Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Politeness gets you nowhere, especially around women with balls

This morning I escaped the usual routine of working from home and attended an event called Clicking with Customers hosted by Yell.com. In amongst the talks aimed at helping small businesses find customers online (or is that the other way round?) we had some talks by inspirational entrepreneurs. In this case they both happened to be women.

First up was Lara Morgan who made £20 million out of providing miniatures soaps and shampoos to hotels. She was strictly no nonsense, giving us tips, lessons learnt and stories about brave decisions - like paying a general manager £120k a year when she was only drawing around £25k. She made mistakes but went for the top brands, worked seven days a week and never took no for an answer.

She has also written a book about her exploits including tips for success called More balls than most. Considering that my upcoming book Working from Home has been described by some as ‘chick lit with balls’ I thought she would be a good person to ask to review it.

I bought a copy of her book (some of the proceeds go towards research into testicular cancer) had a very quick chat and asked her for a book review. She kindly said yes, but warned me that it might take some time.

Next up was Michelle Mone the creator of Ultimo and owner of MJM International. Michelle came from humble beginnings but revolutionised the lingerie market with products that look great and feel comfortable. She started by announcing that she‘d just been sick and that she is always sick before big events and gave us some very funny examples.

She then told us the story of her brand and how she had never taken no for an answer at key times in her business life. Her story is inspiring, honest, very sad at times and also funny. She also declared that she was renowned for having balls when it came to business. She is writing a book at the moment and I’ll certainly be buying a copy.

At the end of her talk I quietly join the queue of people who want to have a quick word as I want to ask her to review my book. However, after a while I am informed that Michelle has to leave now to catch a plane. I walk away resigned to emailing her instead, but when I look over 20 minutes later she is still talking to people. In fact these people were behind me in the queue.

So which part of not taking no for an answer did I not hear during BOTH speeches?

NB. This is not a criticism about Michelle. She was staying longer than she should have so she could talk to as many people as possible.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

“It will make you go blind” – I’m back to checking out figures again


There was a long time where telling people that I am working from home on the Internet created a predictable response. Oh yes? Doing lots of research eh? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

It was mainly from people who would endlessly procrastinate if they had to do something from home and back then a bloke surfing on the Internet = surfing for porn. Things have moved on in the last five years. Now everything is online and the main cause of wasted time is Facebook and Twitter!

What many people don’t realise is that while people working from home on the Internet are often obsessed by figures, they are not ones that writhe and moan. There are so many statistics available to monitor your success. For example, Google Analytics shows you where people found you, how long they stayed on the site, how many actually did what you want them to do and their geographical location. All for free.

When I was creating and running social networks the first thing I did each day was to see if the traffic was up on the previous day/week/month. When I was creating online psychology tests for the sadly missed Tickle.com I was amazed to discover that one of the tests I wrote was taken by about 80,000 people in one day. It was a very tongue-in-cheek test matching sexual fantasies to personality types – so we are back to sex.

It can be argued that writers suffer the most. There are two distinct types of writers. One that admits to being glued to the Amazon rankings on their book launch day. The other type are liars! However, the reviews are much more stressful than the rankings. You want more reviews but when they come the emotional roller-coaster of emotions can leave you feeling nauseous.

However, at the moment I am not checking either my book rankings or Google Analytics. One of my clients HallSt.com are launching their first flash sale of discounted luxury hotel rooms that you can either enjoy or trade to try and make a profit. The whole team will be watching to see how many people sign up over the next 48 hours. Fingers crossed everyone!

To everyone else out there who is watching their statistics when they should be working on improving them, I send a gentle nudge to get back to work and my good wishes that your figures always improve.

Monday, 17 October 2011

When life imitates art, or is it just mixing business with pleasure?


We just enjoyed a romantic stay in The Glasshouse, the ‘sexiest hotel in Scotland’, that included a posh dinner in The Tower Museum overlooking Edinburgh Castle and lots more of Auld Reekie. After dragging ourselves out of the supremely soft bed we left a world of luxury to return home to clean our house for a house viewing – selling a house that contains a four and two year old is never easy.

We were left feeling like Cinderella who had just been to the ball and returned to a harsh reality where pumpkins have to be turned into Hallowe’en lanterns rather than fancy coaches.

