Episode 011

Episode 011

I’m Victoria Tretis, and this is the Remote Working podcast.

Today I’m joined by Jen and Mar from Interior Fox. 

These two awesome ladies offer affordable interior design, and I was keen to invite them on the show after they totally transformed areas of my own home thanks to their design services.

In today’s show, Jen and Mar talk about how having an office environment and colour scheme that suits your personality is the key to creating a perfect home working environment, how their own personalities and approaches to social media tuned out to be entirely complementary, and how showing up consistently on Instagram over several years led to building trust clients they have never met, as well as an awesome collaboration with H&M Home (although I say Stores in the show – sorry!).

What I think you’re going to really enjoy hearing, is how much they differ when it comes to work/life balance, and they’ve found their own ways to set themselves up for success when they wake up each day.

All of the social media links are in the show notes, so please do check out Interior Fox on Instagram if you’d like to see some beautiful interior design and to learn more about what we’re talking about today.

More about Jen and Mar:
We are Interior Fox, a synced duo, from different parts of the world, thriving in LONDON. Jenna being from the West (NYC) loves big warehouse conversions, clean lines, and modern materials, while Mariana from the East (Philippines) loves worn wood, antiques, mixed with traditional textiles.

We can both appreciate that a space really needs a balance of everything: old world meets new world, modern space planning and yet comfortable finishing touches, which is why we aim to create the perfect balance for you.

New design service in collaboration with H&M Home offering exclusive prices: £99 mood-boards, £199 in-home appointments!

Twitter: @theinteriorfox

www.interiorfox.co.uk

 

Show Notes:

Victoria
Today I am joined by the Interior Fox. Ladies, thank you so much for joining me. Would you like to introduce yourselves?

Jenna
Hello, I’m Jenna from Interior Fox

Mariana
And I’m Mariana.

Jenna
Jen and Mar. We usually go by those, they’re our little nicknames in our email signatures as well.

Victoria
So, what is the Interior Fox?

Jenna
Our brand is all about affordable interior design. So we do a lot of bespoke, detailed design work, but at an affordable flat fee price.

Mariana
I think our business grew and changed a lot from the beginning when I first started thinking, “Hey, we’re going to be really affordable and it’s going to be a flat fee”. And now we’re doing more bespoke projects, larger projects, even smaller projects and collaborations. So it’s definitely changing.

Victoria
I’ve worked with you girls myself, so for the listeners, the Interior Fox did a fantastic collaboration with H&M home which I jumped on immediately, and they did some work on our living room and our kitchen. When I started thinking about the whole podcast idea, I was so keen to get both of you on the show. Because I know that so many remote workers are based at home, but maybe not making the most of their homeworking space. For instance, some people might be working from the kitchen table or on the sofa.

So I wondered, what are the benefits in having a dedicated office space in terms of productivity and motivation?

Jenna
I think it’s always important because we had an office space that we adored and it was great to have a neutral zone that we could both travel into and work from. But actually in the past month or so, we’ve really enjoyed working from home and creating our own little work environment.

Mariana
I almost enjoy working from home a little bit more and we see each other at least twice a week anyway. And we’re always on the phone together or just FaceTiming and we just know we’re there. But it’s really nice to wake up and you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to take shower, get dressed, I’m going to go to my little office”.

Jenna
And it’s right there. I feel like you can work faster and you cut out travel time, you cut out expenses. So having a home office is beneficial. I think one important thing, maybe it’s my own mental purpose, is having a really clear desk. Whenever I finish, I always make sure my desk is clean and I don’t know if that’s an old fashion thing, maybe it’s something my mum told me.

Victoria
It’s like a self-imposed clear desk policy.

Jenna
Definitely.

Mariana
And I think it’s really good to know how you work as well, because for me, I hate drawers. If I have a drawer, I’m going to stick everything in it.

Victoria
Are you a drawer hoarder?

Mariana
I need to see everything that I have to make sure like, “Okay, I threw away everything and everything’s clean and everything’s clear”.

Jenna

Minimal.

Mariana
Yeah. Minimal. And also, it doesn’t matter how big your office space is, if it is a separate room. So right now we’re in Jenna’s office space.

Victoria
Which is beautiful, by the way listeners. It is absolutely gorgeous.

Jenna
It still has so much to be done. So I’ll share you my after photos when I do the actual space.

Victoria
Please do.

Mariana
And mine’s a little smaller. Mine’s like with a second bedroom. So there’s a bed and my desk. So it’s a little bit smaller, but I think it’s good to establish where you can work and make it an office. Then at least you know that’s where you’re going to work. I find working in the kitchen really hard.

Jenna
And distracting too. So I like to find somewhere that I’m not distracted. So from bed, I would easily feel tempted to put Netflix on or something in the background.

Victoria
I agree. I could not work from the bedroom. And when I did work from home, I did see a huge benefit in having that dedicated office space. And a bit like you Mar, it was a spare room with a bed – half bedroom, half office. But actually, the fact that it was a dedicated office space, and that I could close the door on that room after I’d left for the day really helped me separate that whole work-life time, if you like.

Because otherwise, I feel like when you’re working from home, sometimes you can feel switched on to the world of work all the time, particularly with smartphones and email notifications. So even just having that separate, dedicated space that you can walk away from physically, I think can really help.

The other thing I’d really love your brains on is in terms of working at home, would you recommend any particular colour for that dedicated office space? Because I know nothing about how colour affects moods, but I’ve heard a bit of a rumour that it’s true. What are your thoughts on this?

Jenna
I think it depends on the person because it depends how you work. So if you need somewhere that’s calming, then yes, I would do calming colours. I love white. So I think white is my blank canvas, and then I might layer in textures and other materials. But we do know another designer whose office is leopard, pink, brass. It’s nuts. But that’s what excites her. And I guess it brings her spark. So it depends.

Mariana
It’s kind of different. Because my bedroom is all white. My walls are white. I have one dark wall but then the rest is white and that’s where I just calm down. I sleep and it’s really just relaxing. But my office space has a green wall and more patterned cushions. And I like that it’s different, that it feels different. That I’m going into a different room. So I think having a bit of colour there really separates that mentally for me as well. I think it depends on the person.

Jenna
And I guess the type of work that you’re doing as well. So we’re in creative interior design, a creative field. So we thrive off of interiors that look great. So maybe someone who is more mathematical or something with a type A brain, maybe something really minimal is what works for their head space. So I guess it depends what you’re doing too.

Victoria
So it’s a case of thinking about how you work best as an individual in terms of productivity and motivation, and then finding a style and space that that works for you.

Mariana
Definitely.

Victoria
This podcast is also about building trust with people that you may never meet. And I’ve been following you guys on Instagram for a while and I’ve noticed that you’ve done such a fantastic job of building a following and being really consistent with your message. Also you have such wonderful tone of voice and language that you use in your posts.

So how do you build trust and credibility for your brand with people who sometimes you never meet, because you offer these online services as well as in-person?

Jenna
I think it’s really about being yourself and it shocks me how many people are looking at our posts. Because sometimes we’ll post something and I’ll see my neighbour and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, that was so great, I saw that post” and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s so weird”. They’re reading everything and know so much about me.

Mariana
People are actually taking it in.

Jenna
People are reading it. And it’s really what we’re talking about, it’s who we are. It’s what we’re saying.

We’re not being fake or trying to be somebody else.

So I think that shows through in the posts as well.

Mariana
We try to keep really informal and also true to our personalities. So the language is one thing. And the brand awareness.

It definitely takes time to build your brand. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a few years on Instagram and I think the more people that look at your posts, engage, talk to you in your messages, refer a friend and then their family members.

Jenna
You’re also gaining more confidence when people reply to you or they message you. They ask you a question and you’re like, “This is really nice”. People are actually talking to you. And we love getting messages from people and saying, “I love your Instagram, what do you think of this of my room?”. Sometimes we get pictures of people’s houses and we’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s great, do this”. We’ll always help and reply and message, and it’s really nice.

Mariana
Also just an old fashioned phone call. So I think a lot of clients perceived us to be purely online. I think the times that someone felt unsure or wasn’t understanding the process, we’re like, “Well, hey, here’s my phone number. Just give us a call or we’ll call you”. And then once we had that engagement, they’re like, “It’s so nice and refreshing to talk to you, so I feel great. Let’s do this”. So just genuine contact.

Victoria
You mentioned before we came on the show that you were doing some Instagram Lives as well. How have they been going for you?

Jenna
Sometimes we film each other, film ourselves taking a selfie. We’re still starting that and it’s still uncomfortable for me, but I think it’s something we should get used to. So I was thinking, “Oh my God, how many people are going to watch this and what am I saying? Should I practice or should I just go for it?”.

Mariana
I guess you have that little bit of self-doubt like, “Who do I think I am?” or “They’re not going to listen”. But just over time and building your confidence and seeing, even if it’s those five people and maybe they’re just your family, they really love you and support you. They’re watching and listening.

Jenna
But it’s definitely something we’re going to try to do more of.

Victoria
I find that really interesting because from what you’ve said so far and what I know of you as a brand, it sounds like the whole Instagram side of it – the photos, the artistry, the creativity and the captions that you’re adding – that sounds like it’s come really easily to you. So you’re coming up with a little bit more resistance against those because if I compare it to say, my stuff, I couldn’t do it. A live or something like that. That is an absolute no for me.

I found it really hard to find my tone of voice when I started working and doing social media. Because coming from a very corporate background where you were quite formal all the time, I found it really hard to work out what my tone of voice needed to be when I was on social media.

I remember reading something along the lines of how you word things on social media should be a true representation of how you are in person. And of course it should be. That makes so much sense. So why are my social media posts so stiff and corporate? Whereas if you meet me, I’m a lot more normal and human. So it took me quite a lot of work to get those both on the same playing field. I love the way that you were just like, “Yeah, I’ve done it, it’s fine. Yeah, we were really comfortable at that.”

Jenna
I think I personally feel really comfortable writing because I write like I speak, and so I do feel comfortable doing the post, but I actually like it when Mariana does the Stories. I think it’s a good balance. Because it’s free and easy.

Victoria
Just while we’re thinking about Instagram, on one of the other episodes with Amy Purser, I’ve been talking about mental well-being and social media. So how sometimes social media can be such a double-edged sword. Because on one hand, you’re being more connected than ever with people and the world and all of that. But on the other hand, we can get caught up in these vanity metrics and we can feel more alone than ever.

Do you have any experience of this and how do you cope with handling vanity metrics?

Mariana
Do you know what’s really strange? Once we started having Interior Fox on Instagram and we were using that as a business platform as well. I weirdly stopped looking at my normal Instagram. I hardly look at my own Instagram anymore and every time I look at Instagram, I always look at my work and my normal profile. But I try not to look at it as much because I know it’s associated with work.

Whereas for example, my husband or my friends are always like, “I’m going to look on Instagram” or we’re talking and they’re always looking at Instagram, I’m like, “No, no, I’m not going to look at Instagram right now because that’s related to work.”. So on weekends, I’m never on Instagram unless there’s an event or a party. But it’s weird. I really separated that and now it’s towards business.

Jenna
I do the same. Though I am on Instagram a lot. I’m constantly looking at stuff for inspiration.

I would say if there’s anything, it goes back to flying your freak flag. I’m happy to be exactly who I am. So I feel confident in that way.

But as far as going live or saying too much or posting too many photos or selfies, I start to feel self-conscious because I don’t want them to think that I’m this way.

So I guess that isolates your own behaviour or puts you in a weird kind of self-doubt. I think sometimes I’m hesitant to share too much, thinking that they’ll think I’m a weirdo.

Victoria
But we love being a weirdo!

Mar, you said something really interesting about setting yourself a self-imposed boundary. So you’re not checking social media at weekends.

Mariana
Yeah, not much.

Victoria
What other kind of boundaries do you have to have in place to protect your mental well-being or to protect your home balance between social media, online clients, calls out of hours?

Mariana
I’m weirdly really good at this. I don’t know why. I never check my phone when I’m at home and it’s seven o’clock, I’ll charge it and then I’ll leave it on do not disturb and then I won’t check it.

Jen calls my husband and she’s like, “Is she sleeping? It’s 07:30pm”. I just don’t check my phone at night.

Victoria
Have you always been like that?

Mariana
No, it’s only been since Interior Fox. I feel like if I don’t, I’ll always think of work. And I feel like I need to switch off. It’s like my meditation.

Victoria
Is it like, phone goes on charge, do not disturb, in a different room? Can’t see it, completely out of sight. Out of mind.

Mariana
I used to put it in a different room, but now I keep it in my own room. And when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is NOT check my email.

Victoria
You’re like the poster child for all of this, that’s amazing.

Mariana
I usually wake up really early, so I don’t check my email right away. I have some coffee. I have a good mindset and then I’ll check and have my notebook and see what I have to do. But it used to stress me out, and when I feel a little stressed, I feel like my whole day won’t be so good. I don’t want to stress myself out looking at emails. Like, “Oh my God, I have so many things to do”.

Victoria
You’re saying you don’t check emails first thing in the morning, you get your coffee and do stuff for you. And then in the evening, pop your phone on charge, put it on do not disturb, don’t check emails. And that helps protect your mental well-being.

Mariana
Yeah. Jenna’s the opposite.

Jenna
I’m the complete opposite. I’m unhealthy, I can’t help it. At night, I feel like it’s my own little world of creativity. I’m definitely a night owl. So when everyone else is sleeping, I feel like I can get quiet and really look at stuff and feel creative.

Obviously that goes into the zone of, “Well, I saw this email come through and I guess I feel like if I know what’s going on, I feel less stressed”. So the next day when I wake up, I know I have had those five random emails come in. In a sense I like to control it. Like a constant control, which I know is unhealthy and it’s probably not the right thing. But whatever works.

Victoria
It sounds like you’d rather be prepared for the day ahead by knowing roughly what’s come in and what’s going to be on your schedule for the following day. I think there’s pros and cons of both, I’m sure. With any of this there’s not a one size fits all approach, it really is about finding what’s best for you.

Mariana

Definitely.

Victoria
Talk to me a little bit about H&M. How did you come to collaborate with them quite recently?

Mariana
It’s a funny story. Everyone’s like, “Oh my gosh, how did that happen?”.

We had a client and we wanted to look for a shop that we can buy everything in and then style their whole house. Like a top up service. Because we’d go into people’s homes that we’d already completed their projects. So we wanted to come in and do photos. We needed a really great shop that has accessories and stylish bits. So we were going there and buying loads of stuff, taking it to the client’s house. They would end up saying, “I love all of this. I want to buy everything”. That happened two or three times. And so we were like, “Actually there’s something to this”.

