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.
After a wild year, I’ve finally settled in Guildford. Pubs, coffee shops, restaurants and shops galore – this university town will be my home for the next 12 months or so.
Watch this space for latte and ale ratings as the fella and I familiarise ourselves with all of the establishments in town. I’m on a mission to find the moistest carrot cake. He’s on a mission to find crunchiest pork scratchings.
Last week, the fella and I took a spontaneous trip to Dorset, a mutual special place. We visited, and recommend,:
- The delightfully twee village of Corton Denham and probably my favourite pub in the world, The Queen’s Arms.
- Splendid Sherborne, including one of my favourite coffee shops, Oliver’s, and its lovely pubs, including the infamous Digby Tap.
- Luscious Lulworth Cove, place of outstanding natural beauty. Paradise on earth.
Pack an overnight bag, grab a mate, get in a car and get down there. You won’t regret it.
It could be my heightened attraction to articles on depression, having been ‘officially’ diagnosed with the black dog four months ago, but I am noticing more and more public discussion on mental illness, particularly within the church. I am both grieved and elated – grieved to hear of Stephen Fry’s forlorn, unhappiness and loneliness in his eloquent exposition following his recent, high profile suicide attempt. I am moved by Katherine Welby’s reflections on hopeful depression, and her courageous conversations following media interest in her blog article. I joined with thousands around the world grieving the news of Rick and Kay Warren’s son, Matthew, committing suicide after a life time battling with his mental illness, and was humbled by a Jewish Rabbi’s report of the Warren’s return to Saddleback, outlining their task to ‘mine hope from the hopelessness of such devastation.’
As tragic as these accounts are, I can’t help but feel an element of relief. Relief that people are talking about mental illness. Relief that health organisations have upped their anti and are increasing their campaign efforts. Relief that the church, in particular, is under more pressure to support those with mental illness.
My one place of refuge, the church, became my prison in the early stages on my breakdown. Instead of running to it, I found myself fleeing from church for the past year, after being told by individuals in my community that I ‘needed more joy’, that I should visit prayer rooms instead of doctors, or that my behaviour was increasingly inconsistent and, therefore, people were explicitly withdrawing from my company. I questioned my faith, with thoughts along the lines of ‘I can’t face seeing my home group this week’, ‘I don’t feel like worshipping this Sunday’, or ‘am I that problem person in the church: the one with all the issues that everyone is tired of?’ I even went as far as: ‘am I even a Christian if I’m struggling so much with life?’
Whilst I believe wholeheartedly in prayer, prayer rooms, etc., it wasn’t as if I wasn’t praying every day for things to get better. I was, as journal after journal of pleading with God remind me as I reflect on the pages searching for some answers. It was initially only my pastor who suggested therapy and who was subsequently there for me via telephone to hear of my diagnosis. No one else thought to ask, ‘do you think that you might be depressed?’
However, through being diagnosed and sharing with the closest of my friends – the friends that I knew wouldn’t judge me, the ones who kept calling me on the telephone over the months, even though I never picked up or returned their calls – I discovered a secret: that a vast majority of my Christian friends were suffering, or had also suffered, with depression and knew exactly what I was going through. I discovered that depression ran in my family. I began to be able to detect it in others. I realised that I was not alone, and this led me to discover true church: community, understanding, trust and acceptance, in a way that I had not experienced when I “had my sh*t together” and was frantically paddling trying to keep my head above water.
My boyfriend, who doesn’t believe in God, once asked me why God didn’t answer my prayers and miraculously heal me of my depression. I have asked that question myself, as I know that God is big enough to be able to heal me at the click of His fingers. But this is one of those things that will take time. Medication and therapy have been an answer to prayer in and of themselves – and no, I don’t think it’s a sin to take anti-depressants. Anyone who does think so can come and have a chat to me after a few days of being off them.