Today it’s back to life as usual. I’m sorting out ISBNs for my book Working from Home and then I switch to working for a client who have a big launch this week. I look from my book stuff to the clients launch and have to smile.

My client is launching a ‘flash sale’ offering huge discounts on a 5 star luxury hotel in the centre of Barcelona – my favourite city. A quick check shows that there are vacancies over my birthday weekend. The interesting aspect of this deal is that you can buy your hotel stay now at a discount and then sell it closer to the time of the stay.

I can book a stay for my birthday and if I can’t make a profit on it later on we’ll just have to enjoy another taste of luxury on my birthday. Oh yes, and I get paid for helping to promote the offer. Talk about win-win!

The strap line of Working from Home is ‘Mixing business with pleasure?’ In my case I’ll have to delete the ‘?’ from the end of that statement!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Designing your ebook cover – mixing creativity with sales acumen on a budget


We all know that people do judge books by their covers. Books, especially ebooks, live or die by their title and cover so how do you get yours to jump out from the shelf or web page?

The task for Working from Home was a particularly difficult as it straddles three genres: lad’s lit; chick lit and business self-help. I was very aware that if the book cover loitered too much in one area it would turn off the people from the other two camps.

Whilst I pride myself on my creativity, working with images is not one of my core skills. I knew it would take longer to create a professional looking cover than it would to do all the editing for the book!

I did some Internet research and found some companies that offered to design the cover and provide the completed images for just over £60 ($98). This includes unlimited changes until you are happy. A quick costing exercise showed that I would need to sell 20 books to pay for this.

However, I looked through the ebooks for sale on Amazon and it became obvious there were three types of covers: covers from existing paperbacks that looked professional; eye-catching covers that looked professional and er, template covers. These template covers looked as if they had either been done at home or they just looked unoriginal and bland.

I sent out some queries about ebook cover design on Facebook and Twitter and in amongst the comments and recommendations was a message from networking friend offering to have a chat about it.

Angela Ellis from www.stopthetrain.co.uk is one of a large group of people who I have exchanged information and banter with online, but have never met. Our phone call was the first time we had spoke, but as we ‘knew’ each other it was easy to be blunt. Principally around the fact that it was going to cost more to get the book designed than it was to get a quick fix ‘off the shelf’.
Angela is one of the few people who listens properly to what you say and she was able to come up with some ideas and prices. We had a few chats, looked at some images via their clever back-end tool and I went away on holiday.

I came back to a cover that fulfilled my brief. More importantly it seems to work, not just in terms of compliments, but in pre-publication orders for the book.

The entire process cost me the equivalent of 100 books sales compared to the 20 from the cheap version. Will the cover alone bring in this number of sales? Time will tell, but I’m confident it will be an excellent investment.

Of course, as I’ve written a book set in business networking circles I know a trick or two about win-win situations. I knew that as Angela runs a marketing and communications company she will want to tell as many people as possible about the cover her team designed. Most of these people are my target audience so my investment starts to look better all the time!

You can find Angela and her team at www.stopthetrain.co.uk She won’t give you a sales pitch but she’ll probably give you a few excellent ideas. Say that I sent you and ask her about her gorgeous dogs!

You can find out more information about Working from Home and add your name to my swanky spreadsheet to be alerted when it is published on 18th April here.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Will buying and selling hotel rooms put the final nail in the coffin of last minute ‘bargains’?


In the dot.com boom of the 1990’s consumers were suddenly presented with an easy, user-friendly way of getting last minute bargains. Sites like lastminute.com allowed airlines to fill flights, luxury hotels to sell their last remaining rooms and consumers to get themselves a bargain.

Then the dotcom bubble burst, but over time more and more companies have appeared selling discount luxury hotel rooms at discounts on-line. Now it’s hard to see which offers really are bargains or what the standard price was in the first place.

If you Google ‘discount hotels’ and your desired destination you get loads of offers at temptingly low prices. But click on the link and the price for when you want to go is a lot higher. Booking last minute doesn’t seem to do you any favours either.

So the trick seems to be to book in advance but how do you find those special deals? Do they match up with when you are able to travel? Do they even exist?

