Sunday, 19 February 2012


My first million dollar business idea was a beauty. I was only eighteen, bumming around London, scraping together a few quid working in pubs because Aussies were regarded as "hard-working" and "reliable." Some mates had a flat-share up in Kilburn and I was making my way up there by bus, sitting in the front row at the top of course, when the lightning bolt struck. Well, kind of.

I stared at the drizzly street and drab pedestrian crossing in front of me, bewildered. Although I'd never been to this part of the town before, I knew I knew this streetscape intimately. Of course! Add four Beatles, a blue sky and a Volkswagen and there I was – on the cover of Abbey Road. I was so excited I jumped off at the next stop and hurried back to walk backwards and forwards over the crossing at least a dozen times, happily singing "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" to myself.

Over the following months, rather than visiting the Tower, the Palace or any of that boring old stuff, every time I had a day off I would seek out the places in London that had a rock ‘n roll connection. Soon, I'd discovered the cover of Ziggy Stardust off Regent Street, the Get Back! rooftop, the pub in Richmond where the Stones first played and so on. Morbidly, I even found the site of the car crash that put paid to T. Rex, where some wag had etched onto the tree he had collided with: "Marc Bolan’s Last Hit." I'd take photos, jot down notes, and had decided I would publish the first ever "Rock Guide to London."

I didn't realise it at the time, but I had a great insight, perfect timing, the ideal opportunity and the passion and even the means that could have seen me launch a very successful small business - one that today is worth millions of pounds annually.

Sadly, what I lacked was the tenacity and - almost the same thing - the self-confidence to commit 100% to my idea. Several years ago I unearthed my faded photos and amateurish scribbles in the back of an old notebook. There was even a rejection letter from a book publisher I’d sent an outline to, telling me the idea “needed more work." Twenty years on, rock tours and rock guides of London (and elsewhere) have become very lucrative businesses indeed.

It's one thing to have a great idea. But you've got to see it all the way through. Or be left whistling “you never give me your money.”



Oh no! Here comes that miserable, whining customer again. The one that makes you inwardly grit your teeth and roll your eyes heavenward. But far from a being a total pain in the butt, he or she could be your best marketing tool yet.

It’s not necessarily the customer who’s always delighted with your service who is going to be the one to award you that most coveted of advertising properties; positive word-of-mouth. It may well be the one with the sour face and petty complaints. The perpetually satisfied customer has probably reached the point of taking you for granted, meaning that the good word-of-mouth they spread about you has already had its effect. People don’t endlessly go on repeating the same story, unless they are given a new reason to. More importantly, as big business has increasingly discovered, there is nothing quite as powerful as the hand-on-heart “we know we’ve let you down which is why we promise to do better” approach.

McDonalds recently ran an intriguing ad campaign admitting “Our coffee’s been keeping us awake at night. Frankly, it hasn’t been up to scratch.” For we coffee addicts, this admission packed the punch of a double ristretto at 6am. We sat up and took notice. Here was a multi-national spending their ad budget not boasting about their product, but telling us their coffee is – or was - crap. According to Sydney-based Strategic Planner Darrell Tiemans, There is wide-ranging research that shows consumers' feelings towards a branded service are higher if the brand addresses a complaint or fault well compared to having a perfect track record.” This strategy of converting your harshest critics is increasingly finding favour with big business. In 2009, Dominoes Pizza in America launched “Pizza Turnaround” - a massive confessional ad campaign where they showed genuine, disgruntled customers voicing specific complaints (“the crust is rubbery”, “it tastes like cardboard,”) before going back to those same customers with a new product. Brave? Yes. Foolhardy? No. The campaign was a huge success.

For small business, the opportunity exists almost daily to convert dissatisfied customers. Rather than trying to get them out the door as quickly as possible, the smart small business person should capitalize on the good-will word-of-mouth (and social online comment) that can be generated by very specifically addressing their concern; particularly if they do so with humour or imagination and make a good story out of it. What must be generated by any remedy is a sense not that the customer has “done well” out of the deal (“here, have a free wotsit and sod off”), but that the brand genuinely appreciates their custom. (“Next time you’re popping in, let us know so we can reserve you a free so-and-so.”) If you can make them laugh, you know you’ve nailed it.


