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Growing your business – moving into premises (case studies)

Sneak preview of the image from my new bookWhen you start to grow your business, it can become obvious that you need to move out of the dining room or even home office and into your own premises. I was lucky enough to be able to dedicate a room in our house to Libro, and I work quite happily up here and don’t intend to move out. But if you don’t have space to put aside a dedicated and undisturbed area of your home (or you don’t want to work from home), you are making something that you want to be able to leave out overnight, or you are planning on seeing clients, it can become a matter of necessity.

Here we meet three people who have expanded into their own new premises, and learn how and why they did it, and what happened next …

Jennifer Woracker of Twinkleballs, who makes cake toppers and is one of my Small Business Chat interviewees, has just moved into a workshop in the garden. She and her family recently moved in with her parents in Wales, and her mum helped her to convert the summer house, paying for the initial work, which cost around £1000. Jennifer is now paying her mum back in monthly instalments.

By doing this, Jennifer has none of the disadvantages of paying business rates and rent on a premises, and all  of the advantages of having her own studio to work from, which has made the world of difference to both her business and her home life.

Before getting her own space, she had to work from the kitchen in my home, which meant that she couldn’t start work until the family were fed and all the cleaning up done, she could only work at night and had to clear everything away before she could go to bed, “often at 2am!”. She also had to kick out all the pets and make sure the area was spotless before work could commence. What about now?

My purpose-built studio has everything I need to store my tools and materials and I can leave my work out to come back to as and when I want, this means I can pop in and work for an hour or so during the day when the children are other wise occupied. When the children go to bed I escape to my little shed in the garden and get down to doing the work I love, I use a baby monitor so I can be sure the children are safe and sound while I am working.  My studio is a lovely fresh, clean and pet free environment that is a pleasure to work in, it has a sink with a water heater, a huge work top and loads of cupboards. I also have a kettle for the all important tea brakes and my laptop with Spotify playing my favourite tunes. It is great to have a place of my own to explore and develop my creativity!

John Ellery of Ellery Consulting, a firm that specialises in grant making and fundraising, has taken one private and one government-initiated path to having premises. Why did he take this route? After trying for a short period to work from home, with a young family and many distractions, he realised that working from home wasn’t ideal for him. As he was a relatively new business with the associated cash-flow concerns, he wasn’t keen on paying out an expense for an office initially.

His initial solution was signing up for a Regus Goldcard, which he did in his second month of operation. This allowed him use of Regus Business Lounges across the country (he picked up a free Goldcard with his membership of the Federation of Small Businesses. It looks like you get a different level of free membership these days: do check before joining either service). His assessment of these spaces:

Whilst these do not provide private space they offer a professional environment, a place to go to work to – separating work and home environments – and free tea and coffee. The Business Lounges were still a fairly informal work environment, with sometimes Lounges being very busy and noisy and the annoyance of having to pack and unpack everything if you wanted to nip out to get lunch.

Looking for something more private as he grew the business, John then found the government ‘Spaces for Growth’ scheme, offering free space for start-ups, SMEs and social enterprises through the use of empty government buildings. This gave him a permanent space of his own, an offer of additional desks as the business grew and a formal office to invite contacts and partners to. In his words, “This gave the business a great saving as we attempted to grow”.

John says of his adventures in low-cost premises:

I have used both of these schemes in order to provide myself with a work space, a place away from home that I can go to do a day’s work, with this separating the work and home environments. Through these two approaches I have managed to do this at a minimum costs allowing me to focus use of business funds on growth opportunities.

They both have the additional and unexpected benefit of mixing with other people and businesses in a similar situations, with this network found to be vital as he faced the challenges of being a new business owner. The biggest issue was the lack of meeting or private space in these environments, “However, this is easily overcome through meeting partners in their offices or going out for a coffee!”

Would John recommend these two schemes? “Definitely. The Spaces for Growth is an especially strong and under-used scheme which will be of great benefit to help the business grow”.

Karin Blak of Interrelate has taken a slightly more conventional approach to business premises. She’s a psychosexual and relationship therapist in private practice but also runs a training business providing courses in emotional first aid, listening skills for teachers, emergency workers, etc.

Karin founded Interelate in 2005 but only offered the training on an ad hoc basis, so premises were not a priority. However, when she started to run this side of the business seriously, she realised that something would have to give:

At the moment, any work relating to Interelate is done at the dining room table at home, which now is no longer appropriate.  Having to clear all my work into piles on the floor every evening when the family sits down for dinner is not good and does not encourage my family to realise that this is a business not just something Mum does to keep her occupied.  For me, it will instill a working day rather than working from the moment I wake until going to bed at night.  I so look forward to regaining my home and having to get out of the door to go to work.

She does already have a practice room in town for her private practice, but there is not enough space there for her desk, books, papers and stuff that is needed to run a training business. So she began to look at other businesses and how they were going about expanding or moving. Having noticed that some were getting some good deals on rent or getting landlords to include additional services, “I realised that I needed to be cheeky, so when I went looking at premises I began to bargain with landlords and managed to get a really good deal without too much haggling”.

The upshot of this haggling is that Karin is currently moving into a lovely room in the centre of town with enough space for both therapy and training, and paying less than she did for just her therapy room. Although she had the experience of running the therapy room before, it’s clear that looking at others’ experiences was really helpful for her [as I hope this series of expert opinions and case studies is for you!]. She has some useful things to say about the financial side of things:

The cost side has become more important than before because of launching Interelate and having to invest in business development services, updating the website, telephone answering services, equipment and so on before I have earned any serious income.

Karin admits that she didn’t do as much budgeting as she now thinks she should have done, and suspects, “I could probably have got more out of my little pot of money if I had”. She did go to her bank, but, while they were willing to help, could only contribute half of what she was asking, mainly because the business wasn’t creating an income yet.

Would Karin do it again? It’s early days and, as she says, it was a leap of faith but in going about the process of research and evaluation, she has already made some valuable connections who are going to be helping her by selling and even buying her training courses. Like John, she’s found a side benefit to getting out of the home office and into the wider world in terms of networking and connections. Her final comment:

My message is that I would always take that leap of faith again because a. I am enjoying all so much b. I am meeting some fantastic people c. I will never be able to say that I didn’t try hard to make it work.

