Would your business benefit from a Strategic Alliance?

March 3, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Being self-employed or working independently has many advantages, but one of the downsides for me, when I first ventured into this new found freedom, was the absence of someone to get creative with.  There were only so many hours in a day, so a limit on what I could achieve.

Consequently, through my network, I created a number of strategic alliances ie joint ventures and informal partnerships where I work with others towards a shared objective.  This includes combining expertise, designing new services and co-referring.  For an extrovert like me, it has been invaluable, not just because one of my business goals is to expand my client base, but also because I want to have more fun!

At The Athena Network we strongly encourage our members to work together to form STRATEGIC ALLIANCES.

We’d love to hear from you, if you are part of a strategic alliance with another Athena member. There are numerous examples within our network – here are just two:

Agustina Tulloch, Sarah Aspital, Penny Campbell and Caroline Shaw all have very different skills and are joining together to offer them all to you at an Afternoon Tea Spa on 15th March.

Josephine Blythe, June Dean, Ellie Barnes, Juliette Smith, Grainne Ridge, Stephanie Smith and Diksha Chakravarti are combining their expertise on 14th May to run their third Business Conditioning Workshop aimed at helping you improve the fitness of your business.

What might the benefits be for you in creating a strategic alliance?

  • Connecting your business with another more established brand could elevate your visibility in your network
  • You might be able to gain access to the network (including possibly the clients) of whomever you link with
  • You could increase your skills
  • It could give you greater buying power (thereby reducing costs)
  • Approaching new clients as larger concern when pitching, could increase opportunities for you.

Who do you want to connect with? 

Think about what you would like the alliance to accomplish before you start approaching people.

  • Perhaps another business in your market that is not a direct competitor would be a helpful link.  You could potentially market to the same customer base.
  • You might even want to create an alliance with a competitor.  I have a great connections with other Coaches.   I don’t have the same expertise as them, so am able to benefit my clients by referring.

How could the alliance work?

  • You and your partner(s) should get clear who is responsible for what
  • Ensure you communicate honestly and regularly with each other and think about how the alliance can become a win-win for everyone involved
  • Ensure your goals are aligned as well as your level of commitment (of energy and time)
  • Discuss any costs involved and ensure that each party has the same understanding

Then you could:

  • Link to each other’s websites
  • Develop joint marketing materials and/or include your material in each other’s mailings
  • Develop a workshop together then market the event as a team

and so much more.

Most of all though – HAVE FUN!

Juliette Smith, Relationship Coach


Don’t Stay Stuck! How to Make Powerful Choices

March 2, 2014 at 6:42 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Woman-ThinkingHave you ever felt stuck?  You know, that feeling where you can’t or don’t know how to change something in your life?  It might be something about your businesses, something to free up more time or generate more money or even something that you know will make you happier!

Feeling “stuck” is not pleasant.  It’s uncomfortable, smothering, claustrophobic even.  Sometimes we confuse being “stuck” with feeling secure.  Do you find yourself saying “I have a business/family/house, I should be happy”? Notice the “should”?  That’s a red flag word. 

So, if you want to get un-stuck, here are four steps to reclaim the decision making for your life and to make your choices more powerful.

1. Acknowledge you DO have choices.

Thinking about, writing down or speaking about choices does NOT mean you are making that choice.  We too often shut down the possibilities available to us because we fear that thinking about them will cause trouble:

We catastrophise: I don’t dare to think about working away from home because I my children will suffer, fail at school and start taking drugs.
We molly coddle:  I don’t dare to think about having a business that I love which pays me a great salary because I might be disappointed.
We presume: I don’t dare think about investing in my business because my partner/friends/parents will think I’m being irresponsible.

These are all excuses. Allow yourself to imagine, to think, to create.  Sometimes the most enlightening ideas come from a seemingly “impossible” choice.

2. Recognise HOW you make choices.

Typically we either Think, Feel or Know when we make choices.

Thinkers lead with logic, practicality and facts.

Feelers will often ask others opinions, be led by emotions, will create stories or images about the potential outcomes.

Knowers will decide fairly quickly and independently, without always being able to explain why they’ve made that choice.