HallSt.com, the first global marketplace for peer-to-peer hotel room trading, may have found the answer. The premise is simple. You book early and pay in advance and get a significant discount. If you can’t use the room you can advertise it for sale directly to other consumers on the HallSt. site. As you bought it for a discount price there’s a chance you can make a profit.

Their first 48 hour ‘flash sale’ is set for the 19th October and it features the elegant five star ALMA Barcelona in the heart of dazzling Barcelona. The standard rate is €215 but the optimum discount price for HallSt. members is €154.

If this sounds a little complicated they have got a clever little video here that shows even an ancient granny can understand how it all works!

HallSt.com: Advanced purchase of hotel nights. If you don't use the rooms, resell them. from Hall St. on Vimeo.


This innovative scheme could relegate last minute hotel hunting to a genuine spur of the moment decision to escape for a few days. If this is the case it might also be worth checking HallSt. to see if there are any last minute bargains as HallSt. believe that an empty room is a lost opportunity!

If opportunity doesn’t knock – build a door (or go to Barcelona)


There are some places we visit where we seem to leave our heart. Where we know we will always visit again. On a visit to the beautiful and historic Rome I stood in front of the magnificent Trevi Fountain. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the fountain you will one day return to Rome. I was not in the least bit tempted to launch any loose change, but if it was a fountain in Barcelona I would have emptied out my pocket.

I’ve been to Barcelona twice now, once with my wife in February as a birthday treat and recently in June on my own as a work/writing break. The first time made me eager to visit again. On the second time I felt at home as soon as I left the airport, even when I was dragging a suitcase across an uneven pavement. The second visit was also instrumental in my decision to make major changes to my life.

I’ve done two terms of evening classes to learn a bit of Spanish and in Barcelona I was able to practise this and fall back to English/sign language when my Spanish fell short. Considering that the main language in Barcelona is Catalan they understood me quite well. We recently had a family holiday in Menorca and whenever I spoke Spanish the locals responded in English – very depressing!

Now I am working freelance from home and I now have an exciting new client from Barcelona. www.HallSt.com is a new company that gives you genuine discounts on luxury hotels that you book and pay for in advance. If you can’t go, or if you want to try and make a profit you can sell your stay nearer the time on the Hall St web site.

It covers my love of creative new ideas and fun concepts, I get to practise a bit of my Spanish and it is a link to my favourite city. Their first flash sale is a gorgeous, luxury hotel in the centre of Barcelona, very tempting!

It’s always interesting to see where life takes you, but one thing is certain – you have more chance of going to places that inspire you if you seek out and cultivate contact with interesting people, than if you chuck some coins in a fountain.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Working from Home: Mixing business with pleasure – e-book blurbs and orders

Here is the blurb for my Working from Home e-book and information about pre-orders. Get your name on the list quick!




Jonny has an interesting twenty-four hours. One evening he walks in on his naked flatmates in a compromising position on the sofa. The next morning he discovers that the improper use of a Matalan card can result in a bloody nose for the woman of his dreams. By lunch time he discovers that the huge company he works for is shipping out making him and hundreds of others in the area redundant.

Cat is one of those employees and her efforts to turn to freelancing are hindered by someone trying to black-ball her in the industry unless she agrees to sleep with him. Added to this she is just about to catch the attention of a serial adulterer via her new age sister, whose idea of a business plan for her local pub is persuading the barmaids to wear low-cut tops.

Will Jonny and Cat find enough work to pay for the necessities in life like beer and shoes? Can you really work via the Internet from home in your pyjamas? Will Jonny and Cat manage to mix business and pleasure, or will they fail to close the win-win deal?

Working from Home is lads’ lit asking chick lit out for an adventurous date into the serious world of business networking, where it’s not who you know that really matters, but who knows you.

Pre-publication orders for the Working from Home e-book

Working from Home is scheduled to be published via Amazon on 18th April 2012. I am not accepting pre-publication orders but I do have a fancy spreadsheet running listing people who have expressed an interest in buying a copy the moment it becomes available. The launch price will be £2.99. If you want to be added to this list please email me at russ(at)russwrites.co.uk replacing the (at) with @ (a cunning ruse to prevent my email address being harvested by spammers).

Once on this list you will receive three emails from me. One saying when the book is available, one sent on the launch day itself and one afterwards telling you how the launch went and giving you the opportunity to be on the list for my next book launch.

