How good are you?  At your business?  How good are you as a human?  How about sport?

From time to time I start an article almost to get something off my chest.  There’s a vague idea and direction that I want to take, but it’s just a jumble.  Let’s see where this goes..

The touchpaper

While this is an article that’s been floating around for ages (maybe years), the thing that’s made me commit it to screen is football.  Love it or hate it, it’s one of the most watched and played sports in the world.  So what better way to celebrate that than by recognising the best player on the planet right now.  Now I should probably also say here that I’m a big Liverpool fan (I know I’m from Kent, it’s a long story I can explain..).

Enter the Ballon d’Or.  The concept behind this is simple.  The press, coaches and national team captains vote for their best player in the world.  If you’re not into football, let me give you the headline.  Lionel Messi won.  Again.  There is no argument that Messi is a wonderful player but in the previous 12 months he hasn’t been THE best player.  From Liverpool, Salah is potentially the very best African player that’s ever lived.  Personally I’d put him on a par with Samuel Eto’o (who only ever managed a 5th place in the Ballon d’Or).

Salah has his detractors for sure, but his influence and what he can do with a football are ridiculous.  Even if you’re not a Salah fan, Lewandowski’s scoring record is epic.  Some say Messi deserved it for the fact he won the Copa America.  But Jorginho won the European equivalent AND the Champions League.  Salah finishing 7th just felt so wrong!

So how did it happen?  Looking back to 2010 might help.  The cash hungry power seeking FIFA came on board (until 2016), which shows there is major commercial interest in the competition.  With such strong commercial interest comes a giant sized marketing machine.  Messi isn’t alone in his undoubted talent, strolling in from Madeira is one Cristiano Ronaldo (we’re birthday buddy’s btw – I’m the older one).  But with both players, their reputation for being the best players is pushed hard from every angle possible.  Their teams make sure they’re on the cover of everything.

Enough of the football

Striving for performance in sport draws many levels to high performance at work.  Setting out with a plan, pushing hard towards it and reaping the rewards can be applied to both.  So if I’ve got beef with football, what is my beef with business?

You’re only as good as how good you tell people you are..

Going back to my days working in London, this affected me, I didn’t understand it at the time.  I’ve always believed I’m a grafter.  Always wanted to work hard to get the work done.  I used to cycle miles to study A-Levels then on to my part time job a Spud-U-Like.  I’d stay late, get the projects finished.  Then my peers would get a promotion or a pay rise.  Back then I just used to grumble, walk into an agency and get the next job I applied for with a promotion and a pay rise.  That cycle did stop when I got to Melon Bank, mostly because I had a great mentor (that’s you Steve King), that I didn’t recognise at the time.

A total change in direction came in 2004 when I started working for E.On, from the cut and thrust of London to a former local authority.  This would be a doddle I thought.  I’ll apply my bit of London to this place, show them what graft looks like.

Nope.  I applied the same logic, work hard, stay late, get the projects done.  I learned a huge amount here and in each of my roles.  I have a strategic brain, I want to understand how things work.  I worked on some huge projects but still the same rule came back at me:

You’re only as good as how good you tell people you are..

I saw again that in order to be promoted, to get the recognition you had to tell people how good you are.  But a lot more than usual.  You needed stats, facts, figures and detailed examples to be promoted.

I found I’d slowed my own pace down too.  The speed at which I used to operate in London had gone.  I wasn’t able to up their pace, I’d just slowed mine down.  In addition I felt like such a small cog in a massive machine, it was time to go smaller.  I had the ambition of working for myself, to get rid of all those stresses, but not the balls it takes when you’re earning well above the national average.

I went off to work for a business which had just 500 employees (split across two continents).  Here I also learned so much, I learned a lot about myself, and how people work.  Working so closely with the Leadership Team got me to thinking:

You’re only as good as how good you tell people you are..

Shock right?  This applied to me but also to the people that were running the whole organisation.  The business won awards too, they were justified for sure (hello again link to Lionel Messi), but a big reason they won is because they told the people issuing the award how good they were and sold that story better than their rival.

How does this apply to actual businesses?

In that previous section I spoke with my employee hat on.  Being an employee for so long influences how I work with clients now.  I have the interests of their employees at heart.  A well run business with a great leadership team has the ability to influence the lives of their employees for better and worse.  But is the business itself susceptible to the same logic?

Let’s think about this shall we?  It won’t take long..

  • There’s an app for that
  • Because you’re worth it
  • Just Do It
  • Do do do do dooo (you’ll need to whistle that and think of Dexter Fletcher’s voice for that one)

Major household names, if you’ve not heard of Messi or Ronaldo, you will have heard of Apple, L’Oreal, Nike or McDonald’s.  Let’s throw in my tagline again and see if it fits..

You’re only as good as how good you tell people you are..

