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May 2021

Viafuture: Energy, Sustainability, Community

Viafuture: Energy, Sustainability, Community 150 150 Cypher

Viafuture: Energy, Sustainability, Community

The number of countries announcing pledges to achieve net-zero emissions over the coming decades continues to grow.

But the pledges by governments to date – if they are to be fully achieved require sustained support and participation from individual citizens, whose choices and lives will be affected in many ways.

One Oxfordshire business that is trying to make sustainability an individual choice is Viafuture, a collective of associates with a unified passion to remove the barriers that prevent organisations from reaching their full energy and sustainability potential.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world has a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050, but it is narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally it said in a special report released this month. Based on their modelling tools, the IEA Roadmap sets out more than 400 milestones to guide the global journey to net zero by 2050.

For its part, Cypher client, ViaFuture provides the opportunity for organisations, regardless of size to able to pursue their own sustainable pathway, for individuals to feel they can have a role to play within their organisation and for stakeholders to foster a deeper connection to the impact that can achieve locally within their communities.

As Zoe King, Founder of Viafuture explains, “We all have a role to play to achieve the Government’s Net Zero targets and we want to remove perceived barriers and make it as easy as possible for individuals to contribute either through their employer or in their own right.

“We ensure organisations have an authentic, credible sustainability policy and have structured our offer around three pillars including, procurement, policy creation and community engagement.

“Firstly we advise on the best fit strategy for utility purchasing to ensure contracts meet business needs, whether this is fixed purchasing or more complex risk managed services.

“Secondly, we can create a sustainable policy for any business, aimed at reduce wastage but also allow an organisation to achieve B Corp or ISO14001 environmental standards if they choose. Part of this pledge is to allow employees of these businesses to make a donation to charity when they too switch provider.

“Thirdly, we work with clients and partners to create funds that can be donated to local causes in the community to foster a much deeper relationship between businesses, staff and their local environment. Our aim is to create some community-owned renewable energy resources.”

The IEA’s report is the world’s first comprehensive study of how much it will have to transition in order to create a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth.

The Roadmap it sets out is both formidable and critical on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050, but its course could bring huge benefits.

Zoe however, urges caution to business owners striving to do their bit.

“I think we must all be wary of Green-Washing,” she explains.

“Just because something says it is renewable, doesn’t mean it is and one of the greatest risks a business can face on its route to creating a truly authentic a sustainability policy is its credibility. A wrong move can seriously damage firm’s environmental credentials which can have a significant financial and reputational impact. Our advice is always double check or to peak to an expert.”

If you would like to know more about how your business can adopt a robust sustainability policy, contact Viafuture today

Is it time for your E-Car?

Is it time for your E-Car? 150 150 Cypher

Is it time for your E-Car?

Following the news that Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator has approved plans to invest £300m in low carbon projects including support for 3,550 new charging points for electric vehicles it is expected that this industry sector will see another boost.

With sales of new cars powered solely by petrol or diesel banned in the UK from 2030, a recent report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) found that demand for electric vehicles is growing in the UK – accounting for one in 10 car registrations last year – mainly fuelled by businesses or buyers of fleets. Just 4.6% of new consumer vehicles were battery powered.

One Oxfordshire company that is supporting the growth in electric and hybrid cars locally is Your-E Car, which specialises in hybrid and electric vehicles for fleet and personal customers.

Following a successful career in motor parts, sales and leasing, MD Ben Fleetwood, created a leasing business of his own called Red Kite Leasing in 2018. A successful 2019 followed but during lockdown Ben had an epiphany.

“The roads outside our house were absolutely silent for the first two weeks of lockdown 1.0. There was no noise, no pollution and I thought, imagine if the world could stay this way,” says Ben.

In 2020, the re-branded Your E-Car was born.

Ghandi has been credited with saying ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’, this was Ben’s starting point.

“A number of companies offer general leasing but we wanted our offer to be more specialist. We aren’t going to change the whole world leasing electric cars one at a time, but I feel that we are doing our bit, locally at least. We are increasing the supply and the opportunity for business owners across Oxfordshire to make a sustainable choice for their fleet vehicles.

“Commercial vehicle owners are prepared to look deeper into their environmental impact and by offering staff a choice that includes electric models they allow a whole company to make a difference.”

