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Welcome to 2011: Time for a virtual facelift & Network Hub night!

There’s nothing like seeing in another year to make us reflect on the past – and look to the future. If we’re lucky, we learn a few handy lessons along the way too.

It’s a year since the launch of the copywriting side of the business kicked off, which I proclaimed in my first blog post of 2010 (in the midst of deep snow, just like recent weeks!)

So what was my big professional lesson of last year? Network, network, and network! That’s how I connected with my first copywriting clients and I’ve found face-to-face networking to be fruitful, as well as fun. Some events are more ‘me’ than others, but building business relationships and my company profile this way is something that’s become vital to my working week.

Which brings me to…drum roll please, ladies & gents…Network Hub – the new name for the business social events I put together with another creative professional and friend, Richard Smith. Last Thursday evening, we held our first do of 2011 at the Showroom Cinema Cafe, in Sheffield.

Just like our launch event in October, we were thrilled with the turnout – about 70 proactive guests! By the amount of chatter that hardly seemed to let up, many new connections and re-connections were made over a few drinks, in a relaxed atmosphere, which is exactly what our evenings are all about.

The snapper (yours truly) gets snapped @ Network Hub, Showroom Cinema Cafe, 20/1/11. Photo credit: Elizabeth Birks

Check out a couple of the much-appreciated positive comments received after our big night:

‘I haven’t been to a formal networking event for a long time and to be honest, I was concerned and a bit fearful. My fears were assuaged, however, as I began to meet so many lovely people. As a group worker, I know that a good event reflects the people who set it up and this was an evening of warmth and genuine interest in other people. I found it an atmosphere conducive to meeting people and making connections.’ Valerie Monti Holland,

‘Thanks for the invite & hospitality again last night. There seemed to be a good mix/good buzz/plenty of conversations and connections. Well done, you are a star!’ Jim Lawson,

Our next night’s coming in April so watch this space! In the meantime, our fresh website look’s now live and loud. Any thoughts about the revamp would be most welcome….

Here’s to a fabulous 2011 one & all!


Holy Smoke! Why I thank Sheffield for my divine DIY events trinity

Are you familiar with the idea of the power of three? Don’t worry, I’m not getting all mathematical on you.

I’m talking about the generally well-accepted principle that when it comes to effective communications, our brains are best at grasping information as a trio.

Of course, most of the time we aren’t conscious of the fact that many of the most inspirational speeches and phrases of our age are peppered with examples of this oral ‘trick’; ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, ‘hook, line & sinker’ and (here comes that crucial third point) ‘signed, sealed, delivered.’  You get the idea…

Well over the last three weeks, my calendar’s certainly been shaken up (in a fantastic way) by three great events, which have definitely left their mark in my thinking.

The first one was self-generated, born out of a casual chat a few months ago, over a drink with my self-employed illustrator friend Richard Smith. ‘Why don’t we hold an evening business social, inviting contacts from the creative and commercial sector?’ we asked ourselves.

Before you can say ‘How hard can it be?’, the venue was booked, invites sent and the night was upon us. Held at Henry’s bar in Sheffield city centre, the 130-something guests we’d invited duly turned up in their droves and created an incredible buzz, no doubt buoyed by a free glass of bubbly and some complimentary nibbles.

On a serious note though, both myself and Richard were completely blown away by the response we had from our guests – and judging by the string of enthusiastic comments I had on the night and since (‘You got exactly the right vibe going – it felt friendly and inclusive which is a rare thing indeed. Best networking bash I’ve ever been to!’ Justine Gaubert, founder of social enterprise Silent Cities) it looks as though another one may well on the cards…so watch this space!

Yours truly at our event at Henry's. Photo credit: Justine Gaubert

Roll call of special thanks goes out to AV events firm CVC Event Services, who provided the PA equipment FOC, and the following local businesses who kindly donated a prize to our raffle and helped us raise £61 in ticket proceeds, in aid of Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity – We Love Sleep, Integrate Nutrition, Richard Smith Illustration, The Heavenly Cheesecake Company, PJ Taste, Tender Loving Care (TLC) and Check out their links at the bottom of this post…

Back to that trinity again and the following week, I was invited to another free Sheffield event, which perfectly encapsulates the DIY ‘can do’ spirit of the city’s business and creative community – the launch of The Blue Shed, a 1,500 sqm arts venue (with performance space and fully-licensed bar), which has been converted from an old workshop by engineering firm Ekspan.

