Shirlaws Cayman – my new online home

by TomCayman on August 31, 2011

I’ll be leaving this blog online as, from emails, tweets, FB posts etc, it is apparent that people still find some of the blogs of value and interest.

From now on, though, you will find me at Shirlaws Cayman, where we have a Website and Facebook page. Please do join us there.

The website is there to talk about “You”, “Us” and “Together”, all about You – the Shirlaws client, Us – Shirlaws and what we are all about, and Together – how we can work together to drive successful outcomes and ROI for you and your business.

In addition, blogs from Shirlaws Cayman and Shirlaws coaches and partners around the world will be featured on the site, along with notifications of events and access to material such as our popular ebook “More Money, More Time, Less Stress

Hope to see you at my new online home !


Less Blogging, more Shirlaws

by Tom McCallum on June 4, 2011

One of the key rules of being active in “Digital Engagement” is to be consistent in posting content and engaging in conversation. I’ve always tried to live by this. However, it doesn’t take much scrolling down this page to recognise that in 2011 I’ve posted less, often just once a month, and typically that has been  a repost of a monthly newspaper column I write.

As the title of this post indicates, I’ve been doing less engaging digitally, and more and more engaging in my own training and with colleagues within Shirlaws Business Coaching around the world.

My business focus, no, my passion, is now for Shirlaws. Shirlaws Cayman.. is my baby.

After months of preparation, Shirlaws Cayman was ready to launch during the last week in May with a Seminar (run by Glyn Heald (ex Global CEO of Shirlaws)), as well as a series of meetings with key business and other leaders throughout Cayman.

Whilst Glyn and I know Shirlaws offers value to businesses that is very special and rarely found, we were still taken aback by the massive level of interest in Shirlaws as business leaders recognised this is something new and different that complements the tools already available internally and through external resources.

I’m proud to have brought Shirlaws and Business Coaching to the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean.

If you are interested in meeting to discuss what Business Coaching is all about and what it can do for your business, do get in touch. To set expectations though, as interest is so strong, Shirlaws Cayman’s capacity to take on new clients, even with access to our global pool of coaches, will be limited for at least the balance of 2011.  Do make contact so that, where there is an appropriate match, we can look to plan a client engagement in a time frame that works for you.

Oh, and if you are interested in joining Shirlaws Cayman (or know somebody that this sounds appropriate for), I’m interested in talking about that too !


Elephants can’t dance like Entrepreneurs

by TomCayman on May 4, 2011

The title was Chip Conley’s tweeted comment on April 12th when Cisco announced they were killing the FlipCam, only two years after buying the manufacturer for some $590m. Only a week prior to this, Cisco CEO John Chambers had issued a mea culpa admitting to problems with slow decision making and lack of “discipline” at his company.

When Cisco bought FlipCam, the iPhone revolution was going mainstream. With smartphones now shooting high quality video, perhaps the FlipCam was doomed, but it is still true that “Elephants can’t dance like Entrepreneurs”.

How do Entrepreneurs dance ? First, they know with certainty why they are dancing and what they want to get out of the dance (they have a “Vision”). They dance with Passion and Energy (Entrepreneurs are nothing if not driven !). Finally, and even the most agile Elephant can’t compete here, they have their eyes and ears on everything at all times, so are ready to change direction quickly when necessary (Awareness and Agility).

Vision, Passion, Energy, Awareness, Agility. These are among the key qualities of Entrepreneurs.

How long, though, can they keep dancing ? What happens when their business grows and they can’t see everything at the same time, and what if the volume of work drains their passion and energy and they lose their vision ? When that happens, their managers and team members have to be the ones “dancing”, and they all have to dance the same way and to the same tune. This can only happen if they have developed a strong Culture.

Looking back in history at large corporations, those that have successfully lasted a century or more have as their common defining trait a strong Culture. Culture is paramount, but it must then drive and align the development of Systems and Processes for the business to ensure sustainable success.