Driving an electric vehicle needn’t be expensive either. They come with the latest technology, which improves the driving experience, but in reality they may even be better for your bottom line and contribute to a cleaner, better environment.

Until recently, if you’d asked your accountant if you should buy a car through your business, the answer would almost always have been no, because the Benefit in Kind tax you would pay would far outweigh any tax relief you got on the vehicle. However, that all changed last year and as part of the Government’s commitment net zero, business owners are now in a position where, if you buy an electric car, then the benefit in kind tax is just 1%.

There are a number of impressive electric or hybrid models available, but what it even more impressive are the tax savings you can now benefit from by having an electric car in your business. You now get 100% of the cost of the car off set against your profits – on which you pay corporation tax.

If that isn’t reason enough, then consider this; if you are currently funding your car privately, but using it for business, then the money you are using has already had tax deducted. If you are taking a salary or dividends out of your business then HMRC are charging you tax on those funds before you make any payments. But, now, if the company buys the car, then not only do you save Corporation Tax relief on the price of the car, plus the running costs, but you also get to keep more of the money you do take out – because you aren’t funding the car – or you take less out in the first place, so pay less personal tax on it. Either way it’s a win, win.

According to Zap-Map, there are nearly 24,000 chargers installed around the country. So far, they have mainly been concentrated in London and the South East. But Ofgem has said the investment by energy networks would support more ultra-rapid charge points in cities such as Glasgow, Kirkwall, Warrington, Llandudno, York and Truro.

Some 1,800 ultra-fast chargers, capable of charging car batteries in minutes rather than hours, will now be installed across the motorway network – as reassurance for electric vehicle drivers who want to embark on long journeys.

If you would like help with choosing the right car, is a great place to start, but if you are interested in really saving some money, then give the team at Cypher a call and we will be happy to help you out.

The art of conversation

The art of conversation 150 150 Cypher

The Art of Conversation

It is undeniable that throughout 2020 and 2021, most business conversations have happened over a screen of some sort. Unless you live under as rock, everyone is now aware of Zoom, TEAMS and Google Hangouts.

It has been interesting so see how quickly we have adopted these video conferencing platforms as the norm and, as Alan and I discussed it will be interesting to see how this practice evolves and how quickly elements of face to face meetings return later this summer.

Zoom has very quickly followed Google, Skype and Facebook, where the name of an application has become synonymous with the action of using it. But has this adoption been to the detriment of the art of conversation?

Actually, I think not!

What I noticed most about the world of virtual meetings was that firstly, I was having a lot more of them than I ever could face to face but, secondly they ran to time a lot more and I was getting a lot more action points from them. In short, my day is now more structured and I feel a lot more productive.

On the Time Management Paradox pod, we discussed that doing more of what drove a business forward and wasting less time on unnecessary and unregulated meetings was definitely a positive.

Zoomed Out
Overall, while I find the whole in, out, done, element of Zoom meetings really positive, I’ve also found them fundamentally more draining than in-person meetings. After a face-to-face meeting I would write up my notes for the client or the team and during that time I would decompress my brain. Now meetings are stacked back-to back, I decompress in one go at the end of the day, but by then my brain has gone, I am Zoomed out. I see the same impact on clients.

It could be the screen, it could be the volume, or that Zoom meetings are punchier, but I think everyone suffers serious Zoom fatigue from a day of video meetings. Alan likens it to a poker player after a long game. When we listen, properly, without the distractions of a coffee shop or a busy office, we are concentrating so much harder and our investment is deeper, which after 30 seconds of niceties at the start could last for anything up to a few hours.

It’s been interesting to see how quickly we have all adopted this technology and we discussed whether, in a Covid-free world, we would still conduct the majority of our conversations digitally or if ‘in person’ meetings would creep back in to our lives once we were able. For me the jury is still out. There may be industry biases, either way, and of course personal preferences will make a difference and not just because of on-going health fears. Some businesses – like Alan’s -thrive in this virtual world.

Time to thrive
As a business coach, Alan is a huge fan of virtual meetings. He finds it easier to help clients create the change they’re looking for during a series of Zoom meetings because he feels there is a deeper, longer investment in the conversations he has. Specifically, Zoom allows his clients to really focus on their objectives and desired outcomes.  Of course, this could be part of his evolution as a coach- as solution providers we all need to get better at this -but the focus provided by a Zoom meeting means that he gets to root causes, discovers options and identifies possible actions far quicker than when in person. The compound effect of carrying this on to the next coaching conversation means that the progress and the rate of change increases – dare I say it exponentially, and as business owners isn’t that what we are all looking for!?

