Guest post – Can the online community help?

Today I’ve got a guest blog from Liz Weston, who I’ve known for a number of years as she’s evolved from being someone who knew that they wanted to start a business of their own, but wasn’t sure what to do, into running her own social media and PR agency and being a publisher for NHS Maternity Units. 

I wrote a blog post documenting my journey to getting control of my website and re couping some of tens of thousands of pounds Bras4Mums has lost – some of which has now been recovered. Liz suggested in a comment on that blog post that I could take a fresh approach to promoting Bras4Mums and offered to write a guest post on it, so here it is….
I saw TJ’s post a few days ago and part of me felt guilty that I’d not been there more for her – physically and practically, particularly in the last 12 months when she’d been re evaluating the Bras4Mums business. I’m so pleased that the issues have now been resolved and that she’s still standing. My suggestion for her to make the most of 2013 and in particular, the start of it, is to “reach out” (to use a term that really annoys most people in PR and social media) and ask people for help, because she’s helped so many people over the last few years herself.
The idea comes from the experience of Nick Sarillo who in September 2011, sent an email to his customers and anyone and everyone that he knew, to ask them for help. In short, if he didn’t get more customers into his pizzeria, and quickly, he was going to lose his business. It’s a proper phoenix from the ashes and in fact, he’s just had his book published about the whole experience.
So my suggestion to TJ is that she does this herself. And being TJ, she’s a bit, well, shy to say that she’d like some help. So I’m doing it for her! As a community, we can come together, and help Bras4Mums. Here’s a few of the easiest ways that you can support Bras4Mums in 2013…
You can commit to tweet or post on Facebook – on your personal and business page once a month, for every month of 2013. With buffer, hootsuite and all sorts of other scheduling opportunities available to us all, the least we can do is tweet once a month, telling people that Bras4Mums helps women of all shapes and sizes, at whatever stage they are at in pregnancy or breastfeeding. T-J and the Bra Lady team help women throughout their lives
Or if like me, you’ve had a bra from T-J and Bras4Mums, you could tell people about it in a blog post – you could explain if you had to return a bra that wasn’t the right size, about their free returns and their great over the phone bra fitting service – I’ve used it! And I spoke to T-J – long before I actually knew her personally!!
Or perhaps you could put a badge, or link to Bras4Mums on your Facebook page or blog, or somewhere that you have a presence online?
If you own a business, can you write a post about how T-J’s sharing has made you feel – confident of where you’re at / scared that other people can have such an effect upon your business / realising that you need to strengthen your networks / grateful for the networks that you do have / in need of growing your online community. In fact, even if you think T-J was too trusting, she won’t be offended if you write that you think she should have intervened at the point where she realised her website had been sub-contracted.
And finally, you could look for opportunities for other people you know to take guest blog posts from T-J on her experiences and look for opportunities to share stats, stories and news from Bras4Mums.
And I forgot – the most obvious one – to make sure you are signed up to the Bras4Mums newsletter – make your life easy – you’ll get strong content for your online platforms!
So, that’s a few of my initial ideas on how we can all come together and share the fact that Bras4Mums is still very much here and in need of support from the community to be able to continue and thrive. How you choose to do it, is up to you. Please leave a comment below on what you will do so we can comment, tweet and reply to your support of Bras4Mums.
And finally, (really this is the last thing, promise)… please leave comments with ideas on how we can all do more than this – I’m just scratching the surface with these suggestions. As a whole, we are so much stronger than our individual parts, so please join me in showing T-J how much we want Bras4Mums to have a great 2013….
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My nightmare is over – finally

bras4mums logo3 1/2 years ago I commissioned a new website for bras4mums. This was part of the business growth plan to move to a more sophisticated website for both customer shopping experience and for our own management of the business within the office.

It was a big task, and an expensive one. With the help of my Dad, who wanted to help give my business a boost after I’d neglected it whilst travelling to visit my terminally ill Mum for 9 months, we got the project started. I felt very grown up working with a big web design and PR company to develop my new site. It was one of my biggest business mistakes and has caused the most stress and heartache of anything I’ve ever known, in work and in my personal life.

