Are You Inadvertently Sabotaging Your Success?

In a meeting with a coaching client this morning, I asked what the new entrepreneurs intentions were with his business and with our coaching, as I ask all of my clients when we start working together. This particular client who is branding himself as a content provider and copywriting said he wanted to improve his skills and what he offers his clients, to grow his business by finding new clients and by improving his pitching success rate.

Regardless of how long one has been in an industry, improving skills and staying atop new developments is crucial to one’s success (as an individual and in our businesses). Yet, carving out the time it takes to do this on a regular basis is one thing that loses priority when we end up in the hustle of product, promotion and customer satisfaction.

My client mentioned low-cost online courses he has been taking to stay on top of search engine optimization (SEO) requirements, the latest in digital marketing techniques and the best practices for social media sales. But keeping sharp in our skills and industry knowledge doesn’t have to mean taking a class. In a 10-minute time block per day, we could read business or industry news, listen to the latest audible business book or peruse what is happening in our professional organizations. Making learning a priority not only helps us grow ourselves and our businesses but it also gives us conversation starters for current and potential clients.

Which brings me to how we introduce ourselves to clients or potential customers, especially in this age of electronic, worldwide interaction. Every day I receive messages on LinkedIn from marketers who claim they have the perfect solution to help me grow my businesses. I believe most of the letters are the same template they send to everyone, since no clear identifiers are within the text of these letters, no words that they’ve spent any time understanding me or my business.

When I asked the client to send me his pitch letter, I found something similar to all of the other letters I receive (and to which I don’t respond): the letter is almost solely about him. A summary of the letter is basically: Hi, I’m ____________________. I provide X and I do Y. I get my clients results by Z.  I’m sure you could use my services/product/whatever.

Successful marketing is a lot like successful advertising in that the initial thing it does is draw attention to itself (quite literally) by tapping into first a truth and second, an emotion. After that, you need a quick story. All of these are so people can relate to you and your products on a very human level, and then it is that connection that will lead you to sales success.

In Sophia Amurosa’s book Girl Boss, she tells readers that if they want to work at her company (or at any company for that matter) to not spend their whole cover letter talking about themselves and how awesome they are. Amurosa says, instead, to tell her how her company’s problems can be solved, genuine things the applicant likes about the company, why the applicant wants to work there. The “how great one is” should come through in the resume or CV or supporting documents.

This should be the same when we pitch a potential client. We need to show we know a truth: an understanding of who they are and what their needs are (without bashing them) and then connect why we are the best person/company/product to help them resolve or solve an issue by providing a story example of how we helped someone else. And then our closing should be asking for a few moments of their time to discuss it; not providing a link to your calendar and asking them to pick some time (as that is again very impersonal).

Doing these simple things—prioritizing lifelong learning and growing and then connecting to others in a genuine way by starting with a truth—will keep your current clients closer and will increase your pitch success rate. After all, we’d rather do business with those we feel “get us” than with some stranger who doesn’t.

Is there room for emotion in business?

If you do some research on this subject you find a huge amount of information available on how to deal with emotions in your business, i.e., those who work for you who may be experiencing emotional difficulties. But there is a real lack of information or advice for business owners who are probably, at some stage, going through difficult periods within their business and their emotions are being extensively and regularly challenged on a daily basis.

As business owners, we have huge amounts of responsibility and manage our stress levels continually. We have obligations to our employees, our families and the security of the business. We are in control and our decisions can impact and change other people’s lives. We may not consciously reveal that to ourselves but buried deep within our subconscious is a huge sense of responsibility.


As human beings, it is natural for us to feel emotion in whatever we do within our lives and to try and control and deal with our emotions. Staying motivated and focused can be difficult for those who run businesses as emotional instability can lead to irrational thoughts and behaviour, which can have a direct and sometimes instantly negative effect on the productivity of a business. We are in a unique position, as business owners, and open to all forms of positive and negative feelings that have the ability to affect how we make those decisions.

There is, of course, plenty of room for emotion in business but equally, it is important to keep those emotions real and not let them spiral out of control. As a long-time associate, one I have coached and still work with regularly said to me… “you have to keep your emotions around the horizon line. If you descend or ascend too much or too fast, you can lose your control on reality. It is about regulating euphoria and fear in equal measure”.

