I always find myself getting a bit nostalgic around this time of year.
In 2013, All May Have Ltd (AMH) relocated from Weybridge to Windsor to Guildford. We’ve had the privilege of working with as diverse a bunch of clients as ever, ranging from 17-year olds writing their personal statements for university to our first ever corporate social media training event. We’ve taken on copywriting assignments for start-ups to blue-chips. We’ve worked with individuals to get them up and blogging and I have taken on our first mentee – a fabulous young aspiring writer who I will be interviewing for AMH’s blog later this year.
What a year it has been – both for AMH and for me personally. When you’re running a start-up, it can often seem like slow progress. Therefore, take the festive season to stop and take stock of all the progress that you have made this year – and you will have made progress this year, however small. It’s easy to overlook and to forget things, so make regular reflection part of your company’s life-cycle – even if it’s just you working for the company at the moment – and not just financially when the annual returns are due.
In other news, I have accepted a part-time opportunity at a local radio station as their Education team’s Business Development Officer. What exactly does business development entail? Well, if you are interested, Scott Pollack wrote a great article for Forbes entitled ‘What, Exactly, is Business Development?‘ which will give you the bigger picture. However, on the micro-level for me, I will be building relationships between the radio station and educational establishments across Surrey and Hampshire. More details to follow once the ink on the contract has dried.
This will be alongside my ongoing teacher training in the lifelong learning sector and a couple of new AMH projects rolling out from January 2014, which I hope to post about in due course.
For now, dear friends, Happy Christmas and New Year. Thank you so much for all the ways that you have supported AMH this year – as a friend, client, coach or enquirer. I couldn’t do it without you!
Wishing you a hope-filled festive break and an amazing 2014,
P.S. All May Have’s first ever client, the brilliant Dave Walker, has just finished a great Advent Cartoon series, from which the above cartoon is taken – get in the festive spirit and check them out here.
I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging recently. I can’t remember when I first started blogging and suspect the roots lie in creating free websites when I was 14 years old. I can’t remember why I started blogging. It just sort of…happened. As an extension of Facebook notes, perhaps. However, for whatever reason, I became a ‘blogger’ and began blogging on a variety of topics – from dating to depression, business to bulldogs, teaching to Tesco. No topic was off-limit. Then a series of events unfolded that shook my blogosphere.
1) I realised that people actually read my blog. The bullet-point amongst a whole list of ‘interests’ on my CV became a talking point in job interviews. In fact, it became the sole conversation in one interview and I ended up writing a blog article for them instead of answering the usual ‘what are your strengths and weaknesses’ questions one has to endure. Friends would comment on things that I had written years ago – and would sometimes throw my words back at me! Internet dates would stalk me in advance and rob me of the opportunity to introduce myself. It was all very strange. I went from writing for the sake of it to having to consider an audience.
2) People started to ask me to teach them how to write blog articles. I was being offered money to teach people how to blog. All of a sudden, small business owners cottoned on to this method of communication and wanted to get involved. I began teaching people how to blog for business, which seemed ironic considering that I never once thought to cash in on my word counts. I started to realise that they way that people viewed blogging was changing: that no longer was it solely for internet geeks, knitting circle attendees or single women with cats. The young entrepreneurs, the SEO conscious and the marketing directors of blue chip companies all wanted to find out how they could blog to generate leads and to increase their sales. Then it went one step further and people started to pay me to write blog articles for them!
3) I got in to a relationship and found that my time for blogging diminished. I got distracted by another thing… life. As people began looking to me for blogging inspiration, I began running out of things to say. There I was teaching people that they needed to blog frequently ever conscious that I hadn’t had anything to say in months.
I hit a wall. I hid. I decided to take a step back and think about blogging: this thing that I had naturally fallen in to and had slowly taken over my life. My website and blog became stagnant…I almost expect a bale of tumbleweed to roll along the bottom of my computer screen as I scroll back in to the archives of the past few months.
People kept asking me what blogging was and why they should blog. And in all honesty, I wasn’t sure how to answer them at first. But after some time soul searching and thought whirring, I have decided that very simply, blogging is a good thing for several reasons.
Blogging gives individuals a voice
I have seen the shyest of the shy write beautiful, thought-provoking and challenging blog articles, revealing a side to them that I would have not had the opportunity to see otherwise. Blogging gives people time and space to develop their opinions and to share them in a way that perhaps only a newspaper columnist has had the luxury of to date. An individual can create and curate a corner of the vast world-wide-web to express themselves to the world; it provides a platform to be both seen and heard.
