Tuesday, June 18, 2024

editors, proofreaders, and imposters...

After accidentally writing a book about imposter syndrome a couple of years back, I find that I keep being approached by people to speak about it at their events, or as a guest attraction for groups that regularly meet together (which is nice).

I've written these up where they've happened in the past, but am not afraid to admit feeling a little trepidation for the most recent 'gig', as it was with the Berkshire Chapter of the Institute of Editing and Proofreading (so a screenful of people who know how a book is supposed to look before it's published...). I'm not sure how well I would have braved such an apparently august body of professionals, were it not that I'd been invited by Louisa Ellins - not only a fellow BF'er but also equal recipient of the Non Employee of The Week award.

At the outset, some members of the chapter kindly shared the impacts that listening to the 'gremlin of doubt' (how I describe our inner imposters manifesting) has had on them - and whilst these were largely in keeping with what others have shared in comparable events, it was highlighted how it robs us of our confidence: which means that although we may find ways to press on and deliver our work and jobs, we don't enjoy the process as we otherwise might/should (which means we're unhappier, and therefore less of the complete person we can otherwise be).

The initial reflections from the Chapter after my 'turn' seem to circle around the importance of finding ways to better validate and assure ourselves that what we're doing is 'good enough'. Because in the absence of praise, or other affirmation from clients (and/or non-existent colleagues if we work freelance), we can quickly fall into self-perpetuating thought cycles that our work isn't good enough because hardly anyone ever tells us otherwise...

There were a number of practices that were shared as to how such 'positive re-enforcements' might be designed, adopted, and introduced:

- recognising that a client re-booking you is a sign of their happiness with your work (even if they don't say so...)

- the importance of defining what it means to be successful on our own terms (rather than trying to achieve the standards of others we may see in our sector or elsewhere)

- regularly celebrating each others' wins with peers (goodness knows, if we don't cheer each other on, no one else is going to!)

- and on those occasions when a project 'fails' or a client appears unfairly critical of our work, the importance of being able to find safe spaces with peers. This is to enable us to reflect on the experience to sense check how far the client may really be being unfairly unjust, and what we can best take from the experience into the future.

All in all, it was an enjoyable experience from my side of the screen, and I'm taking from how most reacted on their camera to different points in the event, that people found at least 1 thing in what I brought as encouragement, support, and reassurance.

And in sharing the book with a body of editors and proofreaders, I also started to think about how I'd written it in a way I'd never done before - I originally intended that the book should only be consumed as a physical artefact that people read with their eyes. But I'm aware that some people are hearing its words spoken to them, instead of reading them, because they're using a Kindle. Which starts to make me wonder how far the ideas and messages of the book are being equally conveyed if they're consumed by people in a different medium to that which I originally intended..?    

Friday, June 14, 2024

the internet seems to keep loving my ideas about business plans!

I've always been open about encouraging people NOT to write business plans - mainly because all too often I meet entrepreneurs who've spent hours and days creating them, not enjoying the process, and crucially not really understanding why they were doing it... (it seems many 'professional' business advisers don't take the time to check that what they're telling you to do is actually the best thing for you to do...https://youtu.be/ZpPYqBlt1Ek).

In my experience, most people don't enjoy the process of writing them, and those that have then never actually ever go back to them (they languish in a drawer or a forgotten folder on their laptop).

And there are various research studies that have been published which also find that in most cases, the difference that having a formally written up business plan has on the success of a business is as good as negligible (i.e. no proven benefit). Although interestingly, these studies also find that those who do write plans usually only do so because someone else (a lecturer at College, or business adviser) told them to... What makes the difference on a businesses' success is that they go through some from of planning process (so using a canvas, or set of prompts to think things through, rather than just rush headlong into it all).

Which means that whenever I'm asked to lead workshops, masterclasses, or other sessions aimed at supporting people to develop their business plan, I always open with the critical question "why are you wasting your time writing a business plan, rather than going out and talking to customers or suppliers?".

And I'm encouraged, that when I originally wrote up these ideas on my blog back in 2010, this piece seems to be my most 'evergreen' post: it's not only one of my most popular ever posts by number of views, but also keeps being found and read by people - 

Of interest is that these 'spikes' in interest usually align with the start of a calendar year - the time people are apparently most likely to be thinking about starting their own business, and so searching for inspiration and support for how they might best achieve that dream.

And what this also suggests to me, is that I'm starting to get more interested in the analytics about my blog that I once decried...

