Credibility Part 1 – Online

Online Saint or Sinner?

One thing that I have learned over the years as a magician is the importance of establishing credibility. 

It applies through the whole process from initial contact within potential client through the booking process to the arrival at the gig and then the actual performance. At each stage they need to to have a growing sense that you are genuine, that you know exactly what you are doing and that they are making an excellent choice.

From the Word Go

It starts with first contact. For me this will probably be via my website.  

They will have done a Google search, they will have had a recommendation from someone or I will have met them somewhere. However they get to my site, they need to get the first impression of a magician who is highly competent, suitable to their needs and approachable. 

As with magic, as with all work and life. You will be more successful if you think about how you establish your credibility online.

My online presence takes three forms: my website, my email communications and my social media.

Scratch Where they Itch

Does your website truly reflect who you are and/ or the product you are selling? Are the colours right for you/ your product? Are there the right amount of words compared to pictures for the type of audience you are trying to reach? Is it really helpful in enabling someone to make a decision about whether to buy or enquire further? Is the style of language right for your target customers? Are there appropriate reviews and testimonials that will build your credibility in their eyes?

Don’t be an Email Snail

Do you answer you emails promptly? I used to work for a church and my supervisor once commented that good pastoral care was very often 90% efficient administration. Getting back to people in a timely fashion shows that you care about them.  

Signature Effect

What is your email style like?

Is it more appropriate for your audience to open with “Hi…” or “Dear…”? Do you make a habit of thanking people for their email and hoping they are well? Getting these elements right builds your brand.

Do you use plain text or html in your emails? I have decided on plain text and as short and as few emails as possible whilst maintaining politeness. This means that my emails can be read easily across all devices. 

What about your email signature? What does it say about you? I use email  packages on my devices that allow me to use different signatures for different situations, which is really useful.

Don’t be Social Medium, be Social Outstanding

Think about how people view you on social media. What does your profile look like? What does it say about you? 

And not just your business page, if you have one. Your friends and family know what you do and they will talk to their friends. What pictures and videos are there? What do choose to post, and just as importantly, not to post? Everything you put up will do something to shape your followers’ and friends’ perception of you, to build or erode your credibility in their eyes.

Mr/ Mrs/ Ms Incredible

Remember, you are in-credible. You can do the in-credible. 

Make sure your online life builds your credibility.

Love Your Reflection

Reflection Direction

Reflects Action

A couple of years ago I asked myself why I was still a performer. It’s not an easy life: no steady income, no sick pay, lots of driving, constantly having to appear as if everything is showbiz.

But I love it. I got into it decades ago because I liked showing off the skills. But I have come to realise that entertainment is an essential part of human life. When someone is truly entertained something profound happens, they experience some sort of freedom for a few moments. That is why I carry on.

Find Your Why

What is your “Why?”

Simon Sinek talks about the importance of “Finding Your Why.”  Stephen Covey exhorts us to “Begin with the end in mind.”

What is motivating you? What do you want to achieve? How will you know when you have got there? Once you have these things sorted out in your head then it will be much easier to motivate yourself day-to-day because you will know what you are aiming for and what you are on the way to achieving.

Reflection should be hard-baked into our lives, we should make it a habit so that we don’t forget to do it. I recommend reflecting in the moment, daily and periodically.

Moment Proponent

Reflecting in the moment is so easy to miss out and yet doing it can completely transform your life experience. 

Richard Rohr  cites recent neuroscience which tells us that when we experience something negative it gets lodged into our memory immediately.  This is so that we learn to avoid hazards when we see them coming, ie, a hangover from trying to avoid tigers stalking us in the long grass! And this is still useful for us in the modern world.

However, when we have a positive experience it doesn’t lodge in our memory unless we dwell on it for a little while. Apparently we need to focus on a positive thing for 15 seconds for it to last in our memory. So, next time you see a beautiful sunset, a child smiling or an amusing poster, focus on it for at least 15 seconds so that you have a positive memory stored away.

