Shedloads – a gift list for book (and shed) lovers

There are lots of jokes about a man’s relationship with (his) garden shed. Much is jovial and harmless banter, some has a more sinister undertone; the isolation and escape of a garden shed is not always ‘a good thing’.

This selection of books is a bit of fun for Christmas and beyond. Tossing the odd shed fact – mostly trivia – into a conversation can also be a useful opening for talking about Men’s Sheds – communal workspaces that are keeping men healthier and happier for longer – one of my passions (see www.menssheds.org.uk).

Fifty Sheds of Grey

‘Hurt me!’ she begged, raising her skirt as she bent over the workbench. ‘Very well,’ I replied, ‘You’ve got fat ankles and no dress sense.’ Colin Grey’s life was happy and simple until the day everything changed – the day his wife read THAT book. Suddenly, he was thrust head-first into a dark, illicit world of pleasure and pain. This is the story of one man’s struggle against a tide of tempestuous, erotic desire and of the greatest love of all: the love between a man and his shed.

A Hut of One’s Own: How to Make the Most of Your Allotment Shed

Allotments are places to grow food, but they are so much more than that. They are also places that encourage spontaneity, exploration, learning, sharing, restful activity and camaraderie. This illustrated book is a celebration of the allotment hut – their architecture and design, their uniqueness.

Men and Sheds

One of the more arty titles on offer here – striking black and white photos and a running commentary feature men and their sheds in a variety of guises. From a workshop of strange inventions, to a chapel and the home of a milk bottle collection, to a cinema. I like it because the men and shed get equal billing and the personalities of both shine through.

101 Things to do in a Shed

Published in 2005, by design this little gem has a much older feel about it from the use of rough paper with brown tint (light sepia?) to the simple Look & Learn style line drawings. There really are a wide range in the 101 project ideas contained within 128 pages. Members of The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead can confirm its status as a how-to handbook if you make some allowance for instructions and illustrations that don’t always tally with each other. But such shortcomings add to the charm of this ideal stocking-filler for dads and lads.

A Shed of One’s Own

The sub-title for this book – midlife without the crisis – is a giveaway that this book is not really about sheds but more an amusing survival guide for men at an age and stage at which a shed for escaping to becomes increasingly appealing.

This is for you if you show symptoms such as shouting at the radio, getting angry about littering, and developing a passion for trousers with elasticated waistbands. It’s probably not for you if you’re trying to buy a Shed.

Shedworking

Written by a man with a mission – to convert the world to the delights and convenience of working at the bottom of the garden in a ‘shoffice’. This is part architectural guide, part tour of famous sheds, part how-to handbook, and part supplier catalogue. Illustrated throughout with full colour photos, this is a beautiful book for coffee tables everywhere (including in sheds).  http://www.shedworking.co.uk/p/buy-book.html

The Joy of Sheds

Another tongue in cheek collection of facts and figures (some famous, like Edvard Greig, Snoop Dogg, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame) associated with sheds around the world.

A selection of headings for short chapters give you the idea: Sheds in Music; Sheds at the Movies; Shed Art. One of the most intriguing chapter headings is ‘Hidden in a Shed’ which demonstrates the fact that they can harbour pretty much anything and everything.

The Shed

An early addition to the Ladybird Books for adults series. Well observed and a stupidly simple idea to appeal to people of an age to remember the originals. The idea – take the cover picture add a text that says “Using your shed as an office is called shedworking. Bunny works from his shed. He is a freelance cow-whisperer. At least that’s what he tells his wife. Bunny is unemployed” If you’re giggling, this is one for you.

All books (except Shedworking) are available online through Hive Books (www.hive.co.uk).

Hive are recommended for three reasons: their books are often cheaper than you-know-who; they pay UK taxes and, importantly, they support local bookshops. As someone who spent the first 15 years of his working life in book publishing this is important to me.

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What makes an entrepreneur?

Recent research by Innovate UK and YouGov asked 18-30 year olds that were not in employment, education or training about their attitudes to innovation and entrepreneurship. One of many findings suggested that young people have problems with the word ‘entrepreneur’ and only 8% of those interviewed said they would describe themselves as ‘entrepreneurial’.

