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Small business chat update – Alison Thompson

Small business chat update – Alison Thompson

Welcome to another Small Business Chat update with Alison Thompson from The Proof Fairy, who started off, like me, as a proofreader and editor, but then added authorship, coaching and event organisation into the mix. We first met Alison in this series in July 2012, and  she updated us in July 2013, August 2014 and August 2015, when her plans for the year were these: “Who knows! I’m hoping the ADHD business will provide a regular, almost passive source of income, leaving me free to pick the most exciting projects to work on with my Proof Fairy hat on. I’ll have had an updated version of The Boy From Hell published and I’d like to have another couple of books under my belt too – a parents’ guide to ADHD and an erotic novel!” So, has she written that erotic novel?

Hello again, Alison! Are you where you thought you’d be a year ago? What has changed and what has stayed the same?

Everything and nothing! This time last year we’d moved house and it caused a lot of upheaval for the business. This year we moved house yet again, after a pretty horrendous experience with a dodgy landlord. The whole experience has been very unsettling and it’s had a huge effect on me personally, as well as the business. Couple that with losing several long-term, established clients because they just got too successful and no longer needed my services/were too busy to provide work/took on in-house staff to do what I’d been doing – and you can imagine the result! For a long time, I pretended everything was okay, stuck my head in the sand and slogged on, but last month I finally bit the bullet and took on a part time job to supplement the income. It means I don’t have to worry about paying the bills for a while, but still have time to work with my existing clients and hopefully pick up a few new ones. And strangely, since I started the job I’ve had three really good enquiries that could lead to interesting long-term projects, so the end is definitely not nigh for the Proof Fairy!

The ADHD side has also been interesting. In October I launched an online parenting course (www.adhdkidsonline.com) which has had great feedback but isn’t selling as well as I hoped – probably as much through my own poor marketing as much as anything. And my book was “properly” published earlier this year but apart from a couple of blogger reviews, it’s not really had the increased profile I was hoping for. But there’s room for improvement in both areas I think – it’s just a case of having the time and money to take action.

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

I wish I’d known a year ago that the house we were moving to was going to be a total nightmare! It’s caused (and is still causing) no end of problems that have affected every area of life, and I really could have done without the hassle! But these things are sent to try us … we’ve learned a few lessons from the experience, and now we are in a nice house with a good landlord, hopefully things will settle back down.

I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned is to be more proactive when times are tough. Because of the problem with our house and various other personal issues, I lost focus on the business, and it took me a long time to realise what a devastating effect that had had. Fortunately, I came out of ostrich mode just in time to take action and pull things around, and the change in mindset has opened up a few interesting-looking doors! I know a lot of people in business think you should “play it big” and always give the impression that you are successful, but when you find yourself believing that when the opposite is true, it can only end in disaster!

Any more hints and tips for people?

Sometimes, being honest is the best way to go. I’ve been upfront about my situation with a few people and that has led to new opportunities that might not have come about had they believed the impression I was giving out – that I was frantically busy!

Diversify – but not too much. I think part of the problem I’ve had was that I got so excited about the ADHD business that I lost focus on The Proof Fairy, which was, after all, my “bread and butter” job. If you’re starting a new enterprise, make sure you still allocate enough time, energy and enthusiasm to whatever it is that’s paying the bills, until the new project is successful enough to take over.

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?

How do you maintain focus on your business when issues in your personal life are draining all your energy?

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

Whatever I say in this section, I never seem to get there! So I think I’m going to leave this really open and just say that in another year’s time I want to be financially comfortable and doing something I really enjoy. And I will DEFINITELY have written that erotic novel!

Wow – what a year. I think it is hard to concentrate on two very different things, and an editor friend of mine says, very wisely, that you should be marketing yourself while you’re busy as well as when you’re quiet, to close those gaps and fill in the lulls. The impression you give is very important, too – I found that having been posting on social media that I was working early, in the middle of the day and sometimes late, I gave the impression I was ALWAYS working, and driving myself into the ground, whereas actually I’m pretty sensible and take long lunch breaks for gymming or running etc. Anyway, we wish Alison all the best for a quieter but more work-filled year – and best of luck with that novel, of course!

Contact Alison by email or at www.theprooffairy.com – or call her on 01367 888229 Mob: 07927 330293.

