‘Work is something you do, not somewhere you go’

As a remote worker, someone who has done the commute into London for a number of years, but is now ‘location independent’, the title of this piece really struck a chord with me when I saw it posted on social media.

Having worked for myself, largely from home for the past two years, taking the step to move my business abroad was not a difficult one.  I’d always been within easy reach of London, where most of my clients were located, but actually found the days I spent on client site to the be the least productive.  I valued the face time but found the travel a waste of time, as well as exhausting.

So when we decided to make the move out of the UK, I considered it an easy step.  My clients weren’t quite so confident, with one or two worried about my availability.  However the joy of technology is that is makes you hyper available  – Skype for Busienss is a great tool and I’ve used it for one on one meetings, video calls and video conferencing.  I also use personal Skype for work calls and have found Google Hangouts to be a great tool – although users do all need to have a Gmail account to use it.

I recently headed back to the UK to cram in some client meetings and was struck by how inefficient my days were.  Travel around London is not conducive to getting work done and whilst the face to face time was valuable and enabled me to problem solve directly with clients, the loss of productivity was clear.  I also don’t find London an inspiring place to be.  One thing I have learned is that when you are brainstorming strategy and content, you need to be in a place than enables you to think.  Worrying about whether your train is going to be late, or about the constant background buzz of office life is not conducive to producing your best work!

In fact, I find most modern offices have a negative effect on my ability to produce good work. Being in the same place every day, day after day just produces the same work, day after of day.  In the era of the knowledge economy, it’s  not just turning the handle, but about producing – whether that be content, strategies or planning.  A lot of my time is spent thinking about solutions – not just staring at a screen, but brainstorming, conceiving and, dare I say it, dreaming.  Being sat in the same place every day does not help that process.  Changing up your working environment is a great way to clear the blockages and to come up with new ways of thinking.  I also often find going for a walk is a good way to sort through solutions and develop ideas.

So, what have I learned from the past few months working from France?  Mountains are inspiring places, but being sat looking at the same vie every day, no matter where you are, doesn’t help with the creative process – sometimes you do need a change of scenery.  Having said all that, it’s still far better for my output to NOT be in London on a daily basis – travelling is not a productive use of time!

The infinite joy of less stuff

So I have a confession to make……I’m a hoarder.  As part of my shopaholic tendancies I collect piles of things.

Too much stuff was suffocating me.  Stopping me from being able to make future plans.  How could I move house or change locations?  It was impossible.  Physical possessions were holding me down like weights.

The Minimalists talk about too much stuff acting as an ‘anchor’ – holding us down, preventing us from moving on, and that’s very much how it felt for me.  I was anchored, but not in a good way.

And the mess was causing me stress.  Being surrounded by things, things that didn’t have a home or even a reason to be there, was not calming in any way shape or form. I was determined that this move would be the catalyst that would drive us to a more meaningful life – freeing us from the physical chains that make decisions more difficult, as well as stopping us from spending money on things we didn’t need or really want.

The move was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done.  We didn’t allow enough time to do things properly – I didn’t want to put things into storage that we didn’t want long-term.  We did 7 car trips to charity shops, and the same to the dump.  But I tried to be ruthless.  I didn’t want anything that we didn’t love, or use regularly, to make the trip with us.

So – we’re moved – from a 2 bedroom house with loft storage into one attic room, and we’ve still got too much stuff.  But I feel clearer and ready for our permanent move in 5 months.  And the memory of the pain is enough to keep me from old habits.  Every time I’m about to click on ‘add to cart’ I pause – and remember the feeling of drowning in stuff and how oppressive it was.  I feel calmer – and my bank balance is thanking me too!

 

 

Having the courage of your convictions

I think for me the moment that things really clicked was when I read a quote about consciously creating the life you want.  I can’t remember the exact quote, and I can’t remember who said it, but the principle really stuck with me.

A lot of people would take this to mean that they should work hard and earn a lot of money, have 2.4 children, buy a nice house, a couple of BMW’s – and bingo, goal achieved.

But for others it does mean questioning what it is you are striving for.  I feel we are all programmed, to some degree or another, to get on the travellator – school, maybe uni, work, kids, house, retire (if you were born before 1970!) and die.  And very few people stop to think ‘hang on a minute – what am I doing’.  Does earning lots of money make me happy?  Will working 18 hour days leave me fulfilled?

