Monthly Archives: September 2017

Small business chat – Laura Rennie

Small business chat – Laura Rennie

Welcome to another new interviewee today – Laura Rennie from Arena HR. Laura told me that she found this series, read one interview and couldn’t stop reading them, which is great to hear, and I’m excited to include her insights. Like many people, Laura went self-employed in a business area she already knew – in fact, as we’ll learn, she’d been providing free advice for some time before she realised it was time to go solo. Laura’s got an event happening this week – do pop over to have a look.

Hello Laura, and welcome to Libro Towers. What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

My business is called Arena HR. I have worked for charities, private and public sector organisations but what I was finding was that I was providing advice to friends, people who knew my friends and family that needed help personally or within their business and showing them how to create a positive working environment. Now I do this through the movement of #doingHRright – our first Scottish Conference for DisruptHR takes place next week. People are keen to find the right way to get the best for their staff and do the best for them. I finally Incorporated in February 2016.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

After experiencing HR done wrong, I realised that it was more common than I thought. Businesses out there need to be supported and understand how to do HR right.

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

20+ years of HR experience AND lots of successes behind me, I realised I could offer a service that people needed, not just in the corporate environment.

Had you run your own business before?

Nope, hence the reason why I provided the service for so long without charging anyone.

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

I came up with the concept in January 2016, by the end of the month I had my first client so incorporated the following month. Six months later I was handing in my notice and becoming a full-time business owner.

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

Don’t feel you have to work every single day and night. Learn when you work best and take breaks with family and friends without feeling guilty.

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

Move into digital practices quicker. They might be scary but they will save you so much time later on!!

What do you wish you’d done differently?

This is tricky because every failure has been a great learning experience. Our first employee lasted two weeks and then we had to dismiss them. Not a great advert for an HR company but it just wasn’t the right fit. My gut knew. I should have listened better.

What are you glad you did?

I made a few rules that I stick by every day, no matter what.

What’s your top business tip?

Go with your gut. That’s your experience and knowledge all coming together shouting at your brain and heart. Listen.

How has it gone since you started?

It’s grown so quickly. In one specific month our turnover increased by 300% – now we are recruiting our next team members and up for a major award.

Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

We’ve grown and diversified – and we have created and produced an interactive App which will be available in app stores soon.

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

Opening our next office to service our London clients!!

I completely agree with Laura’s tip about not working constantly, and I also like that she has learned from her mistakes. A gut reaction is indeed a mixture of experience and knowledge and very well worth listening to, too. Good luck with the event, Laura, and we’ll look forward to hearing how the office and new App are going next time!

You can find Arena HR and Laura Rennie at

You can email Laura using this link, and the Scotland event can be found 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 September 30, 2017 in Business, Small Business Chat


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More Control Key keyboard shortcuts Ctrl-J and more

hands typing I have previously written about the wonders of Control-F and how this keyboard shortcut  finds text in almost everything (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, web pages, WordPress back-end, etc., etc., etc). Then I discussed other Control- or Ctrl+ keyboard shortcuts that you can use to copy and paste, embolden, italicise and underline, find, goto and replace, undo, redo and open, new, print and save. But I’ve recently had some questions about the remaining Control Key commands, so let’s round up what they do.

Why do we use keyboard shortcuts?

Keyboard shortcuts are used to save wear and tear on the wrists, to interact with a computer in other ways than just using two hands and a mouse, to save time, and, maybe, to show off your amazing computer skills.

What are the rest of the keyboard shortcuts using the Control key, then?

Ctrl-D – open the Font dialogue box using Control Key + D

Ctrl-E – centres the text in which the cursor is situated (this acts a toggle, so will un-centre centred text)

Ctrl-J – makes the text in which the cursor is situated become fully justified (again, this is a toggle, so the text will return to left justification (in a left-to-right alphabet document) if it’s already fully justified)

Ctrl-K – opens the Hyperlink dialogue box – make sure you have the text that you want to create a link for highlighted before pressing Control + k

Ctrl-L – makes the text in which the cursor in situated become left-justified (a toggle, so if it’s already only left-justified, pressing this will return the text to its full justification)

Ctrl-M – increases the indent on the left (much like the Tab key)

Ctrl-Q – removes indenting, so if you haven’t got any, it will seem this doesn’t do anything

Ctrl-R – makes the text in which the cursor is located become right-justified (a toggle, so pressing this in text that is already right-justified will change it to left-justified)

Ctrl-T – moves just the bottom indent slider across one tab at a time to create a hanging indent

Ctrl-W – closes the document, giving you the option to save


Did you know ALL of these shortcuts? They’ll save you some mouse clicks and some are a lot quicker and more useful than the other methods you can use to get the same results. Which are your favourites?

