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

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.

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)

Hack It Up!

I am sure you have all had the same feelings of frustration as me at some point, when you are attempting to get something done and you start thinking “it shouldn’t be this difficult” or “this just feels like bureaucracy gone mad!”

The mountains of red tape we sometimes face can bring on the red mist, we can get angry or we can do something about it. One option is to simply complain but that rarely results in a solution. Another option is to actively look for or create short cuts. This is Process Hacking.

When an organisation insists on putting obstacles in your way, making you jump through hoops in the shape of form filling and endless layers of sign-off and authorisation, the solution is to get creative, change the game and find a new route to the result you are after.

There are several examples of this sort of thing happening already, especially in relation to Government administrative processes. I read online about a resident in one of the London Boroughs who attempted to do his civic duty in reporting issues with roads in need of repair that were having a negative impact on his local community. The number of forms he had to complete to communicate the problems to the right authorities, and the delays in any action being taken as the issues were passed from department to department drove him to desperation. As a result he created a community web portal where residents could log localised problems with roads and other similar issues, upload pictures from their phones and, once he had finally established who in the council could do something about it, created a direct feed to their team for rapid response. This has now turned into the FixMyStreet website. Genius!

Other examples that come to mind include the way musicians have developed and adopted technology to bypass the traditional routes to success. In the past getting your music heard on any significant scale involved layer upon layer of intermediaries between the talent and their audience, all attempting to “guide” the output (or dilute it) and all taking a slice of the pie adding cost to the consumer. Now as consumers we have access to a seemingly endless source of new music via Soundcloud, MySpace, Spotify and Last.fm. We are all A&R talent scouts these days, and if we are overwhelmed by the volume of material and need some sort of filter, we don’t look to the record companies we ask our friends for recommendations because that’s who we trust.

And what about print publishing? I regularly hear stories about authors using new digital print technology to self-publish having struggled for years to get a traditional publisher interested in their work. They have been told they need an agent before they can submit anything, agents are either not interested or put even more barriers in their way and they get nowhere. However, once they have their ISBN number and start selling direct to market via Amazon, their own websites and social media pages, the publishers start coming to them with offers! The power of technology (in the right hands) to drive efficiency and effectiveness is phenomenal, people are changing entire industries, is yours next?

Having worked for large corporations I am only too aware that over-engineered processes are not limited to Government departments and having worked in sales I know that with a little lateral thinking there are ways and means to hack a process. Don’t get me wrong, checks and measures are an important aspect of running a decent business, but if they impede agility and the response to opportunity they can kill a business.

Take procurement for instance. The principle of finding the right suppliers at the right price sounds good to me but in large businesses facing hard times this has very readily become – “let’s treat every service as a commodity, squeeze suppliers to get the lowest price, prevent anyone from sourcing outside of the approved suppliers list and design a lengthy process for getting anyone added to it”. The results of this sort of big business “strategic thinking” are often rapidly shrinking revenues masked by a perceived short term increase in profit, but eventually profit suffers as well.

This type of regime stifles innovation and product development, it leads to disengaged employees who are not empowered to make decisions and disaffected suppliers who either have to start charging more to other clients (unfairly), refuse to work with the big brand (at their peril) or suffer in silence and perhaps go out of business. What is certain is that even if they continue the relationship these companies, including marketing and other creative agencies, are unlikely to be delivering their best solutions as it is no longer a win/win relationship for them.

Many large companies have recognised that this sort of approach isn’t sustainable and, as with most things, the cycle of change is moving us away from such wholesale constraints. The changes are in part driven by those “dissidents” within the organisations who have hacked the processes and demonstrated that there is a better way, individuals can be trusted to make good business decisions that improve efficiency and effectiveness in the short and long term.

I was working with a client as mediatoreal recently and we were exploring potential routes to market for her business Bracket Creative. One of the ideas we developed was around working closely with consultants who are already part of the value chain, not only to better understand the end client and get introductions but potentially to form alliances and partnerships that bypass procurement processes by working alongside an existing approved supplier.

