This year, I have been undertaking a year long Business Coaching course through David Guest Outcomes Business Group. I’m eight months in and I can say that it has been an investment in my time and also my own professional and personal development. It has enabled me to plan, prepare and streamline processes and it has also introduced me to a wide network of local small business people. Despite not having a physical business or staff like they do, I still treat my freelance consulting as a business with similar challenges when it comes to marketing, financial management, sales and business planning.
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) August 11, 2015
Every three months we have Business Planning workshops where we take stock of everything that we have achieved in the last 90 days and then plan the next 90 days aligned to our 12 month business goals. We also consider what we learned.
In the second workshop, I had reached a low.
I was told that to many people starting out in business, this is normal. With a few leads that didn’t come to fruition and relatively little work, I was started to wonder whether I should just go back to full-time work in an organisation. I even started looking at job ads online until I got bored within five minutes of reading them because of their tedious “sameness”.
I think it came from the fact that I don’t have focus on a particular product or service nor a specific target market. I knew that I didn’t want to offer generic courses (stand alone products) where I’m standing up in workshops delivering content about social media or tools. Instead, I want to provide a social learning experience that enables people to find their own meaning and context so that they have the courage and the motivation to create their own initiatives, projects and to drive them to change the status quo. I want to go on a learning journey with them and together solve their particular business problems. Let me explain…
To date, I’ve had many different clients from across all industries and all sectors. Corporates, medium size business, small business, other freelancers, associations and not-for-profits. Each one requiring a unique solution to solve their performance problem.
For businesses, it could be a implementing social learning program for their employees; for Learning and Development teams all they want are face-to-face workshops and webinars for their L&D team members (funny that); for not-for-profits it’s consulting to identify unique programs to generate revenue or raise funds (these are the projects of interest for me because they’re challenging, unique and related to a business critical need); for associations it’s consulting on developing a social learning strategy to engage with current membership base and find new members (ditto about challenge); for small business it’s hands on social networking programs; for independent freelancers, it’s more personalised coaching around building an online identity and reputation using social media (sometimes, they just want you to do it all for them – so there’s a potential business in that too if you’re so inclined).
As someone who likes to customise each solution for their client after undertaking an analysis of the problem, I never feel right offering generic courses and workshops on ‘How to Use Yammer to Build Your Internal Networks’ or ‘How to Use Twitter’ when my client asks for them because it’s not really the answer to the question they should be asking around their business performance. The performance consultant in me always questions, “what is the business problem that you are trying to solve?” and it’s never really about how to use a social tool.
So during my second business planning workshop, I was downhearted because I realised that I may have an uphill battle in a world that is totally focussed on content. Maybe clients didn’t want the consultancy services? Maybe I should offer generic workshops and churn these out but then I’d be selling out on my own dream?
I went back to the drawing board. I asked my business coach for advice and even though he never tells me the answers, he does always ask me questions that get me thinking. He asked me, “Pretend it’s 2020 and you’ve just come out of a time machine. What does Activate Learning Solutions look like?”
And with that, I went home, stuck a flip chart paper on the wall and started to write – and kept on writing. Without pauses, without thinking – it was something that was inside me that had to be expressed. This is what I wrote:
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) July 28, 2015
So my vision was all about helping people to be part of a community where it’s all about sharing insights, experiences and new ideas. Then, a little time later, I received a notification on Twitter by Renee Robson (@ReneeRoberz) and all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place. Her tweet personified what I wanted Activate Learning Solutions to be all this time. The link between life and learning.
In fact, the more I thought about my own business name ‘Activate Learning’ – the more I realised that in hindsight, this name is exactly what I want my business to be about. (If you really must know how I came about with the name there’s a story here. Over seven years ago now, I was working at a bank and was responsible for the design and development of an induction program they called “Activate” Induction Program. I loved this word from the outset. It denoted action, impact and tenacity. It had oomph. Within a day, I registered a business name “Activate Learning Solutions”. Despite no inclination at the time about going into business for myself, I figured that if I can secure the name, the rest will come with time. I never thought that six years after, the name would be dusted off and used as my brand but by that stage, my Twitter handle was too ingrained to change. I was and will be known as Activate Learning. To this day, I’m still surprised at how quick I chose this name. It just goes to show you that you need to trust your gut instincts. All my positive life experiences were all reactions to gut instincts. When you “just know” that you’d be better off taking a risk than spend a lifetime asking ‘what if?’) A couple of weeks ago we had our third business planning workshop and it was an improvement. After the above realisations, I was more certain of my way ahead and even considered that I was one of the lucky ones who had choice of serving a variety of clients. Social learning touches all industries, sectors, businesses. I can customise my services and offering to suit them and not needlessly worry that I wasn’t focussing on one market only. I also considered that continual learning for myself is a necessity – if I’m not learning, playing, experimenting, making, trying – then I’m not only letting myself down, but letting my clients down too. One of the activities David asked us to complete was the Skills vs Fun matrix. We had to identify the top 10 activities in our business and then map them against a graph of where our skills versus how much fun we had when we did them. The idea being that we should consider outsourcing or streamlining the activities that aren’t fun or low skill so that we can concentrate on those that we enjoy. You can see for yourself that writing proposals or presenting are not my favourite tasks…
So what is the result of the third business planning workshop? I’ve created a Sales and Delivery Process along with some basic tools and templates that I use with all my clients to streamline the process and doesn’t require me to duplicate and repeat things. For example, I now capture my leads, have a budget and cashflow statement as well as created some tools to capture responses from clients (pre-proposal questionnaire) as well as a client evaluation feedback form. For all my clients, I include a written testimonial on their LinkedIn profile to build their online reputation (and hope that they return the favour if they’re happy with my service but don’t expect one in return – I’m amazed at the amount of people who still look at providing testimonials on LinkedIn skeptically). I’ve also created the goals I want to achieve for the next 90 days and it seems like a daunting list however, as I have already met my 12 month business goals from the previous years, one lesson I learned is that I shouldn’t beat myself up needlessly if I haven’t achieved them. I’ll keep looking at my vision and that will be my guide to ensuring that the tasks I undertake all relate to that. Really – my dream job out of all this? To be paid to go on learning experiences and write about them. ********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************** Are you interested to learn a new tip, tool or app to activate your learning? On the first of every month, I email out a newsletter with four tips, tools and ideas that get you learning and applying these to your own work, personal or professional development called Activate My Learning. Share what you create and learn from others on how they’ve used the tools through posting your creation on social networks using the hashtag #activatemylearning. Subscribe here.