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Thoughts on veggie food, work, play and life in general

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Business

Reducing Travel

My job involves meeting people and therefore travelling.  Where I live and work is well connected to London, but not so much to the South Coast or the surrounding towns and villages.

I go to a lot networking events, plus I like to meet clients in person.  This means I spend a lot of time in the car travelling between appointments and events. Although I have a hybrid car and try to drive efficiently, I am still concerned about the impact of my travel on the environment.

I’d like to take public transport more, but the journey times and the cost start to make it look more prohibitive.  A thirty minute drive to Brighton equates to just under two hours by either bus or train. The bus is the cheapest option but the WiFi is not stable so precludes much working on the way. The train costs twice as much as driving and is generally unreliable.  

Of course I am looking at this cost in terms of time and money and not the impact on the environment.  

But I need to have a mindset change.  A lot of my client conversations can be quite personal  and detailed. I like to meet face to face as I can see their full reaction to questions and suggestions.  In my previous corporate life I used to use video conferencing a lot. The picture quality was ok, but time lag could make conversations difficult.  I have tried Skype over the years but always found that the system drops out after about 15 minutes.

Recently I was introduced to Zoom.  I joined a group call and was amazed by the quality and stability of the system.  So I have started to book Zoom calls with existing and potential clients. This has so far been met with enthusiasm.

Using video conference to reduce travel
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

Looking at my diary this is freeing up much more time in the office and means I can walk to work more.

There will still be days where using the car will be the only practical option, however I am committed to making these days the exception rather than the norm.

Would You Hide From A Client?

Have you ever hidden from your client – even when they are coming into your office or a meeting?

This occurred recently at work.  Following a particularly difficult meeting with a client and their adviser my colleague decided to stay away from the office completely when they can back to resolve the issues.  This left our member of staff, who had been quite upset at the previous meeting, to deal with the client on her own.  

I was quite shocked at this.  The adviser had been quite rude and are to the meeting gunning for a fight.  But to avoid the situation after and leave a member of staff to pick up the pieces astounded me.  I do not know what my colleague is hiding from, or what the full issues are, but to me this is not leadership.

The previous meeting had been intense. Our client had not stood up for us in front of her adviser. I wonder if she had enough knowledge to do so, or if she just kept quiet –  bemused by the whole episode.

It turns out that following this episode my colleague has decided not to take on any more clients for this specific service. They are also avoiding talking about what happened.


hiding from the client
Photo by John T on Unsplash

One thing strikes me though – you can’t garner, or mend, good client relations by hiding.  Things go wrong. Mistakes get made. But keeping away so you don’t have to face them is wrong.  I have never been given this option since starting this company, and even if I had I don’t think I would have shied away.

Facing up to mistakes and client problems help you grow as a person, improves your skills and shows leadership.  If you want to hide then you may as well not have the client. If my colleague had faced the issues head on perhaps they would have learned how to change the offering going forward, and how to avoid this mistake in the future.

Would you hide from a client?

No Can Do Attitude

I tend to think of myself has having a “can do” attitude.  If a client rings with a problem or issue I see it as a personal challenge to find a solution within the required timescale.  This isn’t always possible, and I’m not a miracle worker, but most of the time I can get things done, or find an interim solution.

I have a colleague who has a “no can do” attitude.  If a client needs something done last minute she fixates on why they didn’t ask for it earlier.  Their poor admin is not her problem. She tells them how difficult it will be to sort it, but without finding a solution first.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I find this really frustrating.  And it also causes friction in the office as others find her attitude too fixed and negative.  We have all had days when things crop up that we hadn’t planned for, or had forgotten about. But we think on our feet and get through it.

If you have a friend that needs something done and is in a fix, you will do your best to help them. I don’t see a difference between a friend and a client  in these circumstances (although there are things I’d do for a friend that I wouldn’t do for a client!)

I don’t know what the answer is to changing her attitude. She is not good at learning new things.  Perhaps we are the ones that need to find a way to look past this perceived weakness and put in place a better way of dealing and communicating with clients in these circumstances.

Monthly Loves – May

May seems to have happened in the blink of an eye – it must have been all those bank holidays!

