Category Archives: Business

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I’ve crossed over to the darkside? Why I’m hiring a virtual assistant.

iStock_000025613584SmallI never thought that my life or career ambition would end up by being a working mum.

I had bigger ambitions than that.

A job in the world of F1 Motor Racing, maybe Lewis Hamilton’s PA, the first female to play for the all male england cricket team, a features writer for a big magazine.

Such were my heady delusions of grandeur.

Instead I find myself a working mother of two children, a business owner, a life juggler extraordinaire and a skilled negotiator in the art of how to keep two boys from wanting to kill each other when my back is turned.

Being a working mum is a proper job, it may not be in the same league as an astrophysicist, meteorologist or a Doctor but it carries with it great responsibility and tenderness.

There is no three year course at university and no qualification at the end of it nor does it require you to sit an exam to prove you are an effective working mum. It’s on the job training by the seat of your pants.

Women are definitely working longer and harder and I don’t need to prove it with statistics just open your eyes and it’s evident to see.

As a working mother and business owner I, like many other women contribute to the economy by generating taxes and along with my husband am responsible for raising two children and yet, in spite of this, working mothers receive no recognition for the work we do.

I’m confident that I am not alone in expressing this sentiment.

The office of national statistics reports that 13.8 million women represent almost half of the UK’s workforce.

Outsourcing ConceptIn sharp contrast, 1.2 million mothers have chosen to stay at home and raise their children because of spiralling childcare costs.

Women are having to work longer due to the change in pension age but the increase in women working is also as a direct result of the UK’s economy.

Men and women are having to generate dual incomes for their households many of whom are struggling with the increase in living costs, child care fees, salary sacrifices and a significant rise in the standard of living.

It’s hardly surprising that women are taking on and juggling more tasks than at any time in their career.

When chancellor George Osborne made his infamous remark that stay at home mums are making a lifestyle choice he couldn’t have been further off the mark.

I wanted to be a stay at home mum and I was for the first five months following the birth of my children but work and financial commitments meant that I didn’t have a choice without our lifestyle being downgraded.

Childcare fees at the time were affordable as I was only working three days a week and childcare gave me the opportunity to work and have time with my babies. Anger

On reflection I do believe I got the balance right.

As my earlier blogs have alluded to, the difficulties of balancing motherhood with work and career are immense.

Women continually weigh the scales: can we really manage a home life, family, children, social life and career?

News just in: we can’t!

I can’t!

It is a daily struggle to get the balance and without trying to be super ‘mum’. I want to be able to work, sleep, eat and pray not necessarily in that order without collapsing in a heap at the end of every working day.

But like most mums I’m permanently exhausted my mind is like my favourite app ‘evernote’. It is a list of work related tasks that need to get done followed by the personal tasks that lay incomplete.

Arrange dinner with friends who invited us for dinner back in August 2012 or, pop over and see my non-working friend for a coffee who is just over a mile away from my offices, arrange to meet lunch with a girlfriend who I last saw in November.

It’s not that I’m disorganised, I can’t find the time in an otherwise jammed back work diary.

I’m exhausted by the time I’ve finished with dinner, sorting another round of dirty washing, school stuff like form signing to give permission for events or planning who does the parents evening, who picks up who from where and when, responding to important but non urgent emails that by the end of the day the prospect of calling or texting to arrange a get together, lunch date, dinner ensemble I’m done, finished for the evening and all I want to do is get to bed.

The “no matter what I do, what I say, I never seem to make everyone happy, yet I’m working really hard to do the best that I can and still it all falls over” rings true to life.

My idea of an exciting night in is to be in bed by 8:45PM and not for some tantric illicit sex, god knows my husband tries but for that elusive yet essential elixir to life S.L.E.E.P.

I admit sleep rules my life, I’m sleep deprived and have been since oh, let me guess fourteen years ago when my firstborn came along and I’ve been catching up ever since.

I can’t get enough sleep, my beloved wishes I felt the same way about sex!