Jenna
I just found emails online. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to look for someone in H&M home and see if they have trade discounts”. That’s all I wanted. I was like, “Maybe they do something for interior designers and then we can get a kick back or help our clients out and give them 10%”. So we emailed random emails in the business. We looked through LinkedIn at who was working there and then we got an email back saying, “We don’t do trade discounts. But we saw your Instagram. It looks really interesting”. And we had some dialogue going on and they were like, “Do you want to meet in our office? We’d love to talk to you more about it”.

Mariana
“We have an idea or pitch for you.” So of course.

Victoria
They ended up pitching you? Because of the solid foundation you’d put into Instagram.

Jenna
We did. We did show them the before and after of a client’s house who spent £700 in H&M products.

Victoria
That wasn’t me, if my other half is listening. It wasn’t me. It was close, but not quite that much.

Mariana
I was thinking it happened serendipitously. It was the right time, the right place, the right time in our career and it all happened really harmoniously. And I think we are a perfect fit for H&M and vice versa only because they have so many great stylish, affordable products. We genuinely love their products, so we’re so happy to be a part of the brand.

Jenna
The pitch was “Actually guys, we’re looking for an interior design service in our store because a lot of other big brands have this in-store design service”. I think we fulfilled a need for them and also they fulfil the huge need for us because we had already been working with affordable design, flat fee. It was a perfect fit.

We agreed to the terms. So we had this nice launch. It was an entire week of a launch event and then an ongoing relationship. So we’ve already had at least 10 or 15 new clients. So it’s been really exciting and hopefully doing some events with H&M later this year.

Mariana
In November.

Jenna
Maybe in November we’ll do some in-store, fun, seasonal events. So look out for that.

Victoria
To close out, if you ladies weren’t doing interior design, what would you be doing?

Jenna
I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and that sounds like a cop out. Because I have a fine art background. I was always an artist in a really pure way, but there wasn’t a hunger for something else. I think all of my paths led me here. If I had to take it away from work, if it was purely pleasure, I would be on a beach in California, surfing, tacos, sunshine. Unemployed on the beach. Unemployed and just living life.

Victoria
What about you, Mar?

Mariana
I think I would do furniture design. Try to apply to different companies that do furniture design. That’s what I originally studied in university and I always want to tap into that, maybe later on in my life. I was just telling Jenna that I still would love to explore that with Interior Fox, so maybe in the future.

Victoria
Really?

Mariana
That’s kind of the dream so far.

Victoria
Did you see that Sarah Akwisombe’s done some lighting designs and stuff? Some lamps. If she can productise her brand, then you girls definitely can as well, for sure.

Mariana
I’ll check it out.

Victoria
Thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I appreciate you taking the time.

Jenna
Thanks for having us.

Series One of the Remote Working Podcast

This was the last guest episode before our series conclusion next week. I hope have enjoyed it. It would be super useful if you could give me any feedback on how we can look ahead to Series Two. Would you like to be on the show yourself? Is there anything we should cover to help you as a remote worker? As always, if you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk

 

Episode 010

Episode 010

I’m super excited to have Pete Konieczko-Hansom, Director at James Legal with me today.

Pete and I have known each other from primary school, and I think it’s fair to say we bonded over our hatred of choir practice back in the 80s.

As time went on, Pete qualified as a solicitor in 2008 and his company helped me when I was going through a redundancy, and then also when I started my own business and needed guidance on contracts, company structures, and all that legal stuff.

And as he’s a solicitor who specialises in corporate and commercial law, I really wanted to pick his clever brain on contracts – are they absolutely necessary for peace of mind with clients? Or are they just yet another expense when starting out? And for those of us who don’t have a legal background, what wording should we be looking out for if we don’t understand what we’re reading?

There’s even reference to Battle of the Forms which I thought sounded like a Game of Thrones reference, but Pete managed to explain it all in plain English.

All of Pete’s links are in the show notes, so please do connect with him if you’d like to learn more.

More Pete-tastic info:

Originally from Melton Mowbray I moved to East Yorkshire in 2006 and qualified as a solicitor in 2008, specialising in corporate/commercial law. I have worked in a number of firms across Yorkshire and have advised clients ranging from international PLCs to brand new start-ups.

I am married with two children and my hobbies include running, surfing and reading a good sci do/fantasy book.

www.jameslegal.co.uk
LinkedIn.com/James-legal-limited
uk.linkedin.com/in/petekh

Show Notes

Victoria

I’m here today with my old friend Pete. Pete and I have been friends since we were four years old. We were just having a giggle before we came on the show about, how times have changed over the years.

Pete, thank you so much for joining me today. So obviously, you are a legal beagle. Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

Pete

I qualified in 2008, so, 11 years ago now. I trained in Hull for a large firm. I then worked for another firm, which is where I currently am at – James Legal. I went to Leeds for two or three years, where I worked for quite a large firm, dealing with a large number of PLCs and large companies, but also dealing with small businesses. I then came back to James Legal in January of this year, I came back as a director and the head of the corporate commercial team.

I’m currently sat in our Beverley office, which we’ve only just opened. We now have two offices, we’re now in Hull and in Beverley. We’re slowly expanding our little empire.

Victoria

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing, do you think?

Pete

I don’t know. Probably would have joined the army. Something I always wanted to do, or possibly I would have become a project manager. I’d like to think I’m quite well organised and I’ve got good attention to detail, which obviously helps with when it comes to drafting contracts. I think something like project management probably would’ve been what I ended up in. To be fair, I kind of fell into law, as well. So, it would’ve been something like that.

Victoria

We’re going to be talking about contracts today. For me personally, I feel that, having a contract in place with a client, helps you both manage expectations. So what’s expected of you, both in terms of scope, but also, how much you’re going to be paid and when you’re getting paid.

When I was doing some other research for this interview, I found so many articles out there about how you don’t need a contract, if it’s just a straightforward job, then it’s absolutely fine. What are your thoughts on having a contract in place? Are they really a justifiable investment, when money is tight, when you’re first starting a business?

Pete

I think having a written contract is all about certainty. What we generally find, part of the biggest cause of disagreements, obviously after non-payment, is miscommunication and contracts are really good, are really worth setting up the baseline. It sets out various things like scope of work, payment terms, what you’re actually going to charge. It just avoids issues, or it certainly reduces a number of issues, because you can say, “Well look, the contract clearly says your payment in 30 days. It’s been 60 days, you’re clearly in breach of contract.” Or, “Okay, we’ve agreed we’re going to do five hours of work. We’ve done 10 hours of work. Clearly,” and it’ll say something along the lines of, “Any additional time will be charged at an hourly rate.” You can clearly point to the contract. It’s very hard to wiggle out of it.

Obviously, people will always try and wiggle out of these things and it becomes a personal view on what, commercial view of what you do with it. But, if you have to take any kind of legal action, then you’ve got it in writing. Judges love stuff that’s in writing, quite frankly. It makes life a lot easier, not that you’ll ever get to that stage. But, in a worst case scenario. So in terms of do you need a contract? People always think, “I don’t want a contract. It’s 50 pages long.” And there are contracts that can be 50, 100, 200 pages long. But, for what you’re doing, for this kind of thing, you don’t need a contract really that’s more than maybe about 10 pages long at a maximum. It can be, when you’re starting off as a business, obviously, people don’t want to go to the expense and cost of the contract and I get that, completely understand. We often say to clients, “Look, you’re starting off. Get your feet under the table. There’s no point in spending lots of money getting contracts, if you’re not going to get any work.” So, as a solution, what you can do, you can go the email route. But it’s not just a case of saying, “Yes, I’ll do the work for you”. What I often get with contracts, is a contract summary or front sheet. So things like when you’ll start working for them, when you’ll stop working for them. What you’re actually doing. How much you’re getting paid, whether that’s hourly rate, or a fixed fee for a block of work and then saying what the payment terms are. If you can get those things into the email, and they agree to it, then it’s a legally binding contract. It can be an email. So when people say it can be an email, yes it can be. But for it to be worth the paper it’s written on it, if you like, it’s got to have those key points, really.

So that’s really to start off with, what I would probably say is, have almost like a contract summary sheet, which you can copy and paste into the email. Start dates, end dates, scope of work, payment per hour, or for fixed fee and payment terms and if you’ve got those things in there, you’re probably all right for the first 6 to 12 months, to be honest, until you start building up real traction. At that point, that’s when you have to start thinking, “Okay, I’m taking on some big contracts now, “I’m taking on some bigger clients.” At that point, you might think actually, “Yes, now I’ll go see speak to a solicitor and I’ll get something more formal put in place.”

Victoria

What kind of additions would they add to that initial email agreement then, that would help benefit that business?

Pete

The kind of things you would then be looking at trying not to get too technical, but you’ll want things like limitations of liability. So what happens if you get it wrong. Let’s say you’re tasked to sort out a meeting at a hotel and it’s with a big client and for whatever reason, you get the date wrong and because of that, the meeting doesn’t go ahead and they lose the contract. It might be a contract that’s worth, I don’t know, thousands of pounds. If that’s your fault and you’ve done something wrong, you are liable for it and you could, in theory, be sued by your client. So what you’d generally have in the terms, is you’d have something called limitation liability clause. That would say, “My liability is capped to x amount of money”. It’ll be capped to the price that you paid for our services. So let’s say they’ve paid you £500 for this block of services and you fail, you mess up, then you’ll be trying to limit your liability to that £500, rather then the thousands and thousands of pounds that you’ve lost them the contract. You’d always try to offset that with insurance anyway. So you try and get insurance in place for that, that’s something else to think about.

Victoria

That’s another episode. (See Stuart Pigram – Episode 009)

Pete

That’s kind of outside of the scope of what we’re talking about here. But you’d have termination provisions. So, in plain English, ways that you can end the contract. What often comes along is, you’re starting out the business and you get your first big client and it turns out, actually, 6 months, 12 months, they’re a real time sink. You don’t really want to do anymore work with them and because you were just so happy to get that client, you may be only charging him half of what you’d charge clients nowadays. And I know this is something we’ve talked about in the past, how you re-evaluate actually, “My time, I thought my time was only worth £10 now, but it’s actually worth £50 pounds now”. You do all this work for this client, £10 an hour. You go back to them and you say, “Look, I want to up my fees.” And they say, “No, I’ve signed you up to this two year contract.” You’re probably dealing with someone who’s quite savvy. Knows exactly what they’re doing, taking on a freelancer who’s new to the game, if you like. Knowing full well their value thinking, “If we get them at £10 per hour for two years, this is great.” And you think to yourself, “Well how can I get out of the contract?”

So if you have termination provisions, you can have various things in there. It might be that you’ve got the right to terminate the agreement if they fail to pay you on time three times in a row, for example. Or, if they don’t provide you with instructions. Often, we send out contracts to clients and we expect clients to come back to us with instructions. Sometimes it can be hard, you can’t do your job unless they communicate with you. What we often have is, something in there like, “If we ask you for your instructions and you don’t come back to us within a reasonable period of time to allow us to carry out your instructions, we can terminate a retainer.”

Even though you’re not doing legal work, there’s actually a lot of similarities between what we do. It can get really complex with the termination provisions. But that’s the kind of thing you’re looking at. So, if they fail to pay on time three times in a row, for example, or they fail to give you instructions. Or a common one, if they go bust. Payments are usually one of them. I’ve been doing quite a lot of stuff with suppliers. One of the terms in their contract was that you have to make sure that the goods are ready to be picked up, so our client was supplying these plastic packaging for the food products. And we said, “That’s fine. But you have to make sure the food is basically ready for us to collect, so that we can package it.” And they failed to do that several times in a row and we were like, “That’s material breach of the contract. We can’t fulfil our part of the contract. So we’re terminating the contract.” So it’s applying it to what you do.

Victoria

So it’s protecting both parties.

It sounds like it’s coming back to that managing expectations. So that each side knows exactly what’s expected of them. And then can fall in line accordingly.

Pete

Exactly. And if you build up a good relationship with a client,  you might go, “Actually, I know you’ve not paid me on time, but you’re normally quite good at pay, I’ll let you off.” And that’s fine and you can do that. You don’t have to enforce and that’s the beauty of the contract. You don’t have to enforce a contract, unless you want to. But it’s there as a baseline and it applies to all sorts of contracts. I would say that’s a good baseline. You can always deviate. But if it all goes wrong, you can go, “Well, this is what we’ve agreed. You can’t really argue about it.”

Victoria

I completely understand. I’m so risk averse anyway, that I invested in contracts right from the start. I think I started in the August and by the Christmas, I had a client who had authorised a whole load of extra hours. I had all the email correspondence about it, but they refused to pay the extra hours. Even though it had been authorised. And, yes, I had the security of the contract being in place, but I also felt a little bit timid as a new business owner. And about how strong I should enforce that like, “Hey, we’ve signed a contract. You need to pay.” And also, because they were an ongoing client, or they were supposed to be, I didn’t want to annoy them by going, “I’m not going to do any more work until you pay me.” But in actual fact, if I had stood my ground with that contract, they probably would’ve taken me a lot more seriously.

I know certainly having the contract in place gave me that additional peace of mind. At least it had been agreed in advance, it was just they were being a bit weird about it all.

One thing some people say is, “Is it true that having sight of a contract alone is enough to validate it?”. Let’s say I use an electronic signing system. I make it super easy for the clients to do their part and they can sign it on their phone or whatever. But sometimes you don’t get the contract back. Is the fact that I know that they’ve read it enough?

Pete

Yes and no. It’s for a business to business, you need to be careful with this kind of thing. It’s different with business to consumer.

But what we’re dealing primarily with business to business, and the presumption is, if you’ve seen the terms and conditions and you’ve had the chance to read them, whether or not you read them is almost irrelevant. Because that’s not how the law works. Have you had sight of the terms and conditions? Have you said anything about them? If you disagree with them, you’re kind of under obligation to say, “Actually, I disagree with this. Can we change it?”

The courts generally view businesses and business people, as being sophisticated and by that you assume because you’re in business, you’ve got a general understanding.

Even if that understanding is just, “Actually, I’ve got a contract in front of me. I don’t understand it. I’ll go speak to a solicitor about it.” And if you fail to do that, that’s on your head.

So, is it enough? The problem you’ve got is, they’re going, “Well, I never saw the contract.” But what I often say to clients, because there’s a thing called battle of the forms, which is perhaps getting a little bit deeper.

Victoria

It sounds like a Game of Thrones episode.

