Monthly Archives: October 2015

Small business chat update – Samantha Higgs

mugsWe’ve got an interesting new update from Samantha Higgs of Samantha Higgs Photography today. I first chatted to Sam back in April 2013 and again in July 2014, at which point things were getting quite exciting: this is what she said then about her plans for the upcoming year: “In a year I’m hoping I will have just had my Berlin exhibition, where I’m expecting to learn a whole load of new things very quickly.” She’d been doing quite a lot of event and party photography and was expecting that to continue or even grow, but she was very much focused on that big exhibition, too. So, how did that all go?

Hello again, Sam! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

I am yes. I’ve done several craft fairs and I had my first exhibition in May. It was in a little gallery called GALLERY2 in Auguststraße, the main gallery street in Berlin, during Gallery Weekend.

You can read a little about it here.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

This year has been a reverse of the last, I’ve had an exhibition and craft fairs, sold more in my online galleries and done less in the way of parties and events photography.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I’ve learned so much about the gallery scene that I didn’t know before, and a lot about exhibiting generally. Trying to hold the exhibition over such a long distance was tricky, too, and I’m extremely grateful for the team at GALLERY2 for all their help in making it possible.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Give yourself plenty of time to deal with new situations: learning anything new can take time.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I’m planning to continue with the craft fairs and exhibitions, I love meeting people and hearing the stories they tell about why they buy a particular picture.

What an exciting year – and that’s very true: if you need to learn something new, even if it’s just a variation on something you already do, you do need to leave yourself time to do that. I sometimes have to learn new software packages, as much of my localisation work and some of my editing work is done within software used by translators: all of the programs are different and there is a learning curve involved in getting going. We wish Sam every success for her upcoming year!

Visit the Samantha Higgs Photography website at to have a look at some of her work, or email Samantha to find out more.

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 (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on October 31, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Six things that you can do to increase your website or blog’s SEO (search engine optimisation)

Graphic showing an increasing numberSEO or Search Engine Optimisation is one of those mysterious areas of knowledge – like setting up a website – that people like to keep to themselves. If you’ve been involved at all with a website or blog, you will know that people tend to almost prey on newbies, offering to increase their SEO if they work with this or that company.

The impetus for this post came from offering some help to a community organisation I’m helping out with. They don’t have the money to spend on expensive consultancy, so I’ve put together this guide for them – and you – to help clarify the myths and provide you with some advice to help you build good SEO.

What is SEO / search engine optimisation?

SEO means making sure that search engines like Google and Bing find your content and present it to people who are searching near the top of the results (just below the adverts).

Although they obviously work for a profit and want to make people advertise with them, the search engines do want to get reliable, decent and useful information to their users – otherwise those users will go elsewhere. They go to a lot of trouble to weed out spammy and dodgy sites that will put users off and don’t provide useful and relevant information (if every search you did on Google only gave you results on how to improve your SEO, when you wanted to know about Halloween outfits for dogs, you’d soon get bored and use a different search engine).

Therefore, we need to make sure our blogs and websites have the right information and content that will prove to Google that we’re legitimate sites full of useful content that it’s good to show their users.

There are various technical and writing related ways to do this and I’m going to cover the simple ones that you can do with, for example, a free website or blog and no coding skills.

I’ll note here that there are more detailed and technical things that you can do, to do with the coding of the actual site – this will however give you some simple tools that I’ve used to get good viewing figures and good SEO.

My blog post referrersWhy do I need SEO?

You want people to read your stuff, right? Well, although many people will find your content, services, products, etc. through social media, recommendations, blog readers, etc., the majority will find you through search engines.

Have a look at the statistics pictured. This was on a day when I published an article that was shared quite a lot on social media. Where did I get all my hits from? Search engines. So it’s really important to make sure that when people search for keywords to do with my blogs in the search engines, they find my blogs and find their way to me, so they can buy my services / be helped by my informative posts / buy my books.

How do I improve and maintain my SEO?

1. Publish useful, relevant, original and “natural” content

This is my number one top tip. The search engines are always looking for ways to stop people gaming the system and this is a clear example – we’ve all found websites which just have lists of keywords, etc.

I’ve got good results from the fact that the text on this site is useful, it’s relevant, as in it fits in to various categories and has information on those categories (Word, business, social media, etc.), it’s original (all written by me) and it’s written in natural language that looks like it’s been written by a human, not a robot or machine translator or spammer. This will always outweigh everything else.

2. Publish content regularly

Search engines like material that’s updated regularly, as it’s indicative that the site is still live and up to date. Try to post at least once, if not twice a week – it doesn’t have to be massive long articles, but something twice a week is better than five posts in one week then none for a month.

3. Use keywords wisely

There are some “rules” about the keywords that you want to use to attract readers. Here are the ones that have worked well for me, as far as I can tell:

  • Place the keyword / phrase in the title of the piece – so, here I have used “Increase your blog or website’s SEO” in the title.This automatically adds is to the “metadata”, in this case the URL of the piece. There is more you can do with metadata which is outside the range of this article.
  • Place it in an H1 or H2 level heading – here, I’ve used it in top-level headings.
  • Use it in the description of an image – the image above has the words “increase SEO” in the description field.
  • Use it early on in the text and in the final paragraph.
  • Scatter it throughout the text – but NATURALLY. A good aim is to have the keyword / phrase represent no more or less than 5% of the whole of the text (so if your text is 100 words long, you need the keyword to appear around five times.