So, we have three ways here in which you can expand your business by expanding into premises. You can build a garden office/workshop, invest in various schemes that give you more or less temporary space, or take the leap of faith and trust that your business will make enough in its new home to pay those rental and service fees. All of them take planning, and you must continually check that you’re getting value for money.

Thank you to Jennifer, John and Karin for their input into this article. I’m hoping to find an estate agent to contribute an expert post on this topic – if you are one or you know one, please do get in touch with me!

Jennifer Woracker TwinkleballsFacebookTwitter

John Ellery Ellery ConsultingTwitterFacebook

Karin Blak Interelate

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This post is part of my series on growing your business. Read more here and read about my own business journey in my books.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in Business, Guest posts, Organisation

 

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Growing your business – employing staff and outsourcing (case studies)

Sneak preview of the image from my new bookOnce it’s time to grow your business, you will need to make a decision on whether to employ staff. Duncan Brown has given us the expert’s view on this topic, and now we’re going to hear from two people who have approached this in two very different – but equally successful – ways.

Nathalie Rush runs Six Star Group, which is an insulation business. She has been employing people right from the start, and has used a variety of different methods to find them, and gained a lot from employing people directly, although she does still use sub-contractors when needed.

Nathalie reports that in her line of business, job websites are cheaper to use than local newspapers, but she doesn’t think that tradespeople use the websites so much. Word of mouth has been quite successful. It’s important when advertising for staff to use the channels that the kind of people you’re looking for are likely to use, otherwise you’ll waste money on costly adverts when a word in the ear of the local university’s careers centre or just putting the word out that you’re looking for people might be just as effective.

Nathalie has found that one hands-on approach works really well for her:

Paying someone to work with you for a week’s experience can often be a good way of finding out their qualities. You’ll quickly know if you’ve got a rising star or not.

She has also developed a working relationship with a training centre in her industry, which she says is “proving to be a great way of finding hard-working, professional people”.

What is the advantage of having full-time employed staff for her business? “It means we can serve customers when we want and we don’t need to rely on sub-contractors”, although, as I mentioned, sub-contractors are brought in for the larger jobs. And she’s enthusiastic about the process, too. “

It’s a joy to give someone a job. I get the biggest kick out of it and spend a lot of time training and motivating my team. After all, we are a business that sells a service and what good is that if the people can’t deliver what the company promises!

On the topic of sub-contractors, you do have to be careful when sub-contracting, especially if you’re in the construction industry. Nathalie explains: “Because of the line of business we’re in, I have to register every sub-contractor through the Construction Industry Scheme. This ensures everyone is taxed and it’s reported monthly to HMRC”.

And while she outsources the work on occasion, she is also careful not to take on too many admin tasks in-house that can be done by an external supplier: “Employing people comes in all shapes and sizes and it’s certainly handy to be able to outsource any paperwork you can that comes with running a business”.

What’s Nathalie learned from the process? As Duncan explained in his expert’s view, it is vitally important to outline all rights, roles and responsibilities up front. Nathalie says:

I’ve employed people in the past and it took me a while to work out exactly what the responsibilities of different roles should be. It’s clearer if you can explain the role, working times, use of mobile phones, holidays, etc. from the offset and not change things like this as it can be de-motivating.

John Ellery of John Ellery Consulting, a firm specialising in grant fundraising and grant making, has taken a different approach.

Six months on from setting up his business, he found that he was struggling to keep up with the work coming in from his clients and his growing to-do list, and it was clear that he needed some support. However, he was concerned about the sustainability of employing someone when his business was so new and he wasn’t yet able to predict the peaks and troughs:

Whilst the obvious option was to investigate employing someone my cash-flow situation would be very tight and whilst I had too much work at the moment who knew if this would still be the case in say three months time – last thing I would want as a new business is have an employee sitting around with no work to do.

His solution was to start using people who were happy to work on a freelance basis. To date, the work he has outsourced in this way has included admin support, consultants, marketing/sales and web design. Each time that he has started working with a freelancer, he has initially outsourced a single piece of work with no promises of on-going or future jobs. As he reports, “This has been extremely effective with the vast majority of freelancers I have used already very much used to this arrangement and were able to pick up my business, ethos and approach extremely quickly”, and he has continued to use this method of supporting his business and thus allowing it to expand.

How has he found freelancers? Mainly online, through Google searches and websites such as People Per Hour or Elance and even FiveSquid and Fiverr [the last two offer usually limited projects for £5 or $5; while this can lead to price undercutting, many reputable freelancers use them and ramp up the price to an acceptable and sustainable level for freelancer and client once a more complex project is in the offing].

The advantages are clear: being able to pick and choose, using people who are accustomed to this way of working and can mesh with the company’s objectives and style, and not having the overheads, legal issues and paperwork associated with employing staff. Are there any disadvantages? John says, “At times I have found that freelancers are not keen to show their work in progress and prefer to contact you when a job is completed. Whilst usually this hasn’t been an issue the occasional freelancer has produced a piece of work that was unsatisfactory and could have been easily addressed if the work was being done by an employee at the desk next to me”.

And does he recommend this method of using other people to expand your business?

Absolutely, however the secret is to find those tasks that can be outsourced. These may be tasks that you usually complete yourself, but by outsourcing these they will free up your hands.

So, two different ways of going about expanding your business through using the support of other people, whether using directly employed staff and officially registered sub-contractors or outsourcing to a series of freelancers. Both companies have profited from these methods, and it just goes to show that there is often more than one way to achieve your business aims.

Thank you to Nathalie and John for their input into this article.

Nathalie Rush Six Star Group - Twitter

John Ellery John Ellery ConsultingTwitterFacebook

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This post is part of my series on growing your business. Read more here and read about my own business journey in my book, Going It Alone At 40.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Business, Guest posts, Organisation

 

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Growing your business – becoming a Limited Company

Sneak preview of the image from my new bookWhen you decide to grow your business, one of the popular ways to do it is to become a Limited Company (also known as incorporating your business). I’ve asked an expert to comment on this, in this case my accountant, Andrew Minsky, from Nyman Linden. Andrew got in touch with me via Twitter when I was looking for an accountant recommendation, although of course I checked out the company properly before signing up with them!

