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Monthly Archives: November 2011

An Emotional Business

I was talking with a friend the other day about “owning” and accepting your emotions, and as the conversation sloshed around in the back of my mind, it started me thinking about emotions in business.

Running a small business, especially, I assume, if you’re fairly new to the game, can be a really emotional business. There’s the high when you get that first big customer, or actually have to pay tax on your first year’s income (I’ve made enough to pay tax! Maybe that’s just me … ); the low point when work gets a bit sparse; the utter cringing horror when you make a mistake – sure, no one likes to make mistakes when they’re an employee, but it seems so much worse when it’s your own business, utterly your responsibility, your own customer who’s personally chosen you to work with …

It’s important to acknowledge these emotions rather than let them boil away unnoticed. Running a business can be stressful at the best of times – good stress or bad stress, it’s still stress – and having stuff you haven’t taken out and given the light of day can make you stuck and hold you back.

Here are a few ideas which might help deal with those emotions in a constructive way:

  • Be happy. Yes, do acknowledge those good times. Celebrate in your newsletter, Tweet about it, tell your friends (but see below). Also, make this last and cash in on it. If a customer has praised you, ask if you can quote them on your references/testimonials page. Then you’ve got that happy time forever. I also save emails with praise on them so I can revisit them in quieter moments.
  • Be decent and do the right thing. If you’ve made a mistake, instead of dwelling on it, do something. First of all, do the right thing. That means apologising, in writing or on the phone, if you’ve messed up a job for someone. Don’t bluster, excuse and hide: just state what you’ve done, honestly, how sorry you are, and what you will do to put it right. You would appreciate a supplier or other company who did that, wouldn’t you?
  • Use your mistakes constructively. Early on in my career with Libro, I didn’t have such strong Terms and Conditions as I have now. So when I “under-delivered” in a client’s opinion (I didn’t rewrite their essay, which of course I shouldn’t have done), they complained and withheld payment, criticising me fairly strongly for what I had done (or hadn’t done). I felt awful for longer than I should have. Then I used the experience to a) firm up my terms and conditions so new clients would know what to expect, and b) inspire a blog post or two!
  • When you’re at a low point, realise it’s a low point and you will come back up. I keep a record of jobs and income per month, and my billable hours per week. I can see it dips, and I can see that some weeks I don’t do so many billable hours; but then I can see, now I’ve run the business for a few years, that these dips are temporary and it always comes up again. Every business area has cycles; keeping records helps identify these and reassure you that it’s not the end of the world.
  • Have something other than the business. Yes, your friends, your partner, your kids, the lady in the supermarket are interested in your business. But do they need to live the business alongside you? Keep some other interests if you possibly can – I’ve temporarily lost my ability to read so many books, but then again most of my work involves reading of some kind: but I’ve made the effort to keep on with the gym and running; it’s kept me sane and given me something else to think about / concentrate on / talk about (but I know I’ve been bad about this at times: sorry, friends/M!)
  • Be honest with your peers. Gather a group of people around you who also run their own business / work from home / work in the same area. This is a group of people who understand the highs and lows, who you can celebrate the highs with – but also be honest about the lows – and they will be too, and you can support each other. I was most despondent about a tricky potential customer a few months ago. I went along to my usual monthly networking event, not feeling that positive about going and having to be all jolly and upbeat. I ended up talking to a few people about my problem; they gave me excellent advice and more than one opened up about issues they were struggling with.

So, be honest, be decent, try to keep your perspective, and acknowledge the highs, lows, blahs and whoo-hoos!

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Blogging, Business, Ethics, New skills, Organisation

 

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Me or I?

When do we use me and when do we use I, in a sentence where we’re talking about ourselves and another person? “Ali and me went for a walk”, or “Ali and I went for a walk”? “Gill gave presents to Matthew and I” or “… Matthew and me”?

I have to admit here that this is one I get wrong, I’m not sure whether I somehow learned it wrong, it’s sheer sloppiness, or that I get all psychologically discombobulated when I’m coming up to it (Don’t drop that! Don’t think of an elephant! have the same effect on people).

Anyway, there is a trick, as there so often is, and the trick is: Take the other name out of the sentence, and which of the words would you use?

“I went to the pub”, “He handed a glass to me”, “George said I was lucky to get a glass”.

Put the other person back in, and you get the correct versions.

