How to network without networking

In the first of this three part ‘Networking for people who hate networking’ article, I went in on why networking is an actual thing – why it is necessary, how it can help you and, hopefully, assured you that you are already doing it.

Networking has had a bad name because corporate types with lofty egos (or hot air merchants) turned it into a ‘who’s got the bigger portfolio’ contest. The “Hi I’m Reginald Covington III and my business is turning over £18 billion with agencies in seven countries” routine. How is a start-up business going to compete with that? “Erm hi, I’m Somi and I’ve got some pretty business cards?”

Well, I have good news. The gospel is social media which has the same effect as well as some unexpected pluses –  HALLELUJAH! We can use the internet to shortcut some of the awkward parts of face-to-face networking.

Firstly, why do you need to get in touch with this person and for what reason? Think about  the outcome you want to get from contacting this person. Then satisfy yourself that they are the right person to answer your questions or partner with.

  • How accomplished are they at what they do – check articles they have written, awards and recognitions, endorsements by their peers, are other people in their industry following them, etc.?
  • How accessible are they – often the biggest names in your industry are the least available, so who is number 2 & 3 in that circle? You might have more luck going slightly further down the list.
  • What do you have to offer them? Some people will gladly give you a paragraph or two of advice for free. Most people remember what it was like to start in their success journey. They might recommend a book or website that can answer your questions.  However, if you are looking for something more like a partnership or working together, first understand how that could actually work for both of you to benefit. 

image source:

Here are three effective ways of networking which don’t involve feeling too nervous about awkward questions.


There’s nothing wrong with approaching someone on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Think about it. The reason why they have created a profile that you can see is so they can be seen (although not necessarily to be approached). So begin by doing reasonable research on them. You don’t need to know about their family or where they went on holiday.

You can find out more from forum discussions, a panel on the area you are interested in and wild card searches on Google. The more specific you can be, the more helpful your research will be. Just typing ‘success’ in a Twitter search is less helpful than ‘success + Nigeria + UK + female + media’, for example.


Yes you guessed it. It’s just like the first but instead you ask your contacts, friends and followers to recommend someone. Post a simple message on your status asking for an expert in this or anyone with experience in that. Your contacts will give you a shortlist that you can research at leisure. You can also find out who those people follow and engage with.

That’s the best part. The hard work of vetting someone has been done for you. People will suggest contacts from their own networks that they are proud to endorse. No one wants to endorse a wasteman (unless you are actually looking for someone to collect your waste). We are most likely to suggest the best people we know rather than the worst. You’ll have no excuse to be stuck for leads.


Just by setting out your stall and sharing your story, you attract people to your corner of the internet. Here’s how it works – as you talk about what you’re doing, you use words that come up in other people’s searches. Most blogging platforms either suggest ‘tags’ and keywords, or ask you to add them yourself. Those words are used to suggest to other people blogging on the topic that they might like to read your stuff. The internet does the work for you. All you have to do is just write or record your experience. That could be on YouTube or Soundcloud as well as Tumblr, WordPress or any of the many platforms available.

The same rules apply. Once you have identified someone you would like to connect with, look them up. See what else they are into and who else is plugged into their network. Remember that everyone has something to offer – especially you. Even if someone is less experienced than you, they might just be able to contribute something that you hadn’t considered yet.

Right. So you’ve got the right person. They aren’t Richard Branson or Bill Gates so they are likely to get back to you. Finally, you’ve worked out what you need from them and what you have to offer. Great! Now what? Let’s approach them.


The difference with Social Media Networking vs. Face-to-Face is… you often get one hit to make the right impression. One email, one approach, one message. The other person forms their opinion based largely on the five or six lines you send. Imagine if you get a message from someone you don’t know who is being over familiar about something you’ve spent years and sacrificed much to build; or they are sound vague and wishy-washy. Delete. Delete. Delete. Here are some tips to help you out:

Have a Social Profile. Before you send make your move, be sure you can be found online. That’s you as a person rather than a brand. People value interacting with people. As much as you want to get your logo and company out there, make sure people can find YOU. Nine times out of ten, the first thing I will do when I get a message from someone I don’t know is type their name into a search engine. I use an site with a brief resume as well as LinkedIn. It means I can keep my Facebook profile private – i.e. no embarrassing holiday photos for my potential business partner to see, thanks.

Don’t be too personal. They are not your friend. They are an accomplished individual with feelings. Be respectful and polite. Before your send your message to them, ask a COUPLE of friends (and a mentor if you have one) to look at it for you. Someone else’s perspective is always helpful.

Be a bit knowledgable. It pays to understand what you are talking or asking about. For example, if you are looking for a distributor for your music and you’re asking another artist, research who their current distributor is. Then ask them what it was about that company that made the artist choose to work with them.  Give them an opportunity to engage with you on something they know about which isn’t easily available on the internet. Speaking of which…

Never ask ‘why’. Asking why someone did something or not is actually not very helpful. What you’re getting is an opinion. When journalists ask why, it only gives them a headline. What you want is their strategy or motivation – so not ‘why’ but ‘how’ or ‘what’. Asking someone how they became successful is not the same as why they became successful. Why can also sound a little aggressive. Avoid it if you can.

Use a public forum first. With Twitter especially, there’s a tendency to request a DM or PM of Facebook. Think of it another way, would you ask a stranger you hardly know to go into a private room with you? If someone asked you to do that, would you? Using Google’s site search is great for finding out what’s being talked about and where [search topic +] to see who talking about what on that social media site. Then reply to one of their public messages first.