Andrew talks here about the pros and cons of going Limited, and what it means for your business and income. I’ll be posting some stories from people who’ve done this with their businesses – do get in touch if you have experiences to share on this. But for now, over to Andrew …

Should I incorporate my business? (become a Limited Company)

If you are in business, you typically have two options available to you – Self-employment (being a Sole Trader) or setting up a Limited Company.

Setting up as a sole trader is simplest, and if you are new to running a business, this can be advisable in the start-up phase, whilst you get used to the accounts and tax requirements. Furthermore, if you incur trading losses, these can be claimed against your other income (a Company can only claim against its income).

However, if you are looking to grow your business and/or are expecting profits over £35k annually, consider using a Limited Company. A typical business earning £35k profits would save around £2,500 in tax & NI as a Limited Company.

Advantages of a Limited Company arrangement

  • You can control the timing, amount and nature (i.e. dividends, salary) of your income.
  • There are numerous tax advantages, including but not limited to:
    • Assuming that you are not caught by the IR35 rules, you will remunerate yourself by drawing a small salary and draw the remainder of the profit from the Company as a dividend. These dividends do not attract National Insurance contributions, saving NIC.
    • the ability to split the company shares between a husband and wife, thus taking advantage of both people’s own personal tax allowance and basic rate band.
    • If you are earning at the high rate of tax (40%), the ability to leave the money in the Company, to be drawn at a later date at a lower tax rate. Higher rate taxpayers can save significant tax this way.
  • A Limited Company pays tax 9 months (and 1 day!) after the year-end, e.g. 31 March 2014 year end pays tax on 1 January 2015. A sole trader typically will pay their tax bill ‘on account’, so for a 30 April 2014 year-end, the tax will need to be paid on 31 January 2014 and 31 July 2014. So, a Company is better from a cash flow perspective.
  • As a limited company with a trading name you can appear more credible (from a marketing point of view) when applying for new assignments.
  • The Company is a separate legal entity to you and liability for debts is Limited to the issued Share Capital: you personally are not liable.

Disadvantages of a Limited Company arrangement

  • Increased administration of a Company, including the need to;
    • File Company annual returns (£13 online)
    • Prepare and file statutory accounts with Companies House and HMRC
    • File Company tax returns
    • File RTI Compliant payroll

This extra administration, however, will generally be carried out by your accountant.

How to register your Company

andrew minskyAndrew Minsky is a Partner at Nyman Linden Chartered Accountants, based in Barnet but operating across the country.

Andrew qualified as a Chartered Accountant (ACA) in 2008, whilst working at a top 10 international practice. His career began in audit, advising large public sector clients, before moving into a more commercially focussed due diligence role at another international practice.

However, Andrew’s real passion lies in helping small businesses, helping their owners with the ever more complex tax regime, and advising them on how to save tax. He has his own portfolio of clients and actively works to recruit more. He recently achieved the highly sought after PCG accredited accountant status. He is responsible for the firms’ social media outputs and networking activities, and has a keen involvement in the firm’s PR and marketing initiatives.

Andrew married his wife Gemma in 2008 (a week after qualifying!) and is the proud father to his son Asher, born in 2012.

Andrew is also an Arsenal fan (long-suffering), and plays football twice a week for local teams to keep fit.

If you would like to talk to Andrew about becoming your accountant, you can email him or call Nyman Linden on 020 8449 9708.

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This post is part of my series on growing your business. Read more here and read about my own business journey in my book, Going It Alone At 40.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Business, Guest posts, Organisation

 

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Growing your business – going full time (case study)

Sneak preview of the image from my new bookWhen you decide to grow your business, one of the first things you can do, if you’re not doing this already, is go full time. Sometimes this can feel a bit scary, but I can vouch for the fact that working on one job is always easier than trying to commit to two, and it can be a very liberating experience.

My fellow-proofreader/editor/transcriber, Laura Ripper, has kindly put together this guest post about her recent experience of going full time. Although we’re both in the same line of work, Laura’s experiences can be extended into other freelance careers very easily. Here she shares the process and her experiences as she went through it – a very useful piece indeed!

Why did I do it?

My main reason for going full time with my part-time business was that I knew that working for myself, and the work itself, would make me happy.

Working for myself part time was always a step towards doing the same thing full time, but that seemed a long way off when I first set up my editing and proofreading business in 2012. I’d worked as an editor at Plain English Campaign in the past, so I was confident in my ability to do the work. But I’d never worked for myself, and barely knew anyone who did, so going full time straight away was too frightening.

Once I got started, I enjoyed my two days a week on the business so much that I knew this was what I wanted to do. It was just a matter of when.

When did I do it (i.e. what stage was your business at?)

I had been working on the business part time for a year when I made the decision to go full time with it. Although I had the skills for the job when I went part time, I had no idea about what was involved in running a business. I spent that first year developing a strategy, building up a good network of colleagues, learning from others, setting up business processes and building up clients. I built a website, marketed myself, and joined professional groups and organisations like the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and ProZ. I read business books specific to my profession, like Louise Harnby’s Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Liz’s Going it Alone at 40. The advantage was that I could do this while still having a regular (lower) income.

By the time I went full time, the business was at the stage when I had started getting referrals through word of mouth and I had a few regular clients. I was beginning to have to turn down work because I couldn’t fit it around my other job, and I seemed to be working most weekends, too! I had quite a nice mix of clients, and also had built up good relationships with other freelancers who would pass me work when they were too busy. I had saved up enough money to bolster my income during the first few months of going full time, when I thought that I might need it most. I had the confidence that the work was out there and that my clients were happy with the service they were getting, and I had seen how work volumes changed over the course of a year.

How did you do it?

Making the decision to go full time was probably the most difficult part of the process – once I had done that, I just got on with it and did it!

I made a list of pros and cons, talked about it with people who had been there before me, spoke to my family and friends, and carefully worked out my finances to make sure that I was being realistic about whether I was ready to go full time. There is so much help out there to set up a full-time business successfully, from books and courses to forums and informal networks. I learned the most from other editors and proofreaders who were further along in their freelance careers – not only about client management and business processes, but how to deal with things when they do go wrong. This really built my confidence, and continues to do so.

