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!

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)

5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow

5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow

Want to start your own business, but still struggling with a good idea?  I’ve compiled 5 simple business ideas that you could get started on straight away.

Each of these ideas is something I’ve popped on a list to consider, or I’ve heard about being a success from others.

Here are my 5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow:

Gin Tours

Two balloon glases and one tall glass each with gin and tonic, ice, lemon and lime

In my local town, there are ghost walks and history tours. I thought a gin tour would be a fab little one to add to the mix. There are plenty of distillery visits on offer, but I didn’t notice any specific tours (although I’m sure some of you will have been on something of this type!).

Speak to some local hostelries and see who would be up for a visit from a group of gin enthusiasts.  (That would at least cover off the licensing laws).  

If you wish to investigate getting licensed yourself so you could serve up the gins in different locations, speak to your local authority and see what’s involved.

Learn the history of gin (mother’s ruin?), brush up on your gin facts and intersperse these throughout your tour.  

Discover what’s produced locally and showcase some local gins, and well as some of your favourites or some wacky new flavour combos.  

Wander around with your group, drinking the odd gin, and having some fun!  

You may need to stick to tonics if it takes off, as I wouldn’t recommend several gins a day as a healthy option, hic!

Treasure Hunts in your local town

These are already in existence, but you could add in your own twists.

A group of people in a huddle on the street each wearing a deerstalker hat

What are your favourite spots in town?

What historic landmarks can you incorporate?

Are there some fascinating history or legends to weave into the game?  

Why not make it child or family-friendly?

Sell packs online or deliver hunts in person.  

Have package options – a short one, a medium one, and a more challenging one. You can charge accordingly. You could add food or drink options and picnics into the mix to maximise your profits or collaborate with other local establishments in your town. People love a package.

Handy Pandy

A younger person's hand over an older person's hand in care/support

So many people need help and support for those odd jobs, running errands, picking up stuff, a bit of good company, and generally you being their handy pandy.

Print some leaflets, pop them through doors, ask friends to tell friends about your services. Do the best you can for each client and watch the word-of-mouth recommendations flow in.

I bet you will be too busy before too long.

You might need to learn quite quickly when to say no.

Book a market stall

Sell something you’ve made.

Piles of pottery small plates in different patterns

If it’s food-related, you will need to register with your local authority and get a number to trade legally. Don’t forget your basics like food hygiene, insurance, etc.

If it’s craft-related and sales are going well, why not consider setting up some workshops teaching others how to do what you do?

Or simply buy stuff and sell it online (Esty, Not on the High Street, eBay etc) or on your market stall.

It can just be a hobby, something you do for fun that earns a few pennies on the side.

It might just turn into something else.

 Run chocolate workshops

 I had to include this one as I have a business opportunity where you can do exactly what I do where you live. 

Two people making chocolates

I’ve created a huge manual of procedures (you don’t have to remember everything). There is a comprehensive training course that includes how to work with chocolate and all the business elements too. Finally, there is ongoing support and encouragement on hand while you navigate your launch and beyond.

It’s a business in a chocolate box – who wouldn’t want to work with chocolate?

If this has made you think I want to do one of the above, but you don’t quite trust yourself to make it happen, I can hold your hand, badger you, convince you when you wobble and generally be a good thorn in your side to get your idea off the ground. Check out my New Dawn programme and see it if might suit you.

What business is right for you?

What business is right for you?

Many people are coming out of the pandemic ready to make a big change, and some of them are looking at starting their own business as an option.

Time for change written in chalk on a blackboard

I’d love to be my own boss, but I don’t know what to do” I so often hear you say!

Let’s explore what business is right for you:

What do you need to stop?

Something is driving your decision to seek to work on your terms.  

Grab a pen and paper or fire up the laptop and sit and write out a list of everything that drives you nuts about what you do now. Work out why you are getting disgruntled and fed up with your current situation.

It doesn’t have to be work-related. Maybe it’s about the lack of flexibility to explore hobbies or be more creative. 

Could it be related to family and wanting more time with loved ones?

Are you unfilled? 

