It costs more to get the wrong solution

Cost of not getting the right solution

I had an interesting chat about the cost of services at business networking event. My contact was keen to share how he had met someone who offered him ‘a great deal on some social media marketing‘.  I responded by saying that the cost sounded good but also asking him what the service included and how it benefited his company marketing strategy and business goals?

The silence was deafening, followed by ‘what do you mean by strategy‘!  I was lost for words but quickly realised the reality of the situation i.e. he was totally blinded by ‘the deal‘ and hadn’t even established what he was getting for his money and whether this service was actually what he really needed for his business.

Why Cost Shouldn’t Be The First Question

This bizarre conversation got me thinking about similar situations, not just for business owners like me and him but when potential customers or clients are looking for a suitable company or provider and look to buy from you. How often is the first question ‘how much will it cost?’  Many times, I’m sure you will agree!

By solely focusing on cost often means looking for a quick fix to your problem e.g. we have a problem or need, so what is the cheapest and quickest way to fix it. This might work fine when you are looking for the supermarket who offers your typical weekly shop and you can compare like with like to get the best overall value for your money.

However, more often than not, when comparing  service providers, you are not comparing ‘apples with apples’. If you, as we do, provide a very flexible, bespoke offering, then how much your service costs will depend on a number of factors.   A good example…if my company is approached regarding providing Career Transition (outplacement) to support a programme of re-organisation and redundancies or Coaching services to improve individual or team performance, there are usually many flexible options to solve their problem and provide the best solution. Of course, cost will be a key consideration for most companies, organisations or individuals but just focusing on cost won’t necessarily provide the best solution, will it?

We like to work collaboratively with our clients, so feel it is important to develop the relationship first, by understanding your key requirements, before we start talking money.  There are a number of key questions to consider e.g.

  • What are you looking to achieve / key objectives/outcomes for your project?
  • How many people are involved?
  • Timescales to start and complete the project?
  • Finally …..How much budget do you have for the project?

It Ain’t What You Do, it’s the Way That You do it!

Why ask all these questions first? Because, the answers will determine whether the personal calling or emailing has really thought through how best they want the project or problem resolved, how much say they have in choosing the right provider or understands what they can achieve for their budget. Such questions also open up more meaningful discussions, rather than just focusing on cost, which is no different to my opening example!

Whether you are a company, organisation or individual client, what you get for your money, how and when the service is delivered and how this meets your desired objectives and outcome is surely of the utmost importance, is it not? If you need some building work done on your home, it is likely you will get a few different quotes. However…

As the song goes: “It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it” .

So, when making key decisions to determine the right company or provider to deliver the service you require, I’m sure you will want to know the answers to some or all of these questions first, wouldn’t you?

  • What is their pedigree?
  • Do they come recommended?
  • What is their approach?
  • How will they help take away any ‘pain’ or pressure from you?
  • Do they have the right expertise for your project?
  • Do they work collaboratively with you to provide you with the best solution/s for your money to achieve your objective/ outcome/s ?
  • How confident are you about the provider delivering your project in the way you want and when you want?

How much does it cost to get it wrong?  

The cost of not achieving your key objectives or outcomes or receiving bad PR by choosing the wrong company or provider will ultimately cost you much more than spending more time and effort and maybe investing some additional budget to get the outcome/s you want. This is no different to choosing your builder purely on cost and finding you have to get them back to make good the job or worse still, having to find another builder to sort out their mess!

Steve Preston is MD of independent Career & People Development Consultancy SMP Solutions (Career & People Development) Ltd

Outplacement or Career Transition?

Supporting Organisational Change with ‘Outplacement’

You might be working for an organisation that is looking at laying off staff due to the need to cut costs or because you want to become more efficient. If so, what are your thoughts about how you might support the staff who will be leaving as a result of such organisational change? For many people in HR and Operational management roles, aside of ensuring that correct policy and procedures are adopted, to comply with appropriate employment law, the word ‘outplacement’ is likely to spring to mind, when considering both the process for laying off staff and also the support required.

What’s in a name?

I have never liked the term ‘outplacement’. However, here’s the thing…as a company that provides such support, in order to be found on web searches and for marketing of our services, we are arguably obligated to still use this term, if we are to be found by organisations and especially HR managers looking to source providers. SMP Solutions takes great pride in our reputation and caring approach, so we sought the views of a number of our clients and key contacts and took the decision to change of our focus, preferring the term ‘Career Transition‘ instead. Not an easy decision, in view of the comments above. However, as a people focused company we felt this was a positive move.

Why? Because ‘outplacement‘ very definitely has negative overtones i.e. someone is being ‘outplaced’ of their organisation or the organisation is ‘outplacing’ a number of employees. In essence people are having something ‘being done to them’. ‘Career Transition’ by comparison suggests a journey or movement. Yes, it is a time of change but from something to something else, rather than one way enforcement ‘out’. ‘Transition‘, can also certainly be viewed as a positive experience and many people associate this with ‘transformation‘.

