The F Word – Focus

May 30, 2009

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Stephanie Ward of Firefly Coaching speak to my networking group, Connecting Women, about how to attract more clients in less time (tip you can download a free report on just this from her website). She had a packed house. It’s always the same when Steph comes to speak to us. She gets the highest attendance of the year. Always. Stephanie is a business coach who specialises in helping small businesses get more clients and make more profit. Did you get that? Stephanie helps small businesses get more clients and make more profit. Stephanie is a great example of someone who knows about the F word – Focus. According to the book ‘The Long Tail’ the successful businesses of the future all have focus, sometimes called a niche.

I can’t tell you how important this is. Whether you are writing a book, writing an article or own a business, it must have focus. It must fit a defined niche. If you can’t describe what you are doing in simple language in just one sentence, then it will be too confusing. If your book does not have focus, then a publisher won’t be clear what he’s buying. If your article does not have focus, then your editor won’t know where to put it in the magazine. And if your business does not have focus, then potential clients won’t know what they could be buying and your friends and contacts won’t know how to refer you to others.

But back to Stephanie. You see, one of the ways to attract more clients in less time is, of course, to have a defined niche. As I said earlier, twice, she has a very clear niche. Of course, as a business coach, she can do much more than just help small businesses to get more clients and make more profit, but she doesn’t tell everyone that. She sticks to her short and snappy message and lets people find out about the rest of her services for themselves.

At our meeting, the room was buzzing with people pleading to be given permission to hang on to a selection of services, but Stephanie was adamant.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, shaking her head sadly, ‘but you just have to let some of those things go. You simply must have a niche.’ Being American, she pronounces the word ‘nitch’.

I’m sorry too, because I know she’s right and I have had to say goodbye to some of the services I have clung to for years. Remember last month’s Inspirer, when I talked about flogging a dead horse? Well, I know how hard it is to put some of those dead horses out to pasture. But since last month’s newsletter, and since Steph’s pep talk I have been sure to remember her advice. Not only in my business, but in every area of my work. I now answer the question ‘what do you do?’ with, simply, ‘I help people to write and publish their books.’

But focus is not just for business. When I’m helping a client to come up with a winning formula for a book with a wow factor I am careful to ensure that the idea can be described in one sentence. I’m working on the new brochure I’m developing that focuses on my newly-defined niche and I’m trying hard to keep my message short, clear and appealing. Further, when I watched the Apprentice the other week I took note of the fact that professional advertisers claim that the maximum number of words you should have on a poster is 10. Did you notice that Stephanie’s focussed business ‘offer’ also has 10 words?

Keeping focus is tough. But sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind. Just as writers have to learn to ‘murder their children’ and delete swathes of text in order to stay on track; just as we benefit from weeding our wardrobes and chucking out clutter every now and again; we all need focus.

So then, what do you think? Is focus your F word or could it perhaps be your new best friend?

marketingandpubbooksMary Cavanagh turned to self-publishing when her agreement ended with a traditional publishing house. She has never looked back and has sold thousands of books thanks to the help of the marketing gurus at Matador and the publishers at Troubadour. Her book entitled the Seriously Useful Guide to Marketing an Publicising Books shares Mary’s secrets for getting her book into the press, onto the shelves and into the libraries. From ideas you may have had yourself, such as book signings and festivals, to how to use the internet, blogs, booklovers’ sites and how to do a book launch that works – and how to do one that doesn’t. This is frank and honest, as Mary shares her own experience of the successes and the failures along the way. Many of the people instrumental in her success have contributed their part of the story too, including Mark Thornton of the independent bookshop, Mostly Books, in Abingdon, who runs a workshop himself, called Shelf Secrets, designed to help authors get their books on those hallowed shelves.

Jo Parfitt's poetry memoir A Moving Landscape

Jo Parfitt's poetry memoir A Moving Landscape

I can’t believe it, but I just wrote my 26th book. It’s been a scary old process this, because, for the first time ever, I am publishing my poetry and my memoir at the same time. Yep, that’s right. My life in verse. You see, I don’t admit it to everyone, but I write poetry too. Non-fiction, fiction, journalism AND poetry. So there you have it, 30 or so years of my life exposed for all to see. Those who did know of my poetry habit have been begging me to publish for years, so I guess I wrote it for you.

In this month’s Acclimate, the expat mag from Bangkok, they have published a preview selection of poems.

If you would like a review copy for your publication, then go ahead and send me your address and I’ll post you one. If you want it faster, I can send you a PDF.

You can order it on Amazon too.


If you want to find out about the best expat conference and the wisdom of this year’s opening and closing keynote speakers, then you can read about it on the Telegraph’s website.

