Posted in Networking, Startup

Collaboration v Competition

As long as I can remember I have just wanted to help people.  This is good, right?

Unfortunately people are wary of those who just want to help and I always get so many follow up questions when I tell people this.


What do you want in return?

You can’t just want to help surely, no one is that kind?

Well, OK, I do charge for my time when I work but I also give advice for free.  For the same reason I have created this blog, I also meet people who have got in touch since I started Starfish Organisers Ltd to ask how to start their business, becoming a VA, becoming a personal organiser and just going out alone into the self employed world.

This is the big thing, you are not alone, there are so many people out there in the same position who want to help and have someone else to bounce ideas off and one of those people is me.  I genuinely love helping people and want to see everyone else succeed. When I mention this to some they comment how I could be helping the competition and this could be a disadvantage to my business.  I get a kick out of seeing others meet their goals whilst achieving my own.  I’m not a business coach by any means but I like to help and share my learnings from experiences in my own business.

As an example I have visited various networking meetings, some of which have rules where only 1 of each type of service can attend.  Now, I get this in some ways but I also don’t understand.  All the other VAs or Organisers I have met have a) been lovely and b) specialise in different sectors or provide different services.  My thinking is that if we join forces we can send work each way as well as supporting each other when we experience similar issues.

This is probably why I didn’t “fit in” the Corporate world, where competition was expected and if you could get one up on someone else it was like a win.  It was very odd to me as I enjoy collaboration.  Especially where local micro businesses are concerned.  There’s a saying that when you are using a local business you are helping put a child through swimming lessons or someone save for their next personal goal instead of filling deep pockets.

I believe it is due to this I seem to spend so much of my time networking, well, talking to people and trying to help, referring people and bigging up other local companies.  All without paying any large fees.  This is what I am passionate about.  Helping local businesses. Of course it is great to get some business in return and receive help for my own business – every day is a school day and I am learning all the time.  Today’s reminder was to listen and take note, you will learn more listening than filling silence with your own voice.

Feel like you can relate to this, would like a chat about your own business or need some organisation in your business to help with focus? Get in touch via phone – 07772 773992 or e-mail –

Posted in Networking, Startup

I’m with Alicia Keys #nomakeup – Women at work

The whole #nomakeup conversation has kicked off whilst I’ve been away and while I don’t have a strong opinion about it, there is something I would like to discuss.  Women and men have a different set of “rules” when it comes to the workplace however, rarely, this is dictated by real rules set by the place of work.

I know, another girl writing / moaning about how women are treated different to men in the workplace blah blah blah.  Let me stop you there, I’m different, I promise, carry on….

I rarely wear make up, I didn’t even bring any on holiday.  It’s a personal choice and whilst I used to have minus zero self confidence and not great skin I am now quite happy to be without make up day to day and believe I look OK without it and do not need it.  However, when I am off to a meeting, networking event I sometimes feel like I would like some mascara on (that’s as “done” as it gets normally!) again this is personal choice and how it makes me feel when I’m going out for business.

Having my own business and what my service is means that I am my brand, people are buying me so it’s massively important that I am happy and comfortable when meeting potential new clients as I will come across so much better.

In previous jobs I have done similar but, being much younger and having not much confidence it meant that I didn’t really understand my own style so I muddled through.  This was when the “rules” came into place.  I have been advised to wear certain things including more make up at work.  Now, let me get this clear. I followed the dress code, looked smart but not suited and booted which I was told I should think about doing as it would help me feel better coming to work, more confident apparently.  I was following the company rules but it wasn’t right somehow.

This is where it can be different for men, they are either smart or not.  Suit, shirt, tie or no tie, that’s the choice.  It’s not great on their part as the choice isn’t very wide and the rules can be stricter as that can be almost like a uniform for them – different colours but same outfit.  Women get skirts, dresses, trousers, blouses, tops in a variety of styles as well as colours plus are happy to judge each other on it – where the problem lies.

Unfortunately this didn’t help my confidence so I went and purchased some suits and slap and looked different and very uncomfortable for a while.  Did it help?  Not really as the clothes and make up were not the root issue and were not “me”.

