Friday, 19 December 2014

2014 Reflections

I recently received these questions from my business coach Dawn Bentley's newsletter. The questions help you  to reflect on the past year, and in doing so, enable you to consider your goals for the new year. Here are my reflections on 2014 - what are yours?

Fun in Atlanta
1. Best thing that happened to you this year? Attending Christine Kane's Uplevel Your Business Live event in Atlanta courtesy of my coach Elaine Bailey. Not only did I learn some amazing strategies for improving my business, which I have applied, I met some wonderful, like-minded people who have since become friends and mentors. Outside of business, the biggest thing was competing at the PetPlan Area Festivals at Elementary level on my horse, Wilbur.
2. Biggest challenge? Getting clear on what I wanted to offer as training courses within my business, and outside business, overcoming competition nerves.
3. What was most surprising? Playing hockey again after 12 years, and how being fitter makes me feel so much better.
4. One word to describe the year? Enlightening!
Dressage divas!
5. Most valuable relationships that contributed to your success? Help and encouragement from my coaches (Elaine, Kevin, Dawn and Pam) who have such confidence in me and Cathean Ltd. Constant support and belief in my abilities as writer, businesswoman and rider from my partner, Henry. Outside of work, my trainer Gail's unwavering conviction of mine and Wilbur's dressage potential!
6. Biggest challenge this year? Reconnecting with my gut instinct, and going with the flow.
7. What habit did you acquire that made a positive difference? Grounding.
8. What/who was the biggest timewaster? Worry!
9. What else have you learned? Worry doesn't achieve anything but wastes time and energy; I love writing and learning new things; I am surrounded by wonderful people in life and business (cheesy but true!).
10. If you could re-live 2014 again, what would you change to make it even better? Worry less, have more belief in myself and my abilities.

Vision boarding preparation
So, having reviewed 2014, I am in the process of writing my goals for 2015 and creating a vision board.

Monday, 1 December 2014

EMWA Conference: Florence 2015

The EMWA autumn conference last month was as excellent as always, with a mix of workshops, networking events, forums and presentations. Not forgetting the social activities. This conference I attended two workshops: one to brush up my knowledge on writing risk management plans (RMPs) and the other to pick up some helpful tips on how to critically appraise medical literature. Both were  very informative. The Freelance Business Forum, which I co-organise with Alistair and Sam, was well attended. This was the second FBF at which we have had a 'drinks and nibbles' networking session where experienced freelancers answer questions posed by their less experienced colleagues.

I love these conferences - the organisers, workshop leaders and EMWA committee members are friendly and welcoming. At each coffee break and over lunch, you always feel you can join a group and conversation. And, you always meet new colleagues, catch up with EMWA friends and learn something.
After enjoying the walking tour organised by EMWA in Budapest, I decided to join the guided tour around Florence - Henry, my partner, came along too. It was another opportunity to meet more medical writers and their partners, as well as learn some interesting facts about this fascinating city and its cultural heritage. 
Not to mention tasting the delicious ice cream!
I am already looking forward to the next conference which will be held in Dublin in May 2015.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Leading with impact - a grounding experience!

This month I was privileged to attend the Leading with Impact course run by Dawn Bentley and Lisa Brice. On this course, unlike any other leadership training I've been on before, horses were our co-trainers [photos courtesy of Dawn Bentley].

Leading with a rope while learning the centering technique
Horses are highly attuned to emotions; they communicate, principally, via body language. We, on the other hand, can communicate verbally and non verbally. But, it is primarily our non-verbal communication, shown through our body language, that is picked up by other people (or our animals). Congruency between our body language and how we speak is key to clear communication and, therefore, good leadership. On this one-day course we learned how to centre (or ground) ourselves to help us become more aware of our bodies and the tensions we hold within. How often, when stressed, do we hold our breath or breathe more shallowly? By grounding ourselves we become more relaxed and more spatially aware (through 'soft eyes'). We breathe deeper and with our solar plexus (abdomen) rather than higher up in our chest, which results in a calm persona.   The highlight of the day for me was leading a horse around the enclosure, with nothing but my body language and intention. Despite handling horses every day, it sparked an emotion deep inside me - a feeling of empowerment and partnership.
Look no lead rope!