4. Use questions in the title and headings

Many people search using questions these days – have a look at your statistics if you can and see how many question phrases appear.

So, use questions in your title (this one doesn’t have a question, but many of my blog posts do), and in your headings. These may well echo the exact phrases that people use to search, boosting you higher in the results.

5. Use categories and tags or whatever your blogging platform offers

Categories, tags, whatever your blogging platform calls them, will be searched by search engines, increase the validity of your site and improve your SEO. Use them wisely, using general (reading, writing) and specific (WordPress, copyediting) ones to help your visibility and to help your readers navigate around your site and stay on the site for a longer time.

6. Make judicious and careful use of backlinks

Search engines like to know that a site is reputable and well-respected by peers. Therefore, they put a high premium on the sites that link into your website or blog (i.e. they include your URL / website address on their own site). Of course, a good way to build these is to reference other well-known and well-respected blogs and websites on yours.

However, this is a tricky area that is used very heavily by spammers, too. So here are some dos and don’ts:


  • Place guest posts on other people’s blogs that are relevant and useful to both your audiences. You should be given the opportunity to include a link back to your website.
  • Offer people in your industry guest posts on your blog (or run interviews with them, etc.) and ask them to link back to the piece on their social media and website.
  • Get yourself in well-renowned and useful / appropriate listings – for example I’m in a Find a Proofreader listing and one for a professional discussion list I belong to.
  • Carefully comment on relevant articles and blog posts, with a relevant and useful comment. As an example of another blog, I comment on book bloggers’ review posts if I’ve read the book or have something to say about the book they’ve read, and include the URL of my own book review blog in the URL field. That way, a network of links builds up.
  • Use whatever reblogging facility you have on your platform (WordPress has a reblog button) to share interesting and relevant content on your blog (I don’t do this myself, but I’ve been reblogged a lot). This will publish a snippet of your blog and a link on the reblogger’s own page and direct readers to you and reassure the search engines that your content is useful.
  • Publicise your blog posts on social media (you can do this automatically) to increase the number of places your web address will appear.


  • Randomly ask to place guest posts on unconnected blogs – you might well get accepted but it’s not going to do you much good long-term.
  • Accept random and unconnected pieces to place on your blog, even if they say they’ll pay you – it’s not worth it long-term, as your readership will suspect it and anyone visiting your website for Dallas real estate and finding the rest of your articles are about crocheting will not stick around.
  • Put random comments full of your own links on people’s blogs that are not in any way connected with yours. Again, some might let these through (I delete any comments like this on my blogs) but it’s not going to look great, as many people will spot what you’re doing and it’s artificial, not natural, so may well harm you in the future.
  • Copy other people’s blog posts wholesale and paste them onto your site – search engines take a dim view of exactly duplicated content and will tend to push both examples right down the results screen. If you want to share something, share a snippet and a link to the rest of the content on the site where it was originally posted
  • Sign up with a company that offers to increase your SEO without checking very carefully whether they do this kind of thing – many of the rogue random comments and links I get on here obviously come from third parties unscrupulously throwing their customer’s URL all over the Internet

These dos and don’ts are to do with being decent, honourable and ethical. I’ve done it this way, and my blog is pretty successful. I will probably write about this in greater depth, but this should help as a handy guide.


OK, that’s six things that you can do with your next blog post to help improve your website or blog’s SEO or search engine optimisation. This article itself has been optimised following my rules, and I hope you can pick out what I’ve done now. Do let me know if you have questions or comments using the comments option below, and please share using the share buttons if you’ve found this post useful.

Other useful posts on this site

Reciprocity and Social Media – how to negotiate social media kindly and politely

10 reasons to start a blog – why you should do it now!

Is it worth having a website for my business?

WordPress 1 – the basics – joining and setting up a blog (links to all the other WordPress tutorials)

Resource guide – blogging and social media


Posted by on October 29, 2015 in Blogging, Business, SEO, Social media, WordPress


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Small business chat update – Alison Mead

mugsToday we have a catch up with the lovely Alison Mead  from Silicon Bullet. One of my original interviewees from 2011, we  caught up with her in August 2012 and again in September 2013. Unfortunately and distressingly, Aly had a terrible year in 2014 – she didn’t do an update with me that year as her business was taking a back seat and of course she had more important things to think about than answering questions for a blog. So I’m even more delighted than usual to have her back on board, doing well with her business and forging ahead. Just to catch up, Alison’s 2013 plan was this: “By this time next year I really want to have been able to take a decent break from work, without needing to worry about business while I am gone!  My husband Paul never takes a break – and we work constantly and consistently – but it is not healthy to never switch off. We are saving for a big holiday next year. Meanwhile with business it is much the same as we have been doing – onwards and upwards building up our contacts and my Forever team. I’m looking forward to growth in 2014.” Let’s check in with her now and see whether she has achieved these aims as she’s got back on track in 2015 …

Hello, Alison, and a big welcome back to Libro Towers! So, are you now where you thought you’d be when you looked forward in 2013?

