Olive Strachan North West Export Champion 2016
Inspiring Business North West
phone +44 (0) 161 209 3950

Staying Resilient

When I reflected last month on how I've kept a successful business running for 20 years, one of the points I mentioned was the importance of resilience. You could be the smartest start-up in town, but if you don't have the stamina and the strength to keep going through the hard times, you won't last very long.

Being alpha and feisty doesn't necessarily mean you are tenacious - even the quietest and gentlest of souls can play the resilience card and succeed where others fail. Here are 6 tips to help you build on that:

  1. Prepare for the worst and have a plan B. Try to lay the groundwork for recovery before you need to. For example, keep your skills up to date to stay in demand in the market, and try to save some money in case of job loss, illness, etc. Of course, tragedies and devastating events can disrupt even the best-laid plans, but developing the right mindset, including the ability to reframe negative events, will help you if disaster strikes.

  2. Stay focused on your goal. If things are rough, it's hard to remember the energy and enthusiasm that you had when you started out. Buy by having a clear mission and continuing to strive towards it in small ways, you will get there eventually. You don't have to move mountains every day to achieve your goal - you've just got to keep the finish line in sight.

  3. Laugh! Did you know that laughter boosts your immune system? And it allows your body to completely relax. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins and makes you feel better. So in times of stress, create the space to laugh - it will help you gain perspective and de-stress you.

  4. Eat and drink right. Eating the right food affects your energy levels, your mood, your ability to concentrate, and your overall health. Drink plenty of water, make sure you're snacking on nuts (they help you concentrate), and try to get your five a day. This should help your performance during the good times and the bad.

  5. Exercise. Even if it's just finding the time to go for a few walks a week, exercise makes a huge difference to your mood, your sense of well being, your ability to think clearly, and your health. Find an exercise you enjoy and make it a priority in your diary.

  6. Turn off tech and spend more time connecting with nature. Studies show that we actually need weekends and nights off to disconnect and recuperate from the stresses of work. And according to research, just one hour interacting with nature improves memory performance and attention span by 20%. So try to spend at least part of your weekend with your phone off.

I hope these tips have been helpful - and do let me know your own ways of getting through stressful periods. I'd love to hear them.

Oliver Strach - 10 Business Lessons

1. Raise Your Profile

When I first opened my business, I needed to gain exposure in the business world, 20 years ago the best vehicle was the Manchester Evening News so I contacted the business desk and persuaded them to write about me.

2. Be Persistent & Tenacious

I rang the Manchester Evening News approximately 10 times, I felt that I had an interesting story to tell. I was one of the first female black training consultants in Manchester and I pushed my unique selling points. Finally, the newspaper sent a reporter to my office, resulting in a photo and a write up about my new business in the paper.

3. When Opportunity Knocks, Open the Door & Grasp It

In 2002 I was successful in pitching to train the volunteers for the commonwealth games in Manchester. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. I was even filmed by the BBC and appeared on local TV.

4. Don't Be Risk Averse

10 years ago, I was asked to send a proposal for a management training programme for 40 managers based in the Middle East. I wanted this piece of work, I love travelling and wanted to work globally. After a chat with the client on the phone I decided it would be worth meeting the client. I purchased a ticket to Egypt and arranged a face to face meeting. I won the contract and off the back of it ended up working in 20 countries.

5. Be Resilient

In the past 20 years I have navigated my business through a major recession. The most challenging part was having to make staff redundant and searching for new markets for my business. I had to remain curious, optimistic and motivated, keeping my energy levels up and believing in myself. It was difficult, but I am stronger for it.

6. Identify & Exploit Your Key Differentiator

We are all individuals and have something that makes us stand out from others. Mine is that I have a real passion for Learning and Development, when I stand in front of a group of people I give them my full focus using my skills, knowledge and personality to deliver a memorable, well researched and interactive session. This week one of my delegates said, ‘Being around you reminds me of summer’. Wow! That is powerful feedback.

7. Be Credible

I made the decision to change my career from recruitment to Learning and Development/HR in 1998, since then I have gained my Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resource Management and my Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management, and now I am just completing my ILM Level 7 Diploma in Executive Coaching and mentoring. I make my sessions interactive and fun but I have the knowledge and expertise required to back that up.