I think this demonstrates that it’s not the fact that you’re sat next to someone that creates a worthwhile conversation. It’s the type of conversation you have, the investment you make it in it and the genuine focus on the outputs you generate. Whether you’re in the room or 300 miles away, nothing’s different. So I think now that people are used to it, it’s going to take time before we go back to how we were, and honestly we may never go all the way back.

Being productive was a key element for our Managing the Time Paradox podcast and with no lengthy commutes, a timely start and finish time means everyone gets more time back, but the bigger opportunity is that no-one is geographically barred from doing work with anybody else. If a series of Zoom calls is now the way we serve clients, then we can deliver this service wherever they are, whether that’s Manchester, Northern Ireland, San Francisco, Glasgow or Oxford, it makes no difference.

It will also be interesting to see what people’s new tolerance for drive time to a meeting is. Seriously, would you now drive for more than 30 minutes, if you could hop on a Zoom call instead?

The power of emotion
In any long-term business relationship, there is an undeniable human connection and emotional connection. It is an element of in person meetings one might expect to lose in a virtual space, but I think actually the opposite has been true. Conducting meetings with people at home, in their safe space, particularly during lockdowns 1.0 and 2.0 we have seen some serious emotions and emotional shifts, including anger and tears which demonstrated the level of investment being made by people in the meeting. So the accusation that you cannot get that level of emotion on a virtual call is simply untrue.

Better in person
That’s not to say that sometimes you feel you just need to be in the room. We have all seen the now infamous parish council Zoom meeting and the fabulous Jackie Weaver who had all the authority in the world. I wonder if that meeting was held face-to-face wherever half the people that we’re kicking off, shouting at her would have the balls to have done that. Conversely, the ease with which someone can be effectively thrown out of the meeting probably also had an influence on certain actions. My thoughts are that how dysfunctional must the meetings be in the first place to get to that point?

And we have all sat through Zoom meetings, professionally and personally, where people are muted, cameras don’t work, Wi-Fi is slow, or someone is sat too close to a camera so you only see half of their head. Thankfully that seems to be reserved for a certain age group, but in general of the thousands of meetings we have attended in the last 18 months, very few could have been better in person.

Every good conversation is 50% speaking, 50% listening.
I think we demonstrated on the Art of Conversation podcast that we are definitely pro-virtual conversations, but there is still a balance to find. We want to meet people, absolutely, but in this new world, the art of conversation has evolved, not disappeared. The paradigm has shifted; the Genie is out of the bottle but without loss of conversational impact.

Now I think there’s a linear relationship between the number of people on a Zoom meeting and the impact it can have. As you follow the curve of the imaginary graph, as the meeting attendees do up actually it is to the detriment of the meeting. But the business meeting with say one to five people is the sweet spot.

In summary, we talked a lot about the art of conversation, 2021 style. Alan and I dived in to what is different about a virtual conversation versus an in person one and I think we raised a number of positives for this new way of working.

Conversations are different now, but not in a bad way. If video calls enable you to structure your day better, have a greater number of more productive meetings, with clear outputs, if you are able to dive in, listen better, then your conversations are going to be better. It doesn’t matter whether they’re virtual or whether they’re in face-to-face.

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.)​

The Time Management Paradox

The Time Management Paradox 150 150 Cypher

The Time Management Paradox

Full disclosure Alan and I weren’t able to stick to time on this Mind Your Business podcast!

Did you know that the average human being lives for around 4000 weeks, which equates to about 77 years.  Measuring life in weeks is a sobering thought.  Obviously there are even less weeks spent building up a business so to make the most of our time, we need to use it effectively.

Hands up, how many of us have attended a time management course? I know I have. We all want to get the most out of our time and many of us feel we are failing in this regard. As business owners-or frankly just adults – we are all busy. But how busy and does our busyness bring us the rewards we want?

It sounds like a Star Trek episode, but the title of this podcast, The Time Management Paradox is actually a philosophy of Alan’s that suggests we can’t manage time, time manages us. Rather you can partner with time and therefore, you can use it more effectively.

Understand your life roles
Step one to mastering time is to understand all the factors in your life and how they fit into four distinct roles. We describe them on the podcast as Professional, Personal, Family and Community.  They broadly cover work, family, exercise and any other activities you undertake.

