Well, that’s 2014 done!


So, as we ease down the pace a little for the Christmas break we may have a little time to reflect on the year that was 2014, what went well, what not-so-well? What did we learn that will help make 2015 a year to remember?

There were some really interesting trends and unusual phenomena this year!

The #IceBucketChallenge

A truly viral internet sensation that swept the world. Raising awareness of a little known disease and raising huge amounts of money for research. Skills Hive’s Maria Kamburova wrote an in depth post exploring the phenomenon and what we can learn from it from a communications standpoint.


DID YOU KNOW? – The challenge is still on! It’s not just about cooling down by the pool mid summer! http://www.mndassociation.org/get-involved/donations/Christmas+Appeal/christmas-appeal-2014


Black Friday

We found out just last month how the Brits do Thanksgiving! When presented with a time limited consumer offer what do we do? KICK OFF!


Clearly not something to be proud of but none-the-less a fascinating phenomenon that has rather soured what could have been a really positive boost for the British economy, as well as an opportunity for consumers to further leverage their web based control over global brands. Yes, they are trying to drive us all to a purchase but they are now forced to listen and act on what we say about them. Open online communications mean we will always have more control over their brand perception than they do!

But in some ways the Black Friday phenomenon is similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge, it’s another example of how the internet and online marketing communications can influence behaviour on a massive scale.


Ebola Outbreak


If there’s one thing we didn’t want to see go viral it’s Ebola! There still seems to be less information  about the impact of this potential epidemic than anything else on the web. Hopefully it is just because crisis is being successfully averted. One positive we can take from this I suppose is that, when it hits the fan, nations around the world can work together as equals to deal with shit that needs sorting out! Not just protecting own borders but getting out to Africa and helping deal with the root of the problem they face, proper collaboration. I am sure there is still more to do, maybe there will be a people driven awareness campaign in 2015?

Relentless Tech Acceleration

As in 2013, the pace of change in the world of technology continues to accelerate. In business, acquisitions of brands we have barely heard of by other brands we have t-shirts older than take place for fiscal numbers we didn’t even know existed! (Yes I’m talking about Facebook buying WhatsApp but there are other examples!)


What fascinates me is the amount of press coverage science has received this year, especially astrophysics and space exploration. I often state that I read science fiction because I find it more relevant and inspiring than business literature, so this trend seems to me a reassuring acknowledgement that as a species we need to invest heavily in areas that previously seemed too speculative. Let’s hope Governments and businesses make leaps forward to try new things that could address the challenges our planet faces in the not too distant future be they environmental, economic, social or all of the above!


So what is it about 2014 that gives you a sense of achievement?

For Skills Hive it has been about becoming a real change agent in the world of business, in particular…

Team building

We continue to build the community of workers, involving them in events, training and project work that meet their needs. One guy in particular has become a key player in the development of Skills Hive this year, International MBA Student Sifei Ma, a big thanks to you Sifei!


Feedback from our workshops show we are really helping to empower and inspire people to tune into their talents and use online tools to attract the right sort of work opportunities for them. Simple guidelines that help tell your personal story in an engaging way and demonstrate your skills, knowledge and general way of thinking.


Having helped deliver a number of EU funded business support projects we have been invited to Brussels to talk about our unique model. This is a great opportunity to spread the word about sustainable business from the standpoint of flexible working.

Project Management

As well as delivering a number of smaller tech and marketing projects for clients, we completed the second Take Your Shot program for Sony and Slenky. This activity has really started to attract attention, Manchester Metropolitan University even wrote a case study on our collaborative model as a demonstration of innovative 21st century business.

“For Sony, the project can be viewed as an extension of the corporation’s own human resource while at the micro level numerous small organisations and individuals interact in a dynamic network to deliver.”

We’re really looking forward to sharing our plans for 2015 with you and hearing about yours. For now why not tell us about your 2014 highlights?…

What makes you unique? GUEST POST

I was always told that with a name like mine, I must be destined to do great things.  My name?  I’m Sanchia De’Cage; a Behavioural Specialist who has worked with children with special and additional needs for over 10 years, with a background in Psychology and a particular interest in autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs). The fruits of my labor during this time have been in being a catalyst for children learning to speak and communicate effectively instead of injuring themselves out of frustration; or seeing a more holistic environment for a child due to their parents learning the effects of their behavior on their child; or even seeing a teacher learn more effective and long lasting ways of engaging with a child with a special need.  I suppose in some ways, this may be observed as a great act.  It has a ripple effect, impacting the lives of the child needing support or early intervention, their siblings, family members, peers, teachers and so on.

If you were to imagine going a whole day without having any of your needs met, and how this would leave you feeling, is to give you a snapshot into the importance of this work for children with additional needs and the impact on the lives of many.

Imparting change is not an easy thing to do; it requires dedication, hard work, and patience if a child can’t learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they will learn.  Systematically, this is the ethos that Head Start-ASD takes when working with children with challenging behavior and additional needs.