Losing confidence in your abilities? 

Know it’s not the place for you to be anymore?

When does time cease to exist?

Go to that happy place. 

The moments when time hardly exists, you are so absorbed in, and enjoying what you are doing.

Who are the people you are spending time with? How are you interacting with them? What tasks do you manage to complete with great satisfaction? Which hobbies or special interests do you do that fill you with joy or a sense of satisfaction?

What are they, when are they? Write them down and think about exactly what it is you are doing when you are loving the moment.

If you are not sure, keep a diary for a while and identify those things you like to do. Notice those moments and make a note of them.

You dared to dream

Let’s cast your mind back to those days when the world felt like your oyster, you had ideas and ambitions and you always dreamed you would………..

Now fill in the blank.

What jobs/careers/people inspired you and made you want to grow up to be like them?

Add all the jobs/roles/people/industries you ever dreamed of working in.

What have you learned?

Since those early days, you have followed a path, chosen a career, or experienced various roles. You may have also raised a family, been a supporter, carer, played sports, entertained family and friends.

How many skills do you bring to the table?

What do your friends always say you are good at?

Why do they come to you, what advice do they seek?

Write a list of everything you have done and can do and add this to your notes too.

What do you believe?

I’d love to do something but:

  • someone already does it
  • it’s been done before
  • I don’t think it has legs
  • no one would buy that would they
  • I’m a bit too scared
Hugh Laurie quote

How many excuses can you think up to convince yourself not to try a business venture?

What if you dare to try?

Write a simple plan or what you are going to do, how and when, and stick to it. Give it a go and see what happens. You don’t have to leave the day job.

Here are some surprising things you learn about yourself from running your own business.

Imagine it starts to become a success. It may enable you to leave a job you don’t enjoy anymore and focus on doing more of what you do.

When you do decide, let us know what it is and how we can buy it from you.

Still stuck? Here are some great reasons to consider chocolate? These other ideas might also provide some inspiration.

Good luck.

100 Ways to WOW

100 Ways to WOW

Making your customers go ‘WOW’ from the service they have received from you will help build loyalty and commitment. You need to get the basics right first. Here are some ideas that might help:

How chocolate makes you feel

100 ways to WOW!

1. Smile – it really does go a mile, even if it’s on the phone you can still hear it!

2. Send a thank you email

3. Even better, send a thank you card, handwritten and sent in the post

4. Pay tribute on Twitter – dedicate a #ff (follow Friday) to them and explain why!

5. Send a link to a video that would make them laugh

6. Send a link to a song that captures something you have shared

7. Send a link to an interesting/funny/relevant article

8. Send cupcakes

9. Even more stand out, send customised cupcakes – a picture of you or them or a message included

10. Send chocolates

11. Send a chocolate slab with a piped message

12. Send chocolates with a logo embossed on them (yours or theirs)

13. Have chocolate business cards created (everyone loves chocolate!)

14. Send flowers

15. Send them a money box with a promise of savings

16. Send them a football (or something related to their favourite sport)

17. Get it signed by their favourite sports personality

18. Do something quicker than you said you would

19. Hand deliver something that you said you would post, say hello

20. Phone and ask how it went (when you know they were exhibiting, speaking, training etc)

21. Wish them a happy birthday on Facebook

22. Send them a birthday card

23. Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them – get you/your team to don silly hats and record a version of happy birthday to send

24. Wish them a happy anniversary – and don’t think wedding, think their first year in business, two years since they became a customer with your business

25. Send them a birthday gift

26. Send them a gift for being a loyal customer

27. Send them a business book that you have recently enjoyed – tell them why

28. Invite them to an event

29. Turn up at the airport with a steak dinner (after reading a tweet that they were hungry) – true story from the USA!

30. Blog about them

31. Write an article about their business and publish in your newsletter

32. Buy a roof rack via eBay on their behalf for their camper van (another true story, honest)

33. Send them a cocktail

34. Make them a tea or coffee

35. Fill up your coffee loyalty card and send it so they can claim the free cup

36. Buy them a beer

37. Listen

38. Retweet one of their tweets to your audience

39. Share their event or product on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn

40. Write a recommendation on LinkedIn

41. Say thank you to everyone that RT’s your tweets

42. Say hello and tell them why you are pleased that they are following you on twitter

43. Send a personal message on Facebook telling them why their post really spoke to you

44. Remember a face and greet warmly using their name

45. Be kind

46. Send something for their pet

47. Deal with an issue yourself, don’t pass someone around the system and don’t let them go until they are satisfied with the outcome