8. Volunteer Your Services

This benefits you and others. When I opened my business in 1998 I felt very lonely so I joined my local branch of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. This was the beginning of 20 years of volunteering culminating in me becoming the Branch Chair in Manchester. I am also an export Champion for the Department of Trade and investment and a mentor on the Entrepreneurial Spark for the NatWest.

9. Have a Social Media Presence

This is the only way to keep your brand current and relevant. From delivering webinars to posting regularly on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, this has helped in keeping my clients abreast of any developments and encourages new clients to contact me.

10. Cherish Your Clients

Treat them with tender loving care, my clients know that I will work tirelessly to meet their requirements as their success is my success. Over the past 20 years their support and concern for me has allowed me to sustain my business.

If you love your work, you do not work a day in your life! I love what I do - every day is an adventure and a pleasure. I still pinch myself because I can't believe how much joy I get from what I do. Here's to the next 20 years!

Olive Strachan with training awards

Dare to begin achieving your goals

"All glory comes from daring to begin" is an apt quote by Eugene F. Ware because today's blog is all about achievement. And to achieve we need to take action. Often we do nothing because we are paralysed by worry, guilt, pessimism and fear, and we miss an opportunity to shine.

Here are my key tips to tackle the underlying attitudes and thoughts that may hold us back from achieving success:

  1. Understand your potential. Take some time and complete your own personal SWOT analysis. We often do this for organisations, but it also works well for individuals. Look at your personal Strengths and Weaknesses, as well as Opportunities and Threats. Doing this exercise helps me to focus my mind.

  2. Take responsibility. There are always aspects of our lives that we need to take in hand and stop leaving them to other people. Or things that, if we focused on instead of avoiding, would improve our lives considerably. Stop procrastinating, put some time aside and just do it.

  3. Monitor your self-talk. Be kind to yourself - there are many people we encounter daily who make comments that can hurt or crush us, so why do it to yourself? I create my own positive space where I bring together positive and uplifting experiences in my life together with visual reminders. In no time, I am feeling fabulous again.

  4. A sense of humour is so important! I googled 'laughter', and this is what I found (from HelpGuide.org): "Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals." I rest my case - find what does it for you and go for it. I often sit at home watching the comedy channels with tears of laughter running down my face. It's the best kind of therapy!

  5. Associate with positive people. There was a great Huffington Post article on why you should surround yourself with good people. People have a significant on your life - according to American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn, "you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with". He describes a good person as someone who inspires you to be a better person, provides you with the motivation to succeed, and cheers you on to success.

  6. Live life with a passion. By this I mean enthusiasm and demonstrating a strong positive emotion. When someone demonstrates passion and enthusiasm, it is contagious! I have used a DVD called FISH in courses on teamwork, customer care and attitude; this DVD has had a positive impact because of the passion, positivity, enthusiasm and fun demonstrated by the staff on the DVD. The 4 key themes are 'choosing your attitude', 'play: make someone's day', and 'be there'.

  7. Finally, have a positive self-image. If there is one key lesson I would want to share with my younger self, it is this: 'other people's opinions shouldn't become your reality'. The only person who can shape your life and achieve your goals is you.

So stop holding back and go forth and succeed. Let me know how you get on!

Keep Employees Happy

In an ideal world (or should I say company!), people would bounce into work each day with smiles on their faces, motivated to be productive and engaged. But, as we know, the truth is that most people are completely disengaged. That tends to leave just a small section, usually categorised as the 'Talent Pool', who are actively engaged and motivated to make a difference within the organisation.