Zoom – this video conferencing software is transforming my life – giving me more time in the office and getting me out of the car.

Bagels – I had forgotten how good bagels are for lunch.  Avocado, tomato and olive is my current favourite filling

The British Library – They have an interesting mix of exhibitions and information, plus an excellent small business support hub.  Makes me wish I live in London so I could attend the seminars more easily.

Magnesium Supplement – transforming my sleep pattern and helping my recovery from a shoulder injury.

Green Stationery

In my bid to leave less of a footprint on the planet I have been looking for environmentally friendly stationery.  I am a great user of refillable notebooks, pens, recycled paper and making scrap pads out of leftover paper.

I have recently put together a new package for my clients.  It helps them write a robust business plan and then to review it every month.  My task was how to package it. I wanted to find a way that the package can be stored and added to each month.  To keep it neat and tidy, but also easily identifiable and looking good so it motivates you to use it. It didn’t need to be big either.

So I started looking. It turns out that there are no really smart, colourful folders that don’t contain plastic.  Document wallets are either fully plastic, or of a cardboard design that are too big and clunky, or look like something that an official in a stuffy office would use.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I searched various green stationery sites.  Some items such as pens and rulers can be made from recycled plastic.  But not in the case of presentation folders. Even some of the ones that look nice and appear to be made from card have a plastic coating.

Now I  know that stationery should not be seen as a one use plastic, but a lot of people don’t see it that way.  My company recently moved office and in the move we reduced the number of files we needed. This left a pile of twenty plus hardly used ring back files.  My co-directors were happy for these to be simply binned and put to landfill. They can’t be recycled due to the plastic coating. I balked at the idea and took it upon myself to find a new home for them.  I am happy to say that a week later I had homes for all but three of them.

If the majority of people see stationery as disposable, or don’t think that others can use items at the end of their life, then we need to come up with more recyclable options.

So this is a call for designers out there to come out with an alternative to the clunky, dull card presentation folders.  

In the meantime I have asked my clients who are using the new package how they would like it presented.  It turns out that as I have raised the issue, they have thought about it and are happy to find their own storage solution for the documents.

A good solution I think!

I have recently put together a new package for my clients.  It helps them write a robust business plan and then to review it every month.  My task was how to package it. I wanted to find a way that the package can be stored and added to each month.  To keep it neat and tidy, but also easily identifiable and looking good so it motivates you to use it. It didn’t need to be big either.

So I started looking. It turns out that there are no really smart, colourful folders that don’t contain plastic.  Document wallets are either fully plastic, or of a cardboard design that are too big and clunky, or look like something that an official in a stuffy office would use.

I searched various green stationery sites.  Some items such as pens and rulers can be made from recycled plastic.  But not in the case of presentation folders. Even some of the ones that look nice and appear to be made from card have a plastic coating.

Now I  know that stationery should not be seen as a one use plastic, but a lot of people don’t see it that way.  My company recently moved office and in the move we reduced the number of files we needed. This left a pile of twenty plus hardly used ring back files.  My co-directors were happy for these to be simply binned and put to landfill. They can’t be recycled due to the plastic coating. I balked at the idea and took it upon myself to find a new home for them.  I am happy to say that a week later I had homes for all but three of them.

If the majority of people see stationery as disposable, or don’t think that others can use items at the end of their life, then we need to come up with more recyclable options.

So this is a call for designers out there to come out with an alternative to the clunky, dull card presentation folders.  

In the meantime I have asked my clients who are using the new package how they would like it presented.  It turns out that as I have raised the issue, they have thought about it and are happy to find their own storage solution for the documents.

A good solution I think!

Task Overload

Ever had one of those days where, in your head, the number of tasks to complete appears to outweigh the time available?  We all go through this at some point, but how can you deal with it?

One option is ‘head in the sand’ and jut plough on its what your memory says needs doing first.

Another option is to take some time to review your tasks and review agains priority and ongoing tasks.

I recently went through this process and  ended up limiting all my clients and the amount of time I spend on them monthly.  I then added time for my own company admin and even time for lunch breaks.

This showed that, even allowing for travel time, I have enough time each week to do everything I need to.

