40 Things I’ve Learned About Work & Business.

It’s now thirty years since I walked into my first ‘office job,’ albeit as a teenage volunteer on a BBC local radio show. I have done a lot of things since: a career in TV and radio, a stint in live events and then a sixteen year career as an independent consultant working across media ventures, marketing, digital media, journalism and startups. I’ve run companies, I’ve advised companies, I’ve written about companies. And here is a brain dump of the 40 things I’ve learned along the way:

Starting Out…

  1. Ignore anyone who stands in the way of your dream or goal. Especially if it’s your headteacher at school.
  2. Have a goal, but don’t rely on a long-term plan. Plans aren’t good at dealing with random left turns or uncertainty.
  3. The best time to join an organisation is when it’s starting up. You get to try your hand at more things.
  4. Formal qualifications are over-rated. If you know what you want to do in your career, consider not going to college and get a head-start by learning on the job instead.
  5. You’ll learn fast if you put your hand up for everything. Volunteer. Write for the internal newsletter, help plan the Christmas party. Get a reputation for being a safe pair of hands. If you’re good at the basics — doing the photocopying, going to Starbucks to get the coffees in — you’ll get the more interesting work.

Office life…

  1. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Take a break and get out of the office (also the crumbs will play havoc with your keyboard).
  2. Don’t be late. If you’re late for a meeting or if your conference panel starts late? It shows you don’t care enough.
  3. Work is a mindset, not a place you go. So make sure you know where you are most productive, what it takes for you to do your best work.
  4. Trying to build a relationship with a client or co-worker? The best way of getting to know someone is not to stay in the boardroom but to go for a walk.
  5. That heart-sinking moment when you realise you forgot to send that email? Or you missed out the last slide of your presentation? We all have those moments. It’s okay. No-one died.
  6. Put some white space in your life. Find a fourth space — beyond home, the office, the coffee shop — where you can do your big thinking.
  7. Yes, coffee shops are great places to work from, but just remember — you might need some decent headphones.

Leading…

  1. Always hire on attitude and personality. If the candidate has the right skills but lacks your shared values, the team won’t work. It will end in tears (I know, I made that mistake).
  2. If you’re the boss, don’t turn up late to the staff social and just buy a beer for yourself. It’s your job to get the drinks in.
  3. Young teams are great. But don’t underestimate the value of some grey hairs on your team, people who have been on the journey ahead of you.
  4. If there are under twenty people in your organisation, make sure you have a regular sit-down, when everyone goes around the room and says what they’re up to. No excuses. And don’t say we’re too busy to do it this week.
  5. Any meeting that lasts longer than one hour won’t be a productive one.
  6. Ask the people who work for you how they’re doing. Do they want to chat about anything, do they need your support? And don’t wait until an appraisal to ask those questions.
  7. Your staff aren’t your children. Don’t shout at them! And if you do shout at a team member, take them out for lunch the next day to apologise (and don’t get your co-founder to take them out for lunch instead of you).
  8. Asking your staff to stay late to pack those delegate bags for tomorrow’s event is fine, so long as you’re shoulder to shoulder doing it with them.

Communicating…

  1. ‘Sales’ is not an expletive. Whether you work for yourself or in an organisation, get comfortable selling what you do.
  2. Know your audience. You wouldn’t use the same tone of voice to talk to your 90 year old grandmother that you would to your eight year old son. The same with business. Tailor your message accordingly.
  3. We’ve all experienced Death By PowerPoint. But the problem isn’t the software, it’s how you use it. Photo-led slides will work, pasting a page of bullets won’t.
  4. If your social media is spot on but your salesman oversleeps, you have a problem. Your social media presence should reflect the reality of your business, not the other way around.
  5. If you’re nervous about public speaking, start your presentation by asking the audience a question — it’s a great ice breaker.
  6. Use the ‘cc’ button sparingly.
  7. If you want your business to get noticed, don’t sell a long laundry list of services, tell stories about how you changed your customers’ lives.
  8. Don’t hide your people away. In your marketing, shine the light on your team, don’t be faceless.
  9. If a journalist writes about your business or product, send a thank you note.
  10. Often it’s better to pick up the phone and talk to someone, rather than hide behind email.

Careering….

  1. Measuring career success by how much you get paid is flawed. How you spend your time is more important than how much money you can spend. Remember that when you’re on a 10.30pm conference call.
  2. That nice person who gave you some good advice or introduced you for a job or a gig? Find out their mailing address and send them a thank you card.
  3. If you’ve been in your job for years and hate it, don’t think it’s too late to change your life. It’s never too late.
  4. If you have a burning idea for a new business, don’t quit your job before you’ve first tested it as a side project.
  5. Remember that your most important guide in your career or business is your gut. Listen to it.
  6. Mash-ups are a good thing. You don’t need to be restricted by a job spec or a single job title, create a work life that blends your multi-dimensional talents and desires.
  7. Stand out. Stand for something. Have an opinion and shout about what you believe in.
  8. Put ‘you’ into your job, but make sure you are more than your job (thanks to Nick Creswell for inspiring that one).
  9. If you’re having a rough ride in your career, remember the dictionary definition is ‘to move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction’. That’s okay. Life rarely happens in straight lines.
  10. Don’t let teachers, careers advisors, bosses, partners, parents knock the ‘you’ out of you. Stick to who you are and build on it.

Thanks for reading. Who’s Ian Sanders? Check out iansanders.com