We are a specialist training and consultancy business providing support to families and professionals with limited experience in teaching and managing challenging behaviour in their children.  We are like a psychological Supernanny provision working to provide children and young people with access to happier childhoods, and this is exactly what I communicated to the judges at the 2014 Greenwich University Business Plan competition.  As always (so I am told), there was a high calibre of entrants and after being narrowed down to one of 11 finalists from 150 initial applicants, Head Start-ASD worked hard to win over a range of five judges, achieving a place of second runner up!  This outcome was a great achievement and validated the hard work and dedication that has so far gone into developing a viable business that meets a real social issue and need.

Some great advice was received from the judges, who also included Skills Hive’s Mike Orchard, who has since been a great business connection/advisor in business development and strategy.  At an unrelated course some time back, I was told how important it is in starting a business, to prepare the network that you will need in the future.  This stayed with me, and I have since had the pleasure of attending a great networking session with Skills Hive to do just that, meeting likeminded professionals, making great contacts and bouncing around ideas.

It takes a village to raise a child, and like many new businesses, to create the impact of a potential (or virtual) village, Head Start-ASD aim to grow to provide a virtual team through Skills Hive to support the work that we do, the reach that we can have and therefore the positive impact on the lives of children with additional needs.  Such a team could involve sales and marketing members to widen our growth and customer awareness of our training courses and consultancy services, it could be to conduct research for our social media pages and blog posts, or the development of our merchandise through market research, sales and distribution.

Frontline team members may also be trained to implement direct social skills training and interventions with children, and/or to support in the delivery of our courses.  The depth and breadth or the work that we do requires great commitment, and this often offers the greatest reward.

There are 1.5 million children diagnosed with learning and behaviour difficulties in England alone, yet it is a worldwide issue. The theory of six degrees of separation between everyone and everything guarantees that you are connected to someone, somewhere who could benefit from such a service.

Join and connect with us via our Facebook (www.facebook.com/HSASD) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/HeadStart_ASD) Pages.  Visit the website at www.headstart-asd.com or write us an email at: info: headstart-asd.com


Be the change you wish to see in the world!

Head Start-ASD

Task Template – Competitor Analysis

Task Name:

Competitor Analysis


Produce a report that shows our position in the marketplace in relation to our competitors. We will use this to drive development of our business plan for the next three years.

Budget: £100







Get familiar with our company


Visit our site, review our previous business plan and annual report to understand our current view of ourselves
Research marketplace


Use whatever tools at your disposal to fully understand the marketplace, competitors, trends and opportunities
Write report


Write up the report in a suitable format with key trends, competitor profiles, opportunity summary and recommended actions

Task Template – Basic Consulting Website


Basic Consulting Website


Create a basic website for me to promote my consulting services using the following structure…

Home Page




About Us

Contact Us

I will provide copy for each section as required within an agreed timeframe.

Already have a logo but want the website to look more professional than the self build CMS solutions.

Budget = £500







Design user journey workflows and/or use case diagrams


Think of how the site is going to be used and map out the most intuitive route through the information for each type of user, think about what could go wrong and what decisions might be made in response to the information. All this preparation will be used when designing the layout and producing the content.
Produce Wireframes


Develop a range of page layouts to discuss and agree best approach based on the user journey workflows and use cases
Source Web Hosting


Find an appropriate web hosting service provider and set up an account procuring / linking domain names as appropriate
Define content required


Outline or list the content needed so that we can ensure it is produced in a timely manner to fit with the defined user journey, design and creation timeframe
Agree any amendments


upload draft via message system and discuss
Sign off final draft


Sign off to complete task
Create Pages


Create the final versions of the pages using the agreed design
Add content


Input all images and copy etc


Ensure everything in working order across different operating system and browser configurations, taking into account forecast volume usage


On Reflection…

The Noblest Route to Wisdom
(according to Confucius anyway – and who am I to argue!)

January is often considered to be the most depressing and miserable time of the year. Yes the parties are over and you probably spent too much money over the holidays, leaving you a bit short. But, for me, early January at least, is a fantastic opportunity to pause and reflect on the year gone by and the journey ahead.

2013 in the world of Skills Hive was a whirlwind year, we were officially recognised as a Sexy Start-up, embraced a huge amount of activity and even though some of it seemed to be taking us a little off course, it all led to more opportunity and further potential collaboration.

At the beginning of the year we had a pretty clear picture of what our hopes, dreams and plans looked like for the next 12 months. While we knew it was important to remain adaptable a lot of time and effort went into setting goals and objectives.

In addition to continuing the initiatives from the year before, that were mainly focused on growing the number and quality of worker profiles, we also wanted to spend more time engaging larger business users. There were 3 main objectives…

–          Sell subscriptions / solutions to larger businesses

The financial model was originally designed on the premise that businesses were ready to build their own project teams and manage them through the Skills Hive dashboard. While a number of innovative micro businesses were already thinking in this way, the majority of companies we found need time and guidance to develop their approach to project management and agile recruitment. So, while we didn’t sell subscriptions to businesses we were able to adapt our model to provide more in the way of training, consultancy and hands on project management during this phase of our business life cycle.

–          Build bespoke versions of Skills Hive under licence

Having identified a number of interested parties the year before, we expected 2013 to see one or two white label versions of the Skills Hive system set up. As those discussions progressed it became clear that this approach was not necessarily the best way forward. While white labelling was a pretty standard approach in the 20th Century, we now believe that enabling individual users to curate their own cross platform experiences is a more appropriate and “future proof” model for 21st Century agile business.

