Tag Archives: goals

Train Life

I set myself a couple of challenges with my New Years Resolutions this year: firstly, to reduce my carbon footprint and secondly to use my time more effectively.

So the first change to make on the way to achieving these goals was to switch the car for the train where possible. Admittedly I am lucky to live within a stone’s throw of the Tarka Line between North Devon and Exeter, but even so I have been surprised by the outcome.

First of all the train is cheaper than driving in to Exeter, especially when you add the cost of parking. And it achieved my primary objective of reducing my car’s carbon emissions.

In addition to this I can sit on the train working, reading, or writing (blog posts for example!). I try to spend my driving time listening to audiobooks and while this is mostly educational it always feels like using up dead time rather than being productive time.

So far so good, these are the changes I expected to see. But I have noticed other changes that I didn’t expect:

I have to be more organised – I think I’m pretty organised with my client work, but planning of my personal time is always far from being a priority. Now I am making more time for getting to and from events, so I am more relaxed and more likely to be on time!

I’m walking more, to and from the station, which I hadn’t realised would happen. And it’s through the centre of Exeter past all the lovely shops; because I’m walking I can I actually appreciate it, rather than just grabbing essentials at service stations.

Finally while I like to think that I am comfortable with new situations, I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve had to learn (read this as how many times I’ve had to ask people for more information!) and this has highlighted how stuck in my ways I’ve got.

I’ve learnt loads about the Tarka Line, needing time request that I stops at the right place, needing to find out which platform to be on (sometimes there’s just one, for both directions!), how long it takes to walk across Exeter, and how to solve the various problems that have already sprung up.

Plus I’ve learnt more tedious things like how my laptop bag isn’t as waterproof as I had thought and how I need to reconsider my handbag choices so that I can carry my insulated coffee cup around after its been emptied!

The bottom line is that I am loving the train travel, even without considering the money or carbon saved. So from next week I’ll be using the train for travel north into Barnstaple and I’m ready to consider the next change to make.

Choose your competition wisely

Every business has ideas about who the competition is, but how much thought has gone into identifying those competitors? And was it just guess work, or analysis of solid facts?

The truth is that choosing who you see as your competition has a really powerful effect on business strategy.

Obviously every business is unique and so there’s no easy tool for identifying the right competitors, but one of the things I do when I work with businesses is to ask them lots of questions. So I would like to share some of them here:

Currently who are your competitors? What is it that makes them competition?
The power of knowing your competition is understanding what they have that you would like to have. Greater market share? Greater recognition? More profit?


Who do these businesses see as their competition? And how do they see your offering?

Is that from your customers’ perspective or from your own?
What’s important to you, probably on the same list as before – market share/ recognition/ profit – is not necessarily what your customer sees as the main difference. They will value quality and service as well as price and it is important to understand whether they see price differences as a key decision maker.

Being clear about what is important to your target customers lets you see which comparisons are valuable in your decision making and what is purely distraction.

Are competitors a distraction? Can customers replace your product/ service with a substitute instead?
It’s not usually as simple as identifying a business in exactly the same location or market and even where there are competitors in the same market the “competition” from substitutes (customers replacing your product with something completely different) can be just as interesting.

Let’s take McDonalds as an example. They list their UK competition as:

  • Other fast food chains, obviously
  • Coffee shops
  • Traditional fish and chip outlets
  • So they are not just interested in the names that we immediately think of, but also other places that get in the way of potential customers choosing McDonalds. What stops your target customer buying from you?

    “Measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you”
    Carter Chambers, The Bucket List (2007)

    Is your view based on current facts or marketing fluff?
    We are all guilty of this. The media (traditional and digital) is full of fabulous headlines about business successes in every sector and the huge sums of money raised in share sales. No-one ever released a press release that said “we made mistakes and lost a crucial customer so our plans have gone awry”!

    Recently I read an article in the business press which heaped praise on a growing SME for achieving 11% year on year sales growth. It was only at the end of the article about wonderful ongoing investment and new opportunities the author quietly mentioned the pretty sizeable losses that the business was still making, drawing me to the conclusion that sales growth was requiring big sacrifices from the owners.

    What does the future hold? Who are the rising stars in your market place?
    We can only ever be certain about the past, but what really matters is the future!

    A little more than just 10 years ago the big supermarkets were competing with each other to try to capture market share but then their battles were swept aside by the growth of the likes of Lidl and Aldi.

    How do you see your market changing in the future and how can you adapt? (Chances are you’ll be wrong here, but if you plan for something you will be better placed to react to whatever comes your way.)

    Most importantly: what are you going to do with this information?
    Can you see opportunities that you can exploit? Have you got strengths that the competition haven’t got? Maybe what you need to focus on is doing more of what you do best?

    At the end of the day what matters is how you’re doing now compared with how you did last time (last year, last marketing campaign, last product launch, etc) but by having good information you can make good decisions for the future.

    If I can help you work through some of these questions I am running free consultancy sessions across Devon over the next few months. Click here for more details.