You may feel this is all semantics, as whichever way you look at it, the organisation will be laying off employees, so what difference does it make what you call the process or support involved.

But what if it really does make a difference?

Just think about the difference it could make to both the employees affected and the organisational psyche by starting such a difficult organisational change process in a more positive vein? I will be sharing more thoughts about this in future blogs.

Definitions of Outplacement

Knowing that ‘outplacement’ is a term mainly used in HR, operational circles and by people who have been on the receiving end of it, I decided to check out definitions via a Google search. They were easy to find and here is a sample. You can make up your own mind about what message you feel they send out:

  • “Counseling and assistance in finding a new job, provided by a company for an employee who has been or is about to be dismissed
  • “The process of assisting a terminated employee find a new job”
  • “The process of finding new jobs for people in your company who have been forced to leave because their job no longer exists”
  • “A service that offers counselling and careers advice, especially to redundant executives, which is paid for by their previous employer”
  • “Outplacement is the efforts made by a downsizing company to help former employees transition to new jobs and help them re-orient themselves in the job market”

Can you imagine an employee who wants to know more about outplacement and does a similar search as I did? The words above in italics, are some that will clearly rankle with an already distressed employee and could ‘add fuel to the fire’! Whilst some of the text in each comment has merits, the definitions are generally demeaning and inappropriate. Comments about being ‘dismissed’, also ‘former’ or ‘previous’ employer are written in the past context, so are inflammatory and inaccurate.

So, by focusing on offering ‘outplacement support’, although an employer may have the best of intentions, the result could be that the very people who it is aimed at and who will benefit from the support, could turn their back on the opportunity. Unfortunately, the reality is it that the only loser in such acts of defiance are the employees who choose not to  take up the support.

The benefits of a well planned and delivered ‘career transition‘ programme

Managed well, focused ‘career transition‘ support will provide your departing employees with the tools they need to have the best possible chance to find the right next job for them.

For an employer laying off staff, providing a well planned and delivered programme of ‘career transition‘ support, will do much more than help overcome the immediate needs of your departing employees, to find another job. Such an approach can also become be an invaluable source inspiration for those affected to re-evaluate their careers, open up a whole new world of opportunity and possibilities, so they can look forward to the future with confidence.

While cost is a key consideration for most organisations, a ‘one size fits all’ approach, although better than nothing, is unlikely to produce the best results for the affected employees.  Showing a caring attitude and having a programme of career transition support to reflect people’s differing needs, should ensure that employees leave on good terms, whilst also sending out positive signals to the rest of the workforce.

The result…..

A win, win for both the departing employees and for the employer by creating positive PR, which is likely to aid employee engagement, productivity and staff retention.

So, do you now, like me, also think that ‘outplacement’ is an outdated term that should be made redundant and consigned to ‘room 101’?

The jury is out! I would love to hear your views 🙂

Steve Preston is MD of independent Career & People Development Consultancy SMP Solutions (Career & People Development) Ltd and Author of the internationally acclaimed ‘Winning Through Redundancy- Six steps to navigate your way to a brighter future

Why everybody is in Sales, even you

Have you heard the saying that ‘everybody is in sales’? If not, you might be wondering how this can be and where this is going?

Sales Perception

For many people the very mention of ‘sales’ is a dirty word and sends shudders down them, conjuring up visions of pushy double glazing salesmen, estate agents (real estate) annoying spam phone callers or emails.  Does this sound like a familiar perception?

You might also be thinking that in your job or career you have nothing to sell, especially if you work in the public sector/services. However, the reality is that you don’t need to be in a ‘sales job’ or have a product or service to sell. Regardless of whether you are in HR, IT, Finance, Marketing, private, public or charity sector or running your own business, you will need to ‘sell yourself’ in numerous work situations e.g.

  • To win at an interview and get the job
  • Secure a contract or project
  • Gain promotion
  • Get approval for training or development you are aspiring to

Let’s face it, as professionals, we spend our lives ‘selling’ ideas or decisions you want your boss, staff or team to buy into e.g. a better way of doing things, the need for change, who you should hire, fire etc.

Selling Yourself at Events

When you attend conferences, seminars or networking events, depending on your job or situation, you are likely to be selling what you or your company/organisation has to offer and how this benefits others. I’m sure you do this almost as second nature, without thinking about this as selling? I experienced a wonderful example of this at a networking event which I will mention later.

Selling Yourself to Progress Your Career

You might be an aspiring executive or manager in which case you will need to sell yourself in many ways in order to achieve your desired goal by way of:

  • CV/resume
  • Job applications
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Interview/s
  • Networking meetings

Again, the reality is that people who are good at selling themselves, get on in life. I’m sure you know people like this who always seem to get promoted, move into better jobs or be successful in their careers and life. So what do I really mean by ‘sales’? After all ‘selling’, for many people, means forcing people to buy something they don’t really want doesn’t it?

