Category Archives: – Get Organised

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5 top tips for Planning a Business while on Maternity Leave

Today’s guest post is from Lindsey Fish of Little Fish Event management, who attends our East Hertfordshire networking group.

Lindsey started thinking about working for herself while she was on maternity leave, and so here she is sharing her story and also sharing her top tips for setting up a new business

So here are Lindsey’s Top tips for starting a business while on maternity leave

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Tax Free Childcare

Tax Rebate: New Tax-Free Childcare Scheme For Parents

What is the new Tax-Free Childcare scheme?

This scheme is being introduced to provide support with childcare costs for those parents who want to go back to work. Approximately 2 million families should be able to benefit.

Tax Free Childcare

Childcare made more affordable – photo by Shutterstock

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Garden Design can add Value to your Home

Many of you will know that I have received a small inheritance this year (that is my positive spin on what has been a pretty traumatic time) and I have used some of the money I received on transforming my garden.  Mum was always a fanatical gardener – her garden was a place of beauty and peace.

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My own garden was never so special and especially over the last year when so much of my time went into caring for her, it got sadly overgrown. So I mainly wanted to improve the garden for the family and to make it more easy for us to maintain, but it is also very heartening to hear that home improvements can add around 10% to the value of your home.

There are many ways you could add this value, perhaps a new conservatory, an extension or a loft conversion – to create extra rooms. It could even be as simple as new carpets or updating your kitchen or bathroom to something a bit more modern.

But what about the outside? It is easy to forget about your garden when it comes to home improvements, but according to Zopa, whilst a conservatory tops the list of improvements that add the most value to a house, the garden isn’t far behind. The research shows that work on the garden can offer an 88% return on the investment.

It is easy to forget about the garden and let it become overgrown and messy, especially during the winter when the thought of standing out there in the freezing cold is enough to put even the keenest gardener off. However, the garden is an extension of your home and it is important that it looks the part – especially the front, which provides the first impression of your whole house.

An overgrown lawn and dead plants is likely to put a potential buyer off before they have even set foot in the door. Plus, the changes you make could add thousands to the overall price of your house.

So, how do you start growing the value of your garden?

First of all, you simply need to tidy it up. A well looked after garden will give a welcoming feel. On top of this, if the garden is well designed it will stand out amongst the rest, potentially adding 5 to 10% on to the price of the house.

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When planning the design of your garden take into account where the house is situated and who the potential buyer might be. For example, if the house is a family home, the garden is likely to need a lot of grassy space for children to play on. However, if it is for young professionals, who are likely to be far more interested in working their way up the career ladder than spending time deadheading plants, a low maintenance space would be ideal.

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With our garden I wanted it to be less fussy – and much more easy to maintain.  Now I can concentrate on raising a few flowers and vegetables – the part of gardening which I enjoy, and much less time on weeding, pruning and general decluttering.

I’m going to be careful this time not to overstock the garden with plants, as I don’t want to be overwhelmed with deadheading and pruning.  I’m going to start with impressive but fairly low maintenance Snowdrop flowers  – which tend to mark the end of winter and the start of spring and therefore with them will grow happy thoughts of new life and warm weather. Plant them once and they will come up every year – that’s my idea of good gardening.

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It’s worth getting advice from a garden designer who will be able to tell you how you can maximise your space, before you start and perhaps invest in a landscape gardener if you really want to transform your outdoor space.

The company I used – Premier Paving – were absolutely excellent – now I just need to recruit them as clients and work on their website so I can bring it to you and recommend them properly…

Six ways to Organise your Office

Organising an office space is one of those jobs that ‘can always be put off until tomorrow’ for some people. There never seems to be enough time or enough inclination, until costly mistakes are made. A clean and comfortable office is usually a productive one; here are six steps towards making 2016 a tidier time.