My eldest son is often the last one to turn out the lights and put the house alarm on.

iStock_000019461855SmallRecently something happened, I had one of those light bulb moments.

Why don’t I get a VA – a virtual assistant. Outsourcing all of those non essential, but important tasks to a VA. For the last twenty years I’ve been extolling the virtues of outsourcing. How the benefits save an organisation in time, money and resources by outsourcing non-core business activities.

Even if you are brilliant at party planning,  shopping or ironing if spending your time on a more valuable activity means you get more out of life and feel less stressed than it has to be worth it.

The benefits far outweigh the cost if you get more time to do the really important things. I have decided to outsource my ever increasing long list of important business and project tasks that sit there waiting to get done.

As part of the process I’ve been researching companies across the globe from India, Australia to the USA.

A VA based in any continent makes no difference as it’s all virtual.

There is one flaw in my carefully thought out plan, my wardrobes won’t get organised, my kitchen cupboards won’t get cleaned but I guess at some point there will be an app for that too.

I’ll let you know how I get on in my quest for Virtual Assistant.

 

 

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How mobile working has changed our lives.

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It seems a lifetime ago when I entered the working world fresh out of University at a time when the internet, mobile devices and cloud computing weren’t even thought of.

The nearest I got to anything remotely computerised was a prized possession, an Olivetti electronic typewriter capable of holding 8 pages of A4 in its memory including my C.V.

Over the last twenty years technological advancements make it possible to work remotely and this has changed the way in which we approach our working day.

Remote or mobile working has given the family with young children more flexibility!

Mobile devices, smart phones, tablets, e-readers, kindles can provide accessibility to the internet.

Work is now seen as an activity and not a destination or location that one has to trawl through traffic to get to day in day out.

One particular Manager I recall working for in the City in my days as a Sales Rep absolutely insisted I report to the office first thing in the morning prior to the commencement of my customer visits for the day. This meant a trip to the Angel, London, my place of work and then on to to see customers which could have been North of London.

This was an absolute waste of my time, valuable company time and a waste of car fuel.

No matter how hard I tried I could not convince him that working this way was tiring and ineffective. Clearly, me showing my face at the beginning of the day was the reassurance he needed to know I was working.

It didn’t cross his mind that if I wanted to I could have easily slipped off any afternoon and gone to Oxford Street shopping!

Despite earlier resistors to remote working, Managers now appreciate the benefits that can be derived from employees working from home.

Remote or mobile working has provided added flexibility to employees with young children.
Remote or mobile working has provided added flexibility to employees with young children.

In the last ten years there has been a radical shift in mindset toward the advantages of the mobile working model.

Accessing emails, connecting to remote systems and company data on the go have revolutionised the way we work, engaging with customers either on line or face to face, via social media, email and mobile phone are an accepted part of the new working model.

Employees are no longer obliged to sit at their desks day in day out. With the advent of mobile computing and smart devices accessing company data couldn’t be easier. Mobile working is effective wherever you are.

Organisations have streamlined integration of business applications into the mobile world through cloud computing providing a deeper level of functionality and security on mobile platforms for remote working.

In turn this has resulted in:-

  1. Full access to all business critical systems and data resulting in quicker decision making
  2. Enhanced productivity as employees can work wherever they are
  3. Increased flexibility, changes in working hours and the option to work from home especially during bouts of heavy snow and interrupted travel

The remote working model has made portable mobile devices indispensable, the biggest headache is deciding which one is the right one for you! In turn, mobile devices and cloud computing have revolutionised the way we work!

Many organisations embrace this way of working because it provides tangible benefits such as cost reduction, growth, employee satisfaction and better customer care.

There is a convincing argument for mobile working but is there a downside to working alone, at home, remotely?

Carrying your “office” may have its disadvantages, leaving us disconnected from work colleagues and associates. Working from home or mobile working does require a degree of discipline its easy to be distracted by other external influences such as the home phone ringing, a neighbour seeing your car on the drive who just happens to call unannounced.

