What we can all learn from the mountains about fear …

Hi, this month I’m going to talk to you about something we all experience from time to time – and that’s fear.

We all feel fear from time to time, and right now, although there is more of a feelgood factor around, I am seeing people who are fearful of making key decisions whether they be ‘positive’ – growing their business or exiting – or less so, such as seeking a formal insolvency solution.  Fear can paralyse.  It can cause people to settle for a lesser outcome than they’re capable of.  Fear holds us all back, it’s just a question of how much we allow it and where.

I’m going to tell you a few personal stories about when I was afraid, indeed in fear of my life in the mountains, drawing on the circumstances, my thoughts, my and others’ actions – you see the principles that apply in the mountains also apply in business!

Firstly, let’s set the scene … I’m a member of a mountaineering club, a small team of us within it are ‘ticking off’ the highest mountains across Europe… and doing so has got us into a few scrapes.  Here are just three of them…

Let me take you back to my first European trip, all those years ago…

Here’s me part way up Gran Paradiso, Italy’s highest mountain.

Taking a break, high above the clouds, I was feeling good – I’d already put a lot of effort in, I was enjoying myself.  Sure, I wasn’t exactly in my comfort zone and had no idea what the next few hours would bring, but all was good, I was feeling strong and moderately confident.

Over the next few hours as we climbed higher, more of my colleagues fell by the wayside – the combination of intense heat, effort and reducing oxygen levels was taking its toll.  20 steps before stopping gasping for breath and waiting for the pain in my legs to subside became 15, then 10, then 5.  The slow plod up the snowfield then became more technically challenging, the penalty for a stumble more serious – if I hadn’t been roped up to an experienced climber who’d been along a similar, even though not the same route, before, I wouldn’t have got this far, I couldn’t have gone on.  But I was, and could.

Eventually we got to the top.  Euphoria!  Staying there for half an hour we drank in the views.

How many countries, how many mountains could we see?  Then it dawned on us, the snow and ice was melting in the afternoon sun… descending is always far more difficult and dangerous, and can be slower, than ascending…  even more so as the snow and ice softened.   It seems as suddenly things had got far more serious.  Our plan needed to be bold… our actions decisive… we had to implicitly trust each other and our equipment.

This was the plan…  I’d belay the climber down the ridge until where he could safely belay me, then  we’d swop; if there was no safe belay stance, we’d both walk carefully down the ridge, as close to the top edge as we could so that if one of us fell down the steep snow slope (this seemed more likely), the other would instantly throw himself over the cliff (3,000 foot drop) the other side to counterbalance the fall.  A fall or slip not stopped by the other climber would mean certain death for both of us.

God I was scared… I’d been afraid on the way up but this was altogether another level … and I was uncomfortable having to place my trust in one person for so much…I’d not had the opportunity to train with him before, there’d been no dry run.

4 hours later we arrived down safely at the hut, exhilarated, a real thank God moment .

Then there was Liechstenstein…Grauspitz

In the restaurant at the top of the cable car, we took ten minutes out in for a coke, today was going to be a long day…  today’s objective was a simple climb up a mere 2,500 metre peak before crossing the ridge to the hut.  You see we were following a route set out in the trusted Cicerone guidebook.

I guess we should have listened to the restaurant owner, he’d been to the top 200 or so times.  But we were taking a different route – one he said didn’t exist.  Surely, we can trust the guidebook?  ‘Which hut?’ he asked?  ‘In one day? – that’s impossible’.  Maybe we should have listened.

We started on our way…the scenery was stunning, it was Spring in the valleys, the flowers were incredible, the lakes a magical colour, the views across to the high mountains stupendous.   So this is where the Swiss army do their mortar practice?  They weren’t firing today so we carefully picked our way up the firing range, avoiding the UXBs stuck in the mud, posing for photos with the remnants of those that had gone off.

A check on the GPS, yes, this is the climb, time to rope up…there were no telltale signs of climbers having been here before, but checking the guidebook, this looked like the route.  Anyway we’d be ok, we’d been training for months, we had done this before.

