Personally Virtual Blog

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:, 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!).

11th September, 2019

September… stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favourite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.”

Stephen King

September often feels like a new start. Not quite the New Year/new me/new beginning of January 1st (jam packed with totally unattainable diet and fitness-based resolutions) but a definite opportunity to take renewed action in our lives and to kick-start the engine again after an extended summer break.

It’s reminiscent of a new term at a new school, with new uniforms, fresh stationery and organised school bags (without long lost bananas that have become host to brand new life forms)…  and it’s not just the ‘back to school’ feeling that signals change; September marks the start of Autumn and a transition into cooler, shorter days.  These periods of transition are a great time to stop for a moment and reflect on the year to date. What has been successful in 2019 so far? What really didn’t work out as you had anticipated? What would you have done differently? What goals have you met? Which goals are you still working towards (and are you on track to meet them in a timely manner)? Perhaps the goalposts have changed and you need to adjust your plans accordingly? Businesses aren’t static entities – they grow and change constantly, though progress isn’t always a straight line. By taking time out to re-assess and re-evaluate your business goals regularly throughout the year, you can make sure that you are still working towards the ‘ideal business’ that works for you and fits in with your unique needs; you don’t have to have a 100-strong workforce, to be regularly invoicing 6-figures per month, or to have won an armful of shiny business awards in the first 9 months of 2019 for it to have been a success – it’s all relative and ultimately, as long as your business is turning over enough to sustain your financial needs (or is working towards it!) then you are on the right track.

Think of September as an annual check in. Buy the new stationary, the notepads and #AllThePens. Take a moment to think about both the positives and negatives of the year so far and try to build on the good stuff for the last few months of the year.  That being said, it’s important to pace yourself so the chances of burning out from an unsustainable energy surge are minimised. Understand what is manageable and set achievable and realistic goals for the final quarter of 2019 and be sure to acknowledge both the little successes as well as the big wins – trust me, running a business is a challenge and every positive deserves to be celebrated. 

Just remember, keep those business goals;

*Specific - no hugely non-specific ‘I want world peace’ type goals without providing a little more detail.

*Measurable - make sure that your goal is easy to measure so that you can tell whether you are on track to meet it, or not!

*Achievable - though aiming for consistent 7-figure turnover weeks might be your ultimate aim, it might not be an achievable goal for you at the moment if you don’t have the marketing budget and business systems and processes in place to support that at the moment.

*Realistic – again, building your next office on the moon may be a wonderful dream, but how likely is that to actually happen before Christmas?

*Timely – give yourself a deadline to either achieve your business goal or to review again; quarterly reviews work really well, from my experience!

Autumn is a valuable season within our businesses. Let’s make it count!

Whether you’ve got children off for the Summer break or are jetting off to sunnier climes over the next few weeks, July and August are synonymous with holidays – possibly because in a good old British Summer you are generally allowed at least three days of fabulous weather (between back-to-back days of hail, wind, rain and possibly snow).  As a result, my ‘holiday top tips!’ blog should be useful for most of you, even if you are stay-cationing or nipping off for a long weekend in the country.

For as stress-free a break as possible, here are my top 5 recommendations:

1.)   Notify your customers in advance of your holiday – if possible, I generally recommend giving customers a month’s notice of a holiday, particularly if it’s over a week.  The vast majority of my customers can be maintained and supported by a trusted associate, should the customer request or require it, and in many cases work can also be completed prior to going away.  It’s worth giving customers plenty of notice though as you can guarantee that if you don’t, a hundred pieces of ‘urgent’ work will drop into your in-tray on your last day in the office…

2.)   Have an emergency contact in place (ideally, not you as the first point of call) – it’s always helpful to have a trusted team member available for any ‘urgent’ customer enquiries that come in.  Please note that ‘urgent’ from the perspective of the customer isn’t necessarily ‘urgent’ from anyone else’s perspective, so having a team member available to separate the ‘legitimately urgent’ from the ‘really can wait until you are back in the office' queries, you can rest assured that your holiday isn’t going to be interrupted unless absolutely necessary.

3.)   Turn your ‘out of office’ on from the morning of your last day at work – this acts as a great reminder to customers who may have forgotten you were going away (despite regular notifications!) and had been considering trying to sneak ‘a quick job’ in before you went away… trust me, ‘a quick job’ never quite turns out to be as quick or as simple as the customer believes.