Entrepreneurs can outdance Elephants for a while, but most don’t look up and see the need to focus on that transition from the “Entrepreneur Show” to a business with a strong Culture that enables everybody in the business to embody that Culture in every thought and action.

What then happens ? The business stumbles, stagnates and the founding Entrepreneur feels frustration, stress and then disillusionment. Worst of all is that they never saw it coming when things were going so well and they out-danced Elephants ! This is what Shirlaws Business Coaching refers to as “Smashing into the Second Brick Wall”, an eloquent way of expressing what they have seen as a global organisation coaching thousands of owner led businesses through all points of the business lifecycle.

Chip Conley himself is a hugely admired Entrepreneur, but he is now more widely known for his “Peak” System that he developed to transform his company (Joie de Vivre Hotels) when it so nearly crashed. This system led to him developing the “Joie de Vivre Heart”, a virtuous business circle with the following elements :

1 : Creating a unique corporate Culture, then

2 : Building an Enthusiastic Staff,

3 : Developing Strong Customer Loyalty,

4 : Maintaining a Profitable and Sustainable Business, which all leads back to the beginning point again, reinforcing the Culture, and so on.

Can you state in just a few words the Culture of your business ? Is it something that you and all your team members at all levels believe in and embody in their every thought and action and have you built Systems and Processes around it ?

If so, well done, you have a powerful base to build upon.

If not ? The good news is that if you recognise it early that crash into the Second Brick Wall won’t be so painful, and you can get back to outdancing Elephants, but this time with everybody in the company doing it, not just the Entrepreneur.

Now, helping businesses and business leaders with the skills necessary to help you keep dancing in your business ? That is something the right Business Coaches can help you with.


Turbocharged Transparency

by Tom McCallum on April 11, 2011

Last month this column focussed on the revolution in Egypt and key messages for businesses centred around transparency of information. I’m going to repeat some points from that column and expand upon them. Why ? This stuff simply has to be repeated until the messages hit home.

We now live in a transparent world, and that transparency is “turbocharged” by the ease of searching for and accessing information. The sooner business and political leaders embrace this, the better. This is one area where being a Leader rather than a Follower can indeed be the difference between life and death. Life and Death of your business ? Sure. How about Life and Death of the economic wellbeing of your Country ? That too. This is serious stuff, folks.

Consider the humble television, which revolutionised our lives only around 50 years ago, giving a dominant platform for advertisers to tell us what to buy and what to believe about those products. No longer. We don’t trust advertising, we trust peer recommendations through social and other channels.

If you perhaps think Social Media is a fad, or just want to find out more, I highly recommend and their powerful Social Media Revolution video, full of stunning facts and statistics, including some that really make you think about the changes in areas like television advertising. If ever four minutes of your life can convince you to tear up your communications playbook, this is it :

So, if the old rules need torn up, how should one communicate as a business, or even as a country looking to attract people and businesses to invest and grow with you ?

The first answer is to truly embrace that everything we do is or soon will be transparent. This isn’t about good governance or even Freedom of Information rules, it is just the new reality. This isn’t even about Social Media. Social Media is here to stay, but the true revolution is in ubiquity of information and the ease of finding and accessing that information.

In our transparent world, you can’t hide. You can’t hide if your product is outdated and uncompetitive. You can’t hide if your customer service is poor. You can’t hide if your systems are inefficient and burdened with red tape. You simply can’t hide if you portray your business, your country, yourself as being something that reality cannot live up to. People will find you out. End of story.

On a country level, one of my favourite quotes is from James Freeman Clarke : “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman of the next generation”. If a country is to live up to the promises we wish to communicate to our people and the outside world, we need our politicians to be statesman, and for that we also need our people to recognise the need for long term planning rather than short term fixes.