48. Follow up – check to see that they were satisfied

49. Care about them – get in touch about a family or personal issue

50. Put someone in touch with your recommended plumber, builder, electrician and help with a domestic issue

51. Wish them a happy holiday

52. Recommend a good place to visit on their holidays

53. Send them a travel book

54. Send them a map – highlight attractions

55. Recommend a good restaurant

56. Arrange for a bottle of wine to be sent to their table

57. Send tickets for the theatre, museum, theme park (family ones ifapplicable)

58. Recommend a good person to work with them

59. Say sorry

60. Admit to your mistakes, explain what you will do to fix

61. Ask them what they would like by way of an apology

62. Treat them like a visitor to your own home

63. Send them a wall planner – populate with key events/dates

64. Send them a diary or calendar – ditto above

65. Send them a mouse mat with a great message

66. Be helpful

67. Make them a special offer

68. Support their charitable activities

69. Choose to raise funds for a charity that is significant to them

70. Get involved in a community project and invite them to take part

71. Be genuine and honest

72. Be friendly to everyone – whatever their position

73. Introduce people to each other at events – saying something nice about each of them on introduction

74. Have a positive ‘can-do’ attitude

75. No matter how bad a day you are having, keep it to yourself when dealing with customers (it’s not their fault)

76. Don’t react to anger, stay calm and empathise – show you understand and really care

77. Make people laugh

78. Tell a great story

79. Send them a mug – everybody loves a cuppa

80. Send them a t-shirt

81. Send them a baseball cap

82. If you are relying on information from a third party, explain that to the person waiting for your response

83. Send a bookmark, write a personal message on the back

84. Solve their problem

85. Say YES!

86. Record a video saying thank you – upload onto YouTube and send out the link

87. Have some prescription spectacles to hand for people reading your menu (an award-winning restaurant in Leeds does just this!)

88. Body language and posture matter, act like you mean it

89. Personal appearance speaks volumes

90. Send them a prize – best customer of the week, month, year (and why)

91. Put a small bag of sweeties in with each order

92. Start a like-ladder on Facebook and get your community to offer mutual support

93. Make time to think (about ways to show your customers that you really love having them around)

94. Do a little jig

95. If you know them well enough, give them a hug and/or a kiss

96. Have happy music playing in the background

97. Send a lottery ticket

98. Share your values

99. Be so much better than average

Dawn Fry

100. Did I say SMILE?

101. Don’t stop there . . . .

Hope you found this list fun and useful and that it prompted at least one good idea!

Do tell me how you got on, it’s always great to get feedback on WOW moments.

How to work in some WOW

How to work in some WOW

As a small business owner, you are in a unique position to create some wonderful customer experiences in your business.

Quotation about customer service from Maya Angelou

Make it a top priority, it will reap rewards. 

Here’s how to work in some WOW for your customers:

The J word!

Yes, your customers are embarking on a journey with you.

This experience starts before you know they are looking at you. 

Your business personality, via your website and social media platforms, is providing an impression of you and your services/product.  

Have you created the right impression to attract your ideal clients?

Is the journey to purchase something clear, correct, and delivers exactly what is promised?

Not everyone is ready to buy right now.

How can you ensure you encourage further interaction?

Create a strong business personality

Be you. You may be providing or selling something that many others do too, but no one else is you, so you will bring something unique to the interaction.

People see through fake and quite frankly, we have had enough of that sort of thing – be authentic and customers will love you for it.

Feel the fear often. If you are sharing a story or posting something that brings a little fear into your being, then you are most likely hitting the right note. We are programmed to be reserved, especially in a business setting, but bring your whole self and your customers will feel they have got to know the real person behind the brand.

