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.

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.

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.

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.