And Those Who Were Seen Dancing …

… Were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Absolutely one of my all time favourite quotes!

Because I am one of those people who rather likes being a little bit individual! To be a first rate version of myself as opposed to trying to be a second rate copy of what the world wants me to be … or, perhaps more accurately, what I think it wants me to be.

A few of the signs that you are a fellow dancer to the beat of your own drum:

You Are On A Constant Journey Of Learning

I think Richard Branson expressed this best:

If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!

I am always learning – on subjects that help with my career I study and take qualifications, I read articles/ newspapers/ growth literature/ books like there is no tomorrow and am always coming up with random ideas like teaching myself how to play the piano, sew waistcoat/ bowtie combos for my Physics Undergrad/ Dr Who wannabe geek son or learning a new language.

This philosophy, I think, is a great way to approach life, work and everything. Knowledge liberates us from our ties and gives us wings.

It’s easy to take on someone else’s ideas and principles but it’s enlightened to learn the ins and outs of every one of them and decide what you really believe in.

Part Of That Learning Journey … Refining Your Ideas

The more you learn, the more you will realise there is always more to learn.

Nothing is ever set in stone, no theory is completely finished, no system is ever as good as it can be. There are always developments, breakthroughs and more knowledge.

Don’t be one of those people who makes up their minds on something and sticks with it for ever and a day.

Strength, growth and vision come from continuous effort and struggle, enjoy the journey and don’t ever become set in your ways.

Constant evaluation of your own thoughts and processes can be a brain tiring effort some days but it is something all the most successful people do.

You Have the Rare Ability To See Both Sides Of An Argument

When I went to school we had a debating society – Gabblers. I was a teen girl, with all the attitude that that implies,  and therefore never much saw the point of it. I frankly found it trying and pointless to come up with arguments for a side I wasn’t on.

But do you now what age and experience have taught me?

You haven’t earned the right to even attempt to change someone’s mind until you are able to argue the opposition’s side better than they can.

People who relentlessly think for themselves will always see multiple perspectives and realize that there are valid points on each side of the fence.

Nothing is black and white, be the kind of person that can see all the shades of grey – yes, even if you HATE grey with a passion!

You Dislike Any Status Quo

I think perhaps this is becoming more and more relevant in the times that we live.

Do you disagree with the ‘popular’ opinion on several topics? Sometimes it truly bothers you that the majority of people think a certain way?

I seem to find myself in both situations on a daily basis at the moment, pretty much every time I pick up a newspaper or switch on the news.

I’m not going to get into the politics of the day … generally a very ill advised move in a blog!

But it really is ok, and often a positive virtue in my opinion, to be disturbed about living in a society that’s attempting to coerce us all into being the same.

An important part of being an individual is to question the way things are and to stand up for what you believe in.  Be sensible and considered in how you publically vocalise it, especially if you are an employee or a small business, but it really is ok to vocalise your principles.

You Lack Automatic Respect For Authority Figures

The key word here is ‘automatic’. I spent many years working for an MP and a few other high profile/ successful people and the one thing I learnt more than anything else?

The constant stream of people willing to bow, scrape, grovel and be diminutive to those they perceived as ‘better’ were many.

How much respect did that get them? Absolutely none!

High profile figures really are just like the rest of us. Don’t ever assume that being in a position of authority makes someone better or less infallible than you.

Listen to them, learn from them, be inspired by them and suck up their aura but never change the way you are.

Treat the cleaner the same way you would treat the CEO, and respect anyone and absolutely everyone who earns it.

Emotional Intelligence

I know the wave of popularity for this relatively recent concept seems to be ebbing at the moment but I still love it.

Being tuned into your own emotions and reactions will help you be much better at doing it with those around you.

Our emotions need to be as educated as our intellect.

After all, what is the point of our time on this beautiful little marble floating in a sea of infinity if we don’t know how to suck the marrow out of the experience?

There Will Be Those Who Think You Are Crazy

And, you know what? That really is ok 🙂

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Reasons To Prioritize Your Website

I have recently done a website review and upgrade for a client, and it struck me that it would be a great topic for a blog.

My experience with small businesses has ensured I have a very real understanding that your website presence is of utmost importance, but most don’t take the quality and minute detail of that presence seriously enough.

It doesn’t matter if your website if just a few pages – they should be slick, error free, pleasing to look at, interesting to read and the very image of how you want people to see your company.