Keep in Touch

Provide some useful information.  

Write a blog!  

Send out a fact sheet or relevant information that would prove useful for your customers.

Invite them to subscribe to a newsletter – then regularly write to them.

Not everyone is ready to buy when they first meet your business. They may be ready to buy some months down the line.

Keeping in touch provides an opportunity to strengthen a relationship with a potential customer. It may also provide an opportunity for previous customers to buy again.

Be Disciplined

Post regularly on social media channels.

 Deliver the newsletter when you said you would.

Respond quickly to enquiries.

ALWAYS do what you said you would, or explain why you can’t.

Gain Feedback

Ask what people liked and didn’t like about working with you.

Listen to what is being said.

Hone and improve where you think it’s necessary.

Talk about what you have learned, inform clients of changes you are going to make.

Get the basics right

You can provide fancy gifts and make grand gestures as much as you like. If you are not providing exactly what you said on the tin in the first place, then this will fall very flat.

Review the whole journey a customer will experience with your business and ensure that everything works properly.

If you employ staff, make sure you train them properly and empower them to be able to make the right decisions.

The right mindset

As soon as we mention customer service, you start to be bombarded with examples of disasters and sob stories. They might be amusing, or we may learn a lesson or two – but this is not the right mindset for creating some WOW.

Let’s give examples of how a company turned a disaster into a success. Let’s get thinking positively. Most importantly, let’s try and get in the mindset of our customers and focus on their needs and what would make them happy.

A wonderful opportunity

Here’s the great news. You only have to do exactly what you say you will do to win some brownie points from your customers.

Then, and only then can you start to add in some WOW. 

These are little extras that make you stand out from the crowd.

I recently came back from a camping trip. Each night the owner would drive around and deliver giant marshmallows on sticks for the guests to toast on their firepits. She did it with such joy and enthusiasm, we all looked forward to the marshmallow run each evening. Inexpensive, a bit of fun, but a huge tick in the WOW department.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are the holy grail of marketing. Nothing says buy from this company than a friend talking about a great experience.

Here are 100 Ways to WOW that you might find useful!

Chocolate Works Wonders

Heart drawn in chocolate

Add a little chocolate into the mix and you have a wonderful recipe for success.

My Getting Sticky Customers workshop works with teams and business owners wishing to focus their efforts on customer experience and of course, includes chocolate.

“Having time out from everyday work to focus on what we do and why we do it was amazing! The session has reinvigorated my desire to help and wow customers and to make a difference to someone’s day. Dawn is excellent at making you think about things in a different way – lots of light bulb moments for me!”  Sarah Henson, delegate, Solihull

What customer experiences have been positive for you – come and share your story on my Facebook page.

Or maybe this has inspired you to start your own business because you know you’d be brilliant at creating some WOW moments for your customers? Why not give us the opportunity!

7 reasons to try camping

7 reasons to try camping

We love a bit of camping in our family and have travelled all over Europe with our trusty tent.

Two tents, one small, one large with awning.

It was one of the main reasons I started my business.  

I wanted to be able to take the summer holidays off and enjoy them with the children. Camping was an affordable and fun activity that made this possible. We didn’t quite achieve the whole six weeks in our tent, we did have regular three or four-week holidays to wonderful locations. It has created some fab family memories.  

We still love camping!

Here are 7 reasons to try camping (and some of my fav campsites):

You can enjoy nature at it’s best

The top of the list has to be the campsite setting. You are in nature. It’s totally good for you to experience living outside. Enjoying a slower pace of life in wonderful surroundings with all that fresh air. Even if it’s raining, you can sit inside listening to the rain on the tent, playing cards, or reading your book.  

Sunset over sea, with tent in the foreground
Photo courtesy of Troytown campsite

Sunrise, sunsets, watching the wildlife – what’s not to love about that? 

Favourite spot for a glorious sunset – St Agnes, Isle of Scilly – Troytown Campsite.

It’s affordable

Admittedly you need to get your kit together and this can be a bit of an investment at the outset. We opted for a huge tent to accommodate our family of five. We each had a bedroom (more than we had at home at the time) and a huge living space for those rainy moments.

