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Who Holds You To Account When You Work For Yourself?

There are so many benefits to working for yourself: you can manage your own time, work around school hours, work at your own pace and yes, be your own boss.  Perfect!

But wait!  There are down sides too, and the biggest one I came up against was the self-discipline needed to work on my own business and concentrate on my own growth as a business owner.  It’s all too easy to keep working on client work – after all, that’s what pays the bills, right?  Before too long it’s become a habit: you’re working in your business instead of on it and hey presto! You’ve stagnated.

In April 2014 I (along with three fellow self-employed acquaintances) signed up for a mentoring group.   The four of us, plus our fabulous mentor, met on a monthly basis.  Our sessions consisted of some basic business housekeeping that we’d all overlooked such as measuring the value of what we were doing by the introduction of KPIs, setting goals and targets and the most valuable aspect, for me, was the monthly Peer To Peer Action Learning section, where we each tabled an issue we were up against, and the issue was brainstormed, discussed and suggestions put forward for resolution.

The mentoring group came to a natural conclusion in April 2016, and not wanting to lose the momentum that the sessions had provided, two of us agreed to keep on meeting on a monthly basis by way of peer support and Action Learning.

We call ourselves Accountability Buddies.  We are open and honest with each other, share ideas and best practice and most important of all, act as a sounding board/shoulder to cry on when things aren’t going tickety-boo.  My Buddy, Tracey Nixon of Plumessence Therapies, is also a fellow WiRE Network Leader so we’ll often compare notes about our respective WiRE Groups and have even thought about “subbing” for one another should real life (or even holidays!) get in the way of our monthly WiRE meetings.

At the end of each monthly meeting (which lasts about 3 hours) we leave with a list of “commitments” and the promise to report back at our next meeting.  This, in itself, has really helped me to get things done which otherwise I probably would have consigned to the “I can do that next week” pile on my desk!

If you work alone in your business, I really recommend that you find an Accountability Buddy and get cracking on all those jobs that you keep promising to do …… “one day”!

Social Media: How Safe Is YOUR Teenager?

FB blog postI was recently asked to deliver a social media-based enrichment talk to a group of Sixth Form students at a local all-girls’ school. During my research and preparation, some of the things I discovered led to me questioning the values of social media, and whether there should be age limits imposed on children having a social media presence. If you have teenage children, I would urge you to read on and ask yourself – just how safe are your children online?

Is your teen constantly glued to their computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone? In a recent poll, 71% of respondents in the 13 – 17 year old age range admitted to being regular users of Facebook.   But what are the effects of long-term social media usage and how can you, as a parent, combat them?

Where & When?

Admittedly, with mobile devices readily available, controlling the amount of time your teen spends online can be an uphill battle to overcome. If they have a computer in their bedroom, chances are they’re spending more time than you think on social media. In my research I came across some parents who insist on imposing time limits on their teen when it comes to social internet usage, simple house rules such as no internet after 7pm and even in some cases, removing the chargers or insisting that mobile phones be kept downstairs overnight to avoid late night social media stints.

What’s the harm in a selfie?

Have you seen your child’s profile picture? I was horrified when I came across the profile images being used by some 13 year old girls on their Facebook profiles. The selfie craze has really taken hold and the evidence is rife when it comes to social media. Innocence is almost lost, as young teenagers pout, Lolita-like at the camera, some wearing outfits which may be hip on the high street but in a badly taken selfie, could potentially attract attention from the wrong type of social media user.

Selfies can also lead to a negative body image among teenage girls. A recent article in a national newspaper cited that some girls take as many as 100 selfies a day in the belief that they look prettier in selfies than they do in real life. Photos are then posted to social media sites and the wait for the Likes to appear begins. Did you know that there’s a “club” among teen social media users for posts and pictures that receive over 100 Likes? Yes, entry into the “100 Club” is quite an honour to a 14 year old.

Privacy Settings

When a new social media profile is created, the majority of the default security and privacy settings are set to “Public” – meaning anyone, anywhere, can see what a person is posting. Think back to those inappropriate selfies, add in any location details, age, school …… in fact, anything that your teen has added to their social profile and you’ve got a potential situation just waiting to happen. Changing privacy settings quite literally takes a minute to do. Please, please check your teen’s settings and make sure they’re set to “Friends Only”.

It’s a numbers game!