–          Upgrade dashboard tools

User feedback had helped us draw up a strong development roadmap which included the introduction of more search options and more significant changes to the way specific tasks could be delegated and tracked. However, the plan was to deliver these within the bespoke version development where they were also requirements specified by clients so as not to duplicate effort. As the bespoke builds were delayed and then cancelled the introduction of these elements has rolled over into the New Year. The good news is that the time spent discussing and exploring the options allowed us to evolve our thinking around the role of the dashboard and the integration of other existing tools via APIs, such as shared drives etc that exist on other platforms.

What actually happened was far more exciting than the plan (which is usually the way things work out!) This was fine because we have a clear understanding of our vision – “We help people find meaningful project work so that business is more adaptable and sustainable” – and can ensure that everything we do contributes towards this mission.

–          Moved into a tech business incubator & got actively involved with a movement in Croydon

As video is such an important element of the Skills Hive system we jumped at the chance to apply for a place within the Ravensbourne business incubator. This not only gave us access to all the amazing facilities on offer (which we have been making good use of!) but also placed us at the centre of a vibrant community of tech companies within an innovative and forward thinking educational institution (that was also a prospective client!)

But you don’t have to join just one community in this world, we belong to many and one of the most pro-active and capable movements we are a part of is definitely Croydon Tech City. We got to present the Skills Hive solution at the July event and were also invited to debate the future of start-up employment contributing to a special report submitted to Government focusing on what can be done to address skills shortages.

–          Secured training and project management contracts building on consultancy offering

We created lots of additional opportunity for workers in the Skills Hive this year by taking on more hands on Project Management, building teams for clients and managing the delivery of their projects through to completion and review.

The largest and most complex was undoubtedly the Slenky + Sony Take Your Shot Campaign that involved regional teams of freelancers and students as well as cross functional working with Sony and their marketing agencies.

In the IT arena we have formed several international teams of developers led by UK systems architects and account leads to build and upgrade a number of sites including ExPat Explore and the game changing Profit Through Ethics movement as they launched the Responsible 100 system as an engaging alternative to CSR “policy”.

Since the autumn our training courses are being rolled out for students at University of Greenwich under the Personal and Professional Development programme syllabus to help prepare undergraduates for a more fluid and project based employment market. At the same time we are launching our first workshops for businesses through the Ravensbourne Business Incubator, providing guidance for creating virtual team strategy that delivers revenue growth.

–          Won funding award for collaborative project to develop wavelength matching

For some time we have been exploring the best way to help individuals and businesses find the right people to work with, communicating the subtleties of how they view and interact with the world in order to establish “best fit” for effective collaboration. Late on in 2012 I met Jazz Rasool and quickly established that he had already made amazing progress in this area. There was a clear match in our own wavelengths and so we began to look into how we could work together to develop a joint solution to take to market. Joined by another like minded business leader, Gavin Peacock, Skills Hive led the submission of an application for R&D funding through the excellent London Fusion initiative and the Resonance Trust was born!

So what’s the plan for 2014, I hear you cry, and how are you going to end up doing something else entirely! Well, we do have plans and we would be happy to end up adjusting them somewhat, just as long as it means we are helping more people find meaningful project work so that business is more adaptable and sustainable.

Long term that means…

–          Refreshing the site and technology that sits behind it (including wavelength matching)

Applying what we have learned about the need to enable individuals to curate their own user experience across the tools and platforms they want to use, we will be architecting the next version of Skills Hive around API connectivity, setting up integrations and connectivity with the most innovative service providers on the web starting with the Resonance Trust.

Mid-term we want to

–          Prove the concept for Skills Hive powered business incubators

Working with Goldsmiths University we plan to demonstrate the power of putting Skills Hive tools and methodology at the centre of a physical business hub, bringing together the virtual team strategy and personal professional development elements to support entrepreneurs and the people who want to work with them. The model we are designing for this will ensure more start-ups not only survive but thrive and grow into sustainable businesses, because of their agile and adaptable structure and resourcing plan.

What you can get involved in right now…

–          Create or update your Skills Hive profiles to include video responses to live opportunities to join project teams

Once you have read the details about the roles you can prepare a short 60second piece to camera (just on your phone or laptop if need be) that demonstrates your understanding of the Trends affecting that industry and the role specifically, the potential Impact of those trends on the company, their Possible responses or options for dealing with the impacts and how your Skills could be the Solution they are looking for.

–           Help test and develop the wavelength matching tool

As part of our funded research and development programme we are building test groups to help us refine the way we identify, communicate and match the wavelength of individuals, teams and even businesses. If you want to help please learn more on our project page and click on the links to register, follow the instructions and complete the online questionnaire to join us at the cutting edge of collaboration!

–          Come and get social in person at one of our Skills Hive Swarms

The Swarm is an informal pop-up collaborative workspace hosted at London Universities. Feel free to drop-in for all or part of the day, take part in one of the organised sessions or just do your work in a new environment and chat with others over a coffee. The next one is in Greenwich on Thursday 23rd January, we’d love to see you there! Just head to the EventBrite page to register for FREE

Thinking Different?