Act on their advice. When you reach out to someone and they take the time to respond, be courteous and give them some feedback. Say ‘thanks for recommending that book. I’ve ordered it and it’s on its way”. It makes them feel like their input is valid (and who doesn’t want that) and it also keeps you in conversation with them.

Networking doesn’t just stay online. If you do have to do the ‘standing in a room of people and mingle’ routine, check out the next part of this article for some life saving tips. They will make you feel less like you’d rather the ground swallowed you up whenever you hear the n-word.

Bernard P Achampong, 2015

If You Hate Networking… Part 1

What’s the point of networking?

Three of the most common fears of people starting out in business are:

  1. Failure
  2. Speaking in public
  3. Networking.

Hands up if you read that and just said ‘yes’ to yourself. Well, I can help you with two of them… by getting the best from the third one. That is the dreaded n-word – Networking.

The purpose of networking is simple: to access other people’s strengths and contacts which you don’t currently have. This helps you punch above your own individual weight and means you’re less likely to fail. That’s fear of failure covered.

I will also share some ways to network without having to say ‘Hi, my name is…’ and then dry up. Better still, there are ways of doing the whole networking thing without having to speak to a single person. At least, not until you’ve built a rapport. That’s a tick for speaking in public too.

But why network at all? From my experience, there are three main reasons people network:

  1. To get more work.
  2. To get better suppliers.
  3. To gain broader experience.

NetworkingMore work.

The traditional view of networking is that by getting yourself ‘out there’, you can attract more people to yourself and what you’re selling (or what you want people to invest in). For instance if you want to be a model, going out with a stack of headshots in your bag will help when you meet that agent who has been “looking for someone just like you”. It’s a bit like giving out fliers for your rave. Yep, you’re promoting yourself. Interestingly, when I used to work as a club promoter, we used a 20:1 ratio. So for every 20 fliers we gave out, we only expected one person to turn up. If the club had a 1000 capacity, that’s 20,000 fliers to print and give out. Ain’t nobody got time for that! What networking properly does is put you in the right place, with the right people. That way you only need to carry five fliers rather than 20,000. I will come back to fliers and networking later.

Better suppliers.

No one becomes successful by themselves. As well as people who will buy into what you’re doing, networking connects you with people who will help you achieve success  more quickly and, often, more cheaply. Suppliers are literally that; people who supply what you need to get what you want done. We need these people anyway, but networking will get us around the best people. Often we think our ambitions are unique or exclusive – not entirely. The big picture definitely is all you. You have been given a specific insight, idea or vision for something which only you can bring about – with your own distinct flavour. However, some of the smaller details can be supported by someone else. For instance, although Jay-Z, Mary Mary, Bruno Mars and Jake Bug may have slightly different ways of expressing their creativity; they all need an accountant. Or a tour manager. Or a personal trainer. Or someone who does their laundry. Connecting with others in your field can get you better deals on your supporting team (so to speak).

Broader experience.

The bad news is you can’t do everything immediately. No matter how small your dream is, there’s likely to be a lack of experience or knowledge in getting to it. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a dream; you would be doing it already. That is where the third purpose of networking comes in. It will help you bridge that gap in the short term. Think of it like this – if you wanted to learn how to drive, you would find someone who can already to teach you how. You want to be able to do what they do, but in the meantime you can use their expertise.

The good news is we already network. You’ve been doing it for years without a worry. Have you ever wanted to try something new? A new service provider for your phone or internet? A music streaming service? Going on a trip to Barcelona?

What we tend to do is ask the people in our close circle of friends and family. ‘Has anyone been to Barcelona before?’ Yes… perhaps your best friend had a good time when they went. They will recommend places to go; the cheapest or finest dining in the area and a few other things you wouldn’t have found out if you had just Googled ‘Barcelona’. What if they haven’t been to Spain before? Chances are they know someone or at least know of someone else who has been to Barcelona. The person you know will connect you with the person you don’t know, who will know something that you didn’t know.

And that’s… networking. It’s really not about business cards or elevator pitches (all of which are important and helpful). Networking is simply connecting with people who are outside your current circle who can help you get things done.

In the next couple of articles, I’ll give you a few tips on how to network without those awkward conversations, and some dos and don’ts for when you do have to network face-to-face. Stay tuned.

Not Delegating Can Lead to Divorce.

The title of this blog alone has already activated the emergency shut down procedures for some of us. ‘OMG! You mean I have to let someone else do something that I could do myself? Arrrrghhh! What if… what about… they might not… but the last time I did that… etc’.

One of my coaching clients was reduced to tears at the very thought of letting someone else do something for them. We did get breakthrough in the end but it took a while. That’s because delegating is deep. It’s more than a skill that all leaders should have. It is founded on a very personal perception of the world and your place is in it. Huh? Without getting into too much psychology, asking someone else to influence the outcome of something you’re responsible for taps into our issues around trust, communication and self-esteem. Before it starts to sound like a therapy session, look at it another way.

The top reason people leave their jobs is because of a bad manager. The most common cause of couples breaking up is a bad partner. In both cases, it often comes down to not feeling valued, a lack of trust and poor communication. Delegating, whether in a business or a personal relationship, says to the other person “you are kind, you are smart, you are important”.


image courtesy of

I Can Do It All Myself… Eventually.

Many of us can’t find enough hours in the day to do everything we need to do. Delegating spreads the load. It’s a way of getting more done with the little time and expertise we have, by borrowing bits of time and expertise from other people.

As a coach, the top three reasons I hear for not delegating are:

  1. I can’t possibly do it. There’s so much to consider.
  2. What if they mess it up? Then I’ll have twice as much to do.
  3. It will be quicker/easier/better to do it myself.