As with the “100 Club” and gaining Likes, many teens perceive the amount of friends they have as an indicator as to their popularity, accepting Friend Requests without necessarily knowing who the person is they are connecting with. When I was growing up, my parents’ fear was that I may “go off” with a stranger. In the social media age, a child doesn’t even have to leave the house to connect with a stranger. Be aware of stranger danger at all times – it happens online as well as on the streets.

Befriend them …..

How many of you are Friends on social media with your teenage children? If necessary, lay down some ground rules (on both sides!) so that you can keep a discreet watch over what they’re getting up to in their online world. Be mindful of their privacy and don’t go tagging them in baby pictures every other day – trust me, they won’t thank you for it! Explain the dangers of social media and that you just want to make sure they’re acting sensibly. Some parents told me that their teens don’t want to be Friends with them so the parents have insisted on having the log-on details to the child’s social media accounts – purely so that they can log in periodically and make sure all is OK.   You will need to build trust with your teen but you will get there in the end.

“It’s only banter”

Unfortunately, cyber bullying is rife among teens on social media. What may begin as “a bit of banter” can soon descend into nastiness – all very publically on a social media profile. Others may join in, taking sides, alliances form and the “banter” is soon forgotten, replaced by bad feeling and upset.   Yes, your child can block the perpetrators but be mindful that it has been known for bullies to create a second account under an assumed name, submit a Friend Request and yes, you guessed it – they’re back on the case of your teenager (remember, the more Friends you have, the more popular you are, right?)

Social media can be a marvellous tool – I have family and friends all over the place and Facebook plays an integral part in keeping us all up to date with each other on a regular basis. However, as with all things, social media can be used for the wrong purposes – usually through inexperience and naivety. If any of the above strikes a chord with you where you teenager is concerned, talk to them, explain your concerns and offer assistance.

Thanks for reading!  Please feel free to add any comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Basic Grammar – Let’s Get It Right!

The other day I opened an email newsletter only to be confronted with the opening line “Do you know where you’re business is going?

My shoulders immediately tensed up. Did I want to continue reading this piece if the sender couldn’t even get the opening line grammatically correct?

Misspelling and bad grammar won’t exactly put your business in the best of lights, but surely it’s not too much to ask that we just try to get the basics right, is it? The common ones that never fail to make me cringe to the tips of my toes are:-

  • You’re or Your
  • Its or It’s
  • They’re, Their or There
  • Affect or Effect
  • Who’s or Whose
  • To, too or two

There’s also the spoken faux pas. How many times at networking meetings have you heard someone utter the line “What I am pacifically looking for is …..”   No!   The Pacific is a large and very deep expanse of water. Surely what you mean is “What I am specifically looking for is ……

_What I am pacifically looking for is ....2

Maybe I’m just getting old and grouchy, but there’s really no excuse for basic errors in grammar. Please people, check that you’re using the right words before you hit send – whether it’s a text message, social media post, email or newsletter.

I’ll leave you with a joke that’s almost as old as me:

Q – What do you say when comforting a grammar Nazi?

A – There, their, they’re!

Please feel free to share your grammar gripes in the Comments box below.

Fed Up With Candy Crush Requests? Block ‘Em!

Hardly a day goes by without reading a status update on Facebook bemoaning the various game requests that can bombard users to the point of distraction. Did you know that you can block game requests? It takes a matter of minutes to do, and will stop the pesky requests from darkening your profile in the future.

 

Here’s how:-

  1. From a PC/laptop, log in to your Facebook profile and from the drop-down arrow on the top blue bar, go to Settings

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  1. Once in the Settings menu, on the left hand side of screen you should see “Blocking” – select this.

 

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This will give you the option to block users, block app invites, block event invitation and block apps.

  1. Scroll down to Block Apps. In the box, type the name of the app you wish to block – and that’s all there is to it!

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See – I told you it was simple!  Happy Facebook time!

Top 5 Tips To Make Your Tweets Sparkle!

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, you can’t have escaped the popularity of micro-blogging social media site, Twitter. Launched in 2006, the site now has over 270 million active users. Businesses of all shapes and sizes across every imaginable industry sector are using Twitter to generate leads and sales, and as a means of communicating with customers. Research has shown that over a third of Twitter users will buy from a brand they follow.