Blogging is an art form
The biggest challenge I face when teaching people how to write blog articles is communicating just how short and snappy blog articles ‘should’ be. There is an art to being concise that blogging forces us to engage with. (I type this increasingly aware that post will exceed the word limit that I impose on my students) The crap is cut through, the superfluous ceases and what you are left with is the point.
It’s also a discipline. The best blogs have fresh content on – regular novelty and inspiration for the reader. You can’t have a blog and leave it be (ahem…apologies!) and it demands your commitment.
Blogging helps you to learn about yourself and develop your opinions
When forced to write about yourself or to defend a point of view, you reflect upon your thinking in a unique way. When faced with an audience, you suddenly realise that what you say matters. As you write, you find yourself using words and phrases that you wouldn’t in conversation – you find a voice, a style, a pattern, a theme. What you wrote a year ago might not be the way you think about things now, but there’s a record of your train of thought.
Slowly, but surely, the block is easing and I find myself revisiting the blog once more. Where it’ll take me this time, who knows? At the heart of it, I do believe that blogging has the potential to transform: lives, businesses, relationships, mental health, societies… otherwise I wouldn’t teach it. It’s just a case of seeing through all the bulls*t of an SEO keyword laden blog post written by some millennial hired by a blue chip and working out how… how to be an authentic voice in amongst all the online noise and how to be the breath of fresh air that a reader hopes to find.
Further thoughts to follow.
Apologies for the radio silence. I have been suffering from blogger’s block. Funny thing: when you teach social media, there’s an immediate pressure on you, the teacher, leader, inspirer, to be exemplary in all of your online activities.
After a week of teaching blogging, the last thing I want to do is to write a post. I give away all of my good ideas to my students and I am left with Instagrams of my lunch and a rating of one of the twenty-nine coffee shops Guildford has to entice you with. Twenty-nine coffee shops and not one of them is open past 7pm. That’s been one of the downsides of moving from the city to the sticks. Well, as stick-y as a major university town can be… No late night coffee shops to take my Mac down to and late-night blog, accompanied by fellow start-uppers, a chai latte and Train on repeat. I tried taking my laptop down to a local pub past 8pm and asking for a latte. I felt like a plank. Thus, my blogging has suffered.
I need to find a new blogging rhythm. Ideas welcome.
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to OCD Piggy. OCD Piggy, otherwise known as Percy Pig, is a kitchen timer I picked up from M&S. I use him to time activities, competitions, quizzes and the like. Who said that assessments have to be boring?
Posted on January 15, 2013
Jonathan Webster Subsea Pipeline Engineer at BP
“Renou has provided excellent administration and research services on several occasions for event planning and other mini-projects. She is always quick to take ownership of the scope and her work and contributions add value while also fulfilling the brief. Recently, at late notice she delivered a time critical piece of work in 4 hours, with recommendations. A joy to work with and full of ideas, I could not recommend her more highly.”
“Renou has made a significant contribution to my cartoon-licensing business…I would not hesitate to employ her on future projects.”
Posted on October 3, 2012
Dave Walker Cartoonist
“Renou has made a significant contribution to my cartoon-licensing business, CartoonChurch.com.
She took the previous paper-based licence system and set up a new database that would allow the ongoing renewals system to function efficiently. She has strong IT and database skills and worked in a short timeframe to clear up the existing contact list. In doing this she solved what had been a significant failing in the way we operated the business.
She introduced CartoonChurch to the Mailchimp system, which has allowed us to send newsletters and renewal reminders. This has resulted in an increase in licence renewals. For the last year Renou has managed the ongoing licencing process. She does this reliably and efficiently.
She is very capable of applying herself to challenges, trustworthy and hardworking, and I would not hesitate to employ her on future projects.”
We can spend hours crafting an epistle, weeks planning a proposal, months refining a poem, or years writing a novel. The desire: to contribute something profound to the universe. To challenge a mind. To win a heart. Yet the most profound thing that I have read in ages has been a tweet. A 140 character thought. In this instance, a thought belonging to Rick Warren. Whilst perusing my Twitter feed as one might a morning newspaper, I spotted this:
It was not so much the debate on scandal, morality, etc., that tickled my fancy, rather the notion of having an ability to blush.
