Saturday, 22 November 2014

Business Plan Part 1; A week in Murcia (Should I have travelled more) & My birthday!

Dear all,

As December draws near and my final few weeks away from home begins to feel very real – and very short - I’m resisting the urge to overthink things…with regards next year, what will be will be. However, I am not the type to leave things to the last minute and as much as I am determined to stop myself getting anxious and stressed about how the hell I am going to survive, I am also determined to get my head together in terms of an action plan. As I need to get my ‘professional head’ on I should really refer to this as my ‘Business Plan’…I’m not just an individual with a hobby anymore! So today I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on how I am considering my writing future and as it so happens it was my birthday this week so I hope you don’t mind me sharing a few reflections on the year too.

Sunny on my birthday, I'm going to miss that next year!

Business Plan Part 1

Let’s be honest about this; writing a business plan is difficult. I do not have a business degree, MBA or years of experience working in that sort of corporate environment. I have studied hard over the last few years and learnt as I have developed and made the time (not always easy, and sometimes extremely boring) to sift through lots of different research materials related to business plans. I have drafted as I have gone along and over the course of three years I have accumulated a lot of notes. One thing I would say about this is you have to be selective but in order to be selective you have to wade through a hell of a lot of documents. One of the most frustrating elements of this is the repetition. Once you go past the standard references which are the 'nuts & bolts' of a business plan it is easy to get suckered into overkill. Instead of really defining the core elements of what you do and producing a solid plan that will cover the basics you can start over-stretching your goals. As an independent person I am guilty of doing this. You visit a new source of material that has all these promises and attention-grabbing leaders so you decide to invest your time. You download a book or PDF, you enter your email for this time-limited offer, you go through the Call-To-Action’s, you click on multiple pop up windows, etc, etc. you all know…and then the first few pages or graphs or diagrams tell you something you already knew and you realise this multi-million-dollar business process is just the same as every other multi-million-dollar process and you have just wasted yet another morning or afternoon that could have been put to better use.

Barnes & Noble

Well, that's just tough in my opinion. It is the same as anything else in life, a lot of damn hard work for not much return…but that’s life! There is no way around it because the truth is most of the documents you will read and learn from will simply reproduce information that has been produced time and time and time again and you just have to accept that, it is a lot of repetition to find the few little things that will actually help. The thing to remember is that like the clich├ęd nugget of gold or the eternally proven phrase ‘needle in a haystack’ there are really useful and important pieces of information that will help you, it's just you have to run through treacle to find them. They can be found in everything you look at yet don’t expect it to be much. It could be as simple as one sentence…but that sentence could really transform your results. You may read every line of a hundred page PDF and only one paragraph helps you but that one paragraph may prove vital.

Barnes & Noble

That is the way I look at things these days. To start with I have never believed in 'secret tips' or those 'how I made a multi million business' stories. From pretty much leaving school at 16 (all my studies were part time) you learn very quickly to distrust anything or anyone that promises miracle solutions and if you are older than 21 and still think that someone sending you an email asking you to sign up to something in return for the secret steps to success then you need to be rudely awakened I’m afraid. That's not to say they don't happen, it's just those 'secrets' tend to all boil down to simple hard work and effort doing the basics you should be doing anyway - which of course isn’t very secret at all! Go to any reference library and the management section will have it all, it’s not hidden, it’s not secret, it’s all there in tomes of black and white.

                                                               Barnes & Noble

There is a difference in the digital age we live in however and it is fair to say that there are superb hints and tips that are there to be found when it comes to how to use specific websites or social media tools and that is why I still allow myself to get suckered into reading so many documents...I know most of it won't help but in the hope of finding that one good idea, I persevere. That is why in my opinion it is important to become a good speed reader (look up skimming and scanning) because unless as an individual you are willing to spend serious amounts of time learning complicated web design skills, programming and so on then in my opinion it is better to learn how to become an expert 'user'. I don't want to spend my time gaining skills I don't need for a career I don't have. Instead, I want to learn how to use social media to its best possible advantage in my field. If I want to learn about mailing lists I will learn how to use MailChimp (as an example) rather than maintaining my own in-built spreadsheets, and that goes for hundreds of individual tasks that I need to do. With larger more complicated areas, such as Search Engine Optimisation or Mobile Conversion for my website for instance, there isn't a chance in hell I can learn the basics, it's seriously complicated stuff that people get paid a lot of money for in companies where you don't wear suits, have bean bags instead of chairs and have a mini volleyball court on the roof terrace. Instead I need to find the best sources (companies and individuals) to go to that provide the answers and offer services that can help me. I may not be in a place (financially being the main one, but other factors too mean it takes time to prepare for these sort of works) to kick off projects but I need to make sure I have the areas noted ready for the time I am. That is why I have such an in-depth business plan when I am a nobody-one-man-band! It will come in handy soon.

