Friday, 27 November 2009

What's in a name?

Those of you that follow my blog regularly may have noticed that I have changed the name. I think that is a reflection of what I blog about and where quite a bit of my interest is at the mo bearing in mind that I have two toddlers! I hope that it means more people will follow as I think it is clear now who my target audience is.

So why the preamble. I often feel compelled to write a post and recently I have lots of questions from clients and those that I work with about naming a business enterprise of some kind. As if by coincidence, I read a great post by Neil Ryder which I will not attempt to repeat here but which I hope amplifies what I have to say.

Many people who set up their own businesses as solopreneurs fall into the trap of calling their business John Smith Associates or some other amalgam of their name. Really this is plain daft as sole traders are unlikely to have the kind of budget that coca cola or mars have that would make them known brands. Also who has heard of John Smith and I am not talking about the bitter here. If you go down that route, you are going to have to work three or four times as hard to get it to resonate with people. So here is what I suggest:

1. Choose a name that says something about what you do - a great example of this is Beth Follini's company Tick Tock Coaching which works w/ women who face the dilemma of whether to have a baby or not

2. Try to include a quality in the title of how you want to be perceived - the one that works for me here is Honesty Marketing because it says what they do and how they aim to deliver it

3. Lastly a bit of alliteration works wonders in terms of people remembering the name of your business because it can be catchy - and for this I suggest Little Luxuries which again says what it does on the tin so to speak

4. Finally it is important that the name you choose will grow with the business in whatever direction it goes in so that you don't end up in a straight jacket because the name you have chosen is just too specific - in this regard what really works for me is Minerva's Mind. It is a membership site aimed at enabling women be leaders in their lives with a current focus on Mums. With a name like that it can go into any niche for women

Lastly remember it always pays to check whether the name you want for your business is already a registered trademark and you can do this through Business Link. For more on trademarks look at these very helpful FAQs. Finally for details on how to apply for a trademark in the UK, go to the horse's mouth so to speak.

Do let me know how you get on and what you think of this post in the comments below.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Mums' Monday: to work or not to work

I have spent this evening working with a group of Mums in the area of boosting confidence skills as part of the Minerva's Mind at home session. It was a real privilege as they shared so much of their life and it left me thinking how hard it can be for all of us who are Mums today to make sense of our choices. It is so easy to fall into the trap of low self-esteem as there is an expectation that Mums will be the main carers of their children, and yet society places no value on this important role. Added to which many who enjoy staying at home fear that they will have too much free time on their hands once their children go to school if they do not have to work for financial reasons.

For those of us that do take the plunge and go back to work or forge a new career for ourselves, there is the constant juggle between our role as "domestic goddess" and spending dedicated time towards earning a crust. In our house today, we have had the difficult conversation over whose work gets priority in that I need my husband to work at home one day a fortnight so I can attend a networking event and he can no longer make that commitment due to pressures at the office. I feel unable to challenge that too strongly because he is the major bread winner and yet how can I build up my business if I am unable to attend networking events regularly?

There is no easy answer, I am not able to come up with a "cooker cutter" solution. What I would say is that it is about finding the right balance for you and the best way to do this is to work out what your core values are. To do this start asking yourself some of these questions: How important is it for me to contribute to the income coming into this house? What weight do I put on providing a stable environment for my child(ren)? To what extent if at all do I want to put the needs of my family before my own? How much risk am I prepared to take in order to obtain my own goals? How would I feel if I do nothing?

Do let me know how you get on.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The power of living your life on purpose: a personal story

I had a fantastic day yesterday on so many levels - have been asked to do at least two pieces of work for the Ministry of Justice with opportunities for more. I was also filmed for the Politics Show which will be shown on Sun 20 Dec and I will be the Mum representative on the People's Panel in the run up to the election. But the best bit of the day was a conversation that I started on Hitchin station with another Mum when she commented on my coat. The rest of this blog is about her story which is inspirational to us all.