2014 was an awful year for my family.  Having started really positively, we lost my father after a short but brutal illness in April, and it really knocked us all for six.  Business took a back seat and we just kept it going, and family came first.  So my last update was 2 years ago and it’s taken far longer than I ever thought to get back in the saddle and push my business further.

One thing I wished for previously was to take a break and go on holiday with the family.  Well, this year we managed a lovely week away in Minorca, which was very important to me as with two children fast growing up, family holidays may not be wanted much longer!

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

The split of our work has changed, as my husband Paul has a fantastic part-time contract with a business in Dublin which he looks after remotely from home in Northamptonshire, which means we can be more selective about the IT clients we look after.  Being able to say no to business is a huge step for small business owners, as you tend to say yes so everything when you first start out as you can never be sure when the next job will come in.

With my Forever Living business, my blog which I’ve been writing for over 2 years now has become a recruitment tool for me.  I now have team members in Tyne and Wear, Glasgow, and Nigeria.  Blogging felt like a lot of effort for not much reward, but time and effort have paid off and now I am reaping the rewards for my writing.

I still enjoy my bookkeeping work, and my Sage Accounts training even more, but again with the other streams to our business I can be much more selective about which jobs I actually want to do.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago? 

Taking a break and having family time is as important to running your own business as work work work. The balance is hard, but we are getting better at spending time as a family and with friends. We have recently got our first dog, too, so we have to take breaks to look after the puppy, who is gorgeous, by the way!

Any more hints and tips for people? 

I still advocate networking as a fabulous way to stay sane and find new business as a small business owner.  Also it means you can get recommendations for printing your business cards, who to use for proof reading, bookkeeping advice and everything else you need.  You don’t need to do everything yourself: outsource those parts of the business you find harder to do or you always procrastinate about.  Even the smallest business can benefit from external help.  And join organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses, which can offer you fabulous support and networking for a very reasonable price. I attend the Northampton FSB Breakfast meetings and I have made friends and gained useful referrals, too.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Keeping the work/life balance going is my aim for the next year.  Working hard but taking breaks too.  I love building my network marketing team with Forever Living too: training and supporting team members doesn’t particularly feel like work, so I will be concentrating on growing this part of my business over the next 12 months.

I’m so glad to see how well Aly and Paul are doing. I think having multiple income / business streams is a fab idea – I do that with my transcription, editing and localisation work and my books, and it does protect you from the ups and downs and keeps it interesting. I totally agree that saying no is a massive achievement and marks a place where you know that you are doing well and know what you want and which clients you best fit, and best fit you.

Find the Silicon Bullet website and blog online, and for the Forever Living side of things have a look at the Facebook page.

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 (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 


Posted by on October 24, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Small business chat update – Leila Rasheed

Small business chat update – Leila Rasheed

Welcome to a catch-up with the lovely writer and teacher of writing, Leila Rasheed. I’ve known Leila personally for almost ten years, and I got her into this interview series right back at the start, in July 2011  and then did updates in September 2012, October 2013. and October 2014, so I think she’s the first person to reach five interviews! Leila always has lots going on in her life – this is where she wanted to be by now –  “Hopefully with some of my own books published and doing well, and with some more teaching work established.” and she’s of course gone in a slightly different direction, as most of my interviewees seem to, with exciting plans with writing development schemes and training courses afoot. Let’s check in with Leila and see what she’s up to … And read to the bottom for details of an exciting short course on writing children’s and teenage fiction, starting soon!

Hello, Leila! Dare I ask, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Not really – but I’m very pleased with where I am! I have been awarded funding from Arts Council England and from the Publishers’ Association to run a year-long writer development scheme aimed at challenging the lack of diversity in children’s publishing. It’s called Megaphone and all information is at There are five places on the scheme, available to writers from ethnic minorities who haven’t yet published a book for children. Over the course of the year, they will write a novel for children, with support in the form of masterclasses with experienced children’s authors, one-to-one feedback on their manuscript from me, input from some of the best and most exciting editors working in children’s publishing today, and finally a big promotional push for their manuscripts, to the publishing industry. I’m so excited about it – the ideal scenario would be to discover five amazing new authors who’ll be on the shelves of Waterstone’s in the next five years. From my own point of view, I’ve been able to develop skills in project development, management and fundraising, which is excellent.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

Definitely, what has changed is Megaphone – plus the Writing for Children module I teach at Warwick has recruited very well this year, so that’s nice.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I’ve learned a huge amount putting Megaphone together: the basics of project planning, project management, how to successfully fill in an Arts Council application form…!

Any more hints and tips for people?

Just be ready to diversify and challenge yourself, I suppose, although that’s not exactly original!

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I hope Megaphone will be coming towards the end of the project, and that I’ll have gained some insight into how to go forward in making the children’s publishing world more diverse and equal.

This is such an exciting project and I’m proud to be able to tell you about it and share the information Leila’s given us here. Do get in touch if you’re interested in the Megaphone programme or the short course in writing children’s and teenage fiction.

