Orange Grove Market

And now for something completely different

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So now I'm selling candles at markets at weekends. Why? I needed a change from spending all day sitting at a desk, behind a computer, dealing with coding and clients. In short, I needed an income stream which provides less stress. I am not taking on any new clients at the moment, but will continue to provide maintenance to existing ones. My website and graphic design business is now a part-time enterprise. A little bit more about the candles. They are made by HIVE Australia, and are 100% Australian beeswax blended with pure essential oils, and they have Australian cotton wicks. They are as natural as the HIVE team can make them, with no nasty toxins. As I've loved burning candles since I was a teen, I'm delighted to be spending my Saturdays or Sundays introducing this incredible brand to others, and enjoying the scented bliss of my market stall. You'll find me most Saturdays at the fantastic Orange Grove Organic Market in Lilyfield, Sydney. Keep an eye on my candles Facebook page to find out where I'll be each weekend.

She read one too many sensationalist teaser headlines. You’ll never guess what happened next!

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She wrote a blog post about it. Have you noticed the increasing trend for sensational, teasing headlines like the title of this post? On my personal Facebook feed it seems a lot of pages are using them, particularly the more tabloid ones (Mamamia, I'm talking to you.) He introduced his ferrets to his baby rabbit. You won't believe what happened next! (What? Bunny carnage? Nope. Best friends forever from day one, totally breaking the first law of modern journalism: If it bleeds, it leads. But you guessed that before even reading the post, didn't you?) I find these teaser headlines curiously irritating. For a high percentage of them, they don't live up to their promise of surprise. But they do catch my eye, and make me hover my clicky finger over the link in an agony of Do I, Don't I; is it really worth me spending my time checking out that link, especially if it's a video more than three seconds long? In that respect they do exactly as they are intended to. What's your view on the sensationalist headline? Does it bug you? Is it beginning to annoy you? Or haven't you really noticed how it's gathering force on the internet?

A tale of two cities

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Flinders St Station, Melbourne

Flinders St Station, Melbourne

I'm a Sydneysider, brought up with the parochial belief that Sydney - big, brash, sunny and with beautiful, crashing waves on its beaches - is better than Melbourne with its quiet Yarra river and flat beaches. Rivalry between Australia's two biggest cities has been going at it hammer and tongs since before Federation. Sydney's the place with the wow factor. It has the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It has the Opera House. It has a zoo where giraffes have an unimpeded, stunning view of the city itself. Sydney's the city that people living overseas automatically associate with Australia. But is it better than Melbourne? Melbourne has been ranked the world's most liveable city three years in a row, and as I spend more time there for work and family reasons, I'm beginning to understand why. It's not that the cost of living is appreciably less than Sydney, particularly in terms of housing. Property prices in both places are hefty whether you are buying or renting. The cost of food and petrol is much the same, too. It's to do with the character of the city. Melbourne's city area has a more European feel than Sydney's, which I like. Read More
Louise Brooks

When silence is golden

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Ever noticed how much noise there is in our everyday life? While I'm typing this I can hear the white noise of traffic on the major road half a kilometre away. I don't, for once, even have the radio on. It's usually in the background, quite gentle, and tuned to ABC Classic FM; soothing stuff for the most part. I need peace and quiet when I work, which is why I work alone. Surrounded by people I can feel my annoyance rising. A trip to the post office will take me into a noisy mall, all tiled floors and hard surfaces. It's only when I walk out and head towards home (I walk to the PO rather than take the car for environmental and health reasons) that I realise how awfully loud it was in there. And it IS awful, a cacophonous din of doof doof music from the fashion shops, kids crying, people talking loudly so they can be heard over the music. Noise can affect our moods. Shopping mall noise - any constant, loud noise really - can make us short tempered, or in a work situation, decrease our concentration. It's no surprise that people are addicted to their iPods, choosing their own music over the noise forced upon them. Having had the house to myself for a few days with my husband on a business trip, I haven't even turned on the television at night. I have rejoiced in peace and quiet. I've spent two nights painting pictures, and the third, last night, I watched silent movies on YouTube on my iPad.
Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks

I had to laugh at myself when I considered what I was doing. I had purposely sought out 1920s movies (Pandora's Box starring the sublime Louise Brooks and It starring bubbly Clara Bow) as an antidote to the workdays I have, when technology bombards me from 8.30am to 6.00pm. In the 1920s the telephone was as technological as you got and not every home had one. But... I was watching on a very 2012 invention. There's something strange about that! There are times when I curse technology. Computers were supposed to make our lives simpler but we are flooded with emails, with requests to network via our computers or other technology; often we are so overwhelmed with the amount of information, requests and data we receive that our productivity is worse than it was twenty years ago, and we are working longer hours just to get the workload done. Clients expect instant results, everything is 'urgent'. I now turn the sound down on my Mac so I don't hear the 'bong' of emails dropping into my inbox as it's distracting, and when I'm on an urgent task, depressing. And as for mobile phones, yes, smartphones are wonderful and I would hate to go back to life without some of my favourite apps. But it seems there is no escape from people wanting to contact you 24/7 and then complaining if you don't answer the phone. Sorry folks, the phone goes to voicemail when I'm driving or in a meeting. Get over it. But when technology gives me the means to escape to a less frenetic time, I embrace it. I don't even have to turn the sound down. Silents are golden.

Headlights on, please!

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We're having a rainy February here in Sydney. Not just rain in some cases but a heavy, pelting deluge. I was driving through one of these yesterday and visibility was shocking. Even more shocking was the number of cars without their headlights on. When you look at the number of cars on the road here it seems almost 50% of them are conservative colours in the monochromatic scale: black, dark grey, grey and silver. Colours that blend in a little too well with the road at times. Those times include rain. I was trying to make a right-hand turn and didn't see the guy in the silver car on my left until he was almost in front of me. Thankfully there was nothing coming on my right and my brakes are good even in the wet. The silver car didn't have headlights on and in the almost tropical downpour was virtually invisible. In 1995 I visited Canada and it was mandatory even then to drive with one's headlights on day or night. In rainy Vancouver it made a lot of sense. On sunny days driving east as far as Calgary on country roads, cars coming in the opposite direction were easy to see; on dull and rainy days the oncoming traffic really stood out. This is a lesson I brought back with me and habitually drive with lights on when I'm on country roads, sunny or cloudy. I also put my headlights on around Sydney on rainy days. This is my request to all drivers: if it's raining, put your lights on. If you're worried about burning a tiny bit more fuel as a result, think of this: it might save your life or someone else's. (Oh, and if you're driving in the kerbside lane in a heavy downpour, have a care for people scurrying along the footpath and try not to send a fountain of water over them. Saw that yesterday too.)

Make my day. Here’s a pen.

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old letterWith typewriter production all but dead (apparently it's struggling to hang onto the earth around the grave with one feeble hand on a tussock of grass), the MamaMia site posted an article todayabout the almost lost art of letter writing, by hand. With the rise of the internet and social media, the only people likely to write a letter by hand are those who don't own or operate a computer - ageing relatives, typically, who just can't get the hang of it or don't want to know about computers. Time was when receiving a personal letter was exciting, especially if it was from a friend in a far-flung place. There was the texture of the paper for starters - my aunt in Surrey used beautiful thick, creamy paper - and depending on the writer, handwriting that ranged from spider-crawled-out-of-an-inkwell to elegant pseudo-Copperplate. My grandmother was a prolific letter writer and kept her family and far-flung friends up to date with family happenings. I had a long-distance relationship for a couple of years in the 1980s with a guy who lived in Canada, and we'd send long letters full of our daily lives and photographs to each other. Our letters were stuffed too with newspaper and magazine clippings we thought the other may be interested in. Occasionally the letters would be just that, simple letters with no insertions, but I kept them and read them over and over; even the nasty bust-up ones that signalled the end. I binned the lot during a big life purge about five years ago, with some misgivings, but it was a cleansing feeling as far as those bust-up Dear Jane letters went. Treasured though are letters and cards from my long-gone father and grandparents. When I see their writing - each one individual and packed with their personalities - I can hear them speak the words on the paper. Their voices flood into my head and I can see their faces. That's something you just don't get with email or social media even when, as with Facebook, there's a face right in front of you. Then there's the postcards. Luckily we have friends and family who still send them, as it's nicer to get a picture and message we can stick on the fridge for a bit rather than read "OMG! In Barcelona! Does anyone know a good tapas bar?" on Twitter or Facebook - a message meant for as many readers as possible. The postcards are personalised for us alone. Nice. Being so used to using a computer for just about all correspondence these days, I find writing letters by hand quite difficult. My handwriting doesn't keep up with my brain, whereas my typing almost does. The joy of using a computer means you can edit and delete your work until you get something with which you're happy. I'm guilty of sending printed letters to family and friends as a result. Yes, the dreaded Christmas Newsletter! However I do personalise it and edit it for each person, usually older relatives. I did write by hand to my cousin Bruce last year (using, I might add, my fountain pen) but because I'm impatient didn't tell him half the news I would have in a word-processed letter.  And of course there's email and social media, and hitting the send button is far less work than walking down to the post office. When I write handwritten letters these days I actually draft it on the Mac and then copy it out when I'm happy with it. Daft? Maybe, but it's the way I organise my thoughts. Finding good writing paper these days is a challenge, too. There are some awful and twee stationery sets on eBay, but as for plain-printed linen paper, it's a hard call. I did have some thick parchment-coloured A4 paper put aside which I've guillotined down into a more personal size for handwritten letters. I'd like to think that the odd letters I write give their recipients something in the mail other than bills and junk advertising; certainly I enjoy the ones I receive. Here's a challenge: This week, write a letter to a friend or relative. Surprise them. Make them smile. Give them something that perhaps, in this throwaway and delete-button age, they may keep for at least a little while. (This post cross-posted from Caroline Sully's fiction)