Now, having learnt from this, grown up, grown confidence and found a wardrobe which I’m comfortable in and suits my style I no longer have that problem.  I wear what I believe is suitable for me and the situation or day ahead.  We all do different things to make ourselves feel better but it is the comments and judging which do not help.  If we were all the same the world would be boring.  Some people like to wear a lot of make up, this is fine as long as they are comfortable and happy as their body language will show this much brighter than they can say.

If someone doesn’t hire me on my outfit or make up then we are probably not going to work well together anyway so it’s probably for the best but, as long as my body language shows and I come across as trusted, friendly, reliable and positive then I know I’ve done my best.

Posted in Networking, Startup

Creating a team without paying anyone

Coming from a Corporate background, within a team of 17 and managing 3 people myself I would clearly be an expert when it comes to building a team, knowing the right people in the right places and more importantly who wouldn’t be a good fit (after interviewing a number of people, including those for my own job I wish this had happened before I ever had an interview myself, you learn a lot!) Going alone is different, very different.  Especially when you need a team around you and you have no money to pay yourself let alone anyone else.

This is one of those times when you go round and round in circles until one of your best friends makes a comment that they are a photographer (I knew this, they were our wedding photographer!) and you have a lightbulb moment.  An obvious, oh my word, why did I not think of this beforehand, I must be thick, lightbulb moment.

I then spent 10 minutes making a list of what I need and then, put next to it who I know.  Since networking this list has obviously grown and changed but it is amazing how much information and help there is out there for free.

As I mentioned in my post about accountants, there is advice out there for free and yes, you can spend hours googling people but how do you know if they are real, reliable and will help you with your own business. When you set up it feels like you are constantly receiving e-mails and snail mail with offers of help – great, but not everyone is as honest as you are.

Anyway, back to my list.  To give myself some focus I wrote down what I needed to get going or, at this point, build some contacts so I could improve on the basics I had…..

Website – So I could master the free sites but wanted something a bit more, someone mentioned I would need a ‘coder’- bonus, my cousin does coding. Sorted! Paid in dinners….

Photos – As above, my best mate’s a photographer, I owe her big already so adding to the tab….

Business Advice – Anyone I know with their own business, I asked so many people so many questions and some the same questions.  Have a think and there are loads of people who have their own businesses – this includes self-employed people who are often not considering as running a business.

Accountant – Found via networking but still asked more than 1 for advice as the opinions do vary but figures are fact.

Someone to bounce crazy ideas off – Also mentioned previously, my best mate Sara, who runs Balanced Life, she is so used to my random questions and I know I’ll get an honest opinion which I always need.

“Competitors” – One of the things people will tell you is to look at your competition.  Yes, I am a happy, positive, scatty girl, I admit it and so, do not see anyone as “competition”.  There are over 64 million people in the UK so plenty of clients to go around, it is also great that I have joined Apdo UK as we have a closed Facebook group where everyone shares information and can ask questions.  It’s so friendly and people recommend others and pass clients on which is awesome, you feel like you’re working as your own team.

It can be lonely working on your own and when I am  either bookkeeping, database cleansing or updating social media I can go a bit fuzzy eyed and slightly crazy if am sat on my own in front of the laptop for too long.  This is where networking helps as well as twitter / e-mail / Facebook as you find that there are so many people in the same situation they need a breather too.  I also book in meetings (coffees!) to break up the day if I know it will be a long one.

This is the bonus of working for yourself, you manage your own time and can chat to whoever you want! For those who can’t work alone you can rent offices or desks where others are in the same boat so it can even feel like a big company office – without the politics!

So I’ve found there are so many ways to create my own team, whether I need help with something or just company, it is a world away from working within a large Corporate team but is still a team just a different way of working and it suits me perfectly.



Posted in Networking

Taking a big leap into networking!

Networking, meeting people. Turning up into a room when everyone knows everyone, they are best of friends, been working together forever, won’t be interested in anything I say, do, want to tell them.  Maybe I shouldn’t go, maybe I can site behind my laptop forever and just get clients that way or from friends and family.

handshake-1471563_640That was a tiny piece of my mind before I started networking and went to any event.  It was a negative and nervous place.  Unfortunately (for businesses like mine where I need to see people!) I can’t sit behind my laptop on social media forever.  What I found when I did turn up at events was that it was a group of people like me who have their own business and would like to tell me and everyone else in the room about it.  The more you think about it, the worse you can make it in your head so it is best to book as soon as possible.  Some events are members only, some are coffee mornings where you can turn up whenever you are free.  Some charge a lot (for good reason), some charge a little.