When I’m out and about delivering Twitter training it’s the same issues that crop up every time: not knowing what to say, not knowing when to post and generally being “Twitter shy”. If you can identify with any of those traits, my Top 5 Twitter Tips will hopefully help you overcome your fears, and turn your Twitter feed into something to be proud of.

  1. A decent profile image is a must! Ditch the Twitter egg avatar, avoid the holiday snaps and moon-faced selfies. If you’re using Twitter to promote your business or your services, invest in a session with a photographer and get some profile head-shots taken. An image of you will bring your personality into your Tweets but do you really want potential customers to see you on the beach in your swimwear or throwing shapes on a dancefloor?
  2. Learn to love #hashtags! There are hashtag hours all over the place on Twitter, covering different industries, events, geographic locations, networking groups …. the list is endless. Partaking in a hashtag hour is just like networking, except it takes place on Twitter. It’s a fabulous way to engage with like-minded businesses, and over time it will help to increase your Twitter followers.
  3. Post regularly. One of the keys to Twitter success is a regular presence. This will help to keep your brand on the radar of those following you. I’d suggest a minimum of 3 Tweets a day, plus engagement.
  4. Be relevant. If you are using your Twitter account to grow your business your website should act as your primary source of information. Use your Tweets to lead followers back to your website and to guide them to specific pages on your website. Set up Google Alerts for your industry sector, subscribe to industry journals and newsletters – over the course of a couple of days you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much material you acquire which can be used on social media.
  5. Engage! It’s not called a “social” network for nothing. If you see something of interest, or want to help a fellow business to spread the word re-tweet their tweets. If someone re-tweets you, thank them. Welcome new followers, recommend articles to other users, comment on Tweets in your timeline – there are so many ways to engage!

I hope you’ve found something of use in my Top 5 Twitter Tips. If you’re still baffled by the whole concept of 140 characters, get in touch and #TalkToTao!

Tao’s Top 5 Tips for Effective Networking

I first had the idea of working for myself sometime during 2011, after ranting to my partner how unhappy I was in the job I was doing at the time. He actually planted the first seed, and yes, I laughed! As I thought about it, the idea grew on me and a battle plan was slowly drawn up.

In August 2011, whilst still working part-time in the unhappy job, I attended my first ever networking meeting – a breakfast event, in Cannock town centre. I was so nervous I hardly slept a wink the night before. Entering a room full of established business people at 7.30 in the morning was one of the hardest challenges I’d ever faced – the mixed emotions of not wanting to be left alone, but not really wanting anyone to ask me anything either! I don’t think I ate anything, and I didn’t even have any business cards.

A total newbie novice.

Terrified.

A rabbit in the headlights.

Gradually, things started to change and for the first two years of Tao Business Solutions, I tried so many different networking groups and at times, found I was spending more time networking than actually doing any work. However, my connections were slowly growing, along with my confidence. And my business cards were getting some great feedback …….

Now in my third year of business, I’ve settled on three regular networking groups.

I’ve been a member of WiRE (Women In Rural Enterprise) since 2011 and attend the monthly meetings of the Cannock group. WiRE is a networking group for women and as such, we have a wide range of professions within the group, crossing the divide between creative and service/professional businesses with ease.

I also attend Business For Breakfast (BforB) in Rugeley. We meet on alternate Thursdays at the gorgeous Hawkesyard Estate on the outskirts of Rugeley. I’ve taken on the role of Host for the group, which means that our members and any visiting guests are guaranteed a warm welcome in a professional environment.

Most recently, I’ve joined BriteStart, another referral networking group based in Lichfield. It’s early days yet but so far, so good. I’ve met a great new bunch of people and am looking forward to getting to know them better as 2015 unfolds.

All 3 groups are very different in their dynamics, but the underlying principles are very similar: networking is all about getting to know people, learning more about their business and gaining trust.

If networking isn’t working for you, are your expectations misaligned? Do you enter a room and immediately ask yourself “who can I do business with in this room?” Do you leave a networking event demotivated because you can’t see anyone in the room giving you any business?

It’s time to stop and think!

Whilst we’d all like to gain business from everyone we meet, the truth is, it’s not going to happen. What could happen though is work coming your way through your growing network of connections – the people you have got to know, the people who have grown to like you, and most importantly, those who have learned to trust you.

To put it another way, would you recommend a business or service to someone if you didn’t have complete faith in that business or service yourself?

No. I thought not!