Now I have delivered my paper at the EDiNEB conference I thought I would share the rest of it with you guys.

The conference itself was a fascinating meeting of minds and an inspiring view of the future of business education. But more about that later, for now here is the rest of the Skills Hive paper. (remember you can read the first half here).

Method – Who’s thinking different?

We all have a responsibility to support this organic evolution by helping groups affected most by unemployment to understand the opportunities and interpret their role in the new paradigm. Skills Hive is already engaging five key audiences, beyond the existing freelance community, keen to learn about what can be achieved in a more fluid working landscape.

–          Undergraduates and Graduates

–          Parents at Home

–          Career Transitioners

–          NEETs (Those not in education employment or training)

–          Social Entrepreneurs


Skills Hive is a commercial business offering virtual team consultancy and project management as well as a range of publicly accessible tools through our Online Dashboard. The tools are currently free to access and we plan to make that permanent for anyone in education (freelancers will be charged a percentage of earnings).

Undergraduates and Graduates

The “catch 22” of gaining employment without experience is as much of an issue as ever. Even top degrees from the best Universities don’t guarantee a place on a graduate program any more. Competition is fierce and those who succeed tend to be those who take responsibility for their skills, understand their relevance and how transient that can be, they commit to continuous development and creating standout for their personal brand. Some get creative to get themselves noticed and secure a job with a major corporate, a few realise the benefit of generating multiple income streams as a freelancer or small business, but many more expect some guardian angel to deliver employment to them on a plate, or even worse, they don’t think about it at all. The majority need support to understand how the world of work is changing, recognise the opportunities this presents and take ownership of them. However, encouraging statistics include a 75% increase in the number of young people looking for support in starting their own business (Princes Trust 2012)

University’s Gift

The Skills Hive system enables people to clearly communicate their personal brand identity as well as their skills, finding the right language to create relevance and resonance. It helps them think strategically about collaboration, identify the people who share their views and can help them deliver their vision, and it makes it easy to communicate what needs to be done, finding the right people for the task and measuring results.

As well as meeting a need among micro-businesses and the growing number of freelancers, it was clear that the Skills Hive tool could help academic institutions meet the demands of students and parents looking for more than just a certificate for their money.

“…over half (57%) want universities to do more to help them understand employability skills, such as customer awareness, team working and self management. And two thirds (66%) would like more support in developing these skills. (CBI Press Release 2011)

Supporting the University of Greenwich’s mission to prioritise graduate employability, enterprise, entrepreneurship and employer-engagement (E5), Skills Hive developed a model to integrate our online tools into their Personal, Professional Development (PPD) program.

The initial trial provides support for Business School students to learn about the changing face of employment, understanding the landscape and communicating their personal brand. The approach includes access to tailored lectures, ongoing support and advice, networking events involving businesses and freelancers and work experience on consulting projects. It also links the PPD program to other enterprise initiatives within the (E5) strategy, opening up the relationship further between students and London businesses.

Presenting the Opportunity

To start with it was important to introduce some new ideas but in a familiar setting. To this end we created a 1 hour presentation/lecture that could easily be incorporated into the PPD schedule. Starting in October 2012, I stood in front of 50-100 students at a time to begin to explain how they might take advantage of the emerging opportunities presented by the current instability in traditional employment. How they could be early adopters of the paradigm which allows them to test their skills while they study, engaging smaller businesses and gaining paid work experience on a short term project basis.

As a group, we considered the move away from a “Job For Life” mentality and agreed that security is something you create for yourself. Many students offered up their own insights and experiences to the group outlining the journeys they expect to take into the careers they have chosen. Interestingly these varied from those already looking at starting businesses to others with specific corporate employers in mind, others were not yet considering the options or had an unrealistic or limiting view of the landscape.

Considering the number of Skills Hive profiles created following the initial PPD lectures an encouraging number of students were inspired to take control and become (in Dr James Bellini’s terms) Marketing Director’s for their personal brand. For those still not sure we have since designed workshops to take place in Employability Week that handhold groups of students through the creation of their written profile and support them in the development of their personal brand pitch, capturing that as video to be hosted in Skills Hive.

Profile Centricity

The online profile they generate becomes their “Shop Window” both internally for the University and externally for potential employers and collaborators. Not only this, but the format is much better suited to their “life-stage” than other tools they are also encouraged to use such as LinkedIn. Those profiles tend to be dependent on time, they reflect what you have done and who you know, collateral still lacking for graduates and undergraduates. In contrast, Skills Hive profiles are all about who you are and how you think, allowing less experienced people to clearly communicate the value they can deliver by demonstrating creative thought leadership on what is happening in business right now, where trends could be going in the future and what they, as individuals, can do to help deliver commercial growth.

Now that the profile usage is becoming more established we are working closely with the Business School to develop new elements within the PPD cycle that make “assisted reflection” even easier and help turn the insights generated into appropriate content for the profiles. A new online survey and tutor discussion tool is being developed by Skills Hive and a Social Enterprise partner that uses the CBI Employability Skills Framework to structure questions that will help translate experiences into relevant core competencies such as Problem Solving and Learning Agility. The tool also utilises a range of proven metrics such as Belbin’s Team Roles and Myers Briggs’ Psychological Preferences.

