National Stress Awareness Day

Tomorrow is National Stress Awareness day and it seems a good time to reflect on what causes people in business stress.

Obviously starting a business is stressful, indeed being an entrepreneur is stressful but we often put a really brave face on things because we are aware that success is important.

There are times though in any business where changing economic factors, downsizing or even growth need to be addressed and these can all cause stress. It is stressful to manage the expectations of employees and staff can create numerous problems not least for those who have never managed a team before.

Business mentoring and coaching can be the key to having someone support you through some of these challenges. Having someone who can unlock your potential and work through problems in a confidential setting makes every problem in business a little less stressful.

Tackling work related stress is essential for both your own well being and that of friends and family and in order to ensure the performance of your business.

Think about some key factors which may be causing you stress and how to factor in some support or make a small change to decrease the stress in your workplace.

Here are two frequent examples which come up in mentoring our businesses at CBPartners.

Overwork – Consider your hours and whether they are reasonable or even necessary. Have you had a holiday this year? This may be a chance to review your time management and prioritisation of work, it may mean cutting out unnecessary tasks or delegating appropriately. Keeping a time diary for a week can often be helpful in seeing where we waste time unnecessarily during a day. Looking at our colleagues, direct reports or partners in business with fresh eyes can also help us see where they could help and do something which we have always done making the workload a little lighter. Ask yourself what will happen if overwork contributes to you becoming ill and start to think of ways to prevent this happening.

Poor performance – Improve recruitment and selection processes in order to make sure staff are well matched to their jobs and that performance is good from the start. Manage poor performance and look at the reasons why people may not be doing as well as you had hoped. Ensure they have the right resources and skills to get the job done and identify any further training needed. Encourage employees to discuss issues with you and give you ideas for improvement. Review performance regularly and keep staff informed about the direction of the business and any changes. Make sure you have good disciplinary policies and procedures and follow them, dont take short cuts. Consistent behaviour in managers is really important.

Some companies tackle stress head on and some wait until it is too late and there is a rise in sickness and absence. This will cost the business money. A stress audit can be very enlightening if you think there is little around and can be done through informal chats in groups or with individuals to find out if there are any concerns about stress.

For sole traders and small businesses stress can be internalised due to isolation and so getting to meetings with others in similar situations is really helpful. There are a number of free forums run by CBPartners where networking and meeting others goes hand in hand with a masterclass or information for business.

Please contact us on 01254 505050 if you would like any mentoring or coaching in these areas or wish to come to one of our forums for employers or our HR forum.

Systems thinking

Many of us in business wonder why we cannot make a change embed itself or even work at all. One of the ways of thinking about change and understanding it is to look at organisational culture and how that affects what we are trying to do.

For many people in business we want to get it right particularly today when finance is critical and businesses are failing at spectacular rates. Is getting right though the same as doing the right thing?

Perhaps we fail because we are trying to get it right rather than doing the right thing.

W. Edwards Deming invented systems thinking a way of thinking about how each part of a system affects the way other parts work. Determining how the whole system works is key to understanding what is the right thing to do. All tasks and functions of a business then are interdependent.

Deming used  14 points for the basis of the transformation of industry and many of them are key to improving sales and performance.

1. Constancy of purpose – create constancy working towards continual improvement of a product or service in order to become competitive and stay in business.

2. A new philosophy. We must embrace leadership for change. Continuous improvement means that we are flexible to changes in the market and customer demands. Change never stops which is why we need to be flexible.

3. Cease dependence on mass inspection. Routine inspection is like planning for defects, you cant inspect quality but you can require that there is statistical evidence that quality is built in. Improve processes so that defects arent produced in the first place.

4. End lowest tender contracts. Dont award business on the price tag alone but minimise total cost by moving towards a single supplier on a long term relationship of loyalty and trust.

5. Improve every process; this will decrease the cost of production. Accept that nothing is ever good enough.

6. Institute training on the job. When training people need to understand what the job is and why it is being done. Seems simple but how often do we train for things which are not really about the job?

7. Institute leadership of people. The aim of management is to help people do a better job. Coach staff to improve the system.

8. Drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively for the company. Build trust, collaboration  and cooperation.

9. Break down barriers between departments. People in every department shoudl work as a team not parts which dont interconnect.

