Odimax, Blink Collective, Givey, CrowdIPR, RentMama, ArtSpotter and PinorPeg) and whose loft space office also currently houses online artisan food market Loveyourlarder.com and Little Riot (makers of ‘Pillow Talk’) amongst others.

Indeed this ‘Tech Quarter’ is positively buzzing with tech start-up activity right now, and the nearby pubs The Town Wall, The Forth and BrewDog Bar are where many of the local movers and shakers can be found, alongside great little coffee shops like Pink Lane Coffee, Flat Caps Coffee and 9 Bar. In the East of the city, Hoults Yard, Ouseburn Valley and The Toffee Factory provide fantastic facilities for a wide range of digital, creative and media companies with Screenreach (on the verge of global greatness) being the most notable start-up of recent years.

On the Gateshead side of the River Tyne, we have the Sage Gateshead music and conference centre and Baltic centre for contemporary art which are the venues for the internationally renowned Thinking Digital Conference (my personal highlight event of the year), which is organised by digital events and membership organisation Codeworks. The awesome new Northern Design Centre is situated just around the corner and is home to leading local digital businesses like Ayo Media and New York-based mobile design and development agency Fueled. There’s a wide range of affordable workspace available there and throughout the city for businesses to move into right now which offer much, much more than you could dream of in London for far less money.

But it’s not just Newcastle. Organisations like Sunderland Software City and pioneering companies like The Leighton Group and SaleCycle are showing that the city is one of the best places in the country for a digital business to be based, whilst Spotify music resource Sharemyplaylists.com are rocking it with 2 million users of their website and app per month! Furthermore, the great work of organisations like Digital City at Boho One, plus grassroots events from Refresh Teesside and North East New Tech are all adding to the mix of what gives the North East such a vibrant tech community.

Sage

Then of course there is the awesome Sage. Founded in 1981, Sage has grown to be a world-renowned, FTSE100 company, providing desktop and cloud-based software for over 800,000 businesses in the UK, 6.3 million businesses worldwide and employing more than 13,000 people. Their headquarters are proudly still in Newcastle, on the outskirts of the city in a custom-built office which is arguably one of the best and most impressive in the world and as a former Sage employee (my first job after University between 1998-2000), I can vouch for them as being a fantastic place to work with founders who remain loyal and passionate about the North East.

Investors

There’s serious money available up here too. We have a range of proactive, Newcastle-based investors and angels like Northstar Ventures, Rivers Capital Partners, IP Group and more all looking to fund exciting and innovative businesses that create growth and jobs in the region. Newcastle City Council and Gateshead are also two of the most forward-thinking in the county and the local Universities, hospitals and science community are world-renowned for the pioneering work that they do.

Talent, opportunity and ambition

There is no shortage of talent, opportunity and ambition in Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough and the North East right now, with the region exporting more than any other in the UK and an exciting new renewable energy sector growing by the day.

As a region, we just need a little bit more belief in our abilities to compete on a global scale (although there’s no shortage of that amongst the tech start-up founders), and collective cooperation from everyone in the area to do their bit to push things forward. Personally, I’d like to invite more outside investment from London, European and US-based VCs into the area and see the local and national Government doing more to encourage large tech companies to open offices up here (British Airways have some of their core developer teams in Newcastle) to help create jobs, reduce unemployment and provide stimulus to the local economy.

The ambition of North East industrial pioneers like George Stephenson, Joseph Swan, William Armstrong and George Burton Hunter are what made Tyneside and in turn Britain great and we now need a new breed of ‘Tyneside Tech Titans’ to follow in their footsteps!

If you’re a tech start-up or tech giant and would like to know more about the opportunities for you and your business in Newcastle and the surrounding area, please email me at plandigital@live.co.uk or give me a call on +44(0)7734 722716 so I can put you in touch with the relevant people or help coordinate a visit.

Why Mentoring Matters

This article was originally written for and published on Upmarket – the US-based online business magazine at http://upmarket.squidoo.com/2012/05/02/why-mentoring-matters/

There’s a big drive to increase the number of business mentors in the UK today through Government-backed initiatives like Get Mentoring and Mentorsme.co.uk. This is because along with finance, mentoring is regularly cited by start-ups as one of the things they need most in order to achieve success. Indeed, research shows that 70% of small businesses that receive mentoring survive for five years or more (double the rate of non-mentored entrepreneurs) and 20% are more likely to experience growth.