Cross-Functional Navigation

As a whole the project has provided an excellent demonstration of how teams and departments who often operate as silos can effectively work together to deliver increased value for the students and the University. One of the most impactful linkages was through the joining up of the PPD activity with the work done by the Enterprise Directorate to engage external businesses with programmes such as Flash Innovation. Once this series of funded workshops and vouchers came to an end, we formed the Skills Hive Swarm!

This event takes the form of a monthly pop-up collaboration space hosted at the Business School’s I3 centre and attended by between 20 and 30 business owners, freelancers, academics and students. By inviting this cross section of people to work out of one location for the day we have created the conditions for informal networking and discussion that allow project opportunities and collaboration to arise. As well as spawning 4 micro-business collaborations we have also secured paid project work for 3 students across the Business School Engineering Faculty and Computer Science degree courses.

Prof Chris Birch Director of Enterprise at University of Greenwich’s I3 Centre had this to say…

“In our position as champions of enterprise and innovation, it is always rewarding to see how introducing external entrepreneurial spirit can help change the way we do things in the University. People’s attitudes change and they approach opportunities and problems with a more collaborative sense of purpose. As a result we all benefit and achieve things that wouldn’t have seemed possible just a few years ago.”

Projects, Portfolios and Payment

Because the micro-businesses are looking at agile, staged business development they are more open to taking a small risk on working with a student as part of their virtual team. Asking an undergraduate to define their own value as an hourly rate and complete some research or review some marketing copy is seen as an opportunity to leverage their creative talent at the same time as giving them some valuable paid experience. Bring into the equation the fact that the individuals can be found and engaged remotely with the profile and milestone management tools embedded in the Skills Hive online system, we start to establish a model that works for everyone. Agile businesses can access skills at short notice and students can gain valuable relevant work experience they can manage around their commitment to their education.

I joined the Graduate Internship Program but being located out in Essex reduced the opportunities for me to get work. In the end I was able to secure valuable work experience carrying out Social Media research for an SME based in Surrey, working remotely via Skills Hive. Completing the project using the task tools has helped me develop my marketable skills and I have since secured longer term employment.”

                                Timson Aigbe – Engineering Graduate


“I set up my profile as part of the PPD Program in the Business School and was surprised and amazed to be contacted so soon by a Social Enterprise wanting help with their web communications. Having completed the task milestones successfully and received useful feedback, I’m now looking forward to the next opportunity.”

                                Jade Lowe – Events Management Undergraduate

Multiple Metrics

As the central point in the PPD program the Skills Hive profiles help lecturers, tutors and other academics across the institution monitor and measure progress against the key performance indicator of employability. After each stage of the PPD journey students are encouraged to update their profile to reflect what they have learned about themselves and their marketable skills. This creates hard data in terms of the fields completed and information added but also softer measures such as how well the student’s are getting to know themselves and the way they operate. All these outputs can then be cut at various levels including which seminars and workshops they attended, which tutors they worked with, their course, school, faculty etc.

“Skills Hive gives the University a way to track a range of key outputs; from the strength of students’ initial engagement with our employability agenda, to the auditing and verification of their acquisition of soft and hard skills, we can measure engagement with employers via an additional innovative and attractive platform and can maintain the relationship with alumni as they continue to benefit from paid project based work opportunities and transition into potential employers themselves. Skills Hive also provides a unique “social“ channel for tutors to communicate, interact and gather insight into their students’ employability aims and ambitions.

 Matthew Housden – Senior Lecturer Marketing and Employability Lead

Results and Conclusion – Review, Refine and Repeat

Other Universities are already showing an interest in adopting the model, we are making it clear that it is adaptable to suit any institution committed to employability in the age of collaboration; as the fundamental principles of profile development, reflection, networking and collaboration are deliverable in many forms. Our work with University of Greenwich is demonstrating that students and academics alike are engaging with the tools and making them work to deliver their various objectives. While the results are still being collated as the trial activity continues, the benefits already being delivered are clear.

–          Prompted reflection to understand and communicate skills – Lecture delivered to c.500 students

–          Measurement of impact on employability over time via Skills Hive profiles – Over 100 registrations

–          A well structured “shop window” for students to promote themselves now and after graduation

–          The opportunity to complete short term tasks and projects for micro-businesses  – 3 completed so far


There have been many learning points already, probably the most important is the engagement of PPD tutors to lead by example and use their own Skills Hive profiles within communications. The plan is to embed the tools fully as formative assessment within the PPD syllabus next year, following the initial success of the trial. This will ensure more comprehensive usage by both tutors and students with support from the most enthusiastic early adopters and a clear linkage with the summative assessment of achieving degree level education.

There is potential for more Universities to utilise the Skills Hive system to re-define employability and employment for undergraduates and graduates, leveraging relationships across the organisation and global industry to drive engagement and enterprise. I was asked recently what was the main purpose of a University and I answered immediately “Networking”. I met my business partner at University 20 years ago and many more commercial relationships can be enabled and nurtured based on the technology and connectivity available now. I agree with much of the thought leadership provided by Seth Godin, his recent blog post spoke at length about how the internet is creating an abundance of talent and opportunity, and I too certainly…

“…can’t wait until we return to zero percent unemployment, to a time when people with something to contribute (everyone)  pick themselves instead of waiting for a bureaucrat’s permission to do important work.” (Seth’sBlog March 2013)

It would be great to hear your thoughts on any of what I have written, what don’t you agree with? What really important angles have I missed? What are you working on in this area and how can we help each other?