I decided that I would try a few events, organisations and lunches to see what worked for me.  This is an important point – not all work for all and don’t expect to book every client you meet as well as none at all.  Have a read and see how I got on at each one…..I’ve not tried every one in my area yet as I need the times to work for me when I don’t have to take the tiny human but hoping to as now I’ve tried one it’s made it so much easier to turn up and make friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

ThebestofSudbury – An evening with the Best of Sudbury, local businesses join to meet, have a pint (it’s in a bar so rude not to!), put your card in to win, speed networking, presentations and further details on other events or members.  Monday evenings once a month from 5.30pm at the Quay Theatre bar.

I struggle with evenings but organised the tiny one so I could attend for the first time.  Lovely bunch of people who genuinely want to meet the “new girl” and chat about what I and they do.  Met a funeral director (with a fab sense of humour!), Storage company, accountant, bookkeeper, jeweller, dog sitter / walker and a website designer. (More people were there but I ran out of time to speak to them!)   All very useful people who I have used for quotes and advice since.  Although walking in felt a bit nervy, it was fine.  I would definitely attend again but will always struggle at this time, plus I want my business card to win!  I’d recommend this to anyone, especially as you can dip in and out rather than go every month – which you can do if you wish as there’s something different each month.

WIBN – The Women in business network, Bury St Edmunds.  This was a Thursday lunch midday – 2pm, they meet once a month and is members only but obviously you can visit once for a lunch fee to see what you think.

Officially my Thursdays are my days with the tiny human but I worked it so I could visit the Woolpack for lunch one month, wanted to see what it was like in case my days every changed.  Another lovely group of people, members can join but they ensure there is only 1 person doing any service in the group.  Had a lovely lunch, discussed what we did and then met up for 121s to discuss in more detail.  The group was quite small when I went but is obviously working on growing at the moment.  I have decided not join at the moment due to cost (starting up means I have to choose where to spend wisely) but would recommend it to anyone based in BSE or the A14 corridor as other groups which you can visit / link up with are in Cambridge and Ipswich.  I’d recommend this for SMEs wanting to grow further rather than start ups (my opinion, start ups can join).

Menta – Coffee means business with Menta, monthly Thursdays 9.30am – 11.30am, pay £2 on arrival and chat, swap business cards and see presentations. Lots of various people from all services / local areas.

Again, you don’t have to be a member and can just turn up but is a Thursday morning so I needed to organise the tiny human to go.  This was a bit more daunting as you have to approach people as they are chatting in 2s or as a group but if you spend a few seconds on reading body language you can see who best to talk to.  I met some interesting and very interesting people……remember that anyone can turn up…..but it was very worthwhile and I would recommend it to anyone.  I will attend again as I have kept the business cards of people I met who will be helpful in the future.

Expert Circles – Another members network but you can attend as a visitor for a free breakfast and members can bring others along for the price of a breakfast.  They meet fortnightly at Newton Green Golf Club on Wednesdays from 6.45am – 9am.

I’ve found I work best in the mornings, I am a morning person, I am more productive and more “with it” first thing.  Plus the tiny human is away Tuesday nights so I am free to go whenever I can!! This is the one I decided to join, you get breakfast, coffee or tea, round table for 60 seconds on your business and each meeting is different with further information on other businesses and presentations which are always interesting and informative.  I would again recommend these to anyone, members are kept to a limit for time reasons but worth a visit!

All of the above are linked so take a look at the events and information to see when the next ones are, all worth a visit if you are a first-timer even if just for practise and to get over nerves.  Not everyone is best friends and they do want to hear what you have to say, I have to admit I’m a complete convert and really enjoy it now, love meeting new people to build my “team”.

As mentioned above, I’ve not tried every networking event so please get in touch or send me details if you know of any I should give a try.  If they involve food even better….!!