The one with the wine (and cheese)

It’s been a bit of a funny week really and I’m not sure I can pick just one highlight.

On top of a traditionally busy week as we hurtle to the start of a new month I’ve had a few issues to contend with when it comes to managing people.  When you work for yourself, and don’t have staff, it’s very easy to forget how difficult conflicts with other people can be to resolve.  This week I was thrown in to having sort something out on behalf of someone and it probably took more out of me than I initially thought.

In fact, it’s still bouncing away in the back of my mind long after the time was logged and the invoice has been sent.  That’s probably my biggest challenge of the week.

As for the highlights …

Those of you who are avid readers of my ramblings will no doubt be aware that Time Saving Heroes exhibited at thebestofBolton’s Big Bolton Expo on Tuesday.  You can read more about our experience here.

We had a great time, and have made some brilliant contacts.  The main reason I chose to exhibit in Bolton this month rather than in Bury is we’re looking to move in to the Bolton market, and it was a great introduction to so many businesses.

My personal favourite part of the evening was the speed networking. I’d never done it before, and despite the fact that I appear to have the confidence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, I’m actually quite a shy individual.  So the thought of being forced to talk to a bunch of strangers for 90 seconds at a time was actually quite terrifying.  The reality is it was actually a ridiculous amount of fun!

If you’ve never been involved in this before I highly recommend it.  Just make sure you have a drink on hand for when you finish – I like a natter, but my goodness I was talked out afterwards and drier than Ghandi’s flip flop.

Another highlight occured last night, when I was lucky enough to attend a wine and cheese tasting event at Bury Football Club, hosted by Jean Juviniere Limited.

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I like a glass (or five) of wine. While I greatly enjoy a tipple, the reality is I am more of a user than a connoisseur.  And I have been more than happy to live that way for years.  A wine tasting event has never appealed (other than the obvious opportunity to consume copious amounts of fermented grapes) for fear I will show myself to be uncouth. Of course, having a loud Essex accent already sets me firmly down that path as it is.

However, last night I went along with the intention of throwing myself out of my comfort zone in the hopes of discovering something magical.

Now, I can’t pretend it was a life changing experience (it appears I still cannot get on with red), but it was a lot of fun and I’m glad I went.  If nothing else I have found a whole new appreciation for cheese (combined with wine), and am now in love with Grandad’s Sausages.  It’s no wonder they’ve been putting a smile on Grandma’s face for over 50 years! They certainly put a smile on mine.

My takeaway for this week then is simply it’s always worth putting yourself out there, and doing things you might not fancy on the surface, or are a little nervous of.

The One With The Chair

It’s been one of those weeks where you hit the office Monday morning, look up from your screen and BOOM, it’s Friday. I honestly don’t know where the time has gone, but it’s been a bit of a blur.

Content seems to be a priority for people this week, and I have had requests coming in for a wide variety of things.

On Wednesday I had a chat with an independent travel agent who needed their newsletters revamping. The look is great; however, they are predominantly sending out deals, without any further explanation, and as such not getting more interaction. We’re trialling adding some articles in to the mix to help readers engage, and we’ll see how this works out. I have to admit the green eyed monster did raise its ugly head a little as I was researching holidays in far flung and exotic locations.

One day. One day.

Thursday saw a long standing client panicking over a deadline she completely forgot about for Monday. As a result I am now putting the finishing touches to a variety of bios, news features and service descriptions. It’s been a bit of a challenge as each service needs an introduction to the company, none of which can be a complete copy of previous ones. Writing the same thing, but in different ways, ten times is certainly a skill!

Other requests include LinkedIn articles, website blogs, an elevator pitch, a press release and content for a leaflet.

My biggest challenge

The challenge this week has been more of a personal one than strictly work related.

As many of you know, I am a member of Bury Business Group, and this week we had an election for our new Chair. At first I thought I would put my name in, then I chickened out. As two other people had already expressed an interest I thought it would be too difficult to enter myself.

Looking back, I’m not too sure why.