50, 100, 150 metres up the climb … things were getting progressively more difficult.  And there was no way of retreating – there were no safe anchor points off which we could abseil.  We had just one option, to keep climbing…

This is a photo of me at one of the advanced belay stances.  The look on my face says it all.  A few minutes before this was taken a rock the size of a fridge had come down, dislodged by my climbing partner, missing my head by inches.  I’d never seen it, my colleagues yards from me had.  There had been no warning shout, it had happened so quickly.  This was serious: I had just one piece of gear attaching me to the rock – the norm is 3 – and it was poor, it wouldn’t hold  a fall; the rope to my partner then ran out, he hadn’t moved for several minutes, he’d dislodged a ruck of rocks, it was obvious he was stuck; and on the way to where he was now stuck he’d been complaining he couldn’t get any gear in. There was a good chance he’d fall from 30 metres + above and straight past me – unless I could somehow jump on him as he went past.  We’d probably both fall straight to the bottom – 400 ft or so.  Look at the concentration on my face! – I was listening what was happening above, feeling, reading the rope, hoping to make the right decision in a split second should my partner fall – what was happening on the climb next to me was ignored, we had our problems, they had theirs, we couldn’t help them right now, 100% focus on the here and now.

A shout came down ‘ I need you to leave your stance, start climbing with me, I’m ten metres from a ledge, I might be able to make it’.  Leaving such an uncomfortable, unsafe place wasn’t too hard a decision, yet it still meant making a gigantic leap of faith… sure it might not work, but what was the alternative?  And it meant climbing at a grade above my normal lead climber capabilities, up a collapsing route, essentially with us both operating at the very limit of what we can do for a short while.

A few hours later, exhausted we go to the top of ‘the climb’.  We’d made it… or so we thought.  A plod up a rubble field led us to a col ….

The summit was a mere hour’s round trip to the left, the hut a very long way down, you can just see it left of the mountain.  As it was early evening we took the difficult decision of abandoning the summit attempt despite traveling all that way just to bag it!  Our plan of crossing the ridge was also abandoned – it wasn’t a ridge as the maps had suggested, it was another immense climb – our plan, based on books and maps, was unachievable – foreign maps are so unreliable!

Contour around, pick up the path, it’ll be easy, won’t it?  8 hours later, 2am at night, in the pitch black, exhausted physically and mentally, we collapsed into the hut – having improvised on our crossing of 2 precipitous snowfields (we’d abandoned our snow and ice gear in the car as we’d been told there was no snow up there); done several via ferrata in the dark, above huge drops …etc.  We’d been the first to cross from the col this year. Although hardy mountaineers this relatively small one had pushed us to our limit, and beyond, time and time again.   We’d given it our best shot, but we’d failed… but we were alive, no one had died – our pride was dented.

Then there was Germany…Glossglockner

Getting up any 4,000 metre peak is hard work, they don’t give in easily.  A long walk up the valley, across the glacier, up a scramble led us to the hut at around 3,500 metres.  I was really struggling – the speedy climb to such a height meant I had ‘mild’ altitude sickness. I couldn’t eat, I had a raging headache, I ached all over, I was shivering uncontrollably, my breathing was shallow and very rapid.  I doubted whether I’d be able to get up in the morning, let alone have a crack at the mountain.

After a night of no sleep, things hadn’t really improved, yet forcing some breakfast down, and with some encouragement from my fellow climbers, I decided to give it a go as I’d come that far.  The problem was Andy, our most experienced guy, suggested that I should lead the team!  I hadn’t lead climbed a 4,000 metre peak before.  And I was feeling terrible. My pride meant I simply had to give it a go – the nickname ‘bunk-bed’ given to one of my climbing friends who had had similar altitude issues but stopped in the hut on a previous trip had stuck with him!