Leila’s own website is at

Any writers keen to apply to Megaphone, please see www.megaphonewrite.comMegaphone is a new writer development scheme, funded by the Arts Council and the Publishers’ Association, making Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices heard in British children’s literature.

Short Course: Writing Children’s and Teenage Fiction.
Running in Birmingham from 23 Oct 2014.
TO BOOK:  0121 245 4455 /

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 (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on October 17, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Small business chat update – Jennifer Martin

mugs Welcome to a catch-up with one of last year’s newbies, Jennifer Martin, who runs Zest Business Consulting. Jennifer joined the interviews in September 2014, and when I got in touch with her with her update questions last month, she replied, “Thanks so much for the follow up. This is really fun! I enjoyed seeing my answers from last year and reconnecting with your website to see what you are offering too,” which was lovely to read. Last September, this is where Jennifer wanted to be by now:  “I see myself working with groups of people from all over the world through webinars, seminars, and in-person retreats. I can see myself giving in-person presentations to large groups of people and having a big smile on my face.” Let’s see how she’s got on …

Hello again, Jennifer, and welcome back to Libro! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Yes! One of my goals was to be speaking in front of large groups with a big smile on my face. Well, I can thankfully say that’s happened! In the past year I have had at least 1 paid speaking gig each month and yes, I was smiling every time. On my birthday this year, I spoke to all the Hospitality Managers at the University of Southern California (USC).

In the last year I ran a few virtual groups; More More, More Clients, More Life! and Tapping Your Way to Wealth with EFT.   I also just started teaching an Entrepreneurship program through a local non-profit (Women’s Economic Ventures). I just bid on a speaking opportunity in the Ukraine for a week-long Entrepreneurship Forum: if I get it, I will proudly say I have accomplished all my goals.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

What has changed most is my deeper engagement with social media and my completely getting over stage fright. I have also provided chapters for two different books (about business) and was quoted in more than 30 magazine and blog articles. I’m much more clear now about what I enjoy and I’m willing to easily turn away business that isn’t a perfect fit for me anymore. I’m also doing more travel (by choice). Oh yeah, I’ve also doubled my income.

What has stayed the same is that I LOVE what I do and continue to help small business owners create profitable and satisfying businesses without having to give up their lives or their sanity. I also still do most of my work from my home office and I’m still really busy.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I have learned a TON about how to create engaging, entertaining, and valuable presentations and seminars. I’ve also really upped my game in the social media arena. I’ve also learned that I need to have really good boundaries and that taking care of myself first is essential for my own sanity AND for the benefit of my clients and my business.

Any more hints and tips for people?


1. Commit yourself to your business and your success daily
2. Don’t go it alone – find a peer group or a business coach or consultant to help you work through possibilities and stay on track (accountability)
3. Be willing to publicly state what your goals are ( like I did here)
4. Remember that Done IS better than Perfect
5. Take Leaps of Faith and above all…..
6. Follow your passion

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I see myself spending more of my time giving presentations, seminars, and being hired as a keynote speaker. I will have a program that I offer as a download online. I will double my income again and travel every month somewhere interesting to work with clients. Oh, yes, and I’ll work fewer hours too.

Great tips there, and good, solid and brave aims for the next year – Jennifer’s obviously open to learning constantly and is overcoming her fears and pushing herself hard – what a good example to the solopreneurs and small business owners who she helps!

Email Jennifer

And finally, Jennifer’s free guidebook

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 (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 


Posted by on October 10, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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What is prosopagnosia and how does it affect the self-employed person?

Cartoon expressing the experience of prosopagnosiaI read an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper this week about prosopagnosia (or “face blindness”).This is a condition I suffer from (not in the most severe way, but it does affect my life – and my business life), and I haven’t found much else about prosopagnosia and the businessperson. So, I thought it might be useful to share some information about what it is, how it affects me, as an example, and some coping strategies I’ve worked out for it. I would love other prosopagnosics to share their experiences and solutions, too, and I have added links to some useful resources at the end.

I know this is a long piece, but I didn’t want to be all teaser-ish and leave the coping strategies to another blog post. Feel free to jump down to those, though, if you want to!

What is prosopagnosia?

Prosopagnosia is also known as face-blindness, and this key term really explains what it is. Someone with the condition can see another person’s face OK: they can usually identify it as a face. What they can’t do is recognise who it is, tell the difference between similar-looking people, recognise familiar people in a different context, etc. In severe cases, people can even be unable to recognise their own family members, in whatever context, apart from knowing “If it’s a man in my house, it’s likely to be my husband”. Many prosopagnosics have complicated workarounds to help them to recognise people – their gait, glasses, common items of clothing – but this isn’t always fail-safe.

A side-effect of this can be an inability to distinguish expressions and emotions on people’s faces.

Where does it come from? You can pick up prosopagnosia from a brain injury or stroke, but most people acquire it as what the experts call a ‘developmental disorder’, i.e. it’s a connection that doesn’t get made at the right time when your brain is developing in early childhood.

It can be really distressing to be like this. I’m a reasonably friendly and warm person who likes to help other people. I have a horror of offending people or being rude. How horrendous to find out that you’ve repeatedly blanked someone in the street or to ask someone what they do, only to see a shocked expression and realise that they told you all about their business last time you met.