I’ve always followed a slightly different path. I’m ambitious, sure, and it’s only though the hard work I put in through the first 10-15 years of my career that I am able to make the choices I have today.  But I’ve never wanted the 2.4 children, big house, 2 BMW thing.  I don’t believe money brings happiness.  Don’t get me wrong – having a decent base level of income makes life a lot easier, and having to scrimp and save just to afford the basics brings horrendous stress – but I got to a point about 2 years ago where I decided that actually earning more money wouldn’t make me proportionally more happy.  Because after a certain point, there is a direct correlation between salary earned and hours worked.  Some people will be validated by that.  I know lawyers, PR people, bankers – to them earning £100k plus and working 18 hours a day makes them feel worthwhile as people, and that’s great.  But for me there is a big something missing.  We’re a long time dead and nobody ever puts ‘I wish I spent more hours in the office’ on their tombstone.

This has also coincided with the growing feeling that my possessions are suffocating me.  My name is Joanne and I’m a recovering shopaholic.  When I was bored or stressed I would turn to the internet shopping sites with my credit card and lo, another parcel would arrive.  But the pile of clothes that didn’t fit or suit me, and the boxes of toiletries and gadgets soon began to feel oppressive.  And there was a growing realisation that the joy was in the expectation of arrival, rather than in the item itself.  So I stopped (not completely – cold turkey is hard!).  No more random purchases.  I was filling a gap in my life with spending.  If I want something it has to be a thoughtful purchase.  Something of value that will fill me with joy.

The past two years therefore have been about my ‘consciously creating’ the life I want.  About deciding how much money is enough, and how much work is enough.  That things aren’t as powerful as experiences.  And that work doesn’t have to mean commuting 1.5 hours a day into central London, just to do a job I can do from anywhere (even the French Alps).

Having spoken to people about our recent adventure – a lot of people have said ‘but you’re so brave’ or ‘I am so jealous’.  But for me, it’s just about consciously making a decision about the things you want in life – and creating that life, one step at a time.  All you need is the courage of your convictions.

The start of a very big adventure……

Most of my friends and colleagues I’ve seen recently will know that I’ve just made a really big move.  Earlier this week, my other half and I finished packing up our little house, with essentials into storage, and binning the rest, and with our new (old) 4X4 and a rammed trailer, headed off to leave the UK, possibly forever.

We’ve been talking about making the move for a long time.  We were both keen to experience a winter in the Alps, and had long dreamt about making Spain our permanent home – but it always seemed to difficult.  But what about work?  Where will we live?  How will it work?

The answer is that we don’t really know – but we had to try.  My business is going well, and my clients trust me enough to know that even though I’m not in the country, I’m still working for them and will be available in the UK if they ever need me to be.  My other half has got a job running a chalet hotel in a resort, which provide accommodation – so we’ve at least got a roof over our heads for the next five months.

And if it all goes horribly wrong, we can always go back, and get proper jobs and succumb to the tedious 9-5 again.  But we’re hoping it won’t.  People are telling us constantly – ‘I’m so jealous’ or ‘You’re mad’, and yes, we probably are, but the only thing that differentiates us from others is the bravery to take the bull by the horns and actually do it!

We don’t have children to worry about, and we’re not totally debt free, but I have enough contracts to keep us going for a good 6 months, (with almost more work than I can handle at the moment).  And sometimes all it comes down to is the bravery to follow your convictions.  Who says that the 9-5, marriage, mortgage and kids route is the right one?  It might be for some, but it’s not for everyone.  We should embrace those who choose to take a different path and experience life a bit more on their own terms.  As this big adventure gets started I’m meeting more and more people who are choosing a different way of life – and whilst they may not have many possessions, flash cars and big houses, they would probably say they are happier for it.

I’ll be following this blog up with some of my thoughts on how actually having less might make you happier (based purely on my own experiences!), as this whole experience has taught me so much already.

My biggest takeaway is, however, that all it takes to make things happen is a lot of hard work, and the courage to step of the ledge.

What’s the one thing you can do to make your marketing successful?

What is the one thing you can do to guarantee success from your B2B marketing efforts?

I work with a number of small businesses who are either starting their marketing efforts for the first time, or say things like ‘oh we’ve done marketing before, and it didn’t work’.

