How to run successful school events

How to run successful school events

I’m not teacher trained. Everything I have learned is from hands-on experience working in the many schools I’ve visited around the UK.

Empty classroom with desks and a blackboard

Primary, secondary, state, private, and specialist schools have been good enough to book my services over many years. Specialist schools might be for excluded children, unable to stay in mainstream education or those with learning disabilities for example.

This week I was lucky enough to be invited to run chocolate tasting workshops at a secondary school as part of an Enrichment Day. I ran the same workshop five times for five different classes. Hard work but the children loved it and feedback has been really positive. 

Here are my tips on how to run successful school events:

Be safe and follow protocols

Ensure you know what is expected by the school and what is required legally for your own protection and that of the school and children.  

DBS certification, Health and Safety information/certification if relevant, your safeguarding policy for example. Please do your research and find out what is required from the relevant authorities.

Types of events

The school will have booked you for a specific event. Ensure you have understood the outcomes they expect from the day and clearly communicated these.  

After sending over the initial information, I will try and arrange a phone call with the school contact to ensure I fully understand their expectations. It’s a chance for you to explain in your own words how the event will work too.

Remember, say yes and then work out how you are going to deliver what they want. You have the chance to tweak and advise what would work best for them.

Thanks to being asked to do things, I’ve developed workshops for primary schools that included chocolate making and tasting. I offer the same for secondary schools, as well as Enterprise Days.

Enterprise Days

I will typically work with a whole year group. When I was first tasked with putting on this type of day, I knew I had 180 pupils and I had to make it relevant and interactive for all. My aim was to get to smaller working groups.  

I started the day with a plenary session. Speaking to the whole year group and setting them up for the challenge before sending them back to their classrooms.  

Each class became a new chocolate company. Within each company were five departments. Every department had to communicate with each other to complete a business plan for a new chocolate company concept. Once this was submitted, they got to work on a presentation.  

We all came together to hear their pitches and a winning company was announced.

What the pupils create, their imagination and their enthusiasm is truly inspiring.   One lad once said to me, “I might run my own business as then I could really make a difference in the world.”

It’s all in the preparation

Prep within an inch of your life! Go over everything you will be doing with a fine toothcomb and ensure you are ready to deliver. You don’t have any time once you are in the classroom.

If you are going to be catering for any special needs, ensure you are fully aware of how best to handle things. Ask the teacher for advice if necessary.

The school may have informed you about any special dietary requirements (if relevant). I recommend checking again once in the classroom in case someone has been missed.

There is often hardly any time to even visit the loo on a school day, so have everything you need to hand. Include your drinks, snacks, and lunch.

Have the right mindset

You genuinely have to like the children.

They are enthusiastic, inquisitive, creative, and funny. You may find their behaviour a little challenging at times, but remember they are just kids. There is usually a reason for their behaviour and it’s your job to make everyone feel included and able.

You need to be on their side and want them to have a good time.  

If you can’t manage that, they will spot it a mile off.

Show your expertise

Demonstrate passion, enthusiasm, and interest in your topic. Bring it alive.

Dipping chocolates into a tank of chocolate

Think about the audience and how best they will receive the information. Engage the children with questions and allow them to interact. Bring props, visuals, hand things around.

However tired or trying some situations maybe, you need to be professional at all times.

If you are faced with a situation that you have not encountered before, use other experts to help you get this right. If you will be dealing with specific special needs, go seek advice on how best to communicate with your audience for example.

I recommend Next Page Books in Hitchin for some special needs advice and relevant reading material.

Control the room

Think about the age of the children in terms of room control. Clapping patterns might be ideal for primary school children, but inappropriate for older ones.

Be in charge, be firm and fair.

Work with the teacher. 

Different coloured chalks on a blackboard

How do they control noise in the class, emulate their methods, or introduce your own?  

Get buy-in from the pupils at the outset. Explain what you will be doing to ask them to stop talking and do that. Don’t start shouting over the class – you will lose your voice and control.

Rarely some teachers are not great at class control. I’ve been in classrooms where the teacher shouted all day and was disrespected by the class.  

Feel free to impose your own class control methods and ensure you get the class to listen.  

Who are the stakeholders?

The teacher may have booked you and wishes to demonstrate to the head or governors that it was a good investment.  

Help them achieve this. 

If they visit the classroom to see what’s going on, include them in activities if possible. Perhaps you could leave something behind, to demonstrate what the children have been working on. Gain feedback from the teachers/children to help justify the investment.

To every teacher out there who runs successful school events every day, I take my hat off to you. I’m in awe of the amazing things you do with our children every day. Be a teacher for a day and you will get to see how hard they work. Very rewarding work and worth all the effort.  

Wishing you good luck with your school events.

The best hot chocolate?

The best hot chocolate?

The leaves are turning, the nights are drawing in – it’s officially hot chocolate season once again. 