On a business level, I’m fond of saying “the easiest way to make money is to think longer term than the next guy”. It isn’t a direct quote, but influenced by me being a “disciple” of Warren Buffett, who believes in long term investing and in buying companies with quality people, products and culture. Companies like this create fans, evangelists and yes, even disciples. It doesn’t require Social Media (Harley Davidson fans tattooed their allegiance on their bodies long before Facebook), but if any business leaders didn’t get the importance of quality before, let “turbocharged” transparency be a wake up call.

So, if we all get that transparency is here to stay, all we have to do is focus on the quality of what we have to offer and tell our people to get with the programme. Easy, huh ? No, incredibly difficult, as the key change is in the culture of our organisations, not simply laying down new rules. That isn’t easy at all. Still, time to start, transparency is certainly not a fad, it is here to stay.

(This blog was originally published in the April 2011 “Reinvent or Die” column of  The Cayman Islands Journal )


Revolution 2.0

by Tom McCallum on March 8, 2011

In 1968, Gil Scott-Heron said “the Revolution will not be televised…. the Revolution will be live”. What he said he meant by that was “the thing that’s going to change people will be something that nobody will ever be able to capture on film.

He could not have foreseen #Egypt #Jan25 #Tahrir. Forgive the Twitter hashtags, for this was a new kind of Revolution. This was a Twitter revolution, a Facebook revolution.

Wael Ghonim is Marketing Director of Google Egypt by day, but took on an every more all consuming role as Facebook page administrator for the page that co-ordinated the January 25th protest that eventually brought down the Mubarak regime. As he put it on twitter :“@Ghonim : This is Revolution 2.0: No one was a hero because everyone was a hero.”

Gil Scott-Heron was right though. I watched Al-Jazeera live stream video of protesters merrily riding along on army troop carriers, exposing the lie that the regime still had control of the military. However, it mattered not what those pictures showed, nor that the developed world had no idea how to react, this had grown into “the thing that’s going to change people”.

What lessons can businesses take from “Revolution 2.0”. Some significant ones, but first we must recognise the “Perfect Storm” that hit Tunisia, Egypt and perhaps more authoritarian regimes to come.

Authoritarian regimes are, in general, able to remain in power not simply due to repression that can be brutal, but for two simple and deeper reasons.

First, citizens will tend to remain compliant as long as their basic human needs are met. Classic examples of this are such things as subsidies of fuel and basic foodstuffs, but also the use of the assets of the country to maintain massive government employment programmes. Keep people fed and employed and they will be less likely to rebel. Second, a tightly controlled state-run media and single party structure give the people the sense that they have no alternative and no way to organise themselves with like-minded others when they want change.

The “Perfect Storm” was the combination of the Great Recession and the rise of social networking. As governments could no longer afford the bribery of their bloated systems, the people had, for the first time, a way to communicate and organise that the state couldn’t control, short of shutting down the internet and cellphone systems. Egypt eventually did that, but by then the genie was out of the bottle.

What are the business lessons then ? The key message is that you can’t possibly hope to control what people think of you anymore, and you certainly can’t do it with your marketing.

Back when TV started, top shows captured over 75% of the US viewing public, so companies simply bought primetime network TV ads and force-fed their message. What is more, people had to “buy” the message they were selling, as there was (effectively) no way to verify if it was true.

Today, however, the TV market is fragmented beyond belief. Even if you do reach your target audience, they are conditioned to be suspicious of advertising and can instantaneously check the message and compare their options online.

So, you can’t reach the audience, they won’t buy what you are selling. Add to that budget constraints that mean you can no longer afford to advertise the old way even if you want to.

The solution is the ultimate in “old school”. Simply offer a great product and look after your customers. They will then use the ease of online communication and social networking to “turbocharge” your message by telling all their friends and colleagues.

Am I recommending everybody cut their marketing budget entirely and focus only on product development and customer service ?. No, but you do need a radical reinvention for Marketing 2.0. Oh, and for the dollars you do spend on getting your message out ? Make absolutely sure your product more than lives up to your marketing, you can’t control the message or the media anymore.

It’s a 2.0 world.