But what exactly is a Mentor? Well, it does seem to differ depending on who is asking and at what stage of development they are at, although the Wikipedia definition of ‘someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague’ is probably one you are already familiar with. In general, a mentor is usually a trusted person with whom the mentee can discuss ideas or problems and receive impartial feedback, encouragement and constructive criticism. A two-way process, the ideal relationship is one where the mentor gains just as much as the mentee, by being mentally stimulated and having the feel-good factor of ‘giving something back’ to the ecosystem.

Most of my career has involved ‘helping’ people in some way or another. Sharing knowledge and ideas and encouraging others to fulfil their potential is something that I not only feel is a worthwhile occupation but something that I derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from. The past three years in particular have involved me sharing business start-up information online by writing website articles and blogs, signposting young entrepreneurs to useful resources, delivering lectures in person, moderating forums and answering queries by phone, email and social media. In effect, I’ve been working as a virtual mentor for people across the UK, so when the Get Mentoring campaign began, I decided to register for some ‘official’ training to give me a better understanding of the role and how I could do more in an offline setting.

One of the things that surprised me about this training was that the ‘official’ Get Mentoring definition of a mentor is slightly different to what I understood it to be. There is a clear emphasis on the fact that although a mentor is there to be a sounding board and offer feedback, they’re not supposed to offer ‘advice’ to the mentee. Instead, the mentor is advised to do lots of signposting, ask challenging questions and encourage the mentee to arrive at their own conclusions through reflective conversations around problems. The difficulty arises when the mentor is asked a direct question like, ‘What would you do in my situation?’ or ‘How do you do X?’ and the mentee expects a direct answer or opinion on the matter. In this situation, the mentor is ok to talk about relevant, personal experience but is meant to offer a range of options from which the mentee can choose.

I understand the theory and reasoning behind this thinking, but in real-life, the entrepreneurs I meet and communicate with online usually want a quick answer so I’m not 100% convinced that the no-advice rule is suitable in every situation. I think it depends on the mentee, the urgency of their problem and the relationship with the mentor. Having said that, the ultimate mentors – Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi of Star Wars – often talked in riddles and set tests for Luke Skywalker to overcome and emerge more skilled as a Jedi warrior, so perhaps it depends on the scale of the task?

Startup Weekend Newcastle

Since doing the Get Mentoring training, I’ve had the chance to be a mentor at two key events in the tech start-up world. The first was at a fifty four hour Startup Weekend event in Newcastle where I did an epic twelve hour stint mentoring twelve teams who had only met the previous evening. Perhaps it was the time-limited nature of the event but there was a real intensity to each mentoring slot which felt more like a brainstorming session in which all kinds of crazy ideas were suggested by everyone in the room, before the best ones were filtered out and developed further. I got a huge buzz out of this event as I was able to share insight and knowledge whilst receiving inspiration from the mentees in return. It was also particularly pleasing to see that each of the teams had implemented some of the ideas we had discussed in their final pitches, demonstrating that they had both listened to and believed in me as a mentor.

Springboard London

A few days later, I travelled to London to spend a day at the new Google Campus to meet and mentor the eleven start-ups who are part of the Springboard London tech accelerator programme. This was more like a speed dating event where I was given a table and then each of the teams were given twenty minutes with me to build up a rapport, discuss their business and challenge their assumptions. Again, the short time period meant there was little time for polite chit chat and so it was straight down to business. I’d been sent background information on each of the teams and they had all done their homework on me too which was great to see as it helped the conversation move much faster than it would have otherwise. Apart from feeling good about helping a group of exciting new businesses there is kudos for me in being involved in a programme which is at the epicentre of the European tech start-up scene, not to mention the chance to spend a day at the Google Campus.

Rocket @ Google Campus
Start-up launchpad @ Google Campus

These recent experiences have convinced me that mentoring is a vital ingredient in the success of any new start-up. In my opinion, the major advantage that Springboard London, its Newcastle equivalent (ignite100) and similar tech accelerator programmes throughout Europe and the US give to their participants is not only access to finance but a wide range of experienced mentors who can open doors and help them achieve their goals much faster than they could on their own. Ultimately, it is still the start-ups themselves who are doing the work, but to know that there is a network of people out there who believe in you and your idea(s) can often be the difference between success and failure.

Obviously, not everyone is lucky enough to be part of a tech accelerator programme, but you can still build up your own network of mentors. Look around you in your current profession and further afield for people who you admire for their achievements and with experience relevant to what you are aiming to do. There are paid mentoring networks out there you can join but most people are quite happy and flattered to be asked to be a mentor. Just be clear about the format of the relationship, what you are hoping to achieve and respectful of their time. Remember that the mentor is not there to do all the work for you, but rather to talk things through and to push you to ever greater heights. Finding a good mentor or team of mentors could be the most important thing you do in your business career and so it’s important to do your homework and to ask for help. Your search for a mentor (or mentors) begins now!