Chocolate milk with cream on top with autumn leaves scattered around the plate

I’m going to give you my simple tips for the best hot chocolate (in my opinion). Including a bit of history, I’ve shared a recipe for Aztec-style hot chocolate too.

Read on for a review of a new hot chocolate outfit that is a must-visit next time you are up North.

What do you consider the best hot chocolate? Here are my tips:

A simple recipe

Ditch the pre-made chocolate drinks.

Take some of your favourite chocolate, add milk, and heat for the best results.

Hot chocolate in tall glass with cream and sprinkles with a separate pot of mini marshmallows on the side

25g – 30g of chocolate in button form or chop into smallish chunks.  

Measure milk of your choice in the mug you will be serving it in.

Add the cold milk to the chocolate and gently warm in a pan, or in short bursts in the microwave.

Stir frequently, preferably using a whisk.

Serve with adornments of your choice (cream, mallows, grated chocolate, cacao nibs) or leave and drink straight.

Use 50/50 milk/water if you prefer something lighter.

It’s all about the chocolate

squares of white and dark chocolate in a pile

I prefer a good quality dark chocolate for the best hot chocolate. 70% or more in strength would be my preference. Remember the quality of the chocolate is not always reflected in the percentage of cocoa. It may be that you like chocolate that has a good hit of flavour, but has a lower cocoa content.

Remember the milk will sweeten the mixture, so try and go a little darker in your chocolate choice for more chocolate flavour.  

Mix chocolates. If you are not a fan of dark chocolate, then use milk and add a little dark to mix. It will enhance the flavour and add more depth to your delicious hot chocolate drink.

If you want to try something different, strong, and spicey, then try this……..

Aztec-style Hot Chocolate

This is a water-based hot chocolate recipe with lots of added spices.

100g dark chocolate (in button form, or broken into small pieces)

 25g brown sugar

 20g cocoa powder

Spices of your choice – I tend to add lots, including chilli, ginger, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Heat 500ml of water, add the sugar and the cocoa powder, and bring to a simmer, stirring, for three to four minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for one minute. 

Add your chocolate and spices and whisk vigorously. Return to the heat bring back to the simmer for a further two to three minutes – it’s then ready to serve.

For some, this is an acquired taste, but I love the depth and spiciness of this drink. Your kitchen will smell wonderful with a heady aroma of chocolate and spice!

Cocoa Joe’s

Cocoa Joe’s, a small independent company is currently based in York and Patetley Bridge only. On a recent visit to Pateley Bridge, a local recommended I try out their hot chocolate. It was a fab experience.

There was a chocolate menu. 

Hot chocolate drink in white cup and saucer

You chose your hot chocolate drink based on the chocolate it would contain. An outfit after my own heart!  

The server was really helpful and let me taste various options before I decided on the strength I wished to go for. From white, ruby, milk, and many dark varieties of chocolate up to a 100% option. 

There were chocolates from various regions, single-origin chocolate and the server was knowledgeable about all the chocolates on offer.

Chocolate chosen, the buttons were melted into hot, frothy milk, some grated chocolate added to the top and that was it. Silky, full chocolate taste and completely satisfying and delicious. It’s up there as one of my best hot chocolates.

How do you take yours?

Please come and share your top tips and photos on my Facebook page!

What a fab idea for a new business!

10 tips to keep them coming back

10 tips to keep them coming back

As a small business owner, you have a unique opportunity to provide a passionate and dedicated service for your customers.

Get this right and your customers will sing your praises to others. Most importantly, they will stick around to do more business with you too.

This is why you need sticky customers. Read on for 10 tips to keep them coming back for more…..

Great customer service will make the world a better place

Imagine all those happy customers.

Maya Angelou quote "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel."

You have helped create a warm glow for them instead of the usual huge frustrations. Too many of us are treated poorly, without respect, and just not listened to. Become their ear, make them feel better, just simply CARE.

There will be less moaning (except for the weather perhaps). Customers will start to share their feel-good stories instead.

Little by little it may help to lift the mood of the nation.

Let’s start the customer service revolution

Great customer service has such massive potential.

Exceptional service makes you stand out from competitors. You will gain loyal followers, repeat business, build strong relationships, and subsequently grow your business.

I believe it’s more than that, it’s our bigger purpose.

We have a duty to get good at this because your customers really do matter. Be thankful they choose to do business with you. Without them, you don’t have a business anyway.

We can set the tone for others to follow in our footsteps. By doing this well, there will be no choice in the end. It will become what consumers expect. Do or die for businesses!

Here’s what I recommend you need to think about…….