As a coach, I very much focus with my clients on the inevitable negative emotions of running a business and they are inevitable! I look to introduce a strong degree of rationalisation within the business owner. Everyone at some point will experience isolation, stress, fear, loneliness, resentment, frustration, money worries, family pressures, staffing pressures and many other examples that will impact on our decision making. This can affect our direction, induce procrastination and, indeed, make us feel the grass is greener on the other side. We can lose control if we don’t have the mechanisms to bring us back to realisation.

I like to help business owners relieve their burdens and they find, by sharing those burdens, the original concerns they had are greatly reduced. Every problem in business has a solution; it may not be particularly nice to deal with it at the time but, when you do deal with it, you can move on very quickly with a renewed focus on the important activity of running and building a strong business.


If you procrastinate too much and bury your head or find ways of distracting you away from the pressures, you aren’t necessarily dealing with the problem or getting to the root cause. This could mean a business failing when the issues could have been dealt with, or the business owner falling out of love with the business.

As entrepreneurs, we are by our very nature people that need to be continually stimulated. We need challenges and to feel that sense of progression. Falling out of love with a business, I believe, has two very succinct differences… you either want to explore new challenges, creating a new lifestyle existence or, secondly, you are running away from the business because you let your fear take control. The first is totally rational and we will all get to a point where we either want that new challenge, as entrepreneurs, or we reach an age or stage in our lives where we feel it is our time to use the fruits of our hard work to slow down and enjoy life outside of running a business. Letting fear take control which, in turn, creates a dislike of our business, is completely irrational and can be a dangerous and continually deteriorating association.


I personally find this absolutely fascinating and will use something we can all relate to as business owners. Statistically, 50% of businesses will fail in their first year and this percentage reduces as the businesses and, more importantly, the owners develop as experts in running a business. As the business grows, you grow as an owner and learn more and more how to run a successful business. Of course, we are all still continually learning our trade but we are all becoming more confident in our abilities. Every time I walk into an established business that has been trading for many years I am hugely impressed. I am impressed by the success, the skills and the knowledge each owner possesses and I believe every owner should give themselves a huge pat on their own backs for what they have achieved.

Ironically, the owners themselves have little or no concept of this or completely overlook their competence and skills as a business person. The fascinating aspect of this is that we lose that sense of perspective of what we have achieved and, yes, there is no one to pat us on the back. We are isolated as individuals in this respect and, through time, we lose the understanding of how we have surpassed numerous issues and problems in the past and continued to make our business a success.

My role is to make business owners fully appreciate what they have truly achieved. Yes, there is always a great deal of hard work ahead but to reach this point you are statistically unique, given that approximately 4% of the UK’s adult population run businesses (many being sole traders) and only half of these survive beyond the first year. You have done what most people would never try to do and you have created for yourself a successful business career.


It is important for business owners to fully appreciate what they have achieved and memorise succinctly the adverse and euphoria moments that got them there. The challenges they have faced make us tougher individuals and we should use this as momentum to deal with what lays ahead and to deal with any issues rationally. Business owners are certainly not failures and shouldn’t fear failure. Each and every business owner has stepped into a world where uncertainty is part of the process, it’s natural and something we have to deal with rationally, but we have the tools to do so.

Every business owner has the challenge of creating growth and making a profit. It is not about survival, it is about opportunity and pure hard facts and figures, fully appreciating the opportunities that lay ahead. A combination of regular pats on the back, rationalising every decision and looking at any emotional turmoil or issues as a distraction you need to move on quickly from is how we as business owners should deal with the inevitable emotional challenges that face us every day.

We should recognise who we are, what we have achieved and what we are about to achieve in our future business careers!

Stuart Allan is a business consultant and growth specialist based in Colchester, Essex and works with companies throughout the South-East.
Stuart founded Essex-based premium dessert company Indulgence Patisserie Ltd in 1987, turning it into a multi-million pound international operation by the time of its sale in 2013.
Accredited to the Government’s Growth Accelerator Programme, Stuart is a Business Mentor with the British Army, and has been appointed as the on-site business coach at the Essex CEME Campus.


