What I learnt in May…and it might help you, too?

I’ve struggled with my blogging lately, mainly because I didn’t know what to write. Then I remembered Ann Hawkins of Drive The Network saying that one of my strengths is the way I try stuff out and report back. Some things work, some don’t, but I always learn something along the way. So that’s what I decided to do with this blog post.

I was keen to get back to business in May following an April that was filled with school holidays, family viruses – don’t worry, nothing serious –  and painting our house. Lucky for me I use the 12 Week Year to make sure I know what to do. And when I fall off the path I know what I need to do to get back on.

Here’s what I got up to…

The day I met a business adviser (plus free business training – woo!)

At the beginning of May I took a free – yes, free – marketing planning workshop from Velocity Growth Hub. In small business it pays to be a little wary of free workshops because at some point there will be an up-sell to an expensive course or consultancy. Refreshingly, this isn’t the case with Growth Hubs, which are funded by the UK Government (or possibly the EU?) Either way, the workshops are free providing you meet certain (broad) criteria and you can relax knowing that you won’t be sold anything. The course I took was excellent, too. My local growth hub is Velocity but if you live outside the English South East Midlands you can find yours here.

Velocity also offers free business advice, which is how I found myself talking to Heather Martin. Heather was very enthusiastic about business, which is wonderful as I’ve had other business advisers are all spreadsheets and no entrepreneurial spark. She asked me questions which made me see I had a lot to offer but I wasn’t being clear enough about what it was, who I could offer it to and the messaging I was using to reach them. Yes, it was a face-palm moment, but sometimes you need someone else to show you what’s right under your nose, especially in your own business.

Lessons learned: a) there is still good, free government funded business advice and training out there b) maybe I was being a bit too suspicious of free advice, having had bad advice in the past and c) you need someone else to point out where you’re off track.

I hosted a live online workshop ‘Get more from your WordPress site’

I’m already the Bedford group leader for Drive The Network, but this month I started to run a monthly ‘Get more from your WordPress site’ online session for Drive Premium members. Premium members are paid members, but you can join Drive for free and get a ton of advice and networking, too.

The format of these sessions is relaxed, so members show up with a question and the host talks them through the answer. I was a little nervous as I used to be a trainer, so I feel more comfortable with a planned-out list of content to deliver. WordPress is a huge subject and  what if I was asked something I didn’t know? In the end it was fine because I knew a lot more than I realised, and more than enough to provide lots of value in the session.

What I learnt: You know more than you think. Plus I need to do more live online sessions because I enjoyed it!

Bonus tip: Here’s how to centre embedded tweets like mine, above.

Installing a WooCommerce shopping cart

Up until now I’ve used the WP eStore WordPress plugin whenever I needed a WordPress shopping cart. It’s absolutely fine, but everyone seems to recommend WooCommerce so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It also integrates with a lot of other tools and apps, which could come in useful.

So far I think WooCommerce great. I found it straightforward to set up, it works with PayPal, Stripe and bank transfers – which is all I plan to use – and it looks good, too. (I’m using it for my Little Jobs page if you fancy a look?) I have heard people say that it’s important to understand all the features you want before you begin because the cost of all the WooCommerce add-ons can add up, but so far so good.

What I learnt: thumbs up for WooCommerce.

Competition to win £500 of business mentoring: The Inspire Initiative

Liz Toogood appears in the Women of Bedfordshire exhibition

Back in January I sat next to Liz Toogood, a local Bedford mentor, at a networking workshop. In May she invited me to the launch of her Inspire Initiative at The Higgins, a competition that invites women to identify who has motivated them, re-kindle the feelings that fired their ambition, and share them creatively. The prize is mentoring worth up to £5,000.

The lesson here is that networking works, but it can take a few months!

To enter you need to be a woman who lives or or works in Bedfordshire and isn’t in full-time education. More info and how to enter here. (It’s easy to do).


Like everyone else in the world, I got bombarded by ‘please resubscribe to my list’ emails last week. I really didn’t want to send my subscribers yet more of these emails, but in the end I bit the bullet and went ahead. I’ve experimented so much with email marketing over the years that I couldn’t say for sure where most of my subscribers had come from. It was time to tidy things up.

If you have an email list, have you checked to see how many people haven’t opened your emails in a while? You might be surprised – I was! I went ahead deleted those people who hadn’t opened an email from me in over six months. Not only do they reduce your open-rate, you are also paying for them to be on your list (well, unless you’re with Mailchimp, maybe.)

So I now have fewer subscribers, that are far more likely to open my emails and I’ve even saved some money. Not bad.

Lessons: Don’t be afraid of GDPR if you’re a small business and don’t hang on to your subscribers if they haven’t opened your emails in many months. They aren’t helping you in any way and they could be costing you money.

If you’d like to join my mailing list you can do that here.

Do you have to get a Microsoft Office subscription?

This is a question I was asked by a couple of people this month. You used to be able to buy MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint by paying a one-off fee but that’s all changed since Microsoft switched over to its subscription service, Office 365. Some people feel that this is a little cynical of Microsoft, but it does gives you more than just MS Office – you get one terabyte of cloud storage and other features depending on the package you buy, as well as your version of Office always being up to date. It’s better suited to our remote, cloud-based way of working with multiple devices than the older versions, too.

But if you don’t want Office 365, you do have a few other options:

Google Docs – this is a suite of office tools that are similar to Word, PowerPoint and Excel. You can use Gmail, too. This is free.

GSuite – this is like Google Docs and GMail but for business. You can have an email address with your own domain, too (e.g. helen@mybusiness.com instead of  the helen123@gmail.com you get with Gmail) and cloud storage. This starts at £3.30 per month

Microsoft Office – You can still get the last non-subscription version of Microsoft Office on Amazon (Office 2016). I admit I was a little wary at first because I thought you couldn’t buy it any more, but it has loads of five star reviews. Worth a look if you are on a tight budget.

That’s all for this month!

Thanks for reading this far and if there’s anything you’d like me to cover in a future blog post please just let me know if a comment below…


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2 thoughts on “What I learnt in May…and it might help you, too?”

  1. Thanks for this Helen. I love the plug for Velocity every small business should explore what they can get this way. Thanks also for shouting our about The Inspire Initiative / if you are female check it out. Mentoring could change your life.

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