10 tips to keep them coming back:

  1. Be YOU. People want authentic – customers will spot bullsh*t a mile off.
  2. Get in the right mindset. Care about your customers and about the service you provide to them, no matter what is going on for you.
  3. Map the whole journey a customer might take with you (including before you know who they are) and do exactly what you promise you say you will. Just doing exactly what we promised can be a win-win situation. Imagine the possibilities if you can exceed expectations.
  4. Provide something useful/helpful/interesting for them – think about what they need, want, have to solve, and try and be a solution.
  5. Own it. It’s all your fault. Even if it was your employee that did the wrong deed. You didn’t train them properly, or you hired the wrong person. Tough, but in the eyes of the customer none of that matters to them.
  6. Gain testimonials and/or press coverage to help build credibility. Ask for feedback to understand what you can hone and improve.
  7. Act quickly. If you can’t, get in touch and explain when what and why.
  8. Keep in touch. It’s not your customers’ responsibility to remember to do business with you. Let them know about what’s coming up, special offers, loyalty schemes. Provide more value to help them.
  9. Demonstrate your values. Display and explain them if relevant. Be charitable and the reasons behind your choices.
  10. Be energetic, can-do – say YES.
A group of people at a hen party
I don’t just cover mine in chocolate, but it helps!

If you want to get a head start in the customer service stakes adding chocolate into the mix is a great idea. If you want some more, try my 100 Ways to WOW.

What I learned from saying YES

What I learned from saying YES

Not long along I gave you 5 reasons to say NO, and here I am encouraging you to say YES!

Confusing, maybe? The thing is both are valid, and it will be about building confidence in your decision-making.  

Firstly, having a clear ‘why’ will matter the most, as that helps you decide if it’s worth your time or effort. Are you someone who gets a gut feeling about things? If you are, trust yourself and act accordingly. Sleep on something rather than make a snap decision and see what comes up the next day. Write out a list of pros and cons and make a proper evaluation.

Sometimes you just need to have a go – here’s what I learned from saying YES:

Grow your Confidence

I can't written on a piece of paper with someone cutting off the 't to read I can.

An opportunity presents itself and you immediately say no. That’s it, opportunity over, do you ever examine why that was your response?  

Are you scared of change?  

Do you find it easier to stay within what you know, and prefer never to challenge yourself?  

Many of us do prefer to play safe but say YES once in a while and you will be forced out of your comfort zone. We all know that’s where the magic really happens. 

In a toilet in a bar in Shoreditch the wallpaper read “your comfort zone will kill you” and while that’s a bit dramatic, there’s a lot of truth in that. You will find it does amazing things for your confidence in the end.

Hidden Opportunities

Once upon a time, there was a blog about sheds. I tweeted the guy responsible and told him I made chocolates in my shed, so what was the most interesting thing he’d discovered people doing in their sheds? He said I was pretty interesting and did I want to be featured on his blog. Yes please, I said!

Large shed in the garden with the double doors open

 A few weeks later I was contacted by The Sun newspaper and formed part of an article on what business people did in their sheds (they had seen my feature on the Shed Blog). Some months after that I was contacted by The Independent on Sunday and had a full-page feature on my shed for a gardening article.  

I also won an iPad for a social media competition using this story and of course gained credibility and awareness for my business.  

You will find a way

Someone makes a proposal to you. At the time of speaking to them, you don’t know how you are going to deliver what they are asking of you. If the answer is no, it’s job done, no further thought is required. Say yes and then your brain needs to work out a way.

It may be you need to have a conversation with someone who does know a way. They may be able to help, or certainly point you to where to find out more. A bit of research is undertaken. Sometimes it’s as simple and sleeping on it and in the morning you have a solution! Once you have said yes to something then you will find a solution – even if it’s not quite what was asked for in the first place!

New Possibilities

People at the forge.  Once hammering on an anvil and one in the fire on a team day experience

You simply can’t think of everything, even if you thought you have covered off all bases in whatever context that might be. I guarantee someone will ask you something that you had not considered. Is that a better option for you? Might it be something worth exploring further, a new avenue or offering?

When I started my chocolate business, I always intended to offer workshops to adults and children

I still do that to this day, but my events have evolved so much over the years. I’ve added in workshops specific to hens, schools, teams, customer service, running a business, and collaborations with my blacksmith hubby. Usually, because I’ve been asked by a customer to deliver a specific theme.   

Shiny new object syndrome is a real thing – you can end up going down the wrong path from time to time, but being open to explore new possibilities is worth consideration at least.

Good Vibes

Being willing to consider ideas, saying yes to opportunities creates a can-do positive attitude to life in general. I think that’s a really good thing.

What are you going to say YES to? Come and tell us your story.

5 reasons to play tennis

5 reasons to play tennis

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will have heard of the amazing achievements of a young 18-year-old tennis player that just won the US Open Tennis Tournament.  

Tennis ball spinning with water

She had to win three rounds of qualifying matches before being able to play in the main draw. Ranked 150 in the world on arrival (having been ranked in the 300’s only weeks beforehand).

No one who came through qualifying has won a grand slam tournament EVER.

What a belief, what a story, it truly is the fairy tale of New York! Emma Radacanu we salute you.