Which means that having already started to consider how analytics from my social media channels can offer benefit in helping me understand how I'm creating benefit (as reported in my social impact report on myself), I'm now also starting to look at how the analytics on my blog over time can also offer further insights into my reach and support to other people that I'm not otherwise aware of...  

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

what the robots are doing for social impact

No-one can have missed the growing interest and debates surrounding the potential, risks, impacts, and future of AI in all aspects of our lives.

But an area where I’m yet to see any significant debate happening is to do with something I've been involved in since the 1990s - social value and social impact.

I’m aware that AI is already touching my business and work, having had a client share with me in December last year how they fed my face, and aspects of things about how I work that they particularly enjoy and appreciate, into their generative AI to create the image for their Christmas card. And whilst working with the social value team in a national firm recently, the conversation of how they might use AI to make better use of their time in understanding the needs of different communities came up.

But rather than just think about how I might use AI in how I manage my business' activities (which, to my perspective, is the overarching narrative to all conversations I currently see and hear on this topic), I want to explore more how the promises and potential of AI can help better inform how we think about, approach, and ultimately deliver and achieve positive impacts through how we work and act. 

As a 'starters for 10', I turned to ChatGBT with my first question:

"how can AI be used to support the creation of social impact and social value?"

to which, the robot replied:

"AI can be a powerful tool for creating social impact and value in various ways:

  1. Healthcare: AI can be used to improve healthcare outcomes by analyzing large datasets to identify trends and patterns in diseases, assisting in early diagnosis, and personalizing treatment plans. AI-powered telemedicine platforms can also provide healthcare access to remote or underserved areas.

  2. Education: AI can personalize learning experiences for students by adapting content and pacing to individual needs and learning styles. It can also provide tutoring and assistance to students, especially in subjects where there are shortages of human teachers.

  3. Environmental Sustainability: AI can help monitor and manage environmental resources more efficiently. For example, it can analyze satellite data to track deforestation, predict natural disasters, optimize energy usage, and manage water resources.

  4. Social Services: AI can assist in improving access to social services by streamlining administrative processes, identifying individuals in need, and predicting demand for services. It can also help detect and prevent fraud in social welfare programs.

  5. Disaster Response and Management: AI can aid in disaster preparedness and response by analyzing data from various sources to predict and mitigate the impact of natural disasters. It can also assist in coordinating relief efforts and allocating resources effectively during emergencies.

  6. Poverty Alleviation: AI can support poverty alleviation efforts by analyzing socioeconomic data to identify areas of need and develop targeted interventions. It can also facilitate financial inclusion by providing access to banking and financial services for underserved populations.

  7. Humanitarian Aid: AI can assist humanitarian organizations in delivering aid more effectively by optimizing supply chains, identifying vulnerable populations, and predicting refugee movements.

  8. Accessibility: AI-driven technologies can improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities by providing tools such as speech recognition, natural language processing, and computer vision to facilitate communication and interaction with digital devices.

  9. Public Safety: AI can enhance public safety by analyzing data to identify crime hotspots, predict criminal activity, and optimize the deployment of law enforcement resources. It can also assist in disaster response and emergency management.

  10. Crisis Counseling and Mental Health Support: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can provide round-the-clock support for individuals experiencing mental health issues or crises, offering resources, guidance, and empathy.

Overall, AI has the potential to address some of the most pressing social challenges by augmenting human capabilities, improving decision-making, and optimizing resource allocation. However, it's crucial to ensure that AI systems are developed and deployed ethically, transparently, and inclusively to maximize their positive impact on society."

What I'm taking from this response, is that the machines currently think that their role will help automate various practices that already exist and we already use, and in doing so, might offer quicker insights and understanding for us to make better decisions with. But ultimately, it's not able to do anything that we're not already doing... Also, that AI itself is 'aware' that we shouldn't blindly adopt it wholesale, but take careful and measured approaches in experimenting with it, and be careful to make sure that it doesn't end up only being a resource that those who have means already will be able to benefit from.

But what do others think? Have I mis-read ChatGBT's response above, as to how it sees its role in advancing social impact and value, or is there another (better) question I should be asking it?

This is a topic I'm going to be exploring over this coming year where I see opportunity to, and will be sharing my reflections both ongoing in my blog here, and also in my next annual impact report on myself.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Whatever happened to Social Firms England?

When I first started working in the social economy (a time before the likes of Social Enterprise UK, Locality, and Unltd), there were already some well established bodies - including what become known as Social Firms UK.