Get a Habit like a Monk

Reflecting daily is hugely valuable. Ignatius of Loyola, a Jesuit monk, recommended a daily examen . The idea is that, each day, you go through the previous day’s events in your mind and note how each one makes you feel. In his terms, did they bring you “consolation” or “desolation”?  Journallling is a popular was of fitting this into a busy routine. Even a bullet-point journal can help you to reflect on what is and isn important in life and help you to identify whether you are putting your energy where you really want to.

Retreat to Advance

Reflecting periodically is the one that is easiest to miss out, but also the one that can be the most valuable. My wife is an Anglican priest and she finds it essential to go away on retreat by herself a couple of times a year. This enables her to get her priorities straight and discern what she should be doing for the next few months.

Put aside time a couple of times a year to ask yourself the big questions about your “Why” and to work out what you should and should not be doing. It is immensely valuable and can change the course of your life.

Get into the habit of reflection.

Why not?

Margin 2 – Money & Stuff

Don’t run out…

Allowing for Inflation

I have a big bag of balloons. When it gets down to a quarter full I order another one. I need two balloons for my show but I carry six in my pocket so if one bursts, no problem.

I also carry a bulk pack of playing cards in my car and two spare packs in my performance case. If an audience member drops the cards in his beer, no worries, I am covered.

Have you got margin built in to your resources? And into your finances?

Oh ****!

It is so annoying when someone uses up the toilet roll and doesn’t replace it, especially when you only realise too late! I try to overcome this problem by always aiming to have three spare toilet rolls by the toilet. They have to be raised up on a shelf these days because we have a puppy who like to play with them, but you get my point. We never run short at the critical moment. 

The lesson of the toilet rolls applies across the board to your resources management, both at home and at work.

What happens if you run out of something? Do you have enough on hand to continue seamlessly or do you have to stop and wait to re-order?

Maintain a healthy and realistic margin so that life can continue smoothly and without resulting stress.  Obviously, the frequency of re-ordering and the required size of your back-up store will depend on the ease of re-ordering and the speed of delivery. You have to do a risk-assessment in each case – “how likely and how quickly are we likely to run out” and “how soon can we get more”, balanced against, “how much can we store?”

Seizing Credit Control

Having financial margin seemed beyond my grasp for a very long time. Granted, I was on a low income and was in debt so it was not straightforward, but I also came to realise that it there was a mindset element to it all. To some extent I had control over the amount I paid back on the debts each month and I certainly had control over some items of monthly expenditure. 

Obviously everyone’s situation is different and it will much harder for some than for others, but check your mindset and your intentions. Impose a discipline on yourself and it can only get better than it is now. Recognise your progress periodically and pat yourself on the back.

I now have a discipline of saving a bit every time I get paid. I also have a credit card that I rarely use. So I have an emergency fund when things are tight and the credit limit for real emergencies. 

Scouting for Joys

I was once in the Scouts, “Be prepared!” was the motto. 

It is a magic motto. 

Margin 1 – Time Lords

Nightmare on Magic Street

You arrive late for a gig because the traffic is terrible (not your fault!), you blow up your balloon for your amazing balloon trick and the balloon bursts (again, not your fault – badly made balloon!) and then you run out of petrol on the way home and can’t fill up because you are up to the limit on your card…

A nightmare scenario for any magician.  But it doesn’t have to be this way. It really doesn’t. The concept of margin is the key. In time, money and resources.

And it doesn’t just apply to magicians, it applies to us all.

Part one of this blog will focus on margin in time, part two will focus on margin in resources and finances.

Get a Plan, Stan

How to avoid the nightmare scenario: Check the journey time on Google maps,  then add 30 minutes to allow for a break. Fill up the car on the way there. Plan to arrive at least one hour before the start time of the gig. If even earlier, great! Use the time to have a nap, do some admin and get ready for the show. Knock on the door of the venue 30 minutes before the start time, fresh, relaxed and ready to go. 

Once I had a blow-out on the motorway and had to wait for the breakdown service. A couple of times I got stuck in a snowdrift and had to dig my way out. Still, in all cases, I arrived 30 minutes early and the client was none the wiser. The magic of margin.

Always Something in the Tank

Audience reactions are unpredictable. Reaction times will be longer or shorter, laughs will last ages or not come at all at certain points. But you still need to start and finish bang on time. Thus you need to be able to cut and/ or add material on the fly.  This is easy if you have a resource bank of tricks in your mind and in your case – you have built-in margin. The audience will think that this is your standard running order.