I was worried about losing my regular monthly income, albeit a part-time one. I overcame this by saving everything that I earned from the business in my first year and living off my part-time income only. This gave me a ‘buffer’ that I could tap into if necessary, and made me and my partner feel more sure about the whole thing. My business planning wasn’t perfect, and gut feeling played a part in my decision to go full time, too, but I did make sure I would be able to support myself if things didn’t go the way I hoped.

Once I had decided, I told all my clients that I would soon be available to take on more work, and during my last month of employment I worked almost every day to give myself as much of a head-start as I could. I had all the processes and equipment ready, so I focused on doing more work for more clients, and made sure that I planned and organised the work well and closely monitored how much I was earning each week.
When I look back at the ‘pros and cons’ list I made just before making the leap, I can already see there are some things I got wrong (I thought I’d have more time for training – not likely!) and some that turned out not to be issues at all (I worried my first month or two would be very quiet).

Benefits gained Pitfalls / disadvantages you experienced or saw coming and managed to avoid

Benefits

The main benefit for me is that I am happier and feel more fulfilled in my life. I love my work and most of my clients, and I enjoy a lot of the business aspects I was worried about, too. I find it really satisfying to work for myself and to feel that my life and work are not such separate parts of my identity. I know this doesn’t suit everyone, but it works well for me.

I expected going full time to be more stressful, at least at first, but in some ways it’s actually less stressful than being part time in two jobs. I’m now better able to juggle several pieces of work within a particular timeframe, so I can take on more work in total and can fit in urgent bits and pieces for regular clients. I’ve also been able to take on jobs that I couldn’t have said yes to when I was part time – for example, PhD theses that need proofreading in a couple of weeks. Taking on longer jobs also means less admin time per day.

I can be more flexible about fitting in networking now, and am able to attend events that I wouldn’t have been able to when working part-time.

Pitfalls

One pitfall I saw coming was the start-up costs – time as well as money. I managed to buy most of the equipment for the business during my part-time year, and I got time-consuming things like setting up my website and templates out of the way before going full time, too.

Working for yourself full time means less financial security – at the moment, I earn less than I did when I was employed, and I work longer hours to earn it. My target for my first year is fairly low (although on the up side I am meeting it every week!), and I do want to increase my earnings in the years to come. It’s probably best not to go full time just as the mortgage is coming up for renewal, or when you know you’ll be particularly hard pushed!

Time management can sometimes be difficult, particularly fitting in work that doesn’t result in a direct payment, like admin, training and marketing. I do make time for these things, but it is easy to prioritise paid work over everything else and that isn’t always best for the future of the business. I also do end up working some evenings and weekends to fit in with clients, which means I miss out on spending as much time with my family and friends. I hope that as I develop the business further, this will happen less and less often, and I have seen others move away from this as their businesses develop.

Would you recommend it to other businesses? Why / why not?

Yes. Going full-time assumes that you are part time already, and if you’re enjoying the part-time work, it follows that at some point you’ll want to go full time.

Moving from part time to full time is a big step if you are a fairly cautious person, as suddenly what was a part-time business has to provide all your income and pay the bills, but if you can manage to save some money to cover the first few months this is a huge help. There are pitfalls to avoid, but the wealth of advice out there can help you avoid them. For me, those that I can’t avoid are worth it in exchange for the satisfaction of building up my business and doing what I love.

Thank you for this honest and detailed set of answers, Laura! It’s always a hard decision to make when you enjoy your day job and don’t have to give it up because of redundancy, moving or being needed for family duties, as many of my Saturday Business Chat contributors have done. But there comes a point when you can’t split your commitment any more and something has to give.

The questions are based on those I asked in my call for contributors to this series. Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer in such detail: if you’ve got experiences to share with your fellow small business owners about going VAT registered, getting premises, taking on staff, etc., you can give me a few notes up to a whole article, and I’ll work with your answers from there.

Laura RipperLaura Ripper is a proofreader, editor, transcriber and Plain English writer/editor based in the North of England. She went full time with her freelance career during 2013 and is loving it. Find Laura online at www.lauraripperproofreading.com or on Facebook.

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This post is part of my series on growing your business. Read more here and read about my own business journey in my book, Going It Alone At 40.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Business, Guest posts, Organisation

 

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Growing your business – employing staff

Sneak preview of the image from my new bookWhen you decide to grow your business, one popular way to do this is to employ staff. You can either take on people to do your admin, reception duties, sales, etc., or to do the actual work that you do. In this article, I’m going to talk a little about the advantages and disadvantages of taking on staff, and then we’ll hear from Duncan Brown, an expert on employment, who will talk us through the things we need to think about from a legal perspective when employing staff.

Advantages of employing people

  • Someone else can cover the admin while you concentrate on doing the job that makes the money
  • You can bring people in who have different skills to yours – in sales, for example
  • You’re not on your own; you will have an office full of people to bounce your ideas off
  • If you’re an extrovert, you can recharge by having people around you
  • Skills and positions can be covered and you might even get to take a holiday yourself!

Disadvantages of employing people

  • Someone has to manage them – will that be you?
  • You need to be aware of the rules and regulations – even if you employ an HR firm to deal with that side of things
  • You’re responsible for looking after these people physically, psychologically and financially
  • Related to the above, if things get tight, you can always not pay yourself – but if you’ve got staff, you need to make sure that you can pay them. I have seen firms founder and have to lay people off on this issue.

Key tips on employing staff

by Duncan Brown

When a person accepts a job offer from a potential employer, a contract of employment is created between the parties. An offer of employment does not have to be in writing to be valid.  However, it is best practice for offers of employment to be in writing and swiftly followed up with full written terms of the contract.

Irrespective of what form of legal entity an employer takes, i.e. Sole Trader, Partnership or Company, an employer must provide each employee with a “written statement of employment particulars” if the employee’s employment contract lasts at least a month or more. The “written statement” is not the employment contract, but is must include the main conditions of employment.  An employer must provide a “written statement” within 2 months of employment commencing.

