Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Finger sweeping fears!

Today I have dragged myself and my business into the 21st century by upgrading my current mobile to a supposedly 'smart' phone. I make the transition still kicking and screaming, I might add, as I am still of the opinion that a phone should be just that. However, given the current mobile is becoming increasingly temperamental, it was only a matter of time before this step was taken. As a writer, I have also been tempted by the notion that I can use my new phone, via the Evernote App, as a notepad so I can take notes wherever and whenever inspiration strikes. Of course, this will never replace the thrill and satisfaction of writing on a new page of a beautiful notebook, but practicalities need to be considered.

There is nothing like speaking to a mobile phone company to make you feel old. I found myself stuttering and stumbling over my words as I tried to convey what I wanted from my new phone while feeling utterly out of my comfort zone. Sadly, despite the valiant efforts of the polite young man from Orange, I still came away with a sense of foreboding about the impending arrival of said phone. The transfer of data from the old handset to the new will be simple, I'm reliably informed, with the new phone taking me through each step one by one. I still have a strong feeling that the cat is going to learn some new vocabulary over the next few days!

The conversation with Orange reminded me of my own youth, and the confidence I had in using the emerging technology at that time. As a college student I worked at Boots the Chemist on Saturdays and I still clearly remember the day the old tills were replaced by those capable of scanning bar codes. We received training prior to the transition, and the older women in our team were really concerned about this new-fangled equipment. Somehow, despite never having used one before, the new tills seemed intuitive to us younger team members, and we indulged our youthful egos by helping our more senior colleagues with any issues they had. How then, over 20 years later, do I find myself in their shoes? Have I really fallen that far behind in my knowledge of technological advances, I wonder?

I do feel it is important, as a business owner, to stay abreast of  technology if that means I am able to offer a high quality service to my clients. However, at the risk of sounding like my parents - actually, scratch that, my grandparents - I still believe that technology will come full circle. In years to come, the pencil and notepad will come back in vogue because no-one will be able to afford the electricity to charge said devices. Then the 'finger-sweeping' youth of today will be truly impressed by this granny's beautiful handwriting and remarkable ability to handle a pencil!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Cathean Ltd Spring Retreat

Lights, camera, action! The Cathean Ltd freelancer retreat was, once again, held 'on location' with actors Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), Mathew Horne (Gavin & Stacey) and Tamsin Grieg (Green Wing) all on set.

The venue of our Spring Retreat was the oak-panelled Fleming Room at the Sue Ryder Hospice in Nettlebed, nr Henley on Thames. The hospice was being used as a film set and as we arrived the actors were practising a scene in the large reception hall. By popular demand, this Retreat was a repeat of that held in September last year, providing a 'day out of the office' for fellow freelancers to explore the challenges they face as solo business owners.


The day began with a review of the issues we encounter as freelance professionals in relation to client management. The main concerns were coping with changes in project scope and timelines and juggling different client demands so we can provide a high quality service without burn out. Establishing clear boundaries is key so clients  understand what can be delivered by when and the impact of changing scope and timelines. Having a disciplined approach to answering the phone and responding to emails also creates boundaries and  saves valuable time. Allowing phone calls to go to voicemail means you can respond to the call when you are fully focused on the caller and you are not interrupting client work to take the call. Try reading and responding to emails at set times throughout the day, and turn your 'new message' notification off when you are working on client projects or on your business management activities to minimise distractions.
Deep in discussion

I am often asked about marketing your business at these Retreats, and last week was no exception. The key to successful marketing is knowing who your ideal client is because then your marketing activities will naturally reach out to the right people. So ask yourself what type of work do you love to do and who do you enjoy working with? This will become clearer the more experience you have as a freelancer. You can establish who your ideal client is by understanding your own values and beliefs and what service you want your business to deliver to serve your clients effectively. Keep in touch with your clients too - send them information that may be useful to them, for example, notification of new or revised guidelines that are relevant to the work they do or send them a newsletter. This keeps the lines of communication open and helps build a good working relationship.

 A big thank you to everyone who supported the Spring Retreat - colleagues travelled from as far away as Cornwall and Wales to join us, which is much appreciated. Thank you to Pru at Sue Ryder, and the staff at The White Hart pub in Nettlebed where we all had a well-deserved lunch afterwards. And finally, but absolutely by no means least, a big hug and thank you to my coach and friend Elaine Bailey, who generously donated business reference books for everyone and a 30-minutes coaching call to one of the Retreat's attendees in a prize draw- well done Steffan! The next Retreat is planned for September 2014.
We even found a 'tombola spinner' for the prize draw!