Hit the reset button and let’s start again. Tom Peters is a thought leader in Management academia. He sums up delegating in two brash steps – Let go and shut up!

It’s not that simple. Delegating is as much about getting the best for the other person as it is for you. Remember that by allowing someone to get involved, you are also saying that you trust and value them. As someone who runs a business, you are probably paying for that person’s time; why not get the best out of them? In the context of personal relationships, continually being in control says to your partner – “I don’t trust that you won’t mess this up“ or “I can’t talk to you about what is happening” or even worse “I’ll do this myself because I don’t need you”. It is not what you are literally saying. However, that’s exactly what you’re communicating. Remember that actions speak much louder than words. This will sound very familiar to any victims of Bridezillas.

Why We Don’t Delegate.

The reasons why people don’t delegate are often about control; more specifically, insecurity. Not being sure that the world won’t cave in if they don’t do the task themselves. In the coaching session I spoke of previously, all the ‘worst case scenarios’ that the client responded with sounded like an apocalyptic Michael Bay film! “What if someone died?” Well, in the process of completing the book they were trying to write, the probability of fatalities were minimal. However, delegating is connected to a lot of deep stuff, so to them it was as bad as death… or even worse. You couldn’t possibly put that kind of responsibility on someone else!

Communication of both the risks and the task to be done are another reason why we don’t delegate. If I have to explain what I need and why it is so important, it might sound… well. The truth is we often haven’t worked out how to articulate what we need done and why it is clearly important. It’s just connected with other implications and consequences that never leave our internal processing. The delegation itself isn’t the challenge. It’s having to explain everything that goes with it.

For example: asking a team member to finalise the figures for a presentation or deliver a cake seems simple enough. You tell them what you want, when it has to be done by and what resources they have to complete it. What’s not so straightforward is explaining that you had over-promised and now it’s overdue. Because of that there’s no slack in getting the cake there on time or getting the figures right. Your personal reputation, and that of your contact who suggested you do this, is on the line. You knew from the start that it was a long shot but rather than say ‘no thanks’ and bow out gracefully, you had a point to prove because the competitor on this job is your former partner… and it goes on.

We also don’t delegate because we can’t stop working. We have to always be doing something to make sure we feel part of what is happening. The justifications to keep working, and adding to the to-do-list, are endless. Another client summed it up like this: “what would I do if I had nothing to do?” Well, I would have thought you’d go home and rest, or enjoy some time with your family. BOOM!! No, they couldn’t do that! Their role was contributing to the family, not actually being a part of it. What if they couldn’t be a good father, like their father was? Again, whenever you peel back the skin on delegating, you find out some pretty interesting stuff.

Finally, not delegating often comes down to trust. Either we don’t trust ourselves or the other people around us. See, if I do it all myself, no-one can judge me have making the decisions that got me into this spot in the first place. After all, we’ve got it all handled – all by ourselves. When we aren’t making excuses for ourselves, we question the fidelity of others. Are they genuine? Are they capable? Will they leave me with the task half down? “If they are given an opportunity to do more, they might use it for their own purposes – I will not be used like that again”. Wide eyes, raised eyebrows – but this is genuinely how some people feel about delegating.

Surely, it’s not that bad?

Let’s also consider the other side of the coin. If you are the person primed and ready to be delegated to, it can feel a bit like being kitted out and and on the field but never being passed the ball. It reminds me of my secondary school PE football matches. There were a few guys who were star players. They were gifted and loved the attention they got for it. They always got to play upfront where all the action was. Then there were the other members of the ‘team’ who were told to play defence. They rarely got a piece of the action at the other end of the pitch. No-one would pass the ball to them and they never got to play up field.

In fact, a couple of my classmates got so used to the position that they would bring sweets and drinks with them, even a pocket games console – after all they weren’t really in the other game. Not unless, there was a sudden rush on the goal. Then it was make or break. Their one opportunity to save the day. If they cleared the ball from the goal, the game continued up field. Back to business as usual. However, if they failed and the other team scored, they would get the attention of the entire team – and the coach! “You wally! How crap are you? Your one chance to do something for the team and you mess it up.”

Surprisingly, they didn’t tend to feel good about themselves or the team or the coach. If that happened in your business, you’ve got a disgruntled employee. If that was in your marriage, you could be on the road to divorce.

image courtesy of Mosnar Communications

image courtesy of Mosnar Communications

How to be better at delegating.

Firstly, you can only delegate tasks; not emotions or intentions. It has be a physical thing that someone else can do. Consider these five simple steps the next time you have the opportunity to delegate:

Be very clear

State what the task is. Also communicate what it would mean to you and the business (or relationship) when the task is completed successfully. The delegator might have to declare any hidden agenda here. After all, we are on the same team, right? Otherwise, consider whether you can delegate something else instead of this sensitive task. SMART tasks will be a great help to both of you.

Size is important

If you’re trying to get better at delegating, start by sharing simple tasks. The temptation is to overload the person you’re delegating to so they fail, and you prove your point that delegating is a bad thing. Single, unconnected tasks will be more comfortable for you both; rather than complicated, interdependent ones.

Give them a break

Chances are you know how complex the task can be through experience. So as well as delegating the task, pass on some of your insights. For example: you know delivering cakes at that time of day, to that address, can be a parking nightmare for parking outside the client’s place. It’s less hassle to park across the road in the multi-storey car park. There may be other things you could set up to make completing the task easier: does it need a budget or an introduction in advance? Remember delegating proves to them that you want them to SUCCEED. Remember: they are smart, kind and important.