Naturally, we don’t use just one of these approaches.  In fact, it is really powerful to harness all three.  To recognise how you make choices, think back to the best decision you’ve ever made.  What brought you to that decision?

Having trouble making a decision? Perhaps you’re ignoring what your lead factor is telling you?  For instance, we often turn to our Think factor if our instinct (Know) is saying something scary!

3. Make POWERFUL choices

Our values are a core part of who we are and what makes us happy.  When faced with a choice, your values will make the answers much clearer and simpler.  Your choice will either be true to one or more of your values or will ignore them/go against them.

If you’re not sure of your values, answer this “Success in my life means…….” and then for each part of your response follow up with “Which means that….” until you get to the source of what is most important to you.

NB this will not be money or time.  Dig past that to get to the real stuff.

4. Choice = change

Change is inevitable.  Even if you stay as still as you can, everything around you is changing all the time.  And you can’t control it all, no matter how hard you try.  Every choice comes with a risk.  The “what if….” factor.  And that’s OK.  Don’t be afraid of the “What if”.  Just as in point 1. thinking about it doesn’t make it happen.  Work it through.  Think about what you would do “if” your choice didn’t work out the way you wanted it to.  What could you do now to mitigate it or minimise the impact?

And if, after all that, you don’t change anything, that’s OK too.  Choosing NOT to do something is still a choice and by making that choice, you have started a change in and around you.

My favourite saying when I’m deliberating choices is “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” from Susan Jeffers book of the same name.  I’ve never read the book.  For me, the title is enough to jolt me out of my procrastination.


Why wait for Valentine’s Day to be loving?

February 3, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Valentine’s Day may be an annual celebration of love but my invitation to you is to consider making every day a celebration of love, by feeling it and showing it – and not just to your partner.

Think about how love feels.  I could use numerous adjectives, but I think we all agree it feels good?Love

Imagine if you started “loving” everyone in your life – colleagues, your boss, the person at the supermarket checkout……They don’t need to know you’re doing it, but if the idea of feeling “love” for some people just doesn’t work for you, try substituting forgiveness, kindness, acceptance or compassion instead.

And why would I suggest that?

Think about how you feel when someone does or says something that you believe is wrong.  I’m guessing, the feeling is not so good.   Frustration, anger, resentment and other painful feelings are commonly experienced when our head tells us that the other “should” or “shouldn’t” have done or said something.  We judge others but we’re the ones who don’t feel great because of our judgement.

Many of my clients (both personal and corporate) often want to see a change in behaviour in another first, before they are willing to feel any compassion or kindness themself. They get stuck in the painful feelings, blaming the other person for them.  Can you see how that is a powerless place to be?  What if the other person can’t or won’t change?

You can choose to continue holding onto the negative feelings. They are yours, after all.  However, as Buddha said “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  When you get stuck in a negative feeling,  you are unlikely to be hurting anyone but yourself.

If you try the opposite and focus on love, forgiveness and compassion, then your experience will be far more pleasant.Love2

Notice too when you feel anger or frustration with yourself.  Often we are our own harshest judges.  Try speaking to yourself with the same love and kindness you would speak to a small child or your closest friend, when they have made a mistake.

So this February, as you plan your Valentine’s surprise, how about spending the whole month loving everyone you meet (including the person in the mirror) and notice not only how it feels on the inside but also the impact it has on the outside.

Juliette Smith, Relationship Coach

FREE WINE AND CHOCOLATE! (well, sort of)

February 3, 2014 at 9:53 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Wine-Lovers-IndulgenceOK, I may have exaggerated about the free wine and chocolate but it would probably take a headline like that to make me even look at an article about my personal finances.

According to the adverts, “Tax doesn’t have to be taxing” and yet so many of us (me included) find it either confusing, frightening or just plain uninteresting.

Fortunately, that’s where Financial Advisors can help.   Tax is what tickles their fancy. Pensions are their passion.  So the Financial Avoiders among us can get a helping hand or a polite prod to make sure that we are making the most of our money.