A different take on ‘Sales’

What if I substituted ‘influencing‘ instead of sales’, how would this feel? Quite possibly this might put a different perspective on your views?

But what do all successful sales people have in common? Think about how they make you feel? They make you feel good, don’t they? Why……because of these:

  • Sincere – Great empathy, engaging and no bs!
  • Attitude – Enthusiastic, positive, encouraging, confident, passionate
  • Likeable – People ‘buy’ people or from people they like
  • Energy – Nothing is too much trouble, always going the extra mile
  • Solutions focused- Looking for a win, win e.g. right fit, right product, right answer to the problem or challenge

These are clearly all highly positive personal attributes. Therefore, use this SALES acronym to help you think differently and reframe how you feel about ‘sales’ and selling yourself, your company or organisation.  

What if you had a simple approach to selling yourself in any situation? 

That would be great, wouldn’t it? 

Well, here it is…….practice the ‘RUB’ approach, as a super simple way to influence people and achieve more of what you want and win, win solutions:

  • Rapport –  Learn how to build a bond naturally so you are quickly on the same wavelength to achieve a mutual ‘meeting of minds’
  • USP/s – Your unique selling proposition/s . Might be considered an old hat term but focus on selling what makes you different or better and stand out
  • Benefits – ‘Sell’ what value you can add/ how you can make a difference/ solve the problem or take away their ‘pain’. Get people or prospective clients to imagine how this would look or feel so they almost have to say YES!    

The RUB

Living Proof!

The wonderful example I mentioned earlier, was in fact a young intern who so clearly had all these ‘SALES’ attributes and was unwittingly using the‘RUB’approach to great effect.

Despite their young age, they absolutely stunned me with their rapport building skills, commitment and determination, travelling hours and miles each week for only travel expenses. They were going the extra mile literally! They had also gone to great lengths to research the opportunity, understand what was required and make sure they secured the internship.

They had a great energy about them and enthusiastically ‘told’ me all about the product they were helping to develop and why it was so useful. I was ready to buy it from them if it had been fully developed! Having learnt what I and my company does in the Career and People Development field, they then went onto share great maturity and wisdom about what they wanted to achieve in their future career. Also, why they felt it was important to follow your passions, doing work you love, rather than focusing on purely financial gainThis was clearly from the heart, without any bs as they gave me a brilliant example of how they were making ‘sacrifices’ to be able to save what little money they did have, to be able to create the working lifestyle they wanted. It was evident they hadn’t read my current book either!

I was so impressed I have asked to interview them for my next book project on Portfolio Careers, as they are a great example of a young person with great entrepreneurial skills who is likely to earn a living from multiple talents and multiple income strands. I am sure they will be a great success because they clearly know how to sell themselves and what they believe in, which is great!         

Reframing the sales process

Many sales organisations, courses and business gurus spend much time focusing on ‘closing the sale’. What if you turn this around so your focus becomes that people choose to buy from you instead? How much pressure would this take off you when you are selling yourself at interviews, business meetings etc? There are clearly some key techniques and skills involved such as NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) which can all be learnt and like most things in life practice and persistence pays!

So, you might not have thought about it before but do you now see that you are ‘in sales’? Why is this so important? Because ….The more you develop and hone your influencing skills the better results you will achieve in your career and life!

 

Customer Service Optional – The Computer Says No!

You may well know this brilliant turn of phrase from the infamous Little Britain comedy sketches. However, this is a real life customer service ‘nasty’, albeit in very abbreviated form to be of more general interest with some real learning points!

Does your system drive your people or do your people drive your system?

This is a really fundamental question, don’t you think? Why?…Because….if your company or organisation has this the wrong way round, then your people are forced to behave in a certain way to meet the requirements of your system, rather than your system having to meet the requirements of your people and business. Does this make sense for good customer service? It seems logical to me, so highly illogical that it could take three months to get a new mobile phone upgrade resolved!

Corporate silos

Can you imagine a situation where you find an error on your mobile phone bill and call to discuss which then causes a chain reaction of different departments being unwilling to help? ‘This was the fault of the store, so you will have to go back there to resolve this‘. ‘We can’t help‘, ‘you must‘, ‘we don’t’ and ‘no you can’t speak to a manager, as they will tell you the same thing‘, were responses thrown back at me repeatedly. Are you not one and the same company? The bills say so but the call centre clearly thinks differently, as passing the blame to another part of the company is the way they do things around here!

Reactive and inconsistent customer service

Isn’t it galling that only the threat of making a formal complaint spurs some action in many organisations? All of a sudden the same unhelpful call centre person calls you back immediately with a ‘peace offering and a special upgrade deal’.  Not exactly consistent customer service, is it?