Let’s be generous and say we sleep for eight hours, so we are awake for 16. Create your own pie chart and decide what percentage of your time you commit to each of these roles. Every day is different so it is unlikely to be four 25% splits. Now ask yourself are you happy with the result?

On the Podcast, I gave the example of when in corporate life I would always try to be home before five o’clock to bath my daughter. In general I managed it more often than not, but a lot of the time, while she was in the bath, I would be on my phone to the office or to a client. In this example my daughter didn’t have a fully present dad, the client wasn’t getting my full professional attention and I felt a lot of stress and anxiety as I was trying to do at least two things- and doing them both badly.

To manage time, we need to be present. To do this we need to understand which role we are playing and commit wholeheartedly to that role.  It is better to do something well for 30 minutes than do it half-ar$ed for two hours.

Create parameters for your work life balance
Putting in parameters, around your day or blocking out key times, doesn’t give you more time but it gives you clear markers as to when you are playing a certain role and when it stops to make time for  another role.

If you work in a team then they need to be on the same page. They need to understand that it is ok not to answer an email at eight o’clock at night. You can’t switch your email off 5.30pm but expect them to keep theirs on all night. Creating parameters is equally important when we are working from home. We have all seen children creep into Zoom meetings or had home schooling wreck a planning day. If you were in the office that wouldn’t happen  but so many of us are –and maybe always will be- working from home, so setting clear expectations with our family stakeholders is as important as doing so with colleagues, clients and employers.

Being productive
Let’s say you work 830 to 530 every weekday to free up evenings and weekends.  In those nine hours, whether you work alone or as part of a team you want to be as productive as you can. As Alan says, you want to play all out and do the high impact stuff.  In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey uses the concept of focusing on the ‘Big Rocks’ over the ‘Grit’.

I always think that a barrier to real productivity is the two or three jobs that a business owner won’t let go of. We all have them, mine is the bookkeeping for Cypher. I am probably the most expensive bookkeeper in the country.  In truth I have no business doing it and there will be a 100 tasks being done by business owners up and down the country that if they sat back and put an actual value on their time, and looked where they were spending it they wouldn’t do those jobs.

Here’s a useless bit of trivia: The word “priority” is derived from the Latin word prioritas (“fact or condition of being prior”), the word meant “the most important thing”, the “prior” thing or the thing with precedence.  When it was first coined, the word “priority” had no plural.  You could only have one priority.

At Cypher we use a diary system so we are able to set clear parameters and clear priorities for our time. We need to build in a level of flexibility as a degree of our work is responsive to client’s needs. We have set team times, meeting times, lunch breaks and triage times throughout the week to ensure we can focus on what’s important. Alan uses a simpler task list which is reviewed each day in order to set and achieve clear priorities. Whatever your method, it shouldn’t just focus on work-based tasks, include personal, family or community roles in your priority planning.

Lose your email
I could spend an entire Podcast episode and blog talking about the virtues of taking email off your phone. At Cypher a colleague manages all of our external emails and internally we use Slack to communicate. This means that when we are getting our heads down to prioritise a piece of work, we aren’t distracted by the ‘ping’ of a new message. it is life changing, believe me.

Time management is a paradox. Instead we should focus on partnering with time. We need to value it, especially as we can measure it in weeks, to try and make the most of the time we have for all of our important roles. The good news is that there are simple steps we can all take and behaviours we can  adapt to make sure we are present in any role long enough to achieve our priorities, whatever they are and make the most of the time we have left.

Ways to manage the time paradox

  1. Understand your roles – Professional, Personal, Family, community
  2. Be present for the amount of time you need to spend in a role to do it effectively
  3. Manage your priorities- be clear on what you want to achieve for the day, week year
  4. Always do the most important things that bring the most value to the business
  5. Cut-out the time stealing jobs and delegate them to someone else
  6. Say no more often

Take email off your phone

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.)​

The Brilliance of Resilience

The Brilliance of Resilience 150 150 Cypher

The Brilliance of Resilience

Resilience is a term we have heard a lot over the last 12 months. It has become somewhat of a buzzword during lockdown. It is also a subject very close to Alan’s heart. He feels that if we can understand how to access it and use it properly, it can be a very powerful trait both personally and professionally

There are two definitions of the term resilience that I like. One comes from an engineering context and describes resilience as the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape. Another definition, perhaps more relevant to the current context is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.  Well, we have all had a few of those!