Confidence – The Stuff Entrepreneurs Are Made Of

This article was originally written for and published on Upmarket – the US-based online business magazine at http://upmarket.squidoo.com/2012/04/03/confidence-the-stuff-entrepreneurs-are-made-of/

Over the past three years I’ve worked with thousands of start-ups across the UK, and have come to the conclusion that confidence is the number one ingredient that entrepreneurs need if they are to succeed in business.

Although funding (or the lack of it) is regularly cited as a barrier to starting a business, it’s really the mindset and attitude of the founder that is more important than anything else. Let me qualify this statement.

Working for one of the UK’s longest running youth enterprise programmes means I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many hundreds of entrepreneurs at various stages in their career including some of the most successful business people in the country. They all share a common trait with each other which is an unshakeable self-belief in what they are doing and the path they have chosen.

There’s a long-running argument in the business world about whether entrepreneurs are born or made but I’m now a firm believer in the latter. Confidence is born out of experience and so the more varied experiences you are exposed to the more confident you will become. In particular, it appears that if someone experiences a positive outcome to their entrepreneurial activities early on in life (no matter how small), they are highly likely to repeat this behaviour again. It’s almost like a switch in their brain is flicked and they start to see things differently to everyone else around them.

It sounds like a cliché, but I’ve lost count of the number of entrepreneurs who talk fondly about their time washing cars as a kid or selling sweets in the playground which gave them an early taste for business and set them on the entrepreneurial path. Lord Sugar (the UK equivalent of Donald Trump on our version of The Apprentice) caused controversy recently by saying that ‘If parents don’t send their kids out to make money by the age of 13, they’ll become lazy dreamers!’ He may have a point but I don’t think it’s ever too late to train yourself to think in a more entrepreneurial way.

In my own life, my main focus at school and university was always on ‘getting good grades’ (whilst having fun along the way) which would eventually lead to ‘a good job’ with ‘a good company’. I’ve been fortunate to work for some fantastic companies over the years but I’ve also had some setbacks too – including being made redundant and out of work for almost a year in 2001 which took a long while for my career (and finances) to recover from. However, I actually see this as a positive period as it allowed me to spend more time at home with my family, reflect on what I really wanted to do with my life and pursue a career in the music industry for the next few years before pivoting again into the not-for-profit sector where I have been ever since.

Each new role and the experiences they brought have made me stronger and more confident in my own abilities to learn new skills and adapt to previously unknown situations. It’s given me a much broader perspective on life and in work which means I am always eager to learn and quick to adopt new ideas. My personal motto is ‘Stay Curious’ as I feel you can never stop learning and growing as a person which is what Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha mean by living your life in ‘Permanent Beta’ in their new book The Start-Up Of You. This attitude and confidence, plus the fact I am working with start-ups every day means I have become more entrepreneurial in my role and can see opportunities for new projects and collaboration everywhere I look.

But what if you didn’t catch the entrepreneurial bug as a kid or jour job doesn’t inspire you to think like an entrepreneur? What can you do to build up your confidence and train yourself to be an entrepreneur (or intrapreneur)?

Some ideas you could try:

  • Read widely – the fact you are here suggests you are curious about personal and professional development but there are many great websites and blogs out there as well as Upmarket. I recommend not just reading online though. It’s still good to get away from your device and I still get a lot of inspiration from reading a physical newspaper, magazine or book. If you want to open your mind, I recommend reading any of The Domino Project books, preferably starting with Poke The Box by Seth Godin.
  • Talk to people – although we’re living an increasingly virtual world, you must never stop meeting and talking to people face to face. Too many problems at work are caused by poor communication within teams so perhaps you could try a No Email Day so you can build up greater rapport with your colleagues, even if it’s just getting away from your desk for a coffee in another part of the office. Human beings are inherently social and real conversations ebb and flow and meander into all kinds of interesting directions which can result in fantastic innovation if you let them.
  • Network – people always talk about the importance of networking but not many people do it right. There are so many ways to network these days, both online and offline but it’s important to try and do it with a goal in mind. Remember though, networking without a purpose is just socialising!
  • Create opportunities – why not start your own informal networking events for similar, like-minded people with a shared interest to gather? The trick here is to keep the agenda loose rather than define a structured event and let the events evolve and form around the people who attend. For example, in June 2011 I started hosting informal, after work events for local developers, designers and start-ups in my city which now attract 50 people each week. The events are free to attend and the format is simply to have one or two speakers on a theme, followed by relaxed drinks in the bar next door (where the really interesting conversations happen)!
  • Enter Awards / Competitions – I’ve seen first-hand how even just a small amount of money or just the kudos of winning an award for their work can be a real boost to an entrepreneur. Time and again the feedback we receive for the start-up awards we give out is that although the (small) amount of cash was what attracted them to the competition in the first place, it was the confidence and validation that winning gave them that was the biggest benefit. More than money, awards can generate fantastic PR for your business and open doors to more opportunities down the line.
  • Scare yourself – the only way to grow and develop both personally and professionally is to try things that you previously couldn’t do. Fear is a completely normal and natural feeling to have if you are in a dangerous environment but is usually irrational and without substance. Even if things go wrong, the negative outcome of doing something is rarely as bad as you think it will be and unless you try you’ll never know if you can do it. A good example of this is public speaking. Most people are afraid of speaking in public but the more you do it the easier it gets. If this sounds like you, why not put yourself forward to speak at an event on a topic you are passionate about? The fear and nerves will make you try harder and once you’ve done it the fear will be gone forever. Follow the fear. If you’re afraid of something, that’s where you should go next!

