Personally Virtual Blog

We spend a lot of time reviewing what is working in our businesses at this time of year as we create business goals for 2020 and celebrate our 2019 successes – both of which are important things to do - but, as well as looking at the things that have gone well, it’s really important to address and acknowledge the things that didn’t quite go to plan so that we can take steps to avoid them in the future (well, as much as possible!).

So how do you carry out a review of all the terrible things/apparent failures/depressing business memories without being sucked into a black hole of despair and making a spur-of-the-moment decision to move to Siberia to become a nomadic reindeer herder? Here are my top tips:

1.)   Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and grab a snack that makes you feel positive.  Cake is totally acceptable for this job.

2.)   Identify 10 things that didn’t go to plan in 2019.  This can be anything from a new software that you trialled, a customer (or two) who didn’t work out as expected, or a new working style designed to improve productivity that fell by the wayside (5am starts, anyone?). Remember, these ‘failures’ don’t define your business! If you’re still in business now, you’ve managed to overcome these obstacles and still find business success, we’re simply re-addressing these issues in a safe and comfortable environment to see if we can learn anything from them.

3.)   Try and establish why each of your 10 ‘failures’ occurred.  Was it a lack of knowledge/understanding of the software or task? Perhaps it was that you lacked the time necessary to dedicate to learning new skills? There might not be a tangible reason why, so don’t get caught up on it if you can’t find a reason.

4.)   In an ideal world, do you actually need to learn the particular software/skill that you struggled with this year? Do you need to work with customers like the ones you have found challenging this year? Do you need to work more productively? These questions are important as it should help you to establish whether or not you need to re-address the things you found challenging in 2019 again in the new year.  If you don’t need these things, feel free to chalk them up on a ‘Never, ever try this again’ board – there is something quite cathartic about recognising an issue, realising that you couldn’t realistically have done anything to change it and letting it go.  And whilst we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that if your issue was with a particular customer and that the problem was out of your control, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a mental list of customers to NEVER WORK WITH AGAIN! It’s not necessarily their fault, and it’s not yours, it’s just human nature that some people aren’t compatible when it comes to working together. Find peace with that and you’ll find it easier to leave some of the frustrations from 2019 behind as we move into a new and shiny year full of hope and promise and definitely lacking in terrible customers (fingers crossed!)

5.)   If you do need to look at something again in 2020, it’s important to be realistic about the time and resources you will need to try it again – successfully this time! New software or a brand-new skillset might seem like a nightmare at the moment, but with time and the right people around you to support you, it will get easier! Don’t be put off by something just because it didn’t go right the first time – but then again, you probably know that already if you are self-employed or a small business owner. If running your own business was easy, everyone would be doing it; everyone faces challenges in business, and it’s how we address these issues and perceived ‘failures’ and come back stronger, with greater experience and more knowledge, that helps to make each new year in business more successful than the last.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

28th November, 2019

It’s No-vember.  I know that the title of this blog might come across as a little ‘Bah Humbug!’, but that is not my intention.  Ultimately, as a business owner who is familiar with the peaks and troughs of self employment, I am all too aware how easy it can be to want to say ‘yes’ to everyone, whether that’s a favour, a quick ‘last minute’ job (you know the ones – they are never, ever quick!) or to client work that you have a bad gut feeling about but feel compelled to accept because you know that cash-flow isn’t always guaranteed in business!

We all start with the best intentions – we want to be a valuable resource, a trusted business associate, a useful friend, but there comes a time when these ‘favours’ inevitably have an impact on our life and work; you may find yourself working at 2AM for free or your normal rate to help someone out, or find that your energy and enthusiasm have been sucked dry as you scramble to complete one of the last-minute jobs, at the detriment to your other customers.

I’m not saying that you have to say no to everything, but there comes a moment when we need to ensure that our own wellbeing (and sanity) and our existing clients are prioritised.  If you want to help but can’t do it ‘urgently’, suggest a more appropriate timescale – if it doesn’t work for them, that is their issue. You are not solely responsible for the success/failure of anyone’s business except your own, and as long as the work you have agreed to deliver (and do deliver) is of the high standard you expect of yourself and delivered in a timely manner in accordance with your existing contract, you are doing all you can (and all you are able to do) for your customers.