Slowly I started off, zig-zagging up a snow bank that steepened until eventually the snow gave a way to a scramble, time to ditch the snow gear.   I still felt terrible.  Huge drop to the left – memo to self – be aware of it but don’t let it detract from my focus – always keep three limbs on the rock; plan half a dozen moves ahead; find and stick to a rhythm; test each move before committing to one that might be fatal; look out for and use what protection you can when it’s there, but if there’s none, trust yourself; small moves, no big ones; stop and re-appraise strategy when you can; expect a crux – don’t worry about it until you get there, and then just deal with it; control the emotions; trust in your team but keep watching them to monitor their performance; expect someone, in this case the foreign guides, who somehow think you’re inhabiting their space to try to walk all over you.

This is a photo of the ridge, that I led us up to, across and back down…with pride, with increasing confidence and adrenalin overcoming my physical difficulties and mental uncertainty.

So what comparisons can we draw to being in business, especially one that is struggling?

  • Being in a comfortable place is only temporary.  Make the most of it because it’s not the norm – the norm is being out of the comfort zone, continually stretching yourself.  
  • It’s ok to aim high and miss, because even then you’re still achieving far more than almost everyone else!
  • If pushed, you’d be surprised what a normal person can achieve…especially if they’re supported, even tacitly, by an expert who’s got real, practical, experience along a similar route. 
  • It’s important to have the right equipment / tools around you.  It’s vital you have the right team around you.  You may be able to improvise on the equipment/tools, but don’t ever consider compromising on the team.
  • After someone has got used to operating outside of their comfort zone, decisions and actions that were once considered to be impossible become easier.   And that breeds self-confidence.
  • Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get on with it, however hard it becomes.
  • Desperation is not always a bad thing, even if it did feel like the worst thing in the world at the time. 
  • Pride can either get in the way of achieving something major or drive you on to do it – it’s neither entirely a good nor bad thing, but it’s important to know how it’s effecting your decisions and assess whether you should allow it to, or not.
  • There must be an end game and a plan, but neither should be set in stone – it’s a good idea to adapt both of them as you go along to reflect changing circumstances.
  • You can never stop working on your skills – it’s not enough to just rely on the experts.  Everything that’s worthwhile achieving involves a good degree of self-help. 
  • What’s going on inside a person’s head is key – your own self belief and a willingness to take calculated risks are vital when the chips are down.  To others, even you at an earlier moment in time, this may seem reckless, but it’s not.  Having overcome any sort of challenge in your life, even in completely unconnected areas, can be a help to taking tough decisions now.  
  • Sometimes to survive it’s essential to focus on one thing at a time, ignoring everything else that is going on around you.  The ability to blank out things you cannot influence and are irrelevant right at that moment in time is important.   
  • 99.9% of the time there’s no need for you to take big steps – there are only small steps strung together to make one big step.  Looking no further than the current step can be a good thing.
  • Things take longer than you’d anticipate.  Everything… always.  
  • It’s ok to be scared, even out of your wits, and to lack confidence.  But it’s vital to harness your fear, to control your emotions, to maintain your cool, to dampen down any uncertainty even if things are going against you – doing so will sharpen your awareness, up your game if only to enable you to live for another day.  In business what’s the worst that can happen? – after all, you can rebuild!

As an insolvency practitioner, I have to deal with stressful situations similar to those I’ve encountered in the mountains, every day.  I believe that these experiences help give me the right balance, help me best support the clients I work with.  Sure, not everyone wants to go on such a journey, but that’s ok, because plenty do, and for them the world is their oyster.

Paul Brindley
Midlands Business Recovery

Just set up a new business? Read this if you want it to be a success!

As an insolvency practitioner, I have met met hundreds of new business owners…wouldn’t it be great if you could learn what I’ve learnt from all those meetings?

Well you can!  Here’s an article just for you…

So you want to set up in business, do you?

Or you’ve recently started trading but not doing as well as you hoped?

Would you like to know how to avoid going under? How to give it the best chance of being a success?

You see, there’s a big problem with small businesses.  And that is when most people go into business, they only look at the positives such as what they’ll do when things really take off.  Things like what new car they’ll buy, how they’ll spend their increased free time, how they’ll manage all that profitable work? ….
… They build the business on two things:

(i) what they think they know; and

(ii) what they hope.

