The Nano, The Camera and the Steves

May the iPod nano rest in peace. Apple finally but to bed arguably their most colourful device, in the shadow of the technology that has overshadowed it for a while now. Sure the iPod shuffle shares the demise, but it’s the nano that will be missed. You know, not from a useful-tech perspective, but from a sentimental perspective. If you didn’t have one, you knew someone who did. It was arguably the most colourful leap forward in tech of its generation. Something Apple would do well to bring back into their repertoire (have you seen the pathetic pastel offerings of cases and devices of late?).

But all this got me thinking. It’s crazy how fast things can change. In my business, it’s very evident that the latest technology is already dated the moment you leave the shop. A quick think back to my first ever computer reveals either how fast things can change or just my age. One of the two.

I remember going to PC World with my family as my Dad discussed specifications with the salesperson. I was far too young to know what he was talking about, but if I were to go back as a fly on the wall, I think the PC’s specifications would be laughable by today’s standards – but – back then, it was top of the range.

I remember the giant CRT monitor, that would take up the majority of the desk for a relatively small image size. I remember the giant horizontal CPU, complete with floppy disk drive and the brand new ‘CD Rom Drive’ that was only included on the newest of machines. Complete with Microsoft 95 operating system, this bit of kit was world changing for little me…

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Business Growing Pains: Business superheroes and supervillains

I think one of the most interesting and exciting pays off business is the fact that everyone, in one way or another, has it in them to stay a fresh venture.

Truth is, not everyone gets the chance though. Which makes it all the more important for those with power to help those who take the initial leap of faith in business.

Sadly, contrary to what the government would publicise, there is little support for new businesses out there. Don’t misunderstand that, there is a lot advice or there. A lot of advice. Some nuggets of pure gold, others are more in the region of fecal nuggets. Far be it from me to judge that advice, and that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about actual support.

In order for me to define support, I need to explain it in the context of giving. If my dog wants dinner, I can support his needs by providing from my larder supply of dog biscuits. Needs met, dog supported. If I wanted to support my dog’s quest to catch and eat the neighbours cat, I’m helpless. I may want to help. But the cat isn’t mine and I’m in no physical state to catch agile kitty. There’s no way I can support my dog here. One has to have, in order to give. And the support that I’m referring to here is in this context (not dogs and cats specifically, just to clarify!).

Ever heard the phrase ‘those who can, teach’? (‘…those who can’t, teach p.e.’). And ever considered how selfish a superhero would be to gain super powers and not use it to help people who need his/her support?

You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this. But I risk believe after 9 years of business, there is a massive responsibility for those who have been largely successful in business to help fuel the next generation of businesses. And there are a thousand and one business superheroes out there ‘sitting on their super powers’ – the ultimate act of selfishness.

I’m referring quite specially at the national and multi national companies that rule the business world. When they were first starting out, they were able to utilise new markets long before substantial and hindering red tape was ever introduced. I mean just listen (or read Alan Sugar or Steve Jobs) early business history. They jumped upon market gaps that literally would not exist in today’s world.

That’s not to say there aren’t business opportunities out there, because there are. But when these opportunities arise, business principles and instincts are capped and hindered by politics that today’s successful never had to endure. And I think that’s why those who have the resources should support the newer startups…

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Digitalisation: Switching your library to the cloud

I think that one of the most exciting developments of the 20th century is the cloud. For anyone who doesn’t know what the cloud is, it’s a number of things. Firstly it’s a backup for your data. Second, and this is my favourite one, it’s a centralised way to store files we all use. For example, music. Spotify, Apple Music, the list goes on. They store the songs and you pay a subscription to access their files in a library so vast – you’d never have enough storage to assemble yourself.

As a TV and film addict, naturally my physical archives reflected this. In my early days, this was in the form of drawers and drawers of VHS’s, taking up a significant portion of space in my bedroom and living room. Then came the arrival of dvd. Aside from being able to skip through films, play films on my computer and fit longer playback on a single disk – it had a significant other advantage of VHS. Size. Slowly but surely my VHS collection shrunk to half the size, while doubling the actual content.

Flick forward a few years and a similar process began changing my dvd collection into blu-rays. But before I got too far into the transition, the cloud hit hard, and before long another medium for TV and film was born.

Now I like to own the entertainment that I enjoy, especially when I plan on watching it several times over. So while I love Netflix, Amazon prime, NOW TV and the likes; they don’t completely replace the old fashioned way of assembling a personal video collection. Enter iTunes…

Back when iTunes was first starting out as a digital supplier of music, Apple probably didn’t realise the scope that it could actually achieve. Perhaps this is most evident in the very name of the service. But by the time iTunes was offering TV shows, films, audio books and such, they were clearly beyond the point where they could change the name. But either way, once iTunes had set itself up to be the virtual TV and film library of the future – I started to comprehend the space that would be freed on my shelves. The ease of selecting my programming, and ability to watch the videos on multiple devices were also massive bonuses.

So, now I write this, probably about four years into the digitalisation of my entertainment library. I thought, as we move further and further into the cloud -based age there may be some tips I could share. Things I’ve learned along the way.

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Farewell, hotmail. You were my first email.

Why I have to leave hotmail. A not so simple explanation.

The simple explanation
Don’t worry, this isn’t on political, religious or charitable reasons. The reason is quite simple, I’m blown away at the volume of emails that aren’t getting through to me. Not getting redirected to junk, but literally thrown aside at Microsoft’s’ discretion at any given time without notice given to the server or the (non)recipient. What follows is a long and detailed account of how I came to realise this issue existed, as well as my ultimately futile exploits to resolve the matter. There’s no need to read them all, unless you feel compelled, but I do urge you as one email user to another – if you use hotmail: change supplier for your own sake as well as people trying to contact you.

I have been a hotmail user for as long as I’ve had an email address – and to this day still use the first ever email address as my primary source of web mail – and its a hotmail address. So it genuinely pains me to change things up, but I have completely exhausted all other options. This post is a means to try and explain the problem, my multiple attempts at fixing the issue and Microsoft’s belligerent and arrogant responses to my heart-felt desperation to fix the problem.

I would urge anyone using hotmail addresses (this includes any emails containing the following; @hotmail, @live, @msn, @Microsoft, @outlook or @Skype) to seriously consider moving services across to another provider. Generally speaking, the much better alternative is Google Mail(Gmail) anyway.

The not so simple explanation
The problem of not receiving emails had been present for a very long time. But naturally, as a user of one of the world’s most well-established Webmail softwares, the obvious culprit to missed emails that never arrived was clear – sender error. So over the years that had been my most common assumption towards such occasions…

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Business Growing Pains: The Money Bin

Eight years and nearly eight successful self-assessment tax returns. I’ll admit, it was a bit of a learning curve to start with. The terminology alone used by the HMRC is a hurdle the size of Everest. The text may as well have been hieroglyphics to any self-respecting new self-employed individual. Gradually, with the help of Google and business friends, over time this got easier to understand. Eventually I had a system in place where each years’ tax return was a doddle. So-to-speak. Paying back the tax, not so much, but at least I knew where I stood with the strange terms coined by the HMRC.

Enter 2017. This year, things needed to change due to the nature, gradual growing success and time availability for my business. I needed to open a business bank account, I needed to register for VAT, go on as a Limited Company and I needed to move my websites to a dedicated server. Lots to do in a short space of time. As it happened, I concluded that all-at-once was impossible – so I staggered the processes to ensure successful implementation.

But these hurdles, and more, have brought some serious drags in my time and energy as a business owner. Things that should be easier and things that are complicated immensely by big-dog-companies (who should have a responsibility to make easier for younger businesses). Sadly, its the aforementioned big-dog-compamnies that maintain and add-to stresses and obstacles for the underdogs. But if I can share my experiences to help others that may suffer the same obstacles – then perhaps this is all a little more worthwhile. And I’m starting with the biggest dog of all. The bank.

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Business Growing Pains Prologue

There’s no doubt in my mind that starting my own business was the right move for me after an eight-year stint selling asparagus to upper-class Sainsbury’s customers. I loved my time there, but it just didn’t utilise my skillset. In fact it leaned quite heavily upon putting me in a directly customer-facing environment. Somewhere I can’t say I thrive. That being said, let me strongly reiterate that I think jobs like this are highly respectable and even an essential part of life. I have far greater respect for people working in jobs like these, than those who wait around on the Income Support for the ‘perfect job’ to fall into their laps. I digress.