So, can you apply this to your every day life? Yes, of course! Here are a few scenarios in which I've applied what I learned:

1. New neighbours are moving in nextdoor - their builders arrive 2 days after the training course. My instant reaction is for my hackles to rise and for me to be defensive. This tension is based on past experiences - that they are going to be as noisy and inconsiderate as the last family. When Tom and his builder come round to introduce themselves, I'm ready - grounded and calm with the intention to be a friendly, helpful neighbour. It works - both are acutely aware of the potential disruption of the building work and so far have been as considerate as they can be under the circumstances. Furthermore, I was able to calmly explain that the dividing walls between our houses were thin and that sound proofing may be something they could consider - job done!
2. I've applied the grounding technique when handling and riding Wilbur. It helps me to be a lot calmer and more stable in the saddle. Wilbur is normally quite ticklish when he's being groomed, and shows his displeasure by swishing his tail or biting the stable door. However, if I'm grounded when I groom him, he seems less reactive. Perhaps my body language was causing him to tense up so his skin became more sensitive to touch? What I love most is that this technique is totally congruent with the TTouch and TTeam work I love.
3. I've even noticed a difference in my driving! When centred, I engage my core muscles, so I become less reliant on the steering wheel for balance (next time you're in the car ask yourself if you're gripping the steering wheel more tightly than you need to - then breathe, engage your core and experience the difference!). I feel I can use my arms and legs more easily to change gear and use the pedals. I also feel calmer which means I'm less likely to explode in road rage and more aware of what is around me - soft eyes improve your peripheral vision. Yes, although I'm more relaxed, I feel more alert and able to react quicker to changing situations on the road around me.

What I learned in a day has already had such a profound effect on my life and was truly enlightening. It really is a worthwhile experience, and one I would highly recommend - and no prior knowledge of handling horses is required.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Ian White Memorial Trophy 2014

Winner: Julia Rogers and Majestic Drifter
Henry and I had a fantastic day at Smiths Lawn horse trials with the BE100 Ian White Memorial Trophy attracting a full section. The standard of turnout was excellent this year so the judging was tough but great fun. Armed with my trusty clipboard I looked for overall smartness, evidence of extra effort such as quarter marks, and lots of pats for the horses. George Pennington with Rathsallagh Royale and Katie
Katie Thrower & Owt For Nowt
Thrower with Owt for Nowt were the joint winners of the Willow Best Turned Out prize, with their turnout remaining spotless in the crosscountry phase too.
George Pennington & Rathsallagh Royale
The lovely Fiona Scott-Maxwell, equestrian photographer extraordinaire, joined us and took our fabulous photos. Pru and Tegan from the Sue Ryder hospice at Nettlebed sold krispy kreme donuts to raise money for the important care and services they provide. The overall winner of the section was Julia Rogers with Majestic Drifter, who was also a close contender for the best turned out prize. Her win was made more poignant by the fact that a relative was currently undergoing chemotherapy so the trophy meant all the more to her. Paul Schroter with Zorro Rocco was the winner of the Moose trophy, being the highest placed competitor who completed the crosscountry phase closest to the optimum time.
Paul Schroter & Zorro Rocco
My intention for the trophy has always been to support BE100 amateur owner-riders - to give them a class in which they are competing on a more level playing field than a section where professionals can compete alongside. So it was heartening to see all the top 10 competitors attending the prize giving, which illustrates the enthusiasm for this class.

The team from Sue Ryder
Thank you to Henry for hosting the prize-giving and for giving such a lovely tribute to Ian. Thank you, as well, to our fantastic sponsors: Gill Watson, Elizabeth Hough, Protexin, Bossy's Bibs, Equilibrium Trizone, and Crisy Salmon and to the Smiths Lawn organiser, Tissie Reason We really couldn't do this class without your support and fabulous prizes.

Monday, 23 June 2014

UpLevel Your Business Live 2014 - what an experience!

I was very privileged to attend the UpLevel Your Business Live event hosted by renowned and highly entertaining business coach Christine Kane. The event in Atlanta, Georgia was 3 days of intensive coaching attended by ~300 people including established business owners as well as those thinking of making the leap to self-employment. They came from a variety of industries including yoga teachers, artists, writers, coaches and therapists, which gives you an indication of Christine's style of coaching. There is no teaching of the 'hard sell' here - it's all about being authentic in your business. Being yourself and understanding who your ideal clients are means your marketing will automatically reach those people you wish to serve.

My business coach and friend, Elaine Bailey
The energy in the room was incredible throughout the course. There was a good mix of presentations and interactive exercises covering the process of identifying your ideal client, exploring possible income streams, establishing marketing strategies and selling your services. I had so many light bulb moments during my stay that I would have crashed the National Grid! Such an inspirational experience and I met some great people. The individual coaching sessions that Christine did on stage really convinced me how passionate she is about wanting to help people realise their full potential both in life and business.

With Donna Wray and Elaine Bailey - what talented company!
I arrived as a slightly skeptical Brit - and I have to admit to sitting quietly with my cup of tea while many others danced to the Happy song by Farrell which signaled the end of each coffee break (although by the second day I was swaying slightly!). However, I left enlightened and encouraged - I am most definitely 'in', as Christine would say, and I'm busy working through my To Do list, so watch this space.