We are facing challenges on many fronts; home schooling, furlough, social distancing, remote working and endless Zoom calls, which can all nibble away at our resilience. Alan and I wanted to use the Mind Your Business Podcast to provide some hints and tips to help business leaders, owners and entrepreneurs rebuild their resilience.

We discussed two approaches to resilience; a psychological one and a philosophical one. Alan describes the philosophical approach as a state of mind he adopts each morning as he visualises his day ahead. He connects with the emotions he needs to take positive steps forward, regardless of the challenges he may encounter in that day.

In his book, the Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod describes the empowering effect of visualisation. He introduces visualisation as way to generate positive results in your outer world by using your imagination to create mental pictures of specific behaviours needed to lead to desired outcomes occurring in your life.

For him, visualisation is the process of imagining exactly what you want to achieve and then mentally rehearsing what steps you need to take to make it a reality. Elrod suggests that this turbocharges the programming of your subconscious mind for success. All before breakfast!

Alan and I agreed that when you visualise your goals daily, you align your thoughts and feelings with your vision, which makes it easier to maintain the motivation you need to keep taking the necessary actions to achieve those goals. It can also be a powerful tool to overcome any self-limiting habits such as procrastination or self-doubt.

Face the two imposters
I have tried to add my own philosophical viewpoint to this discussion. If resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, then a way to achieve resilience is to use every disaster as a learning experience.  In other words, if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same, then you will have resilience my son!

My point is that when we experience even the worst failures, if, when the dust settles, we can make them positive learning opportunities we will become better and stronger for it. As a business owner seeing barriers as challenges can help develop a mindset that allows us to approach life in a far more positive frame of mind. This in itself helps to create inbuilt resilience.

Alan and I discussed the difference between introspection, i.e. looking for the learning opportunities in any given circumstance and rumination, which is in effect just a past version of worrying. We agree that there is a clear negative correlation between worry and resilience. Worrying-about past or present- effectively saps your inner strength and takes your resilience away.

Alan and I have talked much- see previous blogs- about the power of getting clarity over issues as a way of defeating worry. Worry often leads to writing a horror story for our businesses. Viewing what is worrying us in glorious technicolour can often expose it as a lie and upgrading a worry to a challenge allows us to take some more positive action.

Even using language such as ‘here is my challenge and I am looking for ways to solve it’, feels more empowering that ‘here is something I am worried about and it keeps me awake at night’.

Grow your Circle of Influence
In his book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, Stephen Covey refers to two concentric circles. The inner circle is called the ‘Circle of Influence’ and the outer circle is called the ‘Circle of Concern’. What he advocates is focusing on your inner Circle of Influence and what you can control. For example, how you can improve, how you can get better at what you do, how you can make your service better or how you can create client astonishment.

In this way you are expanding your Circle of Influence and as your Circle of Influence expands, by definition, your Circle of Concern diminishes. Growing or expanding your Circle of Influence effectively shrinks your Circle of Concern.

Our final discussion topic was how optimism and pessimism are linked to resilience. I consider myself a born optimist I will always look for solutions, the actions I need to move forward. But there are people out there who are the opposite and consistently let worry become their driving emotion. I’m not a psychologist but I am confident that there are significant benefits of optimism versus pessimism. I suspect optimists are more resilient than pessimists.

Even if we are born as either a pessimist or an optimist and there is a direct genetic link to these traits, I am confident we can we can learn to be more optimistic and therefore more resilient.

For inspiration, I think we should look to our children, specifically pre-teens. They too have coped with many challenges this year but I still see them taking it on the chin and starting each day with optimism and the resilience to make the best of it.

Building Resilience
Like building a muscle, increasing your resilience has many benefits but it requires time and dedication. If you don’t put in the work, it might atrophy. People are conditioned to think of resilience as a personality trait-either you have it or you don’t, but this isn’t necessarily the case. With intention and practice, you can become more resilient, no matter your circumstances.