Through talking it through with God, I’ve resolved that it’s taking time because I need time: time to face some of the things I’d been avoiding all of my life to date. Time to re-evaluate what’s important to me. Time to learn how to be kind to and look after myself – and more importantly, to let God look after me. Time to build myself up again so that I can not just ‘last’ another 25+ years, but LIVE another 25+ years. Live in the sense of having life and life to the full. As Pete Greig outlined in a brilliant talk the other Sunday: so that I can become wine instead of raisins (listen to it here)
Will my depression ever go away? I hope that it will and I fear that it won’t. Is this one of those ‘it’s tragic but I’m glad I’m going through it sanctification through affliction’ type of stories? I wish. If I could live without it, believe me, I would. But while I am experiencing it, I am learning. That’s the beauty of life: we can learn something from everything, albeit in hindsight. That’ll be the book that I will write in years to come: The Gift of Hindsight.
For now, I will do all that I can to encourage conversation on mental illness, for conversation leads to understanding; the shedding of light. And where there is light, there is hope.
For information about Christianity and Mental Illness, check out http://www.mindandsoul.info/
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?
Now, I don’t usually make a point of commenting on adverts… OK, who am I kidding? As my charity shop bag full of never-worn clothes dictates, I am extremely susceptible to advertising… However, I am loving the collaboration between Magners and poet Murray Lachlan Young for the Magner’s new ad: Now is a Good Time. Being a forward thinking, future-dwelling soul, this poem really got me thinking and has got me in the mood for a summer enjoying the ‘now’ – check it out:
When yesterday’s gone and tomorrow is near
Why look for a thing when it’s already here?
And tell me you never once asked yourself how
Some people end up in the middle of the now.
Now is the beat of the feet on the floor
Now is the then we were all waiting for
It’s the strike of the luck
It’s the go with the flow
It’s the sharing the love with the people we know.
See a wise fool once said kind of out of the blue
That life is a dream that’s already come true.
It’s the less of the what, of the where and the how
It’s more of the you, of the me and the now.
So, after 5 years of being single and a quarter-of-a-century-life-crisis, I decided to get dating. However, having been out of the game for so long, I soon realised that there were aspects of relationships that I had completely forgotten about. Here are some of the them:
Date nights (when did the cinema get so expensive? And when did it cost more to have a decent centre-of-the-theatre seat?!), eating out (especially at the start when you’re too embarrassed to pull out a 241 voucher…), dining in (cooking properly compared to my regular can’t-be-bothered-beans-on-toast dinners), travelling here and there, telephone bills, Christmas, New Year, birthdays, Valentine’s Day… Hello overdraft/worth every penny.
When you look back to previous relationships, you remember the time that you were together. You forget about time that you spent apart. I forgot what it felt like to miss someone. To crazy miss someone. To viscerally long for someone – teenage dream style.
It hit me, out of the blue, during a hypothetical discussion about top three hot celebrities. It was not logical; I am sure that the television screen is not the only thing keeping him and Anna Friel from being together. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel possessive and jealous. I was struck by how wonderful it felt to feel something so instantly and intensely – like a dormant organ located somewhere in my gut was defibrillated back to life.
Nervous first meetings. Embarrassing conversations about you as a child. Better understanding a person by seeing them in context. And after a while, expectant glances at your ring finger/womb…
Sacrificing personal preferences and viewing pleasures to accommodate someone else’s plans, favourite food and television habits. I am glad that I learnt how to make the most of being single by pursuing hobbies, doing what I wanted when I wanted (within reason), and learning what makes me tick, as it has helped to discern what I can and cannot sacrifice in relationships. For example, I learnt that I cannot sacrifice time with my friends, efforts to run my own business, and weekly creative time as they make me who I am and bring me to life, but I can sacrifice Made in Chelsea for a cricket match, or a fuzzy and very American Rom-Com for a heart-rendering Michael Haneke film. But deeper than that, there is something about sacrificing your time to welcome someone else’s presence, pleasure, and problems. Something that I forgot about when I just had me to think about.
Men forget things. Hanging the tea towel back on the rack, putting the seat down, or what you just said.
Women remember everything. Even that tiny comment about a ten-year-old, worn and puff-less puffa coat being ugly. IT’S COMFORTABLE.
How difficult it can be to let someone love you. Sacrificing your self-sufficiency (I can carry that bag!) to let someone do something loving for you. Though, one of the benefits of being single for so long has been how easily being loving has been. I am so grateful for the opportunities to be caring and romantic towards one special person after five years or baking cupcakes and sweet treats for my colleagues…
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.”