And I spend a lot of time explaining the one, critical success factor for marketing activity to them. Without this, they will only get limited, and certainly not long term, success.

So what is this critical factor – what tactic are millions of small B2B businesses missing out on?

It’s relatively simple – relentless focus. Keeping a consistent and coherent approach over a sustained period of time is the only way to guarantee that marketing will generate leads for your business.

And this is where businesses fail. Because for smaller businesses, it’s hard to focus consistently on that one thing when there are so many other demands on their time. How does a founder of a start-up think constantly about ‘fluffy’ marketing when there are bills to be paid, staff to be recruited, invoices to chase and projects to be delivered?

I get that, I really do – I’m a small business owner myself. But the thing is, it is only with that relentless and consistent focus on your marketing efforts over a sustained period of time that will deliver the results your business needs.

A big part of my job when I go into companies is explaining, particular in the world of B2B software and technology where I spend much of my time, that to get a steady stream of new business leads coming through the door takes time. That timeframe varies according to tactics, but you are not going to get a sustained pipeline overnight.

You need to focus over a period of months, on building your online presence, tweaking your website for search and customer relevance, understand buying behaviours and building awareness over time through a wide variety of tactics. And consistently publishing good quality content across a multitude of channels.

I often use the much over-quoted statement ‘I know 50% of my advertising is wasted, the trouble is, I don’t know which 50%’– as it relates just as equally to marketing. Whilst I would say that it’s unlikely that 50% of your marketing budget is actually wasted, the sentiment remains true. It’s often difficult to pinpoint which activities are the ones truly delivering the most value – but’s important that you cover as many marketing channels as you can – because consistency will deliver results.

B2B marketing is not something you can dip in and out off – at least not if you want the best ROI. It’s not a tap that can be turned on or off – it needs constant attention. And that’s where small businesses fall down. Because there is so much else to think about. So do consider getting a dedicated resource to help you – whether that’s a consultant like me who can bring experience at a reasonable cost to the business, or a permanent member of staff. Without that relentless focus on marketing, you are not going to get results – it’s an investment worth making.

 

 

 

Freelancer Life #2 – Working from home is not all it’s cracked up to be.

So, the holy grail, working from home. Fantastic, right?! Still sat in your pyjamas at lunchtime, no long commutes, no need to put on your makeup. Hmmmm, yes, all valid plus points. But it’s also quite isolating, and not great for your self-esteem to be still sat in your sleepwear when your partner walks back in from work at 6pm. It’s also very easy to spend THE WHOLE DAY sat in one chair, with only regular forays to the fridge to provide exercise – which isn’t great for your waistline either. So I’ve developed my own personal set of rules to make sure I don’t turn into an introverted slob the size of my sofa.

1. I have to be up, breakfasted and sat in front of the computer by 9 am. Even if I don’t have much work on, I need the discipline of starting my ‘working day’ properly.

2. I must be dressed by 12pm at the latest, or earlier if I have a call or Skype meeting. I am not taking calls or meetings in my pyjamas. Discovering the perfect ‘work from home’ uniform is quite tough – It’s taken me a while to work out how to be comfortable, but smart enough that I feel like I’m in ‘work mode’. I’ve got some smartish joggers and fine knit jumpers that work equally well with nice trainers or flat shoes, and that tends to be my ‘uniform’ for at home days.

3. I need to leave the house every day. It’s so easy to stay sat working from your sofa, and realise that you’ve not seen or spoken to anyone face to face all day. And actually, this makes me really miserable. By the time my other half gets home from work, knackered from a day teaching, I’m jumping up and down ready to go out – and that’s just when he wants some quiet time. So getting out and about prevents that, and also helps with number 4.

4. Get some exercise, every day. You may work from a dedicated work space, or from your sofa, but it’s really easy to not actually move your bum at all during the day. I slipped a disc in my back last year (not fun – I wouldn’t recommend it) and during my intensive physiotherapy I learnt that sitting is one of the most dangerous things that we can do for our health. I bought a standing desk, but have found I can’t work that effectively from it, so make sure that I move around the house, from sofa, to table, to study, during the day, as well as using my Apple Watch to remind me to stand up every hour. I also take the opportunity to do some lunges or squats to get everything moving. Also, as part of the getting out of the house thing…..go for a walk!