1.     Rather than simply fixing a problem, try and use a little imagination, humour or thoughtfulness in resolving it that shows you understand both the specific complaint and the individual’s needs.
2.     Give them something to talk about. People love telling stories, so make your service, product or brand the centre of that days yarn.
3.     Once you have won a previously disgruntled customer over, lightly say something along the lines of “don’t forget to tell your friends” or “if you get a moment, would you mind mentioning that on our facebook page.” Showing that you value their good will is no bad thing.
4.     Find reasons to show that you listen: advertise a new product or service based on a specific customer request or complaint. ie “Following recommendations from Mums, we are now stocking ABC instead of XYZ.”


5.     Don’t blame the critic, or their lack of taste, for the problem.  Telling a customer that they aren’t worthy of your business these days can generate an unimaginable volume of negative word-of-mouth. Just ask GASP! Stores in Melbourne.
6.     Don’t be afraid to let other customers see you listening to, apologizing for, or addressing another customer’s complaints. Those third-party eyes will also generate positive word-of-mouth.


Australia now effectively has three Prime Ministers; the populist, the pragmatist and the politician. All three were hard at work last week, beavering away in front of the TV cameras as they sought to lead the nation in their three unique ways. One wants to be loved, one wants to be listened to, and one craves respect and legitimacy.

In some ways, we should be grateful. Who says you only need one leader? Plenty of European countries have run on troikas, including the USSR briefly after Stalin croaked and it didn’t do the Russians any harm (comparatively), so why should it bother us?

Our populist leader – the one recognized as Australia’s PM by everyone overseas - returned to his favorite haunt this week, a schoolyard on the Gold Coast hinterland where, surrounded by adoring Aryan-looking sun-bleached Aussie school kids in peaked hats and bright tee shirts, he was able to show off his brilliant PR and diplomatic skills. Sounding nicer and more reasonable than any human being should ever have to, Kevin slid the knife ever so gently out of his own back, and with the greatest of aplomb, popped it squarely back where it belongs - between the shoulder blades of Simon Crean. "Can I just say this..?" began Mr Ever-so-humble-and-exceedingly-reasonable, and we knew we were in for a doozy. He didn't disappoint. As the kiddies gazed up at him, with expressions normally reserved for a Bono, a Federer or a Justin Bieber, Kevin neatly countered Crean’s ambush attack and turned his graceless criticism that he was "a prima donna" and "not a team player" abruptly on it's head: "I am proud to be a member of this ministerial team, which is very strong, very dedicated, very hard-working and in which Simon himself plays a very positive role,'' said the foreign minister; humility, sincerity and Prime Ministerial magnanimity oozing out of every pore. The kiddies, the journalists and the Queensland hinterland swooned as one.

Meanwhile, in the nation's capitol, suitably attired in a smart suit and the same tie he wore to the Lobby punch up on Australia Day, our pragmatic leader – the one who has dictated the government’s agenda this year and says what most people outside the beltway think - set out to prove to a sceptical audience of hardened journos that he’s more than just a fluro vest and a pair of tight fitting togs. Having spent most of the year telling the government what not to do and how not to do it, it was time for a bit of overdue 'positivity.' Telling it like it is came easy to Abbott, but utterly confounded the press gallery, so conditioned as they are to a daily diet of deception and spin. Pragmatically - and honestly - Abbott pointed out that there wasn't a great deal any Prime Minister can readily commit to until the budget is back in strong surplus. In other words, in a world that is being brought to it's knees by mountains of government-generated debt, wouldn't it be a smart idea to sit tight and hold off on the overblown spending commitments, grandiose projects and novelty taxes that risk tipping our own perilously-poised economy over the edge? Explaining his aspirations, principles and priorities - practical measures he intends to see achieved on dental health, aboriginal welfare, disability care and so on - clearly left the nation's top journalists confounded and more than a little frustrated. They'd far rather have a 'core promise' to jot down in the cynical hope that they can string him up with it further down the track.

And finally, way down south, our nuts and bolts political leader – the one who gets to have all the fun doing backroom deals and backflips - went to work, mouthing carefully scripted words to sell us something nobody asked for and almost certainly nobody will ever see: her new economy. Taken straight out of the mouths of focus group groupies, the "new economy" is a soundbite phrase carefully selected by the same mob who gave us "we are us" and "moving forward." it sounds thrilling and enticing but on closer inspection is devoid of meaning. Attempting to steal credit from Howard and Costello for the rivers of gold that Labor found sloshing around in the vaults under Parliament house and promptly spent, at best the "new economy" is jargon for a robust mining boom being pilfered by a punitive couple of wealth redistribution measures; one a straight out envy tax, the other disingenuously presented as "saving the planet."