Workaholic? Never! Oh, wait on…

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pressure!Have you ever thought to yourself, "I'll never be a workaholic, I value my time too much", and then found yourself working after dinner or at weekends? You're not alone, especially if you're a small business owner. Trust me, I've not only been there, I AM there. I used to enjoy switching off at the end of each day, but that's a luxury these days. I think the rise and rise of technology puts more pressure on all of us to be connected, to be always available. I'm sure you've had people leave repeated text messages, voice messages or emails for you, wondering why you are out of range for an hour or two. You could be in a meeting or conference, but whatever the reason you're simply not there when people want you to be. The trouble is, many of us put up with it. Do you:
  • let people ring you outside business hours - have mobile phone, will, be available?
  • check your emails before going to bed?
  • check your emails before breakfast?
  • stuck in meetings all day, you work into the night to catch up on projects and tasks?
  • view weekends as the perfect time to work without constant interruptions from mobile phones and emails?
  • use your smartphone or tablet to check your email/professional social media accounts at restaurants?
  • work when you're on holiday - after all, most hotels and resorts have good broadband, so why not catch up on work?
If you've said yes to at least one of these, you're well on your way to workaholism. It's time to take stock, fellow workaholics. The old cliche that nobody ever went to their grave muttering that they should have spent more time at the office is very true. Finding the courage to switch off is the hard part. How do you put your foot down and change the status quo when people are used to you being available constantly? If you can manage to minimise your meetings, you'll free up time. See if your clients or colleagues are willing to conference call on Skype rather than meet in person. It's more likely you'll stick to the agenda if you're not chatting face to face. Working from home can keep the interruptions down too if you're able to do it. If you're not sitting at your desk in a corporate office then nobody can walk past it and interrupt you. If you're using Tungle to organise appointments, block one day a week off and turn off the phone. Use that day to work on your projects so you can have a night or weekend off. On a corporate Outlook system, same thing - block a day off. Often corporate cultures require their employees to work over and above the standard eight hours a day; it impresses the bosses and makes you look like you want to go further up the corporate ladder. Think about this: if you're working an extra hour a day with no overtime or salary increase or other appropriate benefits, the only entity doing well out of the situation is the company/your boss. You, my friend, are getting ripped off in your efforts to adhere to corporate culture and play the company game. Is it worth it? Really? Is there a possibility that if you get promoted you could change the corporate culture to allow your people in your department  including yourself to work reasonable hours? Again, technology has changed the corporate culture to make us work longer and harder, simply because the tools are there to enable it. So...what are your thoughts on workaholism? Is it affecting you? If so, what have you done about it? Have you changed jobs? Importantly, have your managed to change your lifestyle to one that lets you relax when you need to?

