Making changes, living the future

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Are you a new year’s resolutions person? For me, new year 2017 prompted a serious re-evaluation of what I’m doing, and how I’m doing it — work, and my working life. Now, nearly half way through the year, many of the changes I planned are finally happening.

Here are four things I realised were wrong in my business, and what I did about them (though let’s be clear, this is all a work in progress).

1. Clarity of proposition

In January, I realised that my proposition remained very confused. People didn’t understand my work and they didn’t understand Book of the Future. So I broke one website into three, each with a single purpose.

bookofthefuture.co.uk

This domain started as a blog about the future and technology back in 2006, and I have returned it to those roots. Yes, I’ll plug what I do on here sometimes, but it’s mostly a pure content play.

tomcheesewright.com

Secondly, there’s tomcheesewright.com, which is for all the time-based work that is the bread and butter of a futurist — speaking, writing, broadcasting, consulting.

futurism-tools.com

Thirdly, there is futurism-tools.com. This is where the products live that aren’t just about me: the Applied Futurist’s Toolkit and the courses at the University of Salford.

Three sites, each with a single proposition. This may not be optimal in terms of attracting traffic, but I’m hoping that it is much easier to understand.

2. Knowing what you’re not

The next realisation was about what I’m not. I’ve advocated many times that we need to learn to identify gaps in our own capabilities and fill them. Mostly I’ve talked about using learning to fill those gaps. But sometimes you have to accept that other people can do things better than you.

What am I not? A marketer.

This was a hard realisation for me. As, though I studied engineering, marketing was my first career. I’ve worked in PR, and wider consulting, and run a digital marketing agency. I was in charge of marketing at the start-up I co-founded. I’ve continued to consider myself competent at the basics of marketing.

Until I looked at the evidence.

While the time-based side of my business — speaking, writing, consulting — has continued to grow, in the last twelve months I haven’t significantly grown the user base for the Applied Futurist’s Toolkit. There’s progress, particularly with the new course at the University of Salford, but it’s not enough.

This is not just bad for business performance. If I don’t think I’m proficient, then I can’t teach. So how can I develop the marketing assistant who joined me as an apprentice three years ago, and who has done such an incredible job of growing our audience?

3. Spending time — and money — wisely

When I started this business at the end of 2012, I believed it would grow to about six people. A couple of futurist consultants, a couple of marketers, a sales person and an administrator. Time was the only offering at this point.

When I came up with the idea of productising the processes I’d built, I figured we may need a couple more: a community manager and someone dedicated to e-commerce.

Then my own predictions started to come true, confounding my instincts about the business. Automation replaced roles, and low-friction interactions with others helped me to scale.

Automation meant there was a limited role for an administrator, and what there was (finance), generally needed to be handled by someone with more training or experience than I could afford full time. The result was that when the administrator I had hired decided to go back to university, it didn’t leave a huge gap.

Sales has been increasingly outsourced, after a conversation over lunch with Don’t Panic’s Nicky Wake a few years ago ended up with her starting a speaker bureau. Now most of my new enquiries about speaking and content are routed through Sarah at the Don’t Panic Speaker Bureau, where I’m represented alongside such luminaries as Lemn Sissay, Penny Haslam, and Clint Boon (it’s a diverse stable).

Needless to say, it’s a very low-friction relationship.

I’ve been able to keep on top of the all the time-based work, and with the network of licensed futurists at least starting to grow, the future plan is to refer excess work to the network, rather than recruit.

4. Work to your rhythm

I wrote earlier this year about my failure to break the habits of the 9–5 — at best I’ve shifted it forward a few hours. I still don’t really work to my own best rhythm. Part of the reason for this is having staff, and an office. You have to give them times to work to, and a place to work, and hence you have to try to be in it when they are — at least some of the time.

The problem is that I don’t always want to be in the office. And even when I do, the reality of speaking and broadcasting means that I can’t be. The resulting compromise has seen me paying for a space in which I spend very little time, and my remaining employee being on his own much of the time.

This clearly makes no sense.

Change for good

Much of what I’ve written above essentially comes down to differences between my instinctive expectations for what a business should be versus the changing reality — something my clients struggle with all the time.

I thought I needed people, but actually I need partners. I’m completing the switch to a fully-outsourced model with Mason, my excellent marketing assistant, moving over to a marketing agency, who will become my retained agency. They will continue his good work, and give him a better working environment and career path. And they will give me the marketing expertise I have sorely lacked in trying to grow the subscriber base for the Applied Futurist’s Toolkit.

I will close the office and be totally mobile from the end of June, albeit with a refurbished home office and workshop, which will be my base. I will continue to try to free myself from the outdated expectations of when and how I should work. And I plan to experiment more with the processes and technology I use — particularly how I create and present content (and getting away from lugging around a laptop).

Six months on, I’m finally making my new year’s resolutions a reality.

This post forms part of my Future Human series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future Human page.

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Tom Cheesewright