All three speeches received the appropriate media coverage and varying degrees of acclaim. We are blessed to have three such gifted Prime Ministers. At some point, however, we might actually have to choose between them.        


The freckle-faced little girl with red hair and ponytails fidgeted nervously, squirming in the hard wooden chair. One sock lower than the other, a grazed knee and a telltale smudge of chocolate on the side of her mouth.
"I’m very disappointed in you,” the headmistress said, sternly. “You seem to be getting into lots of strife recently.’" The little girl stared defiantly back, a steely glint in her pale green eyes. "It wasn't my fault, Miss."
The headmistress glanced down at her notes. What was it about girls these days? So cocky and self-assured. Not like in her day. "Well, Julia, Kevin says you stole his chocolate crackles."
Under the chair, Julia clenched her fists tightly. So that's what this was all about. Yet again! Mr Smarty Pants himself! Kevin-bloody-goody-two-shoes. Just wait till she ambushed him on the way home. She’d punch him so hard he’d blub all the way back to his stupid cane farm.
Julia swallowed. She could still taste the yummy, chocolaty, crackly taste in her mouth. She forced herself not to smile. She’d trained herself to never show emotion, no matter how much trouble she got into. “I don’t even know what chocolate crackles are, Miss. I’ve never even heard of them.”
The headmistress shook her head wearily. “Well, Kevin’s not a very happy little vegemite today. Did you know he brought them in specially for the whole class?"
“That’s coz he’s a crawler, Miss.”
“Just answer the question, Julia.”
“Miss, I've just given the best answer I can to your question.” The headmistress sighed. “My question was simply whether or not you knew…”
“I heard your question and I've answered it,” said the young girl, folding her arms defiantly across her chest. “You have not answered the question,” snapped the headmistress. “Don’t make me go and fetch Mr. Slipper!”
“Well, I've given you the answer I'm going to give you.”
The headmistress muttered under her breath. Kids! She glanced back down at her notes. “And what about that dust up on Australia Day outside the tuckshop? Kim says you made her go and tell the indigenous kids that Tony said they should all get lost, which wasn't true. And then you told Kim to tell them where Tony was sitting during lunch break so they’d go and bash him up.”
Julia glowered, her thin lips sealed tightly together. If there was one thing she’d learned in this place it was to never own up to anything. "Kim’s a dobber. And I’ve never met her anyway."
"I'm sure I've seen you two together in the playground," replied the headmistress tentatively. “Often.”
"Lots of girls hang around me all the time, Miss. Doesn't mean I know who they are, does it?" the seven-year old said, triumphantly.  She prided herself on her ability to think on her feet. That's how she’d stayed top girl in the playground for so long. “And what about your science project?" sighed the headmistress. "Before the holidays you promised everybody you wouldn't do a carbon tax this term but then on the first day back that’s exactly what you did!” Julia felt a tingle of perspiration on her top lip. She quickly licked it away with a flick of her tongue. As she did so, she again tasted the tantalizing chocolate taste still lingering all down the side of her mouth. She quickly rubbed it away with her fist, hoping the headmistress hadn’t noticed. "I've dealt with that question on numerous times before, Miss. I had to save the planet."
“I see. But there does seem to be a bit of a pattern here. Bobby Brown says you promised you'd look after the trees in his backyard but then you went and chopped them down. That nice Wilkie boy says you broke your promise to him that you’d help him stop the other kids playing marbles so often. On top of that, Nurse said you promised the private school kiddies they could keep their pocket money rebates but now you’ve said they have to give it all to you.” The headmistress stared at her sullen pupil, hoping to see some signs of contrition.
“Yes but I’ve already told you! Everything is Tony’s fault. He keeps picking on me!” The headmistress took a deep breath, wondering what on earth would become of this young thing. It was time to try another tack. “Well, let’s just see if we can do better from now on, shall we? Think you can be a good girl and always tell the truth from now on?”
The young girl smiled sweetly. “Of course I will, Miss.”
“Promise?” said the headmistress.