There’s lots of information and the scientific stuff on a handy University of Bournemouth website.

My experience with prosopagnosia

I didn’t know I was prosopagnosic for years – but I discovered the term in my 30s and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. It was “A Thing”. I wasn’t just weird (well, not in that way, anyway). Other people had it!

I don’t have the most severe form of the condition. I can usually recognise family members and close friends. But it’s not like that thing where you know you know someone but can’t remember their name. I will see someone I spoke to last week – yesterday, even – and if they’ve not “taken” in my mind, I will not have any idea that I’ve ever met them before. Until they walk up to me, know my name, and know things about me, that is.

experience of prosopagnosiaSo, I have trouble recognising people or knowing that I’ve ever seen them before. I will walk past people I know quite well. I have developed coping strategies – I joke that I got together with my husband because he had a distinctive hairline (he had a widow’s peak, not some weird curlicue business) and a goatee and has a distinctive gait. This is only partly true. But I do get very discombobulated when he changes his beard, and I am well-known among my friends at parkrun for having real trouble picking him out in a crowd of runners – even if he has his special hat on.

I’m also not good when watching new TV programmes with lots of people (Strictly Come Dancing can be difficult in the early weeks), such as soaps and reality shows. This sounds funny, but it can REALLY annoy the person you’re watching with. I am known for mixing up pairs of people who I genuinely think are the same person (Matthew Broderick and John Cusack for example). They may not look identical to you, but if they have similar coloured hair and body shape, they’re the same person to me.

I don’t THINK I pick friends based on them having very definite looks or features, but I wouldn’t put it past me. I know I recognised one friend from her shoes rather than her face or hair when I saw her on the high street once (phew, got away with it).

Two things that I find particularly difficult are:

  • Changes in context. Give me someone from running club in running kit on club night or, within reason, in normal clothes and a similar hairstyle, volunteering at parkrun and I’m fine. Present them to me on the high street, in town, on a train, at the airport – not so much. I met someone in the gym the other day who recognised me from one meeting, when I scanned her barcode at parkrun a few weeks before. She knew she knew me from somewhere – not something that I’d manage to achieve!
  • Changes in look. I am constantly amazed that someone I know from said running club can recognise me not in flourescent gear and with my hair down rather than in bunches. To me, that’s a different person, someone I don’t know. How do they do that?

I’ve actually reached a point where I just explain it to new people I meet who I might meet again. I didn’t do this when I started networking for business, and I really wish I had. I certainly remember asking a “new woman I’d never met before” her name and being horrified to realise I’d met her twice before, and had quite long conversations with her. I wish I’d explained my condition then, and I will be sharing this post with her!

The good news: I do eventually get used to people and recognise them pretty well immediately – but it takes more meetings than it will for the average person. I’m also quite good at telling identical twins apart, maybe because I’m used to doing the checking of extra details that non-prosopagnosics don’t have to worry about.

Prosopagnosia and business / self-employment

Business revolves around recognising people. Even if you craftily have a job where you don’t have to deal with your clients face to face (hello, editing and transcription!), you tend to end up doing events, going to networking, etc. All of that can be a minefield. It’s all about who you know, and meeting, liking and trusting people – difficult if the person you’re speaking to seems to think they’ve never met you before when you had an in-depth conversation about widgets last time you met.

If you’re an introvert, by the way, this can make business encounters and networking even more exhausting than they already are!

I’m going to share some coping strategies that I’ve used in my business life (or should have used sooner). If you have this issue, too, I would LOVE you to share your experiences and coping strategies in the comments below!

Coping strategies for the business owner or businessperson with prosopagnosia

Tip 1: Be honest about it

I really wish I’d always done this. When I meet new people who I might meet again, I now pretty well always say, “Just to let you know, I have a condition called prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, which means that I have trouble recognising people. If you see me out and about, please come and say hello and remind me who you are!” It breaks the ice a bit, and I’ve not found anyone so far who’s reacted badly to this (why would they? Would you want to meet someone who did react badly again?)

Tip 2: Use the features of networking to your advantage

Networking events often feature badges and usually feature business cards. Hooray! You can at least make a note of people’s names and check their badges next time. I am good at recognising words and so I’ll commonly collect business cards from people I’ve met, then look out for those names next time. If you can’t read the badge from a distance, make a conversation about it: “Oops, my badge is peeling off,” “Where did you get your name badge from?” (this one only works at the beginning, obviously). Moving around the event and re-meeting people, a quick glance at the badge will reassure you as to whether you’ve met them before.

Tip 3: For one-off events with a lot of circulating, concentrate on a non-facial feature

If you’re at a one-day conference or training day, people aren’t likely to change too much. If you know you’re not good with faces, concentrate on earrings, unusual shoes, an e-watch – any clue that you can pick up that will help you to match the person to someone you know when they come around again (you probably already do this, but just in case).

Tip 4: Try to have a role at events

Weirdly, having a role that means lots of people talk to you can make it easier. They probably won’t expect you to recognise them, so if someone’s chasing up their gluten-free lunch, they’re likely to say so, meaning you can context-match and have the appropriate conversation.