“George and I went to the pub”, “He handed glasses to George and me” / “He handed me and George glasses”, “George said he and I were lucky to get glasses”.

So, do get it right in future. I’m looking at you, Liz

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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Mike Orchard

Welcome to Saturday Business/Freelancer Chat with Mike Orchard from Skills Hive. Skills Hive is one of those sites that allows freelancers and other people with skills to offer to promote themselves and get hired by companies looking for people to work on their projects; it offers project management tools and also seems to try to be a bit friendlier and more approachable, with a blog about different aspects of networking and marketing as well as the main part of the site.

Mike’s is a slightly larger operation than some of the people’s we’ve featured recently, with an IT and web person already on board and working with a lot of partners from the outset, but of course the lessons he’s learning are still the same ones we all face, big or small. Let’s meet Mike!

What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

Skills Hive is an online flexible resourcing system combining searchable profiles with task management tools. It enables businesses and individuals to hire and get hired to deliver short-term projects. I registered the company in January 2011, spent a few months on proof of concept and the summer building the system. We have started a controlled launch in August focusing on recruiting partners with whom to take the service to market.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I always wanted to be my own boss and have written a number of business plans that always got shelved due to a lack of experience, capital or just confidence. After 15 years progressing a corporate career I realised they had just been excuses, so I decided to commit wholeheartedly to the next viable opportunity and secure the creative freedom I have always craved as an ideas man.

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

An ex-client had approached me about setting up a Social Media agency; the more I learned about the emerging trends in that area, the more it became clear to me that there was a more significant need. Businesses, including and particularly marketing agencies, must become more agile if they are going to survive and prosper. The current bid based freelancer marketplaces weren’t meeting demand successfully and an alternative virtual team management approach could help companies scale up their operations efficiently to respond to opportunities and problems.

Had you run your own business before?

No, but I had run major budget projects and assisted many business owners in a consultant role. I believe that the only qualification needed really is a willingness to learn fast and never stop learning!

How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?

I started off using redundancy money to fund the start-up operation, also recruiting a business partner with a more technical IT and web background to co-fund the initial major investment in systems architecture and to oversee ongoing development going forward.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

Everyone has an opinion, they can’t all be right!

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

Be fearless in your commitment to meeting the need you have identified and flexible enough to incorporate new ones.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

So far not much, although I know that I always need to improve my focus and not get distracted by varying opinions.

What are you glad you did?

I am really glad that I have spent time developing my instincts to the point that I trust them now; that has really helped me to define the opportunity, and practise what I preach in terms of finding really talented, and affordable, freelancers to work with me on the business.

What’s your top business tip?

Learn to fail but don’t fail to learn.

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

We have only just launched, but have already identified a number of opportunities to develop new services and commercial elements within the Skills Hive. Much of this has come from initiating relationships with partners, especially some of the more forward thinking UK Universities. The trick now is to scale the core proposition while testing and developing manageable layers of diversity around that primary focus.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

According to the forecasts we will be on track to reach our target turnover within 3 years and so next year will see us starting to court some serious investors to secure the investment needed to get us to our year 5 stretching target.

So, ambitious plans for Mike and the Skills Hive, and it’ll certainly be interesting to see how things go over the next year.

Visit the Skills Hive at the website: www.skills-hive.com ; you can also email Mike,  follow him on Twitter using @SkillsHive or phone him on 07894 561 726.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please click here for more freelancer chat, or here for information on how you can have your business featured.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Business, New skills, Small Business Chat

 

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Lend or borrow?

Welcome to another Troublesome Pair – I wonder if I can keep these going indefinitely. I’m almost sure I am – but I do appreciate when people take the time to suggest pairs for me to write about, so do drop me a line and let me know about any you need explaining, or any you see around you and think need explaining to people in general.

Apparently these two, lend and borrow, do get mixed up often. I can’t say I’ve seen it that much, but the person who suggested it isn’t the only one to have confirmed they’ve noticed it.

It should be quite simple. When you lend something, you are allowing someone to use it, on the understanding that it will be returned will be returned.  So Max lends Jim some money that Max has, and Jim needs. The library lends out books.

To borrow, on the other hand, is to be on the other side of the bargain and to be the recipient of the loaned item. Jim is borrowing Max’s money, and you borrow books from the library. You borrow money from a mortgage lender, for example.