Top tips for building resilience

  • See everything that goes wrong as an opportunity to learn and be better for it
  • Focus more on your Circle of Influence and less on your Circle of Concern
  • Optimism and pessimism are both learned behaviours and we think there is a direct link between optimism and resilience
  • Visualise your day and choose to be resilient through whatever challenges it presents
  • Get real clarity in issues that worry you to change them into challenges

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.)​

Completing v Competing

Completing v Competing 150 150 Cypher

Completing v Competing

Business owners will always try to understand who their competitors are, where they are stronger, where they are weaker, what their competitive advantage is. They will conduct SWOT analysis to determine relative strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the market place.approach.

On the Mind Your Business Podcast, we like to go a bit deeper than that and look at other possibilities. One of these alternative realities is completing rather than competing.

As an entrepreneur starting out, if we spent too long looking at the existing businesses in our industry, perhaps those that are dominant; already have a decent market share, a range of good products- perhaps there’s an Amazon, a great restaurant or a wonderful accountancy firm already in their space- then they might not even get started and a lot of possibility is killed before it has chance to grow.

To avoid this scenario, rather than looking at the world through a competitive lens, why not try and view it through a completing one. There are 79 million people in the UK, all with different needs, meaning there is enough audience to go around. Instead of competing with all of the other established businesses in your sector, consider how your company can add value to what is already going on, how you can make an existing service better, or create something complimentary to what is already being delivered.

Side by side competition is healthy
As an example, if you were opening an Indian restaurant would you go to the town where there are no Indian restaurants or would you go where there are a few open already? A lot of people would go for the monopoly option, but I think a better decision would be to go where there is already a proven market for your product.  As long as your product is distinctively different; maybe it’s in a modern style, a high end location or a tapas offering then you can demonstrate your place in the market, identify where you compete and standout from other restaurants.

When customers consider competing in close proximity they will always do some quick comparisons. Sites like Amazon make that easy for customers by offering these like-for like comparisons on many product pages. The point is twofold; it may not be a decision of ‘EITHER’, ‘OR’ it could be decision of ‘AND’. If you are put side by side and your product does something slightly different or better, then it immediately stands out and the customer hasn’t had to travel that far to find that out!

We see it in retail, FMCG, and the pharma sector, all the time. Go to any supermarket and there are a range of different colours, flavours, price points across the mix completing the offer to the customer.

Completing the offer.
An optician client of mine had five stores. Two were in relatively low-brow neighbourhoods a couple were out of town and he had a flagship outlet on one of Oxford’s hottest shopping streets. Both of the low-brow stores were next door to Specsavers. You would think he would lose 50% of his customers and his spend per head would be considerably lower than the more famous competition, but in fact the volume of footfall he received and the profit margins available on own-brand glasses versus designer brands meant that he made all of his profit from the two low-rent locations. His business model now is to go where Specsavers is. They spend millions on driving market awareness; he simply piggybacks work and scoops up the market they can’t service.

Know your target market
This story demonstrates that there is obviously a great demand for opticians in this town and despite their size, power and brand awareness, Specsavers can’t service the whole market themselves. Finding out what the competition doesn’t do can create a market for new entrants.

But even with this model, it doesn’t have to be seen as a competition. Cypher, for examples, doesn’t support a lot of private client work. If a customer asks us about detailed inheritance planning, we recommend other firms who we know will offer a great service. Conversely if they receive complex ‘Xero’ requests, they know that is our sweet spot and kick things over the fence to us. While we are competing in some areas there is enough to go around, making it a very lucrative completion model.

A central theme for this successful philosophy is to understand who your target market is as well as who it isn’t and be comfortable with that choice.

Co-opetition is a bit of a buzzword in business. The portmanteau brings together cooperation and competition. Essentially, businesses decide to interact at some level because they have shared interests of reaching a higher value proposition. Samsung’s decision to sell Apple its new Super Retina edge-to-edge OLED screen for the iPhone X is a good example.

Apple has an extremely loyal customer base so are comfortable selling a product that is half Samsung and however much people find out that the whizz-bang tech screen, which is the selling point, is made by Samsung Apple fans don’t really care. if you’re willing to camp out at the Apple store to get the new I-phone, you won’t move, so Apple are comfortable in their own skin, they realise where their limitations are- and how to benefit from a little co-opertition.

The other benefit for Apple is that the money that Samsung make from Apple goes back into R&D which helps the Samsung products improve. Apply helps keep the supply chain healthy and the cumulative marketing efforts ensure the demand for smart products continues to grow.

Another example is in the car industry. Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen all combined to create what Peugeot call the 107. They shared R&D, shared parts, badge it up and market the product differently but have effectively all saved millions in NPD to get the car to market.