As the end of the tax year approaches Reading East member, Josephine Blythe (www.josephineblythe.co.uk), offers us her Action Points, designed to help you make the most of your our tax allowances within the next few weeks.  Who knows, once you’ve completed one of the actions, perhaps you could treat yourself with some of that wine and chocolate!

  1. ISAs – you have until 5th April to shelter £11,520 in a tax efficient ISA wrapper
  2. Junior ISAs – you have until 5th April to shelter £3,720 in a tax efficient JISA for a child under 16 and now Child Trust Funds can be transferred to JISAs
  3. Pensions – you have until 5th April to make lump sum contributions of up to £50,000 to your pension plans on which you will receive tax relief – this will have the effect of reducing your tax bill and may gain you back your Personal Allowance and Child Benefit. The allowance drops to £40,000 for next tax year
  4. Inheritance tax saving – you have until 5Th April to make exempt gifts to reduce Inheritance Tax
  5. Corporation Tax Relief – If you are a business owner with a year end of 31st March you have until then to reduce your Corporation Tax Bill by making a pension contribution should this be appropriate for you
  6. Lifetime Allowance – you have until 5th April to safeguard pension pots from a tax bill if they will be more than £1.25million

For more information, do contact Jo or the Financial Advisor in your own group.

The value of an investment in St. James’s Place will be directly linked to the performance of the funds selected and may fall as well as rise. You may get back less than the amount invested.

The levels and bases of taxation and reliefs from taxation can change at any time and is generally dependent on individual circumstances.

Josephine Blythe represents only St. James’s Place Wealth Management plc (which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority) for the purpose of advising solely on the Group’s wealth management products and services, more details of which are set out on the Group’s website at www.sjp.co.uk/products.

Do You Have A Book Inside You?

January 6, 2014 at 10:18 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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To publish or not to publish!

Whether you’ve got a vague thought about writing a book, a bunch of files or notebooks filled with notes or a full set of chapter titles, you may be wondering what it takes to actually get your ideas in to print.

Well, as an Athena Member, you are surrounded by some wonderful resources who have already ventured down that road and committed their stories to paper.  Take a look at some of our published authors – maybe you could take a leaf out of their book (ho ho) as I’m sure they’d be happy to share their journeys with you!

Grainne Ridge – Difficult Customers

difficult customers

Lynne Copp – Dancing Round the Handbags

Dancing round the handbags

Katie Waistell – How to Leave a Bully

How to leave a bully

Niki Schafer – Creating Space

creating space

Vanessa Stottor – Butterfly Whispers

butterfly whispers

What Choices Will You Make in 2014?

January 3, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Life offers us many challenges – a traffic jam when we’re in a hurry; rain on a wedding day or perhaps worse; illness or loss.   It can feel like these things are happening “to us” – as if we have no choice and are the victim of some kind of outside force.

Sometimes the challenge comes from another person.  How often have you felt upset by someone else’s actions or words?   In these situations too, it can feel that you are being “done to” and are consequently powerless.

How would your life be different if you had a choice in all these situations?  What if you weren’t a powerless victim but powerful beyond measure – always able to make changes and never without choices – regardless of the situation?

The good news is that you already are.  We all are.

ChoicesWe always have a choice about how we see a situation, and how we respond to it.

For instance, we could see a traffic jam as an inconvenience – because we might be late, or we could see it as an opportunity – perhaps to listen to an interesting radio show.  Either way, the traffic jam won’t change.

Our choice of perspective though, could mean the difference between arriving at our destination relaxed or stressed.

Even with more challenging life experiences, we have choices.  We can choose to see the loss of a loved one as unfair or perhaps even devastating.  Alternatively, we can choose to focus on how grateful we are that someone was in our life.

What we think, doesn’t necessarily change the situation but it can make all the difference to how we feel about it and thus, to what we do about it.

It’s all about the perspective we choose.

In 2014, how could your life be different if you change the way you think?

Here are two exercises.  Do both of them daily for the month of January and let me know what’s different in a month’s time.

A Gratitude Diary

Find three things every evening that you are grateful for and write them down.

I have kept a gratitude diary for a while now.   I started a few years ago when my Coach suggested it as a way of dealing with a situation I was feeling angry about, but could not change.  After just a few days of keeping the diary, I noticed I felt less angry.  Instead of my head being full of angry thoughts which would make it difficult to sleep, I would be focussed on the blessings in my life which relaxed me.