I will work out the best way to share the slides from my presentation, some of the video elements are being added to our facebook page so take a look

Time for a Change?

I was recently invited to submit a paper for publishing at EDiNEB (Education Innovation in Economics and Business) Conference, here is a short extract to see if it stimulates some debate!

The pace of change in the 20th century was phenomenal, to some it was even frightening, and it is still accelerating rapidly as we journey into the 21st century. Primarily driven by developments in technology, the impacts are being felt in all areas of our lives from the way we shop and the way we travel, to the way we access entertainment and even memories!

Change is always happening and, although the pace may vary in different aspects of existence, the increase in velocity overall means that we are now living in a time where paradigm shifts are not just possible, they are starting to become expected.

Technological capability in the information age has already affected major changes that empower the individual, most of which are charactarised by visibility, accountability, accessibility and connectivity. The result is a fundamental shift in the way we live, where information is accessed through technology to augment our physical reality continuously, 24/7. The way we communicate, the way we learn, the way we make decisions as well as the way we do business and the way we work.

The way we communicate

– We can access various levels of information about individuals (and organisations) across a range of channels as well as their associations and associates, be this in a social or business context
– We can each share layers of data about ourselves and others, managing access across a growing range of direct and broadcast media channels
– We are increasingly held responsible for what we say and do in the various roles we adopt in our working and social lives

The way we learn

– We can get answers to almost any question immediately through the internet, usually free of charge
– We can store our knowledge and even our memories (photos) externally, accessing them and sharing them in an increasing variety of ways
– We can effectively leverage the knowledge across our contact networks learning from our peers and sharing our own insights, and now formal training from top tier academic institutions is starting to become affordable and accessible online via MOOCS (Massive Online Open Courses)

The way we decide

– We can research ideas managing the “media filter” and choosing trusted sources to inform our opinions
– We know with a greater degree of certainty whether companies (and people) are competent and trustworthy
– We can continuously review and refine what holds real meaning for us, from big picture to specific issues, causes and beliefs

The impacts of change on the economic landscape and the world of work are equally compelling. Predictions made by eminent “Futurologist” Dr James Bellini only a couple of years ago are already becoming increasingly evident across the world.

“The [freelance] worker of the future will need to be a self-governing, self-marketing one-person enterprise.”    

Dr James Bellini 2010 (From PCG 2010 Report “Freeing Up Potential”)

All of this technological advancement is empowering individuals in completely new ways, inspiring a new “nation of shopkeepers”, a whole ecosystem of lean and agile micro-businesses, natural marketers and collaborators unfettered by the paranoia of competitive capitalism and not bound by endless bureaucracy.

I totally believe that this naturally emerging micro-business economy is an example of (socio-economic) systems ‘self-righting’, in the way technology has returned power to the individual, helping restore balance through collaboration and consensus. It is taking us towards a more sustainable future in terms of employment, commerce, ethics and the environment where individuals leverage the internet as a “tool for conviviality” to define meaning in their own working lives (Ivan Illich in 1972).

Know the 2nd law of certainty?

Nothing is certain in life except for death and taxes’ Benjamin Franklin – 1789

Depressing eh. Sorry to start on that rather sour note, but it’s a phrase that holds true, even more so if you’re a freelancer. As a member of the self-employed you’re liable for a litany of tax laws and it often pays to know your tax facts, quite literally.

Getting your self-assessment finished and filed is probably paramount in your concerns, and whilst that might have been and gone, there’s still a lot to be wary of, especially given HMRC’s tendency to fiddle with their laws.

2013 is particularly tumultuous in this regard, the taxman bringing in a slew of legislation that’ll affect the self-employed in a range of ways.

It’s a lot to get your head around, but thankfully you’ve got finance bods like me who can clear things up a little. So, without further ado, here’s some of the tax developments freelancers should keep their eyes on this year…

January – Child Benefit changes

You may have felt this already, as it came into force on January 7th.

Essentially, it affects those in the higher echelons of earning, those with a salary of £60,000+ losing their entitlement to Child Benefit and those earning over the £50,000 threshold seeing their Child Benefit payments reduced. So, if you’re amongst the freelancers in these pay brackets, bear in mind the implication this could have on your finances.

April – introduction of Real Time Information

If you’re amongst the limited company freelancers out there, then Real Time Information is something that you’ll need to get up to speed with. Conversely, if you’re a sole trader, then you needn’t worry.

At its crux, R.T.I is a new scheme designed to streamline the flow of payroll information between employers and HMRC, the basic thrust of the scheme being to ensure that the payroll information HMRC holds for your company is as up-to-date as possible.

This will be achieved by getting companies to submit records on or before every payday instead of once a year. So for limited company freelancers this means that every time you draw a salary you must notify HMRC, either through a piece of compliant payroll software or by using HMRC’s Basic PAYE tools.