Give the customer what they want
There is a shift in power- consumers and clients are more informed, they know they have choice – Amazon has demonstrated that in spades. Rather than fight it, accept it and use it to your advantage.

Sky now includes Netflix and Prime in its packages. Sky know that consumers don’t just want a Sky TV dish, they have other viable options, so to make it easy for the consumer – and to retain a healthy percentage of the market spend Sky enables you to pay your Netflix subscription through your Sky package. It’s why Microsoft gave TEAMs away to compete with Slack.

In this blog based on a Mind Your Business Podcast episode, Alan and I tried to introduce the idea of completing rather than competing. It’s an alternative philosophy to the binary ‘us v them’ scenario. It is a way of coming to market despite large competition. We tried to demonstrate that some of the biggest companies in the world in the software, automotive and broadcast sectors have become the best of frenemies to make it easier for the consumer to choose both options. They know consumers can choose to go elsewhere, so facilitate their choices rather than block them.

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.)​

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Fail to plan, plan to fail. 150 150 Cypher

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

90-day planning session 24th June


You know the saying ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’. It’s true. And right now, there isn’t a better time to plan for you the future you want from your business.

Planning is fundamental to the process for knowing where you need to go. Planning helps to clarify your vision, your purpose and highlights whether you have the available skills, time or resources to complete your plan. A lack of a coherent plan often leads to confusion; it makes business owners follow the next shiny thing, which then causes them to deviate from their own plan.

Action Coach David Rivers uses the analogy of a using a Sat Nav to describe the planning process. Business Owners are able to choose their destination, whether that is for this year, next year or in five years, they can press ‘start’ and then Sat Nav plots a route back to their starting point and advises them to turn left, turn right or go straight on, in order to reach the desired destination.

Planning after Covid
Prior to lockdown 1.0 we helped create a number of very robust business plans, then Covid hit and a lot of them were torn up and thrown out!

While the business world has always evolved, Covid-19 has become the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations in generations. How we work, exercise, shop, learn and communicate has changed forever.

Over the last 12 months business owners have seen more rapid change than ever before, which means we are entering another period of uncertainty and 90% of the previous ‘normal’ may now be totally different.

Change is inevitable and the challenge will be to pick a path, create a robust plan and stick to it. A 90-day plan can give you clarity on your goals, what you need to change and highlights what unnecessary distractions you need to filter out to provide a structure for where you want to go.

What’s included in a good plan?
A good plan will help business owners to develop the necessary mindset for setting a clear plan, accepting change where it’s needed and sticking to their original purpose.

A good plan will focus on:

  • Having a clear vision for what business owners want to achieve
  • Identifying whether they have the skills to achieve it
  • Highlight the resource needed for delivering objectives
  • Giving them the motivation for what needs to be done
  • Creating a plan to execute

If you don’t have all of these in place it can lead to a lot of anxiety and frustration.

Your plan should also answer the Have, Do, Be questions. As a business owner what do you want to HAVE from your business? What do you need to DO to get there? And in order to succeed, what sort of person do you need to BE?

“The importance of planning is the process you go through, not the document you end up with”

The process of making a plan allows you to understand what you can influence and what you can’t.  But it can also be a good Kick Up The Ar$e (KUTA) time.

Reality check, you can measure the life you have left in minutes and days! You have limited time to have an impact so even less time to waste procrastinating.

How will you use you time? Planning for the next 90 days can be the blueprint for the next 1-5 years

Remember, the importance of planning is the process you go through, not the document you end up with.

To reserve a place on our 90-day planning workshop contact one of the team today.

How to Become Better Social Animals

How to Become Better Social Animals 150 150 Cypher

How to Become Better Social Animals

For this blog, based on a ‘Mind Your Business Podcast’, Alan and I took a slightly different approach.

I spoke to countless business owners throughout the various lockdowns, who all told me they were using their relative downtime to focus on their social media presence. Ahead of the pod, I Googled ‘top tips for social media use’ and then Alan and I discussed the results, critiquing the advice given based on our own experiences.

Unless you are paying for targeted advertising, access to Social Media is free. It enables the smallest business to compete with global brands. It can reach a large audience and create a direct connection.  Simple, organic content can build a brand and drive sales traffic. In short why wouldn’t you use it?

Here’s what the advice says you should do to make the most of Social Media.

