Look for the helpers

Everything’s a little bit quiet today.  The sun, which started brightly, has even muted itself behind the gathering clouds and the usually cheerful birds are tweeting in whispers.  Driving home from this morning’s subdued networking meeting I was struck by the regular silences on the radio.  Presenters, infamous for their humour and constant banter, today stuck for words. Listeners, phoning in to say their piece, struggled to speak round the pain in their hearts.

Today is a sad day for Manchester.

For us all.

Manchester is my adopted city, and I love it.  More importantly, I love its people, for they are the most amazing I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  So many of those I have come to know and love since moving here were caught up in the events of last night.

Scrolling through my news feed this morning there are numerous posts of people announcing they are safe – not from an attention seeking “it could have been me” perspective (as many are suggesting) but from a genuine it could have been them, because they were there. It could actually have been them, or their children, or their loved ones.

This shit is real.  It always has been, but right now it’s on our doorstep.

While my heart goes out to everyone today, my mind turns to my babies, especially my little girls.  They sit and watch the news with us.  They invariably hover around my shoulder as I scroll through Facebook.  They see things, they sense things; they cannot be protected from this.

And nor should they.  They need to know that the world is not always a beautiful and safe place, but equally, they need to know that there are beautiful people in it.

How then do you balance all that?  How do you inform any child of the realities of terrorism, without inadvertently letting the terrorists “win”?

I am proud of the fact that in the 8 years I’ve been doing this parenting gig, I’ve never told another parent how to do their job.  I’m not about to start now; I merely express the opinion that trying to hide this from your child, especially if you are raising a proud Mancunian, is not a good idea.

You cannot hide this, it’s everywhere.  If you don’t explain this to them, if you don’t tackle it head on, they will fill in the blanks, and God only knows what they will come up with.  The reality is terrifying, it’s heart breaking, it’s shocking but their imaginations are vivid and for them, the blanks may be so much more frightening.

For us, we have sat and talked. We have reminded our girls that they can ask questions, at any time, about anything.  If they tell us they’re scared, we won’t tell them not to be. Hell, I’m scared, I refuse to lie to them and make them think it’s all OK.  It isn’t.  Not whilst maniacs are running around in the world willing to kill themselves, and innocents, for the sole purpose of creating fear.

I cannot dismiss their fear, because they need to know it’s OK, that it’s a valid response.  They need to know when they’re scared, they can talk to us and not feel that they are being dismissed. Equally, they need to know that the world does not fall neatly in to goodies and baddies.  That baddies aren’t lurking on every corner, so that everything becomes a potentially terrible ordeal.

Yes, like Mrs Rogers, I am going to look for the helpers.  I shall point them out and I shall sing their praises.  I will tell my children about the people who drove others home, who opened their doors to strangers, who donated blood.  But I shall not pretend that evil doesn’t exist or it can’t touch our perfect little lives.

Because last night evil arrived on our doorstep, in our community. It struck in the heart of the venue I was at only the other week, where I have laughed with my precious babies. It is here, in the middle of everything we hold dear, there are armed police in our shopping centre this morning, there is fear everywhere; but no, it won’t win.

We will not stop. We will keep moving forward and we will continue to support those who need our love and compassion. And our children need to see that pain so they can really understand the goodness that comes out of it, from the people who really deserve our attention.

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Are you surviving or thriving?

As you may be aware this week is Mental Health Awareness Week (8th-14th May 2017).  Like many I have had my own problems with mental health; however, I count myself as one of the lucky ones.  I suffered from the “baby blues” after the birth of our first child.  It was *only* for 8 weeks (though it felt significantly longer, I can assure you), so as such was not classed as being Post Natal Depression.

Regardless of what “it” was, it was Hell. I class myself as lucky because one morning I woke up and for whatever reason, felt better.  “It” stopped.  I was back, and ready to begin this amazing journey as a mother.  Thankfully it’s something I have never experienced again.

But it terrified me.  At the time, it was just scary – I wasn’t in control, I felt like a stranger in my own life.  However, that was the least of the problems. The biggest issue was I felt I had no one to talk to. My Midwife was great, but she was busy.  I was a new Mum and anyone I hinted to that I felt a bit wobbly, put everything down to my inexperience and lack of confidence.

I say all this, but the reality is this post isn’t about me.  It’s about you.  I only tell you my own experience in Cliffs Notes form to remind you that the vast majority of us have something lurking in the background, and if we don’t, we sure as heck have the potential to.