Is this you?  by Shutterstock

Is this you? by Shutterstock

1) Tidy up

The first piece of advice is perhaps the most obvious, but one often ignored by many people who insist that their chaos of a desk is ‘how they like it’. Possibly so, but why take the risk of losing vital paperwork? This writer knows of at least one colleague from a previous role who left personal posts including wage slips scattered throughout old newspapers and piles of sheets.

If you don’t have time at work, take a handful of sheets home and sort them while watching television. The pile should be gone within a week. Shred anything confidential before disposal.

2) Get some organisers

If the paperwork that you’ve retrieved is necessary – see point 3 – then start arranging it into some form of system, which will depend on the job you do. A filing cabinet arranged  alphabetically or in order of importance should suffice. From now on, either stay five minutes later at work or arrive five minutes earlier, and administer to the pile.

For anything that you don’t feel you need imminently, but you don’t want to throw away, consider putting in storage boxes and place them somewhere safe.

3) Go digital

Flash drives, cloud systems and other means of digital storage equal tidy workspaces. Create folders and start scanning anything and everything that you need for the role, labelling the files for easy access. Keep originals of any legal or financial documents of importance.

You (or your boss) may need to shell out for external packages and systems such as Dropbox, Doodle, or Evernote. Forbes Magazine suggests five ways of going digital here.

4) Get a calendar

Either plug upcoming meetings or dates of importance into an online calendar, or pick up one of the many customisable calendars from Photobox and write the events down. Seeing what 2016 has in store is a cathartic experience, and is not just beneficial for your work life but also home life, as it allows you to see your holidays and family events in the same space.

5) Clear your emails

This one might take a long time – maybe a week or two – but you’ll thank yourself for it in the end. Giant email storage accounts have made people lazy and clearing unnecessary, but we’ll bet the people who don’t clean out the junk regularly still use desperate search engine methods to find individual vital emails. Sort out your folders and labels and clean it all up.

6) Customise your space

With clutter and detritus removed you can start to create a desk in which it is pleasant to work. Add flowers and artwork, and photographs of children and pets.

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A small speaker system for calming music in times of stress is welcome. And get some pens and pencils and a notepad so that you can actually take down notes accurately, rather than scrawling them on the back of an invoice or important document.

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The Key to Writing the Perfect CV

With large amounts of competition for jobs, creating a perfect CV has never been more important. Many jobseekers don’t realise how having the right skills and experience for a role is just half the battle – the way you display this information and present yourself is just as important when it comes to landing an interview.

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Which one would you pick? by Shuttterstock

Indeed, in a survey of 500 CVs for various senior and graduate jobs, 98% of them would have been rejected. In this article we will be advising jobseekers on the look of your CV, what to include in it and suggestions on how to improve your current content.

The Look

Don’t overcomplicate it. Recruiters, bosses and HR managers don’t want to waste their time reading your entire CV and the decision on whether or not to reject a CV often happens in less than a minute. This is why the layout and appearance of it is so vitally important.

Making your CV stand out is one thing but using a strange font can make the whole thing look immature and messy, which is why recruiters recommend you use clear fonts like Times New Roman, Arial, Palatino, or Courier and don’t write in block capitals.

The layout should also be kept simple. One of EduStaff‘s Senior Recruitment Consultants,  Jonathan Sammons, explains how his preferred layout keeps the most important information at the top of the CV.

He explains how a CV should ideally start, with a one or two sentence summary, then your qualifications, followed by work experience, with information like the job title, company name and employment dates emboldened at the top and bullet points of your duties below.

Putting your contact information at the top is also encouraged and once you have sorted it out so that your most impressive, most recent information is visible on one side don’t be too worried about continuing to a second page and don’t decrease the margin or font size to try and fit more on a single side.

Content to include in a Perfect CV

Whether it’s from a job advert, a conversation with a recruiter or the company itself, your understanding of the job requirements should always be considered when writing your CV and you must keep it tailored to the roles you apply for. This can mean emphasising more relevant experience or tailoring your summary to a specific company or industry.