Tip 5: When you’re having a meeting, turn up first

If you’re already in the meeting place, perhaps sitting down in an open and friendly position but looking at your phone or gazing calmly around you, it’s much more likely that the other person will come to you. If a different person you know, nothing to do with the meeting, just happens to come in, you’re just going to have to hope they have very different attributes (different gender, age, etc.) to the person you’re meeting – but I’ve never had a mix-up.

This one works for dates and meeting up with a new friend, too.

Tip 6: Be super-friendly

If you can manage to be super-friendly and approachable with a “Hi, how are you?” you can often pick up hints as to whether the other person already knows you from their answer.

Tip 7: Have a friend with you

If you know you’re going to be doing a regular event, volunteering session etc. there’s no shame in enlisting the help of a friend. I try to take my husband when I’m meeting people at the railway station (so many faces!) and pal up with a known person who can give me clues and cues when I can.

Tip 8: Do a job where you can hide the prosopagnosia

My job, as I mentioned above, doesn’t involve me being face to face with clients. I really do not know how I’d do that, actually. If you do have that kind of role and this condition, I really would like to know how you manage, as it will help other people (pop a comment below or get in touch if you’d rather be anonymous). You can use the tips above to work out who people are, and if you have regular customers, you will start to recognise them in time. How do waiters and teachers manage it, I wonder?

Dealing with prosopagnosics

If you meet one of us and you know (because we’ve told you) or suspect that we are prosopagnosic, please bear with us! We do not mean to be rude! Of course, I’m better at recognising (ha ha) this in other people, and I have managed to reassure and inform a couple of people that it’s not them, it is A Thing, but if someone fails to recognise you a few times, reintroduces themselves to you when you think they know who you are, or has to ask your name when they’re ticking you off a list and they’ve met you a few times before, chances are they’ll have a touch of prosopagnosia.

Top tips for dealing with someone with prosopagnosia:

  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Do introduce yourself, just “Hi, it’s Liz the slow runner, we met at the back of the pack at last week’s run” will work wonders.
  • Don’t think they’re stupid, it’s just one aspect of them. We all have blind spots. I’m really good at recognising voices, for example.
  • Don’t suddenly grow a beard or dye your hair without warning them (that’s a bit of a joke of course, but if you’re close to a prosopagnosic, it’s best to warn them of any major changes in appearance coming up, and remind them afterwards).
  • If they ask you who someone is, or to help them spot their husband in a crowd – again – don’t sigh with exasperation, just try to help.


I hope this has helped anyone with prosopagnosia feel less alone. If you want to get in touch with me about it, feel free to do so via my contact form.

The Guardian article explains things very clearly and easily, with good examples.

If you think you have prosopagnosia, the Cambridge Face Recognition Test (CFRT) is the one to take.

Face Blind UK is an organisation dedicated to raising awareness and providing support

The prosopagnosia website is a bit more formal but ever so useful, and there’s a discussion forum, too!

And as I said, if you have anything to add or any help you can give or stories to share, please comment below. And if you know anyone this article might help, please share it using the sharing buttons below. Thank you!

PS: This was quite a difficult article and image that I wanted to get right. Thank you to the people who helped me out!


Posted by on October 8, 2015 in Business, Prosopagnosia, Skillset


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Aglet or ferrule?

DictionariesThis is a cheeky one. Of course you all know the difference between these two lovely words. But I like them, and it’s my blog, and you never know who might look things up (even “mandrel or mandrill” is quite popular).

An aglet is the little tube that you find on the end of your shoelaces, usually made of plastic but sometimes of metal. Sweetly, it apparently comes from the French for “little needle”, even though it doesn’t really look like or act like a needle in itself, but is used to help you thread the lace through the holes.

A ferrule is the little plastic or rubber cap that sits on the end of a walking stick or umbrella and prevents it from getting damaged.

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


Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Small business chat update – Julia Walton

Small business chat update – Julia Walton

Today we’re catching up with Julia Walton from J. Walton Restoration  who we first met in July 2013 and then again in August 2014. I’ve been really enjoying watching her Facebook page for the last couple of years, seeing the amazing furniture restoration jobs she’s completed. When I asked Julia in 2014 where she wanted to be now, she replied,  “I’m really not sure. Permanent workshop space is an issue and I think that’s something I need to look at, however relocation back to the north of England is niggling away at the back of my mind, we’ll see,” and indeed she did relocate this year – read on to find out how things are going and a special news flash at the end.

Hello, Julia! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

I’ve just jumped off the deep end into the unknown and left my workshop and clients behind to move to be closer to family. Over the past month I’ve been relocating, cruising my narrow boat up from West London to Yorkshire. I didn’t know if we’d have the confidence to do it but it’s been part of the long-term plan for a while.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

The location is completely different, and that will bring with it a change in clients. It’s VERY early days though as I have yet to even find a workshop.* I’ll be looking for the same sort of work, though I might need to look a little further up here as I’ve had to leave my best contact and the work he supplied behind.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
On the work front, I don’t know, but on a personal note, it would be how much I enjoy cruising the canals. I live on a narrow boat and that’s how we’ve travelled north. We’ve lived aboard our boat for 3 years but never cruised for so long. Waking up in your own bed each morning but somewhere new is a real experience, I love it.