Customer one-to-one was the pain of my life back then. In my current line of work, there is very little face-to-face customer interaction. It’s beautifully suited to me. And usually, if there is customer face-to-face, they are genuinely nice people. Yup, the customer pains are long-since a thing of the past. But running a business brings new pains. And this month has been no exception. In fact, a combination of things led me to feel like a polar bear in a desert sand storm. Or, as Delboy once put it, like a turkey who just caught Bernard Matthews grinning at him.

I was amazed at how little down-to-earth advice was out there for Joe Sole Trader. And that’s why I’m writing a few posts about just some of the struggles I have had to battle. I’ve got a few lined up at the moment, each looking at one of the most frustrating times I’ve had in small business. Maybe there’ll be even more in the future. It’s a record for me. And perhaps, someone somewhere, won’t have to go through the slaughterhouse in quite the same manner I have.

As I draw towards the closing of a relatively profitable financial year for the business, I find myself straining to walk through a metaphorical swamp of jargon, fob-offs, technicalities and antiquated systems that can only be navigated by the ancient politicians who invented them (or folk who have been forced to waste far too long learning the language). It’s reminiscent of the pains I felt all those years ago of those frustrating snobs who didn’t want their Lemongrass sourced from Spain on political grounds.

I cannot believe how antiquated the business world is. We are living well into the second millennium and we are still at the mercy of a system built by people in the first one. I hope that these stories may help anyone that reaches the same stage I am now at. Warnings, really. What to expect. And how to avoid them.

So, on then, with my Business growing pains.

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Desktop Activity

Working for myself has its advantages, but one of (arguably lesser) disadvantages is the fact no-one gets to see how cool my desk-toys are.

I’ve worked in two communal offices in my work career, both of which has limited appreciation for my desk toys – which is perhaps why I value them so much now. I’d say my office is about 75% toys and 25% other stuff. And although I work with LEGO, I’d say there is a significant portion of it that is personal collection rather than stock. Kinda.

But the truth is that if I don’t have things to occupy my procrastination sessions then, well, I might just get too much work done. My latest obsession, LEGO aside, is Disney Tsum Tsums. Which are essentially all manor of Disney characters from various films and shows all re-shaped into pill-type rubber miniatures. What started as my daughters’ interest has become a bit of a hobby for me too. And while she is happy to have just about any of the characters from anywhere (although Frozen ones do top the list), I have a shopping list of Tsum Tsums that I intend to scatter around my desk. As you can see from the photo for this post – I’m starting with Disney’s Inside Out Characters. But I digress.

A lot of serious stuff that happens in business. A lot. And it would be very easy to remove all the fun from it and leave all the functionality. But that’s just not the way I see my work, my business or my anything ever going. The cool, fun, nerdy stuff that makes me, me needs to be evident. Otherwise I’d find myself just being a hypocrite. And if that fun side of me presents itself in the form of cool desktop toys today. Then today will be all about desktop toys.

Aren’t you amazed that this post barely mentions LEGO? Truth is, that is the ultimate desktop toy. But I could write about that forever, so I have spared your reading time that one.

And so concludes week 5 of 52.

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Crowns

I haven’t had much time to write over the last few months… But in the meantime, there have been so many blog posts I have wanted to write, but just haven’t been able to put fingers to keys. My hope is that, unless the momentum dies out from those stories, they will be told in the coming weeks and months.

But while there are but a few hours remaining for 2016, there is one post that I wanted to get out there before all of the others. As with all of my posts, this is primarily for my own sake and sanity, but I welcome anyone who wants to read along for the fun of it.

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Order Overload

It’s been too long. And for those of you who know me, you’ll know why. Things have been crazy busy at sholdstock towers over the last few weeks as our LEGO Minifigure Caricature business received its biggest ever boom in the build-up to Christmas (pun intended!). We’re thrilled at the volume of orders and as much as I’d love to write more about it, time doesn’t permit on this occasion as the orders are literally waiting for me in my next browser tab…

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