Businesses must be aware that an employment contract places a set of obligations upon each party.  If an individual trades as a “sole trader”, that individual is the employer.  If the business is a partnership each partner is legally the “employer” of each employee, and each partner owes a duty under the contract to each employee. If the business is a Limited Company, the owners of that Company, i.e. the shareholders ultimately owe obligations to the employee.

Even if an employment contract is created verbally between the parties, the employer must still provide the employee with the “written statement”, which must include as a minimum:

  1. The name of the employer.
  2. The employee’s name, job title or a description of work, and start date.
  3. If a previous job counts towards a period of continuous employment, the date that period started.
  4. How much and how often the employee will be paid.
  5. Hours of work (and if the employee will have to work Sundays, nights or overtime).
  6. Holiday entitlement (and if that includes Public Holidays).
  7. Where the employee will be working and whether they might have to relocate.
  8. If the employee works in different places, where these will be and what the employer’s address is.

Items 1 to 8 are known as the “principal statement”.  The “written statement” must also contain information about:

  • How long a temporary job is expected to last.
  • The end date of a fixed term contract.
  • Notice periods.
  • Collective agreements.
  • Pensions.
  • Who to go to with a grievance.
  • How to complain about how a grievance is handled.
  • How to complain about a disciplinary or dismissal decision.

The “written statement” doesn’t need to contain the following information, but it must state where that information can be found, e.g. in a staff handbook:

  1. Sick pay procedures.
  2. Disciplinary/dismissal procedures.
  3. Grievance procedures.

If an employer doesn’t provide a “written statement” to an employee within 2 months of their employment commencing, that employee can commence a claim against the employer in an Employment Tribunal.  Employment Tribunals are usually expensive, time-consuming and stressful for employers (and also a potential PR ‘disaster’ because most local newspapers cover hearings at their local Tribunal!).

The Law implies certain terms into employment contracts, e.g. employees must not steal from their employer, each employee has a legal requirement to be paid at least the national minimum wage, etc.

An employment contract will be illegal if it is for an immoral or illegal act, e.g. prostitution, or if the employer pays part or all of the wages cash in hand and tax/NI contributions are not paid on the wages when they should have been, and the employee knew they were being paid cash in hand to avoid paying tax/NI contributions.

Solicitors can provide employment contracts and staff handbooks, often for fixed fees.  They can also provide employment law documentation, e.g. annual appraisal forms.

Competently drafted staff handbooks contain sufficient details on the terms and conditions of employment, to cover most eventualities.  They can also explain individual employer policies, e.g. email, fax & internet policies. Competent handbooks should contain the employer’s drugs and alcohol policy, and an equality policy.
The more detail in the written terms of the employment contract the more certainty there is for both employee and employer, hopefully resulting in fewer disputes (and thereby reducing costs, complications and possible employment tribunal claims for all parties concerned).

Businesses must bear in mind that employing staff is an onerous duty, especially for sole traders and partnerships, because sole traders and partners are personally liable for claims brought by their employee, e.g. for breaches of contract, for discrimination (e.g. sex discrimination), etc.

Duncan BrownDuncan Brown prides himself on being an approachable solicitor, who believes in providing clients with succinct, practical and commercially focused advice. His ethos is to take over the management of a dispute from clients, enabling them to concentrate on running their organisations.  He specialises in commercial disputes including employment law, landlord & tenant and building defect claims. He possesses niche experience of the Technology & Construction Court, Employment Tribunal, Property Chamber & Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Duncan works for Oliver Legal. Oliver Legal have a LinkedIn page, too, and Duncan can also be found on LinkedIn.

Thank you, Duncan, for those handy pointers on UK employment practices.

Have you taken on staff to expand your business? I’d love to hear your stories and your advice to add to a linked post on this important subject. Drop me a line via the comments below, or click on my Contact page: I look forward to hearing from you!

———-

This post is part of my series on growing your business. Read more here and read about my own business journey in my book, Going It Alone At 40.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on December 2, 2013 in Business, Guest posts, Organisation

 

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New series on expanding your business – looking for contributors

handshakeI’m planning a series of blog posts on how to expand and grow your business, and I’d like to feature guest posts from professionals and case studies from people who have taken the various paths, as they’re not something of which I have direct and personal experience.

Ideally, I’d like to have at least one professional (HR consultant, accountant, estate agent, etc.) and at least one case study for each topic.

I want to write about:

  • Changing from being a Sole Trader into a Limited Company
  • Going into a partnership with another person or company
  • Going VAT registered
  • Moving into premises
  • Employing your first staff members
  • Doing nothing – staying as a Sole Trader

and I want each article to cover:

From the professionals:

  • Why you should do it
  • When you should do it
  • How to do it
  • Potential benefits
  • Potential pitfalls

From the business owners:

  • Why you did it
  • When you did it (i.e. what stage was your business at?)
  • How you did it
  • Benefits gained
  • Pitfalls / disadvantages you experienced or saw coming and managed to avoid
  • Would you recommend it to other businesses? Why / why not?

Note: I am primarily aiming this at the UK market, however if you have useful information about how this stuff works in the US or elsewhere, do feel free to join in, just let me know the region to which your experience/advice applies.

What do you get out of it? Well, in the article where I mention you, I’ll put whatever links you’d like to your website, twitter feed etc at the bottom. I might be looking to put it into my new book, too, again with a full credit and links in the e-book version – let me know when you get in touch whether you’re OK with that. I can also keep you anonymous if you’d like to contribute but not have your name on the piece.

I get around 20,000 hits per month on this website / blog and that’s still building every month, and I have great Search Engine Optimisation so this website / blog shows up well on search engine searches.

If you’d like to take part, please contact me via email or my Contact Form.

These articles will appear on this blog and will be indexed in the Careers section of the blog.

 

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Be careful: icon / iconic

Photo by Sarah

Source: Sarah Gallagher 24.06.13. Street artist unknown, Melbourne

When I posted my last Be Careful! post on the use of decimated, my friend Sarah, New Zealand librarian, asked me if I’d looked at icon/iconic and its overuse. So I invited her to write a post for me, and here is the rather marvellous result!