When writing about your previous roles and experiences, always be honest as stretching the truth will only damage your career in the long run, and try to be direct. The summary section should be the first thing your audience reads and must outline your skills, experience and career aspirations in a couple of sentences.

The most successful work experience sections will have quantifiable successes written out in a direct way. There is no need to elaborate completely about how you ‘managed a team of six staff, boosting performance by 30%’ as longer explanations can be saved for the interview.

When describing your career it is also important to fully explain any gaps in your employment history, as companies can be suspicious of those who have taken several months off work. The usual reason to take time off are to start a family, illness or travel, but if this is left unexplained employers may start to wonder if there is a reason you have taken a while to find work.

Following this advice will help you get your skills and experience across quickly and avoid the rejection pile. Just remember honesty, brevity, and keeping in mind what your employer wants to see are the most effective ways of promoting yourself. At the end of the day the true definition of a perfect CV is not what it looks like or what is on it, it is whether or not it gets you the job.

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How to get started with Digital Marketing

For anybody interested in ensuring that their business is able to compete in the 21st century, it’s incredibly important to have a good online profile. Digital Marketing is becoming the new buzzword, even for those businesses who provide physical products of face to face services.

Digital Marketing Basics

Are you online yet? by Shutterstock

Amazingly, over 50% of the UK’s small businesses still don’t have a website, and whilst maintaining a website might not seem like the most important aspect of your daily routine, it’s a good idea to get the basics in place in order for your business to thrive.

Whereas a few years ago people routinely used the Yellow Pages to search for a tradesman or a company, now more and more people just use Google, so it is essential that your company shows up in a search of your local area for whatever it is that you do.

Here is a brief overview of digital marketing basics, which you may want to consider if you are trying to attract new customers to your company.

Your business website

As it’s often the first place that a customer will encounter your company, your website should be simple, clear and up to date.

It’s now relatively easy to create a quick website with online resources such as Blogger that can include the basic essential information about your company such as contact details, opening hours and a brief summary of the services offered.  You can set up a website of this kind for free, although with websites, you get what you pay for, and for most companies it is worth having a website designed for you if you don’t know how to do it yourself.

From there, it’s just a matter of building your site up to include features such as special offers and product descriptions. Many sites such as Bedstar have created an exhaustive online shopping page for all of their beds, and whilst such a project may be beyond some smaller businesses, using an online shop such as eBay or even Etsy for craft-based products can provide a good short-term solution.

Social Media

Although most of us use social media networks in a personal capacity on a daily basis, there are many ways in which these sites can be used to market your business and enhance your reputation among your potential customers.

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Not only do social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook offer us an instant way to communicate to our dedicated customer base, but they can provide a relatively cheap way to advertise to followers based on criteria as specific as age, interests  and location.

Furthermore, social media means that it’s now easier than ever to build up a two-way relationship with your audience so that they can even advertise your products through visually-friendly social media apps such as Instagram.

Get Blogging

As the internet offers us an ever more close relationship with our target audiences, it’s important to make sure that any language used isn’t too stuffy, salesy or formal.

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That’s why having a blog is a great idea as not only does it present a more friendly face of your company, but it can also have great demonstrative value in illustrating how some of your products work.

A blog doesn’t have to be too complicated. The blog at Zinnia Folk Arts provides a nice little background story to the products that they feature, whereas Bitte’s range of baby clothing and toys is perfectly complemented by a blog that features interesting interviews and profiles on some of creators of the products.

As long as your blog is relevant and up-to-date, it’s the perfect place to build a bridge between your business and your audience.  The other main advantage of a blog is that Google likes to see websites which are regularly kept up to date with fresh content.  A blog provides this fresh content, and this means that Google will more likely to show your website to people when they are searching for your service than a site which has just one page and never updates.

Digital Marketing Assistant

If all the above is starting to make your head spin and boggle you, do not despair.  The joy of digital marketing is it can be done by anybody, not just somebody who works in the same building as you.