Related posts on this blog:

How to find text almost anywhere

Changing from lower case to upper case

Using the Control key shortcuts (the ones that aren’t here)

Find all of the short cuts here


Posted by on September 27, 2017 in Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word, Writing


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Small business chat update – Stephen Tiano

Small business chat update – Stephen Tiano

It’s Small Business Update time, so settle down with a cuppa and let’s chat to Stephen Tiano from Tiano Book Design who is here for the sixth time! In his first interviews in 2012 and 2013 we heard about his life working in the civil service and doing book design in the rest of his time, by April 2014 he was planning a move and in May 2015 he was planning to retire from his day job and work on book designing full time. When we caught up with Stephen in June 2016 he HAD retired and his plans to achieve by now were: “Well, I’d be okay to be as busy as I am now, with as much work waiting in the wings. I’d be happy to have more. I think for the first time I expect to be busier, to have grown and expanded. Here’s hoping!”. How exciting to be planning expansion after two and a half decades in the business. Let’s see how he’s getting on …

Hello, Steve, good to talk to you again! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Definitely not. On the downside is that new jobs had not been coming in as quickly this year as I’d expected after how busy I was last year. On the other hand, I’m shocked at having a rather big, consuming, project, a book of (for want of a better word), philosophical, questions asked by the author, and answers provided by people he’s asked. And each of these chapters or sections of questions is illustrated by five pages of photos my author has taken. He’s a professional photographer. It’s not the first book of photoessays my client’s published, tho, to my eye, it’s the first time he’s had a designer who’s been able to pull out all the stops along with a lot of involvement from my client) to make this book stand out. On my part, this project has been a way for me to expand my image-editing skills in Photoshop. I’ve famously (well, perhaps that’s a bit grandiose of a way to word it) said that not only am I not an illustrator, I essentially CAN’T draw a straight line. So my Photoshop work has been limited to photo editing. But for this book the photo editing has involved working with backgrounds and color in ways I had never approached before.

On the other hand, things started picking up as summer began; and this is contrary to way things have been most of my years freelancing. That seems to be purely because self publishers now fill just about all my workload. And they don’t seem bound to the kind of seasonal schedule as traditional and academic publishers.

Then, too, I’ve gotten involved with another author’s adventure in taking self-publishing and spinning out a publishing company from it. I should backtrack. I have, indeed, employed a new, lower price structure, in certain instances, to help me keep my earnings within the social security limit I mentioned last year, so that there will be no giveback beyond the regular taxes on my income. I’m electing to go that route with certain clients who otherwise would not be able to AFFORD my services, but with whom I want to work, both just to insure that their voices are heard, but also because they have books in them that I really want to see get the best possible treatment and, ergo, have the best chance of finding an audience and succeeding in measured sales.

To be sure, this doesn’t mean taking part in the “reverse leapfrog mambo,” where freelancers bid competitively to see who will work cheapest for projects they find on the “meat rack” jobs boards.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

Well, continuing on the track I started down in the first question, I continue to devote some time nearly every day to root around and find interesting, new, paying book projects. But I definitely discuss each potential project with an open mind about what I’ll charge. In preparing my proposals, with books I’ve already made a commitment to in my heart and mind, I work out a price the usual way and then try to get some detail about the potential client’s circumstances, so I can come up with the correct discounted price, sometimes as little as one-QUARTER to one-third of what I’d normally charge.

So what’s that mean in concrete terms? Well, the second project I mentioned above, the author spinning out a whole publishing company idea, for instance. I did that once before for a self-publishing author who formed a company, Pascha Press, that, for a couple of reasons, one being her fighting a serious illness, hasn’t succeeded quite the way we’d hoped, though she’s trying to reinvigorate the business and continue with the few books she’s had planned from the start. This new one began with my answering a posting seeking help getting a book to press from my client’s father, as the client is a young woman about to start high school. She’d already self-published three or four books, but with little fanfare and no real professional design and layout help. Her parents, however, have supported her every inch along the way, editing and advising her.