Just remember these Top 5 Tips and watch your business grow.

  1. We’ve all been “The Newbie”. If you see someone standing on their own looking lost at a networking meeting, make the effort to introduce yourself and involve them in the group.
  2. Ask questions. Nobody wants to be stuck with a “me me me” networker. Two ears. One mouth. Think about it!
  3. Most networking groups call for a 60 second “elevator” pitch. Don’t wing it. Plan it. Work on it. Be concise, but be specific as to what you’re looking for and how you can help others in the room.
  4. If you’re attending the same networking group on a regular basis, change your 60 seconds, otherwise your colleagues in the room will know it better than you before too long!
  5. It’s not all about you. Think about how you can help fellow members, either through a referral, a testimonial or a natural synergy between your businesses.

 

Networking success won’t fall into your lap overnight but keep going and you’ll get there.

Feel free to share any networking success tips so that others can enjoy them too ….. and don’t forget to take your business cards the next time you’re out an about!

 

 

Monthly Mentoring – and moving forward

In March 2014 I signed up with three fellow small business owners for a monthly mentoring group. We’re all from different business sectors so there’s no clashing in terms of clients or “trade secrets” and we’re pretty much all “one man bands”, although the fourth member of the group is experiencing rapid growth in his business and has recently employed staff, after realising and accepting that he can no longer do everything himself.   The fifth member of the group is our mentor, a local business coach who facilitates the sessions and makes us think for ourselves, Mike Santopietro of Minerva Business Consultants.

We meet once a month, and at first I really didn’t know what to expect from the group sessions. After all, I’m running my business, I have clients, the invoices go out every month and thankfully I get paid for my efforts – so how could I possible need accountability or mentoring?  However, at the end of every session each of us makes approximately three commitments based on the events in the session, which we will endeavour to achieve (or at least progress) by the next monthly meeting.

Not only do I now look forward to my monthly mentoring group, I actually put time aside to do my “homework” and plan for the next meeting. In the six months that we’ve been having the monthly sessions (the get-together in March was a brain-storming exercise) I feel that my business has benefitted in terms of better planning, knowing which direction I want to head towards (and how!) and learning from the others how to resolve everyday obstacles faced by the majority of small business owners.

We’ve tackled issues head-on, come up with our personal visions, our company visions, completed a SWOT analysis and at the time of writing, we’re all trying to get our heads round Critical Success Factors – what makes our businesses tick and how do we move them forward to the next level.

On the other side of the coin, my own business confidence is growing: our round-the-table problem solving sessions give all of us an opportunity to share knowledge and advice with each other, something which until recently, I’d have been horrified at, afraid of not knowing the answer or suggesting the wrong thing.

I also love the level of accountability. As mentioned earlier, every month we commit to a number of pledges, and yes, each pledge is re-visited and reported back to the group with our progress. There’s no hiding place – something I’m really enjoying and a definite factor when it comes to moving my Tao Business Solutions forward.

For anyone thinking of joining a mentoring group, I’d say 100% Go For It – it will help you with any advice, increase your skills and help with any confidence issues you may have. It will also help you to put things into perspective – and can even be an arena in which to vent. It’s an investment in yourself, and one which is worth every penny.

If you’ve had any experience of mentoring, either being mentored or as the mentee, I’d love to hear your comments.

Thank you.

The 10 Commandments For Business Owners

Thou shalt not be perfect, or even try

Thou shalt not try to be all things to all people

Thou shalt leave undone things that ought to be done

Thou shalt not spread thyself too thin

Thou shalt learn to say NO!

Thou shalt schedule time to thyself

Thou shalt switch off and do nothing – regularly

Thou shalt be boring, inelegant, untidy and unattractive at times

Thou shalt not feel guilty

Thou shalt not be thine own worst enemy

 

 

It’s A Holiday – leave the gadgets at home!

You’ve worked hard all year for your holiday and the time has finally arrived to think about the packing.  If you’re anything like me, numerous lists are compiled – the packing (suitcase and hand luggage) lists, the books I want to take list, the documentation list, the things I need to do before I go list …… you get the picture!

Going on holiday can raise as many stresses as a bad day in the office, until you get on the plane and finally feel able to relax.  Or do you?

Have you been able to let go of your work commitments?  How many of you reading this will be taking “just a little bit” of work with you this summer?  No doubt you assure the family that it won’t eat into the precious family time you all so richly crave but are you being truly honest with them, and yourself?