You will not be added to a newsletter list and your email address will not be sold or given to any third party even if they offer me three camels and a packet of Skittles for it.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Step five in my quest for World Domination: Nailing the dance zombie routine

Working from home and spending a lot of time with the kids give you the opportunity to try a number of different things and I'm setting myself one thing to conquer each month.

This month’s challenge popped up when my son and I were watching a music channel on the telly. At this particular song he jumped up and started dancing frantically, then he looked again at what the dancers were doing and said “Wow, they’re cool aren’t they Dad?”

“I can do that,” I replied nonchalantly. After all I’ve cut up a few dance floors in my time.

“No you can’t!” He retorted and the challenge was born.

The video in question is Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO and it’s a classic. So much so that I can’t believe the concept hasn’t been done before. The dance duo release their new single only to fall into a coma ‘after excessive party rocking’. 28 days later they wake up and find… yes you’ve guessed it. Everyone has morphed into dance zombies that can’t stop dancing to the Party Rock Anthem song. Anyone who is still normal has to pretend to be a dance zombie or they get mobbed and turned into a spectral groover. It’s dead funny.

The good news is that the main dance steps are quite easy. To quote the video it’s ‘just a little two step, doin’ the one-two’. I am obviously avoiding the dance pro high jinx to avoid a probable hospital visit. The bad news is that it is fast!

After a quick go at some of the opening moves I decided that my challenge was to master the short routine that starts at 3 mins 40. It features the two members of LMFAO and while they look cool they’re not the world’s best dancers.

Okay so I have a warm up for the first few minutes and we’re into the routine. Hmm, it’s not just fast. It’s supersonic. I’m way behind from the beginning and very quickly out of breath. Forget exercise DVD’s this zombie routine is either going to make me super fit or kill me. This is Strictly Zombie Dancing and Len would hate it but it’s ghoulishly fun. And yes, I take it all back about LMFAO not being the best dancers.

By the time the local kids come prowling round at dusk on Hallowe’en I’ll be able to come two-stepping out of the door with a flourish and demand sweets from them, (assuming I last more than 20 seconds this time).

So who’s with me? Watch the video on YouTube, learn the moves and get ├╝ber-fit and let’s embarrass our kids like never before!



In case anyone really needs to know. The first four steps towards world domination were:

1) Being born
2) Meeting the woman of my dreams
3) Persuading the woman of my dreams to marry me
4) Discovering that San Miguel beer is actually medicine that can be used to treat all manner of medical complaints.

Monday, 3 October 2011

In praise of Speedos

We’ve just had a family holiday in Menorca and I thought I’d take this opportunity to balance the alluring views of my previous blog entry with one about men on the beach.

It seems that you cannot go more than a mile along a Mediterranean coastline without seeing somewhere that sells John Smiths. You will also find yourself British and German tourists. They are usually quite easy to tell apart. The Germans tend to be taller and healthier looking. Oh yes, and the men wear Speedos not ‘beach shorts’.

However, times have moved on and just as German women no longer seem to sport hairy armpits, the German men have now opted for sporty ‘hot pants’ style shorts that are mouth-wateringly tight (for both wearer and anyone else who is interested). In a society where it’s usually the females who wear tight clothes to accentuate their assets, it’s unusual to see a man’s backside in such high definition. However, I began to see the attraction.

Looking after two young kids on the beach meant that I tended to be in the sea for very short periods of time. Just long enough to get my beach shorts wet. Then they take ages to dry off. Also the shorts fill with air every time the kids pushed me in the swimming pool (a not particularly successful tactic to encourage them not to be scared of the water). You also only get a suntan from the knees down.

I looked around and saw a few British men with shorts almost down to their ankles and it all seemed a bit stupid. So I bought some German style shorts, not the spray on variety, but a lot shorter and tighter than my current shorts.

Guess what? They are comfortable. They dry quickly and they don’t fill up with air. What’s not to like? It’s true that women do tend to check out the groin area as you walk past but that seems fair considering the behaviour of male eyes on the beach.

Another interesting side-effect is that people assume you are German, but that’s fine with me. I like the Germans. Just as long as they accept that my German is strictly limited to ordering alcoholic beverages…