The book that found it’s way to me was a book of ONE-PAGE, capsulized biographies of 100 impactful New Yorkers, called THE 100 MOST IMPORTANT NEW YORKERS. For this one, to move the process along, I got involved in sourcing photos of the subjects of my author’s biographies. And this has been both eye-opening and a project in and of itself. Although I’ve stated before that I’m leery of the use of stock photography, for a book of such bios, the more recognizable the subjects of the photos, the better. Additionally, a high school student’s budget is definitely limited—so I’m looking strictly at public domain and otherwise free-to-use photos. And my usual proviso about making the choice to self-publish being a choice to go into business as a publisher is not quite the hard-and-fast rule I’d come to regard it. I mean, she and her parents absolutely want to be successful in terms of sales, but they’re realistic about how they’ll need to break through a system that still doesn’t make it a walk in the park to commercial success for first-time authors, especially those who are self-publishing.

Stephen Tiano 100 most important new yorkers

So, then, about mid-way through my work, her dad—with whom I’d broached the subject of their starting a publishing company, as my intrepid young author, Agatha Edwards, was planning a whole series of “100 MOST IMPORTANT …” books—told me that he’d done the initial paperwork to start the formation of Brooklyn Bridge Books. Further, Agatha was already at work on the next book THE 100 MOST IMPORTANT AFRICAN AMERICANS. I immediately sourced a logo—again, a public domain image is perfect, as we want the image instantly connectable with the company name. Agatha is still writing and rewriting this one and her mom and dad are editing her.

Stephen Tiano Agatha

I’ve finished sourcing photos for this new book. I’m actually knee-deep laying out the first 50 bios. We’ve got a look and a plan to reuse the framework of the first cover, with subtle distinctions, for the whole series and I am again a publishing company’s Creative Director, with a stake in the business.

Here’s the front cover for the new book, THE 100 MOST IMPORTANT AFRICAN AMERICANS:

Stephen Tiano 100 most important african americans


All great stuff! What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Well, that changing circumstances—I was NOT immediately 100% happy with the idea that lowered prices were the way for me to go—opens up new avenues for work and making work a dream adventure. I’m trying to use the phrase “semi-retirement” as a mantra of sorts to get me to focus on looking ahead and not backward too much with wishes I’d done things differently. I’m finding there’s a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility in embracing this idea that, more than ever, I work on exactly what I want whenever I want. At the same time, however, I’ve started to become a bit more vocal online about what I dubbed above the “reverse leapfrog mambo,” actually commenting a couple of times on one such jobs boards blog.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Keep your eyes open for new ways to promote. For instance, blog interviews like the one you and I have now made an annual occurrence. And then, too, there are other media. I was interviewed a few months back by an Internet radio station, Paperback Radio. Every effort has the potential for greater reach. It’s not the same old world and way of doing things with paper résumés sent out to prospective employers by snail mail. We’re in a gig economy where all the new media, including social, are part of a whole arsenal of ways to approach prospective clients. (Funny … this reminds me that I want to cold email every publisher listed in the current year’s Writer’s Digest to see if they might have projects for me. I used to do that annually and haven’t in two or three years, as self-publishers have so filled my dance card. But I would like to try get some work from traditional publishers again.)

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

Well, I certainly hope to be building on these new directions—busier than ever, of course. And another year closer to the point where I no longer have limits on how much I can earn without a penalty. I’d definitely like to continue to work with self-publishers, as it’s really exciting to be part of bringing new, undiscovered authors, who, in years past, would not have had an opportunity to make their voices heard.

At the same time, I’d like to get a foot back in the world of traditional publishing. I can’t say enough about how fortunate I am to have cultivated my “freelancing with a net” for so many years at the same time that I worked a full-time day job. The independence it gave me to pick and choose clients, to remain staunch about getting paid like a professional and not accepting pennnies-on-the-dollar and the same prices that only someone living in a third-world economy can live on was a gift. And now, in my semi-retirement, even more secure than when I was working, I love that I can accept new opportunities that don’t pay my full price and give some back to the publishing universe.