Against the Tide Pride

Building in time margin feels like swimming against the tide in today’s rapid-paced culture. But it really can be your secret weapon.  

Not leaving enough time for travel really has no excuse and the only thing it will achieve is stress for you and your clients. You can work anywhere thanks to mobile internet, so there is no reason to leave late. If you arrive early you can wait round the corner and work in your car or in a coffee shop. 

Build time margin into your daily routine. Are there gaps to allow the unusual to happen? Medical emergencies, kids needing a lift, but also chance conversations to deepen relationships. If you are scheduled up to your eyeballs then you are missing essential elements for a productive, creative and healthy life.  

Dozy Debt Threat

Have you allowed enough time for sleep? By “enough” I mean over-budgeted. If, for some reason, your sleep on one night is cut short, will you have enough energy the next day, will you have enough time to catch up on extra sleep later, or will it just add to an ever-growing sleep debt and the resulting dip in health and performance?

Happy Gaps

Margin allows us to flex when the unexpected happens and this makes us resilient. It makes us less stressed. It makes us more effective because we will have more energy, focus and resources at our beck and call just when we need them.

Build your magic margin.

Living in Tomorrow’s World

The future is now

One of my favourite childhood TV programmes was Tomorrow’s World. Michael Rodd & co. demonstrated the latest seemingly crazy ideas to a fascinated world. I remember a very early mobile phone with a suitcase to hold the battery!

I saw it coming

When I was 10 years old I had a book about computers and technology. It showed someone shopping through their television. Apparently the goods would then be delivered to their house. I thought, “That’s ridiculous, it would require all the computers in the world to be joined together somehow.” Wish I’d patented the idea, seems Tim Berners-Lee got there first!

I remember when email first gained traction in the early nineties. We all had Compuserve email addresses, a-long-number@compuserve.com. Even though the dial-up  Internet connection was unimaginably slow by today’s standards, it enabled us to stay one step ahead of the boss, who could never quite work out how we were all so well informed. 

Smarter not Harder

“Work smarter not harder” is an established mantra. The dream of Tomorrow’s World was that technology would enable us to have life easier, not busier. Unfortunately that is not always true. 

However, if you have any kind of control over your working practice then you can be intentional about your technology usage to get more reach, more efficiency and more leisure.

Local Everywhere

As a magician doing kids parties I need to appear to be local to my potential clients. For some reason they are quite happy to commute a couple of hours to work but they like to feel that their entertainer is just round the corner. Years ago I remember pondering how I could maybe advertise in hundreds of parish magazines. I couldn’t work out a way of doing it.

Then the Internet showed up. Everything changed. I learned how to stick a database behind my website and with basic SEO I suddenly had a local website for every town and city within 80 miles of my house. Magic! Sleight of Web, if you will…

Fifteen years ago I used to spend hundreds of pounds each week on magazine advertising and employ two people to handle bookings and enquiries. I now spend nothing on advertising and handle all the bookings and enquiries myself, largely through automation. And I am doing more bookings than I used to. All thanks to the power of technology.

Network Benefits

Although it can never replace face-to-face for quality, the web is a great place for building business networks and maintaining long-term friendships. Make a habit of always saying “Happy birthday!” to your Facebook friends. It will give them a warm feeling about you and keep you in their mind, and them in yours.

Synchronicity Two

Tech can also bring much greater efficiency in both life and work.

My wife and I have synchronised diaries (via Google calendar) and shopping list (Wunderlist) which both make life so much easier.

Time Bandit

Tech also helps us to redeem downtime. I love my MacBook Pro. Since I have got it I have been able to use the odd five minutes here and there to deal with the odd email or two. Pairing it with the hotspot on my phone means that I can use it in the car (not while driving!) on the way to gigs and on the train on the way to meetings.

Training and learning have become so much easier. Again, face-to-face is the ultimate, but it is time consuming and expensive. Podcasts, audiobooks and online video mean that learning as and when you can has never been easier. Car journeys become a rolling university thanks to podcasts. Magic trick training videos can be downloaded and studied instantly.