It has given us 10 years of fun and memories (so far) so it was well worth it.

You can stay in wonderful locations, for a fraction of the cost of a holiday rental. The shores of Lake Garda, the mountains in Austria, stunning beaches in Spain!

View of lake, boats and mountains

The best value campsite in a wonderful setting goes to Camping Le Brec in Entrevaux (South of France). 

A natural lake, with a cool bar, swimming, free boats, mountains all around and very reasonably priced!

It’s worth the extra effort

Now, all that wonderfulness comes at the cost of a little more effort.

You need to plan where and when you want to go. In normal times, I will spend January pouring through books and choosing my favourite campsites. Then it’s plotting a route, trying to take in all those things we want to visit/see/do.

Getting all your ‘stuff’ together takes some effort too.

We have boxes of kit stored in our shed now, so we just take it out, give it a quick check, and pop it in the car.

A checklist is a great idea.

We swear by the people that are behind Cool Camping. Such accurate descriptions of sites, really well-researched, in great locations. There are helpful descriptions of the vibe and energy of the site included too. Something for everyone either on their website or in their guide books (I use both).

Although there are lots of more expensive Glamping sites covered now, you can still find affordable gems!

Best books/website:  Cool Camping

Enjoy the community spirit

A friend once quoted a wonderful line:

“If everyone could camp together, the world would be a better place.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

There is such a friendly, community spirit on a campsite. People wandering by, stopping for a chat. Sharing bathroom facilities and chatting while brushing your teeth (that takes some practice!)

We got chatting to a family on one campsite and he was a real gin enthusiast. He revealed his extensive gin bar and send us some samples over one evening. It was just like visiting the cocktail bar, with nice glasses, ice, and all the trimmings!

Most campsites will organise some activities like volleyball, boules, pizza nights, etc. It’s fun and friendly and you can mix in as much or as little as you want.

two marshmallows on sticks in front of a firepit

Camping is a real leveller. 

Everyone is the same and that’s just great.

Most friendly campsite: 

Parke Farm Campsite, Pembrokeshire (free tea/coffee and marshmallows delivered each night)  

The world is your oyster

You pack up the car, and you take off and you can go wherever you are willing and able to drive to.

We’ve visited sites in the UK, France, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain. When you drive to your destination you get a sense of your bearings, the accessibility of other countries and cultures.  When you jump on a plane and arrive at your destination, you just don’t get the same sense of where you are in the world.

We add the odd hotel stop en route for the longer journeys. You appreciate the luxury of your hotel room for the odd night here and there. We love a quirky hotel stop and try and avoid chains where possible.

Saying that some of the campsites we have stayed in have bathrooms posher than most hotels.

The prize for this has to go to a wonderful site in Austria, Grubhof. The gorgeous site is surrounded by mountains (lift passes up to explore the mountains are free) and with stylish, private bathrooms included too.

Campfire cooking tastes great

Nothing tastes as good as campfire-cooked food! 

We haven’t worked out why, but cooking outside is a lovely experience, and whatever you make it seems to taste better.

We tend to go for one-pot wonders. When you have only two gas rings, you need to get a little creative when you are feeding a crowd.  

There are some fab camping cookbooks you can pop into your kit too.  

A great tip is to make some treats before you leave so that you have some lovely cakes and bakes to hand. 

I have some wonderful chocolate recipes to inspire you.

Spend quality time together

There’s plenty of space, so you can invite your family or friends along too. The great thing is you can enjoy each other’s company and have a lovely sociable time. Eating, drinking, and playing together but then head to your tent for your own space.

Two glasses on a table with a view of the sky

Our great friends have been our camping buddies for many years. We cook independently (there are just too many of us) but time things just right that we can all sit and eat together.  

Cheers to that

You miss the outdoors when you get home, all that fresh air is so refreshing. Having your own bathroom and being back in your bed is very welcome too. It makes you appreciate what you might take for granted otherwise!

Is there anything you’d add to the list? Pop over to Facebook and share your top tips.

Happy Camping.