10. Eliminate exhortations. Slogans asking for productivity are not helpful. management by numbers and objectives are not helpful. If the system is built around quality it will be done right the first time.

11. Eliminate arbitrary numerical targets. Work standards which prescribe quotas and numerical goals are not helpful the focus shoudl be on quality.

12. Remove barriers to pride of workmanship. Let people take a pride in a job well done.

13. Encourage education and learning. Institute a system of self improvement.

14. Transformation is everybody’s job.

Learn more about LEAN Leadership which came from Demings work at our masterclass at the Oyster and Otter on Tuesday 22nd November at 18.00. Find out more here

How to get the best out of networking

For many entrepreneurs and business people networking is a potential source of building the kinds of relationships which will translate into great business or provide support and the ability to share ideas and learning.

Do we always make best use of the opportunities we are presented with though?

Here are our top tips for networking.

1.  This is not about selling but how many times have you met someone only to feel that you dont really know what they do or what their business does? Prepare a quick and easy way of introducing yourself and practice it. People want to know who you are and what you do make sure they get a key message about you and understand your area of business and what you believe in. It only takes 10 seconds to for a first impression.

2. Think about what you want to achieve from the event you attend, dont go without prepping. Find out as much as possible about who will be going and what sort of things are going to be on the agenda or being talked about.

3. Meet people as people first and foremost. Show an interest in them and talk about other things not just business. You are building a relationship not selling. Listen to the person and hear what they are saying try not to dominate a conversation.

4. You are not collecting business cards. Network with a purpose and follow up. This is about the quality of a conversation and creating a depth rather than simply filling your drawers full of cards. Follow people up. Email them and say how nice it was to meet them. Dont leave the conversation there. This is about reciprocity and trust letting them know that you really wanted to connect. Try twitter or linkedin as well to connect in more spheres and remember they may well be involved in online groups as well.

5. Leave your troubles at home. No one wants you to be gloomy when they first meet you so put on a smile. It may sound trite but really people dont want to connect with someone who looks forbidding or hostile they will look for people who are looking happy and smile at them. Be energetic, positive and outgoing dont start talking about how awful things are at home or the worst thing which happened on your journey. Look glad to be there and use your time well.

CBPartners run plenty of networking events and some of them are free.

1. Oyster and Otter events with a masterclass and then networking over a great meal – next one on November 22nd on Lean Leadership

2. Employers Forums – supported by Blackburn College –  next one on Tuesday 6th December Blackburn Enterprise Centre

3. HR employers forums – supported by Forbes Solicitors – next one on Wednesday 9th November Clayton Park Conference Centre

4. Get fit for business – whole day event next one on sales excellence 10th November 9-4.30pm Blackburn Enterprise Centre

Get in touch with our business support on 01254 505050 for more information on any of these.

Do you know who you are? MBTI

One of the things which mentoring can do is to highlight your personality and personal style and preferences.

I use Myers Briggs (MBTI) to talk about preferences but there are other types of personality test available.

MBTI is one of the most widely used psychometric tests available but why is it important to know more about yourself?

1. If you know more about yourself you can understand why you behave in certain ways. Why do you prefer some quiet space to think about something before coming to a decision? Why do you like working in large groups rather than on your own? Are you a last minute type person or do you like to plan? All of these questions are answered if you know more about yourself.

2. If you know more about yourself you can understand why certain people click with you and others don’t. Do some people really annoy you? Do you feel a connection to someone and wonder why? Are there some personalities that are just plain irritating? When it comes to relationships Relate use MBTI to look at why certain things annoy us about other people.

3. If you know more about yourself you can sell better to others. Do you find it difficult to sell in certain situations? Are you good on the phone or face to face? What makes you a great sales person? This is also about understanding others. If you know yourself you can adjust to the situation you find yourself in better so in sales you can look at things through the other persons’ eyes with more clarity.

4. If you know more about yourself you can lead people better. The best leaders are those with a deep understanding of themselves who understand why they like things done a certain way and how to work with others on a deeper level. If you manage people a lack of insight into your own behaviour can spell failure to connect or build relationships which work.

5. If you know more about yourself you can make better decisions when you hire staff. If you are not a completer finisher then hire someone who is. If you dont like detail hire someone who does and if you are not great at emotions hire someone who is.