That blushing is a visual manifestation of emotion fascinates me. A purchasable product to achieve such an effect, aptly named ‘blusher’, has an air of irony about it – particularly, I think, when worn to attract. Those of us who blush know that it is not something that we can control, and I think that is its beauty. Embarrassment is such a transparent, honest emotion, whether it manifests as the spread of crimson across a cheek or as an explosion of anger in an attempt to divert attention. To develop an inability to blush takes practice. To build a threshold requires the demolition of walls of inhibition.
The workplace can be an arena for scandalous, disgraceful, and apparently shameless conversation. I once worked with the most outrageous colleague. She was brash, crude, rude, and a notorious gossip. Every other word was foul. She could make men who had been in the armed forces for years turn in to thirteen year old boys with her sexual explicitness. She was openly and proudly gay. One day, a fellow colleague teased her about a past sexual relationship that she may or may not have had. Imagine my surprise when I saw that she was blushing! It struck me that she was able to joke about sex with the entire office so openly and without shame, yet her threshold for embarrassment was an intimacy from her past.
And d’you know what?
In that moment she was quite attractive. She seemed more approachable, more vulnerable, more innocent and, well, more human.
I went on a date with a bit of a lad once. He was known for being, for want of a better word, cocky. Now, in all honesty I do fancy a bit of arrogance in my men as I see it as a challenge. However, this chap pushed my limit. The date was going a bit too well – to the point where I wondered if it had been scripted. He was a little bit too smooth and I had suspicions that the lines and the moves he were attempting may well have been recycled. However, mid conversation and without warning, he said something awkward. He knew it. I knew it. He knew that I knew it. He blushed.
And d’you know what?
My heart melted a bit.
Because it was real.
‘Embarrassment’, ‘shame’, ‘vulnerability’, and ‘innocence’ are not ‘comfortable’ words or emotions. They are a little bit dirty in some situations and they are often abused. I know that I have gone to great lengths to avoid them. But sometimes, just sometimes, can they not be beautiful? As beautiful as the shade that we turn when we feel them?
Chris Lawson Jones is a singer songwriter and the Director of Big Label Records, ‘the world’s smallest record label’, according to his characteristically laugh-a-minute Twitter account. I first met Chris whilst scouting out an organisation that I was considering accepting a job offer from. After playing a set and being notified that I was in the building, he put down his guitar, walked straight up to me and said “Hello. I hear that you are thinking about coming to work for us, what can I say to convince you to accept our offer?” He didn’t have to say much at all – with his exceptional musical talent, his boldness, and charm, he had me sold at ‘hello’. I had the pleasure of working with Chris for ten months or so and over that time enjoyed listening to story after story of his adventures in life, particularly of his time spent in America, where his debut album Carolina was born.
I caught up with Chris over a Sacred iced coffee to find out more and to glean some wisdom on directing an SME.
Renou: So, Chris, tell me the story! How did the idea for Big Label Records come about?
Chris Lawson Jones: It all comes down to being in America. I did a degree in Music Business so I had an idea about how the music business worked. When I was living in America, my employers at the time asked me if I liked to stay on. I decided that I was going to go home to London and get on with my music career. They said ‘good luck with that. We would love to help you out but we don’t know anything about music’. I thought that was a good point, but all these happened to be businessmen. Then I had a sort of lightbulb moment in a café – a ‘eureka moment’ – where I thought that they could help me to start a company, mentor me in business, and I could figure out the music part.
I started to think about all of the major bands and musicians, like, say, U2 or whatever. Once they have fulfilled their record contracts with the big companies, they never sign to a major label again, they start their own in-house label – their own thing, make their own music – so that they own it. Then they licence it back to the record companies to market and distribute it.
I thought that I could do that at the outset rather than figuring that out during the duration of the record deal, which is when most artists figure out that they are being taken for a ride by their music company and they’re already signed in to this long-term contract.
I approached one guy over a Thanksgiving meal and told him that I had been thinking of starting a company for these reasons. He said that it sounded great and really exciting, and then asked me if I would send him a business plan. I said ‘…a business plan?!’ He said ‘I’ll send you one and you just write down everything that you told me about your idea and then we will see if we can get it going.’ So he sent me this business plan over email the next day. It was for a plastic spine implant company and had absolutely nothing to do with what I was doing. Years later, he told me that he deliberately sent me the most obscure business plan he could find to see how I could react to it. So, we came up with a business plan and then got it going!
Renou: How long was that process for you? From the ‘eureka moment’ to the incorporation of Big Label Records?