The smallest things matter when it comes to your small business website … how do you feel when you see a typo in a company website, are confronted with pages of awful stock photos or the copy on the website is scrambled and unengaging.

Personally? My head tells me that none of these things is the end of the world! But, despite knowing that I can sometimes be a little picky about the details my reaction to seeing any of them is more than likely to be to immediately click the back button and look for another company with a more slick and professional online presence.

After all, if someone doesn’t have the care to catch a typo in their public shop window what is their attention to detail going to be like in dealing with my business? Harsh but true!

First impressions really do COUNT, and unless you are consistently over run with business this matters to you.

So, whilst doing a comprehensive review of this website here are few of the areas I covered that could apply to your own website, a few general rules to apply throughout first and then a some specifics …

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In General

Your competition

This is essential and something a surprising number of people don’t do. You can get some great inspiration that you can put your personal brand spin on (remember though that plagiarising is NEVER on!) and having a comprehensive idea of what you counterparts are up to is never a bad thing.

Have a look at their home page whilst trying to look through the eyes of a client, compare it to yours and be honest about which you think is best. In all honesty you will probably see bits that are better and bits that are worse than yours but I would be very surprised if you didn’t get some ideas about changes you want to make after some time doing this.

One thing to remember – you are your own person and your own brand, don’t be tempted to change your essential essence!

Make It Quick And Easy To Skim

We live in an age of shortening attention spans, skim reading is a skill most of us default to without thinking about it.

Utilise whitespace, headers, bullet-points, buttons, etc. to allow people to see what all their options are in double quick time. 55% of Visitors Spend Fewer Than 15 Seconds on Your Website, make them count.

Rather like a blog … big blocks of type will immediately put the viewer you are trying to engage off. They simply won’t bother!

Everything Should Have A Specific Purpose

Be ruthless when editing,

  • Do you need to say it?
  • Have you said it before?
  • Is there a shorter and punchier way to say it?

Remember – anything that isn’t encouraging your visitors to take positive action is distracting them from doing so.

Taglines

Have you got one? I’ve got three, each with a different focus.

  • Don’t Just Consider It, Get It Done
  • Don’t Agonise, Organise
  • Do What You Do Best, Delegate The Rest

Think about the problem you are solving for the client, your USP and then get onto google, type in Taglines and ‘your business purpose’ and seek out inspiration. It really won’t take long for the ideas to start flowing.

Don’t be cheesy though, no tag line is better than a bad one. Someone once suggested I should go for the ‘Time Genie’ and put little lamps all over my website. I did, and do, stll quite like the idea and perhaps it would be have been a great idea for someone else but ultimately not really the image I want to project … keep an eye on your consistent branding.

Pictures

People really do love a picture, and there is lots of statistics on how a great visual presence will enhance your viewers interaction with your content.

There are some caveats to this … you really can’t just use any old picture.

  1. Use great quality pictures, blurry is not a good first impression
  2. Respect other peoples property, don’t steal other people images
  3. Stock photos are really the quickest way to put people off
  4. Be imaginative, you don’t have to be the same as everyone else
  5. Any image has to be relevant, don’t just use a pic because you love it

And no, great pictures don’t have to cost the earth if you know where to look.

My favourite source of pictures for websites, blogging, social media and all manner of things is Pixabay. Lots of variety, always great quality, completely free (although they do appreciate donations!) and attribution free. I’ve mentioned it a few times in blogs but it really is a fabulous site to have a wander around!

Home Page

Like the front entrance to a shop, a house you are thinking about buying or the front cover of a book, people will, rightly or wrongly, judge your site by its homepage – maximize your kerb appeal. You need to ensure it’s designed and optimized in way that represents your business in the best possible light.

It isn’t just your potential customers who look at your home page either, for search engines it is the most important and most visited page on the site. When you are considering the words you need to keep this in mind, keywords really are key!

When you look at your home page and try to think from the perspective of a customer absorbing their first impression of a company they are potentially thinking about giving some of their hard earned cash to – what would you think in their position.

A few of the questions I ponder when looking at a client’s home page for the first time …

Are you talking about yourself … this is absolutely not the place to do it. The Home page should be focussing on the pain point of the client looking at it and saying how you can make their life better. Less ‘I’ and a whole lot more ‘you’ as it were.