Understanding yourself makes all decisions easier and clearer. You will know why you do things your way and what can annoy others about your own leadership style or behaviour. You can surround yourself with people who make a great team and you can sell better because you can start to understand the real diversity around you.

Coaching or mentoring – what’s the difference?

As a mentor and a coach I often think that the boundaries between the two get blurred both in the minds of clients and in the minds of the person being a mentor or coach.

So what is the difference?

Ongoing relationship that can last for a long time
Relationship generally has a short duration
Can be more informal and meetings can take place as and when the mentored individual needs some guidance and or support
Generally more structured in nature and meetings scheduled on a regular basis
More long term and takes a broader view of the person. Often known as the ‘mentee’ but the term client or mentored person can be used
Short-term (sometimes time bounded) and focused on specific development areas/issues
Mentor usually passes on experience and is normally more senior in organisation
Not generally performed on basis that coach needs direct experience of clients formal occupational role
The focus is on career and personal development
Focus generally on development/issues at work
Agenda is set by the mentored person with the mentor providing support and guidance to prepare them for future roles
Agenda focused on achieving specific, immediate goals
Revolves more around developing the mentee professionally
Revolves more around specific development areas/issues

This helpful table is courtesy of CIPD. Coaching deals primarily with skill building and mentoring helps shape the outlook or attitude of the individual. Mentors are guides and focus on helping people believe in themselves, increasing their confidence and exploring new ideas. 
Here is a brief case study to show what mentoring can do for your business. 
Sueapproached Guardian Angels as she had lots of good ideas but didn’t have thecapability or confidence to make them happen. She needed someone with thebusiness acumen to ascertain which ideas were plausible, where to source theinformation to put her ideas into action, the legalities of this and then tomarket and distribute the product. She had an idea to produce and distribute English recipe ideas e.g.Cottage Pie but using halal meat to appeal to the Muslim market and a widermarket.
Boththe business support team and her Guardian Angel immediately exceeded herexpectations. The team offered her the support she required, an outlet for herfrustrations and a constant source of information for her to access.
BrianCushing, her Guardian Angel, went above and beyond his call of duty. Beforemeeting her he researched her company and completed a mystery shop analysistherefore observing the business through customer’s eyes. From their firstmeeting, Sue has found Brian to be a good listener & mentor, taking each ofher ideas on its own merit and discussing them at length, which enabled her todistinguish which to take forward and concentrate on.  Thereafter he supported her with her business plan, all theprocesses and procedures, administration and funding applications. Brian haseven become an ambassador for Addict, meeting potential customers (with Sue) toassist in the negotiation to ensure the products are sold.
Suefeels that with Brian’s support, Addict has gone from strength to strength. Shenow has a number of recipes and developed a small production area at the backof the current premises. She has streamlined her processes and deliveries andnow has the confidence to tender for larger contracts, some of which she haswon and some that are in the process of being finalised. In turn, this hasincreased her turnover to a point that Sue is now recruiting 2 more staff totake on the increased workload. Brian has also given her the confidence,knowledge and support to create a new product which she is in the process ofdeveloping (a new halal sandwich filling).
“Ihave found all the team, namely Jane, Jo, Lesley and Donna, extremely helpfuland supportive. They are always on the other end of the phone if I ever haveany problems or questions and they can never do enough for me.

Reducing waste – reusing rubbish

This blog is about real waste not perceived waste.

Every year we throw millions of pounds worth of rubbish which could be recycled away. 1248 kgs of waste is thrown away in a year and in a week 24 kg are thrown away in a house with three or four people, estimates of whole populations are that we throw about 24 million tonnes of recyclable materials away each year which are either incinerated or put in landfills.

The sheer amount of waste and lack of recycling is an environmental hazard raised not just by pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth but also by local councils struggling to cope.

There are various networks online and in communities which do incredibly valuable work in reusing waste and making sure we do not fill landfills and cause further damage to the environment.

Last week SAMS won the Environmental Champion of the year award in the Selnet Enterprises in Society awards.

SAMS is a scrapstore that collects a rangeof materials that would otherwise be destined for landfill and offers them forre use. This is not rubbish, but surplus materials no longer of any value tothe company or individual who own them but of great use to others. This couldbe A3 paper over-ordered by a client, a fabric manufacturer with a load ofoff-cuts of materials or a box full of plastic bottles that were ordered agesago and have never been required. All these things are still completely usable but would be sent tolandfill or left on a shelf gathering dust and being counted at every stocktake!