Give them a lifeline

The television show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire gave us an understanding of how lifelines work. Let the person you are delegating to feel like it’s not a one shot deal. Arrange a time they can speak with you if they need any clarification. That may be as simple as suggesting to them that you’ll be free between 1pm – 2pm if they have any questions. It makes them feel like there is help if they need it. It also means they might start working on it before 1pm rather than leave it to the last minute. Ironically, when people leave things to the last opportunity it’s often not because they are lazy. If they’ve only got limited time to do something, there’s no room to be excellent. You just have to go with what you’re getting. That way, it lets them off the hook – but that’s an entirely different post.

How was it for you?

Don’t let all the attention be on when things fail. No matter how simple the task, you will go a long way with a simple question: so how did it go? By engaging in conversation about the task, the delegator reinforces that you value their time and effort. Accept that they might be able to bring something different to the task. Your way isn’t always the best way, if it means the task gets done better/easier/quicker. Perhaps you’ve always had to travel across the rush hour to deliver the cakes, but your colleague finds it more convenience to park outside the client if they make the deliver just after lunch. Allow them to bring something new to the table.

Money Talks #2: Balancing the Bank

We’re getting into our finances this month. This instalment leans more towards personal finances; however the principles also apply with business accounting too. I wanted to write this series on money because it’s one of those areas where many businesses struggle. It’s simply because we won’t talk about it. We are too embarrassed or feel it might be used to judge us. After all, the quote goes ‘numbers don’t lie’. In a recent survey more people in Britain said they are more comfortable talking about their sexual history than their finances (Discover Society, 2014).

Jar of Coins cropOur second instalment on the topic of money is delicate art of balancing the books. We have this statement called a bank balance. However we often miss the implication in the words: matching outgoings with incomings. The following can help us get to grips with staying on top of that balancing act.

Know what’s coming in and going out.

I became debt free within six months, for the first time, simply by understanding what was happening to my money.

Before you start to budget or even worry about you shortfall, get a real grip on what you get in versus what leaves your bank account. By looking at a 3 month period of your bank statements, you can get an idea of what you are spending and where you’re spending it. Before I did this for the first time, I thought my problem was that I wasn’t making enough money. It turned out I had approximately £400 more coming in than I ‘spent’. So why was I still in debt?

Well, nice chai-lattes from Starcostas and Pret-A-Subway lunches add up. As do penalty fees and parking fines – all unnecessary drains on the budget.

50% of monthly income should cover all your bills.

I can’t take credit for this one – thanks to my Mum and a few other financial principles I have picked up along the way. I try to make sure at half of my regular income meets all the payments I need to make to say living the lifestyle I would like. So that includes rent or mortgages, utilities, travel, council tax, etc. Again, the first time I looked at this, I realised I was paying far too much of my income on just staying alive each month.

If I couldn’t increase my income, I had to reduce my outgoings. Smaller bills like phone bills and utilities can be minimised by taking advantage of a good switching deal. Other bills, like mortgage or rent, could be a longer term financial ambition.

The common trap is credit cards and loans. They are not living costs. They are debt. We’ll come to that later. The other 50% of my income is shared out in different ways to meet my personal life goals. I will go into more detail at the end of this blog. However, one of those areas is being debt-free which, brings us to…

Recognise debt.

We have debt. That’s it. It exists and everybody has some (or at some point, had some). The other unescapable fact is that because of the way we live in the UK, we will have debt again. Debt can’t be considered as a living expense and therefore should be treated differently. I promise you that you will be surprised how many of us are struggling with debt, simply because we haven’t taken it out of our living cost and dealt with it differently.

Credit cards, overdrafts, loans, etc. Debt comes in many forms. As with your income and outgoings, put a figure on how much you owe. Also assess the interest due on each debt. Then start to do something about it.

Respond to debt.

As optimistic as it is, hoping to win the lottery to pay off your debt is perhaps not the best strategy. Most debt come with interest payments. The simplest thing is to minimise the amount of interest payment on a debt. Find out if you could switch to another provider.

Also, pay off whatever you can; even if you pay as small proportion at a time. Creditors will rather take something than lose out altogether. Get in touch with the people you owe money to. Offer to pay something that you can afford. I have heard of people being able to pay £5 a month until they are able to fully service a debt. Unfortunately, these will often incur interest, but you will have the peace of mind about the debt being taken care of.

Debt consolidation is also an option if your credit rating will get you a loan to do so. Shop around for the best deals and rates. Remember that what you’re doing is swapping one kind of debt for another. The main benefit is you are only liable to one creditor rather than many.

Count every penny.

If you’re having money worries, manage your accounts every day. Think of it in the same way as you would if you were trying to lose weight. You pay close attention to every calorie consumed.

Discipline is the only way to manage our money. However, discipline is not a word that many of us want to hear. For some of us, we so dislike the feeling of watching our pennies that our preferred attitude is to spend our way out of trouble. The more we spend, the less we feel that we’re financially restricted. It doesn’t make any sense but those credit cards are a convenient way of avoiding the issue.

free-bonusBonus tip:

I mentioned earlier that 50% of income should go on living expenses, but what happens to the other 50%? There are different models for money management, here’s one that works for me.

50% – Living costs (see above)

10% – Emergency Fund/Debt repayment. This covers those unexpected bills like car repairs and broken windows. You can also service any debts you have from this portion. Put this money in a separate bank account to use when you need to.

10% – Savings. Some call this the ‘nest egg’. The idea of this proportion is to invest it in a long term savings scheme. The kind of investment that yields dividends in 10 or 15 years at least. It’s surprising how quickly you will get its reward.