Sounds about right.  Apple keep telling everyone they’re amazing because it makes them more money.

OK, where am I going next, let’s turn this juggernaut around..

I’ve heard it said a few times (most recently by Paul Merson), that writing can sometimes feel a bit like therapy.  I guess that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this.  A big catalyst to start my own business was to avoid the corporate BS.  To not have to continually justify myself in order that I can get a promotion.

I launched my business nearly three years ago and guess what:

You’re only as good as how good you tell people you are..

To start with I found it amusing, that you can see a business do a terrible job for someone else, take their money and move on.  It’s happened to me in my business.  Then I started to draw the parallels.  You see these businesses make excuses, blame other people, blame the scenario.  In my case I’ve even been told that failure to do their job was my fault for not chasing them.

This all sounds so much like being an employee again.  I need to have a sit down.  I left corporate world because you only got anywhere if you told people how good you were, even if you were crap.  Now I’m seeing crap businesses win business and make money when I’m not.

OK, what do I need to do next?  I found marketing was the answer.  Everywhere I turned I was told you need to market yourself.  Facebook (your page, a business page, a group (or 10)), Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, Google, a website, networking.

Networking is a good one, let’s open that up a little.  I get it, I understand the point of it and it should be a part of your marketing budget.  But when you invest so many hours per week on one part of your marketing, you’d expect to get a decent return.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other angles and benefits to regular networking too, but if you were to invoice your time to a networking/marketing budget, look at the revenue received and still have spent £18k you’d have to question it (let’s be clear though, that’s £18k of my time, not actual lost revenue, my accountant would be having words!).  I think I know why I didn’t get better returns though:

You’re only as good as how good you tell people you are..

I wasn’t very good at telling people how good I was.  I never have been, I just don’t like it.  If you catch me telling people I’m amazing, it’s likely to be driven from a place of sarcasm.  Or I’ve had a few too many beers.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t struggle with confidence in what I do for a business.  I just don’t like to TELL people.

Now I just graft less

You read that right.  This has been a major re-adjustment for my mindset.  In this industry there are many sharks.  Many hard sellers that are excellent at telling everyone how great they are, where their business is failing and how they can make everything better.  That’s not me.  If you ask me an opinion about what’s happening in your business I’ll share it, but I won’t ask you.

Usually here I’ll say I’m fortunate that a few people took a chance on me so I could show what I can do and how I can develop it.  I’ll buck my own trend though and say that during the pandemic I worked hard, I chased people to see how they were getting on, offered my support for free.  Then was told (by the client!) to charge for it.  That’s when the really sustainable business has come from.

After that, my clients started saying nice things about me.  They started to renew their contracts rather than walk away.  Their businesses grew and it was partly because of me.  Then guess what, they started to tell people they work with and I started putting proposals and contracts together for new prospects.

I also found that as much as I tell myself I graft less, I’m still grafting, but on things that wouldn’t be constrained to the office.  Being around for my kids as much as I can, putting the effort in at the gym, spending time running.  All the things it’s so easy to put off because “I need to be busy”.

Maybe my tagline is wrong after all:

You’re only as good as how good you tell people you are..

Should it read:


I prefer that to be honest.  I would much rather every business worked on that basis, but this has been going on since the beginning of time.  I think I’ve missed the boat.  Plus, if I’m going to be totally honest with myself on this, haven’t I just used a couple of paragraphs to indirectly tell you how good I am?

Right..  I’ll get to the point, what am I trying to say here! Although this was a bit of a ramble/rant, I think I’ve got three golden rules aimed to help the SME business:

1) Be sensible with your marketing budget

As much as I wish there was no need for marketing, there is.  Just be sensible with it, make sure it’s reflective of your business and that you enjoy the process of marketing.  With my example, spend much more of your time thinking about the DOING, rather than the marketing.

2) Be honest

I’m not really sure why this is a golden rule to be honest (see what I did..).  In addition if you’re not honest you’re probably blissfully unaware of it and if someone called you out for being dishonest you’d be shocked about it.  Maybe this should be SHARPEN YOUR BS DETECTOR – rather than worry about your own honesty.  Be sure to be hyper vigilant about the honesty and integrity of people selling at you.

3) Quality

As touched on briefly with #1 – when you’re doing the doing part of your business, do it as well as you can at that time, with the given circumstances.  If you have to put effort in to be 10 mins early, put the effort in.  If you feel a bit low, do something that cheers you up before that meeting.  If you get client feedback, listen to it and act upon it.  Your clients are the ones who will bring you more clients like them, so help them to help you!

Above all else, whether you’re an employee, a business owner or a solopreneur, this was written to help you.  Whichever path you’re on, don’t forget to step off once in a while, and make sure you’re enjoying your journey.

I’ve also got an Amber face for YOAST and a Red face for Readability.  Stuff ’em.