Tell the story (disasters and failures and all)

Tell the story (disasters and failures and all)

Tell the story (disasters and failures and all)

I’m so tired of hearing success stories with a little one-liner to hard times. “I lost three businesses, was 100k in debt, and THEN I TRIUMPHED and am the raving success you see now.”

That’s not a story: it’s an ending.

(And it’s not even a true ending, because they’re still going.)

This week I had the privilege to be at the GoProposal Growth & Profit Masterclass in London, at which Will Farnell was speaking.

I’ve heard Will speak many times on the concepts within his book about the ten elements of a digital firm, and presumed he was speaking on that again.

“No, this time I’m just telling my founder’s story,” he said. “The story behind the story that the world sees.

That got my interest. As a business owner i know about working on keeping the balance of showing a good face to the world, and dealing with deep business issues or personal demons at the same time.

I’m a big fan of vulnerability. Telling a little more of the hard things here and there so it doesn’t look like everything is perfect.

As I’m doing that, I’m discovering you have to be wise with your vulnerability. Business goes up, business goes down. You have good days, you have hard days. You have amazing days. There are times when you literally feel you’re on top of the world and no one will catch you.

Vulnerability doesn’t mean telling everyone everything all the time.

That would be a false picture, too.

It means being honest about how hard things are (or were), at the right time.

Some things just don’t need to be shared. I’ve had some business experiences I could share and be honest and vulnerable and open…but in terms of usefulness it would probably end up sounding like a complaining session about someone else or something else or hard things that happened to me.

So when Will got up and told his story, he told it 1) to the right people and 2) at the right time.

He was in a trusted group of accountants who know him and his business. They were there for a full day and the stage had been set earlier for them to be honest with themselves and each other – and the speakers were showing an example of that too.

And Will is now a little further out the other side. He would be the last person to say he’s “arrived” (if you think you’ve arrived there’s usually a cliff coming up), but he’s learned a lot from failures and mistakes, and now he had the opportunity to share some of those.

When you share mistakes and failures and difficulties – with the right people, at the right time – trust is built in a deeper way. They appreciate the pain behind all the good things, and they don’t put you up on a pedestal somewhere, as if everything got handed to them on a platter. They stop making excuses in their own business, because they realise hard things happen to everybody.

I won’t share all of Will’s failure stories here (they were for the group), but some of the things he said which stood out were:

“It’s really easy to grow an accounting firm. What’s difficult is scaling one.”

This is so true – and not only for accounting firms! We’re in the middle of the scaling process at PF, and i tell you what this stuff is hard. Will calls it “de-Willing the firm” (so it’s not dependent on him), and we call it “Karening up” our business. We’re going to take everything Karen knows and share it out to the whole team…and in doing so they’ll bring their own skills and talents and approach to the table, making them way better than I could ever be solely on my own. And this requires daily, continued effort. Every day I’m working with team members on approaches to meetings and emails and client questions. I’m reviewing content and directing the team in the why, not just the how. They’re taking responsibility for priorities within the business. Growing is easy: scaling is hard. True story.

“Our conversion rate went down from 100% to 40%, and I’m really happy about that.”

Having a high conversion rate (or a prospect who signs up for something with your firm) seems like a good goal. And at first it might be. But it’s also true that you don’t necessarily want a 100% rate, because that means you are literally taking everyone. Never saying no. Always saying yes. Accepting any prospect, any client, any type of business, any fee. Reducing your conversion rate can be the best thing that ever happened to your business, as long as it results in higher profits. (Which it did, in Will’s case.) “I was guilty of selling what I thought they wanted,” Will said. Rather than really listening to what they actually wanted and needed, which his team now does.

“We hit a wall. We were going about a hundred miles an hour, and a wall was coming. And we hit it, full force, without slowing down. It hurt. A lot.”

There was one point, Will says, where the firm was driving forward at really top speeds. Everything was moving forward, more people were being hired all the time, clients were signing up right and left. They were on the motorway making great speed. And then they hit the wall. There were a variety of reasons for this wall, which Will went through – but the important thing was that they stopped, recalculated, adjusted, and started moving again with the right things in place. That’s hard to do – and Will’s admission of “It hurt, a lot” is so honest. Something we can all relate to.

“Why would you only communicate 7%?”

Email communication covers only 7% of the total available. Just the words. No tone of voice, no body language (both of which make up the remaining 83%). Will said he realised they were primarily communicating with only the 7%, and they’re working on more phone calls and video calls as a default. I’ve noticed the same recently – emails or messages are great for sending a link or some info you were talking to someone about. But for real communication, a phone call (which brings you to 45%, words and tone of voice together) is more powerful. Even more so is a video call or face to face meeting (full 100%, with words, tone of voice, and body language).

What are some of your walls, your fails, your difficulties?