Yours truly has been playing tennis for years, not particularly well, but regardless – I love it. 

If Emma might have inspired you to pick up a racket here are 5 reasons to play tennis:

It’s sociable

You can’t play tennis on your own. Well, you can hit a ball against a wall for a bit, but you need at least one opponent eventually. If you are a bit of an old bird like me, then doubles it is!   

You are needed to form part of the quartet, so once you’ve committed to play you need to show up or you let everyone down.

A post-match coffee and catch-up are great too!

It’s exercise that never feels like exercise

Tennis balls all gathering at the base of a tennis net with racket leaning on net

That’s my experience of tennis. I’m not a fan of gyms or running and tennis is something I love that never feels like exercise at all.  

Warming up with a series of stretches first is a must. You don’t want to injure or damage muscles. 

Once in play, you are running around after the ball. Increasing your heart rate and using your arms and legs in equal measure. Hopefully, you are winning some points along the way.

Professional tennis players have a great all-round physique. Good muscle tone, with no over-emphasis on any part of the body. At their level, they wear out and have injuries of course, but plenty of members of my tennis club are still playing into their 80’s!

Play regularly and get better

Admittedly some tennis clubs can be expensive to join or feel a little cliquey. There are friendly options and different price ranges out there, as well as plenty of free courts around too. You need to find what works for you and your budget.

I find a commitment to pay my monthly membership fee motivates me to play multiple times a week to ensure I get value for money.

Whether you are brand new and joining a beginners class, or you have been playing for years but want to get better? There is always a chance to improve your game through regular play.

You may wish to focus on a better serve, volley more and spend more time at the net, improve your hitting with drills. Improving your game will motivate you to carry on.

Challenge yourself

Tennis racket and ball on the floor by the lines of a clay court

Once you’ve mastered the basics, sign up for leagues or play in friendly matches.  

This can feel very daunting, especially if you are worried you are the worst player on the court. I think everyone can feel this at times, but you need to push yourself and have the confidence to have a go. If you are new to matches, other players are usually supportive and helpful and will give you good feedback if you ask.

Some seek a more competitive group as this suits their needs, others wish to join something more fun and friendly. If it’s not quite right for you, try something else, don’t just give up.  

There is nothing like the experience of playing different players to improve your own game.

Challenge yourself to get out of that comfort zone and try playing different people. It’s amazing how much good it makes you feel once achieved.

Become a tennis bore

Talk about your achievements and good shots on the court with those that are interested! It’s great to meet with like-minded people to chat about your tennis experiences.  

Whether you are discussing your latest match or waxing lyrical about the future of Emma Raducanu – you are allowed to be a tennis bore and enjoy every moment!

AND surely the more you play the more chocolate you are allowed? That’s my theory anyway!

Anyone for tennis?  

A new sport could be just the thing if you are recently experiencing empty nest syndrome?  

If you love 5 things – previous blogs have included working with chocolate, businesses you could start tomorrow, must-do’s in Mull – more to come soon……..

How to deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

How to deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

It’s that time of year when young ones are stretching their wings and preparing to move on.

They may be starting school for the first time, moving onto ‘big’ school, or indeed leaving home to start Uni, college, or even a real job!

Whatever the reason, it’s hard for us to adapt to these big changes and see them growing up too fast. 

Here’s how I tried to deal with empty nest syndrome (I hope they might help you too):

Acknowledge your feelings

three faces with happy, neutral and sad, with tick boxes beside

Accept that you can’t make Empty Nest Syndrome go away. These feelings are valid and real.  

You have spent years nurturing, supporting, cooking, cleaning, and clearing up after your little angels and now they don’t need you in the same way anymore. That is a huge adjustment to make for starters.  

I felt really bereft when my eldest first left home for Uni, and I kept laying the dinner table for all five of us before realising he wasn’t here and getting upset (again). My other kids laughed at me and told me to a grip. 

The joys of family banter!

Give yourself permission to be sad, tearful, thoughtful, reflective. Make some time and be kind to yourself. Whatever you are experiencing is not going to last forever.

Do something new  

Tennis ball

There should be a little more space in your life with your responsibilities shifting. What might you decide to do?  

Is there a hobby or craft that you have neglected for too long?  

Perhaps there is a new skill or experience you would like to try?

What about taking up a new sport or joining a club to play a sport that’s been neglected for a while?

Start baking or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Chocolate always helps – here’s some inspiration.

Take on a challenge

There are many opportunities to join challenges. They might relate to health, fitness, personal growth, or mindset. You might decide to support a charity and take part in an organised event.  

Magic wand

I offer a free 6-day challenge called Creating Magic – where you focus on you for a change and find out how to bring some sparkle into your life.

Think about starting your own business. This can be something on the side, earning from a hobby or craft, or something more serious. Having my own business to focus on during these times has been genuinely helpful. Being my own boss also means if I’m struggling and need time out, I can take it.

This is the ultimate for a great challenge and distraction!  