None of which is insurmountable, as long as you set your working boundaries, hours of work and bolster a big sign that says “I might be in but I am actually working from home today”

What initiatives can you implement to ensure employees are singing from the same hymn sheet:-

1. Set and agree goals.
 Employees can lose direction without a sense of purpose. Managers are required to set goals reinforcing the importance of collaboration and agreement between team members.

Remote employees actively suggest new ideas, create their own projects, set and share personal goals and put forward solutions.

2. Stay connected
. Great team players are trustworthy and available. Web and mobile connectivity makes it easier to connect with remote employees but it can also make it harder and less certain i.e. are they on a call with a client? Is she on Skype with an associate?

Whose responsibility is it to stay connected? The remote worker’s or the office? No wrong answer here but remote employees assume the onus is on them to stay connected.

Remote employees let others know when they won’t be available and the reasons why, they also make it known how they can still be contacted in the event of an emergency because they consider working remotely as a trade-off they may have more freedom to slip into the kitchen and make a coffee but they also recognise that with that freedom comes the responsibility of super-availability. This in turn means that super-availability creates trust with employees and customers.

3. Focus on results not time.
 With some organisations it’s enough to show up and put in your time working and what you actually accomplish is almost secondary to being present.

Employees working outside of the main offices tend to focus on results, not presence.

Remote employees focus on accomplishing objectives as quickly and efficiently as possible. If a task “should” take a week and it is completed in three days that opens up time to accomplish other tasks.

There is no doubt that remote working and cloud computing have opened up our lives to being more creative, imposing self will and more freedom to manage the end result.

As long as the end goal is a sense of well being, accomplishment and more time to spend with the family then mobile working should be welcomed by employers and employees alike.

What do you think?

Do you prefer working from home or do you need a more governed, routine approach to work?

We love to hear your view point so why not leave a comment in the box below.

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Social Media Addict: iPad v Husband

Social Media, addictive or a necessary evil?
Social Media, addictive or a necessary evil?

Here’s the thing it’s a little after 8:15PM and I am breaking with convention. I’ve been posting articles for One Woman’s View and I have converted my beloved to the charms of twitter, facebook and linkedin.

Its been a gradual process updating my husband with the ingenues of social media and I’m getting use to the tongue in cheek comments like “when’s the next big deal going to happen” to the sarcasm of “don’t you have anything better to do”, all you seem to do is tweet, my personal favourite, connect on linkedin or “like” on facebook.

This obsession for want of a better word has been quietly solicited by myself.

It’s empowering.

The importance of social media and personal branding cannot be underestimated.

social media addictIn the UK there are over 4,000,000 users on linkedin, 10,000,000 tweeters on twitter and a further 26,000,000 and counting facebook users; almost half of the population of the UK to put it in perspective, businesses can’t afford to ignore the impact of social media.

Social media has exploded in to our lives, its happening whether you want to be a part of it or not and if businesses aren’t embracing what it can do for their brand then within less than five years, that brand or company will be obsolete.

Online marketing and social media can be bewildering especially when you start out on the quest for “likes”, “links” and “connections” but it becomes so compelling and addictive, enough to make you want to run screaming out of the office shouting hey, what’s wrong with the old way of doing business.

The quest for online presence  is instant and beguiling, social media beckons you in with articles of interest and ambiguity, frivolous and misleading headlines designed to reel you in, it piques your curiosity, intrigue and desire.

You don’t need a good thriller to read, it’s all there on social media.

Which brings me back to my enduring love affair with my best friend beginning with a small “i”.

You see I find myself reaching for it as soon as I open my eyes in the morning, its the last thing I say good night to and it never answers back. When bouts of insomnia strike I find myself at it again at 3am in the morning.

I sneak to the W.C. with my ‘i’ friend instead of a magazine, or it can be found in the kitchen craftily hidden behind my recipe book as I pretend to read whilst really checking to see what’s going on in the my socialable world.