The problem was, if I am being brutally honest, I entered last year, and obviously didn’t win the vote.  To be fair, the person who was elected was great, and it probably wasn’t much of a contest – so there was no issue, other than an obvious tinge of disappointment.

But it knocked my confidence, and I really didn’t want to put myself forward to fail again.

OK, so on paper that sounds really pathetic, and maybe it is; but it’s the truth. And I think we can all feel like that a bit at times when things don’t go our way.

The challenge therefore this week was kicking myself up the butt and forcing myself to be counted. Not only that, but having the faith in myself that I deserved to win, because I know I can do a great job.

It took a while, but I did finally put my name in, about 5 minutes before the start of the meeting! People keep saying “I didn’t know you were running”, and I’m not sure they believe me when I say “nor did I”.

My highlight

Not to keep you in suspense (because, come on, you know you want to know) but I am delighted to say I will be the new Chair, as of March.

It would be easy to dismiss my happiness as simply “winning”, or even having a title (though references to Madam Chair just make me giggle) – but it’s neither of these things. A little over two years ago I had never done any networking at all. I was an enthusiastic, albeit naïve, little puppy who would bound around and knock things over (metaphorically and actually, at times).

To be in a position now where the people who introduced me to networking, who have listened to my voice wobble as I delivered a 60 second pitch week after week, respect me enough to take on this role is such an honour. I have developed so much in that time, and while I can still be a little loud for some (I’m from Essex, frankly guys this is just not going to change – buy some ear plugs) I think everyone can see the journey I’ve been on.

When you’re self employed, or run your own business, you don’t get promoted. There is no career progression in the strictest sense of the word. It’s all about the size of your clients, or your balance sheet. For me, this is a promotion, and the only one I am likely to get – so yes, it means a lot.

 

I shall keep you posted on how it goes!

The one with the content

This week has been quite an eclectic mix now I look back on it.

The middle of the month normally sees me tidying up plans for people’s content and social media for the coming month, and that’s what’s been dominating my time since Monday.

My biggest challenge

In honesty, it’s preparing for next month that has been my biggest challenge this week. I’ve proofed 25 articles that I’d already written, and then wrote a further 19.  I’ve also scheduled a grand total of 46 Tweets and 173 Facebook posts for various clients.

I admit I’m a little out of love with social media right now!

Trying to find original content each month can be a huge challenge, especially with those clients that really want to take a hands-off approach to their social media marketing.  However, because I work to an editorial calendar (as far as possible) with all of them, I do usually have something to go off – even if it is very basic.

 

My highlight

On top of my writing and scheduling I’ve completed 15 hours of LinkedIn training with different clients, both face to face and via Skype/Go To Meeting.

I know I’ve said it before, but I really enjoy teaching people how to do things they’ve been struggling with, and seeing them “get it”.  Unfortunately I don’t have the patience to actually be a teacher, but a few hours a week suits me down to the ground.

 

 

The One With the Bowling

It’s been another busy week, although I confess, not that much time has been spent working. My husband, Adam has had a big job on through his handyman business, and as a result I’ve been spending more time in Mum role than business role.

Frankly, it’s exhausting, and I am looking forward to being back at the laptop more next week!

My biggest challenge

For the last couple of weeks I have been struggling with something, and this week I finally came up with a solution, and acted on it.

For 10 months I have been working with a client, and I’ve not particularly enjoyed it. The work itself is not particularly challenging, though this is not one of the issues. The biggest problem is the client himself. Before you start feeling awkward about my talking about him behind his back, he has already read this post before I hit publish, and given his permission to go “live” with my tale of woe.

Lincoln is a busy man, which is the main reason why I was called in to help out with his business. The difficulty is Lincoln is too busy to use a VA effectively. As a result he is not fully engaging with the service I can offer, and is undoubtedly not getting the best out of it.

He’d be the first to admit I have tried, on multiple occasions, to address this issue. Always looking for ways to make it easier for him to submit tasks, pick up emails, get reminders etc; however, nothing has really been suitable. Frankly, it’s a mindset issue and there is only so much I can do to help with that.