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 August 27, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Lyndsey Michaels

Small business chat update – Lyndsey Michaels

Welcome again to Lyndsey Michaels, who works as Lyndsey Michaels Bid Writer. Lyndsey writes tender documentation for small businesses who want to increase their sales, usually in the public sector. It’s something I know from both sides, having written tenders to get business for a library supplier I used to work for and having worked editing tender documents, so I have great admiration for her as it’s a complicated business! We first met Lyndsey in July 2014 and had our first update in August 2015. At that point, this is where Lyndsey wanted to be: “Again, more of the same! Day to day, I certainly see my routine and clients remaining much the same. I’m excited about the training programme so will continue to work on that and refine it until it’s ‘market ready’. At some point though, I will have to take the leap and just get on with it, so I’ve given myself a few internal deadlines to stick to. The launch of that service will also coincide with a refresh of my website, which I’m really looking forward to. Other than that, while I’m committed to keeping my core business focused on bid writing and closely associated services, I’m also hoping that the extra time I can now give to random side projects might result in something marketable. It’s not a key objective but it would be nice to have another basket with a couple of eggs in!” So, let’s see how she’s doing now …

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

Sort of. In terms of the internal workings of my business, I have made the changes I planned to and feel my business is much stronger for it. The type of clients I’m attracting now are very much aligned to my own ideals and my success rate for the tenders I’ve completed this year has rocketed as a result.

In terms of actual cash coming in, that’s been a tricky one this year. A lot of my work involves public sector tenders and I work primarily with small businesses, so while my success rates for the work I’ve done has increased, the overall volume of work coming in has decreased. Not by a huge amount, but just enough to mean that those side projects I talked about last year will have to wait a little longer.

Peaks and troughs in the procurement world are a given and I always take these into account. However, a combination of ongoing budget cuts across the public sector over several years has led to at least one season – which would typically be a peak time – almost flat lining this year.

There’s also been a great deal of political uncertainty in 2016 with Brexit and – as is also the case with general elections and other political events – people tend to hold onto what budget they have until they’re more certain of the political landscape.

The end result is that I’ve seen fewer tenders for certain services, particularly those that appeal to small businesses and so, where I’d aimed for an increase in personal income, it’s really just stayed more or less the same. I also had a couple of non-payers at a particularly lean time so that hasn’t helped.

Alongside all of that, we had some major work done on the house and, while all of the contractors working here were great and the work is excellent, it was incredibly disruptive! I work from home so there was no escape. My office became our kitchen, dining and living room for the duration (four months!) and I also ended up doing a fair amount of day-to-day project managing which cut into my work days quite significantly.

In the spirit of being open with other freelancers and small business owners, I will admit that earlier this year I seriously considered packing it all in. I’ve been working hard at this business specifically for five years now, with another five years before that offering more generalist services and by June this year I was about ready to quit.

In the end I took a break, went somewhere sunny and different and let my mind wander. When I came back I felt reinvigorated and ready to throw myself at it again. I can’t pinpoint any specific ‘aha!’ moment, I think it was just a process of letting my subconscious shuffle a few fears, expectations, priorities and disappointments around until the important things floated to the top and everything became a bit clearer. Funnily, one of the things that helped me figure out whether to quit or not was asking myself how I would respond to your Small Business Chat Update questions this year!

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

My new website is up and running and gives a much clearer idea of what I do and the type of clients I work with. I’m really happy with it, particularly the ‘Ask me anything’ mini message facility which seems to have hit the right note with potential clients.

My attitude has changed significantly since my break, so that’s positive! I’m now even more determined than ever to meet my professional and personal goals.

Day to day, not much has changed. I’m still keeping on top of time management. I’m trying to make sure I eat properly and not resort to the ‘freelancer’s three square meals’ (toast). I’m also trying to make myself take advantage of any slow days by doing something more interesting than refreshing my emails constantly!

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

Sadly, I’ve learned – yet again – not to rely on someone’s word or charm when it comes to payment. Maybe this time that lesson will stick!

I’ve learned not to give up even when it seems like the ‘most appropriate’ thing to do. Taking time out to listen to and address my own fears while – crucially – giving others’ opinions less weight has helped me get through this wobbly patch.

I wish I’d known a year ago just how disruptive the building work on the house would be, I think I was a little over optimistic on that count!

Any more hints and tips for people?

It’s OK to think about quitting.

Small businesses like ours aren’t just a job, they’re a fundamental part of who we are as a person – it’s impossible to separate the two.

