Monthly Archives: April 2019

My Green and Grey side hustle

I’d spent 20 years advising entrepreneurs (including those of the social variety) in the East of England on setting up and running businesses. Five years previously I’d helped create what might loosely be described as a social enterprise – the Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead.

What had I learned and where could that knowledge take me?

I learnt that I don’t like the buck stopping with me when it comes to decision-making (I like to sleep soundly at night!) It confirmed what I’d known for a while – that there’s a big difference between working on a business and working in it (you do more toilet-cleaning than deal-making). Having business start-up ideas is not enough – however good they may be, you need the energy and determination to turn them into action – it’s hard work! And maybe two heads are better (or at least more fun) than one.

Most recently I learned about the concept of the ‘side hustle’ – a new name rather than a new idea – but one that’s significant enough to command the attention of the Henley Business School that researched the growth of the phenomenon in summer 2018. Essentially a side hustle is a business venture to supplement income from regular job. Its growth has been largely born out of flexible working practices and growing insecurity in the jobs market. At its best, a side hustle is the creative low-risk development of a potentially good business idea, at its worst it’s self-indulgence at someone else’s (ie your employer) expense. Some also see it as a sign that the jobs market is in a poor state with low pay and part-time becoming the norm. For me it was something else – an opportunity to try to turn a hobby into a small business (nothing new there) alongside a new part-time job, working with someone else.

Green & Grey is the enterprise I’m developing in Royston near Cambridge with a new-found partner-in-wood; we’re exploring creative ways to cut waste – mainly by making items for homes and gardens using reclaimed materials.  After meeting at a community breakfast (full English breakfasts are a shared passion) David and I discovered another common interest – making products from pallet wood. It got us thinking…  David likes creating (he’s the arty one) and my background is in marketing, so it seemed like a good combination. We agreed to make and market our products and, as important in my opinion, tell the story behind the enterprise, to see what would happen.

Four weeks after our very soft launch, our online presence is largely our WordPress web pages and Facebook (see links below). We recently met up in a local pub – no trouble finding time for a pint in our otherwise busy weeks – to review our progress and plan our next move. These are some of our reflections:

  • We’re happy with the brand-building, but not the sales. We’ve had a commission to make kids jousting equipment for a summer pageant, but we think we need to be more direct on the sales front
  • We’re expecting that one-off commissions will make up an important part of our work, but for now we plan to push summer items (for the garden) that can be made to order quickly
  • We’ll focus us online promotion through local social media platforms, highlighting our own local connections and our personal and professional values
  • With summer and craft markets in mind, we’ll be researching the market for smaller items that we can make and transport relatively easily
  • Above all, we’re agreed that we won’t compromise on the quality of our work and will price our products accordingly

The conversation goes on – between the two of us, but also with our followers. You can keep in touch by liking our Facebook page and we’ll be updating our journey (we’re all on a journey apparently) through future blog posts. Watch this space and tell your friends – because there is no planet B.

Further information: on Green & Grey  www.facebook.com/GreenAndGreyRecreations  and   https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/green-and-grey-store

On side hustles https://assets.henley.ac.uk/defaultUploads/PDFs/news/Journalists-Regatta-Henley_Business_School_whitepaper_DIGITAL.pdf

My love affair with singing

I’d love to be able to say that my mum and dad met through singing in a choir together. The latter is true – they both sang with the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union (where my Mum would apparently swoon over principal conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent) but they knew each other before that.

A lasting memory is of my mum’s enthusiasm for Wednesday nights when us kids were put to bed by my dad and she went off to choir rehearsal. ‘Me time’ was how she described it and she always said that having one night a week to sing in the choir saved her sanity as a mother with four children!

‘Getting away from the kids’ was just one of a range of benefits given by choir members at Royston Choral Society when asked why they liked to sing in the choir (apart from enjoying music and singing). Other reasons given were ‘unwinding after a busy day’, ‘mixing with like-minded people in a friendly environment’, ‘de-stressing’ and ‘the drink in the pub afterwards’. I personally think the buzz when all the parts of the choir come together in harmony is pretty unbeatable.