The upgrade department couldn’t have been more helpful and all was looking good until my agreed ongoing loyalty discount was conveniently overlooked. This was finally sorted and I had a potentially excellent new contract lined up, or so I thought! Bad move on my part as I followed the advice and did go back to the store, as I like the human touch, which was why I went there previously and they had been most helpful. Not so this time, as they checked on their computer and ‘couldn’t possibly offer the same deal to me in the store but they could give me a phone to contact the call centre’. Yet again, the computer says ‘no‘ and customer service was ‘optional!’

After a long and heated exchange and finally managing to speak to a ‘supervisor’, I was told that ‘we cannot have made such an offer’, which eventually changed to ‘the upgrade offer was only available from the person you spoke to on the day you originally called’. Was this ever mentioned? Of course not! Still I had their word that they would email the people I had previously spoken with and we agreed a date and time I would receive a call back to resolve things.

And so the days and weeks went by and Christmas came and went. Despite repeated messages and making a formal complaint the call still never came. I am a very patient person and I still had a phone that was working on a good tariff, so it wasn’t critical, just highly frustrating, unnecessary and downright inefficient!

How to get action!

Here’s the thing…. if you want action it appears that you have to make a complaint against how your complaint is being handled! This is now the third example I have come across recently, where action only happened after taking this route faced with problems in large organisations. Remarkable, don’t you think? Whatever happened to the Customer Service department taking your complaint seriously first time round? Do they hope that people will go away if they don’t respond? It would seem so.

Resolution or…...

The day of reckoning finally came and lo and behold a helpful human being who was keen to resolve my crazy saga. I finally received a call to confirm that my original upgrade offer would be honoured and I would be getting my new phone within 48 hours. Progress at last and only three months late! Maybe not …….Three days later and still no phone. Yet another call to the Customer Relations Manager, who I was now on first name terms with and guess what? …..’The computer says no!‘ I was given all sorts of technical reasons why the system wasn’t accepting the dispatch order. Sorry but do I care about this? All I want is my new phone which I was finally promised and now your systems are stopping you sending it to me? Unbelievable, isn’t it? ‘I’m sorry but we will need our IT department to override the system, as we can’t do it’. How long will this take? ‘We can’t say as it could be at least a day or two or longer’. Both the Customer Relations Manager and Dispatch Manager were mystified by the problem. However, I still didn’t have a new phone, as the system still ‘said no‘. Finally, another week later, I received a call and the computer now said ‘yes’ and the phone was on the way to me and this time, duly arrived!

Attention to detail

So, I finally had my phone and thought this was the end of the saga but oh no! Despite numerous emails and texts, the system wasn’t showing the correct tariff, with the agreed discount, which had triggered the saga in the first place! More calls to the Customer Relations Manager, who finally made the changes to the system whilst on the phone to me. Interesting, as if this could be done, why could not all the other much needed changes be made on the system by ‘humans’ right from the start or is it easier to say ‘no’ and blame the system?

Learning Points

It is not my aim to bore you with my unbelievable ordeal, as this is just the tip of the iceberg but more so to highlight what can and is going wrong in so many large organisations. How can such unbelievable inefficiency be allowed to happen? Why don’t different parts of the organisation speak to each other, look to understand and help resolve each others problems? Do you not have forums to encourage working together, rather than in silos? Why is the computer saying ‘no’ all the time? Is the system driving the people and constraining the business or are the people and the business driving the system so customers get what they want when they want it with the minimum of fuss? Clearly so many questions, which cannot possibly be answered when ‘the computer says no’.

Can you now imagine how great things might have been and could be in the future, if the computer said YES first time round? How great would the customer service and this company be, rather than customer service being ‘optional’?

Meetings bloody meetings?

Meetings bloody meetings! The ‘more mature’ readers of this blog will no doubt remember the infamous John Cleese Video Arts training video by this name! How times have changed since, as were are now in the 21st century digital age but how have meetings changed? Let’s take a closer look.

What typical research shows

A recent article on HR Grapevine highlighted that the average British employee will sit through 6,240 meetings in their career. The huge number consists of catch-ups, client meetings and appraisals. Of the 2,000 workers studied six in ten described meetings as “pointless”.

“There is nothing worse than being sat in a meeting that doesn’t really concern you,’ said Charlotte Gaskin, Marketing Manager at Sennheiser Communications, who conducted the study, “So it’s not surprising then that so many people zone out, nod off or doodle. Of the respondents we polled, many said that often a quick and concise conference call was more effective than a lengthy meeting which often resulted in expensive travel expenses,” Gaskin continued.

There must be a better way!

In my ‘previous life’, as a senior manager in a large corporate, I often got the feeling that that departments and functions were in competition to see who could hold the most meetings. When it came to major projects things got even worse, especially when there was a matrix management structure!