Nowadays there are many people (including me), who work as digital marketing assitants, helping companies with aspects of their social media, website design and blogging.  You don’t have to take on a full time employee – just a couple of hours a week from somebody who knows what they are doing on social media can reap enormous rewards, and give the impression that your business is up and ready for the 21st century.


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How to Get the Most Out of Social Media

Facebook has more than one billion active monthly users and on average Britons have four social media accounts, spending one hour and twenty minutes a day managing them. The question is, is this time well spent?

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How do you get to grips with Social media? by Shutterstock

If you are a parent of school-age kids who’d rather play Candy Crush Saga than do their homework you’d probably say that it is a complete time waster. But in reality, social media can be very useful for keeping in touch with people in your personal life, and essential for keeping in touch with clients in the business world. So how can you be sure you’re getting the most out of social media?

1. Understand your purpose.

Social media isn’t suitable for all purposes, and certainly some forms of social media are much better than others for achieving things. Before you can get to grips with social media, you must understand in what ways you think social media could help you. Is it for keeping in touch with family, for organising community events, or for promoting your business?

2. Look at the Social Media alternatives

Facebook is probably all you need for sharing holiday snaps and organising family get-togethers but for more professional matters you’ll need to look at multiple accounts.

Depending on the nature of your organisation, customers and clients may expect to find you on any or all of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram and more, so your first step is to peruse all of these options (you usually don’t need an account to view business pages or news streams). What are your competitors using and how are they using it?

3. Learn to do it right

Once you’re more familiar with the options you can start planning your own accounts. It might sound simple but it’s so easy to get it wrong. Your profile picture, bio and public interactions all need careful consideration.

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Places to go for help include:

Blogs – many bloggers produce how-to guides at the request of their regular readers. A quick google on ‘using twitter for business’ or ‘how to generate impact with Instagram’ will produce plenty of reading.  You will even find quite a lot of information in this blog, if you check for relevant posts in the Categories list on the sidebar.

Just beware of old posts because in the world of social media, things move on quickly.

Classes – for reliable up-to-date information and the chance to ask personalised questions your best option is a masterclass. City Lit offer courses in central London to help you get the most from social media. Taking a class gives you dedicated time to navigate social media successfully and develop your own business strategy.

Books – as with anything, you can teach yourself the basics from a book but again the difficulty with social media is that the tools and marketing strategies are continually evolving so make sure the information you’re using is up to date.

Talk to someone – if you want a bit of help getting started with social media there are plenty of people around who can help you (including me).  Sometimes it is a good idea to pay somebody to get you started, set up and running, then they can teach you what works in your market and give you the tools and confidence to continue by yourself.

The most important thing to remember is that it takes time to learn social media if you want to use it in an effective way for business, but that time invested can reap great rewards in the long term.

 

Renting or Buying a House: What’s the best option for you?

The age old question of ‘should I rent or buy’, is a question many of us will have to ask ourselves at some point, especially when just starting out.  While a few years ago, it seemed that house purchases were the natural way to go with most people getting on the property ladder sooner or later, since the recession and the advent of student loans, this decision is no longer so clear cut.

Houses for sale everywhere - by Shutterstock

Houses for sale everywhere – by Shutterstock

It’s no secret that house prices are steadily increasing and therefore renting might seem like a more sensible option – gain some independence while paying a reasonable price for accommodation and saving on the side. But it all depends on your circumstances, financial situation and what you ultimately want to do in life. Here’s a quick guide to discover the best option for you.

Benefits of buying:

  • Once the mortgage is paid the property is yours and at that point you have no more monthly outgoings except for bills and maintenance.
  • Your home could increase in value, resulting in equity which could help you buy a larger home in the future.
  • Mortgages can sometimes be cheaper than the rent cost.
  • You won’t have to deal with landlords inspecting the property every time your tenancy needs renewing, and you can make changes to the décor or even structure of the property at will.
  • You can use schemes such as Help to Buy that will help when it comes to putting down a deposit.