(This blog was originally published in the March 2011 “Reinvent or Die” column of “The Cayman Islands Journal“)

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The three R’s of your Customers

by Tom McCallum on February 17, 2011

Seth Godin said in a recent blog : “here’s what most businesses do with their best customers: They take the money”, then went on to suggest that you think of the customers who bring you the most referrals as being your best customers, and then think about how that might change how you treat your customers.

Part of the answer is in “Client Base Management”, one of the areas that Business Coaches find they are in high demand for right now. When I talk about this, I refer to the “three R’s of your Customers” :

- Revenue

- Relationship

- Referrals

There are layers within each of these that are used in coaching clients to their own solutions, but I’d simply express it by saying that the value you place on your customers is a combination of :

a) the Revenue you earn from them,

b) the quality and nature of your ongoing Relationship with them,

c) and finally (and Seth is quite right to emphasize this) the referrals they bring you.

Businesses are chasing new top line revenue in this recession without enough focus on the profitability of their existing business or of the new clients they are looking to bring in. What is more, with cuts and savings that have had to be made in staff and resources, many are operating at or close to full capacity, so their team wonder how they can handle any new business that may be brought in with the resources they have.

Client Base Management can help you create capacity for growth within your existing level of resources, and help you focus on your best clients, as measured by your own methods of applying the three R’s.

Who tends to get this right ? Airline frequent flyer programs for one. The best programs reward their most frequent and highest paying travelers the most, they work at their relationship with them through their frequent flyer benefits, and they find ways to encourage those loyal flyers to refer others.

Who gets it wrong ? Mobile phone companies. I’ve rarely seen such a terrible customer model as prevails in this industry. They ignore their highest paying customers once they lock them into contracts to ensure their “loyalty”. They then focus all their efforts on stealing customers from their competitors. A race to the lowest common denominator, and guaranteed to stifle innovation.

If I had the time (in an alternate universe!), I’d love to focus on launching a telecomms start up that was focussed on doing whatever it took to make their customers insanely fanatical evangelists. I think there is a gap in the market there you could drive a Mack truck through. Meantime, take a look at and see what you think of their business model (thanks to Scott Allison for pointing them out to me), and then smile when you realize that they themselves are simply a “test lab” for a traditional telco in the UK, O2.

Finally, and back to airline frequent flyer programmes. You don’t have to be George Clooney in “Up in the Air” to get excellent customer service, just being an airline elite frequent flyer gets you special treatment. Outside of those with such privileges, we all sometimes feel like ”The Oatmeal” :

Oatmeal Customer Service


Reassuringly Expensive

by Tom McCallum on February 9, 2011

Recently I was emailing with a friend and fellow social media addict in the UK. I’d identified a strong Marketing Communications opportunity I felt he had and was recommending to him that he talk to a mutual friend working in that field to assist. In his reply, he noted : “I’d heard she was reassuringly expensive”, and I loved that phrase. What I didn’t realise, not being exposed to UK TV here in Cayman, was that it was probably a subliminal reference to the tagline for Stella Artois from their TV ads in recent years, an example of which here :

In later ads I feel the ad agency got carried away with simply saying that Stella Artois is expensive, so pushing image and the implied kudos from paying more, the key message in this particular ad is that you are getting a higher quality product and, accordingly, paying a higher price for it.

Marketers of high priced goods and services are always trying to find the balance between image and actual intrinsic quality.

Recently I went by a “luxury event” held at the private jet terminal at the airport in Grand Cayman. On display were luxury Jets, Boats, Cars, Jewellery, Real Estate etc. Expensive champagne was flowing, no expense spared, and easily 1,000 people were flowing around. None of that expense actually went into the quality of the product, all of it went into the image and mystique of those luxury goods.

On the other hand, I own a pair of Bose QC15 headphones, a $300 spend that I use for noise cancelling whenever I fly. Yes, Bose does a little advertising, but all of it around product performance, there is no “caché” to owning QC15′s. They are simply the best at what they do. I love them so much I just gave you the link to the product. Hmm… the power of product referral marketing… but I digress.

