Learning to earn

My first taste of earning money, as opposed to receiving pocket money, was when I was given a Saturday job at age 11. Even in those days, child labour was uncommon in the UK but my mother asked the owner of a market stall if I could help out for a few hours on Saturdays. This was a dream come true for me. My father was a retailer and for as long as I could remember I’d played shop using price tickets he brought home for me. I would set out my stall in the living room and sell to my family and any visitors that called in.The market stall sold toys! What could be better. The stall owner also had a hat stall upstairs on the market balcony but that wasn’t of great interest to me. My first day passed very quickly and I was very excited to be given a handful of change at the end of it. This I promptly spent on a pottery dog for the middle sister and an “upside-down doll” for our new baby sister who was only a year old. The doll had two heads – a happy one and a sad one – which could be alternated by flipping the skirt over one of the heads. I can see those two toys as vividly as if it were yesterday and I remember my excitement as I hurried home to bestow them on my sisters.

Having established my retail credentials I was then invited to help out at my father’s furniture shop. I had duties including sweeping and mopping the entrance way, dusting, making coffee, buying lunch sandwiches then, as time went by, I graduated to adding margins to wholesale prices and writing price tickets (in my best writing). I loved those hours spent with my father and felt very privileged.

Fast forward a few years to another earning opportunity. I was sixteen when my mother saw a notice on a high street boutique. Saturday Girl Wanted. Apply Within. Before I knew it, I was gently propelled through the door and I was granted the role. To my great pleasure, I was offered not only £1 a day plus commission, but also the chance to wear any of the clothes that I chose whilst at work provided I took them home to wash and replace on the rails – wow – unbelievable! There was an eight track music machine behind the counter and we grooved the days away to the sound of Lou Reed. My happiness was complete when another Saturday girl was needed and my school friend joined me at the boutique. This cemented our friendship for life and we shared a babysitting job too, for the singer and guitarist of the band at the local nightclub. Babysitting paid £10 a week between us for 5 nights – we took it in turns. We felt very well off.

My third job was more like real work – 8am to 8pm on the tills at Tesco, Shrewsbury town centre. I did this in the holidays as by now I was studying for A levels. It was gruelling work and despite being young and fairly fit I developed an aching neck and back from repetitively moving groceries along the counter. £15 a week was my reward. I also gave my mother more Green Shield stamps than she was entitled to when she came to shop. One day I was asked to leave my till and sweep the floor in front of the windows. I refused on the grounds that someone might pass who knew me and see me sweeping. This was a different proposition altogether from sweeping the entrance in the family business. For some reason I was allowed to get away with it. The next day I was called in to the office and my arrogance was rewarded by an offer of a full time management position. I suppose you could be very charitable and say that I had an over developed sense of self-worth?

I declined the job and continued with my A level studies before starting my first grownup job in the civil service as a clerical officer. Going to university wasn’t an option as I passed only one of my three A levels. I wasn’t very studious having met my husband-to-be on the first day at technical college where I’d opted to go after rebelling against the restrictions of my all girls’ grammar school. I disliked the civil service job intensely. It was highly regulated and there was no room for initiative. The union was very active and a number of strikes were organised. This clashed with my principles and I refused to withdraw my labour to the rage of the union rep. I was relieved when I was able to resign before the birth of my son.

Maybe this tells you a little about the sort of girl I was and how I grew up with an understanding that money is the reward for work. I knew the satisfaction that can be gained from earning, even when the work itself might not be ideal. Later I was lucky enough to be supported by my husband whilst I started my own business. But that didn’t happen until I was 33 and the mother of an 11 year old. And that’s a story for another day.

A Poppy Appeared in Winter

You tossed your peachy skirts into the air,
And stood, and shouted, “Look at me!”
Through gales and rains and frost you still stood there

November’s blasts made all the trees so bare
But still you stood so proud and solitary
You tossed your peachy skirts into the air.

The other plants around you would not dare
To face this season bravely and with glee
Through gales and rains and frost you still stood there.

You tossed your peachy skirts into the air,
Your urchin heart exposed for all to see.
You dared us all, and passers by, to stare.

You clearly had a message we could share
“Be strong, stand tall, embrace the storms like me.”
Through gales and rains and frost you still stood there

Life can be hard, and rarely is it fair
But we can thrive and Poppy helped me see.
She tossed her peachy skirts into the air,
Through gales and rains and frost she still stood there.



How to be an epicurean – and it’s not about eating posh pickles.

I’ve been studying philosophy since a couple of years before I retired. Although much of the work was done over 2000 years ago, the thoughts of philosophers are as relevant now as they were when written with reeds on papyrus.

