It is one of the world’s most profitable and highly-guarded 

In fact, there are only a few people in the entire world who know 

Developed in 1940, the hand-written version of it is 
protected by a special security system created especially 
to protect the recipe.

To what am I referring?

Best kept secret in businessThe 11 secret herbs and spices that make up Colonel 
Sanders’ Original Recipe chicken.

It’s responsible for making KFC millions upon millions of 
dollars. And in 2012 the company was valued at just 
under $6 billion dollars.

It’s such a tightly guarded secret that only two company 
executives at any one time have access to it. To maintain the secrecy of the recipe, one supplier produces half of it before passing it to another to add the second half.

Many people have tried and failed to copy Colonel Sanders’ recipe over the years to identify the 11 secret ingredients and mix them in the right 
proportions. And why wouldn’t they with the money at stake.

What difference would it make to have your own secret recipe? Before you dismiss it as not being relevant for your industry, examine what makes this secret recipe strategy so successful.

The fact the recipe is secret is not why people buy KFC. The reasons are more fundamental than that and include:

  1. To start with, the success of the recipe is not the recipe itself but the pleasure that people get from the “finger-licking good” taste.As human beings we get pleasurable feelings from all of our senses: sights, sounds, touch, taste and smell.Your customers may not be able to taste your product or service, but which other senses could you recruit to please your clients?
  2. Secondly, there is a primal satisfaction that comes from a fatty meal that goes back to our cave-man days. A feeling that’s all’s well with the world because you’ve just been well fed with a massive calorific intake that will see you through to the next hunt.What primal instincts could you apply to sell your products and services – food/water, warmth, shelter, safety and security, sex or clanship?
  3. Thirdly, everybody loves a great story. The mystery of the secret recipe and the myth-like imagery that surrounds Colonel Sanders is evocative. It captures the imagination. Not enough in itself to make you want to eat KFC perhaps, but it helps.Do you have a story that you can tell that can capture your customer’s imagination? Perhaps one that helps them to aspire to something greater in their lives too?
  4. The secret recipe implies consistency – you always know that the food you get will taste the same wherever you are. So if you have a craving for that taste, you know you will get exactly the same blend of 11 spices at KFC wherever you are in the world.
  5. Most obviously, the strategy works because it differentiates KFC from the competition. Keeping the recipe a highly guarded secret is the only way to stop competitors copying it.

Of course, if the mix of spices and cooking process produced horrible-tasting chicken, none of this would have made any difference whatsoever!

Appealing to the one or more of the senses, primal urges, emotion, imagination and desire for consistency, with a good product and in a way that differentiates you from the competition is a recipe for market domination in any industry not just chicken…

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Customer Service


Image originally posted on Zengage, The Zendesk Blog

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The Power of Feedback - Book Review


Book Review: “The Power of Feedback” by Joe Folkman – The Practical Leader.

This is on the button.  Having spent many years administering appraisals, the bits that felt most “wrong” were those that focused on weaknesses.  The bits that felt most right were when we focused on strengths, how that benefited the team and how we could capitalise on that more.  The concern, of course, was that by focusing only on strengths that you were pandering to their egos and drawing a veil over less productive traits or skills.  This book outlines a way to deliver strengths-focused feedback without ignoring weaknesses, but addressing them appropriately in light of their strengths.

[Another problem with most appraisal systems is that bonuses and salary increases are tied to the outcome, but that’s another story…]


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Internet Marketing, Marketing

The Do’s and Don’ts of E-Mail Marketing

Email Marketing Do's and Don'ts

The Anatomy of an Awful Marketing Email.

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One Step to Keep Your Business Thriving and Healthy.


One Step to Keep Your Business Thriving


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How to Plan for Small Business Growth.

Growth Strategy Planning


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Business Management

Only a small fraction of businesses reach their 10th anniversary!