I’m not going to tell the story blow by blow, as it’s not all relevant to you. Nevertheless, we can all learn from my mistakes and the roller coaster journey that has just come to an end over 3 years on.

Headlines:

July 2009: Brief written & agreed. Company chosen (One Marketing, was previously known as Made With & prior to that Go Create from Sale, Manchester), & contract entered into via email communication and face to face meetings.

August 2009: One Marketing recommended using a Magento site & had previous experience in lingerie websites having done Gok Wan’s Simply Yours website. It seemed to do what I wanted it to, and as One Marketing had recommended it, and they were experts in this field, we went ahead.

I agreed to get product details to One Marketing during August as part of the contract was for them to input the data onto the site.

September 2009: PR campaign started as site due to go live mid-September in time for pre-promotion before the Earls Court baby show. Site delayed & incorrect information added on products. I stopped One Marketing from entering any further details onto the site, and the staff team did it instead. It took over an hour to enter 1 products details – the old site took 15 minutes. I was told this would be ‘fixed’.

It turned out that One Marketing sub-contracted the development of the bras4mums website to Fusion Web Development, (no longer in existence). Part of the original brief was that I wanted 1 point of contact & now I was getting 2. I should have given more thought to this more at this stage, but was keen to get the new site live.

October 2009: Site went live with incorrect data & a day’s downtime due to incorrect DNS information asked for from previous supplier. Site was offline for at least a full day this month with ‘glitches’.

November 2009: More downtime and ‘fixes’ still not sorted.

January 2010: More glitches found and customers not able to purchase from site.

February 2010: During busiest retail show, the site crashed. There was no recent backup available, so a month old back up was restored to site and customer details were lost. At this stage I found out that there were 3 companies involved – the company I contracted with, the sub-contractor on software side & a separate server company, MESH Internet. The nightmare got worse.

Sleepless nights, stressful days, the laptop was permanently on and we had to check every single product again and again. The glitches had by this stage increased, and there were still no fixes in sight.

March 2010: One Marketing admitted they’d caused the problems by not hosting the site themselves, so migrated the bras4mums site to their own servers & told me I had to contract with Fusion for fixing the glitches. It was like living in an awful dream. Money could not fix these glitches, as none of the 3 companies involved seemed to care that my world was falling down around me. All the time and money already invested into this project seemed a total waste. I would not give up though – maybe I should have thrown the towel in and started again. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Summer 2010: All relationships broke down with Fusion who could not fix the problems they’d created, or One Marketing who were an absolute nightmare and took no responsibility at all for their actions and advice. I took the decision to move the site back to a server that could cope with the site, (One Marketing weren’t letting Fusion access to their server to clear off backups and I was being charged an extortionate amount of money) and at least had a relationship with Fusion.

For the first time in my working life I shouted at people on the phone. It’s not big or clever, but I didn’t know what else to do to get my point across.

September 2010: I chatted with a solicitor, from Marsden Rawsthorns, Preston, who agreed that my contract had never been completed and the ongoing problems with the site created a claim against One Marketing, in failing to complete a contract plus loss of earnings.

One Marketing didn’t take my claim seriously until December 2010. At this stage I wanted my money back, plus my losses for website downtime and claimed £25,000 from them, plus costs.

2011: We made slow progress via the 2 solicitors, with One Marketing not providing any counter evidence to the big file of emails I had. They finally agreed to pay half of the website in June 2011. By this stage, I’d done a proper calculation of my losses caused by a malfunctioning website, and, depending if you looked at projected increase in sales with  a new website, or level sales with previous year, my total losses were between £60-£80K. *GULP*. That’s scary!

July 2011: We’d warned One Marketing that we’d take them to court if they didn’t increase their offer, so my solicitor advised this was the next course of action. The court papers were prepared. And that’s it. He then sat on them, for whatever reason….

Autumn -Spring 2012: I chased the solicitor for action. I’d been keeping the website going as it was needed by the court, so paying out more than needed for a site that didn’t work. I eventually wrote a Formal Complaint letter against my solicitor, who then started to get things moving again.