Lots of exciting stuff and also thoughtful reflections on the state of the publishing industry and its associated industries – I do love and appreciate the level of effort and detail Steve puts into his interviews. I love Agatha’s work and hope that project goes on to further success!

Stephen Tiano
Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist

tel. & fax: (631)284-3842 / cell: (631)764-2487
Skype: stephentianobookdesigner
FaceTime: Stephen Tiano
email  website:
blog  Twitter  Facebook

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 September 23, 2017 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Disc or disk?

Disc or disk?

I will have to re-do this picture soon. I now have a new “New Oxford Style Manual”, a new “Concise Oxford English Dictionary” and a new “AP Stylebook” AND my new “Chicago Manual of Style” should be arriving tomorrow. Time for a new photo then, I think.

Anyway, it’s Troublesome Pairs time and I had to check this one just in case the other day when I was doing a transcription – really, we don’t use these words very often now that computers don’t use floppy disks any more, and although vinyl records are a ‘thing’ again, they tend to be referred to as ‘vinyls’ rather than ‘discs’. Oops, I’ve given the game away already, haven’t I!

So, just to spell it all out for future reference …

A disc is a flat round thing (also used metaphorically, for example for the Sun, which is obviously really a sphere) and is the spelling used for the kind of disc that is a record. I think a disc only has to be flatter than it’s round to be a disc, because you get discs of cartilage in your spine which can slip.

A disk is the computer kind of item. It contains a disc on which data can be magnetically or optically stored (the latter including CD-ROMs).

And just to confuse, in the UK you can spell both with a k, and then you have to work out which it is from the context.

The talk of the first kind of disc got me thinking about cylinders. These have straight sides and an oval or circular cross-section, so in effect a disc is a kind of cylinder as long as it has some kind of three dimensional existence.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!


Posted by on September 20, 2017 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs



Small business chat update – Lyndsey Michaels

Small business chat update – Lyndsey Michaels

It’s a big hello again to Lyndsey Michaels, or Lyndsey Michaels Bid Writer as she’s professionally known. Lyndsey writes tender documentation for small businesses who want to increase their sales. We first met Lyndsey in July 2014 and had our first update in August 2015, chatting again in August 2016. At that point, having shared her year with her trademark openness and honesty about the ups and downs. Lyndsey’s plans for the year up to now were: “Right now, I’m working hard on making better content for my site, to draw in more visitors and increase my visibility as an expert in my field. I’ve nailed down several formal targets and simplified those into The One Thing – in my case, number of enquiries – that meeting all the other targets relies on. I’m also hoping to do more public speaking (argh!). Hopefully this time next year I’ll be feeling positive and confident and may even be a few steps nearer to my goals!” Some great goals there, so let’s see how she’s done!

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

Yes and no. My refreshed website has certainly brought in a lot more business, which is as planned and very reassuring. In terms of increasing visibility as an expert in my field, there have been some very cool developments there too, which I’m hoping to capitalise on over the next year.

I haven’t done anything in the way of public speaking! But it’s been a very busy year in other ways, so I’m not sure I would have been able to fit it in anyway.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated was that, partly as a result of talking openly about my ‘to quit or not to quit’ conundrum last year, I’ve been offered several opportunities to do other things, completely unrelated to bid writing and I’ve taken a few of those opportunities up.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

A minor but ongoing health issue has pushed me into making some changes to my day-to-day work schedule and, after a lot of trial and error, I think I have it about as optimised as it’s going to get right now. I’m much stricter with myself about which hours in the day I allocate to different types of task and that’s also led to me being much clearer with clients about what they can expect from me and when.

Taking on new, non-bid related projects has been both exciting and nail-biting! Although there are a lot of transferable skills involved, such as project management, research and training, it also means I’m looking at how organisations work from a different perspective than I do when I’m dealing with bid writing, management and coaching. A couple of those projects are for an organisation whose services can directly impact peoples’ quality of life so that’s something I’ve been keeping at the forefront of my mind. With bid writing and consultancy, my input still has an impact beyond the bottom line – on the business owners, their staff and their own customers – but it’s at least one step removed.