Materials collected are sorted by our smallarmy of volunteers and made available to our members. These could be localschools or voluntary organisations, childminders, art students or individualsthat enjoy craft.

Members are able to obtain sustainableresources for a fraction of the price they would have paid to source themanother way.  Items are sourced aslocally as possible and re used by local people.
Re-use differs from recycling in that thematerials re-used do not have to be transported, converted and re manufacturedtherefore use less energy and resources. It is much kinder to the environment reusing things in their originalform.

The Outcomes of SAMS

  • Reduce the amount of perceived waste being sent to landfill
  • Offer an inexpensive alternative way of sourcing art and craft materials
  • Facilitate creative learning
  • Educate about re-use and recycling
  • Improve your corporate image (hopefully by you supplying us)
  • Reduce production and the associated use of raw materials and energy
  • Act as a community focus for a number of different organisations
  • Provide a hub and boost the imagination for Play activities
SAMS and the other national scrapstores upand down the country, make a significant contribution to reducing the UK’scarbon footprint by an immeasurable amount.  Can you help too?

The visible helper

I was reading a Guardian Blog this morning about the economic perspective of Adam Smith who thought that if people really worked hard an invisible hand would ensure that the work the person did would benefit society.

This is the corner stone of thinking about free markets and market economies in a localised environment where the workers and small business generates wealth whilst viewing the role of government as keeping taxation low and opening things up for business.

The current economic recession and issues with economic growth to me require more than an invisible hand, they require input, assistance and help. A visible helper and support for those who make this work.

Working in an area where social enterprise brings community and business together means that I see what businesses can do for each other when given a small push.

Alan started Development Transport Planning Consultancy (DTPC) in 2009 offering clients an independent traffic, transport and highway consultancy. Creating a business can be isolating and Alan felt the need for support and a sounding board to test and discuss his ideas and plans.

Alan received both one to one and group mentoring via our scheme he doubled his turnover in his second year and re focused his business on small to medium businesses concentrating on expanding his geographic reach.

It is this kind of help to business which is more than an invisible hand and frankly means that business succeeds. With the loss of many grants and areas of funding for start ups the need for business support is becoming increasingly important.

“Community & Business Partners mentoring programme has been a critical element in establishing the business and ensuring its long-term viability, having an independent and supportive mentor has provided confidence in the business as it goes forward, and on a personal basis a new friendly face who will be part of the business support network.”

National Customer Service week

In National Customer Service week I think it a great idea to concentrate on what we mean by Customer service as a business and perhaps see if there is any disconnect between that and what customers see as great customer service.

Customer service is the ability to provide and supply a customers needs and wants before, during and after a purchase. 

I think it important that a business does not see customer service as simply being at point of sale but a longitudinal process which is part of a the relationship between customer and business.

One customer has said that is is not about supplying needs and wants but about exceeding them and the pressure on companies to go the extra mile and delight people rather than simply satisfying them is increasing.

So let’s re frame our definition to include these expectations as:

Customer service is the consistent ability to exceed the needs of customers before, during and after a purchase. 

This definition raises the bar but is still focussing on the relationship of the organisation to the customer and doesn’t really concentrate on things from a customers point of view. Ultimately it is the customer who is at the centre of a successful business and getting things right is crucial to success. the best companies get under their customers skin and really understand what it is they want and need.

Let’s take Apple for example and the advent of the new iphone4s. I dont know about you but I am really excited by this and as soon as I saw the adverts and the talking phone answering texts without the use actually using anything other than voice I wanted one. I add to this the fabulous follow up Apple gives it customers in the form of its shops with the staff mixing freely with customers and the genius bar where all questions can be answered. Apple has devoted and fanatic customers and every detail even the packaging is designed to add to the customer experience.

So let’s re frame the definition again as:

The customer defines excellence in customer service by the way in which an organisation exceeds and meets their needs. 

It is up to organisations to check in with their customers and ask the question am I exceeding your needs, do we meet your standards and how much further can we go for you?

As an example Zappos an online shoe company in the States takes customer service to great lengths even going so far as to have a secret shopper ring the customer service desk and ask for directions to the nearest pizza place and for that operator to search and get them.