Even now, with that anger long gone, before I sleep, how ever I am feeling, I still find something to be grateful for.

Those I love often feature on the list and if my day hasn’t gone too well, I focus on gratitude for the skills and qualities I have that helped me through it.

This exercise is an excellent way of ensuring our state of mind at the end of the day is positive and there’s also a lot of research indicating that feeling gratitude is good for our health.

A Daily Commitment

Each morning make just one commitment and stick to it for the day. 

It could be a change in behaviour; such as drinking just one cup of coffee rather than six
It could be a commitment to a particular state of mind such as finding at least one thing to appreciate about anything or anyone you feel annoyed with.

Every evening, make a note of the commitment you have kept and acknowledge a skill or quality you have, that helped you keep it.

I look forward to hearing how you get on.

Juliette Smith, Relationship Coach


Making Conflict Work For You

November 1, 2013 at 9:12 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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sisters_fightingWhile conflict is often seen as a source of tension and stress, it can in fact bring the opportunity to improve self-awareness and growth. 

High-achieving women will identify conflict as the chance to draw on their creative resources and to set a new way of thinking.  Here, leading relationship coach Juliette Smith explores how successful women manage conflict, transforming it to a positive force.

The idea of conflict means different things to us all – something to be avoided as it is bound tightly to painful childhood memories or an opportunity to get one’s own way, regardless of the cost. And yet with the right mind-set, it is a dynamic that can be managed successfully, be it in the office or at home.

In my 14 years of coaching, the most successful and stress-free women are those who have learnt to approach conflict without fear or rigidity.  Instead they approach it with positivity, flexibility and an inclination towards a win/win outcome. Conflict brings up the need to question or challenge the status quo which can take courage, and amongst the many benefits is the opportunity for real growth and change.  It takes courage to consider one’s own role in a disagreement but to create a healthy interaction, that’s the place to focus.

Women, in particular, seem to have a superior grasp of the skills needed to turn what could be unarmed combat, into healthy conflict.  They see an opportunity to maximise the creative resources of all concerned, set a new way of thinking and even strengthen the relationship.

Tuning in to change

Successful women have a heightened self-awareness and will therefore notice their own thought patterns and work to change them, if they are not helpful.  Approaching a conversation with an assumption that it will be difficult, is likely to evoke a negative emotional reaction which could put a positive outcome at risk before a conversation has even started.  High performing women will ensure their vision of the interaction is one of ease, leading to the desired successful outcome.   If you often have negative thoughts about a conversation, a meeting or even a specific person, try this and see how your feelings change.

We all make judgements and assumptions about other people but often fail to notice how negative they can be.  My more successful clients are prepared to challenge their own judgements, replacing them with open-mindedness and a willingness to listen and learn.

Hold on to clarity of intention

Many a time I’ve seen clients so attached to winning an argument or getting their own way, they lose sight of the other person, the relationship or the bigger picture. As employers, mentors, entrepreneurs, mothers, friends, partners, the most inspiring women share a commitment to support those around them, as well as themselves. Their focus will be to nurture and develop the relationship, actively seeking a creative approach to a challenging situation.  The desire to find a better solution opens up new possibilities.

Look for common ground and shared values

When two impassioned people are communicating, more often than not, there are shared values and often even a shared goal.  Discovering this common ground provides a solid base for connection – an art women have a natural gift for. We are naturally more inclined towards collaboration; women I consider as highly successful will assume or foster a shared commitment to finding a solution, searching for and acknowledging common ground, coming back to it, if things get tough.

Being curious and listening

Conflict can be transformed when at least one party seeks to find out more and to understand by asking questions – neutral questions of genuine curiosity.  By making sure we understand what the other person really wants, needs and feels, we can show empathy which creates connection rather than conflict.  As intelligent, ambitious women are hungry to learn, they will consider the possibilities another point of view can create, and how these ideas could be valuable, which puts them in a position of strength.