It emerged in the 1990s, when there were a series of European funded programmes across the country that explored how businesses could create and sustain employment for people with a disability as part of their ongoing business model - at that time, a revolutionary concept.

And it its early years, it undertook pioneering research, lobbying, and policy work that's influenced the rules we see today that mean there's greater recognition and support in the workplace for people with disabilities; quality standards such as the disability confident employer; and also that bodies such as Social Enterprise UK now exist (Social Firms UK was one of its founding members).

Ultimately, it's responsible for the recognition that a legitimate purpose for any social enterprise is to create and sustain employment for people who find themselves disadvantaged and discriminated against in the labour market through no fault of their own or choosing (the 'social firm' model of social enterprise). It also amassed an enviable resource library of case studies, research, and guides, for any 'social firm'; were involved in some of the first national programmes to deliberately create social franchise models to help scale the reach and impact of the sector; and also developed one of the first national sector toolkits for reporting social impact.

But in recent years, its fortunes have waned - it launched its own accreditation standard, the Social Firms Star, which few enterprises adopted; and as part of the devolution agenda, separated itself into Social Firms England, Social Firms Scotland, and Social Firms Wales.

I realised recently that I'd not had anything land in my inbox from Social Firms England for a few months, so looked them up, only to find that it has been dissolved in March 2023 - with no announcement to their email list, social media pages, or any other media outlet. Looking at their last accounts, it seems that it had increasingly struggled financially to be able to maintain itself.

Across the other regions, Social Firms Scotland merged with SenScot (the Social Enterprise Network for Scotland) in 2021, although SenScot itself now seem to be struggling on the basis of their last filed accounts, and that their website domain is no longer is use?;

however Social Firms Wales still seems to be actively continuing to offer support to the social firms model of social enterprises.   

So I'm left wondering, whatever happened to Social Firms England - it was one of the pioneers of the modern landscape of the social enterprise ecosystem today, and also held a lot of valuable research, knowledge and learning that would still be of interest to individual ventures, as well as bodies looking to better support the sector as a whole.

Does anyone know where those resources may now reside, and why, unlike with other social enterprise infrastructure bodies, there was no announcement, reflection, or celebration of the impact it had had on the wider sector over its lifetime? 

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

How to give over £500m to charity as a freelancer

If we're honest, most of us would say that we'd like to do more to support charities and good causes in giving to them - and if we're being even more honest, then most of us would also admit to this being increasingly difficult to do with rising bills. For those of us who are freelancers/self-employed, this is also compounded by additional 'downward pressures' in what we're able to earn too...

But each year, the second Wednesday of May is marked by "give a days wages to charity day" - an attempt to help us be able to justify the act which we know will make us feel good, and also do good, but often struggle to do for the reasons above.

I started to mark this annual day a few years back, by asking my contacts across social media who they'd nominate to be the recipient of my "days wage" that year - and I've stuck with the Buddy Bag Foundation every year since.

Now - as a freelancer, it's not that straightforward to work out what a typical days' wage is, as our earnings fluctuate over the year, and what we 'earn' in income also has to cover our business' costs, so its not directly equivalent to our 'wage'.

But thanks to Creator Rights Alliance, we can easily work out what our equivalent salary is, based on our typical day rate charge to clients:   https://www.creatorsrightsalliance.org/freelance-day-rate-guide-2023

However, I've gone with taking my gross earnings from last year's tax return as my baseline to work out a days' equivalent.

Now, if you're doing this exercise yourself, you're probably thinking that while it may momentarily spark a warm glow in you, you quickly realise that a gift of that amount isn't going to make that much difference... 

But it can!

I've done more sums using the average freelancer day rate (thanks YunoJuno!), worked out what this would be as an annualised salary, then divided that by the number of working days in a year to work out the average day's salary that a freelancer earns; and multiplied this up by the number of freelancers in the UK (thanks ipse!).

This comes out to £410,032,540.

And if we remember to tick the gift aid box when we gift it, that means the charities can claim an additional 25% of our donation (£102,508,135) - which brings the total that freelancers could be giving to charity to a whopping £512,540,675*.

But it only works if we all do it.

Which is why I'm being very un-British in this post, and sharing with you all how much I'm giving to charity (today, at least).

One day's equivalent salary isn't that much when you work it out - but it can be transformative in the life of someone who can be supported because we've given it. And if we all do it...  

* for comparison, the last Children In Need fundraiser in 2023 raised £33.5 million, and so far this year, Comic Relief has raised about £40 million.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

is it too big?