In fact according to some sources (e.g. E-Myth, Michael E. Gerber) only 4% of businesses will make it.  Data from the UK Office of National Statistics puts that closer to 15%.  Best case scenario then: 85% of businesses won’t be around ten years from when they start.  I’m sure that’s not what most business startups expect from the outset.

So why is it that so many don’t make it?

According to a recent study, the top 10 reasons for business failure are:

  1. Lack of experience
  2. Insufficient capital
  3. Poor location
  4. Poor inventory management
  5. Over-investment in fixed assets
  6. Poor credit arrangements
  7. Personal use of business funds
  8. Unexpected growth
  9. Competition
  10. Low sales

As they say, if you know the cause of a problem you’re more than half way towards solving it.  So, as a business owner, what should you do about it?  Based on the list above, here’s a three step formula for business success…

Three Steps to Business Success not Failure

Success Not Failure. Image courtesy of

Business Success Strategy #1: Ask for help

Based on inexperience being the number one cause of business failures, this is the best place to start.  In fact, inexperience can be highlighted as the root cause for many, if not all, of the “reasons” on this list.

Failing due to inexperience is how we learn and gain experience.  So it’s OK to fail.  However, the bigger the stakes the harder it is to accept out-and-out failure.  We need to be more willing to accept that we don’t know everything.

The problem is, we don’t know what we don’t know, so we all need to ask for help from time to time.  Sooner rather than later, before inexperience, lack of knowledge and mistakes turn into failure.

We need to find the right help.  We need to find enough of it.  We need to find it in the right areas: usually our areas of weakness.  And we need to find it as soon as possible.  Certainly no later than the moment we realise “I don’t know the answer to that”.

It’s clear from “The Breakthrough Company” by Keith R. McFarland, that all of the most successful small businesses that broke through to make it big sought out external help and advice.  They took advice wherever they could find it: from peers, investors, advisory boards, customers, suppliers and academics.

The solution then is: ask for help.  Lots of help.  Don’t be proud, get help wherever you can.  Take free help, buy help, invest in help.  Read books, watch videos, listen to experts, hire consultants, get a great mentor, teacher or coach.  Looking at the list above, the main areas to concentrate on are sales, marketing and financial management.

Business Success Strategy #2: Do thorough market research

Another area to get help in would be market research.  Adequate market research will help you avoid setting up with insufficient capital, setting up in the wrong place, being bettered by the competition and avoid lower than expected sales.  It may even allow you to plan for, if not anticipate, faster than expected sales growth.  Good market research is essential to succeeding in business, and inexperience may lead to poor or insufficient market research.  Starting with insufficient capital, starting in the wrong place, having the wrong levels of types of inventory, not anticipating the effects of competition, and likely sales levels can all be estimated better with good market research.

If you don’t know what research to do then it is imperative that you ask for help in this area too.

Business Success Strategy #3. Plan for both failure and success

When creating your business plan from your market research (in whatever form that takes) make sure that your projections cover all of the most likely scenarios.  This doesn’t mean plan for every possible outcome, but plan for the worst case and best case scenarios out of all of the most likely outcomes.  What if you are incredibly successful?  What is the impact on cash-flow?  What capitalisation do you need to cover the resulting cash gap?  What are your competition likely to do?  What will your response be?  If sales are lower than expected, how will you cover the lower than expected revenues?

While this advice is aimed at business start-ups, an established business wanting to expand, diversify or otherwise “take it to the next level” can also apply the same thinking to avoid their new venture from failing.


First published at


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A business website needs to be at the centre of any marketing strategy these days.  Offline marketing ought to direct prospects to your website so they can find out more and then contact you or buy from you directly from there.

Online marketing is naturally geared to do the same.

I got a call a few days ago from a company offering to help me do just this for my website (, by selling me a search engine optimisation (SEO) package.