Some of mine have been…

  • Going into business partnership without a written agreement (other than some emails). Cost me a lot to get out. Learned a lot.
  • Saying yes to prospects outside our niche market. Distracting, and we didn’t serve them as well because of it. We don’t do that anymore.
  • Saying yes to every speaking opportunity, rather than evaluating the event, attendees, purpose, outcomes. I’m still working on this one!
  • Hiring people because I like them, not with a systemised hiring approach based on fit with our values and culture. Or, diverting from our hiring process in any way. (For the record this does not apply to any of the existing PF team!)

Looking over even those ones reminds me of what a blessing each of those mistakes has been in my life. I would not be the business owner and person I am today without them, and countless others which looked like disasters at the time but were actually working to help build something far better.

I’d love to hear a few of yours.

GP masterclass

Follow me


Well. So. Small update.

Was out hiking on mull and slipped on a rock crossing a burn, and broke my ankle. (I remember hearing an audible “crack” as I went down.)

No signal on phone. Managed to climb down a ravine to get to a more open place and hopefully signal. At that point still convinced it “wasn’t that bad”. Tried to walk along the path and realised yes, it was that bad.

Phoned coast guard, who were utter legends. Sent a boat AND a helicopter. Sun was setting and they didn’t want me sitting in the dark. Oh my word it was cold. Helicoptered out to fort William hospital (nicest people ever), then down to airdrie where I got a cast.

Ankle broken in one place. Doctors pleased (as much as you can be!) it’s a clean break & lining up well. I’ll be down for 4-6 weeks.

I’ve repeated myself a lot over the last few days so here’s the short version to all the questions, with appreciation for the care.

Yes, I’m okay. I’m also utterly exhausted & have hit the “damn, this is going to be a long road” phase. Taking it one day, one hour at a time. 

I’m being looked after. Very kind friends and things being delivered. My amazing sister @secondsunrise2 flying in tomorrow from america to be with me for a few weeks. SO grateful.

What do I need? I’m good on the basics. There have been unexpected costs and more coming so if you want to PayPal monies for deliveries or getting my car & belongings back or all the taxis or whatever, feel free. I’m hardly destitute so only do that if you want to send something useful and aren’t sure what. PayPal username karenlreyburn. Amazon wishlist in bio. Random care packages also happily received!

My car & belongings are up on mull. I have people to help and we are working on timing. But if you’re on mull and want to return a car near Glasgow, let me know :)

Shout out to the Coast Guard for being so swift, & that beautiful combination of sympathy and practicality.

Download the @what3words app. Literal lifesaver.

That’s all for now. All the love. Oh - and no, I don’t hold this against mull at all. It’s still my happy place. Things happen & the mull community has been beautiful. Shout out to @treshnish who couldn’t have been kinder. ❤️
Morning walk. I stood and watched the ferry come in and the sun lighten this little edge of the world.
Been going through old photos and letters - the last of the boxes i had stored at my sister’s house in america. 

When I first moved to Scotland, I only planned to live here for a few years and then go back. Then after a few years I wasn’t ready yet…then I got my residency…still not quite ready….then started a business…then Scottish citizenship…bought a house …finally accepted this is my home and I wasn’t moving back. 

And with every visit back to the states I would go through more boxes, more photos and letters and memories. I’d keep some and throw others away; take photos out of frames and give away the frames; and as time went on I was able to distinguish between the ones I definitely wanted and needed to keep, and those which were lovely at the time but didn’t need to be saved anymore.

Over twenty years on and this past trip I went through the very last of the boxes. I joked to my sister that I’ve now officially settled into Scotland 😆 

This photo of me and my Gramps is a fave and definitely a keeper. Most of the photos and letters I’ve kept are those of family - parents, grandparents, sisters, nieces and nephews. And as much as I love taking landscape photos, I noticed that 20 years later it’s the people photos I am more likely to keep. Thankful for the traditions and patterns of seeing family every year or so since moving to Scotland. They’re small things - baking Christmas cookies and going for walks and going for road trips - but it’s the time together and the continuing family jokes and the memories which remain. And a few photos.

My grandfather (and all my grandparents) have now passed on, but I remember with fondness sitting around at their kitchen table, eating fresh vegetables from the garden, playing scrabble, laughing and talking and drinking coffee.

It’s the small things, and the rhythms of family, which last. ❤️ 
#family #memories #grandparents #oldphotos
Made fresh mince pies for the first time ever. Over twenty years in Scotland and I’d never tried to make them from scratch, so I figured…now is the time! I’m doing lots of thanksgiving baking (yes, we stretch it out here so I’m still prepping!) and decided to buy the ingredients. 

Dried fruit…mixed peel…lots of spices…and Venezuelan rum :) I made up the mincemeat last night, and then today put it in the little pastries and even cut out the wee stars to go on top!

I think I can safely say they’re the best mince pies I’ve ever had. Fresh out of the oven sprinkled with icing sugar and with a glass of said rum alongside :) 

Now we are curled up with a Harry Potter marathon, with plenty of mince pies AND a thanksgiving feast still to come. Happiness! 

#mincepies #homebaking #maryberry #maryberryrecipe #happythanksgiving #happychristmas #harrypotter #hpmarathon