I created a new bras4mums website which was safe, secure and a way forward.

Summer 2012: Negotiations were re-opened with One Marketing’s solicitor, who agreed that they wanted to settle out of court. I just wanted it finished with by now. I’m not describing the effects this had on my business here, but I’m sure you can work out that if any business looses a significant amount of expected income, it has a knock on effect!

November 2012: We agreed to settle. It’s not satisfactory by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s settled.

I can finally move on with my life and my business. There are so many lessons to learn from this. Here’s just a few:

  • Become a limited company as soon as you can, to limit personal loss and also ensure the business is insurable against contractual failures
  • Consider contract insurance within your business
  • Write everything down and keep records of all discussions with partners and potential partners.
  • Don’t make final payments until you’re happy that the contract has been satisfactorily completed
  • Be clear about your brief and expectations. Stick to them & don’t let any ‘expert’ tell you how to run your business. You know your business best, and you’re asking a contractor to do something to enhance it. If they won’t do it, they’re not the right contractor for you
  • Never give up hope and keep chasing
  • Research your contractors and get references, but don’t rely on previous work for future. Personnel change.

I’m so looking forward to 2013! What’s done is done. There’s no going back. Now’s the time to move forward and build the bras4mums business up again using all my business knowledge and experience to support pregnant and breastfeeding women with a well stocked website that’s easy to use.

I want to publicly thank all those who’ve supported me personally over the last 3-4 years. It’s been a tough time for all of us, but now my personal nightmare is finally over, I hope I can support you if you need it. Thank you to my patient business partners. 2013 is going to be the best year we’ve had for a long time! :-)

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What is your No.1 priority?

I mean it – what is it? I’m not talking about that ‘to do’ list you have – 1 for home, 1 for work, plus the household tasks that need doing. What I’m talking about is what you drop everything for. What your energy needs to be focused on, or life doesn’t feel right.

A lot has happened this year. In some ways, more than the past few years, which as you know have been tough. The last few months have been especially tough as I explained last time. But what it has done is made me totally focus my mind and efforts on to what is THE priority in my life.

A few months ago, I may have said financial security. But is that really what I really crave? No. I’m a risk taker, and we’ll be OK, whatever happens.

All the hours I’ve spent developing my business. The laughs, the tears and the stress have all been worthwhile. I still love what I do. I still believe in my business, and still want it to succeed. I’m not fed up with it. But it’s NOT my No.1 priority.

When thinking about actually writing this down, I asked some questions of those I connect with. I totally agree with Susie from New Day New Lesson, when she said, “No one on their death bed has ever said they were sorry they didn’t work more. I also think that if you find the right line of work and are passionate about it , it is not work but rather a way of life.” But, when push comes to shove, even a way of life you love isn’t always a priority.

For me, right now, my No.1 priority is my children. No.2 son is being bullied and he’s not as happy and carefree as he was. No.1 son is obviously affected by it all, especially when he sees things happen in the playground. My husband comes a close 2nd place, and our family and friends are equal 3rd.

We’ve just found out that a friend who my husband went to Uni with is not well. His children are the same age as mine. It’s stunned us, yet again, by how short our lives on earth are.

I’ve had some nasty comments from customers these past few weeks, as my business customer service has not been the best. I’m sorry. I can only apologise. I’ve always prided myself on excellent customer service, but it’s not priority anymore. It’s important, and to continue in business I need to focus on it. But NOT to the detriment of my 8 and 11 year olds who need their mother to be there when they need me.

We all know life is tough, but we often make it harder for ourselves by not thinking through exactly what our priority is. Some of those around me are also re-thinking their priorities. It’s worth just sitting back sometimes and thinking things through.

Us Mums in Business want it all, and to a certain extent can have it all if we work hard and have support. But I’m putting my flag in the sand and saying, right here, that, I’d do anything to have my carefree boy back again who entertains everyone he meets. I may not be able to fix things, but I can certainly do my best for him.