If you’re a limited company freelancer, chances are you’ll have an accountant, so have a chat with them to ensure that either they’ve got – or can at least point you towards – the appropriate payroll software. That way you’ll avoid any nasty fines.

April, again – rate and threshold changes

The 6th April ushers in a new tax year and this year, there’s a number of rate changes. Amongst the highlights you’ll find…

  • a 1% drop in the Main Rate of Corporation Tax to 23%
  • a rise in the Personal Allowance to £9,440
  • a drop in the Higher Rate threshold to £32,010
  • and a lowering of the Additional Rate from 50% to 45%

These will have varying implications depending on your financial position, so examine that and then try to determine how the above might impact upon you.

October – Universal Credit

Elsewhere, something that’s worth bearing in mind if you receive Income Support, Working Tax Credits or Child Tax Credits is that your payments will be changing with the introduction of the Universal Credit. The usual parliamentary toing and froing makes it hard to decipher whether its introduction is a good or a bad thing, but you can get a basic overview of just what this new piece of legislation means here.

Of 2013’s incoming legislation, these four are likely to affect the freelance community the most. Make sure you’ve taken the right precautions to avoid any fines and that you take the right steps to achieve optimum tax-efficiency. 2013 might then be a tad more profitable than the last!

Mark James is an in-house writer for online accountants Crunch, and a regular contributor to Freelance Advisor.

Sharing is Caring! GUEST POST

This was something written for the www.mediatoreal.com blog earlier in November, but I think it may be of use to some of you if you haven’t seen it already…

In celebration of Entrepreneurship Week and Global Sharing day I want to make available a couple of the tools I have been using loads with clients this year.

Having spent time at the British Library on Monday in their Business Village event, and an afternoon in the company of some very forward thinking Social Entrepreneurs at The People Who Share’s gathering at Mozilla’s lovely space in London, I decided it is my duty as a caring stoker of the economy to talk you through a few of the approaches that form the support I provide to companies looking to grow.

A good place for me to start is with a practical tool I use with Startups – my Thought Leadership Model for social media and conversational marketing.

My belief is that it has become practically impossible to credibly claim to be an expert in anything these days, the world is simply changing too quickly. The pace of developments in technology and therefore all areas of business (and life in general!) means that, in some cases at least, 20 years of experience in a specialist field is not nearly as valuable as having your finger on the pulse of current and emerging trends (admittedly you can have both!)

What this means is that many younger and less experienced people are in a fantastic position to provide thought leadership on specific areas of business and commerce, based on their understanding of what’s happening right now and their ability to project forward and perceive a future state in keeping with the rate of change.

It always begins with LISTENING, give yourself time to form a valid opinion

You have to get to know at least some of the following before getting involved…

– who is talking about what and how influential are they?

– where is the conversation taking place and why did it start?

– what are the prevalent opinions and how have they changed?

– why is the subject relevant and what makes it important right now?

– how has the discussion evolved and where’s it heading?

– when is the right time for you to join in and what should you say?

For most businesses still in their infancy the immediate opportunity with Social Media is more about joining an existing industry or need specific conversation, rather than monitoring and addressing discussions about your own brand. The whole exercise can become quite labour intensive as you manually trawl through the seemingly endless data in search of relevant groups, threads and hashtags. Groups to join on LinkedIn, people to follow on Twitter, competitor Facebook pages to monitor and community sites that look like they might be interested in your specialist field. The risk of paralysis through analysis is not insignificant! Depending on the size of the task, but not necessarily your budget, there may be some bright young thing out there who has developed a handy programme, app or otherwise described gadgetry that will do a lot of the hard work for you.

There are loads of tools to assist with this sort of thing online. From elaborate Social Media monitoring systems like Salesforce.com’s Marketing Cloud (formerly Radian 6) and Sysomos Heartbeat but many of these are expensive. The good news is there are a huge number of free tools available as well. Probably the best known and certainly the simplest is good old Google Alerts. Just set up email prompts based on relevant keywords and decide how often you want to be notified about what’s happening. Beyond this essential core standard lies a vast array of more powerful solutions that are still free but offer far more granularity in the way of analysis. One in particular that caught my eye is Social Apps HQ, they’ve combined all the key elements from keyword conversation tracking, brand monitoring and influencer ratings to sentiment analysis, mention trends and response tools.

Once these inputs have informed your opinions, you’ve identified where the conversations are happening and who you need to engage, just share your views. Comment on blogs and articles, use the hash tags, get involved. And as you build your credibility why not start your own discussions around topics that will further demonstrate your relevance and insight, the stuff that will secure you new clients. Just make sure you include links back to your site to help people access deeper content (perhaps your own blog or white papers), don’t be afraid to include a call to action in messages, just ensure it is relevant and respectful – a natural part of the conversation not a sales message.

Use the conversational activity across social media and comment threads to join the dots between the discussions and your more detailed information in your site. Create a natural journey from discussion to service information and purchase decision, taking a route that demonstrates your understanding of the landscape and acknowledges…

–          TRENDS in the economy and or a specific market sector

–          IMPLICATIONS for businesses and consumers affected

–          POSSIBILITIES in terms of potential responses to the situation

–          SOLUTIONS that include your skills and services

The visual model represented above is just a snapshot of my view of a structured approach based on the current media environment. It can be developed and refined as the world changes while retaining the core principles of Listen, Learn, Engage and Influence (although, I find the word influence has negative connotations – can anyone suggest an alternative? I want to say “help” or “assist” while acknowledging that this is marketing but with a focus on customer need!)

