Category Archives: A-Z

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: L is for leadership

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: L is for leadership

ChefOne of my clients is struggling with her team, she can’t seem to get them to do what she needs them to do and to be honest they are running rings around her, costing her clients, money, time and stressing her out. In one of our sessions I asked when she was going to step up and be a leader. She rolled her eyes and told me that leaders are born not made, and she was not born to lead. I rolled my eyes right back at her and asked her why she was bothering to run her own business then; if she was born to follow (a safe assumption if she was not born to lead) then surely she should go and get a low level job and be told what to do all day every day? There followed a really interesting conversation on who leaders are, why people want to follow them and what great leaders do and she’s now working hard on being a good leader. The truth is that anyone trying to run anything (e.g. a business, a department, a team) is by definition in a leadership role. And it’s also true that while some people are better, more natural leaders than others everyone can become a leader in some way; we can all improve our leadership skills.

I would go so far as to argue that if you’re in charge of anything you are obliged to improve your leadership skills – you owe it to yourself, your team and the project. If your team aren’t doing a good job then it’s safe to assume that you’re doing a lousy job of leading them. There are countless books and articles on becoming a better leader (my current favourite is The Servant Leader by James A. Autry) but here are my top tips:

  • Accept that not everyone will like you. They won’t all like you whether you’re in charge or not so you might as well have their respect if nothing else.
  • Remember that respect is earned through expertise, track record, reputation and the way we treat others. You might still be working on your expertise or track record but we can all treat those around us with kindness and respect.
  • Treating people well doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover. Remember some of the great teachers you had at school? They probably set clear boundaries and expectations, the class knew exactly how far they could go and what was expected of them. The best teachers at my school dealt kindly but firmly with any bad behaviour or poor performance but knew when to relax and let us have some fun.   We did well in their classes and enjoyed being taught by them. That approach works well in business too.
  • Become a great communicator. Be clear about what you want, when you want it and why you want it. Set the overall context as well as the specific requirement so that the team understands where what they’re working on fits in. Make sure people know why they’re being asked to do something. If there isn’t a good reason think about whether you do need them to do it.
  • Delegate don’t abdicate. Whatever your team is working on is still your overall responsibility so check in with them regularly and make sure that they’re on track – help them out whenever you can; give them what they need to do a great job for you.
  • Be consistent, there’s nothing worse than a leader who blows hot and cold.

How’s my client doing? Well she’s getting there and her business is reaping the benefit.

For more information on how coaching can help you be a better leader please get in touch for a no-obligation chat. You can do this by calling me on 01235 861 311 or emailing me at   I look forward to hearing from you.

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Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: K is for kaizen

Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: K is for kaizen

Kaizen is Japanese for ‘good change’, although in the West we usually refer to it as ‘continuous improvement’, and is a principle first adopted by Japanese manufacturers in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s with the intention of improving processes and eliminating waste.  Continuous improvement sounds exhausting but actually it’s simple: every day look at what you can do to make you and your business better (remember for small businesses everything starts with you, the business owner: assume you’re the problem until proven otherwise). So how do you do this and why does it matter?

The how is easy; it’s about learning from mistakes but also actively looking for and finding ways to do things better. You may well be doing it already, perhaps in response to customer issues and complaints, perhaps because one of the team has spotted a way of doing things differently and so save time, money or improve quality. For successful businesses kaizen is usually part of the culture, they consciously seek out ways of improving what they do.  Instead of blaming people when things go wrong they treat mistakes as a learning opportunity, looking at what happened and why and making sure that they never happen again.

One of my clients is proactive about kaizen.  They end every week with a team discussion about what they liked best about the week just gone and what they will do differently next week.  It’s positive and keeps them focussed on getting better.

I sometimes record workshops I run or individual coaching sessions (with the permission of the participants of course) and play them back a few days later, critiquing myself as I go.  Yes, it’s excruciating but what I learn is invaluable and makes me a better coach.  Kaizen can be hard work, even painful, but it’s worth it.

Why does it matter? Occasionally I come across businesses who think that what they’re doing is always right and the only way to do things and if customers don’t like it then they know what they can do. Guess what, customers will indeed do one. Closely related to kaizen is cycling guru Dave Brailsford’s notion of ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’, small, incremental positive changes which, when taken together, make a massive difference to performance.  The impact of this is nicely illustrated in this graphic by James Clear


Marginal gains

So take a moment to think of a few things you know you can do better.  What resources do you need to improve them?  How can you make the necessary changes?  What difference will they make to your life or your business?  What’s stopping you?  Remember, this is where coaching might help – someone not involved in the day to day can often see things you’re missing and hold you accountable for making the changes needed to make your business better.