So this NO-vember, take a moment after every client enquiry, every little request for a favour, every call for urgent assistance to pause, breathe and quietly consider if, and when, it is appropriate for you to help.  If it isn’t, be honest with yourself and your colleague/client/friend – tell them that you haven’t got availability at the moment but could help in the future or can recommend someone else who could help. And then let it go! You’re doing all you can to maintain your own business and support your customers with a high quality service, and that is already an achievement worth celebrating.


Whether you are a self-employed lone worker, are part of a small team or work in a huge office space with hundreds of other employees, there’s one thing for certain – cold and flu season is on its way!

When you do run your own small business, it’s often harder to take time out to rest and recuperate than it might be for some employees (especially those with statutory sick pay and colleagues who can shoulder some of the workload!) due to the fact that time away from work generally means time away from earning money.  I’ve met a number of small business owners who are unable or unwilling to even consider ‘down time’ to recover from illness and injury, choosing instead to work from their beds (even hospital beds) rather than let their customers down.  Unfortunately, this desire to get back to work before we are fully fit and able often results in a.) a longer recovery time or b.) a temporary reduction in the quality of work due to the fact that you are in so much pain/on medication/need to sleep every 3.5 minutes.  As a result, here are my top tips to stay as healthy as possible this Autumn/Winter, and to recover from illness as quickly as possible – trust me, I’m not a Doctor but I am a seasoned self-employed professional!

Take regular breaks – I know it’s easy to forget lunch breaks and to regularly work late into the evening when you’ve got a to-do list as long as the Thames. But work will still be there when you get back, it’s not going anywhere! If you feel you can’t possibly take a break to relax and go for a short walk in the fresh air, it might be worth reviewing your working schedule, adjusting your deadlines (if possible) and booking in regular sessions in your diary to take time away from your desk and get your blood pumping and muscles working! Even a quick brisk walk round the block is good for the body and mind.

Eat regularly – and eat well! I’ve missed many a lunch break and often go for hours without a drink, but I’m making a conscious effort this Autumn/Winter to stay hydrated and to eat a decent lunch and healthy snacks in order to give my body some of the precious nutrients it needs to try and keep me as healthy as possible! I’m not declaring the office a caffeine or sugar-free zone though – everyone has days when a coffee and cake is the ultimate medicine for a challenging day.

Cherish your ‘downtime’ – grab a book, enjoy a bath, watch some trash television or dedicate time to a hobby (or two!).  Stress can manifest itself in a number of different ways in our health and wellbeing, so taking proper breaks from work (and turning off those email and app notifications!) can help you manage your stress levels more effectively.  There is more to life than simply work.

Find someone who can support you – even the strongest, healthiest individuals can find themselves struck down by flu (one of my associates had the flu vaccine last year and was still struck down by a different strain – these things happen sometimes!) or another illness.  As a result, try to set up systems and processes that can be put into place if you are ill – whether that’s a simple out of office that you can put on if you just need a couple of days in bed to recover, or a trusted associate that you can outsource your work to if you need cover for a longer period of time, or just want to spread the load a little when you’re really snowed under.

Listen to your body – if you are feeling exhausted, unwell, or stressed, put yourself on your to-do list.  Take time out and seek professional medical help if required; your clients understand that you are human and not some kind of super cyborg who can work non-stop for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year… Carrying on when your body or mind needs a break ALWAYS results in a longer recovery time than simply stopping for a day or two and giving yourself some TLC. Just remember, when it comes to business priorities, you are your number one asset! Give yourself the same care and attention you give your staff, your associates, and even your hardware! You’ll soon be fighting fit and ready to work effectively and productively again.

What will you be doing this Winter to try and stay as healthy and happy as possible? Do you have any top tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them on my Social Media channels – feel free to get in touch!

Tomorrow’s me is great! She’s going to bill 5 hours work, catch up on her LinkedIn messages, go to the gym and cook a healthy meal. She’s amazing this woman. All because she’s in tomorrow and tomorrow is better.

Are you one of those people who puts things off until later? I largely don’t, certainly not with work but there are times when I do this. The most common example for me, is not filling the car up with fuel until it’s more or less running on fumes. For some bizarre reason, I always think that I’ll do it next time I go out; tomorrow when I’m on my way to a meeting or as I head out for a dog walk. Because I’m busy. And I need to get back to my desk, or to a meeting or to wherever. So tomorrow usually feels like the better option than doing it now. For any number of reasons.