Emotional Technology

Below are the slides from my Techmesh / CIM presentation at The Rose Bowl, Leeds Met University on Thursday 8th March 2012.

The theme was ‘Emotional Technology + How Ideas Spread‘ as I was trying to convey the fact that no matter how amazing the technology is, it’s only when it taps into real life human emotion, needs and desires that it will truly succeed. The slides contain links to two of my personal favourite YouTube clips (from Little Riot and Mad Men) which demonstrate the power of storytelling when getting others to buy into your ideas.

Techmesh is the B2B network for Yorkshire and Humber’s IT & Telecommunications sector and part of Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce. This was my first, but hopefully not my last event with them as I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and working with them. Visit http://techmesh.org to find out more about the great work they are doing for the sector.

Welcome to ‘Permanent Beta’ – The Start-Up IS YOU!

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Start-Up Of YouThe Start-Up Of You‘ by LinkedIn Founder/Chairman Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha and am feeling pretty inspired.

If you’re stuck in a rut, wanting to advance your career, find a new job or start a business (i.e. everyone) I’d strongly urge you to buy and read this book!

If Reid’s career credentials weren’t enough – employee at Apple, Fujitsu and PayPal before founding LinkedIn, not to mention being board member of companies like Mozilla, Kiva and Zynga and partner at Greylock venture capitalists (you name it, they’ve invested in it) – then I really don’t know what would be!

Yes, he’s obviously a very smart guy to work with and for great companies like them, but that’s only part of the story. Reid is living proof that network literacy, the ability to ‘conceptualise, access and benefit from the information flowing through your social network’ is what will set you apart from everyone else and lead to bigger and better opportunities for yourself and your contacts.

The Start-Up Of YouThe Start-Up Of You is packed-full of practical, real-life examples of how to leverage your contacts, find new ones and maximise your potential. It’s time to take control of your career. All humans were born entrepreneurs. Welcome to ‘Permanent Beta’. The Start-Up IS YOU!

If you’re still not sure if this book is for you, take a look at the description, table of contents and free resources at www.thestartupofyou.com/about-the-book/

Leap Year

2012 is a ‘Leap Year’ so that means you have an extra 24hrs to do something special, be it volunteering / raising money for a good cause or starting that business you’ve been talking about.

Maybe you could use the extra day, 29th Feb, to focus your efforts in one go or spread it out over time like 1hr a week over 24 weeks?

Perhaps the term ‘Leap Year’ could start to mean something new? It’s time for you to take the plunge! I’d love to hear if you do!

We need more Leaders not Followers

In the past few years we’ve become a little obsessed with getting more ‘Followers’ on Twitter and ‘Fans’ on Facebook. This is back to front thinking.

If we’re completely honest with ourselves and each other, it’s unlikely that every little thing that we do is really that remarkable and worthy of a ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’.

I often hear people say things like, “If only we had more Facebook Fans or Twitter Followers we could sell more of XYZ” or “When we get more, we can then start spending more time improving our product/service”.

The problem with constantly striving for MORE is that you can never have enough. You’ll never be satisfied until your numbers are higher than everyone else. Also, just because someone is a ‘Fan’ on Facebook doesn’t mean they are an actual, paying customer. It just means they have the potential to become one now your Status Updates appear on their News Feed.

A much better and healthier attitude in business is to do everything in your power to make your product/service the best it can be (and then some). If you are offering something truly remarkable then your loyal Fans and Followers will appear and not necessarily online.

We need more inspiration and delight in the world. We need more Leaders not Followers!