We have talked, but any meaningful conversations have been thwarted by proclamations that he is too busy to discuss matters with me. The long and the short of it is that nothing changes and an underlying conflict remains.

I would love to say that the problem is all Lincoln’s, but that would be unfair and undoubtedly naïve on my part. I have no doubt that his gruff manner, and tendency to bark orders and never say “thank you” or “please” has irked me somewhat in the past. Actually, I know it has. And that makes things difficult from the off.

Having a virtual relationship (on any level) is not for everyone. In this case, it’s become clear that Lincoln needs someone he can see, and liaise with directly on a day to day basis. It’s not that I am not the right VA (I am the last in quite a long line that haven’t been right for the job), it’s that a VA is just not right for him.

After a discussion on Monday in which I essentially sacked Lincoln, I then spent time on Tuesday and Wednesday helping him screen prospective real life replacements. Next week I will be conducting phone interviews with five different candidates, and any I feel are suitable for the position will then have a face to face meeting with him.

It’s been a bizarre situation, and one I’ve not come across before, so has been an interesting learning curve for me. Interviewing my replacement will be a challenge in itself, as while Lincoln is asking for one thing, having worked with him, I know what he actually needs. There is definitely the potential for more conflict on the horizon. And a large glass of gin.

My highlight

This week I managed to head out of the office, and away from the realities of home, to hit the town. Well, more the alleys to be honest, down at AMF Bowling for the annual Made in Bury Bowling Tournament.

I teamed up with the lovely guys and gals at Square Peg Associates and, well, we had fun. Which I think is the most important thing. Apologies as the cover photo may be a bit misleading, we didn’t get many strikes. I certainly didn’t get any!

I adore networking, and if it can take place in a fun and relaxed atmosphere (ideally with a bar) then I am a very happy lady. Really getting to know people you network with on a regular basis is great for further developing relationships. You can tell a lot more about someone when they are out of work mode and letting their hair down. In fact, some of the best business collaborations I have ever entered in to have been off the back of a few glasses of wine, or a bop on the dance floor.

Do people still bop? Crikey, suddenly feel old!

Regardless, it was a great night, and for those that missed it this year, there’s always next time.

 

 

*Might be his real name, might not be.

The one with the cowboy builders

Just a short update this week as it’s already 5pm and I am determined to stick with my resolution to do this once a week. I’ve done well so far, and I’m not about to give up now.

It’s been another week of random tasks. My client who produces promotional films sent over a batch of rushes for me to complete, all on a variety of topics. I always find these so interesting, not only because you can learn some really amazing things about an eclectic range of topics, but also because they seem to have so much fun producing them! I’m still kind of hoping I may get invited on their Christmas do one year. Hint, hint.

As always I’ve spent a decent amount of time this week blogging. Topics have included apps to keep you on track with New Year’s resolutions, Valentine’s day craft ideas for children and an opinion piece on Trump’s so-called Muslim ban. The latter was quite challenging as the opinion I was asked to offer was widely different to my actual one!

My biggest challenge

The biggest challenge this week has been a very unique one. Most people know I work closely with The Joshua Wilson Brain Tumour Charity. Just before Christmas we received a referral from a social worker at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital who expressed concerns about a family she was working with.

The 14 year old son had a brain tumour, and the family were living in unsuitable accommodation. Essentially, the family had paid builders to adapt the home to better meet Hashim’s changing needs post surgery, but they had been ripped off. The builders disappeared with over £11,000 of the family’s money, and left the house in a state!

With the money lost, and facing up to £35,000 worth of costs to put the property right again, the family were unable to finance it. This is why we were approached to see what help we could provide. After working with the family, Dawn was able to get the story covered in the local Rochdale press, and as a result the Mercer Group came forward to say they would do the building work for free. One of the suppliers was also going to donate all the materials that were needed – so there would be no cost to the family.

Brilliant!

Then we realised we had to find somewhere else for the family to stay whilst the work is being undertaken. Hashim is at high risk of infection, and cannot live in a dirty or dusty environment for risk of compromising his health. The whole family (two adults and seven children) must be relocated by Saturday, 4th February as work is due to start on Monday, 6th February.