One project’s remit included research and purchase recommendations, installing and setting up new software, training myself on software I’ve never used before, then creating training documentation and lesson plans and training other people, at all levels, on it. The initial research element led to that project parameters being changed and the addition of another project. I’m used to the only major changes in my work being a few lines in a specification or maybe the occasional deadline extension, so this has involved a lot more thinking on my feet than usual! The project is just about to go live so I expect there’ll be more tweaks and changes to come!

It has been refreshing though, after six years of thinking only about tenders, to stretch my braincells a bit.

One major event is that I’m getting married later this year! Business-wise, it won’t change much – I’ll be keeping my company name the same and just changing my surname for non-work purposes. But I do feel it’s brought a few work and non-work related goals and aspirations into sharper focus.

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

I’ve learned AND I wish I’d known a year ago that it’s not just ‘ok’, it’s vital, to keep your health at the top of your priorities, even if it’s something that seems minor or that you – for whatever reason – feel you should be able to ‘just power through’. Committing to a few changes to my work day has greatly improved my productivity, which is not just good for my clients but also prevents me from falling down the mental hole of despair!

I’ve also come to realise that, while it’s hard for any freelancer or one-person business to separate work from home – and, in fact, I’d spent a long time deliberately aiming to do the opposite for a number of reasons – at this point in my life, it’s something I need to look into more seriously. I feel I’ve become a little ‘one dimensional’ over the last few years. Getting married seems to be a timely point to start putting more effort into my non-work life and, maybe, even letting work take a bit of a back seat for a while.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Opening yourself up to other opportunities can be really good for your existing business. I’d spent a lot of time over the last six years on streamlining my services to appeal to a very specific sort of client and that’s always paid off. I don’t think I’d want to go back to being a generalist for that type of work even if it brought in more money. However, while juggling both can be tricky at times taking on new projects that are completely unrelated to my ‘official’ business has been and continues to be a positive challenge.

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

Ah, well that’s the key question this year! For my main business, I want to look more into ‘business sustainability’ – making the best of the hours I work, the experience I’ve developed and any opportunities that come up. I’m planning on changing my billing structure and re-packaging some of the services I offer.

Beyond that, I have no idea! There are a lot of roads open to me at the moment: stick with the bid writing business as-is; aim to move more into an ‘expert for hire’ role, still within the bid and tender industry; move away from bids and tenders entirely and capitalise on the opportunities I hope will come following one or more of these other projects; or, something completely different!

On a personal level, once the wedding’s done and dusted, my partner and I have Plans-with-a-capital-P and some of those will dictate or at least affect what I do with my business. It’s an exciting year all round!

All really exciting stuff, and some great plans there. I used my marriage three years ago to pause and have a think about my work schedule, etc. – at the time, my husband was moving into a period of self-employment himself, so things changed, then changed again. I’m sure Lyndsey will continue to embrace all the new opportunities that come her way. I’m lucky in that my job is quite varied already, and I think if I only did one type of thing, I’d be looking to diversify by now. It’s hard to do that from choice, though (mine happened by accident when I added one transcription client to my roster) but I’m sure she’s more than equal to it. Oh, and best wishes for your wedding, Lyndsey!

Lyndsey Michaels

Bid Writer
07813 606033

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 September 16, 2017 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Small business chat – Megan Ronan

Small business chat – Megan Ronan

Today we’re meeting Megan Ronan from Mind Over Matter Fitness and Nutrition, based in Oxfordshire. Megan has been the personal trainer for one of my friends for a year, so I know she’s good from her reports, and she knows a lot about running, my exercise of choice (so I took the opportunity to ask her a couple of sneaky marathon and ultramarathon tips at the end, too). There’s a lot to personal training and nutrition consultancy and there are so many under-qualified people out there, so it’s great to be able to feature someone so well-trained and knowledgeable. If you’re considering going into the health and wellness industry, you’ll find this and other interviews really interesting, but I love seeing people’s paths to success whatever line of business they’re in. Let’s find out how Megan’s got where she is today …

Hello, Megan, and it’s lovely to meet you. First things first: what’s your business called? When did you set it up?