Pete

It’s not as exciting as that, unfortunately. A lot of lawyers get very excited about it, but it’s not that exciting. What it means is, let’s say, you send out your terms to your client. Your client goes, “That’s great, thanks Vic. I accept, but subject to my terms”. So then the presumption is, you go, and you don’t say anything. The presumption is then you’ve accepted their terms. So you would have to then go back, “Well that’s great, I’m grateful you’ve accepted, I’m really happy to work for you, but it’s subject to my terms”. Then, if they don’t reply to that, it’s subject to your terms. But then they’ll go, “That’s great, but it’s subject to our terms”.

It comes down to who’s communicated their terms, it’s complicated. But some really do get excited about this. It comes down to which terms were in operation. You have that knowledge so you can say to clients, “Are you sending out your T&Cs?”. You might be sending out T&Cs to their clients on their behalf. So you need to be aware of that, as well. It’s just worth being aware of that. Effectively, it’s whoever’s sent their terms and conditions last.

So, going back to the first question, yes, probably sight is enough. However, I would always try and insist on a signed one. What we do here at James Legal is, we always send out an order form. We always say, “Please send this back signed”. And at the moment, we don’t have an e-signature system in place. That is something that we are looking into and will have in future. But you often find a lot of law firms don’t do that. They’ll have, “Here’s our terms and conditions. Here’s our client care letter. Please sign it and return it to us.” But then, and this is common across a lot of law firms, we have something in there like, “Even if you don’t sign and return the T&Cs, you’re still bound by them”. By instructing us and asking us to continue to act, you are agreeing to these terms. As long as you’ve got something in there along those lines, then that’s the added protection. But in an ideal world, which doesn’t exist, you will always try and get something signed.

Victoria

That makes a lot of sense.

So with this whole battle of the terms. Sometimes the clients will come back, and this is across any industry, they’ll ask us to sign an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement. What are your thoughts with how to respond in that situation and is there anything that we should be looking for in particular, in terms of the NDA, before we sign it?

Pete

What I’ve seen happen quite a lot is, clients will try and put other terms into the NDA. So that’s the first thing to look out for. Stuff that is contradictory to your terms.

So if you sent out your terms and they go, “That’s great, that’s brilliant. Thanks, happy with your terms, but here’s our NDA. Please sign it”. And the way you can potentially get around that is, you can put confidentiality provisions into your basic terms. So you’ll have something in there saying that it’s called a mutual confidentiality clause. You basically say, “Anything you disclose, we agree to keep confidential. Anything you disclose, we agree” and vice versa. It’s all covered there.

NDAs aren’t the most complicated documents, if you know what you’re looking at. And the problem you’ve got there is, do you know what you’re looking at? It’s just being aware of what’s in there. If it’s the first few times, or if you’re unsure about it, it’s always worth speaking to a solicitor.

Personally, I don’t know what other firms charge. We don’t charge a huge amount to look at, if you said to me, “Pete, have a look at this NDA.” And obviously, given our long-standing friendship, I’d probably look at it quickly for free for you. But not necessarily for everyone else.

Victoria

For everyone else it would be £1,000,000.

Pete

But you’re probably looking at maybe an hour of time maximum to look at it and advise on it. So in the grand scheme of things, you’re not looking at a huge amount of money, to have that certainty. With that, once you’ve done a few, you get a feel for what’s in there and it’s looking to see whether it’s a mutual confidentiality provision.

What you want to look at is whether it’s a one way one, or whether it’s mutual and it’s usually obvious in the language. So you’d be looking at the terms and the legal jargon. They can change it, it can be more bespoke than that. But you just look to see who the discloser is and you look to see who the recipient is. If they are the discloser, what you’ll see at the head of the contract. It might be, Bob and Bob Limited and in brackets “discloser”. Then they might have the freelancer in brackets, “recipient”. That way, you think that’s a good clue in one way and they’re only protecting themselves. Whereas, what you want to look at in the terms, if it says “recipient”, it’ll be the person who receives the confidential information. If it says “discloser”, then you probably know that it’s a mutual one. Because at the end of the day, you’re potentially disclosing confidential information to them about your business and vice versa. So you want to make sure that you’re protected as well.

Other things to look at would be, to see if there’s any kind of damages clause in there. You don’t see them an awful lot, but some of the bigger companies will try and sneak something in saying about if you breach for terms of the NDA confidentiality agreement, that you’ll have to pay them x amount of damages. That’s the kind of thing that you maybe want to be looking out for. But, if in doubt, get legal advice. It shouldn’t cost a huge amount. It certainly won’t cost as much as it would to draft a contract. And is it worth it? Yes, for your first couple of NDAs you’re signing, yes, it’s probably worth getting someone to look at it. If you can build up a relationship with a law firm, most law firms will look at stuff like that for very little money. Because they want, same as you’re trying to maintain the relationship with your clients, we’re trying to do the same thing.

Victoria

Like I said, I am particularly risk averse. So I gain huge peace of mind from knowing that I have somebody like you, who I can turn to, should I need some kind of expert advice. Because I’d rather turn to somebody like you and pay you an hour’s worth of time, rather than bumble my way through Google and not really understand what it is I’m searching for, let alone reading and then hoping that I’ve got it right.

For me, I believe that having a contract and having good legal advice, is a sound investment and that it shouldn’t be considered as just an expense. It is a genuine business investment, because I feel like a business benefits from it.

Pete

The best clients are the ones that understand the value of legal advice and they don’t see it as, “I’ve got to pay my lawyer”. It means I can get on with my business and you can get on with doing your job, whatever that is.

What I often say to people when they talk to us. The contract is £1,000, for example. And they say, “That’s a lot of money”. I’m like, “Well, yeah, but think about how often you’re going to use that contract”. If that’s your contract and you’re going to use that for the next 5 or 10 years. It’s like paying for over 10 years, that’s £100 a year.

How much do you pay for your insurance? How much do you pay for your car insurance? It’s having that peace of mind. It’s the same kind of thing, really. It’s understanding the value of it, because if you don’t have it, quite frankly. I know how expensive it can be, when you get into a dispute it can spiral out of control and you can save a lot of time and effort, not just money, but time management.

If you’re running a business, you don’t want to be dealing with a dispute. Because it is really time intensive and a well drafted contract can help stop that from happening. No guarantees, obviously.

Victoria

Slip that disclaimer in there.

Pete

Flash a disclaimer across the screen.

Victoria

Thank you so much for your time, Pete. I will add your contact details into today’s show notes, so people can find you and contact you directly, should they wish to work with you. So thank you so much for the time.

Pete

My pleasure. Thanks very much and thanks for the opportunity.

 

Series One of the Remote Working Podcast

So over the next few episodes, I’m going to be having some fantastic guests coming in to speak with me about all of the issues relating to building a remote working business and all of the tech issues and the tech challenges that building a team and building a trust along the way as well. So I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk.

#cheekyask

If you liked the episode, please do give us a review. It will only take a moment of your time and I will be forever in your debt. Thank you so much.

Episode 009

Episode 009

 In this week’s episode, I’m joined by Stuart Pigram of The Trust Insurance Group.

For complete transparency, I do have my own business insurance with Trust, and I was keen to invite Stuart on the show to talk about whether insurance is yet another paperwork exercise when setting up, or whether it can bring peace of mind to policy holders.

I think you’re going to enjoy Stuart doing his best to convince us that insurance isn’t dull, and therefore he’s not dull by association – because he’s really not!

In our conversation, we talk about the perceived risks with running a business, the downsides of both over- and under-insurance, and the changes he’s made within his business so that he can offer better flexible working opportunities to his team.

All of Stuart’s details are in the show notes, so please do connect with him if you’d like to learn more about what we’re talking about today.

More Stuart-tastic info:

Stuart Pigram is Managing Director of the Trust Insurance Group. With over 25 years of experience in the insurance industry he takes pride in advising clients throughout the UK on how they can minimise risk and protect their business. In his spare time Stuart is a keen runner and cyclist.

https://www.thetrustgroup.co.uk/

 

Show Notes:

Victoria

Today I am joined by Stuart Pigram from Trust Insurance Group. Stuart, it is lovely to see you today.

 

Stuart

Morning. How are you?

 

Victoria

I’m very well, thank you. And thank you for joining me today. So we’ve had a little chat off-air already and one of the things we would like to talk about today is, who are you? And what do you do?

 

Stuart

Well, Victoria, thank you. And thank you for the opportunity of having this conversation with you this morning. My name is Stuart Pigram, and I am the Director of the Trust Insurance Group. We are an independent firm of commercial Insurance Brokers.

It sounds really dull, doesn’t it? And I can assure you that, well, hopefully I’m not dull and hopefully what we do isn’t dull. But an Insurance Broker, as I see it, works in very many areas of business, a real diverse range of businesses and is concentrating on the risks that are associated with that business. And how we, as an insurance expert, can help those businesses manage those risks and make sure that they are being protected sufficiently for their requirements. I think, traditionally, perhaps you would say an Insurance Broker goes and finds me my cheapest car quote, or goes and finds the cheapest insurance quote for my house or my dog or my business.

The internet obviously now controls a large amount of what we do, and that has then led to our business having to change, to take into account the internet provision around insurance. We’ve all heard the adverts, whether they’re for little red telephones jumping around or Italian opera singers or meerkats, they are very good at setting an algorithm, inserting a load of information about you, about your risk or about your business, and then electronically sourcing insurance quotes. For the likes of cars and houses and pets and travel that works perfectly well.

And so how our business has changed over the last 5 or 10 years is that we previously set ourselves in that space of being a broker who ran around the market to try and find the cheapest quote, and 10 or 15 years ago, that’s what we were doing. And that’s what we spent our time doing. Now, systems and computers and mechanics and algorithms work that all out. We have changed our business model to enable us to evolve with business. So what an Insurance Broker did 10 or 15 years ago is perhaps very different to what an Insurance Broker does or should do now.

So the way that we work is that we will take our time and talk to our potential clients to truly understand their business, to truly understand what they do, how they do it. Do they supply a product? Where does that product come from? Where is it going? What’s it being used in? Are they providing advice? Are they providing services? Whatever it may well be within whatever area of business from a professional consultant through to a leisure venue, a hotel and nightclub, a factory and a machinery workshop.

Any type of business UK based, PLC, size really doesn’t matter. Because the fundamental point is that every one of those businesses, whether they turn over a pound or 100 million have similar risks. And those risks may widen as the area or the business grows, or those risks may actually get smaller as the business grows, because the business itself is managing those risks more comprehensively.

So by understanding the profile of our business, by understanding the attitude of the owner, all the shareholders or the directors. And their attitude towards risk, whether there are people that are very, very happy to take risk or more risk averse, and how an insurance programme can align with the attitude of that buyer.

 

Victoria

So are you saying that through those conversations that you have with the potential clients, you’re offering a different level of service that you can get with the online price comparison sites for instance.

 

Stuart

The point is that if you are running a business, whether you are a consultant, whether you’re a florist, whether you’re a second hand car dealer, one would hope that you’re very good at what you do. So, that is your skill set. And what we bring to that table, hopefully, is by saying, “Okay, Mr. Gardener, Mr. Car Dealer, Mrs. Consultant, whatever you are, talk to me about you. Let me understand you, your business and your risks because you’re not an expert at understanding your risks. You’re not an expert at knowing what your insurance exposure is. So how can you fill boxes in online and categorically know that you are protected? If you don’t know what you’re trying to protect yourself against?” That’s key from a business point of view. Whether it be from managing risks or whether it be from setting or growing the business. Before you do anything, you got to work out what you are, and therefore where your risks are.

 

Victoria

I think that’s a really valid point to be honest with you, because I know when I’ve looked at price comparison sites before, I don’t even understand what some of the questions mean, and what the knock-on implication is of getting something slightly wrong. And whether that leads to an under insurance or an over insurance. I genuinely don’t know. So it sounds like you bring a lot of value to your clients by having that conversation and really getting to understand what their business is and what the risks are as well.

 

Stuart

The majority of the first conversations that I will have with a prospective client or with a business that we’re assisting in any way is I would not open the conversation talking about insurance. I would open the conversation talking about you, talking about your business. And a lot of people have put it across to us, or put across to me that perhaps we’re almost acting as a translator in that, as you say, you don’t know how to answer which questions and the implications of how you answer those questions. So if you bare your soul to me and say, “Okay, so this is what we do, this is how we do it and this is where we do it”, then I can translate your comments into insurance questions, to satisfy underwriters to make sure that risks are being protected properly. And ultimately, perhaps all of this sounds expensive, all of this perhaps, from a new start-up or from a small business perspective may well be listening to this and thinking “Well, that sounds all very expensive, it all sounds out of our league or out of our costs”.

But as I mentioned earlier on, whether it’s a one-man, two-man, three-man, four-man band or a multinational, every business and every business person has business risks. And whether you consider that insurance purchase as simply buying a piece of paper, or buying a certificate to satisfy the requirement of a landlord or of an exhibition. We get a number of people coming to us saying “We’ve never bought insurance before, but we’re exhibiting our products at the NEC and I need some public liability insurance”. Well, so why are you buying? Are you buying it because you want to protect yourself? Or are you buying it because you need to satisfy a piece of paper? And may I say that yes, if you are buying an insurance policy to satisfy a piece of paper, buy it as cheaply as possible online. Because if you don’t perceive a risk, and you don’t perceive there to be an exposure to yourself personally or to your business, financially, from the implications of what you do, and you need to satisfy a piece of paper, that’s absolutely fine.

And the internet is very good at supplying those pieces of paper because you can get them very cheaply and by answering a few questions. I would suggest value your business, value your clients, value your staff, and value yourself personally, then you would be better served, seeking the advice of an Insurance Broker.

 

Victoria

In your mind, if you’re saying that every business and every business person has an element of risk, is there ever going to be a situation in your mind where you wouldn’t need an insurance policy?

 

Stuart

I have conversations with people and they talk to me about what they do, they talk to me about who they are, where they do it, etc. And obviously because of what I do, I will ultimately put a proposal together to cover risks or from an insurance point of view.

If you are an individual, trading as business or a sole trading limited company, and you have no external shareholding or no external ownership to worry about, you have no staff, you have no clients and you have nowhere that you work out of then you don’t need any insurance.

Ultimately, if you are a consultant, travelling around to businesses, or having conference calls or making telephone calls, working from home, your exposure is tiny. So you could say to me, “What could happen?”. Well, you could cause injury or accident to somebody that you were visiting, you could cause injury or accident or damage to somebody’s premises that you’re working on. And you say, “Well, I only walk in with a laptop and sit down at a chair and drink a cup of coffee”. And so your risks are tiny.