Plan your trip

A pile of recently washed up dishes and other kitchen utensils

This is just for you with the older ones, heading away from home. Obviously, they need some time to settle in, but get a date in the diary when you can visit and take them out for dinner, buy a huge food shop, do the heaving pile of washing up and a huge load of washing for them!

It really helps to have visits planned. We have really enjoyed exploring new locations in the UK as part of this process.

It’s good to talk

A cuppa or a glass of wine with friends and family is definitely a help. They may be experiencing similar feelings to you if they have children of the same age. Don’t forget to reflect on the opportunities and achievements of your children. They will have worked hard to achieve a place at Uni in really difficult circumstances. Maybe heading to a new school without all the usual visits and reassurances.  

Here’s to our kids and their super resilience – they are amazing!

I once met a lady at a craft fair, she had gone out and bought a job lot of scarves, so she could spend her evenings selling them and not sitting at home sad that her children had left. She told me that it felt like her arm had been cut off. I think I can totally relate to that. You do feel like something is missing. When they come and go, you experience that time and again, but it does get a little easier and if they are happy, then you are allowed to be too.

If you have some top tips to add, please pop over to my Facebook page to share.

Best of luck.

History of chocolate

History of chocolate

Chocolate has a fascinating history.

Used as currency and later badged as liquid gold, such was its value!

At one time it was for MEN ONLY (but thankfully women have made up for that since).

It was only enjoyed by royalty and society’s elite for many years as it was too rare and expensive for the common people. We owe gratitude to the Quaker families, who decided chocolate was a better alternative to gin and made it more accessible for all.

Here’s a brief history of chocolate

Origins

Botanists believe that the first cocoa trees grew wild in the Amazon Orinoco approximately 4,000 years ago.

Cocoa beans were first cultivated by the Mayans when they migrated to the Yucatan peninsula in the 7th Century AD.



The Aztecs

Mayan writing for the word Kakau referring to chocolate

Aztecs conquered large parts of Mexico 700 years later and imposed a feudal system on the Mayans and other tribes.

All taxes were paid in cocoa beans! Cocoa beans became the common currency:
4 nibs (or beans) = a rabbit
100 nibs = a slave
Fraudsters would fill hollowed-out cocoa bean shells with earth.

Chocolate was consumed in liquid form – mixed from a block of prepared nibs (crude chocolate tablet). Chillies, other spices, and flowers were mixed with dried, roasted, and ground cocoa nibs, they also added cornmeal as an emulsifier (to absorb the greasy cocoa butter).

Ruling Emperor of the Aztecs, Montezuma would consume huge quantities of chocolate at ceremonies – often a 1,000 jugs in a night!

Who drank it?

Native Aztec with chocolate equipment and weapons

Chocolate was strictly reserved for men only!

It was only available for the ‘elite’ – and acted to show their prowess and standing as a tonic aphrodisiac!

Referred to as Xocolatl – which literally means ‘bitter water’.

The first Chocolate Entrepreneur?

Hernan Cortes, who conquered the Aztecs and introduced chocolate successfully to Europe.
Hernan Cortes

Tenochtitlan (now known as Mexico City) was the Aztec capital – which was invaded by the Spanish Crown in 1519, led by Cortes.

Cortes was intrigued by the Aztec’s consumption of chocolate.

Columbus introduced the cocoa bean and Aztec drink to Europe 20 years prior to Cortes, but at the time it was intensely disliked. European palates were not used to the spices and chillies used in the drink.

Cleverly, Cortes added sugar and vanilla to the brew and recounted tales of Montezuma imbibing the sacred drink. Cortes realised the possibilities of exploiting this ‘liquid gold’. He established plantations in Mexico, Trinidad, and Haiti. African slaves became as important to cocoa cultivation as the sugar industry.

Chocolates reaches Europe

For the first 100 years after Cortes’ discovery, the drink remained a preserve of the Spanish Court – it was extremely expensive and only afforded by aristocrats.

News of the drink spread to Germany, Austria, Flanders, Italy, and then France in the first half of the 17th Century.

Chocolate appears to reach London around 1650 – when it was branded as a nourishing drink.
Pepys describes the drink as a hangover cure in his diary notes.

There were two varieties – ordinary and royal (royal with a higher cocoa content and little sugar).

During the 18th Century, Europe saw a rapid increase in consumption. Still, only wealthy people could afford it as it was heavily taxed.

Chocolate Pioneers

By 1852 taxes decreased due to merits promoted by Quaker industrialists and larger imports. In 1850 1,400 tonnes were imported, by the 1900s this had multiplied nine-fold!

Most of the early cocoa entrepreneurs are household names:
Hershey, Cadbury, Fry, and Rowntree – owing their success to Swiss pioneer inventors: Caillr, Suchard, Peter, Nestle, Lindt, and Tobler.

Fry was the first to create a chocolate bar-shaped mould for chocolate.