Live the Dream

All this should mean that we have more leisure time. After all, that was the “Tomorrow’s World” dream. 

I would encourage you to pursue this a much as possible. The world of work will conspire against you, there is always something apparently urgent to attend too. However, quality downtime is essential for “sharpening the saw,” as Stephen Covey puts it. You have to be intentional about it. Create exercise habits, put things in the diary that you can’t move, take yourself on “artist dates” (The Artist’s Way). 

It can be done, but it won’t happen automatically.

You are living in Tomorrow’s World. Make sure you enjoy it!

This is Me

Our self-image is not set in stone

Before getting on stage, any performer – magicians included – has to believe that they have a right to be there, that they are both competent and entertaining. The challenge is often being able to carry this positivity over into the rest of life.

A healthy self-image can provide huge benefits.

I suggest that we can improve our self-image if we analyse:

  • From where we ultimately derive our self-worth and
  • How we describe ourselves to ourselves 

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Where do you ultimately get your self-worth from? For most people this will be a mixture of things: 

  • Our occupation can make us feel good or terrible about ourselves, depending on how it is going. 
  • Our family and/ or friends can make us feel valued and important, or not good enough, depending on our relationships and the culture in which they exist. 
  • Money and possessions can affect how we judge ourselves. 
  • Popularity online – social media “likes” – blog post reading stats – YouTube video viewing figures – can all affect how we feel about ourselves. 
  • Religion can play a part, either in a positive or negative sense: you may feel that God loves you whatever happens or that God fundamentally disapproves of you. 

It is worth analysing which of these things are at play in you. Maybe all of them? Some of them a notoriously fickle and transitory, some last longer and go deeper, some are eternal. You can change your perceptions and feelings about some of them, eg, God’s view of you, through examining your theology and self-reflection. 

Rock and Sand

Even if you are not religious, Jesus’ parable of the house builders is apposite here. One built their house on the sand, which was easier and quicker, but when the storms came it was washed away. The other built his house on the rock, which was more difficult, but it endured when the storms came. What is your self-worth foundation? How durable is it?

Talking to Myself

How do you describe yourself to yourself? What is your self-talk? How do you define your identity to yourself? 

If you are constantly telling yourself, “I am loved and have my own unique place in the universe,” then you will feel much better about yourself than if you are constantly telling yourself, “I am not not good enough and don’t really deserve to be here.” You have to work out your own mantra. But you can’t ignore it, you will be telling yourself something, whether consciously or unconsciously. Better to be intentional about it.

I recently realised that I should probably start writing. I had never had a writing habit. I didn’t think that I was the kind of person who wrote. My self-talk was, “I am not the kind of person who writes. That is for other people who are different to me.” I have recently change this self-talk to, “I am the kind of person who writes books.” I haven’t written a book yet, but that change in self-talk has given me permission to see that is is possible and has got me on to the road.

Because You’re Worth It

You are a unique person with a unique contribution to make to the world. Find a way to believe that. 

Get a Train (Mind)Set

Stuff in equals Stuff Out

As a magician I must be utterly familiar with each routine so that the audience is thoroughly entertained and mystified and no-one can see how it is done.  

I will need to have been taught how to perform the trick from a lecture, one-to-one coaching, a book and/ or a video. Then I need to practise.

As with magic, so with all work and life.

Just like a magician needs training and rehearsal, so do you. 

Stuff in equals stuff out.

Invest in yourself. Invest in training courses. These could be online but are even better face-to-face. You will build a larger reservoir of skills and knowledge, making your more versatile and resilient, making you more saleable. You will build competency and self-confidence.

If you are in any way creative – writing, presenting, giving speeches, performing – then you need to feed your mind and spirit in order to have the resources you need. 

Face-to-face training courses and organisations enable you to meet like-minded people from different fields. They are hugely valuable places for cross-fertilisation of ideas and for networking in general.

Resilience Brilliance

Training will build resilience. In the army they say that it is in the heat of battle that the training kicks in. If you have trained for something then you are able to do it without thinking when it is needed. 