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Waiting is the most difficult thing

Sometimes we have to wait for things to happen before we can move on in our lives. Usually it’s just one thing we’re waiting for, and we have to be patient.

At the moment I’m waiting for quite a few things to fall into place & I’m finding it hard to motivate myself. I know, not like me is it? I’m always so positive and supportive of others. Well, lacking motivation happens to all of us. That’s life and we have to deal with it!

We’re waiting to move house: We’ve accepted an offer on our house, but the wheels are just starting to turn. It’s been 10 years since we moved house, and that means we’ve got 10 years of rubbish to clear out!

I’m waiting for a legal dispute to be settled: It started over 2 years ago now, and I’m now fed up of waiting and chasing. I know legal cases take time, but when you’re a small business, it has a massive impact on your work doesn’t it?

I’m wanting to sell one of my businesses: I’m ready to move on to focus on the bra fitting side of the Bra Lady business. I’ve put bras4mums up for sale. A ready made business for someone looking for a niche online shop. Despite lots of interest, it’s still up for sale.

I’m ready to put the past behind: My Mum died over 3 years ago, and my Dad changed into someone I don’t recognise about 3 years ago. I’ve struggled with losing the living person I love so much, as well as my poorly Mum. I’m ready to move on, but am finding it hard to let my Dad go.

One of these is challenging I know, but all at the same time? I’m not moaning, I’m just telling you how it is for anyone of us sometimes. Those of us busy Mums with businesses have a lot to deal with. We can only take so much can’t we?

My plan? A holiday with my family to enable me to take a step back and get things back in perspective. I’m lucky to have such wonderful family and friends who’ve supported me over the last 4 very difficult years. I know that all I need to do is get back to basics and focus on the goals I’ve set.

Yes waiting is difficult and we have to be patient. But we can also make the waiting easier by being easier on ourselves, not beating ourselves up when things take a bit longer than we think they should, and revising our plans.

Any other advice you’d give to those who’re being impatient?

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A change is as good as a rest

I’ve been quiet recently. Sorry. It’s been busy. I’ve been shattered. Big decisions have been made and put into action. So here’s the first of my posts about it all.

“A change is as good as a rest”, they say. What do you think? Is it true? Change can be so stressful, can’t it?

Change can also be refreshing. It can breathe new life into an area that was stagnating. Moving on can be challenging. Isn’t that what we need to keep ourselves motivated?

I’ve changed how I work. Dramatically. I’m working 3 days a week with Lancashire Sports Partnership as their part-time Business Manager. This week will be the first week by myself after 3 weeks of handover from a lovely lady who’s now on Maternity Leave.

I’ve already found that I’ve got a new enthusiasm for my life, and my business. My brain is being challenged in a different way. I’m thinking about sport, marketing and finance. I’m being more efficient with my time during the week. Yes, I’m juggling a bit more, but if I’m enjoying life more does that matter?

You may be shocked or surprised. You may feel this is good news. You may think about your own situation in a different way. I’d be pleased to hear your comments.

Yes, the economy is still in recession. Yes, it’s hard to run a retail business in this environment. So what? I run a growing profitable business with the Bra Lady team growing across the UK, and more demand for the home bra fitting service. So, why work for someone else whilst my own business is doing well?

I need a change. I love my business, but I’ve had a very tough 4-5 years. Some I’ve documented, some stories are still to tell. I’m changing my life for 9 months to give me a break. A time to step back from my business and look in. A time to reflect, whilst doing something totally different using the skills I’ve developed over my career, with a team of passionate people in a friendly office.

This week I’m flying solo. It’s going to be a challenging role, but that’s just what I need right now To work with others who don’t talk about bras all day! To use my skills for a different purpose and develop them so that I can re-invigorate my own business with new ideas.

Yes, to be able to take a month off work and go and walk in the hills would be lovely. But that’s not possible or realistic. This change, I believe, will be better than a rest.

What do you think?

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Being part of a team is important

Some of you know that I only started running 3 years ago. I’ve been going out by myself, setting myself goals and achieving them. As with all things in my life, there’s been ups and downs.