As we know, there are endless reasons for disengagement, as people and organisational culture can be so different from organisation to organisation. In my opinion, there are a few familiar ones in the many years I have focused on engagement within businesses:

  • Poor working environment
  • Pressure on employees, which affects some people's mental well-being
  • Lack of salary growth or employee benefits
  • Lack of meaningful progression or development
  • Poor management - this is probably the hardest to break through negative leadership culture norms

Sadly, for many organisations, engagement has become a to-do list of activities:

  • Annual engagement survey - tick
  • Benefits and compensation initiative - tick
  • Celebrating success - tick

And while these things are vital, what many managers and leaders lack is the understanding of how they can impact and improve engagement. It's really worth investing in attending an employee engagement course to learn practical solutions, such as:

  • Alignment of company and individual values
  • How to retain talent and setting targets to measure this
  • Developing trust and being a supportive leader
  • Addressing the gaps and putting an action plan in place

If you improve your employees' emotional commitment to the organisation's goals, they will start to care more. And in turn they will become more productive, giving better service internally and externally and even retaining the talent in their jobs for longer. That will lead to happier customers/clients who refer, which drives sales.

At OSR, we run Employee Engagement courses and off consultancy on this subject - please get in touch to find out how we can help.

Career Coaching

For all the 20 years I've been coaching, I've always loved it. I get a deep sense of achievement from taking a client who feels like there's no way forward, and opening their eyes to their own potential and the opportunities that are available to them.

And it's a privilege to have clients open up to me and for me to see inspiring and talented individuals start to realise what they are capable of.

I think the best way to give you an idea of what coaching can do for you is if I give you some feedback from one of my clients:

'Olive coached me for four months this year and it has literally transformed my life.

I would really look forward to our weekly sessions where we'd focus on my works issues and aspirations. To have the attention and insight from a trained professional was a massive luxury and allowed me to not only improve my performance in my job, but it also gave me the confidence to aim higher and expect more for myself.

And being listened to each week was just glorious. At work I'm quite quiet and it's a very competitive and at times undermining environment. I flourished and grew with the attention and guidance that Olive gave me. I learned to trust my own instincts and my ability to make sound decisions and that confidence was quickly noticed and appreciated at work.

I feel so much more equipped to deal with difficult situations and people at work now. And I'm getting to work on really interesting projects because of my improved performance. I feel that I'm a much more respected member of the team now. It's a long way from where I was this time last year.'

If you'd like to find out more about the coaching I offer, do contact me - I'd be very happy to explain how it works.


I recently delivered my first webinar, something that I had previously resisted. I enjoy the face-to-face element of my work, whether it is a presentation, delivering a workshop, coaching or mentoring. I think understandably I had reservations about how I would transfer my skill of engaging others and retaining their interest without full visual contact.

When I face a challenge, my mantra is prepare, prepare, prepare! So I made sure to cover all bases.

I discovered that my first webinar would be using WebEx, so I had half a day's training from an expert, mainly focusing on the mechanics e.g. loading slides, recording the session, how to mute and unmute delegates, etc. I then had additional training on adapting my training style to suit webinars. Both of these training sessions gave me the confidence to deliver my first webinar.

At the end of the two-hour webinar, I felt euphoric! Most of the delegates participated, and I was able to gauge the needs of the group and create some interaction between them. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am looking forward to delivering more webinar sessions soon.

In case you're thinking of running a webinar yourself, I thought I'd share some of the challenges I experienced:

  1. Technical Problems - Although in the introduction you do cover some technical issues, delegates can have problems that you are not in control of at their end, which impacts on their overall experience.

  2. Location - One delegate was taking part whilst sitting in a local café, which meant there was a lot of background noise when she was speaking to us.

  3. Engagement - Some delegates do not want to engage, so when you ask a question or ask them to type questions in the chat box, some are reluctant to take part.

  4. Distractions - Although you ensure that everyone is aware that you are not to be interrupted for the duration of the webinar, sometimes unexpected phone calls or someone accidentally knocking on the door can be distracting.

To avoid some of these teething problems, next time I will be less fazed if delegates have technical problems - it comes with the territory, and I can always send them some notes afterwards. In future, I will also email all of my delegates in advance and encourage them to participate, explaining that the session will work better if everyone engages. Additionally, I will suggest in the same email that delegates watch the session in a quiet environment so that they are not distracted. Lastly, I'll check that my own phone is on silent and put a 'do not disturb' sign up on my office door to remind people that I'm on air.

If you have any hints or tips that you would like to share with me on how to deliver webinars, please do get in touch.