George has two children who are 9 and 7 and she moved to North Herts when they were toddlers. She did not go back to work once she had had the children. Instead she embraced motherhood. Then as they became older, she began to think what would I do with my life if I had it all over again. She realised that if she could start again, she would be a doctor. Her first degree had been in English and she had a successful, international career in Marketing which was total incompatible with being a Mum. By the time she decided on Medicine she was in her mid-thirties with completely the wrong set of A levels and not a lot of support for her dream from those around her. Undeterred, she took Chemistry and Biology at the local college and then applied to University. She did not get a place because they said she did not have enough relevant experience. Not put off by this setback, she found a local hospice where she volunteered one day a week and made sure she built up a range of experiences to put on her personal statement. She then reapplied to three Universities rather than one and was offered a place at all three.

She chose her first choice and got the high A level grades they required to secure the place. She has now completed eight weeks of the course and in the first exam came in the top 20%. She has even put herself forward for University Challenge. Approaching forty she is the oldest student in her year but she is loving it. This woman has succeeded in spite of facing a number of challenges and I believe she is an inspiration to us all to follow our dreams. She like me believes that we all have a purpose in life. Have you found yours yet?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Mum's Monday: one family's response to 10:10

I have always been interested in recycling way before it became a hot topic and a part of every day life. It just seemed like a no brainer but then more recently I started receiving emails and facebook requests to join 10:10 and that seemed like an incredible challenge. How could we a family of four cut back our carbon emissions by 10% in 2010? I also felt torn though in that for the sake of my children I thought that I ought to be signing up for it. Thinking about my coaching training which indicated that when we use COWS (could have, ought to, would or should) then there is something forced in what we are aiming to do, I ignored all the calls to action for at least a month. Then I had a light bulb moment and it occurred to me that 10:10 is possible if one is creative about how one does it. So below are some of my thoughts on how to approach it as a family.

It is all about finding stuff that fits with your lifestyle. My small step for 10:10 was to throw myself into the North Herts NCT's toy sale this week. This meant sorting through the girls' toys and putting to one side those that they were too old for. The key to success with these sales is to get the pricing right so that items will go and you are not left with them at the end, whilst ensuring that you get a reasonable price for them especially the new-looking ones. This year I only brought about three items back and that was only because I had not indicated that unsold items could be donated to charity.

The whole process felt very cathartic because we were recycling some great toys and books, and I made about £100 from it. 30% of what a seller make goes to the NCT so that feels good too. Now there is some space at home for the Christmas deluge and I managed to buy quite a few Christmas presents whilst I was there. If all that sounds like far too much hard work, you can always advertise unwanted items via email on freecycle and people come to collect them from you at a mutually convenient time.

The more environmentally minded amongst you will probably notice that recycling toys is not the same as cutting one's carbon emissions but it is a start in the right direction and each small step leads to a bigger step. As a result of these thoughts I have now signed up to 10:10! So what are your thoughts about being my ecologically aware and taking some sort of action towards living a greener lifestyle?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Mum's Monday: organising kids' birthday parties you either love it or hate it

How do you feel as your child's birthday party looms on the horizon? Do you like hosting parties for your kids, try and avoid doing anything major at all costs or fall somewhere in between? Inspired by the carnival of parties insomniac mummy is hosting on her blogsite, I got thinking about my experiences and what follows was the result.

I have always enjoyed hosting dinner parties because I love cooking and the whole social interaction with others. However for the first two years of my eldest's life birthday parties were low key events and that was partly to do with the fact that there is only 15 months between my two girls and it was enough getting through each day. This year coming up to three, Sienna really understood for the first time that she was going to have a birthday so I felt it was important to mark it. And yet the idea of a theme or a party entertainer just did not appeal.

It just so happened that one of my friends from our postnatal group also wanted to make it more of an occasion so we decided to join forces, as we had a common core of six people. We wanted to keep it manageable so we agreed that we would each invite up to six other children. However we had forgotten to take into account that many of our children's friends had siblings and that as it was a family affair and we often knew both kids, the whole family would expect to come. We had also both thought that we would keep the family celebrations separate so as to contain numbers but our families had other ideas. On the day we ended up hosting a party for 50!

It nearly did not happen because I have the most appalling hand writing, which comes from the fact that I experimented with different writing styles when I was at school for the fun of it and the end result is a real hodge podge. It turned out many people thought I had written that the party was going to be on 10 rather than 19 even though the former was good Friday. I then had to text everyone to confirm the date so that there was no one turning up 9 days early and it meant that one or two were then unable to attend.