Last November I was lucky enough to go on holiday to Australia.   I naturally went into a pre-holiday melt-down.  The fact that the flight to Brisbane coincided with my annual voluntary Children In Need duties just added to my stress levels.  Being the conscientious soul that I am, I even went so far as contacting the hotels we were due to be staying at (3 in total) to ask about WiFi.  Was there any?  Free or chargeable?  Any computers for guests to utilise during their stay ….. and so it went on.

The night before we were due to fly, my Better Half sprang the bombshell on me that not only was he not taking his iPad on holiday with him, but his iPhone was staying in the UK too!  Yes, you read that right folks – no tablet, no phone.  He then advised that I should do likewise.  My goodness!  The world temporarily stopped spinning.  What would I do without my iPad?  How would I cope?  After some considerable discussion, I agreed to play ball and leave the gadgetry at home so that we could enjoy our Ashes experience (ahem ..!) without interruption.  After all, all of my client social media was scheduled to run in my absence, all my clients knew I was off on the trip of a lifetime and actually, there was nothing that couldn’t wait until we got back.

En route to the airport I had the Gadget DTs.  I felt a bit odd, not having my third hand – I couldn’t check-in on Foursquare to tell the world I was at BHX airport!  I couldn’t update my Facebook status with a picture of my first G&T of the holiday, and I couldn’t tweet to inform the world we were in the Departure Lounge.  Did it matter?  Hell, no!

Once we’d checked in at the flight desk, rid ourselves of the suitcases and taken stock of the flight ahead we relaxed.  And do you know what?  It was fabulous!

Two whole weeks went by with no phones, no emails, no texts and it was utter bliss.   I’ll have no hesitation when I take my break in the sun in September to leave the gizmos and gadgets at home, pack the paperbacks and just relax for 10 days – after all, that’s why I run my own business in the first place – work/life balance.

So when you’re drawing up the packing list, think of your family, your health and your own wellbeing.  Most of all, think about time and how precious it is.   I once worked as a PA for a lovely Danish man called Jan (sadly, no longer with us).  Jan said something once which has stayed in my mind ever since:

“Cheryl, the problem with the British is that they live to work.  In Denmark we work to live”.

Trust me when I say that the world really won’t stop turning if nobody can reach you for 2 weeks, and you and your family will be grateful of the break.  At the end of the day, almost everyone takes a holiday – people will understand!  They may even respect a little bit more for your decision.

Happy holiday!

 

 

 

School’s Out! How Do You Cope?

For the kids, it’s the highlight of the year.  Six week off school to have fun and generally let their hair down after a year of lessons and homework.  The days are long, with little structure and lots of (perceived) freedom.

For working parents the school summer holidays can be a nightmare.  The days are too long, with the conundrum of child-care to consider, the promise of over-crowded over-priced attractions and if the British summer runs true to form, rainy days of confinement climbing the walls.

So how do working parents cope with the school summer holidays?   I hope my Top 5 Tips give you some ideas of how to make it through to September relatively unscathed!

  1. Plan ahead.  Look at what resources are available to you in terms of other team members, co-workers and outsourcing.  Don’t leave things to the last minute – get into the routine of delegating some of your workload and outsource where possible to lighten the load so you can have some time off.
  2. If you have no alternative than to work and not take any time off, don’t feel guilty – after all, you work to support the family and pay the bills, don’t you?  Are there any family members you can call on for childcare duties?  Is it possible to take turns for “child days” with other business colleagues by way of a rota system?  You’re not the only one in the soup when it comes to work/life balance and school holidays – so work at it together!
  3. Is it possible to work from home?  Although you can’t leave the kids unattended when you go to work for the day, they will make their own entertainment if left to their own devices as you work from home.
  4. Check out local play centres.  We have one in Hednesford that is offering  a summer pass at a very reasonable price which is valid for the entire summer break – they also have free WiFi.  So, as the kids hurl themselves about on the soft play equipment and make their own friends, you can take your tablet or laptop and crack on!
  5. Holiday clubs run in most areas – its also worth asking schools if they have any holiday clubs planned during the school holidays.  Full of activities, a holiday club will not only occupy your little soldiers, it’ll tire them out too!

Please feel free to leave your own tips for others to read – and enjoy the summer!

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