Where there are small businesses trying to corner a local market word of mouth is important  and so customer experience and satisfaction should be the number one priority.


Having run several of my own businesses I know that itcan be a lonely road. Waking up at three in the morning worrying about payingthe mortgage or getting new leads can start to put a strain not just onpersonal relationships but those at work as well. 
If you are a company that has been trading for 12months and are based within Lancashire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester thereis help out there. Through Government funding and private sector sponsorshipour Guardian Angel Entrepreneurs Network mentoring scheme is free. All ourmentors are experienced, knowledgeable and skilled entrepreneurs who want tohelp local companies expand and succeed. They volunteer their time but are paidexpenses in order to give something back and we screen them all and providesupport for them through updates and thank you events . 

We also run free drop in days for businesses where a mentor will give their time to listening to your business concerns and challenges. 
So what is mentoring? 
Traditionally, mentoring is the long term passing onof support, guidance and advice. – CIPD
It is a form of supportive development focussing onhelping individuals manage their career and improve their skills. Mentoring canhave both organisational and individual goals. Like in an apprenticeship aninexperienced person can learn form a more experienced colleague orprofessional in an ongoing relationship which takes place in an informal waybased on a contract between mentor and mentee. 
Mentoring takes a broad look at the person and isabout passing on experience and expertise. The agenda is set by the mentoredperson and revolves around development of the mentee professionally. 
Various companies have used mentoring productively forsome time. BAE gives its graduates a mentor for the first year of theirtraining programme, M&G Asset Management uses mentoring to help develop itskey talent and to assess and control risk. Other examples include Shell and theCivil Service. Almost every well known company has used mentoring as part ofits development programme for leadership and within the field of leadershipmentoring is well known to make more difference to companies than almost anyother intervention. 
Increasingly mentoring is being used to developproductive relationships in society. From student careers to disadvantagedpeople through to ex-offenders, mentoring helps to build the capability andconfidence. Indeed mentoring on issues like obesity and childhood alcohol isseen as a way forward by the health service which is using its NationalInstitute for Health Research to fund such schemes.
So if you want more information and would either liketo become a mentor or get a mentor and live in our region please contact or on 01254505050

Photo is courtesy of

Food4thought series – Twitter

Paul Yates and Jane Houghton-Fenning with the Maitre D of the Oyster and Otter. 

“the event was veryinteresting, throughout, very accessible and the food was excellent, I alsoreally enjoyed networking but I didn’t like having to go home”

A group of people turned up last Tuesday to hear all about Twitter for business success, to network, enjoy some good food and have a relaxing evening. The launch event for our food for thought series was held at the Oyster and Otter Restaurant last Tuesday.

The speaker Paul Yates introduced the network to Twitter for Business. Paul is a coach and business man who uses technology to build client relationships so is completely in touch with using twitter for business success.

One of Paul’s first points was to ask us all why we tweet. It is certainly something worth thinking about. How does twitter fit into your marketing strategy and why should you tweet at all? Return on investment is crucial for businesses in recession and to take time out for twitter can appear non sensical if you dont know what your strategy and plan is.

Paul walked us through a few scenarios and made sure we knew some of the do’s and dont’s of twitter. One of his great questions to the group was to ask if we would buy from someone we had just met. Using twitter simply for sales doesn’t work. Twitter is about building relationships, having conversations and creating online networks. That is why a good photo of yourself rather than your building or worst case the egg is really important, you need to look like a real person to create relationships.

We covered a number of issues from apps to go with twitter and automate tweets such as Tweet Deck and Social Oomph to ways of finding followers using Listorious. 

The whole discussion took about 45 minutes and was followed by a question and answer session. It was informative and inspirational for those there who were a little wary of using twitter. Paul’s stories meant that he gave real examples of how twitter had worked for companies, not least being able to talk to the real movers and shakers in business rather than the gatekeepers.

Following the masterclass we had an opportunity to sample a fabulous meal prepared for us by the Oyster and Otter Chefs. The meal and surroundings meant that we could network in comfort and  really discuss what we had learned.

Joanne Scott from Strawberry Standards said, the food was excellent as well as the company and the content of the evening and Liz Cook from Job Trials said it was also lovely to get to know people in a friendly environment.  

Follow us on twitter at Amanda_CBP and find out more about our work.