This got me thinking about the images conjured up by the word ‘entrepreneur’ and why young ‘disadvantaged’ young people might distance themselves from that image.

I think mass media has a lot to answer for here. TV programmes (or ‘shows’ as Lord Sugar once described his) like The Apprentice and, to a lesser extent, Dragon’s Den have long since given up on pretending to reflect real business and typical business people – no doubt in the scramble for viewing figures and the need to edit hours of filming down to a few handpicked moments of high drama, however contrived they may appear in the final cut.

The confrontational format of both those TV programmes probably does nothing to encourage more thoughtful and less gobby would-be entrepreneurs to consider starting their own businesses. This may also explain why 82% of those young people that YouGov consulted viewed the business sector as ‘difficult to access’ (whatever that really means).

But I also think the contrasting portrayal of entrepreneurs – as super-cool, edgy, risk-takers – is equally unhelpful. I assume this portrayal is intended to make entrepreneurship more attractive to younger people, but giving entrepreneurs super-hero qualities can also be off-putting if you’re perfectly capable but low on self-confidence.

Maybe the potentially confusing terminology is also to blame. I’m not sure I could clearly describe the difference between an innovator, an inventor, and an entrepreneur. And that’s just in a business context; as far as I’m concerned all three individuals might have no plans to invest their particular talents in setting up a business, but still aspire to make a difference and change the world.

There are any number of articles defining ‘what makes an entrepreneur’. A Google search with this question gets you 30.7m results and I myself have written about this in the past, in relation to ‘social entrepreneurs’ in particular. There’s a mind-boggling array of arguments about whether entrepreneurship is about having the right mindset, relevant practical skills, or suitable character traits – in reality it’s probably a mix of all those elements.

Sometimes I work in the Entrepreneurial Spark incubator in Milton Keynes – a business start-up-and-grow facility (‘powered by NatWest’ it says on the publicity) and there I’ve seen a large poster with E-Spark’s interpretation of what it means to be a successful entrepreneur. The poster’s list of 22 ingredients in their recipe for success [with my own commentary in brackets] are below:

I focus, focus, focus [yes – procrastination and being all over the place is rarely helpful]

I re-imagine daily [whatever that means… could it be about constantly monitoring progress?]

Outcomes rule my day [being effective as opposed to efficient (which is about outputs) makes sense – ‘results-focused’ is another way of putting this]

I am self-aware ALWAYS [if this means knowing what you’re not good at, knowing your limits and how to plug the gaps, that a good thing]

I know my numbers [yes – whether you like or loathe them, you need to understand figures]

I engage my customers [Engage is one of my red-rag words because it’s so vague – so is this ingredient]

I am constantly curious [although they say the best entrepreneurs are not too bright – so they don’t always think about what could go wrong and focus instead on the destination]

My business has vision [I suppose as long as your vision and that of the business are complementary…]

I am humbly confident [yep – I think that strikes about the right balance]

I inspire my team to excel [leading by example is clever, leading from behind is even smarter]

Uncomfortable? I’m comfortable with that [the ability to take yourself out of your much-talked-about comfort zone is an essential requirement when starting a business – be prepared to do it]

I love to collaborate [yes – I believe collaboration (rather than competition) is the future for businesses that matter]

I am aware… Always on [I hope this doesn’t mean you never switch off from being an entrepreneur – that is not a healthy habit]

I make decisions intuitively [gut feeling is important for some people and, if you’re wrong, they also say ‘fail early, fail fast’ to make you feel better about your mistakes]

I take action – ALWAYS [cue old joke – I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure]

I am constantly selling and pitching [interestingly there’s a current backlash against pitching. And a tip – don’t sell and pitch to your friends and family]

I wake up ready to communicate [as long as this doesn’t keep you or your partner awake at night!]