But, what I have now (finally) realised, is that tomorrow, won’t be any better! In fact, tomorrow, may be busier than today. I might be running late for my meeting because of a call or a wardrobe malfunction or any number of reasons. Why should the mystical tomorrow be any better than today? Tomorrow may be worse than today. By adding to my daily stress, a car that absolutely needs to go to the garage before it goes anywhere else, I’ve made the chances of tomorrow being equally as busy much more likely.

I am pushing the busy forward.

I am already sabotaging my future self. The future self that today I am thinking of as solving all my problems!  Chances are, she’s not going be Wonder Woman after all because she is the result of my very poor choices yesterday!

There are so many ways that we do this by assuming that our future selves are going to somehow make better decisions, have more time and be generally more with it. Some days that may be the case, but I am by and large the same person, with the same life, from one day to the next. So why do I think tomorrow is different? 

Well, it’s a known phenomenon that has been studied called Optimism Bias. It’s mostly why we get out of bed and crack on with another day – but also stops us doing perhaps more sensible long-term things like putting away some savings or cutting down on the wine for our health because bad stuff happens to other people, not us. Read more here.

So, optimism about our future lives aside, let’s go with the more likely supposition that tomorrow will be much like today.  What if you could make life easier for your future self now so that you are really grateful to yourself tomorrow? How lovely are you to yourself?

There are loads of ways to do this, but let’s start with the premise that tomorrow you are short of time. And think of some things that “today’s you” could do, to get ahead of that.

  1. Before you go to bed spend 5 minutes doing a quick blitz of the house to get it tidy.
  2. Organise tomorrow’s stuff today - be that breakfast bowls and a mug with a teabag, your work bag and papers or your clothes.
  3. Before you leave the office, create your list of things to do the next day (I like to schedule time rather than have a list because again, I get overambitious about what can be achieved. At least focusing on available time, I have a hope of being more realistic.)
  4. Rather than not start a piece of work or a task because you’ve only got 5 or 10 minutes, start it. You’d be surprised what you can get done and when you come back to it, you’ll be delighted that you aren’t staring at a blank bit of paper.
  5. Think about your future self when making decisions. Put them first! Just by moving the focus slightly and saying “would my future self be happier if…” you can make the right call in the moment. Which is usually doing something you don’t really want to do now but that you probably should do, be that going to the gym, replying to that email or putting that expense receipt in the right place.


It’s really important to be good to yourself.  But it might be more important to be good to your future self.



In a town local to me, work has just finished on a public space in front of a large new commercial and residential development.  It looks much nicer than the car park that was there previously and as I walked across it recently I realised that the footpaths are filled with motivational sayings – you know the sort, ‘Reach for the Moon and if you fail you’ll end up amongst the stars!’ and that kind of thing. I appreciate the sentiment (but not the spelling and grammatical errors that the footpath proof-reader clearly overlooked), but I don’t think it had the desired effect on me; I didn’t feel motivated or challenged by the words – indeed, I feel as though I’m constantly bombarded in my personal and professional life by vacuous motivational or inspirational sayings that realistically aren’t going to provide any value in my personal and professional development.

As a result, I purposefully went on a search for some advice that I think is valuable, and came across a couple of gems from Thomas Edison (he of incandescent lightbulb fame – though he acquired 1093 other patents too):

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-it-iveness; third, common sense”

From my first-hand experience, running a successful business cannot be directly attributed to fairy dust and positive vibes (though I’m sure they do help).  Making mistakes and, more importantly, recognising them and learning from them is a huge part of professional growth.  As is the ability to stick with something even when things aren’t necessarily going to plan.

But do motivational quotes really work? According to an article by Gwen Moran for Fast Company (source: https://www.fastcompany.com/3051432/why-inspirational-quotes-motivate-us), they do!

“Humans are aspirational. We want to look up to role models and leaders and follow what they ask…Leaders and their words– inspirational quotes– affect us on a primal level.” Scott Sobel, Founder of Media and Communications Strategies, Inc., Washington DC.

Do you have any inspirational quotes or motivational sayings that particularly resonate with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts (and recommendations!).

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