You have no staff. So you do not have any people that are responsible to you for their well-being. Then in that scenario, I would very happily have a considered conversation with somebody and say, “Your risks are tiny, you may not require the financial security of an insurance policy”. However, because of the simplicity of that type of insurance policy, you may well consider the cost of it. Which perhaps could be less than £10/£20 a month, to be a worthwhile comfort blanket or be a worthwhile cover all to say, “You know what? This is me. This is my business, this is my name”. And if anything were to go wrong, I would want you to be protected properly.

So, again, this all goes back to why am I buying an insurance policy? Am I buying an insurance policy because I want to portray myself as a professional, considered organisation when going to see clients or when trying to sell myself. And you see quite often on gardening vans or maintenance vehicles that are fully insured and perhaps that’s done to give their customers some comfort that when you’re coming to work on my premises, if something goes wrong, you’re insured.

Obviously, whatever size of business cost is an issue. And we all try and maintain our costs and we all try and make sure they’re as low as is right, and there is no way around it. Insurance is a bottom line cost, it is not recoverable, there is no VAT charged on the majority of types of insurance. So, VAT registered businesses can’t recover 20% of the cost. It is a bottom line cost. The only areas of insurance which are a legal requirement are employers’ liability in the event of you employing an individual outside of your direct family and third party motor insurance. So, if you are a business that employs a person and drives around in a car or van, you require two types of insurance. That is it.

When you then look at considering your wider risks and the financial exposure to the business and/or the risk in the event of something happening, then you may consider widening that and incorporating some public liability or incorporating some cover for some office content or for some contents that you travel around with. Or in the event of a professional services business or consultant, a professional indemnity insurance, which covers the financial exposure of any advice that you may be giving as part of your business. All of those are a part of a package which we as a broker would put together. And one of the things that we do at Trust is make sure that our clients know what they’re buying. And our clients are hopefully receiving full value for what they’re buying. So when we put a quotation together, we make sure that business or that individual knows in almost a kind of menu of services, which options are available, which ones are strongly advised which ones are questionable.

I’ve recently been working with a new tech company, and did exactly the same thing with them. So we did it over Skype, and we had conversations, again about their business and about their exposure. They were two young guys that are both very tech savvy, they walk around with a mobile phone and a laptop under their arm and pretty much work wherever they can work. So their initial point to me was still that we don’t have any risks.

The laptops, mine, personally, it’s covered under my house insurance. And we may go and work in a coffee shop or we may hire an office space for an hour.

By the end of the conversation, they were more aware of their exposure as a business. They were a company with two individuals, so they effectively are both employees of their limited company. They have an exposure as they supply a product and they equally have a financial exposure as Directors, they have advice exposures, etc.

So I created for them a menu of services, a menu of products, and we collectively agreed on which products were right for them. And that also is something that’s very important to me within Trust, is that hopefully we sit on the same side of the table as our clients in that we become part of their business. We are aware of their business risks and therefore manage them and protect them with a client. We’re not here from behind a folder to sell policies, we’re here to open that out and say, “Look, if you want to protect this it’s going to cost you £100, £1,000, £10,000, £100,000”. Whatever it may well be depending on the risk. I can’t control that pricing, that pricing is set by the insurance company. So whether you are buying a product online or through a broker, the price is set by the insurance company. The dynamic of that price is made up from the information that you’re telling that insurance company. So going back to you becoming a bedroom insurance expert or an office insurance expert, then how can you fill in that information, knowing what you are telling the insurance is relevant to your risk?

 

Victoria

For complete transparency, I do have my insurance policy with Stuart at Trust Insurance Group. And I think one of the things that was really refreshing to me, because I am particularly risk averse, was if I was spending online, I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, I probably do need that as well. Yeah, I definitely need that and that”. And I ended up ticking all these boxes. Yet, when you and I had a conversation, it pretty much worked out cheaper to go with you anyway. Because you’re saying, “Well, actually you could get that but it’s not really a good use of your money, you’ll be better off doing this”, or “You’re over insured on that, why don’t we bring that figure down, and therefore the insurance premium comes down”.

So just by having that conversation with you, I was instantly able to:

1. Gain peace of mind from knowing that I do have an appropriate level of insurance

2. Bring my insurance premiums down as well and almost feel like I don’t have to worry about it anymore

It’s never going to be that niggle in the back of my mind, because I have the comfort of knowing that you’ve had your eyes on it. And you’ve given me that reassurance.

 

Stuart

We’ve had many conversations with many people that have simply asked the question, in terms of, what do I need? And I guess it’s like anything isn’t it? We all pretend we’re experts at lots of different things, whether it’s our health, whether it’s our money, whether it’s our business. And actually, do you know what? There is no harm in asking a second opinion. There is no harm in asking somebody to review what we’re doing. But the Trust Insurance Group, for all businesses, we offer a free risk review. The risk review is carried out either at a client’s premises, if it is relevant from a machinery or a manufacturing or an engineering type point of view or from a visitor attraction. Or simply over the telephone or over video link with perhaps your consultant business. And that should take no more than an hour of time, in which I’m very happy to sit with any of your listeners and any of your contacts that would benefit from that review. 

The only stipulation that we put on doing that is that I’m not here to be an opera singer or to be a meerkat. I’m not here to churn your existing insurance policy around the marketplace. I’m here to actually open that up and say, “Is it right?” Because equally I’m not going to place an insurance policy for somebody that I can’t myself look that person in the face and say, in your case, “Yes Victoria, this is the right cover for you”. I think one of the things that we mentioned earlier, you were talking about the value or the exposure of under insurance or the value or the exposure of over insurance. And I guess like anything it needs to sit in a middle ground and like anything it needs to be just right. And why we do what we do, the way we do it, is that it enables us to sit with our clients, with our customers, and understand what we are collectively buying is right.

So if the proverbial hits the fan, and something’s gone wrong, whether its financial, whether it’s physical, my clients have suffered some pretty serious claims over the years. And it is rather sobering. It is rather important when you are standing outside, the literal outside, the burning building. And knowing that what we ourselves and the client have put together as a programme is sufficient to ensure they can continue in business. If I were turning around and saying, “Give me a look at your insurance costs, and I’ll save you 10%”, then how can I know that what we are protecting is correct? So there is a reason why we do what we do. It is a consultative approach, I guess, if you like towards insurance, hopefully it’s slightly different to particularly the comparison site approach in that, I ask you to talk to me about your business. I will do the translation, I will do the insurance bit and then come back to you and tell you how we can consider managing your risks.

 

Victoria

So it’s almost like the business owner is talking about what they know best, what they know best about their business, and it’s going over to you for that translation piece.

 

Stuart

And I’m sure you know, with people that you work with that actually, you know what, once you get people in the right frame of mind, they’re quite happy to talk about themselves.

 

Victoria

Everyone’s favourite subject, right?

 

Stuart 

Absolutely. Everyone’s an expert.

 

Victoria

Talk to me about your team, because you mentioned that you have slowly transitioned to slightly more remote team focus. So what was it like before? And what’s it like now?

 

Stuart

I think again, Trust Insurance Group has been in existence for 15 years. We are privately owned. And we’re vividly independent. And I think one of the really important things for me, and for us, is to be able to, as I say, sit in front of a client, look them in the eye and say, “Yeah, this is the right thing for you”. And by ensuring our continued independence, I can make sure we do that.

The business however, as I’ve said, in terms of our clients, has changed. And the underlying ethic that we have running through the business is that we challenge everything and everything that we do. We have weekly meetings within the office in which it involves every member of staff at all levels. And there is nothing that’s not on the table. There is nothing that’s not to be talked about. That’s really refreshing. And I think, from a communication point of view, aligned with a Trust point of view, by bringing all of your staff into decisions, into understanding. When I say all of our staff, there are five and a half of us and the half is a part timer. And so we will sit down and whether it’s five minutes, whether it’s half an hour or whether it’s three hours, and we will discuss everything and anything that anybody wants to talk about.

So over the last 12 or 18 months, the challenges have continued to come. We have gone from being a business which services a wide range of insurance products, I mentioned cars, houses, pets and focused in on where we can add value. Focused in on business insurance, on commercial insurance for companies. And part of doing that is that like I’ve said, the internet has a lot to do with how the business world has changed. So we have had to invest in technology and we have invested in a new computer system, which by the middle of December, our entire business will be electronic, our entire business will therefore be portable. And from a GDPR point of view, from a protection point of view, our entire business will be secure. Where we were then, we had banks of filing cabinets in this office where we had old files, new files, existing laptops, etc. Everything now is electronic.

We are trying to demonstrate to our clients how portable we are by making sure that everybody that has contact with a client has a company mobile phone which their number is passed on to the clients that they deal with. And I’m not I’m not suggesting people working 24 hours a day, but I found it in conversations that I have with clients. With the greatest respect, people don’t want to talk to receptionists, some people don’t want to talk to secretaries, people want to talk to the people they want to talk to. So the best way of doing that is by getting mobile phones and direct hotlines and all the rest of it.

 

Victoria

I think that brings up another challenge in terms of boundaries. So how do you set those boundaries with your clients who do want to speak with you directly, but potentially you need to be on call quite a lot, I imagine, as well in case there is an emergency. How do you set that expectation?

 

Stuart

You’re absolutely right. But I think some of the words that we mentioned earlier on with regard to a team and trust is very much how we work with our clients, enable our clients to manage their expectations of us. And I think that perhaps, we could all have been guilty over the last three, five years of getting an email and having to reply to it immediately and getting a phone call and having to answer it or now getting a text or a WhatsApp message of any sort. And the joy of the blue tick, in terms of, “You’ve read it, why haven’t you replied?”. And I think as soon as you start almost stepping back and saying, “My working hours are this” or “I will review my emails these times” or “I will answer phones during these times” and maybe not having to structure it. But by practising what you preach, then I think your colleagues, your clients, your acquaintances of all sorts will understand how you work. I personally do exactly that to the point that I will make sure that every single piece of correspondence that comes into the business by telephone or by email is responded to within a reasonable time. And how do you gauge reasonable time? Well, if it’s somebody asking a question about your photocopier, then that will be replied to within a suitable time. If it’s somebody saying, “I have a client of yours and my buildings on fire” then again, that’s dealt with differently.

 

Victoria

Hopefully they would have rang you rather than sending an email.

 

Stuart

It’s an education thing. I’ve mentioned we recently acquired a large client, a large PLC, which we’re looking after. For the last six months, me and a couple of the guys here have almost been re-educating that business into how we work. When we started working with them, I’m not kidding you, we got four, five, six emails a day asking questions. They were all valid questions, but they didn’t need an immediate answer. We now have a mechanism with that business where we have a weekly catch up or a bi-weekly catch up, we have quarterly meetings, and things are managed in a certain way where we can begin to control the flow of communication that’s coming in.

 

Victoria

What you’ve done there as well is you have understood what their communication preferences are, recognised them, met them to a certain degree, but then gently move them in a direction that suits you more as a business model.

 

Stuart

But ultimately, it gives them what they need. And it goes back to what I’m saying earlier on about previously. Perhaps they didn’t know what they needed. So their default mechanism was: anything with the word “insurance” in it, throw it to the broker and ask for an immediate answer, because then it’s off my desk and it’s sorted. So they don’t know, nine times out of 10, they didn’t know the questions they were asking, and therefore the importance of those questions.

So by working that way, it enables me to police how our clients are using our services, but it also enables us to be extremely open and extremely flexible with our staff, with the people that work with us. Nobody works for me, everyone works with me.

 

Victoria

Very good. I like that terminology.

 

Stuart

And I can’t do what I do without them and they can’t do without me.

 

Victoria

The truth comes out, Stuart.

 

Stuart

So, for example, people have doctors’ appointments, people have kids at dentists, people have dogs that aren’t very well. And when you are working regionally and if you’ve got a 10/15/20/30 mile drive to the office, should you have to take a day in today’s technological world, should you have to take a day off? Because you got a dentist appointment? It’s bananas. So, by having that flexibility, where people have got access to a system through the investment in the technology, people got access to their telecommunications, to their mobile phone when they need it. And also access to people within the office by email or by voice conversation or by video. Then why spend an hour in the car to drive somewhere for two hours to then go back to the dentist? Why waste today’s holiday?

I have people here that have young children, that are working in school friendly hours. And equally, whether it is people having their holiday, I think it’s a common adage, isn’t it? But if you give, you get back, and I know that everybody within this business would have no issue in saying to me, “Stuart, I’ve got this happening on Tuesday. I’m going to work from home on Tuesday”. And like a lot of things, I think if communication is there, and everyone knows what’s going on and going back to our weekly meetings and getting back to our communication throughout the business. If everybody knows what’s going on, then it’s fine.

 

Victoria

See what you did there.

 

Stuart

If you can create that trust within your colleagues, within your staff, then you’ll get it back. And I know I can assure you I’ve been there, seen it, done it in terms of tricky members of staff and people are your biggest issue. It is difficult, there is no way around it. But I think if if you have that attitude within your business where people know what’s going on, there’s a line of communication and there is an element of flexibility, then everybody in that business will get a better flow and whether that’s from satisfaction from the work you do or ultimately the work that you provide for your employer.

Victoria

I think it comes back to just having that foundation of trust with your team members. So you’re keeping the communication lines open. You’ve got this open door policy going on, and you’ve got this Law of Reciprocity going on. Whereas you’re doing work for me, but I’ll also give you this little bit of leeway if you need the dentist as well. So I think that’s all great.

You mentioned about moving to this electronic system, and all of that will be up and running in mid-December. So how will that affect how you work as a team?

 

Stuart

Basically we are also in the process of relocating our premises and moving to smaller premises. And I think again, that’s come from challenging what we do and looking at how perhaps other businesses are working in a similar sector, and I spent a fair bit of time in Birmingham with insurance companies. And a lot of their sub offices have got London headquarters, but they’re sub offices. I walk in and I see very much smaller desks and no pictures of children around because everyone’s working in pods. And almost by taking a bit of that flexibility, and by again, investing in a system, in kit, so the people that are our colleagues, our staff have the right technology to do their business. They have the ability to access through a VPN, which I can now sound like I know what I’m talking about. So they can VPN into the office and then enable them to access our client records, make changes, make transactions from wherever they are in a secure environment.

So I think that by instilling that trust and that flexibility within a working process, aligning that with the right technology, and ultimately the right people, then I think the majority of businesses in a consultative space can become much more fluid and less reliant on their premises. And, again, I’m an Insurance Broker, I’m a risk expert. So I look at the risks of this business. And 6/12/18 months ago, if this building had burnt down, we would have had an issue, we would have had a paper issue. Touch wood that it doesn’t happen in the next six weeks! By December, we won’t have an issue. And it enables us to therefore be a little bit more resilient ourselves a little bit more protective ourselves for our business moving forward. I guess it’s like a lot of things you’ve said yourself that you got to practice what you preach and whether it’s within the organisation with business process with what you’re continually telling your clients, then you got to start doing some of it yourself.