Going Global

On 10th October 2017 in my role as a North-West Export Champion, I was invited to a joint event between the Institute of Directors and The Department of International Trade called 'An Introduction to Exporting'. It was a thought-provoking event hosted by KPMG Manchester.

It was a round table event with a variety of organisations, some already exporting successfully and some new to exporting looking for guidance. As a seasoned exporter having worked as a Learning and Development Consultant/Executive coach in 25 countries around the world, I was there to share my experience of working globally and to share some of the successes and challenges of working with diverse cultures.

The key points for discussion were:

Why should companies export?

There are myriad reasons including growing your market and increasing sales, it also allows you to reduce your reliance on the UK market. If your product or service is experiencing a downturn, being able to offer it globally means that you offset this by exporting, plus it could increase the shelf life of your product or service. I can confirm that this has been my experience of exporting. During the recession in the UK from 2008 onwards I identified clients who had an international reach and was able to win a contract which allowed me to work globally, thus keeping my business solvent during the difficult and challenging years. As someone who was born in Dominica in the Caribbean, the opportunity to see the world whilst working in a profession that I love has provided me with some amazing opportunities to build a global network of contacts.

Academic research confirms that exporting companies see the following benefits:

  • They are 11% more likely to stay in business
  • More productive and innovative than non-exporters
  • 30% increase in productivity in the first year
  • Higher profile and more credibility

I can confirm that if I had not won my international contract during the recession I would not be in business today. Being able to work abroad whilst the UK was in the doldrums allowed my company to withstand the recession and keep going. It has also given me a firm foundation in the global market with organisations offering me work in the countries where I have some experiences. For example, I have worked in Oman, Bahrain, Dubai, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait and Yemen on numerous occasions. I have also worked in Bangkok, Sarajevo and Uzbekistan. So, potential clients understand that I am versatile and have cultural awareness.

Barriers to exporting

The organisations that attended the event had quite specific barriers which they shared with us. We were also given some barriers reported to the Department for International Trade; which were finding customers, payment terms, logistics, communication and legal risks. One of the big issues is also around culture. I was very fortunate that a lot of my work was for the British Council. Part of their support for consultants who work for them involves sending you guidance prior to travelling which gives information regarding the culture and the do's and don'ts whilst working in a location. This information was invaluable in helping with dress code and language etc. If the organisation that you are working for does not supply this I would recommend the excellent services of the DTI who have 1,200 staff in over 100 overseas markets and around 400 people across UK regions, working locally with UK businesses. They can provide advice about culture, language and can also arrange meetings with potential customers on your behalf.

My lessons learned from 14 years of working globally:

Explore and immerse yourself in the culture.

I have always learnt how to say good morning, hello or welcome in the language where I am delivering training or working. This sometimes can cause amusement due to the accent, but I find everyone appreciates that you have tried. But also, it is important to dress appropriately and respect the dress code.

Learn laws and social etiquette

This is vital in order to do business that is sustainable, in some countries you have to build a relationship where there is trust, which means some face to face contact and delivering on your promises. This also includes your website, it is important that your website respects the social mores and culture of your clients. For instance, having someone with parts of their body exposed in your marketing material when selling bathroom equipment is not suitable for the Middle East.

Build your global brand by:

  • Using your unique selling point (USP) - what is different about you? What can you offer that others can't?

  • Presenting yourself and your product or service in a way that is tailored to your market.

  • Dress and speak appropriately - use humour appropriately. If unsure, leave it out rather than risking offence.

  • Know and use your social media channels. 88% of the Middle East's online population use social media daily. It is estimated that 58 million people in the Middle East use Facebook, with 6.5 million people on Twitter and 5.8 million on LinkedIn.

So, if you have not considered taking your business to a global audience, now is the time! If I can be of any help to you starting on your global journey, feel free to contact me - if I can't help you myself, I will put you in touch with Bobbie Charleston-Price, my international trade adviser.

Abraham Lincoln statue

I recently facilitated a session for a senior leadership team called 'inspirational leadership'. Part of the pre-course preparation was to identify a leader they admired and to prepare a short presentation on:

  1. Why are they an inspirational leader?
  2. What impact have they had?
  3. What is their legacy?

It was extremely interesting to listen to the different presentations and to learn about what each member of the leadership team felt that good leadership looked like.

