How to change someone’s life

Many years ago, all the way back in 2005, I had a corporate job.

It wasn’t a huge firm, but it was multi-national. I was a software developer, then a senior, then I became Technical Director.

As part of my work, I needed to simplify some code we were using, so I did some research. And I found this thing open source called “ActiveRecord”. It was written in a language I’d heard of, but never used, called “Ruby” – and it looked like exactly the sort of thing I needed. I thought I’ll study how it works, then copy it over into our system.

But as I delved deeper into how it worked, I discovered the rest; all the stuff that came with ActiveRecord. For those Rubyists out there, you’ll know that that means Ruby on Rails – a framework for developing web-based software that, a couple of years later, would take the world by storm – and still powers some of the biggest websites in the world.

More than Rails, though, I also discovered 37Signals and David Heinemeier Hansson. He had created Rails (and ActiveRecord) as part of their brand new “Basecamp” project management tool. And as I learnt more and more about Basecamp, DHH and 37Signals, I became entranced.

Because 37Signals wasn’t your ordinary web development agency.

They had principles. They took a stand.

Ruby on Rails was inefficient by most standards, because it prioritised “developer happiness” over code speed. Developer Happiness? When was the last time you heard of a technical tool that prioritises a person’s happiness?

Basecamp was simplistic by most standards, because it prioritised communicating with your clients over project management systems. Communication? In a project management tool.

And 37Signals took a stand against toxic work cultures, against Venture Capitalist culture and against long hours.

In those early years, I used to exchange regular emails with David (I doubt he’ll remember me now) and we met once, at RubyConf in Berlin (when I was working with Brightbox, another pioneering Ruby on Rails company and still the best place I’ve ever worked). He was always gracious, always friendly and always willing to help.

You might think that this is a nice tale and all, but you’ll never get real success that way. But you’d be wrong. 37Signals (now called Basecamp) is a multi-million dollar company – but they still fight to keep the company small so they can remain true to their values. DHH is a multi-millionaire himself, but he still speaks out against toxic work cultures. And Basecamp is still my favourite project management tool – because it’s still incredibly simple and just designed around getting out of your way.

What’s the point in all this?

Well, DHH is proof that, if you stand up for what you believe in, if you stick with it and you bring people with you, you can get there. Things don’t have to stay the same. You might not change the world, but you can change your world and the world of those around you.

What happened to loyalty?

I remember when I had a job working for another company.

It wasn’t a huge corporate, it was a relatively small company, with a lot of software developers based in India, and a smaller team based in the UK.

I was quite senior, and I really believed in the company.

But, at the back of my mind, I just felt like I was being taken advantage of.

Long hours. Carrying the weight of the company on my shoulders. Having to go above and beyond every day.

Questions would race through my mind.

When does life get better?

When do I start making money?” (I wasn’t really after money but I did want to live a decent life and take the odd trip away)

I want to make a difference but I’m wondering if I’m just burnt out

And then I would think about loyalty.

Don’t I owe it to them to stay? Don’t I owe it to them to give it everything?

The turning point was when we had a total disaster. I had been working 16 hour days for weeks. It was tough. And things still failed, we lost a significant amount of money and we had to sack a number of staff.

It was horrible and I took it very badly.

Then one day, my friend said to me “I don’t understand why you blame yourself – I’ve seen how hard you’ve worked for the bosses and you can’t blame yourself for all the things that went wrong – it was their decisions that lead to this

That was a trigger for me.

Why was I being loyal?

Why was I working so hard for these people?

Why was my well-being tied to people who were making bad decisions, who were making choices that lead to others losing their jobs?

And that’s when I decided I was going to figure out how to start up on my own.

At least that way, my fate would be in my own hands.

If I succeeded, it was down to me. If I failed, it was down to me.

And my loyalty would be to people who deserved it.

If you’d like to take control of your time, escape the constant firefighting and build a business that works for you, the easy way to get started is to build a 12 Week Plan. My free planner shows you exactly what you need to do.

Download your free planner now

How do you work through anxiety (and accompanying self-doubt and fear of failure) to start a business?

I’m sure you recognise the feeling.

Paralysed with anxiety.

Frozen with doubt.

Your stomach rolls, you feel nauseous and your palms go sweaty.

Because the thought of starting a business can be terrifying.

It doesn’t have to be like that though.