My love of singing probably has a lot to do with my upbringing. Not only did my parents sing, but my three elder sisters used to perform in the folk clubs on Merseyside. We were also fed a diet of Jacqui and Bridie and The Spinners alongside Flanders and Swan. My own association with folk clubs is more for listening than performing; fortnightly I enjoy incredibly talented acts at the Royston Folk Club – there’s something about live music…

I sang in the school choir up to the age of 18 (we had a top tenor at our school so we ended up doing pretty advanced stuff, including St Matthew Passion) which makes it all the more surprising that I didn’t join the Royston Choral Society until 2000 – more than 25 years after leaving school.

I actually took it up during two decades when I was living with mental ill health. It’s well known that singing can lift the spirits, but it was more complicated than that. I had a fixture in my week – a bit like my mum’s ‘me-time’ – and I was surrounded by people who didn’t know what was going on in my head, so I had to act ‘normally’ – no sympathy, but plenty of support.

That original therapeutic reason for singing in a choir is, I’m happy to say, no longer necessary (or maybe it’s singing that’s keeping the ‘black dog’ at bay?) but I’ve stayed with the choir and, apart from one sabbatical term off, I’ve been a member for close to 20 years. I reckon that’s something to sing about!

For other blog posts in the ‘My love affair with…’ series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/my-love-affair-with

My love affair with running

Last Saturday I ran my 100th parkrun. No big deal in itself – there are parkrunners who have gone well beyond the 250 mark and many who are much older than me – but I celebrated with a beer all the same. I’m not competitive, but my aim each Saturday I run is to be in the top third of all runners, in the top five for my age group, and to finish under 26 minutes. I’m pleased to report that last Saturday I achieved all three.

The magic that is the parkrun family and all it stands for (thank you Wimpole parkrun where I’ve run 65 of the 100) is just one of the reasons for my love of running. When I joined parkrun I was told ‘it’s not about the running, it’s about community’ – that says it all.

Next month is the sixth anniversary of my relationship with parkrun, but that’s just the last 6 years of almost exactly twenty years of on and off road-running. Just to be clear, my relationship with running has been solid for the past two decades (I’ve fairly consistently kept up four runs a week, excluding holidays) it’s the running surface that’s been on-and-off.

Like many, I started running for my health – in my case it was living with mental ill health and, while running wasn’t the ‘magic bullet’, it did get me out of bed when other prospects in those dark days were far less inviting. I was introduced to running by someone far better than I – he paid the price for his obsession and has since turned to successful race walking, which puts less demands on his knees.

There are objective reasons why running is ‘a good thing’ – uplifting our spirits when we’re feeling low and keeping our bodies working better (knees notwithstanding) for longer. It’s low-cost (only the price of a pair of decent trainers) and convenient – I can run any time of day or night on any day of the year – and I do! It takes you places you might never go and starts conversations with friends and fellow runners that would otherwise remain unspoken. On one particular run, many years ago, five of us talked about everything from God to guinea pigs in the space of ten miles!

When running alone I use my time for thinking freely, or doing the opposite. I often take out a problem I’m wrestling with and, by the time I get home, it either doesn’t seem so bad or I’ve sorted out something completely different. Some great ideas come when I run (well, I think they’re good, but many don’t seem so when I’ve warmed down). Then there’s my mindful running; identifying the sounds I can hear around me; focusing on how I’m feeling as the run develops (a bodyscan); or just concentrating on the metre ahead of me – striding with purpose, oblivious to pretty much everything else around me – the secret of some of my best parkrun times.

Of course, it’s easy to get sentimental about something you love. It probably won’t sound sincere from me, so I urge you to read Running Free by fellrunner Richard Askwith. The book’s sub-title is A runner’s journey back to nature and, to quote the publicity blurb: Not convinced running had to be all about pounding pavements, buying fancy kit and racking up extreme challenges, [Richard Askwith] looked for ways to liberate himself. His solution: running through muddy fields and up rocky fells, running with his dog at dawn, running because he’s being (voluntarily) chased by a pack of bloodhounds, running to get hopelessly, enjoyably lost, running fast for the sheer thrill of it…. Running Free is about getting back to the basics of why we love to run”

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Richard-Askwith/Running-Free–A-Runners-Journey-Back-to-Nature/16498647 (order online through Hive and you support local bookshops)

For my other ‘love affairs’ in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/my-love-affair-with