“I think we’ve lost them. He’s gone and got cold feet on it. The sale is gone.”

When someone gets cold feet, they have second thoughts about making an important decision, and this fear, uncertainty or dread invariably leads to a no decision, or another form of decision that’s not in our favour.

I was thinking recently about what a strange phrase, or figure of speech, this is. When we have cold feet in real life, it’s because we’ve been too static, for too long in cold weather, and the only thing we can do is move, either jumping or stamping on the spot or moving to a warmer place.

In the figurative sense of cold feet, moving is exactly what they’re not doing. They’re simply going to get colder on a decision in your favour, until frostbite sets in.

Perhaps ‘slow feet’ is a better way to describe a loss of momentum to a decision-maker’s buying or thought processes. Not as catchy, but more helpful I think.

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I do a lot of work in my home office. Sometimes my offie is very tidy. Sometimes it’s less than tidy, with filing to do and things to put away.

Not all of the work that I do is writing, but when I do write, before I start there’s one rule I try and enforce. I have to declutter before I start writing. I like things off the desk, and I like to see most of the desk, apart from my hardware.

A tidy writing space helps me clear my mind and get into creative mode. A tidy, decluttered writing space minimises the disruption both to the thought processes and the act of getting words down. A tidy writing space echoes the clean sheet of paper or the bank screen. It’s the reset button.

I’m not fanatical about this, it’s not a disguised OCD. Nor is it procrastination on my part either, since the meaningful work – the writing – is the work that must get done. It will get done. But the decluttering has to happen first.

I’m not sure I qualify as an Ex-Pat, an Englishman  living in Ireland. It’s not quite Singapore or Sao Paolo is it? Still, if and when Brexit happens perhaps I’ll have more of a case.

As long as there’s been an Internet I’ve used the BBC website as my de factor home page. I use it to get a snapshot of the news, the sports goings on, and some of the magazine articles. Even though I live in another country the exemplary BBC site is my anchor.

One thing gripes, though, and has always griped. About every year or two they issue a survey on the site for their foreign readers, which usually culminates in the offer to be a member of the BBC Global Minds community. Every time I complete the survey I always mention my major gripe. Due to the licensing laws, most of the sporting videos are content ‘not available in your location’, or similarly worded nonsense.

What’s that all about? I can switch on BBC on my Freesat box and watch the sporting highlights. Same jurisdiction, same video footage. So why is not available on the web? And what is the BBC doing for its British nationals abroad?

Even though the site is still peerless, there is a small disappointment in the product not delivering every time the video content is denied to me. Less than optimal.

The fantastic end-to-end experience we get when we shop at Amazon has serious repercussions for our experiences when we shop on other ecommerce sites. This is especially true for us in Ireland when we want to shop on Irish websites.

I was reminded of this recently when I was trying to buy two items on the Currys PC World website. I selected the two items and went to my basket to check out. The first item, incredibly, was not available for posting to me – WTF! – so it offered me click and collect. I selected my closest store and it said it was out of stock. Yes, I was at the checkout stage. The closest store was in Dublin, over 100 miles away. S0 that’s €30 on fuel and a full day to pick up an item that cost €30…

I moved down to the second item. This was not available for click and collect – why not? – but was available for online delivery. With me so far? I filled in my billing details and clicked ‘continue’. No good, WTF! 2. I had to go back up and delete the first item that was only available in practically the next time zone. When I deleted the top item the page refreshed and left the bottom item in the checkout but wiped all of my hitherto completed payment details – WTF! 3.

None of these WTF! moments would have occurred on the Amazon site. I left the Currys PC World site feeling that its experience is so excremental compared to Amazon. We become so conditioned to how good the Amazon buying experience is, and the experience itself, by which I mean the shopping process they take us though – that it negatively predisposes us against other vendors.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I do the vast bulk of my online shopping on Amazon and why they’re hoovering up business.

When you’re an employee, you’re paid for working 52 weeks a year, and in many European countries you get about 4 weeks off, plus national holidays. You’re paid for those holidays, which is great, so the challenge is being able to switch off and not think about work when you’re on a well-earned holiday.

Nothing new there of course. When you’re working for yourself, in a consulting capacity, you can only charge for the time you’re spending on a customer’s work. When you’re not working, you’re not earning. You surrender a good deal of certainty, benefits and a regular monthly cheque for a good deal of flexibility.

I’ve been working in a consulting or contracting capacity for something like 6 out of the last 30 years, but, tellingly I suppose, 6 out of the last 15, and exclusively the last 4-plus years.

I should be used to the ebbs and flows of the consulting life, and I am, mostly. Except that when I have periods of not earning, I find myself worrying more, and the worry increases proportionately to the length of the period of not earning. This is an interesting dynamic when you’re working on a speculative project, like a pitch for work, or an idea for a new business, or book and so on. There’s an opportunity cost to choosing to spend your critical time on a non-paying project, which might turn out to be a pipe dream, over both a paid project and a proposal for a project. You’re not getting paid for the work you’re doing, but you are investing your time in the hope of a decent return. Still, it can sometimes make you feel uncertain, and makes you examine a bit more carefully your choices of what you choose to spend time on.

I don’t know about you, but it makes me very conscious of not wasting these non-earning days. I want to make them productive, because in effect I’m sacrificing income. Conversely, when I elect to take the day as a day off, I make sure to treat it as a day off, as if I was an employee.