Do let us know if you find this sort of thing useful, there is more to share if it will help you develop your approach to marketing and business strategy!

Getting Engaged?

Our last newsletter introduced the idea that freelancers, and other professional virtual team members, are likely to be more “engaged” and aligned with your business vision than many permanent employees. You told us this warranted further consideration – and we agree!

That’s why our current research project includes questions which ask business owners for their views on the performance of project teams and their expectations when it comes to engagement of internal (employees) and external (freelance) team members.

Many studies over the last 5-10 years have concluded that “engagement” is the key to innovation, performance and productivity and there are some truly compelling statistics (see below) that demonstrate both the positive and negative impacts of ensuring all team members understand, believe in and take ownership of the company’s future;  the goals and the vision. Our own project will help translate this knowledge into useful insights actionable within the emerging, more fluid, employment landscape.

The UK Government’s Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) commissioned a comprehensive report on the subject of Employee Engagement, quoting some fascinating statistics from such trusted international sources as Gallup, Tower Perrins-ISR and the Chartered Management Institute.

Did you know that…

Companies with the best levels of employee engagement (top quartile) can expect to see…

–          18% higher productivity

–          12% higher profitability

–          An EPS (earnings per share) rate 2.6 times higher

…than companies found in the bottom quartile

Likewise, companies in that bottom quartile of employee engagement measurement suffer…

–          Employee turnover 31-51% higher

–          Theft or stock “shrinkage” 51% higher

–          62% more accidents in the workplace

…than companies in the top quartile

Not only this, there are many examples of British companies across various sectors that have quoted similar findings specific to their own operations and business models.

The Co-operative Group focused on developing employee engagement in their recent period of transformation, introducing a focus on engagement that changed their approach to internal communication which has underpinned the turnaround of the business.

Yorkshire based public transport provider Metro has developed an employee engagement program which has helped the company change from a traditional and bureaucratic operation to an award winning innovator with high rates of employee retention and customer satisfaction.

The construction industry was hit hard by the recent economic downturn, with sales figures dropping by 50% year in year JCB pro-actively managed employee engagement to ensure they have a sustainable business built around people who understand the strategy for ensuring they come out the other side ready to grow again.

Also the CIPD regularly quote the most recent examples in their workshops and presentations including major high street and supermarket brands like M&S and Tesco.

In my experience working with large companies, smaller businesses and as a business owner myself, generally speaking the people who are quickest to…

A – understand the concepts and strategies relating to a project/business vision
B – make valid and useful suggestions that will help refine the approach
C – get enthusiastic about action and the delivery of the objectives

…are those team members who have been business owners themselves, the freelancers who are used to thinking strategically about a range of different client business models, at the same time as completing actions to get a job done, making them both agile and adaptable. It can be far more difficult and time consuming to get a similar level of engagement (and therefore performance) from full time employees who have had a narrower range of experience with less strategic decision making – and perhaps even a focus on the security of a monthly wage, rather than delivering client value and trading on reputation.

Whether a team consists of internal employees, external consultants, freelance specialists or a mixture; the quicker you can generate and confirm alignment with the goal the sooner you can make progress against the objectives. Without a shared vision the risk of mistakes, confusion and inefficiency increases massively.

The natural process is to hold a thorough discussion with everyone involved to explore all aspects of where you want to go, getting input and ideas on how to get there and defining their role and responsibilities. It is important to test understanding in advance and along the way, so you can make decisions on whether individuals “get-it” enough to be involved.

That is the whole purpose of the task proposal and discussion elements of the Skills-Hive system. Putting people ahead of process to create more effective teams with everyone aligned to a shared vision.

“One of the key aspects of delivering great projects is making sure that everyone buys in to the goal and the vision. Only working with full-timers can be a false economy – in my experience including freelancers with the right skills can help get more done faster – as they are very delivery focussed – and often the quickest to engage with a great vision.”

Tom Ball – Founder of NearDesk “The card that lets you work anywhere”

Initial discussions with Hirers in our research project have helped us develop and refine our understanding of the importance of this element of team formulation. Building on the insights gained, we want to explore how best to take this aspect of the Skills-Hive ethos further, embedding the engagement principles deeper within the system. We can look at creating things like “alignment ratings” for Workers within the Hirer dashboard and evolving the feedback system to include a measure of how good people are at communicating a vision as a Hirer and engaging with it as a Worker, but more importantly we want to make it as easy and intuitive as possible for Hirers to communicate and explore their vision with team members, perhaps introducing mind mapping tools to aid the discussion. Any other ideas are welcome!

So, what do you think?…

Have you had experience working with freelancers on a project?

What was it like getting them on board in terms of vision and engagement?

What challenges have you faced when enthusing and aligning full time employees with the business strategy?

Maybe your experience has been completely different to what we have found out so far, we would love to hear from you! (just leave a comment below or head to our Facebook page)