Rudolphe Lindt was responsible for creating the process of conching to ensure we have smooth chocolate to enjoy.

In the UK, four great Quaker families: Cadbury, Fry, Terry, and Rowntree became involved with cocoa as they saw it as a healthy alternative to the menace of gin! They played a large part in making chocolate a food of the people, creating model working environments and housing for workers.

Fry was the first to put chocolate in a tablet form in the shape of the bar as we know it today (sadly no relation to Dawn Fry, but a good name to start a chocolate workshop business with!)



Food of the Gods

Cacao beans

Chocolate has today become part of a daily culture for all levels of society in the Western world.

“Theobroma cacao’ is the Latin name for cocoa. Theobroma literally means ‘food of the gods’. It contains ‘theobromine’ which is a natural anti-depressant!

Hurrah for chocolate – if all this history has made you crave some of the good brown stuff, then here are some delicious chocolate recipes to make at home.

It is good for us to take a moment to realise how easy it is for us to access chocolate in today’s world and be grateful that we can enjoy this wonderful food stuff whenever we choose. Its history may have inspired you to try some more expensive chocolate, here’s how to taste it properly.

Enjoy!

6 reasons that stop you from being your own boss – and how to overcome them

6 reasons that stop you from being your own boss – and how to overcome them

How are you?  

We’ve been through (and are still going through) a bit of an ordeal. There has never been such an opportunity to really examine our lives and decide what is most important to us going forward.

Are you happy to return to life roughly as it was before, or have our recent experiences made you think about a change, especially in the way that you work?  

You may have been forced into a different work situation, lost your job, and would love to consider running your own thing.

6 reasons that stop you from being your own boss:

 1. Fear 

2. Lack of confidence 

3. Lack of financial security

4. Competition (someone else already does it, and likely better than I could)

5. Lack of business know-how

6. Change of personal identity (fear of success)

And here’s how you might overcome them:

Overcoming Fear

Someone cutting a piece of paper with I can't written on it, to make I can

Everyone feels fear when they decide on a life change, will you let fear define you, keep you small and safe, or are you willing to live with an element of fear while you step up and say yes?

Standing up and saying out loud – buy this thing from me is daunting and scary and feels too difficult.

You just have to take a leap of faith. 

Try something smaller at first. Think up something you feel a bit scared of doing or trying and do it. Notice what happens afterwards. How bad was it really? Do you now feel a sense of achievement? Even if it didn’t achieve what you hoped, you faced a fear and stepped up?  

Building Confidence

The only way we can ever build our confidence is to stretch our comfort zone. If what you are doing now is not serving you, then you need to change the routine, try something new or different and get a little uncomfortable.

A test I use is TV. I may have been super-busy for a period, really stretching and growing and I need a bit of downtime. I’ll allow a bit of trash TV, late afternoon quizzes, etc, and will switch on to watch around 4/5 pm. At first, it’s a bit of a treat, to chill and take my foot off the pedal. Then I notice I start to get bored and twitchy. 

That’s when I know it’s time to step up again and get creative or do something more productive or I will start to lose confidence.  If tackling this alone feels too hard, check out my building confidence programme

9 points in round blue circles to help you boost your confidence

Financial Security

Do you have financial security with your job? Is your job safe? 

Have you considered that you might be able to do both – keep your job and build a small business on the side?

Can you ask for reduced hours at work, a part-time contract so that you can have some financial security while you build your business? 

Sometimes we have to believe that anything is possible to free us enough to get creative and dare to explore our business ideas.  

Putting a huge financial strain on your new business is always going to affect how you perform. Try and get creative with your finances and think about possible ways to support your new venture (taking in a lodger, creating and space to let in your home via AirB&B, a part-time job on the side).

Competition

How many independent coffee shops do you have near you? 

They didn’t let the fear of competition stop them from getting started, they understood that there was a market for what they had to offer and jumped on the bandwagon. 

You choose to support the ones you like the best, your friend you meet in the coffee shop may have a different favourite to you, so you meet there sometimes too. People choose to buy from you because of the same reasons you choose to buy from others. There is something about what they have to offer that appeals to you, the ambiance, the vibe. 

Once you build a following, you build a reputation through offering the best possible customer experiences and you gain word-of-mouth recommendations. In other words, people buy YOU and there is no one else out there that does you.

Lack of Business Know-How

Say you’ve been in nursing or teaching all your life and you tell yourself that you don’t know the first thing about business, so you’ve dismissed running your own. 

Hello! Your life experiences are totally transferable. The juggling, management, caring, and creativity are all fabulous assets for a business. 

It’s the fear of what we don’t know that can make something feel insurmountable. This does not have to be true. It’s just a story we tell ourselves (and why you might invest in training to learn the bits you don’t know and fill in the gaps). 

Fear of Success

I did a poll not that long ago asking people if fear of failure or a fear of success would be the biggest factor for them. Fear of success came out as the more scary option. 