10% – Charity. Personally, I feel it’s good to give back somehow. Whether that’s to a national one or a regular gift to friend or family who need it, you decide. You also feel less guilty when you walk by collectors in the street.

10% – Self Improvement. I once heard this called self-maintenance, but I didn’t quite like how that sounded. Anything that helps you grow and become a better person; courses, books, gym membership, conferences… invest in yourself often.

10% You. Not to be confused with the Self-Improvement portion of your income. This is money for shoes, clothes, chocolate, lattes… anything you feel you deserve. You have every permission to enjoy what you have earned through discipline.

Money Talks #1: Where do we stand?

Money talks but It’s not really something we like to speak about.

We all want to have enough of it, maybe even more than enough. For most of us, it’s the primary reason why we work. However we’re not good at bringing it up in a conversation or have a good grasp of how we relate with it. We either have money or we don’t. The middle ground with cash is somewhat of a dark art or down to luck and magic.

This month, Ideas Genius, breaks down our thoughts on managing, making and negotiating your personal and professional monies. There will be daily tweets on @ideasgenius (#MoneyTalks) and a weekly summary here and on Facebook. Our hope is that by looking more closely at our relationship with cash and credit, we will be able to take some of the guesswork out of how we handle money.

Jar of Coins crop

Part 1 – Where do we stand?: Examining our relationship with money.

Our first four days are about our relationship with Money. Just like that ubiquitous relationship question, understanding where we stand with our finances is critical to having any kind of success with it.

Day 1 – “Root of all evil?”

Find a phrase or quote that captures how you feel about money. Is it ‘Get rich or die trying’? Perhaps it’s ‘We need money’. Whichever it is, there is a reason why you feel this way about money. Try to work out why this phrase chimes with you. If this is your default when it comes to money, it could explain why you might be in a rut with it. It can also be the key to changing that tune.

Day 2 – “What does wealth mean to me?”

The best possible financial place to be is to be wealthy; very few people are working towards being poor. There is also a distinction between being wealthy and being rich. Wealth is defined as ‘to be well supplied; and rich is ‘to have an abundance’. So what will it mean to us to be well supplied with money? Think about how you are getting yours right now. How can you influence or increase the supply right now?

Day 3 – “Where am I now?”

If you audited your finances every month, what would be the most consistent description of your money status. Complete this phrase: “Each month, I am …”. Use one word that is a definitive state (i.e. Broke, Balanced or Wealthy) rather than something that lets you of the hook such as ‘getting by’ or ‘doing alright’. If we have more coming in than you spend, or vice versa, acknowledge that. It’s important to really understand where we are with money. This will help us later.

Day 4 – “How much do I need to be happy?”

I remember the first time I was asked this question. “About a million would do me nicely”, I said. The next question stumped me. “So you have a million, how are you going to use it to make you happy?” I realised then that I had picked an arbitrary figure – which was out of my reach – to define what my financial goal was. In essence, I was saying I didn’t really have a clue what is my ideal relationship with money; and that I didn’t ever expect to get there. It’s like dating without an expectation of marriage; soon it becomes fruitless – and fruitless finances is not what you want.

These first four thoughts about money should give us a clear understanding of where we stand with it.

  • How we feel about money,
  • What wealth looks like for us,
  • What our current financial status is, and
  • What being content with money looks like for us.

Our next five days are about managing what we have (or don’t have). Follow @ideasgenius and #MoneyTalks on Twitter or catch up here and on Facebook. As always, share with a friend if you feel they will appreciate the post. Thank you in advance.

How to actually get stuff done (or the magic of lists)

We have touched on this before. For some of us starting something is the hardest thing. For most of us, the problem is getting it finished. Either way, there is a very simple tool which will keep you moving forward – from beginning to end. Yes, it is the humble To Do List. However managing one isn’t always so simple.


To Do Lists get a bad name because they seem so mundane and downright basic. Surely, changing the world can’t depend on a To Do List? Actually, it could if you manage your list right. It may be the right tool you need to get you to finish what you started. The secret with lists is to enjoy that moment when you tick off things you have done – and giving yourself as many chances to do it as possible. Each of those tasks is a step towards your goal; the more ticks, the closer you’re getting towards your great ambition. Here are our five tips for getting the best out of the most cost effective time-management tool you’ll ever need.

  1. To Do Lists are for Tasks (not Goals or Projects). A Task is a single, specific thing that has to be done. It should not depend on anything else other than one person completing it. We run into problems when beginning a task involves others or has complex implications. Those task never get crossed off the list because they are either Projects (lots of tasks working together to achieve something) or a Goal (a bigger ambition that need to be broken up into separate Projects and Tasks).
  2. Be SMART with Tasks. If you haven’t heard of the SMART acronym before, here we go… keep your Tasks specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. For example, use names of people or specific departments, rather than a more generic ‘Call Council about grants’. Who are you calling? What’s the name of the department? What kind of grants are you asking about? If any of these are unknowns, add an extra Task to your To Do List: ‘Find out who is responsible for Grants at Greenwich Council’. I might help if you imagine you may have to leave your list for someone else to do – would they have enough information to be able to complete it?
  3. A Day Is Enough. To manage an effective To Do List, nothing on it should take more than a day to complete. That’s a figure that works for me because I look at my To Do List at the end of each day. I cross things off and priorities the remaining Task for the following day. It give me the feeling of achievement by having done something today. Tasks like ‘Ask Brian to pick up the bikes from Halfords’ or ‘Recce Wiston Hall’ are doable in a day. However, ‘Edinburgh weekend’ or ‘Paint the house’ might not get completed within 24 hours.
  4. Beware of your expectations. Often we can’t cross things off the list because we’ve written them with expected outcomes which don’t happen the way we would like them to. For example, be careful about using terms such as ‘Agree timescales’ and ‘Confirm layout’ when writing your To Do List. Do you really mean “I expect them to agree with my timescales” or “Confirm my layout”? Although the Task would be complete, if it hasn’t gone your way, you won’t enjoy that feeling of ticking that one off your list. You might also be tempted to keep working on it until you get your way. Stick with very clear, impartial tasks and you’ll keep moving forward.
  5. Start with the ones you don’t like. There will be Tasks we don’t really want to do – usually admin, laundry and working out. Do those Tasks first. Get them out of the way so you can have a more fluid day. If you find it difficult to go to the gym, do it first thing in the morning, rather than putting it off again after a ‘hectic’ day. Prepare for it the night before if you have to. Get your trainers out and sweat pants ready before you go to bed so you have no excuse in the morning.