The leaders selected were as follows:

  • Sir David Brailsford, Olympic Coaching Superstar

Brailsford once referred to himself as a conductor of an orchestra. His role as performance director of British cycling saw him recognising talent and encouraging professionals, experts and athletes to perform at their best.

His approach is a collaborative one, he speaks about creating an enjoyable environment for his athletes and rather than dictating the steps they take to success, instead he works together with them to help them on the way up.

  • Richard Branson

He was chosen because he has a sense of fun, he is not a remote leader but gets involved at all levels. He takes time to listen, is not afraid to take risks and he demonstrates respect for his employees. He gives to charity and one of his challenges is that he has had to overcome dyslexia, and he dreams big.

  • Winston Churchill

Dynamic, able to mobilise people using his great inspirational quotes. He was courageous and creative, he didn’t sugar coat the message he ‘said it as it is’.

His key skills were that he could: influence and engage, he was bold and had a unique style, he was team spirited and made powerful speeches.

  • Abraham Lincoln

Was known as honest Abe, he was not afraid of taking risks and he was a good situational leader. He could share his goal and vision, he took the blame when things went wrong, but was happy to share success. He was aware of his weaknesses.

  • Rosa Louise Parks

Was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, whom the United States congress called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”.

Rosa helped spark the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat in Montgomery.

Her strengths were: a keen sense of justice, a profound sense of conviction, integrity, she was quietly confident and she took a significant risk.

  • Emmeline Pankhurst

Was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote. She was named one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. She shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back. She took drastic action to achieve her goals.

Her style was: transformational, visionary, charismatic, empathetic, goal focused and she left a strong legacy.

  • Lord Baden Powell

He was especially talented in military scouting and is best known for starting a worldwide scouting movement. He was also a prolific writer who often chose his military experiences as the subjects of his work. The legacy of Baden-Powell lies in the popularity of the scouting movement throughout the world.

Leadership Qualities

You may not agree that the leaders chosen by the senior leadership team are good examples of leaders, also certain styles of leadership used in the past are not practical for modern day, however, each leader named had a lasting impact and left a legacy.

After listening to all the presentations there are 8 lessons in leadership that are the common thread for most, if not all, of our leaders:

  1. Inspires and motivates others
  2. Displays integrity and honesty
  3. Solves problems and analyses issues
  4. Drives for results
  5. Good communicator
  6. Displays strategic perspective
  7. Develops others
  8. Innovates

I would love to know who you would have chosen as the leader you most admire and why - please contact me at olive@olivestrachan.com.

"A person without a sense of humour is like a wagon without springs, jolted by every pebble in the road." - Henry Ward Beecher

Humour in the workplace

Why I use humour in training

During my career, I have been fortunate enough to have worked for organisations who have invested in my development and sent me on many training courses. I always left home with a feeling of excitement, looking forward to meeting new people and learning something new, but often the way the training was delivered lacked humour, did not engage and I was often left wondering how soon it would be over.

The idea came to me that I could deliver factual, well researched, up to date content, but in a fun and engaging way. Hence the reason I opened my own training consultancy.

The benefits of using humour in learning

Research into neuroscience reveals that humour systematically activates the brain’s dopamine reward system.  Cognitive studies show that dopamine is important for both goal orientated motivation and long term memory. Also, research into Accelerated Learning Theory indicates that people retain information in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Humour is beneficial in the following ways:

  1. It can break the ice and enhance the enjoyment of the learner
  2. It can build a sense of community amongst delegates
  3. It can establish rapport quickly
  4. It aids knowledge retention
  5. It helps keep enthusiasm at peak levels

Dr Richard Bandler in his interview for NLP LIFE, reveals why humour is important in learning and coaching, he says, “Humour is a tool that, as far as I’m concerned, shields you from the stupidity that’s rampant on the planet”.  He goes on to say that he tries to get people to look from a different point of view, which is what humour is really about.