Downsides of buying:

  • Owning a property is a big responsibility and you must pay out for any maintenance work.
  • Insurance rates will go up, increasing your mortgage costs, unless you opt for a fixed rate tariff.
  • You don’t have any flexibility when it comes to moving, you must sell your house and buy another to be able to move on.

Benefits of renting:

  • A much cheaper option when it comes to the size of deposit and other up front costs.
  • You have more flexibility and so can move around much more easily. You simply hand in your notice at the end of a tenancy and move out.
  • Maintenance costs are often covered by the landlord. For example, if your boiler breaks down through no fault of your own they have to pay out for the repairs, not you.

Downsides of renting:

  • The home is not your own, so you will need to ask permission if you want to make any changes. Some landlords won’t even let you use blu tack on the walls, never mind hammer nails into them.
  • Rent costs can go up without much warning or explanation when you renew a tenancy.
  • The landlord can choose not to renew the tenancy at any time, forcing you to move when you don’t want to.
  • When you leave the property your landlord can take money from your deposit to cover maintenance costs they feel you are responsible for, most of the time this is unfair and comes down to wear and tear.

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Questions to ask yourself…

Do you need to move frequently?

Some people move jobs and cities frequently and therefore need their accommodation needs to be as flexible, so renting is the only viable option – with most house sales taking an absolute minimum of 21 days (although in practice often much longer) a six month tenancy agreement may be a much more sensible option. You can even store your belongings in a storage unit if a new property isn’t big enough – you can find these all over the country from RSS storage units in Bournemouth to units up in Scotland of all sizes to meet your needs.

Can you afford a deposit?

Buying a home requires a substantial amount of money up front in the way of deposits, fees, insurance, surveys, etc, so if you can’t save a great deal right now then you could move into a rented property for a much smaller amount up front.

 

Think carefully before you settle on an option, consider your needs and you’ll definitely be able to find a solution that meets them.

10 DIY Christmas Presents You Can Make At Home

Christmas can quickly become a competition of who’s spent the most or thought up the biggest, most extravagant gift when really it should simply be about showing your loved ones just how much you care (as corny as that sounds.)

So put down your catalogue, (leaving it open at your favourite page of the “gift ideas for her” section for others to find),  and try out some of these DIY Christmas presents you can create at home:

The usual offenders:

1. Baked goods

Nothing says Christmas like some yummy cakes to scoff on Christmas Eve with plenty of Baileys. Put together a batch of mini Christmas puddings, mince pies or chocolate rolls as a gift for everyone.

2. Homemade body scrubs

These are super easy to create yourself and can even be popped into leftover jars and pots you have in the cupboard and decorated with ribbon or wrapped. Here’s a great how to guide for a delicious smelling coffee body scrub to wake the recipient up in the morning.

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3. Hand poured candles

Creating your own candles is super easy and you can pour them into everything from teacups to mason jars to tiny tealight holders and create them in all sorts of scents and colours. Here’s a great step by step guide on how to make your own.

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Homemade candles – photo by Shutterstock

4. Sharpie mug

Simply grab a permanent marker, draw a cute design on a plain mug and pop in the oven on a high setting to make it stay on the ceramic.

5. Chocolate bouquet

This one is so easy, simply take a plant pot and wrap it in fun Christmas wrapping then fill it with chocolate bars to create a bouquet effect and wrap up in clear cellophane with a ribbon.

DIY Christmas presents that require preparation:

1. Infused vodka

We all love a tipple at Christmas and you can create a new fruit flavoured beverage simply with some strong vodka and ripe fruit, pop it all in a bottle for a few days then once you like the flavour, simply pour out the liquid through a sieve and dish out to friends and family in pretty bottles.