For more information about how coaching might help you improve your business please get in touch for a no-obligation chat. You can do by calling me on 01235 861 311 or emailing me at   I look forward to hearing from you.

Alchemy A-Z of running a business: J is for jokes


Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: J is for Jokes

A man went to his bank manager and said: “I’d like to start a small business. How do I go about it?” “Simple,” said the bank manager. “Buy a big one and wait.” (source:

Hmmm. Business jokes are seldom funny, though they may contain a grain of truth.  Being self-employed or owning a business isn’t always that funny either so including jokes in my A-Z of running your own business might seem a bit strange.  But I’m a great believer in the power of humour, here’s just a few of the things it can help you do:

  • cope with extremely difficult situations. My brother’s a paramedic and his humour is as dark as dark can be but it helps him cope with some of the terrible things he has to deal with in his job
  • reframe a situation so you see it from a different angle. In fact that’s what makes a joke funny – there’s a twist so the outcome isn’t what you expected and you have to look at something in a different way.
  • keep things in perspective
  • keep fit. Honestly: research has shown that laughter boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and gives your body a bit of a workout.
  • build relationships. Who doesn’t like people we can have a good laugh with?

The reaction to a joke is really subjective. I groaned when I heard the funniest joke from the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe (Rob Auton’s ‘I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa.’) On the other hand my favourite joke never fails to make me smile (if you want to know what it is you’ll have to give me a call). However humour itself is universal, everybody finds something funny. So the next time it’s all getting a bit much look for something amusing in the situation you find yourself in – it just might help you deal with the stress a little bit better.

The Alchemy A-Z of building your firm: I is for Ideas

Executive thinking strategicallyThe Alchemy A-Z of running your own firm: I is for Ideas

Sometimes you’ll have lots of ideas: some will just pop into your head, others will be planted there by people who are trying to sell you something.  Sometimes you won’t have any, you’ll be completely and utterly stuck, without a clue what to do.  Either situation can cause problems so here’s some suggestions for what to do when you have both too many and not enough ideas.

One of my clients has what feels like hundreds of ideas a week – some are brilliant, others are bonkers but she can’t always tell the difference and gets distracted by chasing after the shiny new thing that’s going to change her life or make her a fortune.  Most of the time what she really needs to be doing is focusing on getting her business stable, but we really don’t want to lose that creativity so we had to come up with something that helps her prioritise.  The first thing she does is to stop and think about what the idea is going to do for her right now.  What will it stop her from doing?  Is it going to make things better or worse?  Will it cost her money?  Take up her time?  And what good will it do?  What’s the best and the worst thing that can happen if she doesn’t do it?  What’s the best and worst thing that can happen if she goes ahead and do it?  We’ve found that the answers to those questions help her to decide whether to follow up on the idea now, or leave it for a while.

Ideas can be too good to waste so you don’t want to forget about them completely.  I find it useful to keep a note of all my ideas, however mad they may seem, and jot down when I think that the time might be right for them: that could be anything from next week to next year to some undefined point in time.  I then put a note in my diary to revisit the idea stash and decide whether now is the right time to dust any of them off.  In other words my ideas are not ignored or forgotten, they’re just parked until a more suitable time.

If you have the opposite problem and are feeling stuck there are a few things you can try.  I find that the single best way to solve a problem is to stop thinking about it, go off and do something else, preferably something that requires intense concentration so there’s no room in my head for whatever it is I’ve been agonizing over.  The answer usually comes to me over time, it’s as though the right thing to do just needs to bubble up from amongst everything else that’s going on in my head.  Distancing yourself from a problem can also allow the emotion to subside and that is often enough to let the right decision emerge.

If it’s a creative problem, like writing a blog or a workshop, then sometimes just diving in and writing something, anything, is enough to get started.  Breaking off and doing something else can also get the creative spark going – even walking on a treadmill has been proven to enhance creativity as reported in this recent BBC article

It’s often the case that two heads are better than one so kicking the idea or problem around with a trusted friend, colleague or mentor can lead to amazing insights.

If you have any other suggestions for managing ideas, or would like to a free session to discuss your ideas please email me at or call me on 01235 861 311.

Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: H is for Holiday

Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: H is for Holiday

In my corporate days I used to get 25 days’ holiday plus bank holidays every year, and I though I was hard done by.  Why didn’t I get more time off?  I worked really, really hard after all.  When I started running my own business, that fell to 10 days plus bank holidays (if I wasn’t doing paperwork) even though I was still working really, really hard.  Four years in, it’s back to 25 plus bank holidays.  I’m not less busy than I was; I’ve just realised that I need time off to rest, recover and replenish my energy levels – see  my previous post “E is for Energy” here:

I also need time to think, to look at some of the issues I’m facing in my business, take decisions, make plans, set priorities.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that holidays are a luxury when in reality they’re a necessity.  They’re the first thing that go into my diary every year and they’re set in stone.  I don’t necessarily go anywhere exotic, it just helps to take time away from the business.

The truth is, if you’re too busy to take a holiday then you’re doing something wrong.  Look at your time management and delegation skills.  Think about how your prioritise.  Do you really need to be doing everything yourself?  The answer will be no.  Honestly.

Do yourself a big favour and book some time off today.  Do it now, plan for it, schedule your activities and clients around your break.  It can be done and you’ll feel so much better for it.  Give yourself permission to let go for a few days.

I do a lot of work with people who put their needs last.  If you’re one of them, book a free session today – it will help you put things back in perspective.

Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: G is for Goals

The Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: G is for Goals

All coaches talk about setting goals and targets, making sure they’re SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) or SMARTIE (SMART plus inspiring and emotionally rewarding).  Why do we do that?  It’s a fact that we all need something to aim at: research has shown that people are happier and more successful when they have set themselves objectives.  However I think that we should take care when setting our goals for the simple reason that we’re not all the same – what motivates one person will cause another real anguish.  So when I start working with a client I find out what makes them tick.  Some people are motivated by really challenging goals, the harder the better.  Others are easily demotivated if they miss their targets and so the goals have to be a bit of a stretch, but achievable.  Some like really detailed, tightly defined goals with lots of deadlines; others (like me) prefer a couple of big picture objectives, filling in the detail of how I’ll achieve them as I go along.  It doesn’t matter, it’s about finding what will work for you.

If want to set yourself some goals try this exercise:

  1. Think about what you want to achieve.  They’re your goals so they can be anything you want.  Increasing your business’s profitability or turnover, paying yourself more or taking on people all common goals.  Check that the goal is realistic – can you do it with the resources you have?  If not, perhaps you need to adjust the goal or set goals around acquiring the right resources.
  2. Think about why you want it.  What will it mean to you in real as well as emotional terms?
  3. Write the goals down with a deadline (eg by the end of June, by Christmas etc).  NB if you have a big goal it’s usually helpful to break it down into stages or a series of smaller goals.
  4. Write down what achieving the goals will mean to you.  Statistically, written goals are more likely to be achieved.
  5. Write down what your reward will be for hitting your targets – rewards can be anything from holidays to a cream cake: whatever you’ll enjoy.  Make sure you give yourself the reward  when you achieve your goals

If you don’t achieve your goals have a good look at why you missed out.  Once you understand the reasons, dust yourself off and set some new targets.

For more information on how coaching can help you identify, set and achieve your goals please get in touch for a no-obligation chat.  You can do by calling me on 01235 861 311 or emailing me at    I look forward to hearing from you.




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Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: F is for Friends & Family

Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: F is for Friends and Family

Friends and family can be a great source of help and support in the early days, they’ll often muck in and help out.  However as the business grows they can turn into a nightmare and become a source of unwelcome, unwanted and badly informed advice.  You may also find that you’re expected to return the favour by giving a job to someone you would rather not have on the payroll.  In either case you can quickly find yourself in a situation which may not only damage your relationship but also harm to your business.

If you’re relying on friends and family at the start, set out the ground rules for yourself as well as them.  In other words don’t take advantage of their generosity and be clear on how involved you want them to be.  Once you’re up and running buy them dinner to say thanks – this is not only a really nice thing to do but also sends the signal that you’re ready to stand on your own two feet.