So you see I’ve got it bad.

I’m bitten by the SM bug, that’s SOCIAL MEDIA by the way not some other well known acronym!

Recently on my own facebook page I updated my status as follows ‘you can turn off your ipad but you can’t switch off your husband’.

So true.  But until such times as Mssrs Cook and others invent an on/off switch for husbands’ my ipad is staying well and truly on!

Why we need firm leadership at No.10

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When the coalition Government was voted in to power in June 2010 I for one viewed it optimistically for two reasons:

  • Two heads have got to be better than one
  • Certainly better than the prospect of a Labour Government that admitted to having left behind a catastrophic trail of economic blunders and destruction in their wake

But it appears to be proving difficult.

Why?

What the country lacks is firm and decisive leadership.

As a business owner-manager the start of 2012 hearalded a feeling of optimism; the tide was beginning to turn albeit slowly.

There was a perception that businesses were ready to start making and taking decisions but it all fell foul when the greek crisis reared its ubiquitous head, business owners were left shaken.

From that point on, seemingly the economy ground to a halt.

Simply put, nothing in the world happens until a sale is made.

This may sound glib, but it is true.

Until company A makes a decision to part with money and buy from company B then the process of buying and selling stagnates. When?

This isn’t rocket science.

British businesses need to see a parting of the sea and have confidence in the economy before spending. When that happens the UK will edge out of the recession it finds itself in.

It may well take until 2015-18 before we see and experience an improvement.

A lot can happen in five years, wars can start and end, businesses can come and go, Katie Price will be married and divorced again.

What we need is a new age of enterprise, individuals, entrepreneurs and companies willing to take risk and be bold.

Sadly no decisions are being made and this appears to be reflected at the door of No.10.

If businesses perceive a lack of rigour, a lack of decisiveness and see bureaucratic paper shufflers and a dragging of heels in Government, businesses wont have the confidence or motivation to make business decisions through fear and uncertainty.

Why does every decison in this country seem to take such an eternity to come to fruition?

We can’t get rid of a terrorist – Abu Hamza who resides in our beloved country yet we find it impossible to grant an application to stay in Britain to a former british army soldier from Jamaica who served in the 1st Royal Tank Regiment.

Seriously have those in government lost their marbles. Those in the highest office seem incapable of being able to make clear and concise judgements without having to debate it for what seems like an eternity.

1,000 indecisions (source: The Daily Mail)

What time should an ice cream van turn off its musical chimes?

Should pig movements be recorded electronically or on paper?

How much do people like eating scallops?

Is this really the best that our coalition government can do?

Steve Hilton, the prime minister’s former policy advisor reportedly stated in the Sunday Times that No. 10 hears about policy changes being made via the media in the inference being that the PM is making decisions but they are not being implemented by WhiteHall.

Not a good advert for a government determined to push through social change, tackle the national debt and create a more family orientated society.

With all these ‘special advisors’ for ice cream van chimes, pig movements and debates over whether the public prefer scallops over fish fingers, the civil servants must be so weary trying to weigh up these life changing decisions.

If business owners took that long to make a business decision they wouldn’t be in business.

If politicians show decisiveness and determination even in the face of strong oppostion or adversity then this has a domino affect and permeates in to businesses.

Boris Johnson said in his speech at the Tory conference in October 2012:

“We need to go forward now from the age of excess under Labour, through the age of auterity to a new age of enterprise in which we do what we did in the Olympics and build a world-beating platform for Britain for British people and businesses to compete and win and we need to do it now under the Conservatives and it begins here”

iStock_000008266083SmallIf 51% of the decisions made are right and the remaining 49% wrong or don’t work out as hoped then that isn’t failure.

Discuss it, agree it, move on to the next decision.

Umm I can’t make up my mind, can you?

What do you think? How are you finding business? Drop me a line and let me know what influences your decision making?

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