Paul Scriven Sheffield Council leader with Ekspan CEO Matthew Dronfield

Sheffield Council leader Paul Scriven officially did the honours with the unveiling of this new brand – the space was previously up-and-running under the name of the Brightside Project – and again I found myself with bubbly in hand and an unexpected spring in my step.

I was struck by the energy and goodwill – and dare I say it excitement – palpable in the air in respect to this forward-thinking enterprise. Here’s a video snapshot of the night, created by Richard Bolam Digital Media:

My trio of positive experiences – in the very same weeks when the deep government cuts were slowly trickled out – ended this Friday morning, at a fantastic networking event, organised by Time2Network (, held at probably the most famous eaterie in Sheffield right now (thanks to their well-deserved success in becoming semi-finalists in Gordan Ramsey’s Best Restaurant TV show), The Milestone.

Three elements (of course!) made the meet work well in my eyes – there was a diverse mix of proactive people, the venue suited the informal format and as you’d expect the breakfast was spot on. Hats off to organisers Alan Fenn, of Compass Distribution and Jon Covey of Sponduly.


yes, the cuts are here

yes, our financial belts are set to get pinched like nobody’s business

YET there’s still spirit to the power of three in this city I’m proud to call my home.


We Love Sleep:

Integrate Nutrition:

PJ Taste:

Richard Smith Illustration:

The Heavenly Cheesecake Company:

Tender Loving Care (TLC):

CVC Event Services:

Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity:

Silent Cities:

Henry’s bar:

Richard Bolam Digital Media:

The Milestone:

Compass Distribution:


Telling it straight from the dragon’s mouth

Maybe it’s down to my Greek-Cypriot heritage, but I’m not the kind of person who’s scared of the notion of spinning plates. As a ‘bubble’ I suppose I choose to take the traditional view about smashed crockery – it’s less an unfortunate accident, more an omen of good fortune!

Lately, my metaphorical plates have increased in number and speed when it comes to making a name for myself as a copywriter. There’s been endless networking events, ad hoc meetings with new contacts, a whirlwind flurry of swapped business cards, handshakes, doors opening, opportunities beckoning, coffee conflabs….Basically, picture some random 1980s made-for-TV film about a lone creative-type making it in a ‘corporate’ world and you’ll pretty much get the idea. Minus the shoulder pads and pastel shades.

And.. drum roll please! After a good while of feeling like I’ve been walking through mud and speaking in a foreign language few seemed to understand, I am making real progress. Last week, I met my first potential client and agreed to work with a web design company as a sub-contracted copywriter. Two days ago, I chose a fantastic bespoke logo – from a wealth of brilliant ones created by innovative full design agency 10th Planet – for my new website (Watch this space!)

These signitficant steps all seem like giant leaps considering I only boldly set off on this new business path in January. Call it habit, but I now seem to be addicted to attending every business event I can fit into my diary. Last week’s experience, had a title which I couldn’t help gently sniggering over. ‘The BigSmall Event’ (surely it wasn’t just me who conjured up a certain departed and overweight rapper at hearing this?) organised by Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, designed to steer those interested in starting their own business, start-ups and suchlike on the course to success.

Once I’d connected with some exhibitors I drifted into the speaker’s hall to catch the expert talk. Sitting down, I braced myself to swallow a large, heavy dollop of dull ‘business speak.’ But I was in for lighter, more appetising, surprise. The speaker was Doug Richard, of ‘Dragon’s Den’ fame and the subject was ‘The biggest mistake I ever made in business.’

Richard wasn’t just entertaining in his fresh, no-nonsense and relaxed delivery but he touched on a subject which I connected with. Wouldn’t life be boring if you succeeded all the time? Where would the fun be in that? I couldn’t agree more. Failure and struggle isn’t something to be scared of – it’s only by experiencing these ‘mistakes’ we grow in confidence, determination and ability.

In case you’re wondering, Richard’s biggest mistake was on rather a grand scale. At one point in his career, he woke up one day to find he was financially completely wiped out, thanks to a business deal having turned monumentally sour. Whoops!

Up until that moment, Richard explained how he’d lived with a slightly anxious feeling all the time. That morning though, this worry disappeared as fast as his assets had.

You could say his plates had stopped spinning and crashed round at his feet. And the world hadn’t ended. In a way, it had just begun. I admire anyone who sees this enforced clean slate not as a disaster, but as an opportunity.

Sometimes life’s about picking up the pieces and starting all over again.

And that’s not just my philosophy. It comes straight from the dragon’s mouth.

Have a smashing week!

Single ladies and start-ups, stand up for being special

As someone who’s busy striving to find her feet in a new area of work, I’ve recently made it my business to find out every little nugget I can about what to do – and what not to do – when it comes being successful at selling your services to the corporate world.