Doesn’t always work though…

There is a skill to editing. A different skill to writing I think. Where writing is more creative and subject to emotional highs and lows, editing seems to be on an even keel, more clinical.

Sometimes I prefer writing. The chance to take a blank canvas and turn it into something unique that moves, influences or informs people – possibly – is one that I take up three times a week on this blog.

Other times I like to edit. You can get through more material when you’re editing, especially if the writing is good and it sits within a sound structure and flow. It can be a slog to create something, heavy going, but then I suppose it can be the same when you’re having to do a major edit or, worse still, a re-draft.

Editing your own work is quite a challenge, particularly if it comes right after you’ve finished writing. You’re so close to the content that sometimes you forget you’re copy editing and you get taken along by the narrative. What you should be doing is checking every single word for appropriateness, spelling, typos and punctuation accuracy, as well as the sense and flow of what you’re reading. It’s hard to maintain that dispassionate distance from something you created. It’s easier to do that when it’s someone else’s work.

Copy editing is draining. You need to maintain a very high level of concentration, frequently circling back through what you’re editing to make sure you’re consistent in how you approach every instance of a heading, indentation, number, quotation or other conventions. In contrast, when you’re writing and it’s going well, it can feel like you’re not concentrating at all. The writing is flowing as fast as you can type, and you’re in some kind of zen-inspired zone, a passenger to the words flowing from your head through to your fingertips.

Editing your own work is not ideal. The role should really belong to someone else, unless you can take a big break after the creative phase and approach it as more of a stranger. This is less important when you’re blogging, as you can always go back and make a change after publication. When you’re publishing something final, however, like a brochure or a book, it’s a different story – literally.

The other day a friend of mine told me about the secret parking space he’s been using for over a decade. It’s a free, unmetered secret parking space. It’s in a major city in Ireland, right in the city centre.

You know these are gold-dust, right? It’s not just the convenience, the time-saving benefit and the lack of cost. It’s the knowledge, being in the know, having the inside track. My missus and I used to have a free spot in Dublin city centre, about 20 years or so ago. It was 5 minutes’ walk from Trinity College, which – if you don’t know your Dublin, is pretty darn central. Now development has absorbed it and it is no more.

I used the new secret parking space for the first time recently. It’s no more than 5 minutes from the thick of things. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a frisson of excitement using it. It’s like putting one over the system, legitimately. I wonder if it’s a small bit like being a member of a secretive club?

Passing the secret on to someone else is extending to them the bond of trust you only extend to a few chosen ones. Every additional person who knows about the secret parking space diminishes the chances of it being free the next time you want to use it. And if it’s like an Irish secret, which means you only tell one person at a time, then soon the network effect means that it’s no longer secret. Then it’s only a matter of time before the authorities close the loophole.

For now, though, it’s a precious commodity, with real, tangible value.

 

I was able to pay off a mortgage the other day. I expect it’s the kind of thing that happens all the time to thousands of homeowners. It had a few months to go before it was finished and it seemed to make sense to get a redemption figure and get rid of the very small outstanding amount a few months early.

Another reason was that my other mortgages are not due to be paid off for another 15 years or more, so I wanted to get this one out of the way.

So, in the time-honoured and fuddy duddy old way, I wrote in looking for a redemption figure, they wrote back a fortnight letter, and I sent off a cheque for the balance the next day. Fabulous.

That was a few weeks ago. I haven’t heard anything. No acknowledgement letter with a zero balance. More importantly, no congratulations letter.

This is a missed opportunity. Firstly, it’s a golden rule of marketing that you celebrate each milestone of the customer journey with the customer. Secondly, this doesn’t have to be the last milestone, it could be the chance to say ‘hey, well done, you’ve paid off your mortgage, you’re going to be a few quid better off a month, here are some savings suggestions.’

I realise much of this is automated these days, but you can still build rules into your process that trigger a congrats letter to each customer, celebrating the mortgage payoff. It’s very cheap, it’s common sense, it leaves your customer with a good feeling and it might prod them to buy another product from you. Easy.

I heard an ad on the radio the other day. It was for the travel company TUI, who used to be Thomson Holidays in the UK before they were taken over. So the ad passed the first test, namely that I was able to remember who the ad was for.

At the end of the ad it delivered its payload, which as far as I can remember was this: ‘We cross the T’s and dot the I’s on your holiday, and put you [as in U] in the middle.’ Beautiful. Achingly beautiful.

In one line it has made the brand the message.

You have to bear in mind that TUI is a German company. Someone came up with this genius strapline to work in the English language, so it’s almost certainly not the case that the strapline came first and inspired the brand name.

For me, when the brand becomes the message, or is the message, you’re onto a winner. I can’t imagine how well the strapline works in a visual – rather than auditory – ad, perhaps with a touch of animation. Delicious.

All of us are one step from the grave. We’re one heartbeat away from death. The Vice President is one heartbeat from the Presidency.

One turn the wrong way, a moment’s loss of concentration, or perhaps a case of wrong place, wrong time and it’s curtains. Goodnight Vienna. If that doesn’t push you to live in the moment I don’t know what will…

Actually, perhaps this will. We’re also one step away from winning the lottery, getting the all clear, seeing our efforts paying off, being really happy at seeing the joy of someone we love or respect, sneaking the winning shot, or reaching someone influential with the right message, the right offer at just the right time.

You might say we’re all one step from the great, as opposed to – or in addition to – one step from the grave.