Well, that’s 2014 done (nearly)!

2014

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.

mnda

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!

KICKOFF

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

ebola

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!)

physics

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!

Training

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.

Consultancy

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?…

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

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!

Pay It Forward

When you have been fortunate enough to have found your route to success, the most rewarding thing you can do is help others to find their own path.

One of my favourite quotes on mentoring is from Sir Richard Branson. Even the most successful business people are able to admit that they received plenty of assistance along the way and it is great to hear them recognising the benefits of being a mentor as well as receiving support.

“The support of experienced entrepreneurs is a key ingredient to help build and grow a successful business. Sharing experiences and ideas is also a key requirement of being a good mentor… be prepared to learn as much as you teach!”

- Sir Richard Branson

Back in November our Hive News “Meant to Mentor” email focused on the importance of mentors in the business world and provided some tips on how to find the sort of support and guidance that’s right for you.

As we begin to launch our Job4Life and Virtual Teaming workshops and Boot Camps this summer, we are actively seeking established freelancers and business owners who have the skills and experience to support our Newbee freelancers and entrepreneurs beginning their journey in the commercial world.

The model has been designed to help participants learn about themselves in terms of their marketable skills and talents, their preferred styles of communication and natural ways of working. We then develop their ability to identify potential hirers and communicate the value they can deliver, tailoring communications to specific audiences and their needs. The programme results in an opportunity to respond to a live brief from a hiring business which could lead to their first paid work as a freelancer. Throughout the process the attendees will have access to suitably experienced mentors who can help answer their questions, providing guidance on key issues and considerations.

We are already seeing plenty of interest from undergraduate students and we are working closely with Universities and organisations like NACUE (National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs) to provide support to the most ambitious emerging talent. But age isn’t the key determinant of ambition. There are many individuals finding themselves in career transition by choice or otherwise. These people are looking at the changing face of employment and considering freelancing as a positive potential career direction for the first time.

Within the range of people considering how they can self-promote to secure freelance work, beyond the students already mentioned, are key groups like Mums on Maternity Leave who have proven professional skills and experience that they can use to bring real value to business projects as a virtual team member. Also, slightly older business statesmen (and women) who don’t want to retire while they still have so much to offer the commercial world in terms of experience and wisdom. If you provide these individuals with mentoring support that helps them shape their approach to self-employment and then blend their mix of energy and talent, there are some amazing opportunities for businesses to create formidable virtual teams to deliver fast paced business growth projects.

There is a multitude of reports and surveys about the effect of mentoring and other forms of non-financial support on businesses, here are some interesting perspectives from a 2011 report published by Youth Business International (YBI) relating specifically to young entrepreneurs…

Businesses are more successful: 55% of young entrepreneurs agree that their business is more successful as a result of the non-financial support they received.

Operational challenges are overcome: two thirds of young entrepreneurs can think of a significant operational challenge in their business that they were able to solve as a result of their non-financial support, that reduced costs and increased profit/turnover in their business.

Loan repayment rates improve: 54% of young entrepreneurs would have struggled to repay their loan over the same time period without non-financial support.

Access to finance increases: the likelihood of approval for a commercial loan more than doubles when young entrepreneurs have established a track record and benefited from receiving a range of non-financial services.

Young entrepreneurs feel more confident: 84% of young entrepreneurs feel more confident running their business as a result of the non-financial support they received.

And the value you receive from the experience of mentoring cannot be underestimated, you will be amazed at what can be revealed about yourself and the benefit of just being around such enthusiastic and creative minds.

Ketan Makwana from Enterprise Lab and Youth Enterprise Live sees huge benefit from providing mentoring and support to others…

“Mentoring is all about developing a platform for others to prosper from… not only does one have to instil confidence or guidance but also provide opportunity… I have found mentoring others extremely enjoyable, educational and empowering. For me mentoring is not just about what expertise I can bring to others, but also what I can learn from them too.”

So, if you have what it takes to help develop the next generation of business leaders, and you also want to continue to learn something new about yourself by working with young entrepreneurial talent, just add “mentoring” as a skill to the talents in your Skills Hive profile. We will be in touch with you about opportunities to get involved with our workshops over the summer.

Why not also add a video clip to your profile which tells us about your personal style of mentoring and how you specifically want to support enterprising new talent.

Deal or No Deal?

One of the main reasons we started Skills Hive was to provide an alternative to the “deals” being offered on the established freelancer marketplaces. It is becoming pretty clear that the bid based model they use more often than not fails to deliver. Continue reading