A great example of this is the impromptu speaking training at Toastmasters. If you have never been to a Toastmasters meeting then I wholeheartedly recommend that you pay a visit to your nearest branch

Speak Easy

The impromptu speaking part of each meeting is know as “Table Topics”. The evening’s Topicsmaster will call you up and give you a subject as you stand up. You have the time it takes to walk to the front to gather your thoughts and then deliver a one to two minute speech on that topic. It is terrifying the first time you try it and always remains a little nerve-wracking, but you definitely get better at it and learn techniques to make it easier. 

As a result, when it happens in the real world, when you are asked to say something on the spur of the moment, the training kicks in. You don’t panic, you know what to do and you can deliver a structured speech off-the-cuff.

Get a training mindset – invest in training yourself.

You are worth it.

Gear Shtick

Change Up Your Gear

Proper Props

As a magician I can only present tricks and routines for which I have the props. They have to do the job reliably and as expected, time after time. 

I need the best props available. It is tempting to settle for cheap imitations of the originals, but this rarely pays off in the long term, the copy is likely to break or not perform reliably. 

As with magic, so with all working life.

You will be be way more effective and successful in life and work if you invest in the best gear.

Laptop Swap

For years I was using slow PC laptops. A Mac seemed an unattainable and unnecessary dream. That was until I heard a Michael Hyatt podcast about technology. 

He encouraged listeners to work out their effective hourly rate, ie, how much you need to earn in a year divided by the number of hours that you work in year, both billed and un-billed. At the time mine worked out at £25/ hour.

If you come across a piece of technology that will save you time but it seems a bit expensive, work out how that saved timed would translate into saved money using your hourly rate. 

My laptop was taking 5 minutes to boot up every morning and about a minute every time I need to fire up a new program. I reckoned all that was taking at least 15 minutes per day. That’s 90 minutes per week for a six day week or 67.5 hours for a 45 week year. At my hourly rate that translated into £1, 6875. A refurbished MacBook Pro was going to cost me around £1,300 and would fire up and switch programs instantly. This also meant that I would be able to use it more than my laptop. Suddenly it would become feasible to do a little bit of work in a 10 minute wait for a train. 

What had seemed impossible became a no-brainer. I didn’t have the cash up front so I bought the MacBook using PayPal credit, but it still made huge financial sense, even with the interest charge.

Since I switched computers, my productivity has soared.

Bag Happy

I bought a new executive backpack recently. I now use the train whenever possible so I need a bag that makes this as productive as possible. I ended up paying quite a lot for a cleverly designed backpack with special sections for a laptop, bulk storage, an organiser section and even a mains adaptor dock. I am so glad I invested in it, working on the move is now a dream. I know exactly where everything is and I can be up and working on the train in seconds, also packed down in seconds if I suddenly need to get off(!)

Pick a Car, Any Car?

As a magician I am hugely reliant on my car, typically driving up to 500 miles a week between bookings. I have to get to gigs on time. Being late or not turning up is not an option. I also need to turn up feeling refreshed and invigorated. Thus I need a car that is reliable, has aircon, cruise control and a way to play podcasts through the sound system. As a result I have found myself driving a BMW estate. Again, not something that I ever expected to happen when I started out, but it makes sense because I know I can trust it to do the job required.

Get the best possible props for your show!

Beyond Compare

What am I Like?

Image Conscious

Performing magic is all about presenting an image. Not only do magicians present alternate versions of reality, they also present an alternative version of themselves. Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic, famously (among magicians!) said, “A magician is merely an actor playing the part of a magician.” 

This can be true to a greater or lesser extent: some magicians have on-stage personas that are very similar to their everyday characters, others are completely different.

How we are able to present ourselves to the world is underpinned by how we view ourselves. There is normally a difference. However, if there is a huge disparity between our “front stage” and our “back stage” then, sooner or later, we are going to experience problems, maybe even mental health problems.

‘Ere We Ego Again

We are all constantly comparing ourselves to others to see how we measure up. If someone says they don’t do this then they are probably lying! 

Am I as thin as that person? Am I as rich as this person? They are more successful than me, more popular than me , cleverer than me, more skilled than me, get more gigs than me… it goes on. Magicians are notoriously fragile of ego, but this applies across the board.

To whom we are actually comparing ourselves? 