Naively I thought that holding a party in a village hall where we had access to the hall's toys and so had the entertainment covered would mean that we would be able to keep costs down. We had not taken into account the cost of producing party bags and we felt that we needed to do them as our kids always seemed to get them. I spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time on ebay sourcing the best deals. Only to find that the other Mum had bought a whole load of stuff at Sainsburys which was a valuable addition to the booty but added significantly to the price. I had wanted to have all wooden toys but they were much more expensive so there was a lot of plastic tat in the bags.

We had lots of discussions about food. We decided who would provide what which worked. I was keen that we had high quality ingredients so ended up buying organic sausages, cooking them and cutting them into cocktail sausage size just so that I knew what the kids and adults were eating. That approach of course meant the costs went up and my co-party organiser was not sure we would have enough so supplemented with some ready to go cocktail sausages from Morrisons. We also felt that adults often got a raw deal at kids' parties so produced a number of smoked salmon and cheese bagels for them. These went down very well but I had not realised how long it took to put bagels together and probably over-catered. We bought 50 mini bagels and I think managed to prepare about 30 for the party!

For me the highlight was making the cake. My friend was concerned because her son had set his heart on a Thomas cake from Waitrose which was around £20 so I promised to do something fun. Initially my daughter wanted a pink heart but I did think that was a bit too girly for a boy so she then chose a gumball machine - you know the ones where you put in a penny and get out a handful of jelly babies. It was red and white with a black piece for the slot machine and four black screws, one in each corner. I filled it with mini chocolate easter eggs as their birthdays are near Easter, and stuck a 1p into the slot machine. It was quite a healthy carrot cake with orange flavoured cream cheese icing, and despite one of the cakes being a bit over done because I am not used to a fan oven - which needs a slightly lower temperature than a conventional oven - the cake went down well w/ adults and children alike. In fact I felt chuffed that one Dad is very fussy about cakes said it was the tastiest carrot cake he had ever had - he must have had a bit from the non-burnt end.

In spite of all the mini dramas along the way, it was very enjoyable to organise the party with someone else and as long as you keep your sense of humour, I can highly recommend this approach. In the end the event cost two hundred pounds which when you think of the numbers attending is about four quid a head so pretty reasonable. I would love to hear about your experiences of organising kids' birthday parties so please do leave me a comment.

Monday, 2 November 2009

MM: some dos and don'ts when starting a business

In talking with a couple of people recently I realised that I needed some left brain energy to tackle some burning issues such as dealing with paper work that had got lost in the all consuming world of Minerva's Mind. As I looked into the matter further I learnt all kinds of useful information that I wish I had known when I had started. Here follow some helpful tips for anyone in the early stages of running a business. I was thinking of Mumpreneurs who are starting out, as this is Mums' Monday but the advice applies to all new business owners:

1. When you set up your business you have 13 weeks in which to inform the Inland Revenue that you are a business owner. If you miss that deadline then you could be charged a £100 penalty fee. This is where you need a good accountant who can show how some of your initial activity relates to pre-start up costs etc. If you are self-employed click on HMRC to register.

2. It is vital to set up a separate business account because then if the Inland Revenue decide to investigate you they are limited to looking at the transactions in your business account. If they want to extend their investigation then they need to go and ask for further powers. It does make sorting your accounts out much easier too as all transactions go in and out the same place. Which banks?

  • Abbey offers free banking for life. There are no major catches but they encourage business owners to do everything on line as there are limits such as cashing no more than 100 cheques a month;
  • The Co-Op bank interested me because my personal account is with their Internet bank. They offer free banking for life for as long as you are a member of the Federation of Small Businesses; and
  • HSBC has a good package if all your transactions are online.

3. It is worth having the services of a good accountant because he/ she can save you a lot of money by helping you identify allowable expenses. For example, did you know that if you work at home then you can claim £1,000 a year towards electricity, gas and heating costs? I can highly recommend Will Farnell. He gives very generously of his time and before setting up his own business, worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In other words don't do what I did and leave it until the last minute! So what tips can you add to this list? Feel free to drop them down in a comment at the end of this post.