I sat in the winter sun enjoying brunch with one of my gorgeous girl friends. We were reflecting on the past year and how much things had changed for us both since last December. She looked radiant; her face lit up as she filled me in on her job, love life and her life in London, all three of which had changed dramatically over the past year – and for the better. “It…it feels too good to be true, Ren” she said.
I shared that I had found a property on my dream street in the new town I had just started working in. It was (fairly) affordable, within walking distance from walk and the town centre. However, the bathroom and kitchen had not been photographed. I was due to view it that Monday, and I was completely stressed out. “There must be something wrong with it. The kitchen’s probably going to be a mess and I bet that the bathroom won’t have a shower,” I fretted at her, “it’s just too good to be true.”
When did we become conditioned to expect bad things to happen and to be suspicious of goodness? As children, we approached the world with open arms. Yet somewhere along the line, we got burnt. We experienced a bad thing. Life got difficult. We got older. We grew cynical and ‘learnt’ that “all good things must come to an end” and that “if it sounds too good to be true, it is!” But what our relentless search for the catch is the thing that ruins it? What if our disbelief that something could be good, might work out, run smoothly, or be a fulfilment of a dream prevents us from the real truth – the truth that sometimes good things just happen?
What would life looked like if we lived a bit naively and took things at face value? Would we be more frequently disappointed? Probably. Would we be more happy? Maybe…just maybe…
Silence. One condition, five different experiences.
1) Exploring the vast expanses of an art gallery, feasting on the fruits of artistic labour. He turns to you and comments on how nice it is to be with someone and to not feel the need to talk. A joke follows to ascertain whether or not he is being sarcastic and if the subtext might be that you talk too much. The confirmation of his sincerity reassures your insecure self. The inexpressible comfort knowing that he is walking alongside you and that he just…knows. You do not have to say a thing.
2) Your fixed stare at a blank computer screen while they are bonding over the latest shortcomings of an absent colleague. The longing to fit in, be accepted, and the allure of the act of participation. The curiosity as to whether or not anyone actually notices that you are not saying anything. The hope that you will be trusted for your silence in the long run juxtaposed with the sacrifice of being seen as boring.
3) Stealing glances in an attempt to establish whether or not he is interested; if his spontaneous text was an attempt to reach out to you or simply a message meant for somebody else. The tension of knowing that he knows that you know that he has not explained himself. Avoiding eye contact for fear that a glance caught might demand an explanation. The clutching at the straws of things that you could possibly say to ease the awkwardness, and the acute awareness of a lack of words that might have the potential to save you from looking like a complete plank.
4) Dinner. They are talking at you, not to you. You can see their lips moving, but you cannot hear what they are saying. They realise that they have been talking for the past half hour and that you have not said a word. Yet, through their own inability to connect with you, they simply continue talking. You sit. You sit and hope that you might get your ‘King’s Speech’ moment before the meal is over.
5) The rare and surprising turn of events when you realise that a thought has not popped in to your head for a good few minutes. You have been distracted by the vast and beautiful landscape before you commanding your stillness, asking that you give yourself permission to be absorbed by your surroundings and inviting you to be part of something bigger than yourself.
Silence. One condition, five different experiences.
What object symbolises stability for you?
My mother gave me a cute, white laundry bag with washing symbols on as a gift when I went off to university in 2006. Since then, I have lived in halls of residence, lived with a family, had a couple of rented flats, sublet from friends, and on one occasion stored half of my belongings under my desk at work whilst transitioning from sofa to spare room. The benefits of a laundry bag over this time have been its compactness, its squishability, and its ability to be transported from halls of residence to laundrette to parents’ house with the greatest of ease.
Stability can be embodied by bricks and mortar, a ring, nine to fives with a health care plan, relationships, routines, family or familiarity. Me? I long for a solid, old-fashioned wicker laundry basket. Nothing speaks to me of stability more than a slightly awkwardly placed but very permanent hamper; one of the most humble and homely objects that I can think of.
“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
When was the last time that you stopped? Stopped and gave yourself time and space to think?
