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Taking a Step Back

Taking a Step Back

The world of work is full of cliches which contradict each other.  On the one hand there’s “Nose to the grindstone” and on the other there’s “Seeing the bigger picture”.  In real life, of course, there’s truth in both, but in practical terms, especially for local business owners, it’s often easier to focus on tasks in hand, especially if they need to be done, than to step back and look at the big picture for a while.  Getting that different perspective can, however, bring whole new insights.

For example, we’ve seen our fill of photographs of London taken at ground level and, frankly, very few of them really capture our attention because most of them show us something with which we’re already familiar, usually the major tourist hotspots and tell us nothing new about them.  They may tick all the boxes with regards to photography technique but in pretty much every sense of the phrase, we’ve seen it all before.  Photographs by Jason Hawkes, however, are a different matter.  Hawkes is an aerial photographer.  In other words, he hires a helicopter, straps himself to the outside and takes pictures of places from the air.  The results are both recognizable and familiar and utterly different to the sorts of photographs seen with monotonous regularity on postcards and other marketing literature.  For example, we’ve all probably seen literally countless photos of the London Eye, but here at TPP we’ve only ever seen one shot from above looking through down through the wheel and its spokes.  We suspect that the shot was very uncomfortable to take (none of us really fancy strapping ourselves to the outside of a helicopter), but we’d love to be able to say we took that shot.

So, in marketing terms, what do we (and our customers) have to do to get the big-picture perspective?

Well, step one is to allocate some time for big-picture thinking.  This should be on a regular basis, we’d say ideally once a week, but in the real world at least once a month.  Block out time for this in your schedule.  Bill Gates famously took two one-week “Think Weeks” for years and look where it got him.  There are plenty of secluded retreats for business owners looking to get away from it all, but for those with less time, inclination to travel and/or budget, or for those who want shorter, more-regular, “thinking sessions” you can go a long way to creating your own retreat just by making a commitment to turn off your gadgets.  You will probably want to give your nearest and dearest some notice of this and perhaps stay near a landline where people can contact you in absolute emergencies, but make it clear to your loved ones that unless it’s something genuinely urgent, you are out of communication.

Once you’ve got your “thinking time” arranged, you need to make the most effective use of it.  We suggest you use a “thinking checklist” to ensure that you go over the key points which matter to your business.  You can keep the same basic checklist from session to session and then just add anything extra which occurs to you for any particular session.  You might want to have your core checklist in physical, printed form, in which case we’d suggest laminating it and then add your extras, if any, on paper, since you’ll have switched off your gadgets.  We suggest basing your core checklist around the following themes:

What are the strategic strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing my business right now and what do I foresee for the future?

What steps am I taking to ensure that my product/service fulfills a genuine need or want?  How can I ensure that my company continues to be relevant and what can I do to make it more relevant?

What am I doing to show that my company is unique?  What else can I do?

What am I doing to connect with my customers and how is this working?  Can it be improved?

What am I doing to ensure consistency across all aspects of my business, internal and, in particular external?  What processes do I have in place to ensure that everyone I do business with receives a consistent message from me?