I have a lean work ethic [makes sense for some businesses – particularly those with low start-up costs, as does the concept of a ‘minimal viable product’]

I develop a relevant network [love or loathe networking, it can get you further faster]

I value working with mentors [never stop learning and never think you know it all]

I am opportunity hungry [I think this means being able to spot opportunities and take them]

The buck stops with me [exciting and scary – as is much of ‘going it alone’ in business]

Further reading:

Slowing the spin about social entrepreneurs https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/slowing-the-spin-about-social-entrepreneurs

Age and social entrepreneurship https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/age-and-social-entrepreneurship

Has pitching had its day? https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/15/the-apprentice-pitch-pitching-productive?

Trade secrets – you don’t need a website

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

Not every business requires a website just as every high street retailer doesn’t have to have a shop front. It depends on the particular product / service you’re selling and how you expect your (potential) customers to find you.

Even if your competitors have a website it doesn’t mean you have to copy them. A PR expert (a specialist in communications) has been running her one-woman public relations company successfully for 16 years. She is only now considering a website, but she’s been doing fine without one! Don’t be a sheep when it comes to deciding which communications tools to use – find out what works best for you and your business.

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets

 

Trade secrets – it’s as important to repel people as attract them

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

When your time, money and other resources are limited (so all the time when you’re starting your business) you want to make useful contacts with potential supporters (including would-be customers) and to avoid time-wasters.

Small businesses that shy away from attracting new customers because they’re so busy with existing enquiries are usually spending a lot of their time dealing with people they can’t help. They need to find ways, through accurate publicity and automated/standardised responses, to filter out enquiries from the people they can’t help.

If you spend a lot of time handling enquiries from people who have got the wrong impression about your business, go back and re-write your publicity – it probably doesn’t describe what you do clearly enough.

https://blog.getresponse.com/repel-wrong-customers-attract-right-ones.html

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets

 

Trade secrets – your best ideas will come when you’re not trying

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

One sure way not to be creative and come up with good ideas is to try too hard. Your best ideas will rarely come sitting at your desk. Lightbulb moments are more likely when brushing your teeth, standing in the shower, lying in bed, having a quiet drink in the pub, or out on a run (in other words, when you least expect them!)

So the message is not to spend all your time doing the above, but rather to have means of recording the ideas as soon as possible after they come into your head.

Once recorded you can then afford to put them on one side and return to evaluate them when you have time to do so. This may be weeks later as long as you’ve recorded the essence of your (potentially brilliant) idea. The time lag can even help with the assessment process; in the cool light of day ideas are often viewed more objectively.

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets

Trade secrets – marketing is cheap and easy

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

Marketing professionals who sell their services to businesses have to convince others that marketing is difficult so they (the businesses) need to employ someone else to do it. Without belittling the art of the marketer, a lot of good marketing is common-sense communication demanding time rather than money.

At the start-up stage, when money is tight, doing your own marketing is probably the best use of your time. When the business is established and growing, that might be the time to think about employing the services of marketing specialists, but managing that discipline and remaining in control will still be important – to make sure the business goes in the direction you want.

After my day-long marketing training days I tell learners that if they do half of what they’ve learnt during the training day, they’ll probably be doing twice as much marketing as the average small business. They find this hard to believe, but many businesses often fail to even get the basics of marketing right (which may be why they remain ‘small’ businesses?) So maybe you do need to employ the professionals after all…

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets

Trade secrets – social media isn’t free publicity

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

Social media is amazing – it has turned us all into publishers with an audience for our words that is potentially worldwide. It has considerably levelled the playing field for business start-ups of all sizes wanting to establish their online presence and, hopefully, to build a following of supporters and potential customers.

The ease of going online and getting out there may deceive users into thinking the whole process is easy and free of costs to the would-be business. Don’t be deceived – if you’re thinking like a business rather than a user of social media, you need to cost your time online and make sure it’s well spent.  You’ll need to invest some of your time to find out which social media communication channels do the job you want them to. You need to set marketing objectives and be able to measure the effectiveness of your online efforts to achieve them – and then focus your time accordingly.

On the cost side, also be aware of the damage you can do to your professional and personal reputation if you get your online presence wrong. It may be a cliché, but remember “A happy customer tells a friend; an unhappy one tells the world.” And, through social media, they’ll do it much, much faster!

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets/