Monthly Archives: February 2014

My top tip for live tweeting – don’t do it

No live tweeting

It all started with an invitation on Twitter to share my top tips for live-tweeting. I had only the one. I can’t see any value in having people tweeting comments and photos from a public event as it happens, unless it really is news, and even then…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a twitter convert – it’s changed my life almost entirely for the better – but I’m proud of the fact that all 5,300+ tweets I’ve sent over the past couple of years have come from a PC. My mobile phone is too old to tweet, so I couldn’t ‘live tweet’ from an event even if I wanted to. So I can’t, but I won’t.

I admit I haven’t asked others about this but, when I’ve been presenting, the sight of people playing with their phones is off-putting, bordering on insulting. I don’t know whether they’re tweeting and, if so, whether it relates to anything I’m saying. My self-pride prevents me from acknowledging they might be so thoroughly bored that they’re e-mailing their friends to arrange a trip to the pub.

Eye contact is so important if you’re presenting to a live audience which makes the loss of it so unnerving. I don’t particularly like the nodding dog type on the front row, but that’s much preferable to ‘The Voice-like’ grip of live tweeting where your audience might as well be sitting with their backs to you on swivel chairs for all the positive body language they’re communicating.

And if presenters suspect tweeters are even half listening to what they have to say (I don’t believe anyone – apart from a UN interpreter maybe – can really listen to one person while communicating with another) will they start to speak in 140 character sound-bites?

As someone who has also been on the receiving end of a torrent of tweets from different people at the same event, I’m equally against live tweeting as a recipient. If the incoming photos and quotes from the speakers were useful that might justify all the time and effort (of me reading, as well as the twits tweeting) but in my experience they don’t. The different messages are often repeated, re-tweeted and dis-jointed, the photos are next to useless. I certainly don’t feel I’m part of the event or wish I was there!

So what’s the point? Can anyone explain what effective live-tweeting looks like and what it’s meant to achieve?

In the meantime, I’m off to blow the dust off my Buzzword Bingo Kit. Now there’s some really worthwhile low-tech audience participation…

For less grumpy guidance on using Twitter before, during, and after events, try  and

Enterprise essential – Be open to opportunities

Balance focus and flexibility, be open to new ideas and be prepared to act quickly. Think positively! Two sales executives were sent to a tropical island to research the market for shoes. One e-mailed HQ to report “bad news, no one wears shoes.” The other reported “good news, no one wears shoes.” Which would you be your e-mail?

Getting out there

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way.    

Ian Henderson lIan Henderson, founder of Forest Owl near Bedford, has a Norwegian cow bell in the back of his van. His mum used it to bring him in for tea from the park at the back of their house when he was growing up in London. Absorbed by learning and play in the great outdoors – food for the brain – young Henderson needed to be reminded about feeding his body.

Which explains why Ian is a convert to the forest school approach to learning; something he describes as “more an ideology than being in a forest – a way of working rather than a place of work.

Recalling those early days in London, he suggests “I learnt more being outdoors in the park than being in school. More recently I’ve discovered I’m not alone in finding school didn’t suit me; it doesn’t suit two thirds of children growing up. Children grow kinaesthetically – by looking, doing and feeling. The problem in the classroom is more the method of teaching rather than the content… We’re talking about primary children aged 5 – 11 which is the age when they learn how to learn. Most children start primary school pretty much as intelligent as each other, but something happens between there and secondary school.”

Ian’s theory is that young children are taught in a way that doesn’t encourage them to learn. At Forest Owl they take a little of the classroom curriculum and teach it in a different way that can grow children’s self-confidence.

forest_owl_forest_school_logoForest Owl aims to encourage more children to spend more time learning outdoors – addressing this perceived gap in the school system. The enterprise has a Bedfordshire base and ‘a 22-acre classroom’ at Bowels Wood in Bromham, but the service and support is also mobile. Where access is an issue [taking a class out of school creates considerable paperwork] and where a school has a playground, the forest environment comes to the playground “bringing it alive, making it exciting” enthuses Ian.

Ian’s ambition doesn’t stop with primary age children in the playground. “We’re talking to a couple of businesses about ways of working with their staff – in teams – to help them understand how people learn, in a creative and stress-reducing natural environment. That works whether you’re 5 or 55”.

Knowing that Ian has a background in design and marketing, I’m not surprised that his advice for others is about how you present your enterprise to the outside world.

“Look the part. The reason Forest Owl is getting into schools and talking to businesses is that we communicate effectively through our website and social media. We’re also building credibility by nailing our colours to the mast. We live our brand by getting out and about, not sitting indoors in an office.”

Get out and about with Forest Owl at

To discover another forest school – working with older young people – go to

Enterprise essential – It takes time

Be persistent but polite – don’t be put off by criticisms and set-backs. Most successful business people have several failed businesses behind them – they’ve learnt and have the self-confidence to try again. Be patient – we are under pressure to succeed in relatively short time-spans; a legacy of short term grant-funding regimes, but the average business needs 2 – 3 years to get established and start making a profit.

Finding peace in Hertford

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way.

Nic_in_TSS_reception (2)The Secret Space is well-named – tucked away off a bustling street in Hertfordshire’s county town. Outside is a courtyard (“it’s a real sun trap” I’m told) inside it’s serene, clean and calm … just the place for a first step into employment for people recovering from substance abuse.

The Secret Space is a centre for complementary therapies (including massage, acupuncture and reflexology) and yoga – designed to benefit both the providers and purchasers of those therapies. “It’s about bringing people back to their bodies, learning how to relax and deal with issues in a positive way without resorting to substances” explains Nicky Kearns, who manages The Secret Space (as the only paid employee).