On the professional services side, one of my favourite websites is “Clients from Hell“, full of stories of web designers and developers and how so many clients fail to value that type of work. One of my favourite posts from that site is simply a line a client gave a web designer :

We have no budget for creativity or innovation.

Thinking of my own work as an advisor to businesses and organisations, creativity and innovation can be some of the most expensive things I can offer to my clients, but also are often of the highest value. A recent example was from an initial client engagement for a couple of conference calls to establish if we should look into a larger project. Just a few minutes into the first call, after listening to some strategic thoughts from the client, I gave a simple insight on a potential change to their product positioning. The client’s response ? : “ok, we can hang up now, you’ve already paid for your fee”. Of course we continued on (and are now involved in that longer term project), but the client had just valued my creative insight at an hourly rate of around $10,000. I’m “Reassuringly Expensive” too, but I promise I won’t charge $10,000 per hour for conference calls.

One of Warren Buffett’s most famous quotes is :

“Price is what you pay, Value is what you get”.

Whether you are a service provider or a client, make sure you focus on Value, not on Price.


Don’t ask people, just watch what they do

by Tom McCallum on February 6, 2011

I’ve been involved with Marketing in many shapes, forms, channels, industries, methods etc for too long to mention. Marketing is fascinating, multi-dimensional and ever-changing, but my experience has taught me that it all begins with this :

Marketing starts with seeing things through the eyes of the customer.

Put another way :

“Art is not what you see, it’s what you make others see- Edgar Degas, French artist (1834-1917)

or :

“O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” – “To a Louse” – Robert Burns, Scottish Poet and National Treasure

Late last year I was at a leadership conference where the keynote was delivered by a fellow GlobalScot, Andy Mooney, head of Disney Consumer Products. You’ve probably never heard of Andy,  but he quietly runs a $42bn company, and his career has seen him work under such leaders as Phil Knight of Nike and Steve Jobs. No, Andy has never worked at Apple, but many forget that with the acquisition of Pixar, Jobs is a Board Director and significant shareholder of Disney, so someone Andy often has to run his marketing and product ideas past.

Steve Jobs is famous for not doing market research prior to product launch, and when Andy Mooney was asked his thoughts on this at the Q&A after his presentation, he noted that he too did not believe in market research before product launch, but certainly believed in post-launch research. Andy also recounted this well known story, from Guy Kawasaki , former Chief Evangelist of Apple and a “Twitter King” :

“When Phillips was thinking of entering the boom box business, it went into market research. This market research involved interviewing teenagers about what color they would like the boom box to be. The basic colors that Phillips wanted to test were screaming yellow versus traditional black. They asked the teenagers what color they would like and all the teenagers said, “Yellow. Screaming yellow.”

At the end of the focus group, Phillips told the kids, “Thank you very much for participating in this study. We are going to give you each a boom box. There are two piles of boom boxes outside; pick one and take it home.” The two piles were black and yellow. Guess which one everybody took home? The black one.

Don’t ask people; just watch what they do.”

Successful marketers all have an innate ability to see through the eyes of the customer. More than that, though, they drill down from that into a powerful thirst for knowledge of what customers want, how they behave, how they research, how they buy.

(The growing field of Behavioural Economics is also increasingly intertwined with Marketing and most top Marketers I know voraciously devour new material in this area as it emerges. If you are interested in starting to read in this area, some of the best known books are on the book list on my LinkedIn profile.)

Steve Jobs and Andy Mooney not using pre-launch Market Research doesn’t make them lazy or arrogant, it means they recognise the power of tapping into the thoughts, knowledge and experience they and their team have gathered from years of having that unquenchable thirst to know how their customers see them. The human mind is incredibly powerful at processing information from different sources to arrive at conclusions, so you may call their approach “Art”, but I’d argue that there is “Science” behind their seemingly intuitive methods.

In Business Coaching parlance, a “Key Learning” from this is something you can take next time you look to hire someone to work in Marketing, or (more common in these straightened times) when looking internally to your existing team to see who can take on a Marketing related role (eg Social Media, Blogging, Google AdWords etc). When looking for that person, I suggest you look first and foremost for evidence that they have a powerful passion for finding out how people think, what they are interested in, how they behave. As an example, I recently met a young Psych major looking for their first job who has just finished a year out after graduating to travel to new countries to satisfy their curiosity about how others live. In that passionate interest in how others think and act, you have the makings of a Marketer.

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Position for Growth

by Tom McCallum on January 16, 2011

“If you ask 50 Economists a question, you’ll get 50 different answers”. True, but have you ever wondered why ? Perhaps because Economics is as much Art as Science, as much about the predictably unpredictable nature of human behaviour as it is about numbers and mathematical trends, with those intertwined influences making truly accurate predictions a near impossibility.

Human behaviour is a huge part of economic forecasting. In fact, a key economic indicator is called “Consumer Sentiment”. If people think things are getting better, they spend more money, take out loans for homes, cars etc. That money goes to work, stimulating economic activity and so boosting the economy for everyone. Feel good and things will be good, a self-fulfilling prophecy ?

One can then see why political, business and media leaders tend to lean towards an overly optimistic outlook on economic recovery, as they want to see that self-fulfilling prophecy effect. This is a big part of why we are hearing people say they are “Optimistic for Recovery” for 2011.

This also explains why we are seeing well intentioned “stimulus” efforts being made globally , but many are simply “chasing ghosts”, looking for capital and investment that simply isn’t ready to come at this stage of the economic cycle.

Ah, but won’t “Consumer Sentiment” save us ? No, Human behaviour will only carry an economy so far if it has structural flaws that need addressed. The numbers don’t lie on this, and they don’t look good. 2011 will be another tough year, a “double dip” year most likely, with the only really good news being that economies do move in cycles (that “human behaviour” effect again), and the numbers indicate that recovery will begin sometime in 2012.

How then, should you act ? I’ve written and spoken for quite some time on the need for businesses and countries to focus on being globally competitive. Whether for a country or for a business, 2011 is a year to “Position for Growth”.

2011 is a year to focus thoughts, efforts, resources on getting your business, your organisation, your country ready to capitalise on longer term recovery by “fixing what is broken” and entering 2012 efficient, effective, targeted to your customers needs, and raring to go ! You need your leadership ready when the recovery comes to focus on bringing in new business, not focussing on stripping costs out from inefficiencies and administrative issues. You need your people full of belief in your purpose and having recaptured the energy that the last few years have sucked away.

There are various areas that I work through with clients as a business coach in implementing such strategy, but let me highlight just two for you to think about for your own organisation.

First, “Cash is King”. If you haven’t already done everything you can yet, then you must take 2011 to focus inwardly on your organisation. You have to enter 2012 as an efficient, nimble and well-oiled machine, but a machine that is both lean (and so cash-efficient) and ready to scale up efficiently to meet the needs of your customers in a growing economy.

Second, who are you and what solutions do you provide to your customers, now and in the future ? This is called your “Positioning”. The last few years have been tough, you need to take time to review and recapture what it is that makes your organisation of value to your customers. Also take this time to focus on your people, they are the lifeblood of your organisation, and they need to be energised by 2012.

“Positioning for Growth” isn’t easy, it is hard. However, if executed well, it will give you a big competitive advantage in the future over those who spend 2011 simply being “Optimistic for Recovery”.



by Tom McCallum on January 11, 2011

The focus on cloud computing from Google on their Apps is a potential game changer.

Simplebooklet is one of the first wave of apps on the Google Chrome App Store

Here is a quick example of a “Simplebooklet”. This can be embedded, shared, emailed, whatever, and always hosted in the cloud.