This morning I woke up, grabbed my iPhone and jotted down a long list of things to do. On the drive home from a rather flustered morning in Windsor crossing off items from the list one by one, the heavens opened. I found myself wishing I owned a car that could brave the elements with more dignity than Helen, my little 1.1, could muster. I rushed home, put a load of laundry on, and sat down at the dining room table intent on bashing out my emails, VAT return, invoices, meeting agendas and ideas for business pitches. However, my thoughts were drowned out by both the sound of the rain and Bon Iver, who started charming me with his ways upon the opening of my laptop.
I stopped, stared out of the window, and realised that I was breathing.
It is a funny feeling when you remember that you are living. I became aware of the weight of the week on my shoulders. I thought of the people I care about and what they were doing in that moment – travelling, grieving, working, preparing for marriage. I stopped, thought of them, and listened to this song.
All of a sudden, the world made a bit more sense again.
I absolutely LOVE my new business cards from moo.com. I have been using the site for a while and have been consistently happy with the quality and turnaround time of their products. These are the new luxe business cards – deliciously thick and tactile paper, and beautifully packaged. A word of caution – I gave one to a friend and he tried to pull it apart thinking that I had given him three stuck together!
P.S. If you haven’t used moo.com before, you can get 10% off your first moo.com order via this link:
Although I have lived in London all my life, I have only scratched the surface of things to do in one of the world’s greatest cities. However, here’s a list of some of my most favourite things to do in London or things that I have always wanted to do but have not got round to doing yet! Also, some highly recommended date ideas! The majority involve food. Pick some that you have never done before and join me!
- Harry Potter World.
- A ‘Storm in a Teacup’ cocktail at Bourne and Hollingsworth pre-cheeky burritos and tequila at La Perla.
- Try and sneak in to Canary Wharf as a business person and make it to the top of the building (probably a bit illegal and the least likely to happen.)
- Gordon’s Wine Bar.
- Outdoor cinema session.
- Go on the London Eye (again) at sunset.
- Boat down the river.
- Dinner at Bluebirds, Chelsea.
- Walk up the Southbank from Bermondsey to Westminster, stopping at Shad Thames and Borough Market for food.
- Visit the Rob Ryan shop in East London.
- Dim Sum at the New World, Chinatown, pre-a good couple o’hours with newspapers at Notes coffee shop.
- Prince Charles Cinema.
- Journalling in the basement of Nomad Books on the Kings Road, darling.
- See a live band.
- Spend the day wandering aimlessly around the city photo-bombing tourists.
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.”
It was an evening like any other. I settled down to watch a good few hours of mindless, trashy television. Flicking through the channels on a decidedly average Wednesday night, I caught the second half of two films. First up: How To Lose Friends and Alienate People (Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst). Premise: Guy works with girl. Finds girl annoying. Upon realising girl is unavailable, decides that he wants to be with her. Series of events blah blah blah… Final scene: he travels to New York to declare his love at an outdoor evening screening of her favourite film, kiss, slips his mother’s ring in to her pocket signifying that she is the “one”, camera pans to the Brooklyn Bridge and fade.
Heart fluttered. I changed the channel.
Second up: The Proposal (Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Bullock). Premise: Guy works for girl. Girl happens to be his crazy, manipulative boss. He finds girl annoying. Girl finds out her visa is about to expire and is due to be deported to Canada. Girl blackmails guy in to agreeing to marry her by threatening to sabotage his career. Guy agrees. They fly to Alaska for three days so girl can meet guy’s family and to get married on the third day. Fake wedding gets called off signifying that the girl actual has feelings for the guy and can’t bring herself to go through with it. Series of events blah blah blah… Final scene: after seeing a whole other side to girl and realising that he actually loves her and that he will lose her if she gets deported to Canada, guy flies to New York to declare said love for the girl and asks her to marry him for real this time so that he can date her. Romantic kiss, and fade.
Heart fluttering and completely caught up in the moment, I honest to God considered picking up my iPhone and tweeting “marry me” at a guy that I am in no way in a relationship with and I’ve been sporadically tweeting at over the past few weeks.
What. The. Heck?!
Fortunately, I had enough sense and fear of commitment to throw the iPhone across the room and assess the situation before I acquired a restraining order.