Any more hints and tips for people?

At this stage I”d hesitate to  encourage people to take the plunge and relocate without a safety net, ask again in a years time and we’ll see whether I’ve sunk or swum!

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Hopefully I’ll have set up my workshop and begun building clients and confidence in the new area.

* STOP PRESS  Julia got in touch just before I published this update to report that J. Walton Restoration is now located in Exchange Mill, Elland, located just 5 minutes from J24 of the M62. The area as far as clients are concerned is around Huddersfield, Brighouse, Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, perhaps Leeds. West Yorkshire in general.

It’s all so exciting – and fancy relocating via living on a narrow boat – I think Julia’s the only one of my interviewees to live in such an exciting home! Best of luck to Julia as she re-establishes herself and her company in Elland and we’ll look forward to catching up with her newt year. Do follow J. Walton Restoration on Facebook to see all the lovely projects she’s been engaged in.

Julia’s website is at and her Facebook page is here. You can read her blog of her narrow boat cruise North here.

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 (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on October 3, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Small business chat – Carrie Weekes and Fran Glover

Small business chat interview two mugsI’m delighted to feature Carrie Weeks and Fran Glover from A Natural Undertaking on the day that they’re also featured on the nationwide Small Business Saturday Small Biz 100 blog.

I first met Carrie, now co-running a funeral director based in the Moseley/Kings Heath area of Birmingham, almost exactly 20 years ago, when we were studying for a Master’s in Library and Information Studies. Who would have known that two decades later, we’d both be successful businesspeople, me an editor and Carrie a funeral director? Well, actually, I don’t think the link is too tenuous, as, like the librarians we thought we were going to be, we are helping people and providing information. I wonder where our course-mates are now! I’ve been watching Carrie’s business, started up with business partner Fran Glover, grow over the last year or so, and I have to say that if I could have predicted a business that was going to be a success, it would be this one, as they’ve planned, branded, networked and worked their way into an excellent position already. Let’s meet Carrie and find out how the business started and has been doing …

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

Our business is called A Natural Undertaking, and we’re an independent Funeral Director. We registered as a company in May 2014, ran our first funeral in September 2014 and officially launched the business in November 2014.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I had just come through a period of enforced unemployment while looking after my daughter, who was very poorly. When she got better, I was in a position where I had no job. I decided to take the idea I’d had in the back of my mind for years and find a way to try to do it – “if not now, then never” was the thought behind it.

Plus, for the previous 25 years, I’d worked for other people. I’d reached a point where I’d seen a number of friends setting up their own businesses, and realised that it was possible.

Obviously, there was a career path where I could work for a funeral director rather than setting up on my own, or in a partnership, as I eventually did. But as an independent company, we can see the process through from beginning to end, and can be flexible for our clients. That really appealed to me, and continues to appeal.

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

Although it might seem like an odd choice to some people, I had a long-held belief that the funeral business had not changed for the past 100 years, and funerals I had been involved in didn’t reflect how interesting people were and how society has changed.

We have also changed as consumers: the advent of the Internet has given an opportunity to change the business model, giving interesting challenges. In the old days, you’d have a local funeral directors on the high street, which probably ended up being bought out by a big company, selling packages which suited them. Now, the process can be broken down into its component parts, giving people choice and exposing the myths about what can and can’t be done.

I’m also passionate about helping people and giving them choice and options. As a funeral director, every client is different, and I love finding out about people and giving their loved ones the choices that will help them through their grief. It’s rewarding for me and it helps them at the same time.

Of course, I did a large amount of work experience and training in the industry before I took the plunge myself.

Had you run your own business before?

I hadn’t run my own business before, but I’d worked at a business library helping start-ups and with social enterprises, helping them with their business plans, so I had the theory behind the business side of things (and got experience with the practical side once I’d worked out this is what I wanted to do).

Fran had run her own business and also had marketing experience, and that’s how our business happened: she came in to give me support as a friend and mentor, then decided to join me and become an undertaker. She saw that this was a viable business proposition with a gap in the market as well as being a way that she could feel she was doing something more meaningful.

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

In the 12 months before we started trading, I did a lot of work experience with like-minded funeral directors across the country. A vitally important aspect of this was networking and identifying individuals and companies in the whole movement that’s been recently opening up the ‘death conversation’ – with the Natural Death Centre, death cafes, death salons, the Good Funeral Awards and a loose network of operators who were interested in the same things that we were.

I identified the leaders of the conversation and made contact with them in order to learn from the best; the pioneers. I went to see them, they recommended me to others, and I met all sorts of people. I have to say that I found people outside the mainstream welcoming and supportive of our plans.

Being a funeral director isn’t a profession with a single career path. There are legal responsibilities and health & safety and risk management considerations, but unlike in the US, there is not a universally recognised system of qualification. We surrounded ourselves with brilliance, knowledge and wisdom, in effect apprenticing ourselves to the best people.

This period of fact-finding and training overlapped with us registering as a Limited Company – it was important to us from the start to take the less risky route with limited liability. We went in full-time committed from the start, but built the business slowly.