Once the business is operational it can be tempting to turn to friends and family as a quick fix for yourself (I need a book keeper, John’s wife is good with numbers, I bet she could do that for me) or to help someone out (Sean needs a job, I can find him something to do).  Sometimes it all works out, often it doesn’t.  If you’re thinking of taking on a friend or family member remember these 6 tips:

  1. Make sure they can do the job – check out qualifications and references as you would with anybody else you’re hiring.  If they’re no good then don’t offer them the job.   It’s easier to say no at the start than after 6 months of working with them.
  2. Don’t be railroaded into taking anyone just because they’re family.  Ignore emotional blackmail, remember that anyone you take on has to add value to the business.
  3. Make sure they really want the job.  If they’re doing it because it’s the easy option, or because they can’t get a job anywhere else then ask yourself why they should be involved in your business.
  4. Give them an employment contract and be clear about what the job involves. Clamp down straightaway on any problems such as not turning up for work on time or poor performance.  If they’re not doing well after a trial period, let them go.
  5. Don’t let them call you Mum, Dad, Mate, Bro, Bud, Dude or any other nickname.  You’re all at work, you’re the boss and must be treated with respect.
  6. Treat them exactly as you would any other employee.  The fact that they’ve seen you dad dancing at a wedding or their mum’s your sister should give them no special favours.


The Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: E is for energy

The Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: E is for energy

Everyone bangs on about time management but I bang on about energy management.  Why?  Well you can’t manage time, we all have 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week and there’s not a single bloody thing we can do about that.  What we can do is manage energy levels.  Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint and energy and resources have to be managed accordingly.  Most of us don’t take good care of ourselves.  We end up working long hours and feeling stressed out and exhausted which can cause problems for the business as well as in ou home lives.  You have to look after yourself whether the business is going well or badly.  Build time-out into your weekly routine to allow yourself time to recover, rest and exercise.  Find hobbies, pursuits and interests that recharge you – that could be spending time with your family, going for a long walk, playing football or having a long soak in the bath with a glass of wine.  If you already have hobbies and interests don’t stop them just because you’re running your own business, keep going.  You don’t have to work every single hour of the day.  When you work long hours you become ineffective and useless so you need to allow time and space to rest and recover.  It’s essential.  You’re no use to the business if you’re ill and there’s no sick pay when you’re self-employed don’t forget so take care of yourself.

If you’re struggling to fit everything in and have no time for yourself give me a call on 01235 838 641 or email me at   You would be welcome to a free coaching session with no hard sell at the end.

Alchemy A-Z of running your own business: D is for Debtors

D is for Debtors

Cashflow is important and you have to manage it well or your business will fail.  Managing your cash, means managing your debtors, the people who owe you money.  Firstly, make sure you get your invoices out as quickly as you can; ideally before you deliver the service or as soon as possible afterwards.  When you issue an invoice make sure it shows the due date (ie when you want it paid) and your bank account details so that customers can pay directly into your bank account.  Keep a close eye on what invoices you have issued and make sure you are getting paid on time.  Some customers will pay as soon as you send out the invoice, some will only pay when you send them a statement or when you call them to ask for payment, most will pay on or about the date invoice is due.  It can feel unpleasant to chase a debt, but if you leave it too long it all gets out of hand and you may end up writing the debt off or going to court.    As soon as the invoice is overdue call them and remind them that you have an invoice outstanding and ask when you can expect payment.   If there’s a problem and they’re not happy with what you’ve done for them sort it out as quickly as possible.  If there’s no problem and they’re just not paying call once more, then write to them or get someone to call and write on your behalf, until they do.  Remember you’ve provided the service so it’s your money they’re sitting on.  Unless you’re a bank and are charging interest that’s not a good situation to be in.

If you need help managing your debtors please book a complimentary consultation by emailing or calling 01235 838 641.

Alchemy A-Z of running your firm: C is for Cashflow


Alchemy A-Z of running your firm: C is for Cashflow

The old accountant’s mantra goes ‘Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but cash is King’ and never was a truer word spoken for the start up firm.  Lack of cash kills businesses, large or small.  You can be in profit but run out of cash, so you can’t pay your bills or HMRC and end up going bust.  When you start, make sure that you have enough cash, or access to enough cash, to cover your business and living expenses for about a year.  Hopefully you’ll get a flying start but most new business owners underestimate how much everything costs, spend money on the wrong things and assume that people will be buying from you much earlier than they actually do.

When you do have some cash coming in manage it well it.  Track what you’re spending, make sure people are paying you on time and plan ahead – your VAT bill will be payable every quarter come what may.  You can download a free and easy to complete cashflow template from my website at

Cash management is serious, treat it as such.  Don’t let poor cash management kill your firm.

If you need help managing your cashflows please book a complimentary consultation by emailing or calling 01235 838 641.