Each year I publish an annual impact report on myself - and currently hold the world record for the most number of such, that have been created and shared consecutively (this years' marks the 18th year in a row that I've done it!).

And each year, I always share it with the invitation for people to tell me what it might leave them still wondering about, or what they might like to see added to it. This has led to it now containing case studies and more images.

But after 18 years, I'm finding myself starting to wonder - when is it 'enough'?

The first reporting I did on myself back in 2007 had only 3 numbers:

  1. what proportion of my travel was by non-car (public transport or bicycle);
  2. what proportion of my turnover had I re-invested into my ongoing CPD;
  3. what proportion of my supply chain purchases had been with the wider 'social economy' (co-ops, social enterprises, and charities).
These appeared on my website at the time, and each year I've sought to expand the scope of what and how I report. 

In 2014, I started to publish the report as a stand-alone document as part of my marketing materials for my business. It was 2 pages long.

In 2018, I expanded the framework to consider my impact against the UN's Global Sustainable Development Goals (something that didn't exist when I started doing this in 2007) - and it took the report to 6 pages.

This years report is now 25 pages! And if you look at any of them, you'll see that in most instances there's only 1 page that isn't crammed with information (the title page - and even then it's sometimes shared with starting to tell the stories of that year...). So it's not getting bigger because I'm getting fancier with graphics and page design. The framework, what's reported, etc really are getting that expansive from those first 3 numbers nearly 20 years ago (and it doesn't yet consider the 'cascade' impacts that are created by clients I support because of the work I do with them...). 

So my question now is - when is it 'enough'? As a sole trader. I don't have the dedicated resources that larger organisations do (salaried employees, department budgets, etc) to track and report on my impact, like they do - but at 25 pages, am I peaking? Or can/ should I take it further still?

At what point do we start to over report on our impact?

Saturday, April 27, 2024

it's getting harder for me to be patient with (some of) you

I've always tried to manage my business in ways that reflect my values - and as some may know, this includes a practice of 'grace'. This is manifest through my automatically offering to reschedule a call/meeting/session with a client or collaborator if it transpires that they fail to 'turn up', without additional charge* (even though it represents lost time and earnings for me - I'm not salaried, which means I have to make every hour I spend count, in helping to generate enough income to pay the rent, etc).

This grace is based on my idea that we're all human beings - sometimes, we simply 'forget', or the universe has other plans for us at that time, despite our best intentions to the contrary (a child is sick, we're suddenly faced with an employee in crisis, etc). And I know that if it were me in such a position, I'd hope that there'd be some similar understanding and compassion - so I try and act in this way in turn**.

Over the last few years, I've started to track just how much my practice of grace represents/costs me, as part of my annual impact reports.

Since I started to record it 5 years ago, its averaged nearly £7,000 a year! And although it seemed to 'peak' in 2021/2 (which I attributed to the 'fall out' from the pandemic), and has been steadily slowly dropping each year since then (last years' figure was £6,675) - my experiences at the start of this year are not encouraging... 

In the first month of this new financial year alone, I've already 'lost' nearly £900 - which may not sound like much to some, but if this is a pattern which continues for the rest of the year (and I've generally seen a need to exercise my grace consistently over the year, since I started to record it), then you can hopefully see how it will quickly accumulate to exceed what the average has been for the last 5 years. 

I know I'm not the only freelancer / self-employed who this happens to - but bear in mind that I'm also a registered unpaid carer, which, according to research published by JRF last year, means I'm already foregoing at least £10,000 each year in earnings because of this circumstance.

So hopefully you can understand and appreciate how, if I seem a little cool with you in reconvening after you've needed to rebook time with me, it's not because I don't like you - it's because I find the behaviours and/or circumstances that have led to it not only showing a potential lack of respect for my time (and therefore me), but are also causing me tangible pain.

And yes, I could introduce a policy of 'pay or play' (i.e. - if you don't turn up, I still charge you), but that would feel like it would be cutting against my values of trying to encourage others by recognising that sometimes despite our best efforts, we simply can't honour an arrangement...  But it is something that I'm looking to have to start to factor into working agreements where this happens in the course of my working with a client from now on.

*for clarification, 'without notice' includes messaging me less than 24 hours before the arranged time - as this means I'm similarly unable to find other meaningful client work or activity: representing lost earnings for me.

**if you're wondering - yes, I also track the extent to which I may have also 'forgotten' or not been able to offer the other person more than 24 hours notice myself.