I talk about that we don’t do car insurance, we don’t do house insurance. Well, about nine months ago, I owned an insurance broking business and I insured my car with Marks and Spencer’s. How can I possibly advise my clients that the best place for them to ensure their car is with me? And that transparency runs throughout the business, from our staff, from our colleagues, to our clients and suppliers.

 

Victoria

Do you wish in hindsight you’d niche down just the business and commercial insurance ages ago?

 

Stuart

As I say, the markets moved. And I think that perhaps the attitude of people who have moved in that 10 or 15 years ago, your insurance broker was like your solicitor, like your accountant. They knew everything and did everything for you and they then did the same thing for your children or they did things for your other acquaintances.

 

Victoria

I thought it was just my parents who had people like that.

 

Stuart

I remember working in a business in West London, and the guy that ran it prior to me taking it on, he was godfather for about 15 of his clients’ children, it was just the relationships that they had were really strong. And I think that changes, obviously, with the invention of the Internet. When I now talk to my clients, and I say to them, “We can insure your business, but we’re no good at insuring your car”. I think 10/15 years ago, people would have thought, “That’s a risk”. That’s exposing you, because another broker is going to talk to that client, and then they’re going to say, “We’ll insure your car. And whilst we’re doing that we can do your house. And hey, while we’re doing that we can do business”. But I think so much goes back to communication, by explaining to your clients that this is what we do. And the best thing that I can do for my clients, for your listeners, is that if everybody knows what’s going on, then it’s actually quite a simple process.

So do I wish that we changed earlier? Well, no. I think that there were other factors that enabled us to require to have those other accesses in the previous years, I think that by doing it now makes us a stronger business. Whether you’re looking at growing your business or whether you’re looking at protecting it, if the first thing you can do is understand what it is, then you can look at developing it or protecting it. And by me understanding what we do, it enables us to have these kind of conversations. Years ago people would walk into a room, whether it’s in a networking environment and once you’ve got insurance on your badge, people walk the other way because they think, “Oh my god he’s going to try and sell me a car policy” or “He’s probably got a good deal on travel insurance this month”. We are not insurance salespeople. We are insurance buyers on behalf of our clients.

 

Victoria

And nice people along the way as well.

Last question. If you weren’t doing all things insurance, and aside from potentially opening yourself up to being godfather to 15 children, what would you be doing?

 

Stuart

That’s one of those great questions and do you cliché it by saying, “I’d be sitting on a beach somewhere, I’d be climbing a mountain”. But years ago when I decided to work in insurance, like a lot of things it came by chance. I left school and I started a job in an insurance broking business and isn’t that everybody’s dream? But one of my issues is I’m not very good at sitting still. I’m not very good at being in the same place for any length of time. So somebody said to me, “Well, being an Insurance Broker, that’s tough because you’ve got an office job”. I haven’t, I’ve got a job. The best use of my time is me being out meeting people and me being out seeing people and looking at their businesses and understanding what they’re doing. So I consider myself extremely lucky in that I do sincerely love what I do. And do I enjoy moving bits of paper or making transactions on a system? No, I don’t. But fortunately, I don’t need to do that. And half the people here would trust me to do it. So it’s great.

But I don’t think I’d want to do anything else. If you said to me, “Go and take six months off and sit on a beach”, I think I probably last six days and then be bored out of my mind. And so by being mobile, by being portable, by being remote, then, yes, I’d love to travel the world. And I could travel the world and still do what I do as a day job. So, as a rather long answer to your simple question, what I would actually do is I would probably do exactly what I’m doing from lots of different places.

 

Victoria

So the next question is, will you do that? How are you going to make that happen?

 

Stuart 

Some of us are reaching larger or bigger number age milestones.

 

Victoria 

I don’t know, I’ve got a big milestone next year.

 

Stuart

Although it might start with the same letter, it’s a very different time. And the R word comes up in various conversations as far as retirement is concerned. I look at it quite seriously that I am approaching 50. But I am not even halfway through my working life. Because a lot of my clients I’ve looked after and worked with for a number of years. So why would I want to stop? Why would I want to stop talking to my friends? Why would I want to stop going to see my mate? Why would I want to stop doing that? Just because I’m 60 or 65, or whatever it may well be, and I should retire.

So will I make that happen? Yes, absolutely. I’ll make that happen. And it will enable me to continue what I do, and continue to enjoy what I do from various places. And who knew that 10 years ago, we’d be sitting talking to each other in front of a screen? And so where are we going to be in 10 years’ time as far as tech and portability is concerned? So if I do everything I can do and sneak off into America and in various parts of the world that work with computers can continue doing what they do, then I’m sure it’ll happen.

 

Victoria

Stuart, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

 

Stuart 

Thank you very much.

 

 

Series One of the Remote Working Podcast

So over the next few episodes, I’m going to be having some fantastic guests coming in to speak with me about all of the issues relating to building a remote working business and all of the tech issues and the tech challenges that building a team and building a trust along the way as well. So I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk.

#cheekyask

If you liked the episode, please do give us a review. It will only take a moment of your time and I will be forever in your debt. Thank you so much.

Episode 008

Episode 008

I’m so excited to welcome Gemma Stow to today’s show.. because you’ll hear me in full #fangirl mode! 

Gemma helps female introvert leaders to have more impact and presence by increasing their confidence around self-promotion. I thought this was super topical for the show because many people who are working remotely are doing so in isolation… and generally that’s great because we thrive in that environment. In fact, it might be interesting to run some survey on how many remote workers recognise themselves as an introvert. Something to think about…

When running a business, it’s so important to promote ourselves in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re boasting or being salesy. And, as an introvert, I can suffer from over-thinking and analysis paralysis – both of which can have incredibly negative consequences when running a business. Because if we don’t promote ourselves, who will?

Whether you’re male or female, I think you’re really going to enjoy Gemma’s insights into how introverts can thrive in a networking environment, how they can promote without feeling icky, and what she really thinks of the “fake it till you make it” idea.

More Gemma-tastic info:

Gemma’s mission “No More Hiding’, encourages women to be more visible and be the next version of themselves that their work demands. She is an ICF accredited coach and has studied NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that all forms part of her high level coaching / mentoring practice.

She is very passionate at working with people who are ready to unlock their potential they are hiding away or just don’t believe is there. As a former probation officer, a director of her first company working with young people with challenging behaviour and now empowering introvert business leaders to step up – she leads by example sharing her own journey of the ups and downs, failures and successes that have led her to where she is today.

Club Fierce: Networking for Introverts – the place to be for female introverts to gain confidence and practice networking online and at face to face events: http://bit.ly/cfnetworkingforintroverts

Creator of “Introverts Inspire” Podcast.
Join Gemma’s private community for female introverts in business
Nominated for “Business Women of the Year” by Yorkshire Choice Awards 2018
Winner of Network She Award 2015
www.gemmastow.com
Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / LinkedIn 

Show Notes:

Victoria

Today I am joined by the fantastic Gemma Stow. Gemma, thank you so, so much for joining me.

 

Gemma

Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here. It’s great.

 

Victoria

One of the things you won’t notice we’ve not spoken about before is that you were on my wish list of guests a little while ago. So when I was thinking about this podcast, and I thought, “okay, who would be the ideal person to come on the podcast, who would I love to come on?” and your name was up there.

And then I do this daily intention journal. Every day was: I would love to have so-and-so on the show. The other day I was flicking through it, and it was the day that “I wish Gemma Stow would come on the show and talk about introverts”. And here you are! I think there’s a lot to be said for setting an intention and then following it through with the necessary action to make stuff happen. So thank you for ticking that off my wish list.

 

Gemma

You’re welcome.

 

Victoria

One of the reasons I wanted you to come on the show was that you do a lot of fantastic work all to do with introverts. And I know, as an introvert, that working from home is perfect for me because even though I’ve moved into an office now, we’re servicing clients on a remote basis. I don’t have to talk to a lot of people if I don’t want to, I can kind of sit there in my comfy zone. What advice do you have for introverted remote workers? Because I imagine there are a lot of pros and cons that come with that label.

 

Gemma

Definitely, and I totally agree with you. I love working from home. If I can wear my pyjamas all day, it would be awesome. And not having to speak to people all the time. But then having those one to one calls with my clients is amazing. And the tech I can use like this – it’s amazing. I can reach so many people all over the country, all over the world if I want to from my home and that’s perfect for an introvert. I guess the thing that is the worry is that you end up not venturing out at all. And you get stuck behind your computer and you can maybe miss out on those real connections that you could make because we’re really good at that.

I talk about this a lot, and a lot of my clients are people who are introverts. So when we talk about networking, they go “ugh networking, I hate it”. But actually, we’re really good at connecting with people. That’s what we’re good at, on a one to one, deep level. And if we work from home, there’s that concern that actually we might be more alone and we miss out on opportunities because of that. So I guess getting out a little bit more, as well in different ways, that feel good to you.

 

Victoria

I think that’s a really interesting point in terms of connection because it wasn’t until I started listening to your podcast that this really resonated with me. So for instance, when I first started out as a Virtual Assistant a few years ago, I did pay-as-you-go services and also retainer contracts as well. And I came to slowly realise I didn’t gain the same satisfaction out of pay-as-you-go work. I managed to boil it down to the fact that I couldn’t build a connection with the person I was supporting because it was so ad-hoc and infrequent. I guess it took me a long time to actually work out what that pain point was. And to realise that pay as you go work for me isn’t the right thing. I would now rather work with clients who I can support on a regular basis through an ongoing block booking and build that deep connection, so I completely get where you’re coming from there. Now, just on the point about leaving the house. Like you said, networking, it can be a big deal and it can be tricky to push yourself out of that comfort zone when it comes to networking and feeling introverted. What tips do you have for somebody who is going to a networking event when we recognise that we do want that connection and sometimes it can be a little bit superficial or salesy at networking?

 

Gemma

That’s the biggest worry, that kind of uncomfortable awkwardness or the mingling small talk. That’s what we avoid it for, because we hate those things.

If you are going to an event, make sure it’s the right event.

Maybe do a bit of research around it, because so many people and myself included have been to events, and I’ve just had a really negative experience. It puts you off, it totally puts you off going to any more. And it doesn’t have to be like that. There’s so many different types of events.

I hold my own events now especially for introverts for that reason, because I know what people feel like when they go into it. They want structure. They don’t want mingling, they don’t want small talk. They want to just connect with people and not have to do this big introduction and put themselves into the spotlight straight away in a room full of strangers. That’s tough. And at my events, like you sit around the table, talk about your business strategy. And it works really well because everyone leaves knowing everyone else’s business and you’ve networked without realising it.

So definitely find the right event, there will be events that will work for you, they’ll be events that don’t work for you. And maybe see if you can find anyone else is going as well, that can always be good. But don’t have that pressure of having to walk into a room full of strangers and then having to jump right in. What I love to do, and it’s quite funny actually, I do it more now, is that I sit down on my own and get a drink and just scan the room. And not necessarily feel like I have to work the room because you hear that all the time. You work the room, you meet as many people as possible, get all the business cards. That’s not for me. I sit down on my own, scan the room, see who’s out there. Maybe I’ll recognise people, maybe I don’t. And actually it’s funny because it makes other people a bit more twitchy. And they tend to feel sorry for me a little bit, but actually, I’m totally comfortable doing that. And it’s funny, isn’t it?

Because these are the social aspects that have a negative thing on introverts. But people often come over to me anyway and introduce themselves just because I’m still on my own. So that works, too. And that’s cool. It’s just about you feeling good in your skin, there’s always the bathroom, you can always take a breather, if you need it.

 

Victoria

Or just play on your phone for a little bit. I tend to do that. Like “yeah, I’m really busy”. But I’m avoiding any conversation by just being on my phone, it’s fine.

So that’s kind of pushing us outside of our comfort zones in terms of visibility at a networking event. Do you have any guidance for introverts who are needing to get more visible, maybe online, on social media? Because I know when I first started, and I don’t know if this is an introverted thing, or just because I’m really frickin’ private. But even changing my Facebook profile to my actual name rather than some fake name, felt like a big deal for me. It felt like I was letting a barrier down. And I felt very vulnerable for putting stuff out there and being me.

So I wondered, is that an introverted thing? And if anybody else is experiencing something similar, what kind of advice can you give? Because I think no one else is going to promote us if we don’t promote ourselves, but it’s kind of getting over that hurdle, isn’t it?

 

Gemma

Definitely. And I can totally relate to that feeling. I remember having to put my face on my website. It totally freaked me out. I was like, “oh my god, what am I doing?”. But I think because all introverts are different, as we are individuals, but there is a theme of this being private and not wanting to share everything with the world and not feeling like you have to really, and I think there’s a lot of pressure to do that. When you hear all the noise that’s out there and being like everybody else, and that’s working for her. So I’m going to do loads of Facebook Lives, I’m going to do this. And actually, it’s about finding what works for you otherwise It’s just that kind of fake it till you make it and that just feels so off. It just doesn’t feel right. And then you end up telling yourself you can’t do it. And that’s not true either.

I think tips for visibility is it almost starts right at the ground level, the foundation level of owning your expertise. And knowing that that’s why you’re showing up. It’s not about you showing off.

It’s not about you sharing your whole life story with the world. It’s about showing up for that purpose and who you’re there to help. And I think that’s a really good way of building confidence on that level.

 

Victoria

Absolutely. And I think a lot of us are going into business because we have that service based calling, we want to help others and particularly people who are from that VA background like I was. We want to be of service to people but we’re also kind of stuck in that fear because we’ve always been behind the scenes with the people that we’ve supported. So now to put ourselves front and centre of our business and our marketing strategy can feel very alien and uncomfortable.

I love what you said about the whole fake it till you make it and I can’t do that at all. It’s never sat right with me. And integrity is one of my core values. I do want to position myself as an expert in my field because I feel like I’ve earned it not because I feel like I’m faking it.

Just thinking about the teams that you’ve worked with in the past and the tech that you use, what tech do you rely on to run a successful business on a remote basis? Because you’ve mentioned that you’re working with clients up and down the country, potentially all around the world. So what tech is important to you as a business?

 

Gemma

One of the main ones is Zoom, actually, and I do love it and any kind of way that you can communicate like this. It’s not quite the same as face to face. I’m a bit of a touchy feely person, and I think that’s just part of who I am. But actually, I can make really good connections. We were saying before that we feel like we know each other yet we’ve not met in person. And I think that is the beauty of online now and social media and able to reach more people. I also use an app called Voxer. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it,

 

Victoria

I’ve not used it, but I hear it’s really popular.