Trying to find somewhere in a tight geographical area, for such a large number of people is no easy task. I have lost count of how many hotels, B&Bs, holiday cottages, caravan parks, landlords, letting agents and local council departments I have spoken to this week.

Not only has it been a difficult task, but it’s been emotionally draining too. This is “real” stuff. This is people’s lives, and it really, really matters. It’s not just a case of sending an email, or making sure someone has the right outfit for a night out. It’s been stressful for all concerned.

I am delighted to say that on Thursday we got confirmation that a solution had been found – and the work can therefore go ahead as planned. There is still a really long way to go, and we are continuing to raise funds to help with the temporary relocation, but thanks to some really amazing people with hearts of gold, the end is at least in sight now.

A huge thanks also to everyone who commented and shared my appeals for help, and who provided advice and suggestions throughout the week. I really do appreciate it – and I will always remember who took the time.

My highlight

While my highlight could easily be the resolution to the challenge, I think I’m still too exhausted from it all to see it as such right now. That will be the week it all gets finished and the family can move back home!

This week instead I am buzzing from the fact a client I did a CV for has landed his dream job. After months of applying for roles that weren’t suited for him, I sat him down and had a long chat about his aspirations and his skill set. Working with this information I helped him with his job search, and created a unique CV for one particular role.

When he landed an interview I went through some practice sessions with him to help him gain confidence, and it’s safe to say he totally nailed it! He starts in two weeks and I honestly couldn’t be happier for him. Finding the perfect job really does make all the difference.

Well, that’s me for another week. I hope you all have an amazing weekend, and I shall catch up with you again on Monday!

The One With The Migraine

I honestly don’t know where this week has gone. Actually, I do – sort of. It was a blur of painkillers and hospital trips. After suffering for 9 days straight with the migraine from Hell, I finally decided to go to the doctor on Tuesday, who immediately panicked and sent me to hospital for an MRI.

After initial concerns over a potential brain bleed proved over-cautious, I was sent home with orders to rest. I confess, that didn’t happen. Thankfully though what started as a headache now seems to have turned in to an infected lymph node on my neck (tender, but manageable) and I am now able to function properly once again!

Hurrah!

While I am of course relieved that I don’t have either meningitis or a subarachnoid haemorrhage, it has been quite frustrating not being able to work a full week. In fact, as I write this at 2pm on Friday I have only managed to clock up 22 hours of work since Monday morning. I feel like a positive part-timer!

That said, it has still been a productive week, so I perhaps shouldn’t complain too much. I have had two great 121’s which have been really thought provoking, and have opened up lines of potential collaboration which I am very excited about. Hopefully more on that in the next few weeks.

One thing I love most about what I do is that I never know what’s going to come through in terms of work from one day to the next. This week I have had a whole host of audio transcription come through, which has really kept me busy. It’s one thing that I find really fascinating, maybe because it satisfies my need to be nosey as I listen in to what other people do.

This week I have transcribed three grievance procedures, one appeal, a round table discussion on electric vehicles and various interviews with bell ringers in Surrey. Like I said, you just never know what’s going to come in – or what you might learn in the process. For example, I now know bell ringers are actually called campanologists and I have found out lots about the SS Princess Alice disaster in 1878.

My biggest challenge

I have a wonderful client who runs a performing arts academy in Bury, and we have been working together for a little over two years now. I help her out in a variety of ways including social media and every day to-do lists. However, last night she threw a new challenge at me, which at first I confess I felt a little iffy about accepting.

On Sunday her kids will be performing a panto, which they have been working on since September. Realising a scene and costume change was going to take longer than originally anticipated, I was called upon to write a bit of filler script.

“What, you’re a writer, aren’t you?”

Eeeek. No pressure.

With a quick run through of what the panto was about (it’s a mash-up, rather than one particular show), what was happening and what was actually needed I armed myself with the necessary props for writing: Pen, paper and a hazelnut latte.

I am pleased to say one hour later I had six verses of Panto-rhyme (I can hear you saying “oh no you didn’t”, but I assure you, oh yes I did!). Hopefully a group of five and seven year olds will be able to learn this last minute addition in time for the opening curtain on Sunday.