Hello! My business is called Mind over Matter Fitness and Nutrition and I’ve been completely self-employed for almost a year now, but part-time for a good while before that.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I worked for other people in this industry for a few years to gain experience as this was not my first field of work – I was in education and nutritional research before. Working for other people guarantees you an income but does not allow you much flexibility or creativity. I was fed up with working hard, offering new ideas and not progressing. Lack of organisation and structure in my previous role(s) just made me want to work for myself. I felt I could offer more and make better use of my time, as well as earning more.

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

I’m a nutritionist by original training and worked for Oxford Brookes University for 6 years in a research role. Whilst I enjoyed this job it became tedious – always working in the laboratory and quite a solitary role. Whilst working in this role I also increased my own running (moving on to ultra-marathons) and was really enjoying it. I just felt that my knowledge of nutrition and my love of exercise, specifically endurance running and weight training was where I wanted to concentrate my energy. It seemed a natural progression to train to be a personal trainer and fitness instructor and try to inspire people to love exercise as much as I do.

Back in 2003, I knew I wanted to work in the fitness field and as such signed up to a personal training course whilst also completing my degree. I studied hard but actually failed one of the modules, this knocked my confidence and I never went back to re-take the module! So it took me a few years to gain the confidence to try again and go back to the drawing board and sign up to another course.

Had you run your own business before?

Yes, when I was in my last year or university I started my own cleaning company to earn some money and have a flexible job. I expected to have just a few houses, but after a few months I had enough work for 10 others and so started my own company. The company run for 3 years in total. I sold it to go into nutrition research.

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

I started off studying at home (distance learning) to become a qualified personal trainer and fitness instructor. From there I applied to become a personal trainer at a small local gym, where I worked part-time (30 hours a week) and had a couple of regular classes at other gyms and trained my family and friends. Going for my first personal training job was a bit of a shock to the system as it was literally half my current income. It was a bit of a struggle financially to start with but other than going self-employed it’s the best move I made. It wasn’t long before I was a manager and earning a bit more.

From there I moved to Oxford Brookes University gym where I was also part time, working an average of 27 hours a week and slowly building my own client and class base around this. I was also working another job for an exam board which kept my nutritional knowledge up-to-date. Eventually in October 2016 I was working 27 hours for Brookes and had about 30 hours a week of my own classes and clients, so I had to make the huge decision to go completely self-employed before I worked myself into the ground! I still kept a few classes at Brookes to keep some guaranteed income. Now I only teach 3 classes for a small gym and run my own business full-time.

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

Learn to say no. You can’t do everything and you have to keep some time for yourself and family. There are also only so many hours in the day – try to work too many of those hours in the day, you only burn out.

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

Be confident and learn to ask for help. When marketing and selling isn’t your strong point, ask someone else professional to do it for you – it saves a lot of time and money in the long run.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

Been bolder and more confident – tried to set up more classes and initiatives or set up with a like-minded friend so that you have more support and can bounce ideas off each other. There are things that are working really well at the moment that I just didn’t have the confidence to set up to begin with.

Set work and home life boundaries – by this I mean, have times where you turn your phone off and don’t answer client emails and texts and don’t feel stressed out about doing this. Otherwise work takes over every aspect of your life.

What are you glad you did?

Actually going fully self-employed – there is no better feeling than being your own boss and scheduling your own time.

What’s your top business tip?

Learn to love the cancellations and quiet days.

And – keep on top of the book keeping.

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

It’s my first full year in being fully self-employed so I am learning that the business can be seasonal, so it’s quiet in July and August due to people being away on holiday and enjoying the good weather and again in December as people are getting ready for Christmas and tend to have less disposable income. So, it is good to use these times for long-term planning and preparation for the busier months. These times are also good to implement advertising and marketing strategies that you don’t otherwise have time for.

Overall the business has grown with overall more clients and classes and my location has changed – from a small portacabin to a large commercial gym. The nutritional side of the business has picked up in the last few months which is exciting.

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

I would love to see myself (and a colleague) in our own premises but I think in reality this is more of a 5-year goal.

So more realistically I would like to see myself offering some sort of nutritional coaching and growing the nutritional side of the business. It would be wonderful to have someone else working for me to grow the business further, offering schemes linked to workplace well-being. And of course, having more 1:1 clients as well as my own classes.