It is remarkable how using a simple list can help improve your productivity. It really isn’t rocket science. If you are struggling with getting something done, give it a try. Put it on a To Do List. Make it visible on a wall, or handy on your phone. If after two days you haven’t completed it, consider whether it’s more than just one Task and break it up. If after a week you haven’t completed it, ask yourself if you really want it done or whether someone could do it for you instead.


We set out to write a book in one year. Here’s where we’ve got to so far and a few new things to consider. Whether it’s a book that’s already been started or just some scraps of possible storylines; let’s finish it together. Every month we want to get closer to that hardback novel, instruction manual or self-help e-book. Whatever it is you want to write, that someday is now.



So we want to write a book. We’ve had the idea burning passionately inside us for a long time. Not anymore! We’re doing it and we have to start with making a commitment to a working title. It’s only a working title because if you are not going to self-publish there may be many conversations about titles down the line which I won’t bore you with now.

Begin with one sentence that says in what the book is about or what the book will help the reader do. For example:

The book you should read if you are thinking of leaving your job

How to choose the best pair of school shoes

Everything you need to know about relocating to a different country

The story of six men who fell in love with the same woman for different reasons

Once you’ve struggled with getting the idea for your book into one line (and it is a struggle), here’s the hard part. Sum it up in 5 words or less. This is your title. That could be related to the character in the book i.e. The Diary of Anne Frank or Fifty Shades of Grey. It could be a play on words or a well known saying i.e. The War of Art or Get Rich from Tie-Dying. Then try it out. Ask friends or your social networks what the title alone says to them. Take in their feedback and decide whether you want to amend the title or use their suggestions to beef up your summing up sentence. Then put the title and the summing up sentence (sometimes referred to as the strapline or tagline) together and admire your book taking shape.

So for example:

Rewind. Reset. Restart. – The less scary way to change your career.

Juiced! – Robin was always made to feel like a lemon; now he’s getting sour.

12 Avoidable Relocating Mistakes – How not to waste your money and return home after a year.

Here are a few more fun ideas based on film titles. It should help you get your head around how titles and straplines work together.

TIP: Whenever you receive negative feedback, ask how it can be improved. Find out why they said ‘no’ or ‘it isn’t good enough’. Ask what could make it better. It’s only an opinion after all.


02 RoadMap The hardest part of writing a book is not starting it; it’s completing it. This is because somewhere on route, from the first to the last page, we get a little lost. What begins as an exciting burst of creative energy fizzles into a dull fraction of your incomplete work. What happened?

It works like this: If I plan to get to Manchester from London, I don’t simply start driving until I run out of steam. It’s good to have a destination and key milestones on route. I know I’ll need to go via either the M40 or the M1. Then when I get to Birmingham, I consider, do I take the M6 or the M6 Toll road?

With our 13 Point Book Plan, you stand a better chance of reaching those milestones on route to your completed book. You’ll need a pen and pad for this (or computer, however our preference is actually writing it out). Here goes:

The Beginning.

Write the numbers 1 to 13 along the left hand side of a piece of paper. These will be the numbers for thirteen sentences you’re about to create, so give yourself plenty of space.

Now write a sentence about how you want your book to start next to number 1. The characters, location, expertise or knowledge that you want the reader to know in the beginning. If you’re writing a novel about a person on a self-discovery journey, where will they start? What is their current emotional state? If it’s a business manual think about what level of knowledge you expect from your typical reader? If you’re teaching a new method, what should they already know: do they have a degree in Management, have they worked in a business or know nothing at all? Write it as a single sentence, e.g. The reader has never written a business plan or Marcel is about to have his life changed by the mysterious girl on the bus.

The End. How will the book end? What’s the last thing you want to communicate before your reader closes the last page? Imagine it as the spoiler. What is the big revelation or the nugget of wisdom and experience that you want to share in your book? Try to communicate that as one sentence. Write this next to number 13. For example: ‘And they lived together in Barbados for the rest of their lives’ or ‘So now you know everything you need to make vegan burgers’.

Meet Me Halfway. Consider the middle point between the beginning and the end. Halfway through the book, what do you want the reader to know? Write that sentence next to number 6. For example By this stage of the book… we will know the heroine’s secret or we should understand the difference between Dating and Courting or I have introduced my mediation technique. Remember it’s about being halfway through the physical pages of the book, not necessarily of your story. This would be the 50 page mark if your story book is 100 pages long. You don’t need to count pages, just have a sense of what you want to have written about when halfway through.