My highlight

At the end of last year I started working with a new client, and one of our challenges was to get them running their own social media accounts. This week they went solo, and it’s been really great seeing them not only start posting their own content, but also getting interaction from their audience.

I’m hopeful making such a positive start will give them the confidence to carry on, but either way, I will be touching base with them next week for an update. I love seeing people learn something new, and do it for themselves (where they can).

 

Hope you have all had a great week, and I will see you again on Monday!

The one with Blue Monday

It has been another crazy (but enjoyable) week in the life of this Time Saving Hero. CVs are still proving popular, with many people looking for customer service roles. One thing I have seen this week is a huge increase in the number of people thinking about their LinkedIn profiles. I’ve already completed seven LinkedIn reviews, with another 15 scheduled for next week!

It’s great that people are being serious about getting involved in this platform more for 2017, and making sure their profiles are completely up to scratch is a fantastic way to start. Personally I really enjoy doing the reviews and providing people with top tips, especially when they say “I never knew you could do that”. LinkedIn is a fantastic network, but, like many things, a lot of what it’s capable of is done behind the scenes.

Work started in earnest this week on an event I am helping to organise for later in the year. I confess, this is the sort of thing I adore doing – a big project you can really get your teeth in to. Everyone is so passionate, which is infectious, but they want to do the fun things and not have to worry about the admin. I totally get it, pulling timetables and lists together is the cruddy end of the process, but it needs doing, and it’s lovely being able to take that off their plate so they can get on with the razzle-dazzle bit at the other end.

My BforB Ladies group met again for the first time this week since the Christmas break and I didn’t realise how much I’d missed them! I am lucky enough to be moderator for this group of lovelies, and it is such a joy seeing a group of individuals working so well together. I am excited to see where the group is going over the next 12 months and look forward to being a huge part of it.

My biggest challenge

Parts of this week have been tough because it’s been the doom and gloom week. A lot of people really seem to have been hit by Blue Monday, and at times it’s been hard not being one of them. For many of the clients I’ve spoken to, they are starting to feel the weight of their resolutions now that they have fully returned to normal work life. Many of them are getting follow-up calls today – it is Fail Friday after all and I want to make sure they’ve not cracked.

I’ve heard a lot of “I don’t know why I thought I could do that …” and “It’s never going to happen, it’s too hard” from people over the last few days, and it’s been tough not to slap them. My favourite saying has been pulled out a fair few times this week: “If you want to do something you’ll find a way, if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse”.

I firmly believe that, and I hope everyone will be slightly more positive next week.

My highlight

I am well aware this is going to sound odd, but my highlight this week was a client telling me they didn’t need me anymore.

I have worked with this client for four years, and I have enjoyed every crazy minute. There is no part of his business I haven’t been involved in, and I’ve had some pretty random tasks as a result. My favourite might well be viewing properties in Chester for him to buy. The sorts of places I couldn’t afford to buy a garage for.

Anyway, I digress. Over the years we have built an amazing relationship (so amazing that we actually feel comfortable enough to properly argue with each other now), but I always knew this day would come. I was hired because he didn’t have the time to do things himself, or the need for a full time member of staff. That has now changed. He has an office in London, already kitted out with staff, and he has just interviewed two new team members to replace me.

I’m just going to say that again – he needs two people, to replace one me. Yeah, that gives me a happy.

The point is, while I am of course sad not to be working with Baz any longer, it’s a perfect reminder of what I actually do. The whole point of having a VA is to help you move your business forward, in whatever way you want to. That might mean increased sales, expansion or simply keeping your head above water.  He wanted to grow, and he has. Where he is now it’s hard to imagine he once operated out of a tiny box room in his Mum’s flat!

Were it not for the fact that I’m still stuck with Dry January I’d be raising a glass of champagne to Baz and the part I played in his journey. For the time being, I shall make do with my cuppa. I’m proud of you kid!

 

Have a great weekend everyone and see you next week, ready to start all over again.