The salesman explained why I needed their services. He explained that most people click

Search Engine Optimisation: Press Button for Instant SEO

Press for Instant SEO?

through on organic search results rather than on pay per click results, so, he said, I needed my website to be on page 1 of search engine results for my most important keywords. Fair enough.

Then they showed me that my most important competitors were ranking much higher than my website on the organic searches. Next using and they explained that this was because I needed more links to my website from other domains, which is how they could help me. Great sales pitch – I was hooked.

They offered to submit my site to 300 website directories, include 75 social bookmarks and submit three professionally written articles to 50 article directories. And all this would cost me only £1050 plus VAT. A bargain given other companies, they said, would charge me £400 per month for the same service…

Now, I realise SEO is important. I also realise that it is a constant effort to stay at the top of the rankings for given keywords because only one site can be there and the one who “shouts loudest” (throws most time or money at it) will be the one. And once you’re there someone else will try to get above you and so you need to throw more at it, and so on.

However, I’m not keen on playing this business arms race, so I decided to find out how difficult it was to do it myself. From scratch. As a complete novice.

So I took a blog post I had already written and made some modifications so it would stand alone as an article.

I then went hunting for a way to post this article on different web-sites to get the backlinks. Within an hour I came across which offers to submit a single article to 100 directories for $2. Sounds good, I thought.

So I went ahead, signed up and submitted my article. The process took about 30 minutes. That was the end of the work for me – did all the rest in the background.

Next I found a service,, that submitted my website to 20 website directories. As the name suggests, this cost me nothing and included submission to Google, Bing and Alexa. It was an automation tool, but I did have to verify at least half of the submissions manually myself, which took me about an hour, but at least I knew it had happened.

So in total I spent about 4 hours and $2 to submit my website to 20 search engines and web directories and to submit one article to 100 article directories. As of now the amount of traffic to my website has gone up more than 10 fold and links to my website are starting to appear in the SEO diagnostic tools.

Having taken additional advice from Gary at and Mike at who explained that a few good links from highly relevant websites are much better than hundreds of random links, I feel I’m on the right track.

I would normally advise business owners to leverage their time and therefore outsource this kind of work. But I would also advise that they outsource only if they understand the goal, can place a proper value on it and assess the quality of the results.

Now that I’ve done it once, I know that it is relatively easy to document the process and could pay £10 or so for an hour every week to get a couple of articles submitted to multiple sites by a freelancer. I’ve found a good source of freelancers for this kind of work is

In the meantime, I’m going to continue doing my own article marketing based SEO using and manual entry to specific directories.

And so my advice to business owners wanting to improve their website’s SEO would be: write a few short articles and submit them to article directories. Check the results with Google Analytics and measurement of sales enquiries from your website. Then, if it’s working, outsource the whole article marketing to a freelancer on an hourly basis for a few pounds per week instead of 100s of pounds a month.


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My last post was about why you need a guarantee and how to write one.  And today I came across this guarantee offered by an estate agent.  Funny how the world works isn’t it…

Anyway this particular company guaranteed their customers that they could negotiate their fees down – even completely eliminate them – if they felt they didn’t receive full value for their money.

Can you imagine which of your competitors would go bust very quickly if they offered such a guarantee?

How many processes would you need to change in your business to be able to offer such a guarantee?

Do you think you would attract more customers if you offered such a guarantee?

This kind of guarantee could apply in any number of service industries.  For example, I have recently had dealings with a number of national and regional business brokers, and I can speak from first hand experience that many would go bust very quickly if they offered a guarantee like this.

Which means there is a huge opportunity for a business brokerage firm to take over the market if they can find a way to offer clients such amazing service that they could offer a value based negotiable fee.  Now given that only 22% of businesses listed for sale in the UK are actually sold, that would be a huge undertaking, but imagine the opportunity…

Let me know if you decide to offer a guarantee like this, or even better if you already do. I’d love to know how well it works for you…

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People have lots of choices when it comes to who to buy from these days. There’s never been more competition, particularly with the availability of all sorts of products and services on the internet. Even purchases that at one time could only be made in person can confidently be made online.