The “SALARY QUESTION” During Interviews…

[WARNING]: Consider this advice only if you are in a position to choose an employer. If not, please PM me, I have an alternative approach.

I feel strongly about this part of the interview process and I personally think interviewers or other people, apart from our spouses or parents or tax bureau, have no right or justifiable grounds to demand this from a candidate.

Having said that, never be afraid to walk away from a seemingly good opportunity if they make the salary question a big deal; except if, the employer wants to know whether they can afford you. But even in this case, your salary expectations should suffice, unless you want to work for them for a lower rate than what you are already getting. In that case, share it and proceed.

Before we start, here are some of the reasons why I believe employers would want to know your current salary (if you have others, please by all means, share them in the comment box):

  1. The employer wants to ensure they don’t overpay the candidate by giving him or her more than 40% of current salary (regardless if their budget for the position is double the current salary).
  2. The employer wants leverage during the negotiation. If they like the candidate and they know the current salary, they can work within that range and eventually provide a seemingly attractive offer based on their current rate. Anchoring the first offer from that perspective.

Think about it, if the organization treats you like this while you’re not yet in their payroll, how do you think will they treat you when you already are?

Below is a sample conversation that might happen when an interviewer asks you about your current salary.

[DISCLAIMER] You may find the discussion below too familiar…it’s purely coincidental.

INTERVIEWER: What is your current salary?

CANDIDATE: Based on the role, expectations, and industry standard, I would expect a base salary package of X.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, but that’s not what I asked for. I need to know your current salary. We can only move to the next level of interview once we have this. We ask this from all the candidates.

CANDIDATE: I fully understand that some companies require this information. However, I consider my salary, highly confidential. And I don’t openly share it apart from my spouse/parents/dogs. The last one is a joke (smile).

INTERVIEWER: All our applicants have to submit this information and there are no exemptions. If you can’t give us this, then I guess we can’t accept your application.

CANDIDATE: I would really love to explore a role in your organization and I am sorry to hear that the salary expectations I just shared would not suffice. I really hope you would re-consider even if I don’t divulge what I believe is confidential.

INTERVIEWER: I am sorry but we can’t.

CANDIDATE: I respect and understand your position on this. Thank you for being candid and up front about it. I really appreciate it. Please do let me know if your policy on this has changed.

End of discussion. You both shake hands and stay connected in LinkedIn.

However, in certain cases, the discussion doesn’t end. And it may go something like this:

INTERVIEWER: Look, we really like you to join us. But this decision of yours is making it really difficult for me to get you to the next level. I hope it’s you who would re-consider.

CANDIDATE: I am really sorry to hear that and I don’t mean to make it more difficult for you than it should be or for anyone else for that matter. That’s not how I operate.

INTERVIEWER: I am glad to hear that. Now, regarding your current salary, we assure you that we’ll treat it confidential. We take confidentiality here really seriously.

CANDIDATE: I have no doubt about that. Seriously, it’s not you, it’s me (smiling). Just kidding. I’ll tell you what, maybe we can arrive at a compromise, could you by any chance share with me the salary of the person who previously held this position?

INTERVIEWER: Unfortunately, I can’t. Those things are confidential.

CANDIDATE: Don’t worry, I can keep a secret. I am very good at it (smiling again). I have another question, what would you do if you found out one of your current employee is sharing with other recruiters his salary?

INTERVIEWER: That’s a major policy violation. Because it potentially exposes our salary structure to our competitors.

CANDIDATE: If I divulge my salary to you now, would you still trust that I won’t do it again in the future? How would that work for us if I join?

INTERVIEWER: I see where you’re getting at here. It’s the first time I heard such a compelling and respectful argument to this policy. You’re exactly the type of person we need in our organization. I would love to see you progress and eventually join us, I’ll talk to my superior about your request. I don’t know if this will do anything, but heck, it’s worth a try. I’ll get back to you on this.

CANDIDATE: Thank you. I am more than willing to wait for your advice.

End of discussion. Both of you shake hands and stay connected in LinkedIn.

Please share your thoughts, below.


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