 

Gemma

I use that for my private one to one clients. So I can keep in touch with them in between sessions, because I find that’s when they need me the most. It’s like a walkie talkie app and I love it. It’s really great. I also have Libsyn, which is for my podcast. The kind of the tech behind that really put me off putting it out there because that’s just not my thing. And I think I’ve managed to outsource it, find someone else who could do it for me and working together with someone even though they’re not in the room with me. We don’t share an office but we can do everything online. It’s just amazing and to have that extra support has made such a difference.

 

Victoria

In terms of communicating with your podcast editor. How do you do that? Is that mainly through Voxer? Do you have a project management system? Or what works for you both?

 

Gemma

It’s really simple through Voxer, emails, we also use Google Drive mainly. We have all our spreadsheets and the strategy going forward and what’s going to happen when, so we can we can keep in touch with each other through that. She makes sure that I do what I need to do to make sure that those episodes get out there. So it’s great.

I like to keep things simple. I think that’s better for me. Because then I make it happen and if I overcomplicate things, then we get into the overthinking category of what introverts do a lot of and then things don’t happen. So keep it simple.

 

Victoria

Do you find that’s an introverted problem? That analysis paralysis, a lot of procrastination going on?

 

Gemma

I definitely do. I think that there might be extroverts out there that go through that overthinking but because we are natural thinkers and we like to reflect, we spend a lot of time In our heads. And all the internal stuff going on, I think it’s only natural that we will overthink things. So it’s about being aware of that, I think. Not letting that turn into overwhelm, and action being taken, but instead going, “okay, what’s going on? I need to pull it back” and getting those tools and strategies to be able to do that. So you can make faster decisions because I think when you’re working for yourself, you do need to make some fast boss decisions.

 

Victoria

I agree completely. Tell me a little bit about the programmes that you’re running so that people can make those faster decisions and feel supported if they recognise that they may have introverted tendencies or recognise themselves as an introvert.

 

Gemma

I have my amazing mastermind, which is called No More Hiding and that’s one of my biggest missions really, to help female introverted leaders to stop hiding and to step out of the shadows into the spotlight and own that for themselves. And I absolutely love doing that work. It’s amazing. What I found a lot of my clients using is this networking thing that say, “I want to meet more people. I want to widen my audience, I want to make real connections” because business is personal, isn’t it? And that suits us so much.

So I’ve created this space that’s called Club Fierce. It’s networking for introverts, and it’s online events, and it’s offline. It’s about building confidence, introducing yourself meeting people, and we’re all in the same boat so it feels really safe and supported. And then with the view that you can go off and do other events and feel comfortable and enjoy it. And that’s what it’s all about.

 

Victoria

I can tell you love it. And that’s fantastic. It feels like you found a real calling for what you’re doing and who your target audiences is which is great. It’s showing in your face if you’re watching this on video, and hopefully it’s coming through on your voice as well for audio.

Gemma, thank you so, so much for joining me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And thank you for the advice that you’ve given to today’s listeners as well.

 

Gemma

You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Series One of the Remote Working Podcast

So over the next few episodes, I’m going to be having some fantastic guests coming in to speak with me about all of the issues relating to building a remote working business and all of the tech issues and the tech challenges that building a team and building a trust along the way as well. So I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk.

#cheekyask

If you liked the episode, please do give us a review. It will only take a moment of your time and I will be forever in your debt. Thank you so much.

Episode 007

Episode 007

Welcome to the Remote Working Podcast with me, Victoria Tretis.

I’m joined by Sidel Stewart who is the Possibility Ambassador at ONiT! Communications.

Although Sid’s usually based in London, she recently spent six months working in beautiful Barbados. So I wanted to explore the digital nomad lifestyle with Sid and pick her brain on all things to do with the technology she uses to communicate with her clients and manage their deliverables and expectations from afar,  all the way through to how to build trust with the clients she may never meet.

I think you’re really going to enjoy hearing Sid talk on/about how she adjusted her routine in Barbados in order to support her clients during UK hours… and whether she’d work somewhere that’s behind when it comes to time zones in the future.

All of the social media links are in the show notes, so do go ahead and connect with Sidel if you’d like to learn more about what we’re talking about today.

More Sidel-tastic info:

www.onitcommunications.co.uk
@SidelStewart on Instagram and Facebook
LinkedIn: Sidel Stewart

I’m a business and lifestyle manager and I make it possible for business owners to focus on the business of servicing their clients (e.g. delivering, adding value and getting paid).

In layman’s terms, I’m a business and lifestyle manager and I make it possible for business owners to focus on the business of servicing their clients.

It varies from client to client, but in my experience, most businesses run on the same fundamental support requirements:

– Stellar organisation
– Effective and efficient processes
– Sound and secure systems
– Accurate record-keeping
– Stylishly produced documents

Taking those foundations into consideration, my team and I support in the following ways;

Business and Lifestyle VA Support 

Project Support 

Business Process & Workflow Automation 

Show Notes

 

Victoria

Hello, so today I’m talking with Sidel from Onit! Communications. Welcome to the show!

 

Sidel

Hey, how you doing?

 

Victoria

I’m good, how are you?

 

Sidel

I’m alright

 

Victoria

Thank you so much for joining me. I knew that you would be a fantastic guest for this show. It’s all about remote working and I know that you’ve just come back from a six months stint in Barbados. But before we touch on that, can you tell me a little bit about your career and how you came up to be a remote worker?

 

Sidel

My experience is as an EA. My background is very corporate. I did a lot of investment banking. And I also had a split career between very corporate financial services and also lots of publishing and media type companies. I worked for the leading telecoms company or Michelin company names. It’s been really varied because I worked as a contractor so my experience has always been working with lots of different people across lots of different industries, but effectively the same type of role and building transferrable skills. I’ve been doing that now, if you include my life as a VA, for 24 years. I feel like I have a vast of experience, and it’s been fab for the most part. I was working in Canary Wharf at one point for one of the top five worldwide banks and was feeling quite low and miserable because as much as I loved the role, I just hated the environment of being in the Wharf. It was very soul destroying and very grey. I didn’t ever feel like I could be myself in that kind of environment. I’m a person that loves colour and it just always felt like I was sticking out like a sore thumb. I’m six foot so I often stand out, but for the wrong reasons, and I just felt stifled all the time.

When my role got made redundant I jumped at the opportunity to go away and retrain in PR, which I did with a chartered institute. I used that opportunity and that certification to set up my business, which was then Onit! PR Limited, which is still Onit! PR Limited, but I trade as Onit! Communications. And I started supporting independent entertainers because I used to be a performer.

 

Victoria

What did you do?

 

Sidel

I used to do spoken word.

 

Victoria

Wow!

 

Sidel

Like performance poetry. I had a massive network in that arena and there were lots of people who were struggling to manage their bookings, their promotions, their social media, negotiate the best deals, do contracts and do their admin. And I thought, “Oh, I do this for myself. I can do this for other people.” And that’s how I started and it was amazing. I had some really good opportunities and some great experiences but not much money, and so the problem working with independent entertainers is that there’s just no money in it. They’re striving, sometimes struggling artists and paying invoices becomes quite challenging. Chasing their payments, getting paid for gigs becomes quite challenging and so that had a knock-on effect and I had to re-evaluate what was I trying to achieve and where I want to go.

I had launched my business in August 2011 and at this point after a massive burnout and quite a low period, I decided I was going to go down the VA route because I stumbled across the term and I was thinking, “That’s me! That’s what I do.”

 

Victoria

Was this in 2011?

 

Sidel

No. This was much later. This was in 2016. At this point I was doing a contract working with The Guardian and was having a great time there, but it was a maternity cover contract and I was deciding what I was going to do next when I finish. I stumbled across the term virtual assistant at an event that I had gone to by a very well respected VA trainer and I was like, “That sounds exactly the same as what I already do.” So I looked into it. I discovered another course by a trainer online and then I did the course to give myself a little morale boost of knowing what I was doing, which was ridiculous really. Because I already knew what I was doing. It just helped to give me a bit of structure.

 

Victoria

I find that so crazy because I worked as a Virtual Assistant for 3 years on an employed basis. I didn’t know I was a Virtual Assistant and hadn’t even heard of the term. I completely get that.

 

Sidel

It’s mad. And I think it’s become a bit of a buzzword in some ways, and in other ways I think it’s quite a prohibitive word because some people don’t understand what it means. They hear virtual and they think that it sounds like something so far removed from them and their life, that they shut down and they don’t even hear anything else that you say. So it’s not really a term that I use. I call myself a Possibility Ambassador.

 

Victoria

I love that.

 

Sidel

That is in honour of my mum really, because she was a Disability Rights Activist amongst lots of other things. And so we nicknamed her Possibility Ambassador because her favourite saying was “There are always possibilities, and just because somebody has a disability doesn’t mean that they’re not able enough to do something else. There will be some things they can’t do but there’ll always be things they can do”. That was the focus and I stole the name and I’ve been running with it since I relaunched in January 2017. So we’re going on three years nearly now.

 

Victoria

So nearly three years in business.

 

Sidel

Three years in business with a different client group. That’s what I didn’t differentiate. So now I work with service based businesses as opposed to independent entertainers.

 

Victoria

And hopefully with a better cash flow.

 

Sidel

Most definitely!

 

Victoria

Because you’ve been running your business, did you say it was for 9 years in total?

 

Sidel

Yes, it’s coming up 9 years.

 

Victoria

How has the tech changed and the types of systems changed since when you first started versus what you’re using now?

 

Sidel

Massively. When I first started, I was using web based mail and Outlook, and I was the queen of Outlook. I knew it inside out. If you work for a recruitment agency they make you do all of these Microsoft tests. I was a wiz, because Microsoft was my baby.

 

And then I went and worked with this national newspaper and they used Google and I said, “What? What do you mean Google? Google for what? What’re we searching for?” And they’re like, “No we use Google for mail.” And I thought, “That doesn’t make any sense. That’s almost like when people used to use Lotus Notes for mail.”

 

Victoria

Do you remember those days?

 

Sidel

Yeah, who does that?

 

Victoria

Let me get my dot matrix printer out.

 

Sidel

The lady was showing me how we use it and you can have folders, but the difference in the way that Google Mail works versus Outlook was traumatising and I was thinking “Yeah this is not going to last. Just for this thing alone, I’m not going to adapt to this.” And it changed my life.

 

Victoria

Really?

 

Sidel

Yeah, because when I realised how collaboratively you can work using Google products, not that I’m being paid by Google I should mention, but the difference was amazing. Everything’s instant obviously. If I change something you see it immediately. It’s in real time. I was like, “How did I not discover this before?” So that was a massive turning point for me. Then I discovered loads of other tools. So instead of using Excel, I used Airtable and then I explored the world of automation which is what I specialise in through tools like IFTTT and Zapier.

 

When I started my career, using carbon copy paper, like you said, dot matrix printers, fax machines. I still worked in offices when people smoked at their desks. They would stand over you and dictate for you to take dictation for an email. And email even then was new. You’d write letters and post them. Put them in the post and then the mail bag would go out. And now, you send an email and it’s instant and if you make a mistake in an email you can recall it and it actually comes back. Not like back in the day when you would send an email out and realise you’d made a mistake, and then Microsoft would send an email to everybody that you sent it to saying, “This message has been recalled.” We didn’t want you to broadcast it!

Things like that, which have become second nature, and I quite take for granted to be honest, because I’ve worked with other VAs who are not particularly techy. They’re great at what they do and they have very traditional skills, but it highlights to me just how much tech stuff I know without even realising that I knew a lot.

 

Victoria

It’s interesting because I don’t consider myself particularly techy, but I realise how far I’ve come since working remotely and not having an IT department and having to figure stuff out on your own. Sometimes my wireless keyboard doesn’t quite work properly so I have to do some random restart and it’s just trying to work out what’s going on.

 

Sidel

Troubleshooting.

 

Victoria

Exactly. What kind of systems did you have to have in place behind the scenes to enable you to have six wonderful months in Barbados?

 

Sidel

Originally I planned to go to Barbados for a year and then I went for six months. I went and decided after six months I was ready to come home.

 

Victoria

Really?

 

Sidel

Yeah. It was for two reasons really. It was very isolating which people would say sounds ridiculous. You’re in the Caribbean, what’s there to be isolated about? But in reality, it was just working from home the same as I would here in London. When you couple that with the fact that I was working UK hours, and they are five hours behind the UK. So I was getting up at 4am to start working at five every day and that took its toll. I never really adjusted to the sleep pattern in the whole six months.

In terms of systems, I think I’d gotten myself to a place where everything I do is online. A whole week can go by and I don’t use a pen. I use all of the systems, cloud based systems. All of the programmes and tools I use are SaaS programmed. There isn’t anything that I could ever need to write down. So that helps massively. And all of the tools that I use are very collaborative. So I use Teamwork Projects to share information.

 

Victoria

We love Teamwork.

 

Sidel

Sometimes I use Trello, occasionally. I use Slack for all of my communications with clients. The only adaptation I had in terms of technology was that I started to use WhatsApp calling instead of doing regular telephone calls. And for all of my clients, that was fine because most of them I speak to once a week for 20 minutes or half an hour. For one of them, we don’t ever speak on the phone really, unless we just need to discuss rather than put in writing, but we do everything on Slack.

So in that regard, it didn’t really make any difference being in a different location, and as you’ll know, working virtually or working remotely, there were some clients I’ve never met in person and some I knew prior to working with them. But I did manage their expectations by telling them all that I was going to Barbados even though I didn’t really need to. I just thought it was courtesy. And just to let them know that I was going to have a week out, as in, for my settling in week. Then when I came back to London I had a week out to adjust to coming back and packing and everything else. So I guess that was the only real impact.

 

Victoria

I think it’s really interesting that you said that you felt a little bit isolated while you were out there, because one of the big reasons for me doing this podcast is because I felt isolated and a little bit lonely when I first started out as a remote worker.

I know you ended up coming back, but while you were out there, what did you do to try and combat that a little bit?

 

Sidel

To be really honest, I didn’t do very much. I don’t feel like I combated it. I went to Barbados because my mum passed away suddenly in the end of 2016 and I launched the beginning of 2017. By the end of 2017, I was really depressed and I just needed to be somewhere else. I wanted to be somewhere on my own. Which is very ironic because I wanted to be on my own. So when I got to three and a half months into the trip, I suddenly started to feel like, “It’s a bit weird, not seeing people” because I was getting up at 4am and I was online for five. I was doing my regular meetings which I usually do around 11am in London at 6am, which was quite challenging to just be alert. Because when I first started, I was getting up at quarter to five, and I was starting work at five o’clock. But what I realised very quickly was that I was half asleep. And so it was taking me around two hours to wake up. So that wasn’t working very well. I had to start getting up earlier, just to make sure that by the time I had client calls at 6am local time, I was actually fully functioning.