The slight problem with lend is that it does tend to get used in the “wrong” way in colloquial speech and regional dialects, which means it’s floating around more, gets heard more, and the hearers can become inclined to think it’s the correct usage.  We’ve probably all heard “can I have a lend of your pen?” and, while the use might be regional and the sense can be perceived, it would be best if people whose regional dialect it is not part of, especially people learning and speaking English as a second or additional language, refrain from using it like this.

So – I have a book. You don’t have a book. I lend you my book. You borrow it. Now you have the book – but you will be giving it back (otherwise I’ve given it to you).

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing

 

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My short cuts – proper page breaks

As promised in my original post, I’m going to write some quick guides to things you do when you’re writing documents which you think are a short cut but actually cause more trouble than they’re worth.

The idea of this series isn’t to criticise people, just to show you how to do things in a more formal way which will actually make things easier for you in the long run, especially if you’re dealing with a larger document like a dissertation, a thesis, a funding proposal, a workbook, a technical guide …

Please note: these examples can look rather wide. I want them to be as near full-size as possible, so you can see exactly what I’m doing. If you’re looking at this post on a monitor, you should be able to scroll across to see the full image. If you’re viewing on a tablet, some of the screenshot may be cut off: hopefully you can see enough to get an idea of it, or you should be able to select the image to view it separately.

Today we’re going to talk about page breaks. If you’re writing a document that has sections, chapters, etc., you might well want to start a new chapter on a new page, and have it look something like this:

So far, so good – you’ve got your new chapter starting on a new page. But I bet you finished one section and hit the “Enter” key until you got to a new page, didn’t you? The way to tell is to hit a rather magical little button that shows all the formatting you’ve done.  In Word, you’ll find it in the Home menu; if it’s not there, play around with the display until you’ve found it and add it to the menu bar. Here it is:

That’s actually the “paragraph” symbol or pilcrow used for centuries in manuscripts and printed books. Anyway, it’s ever so useful if you want to show what you’ve done to a document. Press it a second time if you want all the formatting marks to disappear again. So, pressing this with our document open shows the horrible truth – enter, enter, enter you’ve gone, six times, down the page …

And that’s all well and good – until you change the text above the page break. You’ve done this and it all looks nice, then you notice that repeated line on page 1. Oh, well, you can just delete that. So you delete the repeated line, and the text on page 1 is now one line shorter – one line further up the page. Below the text, you hit Enter 6 times to make Chapter 2 start on the next page. Those six lines are below your chunk of text still, but your text is one line shorter than it used to be. So what happens … ?

Disaster! Chapter 2 doesn’t begin on the next page any more! It’s crept up a line! And, similarly, if you’d added some lines of text to Chapter 1, this chapter heading would start part way down this page. Messy! And when you’ve submitted your work to an editor like me, you can bet we’ll be suggesting adding lines in or taking them away; when you get the document back the spacing will be all over the place (or I’ll have done it my way and made it tidy already … )

So how do you do it properly so this messiness doesn’t happen? Simple – you “force a page break”. Again, in all versions of Word, when you get to the place where you want to force a new section to start on a new page, press Control-Enter (or choose Insert – Page Break). Turning on your formatting display, and using our original text again, you’ll see this:

And because it’s a forced page break, it doesn’t matter what you do to the text above the break, the new text will always appear on the next page. Make the Chapter 1 text shorter again by deleting that extra line and you get this:

No hopping around – and even if you add so much to Chapter 1 that it goes onto the next page, Chapter 2 will just hop on down to the page after, automatically.

Of course, your document still looks like this:

But you’ve done it all correctly, in fewer keystrokes, and you know that whatever you do with Chapter 1, Chapter 2 will always start at the top of its new page, nice and tidy, going where you need it to go.

I hope that’s helped – it’s a very common issue, which is why I’ve tackled it first. There will be more of these posts coming over the next few months – do pop a comment on this post if I’ve helped you, and let me know if there are any other issues you’d like me to look at.

Please note, these hints work with versions of Microsoft Word currently in use – Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word 2010, all for PC. Mac compatible versions of Word should have similar options. Always save a copy of your document before manipulating it. I bear no responsibility for any pickles you might get yourself into!

Find all the short cuts here

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Copyediting, Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word, Writing

 

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Be careful! Unique

I’ve heard a lot of comments about unique since I originally wrote this post, and most people think it should be used as I originally thought it should be used. So hopefully this post will clear things up and stop people getting annoyed about an “incorrect” usage that actually turns out to be allowable!