In my ‘present life’ as Managing Director of my own Career & People Development Consultancy, I have come across senior executives and CEO’s who have spent almost every hour of every working week in wall to wall meetings. They complained of how stressed out they were and wondered why nothing seemed to get done or it took eternity!

Whatever level you are working at, you need some thinking time in order to be able to plan, prioritise, reflect, make the right decisions, be sharp, focused and possibly creative, rather than thinking about being on time for your next meeting!

The 7 P’s Principle

In my latter employed days, I made it a rule of thumb that I would only run or attend meetings based on what I now call the 7 P’s principle i.e.

  • There was an agreed Purpose – no purpose, no meeting!
  • There was an outlinePlan / timescale agenda – no plan, no meeting!
  • Only the necessaryPeople would attend who could input / add value – no hangers on or wasted productivity
  • What Preparation, if any, was required – to avoid wasted time in the meeting
  • People selected to attend actively Participated 
  • From the agreed outcomes it was clear who had Points to action, why and by when – no opportunity for people to abdicate responsibility!
  • Agreed deadlines were achieved Promptly– no opportunity for slippage through a good follow up process

 Turning meetings bloody meetings into CLEAR Meetings = effective and productive meetings! 

Linked to my 7 P’s principles, here is a really simplistic formula to run effective meetings:

Clarity – Before any meeting consider:

  • Why do we need to meet?
  • How will this help to achieve our business objectives?
  • What do we need to achieve?
  • Who needs to attend and why?
  • What briefing notes / papers need to be sent out in advance?
  • What preparation is required by attendees?

Leadership – At the start of the meeting the Chair or facilitator:

  • Agree any ground rules e.g. desired outcomes, housekeeping, breaks, finish time, break out sessions
  • Give a quick overview of the agreed agenda
  • Allocate specific roles e.g. time keeper, note taker
  • What is required from attendees

Engage – During the meeting the Chair/ facilitator needs to ensure:

  • There is relevant dialogue
  • Active listening and participation of all attendees
  • The meeting is focused and on track to achieve the objectives

Actions – During the meeting:

  • Agree action points, who is responsible and by when
  • Action points are written up clearly for all to see e.g. flip chart, white board or Post It notes to avoid any misinterpretation
  • At the end of the meeting, action list photographed or transposed onto tablets, lap tops etc for circulation

Review – At the end of the meeting:

  • Have we achieved our desired outcomes?
  • What was successful and what was unhelpful?
  • How we can improve next time?
  • All agreed action points to ensure a common understanding
  • Deadlines for circulation of any notes
  • Deadlines for action points to be completed
  • What happens next e.g. follow up

So, instead of meetings bloody meetings, follow the 7 P’s and the CLEAR meetings approach and you might have less meetings, more productive meetings and start to see meetings in a different light and maybe even look forward to them!

Are you in the right job?

Are you in the right job?

Most people fall into their careers purely by accident.  Suddenly they get to a stage in their lives when they think “how did I get here? And “how did I end up doing this?”  More often than not, it isn’t what they really wanted to do in the first place and it seems almost impossible to think about doing something else now.  So they continue along the path they were on at the risk of becoming more and more dissatisfied with their own career choice. Could this be you?

What is important to remember, is YOU choose your career direction – it is not made for you it is created by you. Everything you have done until this very moment, whether it has been a conscious or unconscious decision, has been your decision. The biggest and bravest decision to make now is whether to continue on this path or take a different direction.

How to find out if you are in the right job

Ask yourself these 3 simple questions:

  1. If all jobs paid the same, what job would I do?
  2. If I knew I couldn’t fail, what job would I do?
  3. If I was given a magic wand and could create the job of my dreams, what would it be?

What do your answers say to you?

If you are doing a job that really interests, motivates and inspires you, not only will you enjoy it and feel happier than you ever have, but you will ultimately become a success!  Studies show that success does not necessarily translate in to financial reward (thought it’s always nice!) but is about doing something you enjoy, that gives you a sense of satisfaction and personal reward.

If your answers are indicating you are not doing something you want to do and you would like to do something different, well, why not start exploring what that might look like and think about how you can achieve it? So, are you in the right job?

Career Coaching is about helping people to explore their transferable skills and identify what motivates them.  It’s about exploring all the options and eliminating many of the barriers preventing them from realizing their career potential.

Here’s another little exercise you can try for yourself. Draw a line on a piece of paper with your date of birth at the start and your estimated year of death (without getting morbid!) at the end. You have now created your ‘personal life line’.

Now mark an “X” to show where you are now.  How far along the line is the “X”? Consider, what you have achieved until now and think about how much time has passed? What jobs have you done?  What did you enjoy and what were your successes?

Next, look at what remains on the right of the “X”.  Ask yourself, what do you want to achieve?  How much time do you have to achieve that?  If your earlier answers to the 3 questions indicated you’re not doing a job that really makes you happy, then perhaps it’s time to start thinking about what you would like to do and how you might be able to achieve it.