Barnes & Noble

One of the reasons I have included on my business plan a very detailed section for social media is that the changes in digital technology are moving at a blinding pace and the many sites I may want to use are constantly upgrading and improving and to keep up with all the innovations (which don’t have to be brand new by the way, just incremental improvements in the tools you have available to use - free and paid - or often overlooked simple ideas that express information in a better, and more easily connectable, hence, trackable, way) I need to make sure I don't forget about them. I may not be in a position to utilise all of them now but I certainly want to eventually. Another reason is that they are simply so good. Social media sites have such excellent professional tools that I couldn't come anywhere near them doing it all myself and I would look out of touch in no time at all if I ignored them. The way you can connect all of your profiles together to create an online brand and use such in-depth analytics is amazing and I don't pretend to have the ability to learn about how it all works. As long it is does work is good enough for me. That's why I said in order to find those nuggets or those needles in haystacks you need to read through a lot of material. You can then cherry pick those new ideas that you haven’t thought of or haven’t already found elsewhere and put them into action yourself or more likely ask or pay someone else to put into action. Sometimes you come across a new website or tool that has such amazing functionality you can see the benefits straightaway and it's more the case of finding the time to incorporate it. Other times, you use a site but you know you are not using it to its full potential. That last point is important when using multiple distributers for your product, they are always improving the services they offer and adding new features and tools and you need to keep up to date with those; even if you were using everything under the sun when you launched your last product, if that was longer than a couple of months ago then you can be pretty sure that distributer has added more functionality since then and you need to make sure you incorporate it. I realise I probably sound so naive now but if I didn't have my business plan to refer to, and in this instance it acts as a reference guide and weekly/monthly checklist, then I have no doubt I would forget things like that or leave it far too long between checking. It's not all about future ideas and what you need to move on's also about making sure you are always maintaining the basics.


I would like to sound convincing when I say it can be fun…it can be honestly…I have scanned through so much stuff over the years that finding new and innovative companies, tools, ideas, personalities, suggestions and so on can be very rewarding and satisfying. It’s nice to learn for the sake of learning. Of course not everything will be applicable, even those amazing new nuggets you pick up and think at the time – wow! Why didn’t I think of that! – they may be great but not necessarily useful for your business but it’s far better to have found it and tested it out than to have not considered it at all. Yet it can also be very demoralising. Writing a business plan can inspire you but also be a rather ill-mannered wake up call. You start to realise how much work there is to do! Sometimes I look at it and think to myself I will never be able to achieve all I have set out to do. I'm not even talking about earning money as much as that may make me sound ridiculous. (You have to be honest about income and whatever your forecasts are in relation to your business it can impact your ability to invest in new technologies and processes for sure, but I'm not even talking about that...I'm talking about maximising the potential of all the free things you can do (time is a cost of course!) There are so many things I want to do that won't cost me anything other than investing a lot of time but it is still quite daunting and that is why, for me, having a comprehensive business plan has proved essential in organising my time and schedules because I can be honest and say I would have drowned under the weight of trying to do it all or forgotten half of the things I need to do without it. 

That’s the stage I am now at, my business plan/social media vision/publication process/future ideas list/pricing document/marketing plan/ebook formatting and conversation guide/hybrid mega-document is bursting at the seams with three plus years of constant updating. I now need to streamline it into a formal document that is readable, coherent, professional and most importantly for me, formatted in a way that has a clear set of actions that I need to work on in 2015, the most important 'To-Do' list I have ever made, if you like.
One thing I feel compelled to say is how grateful I am to people and companies I will never meet or know. There are so many people online that have set up websites, forums and other social media sites that share information and although I am talking about self publishing and social media connectivity specifically for me, it counts for all subjects. Their selfless efforts to help others learn and grow, the exchange of information, is one of the greatest achievements of the internet in my opinion. I have learnt so much through these people that whether it is a whole range of broad strokes to apply, or one of those tiny little golden nuggets, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now where I am looking at years of hard work putting their ideas into practice.  My core product is writing and that is what I want to be best at (I have expressed my thoughts on art for arts sake in previous posts and I haven’t changed my mind about that, I would write no matter what) but without the skills and tools needed to connect with readers and make available not only my writing, but me as an individual, I won’t get very far as a business.