The word I’m talking about here is unique. Unique, according to the dictionary, means “being the only one of its kind” and “unlike anything else”.  So if it’s the only one of its kind, something can’t be more unique than something else, can it? Or very unique. Or a bit more unique, or less unique. Can it? Many people feel this second usage is creeping in and diluting the “original” meaning of the word.

However: It also means “special or unusual“! The Oxford Concise English Dictionary says that the less precise sense of “special or unusual” is a valid one and that means it CAN be modified?

So, next time you see something described as being more unique than something else … save your irritation for some of the other Be Careful! words I write about!

Be careful! is a series of posts about words that are misused commonly – but really shouldn’t be. It’s not a new variant of meaning, it’s an error that gets duplicated as people see the word misused and copy it.

Contact me via email or via my contact form.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Be careful, Errors, Language use, Writing

 

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Lucky Akinola

Welcome to Saturday Business/Freelancer Chat with Lucky Akinola from O’tega.  Lucky heard about this interview series through a LinkedIn group we’re both in – as I’ve said before, these groups are a great way to meet people in similar situations or from similar backgrounds to us, and learn from each other.

Up until now, all of our entrepreneurs have been home-grown, but Lucky has had the strength and persistence to set up her own business after emigrating to the UK in 2006, starting all over again after running a successful business in a similar area in Nigeria. When we start a business and throw equipment at it, it’s worth thinking about what it would be like to start off with just a second-hand sewing machine – but then the challenges are oh-so-familiar – learning to trust your gut instinct, setting up proper terms and conditions, learning and growing as you go along … which just goes to show that all us small business owners have more in common than we have differences!

So let’s meet Lucky and find out how O’tega is doing!

What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

The name of my business is O’tega, which is a short form of my first daughter’s name. I started in June 2007 offering a range of general sewing services, including designing and making new outfits to clients’ specifications.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

We migrated here from Nigeria in 2006 and my youngest was 4 months old. Childcare was an issue if I had to look for work, so my husband and I decided I work from home while he worked full-time.

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

Running a sewing outfit in the UK is a long-term dream fulfilled, and as a hobby I enjoy very much, it was the most ready idea I could develop without the usual challenges new business set-ups present – the biggest of which is start-up capital.

Had you run your own business before?

Yes, I have. In Nigeria, O’tega was well established, specializing more in wedding gowns, bridesmaids’ outfits and accessories.

How did you do it?  Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going ?

It’s been full-time right from the beginning. I bought my first machine for £8 through a local paper advert and started sewing. I had to start sewing for customers at very ridiculously low prices just to show what I could do, build relationships and get referrals.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

That the customer was not always right! Well, partly due to my fault since I did not have documented ‘Terms and Conditions’ when I started. I had some challenges with customers owing money or not collecting their outfits at agreed times.

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

Believe in yourself and your abilities. Be creative in getting people to know where to find you. And, always ask for referrals.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

The ability to have said ‘NO’ and be firm about it and to have used my ‘head’ not my ‘heart’ in dealing with customers. I would not have taken on some jobs, especially those from people who are still owing.

What are you glad you did?

I’m glad I placed O’tega on Google Places for Business as it has increased my customer base from unexpected sources. Also distributing flyers within my community has been very effective.

What’s your top business tip?

Start right and improve yourself and your company in order to be among the top in your chosen field.

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

It’s been fantastic so far and I’m loving every bit of it. I’ve grown tremendously in perfecting my skills and being very good at what I do. In terms of expansion, I still choose to work from home as it allows me the flexibility to be very mobile and network for my other ventures without having to close shop or look for someone to fill in for me.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

I desire to have O’tega as a brand name in some retail outlets.

Thank you for your answers, Lucky – and I look forward to hearing about what you get up to in the next year. Northampton folk, look out for Lucky’s creations in a shop near you soon!

Google ‘Tailors in Northampton’ and view Lucky’s work at O’tega – or you can phone on 07828 045 697 / 01604 670 162 or email her.

Lucky didn’t provide any further updates after this first interview. Her location on Google Maps has changed and I’ve updated it here. We wish Lucky well in her future endeavours.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my new book, Going It Alone At 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Business, New skills, Small Business Chat

 

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