Career Coaching is not an overnight fix, and magic wands are in short supply.  However, if you really want to change, so you are in the right job – you can.  You are in control of your own career and ultimately you can always change direction.

“If you do not change the direction in which you are going, you will end up where you are headed” – Confucius

Thank you to Karen Munro, Career Coach in the SMP Solutions team for providing this blog.

SMP Solutions has re-branded!

Since May 2014, SMP Solutions HQ has been buzzing from the sound and mind power of collaborative planning, thinking, culminating in the creation of a new brand and website. Yes you heard it right, SMP Solutions has rebranded!

So, why did we rebrand? Cast your mind back to when you last visited the former SMP Solutions website. How engaging was the site? Did you fully understand what the business could offer you, your organisation or business? Although successful, based on feedback and comments from colleagues and clients, our previous website was ‘content heavy, tricky to navigate, outdated style wise and confusing’. Enough said, don’t you think?

Read on to find out how we successfully worked through the rebrand process with the invaluable help and support of Team SMP Solutions.

Stand Proud and Be the Best You Can Be!

We stand proud as we announce that SMP Solutions recently celebrated 12 years in business. A wonderful achievement, from which we have gained extensive insight and experience in the world of Career and People Development. It has been, and continues to be, an amazing evolution.

How did we make the rebrand happen?

Firstly, our wealth of experience and new thinking, led to a renewed focus on what SMP Solutions enjoys doing most and what we’re best at. In short, we refined our offer and key focus for businesses and individuals.

Secondly, as the ‘branches’ of the SMP Solutions tree have developed and grown, there has been a shift in company focus from the original ‘me’ aka director Steve Preston, to ‘us’ – a collaborative approach to the present and future success of our company. Our ‘tree’ now offers strong ‘branches’ made of a range of complementary skills and talents, enabling SMP Solutions to deliver the ideal solution to suit the needs of each individual client.

What makes us different?
With a renewed focus and refreshed perspective, SMP Solutions has brought together our unique 3 Pillars of Success approach to help us stand proud and be remarkable.

The 3 Pillars of Success

The 3 Pillars of Success focus on the three key areas we are most passionate about and where we’ve achieved the best outcomes:

1. Our unique 6 Steps Career and Change cycles
2. Our flexible, collaborative and responsive client-centred approach
3. Our team of expert and passionate coaches, trainers and consultants

How can you help?

When you visit our NEW website at www.smp-solutions.co.uk we’d appreciate you spending a few minutes of your time to share your thoughts on these three questions:

1. What positives do you draw from the new site?
2. What is your overall impression of the new site?
3. What have you discovered that you were unaware of?
What are people saying?

Initial feedback from colleagues, clients and visitors has been very positive. A couple of clients got in touch to share that they had discovered ‘hidden talents’ (Leadership Development and Employee Engagement) on the new website, and as a result they now have clarity and a better understanding of what we can offer. As well you will discover that we have integrated the SMP Career Advice blog onto the new site.

And finally…

Sincere thanks and appreciation to the remarkable and talented ‘rebrand’ team whom without, we would not have achieved such a fantastic outcome. Together we stand proud as we continue to strive toward making SMP Solutions be the best ‘Career and People Development Consultancy‘ we can be! Huge thanks to Duncan MacGregor, Steve Bridger, Steve Engwell, Don Presland, Debbie Smith, Gary Willis, Gail Gibson, and Lin & Steve Preston.

 

 

SELF EMPLOYMENT – STARTING OVER AGAIN

Self-Starting Again

According to Barclays Bank 81% of entrepreneurs said they are happier now in self employment than when they were employed.  The same survey reveals that 71% were more optimistic, 63% were busier, 54% were more relaxed but that only 30% were better off than when employed.  The remaining 70% were obviously feeling the effects of losing their corporate packages or their businesses are still getting established and maybe in the process of building a business base.

When asked why they wanted to start their own businesses 44% said they wanted to build a big successful business, while 47% wanted to continue earning a living.  The final 9% wanted to either supplement their existing income or wanted to create a secondary income. The source for these figures is from the Barclays Bank website dated of 25 September 2014. 100% chose to start again.  They chose self employment to take control of their own career and life, be in the driving seat and put themselves and their families first. Look again at that impressive 81% who said they are happier now.  Could that be because they have re-modelled their work/life balance themselves?

Become a Free Agent

Maybe you are reading this because you have had enough of the corporate world, working for a large institution, working for other people’s visions and dreams or you might be facing or recently experienced redundancy? Either way, you have decided to take a long hard look at your working life and are keen to make changes. If so, you could become a free agent! With self employment you can be your own boss, take control, and have choice and the final say in what you do for a living, when you do it and how you do it.