Working solo doesn’t mean going it alone

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Some of us don't like the sudden shift from working in a building full of people to working on your own. In my case it was one of the best things about starting up my  micro business. I can't work when I'm surrounded by people and constantly being interrupted. I've found a lifestyle that works for me. Having said that, it's important that, when you leave a team situation to working solo, you find someone compatible to bounce ideas around with, to keep your business creativity going. One of the best ways of meeting your idea-bouncing buddy is a business association such as a Chamber of Commerce or industry group. I'm part of Ryde Business Forum and much of my business comes from word of mouth contacts from other members, or direct meetings with other members. I'm also involved in joint projects with some members; pooling our complementary skills has given us the strength to address projects we might not have been able to win or manage on our own. You can't expect clients to drop at your doorstep, you do have to go hunting. When I started my business ten years ago I had ten probable clients on my list, all of whom promised me work in the industry I'd just left. None of it eventuated. The work came from Ryde Business Forum members instead. It wasn't instant, but it's been constant, and it's growing. You can also pick up work and meet fellow solo spirits from online connections - yes, think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and also websites like Flying Solo, which is an excellent source for micro business owners. Notice how people comment on posts? Get commenting back. Start chatting. See what happens. Social media is growing rapidly as a source for business leads and potential clients and partners. Yes, you can lose yourself for hours once you start reading blogs or finding out more about the people you're following on Twitter (or who are following you for that matter). But if it brings you a good contact, it's time well spent. And you probably enjoyed yourself and learned something along the way. I do recommend getting help if you're going to seriously use social media as a business tool - there are some fantastic social media coaches around and we can recommend one for you - as implementing a professional social media strategy will target and refine your social media usage. If working from home isn't a suitable option for you and you think you'll go crazy with only the dog for company, consider a serviced office. You'll have your own space but will meet other tenants in common areas, which could be useful in the bouncing-ideas-off category. My husband was in that situation before he moved to Sydney, and enjoyed meeting up with other people in his industry over a cuppa at the serviced office canteen. Serviced offices ARE expensive, so factor that in. Depending on the services you choose you can have a professional receptionist, access to admin staff and much more. Virtual offices give you the benefit of a receptionist and access to facilities such as admin/secretarial staff without the cost of the real estate that goes with it. Some virtual office firms like Servcorp (another RBF member) have boardrooms for hire so you can impress your clients. However... I can't count how many clients I meet at cafes for a discussion over coffee. Have a look around you next time you're in a coffee shop and work out how many of those tables are actually hosting a business meeting. Boozy lunches are a thing of the past. A chatte over latte and a muffin is the new short black. So, working from home means you, er, can have your cake and eat it too! What have you found good and bad about working from home or in a solo office? Has it been the best thing you've ever done? Or the worst?

When YOU are IT

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The majority of my clients are small- or micro-business owners, and most of them, like me, escaped from the corporate world in search of freedom, fame, fortune or at least a decent income and the option to work in pyjamas should they feel like it. Few of us regret our moves. Most of us drop a bundle in salary at least in the first few years; it's a small sacrifice to pay for being your own boss. There are cons as well as pros - for example there's no IT department when you're on your own and things go wrong. No hassles there, there are many computer repair places around or if your computer is new, there's a warranty claim. Best of all, if you have a teenager in the house that may solve some of your problems. Having a friend who loves building and fixing computers can be a boon too. Just remember to back up on a daily basis in case things go horribly wrong. If you, like me, are an Apple user an appointment at the Genius Bar at your nearest Apple shop could fix your problem on the spot, depending on the problem. If you're a member of a business association (and I belong to Ryde Business Forum) you'll find there will undoubtedly be a fellow member in the IT category, either sales or repair or both. Seek this person out and get to know them. You'll be supporting the local economy if you use them, and that's always a good thing. Remember placing a call to the IT department and waiting for hours or days for someone to come to your desk, spend all of 90 seconds sighing and clattering away on the keyboard and fixing your problem, then giving you a tired, knowing look that said you just didn't 'get' computers? These days if you have a smallish issue - let's say you've lost a printer driver - chances are you can find the answer on the internet. And if your computer has bigger issues and is not responding why not use your smart phone or iPad to try a solution before you head to the repair shop? Time is money as we know, and if it takes you an hour to sort the thing out yourself, rather than leaving your computer in a repair shop for a couple of days, that's money saved. There's the pro side to no IT department, too. You can choose your own computer and the software that goes on it (paying for all this definitely falls in the con bucket, but consider leasing as everything bar the stamp duty is a tax deduction). In the corporate that I worked for, asking the company to buy you new software required a three-page Investment Proposal to be completed. Your justification had to be mighty to be allowed have anything more than Microsoft Office. As a solo flyer, if you can afford it, you can buy it. And I mean buy it. Don't get tempted to download a pirate copy or borrow your friend's version of Office or Photoshop. It's not worth the risk, and pirated copies can crash your system. Once you've lashed out on OEM software, the upgrades are reasonably priced. The main thing to remember as a micro business owner is that you are not alone. Whether it's a contact from a business association or help you've found on an internet forum, you have an IT department you can call on. YOU don't have to be IT. What tips do you have for managing your IT needs? Are there websites which you have found invaluable? Sites or shops with fantastic bargains and service? Software you just can't do without? And what are some of your horror stories? (Come on, we all have them. You can be anonymous!) Answers on a postcard please, or simply leave a comment below.