If something’s not working, it’s important to hash it out, even if that’s just on your own. Recognising which concerns are genuine and which are just fear and anxiety is a good first step to being able to work out what you want to do next.

In fact, it’s probably useful to think about quitting from time to time even when you don’t actually feel like it! It’s a good litmus test of how happy you are with where you’re at right now and helps you see where you could make improvements.

Also, develop targets for your business that are more specific than ‘make money’. Figuring out the absolute baseline activities you need to be doing to meet your hoped for income not only gives you something concrete to work to but it takes away a lot of those nebulous worries.

I’d been tracking a lot of information on potential and actual clients over the last couple of years but had never really been that sure what to do with it. After a day or two of analysis, my focus now is on getting initial enquiries because my stats tell me that for every x enquiries, I generally send x quotes which then turn into x contracted jobs.

It is definitely better to know how near or far away from my goals I am at any given time. While it can be terrifying, it is also extremely motivational!

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?

Have you ever thought about quitting? If so, how did you get to your ultimate decision (whether you carried on or did indeed quit) and do you feel like it was the right thing to do?

Sorry, that’s three questions!

Do you have an answer to anyone else’s bonus question?

I’d like to answer Andrew Donnelly’s question: ‘If you could plan the perfect week at your business what would it be like?’

On Monday I’d start a new project, with an exciting new client. By Wednesday, we’d have developed a good rapport and would both be working hard on their tender but feeling good that we were properly representing the best bits of their business and were putting together something special.

By Friday, we’d have wrapped up what we needed to do for the week and have a clear objective for the next week, so we could both enjoy the weekend without panicking!

In my personal time, I’d spend an hour or so in the park every day, walking my dog. Maybe on Thursday afternoon I’d meet a friend for a coffee and a catch up. Somewhere along the way I’d have planned and shopped for an epic cooking session for Saturday afternoon – that’s really how I get creative when I’m not working.

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

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!

I really appreciate Lyndsey’s honesty here, and this comes in a group of interviews that have all shown responses to bad as well as good times and challenges. I love that people feel they can share this stuff, because this is what REALLY helps other people decide what to do and how to do it, and means we can all see we’re in the same boat sometimes. I’ve certainly had low points, not so much when business has dipped but when it’s become too much to cope with, or I’ve had difficult or demanding customers (which doesn’t happen often, I have to say). I look forward to hearing what the year brings for 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 August 20, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Karen White

Small business chat update – Karen White

Welcome to another Small Business Update – today I pop back into a business area close to mine, chatting to Karen White, ELT editorial project manager from White Ink Limited. Karen’s a relatively new member of the interview club, first featured in March 2014, and then again in June 2015she’s actually been going a year longer than me, though, and is in what I’d call a mature business position, although, as we’ll see, her business area has been changing recently. When I spoke to her last year, where did Karen want to be by now? “I hope that by this time next year, the third ELT Freelancers’ Awayday will have been a huge success, and that the fourth one is in the pipeline. I hope the industry will have settled down a bit, with plenty of work for everyone who needs/wants it. I hope I’m still remembering to put my desk into the stand position!” Let’s see how she’s getting on … 

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

Well, I’m standing up to write this! I did buy an adjustable desk (an IKEA Bekant), and I love it. The second awayday went really well, and my colleague Helen and I have had a meeting this week to plan the third one for January 2017. Otherwise, things are pretty much the same, but …

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

In the last 12 months there have been quite a number of redundancies from ELT (English Language Teaching) publishers, so the pool of freelancers has grown. I’m finding that there is definitely less work about – either because there are more freelancers for it to be spread around, or because there is less publishing being done. I’m not sure which it is. Fortunately, I’m working on a big, interesting new project, which will keep me going for some time, but I’m used to having a couple of small jobs on the go alongside a big one. At the moment the small jobs are few and far between, and I’m aware that others in my industry are experiencing the same thing. I recently carried out a survey of ELT editorial freelance rates, which showed up some interesting results. Hourly rates have barely increased in the three years since I did the last survey, even though the level of experience of the freelancers has increased, and I haven’t put my rates up for a couple of years. All of these factors are worrying, and are issues we’re hoping to discuss at the 2017 awayday.