Chris Lawson Jones: The ‘eureka moment’ happened in October, Thanksgiving was in November, and I can remember still working on the business plan in January/February of the next year. We incorporated the company in October the following year, so almost exactly 12 months from ‘eureka moment’ to actually incorporating the company. We incorporated in the states first, because of the US businessmen who were backing it. For financial and tax reasons, it was much easier to do that. We now have a UK limited company as well. I run everything.
Renou: What’s Big Label Records’ vision?
Chris Lawson Jones: The main aim is to be a creator of new music that then gets sold on to bigger companies. I can’t imagine Big Label ever becoming more than an SME. My vision is that we stay relatively small and nimble with probably no more than 10 employees. In order to be able to market and distribute music at a global level, you would need an extraordinary infrastructure that would cost millions and millions of pounds to set up and then you’ve got to maintain that. I wouldn’t rule that out, but I think that the gap in the music industry is that
people are not taking enough risks on new music. The bigger records companies are stuck in a trap of short-termism and of quite a lot of fear, actually, of risk taking. I think that creates a niche for smaller companies like mine to be the risk takers and innovators. We create the new music and bring it to them because they are not doing that role themselves.
They can kick in with the marketing and distributing structure globally, so it then becomes a partnership. We are up streaming what we have created but the key is that as a company we maintain ownership and copyright of the music we have created so it generates a licence fee or a royalty every time that record company sells it. That’s where I think we will be placed and I really can’t imagine that we will have more than four or five artists or bands on our books at one time. It would be a small, relational, nimble, creative organisation which does a few things really well and has a reputation for bringing the goods to the bigger record companies so that they start to look to us for what is going on.
Renou: At the moment you have yourself and Benedict signed to Big Label Records. How did you meet Benedict? How did that come about and how does working with Benedict relate to risk taking?
Chris Lawson Jones: We have the same agent. When people explode in to the charts, the public seem to think that these artists are an overnight success, simply by virtue of the fact that they have never heard of them before. However, there is normally two, three, four, five years of development that goes on before they are chart ready. Benedict was signed by the agency as a 16 year old. He was a very, very talented guy but just needed development, and this is part of Big Label Record’s vision: to develop artists like him and get him to the point where he is ready to sell or licence on to a bigger company.
The risk taking element for me is that I have to spend a little bit of money on developing him. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a lot of money but as a young entrepreneur, I don’t have a lot of money lying around! So there’s an element of risk in that but mainly it’s a risk of time. I have already spent hundreds of hours on Benedict and I would spend a hundred more hours on Benedict with absolutely no guarantee that I will ever make a single penny.
But the risk takers outlook is that you obviously don’t back dead horses, you try and back winners. I think Benedict is a winner.
I have this dual mentality where I can completely imagine Benedict being global a superstar, selling millions of records and winning awards all around the world. I could also imagine him going to university next year and going on to join an orchestra for the rest of his life. Both are so entirely possible.
I am quite prepared for the fact that Benedict might never sell a single record or be known by anybody outside of the few people that are working with him at the moment. If that happens, I will get on with the next one and I will spend hundreds of hours and a little bit of the resources that I have developing the next one, and if that doesn’t work out, then I will spend hundreds of hours and a little bit of the resources that I have on the next one, because that is what you have to do.
Renou: So what about you, Mr Jones? What’s next in your musical career?
Chris Lawson Jones: If I had the resources, I would love to make another album. With it being a recession, there is no money around and, understandably, no one wants to invest in creative things. So I’m a hostage to finance and resources.
The first record that we made, Carolina, made a real impact to the extent that I got an email last week from the drummer who played on my first album. He now plays in John Mayer’s band. He emailed me saying that he thought I would like to know that the new John Mayer record is basically based on Carolina. That album has made great impact as a piece of art, but it’s made virtually no money and certainly hasn’t made back the money we spent working on it.
The reason we spent so long and so much money on Carolina is because we wanted to make something brilliant and amazing; the best that we could. And it’s gone on to have the impact it has because of that and I do not want to compromise. I would rather not make a record than make a bad record so really I’m sitting around basking in the glory of the compliments that it receives, but frustrated that I can’t make another one.
I remember we used to get phone calls from people at Universal and Sony saying ‘Hey, we just absolutely love your record, we listen to it in the car on the way to and from work…but sorry, there’s no money around to sign it or do anything with it.’ It’s just an absurd state of affairs that no one has any money, and that nobody’s ready to take a risk.