Doug Ota spoke about growing through grief, and 17 year old expat kid and author at 13, Anika Smit spoke about her life. A truly inspiring conference that you should pledge to be part of next year. Take a look at

Next week, Kiwi actress, storyteller, playwright and inspirer extraordinaire comes to The Hague with her unique set of plays to entertain us. As a writer and word lover I was delighted to hear about Letteracy. This play, devised, written and performed by Tanya has been created in praise of letter-writing. Don’t miss it. Please.

Tanya is here 5-15 June and is running a storytelling workshop, a children’s play called Box of Foxes and many other wondrous things, but Letteracy is ONLY on 5th and 6th at the Communication Museum in Zeestraat. I’ll be there. More info at

Living-your-best-life-abroad-webWho would have believed that less than 9 months ago, Jeanne Heinzer had not even started writing her book? Now, it is not only written but it is in print and available on Amazon worldwide. It’s a super book and I am delighted to have been Jeanne’s mentor, content editor and publisher for this project.

Written for accompanying partners of those of international assignment, this book will help the reader to assess her life and work out the steps she needs to take to make this life the best, happiest and most fulfilling it can be. It is no secret that the happiness of the spouse has a huge impact on the success of an assignment, so companies take note – buy this for your spouses and ensure that you don’t end up having to send your best employees home just because their wife could not settle.

Just a quickie to share that on Friday 22nd May there will be a an event promoting a culture of non-violence in young people at the Nutshuis from 1600-2000 when there will be an active debate and a silent walk. for the walk, meet at the Ghandi memorial in Hobbemaplein at 1600. The debate starts at 1730 at the Nutshuis. For more info please go to It’s free, of course.

I was very impressed by Paul Allen’s ebook entitled Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Paul is a journo, living (lucky thing) in Catalonia, in Spain, and his book is no less than I would have expected from someone who has been trained to be thorough. Moreover, he has the proof and the statistics to back up his advice. If you are thinking of moving abroad this book will help you turn over every stone and consider the reality of your proposal. It really is a terrific book and, to my mind, the first of its kind. Find out more at his website expatliving 101 here.

Stuck in the middle of your writing project? Find out how I cured my block once and for all with some unusual remedies here in my monthly column for The Hague Online. I am the website’s writer in residence.

The sight of the tulips brightening up my garden is a reminder to me that spring is here and it’s time for a spring clean of my priorities. I bet you are the same. You start each year with good intentions. You promise yourself that you will only focus on the things that make you happy/earn you money/meet your values. And then, as life gets busier, you end up agreeing to do things you maybe shouldn’t and suddenly find yourself with a To Do list bigger than my ironing mountain – and that’s saying something.

There is no time like the present for taking a closer look at all those things you have to do and asking yourself whether they all continue to serve you well. Do they still fulfil your needs? A chance meeting last week put me firmly back in the saddle.

Last week, I went to the London Book Fair and left behind my gargantuan To Do list, vowing I’d sort it out on my return. And then I met Alison Clark. Alison Clark is a fellow author at Lean Marketing Press. She has written a book called Stop Flogging a Dead Horse. I was immediately grabbed by the title and within minutes Alison and I had swapped a copy of my Find Your Passion book for a copy of hers. I read it from cover to cover on the flight home and am now clear about what must stay and what must go.

It’s simple really. If you keep on doing the same old thing over and over and continue to get the same, mediocre, results, then you may be flogging a dead horse. It is time dismount, let that idea or business stream or associateship go out to pasture, remove its tack and walk away.

Alison’s book is full of tips on how to identify when you are wasting your time on certain projects and how to extricate yourself from bad relationships and move on without making any enemies.

So, you are agreed that you may need to identify your dead horses and move on, right? But how do you know when a horse is a good bet? That an idea has the potential to gallop ahead towards wealth, happiness and success?

While on the subject of horses, I may have the answer. If you have ever ridden a horse you will know that the horse knows when its rider is scared, it knows that if you lose your focus it can get the better of you. It’s the same with a business idea. It is only when you relax in the saddle and allow your instinct to take over that you can move as one with your horse. When it feels right you just know. The wind gets into hair and you find yourself sitting up straight and you know you can conquer the world. When you allow yourself to respond naturally to whatever comes your way, the universe has a habit of giving you clues that show you when you have got it right.

You know how it is. Since I changed my website and became simply the number of enquiries I receive every day has increased. Since I decided to offer a six hour mentoring service rather than a straightforward hourly rate my new client conversion rate has soared. Since I decided to offer to publish their books interest has doubled. You see, I’ve stopped fighting for business in areas that I know should be lucrative but frankly aren’t and instead I’ve decided to go with the flow and watch what comes my way. Because, when you take the time to go for a slow amble in the fresh air, just you and your horse, you make a space in your head, you become more alert, you notice what’s happening and suddenly your focus returns. You just know what’s right.

This May, I challenge you to bring on the empty horses, take a long hard look at your stable of business ideas and products and decide who gets put out to grass and who is going to join you for the ride of your life.