Half the Halves. Do the same for the points midway between the beginning and the middle (i.e. number 4) and halfway between the middle and the end (i.e. number 10). Again write a ‘By this stage of the book…’ sentence about what you want to be saying a quarter and three-quarters into your masterpiece.

Repeat and Repeat. You will have two empty numbers between each of the major milestones of your book. Think of these as two steps to get from one stage to the other. Write in here two important moments or bits of information which will follow each other to get from the beginning to the quarter mark, then quarter to the halfway mark… and so on. You will find that this is where a lot of your thinking, rethinking, changing, rewriting etc. happens. That’s fine. All your thoughts here are helping you really define your story. When you come to write the book itself, you will find that you’ve already had those random thoughts and are less likely to go off track.

Write The Book. Yes, that’s your 13 Point Book Plan complete. If you’ve put all your energies into getting this part right, you will find the rest of the writing process of writing feels smoother than previous attempts. It also means if at any point you get bored of writing about a particular part of your story, you can easily switch to another point without losing your thread.

The difference now is that you have a destination, a route and a map. When you get lost, you simply look back at your map and get yourself back on track. I hope this has helped you make progress.

TIP: It’s worth spending time honing your map. It might even take a few attempts to feel comfortable with it. Go with it. Even if you have already started writing, stop and work out where you’re going with it. It will be worthwhile in the long run.


03 time-on-handsSet time aside time to write. Daily is better than weekly. Weekly is better than monthly. Use your 15 minute train ride to type bullet points into your phone or dictate your thoughts from the shower while you get dressed. You will find it so much better if you are trying to catch up with yourself at a later stage. Many people try to do it at the weekend.

I would recommend giving yourself something to work with when you finally sit down to gather your thoughts. The biggest lesson here is doing something is better than doing nothing. One of our #IAmWritingTheBook authors sees his children every other weekend. When they’re not with him, he copies all his mobile phone notes into a document on the Saturday morning. Then on Sunday evening, he gets down to crafting his story so far.

The more routine you can make your writing, the more likely you’ll succeed in completing it. It’s a lot like making time to go to the gym. There’s no point in hoping just one session will give you the perfect, toned body you want. I have time set aside in my diary. My two sessions of one hour each are on Monday and Thursday night. I made myself four playlists of instrumentals: Jazz (currently playing Dorothy Ashby’s ‘Come Live With Me’), Classical Piano, 70s Funky Soundtracks and Weird Ambient Trip Hop. I find it helps me shut out the world and focus on what I’m writing. I did have a Slow Jams playlist too but my mind began to wonder so I deleted it :).

Try not to make writing feel like a chore. Treat is as a reward. A friend who also writes gave me a great tip. Every fortnight, as part of her regular shopping, she buys a bottle of that ‘bubbly’ she likes. Then when her son has gone to bed and she’s got some time to herself, she pours herself a glass and let’s her creative juices flow into the iPad. When the glass is empty, she stops. I’m not recommending writing while drunk but do whatever works for you. The principle is whatever helps you to continue writing is better than not writing at all.

TIP: Put a regular writing appointment in your diary away from where you are most comfortable. Skip the rush hour by writing in a coffee shop before you head home. If you have to get home, don’t write in bed or bedroom unless you have a desk. Make both a time and space where you’re not distract-able.


04 PicturesWhether or not you’re writing a book with has pictures in it, it’s good to start thinking of the imagery that will go with your finished masterpiece. If your book will have illustrations as part of the story, think about the style of pictures you would like. A Google Search for ‘illustrators’ or ‘photographers’ is a great place to start. Pick a few you like and create a folder of them – preferably one you can take around with you. 

Visual references are a great way to stay stimulated as you’ll literally be able to picture what the final book could look like. It’s also helpful to pick a couple of illustration styles which you really don’t like. Just for reference. Once you understand what it is about those pictures you’re not a fan off, it will help shape your story.

If you’re not writing a children’s book or something with a lot of pictures, you might still find it useful to spend a couple of your writing sessions searching for images and fonts that would look good on your book cover. Perhaps a picture of your lead character or a photo the house where some of the story is centred. It could be a particular location (beach, mountain range, dirt road, etc). It could even be a colour scheme – anything that makes the story feel more real for you.

TIP: Put together a collection of pictures rather than just one. Putting faces to the characters (even Hollywood actors).


Now you have a clear idea of what your book is  about – how the story or structure pans out and what kind of imagery you want people to associate with it, you are ready to tell others about it. This works three ways in your favour:

You being excited and talking about your book will make you feel good about actually doing it. It raises an encouraging expectation about getting it done.

Talking to others (out loud rather than in your head) will help you sharpen what goes in the book. They will ask you about characters and possible outcomes which you may not have considered. They will recommend similar authors who write on your subject, too. All great news for you. You’ve got allies. People knowing about the book will help you feel like you’re not doing it alone.

05 The WomenOn Facebook there are many groups for writers; professional and novice. Join a few just to see what they are talking about. Ask questions and hear what they say about your ideas.  One of the things I hear often is ‘What if they steal my idea?’  Good question. Well, yes they could. However they would also need to complete their book before yours and prove that they had the idea before you. But wait?!! You’ve been writing your thoughts down for months. You’ve got the different voice notes on your mobile which prove you’ve been working on it for a while. That’s why getting your title, strapline, story map, etc. is important. You’ve already got the paper trail to protect you. PLUS you have a group full of witnesses that you’ve been talking to about YOUR book before they did. Surely an idea that no-one has heard of is easier to steal then one that everyone is aware of.