Thank you to Donna, Dawn, Lori and Fred who made my stay so much fun and, of course, to my business coach Elaine Bailey for inviting me over in the first place. I can highly recommend signing up for Christine's weekly ezine which contains lots of useful tips for any budding freelancer and business owner.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Finger sweeping fears!

Today I have dragged myself and my business into the 21st century by upgrading my current mobile to a supposedly 'smart' phone. I make the transition still kicking and screaming, I might add, as I am still of the opinion that a phone should be just that. However, given the current mobile is becoming increasingly temperamental, it was only a matter of time before this step was taken. As a writer, I have also been tempted by the notion that I can use my new phone, via the Evernote App, as a notepad so I can take notes wherever and whenever inspiration strikes. Of course, this will never replace the thrill and satisfaction of writing on a new page of a beautiful notebook, but practicalities need to be considered.

There is nothing like speaking to a mobile phone company to make you feel old. I found myself stuttering and stumbling over my words as I tried to convey what I wanted from my new phone while feeling utterly out of my comfort zone. Sadly, despite the valiant efforts of the polite young man from Orange, I still came away with a sense of foreboding about the impending arrival of said phone. The transfer of data from the old handset to the new will be simple, I'm reliably informed, with the new phone taking me through each step one by one. I still have a strong feeling that the cat is going to learn some new vocabulary over the next few days!

The conversation with Orange reminded me of my own youth, and the confidence I had in using the emerging technology at that time. As a college student I worked at Boots the Chemist on Saturdays and I still clearly remember the day the old tills were replaced by those capable of scanning bar codes. We received training prior to the transition, and the older women in our team were really concerned about this new-fangled equipment. Somehow, despite never having used one before, the new tills seemed intuitive to us younger team members, and we indulged our youthful egos by helping our more senior colleagues with any issues they had. How then, over 20 years later, do I find myself in their shoes? Have I really fallen that far behind in my knowledge of technological advances, I wonder?

I do feel it is important, as a business owner, to stay abreast of  technology if that means I am able to offer a high quality service to my clients. However, at the risk of sounding like my parents - actually, scratch that, my grandparents - I still believe that technology will come full circle. In years to come, the pencil and notepad will come back in vogue because no-one will be able to afford the electricity to charge said devices. Then the 'finger-sweeping' youth of today will be truly impressed by this granny's beautiful handwriting and remarkable ability to handle a pencil!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Cathean Ltd Spring Retreat

Lights, camera, action! The Cathean Ltd freelancer retreat was, once again, held 'on location' with actors Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), Mathew Horne (Gavin & Stacey) and Tamsin Grieg (Green Wing) all on set.

The venue of our Spring Retreat was the oak-panelled Fleming Room at the Sue Ryder Hospice in Nettlebed, nr Henley on Thames. The hospice was being used as a film set and as we arrived the actors were practising a scene in the large reception hall. By popular demand, this Retreat was a repeat of that held in September last year, providing a 'day out of the office' for fellow freelancers to explore the challenges they face as solo business owners.


The day began with a review of the issues we encounter as freelance professionals in relation to client management. The main concerns were coping with changes in project scope and timelines and juggling different client demands so we can provide a high quality service without burn out. Establishing clear boundaries is key so clients  understand what can be delivered by when and the impact of changing scope and timelines. Having a disciplined approach to answering the phone and responding to emails also creates boundaries and  saves valuable time. Allowing phone calls to go to voicemail means you can respond to the call when you are fully focused on the caller and you are not interrupting client work to take the call. Try reading and responding to emails at set times throughout the day, and turn your 'new message' notification off when you are working on client projects or on your business management activities to minimise distractions.
Deep in discussion

I am often asked about marketing your business at these Retreats, and last week was no exception. The key to successful marketing is knowing who your ideal client is because then your marketing activities will naturally reach out to the right people. So ask yourself what type of work do you love to do and who do you enjoy working with? This will become clearer the more experience you have as a freelancer. You can establish who your ideal client is by understanding your own values and beliefs and what service you want your business to deliver to serve your clients effectively. Keep in touch with your clients too - send them information that may be useful to them, for example, notification of new or revised guidelines that are relevant to the work they do or send them a newsletter. This keeps the lines of communication open and helps build a good working relationship.

 A big thank you to everyone who supported the Spring Retreat - colleagues travelled from as far away as Cornwall and Wales to join us, which is much appreciated. Thank you to Pru at Sue Ryder, and the staff at The White Hart pub in Nettlebed where we all had a well-deserved lunch afterwards. And finally, but absolutely by no means least, a big hug and thank you to my coach and friend Elaine Bailey, who generously donated business reference books for everyone and a 30-minutes coaching call to one of the Retreat's attendees in a prize draw- well done Steffan! The next Retreat is planned for September 2014.
We even found a 'tombola spinner' for the prize draw!