Keep the copy to the point, think about what you want them to know and keep it strictly to that! Quantity definitely doesn’t trump quality here, resist the urge to give away the farm and stick to the things they will really want to know rather than all the things you are so keen to tell them.

Along similar lines do try keep your sentences short, of simple construction and jargon severely limited. You are not going to impress your audience with something that reads like a line from a physics dissertation, you will simply lose their attention and interest.

Your home page should be a seductive temptation to lead them into the rest of the site – keep it short, to the point, well spaced and attractive and you have a much better chance of getting them to delve further into your site to learn more.

About Us

More than likely this will be the second most visited page, people buy people and this is where you want to help your visitor understand who you really are and not just what you do.

As such this is the page to do a LOT of talking about how wonderful you are – it goes against most peoples instincts but sing your own praises! Without being a bore obviously 🙂 It is the one page where you can talk about yourself as  much as you want.

Like with your CV think about what you want to highlight about your experience, best attributes, achievements and things like awards/ qualifications.

Testimonials

I don’t know about you but if you are anything like me this will be my next port of call if I have enjoyed everything I have seen so far.

Testimonials are a great addition to any site, and the absence of them is a red flag to most visitors.

Email past clients and ask if they would be kind enough to say a few words. As your clients are likely to be similarly busy people sometimes it helps to put a few words together yourself about what you did and ask them to embellish and personalise it.

If they were a great client think about putting a link to their website, everyone appreciates a little free publicity and exposure and perhaps in return they will do the same for you.

Remember – It is absolutely never a good idea to make them up though.

A Few Last Words

As a small business you should love your website, you should nourish and grow it with the same passion and eye for detail as you do with the rest of your business.

Revisit it regularly with fresh eyes and add, tweak, refine and update – as with the rest of your business it is not something you can just set up and forget about, as you grow so should it.

And if you want someone to pass a no obligation eye over it … just drop me a line, it is one of my favourite creative jobs for clients!

Don’t Play The Game, Change It

I have recently started following Ernst & Young on LinkedIn.

Don’t reach for the ‘Back’ button … I haven’t lost my mind, honestly! This is definately leading somewhere positive and motivational I promise.

Anyway, the reason I followed them initially was because of a great article that flashed up on my LinkedIn timeline that forcibly grabbed my attention (despite the word Audit being in the title) and inspired a blog about the power of the imaginative visual for business – The Better The Question, The Better The Answer.

Now, many moons ago when I went to University there was an intention that I was going to be an accountant (please feel free to insert any of the well worn jokes about accountants and personality deficits here) but my path changed and there really is no particular reason for me to be following one of the Big4.

Except that …. EY have recently started writing some really great content and, having a fascination for Inbound Marketing, they are worthy of some attention.

I am struggling with which direction to take this blog given it is two of my very favourite subjects – being yourself and the individuality of GREAT inbound marketing – so please do excuse me if I wander.

Playing Your Own Game

One of my problems (and that of many a small business owner) is that  I worry too much.

Not at work, not with clients – those are situations where I generally have a clear vision and sound instinct about what I should be doing/ advising for the best.

But, for OurOtherOffice? I am a self confessed and pathological overthinker!

  • Is that the right text to put on the website?
  • Should I be trying to emulate all the other VA blogs out there and talking about filing systems/ call managing software?
  • Should I focus on being a little more corporate/ sterile and not reveal any of my personality?
  • Am I charging too much?
  • Am I charging too little?

 

 

It is never too long, fortunately, before I give myself a mental slap and remind myself of exactly what this E&Y article is saying – too many people are too prone to making themselves terribly busy trying to play someone else’s game and not concentrating enough on devising their own.

1

Yes my website, marketing material and blog are quite individual, very visual and not at all sterile – but so am I. I love to be creative and, whether it be creating visually or writing random blogs about Ernst and Young, my ability to use my free roaming imagination to create associations is the foundation of many of my skills from marketing material to a flair for quickly and creatively solving problems on the fly.

2

Yes my blog content isn’t perhaps standard VA fare. Whilst I absolutely can devise wonderfully efficient filing systems, create slick and professional PowerPoints,  build branded web sites, write great copy and love my job with a passion I am the first to admit that 100% of that kind of content REALLY doesn’t make for a terribly interesting blog.