Not everyone is an entrepreneur in the Dragons Den sense of the word. Not everyone wants to invent the next generation of vacuum cleaner or start their own airline.  However, self employment allows you to direct your talents to fulfil your life plans.  In the 21st century digital age, many skilled professionals opt for the simplest and most cost effective option of self employment i.e. to sell their expertise to individuals and / or organisations online or develop a service based business from home with a desk, computer and mobile technology. Having minimal overheads and maximum flexibility, rather than expensive office premises when you are starting out, is an attractive proposition. This means you keep the majority of the income you make, so it becomes much easier to start making a profit and a reasonable living.

Self Employment – Success Before You Start Up

Success Before You Start Up Book Cover

Despite all the positive statistics from Barclays, most businesses fail in their first two years of trading. Why is this? Because the business owner hasn’t done their homework. ‘Self employment seemed like a good idea at the time’ doesn’t wash if you haven’t thought things through properly, does it?  It is remarkable how often we come across people who haven’t done the basics such as:

  • Considered why you want to start a business i.e. what is the purpose and what are your goals?
  • Researched the market and the competition
  • Established whether there is a need or demand for your product, service or business idea
  • Developed any sort of business plan
  • Thought about how best to get your product or message across to make sales or earn income
  • Evaluated whether the business can make money

Passion is great but don’t overlook the essentials

It is great to have passion for what you do, as people buy people and your passion can become infectious. However, all too often, new business owners get carried away by the excitement of setting up their business and the passion for their products or services and overlook the reality that passion alone is not enough to create a successful business. Self employment means there is much hard graft to be done to ‘get out there’, network and sell and market yourself and your business like crazy both online and offline! There are many other considerations e.g.

  • Do you want to work alone?
  • In collaboration with others?
  • Employ a small team? If so where will you be based and how much can you afford in salaries, rent, rates and other overheads
  • Have you worked through how much you need to sell or income you need to generate to achieve your desired business and life goals?
  • Who will do the key administration and financial tasks?
  • Should you be vat registered?

Depending on what you do in your business and who you work with, you also have different options for setting up your business as a Sole Trader, Limited Company or Partnership. The first steps in any of these approaches are the same and it is very easy, once you know how to go about this but it makes sense to get good advice before you start trading.

Self Employment – Making it happen

Self-employment or starting up your own company can be hugely rewarding as the Barclays statistics highlight. It has never been easier than now to set up and start a business. If you would like practical help to set you on the right path to becoming self-employed then please contact us as wouldn’t it be great to start off on the right footing, so you really can enjoy the fruits of your labour and become one of the 81% who are happier now than when they were employed?

www.smp-solutions.co.uk

Photo – Everest at dawn courtesy of David Smith

HOW TO PREPARE FOR A VIDEO INTERVIEW

The Rise of the Video Interview

In recent years two-way video chat job interviews have grown in popularity and it is clear why. Modern computerised devices whether stationary or handheld come with built-in or support webcam functionality. Using video, the interviewer is able to pick up on important clues such as body posture, physical gestures & facial gestures. Likewise, so can the candidate with the added bonus of saving  valuable time by avoiding long journeys or taking lots of time off work, if employed. The following preparation guide to video interviews will help you alongside traditional interview best practices.

Never Turn Down a Video Interview Opportunity

For a great number of job candidates, the video chat job interview is likely to be a new experience. You must always come across accommodating and positive even if you feel anxious concerning this type of interview. Read on as there are many ways to prepare for this type of video interview.

Install and Configure The Video Interview Software

Well ahead of the interview time, you should download, install and configure whichever software the recruiter or employer had asked you to use. Typically, Skype is used because it is free and you can install it on any operating system (Window, Apple etc.). If you are new to Skype then choose a profile name and upload a profile picture that is professional and appropriate for the purpose. You can quickly learn how to use the software by searching YouTube for tutorials. Once the software has been configured, you may need to email the recruiter or employer with your username.

Prepare A Backup Device

If you have access to two devices with webcam functionality, you will do well to install the software on both. Just in case anything happens to the default machine, it is good to have something to fall back on. Typical scenario will be to install the video interview software on your pc or laptop computer and maybe another tablet device. This isn’t essential but you will come across well prepared to the interviewer should the need arise.

Prepare Your Notes

Any notes or supporting material from your research or to help sell yourself in the best light are best organised well ahead in advance. The microphone on any modern communication device is particularly sensitive to background noise, such as that from searching and shuffling documents, so you want to come armed already prepared for your video interview.

Think Carefully About Your Video Interview Area

Unlike face-to-face interviews, which often take place at the employer or recruiters offices, for a video interview, you have to be mindful of a number of key aspects:

  • Internet speed must be sufficient (broadband speed) and dependable
  • Wired Internet connection is preferable over wireless connection
  • Background noise should be minimal
  • The backdrop behind you must be suitable for the occasion
  • Ensure you won’t be interrupted
  • The area must be well lit, so you can be seen properly

There is no reason why the video interview cannot take place at your home, providing you can meet all these criteria. Just double check the area behind you, close the door and ask other household members to refrain from interrupting you.