Epicureanism is all about the pursuit of pleasure. A selfish lifestyle choice? Maybe not when you consider that, by achieving happiness yourself, you can help others to do the same. You can become a radiator as opposed to a drain. Everyone likes to be around happy people.

According to the ancient Greeks, Epicurus in particular, the way to attain pleasure is to “live modestly, gain knowledge of the workings of the world, and to limit one’s desires. This would lead one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear as well as an absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states constitutes happiness in its highest form.” (Wikipedia)

Happiness in its highest form – a goal worth pursuing to be sure. The freedom from fear and pain sounds pretty good too. Apparently, there is a fairly easy way to reach this enviable state. Just take the three steps described below:

1. Do an audit on your desires – get rid of the worthless ones that add nothing to your enjoyment of life. Epicurus lived on bread, water and olives with an occasional lump of cheese. His view was that occasional luxuries have more power when enjoyed less often. So turn your back on expensive cars, restaurants, clothes or whatever else has held you in thrall for so many years and see how you feel. Deprived, impoverished and bored or enlightened, enriched and excited about simple pleasures?

2. Write your own obituary – take stock of your life to date. Which parts are you happy with? And which could be improved? Do this once a year. It’s never too late to change.

3. Be a good friend – contact friends regularly and nurture good relationships. Good friends are all we really need to enjoy life once our basic physical needs have been met (bread, water, olives, a roof over our heads and a couple of sets of clothes).

So there it is. The formula for a happy life. According to the epicureans anyway. It seems to make good sense when you think about our over-consumption in so many areas of our lives. So many people are working too hard in jobs they dislike to buy things they don’t really need. Or can we only afford to take this view when we’re nearing the end of our working lives with pensions in place and all our belongings around us?

What do you think? Did Epicurus have a good philosophy or was it unrealistic? Can Epicureanism work for people in business? Does a simpler life always lead to happiness?

Your feedback, as always, is welcome.

There’s no place like it

I went to the garage yet again with my ageing car the other day. The mechanic said, “You’ve had it for 10 years – that’s a long time to keep a car.” As I reluctantly agreed to a batch of repairs to make it roadworthy again, because I still love it, I said to him, “That’s how I am. Same car, same house, same husband ….” As he joked that it might be time to think about changing at least one of the three, I thought about the pros and cons of sticking with what you know as opposed to moving on.

I’ve lived in the same town for all of my 61 years and the same house for over half of those years. Boring? I don’t think so. Shrewsbury is one of the best places to live in the U.K. And our house, although it guzzles money, is where we want to be for a while longer; at least until the maintenance costs outstrip our means.

I like the fact that I see people I know every time I go into town, every time I walk the dogs, every time I go anywhere locally. Is this loyalty to the environment I know or fear of change? What’s your attitude to change? Do the benefits of new and shiny outweigh the comfort of familiarity?

In business, we evolved our activity to meet changing market needs but, on the whole, we ploughed the same furrow for many years – a quarter of a century and more. Because it was what we knew and where we felt we could most effectively meet our goals. And I could give numerous examples of businesses that have survived the downturn since 2008 purely because of their refusal to compromise, in terms of their core values and brand identities at the very least.

Your feedback, as always, is welcome. How has change, or refusal to change, affected your life and your business? email elainenester@adm-group.co.uk or call 07801251767

Desirable brand WLTM partner for LTR and lots of moments of pleasure

We started a chocolate business a few years ago to learn more about the retail food sector. An increasing number of our clients were in that sector and we needed to know about the issues they faced from the sharp end. Mission accomplished. 

Now that we are pretty much retired from Alpha (but please keep the interesting enquiries coming in) we have a product that has achieved brand awareness and modest early success in retail and direct sales – but it has a long way to go in terms of becoming a seriously profitable business.

We’d like to hear from companies with established distribution who feel that Beyond Dark would complement their portfolio. Please call me on 07801251767

Many thanks,

Elaine Nester

Am I hopelessly out of date?

This week I engaged in a discussion on LinkedIn about the type of interaction that is acceptable between new business connections. Is it OK to pitch your business at a new contact, or should you shield your true intent until you’ve wooed them with articles, wise comments and other displays of how brilliant you are? The initiator of the conversation thought the latter. I defended my corner in favour of the direct approach. Surely LinkedIn is today’s alternative to working the room at a networking event? Identify likely prospects, tell them what you do and, if the signals are good, proceed to set up a meeting and sell to them. People who are in the market love to be sold to.

People who are in the market LOVE to be sold to – worth repeating, and believing, because it is true. How often have you set out to buy a product or service and been disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm and encouragement shown by a salesperson? If you are keen to buy, it’s reassuring to have someone to guide your decision, whether it’s a new suit or a training contract. You want to know that your purchase is the best choice for you and a skilled salesperson will understand that.