Renou: I spotted on Twitter that you had the opportunity to give a copy of Carolina to Ryan Adams, one of your influences, on the flight home from seeing him play live in Stockholm!
Chris Lawson Jones: That was fun. Whoever your influences are in life, even if your Mum and Dad have taught you to tie your shoelaces, it’s nice to show them that you can tie your own shoelaces – ‘look Mum, look Dad!’ It’s nice…
Ryan Adams is the biggest musical influence in my life and if you look back in terms of being inspired to make that kind of music, he’s the reason I made that record. It’s nice to be able to give it to him and say ‘thank you’. I am sure that it will be that with that, but it was a nice moment.
Renou: And track 6 of Carolina, ‘Bitter & Sweet’, featured in Hart of Dixie! How did that come about?
Chris Lawson Jones: When I first got back to London with the album, I was vigorously networking and met with someone who suggested I send the record to this guy in Los Angeles. He basically runs an agency that specialises in placing songs in TV shows, movie soundtracks, on commercials. I sent it to him and he got back in touch saying that he loved the record and wanted to sign that song [Bitter & Sweet] to their books.
The thing with that was that it was a really good example of how relationship is important in these things. I would be over there every so often, he would be over here every so often, and we would just meet up for a beer and talk about music. But from a professional point of view, it kept me in his mind. I didn’t ever take him out and ask him when he was going to get one of my songs played but by being relational and talking about music, soccer, things like that, it keeps you at the front of that person’s mind, creates good will, and means that if there is a choice between submitting your song and someone else’s song, they might remember that beer and put your song forward.
People can smell really quickly if you want something from them, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being friendly with people and showing that you are interested in them and that you are not just interested in relationship with them because of what you can get, but taking an interest in their wider work.
A lot of business is about good will created through relationship.
When they have to choose whose gig to attend, people are going to go with people they feel they can trust and have relationship with. That’s a massive quality in being entrepreneurial: to build and maintain relationships.
Renou: Greatest highlight to date?
Chris Lawson Jones: I think that the overall highlight is that I thought I belonged in this world of making records and having peers like my musical influences, but
until you actually put your cards on the table and get out and do it, you never really know whether you are going to sink or swim. It’s an enormously vulnerable experience putting something out there for the whole world to pass judgement on. It has shown me the value in just going for it.
I feel like I now belong in the world I thought I could belong to, but I never would have known if I hadn’t taken that step or been bold enough to make a piece of music, to be vulnerable, and to get out and do that. There have been failures along the way, but the biggest failure would have been to never give it a go. There’s huge satisfaction in that.
I got a really nice write up in Q magazine, a magazine that I grew up reading. To see that written in there was mind-blowing. I also get emails and tweets from around the world saying ‘I love this record’, ‘I’m listening to this’, ‘this means this to me’ – it’s amazing. Somebody in America sent me a cover version of one of the songs, ‘Don’t Need a Rescue’, that they had recorded. That was really sweet – that someone would learn your song, take the time to record it, send it to you and hope that you like it! It’s great. It’s been a hugely challenging experience but I think it is that a massive lesson in just giving things a go. That’s probably the biggest highlight for me.
Renou: What would you say to someone who’s thinking of doing the same thing as you?
Chris Lawson Jones: Go for it! Obviously, you don’t want to be wreckless with your own time or other people’s money. As I said, it was a year between eureka moment to incorporation – a lot of research went in to that.
Plan, read as much as you can around your industry or your area. What are the trade magazines? For example in music, read Music Week. Devour them, figure out what is happening, and what’s coming next.
Don’t get caught in outdated business models or practices. You need to be the future. You need to be thinking what will be happening in this industry in two years time, because I’m young, I’m nimble, and I’m not set up in the old ways. Research, talk to people, meet up with people, discuss, ask: what’s the real need? Do your research on all the boring stuff like Corporation Tax and VAT and then just go for it!
Carolina is available to download on iTunes
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Chris Haigh Managing Director of CJH Enterprises
“Renou is a pleasure to work with. Her behaviours are outstanding – enthusiastic, driven, accountable and transparent. She has a talent for understanding how we can further satisfy our clients and sees the big picture. I look forwards to working with her in the future.”
Posted on July 12, 2012
Shivon George St George’s Holborn
“[Renou] is a very organised individual who takes pride in her work. She is able to manage tasks efficiently and delegate accordingly, particularly in coordinating events. Renou’s bright personality made it a pleasure to work with her.”