 

Victoria

I think that’s a really important to me. I think quite often we read these, you have to get up at five o’clock if you need to be productive and that’s great if you’re a morning person. If you’re not, please don’t fight against it. You don’t have to get up if you don’t have to get up at silly o’clock. Just don’t do it.

 

Sidel

Work out what works for you

 

Victoria

What gives you energy on what actually works for you, your lifestyle and your business so that you can bring your best self to work every day. Because otherwise, you’re following somebody else’s model.

I think it’s brilliant that you went, “Do you know what, I’ve tried this. It’s not quite working for me. I’m going to adjust it slightly because I need that extra time to wake up, feel invigorated, have a little bit of time to gather your thoughts” and all of that before getting on with your day.

 

Sidel

Definitely. It made a massive difference and I found also that whilst I’m not particularly a morning person and I don’t really do breakfast first thing in the morning. Even when I do breakfast, I need to have been awake for an hour and a half to two hours before I eat. But I realised that I needed that to actually wake up a little bit. So I adjusted in terms of getting up a little bit earlier, showering first thing in the morning, rather than waiting until later in the day because I was up so early it felt almost counterintuitive to get in the shower straight away. I thought, “let me just get online”. But actually, the shower helped to wake me up. Then I would have a coffee and have something to eat. So by the time I sat at my computer, I actually felt like I was in the world.

 

Victoria

I think it’s a really important point to make, that you’ve adapted your routine to make it work for you in that remote working situation.

 

Sidel

Definitely. It was interesting to me because I had reassured all my clients before I left that there wasn’t really any cause for concern and that everything would still be the same once I had gone. And then one of them was actually cool about it, but then mentioned in passing that she was considering looking for another VA. I was horrified because she’s one of my top two clients. I always say top two because nobody feels threatened.

I was really gutted that she was even considering someone else. But I think in hindsight, she just needed a little bit more reassurance that everything would still run as it always had done, because lots of people said to me, “But you work for yourself, you don’t have to work 5am every day. You could start whatever time you want to” and I said, “No not really.” A business is a business. And if my business is supporting your business, and your business is 9 to 5 UK time, me being available at 7pm until midnight, for example, doesn’t help you.

 

Victoria

I think it really depends on what your service model is and what type of clients you’re going for, because there needs to be that match between what you want to offer and what the client’s buying, and if there’s any kind of mismatch, it’s not going to work.

If you were offering ad hoc support, project based support, something with a long lead time, then perfect. Your working hours really wouldn’t matter because you’d be checking in with the client at the pre-agreed times or the different timelines, but the type of service that you’re offering, there’s an expectation there that you will be available during those times.

 

Sidel

And that’s exactly what it was. And I just felt like I didn’t want to disrupt things too much and if I was going to. Because this was the first trip I’d done where I worked abroad as well, and so for me it felt like if I’m going to do that, and I changed my hours, am I going to change my hours every time I go somewhere different? No, that’s not sustainable. That’s ridiculous. So, for me it was almost a test for myself as well to see, is this doable? How doable is it? What are the considerations that I need to make in order to make it work? And what things are non-negotiable? And what things can be adjusted? And for me, timing was non-negotiable in my own mind and another thing I could tweak.

I just started to structure my day around things that were going to take a lot more brainpower than others. I would do a little bit later in the day. I would do the regular routine things first thing in the morning, and I just had to be a bit more strategic with how I was working.

 

Victoria

It’s almost like you force yourself to have a higher level of awareness, of self-awareness, for how you work best and then tapping into that energy level.

I love the fact that you’ve said you’re not a huge morning person and therefore the more complex and time intense tasks need to be done later on in the day, when you’re more focused and energised so I think that’s fantastic. Would you work abroad again?

 

Sidel

Yes, definitely.

 

Victoria

What would you change?

 

Sidel

I think the biggest factor for me was the time. And so I did work elsewhere before that. I went to Germany for a week to visit my aunt before I left to the Caribbean.

 

Victoria

So one hour time difference is a win.

 

Sidel

And they’re an hour ahead so I’ve got a head start. So I was like, “Oh, you know, my hours are 10 til 5.” I was thinking, “Oh okay, it’s 9am but it’s only 10 there now”. So I was just feeling proud of myself. Whereas being in the Caribbean and being five hours behind, I was waking up feeling a little bit anxious that I’m already on a back foot.

And then towards later in the year, come October, it shifted, I’m only 4 hours behind now, so I’ve gained an hour. Actually, I think I preferred when I started an hour early because it meant I finished an hour later. Which in the Caribbean, is not the greatest because it’s a very much a morning place. Things happen early in the day. People do lots of things first thing in the morning before the sun rises properly before it gets too hot. And then once it gets to 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the sun, very gradually starts to go down and if I was finishing work at two by the later part of the year and I was getting out of the house and taking public transport to get to the beach. For example, I was getting to the beach at quarter to four, four o’clock. By 4:30 the sun’s gone. So, everyone’s saying, “Oh, you’re living in paradise!” And I’m like, “No you don’t understand the adjustments I’m making out here. This is hard work.”

 

Victoria

I used to have to travel to Amsterdam quite a lot with work and everyone was saying “Oh my God, this is amazing! You’re such a jet setter.” And I said, “No. I have to get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to catch a really early flight, to then spend all day in a meeting room, and then I get the last flight back”. There is no glamour. I have never seen any of Amsterdam apart from the airport, the hotel and the conference room. That’s it.

 

Sidel

People always think it. When I used to work in banking and I used to support the analysts, and do a lot of their travel and their lives were hell. They would be travelling sometimes to three or four countries in a week. And everyone’s thinking, “Oh my God, you got such a jet set, glamorous lifestyle” but there’s no glamour.

Like you said, you’re just from one hotel. Travelling via plane sounds great, but the amount of time it takes to board a flight that lasts an hour, hour and a half. With your checking in and security, the boarding time and the time you got to check in before. It’s so long winded. So it’s not the greatest.

 

Victoria

I completely agree. Earlier you mentioned about this one client who you maybe haven’t met. And you also said that a lot of your correspondence is by email. You do the odd phone call as well. How do you think you can build trust with people on a remote basis? Particularly if you’re never going to meet them face to face, in person.

 

Sidel

That’s a really good question. I think integrity is everything in the work that we do. I’ve had two clients that I’ve never met before and one client that I met three months after we started working together and we’ve met maybe three times since. So it’s really key that you do what you say you’ll do. That you do what you say you’ll do, that you stick to things, and manage their expectations so that you start to build trust, because in the beginning there isn’t any. They’re a little bit sceptical. They’re a little bit like, “This is new. I haven’t done this before. “How do I know that I can give you my passport and know it’s safe, a scan of my passport. Or give you my credit card details and know that it’s going to be alright?”.

I don’t advocate people giving out their credit card details. Although I do hold details for some people, I’d much prefer somebody set up a prepaid payment card and they allocate money on that because it just makes me feel a little bit more comfortable. But to be honest I don’t think about it anymore. I just get on with it. I think the trust factor is something that just comes with time. You can’t force it. There will always be some people who just never relax, because they’re not built that way and that’s fine. It’s never personal and I think that’s the key thing to remember. It’s always business, never personal.

 

Victoria

Absolutely. Before we wrap up, if you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing with your life?

 

Sidel

I don’t know. What would I do without organisation and automation? I’d just be on the floor crying. I think possibly performing. I miss that world. I miss it as a creative outlet. I don’t feel like I have the headspace to do that anymore if I’m honest because when I’m not working for clients in my business, I’m looking at ways to work on my business and so it’s quite a big juggling game. But potentially I’d be performing. I’d be doing spoken word. I’d be interacting with audiences on my favourite topic of relationships because it’s so much to work with. And I think that could be quite fun. But to be really honest, I’m happy doing what I do. I love what I do and I hope to be doing it for many more years.

 

Victoria

Thank you so much for your time today. I really do appreciate it Sid.

 

Sidel

Thank you for having me. It’s been fun.

 

Victoria

You are most welcome. Bye!

 

Sidel

See you!

  

Series One of the Remote Working Podcast

So over the next few episodes, I’m going to be having some fantastic guests coming in to speak with me about all of the issues relating to building a remote working business and all of the tech issues and the tech challenges that building a team and building a trust along the way as well. So I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk.

#cheekyask

If you liked the episode, please do give us a review. It will only take a moment of your time and I will be forever in your debt. Thank you so much.

Episode 006

Episode 006

I’m Victoria Tretis and this is the Remote Working Podcast.

I hope you’re having a great week. Today’s my last day of a week-long break – we’ve been visiting family and, because I’m recording this intro in advance, I’m kinda hoping we had a great time seal spotting over in Norfolk.

If you’re self-employed, you’ll probably know how difficult it can be to take any time off – because when you’re off, the business often stops, and the money stops too. And so a combination of those worries plus staff turnover and the associated onboarding and training, my most recent break of more than a couple of days out of the office was last Christmas. And, quite honestly, I’ve been really freakin’ tired! And so it wasn’t until a client said, “Victoria – I WANT you to take a holiday, because if you’re not looking after yourself then you won’t be able to run a business” that I stood back and realised that the only thing that thinks my clients can’t operate without me for a week is my own darn ego! Ridiculous, right?!

Anyway, I’m sure I’ve had some wonderful down time with my family over this last week, and that I’m feeling fully recharged when I return to the office tomorrow.

But let’s talk about what’s happening today.

In this episode, I’m joined by Wendy Harris from WAG Associates. And you’ll have to listen to find out whether that’s something to do with Wives and Girlfriends of the rich and famous. In all seriousness, Wendy and I met on social media and I was immediately drawn to how much energy she had! No wonder she’s brilliant at telemarketing!

In the show, Wendy explains why picking up the phone is sometimes the best thing you can do, as well as what times you should ring people if you’re making prospective calls yourself. We had a lot of fun on this episode and I know you’re going to really value Wendy’s insight into all things remote working.

If you liked today’s episode, please do leave a review. It will only take a moment of your time and I will be forever in your debt. Thank you so much.

Connect with Wendy:

www.wagassociates.com

LinkedIn: Wendy Harris

Twitter: @wagassoc

Facebook: Wag Assoc

 

Show Notes

 

Victoria

Today I am joined by Wendy Harris from WAG Associates. Wendy, hello.

 

Wendy

Hello Victoria. How are you?

 

Victoria

I am so good. How are you doing today?

 

Wendy

Not too bad at all. Thank you.

 

Victoria

Fantastic. Now, WAG Associates, I’m guessing you’re not like wives and girlfriends of the football famous. So tell me what is it that you do?

 

Wendy

WAG really stands for my initials Wendy Ann Gillett. And I’ve since got married, to, Harris. WAH doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. And it was just because I couldn’t think of another name. WAG Associates implies that I occasionally have an Associate that will help me on my campaigns and predominantly, what I do is telemarketing. I will jump on the phone to my clients and ideal customers and talk about them and look for opportunities for them to do work together. I also do team training and one to one power hours to help people because I do feel that it’s really important to have conversations.

 

Victoria

Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons that I am so excited to have you on the show today. Because I think as a remote worker, we can often get caught up in the email and all of the written correspondence. What do you feel that the benefits are on picking up the phone and having a proper conversation with somebody?

 

Wendy

Certainly, it stops all of that email tennis, you’ll ask a question and somebody will reply with another question that you’ve got to answer that will lead to another question. So it goes backwards and forwards. I also think that when you’re having a conversation, you can really hear whether somebody is interested or invested in what it is that you’ve got to say. You start to get a feeling for that relationship building, the tone of their voice, they’re buying into what it is that you’ve got to say. And of course, you get to the bottom of wherever it is that you need to find out and agree what it is that you’re going to do. So you’re forging those next actions. A conversation can do a lot quicker than relying on them waiting for the for the email to pop up or the response that may not even finish the conversation.

 

Victoria

Exactly. There’s a lot of efficiency involved. I think you’re quite right with what you said about building those relationships and building the rapport as well because it is entirely possible to build trust with people that you never meet just through written correspondence. Obviously, people are doing that fantastically well through email marketing. So it’s not impossible, but I do think having either a telephone conversation or even video face to face conversation just helps fast track that level of credibility you have as a business owner and fast track the relationship as well in terms of trust.

 

Wendy

What it is, is that know, like and trust. I’m not knocking social media, that’s how we met. If you’re going to talk about anything, no matter where it is, whether that’s in the written word, over the telephone, or face to face, that the tone in your personality comes across exactly the same all the way along. So they do have that.

 

Victoria

It’s interesting that you mentioned that actually, because I was reading a blog post that a gentleman called Nick Parker wrote. It was an interview that he did and he’s a tone of voice specialist. He was saying that he learned about how to write the way you speak. And then funnily enough, I was writing something from my own business today as well and writing just that, I remember reading something about not being all effervescent and fizzy over social media. And then when they meet you in person, you’re a real Debbie downer. It means to be the same person, and it just makes so much sense. What is the same as having a profile photo? That’s current, and not one that’s 20 years ago?

 

Wendy

It’s exactly the same thing because it is that impression that you’re giving. If you’re going to be writing something, yes, you do need to write something in that certain way. And I know that. I was reading Ruby Wax, something to do with being frazzled. I’m reading that book and it is Ruby Wax in my head. The same with reading Graham Norton, these are not just normal. It’s just to give that example that when you meet somebody and you’re reading something, it sounds like them.

 

Victoria

Expanding on that point, when you are making these calls on behalf of your clients. How are you building trust with your clients so that they know that you will be representing their brand as a true likeness to what their core values are and what it is that they’re selling? How do you build that trust with them so that they work with you in the first place?

 

Wendy

I think that comes down to first impressions. I do believe that in my whole working life and even my personal life that my first instinct about somebody is what anchors where that relationship is going to go. You start to talk about how you can look at growing the business by getting on the phone and talking to people and making meetings or generating quotations for certain things. I think it comes out in how you talk about it. And if you’ve got examples of how you’ve done that for other people as well, and then all of a sudden, you get carried away with that moment.

Quite often, the tone of voice in terms of how I’m representing my clients, it’s me that writes, it is me that helps to represent it. So I am like the Receptionist for their new business. And if they’re looking at that business, it will be me that they will have to get past. So it’s exciting to have that trust of people place in me. Of course, that means that I’m also invested in what my client does. I can’t take on every single client because I might not actually think it’s a viable proposition. I might not have any knowledge about what it is that they do to be able to talk confidently about it. So there’s lots of different variables. It’s got to be something that touches me as well, because then I can speak from the heart as well.