This week, my latest lesson, learnt at a business event workshop for the self-employed, was a simple one : specialise, specialise, specialise.

As I sat listening to the Enterprise Champion of Business Link Yorkshire(yes, this is her official job title) explain the importance on strictly focusing on your potential market and firming staking your claim to this territory, I remembered the last time I’d been told this fine-tuning approach to cultivating a career was a canny move.

My former journalism tutor had the same advice while I studied for my Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism, 13 years ago. ‘Find an area to specialise writing in, make your name there, then you’ll have less need to look for work, as it will come to you…’

So, it was with this notion of cultivating my ‘specialness’ still ringing around my head, when a few days later, I read a piece in The Observer – albeit about an altogether different market – which threw this notion out of the window. And left me spitting feathers!

Lori Gottlieb, American author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough, is urging women who haven’t found Mr Right by the time they reach 30 to settle for Mr Second Best.

Gottlieb attempts to qualify her laughable ‘theory’ by saying: ‘Every woman I know – no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure – feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.’

I’m not sure what left me more irritated and disappointed – the fact that Gottlieb was the latest in a long line of hollow mouthpieces who felt it their duty to dig out their rusty loudhailers to dictate to me and my peers on the grounds of gender, or was I more irked at The Observer for giving her such a prominent voice, in the shape of a half-page ‘news’ article on page 7?

Here’s the full piece:

Second best is never good enough, whether you’re talking couples or corporates.

Keep it special!

Dancing the strictly minute waltz

Picture the scene. The venue’s a buzzing conference hall. A group of smartly-dressed strangers gradually gravitate towards each other, as they swap bemused looks and fiddle with their fat wad of business cards. Before long they’ve bunched together to form a straggly queue. Neat rows of chairs – lines of two facing in towards each other – are set out just a few feet away. Perky, efficient-looking women with clipboards flit around and start ushering bums onto seats.
Welcome to the world of speed networking. You might think the idea sounds slightly bonkers and smacks of tackiness. But whoever thought of transferring the runaway success of condensed romantic connections to the corporate world was on to something.
When I registered for my first taste of speed networking at the Business North West event at Manchester Central last week, bystanders were reaching for their cameras and I felt a palpable buzz in the air. As I collected my free soft drinks token (‘You’ll be parched when you’re done!’ winked my clipboard lady), part of me felt inspired to rise to the challenge of creating a 60-second ‘elevator speech’ to market my skills and services. The other half berated myself for being drawn to the idea.
Guess which half I listened to? With the ‘USP’ mantra buzzing around my head, I duly became an attentive bum on seat. Then, with an undeniable comedic edge to his voice, I suddenly heard a man’s voice breaking through the polite chitter-chatter, bellowing: ‘Alright, you lot! Come on, we haven’t got all day…’ Dressed in a mock-army jumper and beret, our speed networking guru was taking us by the short and curlies. Blimey, he meant business!
The rules are simple, we were told. When you hear the first blow of the whistle, you swap contact cards with the person sitting opposite you (‘No shaking hands! We don’t want any swine flu!)’ and row one starts their 60-second sell. ‘After the minute’s up, you’ll hear another whistle, like so!’ we were told, before hearing another shrill toot. For the next minute, row two was to pitch. Whistle blow three was everyone’s cue to obediently shuffle two seats down our line. Then, row one were to launch into their pitch again, with a fresh equally-dazzled partner. ‘Right, got it? Are you ready? Go!’
I spent the next adrenalin-charged hour of my life, firing out my pitch, intently absorbing an array of spirited sells (only one networker wimped out by just handing me a leaflet, saying, ‘It’s all there.’), hopping over tangled bag handles and scattering business cards in my wake. All the while, our mock military leader cut us no slack. ‘Come on quick, quick! Get a move on!’ he spluttered, parading up and down, like a Dad’s Army extra on heat. Then, before I knew it, our time was up. ‘That’s it! You have been speed networked!’ barked Mr Beret. ‘Tell everyone. And remember to make that call, and take that call!’
After surviving such an intense sparring experience, I felt like punching the air triumphantly or jerking my arms into a Jerry-Springer style dance. But then I remembered the dozens of business cards I was clutching. ‘What did you think?’ one networker asked, as we wandered off to rejoin the diluted world again. ‘I feel…. networked!’ I joked.
I’ve gained many useful contacts and two potentially-lucrative connections from that surreal, sales-charged 60 minutes. And if I ever get stuck in a lift, I certainly won’t be lost for words.