#1 Start with a plan.
Too many businesses have a scatter gun approach to social media. They post sporadically, there’s no topic or theme to what they post and so it becomes a random exercise of effectively shouting in the dark. If you want to break into one of your prospect’s feeds, or show up on their timeline, then your content needs to be relevant, easily understood and demonstrate the positive impact you can have on their business or sector.

A plan brings clarity on what you are trying to do and the effect you are trying to achieve. The great thing about Social Media is that you can access a whole range of metrics to see what is working and what people are engaging with so you can set some SMART goals and objectives.  I would also suggest that before you set future goals you should first review your current position; the number of followers, the level of engagement, the amount of times you post and on what platforms. And understand what your competitors are doing, especially if they are doing it better than you.

In addition, Alan asks clients to measure their motivation to actually do the work. It takes effort to remain consistent and keep posting.

#2 Select a platform that’s right for your business
Not every business will get bang for buck out of every platform.  The basic rule of marketing is ‘be where your customers are. Currently, Cypher does really well across LinkedIn because that’s where the majority of our audience is. If you’re a funeral director or a trade business then maybe Facebook is better. If you are a florist, an artist, or a niche craft business, then Instagram or Pinterest might suit. If you create a lot of video content then TikTok is growing massively. The point is don’t try and be all things to all people. Don’t overstretch or pour too much energy into creating the wrong sort of content or attempt to conqueror a platform that isn’t right for you or importantly your audience.

#3 Build relationships
The clue to mastering Social Media is in the name. If all you do is focus on yourself, post about your business and your achievements, but don’t engage with anyone else’s content, then all you are doing is broadcasting yourself and it can be seen as a very selfish view of the world. Instead, show you’re listening; show you are interested in other people’s thoughts.

The post that has brought me the most direct success was one I made at the start of the first lockdown.  I ranted about the fact that I felt that accountants were letting their clients down by not being available when the business world needed them most. I picked out some direct competitors that I felt were going above and beyond and I tagged them. Obviously, they all thanked me, their client base saw the post too and the likes and shares drove massive engagement.

I wanted to vent but it was genuine and being authentic is important for a Social Media plan too. I was standing up for what I believed, I was happy to play nicely with the competition and although it wasn’t intended as a sales piece it created the right engagements at the time. Now whenever I get a chance to big up someone in my industry, I do it because I feel it always comes back to me.

#4 Focus on quality over quality
The Google top tips state that one strong post a week is better than five mediocre posts. I disagree.

You never know what your audience is thinking at the time they read your posts and you can’t always know what a good post is until after you post it. For your Social Media efforts to work you need to be regularly seen and heard. People need to know what they are going to get if they engage with you. So as long as you’re consistent in your messaging, you can spend time scheduling enough content, of sufficient quality, to be posting throughout the week.

Not long after my rant post, HMRC posted one of my clients possibly the worst letter I have ever seen. I posted that up and got 125,000 views. People liked it, shared it, I got interaction from HMRC and from accountants around the world! I have never seen anything like it. Did we get any work on the back of it- not a jot!  My rant post brought in three clients, my calling out HMRC- nada! So in my view quantity definitely beats quality, but you do need to adhere to a base level of quality and authenticity.

#5 Engage with people
I often annoy myself by just doing the bare minimum to engage. Even if your view is different, you should try and post something. Often the time you get most out of the author or content creator is when you have a different opinion. As long as you can articulate your point in a way that isn’t rude or offensive, then constructive conversations on other people’s profiles can be a great way of stimulating engagement. You can position yourself as an articulate thought leader without hijacking other people’s posts or being aggressive.

This wasn’t a Social Media masterclass; rather this was a real-life critique of suggested social media best practice. In summary, here are mine and Alan’s top tips;

  • Have a plan, start with where you are now, and set clear goals so you know you have achieved them.
  • Pick a platform, and be social, it’s called a social network, use it to build relationships.
  • My personal opinion is that quantity is better than quality but whatever you choose make it consistent with your voice.
  • Think of engagement as a way of demonstrating thought leadership
  • To remain authentic, pick three words you would like everyone to use to describe what you post.
  • Connect with your motivation to do it.

As a result of this podcast, Alan was inspired to commit to posting three times a week.

New editions of the Mind Your Business Podcast appear every Friday. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or your choice of Pod provider to have it delivered straight to your device.)​