When it comes to process Human Resources professionals are renowned for let’s say – getting a bit carried away. But, good news, there is a new movement on the rise even among respected members of the HR industry body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) itself. #PUNKHR

If you are unhappy with the time it takes for you to get access to the skills you need to deliver an opportunity then let’s #PUNKHR

If you are concerned with the layers of brokerage and associated cost involved in the recruitment process then let’s #PUNKHR

If you want more localised responsibility for addressing short term temporary skills gaps then let’s #PUNKHR

So, who is ready for a bit of process hacking? Maybe you are doing it already and being thanked for your ingenuity? Tell us about it…

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.

“Employment 3.0″

It is pretty obvious that the world is changing all the time and we are all coming to terms with the accelerating nature of this change. The key driver appears to be technology, or at the very least it is a major catalyst that turbo-charges our natural evolution. The debate rages endlessly as to whether the latest developments are good, bad or otherwise but none of us (as yet) can put back the clock. This fact doesn’t make these discussions pointless or futile, they are an essential element of the process of feedback and iteration that occurs in any organic system, our responses help shape our future.

You may have seen the link I shared to a really interesting post on the Harvard Business Review blog written by Professor Rita McGrath. The piece stimulated an extensive conversation regarding the merits and threats posed by the trend towards a more flexible and mobile global workforce. Some of the largely American contributors were concerned that individuals would lose out in terms of being made to source their own healthcare and pension solutions, usually seen as a key benefit of traditional employment there.

Comments from others around the globe seemed more focused on the positives for business of being able to have more flexible control of resourcing costs, there was some concern for the individual worker and the need to provide some sort of centralised support for a large increase in the global “freelancer” population, but overall it was acknowledged that increased choice for the individual to manage their own workload and schedule could only be a good thing.

My own contribution was to point out that people are fast realising that one job equals maximum risk, having the choice to self promote skills to find security in a range of project based work can be more fulfilling as well as more flexible. I went on to reference the way the Skills Hive business model is developing to include training designed to help businesses and individuals understand and identify the opportunities being created by technology and the emerging employment landscape.

 

Job 4 Life

Based on the premise that the only “Job For Life” in this day and age is Freelancing, we have developed a 4 day programme to help people who are new to freelancing to take a structured approach to finding paid project work as part of a virtual team. It starts with getting to know yourself in terms of skills and preferred styles of working, moving on to finding a hiring audience who you can help to grow their business. All the outputs are captured in our Job4Life tool which is designed for ongoing use to develop and manage your opportunity pipeline.

Doing More With Less

For businesses that want to develop a strategic approach to agile and efficient resourcing we have a different programme, also run over 4 days. Companies are shown methods and techniques to clearly define your core business focus, identify skills gaps and talents required to deliver business plan objectives and systems for building and managing a virtual team. As an attendee you leave with an active operating plan that can be developed further to support continuous business growth.

 

We want to continue developing both tools into handy “Apps” that can be updated on the move via your Smartphone. This approach will help individuals and businesses to continuously build strategic plans, updating skills and experience, identifying new opportunities and building talent pools that will drive success.

This summer, working with Enterprise Lab to take the proposition to market, we plan to run both programmes in a Summer Camp format that brings together freelance debutants, experienced mentors and ambitious businesses to initiate live projects in the Skills Hive that will lead to new commercial relationships based on agile resourcing principles. If you are interested in taking part leave us a comment below and we’ll get in touch directly with more details.

As the design of training modules continues we will be looking at what elements, tools and features we can incorporate into the Skills Hive online infrastructure, so let us know what you would like to see…

Already under consideration are…

-          Mind Mapping Tools

-          Problem Solving Process Schema

-          Communications styles and preferences tests

-          …

Feel free to add to the list!

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