So to conclude this section I will say that if you are working hard on an individual pursuit like I am then keep going, read as much as you can but don’t spend forever, take quick to-the-point notes, absorb as much as you can in as short a time as you can, don’t ignore anything because there may be a lurking golden nugget of information just waiting for you, but do not listen to everything as you will never get anything done. Write it all down but be ruthless with your time and realistic with your ambitions. Start working straightaway because a lot of what will become obvious only does so once you are up to your neck in it. It’s a tricky balancing act and one I certainly haven’t achieved yet, my time management is not the best I assure you but as an amateur I am learning a lot and without formulating it all into a business plan as I have progressed, I would be lost in a swamp of unmanageable ideas. There is so much to cover when running your own business that it may seem impossible at times but we have to keep trying! Hopefully next year as I am getting stuck into realizing some of my ideas once I am back home and settled I can share with you the success and failures in more detail. I realise I have talked in generalisations here but I'm not quite ready to share the specific strategies I am working on. But I will. I hope to be able to one day help others with ideas just as others have helped me. That's why I have called this Business Plan Part some time during 2015 I will try and produce a more detailed Part 2 that will show some of the things I have (or probably still trying to...) implemented.

My Birthday - A week in Murcia - Should I Have Travelled More?

I turned thirty five years old this week, aside from the normal feeling of making me feel old and making my mother feel even older, it was different in that it was the first birthday I can remember that wasn’t shared with my family and friends. It was shared with some new friends which I shall come to in a bit but you can’t (or - one can’t - not sure how posh I am feeling today) help but feel reflective when away from home and I wanted to quickly share with you those thoughts.


My year away has been fantastic and I am very glad I did it…but I nearly did something different. I was torn between travelling in the more traditional sense of continually moving from place to place for a year. I was tempted to go to South America and spend the year exploring. I don’t think I quite had the money for that, I mean, I probably could have done it but things would have been very tight and I don’t honestly think I was mentally in the right place for it, without sounding a wimp, it would have been too tough for me.  More importantly, although I wanted to get away from London and get my head together I really did want to write and be somewhere I could think freely and in peace. In that sense, I thought travelling wouldn’t have helped me. I am not the kind of person that works well without routine and as much as I would have loved the experience of seeing so many new places my desire to write and think about writing was stronger than my desire to travel. For most of the year I have proved myself right, I have really enjoyed settling into a town and becoming part of a community here. I have done some very minor travelling, just nearby towns and cities in the region but nothing compared to what I could have done and the only time that has really hit me was the week before my birthday. I spent several days with some friends in a city (Murcia) about two hours away from me and it was a fantastic place. I’ll leave some links to Google Maps below so you can check the place out. It reminded me of the fun you have when you experience new places. For a few days it made me wonder if I should have gone travelling after all.

I will never know if I did the right thing or not. If you start thinking that way you will go crazy as it is an impossible question. If I had travelled I may have met other people and experienced other things that I would have loved and may have developed me as a person and as a writer in different ways but all I can say is that I think I made the right decision. I wouldn’t want to swap the friends I have made and the experiences I have gone through for anything. I have done a fair bit of writing and a hell of a lot of thinking and I’m exceptionally grateful for that, so in that sense, this year 'worked'.  I hope I have more travelling to do in my life, it may be many years before I get the opportunity but I’m okay with that.

For my actual birthday I spent the day on the beach! Ha, that was something new. Novembers for me are usually a cold and frosty affair (which can be great as well of course!) and so I thought it would be a sin not to sit in the sun for a few hours. I recently smashed my iPhone screen and the sellotaped emergency fix has given my camera an auto-blur feature so my ‘selfies’ aren’t edited, they just look like I’m giving myself literal rose-tinted glasses.

Then I met some friends in a local bar for what I thought would be just a few quiet drinks but they threw a bit of a surprise gathering for me which nearly choked me up I have to admit, it was very touching.  The people I have met here have been great to me, very welcoming and putting up with my constant mis-pronunciations, terrible grammar and vocabulary and have been understanding of my wish to be by myself a lot. I didn't want to seem a weirdo always walking around alone or sitting in the cafe with his laptop being withdrawn and isolated but at the same time, that sort of was the reason I came here! So I have been lucky, I've met some very nice people who have become friends. I won’t post any photos here because it’s not fair to share pics with other people in it…and we ended up (or I did anyway) pretty drunk so I will save us all the embarrassment…well, okay, I can't resist, one of their gifts was a wig (I won't go into the story) so I’ll embarrass myself just for the hell of it!

No decade; no era, would have accepted that...
I feel this has been a very worthwhile year…but it’s not over yet! I have a few weeks left which I plan on enjoying so I’ll leave the in-depth reflections for my final blog from Spain next month.


Take care all,

P.S: Please join me on all my social media pages:
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I’ll be adding this to all my previous and future blog posts – just one of the thousands of mini-action points on my business plan I have got to get around to at some point!