3

Yes I do quite frequently venture into the realm of revealing my bouncy and enthusiastic personality – but I think it is important to make a genuine personal connection in all areas of my work and business. As this article says, ‘Be Helpful’! It is a surprisingly difficult thing to do if you don’t care or have a very real enthusiasm for what you do. The extra mile is definitely not overflowing with a lack of care and personal touches!

And in a roundabout way we got to the second point of this little blog.

Be Youer than You

Ernst & Young are being imaginative with their business inbound marketing and they have a new fan writing a blog about them because of it! Grab peoples attention and imagination – people really do buy people!

If you have a mo, check out the article:

Beyond measure: The Big Impact Of Small Changes, Margaret Heffernan, Entrepreneur, CEO and Writer

Be Yourself And Be Proud 

The Clients Who Matter Will Love It!

Resilience – Because You Weren’t Built To Break

So, resilience has been on my mind the last few days.

I have a second interview next week for a rather fabulous job and given that it is quite a challenging role they want to discuss my ability to be resilient … well, now there is something I can definitely do!

And so a blog was born!

What does the dictionary have to say about Resilience?

  • It is the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
  • The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Anyone can deal with that which we see coming, for which we have time to prepare.

Resilience, to me, is something different.

It is about dealing with the completely unforeseen, recovering and moving on from the shock of the unexpected.

Resilience is about a strength of character, a mind-set, an attitude, an essence, a toughness of spirit – a RELENTLESS and optimistic unwillingness to ever give up whatever the obstacles.

It seems like an eminently relevant word for the world today in general, but without doubt it is relevant to the world of small business entrepreneurship.

I am quite looking forward to my internet wanderings today ….

Harvard Business Review – How Resilience Works

HBR – rarely a bad place to start!

A great article on the question we all want answered – why do some people crumble into quivering wrecks in the face of adversity when others have the seemingly indestructible ability to rise up again and again not matter what life throws at them?

This reporter, Diane Coutu, sees it as an important study in times that seem to be hell bent on trying humanity to the limits of it’s endurance – physically, mentally and spiritually.

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.”

Inside Of Ourselves – The Essence Of Resilience

My husband is oft to be heard bemoaning my tendency to veer into the pessimistic side of any situation – I ignore him, quite frequently actually 🙂 Personally I think it is more about being a problem solver … starting from an unflinchingly realistic position and moving ahead from there.

In all seriousness, it is necessary to acknowledge the practicalities and worst case scenarios in any situation but you can’t stay stuck in that mind frame.

To move through any problem or change you need to make a conscious decision to switch to the positive, weigh the alternatives, see things from a different angle …. REFRAME!

By reframing experiences or aspects of ourselves we don’t like we can compost them and let them lift us towards a future we desire rather than one we feel we need to ‘settle for’.

By asking more of ourselves, lifting our sights to a ‘higher’ place it becomes possible to see things differently. The key is to learn to look at ourselves and our circumstances in ways that assist our growth and evolution rather than inhibiting it.

You may well have seen this very famous picture before but it is a great way to demonstrate the brains innate capacity to switch thinking and reframe – do you see a horrible old hag or a beautiful young lady?

For Our Careers – 10 Ways To Boost Your Work Resilience

The key here is that resilience is NOT a passive quality, but an active process. Not a character trait you are born with but a learned skill.

How we approach life, and everything it can throw at us, has a massive impact on our experiences. Resilience is a person’s capacity to respond to pressure and the demands of daily life.

The dictionary definition above says it all for me – it is the ability to bounce back, and to do it in such a way as to learn and grow in the process.

At work, resilient people are better able to deal with the demands placed upon them, especially where those demands might require them to be dealing with constantly changing priorities and a heavy workload.

My role as an EA is a place of constant change – having jobs thrown at me at a moments notice, having 3 things on my desk that really could have done with being submitted YESTERDAY, an inbox that is the very vision of one step forward and three back, people coming up to my desk several times an hour looking sheepish and saying ‘Julie, is there any chance you could just…’.

I love it. I love being the person who everyone comes to when they need anything and absolutely everything. I love the pressure. I love the variety. I love being a font of all knowledge. I love solving problems on the run. I love the fact that I learn something new everyday. I love being needed.

BUT it does make for a hectic life and takes considerable resilience. It is the very foundation of what I do. To keep calm when everyone around you is throwing their hands in the air and getting into a state.

My systematic thoughts in such a situation …

Is anyone going to die?

No?