You can figure out the path you want to take, ahead of time.

You can learn where to find your clients, and understand what they’re looking for.

You can look beyond whatever is holding you back and take steps to move forwards.

Because if you plan it out, if you understand the way, if you have a roadmap – and then you take it one small step at a time, then whatever it is that you’re afraid of now will seem completely insignificant when you look back in a few months time.

If you’d like to take control of your time, escape the constant firefighting and build a business that works for you, the easy way to get started is to build a 12 Week Plan. My free planner shows you exactly what you need to do.

Download your free planner now

Ever feel like you’re stuck in a loop?

When you started your business, did you have big dreams and ambitions? Or even moderate dreams and ambitions?

Maybe you just wanted the free time and ability to take time off and pick your kids up from school?

Or you fancied a big house in the country, and a slightly smaller town house that you could gift to your mum?

Whether you wanted your business to give you a lavish lifestyle or just give you a bit more of what you were lacking – it’s often easy to lose track of those dreams.

When I was looking back through my notes from three years ago, I was shocked to see that I’ve not really moved forwards in all that time. The goals I had set for myself were substantially the same as this years. The progress I had made was, in many cases, non-existent.

Are you stuck in a loop? I am (was?)

There’s a saying “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”.

If you want to move towards those dreams, you need to change how you do things. It’s not enough to write out a plan. You’ve got to decide to implement it. And make sure you actually do.

Too often, I’ve come up with the plan then got distracted when implementing it. And the reason for that is because of a number of issues I’ve got in my own brain.

I consistently underestimate how long a particular project will take. I always undercharge for the work I do. I’m always too nice when it comes to accepting change requests.

So I decided, earlier this year, that it was time to change.

I no longer take on those bespoke, open-ended projects. So there’s no estimating to be done; instead I have a series of defined, thought-out products that give you what you need but give me certainty in how long they will take to deliver.

I have a fixed price list. No more writing proposals and estimating how much it’s going to cost. Instead, I can say “here are the prices; I hope you’ll see they’re extremely good value for what you get”.

And I have a process for handling requests. When we’re at points X and Y in the process, that’s when we make those amendments. That way we stay on schedule, we all know where we stand but the end result still fits your needs precisely.

For me, the change I needed was all about money. Where do you need to make the change?

Find out how.

Why Bob was wrong – or time management for small business owners

Photo by Tevin Trinh on Unsplash

As you can probably tell, I really liked Bob. He was a good man.

But, he taught me completely the wrong lesson.

On one of our nights out, we got back home in the early hours. We piled into the living room and started chatting away. I don’t remember exactly, but Bill probably put on the sex scene from the beginning of Betty Blue (he had a tendency to do that – it was quite embarrassing the first time he showed it to me as his mum was in the room, saying “not that again William”).

Bob comes charging into the front room, yelling at us, because we were making too much noise. Fair enough; it was either very late, or far too early.

But the thing is, Bob was working.

I don’t know if he’d not been to bed. Or if he’d just got up early.

He used to say that it was the only way he could get all his paperwork done.

You always hear of the never ending struggle of the small business owner. How you have to do the 70-80 hour weeks. It’s hard work that will see you through.

Well, it’s not true. I learnt entirely the wrong lesson from Bob that day/morning.

Take action: Get the right systems in place, make sure your people know what they are doing, because frankly, you shouldn’t be working in the small hours.



PS: I’ve really struggled with this over the years. I still do. It’s not easy. I’ve got a really simple method to retrain my brain and make me take the time off. If you’d like to know more, mail me at

It doesn’t matter who you are

Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

When I was a teenager, I had a friend called Billy. He lived in the grounds of Newstead Abbey, which is where Lord Byron frolicked. It was a big house with a load of land in a very very nice area. They even had woods out back, which we used for the filming of our home-made Vietnam War epic “Wham bam thank you ‘Nam”.

Bill’s dad was called Bob. Bob was a plumber. Looking back, Bob taught me some very valuable lessons about running a business.

The single most important thing was it doesn’t really matter who you are or where you come from, you can do it.

Like most people in that area, his family, and his wife’s family, grew up without much. Lots of coal miners in the area, including in their family. Generally people round there didn’t expect much beyond a wage for their hard work. Certainly not running a successful business.

Bob was taught to work hard. He worked very hard. He made sure he had the right skills and more importantly he applied them well. And he reaped the results.

