I was recently invited by Sage to Chicago to speak at their annual Sage Summit. The business focussed event, held over 3-4 days, is an opportunity to network, learn and grow. It featured some amazing keynote speakers and loads of smaller breakout sessions and interesting seminars.
As you can see by the photos on this page I was lucky enough to meet some of these amazing people and learn some useful business lessons from them. Here are my highlights:
On my Virgin Atlantic flight there I wondered what it would be like to meet Richard Branson and decided to do everything I could to make it happen. Incredibly, the very next morning I was shaking his hand. I then set myself the challenge of meeting the rest of the celebrity speakers that week. It wasn’t easy. I was just determined and had a good energy for making it happen. I believed that I could do it. I even managed to blag backstage access to The Killers gig that week. Determination and self belief are so important to achieving your goals.
Don’t be needy
At the same time as being determined it’s important not to be desperate. Although I believed that I could achieve my goals, I was also prepared to fail. I just didn’t focus on the failure. I focused on what I wanted but not to the point where it consumed me. In a cab ride in Chicago, the adventurer and philanthropist Justin Packshaw shared similar advice he once received from an experienced entrepreneur, “Needy ain’t sexy.” It sums this up nicely I think.
Richard Branson, whose Virgin group comprises more than 400 companies, could never have grown without delegating. As he says, “Find someone better than you to run your business.”
Do what you love
Fellow TV Personality and entrepreneur Daymond John explains how to achieve this: “Make a list of things you love doing and things you don’t. Then, outsource everything you don’t love doing and it will change your life.”
I caught up with business youtuber Evan Carmichael who has a book coming out called: Your One Word. The book is about finding the core word that has meaning for you and truly inspires your business and team. Evan’s word is ‘Believe’ and his team is so into 'believing in entrepreneurs' that one of them even has the word 'Believe' as a tattoo on her arm. Having a focus for what you are about and what you want to achieve with your business is so powerful.
Power of Focus
Hearing actress Gwyneth Paltrow talk about KPI’s (key performance indicators) and sales funnel strategies was an eye opener. I find it inspiring that anyone can shift career, take on new challenges and start up a business. As the founder of successful online retailer Goop, Gwyneth’s key take away was to remember to focus, “Where you look is where you go. Keep your eye on the prize and believe in yourself.”
Another actress, Zooey Deschanel, also made the shift to business even though she didn’t see herself as particularly business minded. She partnered with experienced people and created HelloGiggles, a positive online community focussed on empowering millennial women. For Zooey, she felt instinctively that “If I like it someone else will like it.” She then shaped her brand around her audience which helped it to grow. It’s so important to put yourself in the shoes of your customers to understand your business and grow.
I was invited to lunch with Donald Brydon the Chairman of Sage and a handful of Sage customers. He was very interested in what customers thought about Sage, good and bad. It really doesn’t matter whether you have a small business of a large FTSE 100 plc to run, soliciting feedback from your customers is essential. If the Chairman can make time to do it, so can we.
Actor and tech investor with over 150 companies in his portfolio, Ashton Kutcher, is a social media whizz and arguably has generated a lot of his business success through his use of Twitter and other social platforms. Social media is not a broadcast platform he says, “It’s a conversation with a feedback loop.” You must engage with your followers. Just as you must engage with your customers.
What’s your Story?
I’m fascinated by how companies create the emotions attached to logos, how customers perceive brands and how brands endure over time. Understanding what your focus is and communicating that well are key to success. I was lucky enough to spend some time with branding expert Sasha Strauss from Innovation Protocol who reminded me how important it is for the brand message to work at every level throughout your company. For example, did you know that every employee at Disneyland is called a cast member? From the toilet cleaners through to the performers they are all cast members focussed on creating an amazing show for their customers.
Saving Time and Money
Taking time to of my busy schedule to attend an event which isn't directly connected to my card business doesn’t seem that sensible, but opportunities are everywhere to generate more business or to cut costs. I always pick up useful titbits of information at Sage Summit. On the export panel I sat on, my friend Gemma Price from SuperFood Market mentioned how she saved thousands renegotiating her courier costs. That single piece of advice has now been actioned and will save our business in excess of £5,000 this year alone.
Not just about the money
Global public benefit company Kickstarter has generated over $5 billion for start ups and created over 300,000 jobs through it’s crowd funding model that helps a range of creative projects get off the ground. It’s co-founder Yancey Strickler reminded us at Sage Summit that supporting someone’s idea and investing in their passion, even without receiving equity in return, is a hugely valuable way of contributing to the world.
The Value of PR
One of the reasons I’ve been able to maintain such good levels of PR and marketing over the years is that those in the media know that I am quick to respond and happy to help. Because of this I got the opportunity to be interviewed on Bloomberg Radio in Chicago which was broadcast throughout America. I shared the success of our greeting card business and even generated a sales lead from an American business wanting to send cards to their customers. It’s important to make PR a regular activity in your business. Click here to listen to my interview.
Last year I made friends with Huffington Post blogger, Sandy Abrams, and Social Media Expert, Rebecca Coleman. We kept in touch online and supported one another’s talks, blog posts and social media activity at Sage Summit. If you want to have good reach on social media you need to build a network of supportive friends. I think it’s essential in business too.
It’s so easy to dismiss selfies as narcissistic and self indulgent. I changed strategy this year with the aim of increasing my personal brand and awareness of my businesses. Images are a very powerful way of doing this. When you tag people in the images it shows up in their feed so they can then easily remember you and share you with their networks. Search engines all index them. Images with celebs have a similar power and high level of engagement so grab selfies whenever the opportunities arise.
One of the reasons I leapt at the chance to attend my second Sage Summit is the insatiable appetite I have for learning and growing. Being around inspiring people who are all focussed on improving their businesses and their lives is incredibly energising. It’s definitely worth setting aside time in your calendar each year to sharpen your saw rather than keeping on hacking away with the same blunt instrument and wondering why it’s not working.
Jeremy is speaking on ‘Ten things to do in business before using social media’ at the Autumn Fair eCommerce Theatre on Sunday 4th September.