These posts were not supposed to have a theme. But it feels as though, from time to time, certain motifs come to the fore and everything ends up with the same hue. Recently there has been a word and a concept that has been bubbling up over and over again – relentlessness.
I’m not ashamed to admit that in recent months I have been feeling pretty depressed and crushed quite a lot of the time. I spent some time trying to tease out the reasons why I’ve been feeling low. I’ve come to the realisation that there are lots of things that, cumulatively, are dragging me down. Some of them are pretty significant. Some are rather trivial. Almost all of them are interconnected.
But I have also started to realise that none of my problems are life-threatening. And most of them just require some grit and determination. So that is what I am going to apply. I am going to narrow my focus and I am going to become relentless in getting things done. Because action is the answer and action is its own reward.
So without further waffling, here is email #3 of 52. I’ve had to knuckle down to get this done but as a poster that we have in the office says … “Done Is Beautiful”
Adapt or die. Freestak is a new business that operates in a very nascent marketing sector – connecting brands with cycling, running and outdoors influencer and content creators. We are trying to facilitate something that 90% of the brands in our target sectors have never done. Or at least they have not done it in any meaningful way. We are pioneers, at the forefront of something that is misunderstood, badly done and a threat to the status quo. And as such it is a scary, challenging place to operate.
But. The reason we are here is that there is everything to win. There are no blueprints for what we do. We are having to work out what our clients want and need (often two different things that clients don’t understand themselves) and we’re working out how to deliver value when there is no benchmark.
One of the things that keeps me going is that we are finding more and more brands that understand that if they don’t adapt (their marketing), they will die. Working with brands that understand that, is really incredibly exciting. We need more brands that are the equivalent of Billy Beane!
The Heretic strikes again. There are a few email newsletters that I love receiving (anything from Hiut Denim or the Do Lectures, anything from L2 or Professor Galloway, emails from Alpkit or Patagonia) and chief amongst them are the emails that come from the Heretic – Pascal Finette. I would say that at least three-quarters of the emails he sends relate exactly to me and sometimes they arrive at exactly the moment that I need them the most.
Today’s email was entitled ‘Do The Right Thing (And Earn Your Thank Yous)’ and it was a good reminder that the best route to building a successful business and achieving our goals, is to remember that:
Doing the right thing will lead to profit. It does not work the other way around.
Pascal signs off with this: “Focus on two things – Doing the right thing and creating something which makes your customer want to say thank you.” Everyone at Freestak needs to absorb that and make it core to what we are doing.
Why running is more important than sleep. Last week I went to Italy from Sunday morning to Tuesday evening. I was working with a new Freestak client (announcement coming soon). I spent most of Sunday travelling, with a little bit of time in Milan city centre taking some photos. And on Sunday night I had dinner with the client. It was midnight by the time I got to bed. But I really felt that I would benefit from a run, before a long day of meetings on Monday. I set my alarm for 6:30am, determined to run, even if it was only half an hour.
It was still really dark when I got up. And in the slowly brightening dawn, I could see that the countryside as far as I could see was cloaked in thick fog. Still, I was awake and I knew that if I didn’t run, I would be unlikely to manage to run on Tuesday or Wednesday (my diary was really packed for both days – one in Italy and one back in London). So I went. Truthfully, it was pretty horrible: it was cold, dark and foggy. I had no idea where to run, so I ended up sticking to some pretty uninspiring roads, with industrial buildings looming out of the mist. And I was tired.
However, the run was done. And this is the lesson that I need to teach myself. A bad run is always better than no run at all. Very often at the moment, I end up wimping out because it is cold / wet; I’m too tired; I feel too stressed; etc. But I need to become much more relentless about going out. I know that once I get into the rhythm of running regularly, it will become habitual and I’ll go without thinking about it. So here’s to prioritising running over sleep – I know it will pay dividends.
Dusting off the Condor. Despite not classing myself as a cyclist for many, many years, I have still managed to acquire three bikes. A Trek hardtail mountain bike that I bought with a bonus I received ten or twelve years ago. My beloved Focus Cayo road bike. And a steel Condor Pista single-speed bike. Now, I am not going to suggest that I have a favourite – they all have very different purposes so it would be like comparing apples and oranges. But I will say that the moment I rode the Condor for the first time, I was in love. It is an incredibly simple bike to ride. It feels like it was made specifically for me – the fit is incredible. The steel frame is so comfortable that in comparison to my road bike, I feel like I could ride the Condor for ever and never suffer.
But recently I have not ridden the Condor. Probably not for months. To the point that both tyres were completely deflated when I checked last night. Part of the problem is that I commute about 800m to work, so there is no need to use the bike. If I go for a long ride I use the Focus, especially because that is what I am training to be able to ride faster and further. And if I go in to town, I usually take public transport. So the Condor hung on the banisters and collected dust.
Last night I had an errand to run. OK, I was actually picking up fish and chips for dinner. And I thought I’d ride – it is too far to walk back from the decent fish-and-chippery without ending up with cold food. I put some air in the tyres and jumped on the Condor. Within two pedal strokes I remembered how I love that bike so much. So I am going to try to find opportunities to ride single speed as much as possible. Maybe I’ll even ride the bike for some training rides. There is a purity to just pedalling without dozens of gears that must be great training. I’ll let you know.
Milano for a few hours. As I mentioned earlier, last week I flew to Milan for three days with a new client. My flight was at 7am on Sunday morning, so I had a very early start. But I was not required to meet the client until the evening for dinner on the shore of Lake Garda. So with the weather set to be really lovely, I decided to head into the centre of Milan, drop my bags off and take my Fuji X-Pro1 out for a few hours.
I have definitely learned that the way I am going to become a better photographer is – partly – by taking more photos. That way I can become better at the actual use of the camera I own, as well as experimenting with different ways of shooting and, perhaps, develop a personal style.
The first thing I decided was to shoot in black and white. I like B&W street photography and I think that it means I have one less thing to worry about. Apart from anything, shooting in black and white means that the editing is much simpler. And I know that complicated editing means I sometimes take photographs that I can’t find the time or energy to do anything with.
After that first decision was made, I thought I would head right for the middle – around the Duomo – and just start shooting people. As a heavily tourist-y area, it felt much less intimidating to be pointing my camera at people. And even the fact that I am a foreigner emboldened me.
I had a couple of hours. In that time I made around 120 photographs and I think two or three of them are OK. But most importantly, I have taken more photos and learned a bit more about how I prefer to take photos and what I want to shoot. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to a city where I can find some time for street photography.
And One Other Thing
Good Strategy and Bad Strategy. I have recently started reading a book by Richard Rumelt called Good Strategy Bad Strategy. It was given to me by a colleague. And from a Freestak perspective, it is a very interesting and useful book. I was recently talking to someone I know who owns a PR agency and he agreed with me that having a plan (which comes from having a clear strategy) is like lifting a huge weight off your shoulders. Suddenly you are not worrying about how to deal with enemies numerous, and often unpredictable, without a battle plan. Now you have a clear way forward. It might turn out to be the wrong way, but at least you have a direction.
As in business, so in life. Reading this book has really made me think that every aspect of life needs a strategy. The book describes strategy as a way to tackle a clearly defined problem. In business that is undoubtedly crucial. But I’m becoming convinced that it is true for everything else as well: health, relationships, personal wealth, the environment, education. Everything. In all these aspects of life and more, drifting along will not get you to the end destination that you want. To get where you want to go, you need a strategy. And from your strategy, you can develop plans that you, or other people, can implement. Certainly working out the right strategy is hard. That is why good strategy is so rare. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.