So given it’s so easy to buy virtually anything from multiple sources, it has never been more important to help people to buy from you rather than from someone else. It’s no use at all offering great value and service because most businesses offer those, or say they do. And trying to compete on price is a slippery slope because there is always someone who will charge less. There’s usually only one winner of that game and that’s the one with the deepest pockets.

100% Money Back Guarantee

Image courtesy of

An alternative is to offer a guarantee. Because a guarantee, if it’s written well and truly appeals to the buyer, will take the risk out of making the purchase and compel customers to buy from you and not your competition. That is if it is so good that buyers think “I’ve got nothing to loose” or even better: “I’ve got nothing to loose, and if it doesn’t do what I want it to do, I’ll be better off!”

Most people have bought goods or services that they were told fantastic things about by a salesman and were subsequently disappointed by when they started using it. Once bitten, twice shy, so they are naturally wary of spending money or humiliating themselves by future purchases.

To overcome this reticence, a guarantee has to address the biggest fears and frustrations that customers have in buying from your type of business, and then guaranteeing that they have no need to fear.

To understand how to do that you need to understand that customers are not buying what you sell. Rather they are buying the benefit of owning what you sell. For example, people don’t go to a restaurant just for food, they go for a social occasion and a dining experience. If you can guarantee they’ll get both then you’ll get their attention and you’re in with a chance of competing.

In another example, people don’t go to a hairdresser to get a haircut – they go to look and feel fantastic. So for a customer getting their hair done on a Saturday, the most important thing to them is that they will look fantastic that evening when they go out. And their biggest fear is that it will go horribly wrong and they’ll look a mess.

In this case, the stakes are so high that a guarantee probably won’t be enough. If you are going to compete with their usual hairdresser you are going to have to offer some awesome proof in the way of testimonials or before and after photographs, a mutual “friend” to refer you and an ironclad guarantee.

A guarantee must deal with the customers fears and frustrations. It must also explain the consequences if you don’t deal with those fears as promised. Like the 100% money back guarantee. It should also be impressive, so that it attracts attention, so how about making it a 120% money-back guarantee?

Which raises another point – many businesses fear implementing a guarantee. They think they’ll be faced by customers just trying to rip them off. But the truth is that most guarantees are never taken up. Sure some people may try to rip you off, but you can usually avoid this by asking some direct questions about what they didn’t like about the product.

You could even ask them to complete a questionnaire. Make it in the interests of improving your customer satisfaction and you can still offer a “No questions asked guarantee”. Let them take it home to fill in or complete online. People with a genuine complaint will follow through, but those trying to rip you off are likely to think twice.

Here are a few steps you can take to write your guarantee:

  • Start by logging any customer feedback you get – good and bad.
  • Ask your customers what they like most about you and your service.
  • Ask them why they came to you instead of someone else.
  • Ask your customers, “What could we do that would encourage you to recommend us to your friends every time?”
  • What frustrated your customers about finding, buying or using the products/services you sell before they found you?
  • Look at your current way of working and decide what one or two major customer frustrations you can solve right away.
  • Don’t rule anything out. Consider how you could make something work rather than worrying about why it couldn’t work. But if you really can’t deliver on the biggest frustration, then see if you can do something about the next biggest.
  • The basic structure of a written guarantee is: “If this doesn’t happen then we’ll do that”. For example: for a beautician: ” If your friends don’t comment on how clear your skin is within four weeks then you’ll get your money back together with a private consultation with a dermatologist”. Or for a builder: “We’ll have your building work completed on time, all loose ends tied up and snagging sorted, or we’ll pay for you to stay in a hotel until it is.” How much work would that get you?

Once you’ve got your guarantee written, use it in all your marketing materials, from you business card and compliment slip to your website and sales brochures to your quotations and invoices.

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