Do we find that surprising? Think about yourself and your role in your family/society. 

Everyone you know has put you in a pigeon-hole of some sort. It may be related to the work you do, your position in the family, etc. If you suddenly say you are going to do this or train to become that – those close to you can struggle. They may experience fear of losing you, you changing, not having time for them perhaps.  

You do this too. We have our version of ourselves and believe we need to stay that way to fit in with what we know, what others expect from us.

Are you willing and able to be successful? Do you deserve to turn your new business idea into something credible and enjoyable? 

What about the service or products you offer? Do your customers deserve to interact with a business that is going places and future-proof to look after their needs. 

Help Yourself

As you can see most of the fears/worries we will encounter require us to shift our mindset and dare to try what might be possible.  

We only have this one life, you decide.

Procrastination, overwhelm and fear will come along for the ride. I run a free Creating Magic Challenge where we can explore what might be possible. Pop over to Facebook and find out more.


These might help – what business is right for you, 5 business ideas to start tomorrow.

How to taste chocolate

How to taste chocolate

We are not talking about your everyday chocolate treats here. The taste of these is familiar to us and we tend to shove it all in without thinking too much!

How to taste chocolate properly, like a professional connoisseur is what we are going for here:

What chocolate?

It will likely be dark chocolate. There are many ‘notes’ to chocolate. It is a wonderful ingredient that can produce many flavour experiences such as nutty or fruity.

chunks of white and dark chocolate on a board with a wooden spoon filled with grated chocolate

There are, however, some fabulous examples of milk and white chocolate too at the gourmet end.

Don’t think just in terms of cocoa content. Quality is not necessarily about the cocoa content, but about the quality of the bean. Some dark chocolates have been highly roasted to disguise a poorer quality bean.

Raw chocolate has unroasted or very lightly roasted beans to really showcase the bean’s properties. There are some interesting (and slightly more challenging) options to try, depending on your taste.

Be prepared to pay a lot more for your gourmet chocolate bars.

Where do I go for gourmet?

Visit a posh chocolate shop and they should be knowledgeable about what they are selling and help you choose according to your taste.

High-end chocolate shops will often offer tasting sessions. These are well worth it, as you can try a few and find out what chocolate you enjoy the most.

A good supermarket will also have a decent amount of quality chocolate bars on offer too.

There are good online retailers such as Cocoa Runners. They offer a tasting club and have a fantastic array of chocolate bars on offer. When I’m running a gourmet tasting, these are my go-to suppliers.

Chocolate Guru

I’m going to share the wise words of a chocolate guru – Chloe Doutre-Roussel. The chocolate buyer for Fortnum and Mason’s for a number of years. Doutre-Roussel is highly regarded in the chocolate world. I believe she is around a size 6 and used to taste her way through a 1lb of chocolate every day. She would get up early, swim, and drink only water until her tasting was completed. Nothing was allowed to taint her tastebuds and ruin the full effect of the chocolate.

Here’s how to taste chocolate
(taken from The Chocolate Connoisseur- By Chloe Doutre-Roussel)

When presented with a square of chocolate:

  1. Look at it: what do you see? Colour? Shine? Texture? Blooming or discolouration?
  2. Touch it: what do you feel? How does the broken surface look: smooth or rough and bubbly? Sticky?
  3. Listen to it: what do you hear as you snap a square in half?
  4. Smell it: what do you find?
  5. Taste it: put a tiny piece in your mouth, chew it, then stop and allow it to melt.
  6. Concentrate on how you feel, and if there is any change in flavour of what your tongue feels over time.
  7. Look for flavours:
    • do you recognise them?
    • perhaps they evolve over time?
    • interact with each other, or do they seem to come in separate phases?
      is one more present and clear than the others, or do they combine?
    • rate their intensity.
  8. Good chocolate has three distinct phases. Try to distinguish them:
    • what you feel in the first seconds
    • what you feel while it slowly melts
    • now swallow, what you feel now. This phase is called the ‘end of mouth’.

The Finish

chocolate making

Like many, I only used to eat the cheapo chocolate that we find everywhere. Since I made chocolate my business, I’ve learned to really appreciate the finer chocolates out there. I find the everyday chocolate a little too sweet these days. I still enjoy a naughty treat now and again, but prefer the better quality stuff. It has so much more to it.

I want you to notice the finish – when you enjoy good dark chocolate, the flavour will stay in your mouth so much longer. We want a nice long finish!

Come us tell us what good chocolate you have been tasting over on my Facebook page.

Imagine if tasting chocolate was part of your business. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!

5 Must Do’s in Mull

5 Must Do’s in Mull

I’ve just returned from a holiday on the Isle of Mull* in Scotland with family and friends.

View of loch and mountains on Mull, Scotland

It was one of the best holidays we have enjoyed together for ages. After being delayed by a year, due to the pandemic we were all really up for an adventure and Mull did not disappoint.