 

Victoria

Definitely. I think that’s a really important core value to have when you are working on a freelance basis, because we can quite often be subjective to that feast or famine. It can be very tempting to take on that non ideal work or something that you don’t actually like you were talking about the gut feel. Your gut feel feels off, but you’re thinking, “I need the money”. I think it can take a certain level of self-assurance and confidence and also an understanding of what you’re good at, in order to make those decisions that are right for both you and also the clients as well. Sometimes saying no to a client is actually the right decision. If you don’t feel that you can best serve them.

 

Wendy

For sure. A lot of the campaigns that I do get involved with are quite high value, service led industries. So of course, those relationships don’t forge overnight, it’s not something that I’m not going to want to put it in my basket this afternoon, and go to check out. Those relationships do take a lot longer to come along. Timing is key, because sometimes they’ll be tied up on a contract. So it’s about being smarter and getting to the point of, “I’m not going to bother you, if you’ve got another three years before you go to be looking at this again”. And people will respect that you’re not trying to pitch to them because they’re not in a position to really be spoken to.

By being a remote worker, I save their eardrums because I’m quite animated on the phone, and my volume can go up. Quite often, I’ll come into their office if it’s a little quiet, that’s great. But soon, they’re happy to see me go. But of course, with technology now, with the CRM systems, it’s all cloud based. They’ll give me my own email accounts like any member of staff, so I can see their calendars. I can get my laptop and I could go work in a coffee shop if I wanted to be quiet, which isn’t very often, but it’s just that it gives people more flexibility to have that skill set anywhere.

 

Victoria

I think what you just said a moment ago about some clients or prospective clients are tied into that three year contract. I think when you’re working as a freelancer, it can be difficult to take rejection, and you can take it quite personally. How do you handle rejection or know when you’re dealing with those phone calls on behalf of your clients?

 

Wendy

That’s a really good one because I see it that as there’s a “yes” or a “not now”. That’s how I categorise it. If there’s somebody that’s going to be really rude or rejecting of you in that kind of fashion, then I don’t think they’re a good fit as a client that you’d want to work for anyway. You go talk to somebody that is happy to be spoken to, in that fashion, manners costs nothing these days. The yeses don’t come along very often. But of course, they come from the maybes, because it’s not now. And if it’s not now, when will it be? And I’ll keep my promise and I’ll stay in touch with you. And I will show you what we can do nearer to the time and that’s where the yeses come about. Because that’s the relationship building part. I don’t see it as rejection. I just see that’s great because I’m getting through to more and more people that I do want to.

 

Victoria

That’s a fantastic approach. And just like even just a mind shift in terms of how you’re thinking about those rejections, and almost getting rid of the ones that you don’t want to work with anyway. And then creating a pipeline that you said. You will promise to follow up on X date following our last conversation. I think that’s absolutely true.

One of the things I did want to talk to you about because I know a lot of people who are remote working sitting in an office or their spare room on their own. For those of us who like the silence, for those of us who are a little bit apprehensive about picking up the phone, what tips can you give for us, in terms of energy levels or just getting in the right frame of mind in order to pick up the phone and make that call?

 

Wendy

I think if you’re on your own, you don’t really need to worry too much about who’s listening in. It comes down to how much you’re going to beat yourself up. So give yourself a break. And, at the end of the day, when you looking to make a phone call, the easiest thing to do is to say, “I’m looking to introduce what I do, but I really want to find out how you do that first”. And that opens the conversation for them to say, “well, what is it that you do? What would you know?”. I could turn around and say we sell coffee beverage equipment. But of course you’ve likely got one because who goes without coffee in the office? It could just be using a little bit of common sense. I know you’re going to have a photocopier in the office. Are you thinking of changing them? Is it to do with a contract? It’s about how you introduce that. And if you’re thinking to yourself that you’re going to be very salesy, stop right there. Because ultimately, you’re an educator.

Anybody that’s on the phone, you’re introducing and educating them that you exist, because it’s likely that if they put in to Google near them, there’s going to be lots of other companies that are going to be beating you in that race online. So you’ve got a personal touch, you’ve reached out and you really want to know how they do things at the moment. If you put your customer first, you will have much better success.

 

Victoria

Would you align that with a social media strategy as well? For instance, maybe this is more relevant for your own social media, which is excellent. I absolutely love your posts. So guys, if you’re not already following Wendy, go and connect with her on LinkedIn.

 

Wendy

I don’t talk about phoning very often. It’s observational about business. You’ve got to have that presence. And you’ve got to have those conversations. Ultimately, by talking about what you see and hear and how it makes you feel, is how you’re going to resonate with somebody. I was out at the weekend, funny enough, and I was in a group of friends. I was being introduced to one of their extended friends. And they went, “aren’t you the lady that does WAG Associates?”. I didn’t know this person. They hadn’t liked or commented or shared on any of my posts, yet they knew who I was. So it’s those people that don’t engage, that are the ones that you’re needing to be talking to really through that written word, by social media or whatever. And of course, you’ve got to align your posting to whatever the platform is. I love LinkedIn. But I treat most of them the same. Because ultimately, it’s me you’re buying.

 

Victoria

It comes back to what you were saying about tone of voice, because I know a couple of years ago, it was all the trend to tailor your content to the platform. It needs to be specific. To be honest, I put exactly the same content on Facebook, as I do on LinkedIn. The only reason I do Twitter slightly differently is because I’m limited by the character count.

 

Wendy

And the attention span. Who’s got the attention span of really going into the feed unless they’re specifically looking for something?

 

Victoria

I agree completely. Thinking about the tech that you use in the business, you’ve already mentioned, CRM. What else do you use to help support your clients on a remote basis?

 

Wendy

I’ve got Microsoft Teams, so we can use that for chat. I had a little play with Slack but I think we ended up on Slack more than we did any work.

 

Victoria

That’s a danger with Slack, isn’t it? I’ve had a couple of clients say, “should we use slack?” And I just thought, “no”, because it’s another distraction. I’d rather keep everything aligned in my inbox. Because the problem that I’ve got is that if you send me an instant message, a text message, or a Facebook message I don’t have a way to then process that incoming request. I can read it, but sometimes I can’t mark it as unread. I can’t flag it, I can’t store it and forward it to my project management system. So I feel like introducing stalking my business will just open up a can of worms because I worry I’ll drop a ball. And it’s so much easier to streamline everything through the one system.

 

Wendy

If you’ve got a process that you can follow, it makes life much easier. I’m just playing with a new process for a client now which is not a CRM, but it’s more for automated marketing. Which I think will help in the process of keeping in touch, because there are just so many people to stay in touch with that, it would be impossible. It’s about thinking about those numbers. When it comes to the tech, it’s fairly basic. I’ve got superfast fibre, which means that I can have 20 billion tabs open at one time, and I don’t drop anything. But other than that, simple spreadsheets still work for me in what I do. And I look to set up my email addresses for different campaigns. So it’s all in one inbox. And then it’s just a question of reporting what people want to know. And a lot of my research is done on LinkedIn, I could find people on LinkedIn. I’ve got a credit checking facility because there’s no point getting in touch with a business that’s got 100 staff but is looking likely to go bust. It all kind of varies. With calendars, it’s all about efficiency, making sure that if I want to book an appointment, I can see a slot in the diary and then make others free. I’m just reliant on everybody else keeping it up to date.

 

Victoria

I felt like you raise a really valid point. You don’t need to over complicate any of this. And I see a lot of posts in freelance groups, where people are going, “how much does it cost to start up?” “What do I need to get going?” When the reality is, it can be as cheap as you want it to be as long as you’ve got the right level of say. You’re registered with HMIC, you’re registered with the LCO. We’ve got relevant insurance. It can be as cheap or as expensive as you like, you don’t need to over complicate it.

 

Wendy

Absolutely. A lot of the images that I’ve used are either converted or on Word Swag. I love Word Swag, because it’s really easy on my phone. I can just grab an image and overlay it with some text. Canva is a little bit better with creating some PDF documents for tips and tricks for the telemarketing with some of the training that I do. It’s just about keeping it all fresh. But if you’ve got a really comprehensive LinkedIn profile, you don’t even need a website these days, you’re pretty much covered. If you’ve got a Google account, you can be posting to that. Google will bring you up so that people will see where you are on the map and what your opening hours are. Even with Yell.com, you can do it for free. As long as you can populate as many of those directories as possible that are free. If people are looking for you specifically, they will find you.

 

Victoria

I agree completely. What are your thoughts on peak productivity times and energy levels?

 

Wendy

With productivity times, I think everybody needs a break through the day. If you’re like me and you’re on the phone, you’re banging every call away, then yes, you need to have a break. Every hour and a half away, get a break, get a glass of water. People don’t get started straight away. They do different tasks at different times of the day. The first and last thing are a good time to catch hold of somebody, but not at a great time to interrupt them, because that’s when they’re being productive with other things like checking their social media and checking their email. I think it depends what it is that you’re doing. And of course, that twelve to two lunchtime. It can be a bit tricky if you’re calling out, but it depends why you’re calling out. I will always have new stuff, because it’s unlikely I’m going to speak to anybody on the first call. But somebody on Reception will help me by confirming who I need to speak to, and give me an email address to send them some information. I know can turn that downtime of lunchtime into time.

People say, “don’t call first thing on a Monday morning or a Friday afternoon”, has not been, in my experience, a really bad thing. It’s not been my experience at all. Certainly depending on how high up the food chain is that you’re looking to speak to. First thing and last thing on a Monday morning and Friday afternoon is when that person is going to be in the office, to command the troops before they go out and they do what they need to do in their world. So it’s unlikely you’re going to get them on a Wednesday because they’re busy back to back with meetings. I think it’s horses for courses, six of one half a dozen of another.

 

Victoria

Do you think that also applies for when you’re sending emails that as well? Because there’s the whole “don’t send out on a Monday morning. Don’t send it at nine o’clock. Don’t send it Friday afternoon.”

 

Wendy

I think with automated emails, yes, that is something. There’s some very clever people that have put lots of algorithms together to actually give you the best time to send and post things. So I wouldn’t undo all of that hard work and learning that they’ve done. However, if you’re on the phone and you put the phone down to somebody, and you email them straight away, I think that has a really big impact on that person because you’ve done it straight away. It’s going to sit in their inbox for them to action at a later date. If they’re not expecting it, that may have a different outcome. But of course, as long as you promise that you’ll follow it up in in a timely fashion, in the next few days, then they’re expecting you will. If you don’t ring to follow it up then you’re not going to be the ones that are going to make that next action. Because you’ve promised that you’re going to do it, why should they? So there’s a bit of psychology behind what you’re doing.

 

Victoria

One of the things that’s really helped me with that. Because I’m a big fan of “Thank You” messages and doing that follow up. Like after we’ve wrapped up today, they’ll be an email to you to say, “Wendy, thanks so much. This is what happens next”. To help me out, I normally draft that email before I’ve had the call. So it might be a little bit different for you because you don’t know if you’re going to get through to somebody. Let’s say it’s a prospective client call and I’ve just had the consultation. I’ve got the thank you toxin tailored, I’m going to insert a bit that was relevant about what they said. So it just makes the process a lot more efficient because it’s there. I know you mentioned that you use Outlook and Outlook has got a send later option, so has Gmail, which is what I use.

So if you are saying that you’re going to follow up in a couple of days, you can actually write that follow up email as soon as you’ve come off the phone, or as soon as you’ve promised to do it and schedule it to send two days later. It just adds to the efficiency. Again, it delivers what you say you promise you’re going to do, which overall makes you more credible as a brand as well.

 

Wendy

Exactly. And in Outlook, you’ve got a signature so you can template and personalise it. Same in Gmail, I use canned responses. It’s useful because the body of what it is that you’re looking to impart on that person stays the same generally. It’s a generic piece of marketing material, isn’t it? But of course, what you have to say about the last time we spoke or when they were on holiday, “how was the holiday?”. It’s those personal touches that make all the difference by being able to personalise them.

 

Victoria

I think if you don’t have a CRM, again, it comes back to not having to over complicate it. I keep a little note in Google Contacts. Like you said, if somebody is on holiday, just make a little note of it. Since I was at a wedding last week, I followed up this person on Monday. It was a scheduled email to go out at eight o’clock. “Hope you had a lovely time at the wedding, when we said that we were going to have a call this week, when are you free? Here’s my availability”. I was able to do all of that last week.

 

Wendy

Of course, and setting yourself tasks in your calendar. Because outlook is smart enough as well so that you can have your contacts saved, add it to your calendar and have task lists that you don’t miss those important things. When I’m looking at lists of people to ring, I need a much better system but I run a business behind that. There’s things that I need to do and I need to remember. The one thing that I always pay attention to is the end of the month where it says, “update your social media profiles” and “send your invoices on a recurring basis”, but it is running your own business. As a freelancer working from home working remotely. There is an awful lot of resources that you can use to help you stay on track of things. People don’t tell you a lot of the information that you need to know like keeping your books, filing if you’ve registered, all of these things. So find yourself people that can help you stay doing the things that you love doing and what is going to earn you the money. Understanding how to do these things is really useful. It’s like you make a cup of tea and if you make a bad one, nobody’s going to ask you again. But if you understand how to make that cup of tea, you’ll appreciate a good one when it’s made for you.

 

Victoria 

Are you are you saying this because you’ve seen the photo on my social media about how badly I make tea?

 

Wendy

Well, I thought you needed a new mug actually.

 

Victoria

My other half did say to me the other day, “I’m going to teach you how to make tea” and he literally pulled away the one that I’d cut with love.

If you weren’t doing WAG Associates and the wonderful training that you do, how do you think you’d be spending your time?

 

Wendy

I think I might have become an interior designer.

 

Victoria

Fancy! I do like the way you’ve decorated your log cabin.

 

Wendy

I love my little cabin in the garden. I’ve got enough points that I can move it around. But I’m comfortable with this at the moment. I think, since this small child has always been a bit of a chatterbox. I think that was the term that was called. And it always had lots and lots of questions, not that the advert for the BBC bites at the moment, it’s “I got asked this, find somebody else that can answer her.”. And I think that inquiring mind just led me to have that conversation. So that or I’d want to be famous. And I would have taken drama. I don’t know. I really don’t know.

 

Victoria

I am grateful that you started by the associates and that we were able to have today’s conversation. So thank you so much for joining me on today’s show, Wendy.

 

Wendy

It’s been my pleasure.

 

Victoria

Thank you.

So over the next few episodes, I’m going to be having some fantastic guests coming in to speak with me about all of the issues relating to building a remote working business and all of the tech issues and the tech challenges that building a team and building a trust along the way as well. So I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk.

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