Possible pitfalls

Humour must be appropriate – we want to make people laugh but not to offend them. Avoid jokes around religion, race, gender or weight.  Also cruel or inappropriate comments, sarcasm and too many jokes. There must be a balance between humour and instruction so that respect for the trainer/facilitator is maintained.

Humour and culture

Nik Peachey, a trainer for the British Council wrote an article called ‘Sense of Humour’, he talks about how by understanding a person’s humour it helps to understand their culture and language. One of his ideas which resonated with me was to get students to try to translate a joke from one language to another and observe cultural nuances as often jokes can mask some negative underlying prejudices.

My experience of laughter and learning

It has been nearly 20 years since I delivered my first training programme based on my ethos of making learning engaging with humourous content. This has had a big impact on our success. Content is tailored to the needs of the learner, we encourage high participation amongst our delegates and all of this is underpinned by current research and theories.

We do live in a politically correct age, and sometimes unintentionally a word or a phrase may cause offence. If you have strong reservations then don’t do it. As a trainer/facilitator we ask for and receive feedback from our delegates, but also, we can read body language and facial expressions which tell us if we have got it wrong. Having delivered training to audiences in over 20 countries, I have built many contacts and networks who use my services because I am authentic and provide a safe environment where learning is energising, memorable and fun.

Olive Strachan with Packaging Automation

I recently received an exciting and unexpected email:

Hi Olive,

We are going to an awards dinner on 13th July because we are finalists in three categories, the whole management team are going and we would love you to join us, as you have been closely involved in our journey and our success.

This email was from Sam Ashton, Operations Director of Packaging Automation Ltd in Knutsford, who I have been working with on various projects since 2014. As a Learning and Development/HR Consultant I work for myself and we often work with organisations in various capacities. You know you have had a positive impact, but you don’t often have a chance to share in the success. It was lovely to be invited to the awards ceremony, sharing the recognition received by my clients.

The 2017 E3 Business Awards evening took place on Thursday 13th July at the Macron Stadium in Bolton. The winners were announced in front of an audience of over 500 business delegates. There were seventeen award categories. The winning companies and individuals came from organisations across the North West: from Cumbria to Cheshire, Merseyside to Manchester. It was an amazing evening with each business having the opportunity to speak on a video about why they deserve to be recognised.

We were not successful for two of the three categories, so as they announced the ‘Manufacturing Business of the Year 2017’ we sat there tense, with our hearts beating fast. Sam Ashton appeared on the screen sharing the company's many achievements with the rapt audience. This was a challenging category because the winner had to demonstrate:

  • Excellent sales performance and growth prospects
  • A strong pioneering spirit in new product development
  • Manufacturing innovation and the use of technology
  • Quality and continuous improvement
  • Investment in people
  • Evidence of staff training / mentoring

As soon as they announced Packaging Automation as the winner, our table erupted. I was invited to join the senior leadership team on the stage and we danced towards it cheering and clapping to the music. It was such a fantastic feeling. Everyone joined together their faces reflecting pride and elation. This was the culmination of all their hard work.

Packaging Automation at the 2017 E3 Business Awards

When we returned to our table with the award, both Neil and Sam Ashton spoke with pride about their staff, acknowledging that each member had impacted on the organisation’s success.

Neil paid tribute to his staff saying the following:

"I know the effort that’s gone into the last four years by everybody and these awards are not easy to win. Recognition from other industry and business leaders add to all the other positive feedback we receive and it’s great to know we’ve achieved another accolade.

"We have so much more to achieve and many more challenges ahead and with the belief we have anything is possible. We will continue our journey which can only mean more success.

"Well done everyone!"

So, what has been the impact of celebrating success?

  • Celebrating milestones does have a positive impact on employee well-being and engagement. Staff feel that they are contributing to the long-term success of the organisation.

  • It contributes to the stories and myths that will be told in the future about the organisation, e.g. 'Remember when we won that award?'

  • It motivates staff to focus on the next goal, the next award.

  • It helps build collaborative relationships - other organisations are now contacting them to ask for their advice and support.

  • It makes them an employer of choice. Success is contagious!

I feel an immense pride in working with this amazing organisation, who are leading the way in the manufacturing field.

Thank you again for allowing me to share in your successful journey.

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