4.)   Set your ‘out of office’ to turn off one day after you arrive back at work and keep the diary clear on that day – despite your ‘out of office’ notification, it’s likely that you’ll come back to approximately half a million emails; if you’re dealing with customer enquiries from the second you sit down at your desk too, it’s going to take months to work through your in-tray and establish your to-do list for your first week back at work.  Give yourself a clear day (or morning) to read and file your emails and prioritise work and the positive mood that you’ve brought back from your holiday is far more likely to last!

5.)   Turn off notifications when you are away – if you use business management tools (like Slack, Asana or Todoist, for example) on your phone, or receive work emails to your mobile device, consider switching off notifications for these.  It’s all too easy to think ‘I’ll just check that!’ and end up, three hours later, embroiled in some minor customer issue that could have either been rectified without you or could be addressed upon your return.  Alternatively, you could always leave your phone in your hotel/B&B/tent and ignore it completely? I might have to give that a go this Summer holiday…

It’s so important to take some time out to relax and recharge your batteries every now and then, so make sure that your business is adequately prepared for your holiday so that you can really step away from work and come back re-envigorated and at the top of your productivity game.

The 17th Century poet John Donne famously wrote “No man is an island” and I have to agree.  Running my own business from home is fantastic – I work the hours I want, do the jobs I want, wear what I want, speak to who I want to – but in order to build my business I needed to embrace the skills and experience of other business professionals too.

As a self-employed freelancer with family commitments and hobbies, there are only a certain number of hours per day that you can dedicate to working without becoming a mad recluse.  There are also only so many skills that you can fit into your brain without falling into the worrying category of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’.  Realistically, if you want to increase the number of hours of work that you have available to assist clients, or want to broadly diversify the range of services that you offer, you need to find one or more experienced and talented professionals to help out.  I have worked with a number of freelancers over the past few years, but my core team has only really expanded within the past year and I couldn’t be happier with my current line-up of highly skilled and extensively experienced associates.

If you are considering growing your business and working closely with one or more new employees or freelancers, here are my top tips to help you build the perfect team:

1.)   Actively seek out people with a unique zone of genius that complements your own.  Unless you want to deliver exactly the same service to a much larger number of people, building a team with an exceptional and diverse skillset is a great way to develop a sustainable business.  If, for example, the call for your existing services suddenly drops off, the knowledge and experience of your fellow team members can help you to identify new opportunities for your business.

2.)   Make sure your team understand your values and ideals.  If you consider an eye for detail very important, you need to work with team members who are equally conscientious.  Anyone working outside of your business values runs the risk of upsetting loyal customers who have come to you specifically because they like the work that you do, so it’s important to have a chat about this before you start working together to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

3.)   Double check that they have a sense of humour. Admittedly, this isn’t a pre-requisite for every business owner, but it is important to me! Freelance work has its own unique challenges and may require the odd moment of humour to diffuse what could otherwise be a challenging situation.  Thankfully, my team can help keep each other positive and motivated with a back-catalogue of amusing memes and gifs to brighten even the darkest work moment.

4.)   Ask yourself, ‘Do I respect this person?’ – Unfortunately, it’s impossible to like everyone.  There are some people out there who might be extremely talented but who you just cannot bring yourself to like.  In a business relationship, it’s not necessary to be best friends with your team (though it does help if they are thoroughly lovely, like mine!), but you will find it incredibly hard to work successfully with people who you do not respect, whatever the reason for that.

5.) Make sure that you are actually ready to grow your business – taking on team members on a whim before your business is ready for growth is a definite no-no! Before you consider expansion, it’s really important to have a business plan in place that maps out the aims that you have for your business over the coming year(s).  This could be about the services that you want to provide, the customers that you want to target, etc.  If you want to maintain your existing clients but reduce the number of hours you work, or expand your services to a much larger range of customers, think about what you need in place in order to achieve this; successful growth is much more than just taking on new team members – your marketing, your networking, your sales processes and service delivery, they will all need to change! Taking on team members before you’ve addressed the actual logistics of business growth will just cause you additional stress, trust me.

Of course, there are a number of other factors that need to be considered when you are growing a team, but don’t be put off by what’s involved – when you find a great team of like-minded and talented individuals, teamwork really can help to make the dream work!

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