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

I’ve learned that a sit/stand desk is a good investment. I’ve learned how to use WordPress, and have set up a blog. This is something I had been thinking about for some time, but finally got round to doing it. (Although I wish I’d know the difference between a WordPress.com and WordPress.org before I started!) I’ve also learned how time-consuming blogging is! I’m publishing one post a month at the moment, and can’t see that changing in the near future. I’ve also learned how useful Evernote is for storing blog ideas and links to useful articles.

Any more hints and tips for people? 

I still think networking is the best thing small business owners can do. As well as organising the awaydays for freelances in my field, I’ve joined a local networking group this year, which is full of like-minded people working from home and running small businesses near me. I may not meet my next big client at a meeting, but I’ve picked up lots of tips, heard some inspirational speakers, and joined some really great netwalking sessions. (No, that’s not a typo – we live in a rural area and have stunning walks on our doorstep. Some of our meetings take the form of a morning walk with some business-related chat and it’s a great way to start the day.)

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?

How do you go about finding work if you’re having a quiet period?

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

Scary times indeed. Fear of work from one source drying up is what drove me to diversify in terms of the types of customers I have, their locations and the actual work I do – but that’s not for everyone and does mean it’s more difficult to get known as a specialist in a particular field. I’m sure Karen’s resourcefulness and great contacts will help her ride out this tricky time.

You can visit Karen’s new blog and her Facebook page for White Ink Limited. She has a new database for ELT freelancers and runs ELT Teacher 2 Writer with colleagues.

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 August 13, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Susannah Davda #smallbusiness

Small business chat update – Susannah Davda #smallbusiness

Welcome to the first update from last year’s newbie, Susannah Davda from The Shoe Consultant. She joined the interview roster in June 2015, and when I asked her where she wanted to be by now, she replied, “I’m excited to see which of my services take off and can be expanded upon, and which need to be altered or moved away from. My aim is to be able to take a salary from the business by this time next year,” which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a good way to be – we all need to be excited about our businesses! Let’s see how she’s doing now …

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

Yes and no. I have a better idea about the easy wins in terms of my services. These areas of my business have grown organically, whilst others still need extra promotion. I haven’t begun to pay myself a salary at this point, but my savings have lasted me longer than I thought.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

The mission of my business to promote footwear which is both comfortable and beautiful has remained the same. Much has changed. I’ve gained experience in being freelance and dealing with clients, which has boosted my confidence. I’ve written a book, The Shoe Shopping Kit. The biggest change was that I had a baby in January 2016.

Wow, congratulations! What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Having limited time to work certainly focuses your mind. I’m learning how to juggle parenthood with running a business, and I’ve learnt that even small time-slots can be productive. I wish I’d known how much time I had available pre-baby and done even more to prepare my business for the change.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Organisation is key. Schedule your tasks for each day in your diary.

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?

What are your tips for balancing work and family time?

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

I’d like to take on more consultancy clients, grow my other services, and be taking a salary.

Well, that’s certainly a big change – and we of course congratulate Susannah on the new addition to her family. Balancing work and family time is turning out to be a popular bonus question, so hopefully everyone can share experiences! We wish Susannah luck, growth and a salary for next year!

I published a new book called The Shoe Shopping Kit:

You can find The Shoe Consultant online here: www.shoeconsultant.co.uk and on Twitter and email. She’s co-written a book and you can buy her new Shoe Shopping Kit on Amazon 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 August 6, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Andrew Donnelly

Small business chat update – Andrew Donnelly

Welcome to another Small Business Update – with Andrew Donnelly, who creates apps for iTunes (see the link at the bottom of this piece). I originally interviewed Andrew back in August 2011 and then followed up in September 2012, and October 2013. and most recently in February 2015 – so while we haven’t spoken exactly every year, Andrew’s one of my original interviewees! When I asked him where he wanted to be in a year’s time, he replied “Looking forward, I can see a lot more App work in the world of connected technologies and home. I think this is going to be a year where the game changes dramatically in the sense of what we can do with smart phones in a number of areas
1) connected home – controlling central heating, lights, garage doors, kettles, to name a few, are all out to market already.
2) Wearables – watches, fitness devices, gaming controllers, smart clothes all seem to be in the pipeline.
3) Beacons – like a personal GPS, you can set them up to detect based on proximity and action apps on the back of that, e.g. shop store fronts can offer discounts to customers who have the app installed.
I see the business looking into these technologies in more depth and producing apps to support them and make everyday life a little easier and smarter.” Phew, that was a lot. Let’s see how he’s getting on …