Then CALM DOWN

Flapping is only slowing you down

Take one step at a time!

And as to why this is one of the top five skills every single one of my previous bosses would immediately mention if asked?

It isn’t a consciously learned skill but one I have gained through experience over the years – perhaps having a baby in my second year of university? Completing my final year with a part time job and a two year old in tow? Being private secretary to an MP in the middle of a financial crash?

My one opportunity at life is far too short for needless drama, and I learnt through experience and age that most things that stress us out really are just passing storms.

Optimism is the Key – Sometimes it is necessary to switch reality off

And I don’t mean it in a ‘head in the sand’ ostrich kind of a way. For the record, that NEVER helps – by all means have a few hours with your head under the pillow refusing to acknowledge the world but you really should get up sooner rather than later.

No, what I mean by this is social media, tv, newspapers (especially the rags) etc etc etc.

The last few weeks have been tough here in the UK – the horribly abusive EU referendum campaign, the murder of an MP, the terrible result (well for 48% of us), the crashing economic situation and now the blood bath that is evident on both sides of the House of Commons.

It is all fascinating but at the same time you should also be conscious of how these things are making you feel. I can be in a perfectly great mood and then find myself falling into a slump of feeling increasingly hopeless about the future/ economy/ state of the environment having being sucked into some trending hashtag on Twitter!

To be resilient you need to be conscious of your own feelings and moods, what triggers them and how to snap yourself out of it.

Anyone who knows me or follows me on Twitter will attest to the fact that I am a sucker for a good inspirational quote, I have ridiculous numbers of positivity books (such as ‘7 habits’ or the totally fabulous ‘Go-Giver’) and shelves full of great mood enhancing DVD’s.

Being in a rut is something you have complete influence over … take control, know how to make yourself feel better and move on with your life.

We discovered that people who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as temporary, local, and changeable. (“It’s going away quickly; it’s just this one situation, and I can do something about it.”) That suggested how we might immunize people against learned helplessness, against depression and anxiety, and against giving up after failure: by teaching them to think like optimists.

Inside Our Children – How People Learn To Become Resilient

Well, if like me you have some event to stress about at the moment (for me it is a considerable and completely incorrect tax bill from the Revenue – arghh!) the story about the boy with the ‘bread sandwich’ will certainly start to pull you up short.

I find it is never a bad thing to seek out the things that will put any first world situation into some serious perspective.

An interesting read on where the strength for resilience comes from!

Human kind has a natural tendency to err on the side of the negative and dramatic, but the good news is that we also have the power to overcome that instinct with a conscious change to your thinking.

“If I had said, ‘Do you have kids in this school who seem to be troubled?,’ there wouldn’t have been a moment’s delay. But to be asked about children who were adaptive and good citizens in the school and making it even though they had come out of very disturbed backgrounds—that was a new sort of inquiry. That’s the way we began.”

For The Planet – Get Resilient In An Unstable World

So as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a bit of a workaholic. I absolutely love what I do and when I have finished my employed working day I come home and start on my other passion – OurOtherOffice.

Anyway, the point of telling you that was to lead up to saying that my full time job is as EA to the Chief Financial Officer of a really rather fabulous renewable energy company – and I can sometimes be a bit evangelical about their wonderful and indescribably important mission.

A renewable and sustainable future is essential to secure the future of our species – not the world, US! The planet is resilient, much more so than humanity. I’ve never come across ‘Get Resilient’ before but it has some great stuff in it, the following animation is well worth a watch!

Surfing the Waves of Change is an animation exploring the idea of community resilience using the metaphor of a surfer to explain how communities can make themselves more resilient in these changing times.

Harvard Business Review – How Resilience Works

A great article on the question we all want answered – why do some people crumble into quivering wrecks in the face of adversity when others have the seemingly indestructible ability to rise up again and again not matter what life throws at them?

This reporter, Diane Coutu, sees it as an important study in times that seem to be hell bent on trying humanity to the limits of it’s endurance – physically, mentally and spiritually.

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.”

For All Of Us – Just because I think we should all do a bit more of this!

What do you do for a living, for fun, for the betterment of your fellow man? Are you proud enough of it?

The folk tale goes like this, one day a visitor came to the space station and asked a cleaner who was sweeping up what job they did there. The cleaner replied ‘I help put men on the moon

Do You Spend Enough Time Reaching For The Stars???

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