And a final cheeky question: what are your marathon and ultramarathon top tips?

Marathon top tip – get the fueling right. Try lots of things during training to make sure you have sufficient energy and don’t crash on race day.

Ultra tip – Break the distance down in your head and mentally tick off the distances as you go, and be prepared to go to some dark places in your head – remember why it is you set out to do it in the first place.

Brilliant – thank you! I remember doing my first marathon I even tried out a million different hairstyles to find one that didn’t rub or annoy me. Anyway, back to the work stuff: I so remember knowing when it was time to jump ship and go fully self-employed (it was almost six years ago that I made that decision, shockingly!), and building in boundaries to work time and having one- and five-year plans is definitely the way to go. I’m looking forward to seeing Megan go from strength to strength (ha ha) and finding out how she’s doing next year. 

Megan Ronan’s Mind Over Matter Fitness and Nutrition website is at and you can email her or call her on 07773 675884 / 01865 735708. She’s also on Facebook and Instagram.

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 September 9, 2017 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Small business chat update – Zoe Austin

Small business chat update – Zoe Austin

Welcome to an update with Zoe Austin, who is a musician and voice, violin, piano and music theory music teacher, in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. We first chatted with Zoe (an ex-library colleague of mine from a long way back) in 2011 and then updated in 2012. Having had a bit of a hiatus, we rejoined her in July 2016. Back then, this was her plan for now: “Still providing music to many different people in order to improve their lives somewhat, but with perhaps a little less travelling and a few earlier nights!” Sounds sensible to me – let’s see how she’s got on.

Hello again, Zoe! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward just one year, four years ago?

Well, no. I am now mostly self-employed and have gained some very well-paid work in Peterborough over the last year which has enabled me to gradually reduce the number of private students I see and, finally, claw back my evenings! I now actually have decent amounts of free time to myself for the first time in 6 years of this work!

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I continued to work for Hunts Music School, but this has now become a charity (rather than a part of Hunts Regional College – long story) and so I now work for them freelance; I began working (employed) at a charity called Rowan last August, as the Music Tutor & Co-ordinator for our students who are adults with learning disabilities. I also do a fair amount of freelance work contracted to Peterborough Music Hub as of last September. This involves me providing whole class instrumental tuition – it is VERY hard work, but it is, as I mentioned, well-paid.

In addition to these, I have picked up some private violin tuition in two other Peterborough schools and thinned-down my private pupil base. I only travel to the home of one of my pupils now, whereas this used to be a regular occurrence: now they mostly come to me, which means I have more time and energy left for myself at the end of the day.

Some personal/professional successes this year for me have been:

My grade 8 violin student got a distinction and is off to study music and history at Liverpool University;
I tutored myself on viola and gained a distinction at grade 6;
A pupil I took the risk of pushing up to grade 5 on violin (he’s only 10 and only took his grade3 last year) rose to the challenge beautifully and passed that exam last month;
I completed my first solo concert organisation and raised around £300 for Rowan: we put on a show at the Michaelhouse Centre in Cambridge just last Saturday and showcased original compositions and improvisations by the music students;
I taught Samba for the first time;
I somehow managed to teach violin and cello to 12 different classes of around 30 children at a time. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t advanced, but we got there in the end!

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

Not to work at a certain primary school where I’ve been treated poorly by the Head and by a parent.

Any more hints and tips for people?

In the world of music tuition, something else always turns up (or will do if you put the work in to creating it!) so don’t worry about letting go of bits of work which are causing you any amount of stress or anxiety: they’re not worth it!

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

I hope to have had as successful a professional year as has been the case this year, and I hope that my contract at Rowan as been extended for the foreseeable future!

The sector Zoe’s in is full of ups and downs and can be quite unpredictable, so I’m glad she’s achieved her aim of carving out more time for herself and having a quieter time of things, while still having the interest of working for multiple organisations and people. I know she’s so happy working at Rowan, and asked me to add the link above. Onwards and upwards (or along, in a stable fashion)!

Zoe’s business Facebook page, her LinkedIn profile and profile on

You can email Zoe, or call her on 07791308536

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 September 2, 2017 in Business, Small Business Chat


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