Two things that helped us in the beginning were support from the Chamber of Commerce, including a training event called Ready for Business, and the associated support of a mentor, who for a few vital months helped with our business plan and acted as a sounding board and a source of external accountability.

Before we started pitching for any business or running any funerals, we developed our branding and worked on our brand development, pitching ourselves, the language used on our website and marketing materials. We leased a vehicle and equipment and obtained a government Start-up Loan.

We always made sure we were covering our costs, and continue to do so.

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

That this is a 24-hour business, both from the point of view that obviously someone could ring us in the middle of the night to ask about our services, but also more fundamentally that if it’s your own business, you can’t switch off. It even invades your dreams!

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

Don’t worry about what other people in the business are going to think about you. We started out scared about upsetting The Funeral Business – but it’s not about what they think, it’s about what the individual families we are helping think.

Do a good job, one family at a time. Some people might call us a Disruptor, we simply believe that we are a business that’s helping to change the business model. Having 35 families and counting that are really pleased with what we’ve done for them gives us the confidence that this is needed.

The main message: you have a right to do this.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

I wish we’d had the confidence to have a higher profile locally early on, to have had more guts to really promote ourselves locally. The funeral business works on quite a small network of word-of-mouth and reputation: now, people who have been to our funerals get in touch when it’s time to organise one for their loved one.

What are you glad you did?

There are a few things we’re really glad we did:

  • First of all, we put in place a network of support right from the beginning. Written into our business plan and future plan is the aim to make our own lives better, too. That means having cover from our associates so that we can have family time and take holidays, and maintaining a good work-life balance right from the start.
  • We’re glad that we spent time, money and effort on the branding, getting a proper design for our brand, website and marketing materials, being sticklers for detail, working out what we wanted and getting it: the right name, the right feel. It was a bold decision to put the branding on our vehicle, which is non-traditional in the business but has resulted in us picking up work.
  • We’re also glad that we’ve been part of the bigger conversation about death and dying, that we’ve networked and taken full advantage of the opportunities that are offered to us. If you give people quality information and work for the good of the industry and society as well as your own business, people will be able to make more informed choices, and will go to a business that allows them to make these choices, that will deliver them. The things that we do now: having stalls at local street fairs, running death cafes, educating the public on the choices available, will ultimately benefit our business as well.

What’s your top business tip?

If you just do the best job you can, every single time, take every opportunity to learn from what you’re doing, and don’t worry about everyone else, that WILL pay off.

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

We’ve been growing steadily as our confidence has grown, including more work coming locally through word-of-mouth and our growing reputation. We’ve been running more creative funerals and getting recognition for that – we’ve started developing a real USP in that area. We have the confidence to offer families different options, so people are going for them.

We have received recognition for making natural, ecologically friendly, green options available as an integral part of what we do. We incorporate this naturally, for example encouraging people in Birmingham to realise that they can have a natural burial, even if they live in a big city. As part of this recognition, in September 2015 we were awarded Green Funeral Directors of the Year at the Good Funeral Awards. We were also nominated in the Most Promising New Funeral Directors category. As all of the nominations come from families who we have helped, this meant a lot to us.

Carrie Weekes Fran Glover A Natural Undertaking funeral directors Birmingham

Carrie with A Natural Undertaking’s Good Funeral Award at the Kings Heath Street Fair, Birmingham

We were also chosen as Virgin Start-up Ambassadors in May 2015. We got to have lunch with Richard Branson, who told us he thought our business was “100% a great idea”. We’ve been involved in networking and coaching events through this, and also write a monthly blog post for Virgin.

Finally (for the moment), we have been selected as one of the Small Biz 100 for this year’s Small Business Saturday and we’re featured on 1 October 2015. As part of this nationwide event, we’re trying to get local businesses involved in talking about small businesses and encouraging people in the area to use them.

All of this has helped us to raise awareness not just of our business, but of some of the conversations people should be having about death and dying.

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

  • We want to have a higher percentage of our funerals to be from the Kings Heath and Moseley area and a higher percentage of those to be natural burials, because those are beautiful.
  • We want to be seriously considering our own premises and what those would be.
  • In parallel with the business development, we would like to be more visible and high-profile around Birmingham as facilitating the death conversation.
  • We want to make sure that we’re continuing to look after ourselves.
  • We want to bring other local companies into our network so that we can run our business within a local, sustainable supply chain.
  • We want to be making sure that people have more information and better choices about funerals for themselves and their loved ones.

They have 1-year, 5-year and 7-year plans; they used their experience and knowledge and added in specific training; they network with the best in their industry niche; they’re already winning awards; and they’re doing things ethically and kindly and supporting other local businesses. With all of that on the go, I’m confident that we’ll see Carrie and Fran’s business grow and thrive over the next year, and many years to come. What a long way from our library studies for me and Carrie!

You can find A Natural Undertaking online at
Carrie Weekes or Fran Glover are available 24 / 7 on Phone: (0121) 444 0437 and Mobile: 07986 423 146 and you can email them, too.

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 (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on October 1, 2015 in Business, Small Business Chat


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