Hush the Air Brush

It could well be that we are not comparing ourselves to real people at all. I have done this. It is all too easy to construct an image of an ideal person who is cleverer/ more successful/ more attractive/ etc than you. But that is all they are, an image, an “ideal” created in your mind. Pause to check whether any real people you know of actually match up to that ideal.

Similarly, it is quite possible that we are comparing ourselves to air-brushed versions of real people. 

We all know that the magazine cover model has been re-touched to make them look like an “ideal” person, whatever that is. This is to make us feel inadequate, to induce us to buy something to achieve that ideal ourselves, or so we think. Even if we know this in our heads, it is all too easy to react on instinct and be taken in by it. It is worth reflecting regularly to see if we are falling prey to this kind of thing.

Happy Comparisons

However, comparing ourselves to real versions of successful people can actually be useful. If they work in the same or a similar field to us we can learn a lot by looking at their success. 

The key is not to get discouraged. It is all too easy to feel that we could never achieve the same as them, that it would be impossible for us. I try to combat this by asking myself, “How are they actually different to me?” 

If I see a magician with huge success on the stage, performing close-up magic or jetting off to exotic locations I ask myself, “Could I perform those tricks?” The answer is that, if I bought the props and practiced enough, there is no reason why not.

Secondly I ask, “How did they get that gig?” It probably boils down to contacts, networking, marketing and a bit of luck. Could I do those things? Well, if I put in the time and effort I probably could. Suddenly their achievements don’t seem quite so unattainable. They are just further down the road.

You are a unique individual on your own special journey. No-one else’s journey even compares.

Thought for Food, pt 2

Eat your way happy

Pulling a Habit out of a Hat

Habits are magical things. No more so than with food. 

We noticed a huge difference when we made pudding something for a special treat once or twice a week, rather than a nightly habit. If you want something sweet at the end of the meal, have a chocolate or two afterwards while you watch TV. 

I recently realised that I was drinking a glass of wine or beer every night, unconsciously exceeding the recommended healthy drinking limits. As a result I have switched more than half my wine consumption at meals to sparkling water.  I am fully expecting to have more energy and to lose weight as a result. 

Similarly, my coffee consumption had crept up to four or five cups a day. I have now limited myself to two cups before 10am and then only rooibos and chamomile tea after that. 

Its going well so far…

Veg Roots

I am pleased that we persevered in putting weird and varied vegetables in front of our three boys as they were growing up. They will now try anything and, if they are out, will shun burgers and fried chicken in favour of healthy salads and wraps, because they now genuinely prefer them.

Sleight of Pans

One of the best things I ever learned was how to cook. I say that like I have achieved it, which is ridiculous. Like magic, cooking is one of those things where you are always learning new techniques, new presentations, new approaches. 

I lost my fear of cooking thanks to a student newspaper article in my first year at college, then I was turbo-charged by Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef in the early nineties. I have never looked back.

Cooking your own food enables you to control your diet more. I heard an American doctor on YouTube a couple of weeks ago suggesting that the one thing that could solve America’s obesity problem was for everyone to cook their own food. “Eat whatever you like, just make sure you cook it yourself.” It sounds simplistic but I know what he means.

Improving with Thyme and Experience

My favourite way of cooking is to improvise, much like doing a close-up magic gig where I have a store of effects in my pockets and work out what I am going to use depending on the audience.

I look in the fridge and then cupboard to see what we have and then work out what I could make out of it. Granted, this takes some experience, trying things out, but you only get better with time. Or thyme.

I used to read Nigel Slater’s recipe books in bed(!) to get inspiration and ideas. Like watching a magic trick training video and then putting it away to develop my own routine without copying the demonstrator, I wanted to get the basic techniques and then put away the cook book and make the recipes my own.

Vegetable Adventures

We get an organic vegetable box once a week from Riverford and I love it, you are never quite sure what you are going to get and sometimes you get vegetables that you have never seen before. This makes you resourceful and adventurous in your cooking. 
You can get much more interesting flavours out of vegetables than meat if you know how to cook them. I am not vegetarian but my approach is to make meat just one element of the meal, rather than the main feature.

To perform better, be like a discerning monk and choose your habits carefully.