He lived in this amazing house. He had nice cars. His kids went to a posh school (the one I went to). He worked hard, but played hard (rugby union was his thing). And Bill was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet.

Often, I think I’m not good enough for what I’m doing. I think I don’t belong here, that I’m just winging it, that I don’t deserve what I’ve got. But I think of Bob (and his wonky eye – more on that later) and I realise that I work hard, I’ve got real skills and I love helping people. Of course I deserve it.

Take action: Sometimes you need to remember the Bob’s in your life and realise that you do deserve that better life.



PS: If you’re working hard but not getting the results you deserve, reply to this email ( and let’s have a quick chat. I’m sure I can help you out, it’s all free and there’s no obligation to buy anything or anything like that. Just message me –

I have no idea what I’m doing

If you’ve never had a formal business education (like an MBA or whatever) but you still run your own business … join the club.

Most of us end up here through circumstance – made redundant, tired of working for an idiot, pursuing a dream, falling into a nightmare.

And somehow, we all muddle through.

But sometimes, it feels like there’s extremely important things that we’re ignoring. Like financial reports. Or … something we don’t even know exists yet. We read various business forums and we see people asking about things we’ve never even heard of. And it makes us feel like the amateurs we are.

Rather than getting lost and confused, it’s time to get educated.

Here’s a list of things that I found incredibly useful over the years.

  • “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber. It’s a classic and for a reason – explaining how you can design a business that works for you, without driving yourself up the wall.
  • “Profit First” by Mike Michalowicz. How to make sure that you pay yourself and earn a profit (even if it’s just a small one) no matter how your business is doing.
  • “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The hardest thing for me is staying focussed on the task at hand. The One Thing explains how.
  • “Growth Club” by ActionCoach. Every quarter, take a day out of your business to review where you’ve come from and decide where you want to go. The draw up a detailed plan to get there.
  • BNI. A lot of people hate it. But it teaches you a lot – from standing up and presenting in front of a room full of strangers (and amend your pitch so it has the most impact), how to get sales (as the techniques you use to get referrals and invite visitors are the same ones you can use yourself in your sales process) and how to structure your business so you can measure how well it’s doing (BNI is a franchise with an easy to follow system).
  • Sleep. Get a good mattress and make sure you sleep enough. Not just so you can get enough done tomorrow, but also to keep you fit and well into old age.
  • Get an advisor. A mentor. Or a coach. Because there will be times when you can’t be arsed and you need someone to hold you accountable.

Hope that helps


What do you mean?

How will you do that?

What will it look like when you’re done?

What will it feel like when you’re done?

Is that really what you want, or is that what you’re supposed to want?

It sounds like you’re not too sure, tell me a bit more about it.

So how are you going to get there?

What’s stopping you?

What’s your first step?

Take action: Drop a few of these into conversation next time you’re talking to a stranger. It’s amazing what you can find out.

Making a difference

A lot of people say “I don’t really like my job, I feel like I should be making a difference”

A huge percentage of those people then do absolutely nothing about it.

Why not?

Probably because they don’t know what they mean when they say “making a difference”

For me, I’ve figured it out. It’s taken me forty-something years, but it’s become a driver for what I do. I know how I can make a difference and it now sits at the heart of how I plan my days. As you might have guessed from this week’s letters, it involves talking to people.

Take action: Do you want to make a difference? What does that actually mean to you? If you don’t know, I might be able to help you figure it out.

Talking to strangers on the street

The other day, we went to the pub, then went to the shop to get some supplies for the evening (booze1 and unhealthy snacks). Sat outside was a homeless guy. I had some change in my pocket so I gave him some and said “there you go”. He said “thank you, I just need to get some money for a bed tonight and you’re the first person today who hasn’t just given me abuse”. It was gone 7pm.

I sat down with him and we had a chat. A bit about how the various hostels worked (if you don’t get in on a Friday, you’re basically locked out till Monday), about the people he was talking to to try and get some help, about how he sometimes feels like he doesn’t exist as people look away.

I’m not saying this to be preachy or anything. It could be that he was totally taking me for a ride. But it’s more likely that he wasn’t lying about being ignored all day (face it, that’s not improbable), and for a couple of minutes I might just have made him feel a tiny bit better. For the cost of a few coins and some time.

Take action: Talk to strangers, wherever they are.

  1. Appletise for me