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

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

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)

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

Mo’ Mo’ Mo’ – How do you like it?

I couldn’t resist this ridiculous title, seemingly cryptic or curiously random? Well – both really!

Recently I wrote about the social and ethical credentials Skills Hive could perhaps claim in the piece entitled Big Foot and it got me on a train of thought. In big business it gets called CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility, but for the rest of us trying to do some good it is really just about living life as a decent human being from day to day. Continue reading

Networking for Newbees! – GUEST POST

Networking can be a bit daunting. We all know we need to do it … but how, where and why do we do it, and what can we get out of it, and bring to it?  Here are 10 handy hints for making networking work for you. Continue reading

Big Foot!

While we are clearly a commercial business, Skills Hive has strong ethical and social values. We provide the tools to promote your skills and earn money, but we also actively encourage everyone to continually develop themselves and their teams, understand their talents and personality and the impact they have on others, manage work life balance, collaborate and innovate. Continue reading

Profiles, Professionalism and Personality

The link through to an article on “how to pen a strong personal profile” I included in last week’s Hive Buzz Newsletter proved to be popular, so I thought I would focus in on that subject for this week’s Hive Blog. (originally posted April 2011) Continue reading