Here are my 5 must do’s in Mull:

Stay in a fabulous location

To be honest, this is not difficult on Mull. Everywhere is so beautiful, with stunning scenery, wonderful wildlife, and exceptional beaches.

You have the option to be completely off the beaten track (our preferred choice), or to stay somewhere where you can eat out or visit the odd shop (in and around Tobermory).

We were armed with anti-midge bracelets, spray, cream, and nets are we received dire warnings of non-stop rain and midges. In reality, we had great weather and I’ve seen more midges on my local dog walks in Hertfordshire than I ever experienced on Mull!  

View of Loch Usig and hills from Craig Ben Cottage, Isle of Mull
View from our bedroom window of Loch Uisg

That may influence when you wish to visit. We were incredibly lucky with our good weather, as the area has a very high rainfall rate. The good weather must have kept the midges at bay. Win, win!

Our accommodation was booked through Isle of Mull Cottages and was fab.

Book a wildlife tour

Mull is all about the wildlife.  

A friend recommended Nature Scotland’s Wilderness Tour to us, so we booked a day out and it is such a worthwhile thing to do. As well as spotting some white-tailed eagles, golden eagles, and red deer, we were fascinated by the smaller natural details too. 

Burrowing wasps, tiny carnivorous plants, butterflies and so much more.

Not only do you learn so much on the tour, but you will also then be tuned into seeing things for the rest of your stay.

On our travels around the island, we also managed to see many more birds, otters, and even some dolphins from the ferry on the way home.

It’s great to invest in a decent pair of binoculars, they will be well used!

Don your walking boots

You may wish to climb a mountain, Mull has one official Munro (mountain), Ben More, but many other wonderful climbing options too.   

If you take a drive to Fionnphort you can grab a foot ferry to Iona. It is only 1.5 miles wide by 3 miles long. Iona is known as being ‘The Cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland with its much-visited Abbey and Nunnery. 

Wonderful walks and beaches are on offer here too.

Maybe ditching your walking boots at this point, you can wander along a deserted beach. We had a beach to ourselves at one point, but even if others are there too, it will never be busy.  

Laggan Sands beach on the Isle of Mull
Laggan Sands, our local beach

Most of us went swimming too. Our holiday cottage was based next to a freshwater loch. I enjoy a bit of wild swimming and presumed this would be a challenging option due to the coldness of the water. It was one of the warmest wild swims I’d ever enjoyed!

The sea loch was a little more bracing (we went swimming from Laggan Sands), but still manageable and refreshing!

Enjoy some seafood

There was a mussel farm not too far from our house. It is operated by an honesty box, so if you got the urge to eat mussels at any point, you could drive up, pop your pennies in and grab your mussels to munch. They were the freshest, sweetest, tasty morsels!

Dishes and plates of mussels on the table

We also managed to order some langoustines, which we got straight from the boat as they were landed. 

I can honestly say I would prefer a chef to prepare them for me. However, it was down to us, and once prepped we popped ours on the bbq. They tasted wonderful, so sweet again and obviously as fresh as it’s possible to be.

In Tobermory, we enjoyed some fish and chips on the harbour. We actually saw the fish being delivered to the café, just a bit before we ordered. 

Totally delicious. There is a real fresh theme here!

We didn’t manage to eat out at any restaurants – they were a bit too far of a drive from us.  

We did enjoy some lovely cakes (and wonderful farm shop meats) from a local cafe.  

Take what you need with you

There are a couple of small local shops on the island – and a small supermarket in Tobermory. As we were an hour’s drive from there, we needed to take all the food and drink that we needed for our week’s holiday.

Talking of driving, the roads are an experience in their own right. Singletrack roads mostly with passing places – sometimes it could be quite challenging depending on who you met coming the other way!

Tobermory

It’s quite a feat doing a shopping list for a large household of hungry people. All the meals and snacks required. How many bottles of wine or gin and tonics are you going to need? 

All important questions. Allow plenty of planning time.

I would not wish to put you off supporting local businesses as this is a must, but you will not be able to do a giant shop – so make sure you bring a decent general shop at least.

There are some cafes, hotels, and the odd pub here and there – but we were surprised how little was on offer. This is a little different in Tobermory with several eateries and gift shops on offer too here.

I even found a chocolate shop in Tobermory and have bought home some dark chocolate whiskey squares to try!  

You may wish to take some chocolate with you or make your own treats.

I’m sure this would not be a holiday that would suit everyone – but if you do fancy a trip, I hope my 5 must do’s in Mull will provide some inspiration.  

Come and tell me your tips over on my Facebook page.

*The Isle of Mull or just Mull is the second-largest island of the Inner Hebrides and lies off the west coast of Scotland in the council area of Argyll and Bute. Covering 875.35 square kilometres, Mull is the fourth-largest island in Scotland – and also in the United Kingdom as a whole. (Wikipedia)