Getting emotional

We have all been there – that moment when we need to take a deep breath before responding to a person, a situation.  Where successful women have the advantage is understanding and – in the main! – controlling their own emotions, which makes it easier to empathise.  They know that moving away from criticism, accusations and blame and towards solving the problem is what works – another way of creating  connection rather than separation.

Ultimately, the most successful women I’ve worked with tend to be more self-aware and prepared to leave unhealthy conflict behind in service of a more positive outcome for everyone involved.  Owning their own reactions and a commitment to honest, effective communication transforms conflict from a source of tension and stress to an opportunity for creativity and connection.

Juliette Smith


This isn’t just a network, this is the Athena Network

October 30, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Posted in Articles, Networking Tips | Leave a comment
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timeTime is a valuable resource, often the most valuable as a business owner.

Just as you make sound business decisions when investing your money in a new piece of equipment, website or professional service, considering how to invest your time is just as important.

So, when networking is a significant element of your marketing strategy, how do you know that Athena is right for you and your business?

Be honest with yourself

What will make the biggest difference to you and your business?  Often people’s first response is “more customers”.  But, consider the question a little longer and most business owners acknowledge that, although it is important, it is just one dimension of successful business growth.

What else do you want? Training? Personal development? Constructive feedback on your products and services? Time to take a step back? Inspiration from other successful business owners?

Click here to see examples of articles that may be useful for you and your business.

Phone a friend

Speak to friends, family and colleagues.  Look at what people say online. Ask people in your LinkedIn network what they think.  There is a networking style and format to suit everyone so if people you know, like and trust are saying good things, it probably pays to listen to them!

Click here to see what some of our members are saying.

Success breeds success

Ideally, you want to be in a group with a whole range of businesses at different stages of growth.  You can be inspired by and learn from those who have already overcome the issues you are facing.  You can offer support and advice to those that are just starting out.  This way, you’ll be able to give as well as receive – a cornerstone of successful networking!

Our members often write great articles for our blog so do take a look and you’ll see that you’ll be in good company.

What’s included?

10 “home” meetings per year, where you are the “go to” person from your profession.
Unlimited access to Cappuccino Connections – our monthly informal networking morning.
Training on key business areas such as social networking, finance, time management, customer experience, branding etc.
Personal development to build confidence, communication skills, time management, sales techniques.
Support from like-minded business women.
Time away from the day to day operation of the business.
Energy and Inspiration, hearing about how others are growing and developing their businesses every month.

Click here to read more about the benefits of membership.

Try it!

Visiting takes half a day (preparation, travel and the meeting itself) and costs just £28.  Here you’ve got all the reasons we can think of for coming along.  But don’t just take our word for it.

Click here to find out about the meetings and book a visit.

Is there More for You to Learn?

October 1, 2013 at 8:31 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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Whether as a business person or as a human being travelling this life, there is always value in learning.

It gives us the opportunity to expand our perspective which, in turn, gives us more choices.  It helps us deepen our understanding and consequently have a greater chance of making informed and appropriate choices for ourselves.Jefferson

Intrinsic in The Athena Network’s raison d’être is support for our members’ learning and growth through training and development.  Hence our delivery of two training sessions at every meeting; a free networking strategy training for every member and the support for our members who offer training as a way of sharing their knowledge and expertise

How much training, development or coaching have you benefitted from this year?

If the answer is none or little, I encourage you to think about the difference it would make to you, your life and your business.  For instance, would the following changes in your life make a difference to your success and happiness? And if so, would some support in achieving them be of value?

  •  Decreased stress levels

Knowing your weaknesses and doing something about them will reduce stress, as will focussing on your strengths.

  • Increased emotional intelligence

Being aware of and able to manage your fears and emotional reactions could lower stress levels. Effective business leaders need to be able to manage their emotions and not let them get in the way of making sound judgments

  • Improved work life balance

Prioritising what is truly important to you can have significant effects on your health, your family, your success and your fulfilment.

  •  Clear plans for the future

If you know where you’re heading and why – it’s much easier to be clear on your goals.

  • More motivation and energy

Finding the time and motivation for exercise and healthy eating, can appear a challenge but can you afford not to?  What gets in the way of you prioritising this?