After vociferously agreeing with a recent blog Liz wrote about the misuse / overuse of the word decimate, I was invited to write a guest blog post about the similarly misused / overused word, icon and the adjective, iconic. We certainly overuse and misuse it in NZ, and hardly surprising, it happens elsewhere to. We have all been doing so for quite sometime. It seems that hardly a day goes by where these words are not used to describe a person, thing or sometimes, a place. In some cases it really has gone well past the point of ridiculousness. Here are a few particularly amusing examples I’ve discovered recently:

Iconic image of pepper sprayed woman becomes icon of resistance
Iconic green caravan … An icon of Tokoroa
Iconic sign gets a makeover
Gene Wilder, icon, and star of iconic Charlie and the chocolate factory film
10 iconic t shirts
The anatomy of an iconic image – I agree, the fashion industry over uses the term. I disagree, Kate Moss is not an icon. Nor is she iconic.
Top 10 political icons

So what do these words actually mean? The OED defines icon as having four meanings, two of which are relevant here: an icon is defined as either, a representation of Christ or a holy figure, or a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration. Meanwhile, iconic refers to something that is representative of an icon, so veneration is applicable here too.
Definition of icon – OED
Definition of iconic – OED

Veneration. Perhaps there is a correlation between the overuse of these words has something to do with our increasing societal secularism. Has anyone considered that? Or maybe it’s aligned with our instinct to hyperbole, or a deficit of other adjectives. It some cases these words have become a device to express the importance or significance of something.

My own understanding of the word icon comes from my background and training as a classicist and specifically as a student of iconography. The study of images, and for my research, specific likenesses, brings with it the need to identity work by style, describing their content, and placing them in a stylistic context. In part this happens by identifying patterns in depiction and symbolism. It’s a world where gestures, colour, pattern, and attributes articulate meaning. In preliterate societies it was these subtleties that allowed artists tell stories, or pass on messages to their audiences, and for the illiterate public to ‘read’ the images (think pictorial shop signs, statues of deities, stained glass windows).

So when I read that someone or something is an “icon” I expect there will be a number of attributes: the object of veneration will represent something of deep meaning to a significant group of people, it will be of sufficient gravitas/ age/ mana (this is a Maori word) to demand respect of even those who do not believe in it themselves. It is something or someone who transcends the ordinary, and is truly representative of e.g., a deity, an explorer, a scientist, an artist, a place of worship, a building, a monument; and who has a belief system, story or legend that is inherent in their being. Iconic seems to have come to mean a symbol or to be representative of. Symbols, logos, emblems and insignia all convey meaning but do they truly, hand on heart, evoke veneration in the way a true icon would?

I’ll close with an example of the Virgin Mary:
Here’s an icon
The modern image that illustrates this piece (see top) is an iconic image
Finally, here is a modern icon

Try this yourself. Run a Google image search on the words icon and iconic and see what results. You might be surprised.

References:

Iconic the adjective of an age
Icon, iconic and other overworked words
Cultural icon
Cultural Icons: A Case Study Analysis of their Formation and Reception

Biography:

Sarah Gallagher is a Medical Librarian based in Dunedin, NZ and holds Masters degrees in Classics and in Library & Information Studies. She’s an early adopter of social media and is interested in how these tools can be used in the GLAM and heath professions. Sarah’s also writing a book about named student flats in Dunedin, an ephemeral print culture.

Sarah’s Tumblr
Sarah on Twitter
Sarah’s official bio page

Read more Be Careful! posts …

 
 

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A proper author – Victoria Eveleigh and her story

Victoria Everleigh I am delighted to publish this guest post by author, Victoria Eveleigh. I “met” Victoria via Twitter, through a discussion I was having about pony books with a bookseller (who I’m going to feature on the Saturday Small Business Chats soon). Victoria has an interesting story to tell, as she has become a somewhat unlikely author, and has now moved from self-publishing to being published!

You can read all about Victoria’s farm, horses and books on her website. Let’s hear her story …

How I became a Proper Author by Victoria Eveleigh

Nobody was more surprised than me (with the possible exception of my old English teacher) when I became an author.

I grew up in London, but spent as many holidays as possible on my grandmother’s farm on Exmoor. From an early age, my ambition was to marry a farmer and live on Exmoor. Remarkably, I’ve managed both: Chris and I have been farming for over twenty-five years now.

At 240 acres, our farm is fairly small, so we’ve had several other enterprises: a self-catering holiday cottage, horse-drawn tours over Exmoor with Shire horses, Land Rover tours of the farm, organic farming, cream teas, renewable energy and publishing.

Starting to write

The Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001 was partially responsible for my first book. We never got Foot and Mouth on our farm, but it came far too close for comfort. For nearly half a year we closed the self-catering cottage and horse-drawn tour businesses, and our children stayed at home for the whole of the spring term. It was a nerve-wracking year, and our cash flow became a trickle, but in some ways it was a holiday from all our usual commitments. For the first time since we were married, we had time to spare. Chris took up drawing and painting, while I sat down and wrote the book that had been forming in my head for several years: the story of a girl and an Exmoor pony growing up on an Exmoor hill farm together.

Full of optimism, I purchased a copy of The Writers’ And Artists’ Yearbook and started writing to agents. After several months, I’d received polite rejections from some and no communication from others. I felt utterly disheartened, and would have given up completely if a friend hadn’t suggested publishing the story myself. She’d published her own books in the past, and said all I needed to do was register myself as a publisher (I registered as Tortoise Publishing), get someone to design the layout of the book (I asked a good friend who’s a graphic designer), get a printer to print it (our local printer who printed our holiday cottage leaflets obliged) and some people to buy it (um…).

Learning from self-publishing

It was shocking how much space 6,000 books took up when they were delivered to our house by the printers. Too late, I realised I knew nothing about selling and, being typically British, I didn’t feel comfortable promoting myself. However, the prospect of never being able to use the sitting room again spurred me on. I loaded some books and leaflets in the back of the car and went for a drive around the Exmoor area. There weren’t many bookshops but there were gift shops, tourist attractions and tack shops, so I had more outlets than I’d realised. In fact, my best customers turned out to be places which normally didn’t stock books because there was no competition. (I’ve found that the easiest way to get depressed is to go into a large bookshop and see how many different books there are, all vying for attention!)