Since April when I completed my first public 5km run I’ve had back & leg problems and haven’t run so much. I lost my confidence. As with a lot of things, one small knock and it sets us back a long way. So, I decided to join in the coaching sessions at the local athletic club that the boys go to, Chorley Athletic & Triathlon Club.

Primary team marathon runners

Chorley marathon team runners

I’m loving it! If someone had told me a few months ago that I’d enjoy running up and down steps for fun, I’d have laughed at them! But that’s just it! I’m slower than all the 6 year olds, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone is there to have a good time and get fitter and stronger in their own way. Yes, there are some better athletes who go, and a lot of them compete, but I’ve been welcomed in to enjoy this activity in my own way.

I guess I’ve welcomed being part of a team and having other people encourage me, even my family. They have helped me regain my confidence. I’m still not running as many times a week as I was, but I’m spending time strengthening other parts of my body that have been neglected these past few years.

I still have some goals, but they’re no longer as important as enjoying the Tuesday night coaching sessions. Adults and Juniors train at the same place, and sometimes I join the seniors, sometimes the juniors. I do what I feel able to, whilst still challenging myself. I ache today, but I’m chuffed with my session last night. I know I’ve got people I can ask questions of if I’m unsure about something. A specialist in their field. A coach.

I had a business coach for a short time in my business life, and it was great. It helped me focus and develop areas I wasn’t confident in. I love working with the Bra Lady team as we all support each other to develop our businesses. I love being part of a family unit where we learn and develop together, and share experiences. So why has it taken me so long to get a supportive team around me in my activities? No idea!

We’ve heard a lot recently about TeamGB, and the support Olympic athletes get from being part of a bigger organisation. We wish all our athletes well for London 2012.

Have you selected your support team, or has it just happened? What other support do you need to achieve your goals?

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Why blog?

Guest post by Award winning Business Woman, Joanne Dewberry

Search Engines love Blogs. Why?? The content is always fresh and new, with regular posting, categorised content and search engine friendly links and addresses. A business blog is the ideal place for Search Engines to find the type of content they love and with it you can rank very highly! Here are my top tips to blogging

  • Mind map topics, themes and ideas – relevant to your business. This will give you a basis for your posts, do this at least once a month. Take into consideration weekly/monthly features, reviews, guest posts etc.
  • Schedule in these posts – this means you can spend a small amount of time writing in advance and your blog is active when possibly you aren’t. Blogging is all about time management, if blogging isn’t your main business then you NEED to schedule blogging in making it part of your routine. Once your content is regular you will start to build up a following.
  • Social media promotion – use facebook and twitter to promote your blog and encourage more readers.
  • Commenting – commenting helps to show other people how influential you and your blog are. In the beginning getting the first few comments can be difficult, think about 1) ending the post with a question 2) write in a style that helps to encourage comments and feedback 3) use your fanpage to promote your post and question what people think – see image below. To show how grateful you are and to keep people commenting respond to the comments made. Also is good etiquette to pay attention to what your commenter’s blogs are about and comment on theirs. You may also find their blog useful to you i.e. guest posts etc.

But the best tip of all JUST DO IT!! Get blogging!!

JoanneDewberry.co.uk has produced a booklet Blogging for Business and how you can develop an effective business blog for beginners. £5 including P&P – purchase online at www.joannedewberry.co.uk
Joanne Dewberry – Dorset Business Mum of the Year 2010
Multi Award Winning Small Business Owner, Mummy of 3, and business blogger

 

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I’m only human!

I’ve had a bit of a wobble this last week, and I think I’ve surprised people by being open about it.

Everything was ganging up against me, and nothing felt like it was going right:

  • My husband has been poorly for almost a month, so I’ve been carrying the home as well as being extra busy with work, and not doing it to the standard I would like
  • Our holiday was very different because he wasn’t well, and I didn’t get as much rest as I’d hoped. So I’m still tired and in need of another one!
  • April just hasn’t happened with sales – the Easter holidays seem to have lasted most of the month, which always has a detrimental effect on people’s buying habits
  • I’ve spent most weekends in the last 2 months working – catching up, admin tasks, and trying to get the office tidy!