Although probably the most extreme of examples, this was not the first time that I have lost grounding in reality and been swept away by romantic plot lines. I have been addicted to American series, often shown at 10pm on E4, since the first episode of Desperate Housewives eight years ago. I almost failed my degree due to the purchase of Ugly Betty series one. Back to back episodes of One Tree Hill consumed my 21st year on earth (I refuse to watch series 7, 8, and 9 – it all went downhill after Luke and Peyton left) and most recently I have lost sleep over Gilmore Girls plot lines – will Luke and Lorelai ever get married?! A few nights ago, I actually scheduled Hart of Dixie as a recurring meeting in my Google Calender which synchronises with my iPhone so that I can be reminded an hour before my weekly fix is on Really TV.
You get the picture.
I am aware of a direct correlation between my cravings for fictional screen drama and my position on the ‘how content are you?’ scale of life. You see, when Desperate Housewives started airing, I was at school, miserable, and dreaming of living in America. When I purchased Ugly Betty series one, I was miserable at university trying to write up a dissertation last minute whilst freaking out about the future and hoping that it might involve living in America. One Tree Hill came along during the first year of living life as a graduate: directionless, stressed, and working out how I might be able to move to America instead of working in the job I had started. Gilmore Girls distracted me during a series of personal crisis that happened in a very short space of time when I didn’t have the brain space to even think of America. And Hart of Dixie’s the only regular thing I have scheduled during an unknown period of time before I actually move to America.
Why? Just…why? I can think of five reasons:
The Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to use the term catharsis with reference to the emotions – in his work Poetics. In that context, it refers to a sensation or literary effect that, ideally, would either be experienced by the characters in a play, or be wrought upon the audience at the conclusion of a tragedy; namely, the release of pent-up emotion or energy. When life is tough, when we are stressed, when emotions run high, we look for a release. Some people paint as a release and see their emotions or energy transformed in to a work of art before them. Some people exercise as a release and get fit. I sit in front of a television screen sharing the emotions of a bunch of fictional characters whilst getting fat.
2) Schadenfreude. Pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.
Let’s face it: both a boring, eventless life and a dramatic, eventful life pale in comparison to the lives written by professional storytellers and acted out by hotter-than-you-will-ever-be stars. A New York Times article in 2002 cited a number of scientific studies of schadenfreude, which it defined as “delighting in others’ misfortune”. Many such studies are based on social comparison theory, the idea that when people around us have bad luck, we look better to ourselves. Other researchers have found that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude than are people who have high self-esteem.
At least you’re not a pregnant, high-school student trying to make your marriage work after you left your NBA headed husband to go on tour with a famous rock star who was in love with you but who also slept with one of your friends and ruined her relationship with your other friend. Who is actually in love with someone else. Right?
They are living on a dramatic suburban street in America with hot husbands. They are attending Yale and dating rich high flyers. They are running the inn of their dreams. They are working for magazines in New York. They are having beautiful, clever children. They are running live music events in North Carolina. They are making risky business decisions. They are being proposed to. They are succeeding. They are failing. They are doing things that we might want to do but are afraid of going for. They are doing things that we can only dream of doing. Wouldn’t you just love it if that guy turned up at your door and declared his love for you? Wouldn’t you love to get Jimmy Eat World to play at your home-grown music venue? Maybe that’s just me…
Who doesn’t love not having to think about your essay, chores, job application, or family for a couple of hours?
The comfort of a weekly occurrence that to you can predict, can control the time and duration of, and enjoy.
We all indulge in those things a bit every now and again – that’s TV, that’s drama, that’s life. But when one is moved to the point of proposing to someone they have yet to ask out on a date via Twitter, perhaps it’s time to turn off the TV, get out and create an adventure out of life – something that you can look back on in years over the years to come and replay in your mind with as much colour as those 60 minutes. Engage with real people and find comfort in the reassurance that we’re in the same boat. To wake up in the morning in anticipation of the next episode of your life series. To do as you see and start that something, make that move, ask out that person, take that risk. Or to use those feelings to express and create.
Personally, I can’t wait to get out to America and do all these things. But in the mean time there are a few blank pages before that chapter that I need to fill, starting with tomorrow. Tomorrow I will not be watching TV.