Probably because of Chris’ illustrations, the first book sold so well that I had to do another print run, and I was encouraged to write a sequel. Now I had stacks of boxes and a bit of money, so we converted Chris’ work shed into a farm office where I could store both the books and the ever-increasing quantity of farm records. At last I had a warm purpose-built room where I could write and deal with the paperwork for the farm and publishing businesses.

We made the Exmoor pony story into a trilogy, wrote and illustrated a colouring book about the farming year for the Exmoor Horn Sheep Breeders’ Society and then published a story set on the island of Lundy.
The amount of effort it took to promote, sell, distribute and account for the books meant I had an ever-decreasing amount of time for writing. Furthermore, while I was trying to build up my publishing business several things happened to the book industry: the economy slowed down, then went into recession; fuel and postage prices went up, squeezing margins because books are typically delivered for free; paper and printing costs increased, and large bookshops and online stores started a price war. Simultaneously, the whole book industry was going electronic, and I couldn’t really get my head around it all.

Never give up …

I’d more or less decided to quit while I was ahead when I received an email from Louise Weir, who runs a website called Lovereading4kids. She’d read my Lundy book and wanted to make it a book of the month on her website and, to cut a long story short, through her I was taken on by Orion Children’s Books just over a year ago.

Since then my life has changed quite a bit. I have to treat writing like a proper job now, and it’s a scary, serious business with deadlines to meet, schools to visit and talks to give. However, I wouldn’t turn back the clock for anything. I love writing and I’m so glad I’ve been given this fantastic opportunity to turn it from a hobby into a whole new career. I’ve re-written my existing stories (which have been published as Katy’s Wild Foal, Katy’s Champion Pony, Katy’s Pony Surprise and A Stallion Called Midnight) and I’m writing a new trilogy for publication in 2013. It will have horses and the countryside at its heart, but it will have a boy as the main character for a change. Chris is still doing the illustrations for my books – so I’m now a proper author and he’s a proper illustrator!

I wish Victoria all the best with her new trilogy, and I’m looking forward to reading the Katy books soon. I should mention that Victoria’s publisher will be sending me a copy of “A Stallion Called Midnight” to review, but I wanted to share her story to encourage my readers who are writers: never give up!

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Guest posts, New skills, Reading, Writing

 

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Income tax payment on account

Special guest Emily Coltman

Business is booming for me and Libro – and my friends and family are probably expecting me to start splashing around some of that hard-earned cash now I’m full time and earning well, after those lean start-up years. But wait! No – just when you’d think I’ll be booking that round-the-world cruise (we can only dream), in fact I’ll be giving the tax man over half of my income from Libro over the coming year. Edited to add: this is what actually happened when I submitted this year’s tax return.

It’s something called “Payment on Account”. I’m lucky: I already knew about it and so I have been saving up so I have enough money to live on. But if your business is doing well (and you only have to have a tax bill of £1000 to get into this situation, so not even THAT well), you need to be aware of this issue and make sure you have the money to hand.

I thought I’d better get someone official to explain all this, and the lovely Emily Coltman has obliged. Emily is Chief Accountant to award-winning software provider FreeAgent.com. Read on to find out all about tax payment on account.

Payments on account

Did you know that if you’re a sole trader, or in partnership, you sometimes have to pay one and a half year’s worth of income tax and class 4 National Insurance all at once?

This is because if your tax and NI bill is more than £1,000, and less than 80% of your income is taxed at source (like employment income, where tax is taken off before the money is paid to you), you have to make “payments on account” to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

Calculating payments on account

Maria is a self-employed beauty therapist.  Her tax and NI bill for the year to 5th April 2012 (the tax year 2011/12) is £1,200.  This was her first year in business.

That £1,200 will be payable to HMRC by 31st January 2013.

But that’s not the end of the story.  Because Maria’s tax and NI bill is over £1,000 and none of her income was taxed at source, she must make payments on account for the tax year 2012/13.  These each amount to half of her bill for 2011/12, and will be payable by 31st January 2013 and 31st July 2013.

So by 31st January 2013, Maria must pay £1,200 for her 2011/12 tax bill, and £600 on account for 2012/13.  That means she has a whopping £1,800 to pay in total – one and a half times her tax bill for 2011/12.

Maria must also pay another £600 by 31st July 2013.

When the actual tax and NI due is known

What happens when Maria works out her actual tax bill for 2012/13?

If she’s overpaid, HMRC will give her a refund, but if she’s not paid enough yet, she must make a balancing payment.

Let’s look at that.

Refund

If Maria’s tax and NI bill for 2012/13 was actually £1,100, she’s already paid £1,200 on account towards that, £600 in January 2013 and £600 in July 2013.  That means she’s overpaid £100 which HMRC will refund her.

She must then make her payments on account for 2013/14, which will be £550 each (half of £1,100) and will be due by 31st January 2014 and 31st July 2014.

Balancing payment

But if Maria’s tax and NI bill for 2012/13 turned out to be £1,500, she’s already paid £1,200 towards that but still has another £300 to pay.  This is called the balancing payment and is due by 31st January 2014.

That means that on 31st January 2014 she must pay £1,050 (£300 balancing payment, plus her first payment on account for 2013/14, which is £1,500 / 2 = £750).

Can payments on account be reduced?

If you’re reasonably certain that your tax and NI bill for the following year will be less than the payments on account you’d make, you can apply to HMRC to reduce your payments on account.

Be warned, though, that if you reduce them too far, HMRC can charge you interest for late payment of tax.

HMRC should send you a statement of account explaining what you have to pay and when, but if you’re not sure whether this is correct, always check with them or with your accountant.