So on Sunday, after another weekend of not being at home in my garden, (one of my goals for this year is to grow more vegetables and we’ve hardly started), I sat in my office and wobbled. I could feel it bubbling up inside me & I knew it was irrational, and it was just the tiredness talking. But it was there. And I wanted to be told that it’d be OK! I wanted hugging and I wanted support.

I don’t think that’s so wrong? I don’t think people should be surprised, do you? We all need hugging and we all need support, whatever our circumstances or what we’re doing. Some of us need support for the caring role we play with our loved ones, often when they’re very ill. We need a break from the everyday tasks, and we often just need to take a step off the world for a short while whilst we take a deep breath and carry on.

I was soon back on track. Back to being “strong, invincible T-J”, the person people come to when they need support & motivation. I had lots of virtual hugs as well as kicks up the backside! Just one small post on Facebook & I got 11 responses over 2 days from some very busy people. I wasn’t angling for being told how wonderful I am, or what I do for others, but that’s what I got! It was even more support than I’d expected, or needed to put me back on track.

So next time you’re feeling like you need to take a step off the world, or you feel the world is against you, just message your friends – text, facebook, twitter, phone, whichever suits you. You know these people are in your circle for a reason. To support you and help you achieve your goals – personal or professional. It’s only human to doubt. Those gremlins that sit on our shoulders are real. I usually manage mine very well, but occasionally, when I’m tired and life is busy, they manage to crawl out of their cupboard and do their worst.

Surround yourself by supportive people, and those who can give you that kick, or hug, just when you need it. We’re all only human, but it’s how we manage ourselves that’s often challenging and the key to our success.

Thank you to those in my support group. I hope I can return the favour when you next need it!

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Year End – what’s it all about?

So many people are talking about Year End at the moment, and it’s a pretty crucial part of most businesses. We’re being encouraged to top up ISAs and take advantage of offers before the new financial year starts.

This time of year, for me, is about a physical check of all my stockholding, and the opportunity to review the year’s sales and expenses. It’s a chance to step back from the business and look at the figures, as a check on the shape of the business. What’s doing well, what’s not so good. What areas need improving and developing.

I wrote 2 years ago about Taking Stock. I’d forgotten, but having just re-read it, I’m pretty happy with that assessment. I’ve been better at continually reviewing my business and my stock since then. Have you?

I’d also like to suggest that having a year end that is 3 months into the calendar year gives us a chance to properly review those goals we set ourselves at the start of the year. How do our figures match up against the expectations we set ourselves. What challenges have prevented us from achieving our goals, and what do we need to revise due to the new opportunities that have come our way since January?

A lot of us are having a break over the Easter holidays. I’m so looking forward to getting away from it all. Forgetting about the business, and personal stuff that’s happened that’s steered me a bit off course these last few months. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family, without my head in my laptop and phone for one whole week. That’s all! The world won’t end without my attention to it!

So, year end for me is about reflection, review and relaxation:

  • Review: Goals, aspirations, action plans. Review last year’s figures against expectations. Revise your goals and action plans for the rest of the year accordingly & set out your revised financial and business goals for the business year ahead.
  • Reflection: What’s gone well? What hurdles have you jumped, or fallen at? What have you enjoyed? What’s been tough? Being honest with ourselves isn’t easy, but it is important we do it. If we don’t add our reflections into our future goals we won’t achieve them.
  • Relaxation: If you can’t take time out, you won’t achieve your goals! Your body and mind need to rest and recover so that you can come back to your life and business with renewed vigour. If relaxation isn’t a heading in your weekly schedule, add it now! You work, (whatever you do as a family member, stay at home Mum or Dad, salaried job, or own business) so that you can spend time with your friends and family. They won’t enjoy your company if you’re not relaxed will they?

I hope your stock counting goes as smoothly as mine did today, and your 3 R’s help you to work towards your personal and business/career goals.

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