As well as writing groups, online and physical ones, have someone who is a confidant or is accountable for you personally that you can talk to. A supportive spouse or lover is good, however you can still find allies if you’re single. A good friend, a member of your family or someone you have a good rapport with. They are essential to get you to the finish line.

TIP: You may prefer to chose someone who doesn’t know you personally. A colleague from work or a mentor from a writing group may be more objective about some of the things you want to write about.


06 Jenn writes by lakeWith the best will in the world, our daily or weekly routines can get us regularly building on our story. However in order to complete it, we do need a big chunk of set-aside time. Some writers suggest even doing this for each chapter.

Plan a weekend free of distraction to get it done. Note: that’s free from distractions rather than free time. This is not free time. It’s dedicated, on-purpose time. Imagine your book is going to make you millions of £££ in sales and other spin-off revenues. This time you are setting aside is an investment in getting those millions. It might be best for you to take yourself off to a bed & breakfast somewhere for a few days with your pen, pad, laptop, typewriter… whatever you need to get the book finished. If money is that much of a barrier, ask a friend or member of your family to stay with them so you’re away from your day to day interruptions. I often visit my sister in Manchester and switch my phone off for the weekend just to get things completed.

This step is about getting it finished. Many books are begun, fewer are completed. The more you give yourself the time and space to do so, the more likely you are to actually getting published.

TIP: Give yourself a realistic deadline. Then book something (hotel, B&B, etc.) and don’t change it. Reward yourself for achieving it too. Tag on a pedicure or lovely meal once you’ve done it.


You spend months creating your masterpiece and now it’s time to share it with the world. Publishing in the simplest terms means getting your book out of your hands and into other people’s – whether or not they pay for it. Think of it in the same way as a musician releases a CD of their music. It’s the same for writers. You can decide to do it yourself or sign with a record company. With books, you can self-publish or go with a publisher who already puts out other people’s books.

Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired There are pros and cons for both, so it’s worth spending time finding out what will work for you. Again, here it is worth investing a little time and money to educate yourself as the implications can be huge – especially if you have and extremely successful book. However this is also essential if your small shipment of books ends up not breaking even because you’re tied up with costs and deductions you weren’t expecting.

A published book can be anything from a downloadable PDF from your website to a limited edition hardback, exclusively available in a leading high street store. Not forgetting the growing popularity of Kindle and other e-books.

As the purpose of this is getting you to write (publishing is your choice), we won’t spend too much tim going into the benefits or limitations of one or other route. Nor will we recommend one over another. You don’t have decide which you want to do yet.

Winsome Duncan is an author who has recently self-published and is running a workshop called ‘How To Self Publish A Book’. It is based on real experience of doing what you may want to do and is a great opportunity to get some of your questions answered. It would also be a chance to connect with other writers in the same place as you – wanting to write and looking to network with others. Remember, meeting other writers is always a good way to keep the spark going.

At the end of the day, we want you to achieve what you have your heart set on. If that’s writing a book, let’s go for it. The choices are yours. The effort is yours. You can do everything above with all your heart or do nothing. Just imagine how you would feel when you hold the first copy of your completed book in your hand. That’s how we want you to feel too.

The Caveat of Maybe

Maybe IG

Somewhere between a definite Yes or No is the caveat of Maybe. Before we debate why or whether it is an unsatisfactory place holder, let’s insert Maybe in a number of everyday responses.

“Shall we have a picnic today?”


“Is buying this iPhone a good idea?”


“Do they own half my business if I sign this contract?”


“Will you marry me?”

Maybe can mean ‘it’s possible’ or ‘it depends’. The word itself isn’t the problem. It gives us time and space to explore the other options, implications or actions. So Maybe is handy when we need more time.

However, use it wisely. It can also come across as indecisive or not committed; or more dangerous… fobbing off. You could be saying ‘I’m actually not interested at all. I just want to look like I am’.

Maybe itself is not a bad place to be if you know why you’re there. Do you need additional information? Are you unprepared? Would other things you haven’t taken into account now become urgent? Are there other options you still want to explore?

There is an old reggae song which goes “Let your yeah be yeah…”. Maybes hold you back from doing that. It can make us look shifty as the lyrics go on to explain “Because, I’m on my guard and I’m watching you from head to toe”.

To maybe or not to maybe… that is the question.


1. Let your No be no. If your Maybe is only holding off inevitable bad news (i.e. you already know it’s a No but you are trying to be ‘nice’)… Don’t. We may not want to rock the boat, but our indecision affects how other people get on. It’s the Abilene Paradox (which you can look up in your own time). As soon as we can, turn that Maybe into a No by saying so. Deal with it and move on. We are only wasting time and energy. And the longer that limbo lasts, the more bitter it feels. Let it go, let it gooooo 🙂

2. Be optimistic about Yes. Think of Yes and No as a ladder – with Yes at the top and No at the bottom. Now you’ve got rid of the definite No, work your way up step-by-step towards a Yes. This may involve a lot of soul searching and challenging some deeply held perceptions. It might mean addressing other situations, contracts or conversations which could impact this one (or vice versa). Working towards Yes could still mean we get stuck at a No. However we’ll have a greater understanding of why this No is a definite no.

3. Share the Maybes. Whether our decision is about ourselves or involves someone else, sharing the possible outcomes can really help give clarity. We tend to be surrounded with people like ourselves so be thorough when exploring your Maybe. Speak to others who aren’t in the same boat. Chat with a freelancer about being self employed rather than your office mates. Network with successful investors rather than others managing multiple overdrafts. Seek advice from people other than your girlfriends – they already share your point of view.

What makes us appear confident is being direct and decisive. More yes and no; fewer maybes.