5. Change your scenery. So to help with the above, if I’ve not got any meetings or similar, I walk up to a local coffee shop to spend an hour or so working from somewhere different. It really helps me focus, and gives me a set period of time to get work done, often freeing the creative block or malaise that can set in from staring at the same four walls every day.

6. Schedule meetings. I make sure that I do at least a day of face to face meetings every week, if at all possible. This usually means being in London, which is great, because by the time I get on the train on the way home I’m looking forward to working from home again the next day!

7. Give yourself permission to do some fun things. For the first few months, despite only having project work booked for around 3 days a week, I felt really guilty if I had an early game of squash, or took a long lunch with a friend. But this is what being your own boss is about – you need to take advantage of the quiet times, because soon enough you’ll be running around like a lunatic trying to cram 6 days of work into 5. Make the most of the lean times – take a long weekend to do some travel, or go to the gym – it’s ok!

There are lots of other things that can seem really difficult when you first start out on your own – but I’ll blog about them at another time. The important thing is to find your own way – give yourself some structure and some rules, and it will make the transition to freelance life much easier!

Freelancer Life #1 – Tips and Tools for productivity

Since I turned freelance last year, I’ve been researching tools, apps and tips to try and help me combine all my passions as effectively and efficiently as possible. I work remotely, and have several different clients, all of whom use different tools, email accounts and processes. So I’ve come across some new ways of working to try and keep things as straightforward as possible.

I’ve also started to get my head around some apps for my own personal productivity and improvement – maintaining focus on continuously developing your skills is really important when you don’t work for ‘an employer’. And one of the key motivations behind going freelance and working from home was to free up time to increase my learning.

Work

1.    Microsoft 365. I know, I know. It’s not exactly a cutting edge, ‘out there’ tool. But my subscription to 365 is definitely worth the money. I use the Office suite of products every day, and have OneDrive set up for home, so I can store my files in the cloud.

2.    Dropbox. What, as well as OneDrive?! Well yes. I work with design agencies and have to share large files with clients on a regular basis. Dropbox for me is the best way of doing this – it’s intuitive (even my parents have a Dropbox drive to share pictures of their grandson!), it’s got a great free allowance and it’s commonly used, by designers (who don’t necessarily use Microsoft) and clients alike.

3.    Trello. I’ve been dabbling with Trello in a personal capacity for a number of years, but never quite got it to work for me. However, one of my clients uses it for workflow management, and at that level, it’s great! (Just got to improve my use of it as a personal to-do list and get my head around its complete functionality.)

4.    Slack.  Now this is fantastic. I’ve used Hipchat in the past but always found it a bit clunky and ‘difficult’. Slack on the other hand is great – really intuitive, nice interface and a great tool when working with clients remotely.

Personal

1.    Evernote. I LOVE Evernote. I’ve been using it for years, on and off (depending how reliant I am on my devices), but recent upgrades have made it even better. Being an Apple geek, I have my Evernote account synced across my MacBook Air, iPad Mini and IPhone, and it means I have my to-do list, reminders and inspiration tips to hand, wherever I go.

2.    Duolingo. One of the big drivers behind going freelance was the desire to work in a much more flexible way – and not just to be stuck in the same place. So the plan this year is to spread my wings a little and head off to the French Alps for the winter. So I really need to brush up my language skills! Duolingo offers little ‘snippet’ lessons every day, that reinforce vocabulary and grammar, and make learning easy. I try to do at least one ‘lesson’ a day, and, again, have the app on multiple devices so if I am ever waiting for a train, or a meeting, I can quickly zip through a short refresher.

3.    Blinkist. This is a recently discovered tool – and you need a subscription to fully access the service – but I have to say it’s definitely worth it! As someone who has piles of books sat on my kindle app ready to go, but never find the time to read, Blinkist is great. Their team of writers sift through all the best business, inspiration and self-improvement books out there, and dilute them into short, 10 minute take-aways. I can read one or two easily on my 20 minute train ride, and the way they are presented really helps to get the key messages across (and I copy and paste inspirational quotes and useful bullets into my Evernote app for later reference). I’ll save the long reads for my holidays.

I’m always keen to learn more about other tools and apps that people use – anything amazing (of course there will be!) that I’ve missed?