A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

As we are now beginning to see some of the early effects of the first of many of the promised, budgeted  and singeing government spending cuts. I thought I may attempt to spread a little hope among a few of you, my readers, by relating this story of a significant highlight in my business calendar...

Now as you may or may not know already, I don’t like to go to many business lunches these days. I find a lot of them to be a waste of my time, and so I don’t go to them. But I went to this one last week that I do try to attend every year – despite all of the inherent difficulties this ensues. You see, it’s always hosted right in the centre of London, and for some reason, my trips into the heart of the capital seem to be perpetually jinxed.

I mean, in the days when I was foolish enough to try to get there by car, any number of unlikely circumstances would often conspire against me to ensure that my journey was as unpleasant and stressful as possible.

One year there was an armed stand-off involving the police on the hard shoulder of the M1 which understandably closed down the motorway for a while. Another year there was a suspected bomb alert, which did the same thing. And then soon after that, some other bloke was inconsiderate enough to choose that very day to end it all by jumping from a motorway bridge into the path of an HGV. Did I mention the year when a horse got loose on the outside lane? Well even that happened too. And the M6 or A1 aren’t much better than this either.

So since deciding to abandon the car, in favour of having my bank accounts cleared out by National Express Coaches, Virgin Rail, or whoever runs the extortion racket that is the national public transport services network these days, things have gone somewhat a little smoother. Yes it costs more than an average transatlantic flight to America, to travel the 200 or so miles to London, and you will invariably find yourself sitting next to some 20 stone, sweaty local authority administrator with personal freshness issues, but at least you usually get there on time. But even rail travel isn’t 100 percent foolproof.

Last year for example, and I swear this is a true story, I almost missed the train when the taxi driver taking me to the station was forced to make an emergency stop at a high street branch of Costa Coffee to empty his colostomy bag.

See? These are the things a high flying entrepreneur like I, just simply can’t ever plan for.

So what is so special about this oh so troublesome lunch, that I go through such hassles and hardships to attend? I hear you ask... Well go on then... Ask me...

Well it’s a gathering of the great and the good (and some not so good!) of the direct selling business. And why do I like it so much? Well there are two things really.

The first is that, like me, the people who attend aren’t really ‘proper’ business people. They don’t go in for long term business plans, they don’t borrow money from the bank, they don’t invest money in plant and machinery, they don’t employ loads of people, they don’t run factories or fancy offices, and they don’t keep regular business hours. In many ways, they are mavericks, living by their wits and entrepreneurial flair, and because of that, you don’t get the same tedious conversations you might get at regular business meetings.

And while we are still all aware of such things, you don’t hear much about the state of the economy, or about interest rates or exchange rates for example. You don’t hear about what the government should or shouldn’t be doing to help small business. You don’t hear people blaming the government, the tax man, the local council or anyone else for the failure of a project or idea.

What you do hear though, is a lot of people talking enthusiastically about their next product, project or venture almost as if they operate in a recession-proof bubble. It’s often as though external factors and influences simply don’t exist – and the truth is that for most small enterprises, in effect, they don’t.

You see while the big businesses are inevitably buffeted by an economic ill-wind, small ones are protected by – well, their size.

For example... Let ’s say you have a 20% share of the £1 Billion a year market for widgets, and the widget market is hit by a 10% fall in demand because of economic conditions. Well that’s about £20 million worth of widget sales you’re likely to lose, and that’s going to take some making up.

But if you’re a £500,000 a year widget business and the same 10% fall occurs, then you’ve only got to find £50,000 of widget sales from a £1 Billion market to be back where you started. That sounds a lot more than possible, doesn’t it?

So what these people at that lunch meeting in Central London knew, was that they were only very small fish in an immensely huge pond. And the overall condition of the pond need not concern them that much because they don’t need a big percentage of the resources of the pond to survive and prosper in like the bigger fry do.

What they also know is that they have amazing flexibility. When you have a huge organisation to look after, all your time effort and resources are often locked into serving one market in a particular way. Making big changes takes time – maybe too much time. But when you are a lone maverick, there are no such restrictions. Economic recession creates new opportunities as well as problems, and if you’re light on your feet, you can quickly change direction in good time and follow those latest opportunities.

So that’s why you won’t ever hear a mass chorus of moans and groans at one of these events. You won’t find people who are waiting for the economy to improve before making their next move. Rather, what you will find; is a group of people who enthusiastically and positively push forward at every opportunity, knowing that an economic downturn is not a barrier to success. In fact it can often be the catalyst for it.

And if something doesn’t quite work out, as things have quite an annoying habit of doing, there’ll be no blame, no recriminations, no woe-is-me… just a simple acceptance that not every product, promotion or venture is successful, and that each failure simply moves you one step closer to something that will work. The people in that room last week have had more failures than anyone you’ll probably ever meet. And I too am a fully paid up member of that same club. But they’ve had a lot more successes too (and made mountains of cash in the process) and realise that the one, rarely comes without the other.

Their response to any failure is to simply say ‘next’… and move on.

The other thing I like about this lunch meeting is that, although it’s attended by some of the fiercest of competitors – selling similar products into the same market place – they almost universally recognise something which few proper business people ever do…

Focussing on grabbing market share is just silly!

When you put a group of competitors together in most industries; and yes, that’s how they see themselves… competitors fighting over a slice of a pre-determined pie. One man’s gain is often measured as another’s loss. But this group don’t see it that way at all. Their target is not another competitor, it’s the market itself. And they see that by expanding the current market, and building its appetite together, they know that everyone will ultimately benefit.

This is surely a much healthier approach to things. It’s one that shuns the idea of scarcity and embraces the idea of a potential market without limits – provided you work together. And when you have that kind of approach, everyone is much more willing to share their ideas, information and trade secrets. And that’s what happens here. Newcomers to these meetings are often astonished how openly information that would be fiercely protected in other industries is freely bandied around. But that’s what happens when you stop targeting a competitor and start targeting the market together.

Well I started out on this piece trapped on the motorway, and I fear I may have gone off road a little bit but as I was about to leave the lunch last week, (mentally preparing myself for spending the next two hours being unwilling party to dozens of phone calls, all of which start out with “I’m on the train” in a Dom Jolly kind of way) when...

A man on my table who I’ve known for many years raised the subject of interest rates. But this time it was a little different. “If I can get another 1% on my money, it’s an extra £400,000 a year to me” he said to uproarious laughter.

They might not be proper business people, this lot, but they don’t do too badly all the same!

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  1. Anonymous said...
    How successful are you in business?
    Thought you did home improvements, so your company must be a big one, if you have meetings in London, or is this just fiction?
    andrayrob said...
    A little bit of both really

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