Hello, Andrew, and thanks for being one of the longest-standing interviewees! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Just over a year ago I was predicting that connected home and wearables would become a bigger player in the app market. They seem to have taken off, however what I didn’t quite get right is that it would be more connected car that would be the path my work would take me on. I’ve also released a fairly successful Photo app on the App Store, which allows the user to take selfies with both front and back camera at the same time.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

In the world of App development, things move very rapidly, so nothing really stays the same. I have expanded into Apple watch apps this year and have been playing around with the new iPad Pro, too. However the biggest impact is that Apple released a language called Swift just over 18 months ago and I have been learning that, as it’s become quite a common skill required in my line of work.

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

That the planned month off you had would turn to 3 months as it took a bit of time to get the work pipeline up and running again after the initial month off.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Get the work life balance right and make sure you enjoy what you do as it shows in your work.

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?

If you could plan the perfect week at your business what would it be like?

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

Hopefully continuing the trend of growth, having worked on a number of projects this year and also moved into the automotive area of industry hopefully that can be a door opener for more opportunities in that area, A lot of how my business will operate will also depend on how Apple does and any new devices or changes to environments can impact my business as well.

It must be exciting to be in an ever-changing world where you need to react to the latest technology and keep up with everything, although I think I’d find that quite stressful. Andrew’s changed what he’s doing several times since he joined the interviews way back in 2011, and I’m sure that will continue in the future.

You can find Andrew’s iTunes apps here (and this is his new photo app) and contact him via email or Twitter: as he says, “I’m always still open to giving people advice or guidance to help them out”.

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 July 30, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Small business chat update – Suzi Brown (was Zobair)

Small business chat update – Suzi Brown (was Zobair)

Welcome to another Small Business Update – this time with Suzi Zobair of The Smart Bear Digital Consultancy, who joined us back in June 2014 for her first interview and July 2015 for her first update. When I asked her where she wanted to be by now, she said, “In a year’s time, I definitely want to be in a position where I’m not as busy – either because I’m working less for the same money (i.e. working smarter) or I have some help.” Obviously one change is that Suzi’s changed her name – let’s see what else she’s been up to …

Hello, Suzi, lovely to have you back! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Yes, I am. Although I am still busy, I do now have help. Things are going from strength to strength.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I now share an office with Taylor’d Marketing – we work on a lot of projects together so we thought it would be great to share resources. And, as being a sole trader can be lonely sometimes, it’s great to have company and someone I can bounce ideas off.

I also have a new logo – I felt the old one didn’t reflect my business anymore so we had a bit of a revamp which had an amazing effect on business.
The only thing that has stayed the same, really, is my ethos for the business. I always wanted to be able to provide value for money to the small and micro businesses and I feel my range of packages and my monthly payment option for websites really does that.

Oh, and I got married, I’m now Mrs Suzi Brown.

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

I wish I had taken the leap away from ‘working from home’ to an office sooner. It is a big step for any small business as you have to know you can afford the rent month by month but, it does save money in other ways (for example, I no longer have to travel to various coffee shops for meetings), and I think it gives a more professional air which by itself can increased sales.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Network, network, network – I don’t get to do it enough anymore but if you don’t get out there occasionally, not only will people not know about your business but you become isolated and miss opportunities. If you don’t think you can get work that way, how about working with the people you meet, or simple learn something by talking to others.

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?

I’d like to know how many people use contracts with their clients and why they see them as a good idea. (NB, I do use contracts but not everyone does.)

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

Judging by how we have grown in this year, I expect my turnover will be at least 50% more – perhaps we’ll need bigger offices!

Moving to an outside office is a huge step, but as Suzi says, if you’re in the type of business where you need to have face-to-face meetings with people, it does give a more professional edge to your business. Going into a shared office is a great idea, as it will presumably give a cost saving, and it gives Suzi colleagues and makes sense as the two companies do work together. How exciting!