You see, we all have mental health.  Many might say they have “good” mental health, but let’s get one thing straight here, good mental health does not simply meant the absence of a mental health problem.

Good mental health is really all about having the ability to think, feel and act in ways that allow us to live a full and enjoyable life.  It’s the ability to cope when challenges are thrown our way, to pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong, and keep on moving on with a genuine smile on our face (even if occasionally it is replaced with tears and screams of rage).

Here are some interesting statistics for you taken from the Mental Health Foundation:

  • Mixed anxiety & depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with 7.8% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis.
  • 4-10% of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime.
  • Common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are distributed according to a gradient of economic disadvantage across society. The poorer and more disadvantaged are disproportionately affected by common mental health problems and their adverse consequences.
  • Mixed anxiety and depression has been estimated to cause one fifth of days lost from work in Britain.
  • One adult in six had a common mental disorder.

I know we’re all busy, and could argue we have “better things to do”, but why not take a moment to find out a bit more about your own mental health?  There’s a short survey available here that will help you understand where you’re at.  There’s also signposting if you need any support with anything.

Trust me, you don’t have anything better to do right now.  Go on, look after yourself.

Every small business should do this to gain new customers

Last week we wrote a blog about how being a small business can actually be an advantage when it comes to social media marketing, specifically when it comes to building relationships.  It seems to have resonated with a few people, so we thought we would follow up this week looking at another advantage – collaboration.

As a small business you are well placed to make strong connections with your local community.  This can include your consumers and potential clients, but also other businesses based within the area.  When that happens you open up the possibility of combining efforts and therefore potentially reducing your spend, whilst increasing your reach.

For example, I have a client who sells travel insurance.  Following a few meetings with a local spray tan company they struck up a fantastic deal whereby if you purchased a course of spray tans, you could obtain a discount on your travel insurance for your next holiday.

My client saw an increase in enquiries (which he was able to convert) without having to do any additional advertising himself. Equally, the offer went the other way so as one partner isn’t putting in all the effort.

It’s a very simple and effective way of getting more bang for your back – and it helps remind you, as a solopreneur that you’re not actually alone in this big bad world of business.

Larger businesses and corporations are unlikely to strike up such relationships, if for no other reason than there’s a lot more to consider and the legal department is likely to scrutinise any suggestions put forward.

Think about what you have to offer, and if anyone in the local area sells something that could enhance or compliment your product and service, and reach out to them.

The worst they can say is no.

Small businesses have the advantage when it comes to social media

Whenever I start talking about social media marketing at networking events there’s always a couple of people that roll their eyes. There’s lots of different reasons for their knee-jerk reaction, and I certainly don’t judge any of them for it.  For many, unfortunately, they’ve had bad experiences of people who have tried to sell them the idea of marketing to the masses – and they’ve been burnt by costly, yet fruitless forays in to digital advertising.

Of course, it’s not that sort of thing I’m talking about. But that’s the point with knee-jerk reactions; they’re not always on target.

However, I digress.

One of the biggest barriers I come against when it comes to talking about SMM with potential clients is their own perceptions.  Many argue that they’re too small to really make any impact with Facebook or Twitter, and therefore don’t see the value of “throwing money” at it.

I agree, simply throwing money at anything and hoping for the best seems like a bit too much of a gamble – and that’s coming from a girl with a thing for the horses.

No matter how big, or small your business, you have to have a plan. That means you need to know what it is you’re trying to achieve, how much money you have to achieve it, and over what time period you’re going to work on it. It’s more complicated than that of course, but that’s the nuts and bolts.

Most of that will be determined by you and any consultant you decide to get in to help; however, there is one thing that applies to every small business.  You can make a huge impact regardless of your size. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that small businesses might have the advantage when it comes to social marketing.

Think about your small business and any larger scale competitors you may have.  Don’t focus on the things you don’t have such as numerous staff, a large IT department or a huge media budget. Instead, think about what you can do that they can’t.

You can reach out to your local community and be more focussed on the individuals within that community.  You can build genuine relationships.  As a small business you’re more likely to remember Jean from the last time she commented, and you’re definitely in a better position to reply to her when she does reach out to you.  Faceless large corporation couldn’t give a monkey’s about Jean, she’s just order #45789.

Equally, just because you don’t have loads to throw at social media doesn’t mean you can’t get a reaction out of your audience. People love to talk and share, so why not ask them to post pictures of them using your product. Get them to add reviews, or ask questions that they need your answers to. Ask them for their feedback and suggestions, and then act upon them so they know they’ve been listened to.

Being small is a huge advantage when it comes to being genuine.