They don’t go out of their way to find out what they don’t know or to plan for things not going quite to plan.

Yet it’s often what they don’t know or haven’t thought about that will eventually kill the business.  And with it, destroy their hopes and dreams, and often their own and their family’s finances.

The bad news is that’s how it turns out for the 4 out of 10 new start-ups – yes, 40% of new businesses fail within the first 2 years!

That’s almost as many businesses fail as are still alive within just 2 years.  But it doesn’t end there – of the survivors, most then go on to fail within the next 3 years.  Only one in ten are still around by year 5.

The point is you will fail if you follow the course most new business owners do. Yet with so many not making it, there’s an abundance of experiences out there that you can learn from. And it’s free to do so!  Here they are…

The business was started for the wrong reason

Some businesses are set up and then run more like a hobby than a business.  I call these ‘lifestyle businesses’ – they tend to merely exist, either doing poorly or at least not doing spectacularly, until something happens later to cause the wheels to come off…

It scares me that right now many small businesses being set up out of necessity – because there are no jobs around – rather than by someone who has identified a profitable opportunity.

Why have you set up?

I can do it all myself!

In his book, the E-myth, Michael Gerber spoke of the 3 skill-sets needed by business owners today – entrepreneurial, managerial and technical.  No one I know has all three, in the right degrees.  Businesses that don’t have and won’t buy in all three skill-sets lack the cutting edge to succeed in today’s harsh business environment.  Seeking help from outside the business to plug skills gaps is a show of real strength, not of weakness…

Read the book, plug the gaps!

Not enough money

It always costs more to set up a business than you expected and then survive the inevitable troughs later on.  At this time when the banks are selective as to whom they lend to and seem to fail to support customers when they most need them, it’s not a good idea to rely on credit lines over which you don’t have full control.

Have you taken a good amount of time to assess how much money you will need, where you can get it from and how you’d cope with what might happen when business dips?
Poor financial skills

It is vital that you understand how the business works financially.  If you don’t, it won’t be long before you won’t have a business because you don’t properly understand the machine that brings in the cash it needs works.  Also, if you’ve got weak financial skills, you probably don’t have a strong profit motive.  Sure, you love what you do, but you’ll return to stereotype ‘manager’ or technician’ – see above – roles when things get tough, and when you do, you’ll dig the business into an even bigger hole rather than solve its problems.

Do you understand exactly how how the business ticks financially?  Do you understand the figures?  Think about going to college to learn management and accounting if you don’t.  Don’t try to abdicate responsibility for your business’s finances to an accountant – sure it’s ok to hand the processing to him, but not responsibility.
The location, the product or service is all wrong

Quite simply, the business opportunity was not fully explored, optimism blinded reality… there are many businesses in our High Streets which have got the location, product or service wrong.  I stand there and think ‘just what is the owner thinking?  It just doesn’t stand a chance!’

Have you allowed your heart to overrule your head?
No planning

Have you heard the saying ‘to fail to plan is to plan to fail’.   Have you planned for what is going to happen?  And what might happen? – you see the unexpected does happen, increasingly so today!

A lot of the things that cause businesses to fail can be anticipated, plans can be formulated to avoid failure.

Have you spent enough time thinking about what is going to happen and how you’d deal with what might happen?

Poor trading levels

Where a business suffers poor trading levels, often their owners cut costs to manage their cash flows – they do this because it’s often the easiest decision and produces short term cash benefits.  However, if this is all you do, you’re merely storing up much more serious problems into the medium term.  It’s simply not possible to cut yourself to greatness!…

If things don’t work out in terms of sales levels, what’s your plan? How certain are your planned sales figures?
Poor marketing

Many businesses wait for sales to find them, because ‘that’s what you’ve always done’.  If you have worked for someone and have now gone to work for yourself, this could be a big problem for you.  I often can’t ‘find’ any presence anywhere of such businesses – there is no website, no sales force – and if I can’t find you, how can you expect would-be customers to find you?