2. Hamper

This requires preparation simply because you need to get your hands on the things to fill it. Whether you’re making its contents by hand or picking them up from the supermarket be sure to leave yourself enough time to get everything.

Trickier ideas:

1. Make up/wash bag

If you own a sewing machine now is the time to get hands on with it and create a personalised make up/wash bag for a loved one. Choose a material you think they will like and then put it together with a zipper fastening or a button close if you’re feeling less ambitious. Here are some great tutorials to test out.

2. Tile photo coaster

Fancy adorning coasters with yours and your sibling’s faces for your parents this Christmas? Then it couldn’t be easier. With some plain tiles, some mod podge and cute pictures you can create a gift they’ll cherish forever more, here’s how.

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3. A family recipe preserved forever

This is a really tricky idea and will take some practice beforehand, as well as the requirement to purchase a new tool. Take a wooden chopping board and with a soldering iron (you can pick a soldering iron kit up for around £15) carefully burn into the wood an old family recipe, if there is one that everyone makes and has been handed down from kitchen to kitchen.

So if you are cash poor but time rich this Christmas, you can soon rustle up some really special DIY Christmas presents, that are bound to be cherished and remembered, long after the last of the turkey has been eaten.

3 Part-Time Careers For Busy Mums

Many new mums realise during their maternity leave that either they don’t want to go back to full time work, or that their previous job does not make financial sense any more, when childcare arrangements are taken into consideration.

However there are very few of us who can slip happily into the job of full time mum without missing a little bit of the mental stimulation that comes from work, not to mention a little bit of extra income.

If you are looking for a part time opportunity that fits in well with childcare responsibilities, then here are some areas you may consider

Freelance writing

What better career path to take than one that allows you to work from home, which reduces the cost and requirement of childcare as you can juggle work and home life throughout the day?

Freelance writing is easier than ever before to embark on as a career path, there is a huge number of digital marketing companies and publishing houses in the UK that require the assistance of freelance writers on a regular basis.

You could also consider signing up to a writing job site, such as Copify, which sends you writing jobs on a daily basis for you to complete.

How to get on the career path:

Send out emails to relevant businesses detailing your experience, your rates, availability and a few examples of your writing work. If you don’t have one already, it is a good idea to start a blog, because that is another way of demonstrating your writing ability, and looks good when you are pitching to potential clients.

Things to remember:

Freelance work can impact on your personal life, because it is usually completed at home, so it’s a good to set up a desk.

Office administration work

If you want to get your foot in the door at a large business, ready for when the children are older, then starting on the reception desk is a great option.

It usually requires little job role experience, you must have exceptional customer service and problem solving skills. Take a look at available hotel jobs or office work in your area and find a part time position where you can start small but expand your experience and knowledge until another role becomes available.

How to get on the career path:

Browse job sites for available positions and apply online with an updated CV.

Things to remember:

If you move into the hotel industry then there might be shift work required, so ask about this before accepting any roles.

Set up your own business

If you don’t fancy the idea of working for someone else again, after having so much freedom away from the workplace, then why not set up your own business? You can be totally flexible, only taking on as much work as you need and fitting in jobs around your personal life.

Cleaning up in the dog walking business? by Shutterstock

Cleaning up in the dog walking business? by Shutterstock

Dog walking, or selling make up brands such as Younique and Arbonne are great ways of getting started when it comes to setting up a new enterprise. If you set up a distributorship business you also receive business support and marketing and advertising materials from the company and help and advice from the person who sponsors you into the company.

How to get on the career path:

Look around your local area to see what businesses are out there already and try to offer a talent or service not readily available.

Things to remember:

It’s best to start small to avoid having to take out a big business loan to get started, test your services out on friends and family and then expand from there. Distributorship businesses like Younique have very low rates of pay at the start – the job only really starts to pay once you recruit a team underneath you and expand your business.

Not too, that with these types of busness you are considered self employed, which means that you get no holiday pay and you have to declare and pay your own taxes.