Dress From Head to Toe

It isn’t sufficient to dress only above the belt. For one, the interviewer might get a peek of your entire stature and secondly, dressing professionally from head to toe helps with getting into the right state of mind. Spend time on the Internet researching the company (website and social profiles), industry and competitors to determine suitable interview dress code. If in doubt, err on the side of being slightly over dressed.

Test Yourself

It is important to practice, so an exercise in the form of mock interview will allow you to experiment with the software and with the overall challenge. Ask a family member, friend even an agency recruiter to conduct a mock video interview with you.

Just Before The Interview Starts

Switch off all non-essential apps and software to avoid noises and disruptions. Get yourself organised and ready 10 minutes before the scheduled interview time. Test your speakers and microphone, as it is essential you can be heard and you can hear the interviewer. You don’t want the stress of any problems when live in your video interview. Best not to switch off your mobile phone in case the interview is disconnected and the interviewer is trying to ring you, so have it on vibrate. Place it in view but away from the computer’s speaker, as it might create static noises.

During The Interview

Look directly at the webcam as this is the closest to making eye normal contact. Avoid looking at the screen or around you, as you might appear disinterested. It helps to place the interviewer’s video window right underneath the camera during the interview, so your eyes are looking in the right direction. If the video interview is disconnected, allow the interviewer (as the initiator) to call you back. At the same time check your Internet connection and switch on your backup device. Check your mobile phone in case the interviewer is calling you back. If all fail, suggest that the interview continues over the phone. Don’t miss your video interview slot as the candidate after you might impress the interviewer and you might not get another chance.

End in Style

At the end of the video interview, send the interviewer an email thanking them for their time and offering to answer any questions or concerns they might have over the phone or a further video chat. Good luck. Written by brewery and drinks recruiters the Carling Partnership Ltd (CPL). A leading international search and selection company working exclusively within the brewing, distilling, cider and soft drinks industries for SMP Solutions (Career & People Development) blog.

Career over 40 – feeling washed up or thriving?

Do you feel washed up in your career over 40? Many people will have us believe that once you reach the ripe old age of forty that the best of your career is over. You might get passed over for promotion by younger blood, so your career either goes sideways or it is all downhill from now on. Of course much depends on the type of  job you do, industry and sector. Is this really fact or fiction? Isn’t it both interesting and heartwarming that such a myth of your career over 40 was blown away by none other than a mother of two young children, British athlete Jo Pavey. After a long and checkered athletic career, often plagued by injury and near misses and having had her second child at the start of the year, in the space of a few short weeks,  Jo won a bronze medal in the 5,000 meters at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, with a gutsy performance, stopping the Kenyans achieving a clean sweep of the medals. Only a couple of weeks later, Jo won the first gold medal of her international career, winning the 10,000 meters at the European championships in Zurich.

You are what you think and feel

Mindset, is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? If you believe that your career over 40 will be in a downward spiral, then that is probably the way things will turn out. So, what can we learn from Jo Pavey? Aside of being an inspiration to us all, this has been the most successful year of her entire career and she now has her sights on the next big challenge: her fifth Olympics, in Rio in 2016 and competing for a couple more years after that. Jo, by her own admission is feeling good about herself, relaxed and happy in her ‘work’ and her life. She also knows herself and her body better than ever, which means that she is better prepared for the big events, she can set her goals more clearly and is feeling excited and ready, rather than fearful, which may well have been the case at many previous major championships.

Jo Pavey Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

The Importance of doing what you love

Why push her body through all the daily hours of many miles of training for the next two years and beyond? Quite simply because she loves what she does. She also takes great pride in representing her country at major championships and certainly doesn’t consider all her hard graft as a chore or that she should be slowing down because of perceptions of her career over 40. Research consistently shows that around 1 in 2 people are unhappy and unfulfilled in their jobs. This may apply to you but if not, almost certainly someone you know. Another lesson for us all, in that life is too short, so why be unhappy? You do have choice.

Taking positive action

So, why does your career over 40 need to be washed up and negative? Jo Pavey has proven emphatically, in a grueling sport that it doesn’t have to be.  But what are your options, when you reach this stage of your career at life? Whether you still have ambitions to move up the career ladder, change career, develop a portfolio career or become your own boss and set up that business you have been thinking about, nothing will happen unless you take positive action. Too many people moan and groan about their lot and how they hate their job or how they would like to do this or that. Well the reality is that only you can make it happen. You must take responsibility for your career, as nobody else is likely to are they? Taking positive action is Step 6 of the highly acclaimed SMP Career Navigation Cycle process. SMP-Career-Navigation-Cycle

If you follow these 6 steps then you will ensure your career over 40 will not just survive but thrive, like Jo Pavey!