You can find Suzi and Smart Bear Digital Consultancy here:

Suzi Brown
07927533075
www.thesmartbear.co.uk
Email Suzi
Facebook
Twitter
Google+

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 July 23, 2016 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 a difference – we last spoke to Zoe Austin, a Cambridgeshire musician and voice, violin, piano and music theory music teacher, back in 2012! She’s had some ups and downs since then, but I was very happy to welcome her back into the fold for this update. Back then, when I asked Zoe where she wanted to be in a year’s time, she had this to say: “Unlike some freelancers, my self-employed work is done, at this point, out of necessity rather than a great desire to be my own boss (although, that would be very nice!). I would quite happily be employed in one job which pays me enough and satisfies all of my creative needs. Realistically, in a year, I think I will still be a working musician – teaching and playing – and, I hope, I will be in a better financial position than I am now with a bit more energy and just as much love and enthusiasm for music as I have now.” Let’s see where she is now!

Hello again, Zoe, and it’s lovely to have you back. Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward just one year, four years ago?

As you mention, my last interview was actually four years ago. Whilst you did kindly wish to include me after that, I had too many things going on in my personal and work lives at that point to even know how to begin answering the posed questions! What I would say I have obviously learned since my last interview, however, is that I would not actually be particularly happy having only one job: I get bored very easily, by colleagues, job role, work environment and work hours, so it really is best for me that every work day is slightly different. I have also, through painful experience this year, come to realise that if I were to be in only one job and experienced difficulties there, I would not have anywhere else to ‘go’ for the rest of the week: in order to take refuge from any difficulties and, most importantly, to maintain my professional self-esteem which may take a battering in environments where my work is not appreciated.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I still provide voice, violin, piano and music theory lessons to mainstream pupils through my work with Huntingdonshire Music School and as a private tutor, so those things remain.

Things are in a state of flux for me at present, with a current posting as music teacher  in a special school ending this month but an exciting new one beginning in August where I will be providing music sessions for adults with learning disabilities with an arts charity in Cambridge. Events this year have cemented in my mind that I am most happy working with people with learning disabilities, so I shall pursue more work in this area over time.

I have finally stopped being afraid of practising Music Therapy and will have my first piece of work in that field since my last one around two years ago and it will be beginning some time next month.

In other news, I have begun writing a book for first-time music tutors. My hope is that if I mention it here I will feel more obliged to actually write some of it, so that I have something to report back in a year’s time!

You’ve said it here now, so you have to do it! Happy writing! What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

I wish I had renewed my HCPC registration in order to maintain my licence to practice as a Music Therapist. Because I could not afford to do so at the time (and, I will be honest, I had given up on the prospect of ever being a Music Therapist – for both positive and negative reasons), I let it slip and will now need to undergo a lengthy process to ‘update my skills’. It is doable, but will mean a lot of extra work will be added to my already busy timetable and it could have been easily avoided.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Prioritise your own well-being, even if other people don’t like it.

I suffer from a chronic health complaint which flares up sometimes without notice and which will then necessitate my spending 2-3 days in bed recuperating. This happens roughly once or twice per school term. It has become clear that, whilst I experience wonderful support from the manager in one of my jobs, two heads of service in other places I provide music clearly believe that I am shirking my responsibilities and deliberately taking time off. I am as open and honest about my health problems as I can be, but I can only apologise so much and I can only do so much to accommodate the needs of other people. I am old enough now and have lived with these difficulties for long enough to know what I need when a flare-up occurs, and I will do whatever it takes for me to feel better. This has meant, unfortunately, that work opportunities within two organisations have been taken from me this year, but I refuse to take this personally.

My best friend Jon always says to me, ‘Go where you are appreciated’ and I would say the same to you. If you’re not liked, understood or respected within one setting, even though you have done nothing wrong, then keep your dignity intact and do whatever it takes to get out of that place: your happiness and health are far more important than the needs of any business.

On a different, more practical note, I gathered my courage and asked the parents of some of my long-time pupils to write testimonials for me. They were all very kind in what they wrote, I was very touched! With their consent, these testimonials are published on my business Facebook page and my profile page at musicteachers.co.uk.

BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?

Fancy any music provision? No, really, I need the work.

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

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!

A rollercoaster ride indeed, but Zoe’s got some good learning points here and I thank her for her honesty and openness in sharing her story. Retaining our dignity and health is so important, but often forgotten in the struggle to keep going and/or the race for profits. Hopefully the new opportunities she’s embracing this summer will improve things for her and her business. Good luck!

Zoe said, “I no longer update my blog as I have found the following platforms to me much more lucrative and helpful”:

Zoe’s business Facebook page, her LinkedIn profile and profile on musicteachers.co.uk

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 July 16, 2016 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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