  •  Easier attraction of more clients

If you already have more than enough clients – congratulations.  However, if you think there are more clients out there for you, but you are challenged to reach them, perhaps it’s time to find out how, by doing something different.

  •  Clarity on how to network successfully

Many people think they know how to network but rarely reflect on how their current approach to networking could be improved.  There are countless ways of learning more about networking.

If you’ve still not made the above changes on your own, why not seek the support of someone who can guide and motivate you?  Even if you learned to do just one of them differently, it could change your business and your life.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.

We’d be happy to introduce you to numerous experts who can help you.  The Athena Network has them in abundance.

Alternatively, just click here for a great place to start .

Juliette Smith, Relationship Coach


How Not To Follow Up In Sales!

October 1, 2013 at 6:05 am | Posted in Articles, Member Stories | Leave a comment
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Grainne Ridge, Business Fit Club

Grainne Ridge, Business Fit Club

This month, Grainne Ridge of Business Fit Club shares her expertise on how we can change how we feel about selling by understanding more about the process.

How not to follow up in sales

Prospects can be frustrating. We have all had the experience of thinking that the business is in the bag and then what comes next is radio silence. They appeared keen to meet and find out more about our products and services. We burned the midnight oil to prepare a proposal and then – nothing. So why does this happen?  Here are just some of the reasons.

  1. We don’t understand their decision making process
    A proposal is just one part of the 11 stages in every buying decision. For this prospect they may be at the market research stage when they ask for a proposal and we have simply provided one more piece of research.

2.   We didn’t ask the right questions in our meeting.

Pre-proposal meetings are the prime time for us to find out as much as we can about the prospect’s business and yet this is often wasted by purely pitching. Do we know their pain points, their plans, their budgets, their timescales, their previous bad experiences with suppliers?  And these are just a few of the things we should know.

3.   We used the wrong language

How well matched was our proposal to their problems? Did we show them that we understood their biggest challenges and how the specific elements of our product would solve these?  Did we use their company language or ours? Did we propose next steps that hit their triggers, management meetings or other decision making steps?

4.  We didn’t follow up well

Did we say that we would call 1 week later at 3.30 and called 1 day later at 9.15?  Indeed, did we ask what the next steps should be? Keeping our commitments is part of the sales process. If we are lax in our follow up what message are we sending about our ability to deliver the goods? Secondly, agreeing up front what the next steps are creates a joint commitment which improves our chance of making contact, but it doesn’t guarantee it. We also need to be resourceful. How compelling are the phone messages we leave, the emails we send, the LinkedIn messages we send?  Who else can we call upon to get closer to our prospects

5.  Their needs have changed

Priorities can change, new stakeholders become involved, budgets get cut – or can increase. Proposals can often raise new issues that the prospect hadn’t previously considered, driving a whole new set of criteria – and a revised decision making process. All this can mean that the business may not happen for another 6 months so we need to find ways to stay in the running. Can we provide useful information in the meantime, invite them to relevant events or point them towards other resources.

6.  We didn’t stand out from the crowd

Few prospects will be simply sitting waiting for our proposal to arrive. They may have seen several suppliers so we need to be memorable. While this could be a novelty gift, if that would be appropriate, it could be our humourous approach, our sensitivity to their workload or an invitation to see our product in action.  Be creative!

So, with these in mind, can you spot what’s wrong with this follow up letter?!

Hi Mary

Can you please take me off your marketing database.

I came to see you and sent you a proposal, which you didn’t bother replying to, despite me chasing it up a couple of times.

I wouldn’t recommend you to anyone or wish to hear what you have to say.



So what can we do to give ourselves the best chance of success?

  1. Find out what their decision making process is – the timescales, the steps and the people who will be involved – and match it with your follow up activities.
  2. Ask what needs to be in the proposal, what format it should take and who else needs to see it.
  3. Deliver against the agreed timescales
  4. Get a specific commitment to the next step – and make it a strong one.
  5. Be resourceful and creative in your follow up
  6. Be useful to prospects, through your information, advice and other contacts you can provide
  7. Think long term.

And remember, in sales questions are often the answer.

Grainne Ridge

Business Fit Club


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