What’s your marketing plan?  Have you written it down? Do you follow it up?
Failing to set and follow a clear strategy for success

Without a formal plan, businesses develop haphazardly.  And one day you’ll scratch your head and wonder just how the business got to where it is now – it will then be slowly strangled, by ‘unfair’ relationships with a major customer, by your banking constraints, or something other you could have anticipated, …

What’s your strategy?  have you written it down?  Do you act on it?
Business model with high fixed costs

An inflexible business model with high fixed costs may work in boom times, but it will cause significant problems in the inevitable times of bust.

Tell me all about your fixed costs…
Finally, knowledge without action is pointless, it won’t change the outcome, so now go and do something about it!
Paul Brindley FCA, Licensed insolvency practitioner
Midlands Business Recovery

Calling the boards of insolvent Credit Unions – there's been a change in the law!

Yesterday, on 6th April, the Industrial & Provident Societies and Credit Unions (Arrangements, Reconstructions and Administration) Order 2014 (SI 2014/229) came into force.

This statutory instrument plugs a yawning gap in the legislation that had previously left credit unions that were struggling financially with few options.  Now they can access the UK’s administration and Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) legislation, giving them the same options as most companies.

Click here to be taken to the statutory instrument.

Paul Brindley says ‘this is good news for insolvent credit unions- no longer are they restricted to the more brutal formal insolvency procedures such as insolvent liquidation: it must be in everyone’s interest to use the more positive rescue techniques of administration or CVA to save something of all the good work unions do’ .

Paul was appointed liquidator of South Warwickshire Credit Union in April 2014, twelve months before this instrument was enacted.


Calling the boards of insolvent Credit Unions – there’s been a change in the law!

Yesterday, on 6th April, the Industrial & Provident Societies and Credit Unions (Arrangements, Reconstructions and Administration) Order 2014 (SI 2014/229) came into force.

This statutory instrument plugs a yawning gap in the legislation that had previously left credit unions that were struggling financially with few options.  Now they can access the UK’s administration and Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) legislation, giving them the same options as most companies.

Click here to be taken to the statutory instrument.

Paul Brindley says ‘this is good news for insolvent credit unions- no longer are they restricted to the more brutal formal insolvency procedures such as insolvent liquidation: it must be in everyone’s interest to use the more positive rescue techniques of administration or CVA to save something of all the good work unions do’ .

Paul was appointed liquidator of South Warwickshire Credit Union in April 2014, twelve months before this instrument was enacted.


A message for all you business consultants out there who are struggling for an answer to a client's problems…

No one knows all the answers, that’s why my Business Resuscitation work is so very vital…

Let me ask you a question –
Do you have any clients who could benefit from some innovative support from a licensed insolvency practitioner?  

Please bear with me, I am not talking about business closure here, this is about achieving for your clients some really great results that you will not be able to achieve on your own…  

You see a long time ago I formed the view that insolvency practitioners should be doing far more than just closing businesses down, and because whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve, I invested heavily in what I call my Business Resuscitation Programme™.  And believe me, this service is unique, I’ve left them all my competitors in my wake.

My Business Resuscitation work puts businesses in touch with the people and organisations that provide exactly what they need but cannot easily get elsewhere, whether it be cash, skills, a business to buy or merge with, a buyer of their business, a joint venture partner … the list goes on, it’s that flexible.

Built initially to save struggling businesses, it’s now being used by businesses at all stages of the cycle.
You see it provides solutions your clients never thought possible.  So if you ever find yourself scratching your head unable to find the optimum solution for a client, just give me a call – I’d be glad to explain how it works.  Just remember one thing, now with my Business Resuscitation Programme neither you nor your clients will ever have to settle for second best.  And if you don’t need me just yet, please retain this mailer because at some time you will.

Paul Brindley FCA
paul@midlandsbusinessrecovery.co.uk      Tel: 01902 67232301902 672323


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