This was good news for my panicked, overloaded mind.

My next step was to create a quick visual to show what work I can do and when.  This was only an high level view as, apart from a couple of clients who I visit on specific days, no week is the same.  

This has helped me come up with a strategy for planning my weeks.

In addition to this I use Asana to track all my tasks.  It is a great tool to use to help track projects, one off and repeating tasks.  It is also free to use or up to 10 members.

Having completed this review, and put a task tracker in place, I now feel that I can handle my current or load.  I also now have a way of identifying when the work load is becoming too much, and I need to get some help, before it becomes too stressful.

How do you plan and manage your time? Would love to know your top tips and apps that you use.

Distrust

I work with a colleague  who is quick to distrust on the first error a person makes, hearsay, or sometimes something akin to jealousy, and often without knowing the full story.

Once distrusted he does his best to burn bridges with that person.  This may mean not working with them or not turning up to an event because they might be there.  If you mention their name, or ask if we should refer some work to them, you get a venomous reply of ‘no, find someone else, we are not working with them.’  I had an email forwarded from a potential contqact with just he word @I met this smug git today…’ Obviously on a GDPR level this could be a bit embarrassing if they should ever ask for any data/correspondence we hold on them!

I always find this frustrating, bewildering and a little short sighted.  How can you limit your interactions with people in this way? What if you need their help in the future?  Where does this anger come from?

However this attitude has started to bite back recently.

On a few occasions he has had to concede that the person in question is ok and that he didn’t know the background to why something happened.   Or the need of the customer means that we need the support of the ostracised person. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty in cutting all ties.  

I have no problem of being wary of someone who keeps making mistakes, or whose working practices might not be as good as I would like.  We all meet people we don’t rub along with. However to cut people out completely for such reasons to me shows a lack of patience, understanding and self esteem.   

You never know when you will need their help, or how your actions have affected their view of you.  And who are they talking to about it? How will reflect on you?

There will always be people who do do something very wrong, but make sure you have all the facts first before writing people off.


Photo by Heather M. Edwards on Unsplash

Breakfast

Breakfast – seen as the most important meal of the day, and probably one that we often have the least amount of time to have.

In the hotel industry breakfast is probably the busiest time of day – the majority of your guests will book in for breakfast.  It is also the time when your guests potentially have the least amount of time. So breakfast needs to run smoothly and cater for all dietary needs.

So why does breakfast in a hotel frequently turn out bad?  I have seen a full hotel with queues waiting for breakfast because of understaffing and a lack of coordination.  

In some cases there seems to be a lack of attention to how quickly food needs to be replenished and tables cleared

I have been left hungry due to lack of communication of how long the vegetarian breakfast would take to cook – having to leave before it is ready.  

I used to attend a breakfast networking meeting at a 5 star hotel which has 89 rooms.  In our networking group there were usually about 20 of us each work. The hotel claimed it was too much work to provide 20 individual breakfasts (which were all pre-ordered).  Instead it was either a full cooked breakfast, or a continental offering (which was one pastry and some fruit). I always used to wonder how they coped if all the rooms were full and breakfasts not pre ordered if they couldn’t cope with 20 pre-ordered meals.

I understand that staff not turning up on time cannot be planned for, however managing expectations can.  As a guest if I know there is a problem in the kitchen, an ingredient isn’t available, or something takes slightly longer to prepare, then I can make my food choice  according to my time restraints. It is all about managing expectations.



Photo by Sonnie Hiles on Unsplash

I once worked in a hotel for a year.  Breakfast always ran smoothly as the head waiter would give training to the staff the day before and then watch like hawk as to what as going on.  He would give firm, but polite, instructions, so as to ensure smooth running and that guests left satiated and happy.

Looking at hotels now I rarely see anyone who appears to be in overall charge.  When there is they don’t appear to have the attention to detail and focus that I trained under.

I never know why there is so much secrecy over breakfast.  I’m not sue if there is a worse time of the day in which not be on top of your game, or not be communicating with your customers.

I’d love to know what your experience of hotel breakfasts has been.

Brain Meltdown

Some days you get home and just feel as though your brain is in meltdown.

Today was one of those days.