OK – I learned my sales techniques three decades ago. Rapport, reputation, fact-find, presentation, close. A process that was widely understood with no fluffing round the edges. Does this still work now or must business people remain coy; entering into vague flirtations with no clear agenda, no timescale and a lot of wasted effort? Should we just hope that customers will somehow work out that we rank above our competitors because our tweets are regular, our Facebook profile is compelling and we must be a  desirable supplier with our massive online following?

I challenge any business owner to report a ratio of social media activity to sales.

Consider these equations for B2B sales:

Decision maker contact x 10 = meeting x 1

Meeting x 3 = sale x 1

In other words, if you speak (that’s speak, as in using your voice, not via email) to 10 decision makers, you will get one meeting and one out of 3 meetings will result in a sale. These figures hold true over a period for anyone who genuinely believes in the product or service they aim to sell. Believe me. It works. I did it, and trained others to do it, for 25 years.

Opening up a sales conversation doesn’t come naturally to many of us, myself included. The fear of rejection has to be overcome. But when you get a positive response it’s very rewarding. My rule for myself was to make my calls for the day then move on to other aspects of work that I found easier or more enjoyable. It’s like going on stage – plan what you want to say, take a breath then just talk to people. It will eventually become second nature. The long term result is that, by doing something outside your comfort zone consistently whilst you are building your business, you will gain freedom for later life – freedom to carry on working, or to stop, to sell your business, try something new…..I can tell you that this freedom feels really great.

All the other communication you do is not sales but marketing and PR – very important too – but don’t kid yourself that you are selling, unless you are making real life connections with real life buyers.

Free confidential advice and signposting on any aspect of starting and running a profitable business. Call me on 07801251767 between 3pm and 6pm Monday to Friday. If I can help you to avoid some of the mistakes I made on my business journey, I’d be pleased to do so. 

Is your time really your own?

Yesterday I passed the time of day with a man who was waiting in the reception area of a business where I also waited. The usual topic of weather came up and he remarked that, as a business owner, his staff holidays took precedence over his own and that he’d missed the best Summer weather this year so far. This reminded me of the many occasions when I had to cancel my own plans to take time off over the years. A notable one was the week before our son’s wedding when we planned to host his bride’s relatives. A key staff member took paternity leave unexpectedly early so my husband and I had to take turns to cover the absence.

Not complaining – it goes with the territory.

It’s easy though to allow yourself to be buffeted by the needs and demands of other people, and of inanimate bodies such as businesses. Baby boomers in particular are often the filling in a family sandwich and they can experience multiple conflicting demands at times – having to deal with the most pressing need and pushing their own preferences to the back of the queue.

It is the ability to prioritise and keep plates spinning that distinguishes those who survive and thrive from those who fall in a heap under pressure. When coaching business owners, I try to pass on    ideas for coping with multiple demands whilst not sacrificing things they may later regret. It’s sometimes a case of “do as I suggest, not as I did”! When, or if, work comes to an end, it’s important to feel that you made the right choices for the right reasons, at least most of the time.

I recommend the free app Headspace to anyone who struggles to find “me time”.

For an informal discussion about how coaching can improve business performance and work/life issues, call me on 07801251767 or email elainenester@adm-group.co.uk

A rose by any other name…

…might smell as sweet but unless it has name awareness, it could sink into oblivion alongside lesser known plant varieties. Finding appropriate names for brands is THE most favourite part of our work. It’s creative, of course, but there is also a clearly defined process that we have honed over the years to make it more effective for our clients.

1. Brand positioning questionnaire – to unearth our client’s objectives for their brand.

2. Brand positioning statement – we agree with the client a defined statement about what the brand is to represent, the target market, any differentiating factors and evidence of differences that can be used as part of the marketing messages.

3. Examination of the market sector and the competition. Easier these days with online resources but we still do field work too. What is out there? How should we position our client’s brand so that it fills a gap?

4. Naming – the best bit. At this stage all feasible names are laid out for consideration. There should be a back-story attached to each name – a reason that makes it fit with the brand proposition. We need to think ahead and consider long term potential here, not just the new-born that has been presented to us. 

5. The names are short-listed and the favourites are checked against the trademarks register in the relevant classifications for the brand.

6. Names that have the potential for trademark registration are presented to our client. We normally offer 2-3 at this stage. This may seem like a limited choice but the client can be sure that the names offered are robust in terms of suitability by this stage and it is usual for us to get an instant positive reaction provided the client gave us an accurate brief.

This process ends with a design brief, which is the start of the next creative stage. Over the past 26 years we have named, created and helped to build countless successful brands. You will see them in supermarkets, on billboards, in magazines and in your home.

Call me if we can help – 07801 251767