Emily Coltman, Chief Accountant to award-winning online accounting software provider FreeAgent, is a very unusual Chartered Accountant – she is fluent in plain English! Emily has been working with small business owners for twelve years and is passionate about helping them to escape their fear of “the numbers”.  She believes that equipped with the right tools anyone can learn to look after the finances of a small business. She is also a keen advocate of tax simplification, especially in the case of VAT.
Emily is author of two e-books, Finance for Small Business and Micro Multinationals. Web: www.freeagent.com
Twitter: @dialm4accounts
Mobile: 07857 162104
Office: 0131 447 0011
 

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The Right Time To Write – a guest post by Linda Gillard

Friend of Libro (and of Liz), Linda Gillard has been an actress, journalist and teacher and is the author of five novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award (for writing that promotes the Scottish landscape). Her most recent novels, HOUSE OF SILENCE and UNTYING THE KNOT are Kindle bestsellers. To find out more about Linda and her work, do visit www.lindagillard.co.uk

Linda is passionate about helping other people to write; she has regularly offered masterclasses at BookCrossing Unconventions and is Writer in Residence for Durham University’s “Celebrating Science” initiative.

November saw NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a  hugely popular highlight in the writing year – and a lot of people will have “won” by getting the requisite number of words down. And that’s great – well done! But what if you didn’t – does that mean you should give up. Let’s hear what Linda has to say, in a special guest blog post she’s written for Libro.

The Right Time To Write

Do you have writer’s cramp? Or typist’s tremor? Did you enter the annual November writing marathon that is NaNoWriMo? (National Novel Writing Month). And if you did, did you finish, or did you give up exhausted half-way through the month?

I’m a professional writer with five published novels on my CV and I’m about to finish a sixth. I write full-time, so I’m not your typical WriMo-er but, encouraged by the buzz and some enthusiastic writing friends, I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first (and probably last) time in 2010.

It was an illuminating experience and taught me a lot about how I write. I gave up half-way through the month with a word count of 26,000. I didn’t abandon my novel, I simply stopped beating myself up about speed and resumed my normal writing pace and methods. I’d discovered that NaNoWriMo was not for me. I’m about to finish that novel which means, like most of my books, it’s taken me a bit more than a year to write.

I made a good start even though I’d not done lot of planning. (I don’t plan my novels very much anyway, so this wasn’t raising the bar for me.) Producing quantities of words isn’t difficult for me, but writing at NaNo speed confirmed for me what I’ve always thought about novel-writing: finding time to write a novel isn’t nearly as difficult as finding time to think a novel.

And that’s what was missing from my NaNo experience. Time to think. I wasn’t day-dreaming, hypothesizing, re-thinking or revising – all those processes that, for me, are what novel-writing is about. I was just producing an impressive daily word count.

My set-up was promising. The writing was competent. Then at 18,000 words things started to get tough. Artistic decisions had to be made and I wanted to slow down and reflect on what I’d produced so far. I knew I needed to get to know my characters better. In short, I wanted my novel-in-progress to develop and mature. But that’s not what NaNoWriMo is about. It’s about “getting all your ideas down”, that and the big confidence boost of actually finishing a draft.

It’s my view that anyone with a love of writing, a vivid imagination, some spare time and some determination can produce a quarter of a novel. Many novels – even those begun by seasoned professionals – are abandoned around the 25,000-word mark. Writers hit a wall. I think it’s because by then, we’ve finished setting up, we’ve created the characters and their environment. What comes next is the hard part: the development and careful structuring of the story so it moves towards the necessary climaxes and resolution. I believe writers only move beyond this point if they really, really want to tell their story (or if they’re contracted to tell it and have a deadline.)

The Canadian novelist Robertson Davies said, “There is no point in sitting down to write a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die.” I don’t think I’d go so far as to say there’s no point, but I will say, if you aren’t being paid to write, you’re unlikely to finish your novel unless you feel this way.

NaNoWriMo is brilliant as an inspiring, sociable and creative exercise. It’s great for producing a very rough draft of the novel you’ve been brewing up for months or years. But it worries me the way NaNo has “failure” built in for so many participants – and not just failure to achieve the 50,000 word count. Last year during NaNo month I read many complaints on Facebook from writers suffering RSI-related pain, yet their well-meaning fellow participants encouraged them to push on through the pain, thereby risking the possibility of serious damage to the delicate tendons of the hand. This isn’t writing, it’s masochism! Producing a novel is a test of stamina. It shouldn’t be a test of endurance.

I question the wisdom of producing fiction in a state of caffeine-fuelled exhaustion and pain. It might be possible to write like this, but it’s unlikely to produce your best work.(It certainly didn’t produce mine and despite a great deal of editing, I still have reservations about the early chapters of my NaNo novel.)

I’m not trying to knock NaNoWriMo, I’m just making a plea for balance. I’d like to challenge the idea that churning out verbiage for an entire month has to be good. I’d like to extol the virtues of a more thoughtful approach, especially to those who withdrew defeated from the NaNo marathon and to them I’d like to say, there’s a reason why professional novelists don’t produce a book in a month.

Last year when I was struggling to stay in the NaNo game, I wearied of people claiming on FB that “everything can be fixed once you have a draft”. I don’t believe it can. The prolific Nora Roberts said, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.” It is important to get your ideas down on paper and drafts are there to be edited into something better. What worries me about NaNoWriMo is not the fast writing it requires, but the fast thinking, the decision-making that story-telling requires. Quick thinking can lead to the quick-fix and the quick-fix can lead to predictability, stereotype and cliché.

When my children were young and asked to watch films and TV programmes that I thought might frighten them, I refused and warned them that once you’ve seen something, you can never un-see it (which they discovered to their cost when they had months of nightmares inspired by RETURN TO OZ.) I believe it can be the same with writing. You can of course un-write stuff, but you can’t un-think it or un-hear it. Writing is decision-making, word by painstaking word. If you’re concerned about the quality of your fiction and not just the quantity, I think there’s a lot to be said for remaining alert, receptive and poised for that moment of inspiration, the right time to write. If you ask me, that’s the really hard part about novel-writing: the waiting. Waiting until you’re ready to write. Knowing when you’re ready.

If you didn’t finish NaNo this year, don’t be too despondent and please don’t think you “failed”. Maybe you weren’t ready to write. Writing is the end product of a process of thinking and feeling. Maybe you had more thinking to do. Maybe you just aren’t a fast writer. I’m a professional and I failed to produce 50,000 words in thirty days – or rather, I decided that to do so would be counter-creative, because for me it’s not about the word count, it’s about how much my words count.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on December 6, 2011 in Guest posts, Writing

 

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