My first client today is a lovely lady who I visit once a month.  The main aim is to keep her up to date on dealing with her paperwork and supporting her to navigate a complicated financial situation and also sorting out care for her elderly relative.  Today’s challenge was to keep her on track.

Due to a family health scare, her mind was understandably elsewhere.  As usual I started by asking her what tasks were top of her priority list, and started working on these.

The first one was easy and soon dealt with.  The other was a bit more tricky. It involved confirming a seat on a flight and printing a boarding pass. Normally this is quite straight forward, however a strange alert came up when I tried to reserve the seat.  I rang the number on the site and soon all was sorted. I then went back in to print off the boarding pass. This time it showed the seats I had booked but still wouldn’t let me pass the seat reservation stage. Alarm bells started ringing.  My client then recalled an email she had received the day before saying that the flight had been cancelled. She had dismissed it as a scam email as the the email address didn’t look correct and there were numerous typing errors throughout the email.  Added to the fact that we could still go ahead and log on to confirm the flight, with no mention of cancellation, it was put down to being a scam.



Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

We found another phone number and rang it.  This took us through to a a customer service centre and a lovely chap who confirmed that the flight had been cancelled and apologised that he could not rebook the ticket for the time that was needed.  He also took on board that the email looked fake, and gully explained the reason for the cancellation. Not much help for my client who was travelling for work, and could not rebook to a different destination.  I was more taken back by the fact that one part of the same company did not know that the flight had been cancelled.

After this the rest of the tasks were soon dealt with and I was soon on my way to my next meeting.

This I knew would be more challenging.

I have a mentee who is just starting up a business. The business idea is sound, and my mentee has a lot of experience in the area.  But my mentee is an over-thinker. If any scrap of doubt can creep in, it will. Our first meeting was quite intense – my mentee swinging from complete confidence to giving up her dream in the space of every twenty minutes or so.

This meeting was to discuss the content for her new website.  I had previously had a panicked telephone call the week before as my mentee became over anxious about what she was writing and again felt like giving up.  Twenty minutes later I had managed to calm her down and get her back on track. It was her desire to get everything right first time that was holding her back.  And if she couldn’t think of the perfect thing first time then she seemed to go into a spin and start questioning everything.

So it is fair to say that I was going to this meeting with a little trepidation. My mentee was all smiles and looking relaxed when I arrived. She produced the pagers of copy for her website and I started reading.  It was all good stuff – covered everything it needed to, from the background of the company to services and charges.

I was half way through the first page when it started.  A barage of questions and doubts and ‘is this right?, or should I change this?’ To be honest I really wanted to shout out ‘will you shut up and let me read?!’, but I thought better of it – the genteel patrons of a Waitrose coffee shop probably wouldn’t survive it.

By this point in the day I was tired and trying to concentrate on what I was reading, whilst being asked questions about sections I hadn’t read yet, just didn’t work. I stopped what I was doing. My brain stopped. I just stared at my mentee – paralysed by the amount of things I was being asked to do and not managing any of it.

A few moments later I was back in the room.  Putting my game face on and getting my mentee to calm down.  We calmly went through each area she was having issues with and came up with alternative wording, or put her fears to rest.  An hour and half later we said goodbye and went our separate ways.

When I got home I just felt exhausted.  My brain felt soft and mushy. I looked at the kettle – I knew what it did but had no idea how to use it.  How could this have happened to me? I have had days where I have been pulled in various different directions by different clients (and the same ones!) and had to field multiple interruptions, but never had I felt like this.  Part of me wanted to feel angry at my mentee. Surely if she has this amount of doubt on the finer points of her business then she won’t be able to sustain the business. Should I tell her to stop aiming for her dreams and go an get a job?  But her background and experience says differently. And the business idea she has is really good.

I resolved to put it down to experience.  I can’t expect all mentees, or clients, to be calm and not sweat the small stuff.  Or to realise that things can usually be changed in the future – websites updated when the perfect wording comes to mind, or business cards and flyers changed when the first batch runs out.  I just need to find a better way of dealing with this situation in the future.

My biggest issue now was to tend to my mushed brain and get myself back on track.  A task which involved something slightly stronger than a cup of tea.

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