What I love about social enterprises is that outsiders often can’t distinguish between paid staff and trainees (known as volunteers at The Secret Space). Nicky sums up her philosophy perfectly “We all aim to be professional, our personal stories aren’t important for business success”. And it occurs to me that there’s probably an even thinner dividing line between people with clinically diagnosed substance abuse issues and many who over-indulge in alcohol on an all too regular basis and deny they have a problem.

Complementary therapies are an astute offering for a social enterprise supporting people trying to leave behind an unhealthy past (diagnosed or otherwise). And, according to Nicky, it works on a number of levels for the volunteers “…Complementary therapies bring relaxation from stress, anxiety and pain, some of which may be brought on by other areas of their recovery – counselling, group work etc… When our volunteers learn how to give a treatment, the deeper understanding and the act of giving the treatment is very healing. If you give a treatment, it’s very relaxing and rewarding for you as well as your client.”

Yoga__9065 (2)

The volunteers at The Secret Space gain skills and work experience in an area that is beneficial not just for their recovery now, but for coping with life in general. As well as learning about giving treatments, they may also learn about others aspects of setting up a business, customer service, sales and marketing, setting up a website. The expectation is that if people don’t move on to paid employment in complementary health, they will be able to use other skills, in reception, customer care, and administration for example, in other fields.

Just as the future for the first group of volunteers is unknown, so it is for The Secret Space itself. A child of the Crime Reduction Initiatives charity – a mere 5 month old toddler in fact – the enterprise has 2 – 3 years to become financially independent. Nicky knows it won’t be an easy adolescence, which is why it’s just as well she loves her work.

“ If you’re starting a social enterprise, it has to be something you’re passionate about because you’re going to spend a lot of time doing it. You need to enjoy it. Your business idea has to be financially viable, but you should also choose an area you have experience in and/or where you have good connections.”

For someone like me who’s not good at delegation, Nicky’s third and final bit of advice also resonates. “Don’t underestimate the people you’re working with – particularly when they’re volunteers. Learn to let go, people are very capable and if you give them the opportunity, they’ll learn.”

Discover the peace and tranquillity of The Secret Space at

The art of adding value

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way.    

Ian and VanMy introduction to Recover in Welwyn Garden City (in Hertfordshire) was through a social entrepreneur and friend – Hugo van Kempen. Hugo is big on the environment, creativity and entrepreneurship and I respect his opinion so, when he said I should meet Ian Block, Recover’s manager, I was off to see him the following week.

I think Hugo was impressed by Ian’s vision and ambition. He (Ian) had taken on the refurbishment of a warehouse that he (Hugo) had earlier looked at and decided was too big a job for him to get it into a useful state.

A year and a day after Ian had moved into that dilapidated warehouse, I visited him in bright and warm surroundings – a transformation. And before I’d even got to the office at the back of the warehouse, I’d bought an office chair. Ian has a background in furniture sales and he had me well and truly hooked with no (obvious) sales pitch!

Like the two other Hertfordshire social enterprises in the CRI family, Recover offer training to volunteers who have difficulty getting into employment. Overcoming addictions, explains Ian, takes time – to build self-esteem and self-confidence – and Recover provides volunteers with breathing space through care and creativity.

With a view to life and employment beyond Recover’s supportive environment, training includes technical skills in high-class wood finishing and upholstery, alongside so-called ‘softer skills’ – team work, delegation, teaching others, management, as well as broader life skills.

The return on that investment is the creation of items of furniture for sale that can only be described as works of art.

The enterprise end of the venture is, says Ian “Helping the volunteers develop their creativity. We work with them to up-cycle and refurbish stuff destined for landfill. They turn donated items into interesting, one-of-a-kind, pieces – leaving evidence of the hand-craft involved. We’re not competing with high street, factory-finished, mass-produced, products from China. For our volunteers there’s no greater confidence-builder than seeing something they’ve created being bought by someone for a good price.”

This is truly adding value but how, I wonder, does Ian arrive at a ‘good price’ for their unique items of furniture – is pricing an art or a science?

“I’ve got a background in antiques and furniture sales. I’m in tune with the markets and, although each item is unique, the internet is a good way to make comparisons. Price also depends on your brand, location and the clients you’re selling to. Even though charity shop prices have crept up, we’re not competing with them or other furniture reuse schemes. We’d like to become a recognised brand which would probably double the prices we can get. For now, we’re pricing above charity shops, at about 50% of what we could sell in a shop in Islington or Greenwich.”

What’s Ian’s view of telling the story behind their products?

Holly and Crew“ The story is important – were supporting people and helping them to move on. Most customers are buying into what we’re doing. They get an original, quality item, crafted with volunteer input and we like to put names on items – ‘another product by…’ Some volunteers don’t want this, and we respect that, but the majority are happy to be identified.”

The future is looking bright for the Recover team. The first year has been about getting the premises useable and volunteers learning how to produce quality furniture. The year ahead is about selling. As well as online sales, there’s a first delivery of a few items to a shop in north London.

Always the entrepreneur but sensitive to the needs of his volunteers, Ian explains his strategy. “We’re looking at several outlets in different parts of London. We’ll be able to test different products at different prices to see what works. The volunteers are not yet ready to set up and manage a retail outlet, so we’re testing the water at no additional cost to ourselves.”

See Recover’s hand-crafted, refurbished and upcycled furniture at

For more on the three CRI Hertfordshire social enterprises, go to